top of page

Piece of Santa

A Jax and Gabe Story

Piece of Santa cover. Red backdrop, red lace up boots, and patterned black leggings.
“Swear to God, sometimes I think the angel of my best nature is a fool.”

That was the thought emerging in Jax’s head. It had been haunting her for days, and she wasn’t sure why. But there it was.

For example, sometimes Jax thought if she was a little more selfish, she’d be making a better living. She needed more clients, and could be frankly duping people for more cash. But even if Gran wouldn’t have given her hell for it, Jax just couldn’t do it.

So the thought had trailed her from the warm nest of a bed she shared with Gabe, down the cold late December streets of San Francisco, and up the ramp into this ancient Victorian office that was only hers three days a week.

The office had scarred wood floors. A ratty red flowered carpet that caught at her ’chair wheels. Jax would’ve gotten rid of the thing, but her office mate wanted it to stay.

At least Jax had won with the curtains. They were creamy velvet, with burgundy tiebacks. Gabe had hung them over the high windows that rose up the twelve-foot ceilings and caught every bit of low winter light.

She was grateful for the sun. And grateful they’d gotten a nice Solstice sunrise before the rain that threatened the rest of the holidays rolled in.

There’d be rain on Christmas. Day of Chinese food and the latest action flick. A pagan appropriation of time-honored Jewish tradition.

Jax’s phone was on her lap, slipping a little on the black jeans that matched her black hair. And her black VNV Nation T-shirt.

Gabe’s voice squawked through the black earbuds jammed in her head.

“Yeah, yeah. Look. No, Gabe. Gran insisted…” Jax said.

Jax sighed and pivoted her wheelchair toward the battered gray metal filing cabinet. She clicked on the electric kettle. The little switch glowed blue, the color that promised tea as quickly as possible.

Rattling the top cabinet drawer open, Jax grabbed a little pyramid bag of tea out of the green and red PG Tips box and dumped it in the plain white mug sitting next to the kettle on a tray. One teaspoon of raw sugar followed it.

Cream was in the dorm fridge to the right of the cabinet. She hoped it was still good.

“No. Gabe. Gran insisted that the wormhole wasn’t stable yet…”

She needed tea. Oh yes. Boy, oh boy, did she need tea.

The brass knob rattled on the black-five paneled wood door.

“Gabe. Babe. Someone’s here. I’ve gotta go.”

Jax pressed the phone off, and slid the earbuds out and onto the old wooden desk.

“Come in!”

The door squeaked open. She really needed to oil the hinges again.

A bright red lace-up lug-soled boot emerged through the crack before the door opened all the way. Onto the most beautiful woman Jax had seen in a long time. Like, the kind of woman that made her mouth water. The kind of woman whose hair she could dig her fists into.

The kind of woman she’d explain to Gabe later that, you know, Jax might need to revisit their temporarily-in-place-because-our-relationship-is-fresh monogamy agreement.

Angel of her better nature be gone? Or welcome home.

Oh yeah. Half a shaved head with a generic “Celtic” knot-work tattoo snaking behind the woman’s ear. The rest of her head a fall of blue hair that swept around her brown eyes, ruddy cheeks, and on down to the wool peacoat that covered her shoulders.

Her large shoulders.

The peacoat was partially open; a red-and-blue scarf wrapped around the woman’s neck and fell into the coat opening down her chest.

And under the coat, black leggings emerged from a tiny stretch miniskirt, thick thighs curving down to muscled calves that ended in those glorious red boots.

“May I help you?” Jax hoped her voice hadn’t risen into its stupid nervous squeak. But she thought it had.

“Are you Jax?” the woman asked, voice rich, from deep in her throat. Like she was a singer or something.

Jax wheeled to the edge of the flowered rug and held out a hand.

“Yes. And you are?”

“Maybelline.”

Jax coughed, then willed her facial muscles into stillness and choked back whatever-the-fuck stupid comment she really really wanted to make.

“Yeah. I’ve heard it all. Yes, I like mascara. And no, I can’t be true. So don’t ask me to be.”

“Right.” That was the only response Jax could make in the moment. She kind of wished for a wormhole right about now, sure that she was blushing.

“Would you like a cup of tea, Maybelline? I was just about to make some. All I have are bags though, so hopefully you’re not a purist.”

“Proper tea is theft,” Maybelline replied, with a tiny, red-lipsticked smirk.

Jax groaned out loud. “I can’t believe you just said that.”

Maybelline grinned wide then, mouth a wicked, sexy slash of red opening onto straight white teeth.

“Hang around with enough anarchists, and the bad jokes just rub off.”

Jax couldn’t believe this gorgeous woman was maybe, kind of, flirting with her.

“Have a seat.” Jax nodded toward the two chairs grouped under the tall window. There was a small round table tucked between them.

“Do you need me to…?” Maybelline gestured to the second chair.

“Yeah. Just move it to the side. Thanks.”

Jax slid an antique tray out from between the file cabinet and the dorm fridge. A thrift store find, it was dark brown, edged in faded flowers and gold leaf under thick layers of lacquer.

The tray just balanced on her strapped-in legs. Jax dropped a tea bag into the second mug, poured the boiling water, and loaded up the tray with the mugs, cream, the bowl of raw sugar, and two teaspoons.

Wheeling herself toward the window, she was impressed that Maybelline had moved the chair, taken off her peacoat, and actually sat down in her own chair. Legs crossed. Red boot swinging.

She’d kept on the red-and-blue scarf. That, the boots, and her hair offered the only color to the otherwise black outfit.

And her brown eyes. And red lips.

Okay. Points to Maybelline for letting Jax negotiate her own way with the tea tray.

Jax carefully bumped her wheels up on the damn flowered carpet and got all the way to Maybelline’s knees.

“Can you grab the tray?”

When the woman leaned forward, her blue hair brushed Jax’s right hand. She smelled like amber.

Maybelline got the tray onto the wood table and Jax backed her ’chair into place.

Both women picked up steaming mugs of tea. Maybelline liked one sugar, splash of cream. Just like Jax.

Not that Jax was reading anything into it. Oh yeah. Tea. Just what the doctor ordered.

"So. What can I do for you?”

Maybelline tapped her fingers on the white mug. She wore three plain silver bands on each hand. All the fingers except pinkies and thumbs. The rings sounded like tiny woodpeckers on the thick mug.

“I heard you find things.”

“Sometimes. What’s missing?”

“My soul.”

Jax practically aspirated the tea, setting the cup on the table before the coughing fit spilled the hot liquid all over her jeans.

“Excuse me?”

Maybelline frowned a bit, red lips turning down at the corners. A tiny crease insinuated itself between her dark brown eyebrows.

“I’d been told you understood things like this. That you’d been trained by a witch.”

Okay. Jax took a breath.

“That’s my gran. And you’re right, I do have some training, though Gran was the expert. I just never thought…”

“Someone needing her soul back would show up in your private eye office three days before Christmas?”

Jax nodded. “Something like that.”

“Well, here I am. Can you help me or not?”

***

Maybelline was like a lot of other people. She hadn’t valued what she had. Treated her soul cavalierly. As if it didn’t matter much. As if it wasn’t the fuel for her art. Maybelline was a singer, as it happened. But once her soul was gone, so was the passion that drove her to write songs.

She could still sing her old material, it turned out, though without the verve needed to turn in a performance that was much above just good.

Her bandmates had all taken off, one by one, pleading work or the need to take on other projects to pay rent. Real reasons.

But Maybelline suspected the truth: the shine had left her and sucked all the juice out of her band. She still had a pick-up band to play the occasional gigs that hadn’t dried up. Like that standing gig on Christmas Eve.

But it wasn’t the same as before.

Jax peered into her white mug, wishing she’d made a pot of proper tea after all. She could use some tea leaves right about now, but milky brown dregs didn’t offer up much insight.

She really needed Gran. Which meant Jax really did need that wormhole.

“So, you’ve told me about what happened since your soul went missing, and I agree, it does sound like that’s the problem…but you still haven’t told me how or why it went away.”

“It was last Christmas…” Maybelline said.

***

The band had a Christmas Eve gig at a nightclub on the edges of the Mission, near Potrero Hill. The place was jammed, and the band was in great form.

Then he walked in. A muscular dude, maybe around thirty, with a prematurely white beard and a red suit. Like, a nice red suit, fitted perfectly for his body. White shirt and tie straining a little over his large gut.

And on his head, he wore a damn red stocking cap with white trim and a white poof ball on the tip.

Maybelline thought he was pretty cute. He bought her a hot toddy.

“For your voice,” he said.

Thoughtful.

She was charmed.

He told her his name was Nicholas. She just laughed at that, and said, “Whatever.” If he had a Santa complex, that was fine with her.

When she introduced herself as Maybelline, he said he knew.

Well, that was strange.

But because it was Christmas Eve, and because Maybelline hated Christmas because yadda yadda family bullshit, and because all her housemates were gone for the holidays, she jumped at the opportunity to not go back to her flat alone.

Three hot toddies and a final set later, the band packed up their gear. Maybelline and Mr. Nicholas Red Suit helped load it into the drummer’s van, then stomped their way back into the club, breath steaming in the air.

Nicholas picked up what looked like a white laundry bag that he’d tucked at the back corner of the tiny stage, and hoisted it on his shoulder. Then he offered Maybelline his arm.

The next morning, when Maybelline woke blinking at 10 a.m., in her forest-green bedroom, under her favorite silvery-gray comforter, sore throat coming on, he was gone.

No kiss goodbye. No stray white hairs on the extra pillow near her head. No trace at all.

Maybelline was sick for days, crawling to the kitchen to open tins of soup and heat water for tea. Then to the bathroom. Then back to bed.

Five days later, the strange illness broke. Her housemates came home. Things seemed normal.

She thought the strange, empty feeling was just an aftereffect from the illness.

But then things with the band started to go wrong. And she realized her shine was gone.

And here it was, almost one year later. And Maybelline didn’t know what to do.

***

“Santa stole your soul?” Jax asked.

Maybelline had the grace to look mildly embarrassed at that.

“That’s one way of putting it.”

Jax wheeled back to the filing cabinet to switch the kettle on again. This problem was going to take a second round of tea.

Maybelline followed with their empty mugs.

“Can you help me?” she asked. “Can you find stuff like this?”

Jax exhaled, then ran a hand through her hair.

“I’m not sure, to be honest. Gran could definitely help, but…”

“Can you ask her?”

“That’s a little tricky,” Jax said. “Gran isn’t exactly around anymore.”

“Oh! I’m sorry! Is she dead?”

Steam boiled from the kettle spout and the switch clicked itself to off. Maybelline set the mugs down on the filing cabinet with a clink.

“Kind of. It’s a long story.” And not one Jax was going to tell a woman who had just walked through her office door.

Jax’s grandmother had wanted everyone to think she was dead, because it was easier than explaining she’d been working with a bunch of psychics and scientists to open up a wormhole. And that she now existed in some weird alternate universe that Jax could access through the dance floor of her favorite Folsom Street nightclub.

’Cause that wasn’t weird at all.

Unlike having your soul stolen by Santa. After you’d taken him home for some hot, post-club romping in the sheets.

Uh. Jax didn’t really want to think about that. But here she was.

Staring at Maybelline’s lush lips. Because Maybelline was peering down at Jax’s face with some concern.

“Are you going to get more teabags?” she was asking.

“Oh. Right. Sorry. Sometimes my brain gets away from me.” Stupid thing to say. Good going, Jax.

She grabbed two more PG Tips bags from the file cabinet and plopped them in the mugs. Maybelline poured the steaming water over the bags and carried the mugs back to the table by the window.

Jax was rapidly regretting opening this “finder” business. She’d had a couple of clients before Maybelline, but they’d been relatively simple. One of them had his harp stolen and wanted help tracking it down.

Three hours with some maps and a pendulum had taken care of that. The guy’s friends had taken it from there. How they were going to retrieve the harp was none of Jax’s business. She’d just heard they were successful.

Her other clients were a couple that had lost their cat. Jax “found” it hiding in the laundry room of their apartment building by staring at a picture of the tabby and sending her spirit out to chase it down.

Easy peasy.

But a lost soul? If Jax didn’t have rent to pay, she wasn’t sure she’d even take this case on.

Gran had taught her how to do soul retrieval-type operations, it was true. But those were for bits and pieces of self that people had left behind or giving away willingly.

Jax had never dealt with an entire lost soul. And not one that was stolen by a supposed-to-be-jolly-and-benevolent supernatural being. Especially one that turned out to be both a player and a thief.

Jax wheeled her way back to the little table and her gorgeous client.

She picked up the mug, appreciating the heavy warmth of it in her hands.

“All right, Maybelline.” Jax took a sip of tea. “Here’s what we’re going to do, if you’re okay with it.”

Maybelline paused with her own mug halfway to her lips and nodded, waiting for Jax to continue.

“You’re going to give me something of yours. Something close to you. Something that has a trace of you on it.”

“Like what?” Maybelline asked.

“Like one of those rings. You always wear them, right?”

Maybelline set down her mug and stretched out her hands, looking down at the six thick silver bands.

“I’ve worn them day and night for seven years,” she said. “You really need one, huh?”

“Something that has been that close to your skin for seven years? It’s perfect.”

Maybelline sighed. Then slipped one of the rings off her left hand. The spot that on most people would hold a wedding band, if they weren’t a person who just happened to wear six rings on the same three fingers on each hand.

Jax held up the palm of her right hand. Maybelline dropped the ring in. It was warm. Buzzing slightly. Jax forced herself to not drop directly into the metal, to find out what it knew. It was so tempting. The ring was live with Maybelline’s past.

But she didn’t want to go that deeply yet. She needed some help first. At least, she thought she did.

“It feels so weird. Like my hand misses the ring. No. Like the other rings know its gone.” Maybelline flexed her left hand. Her eyes looked troubled.

“I’m not surprised. I can feel the resonance between the ring and you. It’s very strong. And that’s a good thing. It’ll make this operation easier.”

Maybelline picked up her mug again. Then added another teaspoon full of sugar and stirred.

Interesting. We all do little things to rebalance when we feel off.

“What exactly is ‘this operation’?” Maybelline asked.

“That’s what I still need to find out. Can you to trust me on this? Just for a couple days?”

“Doesn’t seem like I have much choice.”

***

That night, Jax and Gabe went out clubbing. There were supposedly other ways to access Gran’s wormhole, but Jax hadn’t found a reliable one yet. Luckily, clubbing happened at least once a week, so when they needed a wormhole, it tended to work out.

None of the other Goth club goers had noticed. Yet.

The music pounded around them, and the blue and yellow club lights bounced off the floor to ceiling mirrors, filling the small black box of a back room with moody atmosphere. People stomped and moved in leather trousers and big boots. The more swirly velvet and sharp-suit-clad folks were in the front room, where the lights were red and the music less industrial.

Jax sipped a glass of mediocre Cabernet and watched the dancers. Blue LEDs were woven through her chair spokes, so she matched the club. She wore black leggings and a purple leather corset. Since she hadn’t been dancing yet, her leather motorcycle jacket remained firmly on against the chill of the big dance floor fans.

Gabe looked gorgeous as always. Flattop afro shaved tight around the sides, leaving a little strip of hair that tapered into a sharp V just at his neck. Tonight, he wore a white shirt under leather suspenders, tucked into tight black jeans stuffed into his usual Doc Marten 16-hole boots. The white shirt glowed.

He smiled down at her, teeth glowing like his shirt, lit by the black light that hung above the small corner bar.

“When do you want to do this? Are we dancing first, or not?”

Jax shook her head, and motioned Gabe closer. He leaned over her, smelling of Polo Black and cinnamon gum. “I’m too distracted to have fun tonight. You can dance if you want to, but frankly, I’d rather just do this thing.”

“Okay. I’m gonna dance to a couple of songs while you finish your wine.”

Then he kissed her, leaning over her chair, body so close she was tempted to pull his skinny hips onto her lap. He tasted of the cinnamon gum, too.

“Go on, then!”

Gabe smiled at her and moved to the center of the floor, letting the steady, crunching beat of the music take him over. Jax leaned back into her chair and took another sip from the clear plastic cup, washing away the taste of cinnamon with the acidic wine.

Jax saw Gran pretty frequently now that Gran had “died.” Which Gran hadn’t. She’d just let the family think she had. Stinker.

Gran did inter-dimensional experiments. Jax still had trouble wrapping her mind around that, but frankly, it was in keeping with Gran’s entire physicist/witch existence. When Gran had lived in this dimension, Jax trained with her weekly at first, then tapered off to every other month or so.

Since Gran figured out the shift, Jax made sure to tune in at least monthly. The research Gran’s crew was doing was so interesting, it could have taken over Jax’s life.

But Jax needed to make a living. Hence the “psychic finder” business.

Why finder? Jax couldn’t bear the regular heartbreak of doing readings for people, which was the other thing Gran had trained her for.

Too many lost loves, crappy jobs, and health scares walking through the door. Jax ended up feeling like a bargain basement counselor, and that wasn’t good for anyone.

Plus, a lot of people wanted her to lie.

Jax respected the hell out of psychics who could do that work well; she just wasn’t one of them.

So. Jax used her pendulum and weird extra senses and found things for people. At least, that was the hope. That she’d find enough things on a regular enough basis to make steady rent.

“Okay Jax, let’s do this.” She tossed her plastic cup into the big gray garbage can and wheeled her way between the dance floor and the bar.

Gabe waved at her and raised his shoulders in question. Did she need him?

She shook her head and waved back, then placed her half-gloved hands back on the metal wheel rims and propelled herself toward the strange little mid-club foyer.

A no-place-place, sandwiched between the front room and the back, it held a tiny coat check and two disgusting single stall bathrooms, neither of which really fit Jax’s ’chair.

Right before the ramp started to the front room, with its longer bar, more seating, and a separate dance floor, there was a cool spot. A spot the lights didn’t quite touch, and that people instinctively walked around.

Jax felt the air shift around her as she approached it. Her head felt woozy, which let her know she was almost at the spot. Jax took a breath and kept going.

And felt herself falling through the air. Tumbling over and over, down toward the base of a funnel of energy, wind, and light. Then out the other end, into the mirror image of the tornado. She tried to loosen the grip her hands had on the chair. Her body said no way. No way was it letting go, no matter what her mind tried to tell it.

The chair thunked down into a beautiful, lavender-painted room with a translucent abstract fountain-like sculpture in the middle. And green plants, growing directly on the walls. Five walls. A pentagonal room that was becoming familiar to Jax. As familiar as the old Haight Street flat Gran used to have.

And there she was.

Her grandmother. Still with her dyed dark hair and pile of necklaces and bracelets. She was kissing some man. One of the scientists Jax had seen two visits before.

“Ahem.”

Her Gran slipped her arms from around the man’s neck and looked her way.

Her face lightened as though she’d seen the sun for the first time in a while.

“Jax! You’re here!” As Gran moved toward her, jingling and swaying, her face changed. “You’re here. But something’s wrong.”

Yep. Gran was a physicist, but the witch still drove the bus.

“Well, not exactly. Not really wrong. But there’s something I can’t figure out on my own. Can we talk?”

Jax looked over Gran’s shoulder at the man standing there, salt-and-pepper hair swept back from his forehead and cascading in a thick wave to his soft-denim-clad shoulders. How the heck did Gran find a hippie-physicist in this place?

“Henry, will you make us some tea?”

“Sure thing,” Henry said, slipping through the door into the kitchen.

“Come. Let’s talk.”

Gran sat on a cozy purple chair and Jax wheeled up beside her.

“I need your help figuring out how to get back someone’s soul. The whole thing. And she’s convinced it was stolen by some avatar of Santa Claus.”

***

Gran had practically fainted when Jax mentioned Santa. Luckily, Henry had come back in with the restorative tea just in time to calm her down.

Turned out that they’d been having trouble with Santa. Reports were coming in from all over that he’d fractured. Splintered. That pieces of him had lodged around the world.

They thought that was a good thing at first. The more Saint Nick, the better, right? Share the love.

Well.

It also turned out some of the fragments had parsed themselves too small, or become distorted.

And some of them wanted more soul back. So instead of giving gifts that warmed people’s hearts and strengthened their souls, they were finding ways to warm people’s hearts and steal their core essence instead.

More Saint Nick, indeed.