Under a shabby, red Santa’s suit, thirty-six year old, ex-con William “Willie” Norris packed an extra twenty pounds of beer gut. A fake white beard and fake white hair, yellowed from age, partially covered his ruddy face. A sign written with a red marking pen saying, “Santa is broke. Reindeers need fed”, draped Willie’s neck. He had a silver bell in one bare, white hand and a big Styrofoam cup in the other.
On the busy street corner, Willie shivered from the cold and watched a white, middle-aged man in a dark overcoat approach him in the falling snow. The man greeted Willie with a tough sneer.
“Nice to see you’re gainfully employed,” the man named Keating, Willie’s parole officer, said.
“Don’t forget to come in tomorrow for your urine test.”
“Yeah, sure.” Willie blew some warmth on his numbed hands. “ You got something to put in this fucking cup?”
Keating reached into a pocket, pulled out a wrinkled fin, and stuffed it into Willie’s cup. “I’m not here to remind you to come in an piss for me. The police want me to contact my people in hopes of getting a line of the scumbag that snatched that little kid yesterday.”
Willie shouted, “Ho Ho Ho”, and tinkled his bell as a pair of women rushed by. One of the women paused, laughed and coughed up a dollar bill. “Santa loves you,” Willie said in his guttural voice. “And so do his fucking, I mean friggin’, reindeers.”
Keating shuffled his feet and patted his gloved hands together. “No one knows the mean streets better than you. Got any ideas?”
“I’m not thinking about ideas until Nadine gets out of jail.”
“What’s she in for?”
“She lifted a bottle of perfume from Macy’s.”
Keating scowled. “It’s a little four year old kid we’re talking about.”
Willie blinked his eyes and sniffled. “I read about it. But Nadine comes first.”
“She’s a fucking druggie and a worthless whore.”
“I’m done talking. See you tomorrow for that piss test.”
Keating shrugged. “I’m not sure I can get Nadine out.”
“Fuck you, then. When I see Nadine next to me in her elf’s outfit, I’ll try to find that kid for you.”
Keating left, and Willie trudged along in the piling snow. It was dark, but the city glowed with holiday decorations. He had made up his mind to stay out until the streets emptied. He guessed he had panhandled over $100, and Christmas was still a few days away.
Willie went into a bustling outdoor plaza adorned with a tall glittering Christmas tree and a big skating rink and took in another fifty bucks. The little girl that got kidnapped occupied his mind. How the fuck could the mother let her wander off like that? The mother was busy trying on coats and when she looked around her little girl was gone. Somewhere in the city, a Christmas present arrived early for some fucking perv. Willie’s eyes got wet, from the snow probably. NO, from thinking about that little girl, scared and helpless, in what might be some pedophiles lair.
Another hour passed, and Willie had drifted to another street corner. A glowing clock in a store window told him it was after ten. He’d give himself another hour and then go home and cook some canned beef stew. His toes and fingers screamed from the cold. Images of a frightened little girl haunted his mind. He muttered, “fuck it” and reached a decision.
In his Santa clothes, Willie made the rounds, interviewing every street hustler and vagrant he knew. He went into bars and flophouses and under bridges where homeless outcasts slept on cardboard and huddled around the flickering fires burning in big tin drums. Willie had two hundred dollars in his pocket, and he offered it all for a lead. At three A.M., feeling exhausted, he dragged himself over the bridge that would take him home. Snow kept falling and crunched under his frozen feet. Below, in the river, he viewed splatters of red and yellow city light reflected on slabs of ice floating in the black water. He heard footsteps from behind and wheeled around.
A stocky white man in a worn, army surplus store jacket faced him. Rather than a scarf, the man had a ragged, brown bath towel wrapped around his neck. From across the bridge a lone figure watched.
“Is the two hundred for real?”
“As real as you and me.”
A long bladed knife flashed in the man’s hand. “Hand it over, mother fucker.”
Willie lunged forward and slugged the man hard in the jaw. He felt bones breaking in the man’s face from the punch. The man went down. Willie backed up and hurried away. At the end of the bridge the lone figure that had been watching, a thin black man in a tattered gray hoodie, joined Willie.
“That prick cut my hand.” Willie bit into his lower lip, scooped up snow, and caked the iced snow over the wound. “You try a stunt like that and I’ll kill you.”
The black man held his hands up as a gesture of peace. “For 200, I send you to an empty warehouse not far from here where a crazy looking white dude is keeping a little girl.”
“Why didn’t you go to the cops?”
“I’m on the lam for assault with intent to kill. I caught my woman with another man and used a baseball bat on them.”
A moment before Willie found the warehouse, his cell phone rang.
“They let me out, honey,” Nadine said. “Can you believe that? A cop came a minute ago and said they dropped the shoplifting charges. It’s a miracle.”
Willie’s breath caught. “You get your ass home and wait for me, understand?”
“Sure sweetheart. Will you be there?”
“I’ll be there, but I got something to do first.”
Willie made a silent entrance into the warehouse. Dull light shined from a corner. For heat, oily rags burned in a squat metal barrel. He picked up a rusty lead pipe and approached. He saw the little girl, clothed and trembling in a wooden crate. Peering through the slats he saw that the little girl’s eyes were red and swollen from crying. A big white man, hugging a half empty whiskey bottle and wearing a surprisingly new blue parka, lay on an old mattress, either asleep or passed out. The new parka explained how he could maneuver, unnoticed, in a busy department store.
Willie unlatched the crate and the little girl crawled out. She uttered, “SANTA,” and leaped into his arms.
David Harry Moss writes ficton and acts in movies. Currently he lives in Pittsburgh but he has also lived in Phoenix and Minneapolis. His story, "Angels With Guns", was published on The Flash Fiction Offensive earlier this year and is set in New York City. Has he been there? Many times, including having run and finished two marathons.