Sam the Scam looked at the crowd around Tiny Tim and Orphan Annie and was well pleased. He could see the punters putting their spare change in the hat behind which Little Oliver was sitting playing his flute. Tiny Tim’s crutch was just the right sort, modern yet it looked like its Victorian counterpart. All three looked mildly malnourished.

The kids were doing all right singing and playing Christmas songs, all the old favourites and especially when Tiny Tim sang Once in Royal David’s City; it was a real treat to hear his sweet voice burbling out the words with Orphan Annie backing him softly and Oliver playing the melody so tunefully. Even better was when the coins kept slapping into the hat.
Sam looked across the mall and caught Maisie’s casual glance.
All clear.

Orphan Annie gave them a rendering of Silent Night and the trio finished with a good rousing Hark the Herald Angels Sing and just in time because Maisie signalled to roll it up. Sam walked past the little group and swiftly the youngsters packed away and moved on. Sam was proud of them when they stayed in character until they were outside where he and Maisie caught up. Sam took the money and shook it into his copious shoulder bag, and the little troupe hurried away. Sam figured they were at least one step away from being nicked, but it was working.

‘Right, we move on folks,’ Sam said, and guided his little flock to a spot where he and Maisie could keep a look out and the escape route led them to the car.

The Christmas shoppers were generous this year so it seemed but the authorities were not so keen and to help out Maisie had cobbled up a pretty poster declaring that they were collecting for charity which explained the costumes and names. The punters seemed to like that.

‘And what charity are you subscribing to Sonny?’ Asked a gentleman dressed in an expensive looking overcoat, and a smart hat carrying who was prepared to give a note.

‘It’s for a children’s Christmas party sir,’ said Oliver.
The man beamed at him and put the note in the hat and patted him on the head.
‘Good boy, good boy,’ the Gentleman said.
‘Thank you sir,’ said Oliver giving the gentleman a smile. ‘And a Merry Christmas to you sir.’

‘He’s learning,’ muttered Sam. Oliver hated being patted on the head and detested being called Sonny. Sam chuckled as Oliver picked up the flute and managed a surreptitious two fingered gesture as he began to play.
Maisie gave the warning partway through God Save Ye Merry Gentlemen and with a quick pip on his instrument Oliver stopped playing and they all packed up and moved off.

‘To the car and off,’ Maisie said. ‘We been bleedin’ rumbled.’
What happened next will stick in Sam’s mind for the rest of his ‘bleedin’ natural’. He operated the lock with the remote, they piled in and he started the engine turned the wheel to move off and scraped to a clunking stop. Sam got out and looked at the rear offside wheel.
‘Bloody clamped!’
And coppers.
There was a gang of police officers in uniform. One inviting Maisie to alight and others ordering the kids out.
‘Bugger,’ said Sam. ‘We been nicked.’
Afterwards, when the nightmare was over, Sam the Scam had to agree that the Beak had a point. But to see all his hard earned cash wasted like that was a heartache too much for any man to bear.
‘Samuel, my good man,’ said Sergeant Burrows grinning broadly as he helped Sam with the hat and the false beard, ‘on behalf of the Salvation Army and my lads and lassies in your friendly local police force, I would like to thank you for your generous donation of time and money to what is a most worthy cause.’

But playing Santa for a crowd of noisy kids, being forced to hand over the day’s takings and his own brood and Maisie acting as bloody skivvies, was not his idea of fun.

Sam knew he was sunk when as they were ushered into the court room who should be on the bench but the gentleman in the expensive overcoat.

‘Ah mister Cooper, it seems we must meet again. I suggest the punishment fit the crime,’ he announced and that was it.

‘Do it proper Samuel and you get your motor back,’ said Burrows.
He Ho ho ho’d almost enthusiastically, put up with a procession of small children expecting him to be nice. Most humiliating of all he had to witness his little troupe of singers perform for free.
It was heartbreaking.

Driving back home after the party the family was silent until Tiny Tim said: ‘I got an idea.’

And at last, making up for their recent losses performing in a shopping mall near you Sam the Scam’s small troupe of Salvation Army look-a-likes will sing well known hymns and Christmas Carols for your delectation.

And naturally, at this joyful season of the year, the proceeds will go to a worthy, and deserving cause.