Chapter 3: The Talk

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As Jeremy stood alone in the office, he pondered whether this was all a scam. He thought, “maybe there isn’t a “Fred”. Maybe this Jennifer is actually a serial killer who has a dungeon hiding back behind there. Maybe…maybe I watch too much crime TV right before bed time.” This entire scenario was going from strange to stranger. He already felt jerked around a bit by not knowing anything about this Fred Carlisle guy. He’d assumed that the interview would be with Jennifer. So much for that plan working out.

Jennifer came back out and sat at her desk. A few seconds later, a shorter version of a graying Dick Van Dyke appeared. “Jeremy? Fred Carlisle.” He stuck out his hand, and Jeremy stood up and shook it. “Come back to my office.”

Jeremy followed Fred back to a small office that had many filing cabinets along the walls. In fact, the entire place seemed to be a resting place for manila folders. One of these, presumably the only one that mattered to Fred at this moment in time, was open on Fred’s desk. It had a copy of Jeremy’s student ID photo along with…is that a dossier? Jeremy wondered.

Fred walked around to the other side of the table and motioned for Jeremy to sit in the other chair. “Just put those files on the floor near the chair, Jer. Thanks. So, I guess you have some questions about what’s going on.”

This wasn’t how interviews were supposed to go, thought Jeremy. You suffer a round of questions first, then you ask your token question about the company, something to make the prospective employer believe you’d done your homework. “Uh, yes, I do.”

“I did too when I was sitting in that chair a long time ago. Would you like for me to describe what’s going on, or would you prefer to ask your planned question on the possibility of converting to full time employee at the end of the contract?”

“How did you know I was going to ask that?”

“Well, when you only know it’s a contract position, that’s a safe question to ask, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, but–”

“But there’s bigger questions, like who the employer is.”

“Yes.”

“The company is a subsidiary of a global conglomerate called Enpen for short. North Pole Enterprises. We’re listed as a public company on the Stockholmsboersen. The company does logistics, manufacturing, and a bunch of other things.”

“The Stock what?”

“It’s the Swedish stock exchange.”

“Oh. I didn’t even realize they had one.”

“Not many people do.”

“So what would I be doing?”

Fred leaned forward and paused briefly, staring Jeremy down. “Jeremy, this is the point where things get confidential. You’ve already signed the non-disclosure, so that won’t be an issue, but still, this is a rite of passage.”

“I can keep a secret, Mr. Carlisle.”

“I hope so. Jeremy, do you like Christmas?”

“What?”

“Do you like Christmas? You know, getting gifts, trees, Santa Claus, all that stuff.”

“Well, Santa Claus doesn’t exactly exist, but yeah, I do.”

“What makes you think he doesn’t exist?”

“Well, for one thing, the original St. Nicholas died a long time ago.”

“True, but there’s lots of gifts to go around.”

“But most of those are from my parents or brothers or sisters.”

“Haven’t you ever looked carefully at your gift tags, Jer? I mean really looked at them?”

“Uh, I guess not.”

Fred leaned back in his chair. “In 1946, the United Nations, along with their UNICEF program, decided to create an entity that would take the holiday season in December and try to make it a worldwide initiative to give gifts to kids everywhere. The obvious question is, ‘how is something like this funded?’ Well, it’s part of each country’s contribution to their U.N. dues. A small percentage of each person’s tax dollars goes to this program. Once people leave their family home or have children of their own, they receive a letter talking about the program or they’re contacted by our representatives. It’s a poorly kept secret, but we’ve managed to keep the scale and scope of our operation out of the public eye. Most people don’t think about it, but for kids who wouldn’t otherwise receive a gift, it can be…life-changing.”

Jeremy was stunned. “So this means Christmas-”

“And Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Eid, and a bunch of other traditions, including some pagan winter solstice stuff.”

“-is a bunch of lies?”

“Well, not exactly. Not lies from the religious or historic significance of the season. But Christianity coopted Saturnalia to make sure they weren’t ferreted out and turned in as opposition to the reigning monarch. So, there’s a history of deception involved around this time. As far as being a public company, the stock is owned primarily by the U.N., so no one else receives the annual reports. Everything else is done through front companies.”

“But why not just let kids get nothing?”

Fred paused. “Did you hear what you just said?”

Jeremy reflected briefly. “Yeah, that was kinda dumb.”

“Not all of the gifts we provide are toys. Some places get food. Some places simply get a night free from war.”

“So you don’t cover everyone?”

“We try. Just like everyone else, we try. The Chinese government is sometimes inscrutable in their reasons for not allowing our deliveries, or there may be extenuating circumstances like a flood. But those are the rare cases. Most of the time we get something to every child in the world.”

Jeremy thought about that little detail. “So the infrastructure has to be–”

“Massive. Of course, we subcontract a lot of delivery stuff to make sure it arrives on time, but…”

“So what am I supposed to do? You obviously don’t want me delivering toys.”

“My official job title is manager of auditing. I’m responsible for making sure that the money we’re given is efficiently utilized internally and externally. I need someone who’s willing to travel, has an accounting background, and just in general is willing to believe in what we’re doing.”

“And I’m that person?”

“You need a job, you have training in Generally Accepted Methods, and you’re young. All three are important, because this is a long-term contract.”

“How long, exactly?”

“Lifetime.”

“What?”

“Here’s the thing: we have very low turnover because anyone who gets exposed to our environment is a person we want in our environment. People like our company, and we give them no reason to leave. You get two months of vacation that you can take any time from January to April plus limited times in the rest of the year. We have a pretty good health care plan. The downside is that you can’t really tell people what you do because they’ll ask questions about our organization. People know about the gifts, but it’s like making sausage. No one really wants to see that pig get slaughtered, and we prefer to keep it internal.”

“Why?”

“If someone told you that they were Santa Claus, what would you think?”

“Good point.”

“It’s also why we have low turnover. People who leave generally wind up in asylums.”

Jeremy cleared his throat. He had a lot to think about.

“You may think you’ve got a lot to think about, Jeremy. Let me make it simple. You have no other opportunities, and we want your services.”

“Can I think about it some?”

“Who would you talk it over with? ‘Dad, I’m going to be Santa’ again.”

“Yeah, I know. I still want to think about it for at least one night.”

Fred looked down at the folder. “I understand. Take your time, but not too much. The position we need you for already has a ton of work. When can you get back to me?”

“Is tomorrow good enough?”

“That’d be fine. Jennifer will give you a filled out passport application. All you have to do is sign it and hold still for a picture, and then you’re free to go.”

So Jeremy signed the form, said cheese, had to redo the photo because you’re not supposed to smile in a passport photo, and then left to contemplate the rest of his life.

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