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– Chapter One
Introducing Santa

– Chapter Two
"Take Me Through the Numbers"

– Chapter Three
The Scheming Begins

– Chapter Four
Santa and His Shrink

– Chapter Five
The Doll Factory






New Orleans






- The Divine Right    of Capital

- Pigs at the   Trough


- What It Is

- Why a Santa    Novel?

- Who Benefits

- Secrecy in Santa

Author Bio






Chapter Three - The Scheming Begins

     Oiler paused in Silvertongue’s doorway, facing the back of a talking chair.  He was expected, Kelli (“with-a-K-and-an-I”) had waved him in.  

     “Mr. Cooper,” the chair was saying, “you need to take this back to the person whom you represent, Mr.--Hernandez? …Oh, Fernandez, of course, how inconsiderate of me.  Take back to Mr. Fernandez the simple statement that NPI feels the Argentine government is covering its naiveté in this matter with a cloud of bluster.  NPI is perfectly willing to work out an equitable solution that will benefit both parties.  You understand, Mr. Cooper, it’s in our mutual interest to keep our business relationship cordial.  I know I can trust you as a man of tact and integrity.”  A pause, a glissando laugh.  “Now you’re flattering me, sir!  But we know the issue is serious, and it taxes our professional relationship.”  A brief sigh.  “So I’m afraid that six million, which you or I might consider reasonable, is simply not workable.  Your government needs to understand there are benefits to the situation, which an imaginative mind such as yours would have very little difficulty presenting … Well, for instance, there’s recycling, there’s fertilizer.  NPI is already exploring the possibility of partnering with intelligent and reliable agencies that recognize the profit potential.  You understand.”

     The chair swung round, revealing the rich voice’s owner, an elf small even by elfin standards, jet-black hair parted precisely down the middle, small squared rimless glasses fastened above smooth-shaven cheeks, silver pen and pencil winking from a white monogrammed shirt pocket.  One tiny hand pressed the green flip phone against an ear, while the other motioned Oiler to a seat.  The dark eyes rolled and the mouth grinned.  Oiler grinned back.

     “Yes, I can understand that four million might seem a little low to Mr. Her, sorry, Fernandez, because of everything he claims you’ve been through.  …Mr. Cooper, please remind him that adopting an excessively recalcitrant position now would cause NPI to shut down the Argentine operations.  …Yes, shut them down.  Which might also exclude you from the preferred delivery routes.”

     Silvertongue smirked to Oiler’s startled expression. “E-business?”  He chuckled.  “I suppose.  But I don’t think the Argentine children are ready to forego receiving their gifts the conventional way, do you?  …I’m glad we agree.  Now, be sure also to indicate to Mr. Fernandez that the four million also has some stretch.  Yes.  A little extra that might directly benefit you both.  …I know.  …I always try.  I’ll wait for your answer.  My best to Mrs. Cooper, and the children.  Good kids, and so smart, too!  I haven’t seen them in ages!  Call me back today, thanks!  Goodbye.”

     Scowling, Silvertongue lowered the phone. “Jackass.  Hang on a minute, Oiler.”  He pressed a speed dial.  “Roxy?  Hi love, it’s Silvertongue.  Take this into the Chief.  Tell him the Argentines have accepted four point two five, or eight and a half in dollars, which I believe was his target.  Got that?  Four point two five.  Oh, and I’ll be faxing their government negotiator the paperwork for signature this evening.  Thanks, sweetie, bye.”

     He switched off the phone and dropped it in his shirt pocket.  “I hate green, sometimes,” he murmured.  “Red, too.”

     “You don’t have their agreement!”

     “They’ll agree. There’s money in it for Fernandez, and his lackey Cooper, who’s the only one I ever see.  Plus his family. Nice- looking wife, but those snot-nosed kids!”

Christmas story, Santa CEO involves elves, reindeer, presents, Christmas and business, business ethics and strategy
     “Maybe you’ve been dealing with too many Coopers lately.  There are good kids in the world.”

     “Oh, I know what keeps our sales going.  Seen a good kid lately?”

     “Nope.”  They both laughed.  “Don’t you have to run this past legal?”

     “So?  That’s just Groomer.  He’ll be late, by the way.  An acquisition review thing.”


     “I would imagine.”

     “I heard the Chief made a big stink about it at the meeting today.”

     “Word gets around fast.”

     Oiler scratched an arm.  Silvertongue had that way of pulling small talk out of you.  “How could you threaten to shut down the Argentine ops that way? You don’t have the authority!”

     “What?  Oh, you’re still on the Argentines.  They don’t know I can’t.  It’s the suggestion of ruthlessness that can be so effective, more so even than the demonstration.  They have more to lose than we do.”

     “I guess that’s true.”

     “You don’t sound convinced.”

     “No, I believe you.  What was that comment about e-business?”

     “Oh, that.”  A dry laugh.  “His attempt at threatening me.  Said they’d go the e-business route, tap into the dotcoms, get their toys that way.  Fine with me, actually.  Fits into the overall plan.  Of course, I couldn’t say that, same way I can’t say it to the Chief.  I just suggested to Cooper they were unprepared to make good on it.  They don’t have the infrastructure.”  

     “You didn’t say it that way.”

     “Didn’t have to.  He knows.  That’s the thing about negotiations.  Each sentence has two or three layers to it.  You didn’t catch the lead-in, so you heard only the first layer in our little discussion.  Like skimming the surface. Our friend, though, heard them all.  Or should have, if he’s any good at it.   How’d the cost-cutting meeting go?”

     “Not bad.  Most everyone showed up.  Shepherd’s out on assignment, but everyone else-Halter had some emergency and couldn’t make it.”

     “Ah, old head-in-the-clouds.  I heard about his outburst at the e-commerce meeting.  Talk about making a fool of yourself.  Right in the middle of Sprinter’s ebusiness presentation on the future of this company, he stands up and lets loose.  The ‘spirit of Christmas’.  If he didn’t have such a good production head on his shoulders.  I mean, granted, there’s the miracles. I’ll be the first one to admit that.  But it’s a business now.   A global one, an ‘e’ one, with mergers and acquisitions to contend with, outsourcing, the whole bit!  He’s like the Chief that way.  He wants a miracle, let him figure out how Santa or any of the half-elves can ever have children!”

     “Or how Santa can stay where he is,” Oiler said quietly.

     Silvertongue looked at him coldly.  “You know, the better part of negotiation is to know what to say out loud when.  Ah, here’s our friend Groomer!  Come on in, and shut the door behind you.”

     Groomer stumped into the office and settled into the nearest chair, still worrying a last bit of hot dog.  Oiler would have been surprised otherwise.  Groomer loved hot dogs.  He took hot dog breaks as frequently as lesser folks had coffee breaks.  For a while, his clothes had tried to keep up with his advancing girth, but they gave it up at last.  His once-tailored shirts and neckties were now frayed collections of tired fabrics held together by old stains and grease and the occasional new splash.

Christmas story, Santa CEO involves elves, reindeer, presents, Christmas and business, business ethics and strategy

     Whatever Groomer decided to do, he did extremely well.  In addition to being a formidable slob, he was also a highly-regarded counsel.  He’d presided over the IPO, various product suits, contracts, insurance negotiations, attempted takeovers, labor disputes, international treaties, tariffs, and on and on. In an era which had seen more and more specializing, he remained the ultimate generalist.  Drawing on centuries of experience, he could win cases spanning decades, nations and disciplines.  

     He took a deep breath, wiped his thick lips with a puffy hand, and belched.  Odor of pork and ketchup billowed into the room.  

     Oiler winced, but Silvertongue didn’t even twitch.  “Glad you could make it.  How long do we have until your next hot dog?”

     “That’s not very nice.”

     “Just want to keep you happy.”  Still smiling, Silvertongue snapped the Autospeak.  “Kelli, sweetie, no interruptions, no calls, nobody standing around waiting to get in.  Have the Commissary send up a few hot dogs and a relish tray.”

     “Will do,” a pert voice answered.

     Silvertongue flipped the button.  

     “Can she be trusted?” Oiler asked.

     “Kelli?  No problem.  She’s smart enough to know something’s up, but she can’t connect the dots.  And she’s smart enough to know when to leave things be.  I treat her pretty well.”

     “Nobody can be trusted completely,” Groomer twanged in a voice that always surprised Oiler, coming from that jiggling frame.  “Let’s see what you have.”

     Silvertongue unlocked a drawer and pulled out a manila folder.  He distributed a couple of handwritten pages.

     “Nice printing job.”  Groomer squinted.

     “What do you expect?  We don’t want this stuff getting out.”

     “Who’s on board so far?” Oiler asked.

     “Sprinter, for one.  From an e-business standpoint, nothing else.  He thinks he’ll save the world with his new business model.”

     “Well, he’s young.”  Groomer took one of Silvertongue’s business cards from its onyx holder and used it to pick his teeth.  “What about the operations?”

     “Don’t need them yet,” Oiler said.  “They’ll line up under the new business model, anyway, and it may be a while before they realize what’s hit them.  The real impact will be in land holdings and herd management.”

     “So I gather.  Silvertongue, these herd numbers here, how do they connect with Page Four?”

     “They’re higher here.  We keep the RFS units out of Page Four.  Keeps us from explaining them.  There’s an extra forty thousand here.  Perfectly good deer, just won’t fly.”

     “Not that they’ll need to.” Groomer caressed his huge belly and surveyed the room.  “Any extra ears in here?”

     “What do you think?”

     Groomer matched Silvertongue’s hard stare.  “Let’s take the plan from the top.  Three big pieces.  First, merger and then restructuring the Board.  Next, herd restructure and selloff. Then land development and reallocation.”

     “There’s four.  You forgot about the santas,” Oiler said.

     “Hell with the santas,” Groomer retorted.  “Thirty, forty thousand do-gooders running around bumping into each other.  The new recruits never even bother to ditch the red suits, they’re so proud.  And their support conventions, the SSC’s!  You know what it’s like trying to keep all those guys under wraps, finding motivational speakers who won’t blow the lid off the whole operation on some talk show?  And that was before we went co-ed.  I don’t even want to go into some of those problems, the after hours stuff and the guys who get into a little too much of the Christmas cheer.  No, I’ll be glad to see the whole program go right into the ditch.  We ought to be able to shovel half of them out the door, I don’t know, give ‘em an exit option, Dale Carnegie, the Salvation Army.”

     “But we need to plan for them,” Oiler said.  “So it’s a fourth point.  We’ll need ER.  Is Gardner in?”

     “Partway,” Silvertongue said.  “I’ve told her there’ll be changes.  She knows there’s merger talk.  But the other stuff, no way.  She’d have problems with plenty of it.  We need to get her to commit publicly before she figures out the rest of it.”

     “And now for the rest of it,” Groomer said.  “No more interruptions.  Start with the merger.  I’ve got the essentials of the agreement worked up.  The EI guys are hot on this, because they can see its potential, how it’ll drive up shareholder value.  We’ve got the usual nits and nats to worry about.  We both have underling weasels building their careers on this one.  We trample theirs, they trample ours.  The whole damn thing is boring.  Tinter, their chief counsel, and I have played this game so long we could probably wrap the whole thing up in a couple of hours.”

     “No doubt,” Silvertongue said.  “What about the rabbit?”

     “Oh, him!”  Groomer belched again, more pork and ketchup for atmosphere.  “He’s as bad as the Chief.  At odds with the Board, paper-tiger Chairman, trying to put in policies from a couple of thousand years ago.  Same old stuff.  He’ll get booted when the merger and the restructure happens, same as ours.  Then we’ll combine the Boards, soothe some of the bruised feelings, appoint new Board Chairs, golden parachutes.”

     “What if he goes public?  Screams and yells?”



     “He won’t.”  This from Silvertongue. “C’mon, Oiler.  By the time he recovers from the shock, the firm will have moved on.  If he goes to the press, what does that do?  They’ll treat him like every other goofball that pops up at Christmas.  You know that’s when he’ll do it. They’ll give him a couple of stories, somewhere between the Grinch and the Rose Bowl, and it’ll be over.  If he’s smart, he’ll realize that beforehand and won’t even bother.  It’s not like we’re going to cut him off.  I mean, this may sound goofy, or even soft, but if I could figure out a way to keep him on, I would.  I would.  But he’s the Chief.  And he’s either the Chief, or he isn’t anything.  That’s how I see it, and that’s how he’ll see it.  So we’ll cut him the best deal you can imagine.  I don’t know, call it the ultimate golden parachute.  All expenses paid, forever.  House any size, anywhere he wants.  Two, three, whatever.  I’d give him a new appearance, a new identity, except he can do it himself.”  He paused, thinking.  “I’d give him his old team, too.  If it didn’t break his heart.”  

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     “Nice sentiment,” Groomer drawled.  “The Board doesn’t run on sentiment.  I like the old guy, too, but liking somebody and working off of sentiment doesn’t make it in today’s world. Never has.  If he could see his way to doing things the right way, there might be a chance. Might be.  But that’s not going to happen, so why bother?  He’s out, the rabbit’s out, we combine the Boards, merge our operations, our assembly lines, our purchasing, supply chain management, and it’s a win.  Shareholders are happy, we get a good bit of compensation, and it’s on to the next stage.  

     “For the next stage, I’m already exploring that with some of the larger outfits.  We can get some of the initial RFS deer pushed into food with very little difficulty.  Some of our potential partners tell me they already know what to say to the labeling folks, especially the American FDA.  They figure they can start quietly.  If we keep a tight eye on PR, there shouldn’t be any problem.  Plus, it’ll help the Sami.”

     “The who?”

     “Lapplanders, Oiler. I’m trying to be politically correct.” Groomer chuckled mirthlessly.
“We’ll take the ones we cull from the traditional herds and drive them into north Sweden. That helps the local economy.  We thin the others from all over, gradually.  When we go non-RFS, we’ll speed up.  Then we’ll close down whole sites.  Silvertongue will have his work cut out for him if we close Argentina.”

     Oiler picked at his arm.  “I thought we were going to try other things before we went into food,” he said.  “Like theme parks.”

     “We did.”  Silvertongue sighed.  “It’s too expensive.  And it only works as a solution for RFS.  Since our long-term goal is a fifty percent reduction in herds, you’ve got another hundred and fifty thousand or so to get rid of.  That’s a lot of theme parks.  Plus you’re guaranteed that one of them would take it into his head to fly, and there you’d be--tabloids, press, the whole bit.  Especially if the poor kid fell off midway through the flight.  The Sami would take them on, but they can’t pay for them.  We’d end up losing out big time.  This is the only way it works.”

     “I see that now.  And eventually, we’ll have cut the acreage in half too.”  Oiler scanned the page.  “You know, to do this right, to get the land redeveloped, we need to do it through a subsidiary.  Where people can’t see the connection between land development and NPI.”

     “Way ahead of you,” Groomer drawled.  “I’ve got the incorporation papers going for GSO Investments.  That’s our names in the title, so it’s a nothing label.  The Street will see the connection, unless we separate. But they don’t give a hoot as long as returns are there.”

      A knock.  “Food service.”

     “Just a minute.”  Silvertongue nodded to Oiler.

     A nondescript, narrow-featured elf entered, pushing a cart laden with hot dogs and condiments.  She squeezed between Oiler and Groomer, who irritably moved out of her way. When she picked up the food service order and turned to leave, her foot caught on Oiler’s chair.  She fell, knocking the paper from Oiler’s hand.  She struggled to her feet, grabbed the food order and Oiler’s paper, and handed the food order to him.  

     “Not that one!” he snapped.  “This is yours, can’t you read?  The other one!”

     “I’m sorry,” she mumbled, exchanging papers.  She hurried out.

     “Illiterate,” Oiler grumbled.

     Groomer was already three bites into the first dog, relish spattering his embattled shirt front.  “So,” he said between bites, “who can stop the deal?”

     “Traditionalists,” Oiler said.  “Maybe we should avoid using their lines.  At least for starters.  Somebody like Halter would be a real pain.”

     “Not if we set them up for failure,” Silvertongue said.  “Especially if we need their facilities.  We could adjust the targets for impossible quality or quantity, cost reductions. Some combination that sounds plausible enough but really means they kill themselves and still don’t make it.”

     “Then there’s the Board.”  Groomer belched.  “Here’s how I see them lining up.”  He swallowed with an effort. “Torvalds is easy.  She’s solidly behind the EI thing, has had the strategy gang, Hatcher and his guys, working up the what-ifs and the simulations.  I hear Beamer’s new software package is really something.  Shows product fluctuation impacts up and down the value chain, from suppliers to operations to distributors.”

     “Ah yes, Beamer.  We’ll need our friends from IT,” Silvertongue said.  “What about the others?”

     “Donaldson will be tough.”  Groomer reached for the second dog.  “He’s a good-hearted traditionalist, and he’s great with the numbers.  But he wants to keep a single focus on the product line.  Parcell runs a direct ship company, so he’s salivating over the whole thing.  And then there’s Baylor, the new one.  He’s Torvalds’ pick.  Since she heads up the Nominating Committee, it was easy for her to bring him in.”

     “I thought the shareholders had to approve it.”

     “That’s the form, Oiler, not the function.  Oh, he’s in.  Way in.  He came from one of the big automotives, and he’s got it all--operations experience, global reach, brand management, growth mentality, supply chain expertise, design knowledge.  He’ll do an excellent job.”

     “What job?”

     “Don’t be dense, Oiler.  The Chief’s being replaced.”

     “But you can’t just take someone from the Board, and--”

     “Most companies,” Silvertongue said.  “Not NPI.”

     “Bethitdth, idth temprary,” Groomer hotdogged.

     Silvertongue frowned.  “What do you mean?”

     Groomer swallowed, a flabby mountain with popping eyes.  “We’re not stopping there.” He returned the half-eaten dog to the tray and leaned forward, an impressive feat.  “This company won’t be run only by humans,” he growled.  “I don’t care how smart they think they are.  It’s unthinkable that elves aren’t on that Board.  Several elves.  And one that calls the shots.”

     In the long silence, Oiler watched Groomer’s eyes follow a fruitfly’s lazy track and waited for this toad of an elf to whisk out a long tongue and snap the bug in mid flight.

     “I agree in principle,” Silvertongue murmured at last.  “But how?”

     “UEU.  It won’t be easy, but I’ve got some of it in motion already.  There’ll be an accident, of the industrial variety.  Don’t worry Oiler--” Groomer waved a stubby hand “--nobody will get hurt.  Not if it goes according to plan.  That’ll get the union going.  They’ll strike right at peak production.  Then they get a spot on the Board.  And that’s how we start.  Humans. How many years do they have before they retire or die?  Ten, twenty?  We have hundreds. Hundreds.  It’ll change.”

     “I thought you hated the union.”

     “I do, Oiler.  What better way to control them than by giving them the illusion of power? Do you really think we’d let one of their reactionaries onto the Board?  Don’t worry, it’ll be somebody who thinks our way.”

     “Where will this accident happen?  And when?” Silvertongue asked.  “I might need to dust off a statement.”

     “Soon.  I can’t say exactly when.  But first things first.  The Board restructuring and the Chief business have to happen ahead of it.  As for where, we have a couple of options.  
We’ve got a deteriorating situation in one of the furnaces, the metal toy casting area.  And we have the new solvent we’ve put into Halter’s area, the flammable one.”


     “Don’t ask, Silvertongue.  I’ll take care of you both.  This--” he rubbed his huge belly “--keeps them off guard.  The less said, the better.  When the time is right, they’ll find out who they’re dealing with.  Then we’re in the clear.  One of us becomes the Chief.  I should say one of you.  CEO.  The other, COO.  I stay Counsel.  Nicely done.”

     Oiler’s eyes widened.  “COO?  What’s happening to Racer?”

     Groomer gave him an odd look.  “With his health problems?  He’ll retire.  Willingly.  He’s a paper COO, anyway.  You think he’s calling the shots?”

     A slight smile twisted one side of Silvertongue’s mouth.  “Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operating Officer.  You’re aiming us high,” he said quietly.  “Why not you?”

     Groomer smiled under hard eyes.  “I like where I am.”  He dusted some crumbs from his shirt.  “Is this over?”  He struggled mightily to his feet.  “Where’s your shredder?”

     “I’ll take them,” Silvertongue retrieved the copies.  His hand disappeared under the desk, which made a few digesting sounds.  “Sounds a little like you, Groomer.”

     “Words unbecoming a future officer,” Groomer drawled, smiling.  “We’ll meet again in a couple of weeks, after step one.”

     They headed out, Silvertongue opening the door.  “Do I know you?” he asked the pretty young elf sitting at Kelli’s desk.

     She jumped up.  “I’m Peanut,” she said.  “From down the hall.  Kelli had to use the ladies’ room, and she told me you didn’t want to be disturbed.  So I stood guard.”  She smiled brightly.

     Groomer looked her up and down.  “A good job.  Thank you, Peanut.”

     Oiler scowled.  Must Groomer devour everything?  He left Groomer there, for Silvertongue to handle.  His head was abuzz.  The plans had leapt ahead, far beyond where his initial thoughts had taken him.  The restructure and merger, yes.  The transformation of the business from direct-ship reindeer-and-human-intensive to e-business, yes.  The herd selloffs, yes.  The food agreements, no.  Industrial accident, no.  Succession planning, no. He shook his head.  And he was a part of it, too.  Groomer.  Was he always one step ahead of everyone else?

     Deep in thought, he rounded a corner, passing Kelli and the elf from food service.  This was exciting, dangerous, interesting, disturbing.  He had to get to his office, to calm the swirl.


© 2004 David Soubly

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