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THE PLOT THICKENS

"B.Z., we need to talk."

"Boy, d'ya ever have one of those days where you just wanna drop a bomb on the whole world?" mutters the toy mogul. "First some kid in my basement, then you come waltzing into my house in the middle of the night ---" He quickly stops himself, having forgotten that Towzer had something important to tell him. "By the way, Towzer, what the heck did you want, anyway?"

"It's the candy canes," Towzer mutters. "What about them?" B.Z. counters.

"Something's wrong! They're dangerous!"

"What the heck're you talking about?"

"This Patch guy told me that he keeps that secret ingredient of his in cold storage because it comes from the North Pole," Towzer explains. "Uh-huh," says B.Z. "So we start manufacturing the candy canes ---" "Uh-huh," replies B.Z. again. "It's a very powerful mixture, y'know," Towzer goes on. Another "uh-huh" from B.Z. "So I assumed we should refrigerate them, too ---"

"Dammit, Towzer, get on with your story!" growls B.Z. "Stop giving me all these short sentences and making me go uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh like some damn moron!" "Uh-huh," shakes Towzer. (Running gag, folks. You get the picture.)

"I had to move a batch of those candy canes to another part of the factory," Towzer explains. "I left one box next to a radiator in the lab."

"And???"

"No more lab." At this news, B.Z. literally chokes on the beer he's been drinking. But Towzer has made his point: "THE CANDY CANES EXPLODED! They react to extreme heat and turn volatile! We have to stop this!"

"STOP?" bellows B.Z. "Are you insane?" He takes Towzer to his side again. "We've got millions of dollars pouring in every day, most of it in cash! Cash, man! Small, unmarked bills!"

But Towzer knows all too well the unforeseen consequences. "B.Z., this stuff can kill people!"

"Are you going soft on me?" thunders the greedy B.Z. "No, I'm not going soft, but ---," Towzer mutters.

"Listen, you idiot! Who else knows about this?"

"Nobody, but ---"

"What about Patch?" asks B.Z., knowing that he cannot take the risk that the elf might unexpectedly discover everything.

"He was asleep on the other side of the building," Towzer quickly reassures him. "He didn't hear a thing."

B.Z. sighs with relief. At least, he needn't worry about some escaped lunatic spilling the beans about exploding candy canes. "Don't tell him," he now warns Towzer. "Don't tell anybody!"

"B.Z.," Towzer tries one last time, "these are children we're talking about."

"Oh yes," smiles B.Z. suddenly, "and who appreciates them better than I? All these industrious little boys and girls, saving up all their nickels and dimes to get their hands on those magical little candy canes that I promised them......" Then, just as suddenly, his countenance turns grimmer. "They'll get what they paid for," he mutters. "If these people are so reckless as to have radiators in their houses ---"

"Reckless!" gasps Towzer. As he sees it, they're both looking at outraged parents, a virtual tsunami of lawsuits, and a very extended stay in prison.

B.Z., frankly, has other ideas. "How does Brazil sound to you?" he asks his Head of R&D.

"Brazil?"

"Brazil," says B.Z. "Sandy beaches, tropical breezes, big rum drinks with pineapple in 'em, senoritas in string bikinis --- and, er, oh yes --- no extradition proceedings."

"You mean?"

"You and me, Eric," smiles B.Z. "We'll take the cash --- and let the elf face the music!" And the two retire to B.Z.'s bedchambers, laughing diabolically. But little do they know that resourceful little Cornelia, determined to watch and learn everything in silence, fearing for her own safety as well as that of Joe, has been monitoring her stepuncle's every move. Quick as a wink, making doubly sure that her unc does not see her, she speeds back into her own bedroom. There is, after all, but one thought on her young, impressionable, Fifth Avenue-inspired mind:

THIS IS A JOB FOR SANTA CLAUS! (Note from the synopsist: Hey, it's an Alexander Salkind Presentation! What did you expect me to say: 'Up, up and away'?)

Meanwhile, at the factory, a brutal Grizzard begins binding and gagging Joe with a few choice ropes and some towel-like substance. "Listen, kid," grunts he, "you wanna die on me while I'm gone? Be my guest!" Joe can only howl in muffled fear, his voice barely able to carry. Surely no child deserves a fate like this!

Between this, we hear Cornelia's voice: Dear Santa: You've got to help. Joe has been taken prisoner by a very bad man. I'm sorry to say that he's a relation of mine. By now it is late the next morning, and the girl has retired to her room, knowing that for now there is little that she can do to rescue her dear friend. At that moment, Miss Tucker enters. "Cornelia, what are you doing?" she scolds. "You're 10 minutes late for breakfast!"

"I'm coming," Corny replies quickly.

Knowing her time is limited, she places her incomplete letter in the tiny envelope that she has marked with the following words:

EMERGENCY! OPEN IMMEDIATELY!
Then, unexpectedly, a gust of a certain magical wind manifests itself. Somehow, the force of Christmas is once again about to play its unmistakable hand.

Back upstairs at the Pole, however, it appears as though Santa's lethargy of the last several weeks has become literally catching. In the stables, we watch Boog, Honka and Vout tending to Comet and Cupid. If you've never heard a reindeer sneeze before, consider yourself lucky, for a reindeer's sneeze is one of the harshest sounds an elf can detect. In this instance, the Three Elf Musketeers can sense Comet's and Cupid's for at least a heartbeat or two. It's not long before the trio reach their diagnosis: the two animals have contracted the flu. Santa must be informed.

THE RESCUE BEGINS

As the three elves determine the condition of both Comet and Cupid, we rejoin Santa as he confers with Dooley over what vital resources are needed for next year. "I think we should prepare the first shipments of pinewood as early as April, so that we don't run short," Dooley is suggesting. "Don't you agree, Santa?"

Suddenly, a lone letter descends into the heart of the ancient fireplace. "What's this?" the old elf wonders aloud.

"Looks like a letter," mutters Santa.

"In January? A bit early for next Christmas, isn't it?" Dooley comments wryly.

Nonchalantly, Santa opens the envelope. "Familiar writing," he mutters again --- but his eyes immediately widen when he discovers just how familiar that writing is. For the writer is none other than Cornelia --- and her letter is all about Joe! Santa now knows what he must do. "Saddle up the reindeer," he orders bluntly.

"But it's only been 2 weeks since they've been out!" replies a shocked Dooley.

"This won't wait," Santa shoots back. Seconds later, Boog, Honka and Vout enter the room. "Ah! Just the elves I wanna see," smiles the Knight of Christmas. "Hitch up the reindeer --- because we're flying out at 1900 hours!"

"But that's what we've come to tell you!" Honka explains. "It's Comet and Cupid!"

"What about them?"

"They've got the flu," Boog says simply.

"Oh, great," Santa mutters. "This would have to happen now!" Needless to say, he couldn't take them on a flight in their condition; they'd have pneumonia in no time. Still, there's no time to be lost. "Well, I'll just have to make do with six. Get them ready immediately! Little Joe needs me!"

Moments later, in a completely empty Toy Tunnel, the six deer are all fed and rarin' to go. But first, Santa fills the animals in on their dire situation. "We have got ourselves one heckuva problem here," he explains. "Our little friend Joe is in big trouble. And if we don't help him --- well, I don't even want to think about what could happen! Now, listen, I know we're two men short today.... but this time, you've got to fly like the wind!"

The deer nod their heads furiously. Even Donner, the old yellow reindeer, seems brave enough to take the challenge on. "Can ya do it for me?" Santa bellows. More nodding. "Can ya do it for little Joe?" The critters begin to grunt, for they realize that, with Joe being involved in a potentially life-threatening situation, they may yet be the boy's only hope. "Sure you can!" Santa smiles, knowing that something positive may yet come out of all this. Swiftly he leaps into the sleigh and takes up the reins.

"All right, men," he says. "I need that extra effort from you --- 'cuz I'm countin' on ya!" And with a boisterous "YO!" --- probably the most boisterous yell of his life, Santa Claus takes off for what might be his final mission ..... a mission built on the prospect that he alone holds in his hands the fate of one lost little boy. His one prayer, simply put, is that he can rescue young Joe in time.

THE ESCAPE

As Patch sits at his control board, those droidic machines keep churning out those candy canes with mindless efficiency. Once again, the stardust hopper's gauge registers as empty. Time to refill again.

Patch then descends toward the metal filing cabinet --- and suddenly, his ears pick up the sounds of..... someone screaming for help, albeit in muddled voice! The elf searches the room, tracking the noise with his trusty ears. Rounding a rusty trash bin, he soon discovers the source of the noise: a boy, bound and gagged, tied to a pipe. It is, undoubtedly, Joe.

Patch immediately begins untying Joe's hands and feet from the pipe, pausing only to remove the gag from the kid's mouth. "What are you doing down here?!" he gasps.

Joe, realizing whom he's addressing, wastes no time venting his wrath. "As if ya didn't know, creep."

"Me?"

"Yeah, you! You ruined Christmas!"

"What do you mean? I don't even know what you're talking about!"

Joe isn't buying it. "He said the kids didn't like him no more on account a' you!"

Him? The boy can only be referring to Santa Claus. "But you don't even know Santa Claus," Patch persists.

"Do so!"

"Do not!"

"He said I was his only friend left, ya dumb punk!"

Joe's rant stops Patch dead in his tracks. The elf can't believe it. Has he indeed ruined Christmas? Have all his plans to win back Santa's love and respect backfired upon him so completely? "I just wanted him to see what a good assistant I could be," he tries to explain. But Joe is still having none of it. He lunges violently at Patch. "He's seen what you are," the boy fumes. "You're a dummy stupid-headed stink-faced creep who made the kids hate the best guy ever ----" At that moment, an object falls from the boy's coat pocket. It clatters against the floor. At the noise, Joe and Patch break apart ..... and gaze down in surprise. This is just a toy, Patch realizes ---- one of a type he himself knows all too well.....

"Where did you get this?" he asks the boy.

"He gave it to me," says Joe. "See, I told ya I'm his best friend!"

Patch now gazes lovingly at the little item. And realizes exactly what it is. "My elf-portrait!" Indeed it is precisely that: a perfect wooden recreation of Patch himself, carved lovingly by Santa's very own hands! "He does like me after all!" the elf whispers, a profound and unexpected emotion coming over him in an instant. Then, just as suddenly: "C'mon, kid!" he growls, urging Joe to follow him.

"Where we goin'?"

"We're going to the North Pole," Patch explains. "We'll both go --- and, for once, we'll bring Santa Claus a present!"

Back in Cornelia's room, we find her pacing about, clad in a warm coat and blue jeans, ready for action. Her one hope: that Santa has received her letter. A flash of light later, she gets her answer: Santa embraces Corny in relief; but there's no time to be lost. "Oh, it's you. Thank heavens!"

"How is he?" Santa asks concernedly, in reference to Joe.

"I don't know!" she replies.

"Where is he?"

"My stepuncle's got him," Corny explains. "Listen! Those candy canes ---"

But Santa, seizing a heavy blanket, is already drawing the girl into his magic circle. "Shhh! Tell me on the way," he says as he lays his finger aside his nose.

Seconds later, aboard Santa's sleigh, Corny fills Big Red in with regard to Patch, Joe, B.Z.'s plan --- and the worst part of the whole story! "You mean, they exploded?"

"That's what they said --- when they got hot," Corny sums up. "I called the police, but I don't think they believed me."

"We've gotta hurry, then," declares Santa. "C'mon, boys!" he shouts to his steeds.

Back in the factory, Patch and Joe are in the midst of loading up the Patchmobile with as many piles of candy canes as they are able to place into the vehicle. By Patch's estimates, there are enough of the glowing canes to handle every single Christmas order for the coming year! Then, in a wild degree of swiftness, Patch activates the automatic garage doors, which soon slide open. As the two new friends buckle themselves in, Joe wonders how the Patchmobile works. He's seen some sharp cars in his day, but nothing has prepared him for a car this cool!

Quickly Patch activates the ignition and the engines roar into life. Microseconds later, the Patchmobile charges up its custom-designed runway........ and rockets away into the sky beyond. They have escaped!

Just at that very moment, Santa and Corny discover the Patchmobile high in the air --- several miles or so ahead of them, and yet too far away to attempt a rescue via traditional means. "It's them! Both of them!" Corny shouts, pointing toward the distance, spotting the high-flying Patchmobile right where she can see it.

But Santa notices something else, too. "Look! The candy canes! They're in the car with 'em!" Even now, the Knight of Christmas begins to sense their smell of unrelenting danger. "And Patch doesn't know that they explode!" Cornelia reminds Santa, who in his turn commands the team: "Fly, boys --- fly like the wind! Fly like you've never flown before!"

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