by Josh Pachter
This is the first of several Christmas short stories going up this month. This story was originally published in EQMM in 2015.
Behind the apartment door, Eartha Kitt was singing “Santa Baby” about twenty-five decibels louder than was sexy. No wonder a neighbor had called in a complaint.
Bob Keene adjusted his gun belt and settled his uniform cap firmly on his head. He pressed the bell, pretty sure no one inside would be able to hear it ring.
He gave it thirty seconds, then slipped his nightstick from its sheath and tapped lightly on the door. While he waited, Eartha Kitt gave way to the Jackson 5’s cover of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” When he judged that another half a minute had gone by, Keene rapped more sharply on the door. Almost instantaneously, the volume dropped by a good fifty percent and the door swung open, revealing a shapely bottle blonde in her mid-forties and not a heck of a lot else.
Keene looked her up and down without much interest.
“See anything you like?” she asked, her index finger slowly rubbing her lower lip.
“You want put that away for me, please, ma’am,” he said.
“I don’t mind you want to cop a feel,” she said, and smiled broadly. “Cop a feel,” she repeated. “You get it?”
“Every damn shift,” he said. “Put it away, please.”
She cupped a palm beneath her breast and wrestled it into her bra, shimmied her shoulders to shake her blouse into place.
“Is there a problem, officer?” she asked.
“Neighbor complained about the music,” he said.
“We’ll keep it down,” she promised. “Sorry.”
He touched the brim of his cap. “’Preciate it,” he said, and turned to go.
“For, Chrissake, it’s Christmas Eve. Come in and have a glass a eggnog, why don’t ya?”
“I appreciate it, ma’am, but I’m on duty.”
“So we won’t spike it. Come on in for a couple minutes and take the chill off.”
“Much obliged,” he said, and as Michael Jackson handed off to Dean Martin’s rendition of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” he stomped the white from his boots and went in.
The front door opened directly into the apartment’s living room. The place was sparsely furnished, and the party was sparsely attended: a sagging sofa, two mismatched armchairs, a TV in an old entertainment center that looked rescued from the dump, a set of bookshelves crowded with a mini-stereo and a collection of CDs and DVDs but no books, a scraggly pine hung with cheap Kmart ornaments and draped with lights, one balding guest in shotgunned jeans and a blue down vest over a red flannel shirt. Keene was the only one of them wearing shoes.
“Earl, you go pour the officer some eggnog, and don’t put no booze in it.” She turned back to the cop. “You don’t mind if he boozes mine up for me, do you?”
“It’s your house,” Keene smiled.
A sweet voice crooned “Silent Night” against a minimalist instrumental background. Keene wasn’t sure, but he thought it might be Martina McBride.
“Siddown,” the woman invited, waving at the couch. “I’m Nikki.”
“Like Saint Nick,” Keene said.
“Yeah,” she grinned, settling into one of the armchairs. Her eyes were bright, and the blue and red and green and yellow twinkle lights on the tree reflected in her dilated pupils. “Just like, except with two k’s and an i.”
He took a seat, and the bald guy came out of the kitchenette balancing two old-fashioned glasses and a plastic tumbler.
“That’s Earl,” Nikki said. “My boyfriend, kinda.”
“What kinda?” frowned Earl, perching on the arm of her chair. “Either I am or I ain’t.”
She patted his knee. “’Course you are, honey. You and me against the world, right?”
“And so this is Christmas,” John Lennon sang, “and what have you done?”
“Eclectic taste,” Keene nodded, sipping gingerly at his eggnog. It tasted like it had come out of a cardboard carton from a third-rate dairy.
“Electric what?” Nikki asked, but he let it go. There was an oversized brown coaster on the coffee table, and he wanted to park his tumbler there but the space was already occupied by three leftover glass ornaments: a purple ball, a clip-on blue jay, and what looked like a hand-painted Santa.
Earl saw him looking at the coaster, which also seemed to be made of glass, and quickly said, “Don’t worry about the table, it’s a piece a crap.”
That was interesting, Keene thought. He leaned back and faked another sip of eggnog.
“Nice place,” he said. “You folks mind if I take a look around?”
Earl’s eyes flashed panic. “Don’t you need a warrant for that?”
Frank Sinatra invited them all to have themselves a merry little Christmas, and Nikki squeezed Earl’s hand reassuringly and bubbled, “It’s my place, officer, and you just go ahead and look around all you want to. Mi casa es your casa.”
He gently pushed the three ornaments off the coaster and picked it up and turned it over. It was a mirror, and there was a hint of white residue on its surface.
“Nikki,” Earl said tightly, “you shouldn’t oughta—”
Keene picked up the purple globe and held it to his ear and shook it gently. He set it down and picked up the blue jay.
Old Blue Eyes turned the microphone over to the King. “I’ll be home for Christmas,” Elvis crooned, and Keene replaced the bird and reached for the Santa.
“I paid ten bucks for that one,” Nikki said nervously. “It’s German, I think, hand-blown glass. I don’t think you oughta—”
He held it to his ear and shook it, and carefully began to work loose the metal cap.
“Hey,” Earl barked, “the lady said—”
The music changed again. “Oh, the weather outside is frightful,” Michael Bublé sang, “but the fire is so delightful.”
Keene tipped the Santa sideways and gently shook it, and a drift of fine white powder sifted out of Santa’s head and swirled in the updraft from the central heating.
“I told you not to do that,” Nikki said plaintively.
“Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow,” said Keene.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories including more Christmas short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify. A new episode went up this week.