Martin stopped at the front door and took a deep breath before he opened it.
Hardly able to make his legs move, he stepped into the little hall and closed the door.
He would normally just drop his briefcase anywhere on the floor, kick off his shoes in the corner, throw his coat towards the coat rack and 'squeeze' Karen to greet her.
But his current mood did not allow for such a carefree routine.
This time he carefully put his briefcase and shoes aside and even took a coat hanger for his coat, trying to stall.
Trying to delay the inevitable bad tidings he had to bring to Karen.
But how do you tell your loved ones that you are going to lose your job?
Karen heard him making little noises in the hall, but he did not show.
She stuck her head around the door to see what was keeping him and saw his face. Never saw him so sad...
"What happened dear" she asked anxiously as she put her arms around him.
Martin swallowed before he said with a sigh: "Heard today. We are going to be taken over indeed, and much faster and rigorously then expected.
They don't even wait till next year.
They are going to abrogate all our supporting and administrative departments before december. Production will be controlled directly from the new head office. Department gone, job gone, just good luck finding a way yourself to survive...
Or house, mortgage. Lars's school... How on earth..."
Karen put her finger over his mouth. "Come dear, lets first sit down and have a cupper. Don't worry now. We'll talk it over later and try to get an overview of the situation.
See what we can and what we must do. I'm convinced we'll find a way".
"If need be I'll sell the motorbike", he said with a mix of despair and fighting spirit".
"OK, if that's what it takes we'll do that", she said, "but let's have some tea first now".
"Guys, look here, see ? That's what I mean". Victor showed the advert to his mates.
"Exactly what I'm looking for; such a cool bike ! I would really like to have such a moped.
And look at the mileage, serviced at the dealer's, indoor sleeper, tyres good as new...
Even the colour is spot on and it has all 'my' accesoires I
I saw one drive by the other day, man, what a beauty". He sighed "only, look at the price...".
"Not at all unreasonable dude, for such a machine" Ed said, "in such a condition you could not find one cheaper, I'm sure.
Especially not at the dealer's, though you'll get warranty then".
"Sure... OK", Victor agreed, "for this machine the price is not bad, but you know, budget...".
"Ach, c'mon you moneybags you. You earned a really nice bonus for Christmas, you told us", Ed said.
"Oh yeah sure, I cannot complain", Victor said, "but I cannot just go and spend it all on me. It was great of Ellen to allow me to buy a new bike anyhow, but we agreed on a budget and
I just have to stick to that, you know. And there is still a baby room needed soon, remember ?" Ed nodded understandingly.
"I guess you could still negotiate the price", Josh said, "look it says 'due to circumstances'.
Doesn't say what these circumstances are, but it looks like someone is trying to sell his bike in a hurry".
"Yeah but it could also be a trick when there is something wrong with it of course", Ed said.
Victor did not reply. In a pile of bike magazines in the corner of the room, he found one, from some time ago, with a test of 'his' bike.
On the floor, beside his chair, there was a more recent magazine that contained impressions and summaries from owners of this machine.
So no, Victor was not in this world anymore.
After Martin and Karen had made an overview of the situation, they decided indeed to sell the motorbike.
Not just for the money they would get, but also to economise on expenses like insurance, road tax, maintenance, etc.
She was working still, but his income was some petty unemployment benefit and heaven knows for how long.
Most important was that they could keep on paying the mortgage.
And that they would have some savings when Lars was going to secondary school next year.
They were aware that there would still be some expenses coming up; for instance a new bike for Lars, as his new school was in the next town.
They wanted to be prepared in time, so Martin decided to have his bike for sale asap; delay would be futile.
Unfortunately, nobody showed any interest lately, in spite of the more than reasonable price.
He was a bit disappointed, though he did not really expect anything different.
But since it was December now, he started to worry somewhat.
"December already and no one replied", he said to Karen.
"Well of course it's not really the best time of the year. First of all, few people buy a motorbike in winter, due to the weather and salty roads and so on, and besides, they know of
course better ways to spend their money this time of the year. Oh well, we'll just have to see what happens, what else can we do...?".
And then he unexpectedly got a phone call.
Karen heard him naming details of the bike, it's current state, a short summary of it's maintenance, an finally the price.
"All right", she heard him finish the conversation, "yes of course, a test ride is self-evident. OK, see you tomorrow, Thank you.".
He looked relieved at her when he put the phone down, "Finally someone is interested. They are coming tomorrow".
"That bike is still for sale", Josh said to Victor.
"He is not going to sell it just like that in winter. Reasonably priced or not. There are few people buying bikes now, in December most pennies have gone...
Did you discuss it with Ellen at all by the way, Vic or are you really not interested? You realize that this is a 'one off', don't you ?".
Ed said: "I told my brother George about it, and he was quite confident that you could get the bike for half the money, you know.
He knows a little scheme, to be performed with a few mates, where the owner would be grateful in the end that you took that pile of junk off his hands, George says".
"Yeah right", Victor replied. "We all know Georges 'little schemes' by now. But I don't want to have to call Ellen again to come and get me from the police station... OK ?"
"No, no, nothing illegal. No break-ins, nor nicking, no threats or anything like that. It will be up to the owner to sell or not at all times.
Well OK, just let me know if you are interested.
But remember it could be the difference between 'missing the boat' so to speak and riding your dream bike"...
Victor said nothing, he just stared and thought. He then slowly shook his head: "No".
But Ed's words just would not leave him in peace. Not even at night: "riding your dream bike".
In the morning he called Ed up to learn more about George's plan: "Yo Eddy, do tell me mate...".
Martin had parked the motorbike in front of his house.
After Ed introduced himself and brother George to him, they focussed on the bike.
"Looking quite good", George said, thus starting the 'ritual'.
The brothers circled the bike, looked at it from a distance of a few feet, like you observe a piece of art, focussed on details from really close, went down on their knees even, trying to see underneath, squeezed handles, tested switches..
Posed questions about this, about that, mumbled in themselves or to each other, pointed with their fingers, looked content or sometimes surprised or critical.
Martin on his part answered questions truly and honestly, explained, explicated, and tried wherever he could to emphasise that the bike has always been treated and maintained
meticulously and that it 'slept' in the garage..
They talked about this difficult time to sell a bike and the price.
Martin explained his situation - without going into details, of course - and said with determination that it would be a good thing if he could sell, but that this was a fixed price.
He would not sell for less. He had prepared himself well and he knew exactly what these bikes were worth.
George had brought his suit and helmet and took the bike for a test ride, while Martin went inside with Ed to show him all documentation, service books and so on.
After a while George returned. He put the bike on its stand but left the engine running.
Martin and Ed joined him. George was on his knees beside the motorbike, his ear as close to the hot engine as he dared, and listened carefully.
He got up, killed the engine, gave the key to Martin and said calmly: "Yah... now I understand why you’re asking such a low price.
"Beg your pardon?", Martin looked confused.
"I say, it won't take long anymore before it's big-end is coming out.
Martin turned pale and his mouth went dry.
"Excuse me, but I don't know what you are talking about. To my knowledge it must be in top condition, it has always been serviced on t..."
George explained to Martin that it would be a big and expensive job. The engine had to be removed and opened.
They would be able to fix that themselves, but they could not possibly offer more than half the asking price.
Martin declined. Said that he wanted to try and find out what exactly was wrong and that he did not want to sell it in this state.
The parted politely, thanked each other for their trouble and the brothers left again.
In the car George started to chuckle and said, "That was phase 1, next is Josh's turn.
Ed did not feel happy at all but George did not notice.
A few days later Josh phoned Martin; could he have a look at the motorbike, and perhaps make a test ride ?
He never got to a test ride though.
When he came to look at the bike he started the engine, listened attentively for a while and promptly switched it off.
"The bearings are on the verge of collapsing. But I guess you discovered that yourself already did not you ?", he said almost accusatory.
He did not even make an offer, said that he did not care for such a treatment, and left.
On the way back Josh was not at all proud of himself.
After Josh left, Martin had been crawling in despair, on hands and knees, around the bike with running engine for fifteen minutes.
He did not understand at all. OK, he was no mechanic but he could hear absolutely nothing wrong in there.
With tears in his eyes he informed Karen.
They had no money for expensive repairs, he said, so if someone should be interested it was best to except a lower offer...
About a week later, Victor himself made the kill; he got the bike for almost half the price.
When they went to collect the motorbike two days before Christmas day - Ellen took him by car -, Karen invited them in for a cup of tea.
Victor got a bit anxious and pretended he could not wait to enjoy his new bike; he wanted to take off immediately.
However, Ellen found they could not just decline such a friendly offer and so they had tea.
Ellen's round belly was the reason for some interested questions back and forth; "when is de baby due, have you already prepared the baby room ?".
And "well well, so your son is going to secondary school". It was a pleasant, enjoyable conversation.
Though Martin and Karen were in no way complaining, the reason for selling their bike did come up.
Ellen nodded sympatatically, Victor had already mentioned it to her.
In the car on the way back home, Ellen was wondering about one particular remark from Karen.
"Good thing that Victor is such an able 'grease monkey'", Karen said, " Unfortunately Martin has no head for technics at all, it would have saved us a lot if he had!".
"Victor a grease monkey?". Ellen thought, "Yeah right... I bet he has been telling big stories again. I'll ask him later...".
That afternoon Victor had some business in the shopping centre.
There were Christmas decorations all around; colourful balls, Christmas trees, fake snow, little Santa dolls everywhere,
And of course stables and cribs, figures of three wise men, shepherds with sheep and donkeys.
From loudspeakers 'Jingle bells' and 'white Christmas' terrorized your ear-drums.
In the central hall, intersection of the many shopping 'tunnels', there was an impressive figure sitting on a kind of throne: Father Christmas.
On the very same spot where last week shabby loud Santa Clauses with bells were making false promises to toddlers.
But this was not just any old Santa, with a glorified red bath-robe and a beard of cotton wool.
This was a majestic figure with silver-grey natural hair and beard, wearing a satin red robe with pure white furry trims.
"Wow", Victor thought, "this might just as well be the real one". And suddenly he froze...; "but it is... it's him. It is the real Father Christmas".
A shivering crept through him when Father Christmas looked straight at him and followed him with his eyes.
All of a sudden he stretched his arm and pointed at Victor who was glued to the spot and could only stare like hypnotized at him.
The world around Victor seemed to fade and as if in a trance, he saw Father Christmas talk.
He did not hear him through his ears, but his head seemed to fill up with father Christmas's words:
"Did you really want that motorbike so bad that you degrade yourself by using underhand dodges, Victor ?
Why let dubious advisors without scruples drag you into devious solutions ?
That's not at all like you, is it son? You do know that honesty is the best policy, don't you?
And yes, maybe anyone and everyone could sometimes make the wrong decision in a fit of indolence, greed, thoughtlessness...
But this just has to be put right, you understand ?
It really has to ! And when you do, I give you one at Christmas. A dream motorbike. Promise !
The world around him slowly came back. Amazed and dazed he quickly walked on. He did not know fast to get home.
Once outside the shopping centre, doubts hit him. Great doubts...
What the hell has he been doing. What was he thinking ?
And... how to tell Ellen...?
"WHATT", she roared, You did whatt ?". Ellen was shocked.
Victor looked ashamed at the floor.
When Ellen asked him about pretending to be a 'grease monkey' he confessed how they made Martin believe that his bike's engine was as good as ruined.
And how Victor told him that he could fix the problem himself, being a 'grease monkey'. And how Martin then, in despair, sold him the bike for peanuts.
"How in heaven's name could you do such a thing ?", Ellen trembled with resentment, her eyes were spitting fire.
"They are such lovely darlings. Not a shred of suspicion or mistrust towards others. Friendly, hospitable...".
Victor swallowed, he really did not know what to say.
"Worst of all", she continued, "those people have a huge problem. And you took advantage of the situation; kicking them when they were down. Disgusting...
Another bright idea of those mate of yours, no doubt".
"No, not the boys", he said timidly. "George, Ed's bro..."
"Oh wow, George, right...", she interrupted him "Well if George says it's OK. That makes it all right then, does it ?.
So you 're not responsible ? How could you Vic, how on earth could you ?"
"We must return the bike", Victor suggested.
"Oh yes, you bet we are going to take it back. Tomorrow. And you are humbly going to apologize.
And do I have a surprise for you; you are not going to buy another motorbike, for we are NOT going to take our money back from Martin!"
"Tomorrow is the 24th", Victor said softly.
"So what ?".
"Well, Christmas eve. We could not just drop in unannounced on Christmas eve, could we ?".
"No, we are going in daytime. They will be at home. Karen has a day off".
Victor nodde, "OK, you are right, I really don't know what came over me, but we do have to put it right.
That's what Father Christmas said too".
Ellen looked at him, "Father Christmas? What Father Christmas? What are you talking about ?
He told her about the impressive Father Christmas on the throne in the shopping center, who adressed him about the way he obtained the bike.
"He even knew my name, and he was really austere and scary", Vic still got the creeps thinking about it, "I felt like a 5 year old boy".
Ellen now looked at him puzzled and said: "but there's never been a Father Christmas on a throne in there.
There have been some noisy Santa's with bells yelling "ho, ho, ho", but that was all.
Victor looked at her, confused, "But off course there was. He talked to me, rebuked me. I... I... believe me, really I swear!".
Ellen noticed that he meant it 100 %. Wether he imagined it or not, for him it really happened, this was the truth.
Victor felt a bit dizzy and his heart was pounding in his throath. Wat had happened overthere? Who did he see, who was is that talked to him ?
Martin and Karen were surprised if not overwhelmed when Ellen, Victor, Ed and Josh suddenly appeared on their doorstep with a big bunch of flowers.
After Victor had called his mates to tell them that Ellen an he decided to return the bike and apologize, they said that they wanted to come too.
They did not feel good at all about the role they played in the whole scheme and they wanted to apologize personally too.
Ed said that George did not see anything wrong in what they did though.
The stupid owner should not have been so naif, it was his own fault, George said.
Martin was especially happy to find out that he was not insane after all, and initially did not want to keep the money.
"Oh yes you do!" Ellen said determined and somewhat snappy "you have absolutely earned it".
Karen started to laugh and said with a big smile: "Wow... you can be quite bitchy sometimes, can't you ?".
"Well, what do you think, with this bunch of 'grown up' monkeys about the house", she replied.
On Christmas morning, after Victor and Ellen had exchanged their presents, they spotted a package, under the tree, a bit hidden and aback.
They looked at each other, but they both swore that they did not put it there.
There was a label, it read "For Victor, as promised".
"As promised ?", he looked at her, puzzled. Then he he shrugged his shoulders and unwrapped it.
It was a scale model of his dreambike. Meticulously detailed, in the right colour and with all accesories; exactly like the original.
In a display box of a kind of transparant perspexl, in which, in relief letters, brand, model and type had been etched.
"Unbelievable", he said surprised, 'if I would be scale 1:10 myself, I could take off on it just like that! What an extraordinary quality.
I have never ever seen a customised scale model of a motorbike, who on earth can the manufacturer be?".
He turned the box over, on the bottom he read: "FCASMC". The text was underlined with an extra bold line.
"Hmmm" he said, "I never heard of that brand".
"Hang on", Ellen said. "That is not an underline, it looks like very dense very small bold print".
She went to fetch her gandmother's embroidery magnifying-glass and gave it to him.
He was completely dumbstruck when he read:
“Father Christmas’s Authentic Scale Model Company”.