Oiler, let’s get started. Show
me Page Four.” Santa peered over his
glasses at his Logistics and Operations
Santa a slim green-and-red binder, already
opened to the Page Four Report. Page
Four got its name when someone wise realized
it always showed up on page four of the
NPI Operations Summary Report. It
was actually a facer page of figures (4f),
combined with a summary page (4). You
could run the whole company from Page Four,
making North Pole Industries not much different
from other multinationals. Oiler’s
discovery of this, and his discovery that
immense amounts of often conflicting detail
existed merely to keep the CEO wannabes
busy, had fueled his rapid rise in the organization.
He stuck strictly to Page Four, not
even bothering to read all that other stuff.
If the Chief asked him a question
for which he didn’t have a ready answer,
he simply made one up that sounded reasonable.
If it turned out to be wrong, he blamed
it on flaws in the detail he hadn’t read.
In this way, he could set whole departments
against each other, initiating turf wars
and internecine battles destined to last
the same request he’d made every month for
about the last hundred and fifty years.
“Take me through the numbers.”
cleared his throat smoothly. “First,
reindeer. Total herds up to three
hundred sixty thousand fliers, twenty thousand
new calves, ninety thousand trainees, ninety
thousand pastured-so we’re at five hundred
sixty thousand total. Now, new ranches--”
we do something with all that dung?”
dung. The crap everywhere. Didn’t
Bridle mention the Argentines to you?”
Oiler said; “ …should he have?”
want my people to share information,” Santa
said. “You understand, Oiler.
Why can’t the others?”
go there, Chief.”
like the idea?”
don’t like the name. Maybe reindeer,
you just call it ‘Reindeer Magic’?” Roxy
said. “Forget about fancy names, people
hate that stuff, anyway. Besides,
it’s what it does that’s more important.
People will remember the name if the
stuff works for them.”
that, Roxy. Sounds like something
we can work with.”
withering look dashed on the crossing of
her long legs like surf hitting a rock beach.
“Well, the marketing people will be
able to come up with a name, I’m sure.”
He waved his pen. “I’ve got it noted.
We can revisit it after the Board
“I’ve got it noted, too.”
you would. Thanks,” Santa said.
For a moment
Oiler felt his smallness, pinned between
these two half-elves. “OK, back to
these numbers, or we’ll never get through
it. New ranches: New Zealand,
Tierra del Fuego, another one in Greenland,
a third on Baffin Island. Total new
acreage, let’s see, six hundred forty thousand.
Startup costs, thirty-five point two
million Santeans. They’re all on their
feet now. Patagonians were a little
shaky until they stopped eating the trainees.
New Zealanders are the best. They
just think of reindeer as big sheep with
weird horns. It works out well.”
thought these ranches weren’t going to work,”
Santa rumbled. “Stupid Board. Though
we did have a few problems early on when
we were doing the transports, UFO reports,
that kind of thing. Press made a lot
of money off of that.”
remember. Now, santas. Current
permanent payroll is forty-two thousand,
which is about right. We’ll expect
some of the fliers to come up lame at the
last minute. Rather than bringing
in trainees, it’s cheaper to stretch the
stretched them last year, Oiler, and I heard
about it through the Talk It Up program.
That and the United Elves Union screaming
about casual overtime. Contract talks
will be a pain if we keep this up.”
the Board wants. They figure they
can bring the union around if they keep
telling them the Company’s on the ropes.”
Those guys on the line can read, they
see the numbers same as you and me! I tell
you, Oiler, they’re starting to see through
the nonsense about competition and speed
and all that. Who are we competing
with? And when did speed matter to
a kid on Christmas morning? Except
when opening presents.” He leaned
forward. “And it’s getting into the
ISO area, too. Our rework numbers
are starting to push up, not to mention
the misdeliveries. Lingerie to a six-year-old.
Tabloids had a field day with that
an eyebrow. “Talk to the Board. They’re
the ones pushing for it. Helps shareholder
value, which helps the permanent santas,
and the UEU, when they think about it. Anyway,
we’re still pushing the hiring program because
of attrition and expected growth.”
they’re careful on the Italian hiring. I
don’t want another Befana incident.”
knew he was a transvestite.”
but it’s no excuse. Now what about
scotched your idea about using the homeless.”
good idea, too.”
but they thought it was going to tarnish
the image. Unless you can break the
link, keep people from finding out they
the image! Oiler, you ever really
look at some of those department
store santas? Homeless ones would
bring the image up in a lot of cases!”
“Well, some cases,
Roxy. I know they’re mostly good people,
but when you hire--how many of ‘em we got,
point two million, for three weeks, you
get some bad apples. Besides, we’d
be helping those people. Sometimes
all they need is something to tide them
and nodded his head. “OK, so we’ll
keep the temp hire at one point two, tighten
up the Italian checking thing, and--”
that’s it.” Santa checked his wristwatch.
“I’ll just have to pick up the assembly
operations and sales numbers on the fly.
I assume there’s no major issues.”
issues. I don’t understand. We
still have a few minutes.”
just remembered something I need to do before
the meeting. Sorry.” He stood
up, towering over Oiler. “We can go
over them later.” He turned his back
and faced the curtained wall behind him.
Oiler snapped the binder shut and
stay here. I need you to--I need to
get some thoughts down.”
at it now.” He snatched the letter,
tore through the Confidential sticker and
read greedily before slapping it down. “Bah,
urgent! They’re just telling me they’ve
brought the new guy onto the Board, the
one we approved last month. He’ll
be in charge of the Finance Subcommittee.
An automotive guy.”
him. “You wanted me to stay?”
again. “Roxy, I’m in trouble with
the Board,” he said. “No one knows
this but you. Unless they’ve bugged
the damn place. I can’t put my finger
on it. No one’s come out and said
anything. But you get a feeling.”
and sat back down. “But you’re the
CEO, the Chairman. How can you tell?
If no one’s said anything.”
tell. Chairman’s just a title. It’s
how these guys play. The higher the
stakes, the less is said. But you
get signals. Your ideas are resisted.
Or brushed aside. Those that
stay on the table have their results downplayed.
the homeless thing. Perfect example.
It would be so easy. Bring the
homeless through the temp hire program,
give them jobs for about a month around
the holidays. Sure, you’ve got to let them
go at the end, but it gives them a chance
to get back on their feet. If they
do a good enough job, they might even get
a reference. But the Board started
picking it apart from day one. First
it was Oswald, talking about image. Then
it was Spencer, talking liability. Then
Parcell on logistics. Only Donaldson
thought the idea might work. They
talked it to death and then some. There
weren’t even any pieces to pick up.”
running his hands along the curtains behind
his desk. Abruptly, angrily, he shot
them apart. Dim light filtered into
the large office, the dusky almost-twilight
of an overcast day late in the north country
summer. Outside, mist-shrouded factories
and office buildings stretched to the horizon.
The thick glass prevented even the tiniest
sound from reaching his ears.
the silent movie play before him, small
shapes on the move, delivery trucks lined
up, goods in, goods out, endless motion
both immediate and ancient. He looked
at the factories and saw logistics, time
motion studies, repetition injuries, scrubbers
on the chimney stacks, production rate incentives,
quality controls, UEU stewards, depreciation
allowances, asset turnover rates, and on
and on. Raising his eyes to the horizon,
he could not see but could imagine the row
upon row of sleek red-and-green-tailed cargo
jets, standing ready to transport the NPI
Export business to the big players: K-Mart,
Kaybee, Target, FAO Schwartz, Steiff, and
to the brand new upstarts, the dot-coms,
to distribution outlets; his mind ruminating
over export revenues, internal operations,
international tariffs, hazardous material
regulations, packaging calculations, just-in-time
deliveries. He winced. He’d
invented just-in-time delivery, the
wild rides through the heavens, the magical
distributions. But the job had grown, exploding
with the population. Now thousands
of delegates did the work, learned the secrets
of entrance to impermeable places like penthouse
apartments, and he--What did he do?
Santa. It’s getting close to the meeting.”
to like looking out this window.” He
snapped the curtains shut, turned and walked
back to his desk. “I’ve changed, we’ve
had to change a lot with the times,” he
went on, sitting down. “Incorporating.
Globalizing. Diversifying. Equalizing.
Anyone who says a CEO has the freedom
to direct things the way he wants has a
head full of sand. That gang in there,
that Board, and those shareholders egging
them on--they’ve got as much to say about
what goes on here as I do. Or you.
I trust you. I listen to you. Your
the elves, too. Oiler.” He waved
a hand. “Does he think I’ve forgotten
how to spot when someone’s lying? What
does he think? ‘He knows when you’ve
been bad or good.’ What is that, just
words? …I couldn’t hear you.”
completed it. ‘So be good, for goodness’
Change. Too much, too fast.
Too scattered, too frantic. You
look at the people out there, lurching from
entertainment to entertainment. Talking
Elmos to Furbys to who knows what it’ll
be this year. Do you have any idea
what that does to the production schedule?
The screwups? We had four hundred
thousand extra Furby eyeballs on hand last
year, and then the demand dried up. Four
hundred thousand! Can’t use them on
anything else, because of a design infringement.
A design infringement! Whoever
would think of protecting a doggoned plastic
at his watch. “Five more minutes.
I need five minutes alone, Roxy.”
She stood, laptop in hand, and strode
to the door.
her leave. The way of the world, right?
Wife leaves you, secretary takes her
place. He shook his head. Not
this CEO. He studied glass cabinets
that housed Hummels, Waterford, rare crystals
from Africa, a carved jade elephant from
India--all presented by emissaries sworn
to secrecy, governments asking favors. He
glanced at bookcases jammed with business
treatises, notebooks summarizing NPI’s operations,
production statistics, marketing journals,
a whole shelf crammed with offal from this
consultant and that, addressed to “Mr. Samuel
Claussen, CEO, North Pole Industries”, each
claiming to have the secret he needed to
re-vitalize or re-energize or re-make his
business, as though it were a bad hairdo
in need of a medicated shampoo and a cosmetic
perm. (The Board had thought up the
Claussen name, too, despite his claim that
it made him feel like a fat pickle, telling
him that a “street name” (their word) would
allow him to tap into, no, “leverage” (their
word again) the abilities of highly-paid
brainy people who’d tell him how to do what
he’d been doing for thousands of years.)
thick carpet, huge exotic plants that would
freeze instantly in an NPI winter, framed
artwork on the walls. Finally, his
gaze rested on the smaller-framed, ultimate
work of art on his desk, a portrait, a friendly
older woman beaming like anyone’s grandmother,
a smile speaking of comfort, warmth, familiarity,
and constancy. By all rights he should
take her picture and set it aside, or turn
it to face the other way. She’d left
him, after all.
couldn’t. He no longer needed to pull
the letter from his desk’s middle drawer
to reread again. “When you are able
to find your way back,” it said, “then I
may be able to find my way back to you.
But not until.” A lot more stuff
besides. She’d been upset for so long.
The business did it. There was no
stopping it. And no stopping her.
his half-elf shrink, had told him a few
sessions back that spouses leave for all
kinds of reasons--even a spouse as magical
as she was. He tried picturing her
changing herself to a younger half-elf and
hanging out someplace warm, Morocco, maybe,
or Rio de Janeiro, but it didn’t do much
good. Eventually, he’d come to accept
what Idiot had told him, that this was a
fling with freedom. It made sense.
After six thousand years, a person
can get a little tired of the cookies and
cocoa thing. That’s one hell of a
lot of hot cocoa. She’d come back.
Until then, there was business.
beeped. Late again. Well, tough.
He was the CEO. They all needed
to remember that occasionally. He
stretched, yawned, and riffled the Operations
Summary pages before thumping his feet on
the floor and getting up. He made
a mental note to deal with Oiler later,
then promptly forgot it when his hand hit
the office door.