When asked to supervise, Stuart learns more about Santa's workshop than he ever imagined.
Stuart Gingersnaps walked the Magic 8-Ball line in Santa's workshop for the first time. Santa had pulled him from his usual role as foreman of Thomas the Tank Engine toys. Being an elf who didn't care for change, Stuart protested at first.
Figgy, the line's usual supervisor, called out sick with stomach cramps having overdosed on gingerbread cookies after the annual decorating contest winners were announced the previous night. No discipline, Stuart thought.
As he strolled the creaky wooden floors, Stuart straightened his long, green and red striped hat behind his pointed ears. Twenty elves sat on dark-stained oak stools around tables stacked with black, hollowed, half-domed plastic pieces with the black number eight perched in the center of a white circle. The cylinders filled with blue-dyed alcohol housed the white icosahedron die bobbing at the ready with answers such as 'it is certain', 'cannot predict now', and 'don't count on it' to the innumerable questions they would later be presented with.
Stuart lifted his chin. With a deep breath he strolled about the tables. Weakened sunlight of early winter fell across the room through the oversized windows. He stopped behind an older elf assembling the domes into a sphere around one of the aforementioned cylinders. Once glued into place, the elf set it inside a plastic box atop other completed toys before turning with a smile to Stuart. Stuart nodded and walked on...not sure exactly what quality control entailed for these particular toys.
It was at this moment he caught Jimmy Kringle-Krab slip his diminutive hand into the pocket of his red vest. He pulled out something which Stuart couldn't quite see, and quickly tucked said something into the Magic 8-Ball before rushing to close to it. He snatched up the glue gun. Once the toy was sealed he looked over in Stuart's direction. Stuart turned away, pretending to have been focused elsewhere.
Not sure what he'd just witnessed, he walked on as if seeing nothing. While Jimmy certainly seemed to be acting rather suspicious, maybe Stuart just didn't know the finer details of this particular workshop. But he decided to keep a closer eye on Jimmy...just in case.
A jumpy little elf named Duckey Blitzen-Ray suddenly called out in his high-pitched voice, "Probably missing all the bright colors over at the Thomas workshop, eh, Stuart?"
"Didn't really cross my mind, Duckey."
"Yeah, well, we don't get the fun of testing out trains and stuff over here, of course."
"I think I rather enjoy the quiet of this shop actually," Stuart said. And out of the corner of his eye, it happened again. Jimmy slipped his hand into his pocket and immediately nestled something beside the cylinder before closing the sphere and taking up the glue gun. "Hey!" Stuart shouted. "Put down that gun!"
The room froze.
Everyone looked at Jimmy, who carefully placed the glue gun back on the table and raised his hands. He chuckled, "What's up, boss?"
Stuart strode closer with his outstretched hand. "What do you have there?"
"What? This?" Jimmy picked up the glue gun.
"No, what are the things you're putting in the 8-Balls?"
Jimmy shrugged. "Not sure what you're talkin' about," he said snapping up the sphere and running a line of hot glue around the seam.
Stuart grabbed Jimmy's wrist. "Stop doing that!"
Jimmy glared up at Stuart. "The big guy'll be pretty upset if we fall further behind, don't you think, Stuey?"
Stuart snatched the toy. The glue not yet set, elasticized as he opened it to find a small baggy of white powder. He pulled it out between his thumb and index finger. Holding it up to the light, he inspected the tiny bag. "What in Whoville is this?"
Jimmy raised his brows, and with a grin said, "Umm, confectioners' sugar?"
"Guess I'll have to find out for myself," Stuart said, storming off with the baggy in hand.
"Hold up, boss," Jimmy said leaping off his stool to follow. "Can I talk to you for a minute?"
"Sure...as soon as I get to the bottom of what we have here," Stuart said waving the plastic bag of powder.
It was Jimmy's turn to encroach on personal space. He grabbed Stuart's arm, and without a word, directed him into a small office off the side of the main floor.
Jimmy slammed the door.
"Excuse me!" Stuart exclaimed, flabbergasted at Jimmy's forcefulness.
"Shhhhh," Jimmy said as he held a finger up to Stuart's mouth. "Relax, okay?" Jimmy paced back and forth, occasionally rubbing his forehead.
Stuart watched him in quiet shock. "What's all this about?" He held up the plastic bag. "Tell me what this is immediately, or I'm getting Santa down here."
"Okay, okay." Jimmy drew a deep breath and folded his arms. "It's coke."
After a moment, Stuart dropped his gaze and shook his head. "I don't know what kind of fool you take me for." He raised his eyes with a squint. "But it's clearly not Coke. Coke comes in a can, is liquid in form, and Santa gets residuals for his image on their product every year."
"Not Coca-cola, Stuey." Jimmy leaned in. "Cocaine."
Stuart...roared with laughter. "Oh, okay. Cocaine!" he guffawed.
"There's a reason why they call them "magic" 8-balls, Stuart."
Catching his breath once his merriment subsided, Stuart realized Jimmy wasn't laughing with him. "Wait. Are you being serious?" Through the office window to the workshop, Stuart caught every pair of elf eyes facing in their direction. He whipped the door open. "Get back to work!"
With a hand on Stuart's shoulder, Jimmy said, "Take it easy, Stu. I assure you, this is completely management sanctioned." He shrugged. "More or less."
Stuart spun on Jimmy. "You mean Saint Nick himself knows about this??"
"Well, no. Father Christmas needs to have plausible deniability. That's what the Ice Queen says."
"Who the numb fingers is the Ice Queen?"
"Oh, right. Sorry. That's what we call Mrs. Claus. She's the mastermind behind the whole thing."
Stuart took off his hat and ran a hand through his reddish hair. "And what is the 'whole thing' exactly?"
"What do you think people mean when they wish for a 'white Christmas'?" Jimmy grabbed the coke from Stuart's hand and waved it in his face. "Hell, they can't wait for snow blow. People are always talkin' about it."
Stuart snatched the baggy back. "They mean cleaning up the white stuff from their driveways!"
Jimmy tilted his head. "In Florida?" He leaned against a shelf holding boxes of assembled toys. "If that's what you want to believe, Stuey. Don't you get why Rudolph's nose is so red? And how the rest of his team flies around the world in one night? Does that seem natural to you??"
"Come on, Stu. You think we could keep an operation of global toy logistics running year after year without a steady stream of income? Santa had blinders on to the mammoth financial hurdles of making EVERY boy and girl happy on Christmas morning. He was bleeding money. The Missus? She gets it."
"She's a drug trafficker."
"She's a genius. Santa's the only one who can go country to country with absolutely NO border control or customs inspections. It made total sense to take advantage."
Wrestling the hat back on his head, Stuart muttered to himself, "This is not good. Gotta get White Christmas PR in here immediately. This could be the biggest scandal since Santa kissed that kid's mommy." He picked up the phone receiver resembling antlers sitting on the desk.
Jimmy guided his supervisor's hand to replace the receiver. "I think you're making a bigger deal of this than it needs to be. This stuff is all over the place. Heck, Frosty the Snowman's one of our key distributors."
"Oh, no. Not Frosty." Stuart fell back into the desk chair.
Jimmy sat on the edge of the desk, and lowered his voice. "Wasn't always smooth sailing from the beginning though, I'll admit. The Grinch's cartel tried taking over Santa's vast territory for ages. Luckily, he wised up...but only after Mrs. Claus sent the Nutcracker after him." Jimmy sniggered. "News flash, it's not really his name so much as what he does," he said with a wink.
Stuart cupped his hands around his enormous pointy ears, but to no avail; Jimmy's tale kept seeping through.
"How do you think parents make it through the holiday season? Zoom calls? PTO meetings? You might recall some of our biggest customers. Bing was always dreamin' of a white Christmas. Sinatra couldn't wait until we let it snow. Bobby Helms jammed on jingle bell rock. And Andy Williams always agreed...it's the most wonderful time of the year. So why would you put a stop to it? Think about what you're saying."
"How could Santa NOT know about this?" Stuart asked.
"He only has eyes on the kids' naughty/nice list, while Mrs. Claus maintains the adult naughty list." Jimmy rose and plucked one of the magic 8-balls from a box. "Everyone on that list gets one of these amazing balls to help get them through the insanity of living. Recreationally, of course."
Jimmy tossed it in the air and caught it. "Bless those parents and adults who don't need these." He turned it over in his hands. "Sometimes even I think about cracking one open right on the workshop line when we're falling behind."
"Could speed up production," Stuart agreed.
"Now you're talkin', boss!" Jimmy lobbed the ball to Stuart. "Why don't you let fate decide for you?"
"Give it a whirl, Stu."
Stuart looked at the open area to see the die swimming around. "Should I report this clandestine operation?" He vigorously shook the ball and then froze until the answer revealed itself:
MY SOURCES SAY NO
Jimmy smiled. "Just remember, if Mrs. Claus hadn't picked up on the idea to supply the demand, some kids would never have a proper Christmas. Now how about letting me get back to work." Jimmy scooped the baggy off the table and made for the door.
Stuart stood. "Jimmy?"
Stuart stretched out his hand. "Why don't I hold onto one. You know, for safe keeping?"
Jimmy dropped the baggy into his hand. "Merry Christmas, Stu. And a Happy New Year."
WORD COUNT: 1773