Prologue: 29th December
“Okay, run me through your shit again,” Jimmy said.
“Again?” Tony said, “This is, like, the fourth time!”
“I want to be sure you’ve got it all down!”
Tony groaned and turned back to the bed. His stuff for his New Year vacation back to Florida was laid out on the bed, folded and ready to go in his bag. “I got these,” he tapped a large plastic jar of what looked like gummy bears, “I take one every morning and one every night. If anyone sees them, they’re iron-based vitamins for my anaemia. I got bottles wrapped up in my towels and my pants,” he gestured to them, “I’m keeping one on me and calling it an iron-based vitamin drink for my anaemia. In here,” he tapped a wide, flat tub, “I got cream, passing it off as being for eczema. I got some smaller ones,” he ran a finger over the travel-size bottles, “To keep one in my pocket. And in the fold of my bag,” he held the bag up, “I got two capped needles of blood concentrate, in case of emergencies. Happy now?”
“Almost,” Jimmy said.
“Holy shit, Momma,” Aron said.
“I’m looking out for him!”
“It’s fine, man,” Tony said, “I been living with this shit for as long as I can remember. I’ll be fine.”
“And the code-words-”
“Oh my God, Yuma!”
Aron laughed. Tony grabbed his towel and started packing it into his bag.
“How you feeling, homie?” Tony called back to Aron.
Aron sat up a little, then laid back down as the room spun. “Good as I’m gonna be.”
“Nah, it ain’t your fault. Just don’t go wasting it, okay?”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
“I’ve got something that might perk you up,” Jimmy said. He pulled his phone out, swiped and scrolled, and held the phone up to Aron’s face.
Aron had to take the phone off of him and focus to see the picture. At first, it seemed to be a typical, kid-on-a-mall-Santa-lap picture, but as he looked it over he recognised the people a little better. Not the toddler, but the snowman was Johnny, the reindeer were Jorel and Matty, the elves were Danny and Charlie, and Santa was Dylan with a pillow shoved down his jacket. They looked as awkward as mall Santa pictures tend to, Dylan struggling to get the toddler to sit still, chocolate clinging to the toddler’s mouth. They looked exhausted.
“Looks like some people needed a little extra Christmas money,” Aron said, and gave Jimmy his phone back.
“What’s that?” Tony asked.
“My ex-band doing some temp work. Santa and his elves.”
“And two reindeer and a snowman thrown in for good measure,” Jimmy said, and held the phone up to Tony.
Tony frowned. “That slim one, kinda goth. That’s Jorel, right?”
“Yeah,” Aron said, “Why?”
“He’s covered in blood. Like, head to toe.”
James looked the picture over again. “No, he ain’t. It’s just the light.”
“Trust the vampire, he’s covered in blood.”
“I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t be allowed in Santa’s grotto if he was covered in blood.”
“Not in the picture, but he was!”
“Okay, stop,” Aron said, “What are you talking about?”
“I can see when someone’s been handling blood,” Tony said, and sighed, “Think it’s a side effect of this vampire thing. I can see, like, this stain. You’re stained a lot,” he gestured to Aron, “Butchers, doctors and nurses, vets. Me.”
“And it works on pictures too?” Jimmy said.
“Yeah. It looks like this film stuff, and Jorel’s covered. Like he’d been fucking bathing in it, then washed it off and went to play Rudolph.”
“It’s that bad?” Aron said.
“Yeah. Can I look again?”
Jimmy handed him the phone. Tony sat down on the bed, zooming in and out on the picture.
“It goes through clothes, too,” Tony said as he played with the phone, “Or over, I guess. So if you got blood on your leg, I’d still be able to see it like a film on your pants. It usually washes away eventually, but if someone handles blood a lot it stains permanently, as far as I can tell.”
“Am I stained?” Aron said.
“Yeah. Your hands are always red, and your chest. Yuma, not so much.”
“Good to know,” Jimmy said, “I think.”
“And you’re sure Jorel’s stained?” Aron asked.
“They’re all stained,” Tony said, “Jorel’s the worst, but they’re all stained.”
“Any guess how?”
“What kind of forensic bullshit do you think I’m pulling here?” Tony tutted, “Uh… Snowman’s got blood on his knuckles, probably punched someone. Elves both got splashes here and there, no clue what that could be. Other reindeer’s got it on his feet, maybe stood in some. Santa’s mostly clean as far as I can see. They all got blood on their hands, though.”
“You think they killed someone?” Jimmy said.
“It could be animal blood,” Tony said, “You can’t normally tell the difference just by looking.”
“But you can by taste?” Aron said, and cracked a smile.
“It’s not the taste. It’s the effect.”
“Okay, man. Any clue how Jorel, a proud vegan, got covered in blood?”
Tony tongued his cheek. “You got me there. Not a clue, man. Sorry, man.” He gave Jimmy his phone back.
“Don’t worry about it; they ain’t my concern no more.”
“Okay, man,” Tony zipped his bag closed.
“Okay, so, code-words,” Jimmy started.
“Oh my fucking god!”
Aron laughed, and settled himself back down over the sofa. His inner elbow burned dull, the needle he’d retrieved his blood with dropped into the sharps bin under the false bottom of the sofa. The blood sat in the fridge, ready to drink before Tony sets off and should keep him together until he reaches Florida.
Aron yawned. Seemed like Jorel hadn’t changed one bit.
Evening of 20th December (Santa’s back up in the hood)
“Hey,” the elf said, “Alexis wants to see you. The manager?”
Troy blinked at the elf. The fake beard was scratching at his beard and made him want to sneeze, or at least cuss out the dollar store he’d bought it from. “Uh, yeah. Where he at?”
“Come on, I’ll just take you,” the elf said, and started towards the back of the mall. “Store rooms are a maze, I swear to fudge.”
Troy snickered and followed the elf. He was supposed to be meeting his crew by the inflatable snowmen, but no one had showed up. Even Timmy, the crew’s resident early-bird, was nowhere to be seen.
The elf headed through the staff doors and kept going. He was tall, broad, with a thin turtleneck on under the cheap costume. The costume was too small, taught over his torso and arms, and the hat was pulled down until it covered his ears.
“So,” Troy said, “You a temp too?”
“Yep,” the elf said.
“Busy time of year, huh?”
The elf headed along the side of the warehouse. Glitter and thin strips of packaging littered the muddy pathway. The furthest door was held open by another elf, the blond who had been stood opposite Troy all morning, smiling and clinging to a huge, glass-eyed doll. The doll was still hung from one arm, and the elf was smoking a cigarette. Soft slaps and grunts echoed from the room as Troy and the larger elf approached.
“This the last of ‘em?” the larger elf said.
“Yeah,” the blond elf said, “Charlie’s started. Rest of us were waiting for you.”
The larger elf hissed through his teeth. “After you.” He gestured to Troy.
“What?” Troy said.
Troy stepped around the elf. The elf was glaring down at him, and it was hard for Troy not to laugh at his ridiculous appearance.
The storage room was void of boxes. Instead, people cluttered the room. Troy recognised most of them, shoved against the back wall, reindeer antlers lost or broken, mouths, wrists and ankles duct-taped still. Another elf was pacing in front of them, semi-automatic sat in his hands like it lived there. A fourth elf had one of the reindeer bent over and was fucking him, eyes rolled back and jaw dropped. The reindeer, Troy’s reliable watch-out Jack, was screaming into the concrete. A second semi-automatic was laid next to Jack, abandoned for now. In the corner , a man in civilian clothing had Nikola, Troy’s wife and partner-in-crime, wrapped up in his arms. She was as taped up as the reindeer, but was determined to wriggle out of his grip as cooed at her, her Mrs Claus costume pulled open.
“What the fuck!” Troy yelled. He dove for Nikola, tearing his beard off. His face underneath was unwashed, with shaving scars and over-whitened teeth.
The door slammed shut. Footsteps followed after Troy, and thick arms wrapped around him and lifted him into the air. Nikola screamed into her gag and lashed out so hard her wig fell off. The civilian laughed and pulled her wig cap off and started to unravel her green-dyed hair.
“Get off her!” Troy yelled, “Get your fucking hands off my wife!”
“No!” the civilian yelled back.
The larger elf threw Troy on the floor on the feet of another man, dressed smart-casual with a lanyard around his neck. “Troy Shepard?” the man said.
“Get that asshole off my wife!”
“Dylan, get off her a minute, yeah?”
The civilian grumbled, but let go of Nikola and stood up. Nikola rolled away from him. He giggled at her, palming himself as he inched after her.
Jack groaned. The fourth elf had slowed his thrusts, fucking Timmy at a lazy pace. Blood dripped down Timmy’s legs and his face contorted in pain.
“Now, Troy Shepard,” the smart-casual man said. He crouched down, pulling a flip phone from his back pocket. He tapped on the phone, clicking his tongue. His lanyard boasted a single laminated card reading ‘Alexis St Claire, temporary manager, Christmas period.”
“The fuck is going on here?” Troy said. He scrambled to get up, and the larger elf pressed a foot into Troy’s back, pinning him in place.
“So we’ve done some digging on you, and we found twelve accusations,” Alexis said, “Fitting, for this time of year. We got attempted abduction, harassing a minor, another attempted abduction, trafficking, soliciting a minor for sex, sex with a minor, harassing another minor, buying alcohol for a minor, another attempted abduction, soliciting another minor for sex, sex with a minor and raping a minor. How in the name of fuck have you not been sentenced for all this?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Troy said.
“You do. Your girl over there at least changes her hair between mugshots, but you look exactly the same.”
“Not for long,” the semi-automatic elf said, and he grinned. Something glinted in his mouth.
“Easy, easy,” Alexis said. “Your buddies over here,” he gestured to the bondaged reindeer, “Agree you’re the ring leader. Is that right?”
“I ain’t leading nothing!” Troy said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
The foot on Troy’s back grew heavier. Troy yelped and kicked out, hitting nothing.
Alexis tutted. “Johnny. Pick a number between one and nine.”
“Three,” the larger elf said.
“Of fucking course. Jorel, shoot the third from the left.”
“What the fuck?” Troy said.
The semi-automatic elf turned on his heel. He paced along the reindeer and turned again. He flicked the safety off and aimed into Priya’s face.
“One,” the semi-automatic elf said. Priya’s eyes widened into the barrel. Jorel stepped past her. “Two.” Jorel stepped again. “Three.”
The rounds echoed. Several reindeer screamed.
Franklin slumped. He’d been a quiet, withdrawn man. He was always one of the first men the police would question, and he’d shake his head and lament, “Oh-oh, a crime gets caught and you blame a Latino.” Some officers would back of that, afraid of the discrimination lawsuit and its corresponding paperwork. Some wouldn’t, but he’d always get bailed out. He was an asset, native in English and Spanish, fluent in Arabic and Russian, conversable in Mandarin Chinese and French, and could just about get by in Japanese.
“What the fuck,” Troy whispered.
“Now,” Alexis said, “Are we done playing innocent, or is Jorel gonna be shooting another one of your buddies?”
The fourth elf groaned. Jack sobbed as the fourth elf came inside him.
“The fuck do you want?” Troy yelled, “What is this?!”
“This is justice,” the blond elf said. He was circling the room, doll hung from his arms, cigarette finished.
“This is hell,” Jorel said, “Welcome.”
The fourth elf shoved Jack away and stood, tucking himself away. “Anyone else?” he gestured to Jack.
“No, dude,” Johnny said.
Troy whimpered. Johnny leant over onto him and pressing his weight onto the small of Troy’s back. “Get off him off of me!”
“Hm?” Alexis said, “Johnny? Nah, I think you’re fine. You were telling us about your charges.”
“I ain’t been charged for none of ‘em.”
The blond elf tutted in disgust.
“No, we know,” Alexis said, “Your accusations, then. A whole lot of kid-fondling here.”
“Kids tell lies,” Troy said.
“Twelve different kids? Twelve different times? Twelve complimenting crimes? We got the lollipops in every case, was that your idea or someone else’s?”
The weight seemed to sharpen on Troy’s back as Johnny rocked back onto his heel, driving it in next to Troy’s spine.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Troy said.
“Fine,” Alexis said, “Charlie, pick an number between one and eight.”
The fourth elf scanned the reindeer. “Can we just shoot fuck-ass down here? Don’t think he was too clean, now I got shit on my dick.”
“Dude,” Johnny said, “You know you ain’t gotta rape them.”
“Yeah, no. But it’s fun. It’s a nice perk.” Charlie gave his crotch a cheeky squeeze.
Alexis gave Jorel a nod. Jorel stepped forward, dropped the safety, and shot down. Jack’s head exploded in red and ricochet. Skull skittered over the concrete, blood and brains splattered up Jorel’s legs, Lil Timmy’s body seemed to spasm before it collapsed.
Adam and Andrew screamed through their gags. The splatter had hit them both, brains clinging to their reindeer onsies in thick blobs. Troy howled into the floor. Charlie grinned and rubbed his crotch.
“Dude,” Johnny said, “Already?”
Charlie winked at him. Dylan laughed. He was stood over Nikola again. She was wriggling away from him, inch by slow inch.
“Help!” Troy screamed, “Help! They’re got guns! Guns! Help!”
Chuckles circled the room. The blond elf patted Troy on the head, doll clunking in his arms.
“No one’s gonna hear you in here, man,” Johnny said, “Every store room around us is empty, and then every store room after that, and almost every store room after that. Christmas got the place cleared out. No one’s coming this far back.”
“Besides, this place is almost fully staffed by temps right now,” the blond elf said, “None of them are gonna go out of their way to check out a noise. Or even report it to a manager.”
“Don’t think they’d recognise the manager anyway,” Alexis said. He was grinning, wide and rectangular like a merry grimace.
“And it’s closing time,” Charlie said, “We told the real manager we’d finish the stocking, she’s got such a long day tomorrow.”
“You ain’t the manager?” Troy said.
“No,” Alexis said, “None of us work here, genius.”
“What the fuck?”
“You say that a lot.”
“We’re here to kill you assholes, and you assholes personally,” Dylan said, “Y’all oughta be honoured.”
“Who sent you?!” Troy bucked, and Johnny stomped him back down, “I’ll kill you bastards!”
“Sure ya will.”
Nikola screamed through her gag as Dylan bent down and reached for her. He dragged her up to sit between his legs, face turned up to his crotch. She struggled, and his hand tightened to a fist in her hair.
“Get off her!” Troy screamed.
Alexis tutted and stood. Charlie had picked his own semi-automatic back up and was clicking about with it, whistling a tune. The blond elf hummed along, playing with the doll’s arms to make her dance.
“Please! I’ll do anything you want – we can work something out, just let my wife go!”
“We have lift-off,” Alexis quipped.
“Dyl, get off of her,” Johnny said.
Dylan let go of Nikola. She kicked out and managed to shove herself a few feet away from him.
The blond elf sat himself down by Troy, doll organised in his lap. “So, Troy Shepard. Born and raised in Santa Ana, stopped attending school permanently at fifteen. As well as the accusations Matty dug up, I’ve found multiple warning for shit from harassment to tax evasion-”
“Alexis,” Alexis interrupted.
“You can get a warning for tax evasion?” Jorel interrupted.
“Excuse me?” the blond elf said.
“Sorry, Danny, man.”
Danny shook his head and turned back to Troy. “Anyway. Multiple accusations, multiple warnings, most officers in the L.A. area know you and most of your crew. We’re not sure how many of them took bribes off you, but that ain’t something cops are about to admit to, is it?”
“Let’s not get political,” Alexis, or Matty, said. Dylan huffed a laugh.
“A whole lot of flights out, too,” Danny continued, “South America, North-East Asia, East Europe. Three out, two back in. Where do the child tickets go, Troy?”
The weight on the small of Troy’s back seemed to grow in a spiral as Johnny ground his foot down. Troy whimpered and smacked out for Danny’s help.
“What? No. No, see you and your crew gave one of your nice little lollipops to the wrong nice little girl.”
“Gonna happen one day, wasn’t it,” Johnny said. Something clattered to the floor in front of Troy. The weight on Troy’s back pulled away.
A large food bag of lollipops sat on the floor, flopped onto its side, cheap candy splintered. The thick sticks rattled against each other as Johnny kicked the dropped bag closer to Troy.
Troy wriggled and rose, slow and careful like approaching a deer, until he was sitting by Danny. Johnny circled them both, hat abandoned to reveal what looked like a dark shadow clinging to the back of his skull. He crouched, picked up the bag and threw it at Troy, hitting him in the chest.
Jorel and Charlie had suddenly found their guns fascinating. Matty was toeing at Lil Timmy’s brains. Dylan was staring at the ceiling. Danny watched Troy with a dry smile.
“How many of those did you give out?” Johnny said.
“Couple of dozen,” Troy said. Danny hissed.
“How’d ya pick out kids to give ‘em to?”
“Cute kids. Big eyes, light hair, big smiles. Sometimes we get asked for something specific, like freckles or still got their baby teeth. Then, we check out their parents.”
“Cause if the parent’s a mess, it’ll be easier to grab the kid, right?”
“Yeah, you got it. You’d be good at this, man.”
Danny hissed through his teeth.
“Then what?” Johnny said, “You give the kid a lollipop with a thick stick to hide the tracker in?”
“Yeah,” Troy said, “Go to the house, stake it out. Grab the kid, and I think your buddy Goldilocks got the rest figured out.” Troy managed a chuckle.
Danny hissed again.
“You got something in your teeth, man?”
“Hey, Jay,” Danny said, “Two.”
Jorel blinked, and grinned. He paced along the reindeer, brushing past Matty as he continued to splash in Lil Timmy’s brains, past a whimpering Andrew, and stopped in front of Ramsy. He flicked the safety off, braced himself and squeezed the trigger.
Blood erupted up the wall and Jorel’s front. Ramsy slumped down like the laid back bastard he always was, shoulders rolled back against his seat, wrists rested on the steering wheel, reggae music blasting from the speakers. He wouldn’t even be able to get his mouth around the accent and the scatting, but he’d scream it out anyway, windows rolled down.
Andrew choked. He looked away from Ramsy, down at Jack. He choked again and fell forwards, panting through his nose, convulsing like he was trying to hack up a hairball.
Matty crouched by Andrew and smacked him on the back. He tore the tape from Andrew’s mouth. Andrew coughed and spat vomit over his lap and Matty’s shoes.
Jorel groaned with disgust. Andrew coughed and vomited again. He sobbed, tears streaming down his nose.
“Are we gonna have to clean that up?” Dylan said.
“Yeah, we are,” Jorel said. He braced, and shot down.
Andrew’s sobbing stopped short as his face blew out into his vomit. Jorel stepped back, grabbed Thresia by the hair and dragged her along, tossing her among the remaining living reindeer.
Troy rose, quiet as he could, and ran for the door. He could hear Johnny and Danny scrabble up behind him. The doll clattered to the floor with a porcelain smash. Dylan yelped and gave chase, abandoning Nikola.
“Hit the floor!” Charlie yelled.
Three thuds. Open fire.
Troy collapsed. Agony split up and down his legs like a shot of useless adrenaline. Wet began to soak into the legs of his costume, warm and metallic. Nikola and someone else howled, muted and afraid.
Johnny was on top of Troy in seconds. He yanked Troy’s jacket and tore the cheap fabric as he rolled Troy over. He raised his fist and punched down.
Troy reeled back into the concrete. Johnny punched again and again. The pain sandwiched Troy’s skull in blunt throbbing. He heard the punches more than he felt them.
His feet were completely numb. He could feel the blood pooling under his legs, with three sharp pains rippling every time he jolted under Johnny’s fist.
Johnny was yelling, as was someone else and possibly someone else. Their voices swam under the almost rhythmic thudding of punches. Troy’s head swam.
Johnny seemed to peel away from Troy. Dylan’s face filled his vision, deep frown and braids hanging down like they were reaching down for Troy.
“You awake man?” Dylan said. He gave Troy’s face a gentle smack.
Troy groaned. “Get him off me.”
Dylan was pulled away and there Johnny was again, nostrils flared and teeth bared. As he leant down, the darkness on his skull became clearer, not a shadow but a tattoo. By this point, he’d shoved the sleeves of his costume and turtle neck up out his way, revealing more tattoos up and down his arms.
“Where were you going to send her?” he growled.
Johnny shook him. “My daughter.”
“You gave my daughter a lollipop. You saw a cute little girl with a tattooed daddy in a wife-beater and a bald cap, and decided he looked shitty enough for you to grab his baby girl. So you gave her a lollipop so you could go back and get her. Where were you going to send her?”
“I don’t… I don’t…”
Johnny drove his fist into Troy’s stomach. Troy dry-heaved. He struggled, and pain flashed up his legs. Pins and needles were setting into his hips as Johnny straddled him.
“Where were you going to take my daughter!” Johnny screamed into his face.
“I don’t know!” Troy screamed back, “I don’t know! We got buyers all over! We’d have figured that out next!”
“I don’t know which one’s your daughter! We gave, like, forty of those things out!”
“It was a couple of dozen earlier,” Dylan said.
“There was ten today,” Danny said, “As far as I saw. That a normal day?”
“Ten a day since the beginning of December. That’s over two hundred kids.”
“I don’t… I don’t know!” Troy spluttered, “Don’t let him kill me!”
“We’re past that, man,” Dylan said.
“Have you grabbed any of those kids yet?” Danny said.
“No,” Troy said, “We were gonna do it in the New Year!”
“Where do you keep them?”
“Of your house?”
“Yeah. We swaddled them in blankets and shut them in.”
“So if I go to your house right now,” Danny said, “I’ll find blankets in the attic, but no kids?”
“I’m gonna go check. Have fun.”
“No! Don’t let him kill me!”
Danny stood and stretched. “Wait for my call, yeah?”
A scattered chorus of “yeah”. Johnny growled but nodded.
“Good. Catch y’all later. Play nice.”
Johnny and Dylan grunted in response. Danny left, slamming the door behind, doll left where she’d smashed.
The room was quiet. Johnny’s panting was levelling back out to a calm level. Nikola and someone else were whimpering.
“Uh…” Charlie said, “What now?”
“We should probably cut Santa some slack,” Jorel said, “Don’t wanna kill him too quick.”
“That’s what I’m saying. Johnny’s done a real fucking number on him.”
“Were you expecting him to go easy on him?” Matty said.
Johnny got off of Troy. Troy groaned and sat up, Dylan giving him a supportive pull. A deep red had sat into the legs of Troy’s Santa costume. Blood was seeping out from a hole in each shin and a wound in his thigh. The floor either side of him was riddled with deep-set bullets.
Troy took a deep breath. He stared down at his legs and twitched them. His muscles could barely respond, shutting down under the pain. It was so bone-piercing, so constant that Troy wasn’t even registering it, and he just stared like a moron at the growing puddle around him.
“Okay, guys, I got a development,” Charlie announced.
“You do?” Matty said, “What is it?”
Charlie pointed down himself.
“I think it’s the gun. This is a sexy-ass gun, man.”
“Y’see, when more people call an inanimate object sexy, they don’t have a literal boner over them!”
“Are you sure?” Dylan said, “Gun fetishes are a real thing, man.”
“Yep,” Charlie said, “Makes for some real good porn. My kind and the regular kind.”
“Please shut up,” Matty said.
“Come over here and make me!”
“Don’t say that when you have an obvious boner!”
“It ain’t obvious,” Johnny said, “Stop looking at his crotch.”
It was obvious. His fly was still unzipped after Jack, and something pale pink was peeking through. Either he’d commando or he was ready to go. Or both. Probably both.
Matty pulled off his lanyard and threw it at Charlie. He missed by almost the full gap between them as it fluttered to Matty’s feet, and Charlie laughed at him.
“If none of y’all got plans,” Charlie said, putting his gun down behind Andrew’s slumped body. “I’m gonna relieve myself.”
“You don’t need to tell us,” Matty said.
“I thought you’d wanna know,” Charlie said. He paced along the remaining reindeer. “Eenie, meenie, eenie, meenie, minie-”
“Mo,” Dylan interrupted. He pointed off across the store room.
Charlie grinned. “You evil bastard.”
“Only for you, cariño.”
Matty made a gipping noise. Johnny headed over to where Dylan had pointed.
Nikolai whimpered as Johnny dragged across by her taped ankles. He spun her around, laying her next to Troy, her shoes and skirt trailing in his blood.
“No,” Troy groaned. He threw an arm over her, slapping Johnny away.
Matty pulled on Troy, dragging him away. “Don’t piss him off again.”
“Get off of her,” Troy tried to pull away from Matty. The room was spinning, and it was hard for him to focus on Nikola. Charlie stepped over her, fondling himself.
“Either he fucks her, or we kill her right now and he fucks her body,” Matty said, “Your call.”
“No. He can take me instead, just leave her alone.”
“Not an option right now. Pick. Rape or death.”
“Pick, or we go with death.”
Jorel grunted an “Uh,” and Matty and Charlie both shushed him. Troy made a pathetic noise.
“What was that?” Matty said. He was grinning again, the curve obvious in his voice. “We didn’t hear that?”
Troy made the noise again.
“We can’t hear you.”
Johnny gave Troy a kick in the hip.
“Rape her!” Troy yelled, “Just don’t kill my wife.”
“Oh, if you insist,” Charlie dropped onto Nikola. He rolled her over and tore her skirt down. She screamed and kicked out.
Matty pulled on Troy’s hair, forcing him to turn around and face Nikola as her eyes widened in violation. Charlie forced himself into her unprepared cunt. He hissed at the tightness, pushing until his hips were flush against her ass. Nikola howled into her gag. Troy sobbed as Nikola shook under Charlie’s thrust.
Charlie moaned. Nikola was folded, her hips pulled up as Charlie fucked her from behind, her face pressed into the concrete.
Matty’s hand tightened in Troy’s hair. He was twisting, watching Charlie fuck Nikola with wide eyes and a hung jaw. Johnny nudged Dylan and nodded over to Matty. Dylan had to look Matty up and down several times before he could spot what Johnny was suppressing giggles about.
“Matty, dude,” Dylan said, and reached over Troy to poke at Matty, “You got a boner there, dude. It’s really obvious, dude. You got a boner, dude.”
“I’m aware,” Matty said.
“You got a boner from watching Charlie fuck a bitch, dude.”
“You got a boner, dude.”
“You’ve mentioned it, dude.”
Dylan stopped poking Matty and started pawing at Charlie instead. “Dude. Matty’s got a boner.”
“You don’t have to tell everyone!”
Charlie’s thrusting slowed down. “What?”
“Matty’s got a boner.”
“Oh, come on!” Matty threw his lanyard at Charlie again. Charlie ignored him, pulled Nikola up again and continued his rough pace.
Matty glared at Charlie. He pulled on Troy’s hair again, forcing his head back around to face him. He dropped his zipper. Troy groaned and struggled. Matty’s grip in his hair was firm, holding him still.
“Suck,” Matty ordered, “Or I make Mrs Claus do it.”
Troy whimpered and opened his mouth. Matty dragged him closer and forced his cock into Troy’s jaw.
“Watch your teeth,” Matty hissed.
Troy pulled his lips over his teeth and Matty pushed in further. His tip pressed to the back of Troy’s tongue and over his gag reflex. Troy chocked and tried to cough. His throat seemed to spasm around the probing intrusion.
Nikola’s screaming escalated as her tape gag was torn off. She gibbered and begged, and Charlie groaned.
Tears pricked in Troy’s eyes. Matty pulled back and thrust into Troy’s mouth. Troy tried to suck on it, but he was tired, weakening and inexperienced. His lips and jaw ached already, and drool was dripping over his cheeks and chin.
“That’s really gay, man!” Jorel yelled across the storeroom.
“Fuck off!” Matty yelled back.
Jorel and Johnny giggled. Matty thrust in harder, until Troy’s nose was buried in his hairs. Troy’s lungs screamed for air, and Troy flailed on Matty’s cock.
A clump of Troy’s hair ripped away from his scalp as Matty clung to it, thrusting into Troy’s throat slow and deep. Pained tears streamed down Troy’s face and his jaw felt like it was going to pop open.
Matty pulled out. Troy coughed, thick rope of spit hanging from him lip and Matty’s tip.
“Keep your mouth open,” Matty grunted, “Tongue out.”
Dylan and Johnny both chortled into their hands. Troy spat his tongue out, panting for air like a dog.
Matty stroked himself. He grunted as he came in Troy’s open mouth, hot and salty. Troy yelped, but the noise only came out a tired whine.
Matty tucked himself away. “Swallow it.”
Troy whimpered, closed his mouth and gulped hard. It was thick, and took a second gulp to go down, and left a bitter, salty taste in his mouth. He could almost feel it slide down to his stomach.
“You kinky fuck,” Dylan said.
“What? Charlie does this shit all the time!”
“Exactly. This,” Dylan gestured to Troy, “Is a whole new development.”
“A blowjob is a new development?”
“You know what I’m trying to say!”
“Charlie’s gonna be dragging you into his pornos.”
“Jet Kurlin’!” Jorel yelled.
“Fuck off!” Matty yelled, “That ain’t happening!”
“But you already got your name picked out!”
“Nah, I can’t think of a worse boner-killer than Matty’s face,” Johnny said.
“Thank you!” Matty said.
“That wasn’t a compliment.”
“I don’t care.”
Troy laid back down, watching Nikola again. He croaked apologies, reaching for her and cupping her face in his hand. Nikolai sobbed.
Charlie threw his head back and hollered as he came. Nikolai garbled as he pulled out, cum dripping from her beaten pussy.
“I’m sorry,” Troy croaked, “I’m so sorry.”
Johnny stood and circled Nikola. Charlie let her drop to lay flat on the concrete, crying into Troy’s hand.
Dylan pulled Troy’s hand away from Nikola. Johnny jumped and landed, both feet, square on the side of Nikola’s head.
Nikola yelled out. Her skull split against the concrete. Johnny fell back, straightened, and stepped up to her again.
“No!” Troy screamed. He pulled himself up and scrabbled for Johnny, throwing himself over Nikola.
Nikola wailed. Blood welled in both her ears, her entire skull heavy and throbbing.
Dylan dragged Troy away, arm wrapped around Troy’s neck. Troy choked, still reaching for Nikola as Johnny jumped again.
“You said you wouldn’t kill her!” Troy yelled.
“We said we wouldn’t kill her right then,” Matty said.
“Dick move, guys,” Jorel said.
Johnny jumped again. There was a crack, and Nikola’s scream faded, Johnny left standing in her splintered skull and crushed brain.
Troy froze in Dylan’s grip. Johnny stepped away, and his footsteps squelched.
“Oh my god,” Troy croaked, “Oh my god.”
A phone rang. Matty pulled the flip phone from his back pocket, answered, and put it on speaker. “Hey, Goldie.”
“Hey, Alex,” Danny said, voice a little warped through the cheap throw-away phones. “He was lying. I found this little man here, and I’m gonna take him to the police station, and then I’m gonna check the rest of the crew’s houses for anymore hidden treasures, yeah?”
A child babbled from the phone.
“Yeah, we’ll finish up here, get started on the cleaning,” Matty said.
“I can come help you in, like, a half hour,” Charlie said, “We’re almost done here.”
“We can be done a lot quicker than that,” Jorel said, “Quicker we’re done, quicker the cleaning’s done, quicker we can go home.”
Matty scanned the group, getting nods of agreement. “Yeah, we’ll finish up. I’ll drop a message when J.T. sets off.”
“Do you wanna come back?” Dylan said, “Don’t miss the grand finale!”
“I’m good, guys,” Danny said, “Gonna start looking. Start at Priya’s, work my way down. I wanna be sure.”
The child cooed and giggled.
“Okay, man, see you later,” Dylan said and gave the phone a wave.
Matty hung the phone up and shoved it back in his pocket. “Who’s doing the honours?”
“I am,” Johnny said, “After you, Jay.”
Jorel stepped away from the reindeer. He dropped the safety, turned and braced.
The room erupted with noise. The remaining reindeer flailed in the hail of bullets. Troy howled in Dylan’s grip. The noise echoed and faded. Priya, Timmy, Kevin, Adam and Thresia lay still, blood splattered and porous.
Jorel lowered the gun and checked them over, leaning in close to check for any signs of life. He straightened, flicked the safety back on, and nodded.
Johnny’s hands were straight on Troy’s throat, squeezing tight. Troy gasped and pawed at him. Johnny growled. His fingers dug into Troy’s neck like it was silly putty, and Troy’s weak slaps and tugs were going unnoticed.
Troy choked. His vision had been blurred since Johnny had laid into him, and now black was setting around his vision and spreading inwards.
Troy’s limbs slumped and his head lolled back to stare at the ceiling. His lungs stopped burning, his legs stopped throbbing, his head stopped aching. For all of a second, nothing was happening. He just hung there in Johnny’s grip, sat in his own blood, surrounded by dead traffickers and living killers. His eyes rolled back and his whole body slackened.
Johnny let go. Troy’s body fell to the floor, lifeless.
Epilogue: morning of 21st December (Funny Claus)
Dylan pulled the beard up over his face. Matty held his mittens up for him to slide his hands in.
“This costume is real goddamn hot,” Dylan said.
“Yeah, well, think of the joy you’re gonna bring to the kiddies,” Matty said, “It ain’t Christmas without Santa.”
Jorel typed on his laptop. The remains of Danny’s doll sat in a bag next to him, camera retrieved from her eye, its information downloaded, edited, filed and anonymously forwarded to the police and traffickers’ families. The remaining lollipops and the flip phones, smashed and ground under hammers, had been thrown in the bag as well to be dropped in the bottom of a random skip.
Danny and Charlie found four children, only one able to tell them where she lived. Danny dropped her straight off, watched her run up to her front door and ring the doorbell, and waited for her parents to answer before slinked away. The local headlines the next day described him and Charlie as “angels”, “heaven sent” and “Christmas heroes”.
It took six hours to clean the storeroom out, and two of those were just removing the bodies. It was quarter to twelve before they were done, meeting up at Matty’s apartment for beers and a nap. They rose at five, reluctantly, to fill in for the traffickers. The permanent managers didn’t even notice.
Matty pulled the hood of his reindeer onsie, and Jorel pulled his own hood tighter around his ears.
“Boys and girls, are you ready to meet Santa?” Charlie called.
There was some cheering, rather restrained.
“Now, boys and girls, Santa’s very old. His hearing’s not very good! So you’ve gotta be so! Much! Louder! So let’s try again, okay? Boys and girls, loud as you can, are you ready to meet Santa?!”
The cheering was twice as loud. Charlie and Danny laughed and encouraged them from the stage.
Johnny stood off to the side, turtle neck and beanie under his snow man costume covering his tattoos, this one actually fitting him, bag of chocolates half-empty. Every child in the audience had chocolate melted around their mouth and on their fingers. Innocent, untrackable chocolate for innocent, unstealable children.
Dylan took a deep breath. He stepped through the curtains with an almighty; “Ho! Ho! Ho!”
Somehow, the cheering doubled again. Tiny hands waved and rosy faces grinned up at Dylan. After all, it isn’t Christmas without Santa.