Santa's Special Delivery

by Lubrican

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Chapter One

I always wanted to be a cop, from the time I was a little guy.  When all my friends wanted to play cowboys and Indians, I wanted to be the sheriff.  I was in Boy Scouts too, which eventually led to me being in an Explorer troop sponsored by the Crowley Police Department, or CPD as we called it.   Of course I got a degree in Criminal Justice when I went to college.  
So I always knew that law enforcement would have a big impact on my life.  What I did not know was that something along the way to getting my degree would have an even bigger one.

What that was, was one of the many part time jobs I had while I was in school.  I had a small scholarship, but I still needed money for books and living expenses.  One of those jobs was as the Santa at Burgdorf's Department Store, from Thanksgiving up until Christmas Eve.

It was the typical Santa gig, where kids came up and sat on my lap and told me what they wanted for Christmas.  One of the things I learned early on was that not all kids are excited about a big guy in a bright red suit and all that facial hair, and who has a booming voice and moves quickly.  It scares the crap out of some kids.  I also found out there are kids who don't really believe in Santa, but still want to hedge their bets.  So they'll sit on his lap and ask for things, but they ask a lot of questions too.  And then, of course, there are the kids who just want to make trouble.  As a cop I deal with them when they're grown up, but I can tell you it starts much earlier than that.  I've had my beard pulled off a dozen times, and some attempts made to uncover the pillows they know I'm stuffed with.  I even had one kid stick a pocket knife in my fake belly and then jump off my lap, crowing that he proved Santa doesn't exist because it didn't hurt when he stabbed me.

But I was still hooked on doing it, and that's because of the kids who did believe.  The hope in their eyes is something that still brings tears to my own.  

Of course some of them ask for impossible things, and there's nothing you can do about that.  "Please bring something that will cure my daddy's cancer," is an example.  I mean it tears your heart out.  Sometimes you can talk to those kids in a way that gives them a little hope without making promises you can't deliver on.  Like with that last example, I told the little girl that I would try to help the doctors and researchers be as smart as they possibly could be, so they could find a cure if at all possible.   It's not much, but it's better than lying or saying "Get off my lap, kid. I'm no doctor!"  

Don't laugh.  There are some guys who play Santa who don't give a shit.  They're just there for the money, and if the pay you get as a Santa makes that much difference to you, then you're in a world of shit already.

But there are a few of us out there who become Santa when we put the suit on.  It's hard to explain, because it sounds stupid, and "Santa" means many different things to different people.  

Maybe by the time I finish telling this story, you'll understand what Santa means to me, and who I tried to become when I was wearing the big, red suit.

First off, I spent the money to get a good wig and beard.  I put the beard on with gum Arabic.  When properly applied, it will withstand a pretty hard tug.  And they look a lot more natural, of course.  I also bought my own suit, but all that wasn't until years later, after I graduated from college.

It's still one of my hobbies, you see.  I've been doing it now going on twenty years.  Every winter I volunteer to work New Year's Eve in exchange for being able to take some vacation during Christmas time, so I can be Santa some place.  It doesn't matter where, to me.  It can be in a big store, though I don't like those as much, because they tend to try to get you to shill their own stuff.  But I've done it in malls and smaller stores too.

The reason it doesn't matter is that I have an ulterior motive.  No matter where I pursue this little hobby, I invariably meet some kid whose family could use a little help.  And that's where the rest of the guys in the CPD come in.

I made Detective Sergeant after ten years on the force.  I'm not being immodest when I say that I'm one of the most experienced men in the unit, and that I never miss the opportunity to train up patrolmen who look like they have promise. Doesn't matter whether they might go to some other department because there are no openings for detectives in ours.  Good law enforcement is something you can't have too much of.  We're all role models, whether we want to be or not.  I've tried to make sure I was a good one.

Which is why some of the men noticed that I was buying presents for some of the kids who sat on my lap when I was Santa, and who weren't likely to get what they asked for any other way.

You can call it charity, or do-gooder stuff.  A lot of men have called it stupid.  I don't care.  I know what a wish coming true can mean to a kid, even if it's only for a little while.  And helping a kid feel good, even if it's for only a few days, is worth doing in my book.

I'm not talking about toys, for the most part, though I have gotten a few of them.   But if a kid asks for some shoes, because his have holes in them, and more often if they ask for something for someone else in the family, that's where I try to put my energy and money.  

What I started doing was picking a kid or two and making his or her Christmas a little brighter.  Over the years, some of the other guys got caught up in it and started donating a few bucks to me around Christmas time.  Then, because some of the guys were helping get things, I had them deliver them, and that's what hooked them and some of their non-cop friends.

Now I have a whole network of people, probably fifty or sixty strong at any given time, who either collect stuff to give to needy kids at Christmas or donate money and time during the season.  Last year we helped a total of twenty-five families.

So that's why, last December seventh, I was sitting on a big gold painted chair dressed as Santa when a little boy named Timothy climbed up on my lap and changed my whole life.

Timothy was seven when I first met him.  I was forty-eight and was about six months shy of having put twenty hard years into the cause of serving justice.  Twenty years of dealing with the dregs of society changes a man, no matter how hard he tries to keep looking at the glass as being half full.

Doing the Santa thing kind of recharged my batteries.  At least unless I got one of the future felons.  But I had learned to spot them, and was usually ready for them.  I had an elf with a "Naughty List" and I dictated the kid's name onto it, which then gave me an excuse to tell him to take off.

Anyway, Timothy wasn't one of those.  He was one of the smart ones.  They're the most interesting, but can be dangerous, too.  I could see the intelligence in his eyes as he climbed up the steps toward me, leaving his mother behind.  She was interesting too.  I may as well go ahead and explain that now.

You get a feel for where people are on the socio-economic ladder.  It's not profiling, exactly, but poor people wear their clothes a little longer before getting rid of them, whether they're of good quality or not.  Poor women don't wear the kind or amount of makeup wealthy ones do.  They don't have the same kinds of hairdos.  There are hundreds of differences that suggest a man, woman or child comes from a family with few or many means.  It's not a hundred percent accurate, but you get a feel for things when you deal with all levels of society like I had for so long.

Both Timothy and his mother were wearing quality clothing.  Her jeans were well worn in that soft, many-times-washed way.  She didn't abuse them by ripping them up to be fashionable.  Her tennis shoes were Converse All Stars, but not the most expensive kind.  Her T shirt had a logo on it, but it wasn't one of the big fashion houses.  She looked tired, but then traipsing around with a eight or nine year old - that's what range I put Timothy in - can wear anybody down.  Her hair was blond, from a bottle, but not an expensive one, and short with enough unevenness to the edges that I suspected one of her friends cut it for her.  Timothy had a home cut too.  I put Mom in her early to mid-twenties.  The only thing that looked odd about her was that her skin was just flawless, and creamy looking in a way that made you want to reach out and touch it.  Things glinted from the edges of her ears, and she had a choker on, which made me uncomfortable because it made her look like a slave who had slipped away from her master and might be snatched up by some other monster at any moment.

I gave a few second's consideration to the possibility that she was Timothy's much older sister, but she turned just then and I saw an orange and yellow tattoo on her shoulder that had to be at least ten years old.

"Ho, ho, ho," I boomed as the boy approached.  "And what is your name, young man?"

"I thought you knew the names of all the boys and girls in the whole world," he said, looking at me curiously.  

"I have lists of their names," I said.  I had faced this situation before.

"Oh," he said.  "I'm Timothy."

"Glad to meet you Tim," I said.

"Timothy," he corrected.

"Absolutely.  Why don't you have a seat on old Santa's lap, Timothy.  How old are you?"

"I'm seven," he said.  He looked back at his mother, who was looking our way.  She smiled, and he got up on my lap.  For some reason I let him do the work, instead of helping him, like I did with most kids.

"Seven year olds are my favorites," I said, my voice conspiratorial.  He looked up at me.

"I didn't think Santa was supposed to have favorites."

That was one I had not faced before.

"Well ... er ... I guess that's right, really.  I suppose I just have a soft spot in my heart for that age, because that was my favorite age to be once upon a time."

"You were seven?" he asked, clearly awed at the concept.

"Absolutely!" I said.  "I grew up just like you are growing up.  It just took me longer, that's all.  I was seven for seven years, for instance."  I grinned at the boy.

"You mean like dog years?" he asked, his eyes wide.

I laughed, and had to turn it into a ‘ho, ho, ho’.

"What can I bring you for Christmas, Timothy?"

He took a few seconds to answer, as if he was thinking hard ... maybe choosing between two or three wanted things, so that he wouldn't sound greedy by asking for them all.  Some kids did that, which was interesting because some of them knew they were being greedy, but others were just talking about things they wished they could have.  Some kids know the difference between fantasy and reality.  Others don't.  I saw Timothy's mother sidle closer to us, so she could hear his answer.  Smart woman.

"There's this girl named Julia in my school," said Timothy, looking at me as if he expected me to know who he was talking about.  I nodded to play along.  "Last year you brought her a baby sister."

"Oh."   I had a sinking feeling in my stomach.

"So I want a little brother, so I have somebody to play with."

I glanced at the woman, who was shaking her head at me.  Smart woman.

"That's kind of a hard one to do," I said softly.  "I can't make babies in my workshop, and so the only ones I get to give away are the orphans, when something happens to their mommy and daddy.  But we don't want that to happen to some little boy, right?"

His little shoulders drooped.  "I guess not," he said.  He thought some more, and then looked up into my face.  "Can I ask for something for somebody else?"

I nodded.  I could feel moisture building up in my eyes.  I'm really an old softy at heart.  At least when I'm not chasing some asshole down an alley.

"I don't know what it is," he said.  "But I know you could bring my mommy something that would make her happy.  She frowns a lot and has to work a lot.  I wish she could be more happy."

"I'll see what I can do," I said.  I had already decided this kid was one of the ones we'd pick this season.  I reached into my pocket and hit the speed dial button on my cell phone.  That would set things in motion.  When they left, they'd be followed to a car, or even back to their house if they took public transportation.  Once a license number or residence was identified, there were any number of public records that could be used to ascertain who they were, and we could arrange for things to be delivered to them.  We usually did that on Christmas Eve.  I didn't ask any of the guys to give up Christmas morning with their families.  I took care of that if it became necessary.  I had no family.  Before I let him go I got him to name one toy he thought might be fun to play with.  Then he climbed down and skipped back to his mother.  The photographer was talking to her but she was shaking her head.

Parents send their kids to Santa for different reasons.  For some it's just a holiday custom they hope will be fun for the child.  Or maybe fun for them.  Who knows?  Some make Santa into a baby sitter while they try to shop.  I've even had a few come up to me before their kid does and try and tell me what to tell him I'll bring.  They already have the presents, and don't want him asking for something he's not going to get.  Then there is the occasional parent who actually wants to hear what he'll tell the Jolly Old Elf.  Blondie was one of those.   

She was slick about it.  I heard her say "I want to go thank Santa for something he gave me a while back.  I forgot to write him a thank you note.  You wait here for me, all right?"   He nodded and she came toward me.  I didn't mind that a bit, because she was a looker.  She had high, tight breasts that were obviously unfettered, based on the nipples making dents in her shirt.  She had a smooth kind of walk, and for just a second I felt ill as I recognized some hooker attributes in her movements.  Once she spoke, though, it was obvious she was well educated, and that meant if she was in the business she was a high priced call girl, and high priced call girls didn't have seven year olds and dress like that.  I felt better already.

"Hi ... Santa," she said.  Her voice was high.  It made shivers go down my spine.

"Hello there, ho, ho, ho," I said.  My ‘ho, ho, ho's’ were so ingrained by now that I could make a natural laugh come out that way.  And my fake ones sounded natural.

"Thanks for being nice to him," she said.

"No problem."  Our little game was over and now we were just two adults negotiating.

"The last thing I need is to be pregnant,” she said.

I waited.

"I couldn't hear him during the last part," she said.  "What did he actually ask for?"

Now we were one adult and Santa, negotiating.  She just didn't know that yet.

"I've got it covered," I said jovially.  "Just get him something from yourself."

"I've saved a little up," she said, frowning.  "If he doesn't want an X-box or something like that I can handle it."

"He asked me to bring you something to make you happy," I said softly.  "Timothy is on my good list for sure."

"He can be so sweet sometimes," she sighed.

"So what would make you happy?" I asked.

She snorted.  "Being able to get by on just one job would be nice."

"You'll have to take care of that," I said.  "What can Santa bring you for Christmas that would make you happy?"

She looked at me guardedly.  "I'll be happy if Timothy is happy," she said.

"Then you go on about your business and I'll take care of Timothy for Christmas.  It's my job."

"That's not funny," she said, leaning back.

"It isn’t supposed to be funny," I said.  "Do you believe?"

"Do I believe what?" she asked.

"In me, of course."

"In Santa?"  She sounded incredulous.

"Believe," I ordered.

She backed up, her eyes guarded.  It was obvious she had come to the conclusion she'd found herself a certified weirdo.

"Thanks," she said.  "I'll do that."  She didn't say it sarcastically.  It was more like she was trying to placate the weirdo so he'd leave her alone.

"I'll see you Christmas Eve," I said.

She scooped up Timothy's hand and hurried off.  I saw Tom Black watching from his position over by the perfume kiosk and pointed.  He nodded and picked them up.  I turned back to the line and motioned the next kid, a girl who had to be twelve if she was a day, on up.  She was rattling off her list, and it was a long one, before she even got all the way to me.

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