Monday, 28 November 2011

A Christmas Tail

  New York. To me it had never been home, but as the cheap multi-coloured lights blinked endlessly in the windows of Café Classico and the waitresses busied themselves at the seasonal influx of customers, it felt more alien than ever. Each was clad in a dark green shirt with white cotton trim around the sleeves. These lead down to dark green boots and skirts, held by a brown leather belt with a brass clasp. On their heads each wore a red hat also decorated with the white trim of tradition – what had become the uniform of the masses, one of the many symbols of oppression that now decorated the streets.

  ‘Will that be all sir?’ The girl had rouged her cheeks to simulate the effect of cold on her skin. People tipped better the more they felt the spirit of the occasion. If you could seem Christmassy during April, with lows of 61 degrees, in the pouring rain, with the flowers beginning to bloom through the sidewalk, it was considered an achievement worth paying for.
  ‘Yeah.’ I nodded curtly, hat pulled low, down over my eyes. I had already risked enough by stopping here but I had to get a taste one last time. She brought it to me in a big mug, steaming with marshmallows and overflowing with foam. I usually preferred to take it in solid form, but this was the only way to add bourbon in to the mix. I downed half of the beverage in two seconds, scolding chocolate scarring my oesophagus, mono and disaccharides leaking rapidly in to my veins and focusing my attention in a sugar rush. If nothing else, I would miss this, this and the joyful laughter of the children, but a debt was a debt and the balance had to be restored. 

  I downed the dregs of my beverage, wiping the excess from the fur on my top lip and made for the door. As I was about to cross the threshold a waitress rushed in, apparently late. I’m never one to interfere with serving staff, knowing the workload and pressure of working with the public. I stood aside and motioned to her to pass.
  ‘Thank you,’ she said sweetly, smiling against the odds.
  ‘Wait!’ came an irate cry from the back of the room.
  I turned. An official in a dark green uniform with a badge of holly was striding across the room towards us, an accusing finger outstretched in my direction. My heart leapt in to my calloused throat. How had he known so soon? It was the worst of the scum: an officer of the Christmas Police.
  ‘Aren’t you forgetting something my friends?’ he grinned toothily, his fat folds showing through his clothing. I followed the line of his accusatory finger and my eyes rested with horror on the small green twig with white berries which lay above the door.
  ‘Aw, Billy,’ said one of the officer’s dining companions from a table at the back of the room, ‘lay orff those poor kids wouldja. It’s not like it’s Christmas yet.’
  ‘The Holidays are coming Carl!’ bellowed the officer in typically fundamentalist fashion, ‘and you’d do well to learn that! Traditions are traditions, and they will be upheld.’
  I was screwed. As soon as I kissed this broad, my cover would be blown. The duster coat and trilby hat had got me this far, but the facial hair would be harder to ignore up close and personal. I had to refuse.
  ‘No way man!’ I shouted. ‘I don’t have clue who this bird is. She might have herpes or something.’
  ‘Yeah,’ the girl piped up, nodding enthusiastically. ‘I’m always making out with strange guys in doorways. I haven’t had a health check in ages. I’m probably really infectious. ’
  ‘C’mon Billy, let it go!’ yelled the man at the back of the room again. ‘I wanna play monopoly here.’
  ‘QUIET CARL! One more word against tradition and I’ll have you drafted in with the Elves.’ Billy turned back to us and levelled a revolver at our heads. ‘You two,’ he said with the cold decisiveness of a man who has killed before, ‘make with the smoochy.’
  Our eyes turned to meet. She was as terrified as me, almost shaking. Suddenly, it came to me. I grabbed her face in both hands and gave her a big wet kiss on the lips – there it was! There was the taste of her there, her mouth stained with coffee and mouthwash, but also something much more recent.  Sweet, yet plasticised, a chocolate that had been shaped and placed in a specific mold – she had been gorging from an advent calendar. Suddenly all was relief. I broke away and found her staring at me with a similar concoction of emotion. We now both knew each other’s secret and if one of us ratted the other out we’d both be stew by teatime. We found a smile for each other, then focused them benignly on our watcher.
  He grinned again. ‘There now, was that such an ordeal?’ He turned and walked away, his fat jiggling beneath his shirt with each pace, leaving the girl and I standing breathless with relief. As soon as he had sat down, she ran behind the bar to the safety of her wrokmates, whilst I pondered momentarily before exiting the restaurant. How could the girl be so stupid as to risk eating advent calendar chocolates before December? Then I realised that my own actions were about to match her’s for stupidity. I only had an hour, maybe a few minutes, before she became bold and decided to anonymously call the police to alert them to my presence. I had best make my move quickly.

  Café Classico lay on Fifty-Seventh Street so I had but a little way to go. As I walked, I passed all the accoutrements of the Christmas Regime: Carollers exhausted from non-stop daily singing; Resident street Santas begging for money and donations in the endless holiday season. People mostly kept their heads down, but when they passed collections of the police, trills of “Merry Christmas!” and “Season’s Greeting” could be heard, elicited in a high pitch, garnered under strain. In shops, in bars, in kitchens from every conceivable source of sound came the saccharin quavers of Christmas songs: ‘Dashing through the snow,’ said one; ‘And so this is Christmas...,’ came another; ‘I wish it could be Christmas every day,’ was my personal favourite. If Wizzard had known the truth of that idea, of the misery that it would bring to millions, they would have hung themselves on their guitar strings and the saxophonist would have set himself on fire after impaling the singer on his own clarinet.

  After an age of fighting past junkies strung out on mince pies and Christmas Pudding, I arrived at my destination on Fifth Avenue. Proud and tall it gazed out over the city, the largest building in a sea of skyscrapers, a monument to the gods of industry. Formerly known as Trump Tower, this was the hub of desolation, the epicentre of the wave of madness. It was not the shining wonder it once was, but now constantly bedecked in giant flashing lights, baubles and fake branches, making it the biggest Christmas tree in existence. This was Santa’s Grotto.

  Walking in to the building was no issue. Thousands each day filled the reception, trying to get letters to Santa delivered by hand, so it was no setback whatsoever to slip in the elevator and dial the secret code, acquired under great pressure, to the top floor. Once at the top however I knew I would have to move quickly. From inside my duster coat I withdrew the smoke grenade that would grant me entrance to the inner sanctum, inside the very Pandora’s box itself from which the psychosis had sprung. The guards dispatched, I drew a bandana over my face and marched quickly up to the doors. Stealing one of the guards’ card keys, I opened the mighty, oak framed gates and slipped inside.

  What met my eyes was amusing to say the least. My adversary was as he had always been: Stocky obese build, shaggy voluminous white beard, dressed in the colour of blood with large, muddy black boots. What I had not remembered were the two lusty, voluptuous, scantily-clad sylphs draped over his knees. The one on his left knee was whispering sweet nothings to him while she worked his beard in to ringlets with a long, slender finger. The other occupied his right ear wholly with nothing more than her tongue, which slipped nimbly past the bushy outcrop growing there and seemed to work entrancement upon the owner.

  I clicked my teeth.
  The fat man’s eyes raised to meet mine. His face rapidly shed all traces of bliss and as he lurched forward the two girls were rocketed backwards from their accommodation by the full force of the man’s flab.
  ‘Hullo Klaus.’
  ‘You!’ he hissed, flecks of spit flying, freely from his lips.
  ‘Ah. So you weren’t expecting me!’ I chuckled and pulled a cigarette from my breast pocket.
  The girls picked themselves up from the floor, muttering abuse.
  ‘Sandra. Doreen. Get out of here,’ Klaus ordered the two doe-eyed beauties. They swayed out of the door, not making a backward glance at either of us.
  I tsked and shook my head mournfully. ‘Klaus you naughty boy. Whatever would Mrs. Klaus say of these luxuries you’ve bestowed on yourself?’
  The fat old man gave me a sour look. ‘I doubt she’d mind. They say she’s pretty docile when she’s on all the medication.’
  ‘She’s not herself I take it?’
  ‘No.’ He looked, somewhat regretfully, at the floor. ‘Bertha couldn’t quite stand the pace of production required for the transition to Total Christmas.’
  ‘I remember,’ I said coolly. ‘Xmas 24/7/52: The biggest mistake in the history of mankind.’
  He gave me a sharp glare. Then he smiled. ‘You’re looking better than I expected though. How did you persuade my man to defect?’
  ‘I didn’t.’ I replied. ‘Vinnie the Poacher, wasn’t it?’
  ‘The same.’
  ‘He wasn’t as tough as he looked,’ I chuckled with a grin. ‘Three fingers and a testicle and he frothed like boiling milk. It was foolish of you to tell him to go into hiding once the job was done.’
  Klaus smacked a giant fist on the arm of his chair. ‘I asked for trophies to be sent!’
  ‘And you got ‘em I see.’ I nodded to the large fluffy round tail and the long white ears that were mounted above Klaus’s oaken desk.
  He glanced up and then back to me. ‘How did you do it?’
  ‘Oh, y’know,’ I gloated, taking off my hat to reveal my own undamaged aural appendages. ‘I figured you were enough of a jackass, not to notice the difference between the ears of a bleached donkey and a giant rabbit.’
  He nodded curtly, admiring the work. ‘Well played Bunny. But how did you manage the tail?’
  I grimaced. I turned away and lifted the hem of my duster coat to reveal the scar, still with stitches. ‘How do you like my knife work? You always said I was good with a blade.’  
  ‘Well Bunny, I must say I’m impressed,’ said Klaus from behind me. I heard him get up. ‘But I must confess I thought you would have reckoned with my still having the upper hand.’
  I turned back. Klaus had a magnum levelled at my forehead.
  I chuckled. The chuckle became a laugh and the laugh turned in to a belly-aching guffaw.
  ‘Oh Nicky. You always did underestimate me,’ I said, throwing off my coat and revealing the thumb of my left paw holding down the button of the detonator. His eyes rested on the wire leading to the C4 waistcoat I had sewn for myself. ‘How do like my work?,’ I hissed. ‘I’m quite the tailor!’
  ‘Bunny, you’re mad!’
  ‘Am I?’ I shrieked. ‘Perhaps the endless Christmas jingles have finally got to me! Perhaps the constantly early Season’s Greetings cards and the carollers and the grottos in September and the ceaseless television and radio commercials of unrealistically selfless children surprising their parents on Christmas morning have whittled my wits down to nothing! But you know whose fault that is, DON’T YOU KLAUS!’
  ‘IT’S NOT ME!’
  ‘ISN’T IT?!’ I bellowed, enraged beyond measure.
  ‘No.’ He tried to hold his head up, but failed, his anger and hatred waning. ‘I’m just as much a victim as you are Bunny. You know what the fat cats are like. You start a nice tradition of giving and suddenly everyone wants more and more! It was nice at first, with the fame and the fortune and all, but it’s got out of hand.’
  ‘You think I don’t see that!’ I yelled, thumb twitching. ‘You tried to whack me!’
  ‘It wasn’t my idea,’ he whispered. ‘It just sounded so tempting when they came to me with the proposition.’ His eyes took on a glazed sheen. ‘Total Christmas – the solution to the double dip. Increased consumer confidence and spending all year round. Everyone was going to benefit.’
  ‘Everyone except me and Saint Valentine’s cupids,’ I muttered.
  He nodded. ‘Exactly. You see now why I keep the company I do: Anything to forget what I’ve done to this world; the agonising pain I’ve inflicted on people.’
  ‘You can undo this Nick,’ I said. ‘But you’ve got to remove yourself from the picture. You can try to hide, but there’s nowhere you can go that you won’t be recognised.’
  ‘Maybe I can bust Bertha out.’ He smiled hopefully, memories of a simpler time flooding back to him. ‘You and I can get her on the sled and we can escape back to the North Pole and I can nurse her back to health.’
  I shook my head. ‘As much as I would want Bertha to be well again, that’s the first place they’d look.’
  ‘I know,’ he sighed, forlorn. He was beginning to look like the Father Christmas I had known once, but a drawn and faded version of the original.
  He placed the revolver in his mouth and pulled the hammer back. The explosion tore off the back of his skull, spattering the wall with blood and brains. The roar left my large sensitive ears ringing so badly that when Dasher and Blitzen kicked in the door, I wasn’t aware of their presence until I’d already been shot in the back. I lay face down, silently listening to the sound of their hooves as they tentatively crossed the marble floor.
  ‘Is he dead?’ I heard one say.
  ‘I dunno. But the boss certainly looks in bad shape,’ observed the other.
  The pain hit me and I groaned involuntarily.
  ‘Ah! It lives,’ one announced, clearly elatedly. I got a heavy kick to my stomach, sending me on to my back. I still held down the trigger of the detonator, pressing it against my side to hide it there. I looked up in to the faces of two cocky, irate reindeer, wearing shades and carrying shotguns.
  ‘My my,’ said Dasher. ‘Looks like this little bunny just ruined Christmas for everyone.’
  ‘I’ve certainly lost my Christmas cheer,’ chirped Blitzen, stamping on my chest.
  ‘Yeah, but don’t worry about that, long-ears,’ Dasher revelled, leaning close enough that I could smell his moose-breath, ‘We’ve got lots of gifts to inflict on you.’
  ‘I’m afraid Christmas is over,’ I groaned, lifting my thumb from the trigger. A light switched on and my explosive waistcoat gave a preliminary hum. ‘IT’S EASTER NOW, MUTHAFUKKA!’

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