Mrs. Claus:

I pushed the sleigh into an upright position and helped the elf put the sack of presents back on it. It was up to me now. How could my husband's attention slip like that? He was usually so meticulous. Could it be old age? He was, after all, centuries old. But he couldn't retire yet! We haven't chosen an apprentice! I saw fire trucks surround the Eiffel Tower and saw the reindeer struggling free with the help of the firefighters. At least we crashed low enough for the ladders to reach. I prayed that none of the reindeer were hurt. I glanced around at the houses. Some lights flickered on. I took out my bag of invisibility powder and climbed up the tower. I dared not look down as I doused the reindeer and myself with it. That would complicate matters for the workers, but I couldn't let people see us. The sleigh was less of a problem, because people would assume that it was part of the parade or something. Not even invisibility powder could dim Rudolph's nose, however.

I was very relieved when the reindeer were finally free of the bars. They glided down, fueled by their magic corn. I could tell where they were by the shower of sparks that flew from their hooves. They were still attached to each other sled-dog style, so it was only a matter of hooking up the harnesses to the sleigh. Then we were off again, with a quick word of thanks to the authorities.

Sadly, we never got the chance to visit North America because of the delay. Every second counts in this line of work. I returned home dejected. This was the first year we had ever missed a single house! The reindeer slunk into their stalls. I closed the door and sat on a pail in the stable. I didn't feel like joining the elves in their party tonight. The blizzard whistled around the building, but it was warm inside.

"What has gotten into you guys," I asked.

"We had no choice," defended Rudolph. "Santa was making us go too fast." His nose lit up with anger.

"Chill, Rudy," said Vixen in a soft voice, batting her eyes. Clarice, Rudolph's girlfriend, stamped her hoof. Vixen shut her mouth and suddenly became very interested in a nearby pile of hay.

"Vixen, stop flirting with every buck in the stable," growled Blitzen.

"Whatever you say, Blitz," she said.

"I have a girlfriend," he said, glancing at Cupid. Everyone knew they were an item.

Prancer blinked dazedly. "What happened," he slurred. Dancer, in the stall next to him, rolled her eyes.

"We crashed into the Eiffel Tower and missed a continent," she explained with exaggerated patience. "Surely you remember that?"

"Oh. Right," Prancer said quietly.

"What's wrong with him," I asked. "He should have known he couldn't drink and fly."

"Maybe he didn't purposely set out alcoholic eggnog," suggested Donner.

"If that's true, then who did?"

"Maybe the elves," said Cupid. "I heard them talking in the workshop, and they weren't very happy about the workload this year. They've planned things like this in the past."

"But there are a thousand elves! How are we supposed to find the one or two that did it?"

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step," said Clarice.

"You're right. But what step is that? Where do we start?"

"We start where all good detective start: at the scene of the crime," said the light tan doe.

We trudged through the snow the short distance to the recreation room. The party was dying down. Streamers covered the floor, and some stragglers were chatting in a corner. The music still played loudly. I turned it down. The stragglers didn't seem to notice. I looked carefully around the large but cozy room. I couldn't make out anything in all the mess. I decided to start at the pitchers of eggnog. It was a good thing I decided not to drink any. When I took a sip, there was nothing different about the taste. So that would be why Santa didn't notice anything unusual until it was too late.

"Well it's probably spiked with vodka," said Comet. "Vodka is almost tasteless, but very strong."

He was right; I was already beginning to feel the effects. I hastily put down the cup and pushed it away.

"Where would we find vodka on the North Pole," asked Rudolph. "I thought alcohol was banned here because the elves were constantly getting drunk."

"Well obviously somebody has a stash somewhere," Donner responded, frowning. "Those elves are always causing trouble!"

One of the elves turned toward us. "Hey! I heard that," he snapped, wiggling his very pointy ears and causing his white trucker hat to fall off in the process. The elves all wore white trucker hats, red t-shirts, and green jeans.

"Sorry, dear," I said. "He didn't mean it."

The elf turned away, muttering about reindeer and stereotypes.

"Well I was just about to call a meeting anyway," I said. I ran to the other end of the room, where there was an intercom speaker that connected to the elf workshops, our house, and the stables. I pressed the button and spoke into it.

"Attention all elves: I am calling an emergency meeting. Everyone is to report to the rec room immediately!"

I waited for twenty minutes. Sure enough, all the elves came. There was a sea of white hats all looking at the podium I stood behind.

"Somebody spiked the eggnog," I announced. There were a few gasps and many shuffling feet.

"Please tell me who did it. Santa drank it, and that is the reason our annual flight was cut short. We got into a dreadful crash-don't worry, nobody was hurt. But somebody was responsible. I know I didn't do it, and Santa wouldn't be so stupid. So it has to be one of you. You know the rules about alcohol use."

Several of the elves were recovering alcoholics. They all hid their faces under the brims of their hats. I felt sorry for them, but rules were rules. If they had alcohol, it would be confiscated and they would lose vacation days, or be assigned to work a less pleasant job.

"Joe, Hannah, Jane, Stan, Ben," I said, calling each of them by name. They looked up with flushed faces.

"Do you have alcohol here?"

Hannah muttered something.

"What was that?"

"I said I do have a bottle of red wine in my room, but I didn't spike the eggnog with it. If I did, you would have noticed anyway."

"Okay, maybe I should be more specific. Does anybody have vodka?"

It was a fortunate thing that elves were by nature very honest. The only way they could not tell the truth was if they promised someone they wouldn't. Several sheepish hands rose.

"Okay, then you guys can stay behind. Everyone else can go home."

The remaining elves filed out. The elves that had raised their hands stood stock-still. I frowned. This was a very unpleasant business. These were my friends. I didn't like making people nervous or scared. Still, it was necessary.

"Now, did any of you bring alcohol to the party?"

"No," they chorused.

"Did you see anyone bring alcohol?"

"Well, I saw the head carpenter standing by the eggnog pitchers. I think he had a bottle of something."

"What, Bob? Why would he ever do anything like that? He's always been Santa's best friend." This case might not be as simple as I thought. I knitted my eyebrows in confusion.

"I need to talk to him. Where is he?"

"The last I saw, he was in the wokshop reorganizing his tools."

"Right, let's go," I said to the reindeer.