Pink Santa is a Christmas novelette of twelve chapters, posted serially by me, your intact host, Cheeseburger Brown.
Last night I drove home in a blizzard. It was like driving through space, and was harrowing enough that I was making my CD selections based on what I thought would be best left playing eerily out of my mashed, overturned car as I slowly froze to death or bled out in a ditch. I eventually decided on Doris Day, Que Sera, Sera.
I had bought flowers for my wife, so at least the coroner would think I was romantic.
I really, really, really need to buy some winter tires.
Meanwhile, let's continue with our tale:
High above the Eaton Centre shopping mall was a tall white tower with shiny blue-green windows. Chloe looked out of the blue-green windows at the grey and snowy city. It was so far below her that the cars looked like toys, and the people looked like bugs.
Chloe was in Mr. Baron's office at Baron Toys.
A friendly, plump lady with brown skin and white, curly hair asked Chloe what she would like to eat, and Chloe said she'd like to have a grilled cheese sandwich and a pickle. "I'll see what I can do," promised the friendly lady.
Chloe waited alone.
When lunch did arrive the friendly lady said, "I'm sorry, sweetie, no grilled cheese. Mr. Baron ordered you a veal sandwich."
Chloe poked at the strange sandwich on her plate. It had all sorts of weird stuff sticking out of it and the bread smelled like pizza sauce. She wrinkled her nose.
Mr. Baron walked in next, and took a seat behind a giant desk. "Thank you Mrs. Green," he said to the friendly lady. "That will be all."
"Do you need anything else, sweetie?" Mrs. Green asked Chloe.
"She'll be fine," said Mr. Baron, answering before Chloe could even open her mouth. "We'll call you if we need anything."
Mrs. Green nodded and walked out, leaving Chloe and Mr. Baron sitting in front of their funny sandwiches. Mr. Baron picked his up and took a big bite. "Aren't green peppers divine?" he said.
Chloe tried not to make a face. She hated green peppers.
Mr. Baron took another bite and chewed thoughtfully. "So," he said after he had swallowed, "what have you asked Santa Claus for this year?"
Chloe crossed her arms. "There's no such thing as Santa Claus," she said.
Mr. Baron looked up, surprised. "Is that so?" he asked.
"It's just a lie grown-ups tell kids," said Chloe. "To make them be good."
"Well," said Mr. Baron slowly, "sometimes there's a bit of truth behind some lies."
Chloe furrowed her brow. "What do you mean?" she asked.
"The fact is, Chloe," said Mr. Baron, "is that I'm Santa Claus."
Chloe snorted. "I think that might be a lie, Mr. Baron."
Mr. Baron chuckled. "You're right, it is a lie -- but it's still true."
"How?" asked Chloe.
"Every year," explained Mr. Baron, "children all over the world get lots of wonderful toys each year at Christmas, don't they? That's why children love Christmas, isn't it? Well, where do you think those toys come from?"
Mr. Baron said, "The answer is that I make them. I run Baron Toys. My workers work at my factory to build the toys, and my drivers drive trucks to take the toys to stores. Without all the work I do, there wouldn't be enough toys at Christmas. So you see, in a way, I'm Santa Claus because I make Christmas possible."
Chloe thought about that. She poked at her sandwich for a moment, and then said, "Okay I guess so, but then you could say that I'm Santa Claus because and I'm a kid, and kids wanting toys makes Christmas possible, too. You couldn't have Christmas without kids."
Mr. Baron put down his sandwich and smiled at Chloe with his long, grey teeth. "You're more clever a girl than I first gave you credit for, Chloe," he said, using a paper napkin to wipe sauce off of his thin mustache. "And you're quite right: Christmas does need kids as much as it needs toys. So I suppose we're both Santa Claus in our own ways, aren't we?"
"That's right," said Mr. Baron. "Now, tell me, Chloe: what's the worst thing about Christmas?"
"Do you mean besides the stupid lies grown-ups tell?" asked Chloe sassily.
Mr. Baron ignored her tone. He said, "Yes, besides that. Isn't it when you get a wonderful toy for Christmas that gets broken and then you can't play with it anymore?"
"I don't know," said Chloe. "At the orphanage we usually get toys that other kids have already played with, and they're usually already a little bit broken when we get them."
"So you understand!" said Mr. Baron. "Broken toys are no fun."
"I guess so," admitted Chloe.
Mr. Baron said, "My job, Chloe, is to make sure kids have toys that aren't broken, so they can play and be happy. That's a good thing, isn't it?"
"Yeah," said Chloe.
Mr. Baron's telephone rang. He pressed a button on the telephone and then Chloe heard Mrs. Green's voice coming out of it. She said, "Mr. Baron sir, I've just spoken with the girl's guardians."
"Ah, very good," said Mr. Baron. "Will they be coming to pick her up?"
"Actually, she's a runaway, sir," said Mrs. Green through the telephone. "The poor child lives at Saint Anne's. It's an orphanage."
Mr. Baron smiled again, which made Chloe shiver. He said, "Excellent, excellent. This is going to be a great story for us. Imagine the headlines: Baron Toys reunites lost child with nuns for Christmas!"
"Um, yes sir," said Mrs. Green quietly.
"I'll take her there myself," said Mr. Baron. "Mrs. Green, have a map printed out for me. And have my car downstairs as soon as we're finished lunch. And call the press to tell them about the orphan. Maybe they can meet us at the orphanage."
Chloe cleared her throat. "But Mr. Baron," she said, "I don't want to go back to the orphanage. I hate Saint Anne's."
"Nonsense, child," snapped Mr. Baron. "Now be a good girl and finish your veal."
Chloe couldn't hug Polly the dolly because she was inside Chloe's knapsack. So Chloe hugged her knapsack instead. She bit her lip so she would not cry. She did not like veal, and she did not like Mr. Baron. She felt trapped, alone, and scared.
Her heart started to beat very fast inside her chest.
Mr. Baron finished talking to Mrs. Green and pressed another button on his telephone. He ate the last bite of his veal sandwich and licked some icky sauce off his long fingers. "I think you're going to be on television twice in one day," he said to Chloe as he chewed, "what do you think about that?"
Chloe rolled her hands up into fists. "I don't want to back," she said quietly.
"Nonsense," said Mr. Baron.
"I don't want to go back," Chloe said again, "and I don't think you can make me."
Mr. Baron's thin mustache quivered. He put down his napkin. "You're a very rude little girl," he decided. "I'll have you know what I'm a grown-up, and a very important grown-up at that, and you most certainly do have to do as I tell you."
Chloe looked at the open door. "I think I'm going to go now," she said.
Mr. Baron shook his head. "I've been very kind to you -- letting you go on television, giving you a sandwich, and so on. Don't you agree that you, turn, should be kind to me?"
Chloe slipped down off her chair and started inching toward the door. "Yeah, thanks for everything, Mr. Baron. I have to go find my friend Mike. He's just little. He can't take care of himself."
Mr. Baron didn't move. "The best idea would be to sit still," he growled, "and wait quietly until it's time for you to be taken home."
"No thank you," said Chloe. She turned around to run out the door, but crashed into a security guard with a walkie-talkie in his hand.
"Whoa there, missy," said the security guard. He could not be mistaken for Santa Claus, because he had orange hair and he looked very mean.
Chloe stomped on his foot with all her might.
"Yeow!" yelled the security guard as he stumbled backward. Chloe ran away. She ran past Mrs. Green's desk and past Mrs. Green, and then turned left and ran down a narrow aisle between rows of cubicles where workers worked.
She heard Mr. Baron shout, "Stop that child!"
The workers stood up from their desks to look around, but Chloe was short enough to be hidden by the walls of their cubicles. She rushed along right under their noses, turning right and then left, then turning right again. The cubicles were a maze!
Chloe heard the elevator ding and ran toward the sound. She dodged a photocopier and accidently upset a cart of mail, then pushed around the big bum of a lady with a big bum and jumped in front of the elevator. It was full of busy business people and the doors were closing.
"Wait!" cried Chloe.
The busy business people looked right through Chloe, as if she weren't even there.
"Help!" cried Chloe. "Mr. Baron is going to get me!"
This brought out the sympathy she needed. One of the busy business men stuck his briefcase between the doors. The doors stopped closing and opened up again. Chloe dashed inside the elevator. "Thanks!" she said.
"Mr. Baron is scary," agreed the business men. Several of the others nodded.
Chloe figured more security guards would be waiting for her on the first floor so she got off on the second floor. A woman said, "Can I help you?" but Chloe zoomed right past her and through more cubicles, following the emergency exit signs on the ceiling to a fire-proof staircase. Chloe knew that many big buildings had such staircases, and they usually emptied out into an alley.
She threw open the metal door, which made a high pitched alarm go off. Chloe put her hands over her ears against the noise and ran down the concrete stairs. At the bottom was another metal door. Chloe jumped up and kicked it open without uncovering her ears, then burst out into the snowy alley.
The weather was slushy and grey. She tried to catch her breath as she went along, panting. The alarm was still buzzing inside the building.
An old man with a yellow-white beard was sleeping on a piece of dirty cardboard between two green garbage bins. He looked up as Chloe stumbled down the alley. "Hey girl, hide in here!" he said, waving a grubby hand with long, dark fingernails. "I'm Santa Claus."
Chloe heard feet stomping down the stairs, and then the metal door began to open again. In a panic she dove into the space between the green garbage bins, pulling up a piece of the old man's dirty cardboard bed to hide herself.
Two security guards ran by. They didn't see her.
Chloe breathed a sigh of relief and started to get to her feet. The old man put one of his grubby hands on her arm, holding her back. "Why don't you stick around for a while, girlie?" he asked. His breath smelled like poo and house paint.
"No thank you," said Chloe, pulling her arm away. "I have to get out of here."
She tried to step out into the alley but the old man got a hold of her knapsack and jerked her back again. "Come keep me company in my hidey hole," said the old man as he licked his lips. "You have to stay here with Santa."
"Let me go!" yelled Chloe, tugging on her knapsack.
Suddenly the old man was hit by two slushy snowballs. He coughed and sputtered, blinking at the snow in his face as he let go of Chloe's knapsack. Chloe leapt away. Two more snowballs flew through the air and splattered in the space between the green garbage bins, raining ice down on the grabby old man.
Chloe spun around to see who was behind her.
Mike Zhang stood beside the white-bearded old man from the department store, each of them with one more snowball held in their pink, chilled hands. Mike said, "You're a good aimer, Santa!"
Santa winked and looked down at his last snowball. "It's a standard issue weapon," he smiled, "for the Order of Saint Nicholas."