We stared up at the trapdoor in the ceiling.
"No way," The Snitch said. "We need a ladder. No way I'm letting you boost me up."
"Come on," I replied, from atop the chair. "Don't be a butthead. I won't drop you."
"Uh uh. Go get Houdini if you want to, but I'm not climbing up on your shoulders."
"He'll do it -- you know why? Because he's not a chicken," I said. "But you're still helping us. You can hold the chair steady or something."
"What do you need me for?" he asked, his suspicion evident.
"If you help, then you can't tell on us," I said. He knew it was true, and reluctantly agreed.
I went to find Houdini. Time was running out.
I found him downstairs watching The Flintstones on TV. "Hey, mom and dad are out and I'm gonna stand on a chair and then you have to stand on my shoulders and look around in the attic," I said.
"K," he said, not looking away from the TV. "It's almost over, I'll be there in a second."
He didn't even ask why, he just agreed to it. That's what I liked about Houdini -- he was always up for anything regardless of the consequences. I left and went back upstairs to the hallway, where The Snitch was standing with his flashlight in hand. "I got this," he said, holding it up.
"Cool," I said, dragging the chair a little to the left so it was directly under the trap door. I climbed up on the chair again and yelled, "HOUDINI! COME ON!"
He pounded up the stairs and stopped when he saw me standing on the chair. "What's in the attic?" he asked.
"Our Christmas presents," I said. "We already checked mom and dad's closet, and there was nothing in there. This is the only other place they could be. "
"K. Boost me," he said, taking the flashlight from The Snitch and shoving it in his pocket.
"Climb up on the chair," I said, turning and holding on to the chair back. "Then get on my shoulders, and we'll see if you can reach the door."
Two seconds later, he was sitting on my shoulders and I was standing up on the chair. I was trying to look up, but it was difficult with him on my back. "Can you reach it?" I asked.
"Yeah, just barely," he said.
"Push the trap door open then grab on to the edge," I said, knowing that the "door" was really just a piece of plywood lying loose in a frame. "If you can get a good grip on the edge, pull yourself up and stand on my shoulders."
He did it easily, and before I knew it, he was standing on my shoulders with me holding his legs, his head and the top third of his body sticking into the attic. The Snitch was holding me steady on the chair.
"See anything?" I asked, wincing under the weight of Houdini's sneakers, which were starting to smash permanent converse all-star imprints on the tops of both my shoulders.
"Let me turn on the flashlight," he said, pulling it out of his pocket. A pause. Then, "Nope."
"That's impossible," I said. "Look in the back."
"I think I can pull myself up," he said, and before I could tell him not to, he pulled his entire body up into the attic and disappeared.
"How's he gonna get down?," the Snitch asked, voicing exactly what I was thinking.
"He'll have to hang down and then I'll get under him again," I said confidently, having no idea.
"Anything?" I yelled up through the dark hole.
Houdini poked his head down and said, "Nope. Nothing."
"Crap. OK, come down," I said. "Drop you legs down through and get back on my shoulders. Then drag the door over."
He dropped through the hole like a spider monkey out of a tree, and I barely got under him in time. He was facing the wrong way, hanging on the edge of the attic door frame, but at least he was standing on my shoulders. He moved the door most of the way over the hole, then without warning slammed down so he was sitting on my shoulders backward, giving me a face full of Houdini crotch.
"Jeez! Get the door closed, will ya?" I yelled, barely keeping my balance as I tried to avert my face. If it hadn't been for the Snitch steadying my legs I think we both would have been on the floor in a pile.
"Where else can we look?" I asked, not thinking I'd actually get an answer.
"What about the crawlspace in Dad's office?" Houdini asked. I had forgotten all about that.
"Let's go!" I said. We put the chair back and ran downstairs.
Getting into the crawlspace was more complicated than it sounds, because it wasn't just a simple crawlspace. It had a door that had a desk in front of it. The left side of the desk was supported by a chain, and operated like the flip up section of a bar that allows the waitresses and bartenders to get behind it. This section of desk blocked the crawlspace door. We couldn't just move all the crap on the desk and flip it up to open the door, because it would be obvious someone had been in there. We had to keep track of where everything was so my father didn't know we were snooping around.
I grabbed a pencil and pad, making a mental note of its original location. While The Snitch and Houdini waited, I sketched the desktop and the placement of everything on it. The stapler, the hole punch, the stacks of papers, the telephone -- all documented. When that was done, we moved it all and swung the desk up, which allowed us access to the crawlspace door. I motioned for Houdini to make like a good soldier and take a peek while I held up the desk.
He crawled in with the flashlight and I heard him say, "WOW!"
"What?" I said, "Did you find something?"
"Yeah," he replied. "Tons of stuff. But it's all wrapped."
I was afraid of this. "OK," I said. "Don't touch anything. Just look. Do you see anything on the wrapping paper? Initials or anything?" My mother would always put our first initial in some inconspicuous spot so she knew who was supposed to get what on Christmas morning.
"Yeah. I see one that has a K on it. Can I pull it out?"
"No, we have to keep track of where everything is. If the pile gets messed up, Mom will know. Just take the easy ones off the top. If that one's on top, hand it out."
I turned to The Snitch. "Go into my room and pull out the bottom drawer of my dresser," I said. "Pull it all the way out, then lift up the bottom and bring me the box underneath."
He took off to get it and I managed to get the desk section to stay up by itself so I could grab the presents that Houdini kept handing out the door. "OK, that's enough," I said when there was no more room to stack. "C'mon out."
He backed out of the hole and sat up. A moment later The Snitch came into the office with a skinny cigar box.
In the box was The Kit.
The Kit consisted of: A single-edged razor blade, about 4 different types of tape -- gloss, matte finish, skinny, wide -- even a small roll of masking tape, because sometimes my mother ran out. The kit was used once a year to open, examine and then re-wrap Christmas presents.
We carefully examined the presents one by one, deciding which side to cut. It had to be the side where the paper was loosest, otherwise you ran the risk of tearing it when you tried to re-wrap. If you did it right, you could cut the tape, carefully open the flap, look to see what the gift was, then tape it closed again. I fancied myself quite the Christmas present surgeon.
We opened almost all our presents, except for the ones we deemed too hard to re-wrap, taking care to re-tape using the same type and width my mother had initially used. Unless you looked with a magnifying glass, you wouldn't know they had been tampered with. As Houdini was backing out of the hole after putting the gifts back in their places, he jostled something and the desk section came smashing down on his back and head.
"Ow." he said. That was it. A 4 foot long, 30-inch wide hunk of 3/4 inch plywood had just bounced off his melon, and all he said was "Ow." The kid was indestructible.
We got the desk fastened back in place like it was supposed to be, and referenced our drawing to make sure everything was back where it belonged. Lastly, the pencil and pad went back to their original locations.
There was only one more thing to take care of.
"Let me see your surprised look," I said to The Snitch. If anyone was going to crack under the pressure it was going to be him. "Christmas morning when you open that radio you always wanted, what are you going to do?"
He said, "WOW! A radio! Just what I wanted!" and his face lit up. Not bad. A little cheesy. Not Oscar worthy, but not bad. I turned to Houdini.
"That G.I. JOE in there," I said. "Pretend you just opened it up. Act surprised."
He gave a performance that would have made Jimmy Stewart proud. In fact, I think an angel may have lost its wings that day.
I'd like to tell you my parents never caught on to our little mission, but to this day, I'm not really sure. Maybe The Snitch let something slip, or maybe we weren't as careful as we thought we were, but the following year all our presents from my mother and father were stored at the neighbors house until Christmas morning. Maybe it was just my mother's intuition -- I don't know. We never got in trouble for it, so I prefer to think of it a Christmas Miracle.
So anyway, Merry Christmas everyone, since this is probably my last post for the year unless something crazy happens. Even if you don't celebrate Christmas, enjoy your time with your family and have a great holiday season. And here's a tip: Watch your kids closely when they open their gifts on Christmas morning. If they hold that smile a little too long, or glance at each other for no apparent reason -- start looking around for the razor blades and tape.