My very first venture into amateur sleuthing, I unmasked the Santa Claus who surprised my third-grade class as none other than Mr. Blow, the school janitor! Jeannie Doyle broke down in tears, unable to handle the truth; the next day, during recess, her older brother punched me in the stomach. Undeterred, I collected evidence in the form of sales receipts proving that the presents left under the tree in our classroom had actually been bought by our own parents. Now, thirty years later, Santa Claus was sitting in my office, looking to hire a private investigator.
This was not the real Santa, mind you, but a far more convincing version than the 167-pound Mr. Blow. More than just heavy, this Santa (Gordon Nichols, “but call me Nick”) was round, and his beard flowed off his chin and cheeks liked a gentle snowfall. I had met him two weeks ago while updating the security system at a mall. When he sat down at my table in the food court, I introduced myself as Timmy Gulliver, not Tim Gulliver, Timmy, which I had not gone by since well before high school. Nick asked me a bagful of questions about my work and was particularly impressed that my interest began with a junior detective kit I had received as a Christmas present. I suspected that he was looking to hire me, but I never could have guessed why.