“Perfect!” Bailey mumbled to himself. The empty parking space next to the side entrance of the downtown community center suited his needs. He eased his car into it.
Twisting to look in his back seat, he checked to make sure the doors weren’t locked. He didn’t want to mess around unlocking them if he had to stash the loot in a hurry.
Satisfied, he opened his door and swung one leg out. The sight of his thick thigh in a green leotard stopped him briefly, but the black pointed shoes that came with the outfit brought his lopsided grin and reminded him of the makeup on his face.
Bailey sat back to check it in the visor’s mirror. White face paint accented the rosy circles on his cheeks. A fringe of red beard along his jaw and almost completed the disguise. He didn’t expect to run into anyone he knew on this side of town, but, if he did, he was sure they’d never recognize him.
After stepping from the car, he scanned the parking lot. Although every space was full, no one was around. Reaching into the back seat, he grabbed the wad of black plastic garbage bags. He unbuckled the costume’s wide, black belt and stuffed the bags under it to make a belly. He adjusted the bundle so he could retrieve a bag easily, then redid the belt to hold them in place. After slapping on the green felt hat with the jingle bell tip, he felt ready.
When he entered the building, he found himself in a storage area. Bags and boxes of toys cluttered the floor. A line of tables in the center of the room held piles of stuffed animals, dolls, action figures, and games. Obviously, this was where the donations were sorted.
Bailey tip-toed around the table to listen at the door to the main room. A babble of voices told him a big crowd gathered for this party with Santa. The sweet aroma of pancakes, syrup, and sausage said breakfast was still underway. Bailey’s uneven grin spread across his face. Everybody was busy. He’d be able to fill his bags and move them out before anyone saw him.
He grinned again as he realized that it wouldn’t matter if they did see him. Because of his costume, he looked like he belonged there. Didn’t Santa always have elves hanging around? Of course he did!
Bailey slid a bag from the stash under his tunic and set to work. He selected toys with good resale value—teddy bears, dolls, trucks, and cars. His bag was almost full when the door to the main hall swung open. Bailey stiffened.
A tiny woman in an elf outfit appeared, dragging a clear garbage bag full of crumpled napkins and paper plates. “Nice outfit,” she said. “It looks familiar.” She chuckled at her joke.
Bailey swallowed to control his panic. He reminded himself that he knew this would happen. All he had to do was pretend he should be there. He asked, “Do you want me to take that out?”
She pushed the bag at him. “Sure. Thanks.”
Bailey grabbed her bag and his. This is terrific, he thought. She thinks my bag’s full of garbage. The plan’s working.
Outside, he threw the real garbage into the dumpster and hauled his bag to his car. As he dug for the keys to his trunk, a battered truck pulled into the lot.
Quickly, Bailey tossed his loot in the back seat. Planning ahead saved him again!
The truck stopped behind his car. The driver called to him. “I’ve got some toys for the kids. Can you take them in?”
“Sure,” Bailey answered.
The woman handed him a sack, said, “Merry Christmas!” and drove off.
Bailey waited until the truck turned onto the street, then he opened his car’s trunk and dropped her donations inside.
When he returned to the building, he had the sorting room to himself. He grabbed what he wanted and deposited the bag in his trunk. After that, volunteers buzzed in and out of the little room. When someone was with him, he pretended to separate donations. When he was alone, he returned to his personal project.
As he carried the third bag out to his car, he gloated over how much money he’d make reselling the stuff at discount prices. He had just opened the trunk and was wondering if he could fit this bag in with the other one when he heard someone yell, “Wait! I’ll help you.”
Bailey turned and discovered Santa jogging up to him. Santa’s belly wobbled back and forth and up and down. The sight made Bailey’s lopsided grin spread cross his face.
Santa reached into the trunk and lifted both of Bailey’s bags. “I’ll take these.”
This was a great story for the holiday season. I loved it.
Surprise, surprise! Merry Christmas! I love this story, great twist, with a holiday theme. Gotta love the elf costume! The story read smooth as silk. Bravo!!