Kringle’s Classified Ops Book 1: Ho-Ho-Ho Hostility

Father Christmas will have to save a lot more than Christmas this year


“You have to try it!”

“Why do I have to try it? It’s not like it’s the kind of thing they have everywhere in the world.” Kringle scowled at the drink in front of him. “Well, maybe not. You can find the ingredients for it. Why the hell would I subject myself to an eggnog hot chocolate with a shot of peppermint schnapps?”

Grenie pushed the mug across the desk in his direction. “You have to try new things. Besides, there’s alcohol in it. I would think that would be your jam.”

Kris scowled at the elf. Most people who saw Grenie just saw a little person. There were plenty of elf families in the world, and some were employed by the Workshop. They all knew about it, but it was a decision each elf made themselves. Even then, it wasn’t forever.

Grenie had countered that assumption. He’d been in the Workshop since Kris took over the position from his predecessor. Even more interesting, he’d been there for most of his predecessor’s tenure and even before. He did have a family, but Kris had not seen much of them. The elves didn’t spend all year at the Workshop and were damn good at separating their personal lives from their work lives.

So good that Kris wondered why they bothered with the Workshop. He’d been in the business for a while now, and he’d come to terms with the fact that he wasn’t anywhere near finding out how everything worked. Truth was, he didn’t think he wanted to get to the bottom of things. Until the past few years, he’d been little more than the frontman for the operation.

Then things had changed. Maybe the Workshop had picked up on the dangers it would be facing. That was why it selected someone like Kris to take over. He had no idea why the Workshop would want someone with his background otherwise, and it had better things to do than deal with his guilty conscience.

“So? You’re not even going to try it?”

Kris scowled at the drink. It smelled good, a mixture of peppermint and chocolate, with other hints he couldn’t place. He made a face but inched it closer and finally took a sip.

“Come on, man. It’s not that bad.”

“I’ve been poisoned before, you know?” Kris raised an eyebrow. “The best way to hide the taste of cyanide is to bombard the victim with as many other flavors as you can.”

“That’s why you don’t like the drink?”

“I like it fine. I’m just a cautious motherfucker. Someday, I’ll tell you why I only eat apples after cutting them into pieces.”

It was Grenie’s turn to make a face. “I don’t think I want to know how that came about. But I’m going to guess—”

“Yes. Some comrades were sharing a trench with me. Went without rations for days while we were behind enemy lines, and then we came up on a sack of apples. Looked like it had been left behind only recently since the rats hadn’t gotten to it yet. People were very hungry, so they pounced on it and didn’t notice that there were little holes left in the fruit.

“Someone put in blasting caps that responded to pressure. Smaller than a human’s tooth, but they packed a punch. Before we could stop them, three of the poor bastards were missing vital chunks. One had swallowed the device before it went off, and it blew his throat out.”

Grenie leaned forward, looking queasy. “How would a knife help with that?”

“Same reason you cut an apple that you think has a worm in it. If you see that there’s been browning from exposure to air, you stop eating. Easy as pie.”

“How easy is pie?”

Kris opened his mouth but snapped it shut again. “Huh. Come to think of it, pie is pretty darn tough to make if you’re making it from scratch. Another odd human saying, I guess.”

The elf nodded and noted it down in his notebook. Since the two had started spending time together, he’d been making notes of odd or weird human sayings. Kris didn’t know if it was a tradition that held over from his predecessor, but the elf was odd regardless.

He paused in mid-sip of what might be his new favorite holiday drink when the computer in the office pinged softly. He and Grenie peeked at the screen. A small red light flashed from the bottom right, telling him that there was something the Workshop wanted him to take a look at.

“All right.” Kris rolled his chair over in front of the screen, and the elf took up a spot next to him and raised his chair so they were at the same height. Then Kris called up the alert.

“What…what the hell am I looking at?” Kris squinted at the text. “Don’t think I’ve ever seen an alert like this one before.”

“You haven’t.” Grenie nudged him to the side. “You do know what the stock market looks like, right?”

Kris cleared his throat. “What I’ve seen of it on TV. Brokers yelling at each other to buy or sell or whatever. Three-letter companies trending on a screen with percentages rising or falling. Why is the Workshop talking to me about the stock market?”

“There’s something going on. Irregularities.” Grenie shrugged. “I don’t know much about it. In the twenties, I lost interest in it.”

There was a line he didn’t hear every day. Kris crossed his arms and scowled. “Most of the stock market is run electronically, from what I remember. You can’t just roll in with a suit and start buying and selling. The Workshop is…well, looks like it’s trying to explain its thinking to us.”

Grenie leaned closer. “Ah. I think I see what’s happening. It looks like the holdings that are being manipulated belong to various political figures.”

“Right. I guess that counts as dangerous.” Kris studied the numbers. “Huh. That could be a problem. A threat to the economy. Why do those motherfuckers always try things right around Christmas?”

Grenie shrugged. “I’m not sure.”

“It’s because everyone else is getting out of work for the holidays, so they’re not paying close attention. I’ve used that trick plenty of times myself.” Kris rubbed his hands together. “Except that now, posing a threat to the economy around Christmas makes it my problem.”

The elf didn’t look convinced. If it had happened in the middle of the year, it would be someone else’s business. Kris didn’t know if there were others like him involved in other holidays. If the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, or Jack Frost existed, they hadn’t made themselves known to him. He would love to meet them.

The security of families during the Christmas season, as darkness filled the northern hemisphere and winter set in, was his problem.

“All right.” He rolled his chair closer to the computer. “I take it that you know what’s happening, or you wouldn’t have brought it to my attention.”

The computer froze, then more data scrolled across the screen. The anomalies started in unison in New York, London, Sao Paulo, Berlin, and Moscow. The manipulations were focused on targets in North America, but the money was coming in from all over the world.

“Does that mean that the attacks are coming from all over, or are they just funneling the money through as many markets as they can to diffuse the trail?” Grenie struck a match and leaned back to light his pipe. His interest in the financial markets of the world had waned, but his knowledge remained.

“A bit of both, I’d say.” Kris narrowed his eyes and scratched his beard. He’d tried to shave it a couple of times, but it grew back in days, itching terribly to punish him. “They are diffusing the trail like experts. The financing is coming from multiple points across the globe and likely from many investors.”

That was a problem. If the issue only had one source, he could cut the head off the snake. This problem seemed like it was closer to the fabled hydra. If he cut off one means of funding, three more would pop up. If he hunted down one of the heads, more would show themselves.

Thinking about it was making his head ache. Kris took another sip of the new drink. The elf raised his eyebrow but didn’t say anything.

“You know more about this than I do, so feel free to fact-check as you think necessary.” Kris lowered the drink with a contented sigh. “That kind of money pouring in will drive stock prices up. That, added to poor investments from the banks involved and property acquisitions with no intention of improving infrastructure, means that it’s creating a bubble that will burst the moment the money stops coming in. Sound about right?”

Grenie nodded. “It’s a little more complicated than that, but I have a feeling that the directed attacks are on holdings belong to the people responsible for keeping the authorities away from these investments. It’s not like the SEC has much in the way of teeth. They can issue fines, but there are limits, and limits on how much they can spend investigating. Pennies compared to how much they’ll make.”

“Who makes money building a bubble like that?” Kris scratched his beard again. It was still itching from the last time he’d shaved it.

“You’ve got an itch.”

“It’s the damn beard. It’s annoying as hell and too hot during the summer, but it’s part of this gig, so it springs back with a vengeance.”

“That’s not what I mean.” Grenie chuckled and shook his head. “You feel the need to head out and find out what’s happening. That’s what you did in your old life, and now that someone is threatening the global economy and, with it, the Christmas spirit, whatever that means, you’ve got a hankering to dig deeper and stop them in their tracks. You have a very particular way of going about that business. Usually involves guns, explosions, and many dead people. Bad people, but they are dead.”

Kris tilted his head and tried not to smile. The elf had a point, and he wouldn’t lie. The grand world of finance wasn’t his forte. He’d interfered with it at the behest of Harvard professors who knew what they were talking about, enough to pick up the basics.

“It’ll be complicated. More complicated than recovering my sleigh or helping Claudia. Better than just holding the fort around here, though. If I’m guessing right, I used to work for those people in some capacity. They know how to make things difficult. They’re careful, and they’re determined to mold the world to their image.”

Grenie raised an eyebrow when the Workshop called up a handful of articles that had to do with the financial trades being conducted. Three were written by the same person.

“Atticus Smith,” Grenie whispered. “We should start by having a word with him.”

“We?” Kris chuckled. “I didn’t think you would be interested in running an op with me. It wouldn’t do any good. Someone out there going through a lot of trouble to do whatever they are doing won’t allow it all to be undone by one nosy reporter. They’ll bribe him to stay away, or, more likely, he’ll have an unfortunate accident. Seeing as how he wrote three articles, Attie doesn’t seem the sort to take a bribe. He’s like a dog with a bone. Look into the obits.”

A second later, a clipping appeared on the screen.

“Atticus Smith, who had a history with opioids after an accident four years ago, was found in his New York apartment. He had taken an overdose of morphine.” Grenie shook his head. “Not an overdose, I take it?”

“Might have been. Or a forced suicide.” Kris pointed at the lower part of the clipping. “Attie is survived by three children from his first marriage. Not bad leverage, that.”

“You’re scary sometimes, you know?” Grenie shook his head. “The rest are garbage. Most of the authors only ran one piece before moving on. They all called the organization that started this the Shadow Collective, though. Catchy name.”

“It stuck.” Kris crossed his arms. The Shadow Collective was more theatrical than those people tended to be, but it confirmed one thing. He would be going up against a formidable and organized adversary. “I can use it. Shine a light on the fuckers, and they won’t be able to hide anymore. Once they’re in the light, I can pin them down and let the people they’re fucking over take a shot too. Chances are the people in charge won’t see anything but a small hit to their portfolios, but I’ll know where they are, and then…”



Why do they always have to mess with Christmas? Find out on July 1 when Kringle’s Classified Ops Book 1: Ho-Ho-Ho Hostility is released. Get ready for some Christmas in July.