Chapter One - Introducing Santa
voice suggested hot cocoa, magic, and giving--strong
warmth overrun by tougher things. But the
voice also betrayed a mind bent to commerce
and decision, timeslicing and competition,
faster and cheaper.
believe these numbers for a minute.”
strong fingers fiddled with a silver pen,
turning it end over end. One palm slapped
the desk, sending papers skittering over
the polished mahogany.
the big voice rumbled, and the hand moved
from desk to face, teasing a curly white
beard that flowed under a bulbous red nose,
thrusting out like a ship’s prow beneath
bright blue eyes that should have twinkled
perched on the nose, and it was through
these that the blue eyes stabbed, as if
to change the numbers on the page.
the voice continued. “Do you mean to tell
me that the government--the government--of
Argentina is raising a protest over reindeer
dung? And they need ten million Santeans
to cover the removal? Why don’t they just
use the stuff, spread it on their,
what do they call them, pampadoodles?”
pampas, sir,” Bridle said. Bridle
looked like a small man or a large child
shoveled into a navy suit. He surveyed his
boss. What sort of rumble was this?
Disgusted? Taking it out on the Argentines?
Or angry, taking it out on his accountant,
questioning the numbers, fingers stabbing,
beard wagging? Probably the angry
side. It so often was these days.
it come to this? Good with numbers
seventeen hundred years ago, discovered
arranging toy sequences in the old shop,
brought before the Chief--even then, most
of them had begun to drop the more familiar
Santa--who looked him over kindly,
half-elf surveying elf, and decided then
and there that he should be an accountant.
An accountant. For seventeen
hundred years. Bridle sighed softly.
After a while, this job could get
wrong, Bridle?” Blue eyes skewered
him in a way they never used to.
Bridle said. “Just wondering why they
think you’ll pay that kind of money.” He
watched for a reaction-perhaps a tremble
of the beard, arranged against the dark
gray suit, the white curls all but hiding
the red and green striped tie.
true. How much is that in today’s
in US dollars, it’s about twenty million.
I could give it to you in Euros.”
Bah!” Santa said. “Another feeble
attempt to unify that little band of nations.
Nothing but trouble, I’d say. Tell
me something, Bridle.” He leaned forward,
large elbows straining the gray fabric.
“Is Argentina in Europe?”
not. Then I’ll take the dollar figure
as a start. Take this down to Silvertongue.
Get him to cut it in half. Find
a favorable exchange rate and use that as
the basis. Twenty million! I
want it down to eight and a half, tops.”
winced. Maybe he should see Miracle
for this one. Or Angelus for prayer,
just to be safe.
cower, it won’t be that difficult.” A
corner of Santa’s mouth snapped up and down.
“Now off you go, and get me an answer
by the end of the day.”
that--a bit soon?” Bridle said. “Because
of the negotiations, I mean.”
giving Silvertongue a deadline. Cuts
through a lot of his meandering. Gives
him a challenge. A stretch goal. Just
like I’m giving you. Now go on, I
need to get ready for the Board meeting.
See if Roxy’s been able to get Oiler,
I need the latest status.”
took the paper from Santa’s outstretched
hand and hopped off the chair, wincing when
pain shot through his bad knee. Doesn’t
he know that replacing our chairs with these
big half-elf ones makes us all feel puny?
Probably costs. Bridle headed
to the door. And probably one of
my own cost analyses that did it.
up as he neared the door, throwing his shoulder
into it. On the other side, Oiler
chatted with Roxy, as always stunning, her
medium-length black hair arranged above
dark eyes and around sculpted cheekbones
and ruby-red lips. Oiler was quite
taken by her-but then, everyone was. As
if Oiler had a chance, elf that he was.
Bridle scowled. Oiler was the
worst kind of elf, the kind that’s forgotten
the elf side and wants to be a half-elf,
human-sized, big and important. Even
if it was impossible. What was the
old saying? “Talking beyond your size.”
That was Oiler.
him. “Hey, Mr. Accountant,” he said.
“What kind of mood is he in?”
bad. Kind of disgusted with the Argentines,
wants answers now.”
How does that figure? What’s
crap? You’re joking!”
The Argentines think there’s too much of
it. They want him to pay for removing
out laughing. “Didn’t they figure
when they signed the ranch contract that
reindeer poop might be part of the deal?”
much, apparently. You’d better get
in there--he asked for you immediately.”
up and arranged his perfectly tailored blue
suit (“Imported!” he’d announced, and one
of the others--Halter, head of Doll Assembly
Operations--had shot back, “Hell, everything’s
imported up here!”). He sauntered
to the doors and pushed on them as though
their size meant nothing. His grunts
and groans gave him away. He slipped
through the eventual crack and disappeared.
Bridle shook his head.
up from her computer screen, fixing him
with her dark, dark eyes. “Aw, c’mon,
Bridle, it’s just Oiler. He’s entertaining.”
Roxy flipped the Autospeak. “Yes,
voice, harsh and metallic, cut through the
room. “Roxy, please get in here. I
need you to take notes.”
She flipped the switch again and sighed.
“That thing always makes him sound
madder than he is.”
angrier than he used to be. At least
I think so.”
not the only one,” she said, picking up
her laptop. She paused as she passed
him, bent over and kissed the top of his
head. “Don’t let it get to you, sweetie.”
a nothing gesture for her, but for a seventeen-hundred-year
accountant, it was something else. He
blushed despite himself, trying not to stare
at the beautiful half-elf as she opened
the door and stepped inside. Skirts
hadn’t been that short in the old days.
© 2004 David Soubly