“Maybe it’s a WITSEC family,” said Kevin, Jimmy’s friend from two doors down.
Jimmy shook his head. “A wit what?”
“You know. Witness protection? Run by the government? You haven’t seen the movies?”
“The one with Steve Martin is fuh-nee! Maybe he’s in there.” Kevin pointed at the house in question. They watched from the curb across the street, leaning on the fire plug. Jimmy pulled his hood over his knit cap.
“I don’t think Steve Martin... Why would he need…?”
“He played a guy the mob was after, ‘cause he snitched.”
“Oh, you mean…”
“Yeah. Or like 'Jimmy the Weasel'. Your namesake, right?”
“I don’t think so…”
“Another wise guy. The Feds relocated him with a new identity after he sang like a bird in court.” Jimmy had never heard Kevin talk like this. “Ever hear of 'Jimmy the Weasel'?”
“Never. I guess we travel in different circles…”
“Movies, my friend. I’ve seen them all. Anyway, you saw toys. If kids live there, we could make friends and find out if their dad is a hitman.”
“With friends like that…” Before today, Jimmy had thought a ‘hitman’ was the disk jockey on the radio.
They stared at the house. Nothing moved. Smoke poured from the chimney and hung in the dusky air. It smelled like fall.
“You haven’t seen anyone?" Jimmy shook his head. "They could have been out during school.”
“No. And their car hasn’t moved. I stuck an acorn under the back tire and it’s still there. In one piece.”
“Clever. I don’t get it.”
Jimmy didn’t either. He’d watched the house since last week when the movers unloaded their truck, in the dead of night. Along with the boxes, tons of boxes, there were toys. Toys go with kids. Right?
“No new kids at school.”
“Maybe they’re too young?”
“Even so, or if they were home-schooled, wouldn’t they venture outside? Not once?”
The house had been empty for months. His parents, Charlie and Sally, didn’t want squatters. Jimmy doubted these were squatters. Do squatters use moving trucks? Or get deliveries?
While they sat there, an unmarked truck stopped in front of the mystery house. The driver got out, pulled a large package from the back and ran it up to the front porch.
“That’s the third truck since we sat here.”
“A steady stream. Unmarked.”
“Redecorating is a…”
“Oh! Did I tell you the lights in the basement are on all night? Way passed bedtime.”
“Does Mommy let you stay up after dark?”
“No, man. Cut it out. I’m talking about super late. After midnight.”
“In the creepy, spidery basement?”
“I snuck out and tried to see through the curtains. Just moving shadows. And laughter.”
Kevin shrugged. Nothing added up.
“What about the back yard? They have a dog?”
“You’ve seen the fence. Too high to look over. There’s something moving back there. You can hear it. Or them?”
“But no barking? Weird.”
They planned to meet later, in the alley behind the mystery house.
Jimmy showed up and found Kevin huddled against the cold.
“I thought you weren’t coming. Mommy wouldn’t let you out?”
“You said ten. It’s ten now.”
“So what’s the plan?”
“I heard something through the fence.”
“Like I told you.”
“Right. There’s a knot in the wood over here. You have a tool?”
“A screw driver.” Kevin led the way. “Hold the flashlight.”
“It’s my screw driver…”
Kevin held the light while Jimmy placed the tool against the wood and hit it squarely with the heel of his hand. The knot popped out.
“That was easy. Let me look.” Kevin put his eye to the hole for a moment. “Whoa! What’s that?” He jumped back.
“It was just dark. Then I realized a big dark eye was watching me.”
“You’re kidding. Let me.” Jimmy leaned up to the hole. “Wow! What’s that?”
Kevin pushed Jimmy aside. “What?” He stepped back again and shook his head.
“Did you see it?”
“Yeah, the weird red light?” Jimmy nodded. “Floating. What’s in there?”
They both tried looking again and pushed at each other.
From behind them, a man spoke, “Don’t you kids have school tomorrow?”
The boys looked at the man and screamed. Kevin bolted. The man collared Jimmy. He squirmed as the man held him against the fence.
“Let me go!”
“Calm down, kiddo. I have a question.”
Jimmy settled. He looked for Kevin.
“Your friend had a previous engagement.”
“I didn’t do anything, mister!”
“I’m curious. Would you call yourself a thief? Or a burglar? Or better, what would the police call you?”
The seriousness of his situation sank in.
“Uhm, I’m curious too. I wouldn’t steal anything, sir. I just wanted…”
“So, curious. What are you curious about?”
“Who lives here? Do you live here?”
“I’ll ask the questions. Where I come from, you’re called nosey. Did you check the name on the mailbox?”
Jimmy thought. “No… But I didn’t mean to…”
“You never heard of minding your own business?”
“Wait! Are you gonna kill me?”
“Oh, ho, ho! Of course not. Why would I do that?”
“Aren’t you in witsec? A hit man or something?”
“I move around. But I’m not in witsec.”
“I saw a red light.”
“Oh, don’t mind him. That’s just Rudolph.”
“Rud… the… reindeer? But…” Jimmy flashed on who stood before him. All those deliveries made sense now.
The man laughed. “I couldn’t very well leave him at the North Pole.”
“But… you don’t look like…”
He held up his hand. “Shhh! Let’s avoid names. I’m in my civvies. Can you imagine my cleaner’s bill, if I always dressed like I do in publicity pix?”
“So you’re not in witsec?”
“I’m not on the lam, if that’s what you mean. My relocations are caused more by wise guys... uhm, curious boys, like you.”
“What are you gonna do to me?”
“Do? You mean put you on a list? Check it twice?” Jimmy nodded hopefully. The man chuckled. “What if you do me a favor?”
Jimmy didn’t expect that. He nodded.
“I need your help ensuring no one knows who lives here. How can you help me?”
They each touched their chins and thought.
Jimmy lit up. “I’ve got it!”
Jimmy’s father, Charlie, came home from work the next evening. He embraced Sally, who greeted him with a warm kiss. She started laughing.
He smiled. “What’s up?”
“You won’t believe what Jimmy told me today.”
“What’s that scamp up to now?”
“He swore me to secrecy and said he’s been watching that house next door. And found out… are you ready?” Charlie nodded. “He says, Santa Claus lives there.”
He cracked up. “You’re right. I don’t believe it. Our son still believes in Santa? That’s crazy. How old is he?”
“I know. Who would ever expect that? Right?”
“Kind of embarrassing…”
They both laughed and held each other.
“Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad someone is living there. But I’m positive his name isn’t Santa.”
“He’s so cute.”