Close-up, I could see that this man really looked like Santa Claus. He wasn’t just wearing the suit; he had the curly, white hair, rosy cheeks, bright eyes and all. I sniffed and I could smell gingerbread. Did this man smell like gingerbread cookies? That wasn’t possible. He’d been lugging bags back and forth for at least twenty minutes. There was no way he could still smell like this even if he had bathed in cookie batter. Well, I wasn’t sure about that part, but it seemed unlikely.
He turned to go back inside and I hurried around the back to see if I could get a look while he was gone. I opened up one of the red, velvet bags and found exactly what I was hoping to find. There were five Move ‘N Shaker consoles inside along with some other toys and knick-knacks. I checked another bag. The same thing. All of the bags held at least five Move ‘N Shaker consoles. I looked at the license plate of the Suburban to see if I might be able to run it for information on the driver. It said, SANTAC 1. “Oh, shit!” I said. This was a company vehicle. That could only mean one thing.
“What are you doing out here?” I heard a voice say from behind me.
I turned to find the man in the Santa suit standing there with his hands on his hips. He had kind of a grumpy look on his face and he was waiting for me to answer.
“I-uh-I was just-uh, well, hello,” I said, holding my hand out, “I’m Jenny Herman. I’ve been working for Mrs. Clos on a market research project. Is she here, by any chance?” I crossed my fingers behind my back and waited to see if he was going to shake my hand.
He made no move to do so, so I put my hand back down to avoid looking any more like an idiot.
“What kind of project?” he asked, “I don’t know anything about any market research.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name,” I said, hoping he would play along.
“I’m Sam, I own the place,” he said, “As you can see, we’re closed. Donella’s at home now. You’ll have to catch her tomorrow.”
“I see, I thought she might still be here, so I…” I started to say, but Sam interrupted me.
“Now, Miss, I don’t believe that’s the truth,” he said, “Whatever you’re doing here, you need to leave now. If you need to speak with my wife, come back tomorrow.”
“O-okay,” I said, surprised by his tone. “I’m sorry to have bothered you.”
I backed away from him and he finally said, “Look, I’m sorry for being so abrupt, but I’ve got a lot to do this evening and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention seeing me here tonight.”
“Oh, I, why would I mention it?” I asked, “I never saw you. Sure.”
Why would he care if I mentioned seeing him at his own shop? Something was really wrong with this picture.
I made my way back to the Jeep, trying to keep my eye on him as I backed across the lawn. He watched me until I reached the far side of the house and then he turned and went back inside the warehouse. I was almost to the Jeep when I caught a glimpse of something going on in the house. I had to get a closer look. I walked over and stood beside the window and peered inside. To my surprise, there were a bunch of cookies on the counter and a small conveyor belt set up near the oven in the wall. Cookies were coming out in droves and there, in the kitchen stood Mrs. Clos, sprinkling sugar on top of the cookies as they came out of the oven. I pinched myself to make sure that I wasn’t dreaming again.
Now wait a minute, I thought. If she’s in here and he’s out there, how can she not realize that he’s moving the Move ‘N Shakers out of the warehouse. I went around and tried the front door of the house. It opened. I walked inside and headed into the kitchen area where I had just seen Mrs. Clos and the cookies. No one was there and there were no cookies in the kitchen. This is where I freaked out. I turned and practically ran out the door. I didn’t stop to snoop; I just went outside and got in my Jeep. I was going to leave, but something kept telling me to go back inside and look around. After a few moments, I mustered up the courage to go back in the house. No one was inside, so I needed to just do what I had come to do and get out.
I headed for Mrs. Clos’s office. No one appeared to be hiding in there, so I went around the desk and flipped through some of the papers. I came across a ledger, so I opened it. Here, all of the items manufactured by Santac were listed. I flipped through the pages until I got to the Move ‘N Shakers. From what I could see, Sam was taking ten of the consoles with each shipment that he delivered to the toy stores. Mrs. Clos had written in the margin that Sam’s deal with the local toy stores were that five of them would keep two consoles in their stores at all times. Well, then, why did he have at least twenty of them in the Suburban tonight?
I put the ledger back on the desk. I’d just have to come back tomorrow and talk to her. If she couldn’t answer this, then I was done with the case. I made sure that everything looked just as it had when I’d come in and then I left. When I was behind the wheel of the Jeep, I heard the Suburban start up on the other side of the yard. I prayed that Santa…er, Sam would take the other driveway away from the warehouse instead of driving around back to get out. Thankfully, he did. I pulled away and drove in the direction he was going. Maybe I could follow him for a while to see where he went with the consoles.
I drove, keeping a safe distance between the Suburban and myself, until Sam pulled into a parking lot near the downtown area. I parked about a block away so that I could watch him. He got out and went around to the back where he reached inside. He took out one of the red bags and slung it over his shoulder. He headed for the entrance to the building next to the parking lot. It was St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital.
I got out and headed up to the door, myself. I probably didn’t need to, but I wanted to be sure that my suspicions were correct. I could see the red bag bobbing up and down as he walked down the hallway. I followed as far behind him as I could. He entered the wing marked “Cancer Unit” and set the bag down at the nurse’s station. I saw him talk to the nurse on duty and then he picked up the bag again and started going to the different rooms. He was delivering toys to these kids. There was nothing sinister going on here. I turned and went back out to my Jeep to wait until he came back out. When he did, he still carried the bag, but it was considerably less full. He stopped for a moment as he got to his vehicle and I saw him run a hand over his face. He appeared to be crying, but in the distance it was hard to see.
I followed him for a couple of hours and he stopped at three more hospitals and finally at an orphanage. At the orphanage, he collected the remains of the bags he had been delivering to the hospitals and took it all inside. He came out empty handed and drove away. I needed to know what had happened in there, so I got out and went inside. In the entryway, there was a glass window with a little hole cut into it so that the person sitting behind it could speak to visitors.
“Can I help you, Miss?” the lady asked.
“Yes, actually, the man who was just here,” I started, “did he just deliver some toys?”
“Why, yes, he did,” she said, smiling, “he does it every year.”
“He does?” I asked, “Is he from Santac, Ltd.”
She looked puzzled, “Santac, Ltd.? What’s that?”
“It’s a…oh, well, never mind,” I said, “I guess it doesn’t matter.”
“No, he delivers toys to us after he’s been to the area hospitals. You know, he and his wife lost a child to cancer many years ago and he always makes it a point to take toys over to the cancer units at the children’s hospitals,” she explained.
Puzzled, I looked at her and said, “Really?”
“Oh, yes, I didn’t know this until the last couple of years, but I was curious so I asked him one year where he got all of the toys,” she started to explain. “How rude of me, would you like to come inside?”
“Sure, sure,” I said, still trying to process what she was saying.
She buzzed me through and said, “You don’t look like a criminal, so I guessed it was safe to let you in.”
“Thanks, that’s nice to know,” I said.
“Would you like some coffee?” she asked.
I nodded and she turned and grabbed a mug from the rack behind her and then poured a cup of coffee for me. She handed me the steaming cup and then indicated that we should walk. As we walked, she told me that Sam had come in every year for the last fifteen years to deliver toys. I looked around the place. It was decorated very nicely for an orphanage. Someone had tried very hard to make this place seem like a home. Marjorie, as she introduced herself to me, explained that one night a couple of years ago, Sam had come in and he was crying. He was a mess, so she had sat him down with a cup of coffee and they had talked. This is when she found out that his little boy had died a very tragic death some years ago. He’d had a rare form of cancer and they had tried treatment after treatment, but nothing had worked. Sam had been so distraught that he had been unable to find any joy in the holidays at all until he had started taking toys to the hospital.
“Have you met his wife?” I asked her.
“His wife?” she asked, the look on her face had shown that she was just as puzzled as I felt. “I didn’t think she was still alive, either.”
“Really, you’re sure about this?” I was not prepared for that answer. Had he been going around doing nice things and then lying to people about his wife being dead? That seemed a strange way to do good deeds.
We talked for a little while longer and by the time I left, I was a mess. The story about Sam’s son had made me terribly sad and I was confused about the whole thing with Mrs. Clos. I needed to talk to her as soon as possible.
I tried to sleep, but my dreams were once again filled with visions of Santa and of Mrs. Clos. This time, there was a little boy in the dream, too. I attributed his presence to the discussion I’d had with Marjorie at the orphanage. I resolved to get to the bottom of this matter when I woke up the next morning. The first thing I would do would be to find Mrs. Clos and ask her what was going on between she and Mr. Clos. She might tell me it’s none of my business, but I still wanted to ask the question.
I got up and got dressed, thinking for a fleeting moment that it was strange not to have heard from Trey last night. I’d find him later. Right now, I needed to get some answers. I drove out to Santac and marched inside. Mrs. Clos was standing in the kitchen, sprinkling sugar over a plate of cookies. Sure, now she’s doing this. Where was she last night when I thought I saw this happening?
“I need to talk to you,” I said to her, in a no bullshit tone.
“Well, good morning to you, dear,” she said, “What’s the problem?”
“Do you want to tell me anything about Mr. Clos’s nighttime activities?” I asked.
“His nighttime activities?” she asked. “I don’t know what he does at night, we hardly see each other.”
“Is that why he’s telling people you died?” I asked her, immediately regretting that I’d said it that way.
She stopped sprinkling sugar for a moment and then looked over at me sharply. “He’s doing no such thing!”
“Yes, he is doing such a thing,” I said, “he’s delivering toys to hospitals and orphanages and all the while he’s telling them you passed away. Why would he do that?”
“He’s delivering toys to hospitals and orphanages?” she asked. She looked surprised.
“Yes, bags of them, including several of your Move ‘N Shakers,” I said. “Did you not know about this?”
“Well, no, I didn’t realize he was doing that,” she said, “I thought he just delivered to the toy stores.”
“Don’t the two of you talk?” I asked. “Ever?”
She came around the counter and took a seat at the small kitchen table. When she was seated, she put her hands on her face and let out a sigh. “I didn’t think he was still doing that.”
“Doing what?” I asked.
“Taking toys to the hospitals, it’s the cancer units isn’t it?” she asked.
“Years ago, he told me he was going to stop doing that because it hurt him so to go in there year after year and see those kids,” she said. “I told him it was good for him to give to others and that he should keep going. He assured me that it was too hard on him and that he was not going to do it anymore. I can’t believe he’s been doing it all these years.”
“You didn’t know?” I asked.
She was crying now. “No, I didn’t know. I stopped talking to him years ago after I thought he gave up on it. I had no idea he’d kept going with it. I held a grudge all those years and he’s been doing the right thing.”
“So he didn’t tell you about the extra consoles he’s been taking?” I asked.
She shook her head.
“And that’s why you thought someone had been stealing?” I asked.
This was the biggest case of marital miscommunication I’d ever seen. I knew some married couples didn’t talk, but this was ridiculous.
“Why would he say you’re dead?” I asked.
She looked down at her hands and said, “I told him that if he stopped taking the toys to the kids, he might as well consider himself a widower. He must have really taken that to heart.”
“Well, now, that’s just silly,” I said. “Isn’t that taking things a bit far? You two need to talk and you need to do it soon.”
I couldn’t believe I was giving relationship advice to anyone. I was the last person who knew anything about how to get along with men.
I told her that I was going to consider the case closed. She asked if she owed me anything else for my time. I told her to talk to her husband and that would be enough for me. Before I left, I asked her why I had seen her here last night baking cookies.
“I wasn’t here, dear, you must have seen the holograms,” she said.
“Holograms?” I asked.
“Yes, the windows are rigged to show holograms throughout the house of people doing Christmasy things like baking cookies and such,” she said, “It’s the latest thing in Christmas decorating.”
“Sure,” I said, “That explains it.” I left, feeling so much dumber than I had before.
No one had been stealing from anyone. Sam hadn’t actually been lying to people about Mrs. Clos; he was just relaying her words because the two of them needed some serious relationship counseling. There hadn’t been any wrongdoing at Santac, unless you count what husbands and wives put each other through when they stop talking to one another. It was sad, really. The two of them had gone through so much with the loss of their child so long ago and because they hadn’t talked to each other, their marriage had suffered even more. I hoped that they could fix whatever was wrong between them.
A couple of days later on Christmas Eve, I was sitting in my office when I received a phone call from Sam Clos. He told me that he appreciated whatever I had done to get his wife to finally talk to him. We had a nice conversation and by the time I hung up, I was feeling very happy. I picked up the phone again and called Trey. I invited him over to open his present.
“Present?” he had said, “but I didn’t get you anything.”
“Just bring yourself,” I said, “that’s present enough.”
When I got home, I walked Mrs. Shuble’s present down to her apartment. She was so happy to see me that she gave me a big hug when I walked in the door. She gave me a plate full of cookies and sat down to open her gift. Her face lit up as she pulled the plate from the paper. “I love it, Rona,” she had said. That made me feel pretty good, I guess.
I got back to my apartment at about the same time that Trey was getting there. He had a big box with a bright red bow on top.
“I thought you said you didn’t get me anything,” I said.
“I lied,” he said, grinning.
We went inside and spent the evening eating cookies and opening our gifts. He loved his T-Shirt and I, well, I very much enjoyed his gift to me; a shiny, brass cowbell engraved with, “To My Favorite Girl, Love, Trey.” Some girls might take offense to such a gift, but I thought it was hilarious. I placed the cowbell on my kitchen counter and we sat there and admired it until the wee hours of the night. After that, the rest is for me to know and for no one else to find out.
Merry Christmas, all!
Thanks for reading! Hope you had a Merry Christmas!
Until next time…
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One thought on “Not Even a Mouse: A Rona Shively Short (Chapters Ten & Eleven)”
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