| A CHANGE OF PACE
“That’ll do it!” Santa said to himself, securing the bolt on the barn door. He looked around, mentally ticking off the things on his to-do list. The compound was eerily silent; the constant tapping that usually rang out from the workshop absent. Certain that everything was done, he strode towards the house.
“Keys,” Santa said, dropping the heavy ring into Fernando’s tiny palm. “The reindeer need to be fed twice a day. If it’s fine you can let them out into the yard to run.”
“Not in the rain?” The elf looked up at Santa, his wizened face questioning.
“They don’t like to get wet,” Santa explained. “When they’re not working, that is. If you have any problems, my itinerary is under the wreath magnet on the fridge. And you have my cell number, don’t you?”
Fernando nodded, the bell on the end of his pointy hat jingling merrily. “Yes, boss.”
“Alright then.” Santa grasped the handle of his suitcase that waited by the door. “I’ll see you in three weeks then.”
“Have a good time.”
I will have a good time, Santa thought as he settled himself on the long wooden bench to await the taxi he’d ordered three days before. It was not easy to get taxis to come as far as the North Pole, but Santa – or Klaus as he would be known until his return – knew how much to offer. He patted his breast pocket, hearing the paper airline ticket crinkle within. Oh yes. I will certainly have a good time.
A listing snowman slowly melting into itself made Klaus realize how warm it had gotten. He shook himself out of his daze and struggled out of his heavy dark overcoat, laying it on the backseat beside him. A glance out the window told him they were nearing the airport and a shiver of excitement ran through him. Under the ticket in his suit jacket were three photographs. He took them out, studying each carefully as the taxi sped through the streets.
The pictures were of women. Young women. Klaus admired each of them, one blonde, one an exotic brown-skinned brunette and one a red-head. He sighed happily as he put the photos back into his pocket. It had been lonely since Mrs. Claus left. Three years earlier she’d run off with a young trainee elf. Klaus had heard little from her since, just a single postcard from Australia and a few months later, divorce papers from her lawyer. He’d signed them without complaint; life at the North Pole was not for everyone.
The singles resort in the South of France had been the elves’ idea. They’d seen how lonely Klaus was since Mrs. Claus’ departure and found the place on the internet, sending off for a brochure. Since late February Klaus had been communicating with a variety of women on the resort’s site, arranging to meet a selection of them during his July vacation.
The three women met Klaus at the airport, even more beautiful in person than their pictures had suggested.
“Welcome to Cannes!” giggled the red-head.
“We’re so pleased to finally meet you!” added the blonde. “You are going to have the best vacation of your life, we promise.”
“I think you’re right,” Klaus murmured, following the trio and admiring their rounded backsides, barely covered by short-shorts.
The room was large and sumptuous with a balcony overlooking the golden sand of the beach. The sea was an impossible shade of blue, flashing and sparkling like a jewel in the sunshine. Klaus stood there, breathing deeply the scent of salt, flowers and the subtle but musky perfume of the dark skinned beauty on his arm.
“Champagne?” she asked, lifting a dripping bottle of Dom Perignon from an ice bucket.
Klaus’s three weeks of vacation sped by, his every whim or desire satisfied by one of the three women. They were remarkably good natured, happy to work together and never arguing with one another. Klaus admired this in them, knowing how competitive women could be with one another, when a man was involved. Especially a wealthy man.
“A man could learn to live this way,” Klaus sighed one morning from a deckchair on the beach as Olga, the blonde, rubbed sun-cream into his back in languid circles.
“You’ve had a good holiday then?” Olga’s voice was surprisingly deep, the hint of a Russian accent giving it a smoky, mysterious quality that was at odds with her California surfer-girl looks.
“The best of my life!” Klaus winked at her. “What more could I have asked for?”
He lay back in his chair, eyes closed behind his sunglasses. Tomorrow he had to go home, back to the snow and ice and the house that echoed with loneliness. Back to the chattering elves and the reindeer. Back to supervising the workshop that in reality needed no supervising. He sighed at glanced over at Juanita, the Moroccan beauty whose long dark hair ran through his fingers like water, then at Rochelle, the fiery Frenchwoman.
“You wouldn’t want to come home with me, would you?” he asked. “Any of you?”
“Not me…” Olga shivered at the thought. “Too much snow. Reminds me too much of childhood in Minsk.”
“Nor me,” Juanita whispered. “I am no good in the cold. I went to Paris once in October. It nearly killed me.”
“Not me either.” She shrugged her lightly freckled shoulders. “But why don’t you stay?”
Stay. The thought kept spinning through Klaus’ head throughout the day and night. Why couldn’t he? In reality, his presence was not needed day-to-day. He had remained there out of habit. With e-mail and modern telecommunications, there was no reason he couldn’t run the operation from this beachside paradise. As long as he returned in time for the annual sleigh-run, or perhaps a day or two before, all would be well.
Taking a sip of the icy champagne Juanita had poured for him, Klaus reached for his cell-phone.