Ho Ho . . . Uh-Oh.
The acrid smell of smoke woke Martha. Coughing, she shoved her husband. The rotund male roused, startled. Sitting up, he, too, coughed. Hopping out of bed, he shoved on his slippers and then robe, tying the belt around his portly form as he walked.
White smoke billowed into, drawn inside when he opened the door. The heat made his rosy cheeks redder, giving them a rich cherry glow behind his white beard and mustache. For a chubby individual, he was at the end of the hall in a blink of an eye. Smoke greeted him when entering the room, the cloud thinning quickly. Frigid arctic air slapped his face and snow filtered in through open windows. Scattered around the room were diminutive men dressed in soot covered green tops and leggings that once were brilliant red and white in horizontal stripes. And the bells hanging from the toe end of their shoes that curled in a backward C shape jingled as they rushed around. Those closest to the door looked when rotund man’s arrived, their startled smudged faces going blank.
Background voices shouted, arcs of water hit the ceiling while foam spewing from hand held fire extinguishers sprayed the walls.
“What’s this?” The man demanded, eyes scanning the activities. “Are the reindeer okay?”
“Yes, they’re fine.” An elf answered.
“As for this,” the elf closest to him pointed around, “it’s a long story Mr. Kringle.”
Kris’s blue eyes went from the charred remnants of a sleigh to a conveyer belt where burnt, soggy sludge sat. He then glanced at the ceiling, the blacken state and flames still biting into it. Wiggling an index finger at the elf who’d spoken, Kringle urged the man to come closer. Reluctantly, he did. “What’s your name?”
“Fred?” Kringle’s bushy brow arched. “What happen? How’d this fire start?”
The elf twisted the end of his shirt around a finger.
“It all began with our deciding to review the naughty and nice list to be sure we didn’t miss anything. Jackson,” he jerked a finger at the elf behind him, “stumbled on a request we missed from Peter Von Pelter –”
“Blame the intake clerk …” interrupted a voice. The big man didn’t know who said it or the direction it came from.
“Especially since Peter’s been good this year,” another voice yelled.
“Jackson,” Fred resumed, “passed the list to Norman who’s cranky over losing a week’s pay at the annual poker game. Norman gave the list to Gabriel . . .” he stopped when Kringle furrowed a brow. “Long story short, after several more pass alongs, the request found its way to Aston.”
The look of “let’s move this conversation along” swept over the Kringle’s face when yet another elf spoke.
“Peter Von Pelter,” the new arrival said, “had one thing on his list … to see a fireworks display.”
“Peter lives at an orphanage . . .” another voice shouted over the crowd.
“I get it.” Kringle sighed. “Now what about the fire.”
“Well,” Fred re-entered the conversation, “none of us knew how to make fireworks. So we called HR instead of disturbing you to find out what to do. They said they had a candidate and sent Aston because, according to his resume, he belonged ELF and listed pyrotechnics as his specialty.”
“He did this?” the big man asked. Fred nodded. “Where is he? Bring him to me.”
Turning, Fred shouted, “Bring Aston front and center.”
The elves parted, shoving a taller than average male through the gap. Kringle’s eyes widened a bit. Aston stood five nine, a foot taller than the typical elf. The closer he got, the less he looked like he belonged. His ears were normal, he had a nine o’clock shadow, wore sunshades despite being indoors and gnawed a toothpick protruding out the corner of his mouth.
“You’re,” Kringle said, “no elf.”
“Duh,” the man said, sounding like a New York mob boss. “Whatsit to ya?”
“Sir, you’ve destroyed my warehouse, ruined toys intended for millions of children around the world. Explain why you did this.”
The room door burst opened before Aston could respond and in marched a short, business suited woman with black rimmed glasses dangling from a thick, black eyeglass cord looped around her neck. Her dark hair, pulled in a tight bun, gave her a vinegary look. And in her hands a thin black folder.
“I’ll handle this.” She shoved on her glasses, glaring at Aston.
“You are?” Kringle asked.
“Tiffany from HR.” She cast a glance at the big man then locked eyes with Aston. “You must have thought you were clever with the ELF reference. Buster, your prank got me demoted. Count yourself lucky I don’t kick you in your jolly, holly nut sack.”
“Tiffany.” Kringle cleared his throat.
Performing a flighty gesture with a hand, she said, “When reviewing Aston’s application, I believed ELF meant he belonged to our union. After I dispatched his dingle berry butt to help out here, Berta, who entertains herself by surfing the internet, stumbled on the ELF website. ELF is an acronym for Earth Liberation Front.”
“What’s that?” the elves chorused.
“Pyromaniac’s angry over man’s destructiveness towards mother nature. They leap frog around the planet lighting fires to draw attention to mankind’s ruination of our world.” Her eyes narrowed to slits. “What an oxymoron!” Glancing around, Tiffany made notations in her notebook. “Did he start this?”
“Yes.” Fred answered. “After he finished making the fireworks, Aston tossed a match on them. The bottle rockets landed in the hay and puff.”
Tiffany snarled at Aston.
“Get this idiot a mop and broom. He’s got some cleaning to do.”
“I ain’t cleanin’ nuttin’ lady,” Aston countered, smugly.
“Oh no?” She stepped closer, “Take a good look my height compared to yours.” Tiffany smiled a bitter smile. “Then get a good look at my sharp teeth. And just so you know, I’m suffering with PMS.”
Aston swallowed, choked on his spittle. “I thought I saw a broom and mop in the back.”
“Then why are you standing here?!”
Turning, the man rushed off. Kringle pinched his nose, shook his head and, as he left, muttered, “I’m going back to bed.”