“Now remember, if you’re good, I’ll bring you some presents on Christmas Eve but if you’re naughty,” he paused for an ominous chuckle, reached into a black sack on the floor in front of him and took something out, “It’s a lump of coal for you.” He held the coal in front of the little girl and watched her gasp before continuing, “But I know you’ll be good, so The elves have made you a present.”
“They have?” Asked the girl, a little starstruck. As a failed actor, this was the only opportunity he had to thrill an audience.
Steve reached into a red sack on the floor, handed her a Taiwanese plastic doll wrapped in paper and waited for her to leave the grotto. When she’d gone he looked over at Gordon, currently known as Elf #1, and made the universal gesture for ‘fancy a pint?’. He was aware they’d cut an odd couple, this middle-aged man in a Santa Costume and a smaller figure dressed as a cartoon elf with prosthetic pointy ears, but it was his last day in the grotto before the department store closed for Christmas.
“Can’t Steve,” said Gordon, “We’ve got another punter.”
“Jesus, it’s 4:30 on Christmas Eve. You’d think they’d have better things to do.”
Gordon let his voice drop. “It’s one of them lot.”
‘One of them lot’ was shorthand for the various adults who used to turn up and pay their £6:95 to sit on Santa’s lap. Mostly, they did it out of some pathetic desire to relive their childhood, though a few of them seem to enjoy it more than necessary. Steve had complained to the store manager before now, but he’d been told not to make a fuss; they might have been unsavoury characters but they usually spent a lot in the cafeteria afterwards.
Steve adjusted his robes, allowed himself a quick scratch behind his beard and sat down on the stool and waited for the punter to come in.
Mostly, the adult Santa groupies were middle aged-men of questionnable grooming habits so he was a little surprised to see an attractive young woman in a fur hat standing opposite him. “Good afternoon, young lady, he said, “And what’s your name?”
“Glenys,” replied the punter in an attractive, vaguely nordic accent.
“And have you been naughty or nice, Glenys?” asked Steve, his attempt to sound flirtatious stymied somewhat by the beard.
Glenys gave him a stern shake of the head. “It’s not me we’re here to talk about, Steven.”
“Steven?” he asked, overdoing the festive basso profundo a tad, “My name’s Saint Nick.”
“Drop the act,” said the woman, taking of her hat to reveal a set of preternaturally point ears, “I’m Inspector Glenys Schumacher, Lapland Fraud Squad.”
“You what?” asked Steve.
“You are aware it’s a criminal offence to impersonate a licenced gift dispenser?” she said, taking a set of handcuffs from the pocket of her coat and fixing him to the doorframe of the grotto.
“And what’s the punishment?” he asked, still hoping against hope that this was some kinky game.
“Oh, I think you know the answer to that,” said Glenys, reaching into the black sack to take out a lump of coal and forcing it into his mouth. Ignoring Steve’s muffled protests, she took out another lump, put it where she’d placed the first one. “Still, think of it this way,” she said, “By the time I’ve finished, you won’t go anywhere near the naughty list again.”