Dead in December

“Not another one,” said Detective Kim Owens. She sighed, shaking her head as she looked at the corpse on the floor. It was the third mall Santa murder in less than two weeks.

“We should talk to Dan.” Her partner, Connor Muloney, hated bringing up Kim’s ex husband because it usually put her in a foul mood. But Dan Owens was the lead detective on the first mall Santa murder case, which occurred within city limits.

“You talk to him,” said Kim.

Kim left the city and became a county detective after the divorce. Dan had a habit of spreading half-truths to his fellow officers, and they had a way of making their way back to Kim’s ears. That’s why she hated working with city cops. They left her surrounded by staring eyes and muffled whispers.

“He’s just going to ask to talk to you,” said Muloney.

“So, let him ask. It’s about time he learned he can’t have everything he wants.”

“You got it. I’ll see if they have any leads,” Muloney said as he got into his car to head for the city.

In between prying questions about his ex-wife, Dan Owens did manage to help. He informed Muloney that the first victim wasn’t your typical mall Santa. He was actually a wealthy CEO and patriarch of one of the most powerful families in the city.

It turns out, despite his corporate image, he was a good guy. And his secret Santa persona was a way he liked to give back to local kids. He even donated gifts and played Santa at the Christmas party in the hospital’s children’s ward for each of the last ten years.

“If you need anything else, have Kimmie give me a call,” he said, hanging up before Muloney could protest.

He phoned Kim with the contact information Dan gave him for the county detectives in charge of the second homicide investigation. By the time he met up with her, she had called them and was ready with an update of her own.

The second and third victims weren’t as unique as the first. The Santa from the next county over was hired through a temp agency. And their victim was a retail employee. The mall manager thought he looked like the perfect Santa and asked him to take the gig. It was his first year in the role.

“So what do you think we have here?” asked Muloney. “Do we have some nut killing Santas because he didn’t get what he wanted as a kid or something?”

“Anything’s possible,” said Kim. “But I don’t know.”

“The only thing they have in common is the Santa suit,” he countered.

“Yeah, but why would some guy in the city travel a couple of hours into the ‘burbs just to kill two more Santas? Why only kill mall Santas when the city’s full of them on every street corner this time of year?”

Mulaney knew she had a point. If the killer was out for some sort of crazy revenge on Santa, he had plenty to choose from closer to home.

“It’s more personal than that,” she added.

“I’ll update Dan on what you found out. He should know.”

“No,” said Kim. “I’ll deal with my idiot ex.”

Kim got in her car and pulled up Dan’s number in her phone’s contact list. She hadn’t talked to Dan in ages. But she couldn’t keep passing him off on her partner.

“Kimmie baby!” was a greeting she neither expected nor missed.

“I wanted to run something by you Dan.” She cut him off. “I don’t think this case is about some whack job out to get Santa.”

“Sure it is. Random crimes sweetie. Otherwise my boys and I would have rounded the bastard up by now. But don’t you worry. We’ll figure it out.”

“And what exactly have you been doing for the last week besides sitting on your hands, waiting for the Franklin County detectives to clean up the mess for you?” Whenever it came to sharing jurisdiction or working with other departments, Dan had a habit of letting others do most of the work, and later claiming as much credit as he could get away with.

“Oh, come on,” he said. “Why so harsh? You can’t possibly still have your panties in a twist about Becky.” Becky was the twenty-something Dan had cheated on Kim with three years earlier, breaking up their marriage. “Isn’t there a statute of limitations on angry ex-wives?”

“You wish,” she shot back at him. “But whatever. I didn’t call you for this. I just wanted to let you know that we don’t suspect these are simply random killings. At least not allĀ of them.”

“What are you getting at?” he asked.

“I think at least one of the homicides was personal. Maybe the other two were the killer trying to cover his motive with similar crimes. Why else be so specific about mall Santas? Muloney’s on the phone with Franklin County to see if they have any reason to suspect someone wanted their guy dead. I don’t see any evidence of that with ours. No one had any reason to kill him. What about yours?”

“We’re,” he paused. “… still looking into that.”

“Well, let us know if you ever get off your ass and do that,” she snapped. “Oh, and when you do, call my partner,” she said, hanging up on him abruptly. Maybe it would be best to leave Dan to Muloney after all.

When she got back to the county police department, Muloney was waiting for her. As she suspected, the Franklin County detectives didn’t have any suspects or motive for why someone would want their victim dead. It appeared he was killed simply because he was wearing his Santa suit at the wrong place in the wrong time.

“Turn on channel six,” said one of the other officers. Kim grabbed the remote and turned on the small television in the corner of the room.

On the local news they were airing a story about the children’s ward in the localĀ hospital. They were in desperate need of donations after their benefactor was murdered in the first mall Santa slaying. This was the first public mention of who that victim was and what he had been quietly doing for the community for years.

The reporter had done some digging, and it turned out the first victim’s estranged son was back in the picture and had put a hold on all of his father’s usual donations for the season. So the hospital was trying to get others in the community to step up and help patients in the children’s ward have a merry Christmas.

“What slime,” said Muloney.

“That is pretty low,” Kim agreed. “But money always sounds like motive to me. Dan is going to hate this.”

“Why’s that?” asked Muloney.

“Because it means he’ll be expected to do his job.”