To whom it may concern:
Mr. Sanchez says I am to be honest in this letter because you will know if I'm telling the truth or not. You must be a masterful con artist to be able to see the truth in this letter without actually seeing me. Mother says I'm a natural and I'm very good at misdirection. She says it is a very good skill to have.
I am uncertain how to properly address this letter. Mr. Sanchez tells me that “To whom it may concern” is an appropriate way to address a letter when you aren't sure to whom you are writing. It would be much simpler if I knew which of your aliases you prefer. JD insists you name is Santa. Vin says it is Santa Claus. Mr. Sanchez says you are known as Saint Nicholas. Mr. Wilmington calls you Kris Kringle. Mr. Jackson says that you're sometimes called “a jolly old elf” but I suppose that is more of a nickname than a proper name. Do you prefer Mr. Claus? Mr Kringle? Mr. Santa? I do not wish to offend you by using the wrong name.
Mr. Sanchez says I can tell you anything or ask you anything. I hope this is true because your many names brings up a question for me. It is my understanding that an alias is meant to prevent persons from knowing your real name. And, Mother says I am not to tell anyone that I have more than one name. That is how the game works when we pretend we're someone else. But it seems everyone knows your aliases and knows that you go by several names. You must be very good if everyone knows you have many names, but they still believe your stories.
Mr. Larabee and Mr. Wilmington seem to hope that I believe your stories as well, but I'm not sure whether they are true or not – especially the one about leaving gifts. Mother says people don't do something without expecting something in return. Although, I presume that “being good” is what you ask for in exchange for the gifts. I try to be good. The problem is I don't know whether you want me to be Mother's good, or Mr. Larabee's good. Mother says it's good to practice my skills, but Mr. Larabee says it's good not to use them. Mother also tells me to do what Mr. Larabee says.
It's very hard to be good when I don't know which good I am supposed to be.
I suppose, though, if you are a master con artist, it would be best to practice my skills to be like you. And that brings up another question. How does your con benefit you? You give things away with no apparent financial gain. I used to think that you got all the money that people put in the red buckets where people dressed up like you ring bells, but Mr. Wilmington says that money goes to help poor people. So what do you gain?
JD and Vin are telling me to hurry up and finish my letter to you. I'm told I'm supposed to tell you what things I want for Christmas, but I have never received gifts from you, just from Mother. Either I'm not the right kind of good, or all this really is a big con game and you aren't who they all claim. But in case you are who they say, I like to read adventure stories. The commercials for the X-box look interesting, but it's rather expensive. Still it might be something we could share. It is very practical, combining several benefits into one. Some of the games are educational and it could be a way to get some exercise during the cold winter days. We could even watch movies on it.
Sir, what I would like the most is to see my mother. She said she'll call me on Christmas night, but it's not the same as seeing her. I miss her.
I suppose I've taken enough of your time. Thank you for hearing my questions. I look forward to your response.
Ezra P. Standish
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Chris watched Buck's expression as he read Ezra's letter to Santa. It was a good thing they were alone in the Sheriff's office where little ears could not hear his muttered curses. Chris knew exactly what Buck was thinking, because he felt the same way. Ezra obviously understood far more about conning people than they hoped, but his doubts about what was “good” meant that he was still moldable. It was sad that he was so cynical about Santa, but he had at least expressed his questions and desires.
Getting a hold of the letter had been a challenge in itself. Josiah had helped the boys with their letters, hoping to gain ideas of what gifts the boys wanted. The twist had come when Ezra refused to give Josiah the letter to be “mailed.” Suspicious and not wanting anyone but “Mr. Claus” to see his letter, Ezra insisted on mailing it himself at the big blue postal service collection box by the school.
This would have been a problem, but Four Corners was a small town and back in the late 1800s had established a “Santa” mail box. The one man post office collected the letters to Santa, allowed the parents to come in and read the letters and then mailed responses back to the children from “Santa” thanking them for their letters.
So now Chris and Buck sat in Chris's office reading the boys' letters.
“Do you think he was ever just a kid?” Buck asked sadly.
Chris shrugged slightly. “All I know is that I'm going to try my best to give him every chance to be a little boy... All of them.”
“Did you notice all three of them asked for only three things?” asked Buck.
“Must have had a pow-wow and decided three was a safe number,” Chris replied.
Buck nodded. “Kinda hoped they'd want something less expensive.”
Chris smiled. “You know, Ezra does have a point. The x-box could be educational.”
“Hah, yeah right,” Buck countered.
“Well, it could keep them occupied on those cold snowy days when they can't go out.”
“Keep who entertained?”
Chris frowned. “I thought you'd be all for this.”
Buck laughed. “Gotcha!” He ducked the paper Chris wadded up and threw at him. “So we get that for the three of them?”
“For the whole family,” Chris agreed.
“But we can't just give Ezra books.”
“No, but maybe we can find a game for the system that's just for him,” said Chris.
“That's good,” Buck agreed. “What about his other request? We can't give him his mother.”
“I'm not sure I'd want to even if we could,” Chris said quietly holding up Ezra's letter. “She hasn't exactly been a good influence on him.”
“But she's his mom,” Buck said needlessly.
“Yep.” Chris sighed. “So, how are we going to divide up the shopping?”
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Soft curses flowed from both sides of the family room.
“Shh, they'll hear you,” scolded Nathan quietly.
“You want to come do this?” Chris challenged from his chair in front of the computer. “It was your big idea.”
“It's not that hard,” Nathan said.
He joined Chris at the computer and the two of them re-read the instructions and spent the next hour trying to get the program installed and working.
Meanwhile, across the room, Buck was working on setting up the new X-Box gaming system with the big screen television, while Josiah wisely kept silent. When Buck finally got it connected and working, Josiah handed him another box – the Kinect module for the system. It was the latest and greatest thing, making the game interaction much more sensitive to motion, and the games more active.
“You couldn't have given this to me before I was done?” Buck asked in frazzled frustration.
Josiah just grinned. “I figure with your experience, adding this will be a breeze.”
“I figure you can sleep in the barn,” Buck replied.
Josiah laughed and pulled the Kinect out of the box.
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It was far too late when four men finally headed for bed and far too early when three little boys got up on Christmas morning. The day was filled with the happy chaos of gifts and wrapping paper. The boys were delighted with their gifts. Vin and JD had both received all three gifts they had requested, and Ezra had two out of three.
They had fun watching Chris and Buck and Nathan and Josiah open the gifts they had made them as well as the gifts they had purchased on the special Christmas shopping trip to the city. Then they spent a couple hours learning to play some games on the X-box, followed by a hearty dinner of turkey with all the trimmings.
As evening approached the boys were playing quietly with their new toys. Vin and JD were building something with their new Lego sets and Ezra was sitting on the couch reading one of his new books. He would pause every few minutes and glance at the clock. It was obvious he was hoping his mother would remember to call. When Ezra excused himself to use the restroom, the adults went into action. Vin and JD watched curiously, not certain what was happening.
Chris and Nathan quickly did some things on the computer while Buck watched for Ezra to return and Josiah called Vin and JD over to him to keep them from asking too many questions. When Ezra came back, he stopped just inside the doorway, wary of the changes in position. He knew something was up.
“Ezra, come over here,” said Chris.
“She's not going to call, is she?” Ezra asked, voicing his fear.
“Just come here,” Chris said gently.
Ezra walked over and stood next to him at the computer.
“Santa brought everything you boys asked for,” Chris said.
“Not everything,” Ezra whispered.
“Move the mouse,” Chris instructed. Ezra dutifully moved the computer mouse and the screen saver disappeared.
“There you are, Darling! My how you've grown!”
Ezra gaped at the screen. It took several moments for him to find his voice. “Mother?”
“Of course it's me, Darling. Merry Christmas!” said Maude Standish. Through the new Skype connection on the computer they were able to see her via video while they talked, and she could see them.
“You can see me?” asked Ezra excitedly. “I can see you!”
“Yes, Darling. And you look very handsome.”
Ezra beamed. He pulled Chris over closer to him. “This is Mr. Larabee, Mother.” He darted across the room and grabbed Buck's arm bringing him back to the computer. “And this is Mr. Wilmington.”
Maude greeted them as Ezra darted over and brought Nathan and Josiah back to meet his mother as well. JD and Vin followed and talked with Maude. After about fifteen minutes of chit-chat and catching Maude up on all the events in their lives, it was time to end the call. Chris nodded to Buck, who quietly steered the other boys out of the room so Ezra could say goodbye privately.
“Be good, Darling,” said Maude.
“I will, Mother,” Ezra replied, moving closer to the screen. He quietly placed his hand on the screen, touching Maude's image, and she did the same – vainly trying to clasp her son's hand.
“We'll talk again soon, Ezra. I love you.”
“I love you, too,” he said softly as the screen went dark. He stared at the screen a moment before he wiped his eyes with his sleeve.
“You all right?” Chris asked quietly.
“Come here,” Chris said, holding his arms out to Ezra.
Ezra willingly let Chris hug him, pretending for just a moment that it was his Mother, but then just relishing the strength of Chris's embrace and the security he felt. After a few minutes, he sighed.
“Mr. Larabee?” he asked without looking up.
“Yes?” Chris replied.
“Is it appropriate to send a thank you note to Mr. Claus?”
Ezra turned so he could see Chris's face. “Do you think he'd mind if I called him Santa?”
Chris smiled. “I think he'd like that very much.”
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