A recent Nor’easter caused flooding along Pamlico Sound. Behind my Sound-front home, I placed my mug of Irish coffee on the still wet dock, spread out a plastic poncho, and sat down on it. A candy cane leaned inside my cup. I used it to stir the coffee and took a sip. The sharp Irish whiskey contrasted with the candy cane’s sweetness. Beyond my dock, a glorious sunset sank in the western sky above Pamlico Sound. I wished for calmness and peace, but my work shift on this Christmas Eve day had left me edgy.
As a Dare County Deputy Sheriff, I’d spent months tracking the source of fentanyl-laced heroin, the cause of three deaths on Hatteras Island. Today, I’d arrested the drug-dealing murderer, Thomas Carson. I should have felt elated, but my heart focused on all his victims.
The young addicts’ families would feel no joy this Christmas. Unfortunately, the arrest occurred in the dealer’s front yard—in front of his mother, Ginny Carson, and his two children, Cassie, age seven and Tommy, age four. The scathing look on Ginny’s face told me I’d made a new enemy.
With a sigh, I held back tears, gulped my coffee, and sucked on the candy cane. There were too many victims. I’d taken the children’s father away at Christmas and the main source of income for the family. But, I’d done my job and was glad to get Carson jailed. I’d tell the county’s social worker on the island about them. Maybe she could arrange for assistance to the family.
I stared at the horizon as the sun offered a final wink. Woody, my fiancé, had taken my son, Jared, along with his daughter, Cindy, to his sister’s house earlier before he went on duty. He, too, was a Deputy Sheriff. We’d been unlucky. As I went off, Woody went on duty. I’d see him later. The kids were going to a church birthday party for Jesus later followed by a sleepover at his sister’s house. We planned on bringing everyone over here early Christmas Day to celebrate.
Glad to have these moments alone, I tried to regain my equilibrium and feel peace. Instead, I thought of the victims and felt tense. I looked at the darkness. My stomach tightened seeing a streak light up the darkened sky. The streak zigzagged and shot toward me. The Irish coffee jostled in its cup when I bent down to hit my head on the dock. No—not today. I didn’t know if I could handle one more thing. Righting myself, I lifted the mug and drank down the remaining Irish coffee before the banana landed on the dock.
Standing on one narrow end, the lumpy banana glowed beside me as if it emitted radiation. Its peel split at the top into four sections and unfurled, revealing six-inch Pamela, the Sprite of Pamlico Sound, and Nana, the dogs of Hatteras Island’s guardian angel. Nana didn’t like me. I watched as Nana morphed from a minute size to her normal St. Bernard-size self.
Pamela’s visits started a few years ago. At first, I’d questioned my sanity. Now, I felt like her servant. Her main job, she claimed, was to grant wishes to those who lived near Pamlico Sound, her territory. There was some hierarchy. I was unsure if her boss was Santa Claus or God. Pam never specified. But then, she never said much that made sense. I’d felt she used me to achieve her ends, but so far, her ends and mine were copacetic. Although Pam was Tinker Bell’s size, her attitude was all gangster. I trusted her—most of the time.
“Why is it you sometimes need a banana to fly?” I asked Pam.
“It’s needed to cross dimensions. Otherwise, I can fly on my own.”
I decided not to ask about dimensions and rose from the dock, anticipating Pam’s demand for treats. Then, I noticed her attire. Not her usual trashy-tacky, diva style. She was dressed like her version of a fisherman—plastic booties topped by a yellow plastic raincoat. She looked like an electrified SpongeBob. Her fashion statement made me suspicious.
“Wait, Sue. We need your help now.”
“Get your skiff.”
“Pam, it’s dark. I don’t have lights on my boat.”
“That’s no problem. I’ll light your way, and I know exactly where we’re going.”
“That might not be a problem for you, but I doubt the Coast Guard will agree with you.”
“Don’t worry about them giving you a violation.”
I put my hands on my hips and opened my mouth. Nothing came out. I’d tried arguing with Pam before, a no-win situation, but I didn’t move at her command either.
“I have friends, Sue. If the Coast Guard is out and about, they’ll create a diversion. We’ll be back in no time.”
I couldn’t help but sigh. This didn’t sound like a good idea. “Let me get my hat, boots, and jacket.” I took a few steps toward the house.
“Also, get two bottles of water, two bowls, and two blankets,” Pam called out to me.
I turned to face her, but decided I didn’t want to pose the question and continued to the house. After getting the necessary gear, I returned to the dock, jumped onto my skiff, and checked the gas level. “Where are we going and why?”
“We’re going to that deserted island down by Hatteras Inlet. I’ll tell you why on the way.”
The island wasn’t that far away. My gas level was fine. I turned on the engine, kept it in neutral, and cast off. Pam had flown onto the boat, but Nana jumped aboard causing the boat to sway back and forth. “Really nice, Nana. Next time, just capsize us,” I said, knowing I was taking my bad mood out on her.
Nana growled at me. Typical Nana, but I might have deserved it.
“Now don’t start, you two,” Pam said. To my surprise, she took Nana to task. “Sue’s doing you a favor. Be nice.” Nana had the good sense to lie down, head on paws.
“Pam, can you find Channel Marker 10?” I asked and pointed out in the Sound. “It’s in that direction. Go sit on it and light up.”
“But the island’s down there,” Pam pointed to the Southwest.
“Yes, but I can’t go in a straight line. The Sound has shallow spots, and we’ll run aground. Not something you want to do going thirty miles per hour.”
“Of course. I know that, but since I fly over it, it’s never an issue for me. Will do,” Pam replied and flew off. Her acquiescence surprised me, but it also made me wary. Pam’s task was urgent, whatever it was. I kept sight of her line of light, which became stationary as she found the channel marker. I put the boat in high gear and took off after her. Nana looked back at me in surprise, but she didn’t growl.
I didn’t want to bring attention to my boat. Once out in the Sound, the noise of my engine wouldn’t carry as much as it did near land, and no one would be able to see me in the dark. I pointed in the general direction of the other channel markers to Pam in sequence until the closest one to the island appeared. It was a dark shape within the dark Sound. In the distance, I saw another smaller dark shape, one where nothing should be. My edgy feeling intensified. My stomach clenched as if a knife-point nicked it. This adventure wasn’t my idea of fun.
Pam flew back to the boat. I slowed and approached the island, beaching my flat-bottomed skiff in the sand. I placed one of my feet, encased in a waterproof boot, into the shallow water, launching myself out of the boat, and pushed it up onto the sand. The strong Sound current near the inlet could wash the boat off the island, stranding all of us. Oh yeah, I realized, just me since Pam could transport a diminutive Nana just fine. The thought made me wonder why I was involved.
“Pam, what’s going on? Why am I here?” I asked and grabbed a flashlight out of the boat’s bow.
“Shush. Can’t you hear them?”
I heard whimpering and walked toward the sound. A shape appeared in the darkness. I turned on the flashlight. An old rowboat rocked in the water. Its front half was on the beach, but the back half was submerged. Inside the boat, a puppy and a kitten shivered, huddling close to one another, and whimpered from the wet interior.
“Pick them up, Sue. Get them to your boat,” Pam said. “They won’t last much longer without water and warmth.”
To free up my hands, I placed the handle of the flashlight under my upper arm and clamped down on it, bending down into the rowboat to pick up the animals. The puppy was docile enough, looking up at me with relief, but the kitten hissed and clawed my hand, attaching itself to me. I straightened and made an abrupt about face, ran back to the boat, and placed them in the bottom of my skiff. Nana took charge, tucking them to her chest. Pam fluttered to the water bottles, straining to upright one. I took it from her and poured water into each bowl. Nana nudged the babies to the bowls, coaxing them to drink.
A light caught my eye, two flashes in the direction coming from the dark shape I’d seen in the Sound. I wondered if they saw my flashlight, wondered if they thought it was their contact, wondered if that contact was Thomas Carson. We’d nailed the dealer but not the supplier.
I took out my phone and called 911. Sometimes signals didn’t carry on the Sound, but Barb picked up after two rings. “Call the Coast Guard. There’s a boat without running lights on the Sound. But warn them. I suspect there are drugs aboard.” I gave her the coordinates where I thought the boat was located and hung up.
After their drink, the babies were content to sleep near Nana’s soft, warm, and furry chest. I threw both blankets on top of Nana and tucked it under her sides. She licked my wounded hand. My mouth popped open in surprise, but I had no time to waste.
“Time to scram, Pam.”
She looked up at me with raised eyebrows. “You just called the Coast Guard. I thought you needed to stay away from them.”
“I do. But getting them here is more important than me getting a violation. Besides, I hope we’re gone and home before anything goes down. Bad guys may be coming for us at two o’clock.” I pointed into the Sound. “Drug runners, I think. Let’s get out of here. Can you remember the markers?”
Pam looked at the dark shape approaching the island. “Yep—I already knew where they were, I just didn’t get the channel markers’ significance since I had no need for them. Follow me. I’ll also contact my buddies to create a diversion.” She flew off.
I pushed the boat into deeper water and hopped aboard. The engine was louder than I wished when it started, but I followed Pam’s light stream. The larger boat charged forward in pursuit. When Pam flew to the next marker, I made a decision I hoped I wouldn’t regret.
I cut diagonally across the Sound, bypassing the channel marker where Pam sat. My risk was running aground. The odds were in my favor. With a smaller boat, I might make it through shallows that would ground a bigger boat, like the one following me. Pam must have seen my change of direction. She flew back to the boat but kept ahead of me by a few yards. When she flew to the right, I responded by steering to the right away from the shallows, I assumed, Pam had discovered. The larger boat continued to follow.
After a few nerve-racking minutes of following Pam, who continued dodging shallows, I looked behind me. The boat looked as if it had stopped. I slowed the skiff and shut off the engine. In the silence, I heard swearing. Elated, I called to Pam. “They ran aground.”
“Once you explained about the problem, my friends camouflaged the channel marker and put up a dummy marker in a shallow area. They’ll stay stuck for a while—hopefully in time for the Coast Guard to pick them up.”
My only response was to nod. I couldn’t believe my luck or how well Pam was helping me. Of course, I was helping her, too. But my end usually came with an embarrassing cost.
We headed home. After securing the boat and helping Nana and her charges out of the skiff, we headed into my house. All of our stomachs growled. Last Christmas, Nana and Pam had brought Jared a puppy for Christmas against my wishes. His bed and bowls were lined up between the kitchen and dining room. Nana placed both babies in the dog bed. I got chili out of the refrigerator and heated it up. I poured kibble in the dog bowl and opened a can of tuna for the kitten. Nana got kibble and tuna in a new bowl I placed nearby. I sat on a chair at the table while Pam sat across from me at the Barbie table Woody’s daughter, Cindy, left at my house.
“Great chili, Sue,” Pam said and waved her spoon in the air. She probably thought it was her wand. “Now to prepare for the second part of our mission.”
“Second half. You never told me about the first half.”
“I never had a chance to explain. The Nor’easter that came in over the weekend caused a lot of problems. One mother stored all of her Christmas gifts in the trunk of her car. It was flooded, the car totaled along with the gifts. Luckily, her insurance paid out to replace the car and the gifts. But Ginny Carson wasn’t so lucky.”
“Tommy wanted a puppy and Cassie wanted a kitten. Ginny was trying to keep the pets a secret so she kept them in their boathouse. They nested down in that old rowboat, but when the flooding occurred, the rowboat got loose with them in it. Ginny’s been frantic worrying about them. So, we rescued the pets. The only thing we have to do now is get them over to her so the kids get their Christmas wishes, and she can stop worrying.”
“To Ginny Carson’s?” My voice was probably a pitch higher than normal.
Pam raised her eyebrows again. “Problem, dear?”
“I just arrested her son. I’m not her favorite person right now.”
“Pish-posh, Sue. She’ll be happy once she sees the pets. But I’ve arranged a job for her at a real estate company starting after the holidays so the money issue will be lessened.”
“She’s still won’t want me at her house.”
Pam had taken off her raincoat to eat. Forehead in a pucker, she groped her sides. The sparkling red Las Vegas gown that had been covered by the raincoat seemed too tight for pockets, but she pulled out her wand, smiled and said, “Problem solved.” Pam flew next to me and clunked me in the head with her wand.
She waved off my complaint and said,
to transform her into Mrs. Claus.
So she can deliver all eight paws.”
“What? Wait!” But the transformation occurred before I could say more. My waistline expanded. My cheeks felt fat. My ankles thickened. I waddled into the bathroom to see what had happened. In the mirror, a little old lady stood. The hat on her head was red with a white band above chubby, rosy cheeks. A white pompom decorated the bottom of its triangular shape. A Santa suit stretched over her fat, squat body. I couldn’t externalize it anymore. I was her, Mrs. Claus. “Pam!” I yelled and shuffled back to the table.
“Well it’s the perfect solution. You said you can’t go to the Carson’s, but Mrs. Claus can go.” She thrust out her hands toward me. “Perfect.”
“Why can’t you just give them Santa?”
Pam looked at me as if I were an idiot. “He’s busy tonight.” She turned to the door. “Now come along, we have to make this look as real as possible just in case the children are still awake.”
We went out my front door to the driveway. “What are we doing?”
“Getting your transportation ready.” Pam waved her wand at my squad car. It changed into a cherry red dune buggy.
“Cool! Let me start it up.”
“No dice, Sue. All Christmas vehicles have to be powered by magic. Rules, you know.” Pam put two fingers in her mouth and whistled a loud blast. I heard rustling in the trees.
Three large bucks emerged, one I had become acquainted with before. “No, not Buck.”
“He doesn’t have to be your date this time. He and his friends, Randy and Dandy, will pull the dune buggy to the Carson’s.”
“Buck, Randy, and Dandy. I’m not asking how they got those names.”
“Better off if you didn’t, dear.”
“Come on, let’s gather up the troops.”
After tucking a blanket around Nana and the pets in the backseat of the dune buggy, Pam harnessed the three deer to my “sleigh.” Buck was in the front with Randy and Dandy side-by-side near the buggy. I took hold of the reins and shook them. “Come on, Buck, pull!”
Buck looked at me. Recognition dawned on his face. He got a goofy look in his eye and circled around to me. The dune buggy circled round and round. “Pam!”
“Buck, behave yourself.” Pam shook the reins. Buck stopped circling but he also didn’t move.
Having worked with and been embarrassed by Buck before, I knew of only one sure-fire way to tame the beast. I climbed out, went into the house, and got a bowl of Chex mix. “Can you hold the bowl while I steer?”
Pam sighed. “It never used to be like this. Now, everyone wants something or nothing happens. No sense of community.” She grabbed the bowl and flew in front of Buck, who walked toward the bowl with his snout quivering. Pam continued grousing, “Now it used to be…”
I tuned out Pam’s rambling talk as we got on Route 12 and headed north. In Buxton, we stopped in front of the Carson’s house. Pam flew over to the house and tapped on the door with her wand.
Ginny opened the door, looking at the dune buggy. I got out and motioned to her to come out. Before she took a step, two little people emerged behind her and ran down the sidewalk to the dune buggy.
“Ho, ho, ho!” I said. My Mrs. Claus-self seemed in tune with the role. I even chuckled. Ginny walked up the sidewalk, a skeptical look on her face. I couldn’t blame her and hoped once she saw the gifts her spirits would lift. “Santa told me an item on your Christmas Wish List needed a special delivery he entrusted me to do. Now Tommy, what was your biggest wish for?”
“A puppy!” he said while jumping up and down.
I bent into the backseat, took the puppy in my hands, and offered Tommy the dog. Tommy squealed with delight and held the puppy. I heard Ginny gasp.
“Where did you find him?”
I gave her a wink. “The North Pole, of course.” Turning to Cassie, I asked, “And what was your wish?”
A few years older, Cassie was cynical. She put her hands on her hips. “A kitten. You have one for me?”
I took the kitten from Nana. “Yep, I do have a kitten for you, but you have to promise to take care of it.” I placed the kitten in her hands.
Innocence reclaimed the child. Tears formed in her eyes. She said a quiet, “Thank you.”
“Take the puppy and the kitten to the veterinarian in a few days. It won’t cost anything.” Not after I called George, the vet, and bribed him. “They have pet food at the food bank, too. Okay?”
“Okay.” Cassie walked back to the house with her brother.
Life could be too hard for some children. Everyone needed to win sometimes. I watched as Cassie closed the door and then turned to Ginny.
“Where did you find them? And don’t get all Mrs. Claus on me, Deputy Sue. Can’t fool me.”
“Someone told me what happened. I was out on my skiff and found them in an old rowboat on the deserted island near the inlet.”
Ginny let out a gasp. “Oh, my Lord. If you hadn’t found them, they would have died, and the kids would have been devastated. So far, the season hasn’t been very merry.”
“I know. I’m sorry I had to arrest your son.”
“Not my son. I don’t have a son. That was my daughter’s husband. Not that I know where she is, but at least she isn’t with him. He dumped the kids on me and took off for weeks at a time. Of course, I had my suspicions.”
“You aren’t mad at me? You sure looked mad.”
“Yeah. I just didn’t like that it happened in front of the kids.”
“No—I didn’t like that either. Wish it hadn’t happened. But I had to do it.”
“I know, it was for the best. Cassie and Tommy were afraid of him and his friends who would drop by. We’ll be much better off without him around.”
“I hope so.”
“I got news today that I have a job after the New Year with a real estate company.”
“That’s great.” I smiled at her. “I won’t keep you. Have a Merry Christmas.”
“You, too, Sue.”
Ginny disappeared into the house. I wrapped the blanket around Nana and picked up the reins. A patrol car drove past. Woody stuck his head out the window and stared, his mouth dropped open, and he hit the brakes. “Sue?”
“Mrs. Claus to you, sonny.” I smiled. “On Buck, on Randy, on Dandy, down Route 12, to the bottom of Buxton, to the middle of Frisco, now dash away all.” To my shock, they did as I’d asked. I waved goodbye to Woody, who continued to stare at me as I left.
When I got back to my house, Pam was already there. After letting Buck, Randy, and Dandy go, Pam turned to me and reversed the transformation. “That went well tonight.”
She’d actually changed me back. I was thrilled. “All except getting caught by Woody.”
“Nope that was according to plan, too.”
I was about to protest when I saw lights in the driveway.
“Tootles, Sue. Have a great Christmas.”
“Thanks, Pam. You and Nana have a wonderful Christmas, too.”
Pam waved, swished her wand, miniaturizing Nana, and together they zipped into the banana and disappeared into the night sky over Pamlico Sound. I slipped into the house.
Woody knocked on the door moments later. To divert him, I opened the door and asked him a question. “Did they catch the drug smugglers?”
“Yep. They were beached like whales in some shallows. I talked to Barb. How did you know where they were?”
“A little fairy told me.”
“Really. A fairy. But what happened later—that was amazing,” he said.
“I had just wished to grow old with you, and then you appeared looking old. And just like Mrs. Claus. What could be better?”
“Grow old with me. The best is yet to come,” I said, paraphrasing Browning.
“Exactly,” Wood said, smiling.
“Merry Christmas, Woody.”
He shook his head. “I don’t know how you transform like that, and why does it always fulfill a wish I had?”
I shrugged my shoulders and grinned. That would remain my secret.
“Merry Christmas, Sue.” Woody pulled me into a hug, and I found the peace I had wished for.