The Santa Race, by SL4ever

Chapter One

"One more case ahead of you." Arturo remarked.

A 15 year old boy stood. The prosecutor read the charges. "Driving without a license. Operating a stolen vehicle. Stealing a vehicle. Driving 178 mph in a 25 mph school zone. Passing a stopped school bus. Running into a police car just beyond the school bus. Destroying police property."

Wade and Quinn exchanged a wince. Remmy shook his head ruefully. "They're going to put this kid UNDER the prison! Maybe the judge will get his ya-yas off on this one and give us a break."

"How do you plead?" The judge demanded.

The boy shrugged. "One hundred and fifty percent absolutely darn tooting not smegging guilty."

"In that case I have no choice but to find for you. You may go. Sorry for this inconvenience."

"This judge is a pushover, we're cool!" Wade gushed.

The bailiff eyed the Sliders. "Next case! The state versus Brown, Mallory, and Welles."

The Sliders stepped forward. The prosecutor read the paper, whitened, and then glanced around the courtroom worriedly. "Your honor, may I approach the bench? I don't think these charges should be read in an open courtroom."

Impatiently, the Judge motioned him forward. He took the paper from the prosecutor. As he read the paper his eyes bulged from his head. "Holy Crap! Bailiff, clear the courtroom except for the principals in this case!"

The Sliders frowned at each other as security forced everyone out, including Arturo, who was not charged.

"This is not a good sign." Remmy muttered. "They didn't even clear the courtroom for the case involving the reindeer who murdered that old lady."

Wade nodded. "Or that fishsexual who was busted in the park. What is going on here?"

"Just stay calm guys. Nothing can be worse than last Christmas. This time the timer goes through December 27th, and nothing can be worse than Sliding all day Christmas." Quinn soothed.

The room was clear. The judge glared at them. "Which one of you committed this atrocity?"

Remmy was getting annoyed. "Look, all I said was that Santa could kiss my ass."

The security guards gasped in unison. There was a meaty thud as one of them fainted.

"Look, it might not be PC but someone said 'Good Santa Luck' and that reminded me of last Christmas, which was the worst one of my life. So my reply just came out. I didn't intend to offend anyone. Is there a fine for cursing or something? Just tell me how much it is and I'll pay-."

"SILENCE!!!" The Judge bellowed.

The courtroom was quiet.

The Judge finally composed himself, not without effort, and spoke again. "For this ... outrageous blasphemy ... I sentence you to 20 years hard labor in the maximum security elf camp. Your two companions, under the Guilty By Association Claus, are hearby sentenced to five years soft labor at the minimum security elf camp. Bailiff, get this filth out of my courtroom before I blow chunks."

"Well Santa can really kiss my ass now!" Remmy sniffled as he was being led out. Quinn growled for him to shut the smeg up.

They woke Remmy at 5am. He was led to the plastic mine, where he was forced to mine various colored plastic which would be melted down and formed into Tonka trucks, Legos, G.I. Joes, and Star Wars action figures. He dug with a salad shooter until noon, then he was led back up to the open air and given gingerbread men and gooseberry pudding for lunch. Or was it breakfast since it was his first meal of the day?

After lunchfast, he was taken to the Styrofoam fields, where he had to pick the material from Sty-bushes for the next six hours, or until he had filled sixty baskets, whichever came first. The Styrofoam would be used to package the toys Santa took to all the little boys and girls.

When that task was completed for the day, he was taken to the cafeteria and fed either apricot stew or Elf Buttons.

The rest of the day was his to do with as he saw fit. He could swim in the enchanted pool, but after watching the magic waters turn someone's ears into those of a donkey he declined to do that. He could climb the cherry tree and try to subsist of its delicious fruit, but the snake he encountered on his first climb was a horrid conversationalist, so that turned him off to that idea.

So mostly Remmy sat in his room and beat his head against the wall. That was the only thing that blocked out the interminable and unbearable Christmas carols that played 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If he heard Barry White perform "I'm Dreaming of a Barry White Christmas" or Garth Brooks sing "Jingle Bells, Batman Smells" ONE MORE F-ING time!!! ... well, it wasn't going to be pretty. Each song they played was horrid in its own special way.

The final thing that completed this hell on Earth existence was the guards. They were all elves. Two foot, six inch tall elves. But they were bad elves. They had been rejected from highly paid community interactive and PR jobs because of bad attitudes. This made them bitter and increased their bad attitudeness. They were mean little foul mouthed, endlessly bitter, sarcastic little pixies whose only surcease was making other people as miserable as they were. The worst part? They were armed with cattle prods, which they used at the slightest sign of disobedience ... or any and every short joke.

"Hey Crying >:-#!!" came a harsh, tiny little voice from the hallway.

Remmy paused from beating his head against the wall. "Yeah."

"Get your hot >:-# up! You have a >:-#-ing visitor!"

Feeling some elation for the first time in the five days he'd been here, Remmy hurriedly rose to his feet and followed the noxious imp guard.

He was led to the Candyland Visiting Room. Arturo was already seated on a candy bean bag chair. He'd torn a hole in it was eating candy corn when Remmy joined him.

"I came as quickly as I could." Arturo assured. "The forms you have to fill out to visit someone here are worse than Christmas layaway forms! It's maddening."

"Not as maddening as that horrid Porky Pig version of 'Blue Christmas' ... heard ten times a day," Remmy moaned.

"So things are bad, then?" Arturo asked sympathetically.

"Not really," Remmy replied dryly. "The other night a gang of Whos got drunk on whiskey made from lawn grass and rioted all night long. They eventually set fire to the toilet paper vending machine. It's still burning. Yesterday, Scrooge got shanked in the shower by Frosty the Snowman for uttering a 'glacial epithet.' Oh, and my cellmate is a 400 pound weight lifter who chews glass for fun and who's in for getting Rudolph the Reindeer hooked on cocaine."

Arturo shifted uncomfortably. "Um, well, it sounds like you're not bored then-."

"I WANT OUT, PROFESSOR!! NOW!!!! NOW, NOW, NOW, NOW!!!!!" Remmy screamed suddenly.

Arturo wrung his hands as he fought for a reply. "There doesn't seem to be an appeals process. I don't know what I can do-."

Remmy leaned forward, his eyes gleaming with teary madness. "You'd better think of something quick! A couple more days in here and I'll be a raving lunatic!"

The other man didn't offer the opinion that Remmy might already be one. "I'll exhaust all options. If worst comes to worst I can visit you when the timer is almost extinguished and Slide out with you. But in that case, it is either rescue you or rescue the other two. I obviously can't Slide out twice. This would mean leaving some of us behind in prison either way. This is not a decision I want to make."

"But they only have five years, and their place CAN'T be worse than this!" Remmy protested.

"But their only crime was standing next to you when you said ..." Arturo wisely stopped himself at the last second from repeating the obviously offensive words, " what you said! If I had been with you instead of in the bathroom I would be in prison with them! They're in there because of you! So you can see why it's a tough decision."

Remmy sagged. He wasn't broken down enough yet to not see the wisdom of his friend's words. "Well, maybe they can do something bad enough to get transferred here. So we can all be in the same place. Then we can all Slide out together."

"That is one option. But it is very risky. What if they don't allow me to bring in the timer? I tested them this time with a TV remote control and they allowed it, but it is still risky. What if Wade and Quinn do something too bad and get sentenced to death? Or to a harsher, different place? Is this a co-ed prison? What if they don't allow me to visit multiple offenders at the same time? There are a lot of questions. Research can answer some, but that will take time. And there will still be risk. Fortunately we have ten more days before we Slide."

"Fortunately for you. Jesus, ten more days in here and I'll be a total nutcase!"

"Allow me to continue to explore other options that might get you out sooner. So far most of my efforts have been trying to get in to see you and the others. I visit them next."

"Thanks man. I appreciate all you've done." Remmy sagged back in his chair and contemplated the prospect of as much as ten days of horror ahead of him. Or even more, if all of Arturo's efforts were in vain...

Chapter Two

"No, NO, NO!!! You put too much sugar on that plum, you stupid >:-#!!!" The elf griped, squeezing his cattle prod reflexively.

Wade cringed and lightened up on her plum sweetening. She had to do this every morning under the constant watchful eye of the elf standing on the table. The elf glared at Wade and then swept his baleful gaze across the other five people at the work table.

After a lunch of candied apples and roasted Welsh Rabbit, Wade had to spend five hours painting the white stripes on candy canes. If her lines drifted from geometric perfection, she was cursed and berated by her supervisor elf.

Evenings were free to do whatever she liked. When she discovered that she could earn "good time" in the tree ornament factory, she used every free second doing that. It involved making hideous plaster figurines. Each ten she made counted as a day served. It sounded like a no brainer, but the work was tedious and revolting at the same time. Tedious because the stockings had to be intricately carved. Revolting because when done correctly they were unbearably cute. Wade was working on a snowman wearing sunglasses and swimming trunks when the call came that she had a visitor.

Quinn spent his days on the male side of the minimum security elf camp. In the mornings he worked in the Nog farm. He checked each nest for eggs and collected the ones he found and loaded each filled basket on a truck, which would go to the distillery down the road where Eggnog was brewed. It was easy work, and he didn't mind it because he it allowed him to get some fresh air each morning.

After a lunch of Roast Beast he'd work in the light testing department. Each light had to Blink at least 75% of the time or it was rejected. It was too much to hope for that they would Blink all the time, the elf masters advised Quinn. All he knew is that after a couple hours of staring at lights ... waiting to see if they'd Blink ... things like the infield fly rule and Dianetics started making sense to him and he knew he was on the brink of madness.

He spent the evenings watching MacGyver and arguing with his cell mate over which was more likely ... Van Halen being able to keep a lead singer for more than one album or ANY of those bizarre MacGyver jury-rigs ever working in real life. Quinn didn't know which was worse, the horrid show or the ensuing arguments.

Quinn was arguing against being able to produce a "small" nuclear explosion with a 9 Volt battery, the stuff that makes a watch's hands glow in the dark, and cardboard when an elf rudely informed him he had a visitor.

"So how are you two getting along?" Arturo wanted to know.

"Fine." Wade mumbled.

"I'm in a living hell." Quinn sighed.

Wade's lips twisted. "Oh, we're telling the truth. In that case, I'm living in a nightmare even Tim Burton couldn't conceive of."

"If it is any consolation, I believe that Remmy is having a worse time." Arturo reported.

"That's a small consolation." Quinn responded snidely.

"How are we getting out of this?" Wade asked urgently.

Arturo threw up his hands in frustration. "I don't know, my dear. I've exhausted every legal remedy. The only thing that remains ..."

Quinn leaned forward. "There's another way. I've been talking to lay advocates and anyone else who seems sane. As you must know by now, this world is obsessed with Christmas."

"Really?" Arturo muttered dryly.

"Yes. As a matter of fact, they have the elected office of Santa Claus. A real person holds that office. And get this, he grants certain people one wish. He's not magic or anything, so it has to be something that is possible. But given that, everyone, even the federal and state governments, have to abide by the wish. It is binding and final."

"So you could wish for freedom from prison and he'd grant that wish?" Arturo asked doubtfully. "And the officials would release you from prison?"

"Yes. He freed six prisoners last year, as a matter of fact." Quinn gushed. "All you have to do is find out who this person is, contact them, and convince him to give us wishes."

"So he doesn't give everyone a wish every year?"

"No, nobody knows how he picks the wishers. But he selects some hundred or so a year and contacts them. You just have to convince Santa that we're Sliders and that Remmy didn't know what he was doing, so he'll help us. I'm sure he will."

Wade sighed. "I hope to God he will. I don't know how much more of this I can take. I'm going to STRANGLE Remmy when I see him!"

Arturo felt the beginnings of hope welling in his breast. "I'll see what I can do. I might forgo mentioning what Remmy suggested he do with his lips, however," the Professor added wryly. Then he said, "this sounds promising. How hard can it be to find Santa Claus?"

Finding him wasn't the hard part. According to Arturo's online search at the main San Francisco library, there was a Santa Claus elected in every state. The one for California lived in an official residence in Los Angles. Arturo went against his beliefs and swiped some money from his double's bank account. Rationalizing that this was an emergency and he would make every effort to find a way to put it back before he left. Then he rented a car and drove down to the City of Angels.

Actually getting to SEE the bearded benefactor proved to be a lot harder, however. Arturo first tried stopping by the Claus mansion.

"Move along." A bald, massively muscled elf guarding the gate house barked without preamble. He was the strongest looking tiny person Arturo had ever seen. Even his naked dome looked muscular.

"I need to see Mr. Claus. It's an emergency."

"It's always an emergency. Look sir, he's Santa Claus, not a magician. No one on this Earth can get you a Stay Fresh Barbie before Christmas. They. Are. All. Sold. Out. You'd have better luck getting the recipe for Santa's Secret Sauce. I'm sorry, but there is nothing He or anyone else can do."

"No, no, my friend. You misunderstand me." Arturo insisted. "I have no interest in a silly toy, I have urgent business with Mr. Claus."

The guard's expression didn't change. "Very well, leave your business card. I'll put it with the hundreds of others. You may or may not get a call. That's the best I can do. You will not be loitering around in front of his gate, I can assure you."

Sighing deeply, Arturo wrote down his hotel phone and room numbers. The elf took it and tossed it into a bulging garbage bag. He noticed Arturo's look. "This is all just from this morning."

Arturo looked at his watch. 9:03am. A garbage bag of business cards in a couple hours! Even as he stood here he saw a couple trying to act casual as they strolled toward the front gate. No doubt they also sought an audience. He departed without another word.

Next stop, Santa's office...

Chapter Three

"Um. I'd like to see Santa Claus please." Arturo asked uncomfortably.

The secretary, a bitter looking crone with a pinched expression, sighed. "You and six million other people. Do you have an appointment? I'm going to take a wild guess, based on my 89 years of experience, that you don't. Am I correct?"

"I'm sure he'll want to see me when he hears what I have to say-."

"That's what the Little Drummer Boy said before I had him dragged out of here like a rabid dog." She raised her hand to a red button.

"Ma'am, I beseech you. It took me a half hour to convince Broom Hilda - er the nice secretary below to allow me to enter the elevator downstairs. I have come a long way and endured much for a simple five minute audience with his Clausness. I shan't be denied. If I got his ear for just one second I know he would realize the importance of this."

Her eyes narrowed. She formed a bridge with her fingers and leaned forward, peering at him intently. "Very well, try me."

For a horrible moment, Arturo thought she was propositioning him. He would do anything to get his friends out, but he didn't know if he could stomach ... "'Try' you?"

"Tell me what this concerns. Pretend I'm him. What would you say?"

"I'm an explorer from another world. Not another planet, but a parallel Earth-."

The secretary pressed the red button.

Arturo landed on the sidewalk with a loud smack. The Grinch cackled, rubbed his green hands together, and turned to leave. "If you try to come in again I'll tie you to a chair and sing showtunes for six hours. Let that be a warning to you!"

Arturo cursed and rose slowly.

It was time to get creative.

"Lights out you >:-#-ing moron! It's 9 pm!"

Remmy sighed and turned his lamp off. "Man I hate this place!" He whined.

Bubba, his roommate, snorted. "Shoulda thought about that before you started running your mouth."

"I didn't know this would happen to me just because I said fat boy could give my >:-# mouth to mouth!"

"HEY! I don't abide by that kinda talk! Santa is my buddy! I did time with him in '82!"

Remmy sat up. "Santa's a felon?"

"Oh, hell yeah! He got in a drunken brawl with the Easter Bunny over chocolate import rights. Too much punch, you know how it is. Santa's cool. He's one of the people."

Remmy didn't know what to say to that so he let it ride. "All I know is that if I have to mine for plastic one more day I'm going to lose my mind. I can't take it anymore."

"You shoulda stayed home then." His ever practical cell mate remarked.

"Yep, I sure should have."

"Care for another 'Sex on the Beach' ?" Arturo asked politely.

"Sure." Santa replied, not looking up from his copy of Playelf.

Arturo had paid the doorman at Santa's office building to tell him where the Red One went after work. It turned out he went to a bar called Jingle Hell most nights. Arturo immediately went there and applied for a bartender job. They didn't have an opening, but they were so impressed with his educated manner, excellent hand-eye coordination, and his encyclopedic knowledge of drinks that they hired him anyway. Sure enough, Santa appeared several hours later. He looked vaguely familiar to the Professor, but he couldn't remember where he'd seen the man before. Probably interacted with a double on some other world sometime in the past.

Arturo had waited until Santa finished his first drink before moving in for the kill. "So how long have you held this office?"

Santa looked up for the first time, studying the bartender. "What, did you just drop in from the moon or something? Don't tell me you're one of those Anti-Christmas radicals. That's against the law now, you know."

"I'm from a long way away. It's a long story," Arturo replied cryptically. He was hoping to intrigue the other man into asking more questions. That gave him a better shot than just plunging into his tale.

"You don't look like you're from a long way away." His finished his drink.

Arturo moved to pour another. Santa held up a hand. "That's enough. You're giving me the creeps."

"Wait! Look, I'll pay your tab, drink as much as you like. All I ask is that you hear me out with an open mind. Please."

Santa's two bodyguards, who had been sitting at a nearby table, moved forward menancingly.

Like most people with money and power, the lure of mooching was irresistible to Santa. "Okay, you have the time it takes me to have one more drink." He waved off the bodyguards and sat back down.

Arturo launched into his story. He was a Slider, and so were three friends of his. He described what Sliding was and some of the adventures he'd had. He finished by telling what Remmy had done and the consequences of that. "He didn't know what he said was such a crime on this world. And we have just 20 days left before we Slide. There is no time for any other remedy than a wish from you to release them." He lied. There WAS one other remedy, Sliding out from the visiting room, but he didn't mention that.

Santa's glass was empty. He pointed at it silently. Arturo mixed another drink and poured it.

"Do you have any proof of what you're saying? An artifact from another world that has never been invented on this one?" Santa finally asked.

Arturo had been waiting for this. "I did an Internet search for the souvenirs we've accumulated in our travels. You have most of them. What you don't have would take too long to authenticate and wouldn't mean anything except to another scientist. But, I've discovered something I have that was never invented on this world." He pulled a toothbrush out of a pocket and placed it on the bar.

Santa picked it up. "What is it? I've never seen anything like it."

"We clean our teeth with it on our world."

Santa laughed heartily. "Why don't you just use a wire glove? That works great!"

Arturo shrugged. "This is proof, however."

Santa downed his drink. "Not really. You could cook up any ole crazy thing and call it something bizarre as 'proof.' However, I find that I believe you. Perhaps you're just a very good con man. And I wouldn't believe you for a second if your friends had committed a crime in which they stood to gain something. Then I would just think you were trying to run some jive past me to get them free. But I think you're telling the truth."

Arturo beamed. Finally! After so much frustration, this seemed like it was actually going to work out. Not bad for a longshot. "So you'll help us?"

Santa rose to his feet. "Of course not! You have my sympathy, as do your friends. I wish you well. But the best advice I can give you is to either 'Slide' by yourself or get a place to stay and get used to this world. This is a good world. I don't know about any other, but this world is perfect as far as I'm concerned."

"But ... why won't you help us if you believe me?"

"Your friend committed an Anti-Santa crime," Santa replied. "How would it look if I pardoned him? The next thing you know, every boob who spits on my picture or shoots me on Christmas night when I'm delivering presents will be asking me to set them free. I have a hard rule, I never forgive or pardon Anti-Santa crimes. It would set a bad precedent. I feel bad for him, for all three of them, but I have to think about the big picture."

Arturo was furious. "That is really weak! You could change his sentence to something else. A hefty fine. We'd come up with the money somehow. You don't have to give him a complete pardon."

Santa smiled coyly. "Sure you would come up with the money. Right after you Slid to another world, right?"

Santa had him and Arturo knew it. "You are our only chance! You're condemning someone who didn't know the law to 20 years of hell for 'the big picture' ?"

Santa adjusted his hat in the mirror behind the bar. "That's the way it has to be. I'm sorry."

"I can't believe you're being so closed-minded about this! There has to be a way around this!"

"You claim to be a visitor to this world. Therefore you have to defer to my judgment since I've lived here all my life and have been elected Santa three straight times now. I know what I'm talking about. There is no way around it. Getting mad isn't going to change that." He turned to leave.

Arturo was fuming. "So there is no way I can change your mind?"

"Nope. And I was told that a man fitting your description has been at my home and office today, so I'll give you a warning. Come near me or any of my property again and I'll have you up on Santa Stalking charges so fast your head'll spin!"

With that he was gone.

Arturo choked back calling him several names. Santa was lucky that was a crime on this world. He turned to discover his boss was standing right behind him.

"You're fired." His boss said.

His mouth set in a thin line, Arturo went to the public library next. He wanted the answer to two questions.

What disgrace would he have to be accused of for Santa to be impeached?

In what manner was a sitting Santa replaced after he was thrown out of office?

It was time to get ugly...

Chapter Four

The gaggle of reporters mobbed Santa as soon as he left his limo and walked towards his office the next morning.


"Is it true that you've had sex with Mrs. Claus?"

"Santa, how could you?"

He paused, his eyebrows raised in irritation. "What are you folks babbling about?"

The lead reporter seized this opportunity. "I know someone who saw on an Internet chat board that you've been having sexual relations with your wife."

Santa threw back his head and laughed. "Now why on Earth would I be doing THAT? She and I are MARRIED! That means we no longer have sex unless we get plastered or something and forget that we walked down the aisle." Giggling, he turned away.

"So you're saying these allegations are false?"

He turned back and eyed the crowd. "Listen, you all know how this works. You meet a person, you fall in love with them, you have sex like minks on Viagra. You get married, the romance goes the first time you walk into the bathroom after they've committed an atrocity or you wake up first and see their morning face. You stop having sex with them, and you replace that with the purchasing of large leisure equipment. These objects of sexual repression are used a couple times and then stored forever in the garage. My garage is 50 feet by 40 feet, and it is STILL overcrowded with >:-#. Does this answer your silly question? I'm married, I don't have sex, I buy motorized lawn mowers and fishing boats!"

He left a wake of stunned reporters behind him. One of them finally sighed. "Well, that was too good to be true. What else did your friend see on that chat board?"

Still cursing to himself, Santa walked through the waiting room of his office. A large water pistol filled with a red substance was standing next to the secretary's desk.

"He's from the Island of Misfit Toys." His secretary reported.

"No >:-#? I thought he was from Cleveland. Come on, Squirty. It's about time you got here."

The two entered his office.

Wade was painting a smilely face on a dog. Her fingers were trembling. Her eyes were bloodshot. Her mouth was twisted into a demonic grin. She breathed in short choppy gasps. She was sitting down, and buried up to her waist in ceramic Christmas ornaments. She finished the dog and set it on the pile around her. She picked up a piece of plastic and a hot knife. Time to make a horrid tree with a grinning cherub on the top.

"How long has she been here?"

"All night I guess. When she didn't show up for her sugar plum shift I got worried and went looking for her. She is in a cute induced trance. I think she has finally snapped."

"How many has she done?"

"A couple thousand, from the looks. She is screaming! I've never seen someone work this fast! And from the looks of the pile she hasn't taken a break since yesterday."

"Jesus God Almighty. If she wants to get out of here THIS bad, let's just let her go."

"Are you kidding?"

"No. Hell with it. I've never seen someone so single-minded. Why she'd want to leave when she can hear all the "12 Days of Christmas" we can cram into a day and eat all the Christmas cookies with happy sprinkles we can make ... I don't know. But she must want to. Besides, we're running out of plastic and ceramic."

"An elf without a bad attitude. What is happening to this place?"

"Oh, I'll still kick your fat >:-# if you look at me sideways, this is just a special case."

A third elf was counting the ornaments. "There's over three thousand here, that's about a year off right there. And she'd done a lot of them before last night. So we're not knocking more than half her sentence anyway. At this rate she'd been outta here by Friday anyway."

"Good," the first elf replied, relieved, "I wasn't being very nice then."

Wade ran from the front doors and leaped into Arturo's arms. "I can't believe it!" He exclaimed. "You must be an ornament making fiend!"

She grinned. "I don't remember much of the last couple days. I still can taste plastic and I can't feel my fingers, but I'm OUT! WOO HOO!!"

"What made you so possessed?" Arturo wanted to know as he walked her to the cab.

"They were running that hideous 'When Santa Claus Comes to Town' on a loop in my dorm. If I didn't get out soon I was going to stick my head in the toilet and jam something in the flushing control."

Arturo had asked, but the ornament escape Claus was only available for the female prisoners. It was sexist, but there wasn't anything they could do about it. At least Wade was out.

Once they got back to his hotel room, Arturo filled in Wade on what he'd done so far. "The Internet rumor was merely the opening salvo. Now I have to get into his office and plant some incriminating evidence."

"Like what?"

Arturo pointed.

"I don't get it." Wade replied. "A blender. A lemon. Some bacon. A tube of butt itch cream. A can of red gravy. Anti-fungal powder. Some bottles of 1000 proof whiskey. An adult diaper. It's disgusting, but how is that incriminating?"

"Not that stuff, you blistering idiot! I went to the store today and I just haven't put away my groceries yet." He pointed beyond his bed. "THAT!"

Wade made on "O" with her lips. "Oh. My. God. That will destroy him!"

"I got a great deal on it!" Arturo let the air out of it and rolled it up. He packed it in a black bag with the accessories.

"But how are you going to get it into his office?"

Arturo opened the closet door and pulled out a ninja suit on a hanger. "Any more questions?"

Chapter Five

"Wally and Kathy Mart." Santa's secretary announced.

"Thank you." Santa replied, rolling back from his desk and getting up to greet his two biggest campaign contributors. "Why don't we step out onto the balcony and take in some fresh air?" He offered.

The other two glanced at each other curiously. Fresh air? In San Francisco?

The truth was, he needed a cigar really badly, and it would be bad form to fire one up in front of them, so he'd settle for some good old smog. A couple lungfuls would tide him over nicely until after the meeting when he could get the real thing. Without waiting for their reply, Santa pulled open the drape and unlocked the sliding glass door.

He didn't see what was on the patio until he was already through the doorway. He tried to turn and keep them from following him out, but it was too late. The Marts had seen it...

Around this time, Arturo was calling Wade. He told her to meet him at the "All You Can Cram In" Chicken restaurant downtown for supper. In the meantime he had some more mischief to commit.

"How'd the climb go?" She asked tensely.

"I never want to climb down a rope to a penthouse patio again, but it's done and I'm happy about it. I'm not calling from jail, so that's a good thing."

"I've actually been there on this world, and I can't argue with that sentiment at ALL!"

"But you don't understand!" Santa begged. "I don't know anything about THAT! I've never seen it before in my life!"

The Marts rushed past his flabbergasted secretary in a huff and were gone before Santa could say another word. The plump, bearded man sagged and leaned against the door frame. "Smeg. I'm in big trouble now."

His secretary walked past him nervously. There was nothing ominous in the office. Then she saw the sliding door was ajar. She tip toed to the door and peeked out. She screamed and fainted.

At the sound of the meaty thud of his secretary hitting the floor, Santa covered his face with one massive paw.

Arturo, dressed as a chauffeur, kicked the limo's trunk. "SHUT UP IN THERE OR I'LL RUN THIS LIMO INTO A LAKE AND LEAVE YOU INSIDE!!"

There were no more muffled pleas from the former limo driver.

A minute later Mr. and Mrs. Mart came storming out of the office building. "TAXI!" Wally called as one passed by.

"Excuse me, are you the couple who just went in to see Mr. Claus?" Arturo inquired.

Wally's mouth twisted. "Unfortunately."

"I am his driver. He asked that I take you back to your hotel. No need to ride in a cramped, over charging cab, is there?"

The couple glanced at each other. "Well, okay. I hate taxis."

Arturo opened the door. He made as if looking in the back for the first time and gasped audibly. "Oh, just let me get this stuff out of the seat." He gathered up a bong, a pair of soiled panties, half a liver and pate sandwich, a newt's skull, an empty 5th of malt liquor, and a Dixie Chicks CD and tossed them in the front passenger seat.

The Marts exchanged a horrified look but reluctantly got in.

Arturo got in and rolled down the dividing window.

"It smells like coitus back here." Kathy complained after telling him which hotel to take them to.

"Oh, we gave a bunch of 16 year old girls a lift this morning on the way to work." Arturo said cheerfully.

They rode in silence for a minute. Arturo suddenly pulled into an ABC store parking lot. "Just a minute, I have to pick up something for Santa's party tonight." He jumped out. He returned ten minutes later with a crate of Jack Daniels bottles.

"You're getting that much booze?" Wally said from his window.

Arturo nodded towards the door. "They're bringing out the other six crates in a minute. I'm coming back later for the rest since I can only fit 7 crates at a time in the car."

The passenger door flew open. "Um, look honey! I can see the hotel from here! Let's walk! We can use the exercise."

Arturo cackled to himself as the two rushed off.

"Father Thomas! Bishop Marshall. My log book says I was to pick you up at 1pm to take you to see Santa?"

The two men smiled and nodded.

Arturo opened the door. "Oh, dear! Just let me get this stuff off the back seat." He repeated the routine he'd done before, only this time a long wig and bottle of flea shampoo were also among the items.

The two endured his trip to the ABC store. They didn't protest when he went through a drive-through casino to buy $1,000 in chips for Santa. They didn't flinch when he stopped by Krogers and came out with a super-jumbo pack of condoms on a dolly and had two store employees help him hoist it onto the roof and tie it down. But they finally decided to walk the rest of the way when Arturo stopped at a porn store and came out with copies of Playsnake, Playfish, Playbroccoli, and Playtree.

"Mr. Vice President. You have a two o'clock with Santa?"

"Mr. Mayor, you have a three o'clock with Santa?"

"Mr. Trump? Mr. Gates? You two have a four o'clock with Santa?"

"Mr. Pope! How's it hanging, buddy?"

"This should do it," Arturo said with a giggle.

It was difficult for Wade to see Arturo from around the pile of plates. She craned her neck around, trying to judge his expression. "What do you mean?"

Arturo speared a piece of chicken with a fork. "I mean that today was one of his 'power days' where he was seeing a lot of important people who keep him in power and keep him financed when he has to run for re-election. Right now, all of them have a very bad impression of him."

Wade noticed a man in a suit glaring at them from across the room. He seemed to be the owner and he didn't look happy. "So Santa might lose his job?"

Arturo giggled. "He'll be lucky to come out of this without being expelled from this state! As a matter of fact-."

The man in a suit walked up with two huge bouncers. "SIR! YOU MUST LEAVE NOW!"

Arturo looked up. "Excuse me?"

"WE HAVE NO MORE CHICKEN! NO CHICKEN! YOU HAVE TO GO!!" The bouncers glared and cracked their knuckles.

Arturo looked perplexed. "What kind of buffet only has 20 pounds of chicken?"

"We better go," Wade suggested.

Outside, Arturo continued what he'd been saying before. "As a matter of fact, don't be surprised if Santa resigns tonight."

"Then what?" Wade wanted to know. "What makes you think the person that replaces him will be more receptive? If they aren't, we don't have time to oust someone else."

Arturo grinned wolfishly. "The person that replaces him WILL be more receptive because the person that replaces him will be me!"

Chapter Six

A knock on her bedroom door woke Sandy Foster at three the next morning. She threw on a robe and opened it. "What the >:-# is it?"

Her butler was standing in the door apologetically. "Miss Governor, it's Mr. Santa Claus. He says it's urgent."

She sighed and followed him down to the front living room of the Governor's mansion. "Santa. How nice of you to drop by so early."

Santa had his face covered with his hands. "I'm ruined. The police came and searched my home a couple hours ago. Apparently my limo driver went insane today and implicated me in a variety of hideous ways to the worst possible people."

Sandy's mouth tightened into a firm line. "Well, it's not a problem that they searched your house. You have nothing to hide."

Santa said nothing.

"I SAID, 'it's not a problem that they searched your house. You have nothing to hide.'"

Santa shrunk down farther in his chair.

Sandy went to the bar and poured herself a strong drink. "What did they find?"

"They kind of found out that I've been smuggling toys off the Island of Misfit Toys."

"While illegal, that is not inconsistent with your benevolent image. We can soothe this." Sandy commented, relieved.

"They also found evidence I'd violated the FBI warning at the beginning of video tapes."

The Governor poured another drink.

"They found my pog collection."

"Oh God. Is that ALL?" She demanded.

"Well, they kind of found out I've been running a pre-school prostitute ring in the basement."

Sandy glared at Santa.

"Hey! The girls came to me! Do you have any idea how much Barney videos cost these days? And the boys in their class have high allowances!"

"Is that ALL???"

Santa swallowed noisily. "Well ..."

Sandy stomped her foot. "What else????"

"They saw me through the kitchen window drinking out of a milk carton without using a glass."

"You have to resign."

"Wha you can't be serious!"

Sandy pointed towards the door. "You'd just be impeached anyway. Save the people of this great state the horror of suffering through an impeachment. Resign while you still have a modicum of dignity left."

Santa dropped his head. "You're right." He dropped to his knees on the floor. "Will you pray with me?"

"Not if you were the last Santa on Earth. Get out of my sight."

Santa got up in huff and rushed away. Since she'd reacted this way, it was a good thing he didn't tell her that the police had also discovered he had a Harley knock off in his garage.

The next morning Santa made a state wide TV address and announced his resignation, effective immediately. He didn't refer to the mounting charges against him, but did finish with the statement that his enemies "won't have Santa to kick around anymore."

The Governor came on TV next, announcing that since Christmas was only a little over a week away, there wasn't time for a full election. Instead, interested parties should fax their resumes to her office and she would select 12 finalists. The finalists would appear before her and argue their qualifications. The two survivors would run a swift two day campaign before a state wide election.

Arturo turned off the TV and produced a printout. "I just happen to have one bona fide Santa resume here. Complete with references. Can you do voices?"

Wade narrowed her eyes. "What kind of voices?"

"You be the Swedish mall owner who hired me last Christmas, the British diplomat who fell in love with me because I was so cute in a Santa suit, and the music store owner who was blown away by my command of Christmas carols. I'll be the gay fashion designer whom I gave tips on how the best Santa suits are made, the Mall security cop who'll say I successfully apprehended Santa Beagle, and the Spider Monkey God Zimbu who has personally blessed me with Christmas cheer."

"Do Spider Monkey Gods have phones?" Wade wanted to know.

"I just have an e-mail address for him. Heaven wouldn't be heaven without an Internet connection, everyone knows that. So, here's your scripts. Here are the two cell phones corresponding to the other two numbers. I'm off to fax this. Be right back."

The two were so convincing that Arturo was informed that night that he was a finalist and should report to the Governor's mansion at 7am in the morning. A copy of his debate opponent's resume was faxed to him minutes later. He would have half an hour to debate this man in front of the Governor. That, along with a five minute prepared statement and a test of his Christmas knowledge would be the basis for narrowing the field down to two.

Arturo cracked his knuckles and sat down to read his debate opponent's resume. "I'm going to destroy this blistering idiot! MWA-HA-HA-HA-HA!!!!"

Wade shook her head and bid him goodnight.

Arturo's debate opponent the next morning turned out to be a Hollywood producer. The Professor opened the debate with that angle.

"I've seen my opponent's work," Arturo acknowledged. "This so called 'Christmas special' he brags about looks like he dug up Fred Astaire and Mickey Rooney, got them both drunk, and told them to exceed how much their last Christmas special together sucked. The man's special couldn't have been more lame if it was a Saturday Night Live skit!"

"Well, I haven't seen you making any Christmas specials." The other man sputtered. "Besides, Mickey Rooney's not dead!"

Oops, Arturo thought. Not on this world, anyway. "I must have been thinking of his career, sorry. But the point is, your trite efforts to bring about Christmas cheer are more likely to bring up someone's Christmas supper."

"My special was heart warming, cheerful, and a music lover's dream!"

"It gave me heartburn, it went down like Cheer detergent, and it DID put me to sleep but the only dream I had was of the blessed day you're never allowed to produce such Peckinballish filth again!"

His opponent was livid. "You are a horrid human being."

"And another thing, I know that Santa is required to be ... large. And in that area I must be honest and concede that you're overqualified for the position."

His opponent knocked over his podium. "That's IT!" He charged Arturo and was promptly tackled by two elf guards.

"Show temper boy the door." Sandy sighed. "Mr. Arturo, you win the debate by default."

Arturo pumped his fist into the air and rejoined Wade. "I was weak on the Monkey God issue. He has three real ones in his corner, but he let his temper get in the way and it never came up! Cha-ching!"

"One down, ten to go." Wade replied, elated.

"Thank God I don't have to debate any others, I used up a day's worth of hyperbole!"

Chapter Seven

"This test is insane!" Arturo griped during their lunchbreak. After the debates they had been taken to a testing room. Two others had apparently been abject failures during the debates, because only nine showed up for the testing.

"It can't be as bad as what Quinn and Remmy are enduring right now," Wade shuddered, remembering her time in the elf prison.

"Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Anti-Beret League? What kind of asinine question is that? Do you consume chutney?"

"What in God's name is 'chutney' ?" Wade gasped.

"You don't want to know. Americans have a parallel. Several, actually. Spam, potted meat, etc."

Wade covered her mouth. "I told you never to mention Spam to me! I think I'm gonna throw up!"

"Anyway, those questions are crazy. Some of them I had to wing, like 'how long have you wanted to be Santa?' 'Do you think there is anything wrong with putting on a red skin tight suit and climbing around people's roofs?' The rest I was honest about."

A cute female elf came to the doorway and clapped her hands. "Come on, my little Santas! Time to finish our tests!" Arturo fought a glare. "My destiny calls. Want to finish my plum pudding?"

While the tests were being graded, the final 9 contestants had to complete several "Santa Skill Trials." He had to successfully mount a reindeer (one Santa applicant was dismissed after he misunderstood what was meant by "mounting" the reindeer), guide a sleigh through a obstacle course, laugh like Santa, prove he could just take one bite out of the cookies kids left for him Christmas Eve and leave the rest for proof, etc. That last test wiped out two of the larger contestants, who just couldn't restrain themselves.

Only five potential Santas were left after the obstacle course was completed. The chipper female elf entered the break room, announced the tests had been graded, and called out two names, Richard Head and Marvin Harding. One man next to Arturo turned to him and laughed in his face. "YEAH! I'm Richard Head! In your face! MWA-HA-HA-HA-HA!!! See you losers later!" He, and the other man who'd been called, ran up to the elf.

"Get out." The elf ordered cheerfully. "You two have the lowest grades."

Arturo leaped to his feet. "HO HO HO! Someone show that LOOOOOZAR the door, please!"

Richard was led out, cursing vilely.

And then there were three.

Besides Arturo, there was a man named Chad Dimple and a man named Tony Snow. The three of them met with Governor Sandy for dinner that night.

"So you three are the best of the best. One of you three will be the next Santa Claus." She commented slyly. Of course, only two of them would still be in contention after this meal. Those final two would be voted on in two days.

"It would be the crowning achievement of my life to be the next Santa." Chad gushed.

Arturo nodded. "I want to bring honor back to the office of Santa. The previous administration was disgraceful."

"Hear, hear." Tony seconded. "No matter which of us wins, I'm sure there won't be any more of the kind of thing like what was found on his office patio." He shuddered.

Sandy wondered if she'd given orders to have that hideous thing removed yet. She couldn't remember. Then she returned her attention to her three dinner guests. "So tell me, fellows, what's your favorite thing about Christmas?"

Chad smiled sweetly. "The joy on the kids' faces. It is the happiest time of year for them."

"For me, it's the way families come together, especially ones which never see each other the rest of the year. You can just feel the love and the closeness when you go out and see families together." Tony added quickly.

Arturo mentally cursed. They'd taken the two best pat answers! What could HE say? 'Oh, I like the way kids rip open a present and then immediately reach for the next one?' A fine mist of sweat broke out on his forehead. He had nothing.

Sandy turned her expectant attention on to him. The elf guards, perhaps sensing the third wheel was about to be ejected, drew in closer.

Arturo swallowed. "Those things are sweet, and are what most people who don't really think about it come up with. But I've spent a long time thinking about Christmas. The deeper, truer meaning of it. So my favorite thing about this time of year runs much deeper than ordinary human emotions and sentiment. Because it is the higher thinking and deeper meaning that brings us together on a spiritual level. Everyone feels good when they see the smile of joy on a child's face. Of course they do. And everyone wants families to come together and celebrate this joyous time of year. We all want that. But there are things even more important and meaningful than simple momentary elation. And those things are my favorite things of all about Christmas."

Chad and Tony were staring at him, first with puzzlement, then with outrage. Sandy's eyes unglazed and she smiled self-consciously. "That's a wonderful take on this. You've obviously spent a long time thinking about this. And I agree, those things ARE the most important part of Christmas."

"What things?" Chad wanted to know.

"The things I spoke up." Arturo replied smoothly.

"What do you mean?" Tony replied hotly. He turned to Sandy. "He didn't say anything!"

"Of course he did. We all heard him." Sandy observed demurely. "He spoke at length."

"That was just a bunch of >:-#! He ended up where he started! It was just a steaming pile of circular >:-#!" Tony shouted. "This is outrageous that you'd let him get away with this!"

Sandy set her napkin aside and gestured to the guards. "You, sir, are excused. Take him away."

Tony's jaw dropped as it sank in what he'd just done after coming so close to claiming the office of Santa. Making the final three and then losing out because of his big mouth. "Um, can I finish this beetloaf first?"

"Put it in a to-go box for him." Sandy ordered.

"Something about you pisses the other applicants off." Sandy told Arturo as they left the restaurant.

"I've noticed that." Chad agreed. "I find you hideously annoying as well, but I'm NOT going to let you get under my skin. You're going to have to beat me at the polls, not by default."

Arturo merely grinned, as if to say 'we'll see about THAT.'

Chapter Eight

As Wade approached Arturo's dressing room the next evening, a tall voluptuous blonde left his room and scampered down the corridor. She spared Wade a slight smile and was quickly gone.

Arturo was inside, looking half asleep. A lazy smile was on his face.

"Professor! Are you okay?"

"I'm more than okay, my dear. I'm now ready to debate 50 Mr. Dimples! As there is only one of them, he doesn't stand a chance!"

Wade scowled. "Who was that woman that just left?"

"That wonderful creature was a massage therapist, compliments of the Governor. She wants us to both be at our best."

"Um, Professor. Did you leave the copier on? Ouch! It's hot! What have you been copying?"

His hands were resting over his head and his eyes were closed. "Nothing, Miss Welles. I haven't made any copies."

She lifted the lid of the copier. "The last page of your debate notes are inside! The rest are scattered on this table beside the copier!"

"Oh, she said she needed to heat up the oil. I thought that's what I heard her doing behind me."

Wade cursed to herself. "Now Pimple will know everything you plan to do to him! You were bragging about how you'd destroy him. You had enough to surprise and embarrass him. Now he knows everything you're going to do, there's no way you can surprise him and no way you'll piss him off and make him humiliate himself!"

That finally sank through the morass of pleasure Arturo had been swimming in. "Oh hell. You're right! I was hoodwinked! I'll bet the Governor didn't arrange the massage, it was Chad Pimple!"

Wade nodded, furious. If this cost the Professor the debate, Remmy and Quinn would never get out. And it would be Arturo's stupid fault.

Arturo pounded the table with a fist. "And I gave her a $50 tip too! Damn it!"

Chad Pimple read the copied notes with satisfaction. "He was going to attack my record. I've been soft on my definition of who's naughty and who's nice. And once I said that the issue of Santa watching everyone violated the right to privacy. I wasn't expecting this. Frank, write me up some snappy comebacks and counterattacks at once! Okay, he was going to point out that I have no Spider Monkey God sponsors. Lisa, a cutting sarcastic remark about how no one pays attention to simian deities anyway. Hmmmmmm. His down and dirty attempts to piss me off are really good. They're pissing me off right now and I'm just reading it, not listening to it in front of a state-wide audience. The remarks about the time my mother kissed Santa Claus are way out of line! And my grandmother did NOT get run over by reindeer! The nerve of this man! Okay, okay, I'll just read them a couple more hundred times to desensitize myself and they can't affect me."

Chad and his staff continued reading the notes and preparing their responses until an elf announced it was time for the debate.

A little earlier, Arturo and Wade were furiously trying to come up with a new plan of attack. Obviously they had to scrap everything he'd planned to do. At least, they should, but he couldn't come up with much in this short remaining time. He might have to go with some of what he'd been writing and practicing all day simply to fill up his hour of debate time. Anything was better than talking off the top of his head to fill time.

"This is impossible!" Arturo raged. "I've royally screwed up and there is no way to compensate this late in the game! I'm an abject blistering idiot!"

"No doubt," Quinn remarked.

Remmy laughed. "For real! He never once checked on us after visiting that one time last week."

"It's a good thing we saw on TV what he was doing down here and came down to find him."

"Will you two shut the hell up! I'm trying to concentrate!" Arturo snapped.

"Yeah," Wade said, glaring back at her two friends in the doorway. "He has to win this debate or he can't get you two out of prison! Show some gratitude!"

"Thanks." Arturo told Wade. "Now, maybe we can go with some of the weaker attacks I rejected before. I still have them written up. I wanted to go with my strongest points, but now all we have left ... all we ..." His voice trailed off. He met Wade's gaze a long second. Then both of them turned as one and stared at the doorway of the dressing room.

Quinn and Remmy were standing there grinning impishly.

"Santa pardoned us a day or two after you said you were going to talk with him. He said that he'd had a talk with you earlier that day and that he thought about it and then decided the right thing to do was to grant us each one wish. He didn't want to at first but he eventually had to go with his conscience. So he flew up to our prisons and met with us and granted us each a wish. Then the next thing we know, we saw on TV that he was resigning. It's sad, really. He was a sweet guy." Quinn added.

"Oh my God." Arturo breathed.

Wade's face was ashen. "He pardoned them the same day you talked with him!"

"Oh my God." Arturo sighed.

"All this, everything you have endured to become Santa, has been for nothing!" Wade exclaimed.

"Oh my God." Arturo gasped.

"You destroyed the old Santa's career for nothing, and right after he let Quinn and Remmy go, through great political risk of his own!"

"Oh my God." Arturo moaned.

"We never called back to our hotel room after we came down here to LA. And we never called the prison to find out how our friends were doing, and they had no idea where we were until they saw us on TV, so there was no way we could know they've been out for days."

"Oh my God." Arturo grunted.

"And you're on the verge of winning this election, with all the hellish hard work of being Santa during Christmas ahead of you!"

"Oh my God." Arturo whispered.

Wade gasped. "You're going to be working non-stop from the time you win until we Slide! And Christmas Eve! Christmas Eve! All night long, chimney after chimney!"

"No, by God!" Arturo snapped. "There is NO WAY I can win now! NO WAY! I have to lose this debate! I can't win, now that I don't need to." He opened the minibar. "Do you think they have any CRACK in here?"

"Why?" Wade wanted to know.

Arturo grinned evilly. "I'm about to give the worst debate performance in the history of elections, and I was just looking for some extra help. When I'm done, Pee Wee Herman will get more write in votes than I'll get!"

Chapter Nine

"In closing, I promise that if you elect me Santa, I'll bring the Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cakes back." The crowd went wild as Chad Simple waved to the crowd and returned to his seat.

"It's Maximillian Arturo's turn to speak now." The TV commentator reported as the Professor made his way to the podium. "He has to follow that brilliant 30 minute opening speech by Chad Simple. I hope he burnt the midnight oil, because that will be a tough act to follow."

Arturo cleared his throat, straightened his tie, and swept his gaze across the audience. "I want to become Santa because I like sneaking into houses, I like having children sit on my lap, and I just can't seem to get my ass out of bed before noon so a job where I work at night is perfect. Thank you." He left the podium and returned to his seat.

The silence was thunderous. One of the talking heads spoke up. "What a cutting commentary on his opponent, Dave! He just destroyed a brilliant 30 minute speech with a few simple lines."

"Oh, I agree Sally. His cutting commentary illustrated that Chad hasn't really stated WHY he wants to become Santa! Chad has said everything about what he'll DO in office, but nothing about why he wants the position. Arturo came up with a stunning way to comment on this disparity!"

"I agree. Less is more. After such a long and precise oratory by Chad, nothing would be as good an attention getter as a quick, decisive left hook like what we just heard. I think we all agree that Arturo won the opening statements segment of the debate in a landslide."

The moderator introduced himself and began the questioning phase. "First, Mr. Arturo. Tell us something you admire about your opponent."

"Well, I think that Chad would make a fantastic Santa. His views on all Santa issues are clear and reasonable. He can handle a sleigh like he was born in one, and his girth exceeds mine. I think he is an excellent candidate."

"Oh my god!" One of the commentators gushed. "He's going NICE. How is Chad Simple going to react to this?"

"You're right Sally, Chad looks nonplussed. He looks like he was expecting a left handed compliment and this sincere niceness has completely thrown him for a loop!"

"And you, Mr. Simple. Tell us something you admire about your opponent."

"Um, I think ... er." He set aside a notecard, knowing that he couldn't use his prepared remark now without coming across as a meaniehead. "I think that he looks great in a Santa suit."

"Oh Dave! What a gaffe! Arturo's niceness sandbagged Simple! He reduced Chad to the eloquence level of Rain Man, the grace of Nell, and the vocabulary of Forrest Gump."

"I agree. He sounded like he was brought here on the short school bus."

The moderator was ready with his next question. "Mr. Simple, what do you have to say to RETA, who year in and year out protest the use of rocket packs on reindeer to enable them to fly?"

"I'm glad you asked that question." He shuffled his notecards. "I greatly respect their views, and I agree with not testing makeup on reindeer eyes. While the vast quantities of steak and hamburger I consume are usually of the cow variety, I want the Reindeer Ethical Treatment Association to know that when I DO eat reindeer steak and hamburger and chili that I say a little prayer that night for the animals who gave their lives to fill my belly with their juicy, delicious meat. However, I don't agree with their idea that it is cruel to reindeer. Reindeer love to fly! Their little ears are so cute then they whip back in the wind as the sleigh approaches Mach 3. Their little lips stretch into grins under the gee forces. I'm telling you, they love it! You can't take flying reindeer out of Christmas! What's next? Getting rid of those morons with the bells pestering you at every store entrance? That's crazy talk. I say keep our Christmas traditions intact! Which includes flying reindeer!"

"An excellent answer, Sally. I loved the bit about the reindeer lips! They DO look like they're grinning in mid-flight, don't they?"

"Mr. Arturo?" The moderator prompted.

The Professor straightened from his slouching position. "I think that reindeer meat is the most savory, the juiciest, the most delicious palatal delight in creation. Reindeer exist to fill our robust tummies with their slice of meaty heaven and I say, God Bless them for it!"

The moderator couldn't believe what he was hearing. "But, but what about RETA?"

"Tell them I said, 'Reindeer! It's what's for dinner!'"

"This is unbelievable! Every time you think there is no way Mr. Arturo can stop a brilliant Simple speech, he undercuts him! Arturo is thumbing his nose at big lobbies and serving notice that he is for the people, not big sponsors."

"What do you think, Sally? Sally?"

"This is unbe-smeggin'-lievable Dave! I'm so impressed I want to have Arturo's baby!"

Very satisfied with himself, Arturo opened his dressing room door with a flourish. "Did you see how horrified that audience was? There's no way I win now!"

Quinn, Remmy, and Wade met him with glum looks. "The crowd may have been horrified but the talking heads commenting on the debate took everything you said the wrong way." Remmy finally reported.

Wade sighed. "Yeah, they spun everything because no one could get their minds around the idea that you were TRYING to lose, so they took it all as clever maneuvers and understated attacks on Chad."

"Mother of God!" Arturo wheezed. "I'm doomed! The winner of a debate is not who actually presents the best case, it's who the talking heads THINK won it! Everyone watching the debate, no matter what they thought during it, then believe what the talking heads believe. So now everyone will think I'm a master strategist and that I won the debate. I'd have been better off just going with my original debate plan and let Chad ambush me."

No one said it, but they knew that the reason he didn't was his massive ego. He wanted to lose on his terms, without letting even Chad, whom he would never see again, think he had outwitted Arturo. Better that people think Arturo had lost his senses than that he'd been outmaneuvered.

"What are the instant poll results?" Arturo asked bleakly.

"You have a 17 percent lead."

Arturo buried his face in his hands. "HO >:-#-ing HO."

The Sliders gathered in Santa's high rise office the next night, after Arturo's landslide victory.

"Man, at least you'll live in style the next couple days until Christmas Eve." Remmy observed, leaning back in the office chair and putting his feet up on the mahogany desk. "This chair is the sweetest I've ever sat in!"

"I'm not going to have any time to sit. Starting dawn tomorrow, I'm going to be on the move with public appearances every waking moment, leading up to Christmas Eve, which I don't even want to contemplate. I'll be almost as busy after Christmas."

Wade leaned over and hugged her friend. "Don't worry Professor, we'll be your helper elves."

"Thank you my dear." He glared at Remmy, who had let a look of distaste cross his face at the thought of being a helper elf. "Let us not forget who got us in this mess to start with."

"Why are you looking at me? Do you think I would have said Santa could you know if I knew it would get me, Quinn, and Wade prison time? Sheesh."

Smiling at their banter, Quinn took his drink and strolled casually to the sliding glass door leading to the patio. He slid it open to walk out and take in the view. His jaw dropped. "Um, Professor?"

"Yes, Mr. Mallory?"

"Why do you have a blow-up 'Hurt Me Elmo' on your patio?"

The End

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