Monday, April 4, 2016

Interview with my fictional heroine

Lexi Harlow is the snarky, redhead heroine in my new book, The Love Triangle.  Like many authors, I tend to get attached to my characters, so I like to conduct an exit interview before sending them out into the world. Lexi took time from her busy schedule as a fictional character to sit down with me and chat.

        Me: Lexi, good to talk with you again. I missed you while you were in the editing process. You look well.
        Lexi: Thankfully the editor didn’t change me. I was worried she’d remove my sarcastic attitude and turn me into something sweet and innocent. Pffft. Like anyone would buy that.
        Me: And pretty hard to do that considering your escapades in the book.
        Lexi: I wouldn’t call them escapades. Besides, you wrote them. Speaking of which, did you have to throw two terrific guys into my life at the same time?”
        Me: Hence the title, The Love Triangle. I could have given you a third guy and called it The Love Polygon.
        Lexi: At that point the title should be Dating for the Mathematically Challenged.
        Me: So, I assume you’re happy with how things turned out. At least you seemed that way at the end of the book.
        Lexi: Hey, can’t complain with Happily Ever After. But did you have to make the journey so hard? I mean, I know you authors love that conflict thing, but geez, this was torture.
        Me: You didn’t seem to mind being in that hot tub with—
        Lexi: (Blushing, as her face begins to approach the color of her hair.) Okay, maybe torture wasn’t the right word. But why couldn’t I be like some of those other heroines who meet the hero in chapter one and fall madly in love for three hundred pages without any obstacles?
        Me: Because I don’t want to give readers a cavity. Snarky and saccharine don’t go together.
        Lexi: Point taken. I like the sweet guy I ended up with and we’re a good balance. Sweet and salty are a great match, like those pretzel M&Ms. Speaking of which, those gals in the HarperImpulse office are a lot like that.
        Me: Like pretzel M&Ms?”
        Lexi: No. Sweet and a bit salty. Nice women who have a cool job with books that can get a little naughty. You should see them when they’re searching for a guy to put on a book cover. They actually get paid to look at shirtless men. Damn, I need a job as a romance cover artist. And once in a while they get to work on a steamy book. I met this other heroine from an erotic novel that was being edited at the same time and it sounded like she spent more time looking at ceilings than Michelangelo. Speaking of which, how come every time it seemed like a sex scene for me was coming up the chapter ended? Then I’d turn the page and be somewhere else.
        Me: Because it’s a sweet romance without anything too explicit. The sex is implied.
        Lexi: Well, you implied me right into a cold shower about five times in the book.
Me: Besides, guys can’t write sex scenes because they only last one paragraph.
        Lexi: Why does that not surprise me?
        Me: No comment. Anyway, looking back, is there anything you would have changed in the book?
        Lexi: You didn’t have to reveal my age.
        Me: Readers need to know so they can get a mental picture of you.
        Lexi: Fine. But you could have said I was in my thirties with the body of a twenty year old.
        Me: Your hero seemed to think you’re the most beautiful woman in the world. Isn’t that all that matters?
Lexi: You got me there.
Me: Anything else?
        Lexi: Well, I’d like to know how things turn out after the book ends. I mean, what happens after we get married? I get the HEA thing, but can you be more specific?
        Me: Are you saying you want a sequel?
        Lexi: Nah, you’d throw that conflict thing at me again. I’m just curious about the future.
        Me: Hey, you met the guy of your dreams. So live the dream. Let the wave take you and enjoy the ride.
        Lexi: Fair enough. By the way, I understand you started another book. And that you’ve already connected with another snarky redhead.
        Me: I… uh…”
        Lexi: (rolls her eyes) Writers. And they say men can’t commit.
        Me: That’s why I left you with your dream guy.
Lexi: I’m just yankin’ your chain. Oh, one more request.
        Me: Sure.
        Lexi: Don’t ever put my book on sale. I’m not a cheap read.


Sunday, January 31, 2016

The time a current Presidential candidate played a song for my wife

During my career in television news I've gotten to meet a lot of politicians over the years. Many of them make you want to take a shower, though I have met some nice ones, from both parties.  And since the primaries and caucuses are starting, I thought I'd share the story of a candidate who did a memorable thing for my wife.

We were attending one of those media dinners, a nice affair for those in the news business to relax and break bread with our competitors. But this was more upscale than the usual rubber-chicken affairs, as it was held at a beautiful hotel and would feature a dance after dinner with a live band.

That band was not a typical one, as it featured Mike Huckabee on guitar. (He's the former Governor of Arkansas currently running for President, in case you didn't know.) They called themselves "Capitol Offense" which would have left them open to jokes had they been bad, but the band was really very good.

After finishing one song Huckabee stepped to the microphone. "Anyone here from Alabama?" he asked. My wife, who is from that state, raised her hand. "Here's one for you," he said. The band proceeded to play "Sweet Home Alabama" much to my wife's delight.

A few years later I was producing a live shot for a network morning show with Huckabee and I mentioned that story to him. He actually remembered it.

Regardless of what you think of his politics, Huckabee is a nice guy. Once the camera was off he didn't talk politics, and even stayed to have breakfast with the crew after we were done with the live shot.

Anyway, it's a cool memory, and you don't usually get those from politicians. As far as cool politicians go, Huckabee wins in a landslide.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Ten Things I Said While I Watched Star Wars in 1977

Back in the seventies there wasn’t much out there if you were a sci-fi geek like me and my circle of friends. You had the nightly Star Trek re-runs (which by this point I had memorized line for line) and that was about it.

Then one day my good friend Dan called. “You’ve gotta see Star Wars!” He liked it so much he wanted to see it again, so off we went to the theater. I was desperate for some new sci-fi, since the talk of a Trek movie never seemed to go anywhere.
I will admit, this series got off on the wrong foot with me right from the start and never recovered. When you’re confused during the opening credits, well…  it was all downhill from there.

-The words “Episode IV” rolled across the screen. I immediately turned to Dan. “Are we in the right theater?” Dan assured me this was the movie we came to see, even though episodes one, two and three did not exist. To me this was like picking up a book and starting it in the middle. (Perhaps I should send my next novel to my editor starting with chapter ten and see if she thinks it’s a classic, then asks me to write three prequels.)

-The Princess aint Rapunzel. She doesn’t really look like a traditional princess with the long flowing locks, as though someone at her salon screwed up big time and decided to go the bun route to cover up a hack job. “What’s with the hair? She looks like she’s wearing two cheese Danish for earmuffs.”

-It didn’t take long for me to decide the gold mechanical guy was really annoying. (As far as irritating people go, Central Park mimes at least have the decency to shut up.) “Please tell me they kill that thing off by the end of the movie.”

-Third world meets high-tech. “They have cars that float, a bunch of androids and yet they live in an adobe hut?”

-The guy in the black helmet with the breathing problem puzzled me. “So, what’s the deal, he’s a really evil guy who smokes two packs a day?”

-I was shocked to see a renowned actor like Sir Alec Guinness in a sci-fi movie, because back then you rarely saw a big name in the genre. Though we did have Charlton Heston screaming at damn dirty apes or yelling about soylent green being made of people. “He must need the money to be in a movie like this.”

-Chewbacca, who to me looked like a bad Halloween costume crossed with footie pajamas. “So he’s, what, a big dog who can fly a spaceship? And how the hell does the pilot understand him?”

-The bar scene. Words failed me. Big eye roll. (To make matters worse, this resulted in a bad disco song. And you couldn’t dance to it.)

-The light sabre as the Jedi weapon of choice made no sense. “Let me get this straight… these two guys are masters of mind control who can kill someone with a thought and they’re fighting with swords? Captain Kirk would have pulled out his phaser and vaporized them in a second.”

-The death star attack run told me the rebels really needed help in the strategy department. “So, if I’m understanding this correctly… instead of just swooping straight down and firing at the target they fly through this tunnel where all the guns are?”

-Finally, as we left the theater. “I’m glad you paid for that.”

Now I know a vast majority of you do not agree with me and your fingers are twitching, primed with a nasty reply. But as Master Yoda would say, “Away put your angry comments. Opinion, it is but one.”

Needless to say, I’m off to see another “episode 7” which is the new Rocky movie. Yo, Adrian.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Free Holiday Fiction: "Santa's Secret Baby"

by Nic Tatano 
copyright 2015

Samantha's letter to Santa asking for a new father and a little brother needed a stamp.
She ran into her mother's bedroom and opened the nightstand drawer. That's where Mom kept the stamps.
She noticed Dad's adult blue breath mints were still there even though he had left.
Then Samantha got a great idea.
Since Daddy's gone, I can put his breath mints in Santa's cookies!
"Suh-man-thuh!" Her mom's sharp voice barreled up the stairs. "You ready for school?"
"Coming!" Samantha put the letter in her clear plastic backpack, facing out so she could keep an eye on it, the arithmetic book serving as a border and keeping it in place.
"C'mon, honey, we've gotta stop at the mailbox if you want to get that letter to Santa." Her mother was waiting at the bottom of the stairs. Caroline Kelley's pale green eyes had dark circles again, the shoulder length copper hair framing her angular face had apparently been combed with an eggbeater. She had her faded blue cloth coat wrapped tightly around her tall, rail-thin body while he held out a tiny red quilted jacket. Samantha turned around, put her arms in the sleeves, then turned back to face her mother, who started to zip it up.
She took her mother's hands. "I can do it, Mom. Geez, I'm not a child. I'm six years old."
"I know, honey. I forget you're getting to be a big girl. Got your letter?"
Samantha held up the backpack.
"Did you ask Santa for everything you want?"
"You gonna tell me?"
Samantha narrowed her eyes. "Nope. It's between me and Santa."
Santa Claus gazed out through the workshop window at the snow covered field, but didn't really see anything.
His mind's eye was focused on Mrs. Claus.
The image of her headstone had been burned into his brain since the summer.
He could almost taste her made-from-scratch hot chocolate, sugary sweet and rich. It would warm his body and soul right about now. He felt a chill run through him, even though the temperature inside the workshop was seventy-two degrees and getting warmer, as the elves had fired up the furnace.
The strong smell of glue and sawdust wafted by, reminding him that Christmas Eve was a few hours away.
And his wife wouldn't be there to send him off.
For the first time, Santa dreaded the holiday.
He could see her, trudging through the snow with a sack of mail. She'd loved to sort the letters, boys and girls, toys and games.
Happy and sad.
The number of sad letters from children had grown exponentially the past few years. Kids not wanting a toy, just a better life.
Dammit, I'm Santa Claus, not a psychiatrist.
The one he held was typical. A simple request for a new dad, a little brother.
Wishes he couldn't grant.
Waving a magic wand and providing someone to love was not within his power. If it was, he'd do it for himself.
Funny, the little girl named Samantha who'd written it wanted the same thing.
"Now add your M&M's," said Caroline, sitting at the kitchen table as she watched her daughter play Martha Stewart. Samantha stopped beating the light brown batter that filled the glass bowl, gently grabbed the bag of candy, and started to add the red and green holiday M&Ms. "Not all at once," she said, reaching for the bag.
Samantha pulled it back. "I know, mom.".
Caroline stood up and grabbed a cookie sheet just as the phone rang. "Keep stirring. You don't want any lumps."
Caroline left the kitchen and answered the phone. Her voice trailed off as Samantha studied the batter, watching the M&M's disappear into the mix. Her face tightened.
The batter didn't look bright enough.
One more color would be nice--
Daddy's blue breath mints!
Her mom was still on the phone. Samantha dropped the spoon in the batter and ran to her mom's bedroom.
She grabbed the mints, ran back to the kitchen, and emptied the whole bottle into the batter, stirring them in. They disappeared into the mix as her mother returned.
Caroline kissed Samantha's forehead. "Pleasant dreams, sweetie." She caught a hint of her strawberry shampoo as she ran her hands across the top of Samantha's head.
She could only hope her dreams were more pleasant than reality.
Caroline made her way downstairs. She smiled at the sight of milk and a dozen cookies on the hearth.
Sorry, Santa. Mom's got the stress munchies. Get your own damn snacks.
But I need something stronger than milk.
Caroline took the milk back into the kitchen, grabbed a carton of eggnog in the fridge, then found a dusty bottle of liquor. Mmmm. Rum. She poured two shots into a glass, then filled it with eggnog. She carried it to the living room, flicked on the television, and sat in her husband's recliner as "It's a Wonderful Life" filled the screen.
She grabbed a cookie and took a bite.
They were surprisingly good.
She ate one, then another, then another. She got up and got a refill on the egg nog.
Spiked egg nog and cookies.
Holiday comfort food.
In ten minutes her glass was empty.
What the hell, I'm off tomorrow. One more round.
She fixed a third drink (at this point it was rum with a splash of eggnog.) As her body melted into the recliner, she knew she was done for the night.
Caroline drifted off to sleep as Jimmy Stewart kissed Donna Reed.
"Last stop," said Santa to Rudolph. The reindeer flew through the frigid air to the small house and executed a perfect landing on the snow-covered roof. He looked at the final name on the list, Samantha Kelley, and shook his head at her request.
There were no fathers or brothers in his sack.
He pulled out a Barbie doll, slid down the narrow chimney, and was greeted by the sight of a passed-out mom. He smiled at the sight of the woman, sprawled out in a recliner, arms out wide, mouth open, sawing wood.
He placed the doll under the tree, a thin, four-foot spruce with few presents under it. He turned and saw the cookies.
What the hell. I'm off tomorrow.
One more round.
He plopped down onto the sofa, grabbed a cookie and what he assumed was a glass of milk. He wolfed down the first cookie and downed half the glass before realizing it was spiked eggnog.
"Hmmm," he said softly. "What a nice change of pace."
He ate the remaining cookies and washed it all down with the rest of the drink.
The room began to spin as he tried to get up.
"Whoa," he said. He steadied himself on the arm of the sofa, and sat down, eyes at half mast.
The woman stirred as he fought to stay awake. She looked at him, half-asleep herself, then smiled sweetly. "Nick," she said, "you came back."
He was fading fast, on the edge of dreamland, his vision blurring and turning blue. "Where else would I be?"
She got up, moved toward him, and climbed on his lap.
This has to be a dream.
"Aren't you a little old for this, young lady?" he asked.
She leaned forward, close enough to smell the rum on her breath. Her lips brushed his ear, sending electricity through his body. "You know what I want for Christmas, Nick. I've been a good girl. But that might not be the case later on." She leaned back and ran her hands through his hair. "I can be naughty or nice, depending on what you want. How about both?"
The last thing he remembered was the woman unbuttoning his suit just before she started kissing him.
Then he woke up in an ambulance.
"Talk about the North Pole," said the paramedic in a heavy New York accent.
"Huh?" said Santa, trying to raise his head before a massive headache pushed it back down.
"Your… uh… problem," said the young, lanky EMT, smiling as he pointed in the direction of Santa's waist.
Santa looked and the sight threw cold water on his face. Now he was wide awake.
"Ain't you ever seen the commercial?" asked the paramedic. "Four hours and you won't need Rudolph to point the way next year."
"Dear Lord," said Santa. "How did I get here?"
"You musta been on some bender last night. A kid spotted you on a roof this morning and called 9-1-1."
Why is my underwear on the ceiling fan?
Caroline rubbed her eyes and opened them, squinting for a better look directly above. Sure enough, Victoria's Secret had become an accessory to a wood-grained propeller.
"Mommy, Santa came!"
Yeah. More than once.
Samantha stomped up the stairs, the noise adding to the Chinese gongs going off in her head. Her daughter burst through the door carrying a box. "I got the special Barbie! Santa brought it!" She jumped on the bed, making the Chinaman swing, miss the gong and hit the side of Caroline's skull.
"That's great, honey," said Caroline, taking in her daughter's wide grin as she rubbed her temples. Aw. Nick actually brought her a doll. The bale of cotton in her mouth needed harvesting. "Do mommy a favor and get me some orange juice?"
"Sure. Come down and open your present!"
"In a few minutes, sweetie."
Samantha headed down the stairs as Caroline sat up and surveyed the wreckage that was her bedroom.
The ceiling fan with the red silk spinning thong wasn't the half of it.
A pair of red platform heels lay at the foot of the bed. A French maid outfit and pro cheerleader costume were strewn across an open box next to the oak vanity. She recognized it as the "play box" from her better days with her husband.
She got up and staggered into the bathroom, jumping back at the face in the mirror.
 Her hair was teased out to 1980s ozone-killing levels. Bright red lipstick and emerald green eye shadow shone like beacons in the reflection.
All the things Nick liked.
Whatever. It's Christmas.
Blame it on the egg nog.
She turned and walked quickly through the bedroom, down the stairs and into the kitchen.
But no one else was in the house.
Damn you, Nick. Couldn't even stick around for your own kid.
"What happened to your hair, mommy?"
She looked down to find Samantha holding a glass of orange juice in one hand and Barbie in the other. "I was just trying out a new style, honey."
"Your eyes look pretty, Mommy."
Yeah, I look like I need a bail bondsman and a public defender. "Thanks, sweetie. Let me take a shower and then we'll make French toast and open presents."
Samantha began playing with the hair on her new doll. "I'm gonna make the doll's hair look like yours."
Great. I'm hung over on Christmas morning and my daughter is turning Barbie into cheap slut soccer mom.
Caroline trudged back upstairs and looked in the mirror again. They don’t call it demon rum for nothing.
She turned on the shower and was about to step in when something in the mirror caught her attention.
She turned and saw the unopened condom on the floor.
Oh, shit.
Damn you, Nick.
The droopy-eyed doctor wandered into Santa's room peering over his half glasses as he stared at a chart. He was followed by a frumpy, middle-aged nurse. "So, we've got Santa in here this morning," said the doctor, as he looked up at his patient. "Ho, ho… HO!"
"I'd say that's what Saint Nick needs," said the nurse, eyes widening at Santa's problem.
"Please, give me something to make it go away," said Santa.
The short, thirtysomething doctor tried to stifle a laugh. "I'm sorry, you don't usually see Santa in such a state of… holiday cheer."
"Very funny," said Santa.
The doctor shook his head as the nurse took Santa's pulse. "Okay, how long have you had this… condition?"
"I don't know. I was delivering toys to a girl--"
"She don't need toys with a problem like that," said the nurse, as she slapped a blood pressure cuff around Santa's arm.
"As I said, I was putting presents under this girl's tree--"
The doctor rolled his eyes. "Look, buddy, I'm not six years old. We don't need the G-rated metaphors. Just tell me how long--"
"I'll need a ruler to answer that, doctor," said the nurse.
"I passed out about four this morning," said Santa.
"What time did you take the pills?" asked the doctor.
"What pills?"
"The E-D pills."
"I didn't take any pills."
"Well, you didn't take Spanish Fly. Your blood shows an elevated level of E-D medication. How many of those things did you use? You're only supposed to take one. Were you planning to work you way through a harem or something?"
"Doctor, I'm telling you, I don't remember taking any pills. I ate a bunch of cookies and spiked egg nog, passed out, woke up with a big-haired woman on top of me dressed in hot pants, a halter top and go-go boots, passed out again, and woke up in the ambulance."
The doctor stopped writing on the chart. "So basically you're saying that you were date raped dressed as Santa Claus."
"I'm not dressed as Santa Claus. I am Santa Claus."
The doctor stretched his brown eyes wide, rubbed his two-day stubble and shook his head. "Ohhhh… kay. Buddy, I've gonna give you some meds to take care of the… problem… and then you can sleep off whatever is making you think you're really Saint Nick and had sex with a woman from 1979."
Frank Cantrell took a bite of the raspberry jelly donut and cursed the boss for sticking him with a Christmas Day shift. A skeleton crew manned the newsroom, quiet except for the sounds of a fresh pot of coffee brewing and a police scanner filled with idle chatter of crimes not worth covering.
There were slow news days and there was Christmas. And for a tabloid reporter, finding something sexy to write about under the tree was a pipe dream.
Frank scanned the wires, hoping for an idea that might spark a local story. It didn't even have to be true.
The motto at the New York Tattler was simple. "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story."
He took another bite of the donut, sending powdered sugar all over his blue tie. Frank brushed it off as the phone rang. He washed down the donut with coffee before he answered it. "Newsroom, Cantrell."
"Frank, Merry Christmas. I was hoping you were working."
"Well, Doc Wilson. Long time no talk."
"How are things at the Big Apple's most popular tabloid?"
"Other than having to work the holiday, not bad."
"I saw your coyote in the subway story the other day. Funny as hell."
"Thanks, but it was actually a mangy mutt."
"Yeah, but it made for good reading, Frank."
"So, to what do I owe a greeting from my college roomie on Christmas Day? Forget to send a fruitcake?"
"I've actually got a story for you. Right up your alley."
Frank's eyes grew wide as he heard Doc's tale of the emergency room Santa Claus. The adrenaline known as a big story rushed through his veins. And Doc, bless his New Yorker look-the-other-way heart, would conveniently be absent when Frank went into Santa's room in a borrowed lab coat posing as a doctor. "On my way, Doc," he said.
Caroline laughed at the headline.
Santa's Little Helper: NY woman gets visit from the "North Pole"
The cartoon of Santa carrying a bag full of erectile dysfunction medicine and a clock timer set for four hours only added to her amusement.
Until she turned the page and read the story.
Little Blue Overdose Lands Santa's Helper in Emergency Room
By Frank Cantrell
When Elvis sang about a blue Christmas, he probably didn't have this in mind.
A hungover man dressed in a Santa suit was admitted to Midfield Hospital in a state of arousal you only hear about in "those" commercials.
That's because he took between ten and twelve times the normal dosage of erectile dysfunction medicine. Along with an unspecified amount of rum-spiked egg nog.
"When you combine alcohol with an excessive amount of ED medicine, you're gonna be wearing sweatpants for awhile," said one emergency room doc. "It should be about three days and then he'll be up and around."
Well, we don't exactly have to wait for the "up" part of that scenario.
EMTs responded to a 911 call from a ten-year-old boy who'd spotted Saint Nick passed out on a roof with an icicle hanging from his midsection. After rushing him to Midfield, blood tests showed he'd OD'd on ED.
The man, who insists he is Santa Claus and was actually admitted under the name Kris Kringle, claims he brought Christmas cheer to at least two women; one described as a Texas cheerleader and another as a French maid.
Caroline's head shot up.
No. It couldn’t be.
She turned the page, hoping for a picture of the man, just as her cell phone rang. She grabbed it as she furiously turned the pages.
"Caroline Kelley, please…"
"Ms. Kelley, this is Trent Wilcox of the Las Vegas District Attorney's Office. I'm calling to tell you we arrested your ex-husband."
Caroline's jaw dropped. "That's not possible. Nick was just--"
"We picked him up him on the 23rd. You'll be happy to know he had several thousand dollars on him and we'll be sending you the back child support that you're due."
"You're sure this is Nick?"
"Still here if you wanna talk to him." The DA emailed a mug shot to her phone.
It was Nick all right. Wire rimmed bifocals, deep set eyes, the beginnings of a third chin and a beer gut that had swelled to watermelon size. His previously salt-and-pepper hair had gone totally white and he was now sporting a full, bushy beard to match.
Nick. In Las Vegas.
Then whose bones was I jumping on Christmas Eve?
The hospital was a beehive of activity. Caroline turned the corner of the hallway, smiled at a couple of nurses and headed toward the last room on the right. She paused as she reached the doorway.
Her eyes grew wide as she saw the man in the bed.
"It is you."
He looked at her, squinted, put on his glasses, and nodded in recognition. "I was going to contact you after I was released."
Caroline folded her arms in front of her. "I thought you were my ex-husband Nick. You tricked me."
"You drugged me."
"I called you Nick."
"That's my name. Well, some people call me Kris."
"Who the hell are you?"
"Now Caroline, calm down."
"And how do you know my name?"
"I brought gifts to you until you were seven. You were a late believer."
"What are you talking about?"
The man sat up. "Young lady, I am Santa Claus."
"Look buddy, tell me who you are or I'm calling the police."
"Caroline… remember the pink rocking horse when you were five? Or the EZ Bake Oven when you were six?"
Caroline's jaw dropped. "How could you know that?"
"I'll never forget the letter you sent me when you were seven. 'All the kids in school say you're a fake but I know you're real, and I know you'll bring me a stuffed koala.'  You named him Jonathan."
The man lay there, smiling at her. Her heart was hung up on her tonsils.
"And where do you think Samantha's Barbie came from?"
"You're… really…"
He just nodded.
Oh my God.
Queens woman nails Santa Claus. Film at eleven.
"Caroline… about last night--"
"Why were you hopped up on Viagra?"
"I wasn't. You drugged me."
"Excuse me?"
"My head was clear as a bell when I arrived. You were passed out and it was my last stop, so I sat down and had some of your egg nog and cookies. They had red, green and blue candy in them."
The cookies!
"Oh my God," said Caroline. "Daddy's breath mints."
"Samantha once asked my ex-husband what the little blue pills were, and he told her they were adult breath mints. She must have put them in the batter."
"It wouldn't have mattered if you hadn't attacked me."
"I thought you were my ex. You guys have the same… body type. I woke up and assumed he'd come home."
"Did you have the cookies as well?"
She nodded. "I wonder what that stuff does to women?"
"I think we found out. Mrs. Claus is no longer around, or I'd be in real trouble."
Caroline felt the anger drain from her body. Her voice softened. "There's… no Mrs. Claus?"
"She passed away recently."
"I'm terribly sorry."
"So am I."
She paused a moment, looking at the man whose eyes were welling up. "I, uh, hate to add more fuel to the fire, but we might have another problem."
"And what would that be, young lady?"
"I don't think we practiced safe sex."
Nine months later…

"Newsroom, Cantrell."
"Frank, it's Doc."
"Hey man, thanks for the Mets tickets. Really enjoyed the game."
"I've got something better than baseball tickets, Frank. You remember my little Christmas present?"
"Do I ever. The headline writers had a field day with that one for a week."
"Well, how do you feel about a follow-up?"
Frank smoothed his borrowed lab coat as Doc led him down the hallway. The sound of crying babies grew louder as they walked briskly toward the maternity ward.
Frank's pulse spiked as they reached the glassed-in room. He put his hand in his pocket and squeezed the tiny camera. Half a dozen babies were in cribs, all screaming.
"He's not in there," said Doc. "The hospital didn't want anyone to see this."
He led Frank into a private room. It was dimly lit, but bright enough for Frank to see a thirtyish woman in the bed and a crib next to it.
"Hiya, Doc," she said, looking at them through eyes at half mast.
"Good morning, Caroline," said Doc. "How're you feeling?"
"Really good drugs," she said, as she nodded and gave him a thumbs up.
Doc turned up the lights and the shadows that had been covering the crib dissolved.
And Frank's eyes bugged out.
It was a baby, all right.
With white hair and a full white beard.
"What the hell?"
"Little bugger needs a shave, huh?" said Caroline. She smiled at Frank. "Maybe a shot of Miss Clairol, too!"
Frank turned to Doc. "Doc? How?"
The woman looked directly at Frank and narrowed her eyes. She motioned him closer and he complied. She lowered her voice, as if telling a secret. "I slept with Kris Kringle," she said, raising one eyebrow. "Santa Claus… knocked me up!"
Doc moved to pull a curtain that separated the bed from the crib. "Let's check you out a minute, Caroline." He winked at Frank. "He'll keep an eye on your baby."
The moment the curtain closed Frank pulled out the camera and began firing away.
The nurse yanked back the curtain, showering Caroline's room with bright sunlight. "Rise and shine, young lady. You're going home today," she said.
Caroline propped herself up on both elbows and yawned. "Damn, that was the best sleep I ever had."
The nurse nodded at the crib. "It might be your last, once he starts crying."
Caroline looked lovingly into the crib, and received a smile back from the bearded infant inside. "You need a name, young man."
"And you need some breakfast," said the nurse, who slid her tray table over the bed. A tray sealed with cellophane had already been delivered, along with the morning paper underneath. "By the way, I assume it was the drugs talking, but you listed Santa Claus as the father on the birth certificate."
Caroline nodded as she ripped the cellophane from the tray. She grabbed a piece of toast and took a huge bite. "Your  point being?"
"Well, I mean--"
"You've looked at him, right?"
The nurse nodded.
"They teach you anything in med school about babies being born with full white beards?"
"Uh, no."
"Trust me, Santa's his father."
The nurse's pager started beeping. "I've gotta run. I'll check in on you later."
"Thanks," said Caroline, as she pulled the tabloid out from under the tray.
The giant headline slugged her in the gut as she flipped it over to the front page.
"Santa Claus Knocked Me Up!"
Local woman gives birth to baby with white beard…. Says Kris Kringle is the father.
She stared at her own bleary-eyed photo below the headline.
Next to one of her baby.
She ripped open the paper, almost tearing the front page.
Santa Delivers for Christmas Ho
By Frank Cantrell
Just call him "Nick the Giver" from now on.
Apparently Santa Claus packed everything but a condom in his sack last Christmas Eve, as a woman who was more naughty than nice got her gift after a nine-month delay.
Caroline Kelley is the proud mother of a baby boy, and just looking at the picture tells you a DNA test isn't necessary to determine the father's identity. The child, born with white hair and a full beard, has medical experts stumped, but Caroline says it's not a mystery.
"Santa Claus is the father," she said, still feeling the effects of the delivery drugs. "He slid down the chimney and ate cookies that were made by my daughter. Unbeknownst to me, she had added my ex-husband's bottle of erectile dysfunction tablets that she thought were adult breath mints into the cookie batter. Since I also had some cookies and we both had spiked eggnog, we ended up in the bedroom."
That story makes sense, if you remember our Christmas Day tale of the Santa who was hospitalized with an overdose of ED medication. During that holiday interview, Santa claimed he'd had sex with women dressed as a Texas cheerleader and a French maid.
Caroline confirms she has both of those "costumes" in her bedroom closet, along with a Playboy bunny outfit, a Wonder Woman suit and a riding crop.
Hopefully her seven year old daughter Samantha didn't see Mommy nailing Santa Claus.
"Dear God," said Caroline, flopping back on the bed.
Santa Claus exited the hospital and was immediately surrounded by the media horde.
"Santa, are you the father of Caroline Kelley's baby?"
"How many women do you have sex with on the average Christmas Eve?"
"Are you going to do the right thing and marry Caroline Kelley?"
He put up his hands and quieted the crowd. "I'll answer all your questions, but one at a time, please."
"Are you the father?"
Santa nodded. "Yes, the child is mine. Everything you have read is true."
"Do you still claim that you're Santa Claus?"
"What proof do you have?" asked a female reporter.
Santa looked the reporter in the eye. "I brought you a Cabbage Patch doll when you were five. You named it Jennifer." The reporter's eyes widened. Santa turned to a male reporter. "I gave you a G.I. Joe when you were six, but you broke his arm off, so I gave you another the following year." Then another female. "And you wanted a swing set, but you were naughty, so I just brought you a Chutes and Ladders game to remind you of what you might have gotten if you'd behaved. You were a very good girl the next year, and got the swing set."
"How could you know that?" asked the reporter.
"As I said, I'm Santa Claus. Who else would know that?"
"Okay," said another reporter, "Assuming you are indeed Santa Claus, what happens now?"
"Well, I have a son to support, and the mother of my child will need help as well."
"Are you going to marry Caroline Kelley?"
Santa nodded. "I have asked for her hand in marriage. She has not as yet decided."
"What about Christmas? How can kids look up to you anymore after all this?"
The question was a sucker punch to the soul. "I… I don't know."
Caroline leaned forward in her recliner as she fired the remote at the television in search of something uplifting. She settled on a familiar love story she knew to have a happy ending.
She kicked back into the recliner, extending her legs out as the chair's leg rest popped up. She shoved a handful of popcorn into her mouth and was about to pop the top on a cold soda.
And then the commercial started.
The man in a Santa suit was perched on the edge of a bed, then pulled a prescription bottle out of his sack. "When the time is right, you wanna be sure you can deliver the goods. That's why I take Elonga… it's Santa's Little Helper."
Caroline sat with mouth agape, popcorn kernels falling out of it into her lap.
The TV Santa went on to extol the virtues of the drug. "Take one of these and it'll be ho-ho-ho every day of the year!" he said, just as two bikini babes moved into the shot, each sitting on one of Santa's legs. "I'm Prancer," said one. "I'm Vixen," cooed the other.
"And what do you want for Christmas, little girls?" asked Santa.
"We want Rudolph to point the way," said one woman, as she ran her hand inside his shirt.
"On Prancer! On Vixen!" said Santa, as he lay back and the two women jumped on him.
"Elonga," said the announcer. "Bring a little bit of the North Pole home this holiday season."
The television satellite trucks were lined up as the moving van pulled up to Caroline's home. News photographers snapped to attention to capture the moment when Santa would begin his new life.
The truck turned into the driveway and came to a sputtering halt.
Right behind it, Santa and a sleigh full of elves.
Caroline opened her door, holding on tight to Samantha as the sound of camera clicks filled the air.
"Elves!" Samantha broke away from Caroline and started to run toward the sleigh. She looked over her shoulder as she ran. "Look mommy, elves!"
"Samantha, don't--"
But it was too late. Her daughter was swallowed up by the photographers, crouching down to get a child's perspective on the elves.
"You guys are real!" said Samantha, as an elf walked by carrying a small box.
"They're very real," said Santa, patting Samantha on the head.
Samantha moved forward and wrapped her arms around Santa's waist, burying her head in his red suit.
The reporters closed in. "Santa, are you here to stay?"
Santa nodded. "Yes. My new son needs a father."
"What's your response to the latest poll on Christmas?"
"I haven't heard about it," said Santa, as he pulled a large box from the sleigh. "I've been packing. I'm creating a satellite headquarters here--"
"Seventy-eight percent of parents don't want Santa Claus in their homes."
Santa stopped dead in his tracks. "What…
The reporter continued, reading from a piece of paper. "Parents say you're now associated with sex and erectile dysfunction medicine, and that's not something their children need to be, uh, exposed to. Pardon the pun."
Santa felt his eyes well up quickly. A single tear ran down his cheek.
"What's your response?" asked the reporter. "Is this the end of a traditional Christmas?"
December 21st
Frank Cantrell walked along the slush covered sidewalk, sidestepping the black puddles. The sound of the playground grew louder as he turned the corner toward the school.
She was waiting.
His pulse quickened with his step as she waved.
He reached the chain link fence and stopped.
"You came," she said, as she tangled her fingers in the steel fence.
"I feel… somewhat responsible for your situation."
He looked up and saw a teacher note his arrival, then walk in his direction.
"You need to cover for me," he said.
"Excuse me," said the teacher. "May I ask--"
"He's my uncle Frank," said Samantha.
The teacher exhaled her tension. "Oh, sorry. You can't be too careful these days."
"I was just passing by and saw Samantha, so I thought I'd say hello," said Frank.
"Okay," said the teacher, who turned and walked back to the other children.
He waited until she was out of earshot, then crouched down. "Okay, kid, waddaya got."
"You've got to find my letter," she said.
"What letter?"
"The one I wrote to Santa last year. They're at the post office."
"I don't understand. Why do I need something like that?"
Frank's eyes bugged out as Samantha gave him the story of a lifetime.
Ironically, the reporter who had killed Christmas could now save it.
"Dear God," said Frank.
The dead letter office of the New York City main post office was piled to the ceiling with bags of mail.
"Knock yourself out," said the postmaster.
"How many years has this been piling up?"
"Oh, I dunno. Ten, twelve maybe."
"And it just sits here?"
"Look, we don't have the staff to go through all this stuff. Ninety-nine percent of it is garbage anyway."
"Any idea where last year's letters to Santa might be?"
"Well, you go back in time as you go towards the back wall, so start closest to the door. You're really looking for a needle in a haystack."
"It's a really special needle."
The minute the postmaster left the room Frank started grabbing bags and dumping them on the floor.
Luckily the needle he was looking for was in a hot pink envelope, and shone like a beacon.
Santa simply did his job
By Frank Cantrell

When Santa Claus accidentally got Caroline Kelley pregnant last Christmas Eve through a bizarre set of circumstances, he was simply fulfilling his role.
Nine months later, Santa had a son. Caroline had a new husband.
And Samantha Kelley had what she'd asked for when she wrote to Santa last year.
The seven year old's letter to Santa turned up at the central post office dead letter office, and revealed she had asked for only two things: a new dad and a little brother.
Now she has both, though probably not in a way she expected.
Nonetheless, Santa Claus was simply granting a Christmas wish to a little girl who had been nice all year. Apparently, copies of letters to Santa magically appear at the North Pole even though they end up in a backroom of a post office.
This reporter thinks he deserves to get his job back.
"Have a good trip," said Caroline, kissing Santa on the cheek as he climbed aboard his sleigh.
"I always do," he said.
"And watch the eggnog in New York."
"I'm the designated sleigh driver this year," said Santa. "Nothing stronger than skim milk."
"What time will you be back?" asked Samantha.
"Early enough to put your presents under the tree, young lady. So, off to bed!"
Santa barked the orders to the reindeer as Rudolph's nose lit up. The team galloped in unison and the sleigh quickly disappeared into the night, the sound of Santa's "Ho, ho, ho!" fading in the distance.
Samantha moved close to Caroline and wrapped her arms around her mom's waist. "I'm glad Christmas is back, mommy."
"Me too, Samantha."
"I like living at the North Pole, too. The elves are fun."
"They are. So what did you ask Santa for this year?"
"I already got my gift," said Samantha, smiling from ear to ear.
"And what was that?"
"I got Christmas back."