Here Comes Santa Claus
by Bill Pronzini
Page 4 of 6
I should have stayed on the dais. I should have sent one of
the elves to notify Security, while I perched on the throne and
continued to act as a listening post for the kiddies.
But I didn't. Like a damned fool, I decided to handle the
matter myself. Like a damned fool, I wet charging off into the
throng with the cherub's cries of "Wanna see Santa, my turn to
see Santa!" rising to a crescendo behind me.
The milling crush of celebrants had closed around Markey
Waters and his son and I could no longer see them. But they had
been heading at an angle toward the far assisted entrance, so
that was the direction I took. The rubber boots I wore were a
size too small and pinched my feet, forcing me to walk in a kind
of mincing step; and as if that wasn't bad enough, the boots were
new and made squeaking sounds like a pair of rusty hinges. I also
had to do some jostling to get through and around little knots of
people, and some of the looks my maneuvers elicited were not of
the peace-on-earth, goodwill-to-men variety. One
elegantly-dressed guy said, "Watch the hands, Claus," which might
have been funny if I were not in such a dark and stormy frame of
I was almost to the line of food booths along the east wall
when I spotted Waters again, stopped near the second-to-last
booth. One of his hands was clutching Ronnie's wrist and the
other seas plucking at an obese woman in a red-and-green,
diagonally striped dress that made her look like a gigantic candy
cane. Markey had evidently collided with her in his haste and
caused her to spill a cup of punch on herself; she was loudly
berating him for being a clumsy oaf, and refusing to let go of a
big handful of his jacket until she'd had her say.
I minced and squeaked through another cluster of adults, all
of whom were singing in accompaniment to the song now playing
over the loudspeakers. The song, of all damn things, was "Here
Comes Santa Claus."
Waters may not have heard the song, hut its message got
through to him just the same. He saw me bearing down on him from
thirty feet away and understood immediately what my intentions
were. His expression turned panicky; he tried to tear loose from
the obese woman's grip. She hung on with all the tenacity of a
I was ten feet from getting my bulldog hands on him when he
proceeded to transform the Gala Family Christmas Charity Benefit
from fun and frolic into chaos.
He let go of Ronnie's wrist, shouted, "Run, kid!" and then
with his free hand he sucker-punched the obese woman on the
uppermost of her chins. She not only released his jacket, she
backpedaled into a lurching swoon that upset three other
merrymakers and sent all four of them to the floor in a wild
tangle of arms and legs. Voices rose in sudden alarm; somebody
screamed like a fire siren going off. Bodies scattered out of
harm's way. And Markey Waters went racing toward freedom.
I gave chase, dodging and juking and squeaking. I wouldn't
have caught him except that while he was looking back over his
shoulder to see how close I was, he tripped over something--his
own feet, maybe--and down he went in a sprawl. I reached him just
as he scrambled up again. I laid both hands on him and growled,
"This is as far as you go, Waters," whereupon he kicked me in the
shin and yanked free.
I yelled, he staggered off, I limped after him. Shouts and
shrieks echoed through the gym; so did the thunder of running
feet and thudding bodies as more of the party animals stampeded.
A woman came rushing out from inside the farthest of the food
booths, got in Markey's path, and caused him to veer sideways to
keep from plowing into her. That in turn allowed me to catch up
to him in front of the booth. I clapped a hand on his shoulder
this time, spun him around--and he smacked me in the chops with
something warm and soggy that had been sitting on the booth's
A meat pie.
He hit me in the face with a pie.
That was the last indignity in a night of indignities.
Playing Santa Claus was bad enough; playing Lou Costello to a
thief's Bud Abbott was intolerable. I roared; I pawed at my eyes
and scraped off beef gravy and false whiskers and white wig; I
lunged and caught Waters again before he could escape; I wrapped
my arms around him. It was my intention to twist him around and
get him into a crippling hammerlock, but he was stronger than he
looked. So instead we performed a kind of crazy, lurching
bear-hug dance for a few seconds. That came to an
end--predictably--when we banged into one of the booth supports
and the whole front framework collapsed in a welter of wood and
bunting and pie and paper plates and plastic utensils, with us in
the middle of it all.
Markey squirmed out from underneath me, feebly, and tried to
crawl away through the wreckage. I disentangled myself from some
of the bunting, lunged at his legs, hung on when he tried to kick
loose. And then crawled on top of him, flipped him over on his
back, fended off a couple of ineffectual blows, and did some
effectual things to his head until he stopped struggling and
decided to become unconscious.
I sat astraddle him, panting and puffing and wiping gravy out
of my eyes and nose. The tumult, I realized then, had subsided
somewhat behind me. I could hear the loudspeakers again--the song
playing now was "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer"--and I could
hear voices lifted tentatively nearby. Just before a newspaper
photographer came hurrying up and snapped a picture of me and my
catch, just before a horrified Kerry and a couple of tardy
security guards arrived, I heard two voices in particular
speaking in awed tones.
"My God," one of them said, "what happened?"
"I dunno," the other one said. "But it sure looks like Santa
Claus went berserk."
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