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This is a work of fiction
Copyright 2013 by Eric Wilson and Flo Wilson
All rights reserved
Santa Bieber by Eric Wilson
The girl was under arrest.
She was young, so young.
Marco’s heart just about broke. It was such a terrible thing to happen, especially on Christmas Eve. A grim-faced officer led the girl from a downtown mall to a police cruiser. She looked about Marco’s age, 13 or maybe 14. Tears were streaming down her face; her strawberry-blond hair looked pretty as she stared at Marco from within the cruiser.
Her eyes pleading, the girl mouthed the words No – not me at Marco and then the cruiser wailed into the night, taking the frightened teen away from freedom.
“That is just so sad,” Marco said to his friend, James. “I guess she was caught shoplifting.”
“What a loser,” replied James. “Don’t ever shoplift, Marco. It’s too easy to get caught. The financial profit isn’t worth the risk.”
“That girl was set up,” said Marco. “Someone framed her for a crime.”
James snorted. “Where’d you get that idea?”
“Didn’t you see her in the cruiser? She said it wasn’t her.”
“You’ve got too much imagination, my friend.”
Marco snapped his fingers. “I’ve got an idea! I can help that girl. My Dad’s a security guard at that mall. I bet he could help her.”
“The last I heard, your father was a lawyer.”
Looking down, Marco scuffed his foot against the pavement. “Yeah, well, everything’s different now.”
“I bet your Mom threw pots and pans at him. And she yelled, and I bet she kicked him, too. That’s why he cleared out.”
“I . . .”
“I tell you what, my friend.” Putting an arm around Marco’s shoulders, James looked down at the younger boy. “You’re just too naïve about life. Know what that word means? It means you trust too much. Listen, buddy, you need my kind of attitude. I’m tough and unbreakable. That’s what you gotta be to succeed in life. I am numero uno, right? I am the man. Tell yourself those same words, and you’ll be walking strong.”
James studied his own reflection in a store window, checking his wavy dark hair. Age 16, James was tall and handsome. His father had moved to Canada from Spain. He’d named his son Iago, which is Spanish for James.
Despite the age difference the boys usually got along fine. Marco greatly admired James, envying his self-confidence. When James walked into a room everyone noticed. He radiated majesty, like a young prince. At least, that’s how Marco saw him. Others were not as impressed.
As for Marco, his sunny smile lit up his face. Correction, it usually lit up his face. But for the past two weeks Marco had been living under a dark cloud of unhappiness. Everything had changed at home. Just thinking about it brought tears to his eyes so he breathed deeply and fought back his emotion, not wanting to look weak to James.
What bad timing for Marco to feel so down on Christmas Eve. All around him, the beautiful city of Vancouver was lit up so brightly. Decorations sparkled in store windows, and the lamp posts were bright with red bows and evergreen garlands. It was a mild night and the streets were dry with no rain in the forecast.
A special excitement was in the air because an incredibly famous singer had chosen Vancouver for a special Christmas Eve Concert. Why Vancouver? Well it made sense, actually, for a Canadian city to be chosen for this honour because the singer himself spoke proudly of his roots in Canada.
We’re talking, of course, about Justin Bieber. Suddenly famous while still very young, he had been born in a small Ontario community named Stratford. It had long been celebrated for staging plays written by the great William Shakespeare, but when Justin Bieber leapt to fame the people of Stratford were really smiling proudly.
Now the music phenom was in Vancouver with his band, preparing a special night for those lucky enough to have tickets. The fortunate ones included James, but that wasn’t surprising to Marco. His friend always got what he wanted.
Unfortunately there was never a chance of Marco buying a ticket. His mother was covering two jobs just to keep things going, and his Dad wasn’t having much luck either. So of course they didn’t have money for a Justin Bieber ticket. But that was okay—Marco understood that things were rough at the moment, financially and otherwise.
Marco was keyed up. Soon he’d be meeting his Dad for dinner. They hadn’t met since it all happened. So Marco was very excited. He was scared, too. His heart beat fast, wondering how his Dad was feeling these days. He was probably glum inside, but with a big smile on his face. That sunny nature was exactly why Dad was so popular with everyone.
Except for Mom, and that thought made Marco frown.
James glanced at his watch. “I gotta go.”
“I’m meeting my Dad,” Marco said. “It’ll be great!”
The boys high-fived then said goodbye. As Marco walked through downtown, his eyes were on the cement at his feet. He was brooding, thinking about the stuff James had said about his Mom. Some of it was true, but not all of it. Trouble was that James made it all so convincing. Because he was older than Marco, he had a better understanding of life. That made James an expert on things that Marco couldn’t figure out.
Like—why did his parents have to part? And how could Marco get them back together again?
Inside a large department store, Marco waited for an elevator. The store was all dressed up for Christmas. The employees had gone to a lot of trouble, creating cheerful displays of color and light. Marco smiled; it was a beautiful sight.
Riding up in the elevator, he studied an advertisement for the many Justin Bieber souvenirs available at the store. Marco saw lots of clothing plus posters, books, his music and movies and much, much more, all waiting to be purchased by the many fans that had travelled to Vancouver from all over the world, some to see the concert and others just to be close to their idol.
Dad was already at the cafeteria. He’d found a table alone beside a window, and sat there reading. “Dad,” Marco exclaimed. “It’s so good to see you!” Marco’s father stood up from the table. He had a big smile on his face as he reached out for a hug.
“Dad, I’ve missed you so much.” Marco wiped tears from the corners of his eyes. “Have you been okay?”
“I’m doing great, son.”
Marco didn’t believe this, not for one moment. His father’s skin was pale, his cheeks were taut—clearly he wasn’t eating well. But Dad’s legendary smile still lit up his face. He was a good-looking man with big, dark eyes and lots of wavy black hair. Marco always felt proud to be seen with his dad.
Lining up for food, father and son grabbed trays and cutlery. Behind the counter, several friendly women dished out turkey with all the trimmings while making jokes with their customers about the season. Some were happy it was Christmas, others were not. Marco noticed an elderly woman ahead of them in line. He felt so sad, thinking the lady was alone at Christmas, but then a man came to join her and Marco was able to let go of the feeling. Thank goodness for that!
The cashier studied Marco’s dad with thoughtful eyes as he counted out money for the two meals. Was she thinking he looked handsome, or was she wondering why he didn’t have a credit card? Marco moved closer to his father, feeling protective of him.
The window beside their table looked over the streets of downtown Vancouver. The city was festive with bright displays of shining lights. On the dark harbour waters, an attractive procession of sailboats and other small vessels glided past. They were outlined with white bulbs; on their decks, people had joined together to sing Christmas carols.
Beyond the dark evergreens of the city’s famed Stanley Park were the dazzling lights of Lions Gate Bridge. Mountains rose steeply from the shoreline, all the way up to snow-capped peaks and the star-tossed sky above.
It was such a peaceful sight, and yet Marco could only sigh unhappily. There was so much on his mind!
“Dad, maybe you can help with something?”
“What’s that, son?”
Marco told the story of the girl being arrested, and how he was certain she was innocent. “I could just tell, Dad. It was the look in her eyes. Anyway, maybe you could help her. After all, you’re a security guard in the mall where she got into trouble.”
“I’ll look into it tonight.”
“Thanks, Dad.” It was so good to be together again. If only it could last for longer! Thinking about the situation at home, Marco sighed.
Hearing the unhappy sound, his father looked sad. “I know what you’re thinking, Marco.”
“I know Justin Bieber’s in town for a Christmas Eve concert. I also know you’re a big fan.”
“Yeah, that’s true.”
“You’re a good singer yourself. You could learn something, seeing a superstar in person.”
“Sure, but . . .”
“So that’s why you’re sad, I bet. You’re wishing I’d bought you a ticket for the Justin Bieber Christmas concert.”
“Dad, you’re wrong. That’s not why, not even close. I never expected a ticket. I know there’s not much money these days. But listen, Dad. I love you, and I love Mom. That will never change. Okay?”
His dad grinned in a rueful manner and then he said, “Thanks, son.”
Marco could never get upset with his father. Sometimes the guy looked like a movie star, for goodness sake! But his Mom, that was a different matter. Sometimes it made Marco hot under the collar, just thinking about how things had changed. She had made a mess of things, and now Marco had to put it all back together again.
Inside his office at the mall, Marco’s dad removed his overcoat. He was wearing his security guard uniform, and now adjusted a peaked cap over his wavy hair. Dad always did his best to be cheerful, you had to admire him for that, but Marco knew it was a long fall from being a successful lawyer working at a big oak desk to rousting drunks out of the mall’s stinky stairwells.
Dad was a stand-up guy. He didn’t like his job as a security guard but he did it just the same. It made Marco feel proud.
“When will you be investigating that girl?” he asked.
“Right now,” Dad replied, glancing at his watch. “Will you come with me?”
“You bet,” Marco replied enthusiastically. He couldn’t forget the girl’s blue eyes, the look of agony and pleading. No way would he let her down.
On the office computer, Dad studied the reports submitted by various guards. “There’s been only one arrest for shoplifting today. The suspect matches your description of the girl.”
“What happened, Dad?”
“There’s a store on the basement level called Rick’s Curios. They sell junky stuff from around the world. The store’s never busy. I think it’s a front for organized crime, but I haven’t been able to prove it. The girl’s name is Mandy. She got arrested there. Let’s go talk to Rick. He’s the owner.”
As Marco and his dad walked through the mall they heard many voices joined together in Christmas song. “What a beautiful sound,” Marco exclaimed.
“Yes, isn’t it wonderful? That’s the choir from the cathedral.”
The members of the choir wore their best holiday clothes and carried big songbooks. As they sang, their bodies swayed rhythmically and they smiled cheerfully at each other. Everyone was having a good time, including the large audience of shoppers and store staff. When the concert ended, people applauded and then called Merry Christmas to the singers and to each other.
An attractive woman with stylish hair and modern red glasses came out of a hairdresser’s named Friends And Company. Dad smiled at her, and she smiled back. For a terrible moment Marco feared his Dad had found someone else, but then he relaxed after Dad made the introductions. “Flo teaches at Stewart College of Languages over in Victoria. She and her husband were once my clients, back in my early years as a lawyer.”
Down at the basement level they located Rick’s Curios. It was cluttered with all kinds of things including brightly-coloured pots and sparkly scarves and fake parrots in wooden cages. Despite how colourful it seemed, it was a dumpy place and the owner was a gloomy man. He sighed deeply when Dad pressed him for details about Mandy, the arrested girl.
“Three teenage girls were in my store,” Rick reluctantly explained. “I saw two of them stealing a scarf. I yelled, and they ran out of the store. So I grabbed the third girl, and held her for the police.”
“Did you see this girl steal anything?”
Rick shrugged. “No, but she looked guilty to me.”
“Have you replayed your security video? Checked to see if she did anything?”
Rick shrugged. “Why bother. She . . .”
Dad seized the front of Rick’s shirt. The big, sloppy man’s teeth rattled in his head as Dad yanked him close. “I’ll tell you why to bother, Rick. Because that girl matters—she matters to someone.” Dad shook the man. “Now get that video, and let’s take a look.”
Rick slumped away, and kept them waiting a good long time. Eventually he returned with the security recording. It clearly showed Mandy’s innocence. Outside the store, Marco congratulated his Dad. “It was just like a movie! How you grabbed Rick, and made him cooperate. They should make a movie, with you as the star!”
Dad was clearly pleased at the thought. But then he glanced at the time on his wrist and his look changed from contented to guilty. “I’m running late, and I need to keep this job. The first chance I get, I’ll contact the police about Mandy.” He smiled at Marco. “What are your plans for this evening?”
“I’m going to the hospital to visit with Mom during her meal break.”
“She’s working a double shift?”
“Tell your Mom, I still love her.”
Marco hugged his Dad. “If only we could be together again, as a family.”
Dad’s striking face lit up with a smile. “It could happen.”
“It seems like I’m fighting a lot with Mom these days,” said Marco. “I don’t like it, but it just seems to happen.”
“It’s not her fault we separated.”
“She kicked you out, Dad! That’s why you’re living down at Victory Square!”
“There’s more to it, son. Cut your mom some slack. There are things you don’t know about.”
“So why don’t you . . .”
Dad held up his hand. “We’ll talk about it another time. I’m late. I’ve got to get patrolling the stairwells.”
They wished each other Merry Christmas and then hugged farewell. Outside in the dark, Marco decided to walk to the hospital. It was a fair distance, across the bridge and up the hill, but Marco liked walking in the busy city. He saw many amazing people and had witnessed some astonishing dramas.
“Hey there, Marco, hey, I’m calling your name!”
It was James. He had a wise guy smile on his face, like he was the champ and knew it. Approaching Marco, James held out his hand. Marco saw a Justin Bieber ticket. His heart leapt. Maybe it would still happen, maybe he’d get to see the star.
Delighted, Marco reached for the ticket. But James snatched it away. “It’s not for you, Marco.”
In a doorway, an elderly man leaned on a cane. He held a tray; it displayed neon pencils and fancy wrapping materials. “Pretty papers,” the man sang out, “to say I love you.”
Marco felt something tighten within his heart. He’d forgotten to tell his dad that he loved him. Dad’s work could be dangerous and Marco never knew what might happen. It was probably foolish of Dad to grab Rick, but it sure felt good to hear the man’s teeth rattle together.
James approached the elderly man. “What’s your name?”
James kicked away the man’s cane. The old fellow almost fell, but Marco managed to stop that from happening. Picking up the cane, he handed it to the man.
As the boys walked away together, Marco looked back at Roy. He was leaning on his cane, staring at the ground. A look of great sadness was in Roy’s eyes. Marco wanted to say something kind to the old man, but he couldn’t take the chance. His friendship with James was too important.
In a store window, an elaborately decorated scene featured an electric train rolling proudly through a winter landscape in which miniature people stood together outside houses and stores that sparkled with Christmas decorations. The train was a retro beauty, an El Paso Silver Streak with a gleaming all-metal body. Inside the train, seen through lighted windows, people in hats and ties read newspapers or enjoyed a meal together.
“My dad loves trains,” Marco said. “I can’t wait to tell him about this one.”
James spat on the store window. “That’s what I think of trains,” he said bitterly, “and that’s what I think about Christmas.”
Marco was shocked. “What are you talking about?”
James looked at him with wretched eyes. “When I was a kid, my life was bad. Everyone fought, they yelled all the time. I got sick of it. Families are stupid, and so is Christmas.”
Then James shook his head. “That stuff is no one’s business,” he said to himself. James sauntered down the street toward a man who was chalking an image onto the sidewalk. The art was vivid and striking. Its beauty made Marco catch his breath. He stared at the artist, envying his gift.
About 35, the man carried his First Nations heritage with pride. He had a youthful face with piercing black eyes. His dark hair hung down his back in a thick braid. Now the man frowned as James smeared his foot across the forest scene, spoiling the image. Glancing at James, the artist said, “Does that make you feel good?”
James overturned the man’s collection of crayons onto the forest scene. Stomping the chalk into fragments, he further tarnished the picture. When James was finished, it was ruined.
James arrogantly threw money onto the sidewalk for the artist, and then walked away. Marco paused long enough to whisper sorry to the man and then he hurried after James. “I’m going to the hospital for my Mom’s work break,” Marco said. “Want to come with me?”
“Your mother doesn’t like me, so why should I visit her?” James answered a text on his phone, then said goodbye to Marco. “I’ve got something happening tonight. There’ll be good coin for you. I’ll text you and we’ll set up a meeting for later.”
“Sounds good,” Marco replied. “I sure could use the coin.”
* * *
From a window in the hospital cafeteria, Marco looked out over Vancouver. On this Christmas Eve the city shone like a bright jewel in a setting of dark velvet mountains. A large and prosperous seaport, Vancouver’s many docks were crowded with vessels from every part of the world.
Some were yachts, up from California with movie stars hoping their kids could ace a ticket to Justin Bieber’s special concert. No way was that happening, but the stars and their offspring soon got over their disappointment and were seen enjoying Science World, the Canucks and other attractions. The paparazzi had come along, too, and were noticed around town with their cameras. The Biebs was somewhere close by, but his exact location was a well-guarded secret. Better to seek the code that guards the Crown jewels than try to find the star.
Marco’s mom brought a cup of coffee to his table by the window. “I just saw a news flash on TV,” she said, gesturing toward the screen. “Something’s happened at the city jail.”
Marco thought of Mandy, wondering what had happened to her. “Was there a jail break? Did someone escape?”
“I don’t know. It was just a news flash.” Mom grinned. “Guess what? I know a secret! At this very moment something amazing and totally hush-hush is happening in this very hospital. Want to go see?”
“Promise not to text anyone about it, okay? Not until it’s over. The hospital doesn’t want people to come running from everywhere.”
Marco reluctantly agreed. If he didn’t, she’d withdraw the invitation. Mom was strong-willed that way, and it could make things a nuisance. You had to be careful around Mom. She wasn’t afraid to apply the family rules, while Marco could always talk Dad around. Appeal to his vanity, and anything was possible. But now it didn’t matter because Dad was living in some dumpy place down near Victory Square and Mom was cracking down at home. Working two jobs to cover the rent sometimes made her cranky so the rules were enforced to excess, in Marco’s opinion.
Mom was a beauty when she married Dad, and looked radiant in their wedding photos. The photo albums were put away now, but Marco often looked at the pictures when Mom was off at work. The best photos showed the years of success, with Dad as a well-respected lawyer and Mom his chief adviser and best friend.
Then it happened. Everything changed.
Marco shook his head, trying to rid himself of the memory. He followed Mom along a corridor deep within the hospital, and then they climbed metal stairs that clanged underfoot. Eventually they emerged behind the hospital at an outdoor metal deck connected to a row of loading bays. During the day these bays would be busy with goods and groceries arriving in big trucks, but now the bays were empty and the place was quiet. Marco’s gaze was drawn immediately to a black limousine waiting beside the bays. The limo looked very out-of-place in this setting. Gleaming with a flawless shine, the Lincoln Town Car had 1-Ascot on its license plate.
A few hospital staffers had gathered, and were whispering with excited voices. There was tension in the air; it seemed to crackle with energy. Then around a corner appeared a small group of people, led by the world’s most famous singer.
“OMG,” cried Marco. “It’s Justin Bieber, in person!”
His mother grinned. “He’s been here, visiting the kids. We’re all sworn to secrecy.”
“Mom, I can’t believe it!”
Marco could only stare as Justin Bieber walked toward the waiting limousine. It was amazing to see him in person! Some of the nurses reached out to the star. With a good-natured smile he made a show of kissing their hands, and then the singer gave a friendly wave to some staffers who were applauding him. He seemed very relaxed in the public gaze.
Suddenly Marco ran forward, holding out his phone. “Please,” he pleaded, “I’m your biggest fan. Be in a picture with me. Please!”
Justin’s security guard moved to block Marco’s path, but the singer motioned him away. Grabbing Marco’s phone in one hand, Justin playfully locked his arm around Marco’s neck and they mugged together as the phone’s camera clicked repeatedly in their faces.
Then the star turned to the blue-eyed, silver-haired chauffeur waiting to open his door. “Let’s move fast, Wilson. We’ve been tipped that the paparazzi are on their way.”
The chauffeur smiled and nodded. “Yes sir, Mr. Bieber.”
The superstar’s assistants climbed into a second vehicle, this one a white stretch Lincoln bearing 2-Ascot plates. One gestured at Marco’s phone. “Tweet that picture, will you,” she called to him.
“Sure,” Marco enthused. “Love to!”
Then it was over, and the singer was gone into the night. Marco turned to his mother was shining eyes. “That was something!”
They said goodbye. Marco promised to wait up for his Mom so they could welcome Christmas together when she got home from work. Outside the hospital he thought about his amazing luck in seeing Justin Bieber in person. Few people could say that, and Marco knew his friends would be deeply envious. Even James would be jealous. He might have concert tickets but he’d only be watching from a distance and never get the kind of photo that Marco was about to post everywhere!
* * *
Marco followed the Granville Street Bridge to downtown Vancouver. He thought about his cat, Stripe, worried he might have forgotten to feed him. But then he remembered sitting on a kitchen chair, smiling fondly at Stripe as he gobbled down pink salmon, his favourite. Marco looked forward to seeing Stripe, but first he wanted to check out the Orpheum Theatre where Justin Bieber would be performing. Marco might even get doubly lucky, and see the singer arriving for the concert.
Then he saw Mandy.
She was standing in a dark alley. The force of Mandy’s stare drew Marco’s eyes in her direction. She looked frightened, haunted. Her enormous eyes gazed at Marco from the shadows.
Here was Marco’s chance to help her! He needed to tell Mandy the good news. His dad had proven she was innocent. She didn’t have to be on the run, hiding in an alley. She was free!
“Mandy,” he called. “Wait! I’ve got something to tell you!”
But it was no use. Mandy turned, and ran swiftly into the night.
On a corner in downtown Vancouver, a man with a trumpet played a melancholy song of Christmas. The man wore blue jeans and a coat. His shiny, golden trumpet reflected red and green lights from surrounding store windows. His horn was off-key, but he was sincere.
Marco pushed past people who crowded the busy sidewalks. Ahead of him was Mandy. She was moving fast. Marco couldn’t seem to close the gap between them, but he never lost sight of her.
This was a colourful part of the west-coast city. Business people had gone to a lot of trouble creating window displays to celebrate the season. Marco’s favourite was a window filled with angels, their feathery wings shining under white Christmas lights. One candy store advertised Maple Syrup Fudge made from 100 percent pure Canadian maple syrup. Marco was tempted, but didn’t stop.
He had to reach Mandy. He had to tell her she was free, and didn’t need to run anymore. Thanks to Marco’s dad, there would be a happy ending.
Somewhere in the night, a clock bonged the hour. It had a deep, rich sound. People crowded the sidewalks, carrying last-minute purchases. Marco heard several languages being spoken, and realized that these people had come here to the province of British Columbia from many corners of the world. Some of them, he felt certain, had come for this evening’s Justin Bieber concert. Marco glanced at the time. He needed to get to the Orpheum Theatre, and soon.
An impressive totem pole stood outside a store selling First Nations art along with silver jewellery. The pole featured elaborate and colourful designs. It was topped by a fierce thunderbird with large teeth and staring dark eyes. It was such a proud face. Marco felt sad to see the thunderbird stranded in the city, stuck up against a brick wall, so far away from the forest where it belonged.
Ahead, a dragon greeted visitors to Chinatown. It was red; the lucky colour could be seen on street fixtures and bright doors, even above where scarlet lanterns glowed against the dark night sky.
It was a vibrant scene. Above Marco, a sign announced Shanghai City Seafood. The air smelled pleasantly of spices, and the people passing by were all interesting. Some men had beards and long hair down their backs. Others leaned on canes, gazing with interest at a group of young people weighed down by large backpacks. A man wearing lime green gloves wheeled his bike past Marco. It was hand-painted in bright reds and greens.
Mandy approached a phone booth; it was the color of cherries and had a charming pagoda-style roof. Stepping into the booth, Mandy checked the phone for forgotten coins. Marco saw Mandy’s face reflected in the window of the booth. At the same moment, the girl saw Marco.
Her face registered shock.
Mandy took off fast. She darted past numerous grocery stores with boxes of vegetables on display along the sidewalk. Marco couldn’t catch up to Mandy. It was like a dream where you’re running and running, unable to get anywhere despite your best efforts. Two police cars came out of the night, sirens wailing, red and blue lights flashing. As they screamed past, Mandy’s steps faltered. She looked at the cars in fear.
Then suddenly she darted into an alley with brick walls on either side. It was long and narrow, sized strictly for pedestrians. A few people wandered the alley looking in the windows of the stores, which were small but attractive and offering many unusual items for sale.
Marco couldn’t see Mandy anywhere in the alley — she had disappeared. Walking forward slowly, he left the stores behind. The alley was now very dark and seemed much narrower. If Marco put out his arms, he realized, he could touch both brick walls at the same moment.
He came to a small passage leading into darkness. Inside the passage Mandy was trying to hide against the wall, but Marco saw her immediately. He was thrilled — finally he could give her the good news!
“Mandy,” cried Marco, “I’ve . . .”
Without warning Mandy swept her foot beneath Marco, knocking his legs aside. Marco went down hard. Winded by the fall, Marco struggled up to lean against the wall, catching his breath. At the far end of the alley, Mandy stopped to look at him. Marco thought he saw regret in her eyes.
Then Mandy was gone.
Refusing to give up, Marco went after her. Eventually he reached the waterfront where he stopped, looking for the girl. Ahead was a huge railway marshalling yard where trains were assembled for journeys to the many cities and towns of North America. Marco wandered closer to have a look. He loved trains.
Then he saw Mandy. She was in the yard, running for the shelter of a train. Marco wanted to call her name, but he realized that would be a mistake. It might spook her. She didn’t seem to understand that Marco could be trusted.
Mandy disappeared into the shadows of the yard. Marco followed, determined to help her. He found himself beside a long, long line of boxcars carrying the name and logo of the Canadian National Railway.
Steel ladders were attached to the boxcars. They were for the use of railway workers, not for Mandy; but that didn’t seem to matter. Grabbing a ladder, she started climbing.
Running forward, Marco seized the ladder. The steel was cold in his hands. Above him, Mandy reached the top. She looked down at Marco and then was gone from sight.
Marco’s heart pounded as he climbed the ladder. Then he made a mistake. Unable to resist, he looked down. The ground was dark below; he couldn’t see anything. If he fell, it would be horrible. Marco shuddered. He tightly gripped the cold steel of the ladder. His breath came in short gasps. Heights scared Marco; this was bad.
But he had to reach Mandy. Marco forced himself to climb higher. He didn’t look down again. A narrow platform ran the length of the boxcar. Mandy stood at the far end, looking at Marco. “Mandy,” he called, “you’ve got to listen to me. You . . .”
Turning, Mandy leapt nimbly across to the next car. As she moved rapidly away from Marco he knew it was all over. Mandy was in the wind. She was lost to him.
* * *
Thirty minutes later, Marco and James sat together on a dock overlooking the restless dark waters of the ocean. Marco could smell seaweed. Seagulls drifted against the black sky, looking like white ghosts, their cries piercing the night.
The boys had made contact by text message, and agreed to meet. Marco needed time to get to the Orpheum, but he didn’t like saying no to James.
A beep sounded—James fished an electronic device from the pocket of his jeans. On the screen was his mother. She had sunken cheeks; her brown eyes stared from dark sockets. She dragged on a cigarette and then exhaled dirty smoke from the corner of her mouth.
James glanced at Marco. His friend shook his head impatiently, and then spoke to the screen. “What is it, Mom?”
She tried to smile without much success. Marco wondered about her age. She looked so gaunt, so haggard. His heart went out to her.
“James, where are you?” said his Mom. “I need you here, at home. It’s Christmas Eve.”
“I know. It’s just . . .”
“Don’t give me excuses, James. Just get yourself home. It’s a bad night for me to be alone, it’s the worst.”
“Why, Mom? What’s the reason? You won’t ever tell me.”
Her eyes narrowed. “What’s that I hear? Are those seagulls? You’re at the ocean?”
“Sure, Mom, but . . .”
“James, how could you? I’ve begged you to stay away from the ocean. If it happened again . . .”
“Mom, what’s going on? Tell me what this is about.”
A tear ran silently down her cheek. She didn’t say anything, just looked at James. He touched the screen and it went blank. James sighed deeply. “My mom is on anti-depressants. They aren’t helping.”
Then James suddenly jumped up. “You need cash to spend?”
“Who doesn’t? What have you got in mind?”
James led Marco to a marina at the end of a pier. Beyond the mysterious waves they could see the large shape of Vancouver’s heavily-forested Stanley Park, a treasured jewel in the heart of the city. White lights twinkled on the bridge, which led across the water to the neighbouring communities of West Vancouver and North Vancouver.
Close by, inside the marina, were several high-end yachts. Small waves rose and fell against their hulls, making a pleasing liquid sound. Nearby, seagulls floated on the dark water.
A chain-link fence protected the marina. James tried the gate, but it was locked tight. “Not a problem,” he said with a self-confident grin. “My uncle can pick any lock. He’ll get us in.”
“What’ll you do then?” Marco responded sarcastically. “Steal a boat? Go for a joy ride?”
“Of course not,” James said with contempt. “My uncle’s not that dumb.”
“So why break into the marina?”
“Some of those yachts belong to movie stars. My uncle heard that one of them has gone to a party, and taken along the entire crew. The yacht will be empty. He wants me to be look-out on the dock, while he breaks in. Why don’t you help us? The money could be real good. My uncle heard rumours the star has diamonds and rubies on board — the real thing!”
“When does all this happen?”
“That’s the trouble,” said James. “My uncle’s totally unreliable. He may never show up.”
Marco looked at the time. “I can’t wait around. I’m hoping maybe I’ll see Justin Bieber when he arrives at the Orpheum.” Then Marco frowned. “But, wait a minute, James! Don’t you have tickets for his concert?”
“I sold them for big cash.” James smiled. He was very self-confident. “I love making money. It’s the greatest thrill of all.” He gazed at Marco. “I’m going to be a big success. Lots of people will know my name.”
Yeah, yeah Marco said to himself. I’ve heard it all before—you’re such a big shot.
Without saying goodbye, Marco took off walking in the direction of the Orpheum Theatre. He couldn’t believe that James had bought into his uncle’s idea. The guy probably wouldn’t even show up, and the whole evening would be wasted. Even if his uncle did eventually arrive, he most likely wouldn’t know the first thing about picking locks. Besides which, those expensive yachts were certain to be protected by all kinds of security.
It was a brainless scheme, and Marco was pleased that he wasn’t involved. What if he got arrested? That’s all he needed! Things were bad enough at home. A phone call from the police was not what Mom and Dad needed. Marco’s goal was to get them together again, not be the cause of even more tears for his Mom and unhappy sighs from Dad.
* * *
Vancouver’s Orpheum Theatre is one of the most beautiful concert halls in North America. It was built in 1927 as a “movie palace” with seating for almost three thousand. For Justin Bieber, this would not be a large audience. At a football stadium in Mexico City he had entertained almost 200,000 fans. But tonight’s concert was something unique, with the star’s entire family rumoured to be coming for a special tribute to the season of peace.
A large crowd filled Granville Street outside the Orpheum. The air buzzed with excitement. The lucky ones clutched tickets for the big event, and grinned happily as they entered the theatre. Marco soon learned that he was too late to see Justin Bieber arrive; the singer was already inside.
Around the back of the theatre, Marco found an alley. He followed it to the stage door, where performers enter and leave the theatre. No one was around, but he could hear music through the door. He recognized the distinctive sounds of the opening act, A Tribe Called Red.
The stage door opened. Out stepped an usher. Seeing Marco, the teenager smiled and walked over to chat. “You didn’t get a ticket, eh?”
Marco shrugged. “At least I got to see him earlier today, at the hospital.”
She nodded. “I recognize your face from the picture of you with Justin Bieber.”
“You saw that? Cool!”
The girl smiled at Marco. “I’m Molly.”
Marco introduced himself. “You’re lucky, Molly, being an usher for this concert.”
She smiled. “That’s for sure.”
They continued to talk for a few minutes, and then Molly suddenly gestured Marco toward the stage door. “Hurry,” she whispered, “and I’ll get you inside. You can watch the show.”
Molly smiled at Marco as he slipped into the theatre. His eyes were bright and shining, like stars in the sky. He couldn’t believe his good fortune.
Marco was about to attend the Justin Bieber concert!
* * *
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Eric Wilson enjoys receiving messages about his stories, including Santa Bieber. He may not be able to write back to you, but please know that Eric reads, and thinks about, every message he receives.