‘Tis the season…right?
I guess that depends on who you ask.
As you know – Ike is not the sappy, emotional type, so how do you think he handles the onslaught of forced sentimentality every December?
It probably won’t surprise you…but let’s find out.
Don’t Call Me Carol
“So, tell me, why don’t you like Christmas?” Tiki asked as he handed Ike a bottle of Budweiser.
“No offense, Tiki,” Ike said, “but you’re a bartender at The Golden Lion…not a shrink.”
Tiki held his hands up, palms out. “Sorry. Just making conversation.”
“I don’t come here to chat.”
Tiki decided to try his conversational skills on the bikini-clad blonde at the end of the bar. Ike turned his attention to his beer.
He closed his eyes and saw Dodger. The ten-year-old memory hadn’t faded at all.
Dodger sat against the cave wall and dug into his MRE. Ike stood at the entrance of the cave scanning the horizon through his night-vision scope.
“Hey relax, bro,” Dodger said. “It’s Christmas Eve, even here in Ass-Crakistan.”
“You relax. I’ll make sure nobody fires an RPG into the cave. I don’t care that it’s Christmas and neither do the insurgents.”
“How can you not care that it’s Christmas? You gotta care that it’s Christmas.”
“No I don’t.”
“Hey, I’m a million miles from my wife and daughter, but I’m not letting that stop me.” He tossed the MRE to the back of the cave. “Meal-ready-to-eat, my ass, I might have to kill a camel. Anyway, don’t scrooge out on me. Merry Christmas, bro.”
“Right,” Ike said.
“Come on, just say it once. Ten years we’ve been eating dirt together and I’ve never heard you say Merry Christmas.”
“And you never will.”
“No, man. You need to say Merry Christmas. Say it once and it’ll change your whole outlook. I promise.”
“Shut up and eat,” Ike told him.
Hugo Baccarri stopped next to the BMW and looked around the parking lot for potential witnesses.
Nobody in sight.
He climbed into the car as if it were his own and drove away, watching the rear view mirror as he went.
“What kind of idiot leaves the keys in their Beemer?” he asked himself.
He drove north for forty-five minutes, exited I-95 at Palm Coast and parked behind a Chinese restaurant, where he proceeded to rummage through the console and glove box. A watch, an iPod and a really nice Zippo lighter…not bad. He got out to check the trunk.
“What the hell is this?” He pulled a bright red coat and the tall black boots from the trunk.
When he saw the white beard and the donation bucket he realized what he had found. An idea struck him and he laughed out loud.
Tossing everything into the backseat, he drove to a nearby Home Depot. The backseat of the BMW was not a dressing room, but he managed to change into the Santa suit. It was a little big for him, but it would do the trick. He grabbed the donation bucket and stood on the sidewalk by the entrance to the store.
Nobody bothers Santa Clause, especially on Christmas Eve.
It was a great plan. In no time at all his donation bucket was filling with cash. Hugo wished every passer-by a Merry Christmas, even the ones who didn’t donate, and threw in plenty of Ho Ho Hos. He even posed for a couple of pictures with babies.
Ike opened his eyes when he sensed a presence on the stool next to him.
“Jingle bells, my brother,” Brewski said.
“What’s happening?” Ike asked, returning his friend’s fist bump.
“Nothing, just figured I’d stop off and have a beer with my best friend on Christmas Eve.”
“I can’t tell you how much that means to me.”
Brewski grinned and shook his head.
“What are you doing tonight, Grinch?” Brewski asked.
“I’m gonna have another beer then go back to the boat and drink some more.”
“Come on, where’s your Christmas spirit?”
“You mean the spirit that makes people stampede each other for a TV at Walmart? No thanks.”
“Hey cheer up,” Brewski said. “It could be worse. Remember last Christmas when we had to go have a chat with that guy who was trying to skip out on the five grand he owed Ralph? And when we got there he had his two brothers-in-law with him? Man, we worked hard for the money that night.”
“Good times,” Ike said flatly.
“And how about the year you had that woman stalking you? You didn’t expect to find her on your boat on Christmas morning…with no wrapping.”
Ike turned on his stool and looked at Brewski.
“Are you trying to cheer me up?”
“Yeah, but it’s not working. Come on, just try and enjoy the season. It won’t kill you.”
“Not worth the risk,” Ike said.
Brewski downed his beer and stood to leave. The men exchanged another fist bump.
“Merry Christmas, bro,” Brewski said.
“Later,” Ike returned to his beer.
After an hour-and-a-half Hugo packed up his bucket and left Home Depot. His score, not counting the change, was almost $300. Not bad for less than two hours. He drove into Flagler Beach and set up in front of a Publix supermarket.
Almost immediately the good people of Flagler Beach began filling his bucket.
Hugo grinned behind the itchy white beard. He had never been a big fan of Christmas, but his attitude changed a little bit every time a soccer mom dropped her change into his bucket.
Ike felt a hand on his shoulder, followed by a kiss on his cheek.
“Hi sweetie,” she said. “Merry Christmas.”
Ike smiled weakly and drank some beer.
Nadine was un-phased.
“Are you coming to my Christmas Ball tonight?”
“Nadine, we’ve been over this.”
“I know we have,” she said, “but you do so much for Christmas Come True, I’ll just keep asking.”
“And I’ll keep saying no,” Ike said, offering her a better smile to soften the blow. “Thank you anyway.”
Nadine kissed his cheek again and hugged him.
“Okay, honey, but the fun starts at 8:30 and you’re always welcome.”
She spotted Ralph, Ike’s boss and owner of The Golden Lion, and made a beeline for him. Ike waved over his shoulder then motioned to Tiki for another beer.
The Publix yielded more than $100 in an hour, but the manager hassled Hugo so he had to split. He relocated to a CVS and got a little more aggressive with his bell ringing, knowing that the Chistmas Eve foot traffic would be dying off soon.
Tiki swapped Ike’s empty bottle for a fresh beer.
“Nice night,” Tiki tried.
Ike looked around. “Yup.”
“Hey listen,” Tiki said. “Every year I get a bunch of people together for a Christmas Night booze cruise. It’s the perfect thing for people like…it’s better than hanging out at home alone.” Tiki regretted saying it as soon as the words left his mouth.
“Where you going with this, Tiki?”
“Well…this year’s cruise is already booked, but I’m taking names for next year. It fills up fast. What do you say? Want me to hold you a spot?”
Ike stood and downed most of the beer in one long swallow and dropped a ten on the bar.
“I don’t think so. Adios.”
“See you Ike. Merry…see ya.”
More than fifty bucks in half-an-hour. Hugo was very happy. He decided to call it a night, grab a bottle and a hotel…maybe even a hooker.
“Merry Christmas to me,” he said as he drove toward A1A.
He found a liquor store behind a night club called Finn’s and grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniels. At the counter, the clerk hummed a Christmas song as she rang up the whiskey.
“Santa doing some last minute shopping?” she asked Hugo.
Hugo pulled the gun from the pocket of his Santa suit.
“Gimmee the bottle and whatever you got in the register. Now!”
Ike walked toward the front of the store with his 12-pack of Budweiser. When he saw Santa standing at the counter he rolled his eyes.
“I can’t wait ‘til this shit is over,” he muttered.
“Come on, bitch” the Santa growled as Ike drew closer. “Gimmee the cash.”
“Son of a bitch,” Ike whispered when he saw the gun.
Ike slowly bent down and quietly set his 12-pack on the floor then reached behind his back and pulled the .45 from his belt.
The force of the bullet hitting him in the back drove Hugo into a pyramid-shaped display of rum. He crashed to the floor, the rum bottles cutting and slashing him as they shattered. The last thing he saw was his own blood mixing with Sailor Jerry’s, conjuring a bizarre cocktail of death.
Ike tucked his gun away, picked up his beer and casually continued to the counter. The clerk was wide-eyed with horror and her eyes were fixed on Santa’s corpse.
Ike dropped a twenty on the counter and turned toward the door.
“Merry Christmas,” he said.
As he approached the exit he caught his reflection in the glass door…smiling.
“Don’t Call Me Carol“ was written before Christmas in 2013 and is the opening story in “Path of a Bullet – A Collection of Short Stories featuring Ike”
As always – thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy the holiday season in whatever way makes you happy!