His name was Russell, all of the televisions said. Well, maybe it had been, once.
Rebecca tucked one leg underneath her on the sofa and adjusted her weight, gnawing on her bottom lip as the news came back from commercial. Anxiously, she twisted her wedding band around her finger and let her gaze flit around her living room: warm cinnamon scents drifting from the wax burner across the room, soft lights of the Christmas tree glittered behind the sofa. Her husband rustled through the adjoining kitchen, trying to find a snack to eat before they went to bed.
"Tim, it's starting again," she said, her voice so hoarse she had to clear her throat and say it again. "The news, Tim, it'll be back soon."
His name had been Russell, still was Russell, and he was Up To No Good.
"I'm coming, hold on. Where are the pickles?" Rebecca wrinkled her nose, knowing he was referring to bread and butter pickles, the scourge of the earth. A commercial of a dancing mattress left the screen, and the news was back. She felt fear begin to snake its way in through her gaping mouth, twisting its tendrils around her heart. "Tim!" she screeched. "Come on!"
Russell Langston was A Bad Man, and he was coming.
"Honey," Tim said softly, exasperation evident in his voice. "He's not coming here. They're going to catch him soon, tomorrow's Christmas. Look, let me make you a drink." He sat his sandwich down on the TV tray in front of Rebecca and turned to look at her. "What do you want, vodka cranberry? I can make you a martini?" Rebecca shook her head and turned the volume on the television up, utterly engrossed.
Russell Langston came into your house, came down your chimney, through your window, your front door, and slew your children as they slept, slipping out into the night with nary a trace.
"Authorities report no sighting of the Bethesda Santa so far today, and as we move into the night, we urge you to remain cautiously optimistic. Please close your chimney flues, ensure that all doors and windows are locked tight, and have a merry Christmas, folks." The newscast faded out and Tim settled into his recliner beside the sofa, bridging the gap between their seats with his hand and giving Rebecca's fingers a squeeze.
"He's not coming, baby, I promise. Do you want to get the presents for Bethany out? I'll go get my tool kit. Come on." He took a bite of his sandwich and winced a little, the tone of his words was too bright under the circumstances. Nevertheless, he took a swig of his beer and wandered off down the hallway, triple-checking the doors (locked) and going on to be sure that their daughter was still asleep, snug in her bed (she was).
"We've got that ride-on pony," Rebecca said faintly, standing up and stretching out her back. She had been glued to the television since getting home from work at 6 pm, and really didn't want to move at all. She would not feel safe until dawn came and Bethany jumped on their bed at 5:30 in the morning, a redheaded firecracker in the dark bedroom. A ray of light. Rebecca smiled to herself, and went to get the gifts out of the closet.
Russell Langston didn't have time for small potatoes - he had to go out with a bang, he sensed he did not have much time left.
Forty five minutes later, Rebecca felt more relaxed, having been coaxed into a drink by her watchful husband. She downed her third vodka cranberry and roared with laughter at a lewd joke Tim had made, throwing her head back as she unscrewed a plastic piece from the back of a princess castle to insert the batteries. She wiped tears from her eyes and was breathing so hard that she didn't hear the scuffling on the roof.
But Tim did.
Russell Langston was A Bad Man, and he was here.
Tim stumbled to stand up on numb feed, brushing the doll hair from his knees. "I'm gonna go check on Bethy one more time." he said quickly. "I've gotta pee, too." Rebecca nodded absently, beginning to artfully arrange the princess castle and its contents underneath the tree to achieve the most dramatic Christmas morning effect. Tim eased open his daughter's bedroom door and felt his breath catch: she was sitting bolt-upright in bed, clutching a doll from that Frozen movie - Layla or something - to her chest, eyes dewy with sleep.
"What's that?" she said softly, eyes searching the roof overhead. She squinted at the clock beside her bed and looked back at her father. "It's eleven-firty, it's not time to get up yet!" Tim nodded and crossed to his daughter's side, holding her tightly to his chest and reaching into his pocket with his free hand, extracting his phone. He dialed 911 - at least, what he hoped was 911, it was hard to know for certain on these newfangled smart phones, and waited. He heard a faint "911, what's your emergency?" and felt his chest constrict.
"What's on the roof, daddy?" Bethany asked again, persistent. I don't know, I don't want to know, Tim wanted to say. He held the phone to his free ear and murmured pointedly, "I think it's Santa Claus on our roof."
Russell Langston looked nothing like Santa Claus.
"On our way, sir," the dispatcher said. "I'll stay on the line until they arrive." Tim nodded - didn't know why he was nodding at a phone - and set the telephone down beside the bed, holding his little girl to him with two hands now.
"It's just Santa Claus," he repeated, trying in vain to laugh or smile. "That's all! He's waiting to come down our chimney, but he can't until you're asleep, silly." Bethany liked that, giggling and holding her doll tighter as her father let her go. "So you'd better go to sleep!" his threat was empty, but nevertheless, Bethany laid back down, grinning from ear to ear.
"I love you, daddy," she murmured into her pillow.
"I love you too," Tim said softly, smoothing her hair away from her face and standing, scooping up the cell phone. The clambering on the roof had faded moments ago, and that meant either there was nothing there, it was too late, or Russell Langston was biding his time.
Russell Langston never bode his time. He crouched on the roof of the single-story house, precariously watching the street below and the skyline for signs of movement. These people had a child, he could tell - the lawn was absolutely littered with the detritus of having a child and a yard to put it in. He felt his lips curling in protest. Children were filthy - it was best to be rid of them altogether.
Tim walked back into the living room, trying to remain calm. Rebecca peered up at him through a curtain of hair, grinning, and Tim felt his news catch in his throat - he couldn't tell her about the noises now, especially that he wasn't hearing them. It was better for the police to come, scare off the mutant squirrel or whatever was on their roof. Fuck, maybe it was a reindeer after all. He knelt in the packaging and began to undo twist ties on a package of make-believe food.
A police car crept down the road toward Tim and Rebecca's home, and Russell Langston froze in place, flattening himself against the roof.
"What was that?" Rebecca heard the solid thump on top of their house and looked up again, not for the first time today, to see where the chimney was. Tim shrugged noncommittally, reaching up to eat a bite of his long-forgotten sandwich from the TV tray.
"Probably some snow," he said. "You know it falls off those trees in those big ol' chunks."
Rebecca accepted that, nodded, and went back to putting the princess's dress clothes on so she could look beautiful for the ball.
The police car stopped outside, its lights off. It waited. Russell Langston cursed under his breath, made his way flat-bellied across the roof to the other side, began his descent into the backyard. He'd have to lay low tonight. The officer got out of the car and began to move to circle the house.
"I'm gonna go to bed," Rebecca stood and stretched, cracking her knuckles. "You should too, Santa Claus." she winked at her husband and reached for his hand. He accepted it and let her tug him to a standing position. Rebecca went off to the bathroom to wash her face, and Tim brushed back the curtains in the living room, a big ball of packaging and tape wrapped up under his arm. The police car drifted past in the night, and Tim sighed with relief he didn't know he'd had welled up inside of him.
Russell Langston moved along.
His name was Russell, all of the televisions said. Well, maybe it had been, once.