Richard's chat with Santa (below) shortly follows my chat with Saint Nick in the posting following this one.
"Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" wheezed out of a juke box as I perched myself on a squeaky stool next next to my beefy buddy in the red suit. I ordered the bartender to mix me up something tricky. Then I turned to Nick to watch him scowl over a long, long scroll while he mumbled silently on chocolate chip cookies between sips of milk.
"Surprised to find you cooling your sleigh here tonight," I said. "Just nine nights to the big day, and you're loafing in this joint?"
"Relax, friend. I'm working," Nick grunted at me without looking up. He jabbed a quick finger at the scroll. "Going over this year's nice and naughty list."
I sneaked a peek at the list, trying to spy my name. "Well, you aren't sounding too jolly about it."
"That's because naughty is outnumbering nice in a big way." He gave me a knowing glance. "It's been a tough year."
The bartender sat a tall glass full of dark, bubbling amber liquid in front of me. Black smoke oozed over the tip of the glass and crept along the top of the bar. I raised a questioning eyebrow at the tender, but he just winked and promised me this was one very tricky drink. I shrugged and took a deep swallow. It tasted like chicken.
I tipped my chin at Nick's list. "Where's my name?"
Nick's blue eyes wandered from me to my drink and back again. "Let's say don't be surprised when Rudolph bolts past your rooftop without slowing down even a little bit."
I sighed as my fingertips drummed against the smoking glass in front of me. "I keep forgetting what a nosey guy you are," I muttered.
"Hey, what can I say? Like the song goes, I know if you've been bad or good." A grin formed under his rosy cheeks. "It's a gift."
I slurped down the rest of my slurpy drink, peering at my hefty companion through the bottom of the glass. "Okay, I admit it's been a rough year for me. Sometimes I had to go naughty. I'm not proud of it."
"So 'Be good for goodness sake' just kind of slipped past you, huh?" he said.
I gave his scroll a dimissive wave. "I'm saying you should ease off this whole list of nice and naughty thing. Give me a break! It's too much for you to leave something awesome under my tree just because my moral compass jammed a few times this year?"
Nick's considerable gut wobbled like jelly as he guffawed in my face. "A few times?" He wiped a tear from his eye.
"Just one cool gift, Nick. I'll mend my ways next year. Make you proud. You'll see."
Nick surveyed my pleading eyes while he nibbled on another cookie. He didn't say anything.
I slapped a palm on the bar, startling the tender. "Your lists are clouding your vision. Lists of nice and naughty, of good and bad..."
A huge smile broke over Nick's face. "Of Good And Evil," he said.
"Great," I mumbled, rolling my eyes. "Another list."
"No, fool," Nick replied. "Since you swear you'll mend your ways, I'm giving you that break you want so badly. Tis the season , after all. You want something great under your tree? You got it." He reached into a big red bag on the floor next to his shiny black boots and handed me a book wrapped in a gleaming gold ribbon. "Put this under your tree."
My eyes ran across the cover. It was a copy of Gerald Griffin's "Of Good And Evil." I couldn't believe my excellent fortune.
The bartender pushed another tricky drink at me. I waved it off and pointed at Nick's milk. "I'll have what he's having."
Nick nodded at me. He stood up and grabbed his red bag. "Merry Christmas," he said. Then he put a finger beside his nose, and vanished like he was never there at all.
But I know he was there. I have a copy of Griffin's "Of Good And Evil" to prove it.