Infiltration At The North Pole
by Joshua Blanc
"Excuse me," I said to the busy little Elf that hurried past me in
the dingy corridor. "Uh, can you tell me where to find-"|
As I stepped out of the shadows, another elf bounced off my shin. The box of little wheels he was carrying dropped to the floor, and the contents scattered in all directions.
"Hey, watch it!" The Elf snapped his red suspenders against his chest and hoisted up his green elf-pants. "If you're going to be that big in here, you could at least watch where you're stepping."
His voice was, not surprisingly, high and squeaky.
"I'm terribly sorry, Mr. Elf."
He righted the box and I crouched down and helped him pick up his wheels. The Elf grumbled as he worked, and I said, as casually as possible:
"Can you tell me where to find the boss?"
The elf looked me in the eye with suspicion.
"Ah," he said, as if he was suddenly privy to something I wasn't. "Wants to see the boss, does he?"
"Yes," I said, now not quite sure that I did.
"I'll take you personally."
The Elf punctuated his sentence by poking me in the chest. We found the last stray wheel, and the little fellow picked up his box.
"Foller me," he said, and led the way down the corridor. "Mind you don't step on me now."
All the exertion, plus the fact that the elves kept the place well heated, prompted me to unzip my bulky anorak and peel off my woolly cap.
"I take it the boss doesn't get many visitors?" I hazarded.
"Heh," the Elf chuckled. "None uninvited."
He whistled a cheerful chorus of `Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire,' and we entered a brighter, busier hallway with myriad doors. Chattering elves went from one doorway to another, carrying boxes of parts and toys of all descriptions.
"Oh," I said. "These must be your workshops, right?"
"Workshops, warehouses, test facilities, pool halls, taverns, saunas..."
"Really? You have all that, huh?"
"Damn straight. Being a Christmas Elf isn't all hard manual labor. Hi Geb."
"Hi Voop," said a passing Elf.
"Jolly. Just jolly."
The Elf named Voop lapsed into whistling again as we threaded our way through the bustle to the door at the far end. It was a simple door, and a big one, with a gold plaque proclaiming: `The Boss.' Voop knocked, and a moment later the door opened.
Apprehensively, I regarded the plump, red-faced, white-bearded, bespectacled man who stood there with a raised eyebrow that could double as a feather-duster.
"Voop Shingle," he said in a kindly, husky voice, "and a visitor, I see."
"Aye, I thought I'd best escort him personally," said Voop.
"Ho-ho, very good, very good. You'd better get those wheels down to shunt line seventy-three."
"Right away, Sir."
Voop smiled, and gave me a mischievous salute before hurrying off down the corridor.
"You had better come in," The Boss said to me.
"Thank you, Sir. I'm sorry to come unannounced like this, but my visit is an urgent one."
The Boss dismissed my apology with a wave of his hand.
"May I ask how you got in to my... little operation?" he said, taking my coat.
"It wasn't easy, I can tell you."
He examined the large slash marks on the back of my anorak.
"Hmm," he said, before hanging the coat on a peg. "Sit down."
He pointed to a woodwork chair, and I sat. He lowered himself into a large, comfortable-looking armchair behind his desk, and brushed the creases out of his dress-shirt.
"What's your name, sonny?"
He looked over his glasses at me, his work-worn hands folded on the desktop.
"George Lindsey," I said, extending my arm.
"Just a second, Mr. Lindsey."
He typed my name on a keyboard, and an apple computer on the desktop threw soft light on his face.
"Yes. I won't tell you which list you're on, but let's just say it isn't good."
He highlighted something with his mouse, and made an alteration. I had the feeling he was replacing `coal' with `manure.'
"There. Now, what's your business here? I'm a very, very busy man you know."
"Yes, I realize that, Mr. Claus."
"Call me Santa, if you like."
Santa proffered a cigar box.
Santa took one himself, and sucked on it as he waited for my explanation.
"I have a proposition. You may have heard about the postal strike?"
"Hmm? Oh, yes. No concern of mine. Just means a little extra work come Christmas time. I'm well equipped to handle it, and the elves won't gripe as long as I promise them a couple more brothels."
"Sorry, what? Did you say `brothels?'"
"That's right. All very legal."
"I... didn't know elves did that sort of thing."
"Jesus H. Christmas, young man. How do you think they procreate?"
"I don't know, I never really thought about it. I thought they were sort of magical."
"Kids today," said Santa. "You were saying?"
"Ah, yes. Well, being that you have the uncanny ability to be everywhere at once, my employers knew that you would be just the man to deliver the entire world's mail. Why, you would revolutionize it, in fact. And cut the costs by, well, a whole lot I'm sure. What do your elves cost you?"
"They're quite happy to work for nothing, as long as their needs are taken care of."
"Why, that's communism, isn't it?"
"That's neither here nor there. I'm not going to do it."
"No? Did I mention the benefits? We have a fantastic pension plan, and the best health-care on the planet. Nothing to sneeze at, especially at your age."
Santa shook his head.
"I've no need for any of that. I'm sorry, but you just don't understand the way things work here. The workload of a single night's gift delivery, worldwide, takes an entire year of planning. There's births and deaths to keep track of. Good children and bad children to watch, and lists upon lists to check and re-check. Not to mention the ones that come in late - heavens above! The last minute stuff is crazy. You don't want to be around Santa just before take off, I can tell you. Mrs. Claus just stays right out of the way."
Santa sighed, and leaned back in his chair.
"Now tell me that doing that shit every day is going to be easy, let alone possible."
I stared at nothing in particular in the distance, then reached for a candy cane and sucked on it thoughtfully.
"I'm sorry to have taken up your time."
"That's alright, young man. Just have a big sack ready on Christmas Eve."