Short story: A Jack Le Claire Christmas Short

Blood On The Yule

Twinkling trees, glittery decorations and enough drunken Santas to fill the cells twice over weren’t enough to take your mind off business; especially when it concerned death.
As the last weeks of the year were shivering to a close DCI Jack Le Claire hoped for better come January, and he didn’t mean the weather. So far this year had brought the most harrowing case of his career, and his wife had left him. He’d escaped London and followed Sasha to Jersey, but she’d had enough. He was now living in the flat above his parents’ garage – alone.
His mobile rang. He clocked the ID and sighed. He’d better answer it, or she’d never give up. “Hello, mum.”
“Where the hell were you, Jack? You do remember it was our Christmas Drinks this evening?”
Yes, he had remembered, which is why he had been sitting in his office reviewing case files rather than mingling with his parents’ guests as they sipped champagne and nibbled tiny canapes from the latest must-have caterers. Then he’d been called out.
“Sorry, I didn’t forget the party. It’s just that something came up.”
The disapproval was evident in the silence that met his words broken only by her ragged intake of breath. She finally spoke, her voice chipped with ice. “Something always does. Your father said I was getting my hopes up to expect that you’d be here, even though you promised you would. The Governor and half the damn States of Jersey parliament made it, but you couldn’t find the time to come home. I assume we’ll see you tomorrow or will you wait until Christmas Day to grace us with your presence?”
She didn’t wait for an answer and disconnected the line before he could speak. He tried to ignore the knot in his stomach that was a kernel of shame. He sensed Dewar waiting by his side. “Sorry, that was my mum. “
“Sounds like she was ticked off that you never went to her party?”
They hadn’t been partners long, but he was getting used to the plain-speaking Scot. However, he wasn’t going to tell her about his background. There was enough talk in the station as it was.
He ignored her and looked around. It was gone midnight, and the small cobbled lane would have been quiet and unremarkable, were it not for the parked police cars and waiting ambulance. The nearby main street was festooned with lights, and joyful noise as partygoers made their way from one pub to another, revellers spilling onto the pavements to smoke and chat and spread Christmas cheer. Not so here. A young PC stood outside the only lit shopfront and quickly moved toward them.
Le Claire asked, “Hunter, what’s happened?”
“Some girls were heading to a club and walked along here. They said they heard a thud and what sounded like a scream. They called it in, and I was on patrol through town, so I got to the scene in a few minutes. The back door of the shop was open, and we found the body a man inside.”
“What makes it suspicious?”
“There was another man present at the scene. He seems a bit odd.”
“Define odd?”
Hunter shifted from foot to foot, looking even younger than he usually did. “You’ll need to see for yourself, sir.” A crimson flush covered his face, and Le Claire wondered what the hell had him so flustered.
They followed Hunter into the building. The shop area was eclectic with an antique desk that housed an old-fashioned till, and rows of shelving crammed with carved wooden boxes, toys and objects.
A man hunched over a covered shape and he looked up as Le Claire approached.
“Hi Viera, what have we got?”
The young doctor nodded a hello, and drew the blanket to the side and exposed the face of an elderly man; eyes closed tight and face the grey of colour-leeching death. “He appears to have hit his head on this log by the fireplace.” He lifted the head with plastic-gloved hands and angled it to reveal a bloodied mess. “We won’t know for sure until the autopsy results come in, but there is a wound on his head and blood on this Yule log. Question is whether he fell or someone pushed him. I recognise him. His name is Jimmy Lawson, and this is his shop. He makes all these wood products, toys, keepsake boxes and the like.”
Le Claire spoke to Hunter. “Where is this guy you mentioned?”
“In the back room, sir.” He pointed to a closed door where another uniform stood guard.
“Okay, what’s his story?”
“Err, seriously sir, I think you need to hear it from the man himself.”
Le Claire bit back on a sharp retort. He didn’t have time for these games.
“Dewar, with me.”
He opened the door and halted when he saw the figure sitting in a high-backed armchair. It was Santa. Or, at least, it was one of the multitudes of Father Christmases to be found staggering around the island all through December. They’d driven past at least a dozen similarly dressed revellers on their way here from the station.
He had to give this guy due credit. He certainly looked the part with a kindly face, ruddy cheeks and sparkling eyes. The shock of white hair and flowing beard didn’t look obviously fake nor did the slightly rotund figure. The usual costume of a red suit, black boots and matching belt didn’t look as cheap as some he had seen.
“Good evening, I’m DCI Le Claire, and this is DS Dewar. Whom am I addressing please?”
There was a brief pause, and then he replied in a deep rumble. “I am Father Christmas.”
Another one! “Okay pal, there’s no point in trying to hide from us. We’ll get your real name soon enough. What happened here this evening?”
“My old friend passed away. I came to say farewell.”
“Farewell? Are you going somewhere? Or did you know he was going to die? Perhaps you helped him there?”
He shook his head, and there was a glimmer of sadness in the man’s eyes, or perhaps it was the light? “Jimmy was an old and dear friend. I had no part in his death.”
“How did you know each other?”
“Jimmy was a craftsman, and I often bought from him.”
“There were reports of noises and a heavy thud accompanied by a scream.”
“I know nothing of that. I arrived to find my friend lying on the floor. He had what I assume was a heart-attack, and then I saw the blood.”
His DS quickly asked, “You are saying the gentleman was already dead when you arrived?”
“Yes. That is correct. Even had I been earlier I doubt I could have assisted. There is a time for everything, and a man knows when the time is to fight or to accept.”
“Thank you, Dewar, now Mr, err, Santa, we’ll need to take you down the station for a chat.”
“I’m afraid I can’t dally as I do have quite a busy time.”
“Don’t we all.”
“No, you don’t understand. This is my busiest time of the year.”
Le Claire could feel a tick worrying at the corner of his eye. “That’s enough of this nonsense. I have a dead body and potentially suspicious circumstances. The only place you’re going is the station.”
“Sir, sir!”
Hunter came rushing in, his face pink. “That was the desk sergeant on the phone. A man just turned up with his son and another boy. Apparently, the kids were drinking tonight and, for a dare, had to break into a shop.”
“Don’t tell me; they chose this place?”
“Yes. It seems the kids got in through the back door and saw Jimmy Lawson clutch at his chest, stumble and hit his head. They scarpered as quickly as they could. The boy told his dad who hauled them down the station.”
“Thank you. Right, it looks like you’re free to go, Mr Father Christmas. Keep off the hard stuff and get yourself home. I’ve already got six Santas, two elves and a reindeer in the cells and don’t need you adding to the tally.”
The man hauled himself to his feet and placed his brandy glass on the side table. “Indeed, there will be enough of that stuff to keep me nice and warm later on.”
He moved towards the door with a smile on his face, “Remember your families at this time of year. It takes nothing to show consideration. The job can’t take their place.”
The nosey old devil, had he overheard his conversation with his mother. Maybe he had a point though.
Le Claire woke early on Christmas morning. His mother had friends popping in for drinks before lunch, and he daren’t be absent from a second event. He’d not got home until late the night before. The results had come back in on Jimmy Lawson. The man had indeed died from a massive heart-attack. He quickly dressed and grabbed the note he had prepared the night before. There had been no time to buy his parents a gift from the shops, so he had resorted to the internet. He’d got them tickets to the Royal Albert Hall to see a jazz singer they both loved. He’d stuffed the booking confirmation in an envelope.
His father had just poured them both a glass of Malbec when his mother came in from the hall clutching two beautifully wrapped gifts. She handed one to his father and said, “Philip, look – Jack left these under the tree. What a lovely surprise. I can’t wait to see what you got us?”
He simply smiled. He couldn’t wait either, for he hadn’t left any presents under the tree.
His mother’s gasp brought him back to the present. “Oh, it is stunning. Look at the artistry.”
He just stared. His mother held a polished box, the stained wooden pieces melded together in an intricate jacquard pattern. She opened the lid and exposed the internal compartments for rings, bracelets or whatnots.
His father’s voice was next. “Thank you, son; this is perfect for my office.” He held a gleaming wooden globe that spun on an angled support. “What a thoughtful gift.”
His parents beamed with pleasure, and he smiled back with a forced grin. He could almost hear the deep, gravelled voice of the man from the shop – You have to think of your own family sometimes and not just the job. Merry Christmas, Jack Le Claire.
He downed his wine. He’d better have another drink, and quickly. For once, he felt like he needed it.
The End
Merry Christmas

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