Buck was feeling mighty fine this Christmas Eve. He'd talked one of the Bartholomew twins into joining him for some raucous fun in Purgatorio. He thought it was Susan, but it might just as easily have been Sarah. You had to stand 'em side by side to tell.
Now he'd left Susan--or Sarah--alone in bed while he slipped out of the room to prepare a little Christmas surprise. He'd return as St. Nick, bringing with him a gift for her and some Christmas 'spirits' for them both. Still feeling the tequila they'd already had, he staggered back to the room, nearly tripping on the St. Nicholas robe he now wore and that he had had hidden in his saddlebag.
The building was a hotel, boarding house, and bordello--sort of an all-purpose building for travelers, tourists, and transients. He lurched down the hall and stopped. All the doors looked the same! He hesitated, studying them through tequila-soaked eyes.
He took a deep breath, picked one that looked right, and tottered inside. Ah, victory. The top of Susan's blonde head just barely appeared over the edge of the blanket. She seemed fast asleep. Buck shrugged. He'd wake her in the morning and surprise her then. He placed his gifts beside the bed, removed the hat and beard, and carefully eased his long frame under the blanket. He kissed the top of her head, then fell asleep almost immediately.
When Buck awoke hours later, Susan--or Sarah--was snoring softly, but he couldn't wait any longer to surprise her. He slipped the hat and beard back on.
"Wake up, Darlin'!" He gave her an affectionate swat on the rump. She had a nice, firm backside, he noted appreciatively.
She mumbled huskily from under the blanket and shifted slightly.
Buck lifted the blanket to kiss her awake. "Hey, there, Sunshine--!"
He froze in mid-pucker.
It was a blond, all right. But it wasn't Susan. It wasn't even Sarah.
It was Chris.
Buck dropped the blanket like it was on fire and scrambled out of bed. His eyes darted around the room in alarm. This was Maria's room! Dang it, he didn't know Chris was gonna be here, too! Buck fought his panic. He had to get out before Maria returned or Chris woke up. Ugly way for a man to die, Buck thought. Gunned down in a Santa suit.
Chris slowly began to stir. Buck stood still, waiting, holding his breath. His heartbeat roared in his ears.
"Maria?" slurred Chris.
Buck turned and darted out the door. His last glimpse into the room was of Chris sitting up and squinting at him groggily.
By the next afternoon, Buck had escorted Susan--or maybe Sarah--back to her home. He headed to the saloon where he found Chris already at a table nursing a cup of coffee. Buck brought over a bottle of whiskey and a glass and sat down.
"Merry Christmas," Buck grinned.
"Same to you."
Buck poured himself a drink. "Don't know 'bout you, but I need a little hair o' the dog."
Chris didn't reply. He was staring absently into his coffee.
Buck eyed him. "Ponderin' the holiday?"
"We've known each other a lotta years." Chris paused. "You know I ain't much of a spiritual man."
"We could debate that, but go on." Buck leaned back in his chair. His little detour last night seemed to have gone completely unnoticed by Chris. He stretched out, feeling completely at ease.
"This is gonna sound crazy…" Chris shook his head, looking embarrassed. "I don't know but... I could almost swear I saw St. Nick leave my room last night."
Buck coughed. "Probably just seein' things. Too much tequila maybe."
"Maybe...but he left a bottle of cologne for Maria and some brandy for me!"