Note: Originally published Nov. 22, 2019 in Tradiciones, a special publication of the Las Vegas Optic.
The call came into the North Pole just hours after Santa Claus had departed on his annual journey around the world. It’s the call every elf dreads.
“Santa’s been arrested!” the caller yelled.
In her 112 years on the job, Evyn had never heard of Santa being arrested, and on Christmas Eve of all nights!
She glanced across the call center. In the middle of the room, under a plastic dome sat the big red button. With a single press of the rarely-used mechanism, Santa’s legal defense team would be summoned. It was way too early for that though. Protocol was to ask the caller for more details in order to verify the claims being made.
“Where are you calling from, sir?” Evyn asked.
“Las Vegas,” the caller said.
Evyn checked her copy of Santa’s route for this year. The caller’s claim made no sense. Santa wasn’t scheduled to be in Nevada for over an hour.
Still, she followed protocol. “How long ago did the arrest occur?”
“Just now!” the caller shouted. “The police just took him away.”
“And are you sure it was Santa?”
“Yes! His hat fell into a snowbank in front of my house. I have it right now. That’s how I got this number. It’s written inside the hat.”
Now Evyn knew it was a prank. Las Vegas was in the desert, and it rarely snowed in the desert.
“Santa never made it to my house,” the caller said. “My kids will be crushed. We even left fresh biscochitos for him.”
Now the story was getting weird. Evyn had tasted biscochitos on a trip to New Mexico a few decades ago. As far as she knew, they weren’t popular in Nevada.
“Biscochitos?” she said. “Are you from New Mexico?”
“Yes,” the caller said. “I’m calling from Las Vegas, New Mexico.”
It all made sense now! The caller wasn’t a prankster.
Evyn checked the route map again. Indeed, Santa should be in New Mexico about now. In fact, he was scheduled to be finishing up and moving on to Colorado soon. But if he’d been arrested, it could throw off the entire schedule. It could even ruin Christmas!
Evyn dropped her headset, hopped out of her chair, and ran to the big red button. Flipping back the cover, she positioned her hand above it, and using all the weight of her tiny body, she pushed it.
Gus slid on his coat and wrapped a scarf around his neck before stepping onto his front porch.
He knew what his neighbors on Seventh Street said about him. They called him cantankerous. Irritable. Sullen and even surly.
Some had even given him the nickname Grumpy Gus. And now, they were gathered outside, angry with him just because he’d had the intruder on his roof arrested.
“I can’t believe this,” one shouted. “We knew you were a grumpy old man, but we never thought you would stoop as low as calling the cops on Santa Claus!”
“The man was trespassing, plain and simple,” Gus said.
“But it was Santa!” another neighbor called out from the crowd. “He’s delivering toys to the children of the world. How can you call that trespassing?”
“There’s no such thing as Santa.” Gus said. “This was an intruder who was on my roof. Plain and simple.”
“Please,” one woman said. “You have to drop the charges against Santa.”
“There is no Santa!” Gus shouted.
“How can you say there’s no Santa?” another neighbor asked. “You just saw him get taken away in a police car! And because of you, children will wake up tomorrow with nothing under the tree!”
“Don’t tell me that you still believe in Santa?” Gus said. “I let go of that nonsense when I was 7.”
“Why?” a neighbor asked. “How can you not believe in Santa Claus?”
“Because, all I asked Santa for that year was a Slinky. A simple toy that all my friends had. It was the only thing I wanted, and
Christmas morning, I got out of bed and ran to the tree. And when I opened my present from Santa, it was a stupid toy airplane. From that day on, I decided to live in reality, and the reality is, there is no Santa!”
More neighbors began to shout nonsense about Santa Claus. Gus couldn’t listen to any more of it. He spun on his heels, stormed back inside his house, and turned off the porch light.
Evyn and the other elves stared nervously at the monitors in the North Pole Command Center. Santa’s lawyers had been notified, and several were on their way to Las Vegas, but it wasn’t a guarantee that they’d be able to free him in time to complete this year’s journey.
Santa always padded his schedule a little to allow time for small problems he might encounter. Like the year Donner and Blitzen had a small fight while on a rooftop in Norway, or that time a little girl left soy milk for Santa and it didn’t agree with the cookies already in his belly. But those were minor setbacks. This was serious. Santa was going to jail!
Evyn paced back and forth, wearing down the wooden floors beneath her feet. Glancing at the map on one of the video monitors, it indicated that Santa was still at the police station in Las Vegas, at least according to the GPS tracker hidden in his beard.
Another video monitor indicated that Santa’s lawyers were in town now, on their way to the police station.
But that was only a first step. They still had to convince the local police to release Santa immediately. And if they weren’t successful, this would surely go down as the worst Christmas in the history of Christmases!
Gus peeked out his window. The angry neighbors were still outside chanting “free Santa!”
They could stand there all night and freeze if they wanted to, Gus thought. They weren’t going to change his mind. The man was an intruder, plain and simple.
Pffft. Santa Claus. How ridiculous. Grown men and women believing in such a childish concept. It was as laughable as it was sad.
Gus walked to his living room and tossed another log on the fading fire. He then settled into his recliner with a blanket for extra warmth.
Outside, the chants continued. “Free Santa! Free Santa! Free Santa!”
Didn’t these people have anything better to do? Did they really believe the guy he’d caught on his roof was Santa Claus? The man was obviously just some overweight guy in fuzzy clothes who was either drunk or crazy — or maybe both!
Santa wasn’t real. Every adult knew that. Only foolish children believed in Santa.
He should know. He was a foolish kid once, rushing to the tree, expecting to find a Slinky just because he’d asked Santa for it. In fact, Santa was the only person he’d told. No one else knew he wanted one, so, if Santa were real, he would have brought him one. Plain and simple.
He’d done everything right that year too. He hadn’t talked back to his parents. He’d made sure to go to bed on time. He’d done all of his schoolwork. And yet, Santa snubbed him while his sister got the doll she’d asked for. And to top it off, she hadn’t been nearly as good that year.
The chants grew louder. “Free Santa! Free Santa! Free Santa! Free Santa!”
Gus flung the blanket off and flew out of his chair. Opening the window, he stuck his head out into the cold air and shouted back:
“Stop it! Santa isn’t real!”
Slamming the window shut, Gus walked over to the TV and turned it on to muffle the sound of the chanting.
The TV came to life, filling the room with the bright colors of “A Christmas Story.” He changed the channel. His TV filled with black and white images of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Obviously the only thing on TV tonight was sappy Christmas movies. At least the sound would drown out the noise of the protesters.
Gus flumped into his chair, wrapping the blanket around him. The flickering light from the TV was reflecting off something in the corner of the room though.
He again tossed the blanket aside and hurried toward the sparkling object.
Leaning in to inspect it, he couldn’t quite determine what it was. He reached down and picked it up.
A Slinky. The shiny coiled, spring-like toy flipped out of his palm and dangled from his hand. On the end, a gift tag bordered with a candy cane print hung by a thin string.
Gus held it closer to his face, squinting to read it. To: Gus — From: Santa.
The call had come in moments ago, and now, Evyn was tasked with delivering the horrible news to the rest of the elves: Santa was being transported to the county jail to be booked.
His lawyers had arrived in Las Vegas, but with the courts closed for the Christmas holiday, it was hard to say when they’d be able to get him released. Christmas was ruined.
“Listen up, everyone,” she said, gaining the attention of those gathered.
Evyn looked out across the crowd. Everyone’s face wore a serious look. Everyone in the room knew what was at stake. Either Santa would be released — and Christmas around the rest of the world would continue — or Santa would be locked up, crushing the hopes and dreams of millions of children.
She cleared her throat. The room fell silent. But she couldn’t bring herself to break the worst news in the history of the North Pole.
Evyn took a deep breath and swallowed the lump in her throat.
“It is with deep regret that I must inform everyone—”
She was interrupted by the ringing of the phone.
“Excuse me,” she said.
Evyn rushed to her desk and put her headset on. As she listened to the caller’s words, the room remained silent.
“Uh-huh,” she said to the caller. “Okay. Thank you.”
She hung up, removed her headset, and returned her attention to the crowd gathered around her desk.
Evyn took another deep breath. “That was Santa’s lead attorney in New Mexico.”
Everyone in the room leaned in closer.
Evyn paused as a few others entered the room from other parts of the building. “She says the man who was pressing charges against Santa called the police and demanded they release him!”
The room erupted in cheers.
Gus was awoken by the doorbell. He wiped his eyes as he looked around, trying to focus on his surroundings. He’d fallen asleep in his chair again. The fire had long since burned out, and the sun was now shining through his curtains.
The doorbell rang again.
Tossing his blanket off, he stumbled toward the door and peered out the window. No one was there though. Shaking his head,
Gus turned away.
The bell rang again.
Gus turned around and peeked out again, but still, no one was on the porch. He flung open the door to see what was going on.
On the porch stood a small child, at least it seemed like it. Gus wiped his eyes and refocused. It was no child though. It was an elf.
“Hello, sir,” he spoke in a tiny voice. “Santa had other plans that could not be missed, but he wanted me to stop by and tell you that he appreciates you dropping the charges against him. He also wanted me to make sure you received the gift he left for you.”
Gus couldn’t speak. The words wouldn’t form.
“You did get the gift, didn’t you?” the elf asked. “The Slinky?”
Gus nodded, still speechless.
“Good. Santa would also like to apologize for the delay. Apparently there was some error with your letter in our receiving department. We’ve had some problems there, and frankly, it’s inexcusable, but I assure you we’ve addressed the problems… Anyway, sir, that’s none of your concern. The point is, we made a mistake and we apologize for the error.”
Gus nodded again. “Sh— Sure. No problem.”
“Again, thank you, from Santa, and all his elves. You have a merry Christmas, sir.”
Before Gus could answer, the visitor was gone.
He closed the door and returned to the living room.
Gus sat down in his chair. He picked the Slinky up and bounced it from one hand to the next. It was indeed a merry Christmas. A very merry Christmas. Plain and simple.