Tales from the Tabletop

The Year the Russians Stole Christmas, Part 1

December 1958

Dramatis Personae

In December 1958, three elite agents have been sent on a mission of utmost importance — rescuing Santa Claus from the clutches of the KGB in time to save Christmas. The agents are:

  • Max, British MI6: An international man of mystery, talented at infiltration, high speed pursuit, tactical operations, and talking himself out of trouble (and into people's pants).
  • Evie, French SDECE: An accomplished assassin, familiar with small arms combat, demolitions, covert operations, and (much to her regret) Max.
  • Tilda, Elvish SWIPE: An elf from Santa's Worship, she is talented with assembling all manner of gadgets, infiltration, and a dash of holiday magic. 

Special Delivery — Leningrad, December 1958

Having infiltrated Soviet Russia disguised as Coca-Cola delivery truck drivers on a goodwill mission, the agents have arrived at a restaurant in Leningrad to meet with their contact, Capt. Leonid. However, just as they approach him, KGB guards burst through the front of the restaurant and start shooting up the place. The captain is wounded.

Evie tells Max to evacuate the captain, while she lays down covering fire with her Manurhin pistol. Max hurries through the kitchen, urging staff to flee, and burst out into the alley to warn Tilda, who is idling the delivery truck. An army truck pulls up at one end of the alley and starts disgorging troops.

The scar-faced blond woman leading the KGB forces orders half her squad to chase Max and the other half to concentrate on killing Evie. The woman then retreats out the front.

Evie is wounded, but proceeds to gun down all three KGB paramilitaries trying to shot her. This unnerves their comrades, who have circled around behind the French assassin on their way to the kitchen. Evie shakes up a Coke bottle and knocks the cap off on the edge of the table, spraying soda everywhere. Then she proceeds to fill it up with vodka from the captain's glass, assembling a molotov cocktail.

In the alley, Max tells Tilda to back the van towards the KGB trucks as fast as she can. The elf proceeds to charge it backwards but stop just short of ramming. Since the back of the truck is open, crates full of Coca-Cola hurtle outwards, smashing into the truck and crashing onto the ground. KGB troops scramble backwards from the flying glass and soda. One crate bashes through the driver-side window.

Tilda brings the truck back to to pull up beside Max. He pushes Leonid into the cabin then tells Tilda to leave if he isn't back with Evie in just a moment. He ducks into the kitchen.

In the restaurant, one of the guards charges Evie and bashes her with the butt of his rifle. The other two run into the kitchen and spray bullets ineffectually at Max. 

Evie snaps her assailant's neck and then collects his AK-47. Meanwhile, Max calmly guns down the two remaining KGB guards and acquires his own AK. The two of them share banter as they hustle out to the delivery truck.

Another army truck has pulled up at the other end of the alley and is starting to offload more troops. Max considers trying to steal it, but Evie prefers to set it on fire with her Molotov cocktail. Max lays down some fire with his AK-47, dropping several of the guards. They then pile into the delivery truck with Max taking the wheel.

As one of the finest wheelmen in Europe, Max artfully maneuvers the bright red Coca-Cola truck past the burning military vehicle. Several more KGB vehicles give chase, including a smaller, faster car driven by the blond woman that Max has taken to calling "the Tiger" because of the stripe-like pattern of her facial scars. She doggedly pursues them until Max catches up with a convoy of Coca-Cola trucks and disappears into the herd.

Obligatory Flashback — London, Three Days Ago

The three agents met in a CIA safe house in London, where they were briefed by a Mr. Sturges from America. He lays out the situation — the Russkies have kidnaped Santa Claus.

Since the Coca-Cola Company first made contact with Santa in the 1930s, he has become an important intelligence asset for the U.S. and its allies. The Air Force has been publically radar tracking Santa every Christmas since 1948 as a cover for his real activities providing details on Soviet troop deployments and military infrastructure.

However, a few weeks ago a commando team attacked Santa's Workshop and abducted jolly old Saint Nick aboard the Russians' new nuclear submarine. The elves of Santa's Workshop Internal Police Executive (SWIPE) reported that the attackers, five women, had supernatural strength and agility. The CIA believes that they may be operatives of the KGB's secret vampire research project, which is headed by the mysterious Colonel "K."

Whatever Colonel K wants with Santa Claus, it cannot be good for the West or the Coca-Cola Company. So the agents will be infiltrated into the Soviet Union with the task of finding where Santa is being held and freeing him. SWIPE will evac the team via reindeer once Tilda activates her special candy cane flare.

Mr. Sturges tells them that their only lead is the submarine captain Leonid, who reached out to Western intelligence that he has a tip on the Santa operation. They are to meet him at a cafe in Leningrad in three days' time.

The Plot Thickens — Leningrad, Now

Once they are no longer being followed, Max takes them to an abandoned section of Leningrad still not yet rebuilt from the war. Out of sight of prying eyes, Evie and Tilda tend to the wounded Captain Leonid, who is in danger of bleeding out. The two ladies are able to save him, however.

While they wait for him to gain consciousness, Max rifles through his pockets, retrieving a book of Russian fairytales, a medal, and a railway schedule. The book has a dog-eared page turn to the story of "The Death of Koschei the Deathless;" in the margins someone has scribbled a Moscow street address: "1755 Yezinka St." 

Max recognizes the medal as the Order of Lenin, the highest civilian honor in the Soviet Union. It's plausible that Captain Leonid received it for the K-3's successful mission, but strange that the award wasn't publicized. Even stranger is the weird symbol scratched into the back of it. Tilda recognizes it as a magic rune that allows whoever placed it there to track the location of the medal. She theorizes that the rune could potentially be reversed, to track whoever put it there.

The Moscow train schedule has the arrival times for trains from the Aral Sea area circled in it, with no further notes.

When Leonid finally comes to, he is grateful for the rescue but seems to have second thoughts about working with Western spies. Max persuades him that this is bigger than nations or ideologies, it's about saving Christmas for children around the world.

Leonid explains that the Soviet Union's first nuclear sub, the K-3, was launched over the summer. After a shakedown cruise, their first mission was to transport a KGB team to the North Pole. This was most unusual, even more so given that the KGB agents were all women, not typically allowed on submarines. When one of Leonid's sailors got a little too familiar with the lead agent, the blond woman with the scars, she twisted his head off with her bare hands.

After reaching the North Pole, they breached the ice and the five KGB agents departed. Three of them returned with an unconscious fat old man that they stowed away in their quarters. When the K-3 returned to port, they offloaded the unconscious fat man and sealed him up in a special coffin-like cage. A KGB Colonel with strange, wild eyes and a scraggly beard was waiting to collect him. Leonid managed to overhear the scarred woman address the man as Colonel Koschei. 

Weeks later, Leonid was summoned to Moscow where he received the Order of Lenin in a private midnight ceremony, with the disturbing Colonel Koschei personally awarding the medal to him. After that, Leonid began to make inquiries and pursue his own research. He was eventually put in touch with a mysterious old woman at 1755 Yezinka Street, who confirmed his suspicions and urged him to seek help outside the USSR. She asked that he direct the agents to her.

Leonid understands that the mission to the North Pole was to abduct Santa Claus, or Grandfather Frost as he is known in Russia. He IDs the scarred woman as Katya Kolenko. But he is most concerned about this Colonel Koschei, a name known to every Russian familiar with their folklore.

Koschei the Deathless is the villain of countless legends, an immortal wizard whose soul is sealed away inside an egg inside a duck inside a hare inside an iron chest buried below a tree stump in some unknown island. Unless his soul is harmed, he cannot be destroyed. He is constantly seeking power (and collecting princesses) in the old tales, and Leonid fears what he might do with Santa.

Asked about the train tickets, the submarine captain says that there is a top secret weapons research base on an island in the Aral Sea. He believes that is where Koschei's soul has been hidden and he's learned that the colonel has ordered for a special shipment to arrive from Aral on the 10:00 P.M. train several days hence.

Max asks Leonid about the marking on his Order of Lenin, whether it was present from the start or whether it turned up later. As far as he is aware, the marking was there right from the start. Leonid admits that he has found himself unable to discard the medal—it is strangely "precious" to him. Max grabs it and immediately tosses it across the warehouse, where it lands with a tink. Leonid makes a clumsy grab for it, but otherwise doesn't chase after it.

Evie and Max make arrangements for Leonid to flee the country, and then the trio prepare to take a train to Moscow. Sifting through their cover identities, they decide it is best to pose as tourists from France.

Address to Nowhere — Moscow, December 1958

It takes a day by train to travel from Leningrad to Moscow. Max spends the time chatting up Tilda, who shares a bit about life in Santa's Workshop. 

After arriving in Moscow, they make their way into the historic district where the old woman's house is located. They amble at a gentle pace, visiting various sights and shops to keep up their cover as tourists. Max notices that Tilda is fascinated by the Russian nesting dolls and quietly buys a set while she isn't looking in order to gift them later.

As they travel, they become aware that they are being tailed by a woman with short brown hair. Max and Evie suspect that this is just a standard KGB minder following them because they are foreigners. While the two ladies vanish around a corner, Max arranges to stumble into the agent as she hustles to follow them.

Speaking in broken, French-accented Russian, he apologizes to her for his clumsiness, then begins praising her beauty. His increasingly inappropriate comments leave the woman flustered and then embarrassed. She finally extricates herself from the conversation and retreats.

Max returns to catch up with the ladies, casually flipping through the wallet he'd filched from the woman when they'd bumped into each other. Quietly relieved that he didn't recognize her, Max pockets her rubles and her KGB ID, then pitches the wallet.

The trio arrives at the correct address, 1755 Yezinka Street, but only find a snow-covered empty lot wedged between two blocks of old townhouses. They find some graffiti on one of the townhouse walls facing the lot, advising them to "come back at midnight." They also question a nearby sausage vendor, who says that a house used to be there but it burned down years ago. Locals claim to hear the old woman who lived there during foggy nights, but the vendor avoids the area after dark.

He directs them to a nearby pub, where they plan to wait until midnight. The bartender, a burly, bald middle-aged man named Ivan, proves to be friendly and talkative. A veteran of the Great Patriotic War of 1941 -1945, he visited Paris during the post-war negotiations and is happy to chat with these French "tourists." He keeps a German helmet hanging over the bar, the bullet hole in it clearly visible.

After an enjoyable evening, the trio make their farewells and stepping out into the cold night air to find that a thick fog has settled on the city. It is time to return to the address and see if the old woman will show herself.

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