“Excuse me?” the angry looking mother said, tapping Kevin on the shoulder.He turned towards her.“I just have to let you know that I feel that what you did was, like, totally unacceptable? And, like, barbaric?And that I felt, like, personally assaulted?”
She was a hard-core up-talker, making each phrase sound like a question.Kevin finds up-talkers disturbing, and visibly cringed at the sound of her voice.
“And I just need to say,” she continued, not seeming to notice that Kevin had put his fingers in his ears, “that Santa is supposed to be loving?And that my son is, like, traumatized?And that violence, like, never solves anything?”
Miss Up-Talk was silent for a couple of moments, apparently done verbalizing.Kevin tentatively removed his fingers from his ears, ready to re-insert them if noises began emanating from her face again.
“Thank you for your input,” he said, turning his attention back to the ropes.
“I just have to say it feels like you’re not, like, taking this seriously?” She verbalized.“And that you’re being, like, totally rude?And I feel like I want to speak with your manager?”
“Ma’am,” Kevin said, “would you mind setting your child down for a moment?”
“Because I’m going to pick you up and hurl you far away from me and I don’t want the little bastard to be injured.”
Up-Talk gasped and clasped her kid more tightly.She then spun around, and marched off in a huff.“Asshole!” she called over her shoulder, her heels clicking angrily on the tile floor.
“Bra-vo,” I said, slow-clapping.“Well done!Way to create a safe space where people feel accepted, dumbass.”
“Don’t you start in on me, dick nose.”
“I’ll lay ten-to-one odds that Alejandro will have us in the unemployment line by quitting time.”
“I’d like to hurl you far away from me.”
We finished setting up the ropes, and Kevin reinserted himself into Santa’s chair and resumed listening to the wish-lists of little kids.Other than Miss Up-Talk, I couldn’t see that anyone had left as a result of the incident with Mr. Coveralls.In fact, it didn’t look like anyone had even gotten out of line.These parents had just witnessed Santa hurl a man fifty feet across the room, but they were willing to let their kids sit on his lap.I’ll never understand the public.
The afternoon dragged on and I lost count of how many of the little germ bombs came and went.Don’t get me wrong—the first fifty mucus-dripping booger-eaters were a pure joy work with, but even a kid-lover like me has his limits.As the hours passed, Kevin’s HO HO HO’s began to lose steam as even his super-human energy flagged.This was our first Saturday on the job, and apparently taking your kid to see Santa is a weekend sport.
I was just handing off a lovely little tyke to his mother when I heard someone shouting from the direction of the exit doors.
“I’m n-not afraid a-anymore!”
The people in line looked around, startled.
“What the hell is that?”Kevin said.
“Beats me,” I replied.“But…that voice sounds familiar.”
“I k-kicked fear’s ass, and n-now I’m not a-afraid!” the voice sang, closer now, coming down the corridor.“I d-dick-punched fear!”
“I’ve definitely heard that stutter before,” Kevin said.
“Me, too,” I replied. Then a disturbing thought struck me.“Kevy, you don’t suppose that’s—”
Just then a tall, thin man with a scraggly beard, and a blue knit cap pulled down over his long, greasy hear shambled into the Santa area, stopping about fifty feet away. He stood there swaying, clutching a bottle of bourbon.He wore a filthy, yellow trench coat, and his baggy, torn khaki pants were tucked into the tops of paint-spattered construction boots.
“—Stu Portnoy,” I said.
“No f-fear anymore!”He screamed.He tipped the bottle up to his mouth and drained it, andthen—after eyeing it to make sure it was empty—dashed it to the ground where it shattered into a thousand pieces.The people in line gasped.“I-I’m a b-brave son of a bitch, n-now!”
“Stu?” I called out as calmly as I could.“Stu, it’s me, Jimmy Merle.”He stared at me, a puzzled look on his face.“Your therapist,” I added helpfully.
“M-my therapist is an elf?” he asked, puzzled.
Shit, I’d completely forgotten about my costume.“No, your therapist isn’t an elf.I’m wearing an elf costume at the moment because Kevin and I needed some extra cash.”
“B-but you’re an elf.”
“Nope.Not an elf.Like I mentioned a second ago, this is just a costume.”
“Elves aren’t real,” he said, rubbing his eyes, then looking at me again.“You’re not there.You’re just in my imagination.”
“Well, you’re right about elves not being real, but like I said, I’m not an elf.”
“You’re n-not real!” he yelled.“Y-you’re just trying to m-make me afraid!”
“Now, Stu why don’t you just calm down and we can talk this over and—”
“You’re trying to scare me, Mr. Imaginary elf!Well, I’ve got s-someone I want you to meet!”
“My lover!” he shrieked, reaching inside his coat and pulling something out.
A hunting rifle.
“Fuck!” Kevin and I yelled simultaneously as Stu swung the rifle up towards us.
“I-I’m not afraid of guns anymore!” he screamed.“But nasty, imaginary elves who try to scare me should be afraid!” He pulled the trigger.
The top corner of the Santa chair exploded, the blast from the high-powered rifle deafening in the enclosed area, setting my ears to ringing like Yuletide bells.Kevin almost yanked my arm out of the socket pulling me to the floor.Pandemonium erupted, people screaming as they simultaneously tried to stay low, clutch their children and escape.
“I t-take her everywhere and t-talk sweet to her!” Stu called out as he racked the gun bolt back and forward with a loud clack-clack.
A store window behind us imploded in a shower of glass.Half a dozen people fell into heap as their legs tangled in the velvet ropes in their desperate attempt to flee. With lightning speed Kevin dragged me along the ground by my arm like I was no heavier than a rag doll.The bells on my elf shoes jangled madly as he swung me across the tile and behind the big Santa sleigh for cover.
“Thanks, buddy,” I gasped, rolling to my knees.
“You owe me a beer,” Kevin said, peering over the top of the sleigh.
“My gun is my lover and her name is Sylvia!” Stu screamed.
Kevin ducked back down as the bullet blasted out a chunk of tile a few feet away and ricocheted with a buzzing whine through another display window, destroying it.Most of the people were crawling along the floor, but a few just huddled on the ground, unable to move in their panic.
“This job isn’t fun anymore!” I hissed at Kevin.
“This is all your fault, Mr. Therapist,” he snapped.
“What?! How is this my fault?”
“He’s following the advice you gave him in therapy, fuckwit!”
“I never told him to open fire in a mall!”
“I sleep with her, and eat with her, and do everything with her!” Stu screamed.
One of the candy-cane lights over our head exploded, sending glass fragments raining down on us.After the glass stopped falling, I leaned over and peeked around the end of the sleigh.Stu was walking towards us.I heard the ominous clack-clack as he seated another round into the chamber.
“Here he comes!” I yelled.“Think of something quick!”
“Create a distraction!”
“I don’t know!Show him your dopey face, that should do it!”
Then I got an idea.I reached over to the Christmas tree which was right next to the sleigh and pulled off several glass ornaments.I began tossing them to Stu’s right where they shattered on the marble floor with loud pops.He jerked his head around towards the noise.
That was all Kevin needed.
He gripped the top edge of the sleigh and in one powerful motion pulled himself up, planted his feet next to his hands, then catapulted himself through the air like Superman.Stu looked back, his eyes widening in shock as Santa hurtled through the air at him with fangs bared and massive, hairy arms reaching for him.
Stu managed to squeeze off one more shot.A split second later, six-hundred pounds of African Silverback Gorilla slammed him to the ground.They rolled several times and came to a stop with Kevin sitting on his chest.The gun lay nearby, the stock splintered into several pieces. Stu looked—well, dead.At any rate, he wasn’t moving, that’s for sure.
My toe-bells jingled with yuletide cheer as I sprinted over to them.Kevin sat on Stu’s chest, lightly slapping his cheeks with the back of his hand, trying to get a response.
“I think I killed him,” Kevin said.
“Damn,” Kevin said, standing up.
“I’d hoped we could help him,” I said sorrowfully, shaking my head.
Several security guards ran into the Santa area, and I could hear sirens in the distance.
“How about you?” I asked.“You okay, buddy?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Actually,” I said, inspecting a black hole in shoulder of his Santa coat, “your left shoulder is bleeding.”
“It is?”Kevin craned his neck around, trying to see.
“Hold still while I look.”
I stuck my fingers in the hole and tore it wider so I could get a better look.
“He must have clipped you with that last shot.Yeah…you’ve got a pretty deep graze.Look.”I held up my finger which had a small amount of blood smeared on it.“But it’s not too bad.Good thing I distracted him, or this might have been a lot worse.”
“Oh my,” he said, beginning to sway back and forth.“Jimmy Merle, I don’t feel so good, I—”
Then he fainted.Turns out that Kevin can’t stand the sight of his own blood.I sat next to him on the floor, holding his paw and patting it as the sirens got closer.
“Hang in there, buddy.”
“You need to stop moving so I can get this stitched up.”
I was sitting next to Kevin’s hospital bed watching the doctor as she tried to sew up his arm.Kevin was wearing a blue gown that didn’t fit very well, and he kept hitching it back up as he fiddled with his iPhone.The doctor was trying valiantly to get the first stitch started, but Kevin kept moving around.
After the police had arrived and secured the mall, they finally let the EMT’s inside.They loaded Stu—who, it turned out, wasn’t quite dead—onto a stretcher, his wrist handcuffed to the metal railing.The police spent several minutes questioning Kevin and I before the EMT’s lifted Kevin onto a stretcher—it took five of them to do it—and began rolling him to one of the ambulances.The police said they’d want to interview us further after Kevin got medical attention.He was loaded into the ambulance, and I rode to the hospital with him.
“Please hold still,” the doctor said after yet another failed attempt to start the first stitch.
“Fuck’s sake, Kevin,” I said.“You’re as squirrely as those brats you had on your lap earlier.”
“Well pardon me all to Hell,” He said, setting his phone down on the bedside table and letting the doctor get to work.“I was trying to find us another job, ass hat.”
“Yeah, I doubt they’re going to re-open the Santa area after an active shooter situation.”
“What you did was very brave,” the doctor said as she tied off a stitch.“No doubt you saved a lot of lives.”
“Twernt nothin’, Ma’am,” I said in my best southern drawl.
“Nothing is right, since I was the one that did all the work,” Kevin said.
“I distracted him.If it hadn’t been for me, you’d have gotten your head blown off, moron.”
“And if you’d listened to me and not done therapy on Stu and given him that shitty advice about making a gun his girlfriend, we’d have never been in an active shooter situation in the first place, dumbass.”
“Wait—you know the shooter?” the doctor asked, looking up from Kevin’s arm.
“Uh…no…no, never met him,” I stammered quickly.“Kevin’s just confused, probably from the trauma of getting shot.Right, Kevin?” I gave him my best shut the fuck up glare, hoping he’d close his yap before spilling the beans that, why yes, we did know the shooter.And had, in fact, given him therapy just a few days ago curing him of his fear of guns.How was I supposed to know my advice to Stu would turn into a big kerfuffle?This whole active shooter thing was a big misunderstanding on Stu’s part, and clearly not my fault.I just wasn’t sure if anyone else would see it that way.Besides, I’m sure I read somewhere that therapists aren’t supposed to talk about their patients.It’s—like—a law or something.
“Yeah, I’m in deep shock,” Kevin replied sarcastically.“Never seen the guy before.”
“You’re moving again,” the doctor said, looking back at Kevin’s arm and pulling it back into position.Apparently, she bought my story: that what Kevin had said about me and the shooter was merely the ranting of a patient in shock.She finished the last stitch, then applied a bandage over the wound.“All done.Just keep the bandage on for a few days so everything stays clean, and we’ll remove those stitches in a couple of weeks.In the meantime, I’d like to keep you overnight for observation.”
“But I feel okay,” Kevin said.
“Yes, but you’re suffering from shock, and I’d like to play it safe and keep an eye on you.”
“How’s the shooter?”I asked as she walked towards the door.
“Eight broken ribs, cracked sternum, collapsed lung, fractured clavicle, dislocated knee, and a subdural hematoma.But he’ll live.”
“Holy fucking shit, Kevin!” I gasped after she left.“Did you have to pulverize him like that?We’re his therapists, for fuck’s sake!”
“This case required tough love.”
“And another thing,” I continued, “you almost blew this whole thing for us.You can’t ever mention to anyone that we know Stu.And you especially can’t mention that he’s our patient.”
“Attorney-client privilege, dumbass.We’ll go to jail if we talk about it.”
“You’re just afraid that people will find out that in one therapy session you transformed your one-and-only patient from a harmless junkie into a mall shooter.”
“That, too,” I replied.“So, what are we going to do about jobs?”
“I think I may have a line something,” Kevin said, peering at his iPhone screen.
“The local Catholic church is looking for people.”
“That’s great!What position?”
He handed me his phone.
“We could do that job no sweat,” I said after reading the ad on the screen.“We’ll go apply as soon as they let you out of here.” I gave him a high five.
I looked back through the ad trying to find more details to determine if this was a job we’d enjoy.It didn’t say what an Altar Boy was other than we’d be working closely with the priests.That sounded okay to me.After all, what could go wrong?