Matriarch - By Brian Law 

“Ah,” she replied, “I always knew you were the one, from the moment you could speak.” 

The great-grandchild sat at her knee, her great-grandmother patting her on the head. “But how do you know? How do you know who to trust, great-grandmama?” 

The old woman had not confided in anyone for over thirty years. She had held her own counsel and had trusted no one, not her husband, not anyone, not until today. Today, providence had delivered someone she could trust, and it was a seven-year-old girl. 

“Trust, my dear, is not something you can depend upon. It is a rare gem, maybe the rarest, like you. I can trust you because you have asked the right questions, without guile, without deceit. You are the one I will trust with the answers. So, sit while I reveal them to you, my dearest,” the old lady replied, her hands taking hold of her great-granddaughter’s hand. 

“You want to know who you can trust, don’t you. As a young woman married to your great-grandfather, I trusted many people. And I learned to regret those decisions. So, I had to learn who to exclude and who to let in,” the old woman explained. “I learned that it was all about power, money and access.” 

The young girl stayed silent and paid rapt attention to her mentor as the old woman continued. “People were attracted to us and wanted access to us. Sometimes it was obvious, but often it was subtle. I’m no different than others, I like people and like them around, but when I discover their motives, it’s time to cut them off.” 

The young girl moved close to her great-grandmother’s knee and asked, “How do you do that without letting them know you are doing it?” 

The old woman smiled, stroked the child’s hair and answered, “Precisely the problem, my dear. The secret is in the access. You reduce access just a bit at a time until, finally, they have no access at all. Understand? Just a bit at a time, almost imperceptibly.” 

“Is there anyone left who’s close to you now, great-grandmama?” the young girl wondered. 

“Just you, my dear. Just you,” she answered wistfully. “And maybe the dogs,” she laughed. 

“Are you lonely, great-grandmama?” the young girl asked. 

“No, not really,” the old woman replied wistfully. 

“Was there ever anyone who you had to deny access to quickly, without hesitation?” the young girl asked. 

The old woman removed her hands from her great-granddaughter, sighed and answered, “Yes, once.” She paused as if thinking back to a different place and time and then continued, “And I would do that differently, but I was stubborn and headstrong. Do you understand those words, my dear?” 

The young woman nodded and stayed quiet. She knew about the stories, knew about the conflict, and knew a bit about the Princess. But that was all she knew. 

And for the rest of the afternoon, her great-grandmother provided her with guidance for the rest of her life. 

End

Vintage - By Brian Law 

“Cut, Cut! . . . Shit!” the young director yelled out in disgust as he quickly got up from his chair and motioned for his prop man. The director and the prop man had been close ever since film school and so the prop man knew exactly what the director was angry about. As collaborators on all the young director’s films, the two were never apart for more than a few hours each day during filming. They planned every scene down to the last detail to minimize delays, but when there was a problem, the director could be tyrannical about it. 

Out of earshot of the rest of the crew, the director pulled the prop man aside and started to lambaste him. “Jeremy, I told you I wanted a vintage ‘47 Chrysler for this shot! That piece of shit the stunt driver brought onto the scene looks like it just came from the junkyard. We can’t use the footage!” Closely watching his prop man’s reaction, he continued, “So get me what I want and get it today, okay!” 

The prop man wasn’t going to be bullied on this one as he fought back, “I told you three weeks ago we were having trouble with the cars! Remember our conversation at your mother’s house when I told you about that big company in L.A. that has been buying up all the old vintage cars from the smaller outfits we used to rent from.” 

“Yeah, I remember the conversation. And I remember you said we were going to have to spend a lot more on cars than we thought. So, what’s the problem here?” the director complained impatiently. 

The prop man took a moment to answer knowing full well how the young director was going to react, “Well, we were all set to rent a suitable car until they demanded to review the script. And when we showed them the story line, they refused to rent to us.” 

“On what grounds?” the director demanded. 

The prop man breathed deeply and replied, “On the grounds that it puts Italian-Americans in a bad light.” 

“For Christ's Sake, Jeremy, we’re doing a movie about the mob in L.A. in the late 1940’s. That was generations ago! Who are these guys who are refusing to rent to us, anyway? Will they reconsider?” the director yelled. 

The prop man used his finger to push his nose to one side. 

“Oh, shit, you mean they’re connected?” the incredulous director whispered. 

The prop man slowly nodded and shrugged. “I had to go all the way to Kansas to get this piece of junk to use in the shot! Can you believe it? It was one of the few ‘47 Chryslers the L.A. company hadn’t bought up. I think it’s been in a barn for quite a while. It still has its old California plates on it with 1947 registration tags.” 

The director told the crew to take a lunch break while he and the prop man took a closer look at the old car and talked to the stunt driver. They walked around the vehicle, looked inside it, and then stood back to consider what to do next. 

The director turned to the stunt driver and asked, “Willy, you know cars. What do you think about this piece of junk? If we give it a cheap paint job and touch up the wheels and the bumpers, will it pass muster if we don’t use it in a closeup?” 

The stunt driver didn’t hesitate as he responded, “Yeah, we can have it ready by tomorrow morning. But there’s just one thing.” He waited nervously as the young director put his hands on his hips and in an annoying voice said, “Oh, what now?” 

The prop man jumped right in and replied, “Well, we had to buy this car from a farmer in Kansas. We beat the L.A. guys to it with just about ten minutes to spare, and they weren’t too pleased that they didn’t get it. Apparently, they've been looking for it for years!” 

“So what?” the director demanded. 

“Well, they’ll be by tomorrow afternoon to pick it up from us. So, we have to get the shot done and have the car ready to ship by four o’clock tomorrow afternoon, or else,” the prop man explained. 

The director was now in full rage. “Let me understand this, will you? First, they refuse to rent cars to us and now they’re demanding we give them cars that we own! Is that what I’m hearing, Jeremy?” 

The prop man walked to the rear of the car, motioned for the young director to follow him as he opened the trunk. “Maybe this will help you understand.” As the two men looked down into the trunk, they could clearly see the skeletal remains of a large man who in life had been dressed in a suit and hat circa the late 1940’s. There was an obvious hole in the rear of the deceased’s skull. 

The director took a deep breath and then slowly asked, “Did they say anything about what would happen if we didn’t return the car?” 

The prop man and the stunt driver looked at each other, and then the prop man moved closer to the young director, put his hand on his shoulder, and whispered, “They said there was still plenty of room in the trunk.” 

End

Cat Food for Breakfast - By Brian Law 

It was cold, very cold as the children huddled together at the table. There was only one chair and their father had taken that and was already eating. “Sit down!” he demanded mockingly. The children, wrapped in a single blanket, stood shivering and breathing slowly, their collective breath clearly visible. 

At the counter, their mother was scooping dry kibble into five separate small bowls and then adding a bit of collected rainwater. Her husband was the only one who got to eat the wet stuff. Each of the children could smell its pungent odor across the table. It was tuna in a savory sauce, his favorite, and it made their little mouths water. 

The small bowls were thrust in front of them, a wooden spoon in each one. “Eat!” he yelled and quickly five small hands emerged from the blanket, each grasping a spoon. The water had soaked into the bottom layer of the kibble, but most of it was still dry and it hurt their teeth at first. But they ate it because they knew it was all they would get until they got to the dumpsters. 

He watched them with no emotion. He had stopped trying to remember their names. They were just his individual burdens, nothing more. As he finished the last scoop of tuna from the can, he banged it on the table as a signal for his wife to get him another. 

She moved as quickly as she could to the cardboard box on the counter and tried to hide its contents from her children as she opened it and grabbed another can from inside and quickly closed the box. 

But her oldest boy saw just enough to know that there were two dozen cans in the box on the counter, their bright shiny lids all sitting in neat rows and searing an indelible image in his young mind. His hunger was in charge now as he watched his father pull the tab on the new can and start to dig in. There was just something about the sound of his father pulling back on the tab of the new can that triggered his next action. 

With his father totally involved in scooping tuna into his mouth, the young boy moved quickly. Before anyone knew it, he had the top of the tuna can in his hand and against his surprised father’s throat. And then it was over in an instant. Everyone watched as if in slow motion as their father convulsed and then slumped dead in his chair. And they all stood motionless, including their mother, knowing what certainly was next. 

The young boy pushed his father’s body from the chair and onto the floor. Unfazed by the blood on the chair and the table, he sat down, grabbed the metal spoon his father always used and quickly consumed what was left in the can of tuna. 

Slamming the empty can down on the table, he yelled, “More!” to his mother and glared across the table at his brothers and sisters, their wooden spoons moving slowly and silently from their small bowls to their hungry mouths. He was in charge now and they knew it. 

End

The Next Billionaire - By Brian Law 

The newly-elected President of the United States strode confidently to the podium, his patented cryptic half-smile revealing little of what he was feeling or thinking. Adjusting the microphone, he slowly surveyed the eager journalists with a patience that his predecessor never showed. And then he spoke his first public words as President, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am ready to take your questions.” 

He pointed to a young woman from CNN in the third row who stood and asked, “President Bloomberg, can you please address the rumors about your business dealings in the 1960’s in rural Alaska? There are suggestions of some very sharp business practices by some of your employees, sir.” 

The President responded in a measured and quiet tone, “I assume you are referring to the network of appliance salesmen I had working in Alaska during that period. The Department of Justice has thoroughly investigated those business practices and has determined that everything was completely above board. Every refrigerator my salesmen sold to the Eskimo population during that period was of the highest quality.” He pointed to an MSNBC reporter standing in the back of the room and announced, “Next question.” 

“Sir, there are strong suggestions that you duped some very wealthy Middle Easterners out of a lot of money in the early ‘80’s. Do you care to address these allegations at this time?” the questioner asked. 

“Of course, I have nothing to hide. You are referring to the forty shiploads of sand from my properties in Florida sold to the Kuwaitis during the Winter of 1981. These transactions were entirely legal. The buyers, the Kuwaitis, did not have sand of high quality and they contacted me to fill their needs. I was really providing a valuable service even though it just appears that I was ‘selling sand to the Arabs’.” And as many hands shot up, the President continued, “And before you ask, I provided a similar service to some English clients in Newcastle in the late 1980’s. Again, completely legal. Merely twenty shiploads of high quality coal they couldn’t source locally.” 

A Fox News reporter yelled out a question, “President Bloomberg, what about the bridge deals? Aren’t you still under investigation for those, sir?” 

The President adjusted his silk tie and leaned closer to the microphone. “As you may not know, I came into possession of the Brooklyn Bridge legally in the late 1950’s. You can check the ownership records. Regardless, you are undoubtedly referring to my multiple sales of that property over the years to a series of different buyers. All completely legal, I assure you. And the fact that I reacquired the Bridge after each sale was merely a feature of New York repossession law. And no, I am not currently under investigation for any of those transactions. Next question!” 

“Sir, Jenny Macy from the Seminole Times. Can you comment on your many land deals in central Florida that have come under scrutiny?” 

The President calmly responded, “Climate change has emerged as a critical issue for my Administration. And I know only too well the insidious impact of seawater intrusion into Florida real estate. Many real estate transactions I have been involved in have subsequently turned into ‘swampland’ due to Global Warming, I’m afraid. A tragic outcome for the buyers, but certainly nothing I did was out of the ordinary. Okay, one last question, and then I have to get back to work for the American people and sell them on my policies.” 

“Sir,” came a voice from the back of the room, “can you comment on the millions you’ve made recently in deals with Micronesions?” 

“Again, this issue is tied to Global Warming,” the President responded. “Many Pacific Islanders are faced with rising sea levels that have caused great suffering and even deaths by drowning. The fact that one of my companies sold shiploads of bottled water recently to one of those tiny countries is merely a logical result of the ongoing crisis.” 

“But, sir, doesn’t ‘selling water to drowning men’ smack of a scam,” came a shouted-out question. 

“I don’t think I’ll dignify that question with an answer. But thank you all for coming today, anyway. You will find autographed photos of me for sale as you leave the Press Room,” the President declared. “This is a one-time offer and they're cheap at twice the price.” 

End

The Neurotic Physician - By Brian Law 

It was two a.m. when she rolled over in bed and discovered her husband wasn’t there, again. She sighed and slowly dragged herself from her warm covers, put on her bathrobe, and walked to the study. She knew he’d be there in the dark. 

He was sitting in the big red leather chair staring at the clock on the wall with that look on his face she’d seen so many times. “What is it this time, Greg?” she asked with an air of exasperation. 

“I think I’ve contracted Hansen’s Disease, Marjorie,” he answered in a hollow, defeated voice. “I have all the symptoms.” 

“Really, Greg, leprosy? We live in New Hampshire, for God’s sake! Come back to bed, take your meds, and everything will look different in the morning,” she responded imploringly. 

“I think I got it when we traveled to Argentina back in 2005. Remember that little side trip to the rain forest we took? That’s when I got it. I’m just beginning to show symptoms now.” 

“Greg, dear,” she said, getting a bit testy, “You don’t have leprosy or anything else. You’re fit as a fiddle except that you’re a hypochondriac. So please, face facts, take your meds and come back to bed. You’ve got a big day coming up and you need your rest.” 

This was the third time this month this had happened. And each time he had come up with another obscure or difficult to diagnose illness and each time she was able to talk sense to him. But it was getting harder and they were both nearing exhaustion because of it. 

He looked at her, shook his head and insisted, “No, this time it’s real. I’m not imagining this and I’m terrified. I’m going to a specialist and if I’m correct, it will mean the end of my medical career. Who wants to be treated by a leper?” 

“Greg, the headache you had last Friday night turned into a brain tumor by Sunday, right? And two weeks ago, that little upset stomach of yours suddenly became cancer. And did you have either of those things? No! So please, let’s go back to bed knowing that this will pass, too!” she begged. 

He pointed to the laptop on the nearby desk. “Look for yourself! I’ve got the Leprosy website there and I’ve got all the symptoms. And you should get checked, too. I mean, we went to all the same places, met all the same people, and ate the same food, right?” 

She was really worked up now as she paced the floor of the study. “Oh, now you’re trying to suck me into your delusions, doctor! I don’t think so. And surfing the web for symptoms, my God, they even have a name for that, Greg? ‘Cyberchondria,’ for Christ’s sake!” 

“You’re not being very supportive, Marjorie!” 

“What you mean is that I’m not being codependent, Greg! The distinction is critical.” 

He paused, thought for a moment and then said, “Okay, you’re right. Bring me my meds and a glass of water and I’ll see you back in bed in a few minutes. Feel better now?” 

She smiled, made sure he took his meds and padded back to bed. It was almost three a.m. but she was wide awake with her energy restored and strangely aroused as her husband slipped into bed beside her. 

“Greg,” she purred, “I feel very close to you right now. Want to fool around?” 

Greg was quiet as she waited for his response. After a few moments, he apologetically responded, “I think I have E.D., dear.” 

She smiled in the dark, moved her hand a bit and whispered, “No, I don’t think so. I think the doctor is just fine.” 

End

The Line-Up - By Brian Law 

The eight of them filed through a side door, up a short flight of stairs, and onto the brightly lit stage one by one. There was no apparent order. Some were tall, some short, some men, some women, some whatever. One of them had to be eighty-five, if a day. They all stood facing out, waiting for the voice to start the process. 

“Number five, remove your sunglasses.” Number five complied. 

“Number seven, remove your scarf.” He removed his scarf which let his hair fall about his shoulders. 

“Number four, look straight ahead, into the camera.” Number four blinked and nervously did as requested. 

“Okay, number one, step forward to the line, please.” As he did, the voice continued, “Turn to your right, number one.” He turned, but the voice yelled, “Your right! Your right!” Number one corrected himself and turned in the correct direction. 

“Number one, face forward.” Turning again into the glaring lights, number one prepared for what he knew was coming. “Okay, number one, what’s your position on healthcare? And speak clearly. You have one minute.” 

Number one did his best on that question as well as on the other questions put to him. After seven minutes, he was told to step back, and number two was instructed to step forward. And so it went for almost an hour, each being instructed in the same way. The question set was the same for each. “Okay, number six, what is your position on abortion?” “Okay, number eight what is your position on the War Powers Act?” Etc. etc. 

As the questioning ended, the eight were instructed to exit the stage to the left. The voice turned to the man next to him who was watching a computer screen and quietly said, “That’s the last of them. That makes, what, one hundred and six?” The man at the computer screen nodded and added, “The voting is starting now. Remember the guy from Anaheim, the car dealer? He’s leading, but the old woman from Wichita who had her pet dog with her, she’s a close second. Nobody else is even close. If it stays like this, he’s the next President of the United States and she’ll be the next Vice President.” 

“How much longer will it take?” the voice asked. 

“There’s a little delay with the votes from troops overseas, but I’d say our election will be in the bag in about, oh, say ten minutes,” came the answer. 

The voice nodded, picked up his cell phone and dialed. “Mr. Chief Justice, can you be ready in fifteen for the swearing in?” The answer he got was terse and resigned. “I’ll be there.” 

Hanging up, the voice leaned back in his chair, his hands behind his head. He remembered the old ways . . . the debates, the money grubbing, the influence peddling, the back-stabbing, the underhanded deals, the ridiculous conventions. 

He smiled as he picked-up his own cell phone again and voted for the little old lady from Wichita with the pet dog. 

End

The Last Billionaire - By Brian Law 

The man was escorted to the podium by the FBI and left alone there, all by himself. He watched as the agents left and with a great deal of uncertainty as he approached the microphone. “Hi, I’m Jerome, uh, Jerome Nesbit,” he announced hesitantly. “They just told me I’m the new President of the United States and maybe some of you recognize me. I was the Acting Under Secretary of Veterans Affairs until this morning. And I really have no idea what's going on.” 

The White House reporter for Fox News stood up and taking the microphone from the assistant, said, “Sir, you were the last one standing in the line of succession. Everyone else was caught up in the Bloomberg scandals. Everybody else is going to prison, Mr. President. You have a clean slate! You have complete power to remake the Federal Government and set the new agenda!” 

Nesbit breathed deeply and looked around the room nervously and then said, “Look, I graduated from Eastern Illinois University in 1997 with a degree in Communications. I went into the Army and got lucky in Afghanistan. Silver Star, and all that. But I’m really uncomfortable with this whole President of the United States thing, you know. This is a big deal and I don’t think I’m the guy to take it on.” 

From the wings emerged a tall man, dressed immaculately in an expensive silk suit and sporting a five hundred dollar haircut. He nudged Nesbit aside a bit and announced, “What President Nesbit is trying to convey is that he is prepared to work incredibly hard to reunite this country, to clean-up the mess left by the former Administration, and to move forward into a bold new future for our great country.” 

“Who are you?” came a question from the third row. 

“I’m a good friend of President Nesbit’s. Someone whom he has asked to be by his side during this difficult transition period.” 

Another question was yelled out, “Yes, but what’s your name and what’s your job?” 

The well-coiffed man smiled, put his arm around the new President, and answered, “I work for Mark at Facebook. My name is not important, but I’m the vice president in charge of the News Feed Division.” 

End

A Winter Cold - By Brian Law 

As he waited in the exam room for the doctor, he got up off the exam table and nosed around, just looking. He often wondered if they had cameras in these rooms. Anyway, he coughed a few times, blew his nose and sat down on the table again. He could hear his doctor talking in the next room with another patient. Nothing specific, just mumbles coming through the walls. It wouldn’t be long now, he thought, as he went over in his head what he was going to say about his symptoms. 

The doctor knocked slightly on the door and then swept in, all sterile and business-like. As he washed his hands, he asked, “So, Mr., uh . . . Robinson, what seems to be our problem today?” 

“Lots of coughing and wheezing, sinus congestion and general exhaustion, doctor,” he replied as the doctor approached him and looked closely at his eyes. 

“Okay, let’s take a look here,” the doctor said as he checked his temperature, his throat and ears, and listened to his heart and lungs for a few moments. “Go ahead and put your shirt back on, Mr. Robinson,” the doctor continued as he sat down at his computer and made some entries. 

“Well, what do I have, doc?” he asked. “Anything serious?” 

Without looking up from his computer, the doctor replied, “Let me ask you a few questions first. Had you been experiencing abnormal anxiety before the onset of these symptoms? I see you have a prescription for anti-anxiety meds.” 

He nodded and said, “Yeah, I’ve been having lots of anxiety lately. Losing sleep, too. Then this crud caught up with me, doc.” 

“Okay, and I see you are retired. Do you watch television news during the day? Or political commentary? Or take in the debates, things like that?” the doctor continued. 

“All the time, doc. It’s just terrible what’s happening, so you have to keep up these days,” he responded, coughing a bit. 

“And are you in close contact with others who are similarly caught up in current events?” the doctor continued. 

“Well, I used to, but God, you just can’t believe what idiots are out there these days. Complete morons. So, no, I pretty much keep to myself,” he answered. 

“Right. So, you’ve been feeling bad for a few days now. Do you still watch television even though you should be in bed, resting?” the doctor continued as he typed. 

“Got to keep current, doc!” he wheezed. 

The doctor paused, then looked up and asked, “And do you sometimes find yourself yelling at your television, particularly when certain personalities are featured? Or do you find yourself so frustrated that you sometimes experience shortness of breath, maybe even dizziness, too?” 

Wow, he thought to himself, this doctor is good! I came to the right place today! Straightening up a bit, he replied, “Exactly, doc! So, you know what’s ailing me? I hope it’s not serious?” 

The doctor got up from his computer and approached him saying, “I see a lot of this these days. But I didn’t say it wasn’t serious. I won’t go that far. But as long as you follow my instructions when you go home, you’re probably going to be alright.” 

As the doctor left the room, and as he finished dressing, he went over the doctor’s instructions in his head and remembered what he had said. As long as you follow my instructions when you go home, you’re probably going to be alright. 

If it was a simple matter of just taking some pills for a few days, that was one thing. But unplugging his television! Jesus, was this guy a quack, or what? 

End

Heart Beat Hill 

By Brian Law 

It was just by chance that she caught a glimpse of her father leaving in his friend Ed’s old car. On any normal Sunday morning at five o’clock, she'd be snuggled-up in bed, but something caused her to get up and look out her bedroom window. And there she saw her father climbing into the back of that old Chevy along with his old marine buddies. She knew exactly what was going on as she sat down and dialed 911.  

“911. What’s your emergency?”  

“You know me, I’m Marge Jameson over on Maple Street. I call every year about this time around Christmas about my Dad, Fred. He’s at it again, I’m afraid,” she explained apologetically to the operator. “I just saw him drive away from my house with his old friends. They’re headed for the hill again.” She told the operator the make, model and license plate number of Ed’s old car and the direction it had headed.  

“Hi, Marge,” the operator replied. “Okay, I’ll alert the police about the vehicle. Any idea at all where they might be going this year?”  

Marge told her she thought it was going to be the hill behind the old high school and then added, “I’m leaving right away. I’ll be there in about twenty minutes or so. One of Fred’s friends in the car just got out of the hospital and Fred’s been having some heart problems, too. So, pass that on, please,” the daughter advised and then hung up. She looked around for her bathrobe, threw it on and went downstairs for a cup of coffee before leaving.  

Sipping her coffee as she struggled to get into her jeans, she glanced over at the photographs on the fireplace mantle. There they were, all the annual photos of her Dad and his friends standing proudly at the foot of some hill. Sadly, she knew that each successive photo had fewer friends in it and last year’s photo only had the four who went away together in the car this morning. The hill was thinning the herd, she thought darkly. How many would survive today’s ordeal and still be alive for the post-run photo opportunity?  

They had all been in the same marine platoon in Vietnam, had all assaulted Hill 47 when ordered and only twelve survived that action. And when they got home, and in memory of their fallen brethren, they agreed to reenact the taking of Hill 47 each year until they were all gone.  

They used to charge the same hill each year until one of the guys died in the process and the local authorities caught on to what was happening. So they had to choose a different hill each year and keep it a secret. This year’s hill was the one behind the old high school.  

By the time Marge got there, the police had already arrived but too late to prevent the remaining platoon members from making a run up the hill. As she got out of her car, she saw her father leaning against the police car, clearly out of breath and in pain. And close by, on the ground, covered in a policeman’s jacket, lay Ed.  

She rushed to her father’s side as he looked up, grimaced and gasped, “Hey, you bring a camera by any chance?”  

End  

2/8/20

The Ham Salesman 

By Brian  law 

“Santa, it’s Vern on line two,” the elf relayed, rolling her eyes a bit.  

Sighing, Santa picked up and answered, trying to be upbeat, “Vern, it’s been a while. What can I do for you, cousin? I’m pretty busy this time of year, so keep it simple.”  

“Simple, simple! You want me to keep it simple? Simple I can’t do, cousin. Simple is out this year! I got a problem and you’re the solution, and simple it isn’t,” Vern yelled as if talking to an underling.  

Santa looked at some budget figures on his desk as he waited for Vern to calm down. It was always like this with his cousin. The yelling, the demands, then the contrition and the pleading. He waited for the contrition and the pleading as he tried to figure out why the budget for reindeer feed was so out of control this year.  

“Santa, you still there?” Vern asked and then continued, “Look, I’m sorry for yelling like that and I know you’re busy. So, I won’t make any demands, okay? But I do need your help. I’m in a bind, a real bind.”  

Again, Santa said nothing but let Vern know he was still on the phone by clearing his throat and taking a loud slurp of tea.  

Vern breathed deeply, steeled himself and then spoke very slowly and concisely, “Okay, Santa, here it is. There are six fewer shopping days this year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Well, you obviously know that, but then there’s this tariff thing on ham and all these damn vegans running around. I’m telling you, cousin, I’m at my wits end!”  

Santa put his hand over the receiver while he discussed something with one of the elves, then returned to the phone call and asked, “So far, Vern, you’ve told me about stuff I’ve got no control over. Calendars, tariffs, vegans, your wits.” He paused to let that sink in and then added, “Get to the point, Vern. What do you really want? I’m a busy man.”  

Vern chose his words carefully as he answered, “Cousin, I want to sell my ham business to you and only you. Buffett is down here, nibbling around the edges, but I want to give you the first right of refusal. It’s a perfect fit with your current operations. Interested?”  

Without saying anything, Santa motioned for his Chief Finance Elf to get on the line and listen in. As he waited, Santa smiled and wrote some notes on his scratch pad and then responded to Vern, “I’ve got my finance elf listening in, Vern. So, I’m going to leave him with you to discuss the details of the deal, okay? And then I’ll get his report later today and get back to you. How does that sound? Oh, and thanks for putting me before Buffett, Vern.”  

As Vern and the Chief Finance Elf began their phone conversation, Santa hung up and placed another call. He waited patiently as the call was relayed through a variety of security checks until finally, he got through. “Mr. President, this is Santa! How are you?”  

The voice on the other end sounded tired but that wasn’t unusual. They exchanged pleasantries and then Santa got right to the point, “You were right about the pork tariffs. Vern just called today and he’s selling out to me. I’ll lowball him, of course, and I’ll make a killing.”  

The voice on the other end asked him about how he was going to handle gift deliveries to the children of Democrats this year.  

Santa laughed and replied, “Oh, you know, the usual screwups, delays, and non-deliveries. So, what about those turkey tariffs? Can you arrange for something to happen there?”  

End

Heart