The Vanishing Santa, Part 5

Bruno drove and Wally sat silently in the passenger seat.  The young officer understood that his mentor preferred quiet when he was in a bad mood, but then again, if everyone complied with that request, Bruno would be forever surrounded in silence.

Wally felt it was his responsibility to keep the conversation going whenever they worked together.  So even though he knew it irritated Bruno, he always came up with new ice breakers.

“How old were you when you realized Santa Claus wasn’t real?” Wally asked.

The rookie was proud of himself for coming up with something topical.

Bruno shot him a sideways glance.  “Always with the questions…”

Wally ignored the slight because if he didn’t, he’d feel like he was working with a very angry mime.

“I just have this image of you being born as a tiny Detective,” he shared.  “Like when the doctor handed you to your Mom, you were wearing a not at all stylish sports coat and a stained tie.”

Bruno actually chuckled, much to Wally’s surprise.

“I musta been like four when I put together that Santa’s gifts were wrapped in the same paper my folks used for theirs,” Bruno explained.  “And it didn’t take no expert handwriting analysis to see that Santa’s handwriting was the same as Mom’s proper cursive.”

Wally chuckled.  “I would expect nothing less.”

“That ain’t the end of it, Kid,” Bruno interrupted.  “Our house ain’t got no chimney, so how did Santa get in? And there ain’t no way one guy was gonna deliver all those presents around the world in one night. Gotta admit, I was stumped on how my parents knew what I wanted from Santa since I only told the big guy in my letters to him.  Then I got that when Dad hand delivered my letters to the special window at the post office, he was just keeping ‘em to read himself.”

Bruno grinned.  “Once I got that figured, I milked it.  I made sure to always write something nice about my folks in my letters to Santa.  Ya know, saying how much I loved them, how lucky I was to have ‘em, and asking Santa to bring them presents, too.”

“So you had Santa Claus figured out by the time you were in Kindergarten?” Wally asked.

“That ain’t the right question to ask, Kid.  Don’t ya remember anything I taught ya?” Bruno scolded him with a shake of his head.

Wally hung his head, just like he always did when Bruno pointed out one of his more glaring mistakes.  His lesson on asking the perfect question was one of the first things he’d learned from Bruno on the case that had brought them together.

Only a numbskull could forget that one.

Wally held up a finger to indicate that he needed a minute to think about it.  Bruno just rolled his eyes and turned his attention back to the road.

After a minute, Wally finally broke the silence of his deep thinking.

“How old were you when you finally admitted to your parents that you knew that Santa Claus wasn’t real?” Wally asked confidently.

“Winner, winner, chicken dinner!” Bruno proclaimed.  “I’m gonna make a Detective out of ya yet, young Wallace, and when I do, they’re gonna create the Nobel Prize in Policing just to give it to me.”

“I should point out here that Wally is not short for Wallace,” Wally clarified.

Of course, Bruno simply ignored him.

“I’m gonna answer your question now, Wallace.  I was twelve years old when I finally came clean with my folks,” Bruno confessed.  “I was really focused on baseball by then, and I got this idea in my head that no future baseball star still believed in Santa Claus when he was twelve.”

Wally shook his head in confusion.

“I can’t see you as a jock,” he told Bruno.  “No offense intended, but like I said, I just imagine you being born a Detective.”

“Well, at some point, young Detective Bruno deduced that he could throw a baseball harder than kids several years older than him.  Then he figured out how to spin it and make it move in all sorts of directions that made kids throw their bats and scouts start showing up to his games…”

“And when you were taking this journey down Memory Lane, did you bump into Champ and start referring to yourself in the third person as a result?” Wally teased.

Bruno responded by driving in silence.  He only opened his mouth again to answer that they’d arrived at their destination, and to call Wally a few derogatory terms that the young officer would not soon forget the next time he thought about poking the bear.

short story, Christmas, Modern PhilosopherThe Golden Rodeo looked exactly how Bruno imaged a country western bar would look.  Since it was morning, there were no patrons.  A solitary figure sat at the bar, and glanced up from the paperwork spread out in front of him.

“We’re closed, fellas.  Come back at 4:00.”

Bruno nodded at Wally, who took that as his cue to flash his badge and make introductions.

“We’re with the Police actually,” he clarified.  “I’m Officer Wainwright and this is Detective Bruno.  Are you the owner?”

The man sighed, took off his glasses, and placed them on the bar.

“Yes, I’m Jesse Owens,” he introduced himself.  “Not the world famous sprinter, just the struggling bar owner.  How can I help you?”

Bruno chuckled.  Apparently, he was a fan of such wit.

“We was hoping to ask about a band that mighta played here,” Bruno explained.  “The Astro Cowboys.”

Jesse laughed.  “Have a seat, gentlemen.  You’re going to need it.”

Bruno sighed.  Not because of the owner’s hospitality, but because he’d had a gut feeling that these clowns with the crazy name were going to be a problem.

“That bad?” Wally asked as he took a seat at the bar.

“Not really,” the owner clarified.  “More of a headache than anything else, although it makes me wonder what they might have done to catch the attention of the police.”

“It’s no big thing,” Bruno explained.  “The name came up in relation to a case we’re working, and we just wanted some background.”

Wally slid the flyer across the bar.  “We couldn’t find much on them other than this.”

Jesse reached out to pick up the flyer, put his glasses back on, and studied it for a moment.

“A night that will live in infamy,” he finally said after placing the flyer face down on the bar.  “What do you need to know?”

Bruno gave Wally the nod that he could take the lead on this.  The young officer fought to hold back a smile, but he might have cracked just the smallest one before he got it under control.  This was a big step, and he wanted to make Bruno crowd.

“Just some basic background,” Wally explained.  “They clearly left a lasting impression.”

The bar owner chuckled again.  “You could say that.  I’m always looking for new acts.  When these guys walked in bragging that they were a cross between Ziggy Stardust and Garth Brooks, I figured they were full of crap, but I was also intrigued.  It doesn’t take much to fill this place on a weekend, and once the folks start drinking, you really only need the music to keep playing in order to keep the cash registers ringing.  I figured their gimmick might even attract a new audience, so I gave them a shot.”

Bruno shook his head because his gut was already telling him where this was going, but he stayed quiet and allowed Wally to continue.

“So were they a cross of Ziggy Stardust and Garth Brooks?” Wally asked.

“Hell, no!” Jesse answered without hesitation.  “More like Ziggy from the comics and Mel Brooks.”

That earned him a chuckle from Bruno.

“As I would with any new act, I insisted they start with covers of a couple of Country Western standards.  That gets the crowd into it, they buy their pitchers and shots, and once that’s happening, I don’t care what they play next.  As long as they don’t piss off the crowd and nearly start a riot.”

Bruno slapped his hands loudly like this was the punchline he’d been expecting.

“Their stuff ain’t go over too well with the crowd?” Bruno asked more to fan the fire than anything else because he already knew the answer.

“To say the least,” Jesse confirmed and took a deep breath as if reliving the experience was too stressful for him to handle.  “They launch into some crazy electronic noise, and the booing and the howling starts.  Now the lead singer, he doesn’t appreciate this particular feedback from his audience, so he starts hurling insults at them.  They respond by hurling beer bottles.  I pulled the plug and told them to get the hell off my stage and never come back.”

Wally quickly jotted some notes down on his little pad.  “You mentioned the lead singer.  Would that be Tex Bourbon?”

“The one and only,” Jesse replied sarcastically.

“Did Tex give you the impression that he was the criminal type?” Wally pressed.

“Only if I can press charges for crimes against music and the human ear,” Jesse quipped.

Bruno chuckled again.  Apparently, he was in a much better mood than he was earlier.

“We’re sorry for dragging up such horrible memories,” Bruno apologized.  “We ain’t gonna take up any more of your time.”

“Look, if you really want to hear some great stories about these guys, go talk to Viv over at The Space Station,” Jesse suggested.  “I could share the tales, but they’re Viv’s to tell, and she really does put a great spin on them.  She’ll tell you some doozies.”

Bruno and Wally shook Jesse’s hand and thanked him again for his time.

On the way to the exit, Bruno broke the silence.  “I know you’re dying to ask, so I’m gonna save ya the time.  Yeah, we can go talk to Viv about these clowns.  Maybe a good laugh will make having to waste our Saturday a little less painful.”

Wally’s face lit up with joy.

Detective, humor, Modern PhilosopherJesse Owens (the bar owner, not the famous athlete) had been correct about Viv at The Space Station.  She certainly had plenty of stories to tell about The Astro Cowboys, and none of them painted the band in a flattering light.

The key information boiled down to this story:

“They came on stage in blue flight suits, cowboy boots, and cowboy hats,” she explained to Bruno and Wally from her seat at the bar.  “Except for the lead singer.  He wore a space helmet and carried an American flag, which he immediately planted in the middle of the stage to the crowd’s delight.”

“Once that was done, a roadie came out, and handed him his guitar.  Then he traded in his space helmet for a cowboy hat that was all glittery and made him stand out from the rest of his posse.  I will give the guy one thing, he knew something about showmanship.”

Bruno nodded attentively.  To Wally’s disbelief, he had sat patiently through all the stories.  He’d been so sure the Detective would blow his stack and threaten to arrest the chatty club owner unless she got to the point.

“The started off with Space Oddity by Bowie.  You know, ‘Ground control to Major Tom…”

“That’s a classic,” Bruno observed.

“The crowd loved it,” Viv continued.  “I started to relax because I’m always anxious when a new act performs, especially on a Friday night when the place is packed.  Of course, that didn’t last long because for song two, they decided to go all in.  They turned on the smoke machine, the laser lights, and even had this model rocket on a launching pad…”

“Whoa, that sounds intense…” Wally muttered.

“Intense doesn’t begin to cover it,” Viv growled.  “Next thing I know, there’s a loud BANG, all the lights go out, and I’ve got complete chaos on my hands.  They blew out my power with their damn machines.  People are screaming and running for the exits.  I can’t keep the beer cold or the ice frozen, so I’m done for the night at 9:15 on a Friday.  Do you have any idea how much money those nitwits cost me in lost business and repairs?”

Bruno just whistled to convey he understood it must have been a tidy sum.

“Despite all the damage they caused, the lead singer is demanding that they be paid before they leave,” she said with a laugh.  “I told him he wasn’t getting paid for one song, and he should expect a bill to cover all the damages and lost business.”

“Gonna guess that didn’t go over well,” Bruno interjected.

Viv shook her head vehemently.  “They cleared out pretty kick once I threatened to have my bouncers confiscate their equipment as payment.  But I didn’t let them off the hook.  I’m suing the bastards. The only person who hates them more than me is my lawyer, and he is one mean son of a bitch.”

“I will get my money, and I’ve blackballed those bastards with every bar, club, music venue, bowling alley, and party planner in the state.  They’re not going to work again until they settle their tab!”

“Hot damn!” Bruno said excitedly as he shot up out of his chair.  “I ain’t gonna lie, I wish there were more business owners like you.  Gotta stand up for your rights, insteada just expecting society to fix everything for ya.”

Viv smiled.  “You don’t come to own a semi-successful club in a town like this if you wait for people to hand you what you need.  If you end up arresting those morons, don’t let them anywhere near the outlets in the jail.”

“Excellent advice for any prisoner,” Bruno chirped.  “Thanks for your time.”

As they made their way to the exit, Bruno surprised Wally with a pat on the back.

“Good work finding that flyer.  Now we’ve got motive, and I ain’t as pissed off about having to give up my long weekend.”

Wally wasn’t exactly sure where this was all headed, but rather than ruin it with a stupid question that would infuriate Bruno, he kept his mouth shut and relished the praise.


About Austin

Native New Yorker who's fled to the quiet life in Maine. I write movies, root for the Yankees, and shovel lots of snow.
This entry was posted in Humor and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The Vanishing Santa, Part 5

  1. kristianw84 says:

    I love this one! You paint quite the picture. I could envision The Golden Rodeo, and the way Jesse explained the memory of the Astro Cowboys upsetting the crowd reminded me of a similar scene in Blues Brothers.

    As soon as I read Viv talk of Tex wearing the space helmet, I figured Bowie was coming!

    This is excellent!! I can’t wait for the next part!

    • Austin says:

      That was a fun chapter to write. I had all these crazy ideas about the Astro Cowboys, and I just wanted to get them all down on paper. It’s the wild details that make a story fun!

      Just wrote the first half of Chapter 9. I’m running out of time to get this done before Christmas, so I’m trying to write a little every day…

      • kristianw84 says:

        I bet it was. It was a very fun chapter to read! I also enjoyed learning a little more about how Bruno’s mind works, and his childhood. I could picture 4-year-old Bruno deducing the truth about Santa. So fun!

        Yeah, Christmas is quickly approaching…

  2. beth says:

    oh, picture little bruno!

  3. markbialczak says:

    Oh what excellent scenes in this caper, Austin.

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