Saturday, December 25, 2010
An edited version of this story appeared in the magazine DRIVEN and there's a live version of me reading it at an ECW Press party on YouTube somewhere.
I was given the title, "Santa in a Red Dress," by the magazine editor and asked to come up with a story and here it is:
SANTA IN A RED DRESS
JT had been with the Saints of Hell going on two years, since almost the day he got back from Afghanistan, moving up from hangaround to prospect, still doing the shit work till he could get his patch. Like this: driving two days to Moncton to meet a guy who’d picked up 80 kilos of coke offshore.
Just before dawn, the freighter Sharon David, carrying low-sulphur coal from Maracaibo, Venezuela, to Sydney, Nova Scotia, passed by a mile off the coast, and one of the Filipino crew members tossed an oil drum overboard. At sun-up, a lobster fisherman named Jerry McNeil and his brother-in-law followed the GPS signal to the drum and pulled it onboard.
They had the drum open and the coke in three hockey bags before they got back to shore.
Later that day, Jerry drove almost four hours from Port Dufferin to the Magnetic Hill Motel in Moncton, parked his pickup in front of room number six and went to the coffee shop. Ten minutes later, JT came out of room number nine, took the hockey bags, 60 pounds apiece, and left a backpack with 40 grand in cash—enough to get Jerry through one more season, maybe two, the price of lobsters doesn’t go down as much as the price of fuel goes up.
JT drove back to Toronto, 15 hours in a brand-new Camaro, 300 horsepower and a Boston Acoustics stereo. On the T-Can through New Brunswick he saw a few signs for the US border: twelve miles, nine miles, always so close, and he thought how the coke he was carrying would bring almost twice as much wholesale in Canada, over 40 grand a kilo, because the market was so tightly controlled. The retail price in Canada was less than in the US, maybe 50 bucks a gram instead of 70 or 75, because the Saints sold to anybody and let them fight it out on the street. But that wasn’t his problem.
Getting the patch, that was his problem. Once JT had that, he’d never have to touch the product again.
Det. Barb Roxon drove the Crown Vic from Toronto to Buffalo, two and a half hours with Det. Jason Loewen in the passenger seat telling her what a great deal this will be, how the guy with the coke, Dave Ogilvy, used to be a singer, had a few hits years ago and how he’s buying from the Saints but here he is bringing some back in from the states.
“So he’s not the smartest guy in the world.”
Loewen said, no, not too bright. “He doesn’t think ahead that much. This’ll be great for us.”
Roxon thinking, yeah for us, Loewen saying how he met a cop from Syracuse at the cross-border information-sharing conference they had in Rochester. He said, “Were you there,” and Roxon said no.
Loewen said, that’s right, and then told her again what a great party she missed, they booked the whole Holiday Inn, “All hundred and twenty rooms, place was rocking, cops from all over New York state, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, couple guys from Vermont, it was great.”
“You got a lot of work done?”
Loewen laughed and said, yeah, we did, “In between the drinking, that American beer may be weak-ass shit, but they make up for it by drinking more.”
“So you met a guy from Syracuse?”
“I met a woman from Syracuse, an Onandaga County Sherrif’s Deputy. We had an excellent informal information exchange, just what the program’s about.”
Roxon said she didn’t think the program was about cops getting laid and Loewen said, no, “That’s just a bonus, you should come to the next one, going to be in Detroit.”
“You’re getting back on your feet, Barb, you’re doing great. So anyway, Deputy Edwards was pissed the Feds were taking all the credit for a big coke bust a couple months ago, local cops worked it for a year, guys were moving ten kilos every couple of weeks, a big operation for central New York.”
“Just coke, not meth?”
“Not these guys. Isobel says they had ‘over-lapping supply,’ she said they were going to keep moving up the chain but the Feds couldn’t wait, made the bust and shut down the investigation.”
“None of the supply was from Canada, as far as she could tell, but it looks like they had a few customers from the Great White North.”
“Like our Dave Ogilvy.”
“I asked her to keep me posted, you know, we could get together and continue to exchange information.”
Roxon said, “You’re so romantic,” and Loewen said I am, you know, “I really am.”
Then he said, “So the coke is flowing again in Syracuse and the locals are starting over now that the Feds have fucked off and Isobel calls and tells me about a car with Ontario plates going to see a supplier.”
“Paying half what he would back home.”
“Who can blame him? So, she follows him to the border and they’re waiting for us.”
“This woman really likes you.”
“She’s a good cop.”
“Come on, Barb.” Loewen shook his head, looked hurt and Roxon was thinking about apoligizing when he said, “Been seperated more than a month when I met her.”
“Oh, well then.”
Dave Ogilvy sat in the holding room on the Buffalo side of the border, looking at his ripped-open goalie pads and the kilo of coke on the table. He wanted to tell these cops—the guy and the woman who looked pretty good for late 40s—that they didn’t need to rip open both pads, but he kept his mouth shut because he knew there was more going on.
These were Canadian cops, Toronto cops, on the American side of the border. They were the only ones in the room with him, and so far no one had said anything about arresting him.
The woman cop—Dave figured she must be a jogger, no tits but flat stomach and a very tight butt—was saying no one could blame him for going to the States for his coke. “The Saints selling that watered-down shit at twice the price.”
Dave was looking at her, thinking he wasn’t going to get caught up in whatever the fuck it was she was doing.
“But this, this cost you what, 20 grand?”
She could do something with her hair, maybe grow it out or something, get a decent style, but cops probably didn’t get paid that much. She was doing the best she could with that tight blouse under her jacket.
Then she said, “The thing is, Dave, how are the Saints going to feel about you selling this in Toronto? They think they’re your only supplier, don’t they? You get what, a key a month from them?”
He started to get it and he said, “No fucking way.”
“No one needs to know, Dave, we’re not going to tell anyone.”
He said, “No. Fuck you.”
She looked at the other cop, the guy -- they were sympathetic, nodding like they understood, like they were both the good cop and then she said, “You used to be a singer, didn’t you?”
“I still am.”
“Well, it makes a good front, play a few gigs with your old band -- what’re you called, Smiley’s People? I saw you once, years ago, at Canada’s Wonderland, with Kim Mitchell.”
“We played the Sound Academy last month, big Q107 anniversary thing, Kim was there, too.”
“Love those ‘Patio Lanterns’. You’re singing some radio jingles, aren’t you, is that you on the FedEx ones, the office shipping guy?” She looked at him, Dave thinking, You really did your homework, think you know everything, fine, but I’m not going to fucking help you.
“And dealing the coke makes for a good living.”
Shit, maybe they were both the bad cop, he couldn’t fucking tell.
Then she said, “Okay, Dave, we’re all friends here on the wrong side of the border, we’re just talking, we don’t have any jurisdiction here. Look, I’m Detective Roxon, this is Detective Loewen.”
Dave said, “Yeah, well, I’m not giving you shit about the Saints of Hell.”
And Loewen spoke for the first time, saying, “You don’t think so?”
“We know the guy you deal with isn’t a full patch yet.”
“Or he wouldn’t be dealing with you.”
Dave looked at the guy thinking, Oh right, so you’re the bad cop?
“But he’s on his way up. So you stay close to him and we stay close to you.”
“You have to be fucking insane you think I’ll go along with this, Detective Roxon.”
Loewen poked the torn open goalie pad saying, “Dave, I don’t see you have a choice.”
“This goes on long enough,” Roxon said, “you can call me Barb.”
Dave took 10 eight balls to Rebecca Almieda, a hooker who lived in the condo building on Queen’s Quay across from the Toronto Star building, and asked if maybe he could get a tip for the delivery.
Rebecca, 21 years old and sexy as hell in her yoga pants and sports bra, held out the 15 hundred and said, “You can have this, or we can fuck, which one you want?”
“How about a blow job?”
She peeled off five hundred bucks and said, “You still want it,” holding out the grand.
Dave laughed, said he was just screwing with her.
“That’s my business, you’re ever really interested.”
“Too rich for my blood.” He took the fifteen and Rebecca took the coke, walking into the bedroom, saying over her shoulder, “You ever get a hit single, we can talk.”
Dave watched her go, thinking, This Christmas song I’m working on gets played enough, you never know. It was a novelty song, but close enough. How else do you get on the radio these days?
Rebecca came back into the living room saying, “I’m going to Ottawa for a few days, can I get some more by Monday?”
“Sure, as much as you want.”
She raised her eyebrow and tilted her head looking at him and he said, “You’re a good customer.”
She said, “Sure I am,” and walked towards the door, Dave following. She looked at the money still in his hand and said, “You sure you don’t want to spend a little of that, you’re already here,” and he said, no, that’s okay, “I have to meet a guy.”
She said, “He won’t fuck you like I can,” and winked at him.
JT was waiting at Cherry Beach, middle of the afternoon and no one was around, not even a
Dave pulled into the parking lot in his Monte Carlo and JT said to follow him.
“So,” JT said, “you still had some left, from last month?” and Dave said, what do you mean, and JT said, “You sold some this morning, you still had some from the last delivery,” and Dave said, oh yeah, right, “A little, just a little.”
They walked into the woods there, toward Unwin Street, Dave following.
JT said, good, “That’s good stock management, you’re doing good.”
JT stopped and said, “What,” and Dave said, “Look, I have to tell you something, some cops talked to me.”
JT told him to hang on, and they walked further into the woods till he was sure they were completely alone. Dave said, “It’s like we’re fags, coming out here to get laid.”
JT said, “What about the cops?”
Dave shifted on his feet. “Yeah, they stopped me... on my way back from New York from that charity hockey game I played in. You know, celebrities against old timers. We had Jason Priestley, couple of guys from The Tragically Hip, Barenaked Ladies. Michael J. Fox was coaching -- ha, what the fuck else is he going to do, right? Barely hold a stick.”
JT said, “Yeah.”
“Yeah, so they stopped me at the border. I... shit, this is hard.”
“Take your time.”
“They stopped me and, really, they wanted to know about you.”
“Well, the thing is, I was bringing something back, I had some...”
“Some... fuck, you know, it’s just... anyway, I don’t want to... okay, look, I was bringing back some coke, a guy sold me some while I was there, it was so cheap.”
“Yeah, that American shit, it’s half Inositol you know, what did you get, eight ball?” Dave closed his eyes and JT nodded, said, “Tell me, Dave.”
“Guy sold me a kilo. But they knew, the cops knew. Some Toronto cops stopped me at the border -- didn’t want to arrest me. They wanted me to give them info on you.”
JT said, oh yeah? “What’d you tell them?”
“Shit, JT, you know, I didn’t tell them fuck all. They didn’t even know who I dealt with really, they didn’t have a name, they just knew I bought wholesale in Toronto so it must be from a Saint.”
“You’re not wearing a wire now, are you?”
“Fuck no, no way.”
JT said okay, that’s good, and Dave was getting antsy, pacing a little, looking around but there was nobody. He said, “I figured, you know, I’d tell you right away, tell you and then I could be like a double agent, I could give the cops wrong shit, like misinformation.”
JT said, “That’s good thinking.”
“Yeah, that’s a very good idea. And you’re sure they didn’t have an ID on me?”
“Positive. They showed me pictures, you and Boner and Mitch, a couple of the other guys, but they don’t know shit.”
“Okay, that’s good.”
JT took out his .38, his Colt, and shot Dave in the face. Two more in the back of the head when Dave was on the ground, thinking, shit, pictures of all us prospects. Fuck. He’d have to call one of them now, get some help dumping the body, get rid of the shitty Monte Carlo.
Then he thought, no, just leave it here. If it got out one of his dealers was picked up by the cops he’d be even further from that full patch.
Detective Roxon said, “Three shots at close range,” and Loewen, who was talking to the coroner, said, “Yeah, his head’s pretty much blown off, have to wait for the lab reports.”
She said, “Why? Because we can’t figure out one of The Saints did it?”
“You sure he wasn’t out here looking for a hummer?”
The whole place was taped off, uniformed cops all over looking for evidence, Roxon knowing they wouldn’t find anything.
Loewen said, “Shit, he’s got a Christmas song on his iPod.” He had one headphone on, nodding to the beat. “It’s ‘Devil in a Blue Dress’ but changed—now it’s ‘Santa in a Red Dress’.”
“Is it him singing?”
Loewen said, “Shit yeah, it might be.”
“Too bad for him, that one might’ve been a hit.”
Friday, December 24, 2010
By Seana Graham
Charlie detected what he thought were footsteps on the roof not too long after midnight. This was earlier than he thought it would be, but still within normal parameters. He took another swig from the glass of whiskey and slowly unfastened the safety catch on the gun, then slid it back cautiously under the blanket on his lap. This would be the night—he felt it.
Maggie and the kids were probably down in Florida with her folks by now, their usual Christmas tradition these days. He had complained about the lack of holiday visitation rights, but not too stridently. Christmas was a busy time and he had plans to make and promises to keep. Well, one promise, anyway.
Everyone spoke of the season as such a magical time, but he had never found it to be so—not since one long ago Christmas morning. His sisters had beat him to the Christmas stockings, finding oranges and chocolate in theirs. But when he’d turned his out, he’d found only a single lump of coal. The whole family was there that morning and the uncles had all laughed until they cried. He’d stood there facing them, his eyes two small black stones as he suppressed both tears and fury.
“Well, Charlie?” his old man had asked, not smiling at all.
“Man, I heard about Santa bringing coal before,” Uncle Frank had said, winking at his dad before Charlie had a chance to say anything. “Never seen it actually done, though.”
“Well, Santa doesn’t bring much chocolate to boys who don’t behave,” his father said, looking at Charlie pointedly.
“All right, Martin,” Charlie’s mom had said, coming in from the kitchen. “You’ve all had your joke, now that’s enough. Come on over to the tree, Charlie. Plenty of presents for you here.”
But none, he’d noticed, from Santa Claus.
Still it hadn’t been a bad haul. But later in the afternoon, when the stockings were forgotten and the others had all gathered around the table for Christmas dinner, Charlie had lingered to level his new air gun at the chimney.
“Santa,” he’d whispered, “you’re a dead man.” He’d pulled the trigger.
The years had gone by and perhaps the memory should have faded. No one else believed in Santa Claus by the time they were twelve, let alone thirty-five. But Charlie knew the old devil was real, all right. Just like that lump of coal.
Old Saint Nick, or just Old Nick, as Charlie liked to call him, had probably broken up his marriage too. He and Maggie had been all right, but the holidays were a big bone of contention between them. She loved them, but Charlie hated every minute. When Sheila and Patrick were born, Maggie apparently thought that was supposed to change. It hadn’t.
“No child of mine will ever get a lump of coal, that’s for sure!” he said. Just the thought of it sent him nearly apoplectic.
“Charlie, no one’s going to put coal in their stockings unless it’s you or me,” Maggie had said. “I’m sorry about what happened to you. Someone had a lousy sense of humor, that’s all.”
“It’s time someone put a stop it!” he’d fumed.
He’d insisted on sitting up every Christmas Eve ‘standing watch’. But he always fell asleep in his armchair and woke to find that the sniveling coward had come and gone while he slumbered.
Finally, it was too much. After Thanksgiving two years ago, Charlie found a note from Maggie saying she’d had enough. She was going to her parents’ and taking the children with her. When he finally got her to answer her phone she said she just wanted the kids to have a normal Christmas.
“Normal Christmas!” Charlie snarled, and hung up. “I’ll give her normal.” He had immediately begun divorce proceedings.
So tonight he was all alone. He had a tiny Christmas tree, figuring you needed at least a token one as bait. He had put some cheap ornaments on it and hung his solitary stocking on the mantle. He had a bottle of whiskey and his .38. What else did any man need?
An eerie wind raced down the chimney and blew in a few dead leaves. There was movement in the flue. A scuttling sound. Charlie tensed, but he wasn’t afraid.
“Come to Papa, Kris Kringle,” he said, leaning forward. That was when the lights went out.
The police arrived just as the paramedics were putting Charlie in the ambulance.
“We’re here because there was a report of a gunshot. Was that the victim?”
“You could say that. He was also the shooter.”
“Ah, self-inflicted,” the cop said sadly. “Well, it happens this time of year.”
“He’ll live,” the paramedic said, unmoved.
The cop gave him a look.
“He wasn’t suicidal, Officer. Not unless he tried to kill himself by shooting himself in the foot.”
“How’d it happen, then?” the cop asked, peering in at Charlie.
“Revolver and a bottle of Jim Beam. Need I say more? Claims he heard someone coming down the chimney.” The paramedic chuckled. “On this night of all nights, you know? Jesus, it was probably only rats. Anyway, there was some kind of power outage. Apparently shot himself in the dark.”
“I didn’t hear about any power outage,” the cop said, puzzled.
“No, probably just a fuse.”
They laughed, and to Charlie lying in the ambulance, it was just another Christmas morning of mirth at his expense. Might as well hand him another big fat lump of coal while they were at it.
Never mind, he thought, as the sedative took over. Wait till next year. Guns were out, obviously. But there was always poison. Arsenic in the traditional plate of cookies might work.
“Arsenic for Old Nick,” he said aloud, liking the sound of it. Hard to get, though, maybe.
Hell--it was only December 25th , he remembered.
That meant he had a whole year to find some.
Seana Graham works at an indie bookstore in Santa Cruz, California, and writes a couple of blogs in the off hours. In between, she occasionally writes fiction, some of which has been published. This is her first attempt at noir, and she's not sure how far she's actually succeeded. At least its downbeat...
A female reporter stuck a mike in Pete’s face Christmas morning when the fire was finally put out. “How many years have you been on the DFD.”
Seventeen, he told her. All of them spent in a 109-year old firehouse, which was a fire hazard itself. No one knew about the condition of that wiring, but who had the money to replace it? Not Detroit. He didn’t tell her that, of course. They’d been read the riot act about dissing the City.
“I hear you’re usually the one they call on when a fellow fire fighter is buried under debris.” Pete was 6”4 and weighted 270. He could yank floorboards out if need be. Hoist fallen walls, loosen joists, carry two people at once.
“Done that once or twice.”
“Like today, right? You pulled someone out today? On Christmas.”
“How do you feel about risking your life to put out a fire set by arsonists? A house the city’s been scheduled to tear down for five years.” Suddenly she sounded angry; her eyes dark holes. Pete was flummoxed for a second, still taking in the face he’d watched for years on the nightly news rather than hearing her question. A black woman with that many freckles was fairly rare. He guessed the heat had melted her makeup.
“Breaks your heart. Breaks your heart,” he answered senselessly. Then he caught the rheumy eye of his crew commander and tried to come up with something better. “And all of these guys here today—man—they do whatever they can for the people here in Detroit. Today and every day. Specially on Christmas.” He stopped short, seeing she’d pulled the mike away.
She seemed pleased at his answer. The Christmas wreath with bells on her lapel jingled as she walked away. He wondered how she could navigate the icy sidewalk in those high heels.
They didn’t show her reaction on the news that night though. Instead the next shot was the deserted house burned to the ground, an unintentional perhaps, commentary on the DFD failure. But the fire hadn’t spread to the house next door, inhabited by an elderly woman and her grandson. That’s why they had to put these fires out. Or before you knew it the entire city would be in flames. Sophie and he watched the whole thing on the evening news after the family finished off the holiday ham, exchanged gifts. He’d overdone it again but he’d never felt full in his life.
“That bitch,” Sophie said, switching the TV off. “She didn’t have to show that house. She’s just showing you and the guys up doing that.”
“Doubt it was her decision,” Pete said, defending the woman he’d spent two minutes with. The one so familiar to him from years of watching the News—except for those freckles. “Don’t they have editors to decide that?”
“Damn, I wish I’d taped it,” Sophie said, jumping up. “Maybe they’ll show it again on the eleven o’clock news. I wonder if any of the kids saw it” She quickly dialed their numbers. That hadn’t, of course. Didn’t watch the news. And Channel 8 didn’t air the segment again. There were new fires, robberies, and deaths to report by then. The Free Press story the next morning was on page 6 and didn’t even mention him. The headline read EARLY MORNING CHRISTMAS FIRE ON THE EASTSIDE. It barely got a column.
It was a vacant house again just a few weeks later. Another one on the list for demolition for years. Possibly inhabited by a squatter. There were no signs of drugs though. Sometimes a squatter would torch a house he knew was due for demolition—just out of pique. That’s what this looked like to Pete. Pique.
Place was a dump. And also an inferno by the time they arrived. Flames and smoke were already blowing out the windows on the second floor. Engine 28 and Squad Car 2 arrived, joined by two more pumpers, a ladder truck, and a battalion chief. An additional crew stood ready. Engine 28 fired a surge of water that knocked back the fire. The crew stormed the house seconds later, a Detroit fire-fighting tactic not shared in many cities where the approach was more tentative. They advanced with a hose up the stairs. Pete was in front, ready to knock down whatever got in the way. He was high on adrenalin as usual. Fearless. The men doused hotspots as they moved up the steps and into the attic.
It happened quickly at that point. There was a creaking sound, and few pieces of wood from the ceiling dropped to the floor. Less than two seconds later, the entire roof collapsed. Pete Oberon was pinned to the floor. His huge frame pinned under a roof. The pain was enormous, but his death came fast.
He made the headline this time.
Patti Abbott has recently published stories in DAMN NEAR DEAD 2, Needle Magazine, Crimefactory, Beat to a Pulp: Round One, Dark Valentine, Spinetingler and various other venues. She is the co-editor (with Steve Weddle) of DISCOUNT NOIR.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
The witchdoctor came down the stairs coughing blood.
Beneath the saturated wall of graffiti the shards of broken glass winked with menace in the lurid glow cast by the flickering strip light that hissed and fizzed overhead.
I’d never seen his scar look like that before. The jagged white grin in his flesh had turned golden and issued a strange surreal glow.
‘I hears you can helps me’, he said.
‘This man he’s been doing some tings.’
‘And what things might they be?’
‘Rape, murder, bloodshed, mayhem, he don’t like me, and he’s in disguise.’
‘Well it’s an honour that you come to me.’
‘You’s the deal on this business, it’s Grotto Joe.’
‘A job’s a job, I’ll visit him.’
Down on Second Avenue where the winos spat at you as you passed, the line of kids to the grotto was like a trail of litter on the puke strewn pavement. I waited and watched as the shoppers bought their ton of crap and headed home.
And there he was, Grotto Joe.
Fat and obscene as a dirty joke in church, clutching the kids and giving them a box of tat while he whistled.
I could smell him and he stank of piss and corruption.
It had been a while since that incident when he cut the lady in the shop, sliced her from ear to ear for short-changing him and he was doing what he always did this time of year, dress up and hand out gifts. Beneath the beard lay a world of lies.
While Bing Crosby dreamed of a white Christmas I thought of painting the town red.
People wonder what Father Christmas does the rest of the year, well this one burgles shops and specialises in aggravated sexual assault on the side.
He ho-hoed and acted out the part of the dear old guy with the gifts and maybe had them all fooled but not anyone who knew what lay beneath the mask.
Christmas songs echoed into the night time air like some threnody for Santa Claus.
I knew that this one kept a switchblade beneath his costume, like a shard of glass in the birthday jelly.
His heavily decorated tree hung with lurid baubles, shiny reds and golds winking at me with an attendant malice that gave little cheer as I watched families take their gifts home.
I waited until the throng had thinned and the last few stragglers were wending their way past the debris outside and I went in.
He had his back to me and was removing his beard when he heard me and turned.
There was a crackle of hatred that burned the air as Diana Ross jingled her bells at us.
Grotto Joe was about to open his mouth and say something smart when I pulled my baby from my pocket. She’s as sharp as they come and I can open a can of tomatoes with her.
I hit him right in the neck, a shower of blood opening up and spraying the grotto in some grim ejaculation that left him reeling. He clutched at himself and staggered about like a blind man but I wasn’t finished.
I wanted to peel the skin from that Christmas and hang a little trophy on the wall.
You could say it was my personal form of decoration, being unaccustomed to these enforced merriments.
I wanted to skewer Santa like a kebab and burn him up a little.
And I wanted to blow a hole in the Grotto lie.
I knew what Joe had in his baubles, he filled them with an infected syringe each year.
Some say he drank from them when everyone had left, speaking in tongues with red lips into the booze fractured dawn.
I knew what dark things he did as he handed out gifts.
As Joe reeled and bled I took out my Luger and shot his decorations to shit.
The baubles were full of blood and they exploded in some orgasm of unholy menses as if he was living in the belly of a bleeding whale.
The golds faded to red and the place was awash with it.
The tree was hung with the skin of his victims and looked like a severed artery.
His reindeer were dripping by the time I’d finished. Beneath the boxes of gifts lay his rusting machete. Ho fucking ho.
So I scalped him while a slow drizzle pattered the canvas sheeting that hemmed us in and I took it home to the witchdoctor who looked down at it and said:
‘Dat father Christmas he sure was into some bad shit.’
‘It’s a pleasure doing business.’
Joe lay in Christmas’s dark alley, a peeled and rotund gargoyle reduced to some carnival of butchery while I made potato skins.
I nailed his scalp to a wall beside a rotting poster advertising Carols.
It hung there like a ruined flag.
I saw the midnight revellers stagger home.
I watched the sky turn black.
Then I wiped off my baby and made love to a bottle of Jim Beam.
The drizzle turned to snow. The streets were hushed beneath the polluted blanket it cast over the town’s corpse.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” the jeweler said as he stared down the barrel of Santa Claus’s gun.
Santa—AKA Shaun Lacey—wrapped his finger around the trigger and shook his head. The Santa Claus costume he’d had in his attic for three years still fit, but it smelled like mothballs. It hung on his frame awkwardly, leaving room in the stomach area for a pillow. The beard scratched the bottom of his nose.
“I’m not,” he said. “I want the necklace. The diamond pendant one.”
Lacey held out his sack with his left hand. The gun felt heavy in his right. He’d never shot one before. In fact, before three weeks ago, he’d never thought he’d be doing any of this.
“I don’t think this is how it works,” the jeweler said. “You should be out—”
“Shut up! I want the pendant.” He wished the gun had a hammer to snap back for effect.
The jeweler nodded and crouched behind the counter. Through the mirrored glass, Lacey saw him reach for the pendant. His hand flinched for a moment before clutching the pendant.
The jeweler stood, reached across the counter, and dropped the pendant in the sack. Lacey imagined what Jill’s face would have looked like if she’d opened that Christmas morning. If he’d held on to his job long enough to convince her to stay. That they’d make it.
Behind him, on 8th Ave, Lacey could hear the chanting. They were coming.
“How long do I have?” he asked.
The jeweler tilted his head.
“Until the police get here? You tripped the alarm, didn’t you?”
The jeweler didn’t say anything. Lacey raised the gun a little higher. It now pointed at the jeweler’s nose, not his stomach. The man shuddered, and his eyebrows twitched. If Lacey pulled the trigger at that moment, it would be over. There’d be no more job interviews, no more trying to win Jill back.
If he got what he could and got down to the pawn shop, he could pay rent for another month and keep trying to start over. New York City wasn’t an easy town to live in, but it wasn’t complicated either.
“Five minutes,” the jeweler said. “The cops’ll be here in five minutes.”
The chanting outside was really loud now. Christmas songs with new lyrics. People yelling and screaming. Spreading the holiday spirit.
“Put some more stuff in the bag,” Lacey said. “Diamonds. Earrings and rings.”
The jeweler complied. The pieces jingled in the bag like bells. Lacey took the sack and slung it over his shoulder. He smiled through the white beard.
“Ho ho ho,” he said and lowered the gun.
“The police will be here any minute. How far do you expect to get? They’ll know exactly who to look for.” The jeweler sighed. “Give yourself up.”
Shaun Lacey shook his head. “Maybe every other day of the year. But definitely not today.”
As Lacey backed out on to 8th Ave, he watched the jewelers face. His eyes widened and his mouth dropped open.
“But really, what are the police going to do? Interrogate every drunk Santa in New York?”
The jeweler’s cheeks went red. He started to shout something, but Lacey didn’t wait any longer. He slipped outside into the cold wind.
SantaCon was in full swing. Hundreds of drunks dressed as Santas, elves, and reindeer filed down the street. They were filtering into the three Irish bars on the block.
Yeah, Shaun Lacey thought. I’ve got time for a beer. And all these bar crawls offer great deals.
He stumbled into line, chanting along with the rest of the crowd. Ho! Ho! Ho! Ho!
Just as he was about to step into the bar, he took one last look over his shoulder. The jeweler was standing outside trying to explain to the cops what’d happened.
Both of the officers were laughing.
SantaCon is a real pub crawl. Every year--during the heart of the Christmas season--in major cities, people dress up like Santas or other Christmas characters. They march through the cities chanting, drinking, and carousing. I've been a part of the New York one twice, and both have been a blast. The first year was cool, hitting Times Square at lunch. The second year we marched through Macy's handing out Candy Canes and singing Christmas Carols with .... rewritten lyrics.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Santa’d had enough. Two years in R&D, three weeks from the launch, and the new game console shows up in the freakin’ Sony catalog? That, and suddenly Fydor, the nerd elf from IT, is zipping all the elfettes around on $8,500 worth of Arctic Cat?
“The Caymans, boss. Mid six figures.” Vito, from security.
Santa just nodded. Sure, he could do jolly and he had his brand to consider, so away from the Pole, it was ho-ho-fucking-ho all day long. Fuck with him on his home ice, though, and Santa was gonna fuck back.
* * *
The Hard Boys had had themselves a time, Santa could see that. He forgot sometimes that those cute little hammers were only little if you weren’t. Fydor was.
“You get it all?”
“Yeah,” Vito said. “Got the pass code, money’s in your account in Geneva. Found a couple other accounts, too. Tickle-Me-Elmo and that Wii leak? Fydor.”
Fydor was spread-eagled and nailed down to a wooden pallet in nothing but his fur-trimmed red-velour briefs. “Santa,” he shivered, “Can’t you give me some rhythm here? I mean, it’s Christmas.”
“You dealt the play, Fydor. Sometimes a lump of coal in the stocking just doesn’t make the point.” Santa nodded to Vito, who chained the palette to the back of Fydor’s new sled. Santa jumped on, fired up the Pro Sno 500 and lit out across the ice, Fydor rattling along behind.
* * *
Twenty minutes out, Santa unchained the pallet and pulled a wineskin full of seal blood out of his pack.
“Jesus, Santa,” chattered Fydor, “not that.” Fydor blue like a smurf now.
Santa dumped the blood on the elf. “You knew the rules. If you’re lucky, the cold’ll get you before the bears do.” From out in the darkness, a low growl. “But you don’t sound lucky.” Santa jumped back on the sled and headed home.
* * *
Santa took a nice, slow circuit, cruising Fydor’s sled past the reindeer, past the workshop. He’d spilled some of the seal blood on the side for effect. Some whining lately – hours, working conditions even the damn oats.
Cocoa and cookies later, little goodwill, but sometimes you had to remind people. You don’t fuck with Santa.
Daniel B. O’Shea is a Chicago-area writer. His first novel, Unto Caesar, is represented by Stacia Decker at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. You can visit his blog at www.danielboshea.blogspot.com.
I wait for the people walking past, their collars pulled up or their hats pulled down against the wind, before I give the bell a few shakes. I don't get much from the people just going past. I get mostly the people going in or coming out of the grocery store. Those that do give donations give whatever change they have just shoved in their coat pocket so that even if they have gloves on, they can just scoop the coins and drop on the plastic lid of the sealed bucket. I thank them and push the coins into the plus-sign opening with my free hand as I ring the bell harder and louder with the other.
It's not a fun job. To be honest, it isn’t a job. I’d like to say I volunteered to do it but it was my probation officer who suggested it. Community service and all that. I can hear the wind before the blast of cold hits me. It hurts, the cold I mean.
The wind blows empty plastic bottles past me and on up the sidewalk. Bits of newspapers float off like crumpled angels. Flyers for a missing cat, that is bound to be a pussycle by now, get caught around a no parking sign before ripping free. The metal sign makes a wommm noise as it gets shaken in the gust. I can feel the wind pulling at my cheeks. I want to take the bell and smash it against the wind’s head but how crazy is that?
About as crazy as when I took the beer bottle and smashed it over the head of the drunk guy hitting on my girl down at the Old Detroit Bar. He wouldn’t back off. Down came the brown bottle. Boom! D.A. wanted Assault with Intent to Commit Murder. My public defender got it dropped to Assault and Battery. Time served with 200 hours of community service. If I’d done the 90 days I’d be inside away from the friggin’ wind and cold. But I took the deal and I’m doing my time collecting for those less fortunate than me along Michigan Avenue. Ring the bell, God bless ‘em, and give a happy secular holiday to them all.
A Jag pulls up. The driver parks beneath the sign I’ve been watch the wind whip around for the last hour. An older guy in a leather coat gets out. He wears a pair of those thin, leather, Italian driving gloves. There’s nothing on his head except a crop of thick, white hair. Even in the yellow glow of the grocery store letters I can see the dude sports a tan and not a store bought tan.
I also see the smoking hot blonde in the passenger seat. She’s not his daughter, she’s not his wife. She’s his Christmas gift to himself. They are clearly not from around here. I have no idea why they are road tripping on Michigan Avenue near Trumbull.
Maybe they’re on their way to one of the casinos?
“They sell liquor in there?” he asks.
“Think so,” I say.
He smiles. His teeth are as straight and white as his hair. I watch him go in. A cop cruises past. Doesn’t even think to stop and ticket the Jag. I smash a beer bottle over a stranger’s head and get 200 hours of community service. Fate is a fickle bitch.
I ring the bell. The woman turns and watches me. She is so fracking beautiful. Her eyes drop to her lap and she rifles through her handbag. I think she’s looking for something to put in the bucket when the old dude comes out carrying a paper bag wrapped around the neck of a bottle of something. She lowers her window.
“Harry, put some change in the bucket,” the woman says.
“Do what?” Harry asks back.
She nods with her head at me. Harry’s internal light bulb goes off. He digs in his leather coat pocket and drops some coins onto the lid. They lay there like tiny golden suns. He bites off his glove and reaches for the coins when the wind blasts us both. His perfect white hair gets ruffled.
“No problem, sir,” I say. “I’ve got it.”
He starts to tell me something when the horn honks.
“Harry, come on I’m hungry,” the blonde says.
Harry smiles at me and hurries to the car. Seconds later he drives off.
I start to push the coins into the plus-sign slot. I drop five in there when I look at the last one still sitting there. There’s a woman with a crown on one side, a maple leaf on the other. Canadian. They must have been in Windsor for the evening or were on their way there. These aren’t ordinary gold coins; I know what the Loon looks like. These coins are different and I don’t think he meant to drop them in there and even if did have the kind of money where he could drop that kind of coin for charity, he chose the wrong bucket to drop them in. I take the bucket and walk off down the street. I have no idea what the gold
coins are worth. What I do know is there are five more inside the bucket. They have to be worth major dollars.
The Cole City Charter School will get its money.
Detroit will get its 200 hours of service.
But I get the coins.
And to all a good night.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
It wasn’t how I would have chosen to spend Christmas Eve.
‘It fucking hurts! Get that fucking thing out of me! Oooooaaaaarrrrghhh!!!!’
On the plus side, Jenna wasn’t having any more fun than I was. I reckoned the whole thing was over-rated.
‘Peeeeeeeeterrrrr!!! Fucking do some fucking thing!!! Pleeeeeeease!!!!’
That was new: I’d never heard her beg before.
‘Come on, Daddy. Mummy needs you!’ The midwife had an expectant look on her face. She nodded at Jenna, looked back at me. So I did something: I went out for a smoke. As I headed down the corridor I could hear Jenna cursing and screaming. I hoped the midwife wasn’t easily offended.
Outside, among the other addicts, my breath smoked as much as my cigarette. It was bitterly cold, frosty, a few stray, fat flakes of snow drifting down from above. The pavements and driveways around the hospital sparkled in the lamplight. It was beautiful, provided you ignored the piles of dog ends and the motley assortment of people in pyjamas, coats and boots, closed your ears to the wheezing and the hacking coughs.
Events had conspired to bring me to this place at this time. Bad stuff, mostly. I mean, I’d always reckoned me and Jenna would have kids one day, but not now, not like this. I lit a second smoke from the first, dropped the butt and ground it out with my heel.
I’d been working away. She was lonely. She went out with the girls one night, got pissed and Benny Maxwell played the good mate, walked her home for safety, then went in for a drink. She can’t even remember it, so she says. Not that she said anything at all until she had to, until she knew she was up the duff and the timing gave her away. There’d never been any question of getting rid of it. Jenna suffered from selective Catholicism, so whilst it was okay to live in sin, drink the town dry and swear like that wrinkly fucking cook off the telly, abortion wasn’t an option.
As the fat snowflakes tumbled faster out of the sky, I dropped the second smoke, went back in to see what the score was. ‘You have a daughter,’ the midwife beamed as I pushed through the door. I looked at Jenna, exhausted, sweaty, hair plastered to her forehead. She was clutching a wailing bundle, smiling through the tears.
‘Come and see,’ she said. I went over for a look. It was an ugly little spud.
‘She’s our first Christmas arrival,’ the midwife said. ‘Just one minute past midnight, out she popped.’ She looked at Jenna. ‘Any thoughts on names, dear?’
Jenna looked at me. ‘I dunno… Holly?’
I looked at the bairn again. ‘How about “Wingnut”?’ I suggested. The kid was Benny Maxwell’s right enough. No wonder Jenna had squealed. Must have hurt like a bastard getting those ears out.
The midwife tutted, then bustled on out of the room. ‘I’ll get you a cup of tea, dear,’ she called over her shoulder to Jenna. ‘Won’t be long.’
‘Do you want to hold her?’ Jenna asked me.
I shook my head. ‘Maybe later.’ I was still getting used to the idea of bringing up another man’s child. I saw her face drop and I felt mean, but I couldn’t help it. I kissed the top of her head. ‘I’ve got something to do. Get some rest. I’ll be back in an hour or so.’
She looked worried. I heard her start to say something as I went out of the door. ‘Don’t…’
I took it to mean ‘Don’t get caught,’ and since I didn’t intend to, I kept on walking.
I hadn’t believed Jenna when she spun me the line about not remembering. Then I heard that Benny had been picked up and questioned by the police. Some little bird had gone to them with a story about him putting something in her drink. There hadn’t been enough to charge him with, but it was enough for me. Things fell into place, Jenna and I stopped fighting and started working things out, slowly, painfully, but getting there, and I bided my time.
Sure enough, an hour or so later I was back. Jenna was asleep. I tiptoed over to the crib and peeked in at the baby. She was looking better than earlier, I thought. Less red and wrinkly. When she was old enough, we’d get her ears sorted out. I wasn’t having my bairn going through life looking like a taxi with the doors open. She’d get ripped to shreds at school for ears like that. Besides, they reminded me of Benny.
Next afternoon, I was perched on the bed, one arm round Jenna’s shoulders, the other cradling little Holly, when Jenna’s sister came in to visit. There was the usual amount of cooing and crying that I was starting to get used to, then she sat down and started eating the grapes she’d brought for Jenna. ‘You’ll never guess,’ she said, then continued without giving us the chance to. ‘Benny Maxwell’s dead!’
I felt Jenna tense up beside me. ‘How?’ she asked.
‘You know how cold it was last night? They found him lying in his back garden, covered in snow. He was only wearing a t-shirt and shorts. He died of hypothermia. I reckon he must have been drunk or something, and fell down or passed out. Sad, really.’
She was right: he had been drunk. He’d also been full of GHB. It’s frighteningly easy to get hold of. She was wrong on the second count, though, I thought, as I hugged the missus and the bairn: it wasn’t sad at all. In fact, it was probably the best Christmas present I’d ever give them.
Julie Morgan has stories in a variety of places, and is trying to corral them all here: http://gonebadonlinestories.blogspot.com/.
“I’m surprised to see you working today.”
Diana warmed her hands on her coffee cup and studied the man who sat across from her. He had a matching cup in front of him on the table. She didn’t care if her open scrutiny was rude. Three hundred and sixty-four days a year Detective Swedborg and the other Witherspoon cops did their best to bust her. Today she was supposed to sit and chat?
“Relax,” he said. “I’m not going to hassle you on Christmas Day.”
He had confronted her as she came out of a client’s house. He didn’t have the elements of a hooker bust, but he could still make her life miserable. When he had suggested coffee, she had taken his invitation as an order.
Then he had told her to meet him across the line in her hometown of Driscoll. That made her bad feeling worse. When a cop made a point of leaving his own jurisdiction, he usually wanted something sleazy, like a freebie from her.
But so far coffee meant coffee, and Denny’s wasn’t in Witherspoon. Nothing was, except one-acre lots.
She shrugged. “I always work on Christmas. I can’t afford to skip it. Between the guys who have nobody and the guys who want to get away from everybody, this is one of my biggest days of the year.”
“Who knew?” he said.
“The tips are great. Tomorrow will make up for it, though. I don’t know why, but the day after always does. Maybe everybody is too hung over.”
“I guess you’re not like us. Cops dread Christmas.”
“I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s not my favorite thing, either.”
“Sounds like you should look forward to it.”
“The money’s fine. It’s the complications.”
“Such as my next date. He’ll have a tree with tinsel and everything.”
“What’s wrong with making a little effort?”
“Trust me. Until you’ve seen a Christmas tree in a hot pillow motel room, you don’t know what depressing is. And that’s only the beginning. He’ll have an expensive gift for me, all wrapped and everything. The idea is to soften me up for when he asks me to marry him.”
“That could get awkward.”
“I’m running out of ways to say no without hurting his feelings.”
“But you keep seeing him.”
“His money spends. I’ve got the same bills as everybody else. Maybe more.”
“I hear you have a grandmother.”
Cops knew everything about everybody. It no longer surprised her.
“Later on I’ll go see her at the nursing home. I put a little tree up yesterday, but I don’t think it registered. She has dementia.”
“She’s in Brentwood Manor?”
She wondered what he was building up to.
“It’s Christmas. Today you get safe passage through town. I’ll make sure the uniforms don’t bother you.”
Damn, she thought.
She felt tears starting behind her eyes. He really did know everything, including her habit of taking the long route around Witherspoon unless she had to venture into town for business.
“Thanks,” she said.
She wanted to say more, but she didn’t trust herself. Bawling in front of a cop would be too humiliating.
The waitress saved her by appearing with the coffee pot and refilling their cups. When she had gone, Diana said, “Talk about a reason to hate Christmas. Try working at Denny’s today. That actually was my last straight gig, before I decided to go for the big bucks.”
“What do you think of that idea now?”
She had opened the door to that question, but she still didn’t want to go into it with a cop.
“It’s got its pluses and minuses. Why do cops dread Christmas?”
“Think about it. All those exes and cousins and in-laws who usually have the sense to stay out of each other’s way. On Christmas they don’t get a choice.”
“You got it. Domestics--every cop’s favorite thing. I really shouldn’t complain, though.”
“It’s basically the uniforms’ show today. If they get a call and everybody’s still standing, they’ll handle it. That can get rough. But if they bring me in, that means somebody is horizontal. Bad for the people involved, but easier for us.”
He waved the topic away.
“You grew up in Driscoll, didn’t you?”
“Driscoll High School?”
“Class of ‘Eighty-Seven.”
“Damn. You must know my ex. Terri Zientek.”
“Junior year, I took her boyfriend away from her.”
He laughed out loud.
“Well, the timing was pretty tight. I think she might have been done with him anyway.”
“Let’s just say you took him away from her. I like that better.”
They sat there making boy-girl smiles at each other.
Well, she thought. Who expected this?
As he reached for his coffee cup, his cell phone rang in the inside pocket of his sport coat. He took the phone out and looked at the display. What he saw didn’t please him.
“What was I just saying? Somebody must be horizontal.”
He listened. She couldn’t make out the words, but his expression turned businesslike.
“On my way,” he said.
Swedborg closed the phone and put it in his pocket. He picked up the check, and slid out of their booth. For a moment he stood looking down at her, and she understood that tomorrow things would be back to normal. It was sad but also reassuring. No one had changed the rules without notifying her.
“Merry Christmas, I guess.”
Monday, December 20, 2010
"Hey, Bird," he said. Short for what I was calling myself, Songbird Jayne. "'O Come All Ye Faithful' is next, right?"
"An old pal of mine just walked in, and I want you to sing it special for him."
"How special depends where he's sitting," I said.
"Yeah, yeah. Center table."
While Oscar re-introduced me, I looked in the small mirror backstage and ignored how tired I felt.
Of all the songs I sing, "O Come All Ye Faithful" is the hardest to do with a straight face. Think how many times "come" comes up.
Anyway, I did my best and stared longingly at the man at the center table. He had the body of a coat rack, and his hair and mustache looked fake. What was so special about him?
When the song was over, I took my bows and saw him smiling and nodding at me. I stepped down and approached his table.
"Merci," he said with an accent as thick as his mustache. Was it fake, too?
He kissed my hand and nodded me to a seat. I'd never sat with a customer so soon after a show. The other men in the crowd had to be jealous, but no one said a word. Who was this guy?
As if to answer me, he said, "My name is Jacques Cartier."
"Old friend of Oscar's."
"Yes. He has spoken very highly of you, so I felt I had to come hear you sing, meet you."
"You are exquisite. May I buy you a drink?"
I was done for the night. What the hell?
He signaled and the waiter came right over. Did they know each other?
He ordered a Cuba Libre. I ordered a vodka martini.
There was no reason I should feel antsy, but I did. "How are you spending Christmas?" I asked.
"Alone, I'm afraid."
"Sorry to hear that." Actually, I was glad he didn't assume he'd be spending it with me.
Our drinks came, and we took long sips.
"Yes," he said. "I've been caring for an injured friend of mine. This is the first time I've left him in six months."
I finished my martini and signaled for another. "How badly is he hurt?"
"Not badly in the physical sense. Mentally, though, spiritually, he may never be the same."
My head felt fuzzy. The only response I could think of was, "Sorry to hear that."
Someone was calling my name. My real name. "Sonia. Sonia, I'm sorry."
I tried to move toward the voice, but I was strapped down.
"I didn't ask him to find you. I didn't ask..."
As my head cleared, the first name I thought of was Richard Grafer. We were married once. Rich, too. But he was one overbearing bastard. So when I met someone else, someone with the balls to take me away...
I remembered his name. "C.J. Stone." The room was dark, but I saw the lines of his face.
"How are things?" he asked.
"Oh, swell," I said.
"Jock didn't hurt you. You're just his twisted idea of a Christmas present."
"He's not all bad. He's taken care of me since I crashed Grafer's Goose. Both the Goose and I are on the mend, but Jock's always talked about giving me closure." Before I could give a fake apology for not meeting up with C.J., he said, "I'll try to get you out of here as soon as I can, but it's really up to Jock."
"Well, Merry Christmas."
Whatever happened to dolls and stuffed animals? My daughter was
only seven and I didn't understand half of what she was asking
for. Okay, so I understood "gift card" but I couldn't imagine
anything worse than telling her that the unwrapped piece of
plastic was worth a whole five dollars.
I interrupted the stream of unattainable dreams. "So I'll see
you on Christmas day?"
"I don't think so, Dad. After I open my stocking and Santa
present, we're going to the airport to visit Gram."
"You're flying on Christmas?" The thought interfered with my
rhythm and the back of the swing jammed my fingers.
"Not all day. I'll have presents in the morning and then when we
get to Gram's. She bought us the tickets."
I didn't doubt that. I didn't doubt Gram would pay the costs of
them moving down there. This was the woman who'd offered me
money to never see her daughter again.
"Dad, you have to push."
"Sorry, honey. I was thinking about something else. I've missed
"If you get me that phone plan we can text."
"Hmm." I connected with the swing this time and pushed her away.
"And if you drop off my presents in time, maybe Mom will let me
open them Christmas morning."
"Maybe we could get together on Christmas Eve."
"Mom's friend is throwing a party that night. We always go that
party. It's a tradition."
And so spending the night with strangers trumped spending time
with her Dad. There wasn't and would never be room in her life
to start a new father-daughter tradition. Her mother would see
to that. Her Gram would see to that.
As time went on, we'd see less and less of each other until she
considered me a stranger. The last bit of good in my life would
"I have an idea."
"What?" She looked over her shoulder with a smile, still
believing that I could have ideas, a faith in me that her mother
was sure to squash.
"Let's go get your presents now, and then you'll have them."
"But it's not Christmas yet."
"Don't you want presents?" I gave as the swing came back and
then pushed with all my strength.
"Wee! Of course I want presents."
"Then now seems the perfect time."
"Do I get to pick out what I want?"
"You bet your bottom dollar." I pushed her away. "Doesn't get
any better than that, does it?"
"I just have to tell Mom first."
Because I can't just leave without telling her."
I pushed. "She knows I'm visiting with you. What difference
does it make whether we're in the back yard or at the mall?"
"Because she might come looking for me."
"If she knows you're with me, honey, she's not going to come
looking. Trust me."
"She might not want me to go to the mall with you."
"But it's Christmas. And you do want to pick out your presents,
don't you?" I gave another big push.
"You bet your bottom dollar."
So she did have a little of me in her after all.
I gave a final big push.
After we left here, stop at the apartment, grab my things,
retrieve the stolen charge cards I'd hidden under the mattress.
Stop at the mall. Let her pick out what she wanted.
She needed clothes, underwear, pajamas.
Visit Ramos and tell him I'd settle for half of what he owed me
in return for getting it now and in cash.
This was going to be our best Christmas ever.
(Mainly Murder Press) and more than 600 shorter pieces.
His website, www.StephenDRogers.com, includes a list
of new and upcoming titles as well as other timely
Sunday, December 19, 2010
The Christmas Spirit
By Chris Deal
Santa's beard was pure as yellow snow around the cigarette perched between his lips. His bones creaked as he rang his bell up and down, his movements robotic, his nose leaking. Santa's illustrious girth was a padded costume, he really too thin these days to keep up the illusion. Under the hat and beard his head a doll's skull slathered with paper-mâché.
Shoppers left in a hurry for their cars, bags filled and their wallets empty, none of them looking him in the eyes, nor him bothering to glance at the faces. Someone dropped a coin into the pot that landed with a heavy thud. Santa coughed a 'Merry Christmas' their way. He'd get chewed out if he didn't say it, maybe even lose the location.
The mall was closing up and the stragglers stumbled out into the cold with dumb smiles dreaming of the reactions they'd get for the junk no one wanted from the. Santa spat bloody mucus to the slush-covered sidewalk and kept ringing. With the locking of the mall's doors, Santa loaded up the pot into the front seat of the beater he called his sleigh and reached into the pot to find out how much he could get tonight.
He counted up a few bills amounting to $27. There were a lot of nickels and pennies, two or three quarters. "Fucking lack of Christmas spirit is what this is," Santa said. Thumbing through the change, hoping for enough to enable him to pick up some glass and still turn in a realistic pot, he found it.
Shining like the Star of Bethlehem under the orange cast of the streetlights, the coin was bigger than a quarter and had a weight to it. Solid gold, it looked to be struck by hand. An eagle on one side, a swastika on the other. He'd heard rumors of this, all the Santas had. Every year, a few anonymous do-gooders plunked gold pieces into the pots and the Army made a killing with those examples of Christmas spirit.
Santa pulled his sleigh out into traffic, his teeth tingling at the luck of the find. If he cut down Independence, technically the dealer was on his way to the Army office. He'd even turn in most of the pot, so it'd be fine in the long run.
His dealer was a Dutch expat by the name of The Mlaz. To be funny he wore his beard in the Old Dutch style, square along the jaw, his lip and chin smooth. He liked to tell people he wore it in homage of the homeland he was cut off from. Santa once brought him a Dutchmaster as a gift, considering the man was renowned for his selection of pills and his always fresh batch of glass. The Mlaz snapped the Dutch in half and held a pistol to Santa's gut for thirty minutes before he could be talked down.
At The Mlaz's door, Santa felt like a little brat on the night before Christmas, jumping from foot to foot with the Nazi coin clutched between both hands. He thumped against the door with both hands, and after several long beats considered clawing at the door. After a few moments, The Mlaz came to the door, his lips formed into his permanent sneer over his albino-blond beard. The disgust he had for every one of his clients was evident.
“What do you want there, Santa?” he said, his accent saturated with disdain. The Mlaz never let anyone into his apartment. He did his dealing from the doorway.
“Look what I found,” Santa said, pushing the coin to The Mlaz’s chest.
“A fucking coin? I’m all out of stars.”
“That’s got to be worth a hundred dollars, easy.”
The Mlaz held the coin up in the dull light that shifted it’s way from the apartment. He tossed it into the air twice, judging the weight. “Pure gold, by the looks. I judge it to be worth around $100.”
“Nah, man,” Santa said. “It’s got to be worth five, easy.”
“Yeah, well, I can’t exactly pay a tab with it now, can I. I’ll give you a hundred worth of glass for it.”
"How about two?”
The Mlaz put the coin in his pocket and withdrew a thin blade, poking Santa in his belly. “How about I give you one and I don’t gut you? I’m being generous, Christmas spirit and all that shit.”
“Sounds good to me,” Santa said with a shaky voice. The Mlaz closed the door and came back a moment later with five bags worth of glass.
"Merry fucking Christmas,” The Mlaz said, tossing them to the ground and slamming the door shut.
The Mlaz sat on the couch and dialed a number on his cell. “Royle, I’ve got a piece you might be interested in. Solid gold, hand struck. Looks to be a Nazi coin, too.”
“I’ll be there in five.”
“Sounds good,” The Mlaz said, putting the phone on the table and going back to his bowl. He was buzzing when there was another knock on the door. The Mlaz put his eye to the peephole and saw Royle standing there, his suit immaculate. For a high dollar coin dealer, the man smoked a lot of grass.
The Mlaz opened the door and pulled forth the coin in question. “What do you think?”
Royle’s face was blank. “Very rare piece. Made from the gold teeth taken from the concentration camps.”
"Fucking assholes. How much will you give me for it?” The Mlaz opened the door and let his guard down.
Royle pulled a gun from his jacket and shot The Mlaz in the gut, the shot not as loud as The Mlaz imagined it would be. The dealer staggered back, his hand to his belly, and slumped back onto his couch.
“The fuck, man?”
“Merry Christmas,” Royle said, pocketing the coin and picking up the spent casing.
TIME AND A HALF
By Bryon Quertermous
"This sucks," Loki said. "My wings are chaffing."
Sam lit an unfiltered cigarette and inhaled a deep breath.
"We're not the only ones working on Christmas," he said. "Why should we be any different?"
"Angels should not be working on Christmas. 'Tis the season and all that."
"It's not like we're flipping burgers or anything. We're doing the Lord's work and it's his birthday. Now get over here and help me through this window."
Loki shuffled over to the small bedroom window and tried to shift his body in the overcoat to alleviate the chaffing.
"Why do we have to sneak through windows and wear over coats?" he asked.
"It's all for effect. You have no sense of the dramatic."
"We're angels. We can fly and go through walls and glow. That's not dramatic enough for you?"
Sam grabbed Loki by the neck and dragged him down to another window, looking in on the living room. A wobbly, overweight man wearing a stained Santa Clause suit without the hat or beard was standing over a crying boy. The man had the wide black belt of the Santa suit wrapped around his meaty hand and was beating the boy repeatedly in the head with it. A small, pale girl with an exposed rib cage, wearing only a thin pair of Strawberry Shortcake panties was huddled under the Christmas tree.
"She's next," Sam said. "And he's not going to just hit her."
"So let's do what we came here to do. Not break into his house like burglars."
Sam threw Loki to the ground and turned away from the window.
"A guy like that doesn't deserve angels with trumpets and glows," Sam said. "He deserves to be gored in an alley somewhere for six bucks and some gum. But there's no guarantee that's ever going to happen so we're going to do him. But it's going to be dirty and nasty and I'm going to scare the hell out of him first."
"Whatever. I still can't believe we've got to do this on Christmas."
Once inside the bedroom, Loki and Sam made sure nobody else was around and headed through the house to the living room where the stained Santa was still beating on the young boy. When Sam cleared his throat, Santa stopped hitting the boy with the belt but kept it swinging in the air.
"Fuck you want?"
"That's no way for Santa Clause to—"
"Get out of my house."
"The only people getting out of this house tonight are the kids," Sam said, motioning for Loki to take them away.
When the kids and Loki were gone, Sam moved in closer to Santa and grabbed for the belt. Santa was quick though, snapped it away from Sam and smacking him in the head with it. Sam was dazed, but he recovered enough to get the small revolver from his overcoat pocket and point it at Santa.
"Naughty Santa's don't make it to New Years," Sam said.
He had a whole speech planned out, but he'd expected Santa would be a drunk loser, not a competent fighter, so he was caught off guard when Santa nailed him with a series of hits that threw him into the tree and took his legs out from underneath him.
Sam was determined to stick with his plan and was ready to go another round with Santa, until Santa pulled a gun from his baggy velvet pants and fired. Sam dodged the bullet easily enough but it pissed him off. Santa continued unloading the clip and by the final shot, Sam was so angry he let loose his full angelic wrath.
His wings ripped the coat from Sam's body as they spread their full width, knocking ornaments and decorations and furniture around as they unfolded. Santa cowered under the tree where his daughter had been previously, still pointing the gun at Sam.
No gun was going to stop the sword Sam pulled, though. The gleaming broadsword was the size of a surfboard and Sam's body morphed to its full, angelic size, dwarfing the sword, and the Christmas tree where Santa was hiding. Sam didn’t bother with a message this time. He slashed at Santa twice, dropping chunks of his body under the tree like fleshy presents.
When he was done, and calmed down enough to leave the house, Sam caught up to Loki at the Breakfast Anytime Diner down the road.
"Social services ladies not much happier about working on Christmas than we are," Loki said.
Sam nodded and munched away on a pile of scrambled eggs soaked in Devil's Finest brand hot sauce.
"Bet these waitresses ain't happy about it either," Loki said. "But seems to be working well for us and for those kids."
"I told you," Sam said. "Why should we be any different than anyone else?"