"You need a scoop, a clean shirt and a shave." My editor was pounding on me like a bad eggnog hangover. "Get a clue, Sherlock Homeless. Dig up a blockbuster story or you're out of this newsroom." New Year's was coming up faster than yesterday's tamales. I brushed the fruitcake crumbs off of my keyboard and set my bloodshot peepers on the press release that would turn my life around.
Kino Stadium was going to become "The Kino Petting Zoo and Winter Training Park." Eight reindeer had arrived on the the 26th, and they weren't here to play ball.
I called my source at the North Pole, Elfin John. Global warming had come on faster than the polar express. "Jingle my bells!" he said, "I just saw a polar bear float past my office window." The world's largest toy manufacturer and distributor had become the Atlantis of the Arctic. They were up to their antlers in water.
I arranged a meeting at the Bashful Bandit with a reindeer with an eggnog problem.
"They gave us the word Wednesday," he whispered. I read the memo by the red glow of his neon nose. "Kringle Inc. will be moving its enterprise."
"The elves weren't too happy about it, but when you have rising sea levels and you're only 3 feet high, your options aren't that good," he confided.
"Mr. and Mrs. Claus are 700 years old and sick of freezing their candy canes off. They're moving the whole package to Tucson."
Just then, my cellphone jingle-jangled and I got word that downtown was buzzing like a hosed- down nest of killer bees. I zipped south and cornered a corporate elf outside City Hall.
"Kringle Toy Manufacturing and Distribution, a privately held company developing cutting-edge Christmas toy technology will be. ..."
"Listen short stuff, don't give me any of your munchkin manure. I'm after facts," I said. "Kringle needs a workforce that works cheaper than elves, and Tucson has a reputation for swinging deals sweeter than champagne. It doesn't take an Arkansas playboy to do the arithmetic."
Word on the shire was a "Mr. Claus" had purchased a sprawling casa in Vistoso. I headed north and set my headlights on the biggest gingerbread mansion I'd ever seen. I knocked on the door. An elf in a sombrero answered.
"Is this the Claus residence?"
"No, señor. Every house has candy canes the size of saguaros in their front yard. Prospero año."
I jammed my boot in the door. "Where are you from, Pepe? South of the pole?"
A fat man with a beard as white as a jackrabbit's south 40 came into the entryway. "Back off, gumshoe. He works twice as hard as Blitzen."
"Make me jolly, old man," I said. "Spill the refried beans."
He waved me into the den, where he introduced me to the missus, a dead ringer for Betty White. We sat down around a platter of gingerbread men.
"You're here to ask about the move."
"And you're the Amazing Kres-kin, Kringle."
Claus opened up like a piñata. "I'm moving everything to Tucson - the toy factory, the reindeer, all of it." Like a pit bull on a Hobbit, I tore into a cookie.
"I took notice when Forbes called Tucson one of America's most innovative cities," he explained. "I talked to the folks over at TREO and they showed me the spirit of innovation is alive and well in. …"
I was all over the old snowbird like confetti on a top hat. "Stop blowing smoke up my chimney, Kringle." He bit his lip. The seconds ticked off like a New Year's countdown.
"The truth? It's the people. Winterhaven, the parade, Los Posadas - Tucson is a Christmas town. Never seen bigger hearts than in this desert. I love Tucson." The old man winked. Was he shoveling kettle corn my way or were these just the facts? Was Tucson getting punked? Was the last cookie on the plate mine?
The next day, after rifling through a bin behind the Goodwill for a clean shirt, I called my source. "Don't play your reindeer games with me. What do you have?" Another call center was coming to town. This one was huge.
"I'm not pulling your antlers. This is real. Some poor saps have to answer those calls from rug rats telling Santa what they want for Christmas. They're looking to employ 350,000 muggles."
I stopped licking the dried eggnog on my shirt cuff when he said, "They're offering benefits, Christmas bonuses and - this'll pop your champagne cork - top wages." My story ran front page, and the next day the line of Tucsonans hoping for a job was longer than the Grinch's rap sheet.
Overnight, Tucson was going to become Kringleville. Thanks to St. Nick, the cold pueblo was going to have more factories and distribution centers than potholes, and wages were going to shoot up like a reindeer on Red Bull. The town was happier than Whoville.
There were the usual soreheads under the reindeer flight path complaining about the jingling overhead. Some hand-wringers fretted over "another fly-by-night operation" moving in.
Just before New Year's, I saw the old man poolside, sipping a margarita and barking orders at his elves. The cinnamon-scented sunscreen was thicker than glaze on a ham. I asked about the rumors:
"Can you really see us when were sleeping? Does the 'Naughty and Nice Division' have ties to the CIA?"
The fat man looked over his shades at me, adjusted his red Speedo and shook with laughter. I checked it out. The allegations were thinner than ice on the Rillito. I told the happiest old snowbird west of Willcox I plan on being "nice" in 2013. Next Christmas I want a wrinkle-free shirt. And some Old Spice shaving cream.
Email Star cartoonist David Fitzsimmons: firstname.lastname@example.org