When she and Dolly were seated in the next area down from where Michael sat on the planter, Callisto pulled out her cell phone and placed a call to the Center van outside.
“Nasty, honey,” she said. “I need a favor. No, it’s not for me… NO! It’s not that. You wish, short boy. No. I’m sorry. Look, Nasty, it’s Christmas and there’s this kid. He’s just heartbroken. Could you come in and meet us in the concourse in front of the Warner Brothers store… Nasty! Look, I’m not responsible for all of the stereotypes. But you are an elf, and you look like a hip version of the elves on the kids’ shows about Santa Claus, and we need to… OK. Here she is.” She handed the phone to Dolly. “He wants to talk to you.”
Dolly’s skin flushed as she accepted the phone. She turned away from Callisto and murmured into the mouthpiece. After a lengthy exchange that grew quite heated at one point, Dolly closed up the phone and handed it back to Callisto.
“And?” Callisto demanded.
“Yeah. He’s coming in. You better hope this works and it’s worth it, ’cause you owe me big time for that, sister.”
“What? He just wanted to talk to you!”
“Ever hear of phone sex?”
Callisto’s jaw dropped and she started to laugh. “Ho-ho-ho! You didn’t!”
“It’s not anything I’m proud of. In fact, if it gets back to me, I’ll deny everything. But… yeah.”
Then Dolly grinned. “It’s kind of a neat feeling of control to know that, not only can I get men hot and horny and get them off in person, I can even phone it in!“
The two sister dollies broke into merry peals of laughter.
“I can just picture him out in the parking lot,” Callisto giggled, “whacking off while he’s on the phone with you! Tee-hee! What a sight!”
“Hope he didn’t get caught by Mall Security,” Dolly put in. “Dunno how they’d explain that.”
“So what about Xe?”
“Do we need to…?”
“Well, if Gabrielle and Callisto and an elf are convincing, how much more convincing would it be to have Gabrielle, Callisto, an elf and Xena?”
“What if this kid doesn’t buy any of it?”
“Well then, that’s just too bad for him. He’s gonna grow up and be a bitter and disappointed man.”
“Thus speaks Auntie Callisto.”
“Knows all, sees all, tells all. I’m nothing but a big blabbermouth.”
The two of them put their foreheads together and clasped each other’s shoulders, rocking to and fro in their shared merriment.
In a few moments, Nasty showed up. He was dressed smartly, as always, in tight black chinos, a silver Tommy Hilfiger wind cheater, and black leather ankle boots. Pitifully inadequate in the chill winds of the season. But Gods forbid he should sublimate style for comfort. His long, jet black hair was slicked back into an Elvis pompadour, with locks of hair strategically placed to cover the tips of his pointed ears. He was short, something under four feet tall, but exuded such an air of confidence that nobody seemed to notice.
“OK,” he said truculently. “Let’s get this over with.”
“Not yet,” said Dolly. “We’ve got to wait for a couple more people.”
While they waited, Callisto filled Nasty in on the plan. The elf agreed only reluctantly until Dolly threatened to tell the Trolls what he’d done on the phone. Knowing their overprotective feelings toward the little doll, Nasty got smart fast and amended his attitude.
About fifteen minutes later, with Nasty getting more impatient by the second, Xe showed up, carrying a single store bag, but with tell-tale bulges as from small parcels in her coat pockets.
“What’s up?” she asked. Callisto explained. By the time she was finished, Xe’s expression had morphed from the suck-cheeked “Impress-me” scowl that was her weekday expression into the carnivorous, vulpine Sunday grin she got when she was contemplating the laying low of the ungodly. To her, it didn’t matter if the sinner was an adult or a child. It was the act of retribution that gave her such a thrill. She readily agreed to the plan and collared Nasty, telling him to behave or the Trolls couldn’t get there in time to save him from her.
Then a gang of kids sauntered up to Michael and began the same dominance dance that has gone on between and among pre-adolescents from time immemorial. One or the other would invade Michael’s space and poke at him, or give him a sucker punch on the shoulder. To his credit, Michael stood his ground. Finally, the group was done with that ritual and the apparent leader stepped in. This, the dollies agreed, would be Tommy.
“Time to do our thing,” Dolly said.
Xe, Callisto, and Dolly did their patented Dolly swirl, wherein the three of them surrounded Michael, doing a dance of attentiveness that was definitely too sexual for the young boy, but certainly got the attention of the kids in the gang. They kept up a running patter about all manner of things, including the agog and wonderstruck boy in the conversation, for all he could barely muster an “uh-huh” or “Yeah!”
One by one the dollies were recognized, and there were hushed whispers of “Xena!”, “Gabrielle!”, and “Callisto!” from the tiny mobsters.
Then Dolly said, “Oh, and Mickey baby–Guess who we found?”
One of the girls in the gang shrieked at that and whimpered, “Mickey?” like–a goddess just called this goober-worm by a totally cool name and she couldn’t believe it.
Just then, Nasty stepped around the corner of a planter into the midst of the crowd of children. “Hey, Mickey,” he said. “How’s it hanging?”
Somehow Dolly managed to smack him on the top of his head without anybody noticing. But it didn’t matter.
Michael took one look at Nasty, a genuine elf, and blurted out, “You came!”
“Sure enough,” said Nasty, pretending to a modesty he didn’t feel and speaking with a brogue he’d only heard on television. “All the way from the Pole. Busy time of year for us, but for a bud… Hey! What are friends for?”
“Well, since it is two days ’til Christmas, and all,” young Tommy Pilesko said with all the youthful sarcasm he could muster, (which wasn’t much, but remember these are eight-year-olds we’re talking about), “What are you doing in Cincinnati?”
“Well, we’re takin’ a survey. Y’know? Makin’ a list and checkin’ it twice? This is part of the checking process. So tell me, lad–” he moved toward Tommy, boldly stepping into the boy’s personal space. “–what’s you’re name? Have you been good?”
“Thomas Pilesko, s-s-sir. And I’ve been good. Sir.” Nasty lifted a dubious eyebrow. There was a general titter from the boys and girls in the miniature gang. Dolly had a feeling that there would be a shift in the power structure of that little group sometime soon. Perhaps that very afternoon.
Then Callisto stepped in. She was standing behind Nasty. She cupped her hands together at her own waist level and about at Nasty’s shoulder blades. Very shortly, Nasty began to glow. Or that’s what it looked like. And little streamers of fire began to emanate from Callisto’s cupped hands–appearing to come from Nasty’s shoulders–and fly in sparkling arcs to touch the tops of the heads of the children.
And suddenly the dollies, the elf, and the boy were alone again. The fleeing backs of a gang of junior grade thugs could be seen weaving in and out of the adult foot traffic along the mall concourse.
Callisto started laughing so hard she had to sit down. “Well. That certainly wasn’t what I had in mind, but I think it will do.”
Dolly was down on one knee again in front of Michael. “Better now?” He nodded.
They were joined just then by a slender woman with light brown hair and a harried air about her. She was approximately somewhere between twenty-five and thirty-five and obviously somebody’s mother. Obviously Michael’s mother.
“Michael,” she said, pushing through the group of adults clustered between her and her child. Then she looked up at Xe and did a double-take. “You! You’re…”
“Yes, ma’am,” Xe drawled. “But we’d kinda prefer it didn’t get announced to everybody in the mall.”
Michael’s mother looked from one to the other of them, taking in Xe, Dolly, and Callisto and then settling her gaze at last on Nasty. Then she turned back to her son and noted the beatific expression on his wide-eyed face. “But what are you…?”
“Just talkin’ to a friend, ma’am,” Dolly said. “Just talkin’ to a friend.” She turned to Michael. “Well, Mickey–it’s been real. But we gotta go. Gimme a hug.” And he did. A very good and manly hug it was, too.
“You OK?” Dolly whispered. “Did that help?”
“Do you think he’ll believe?” Dolly asked.
“Nope. People like him, they never believe. But… Thank you anyway.”
“You’re welcome. Glad I could help you believe.” Dolly pinched his cheek and grinned when he rolled his eyes.
“That’s not it,” he whispered. Dolly raised an inquiring eyebrow.
He was quiet for a moment and the sounds of the mall intruded, the shuffling feet, the burruburrub of muted conversations, the announcements and alarms of the stores. Then he answered her question and the answer filled her heart with joy.
“I’m not afraid any more,” he said.
To be continued…