“I’ve heard some grumblings in the herd,” Santa went on, “and I just want to say that anybody who doesn’t like it can go live with the Lapps.”
The reindeer pawed the ground and looked at each other nervously. Blitzen, who all of them knew as the smartass of the group, had mouthed off the last time Santa made the same suggestion. “Sure,” he said, “I’ll go live with the Lapps. Compared to this place it’ll be the Lapp of luxury!”
Mrs. Claus had taken him by the bridle and led him off behind the secondary workshop, the one with the heavy equipment. Later that night Donner peeked in the Claus’s window and thought he saw a crown roast being served.
“Now,” said Santa, “this is going to be a tough night. We’ve got fog right down to the deck every place east of the Rockies. Damn climate change. Vixen, you’ll take the lead ahead of Dasher and Dancer from the west coast. Prancer, you’ll take over after that until we get to Chicago.”
“It’s not gonna work, fat boy!” came a voice from the back of the herd.
“Who said that?” Santa yelled. “Nobody talks to me that way! Come on, step up or you’ll all be venison!”
The herd parted but one reindeer, smaller than the rest, with a distinct red nose, stood at the back.
“It was me, old man, and you’d better watch what you say because I’m your best hope.”
Santa narrowed his eyes. “Pretty full of yourself, aren’t you? Think you can get away with being so rude, Dolph? Maybe it’s time for you to—”
“What?” Dolph shot back. “Go live with the Lapps? Maybe you’d just send me back to Chernobyl where you found me.” The reindeer looked around. “Oh, I know you all know. I hear the jokes, the snickers, all the names you call me behind my back. That I’m the Radioactive Russian, the Solar Siberian, the Toxin of the Tundra. Well check this out.” He wrinkled his forehead and his nose began to glow a bright piercing red.
Santa glared for a moment then threw back his head and laughed. “Ho ho ho! That’s a pretty neat trick therem sonny. You know I run a tight ship but every captain knows you don’t put a navigator in the bilge. You can lead the second string.”
“Nothing doing.” Dolph pawed the ground. “I don’t want a piece of the action. You need me to lead the team the whole way.”
“Nobody’s made the whole round trip,” said Santa, “not in a long time. Not since, well, Flossie and Glossie led the team. You think you can handle it?”
“Handle it?” Dolph stepped forward. “You bet your wide load I can handle it. I’m going down in history.”
“All right,” Santa said, “let’s get harnessed up.” Then he turned to Mrs. Claus and muttered, “The kid probably’d taste terrible anyway.”