Real Santa Chapter 2 (A Chapter a Day Until Christmas)

Oct 19, 2014 by

2

                                               The Gift
 MEGAN’S FATHER STARED at the man behind the glass desk.

 

“What are you saying, Mike?”

 

Mike Soros leaned toward his laptop, an antique sextant, a cell

 

phone, a modular sleek office phone, and the picture of his three kids

 

and trophy wife. He flashed a smile of bleached teeth. “What Jim

 

and I are saying is that maybe we would all be better off if a change


occurred.”

“A change?”

Mike clasped his hands. “We have been friends a long time,

George. We go way back. We sailed together. We have had dinner

 

parties together—your kids my kids, your wife, my wife.”

 

“We established we are friends, Mike. Get to the point.”

 

Mike smiled. George should have known something was brewing

 

when both partners came in wearing suits. Mike’s suit looked like

 

something James Bond would wear, while Jim sported the used-car

 

variety, complete with epaulets of dust on the shoulders. Suits meant

 

they were either pitching a client or someone was getting canned.

 

“I’m just not sure the fit has been there between you and S& G.”

 

“What? My work hasn’t been up to your standards?”

 

Mike chuckled and looked at Jim. “Nobody is questioning your

 

work, George … it’s more, well, your approach. S&G is going through

 

a lot of changes in these lean times, and we really now have to be a

lean, mean cyber-fighting machine.’’

George saw Clive Randall look in through the glass wall. The

 

whole damn office was glass conference rooms. Clive and George

 

locked eyes. Clive’s twenty-nine-year-old blushing expression told

 

him all he wanted to know. His hire had raised suspicions. Why hire

 

someone when business was in the toilet, unless of course someone

 

was getting fired?

 

“I can sue you, Mike.”

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

“You obviously hired that little shit Clive to take my spot, and it

 

is a clear case of age discrimination.”

 

Jim and Mike exchanged glances, then Mike smiled.

 

“We are the same age, buddy!”

 

“No, I’m fifty. You are forty-nine. ”

 

Mike laughed. “C’mon, big fella. This is not about age. Hell, you

 

are a young man!”

 

George saw himself in the glass, a man with a bushy grey beard

 

and thinning grey hair in a checkered shirt and khakis. He didn’t feel

 

like a young man. He felt like an old man getting his ass handed to him.

 

“If you fire me, then I will sue.”

 

Mike leaned back with his hands clasped. “Well, there have been

 

some issues with your work.”

 

“Name it.”

 

“The bike bridge over Breckham Road.”

 

George shifted. “Alright. What about it?”

 

Mike dropped the Byronic pose and came forward. “What about

 

it? What about the million-dollar price tag? What about the railroad

 

bridge you built that had the mayor calling and asking what the hell

 

we were doing putting a railroad bridge through the middle of town?”

 

“I did it to specs, anticipating stressors for the next one hundred

 

years. There could well be railroad traffic one day going across that

 

bridge.”

 

“It was supposed to be a bicycle path, not a bridge over the Erie

 

Canal!”

 

George smoothed his beard. “I designed the bridge with a single

 

span so—”

 

“That girder looks hideous, George! Do you know other firms

come and look at that thing and laugh their ass off?”

“No.”

 

Mike looked down and breathed heavily. “Look. I didn’t want

 

it to come to this, but you just don’t play ball. You fight us on every

 

design. You think you know better, and maybe you do, but I need a

 

team that can play ball together. You are a one-man show, George.

 

You probably should have your own firm again.”

 

“I did that once before. I don’t have that kind of capital.”

 

“Then I am sure you will find a position very quickly.”

 

George snorted. “Give me a break. We are in a depression, Mike!”

 

His employer shook his head. “There you go again. This is a recession
that is ending. But you call it a depression. Maybe you are in

a depression, did you ever think of that?”

“No.”

 

“The point is, you just have to contradict everyone, George.”

 

“That’s not true.”

 

“Really? Then why aren’t you working on the bridge over the

 

Crimson River anymore?”

 

“Because Frank Gifford doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the

 

ground when it comes to design,” George muttered.

 

Mike laughed again, shaking his head. “You see. You are your

 

own worst enemy! Frank offered to leave the project, but I said no
way, because I know he will get it done while you sit there and fight

over some design flaw that only matters to you.”

Jim cleared his throat. “All we are saying is that we think you

 

would be happier somewhere else. Our image is changing, and I don’t

 

think you are going to … well, change with us. You are the old-time

 

engineer, and that is good, but we need a different image now.”

 

He turned and looked at the older heavyset man.

 

“An image?”

 

Jim rolled his shoulders. “Yes, we are becoming, like Mike said, a

 

lean, mean cyber-fighting machine.”

 

George held up his phone. “I have a BlackBerry.”

 

Mike stared at him.

 

“Do you remember when we went sailing?” Mike asked.

 

“Of course.”

 

“And do you remember we were up in the harbor and we had to

pull the boat out?”

George felt his skin warming. “Yes. Get to the point.”

 

“And the man who owned that forty-five-foot sailboat said the

 

wind is so strong that you have to really give it a lot of power or you

 

will be blown back into the dock?”

 

“And?”

 

“And you said, ‘No.’ You said that the wind would pull the boat

 

forward and you didn’t think giving it a lot of power was a good idea.”

 

George cleared his throat. “What is your point, Mike?”
His boss leaned over his desk. “My point is that wasn’t your boat.

We were renting the man’s boat for a day, and he told you how to get

out of the dock and you wouldn’t listen to the owner. You had to do

 

it your way and what happened then?”

 

George frowned. “I’m sorry.”

 

“What happened when you tried to take the boat out of the harbor?”

 

George paused, feeling his pants bunching up his crack. “The

 

boat hit the dock,” he murmured.

 

“And what happened?”

 

“It wasn’t my fault that bumper wheel didn’t hold,” he protested.

 

“What happened, George?”

 

He looked down at the glass desk, pulling on his beard.

 

“Tore a gash in the side of the boat.”

 

Mike held up his hand.
“You see. We own this firm, Jim and I. We are the owners of this

 

boat, and we can’t afford you to tear a gash in the side of our boat.”

George stared at him.

“So what … you are firing me twelve days before Christmas?”

 

Mike dipped his head, opening his hands. “I would look at it like

 

a gift. You get to spend more time with your family over the holidays,

 

and you can hit the ground running in the New Year. I envy you really.

 

We’ll be slaving away right up to Christmas Eve, and you’ll get some

 

quality time with your family.”

 

George stared at the owner of S&G Engineering.
“Oh, really, Mike? Then why don’t you go home for the holidays,

and I’ll stay here and work.”

Mike smiled tightly. “Because I’m the owner.”
“No, really, Mike. If I’m so lucky, I’ll stay here and you and Jim

can go home and be Mr. Mom. Go ahead. I’ll cover you.”

Mike paused, two pink blushes on his cheek.

 

“You know, I did you a favor by hiring you, George. I knew your

 

history. I knew you had bounced around from firm to firm for this very

 

reason. But I was willing to take a chance because we were friends.”

 

“You were a man short, and you got me for a song,” George scoffed.

 

Mike rolled his shoulders. “If that’s the way you want to see it.”
“That’s the way it was, Mike.”

Mike made a sound through his teeth.

“This is probably why you and Cynthia didn’t make it. You just

 

can’t get along with people.”

 

“She ran off with her high school boyfriend after she connected

 

on Facebook,” George replied dully. “It had nothing to do with me.”

 

“But why was she interested in a high school boyfriend?”

 

“Recyclables.”

 

“What?”

 

“Recyclables. She said I didn’t clean the recyclables enough before

 

I put them in the container.”

 

“And you think that’s why she left you?”

 

George shrugged again. “It became an issue. She started leaving

 

them on the front steps when I came home from work.”

 

Mike snorted. “I don’t think that is why she left you.”

 

“You seem to have all the answers, Mike. Why don’t you ask her?”

 

“And your relationship with your kids is not so great either.”

 

“As if it’s any of your business, but Megan and I are fine.”

 

“I meant your other kids.”

 

George shrugged. “Jeremy and Jamie are adults now.”

 

Mike laughed lightly. “Right. Well, listen. We are willing to be

 

fair. I’ll give you a month’s severance.”
“Woof woof.”
Mike stared at him. “I’m sorry …”

 

George put out his tongue, panting quickly.
“Woof woof.”
“I’m sorry. Are you barking at me?”

“Dogs always bark when you throw them a bone, Mike.”

Mike shook his head, throwing up his hands. “Fine. You get a

 

month’s severance. We’d like you to have your desk cleaned out by

the end of the day.”

George panted again with his big tongue toward Mike.
“Woof woof.”
Mike stood up and nodded coldly. “I think this meeting is at an

 

end.”

 

George turned around, grabbing the arms of the shiny chair. He
pushed up his rear to Mike and howled, “ARROOOOOOOH!”

“What are you doing?”

George stuck his rear up higher and wiggled it around.
“ARRRRRRRRROOOOH!”
“STOP IT!”

 

The entire office had stopped to watch an engineer shaking his

 

ass in the air. George raised his head and howled again.

 

Mike turned bright red and pointed to the door.

 

“GET OUT OF MY OFFICE!”

 

George shook his ass again.
“ARRRRRRROOOOOH!”
“If someone doesn’t make a movie out of this book, there is something wrong with the world.”
   Starred Review Booklist
The author marries the everyday dramas found in the novels of Tom Perrotta and Nick Hornby to the high camp of Carl Hiaasen or Dave Barry.It’s not as frenetic as Christopher Moore’s The Stupidest Angel or as maudlin as all those holiday staples (read: A Christmas Story), but adults looking for a funny holiday-themed tale that doesn’t lose its sense of wonder in the face of realism will find a treat here. A lovingly crafted comedy about the madness that fatherhood inspires.”
  Kirkus Reviews

“Hazelgrove’s lively improbable narrative will appeal to the readers in the mood for holiday fiction.”
Publishers Weekly

“Charming…Hazelgrove has real compassion for his characters.” Chicago Tribune

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