In every courthouse where I’ve worked, the “holiday jury” scares lawyers. They fear twelve citizens imbued with Christmas spirit. Some worry about the wrath of people whose busy time has been interrupted. Others dread the mercy they may dole out sitting during the “peace on earth, good will” season. Twelve Amiable Men, bleary-eyed from an overdose of Hallmark holiday movies, might not mete out the justice the government seeks. Of course, the holiday jury might have been convenient cover for lawyers who didn’t want to work between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Avoiding a trial became a Christmas tradition.
In honor of the holiday jury, there will be no Trial-of-the-Month for December. Instead, I’d like to build on a different Christmas tradition. My friend and fellow blogger, Bruce Coffin, annually offers a short story. He weaves a poignant tale of the Christmas season. I hope you’ll look forward to it.
I’d like to offer another small story to join with Bruce’s. Although this tale likely won’t tug at your heartstrings, it might convince you to protect your ankles or wear a helmet during your December adventures.
May y’all have a safe and joyous holiday season.
Santa in the Cellblock
Just before the annual holiday takeoff, Dasher twisted his fetlock. He landed wrong during a hotly contested reindeer game. Although Dasher promptly buried his leg in a snowbank, a task easily accomplished at the North Pole, his hoof swelled up like a fruitcake. It looked round and brown but dotted with small green and red colored bits No one had ever seen a foreleg quite like it. He limped back to his stall with a heavy-hooved clop, clop, CLOP. The chief veterinarian ruled him, unable to travel with the sleigh on Santa’s busiest night of the year. Dasher couldn’t pass the flight protocols.
The lead job, therefore, got handed off to his protégé, Lightning. A highly decorated student, Lightning had been groomed for the top job. He had studied the manuals and memorized the procedures. Mostly, Santa liked his cockiness, his deering-do, he called it. Lightning stood as a study in leadership as the deer-collar was adjusted, the traces straightened, and the bells affixed. The calf, however, quickly learned that success in the simulator was not the same as flying in the real world; the decisions came faster, the air stung colder, the clouds cloaked thicker. The stars, when he could see them, appeared far more jumbled. As the sleigh flew south, high altitudes remained cold, even by North Pole standards. Ice crystals clotted his lashes, limiting his vision. Navigation, in short, proved unimaginably hard in the December sky of the Northern Hemisphere. Before long, the rookie reindeer found himself horribly and irrecoverably lost. Compounding the problem, Santa steadfastly refused to install a global positioning system. He insisted on piloting by earthly landmarks, the North Star, and a near total reliance upon his trusty team. He still slid down chimneys, even at the environmentally sensitive, “green” houses where the roofs were completely covered in solar panels. It was, perhaps, no coincidence that “Yule” rhymed with “Old School.”
By the time the sleigh flew over the Red River, crossing from Oklahoma into Texas, Lightning, lost and confused, started to get panicky. Fear welled within him. He hoped the city beneath his airborne hooves was Fort Worth, but it might have been Dallas or even Lubbock, Lightning wasn’t sure. He’d never seen Dallas from a drawn sleigh at night. Through the ice prisms clogging his lashes, he saw a flat roofed structure alongside a building with a tall green spire. If he could land, just for a moment, he thought to himself, he might thaw his face and get his bearings. He put the sleigh into a steep dive.
Santa felt himself thrown hard against the dash rail of the sleigh. The breath burst from his lungs, a cloud of frozen exhale exploded out of his beard. The G forces pressed against him. The sled pushed hard into his chest, squeezing the remaining air from him. Lightning snapped sharply out of the dive and landed with a lurch on the roof. Santa, again, launched backward. This time, Old St. Nick’s head struck the sleigh’s backboard with a resounding thwack.
Santa sat for a moment stunned, his brain scrambled and oxygen starved. Red and green spots, like those on Dasher’s foreleg, danced in front of Santa’s narrowed vision. Then, he stepped off the sleigh, staggered a bit, and shook his head. With a gloved hand, he grabbed the sack of toys that he had stowed. Santa stuck out his elfin tongue and tasted the air.
“Strange,” he said to no one. The crisp night air tasted like Fort Worth rather than Charleston, South Carolina, his intended destination. Again, he stuck his tongue out and gathered another mouthful. He rolled the flavors around, pursing his lips. The culinary gears spun beneath that great red hat as he struggled to place the familiar tastes. No salt air, no palmetto, rather natural gas with a soupçon of barbecue and old rodeo — it most definitely was Fort Worth.
“No matter. I’ve got to go there too. Although we do need to practice that landing.” Lightning kept his head down in shame. Santa peered inside the bag, adjusting it and trying to focus. St. Nick shook his head, his beard dancing back and forth like a ship’s sail in a hurricane. Finally, he adjusted the contents, removing some toy sailboats and substituting cowboy gear. Not many tradeoffs were required. No matter where his sleigh landed, nearly every child wanted some electronic game or another these days. Santa blinked his eyes twice and made his way toward the chimney.
He quickly found the curved metal shaft. Odd, he thought, to see a chimney twisted this way. St. Nick paused at the opening and examined the heavy metal grate covering it. A small sign marked the entrance. Santa blinked and squinted, struggling to read the words, “Caution: Jail.”
“How sweet,” the jolly elf said out loud, “Jill has almost learned to spell her own name, yet she still wants me to be careful. That’s why I like helping good boys and girls.”
Summoning up that Kris Kringle magic, he squeezed his full body as well as his toy sack through the mesh grating.
“Some serious squirrels must live around here,” he said as he began a slide down a chimney only an elf could traverse. He said it again as he slid through the next security screen as well as the next. Finally, he found himself deep in a network of air vents.
“Oh, bother,” said Santa. “It appears that it wasn’t a chimney after all.” He briefly considered going back to the roof. He quickly dismissed the idea with the unruffled demeanor of a jolly old elf, “This should get me to the Christmas tree, too.”
Pushing his bag of toys in front of him, Santa slid on his belly through the smooth aluminum duct work. Say what you will, he thought, the route maybe long, but it sure snags the suit less than the brick and mortar of old Victorian chimneys. Santa got lost a time or two. Perhaps, things would have gone more easily if his ears were not still ringing from that landing.
“I do hope they have milk and cookies at this house,” he mumbled. “I could use a break.”
After much effort, Santa dropped in a room, round and sparsely furnished. Eight little sleeping pods branched off this main room.
“How quaint,” Santa thought, “like the petals on a flower.”
At the far end of the great room Santa saw that the parents had made their bedroom almost entirely out of glass, enabling them to keep a watch on their children. On the opposite side of the parents’ room, Santa saw another set of children’s bedrooms mirroring these.
“Remarkable,” he said aloud. “That many children and they still want to keep a constant vigil. What devoted parents.” The heavy doors were, he thought, a bit excessive for children’s rooms. “What if there was a fire? How could they get out?”
The parents did not seem to notice Santa’s appearance in the children’s playroom. Though they wore dark pajamas, perhaps to surprise him, Santa had become less concerned about meeting a stray adult than in the old days. He remained invisible to most grownups. One older boy, however, sat alone at an octagonal table. The boy wore his green onesie. Almost ready for bed, St. Nick knew.
“Still working on his letter to Santa,” the old elf said to himself, smiling. The boy’s list must fill the page for he could see that the lad had drawn pictures on his arms of the toy guns he wanted. Despite his many years, Santa remained soft-hearted for a true believer.
Santa generally avoided contact with children on Christmas Eve. His heart, however, went out to lonely boys and girls. And, with his ears ringing and his head still spinning, he wanted to rest for a few minutes. He plopped heavily down onto the bench across from the boy.
The boy eyed him, saying nothing.
“Did you write a letter?” St. Nick asked, his eyes still not too lively or quick.
The boy remained silent.
Clearly, Santa thought, he was too stunned to speak. “A letter to the big man in charge,” Santa prompted, “telling him what you want?”
“My attorney says he is working on one,” the pajama-clad boy answered.
Santa really did shake when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly. Utterly adorable, Santa thought, the way the boy said his lawyer wrote his letter.
Santa reached out his arm offering a red striped treat. “Candy cane?”
The boy nodded. “She is one of my favorite dancers. That’s why I go to the XTC Club.”
Santa looked confused.
The young fellow’s eyes surveyed him, examining his clothes from collar to toe. “How did you get the red suit?”
“It’s because of the flight,” Santa answered.
“Yep, I figured,” the boy answered, “Flight risk, that’s how most guys get red suited around here. What’s your name?
“Oh, I have many names,” the jolly elf said.
“Lots of the fellas do,” the boy said. “If they fingerprint ya, they’ll figure it out. What are you in for?”
“I’m in here to deliver,” Santa said.
The boy nodded in agreement. “Yep, that’s what got me in here too.”
Santa slid close to the boy on the metal bench. “Tell me what you want for Christmas.” He hoped the boy said, Peace on Earth. He loved it when teenagers saw the big picture.
“I want my lawyer to get me a habeas corpus.”
Santa nodded knowingly. In truth, he didn’t have the foggiest idea what the “Happiest Porpoise” was. He left the boy a smiling dolphin doll and candy canes for all his friends. He’d have the elves do more research before next Christmas Eve.