"To your first pisser!"
They raised their glasses and downed their beers and whiskeys, some not even bothering to pull their beards aside first. "To your first pisser!" they echoed lustily.
Their toast done, they turned their attentions elsewhere. They loudly complained about the closet-like break room at Target, the lousy costume at Sears, the high school kids playing elves at Macy's who spent more time flirting and getting phone numbers than helping anyone, the bastard manager at the mall who insisted on keeping the line open right until closing time. This was their nightly purge, where they shrugged off the mantle of patience and good cheer they were forced to wear all day and could indulge in the cynicism and scorn their position didn't allow them to express at the times they felt them.
"So the kid is whizzin' like a racehorse," the subject of their celebration said, "and there's Mom and Dad tryin' to get the camera workin'. I'll say this for the kid, he never blinked. Got through his whole list without missin' a beat." There was a pause, due to a long pull on a strong drink. "And without missin' my leg!" Laughter roared in approval.
Suddenly the door to the bar opened, a chill wind blowing in as the tell-tale sound of bells tinkled through the air. All conversation stopped as four figures in red strode cockily into the room. Chairs scraped ominously across the floor as their occupants rose to confront the newcomers, who stopped and stood, arms confidently crossed, bells gripped tightly in their hands.
"Salvation Army," someone whispered.
The bartender quickly shuffled towards the four men. "Hey now, we don't want any trouble," he stammered, but one of his customers pushed him aside. He liked to work the tougher stores, and would actually volunteer for the day after Thanksgiving. He had a real name, but everyone just called him Rock.
"We can handle this, Pete," Rock said, and walked up to the group, glaring right into their eyes. "Maybe you didn't realize it," he said grimly, "but this is a department store Santa bar. Why don't you bell-ringers go drink someplace else?"
The leader of the newcomers laughed. "You hear that, boys?" he chuckled. "Some chair jockey is trying to tell Santas who actually work for a living where they can drink!"
A few more Santas moved forward to stand behind Rock. "Ooh," he said, "ringing a bell all day makes you a tough guy, huh?"
"Says the guy who sits in a chair all day hugging little kids." Bells jingled restlessly.
Rock took a step forward and pulled aside his beard, revealing a dark red mark down one cheek. "Thanksgiving Day parade. Bad adhesive. Burned like a son of a bitch. Waved the whole route." He let the beard slip back into place.
Rock's opponent opened his shirt, revealing an inch-long scar on his chest. "Three weeks ago. Quarter tossed out of a Mustang. Must have been doing sixty." He leaned forward, closing his shirt. "Pulled it out and dropped it in the bucket."
A nervous murmur floated through the bar, but Rock raised a hand and all fell silent.