Part Five: Secrets Uncovered
Blair nodded as he listened to Jim's directions, then picked up a medium block of wood. He held it tightly between his hands and closed his eyes in concentration. Truck, he thought, truck. He opened his eyes. Despite the rough carving, it did, indeed, look like a truck.
"Not bad," Jim said. "But of course, it needs a lot of work."
"It doesn't need any work, Jim," Blair answered. "Remember, I'm making these just for show. We agreed that I'd use magic to make in-progress toys, so it looks like you're doing a lot of work and you'd have time to check out Santa. I'll make this a little sharper and knock out a few more. The puppy pull-toys are next, but then I gotta get back to the kitchen." With that, he ran his hand over the truck, carving out more detail. "So," he said as he picked up the next block of wood, "tell me what you've found."
Blair watched as Jim carefully polished a large spinning top he'd made. He was using a very fine grit as he sanded the varnish he'd already applied, preparing the toy for another coating. Jim smoothed it with his hand and Blair wondered how it felt to sentinel fingers.
Jim put the top on his worktable and looked at Blair. "You're two for two so far, Chief. The good news is every elf within my hearing is happy with your menu changes. Last night's sushi was a hit and the early shift loved your breakfast frittata."
He sighed. "The bad news is you're right about Santa. I watched him through cracks in the rafters as he walked around the factory floor. He grunted a lot and didn't say much, except 'get back to work'. Even when he complimented someone, it's was half-hearted. He smokes those cigars all the time. Some of the elves are coughing, but he doesn't seem to notice. He wore his pajamas and robe all day instead of daytime clothes and it looked like he hadn't combed his hair."
"He's neglecting himself," Blair said. "Did you find out why?"
"I think he's missing his family. I listened when he went to his room. He was sighing a lot, so I piggy-backed my sight on my hearing. He was holding a picture of them. Then he put it down and stormed out--he almost ran me over. I got a good whiff as he went past--Chief, there's something off about his scent."
"What do you mean?"
"He's sick. I don't smell a disease," Jim added quickly when he saw Blair's alarmed face. "I think it's… like despair. And he smells like he's not eating enough, either."
"Hmm," Blair said thoughtfully. "I'll find out from the kitchen elves what he eats. Oh, god, I forgot! I've got to start on tonight's feast."
"Why're we having a feast?"
"It's St. Nicholas Eve. Every year, Santa dresses up like him, you know, with the pointy hat and staff. He carries a sack of Pfeffernüsse to hand out and there's lots of food and dancing." Blair put the toys he'd made on a shelf. "Great work, Jim. With all your intel, we'll fix Santa in no time. Keep your eyes and ears open. See you at dinner!" With that he was gone.
By eight, the party was in full swing. The night shift couldn't attend, but they rotated in and out during their breaks. Blair and the other kitchen elves were grinning--they'd received compliments on the how the food looked and tasted. But the best comments were about the drinks.
In one corner, suspended in mid-air, were three cut-glass punchbowls, floating up and down and rotating around each other as if in dance. In one bowl was eggnog, topped generously with nutmeg and flavored with a good slosh of bourbon. The second held a berry-lemonade punch, made sparkling by the addition of Prosecco. The third was a hot drink, steam rising from the dark liquid. It was this third one that the majority seemed to favor--many of them returned to refill their glasses with the brew.
"What is thish stuff," a slightly tipsy elf asked Blair. "It's the besh!" he declared.
"Mulled wine," Blair answered, smiling. "It's my mother's recipe."
A group formed a jazz quartet and started playing. Elves all over the room were dancing; their skill commensurate with their state of inebriation.
Just then the doors opened, and Santa walked in, wearing the full St. Nicholas regalia. It took some moments for anyone to notice him. "What the hell is going on here?" he shouted. "Is everyone drunk?" He looked around. "Where's the kitchen staff?"
Blair and the others walked slowly towards Santa as the room full of now-silent elves looked on. "What were you thinking of?" Simon questioned loudly. "These workers have to be ready to go on first shift and they can't work with hangovers. Who's responsible for this debacle?"
Blair stepped forward. "It's my fault Santa. I just thought--"
"You just didn't think," Simon cut him off. "You're new here, aren't you? I don't think you're the right fit for the kitchen. Maybe not even for the Workshop." Blair bowed his head, praying he wouldn't embarrass himself by crying.
"Wait, Santa," a voice spoke up. Jim walked over to stand next to Blair. "It's my fault. I was helping with the menu and thought it would be a good idea for everyone to cut loose a little, before the big push to Christmas." He hung his head. "I'm sorry, sir."
Simon looked at him. "You're new, too. In the woodshop, yes?" Jim nodded. "Well, I'll be inspecting your work personally in the morning. We'll see if you're worth keeping here." He looked around. "Well, I guess there's nothing wrong with a little celebrating. Just don't make it too late," he added begrudgingly.
Without another word, Simon threw the sack of Pfeffernüsse on a nearby table and walked out.