Across the desk sat an older, well dressed man, and he was getting on my nerves. Our meeting had been arranged by my Board of Directors, and I silently cursed them when the man asked if I would run his brand new, as yet unnamed Christmas non-profit.
I shook my head in disbelief. "You see, the thing is, um, Mr...."
"Nicholas," he said.
"Nicholas, right. You see, Mr. Nicholas, the thing is I already have a job - a very good one, in fact." I adjusted the nameplate on my desk which read 'Reginald Thomas - Chief Executive'. [good detail]
"Yes, you do have a good job," he said, smiling through his trimmed white beard. "For now." I wondered what he meant by that, but decided not to ask - it would only delay the meeting's conclusion. "Nevertheless, I would suggest you seriously consider my offer, Mr. Thomas."
I was seriously considering a call to security instead. He continued, "Ordinarily I wouldn't bother you with this, but I'm here as a favor to my dear friend Holly Garland." [grandmother's name a little too obvious]
I stopped, and he smiled at me again. "Yes, that Holly Garland. Your grandmother."
"Mr. Nicholas," I said icily, "had you done your homework, you would know that my grandmother died over thirty years ago." The only thing worse than a shameless name dropper was a clueless one. [good]
"Oh, yes. I'm well aware of that Mr. Thomas," he said, "Nevertheless, she's very worried about you."
"She is, is she?" I was beyond annoyed at this point.
"Yes, and she asked me to help you," he answered.
"I see." I couldn't decide if the man was a crazy or a con. Either way, I wanted evidence. Casually reaching into my suit pocket, I started the recorder kept there for just such an occasion. "Mr. Nicholas, do you often speak with the dead?"
"Oh, no," he said, adding with a smile "Only when necessary in my official capacity."
"And just what is that official capacity?"
He leaned forward and said quietly "The Guardian of Christmas."
I gave the man a piteous look and said "Mr. Nicholas..." I stopped, smiling with sudden realization. "Oh, I get it. 'Nicholas' - as in 'Saint Nicholas?'"
"You're very quick, Mr. Thomas."
"Not the St. Nicholas!" I said sarcastically.
"The St. Nicholas," he answered, unfazed.
"Wow," I said, in mock amazement. "Imagine that! Santa Claus, here in my office. I almost didn't recognize you without your red suit and bag of toys." If I was getting to him, he didn't show it. So I kept going. "And you know, you're much skinnier than when I saw you at the mall. I bet the reindeer like that, though. Must be easier to pull the sleigh without all that extra weight." I forced a smile and waited for him to respond.
"There are no reindeer, Mr. Thomas," he said after a moment, with barely a hint of irritation in his voice.
"No reindeer?" I asked, feigning concern. "Well, what about elves? Surely you have elves working in your toy factory there at the North Pole?"
He gave me a look that was more resignation than anger. "The modern Santa myth is a creation of man, and it is unfortunately full of inaccuracies and lies, Mr. Thomas."
"Is that so? Well, you know, since you really are Santa Claus, maybe you should use your Christmas Magic and set things right. You do have magical powers, don't you?" I added slyly.
"I have sufficient 'powers' for what I need to do. But the myth is a creation of man, and man has his agency. I don't presume to take that away."
"I see; I see. So, Nick, with no reindeer or elves or Christmas Magic, what is it exactly that you do?"
"Don't you know?" he asked patronizingly. "Why, I deliver presents to children, Mr. Thomas."
"Really?" I asked. "Is that so?" His head gave a quick nod. "That is very interesting. You see, Santa, I happen to have children. And while every Christmas there are a ton of presents under the tree, I don't remember ever seeing anything from you."
"Mr. Thomas," he said, "I have no issue with wealthy parents who over indulge their children at Christmas," the irritation in his voice hinting this wasn't entirely true. "My concern has always been for children who would otherwise receive nothing."
"Is that so?" I asked. He had hit nerve, and I let him have it. "Well, Mr. Santa Claus, you sure don't do a very good job."
"No?" he said, raising his eyebrows.
"No," I answered contemptuously. "You see, it wasn't so long ago that I was a child who went without at Christmas."
"Yes, I know," he said, the tenderness in his voice only increasing my dislike for the man. "Times were tough after your father's accident, I won't argue that. But if I remember correctly you didn't really go without, now did you?"
I lashed out at the old man. "Of course I did. For years after my dad died, there were never any presents Christmas morning. Ever."
"That's true, of course. But you were still taken care of, weren't you, Mr. Thomas?" He paused, but I didn't respond. "G. I. Joe - 1976; Electronic Football - 1977; X-Wing Fighter - 1978;"
'How did he know about those things,' I wondered. The man had some impressive sources, but I hid my surprise and answered coolly. "Those didn't come from Santa Claus. They were given to me by the cops."
"Yes, of course." He smiled at me. "'Blue Santa' has always been a very fine program. I've truly enjoyed working with the officers through the years. They're some of the best partners I have. Mr. Thomas, as much as I would like to, there is simply no way I could deliver all of the presents personally." Somehow, this idiot was trying to take credit for giving me those gifts. I started to protest, but he continued. "What I can do is use my influence to encourage generosity and giving in others." He leaned forward and looked me in the eye. "Others like you."
The old man had me off balance, but I managed to give him a derisive little laugh. "Like me?" I asked.
"Yes, like you." He leaned back in his chair. "Mr. Thomas, let's get to the point. I'm asking you, not only to be the chairman of this new Christmas charity, but to be it's founder and primary sponsor. I think two million dollars would give it the best start, although I believe you could do a decent job for one and a half."
His words hung in the air, confirming the thoughts that had nagged me all along. He was after my money. His ploy had been good - the best so far. But in the end he was just another money-grubbing beggar, and I knew how to handle beggars.
Before I could act, however, he had yet another surprise for me. "You have made a lot of enemies in your climb to the top, Mr. Thomas. It won't surprise you to learn that one such enemy is now on your Board of Directors. I have it on good authority that this person will be pressing for your replacement at the board meeting in February. They intend to assassinate you with your own reputation, and I believe they will make a very compelling case. I am offering you an opportunity to create a new legacy for yourself. If you start immediately, this charity will rebuild your good name in time to save your job."
I stared at him, dumbfounded. He was not just asking me for money, he was trying to blackmail me for it. I was incensed! "Now, listen here, you old..."
But at that point he stood quickly, stopping me with a look. "Think it over, Mr. Thomas. I'm confident you will do what is right." And with that he turned and left the room.
I started blankly at the door for a long time after it closed. A crazy old man claiming to be Santa Claus had just tried to blackmail me and extort a large sum of money, ostensibly to create a Christmas charity. I could hardly believe.
But I knew I could make a jury believe it. I had what I needed to put the old man in jail for many Christmases yet to come. I quickly took the recorder from my pocket, skipped to the beginning, and pressed 'play.'
Instead of the muffled sound of my own voice as I expected, I heard Mr. Nicholas' deep baritone leap clearly from the little speaker. He was singing.
"He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake."
My mouth hung open. "I don't believe it," I muttered to myself.
"Believe, Mr. Thomas," said the voice on the recorder. "And have a Merry Christmas."
Except for a few typos, I can't find much to fix in this story. It gets a little long when Mr. Nicholas is explaining about the Santa myth. You could shorten that and still get the message across. You do very well with the dialog, both between Mr. Thomas and Mr. Nicholas, and with Mr. Thomas' narrative. It's fun. It's clever. It's touching. Very well done.
What I liked best: The "voice" of the man. It's great.
Magazine ready? Absolutely!