Agents Candy Cane and Tinsel stood at attention as they walked through the door into the Assistant Director’s office.
“Agents,” said Saint Nick in greeting, gesturing at them with a gloved hand to take a seat in two chairs before his massive desk, which was draped in pine boughs and neon Christmas lights.
The pair sat slowly, staring at the legend before them with undisguised awe.
That’s him alright, thought Agent Candy Cane, resisting the urge to start eating one of the candy canes he always carried in his jacket pocket.
Sitting next to him, Agent Tinsel considered their potential boss quietly, her arms crossed in front of her. She didn’t bother brushing her dyed silver bangs out of her face; it was how she had received her moniker, after all, and now Tinsel was attached to the image that went along with the name.
Saint Nick chose that time to raise his head up from the two open file folders sitting on his desk.
“You know why I chose you for this assignment, agents,” he said. “This section of the Holiday Investigation Division, N.I.C.E., is focused on ensuring every holiday season goes off without a hitch. As your Division personnel files clearly state, you’re the best we have for the job. I assume you both know what the acronym stands for?”
“Noel Investigation and Celebration Establishment,” said agent Candy Cane.
“Ho, ho, ho! That’s right,” said Saint Nick with a jolly laugh, his eyes sparkling with mirth. “Now, as you both are probably aware, my annual task is focused on Christmas, but we have other holidays and other holiday magic happening at the same time. I need you both to help ensure that this holiday season happens smoothly while I’m up at the North Pole and on my sleigh. Speaking of which.”
Saint Nick tossed a file at them, which Agent Tinsel caught neatly. Saint Nick watched as both agents opened the file and looked at the papers and images inside.
“There’s a write up here on an organization called N.A.U.G.H.T.Y., sir?” she asked.
“Ho, ho, ho! That’s correct, Agent Tinsel,” said Saint Nick. “My elves have collected intel on an international crime ring, aimed at interrupting the holiday season. I need you both to stop that from moving forward.”
“Do the letters stand for anything, sir?” said Agent Candy Cane, unwrapping a candy cane from his pocket and placing it in his mouth.
“Nope,” said St. Nick, with another jolly laugh. “I just made it an acronym to sound cool. They’re literally just naughty. In a significantly bad way. So. Can I count on you?”
The agents stood and nodded.
“Yes, sir,” they said simultaneously, looking at each other in mild surprise before looking back at Santa Claus.
“Ho, ho, ho! Excellent,” said Saint Nick. “I’m counting on you both!”
“We won’t let you down, sir,” said Agent Candy Cane, before both agents sidled out the door.
They walked side by side down the hallway towards the parking garage.
Agent Candy Cane smirked, raising a hand and removing the candy cane from his mouth. The man had earned his own moniker from his apparent obsession with candy canes, which he ate year round, and this time of year was no exception.
“I got one lead, currently,” he said gruffly, rubbing his chin with his other hand in thought. “He won’t talk immediately, though. We’ll have to interrogate him.”
Agent Tinsel smiled.
“Lead the way, partner,” she said.
* * *
“I ain’t gonna talk,” said the rough-looking man in tattered clothes sitting at the table beneath a dim overhead light. “I don’t know nothin’ about no Hanukkah candles.”
“We have direct video evidence of you and your associates stealing every candle for every December holiday in a one-hundred mile radius,” said Agent Tinsel in a firm voice. “We just want the candles, Dalton. It’ll be easier for you if you just provide us what we’re asking for.”
“I told ya,” said Dalton, sneering, “I ain’t know nothin’ about no Hanukkah candles!”
“Not just Hanukkah candles,” said Agent Candy Cane, standing slowly, glowering at the man across from him, who shrank back a bit at Candy Cane’s intimidating demeanor.
“You and your group stole candles that are needed for nearly every other holiday this month,” he continued. “Kwanzaa candles. Votives for St. Barbara’s Day. You even stole candies for the local Krampusnacht celebration.”
Before Dalton could say another word, Agent Candy Cane rushed forward, reaching into his pocket and pressing the end of a candy cane against the man’s neck. Dalton gasped and struggled, but the agent grabbed him by the shoulder and held him still.
“We know you have three kids, Dalton,” she said easily. “Two sons and a daughter, all under ten years old. It would be a shame for them to get nothing but coal for Christmas.”
Dalton’s eyes widened.
“Ya wouldn’t,” he whispered. “Ya can’t! It’s almost Christmas, my kids didn’t do nothin’—”
“No, they didn’t,” she replied in agreement, “and yet, they would be the ones paying for your efforts of ruining the holiday season for everyone. Tell us where the candles are, Dalton. Otherwise, we call the Big Man himself at the North Pole, and your kids get put on the Naughty List by default.”
“You—” he said, turning purple with rage, but his anger deflated when Agent Candy Cane pressed the edge of the candy cane harder against the side of his neck in a clear threat.
“Fine, fine,” said Dalton, “I’ll talk! Just don’t tell Santa! Leave my kids outta this!”
Agent Tinsel leaned forward over the table, glaring at him beneath her silver bangs.
“The location of the stolen candles,” she snarled. “Tell us. Now.”
* * *
The agents looked about as the rest of their team cleared out the warehouse of the members of N.A.U.G.H.T.Y. The warehouse was massive, filled with bins and boxes of holiday supplies necessary for cheer and celebration all over.
“It’s all here,” said Agent Candy Cane, as he and Agent Tinsel stared at the smuggling operation they had uncovered.
“Hanukkah candles, Kwanzaa candles, votives,” he continued. “Every candle this side of the Tri-State area, it’s all here.”
“Not to mention the candies,” said Tinsel, pointing to the massive trays of candies—the most desirable ones to kids and adults alike—piled as high as the ceiling. “The Boss will be pleased, though we have to start distributing everything right now, to make sure everyone gets what they need in time for the holidays.”
Agent Candy Cane nodded, then turned to her.
“That’s not all,” he said. “I just got a text from Holiday Forensics at headquarters. They got a new lead on the stolen wreaths. There’s also a cybercriminal group, an offshoot of N.A.U.G.H.T.Y., that’s trying to delete every single holiday song from the internet. We can’t let them get away with it.”
“Let’s head back to headquarters. I’ll call Forensics,” she said. “You start tracking the cybercriminals. Let’s work fast, Candy Cane. It’s almost Christmas, after all.”
“Will do, partner,” said Agent Candy Cane, grinning as they both climbed into the car.
“By the way. Is it too early to wish you ‘Happy Holidays?’” he asked as they entered the bustling city traffic.
“Not at all,” said Agent Tinsel with a smile. “Happy Holidays to you, too, partner.”
As the agents drove on, they both thought they could hear jolly laughter and sleigh bells ringing overhead.