Pistis was right about one thing: I was a warm-weather kind of guy. Even though I had gone home to change, I could still feel the cold wind down to my bones. As I knocked on the door of a rather large home in the middle of the North Pole, I shivered and pulled the collar of my jacket tighter around my neck.
The door opened, and a woman, her white hair pulled back into a ponytail, was wiping her hands on a kitchen towel. “Yes, can I help you?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I replied, “I’m looking for someone named Noel Klaas.”
She looked me over. “You’re a little tall to be an elf, aren’t you?” she said with a twinkle in her eyes.
I bit back the retort that was on the tip of my tongue. “I’m not here to apply for a job, ma’am. I came to discuss some business with Mr. Klaas.”
She stepped aside. “Won’t you come in, Mr…?”
“Mr. Hermes,” she echoed as she closed the door behind me. “Give me just a minute, I’ll see if I can find him.”
While she was gone, I took the opportunity to look around. The hallway led to a rather large open room. There were couches, loveseats and chairs in various places around the room, all different sizes. There was a roaring fire to my left and I walked over to warm myself up.
“Not exactly dressed for this type of weather, are you?” said a deep male voice.
I turned around. A man, about sixty, stood next to the woman who had let me in. He was taller than I was, but more rotund. He was wearing a long sleeved white shirt, a red pair of pants that were held up by a pair of rainbow-colored suspenders, and black slippers. As he walked toward me, I noticed a brown pipe in his left hand. “Are you Mr. Klaas?”
“Yes, I am,” he said, holding out his hand to me. I shook it. “And you’re Mr. Hermes.”
“Everyone just calls me Hermes.”
“All right. This is my wife, Joy.”
“Joy, why don’t you bring us some cider and a few of those cookies I can smell from your kitchen?”
“I don’t think you need any more cookies, Noel,” she said. “You need to go on a diet.”
“Pshaw,” he snorted. “I’m just the right size.”
“Well, if you stay ‘just the right size’, I’m going to have to adjust your suit again,” she replied.
“Just bring me some of those cookies, woman,” he said, playfully swatting her on the butt. “Why don’t you have a seat, Hermes?”
I took a seat in a leather chair near the fire. “I want to discuss some business with you.”
“Certainly, certainly. What kind of business?”
“My secretary informed me that you are giving away toys.”
“Well, yes, that’s what I do.”
“It needs to stop.”
Noel looked shocked. “Goodness me, why?”
Joy interrupted us, carrying a tray laden with mugs of cider and a plate of cookies. I stood up, took the tray from her, and placed it on the coffee table in front of Noel. “Thank you, young man,” she said as she handed a mug to her husband, then to me, before taking one for herself. She sat down in the chair next to Noel and grabbed a cookie. “What are we talking about?”
“He wants me to stop giving away our toys.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, but I’m afraid not,” Joy said, taking a sip of her cider.
“I’m afraid I must insist. You’re hurting my bottom line. I’m losing drachma because of your…lackadaisical business practices.”
“Lackadaisical…?” Noel said. “I don’t understand why…”
“Because he’s the God of Commerce, dear,” Joy replied, patting her husband’s arm.
I looked at her, startled. “You know who I am?”
“Of course, my dear,” she chuckled. “I knew you were coming, though. Your lovely secretary, Pistis, called to give me a head’s up. Such a delightful woman.”
I made a mental note to fire Pistis when I got home. “If you know who I am, then you understand my position. I can’t allow you to give away…”
“You ‘can’t allow’ me?” Noel said, an angry look on his face.
A knock at the door interrupted our conversation. Joy got up and went to answer it. She returned, followed by a rather short man carrying a clipboard. “Boss, if you don’t kick it into gear, we’re going to be late,” he said. “The team is hitched up and ready to go, and the bags are in the back of the sleigh. We need to get you in the air in ten minutes.”
Noel put his mug on the coffee table and pushed himself out of his chair. “All right, all right, Clive, there’s no need to get your knickers in a twist.”
“Noel, why don’t you take our visitor with you?” Joy suggested. “Let him get a first hand look at our operations here.”
“That’s out of the question,” Clive said. “There’s only room for the boss and two elves in the sleigh. We cannot accommodate,” he looked me over, “a man of his stature, even if he is scrawny.”
I decided right then I was going to smite the smart mouth little snot on the spot, then call Zeus to strike the place with a few lightning bolts and destroy it all. “Hermes can be my assistant for the night, Clive. You can give Tony and Randy the night off.”
“No, sir,” Clive said, furiously shaking his head. “He’s an amateur, a nobody. We can’t make one mistake; you know that. We have a tight schedule to keep…”
“Clive,” Noel said gently, putting his hand on the shorter man’s shoulder, “it will be okay. I’m sure he’s a fast learner, and will do just fine. Don’t worry. I know what I’m doing.”
Frowning, Clive looked at his watch. “Seven minutes. Get a move on.” He glanced at my clothes. “I better find him something warmer to wear, or he’s going to freeze to death. Come on.”
Joy took the mug out of my hands and pulled me to my feet. “You better hurry along, Hermes. We don’t have much time.”
Five minutes later, I was standing next to an enormous sleigh that was hitched to eight reindeer, wearing the most ridiculous looking green outfit I had ever seen. And what was with the bells on the shoes? I looked like an idiot.
Before I could change my mind, Clive shoved me up the ladder and into the sleigh. “I strongly suggest you buckle up,” he said. “You’re fixing to go on a wild ride.”
“Ha,” I scoffed. “I’ve been on wild rides before. This will be easy.”
“Yeah, all the beginners say that. We’re still trying to find the last one. I think the boss lost him over Mt. Everest.”
My mouth fell open as Noel climbed in on the other side. “Are we ready to go?” he asked Clive.
“Yes, sir. Good flight!” he said as he climbed down and removed the ladder.
“Hang on, Hermes. Here we go!”
He snapped the reins, and the reindeer started running. I was amazed that they could pull the sleigh, and astonished when everything started lifting off the ground and into the air. Son of a…
The reindeer turned to the left and flew faster. “How are they doing that?” I asked him.
I didn’t buy that for a minute. I started looking around to see if there was a flying rug or something underneath the sleigh. Unfortunately, at that moment, the reindeer took a sharp right, and I fell out of the sleigh.
Oh, this was not good.
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