After briefly questioning Melb, McKreviss determined that the bewildered men's clothier was not involved in any Kringle-related criminal activity.

"It was obvious to me that this body had been dead for quite a lengthy period of time," the inspector offers, regaining his tough-guy composure. "And I could see no outward signs of violence, beyond minimal wear and tear to the red Santa suit and basic scuffing of the black Santa boots. But this is normal stress in a mechanical waving Santa of this age."

The next move was to call in the Yuletide Forensics Division, a Task Force branch team of highly trained experts in Christmas-related medical situations. The Yuletide lab specialists of Phoenix police gained national attention in the late Eighties when they were able to trace wool fibers from a red stocking--fibers badly damaged by a viscous substance later revealed to be of the Hershey family--to the van of a deranged serial elf.

Soon the parking lot of Slacks n' Such was crawling with police personnel.
"I was really impressed with these guys, doing tests and taking samples and everything; there must have been 20 of them out here," says Melb. "All I knew about the Santa was that he'd been in storage in the back of the store when I bought it, so I started putting him out at Christmas every year. He just looked like a dummy Santa to me, and he certainly had no bad odor or anything."

Yuletide Forensics Chief Madge Hamilton was in charge of the investigation.
"We performed the usual beard-sample tests which indicated the hairs were of an early latex derivative common to stage beards in use from the turn of the century up until roughly 1930," she explains. "The body itself had been crudely embalmed, the skin treated with Mediterranean beeswax, the organs removed and larger cavities stuffed with cedar chips that provided not only the necessary rigidity, but emitted a rather pleasing, old-fashioned, Christmasy smell."

The policemen and women of the Holiday Task Force are nothing if not professional, but that doesn't mean they haven't got hearts beating under their severe, holly-colored uniforms. As a matter of fact, all of the cops I spoke with were clearly affected by the strange case of this much-loved local Santa.

"I've been passing by this Santa, watching him do his little wave thing since I was a kid," one officer, who asks not to be identified, says. "It wasn't an easy thing to take, seeing the arm with that bone coming out and thinking there's a real person in there. Lots of us, I think, really had a lot of affection for him, and to consider having to unplug him, stop the waving, take off that nice red suit and open him up to, well . . . no one wants to think of the Slacks n' Such Santa as human remains."

The world is full of a lot of things that aren't very nice. As the days and the months roll by, all of us are subjected to unpleasantness, pain, hurt and turmoil. But there's one magical time each year when the suffering can be put aside, when mankind--even Phoeniciankind--can come together in a mood of happiness and hope.

And that time is Christmas.
Some say miracles are allowed to happen then, and, if not miracles, then maybe a few rules and regulations and other such seriousness can be put aside to let dreams survive.

"We all got to thinking," says Inspector McKreviss, absent-mindedly rubbing the big brass buckle on his big black belt. "This Santa is important to folks, to kids, you know? He's like a traditional reminder that Christmas really means something here in town, and why take that away from everyone? So there's an old corpse in that Santa suit--people die every day, but Christmas comes but once a year. That's something special."

Forensics Chief Hamilton agrees.
"Judging from our findings, the body is a John Doe from as far back as the early 1900s, before consistent dental records were kept," she reasons. "We could perform an autopsy, do elaborate tests to make some attempt to ID him--all at taxpayers' expense--but I really doubt we'd have any kind of success. And what good would it do to bury a seriously deteriorated skeleton in an unmarked grave when we could leave him here as someone everybody can identify, Santa, for goodness sake, to lift people's spirits every year?"

And so it was that last Thursday the whole department of the Phoenix Holiday Task Force joined in and, using high-tech bone wire and the most advanced medical epoxies, put Santa Claus back together again.

So if you find yourself driving down Laird Avenue in the next few days and you pass by Slacks n' Such, take a look in the parking lot. There won't be an empty spot where a jolly fellow with a happy greeting once stood. As usual, Santa Claus will be there to give a wave to you this Christmas. And, thanks to a few friendly officers who believed a man in a red suit is a little more important than a bunch of red tape, Old Saint Nick will be on hand to offer his merry gesture of joy to your children, and their children, too.

If you wish to praise, bury or simply compare inseam sizes with Peter Gilstrap in an electron-based format, modem up our online cousin at: www.phoenixnewtimes.com. The bonus: features so hot they can only appear in a digital bitstream!

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