Here is an excerpt for Chasing Santa, the final book in The Gumboot & Gumshoe Series.
I am hard at working writing the final installment in the series. All good things must come to an end and I thought a Christmas story would be perfect. After that, thanks to reader requests, I will be working on a sequel to The Silver Spurs Home for Aging Cowgirls.
The Santa Claus Blues
Chasing Santa. Copyright Laura Hesse 2020. All rights Reserved.
A small skiff made its way to shore. Salt water sloshed against the little rowboat’s sides as the man inside it, a jolly black-haired blue-eyed fellow dressed in a red velvet Santa suit, rowed as hard as he could against the out-going tide. Sweat beaded his forehead. His breath was a frosty stream in front of his face. His cheeks were rosy from the cold.
Behind him an old catamaran tugged gently on its anchor, far enough out in the Strait of Georgia that its hull wouldn’t end up marooned once the tide finished receding. Its sail was wrapped tightly against the main mast, the rigging still in the windless night. A solitary light glowed inside the round cabin windows.
The stars twinkled overhead, the Milky Way a bedazzling display of flickering lights against the rolling frigid clouds of fog that drifted over the water.
The boat’s hull crunched against gravel as it hit a small spit on the beach in front of a massive two-level cedar log home. Huge square pillars held up the shake roof that covered an entertainment sized deck which overlooked the strait. Patio bi-fold doors opened onto the great expanse. A stone fireplace and built-in gas barbecue walled in one side.
The wiry man dressed as Santa Claus jumped out of the skiff, his black gumboots splashing in the surf as he tugged the boat onto shore.
He reached inside the velvet overcoat and pulled out a red hat and fake white beard. He donned the last of his costume and then fished a large black plastic garbage bag out from under the seat. The bag smelled faintly of fish.
With a grin on his face, he tugged on the black leather belly bag that held the tools of his trade, and with a spring in his step, walked across the beach to the house.
Christopher Nicholas thought it fit that he assumed the role of Santa Claus to liberate the burdens of the rich to aid the poor; namely, Christopher and his daughter, Sam.
Sam was the apple of his eye. She was a resilient kid; he mused as he strode quickly across the deck and peered into the house.
Inside the house, vaulted ceilings gave way to a wall to wall window view of the ocean behind him. A plush white Italian leather sectional couch filled the living room. Original oil paintings of green forests and Haida carvings hung on the walls. Interspersed on the tables were glass vases filled with silver and gold Christmas balls. Fronds of plastic ivy wound its way up the staircase, red silk bows tied to each spindle. A tall imitation Christmas tree stood against one wall, its golden lights casting a soft glow around the room. There were already several Christmas presents wrapped in festive paper piled around the base.
Chris wished he could afford a house like this. He desperately wanted Sam to have a bedroom of her own again. All he needed was another hundred grand and he could buy a two-bedroom house on the northern tip of the island. His daughter could go to school, maybe make some friends. He could get her a dog too. That would be fun.
Chris walked over to the far side of the deck and leaned forward over a potted Japanese Maple.
He spotted what he was looking for, an alarm panel. It was on the wall beside the side door.
He tugged a pair of tiny opera glasses from his belly purse and examined the alarm.
“God bless these islanders,” he grinned, noting that the alarm wasn’t on. That meant the homeowners were home, asleep in their beds upstairs, thinking the cheap door locks were security enough.
Chris slipped quietly around the house to the side door and expertly popped the lock without difficulty.
Once inside, he took off his gumboots and left them by the door. He crept through the house, slinking upstairs, the murmur of velvet the only sound he made as he liberated the sleeping woman and man in the master bedroom of their jewellery. Chris noticed the small black safe tucked away on a shelf behind some folded t-shirts in the walk-in closet right away and smothered a laugh.
He retreated down the stairs and placed the safe by the side door. It wasn’t heavy, but its metal corners would slice through his loot bag.
Chris strolled into the kitchen and rifled through the cupboards. He found some boxes of sweet and salty popcorn and a bag of chocolate bars, plus a tin of honey roast peanuts. They all went into the big black bag.
He then went to the fridge and pulled some chicken breasts and a frozen pizza out of the freezer. These along with three packs of grape juice, a head of lettuce, a carton of milk, a block of cheddar cheese, and two apples, also went into the bag.
Upon returning to the living room, the tall Santa Claus bent over and examined the presents under the tree, lifting each one and shaking it. The smaller presents looked like they might contain jewellery or some other expensive item. These went directly into the bag.
“Santa,” a childlike voice gasped behind him, “you’re early.”
He spun around.
An impish three-year-old girl with big round eyes, a snotty nose, and wisps of curly blond hair, regarded him with wonder.
“Shhhh,” he whispered, glancing down at the medium sized present in his hand. The name on the tag was Brittany. Chris quickly scanned the tags on the smaller presents inside the bag.
“Hey, you’re supposed be asleep, Brittany,” Chris continued.
“You know me,” she squeaked. “You are Santa.”
“I am,” the fraudulent Santa muttered, pulling a small red and white candy cane from his pocket and handing it to the child. This was his last one. He’d have to stock up again the next time he and Sam went shopping.
“Can you keep a secret?”
Brittany nodded, an angelic look on her face.
“My elves made a mistake and mixed up the presents. I have to take these back to my workshop so we can deliver the right presents to the right Brittany,” Chris lied. “Don’t you worry, I’ll be back with yours on Christmas.”
“’Kay,” she muttered, sucking on the candy cane.
“Off to bed now,” he told her, resisting the urge to yell ‘ho, ho, ho’ lest he wake the child’s parents.
Brittany grinned and ran upstairs.
Chris breathed a sigh of relief, put Brittany’s present back under the tree, and bolted for the door. He slipped on his gumboots, picked up the safe, and ran back to the skiff carrying the safe under one arm like a football.
Santa tossed his bag of loot and the safe into the boat and pushed away from shore.
Chris smiled as he put his back into his oar strokes, the tide helping the skiff along as he rowed quickly back to the boat.
Brittany reminded him of Sam when she was that age, full of wonder and trust. That was before he lost his job, his house, and his marriage, in that order. The only thing he had hung onto was the catamaran he had salvaged and restored. Sam never asked where her mommy was. His wife never wanted kids, and Chris suspected Sam always knew that.
Sam lay in her bunk inside one of the catamaran’s pontoons reading a tattered copy of The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe. C. S. Lewis was her favorite author. She had ten dog-eared copies of his novels in the tiny hatch overhead.
Sam sighed wistfully and leaned over to stare wearily out the window at the faraway coastline. The orange glow from the streetlights in Comox and Courtenay looked creepy in the advancing ice fog.
Here and there, the house lights were popping on in the city and along the shore as people started their day.
A faint red line had appeared on the eastern horizon, the dawn chasing away the night like an orca hunting a seal.
The catamaran rocked gently on the water, almost lulling her to sleep. The small propane fueled heater in the cabin buzzed softly.
The winter was going to be colder than normal. She could sense it. The geese and trumpeter swans had long since flown south. They had gone early this year. Except for the seagulls, the other birds had also disappeared. The grey and white gulls huddled on shore, rarely following the catamaran like they usually did. She hadn’t seen a humpback whale in ages.
Nine-year-old Samantha Nicholas grinned. Maybe it would snow for Christmas. That would be cool.
Oh, yeah, snow baby snow, she thought merrily.
A dull thud against the hull made her sit up.
Daddy was home.
She breathed a sigh of relief. There was always the chance that one day, he wouldn’t.
Sam tugged on a plain grey cable-knit sweater and her running shoes and hurried up onto the deck. She flipped on the running lights as she did so.
She saw Santa Claus toss a bulky garbage bag onto the deck. A black and gunmetal grey safe followed that. The safe slid across the slippery deck before catching in some rope rigging. Santa climbed up the aluminum ladder onto the boat. His velvet suit drooped, saturated by both fog and seawater. He immediately hoisted the skiff out of the water and turned towards her.
“Hey, honey, what are you doing up,” Santa Claus asked her patiently, clumping across the deck in his gumboots.
“Waiting for you,” she smirked.
“Oh, sweetie, I told you to stop worrying so much,” Chris replied, playfully flipping her ponytail into the air.
Her father had already removed his hat and beard. His face was ruddy, his glacial blue eyes dancing with triumph.
Sam wrapped her arms around her body and shivered. It was bone chilling cold despite the giant woolen sweater that fell almost to her knees. She could tell the caper went well.
“Hey, go back inside,” Chris commanded his daughter, concern replacing the penetrating stare he fixed upon her.
“What did you bring home for breakfast,” she asked, forcing a smile. She would give her right arm for Sugar Pops or Frosted Flakes.
“Pizza,” her father declared proudly, pulling a frozen ham and pineapple pizza box out of his bag of swag.
“That’s great, daddy,” she lied, hiding her disappointment. They ate pizza a lot.
“I’ve also got grape juice, chocolate bars, popcorn, and peanuts,” he grinned. “After we move on and moor someplace for the day, maybe we can watch a movie on the VCR and pig out on junk food.”
“Okay,” Sam laughed. That was appealing. Hey, she was just a kid.
“Can we watch Free Willy?”
“Again,” her father frowned.
Sam pursed her lips into her best pout ever, letting the bottom lip drop and quiver.
“Yeah, that doesn’t work anymore,” her father chortled. “Take ‘the take’ down below while I haul anchor.”
“Yes, daddy,” she agreed, dragging the weighty bag towards the hatch. “What’s in here? The kitchen sink?”
“Lots of stuff,” he responded. “Chicken, milk, lettuce, presents… oh, wait, did I just say presents?”
“Presents, huh,” Sam’s voice warbled.
Food, jewellery, coins, stuff like that was okay to steal by her way of thinking. That was what insurance was for, Daddy told her. Stealing somebody’s Christmas gifts bothered Sam in a way that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. She and her dad had been thieves for as long as she could remember. She went with him when he needed someone small to climb through a window to open a door. They had got the idea after watching the movie Oliver.
Wait! Did that mean her father was Fagan?
Sam laughed lightly. She thought the Fagan character was a riot, even if he was a little hard on Oliver.
Did she want her dad to stop stealing? No.
She loved the prettily wrapped presents that appeared in her stocking on Christmas morning.
One Christmas, her father had mistakenly given her a very expensive pearl necklace. Another Christmas, she got a Cuban cigar and a toy hand grenade. At least, she thought it was a toy. Her father had almost fainted when she pulled the weirdly wrapped football out of her stocking and unwrapped it. She was excited; she had thought it would be a Nerf ball. Surprise! Daddy had ripped it quickly out of her hand and tossed it overboard, so she wasn’t quite sure about that one.
“Don’t worry,” Santa-daddy replied. “I didn’t take Brittany’s.”
“Who is Brittany,” she shouted from inside the galley.
“Later,” her father yelled back.
Instantly, Sam heard the scrape of the anchor as her father hauled it aboard. The boat skipped sideways, caught in the current. The catamaran tended to surf the waves rather than tilt sideways like a regular sail boat, the two pontoons providing incredible stability.
Sam began unloading the food out of the garbage bag and tucking the chicken, milk and juice away in the small fridge in the galley, and the dry goods into the cupboards. She unwrapped the pizza and popped it into the microwave.
Her father started the twin engines. The two small diesels sputtered into life and the catamaran smoothly over the salt water as her father guided the boat into the middle of the Strait. There wasn’t enough wind to use the sails.
Drop anchor, do a job, hoist anchor, and find a deserted cove to see what they got, rest and repeat. That was the Nicholas family’s life.
Sam thought it was a glorious life, imagining her daddy as Blackbeard and she as his first mate, feared pirates of the high seas. Women would swoon when they saw Daddy coming. Men would run in fear.
She thought the thirty-eight-foot catamaran was aptly named for pirating. Her father had christened it Polar Bear Express when he re-built the boat from the fiberglass hull up, skimping only on the quality of the interior, which he bought from Ikea and later customized.
Sam leapt forward, one arm raised over her head, legs bent in a sword fighter’s pose, her lips pursed into a thin line, her brows knitting together as she plunged a butter knife into the empty pizza box like a sword: the famed Nicholas’ were here! Pirates of the high seas. Pillagers of the West Coast.
Sam backed up and saluted the torn pizza box with the butter knife.
Life was good.
Once a month they would go to Vancouver to see Uncle Harry to cash in. Uncle Harry wasn’t her real uncle, but he was always nice and had a special gift just for her. Usually, it was homemade jam or muffins that his wife made especially for Sam. She liked the strawberry jam the best.
That was how they lived.
What kid her age could helm a boat, go to sleep listening to whale song, laugh at the dolphins playing in the catamaran’s wake, and eagle watch to her heart’s content. And then there were the spirit bears. Her father had taken her to see the sacred white Kermode bears when she was only four. It was the trip of a lifetime and they had done it not once, not twice, but ten times already.
Yep, being a thief’s daughter wasn’t all that bad, not when your daddy was Santa Claus to boot.