There was Christmas everywhere else and there was Christmas in the ghetto. Joe Shunt knew all about that. Private eye, fistman for hire, ex-military, ex-husband, recovering alcoholic. He’d had a lot of occupations over the years.
The holiday season was as bad a time as any on what he jokingly called his “social calendar”. Christmas Eve had been spent finding a refuge for ‘Iron Lips’ Irene the hooker, whose poor business decision to chow down on a demanding customer’s crotch had led her to Shunt’s door. Having spirited her away amongst the sisters of a local convent he’d gone after her pimp, ‘No Nuts’ Biggie Banacek, who’d definitely lived up to his nickname once Shunt had finished with him.
With all that behind, he hoped Christmas Day would bring tidings of comfort and joy to those crime-drenched streets. Striding down Seventh Corner in an unfeasibly tight Santa outfit, he was on a mission to spread the seasonal cheer at the Citric Street Orphanage, his regular port of call on the one day of the year he didn’t wake up ready to bust heads. His belly was made out of the only two pillows he had in his apartment. Slung over his shoulder was a sack bulging with toys he’d made himself from the butts of guns he’d confiscated. As his long boots pounded the tarmac and the freshest air the city had felt in a long time entered his nostrils, he felt hopeful for the human race all over again, that the shit wouldn’t hit the fan, if only for twenty four hours.
Little did Shunt suspect it would only last another twelve seconds. Backing out of Mames, the closest thing the block had to a department store, came an elf. Or rather a dude dressed as an elf. From a distance he looked small, but as Shunt got closer he saw the guy was just stunted. And ugly. And stubbly. The elf turned to face Shunt and stopped dead, a cardboard box loaded with goodies that from his face Shunt could tell weren’t his. Santa and Little Helper sized each other up. Shunt’s grip tightened on his sack of toys.
“Hey man,” said the elf. “Compliments of the season, right?” His eyes glazed. Whatever was in his system had gone into overdrive as his brain tried to come up with an excuse for what he was doing.
“What’s in the box son?” Shunt addressed the elf in a rich bass tone. Oddly his voice wasn’t far removed from St Nick himself.
“Well, you know, just picked up some groceries… general groceries…” His nicotine-stained fingernails dug into the box.
Shunt took a step toward him and the elf started shaking. “Relax whitey,” he said in a low voice. “Just checkin’ whether you’ve been naughty or nice…” Peering over the edge of the box Shunt saw a lopsided pile of jewelry that looked like it’d been deposited in a hurry. He smiled broadly at the thief. “Don’t tell me. You’re one of them half-man, half-woman type deals who turn tricks behind the Apex Stadium…”
“Problem, Mickey?” The question was accompanied by the sound of a weapon being cocked. From behind the elf stepped a similar-looking man in a reindeer costume. In his soft hoof was a small handgun.
“It’s alright Rudy. Me and the big man here were just saying our goodbyes weren’t we?”
“Rudy?” Shunt chuckled. “What’s your Momma’s name, Dancer?”
Rudy was more confident than Mickey, walking right up to Shunt and pointing the barrel at his face. “You like gags? How’s this for a punchline? Now back off Black Christmas before I work out whether you can catch a bullet between your-“
Shunt flattened the reindeer’s crotch with one sharp upward blow from his boot. Rudy cussed and stumbled to his knees while Mickey dropped the box, precious metals clattering, and rushed at the rock face of red and white. Shunt swung the sack round, the hessian payload sending the elf careering into the traffic, where he bounced off the bonnet of a yellow taxi.
“What did you do to my brother you jive ass butterball?” Rudy had recovered and was aiming the gun point blank at Shunt’s belly. He pulled the trigger and the red velvet exploded in a shower of feathers.
“Guess he misunderstood the meaning of public transportation!” replied that deep voice through the duck down, a dark fist torpedoing through to lay Rudy out cold.
Shunt wafted his arms to make the cloud of feathers clear faster. He knew those pillows were hard but that was ridiculous. Confiscating the gun, he put it in his pocket before gathering up the toys that had fallen out the sack. Nothing had been broken. And it was snowing in a sense. The feathers floated on the city breeze, some passers-by putting their umbrellas up in confusion.
Shunt swung the sack back over his shoulder and went on his way, doing his best to sing ‘Good King Wenceslas’ over the sound of the impending ambulance.