I happened Christmas Eve three years ago and it would just kill “Cactus Jack” if he thought we knew what he did.
Jack’s white Ford 350 pick-up was sitting in front of our store when I returned from the bank. A Santa suit was draped over a large Fry’s box on the front seat. On the hood Jack had two huge chrome “foghorns” and between them was mounted four foot wide set of Texas Longhorn horns.
Cactus Jack owns the “The Rainbow Computer Emporium” East of Rainbow. Jack is a cranky, profane curmudgeon with a weakness for Bourbon. A sun wrinkled, squinty-eyed scowl is permanently etched on his face. The droopy, tobacco yellowed mustache, sweat stained Stetson and dusty, worn cowboy boots make Jack look more like a hard luck prospector than a computer store owner. Jack was pouring himself a coffee when I walked in the door.
“Hey Cactus, what brings you to town” I asked cheerfully.
“Sure as hell wouldn’t be this rotgut coffee of yours” Jack grimaced. “I come to git me one of them 28 inch Viewsonic flat screen monitors at Fry’s. They’re practically given em away and I got the last one.”
“I saw it on your front seat Jack. Also noticed the Santa suit. Did you get yourself a part time job?” I teased.
Jack let loose a stream of profanity. “I’d go naked in a snowstorm afore I’d wear that faggy elf suit. I just picked it up from the cleaners for my nephew. He wears the dang thing Christmas Eve and his kids is stupid enough fall for it every time. Makes me sick just thinking about it”
Nome called out “ we have a problem over here.” Jack and I walked over to Nome’s workbench.
“Here’s the story,” said Nome. “Mrs. Pintera brought in this old PC that she bought for $10 at a garage sale. Their notebook PC broke and the kids need a computer for schoolwork. Mr. Pintera hasn't been able to find work and now he’s down with the flu, the family car is in the garage and they’ve got no money for Christmas.”
Nome continued. “Mrs. Pintera had put aside $100 for the kids Christmas presents but they'll need a computer for school more than Christmas presents. She asked me if we could fix this one up for $100. I told her I was sure we could fix it up for less than that.”
Cactus Jack was squinting into Mrs. Pintera’s PC. “You couldn’t make this thing into a computer for $500. It’s got Windows 95.” Jack looked at Nome and snickered. “You just might of bit off a mite more’n you can chew, sweetheart.”
Nome ignored Jack and turned to me. “I figure we give them one of the refurbished computers, load it with everything and tell her that all we had to do was put her parts in a used case. We tell her it costs $10 so she won’t think its charity. They live in that old green house on the left side of Mulberry so we can drop it off after work tonight and save her a bus trip.”
“Sounds like a plan, lets do it” I nodded
Jack slapped his knee and hooted. “Where am I? Brother Beno’s? You saps are easier than a two-dollar hooker. If I fell for every phony sob story I’d be out of business in a week. I’m getting out of here before I break out in tears.” Jack headed for the door.
Nome yelled after him, “ I sure hope you have Merry Christmas“Cactus Scrooge.”
Jack hesitated at the door. “ I”m gonna snuggle up with a bottle of Jack Daniels in front of my brand new 28-inch Viewsonic monitor and order me a shiny new 357 magnum off’n E-Bay. Merry Christmas suckers, Ho Ho Ho.”
We knocked on the Pintera’s door just after six on Christmas Eve. A radiant, smiling Mrs. Pintera opened the door and invited us in. A beautifully decorated Christmas tree spread its branches over a pile of expensively wrapped gifts. Happy children scampered about the house. Cactus Jack was right? We got conned?
Mrs. Pintera saw the look on our faces and blushed. “I don’t know how it happened or what’s going on but about an hour ago three men just marched in with all this stuff. They didn’t say a word. They set up the tree and brought in all those presents and then they left. I guess it must be a church or something”
I put the computer on the floor. “I’ll go out to the car and get your monitor”
“Oh we don’t need one” she said, “They brought us a really nice 28-inch Viewsonic flat screen monitor”
Mrs. Pintera’s four years old tugged at my pants leg “Santa brought it, we saw him. He had a white beard and everything,” he said seriously.
His older brother added, “his beard was white but his mustache was yellow and he wore cowboy boots”
I bent over and asked the little guy, “did Santa have a sleigh and reindeer?”
“No sir, he had a white pick-up truck, but it had antlers.”