A Gift for Pauly
The doorbell rang just as they were sitting down to dinner, a quiet little candle lit affair that Pauly had been planning for weeks
"Who on earth...?" Pauly said, slapping down the napkin as the sword fish steaks cooled.
"If you don't know," Jane said, "I'm not going to tell you."
"Damn that, Hank! I told him not to bother us tonight. I told him that I was sick of spending every Christmas eve running around the streets like kids looking for Christmas."
"Apparently he didn't listen," Jane said calmly, "Are you going to let him in or let him ring the doorbell all night?"
Pauly got up, crossed the living room and yanked open the front door. Hank sauntered in, wearing his usual hippie garb.
"Well, well, if it isn't Santa Claus," Pauly said, as Hank dropped a package on the couch. "I seem to remember we were going to exchange presents at the club the day after tomorrow."
"Does that mean Kenny can't come in and wish you a happy Christmas?" Hank asked.
"Kenny? He's here, too?" Pauly asked, squinting passed Hank towards the beat up Dodge in which a silhouetted figure sat. "Out! Both of you!"
He didn't give Hank time to answer but shoved the man and present out, then slammed the door.
Hank stared at the door. Pauly appeared at the curtain to the right and jabbed his finger for him to go. Hank sighed and slowly walked back to the car.
"Wasn't he home?" Kenny asked.
"He's there. But he's in one of his snitty moods again."
"I guess that settles that," Kenny said.
"Forget it," Hank said, slipping into the car. "I'm not leaving until Pauly takes my present."
"So leave it by the door."
"It might get stolen."
"But he's not going to open the door if he knows you're here," Kenny pointed out.
Pauly was just putting the fork to his mouth when the caroling came, the warbling of Hank's voice loud enough to raise the dead.
"Maybe you should let them in," Jane said, "They only want to exchange presents."
"Never!" Pauly grumbled.
"But if they keep singing like that..."
"If only I had an old boot!" Pauly said and pushed himself away
"But if they keep on singing like that..."
"All right," Pauly grumbled and went to the door, yanking it open wide enough to shout. "Shut up or I'll call the cops."
Kenny and Hank hit the door at once, trying to shove the box in through the opening. But Pauly managed to shut and lock it. "The damned fools!"
"Maybe we should leave him alone," Kenny suggested. "It is Christmas."
"Sure it's Christmas," Hank said, seated again behind the wheel of the car, his face red with anger. "And he tries this every year, pretending like he doesn't know his friends. But I got news for him."
Hank started the car.
"Where are we going now?"
"For help, Kenny."
Pauly watched the car pull away from the window. "There they go."
"Well, at least that's settled," Jane said. "Come back and eat your dinner."
"Like hell it's settled. Hank never gives up that easy. Get your coat."
"What on earth for?"
"We're going out."
"What about dinner?"
"We'll be back before it gets cold. I just want them to think we're gone."
"I don't know about this, Pauly."
"I do. Just hurry up. They'll be back soon."
No sooner were they in the blue Volkswagen, then Hank returned, followed by a small school bus loaded with carolers, all of them singing as they flowed out onto the walk before Pauly's door.
"Duck!" Pauly hissed as they passed.
"This is silly, Pauly," Jane said. "I'm not going to spend Christmas cramped up in your car."
"You won't have to," Pauly said, peaking out through the steering wheel. "I just want them to get settled before we make our escape."
Hank's head jerked aside with the sound of the putting VW engine. Behind them, the car backed out of its parking spot and gunned down the hill towards the highway.
Hank howled and ran towards his car. "Just keep them singing," he shouted to Kenny, then sped on after Pauly.
"He's right behind us!" Jane said as the Dodge bumped the VW.
"It's the damned red light," Pauly howled, "If it hadn't been for that we'd been clean away. But we can still do it. I know some tricks that will raise the hair on that fool's neck."
"I don't think we should be doing this," Jane said, as Pauly weaved the VW between the other cars.
"We have to get off this highway," Pauly said, "Once the damned traffic clears, he'll be on us like a hound."
"Why can't you just accept his present?" Jane asked, "And we can go back to dinner."
"Because he does this every year! For once I'm going to have my Christmas in peace."
Pauly turned off the highway and into Little Falls, the old mountain looming to the left like a chunk of missing sky. The valley was a web-work of dirt roads over which he and Hank had wandered as boys. The headlights illuminated ditches and other possible disasters.
Pauly weaved the car though the maze, bounding over the bumps.
"Pauly, Please!" Jane protested, "This is all so stupid!"
"Don't worry," Pauly said, "We're going to stop soon. I have the perfect hiding place."
And it was. A slot cut into a stand of thick pines well hidden from the road. The car stopped on a slant, leaving them pressed slightly forward. He turned off the lights and the engine.
"Now let him find us," Pauly said.
"I'm getting stiff," Jane complained, "And hungry. Can we go home now? We haven't heard his car for a while."
But Pauly shook his head. "No, no, you don't know Hank like I do. He's out there, that son of a bitch, just waiting to pounce on us. We're going to have to wait him out."
"But for how long?" Jane asked, shivering.
"As long as it takes."
Hank pulled the car up to where Kenny was sitting at the curb. The carolers had long gone.
"I lost him," Hank mumbled as he climbed from the Dodge. "I guess were going to have to the leave the present by the door after all."
Only when he reached the door, he found it ajar.
"Pauly?" Hank called as he pushed it in. A dim light illuminated the apartment from the kitchen.
No answer came.
"Dinner's getting cold," Hank said. "It would be a shame for it to go to waste."
"Hank!" Kenny said. "You're not thinking..."
"Pull up a chair, Kenny. There's plenty to go around...."