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Hutch scowled at the red and green stuffed elf perched on the plate of Christmas cookies beside the coffee pot. Not that he’d ever say it out loud but the ubiquitous holiday decoration had always given him the creeps.

To make matters worse, he was exhausted, with gritty eyes and an aching back. Last night, he’d had the first of what was generally an annual cluster of nightmares. They faded into memory after the first of the year but until then, he’d be haunted by an evil faced elf creeping towards him, fangs bared. He’d had the bad dreams nearly all his life, but he never got used to them. Coupled with the 19th anniversary of his grandmother’s death made the Christmas holidays difficult to bear.

Hutch rapidly poured a cup of coffee, turning his back on the elf’s inane grin.

“Still in the elf hater’s club?” Starsky stashed the jolly toy in a file cabinet drawer. “Helen made fudge to make up for leaving me at the holidays…” he sing-songed, holding out a tin.

“Not hungry,” Hutch sighed, taking a mouthful of coffee. Of all the sweets, he really did like fudge, but his Christmas nightmares took all the joy out of everything.

“More for me.” Starsky raised his eyebrows, taking a bite of the chocolatey goodness as if trying to reel Hutch into having the treat.

On any other day, Hutch might have taken the bait. He felt wrung dry, unable to shake the vision of the elf ready to suck out his life-force. It was a completely irrational fear, those sorts of things never popped up in Bay City.

“Starsky, Hutchinson!” Dobey stood in front of his office door, his red and green holly tie clashing horribly with a wine colored jacket. “I’ve got a case for you.”

“Good morning to you, too, Cap’tn!” Starsky announced with a grin, licking his chocolate streaked fingers. “I was wondering when you’d find something for us to do.”

Hutch stared at his partner—Starsky was entirely too cheerful—and then realized that he and Dobey must have exactly the same expressions on their faces. Maybe the captain didn’t harbor good feelings about the holiday season either.

“In my office.” Dobey stomped back into his lair. He opened a folder and extracted two photographs as Starsky and Hutch walked in.

Hutch took the chair, weary enough to wish he was back home in bed. Except, then, he’d only dream of homicidal elves. Therefore, no sleep for the next month. That was his plan, unrealistic as it might be.

“What do you have for us, Cap?” Starsky asked.

“Have you two seen the posters for that Christmas fair called Dickensian Village?” Dobey placed the photographs in front of them. “It’s due to open this afternoon but there have been two murders in two days.”

Both pictures showed elderly victims, quite dead, the bodies oddly deflated as if they no longer had any substance at all. Hutch felt the blood drain from his face and was suddenly hot, the room so airless he could barely breathe.

“What happened to them?” Starsky squeaked, plopping down on the arm of the chair Hutch was sitting in to examine the pictures more closely.

“It’s your job to find out!” Dobey shouted.

Clearly, he was disturbed at the sight of the corpses, too. In an effort to sound like a competent detective, Hutch cleared his throat, forcing himself to calm down. “When and where were they found?”

“Johnathan Waterston was found in the back of the Santa Claus display on Wednesday,” Dobey explained, digging a chubby finger into the knot of his tie to loosen it around his neck. “He was an historian hired by the Victoriana Society to help make the Dickensian Village as authentic as possible. At first, it was assumed he’d had a heart attack or stroke. He was 70.”

“Natural assumption,” Starsky agreed. “But?”

“The autopsy hadn’t even been done when the second body was found this morning just after the organizers from the society arrived,” Dobey continued. “This woman is Garland Flowers…”

“That’s her real name?” Hutch asked.

“Apparently.” Dobey’s mouth was a grim line. “She was in exactly the same spot as Waterston, in the same position, looking like she’d been drained dry—“

“Of life,” Starsky finished in a hushed voice.

Hutch swallowed against a very dry throat and thought of his grandmother, seeing her after death, pale and impossibly flattened. As if drained of life. He inhaled twice before he could speak. “Did any of the workers…”

“Cast members, the same as what workers at Disneyland are called,” Dobey said gruffly.

“Cast members see anything?” Hutch pressed, “Near the body? S-small, uh, disturbing shadows or…”

“You have a theory, Sherlock?” Starsky mimed peering through a magnifying glass.

“No, no,” Hutch said quickly. They’d think him crazy if he posited that the killer had been a green and red elf with sharp teeth. Vampiric elves, yeah, that was realistic. Yet, he couldn’t shake the conviction that he was dead on the money. “We’d better go visit this place, talk to the witnesses –“

“Cast members,” Starsky reminded.

~*~

“Hutch, I’ve known you since 1968, and you’ve had these weird elf nightmares every single year since then,” Starsky said, driving through Bay City midmorning traffic. “At least, I assume you had them in ’68 and ’69, ‘cause you were weird about December even then, but I didn’t know why yet. It’s now 1974, and time to interpret those dreams, dig out the whys—“

“Why what?” Hutch repeated, sounding inane even to himself. “Starsk, let’s stick to this case. It’s crazy enough without bringing…”

“Ah, but you started it,” Starsky interrupted. “I saw your face. You were nearly as white as those bodies. Like you’d seen that before. And you’re the one who started describing disturbing shadows—about a murder location you’ve never been to.”

Busted. However, Hutch knew ways to deflect Starsky’s curiosity. “You’re interpreting dreams now? What brought this on? Because Helen went out of town, you had to find something else to do with your nights?” He added a cynical laugh, for effect.

Starsky and Helen Davisson had been dating on and off for a few months. Long enough that Hutch suspected the romance was turning serious. Although the two of them fought like combating centurions, they made up easily, and Starsky seemed genuinely in love. He and Helen spent a great deal of time together, but always made sure to include Hutch once a week. He had begun to feel like a third wheel. Starsky and Helen didn’t need to coddle him simply because his final attempt to salvage his marriage to Van had died the death it should have three years earlier. Their relationship was over, but Starsky had the chance at a future with a beautiful woman who shared his passion for police work. Helen had taken the month of December off to be with her sick mother.

“Hey!” Starsky poked a finger at him when he stopped for a red light. “I’ll have you know it’s all Helen’s fault. She was reading this book on dream interpretation and left it at my place when she flew to Santa Fe.”

“So you’re reading it now?” Hutch scoffed with as much disinterest as he could muster.

“Exactly. So elves…what could that be in dream symbology?” Starsky said thoughtfully, turning right. A huge sign bordered with repeating red and green curlie-cues directed them to Dickensian Village: The Magic of Christmas Brought to Life.

An ironic slogan in light of what happened. As Starsky drove closer to a warehouse decorated with a huge green garland and two towering Christmas trees, Hutch fought the panic knotting his belly. He’d hidden the terror down deep for so many years. What would it hurt if he confessed his fears? That he knew very well that the elves weren’t simply dream manifestations of some repressed longing or oedipal complex.

“Starsk,” Hutch blurted out before the last shred of bravery left him. “They’re not really…dreams.”

“What are they?” Starsky parked in an area marked employees.

“M-memories,” Hutch whispered, sweat breaking out all over his body. Could he do this? Delve into the most terrifying time of his life when he hadn’t known if he would survive?

“You’ve lost me.” Starsky turned, facing Hutch, hiking his right knee onto the upholstered bench seat so that it touched Hutch’s left thigh.

That grounded Hutch, gave him courage and hope. Hope that this wasn’t a repeat of 1955. “When I was ten, we went to England, ostensibly because my dad had a temporary job to design a pipeline, but also to visit my mother’s mother who had been living there.”

“I remember, you tol’ me your grandma was from Norway and went to London during the war.”

“Right, and my mother moved to the US when she met my dad who was stationed at an air force base in England.” Hutch found setting the history into place helped center him, too. He could get through this. “Two weeks before Christmas, we stayed with Grandmother in her cottage—very old fashioned, very…” He gestured at a poster by the warehouse door with a drawing of a half-timbered, thatched roof cottage above a list of the delights of Dickensian Village. “Very Dickens-like. My sister and I were having a great time, so my parents went for a weekend by themselves at a bed and breakfast.”

Starsky nodded, totally absorbed in the story.

“Late in the afternoon, as it was getting dark, Grandmother took me shopping in the local high street, leaving Karen with a new friend from down the lane.” Hutch gulped a breath, the fear rising inside him like a damned monster in one of Starsky’s favorite drive-in movie classics. “There was a grotto on the town green, for Father Christmas, but he wasn’t there. I didn’t really care, ‘cause I was ten—“

“Didn’t believe anymore, did you?” Starsky smiled, patting Hutch’s corduroy clad knee.

“Of course not. I wanted to buy a Beano magazine and a Cadbury assortment at the shop for Karen, so I walked past the grotto.” Hutch closed his eyes, seeing the weird shadow behind the golden throne erected for Father Christmas. The hint of green and the gruesome red mouth, full of glistening teeth. “Grandmother called to me, almost running…I think she’d seen the—“ What could he call them that made them less threatening? “Creature before I really did.”

It had been over in seconds. A flash of a hideous green body, a gaping mouth and then Sissel Mortensen was lying in the high street like a spent balloon, her skin dry as husk and her blue eyes widened in permanent shock.

“I tried calling out to people, but I couldn’t move, couldn’t touch her,” Hutch said, that aching sadness that he’d been unable to save his Grandmother back full force. He’d stood there and watched her die, watched a horrible green and red being take her from him.

“That’s…” Starsky spoke into the hush, almost panting from the tale, “astonishing.”

“You don’t believe me?” Hutch spat. This is why he’d never brought it up since he’d told his parents. Who had immediately assumed he had some sort of trauma-induced fantasy and assured him that Grandma had had a heart attack. After all, she was over fifty. “I know it sounds absurd, like a…a movie script—“

“Of course I believe you!” Starsky said staunchly. “But you gotta admit, it’s weird.”

“If it hadn’t happened to me, I wouldn’t believe it.” Hutch let out a pent up breath. “That’s not the half of it. The first person who found me was a doctor. He and his—I don’t know exactly what she was, an assistant or a nurse, I was never quite sure, they gathered up grandmother’s body and took us to a hospital.” He could see the place in his mind’s eye, clear as day. A narrow blue door—they’d gone inside and the place was huge, far bigger than it appeared on the outside. Full of really cutting edge equipment that he couldn’t even begin to understand. Spent, young Kenny had sat on a step, praying for grandmother, but the doctor had not been able to revive her. “A blue door…” Hutch said softly. “I didn’t know there was a hospital in Shipston-on-Stour. When the doctor said he couldn’t save her, I went numb inside, I think. Must have been in shock.”

“That’s tough for any kid to see,” Starsky murmured sympathetically.

“I barely remember what happened next,” Hutch shrugged, something heavy lifting off his shoulders for the first time in nearly twenty years. It felt really good to unburden himself like this—even at the cost of investigating the crime. He should have known Starsky would understand; he’d seen his father killed when he was only a year or two older than Hutch had been. “I never saw the doctor again. His assistant dealt with calling my parents home, collecting my sister, even taking grandmother to the funeral parlor. It’s a jumble in my head.”

Starsky stiffened, pointing out the windshield at a woman in a red and black tartan hoop skirt and a lace cap a la one of the Bronte sisters. “Crap, we forgot to go talk to the organizers of Dickensian Village.”

“Let’s get on this,” Hutch said rapidly, shoving open the car door. He felt oddly invigorated, relieved that Starsky hadn’t ridiculed the notion of vicious, living elves. Taking a deep, satisfying breath of the brisk, cool air, Hutch looked over the roof of the car at his friend. “Thanks for listening to me.”

Starsky looked straight into his eyes for a long moment. “Anytime, buddy.” He turned and walked up to the woman in red. “Detective David Starsky, BCPD,” he identified himself, holding up his badge. “My partner, Ken Hutchinson.”

“I wondered what had been keeping you!” she said, her voice this side of shrill, anxiety evident in the way she waved her hands like wings. “I’m Hadley Larousse, co-chair of the Victoriana society.”

At second glance, she was far younger than Hutch had assumed. Probably in her late twenties, near to his age. He’d expected some elderly biddy. “Miss Larousse, would you be able to give us access to the crime scene?”

“This is all so awful! I can’t believe that Garland and John died so—strangely,” she exclaimed, looking from one to the other as if they could provide her immediate answers. “Come in this way.” She led Starsky and Hutch past a ticket counter and into a living photograph of Victorian England.

“Wow, it looks a lot smaller on the inside,” Starsky said, staring at the town crammed into the warehouse.

Hutch was impressed: it truly was like stepping back 100 years to take a stroll through Piccadilly or Oxford Circle in London. Costumed shopkeepers were stocking their shelves with delicate tea sets, marmalade, and leather-bound books. Cast members congregated in groups to rehearse comments in proper British or streetwise Cockney designed to draw visitors into believing they were speaking with citizens of old England. There were stalls for roasted chestnuts, Punch and Judy shows, and gypsy fortune tellers. The shop windows had been artfully frosted to suggest a nip in the air, holly and mistletoe hung over doorways, and the strains of a boys’ choir singing carols serenaded passersby. Hutch even saw a butchers with an enormous turkey hanging in the window, just like in the final scenes of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

“Why would this happen?” Hadley trilled unhappily. “The doors open to the VIP guests this afternoon at four and then the public at six today! If publicity like this gets out, we’ll be ruined.”

“More like deluged with morbid curiosity seekers,” Starsky muttered, stopping to examine a display of men’s headwear, both silk and beaver-skinned top hats.

“What?” Hadley said louder, as Artful Dodger and Oliver Twist ran by practicing their patter.

“He said that hopefully we’ll find the answers we seek,” Hutch interpreted, shooting Starsky a glare.

But Starsky had wandered down the lane to a shop selling ladies’ clothing. A stunning wine colored silk corset was featured in the window with lace unmentionables like pantaloons and night clothes draped on a tiny bed.

“I’d love to see Helen get one of those,” Starsky commented.

Hutch searched the area, a tingling sensation in the pit of his stomach. There was a half-timbered house to his right with a woman putting jars of jellies and jams on a tray, and what seemed to be an indoor garden to his right. Evergreen trees growing in pots surrounded a raised platform adorned with red and white roses. In the middle was a golden throne. A red velvet cap trimmed in white ermine hung jauntily over the arm of the chair.

“Santa’s grotto?” Hutch asked, feeling the blood drain from his face. “I mean, Father Christmas.”

“Yes, in England, Father Christmas is more commonly used,” Hadley agreed. She pointed beyond the chair, behind the potted pines. “Both Garland and John were found…” She bit her bottom lip, the lace of her cap fluttering as she trembled. She pulled herself together with rapid exhale. “I arrived early this morning and my co-chair Kathleen was crying, said that Garland was dead. I saw her high buttoned shoes peeping out from behind the trees…”

“The coroner already came to remove the…Garland?” Starsky asked, walking into the grotto to examine the gold chair.

Hadley nodded, clasping her hands to her décolletage. Hutch hadn’t really noticed until then how very low her dress was cut in front. Her round breasts were heaving. Was that really period?

“Where is Father Christmas?” he asked, even though it sounded lame. But it was a legitimate question. Potentially, he could have been closest to the murdered victims if he had been in or around the grotto earlier.

“Alas,” Hadley sighed in annoyance. “After Noel Christmas—his honest to gosh name, poor lamb—found John’s body, he quit. We’ll have to find another Father Christmas on short notice, and he so looked the part. Do you know of any—?”

“No!” Starsky cut her off.

“Hadley!” A woman with masses of dark curls, dressed in a green velvet gown with black lace accents around the collar and elbow length sleeves, dashed up. “There you are! There’s at least four men in the office, all here to audition for Father Christmas.”

“I’ve got to deal with this,” Hadley apologized. “Please, examine the area, but don’t move anything without permission. John, bless him, created this entire place, got the atmosphere just perfect, and we want it to be his legacy.”

“It’s terrific!” Starsky waved his arms at their surroundings with a big grin. “I’d pay to come back again.”

“I’m glad; we need the revenue.” She hurried off with her friend.

Hutch touched the golden throne, seeing his ten-year-old self hurrying past to a shop in his memory. Only, there wouldn’t be any newsagent selling a Beano comic in Victorian England. Cadbury’s, possibly. He banished the visions just as the boy he had been caught sight of the menacing creature.

“Hutch?” Starsky asked softly, guiding Hutch exactly where he didn’t want to go, behind the grotto. “I’ve got what’ll sound like one hell of a whacky theory, but…”

“I’m listening.” Hutch looked deeply into Starsky’s sincere blue eyes.

“You really believe in these…evil elves, right?”

“Unfortunately.”

“What if they came back?” Starsky touched his toe to the overlapping chalk lines that were all that was left to represent John Waterston and Garland Flowers. “What you told me sounds just like what happened to your grandma.”

“Starsk, that was nearly twenty years ago, in rural England.”

“Doesn’t it seem like we’re back further than that in merry olde—?” Starsky barked a short laugh. “I know, it’s insane, but the facts are there. All three old—“

Hutch hadn’t even caught that similarity. “All three sucked dry of life, or so it appears, all three died in the dark—“

Starsky frowned. “I thought you said you went with your grandma in the afternoon.”

“The United Kingdom is farther north than California; it gets dark by three-thirty in December,” Hutch said, something clutching his heart. Was this really happening? Could it be possible that the elves were back? He didn’t want to believe that, but in light of all that they’d pieced together, there was no other logical explanation.

“Where could they be now?” Starsky asked reasonably. “And why just older people? Unless they’ve attacked lots of people in the last twenty years that we don’t know about.”

“Very possible,” Hutch mused, wondering for the first time ever what had happened to the elf once it killed his grandmother. Had the doctor done something? If so what? “I can imagine that very few people are going to admit to…”

“Seeing an elf murder a senior citizen?” Starsky asked rhetorically. “So where exactly did they come from? Where’ve they been hiding since 1955?”

Very valid questions.

“We’ll never find them at this hour. We have to come back at night.” Decisions made, Hutch wanted to get this done pronto. He was an adult now, not a ten-year-old, and he carried a powerful handgun. He could blow one of those damned sprites away for what they had done to his grandmother.

“Got to talk to the lover-ly Mz Larousse, then.” Starsky winked at him. “I saw the way you looked at her.”

“I was admiring her—costume,” Hutch clutched at an explanation that didn’t make him sound like a letch. “We’ll need to call Dobey. Think there’s a telephone in London-town?”

“And find something to wear.” Starsky ran over to the display of men’s hats. “I can just see you wearing something like that.” He popped the top hat on Hutch’s head.

“I’m already tall enough, Starsk,” Hutch removed the hat, running his thumb along the brim. It wasn’t actual beaver fur, but the fake fur was velvety soft. “You’re the one who likes to go undercover.”

“Aw, c’mon.”

Starsky’s smile melted Hutch’s resolve. “I’ll wear a waistcoat and high collar if you do,” Hutch laughed. “As long as it gets us those fucking elves.”

~*~

Hadley Larousse and her co-chair, Kathleen Parsons, a woman of very advanced years with a twinkle in her eye that rivaled Starsky’s, were grateful to have the police in attendance for the opening celebrations.

“We have extra costumes,” Kathleen said, eyeing Starsky and then Hutch. “You’re quite a tall young man, aren’t you?”

It had been a while since anyone called Hutch a young man. He’d passed his twenty-ninth birthday in August, but her pink cheeks, shining white hair caught into a snood, and laughing blue eyes reminded him so much of Grandmother Sissel that he couldn’t help but match her smile.

“They grow them tall in Minnesota.” Starsky accepted a pair of striped trousers, a tartan green and black waistcoat, and short black jacket from Hadley.

“These should fit you,” she said. “Now for a hat.” She waved her hand at a collection in an open packing box. “Get one for Hutch, too.”

“I know just what Hutch needs.” Starsky’s voice was muffled as he bent enthusiastically over the box.

“You’re from Minnesota?” Kathleen asked, the full skirts of her blue and green brocade gown rustling when she stood up from her desk. “I lived there as a girl.”

“Small world,” Hutch said politely. He and Starsky had gone back to Metro to search for any other reports of suspicious deaths in the United States where an elderly person was drained of life, but it was virtually impossible to learn much quickly. He suspected that if witnesses had seen life-sucking elves attack, they would be understandably reluctant to admit it to authorities. “We are concerned that we are dealing with a copycat killer—who may have left bodies all over. Possibly going back as many as twenty years.”

The two women stared at him, but while Hadley appeared shocked, Kathleen had a mournful resignation in her eyes.

Hutch and Starsky had uncovered one death in Northern California that sounded similar, which brought their personal total up to four. A year ago, an old man had been found flattened and dry in an amusement park called Santa’s Village, near Santa Cruz. He’d been tucked under an enormous decorated tree outside Santa’s workshop. Of course, not a single eyewitness had come forward. The one thing Hutch had gleaned from all accounts was that the elves seemed to congregate in areas where they had a natural camouflage. They were apparently intelligent, quick, and ruthless. What was their motive for the random killings?

“Hutch!” Starsky squeaked, emerging from the box with an armful of hats, a brown and black plaid deerstalker perched on his curls. “I found a Sherlock Holmes hat!”

“How did that get in there?” Hadley tsk-tsked, holding out her hand for the offending chapeau. “Not right for your outfit, we’re a few decades earlier in the 19th century. You’d do better with the collapsible silk hat.”

“But it’s cool!” Starsky protested.

“Starsk, she’s the expert here,” Hutch said with a grin. Starsky did look cute, like a kid waiting for the next installment of Basil Rathbone’s detective movies.

“Come back in January,” Kathleen said, plucking the deerstalker off Starsky’s head and tossing it back into the box. “We’ll be hosting a lovely evening with the local chapter of the Baker Street Irregulars. It’s great fun.”

“Hound of the Baskervilles,” Starsky said enthusiastically. He shuffled the hats he held until he could get the short crowned black hat on his head. Another one tumbled out of his clutches, leaving only a taller beaver fur top hat and a cloth cap in his arms.

“Now you’ve created a monster.” Hutch rolled his eyes at Kathleen. “Which hat did you want me to wear?”

“Hadley!” The dark haired woman dressed in green velvet Hutch had seen earlier poked her head through the door to the costume room, obviously breathless from rushing about. Hutch was beginning to think she never walked calmly. “There you are! The reporters are starting to arrive.”

“Oh, my! It’s later than I expected! Kerria, have them assemble in Piccadilly Circus and I’ll be right there,” Hadley explained. She glanced at herself in the mirror, smoothing a lock of perfectly coifed brown hair up under the lace cap. Her red and black tartan skirt seemed to snap crisply as she turned. “Kathleen, I’ll welcome the mayor and the press—“

“And I’ll give Starsky and Hutchinson their marching orders,” Kathleen agreed amiably. She shook her head as Hadley bustled out. “Good at organizing, but that girl does get in a tizzy.” She took the top hat from Starsky and squared it on Hutch’s head. “That’s the one for you.”

Hutch peered at himself in the mirror. The hat gave him a gravitas and elegance he didn’t normally feel in real life.

“With a black frock coat and gray waistcoat and trousers, you’ll look like a well-to-do gent.” Kathleen nodded with satisfaction. “Mr. Starsky, please go change.”

“Call me Dave.” Starsky winked at her and ducked into a curtained alcove.

“Mr. Hutchinson,” Kathleen looked over at him, suddenly somber, “because you are from Minnesota, I feel as if I should tell you something that happened to me a long time ago.”

Hutch felt an inward shiver of dread, which had never happened on any other case he’d worked on previously. He was clearly over-identifying with these murders. “Something to do with what today’s events?”

Kathleen nodded, turning to select a long black jacket with satin lapels and a gray suit from the rack of men’s clothing. “When I was young, my Great Aunt Agatha lived in Duluth and we’d visit at Christmas time.” She smoothed the shiny lapels with her fingers, the memory obviously a grave one. “I was excited for Christmas and in the wee hours, crept down the stairs to the grand sitting room of her house. I saw—“ She paused as if unable to continue.

“A green creature grabbing your aunt?” Hutch asked very softly, the same image playing out in his mind’s eye, only in Shipston-on-Stour.

“I thought I’d dreamed it all these years!” Kathleen’s anguish spilled out but she buttoned it up rapidly. “Or that, I don’t know, it was something that occurred only in Duluth, because it never happened again.”

Thank God. This was hitting too close to home, literally. “Until now.” Hutch took the clothing from her. “Did you see a green—?”

“An elf!” She folded both hands together with a determined expression. “I found Garland this morning. We were to meet and have a quick breakfast meeting before the others arrived. She was…” Kathleen shrugged. “Drained of life, exactly like Agatha had been. I caught a glimpse of the elf slipping under Father Christmas’ throne this morning, just a streak of green.” Tears formed in her pale blue eyes, one running silently down her wrinkled cheek. “I bent to check Garland’s pulse. I used to be a nurse, but she was dead. I couldn’t bring myself to tell the police who came this morning about the elf.”

“I understand because I’ve seen it myself.” Hutch gave her a quick hug. She’d been a girl more than fifty years ago; how far back did these murders go? He had to find a way to stop the elf once and for all.

“I had a feeling that you could empathize,” she whispered.

“How do I look?” Starsky emerged from the dressing alcove. He tucked his 20th century pistol in his pocket.

“Like a Dickensian swain,” Kathleen declared, all semblance of sadness gone from her face.

Starsky sent Hutch a quizzical glance that lightened Hutch’s mood considerably and he went to change as well.

~*~

The opening festivities went off without a hitch. The mayor cut a ceremonial ribbon and VIPs received complimentary flutes of champagne as they toured Dickensian Village. The paying visitors swarmed in at six pm, swelling the citizenry of merry old England to the bursting. The new Father Christmas only stayed for a short while because he had another engagement, but he was swarmed with excited children while he sat in his grotto.

Starsky and Hutch kept watch on the populace but both suspected that their suspect would not show up when there were quite so many people around. Every past murder-by-elves they’d uncovered had occurred in the dark, at a relatively quiet time of night or early morning.

In the meanwhile, Starsky and Hutch got to know the cast members and perused the shops. They explored intriguing back alleys where the boys playing Artful Dodger and Oliver Twist hung out with their mates, cheerfully picking pockets and then giving the loot back to their victims accompanied by a free ticket for a savoury treat at the meat pie stall.

“This is terrific!” Starsky bit into a Cornish pasty, flakes of crust on his lips. “Have one!”

“I’m going to go with Welsh rarebit,” Hutch said, handing an apple-cheeked woman his ticket. She gave him a paper dish filled with rich melted cheddar cheese poured over a large slice of homemade toasted bread. Just the scent reminded him of eating lunch with his Grandmother on her last day. The first bite burned the roof of his mouth, but the next was heavenly.

By ten o’clock, the party was winding down. Most of the stalls and restaurants selling food were closing up, with only the Red Lion Pub still open. Located directly across from the exit, they were doing a brisk business in beer, hard cider, and perry. There was a band, complete with a very enthusiastic tuba player mid-way down the main thoroughfare accompanying a small crowd singing Christmas carols with a decidedly drunken verve.

Hadley and Kathleen still looked beautiful in their Victorian finery, despite the fact that they’d been dressed in the tight fitting dresses and old fashioned button up shoes for more than 12 hours by Hutch’s reckoning. They thanked the visitors one and all for the wonderful evening and handed out half price tickets for return visits.

“We’ll be open for two more weekends until Christmas!” Hadley called out.

“Kenneth,” Kathleen said, patting Hutch’s hand like a grandmother. “I am sure it was your presence, you and David, that helped make this night a true success. No sign of any—well, you know.” She glanced at Hadley chatting with a man wearing jeans and a Dickensian Village T-shirt, clearly not wanting certain ears to hear the details.

“We can’t be sure they won’t come during the night,” Hutch warned. He was determined to wait the elf out, until dawn, if necessary. “I know you hired Guardian Security to patrol the parking lot and perimeter. Starsky and I will stay inside to keep our eyes open.”

“What a commendable man.” Kathleen’s eyes sparkled. “If I were a few years youngers…”

“Or I was a few years older.” Hutch bent to kiss her soft cheek.

“Once the last of the crowd is gone, I’ll make sure Hadley locks up,” Kathleen said. “If either of you need a nap during the night, make yourselves comfortable in the office.”

“We’ll stay awake to keep watch,” Hutch promised, surprised to realize his early morning fatigue had disappeared in in zeal to solve this case.

Starsky stood near the band, joining in on “oh, bring us a figgy pudding…” as if he were just another one of the Dickensian cast members. After Father Christmas left, Hutch kept an eye on the rose-bedecked grotto. Nothing untoward happened all night, but the tight knot in the pit of Hutch’s stomach had not been loosened by warm spiced cider or the scrumptious Welsh rarebit. He had a bad feeling that there would be a third murder that night.

As the tuba hit a blasting high note, Hutch heard a strange wheezing, grinding whine that was weirdly familiar although for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out why.

There were only a few stragglers walking down the faux cobblestones on the street. No one else seemed hear the strange noise or take the least notice of a sudden wind that whipped up the detritus of dropped programs and torn meat pie tickets. The door to the warehouse was open but the wind was coming from the opposite side of the huge building.

His heart thudding so hard that the gold watch chain hanging from his gray waistcoat quivered, Hutch grabbed Starsky’s arm, race-walking him toward Santa’s grotto. It was dark in the back corner behind the potted evergreens, and Hutch was sure he saw something that hadn’t been there previously. Instinctively, he put a hand on his gun, nestled in his frock coat pocket, but he didn’t pull it out.

“What?” Starsky asked, craning his head over his shoulder to wave good-bye to Hadley.

“Did you hear…” Hutch began, then stopped so abruptly that Starsky nearly pitched forward. “Oh, my God.” There was a huge blue box, oddly like an old British Police phone box sitting squarely on what had formerly been bare space behind Father Christmas’ golden throne. Hutch had stood on that spot looking at the outlines of the victims more than twelve hours earlier.

“What the hell is that?” Starsky peered warily at the thing. “Looks like a—“

“It’s the blue door,” Hutch barely got the words out. His throat was constricted and hot. This was the blue door to the hospital. Where the doctor who could not save his grandmother had worked. The blue door that he had always known did not actually belong in Shipston-on-Stour.

Starsky swung around to stare at him. “No shit, Sherlock, it’s a blue door.”

“Starsky, I mean, it’s the—“ Hutch was struck dumb when the door opened and a beautiful blond girl emerged. She was wearing a British flag t-shirt, tight jeans and a leather jacket. Hutch remembered her, dressed just the same, calling his parents to tell them to come back to Shipston-on-Stour.

The man behind her was equally a shock. The Doctor looked exactly as he had in 1955—when Hutch was ten. Now Hutch was as tall as the slender young man wearing a brown striped suit and converse sneakers. Nineteen years later, neither the Doctor nor—what was her name? Rose. That was it. Rose—they hadn’t aged one day.

“Blimey, you see, Rose, I knew there’d be an explanation once we arrived,” the Doctor said expansively, waving both arms to take in faux jolly old London. “Kenny, good to see you again!” He bounded up, holding out a welcoming hand as if he, and not Hutch and Starsky, had been there all along.

“You’re—“ Hutch glanced at Starsky to make sure he was seeing exactly the same thing. Starsky’s blue eyes were wide, with that wary edge he had when he didn’t quite understand the situation but was prepared for a fight.

“I think you’ve overshot the year, Doctor,” Rose scolded. “If he’s the same lad, he’s grown quite tall.” She grinned broadly at Hutch. “How is your sister, then? Did she get the Queen Elizabeth paper-dolls for Christmas?”

“The Doctor,” Hutch finished, anger welling in his chest to replace the fear and apprehension he’d harbored all evening. “W-where did you come from? How? And why didn’t you save my grandmother.”

“Yeah, well,” the Doctor drawled out the word with a rueful grimace. He patted his pockets as if looking for something. “There was nothing I could do for the old girl. The Sidencranz are quite thorough.”

“Sidencranz?” Starsky echoed.

“That’s why we’re here,” Rose said brightly, peering at the surroundings with rapt interest. “Wonderful decorations. Yet I don’t see a single one of the buggers.”

“Who is this?” Starsky demanded, looking directly at Hutch.

The Doctor was poking under Father Christmas’ throne, muttering to himself and waving a long silver wand-like thing with a bluish light on the tip. He straightened with an apologetic grin, as if he’d forgotten his manners. “I’m the Doctor, and this is Rose Tyler. We’ve been on the trail of the Sidencranz for millennia but they have proven to be a decidedly crafty race and led us on a merry chase.” He chuckled, nudging Rose. “Merry, did you hear that? Americans say merry Christmas, unlike the British who generally greet one another with happy…”

“Doctor!” Hutch said sternly, irritated with the prattle. He was worse than Starsky. “How did you hear about these…”

“Sidencranz,” Rose put in helpfully.

“I’ve got an alarm for these sorts of things, don’t I?” The Doctor raised his eyebrows, brandishing the silver wand. “On the sonic screwdriver. It alerts us when the Sidencranz are in a particular time and we rush on over—I’m getting readings that there have been some incidents here.” He shook the sonic screwdriver, squinting at the tip with a frown.

“If you mean murders, you’re right on the money,” Starsky told him.

“You travel in time?” Hutch asked, stunned. How was that possible? This was not a story written by Jules Verne.

“Every day,” Rose agreed. “Quite difficult to keep the days straight, I tell you. Luckily, me mum regularly calls me to give me the date on Earth. Greenwich Mean Time.” She held up a small device like the tricorders on Star Trek.

Hutch was through with feeling like he’d gone through some weird portal into the TV screen. Give him a regular crime on the dingy streets of Bay City from now on, he would not complain. He wanted to get out of the borrowed finery and into his familiar soft corduroy slacks and flannel shirt—complete with the shoulder holster for his gun. Which he was seriously considering pulling out in the next minute or two unless he got some substantial answers. Seeing a man he’d first met nineteen years ago was not going to cut it.

“That is terrific,” Starsky was saying as Rose showed him how to flip open the small device. “You can actually use that like a telephone?”

“It is a telephone,” Rose replied. “What year is this?”

“1974,” Hutch snapped. “December sixth, to be precise. Are these damned Sidencranz you keep yapping about some kind of alien elves?” He couldn’t even believe those words were actually coming out of his mouth.

“Spot on.” The Doctor agreed. “Kenny, I am sorry I couldn’t help your grandmother before.”

Hutch inhaled, slightly mollified. The Doctor did sound genuinely remorseful. “What is it they do?” he asked, his detective side coming to the fore. “Why these murders at Christmas time? We think we’ve uncovered at least five, spanning generations.”

“I warned the Sidencranz off in—“ He turned to find Rose who had wandered off to admire the corset in the window display. “What year was it when we first met Kenny?”

“1954?” Rose told him over her shoulder. “You can plainly see he’s older now.”

“Grandmother died in ‘55,” Hutch said stiffly.

“Yeah.” The Doctor brushed a hand through his untidy brown hair, clearly frustrated. “Once a Sidencranz has sucked the joyful memories from a being, the victim simply… ceases to be.” The Doctor shrugged, a sadness coming over his boyish features. He smoothed his red and blue striped tie thoughtfully. “It’s a very peaceful death, no pain.”

Something deep inside Hutch that had been knotted tightly for decades loosened. Grandmother Sissel hadn’t suffered because of him.

“The Sidencranz feed on the memories of older people; the intelligence, happiness, and longevity call out to them, a bit like candy to a baby.” The Doctor looked around again, waving a hand at the false Dickensian buildings. “They surface on Earth every decade or so, primarily in the Christmas hols, drawn to the yuletide festivities and happiness. Luckily—“

“I don’t think that’s a word that applies here,” Starsky interrupted.

“Usually, there are only a few incidents and then the Sidencranz teleport to their home planet to—“ The Doctor paused, obviously seeing someone behind Starsky and Hutch. “Digest,” he finished in a softer voice.

“Kenneth,” Kathleen called out from down the lane. “Who are—“

“Hutch!” Starsky warned as Hutch turned to speak to the older woman.

“Doctor!” Rose squeaked. She’d plunked down in the golden throne and was pointing directly at a creature emerging from the shadows to the left of the grotto.

Hutch finally did what he’d wanted to do since he was ten: pull a weapon on the damned green elf. “Freeze, asshole,” he yelled, leveling his Magnum.

“Oh, my,” Kathleen said faintly, backing away from the creature. The Sidencranz had long wickedly sharp fangs in a wide red mouth. Green hair grew in tangled tufts all over its squat body. “It’s after me.”

The thing sprang forward with more force and strength than Hutch would have imagined from an elf not three feet high, going for Kathleen’s jugular. When it grabbed onto her, she half smiled, as if recalling something wonderful from long ago.

“Quite enough!” The Doctor commanded with authority.

Repulsed, Hutch slammed the butt of his gun on the Sidencranz’ skull. It screeched, dropping away from Kathleen. She was pale, but alive when Starsky pulled her into a protective hug, his own gun trained on the Sidencranz.

“I remembered, no, felt, my aunt,” Kathleen whispered.

The elf hunched over, whimpering, rubbing his head, staring up at the Doctor. “I yam on-lee feedink my chill-dreen,” it said in heavily accented English.

“This planet is off your dining rotation!” The Doctor commanded, his voice as tough as steel. He had drawn himself up to his full height, looming over the alien. “Humans value their happiest memories a great deal more than your race do. The Earth is under my protection.”

Impressed, Hutch took his eyes off the Sidencranz to give the Doctor a second look. Gone was the wide-eyed British schoolboy with an easy grin and endless chatter. The strength of his will could have bested the nastiest drug dealer on a Bay City street.

“Tell ‘em what for, Doctor,” Rose encouraged under her breath.

The Sidencranz squoozed upward, its body like malleable play-doh, standing on two spindly green legs, with both short arms reaching out imploringly.

Starsky made a grossed-out sound, taking a step closer with his pistol leveled on the alien.

“No guns,” The Doctor said sternly, waving him back.

“Ai deed no’ meeen to en-ker the wraath of thee Time Lorrr-da.” He bowed his head. “No more, Ai pro-meess.”

“Answer me one thing,” Kathleen said suddenly, her hands pressed against the bodice of her brocade gown. “Is my aunt,” she paused, taking a breath, “Agatha, and my friend Garland—“

“And my Grandmother Sissel,” Hutch added.

“Are their memories still intact?” Kathleen finished.

“Ai knooo yew.” The Sidencranz gave a weird sort of bow. “Mai pee-pul re-memm-bair all we en-gesta. We hold thee meem-rees of the u-nee-verse. Yew are leetle Kath, Ag-atha ‘now yew wii-sh for pe-permin’ can-dee in yewr stok-ing? An’ now lyk to laff weeth Gar-landa.”

“Yes,” Kathleen said, tears misting her blue eyes. “Yes, you do remember them.”

“And Hutch?” Starsky asked softly. “Kenny, I guess you’d have called him.”

Hutch could not have spoken if he tried. Flashbacks of Sissel washed over him. When she’d tied the red and white scarf around his neck to ward off the damp English cold, and walking Karen down the lane to her friend’s. Setting off hand in hand with Grandmother buy a Beano comic. He wanted to weep, but kept his outward police detective tightly in place. From of the corner of his eye, he could see that the Doctor had relaxed his imperious stance and was leaning against the golden throne with one hand on Rose’s arm.

“Keen-nee, yew were the las’ thing See-sille saw. She was…” It cocked its head, the fangs covered by the red lips so that it looked much more like the inane plastic elf Hutch had seen in the squadroom that morning. “Con-tent? She luv yew.”

Then it was gone in the blink of an eye. One second the squat green elf had been there beside the Doctor’s big blue box, and the next it had melted back into the shadows where it had come from.

“He won’t be back.” The Doctor tucked the sonic screwdriver into his pocket with an air of finality. “The Sidencranz are not inherently a bad race, they simply never understand the true value of what they are taking from humans.”

“Thank you,” Kathleen said gratefully. “I thought we’d locked up; where did you come from?”

“Starsky?” Hutch shook himself out of his daze, the gift the Sidencranz had given him too new still to examine closely. But the fear and grief he’d harbored for so long was completely gone. He felt renewed. “Could you go get our clothes? I’ll—uh—“ He glanced at the Doctor for help, but the young man simply smiled, one eyebrow cocked in amusement. There’d be no help from him on writing up convincing case reports.

“Sure.” Starsky nodded with understanding, although his eyes told Hutch they were having a long conversation later over beers. Or maybe something stronger. “Come on, my lady, I need your help to get out of these fancy duds.”

Kathleen giggled when Starsky linked arms with her, leading her down the cobblestoned street. “The Doctor is a—consultant to the police, I guess you could say. Helped us with this unusual problem.”

“Doctor, I don’t understand who you are, or how—“ Hutch shook his head, unwilling to delve any deeper into this conundrum. He wasn’t ready, at all. “But thank you.”

“Kenny.” The Doctor shook Hutch’s hand. “I can see that you’ve matured into an intelligent man. A member of the constabulary, unless I miss my guess?”

“I wouldn’t mind callin’ ‘em round to my flat if there was a break-in.” Rose flirtaciously pushed a lock of blond hair behind her ear.

“Detective Sergeant,” Hutch clarified. “How did you know?”

“When you were inside the Tardis,” The Doctor patted the blue box affectionately. “You told me you planned to grow up and help people be strong, because you couldn’t save your grandmother.”

He had no memory of that, but just walking through that blue door, which had looked so narrow on the outside and so immense on the inside had been too much for his shock-addled brain to perceive.

“You did it tonight.” Rose stood on her tippy-toes to give Hutch a kiss on the cheek. “The Sidencranz—and us—will never forget that.”

“Allons-y, Rose,” The Doctor said briskly. “Time to go. I’m sure that Jackie will have the Christmas decorations all over the lounge by the time we get to London. I’d quite peckish for a few cumber sarnies and a cuppa.” He ushered her into the Tardis and closed the door.

A groaning, wheezing clank filled the air, a brisk wind swirling all around Hutch, buffeting the skirts of his frock coat out from his legs, and then the space behind Father Christmas’ grotto was utterly empty.

But filled with memories. Hutch inhaled the lingering scent of Welsh Rarebit, Cornish pasty, hot spiced cider and a whiff of proper British tea, and smiled. For the first time since he was ten, he was looking forward to celebrating Christmas. Luckily, he knew a holiday elf, one David Starsky, who would show him how.

Fin

 

TARDIS 

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Hutch scowled at the red and green stuffed elf perched on the plate of Christmas cookies beside the coffee pot. Not that he’d ever say it out loud but the ubiquitous holiday decoration had always given him the creeps.

To make matters worse, he was exhausted, with gritty eyes and an aching back. Last night, he’d had the first of what was generally an annual cluster of nightmares. They faded into memory after the first of the year but until then, he’d be haunted by an evil faced elf creeping towards him, fangs bared. He’d had the bad dreams nearly all his life, but he never got used to them. Coupled with the 19th anniversary of his grandmother’s death made the Christmas holidays difficult to bear.

Hutch rapidly poured a cup of coffee, turning his back on the elf’s inane grin.

“Still in the elf hater’s club?” Starsky stashed the jolly toy in a file cabinet drawer. “Helen made fudge to make up for leaving me at the holidays…” he sing-songed, holding out a tin.

“Not hungry,” Hutch sighed, taking a mouthful of coffee. Of all the sweets, he really did like fudge, but his Christmas nightmares took all the joy out of everything.

“More for me.” Starsky raised his eyebrows, taking a bite of the chocolatey goodness as if trying to reel Hutch into having the treat.

On any other day, Hutch might have taken the bait. He felt wrung dry, unable to shake the vision of the elf ready to suck out his life-force. It was a completely irrational fear, those sorts of things never popped up in Bay City.

“Starsky, Hutchinson!” Dobey stood in front of his office door, his red and green holly tie clashing horribly with a wine colored jacket. “I’ve got a case for you.”

“Good morning to you, too, Cap’tn!” Starsky announced with a grin, licking his chocolate streaked fingers. “I was wondering when you’d find something for us to do.”

Hutch stared at his partner—Starsky was entirely too cheerful—and then realized that he and Dobey must have exactly the same expressions on their faces. Maybe the captain didn’t harbor good feelings about the holiday season either.

“In my office.” Dobey stomped back into his lair. He opened a folder and extracted two photographs as Starsky and Hutch walked in.

Hutch took the chair, weary enough to wish he was back home in bed. Except, then, he’d only dream of homicidal elves. Therefore, no sleep for the next month. That was his plan, unrealistic as it might be.

“What do you have for us, Cap?” Starsky asked.

“Have you two seen the posters for that Christmas fair called Dickensian Village?” Dobey placed the photographs in front of them. “It’s due to open this afternoon but there have been two murders in two days.”

Both pictures showed elderly victims, quite dead, the bodies oddly deflated as if they no longer had any substance at all. Hutch felt the blood drain from his face and was suddenly hot, the room so airless he could barely breathe.

“What happened to them?” Starsky squeaked, plopping down on the arm of the chair Hutch was sitting in to examine the pictures more closely.

“It’s your job to find out!” Dobey shouted.

Clearly, he was disturbed at the sight of the corpses, too. In an effort to sound like a competent detective, Hutch cleared his throat, forcing himself to calm down. “When and where were they found?”

“Johnathan Waterston was found in the back of the Santa Claus display on Wednesday,” Dobey explained, digging a chubby finger into the knot of his tie to loosen it around his neck. “He was an historian hired by the Victoriana Society to help make the Dickensian Village as authentic as possible. At first, it was assumed he’d had a heart attack or stroke. He was 70.”

“Natural assumption,” Starsky agreed. “But?”

“The autopsy hadn’t even been done when the second body was found this morning just after the organizers from the society arrived,” Dobey continued. “This woman is Garland Flowers…”

“That’s her real name?” Hutch asked.

“Apparently.” Dobey’s mouth was a grim line. “She was in exactly the same spot as Waterston, in the same position, looking like she’d been drained dry—“

“Of life,” Starsky finished in a hushed voice.

Hutch swallowed against a very dry throat and thought of his grandmother, seeing her after death, pale and impossibly flattened. As if drained of life. He inhaled twice before he could speak. “Did any of the workers…”

“Cast members, the same as what workers at Disneyland are called,” Dobey said gruffly.

“Cast members see anything?” Hutch pressed, “Near the body? S-small, uh, disturbing shadows or…”

“You have a theory, Sherlock?” Starsky mimed peering through a magnifying glass.

“No, no,” Hutch said quickly. They’d think him crazy if he posited that the killer had been a green and red elf with sharp teeth. Vampiric elves, yeah, that was realistic. Yet, he couldn’t shake the conviction that he was dead on the money. “We’d better go visit this place, talk to the witnesses –“

“Cast members,” Starsky reminded.

~*~

“Hutch, I’ve known you since 1968, and you’ve had these weird elf nightmares every single year since then,” Starsky said, driving through Bay City midmorning traffic. “At least, I assume you had them in ’68 and ’69, ‘cause you were weird about December even then, but I didn’t know why yet. It’s now 1974, and time to interpret those dreams, dig out the whys—“

“Why what?” Hutch repeated, sounding inane even to himself. “Starsk, let’s stick to this case. It’s crazy enough without bringing…”

“Ah, but you started it,” Starsky interrupted. “I saw your face. You were nearly as white as those bodies. Like you’d seen that before. And you’re the one who started describing disturbing shadows—about a murder location you’ve never been to.”

Busted. However, Hutch knew ways to deflect Starsky’s curiosity. “You’re interpreting dreams now? What brought this on? Because Helen went out of town, you had to find something else to do with your nights?” He added a cynical laugh, for effect.

Starsky and Helen Davisson had been dating on and off for a few months. Long enough that Hutch suspected the romance was turning serious. Although the two of them fought like combating centurions, they made up easily, and Starsky seemed genuinely in love. He and Helen spent a great deal of time together, but always made sure to include Hutch once a week. He had begun to feel like a third wheel. Starsky and Helen didn’t need to coddle him simply because his final attempt to salvage his marriage to Van had died the death it should have three years earlier. Their relationship was over, but Starsky had the chance at a future with a beautiful woman who shared his passion for police work. Helen had taken the month of December off to be with her sick mother.

“Hey!” Starsky poked a finger at him when he stopped for a red light. “I’ll have you know it’s all Helen’s fault. She was reading this book on dream interpretation and left it at my place when she flew to Santa Fe.”

“So you’re reading it now?” Hutch scoffed with as much disinterest as he could muster.

“Exactly. So elves…what could that be in dream symbology?” Starsky said thoughtfully, turning right. A huge sign bordered with repeating red and green curlie-cues directed them to Dickensian Village: The Magic of Christmas Brought to Life.

An ironic slogan in light of what happened. As Starsky drove closer to a warehouse decorated with a huge green garland and two towering Christmas trees, Hutch fought the panic knotting his belly. He’d hidden the terror down deep for so many years. What would it hurt if he confessed his fears? That he knew very well that the elves weren’t simply dream manifestations of some repressed longing or oedipal complex.

“Starsk,” Hutch blurted out before the last shred of bravery left him. “They’re not really…dreams.”

“What are they?” Starsky parked in an area marked employees.

“M-memories,” Hutch whispered, sweat breaking out all over his body. Could he do this? Delve into the most terrifying time of his life when he hadn’t known if he would survive?

“You’ve lost me.” Starsky turned, facing Hutch, hiking his right knee onto the upholstered bench seat so that it touched Hutch’s left thigh.

That grounded Hutch, gave him courage and hope. Hope that this wasn’t a repeat of 1955. “When I was ten, we went to England, ostensibly because my dad had a temporary job to design a pipeline, but also to visit my mother’s mother who had been living there.”

“I remember, you tol’ me your grandma was from Norway and went to London during the war.”

“Right, and my mother moved to the US when she met my dad who was stationed at an air force base in England.” Hutch found setting the history into place helped center him, too. He could get through this. “Two weeks before Christmas, we stayed with Grandmother in her cottage—very old fashioned, very…” He gestured at a poster by the warehouse door with a drawing of a half-timbered, thatched roof cottage above a list of the delights of Dickensian Village. “Very Dickens-like. My sister and I were having a great time, so my parents went for a weekend by themselves at a bed and breakfast.”

Starsky nodded, totally absorbed in the story.

“Late in the afternoon, as it was getting dark, Grandmother took me shopping in the local high street, leaving Karen with a new friend from down the lane.” Hutch gulped a breath, the fear rising inside him like a damned monster in one of Starsky’s favorite drive-in movie classics. “There was a grotto on the town green, for Father Christmas, but he wasn’t there. I didn’t really care, ‘cause I was ten—“

“Didn’t believe anymore, did you?” Starsky smiled, patting Hutch’s corduroy clad knee.

“Of course not. I wanted to buy a Beano magazine and a Cadbury assortment at the shop for Karen, so I walked past the grotto.” Hutch closed his eyes, seeing the weird shadow behind the golden throne erected for Father Christmas. The hint of green and the gruesome red mouth, full of glistening teeth. “Grandmother called to me, almost running…I think she’d seen the—“ What could he call them that made them less threatening? “Creature before I really did.”

It had been over in seconds. A flash of a hideous green body, a gaping mouth and then Sissel Mortensen was lying in the high street like a spent balloon, her skin dry as husk and her blue eyes widened in permanent shock.

“I tried calling out to people, but I couldn’t move, couldn’t touch her,” Hutch said, that aching sadness that he’d been unable to save his Grandmother back full force. He’d stood there and watched her die, watched a horrible green and red being take her from him.

“That’s…” Starsky spoke into the hush, almost panting from the tale, “astonishing.”

“You don’t believe me?” Hutch spat. This is why he’d never brought it up since he’d told his parents. Who had immediately assumed he had some sort of trauma-induced fantasy and assured him that Grandma had had a heart attack. After all, she was over fifty. “I know it sounds absurd, like a…a movie script—“

“Of course I believe you!” Starsky said staunchly. “But you gotta admit, it’s weird.”

“If it hadn’t happened to me, I wouldn’t believe it.” Hutch let out a pent up breath. “That’s not the half of it. The first person who found me was a doctor. He and his—I don’t know exactly what she was, an assistant or a nurse, I was never quite sure, they gathered up grandmother’s body and took us to a hospital.” He could see the place in his mind’s eye, clear as day. A narrow blue door—they’d gone inside and the place was huge, far bigger than it appeared on the outside. Full of really cutting edge equipment that he couldn’t even begin to understand. Spent, young Kenny had sat on a step, praying for grandmother, but the doctor had not been able to revive her. “A blue door…” Hutch said softly. “I didn’t know there was a hospital in Shipston-on-Stour. When the doctor said he couldn’t save her, I went numb inside, I think. Must have been in shock.”

“That’s tough for any kid to see,” Starsky murmured sympathetically.

“I barely remember what happened next,” Hutch shrugged, something heavy lifting off his shoulders for the first time in nearly twenty years. It felt really good to unburden himself like this—even at the cost of investigating the crime. He should have known Starsky would understand; he’d seen his father killed when he was only a year or two older than Hutch had been. “I never saw the doctor again. His assistant dealt with calling my parents home, collecting my sister, even taking grandmother to the funeral parlor. It’s a jumble in my head.”

Starsky stiffened, pointing out the windshield at a woman in a red and black tartan hoop skirt and a lace cap a la one of the Bronte sisters. “Crap, we forgot to go talk to the organizers of Dickensian Village.”

“Let’s get on this,” Hutch said rapidly, shoving open the car door. He felt oddly invigorated, relieved that Starsky hadn’t ridiculed the notion of vicious, living elves. Taking a deep, satisfying breath of the brisk, cool air, Hutch looked over the roof of the car at his friend. “Thanks for listening to me.”

Starsky looked straight into his eyes for a long moment. “Anytime, buddy.” He turned and walked up to the woman in red. “Detective David Starsky, BCPD,” he identified himself, holding up his badge. “My partner, Ken Hutchinson.”

“I wondered what had been keeping you!” she said, her voice this side of shrill, anxiety evident in the way she waved her hands like wings. “I’m Hadley Larousse, co-chair of the Victoriana society.”

At second glance, she was far younger than Hutch had assumed. Probably in her late twenties, near to his age. He’d expected some elderly biddy. “Miss Larousse, would you be able to give us access to the crime scene?”

“This is all so awful! I can’t believe that Garland and John died so—strangely,” she exclaimed, looking from one to the other as if they could provide her immediate answers. “Come in this way.” She led Starsky and Hutch past a ticket counter and into a living photograph of Victorian England.

“Wow, it looks a lot smaller on the inside,” Starsky said, staring at the town crammed into the warehouse.

Hutch was impressed: it truly was like stepping back 100 years to take a stroll through Piccadilly or Oxford Circle in London. Costumed shopkeepers were stocking their shelves with delicate tea sets, marmalade, and leather-bound books. Cast members congregated in groups to rehearse comments in proper British or streetwise Cockney designed to draw visitors into believing they were speaking with citizens of old England. There were stalls for roasted chestnuts, Punch and Judy shows, and gypsy fortune tellers. The shop windows had been artfully frosted to suggest a nip in the air, holly and mistletoe hung over doorways, and the strains of a boys’ choir singing carols serenaded passersby. Hutch even saw a butchers with an enormous turkey hanging in the window, just like in the final scenes of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

“Why would this happen?” Hadley trilled unhappily. “The doors open to the VIP guests this afternoon at four and then the public at six today! If publicity like this gets out, we’ll be ruined.”

“More like deluged with morbid curiosity seekers,” Starsky muttered, stopping to examine a display of men’s headwear, both silk and beaver-skinned top hats.

“What?” Hadley said louder, as Artful Dodger and Oliver Twist ran by practicing their patter.

“He said that hopefully we’ll find the answers we seek,” Hutch interpreted, shooting Starsky a glare.

But Starsky had wandered down the lane to a shop selling ladies’ clothing. A stunning wine colored silk corset was featured in the window with lace unmentionables like pantaloons and night clothes draped on a tiny bed.

“I’d love to see Helen get one of those,” Starsky commented.

Hutch searched the area, a tingling sensation in the pit of his stomach. There was a half-timbered house to his right with a woman putting jars of jellies and jams on a tray, and what seemed to be an indoor garden to his right. Evergreen trees growing in pots surrounded a raised platform adorned with red and white roses. In the middle was a golden throne. A red velvet cap trimmed in white ermine hung jauntily over the arm of the chair.

“Santa’s grotto?” Hutch asked, feeling the blood drain from his face. “I mean, Father Christmas.”

“Yes, in England, Father Christmas is more commonly used,” Hadley agreed. She pointed beyond the chair, behind the potted pines. “Both Garland and John were found…” She bit her bottom lip, the lace of her cap fluttering as she trembled. She pulled herself together with rapid exhale. “I arrived early this morning and my co-chair Kathleen was crying, said that Garland was dead. I saw her high buttoned shoes peeping out from behind the trees…”

“The coroner already came to remove the…Garland?” Starsky asked, walking into the grotto to examine the gold chair.

Hadley nodded, clasping her hands to her décolletage. Hutch hadn’t really noticed until then how very low her dress was cut in front. Her round breasts were heaving. Was that really period?

“Where is Father Christmas?” he asked, even though it sounded lame. But it was a legitimate question. Potentially, he could have been closest to the murdered victims if he had been in or around the grotto earlier.

“Alas,” Hadley sighed in annoyance. “After Noel Christmas—his honest to gosh name, poor lamb—found John’s body, he quit. We’ll have to find another Father Christmas on short notice, and he so looked the part. Do you know of any—?”

“No!” Starsky cut her off.

“Hadley!” A woman with masses of dark curls, dressed in a green velvet gown with black lace accents around the collar and elbow length sleeves, dashed up. “There you are! There’s at least four men in the office, all here to audition for Father Christmas.”

“I’ve got to deal with this,” Hadley apologized. “Please, examine the area, but don’t move anything without permission. John, bless him, created this entire place, got the atmosphere just perfect, and we want it to be his legacy.”

“It’s terrific!” Starsky waved his arms at their surroundings with a big grin. “I’d pay to come back again.”

“I’m glad; we need the revenue.” She hurried off with her friend.

Hutch touched the golden throne, seeing his ten-year-old self hurrying past to a shop in his memory. Only, there wouldn’t be any newsagent selling a Beano comic in Victorian England. Cadbury’s, possibly. He banished the visions just as the boy he had been caught sight of the menacing creature.

“Hutch?” Starsky asked softly, guiding Hutch exactly where he didn’t want to go, behind the grotto. “I’ve got what’ll sound like one hell of a whacky theory, but…”

“I’m listening.” Hutch looked deeply into Starsky’s sincere blue eyes.

“You really believe in these…evil elves, right?”

“Unfortunately.”

“What if they came back?” Starsky touched his toe to the overlapping chalk lines that were all that was left to represent John Waterston and Garland Flowers. “What you told me sounds just like what happened to your grandma.”

“Starsk, that was nearly twenty years ago, in rural England.”

“Doesn’t it seem like we’re back further than that in merry olde—?” Starsky barked a short laugh. “I know, it’s insane, but the facts are there. All three old—“

Hutch hadn’t even caught that similarity. “All three sucked dry of life, or so it appears, all three died in the dark—“

Starsky frowned. “I thought you said you went with your grandma in the afternoon.”

“The United Kingdom is farther north than California; it gets dark by three-thirty in December,” Hutch said, something clutching his heart. Was this really happening? Could it be possible that the elves were back? He didn’t want to believe that, but in light of all that they’d pieced together, there was no other logical explanation.

“Where could they be now?” Starsky asked reasonably. “And why just older people? Unless they’ve attacked lots of people in the last twenty years that we don’t know about.”

“Very possible,” Hutch mused, wondering for the first time ever what had happened to the elf once it killed his grandmother. Had the doctor done something? If so what? “I can imagine that very few people are going to admit to…”

“Seeing an elf murder a senior citizen?” Starsky asked rhetorically. “So where exactly did they come from? Where’ve they been hiding since 1955?”

Very valid questions.

“We’ll never find them at this hour. We have to come back at night.” Decisions made, Hutch wanted to get this done pronto. He was an adult now, not a ten-year-old, and he carried a powerful handgun. He could blow one of those damned sprites away for what they had done to his grandmother.

“Got to talk to the lover-ly Mz Larousse, then.” Starsky winked at him. “I saw the way you looked at her.”

“I was admiring her—costume,” Hutch clutched at an explanation that didn’t make him sound like a letch. “We’ll need to call Dobey. Think there’s a telephone in London-town?”

“And find something to wear.” Starsky ran over to the display of men’s hats. “I can just see you wearing something like that.” He popped the top hat on Hutch’s head.

“I’m already tall enough, Starsk,” Hutch removed the hat, running his thumb along the brim. It wasn’t actual beaver fur, but the fake fur was velvety soft. “You’re the one who likes to go undercover.”

“Aw, c’mon.”

Starsky’s smile melted Hutch’s resolve. “I’ll wear a waistcoat and high collar if you do,” Hutch laughed. “As long as it gets us those fucking elves.”

~*~

Hadley Larousse and her co-chair, Kathleen Parsons, a woman of very advanced years with a twinkle in her eye that rivaled Starsky’s, were grateful to have the police in attendance for the opening celebrations.

“We have extra costumes,” Kathleen said, eyeing Starsky and then Hutch. “You’re quite a tall young man, aren’t you?”

It had been a while since anyone called Hutch a young man. He’d passed his twenty-ninth birthday in August, but her pink cheeks, shining white hair caught into a snood, and laughing blue eyes reminded him so much of Grandmother Sissel that he couldn’t help but match her smile.

“They grow them tall in Minnesota.” Starsky accepted a pair of striped trousers, a tartan green and black waistcoat, and short black jacket from Hadley.

“These should fit you,” she said. “Now for a hat.” She waved her hand at a collection in an open packing box. “Get one for Hutch, too.”

“I know just what Hutch needs.” Starsky’s voice was muffled as he bent enthusiastically over the box.

“You’re from Minnesota?” Kathleen asked, the full skirts of her blue and green brocade gown rustling when she stood up from her desk. “I lived there as a girl.”

“Small world,” Hutch said politely. He and Starsky had gone back to Metro to search for any other reports of suspicious deaths in the United States where an elderly person was drained of life, but it was virtually impossible to learn much quickly. He suspected that if witnesses had seen life-sucking elves attack, they would be understandably reluctant to admit it to authorities. “We are concerned that we are dealing with a copycat killer—who may have left bodies all over. Possibly going back as many as twenty years.”

The two women stared at him, but while Hadley appeared shocked, Kathleen had a mournful resignation in her eyes.

Hutch and Starsky had uncovered one death in Northern California that sounded similar, which brought their personal total up to four. A year ago, an old man had been found flattened and dry in an amusement park called Santa’s Village, near Santa Cruz. He’d been tucked under an enormous decorated tree outside Santa’s workshop. Of course, not a single eyewitness had come forward. The one thing Hutch had gleaned from all accounts was that the elves seemed to congregate in areas where they had a natural camouflage. They were apparently intelligent, quick, and ruthless. What was their motive for the random killings?

“Hutch!” Starsky squeaked, emerging from the box with an armful of hats, a brown and black plaid deerstalker perched on his curls. “I found a Sherlock Holmes hat!”

“How did that get in there?” Hadley tsk-tsked, holding out her hand for the offending chapeau. “Not right for your outfit, we’re a few decades earlier in the 19th century. You’d do better with the collapsible silk hat.”

“But it’s cool!” Starsky protested.

“Starsk, she’s the expert here,” Hutch said with a grin. Starsky did look cute, like a kid waiting for the next installment of Basil Rathbone’s detective movies.

“Come back in January,” Kathleen said, plucking the deerstalker off Starsky’s head and tossing it back into the box. “We’ll be hosting a lovely evening with the local chapter of the Baker Street Irregulars. It’s great fun.”

“Hound of the Baskervilles,” Starsky said enthusiastically. He shuffled the hats he held until he could get the short crowned black hat on his head. Another one tumbled out of his clutches, leaving only a taller beaver fur top hat and a cloth cap in his arms.

“Now you’ve created a monster.” Hutch rolled his eyes at Kathleen. “Which hat did you want me to wear?”

“Hadley!” The dark haired woman dressed in green velvet Hutch had seen earlier poked her head through the door to the costume room, obviously breathless from rushing about. Hutch was beginning to think she never walked calmly. “There you are! The reporters are starting to arrive.”

“Oh, my! It’s later than I expected! Kerria, have them assemble in Piccadilly Circus and I’ll be right there,” Hadley explained. She glanced at herself in the mirror, smoothing a lock of perfectly coifed brown hair up under the lace cap. Her red and black tartan skirt seemed to snap crisply as she turned. “Kathleen, I’ll welcome the mayor and the press—“

“And I’ll give Starsky and Hutchinson their marching orders,” Kathleen agreed amiably. She shook her head as Hadley bustled out. “Good at organizing, but that girl does get in a tizzy.” She took the top hat from Starsky and squared it on Hutch’s head. “That’s the one for you.”

Hutch peered at himself in the mirror. The hat gave him a gravitas and elegance he didn’t normally feel in real life.

“With a black frock coat and gray waistcoat and trousers, you’ll look like a well-to-do gent.” Kathleen nodded with satisfaction. “Mr. Starsky, please go change.”

“Call me Dave.” Starsky winked at her and ducked into a curtained alcove.

“Mr. Hutchinson,” Kathleen looked over at him, suddenly somber, “because you are from Minnesota, I feel as if I should tell you something that happened to me a long time ago.”

Hutch felt an inward shiver of dread, which had never happened on any other case he’d worked on previously. He was clearly over-identifying with these murders. “Something to do with what today’s events?”

Kathleen nodded, turning to select a long black jacket with satin lapels and a gray suit from the rack of men’s clothing. “When I was young, my Great Aunt Agatha lived in Duluth and we’d visit at Christmas time.” She smoothed the shiny lapels with her fingers, the memory obviously a grave one. “I was excited for Christmas and in the wee hours, crept down the stairs to the grand sitting room of her house. I saw—“ She paused as if unable to continue.

“A green creature grabbing your aunt?” Hutch asked very softly, the same image playing out in his mind’s eye, only in Shipston-on-Stour.

“I thought I’d dreamed it all these years!” Kathleen’s anguish spilled out but she buttoned it up rapidly. “Or that, I don’t know, it was something that occurred only in Duluth, because it never happened again.”

Thank God. This was hitting too close to home, literally. “Until now.” Hutch took the clothing from her. “Did you see a green—?”

“An elf!” She folded both hands together with a determined expression. “I found Garland this morning. We were to meet and have a quick breakfast meeting before the others arrived. She was…” Kathleen shrugged. “Drained of life, exactly like Agatha had been. I caught a glimpse of the elf slipping under Father Christmas’ throne this morning, just a streak of green.” Tears formed in her pale blue eyes, one running silently down her wrinkled cheek. “I bent to check Garland’s pulse. I used to be a nurse, but she was dead. I couldn’t bring myself to tell the police who came this morning about the elf.”

“I understand because I’ve seen it myself.” Hutch gave her a quick hug. She’d been a girl more than fifty years ago; how far back did these murders go? He had to find a way to stop the elf once and for all.

“I had a feeling that you could empathize,” she whispered.

“How do I look?” Starsky emerged from the dressing alcove. He tucked his 20th century pistol in his pocket.

“Like a Dickensian swain,” Kathleen declared, all semblance of sadness gone from her face.

Starsky sent Hutch a quizzical glance that lightened Hutch’s mood considerably and he went to change as well.

~*~

The opening festivities went off without a hitch. The mayor cut a ceremonial ribbon and VIPs received complimentary flutes of champagne as they toured Dickensian Village. The paying visitors swarmed in at six pm, swelling the citizenry of merry old England to the bursting. The new Father Christmas only stayed for a short while because he had another engagement, but he was swarmed with excited children while he sat in his grotto.

Starsky and Hutch kept watch on the populace but both suspected that their suspect would not show up when there were quite so many people around. Every past murder-by-elves they’d uncovered had occurred in the dark, at a relatively quiet time of night or early morning.

In the meanwhile, Starsky and Hutch got to know the cast members and perused the shops. They explored intriguing back alleys where the boys playing Artful Dodger and Oliver Twist hung out with their mates, cheerfully picking pockets and then giving the loot back to their victims accompanied by a free ticket for a savoury treat at the meat pie stall.

“This is terrific!” Starsky bit into a Cornish pasty, flakes of crust on his lips. “Have one!”

“I’m going to go with Welsh rarebit,” Hutch said, handing an apple-cheeked woman his ticket. She gave him a paper dish filled with rich melted cheddar cheese poured over a large slice of homemade toasted bread. Just the scent reminded him of eating lunch with his Grandmother on her last day. The first bite burned the roof of his mouth, but the next was heavenly.

By ten o’clock, the party was winding down. Most of the stalls and restaurants selling food were closing up, with only the Red Lion Pub still open. Located directly across from the exit, they were doing a brisk business in beer, hard cider, and perry. There was a band, complete with a very enthusiastic tuba player mid-way down the main thoroughfare accompanying a small crowd singing Christmas carols with a decidedly drunken verve.

Hadley and Kathleen still looked beautiful in their Victorian finery, despite the fact that they’d been dressed in the tight fitting dresses and old fashioned button up shoes for more than 12 hours by Hutch’s reckoning. They thanked the visitors one and all for the wonderful evening and handed out half price tickets for return visits.

“We’ll be open for two more weekends until Christmas!” Hadley called out.

“Kenneth,” Kathleen said, patting Hutch’s hand like a grandmother. “I am sure it was your presence, you and David, that helped make this night a true success. No sign of any—well, you know.” She glanced at Hadley chatting with a man wearing jeans and a Dickensian Village T-shirt, clearly not wanting certain ears to hear the details.

“We can’t be sure they won’t come during the night,” Hutch warned. He was determined to wait the elf out, until dawn, if necessary. “I know you hired Guardian Security to patrol the parking lot and perimeter. Starsky and I will stay inside to keep our eyes open.”

“What a commendable man.” Kathleen’s eyes sparkled. “If I were a few years youngers…”

“Or I was a few years older.” Hutch bent to kiss her soft cheek.

“Once the last of the crowd is gone, I’ll make sure Hadley locks up,” Kathleen said. “If either of you need a nap during the night, make yourselves comfortable in the office.”

“We’ll stay awake to keep watch,” Hutch promised, surprised to realize his early morning fatigue had disappeared in in zeal to solve this case.

Starsky stood near the band, joining in on “oh, bring us a figgy pudding…” as if he were just another one of the Dickensian cast members. After Father Christmas left, Hutch kept an eye on the rose-bedecked grotto. Nothing untoward happened all night, but the tight knot in the pit of Hutch’s stomach had not been loosened by warm spiced cider or the scrumptious Welsh rarebit. He had a bad feeling that there would be a third murder that night.

As the tuba hit a blasting high note, Hutch heard a strange wheezing, grinding whine that was weirdly familiar although for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out why.

There were only a few stragglers walking down the faux cobblestones on the street. No one else seemed hear the strange noise or take the least notice of a sudden wind that whipped up the detritus of dropped programs and torn meat pie tickets. The door to the warehouse was open but the wind was coming from the opposite side of the huge building.

His heart thudding so hard that the gold watch chain hanging from his gray waistcoat quivered, Hutch grabbed Starsky’s arm, race-walking him toward Santa’s grotto. It was dark in the back corner behind the potted evergreens, and Hutch was sure he saw something that hadn’t been there previously. Instinctively, he put a hand on his gun, nestled in his frock coat pocket, but he didn’t pull it out.

“What?” Starsky asked, craning his head over his shoulder to wave good-bye to Hadley.

“Did you hear…” Hutch began, then stopped so abruptly that Starsky nearly pitched forward. “Oh, my God.” There was a huge blue box, oddly like an old British Police phone box sitting squarely on what had formerly been bare space behind Father Christmas’ golden throne. Hutch had stood on that spot looking at the outlines of the victims more than twelve hours earlier.

“What the hell is that?” Starsky peered warily at the thing. “Looks like a—“

“It’s the blue door,” Hutch barely got the words out. His throat was constricted and hot. This was the blue door to the hospital. Where the doctor who could not save his grandmother had worked. The blue door that he had always known did not actually belong in Shipston-on-Stour.

Starsky swung around to stare at him. “No shit, Sherlock, it’s a blue door.”

“Starsky, I mean, it’s the—“ Hutch was struck dumb when the door opened and a beautiful blond girl emerged. She was wearing a British flag t-shirt, tight jeans and a leather jacket. Hutch remembered her, dressed just the same, calling his parents to tell them to come back to Shipston-on-Stour.

The man behind her was equally a shock. The Doctor looked exactly as he had in 1955—when Hutch was ten. Now Hutch was as tall as the slender young man wearing a brown striped suit and converse sneakers. Nineteen years later, neither the Doctor nor—what was her name? Rose. That was it. Rose—they hadn’t aged one day.

“Blimey, you see, Rose, I knew there’d be an explanation once we arrived,” the Doctor said expansively, waving both arms to take in faux jolly old London. “Kenny, good to see you again!” He bounded up, holding out a welcoming hand as if he, and not Hutch and Starsky, had been there all along.

“You’re—“ Hutch glanced at Starsky to make sure he was seeing exactly the same thing. Starsky’s blue eyes were wide, with that wary edge he had when he didn’t quite understand the situation but was prepared for a fight.

“I think you’ve overshot the year, Doctor,” Rose scolded. “If he’s the same lad, he’s grown quite tall.” She grinned broadly at Hutch. “How is your sister, then? Did she get the Queen Elizabeth paper-dolls for Christmas?”

“The Doctor,” Hutch finished, anger welling in his chest to replace the fear and apprehension he’d harbored all evening. “W-where did you come from? How? And why didn’t you save my grandmother.”

“Yeah, well,” the Doctor drawled out the word with a rueful grimace. He patted his pockets as if looking for something. “There was nothing I could do for the old girl. The Sidencranz are quite thorough.”

“Sidencranz?” Starsky echoed.

“That’s why we’re here,” Rose said brightly, peering at the surroundings with rapt interest. “Wonderful decorations. Yet I don’t see a single one of the buggers.”

“Who is this?” Starsky demanded, looking directly at Hutch.

The Doctor was poking under Father Christmas’ throne, muttering to himself and waving a long silver wand-like thing with a bluish light on the tip. He straightened with an apologetic grin, as if he’d forgotten his manners. “I’m the Doctor, and this is Rose Tyler. We’ve been on the trail of the Sidencranz for millennia but they have proven to be a decidedly crafty race and led us on a merry chase.” He chuckled, nudging Rose. “Merry, did you hear that? Americans say merry Christmas, unlike the British who generally greet one another with happy…”

“Doctor!” Hutch said sternly, irritated with the prattle. He was worse than Starsky. “How did you hear about these…”

“Sidencranz,” Rose put in helpfully.

“I’ve got an alarm for these sorts of things, don’t I?” The Doctor raised his eyebrows, brandishing the silver wand. “On the sonic screwdriver. It alerts us when the Sidencranz are in a particular time and we rush on over—I’m getting readings that there have been some incidents here.” He shook the sonic screwdriver, squinting at the tip with a frown.

“If you mean murders, you’re right on the money,” Starsky told him.

“You travel in time?” Hutch asked, stunned. How was that possible? This was not a story written by Jules Verne.

“Every day,” Rose agreed. “Quite difficult to keep the days straight, I tell you. Luckily, me mum regularly calls me to give me the date on Earth. Greenwich Mean Time.” She held up a small device like the tricorders on Star Trek.

Hutch was through with feeling like he’d gone through some weird portal into the TV screen. Give him a regular crime on the dingy streets of Bay City from now on, he would not complain. He wanted to get out of the borrowed finery and into his familiar soft corduroy slacks and flannel shirt—complete with the shoulder holster for his gun. Which he was seriously considering pulling out in the next minute or two unless he got some substantial answers. Seeing a man he’d first met nineteen years ago was not going to cut it.

“That is terrific,” Starsky was saying as Rose showed him how to flip open the small device. “You can actually use that like a telephone?”

“It is a telephone,” Rose replied. “What year is this?”

“1974,” Hutch snapped. “December sixth, to be precise. Are these damned Sidencranz you keep yapping about some kind of alien elves?” He couldn’t even believe those words were actually coming out of his mouth.

“Spot on.” The Doctor agreed. “Kenny, I am sorry I couldn’t help your grandmother before.”

Hutch inhaled, slightly mollified. The Doctor did sound genuinely remorseful. “What is it they do?” he asked, his detective side coming to the fore. “Why these murders at Christmas time? We think we’ve uncovered at least five, spanning generations.”

“I warned the Sidencranz off in—“ He turned to find Rose who had wandered off to admire the corset in the window display. “What year was it when we first met Kenny?”

“1954?” Rose told him over her shoulder. “You can plainly see he’s older now.”

“Grandmother died in ‘55,” Hutch said stiffly.

“Yeah.” The Doctor brushed a hand through his untidy brown hair, clearly frustrated. “Once a Sidencranz has sucked the joyful memories from a being, the victim simply… ceases to be.” The Doctor shrugged, a sadness coming over his boyish features. He smoothed his red and blue striped tie thoughtfully. “It’s a very peaceful death, no pain.”

Something deep inside Hutch that had been knotted tightly for decades loosened. Grandmother Sissel hadn’t suffered because of him.

“The Sidencranz feed on the memories of older people; the intelligence, happiness, and longevity call out to them, a bit like candy to a baby.” The Doctor looked around again, waving a hand at the false Dickensian buildings. “They surface on Earth every decade or so, primarily in the Christmas hols, drawn to the yuletide festivities and happiness. Luckily—“

“I don’t think that’s a word that applies here,” Starsky interrupted.

“Usually, there are only a few incidents and then the Sidencranz teleport to their home planet to—“ The Doctor paused, obviously seeing someone behind Starsky and Hutch. “Digest,” he finished in a softer voice.

“Kenneth,” Kathleen called out from down the lane. “Who are—“

“Hutch!” Starsky warned as Hutch turned to speak to the older woman.

“Doctor!” Rose squeaked. She’d plunked down in the golden throne and was pointing directly at a creature emerging from the shadows to the left of the grotto.

Hutch finally did what he’d wanted to do since he was ten: pull a weapon on the damned green elf. “Freeze, asshole,” he yelled, leveling his Magnum.

“Oh, my,” Kathleen said faintly, backing away from the creature. The Sidencranz had long wickedly sharp fangs in a wide red mouth. Green hair grew in tangled tufts all over its squat body. “It’s after me.”

The thing sprang forward with more force and strength than Hutch would have imagined from an elf not three feet high, going for Kathleen’s jugular. When it grabbed onto her, she half smiled, as if recalling something wonderful from long ago.

“Quite enough!” The Doctor commanded with authority.

Repulsed, Hutch slammed the butt of his gun on the Sidencranz’ skull. It screeched, dropping away from Kathleen. She was pale, but alive when Starsky pulled her into a protective hug, his own gun trained on the Sidencranz.

“I remembered, no, felt, my aunt,” Kathleen whispered.

The elf hunched over, whimpering, rubbing his head, staring up at the Doctor. “I yam on-lee feedink my chill-dreen,” it said in heavily accented English.

“This planet is off your dining rotation!” The Doctor commanded, his voice as tough as steel. He had drawn himself up to his full height, looming over the alien. “Humans value their happiest memories a great deal more than your race do. The Earth is under my protection.”

Impressed, Hutch took his eyes off the Sidencranz to give the Doctor a second look. Gone was the wide-eyed British schoolboy with an easy grin and endless chatter. The strength of his will could have bested the nastiest drug dealer on a Bay City street.

“Tell ‘em what for, Doctor,” Rose encouraged under her breath.

The Sidencranz squoozed upward, its body like malleable play-doh, standing on two spindly green legs, with both short arms reaching out imploringly.

Starsky made a grossed-out sound, taking a step closer with his pistol leveled on the alien.

“No guns,” The Doctor said sternly, waving him back.

“Ai deed no’ meeen to en-ker the wraath of thee Time Lorrr-da.” He bowed his head. “No more, Ai pro-meess.”

“Answer me one thing,” Kathleen said suddenly, her hands pressed against the bodice of her brocade gown. “Is my aunt,” she paused, taking a breath, “Agatha, and my friend Garland—“

“And my Grandmother Sissel,” Hutch added.

“Are their memories still intact?” Kathleen finished.

“Ai knooo yew.” The Sidencranz gave a weird sort of bow. “Mai pee-pul re-memm-bair all we en-gesta. We hold thee meem-rees of the u-nee-verse. Yew are leetle Kath, Ag-atha ‘now yew wii-sh for pe-permin’ can-dee in yewr stok-ing? An’ now lyk to laff weeth Gar-landa.”

“Yes,” Kathleen said, tears misting her blue eyes. “Yes, you do remember them.”

“And Hutch?” Starsky asked softly. “Kenny, I guess you’d have called him.”

Hutch could not have spoken if he tried. Flashbacks of Sissel washed over him. When she’d tied the red and white scarf around his neck to ward off the damp English cold, and walking Karen down the lane to her friend’s. Setting off hand in hand with Grandmother buy a Beano comic. He wanted to weep, but kept his outward police detective tightly in place. From of the corner of his eye, he could see that the Doctor had relaxed his imperious stance and was leaning against the golden throne with one hand on Rose’s arm.

“Keen-nee, yew were the las’ thing See-sille saw. She was…” It cocked its head, the fangs covered by the red lips so that it looked much more like the inane plastic elf Hutch had seen in the squadroom that morning. “Con-tent? She luv yew.”

Then it was gone in the blink of an eye. One second the squat green elf had been there beside the Doctor’s big blue box, and the next it had melted back into the shadows where it had come from.

“He won’t be back.” The Doctor tucked the sonic screwdriver into his pocket with an air of finality. “The Sidencranz are not inherently a bad race, they simply never understand the true value of what they are taking from humans.”

“Thank you,” Kathleen said gratefully. “I thought we’d locked up; where did you come from?”

“Starsky?” Hutch shook himself out of his daze, the gift the Sidencranz had given him too new still to examine closely. But the fear and grief he’d harbored for so long was completely gone. He felt renewed. “Could you go get our clothes? I’ll—uh—“ He glanced at the Doctor for help, but the young man simply smiled, one eyebrow cocked in amusement. There’d be no help from him on writing up convincing case reports.

“Sure.” Starsky nodded with understanding, although his eyes told Hutch they were having a long conversation later over beers. Or maybe something stronger. “Come on, my lady, I need your help to get out of these fancy duds.”

Kathleen giggled when Starsky linked arms with her, leading her down the cobblestoned street. “The Doctor is a—consultant to the police, I guess you could say. Helped us with this unusual problem.”

“Doctor, I don’t understand who you are, or how—“ Hutch shook his head, unwilling to delve any deeper into this conundrum. He wasn’t ready, at all. “But thank you.”

“Kenny.” The Doctor shook Hutch’s hand. “I can see that you’ve matured into an intelligent man. A member of the constabulary, unless I miss my guess?”

“I wouldn’t mind callin’ ‘em round to my flat if there was a break-in.” Rose flirtaciously pushed a lock of blond hair behind her ear.

“Detective Sergeant,” Hutch clarified. “How did you know?”

“When you were inside the Tardis,” The Doctor patted the blue box affectionately. “You told me you planned to grow up and help people be strong, because you couldn’t save your grandmother.”

He had no memory of that, but just walking through that blue door, which had looked so narrow on the outside and so immense on the inside had been too much for his shock-addled brain to perceive.

“You did it tonight.” Rose stood on her tippy-toes to give Hutch a kiss on the cheek. “The Sidencranz—and us—will never forget that.”

“Allons-y, Rose,” The Doctor said briskly. “Time to go. I’m sure that Jackie will have the Christmas decorations all over the lounge by the time we get to London. I’d quite peckish for a few cumber sarnies and a cuppa.” He ushered her into the Tardis and closed the door.

A groaning, wheezing clank filled the air, a brisk wind swirling all around Hutch, buffeting the skirts of his frock coat out from his legs, and then the space behind Father Christmas’ grotto was utterly empty.

But filled with memories. Hutch inhaled the lingering scent of Welsh Rarebit, Cornish pasty, hot spiced cider and a whiff of proper British tea, and smiled. For the first time since he was ten, he was looking forward to celebrating Christmas. Luckily, he knew a holiday elf, one David Starsky, who would show him how.

Fin


TARDIS

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