Discover more from A Flash in the Pan
Luke's plan to stop the Christmas music went a little awry...
Issue #18, Sunday 18 December 2022
“I can’t stand it any more,” Luke said.
He and Mee Ying stood together at the counter, looking out at the endless flood of miserable faces as the crowds of people shuffled by, their expressions hollow, exhausted.
“What? This job?” Mee Ying asked.
“No, the damned music. If I hear that awful woman sing ‘Oh Christmas Tree’ one more time I’ll go beserk, I promise you. Grab an axe and start smashing everything in sight.”
She chuckled. “We don’t have an axe.”
“There’s one in the corridor, for use in a fire. ‘Break this glass’. I reckon this is close enough to an emergency to qualify.”
Mee Ying laughed, and turned away to serve another customer. Luke sold someone a complete set of ‘Friends’ on HD Blu-Ray. Meanwhile, the endless Christmas music wound on and on: loud, sickly sweet and insincere.
“Can’t we do something about it?” he said to Mee Ying the next time they both were free from customers. “Doesn’t the music drive you crazy too?”
She sighed. “Yes, of course. But there’s nothing we can do. Mr Pando likes it, says it creates the right Christmas spirit.”
Mr Pando was the local store manager. His name wasn’t really Pando. It was something Italian or Greek, Luke seemed to remember. Pandolfino or Pandolopolus or something like that. He was content to be called just Mr Pando. Luke wondered if he knew that all the female staff called him ‘Handy-Pandy’, with good reason.
“But Pando’s only down in the store for five minutes every couple of hours. He doesn’t have to put up with it. You know, I don’t reckon Jesus ever wanted all of this,” Luke said, waving his hand at the harrassed crowd of shoppers.
“Don’t ask me,” Mee Ying said, “I’m a Buddhist.”
“Excuse me, do you have André Rieu’s ‘Home for Christmas Volume 3’?” a harried looking young woman in a dark pantsuit asked Luke. He looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “It’s for my grandmother,” the young woman explained testily.
Luke shook his head. “We only have movies and TV shows here,” he said. “All the music videos are sold by the music department over on the other side of the store.” He pointed.
The young woman made an annoyed sound. “How stupid. Why can’t they put everything together?”
He shrugged. “That’s the way management wanted it, I’m sorry.” She turned away in annoyance and stalked off.
On the audio system, ‘Oh Christmas Tree’ started up again. The woman singing it sounded as if she had a list of fifty more Christmas songs to go and she didn’t think she was being paid enough to sing even one of them. Luke gritted his teeth, but didn’t go to fetch the axe. Then the singer switched to the German version. “Oh Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum…” It was not an improvement.
He looked at his watch. “Time for my break,” he said. “Can you hold the fort for a few minutes?” The crowd had slacked off a little.
“Break?” she said, a little outraged. “Mr Pando cancelled…”
“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “I’ll only be a tick. Need to do something.”
He trotted quickly off the shop floor and headed up to the next level. The toilets were here, but that wasn’t where he was headed. He looked both ways to check there was no one watching, then ducked into a small room on the other side of the corridor.
There was a rack of computer and telephony equipment here, and also the hi-fi system, with a CD player, set to loop endlessly. He pushed the eject button, grabbed the CD, and pushed the tray back. He slid the CD on top of the tall server rack, well out of sight.
But as he stepped out of the equipment room into the corridor, he almost bumped into Mr Pando, coming out of the men’s toilet. Mr Pando looked at Luke suspiciously, his florid face creased in a frown. “What were you doing in there?”
Luke thought quickly. “Um… there seemed to be something wrong with the Christmas CD, kept sticking. I think maybe it’s been scratched somehow. But I… I gave it a clean and put it back, seems OK now. And, er, I needed to go to the loo.”
Mr Pando nodded and then smiled. “I see. Well, thanks for that. It’s wonderful to make sure everyone has the Christmas spirit, isn’t it?” And he headed back to his office. A secretary coming in the other direction dodged well out of his way.
Luke, cursing inwardly, popped into the toilet for form’s sake, waited a moment or two, then came back out and begrudgingly reinstated the CD into the player, but not before carefully scratching a small part of it with the end of a key.
Back on the shop level, a syrupy version of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ was playing, the first track on the CD. Enough to make all the faithful run away in the opposite direction, he thought. As he passed a middle-aged couple, he heard the woman say “Oh dear, I thought for a moment they had stopped that awful music, but now it’s back again.” The man nodded gloomily.
Mee Ying had a queue of three people waiting to be served. She frowned at him. “Sorry,” he said, turning to serve the next customer in line.
Twenty minutes later the sound crackled and popped and started to repeat a short fragment. The player had reached the scratch Luke had made. He picked up the house phone and rang Pando’s office.
“That CD’s definitely defective, Mr Pando” he said. “Perhaps we should just turn it off?”
“No, no,” Pando said. “It’s not a problem, I have another CD here. Good to have some variety in any case. I’ll go and put it in.”
Five minutes later, André Rieu started up with vast over-orchestration. ‘Silent Night’ had never been less silent.
Luke groaned and Mee Ying laughed again. He liked her laugh. “Well, at least it’s different,” she said.
But by the end of their long shift, Luke had had more than enough of André Rieu, too. He decided that he needed a better plan. There were, after all, still three weeks until Christmas.
“Mee Ying,” he said as they headed towards the doors, “your brother’s a bit of an electronics nut, isn’t he?”
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘nut’. He’s studying computer science and electrical engineering, yes.”
“Do you think he could rig something up for me? Something to fix the music player?” He explained his plan.
She smiled. “You are very wicked, Luke. But I’m sure Hoa could help. He loves building things like that. I’ll give him a call. It’s a bit late, but he stays up until after midnight most days.”
She rang her brother, spoke briefly in Chinese and then handed her phone over to Luke. He repeated his plan.
“Sure!” said Hoa. “Won’t be too hard, sounds like a lot of fun. I’ll have to charge you for the parts, but it won’t be much. I’ve just bought this little microprocessor kit which should do the trick with a few extra components. Take me a couple of days, maybe. But I’ll have to come and help you wire it up, I think.”
Two nights later, after another couple of dreary shifts behind the counter, Luke met Mee Ying’s brother outside the store as the employees were leaving. He was a lean young man with a bright expression. They shook hands as Mee Ying introduced them. “I’ll leave you boys to it,” she said. “I’m exhausted.”
The two young men went back inside and made their way up to the equipment room.
“Mr Pando – that’s the boss – has left, he never stays late,” Luke explained. “We’ve got about a half an hour before the cleaners start work, not that they would worry, but it’s best to avoid suspicion.”
“OK. I’ve had some thoughts of my own about this. Depends a bit on how your system is set up.” He took off his backpack and pulled out a black box with several sockets and leads attached. Luke was pleased to see that it looked just like some anonymous piece of computer equipment, and would hardly be noticed in the rack of other gear. Hoa busied himself examining the set-up and attaching leads.
“There,” he said, satisfied. “Now give me your phone. It’s an Android device, you said? A Nexus? We’d be stuffed if it was an iPhone.”
He fiddled with Luke’s phone for a few minutes and installed a new app. “OK, you’re good to go,” Hoa said.
At the start of the following day, the Christmas music was going strong as Mr Pando did the rounds of the counters. Mr Pando had found another copy of his original CD, it seemed, and the unenthusiastic singer was mechanically working through ‘Oh Christmas Tree’ again. She might as well have been singing a shopping list.
Luke couldn’t help noticing how often Mr Pando found an opportunity to rest his hands on the shoulders, back or arms of the female workers as he did the rounds. Very touchy-feely. The women said that it was never quite enough to consitute harrassment, but it was very close.
Finally, Pando headed out the door and back to his office. Luke picked up his phone and touched the new icon, then the controls which popped up. The Christmas carols faded gently away into silence. Immediately, there was a sense of relief among both staff and shoppers. Slumped shoulders lifted.
“Oh, good!” a lady at Luke’s counter said, “it’s stopped”.
“That’s brilliant,” Mee Ying said, smiling broadly.
“Just make sure you give me a heads-up if you spot Pando back on the floor again and I’ll crank it back up. And now for some fun…” He fiddled with his phone again.
“What are you doing now?”
“Something Hoa built in. Every ten minutes it’s going to connect through to his office phone, put it on speaker, and play heavy metal music at him.”
Mee Ying laughed, but put her hand on Luke’s arm. “You’d better put the music on again, here comes Mr Pando’s wife. She’s sure to tell him if there’s no music playing down here.”
Mrs Pando came up to the counter. She was a severe-looking woman, in her middle fifties like her husband. Luke grabbed up his phone and hurriedly tapped at the controls in the special app.
Whether he missed the correct control or whether Hoa had wired things up wrongly, Luke never knew, but seconds later the audio system crackled and he was horrified to hear voices booming out over the crowded store. Mr Pando’s voice. And that of one of the female secretaries.
“Just a little Christmas kiss, my dear,” Pando was saying in a wheedling tone, “just sit on my knee and…”
“No! No! Get away from me!” the young woman was saying. “Get your hands off…”
Luke stabbed frantically at his phone, and the voices faded into silence. Mrs Pando was staring up at the audio system. Her face was grim. She narrowed her eyes, firmed her shoulders, and headed off for the stairs.
“Whoops!” Luke said.
© Copyright David R. Grigg. All rights reserved.
About This Story
This was inspired entirely by my own frustrations at hearing syrupy Christmas music while shopping. Why can’t they play some decent Christmas music, like bits of Messiah?