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The store really can’t afford to have someone whose job is simply to wander around the toy department, pick up toys which have fallen to the ground and put other toys back where they came from. That’s not to say they don’t need someone to do that job, however, and everyone can see that. Thus, nobody who really works here seems surprised to find you in the generic blue vest walking around doing that.
You see John Jr. and his father heading your way and you busy yourself in the building toys section re-shelving some of the sets. He had asked for a set in his letter to Santa. You shake your head at the thought. Normally that’s the first thing in the file from the Kringles, but you had to dig pretty deep into the material they sent you to even find it. Things must be stressful for Ginger, the elf on Naughty list duty who works with you on these cases.
When you hear the boy’s voice for the first time, the word choice is promising. “Can we get this for Geoff?”
Geoff is his best friend, but more to the point, John Jr. is thinking about Giving, not Receiving.
“I think we can swing that, champ.” His father’s smile never has a chance to reach his lips. His cell phone goes off. He must have the volume set pretty high to hear it going off so clearly over the piped in sounds of a children’s choir with more heart than talent.
John Jr. beams. “Is that Carol? That’s her ringtone isn’t it? I like her.”
From up on the ladder where you’re re-stocking gifts, you watch them out of the corner of your eye. The father pushes the “Ignore” button.
“Yeah, it’s Carol. But I can’t really talk to her now. There’s a lot of shopping left to do. Let’s get going.”
John Jr. looks confused and a little horrified. “Aren’t we going to get a toy for the charity barrel? We always get them something.”
His father freezes for a moment. It’s hard to see over his shoulder, but he looks like he’s kicking himself. “You are absolutely right, champ.” He glances around, sees you with your hand on a box, and gestures. “What about that castle set this young lady’s putting up there? Think someone would like that?’
John Jr. nods, and his father looks back up to you. His smile is utterly charming. “May I snag one of those from you, miss?”
The hold music is catchy enough that you’d normally be tapping your toes and searching your desk drawers for candy canes. You’re just a little too agitated for that, however.
“Naughty/Nice Division. Ginger speaking.”
“Ginger, it’s Nancy.”
“Oh, hey! The big guy told me you were back on the job. Good to hear from you.”
“Good to hear from you too, but I need you to be honest with me.”
Despite her high pitched voice, there’s no doubt Ginger can be all business when the time calls for it. That’s how she’s kept her position in one of the most competitive divisions at North Pole Central. “What’s up?”
“Did Mr. K send this my way as a charity case? I know business was slow for me this year, but I don’t need . . .”
“Whoa! What on earth are you talking about?”
“I watched the kid. He was surrounded by toys in the store, and I didn’t hear him ask for a single thing. He even reminded his dad to pick up something for the toy drive. There is no way this kid is Naughty list material.”
Silence meets you.
“Yeah. I’m here. Sorry.” You hear some clicking on a keyboard. “I had to pull up the file to check . . . something. Anyway, as I understand it, there’s no issue with a lack of kindness. Your subject has just done some Naughty things, and we’re not sure if he’s sorry for them or not.”
You shake your head. “Okay. If you say so. The kid’s spending tomorrow with his grandmother. It won’t be easy, but I can try to find a way to get him to open up . . .”
Ginger interrupts. “Nancy, you know I’m the last person to tell you how to do your job, but take my advice. Go visit the father. He knows everything about the kid, and I’m sure you’ll learn what you need to know from that source. Gotta run for now. I got a boatload of last minute greedies that just came in.”
The line goes silent. You blow out a long breath, reconsidering the problem.
——— Wait, so what do I do now?
You will notice two TBD slots on the poll. These are meant to be filled out by YOU.
If you have a suggestion for another path Nancy Nyce should take, please comment on this site, or send it to our Facebook page. (Like us while there if you don’t already, please and thank you.) Get your suggestions in by Tuesday because I’ll be updating the poll on Wednesday with your suggestions.
You may vote now (though I ask that you not vote for a TBD until it no longer says TBD). If you’d prefer to wait until all the options are up on the poll, feel free, but get your votes in before next Sunday when a winner will be chosen, and a new Chapter will be posted.
So make your choice.