STAND IN SANTA
Amid all the pressure to meet targets and keep my job, this last-minute candidate seems too good to be true…
What do you mean, he’s not taking the job?” I stare at my assistant in horror. “He said his premium bonds had come up.” Amy squirms. “So he’s going away for Christmas. To – um – Jamaica.”
Poor Amy is puce in the face; she looks about ready to bolt. It makes me realise how hard I have been on her these last few stressful weeks.
“Right.” I grab my handbag and coat. “I can’t deal with this now. I’m off out for lunch.” “But Moira, you never take lunch.” “I do today.” Wind buffets bare trees in the park. I pull up my coat collar and wish I’d worn something as sensible as a scarf.
No Santa Claus. After all the product cancellations and supply problems, now Dalrymple’s Department Store has no Santa Claus this Christmas.
I’m section head of Toys. This Christmas was supposed to be my platform to prove my worth – pave my way for promotion.
Since Mr Dalrymple sold out to a national chain in spring, all senior staff have been under close scrutiny from Mr Stephens, the new store manager. He says we’re a team, but Mr Smarmy Stephens isn’t fooling anybody. There will be some serious “restructuring” for any manager not hitting their targets this festive season.
I’m young for a section head. I don’t have a degree in retail management. Mr Dalrymple believed in me, but Mr Stephens is unconvinced.
For me this Christmas is less about glad tidings of joy and more about good takings for toys.
Next Saturday is the Christmas lights switch-on. Market stalls; dancers; bands; fireworks. Dalrymple’s Santa is star of the parade. Just shoot me now.
I press fingers into my eye sockets and murmur a prayer for a miracle.
I love this job. I don’t want to watch some whizzkid from head office waltz in to take charge. “Toys” is mine.
I take a gulp of icy air; tilt my chin. I am not giving it up without a fight. Even if I have to wear the Santa suit myself.
Applicant for the job of Santa,” Amy says, eyes wide with hope, when I stride back onto the shop-floor. She beckons and points through the blind.
In the waiting area I see a distinguished-looking man sporting a significant salt and pepper beard. “How?” “Search me,” Amy says. “He said he’d heard there was a vacancy. This is his CV, here. His name is Mr Noel.” “You’re kidding.” “He’s lovely,” she mouths as I push open the door. “Hello Mr – err – Noel.” “Nicholas.” He stands and in an endearingly oldfashioned gesture, extends a hand. “Your name is Nicholas?” This is so a set-up. I bet it’s that supercilious Sophie from cosmetics. As Mr Stephens’ niece she’s supposed to be working her way up but she acts like it’s already her store.
My skin prickles; I glance anxiously sideways to spot sniggering conspirators but there are none. I sit; so does he. “Nicholas is your real name, right?” He looks as though he doesn’t understand the question. I wonder at what point he’s going to come clean and admit he’s a stooge.
“I mean, you’re not going to get into any street fights and end up in court?” Now he looks alarmed. “Like in the movie,” I explain. “You know – MiracleOn34thStreet?” “Oh, no – yes – ha, ha, ho – no.” He even laughs like every “real” Santa you’ve ever seen in a film. He’s well-rehearsed. I’m impressed my rivals managed to rustle him up so quickly. To buy some time I scan his CV. Previous work; up-to-date child protection certificate.
“You’re very experienced – err – Nicholas. How come you’re not already contracted this Christmas?”
“My wife and I agreed I’d give the store work a miss this year. But I heard you were stuck.”
“How did you hear? About the – um – vacancy?” I bristle. “Dan Carter told me.” “Dan?” Why can’t I even say his name
My feelings for Dan are so obvious I might as well be wearing a sign