While this wasn’t the first time I’ve stood in front of an angry dame holding a gun at me, it occurred to me that it’d never happened on Christmas Eve before. I checked it off the bucket list in my brain. One less goal to worry about, assuming I survived the night.
Mother stood solid, confident, sure. Everything must be going according to plan. I couldn’t live with myself if I let that happen. Of course, I couldn’t live with myself if she shot me either. Time to get to work. “It’s only polite to get a dead man a last drink,” I said as I glanced out the window. “Not like we’re going anywhere.”
“Fine. Get him his drink, Walter,” Mother ordered as she gestured towards the wet bar with the tip of the revolver, clearly enjoying the brief role reversal. Walter scuttled over to the bar, lowered his quivering hands and poured a glass of what looked to be some cheap brandy. I briefly considered letting her shoot me instead of drinking it. “I’m so glad you could join us, Mr. Holliday. I’m shocked, shocked to see you intended to rob us!”
“Rob us?” Walter blubbered as he picked the up the glass. The ice rattled inside its cage, as desperate to be free as the missus.
“Why yes, Walter,” Mother continued. “Don’t you see? Mr. Holliday is here to rob us of our house and home. Oh, unfortunately he managed to shoot you before you could stop him.”
He handed me the glass, and I took it with my free hand. The other hand continued to inch towards the bottom of my coat pocket. The drink’s cheery, cherry smell felt like a stake of holly had been buried through my sinuses.
“Fortunately, I was able to get the drop on him,” Mother continued coolly, “and shot him to protect our precious little angel in the other room.” Mother feigned sadness, but the smirk at the edge of her lips told me everything I needed to know. “I’d be willing to bet the police don’t like you very much, Mr. Holliday.” That was true. They didn’t. You get suspected for a few assaults and a couple unsolved fatalities, and the authorities tend to get twitchy. “I know they’ll believe me, the poor, scared housewife, and thank her for riding the world of such a scoundrel.”
“You shouldn’t call Walter a scoundrel,” I quipped.
My fingers found what I was looking for.
“Let me guess,” I continued. “A few weeks later you file a nice life insurance claim, and now you and Santa have more than five grand to start your new life with?”
“Very good, Mr. Holliday.”
“Insurance?” Walter gurgled. “You’d kill me for the insurance money?”
“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” I added as my hand wrapped around the grip, “for some of us at least.”
“Yes it is,” Mother said as she raised her gun up a little higher. “Goodbye, Walter. Thank you so much for dying.”
Before she could pull the trigger, I threw my drink at her. Good riddance.
I’m no southpaw. I knew I wouldn’t hit her, but that really wasn’t what I was trying to do anyway. Mother ducked to avoid the flying monstrosity, and the glass shattered against the wall behind her.
That gave me just enough time to pull the gun out of my coat pocket.
When Mother whirled back around, her eyes went wide as the barrel of my gun stared back at her. “Nobody’s getting shot,” I said, “at least not yet.”
Mother groaned, uncertain whether to point the gun at me or Walter. It hung in the air between us. I’m pretty sure this was the first time she’d held a gun in her life, much less had one pointed right in her face. “Let’s just talk a bit more,” I offered.
“Talk,” Mother grumbled. “Talk about what?”
“About what’s going to happen next.”
“You going to shoot me, Mr. Holliday?” Mother crooned, her voice smoothing out into the seductress I’d talked to last night. “You’d shoot a woman?”
“It wouldn’t be the first time,” I said. That was true too. I don’t like to talk about it. “No, I’m more curious what the rest of your plan was, after you knocked us off of course.”
Mother reset her grip around the gun. “Simple. I’d send the girl off to his parents and leave here forever. Everybody wins.”
“Doesn’t sound like I would win,” Father interrupted.
“Shut up, Walter,” Mother and I barked in unison.
“So you were ready to leave your little girl behind?”
“That little troll? She’ll be fine with his family, maybe even better off. She always preferred them to me anyway. Ungrateful thing.” Looks like her resolve had returned. “I’d hoped to leave her with you tonight, Walter. Walk out of here on my own, and never return.” She glared at me with a look that would have made Caesar Augustus soil his toga. “But then Mr. Holliday here had to get involved. I don’t know how you got a hold of my money, but you left me no choice but to do this the hard way.” She hefted the revolver in the air, zeroing in on my nose.
“Oh, you don’t have me to thank for that,” I smirked.
“What are you talking about?”
I nodded towards the front door. Mother slowly turned to look and gasped.
My client stood at the end of the hallway that must have led back to her bedroom. The shattered glass had summoned her, just like I’d hoped. The look on her face was a fiery concoction of despair and fury. “I knew it,” she muttered. “I knew you were going to leave us.”
Mother’s lip quivered. “Darling, I … I can explain.”
“Oh, I heard you explain everything, darling,” she snarled. “For weeks I watched you and Santa, the way you looked at each other. I just didn’t think you could do it. I didn’t think you would leave us. But just in case, I hired Mr. Holliday to stop him.” I could see tears of rage forming behind her eyes. “What was this morning all about then? You were so nice. It was just like the good times.”
I was glad she wasn’t holding one of the guns.
“You’re not my mother,” my client cried. “You’re just a monster who thinks only of herself.”
Mother’s face went stone cold at that. Not a good idea kid, I thought, as Mother’s focus fell back to me and Walter. “I was prepared to kill two people tonight,” she growled. “What makes you think I won’t kill three? Mr. Holliday is such a bad man. He even killed my poor, sweet baby.” I swear she wanted to cackle like a witch at a Halloween moon. “No,” she sighed as she lifted the gun towards me, “I don’t think you’ll shoot me, not in front of a little girl. Goodbye, Mr. Holliday.”
Before I could do anything, my client bounded across the room and stopped right in front of me, her arms out wide, as if that would stop the bullet from going clear through my skull. “If you’re going to kill him, you’re going to have to kill me first.”
Mother looked from the girl to her husband and back. She’d forgotten my gun was still trained on her. I doubt she cared anymore.
“So, what’s it going to be?” I asked.
I’d stood in front of enough armed people in my life to know whether they were prepared to fold or call the bluff.
Mother’s eyes narrowed at me as her finger coiled around the trigger. She wasn’t going to fold.
I had my shot all lined up. This was it. It was going to be her or me. There was only one way this was going down.
I knew what I had to do.
“I’ll give you the money!” my client yelled.
Mother blinked several times as she returned to reality. “What are you talking about?” she asked.
“I’ve got your money. If you leave, without killing anyone, I’ll tell you where it is.”
Mother’s face softened. “You? You took my money?”
The girl’s face revealed nothing. I made a mental note to never play poker with her. “Drop the gun, and I’ll tell you where I hid it.”
We stood there silent for a few seconds. I could hear the faded sound of Christmas music coming from a radio in the apartment next door. The red and green of their Christmas trees lights twinkled off the shards of my discarded glass and the pristine wax job on the floor. I’m pretty sure Walter was holding his breath. My client folded her arms across her chest.
I cocked the hammer of my gun back with a click so loud it filled the room.
“Deal,” Mother yelped as she tossed the gun to the floor. I half-expected it to go off, but nothing happened. I’d bet all the money in my pockets she still had the safety on. I really was dealing with amateurs tonight.
Well, except for my client.
“Tell me where it is,” Mother implored.
The little girl paused. I can only imagine what she was thinking, what she was feeling. The betrayal. The greed. Perhaps even a desire to pick up the gun and threaten her mother right back. I held my gun steady, ready for anything. “It’s at the department store,” she finally answered. “I took it there this morning when you went to see him. I put it inside a hope chest that was on display next to Santa’s chair. It’ll still be there. Nobody buys hope chests at Christmas anyways.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Mother considered her for a moment, then turned to me. “You going to let me go, Mr. Holliday?”
“That’s up to my boss,” I said. The little girl looked up at me and nodded. I lowered my gun. “Don’t try to come back here tonight, you or your jolly little elf. You threatened to kill us. You won’t get to do that again.”
“Don’t ever come back,” my client hissed. “Ever.”
Mother’s face turned red for a moment. Perhaps she was having second thoughts. But when she looked at her daughter, it was clear her mind had been made up for her. She slowly walked to the front door, opened it and stopped. She stole a glance back over her shoulder.
“Ever,” my client repeated as cold as a cemetery in an arctic blizzard.
Without another word, Mother turned and walked out, closing the door behind her.
I eased myself back into the corner behind the Christmas tree and gazed out the window while Walter hugged his daughter tightly in his arms. “Oh, my sweet little girl! Are you okay?” Not sure why he bothered to ask her that. That dame could wrangle a stampede of raging tigers all by herself.
“Of course I am, Daddy,” she answered as she settled into his embrace. “We’re both okay now.”
I watched as Mother exited the building. Santa was there to meet her at the bottom of the steps. They argued, their arms flailing in the air. Finally they both settled down and walked off into the night in the direction of the department store, an uncomfortable space forming between their rigid forms. Good riddance.
“Thank you, Mr. Holliday,” my client said from beside me.
“Thank me?” I grunted. “Looks like you didn’t need my help at all.”
The little goblin smirked. “I wish I could see the look on her face when she finds that chest empty.”
I had to admit, I did too.
I reached into my inner coat pocket, pulled out the envelope and handed it to her. “It’s all there,” I said, “minus three day’s pay and expenses, of course.”
“Another problem solved.”
“Th-thank you,” Father stuttered from behind her. “Thank you, Mr. Holliday.”
“I think he could use an egg nog,” I suggested as I grabbed my hat and made my way to the door. “I know I could use a bourbon.”
“Won’t … won’t you stay?” Walter sputtered. “It’s Christmas, after all. No one should be alone on Christmas.”
“Some people should,” I said as I put on my hat and tipped the brim with a finger. “Be seeing you, kid.”
“Merry Christmas, Mr. Holliday,” my client said with a grin as she wrapped an arm around her father’s waist.
I got the hell out of there. As the door shut behind me, I recalled that Johnny’s would already be closed. Swell.
I walked back to my apartment, peeled the coat off my back and peeked out the front window. The street was barren now, and I suspected it would remain dead all night. Even still, I checked my gun and tucked it back into the holster. Just in case Santa and Mother changed their minds and came upon a midnight clear.
I stared out into the cold, silent night and lit a cigarette. Just the way I liked it.