The X-mas Files

You just don’t get it. Everything was going perfectly, you were smelling like a rose, and now it’s all turned to shit. One second you’ve got fifty k being placed into your hands like you’ve just ordered something from McDonald’s, and now your best buddy’s got a bullet hole the size of your fist in his face, the cops are after you for the kill, and you’ve got to take a leak like nothin’ else. Who ever said Christmas could be depressing?

Quick decision time. Suzie’s the only one you can go to in a sitch like this. Sure it’s been a good three years or so. Sure the last time you saw her you ripped her off for a cool five hundred. Sure she’s not at all the forgiving type, but it’s not like you’ve got any other options at the moment.

It’s only ten blocks from here. You start the jog, and before you’ve even reached the end of the alley, four blues go screaming by and the low life sitting halfway under a cardboard box has asked you for spare change.

“Let me see you say ahh, then maybe we’ll talk business,” you mutter, peeking out from around the corner of the building. All clear. You make a break for the fence across the street, hearing a hoarse “ahhh” fading into the night behind you. Only a ten foot fence, the kind you used to jump over for shits and giggles in the old days. Too bad you let yourself get so soft. You barely grab the top as your feet scramble frantically against the chain links, creating a racket loud enough to draw every cop from here to city limits. It’s only by some miracle from God that you drag your sorry ass over the top, and go flopping to the ground on the other side. It’s also too bad that when you landed, a big rock went digging into your kidney, taking enough breath with it to inflate the Microsoft blimp.

The worst part of it all, is that your bladder just couldn’t take the strain, and now you look like the poster-chump for Depends. Gasping for air, you claw your way to a standing position and convince yourself that you really can go on. The sirens screaming louder in the background help a little bit too. You go ambling off across the empty lot, trying to remember exactly which alley it is that takes you to Murdock St. rather than B.A. Blvd. You take a gander, and dash between the brick walls.

As you run through the icy, slime coated tunnel of stone and rusted steel, something beneath the trash to your left shifts slightly. You jump to avoid the…whatever, and come down smack dab in the middle of some delinquent’s pile of feces. Your feet slip from beneath you due to the stinking crap, and your skull cracks against the pavement. Man, those flashing spots sure look cool! Too bad you’re in so much pain you can’t really enjoy the light show.

 

Something sniffs at your ear, and before rationality can cut through that thick fog you’ve got filling your brain, the Siig under your coat jumps into your hand, muzzle pointed toward the olfactory utilizing perp, and a blast of gunpowder echoes through the alley. Not even pausing to wipe the muck from your face or the shit from your clothes, you’re up and moving again. Why did things never used to seem this hard? You’ve just been out of the scene for a while, that’s all. Yeah, that’s what you tell yourself. That makes everything all better, and now you can concentrate on the more important things at hand… Such as the seven foot tall, three foot wide beast you run headlong into in the process of leaving the alleyway.

He doesn’t seem to be shaken a bit as, head spinning, you drop unceremoniously to the sidewalk. Eyes burn a hole through you, and unfortunately you recognize their face as it moves closer to yours. A meaty excuse for a hand wraps itself around your neck and hoists you to your feet.

“Where’s my fraggin’ two grand?” Damn, but his breath smells bad, even through your cold and runny nose. That’s saying something. Feeling the bloodstream to your brain being seriously hampered, you motion to his hand. It loosens just enough. Time for some fast talking.

“You’re in luck, Jonny. I’ve got the dough right here. Actually, I was on my way to give it to-”

“Shut your fraggin’ yap, meat patty. You got hands, show me the fraggin’ dough and I don’t rip off your fraggin’ head.”

You fumble through the pockets of your coat, knowing you put that money in one of them.

“Don’t even think about pullin’ a fraggin’ piece you fraggin’ dung heap, or you’re gonna fraggin’ wish you fraggin’ never had fraggin’ hands in the fraggin’ first fraggin’ place. Dig?” You try to dig, really, but there were just one too many fraggin’s in that sentence for your oxygen deficient brain to handle. You resign yourself to just pulling the cash out of your pocket. He counts out three k, pulls it from your fingers, and sticks it into the breast of his jacket.

“Hey, Jonny, come on, man. I only owe you two.”

“Call it fraggin’ interest, dildo rammer. Oh, and merry fraggin’ Christmas.” He releases your neck, and the head rush you get from fresh blood rushing to your brain sends you reeling. By the time you’ve recovered, Jonny is long gone, leaving your bill volume significantly reduced. Hey, look at the bright side, that’s one less potential kneecap buster you got to worry about.

Then it all comes back to you, just what exactly is going on. You get oriented and head on your not so merry way. Three blocks later another set of red and blue comes flashing down the street. You duck into an alcove just in time, watching the clueless baco bit go driving by. Okay, halfway there. It’s beginning to look like you just might make it. Guess you’re not doing so bad after all, you out of shape piece of shit.

Huffing and puffing, you finally get to the building you hope is Suzie’s. Odds are for it, judging from the really large bozo with the Santa hat trying to look innocuous on the front steps. He’s just her type. But hey, after your run in with King Kong back there, this guy looks like a lolly licker. You try the old slow down the breathing trick while approaching the only guy standing between you and safety. But who are you kidding? Your side feels like someone shoved a knife through it, and there ain’t no way in Hell you’re going to put out the fire in your lungs anytime soon. Altogether, it doesn’t look like you’re in condition to challenge anyone other than Pee Wee Herman.

Oh well, maybe the direct approach will work. You walk up to the bottom step, blowing breath like a smokestack, and just sort of talk to the guy. Man to man.

“Hey…how’s it going? Oh yeah, I’m here to see Suzie.” Yes, you cross your fingers inside your pocket, needing all the luck you can get with lines like that.

Mr. Dumbbell looks up as though awakened from a very deep sleep. “Suzie?” Definitely not a knowing response. Maybe it was the next block. The big guy gets up from his step, and comes just a little bit closer, the snowball on his hat flip flopping as he moves. You keep an eye on him, seeing as he’s really pushing that personal comfort zone, and you’re not in any shape to be defending yourself from unwanted advances. He takes another step. Time to speak up.

“Hmm. You know, I thought a girl named Suzie lived here, but maybe her pimp gave me the wrong address. Sorry to bother you.” Taking a step back you flash a shit eating grin. “You take care now.” He moves closer. You take a step back. “Have a good one.” And before you can even register the afterimage with your immensely slow brain, his fist has reached an amazing distance, to, you can only assume, connect with your face. But that doesn’t really matter, as everything is now very black.

 

You open your eyes, and it takes a second to recognize the surroundings. Actually, you don’t recognize the surroundings, because you’ve never seen them before. It’s not a comforting feeling. Normally this is where you’d jump up in a start, trying to get some grasp on the sitch, like how you got here, where you are, all that good stuff, but a little bit of the old reflexes kick in and you just lie there, listening. You hear chewing noises. Real loud ones, like some fat slob with absolutely no manners is chewing on the greasiest, dripping with every sauce imaginable, double patty burger you’ve ever seen in your life and not keeping his mouth closed while he does it. If there’s one thing you can’t stand, it’s bad eating etiquette.

Real slow like, you roll over, hoping the pig isn’t looking your way. You get lucky. He isn’t. You were right about every aspect of him though, right down to picturing the stained Batman tee-shirt and greasy comic book in front of him. You haven’t lost that touch after all. It’s been so long since you actually had to use your talent, you’d almost forgotten how. It’s the kind of thing that go you out of so many of those fights alive, because you could actually picture the area around you with stunning clarity. Second sight? Built in sonar? Who gives a shit. Whatever it is, it works, and that’s all that matters.

Without making a sound, you rise from the floor, hoping to God that your joints don’t pop. A quick scan of the room for anything that could prove useful should things get out of hand. Not much of anything. Sure you could ram that computer joystick down his throat and choke him to death, but it would probably be easier to break his neck. Or at least, that’s what you’ll make him think.

In a flash, his neck is in the crook of your arm, and you’ve got him stationary in the chair. So you whisper into his ear. “Okay, fat boy. What’s going on?”

“Wha…what do you mean. Hey, you’re really good, you know that?”

“Excuse me?! Look, I’m going to break your pudgy-ass excuse for a neck if I don’t get some answers. Now, are you going to give them to me or not?” I tighten my grip, just for the added effect. Too bad he’s dim enough so it doesn’t make any difference.

“Whoa! You’re just like a ninja or something aren’t you? I knew Suzie wanted you alive for a reason. I bet we’re gonna brainwash you or something cool like that.” This guy is not only a bonafide geek, but just doesn’t have a clue either. “Do you have all kinds of cool enhancements. Like infrared vision, or bionic reflexes? Oh, I know, maybe you’ve got-”

“Just SHUT UP! My God, now I know why they keep you tucked away in this room all by yourself, because if not… They’d have to KILL YOU!” Amazingly enough, it works. He gets this hurt look on his face and scrunches up his eyes like he’s going to bawl or something. Yeah, yeah, boo hoo. You smack him on the face to snap him out of it. “I’m going to ask you again. Why am I here?”

His tone is much more like that of a chastised child than of an adolescent comic nerd this time. “I don’t know. They just dumped me in this room and told me to keep an eye on you. They said if you woke up to beat you ’till you passed out again.” It’s the biggest, most foul smelling load of hog dung you’ve ever heard. The funny thing is, fat boy’s telling it like he knows it. So someone in the chain is being kept in the dark. If Suzie really is on top here, it doesn’t add up. She knows what you can do. Hell, you used to hang with her before you ripped her off. Now, she might just figure you’ve gotten weak, but it’s unlikely, if not somewhat true. Which leaves you with…nothing.

This is where the door flies open, black armored toughs spilling through like the drone ants that they are. Looks like fat ol’ goat turd managed to set off some kind of alarm after all. You’re not quite sure how, but there’s really no time to think about it as you hit the deck, avoiding the suppression sub-machine-gun fire from the lead bad guy. Blood splashes your back as blubber-butt takes a good ten or so in him. His death gurgle echoes with every bit of grease he had for dinner as you roll forward, foot striking upward into the groin of machine-gun Joe. Reflexively his body contracts downward, and he practically hands you his weapon. Hey, that’s cool. You’ll take it.

A quick flip in your hands and the gun’s bucking happily again. It’s mostly just going to stun them though. Yeah, they’ll feel it in the morning, but the bullets aren’t going to punch through the armor that these guys have got. What it does do, is provide the time you need. Tossing the spent weapon aside, you jump to your feet and haul ass through the hatch. Of course, you do take the half of a second required to pick up a new gun on the way out. Because, come on, you’re not stupid, and this isn’t the movies.

There really isn’t any time to waste, seeing as how the halls here aren’t exactly steel and concrete like one might find in a real bad guy’s fortress. No, these are the plain, ordinary, plaster and wood walls that make up cheap apartment buildings. Not too good at muffling gunshots. Which is why you’re not at all surprised when a door opens not ten feet in front of you, a wild eyed and confused guy with a tie and a gun running out. You dive forward, tucking into a roll that takes you right past the fuddy duddy, as bullets from his pistol splinter holes in the floor at your heels. Planting your foot forward, you brake momentum, spinning just in time to see the look on his face as he turns to face you, realizing he’s lost the draw. Another loud ruckus, and he falls to the floor with three, pretty red holes in his chest. Well, it’s the right color for the season.

Slinging the weapon, you crawl to him, and drag the limp body back into the room he came from. Locking the door you look around. Just an office. A damn nice office. It’s got it’s own bathroom. Good. You dump the body in the shower and shut the door. The glass is frosted, so no one will be able to tell unless they turn on the light. Next, unlock the door and find a good hiding place. Upon inspection, the closet isn’t one of the best you’ve hidden in, but it’ll do in a pinch. The room’s got one window. Looks like you’re on a way up high floor, which is bad if you have to jump out or something, so you hope it doesn’t come to that. There is a fire escape, which is good, but you don’t have any more time to inspect since you hear all those feet tromping down the hall. You slip into the closet and close the door just in time.

The splintering of wood and loud cracking of machine gun fire sound out but a few feet away. And then voices. “What the crap, man! Don’t be such a spaz! What if Rick had still been in here? Hunh? I think he’d be kinda dead now, don’t you?”

“Aww, shut up, Buz.” This voice is deeper, more gruff. “I never liked him anyway. ‘sides, you saw what this guy did back there. You gonna take any chances?”

“All I’m sayin’, is that you shouldn’t go shootin’ up these rooms when you don’t know who’s in ’em.”

“Fine, then we’ll make that your epitaph. Come on, he ain’t here.”

Footsteps pound away, and you can’t even tell them from the beating of your heart. How dramatic that sounds. With catlike stealth you open the closet door. Nobody there. So you walk out, and are immediately sacked. The momentum crashes you into the wall, stars filling your head like sugar plums. You whip around and catch some guy’s fist as it flies toward your face. Planting your other hand on his elbow, you shove, bone cracking as you do. He screams, swinging his other hand around behind him, and catches you right in the cheek. Your lip splits, and you hate it when that happens. His good hand grabs your hair, pulling you forward into a waiting knee. Now, blinded with pain, you really wish you’d kept up your training instead of becoming indulgent and lazy. Relying on your inner sense now, you grapple him, and try to take him down. He reverses it, and the two of you go smashing through the window, onto the fire escape.

It’s begun to snow, you feel, as he grabs your head and slams it into the steel grating beneath you. Reaching up, you box his ears, and you know that’s gotta suck. It stuns him for a second, which is good, ’cause that’s all you need. Scrambling out from under him, you take a hold of his flak jacket and hoist him up over the railing. It’s just too bad that he grabs onto you as he goes over. Shit.

You forget all that bull about bearing and machismo as you feel yourself falling an indeterminate amount of stories. This is why you let loose with a scream of terror that normally would never, ever, come out of your mouth. Then, all of a sudden, things grind to a very abrupt halt, and you can no longer breathe. You’re not falling anymore, in fact, you’re lying seemingly uninjured on a big pile of trash, but you cannot for the life of you drag one single breath into your depleted lungs which is becoming a bit scary as you feel your brain fading away due to lack of oxygen in your blood and you’d cry out for help like a drowning victim might if only you could find the air to do it and all the while things are getting darker and darker the ringing in your ears getting louder and louder as you frantically clutch at the air in front of you as though that will help it feed itself into your lungs or something and you’re suddenly very sure that this is the end for you so sayonara sucker it was nice to know ya give your regards to the world. But then you’re saved as your body finally decides that the shock has worn off, and you inhale as deeply as you can.

You would exhale, but due to the chagrin you feel as you look around you, seeing not one, not ten, but fifty or more guns of varying size and nature pointed at your head, you really want to hold onto what could be your last breath.

“Don’t shoot him. She wants him alive.” It’s Gruff. You actually get to put a face to the voice as he makes his way out of the crowd. It really is a face to go with the voice. Uuuugly. It’s while you’re admiring his God forsaken mug, that he smiles an even uglier smile, pulls out a pistol, and smashes the butt into your head.

 

Something soft touches your face. It feels really nice. That perfume, very arousing. You don’t really want to open your eyes, that would probably ruin it. After all, it can’t get much better than this. An alluring voice speaks softly into your ear.

“I know you’re awake. Don’t play with me. I have so much to show you.” Hey…whoa! Maybe things can get better. Opening your eyes you see…that you should have just kept them shut. Sure Suzie’s standing over you looking as good as she ever did, and right behind her is Gruff. Right next to Gruff is another mean looking son-of-a-bitch. Next to him is another and another and another and damn! Is it really so cool to watch an unconscious guy sleep? You try to come up with something witty to say, and manage to come out with…

“*Croak*.” Hmmm. Must’ve been out of it for a while. Gonna take a bit for the old vocal cords to warm up again. Everyone chuckles at your attempt, which doesn’t make you feel one bit better about yourself.

“Ohh. You poor thing. Let Suzie take good care of you.” She puckers up her lips in that condescending sort of way as she talks to you. God, you hate it when she does that. She used to do that all the time when you two were…well…you know. “I imagine you’re just dying to know what’s going on here aren’t you? You never could stand to be left in the dark about things.” Which is entirely true. Both parts. “Well, I’m going to tell you.” Yesss! “Later.”

“That’s bullshit!” You manage to croak out. “I’ve been through enough to warrant an explanation right fraggin’ now!” Ooo. Gotta watch that. You don’t want to end up sounding like Jonny. They all stare at you, silent. Gruff pulls out his pistol and gets ready to smash you in the face again, but Suzie stops him. Which is a good thing, really. You’re not too sure how quick your reflexes are right now.

“I just don’t want to spoil the surprise, honey. After all, it is Christmas. And if you decide to join us in our little plan, we’ll be the most powerful people in the world. Nations will quake beneath us. Rulers will bow to our every whim. And most important of all, we won’t have to deal with the awful exploitation of this holiday we call Christmas anymore!” So it finally happened. She lost it. It probably all boils down to you leaving her, that’s usually what happens. They just can’t live without you, and eventually either go insane or kill themselves. The real trick, is going to be getting out of here without having to get back together with her.

“Look, Suzie. I’d really love to find out what it is that you’ve got planned. I mean, the suspense is killing me, and if it sounds good enough, well hey, you know me. I just love a good deal.”

She smiles, “That I know. And I’m sure you’re going to love this one.” She motions to Gruff. “Get him cleaned up. You’ve got five minutes. It’s only twenty minutes until midnight. Everyone else, you know your stations. Now let’s move it!”

Gruff, looking particularly unpleasant, yanks you to your feet. He snarls at you, and you can see he’s not big in the dental hygiene department. “Just don’t be thinkin’ that we’re buds now. You killed my partner.”

“Hey, Gruff, come on, man. That was professional. Let’s not spoil our relationship because of it.” Grin. Yeah, that’s it sucker, check out my pearly whites. Betcha wish you’d taken better care of yours now don’t you?

“Better keep on your toes, tinker-bell, ’cause the first chance I get… Bam. You’re gonna need a new body.” Hey, good one, Gruff. You make that up all by yourself? He looks over your shoulder. You follow his gaze, and just as you’re looking back he smacks his fist into your mouth. Blood runs onto your tongue, and you can feel another split in your lip. Hatred burns in your eyes as you look at his decayedly grinning face.

“Hit me again, and I’ll kill you.”

“Oh. That’s real scary. Please don’t make me wet myself. Now come on! We got to get you cleaned up.”

Gruff’s version of getting cleaned up consists of a splash of water in the face, a Smurf band-aid to cover up the gun butt to your forehead, and a quick shot of spray on deodorant. Four minutes later shows you standing pretty in what you can only assume to be Suzie’s main control room.

There’s only about twelve computer terminals in here, not a whole lot for a diabolical mastermind’s main headquarters, but after all, this is only Suzie you’re talking about. She’s there, and she’s changed clothes. She’s wearing a very tight leather suit sort of thing. You’ve got to admit, it looks good on her. One of those outfits that people have to pour themselves into rather than just put on.

She smiles brightly as she sees you. Good teeth. That was always a strong point. “Ahh. It’s good to see you got cleaned up. Much better.” Better? A Smurf band-aid and some water? You don’t think so. “Let me start by filling you in on the background.

“All these computers you see before you have been working around the clock for the last three years.” Boy, she must’ve been busy ever since you last saw her. “They’ve been collecting data and hypothesizing about all of the possible variables, so as to leave no doubt that what we are about to do will not be in vain.”

“Um… Excuse me. Just what is it that-”

“Shush! I’m getting to that.” Okay. Fine. Sorry you asked. “There can be no doubt, that at precisely midnight, Santa Claus will land on the roof of this building, and that will be the first step to us conquering the world!”

Hmm. Interesting. The scary thing is that no one is laughing. They’re just looking expectantly at her, as she looks expectantly at you. You’re just trying to keep a straight face. You try to divert your mind, but it isn’t working, and you feel your resolve slip. You smirk. And Suzie shouts at you.

“You laugh now! But in just fourteen minutes, I will be mistress of the universe!”

“I don’t mean to be rude, Suzie, but I don’t get it. What’s jolly ol’ Saint Nick have to do with He-Man?”

That did it. Her face turns red with rage. “You imbecile! How is it, do you think, that Santa gets around the entire world in one night? How is it that he can go absolutely anywhere? This is how. The so called sleigh that our lovely little fat man rides around in all night, is in fact a time machine. This will allow travel to any date or time imaginable. His suit, is constructed out of a molecular desolidifying material which allows travel through any conceivable structure. Once Santa falls into our little trap, we will have access to this technology, and once we have access we will duplicate it, and once we have duplicated it I will have an entire army of time traveling, desolidifying soldiers who will take this world by force, bend it over my knee, and spank it! Oh yes! Spank it silly!” She stops, breathing heavily, looking at you with a crazed glee in her eye. There’s really not much to be said.

“Cool. Are you sure about this?”

“Oh, we’re more than sure. I wouldn’t leave anything to a random possibility when it comes to something this important.”

“Just a…couple…of questions, if I may?” You look at her imploringly. It’s good to tread lightly around people this insane. One never knows what might send them flying off the handle.

“Ask away, but keep in mind, your life could depend on the final decision you make.” That’s always good to hear.

“Right. Well, first off, what makes you think that you can get to Santa if he’s so high tech? I mean, won’t he be able to avoid your schemes like water off a duck’s back?” All right, so maybe that wasn’t the best analogy, but you’re kind of pressed for time.

“That? Oh that’s easy. We’re just going to shoot him.”

“Shoot him? Like with a gun? Don’t you think maybe he’s got some kind of bulletproof vest on or something? That could be why he looks so fat you know.”

“My dear, I have no doubt that he wears a bulletproof vest. In fact, his entire outfit is designed to render bullets absolutely harmless. And you’re right, he’s not really overweight. Do you really think that he could visit every house in the world if he was that out of shape? He’d have a cardiac arrest. What you fail to see, is that all one has to do to bypass all of that fancy schmancy gear he’s got, is shoot him in the head.”

“Of course. Why didn’t I think of that? Give me a break! Like nobody’s ever tried that before?!”

She just looks at you calmly, tapping her finger against her lower lip. “I’m quite sure that no-one has ever tried it before. For one thing, nobody who doesn’t know everything I do would attempt such a feat. Another thing is that if they had, Santa would be dead.”

You give up reasoning to her circular logic, and continue with your train of thought. “Right. Anyway, the other thing I want to know is how I fit into all of this. You’ve gotten this far without me, and there’s nothing else you would need someone like me for.”

“You always did have a lack of foresight, darling.” She walks closer to you, and stops with her hands on her hips. “I will need you later. Once I have accomplished my conquest, I will most definitely be seen by some as an excellent target for destruction. I’m sure you can understand why. So I will need you to be my bodyguard again. Just like the old days.”

You really wish she hadn’t brought that up. It’s bad enough that you screwed over someone that you were…uh…yeah anyway, but the fact that you were employed by her at the same time isn’t something that you like to remember all that much. Although, those were the days. And nights. That one time when she- wait a sec! She’s the diabolically insane one, remember? You’ve gotta try to keep that in perspective here.

You snap out of your revelries to find her looking at you expectantly again. You’ll give her a response all right, but you still need some answers. “So I guess it’s lucky for you that I stumbled along tonight, hunh?” That makes her laugh aloud.

“You silly, silly fool. You being here isn’t at all by accident. It was I who set up the bad deal. It was I who allowed the location of your transaction to be known by the police. And I knew that in a fix, I would be the only one you could think of to turn to. Looks like I was right.”

“I think maybe that’s just a little too convenient, don’t you? It sounds like a bad writer’s easy solution to a plot problem.”

“Nonetheless,” she interjects firmly, “That’s the way it is. Deal with it. You are mine.” Bummer. Here you thought you were still a little bit ahead of the ball game, and all the while you were nothing but a pawn. Duped, by the evil mastermind of Suzie. Maybe she’s right, you should just give in and join her. That’s the only place you were any use to the world after all. You could get back into shape, start up your training again, maybe even be somebody.

You look up into her eyes and see the endless possibilities within. “You know, Suzie…I think…I think…”

What are you doing? This harebrained scheme is not only insane, but downright scary. You like being out of shape. You like being lazy and insolent, always doing your own thing, master to no-one but yourself. You may not be anybody, but you’ve got pride, dammit! There’s no way in hell you’re going to let this wench take charge of your life! Fuck this!

“I think that you can shove it up your BUTT!” Suzie’s eyes go wide with surprise and pure, unadulterated rage.

“Kill this rat-bastard! Now!”

Gruff turns to you with a huge, nasty-toothed grin on his face. This will probably make his year. You don’t intend to let it. He starts to pull the gun from its holster, taking a step back. Dropping to a crouch you thrust your leg out to the side, striking your foot against his shins with a loud thudding sound. Gruff cries out in pain. Well, wouldn’t you? And he falls to the floor. You grab the gun from his hand while he’s still distracted, as all the while Suzie’s yelling almost fades into background noise.

“I want you to gouge out his eyes! I want you to piss on him! Stomp on his face pounding cartilage and bone into powder and bleeding and make him one big bruise and just mush and blegh and all over and JUST RIP HIM TO PIECES!!” Like you said, almost background noise.

Spinning on your heel you bring the gun up toward the closest three guards. The trigger slides smoothly, and the gun recoils very little as they go down. This is when the room turns to chaos. You’ve never been able to figure out why everything becomes so agitated in a sitch like this. There’s only one guy who’s any kind of threat, so why does everyone suddenly become so confused. You can’t really think about it now either, as you’ve got very little time to save a Santa Claus that five minutes ago you didn’t even believe in, thus saving the world and keeping it a safe place for all of mankind.

Behind you, you hear the sound of Gruff getting up. That won’t do at all. Sweeping around behind you with your leg, you catch him again, and he goes sprawling. This guy isn’t so tough. You grab him by his armored coat, yanking him to his feet again. With one quick motion he breaks your grasp, throws you off balance, and strikes your face with the palm of his hand. The force sends you reeling backward against a computer terminal. Okay, he’s a bad-ass. Gruff comes charging toward you. Recovering just in time to register the blow as his fist slams into your cheek, you roll with the punch. As you do, you bring your arm up and around his neck, managing to get him in a weak hold. That’s okay, you don’t intend to keep him there long. You twist your waist, bringing him up, over your hip, and sending his head smashing through the monitor screen. Sparks fly, smoke and gasses escaping through the broken glass as his body twitches.

“Shocking. Isn’t it?” Losing no time you leap over the table, scattering pie charts and demographics as you go. Clipping off three more shots, you land before the bodies do. Suzie is still screaming in the background, and you figure it’s only dumb luck that every gun in the place hasn’t come bearing down on you. You know from experience that dumb luck does not last.

The door, not three meters from you, serves as an excellent escape hatch. Bursting through it you see five more idiots running down the hall toward you. You take a gamble, since surely they can’t all know what you look like. “Fire in the control room! Get out now!” It works like a charm. Nearly stumbling over each other they turn around and run away. The beauty of it all is that one of them hits the nearby fire alarm lever for good measure. Sirens. You couldn’t have planned it better. Now at least half of the dumb ones will be too busy saving their own necks to worry about you.

First priority, get to the roof before Suzie does. You’ve no idea how much time you have before Santa gets here. It isn’t too hard to find the stairwell, with it’s blazing fluorescent green neon sign. Maybe Suzie will take the elevator. You can only hope. Taking the steps two at a time you should be able to get there first.

Five floors later you wish you’d taken the elevator. You’re really not in shape for this, but just thinking about how proud you are to be out of shape and independent gives you the energy to continue. Six more flights of stairs and you reach the rooftop exit. It’s deadbolted. Muzzle flash glows from your gun and you won’t be able to hear for at least a week, but the door creaks open. You help it along with a swift kick, and step onto the roof, pointing the gun left, then right, covering the area. Empty. Good.

A quick glance shows that there’s nothing to brace the door closed from this side, so it looks like you get to cover the door real close-like. Stupid you. You didn’t grab another weapon. It only would have taken a second, and you didn’t prepare for what now looks to be a very bleak future. You check your clip. Five bullets left. That’s cool. At least you’ll get five of the forty.

Something in your head senses motion behind you, and you turn to see the thing that every kid in the world would give their two front teeth for. A very large sleigh, and eight reindeer, flying through the air. A large man with a red coat sits inside, but you notice that he doesn’t seem altogether jolly. Almost stoic, rather. You look at your watch. Two minutes ’till. Kudos to St. Nick for being time efficient.

The sleigh comes down for a five star landing, stopping perfectly centered on the building. It is now that this man you can only assume to be Santa notices you. His face lights up with a jolly grin, much more like what you assumed the expression would be.

“Well, what have we here? I usually don’t run into people such as you on rooftops.”

“Whoa, listen…uh…Santa, these people downstairs, they’re going to be coming through that door at any second with guns and who knows what else trying to kill you. I know it sounds far fetched, but trust me, I was involved with this woman, she’s insane.” His smile fades so fast, you aren’t even sure it was there in the first place. He sizes you up and down, looks down into his sleigh, and pulls out a scorpion sub-machine gun.

“You probably know how to use one of these, right?” You stare at him, dumbfounded. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure you do.” And without further adieu, he tosses you the weapon. Instinctively, you check it, finding it to be in excellent condition. As you look back to…Nick, which you find settles in your head much better than Santa, you see him playing with the buckle on his belt. The red on his suit fades to white, blending in perfectly with the snow around you, and you notice that as he moves, the suit changes to match the area around him. He gives you a sly wink, and motions for you to follow as he takes cover behind one of the ventilators.

Hitting the deck beside him, you chamber a round, and give in to all of the questions buzzing around in your head. “Why do you have all of this stuff? Since when can your suit change to match the terrain? Are you really the fittest man in the world?”

“Hey, whoa there Sparky! One question at a time.”

“Sorry.”

“First off, I bring presents to everyone in the world, right? Now, do you really think that all of those people out there are going to get Barbie dolls and Sharper Image trinkets? Hell no! What about all of the freedom fighters, espionage artists, and people like that?”

“I don’t know, I just assumed that they were bad.”

“Ahh, but from whose perspective? Hunh? I’ll bet you didn’t think about that did you? Now, as for the suit, I often have to make deliveries to some pretty nasty neighborhoods. It just wouldn’t do to go stomping around with a bright red suit on, saying that’s it crackhead, right here, big target for you. You should see how this thing works in the forest. No one would ever see me.”

“That’s a good thing, you’re a pretty big target.”

He laughs. “That’s only image m’boy.” Pushing another button on the belt, he smiles at you as his suit seems to deflate, until it fits like a comfortable size jumper.

“So, can I have one of those for Christmas?” His following laugh is cut short by the door flying open, and cracking of random gunfire. He pulls his hat down over his face like a ski mask, now completely one with the snow, and rolls out from behind the ventilator. Bullets burst from a gun you didn’t even realize that he had, spattering blood from the first five to come through the door. They do get smarter after that.

You creep out from the other side, flanking the open hatch. They space themselves out as they dive through this time, each one tucking and rolling behind one of the air conditioners. Nick manages to pick off one more as the tough goes for his somersault, spasming his body off to the side. You fire off a few shots at the door, just to deter anyone else from jumping through.

Nick rises to a low crouch, and you can barely see his arm throw something behind the conditioner. A yelp cries out as the object lands, and you hear the scuffling of feet on ice as the helpless fools try to escape their demise. A flash of light consumes the area, and a shock wave flattens you as bits of metal and roofing land all around you.

This is when that mayhem thing breaks loose again. Hordes of men stream through the doorway, firing bullets in random directions. You roll back behind the ventilator, tufts of snow flying up in your wake as you hear the spak, spak of landing rounds. You’ve no idea where Nick is, but assume that he knows how to stay out of the way. Popping the Scorpion up, you fire off rounds, hoping they hit. Someone comes barreling around the side of your cover, and you spin, filing him full of lead, watching the body jerk right over the edge of the roof.

You wish on your lucky stars, and bolt from your hiding place, trying to make it to the next bit of cover before someone tries to turn you into Swiss cheese. That cover happens to be the sleigh. Running toward it you sense more than see Nick diving inside. A very large gun, mounted on a turret pops up, practically in your face, and you yell, commanding your legs to collapse. Burying yourself in the snow, gunfire deafens you, and casings pile up around you as the gun from hell blazes away. You pull yourself forward, low-crawling through the snow, taking a second to look behind. What you see are the numerous amounts of troops being ripped to shreds. Blood flies everywhere, heads explode, and the building itself is torn apart as the turret makes its rounds.

Then, suddenly, everything is really fraggin’ quiet. Sensing absolutely no movement around you, you stand up. The gun sits still, smoking heavily in the night air. Yep. Definitely gotta add one of those to the wish list. You don’t even try to count the bodies, and with a lot of them you wouldn’t be able to tell who was who anyway.

Nick stands up in the sleigh, pulling off his mask. “You were right, there were a lot of them. I should have known Suzie would try something like this. I debated even bringing her anything this year, but I still have a soft spot for her, what after everything you put her through.”

Guilt spears through you. It’s funny how he has a way of making you feel really bad about that. No wonder you didn’t get anything last Christmas.

“You did real good here. I think I’ll take you off my BAD list, and put you on the OKAY one.” Generous of you Nick. “No, I’m just joshin’ with you, I can’t say what a service you’ve done here. True, if I had been killed, one of the other agents would have taken my place, but it’s the principle of the thing. You saved Santa Claus!”

A little too late you sense someone move. In an instant, Gruff leaps into the sleigh, pointing one pistol at Nick’s head, and another at you. A voice comes from behind you… It’s Suzie’s.

“Well, well, well. What do we have here. Mr. Kringle, and someone I should have known never to trust again.” Inner groan. Slowly you turn, and lo and behold, there she is in all her glory. So here you are, smack dab in the sights of her really big gun, Nick held at gunpoint, and another bead on your back. This is going to be a tricky one. “Just go ahead and throw down that weapon you’ve got there, and don’t try anything. I could erase you from the face of the Earth with this thing.” You believe her. Your gun falls to the ground, and a lot of your hope with it. There’s maybe a point zero one percent chance of you pulling off the trick brewing your head, but hey, you never know.

Gruff seizes the moment to put in his two bits. “C’mon boss, why don’t we just off ’em right now? We got what we wanted, right?” It’s all or nothing.

“That’s where you’d be wrong, Gruff.” It’s a cliche start, but captures Suzie’s attention. “You see, your boss here wanted more than just Santa, she wanted me wrapped up in the package as well. But she hasn’t gotten me yet. Look close, you can see it in her eyes, she doesn’t want to kill me.”

“Of all the arrogant-” She’s getting pissed off now. Good.

“Not really so.” You take a very small step, moving yourself between the two of them. “You could have pulled that trigger the second you walked out on this rooftop, couldn’t you? Yeah, you see, Gruff, she still wants me. Not you at all, like you hope for.

You do want her, don’t you, Gruff?”

You look at him, and see that he’s getting a real embarrassed, pissed off sort of look on his face. You position yourself even more between them. Almost there.

“Basically, you both lose. Suzie can’t have me, and Gruff can’t have Suzie.” One last step, and your feelings tell you that this is exactly where you want to be. “I’m just the piss in both your pots.”

Using every bit of speed possible, you pull the pistol from your waist. With one foot, you kick the other ankle as hard as you can, hoping to high Heaven that the roof is icy as you thought. It is. You fire off one shot, and your ass slams hard on the roof. Simultaneous gunshots ring out in front of, and behind you, and you cringe, waiting to feel the bullets pierce your flesh. You keep on wincing, waiting. You let your senses feel out around you. No one is bearing down on you with their weapons. Just stillness. And then, two bodies hit the snow. Slowly, you get to your feet, brushing the ice from your clothes, all the while thinking that you should have played the damn lottery, ’cause you must be the luckiest son-of-a-bitch alive.

You turn to face Santa, his mouth hanging open, and bow.

“Holy SHIT! Nice work, son! How the hell did you know that they were going to hit each other?”

“Well, I’ve got good spatial perception, let’s just put it that way. I knew she’d go down, the only real gamble, aside from whether or not they’d be quick enough to hit me, was whether or not she’d hit you. I figured, hey, he’s got a bulletproof suit, what the hell.”

Nick winks at you again. “I like that kind of thinking. Here, take this card. We may have some openings next fiscal year. You’d work out just fine.” He offers you the card, but you don’t take it.

“Naw, that’s just a bit too much responsibility for me. I like things just the way they are.”

“That really is too bad, because now that you know what I am, I can’t just let you live.” He reaches down into the sleigh.

“I had a feeling you’d say something like that, Santa.” And with that you pump the last four rounds into his head, pulverizing it. “That’s why I saved some treats just for you.”

You toss the gun aside, and almost feel bad about what you’ve done, but you remember him saying something about another agent taking his place. No reason to feel guilty, really. They’ve probably got a squad on the way to clean up the mess right now. There’ll be another Santa making the rounds within hours.

You start combing through the sled, looking for other interesting items, thinking all the while, you really are the luckiest guy in the world. Not only did you get a turret mounted, super dragon machine gun, but a real nifty camouflage suit as well.

Who else, do you think, got such cool stuff for Christmas?

 

(Credits roll, to the tune of Winter Wonderland)

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