Ducky had survived a lot of shit jobs when the street didn’t provide, but this seasonal work was going to finally whack him out. He’d endured fifty years of bloody mob wars, restaurant massacres and even a prosecutor with a raging hard-on, but never had the old wiseguy faced the shit waiting for him at the Philadelphia Macys in December. He wouldn’t have taken the job if he’d realized the horror, but he had no choice now. So he sighed, took a Leuprolide with a half-a-glass of Puni to wrench shut his leaky pipes then put on the ridiculous disguise. The damn thing reeked of wet dog and pot, but he suffered the indignity, checked the sack to ensure easy access, then made the sign of the cross before exiting his dressing room into a plastic crap winter wonderland.
A wall of holiday lights blinded him, and he tripped over the clunky boots, nearly crashing into the faux Victorian cottages of the Dickens Village. Spoiled kids howled. The entitled adults bickered. And the cranky seasonal staff who worked twenty-hour days for chicken shit tried to prevent a riot—everyone just going through the motions year after year even though it made them miserable.
“Dead Santa walking,” one of the seasonals yelled then guided him over to his throne on the bright red stage. The first little shit jumped on Santa’s lap hard enough to break a hip, and the seasonal stiffs ushered the parents in front of a cardboard candy forest where they’d try to upsell them a family photo for sixty bucks. A concealed monitor built into the podium of a train set displayed the kid’s registration information—an address in Chestnut Hill. He shook his head. Townhouses there went for ten million easy.
“You’re not from the North Pole.”
“I’m from South Street, you little . . .” Ducky muttered and scratched the rash from the scraggily beard glued to his fucking rosy cheeks. “And what is your holiday wish?” he read off the monitor.
“New water skis cause we’re spending Christmas at our house in Key West. You’re probably spending it in jail being someone’s old bitch.”
“How egg-noggy exciting!” he recited, keeping his cool, then adlibbed. “Going to be there for winter vacation?”
“For a whole month, even longer than that loser Billy Watson’s family.”
“A whole month! San-tacular! Does daddy press numbers by the door when you go away? Santa needs to know these things so he can deliver presents and crap.”
“What’s in the sack?”
“Your ass if you touch it,” Ducky said, pulling the sack close.
At noon, they stopped for lunch, and Ducky comforted himself with another Gino’s cheese steak—sorely missed in Florida—and considered quitting. He’d been counting on this holiday insanity—people going through the motions and reenacting banal childhood traditions that never made them happy—but he didn’t think he could handle it for another three weeks. After twenty years of failing his own family, he’d given up trying to celebrate, and since retiring from the life, he sailed every Christmas day on his Bertram 31, fishing for tuna and sipping from a jug of eggnog and rum. You had to make this shit your own.
Another miserable crowd waited, and Ducky was about to rip off his beard when, after five days of playing Santa, he spotted Joey Domino Jr. with his son, Little Luke, at the back of the line. Junior was still going through the motions, following the same tradition his father, Joey Sr., had done with him every year back in the eighties.
Ducky’s hunch had paid off. This shit was ingrained, and you passed the damage onto the next generation. Joey Jr. had probably made it part of his deal with the feds that they let him out of whatever shithole hick town where they stashed him before trial so he could enact this fond family tradition. And there they were: he made two U.S. Marshals with the telling bulges under their arms over at the toy department counter.
Ducky took the next kid and the next and the next, playing the role with new enthusiasm. All the while, the toy train kept spinning ‘round and ‘round, never arriving anywhere. “Santa and his elves have been working really hard making toys and shit and candy canes for you little jerks . . .”
Finally, Little Luke sat on his lap while Luke's clueless father stood in front of the candy forest. No one ever suspected Santa Claus.
“And what is your Christmas wish?”
“For my dad to drop dead so he’ll stop making me do this shit.” Ducky cracked up and pissed his suit a little—damn prostate. “I’m almost ten here. Fucking embarrassing.”
“Santa loves granting wishes,” Ducky said, then he slid the kid off his lap, grabbed the .38 from his red velvet sack and put a bullet through Joey Jr.’s throat. The capo grabbed at his neck, fumbling at the gushing blood then collapsed into a gumdrop tree just as the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies reached its last crescendo.
Parents screamed. Staff fled. And Little Luke laughed at his dad’s body then grabbed his wallet and ran to the toy department.
What a great kid, Ducky thought, then ran out through a staff door before the marshals could get through the crowd. He descended the private stairs and left through the staff entrance—an entrance that lacked any metal detectors—and shed his costume, dropping it onto Market Street in front of the Christmas tree rising in front of City Hall. PPD cruisers pulled up to Macys, but he danced down the cement stairs to the MFL to catch the subway to the airport, whistling the Nutcracker all the way to the platform.
“Happy holidays!” he wished a rotund Septa technician with a limp coming off the train. “Make this holiday shit your own!”
Ducky had to do this again next year.
About the author:
T. Fox Dunham lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with his wife, Allison. He’s a cancer survivor, disabled author, modern bard, herbalist, baker and historian. His first book, The Street Martyr in production by Throughline Films. He’s a well-published crime, horror and Sci-fi author and an active member of the Horror Writers Association. Fox is proud to have also contributed to official Stargate canon with a story published in the Stargate Anthology Points of Origin from Fandemonium Books, telling the last story of the Asgard. More information at tfoxdunham.com.
Free flash fiction on the first and third weeks of the month.