by Jerry Mullins
A lot of people around this little town just sit around on Christmas and say things like, “Well, it’s just like any other day to me,” and that is a sure sign they are the ones who have nobody to care about and nobody to care about them because, you know, Christmas, especially in these small towns, is about caring for people, even if you have to fake it a little. I’ll tell you about the big Christmas excitement we had last year, since you were on the road and maybe you don’t know about it, but that’s when everything broke loose, with the Sheriff getting shot. Accidentally of course, because God forbid he would be doing something in the line of duty to be shot just like a regular policeman, being the doofus he is.
Well, it started peaceful enough, with all the usual drunks and misfits off the street early in the morning. But, you know, as soon as the usual crowd realized the local beer joints were closed and of course the state liquor store shut tight, they would start coming out of the woodwork like cockroaches and they would be looking for a drink and people to sit around with and drink and talk. That made for some strange company, I will tell you.
So George, the barber, called me and said, “Luther, come on over here and we’ll have a few. I just restocked my whiskey the other day.”
Now George was alright, but he did not handle drinking too well, and after a while, he got sad and started muttering about being alone and being the last in his family line and that pulled down the atmosphere you might say. At first I didn’t want to go over there, but I told George, “I can come by for a little while, but I’m invited to a couple other places and maybe you can go around with me.”
I drove over there to George’s and right away, he was making drinks way too strong for so early in the day without any food, so I asked him to go over to Maysel’s place with me. She always had a nice food spread and did not push the drinking so much, since she was a clean living high school history teacher, although sometimes I am not so sure on that clean living part.
George agreed to go on with me and offered to drive and we ran into a commotion in front of the gas station, a police road block, in fact. By then, the snow was coming down pretty good.
“Sorry to stop you, but there’s been some trouble in this area, and we are checking traffic,” the new deputy in town said. He didn’t know us, but we didn’t worry too much, since a retired high school English teacher like me and the town barber don’t usually pose much of a threat. It was hard to understand him, since his speech was so slurred.
“What’s going on?” we asked.
“I can’t say much, since the investigation is still going on, so I’ll just say an armed robbery happened here at the gas station. I’ll need to see your ID.”
George looked over at me a little panicky and said real quiet, “I lost my driver license on that hooker bust down in the city that caught up guys like me looking for girls and I don’t have a thing to show him.”
“Can’t you see he is just as drunk as a skunk?” I said. “You smell the whisky on his breath? Just give him your library card or something and I bet you he will not know the difference.”
So George pulled out his library card and handed it to the new deputy, who was looking wobbly on his feet and maybe ready to pass out, but he said, “Now I don’t see a picture of you on here.”
“I am from out of state where they don’t put pictures on them,” George said real quick. I chuckled a little on that one and gave George a thumbs up that it just might work.
“Very well,” the deputy said. “You gentlemen have a nice day. And if you see a short, fat guy in a Santa Claus suit, be careful because that’s who did the robbery here. He was armed, and faking a funny voice. Damnedest thing we ever seen around here. He demanded all the cash and two big Colt .45s.”
“That’s funny, demanding two guns during a robbery,” I said.
“No, you don’t understand,” said the deputy. “He asked for two Colt .45 beers. Not guns. He won’t get too far in this snow. He ran out of here on foot. No getaway car.”
We drove on up the road to Maysel’s house, just a little way up around the curve and laughed so hard we almost wrecked the car. Now I am not surprised by anything that goes on around here anymore, but a Santa Claus Christmas day holdup takes the cake.
So we got to Maysel’s house, and by then, the snow was coming in heavy and you could hardly see the house next door. There was a bunch of local people there, mainly as I called them before—the local misfits—who were otherwise respectable, or so a lot of people around town liked to think anyway. Store owners, school teachers, bank people, and such, some of them already retired. Maysel introduced us to her Aunt Edna visiting her down here from Pittsburgh—a small, heavy woman, kind of loud and not much like local people, but she did like to laugh and joke around. People had brought food, roast beef, vegetable trays, and such. Stuff we bachelors don’t get to have much. We were drinking and munching food right along, and mainly talking local politics, such as it was, and someone suggested a fire in the big old-fashioned fireplace.
“Good idea,” Maysel said, “but we don’t have any firewood left.”
“I’ve got a fix for that,” the Sheriff said. “Just look out the window at that big pile next door. They won’t miss a few pieces.”
The people next door were away on a family trip, or so Maysel told us.
“I don’t like the sound of that,” George said. “A Sheriff snatching firewood. Now who would believe that?”
“All depends on how you do it,” said the Sheriff. “Now just watch me. What we do is walk backward to the woodpile, just like somebody walked away from it, not to it. It’s that simple.”
“I still can’t believe it, but if you think we can get away with it, let’s go,” George said.
So they started off across the yard, and for cover, the Sheriff picked up a big life-size piece of Christmas yard decoration, a reindeer sort of thing, and held it out of front of him. Now you can figure how hard it is to walk a fake reindeer across a snowy yard, going backwards. George and the Sheriff were laughing so hard they almost fell down because by that time, they were both three sheets to the wind with all the booze. Just as they got to the woodpile, along came an old pickup truck on the road out front with a redneck boy from up in the country, hanging out the window and pounding on the outside of the door and yelling like they do. And then he poked a rifle barrel out the window and fired a shot at the reindeer, or at least what he thought was a reindeer.
The Sheriff let out a yelp and said, “Damn, he shot me. Damn him!” And from where we were back on the porch, we couldn’t help laughing.
“Well, what did you expect,” Aunt Edna said. “You’re a perfect target and it’s still deer season.”
But then the Sheriff said, “It’s not bad. It only grazed me. Just a flesh wound on my leg,” and started walking back to the house and you could see the blood in the snow.
“Well, that blows your cover on the firewood job,” Maysel said. “And if you don’t get that fixed, you could bleed to death. I remember in all those cowboy movies we saw when we were kids at the old Roxie theater, the hero always said, ‘It’s only a flesh wound,’ but they bled like a stuck pig.”
“Don’t worry about it,” the Sheriff said. “Just kick some snow over the blood.”
By then, the snow looked like a half dozen kids had been playing in it, but we had the firewood.
When he got inside, we all got into that playacting idea of the old time cowboy movies and we asked the Sheriff if he wanted us to pour liquor on the wound, and then we started to put a big knife in the flame in the stove and made a big show about cauterizing the wound just like in the old movies. Now you can just figure what that looked like, a big butcher knife glowing red-hot, being waved around by three or four drunks, laughing it up and spouting medical words. But the Sheriff started yelling, “Get away from me with that thing. You ain’t getting near me with that.”
Somebody asked, “Should we call the ambulance to get him out of here or would that be too embarrassing?”
“No,” Maysel said. “I don’t think he knows enough to be embarrassed about anything right now. Look at him. He’s totally plowed and he is supposed to be on duty. Let’s call his girlfriend, Lou Lou, and see what she can do with him. I sure don’t want to get involved with that wife of his. And the deputy down there can handle the police calls.”
Lou Lou got there quick and the first thing she asked Maysel, off to the side, kind of private, was, “Does his wife know about this?”
Maysel told her no, it was her thing to do, to take care of this fool. Lou Lou helped him stagger down the hallway to a back bedroom and cleaned the wound and put bandages on it. Not ten minutes and she came out all huffy, saying, “That fool wants to do monkey business, even with all that blood on him. No way. I’m leaving.”
We only heard snoring from back there the rest of the day.
Later, looking for a restroom, I went into the back end of Maysel’s big old house she inherited from her grandpa, who had all this oil and gas property back in the day when there was some real money around here, or so it is said. I passed through the back hall with all the dusty furniture and laying on the bench by a side door was a Santa Claus suit and it was wet up to the knees. Some of the snow was still stuck to the black boots. And you couldn’t miss the two big Colt .45 beer cans poking out from the pockets. As I came back up front, I asked Maysel, “So somebody played Santa Claus today?”
“Yes,” Maysel said. “Aunt Edna likes to go out in the neighborhood when she comes in for a visit. She gets a big kick out of it, she says, going around to all the homes with children and giving them a big ‘Ho Ho Ho.’”
I did not let on like I knew anything and just enjoyed the rest of the day. At first, I was a little worried, watching the front door for police, but I relaxed when I remembered the Sheriff was passed out in a back bedroom, right down the hall from Santa Claus.
Now I don’t expect another Christmas like that one, but in these small towns, you just never know.
Jerry Mullins grew up in central W. Va., and has lived in the suburbs of Washington in recent years. His work has recently been published in or is forthcoming from Columbia University Journal-Catch and Release, Wilderness House Literary Review, The Broadkill Review, and others.