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Gimme a Smile: Secret Santa’s on my doorstep

It’s a holiday whodunnit.

By Peggy McKee Barnhill

Something weird is going on at our house. Every day, for the 12 days of Christmas, a new gift appears on our front doorstep. On the first day of Christmas, instead of a partridge in a pear tree, we found one puzzle. Yesterday was the ninth day, and we found nine candy canes in a clean white bag on our stoop. Forget about Elf on the Shelf, we have Loot on the Stoop (I know, it doesn’t rhyme.) We’ve got a Secret Santa visiting our house! I can’t wait to see what today will bring.

Who is this Secret Santa? It’s a mystery. Like in the classic whodunits, we find ourselves suspecting those near and dear to us. I’ve already made one accusation, confronting a particular individual as our prime suspect. She denied all involvement with the definitive statement, “I don’t lie.”

That’s what a liar would say.

Still, I believe her, and she has moved off my list of suspects. My son even confessed to suspecting us, his own parents. We have a foolproof alibi — we’ve been sleeping late and couldn’t possibly get a bag out onto the stoop in the early morning. But he sleeps even later, so he can only take our word for it…

The recent snow gave us a few clues. We examined the fresh footprints leading from car tracks in the road. Evidently the culprit comes in a getaway car left idling in the street. Seems like there might be an accomplice.

Now that my daughter is home from school on the east coast, we decided to deputize her as a spy. With the four-hour time difference and jet lag to contend with, she is now the first one up in our household. Her surveillance today was inconclusive, but we do have a few more days of Christmas left to unmask this stealthy Santa.

Maybe it’s time to start profiling our benefactor, based on the evidence at hand. It’s a person or persons who are up and out early in the morning. It’s someone who shops at Costco, since each gift comes in a white kitchen trash bag available at Costco. This person has access to a car and a color printer, since each gift is accompanied by a self-printed card. They have an intimate knowledge of my family, knowing that we like to do puzzles. It’s someone with a well-developed sense of humor, playfulness, and creativity, as evidenced by the fifth day when we received five golden bagels which looked just like the picture of the five golden rings. Hmm, my suspect list is getting smaller…

So now I’m faced with a dilemma. How do I respond in kind to this mischievous Secret Santa? Should I continue to accuse my suspects, only to risk being wrong once again? Do I do nothing, simply hauling in each new bag and enjoying the gifts within? Should I send my short list of suspects a cryptic text, mentioning the weird happenings at our house in a phishing expedition to try to elicit a confession? Maybe I should leave something on the stoop for the Secret Santa to collect. I could offer a nice gift to express my family’s appreciation for the daily goodies. Or I could post a sign proclaiming, “This property is under video surveillance. Ho, Ho, Ho!” (Clearly, I don’t subscribe to the “I don’t lie” ethic.)

Maybe a parlor scene is in order, like in the classic whodunits. I could give a dinner party, inviting all my suspects to gather around the table, only to lay out my evidence and point a finger at the guilty party. Like in a real-life game of Clue, I could say, “I accuse Colonel Mustard with the Partridge in a Pear Tree song on the front doorstep!” But if I guessed wrong, a false accusation would cast a pall over dessert.

By the time this article goes to press, all will be revealed—I hope. Either my daughter’s spy efforts will reveal the trickster, or I will ferret out the culprit with shrewd deductions or coerced confessions. Or, the final day of Christmas will arrive, and the Secret Santa will reveal their true identity with a well-planned flourish. I’m betting on the latter.

So, here’s my message to our Secret Santa: Merry Christmas, and thanks for all the gifts!

• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother, and author who writes cozy mysteries under the pen name “Greta McKennan.” She likes to look at the bright side of life.

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