A picture could never do justice to downtown Raton at Christmastime. Travelling north on Main, one is treated to the twinkling glow of multi-colored Christmas lights lining the street and adorning the well-kept storefronts, all nestled under the imposing, snow-covered mountains and mesas that separate New Mexico from Colorado. At this late hour on Christmas Eve the view was unspoiled by the presence of people and vehicles. Most folks were at home with family and friends, celebrating and looking forward to the magic of Christmas morning.
Despite the charm of downtown Raton, Daryl Washburn wasn't in a mood to appreciate it as he trudged up Main past the Christmas tree in Ripley Park. He was having a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit this year. Daryl, along with his wife and twin daughters, had moved to Raton almost two years earlier. He had taken a job at the Cimarron underground coal mining operation, but was recently laid off when the company shut the mine down. Daryl had been looking for work ever since, living off of his severance pay and doing any odd jobs he could find. His truck needed a transmission, he was a month behind with the rent, the kids were outgrowing clothing and shoes rapidly, and his wife Sara had recently quit working at the Loaf-n-Jug because of the advanced state of her pregnancy. It was going to be a lean Christmas for the Washburns.
As Daryl turned up towards Sugarite and the north part of town, he stopped to adjust the armload of packages he was carrying. These packages were all the presents the Washburns would get this Christmas. He'd gotten a winter coat and a doll for each of the twins, slippers and a ten-dollar pair of earrings for Sara, and a small turkey for Christmas dinner.
"Not much, but better than nothing." he mumbled to himself as he continued on his way towards home. He had hoped to buy more, but he'd lost the money to do so. It was his own fault. Daryl had figured on saving a few bucks on a Christmas tree by just cutting his own from up on the Old Pass Road. The tree turned out to be a very expensive one indeed, after the property owner had him arrested and the judge socked him with a three hundred dollar fine.
"If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all," he'd told the judge.
Despite his current run of bad luck, Daryl refused to let go of his lifelong dream. He wanted to own his own small business. Ever since high school Daryl had been interested in computers and the way they would change the way Americans lived, worked, and played. He figured that with the right computer equipment and software, he could offer a variety of services from his own home, starting off part-time as he worked a regular job and building up to a full time endeavor.
Back home in Kentucky, he had followed in his father's footsteps and worked in the coal mines. Unfortunately, the coal mining business back east was mediocre, at best. Just as he would begin to earn enough money to start saving for his dream, the lay-offs would come. When he did return to work, it was all he could manage just to pay the bills that had piled up while he was laid off. He jumped at the chance to work in the New Mexico mine. He worked hard, was well liked, and saved every penny he could. Just as he'd caught up on paying moving expenses, Sara discovered she was pregnant again. Then the Cimarron mine closed down, and Daryl was out of work again.
As Daryl made his way through the crisp Raton winter night he didn't notice the gay decorations, the twinkling lights, or the sweet smell of burning cedar and pinon that wisped up from every fireplace. His mind was so cluttered by his own problems he didn't even notice the struggling figures under the railroad underpass, until he was right on top of them. A feeble cry for help jolted his senses back to the here and now.
"Help me somebody! Please, don't do this."
Not ten feet in front of Daryl was an old man dressed as Santa Claus, lying on the ground, pleading with three youths who were kicking him as he lay defenseless.
"Come on, old man. Give us your money or we'll hurt you bad."
"Yeah, you fat old coot. Give up the cash."
"Please, I don't have any money. Leave me alone. I'm late; I've got to get going. Don't you boys believe in Santa Claus?"
"Sure, we believe in Santa, don't we guys? You'd better believe in God, cause your gonna need him if you don't hand over your wallet." The young thug punctuated his words with a kick to the old man's ribs.
As the ugly scene unfolded before his eyes, all of Daryl's sadness and frustration turned to rage. "Things like this don't happen in Raton, especially not on Christmas Eve," he thought angrily. He dropped his packages and rushed toward the old man and his assailants.
"Hey! You punks leave that old man alone."
Startled, the youths turned to face Daryl. While the three only looked to be only sixteen or seventeen, their eyes had the hollow look of hungry wolves closing in for the kill. Daryl had fought his share of fights, but a chill ran down his spine as he wondered if he could handle this bunch alone. The old man in the Santa suit didn't look to be in much shape to help out, and Daryl thought furiously for a way to get out of this in one piece. He thought, "When in doubt, bluff".
"I've had a bad day, boys. Why don't you just go on your way and save me the trouble of giving you the whipping your daddies should have."
The youths only laughed. "What have we here, a concerned citizen? Why don't you just keep on walking, mister? Hurry, before we stomp on you like we did old Santa Bum there."
The closest youth let fly a large ball of spit that found its mark on Daryl's face.
"That tears it..." Daryl launched his right fist directly into the nose of the spitter, causing him to fall to the ground holding his bleeding, broken, nose between his hands. Daryl then turned to face the other two thugs, but before he could lash out again he felt a sharp pain shoot through his head, then another, and another, and another.
"So much for bluffing...," he thought as the world went black.
As Daryl began to regain his senses, he felt like every part of his body was in pain. His head felt like ten thousand little men were using jackhammers on it, from the inside. He tried to get up, but collapsed as the world began to spin around him.
"By golly, I was starting to think that you were dead, son."
Daryl opened his eyes, and once they regained focus he saw the face of a white bearded old man studying him. The old man's white hair and beard were matted with blood from his nose and split lip. His blue eyes twinkled with the reflected light of the street-lamps, though the tissue around them was red and swollen.
"Wha... what happened. I feel as bad as you look."
"Just take it easy son. Those boys gave you a pretty good beating. Sorry, but you don't look so good yourself, you kinda remind me of ten miles of bad road." The old man chuckled, then became serious again. "You saved me from those whippersnappers, and I sure thank you. I'm sorry you had to take a beating on my account. You broke that one fella's nose pretty good, and I'll bet the others really hurt their hands on your head." He chuckled again.
"Don't make me laugh, old man. It hurts too much. Who the hell are you anyway?"
"Don't you recognize me?"
Daryl sat up and studied the old man. He had taken a bit of a beating himself, and his red Santa suit was soiled and torn.
"Sorry, I don't. Maybe if you took off the Santa outfit."
The old man's massive belly shook as he laughed. "It's no costume, son. I'm the real thing. I'm Kris Kringle."
"Yeah right. I'm serious, laughing kind of hurts right now. Help me up and I'll walk you to the police station."
"Oh, no, no. That won't do at all. I've still got a lot of ground to cover tonight. I'm late, I must get going."
"Don't be silly. The police department is just a few blocks away. Let me just get my stuff and I'll walk over there with you. I'm O.K. Nothing broken or anything."
Daryl turned to retrieve his packages.
"I'm sorry, old timer. Things like this usually don't happen around here. Those young punks should be.... Wait! Where's my packages! Those little so and so's stole my Christmas presents and my turkey!"
Daryl's hand shot to his rear pocket. "They stole my wallet too! Of all the bad luck. I knew I should have minded my own business. Did you see which way they went?"
Daryl turned to face the old Santa. "I asked you if you saw which way they... Old man?"
Daryl's gaze fell on an empty street. The old man in the Santa suit was nowhere to be seen.
"Just great. I get my butt whipped, my wallet stolen, lose my Christmas presents and Christmas dinner, and that crazy old man just wanders off. OLD MAN, COME BACK!" Daryl hollered in frustration.
Once he realized that the Santa was indeed gone, he began to rant, rave, and hit the concrete sides of the underpass. I can't repeat his words in mixed company. Suddenly, Daryl's ranting words were drowned out by a piercing, WHOOP, WHOOP. As Daryl turned towards the sound, the bright beam of the police spotlight blinded him.
"Now you guys show up."
Later, the police cruiser pulled up slowly in front of Daryl's house.
"Thanks for the ride, guy. I appreciate it."
The police officer leaned towards the passenger side door.
"No problem. Sorry about the hard time we gave you tonight. You've got to admit, you were acting pretty crazy, and your story sounded even crazier. Santa getting mugged… I can't remember the last time Raton had a mugging, let alone on Santa Claus. Merry Christmas to you."
"Yeah, some Christmas. Thanks again, officer."Daryl's mood had improved somewhat, but as he approached his front door he was filled with sadness. Christmas was ruined. He'd lost his presents for Sara and the kids, he'd lost Christmas dinner, and he'd lost the little money he had left.
"Darn crazy old man probably deserved to be mugged. Should have just minded my own business."
Sara was awake. The police had called and assured her that he was all right, but Daryl could tell that she had been crying. Daryl fell into her arms.
"I'm sorry babe."
His wife smiled sadly, "No use crying over spilled milk. Come on to bed and tell me all about it."
Sara and Daryl checked in on the kids before retiring to their bedroom. Daryl thought to himself how sweet and innocent his daughters looked.
"It's not fair that a bunch of young punks and a crazy old man should ruin their Christmas. It's just not fair."
As he lay in his bed, Sara stroking the hair on his forehead, Daryl relived the events of the night. Sara was silent after he finished. For a moment neither spoke, then Daryl broke down and began to cry.
"I'm so sorry, Sara. I've ruined Christmas. When will I ever learn? I'm just a born loser. You and the kids would be better off without me."
Sara took Daryl's head into her small hands and looked him in the eye. Daryl could see anger behind her ocean blue eyes, and he turned away.
"Here it comes," he thought to himself.
"You listen here, Mr. Daryl Washburn. You're no loser and I love you very much. I won't have such talk. You're a good husband and father. The twins adore you and I hope this little package I'm carrying now will be a boy... and I hope he grows up to be just like his daddy. You did the right thing tonight. You couldn't just stand by and watch a poor helpless old man get beaten and robbed. I'm proud of you, and I'll not tolerate any more self-pity. You didn't ruin Christmas, and neither did that old man or those terrible young hoodlums. Christmas has nothing to do with money, or turkeys, or presents. You're safe, you have a family that loves you, and we're together. What more could anyone ask for?"
Daryl raised his head and looked at his wife, tears welling in her eyes, proudly defiant. She never looked more beautiful.
"I love you, Sara."
"Turn out the light, darling. Tomorrow is another day."
The excited screams of Daryl's twin daughters woke him after it seemed he had just fallen asleep.
"Daddy! Mommy! Wake up! It's Christmas!" Molly and Millie jumped into the bed, then back out, too excited to stay still.
"O.K. girls, go on downstairs. Daddy and I will be down in a minute. We need to talk to you."
Millie ran out, Molly close on her heals.
"Can we open our presents, Mommy?" they pleaded on the way out.
The girls were gone in a flash, saving Daryl and Sara the difficult answer.
"I guess we'd better get it over with."
Arms around each other, Daryl and Sara walked down the stairs, each dreading having to face their daughters empty handed on Christmas morning. Daryl's heart was almost torn to shreds when he saw the confused, worried look on the faces of his girls as they searched the house for presents they knew had to be somewhere.
"Santa didn't come, did he?" Millie's eyes were filling with tears.
Molly was more optimistic. "Maybe he's playing a trick on us. Kinda like the Easter Bunny does." Her voice didn't sound confident.
Daryl started to speak, but the words wouldn't come. Sara took charge, wiping her tear soaked eyes. "Girls, let's sit down and talk..."
The ringing of the doorbell gave Sara a reprieve.
"Who could that be? Get the door Daryl, I need to put something on." She streaked up the stairs.
When Daryl opened the door, he almost had a stroke. The police officer who had helped him the night before was standing on the porch, and he seemed to have the entire police department with him… and the fire department as well.
"Uh... Merry Christmas officer... er... officers. Can I help you?" Daryl's voice was meek, indeed.
"Sorry to bother you at home, sir. But we figured you would want this stuff."
He handed Daryl a few packages.
"I believe that these were the items stolen from you last night."
Daryl was dumbfounded. "How did you find them?"
"Well sir, the punks that stole it from you turned themselves in, and brought their loot with them. It seems they had a good night robbing citizens and looting businesses, but met up with some guy dressed in a Santa suit who scared the bejabbers out of them. They were so scared of the guy that they confessed to about three dozen robberies and burglaries, committed over that last month. They asked us to protect them by putting them in jail. Go figure."
"Daryl, why is the whole police department here?" Sara joined her husband at the door, her eyes wide with wonder.
"And the fire department too, ma'am," piped the policeman, "We needed some help in getting all your other stuff over here."
Now Daryl was confused. "What stuff? This is all I had, except for a turkey."
"We got your turkey too, sir. It wasn't in such good shape though, so these guys and I all chipped in to get you this one." The officer snapped his fingers, and a young fireman stepped forward and handed Daryl a thirty-pound Butterball.
Sara's eyes were beginning to get moist again. "Thank you all so much, but what is all that other stuff?"
"Well ma'am, that's a funny thing. We figured that you all needed a few more toys for your kids, so we went to load up the SWAT wagon with our leftover Toys-for-Tots stuff. When we opened the door of the wagon, we found a bunch of Christmas packages, all with your names on them. The darn wagon was so full of stuff; we had to call the fire department to help us deliver it to you. I don't even want to think about how it all got there. We see lots of weird stuff in our line of work. I quit asking questions a long time ago."
As Daryl and Sara stood and stared, jaws dropped to their chests, the police and firemen formed a bucket line and began passing brightly wrapped packages to each other, and into the house. Molly and Millie began tearing the wrappings off at once, their delighted screams filling the paper-strewn air. It took most of the morning to unwrap all of the presents. There were toys and clothing for the twins, as well as for the little one on the way. There were grown-up presents as well. Sara got the set of books she wanted, the complete works of Stephen King. Daryl got a state-of-the-art computer, along with a printer, assorted software, and a book: How to Make Money at Home With Your PC. Daryl's dream seemed within his reach once again.
"Yes, tomorrow is another day," he thought to himself.
Later that evening, Daryl laid back in the easy chair. The combination of all the excitement of the last day, and a great turkey dinner, had exhausted him. He didn't try to rationalize the events of the day… that could be done later, after a good night's sleep. For now, he was content at admitting that Christmas was indeed a magical day. He got up and went to the kitchen to turn off the lights. Sara had already gone up to bed, and he was anxious to snuggle up in a nice warm bed. He flipped the switch and returned to the living room.
"I told you I was running late."
The voice made Daryl jump. Sitting in Daryl's easy chair, smoking a pipe, was a chubby little old man with a white beard. His red suit was soiled and torn. His eyes had a twinkle that made Daryl recognize him at once.
"You'd better go up to your wife now, son."
Before Daryl could speak a word, he was gone. He rubbed his eyes, not sure of their accuracy.
"I'd better get some sleep," he mumbled as he trudged up the stairs, checked in on the girls and went to his bedroom. Sara was still awake, gazing out the window at the moon rising over Johnson Mesa.
"This is a magical town," she whispered.
"Yes, it is."
Sara turned to face him. There was a mysterious glow in her eyes. "There's one more present for you."
"You mean Molly and Millie missed one?"
"No dear." Her eyes were laughing.
Daryl wasn't that tired. He reached out to embrace her.
Sara began to giggle.
"Yes. I think it's time to go to the hospital."