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                      The Great Employee

                                    by Don Urbanus

     It was the week before Christmas when a tall man in a dark blue suit and red tie stepped suddenly into the store at Rising Sun Nursery. He stood near the entrance and seemed to survey the layout. With his black sunglasses and chiseled features, he reminded me of your typical secret service agent.  I chuckled.  Most of our customers do not wear suits.  He was probably just a tourist from the city.  He put his finger to his ear and I realized he was listening to someone. The discreet bulge under his suit now appeared to be a holster.  Was this a robbery?  Trying not to panic, I slowly eyed the phone and started casually drifting toward it when he stepped toward me.
     “Mr. Urbanus? Mr. Don Urbanus?”  “Yes,” I said cautiously, “Can I help you with anything?”
     “Do you love Christmas, Don? I can call you Don?” he asked, staring at me with those glasses so dark, I couldn’t see his eyes.
     “Sure, sure. Um, yeah, I love Christmas.  Who doesn’t?”  He looked around briefly and then leaned over confidentially, “You’d be surprised, Don.” He stared at me as if trying to decide something.
     I chuckled nervously and said, “Do you need……….?”                "What I need,” he said, interrupting me, “Is your help in a matter of grave importance to the world. But I need your word, your word, that you won’t tell another soul.”
     Not really sure what was going on I decided to humor him, “You’ve got it. I won’t tell anyone, Mr.…..?”
     “The name’s Nick Jr.”  He sighed deeply as if a big weight had been lifted from him and then put his finger to his ear and said, “This is code green. Santa is coming to town. I repeat, Santa is coming to town.” He looked back at me for a moment and then started talking like we were old friends. “O.K., this is the deal, Don. Santa has been kind of depressed lately. Getting stuck up at the North Pole, the responsibility and everything, I’m sure you can understand.”  He paused briefly and looked at me.
     “Sure, Nick, sure.  I can understand that,” I said, shaking my head vigorously.  “Good,” he continued, “Santa needs a break, frankly. He’s been hitting the Peppermint Schnapps a little too heavy if you know what I mean.  And then we have Christmas coming up in just a week.  I don’t think he’s ready.  He’s just not with the Christmas spirit. This is where you come in.”
     I was tempted to call his bluff, surely my friend, Chris, had something to do with this, but then I remembered the time the President called and I hung up on him. I really wasn’t ready to visit Cuba again, so I just shook my head and listened.
     “Santa wants a part-time job at your nursery.  Don’t worry about the paperwork. We have a deal with the IRS. Anyway, he always wanted to work in a retail nursery and be around flowers and stuff. I mean, Don, think of it at the North Pole. The snow. The ice. Pretty boring, don’t you think?”
     “Oh, I don’t know, depends how cute the girl elves are,” I joked.  He didn’t laugh.  I frowned. “O.K., so Santa wants to work here for what, a couple days, a week?”
     “I’m hoping just a few hours will do the trick,” Nick said, and he nodded toward the parking lot where a very large man with a white beard was being helped out of a van by two men dressed just like Nick. The old man had on huge blue jeans with rolled up cuffs and a big red plaid shirt. He waddled up to me and held out his hand.
     “Thank-you so much for the opportunity, Don. You don’t know how much this means to me.”
     “No problem,” I said, as he firmly gripped my hand, “It’s the least I could do, uh….‘Joe’ “.
     With that he pealed off a loud laugh which turned his nose and cheeks cherry red and then he winked at me and set off toward a customer looking at some of our live Christmas trees. Within minutes he made a sale. More cars started pulling into the driveway and before we knew it there was a mad rush for anything to do with Christmas. My employees couldn’t keep up with all the customers so I asked Nick if he could help load the lady in the red pickup and his “friends” loaded the man with the blue car.  Joe or Santa, or whoever he was seemed to know the answers to everything! Boy, what an employee!  Finally, the last customer waved and smiled and said “Merry Christmas.”  We sat in the store, exhausted, while Judy started counting the checks and cash.
     Nick opened the door and leaned in.  “Don, we’ve got to get back now. ‘Joe’ is feeling much better.  I think Christmas is going to come off without a hitch.  Thanks.  We’ll be in touch.”
     I hopped out of my chair and ran after Nick.  “Nick, wait!  Do you think Joe would be interested in working in the springtime when we…….”, but the van was gone.  Everyone was gone.  The sun was sinking low and I caught a gleam off something heading north.  Must be an airplane, I thought.


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