The flashing ambers of the tow truck slowly faded into the distance in his side mirror, as Trooper Guy Sullivan punched the accelerator on the powerful Dodge sedan, and rejoined the flow of traffic on the highway. There weren’t many cars left on the road at this hour, since most everyone had already reached their destination and begun their holiday festivities with family and friends, but the wreck he’d just cleared had plugged things up for a while, and left a few travelers behind schedule on their journeys.
As he deftly threaded his way into the remaining flow of cars, Sullivan let out a deep breath, and let his mind drift for a second. Thank God it wasn’t a fatal, this time, he thought, reflecting back on the events of the prior year’s Christmas Eve. That crash had sadly claimed several lives, leaving Sullivan with the gut-wrenching burden of notifying two families that their loved ones were gone, on the holiest of nights. He was relieved that this one only resulted in minor injuries, but the thought didn’t comfort the young, but grizzled, Trooper too much. It was early in the shift, and there was still time for things to turn deadly later in the evening, when all those drivers who’d enjoyed too many Christmas spirits were back on the road, migrating home.
But for now, he was content that everyone would still be alive to see Christmas morning, 1976, and his accident report wouldn’t be too difficult to complete. He’d finish the diagrams back at the barracks, later on, because it was easier to do them at a proper table than it was on the clipboard cover of his aluminum form box. The Sergeant liked it when Guy used his plastic traffic stencil to make the figures look neat, and Guy wanted to keep him happy.
A few exits down the highway, Sullivan had reached the southern end of his beat and the coffee shop where he might normally stop to get off the road, out of the cold, and sit down for a decent meal (and a better cup of coffee). The diner was closed tonight, on account of the holiday, but Sullivan thought he might back into his normal spot in corner of the parking lot, and finish the rest of the narrative on his accident report, since the radio was quiet for now.
Like any good graveyard shift Trooper, Sullivan kept a Thermos full of coffee in his patrol bag, and it was early enough that it was still really hot. He unscrewed the cover that also served as a cup, poured it full of liquid lifesaver, then carefully set it on top of the dashboard to rest, as he screwed the bottle’s stopper back in place. The steam which rose from the cup fogged the inside of the windshield, and filled his nose with a more pleasant aroma than the usual blend of smells that define the inside of a police car. Between the sips of the hot liquid, and the runout Dodge’s heater, his frozen feet were starting to thaw, and his fingers were getting nimble enough that Sarge wouldn’t complain about his handwriting on the report.
The cruiser’s engine idled–smoothly, for the most part, but with an occasional gallop that caused him to look up and check the instruments–and the radio crackled a bit, as Sullivan worked through the entries on the form. His mind wandered to the little boy who had been in the back seat during the accident, and Guy said a quiet prayer of thanks that the parents had been smart enough to belt him into the seat. As it was, the little fella got a small bump on his head and a bit of a bloody nose from the impact, but it could have been much worse. A lot of parents still weren’t in the habit of using seatbelts–for themselves, or for their kids–even though all the new cars were being delivered with them, now. If that little boy—Let’s see, how old was he? Six? Seven? Um . . . yep, Seven years old, according to my notes— hadn’t been restrained, he probably would have been hurt very badly. Guy saw it happen a lot, and the grisly sights had turned him into a true believer, a fervent spokesman for the value of lap belts.
Seven, he thought. That’s how old Guy was when his dad got orders to Norfolk, and the family had to pack up and move cross country from San Diego. His dad was a Chief, and the Navy needed him to get a green crew ready for their combat deployment to the new war in Korea, so the Sullivans loaded up the family car and went East. Guy didn’t remember any seatbelts in that car. Good thing we didn’t crash it.
Having already taken a few steps down the path, Guy’s mind drifted back to that year of changes, as he took another warming sip of coffee. Like any kid, he wasn’t happy about leaving his friends behind, and the new home in Norfolk didn’t compare to the little bungalow on the beach that he’d been raised in, back in California. They’d moved in November, so that holiday season was a little more memorable than some of the others that followed—the “firsts” are always easier to remember.
On this night, all those years ago, Guy was sure he’d wake up the next morning and find the gun under the tree. His heart burned for the gun he’d seen in the catalog, and he just knew it would be there when he sneaked out to raid the pile of gifts.
But it wasn’t. There was a host of other wonderful gifts for him and his sister, but the gun was not among them.
He was disappointed, but there were other treasures to keep him occupied, and kids are resilient, anyhow. He thought about asking for his birthday, but . . .
The memory was interrupted by the radio.
Sullivan was being called to check out an unknown disturbance at an address that was new to him. He knew the street, because one of his “regulars” lived a few blocks down, but he’d never had a call for service at this address, which was in a quiet part of town. He picked up the hand mic and acknowledged the assignment, carefully poured the rest of the precious brew back into the Thermos (that throwing the coffee out the window stuff was Hollywood nonsense, he mused. If I did that every time I got a call, I’d need to pack a few gallons every night), and set out for the two-hundred block of Maple Street.
The dispatcher fleshed out the call as he was enroute. The reporting party (RP) had seen a flash of light through the curtains, and had heard some kind of commotion outside, but there was no trace of anyone when he went outside to look. Two more calls had come in from surrounding residences, so it sounded like it was legit, and not the result of too much Christmas wine.
As Sullivan neared the neighborhood, he killed the lights and drove north on Redwood Street, which paralleled Maple to the East. He slowly drove past the back of the RP’s house on Redwood with the window cracked, looking and listening for clues, then crossed over to Maple and drove south, back in the direction of the RP’s address. He parked his car up the street, a few houses north, and got out quietly, controlling the door so it wouldn’t slam shut. With the hand mic stretched through the open driver’s window and dangling outside, where he could get to it in a hurry, he stood in the dark for a few moments, just listening and looking.
Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
With his heavy Kel-Lite in his left hand, carried with the lamp off and his thumb riding the switch, Sullivan started towards the home. As he worked his way down the street, his eyes and ears were alert, scanning the neighborhood for signs of a disturbance or an unwelcomed trespasser. The thumb of his right hand reflexively brushed against the safety strap on his holster as he walked, reminding him where he could find it in a hurry, to unleash the .357 Magnum that rested inside.
Sounds of laughter and celebration leaked out of a home on his right, as his eyes strained to see past the colorful glow of the Christmas lights on homes up and down the block. Well, it’s obviously not a downed power line, he thought.
He occasionally flicked the Kel-Lite on, to illuminate the shadows beyond, and the five D-Cells did a good job of lighting things up. He’d worn out a set of them at the accident scene earlier, but had been smart enough to replace them with a fresh set from his bag before he went 10-8. He was glad that he didn’t have to do this search with a dying beam, and gave himself a mental pat on the back for his preparation.
Everything looked normal, so Sullivan approached the home and knocked on the door. The man who called it in didn’t have anything else to add to the initial report. He’d seen the flash of light through the curtains, and heard some kind of noise, but couldn’t say what it was all about. He hadn’t seen or heard anything else since he called the police. The neighbors who called from the surrounding homes told the same story—a flash, some noise (someone thought they might have heard a “jingle” in the mix), then nothing.
Sullivan promised them he’d take another look around, and report back before he left the scene. He searched diligently, but didn’t find anything, outside of some animal footprints—Made by a couple of deer? Maybe some dogs?–on a few of the lawns, which were visible in the frost when the flashlight’s beam hit them just right. He also saw a set of wheel or skid tracks that he wasn’t sure about. They were spaced kinda wide for a wagon, but he couldn’t figure out what else they would be. Probably wheeled some stuff over to the neighbor’s place, he thought. Maybe hiding some Christmas gifts in their garage, so the kids wouldn’t discover them too early.
The search complete, Trooper Sullivan checked out with the neighbors, telling them all was well, and wishing them a Merry Christmas. He walked back to the cruiser with a few extras from the grateful families, who made sure to send him on his way with some leftovers from the Christmas dinner table, including a good-looking turkey sandwich wrapped in wax paper, a Styrofoam cup of hot gravy to dip it in, and a big slice of pie that crowded the small paper plate that it sat on. He planned to enjoy the meal with a delayed cup of coffee from his Thermos.
Reaching the car, he set the food on the hood for a sec, and grabbed the dangling mic to tell Dispatch everything was Code 4. As he leaned into the car through the open window, to toss the hand mic back onto the bench seat for now, he was surprised to see a long, narrow box, on the passenger side of the car. Its bottom rested on the rubber floorboard, and its top leaned up against the shotgun in the locking cradle, attached to the dash.
The curious Trooper went around the other side and opened the door, to investigate. The beam of his flashlight showed the box was wrapped in Christmas gift paper, and it settled on a piece of folded paper, which was carefully tucked underneath the bright red ribbon that criss-crossed around the box, and was tied off in a simple bow.
The note bore a simple address: “To Guy,” it said.
With fingers that were getting a little numb again, from the cold night, Guy plucked the note from the box, unfolded it, and began to read by the light of the flashlight, which was now tucked under his left armpit, in a maneuver that he’d done thousands and thousands of times by the side of the road.
With great curiosity, and more than a little confusion, he read:
I’m sorry to say there was a mix up with your letter to me, dated November 1950. Somehow, it got misplaced—probably when the elves set it aside to verify your new address in Virginia—and we just rediscovered it last month, when we were doing some overdue cleaning at the workshop.
I wish I’d delivered this gun to you when you first asked for it, and I’m really sorry I didn’t, but I figured you’d still want it. To help make it up to you, I had the elves do a little custom work on it. The action is slick and the engraving turned out real nice. I hope you’ll like it.
Merry Christmas son. Be careful out there on the road, and God Bless!
P.S. Sorry about the ruckus tonight. It was the only way I could figure to sneak this into your car.
Guy had seen a lot of things during his time on the State Police, and there wasn’t much that surprised him anymore, but he was left absolutely dumbfounded by the letter.
He started to look around, for a partner hiding in the shadows. Was it Franco? He’s always pulling pranks like this. But how could he have known the details about the family’s move, and the unanswered letter to Santa, penned by a young boy with his first case of gun fever? How in the world? thought the Trooper, as he stood mouth agape, his eyes fixed on the brightly colored box in the patrol car.
His thoughts raced. Should he open it now? Hide it in the trunk and take it home? Open it in the garage, where Ellen and the kids wouldn’t see? What was in there? Could it really be a gun? The gun? “Custom work done by elves?” What could that possibly mean? Could it really be the gun?
As his head spun, and his hopeful, joyous heart leapt, the seven-year-old boy with the coffee breath, dressed in the State Trooper’s uniform, heard a jingle overhead. His eyes shot skyward, giving him just enough time to see the reindeer, with their belled harnesses, pull the heavily-laden sleigh across the winter sky in his flashlight’s beam.
With his gun hand, he waved at the right jolly old elf, himself, who briefly returned the gesture, then flashed four fingers at Guy before he went out of sight, as the sleigh banked away.
Guy watched in stunned silence as it faded into the distance, his trance broken only by a pair of rear deck flashing ambers that winked at him a few times, then went dark again, in a final Christmas salute to the road-weary Trooper.
The RevolverGuy team wishes all of you a very, Merry Christmas, and looks forward to another year of fun and friendship, ahead. May God bless you and your families! We’ll see you here in 2024, with more revolving goodness.