Thanks, as always, to my editing team, PapaKilo14 and Hal: they catch the typos and embarrassing gaffes; my beta readers, Denny, who is just awesome at everything, and GeorgeAnderson, who is new to the team and Olddave1951 who gave it a first read while he was recovering. Thanks guys, I love you all.
I passed the door of the department store and looked in the window. There was a line of kids inside about fifty long, waiting to talk to Santa. He looked like he was about twenty-years-old and really didn't want to be there. I didn't blame him a bit. Kids these days! I saw one of the store workers come up and chain off the queue so no one else could get in line. I guess Santa's shift was over. I was mildly amused so I watched for a minute. I saw a young woman and a little girl hurrying toward the door. They rushed inside and I could see their faces fall when they saw the "closed" sign. The little girl was especially hard hit. They came back outside and she was crying softly. I could hear her mother talking to her.
"I'm so sorry, baby. I came as soon as I got off work."
"I know, Mom. It's not your fault," the little girl hugged her mother. "It's just that tomorrow is Christmas and I won't get another chance. I really, really needed to talk to him."
They stood there for a minute, just holding each other. "Come on, Molly," the mother said. "If we're going to get a bed we need to get to the shelter."
Jesus Christ, they were breaking my heart. "Excuse me, Ma'am," I cleared my throat. "I don't mean to intrude, but I couldn't help overhearing. If your daughter really needs to talk to Santa I can arrange that."
They both looked up at me with wide, frightened eyes. Mom had one of the most beautiful faces I've ever seen. She was some exotic ethnic blend, probably mostly black, but there was some white and maybe Hispanic thrown in there, too. Daughter was even lighter skinned than Mom was and they both had those tilted up, almond shaped eyes that just stole your soul.
Mom started to edge away from me, shepherding her daughter half behind her. "Please, don't be afraid," I said. I knelt down on the snowy sidewalk. I know my size can be intimidating. "Just listen to me for a minute and I won't bother you anymore."
They stopped retreating and stared at me, still obviously frightened. "What do you want, Mister?" Mom asked.
"My company is having a Christmas party at the Adams Hotel tonight," I told them. "I know for a fact that Santa is going to be there. I heard you say that you needed a place to stay tonight. It's bitterly cold out here and I'm afraid you won't get a place. I know the nearest shelter and you're late. There'll be a line already formed and you're not in it. I have 25 rooms booked at that hotel in case some of my staff get a little inebriated and need to stay. There will be food at the party, presents for everyone, and I guarantee that you'll get to stay in one of those rooms tonight. You can probably stay longer. You can order anything you want from room service. I'll give you a card and if you show it at the door, they'll let you in. I guarantee it."
"What do you want from us?" Mom asked.
"I want you to make me happy by letting me help you," I told her.
"Why would you do that?" she asked.
"I'm a nice guy," I grinned at her. "It's Christmas. I can help you and I will; no strings attached. I tell you what, I'll get you a cab and you run over to the shelter. You let me be your backup plan. If you get a bed, you can always go back there after you talk to Santa. If you don't, you come to me, okay?"
They stared at me for a minute. "He has nice eyes, Mom," the little one said.
Mom took a step toward me and held out her mittened hand. I put my card in it and hailed a cab. It pulled up and I gave the cabbie a fifty. "Give them the change when you drop them off," I told him. "You wait and see if they get in. If they don't, you bring them to the Adams and there's another hundred waiting for you. If they get in but they still want to come to the Adams, you bring them. You still get the hundred. Do you understand?" I tore a hundred in half and handed him one half.
"Yes sir," he said.
They climbed in and drove off. I didn't expect to see them again. There was just too much pain and mistrust in those eyes. I sighed. What a fucked up world we live in. Just in case, I went into the department store. They had been all bundled up and it was hard to tell what size they were. I would just have to guess. I figured they'd be skinny. They probably weren't eating too well. Mom was tall, probably close to six feet. Daughter was little, maybe four or five. I got a sales person to help me. She was a young woman and very helpful. I described what I wanted and we guessed at sizes. I had them wrapped and when I went outside the car was waiting. Fredrick took me to the hotel and I got changed for the party.
It was well underway when I stepped off the elevator and a server came over to ask me what I wanted to drink. I asked for a good bourbon and went to the table. People slapped my back and congratulated me on a great party. I nodded politely and shook a few hands. Malina came to meet me and I kissed her cheek. She looked stunning and she led me to the table. Malina is my Personal Assistant and I'd be lost without her. She's this gorgeous, Hispanic, jungle cat kind of a woman, a tawny complexion and a mane of dark hair with auburn glints in it. I'd been at the table about ten minutes and Paul, my sales manager, and Malina were telling me an amusing anecdote about a meeting earlier in the day. There was a little commotion outside the door and one of the hotel staff came over to me.
"Sir, there is a ... person outside," he said in a condescending voice. "She says you invited her to the party. She has a child with her and she had your card. Do you want me to get rid of her?"
I jumped up. "Absolutely not," I said. "Paul, Malina, would you excuse me for a minute?"
I went to the door just in time to see them disappearing outside. I hurried out onto the sidewalk and caught them. "I'm so sorry," I said. "Come in, please. I was hoping you'd come but I was afraid you wouldn't. Did you get a bed?"
Mom shook her head sadly. "No," her voice cracked a little. "You were right. We were too late."
I saw the cabbie standing there and I gave him the other half of the hundred I'd promised. "Thanks, man," I told him.
"Thank you, sir," he said. "Have a great Christmas."
They both had backpacks on and I took Mom's elbow and brought them back inside. We walked up to the desk and I talked to the Manager. He looked at them like they smelled bad and that pissed me off. "Is there a problem with your attitude?" I asked him.
"No, sir," he looked away from my eyes. He gave me a key card and I got the things I had bought for them from behind the desk.
"Why don't you go up to your room, get cleaned up and come back down for the party?" I said. "It'll be going on until at least midnight. I'll make sure Santa is waiting and then we'll eat, okay?" I handed them the packages.
"What are these?" Mom asked.
"I told you there would be presents," I said.
She looked at me suspiciously but the little one was so excited that it was impossible for her to say no. I took them to the elevator and told them that the door attendant would bring them to me when they came back down.
I gave the bellhop the word and it was close to an hour before I saw them coming. I was stunned at the transformation. Mom was a vision and the little one was a heart breaker. They both had this mop of black curls that stuck out in complete disorder. Their hair was nearly down to the middle of their backs and it was just gorgeous. Mom had on the red dress I had bought for her and I had guessed pretty close. The little one was in blue and the sales girl had been spot on with her too. They both had fuzzy shawls over their bare shoulders and gold bracelets. Leather chokers with pink safed coral moonga stones were around their necks and they were just gorgeous. They were walking a little gingerly and I suspected that I hadn't gotten the shoe sizes right. They both were carrying little black clutches and I stood up when they got to the table. There were chairs on either side of me that I had reserved for them.
I hugged Mom and she was as stiff as a steel post. "I need to know your names so I can introduce you," I whispered. "You're old friends of mine. Just play along, okay?"
I could feel her nod and she smelled very good. "I'm Sahara Wright and she's Molly," she whispered. "Who are you?"
"Bleys Wainwright," I said. "I own the company that is having the party. It's Wainwright Consulting." She nodded again.
I introduced them to Malina and Paul as old friends I had invited. They sat down and I got champagne for Sahara and punch for Molly. They took a sip or two and I took them over to the buffet. I suspected they were very hungry so we filled plates and I took them into a meeting room where we ate together. I was right about them being hungry. They finished long before I was done and I took them back. They filled their plates again and we took them back to the meeting room again. I managed to finish before they polished off the second plates and we went to get dessert. We took that back to the main table and ate slowly while the band started playing.
.... There is more of this story ...