This is the first two chapters of War On Christmas: Down The Chimney. Currently we are sixteen chapters in. You can follow along with the story as it’s posted every other week by subscribing at Channillo.com! Once you join you can read as many authors as you want.
CHAPTER ONE: REINDEER DOWN
He tired of looking at Dunder and Blixem’s brown eyes. Over the years, he stared at them so much he could identify them by their exposed sphincters beneath their upturned tails. It was the view of the sleigh driver as he careened against the midnight blue of the night sky, reindeer asses. Between that and the gaseous expulsions, the reconnaissance dry runs every November from the Pole to the States bordered on intolerable. They were necessary. This was the time to sort out any unforeseen circumstance that may hinder him in his December missions.
Even as a veteran pilot, it took time relearning to air travel without instrument panels, going by the stars and an innate navigation sense in his gut. The only tech that accompanied him was the radio communication devices he needed to speak with air traffic control towers and military personnel and his IFF transponder. Since the Towers came down that went from a minor distraction to a full-on nuisance. He missed the good old days. The times he flew without anyone bothering him. Where the only concern he had was the kids who turned their wishing eyes to the heavens in hopes of catching a glimpse of him on his way to their rooftop.
He had the white hair and beard, the twinkle in his eye and the cold night air at fifteen hundred feet gave him rosy cheeks, but he wasn’t willing to get fat for this job or any other. He smiled as he looked at the flight suit he had on. Forty years later and it still fit. The red suit only came out on the night of nights, which wasn’t tonight. With the November dry run, he was jolly ol’ John Trafalgar and not Santa Claus.
With the Canadian/United States border getting closer, the bile tapped danced up his esophagus. Mixed emotions about missing home and remembering his first homecoming left him at the same time with feelings of happiness and wanting to vomit. The signs and yelling stung him most as he stepped off the plane with his gunny slung over his shoulder. Disappointment and hurt filled the holes left by the fleeting hope and excitement of leaving the jungles behind. He still twinged thinking of the twisted, angry faces and the venomous words as he walked across the runway. He was home without welcome. He served his country but it changed while he was sweating beneath the rainforest canopy praying to make it through another day. It plummeted him deep to his bottom and took years for him to find a single joy.
The box squawked at him from the floor, “You’re now entering restricted airspace. Turn around immediately.” His right eyebrow up toward the cold moon overhead. That’s new. Each November since 1980 this was his route, and this message was not the one he got at this point. It couldn’t be for him, he decided. The voice squeaked at him again “I repeat, you are entering restricted airspace. You are not approved to enter this zone, please alter your course immediately.”
A synapse deep inside his brain popped. Who in the holly did this person think he was speaking to? The night sky he scanned looked correct, but maybe he was off course. He looked at the north star, he was not off course. What the hell are these idiots talking about? The moon burst into flames in his eyes as his temper erupted. His flesh coiled around the hard plastic as he tried to press the communication button through the radio mic. He gritted teeth. Clench-jawed he said, “This is SC-0001. What in Tannenbaum are you talking about? I’ve got clearance to enter this zone.”
“Repeat, SC-0001. Your clearance is revoked, you are about to enter restricted airspace.”
“Revoked! No way! I didn’t fly three thousand miles looking up the hind ends of eight reindeer to get turned around because of an oversight by some No-Load. I’m coming through.” The bite in John’s voice went deep in the young man’s ears.
“SC-0001, this is Lieutenant Colonel Church. Your clearance has been revoked. If you persist on your present course we will be forced into taking actions against you. Desist, now.”
It was a different voice coming across the radio, more forceful with an authority only gained by experience. “Listen hear, hinge-head. If you want to be the man who hurls a SAM at jolly old Santa Claus, this is your night. I’m coming through!” Dropping the radio microphone back into his cradle, he whipped the reigns propelling the eight trusty reindeer to full gallop toward the imaginary borderline on the horizon. He pulled down his goggles as his back compressed the supple red leather of his sleigh’s seat to the wood backing with the G-force of the deer thrust. Envisioning some old bureaucratic fart racking his brain over how to handle this situation, he laughed. “Ho, ho.”
Airman Waddell looked up at Lieutenant Colonel Church for some sort of direction or at least, an indication of what he should do. The wrinkles on the brow beneath his snow-white eighth-inch hairs made Church’s forehead an ocean of frustration. His steely grey eyes darkening with every second he struggled for a way to bring this situation to an end that was neither bad for his reputation and the fat man in the clouds. “Sir?”
“God damn it, Airman, give me a second.” Church turned his back to the Airman looking for his command. He rubbed his temples as he ran the possible scenarios through his mind. Shoot him down with a Surface-to-Air missile would be the most satisfying but hard to explain the fireworks. Everyone these days subscribed to some kind of conspiratorial mindset and giving them ammunition would find him in the center of the attention. The explaining of shooting him down seemed a bigger issue than letting him through and answering to his superiors and others.
“Yes, sir.” Church didn’t break from his thinking as Waddell sat watching the bogey blip ever closer to the border. Time necessitated some kind of action and the Airman needed his order. “Sir? Approximately two minutes until, what was the call sign, SC…”
“Santa Claus, Waddell, Santa Claus enters our airspace.”
“Is that what we’re calling bogey’s now, sir?”, Waddell said. His voice cracked as the confusion over what he heard began to sink in.
“That son-of-a-bitch!”, Church turned his back on the radar and folded his arms. “Waddell, get the boys up there, we’ll escort him down.”
“Sir? Who’s him? And why are we not just shooting him down?”
“Don’t ask questions! Do it!”
“Yessir!”, Waddell felt a need to pop to his feet and salute, but he stayed in his seat and began to execute his orders.
“Waddell, I’ll be in my office.”
The headlights on the black Lincoln lit up the road and the lines ticked off one by one. Hitchens couldn’t help but drift into a kind of hypnosis as the floated toward him. The way they floated with their iridescence against the black lulled him into a thoughtless state. This was as close to magic as the world got for him. The tricks the mind plays on you could fool you if you didn’t keep yourself grounded. Like the illusion on the road in front of him.
He hated being a passenger on these long rides. He much preferred to drive but Watterson won out in their argument at the Flying J two states from here. Hitchens had been drifting off before they stopped and the fatigue was winning out, so it only made sense for Watterson to take the wheel. Damn it, sometimes logic and reason were a bitch. Hitchens glared at Watterson’s face as he watched him focus on the road as they neared their destination. Reason, it always wins, god-damned reason.
“You were dozing off, so you can stop with the scowling looks.” Watterson smiled as he hit the turn signal. “Besides, we’re here.”
Watterson felt a glint of happiness at his partner’s annoyance. They had been on the road for almost two days and any small thing helped. They got their orders and with no notice at all, they hit the road. The first few hours were fine, but then came the talking. Incessant and pointless, Hitchens continued non-stop. It actually got worse when Watterson turned the radio on in a brief reprieve of silence. Turns out Hitchens know the lyrics to every single song ever written in every single genre and is not ashamed of singing out-of-key and off time. So annoying him felt good, real good.
The car lurched to a stop at the gate as a Senior Airman stepped to their window clipboard in hand. “Good Evening. What can I do for you gentlemen?”
“So professional.” Watterson appreciated this all the more after this long ride. “We are here on official business. I don’t believe we will be on your manifest but if you could call Lieutenant Colonel Church, and let him know that we are here, I’m sure he will clear everything up.” Watterson pulled a card from his breast pocket and handed it to the guard. “Thanks, we will just wait right here.
Church could hear the order to scramble fighter jets to escort Claus into the base as he exited the control center. He rushed down the grey halls to his office. This didn’t feel normal. He slipped up too, SC-0001’s pilot was classified information. Damn it, Frank, Damn it, tap-danced all through his head. Opening the door to his office, he heard the call of his red hotline beeping. He had his orders and it seems now that he carried them out, someone was anxious to see what the reaction was.
“Lieutenant Colonel Church,” he said into the red receiver standing at the back of this metal desk. He winced as he heard the voice on the other end, it was rough, ragged and dry, like a corpse speaking from it desiccated throat. “Yes, I’ve scrambled our airmen and they are on course to intercept now. Yes, SC-0001 will be on the ground here. Yes, I will meet your men at the gate when they arrive. Oh, they’re almost here? Hold on, hold.” Church picked up his other phone as he set the red receiver on the desk. “Security Gate G, now.” A single bead of sweat rolled down the wrinkled brow of the Lieutenant Commander onto the upturned handset. “You’ve got two gentlemen with you now? Hold on.” Church picked up the red handset. He now had a black handset and a red one on either ear “What’s their names?” He said meaning to speak only into the red receiver but spoke into both. His response came in stereo.
“Agents Watterson and Hitchens.”
“Have someone escort them to my office.” He said into the black receiver as he placed the red one back on the desk. Damn it, Frank. Damn it. He hung up the black phone and picked the red one back up. “They are on their way. Okay, I will let them run the show once the package is on the ground.”
The sleigh rocketed across the border. John had a glint in his eye. He knew this was going to be a rough ride. You don’t buck Uncle Sam without getting a bruise or two. He didn’t care why or how without any notice his practice flight over the good old U.S. Of A. ended up restricted. He was going to finish his flight and get back home or die trying. His radio squawked again. “SC-0001, This is Lieutenant Commander Church, you are in restricted airspace, jets are en route to intercept. We are ready and prepared to answer your entry as a hostile act and respond in kind. Do you copy?”
“SC-0001 Here, I read you. Shoot me down then!”
“SC-0001, I don’t want to, but if you persist, you leave me no options. I’m sure this is an oversight, but my hands are tied. Please follow the jets in and we will sort this out on the ground.” He needed a stiff drink and some Pepto after saying those words. He just told Santa Claus he was going to shoot him down.
Santa hung the radio up, his confidence shaken. This was the night of the dry run around the world. What was happening? Was anyone else having issues? His communication capabilities only allowed him to speak with the countries he was traveling through. He looked over his shoulder toward the North Pole, a nagging feeling crept up. He had been in a similar situation before, flying a secret mission in hostile territory. That time he got shot out of the sky and he spent months in a hot stinking hole or suffering interrogation by the enemy. He hoped that the North Pole knew what was going on.
He saw something rush across the shimmer of the northern lights. The formation lights of the fighter jets came closer. What could he do? He pulled back on the reigns, tonight he couldn’t outrun them. In a month, the wouldn’t even catch a whiff of Prancer’s farts, but now the reindeer just didn’t contain the power to keep the jets in the rearview. The jets came on both sides of the sleigh. Looking at the pilots in the cockpits, they both signaled for him to go down.
“SC-0001? SC-0001? You read me?” It was the Lieutenant Colonel.
“Yeah, you coal gifted so and so, I read you. What in the nutcracker is going on?”
“The jets will escort you in and we will figure it out from there. You suited up?”
“Mistletoe and Holly! I’m not suited up, you know that Francis, just like you know you wanted Chatty Cathy on your pivotal Christmas but asked me for an Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle.” John smiled at the momentary silence.
Lieutenant Colonel Church choked a bit, then he thought of the contents of his lower desk drawer. How could he open that drawer and smile after tonight? He gathered his self and pushing the button on the microphone in a soft tone he said, “SC-0001, you coming in?”
“Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen Comet, Cupid, Dunder, Blixem, whooooaaaa.” He pulled back on the reigns, gave a thumbs up to the pilots signaling he would follow them. “I’m coming in, but this better get fixed quick. I’m on a tight schedule.”
“SC-0001 Copy that. We’ll have back up in a jiffy.”
“I’m holding you to that.”
The sleigh and jets circled back to Bangor. Flanked on either side with fighter jets, the sleigh hit the runway. Sparks from the landing sleigh, landing lights and emptiness filled the typically bustling area. Tonight, It was devoid of personnel, save for the Lieutenant Commander and the two men in black suits with white shirts, black ties, and dark sunglasses. John jumped from the sled as the reindeer pulled it along the runway still.
“Thank God you came in SC-0001.” Church meant it but maybe he should have stayed silent. John Trafalgar’s blood got hotter and hotter with each step and each step came faster and faster until he was at a full sprint barreling towards the three men on the asphalt.
“SC! Slow up!” Church barked at the charging man. The long white hair and beard fluttered in the cold night air as he gained speed. His hands now hammers as he clenched them in their black leather gloves. “Hold on. Stop where you are!” The order from the Lieutenant Colonel held zero authority, more of a pleading.
“NAUGHTY!!!” John shouted over the crack of his fist against the cheek of the officer. Church dropped like Santa’s sack down the chimney. Bleary-eyed, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Church’s vision fuzzy from the concussion, watched as the hulking form of John Trafalgar hovered above him.
“Mr. Trafalgar”, Agent Hitchens said. “We need you to come with us.”
John stepped back, his wild eyes abated to shock. Who was this that knew his name? He stared at the two men standing beside the fallen Air Force man. The one who spoke, Richard Hitchens, was a thick human being, the suit tailored well enough to hide the extra dozens of donuts he carried around his waist. John could tell he was a capable combatant and that his extra girth only aided in helping have his potential opponents underestimate him. The other man was lithe and tall, but again something told John that he was a capable warrior too. Charlie Watterson, the tall, lithe one, slipped a hand into the interior breast pocket of his jacket and produced a card.
“Mr. Trafalgar. We are here to speak with you and we need you to come with us. I’m…”, Watterson said.
“Charlie, not Charles, Watterson,” John said, then shifting his eyes to Agent Hitchens, “Richard Hitchens. I know. What do you need from me?”
“Just to speak. We need some information and we know you have it. The sooner we get this started the sooner you can be on your way.” Agent Watterson smiled, his teeth white, straight, big and perfect. He extended his arm offering the card again. Claus Regulation And Management Protocol of the United States, Agent Charlie Watterson.
“So you got a card from VistaPrint.com. Cool,” he said with a dubious tone and rolling eyes. It was clear to the agents, he needed more convincing.
“We are a new task force recently formed to streamline and facilitate your relationship with our citizens. We recognize your importance to the world at large and in a more specific way, to our sovereign nation, but in a post-9-11 world, you’ve been a bit of an oversight. We are here to take care of that. With the current political climates, we need to take a proactive approach to all potential ramifications of exposures of you from a mythical personality to a real-world personality. So if you’d come with us, we could get this wrapped up and get you one your way.”
“That’s a mouthful you said there. I think we need to unpack that bit by bit. I need a little more than a crappy business card and your saying a bunch of garbage to kumbaya with you. This isn’t a pow wow and I’m not the ambassador of the North Pole, I’ve got work and you’re getting in the way. So how do you feel about stepping aside, or I can drop a few of these Oh Tannenbombs on you like old hitch head on the ground there?” John clenched his fist, hoping they’d challenge him. Decades had passed since punched someone, he forgot how much he’d liked it. A donnybrook on the runway suited him just fine.
“If that’s how this is going to play out,” Agent Hitchens said. He produced a taser gun from his pocket and shocked John Trafalgar. He jolted and became rigid as he fell next to Lieutenant Colonel Church. Hitchens brought his wrist up to his mouth, “The quarry is incapacitated. The present will be delivered within the hour.”
He frowned. Not the kind of frown that betrayed his real emotions, but that’s what everyone who met him always said first afterward. He seemed trapped in an emotional state of disapproval. When he got the call from Hitchens and Watterson, they reported exactly what he wanted to hear, he frowned. Mr. Dawkins left little question that he was a severe figure; his demeanor and attitude never allowed for any other interpretation. In truth, Mr. Dawkins didn’t ever feel much of anything, maybe slight variations of mad, sad, glad, and annoyed. Nothing ever enough to make him smile. With the news he received, it meant he now must set the ball in motion.
He reached for the cellphone sitting on the black leather pad, which sat on the massive, ornate wooden desk. Calls needed to happen now, and people in the seats of power required to make more decisions. Those decisions would funnel, of course, back through him and from him to the necessary agents. He pulled the phone across the desk, not picking it up until it got to the wood. The desk once sat in the oval office, a gift from the head of the secret state, the one he now would call. He flipped open the phone. His eyelids squeezed together, helping him focus on the contacts as he pressed down, trying to find the right contact, TBF. He took a second to gather his thoughts and pressed the green phone button. “This is Dawkins. The present is on its way. I await your instruction on my next move.”
Hanging the phone up, he placed it back in the middle of the desk again. He spun his leather chair around. He looked at the blank wood-paneled wall wondering why he always needed to leave a voicemail rather than speaking directly with the head of his organization. Dawkins stood up and began to pace the room as he waited for the answers he needed to know what came next. This is why he never smiled.
His jaw ached, his head throbbed, and he felt tired. Wanting to sleep preoccupied him, just lay down, he kept thinking. Church sat up as the medic shined his light in one eye and then another. “Yep, sir. You have a concussion.”
“You don’t say,” Lieutenant Colonel Church said. “I wouldn’t have guessed that myself. Give me my hat and let me up.”
“No, sir. Afraid we can’t do that.”
“Why the hell not?” His raised voice usually got him what he wanted.
“You’ve got a concussion. It sounds like you slipped on some ice and hit your head real good. We need to keep you here for observation, at least until the morning.”
“I’ve got a mess out there on the runway, and I need to get…” He stopped mid-sentence as he stood. His legs held the strength of al dente pasta and the temperament of a chair with four different legs making the room spin like a carousel on crack. Church needed to catch himself before he tumbled to the ground. The attending medic came over to help him stabilize himself. “Get off of me. I’ve got this. I need to get down to the runway and get Santa and his reindeer out of here.”
“I definitely think you need to just get back in the gurney and we will stay right here with you.” The medic motioned for someone to come over. “He’s talking crazy. Let’s keep a close eye on him, okay.”
Hitchens and Watterson waited until the last reindeer walked into the trailer. Hitchens nodded to Watterson, who headed back to their black Lincoln. Hitchens climbed up onto the tractor-trailer so he could see the driver. Hanging on the mirror, Hitchens gave instruction, “You have the address these are to be delivered too?”
“Yessir, I surely do. Already in my GPS.” The man smiled, exposing his gray teeth, at least the ones remaining.
“Good, be quick about it and of course, be discreet. There’s an extra two thousand if you can get there under twenty-four hours.” Hitchens looked back and saw the Lincoln coming up beside the tractor-trailer. “You understand?”
“I gotcha, two extra under twenty-four. You betcha ass I’ll be getting that there bonus.”
Hitchens nodded and jumped down off the rig. “See you there.” He slipped into the Lincoln.
“You give him the extra two grand story?” Watterson grinned as he asked.
“Yeah, I did.”
“You don’t have two grand.” Watterson knew what Hitchens did have, though.
“Should make his last day go faster, thinking about spending that bonus.” Hitchens waved out the window to the driver, who blew his horn as he pulled out in front of them. “He’s not going to like his real bonus.” Hitchens pointed to his sidearm.
“They never do. So what’s next?”
“Other than getting back to our base, I don’t know. Haven’t heard from Mr. Dawkins with instruction yet. Guess, get the old man and his pets there and let the big wigs figure it out. Above my pay grade.”
Watterson adjusted his rearview mirror to see the unconscious bearded man in the back seat. He hoped a few zip ties would be enough to hold him if and when he woke up. He didn’t feel like dealing with this guy in a fight. Not after seeing the punching power he possessed. “You think you gave him enough sedatives?”
“Yeah, I did. Why? You afraid of the old man?”
“No, I’m not afraid. Just don’t want to deal with any issues.” Watterson looked back at the road and the tractor-trailer full of reindeer disappearing on the highway in front of them. “He really wants that two grand.”
The phone rang, and Mr. Dawkins’ green eyes stared at it with suspicion. He smoothed back the hair that remained just above his ears, swallowed, and answered the phone. “Dawkins.” He sat down and pulled a pen and pad of paper from a drawer in the desk. Dawkins wrote quickly in shorthand as the instructions came fast and furious. “Okay. Yes, we will not fail.” Setting down the pen and then the phone, he studied the paper and what was scrawled on it. Once the information being on paper became redundant, he pulled from the desk a zippo and an apothecary pestle. Holding the corner of the paper in the flame of the zippo, the crimson ate the words as he dropped it in the pestle to safely burn out.
Once the ash lay cooling and the smoke’s acrid odor dissipated, Dawkins once again took the phone from the center of the desk and made another call. This time he was doing the instruction. “This is Dawkins. You are en route?”
“Hitchens here. Yes, sir, we are en route.”
“Good, everything as it should be?”
“Unless you count Watterson’s gas, yes.” Watterson shot Hitchen’s a look. He wished that he could shoot him.
“Good. You need to enter on the north side of twenty-six. There you will hand over your cargo and report the offices of sixteen for debriefing. Do you understand?”
“Then repeat it back.”
“Twenty-six to sixteen. I got it.”
“No harm must come to your cargo. Either the cargo with you or the cargo ahead of you, do you understand?”
“Under no circumstances, should harm come to your cargo, even at the cost of your own life. Do you understand?”
“Under… Define no harm?”
“No harm, whatsoever.”
“What if we need to.”
“Subdue but do not harm. It’s paramount that the cargo is received with no damage. Do you understand?”
“Even at the cost of Watterson’s life.”
“Good. See you tomorrow.”
Dawkins, sitting in silence, placed the phone back in its place, the only object on the massive carved wooden desk, which in turn was the single object in the large cherry wood-paneled room. He stood from the desk and walked across the room to the only door, opened the door, looked back, smiled, ever slightly, but still a smile, and closed the door as he exited.
Mr. Dawkins carefully surveyed the gray brick room for anyone or anything out of place. The furnace ran in the corner as did the dryer next to it. His sheets flopped around with pillowcases and fabric softener. The chest freezer hummed next to the sump pump. He locked the door behind him and went to the freezer and fished out a frozen lasagna. With the Stouffer’s Family Entree in hand, he ascended to his kitchen and shut the lights off.
“Edith, lasagna sound good?” Mr. Dawkins waited by his stove.
“Sure, Ronnie, that sounds good.”
“Edith, I’m going to need to go out of town for a few days.”
“Even at the cost of your own life,” Hitchens said in his best bratty voice. “He’s lucky I don’t shoot this asshole right now. Like I’m going to take a bullet for him.”
Watterson turned on the radio, “Calm down. It’s not like anyone even knows what’s going on anyway.”
“You going to die for this clown?”
Watterson raised an eyebrow and placing his forearm on the steering wheel, got into Hitchens’ face, “Yeah, if I need to, if that is what Dawkins said. What about you?”
Hitchens’ eyes darted around the interior of the car, avoiding the eyes of Watterson. “Maybe I’ll return as a single drop of rain.” Hitchens began to sing along to the old country song now playing on the radio.
“Goddammit, Hitchens.” Watterson let out a deep sigh as they sped into the early, early morning darkness. He had all the reason he needed to shoot Hitchens. Non-compliance was a reason and a good one in this organization. But Hitchens was safe for now, and so was John Trafalgar in the backseat.
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