Le coup du Père Noel

I originally wrote this story a few years ago. I still like it and I decided to republish it. So here you are.

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For Santa Claus, December and January have always been busy months. From the North Pole he routinely treks to Europe, Asia, Africa and even to Russia where he is affectionately known as Grandpa Frost.

Being politically correct, Santa has to be careful of avoiding diplomatic “faux-pas”. Wherever he goes, he has to dress the part, and because of this he carries in his trunk more outfits than Cher in her farewell tour.
It is only natural that after that busy period of the year Santa seeks a little peace far away from the hue and cry of big cities.

Usually, when the holiday season is over, Santa Claus takes refuge in the South of France, in a little village of the Provence area.
It just happens that in his spare time Santa likes to play Pétanque and there is no better place for this than the little village of C. where Pétanque have been practiced for a least a century.
Santa had been going there incognito for years and he had become a fixture of the local Pétanque court.

When he first arrived, he gave his first name as Noel, and ever since, because of his portly and debonair appearance, the locals took to calling him “Père Noel” (old man Noel). Little did they know…
Noel, never betrayed his identity. Upon arriving in C. he would slip into a pair of shorts, an old Hawaiian shirt and sandals.  He would also don an old straw hat and a pair of dark sunglasses.
The locals did not know much about him except that he was some kind of a businessman and that he was a Northerner. For most of the “Provençaux”, anybody hailing from north of Valence is a Northerner.
But Noël proved to be a jovial and congenial fellow and everybody adopted him.
Everybody, except a certain Léandre who was unanimously disliked by the rest of the players.

Leandre was a skinny and quarrelsome fellow who resented the popularity of this “Northerner” while he, a native son, was routinely disparaged by his own people.
Noel played mainly as a “pointeur” and everybody praised his uncanny ability to “deliver the goods”. In a pinch you could always rely on Le Père Noel to place a winning or defensive shot.

Léandre was known as a “tireur” (shooter) and he was a fairly good one.
So it was not unusual for Noel and Léandre to cross swords in the arena.
When Noel would place a great ball hugging the cochonnet, Léandre would shoot it and blow it out of the way. He was a good shooter, but not a gracious one. He would always accompany his shots with disparaging comments about his opponent.

After a while, despite his sunny disposition, Le Père Noel grew tired of Leandre’s remarks and demeanor.
He challenged him to a “friendly little game” and to sweeten the deal he stipulated that the loser would reward the winner with “un cochon de lait” (suckling pig) and a case of Chateauneuf du Pape.
Léandre, sure of his skills and enticed by the tempting prize, accepted the challenge without any hesitation.
The game was to be played in 15 points with 5 balls for each player.

Alerted by the local gossips, the entire village gathered to watch the historic match between skinny Léandre and rotund Noel.
Heavy bets were placed on each contender.
The “cochon de lait” and the case of wine were there for the winner to take home.

Le Père Noel started very well, placing superb balls near the cochonnet, only to be shot and dispersed all over the field by the murderous accuracy of Léandre.
But Le Père Noel persisted and Léandre started to get a little tired of shooting and started to miss.
The lead went back and forth between Léandre and le Père Noel, until Léandre mistakenly hit the cochonnet and pushed it a good 20 meters away from the starting circle.

Le Père Noel had 2 balls left and Léandre 3.

The score was now 14 to 12 in favor of Léandre. He needed only one more point to take the cochon de lait, the wine and the everlasting glory home.
Le Père Noel crouched, aimed carefully and placed a great ball about three inches in front of le “petit”.
Léandre, almost without aiming, shot his first ball and missed by a few inches. He threw his second ball and missed again. He cursed loudly in Provençal. Summoning all his skills he shot his last ball and hit a stunning “carreau”. His ball hit and took the place of his opponent.

That ball was now about 2 inches in front of the cochonnet and Le Père Noel had only one ball left. He was not known as a shooter, and at this distance (about 20 yards) with a wall of balls in front of him, the situation looked pretty hopeless.

Le Père Noel walked slowly to the cochonnet to appraise the situation. Léandre watched him with an ironic smirk on his face.

Le Père Noel walked back to the starting circle, cleaned his sunglasses, stroke his beard and after a few seconds he let his last ball fly. It flew  slow-motion-like in a perfect orb  and hit Leandre’s ball squarely on its head.
With a strange, almost plaintive sound, Leandre’s ball disintegrated and scattered in a multitude of small pieces.

The crowd stood still for a few seconds and suddenly erupted in wild cheers. Vive le Père Noel, they cried, vive le Père Noel.
Léandre totally stunned, stood paralyzed, incapable of making any move or any sound.

The crowd started to rush toward the Père Noel when an odd swishing sound was heard. A sleigh drawn by nine snorting reindeers swooshed down from the sky, and Le Père Noel carrying the piglet and the case of wine under each arm jumped aboard and disappeared, never to be seen again.

To this day, the villagers are still talking about this strange turn of events and the mythic “coup du Père Noel”.
Léandre left the village never to return.

There are some rumors that le Père Noel has been seen playing Pétanque in Copacabana.

Alain

 

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