FIRST OF ALL, I have to tell you that I didn’t like the odds. Not that I hadn’t championed in the face of overwhelming odds
before--I mean, I’d done it once or twice at least--but really, no one really wants to be on the minority side of an unevenly
numbered fight. And there I was, on a crowded city street, with the Dry Cleaner and the Corduroy Man each wanting a piece of
yours truly who was, in fact, dressed in the red and white suit of Old Saint Nick. Had they known they were attacking the
Confectioneer, one of the city’s “10 best crime fighters” (according to editors of THE DAILY), they probably wouldn’t have
hesitated, wouldn’t have attacked with pulled punches. But as far as they knew, they were attacking Kris Kringle, the Captain of
Christmas--and even lowlife super-villains occasionally have a shred of dignity.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

It began just two weeks ago. Super-villain activity in Lakeside City had been really slow, and my nightly patrols as the
Confectioneer were becoming a colossal waste of time. Most super criminals were either incarcerated or had fled to another
city. Lakeside City may not have had much going for it, but it did have a substantial number of masked crime fighters keeping
its streets safe. But while crimes being committed by masked menaces had declined drastically, ordinary robberies continued
in Lakeside City as they do in any municipality.

Recently, a series of crimes that were clearly linked had sparked my interest. As you probably know, organizations such as the
Salvation Army routinely set up collection spots in front of department stores, shopping malls, etc. during the month of
December. And because crime seems to never pause for holidays, a duo of criminals had begun stealing the collection pots
(and their contents) in a most non-festive fashion. Between December 1 and December 10, the criminals--who were described
by eyewitnesses as juveniles between the ages of 16 and 18--had struck on six separate occasions. Police had no substantial
leads, and were not very concerned with the crimes; the cops were busily trying to apprehend a thief (or possibly thieves) who’d
recently stolen a rare coin from the Vandenberg museum valued at $2.5 million. Because there seemed to be no nightly need
for the Confectioneer, I’d decided to volunteer my services to the Salvation Army. Thus, I’d donned a Santa suit and each day
between the hours of 2:00 pm and 10:00 pm. rang a bell and collected donations from good-hearted citizens who passed by
the Macy’s building at 4th and Victory. I stood several feet away from the collection bucket, hoping that my distant proximity
would entice the perpetrators to again strike. While I did not wear my Confectioneer uniform beneath the Santa suit (for fear that
I would certainly dehydrate from excessive sweating), I was, nonetheless, confident that I could easily apprehend the felons
unaided, but hoped that it would happen soon since I had plenty of holiday shopping to complete for the kids (Joan noted that
this year it was my turn to do the gift buying); in addition, my freelance work was backing up--a huge stack of manuscripts sat
on the chair of my PC at home waiting to be edited.

No further crimes against the volunteers (myself included) were committed between December 10 and December 23. On the
afternoon of the 24th, a tired-looking, modestly dressed man turned onto Victory at 3rd and staggered in my general direction.
He stumbled through the crowd, knocking people aside with no regard for their safety. Finally, he stepped toward the collection
urn, his body teetering and his head reeling from side to side. The smell of whiskey was heavy on his breath and clothing. He
reached into the pocket of his overcoat and threw a handful of change into the urn. His eyes were blue and familiar. I swear they
were the bluest eyes I’d ever seen in my life.

“Merry Christmas,” he said, and staggered along.
“Happy holidays,” I replied, watching curiously as he lurched away.
“What the Hell was that all about?” Max, the 53-year-old shoe polisher whose bench was several feet to my right asked.
“I’m not really sure.”
“Takes all kinds, I guess,” he replied, and returned to the task of shining his customer’s penny loafers.
I looked down the street, but the blue-eyed wino was gone. The sidewalks were replete with last-minute shoppers, and I knew
that I needed to join them shortly, lest my hide be skinned at 6:01 am December 25 by an enraged wife and two disappointed
kids.

I heard them before I actually saw them. They approached from the west, as had the inebriated yet generous stranger who’d
recently departed. They pushed their way through the crowd who, upon recognizing them, either ran or stepped out of the way.

“Who wants extra starch?” the masked villain asked as a cloud of smoke and steam suddenly erupted and several pedestrians
collapsed. I held my breath as the steam reached me waiting for it to dissipate; I was familiar with its parallelizing effects. It was
the toxic chemicals used by the arch criminal The Dry Cleaner. The street thinned out quickly, as realization dawned on the
many passersby, and unconsciousness claimed many others. Seconds later, a loud, irritating sound filled the street. It grew in
intensity and had an almost nauseating quality. It was the sound of Roy Cord, aka the Corduroy Man, whose very body was
comprised of corduroy material. His walk--his swish-swish-swish  movements--were nearly unbearable. The costumed villains
approached me and me alone.

“Merry Christmas, Santa,” the Dry Cleaner said, mockingly. “We’ve been good boys all year and we’re here for our Christmas
present.” I stood close to the urn, which by now contained several hundred dollars in change and loose bills. Yet I was
singularly confused. The Dry Cleaner and the Corduroy Man were heavy-hitting super villains. They clearly were not responsible
for the previous thefts that had led to my under-cover self-appointed assignment. As the Confectioneer, I’d faced the Corduroy
Man on several prior occasions. Had he somehow learned my secret identity? Was his a revenge-oriented crime? No. He
seemed intent fully on the pot, and not at all on me. And there was no time to focus on the hows or whys of the situation. I felt
the brushed cotton of Corduroy’s fist as it stuck the back of my neck and lost my footing. I slid on the snow-covered sidewalk a
full ten feet from the impact of the blow. The crowd, which had initially dispersed, was slowly gathering around again, curious to
watch, but maintaining a safe distance so as not to incur personal violence. It was difficult to move in the Santa suit; I sat up,
stunned, wishing I could find a temporary haven in which I could change into my Confectioneer uniform, but quickly
remembered that the uniform was in my closet at home. The next voice I heard was faint and small, but clearly audible from the
parked car against which I rested my aching body.

“Mom, what’s happened to Santa?”
“Santa’s okay, dear,” the parent told her child reassuringly. It was then that I realized there were several children in the vicinity
watching with their parents, the drama that was unfolding like so much Christmas wrapping.

Clearly, I was faced with a difficult dilemma. I could either: 1. Allow the villains to escape with the donation pot or 2. Attack the
fiends dressed as St. Nick and possibly destroy the fragile psyches of the children whose curious eyes watched my every move.

The Dry Cleaner pulled the urn from its tripod and held it with both hands--it was clearly heavier than he’d anticipated.

“It’s too heavy,” he shouted to his comrade in crime.
“Put it down, idiot!” the Corduroy Man replied condescendingly. He then began rooting through the collection pot, searching it
with the utmost determination for several long seconds.
“Got it,” he said, though what he had was unclear from my vantage point. “Leave the rest.”

I assessed the surroundings, and saw the dismayed faces of the crowd. The children and adults were equally disheartened by
the crime being committed. In that moment I knew it would be okay. I knew that my actions would be condoned, or at least
understood, by those watching me. I stood up, reached into one of the pockets of the Santa suit, and consumed a packet of
sugar. I felt the sugar rush consume me and the veins on my arms began to surge. As the duo began to flee the scene, the Dry
Cleaner extended his right hand and prepared to fire his lethal dry-cleaning fluid into the gaping crowd. I sprang from the
ground with reindeer speed and bent his arm back so that the fluid discharge impacted with his own face. He dropped to his
knees and cried out in anguish. As his partner looked on in dismay, I turned quickly and tripped him to the ground. The
Corduroy May fell hard, his head impacting with the sidewalk, and even though his body contained no bone mass, the impact
rendered him unconscious. The street fell silent until all that was heard was the sound of snowflakes crunching against the
sidewalk.

“Way to go Santa,” someone yelled. I didn’t wish to encourage them, but waved my hand in appreciation.
In the hand of the unconscious Corduroy Man was a single coin--the Spanish medallion that had been recently stolen from the
Vandenberg museum. Following their apprehension, the Dry Cleaner and Corduroy Man confessed that they, along with Velvet
Blue had stolen the rare coin and were intending to sell it to a foreign buyer. However, Velvet Blue, who was an alcoholic when
he wasn’t committing criminal acts, had undergone a change of heart. And on a bender, he’d taken the coin and was planning
to return it. However, knowing his fellow rogues were pursing him, he’d tossed the coin into my collection urn (I knew I’d seen
those blue eyes before) and had gone into hiding.

The coin was returned to the Oscar Vandenberg. The Dry Cleaner and the Corduroy Man spent the holiday, and several
subsequent holidays, in jail. Velvet Blue was never seen in Lakeside City again. And the two juveniles who had stolen the
donations from a half dozen collection pots that lead to my wearing a Santa suit confessed to the police and returned the stolen
currency. Somehow, through it all, I managed to finish the holiday shopping in the eleventh-and-a-half hour. The cold winter
wind and snow that blew against my face as I trudged home carrying boxes and bags never felt so refreshing as it did that
evening.

                                                                                                          14  d e c e m b e r  2 0 0 1 (r e v i s e d  2 5  n o v e m b e r   2 0 0 6)
T h e   C o n f e c t i o n e e r   (o r   E x t r a   S t a r c h   f o r   C h r i s t m a s)
d a v i d    y u r k o v i c h