'Tis the season to be jolly, eat lots of food and sit on holly! After carefully dry-cleaning my trenchcoat and hat of the remains of at least five tons of Extra-Fruit yoghurt, I'm back in the detective business. Currently I'm nosing around in the back kitchen of the "Watts Gon Wong" chinese takeaway, somewhere in the back streets of Bath. The reason for all this (apart from a sudden craving for king prawn curry and fried rice) is that I've been hired to find out why fortune cookies have suddenly been appearing worldwide without messages inside. (Looks up and sees sign pasted on the wall). Ah! Fortune Cookie slogans this way... (Walks) Hmmmmmmmm. What's this "Out of Order" sign on the door? I'll just take a peek inside... (Carefully pulls down handle). Very strange - this room's totally empty except for a very Star Trek style round pad in one corner. Who says I'm not one for jumping feet first into a situation? GERONIMO! (Tinkling sound as the intrepid detective runs onto the transporter pad, and disappears...)
(Tinkling sound ending with a crunch as detective reappears in mid-run, and meets face-first with a wall). Ouch! I took a shot of bourbon and then handed it over to the man in the corner of the room. A man who is famed for reindeer, eating mince pies, squeezing down chimneys and now, it seems, writing all the messages you find inside fortune cookies - Mr. Claus himself. "So then," I said to him. "What's up?"
"I've got the flu!" he said bitterly. "I've been doing this job for over 200 years and now - on Christmas Eve of all days - I come down with a cold. And there's no chemist open to get some Beechams* from."
"Do you mean to tell me that not only do you spend all your time writing the cryptic messages! found inside those annoying little pastry shells, but that you also can't do your job tonight? What are you going to do about it?"
Santa reached into his pocket and pulled out a fortune cookie. He stood up, coughed, and walked over to me. I opened the fortune cookie and read it. "Your mission, Simon, if you decide to accept it, is to deliver presents to enough people to give me time to find an open chemist's." I gulped.
"I accept", I told him.
Spec Tec has been summoned to Father Christmas' side. Why? Well, cos he's such an ace detective of course. Old Santa needs help and Jr is just the person to help him. But who are these strange, and rather large people he keeps bumping into?#
As I followed the coughing figure of Santa onto the transporter pad, he explained his system.
"I have transporter coordinates for every single child's house in the world. It prevents all sorts of mix-ups. Now, your first batch is over there, by the present dispenser. Coordinates are on the back of the address labels. Good luck!"
He shook me firmly by the hand, and then sneezed off into another room.
Oh well, time to get going I think. Now what does that label say? "Bud Pico, a hut, somewhere in the Pacific, Earth, sector ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha," I read. "Rice Krispies, a ream of sticky backed plastic, and fifty 'Nanette Newman' strength washing-up liquid bottles."
I trudged around the outside of the hut with sack in hand, and battered away at the door knocker (which was made out of half a coconut shell and a cardboard tube from a used loo-roll) until the door swung open. I walked in.
"Hello Bud," I said, tripping over the end of his hammock. The sack spilled Rice Krispies all over the floor.
"Hello Simon," he replied. "I've been reading your column in YS. I think it really needs a piece on 'How to interface your Spectrum to a Tefal Teasmade special."
"Well, Bud, I'm only here to give you your Christmas presents. I agree with you though - but it should be more along the lines of 'Spec Tec Jr interviews Madonna, tonight on Channel Four'. Enough meaningless chatter. How about a few words of wisdom for the readers at home?"
"Well, all I'd like to tell everybody is to save old egg cartons, and I'll show you how to make your own personalised satellite dish. Other than that, nothing more I can tell you. But there's someone else here who'd like to talk to you..."
Bud pointed in the general direction of the sack, under which a figure was clawing his way out of a sea of Rice Krispies and oozing washing-up liquid. When he finally made his way out, he lunged for me.
"My plane crashed and I drifted ashore here. Please take me back with you, I want my old job back... just don't leave me here," pleaded a very dishevelled looking Adam Waring.
"Erm," I mumbled, facing almost certain redundancy. "Well, I might come back for you later. I'll give Captain Mahoney your regards."
I ducked out of the hut and ran for it.
"Phew," I thought as I dematerialised. "Nearly had it there!"
I grabbed the next sack to come sliding out of the machine. Punching in the coordinates, I stumbled into the transporter. When I stumbled out again, I was in a darkened room. The only light I could see was a small candle at one end. "Where am I?" I murmered.
"Hey man, what a groovy concept!" I heard a female voice say. I realised that the candle I had seen had a person behind it. It was also filling the air with a pungent smell.
"Who are you?" I asked. The woman sitting in the lotus position merely pointed to the label on the sack. "Soya Pico. Existentialist, pantheistical hippy. Enjoys free love, strange smells and vegetarian cooking. One consignment of ozone-friendly joss-sticks."
"Okay then, where's Santa?"
I moved closer to the light. "Well, Santa's ill with the flu, so I'm taking his place this year."
"He's ill, eh? Could have told him so. He wouldn't even touch the lentil pies I made for him - very unhealthy eating all those mince ones. Anyway, how can I help?"
"Do you know where there's a chemist's open?" I asked.
"Well, I don't - but I know a woman who does! Madame Pico will know what to do."
With that, Soya let out a loud and ominous "Ommmmm",@ and got back to her yoga. Seeing that the joss-stick was going out, I grabbed one from the sack and lit it for her as I headed for the transporter...
I managed to locate Madame Pico's sack of gifts. Flinging it over my shoulder, I headed off into the unknown.
"Hello dearie! Cross my palm with silver and come into my mystical world. Put the bag down in the corner..." She peered into her crystal ball. "Sit down Simon, Madame Pico knows all... What did you come here for? Sorry, old ball-gazer's joke."
I told her the story. "Santa's ill with the flu, and I've taken his place. Soya told me you'd know what to do."
Madame P. glanced at the sack.
"Wait a second, first things first - what's in there?"
I read the contents out for her. "One crystal ball deluxe, with retracting aerial. One pot of 'Mysterious Olde Cronie' facial scrub. A copy of Madonna's new book... Aren't you a bit old for this, Madame?"
"How dare you!" she spluttered. "Anyway a lady isn't supposed to reveal her age - how do you know I'm not just gone twenty under all this make-up, eh? Besides - this isn't THAT one. It's the sequel - SOX. All about the mystical art of knit-one purl-one."
"Sorry Ms. Pico. Anyway, can thou aid me in my quest, O mysterious crone?" I declaimed.
"Been reading too much Shakespeare if you ask me young man!" she giggled. "But seeing as you've got a nice face, and tip generously, I'll let you know. Seek out Femto Pico, my long lost nephew twice removed and you'll find the answer you seek. Farewell."
At last - a clue! I scurried for the transporter...
In a few seconds I was able to find the right sack, and punched in the coordinates. I was away again.
"Arrgh! Who are you? I had enough of this last Christmas - that time all of my relatives came to visit," he cried.
"There there, Femto. I'm not here for anything nearly as emotionally disruptive as that." I patted him comradely on the shoulder. "I've just got your Christmas presents - a new chemistry set that doubles as an unpleasant nerve gas, a 12000 megaton nuclear device and a feather duvet with a tog rating of fifty-four. But if you could help me with Santa, I'd be very grateful." I handed him his sack. "He's come down with the flu, and I'm just standing in for him until he can find some kind of cold powder."
"All right then, I'll see what I can do. Sure you don't want anything else? I could do you a nice pair of jet-powered roller skates that also act as a powerful skunk repellant," he offered as he unpacked the chemistry set from the bag.
"No. Just something to take the edge off Santa's cold will be okay."
"Beecham smeecham. He'll be right as rain when I've finished with him. Just let me pour this into this..."
There was a sudden and slightly embarassed bang.
"Haha. I meant to do that." He uncorked another bottle.
"Ahhhh, one ACME cold powder to repair the most battle-scarred of sinuses!"
I took the bubbling powder and headed towards the transporter pad. As I beamed up he seemed to remember something. "Don't shake it up or it will explode!" Oh, great...
As soon as I was back in Santa's grotto, I headed for his bedroom. Throwing open the bottle, I threw the hot green liquid down his throat. Santa started glowing. After a while he turned blue. Then he turned into a bewildered canary. Finally he turned back into himself, fit as a fiddle and raring to go.
"So, Simon - now for you."
He tapped the side of his nose confidentially.
"And there's no need to tell me what you want for Christmas." Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the one thing I'd always wanted - a golden ASIC upgrade chip for my SAM - one of only fifty ever produced! Shaking Santa's hand, I made my farewells. Beard flapping, Santa made his way towards the transporter pad, waved a solemn goodbye, and then took a running jump and landed heavily. There was an explosiony crump and a tinkly sound as Santa teleported out. If only I'd given him Femto's warning!
Oh well - no use crying over spilt milk (or split Santa). That's another case closed - remember, no job is too big or small for Spec Tec Jr!
Santa is recovering in the Magic Roundabout Hospital for Mythical Characters. The Picos are appearing in Panto. The current whereabouts of Adam Waring are unknown, as usual.
* Note to
readers from outside of the UK: Beechams is a traditional cough/cold medicine type thing,
possibly most famous for its adverts featuring talking lemons. Oh, and you might know a
chemist's better as a Pharmacy. Yikes.
! Experience in these matters lead us to find out a little known fact: namely, that fortune cookie message writers actually leave the most important words off the end. Try adding them yourself, by saying "in bed" when you're reading them out to your fellow diners.
# This bit follows on from the actual Spec Tec column, thus the intro. What? You mean you needed that explaining to you?
@ Feel free to groan if the urge takes you at this point.
Simon Cooke, all rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form without permission is prohibited.