Venspu would have knocked but when he saw Santa at the window he decided against it. He was looking outside, his head resting on his forearm which was pressed against the glass.
“What is it, Venspu?” Santa asked, startling him.
“I can come back,” Venspu began, “it’s nothing.”
“Nothing wouldn’t have led you here tonight, not this night,” Santa said.
Santa’s back was still turned, but Venspu could see his eye’s reflection. They never lost their twinkle, no matter how tired he was. Remarkable, he thought.
“Speaking plainly, the elves are tired,” Venspu said hurriedly. “There’s six days to go. I’ve crunched the numbers. It’ll be close, but if you give them a break tonight, we’ll still be finished before the big night.”
“Think so?” Santa asked, finally turning to face his lead foreman.
“I do,” he said, careful not to betray his hope.
“And just what would the elves do with their time tonight if they didn’t work?” Santa asked.
Could he know? Venspu thought. No. There’s no way. Not this time.
Exhaling, Venspu said, “Sleep, Santa. They’d sleep.”
Santa loved the elves. He couldn’t understand why they were so ready to turn on him. He only enslaved them because he knew they would be happier working for him than facing the cold reality of the human world. Yet here was one of his finest workman, Venspu, looking him dead in the eye and lying. As a tear formed, Santa turned back to the window.
“Give them the night off,” Santa said.
“Thank you, Santa,” Venspu said, adding, “You can count on me to be sure they’re ready for work at first light.”
“Good night, Venspu. You may go,” Santa said, only too aware of the slaughter to come.