“Evening Charlie,” said the man as he threw himself onto the bar stool.
“Alright Joakim mate,” said the bartender turning towards him, “you’re looking well, I haven’t seen you for ages. What you been doing with yourself?”
“Just line ’em up,” barked the man, evidently in no mood for small talk.
Charlie paused and fixed him with a hard stare, he remembered all too clearly the last time he had seen Joakim in this kind of mood. Leaning over the bar he said quietly, “Look Joakim, I don’t want you fucking the place over again, the Bureau said they ain’t gonna bail you out anymore after last year. I ain’t standing for any more shit.”
Joakim’s knuckles tightened but he knew better than to argue, if he wanted a drink and by God he needed one, he had better play nice. “It’s alright Charlie,” he said, raising his hands in reconciliation, “I don’t want any trouble, I just need a drink that’s all, I’ve had a bad fucking day.”
With a sigh, Charlie turned to get a glass and a bottle of whiskey from the counter behind him, he had a lot of sympathy for Joakim, with that poor bastard’s job who wouldn’t want to be drunk? Turning back, he placed the glass before Joakim and poured him a drink.
“Make it a large one,” said Joakim.
“So,” said Charlie, knowing that Joakim was more likely to behave if he was talking, “what fucked up your day?”
Joakim grabbed the glass and gulped the double whiskey down, the liquor burned but wasn’t unpleasant, “the usual,” he said once the burning had passed. He tapped his finger on the empty glass, “fill ‘er up.”
“How many years has it been now?” asked Charlie as he poured Joakim another, this one smaller than the last.
“Seventeen long, boring, bastard years… ” he gasped as he gulped down the drink, “another…” he said and tapped the glass again.
“Christ,” replied Charlie with real sympathy, seventeen years sounded more like a prison sentence than a job. But his sympathy had its limits, Joakim was a mean drunk and Charlie had painful memories of the last time Joakim had been intoxicated in his bar. The damage bill had run into the thousands, luckily the Bureau had picked up the repair bill but the bar had still been out of commission for a month during the busiest time of year, he’d even lost a few regulars that night. This would be Joakim’s third straight whiskey and Charlie would make sure it was his last tonight, at least in his bar.
“Seventeen fucking years,” said Joakim again, his voice filling with anger. “Seventeen long fucking years I’ve given that company. D’you know what that cunt Foxel said?” he continued, the whiskey fueling his confidence and volume, “you’re the ‘best man’ for the job he said. Fucking wanker, five years he’s been feeding me that shit. ‘Best man’… more like the only dickhead who’ll do the job. But this year, you know what? ‘Stick it up your arse’ I said, told him I wasn’t going to do it anymore and he had to find me something else. Know what he said? You know what that whorecunt told me?” and he paused to gulp down his drink once more, “he said that if I didn’t do it then I’d be out of the Bureau and he’d make sure I never worked again. Wanker!” He slammed his fist down heavily on the bar.
“Easy,” said Charlie quickly, “I told you I don’t want you causing trouble”.
“A’right, a’right,” said Joakim raising his hands again, his vision was becoming hazy, maybe he shouldn’t have slugged the whiskey so quickly, he didn’t care though, three shots of whiskey weren’t enough to appease the demons raging within him. “Giv’us another.”
“No, I think you’ve had enough,” replied Charlie reaching for the glass.
“What?” cried Joakim “Jesus Christ Charlie all I want is a fucking drink.”
“And I said you’ve had enough,” said Charlie, he wanted his bar intact and open for business over the coming days.
Joakim’s eyes blazed but the look on Charlie’s face made it clear there was no room for argument. “Fuck it then,” he shouted and slid clumsily from the stool. The room was starting to spin and he reached out to steady himself on the bar. Digging his free hand into his pocket, he rummaged for his wallet.
“They’re on the house,” said Charlie, surprised at how quickly the alcohol was affecting Joakim.
“Fine,” slurred Joakim, “I’ll go someplace else.” He walked towards the door, struggling to maintain a straight line. After last year’s brawl in the bar, as he’d nursed the cuts and bruises the morning after Joakim had vowed it would be the last time he would drink and that his life needed to change, that he would get more control over it. And for a whole year he’d managed it, until today. He wanted to wipe the smug, self-satisfied smile from Foxel’s face, to leap across the pompous arsehole’s desk and grind his fist into his face. Last year he’d promised that he would find someone else, someone who would do what was known in the Bureau as the “shittiest job on the planet.” Joakim blamed his father, his proud idiot father who had loved the job and was desperate to keep it in the family, desperate to maintain the family tradition. “Eight generations son,” he’d often say, “a hundred and thirty years of tradition and that tradition must be carried on from father to son.” And for the first few years Joakim had enjoyed the job, he’d enjoyed working with his father, who’d protected him from the bulk of the work, and he took great pride in knowing that they were bringing joy to others. But then, out of the blue, his father had died unexpectedly of liver cancer and he was left alone. With no sons of his own to help and stressed from the intense workload that he alone bore his marriage collapsed. He didn’t blame Janine, it was for the best, she deserved far better than him and the bitterness towards his father for never telling him about the cancer was beginning to consume him. And so for seventeen long years he had struggled on alone, the most famous delivery boy on the planet.
“Mr Noel, can I buy you a drink?”
Joakim stopped and looking to his left saw a young woman sitting at a table near the door. Even in his half drunken state he was stunned by her beauty. With deep blue eyes set above thick pouting red lips and long blonde curls falling suggestively around her exposed shoulders and onto a low cut silken red dress, she looked like she belonged on a Christmas card.
“You want to buy me a drink?” his eyes narrowing, beautiful women did not buy him drinks. “What’s the catch?”
“No catch,” she replied, her voice was soft and silky, “I just want to know about your day.”
“My day? Darling, I’ve had a fucker of a day. You want to buy me a drink and listen to my woes? Fine, but we’ll have to go to O’Reilly’s down the street, I’m not welcome in here,” he threw a glance back at Charlie who was still watching him hawkishly from behind the bar.
Rising from the table she gestured with a lithe hand towards the chair in front of her. “Let me sort that out,’ she said with a coquettish smile, “why don’t you sit down.”
Joakim stared after her as she walked towards the bar, entranced by her exquisitely swaying buttocks. He couldn’t hear what was said between the two of them but from his gesticulations Charlie was clearly unhappy about Joakim’s continued presence in his bar. It was only when she opened her purse and handed him a large bundle of notes did Charlie seem placated and eventually handed her a bottle and two glasses.
Joakim sat down. He watched, transfixed, as she approached, Joakim had seen many beautiful women in his time but none of them could hold a candle to her, it was almost as if she was plucked straight from his dreams.
“So,” she said as she arrived with a bottle of whiskey and placed a glass before him, “tell me all about you.” Delicately she sat down on the stool before him and as she crossed her legs the split at the side of her dress exposed a firm, pale thigh. Joakim felt his pulse racing. With practiced ease she unscrewed the top from the whiskey bottle and half filled his glass then poured herself a double.
“All about me,” said Joakim with a heavy sigh, “you want to know all about me?” Lifting the glass to his lips he gulped down half the drink. “What’s to know? I’m Santa Fucking Claus darling, didn’t anyone tell you?”
“I’m well aware of your position within the Bureau Mr Noel, can I call you Joakim?” she said calmly and took a delicate sip from her glass, “I would like to know more about you.”
“There ain’t naught to know,” he said throwing the rest of the drink into his mouth, he was determined to be drunk as soon as possible, consequences be damned, “I’m stuck in a job no one else will do delivering presents to ungrateful snot-nosed little bastards that clamor for more and more every year. I’ve no friends, no family and have a nasty habit of getting kicked out of bars.” He gave her a rueful smile, “basically I’m a fucking mess.”
“And what would you say if I could offer you a new opportunity?” She said refilling his glass.
“A new job? At the Bureau?” he laughed and shook his head, quietly pleased that the room spun as he did so, “Foxel said that would never happen.”
“Not with the Bureau,” she said, “you would come and work for us.”
“Who’s ‘us’?” he asked, the alcohol not numbing his natural wariness. Over the years he had come to resent the romantic mysticism that surrounded his work. All the fantastic tales about the jolly fat man with his reindeer, giving presents to the deserving children. What a load of crap! The organization of it alone was a nightmare, let alone the actual delivery, admittedly a few generations back it had all been done with reindeer and a sleigh but the Earth’s population had been considerably smaller back then. Few people realized that the number of children in the past sixty years had nearly tripled, even in the twenty or so years that Joakim had been doing the job the number of deliveries he had to make had doubled. It now took over eleven months, working solidly for seven days a week to get everything delivered. Joakim couldn’t imagine there was anyone else on the planet that would be in need of his particular “skill set”.
“We are an organization in need of someone in your particular position,” she said cryptically.
“What does that mean?” he asked.
“It means that your role as Santa Claus places you in a unique position that we believe would be useful to us,” she took another sip from her glass.
“You’re still not telling me what that is,” he said feeling confused, the alcohol wasn’t helping his thought process but he was pretty sure she wasn’t making much sense, did she want something delivered at the same time as the presents?
“I’m afraid I’m not authorized to tell you what it is that we require of you, only that an opportunity is available. I can tell you that the task we wish you to perform is small, almost trifling and won’t interfere with your work but you will be well rewarded for its completion. If you would like to know more then you will have to visit our headquarters tomorrow to speak with our CEO.”
“How much money are we talking about?”
“I believe the figure is negotiable,” she said draining the last of her drink, “but at least twenty times your current annual salary.” She handed Joakim a small business card, it felt heavy and his fingers told him it was embossed, he peered at it but through his drunken haze he could only make out a large letter G in the middle of the card.
“For the full details, come to the office tomorrow, you can keep the bottle.” She rose from the table and without another word opened the door and left.
He stared at the card for a few seconds, trying to make out any more details, then placed it into his pocket and reached for the bottle.
He awoke in an alley, the inside of his mouth felt like sandpaper and he had a large tear in his shirt near his shoulder and dark stains across the front. It was light, from the shadows fairly early, but dim sounds of traffic from the end of the alley told him not too early. He tried to move and a shower of stars exploded across his vision, his jaw ached and touching his mouth he felt something dry and rough on his fingers. As his vision cleared he saw it was dried blood. He remembered the blonde leaving, he’d refilled his glass from the bottle she had left, gulped down the whisky then rose to visit the toilet. Then nothing, his memory ended there. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know how he came to be slumped over in a back alley in what seemed to be a pool of his own foul smelling vomit.
He sat upright and stars swam all around him again. Reaching for a nearby large wheelie bin, he pulled himself to his knees and felt his stomach rise up and a brown liquid exploded from his mouth onto the side of the bin with much of it splashing back onto him.
It was some time before he reached home. He had to walk, after rummaging through his pockets he found he still had his wallet but every taxi he hailed would speed away as soon as the driver saw the state of him. He also found the blonde’s business card in his pocket. It appeared to be made out of burnished metal with rounded corners and a large black capital G embossed on the front with an address in the bottom right hand corner in small etched letters. He tried to remember what she had said, an opportunity, easy job, lots of money. That was the gist. Sounded too good to be true but why else would she be there? For his sparkling conversation and company? Hardly. He was halfway through his shower when he decided to pay the G corporation a visit. If it was a hoax then it was better than his other plan of doing nothing for the next week and a half until it was time to start making deliveries again and if it was real, well easy money for an easy job sounded good to him, maybe he wouldn’t have to do the world’s shittiest job for the next thirty years.
The address led him to a small unassuming building in the heart of the business district. It was surrounded on all sides by shiny high rises, all huge glass windows and chrome edging. This building was different. In complete contrast to its younger, towering brothers, it sat just three storeys high with dark stone walls and small windows set in dark wooden frames. It was the type of building you could walk past every day for twenty years and never notice was there. A large paneled wooden door was set into a recess in its front. No name of a business or indication of what might occur inside was displayed on the front or even at the side of the door, its only adornment was a brass door knocker in the shape of a snarling wolf’s head. It was a truly anonymous building that Joakim guessed must have stood, minding its own business, for two or three hundred years.
The door knocker was cold and heavy to the touch and on the third sharp rap on the metal plate below the door opened to reveal an immaculately dressed man, early to mid forties in age, with perfectly coiffured black hair to match his perfectly fitting tailor made black suit.
“Good afternoon Mr Noel,” he said as the door fully opened, “please come in.” Like his appearance his voice was precise and each syllable was uttered with practiced precision.
“You’re expecting me?” said Joakim, painfully aware of his own somewhat slovenly appearance.
“Of course sir, if you would follow me. Mr Crelin has instructed me to bring you to his office immediately.”
The man stepped back from the doorway and Joakim stepped inside and gasped at the interior. The room before him was far larger than the building facade would suggest. A large G, just like on the business card, was inlaid in the floor and behind it a broad wooden staircase, flared at the bottom and narrowing towards the top led up to a mezzanine level. Above the G a large crystal chandelier sparkled from sunlight coming from a window above the doorway and around the walls there were portraits of middle aged men, all with serious expressions on their faces and grey hair on their heads.
Joakim followed the doorman to a door set between two portraits each with facial hair suggesting they were commissioned around the Victorian era. The doorman knocked and a moment later Joakim heard a man call “Come,” from within.
“Mr Joakim Noel to see you sir,” said the doorman after opening the door, he moved to the side and Joakim stepped inside. The room was no less ornate than the entrance, a broad wooden desk inlaid with a leather top dominated the room. Before it sat two large rounded green leather armchairs and behind the desk two long thin windows allowed light to enter. Wood paneling covered the walls and ceiling but unlike the entrance hall a deep plush burgundy carpet lay underfoot. To Joakim’s left a large, well used fireplace with an ornately carved wood surround was set into the wall and above the fire sat a portrait of two men, unmistakably brothers, each with piercing brown eyes and long aquiline noses.
A man had risen from the desk and was striding towards Joakim, his hand outstretched in greeting. He stood no more than a meter and a half tall, his physique slight, almost gawkish and his neatly parted brown hair sat atop a face that expressed a mild malevolence that discomfited Joakim. There was something about the narrow eyes that seemed a little too close together and the slight downturn of his equally narrow lips sitting below a long straight nose gave him a hawkish, almost predatory appearance.
Joakim grasped the man’s hand and was surprised at his grip, the man looked to be in his fifties but he had the strength of a much younger man.
“Mr Noel, thank you for coming, I’m very pleased to meet you. I’m Mikael Crelin, please won’t you sit down, we have much to discuss.” He gestured to one of the chairs in front of his desk.
“Can I get you something to drink?” he said as he sat behind his desk, “coffee, tea, something stronger?”
Joakim sat down and was surprised at how soft the leather felt. “Coffee would be good, milk, no sugar.”
Crelin pushed a buzzer on the desk, “Janice, coffee with milk and no sugar for Mr Noel please.”
A woman’s voice, curt and sharp replied, “Yes sir.”
“We’ve met once before you know,” said Crelin, “you probably don’t remember, I visited your father at your home, you must have been 6 or 7 years old.”
“Sorry I don’t remember,” said Joakim, in truth he remembered little about his childhood. The thing he remembered most was how much he desperately wanted to be his father and yet how much he hated him as well. His father seemed to spend all his time pleasing the rest of the world and had no time for him. When he was home he would tell Joakim how important the job was and that one day he too would be Santa Claus and would keep the family tradition alive. He never played with Joakim, or even took the time to read him a story. To the rest of the world he was a wonderful bringer of presents and joy but to Joakim he was all but a stranger.
“No matter, you were very young. Great man your father, did an excellent job.” The door opened and a tall thin woman with greying hair entered carrying a cup on a saucer. She placed it down in front of Joakim and left without saying a word.
“Thank you Janice,” said Crelin as she left.
“Why am I here?” said Joakim, wanting to change the subject away from his father.
“What do you know of the Grimm Foundation?”
“Nothing,” said Joakim with a slight shake of his head, “never heard of it.”
“Not a surprise, we like to keep to ourselves. I assume you have heard of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm? More commonly known as The Brothers Grimm.” He paused and Joakim nodded his agreement, everyone knew of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, his own mother used to read them to him as a child at bedtime.
“Indeed, who hasn’t?” said Crelin, “the brothers were interested in the power of words and stories. They were fascinated by the effects those words and stories had on others, especially children. As I’m sure you know over the course of their lifetimes they collected hundreds of tales, mostly from folklore but some were of their own invention. They took those stories, refined them, improved them and then published them in a number of tomes. This, of course, is well known and hardly new to you I’m sure but the brother’s interest in the power of stories didn’t end there. In 1850, in this very building, they founded the Grimm Foundation, an organization dedicated to investigating the power of words and their effect on others and we have continued their work until the present day.
“The reason I asked you here is that we have a job for you. Your role as Father Christmas puts you in a rather unique position. You see our business is dreams and the power of stories to create them. We have clients who take a particular interest in the dreams of children and they are prepared to pay very well for them. What we want you to do is very simple, just gather the dreams of certain children, ten children in fact and for this we will pay you ten million Euros.”
It was a while before Joakim spoke. So many questions buzzed around his mind. Ten million was a lot of money, more than he could imagine, but there was something Crelin wasn’t telling him, in fact he was sure there was a lot Crelin wasn’t telling him.
“You’re going to pay me a million Euros for a dream? How the hell do I ‘gather’ a dream?”
“We have many wealthy clients who are able to pay for what they desire. As for gathering the dream, we have developed a device that is able to insert a ‘story’ into the mind while sleeping. All you need to do is hold the device against the child’s temple and press a button. The story will be implanted and then trigger a response within the child’s mind, what is usually known as a dream, the device then records their thoughts and feelings while they sleep. Our clients have specific tastes, each story and child have been carefully selected to match our clients’ exacting requirements. The process takes less than ten minutes per child and I can assure you the device does the child no harm.”
It all sounded too simple to Joakim and there was still something Crelin wasn’t mentioning. He remembered the Grimm stories as a child, tales of dark forest paths, wicked step mothers and evil creatures that wished to eat little children. The stories weren’t going to give the children dreams, they were going to give them nightmares. It sounded horrific, but it gave Joakim an idea.
“Pay upfront, double it and I’ll take the job,” said Joakim.
“Twenty million?” said Crelin, “I’m not sure I can stretch to that.”
“Twenty million and payment upfront or no deal. If I get caught then my life won’t be worth living, I can’t get another job now let alone after I give some kids nightmares on Christmas Eve. Yeah I know what your ‘device’ is going to do to them, if this thing does no harm then I’m Rumpelstiltskin. I’ll do it but I want to be well compensated, my pay is shit, I get no respect and my future prospects aren’t good, but if this works out then maybe we can do it every year.”
It was Crelin’s turn to be quiet for a while. He hadn’t banked on paying double but if Joakim was prepared to do it every year then the potential profits would be almost unlimited, finally he said, “Very well. Twenty million paid to an account of your choice.” He rose from the desk, “Please come with me, I will show you the device.”
Joakim followed him from the office, across the elaborate entrance hall and through another wooden door into a room that looked like it belonged in a high-tech laboratory rather than an old office building. Two men, in white coats were working at one of the benches. Crelin crossed to a metal cupboard at the far end of the room and removed an opaque glass box. He placed it onto one of the benches then removed a black cylinder, no more than twenty centimeters in length that was flared and flattened at one end. Joakim could see a number of controls on one side. Crelin spent the next twenty minutes describing in great detail how the device should be used. Operating the device seemed straight forward to Joakim, there was one button for selecting the “dream” with a digital numeral underneath to show which was selected. Another button started delivery of the dream and to demonstrate Crelin placed the flattened end against his own temple. Once the delivery button was pressed the numeral would change to show the number of minutes until the device should be removed. When the number reached zero the device had completed its job and the “dream” would be collected. Crelin repeated numerous times that the correct number must be matched to the correct child, although Joakim noticed that Crelin said nothing about whether the same dream could be applied to multiple children.
It wasn’t until the third “I’ve got it,” that Crelin seemed satisfied that Joakim understood how the device worked. Twenty minutes later Joakim was back on the busy street hardly believing his luck. Someone wanted to give him twenty million Euros for an hours work. All he needed to do now was give Crelin the account details for payment and then, the day before he began his deliveries he should return to the office to pick up the device and the list of children and their locations.
Joakim returned home feeling happier than he had in years. He was going to be rich, he could finally escape his rotten job. He had no intention of doing Crelin’s dirty work the following year, or any year after that, twenty million was more than enough for him to retire in comfort to a nice Caribbean island. Somewhere warm, close to a long, golden beach with a view of the ocean and maybe a quiet little bar close by where he could while away the hours listening to the rolling waves while sipping on cold cocktails. If a handful of kids had a nightmare to satisfy the desires of a few perverts so be it. Kids had nightmares all the time, they’d get over it.
He spent the following two weeks making the necessary arrangements. Setting up a Swiss bank account was far trickier than he anticipated. He had always been under the impression that it would be relatively easy but he soon found out that the Swiss aren’t as laissez-faire as the financial scandals involving the ultra-rich would suggest. A direct flight to Zurich and the rest of his meager savings sorted the problem out.
By the 24th, he was ready, Crelin had paid the full twenty million into his new account and it was a very different, and very happy, Joakim that returned to the strange old building in the center of the business district.
Crelin too was looking like a cat who had caught a particularly fat mouse. On the back of Joakim’s acceptance he had been busy drumming up business with many of his clients and he had a new deal for Joakim.
“Get me ten more and I’ll pay you an extra five million,” he said almost as soon as Joakim entered his office.
“Ok,” said Joakim, he had suspected Crelin would ask for more, “but you have to pay me now.”
“Fine, fine,” beamed Crelin, the clients had already paid up front and the thought of year on year orders made him giddy.
“Just one thing though,” said Joakim, “what happens if the dream thing runs out of charge? Does it run on batteries?”
“Yes it runs on standard D size batteries, we’ll give you spares but there should be enough power to collect them all.”
Joakim left with a large metal case, the list of children and the number of dream to use on each and a bag of spare batteries. He knew he would need more for what he had planned but it didn’t matter, he would have plenty of time to get others. It was a funny thing about the time manipulator that made his deliveries possible. It could slow the time around him to an absolute crawl but it could also do other things that his father had shown him before he died, things he was sure that the morons at the Agency never even dreamed were possible. It could bend space and connect different points together making it possible to physically move from one location to another in an instant and it could speed up time to the point that an object under its influence would crumble to dust from old age. It was a truly unique and wondrous device and the human race used it to deliver presents to selfish, stupid children. After it was all over Joakim planned to destroy the thing and make sure the pieces would never be found.
Finally it was time. His final set of deliveries. To each child of the world he would deliver only a single present, a nightmare before Christmas. It would be his revenge upon a world that cared little for Father Christmas other than what he would bring for them. All the mewling little shits who whined and complained about what they did or did not receive, never grateful, never sated, they would now have a nightmare to remember him by. He knew the dreams wouldn’t cause nightmares in them all but it would be enough, it would be remembered. But for some he left an extra present, next to the stupid carrot and cookie on the dining room table, a business card he had printed a few days earlier on thick white cardboard, on the front it simply said “Your Nightmare courtesy of the Grimm Corporation” and on the back the address of Crelin’s office was printed in small black letters. He might be a monster but he would not help feed the disgusting, vile hungers of the ultra-rich. He wouldn’t be party to that. By the time the world awoke on Christmas morning he would be long gone, twenty-five million Euros richer, a fitting reward for a life of dedication and servitude. He wanted revenge on the world and he would get it, he would be the last Santa.
From the Author,
Thank you for reading “The Last Santa”, I hope you enjoyed it, if you did please feel free to share it and tell others about it.