The scent and sight and sweat of reindeer at three in the morning are nauseating. Hell, they’re pretty nauseating at any time.
James Bond paused in the street out front of the casino, cupping his hand about the cigarette as he lit it off the glowing nose of the lead reindeer that along with his comrades were leather-strapped to the big, red sleigh like a chilly bunch of furry sadomasochists. The sleigh was a 1903 Jos Ledoux, just as the file had said it would be, and it was currently parked out front of Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall in Dawson City, the northernmost casino in the entire world.
He drew deep of the Morland, letting the smoke billow forth from his lungs like a chimney. So, he thought, the fat man would be dealing again tonight.
Bond had been watching the game now for two nights. The first was solely as an observer. The second night, he played the role of the stooge, allowing himself to be easily fleeced by the cherubic, red-coated bastard known simply as Claus.
If M was correct, the man’s heart was as black as coal. He’d made a killing piping a steady supply of nubile young boys into the seamy, sex industries of the Northern Territories and the Siberian wastelands. The under-educated boys were always adorned in their trademark green felt uniforms. Naturally, when taken into custody, they claimed to be of legal age, usually at least three to four hundred years old. They were also easily identifiable by the physical trait they shared with their rotund patron, Stahl's Ear Deformity.
“What?” Bond had asked the stone-faced Sir Miles.
“They all suffer from a genetic malady,” M had repeated coldly. “Pointy ears.”
Nicholas Claus sat at the centre table with the giant black shoe at his side, dealing out defeat to the ring of rich patsies that surrounded him like a half dozen marshmallows roasting on sticks.
“Ho, ho, ho!” he bellowed as Bond slid into the last empty chair at the table. “If it isn’t Mr. Hazard. Have you come to offer up more tidings of joy?”
With this the rotund man reached forward to snatch his omnipresent candy cane from the table and thrust it between his lips like some orally fixated diabetic, sucking on it with the glee of...of...well, never mind.
“What’s the game this evening, Fat Man,” Bond snipped as the nearly ruined men around the table gasped at his indignant query. “Baccarat?”
A dark shadow crossed the rotund man’s glowing features for just a moment before he could hide it away like a five-year old fruitcake.
“Same game it is every night at this table, my naughty, English friend,” he chortled. “Christmas Cards! It will cost you five hundred to deal in.”
Bond reached into his pocket and removed a handful of chips. He then flipped two red and one green to the dealer, who caught them with a deft ease which belied his sausage-like fingers. With another grin, the man lifted his candy cane once more and took a shattering bite of it, sending shards of white candy across the green felt of the table.
Ah, Bond thought to himself. The jaws that bite, the Claus that catches.
Signalling the waiter, Bond ordered a mulled wine, made from one Moroccan tangerine, six sticks of cinnamon, twelve whole cloves and equal parts nutmeg, fresh ginger, and allspice. The waiter nodded his approval and dashed away to fill the order.
The players were the same from the previous evening. On Bond’s right sat a crinkled old man wearing an old fashioned night cap and a thick fur robe. He kept his chips close to him, and continually counted them, as if one might stray from the table. He also talked quite a bit under his breath, addressing people that weren’t there, and chastising them for their unwanted gambling advice.
Next to him, sat an odd fellow with a green complexion and outrageously long fingers. A young blonde named Cindy, at least forty years his junior, clung to his shoulder. Apparently, judging from his pile of chips, his pot had shrunk three sizes that day.
On Bond’s left was a round headed fellow named “Chuck” who looked all of twelve years old, but if his license was to be believed was closer to sixty. He wore a black and white muffler, which was apparently some keepsake that had once been a family pet.
The last of their party was a rotund fellow. He brandished a corncob pipe, a button like nose, and eyes that were as dark as coal. He was down to his last few chips, and was sweating like a prostitute in church.
As they had been on the previous two nights, Bond’s eyes were drawn to the goliath that stood behind Claus, the fat man’s muscle. The albino towered so high he had to hunch down to avoid the ceiling fans. He was as hairy as a gorilla at the zoo, had a wild look in his eyes, and had apparently sharpened his teeth to tiny points like an Aborigine.
The night before, Claus had introduced him to Bond as Mr. Bumble, the bouncer. Leaning forward to whisper to Bond in a conspiratorial manner, he assured the spy, “Bumbles love to bounce.”
There was a ruckus from the stage area, and everyone at the table turned to watch Diamond Tooth Gertie’s famous Can Can girls taking to the planks. Everyone, that is, except for Mr. Bumble, who continued to look at Bond, his huge nostrils flaring as if he could smell the deceit on the spy, and looking as if he’d be happy to pull a piece of 007 out of his fig pudding.
And the game began again with Claus controlling the shoe.
"Ho, ho, ho," chortled the fat man as he fanned his cards out, holding them close to his red, white-buttoned vest.
That reminded Bond; he'd only slept with three of the four Can Can dancers so far. Ah, but the night was still young.
Mulled wine and Benzedrine don’t always mix that well, and it is hard to gamble through the night when morning is a month away, but the game eventually began to turn Bond’s way like a spinning dradle once he spotted the other man’s tell. When Claus had a rough hand, he would absently suck on his candy cane, but when the hand was good, he gummed the sweet as if it were a lover.
Their table mates slowly melted away…literally in one case.
Finally, it came down to Nicholas Claus, still rosy cheeked after eighteen hours at the table, and James Bond who was strung out on mulled wine and Five-Hour Energy. He’d run out of Benzedrine about ten hours earlier, and had sent one of the Can Can girls to the drugstore on the corner.
In the end, the fat man took it hard, collapsing in tears as Mr. Bumble leaned forward to place a consoling paw on his heaving shoulders.
James Bond leaned back from the table in triumph, taking the opportunity to re-button his fly. He surveyed the huge pile of silver and gold chips in front of him that had replaced the green and reds he’d started with so long ago.
Wanting to clear the casino before Claus came to his senses, Bond tipped the dealer. Then he tipped the pit boss, the crew chief, the waiter, the bartender, the four Can Can dancers, and the poor kid with the mop bucket who had to clean up after the sweaty guy was nothing but a puddle. The rest he had placed in a cashier’s cheque which he took with him out into the white and drifted snow.
Bond hailed a taxi and was more than happy to trade the stale stench of the cab’s backseat for the welcoming blast of heat from the vents.
“Where to, Sir?” the driver asked.
“London,” Bond replied.
“Ontario?” the Cabbie asked.
“England,” he corrected.
“Sir,” the other man informed him. “You are in the Yukon Territories, if I attempt to drive to England, we’ll both drown.”
“Damn know-it-all-Canadians,” Bond muttered under his breath. Then, “Just drive.”
The snow had picked up since he’d entered the casino eighteen hours earlier, and was now a full blown blizzard with nearly white out conditions. The driver, whose name was Ralph, Bond eventually discovered, was familiar with the roads and kept them from the icy ditches that might as well have been graves this far north.
Bond continually turned to check the rear window, and half an hour into the ride, he was rewarded with a distant red glow. It was only there for an instant, but Bond turned to the driver all the same.
“Ralph, can this thing go any faster?”
The cabbie laughed.
“Only if I attach some reindeer.”
“Damn,” Bond muttered.
Twice more he thought he saw the light, each time a little closer. Bond pulled the comforting form of the PPK from its shoulder holster and waited for the inevitable.
There was a resounding crashing as the car buckled under an impact.
Ralph was turning to look about the car.
“What hit us?” he shouted as a second crash drove the car off the road. “There’s nothing around us.”
“That’s because they’re above us,” Bond informed the man as the auto dove into a snow bank that lasted all the way to Whitehorse. The gun skittered out of his hand, and onto the floor of the taxi where it became lost amongst a sea of fast food wrappers.
As the engine died, the two men sat alone in the car breathing heavy plumes of frosty breath. Eventually, five fingers, or claws if you will, poked through the roof of the cab, just above Bond’s head, and the metal was peeled back like the lid on a can of tuna.
As the snow blew in, a giant paw descended and completely engulfed the top of James Bond’s head. He was then pulled out into the storm like a baby being delivered into a new world.
* * *
“I’m usually a very congenial fellow, Mr. Bond.” Nicholas Claus assured him. “But somehow you have managed to get under my skin.”
“Doesn’t seem that difficult,” Bond quipped back. “There’s quite a bit of skin there to get under.”
Claus stopped to look at him.
“There, you see, you’ve done it again. A very dangerous conceit for a man in your position.”
And what a position it was. They’d taken him back to the reindeer stables at the casino, and using one of the animal’s bridles, Mr. Bumble had trussed him from the ceiling so that he hung about four feet off the ground.
“As I was saying, normally the idea of torture, or theft, would disgust me, but these are special circumstances.”
Bond was growing tired of the blah, blah, blah and the ho, ho, ho.
“Just get on with it Claus, unless you plan on boring me to death. We haven’t got all evening, you know.”
“You be surprised how much you can get done in one night, Mr. Bond,” Claus said before bellowing a chilling “Ho, Ho, Ho.”
“Well, Mr. Bond, first I thought of locking you in a room and making you look at flashing lights and listen to repetitive droning music for a few months.”
Good Lord, thought Bond. He’s going to make me watch a Stanley Krubrik movie. An icy finger of fear touched his very soul.
“But then I thought about everything I know about you from The List.”
“The List?” Bond asked. “What’s that, Claus?”
“The Naughty List,” the fat man replied. “And you can all me Santa. Anyway, it occurred to me that men like you only understand one thing. Mr. Bumble, remove his pants.”
Bond suddenly had a vision of being sodomized by an albino, eight-foot tall Aborigine, but Bumble was quick at his task and just as quickly stepped back.
When Claus removed the giant, club sized candy cane from a workbench, Bond actually sighed with relief. Torture it was.
“Now, Mr. Bond, before things get really unpleasant, why don’t you tell me whom you’re working for. Is it Heat Miser? Or maybe Jack Frost?”
But Bond had grown weary of these reindeer games.
“Go **** yourself, Santa!” he shouted.
And for the first time since he’d met the man, Bond saw the rosy glow leave the man’s face.
“Very well, then,” Clause held the cane like a cricket bat and stepped forward. Bond, however, didn’t even break a sweat, he’d been through enough boarding schools back in England that caning was quite literally old hack.
The fat man swung forward with all his might, and struck Bond soundly with the candy in his neither regions.
“Still feeling cheeky, Mr. Bond?” Santa asked.
“Actually,” Bond said. “It feels kind of sticky, downright disgusting, like I need a hot shower.”
Claus was already huffing and puffing, and he plopped himself down on a bale of hay.
“I guess my heart just isn’t really in it.”
Bond breathed a little easier.
“Mr. Bumble, you give it a try,” with this Santa tossed the candy cane to the giant, who caught it like a matchstick between his talons as an obscene smile worked its way across Bumble’s wicked face.
Bond choked back the screams as the monster went to work.
Hours later, the blood on the snow nearly matched the red and white stripes of the bludgeoning candy.
James Bond tried to find his voice to get Claus’s attention.
Finally, the man saw him mouthing words, and he stepped a little closer.
“Yes, Mr. Bond, tell Santa what it is that you want,” he said, the glow back in his cheeks.
“Why?” was all that Bond could manage.
“Why, Mr. Bond?” he said. “Well, it certainly wasn’t for the money. Hell, where I come from, there’s silver and gold decorations on every Christmas tree, and let me tell you, the precious metals market has been very good to Santa of late. I guess I just thought it would be fun to work up a little extra scratch to get Mrs. Claus something nice under the tree this year.”
“No,” Bond croaked. “Why are you selling the little boys in green on the sex market?”
Santa stepped back at this, a look of confusion on his jolly features. He scratched his head for a moment, and then a smile crossed his face, a smile that turned into a torrent of ho-hoing laughter that Bond thought would never stop. Even Mr. Bumble seemed to giggle a bit, the only sound Bond would ever hear him make.
“You idiot,” Claus roared. “They’re elves. They slave away eleven months a year in a toy factory. Who can blame them for wanting to sneak out for a little tail now and then?”
But Bond wasn’t done with him.
“Then is it coincidence that they all prefer the company of men?”
Santa paused but a moment before replying.
“If you had ever seen a female elf you would understand,” he said, shaking his head, his jowls swinging back and forth like dead meat on a hook. “There isn’t enough eggnog in the world to make you want to tap that action. And the reindeer are simply too fast for the little guys, they can never catch them.
Bond had to admit, there was a hint of truth in the man’s voice.
“You talk a good game, Claus. But if you don’t mind, I’d like to hear it from the Lollypop Guild myself.”
“Fine by me,” Claus informed him. The fat man stepped to the door of the stable and gave a piercing whistle out into the blizzard. Slowly, the room began to fill with tiny men in little green felt outfits. Within ten minutes, there was a sea of hundreds.
“Gentlemen,” Santa shouted at the crowd of hungry looking little men. “Mr. Bond here would like to make sure that each of you are on board with the whole Christmas thing. We believe he requires a demonstration.”
With that, Mr. Bumble handed the candy cane to the first little man, who took a rather manly swing at the human piñata before passing the cane to the next elf.