Chase Williams - living room

Merry Christmas, Mr. Chase Williams

Chase Williams - living room

It had just started snowing when Chase Williams decided to spend his evening at home. Tursenia was a beautiful, charming city, even if it had quite a cold climate. Somehow it reminded Chase of his beloved London, but nothing could imitate the typical British humidity which sticks on the face like a thin film. He really missed it.

Chase lived on the first floor of a restored medieval building, inside the old Etruscan Walls. That year, the Municipality had decided not to put any lights on Chase’s street. The neighbours were very disappointed as it was the first time since the Christmas lights had become a tradition in Italy. Mrs Paoletta Testi, the cats’ guardian of the neighbourhood, was walking on the street which was slowly becoming whiter; Chase could see her from the window. The smartphone was on the cupboard not far from the front door, along with the car keys and a reminder. I ought to renew the car insurance, he thought. Then he took the phone and switched it off.

Chase’s house was not big, as he lived alone and didn’t need big spaces to live in. He sat down on an old brown-leather armchair in the living room. The fireplace was not in use because the landlord had sealed it off for good. For Chase it was a blessing, he didn’t like looking after the fire. Too much soot and too much dirt for a guy who hated mess. On the other side of the armchair he placed a little coffee table where he usually put three remotes aligned: TV, blu-ray and media center. Moreover, there were a Stout’s book and a magazine about running shoes, neatly stacked in a pile not to save space.

That evening, there was also a package on the coffee table, just over the remotes. It was a common box covered in stickers which had arrived from London. It was a gift from his eternal friend Laura. Chase didn’t waste more time and opened it. He pulled out the scotch-tape and the annoying tabs. There was a white box inside as well as a red case with a sign. It was written by hand with a black felt-tip pen and said DON’T FORGET. Chase became aware he was smiling: he could feel the corners of his mouth stretching up. He pulled off a USB pen drive from the case, and in the meantime a little piece of paper lightly glided to the ground. He stood up to insert the USB pen drive into the media center, then he collected the piece of paper while sitting again in the armchair. There was a number written on the paper: eight. Chase decided to trust the paper and not to look at the media center display. He just picked up the remote and pushed the number eight. And here we go. The happy jingle of the bells broke the silence of the room, followed by a treble choir singing a Christmas carol.

Dashing through the snow,
in a one horse open sleigh…

Chase laughed. He put the white box on his knees and opened it up. There were two Christmas crackers, one red and one green, along with a letter and a greeting card. He didn’t have a Christmas tree at home on which to hang the card. He had never liked Christmas and being far from the family made Christmas even more hateful. For the first time since he left London, he really missed it. He missed the alleys he used to patrol, the guys with their pockets full of shits stolen in some stores. In the greeting card there were two kids with red coats playing with the snow next to a little house. A big snowman was near the front door watching out for them. The mountains in the background were painted white.

Christmas seemed so weird in Italy. In spite of his customary hospitality, his neighbour Fortarrigo didn’t ask him to join the Christmas Eve dinner at his parents’ home. Chase thought that Fortarrigo would have waited in ambush behind his front door. But Fortarrigo had disappeared from Chase’s radar. And he had that feeling that Fortarrigo was going to appear again right after New Year’s Day. For a moment, Chase wished the fireplace was lit up. He could almost feel the warm of the flames heating the room. He placed the card on the mantlepiece, as people used to do in old, damp London.

Oh what fun it is to ride
In a one horse open sleigh

Chase switched on the tv, but there were only Christmas movies or news. No sports’ matches at Christmas time in Italy, not even on Boxing Day. Then he changed his mind and picked up the greeting card again, turning off the tv. Laura’s handwriting was tiny and precise. She had never quit writing the dots of the i’s as little circles. She had been doing it since the fourth grade.

«I wish you an amazing Italian Christmas, full of presents and people who love you. I can imagine you at least forty pounds heavier, so stop gorging yourself!
I miss you Chase. Can’t wait to see you again, I need an accomplice!

XXX Laura
PS: guess who is gonna get married next May!»

Chase was sincerely very happy for her.
An odd feeling hit him in the chest. It felt like nostalgia, but Chase realised that it was more like consciousness awaking. His beloved and distant London was no longer his home. His life was in Tursenia, his home was there now. Anyhow, he would see Trafalgar Square with another point of view, as soon as he came back at London again.

Jingle bells
Jingle bells
Jingle all the way
Oh what fun it is to ride

Not to mention his favourite park, as well as the Metropolitan Police central station and the one in Brixton. And his old flat in Forest Hill and his family. Italy was not so bad after all. At least the food was amazing and Tursenia was not the worst town that could have happened to him, especially after all the trouble he had made at home. Chase grabbed the box again and fished out the Christmas crackers.  Why are there two? Are they one for me and one for my imaginary friend?

To be perfectly honest, Chase had a real loyal friend there, Angelo Alunni, one of the rising stars inspectors of the Tursenian police. Their fathers had known each other for a long time. As kids they made a lot of firecrackers explode here and there, and were always looking for mysteries to be solved. Every moment they spent together they pledged to each other that they would become the new, real Sherlock Holmes, or Nero Wolfe or Hercule Poirot. He remembered very clearly the summer when they carved their initials on every surface and on that high, old tree where they had buried their detective kit, with the stamp to detect fingerprints, hand lens and evidence bags inside.

Chase grinned thinking back to their childhood. They used to imagine the future the glade with the old tree crowded with thousands of tourists admiring the place where the great and famous A.A. and C.W. had hidden their toolkit. Carving their names on the tree was an offence, people would at least have scolded them. Their fame would have eclipsed even James Bond, and people would have shot movies and written books and songs based on their lives.

Angelo introduced him to Dylan Dog, an Italian horror comic about a paranormal investigator. Dylan Dog lived with his friend Groucho in a flat in Craven Road, and Chase well remembered Angelo’s face when he discovered that Dylan Dog’s life, which sounded so imaginary, was not so different from Chase’s daily life in London. Chase brought Angelo to Craven Road the very first time he paid him a visit in London. Chase showed him what rose at number seven, and in that bar they drank a cup of tea. Somehow, after that metropolitan step-over, they both convinced themselves that their plays and dreams of a lazy summer on the Apennines could become real. While thinking about his friends, Chase turned to the phone. He could call Angelo and celebrate Christmas with him.

Jingle bells
Jingle bells

Chase stared at the crackers and his own shaky reflection on the shiny paper of the cylinders. In the worst case scenario Angelo would tell him to go to hell and they would get in touch the following day to exchange wishes. He put the crackers back into the box, then he stood up, ready to go out.

Angelo lived on the other side of town. He crossed the living room by leaps and bounds to the coat stand and put on his favourite parka. Hoping there won’t be too much snow on the roads, I don’t wanna get to Angelo’s place by slipping on my ass. Chase opened the front door.

The horse was lean and lank
Misfortune seemed his lot
He got into a drifted bank
And we got upsot

Angelo Alunni was there, holding a bottle of typical Italian prosecco.
«Your phone is off.» He calmly said, staring Chase right into his eyes. «I was about to call the police.»
«You are the police.» Chase replied, rubbing the right hand glove through the fingers. The left hand was lost months ago.
Angelo smiled. «And they have courage to say that we are not efficient.» He waved the bottle. «Do you think it could be enough to pass out?»
«Don’t think so, big boy.»
«Good to know, I should be on call tonight and my parents are waiting for me for dinner.»
Chase remained blank on the doorstep.
«If you give me a chair I’ll stay out here.» Angelo said.
«Sorry, I didn’t expect you to come.»

Jingle bells
Jingle bells
Jingle all the way
Oh what fun it is to ride
in a one horse open sleigh

«Are you going out somewhere? I can come with you. I have installed winter tyres, this is gonna be literally a White Christmas. Speaking of which, since when do you spend your evenings listening to Christmas carols? Jesus Christ, Chase, you seem like an old-maid!»
Chase laughed. «I was lost in my thought and I didn’t care about the air. Please, come on in, mate.» He stood aside and took off the parka. He made his friend,  who sat down on Chase’s armchair, comfortable.
«What are these things?» Angelo asked looking inside Laura’s box.
«Christmas crackers!» Chase trilled. «They have to be broken during the dinner at Christmas. It’s like the…» and he drew a ‘V’ on his chest with the tip of a finger. «Wishbone.»
«The chicken bone, the wish one, right?»
«Yep! I take one side and you the other one, we pull together and  the one who holds the biggest part of the cracker will have the surprise. There’s a little card with an enigma or a riddle inside as well as a paper crown.»
Angelo took a cracker in his hand, he weighed it up and examined it. «Well, let’s do it.» He finally said.
They uncorked the sparkling wine and filled two old glasses, the ones you collect with the points earned at the grocery. Chase sat down cross-legged on the rug, in front of the blocked chimney.

Jingle bells
Jingle bells

He grabbed one side of the green cylinder with both hands and held out the other side to his friend.
«We pull on my three, right?» Angelo asked, Chase nodded.
«Three!» they said together, but Angelo’s voices was deeper and drowned out Chases’s one. Something fell on the ground between Chase’s legs. He was holding the smaller part of the cracker.
«Ah! I won, mate!» Angelo waved his half-cracker under Chase’s nose, to tickle him. Chase picked up the item which had fallen down.
«What is it? A gold bar? A platinum one?»
«A blue heart-shaped keychain.» Chase handed it to Angelo. «It’ s yours.»
«You can keep it, I don’t go around with hearts.» Angelo arranged the paper crown on his head and read the little card. «What did the snowman say to the other snowman?» Chase locked eyes with the Italian guywho was holding back a laugh, looking quite embarrassed. Angelo had never been able to keep a straight face for too long.
«No idea.» Chase said.
«Smells like carrots. Christ, you British people have that killjoy sense of humour. You should be ashamed and apologise to the world.» Angelo rolled the card up into a ball. «Let’s open the other one.»

Jingle bells
Jingle bells
Jingle all the way
Oh what fun it is to ride
in a one horse open sleigh

«Yeah, sure!» Chase trilled while pulling the red cracker out of the box.
This time Chase won the tug-of-war. The surprise was another keychain, just alike the other one but pink. Chase placed both keychains on the coffee table, put on his paper crown and read his riddle.
«What do you call a woman that fell off a cliff?» He looked at Angelo, waiting for an answer, but Angelo returned the glance without saying anything.
«Eileen Dover.» Chase ended. He burst out laughing while Angelo was desperately holding his face between both hands.  «I’m afraid you’re right about British humour.» Chase added. «That was a tough one.» Even that card was rolled up.

Jingle bells
Jingle bells
Jingle all the way
Oh what fun it is to ride
in a one horse open sleigh

The evening flew between chats and memories, theories, riddles and solutions. It was nearly nine o’clock when Angelo’s phone rang. It was his mother, worried because she had to throw on some pasta and Angelo had not yet arrived at her house. Despite the insistence of Angelo, Chase declined his invitation and stayed at home, as he did not want to upset the balance of the Alunnis. Moreover, Angelo’s sister was a real bimbo, and her sons were two genuine little demons.
They hugged each other like two brothers and exchanged greetings on the doorstep.
«Chase?» Angelo said, while crumpling the crown of paper in his fist.
«Yes?»
«Turn off this damn music.»

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