“THIS BROAD DOESN’T know where she’s going!”
“It’s a computer, Dad, hooked into Global Positioning Satellites.”
“I don’t give a damn if it’s hooked into a donkey’s ass, it still
doesn’t know where the hell it’s going! Only a moron would follow
this English lady into the middle of nowhere.” He gestured to the
GPS box on the dashboard. “She has no goddamn idea where she is
going, and she won’t admit it!”
George looked at his father in his floppy hat. The last comment
belonged to when his mother would be driving and his dad would
turn to him. She has no goddamn idea where’s she going, and she
won’t admit it.
“Dad, it is Global Positioning Satellite technology. The woman
has nothing to do with it.”
“Then why are you listening to her?”
Turn Right on McGruff Road.
George looked at the little blue car on the screen mounted on
his dashboard as McGruff Road swung into view.
YOUR DESTINATION IS ON THE RIGHT.
“There, you see, Dad. We aren’t lost.”
“Ah, she lucked out,” he muttered.
George started to slow down and saw a driveway peeking out of
frosted pines. He turned into the trees and entered Santa’s village.
Reindeer antlers poked out from tree trunks with flashing Christmas
trees and large red and green ornaments shining on Austrian firs.
George continued on to a house that looked like a place Santa Claus
might reside—a Swiss chalet made from logs with snow piled up on
the porch. A big F-150 truck was parked in the drive with RENDEER
“This must be the place,” George murmured.
His father frowned. “What is he, some kind of Mountain Man?”
MAKE A U-TURN.
“See, she still doesn’t know what in hell she is talking about!”
George silenced his GPS.
“Well, I better go see about some reindeer.”
His father slouched down in the car.
“Leave the engine on.”
“You aren’t coming?”
“I’m going to get a little nap in,” his father murmured. “You handle
George emerged into the winter quiet of a Midwestern snowstorm.
“Reindeer should be coming around the side of the cabin any
minute,” he said to himself.
He trudged to the porch and stared at the antlers mounted to the
railing. A barrel of Jack Daniels had a Christmas wreath around the
top. George looked for a doorbell but settled for the knocker in the
shape of a German beer mug. Heavy footsteps pounded toward him
as the door pulled back to a roaring fire and a man with a large bear
on his head. That’s what his furry black hat looked like to George.
His beard mixed with the buffalo robe, that spread out like a king.
“Ah yes, you must be Big Bill McGruff.”
He spat off the porch and nodded.
“That I am. You be wanting to see the reindeer.”
He charged out of the cabin and plunged into the snow in kneehigh
boots with woolly mammoth fur. George followed the large man
through the heavy snow around to the back of the cabin. A clump of
brown reindeer turned and stared at the two men approaching the
“Well, here they are! You’ll find Bill McGruff’s reindeer are top of
the line and will fit any need yer have. My reindeer have been used
all over the country for movies and such. They are a fine breed of
reindeer ilk, and I put them against anyone anywhere.”
George felt his face numb from the wind squalling through the
pines. “Are there nine there?”
McGruff poked a large finger to the reindeer that seemed larger
than the ones George had seen in the movies and television. One of
the reindeer relieved himself with a sizzling steam and another one
defecated cannonballs. This was something that had not occurred
to him. What if the reindeer crap all over the roof? But wouldn’t that
make it more realistic? Didn’t Santa have to deal with the same thing?
"Yep. Nine on the button,” McGruff said, nodding.
“Good. I’ll take them all.”
McGruff motioned to the cabin. “Let’s go parley around the fire.”
They tramped back through the heavy snow and onto the porch.
McGruff walked into the cabin with snow falling off his leggings in
a trail of slushy ice. George stomped his own hiking boots on the
porch then walked in. The fireplace staged the room with antlers
on either side like totem poles. A large reindeer head was mounted
over the mantel.
“Pull up a chair and warm yer bones there, pilgrim.”
George pulled an old recliner up to the fire and sat down. The
cabin was plain and simple, except for a plasma television mounted
to the stacked logs that reminded George of Lincoln Logs from his
childhood. He looked around the room and felt the coziness of the
shelter against the flurrying storm.
“This is quite a place you have here.”
McGruff picked up his pipe and regarded him with cold grey
eyes. He flamed a small jet engine and puffed smoke. George noticed
a laptop on the kitchen table and an iPhone.
“It fits me needs.” He leaned back, motioning with the pipe. “Now,
what do yer want nine reindeer for?”
“I am going to be Santa for my daughter on Christmas, and I
obviously need reindeer if I’m going to be Santa.”
McGruff puffed away, watching him closely.
“Yer going to put the reindeer in yer backyard?”
“Well,” George sat back in his recliner, “not exactly. Actually, I’m
going to put the reindeer on the roof of my house.”
McGruff’s furry eyebrows drew together. He took the pipe from
his mouth. “No yer aren’t. Not my reindeer!”
George took out the folded diagram from his pocket.
“I would say the same thing, but I can assure you my father and
I are engineers and we know what we are doing. Dad is asleep in
the car or I would have him explain it to you.” He handed McGruff
the diagram. “As you can see, we are going to have two large ramps
going up to the roof. One for the reindeer to go up and one for them
to go down. In between these two points they will be harnessed to
a sled with me as Santa. They will pull the sled a short distance and
stop. They will wait for me while I go up the chimney and down and
deliver the presents. Then I will come back and take them down the
ramp on the other side.”
McGruff puffed and studied the diagram with the fire crackling.
His phone rang, and he didn’t move. He finally looked up and gestured
with the pipe. “Why?”
“I have a nine-year-old daughter who is questioning Santa. She
has friends and teachers telling her that Santa isn’t real, and I want
her to still believe in the magic of Christmas. So I am going to be the
Real Santa for her.”
McGruff closed one eye. “Mister, it is no business of mine, but
yer liable to kill yourself on that roof.”
“I can assure you every safety precaution will be taken for animals
“It’s going to cost you a pretty penny. I don’t even know if I can
get anyone to handle the reindeer on Christmas Eve.”
“I am willing to pay.”
“They have to be transported to the site. I need at least three
handlers for all these animals, then clean up, working on a holiday.
Aye, this will be an expensive venture for you.”
George crossed his arms. “How much?”
“I can’t charge you an hourly rate. There is too many of them.
Most people rent two or three at most, and they aren’t putting them
up on a roof. I’d say four thousand dollars at the minimum for the
night, and if you need them longer—”
McGruff teethed his pipe then shook his head.
“I don’t know. The whole thing sounds crazy. I don’t know if I can
risk me reindeer. What if they fall off the roof, then what?”
“I would pay you for them.”
He breathed heavily. “Aye, you say that now but I will be the one
with dead reindeer. Hmm. I am sorry, mister, but I think the risk is
George stared down at the hearth. “Five thousand.”
“I would have to handle them myself and that is me Christmas,”
McGruff mused, puffing away.
McGruff shook his head again.
“Hmm, I am sorry. The risk is too much.”
George breathed heavy. If he had no reindeer, then there really
could be no Real Santa. He stared at the large man.
“I know it sounds crazy, and I understand your concern, but I
want to keep my daughter’s belief in magic. I want her to believe there
is something good in this world as long as I can.”
McGruff puffed on his pipe and didn’t move.
George waited then stood up. “Well, thank you for your time.”
He began to walk toward the door of the cabin.
“What is your daughter’s name?”
George stopped and turned around. “I’m sorry.”
“Her name. I said, what is your daughter’s name?”
“Megan,” he answered.
McGruff stared at the fire, his woolly boots steaming from the
heat. “I had a daughter once.”
George paused. “Oh … what was her name?”
“Julie … She died of cancer.”
George stood with his hands in his coat.
“I’m very sorry to hear that.”
“Aye,” he said tiredly.
The fire crackled in the silence. George didn’t know if he should
stay or go. McGruff didn’t move, but sat with the pipe in his mouth,
his eyes on the fire.
“Well, thank you for your time again.” George turned to the door.
“I’ll do it for five.”
He turned and saw McGruff still hadn’t moved. George rolled
“I’ll pay six if that will make it any easier.”
McGruff turned and pinned him with his good eye.
“I’m not doing it for the money, pilgrim.”