"Up On The Housetop (Bang, Bang, Bang!)"

(Context for Santa's Secret Weapon)



            "Santa's Secret Weapon" was originally intended to be a short story for Signals from Noise, but took too long to unwind exactly as I wanted, therefore it languished. The character of Boorman (or "the Rose", as he's known to those who seek to capture him) was born during all the research I was doing on the assassinations of the sixties. How his story became intertwined with the background of a Christmas holiday in Columbus, Ohio arrived from asking myself if these assassins I was studying ever felt compelled to do something that might balance the scales after the perpetration of their murders.

            The story fell easily within the established parameters of the collection: like it's fellows, SSW treats a rarely wondered question beneath the greater implications of the subject matter. Not "Who was behind the perpetration of the crime" but "Does he struggle with guilt for perpetrating it and, if so, how does he handle that guilt?"

            SSW is about a contract assassin who believes himself to be working in the employ of the CIA. In the days before Christmas, he is summoned to Columbus, Ohio to kill a visiting dignitary, but the job itself becomes the easiest part of his mission. More complicated is his personal mandate to "level the scales" after (or during) each and every job. This time, the opportunity presents itself in the form of a single father trying to wrestle with gambling debts while raising two daughters; the youngest of whom--Genevieve--is the only witness to "Santa's Secret Weapon," if only in the sense that she's heard him, not seen him, since no assassin can afford to be known, recognized, or otherwise observed.

            To keep her from becoming a liability, she has only heard his voice, pitched differently to simulate Christmas elves named "Mr. Smith" and "Mr. Wesson."

            In this excerpt, we arrive in the midst of the climax, after Boorman learns that his "handler" intended to sell him out after this, his last job. This revelation is no "spoiler" since we learn of the impending betrayal early in the story. The more immediate question is how he's going to keep this child's father from being thrown off a rooftop, while maintaining virtual invisibility.



An Excerpt from:

Santa's Secret Weapon



"On second thought," he told Hudson, "get up. You pack my stuff, so I can keep an eye on you."

As Hudson set to his given task, Boorman returned to the window, arriving in time to see someone on the street running toward the building from the east. Once, the person slipped on the ice and went sprawling, but got up in admirable time to continue without the slightest sense of caution. It could be nothing, or it could be one of any number of assassins sent to box him in.

By chance, his eyes fell briefly to the windowsill, where the toothpick still rested over the thimble, one end up in the air and the other down.

Forget it, he thought. There's no need, this time. It was time to get out of here, to go home, pick up his own boy, give him a kiss, throw him in the car and vanish into new lives.

He glanced back to see Hudson gathering various items and putting them into the small bag they'd originally come from. There was just enough room in it for the disguises of the priest and history professor, rolled tightly enough. Sown into the lining of the latter disguise's jacket were his three passports and forty grand in cash. He was still wearing the maintenance coverall he'd grabbed and stuffed into the Santa suit before climbing out the window at the Convention Center. He'd changed clothes inside the Dumpster, set a quick bandage in place made of some paper towels he'd grabbed from the same maintenance closet as the coverall, and then hauled himself out of the trash (or lack thereof), limping away.

Now, down on the snowy street, a Cadillac was pulling up to the stop sign at the intersection of an otherwise deserted street, and Boorman recognized it immediately. From its backseat emerged two individuals, a man and a woman--No, wait a minute: it was her. The older daughter of the guy they were about to throw off the roof two floors above his own.

Boorman watched them both walk toward the corner. Apparently, the right angle wasn't available from inside the car. Her escort wanted his companion to see the show about to take place in her honor.

Boorman looked down at the Browning in his hand, feeling by the weight that it was loaded; an effort by Hudson to reassure him until Coyle and his tracker-conclave could move in.

You passed out, Boorman reminded himself. That's how they got you. "Are we good," he asked Hudson without turning from the window.

"You're done. Your plane is waiting. I want to say I'm sorry we ended on a down note, but--"

Boorman turned and shot him, but the mark was a little off and the bullet only tore back Hudson's shoulder--fortunately the shoulder attached to the arm of his own gun hand. The long-nosed .38 fell to the floor with a dull thud and mercifully didn't discharge, even though Boorman never doubted the safety was off.

Still standing, Hudson's face went bleached-white with the realization that this wasn't going to end the way he'd planned, with his enrichment via CIA cash. As Boorman proceeded to limp away from the window, his ex-handler started to babble, "I was just going ... I was just ... I didn't ...." Boorman put him out with the butt of the Browning and brought the curtains down over Hudson, at least for the time being.

Laying the gun on the table, he then set to looking for something warm to wear. His coat was still at the Commerce building, but there was the possibility of pulling off Hudson's, as long as he was willing to withstand the pain it would require to kneel down and get it. As he made the attempt, he felt two of his stitches open and groaned in pain. The silver lining was the closer proximity of Hudson's .38, which he grabbed.

Fighting against the waning effects of the morphine, he stood and hustled to the closet, where the rifle was stored. To the god of assassins, Boorman offered a prayer of thanks for the fact that his hands worked just fine, even if the legs couldn't say the same. Forced to build the rifle with only one would've likely translated into one dead father and his teenage daughter. That meant Genevieve, the little one, would end up in foster care.

To her advantage, it took him less time to put it together than it had on the cold, snowy rooftop last night during unintentional rehearsals for his role as the patsy.

Hitting the lights on the way back to the window, he plunged the room into darkness and hoped he wasn't too late already. He wasn't, but he would need to kneel again to line up the shot, and that act cost him two more sutures. Biting his lip, Boorman actually drew blood, but didn't slow in his efforts to lift the window. Eye to the scope and breath drawn in, Boorman focused on the forehead of the goon holding the arm of (Name's) teenage daughter. She was crying (and not as a result of the cold wind), both of them looking up to the rooftop above him.

Good. That meant there was still time.

He let out half of the breath, finger tightening on the trigger, but stopped short of pulling it. A noise ... somewhere behind him? He listened, trying to keep his trigger finger from shaking in response to the fresh wound in his back.

A voice? Not Hudson's; it was too soon. Was it his own breathing? "Figure it out later," he suggested aloud, and then took another deep breath, again letting out only half of it.

The sound of buckling tin from somewhere far distant serenaded his kill-shot to the girl's captor, but when both of them went down, Boorman thought for one icy second he might've gotten the girl instead. They'd both fallen backwards and out of view behind the Caddy's front end.

Immediately, the driver's door flew open and the driver got out, running around the front to see what had happened to his partner. Boorman's second shot caught him in the back of the head, just as the girl was starting to rise.

That just happened right in front of her, Boorman thought, and sure enough, once the driver fell from his view, he could see she was covered in his blood and screaming. But alive.

In the silence of the room, he stood, listening deeply and carefully for the sound almost causing a tragic distraction. There was no buckling sound inside the ductwork running along the ceiling, not anymore, but now he could hear a voice, tinny and far away, but echoing through the ventilation duct like haunting words mixed with sobs.

"Mis-er-esson ... missersmif ... mistresson ... missawiff."   

Mr. Wesson. Mr. Smith. Nonsense only a child would believe. Nevertheless, she was calling for him.

Boorman held onto the rifle and returned to the unconscious Hudson one final time, bending to relieve the man of his cell phone. By the time he stood, there were no more sutures left to keep the blood from flowing once again. The Santa coat was laying on the table, the blood stains only visible against the red material if you were standing close enough to observe them under good light. Fortunately, the light in the corridor was terrible, therefore it'd be practical to put it on before he went up to the rooftop, in case anybody saw him along the way. The light in that hallway was so bad, someone passing him might not even notice the blood, or his eyes, if the hat's cuff of white fur was pulled down over the brows.

Hudson hadn't called Coyle yet, according to the sent-log in his phone, probably because the handler wanted to hand over his valuable catch in some other location, in order to maintain the secrecy of this safe-house apartment.

Nearly tearing up from the pain, he pulled on the Santa coat, then the hat. Unfortunately, he'd ditched the beard in ductwork while crawling through when the wound was fresh and he was in rapid danger of losing consciousness.

"Mr. Smith! Mr. Wesson! The muggers are gonna kill my daddy!"

Two units away to the east, he realized, on his way out the door. Shouldering the rifle, he left the apartment with no more than a glance in either direction. He could hear her somewhere in the ductwork as he passed beneath one of the hallway vent-grills. Stopping for one last listen, he could plainly hear crying now.

Putting the elf-like pitch into his voice, he called up to the grill, "Don't worry, Genevieve! Santa sent his secret weapon all the way from the North Pole to get rid of those muggers once and for all."

He was gone long before she could've scrambled to that specific vent-grill in order to see Mr. Wesson, in the flesh; not that she would've ever been foolish enough to try. She knew the rules. Like "Mr. Smith" had told her yesterday from around the corner of one of those same ventilation tunnels, "his kind" vanish whenever spotted by humans.

Keep the faith, little girl, he thought, pulling open the stairwell door leading to the roof.

 The last thing he heard as the door whispered closed behind him ... was nothing--no vent-tunnel tin buckling beneath the weight of a small child, no crying. It was the sound of nothing but the hope of the innocent in the face of disaster, and it was all the motivation he needed to get her gambling-degenerate father off that roof alive.