tagHumor & SatireWho Shot Father Christmas?

Who Shot Father Christmas?


Entered in the Winter Wonderland series


Manny Bertoni was suffering from a heavy head cold and his glowing mercury-red nose was becoming very sore and tender to the touch from his continual wiping with an increasingly wet and rough cotton handkerchief. He hated winter weather with a vengeance, a word which was entirely appropriate when one considered his stock-in trade. As far as Manny was concerned his heavily-built body was ideally designed for a Mediterranean climate. However, Florida, where he lived and based his operation dealing efficiently with what he termed as out-sourced personnel displacement, it was presently unseasonably cool for the second week of December and he clearly wasn't at all happy about the effects that the weather was having on him.

He had sent his dumpy amply-stacked secretary Cherry off home early to her bed half an hour ago as she was starting to sneeze and cough as well. Besides, her unpredictable mini-explosions were starting to disturb Manny's intense concentration. Planning hits, sorry, that should be displacement of redundant staff, former associates, business rivals or troublesome acquaintances and other halves, took the maximum focus of his attention. Usually you only got a single chance of success and he had a reputation of particular efficiency unrivalled in his chosen field, in receipt of numerous accolades from within his exclusive guild that he was anxious to maintain. The old maxim of being just as good as your last job was one Manny felt acutely obliged to adhere to. He had just put the last job on his books to bed and arranged the right facilitator to carry it through to its eventual conclusion. The invoice can wait until tomorrow, he thought, not that it was an actual document that would ever be printed out; the client had already paid up front the baseline costs, he just hadn't been sure what the reasonable out-of-pocket expenses element of the operation would add up to until now.

It was getting late in the afternoon and he thought he might as well call it a day himself soon, there was nothing else that needed his rapidly ebbing attention span. A nearby bar and a fresh bottle of Jack Daniels beckoned to provide his prescription of choice for the evening and he was more than ready for some early overmedication.

The "ding" of the outer office door sounded, echoing loudly in the quiet sparsely-furnished suite of offices. The whole building was pretty well run down anyway in this seedy quarter of the city and sparingly occupied at any time of the day. In fact all six floors were guaranteed to be empty by this late in the afternoon. Manny preferred premises that didn't draw attention to his business, or the nefarious comings and goings of his shy and retiring clientele, he had not once and never would advertise in Yellow Pages.

The tinkling toll of the tiny bell declared the presence of a visitor, possibly a customer. Business was slow this time of year, the season of goodwill to all mankind not exactly conducive to keeping Manny in the full employment he was most definitely accustomed to. He wondered who it was dropping by to see him so late in the day. Most visitors called in ahead in plenty of time for an appointment if only to avoid clashes with other ... clients and ensure they maintained their essential anonymity.

Manny recalled that he had already settled his protection - make that insurance - account for this month just a couple of days ago, so it wasn't them calling on him again so soon. Manny didn't mind paying the going rate for protection provided it was reasonable, even distant cousins have to make a living and if he ever decided to pay his taxes, he reasoned that insurances would have been deductible.

Manny lifted his heavy-set body from his creaking chair and edged around his ancient desk. By the time he got to the door leading to his outer office his door was already being pushed open from the other side and Manny met his latest visitor face to face. He too, was built on the large side, but had run - make that wholesale helter-skeltered - towards fat rather than the basic muscle and bone which constituted the bulk of Manny's er ... bulk. The newcomer was a much older man, too, as ancient as Manny's desk, he guessed, which had probably been incarcerated in this room since the building was erected in the early 1920s. He looked as though he must have been at least twice Manny's age of 45.

The ancient newcomer was dressed in a smart, well-cut and snugly-fitted dark blue suit, white shirt and striped tie, his unbuttoned Burberry rain coat had a few drops of rain beading on the shoulders, evidencing the inclement weather outside. Manny felt a compunction to shiver, just thinking of the cold and damp. Florida was never meant to be this cold and miserable at any time of the year, it must all be down to the after effects of Superstorm Sandy.

The most striking facial feature of the potential client, other than his overly-rounded face, was his thick long and bushy white beard, which complemented his dense white hair. What parts of his face not obscured by beard, hair and the bushiest white eyebrows Manny had ever seen, was ruddy-complexioned, with beady but lively intelligent eyes, his vision aided by tiny steel-rimmed spectacles perched on the end of a thick nose which was several shades redder than the rest of his face. The newcomer's rotundity was also remarkable in that he must have been at least as deep and wide as he was high, reminiscent of a human spinning top. It seemed to Manny impossible for him to have fitted through either of his office doorways. He looked as though he was at least twice as wide as each of the narrow openings, but clearly he must have entered through those very portals, because here he was. Larger than life itself.

"Hi, Mac," drawled Manny, putting out a hand which was gripped firmly with a warm dry hand, "What can I do fer youse?" He waved him to an antique seat, set in front of Manny's desk, hoping it would withstand the strain of his visitor's mass and undoubted weight.

His guest viewed the insubstantial chair with a degree of suspicion without making any positive progress towards sitting in it.

"I believe I'll stand, thank you, Manfredo," he said on a deep voice, with a precise, cultured accent, possibly New England old money or even British, thought Manny.

Manny snorted and withdrew from his pocket his wringing wet handkerchief for his running nose, and dabbed at the flow ineffectively while he considered what the stranger had just said. Nobody had dared call him Manfredo without enduring pain or worse, except his dear late departed Momma. Manny decided the potential of paid work at this slow time of year was more important than the preservation of his preferred nomenclature and so he decided to dismiss the remark and slowly moved behind his desk, although he determined that he would remain standing too, like his guest.

"Your name, sir?" Manny enquired.

"No full names no pack drill," the white-haired man said, firmly in even well-enunciated syllables, "But you can call me ... Nick for now. All you need to know is who the mark is, where he will be and when to do what you do best, am I right?"

"I dunno. To be honest, Mister Nick, I don't know who youse is or what youse is talkin' about. Look Bud, is youse a cop or is youse wearin' a wire?"

"You may not know me but I know you very well, Manfredo Ludovico Bertoni. I know precisely what you do for a living and I know exactly what you require in order to do for me what you do so well for other clients. You are probably the best ever at what you do. In a nutshell, I want to take out a contract for a hit. As for your question, I can assure you that I am neither a policeman nor am I wearing any transmitting or recording device about my person.

"I came to you, Manfredo, because you have been at the very top of the Naughty List sixteen times in the last thirty-five years. Quite frankly no-one else can touch you at what you do. If we can come to an agreement, I believe we can do business."

"So what is it youse think I want in exchange, er ... for this business youse needs takin' care of, huh, Mister Nick?"

Nick, as he called himself, leaned across the desk, well just about as far as his enormous stomach would allow him to lean, and whispered, "Come closer and I'll tell you."

Manny leaned in conspiratorially and Nick very quietly said, "G.I. Joe, Submariner edition from early 1980s. In its original box, with a spare set of flippers. This offering could be gift-wrapped in fancy paper and left under your tree as a gift from Santa, if you want, or it could be delivered by the US Mail under plain brown wrapper. Plus your standard hit fee and reasonable out-of-pocket expenses, naturally."

Manny was shocked. Nobody knew that he'd always wanted a G.I. Joe and the submariner version was, well as far as he was concerned the ultimate G.I. Joe youse could ever wish for. Mmmm, spare flippers, too, they was always the first accessories from this set that was lost even in normal play, apparently, he'd been led to believe, not having any play experience of the toy himself. Because no self-respecting macho male from an Italian Mafioso family ever had a doll, which is exactly what it could be interpreted as for crying out loud, so he never got one, even though it was his favourite unrequited toy. Manny recalled listing this wish in his letter for Santa every year for, well ... years. His letters and wish were never granted or even offered ... until now. He made a quick decision.

"Who's the mark, when, wheres? ... and a brown wrapper, please ... the family ... they don't needs to know about it, youse know?"

"I understand completely. The 'target' is Father Christmas, Santa Claus. The 'when' will be just after dawn on Christmas Day. The 'where' will be between the private airfield on the outskirts of St Nicholas City, California and the road leading to Lighthouse Point. I can give you all the Zip codes you'd need. Can we do business?"

"Bada bing bada boom!" intoned Manny, "Youse can go ahead an' order the flowers," holding out his large hand to shake the agreement with Nick.

Father Christmas was as good as sleeping in that place where the Californian sea-lions catch their supper.


Father Christmas, otherwise known as Nicky Claus, knew that he was in serious trouble this year. He was a dead man walking. Definitely up the kazoo, big time. Absolutely nothing was going right in Santa's Workshop, the blasted elves were playing up and were all over the show and there's no way Nicky could get them back on track just by himself. He knew he was screwed and if Father Christmas was screwed then so was Christmas.

This was only Nicky's second Christmas season in charge and the first one that he had tried to handle completely on his own and already he could see that it was going to be an unmitigated disaster. No Father Christmas in the whole history of Yuletide Cheer had ever missed delivering every single present to every single nice child in the world before dawn on the most important day of any child's calendar. Until now, that is.

Nicky was seriously worried that this year his name, Father Christmas, was going to be grubby-slush.

Where should he start looking at all the problems that were building up to bring his house of Christmas cards crashing down around his ears as well as the pointy ones of his elves? For a start current productivity in the toy workshop was at an all-time low, with a couple of weeks left to Christmas, only 70% of the minimum required toys were made and they hadn't even started gift-wrapping yet.

Then Santa's infamously efficient secretariat were weeks behind logging onto the Nice Book all the toys that the good kiddies had requested and not forgetting there was the Tinsel Team who needed a good telling off for a less than sparkling performance so far. It was only thanks to LEDs that the Christmas Lights department were the only bright spark on the horizon. Fortunately their careless betrayal of their workshop's existence had been disguised by the natural phenomenon of the electrifying magnetism of the poles.

And nobody could find that blasted Naughty List anywhere, even though the elves had hunted low and Nicky had hunted high. Damn! thought Nicky, will nothing go right for me this Christmas?

He knew the reason, it was plain as the white beard that still hadn't magically appeared on his face as it was supposed to at this time of year. Honestly, and Nicky was being brutally frank with himself here, he was absolutely crap at being Father Christmas. For years now he'd been telling his parents and any elf with pointy ears that would listen that he just wasn't up to the job but they wouldn't listen to him, would they? He should have inherited the magic from his Dad, all through history the Magic of Christmas was passed on from father to son, from Old Saint Nick to the new Santa Claus ... until now. Nicky was worried that if he failed to deliver every single present this Christmas Eve to every single good little boy and girl before the dawn of Christmas morning the unique miracle that was the Magic of Christmas may be lost for ever. At the present moment he wasn't confident he could deliver a single present to a single nice boy or girl. This could be the last ever Christmas and if it was, it was all down to him.

Now the final straw this morning was the latest flying lessons he had tried to conduct with the reindeer. It was as disastrous as everything else he had touched so far this season. For one thing the reindeer were all far too fat to fly. Nicky blamed himself in part for that. He found he had green fingers and he had the North Pole kitchen garden unseasonally productive - by using hydroponics he was getting double yields on arctic moss and was absolutely up to the elves' necks in lush green turnip tops and the reindeer had simply been overgrazing for months and were many many pounds overweight and needed emergency diets to have any chance to get slimmed down to their normal flying weight before Christmas Eve. Nicky was rapidly running out of time.

He thought he had only one chance to save Christmas. That was to visit his father, the previous Santa, at his retirement beachside home down on the Californian coast, and ask him directly if he could either help, or as a last resort allow Nicky's sister Bella to help get through the festive season? Bella had always been keen to help with the Christmas rush ever since she was a little girl, while as a child Nicky had hated Christmas like castor oil and had avoided every aspect of the family business for as long as he possibly could, undertaking course after course in an agricultural college at Colorado state university. Trouble was, without the flying reindeer up and running he was completely trapped at the North Pole and was only able to speak to his father by phone.

From day one, Nicky had always decided that there was no way that he could ever be Father Christmas, he just didn't have what it took in order to do the job as he knew it should be done.

Unfortunately, all things must come to pass in time-honoured fashion and, just days before his 30th birthday, Nicky's parents firmly put their collective fur-lined boots down and Nicky was finally coerced into taking over the sole running of the family business, while his parents retired for a well-earned rest in their warm and sunny beachside property in California.

That very first Christmas on his own, however, he had very much more than adequate help. His lovely sister Bella was on hand to come to his aid and she proved fantastically well-suited to the job. Together they managed to complete everything they needed for Christmas and stave off the threatened fallout with virtually seconds to spare.

Bringing Bella back to mind brought home how much Nicky really missed having his younger sister around him. Her constant presence had become so natural somehow and yet so dangerous to them both. There was seven years difference between their ages and he recalled with amazement that he had regarded her as merely a silly little girl in annoying pigtails when he first left the North Pole all those years ago as a budding adult to attend college. In the intervening years Bella had blossomed into a beautiful woman both curvaceous and lissom. While Nicky was tall, broad, fair-haired with blue eyes and a cute cleft chin, favouring most of his dear mother's best features, while the gorgeous Bella was lightly-built, medium height, green-eyed with long dark chestnut brown hair, apparently the same as her father had been as a younger man. He sighed as he recalled she had the cutest little pointed chin under those so-kissable lips ...

Although the siblings were initially rather indifferent to one another immediately upon their reacquaintance at the commencement of that previous festive season, Nicky quickly began to find her exceedingly pleasant to be around. Bella was witty and full of wonderful ideas, immaculately deft at the essential fine details in all the areas concerned with celebrating the mid-winter festival. Not only did Nicky find Bella easy on the eye, she was fascinating, even bewitching and they had grown very close to one another in that pressure cooker environment of double-handedly delivering Christmas to the ever expectant children of the world.

Both were conscious, however, of their overarching mutual physical attraction that was clearly far more intense than would be socially acceptable anywhere outside rural Kentucky and Bella prudently removed herself from the North Pole early in the New Year and relocated to their parents' oceanside retirement home on Lighthouse Point, in St Nicholas City, California.

As far as Nicky knew, his parents were completely unacquainted with the developing un-sibling-like relationship between their two loving children, so they would be equally unaware of Nicky's natural reluctance to call on his sister directly for assistance. He was in the midst of a dilemma, without Bella helping him at the North Pole in the lead-up to the event and her essential presence on the sleigh run itself on Christmas Eve he knew he would find it impossible to succeed.

With Bella's help on board, however, he was liable to let himself and the family down should his evaporating resistance to her undoubted charms give up altogether. He dreaded that he would certainly fail if her own resolve wasn't 100%, because he knew that driven by his hormones he wouldn't be able to resist her.

Nicky's only hope was that Old Father Christmas, the recently retired Saint Nick, would return to the North Pole himself and save the day in the nick of time. Nicky had already spoken at length with his father two days ago and knew very well that the old man was reluctant to come out of retirement himself but he had at least agreed with Nicky that he would sleep on it for a day or two and let him know the outcome. Nicky was sure that his father was disappointed, even ashamed of his only son and Nicky felt worthless, piling more depression upon the agony of being denied access to the woman he believed was his one true love.

The trouble was that Nicky just didn't seem able to fit into the role expected of him by the rest of his family. The magic of Christmas was supposed to pass naturally to him in its entirety once the old man retired, but it just never happened and he had struggled with every aspect of the job despite his best efforts. Even the elves lacked respect for him and he had hardly any control over the mischievous little creatures.

He sighed and stared through the window at the glittering winter scene outside. Not that he could see much out of the window, the terracotta flowerpot of poinsettias sitting on the sill were thriving excessively, their luxuriant leaves a vibrant crimson against the bright blue sky and white sun-drenched snow. Boy! Did Nicky have green fingers or what?!

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