Stakeouts in the heart of a Nova Scotia Christmas meant adding a heavy suit of long johns and at least one extra pair of gray woolly socks – not a particularly stylish look for anyone, but Rhonda somehow made the whole thing work underneath the added scarlet girth of her store-bought Santa Claus suit.
At least I think that she managed to make the Santa suit work for at least the first three and a half hours of our vigil.
“My feet are getting cold,” Rhonda complained. “These imitation black leather Santa boots just aren’t cutting it.”
“Forget about it,” I said. “That Santa suit that you are wearing is a whole lot warmer than this elf’s costume. Lincoln green just isn’t my color.”
“You should have worn the pointy ears,” Rhonda argued.
“If I wanted pointy ears I would call a plastic surgeon,” I replied. “I like my ears just the shape that they already are, thanks.”
Rhonda was my best friend. Also, we sometimes work together. I used to be her partner in crime. And I’m not using that word “crime” loosely, you understand. I meant it literally.
Rhonda also hated Christmas a lot more than I had ever believed humanly possible – which is why it surprised me when she called me up about the possibility of me joining her on an alley stake out.
“They’re beating up Santa Claus?” I had said to her over the telephone, just last week.
“They are beating up Santa Clauses,” Rhonda had corrected. “Six of them, in the last three weeks.”
There was a reason for Rhonda’s hatred of the Christmas season, but that’s a whole other story. Right now, we are talking about Santa Claus.
“Are you sure about that?” I asked her over the phone. “Is that Santa Claus, Santa Clauses, or Santa Claus’s?”
“Grammar nerd.” Rhonda replied.
I grinned at that.
“But seriously, was this some sort of a shopping mall Santa?” I asked. “Is that who we are talking about? I know that some of those I-want-a-pony kids can be awfully brutal, nothing personal Angus.”
Angus just whinnied.
“The parents are usually way worse,” Rhonda said. “But no, I am not talking about a shopping mall Santa. I am talking about one of those guys who stand on a street corner dressed like Santa Claus, shaking a bell to attract donations.”
“You mean the guys with the iron kettles?” I asked. “And the big brass bells?”
“Yes,” Rhonda said. “That’s the sort of Santa I am talking about.”
“So exactly who hired you?” I asked. “The Salvation Army? I thought that they had their very own enforcement arm.”
“Don’t be mistaken by that word “army”. It was Ahmed who called me up about this particular job,” Rhonda explained. “He wouldn’t tell me who I was working for. Ahmed is a need-to-know kind of a broker.”
I should explain that Rhonda is my very best friend, or did I say that already? Pardon my confusion but this cold is beginning to get to my brains. Anyways, Rhonda is also a professional knee-breaker. If you want somebody hurt or shot or discretely removed or seriously dismembered Rhonda was the person to hire.
Ahmed was her business broker. He is kind of like a talent agent for assassination.
Ahmed was a knee-breaker-broker.
“That didn’t bother you one little bit?” I asked. “The idea of us not knowing exactly who hired you?”
“Hey,” Rhonda said. “Momma needs herself a new pair of Saint Laurent stretch suede full length boots. Like I already told you, these off-the-rack Santa Claus gumboots just aren’t cutting it.”
“Fashion nerd,” I said.
“Antiquated tightwad,” Rhonda replied.
“Style Nazi,” I shot back.
“Antediluvian outlier,” Rhonda shot from the hip.
I let my breath out slowly.
“Antediluvian outlier?” I asked. “That doesn’t even make sense. Just exactly how long have you been waiting to use that line?”
“Do you like that comeback?” Rhonda asked. “I didn’t even have to break out in a cold Google sweat before coming up with that one.”
“Okay,” I said. “You win.”
She usually did.
“So are you going to help me or not?” Rhonda asked.
“Did you ever think that I wasn’t going to?”
Which was what had brought the three of us out here to this cold and lonesome back alley standing around an iron cauldron. The three of us had chosen the alley as a location for our stake out on account of us wanting a little privacy. We wanted to look like an easy target for the morons who had been beating up Santa Claus.
That’s right. I said three of us. I’ll tell you about the third member of our stake-out in a minute or two. For now, you’re on a need-to-know basis – and you don’t need-to-know that the third member of our stake-out is a kelpie.
All right, so I went and spilled the beans.
I said “kelpie”.
I’ll give you a minute to go and Google that term “kelpie”.
Meanwhile, I’ll try and keep myself warm while I wait.
“Double, double, toil and trouble,” I chanted, waving my hands ominously over the empty iron cauldron like I was preparing to cast some sort of mystical incantation. Now I know fully well that it is considered the worst of bad luck to quote the Scottish play, but who else but me had the right to do it?
You see, my name is Lady Cordelia Macbeth. That’s my full name – first, last and middle. It says so on my driver’s license and my library sciences diploma. My mother is totally to blame for that name of mine, but that’s a whole other story that I’m not going to get into right now. I’m a mermaid, I think. I wasn’t always a mermaid. I’m also a high school librarian and I used to be Rhonda’s business partner.
I was a paid thug as well. Assassin, hired muscle, bodyguard – you name it, we did it – but that’s at least three whole other stories.
Rhonda rang the bell, shaking it enthusiastically.
“Give for Christmas,” she shouted out. “Santa is watching.”
“That sounds almost threatening,” I said. “What are we trying to do, warn them off?”
“We are trying to make a target out of ourselves,” Rhonda explained. “We need to find the gang who are beating up these Santa Clauses. We are the bait, the trap and the judge’s final sentence.”
If you beat up Santa Claus you’ll have to deal with us.
“I never did see that bright red suit as being all that smart of an idea,” Angus Tanner said. “I always wondered why he didn’t wear something a little stainable. All that chimney soot and such. It’s a wonder that he never thought of a good cammy suit, say maybe something in green and yellow.”
Angus Tanner is the third partner of our stake-out crew.
He’s the kelpie that I accidentally told you about.
“Just whose idea was these reindeer antlers, anyway?” Angus asked, shaking his head and trying to dislodge the plastic clip-on antlers.
All right – so it had been my idea to dress the kelpie up as a reindeer but I sure wasn’t going to admit that to him.
“Not me,” Rhonda and I both blurted out simultaneously.
“I thought you thought it up,” I added. “That red nose really does look stylish on you.”
So what’s a kelpie?
I’m glad you asked and I hope that you forgive me for assuming that you were just a bit too busy to bother Googling the definition up.
A kelpie is a shape-shifting water spirit that can appear in either the shape of man or a strange muddy-looking horse. This kelpie’s name is Angus Tanner and he is more than two hundred years old but he is still kind of hot in a somewhat mildew rumpled Liam Neeson kind of style – but if you tell him that I think that I actually might think that he is hot then I am going to have to beat you to death with an annotated and fully illustrated hardback copy of The Pillars of the Earth – and I’m going to use BOTH hands when I do it.
“I’m still cold,” Rhonda complained.
“You ought to try standing out in this cold on a couple of pairs of hooves,” the kelpie added ruefully.
The idea of Angus actually feeling cold surprised me a little – but a lot about Angus Tanner surprised me. Being a horse that spent most of his life under the water of the North Atlantic, I assumed that the chill of the deep would have inured him to any sort of winter cold – but judging from the way that he whinnied I think that Angus might have thought differently.
I felt bad about that, but not badly enough to stop myself from grinning. There was just something so darned funny about watching that kelpie speak. It was a little bit like watching a horse trying to chew down a mouth full of peanut butter and a little bit like watching a badly-dubbed D-Grade Hong Kong karate movie.
“I thought that those electric socks you were bragging about not more than two hours ago were supposed to keep your feet warm,” I said to Rhonda, trying to take my mind off of Angus’s dubious peanut butter conversational skills. “So what exactly happened to all of that top-of-the-line consumer comfort that you were going on about?”
“They are not called electric socks,” Rhonda said. “They are battery powered hunting socks, only I think that the batteries died about an hour ago.”
“That ought to serve you right for shopping for your stake-out needs at the Deep Down Discount Dollaranza,” I pointed out. “Besides, that Santa Claus outfit looks a whole lot warmer than my elf suit.”
“Hey,” Rhonda said. “You can’t go wrong shopping for Double D’s at the DDDD.”
“Please tell me that this was covered in Stakeout 101,” Angus added. “And whose idea were these plastic antlers anyway?”
“What antlers?” Rhonda asked, ringing the bell again.
Actually, the antlers had been my idea, but I wasn’t going to tell him that. They came from the Dollaranza, as well. So did the plastic red nose, but that particular fashion accessory had been all Rhonda’s idea.
“Yeah, what antlers?” I innocently added. “I don’t see any antlers.”
“Yeah, right,” Angus said. “And there isn’t any spoon, either.”
“I think that maybe the cold has gotten to your brain cells,” I added. “Have you given any thought to a brain scan?”
“Why don’t we ask them?” Rhonda said, pointing at the five young thugs who had just stepped out of the shadows and were walking towards us.
“Naughty or nice?” Angus asked. “What do you figure, Santa?”
“Hey, would you look at that,” the biggest thug said, which pretty well sealed his fate. “A ho, a horse and a cross-dressing ho-ho-ho. I told you guys that I saw another Christmas Santa stocking full of money down this alley.”
“He’s definitely naughty,” Rhonda decided aloud. “I think these are our boys.”
“Hey,” the second thug said. “I always wanted a pony of my very own to ride.”
I distinctly heard the kelpie growl.
There were five of them, like I said. The big fellow doing all of the talking was dressed in a heavy black jacket that looked large enough to have come with its own tent poles and fly.
He was the one to watch out for. The alpha leader. There was almost always one fellow in any pack who did most of the talking and some of the thinking and all of the deciding for everyone else.
“Let me guess,” the big guy said. “You two bitches got yourselves lost on the way to the okey-dokey corral?”
Have I ever told you just how much I hate it when anyone calls me a bitch?
“I figured we’d just follow behind you,” I said. “You look like the perfect example of a horse’s ass to me, after all.”
“Wow,” the second fellow said. “Are you going to take that sort of guff from her, Dingwing?”
The second fellow was dressed in a red and white striped sweater that Freddy Krueger would have been embarrassed to be caught dead in somebody’s worst wet dream and a pair of high top sneakers that you could have bridged a small canal with.
“Dingwing?” Rhonda asked. “Is that really supposed to be your buddy’s name?”
“Let me guess,” I added. “You probably made it up yourself.”
“He probably got locked up in the jailhouse nut ward,” Rhonda said. “It’s too bad that they didn’t keep him locked up.”
“Don’t waste any time talking to her Taybar,” Dingwing ordered. “She got other things to be doing with her mouth.”
Taybar – the thug in the red and white striped Freddy Krueger sweater – nodded like he was afraid to do anything else other than whatever Dingwing Dingleberry Dingus the Third told him to do.
That told me everything that I needed to know. Odds are Tabar was going to spend the fight following Dingwick’s lead. That left the three other thugs to worry about and they didn’t worry me at all. The way I figured it two of them would run and the third thug MIGHT flip a coin.
So, in a way, we were only fighting two or maybe three tops, not five of them.
That was good odds in my book, especially because these assholes did NOT know what they were getting into.
Dingwing stepped towards me.
Tabar followed right behind Dingdong. The other three fanned out around the two leaders, like the tail around the NBC peacock.
“I’ll take dingnuts,” I said to Rhonda. “You take Freddy Krueger.”
I knew that his name was Dingwing, not dingnuts, but the madder that he got the better chance I had of taking him down, and the way that I saw it if I could only get him mad enough he didn’t stand a chance in hell.
Dingwing stepped towards me only I wasn’t going to wait for him to get there.
In the movies the good guy always waits for the bad guy to throw the first punch. Sometimes the good guy will even stick out his chin and offer it to the bad guy to punch. Other times the good guy will just sort of gesture a “hey you come here” kind of gesture and wait for the bad guy to make his move.
Only I wasn’t a guy – and I sure wasn’t that kind of good.
I just didn’t want wingnut to get a chance to throw the first punch nor the second nor any sort of a punch at all. I didn’t want to run the risk of him getting lucky and tagging me hard enough to slow me down or confuse me or hurt me. That would be all the permission that those other four guys would need to beat the crap out of me.
So I stepped in fast and I caught him Wingbuckle with a good one-two, knuckling Wingdog in his Adam’s apple and then when his mouth opened to try and grab some street-dirtied oxygen I closed his mouth shut with a stiff uppercut, stepping backwards while he fell back, all the time keeping an eye on the other three.
That was all it took. No fancy holds, no snappy tricks, just plain old fashioned blunt force trauma.
Wingfart lay there on the pavement staring up at the back of his eyelids and spilling out enough fresh-colored blood from out of his mouth to drown two freshly knocked out teeth.
The third thug was coming towards me.
I didn’t wait. I didn’t pose or posture. This is how you get the job done. Attack first and attack hard and always step back to maintain a safe distance. Don’t get yourself tied up. Take them out in less than a half of a second.
Trust me – nobody likes that kind of a surprise party.
I swung a sharp kick at the third one’s shin, low enough so that he did not see it coming and quick enough so that I didn’t have to worry about him tying me up. That was the kind of kicking that won a fight.
Forget all about your Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris showy high kicks. Forget all about your Kwai Chang Caine slow motion sidekicks. Leave that sort of naïve foolishment to Neo and Chow Yun Fat and Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Hurt them fast and hurt them hard, that was my motto.
That was the golden rule of fighting. Do unto others before they have the chance to do unto you. In a single word, a good solid pre-emptive strike.
All right, so that’s five words.
So sue me.
Mathematics was never my favorite contact sport.
Then I hit the third one with a second uppercut, catching him on the chin with a hard enough impact to rattle his brain like a crash test dummy. He hit the ground like a tree falling. He wasn’t dead. He wasn’t even unconscious, but it looked impressive enough to get the other two dudes strongly thinking about the possibility of a sudden mass exodus.
That’s the way to do it.
You want to take out the dude’s hard drive. Shake the brain and the body will forget what it is doing and go back to sleep.
Rhonda moved just as succinctly AND effectively.
She came in from her dominant side, working hard to avoid sending Freddy Krueger anything that might be construed as remotely telegraphic. She didn’t want him to see what was coming next.
He didn’t stand a chance.
She caught Freddy Krueger with an open-cupped slap to the side of his neck. I know that a slap might sound – well, girly to you – but the simple fact is, if you get enough impact behind you then you can cut the blood flow to the brain, just enough to numb his thinking and his reflex motor skills. It all boiled down to the same idea.
Then, when he was stepping backwards and blinking his eyes, not sure of anything except maybe trying to back up from the sexy Santa Claus ninja who was coming at him like a baseball bat out of hell, she stepped into a good hard left to the chin, getting enough hip action into the blow to finish the job.
The fact that she was still hanging onto that Santa Claus bell of hers didn’t hurt the impact one little bit.
There is nothing sounds sweeter than a set of improvised and well-tuned musical brass knuckles.
Rhonda dropped that punk like a puke-stained napkin on the wrong end of a long Saturday night.
And then speaking of Saturday night, Rhonda reached into the iron cauldron and she pulled out her .38 long barrelled revolver and pointed it straight at the other two thugs.
“I’ve got a half a dozen .38 specials sleeping in old Mr. Smith and Wesson here,” she told the two remaining thugs. “How about if I spend five of them on your crew and see if I can blow out your Christmas candles straight between your eyes?”
I am pretty sure that she was kidding, mixed metaphor or not.
After all, Rhonda could be very convincing when she wanted to be.
There was no way she would have shot them in cold blood – was there?
The two that were lagging behind took off like their feet were made of fire and they were standing on a street full of gasoline. Number three just sort of started to drag himself in a kind of a slow drunken leopard crawl down the alley.
“You two,” Rhonda said. “You had better get going as well.”
Freddy Krueger, loyal to the bitter end, got his arms underneath wing-flap’s right arm and then he got him up to his feet, although the two of them looked to be having a very hard time holding their mouths properly shut.
“So can we go home now?” Angus asked, as the last of the thugs left the alley. “My hooves are still awfully cold.”
“Big help you were,” Rhonda said, looking right at Angus. “You could have at least kicked a couple of them in the head for me.”
“Why?” Angus asked. “You two ladies seemed to be doing all right all by yourselves.”
“Don’t you dare call us ladies,” I warned him. “I can’t curtsey worth a damn.”
“Me neither,” Rhonda added.
“So do you really think that was them?” I asked. “Do you think that crew were really the ones beating up all of the Santa?”
“Wouldn’t that be Santa’s?” Angus asked.
“Shut up, you show-jumping grammar Nazi,” I grumbled.
“I think that it was them,” Rhonda said. “Besides, even if it wasn’t them, I’m still going along with Frances the Talking Mule here. Chicken or not, he still has a point.”
“Hey,” Angus snapped. “I resent that whole chicken remark.”
“So you figure that we ought to go home now?” I said. “Do you think our job is done?”
“Not just yet,” Rhonda said. “I’m not keen on the idea of that bunch out there finding enough balls between the five of them to wait for us around the corner of the alley. The way I figure it, we wait another half hour or so to be sure that they aren’t waiting out there for us. And yes, I think our job is done. At least it is done for tonight.”
So the three of us stood there in the darkness and waited.
“So when did you first find out?” Rhonda asked after about fifteen minutes of waiting.
“Find out what?” I replied.
“When did you first find out that there wasn’t any such thing as Santa Claus?”
Now where did that come from?
I guessed that Rhonda was making conversation to pass the time. I really couldn’t blame her.
“There isn’t any Santa Claus?” I asked, feigning a combination of indignation and disbelief. “Please don’t shatter any of my precious childhood illusions.”
Which is an outright lie.
I haven’t had any illusions since my son, Hamilton, had driven his stolen neon yellow Audi into the ocean and had drowned.
But that’s a whole other story.
“You know what I am talking about,” Rhonda said. “When did you first find out that there wasn’t any Santa Claus?”
I thought about that.
“I know when I found out,” Angus joined into the conversation. “I found out the first time that my father tiptoed into my bedroom to fill up my stocking.”
“Do horses REALLY hang stockings?” Rhonda asked sarcastically.
“That’s kelpie to you,” Angus said. “And yes, actually, horses DO have stockings. Some of them even have four of them.”
“Don’t bother me with any technical details,” Rhonda said, staring straight in my direction. “I’m not the one who has got a crush on you, after all. That would be the third member of our little stake-out.”
Angus and I both suddenly looked in the other direction.
Finally, I thought of something to say.
“I bet you that Santa Claus could get a whole lot of presents crammed into four separate Christmas stockings.”
That got me a horse laugh from the kelpie, only Rhonda didn’t seem to think that my comment was all that funny.
“I was just ten years old when I first decided that there wasn’t any such thing as a Santa Claus,” Rhonda went on talking. “I wanted a GI Joe action figure – the kind with the Chuck Norris beard and the kung-fu grip. Only Dad told me that GI Joe action figures were just for boys. I got stuck with a Barbie doll.”
“You do know that girls can have just as much action as boys can, don’t you?” I asked.
“I think that the two of us just demonstrated that,” Rhonda said.
“Yeah,” I said. “We’ve got moxie.”
“But you didn’t like the Barbie doll?” Angus asked.
“Are you kidding me?” Rhonda replied. “What kind of a tactical fire mission can you run in a cotton candy pink camper?”
“So how about you?” Angus asked me. “When DID you first find out?”
I thought hard about that question.
“I don’t know if I have ever stopped believing in Santa Claus,” I said. “And that’s after my son Hamilton went and got himself drowned in the North Atlantic.”
For a moment nobody spoke.
Finally, Rhonda broke the silence.
“Ha!” she said with a derisive snort. “That has to be the stupidest thing that you have ever said to me, girl.”
She was being mean but I guess that I didn’t really blame her. I knew that she was just trying cover up any sort of softer feelings that she might be experiencing by giving way and actually admitting that she might actually be human. I even knew why she was being that way – but that is about sixteen or twenty whole other stories and I am NOT prepared to go into that right now.
That whole thing might sound more than a little bit mixed up but that was Rhonda for you. She liked to keep her feelings hidden behind Kevlar and concrete.
Instead, it was easier for Rhonda to perform a very sloppy Kwai Chang Caine drunken wheeling side kick and knock the empty cauldron to the alley pavement.
Something from inside of the cauldron clattered loudly upon the ground.
“What’s that?” Angus asked, looking down at what had fallen from out of Rhonda’s cauldron.
I bent down and picked what had fallen out of the cauldron, back up.
You guessed it.
The thing that had fallen from out of the empty cauldron was a GI Joe action figure, the kind with the Chuck Norris beard and the kung-fu grip, complete with a bright green and yellow camouflage-printed ribbon and bow and a gift tag with red and green handwriting that read GOOD WORK, GIRL.
Rhonda righted the cauldron back up onto its tripod.
Then she carried the cauldron and tripod out of the alley, towards the main street.
Angus and I followed behind her.
“I don’t suppose that it would hurt any if we tried to gather up some real Christmas donations,” Rhonda said.
And then she began to ring that bell again.
“Give for Christmas,” Rhonda sang out. “Santa is always watching.”
Only this time she meant it.
Bent as that bell was from Rhonda chiming off that third thug’s jawbone it sounded exactly like reindeer bells in the quiet December nighttime.
If you enjoyed reading this short story about Lady Macbeth, Rhonda and the Kelpie then you really might want to hunt up the rest of my Kelpie Tales series, starting with Kelpie Tales #2, KELPIE SNOW. And if you REALLY want to read where this whole thing first began you ought to hunt up my full length novel, KELPIE DREAMS.
So what is KELPIE DREAMS about?
It is about Lady Macbeth—a high school librarian, ex-assassin, and part-time kelpie, whose mother wanted to name her Hemorrhoid at birth. Now she has to take on a Sea Hag—eight legs of Godzilla-ugly poured into a bucket full of meanness—with the help of a one-woman army named Rhonda, a 200-year-old Sea Captain, and a hunky lighthouse keeper who won’t admit that he’s dead as well. KELPIE DREAMS is a funny, action-packed, paranormal romance novel for folks who HATE to read romance novels.
Lastly, all of my Kelpie tales are available in e-book format and paperback.
Steve Vernon is a storyteller. The man was born with a campfire burning at his feet. The word “boring” does not exist in this man’s vocabulary – unless he’s maybe talking about termites or ice augers. That’s all that Steve Vernon will say about himself – on account of Steve Vernon abso-freaking HATES talking about himself in the third person.
But I’ll tell you what.
If you LIKED the book that you just read drop me a Tweet on Twitter – @StephenVernon - and yes, old farts like me ACTUALLY do know how to twitter – and let me know how you liked the book – and I’d be truly grateful.
If you feel strongly enough to write a review, that’s fine too. Reviews are appreciated – but I know that not all of you folks are into writing big long funky old reviews – so just shout the book out just any way that you can – because I can use ALL the help I can get.
What brings Rhonda (full-time assassin for hire), Lady Macbeth (part-time assassin and full-time librarian), and a mythical kelpie to a dark wintry city alley? How does three against five equal three against two? What secret is hiding inside of the Salvation Army cauldron? All of these answers and more are waiting for you in this short paranormal romance shoot-em-up story - written for readers who HATE to read romance. WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING ABOUT STEVE VERNON "If Harlan Ellison, Richard Matheson and Robert Bloch had a three-way sex romp in a hot tub, and then a team of scientists came in and filtered out the water and mixed the leftover DNA into a test tube, the resulting genetic experiment would most likely grow up into Steve Vernon." - Bookgasm "Steve Vernon is something of an anomaly in the world of horror literature. He's one of the freshest new voices in the genre although his career has spanned twenty years. Writing with a rare swagger and confidence, Steve Vernon can lead his readers through an entire gamut of emotions from outright fear and repulsion to pity and laughter." - Cemetery Dance "Armed with a bizarre sense of humor, a huge amount of originality, a flair for taking risks and a strong grasp of characterization - Steve's got the chops for sure." - Dark Discoveries "Steve Vernon was born to write. He's the real deal and we're lucky to have him." - Richard Chizmar My Mom thinks I'm pretty cool, too.