Christmas Made Easy
A.J. Simon glanced left, and then right. He didn't recognize any of the pedestrians rushing by him on their way to work, and breathed an internal sigh of relief. He looked up at the hand-painted sign hanging on the outside of the quaint storefront. The blond man hesitated just a moment before entering. He was surprised the woman advertised herself so boldly. He didn't think this was the type of business most people would be proud to frequent. At least that's how he felt. Never in his wildest dreams, did he imagine that Andrew Jackson Simon would have to stoop to this level.
A.J.'s palms were sweating as he pushed open the door. The gentle ringing of an overhead bell announced his arrival. Before he could turn and flee to the sidewalk, a tiny woman in her early forties stepped out of a small back room. She stood only four foot ten, and couldn't have tipped the scale at more than eighty-five pounds. She was wearing a pair of bright green dress slacks, a white blouse with a Peter Pan collar, and a green sweater patterned with multi-colored Christmas ornaments.
The little lady with the bobbed red hair smiled.
A.J. towered over the woman giving a nervous nod.
"Come in, come in," she invited with a wave of her hand. Unrestrained enthusiasm shone from her delicate face. "I'm Maggie Koppen."
The woman pulled a chair out from the antique table that served as her desk.
"Please, have a seat. Can I get you some coffee?"
"No," A.J. shook his head. "Thank you anyway."
A.J. jumped when he felt the lady rest a hand on his shoulder. She gave him a gentle smile of understanding.
the first time you've come to a woman like me, isn't it?"
A.J. cleared his throat. "Well...yes. Yes, to be perfectly honest with you, it is."
The tiny lady rounded the table and sat down in her own chair.
"I can tell. I can always tell when it's a man's first time. But really, Mr. Simon, there's no need to be ashamed or embarrassed."
A.J. gave a small smile of chagrin. "I know. I keep telling myself that. It's just that I've never found myself in this position before. With quite these needs."
"I understand. And I realize there aren't a lot of women out there offering the service I do. How'd you come to hear of me?"
"Through a friend of mine. Perhaps you remember him. Cal Donely?"
certainly. Cal. His needs were very specialized. Not always easy to accommodate. For a while
there, I was afraid I was going to disappoint him. But things all worked out in the end, and I'm pleased to say we
parted company mutually satisfied."
"That's what he said. He couldn't recommend you highly enough. That's why when I found myself in this...predicament, I called you."
Maggie's smile was warm and sincere.
"I'm glad you did. I know it's not easy to admit you find yourself lacking in this area. Especially for a man such as yourself. When people turn to a woman like me, to a woman that offers the services I do...well, society still tends to frown upon it. I suppose it's leftover guilt instilled by our mothers."
A.J. was relieved the woman understood his concerns so completely.
“That's exactly it. I just feel so...so...like I've let her down somehow. My mother that is. My mother and my brother. I've never done anything like this before."
"I can assure you it's nothing to be ashamed of." The woman chuckled as she reached for a pad of paper. "At least not from my prospective. Now, why don't you tell me exactly what your needs are."
A.J.'s hand slipped into the pocket of his suit coat. "I have a list already made out."
“Great.” Maggie reached across the table. "That will make things more comfortable for both of us."
The woman skimmed A.J.'s precise handwriting. "Good. Very good. Everything you want is very clearly spelled out."
While Maggie attentively studied his list, A.J. nervously rattled on, as though he felt the need to fill the silence with explanation.
"Usually my Christmas shopping is finished by Thanksgiving. I don't know what happened this year. How I found myself in this position with only seven days to go before the holiday arrives. My brother and I have been tied up on cases one right after the other since September. I suppose that's when I started to lose track of time. And, of course, I never anticipated us having to fly out of town the week before Christmas to give testimony at a courthouse in Fargo, North Dakota. Our plane takes off at one o'clock this afternoon."
Maggie looked up from A.J.'s list, her blue eyes sparkling.
"It's those unexpected little happenings that keep Christmas Made Easy in business."
A.J. chuckled. He couldn't help but relax as this little elf of a woman put him at ease.
Maggie leaned forward in her chair and laid A.J.'s list out in the middle of her desk. The detective unconsciously mirrored the woman's posture.
Maggie had worked with enough clientele since opening her business three Christmas seasons earlier, to be able to make an accurate assumption as to the type of man A.J. Simon was. Therefore, she instinctively knew what it would take to make him feel comfortable when hiring her as his personal shopper.
"Would you like to go over each of these items with me?"
“Yes,” A.J. eagerly nodded. "Yes, that would be fine."
With the index finger of his right hand, A.J. pointed to the first items on the paper.
"To begin with, I've listed things I'd like you to buy for my brother Rick. Two pairs of Levi's jeans and two shirts."
Maggie took note of the sizes A.J. had written behind the items. "Your brother must be a long legged, thin man."
"Yes, he is."
"And I see you have a store listed here. Is this where Rick prefers to buy his clothing?"
"Yes. Surplus Sammy's. I really hate to ask you to go there. It's a rather. . .unique experience to say the least. It's somewhat like shopping at a big garage sale. The store itself is nothing more than an old warehouse down on 59th street. But the thing of it is, Sammy and all his clerks know Rick. They know what he likes and dislikes so they'll be a big help to you."
"That's fine, Mr. Simon, I--"
"A.J. That's fine, A.J. I'm always looking for new places to shop. The majority of my clients aren't nearly as organized as you. Many times I have to help them write out their Christmas lists to begin with. Then they leave it up to me as to where to buy the items. But, of course, everyone is looking for a bargain. Possibly Surplus Sammy's will turn out to be a place I'll want to add to my rounds."
"Possibly," A.J. agreed. "There's no doubt you can find bargains of all sorts at Sammy's place. It's more a matter of whether or not you can stand the atmosphere."
Maggie's laugh was melodious and addictive.
"Don't worry about that. I've shopped in nearly every store in this city. From Midas Mufflers, to Pete's House Of Rats And Reptiles. I highly doubt buying your brother a couple of pairs of jeans and two shirts at Surplus Sammy's, will top buying three white rats at Pete's place."
A.J. chuckled at the thought of this chic little lady in Midas Mufflers, or purchasing white rats. "I doubt that as well."
Maggie returned her attention to the business at hand.
"Now for the next thing on your list."
A.J. moved his finger down.
"Yes. A suede jacket. Rick's been dropping hints since his birthday that he'd like a brown suede jacket. Similar to the type that were popular in the early seventies with the fringe on the arms and around the chest."
"I know just what you mean. They're coming back in style again. As a matter of fact, I bought one for my teenage son at the start of the school year."
"That figures. It would stand to reason anything popular with today's teenagers would be something my brother wants."
man who still has a good deal of boy in him?"
A.J. laughed. "Exactly."
"I'm sure I won't have any trouble finding just the jacket your brother wants, A.J. I notice you have his size listed here as well, but no store. You don't have a preference as to where I purchase the coat?"
A.J. shook his head. "I want it to
be of good quality, of course, but I was hoping you could pick one up for no
more than seventy five dollars."
Maggie nodded and wrote the dollar figure on A.J.'s list.
"That shouldn't be a problem. I've seen those jackets in just about every store I've stopped at in the last few weeks."
Maggie moved to the next item.
"And a baseball cap for Rick as well?"
"Yes. He collects caps and hats of all kinds. Or at least that's how he refers to himself - as a collector, that is. If you want to know the truth, he uses them to cover up his bald spot."
Maggie looked over at A.J.'s thick head of hair. "You two must take after opposite sides of the family then."
Dramatically, A.J. agreed. "Thank God, yes we do."
Maggie smiled at the detective's humor. "My husband's losing his hair, as well, so I know how traumatic that occurrence can be for some men. Let's see here. You don't have any specifics written down about the baseball cap."
"No. As I said, he collects all kinds. Some have sports logos, some have cartoon characters, some have beer company logos - pick up whatever you want. Regardless of whether it's one he already has or not, I know he'll wear it."
thought a moment. "Does he own one
that has the name of your detective agency on it?"
Maggie could tell A.J. was pleased with the idea.
"No. No as a matter of fact he doesn't."
"I have a friend who runs a shop that personalizes caps and
How about if I buy a cap from her and have her put Simon And Simon
Investigations on it? I'm certain it
won't cost you more than fifteen dollars."
"That would be wonderful. I never thought of something like that. He'll love it."
Maggie wrote herself a note to call her friend and order the cap as soon as A.J. left.
"And now for the last two items on your list. A set of metric wrenches?"
"Yes," A.J. nodded. "He's forever borrowing mine. I decided this was the year to put an end to that." The detective reached into his suit coat pocket again. "I cut this ad out of the newspaper. Sears has all their tools on sale this week. I thought perhaps you could get them there. Both Rick and I like their Craftsmen line."
Maggie took the colorful ad.
"That shouldn't be any problem at all. As a matter of fact, there's a Sears store in a strip mall just a few miles from here. That will be my first stop." Maggie's glance returned to A.J.'s list. "And the last thing for Rick is a CD player?"
"Yes. As you can see, I wrote down the brand name he prefers for all his stereo equipment, and my price range."
"That will be very helpful. I'll go through the ads I've cut out of the paper recently and see what I can find. Lately a large, nation-wide chain store like Circuit City is where I've been running across the best deals."
"That's fine," A.J. agreed. "Then I believe that's it for my brother."
Maggie glanced down at the items listed under Rick's name one last time. "It looks that way. Should we go on to your mother?"
It didn't take Maggie long to go over with A.J. the gifts he had listed for Cecilia. He was just as meticulous with her as he was with Rick, and offered Maggie names of stores where his mother bought her clothing. He had written down Cecilia's sizes, and even provided Maggie with some pages from a catalog that gave her an idea of what type of clothing his stylish mother preferred. He also told Maggie the name of Cecilia's favorite clerk at the jewelry store she frequented. From there A.J., left it up to Maggie and the clerk to pick out something - a bracelet, or necklace, or earrings - that his mother would like. In addition to those items, he had two movies listed that had been recently released on home video, two novels, and season's tickets to the San Diego Playhouse.
Maggie looked up from A.J.'s list and smiled. "I wish all my customers made my shopping this simple.” She briefly glanced down again. “Now onto the last two people. Toby and Rex. Are these your little boys?"
A.J.'s face flushed crimson.
"No...uh...no. Toby's my basset hound, and Rex is my brother's golden retriever. I suppose it's rather silly. I mean, they are just dogs, after all. But they'd feel left out if I didn't get them a little something."
"There's no need to explain, A.J. We have a beagle named Charlie who has his own stocking hung on the mantel every Christmas. Some years I swear it's filled with more treats than what Santa Claus brings the kids.
"So let's see here...oh," Maggie laughed at herself. "If I would have looked at your list more closely to begin with, I wouldn't have been so foolish as to ask if Toby and Rex are your children. I doubt you'd be requesting I buy a box of medium sized Milkbones for Rex, and a box of small sized Milkbones for Toby, if they were children."
A.J. couldn't help but laugh as well.
"No, no I don't think so. I imagine it would cost me a lot more money at Christmas to keep Toby and Rex happy if they were children."
Maggie chuckled. "As the mother of three teenagers I can assure you of that." Her gaze returned to the detective's paper. "Two packages of Rawhides, one for each dog, I assume?"
"And one squeaky toy for each dog."
Maggie turned in her chair. A waist-high, two-drawer oak filing cabinet sat to her right. She pulled a red file folder out of the top drawer and deposited A.J.'s list inside, along with the ads and catalog pages he had given her. On the outside tab she printed, A. Simon.
"I’ll have all the gifts purchased within the next three days, A.J. When do you plan on returning from North Dakota?"
"I'll have everything waiting for you here on Monday morning then. With Christmas falling on Wednesday, you'll have some time to spare if something I purchased doesn't suit you."
"I'm certain everything will be fine," A.J. smiled. He wrote the woman a check for the deposit the two had agreed upon over the phone. He handed it to her as he rose. "I appreciate you taking me on at the last minute like this."
"Last minute? Hardly. Believe me, before the actual holiday arrives I'll shop for at least six more men who have discovered themselves to be in situations similar to yours."
"Wow," A.J. commented with wonder as Maggie walked him to the door. "And here I thought I was the only guy who found himself in this predicament so close to Christmas."
Meanwhile, across town:
Rick Simon exhaled a lusty sigh of satisfaction as he planted a tender kiss on the full, naked cleavage of the woman sharing his bed. He took a few seconds to catch his breath, then rolled over to retrieve a pad of paper and a pen from the nightstand. He handed the items to the platinum blond lying next to him.
Angeline hiked herself up against the pillows. The sheet she brought with her barely covered her ample breasts. Rick eyed the enticing mounds spilling over the thin cloth. He decided being forced to head out of town to give testimony in Fargo, North Dakota right before Christmas, and having to hire a personal shopper to get everything done in his absence, wasn't such a bad deal after all.
Rick joined the voluptuous young beauty against the pillows, being careful not to lie against her waist length tresses.
"Now first of all, darlin', I'm gonna need you to shop for my brother A.J."
Ricky." The woman used her raised,
bent knees for support as she poised pen over paper. "How do spell that?"
“You’re kiddin,’ right?”
“No. I need to know how to spell his name if I’m supposed to put him on my list.”
“I. . .I see. Well, like I said, his name is A.J.”
“I know what his name is, silly. You’ve already told that twice. What I need to know is how to spell it.”
"Uh...never mind. It's not important. He's the only brother I've got."
"Oh good." Angeline's full mouth curved into a delighted smile. "That'll make it easy. I won't be able to get his presents mixed up with anyone else's."
"No...I guess you won't. Excellent point. So the first thing I'd like you to get him is a Luciano Pavarotti tape."
Two round, baby blue eyes cast themselves in Rick's direction. "You mean an exercise video?"
"Yeah. Luke Pavarotti. Isn't he the short guy with the curly hair who's really hyper, that does the exercise videos to all the old music from the 60's?"
"Uh...no. That's Richard Simmons. But I can see how you'd get the two mixed up. Pavarotti is a...well, never mind. Just go to any record store and tell them you want Pavarotti's latest cassette."
"Okay. I can do that." Angeline bent over her paper. Concentration caused heavy furrows to crease her brow. "Now let's see...Pa...Pa...," she struggled to sound out. Triumphantly she cried, "P-A!" as she wrote the first two letters. Again she labored to sound out, "Pav...Pav," and again she rejoiced in hard fought conquest, "P-A-V!" Angeline pressed hard with the pen as she printed, then looked toward the ceiling in thought. "Pava...pava," she repeated. "P-A-V-A!"
Rick reached for the pen and paper. "Here, I'll write it out for you."
Pure adoration shone from Angeline's face. "Thank you, Dicky. You're so smart."
"So people are always tellin' me. Okay. That's number one on the list. You can have this back now. The next thing I want you to write down is a colander."
"No. Colander. I kinda ruined A.J.'s a couple months back when I used it as a funnel to drain some motor oil."
"Okay. A calendar.
What kind of calendar do you want me to get for T.J.?"
"That's A.J. And I didn't say calendar. I said colander."
"I heard you the first time. And the second, as well. Now what kind of calendar do you want me to get for your brother? They have them with kittens, and puppies, and girls in swimsuits, and movie stars, and mountains, and jokes, and--"
"No. I said a coland--"
"And Bible verses, and cartoons, and wildlife, and--"
"No. That's not what I...forget it. Yeah. Just get him a calendar. One with mountains would be...no, make that a swim suit edition."
I'll write that down." Angeline's
oversized letters filled the paper.
"One swim suit edition calendar for R.J. Now, do you want that for the new year?"
"For the new year? Or would you rather I get one for this year?"
"Why would I have you buy my brother a calendar for this year? This year is almost over. What good would it do him?"
"Well, you never know when a person might want to look back and see where they've been. I often find myself needing to do that."
Rick turned away mumbling. "I wouldn't doubt it."
"What was that, Mickey?"
"I said I can see where that would be useful. But I think I’d prefer it if you bought A.J. a calendar for the coming year."
"Okay. But as your personal shopper, it's my obligation to tell you that right now the prices on calendars for prior years are at their all-time lowest. Every store is looking to get rid of them before the new year begins. You can pick one up for seventy-five percent off of what they normally cost."
"Mmmm...well, maybe a calendar for a year that's already gone by is just what A.J. needs. As a matter of fact, I've been thinkin' lately that he doesn't take the time to stop and reevaluate his life often enough. Maybe he'd start doin' that if
he could see where he's been."
"It works for me," Angeline reinforced. "All right then. One calendar for J.J. - any year."
"Perfect. Next on my list is a couple of books he's been wantin'."
The buxom woman's mouth drooped at the corners. "Books?"
"Yeah, you know, books."
"Oh. I suppose I'll have to go to a library to get those, huh?"
"Well...no. Actually, I was thinkin' more along the
lines of giving them to him on a permanent basis. You'll need to go to a bookstore to get them."
"I see. I don't guess I've ever been in a bookstore before. Are they a lot like libraries?"
"Well...I suppose they are somewhat. Why? Will that be a problem?"
just that me and libraries don't mix very well. Ever since I was a little girl
that Davey Decimal System has confused me."
"That's Dewey Decimal System."
what I mean?"
"Yeah, I guess I do see what you mean. But you won't have to worry about that in a bookstore. You just go up to the counter and ask one of the clerks to get you a copy of Patriot's Pledge. and a copy of Flames Of Justice."
"Patriot's Pledge and. . .what'd you say?"
"Flames of Justice."
Angeline cocked her head with intensity. "Patriot's," she mulled out loud. "Patriot's." Laboriously, she wrote while spelling out loud, "P-A-T. . ."
Angeline's tongue flicked in and out like a snake's as she sat thinking.
"Patri...Patri...P-A-T-R. Now let me see, would the next letter be an I, or an E?" The young woman sighed with frustration when the answer didn't readily come to her. "I'll just write down P.P. and F.J. I'm sure the clerk will know what I mean."
it would be best if I pick those books up for A.J. myself."
"Okay." Angeline shrugged amiably. "Have it your way. Now what's next?"
"The next thing is some Brut."
"Nicky! No!" Shock radiated from Angeline's cherubic face. "I can't believe you'd even consider making such a request of a lady."
"But it's just aftersha--"
"Absolutely not!" The woman declared so adamantly the sheet covering her breasts fell to her waist. "I refuse to go into some type of male...male...male playground, just to get your brother a sex toy called Brut."
"No, no. You don't understand. Brut is the name of a colo--"
Angeline's golden head shook back and forth. "No way. If your brother wants something like that, then you're going to have to buy it for him yourself, mister."
"Uh...Angeline, why don't we just forget about gifts for A.J. right at the moment and concentrate on what I want you to buy for my mother."
"So you want me to cross D.J. off the list?"
"Yeah, go ahead and cross A...D.J. off. I'll find the time to pick up his stuff myself. Now on to my mother."
"What's her name?"
"Cecilia. Mmmmmm...let me think a minute...Cecilia...
"Why don't you just write down Mom."
"Oh, good. I can spell that. I just hope I don't forget that this is your mom, and not my mom, and then end up getting their presents confused."
"Let's hope not. Okay. First of all. I'd like you to get her a big band CD. One with music by a variety of band leaders from the 40's."
"By band leaders who are in their forties? You mean like Elton John and Billy Joel?"
"No, I mean band leaders from the 40's. The 1940's. It was a decade several...decades prior to your birth. I'm talkin' about guys like Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey and Guy Lom...never mind. I'll get that when I pick up A.J.'s stuff. Why don't you just get her a nightgown and robe? That's two of the things she put on her Christmas list."
"Oh I can do that," Angeline gushed enthusiastically. "I just love to shop for lingerie."
"Now, I didn't exactly call it lingerie, darlin'. I said a nightgown and robe. You now, somethin' in flannel with a high collar and maybe some matching slippers. And as for the robe, well somethin' that's big, and bulky, and thick, and goes to her ankles, and belts in front. That's the kinda stuff my Mom usually wears so--"
"Oh, Vic," Angeline giggled. "You're so old-fashioned. No woman wants to wear something like that. Now I was thinking more along the lines of a gown from Frederick's Of Hollywood."
"I heard you the first time, and I can assure you that my mother does not buy her nightwear at Frederick's Of Hollywood. She has no reason to wear things like that."
"Not in front of her sons, I'm sure, but what about when she entertains male guests?"
Rick's roar sent Rex scampering under the bed. "My mother does not entertain male guests!"
"You don't have to yell, Dicky. My goodness, I don't see why you're getting so upset. Now I think I'll get your mother something short and in satin. And strapless...in red and black. And maybe with some little matching lace panties and a garter. Crotchless panties. Oh, and how about a--
"Mickey? Mickey? Where are you going, Mickey?"
Rick jumped into the boxer shorts that had been left lying in a tangled heap of clothing on the floor. He flung aside Angeline's 38 D-cup bra and grabbed his blue jeans.
"I've gotta get dressed. The stores open at nine o'clock and me and A.J. have a plane to catch at one. If I hurry, I just might be able to get all my shoppin' done before we leave."
"But I thought that's what you hired me for!"
Rick leaned over the bed and placed an ardent kiss on the woman's full lips.
"Angeline, you're beautiful when you pout, you know that?" His index finger traced the sculptured fullness of one breast. "But somehow I just don't think you were cut out to be my personal shopper."
Rick tore himself away from the woman's treasures and snatched his shirt from the bedpost. "But hey, listen! I know of a guy name of Downtown Brown. He's catchin' that same plane with me and A.J. this afternoon. And I know for a fact he was lookin' for someone to do his Christmas shopping for him. You go down to the police station and ask for him."
"Oh, I will, Dicky. Thank you. Thank you so much! Now what did you say his name was?"
"Just ask for M.P. Brown!" Rick called over his shoulder as he ran out of the room. "Anyone will be able to direct you to his office!"
"M.P.? Nicky! Nicky, is that with one M or two?"