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James H. Lilley
This is a work of fiction, and the characters and situations in this book are not intended to portray actual persons, or events. Any similarities to actual person or events are purely coincidental.
This book is special because it deals with a season of the year that means much to many people. However, it seems unfair to choose only one person, or group of persons to dedicate it to. To dedicate this book, I would like to borrow a few words from Nat King Cole who probably came close to saying it best in the Christmas Song. “For kids from one to ninety-two.” Christmas is a time when everyone, regardless of age, can become a kid again. You only have to find it in your hearts to believe in the miracles and magic of the Christmas season. This is for the fathers, mothers and children of the world who still look into the night sky on Christmas Eve to see if one star seems to shine a little brighter than all the others. To those who find that star, recall a Christmas from long ago and the miracle that took place in a stable in Bethlehem. And, it is also for those who almost breathlessly peek to see if reindeer really know how to fly, and those who are sure the rustling on the rooftop is the sound of reindeer hooves.
Thanks to Sergeant Kevin Costello of the Howard County Police Department and Betsy Richardson for taking time from their schedules to proofread this work. To Dean Clark, my computer wizard who is always there to help, thank you. Kathy Knutson deserves a measure of gratitude for her persistent prodding to get this book written. And, a very special thank-you goes to Father Michael Ruane of Saint Michael’s Catholic Church, Poplar Springs, Maryland, for saying the right words at the right time. Without those words, this book would never have been written. To you, Jody, I give my undying love for your encouragement and support of my endeavors.
Author’s Note This book, much like its predecessor A Miracle for Tony Clements, was never intended. I’m uncertain what possessed me to write A Miracle for Tony Clements, but there I was one day writing a book that turned out to be far more than I expected. I saw it only as a humorous release, which I thought wouldn’t mean much to anyone but me. It was meant as nothing more than a collection of jokes and pranks for my own amusement. Besides, how could a book that centered around the spirit of a policeman killed in the line of duty, who continually argues with God and plays jokes on St. Peter mean anything to anyone but me? It wasn’t until several people read the unpublished manuscript that I realized I had written something far more than a series of mischievous deeds. I didn’t see the story that made people cry or feel good inside—at least not until I took time to read my own work once again. Suddenly I found the story that was hidden among those practical jokes and arguments with God. I was so surprised by what I found that I thought I could never duplicate the work, and therefore pushed all ideas of a sequel aside. But that’s when Kathy Knutson and so many others began to say to me “please write another Tony Clements book.” I didn’t know how to answer, except to tell them there wasn’t another planned, and I had no idea of what to write anyway. Still, they persisted in their requests. On Friday, December 2, 2005 Jody and I attended the 9:00 AM Mass at Saint Michael’s Church to renew our wedding vows. During the Homily, Father Michael Ruane spoke of Advent and the approach of Christmas, and mentioned that everyone should step back from time to time to look at Christmas through the eyes of children. At that very moment the entire story line for A Tony Clements Christmas Miracle was as
clear as the morning sunshine. I went home after Mass, began writing and completed the book faster than I’ve ever written another. My grandchildren, Sarah and Ryan, were kind enough to allow me to borrow their names for this book, although I took the liberty of making Ryan the older. Of course, this has sparked a degree of controversy between the two, but through them I also found that special part of sweet innocence to work into the plot. Comments from and actions by them will forever be a part of me. Sarah saying to me “P-Pa, you’re so silly” because I teased her, or Ryan at age four scolding his older sister when she tried to walk up the backyard sliding board saying, “Don’t do it, dude.” Then of course there’s the parrot in both of them that has many times come into play. I said, “All no you don’t shark bait,” when a tiny hand tried to take snack food off a plate during a football game, and the room was suddenly filled with an echo. Still, some of their Christmas time comments have been the best. Just after Thanksgiving John, Laura, Sarah and Ryan were visiting when Ryan stepped on to the fireplace hearth, stuck his head inside the fireplace, and looked at the chimney opening. A moment later he turned to Laura and very calmly announced, “Mommy, Santa can get down here.” A week before Christmas they helped us put up the Christmas tree and decorate it. Jody and I noticed that almost all of the ornaments were on the side of tree facing the fireplace. Of course we asked why, and Sarah was matter of fact with her reply, “So Santa can see them when he comes out of the fireplace.” When Jody, my son John, Ryan and I were eating dinner in a restaurant at the end of October 2005, the conversation naturally turned to Christmas. Somewhere in the course of the conversation the comment “Christmas is just around the corner” was made. Ryan spun around and looked toward the door, at which time my son said, “It is, Ryan.
Christmas is right around that corner.” To our surprise Ryan got out of his chair, walked to the door, and somewhat cautiously peeked around the corner. Can you imagine his disappointment when he didn’t see it? But that didn’t stop him from trying to find it. Soon I was walking with him while he peeked around another corner and our waitress and the hostess joined in to let him know that Christmas really was just around the corner. Amazing? Or is it that our children and grandchildren believe so much in their hearts that they can truly see, or try to find the things we miss? Taking time to listen to young children offers a view of the world many of us have long ago forgotten. A few spoken words from the very young often holds more sincerity than we’d hear in a lifetime of political promises, because the words are spoken without benefit of prejudice. And many times what a youngster says or does is funny or very memorable because it’s spontaneous and void of a long-range plan. But with our world changing so rapidly and some trying to destroy Christmas and what it stands for, how long will it take to eradicate sweet innocence forever? I cannot begin to imagine a world without the words Merry Christmas, the singing of Silent Night, a Nativity scene, or that famous line God bless us everyone spoken by Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol?
He looked around the room at the simple furnishings and shook his head. The old wooden desk looked as though it had been around from the beginning of time, and maybe it had. But, its faded top was still polished to a high gloss and the papers, as always, were perfectly arranged in neat, even rows. The file cabinets, like the desk, were made of dark wood and they too were antiquated, but held that certain highly polished glow. Indeed, there was nothing flashy about the office, but then again when the Chief was on earth, He was the Son of a humble carpenter. Suddenly, he wondered if Joseph had made the furnishings. He looked closer at the desk, noticed the superb workmanship, and knew a great deal of pride and love went into its making. Higgins looked back at the filing cabinets and smiled, wondering if the files inside were labeled, “Saints, Sinners and Borderline.” Then too, he couldn’t help but
think that maybe there was a special file in one of the drawers just for him labeled, “Prankster.” He rocked back in his chair, enjoying the comfort provided by the plush cushions, and waited for the Chief to tell him why He’d been called to His office. After all, he’d been on his best behavior recently. It had been months since he’d played a practical joke on old Pete, and he admitted to himself that even he was somewhat surprised by his recent good conduct. Peter walked into the room, stood behind the Chief, and smiled at Higgins. Or, was it more of a smug grin that he flashed his oft times antagonist? But, the smile melted as the Chief began to speak. He was being shipped back to earth again, and that wasn’t a bad thing. But, he sat up rather quickly, shaking his head from side to side. Higgins heard Him clearly right up until two words smacked him like a brick dropped from a third story rooftop. “Santa Claus!” he blurted. “That’s right.” “Santa Claus!” he bellowed, bewildered and shaking his head. “Yes, Higgins, you’re going back again, but this time as Santa Claus.” “I—I can’t go back as Santa Claus.” He looked just beyond the Chief’s right shoulder at the smiling figure behind him. “It just wouldn’t work.” “Why not?” “I’m not cut out to be Santa Claus. I’m a practical joker. I get in lots of trouble for my practical jokes—even here. You’ve called me on the carpet dozens of times, maybe even hundreds, especially for the things I’ve done to Pete.”
“Hey, this time I’m in complete agreement with Higgins,” the man behind the Chief said. “He’d probably be a terrible Santa Claus. Of course, he’d be perfect for the part of Insufferable Claus.” The Chief raised a hand to silence the figure behind him, and looked at Higgins. “Well, I admit that you’ve given Saint Peter more than his fair share of agony with your shenanigans, but you do seem to have a talent for accomplishing the impossible. And, with it being the Christmas Season back there, I couldn’t think of a better way for you to get the job done than as Santa Claus.” He smiled. “But you know, sending you back as Santa Claus is like me playing a little joke on the world.” “Little?” Peter squawked. “Sending Higgins back to earth is Your idea of a little joke? Lord, I’d hate to see a big one.” “If He wanted a big one, He could send you back as a Merry Elf,” Higgins said, as he jabbed a finger at him. “You’d look great in those curly-toed, green fruit shoes with a pair of emerald green panty hose. You could skip around, and sing Christmas carols while you sprinkle fairy dust on everybody.” “Yeah, just wait till everybody sees a grumpy Grinch dressed up in a red suit playing Santa,” he huffed. “Talk about a sight that’ll ruin the entire Christmas season.” “Ha! You just…” There was a sudden clap of thunder. “I’ve heard all I care to hear outta both of you.” “Uh, sorry, Chief,” Higgins muttered. “Guess I got carried away.” “I think the sooner you start this assignment the better.”
“What’s the assignment this time? Bailing another rookie out of a jam? Keeping a Chief of Police in line? Maybe givin’ that knot head Ireland a lesson in manners?” “No, nothing like that.” “Oh?’ “You’ll be going back to see Tony Clements again.” “What! Tony needs help?” He had hoped the onetime boy wonder hadn’t fallen back into his old ways. “Actually it’s Angela who needs your help. She’s been trying to raise money for needy families and children, but it seems big business has turned its back on her.” He paused for a second or two. “And there’re some other issues, but you’ll find out when you get there.” “I’ll go pack,” he said, suddenly anxious to help his best friend’s family. “Then we can get the ball rolling.” Surely he couldn’t let his former partner down when his son and daughter-in-law needed him. “Higgie, Ole Buddy, no need to worry,” Peter said, with a big grin. “I’ve packed for you.” “Hey, I don’t like it when you pack for me. Strange things show up in my bags.” “Higgie, it’s the Christmas Season and I wouldn’t do anything to destroy the spirit of giving and love.” He shook his head. “And, I should believe you because it’s Christmas?” “Come on, I’ll walk you to the gates.” In a matter of seconds, Bill Higgins, bags in hand, vanished in a swirling, misty white cloud. Peter turned back. “Why didn’t you tell him everything?”
“I think maybe it’s best that he learn of those matters from Tony.” Peter slowly shook his head. “I have a feeling Higgins is gonna be very upset with this situation.” “Yes, I’m certain of that, but it’s just another test of his character.” There were other issues, but He decided not to discuss them with Peter. *** Higgins looked around and shook his head. “Pete, can’t you get it right? I can’t believe you’ve dumped me in some God forsaken parking lot in the city.” He looked up at the stars twinkling in the night sky, and shook his fist at them. “You did this on purpose, fish breath. I know you did.” He reached for his bag, noticed the red sleeve, and realized that he was already dressed as Santa. “Hey, what the big idea? I thought I’d at least get to choose the times and places for this?” A distant, “Heh, heh, heh” told him otherwise. “Now just a darn minute. You can’t do this to me.” “Heh, heh, heh.” He stared at the bag. “And just what did you pack for me?” A quick tug on the zipper, a frantic jerk of the top, and the bag was open. “No! No, you didn’t.” He pulled the clothes out and jumped to his feet. “You miserable no-good dork. Green and red boxer shorts! Red socks, green socks, red tee shirts, green tee shirts—and nothing but Santa Claus suits. You can’t tell me this is what I’m supposed to wear the whole time I’m down here.” “Heh, heh, heh.”
He raised his fist to the sky again. “You’re a real dork wad. I’ll get you for this. I don’t care what the Chief says. I’ll have your saintly ass on a platter. I’ll gift-wrap a a King Cobra, and drop it in your shorts. I’ll put fleas in your tunic. I’ll fill your boat with termites. I’ll…” “Hey, you, shut your mouth, and hand over your wallet.” “What?” he snarled, spinning around, and finding himself face to face with two thugs wearing ski masks, and pointing pistols at him. He glared at them and shook his head. “Hey, man, gimme your wallet!” one of them said, as he took a step toward him. “You’re joking, right?” he said, suddenly realizing that the two hoodlums could actually see him. “Gimme your wallet,” the thug spat, taking another step toward him. “What kinda idiotic morons try and rob Santa Claus?” Higgins bellowed. They laughed. “Us. Now toss the wallet or there’s gonna be one less Santa around for the kiddies this year.” “You miserable low-life, tick turds,” he growled. “You can’t threaten to spoil Christmas for the children, and you sure ain’t gonna threaten to shoot Santa and get away with it.” Waving the gun at him the young thug screamed. “Listen, toss the wallet or I’ll pop a cap in your Santa ass!” “By God, that does it,” Higgins said, as he kicked the suitcase aside. “Why don’t you just go right ahead and try to a pop a cap in my Santa ass, weasel weenie?”
The hoodlum didn’t hesitate. He pulled the trigger, expecting to see the man in the red suit fall at his feet. He blinked, stared at his pistol and shouted. “Where the hell’d he go?” “He—he’s gone. He disappeared,” his partner muttered. “How’d he do that?” Then as quickly as he’d vanished, Higgins reappeared, laughing. “Oh, real good shot, weasel weenie. I’m three feet away, and you still can’t hit me.” This time both men opened fire, but Higgins stood there grinning at them through his snow-white beard. Shot after shot rang out, and still he stood his ground, the grin growing larger with each ear-shattering crack. In a matter of seconds their guns were empty, Higgins hadn’t even flinched, and they didn’t bring a single bullet to reload. In the blink of an eye Higgins snatched the guns from their hands, and tossed them on top of his suitcase. One of the men pointed a finger at him. “Man, why—why ain’t you dead?” He chuckled. “Because you two probably couldn’t hit an elephant across the ass with a backhoe, let alone shoot somebody. I bet you can’t even piss straight. You’re the kinda tick turds who whip out your little nozzles, and piss in your own shoes.” He lowered his head for a moment, and then looked at them. “Jesus, I still can’t believe you maggots actually tried to shoot Santa Claus.” Suddenly Higgins snapped a quick left jab that caught one of the gunmen flush on the tip of his chin. His head snapped back, and came forward just in time to catch a very powerful overhand right. Punk one landed flat on his back, and wondered why the stars were spinning around in crazy little circles so close to his face. And, why were they exploding?
Higgins began dancing around the other would-be robber, using his face and head as a punching bag. “How do you like that?” he laughed, as punch after punch flicked out like lightening bolts. Just for laughs he added some sound effects to his punches as they landed on the chin, jaw and forehead of the man. “Whoosh. Whack. Wham. Pop.” After a thorough pummeling, punk two staggered backward, fell over his partner, and joined him in gazing up at the spinning, exploding stars. In the distance Higgins heard the sounds of approaching sirens. He chuckled again, knowing the gunfire had alerted the police. He thought, now’s the time to have some real fun with these idiots. He helped the two hoods to their feet, stood them side by side, and put the guns back in their hands. Maybe they were too dumb to bring bullets to reload, but a little of his special, heaven sent magic and they were firing shots into an abandoned car. And their guns were just like those awesome movie pistols—never out of ammo, no matter how many times they were fired. Soon the ski-masked marvels heard the sirens. They tried to drop their pistols and flee, but found they could neither drop the guns nor run away. They shook their hands, and tried to throw the weapons away, but the guns kept firing and the sirens came closer. “What the hell’s goin’ on?” one of them screamed. “What’s wrong with this gun?” “I don’t know,” the other yelled. “I can’t let go, and it just keeps shootin’.” All of a sudden they started to jump into the air. A little hop at first, but then they were going higher, guns firing, and still aimed at the old car. Soon it was like they were bouncing on a trampoline. Higher and higher, until a little more showmanship came into the routine. A somersault, landing on their backsides, sailing up into the crisp night air
again while somehow managing to fire their weapons and hit the car. A double twist with a forward roll, landing on their stomachs, bouncing up and snapping off a few shots. A triple backward somersault, landing on their feet, firing a few shots into the car, and giving a deep curtsy for any would-be admirers. By now almost a dozen police cars were on the parking lot, officers outside taking cover, and pointing their pistols at the performing duo. For a few seconds they stared at the pair, before one of them grabbed his radio microphone, and barked over the car’s PA system. “Drop your guns! Drop ’em now! Drop your guns and—and stop that hopping around, and get on the ground.” The officer paused for a moment. “Face down on the ground—now.” Their performance ceased as abruptly as it had started. They also found that they could release the pistols, and follow the directions of the officer giving the commands. As soon as they were face down on the pavement, officers pounced on them, searched and handcuffed them. Higgins grinned, quite proud of himself, as they were pulled to their feet. He was about to give each of them a swift kick in the backside when another police car screeched to a halt on the lot. “Oh, God,” he muttered, when the cruiser door opened and, the ever portly, Sergeant Frank Ireland stepped out. “Alright, what’s goin’ on here?” Ireland bellowed, as he flicked the ashes off his cigarette. “Somebody speak up. What’s goin’ on?” “We haven’t figured that out yet, Sarge,” one of the officers said. “As soon as we get it sorted out, we’ll let you know.” “Well, hurry it up. I ain’t got all night.”
Higgins took a deep breath and muttered. “Well, Pete, I see Ireland’s back to his old self. The perfect dipshit.” As a half dozen police officers surrounded the duo, two of them reached out and pulled the ski masks off them. “Now isn’t this a big surprise? Vernon Hayes and Joey Watson,” Officer Roland Harper said, staring down at them. “I guess you boys’re just out takin’ a little target practice, right?” “And what the hell happened to you guys?” Jon Hastings said. “Looks like you tried to do a little bull riding, and the bull won.” “Santa Claus kicked the snot outta me,” Hayes whined, looking up at Roland Harper, who towered over he and Watson. “That’s what happened.” “Me too,” Watson mumbled. “Yeah, right,” Harper said, flashing his familiar wide grin. “Santa Claus just rode by here in his sleigh, jumped out, and smacked the crap outta you.” Officer Jerry Ames glanced over his shoulder, and then looked at them. “And I guess he hauled ass before we got here? Sirens scared him and his reindeer, right?” “Hell no, man, he’s standin’ right over there laughin’ at us,” Watson said, nodding his head over his left shoulder. Harper and Ames looked to where Watson indicated and smiled. “Oh hey, is that Rudolph with him?” Ames said. “And I’m sure I see Comet and Cupid too.” Higgins was really beginning to enjoy himself. Only Hayes and Watson could see him. So he flipped the bird to the dynamic duo. “Yeah, like you guys don’t see him.” “And I guess you didn’t see him flip us the finger either?”
“Okay, what’ve you two been smokin’ with your Camels?” Hastings said. “I don’t see any Santa Claus over there. And I don’t believe for one minute that Santa Claus kicked the shit outta you. It was probably somebody you ripped off.” With that Higgins put his thumbs in his ears, waved his hands and stuck his tongue out at them. “And I’ve never heard of Santa ever givin’ somebody the finger,” Ames said. So Higgins promptly threw both hands in the air and gave them a double dose of the bird. “How do you like that, guys?” “And I guess you didn’t hear him say that either?” Harper shook his head. “I think we’d better haul these two down to the station before a bunch of elves fly over and take a dump on us.” Ames and Hastings started to bag and tag the personal property of Vernon Hayes and Joey Watson. They were just about to put the bags in the trunk of Ames’ car when Ireland grabbed them and said, “I’ll take care of that. No need for you guys to worry over stuff like this.” “Uh, it’s no bother, Sarge,” Ames said, suspecting that Ireland saw the four packs of cigarettes he’d put into one of the bags. “Hey, I’ll take care of this—and the inventory sheet.” Hastings stepped behind Ames and whispered. “Say goodbye to the cigarettes.” “What was that, Hastings?” “Uh, nothing, Sarge.” Ireland took his time walking back to his car, and by the time he opened the door he was alone on the lot. Or, so he thought. He opened one of the bags, pulled out a pack
of cigarettes and smiled. “Ah, nothin’ like a good smoke,” he beamed. “Especially when it’s free.” He plucked a Camel from the pack, placed it to his lips with a flourish, reached back into the bag, and pulled out a lighter. He wrapped his hands around it, tilted his head down, and pressed the silver button. A flame roared out, burning his nose, scorching his eyebrows and hair. He leaped back, trying to toss the lighter away, but it was stuck to his hands. The flame died down for a moment as Ireland jumped around, and tried to spit the cigarette out of his mouth. An instant later the flame was bigger than before, incinerating the Camel, and sending the ashes all over the front of Ireland’s uniform. Somehow another cigarette appeared between his lips and, what now seemed like a Nine Alarm brush fire was moving toward it. “Holy Sweet Jesus,” he mumbled. “What the hell’s happening?” There was a brief pause, and the flame found the end of the cigarette. There was a gust of wind, followed by an explosion, and Ireland’s hair caught fire. He began leaping and hopping around the lot, beating at his head with both hands. All the while he screamed, “Help! Help! Somebody call the fire department.” And then, from out of nowhere, a giant snowball fell on him smothering his flaming mane. He staggered back toward his car, smoke rising from his head and eyebrows. “Somebody must’ve sabotaged one of the smokes.” Higgins was baffled when Ireland pulled out another cigarette, but he remembered that the pudgy sergeant was never one to waste an opportunity to get something—actually anything for nothing. “Okay, Chubb-O,” he laughed. “We’ll do it the hard way.”
Ireland raised the lighter, flicked the button, and touched the flame to the end of the cigarette. A moment later he exhaled a cloud of smoke, and seemed rather pleased with his thievery. He tossed the lighter toward the front seat of his cruiser, but it slid off and landed on the pavement. He leaned over to pick it up and the back of his pants ripped out just as he grabbed the lighter. He quickly straightened up, striking his head on the car door, and stumbled backward a half dozen steps while rubbing his head. Suddenly a blast of cold air told him he had another problem. “Damn, I don’t believe this,” he grumbled, as he reached behind him and clutched his blubbery cheeks. He tried to toss the lighter back into the cruiser, but it seemed like it was stuck to his hand. He flicked his wrist a few times, and still the lighter wouldn’t budge. Ireland grabbed it with his left hand, and attempted to pull it free. The black butane lighter hung on as if it were resisting his efforts on its own accord. “You no good pork wad,” he spat. “I’ll show you.” He balled his left hand into a meaty fist, and punched the lighter. The lighter ignited, and sent a flame rocketing straight at his nose, scoring its tip and charring his nostril hairs. “Yeeeeooooowwwwww!!! You rotten, no good weenie.” Suddenly the lighter flew out his hands, the flame leaping out at least three feet from the end, and straight at Ireland’s head. He ducked, looked back up, but didn’t see the butane beast. A defiant smirk was just starting to cross his face when he smelled something burning. He sniffed at the air like a dog that had just cut a smoldering fart, and was trying to find out if his ass had caught fire. An instant later he discovered that it wasn’t the lily-white cheeks of his ass burning, but the cuffs of his pants.
Higgins watched Ireland hop and skip around in circles, beating at the cuffs of his pants with both hands, while a cigarette continued to dangle from his lips. Ireland’s wide backside ricocheted off the side of the car a few times before the Spirit of Christmas present was kind enough to extinguish the fire. With the fire out, Ireland beat a hasty path to his cruiser, jumped in and sped off the parking lot. It was time to call it a night, even if the shift was only half over. *** Roland Harper, Jon Hastings and Jerry Ames were processing the two prisoners, while Captain Larry Freeman talked with detectives. Vernon Hayes and Joey Watson were surely responsible for at least two dozen of the recent street robberies, and it was a reasonable certainty that they’d also committed some of the commercial burglaries. The criminal investigators would have to sort through the open cases, and determine which crimes belonged to the duo, and hope they’d cooperate. Hayes and Watson were still trying to convince anyone, who was even remotely willing to listen that they’d been beaten and battered by Santa Claus. Of course, by spinning their tale of Brutal Claus, they were also confessing that they were in the act of robbing Jolly Old Saint Nick, when he took matters into his own hands. All activity in the squad room ceased the moment Sergeant Frank Ireland walked through the door. He looked around, spotted Captain Freeman, and started toward him. At first nobody believed what they saw, but with each step Ireland took, a puff of smoke would billow from his head, and float upward toward the ceiling. But, it wasn’t just coming from the top of his head. Smoke curled out from his pant legs, which had been burned off to his knees. Yet, miraculously, he didn’t seem to be injured.
“My God, Frank, what happened to you?” Freeman said. “Uh, Sir, I’m not really sure,” he muttered. “I was tryin’ to light a smoke, and the lighter stuck. The next thing you know there’s this flame—had to be six feet long comin’ right out the end at me. Jesus, it scorched my hair, my eyebrows, and then the seat ripped outta my pants. Then the lighter went off again and burnt my nose, and then it set my pant legs on fire and…” “Now wait a minute, Frank,” Captain Freeman said, raising a hand. “Are you telling me a cigarette lighter attacked you?” “Well, uh, yes, sir.” Freeman shook his head. “Say something, Frank—anything.” “Huh? Say something?” “Strangest thing I ever saw,” Freeman said, staring at Ireland. “With every word you say, there’s a puff of smoke that shoots up from your eyebrows.” “Sir, there’s all kinds of strange things goin’ on. My car’s filled with smoke and, I know you won’t believe this, but when my hair burst into flames somebody dropped a giant snowball on me. I mean, I was yellin’ for somebody to call the fire department, and right outta nowhere this big pile of snow falls on me. And when my pants were on fire somebody put ’em out.” Freeman rubbed the back of his neck, recalling that it was almost nine years ago that Ireland was involved in other mysterious incidents. Incidents without any logical explanation that many others witnessed, which probably saved the sergeant from a court ordered committal to an institution. “Uh, Frank, why don’t you take the rest of the night off? Come back tomorrow and start over.”
“Yes, sir. I was gonna suggest that anyway.” He turned and walked away, wisps of smoke rising from his head, eyebrows and pants. But, before leaving the room he dropped the bags of property on a table in front of Ames muttering, “Here, you take care of this. I don’t wanna get involved.” Ames looked in the bags and shook his head. “I don’t believe it. He didn’t take the cigarettes.” Ireland stepped out into the hallway, and headed for the door. Jesus, he thought, I just wanna get home and grab a cold beer. Then again I might skip the beer and have a Jack Daniels—make that a double—no a triple. Yeah, that’ll do it. He hurried past the water cooler, giving it a quick look while wondering if it would start acting up again. A minute later he was in his car, and heading for the police parking lot exit. He stopped looked left and then right. He flinched, not expecting to see Santa Claus standing by the stop sign. But, he nodded when Santa gave him a wave, and a very big grin. “Thank God for a friendly face,” Ireland muttered, as he turned right. He glanced in the rearview mirror to give Santa a goodnight wave, but he was already gone. “Damn, he must be pretty fast on his feet.” As the car vanished around a corner Higgins laughed. “You know, I just might enjoy this visit more than my last trip back here. Yes, sir, nothing like having a porker like Ireland around to make life interesting.”
Early the next morning it was Ryan and Sarah Clements who ran to the front door, just ahead of their father, to see whom was knocking. They stopped and peeked through the curtain. Instantly they were pointing, and exclaiming, “Daddy, Daddy, come quick! It’s Santa Claus! It’s Santa Claus!” Their father wasn’t getting to the door fast enough. So they ran to him, each taking a hand, and crying out, “Daddy, hurry! It’s really Santa Claus! He’s here!” Tony looked through the window and, sure enough, there was someone dressed in the red suit known around the world. He opened the door and looked at the man, thinking
he looked vaguely familiar, but couldn’t put a name with the face behind the fluffy white beard. “Yes, sir, can I help you?” “Sure can, Tony, my boy,” he said, thrusting a hand out to him. “You can invite me in.” “Uh, oh sure.” Tony paused to shake hands with him. “Come on in.” He stepped inside and smiled. “And, who are these two beautiful children?” Though with the blonde hair and blue eyes, there was no question that they belonged to Tony and Angela. “This is my son, Ryan and my daughter, Sarah,” Tony said, knowing he’d heard the voice before. The man leaned closer and whispered. “Well, I see you two finally found out how, and what to do to have children. I guess letting nature take its course worked out after all.” “Huh?” Tony blinked, and looked very closely at the man. “Mr. Higgins?” “Daddy, that’s Santa,” Ryan scolded. “Besides, Sarah and me know Mr. Higgins. Don’t we, Sarah?” “Yes, we do,” she said, looking up at Santa. “And this isn’t Mr. Higgins.” The man winked saying, “Well, at least your children know the real Santa when they see him.” “God,” he said, his voice barely a whisper. “What are you doing… Kids, go tell mommy that Santa’s here.” When they ran down the hallway he said, “Is it really you?” “In the flesh.” He threw his head back and laughed. “Better make that in the spirit.”
“How—how’d the kids see you?” “They aren’t the only ones who saw me,” he said, shaking his head. “Can you believe two rodent turds tried to rob me last night? Here it is the Christmas season and these tick turds pull guns on Santa. What’s wrong with people?” “Well, that explains the phone call I got first thing this morning. I mean, it all makes sense now.” Suddenly a smile appeared. “So, Ireland met Santa Claus last night.” “Sure did,” Higgins chuckled. “And, I see he’s back to his old ways.” “Yes, sir. Not long after you left he started sliding into his old habits again.” Higgins shrugged. “I guess I’m not surprised.” “Wait a minute,” Tony said. “Why’re you back here?” “The Chief said Angela was trying to raise money for worthy causes, and that she wasn’t gettin’ a lotta cooperation. He thought I might be able to persuade the tightwad money hoarders to give a little up to help her out.” “Well, good luck with that,” he said, shaking his head. “Seems like nobody wants to help anybody out these days.” “You’re kidding, right?” Tony shook his head. “No, I’m not kidding. I don’t know what’s happened to people. I mean it’s like everybody in the world turned into real cheapskates over the past couple of years, and every year they get worse.” “Well, by God, I’m gonna hafta make sure they loosen up their wallets,” Higgins half growled. “I’m not gonna stand around while worthy causes suffer. No, sir. I’ll deal with those Grinch weenies.” When Tony didn’t say anything, he asked, “Is it really that bad?”
“I guess it would be better if you took a look around town yourself. There just doesn’t seem to be true Christmas spirit anymore. When I was growing up there always seemed to be plenty of good cheer, but now—now it’s sad to see how people act. And, I can only imagine how different it must be from the days when you, Dad and Mom were growing up.” Higgins looked at the young man, and realized that he’d truly matured since he saw him last. This was a very changed Tony Clements. Oh, he still had his boyish good looks, and gleaming, big blue eyes, though his blonde hair was a little darker now. But, his uncertainty and blundering was a thing of the past, and Higgins knew it from the way he talked and carried himself. He put a hand on Tony’s shoulder. “I think I’ll take a look around and see things for myself. You know, kinda get a feel for things the way they are now before I help your lovely wife with those worthy causes.” “I’m sure Angela would appreciate your help.” He saw sadness in Tony’s eyes, and was about to ask what was wrong when Ryan and Sarah came back into the hall pointing and squealing. “See, Mommy, it is Santa! He’s really here!” Higgins looked at Angela and knew immediately that she wasn’t well. She’d lost weight, her face was drawn, and the dark circles under her eyes said she was a very tired woman. Yet, she managed a smile when she saw him. Tony nodded toward Higgins. “Honey, I believe you know Santa Claus. And I mean you really do know him.” Angela moved closer and looked at the man in the red suit, finally studying his face closely. She raised a hand to her cheek and whispered, “Oh! It’s—it’s…”
Tony nodded. “Santa Claus, just like I said.” “Uh, it certainly is Santa Claus,” she said, slowly reaching out to touch him, while wondering if her hand would pass through him like it did the first time they’d met. When she touched his arm she gave a quiet sigh of relief. After all, she didn’t want to try and explain to the children how her hand went through Santa Claus. “It’s so nice of you to stop by, but—but I don’t know why you’re here.” “Mommy, he’s here ’cause Christmas is coming,” Ryan said, rather smugly. Sarah looked up at her. “Gee, everybody knows that, Mommy.” Angela smiled. “I’m sorry. I know that’s why he’s here.” She put her hands on Sarah’s shoulders, and turned her around. “Now, you kids get in the kitchen and eat your breakfast. Mommy and daddy hafta talk with Santa.” Ryan started to walk away, but turned and quickly darted back to Higgins. He beckoned for him to come closer, and Higgins dropped to one knee and leaned over. “The only thing Sarah and me want for Christmas is for mommy to get well,” he whispered. “I don’t want any toys this year—and neither does Sarah.” For a moment Higgins wasn’t sure what to say. Finally he said softly, “Well, I think the best thing for you and Sarah to do is pray to Jesus, and ask Him to help your mommy.” “We do—every night. But you’re Santa Claus, and you bring gifts to children all over the world. My mommy and daddy said that sometimes the gifts you bring are very special, and people can’t really see that kind.” He glanced back at his parents for a second, and then said, “I think they mean you get help from Jesus, and do nice things for people, like make them well.”
Higgins lowered his head, pretended he was choking back a cough and took Ryan’s hand. Before he could say a word, Sarah was there reaching for his other hand. Another cough and he said, “Well, Christmas is a very special time, and a lot of very beautiful things can happen at Christmas. It’s such a magical time of year and, if you truly believe in that magic, there might even be a—a miracle for you.” Ryan squeezed his hand. “Well, maybe you can ask Jesus for a miracle. See if He has one for mommy.” Sarah nodded. “Yeah, and He wouldn’t even need to wrap it. He could just give it to her, and make her well.” Ryan leaned as close as possible and pressed his lips to Higgins’ ear. “If you ask nice, Jesus would probably give the miracle to you ’cause he likes you. He likes you, because you always do good things for everybody.” A moment later he got a hug from Ryan and a kiss on the cheek from Sarah before they ran down the hallway to the kitchen. He stood up, putting on his best tough guy front, hoping that Tony and Angela didn’t see the tears in the corners of his eyes. He cleared his throat muttering, “Kids must’ve mistaken me for somebody else.” “They obviously know a very kind, and gentle man when they see him,” Angela said stepping up, and giving him a kiss and a hug of her own. “You can’t fool these two. They have a very smart policeman for a father, and they’ve learned a lot from him. Of course, he had a very good teacher.” He wrapped his arms around her, and gave her his best squeeze, being careful not to hug too tightly. “Uh, well—uh, sometimes I fool people.”
She turned away and started toward the kitchen. “I’d better check on the kids before they have cereal everywhere.” As soon as the kitchen door closed behind her, Higgins looked at Tony. “Okay, what’s wrong with Angela?” He slowly lowered his head. “They just don’t know. She’s been through so many tests, but not one doctor can give us even a remote clue as to what’s wrong.” “How bad is it?” Tony turned away for a second, and rubbed his eyes. He looked back at Higgins, swallowed hard, and whispered, “She probably won’t make it till Christmas.” Higgins put his hand on Tony’s shoulder saying, “Uh, I’ve got an errand to run, but don’t go anywhere. I’ll be back, and then we’ll go somewhere and talk.” “I’m working this afternoon.” “Good, I’ll go with you. See how things are going in the department.” And with that he was gone in the blink of an eye. *** It didn’t take long for Bill Higgins, Santa suit and all, to make it to the foot of the altar at Saint Mary’s Church. “Now you listen here,” he snarled, pointing a finger at the image of Christ on the large cross. “You didn’t tell me about Angela.” There was a long silence and then a voice answered. “I didn’t think it was a good idea to tell you.” “And why not?” “I thought it was better for you to find out on your own.”
“Well, I found out.” He paused for a second and then began jabbing his finger at the image. “And, I don’t like it. It’s not fair.” “Didn’t you always tell people that life wasn’t fair?” “Now wait just a darn minute,” he yelled. “That was different. They were punks who broke the law and got caught. They were cryin’ over going to jail, and paying for what they did.” “Still, life isn’t fair.” “Horse turds,” he snapped. “Just what did Angela do to deserve this? She’s a good woman and…” “How do you know she’s a good woman?” “Ha! I’ve got you there.” Jabbing his finger quite vigorously this time, he said, “If she wasn’t a good person, she wouldn’t be down here working to get money for all those worthy causes. She wouldn’t be trying to feed the homeless and the poor. She wouldn’t be workin’ her ass—uh, her backside off trying to get toys for the children who have nothing. She’d be sittin’ back, feeling sorry for herself, while all those worthy causes went to hell.” “And what do you want from me?” “Make her well.” “I can’t do that.” He hurried to the top step and shook his fist at the image. “The hell you can’t. You can do whatever you wanna do. You’re God.” “Give me a reason why I should make her well.” “Well, by God, I’ll give you three reasons,” he shot back. “They’re named Tony,
Ryan and Sarah Clements. And, Chief, that’s just for starters. What about all of those other people who need her? The people who believe in her?” “And you think that’s enough for me to cure her?” “I can’t believe you sent me back here almost nine years ago to save young Tony’s job, and get him together with the woman of his dreams. Then you let them bring those two beautiful children into this world just so you could take away a loving wife and mother.” He stared at the cross for a few seconds and muttered, “You can’t be that cruel. That couldn’t have been your grand plan in the scheme of life.” “How do you know?” “Because you can’t be like that—not to Tony. Not to Angela, and most of all, not to those children.” He moved another step closer to the altar. “You love children. You always have. You can’t do this.” “A minute ago you said that people believed in Angela. Well, make me believe, Higgins. Make me believe.” Holding his hands out toward the image he yelled, “Believe in what? Angela? Is that what you want me to do—make you believe in Angela? Tell me.” There was a long silence. “Sorry, Higgins, this time you’ll hafta figure everything out on your own.” “But, Chief, I…” “And what a sorry mistake those kids made.” Another familiar voice. “Imagine, them mistaking you for somebody good. Saint Nicholas you’re not.” “Pete? Is that you, Pete?” “Heh, heh, heh.”
“Butt out, Shark Bait, I was on the line with the Chief. Put Him back on.” “He doesn’t wanna talk with you anymore.” Higgins hurled his hat to the floor. “Yeah, well I’m not through.” “Sorry, your call’s been disconnected.” “Uh, maybe you can help me, Pete.” “Can’t. I’m goin’ fishin’.” “Now that’s a joke,” Higgins laughed. “You couldn’t catch a cold, let alone a fish.” “I can out fish you any day, you perverted practical joker.” “Look, Pete, I haven’t got time to argue with you over your fishing abilities, or lack thereof. I’ve got a serious problem down here and I’ve gotta talk with the Chief— and now.” “Higgins, I told you, your call’s been disconnected.” He chuckled saying, “Gotta go now. I’ve got fish to catch.” “I hope you grow scales on your ass,” he bellowed. “I hope your boat sinks. I hope you catch crotch rot.” He turned, bowed his head and crossed himself before hurrying out of the church. At the same time, Sister Elizabeth was quickly leaving the church by the side door. After two steps she collided with Father Murphy who said, “My goodness, Sister, what’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost?” “Oh, Father, I must be coming down with something. I went into the church to say a few morning prayers, and I heard a voice—a rather loud voice near the altar. It
sounded like a man arguing with someone, and I rushed in to see what the problem was and—and there was nobody there.” “He was gone then?” “No. No, Father. Well, I mean I couldn’t see him, but I could still hear his voice. He was yelling, and screaming like he was very angry about something and…” “But you couldn’t see him.” “Uh, no, Father, I couldn’t. But he was there.” She scratched her head. “At least I think he was. He called somebody Shark Bait and, from the way he talked, I gather this other person was a fisherman of some sort. And, apparently not a very good one.” “You’re sure you heard this?” “Yes, Father. I’m absolutely certain of it.” “Did he say anything else?” Shaking her head, “Well, he told this other person to put the Chief on the line, and that he had a serious problem down here. He screamed that he hoped this fisherman would grow scales on his—on his—on his buttocks, and—and, uh, catch something.” Father Murphy rubbed his chin for a moment. “Sister Elizabeth, maybe you’d better lie down, or see the doctor. You might have a fever or, like you said, you might be coming down with something.” Father Murphy went inside, walked to the altar, and checked to be sure that the candles didn’t need replacing. He nodded, turned to walk away, and spotted the Santa Claus hat lying in front of the altar. He reached down, picked it up and looked it over. After a quick shrug he shook his head, hung it on the back of the first pew and went into the Sacristy. When he came out a minute later the hat was gone.
“Strange. Very strange,” he mumbled, and walked quickly to the side door, while casting a curious glance over his shoulder.
Higgins went back to Tony’s house, but thought it would be better to knock on the door rather than just popping in. He didn’t want to frighten the children, but then again Santa appearing in their midst might not scare them at all. They might enjoy seeing the jolly old elf materialize out of nowhere. Of course, at the moment he wasn’t in a very festive mood, and had a lot on his mind. Tony answered his knock and shrugged. “Why didn’t you just walk through the walls or something?” “Didn’t wanna upset the kids,” he said, looking around. “Where are they?”
“Angela left a few minutes ago to drive ’em to school.” “Good. We can talk in private.” He took Tony by the arm, and they walked to the kitchen. “ Now, just how long has Angela been sick?” He took a deep breath. “Over six months now.” “And the doctors are sure the illness is terminal?” Tony nodded. “Yeah. At least, I think they’re sure. But, other times, I’m not certain they really know what they’re talking about.” “But, they can’t tell you what’s wrong with her?” “No, they can’t.” He looked out the kitchen window at the birds eating the fresh seed Angela had put out for them. “But, they can tell us everything she hasn’t got.” “Well, how do these bungling idiots know she has a terminal illness?” he said, as he slapped the tabletop. “From her weight loss and other things—things like cells dying off.” He shook his head. “At least, that’s what I think they said. God, I’ve heard so much I can’t even remember half of what they’ve said anymore. I just wish there were something I could do. I feel so helpless watching her wither away like this.” “Do the kids know she’s dying?” “They know she’s very sick. They just don’t understand how sick she really is.” “And you don’t think she’s gonna make it till Christmas?” Tony closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “The doctors don’t hold much hope of her living till then. And, the way she’s been struggling to do things lately, I hate to say it, but I agree with ’em.”
“I’m sorry, Tony. I really am.” Yet, he wished he could say something more profound than, I’m sorry. “Thanks, Mr. Higgins.” He took another deep breath and swallowed hard. “I just wish I knew how I’m gonna explain it to Ryan and Sarah when she dies. They pray for her first thing every morning, and the last thing before they go to sleep at night. I just can’t imagine their lives—our lives without her. She’s been my whole world—and their world too.” He rubbed his eyes. “They adore her and so do I.” “And, you say she’s still been working a lot?” Now he wanted to kick himself, because he felt like he was fumbling for words. “God, yes. Sick or not, Angela won’t give up on trying to raise money for the homeless shelters, and the needy children. But everybody’s been so nasty about giving to help others. I don’t understand it at all. And, especially when it comes to some of these businesses around here. They’re raking in millions and don’t wanna part with a dollar to help somebody. Still, she goes out there every day, and practically gets down on her knees to beg the big businessmen and women to help.” Higgins tried not to show that he was angry, and he especially didn’t want Tony to see that he was angry with God. Being sent back from Heaven, he was supposed to be a shining example of goodness and love for his Maker. Yet, at this very moment he wasn’t feeling loveable toward anything, or anyone divine. He thought it would be a good idea to change the subject and save his outrage for a later time. “I guess you’ll be going to work later,” he said and then smiled. “I’m sure Ireland needs your help.”
Tony forced a grin. “Yeah, I’m sure after what happened last night I’ll get a blow by blow account from him. I wish I could’ve seen the show.” “Hey, I’m sure he’ll provide a lot more entertainment in the days to come.” “I guess you’ll see to that.” “Only if Ireland offers an opportunity.” Now Tony laughed. “That’s an absolute certainty. Ireland’s the Poster Boy for incompetence. He can turn a simple traffic post into a five-star disaster, and blame somebody else for his mistake.” Higgins shrugged. “I’m not surprised. And yet incompetence always finds a way to survive and screw up another day.” “That’s for sure.” The telephone rang, and Tony answered the call. A moment later he turned to Higgins. “That was Angela. She wants to have an early lunch and…” “I’ll just catch up with you later at work,” he said, figuring it was better to let them have as much time together as possible. “Angela insists that you come along. Besides, it’ll give you a chance to look things over while we drive to the diner.” “Still eat at the Rusty Rail Diner?” “Yeah.” He smiled. “Kinda hard to break old habits I guess. And, there’re still a lotta fond memories there.” “And, a very beautiful one in particular.” Higgins couldn’t hide his smile as he recalled his first days with Tony, and watching the shy young policeman blush when Angela looked his way.
Tony pulled out of the driveway, and wondered what people would think seeing Santa Claus riding in a police car—that is if they could see him. It felt a little odd at first having Higgins back in the car with him, but he was certain that it wouldn’t take long to get used to him being around again. Higgins didn’t say much as Tony drove through the late morning traffic. He was caught up with the sights and sounds outside, and he wasn’t very pleased with things. The first irritation was the signs that abbreviated the word Christmas to Xmas. He’d always hated that, even as a child. His parents and teachers had taught him that Christmas meant Christ’s Mass and shortening it to Xmas was disrespectful to every religion. Second, there were no Christmas Carols being sung on the radio, and his keen ears told him that it was the same in the stores. There were no songs of Christmas anywhere. And, the next source of aggravation was the advertisements. Commercialism was in full bloom, and gaudy displays filled store windows, sidewalks, and even hung from the Christmas trees. While they were stopped at a traffic signal, a car pulled up beside them and Bill Higgins actually flinched when he heard the thumping, ear splitting bass sounds coming from the car. He looked over at the young man driving—a young man who seemed oblivious to the rest of the world around him. He was drumming on the steering wheel with both hands, bobbing his head up and down, side to side, and making some effort to sing along with the music. He looked closer and saw a young lady in the passenger’s seat doing her best to keep up with the driver’s antics. “What in God’s Holy name is that racket coming from this guy’s car?” he said, looking over at Tony, and jerking a thumb toward the car.
“You’re behind the times, Mr. Higgins. Playing music as loud as possible is all the rage now. And, the more bass the better. I think the object is to make sure people can hear you coming from several blocks away. And, I think they like to try and vibrate the sidewalks, roads and buildings.” “Well, by God that trash’s gotta go.” He looked over at the couple, and snapped his fingers. Instantly the thumping stopped, and a few seconds later the sounds of Silent Night filled the air. The boy and girl ceased their head bobbing and stared at the radio. Soon the boy was pushing the buttons on his radio, but no matter which one he pushed, the car radio continued to play Silent Night. He became agitated, and started punching the buttons, but it seemed every station was playing the longtime, famous Christmas carol. The young lady joined him in punching the buttons, and still it didn’t matter. When Silent Night ended, The First Noel began. The light changed and Tony pulled away, listening to them screaming and cursing at the radio. He smiled. “Are you gonna let ’em change it back?” Higgins grinned and shook his head. “Not on your life. They need to get in the Christmas spirit, and I think the soothing sounds of the carols will take some of the stress outta their lives too.” “Maybe you should fix it so all the radio stations can only play Christmas Carols till after the New Year begins.” Higgins laughed. “You know, Tony, I like your attitude. Reminds me of your father—and me.”
A few minutes later, they were seated with Angela at a table in the Rusty Rail Diner. Patrons and employees alike greeted them when they came in, and it was easy to see they still cared for their former favorite waitress. But, Higgins saw the not so casual glances toward Angela the instant they sat down. Yet, they weren’t inquisitive looks, they were more looks of concern and caring. And naturally they were amazed to see Santa Claus accompanying Mr. and Mrs. Clements to lunch, but his presence brought a few more smiles to the room. Tony held Angela’s hand while they waited for their lunch and Higgins felt the love they shared for each other. Even though he’d only been with them for a very short time, he could see their love in everything they did. A simple touch of a hand, or a smile said so much more than words. Suddenly Higgins felt his anger returning, and struggled to keep his poise. He vowed to return to Saint Mary’s and challenge the Chief again as as soon as possible. He wasn’t a man—or even a spirit who threw in the towel. And this fight was just beginning. Angela only managed to eat half her lunch, and he could see that Tony was really forcing himself to eat. But, he decided to bring up the topic of the Christmas fundraisers. “Tony tells me you’re havin’ a rough time getting people to ante up for your causes this year.” “It’s been terrible,” she said, lowering her head. “This is the worst it’s ever been. Last year donations were way off from our previous marks, but this year people don’t want to give anything at all.”
He leaned toward her. “I don’t guess Tony told you, but the Chief actually sent me here to help you out. But, first I think I should go around and try and talk some sense into these business people. You know, reason with ’em.” Tony stared at him and put his fork down. “Uh, you’re not gonna give anybody the Ireland treatment, are you?” And, it wasn’t difficult to imagine some of the tactics Higgins might employ in the name of reasoning. Higgins was silent for a few seconds and then said, “No. Let me try the reasoning approach—at least in the beginning. This is the Christmas season, a magical time when people should feel the goodness in their hearts and wanna share with others.” Angela sighed. “It hasn’t been that way for a long time, Mr. Hig… Uh, Santa.” “It’s okay. You can call me Higgins, as long as children aren’t around.” “Oh, I think I’d rather call you Santa too,” she said smiling, but the smile did little to hide her pain. He nodded. “If that’s what you wanna do, go right ahead.” It was then that he also noticed some of the old familiar gleam was missing from her big, brown eyes. “I love Christmas,” she said. “I’ve always believed it held such special meaning, and not just the giving and receiving of gifts. I’ve tried to feel the magic and miracle of the very first Christmas every year of my life, and I’ve done that for as far back as I can remember. I can still picture the church in the weeks before Christmas, and the subtle inferences of what was coming. You know, a star hanging near the altar, a wreath on the door, and the smell of fresh evergreens. Then, there were the sounds of the carols on the organ, and the nuns endlessly talking about the meaning of the first Christmas. It just made the time so exciting. And each week there were more stars in the church, and new
wreaths hanging from the windows. Another Advent candle would be burning, and the nuns telling of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. I swear there were times when I felt like I was right there on the journey with them.” She stopped to take a sip from her glass of milk. A moment later a little of the old sparkle showed in her eyes. “And I couldn’t wait for them to tell the story again. I could listen to it over and over, and never tire of it. I just got more and more excited with every passing day, but as I got older I realized that I wasn’t happy because of the gifts. I was excited because of what Christmas really was, and I just wanted time to stop right there so it could last forever. I’d get up and go to Mass on Christmas Eve, and then go back for the midnight Mass celebration. And, the whole time I felt like I was floating on a cloud. And, I confess that I was always sad when Christmas was over. Nobody seemed to smile as much and the good cheer faded and soon was gone.” She sighed. “But, then I’d remind myself that the next Christmas wasn’t really so far away and suddenly life wasn’t so bleak.” “I think you act and sound very much like that same young child you’re talking about,” he said. “And there’s nothing wrong with that. Everybody should feel that way” “Maybe some day they will.” *** Higgins soon found other surprises in the day, the first when he went home with Tony. Tony dressed for work, and came downstairs looking like his photo belonged on a police recruitment poster. He looked trim and fit, solid muscle fitting his six foot frame. But that didn’t surprise Higgins as much as the lieutenant’s bars on the young man’s collar. “Lieutenant Clements! Good Lord, you mean you’re a lieutenant already?” “Uh, yes, sir. I was promoted three months ago.”
Higgins was grinning all over himself. “My God, would your father ever be proud of you. I swear he’d bust a gut. Wait till I get back and tell him.” “If it hadn’t been for you, and everything you did for me, I wouldn’t even be a policeman today. I still thank God—the Chief—every day for your help.” “Hey, it was the Chief’s idea. I just followed orders.” “Well, I’m very grateful.” “Uh, look maybe I’m not supposed to get personal on this trip, but I’ve gotta ask,” he said. “How’s Billy doing?” Tony was beaming. “Now it’s your turn to bust a gut. He’ll be promoted to sergeant next week.” “Damn,” he muttered. “My son’s gonna be a sergeant.” He smiled and shook his head. “Imagine that, my son a sergeant.” “I’m certainly happy about it, because he’ll be coming to my shift and I need a good sergeant.” “I’m sure he won’t let you down.” “I know he won’t.” And Tony smiled over the grin on Higgins’ face. He patted Tony on the back. “Well, he had a good teacher.” When it looked as if the young man was about to protest, he said, “You had to do a great job as his Field Training Officer. If you didn’t, he wouldn’t be where he is today. I’m proud of you too.” “Thank you. That means a lot coming from you.” Higgins smiled and nodded his head. “And you’re a Watch Commander too.” Then he laughed. “And what’s Ireland think of you being his boss?” “Maybe I’d better not answer that.”
“Tryin’ to save the lard on his fat ass, are you?” “I think it’s time for work.” The drive to the police station gave Higgins time to look over the sights along the way, and again he was angry by what he saw. He knew he had to do something, but more than that, he wanted to do whatever he could to change the attitudes of everyone. Indeed his actions would have to have the blessing of the Chief, but he couldn’t help but wonder if maybe the Creator himself was a little angry by what He saw. At the station he remained the invisible guest, and watched Tony preparing for the evening shift. He marveled at the proficiency of the young man who’d once been only a breath away from being fired. He seemed to have his ship sailing on smooth waters, and in the next room he overheard Captain Freeman compliment his abilities. And Higgins couldn’t help but puff his chest up just a little. In a way the young police lieutenant was his protégé. Tony had just finished the squad assignments when Sergeant Ann Marcos walked into his office. “Got a minute, Lieutenant?” “Sure, Ann, what’s up?” “In about 45 minutes Marsha Swanson and Bruce Harrison are gonna interview Vernon Hayes and Joey Watson. Your guys locked ’em up last night, and they’ve been screaming loud and long that Santa Claus kicked the snot out of ’em. And, they’re saying your officers didn’t do a thing about it when they pointed out the guy in the Santa suit. I don’t know if these squirrels are tryin’ to pull a psycho job on us, or if something really happened. Do you know anything about it?”
He caught a glimpse of the misty apparition in the doorway, who just happened to be grinning from ear to ear. “Uh, I was off last night, but I’ll see what I can find out for you.” “I think they’re just playin’ us,” she said with a shrug. “Roland Harper wrote a very detailed report, and he included their statements at the time of their arrest. His report shows that over a dozen officers were present and didn’t see anybody dressed up like Santa Claus. Now, his report indicates that it looked like they’d been in a fight, but he can’t offer up any suspects, other than Saint Nick.” They both laughed and he said, “Well, I’ll see what I can find out for you.” “You think you can get back to me before the interview.” “I’ll do my best.” “I doubt that these two are gonna confess to anything though.” She turned for the door. “They’ve been in the system too long.” He saw Higgins smile and said, “You never know. It’s the Christmas season and they might wanna cleanse their souls.” “Sure, and the next thing you’ll be telling me is that you believe in Santa Claus.” “Yes, I do.” He laughed. “I really do.” Tony knew he couldn’t interview each officer individually, so he figured it was time to conduct the department’s first group interview. He passed out the Hot Sheet, read out beat assignments and approved leave requests before stopping in front of the podium. At that very instant Higgins’ hazy image dropped into the empty chair beside Ireland and Tony feared the mischief would soon start.
He told everyone about his conversation with Sergeant Marcos, and the upcoming interview of Hayes and Watson. He looked around the room at them saying, “Anybody know how those two got worked over?” There was no mistaking Roland Harper’s voice. “Ireland probably mugged ’em for their cigarettes.” Ames chuckled, his thick eyebrows rising sharply. “Yeah, sounds about right.” Hastings pointed at Ireland. “Must’ve been a real bad night for smokin’ though. Ain’t that right, Sarge?” “Up yours, Hastings,” Ireland shot back. “Yours too, Ames. You too, Harper.” Harper turned around and looked at Ireland. “Hey, Sarge, can you tell us about that lighter again? You know, how it attacked you?” “Hey, that ain’t funny. Jesus, look at my hair.” Tony held up a hand saying, “Okay, since it sounds like none of you witnessed the attack on our thugs, the only suspect in the beating is none other than Santa Claus.” Harper raised a hand. “Lieutenant, should we put Jolly Old Saint Nick on the lookout sheet?” “No, I don’t think that would be a good idea. We get enough bad press as it is. If we locked Santa up for thumping two hoods, we’d be the joke of the entire country.” “Yeah, you’re probably right about that. And I don’t wanna be the one to arrest the Big Guy. Santa’s is one dork list I definitely don’t wanna make.” “If there’s nothing else, let’s hit the street—and let’s keep a lid on the idiots.” “Hey, anybody got a smoke?” Ireland called out.
Ames laughed. “Hey, Sarge, everybody on the squad quit smokin’ when the IRS said we couldn’t claim you as a dependent.” “Real funny, Ames. Real funny.” “Have a good shift and a safe one,” Tony said above the laughter. Higgins nodded and smiled. Tony Clements had made it. He was the good cop his father would’ve wanted him to be.
Vernon Hayes and Joey Watson sat on the opposite side of the table facing Detective Sergeants Bruce Harrison and Marsha Swanson. The young men were feeling rather complacent about their position, thinking that the beating they’d taken the evening before would counter any pending charges. When they were told they’d be charged with illegal possession of a firearm, discharging a firearm in a reckless manner and possession of stolen property they blew up. “You can’t do that,” Hayes screamed. “That’s pure bullshit and you know it.”
Watson was almost frantic. “That’s right. We get the livin’ snot kicked outta us by some dude dressed up like Santa Claus, and you wanna charge us with this stuff. Why ain’t he in here? We want his brutal ass locked up and brought up on assault charges.” “That’s right,” Hayes said. “We want him locked up.” Harrison laughed. “Look, you guys aren’t gonna keep on tryin’ to pass this story off that some guy dressed in a Santa suit whipped your asses, are you?” “That’s what happened and—and your cops saw him. They just said they didn’t see him,” Hayes said leaning toward him. “They were probably friends or something.” Watson nodded vigorously. “For all we know he was a cop dressed up like that.” “Yeah, I bet that’s it. It was a cop doin’ some kinda crazy undercover thing. We want his ass locked up and fired.” “And we want our charges dropped,” Watson said pushing his chair back from the table. “We’ll call the TV stations and tell ’em what happened. They always like hearin’ the bad stuff about cops. They put it all over the news.” Hayes slouched down in his chair, and crossed his arms. “So, let’s talk about us not goin’ to the TV stations. And why don’t you bring that cop in here? We wanna see him face to face.” “Yeah, bring him in here,” Watson said sitting up. “I’ll whip his ass. He sucker punched me last night.” He sat back and glared at them. “Now, I ain’t got nothin’ else to say. Not till you bring that cop in here.” Hayes smirked. “Yeah, get your undercover Santa in here.” “Jesus, now some guy in a Santa Claus outfit’s an undercover cop,” Harrison muttered standing up. “Come on, Marsha, let’s go back to the office for a minute.”
As soon as the door closed behind them Higgins said, “Hello, Boys. Havin’ a bad day?” “Holy shit!” Hayes yelled jumping to his feet, and spinning to face him. “Man, how—how the hell’d you get in here?” “Walked through the wall, weasel dick.” “Man, who you callin’ weasel dick?” Higgins shook his head and thought, how can you be more upset over me calling you weasel dick than me telling you I just walked through that wall. He decided to ignore him and turned to Watson. “So, pencil neck, you’re gonna whip my ass, huh? Why don’t you just jump up and take your best shot?” “Man, you’re just some punk cop playin’ Santa Claus,” Watson said pushing his chair back and jumping up. “I’m gonna smack you around like a punchin’ bag.” Higgins laughed. “Why don’t I make this a fair fight. That way you can’t cry when you get the snot kicked outta you worse than last night. So, I’ll just give you the first couple of punches. Go on, anus breath, hit me.” He turned his head and leaned toward Watson, offering him a clear shot of his left jaw. Watson, who had a pretty fair build, wound up and unloaded his best punch, and saw it land squarely on the jaw of the man in the Santa suit. Or did it? Nothing happened. He swung again with the same results. He stopped, looked at his fist, and then at Higgins. He wound up and swung again, but this time he blinked. He was sure his fist went right through the face and head of the man standing in front of him. “Holy Jesus!” Hayes screeched. “You’re punches are goin’ right through him.”
“Man, they can’t be.” Watson stared at Higgins. Another punch went through the figure in front of him, so he launched his best kick at Higgins’ groin. The man in the red suit chuckled. “You know, moose nugget, you fight worse than you shoot.” Watson blinked again, and shook his head. “Who—who are you? What are you? Man, you—you ain’t real.” “That’s right. I’m dead.” He snickered. “Have been for years. But, it’s fun to come back and see that nitwits like you still exist. Idiots like you exist for the purpose of entertaining spirits like me.” They ran to the door, but found it locked. “Help,” they screamed. “Get us outta here. Help.” “Scream all you want, nobody can hear you and you can’t leave yet, boys. You haven’t confessed your crimes to those very nice detectives.” He grabbed them, and slammed them back into their chairs. “And, you boys do wanna confess to the police about all those crimes you’ve committed, right? But, I’m sure you two limp nozzles never heard that old saying that confession is good for the soul. It is, and I’m gonna convince you to do the right thing—cleanse your souls.” They were already scared, but Higgins thought it was time to make them complete converts and help change their evil ways. He snapped his fingers and their chairs shot straight up to the ceiling. “Holy shit!” they screamed. “Help, help. Get us down.” “Not yet, boys.” He began twirling his finger, and their chairs spun in time to the rotation of his index finger. Faster and faster while they yelled for help, but it seemed no
one heard them. He slowed the rotation, brought them down a few feet, and began flipping them over. A dozen forward rolls, a sudden stop and back flips with side twists brought louder and longer screams. A sudden drop to the floor and a rocket blast back to the ceiling for the boys had Higgins grinning proudly over his handiwork. They touched down just as the door opened. Clutching the arms of their chairs they stared wide-eyed at Harrison and Swanson screaming, “Okay, okay, we’ll tell you anything you wanna know.” The detectives decided to separate the two and see if they really wanted to confess to a crime. Within minutes Hayes and Watson were spilling their guts about every crime they’d ever committed. It was as if they couldn’t talk, or write fast enough in detailing armed robberies, burglaries and auto thefts. But, by the time they ended their almost breathless tale of misdeeds, Harrison and Swanson would be closing almost a hundred unsolved crimes. And, they’d be arresting another half dozen suspects. His work done, Higgins vanished and went to find Tony. He peeked into the Watch Commander’s office, and saw the young man seated at his desk staring at a photo of him and Angela taken at their wedding. There was no hiding his heartache. Tony was crushed knowing death was reaching for his beloved Angela, and he couldn’t do anything to stop it. “Why don’t you ask Captain Freeman for the night off and go spend time with her?” Higgins said from the doorway. He shook his head. “Angela and I’ve discussed that from the very first day we knew she was dying. It was tough, but we thought it would be better for Ryan and Sarah if we kept everything as normal as possible—at least until I hafta stay home.”
“I guess that was a smart thing to do. Their lives shouldn’t be disrupted just yet.” He paused for a second and then added, “But it doesn’t make it any easier.” “No, it doesn’t.” He looked at the picture again and softly whispered, “God, I just don’t know what I’m gonna do without her.” “Would it be okay with you if I spent some time with Angela and the kids?” “Please, would you do that?” “I’d love too.” That brought a smile to Tony’s face. “The kids’ll just love seeing Santa at their house again.” He raised a hand, and scratched at his beard. “Darn thing drives me crazy. Pete probably loaded the thing with fleas.” He grumbled something and said, “You know, I have an idea, but I’ll leave it up to you and Angela.” “What’s that?” “You have an extra room in the basement, right?” “Bedroom, bathroom whatever you need right there. But then again, I don’t guess there’s really a lot you need. I mean, you being—being a ghost and all. Anyway, what’s your idea?” “I thought maybe we could keep Ryan’s and Sarah’s spirits up by me staying there with you. You know, have Santa Claus staying right there at their house.” Tony’s smile grew a little brighter. “That’s a great idea.” “Good. You can call Angela and tell her the plan. and I’ll just pop by and kinda drop the hint to the kids that I’ll be staying. In fact, I’ll just pretend I don’t have a place to stay, and maybe we can get ’em to think the whole thing’s their idea.”
Tony smiled as he reached for the phone. “This is fantastic. I know it’ll make them happy.” By the time Tony hung up the phone, Higgins was already knocking at the front door. Angela made sure the children reached the door first, and it wasn’t long before squeals of “Mommy, Mommy, Santa’s back!” filled the air. She opened the door saying, “What a pleasant surprise seeing you back again so soon.” She stepped back and nodded. “Please, come in.” “I hope I’m not interrupting.” “Not at all. We were just cleaning up the kitchen after dinner.” A moment later Higgins was seated at the kitchen table with Ryan on his left knee and Sarah on his right. It didn’t take too long for Ryan to give into temptation, reach up and give the beard a tug. “Ouch,” Higgins said, grabbing his chin and pretending he was hurt. “Sorry,” Ryan said rather sheepishly. “Ryan, that was very bad,” Angela scolded, shaking a finger at him. “But, Mommy, David said there’s no such thing as Santa. He said Santa’s fake, and it’s just a man wearing a make-believe beard and pretending he’s Santa Claus.” Higgins frowned. “And who’s this David?” “David Riley, a 5th grader, and the school brat,” Angela said. “He does his best to ruin everything for the younger children. He seems to find some sort of sick amusement in destroying the stories of Christmas, Easter, and any other thing the younger children believe in.” “Hummm, maybe I’ll hafta see about changing that,” he said.
“I only wish you could.” He flashed a big grin. “Never underestimate the power of the real Santa Claus.” “Are you really Santa Claus?” Ryan said, looking into his eyes. “Do you believe I’m really Santa Claus?” “You have a real beard, and I think you’re really nice.” He paused as though he was thinking, and finally said, “I think you’re really Santa.” Sarah nodded. “Me too.” “As long as you believe it, that’s all that really matters, isn’t it?” Ryan shrugged. “I guess so.” He kept looking up at Higgins and then said, “When people get old, do they stop believing in Santa Claus?” He glanced over at Angela, took off his hat, and put it on the table. “Ryan, I’ll tell you and Sarah a big secret.” “Really,” he gushed. “Wow,” Sarah whispered. “A secret.” He gave a quick nod. “Just because people get older doesn’t mean they hafta stop believing in Santa Claus. Santa’s always real when you keep him in your heart. That means that no matter how old you are, you can always believe in him. So, it’s what you truly believe in your heart.” “You mean just like we believe in Jesus,” Sarah said. “Yes, just like that.” “Did Jesus make Santa?” Ryan said, as he touched the beard again. “Well, yes, I’m sure He did.” He looked from Ryan to Sarah. “But did you know that the first Santa Claus was a Saint too?”
“He was?” they said, their voices barely a whisper. “Yes, and that’s because Saint Nicholas was the first Santa Claus.” When they didn’t say anything he continued. “His mother and father were rich, but they died when Nicholas was very young. He sold everything he had, and used the money to help poor people and sick people.” “Mommy does that too,” Sarah said. “She helps poor people and sick people— and kids like me and Ryan.” Ryan looked at Angela. “Yeah, does that mean she’s a Saint too?” “You know, it’s just like believing in Santa Claus,” he said, hoping he wasn’t getting in over his head. “If you wanna believe your Mommy’s a Saint, then she can be a Saint.” “Are you a Saint?” Sarah said. He coughed, and tried to think of an appropriate answer. “Uh—well, uh, not yet. I think I have a long way to go before I get to be a Saint.” “When I say my prayers tonight, I’ll ask Jesus to make you one,” Ryan said, as he gave a very stern nod. “If He likes you enough, He might do it.” He was certain he could hear Peter laughing, but actually it sounded much more like he was howling. He thought, oh, I just know you’re lovin’ this, Pete, and especially because I can’t say a word in front of the kids. Go ahead, get your jollies, but when I get the chance you’ll hear about it. He decided it was time to make another move. “You know, I should be going. I hafta find a place to sleep.” “You live at the North Pole,” Sarah said. “Can’t you go there and sleep?”
“That’s a very long way to go and besides, I have lots of work to do around here.” He rubbed his chin. “I guess I could go and get a hotel room.” Ryan tugged his sleeve. “You could stay here. Couldn’t he, Mommy?” “That’s a very good idea, Ryan. I think it would be wonderful if Mister—uh, Santa Claus stayed here. We have a room downstairs he could stay in.” There was little discussion about him staying. Before he knew it, the children had him by his hands and practically dragging him down the stairs to the basement. He was presented with the grand tour of his bedroom and bathroom, and even given instructions on how to flush the toilet. Sarah took his hand saying, “Did you bring a toothbrush?” “I’m sure I have one.” He smiled. “You should never go to bed without brushing your teeth.” By the time they went back upstairs, Tony was waiting to help Angela tuck them into bed, and kiss them goodnight. At first it seemed as if they might be too excited to sleep. After all, it’s not every day that Santa decides to stay at your house. But, not long after being told a quick bedtime story by Angela they were sound asleep. “I’ve gotta get right back to work,” Tony said, giving Angela a hug and kiss. When he left, and even though she was tired, she insisted on keeping Higgins company. He gladly accepted her offer. “Young lady, I think it’s time you stopped pushing yourself so hard. Let somebody else take up these worthy causes you fight so hard for. You have Tony and the children to think about.” She looked away for a second before saying, “I know it would be easy to walk away and ask somebody else to do the work. But, I just can’t do it. For the past five
years I’ve tried my best to make sure that every homeless person and needy child has a good meal, and some kind of gift for Christmas. I know that might not seem like much, but it makes them happy to know that somebody cares about them. And those people have come to trust me, and they know they can depend on me.” “What about your health and the little time you have left?” “I’m not being selfish, if that’s what you mean. Tony knows I want to help with these causes, and he understands. I’m not trying to take time away from him and the children, but I can’t take the time away from others who need me too.” He looked at her seeing how tired she was, and felt a little twitch of anger over her fate. “And you volunteer at the school in the mornings too?” “Yes, I help out there as much as possible.” A quick smile brightened her face for a few seconds. “And it gives me the chance to see Ryan and Sarah off and on during the day. It gives me a few more opportunities to tell them I love them.” “And Tony? Do you get to tell him you love him?” “He stops by the school every single day to see me—and the kids. We always get to sneak an extra hug or a quick kiss somewhere before he leaves. And not a day goes by without us saying I love you at least once, but it’s usually a lot more.” Higgins sat back and nodded. “Well, it sounds like you’ve had a very happy relationship with Tony.” The big smile again. “I think I’ve loved Tony from the very first time he walked into the diner. He was so shy and polite, and every time he looked at me with those big blue eyes I’d feel my knees go weak. Then after we started dating and married, it’s been even better. It’s like we’ve each become a part of the other.”
He knew he didn’t want to ask the next question, but in a way he knew he had to. “And how do you feel about what’s coming? You know, you’re…” “I can accept what’s in store for me. I don’t feel like I’ve been cheated out of a single thing,” she said, looking him squarely in the eyes. “I have a wonderful husband and two beautiful children who’ve given me all the happiness in the world. I guess by a lot of standards—standards set by others, I’m dying too young. Maybe I am, but I can’t question God’s reasons. Oh, there’re certainly days when I question what’s ahead, but that’s because of Tony, Ryan and Sarah. I think knowing they’ll be alone is far more frightening than dying.” “You’re certainly showing a lot of strength and courage.” “I can’t let Tony and the children see me fall apart. If I need to cry, I’ll do it alone and put on my best face when I’m with them.” She paused for a moment and then said, “Tony’s the same way. He won’t let me or the kids see him cry. He sneaks away and hides when he feels like he’s breaking down.” Higgins knew he couldn’t stay any longer. He had a stop to make and if he stayed around this lovely angel much longer, he’d be blubbering like a baby. And, he surely couldn’t let her see him, Santa Claus, crying his eyes out. He gave her a hug and was gone before she could utter another word.
Higgins was back on the altar of Saint Mary’s Church in a flash, and he didn’t waste any time hurling his hat to the floor. And just for good measure, he stomped on it three or four times hoping to get the Chief’s attention. “I wanna talk to You,” he yelled, as he shook his fist at the ceiling. “Sorry, Higgins, the Chief’s not taking any of your calls right now.” Higgins kicked the hat and, for good measure, picked it up and threw it down again. “Listen, Shark Bait, I wanna talk to Him.” “He doesn’t have anything to say to you right now.”
“Come on, Pete, gimme a break,” he said. “And what the hell, you know what’s goin’ on down here. This young woman’s doing everything in the world for everybody and nothing for herself. She’s only thinking of others at a time when she could—and I think she should, be very selfish. Now why can’t the Chief have a heart and save this sweet angel’s life?” “Higgie, I can’t answer that question.” There was a brief silence, and then he took a deep breath. “But, if it’s any consolation, I’m on your side this time.” Higgins perked up. “Then use your influence. You’ve been friends with the Chief practically forever. You’ve had dinner with Him. And, how many others up there can actually say they hung out with The Big Guy when He was here on earth? Not many, that’s for sure. And I think that should count for something.” “I don’t really know how the Chief takes to influence peddlers.” “Pete, think about it. Are you really just using your position to get a favor, or are you trying to help somebody who deserves it? There’s a difference, you know?” “I guess I can try.” Higgins nodded. “Do that, but make it quick. She hasn’t got a lotta time left.” “Okay.” He was quiet for a few seconds and then he chuckled. “You know, Higgins, I thought that was really funny when the kids asked if you were a Saint. I mean that was downright hilarious.” “Yeah, so it was funny, but you could’ve waited to howl over it until I left the house. At least give me a chance to fight back.” Peter chuckled again. “I can take you any day.” “You couldn’t win a rip-off contest with a toadstool.”
“Maybe we should put this on hold till you get back.” “Not a bad idea, Pete.” He reached down, picked up his hat and brushed off the dirt. “Can you help me with that other problem—the one about making the Chief believe? What’s He want?” “I wish I could help you there, but I don’t have an answer for you.” Higgins twisted the hat in his hands. “You’re not holding out on me, are you?” “No, not this time.” “Well, get busy and start working on Him about Angela. Tony and the children need her,” he said as put the hat on. “And so do a lotta other people down here.” “I promise, I’ll see what I can do.” “Good, and while you’re at it, could you get me something else to wear while I’m down here?” he said looking up. “It’s kinda hard getting around unnoticed in this outfit.” “Heh, heh, heh. Sure, I’ll help you out.” And a few seconds later a shopping bag dropped to the altar beside him. “Thanks,” he said, picking the bag up and heading for the back of the church. He ducked into one of the confessionals, opened the bag and started to change. When he pulled out the white tee shirt and gray sweatshirt he noticed they were sporting the likeness of the Grinch. “Just couldn’t resist, could you? One last little cheap shot to make your day. I won’t forget this,” he grumbled, while stuffing the red suit into the shopping bag. A few minutes later he was walking down the street, carrying his bag and looking like every other late night shopper heading home. But, unlike the other shoppers, he had a lot on his mind. He was thinking about Angela and Tony and Ryan and Sarah. Then,
there was the matter of no one seeming to care about Christmas. Sure they were buying gifts and going through the motions, but there wasn’t any real spirit of the season in their hearts. He was looking into a store window when the thump, thump, thump of the bass sounds caught his attention. The car pulled up to the curb and, like this morning, the driver and passengers were trying to keep time to the music. He snapped his finger and the sounds of What Child Is This suddenly replaced the irritating racket. He smiled at their dumbfounded expressions and continued walking down the street. Suddenly he stopped and looked back at the car. He stared in its direction for a long time while an idea rolled around and around in his head. The grin that appeared on his face matched that of the Grinch on his shirts, but this Grinch was going to begin spreading Christmas cheer. He nodded, knowing he had a lot of work to do, but he had all night, and certainly he wouldn’t get tired. The sun was just starting to peek over the horizon, and the nip in the air seemed a lot colder when he popped into his basement hideaway. He turned on a small radio and waited. He saw the numbers of the digital clock roll over indicating it was now 6:00 AM. Exactly one second later the song on the radio turned to Silver Bells. Higgins flipped the dial from one station to another and heard the same verse. Every home, every car, bus, train and airplane, every business, school and daycare center would be listening to only songs of the Christmas Season. He smiled. People would listen to an even mixture of Religious and traditional Christmas music from Silent Night to White Christmas. His smile grew to a satisfied grin—and there wasn’t a thing they could do about it.
What was happening didn’t fill the airwaves at the first newscast in the seven o’clock hour, but by 8:00 AM the mystery of the Christmas music was the lead story. Reporters rambled nonstop about the strange phenomenon. “Ladies and Gentlemen, if you haven’t heard by now, each and every radio station in our viewing and listening areas is playing the same Christmas Carol. Station managers are at a loss to explain what’s happening and are unable to switch the music to something else, or even shut it off.” By 9:00 AM everybody who had decided to get rid of the sounds of the season and play what they wanted via tapes, DVDs and CDs got a big surprise. No matter what the label of the tape, DVD or CD read, the sounds matched exactly what was playing on the radio. Everyone, for miles and miles in every direction, was listening to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, The New York Symphony Orchestra, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. And there’d be more from Perry Como, Nat King Cole and Gene Autry. Songs and carols of holiday tradition, magic, a few ghost stories and miracles would deliver their messages on a frosty breeze. Although Angela looked tired, and a bit more worn than the day before, she hummed along with the songs. Ryan and Sarah laughed over voices of the Chipmunks singing their versions of songs of the season, while Tony looked at Higgins and waited for the right moment to ask the big question. As soon as Angela and the children were out the door Tony looked at him and said, “Okay, now don’t tell me you had nothing to do with what’s going on with the radio stations.” Higgins laughed. “Let’s say I’m trying to give a little boost to the Christmas spirit around here. And, believe me, this place needs all the help it can get.”
Tony gave a nod. “I won’t argue that with you.” Higgins waited for a few seconds and said, “I had a nice talk with Angela last night.” “I know. She told me when I got home.” “Lord, I don’t know how she does it,” he said casting a quick upward glance. “I mean she has every right to complain, but she only thinks about everybody else.” “That’s just one of the hundreds of reason I have for loving her,” Tony said, as he put the last of the dishes in the dishwasher. “But, she’s always been that way. She’s never put herself ahead of anybody, and she’s always the first to volunteer to help out with things at the church or school.” “And she’s still doing the same thing even though she’s very sick,” Higgins said, putting a little extra emphasis on his words and hoping the Chief was tuned in. “I know.” Tony lowered his head, and just stared at the floor. “Hey, care to go for a little ride and see how everybody’s enjoying the sounds of Christmas?” Tony forced a smile. “I think that’s a good idea, but let me take a shower and dress first. After we check out the mall, we can meet Angela for lunch.” *** Vernon Hayes and Joey Watson appeared before Judge Raymond Sweeney at 10:00 AM for a bond review hearing, hoping the judge would be filled with the spirit of the Christmas season and in a generous mood. The initial bond had been set at $250,000 apiece and they were praying that a little Christmas cheer on the part of Judge Sweeney would get them a free ride home.
The judge read over the statements they’d given to Sergeants Harrison and Swanson, and asked if they had anything else to say. At that time they thought they’d gain a measure of sympathy from Judge Sweeney if they told him the whole story from their point of view. Without faltering once they spouted their tale of brutal Santa Claus from their first meeting to the last. When the fable ended Judge Sweeney stood up and looked from Hayes to Watson and sat back down in the heavy black leather chair. He rocked back for a second or two, stared up at the ceiling, sat up and glared at the two men. “Let me see if I heard you correctly,” he said, taking off his glasses. “You were trying to rob a man dressed in a Santa Claus suit, and during the course of this robbery you tried to shoot him. But he somehow miraculously survived, disarmed and then viciously assaulted you.” “That’s right, Judge, that’s exactly what happened,” Watson said. “And, you’re gonna stand there and admit that you were trying to rob this man?” “Well, yeah, Judge, but we didn’t rob him. I mean we couldn’t. He was like a karate man or something.” “Yeah, Judge, he was makin’ all these whoosh and whack noises while he was whippin’ up on us,” Hayes said. Judge Sweeney looked from one to the other. “Whoosh and whack noises?” “Yeah, you know, just like in the old Bruce Lee movies.” Sweeney scratched his chin. “Not only that, but he somehow had you flipping in the air, and firing shots into an abandoned car?” “Yes, sir, Judge,” Hayes said with a nod.
Sweeney put his glasses back on. “Then this same Santa Claus got into one of the police interview rooms and forced you to confess to this list of crimes I have here in front of me. And, he forced you to do this by spinning you around while you were still seated in your chairs. He had you floating around up near the ceiling and doing—doing front flips. That’s what you said, right?” “Judge, that’s exactly what he did,” Watson said. “And then there were some back flips in there too.” “But before this magic chair ride, and these front flips and back flips this Santa Claus character told you he was dead.” “Yeah, that’s true, Judge,” Hayes said. “When Joey tried to punch the dude, his hand went right on through him. I saw it.” “Uh, huh.” Sweeney looked at the papers in front of him again, and slowly shook his head. “But not a single police officer saw this man who was playing Kris Kringle, right?” “Well, they said they didn’t see him,” Hayes muttered, looking back at Harrison. Sweeney called Harrison to the bench. “Sergeant Harrison, did you at any time see someone dressed as Santa Claus in, or near the interview room?” “No, Your Honor, I didn’t.” “Judge, all the cops gotta be in on whatever was goin’ on,” Hayes blurted. “I saw the dude. He kicked the snot outta me and Joey, gave us the finger, and stuck his tongue out at us.”
Crack. The fall of the gavel caused everybody to jump. “Okay, I think I’ve heard enough of this nonsense,” Sweeney snapped. “I think you two are trying to cook up an insanity defense. Well, your story’s gonna keep you under lock and key.” “But, Judge…” “Sergeant Harrison, do you have anything you’d like to add?” “No, Your Honor, I don’t think I could top what’s already been said by Mr. Hayes and Mr. Watson.” Judge Sweeney turned to the bailiff. “Same bond. Get these two outta here.” He stood up saying, “And, I think it’s time for a short recess.” He left the room muttering to the court reporter. He leaned toward her as they walked out the door. “I’ve never heard an excuse like that before. No, sir, not in all my years on the bench. Did they really think I’d be foolish enough to believe that Saint Nick stuck his tongue out at them, or gave them the finger?” *** It wasn’t long before Santa was seated in the passenger’s seat of Tony’s squad car, and heading for the shopping district. When they arrived at the mall they weren’t really surprised to see reporters from every newspaper, and television station lined up to ask for opinions from the shoppers. And, every reporter was asking almost the same questions about the mystery of the Christmas music. Tony and Higgins tried to stand in the background to listen and observe. But the instant a reporter spotted the red suit, he wanted to be the first to interview Santa. He beat a path to Higgins, and stuffed a microphone in his face. “And, what better person to ask about all of this than Santa himself. Well, Mr. Claus, what do you think about
nothing but Christmas music being played on every radio station?” he said, as other reporters rushed toward them. Higgins wasn’t about to pass up this opportunity. “I think it’s great. This whole town—the whole world needs a little of the true Christmas Spirit.” “Then you don’t have a problem with sounds of the season playing 24 hours a day?” He smiled. “Not at all.” More microphones were shoved toward him. “Just what’re you saying?” “There’s no real Christmas spirit anymore. I’m not sure how many people truly mean Merry Christmas when they say it. Maybe listening to the music of the season can help change the mood around here, make people smile and say hello to each other, instead of all this pushing and shoving I’ve seen.” There was laughter, and one of the reporters said, “Yeah, that sure would be a change—people smiling and saying hello. How do you expect music to change an attitude?” Higgins looked at him. “If everybody stopped listening to this trash that’s playing on the radios—at least during this time of year, you might see people differently, and gain a whole new outlook on life. Stop and listen to the carols and songs of the season. Listen to what they say, and what they really promote. You don’t hear Silent Night, or White Christmas calling women whores, or telling kids to get a gun and kill, or rob somebody, do you? The First Noel isn’t tellin’ our kids it’s okay to use drugs, is it?” The reporter shook his head and muttered, “You know, you do make a very valid point.”
Another reporter stepped forward. “Well, some people are very offended by this music being forced on them. What about their rights?” “That minority of maggots can pound sand,” he growled. “They only hafta listen to Christmas Carols a few weeks outta the year and if they don’t like it…” “The ACLU agrees with…” “The ACLU?” Higgins bellowed. “Those Communists Yak turds should be lined up in front of a firing squad, or given to the Marines for target practice.” “I think it’s time to go,” Tony said, grabbing his arm, and cutting him off. He looked back at the reporters as he pushed Higgins toward the car. “I’m sorry everybody, but he’s had a bad couple of days. Battling the flu I think.” In the car Higgins yelled. “Tony, why the hell’d you stop me? I was just gettin’ warmed up.” “Just gettin’ warmed up?” He looked over at him. “It sounded to me like you were already on fire. You can’t blow your cork like that.” “Why not?” “Come on, Mr. Higgins, look how you’re dressed. Kids, and even adults don’t expect to see, and hear Santa Claus calling the ACLU a bunch of Communist Yak turds that should be shot.” He paused for a second. “Not that I don’t agree, but I just can’t go to the press and make it public knowledge.” “It’s good to hear that you agree with me.” He grinned, knowing he had an ally. “Now, let’s not discuss trivial nonsense anymore, and go pay Angela a visit.”
They didn’t find Angela in her usual place, but in the school infirmary seated in a chair. She was extremely pale, and looked so very tired. Tony rushed to her, dropped to his knees and clutched her hands. “Why don’t you let me take you home?” She nodded weakly. “I think that’s probably a good idea.” As soon as she was in the house, Tony helped her up the stairs to their room, had her lie down, and covered her with a thick blanket. She looked up and whispered, “I’m so sorry.” He leaned over and kissed her softly. “You don’t hafta apologize for being sick.” “I love you, Tony.” “I love you, Angela.” He swallowed hard, hoping she wouldn’t see that he was having a difficult time holding himself together. “Get some rest,” he said, hoping he wouldn’t burst into to tears before leaving the room. When he came back downstairs Higgins stopped pacing, and looked directly at him. “Tony, why don’t you just call in and take off. Spend every second possible with Angela.” He gave a quick nod. “She doesn’t know it, but I’ve taken leave. I hafta work tonight and tomorrow night and that’s it. Captain Freeman said he didn’t care about the staffing requirements for the holidays, and when he took it to the top, everybody agreed with him.” “Well, I’ll keep an eye on both of you this evening,” Higgins said, patting him on the shoulder. “And don’t forget Ryan and Sarah.”
“Don’t you worry about a thing. Maybe I’ll just pop in for roll call, and then I’ll sneak back here and help out.” Tony managed to force a smile. “Yeah, maybe you can get back in time to catch your television debut on the news this evening.” Higgins gave a rather sly chuckle. “Oh, they had a big surprise when they tried to air their tapes at noon. Seems they didn’t work.” Tony shook his head. “And the newspapers?” “Oh, they’ll have a story, but not the one they’ve intended.” He laughed. “I’ve edited out a few parts here and there.”
Tony was just stepping up to the podium when the familiar voice rang out from the hallway. “Anybody got a smoke?” Tony laughed along with the others, but for some reason Ireland felt he’d missed the punch line of a good joke when he walked into the room. He took his usual seat, cut a rotten fart, and looked around for somebody else to blame. Tony waited until those who’d scattered to find new seats settled down before he started the briefing. He read off beat assignments, handed out the hot sheets, and turned roll call over to Sergeant Bruce Harrison.
Harrison, known for his clean cut, sharp dressed man image, got hit with a few barbs for his undercover appearance when he went to the front of the room, and he responded with a bow. He opened his notebook, and dropped it on the podium. “I don’t believe I hafta tell you about all the robberies we’ve been having. Tis the season for dirt bags to go shopping with someone else’s money. And, just like last year, crime is an equal opportunity employer. We have three robbery teams of four people each out there takin’ down liquor stores, grocery stores and, now and then, a jewelry store. I’ll pass out the flyers and surveillance tape photos we have on these maggots, and hope we can get lucky.” “Maybe Ireland can kill ’em with a fart,” Harper said, waving his notebook in front of his face. Ames laughed. “I’m not too sure that last one was a fart. Personally, I think he took a dump right here in roll call.” “Up yours, Ames,” Ireland grumbled. “Okay, let’s give Sergeant Harrison time to finish up,” Tony said, smiling and waving a hand. “There’re still a few items I need to discuss.” Harrison went on. “Like I said, crime is an equal opportunity employer. We have whites, blacks and Hispanics pulling the robberies. Vehicle descriptions are on the flyers, and their MO is the same in all three groups—the getaway driver stays with the car, three go inside, and one of the three usually covers the entrance. They don’t seem to be in a hurry, and they certainly don’t care about hiding their identities. So be very careful if you spot these guys.” “You got any particular locations staked out?” Hastings said, raising a beefy hand.
“With three robbery teams out there it’s been tough trying to pinpoint a possible target,” Harrison said, shaking his head. “Our unit’s working in teams of two and three, but most of what we’re doing is roving patrol hoping to get lucky. So, if any of you even have a far-fetched idea about a target location, let us know. We’ll be glad to sit on it, and see if we can nail somebody.” After Sergeant Harrison passed out the flyers and photos, Tony went back to the podium. He motioned to the doorway, gave a nod, and another uniformed officer walked into the room. “For those of you who don’t know him, I’d like to introduce future Sergeant Bill Higgins. After his promotion becomes official next week, he’ll be joining our shift.” Higgins, who’d been standing in a back corner of the room, looked at the young man walking toward the podium. A handsome figure, standing over six feet tall, and looking like he’d spent a great deal of time in the weight room. This was something he hadn’t expected or anticipated, and it took every ounce of strength to control his emotions. He wondered if the Chief or Peter had known of this encounter, but then one or both of them always seemed to know well ahead of time. Still, he was grateful for the opportunity to see the son he’d left behind. He felt all the pride a father could possibly have in a son who’d gone on to keep a promise, and followed in his footsteps. Tony smiled. “Even if you’ve never met Sergeant Higgins, I’m sure you’ve heard of his outstanding record. He’s an excellent example of what a law enforcement officer should be, and I’m happy to know he’s coming to us.” “You can add my vote of confidence to that as well,” Captain Freeman said from the back of the room. “A little premature, but welcome aboard, Sergeant Higgins.”
“Thank you, sir. I’m happy to be coming to this shift.” Ireland jabbed a finger in his direction. “I hope to hell you smoke.” The young man smiled. “Sorry, Sergeant Ireland, never acquired the habit.” “Asshole,” Ireland muttered, and his chair promptly collapsed under him. “What the hell’s goin’ on?” he screamed to a chorus of laughter. Freeman laughed. “You might wanna consider a diet, Frank. “It’s these damn cheap chairs.” “It’s your fat ass,” a voice boomed—a voice that sounded like it came from the heating and air conditioning vent in the ceiling. “What the hell’d they use to make your uniform pants? A circus tent?” “Up yours,” he yelled, struggling to his feet. “Up yours. Up yours.” The room fell silent, while everybody looked around trying to find the man who’d taunted Ireland. Freeman glanced at Tony and shrugged his shoulders, but Tony didn’t say or do anything. He already knew who the mystery guest was, and decided it was time to hit the street. “Okay, on that note let’s go to work. And remember, be careful.” He picked up his notebook saying, “And let’s see if we can do Sergeant Harrison a favor and help find his robbery suspects.” Higgins drifted toward the doorway, and eavesdropped on the conversation Tony was having with his son. He was suddenly very excited that Bill would be spending a few hours this evening patrolling the streets with Tony. Still, he’d be sure to keep his promise and check in on Angela and the children, but maybe he’d have some time left to observe them as well.
He waited until dinner was over before knocking and entering through the front door of the Clements residence. Although Angela looked more tired than ever, she managed a smile when he came in and knelt down to greet Ryan and Sarah. He was about to stand when Ryan said to him, “Some of our friends from school are gonna stop and see you tonight.” He gave a quick look to Angela. “They are?” “I hope that’s okay with you,” she said. “But it seems the news of your being here spread rather quickly at school and, naturally, everybody wants to visit.” “The question is, is it okay with you?’ She smiled and nodded. “Oh, yes. I wouldn’t deny children the opportunity to visit with the real Santa.” He flashed a big smile. “And neither would I.” It wasn’t long before a dozen youngsters, and their parents, were in the living room surrounding Higgins. He tried his best to keep order by having the children sit at his feet in front of the leather recliner, and their parents take whatever seating was available. But, those who didn’t find a chair seemed content to stand and watch their child stare at the man who was staying with the Clements family. “I guess you’d like to tell me what you want for Christmas,” he said, looking at each of them. A little boy raised his hand. “We wanna hear the story about the first Santa Claus. Ryan said he was a saint.” Higgins nodded. “First, tell me your name.” “Timmy.”
“Well, Timmy, that’s true. The very first Santa Claus was really Saint Nicholas.” A little girl raised her hand. “Was he from around here?” “No, he was from the country that everybody today calls Turkey.” “Oh.” He looked around at them again and said, “One of the first things you should know about Saint Nicholas is that he loved children. And, now let me tell you just one story about Saint Nicholas, and how some of the things that were done a long time ago are still done at Christmas.” After a few squeals of delight he went on. “There was a poor man who had three daughters, and soon they were old enough to get married. But, in those days a young girl’s father had to give a dowry, which is a very expensive gift, to the man who wanted to marry his daughter. Now, if the young girl’s father didn’t have money, it meant that she might never get married or that she’d be sold as a slave.” He looked around seeing their eyes widen. “And since this man was poor, he didn’t have money for a gift, and was sure he’d hafta sell his daughters as slaves. But, Saint Nicholas knew about this, and he wouldn’t let this terrible thing happen.” This time it was Timmy who raised his hand. “How’d he stop it?” “It’s been told for hundreds of years that on three different nights, Saint Nicholas threw bags of gold through open windows into the poor man’s house. Because of this the father didn’t hafta sell his daughters as slaves. But there’s more to the story,” he said looking at the children. “Would you like to hear it?” “Yes! Yes please, Santa. Tell us more,” they clamored. “Back in those times stockings, and shoes were left near the fireplace to dry. People have said that when Saint Nicholas threw the bags of gold through the open
windows, that the bags landed in stockings or shoes. After children heard the story about Saint Nicholas throwing bags of gold into stockings and shoes, they started leaving them out, waiting and hoping that he’d leave gifts for them. That’s why there’s a custom today of hanging stockings, and hoping Santa will put gifts in them.” “Did anybody give gifts to Saint Nicholas?” Timmy said. “Saint Nicholas tried very hard to keep everything he did a secret. He really liked doing things that way, and giving to others made him very happy. And, he truly never wanted, or asked for a gift of his own.” “He wasn’t selfish, was he?” another little girl said. “No, he wasn’t. He just liked giving to others.” “Maybe that’s why he’s a Saint,” Ryan said with a nod. His audience stayed for almost an hour before leaving, and by then it was almost time for Ryan and Sarah to go to bed. He helped Angela by having them brush their teeth and put on their pajamas. He was about to leave when Sarah said, “Santa, can you say our goodnight prayers with us?” “I’d be happy to say your goodnight prayers with you.” “Okay. You kneel here,” she said, pointing to a spot beside her bed. “I’ll kneel here and Ryan, you can kneel there.” A moment later they were kneeling with their hands folded, Sarah on his left, and Ryan on his right. They bowed their heads and started to pray. “God bless Mommy and Daddy. Thank you for giving us this day and all our friends. Please thank everybody in heaven for watching over us. And, please if You can, make Mommy well. Amen.” They were about to get up, but she stopped and said, “And, God, please bless Santa—and his reindeer—and make Santa a saint. Amen.”
They got up, kissed him on the cheek, and ran to Angela. She hugged them and told them she loved them before tucking them in the their beds. She gave each a good night kiss, and made sure special quilts were nearby and stuffed bears were tucked in beside them. Downstairs she looked at Higgins. “You know, I’m beginning to believe you really are Santa Claus.” “Let me assure you, this isn’t a role I asked for.” “Well, you’re perfect for it.” She sat down and smiled. “This evening you had those kids in the palm of your hand, everyone of them. And you know what the most amazing thing was about the whole evening?” He shook his head. “I guess I missed it.” “When your tale of Saint Nicholas ended, not one child asked you to bring them a toy or anything else for Christmas. You made them forget the toys, and games and all the other things that have come to symbolize Christmas. And, all by telling them that Saint Nicholas would rather give than receive.” She got up, wrapped her arms around him and gave him a big hug. “I think you’re a great Santa Claus.” “Oh, I don’t know about that,” he muttered, feeling rather embarrassed. “You are,” she said. “I can see the man behind that tough exterior I met the last time you came to help Tony. Behind that front is a man who loves children, probably as much as Saint Nicholas did, and who’d do anything to make them happy. I see that in everything you do. You just try and pretend to be this big tough guy, the practical joker who never cares about anything, but it’s not true.” She kissed him on the cheek. “I don’t care what anybody else believes—I believe in Santa Claus. And Santa Claus is you.”
Although he continued to object, somewhere high above, someone else was beginning to agree with Angela. “Well, Chief—uh, sorry, I guess I can’t help but copy Higgins sometimes—I think Angela might be right, don’t You agree?” “I think he still has a long way to go.” *** Higgins left to find Tony and his son, but first he wanted to see the shopping areas, hoping that some of the true mood of the season was there now. He stayed hidden to watch the shoppers, and see how they treated each other. Soon he was slowly shaking his head, and feeling sadness instead of happiness fill him. Nothing had changed. If anything, they were worse than before. The joyous music that filled the air was a strange backdrop for cursing, pushing, and even fighting. He hurried away from the ugliness and asked himself why he’d failed. He couldn’t understand why the sounds of joy and peace only seemed to enrage people. Once outside, he took his time searching for Tony and Bill. He traveled along the streets looking at homes and churches. He was disappointed to see that only the churches and a home here and there displayed a nativity scene. At one home on a darkened street he stopped after noticing the statues from a nativity scene had been thrown behind the shrubs. He picked up the figurines, and carefully put them back where they belonged before going on his way. Soon he seemed to be wandering aimlessly along the streets, his mind a jumble of confused thoughts. What’s wrong with people? What happened to the Christmas spirit of the days of old—days when people acted as if they really cared? Am I doing what’s right by trying to change things? He looked at another commercial display in a store
window and remembered, I’ve gotta help Angela get those donations for her worthy causes. And, I need to see what I can do to help Tony and the kids. And, I still don’t know what it is the Chief wants. Make Him believe in what? Suddenly, he wondered if he’d have enough time to do anything at all. Then there was the most nagging question of all. Would Angela hold on long enough to see just one more dream fulfilled? Across the street an unmarked police car, hidden among those of the shoppers, caught his eye. A moment later he was in the backseat of Tony’s car listening to the two policemen talking. Instantly he knew they’d spotted one of the robbery teams, but he also realized that he couldn’t speak up. It was okay for Tony to know about him, but it was strictly taboo for him to contact his son in any manner unless it was authorized from above. Tony held the binoculars to his eyes, and watched the car drive slowly by the liquor store. “It’s almost closing time and the till’s full,” he said nodding. “They’ll probably rob the place next time around the block.” “At least all the other businesses on that side of the street are closed,” Bill said. “We just hafta worry about people leaving here.” “We can block this exit—and in fact, here comes help now.” Tony pointed to a trash truck that was approaching the lot. “I’ll pull our car out and back it in beside the bank. You tell him to pull the truck across the entrance.” He opened the door. “Okay.” “I’ll call Harrison and set up a trap for these guys.” As soon as Bill was out of the car, Tony pulled their cruiser in beside the bank. But at the same time he was barking orders over the radio, and making sure there’d be no escape for the robbers.
Higgins sat in the back, but didn’t say a word. Tony was in charge, and there was no question about that. And, now he was absolutely certain of his maturity. Tony had the tactical savvy to pull cars close enough without them being seen and wait for the robbers. When the robbery team came in for their score he’d have the door close behind them and snare them in his trap. Higgins was impressed. He was just about to sit back and act only as an observer when he saw the other police car. Tony saw it too and groaned. “Ireland, you fat, dumb dork, what the hell’re you doing?” He grabbed the mike. “No, 130. Get outta there. They’ll see you.” “Hey, don’t worry, I got everything covered,” he shot back. “It’s not a request, it’s an order. Get outta there.” “I’ll take—aaaaarrrrrrgggggg,” he gurgled, and suddenly his car shot by Tony like a rocket. Tony watched the car vanish around the corner and grinned. He had a suspicion that someone else was driving Ireland’s car, and his grin turned to a moment of laughter. But, he didn’t have time to gloat over Ireland’s predicament. There was work to do. As soon as Bill returned to the car, they grabbed gym bags from the back seat of the car, and raced across the street to the liquor store. Harrison and Swanson were already in the store behind the cash register counters when they ran through the door. “Employees and customers are in the back room,” Harrison said, as Tony and Bill ran by. It took them about a minute to change into street clothes and reappear in the store pushing a cart—a cart with two shotguns hidden under the boxes. They found a spot
where they’d be hidden from view when the robbers came in and waited. And, they didn’t have a long wait. The doors opened and three men rushed in, one taking a position near the front entrance. The remaining two raced to the cash registers, pulling their guns as they went. But this time the surprise was reversed. The trio of robbers found themselves looking into the barrels of 12 gauge shotguns, as police cruisers blocked the path of the getaway car outside. The robbery ended as quickly as it started and the foursome was handcuffed, and carted away to the police station. At the station Sergeants Harrison and Swanson made sure the suspects were kept under guard in separate rooms while they organized a plan to interview them. Captain Freeman made a quick stop to congratulate everybody on a job well done. He then called Captain Jeff Harrison, Bruce’s uncle, to pass on kudos to him and his team of detectives. Still, everybody knew they’d only captured one team, leaving two others at large. And, until they were taken into custody there’d be no excessive celebrations.
In the squad room Captain Freeman was congratulating officers from the evening shift for their role in the apprehension of the robbery suspects. He’d just finished his last handshake when Ireland more or less stumbled through the door. Freeman stared blankly for a few seconds, and then said, “Frank, what in God’s name happened to you?” “Sir, you wouldn’t believe it,” he muttered. He nodded. “You’re probably right, but tell me anyway.” “I was about to arrest the robbery suspects when my car just took off like it was a Martian space ship or something,” he said, taking a few steps into the room. “I…”
Suddenly, Freeman held up his hand. “Frank, are those meatballs rolling out of your pants, or did you shit yourself?” Ireland glanced down. “Uh, meatballs, sir.” “Sweet mother of Jesus,” he mumbled, as he shook his head. “And, I guess you have an explanation for that too.” “Captain, I can explain everything,” he said, pulling a slice of pizza out of his coat pocket. “Hey, where’d that come from?” “Damn, look at that,” Hastings said. “Most magicians pull rabbits outta their hats, but Ireland pulls pizza outta his pocket.” Ames let out one of his noted high-pitched cackles. “Yeah, but not many of ’em shit meatballs.” Freeman pulled a chair out and sat down. “Please, Frank, go on with your story. I can’t wait to hear it.” “Sir, like I was sayin’, I was about to nail the robbery suspects, and my car just took off down the street.” “And it did this on its own?” “Yes, sir.” He waved his hand and tried to hide his grin. “Go on.” “I hit the brakes and nothin’ happened. So, I stomped on ’em, and the car kept going. The lights and siren went on and the radio starts playin’ Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. Well, holy shit, there I was going down side streets, through parkin’ lots, around the industrial parks, and the car screeches to stop right behind Mama Rosa’s Italian Restaurant.”
Freeman rubbed his forehead. “That’s when somebody dumped a tray of food on you, right?” “No, sir.” “Okay, what happened?” “My car door flies open, and before I know it, I’m in the Dumpster.” Harper leaned his six feet, six-inch frame against the wall and laughed. “Probably thought it was a free, all you can eat buffet.” “Up yours, Harper. It’s not one bit funny.” “Frank, just go on with your story,” Freeman said, as he sat back and propped his feet up on the table. “Well, here I am in the middle of the Dumpster, and the next thing I know rats are runnin’ up and down the front of my pants.” He jerked his left hand out of his pocket and a piece of lasagna sailed across the room, just missing Jerry Ames before landing in a trash can. “What the hell?” “Want me to save that for you, Sarge?” “You guys are a real bunch of…” “Come on, Frank, get on with the story,” Freeman said. “I can’t wait all night to hear this explanation.” “Anyway, rats are runnin’ up the front of my pants—and I don’t mind tellin’ you I was afraid they’d bite me in a—in a, you know, they might attack my manliness.” “Manliness?” Harper laughed. “They probably wouldn’t find it.” This time Ireland ignored the comment and continued his story. “I had to fight my way through the rats to try and climb outta the Dumpster. I get halfway out and,
wham I get hit right between the eyes with a salami roll. There I am, right back down in the middle of the trash, and a thousand rats. I mean rats were everywhere, lookin’ at me with big red eyes and snappin’ at me with long sharp teeth. So, I whipped out my trusty blue steel rod and fired a few shots to scare ’em off. After a few shots I was able to escape.” By now, everybody was laughing, but Ireland couldn’t understand what was so funny about his story. They just didn’t grasp the danger that surrounded him. He reached up, took his hat off, and everybody laughed even louder. Freeman jumped to his feet. “That’s it. I’m outta here.” “What?” Ireland said, as Freeman hurried by him. “What’s wrong?” Bill Higgins pointed. “Uh, you’ve got spaghetti noodles and a sausage on top of your head, Sarge.” Tony chuckled. “I hate to say it, Frank, but you look like an advertisement for an Italian smorgasbord.” “Hey, I don’t hafta take this abuse,” Ireland said, spinning around and walking for the door. “I’m gonna go home and have a drink.” And, as he walked away he left a trail of meatballs behind him. When Ireland was gone, Jerry Ames ran his fingers through his thick red hair and looked around the room. “Did I miss something tonight? I mean, Sergeant Lard Buns did just say he was about to arrest the robbery suspects when all hell broke loose in his car, didn’t he?”
“I thought I heard that too. Maybe we were on a different channel or something.” Harper paused for a second and laughed. “Probably radio interference from that Martian space ship. *** The following morning, newspapers were running two stories of interest for their reading audience. One headline read: Tony Clements Returns to Glory. The story that followed told of the apprehension of the robbery suspects and Tony’s taking part in their arrest. It then detailed his heroics over the years, and quick rise through the ranks in the police department. The second headline stated: Santa Claus Upset with Lack of Christmas Spirit. Details of the interview with Saint Nick followed, and included the mystery of the Christmas music on the radios. It also told of the ACLU’s anger over the playing of the music, and its intention to file an injunction to have it stopped. For the time being Higgins would ignore the ACLU and its intentions. Today he wanted to accompany Angela on her rounds while she tried to solicit funds for the town’s worthy causes. Of course, he intended to keep his presence on her quest a secret, because he merely wanted to witness for himself how she was treated. Angela’s first stop was at the office of Mr. Maxwell Washburn, who was also president of the local businessmen’s association. Washburn was in his late forties, rather fit and trim, married with three children, but with a reputation as a lady’s man. There were whispers around town that he’d entertained a number of women while in pursuit of business, and had even dallied with the wife of an associate.
“Mrs. Clements, I’m not changing my mind about contributions for these causes of yours,” he said, rocking back in his chair. “Personally, I think they’re a waste of time, money and energy.” “Mr. Washburn, that’s easy for a man in your position to say. You have money, a big home here, a vacation home in the Caribbean, another in Switzerland, a yacht and your children attend private schools. I’m not sure how many cars you have, but it’s more than you probably need.” “Well, Mrs. Clements, I worked for these things and…” “I don’t doubt that, Mr. Washburn. All I’m asking is that you help those who aren’t as fortunate as you are. So many people have nothing and, at this time of year, it’s even more difficult for them to survive. For whatever the reasons, so many of us forget them. And, there are children who won’t get a single gift this Christmas, and some won’t even get a decent meal on Christmas day. I don’t think asking you, as the head of this multimillion dollar corporation, to open your checkbook and…” “Mrs. Clements,” he said, standing and pointing a finger. “Mrs. Clements, I’ve given my last dollar to these beggars and that’s final. So, if you’ll be so kind as to stop wasting my time, I’ve got things to do.” “Thank you for your time.” She sighed and stood up. “And, I hope you and your family have a very Merry Christmas.” From business to business it was the same answer. Nobody had even a dollar to spare to help the needy. Angela was on the verge of tears when she got home, and was feeling a wave of hopelessness rush over her.
“I know things didn’t go well for you,” Higgins said, gently putting a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry, but I sneaked along with you to see how things went. I hope you aren’t upset.” She shook her head. “No, not at all. But, I just don’t understand what’s happened to people,” she said, wiping at her eyes. “There was a time when they’d at least give a little to help the needy, but now they don’t seem to care at all.” “This Washburn idiot comes across like he’s a real hard nose.” “You don’t know the half of it,” she said, reaching for a tissue. “He’s also keeping the other businessmen and women from donating. His word is like law in the business world around here.” “I got the impression that he thinks he’s God’s gift to women.” “Oh, that he does.” She wiped at her eyes. “Two years ago he suggested that he’d be willing to make a very generous donation to my cause, if I was willing to make a donation to his.” “You don’t mean?” “That’s exactly what I mean.” He jumped to his feet. “Does Tony know about that?” “Oh, Lord, no. If Tony knew he’d go down there and toss him through his office window.” She smiled. “Tony can be very protective of me and the children. It was just about three years ago now that a guy gave me a pinch on the backside. Before I could say a word Tony decked him, and two of his friends when they tried to help him.” His grin was broad and bright. “Tony did that?” “Yes, he did.”
He gave a very satisfied nod. “Now, that’s my boy. I like that.” Angela closed her eyes for a second. “Would you excuse me, Mr. Higgins. I’ve gotta lie down for a little while. I’m just completely exhausted.” “You go right ahead, Angela,” he said, touching her hand and knowing that she was also in a great deal of pain. As soon as she was in bed, Higgins left to pay a visit to Maxwell Washburn. He just appeared in front of his desk, tapped his knuckles on the highly polished wood and said, “I’d like a word with you.” Washburn leaped to his feet and stared at the man in the red suit. “Holy Jesus, how’d you get in here?” “Look, needle dick, how do you think I got in?” “Well, you just turn around and get out or I’ll…” “No, you won’t, do a thing.” He stepped toward him and jabbed a finger in his face. “Now, sit down and listen to what I hafta say.” When Washburn was seated he continued. “I understand you have a problem helping out with the worthy causes.” When he started to say something, Higgins quieted him with a glare. “In fact, just this morning you sent Angela Clements outta here with not so much as a dime. And, I hear you’re responsible for everyone in the business world not giving to charitable causes. I don’t like that. I don’t like it at all.” “You can’t come in…” “Shut up and listen,” he growled. “Being the generous spirit that I am, I’m gonna give you till the 19th to change your mind and make a very, very generous contribution to
Mrs. Clements. And, I expect you to contact all your friends in the business community and have them do the same.” “And if I don’t?” “You’ll be sorry. And, I mean very, very sorry.” He thought about mentioning the proposition he threw out to Angela, but decided he’d hold that back. “Have a nice day.” He turned and walked out the door. A few minutes later Higgins was standing at the foot of the altar at Saint Mary’s. “Things aren’t getting any better down here. Angela looks worse every day and nobody wants to donate to worthy causes. Look, if you’ve gotta take her, at least let her come up there a success. I don’t want her to fail, and I know she’d doesn’t wanna die a failure.” “I thought you just took care of that.” “Chief, I just made a suggestion. That doesn’t mean Washburn’s gonna take it.” “It sounded a lot like a threat to me.” “Why don’t we call it a strong suggestion?” “Call it what you want, Higgins, but I don’t want any acts of violence used to get anyone to donate to a cause. That constitutes robbery, and you should know that.” “Chief, You know me better than that. But, I have a few things in mind to help Washburn open up his wallet.” “Higgins, I don’t wanna know what you have planned.” “Okay, Chief.” He started to turn away, but stopped. “Uh, Chief, is there any chance that You’d let me talk to my son?” “Sorry, Higgins, that wasn’t part of the plan for your trip. But, you’ll be allowed to see him promoted to sergeant.”
He nodded. “Thanks, Chief.” He looked down for a second and said, “Chief, what’s gonna happen to Tony, Ryan and Sarah when Angela’s gone?” When there was no reply he muttered, “God, sometimes I just don’t understand how things work.”
Although Bill Higgins had the day off, he still arrived in uniform for the evening shift briefing. He was there to spend a few more hours with Tony in order to learn about the officers on the shift. He wanted to be able to step right in on his first day, and not miss a beat or cause any bumps in the road. Tony was already looking at his watch, but he knew today wouldn’t go by as quickly as he wished. He handed the briefing book to Bill, and asked him to look it over and he picked up the latest hot sheets. He was glad Bill was coming to work with his group because he was certain he’d be dependable. Of course, that was one of the main reasons he’d asked him to come in today. He was making preparations for the coming
days when he’d be home with Ryan and Sarah, days at home without Angela. The lump tightened in his throat, and he fought back the tears that burned his eyes. He’d just finished sorting through the lookouts when Roland Harper stuck his head in the door. “Uh, Lieutenant, you might wanna take a quick peek out front.” “Why, is something wrong?” “A couple of TV crews are out there lookin’ for somebody to interview about those robbery arrests last night, and I think Sergeant Ireland is the one they nabbed for their little chat.” “Oh, God, help us,” he muttered, pushing his chair away from the desk. Harper stepped back, and smiled as Tony headed down the hallway. He too was impressed by the way Tony had turned his life around and become a leader. But, more than that, Roland was still deeply thankful for that night nine years ago when Tony stepped in front of a bullet meant for him. Tony reached the front door, but it was already too late. Ireland was standing in front of the reporters; his hat pushed up allowing a tuft of his wiry black hair to show, and the all too familiar cigarette in his hand. Of course, Tony guessed that he’d bummed the smoke from one of the reporters or cameramen. “Yeah, it’s a good thing these guys have me as a role model,” Ireland said in a cloud of smoke. “If it wasn’t for me takin’ these guys under my wing, and sharin’ my knowledge and skills, they’d never make any arrests around here. Take last night,” he said, raising the cigarette and taking another drag. “I got…” At that moment a dozen fire trucks appeared from three directions, sirens and air horns blaring. Within seconds they were stopping in front of the police station, fire
fighters jumping out, and rushing toward the building. The engine noise and shouted commands brought an abrupt halt to the Frank Ireland News Conference and he soon became the forgotten man. Reporters turned their attention to the Chief, who had scene command, to find out why they were there. In the end it appeared that it was simply a false alarm, but Chief Adkins told reporters that they’d received a call for a large amount of smoke in the building. And that led to several comments from Harper, Ames and Hastings. “Must’ve been Ireland’s press interview,” Ames laughed. Harper shrugged. “Yeah, there was definitely enough smoke there to cure about five tons of ham,” “Hey, I heard that,” Ireland growled. “Show a little respect.” Hastings shook his head. “Yeah, respect for a monument to bullshit.” Order was restored in time for roll call and, once again, Sergeant Harrison was there. “Okay, we’ve taken the Black team off the streets. Let’s see what we can do about the other two.” He passed out a sheet listing possible target locations and said, “Now, the jewelry store on Madison is ending their big sale today. It officially ends tonight at nine when they close, and I can tell you business has been good all day. I like that one for a hit at closing time.” Tony raised a hand. “Any plans for that?” “Yeah, we’re gonna put a team in there by five o’clock. I’ll be there with four other officers, but we need somebody to keep a close eye on things outside.” He looked at Tony. “Lieutenant, I’ll leave that up to you.” Tony gave a nod. “I’ll make sure you have somebody in the area.”
Harrison continued. “Needless to say the liquor stores are really jumping. Year end sales, and the holidays are filling the stores and the cash registers. On your sheet I’ve put an asterisk beside the stores where security personnel have been hired. Just keep that in mind if we get a call at one of those locations. We don’t need a shootout with the security guys.” Bill Higgins looked up from the handout. “Are they uniformed?” “Yes, all are uniformed.” “I’m sure Ireland’s gonna stakeout the Dumpster at Mama Rosa’s,” Harper said. “Hey, up yours, Harper.” Harrison threw his hands up. “Okay, that’s it for me. See you guys later and good hunting.” He stopped for a moment in the doorway and said, “You too, Frank, but watch out for rats and salami, okay?” “Hey, Harrison, up yours too.” After roll call Tony was doing his best to fill Bill Higgins in on some of the minor tasks that needed completing every day. But, he found his mind continually wandering to Angela, and he wished the night would hurry and be over. Still, somehow he managed to lead Bill through the not too exciting paperwork requirements before they left to patrol the streets. Tony decided to let Bill drive, and he sat in the passenger’s seat and pretended he was up to the task at hand. He caught himself biting at his lower lip, and every now and then he wished he could go somewhere, sit down and cry. He still hadn’t taken time out for a extra long cry since learning of Angela’s health problems and wondered what would
happen when she finally left him. Today that thought struck a very hard blow, because her time was drawing nearer with every beat of his heart. “Dispatch to all units, we have a report of a robbery that just occurred at King’s Jewelers on Madison. The suspects fled in a light blue van with a wolf mural on the sides. The van was last seen turning right on Bristol Boulevard.” “That’ll take ’em out to the interstate,” Higgins said, as he turned left on Madison. “Maybe we can catch up.” Tony shook his head. “No. They’ll never take that van out on the interstate. The color and the mural make it too easy to spot. No, they planned this; they’ll switch vehicles first. Go to Brewer, turn right, and head for that small industrial plaza.” “The Carroll Plaza?” “That’s it,” Tony said, reaching for the radio. “They’ll probably take Bristol to Penn and cut over to the plaza. I’m betting that’s where they parked the switch car.” A moment later he was on the radio’s secure channel telling Harrison and the others what he thought. Nobody disagreed with his hunch. Besides the robbers had already changed from their usual MO by using the van as their getaway vehicle and striking earlier in the day. Tony and Bill Higgins arrived at the front of Carroll Plaza, but their closest back up unit was still at least five minutes away. Tony didn’t hesitate, but directed Higgins to drive to the far end of the plaza. There he jumped out, pulled the heavy iron gates closed, chained and locked them. They drove to the other side, and had just clamped the lock shut on the gates when the green Ford sedan rounded the corner. The car ground to a halt the instant the driver saw them.
“Dispatch to Unit 17.” “Go ahead,” Tony said. “We’ve called all the businesses at the Carroll Plaza and told them to lock their back doors.” “Thank you, Dispatch.” A moment later Tony heard the State Police helicopter approaching. Then there were the familiar sounds of sirens, and he looked to Bill and nodded. He was certain that the robbers wouldn’t be able to scale the wall behind the plaza or enter the businesses. Now it was just a matter of waiting for the cavalry to arrive. “We’ve got ’em trapped.” He tossed the shotgun to Higgins. “Take this and cover that gate. I’ll take the far end.” The State Police helicopter began hovering overhead and, at about the same time, more than a dozen police cars converged on the plaza. Within ten minutes the suspects, knowing they were outgunned and trapped with no possibility of escape, meekly raised their hands and surrendered. Harrison flashed a big grin. “Well, Lieutenant, even if they did change their game plan, we still nailed their asses, thanks to you. Now we only hafta find the Hispanic crew.” Tony forced a smile. “It’s still early.” Sergeant Marsha Swanson walked over and said, “We have everything: guns, money and jewelry. And it looks like we have a list of the locations they targeted.” “And, two teams of thugs off the street without any of us being hurt,” Bill said to her. “That’s even better.”
“That’s for sure.” Bill looked at Tony. “What’s next, Lieutenant?” “Let’s go back to the station and knock out a quick report on our part in this. We can hand carry a copy to Harrison, and then I’d like to go home and check in on Angela and the kids.” “Yes, sir,” he said, wondering how Tony seemed to be holding up so well. “I think that’s a good idea.” It wasn’t long before they’d turned in their reports and were on the way to see Angela and the children. Along the way, Bill took the opportunity to have a personal critique of the afternoon’s events. “How do you think everything went down this afternoon?” “Overall, very smooth. Everybody did their part, and the cooperation from the State Police really sealed the case.” “Now, how did you know they’d go to Carroll Plaza to switch getaway vehicles?” “Part luck, part logic, and I was very familiar with the area,” Tony said. “All of which helps make a case.” “Mind if I take a shot at figuring out how you did everything? You know, kinda help me learn a little more?” Tony nodded. “I think you’ve done a very good job already, but go ahead.” Bill Higgins laid out a very good scenario almost detailing to the letter Tony’s thinking when the robbery was broadcast. Tony gave him his stamp of approval, but the unseen passenger in the back seat also put his seal of support on it. His son was a good tactical thinker, and that would serve him well in this job. And, he was also more than
happy knowing Bill and Tony would soon be working together. He liked the thought of another Higgins/Clements team in the police department. Ryan and Sarah rushed to meet their father when he came in and showered him with hugs and kisses before greeting Bill. He was given a big hug, and led to the kitchen where Angela was seated at the table. She looked very tired, but managed a smile and a pleasant hello. Tony slid a chair close to hers, put his arm around her and kissed her on the cheek. “I think you’re running a fever,” he said. “Maybe I should call Captain Freeman and take the rest of the night off.” She looked into his eyes. “No, Sweetheart, I’ll be fine. I’m just worn out.” Before he could argue further, Ryan tugged on Bill’s sleeve. “Santa’s staying with us.” “He is?” “Sure, wanna go downstairs and see him?” Tony got up. “Ryan, that’s probably not a good idea right now. I’m sure Santa’s very busy trying to get things ready for next week.” Bill looked over at Tony. “Is he serious?” “Uh, it’s kind of a long story,” he said, wondering how he could possibly explain the presence of Santa Claus in his house. Particularly since Santa—at least in spiritual form, was the father of the very man he was talking with. But, if the children took Bill to the basement, he probably wouldn’t see him, and then how could he tell the children why Santa wasn’t there? Although that would be much easier than telling Bill he was hiding the ghost of his father in the basement. “Maybe we should go back to work.”
“Good idea,” Angela said. “Can’t we show Mr. Higgins Santa Claus before he leaves?” Sarah said, looking at her mother. “Some other time, Sarah. Mr. Higgins and Daddy hafta get back to work now.” Tony leaned over and kissed her softly on the lips and whispered, “Thanks.” He kissed her again. “I love you.” He turned and walked to the door wishing that his mother were still alive. He knew she’d be a real comfort to Angela and the children, especially at this time. Outside in the car Bill said, “Got any ideas where this last bunch might hit?” “Let me look the list over.” Tony hoped the distraction would keep his mind off Angela. After a minute he said, “Just for the sake of narrowing the list, let’s say they won’t pick a place with an armed guard.” “Sounds reasonable. They’ve stuck to robbery so far, and that’s all three groups. But, a confrontation with an armed guard would probably lead to a shootout and the chance of facing a murder charge.” “And, murder while committing another felony gets you the big spike,” Tony said, as he continued to scan the list. “Hummmm. Sticking to just our area, I have two places that jump out. Big stores, no guards and lots of money. Now which one would be the big score?” “What stores?” “Belmont Liquors and Westway Wine and Spirits.” “They both do a good business,” Bill said. “But, I think Belmont offers a bigger selection, and they have their year end sale all through December.”
“Good point, Bill. Let’s take Belmont.” Bill glanced at the dashboard clock. “And, it’s only two hours till closing. Maybe we can get lucky again.” “Yeah, it would be nice to put an end to these robberies before I…” He stopped and looked out the window. He looked at the stores and thought God, what the hell was I gonna say? Before I go home and wait for Angela to die, is that what I was gonna say? Bill drove by Belmont Liquors, and it looked like business was jumping. The isles were packed with customers, and all four cash registers were occupied. He made a round of the entire parking lot, and was looking for a spot to hide when Tony tapped the dash. Bill glanced over at him. “Something wrong?” “Go around the lot again, but take it slow,” he said, grabbing his pen and opening his notebook. “Isle two front, five cars down on the left, blue Chevy Sedan backed into the space. There’re four occupants, but only the driver’s completely visible.” Bill turned the car around and started back. A moment later he saw it. “Yeah, I see it, and I’d say it’s our boys.” “Bet on it,” Tony said, as he casually wrote down the tag number. “Now, just park where they can see us. I know they expect to see patrol cars and officers doing business checks, and I’m sure they’re just waiting for the next routine check to end.” Tony called the dispatcher on his telephone and ran the tag number. A few moments later they told him the tag had been stolen the previous evening. “I think that confirms that it’s our guys,” Bill said.
For the first time in weeks he really smiled, “Damn, almost seems like old times.” He glanced over his shoulder muttering, “I wonder—nah…” “What?” “Oh, nothing.” “What’s the plan of attack?” “Let me get Harrison on the phone. With a little luck we might be able to pull the same trick as last night.” He started dialing and said, “But we’ll hafta run everybody in the back door, and make the switch at the registers seem normal—and we’ve gotta do it fast.” “Yeah, we do. And, we certainly can’t take ’em down where they are, it’s way too dangerous.” “For everybody,” Tony said, as Harrison picked up. As soon as Tony relayed the information to Harrison, a plan was put in motion. Ten members of the SWAT Team had been assigned to work the robbery detail in plain clothes. They’d come into the shopping center from the south side where they could drive unobserved to the back of the store. They’d be joined there by Harrison, Swanson, and other members of the detail and enter the store by the emergency exit. Once inside, they’d get the customers out through the back door, and replace the employees at the registers and isles one at a time. The interested observer in the backseat wanted more than anything to jump in and be a part of what was going on. But, he knew getting involved would be overstepping his assignment boundaries. Still, as a father, he felt that nervous twitch because his son was taking his place in the line of fire. Then he looked at the man seated beside him. Even
with the problems facing him at home, Tony wasn’t going to fail Bill when the chips were down. Higgins trusted Tony. After all, he’d trained him. When Harrison called and said they were in position, Tony knew the ball was in his court. He’d have to make sure everything on the outside went smoothly, and it would be his decisions that set the last part of the plan in motion. He picked up the radio, and told Harper and Ames to pull their cars into the shopping center, park them in plain sight and begin their business checks. As soon as they complied with the order, he had Bill drive from the shopping center. “Okay, we’ll give ’em about two minutes, and then we’ll start the game,” he said. Then he checked again to be certain that the rest of the SWAT Team was standing by and ready to move. Neither man said a word as they watched the clock on the dash, but they both felt the surge of adrenaline as they waited for what seemed like an eternity for the numbers to roll over. The first minute finally passed and then the nervous itch became stronger with each breath they took. Then the last minute rolled over. “Okay, 135 and 139 clear, and make it a production. Lights and sirens outta the shopping center.” He dropped the radio and said to Bill, “Go around and come in the south side.” Harper and Ames raced to their cars, and sped from the shopping center, lights flashing and sirens wailing. It took only a matter of seconds for them to clear the parking lot and vanish around the corner. That’s when Tony ordered the two unmarked SWAT vans into position.
Time stopped again, but this time it was only a few short minutes before Bruce Harrison’s voice crackled over the radio. “Okay, it’s going down now.” If somebody had been timing, and grading them for execution and perfection in arresting the suspects, surely they’d be taking home straight A’s. The suspects were completely overwhelmed, disarmed and thrown to floor almost the instant they set foot in the store. As for the getaway driver, he fainted as soon as the doors of the SWAT vans flew open and he saw the weapons pointed at him.
While the handshakes and pats on the back were going around the Detective Division Conference Room, two others were witnessing the celebration from above. After a few minutes, Peter said, “I don’t understand why you’re allowing Higgins to be a party to these police matters. I thought you sent him back for another reason.” “I’m letting him do this for two reasons. I wanted him to know that his son’s future was secure and that he’d be safe. And, I wanted him to know that Tony’s a very intelligent police officer who’s more than capable of dealing with any situation.” “I don’t know, I guess it makes sense.” He looked down again for a few seconds and said, “But what about this other thing you want from Higgins? Just what is it?”
“If Higgins succeeds you’ll see what it is.” “In other words you’re not gonna tell me?” “Sorry, Peter, not this time.” He waved his hand. “Now, let’s see how the celebration’s going.” Bruce Harrison was at the head of the table with Captains Freeman and Harrison. He tapped the tabletop and said, “I think we owe Lieutenant Clements a big round of applause for the capture of the Holiday Bandits.” Tony shook his head and, after the applause, said, “Please, don’t give me all the credit for those arrests. Remember it was Sergeant Bill Higgins who picked Belmont Liquors as the likely target. This was a complete team effort on each and every one of those apprehensions, and without that effort we’d still be searching. We can’t get the job done if we don’t work together, and I’m sure everybody in this room knows that. The arrests of a dozen suspects shows what we can accomplish when our separate units join together and cooperate.” His comments brought another round of applause, but the man in the red suit clapped a little longer, and a lot louder. He was about to leave when he heard Freeman talking with Jeff Harrison. “I heard there’s a big court hearing tomorrow morning about the Christmas music.” “Yeah, I heard the ACLU is really pissed over the whole Christmas issue. I wish those toad turds would find something else to complain about.” “If they have their way, the word Christmas might be deleted from the English language,” Freeman said, as he tossed a wad of paper in the trashcan. “Can you believe
the schools can’t promote or advertise Christmas bazaars or dances anymore? They hafta refer to ’em as Multi-cultural Holiday Events.” “Yeah. Well, I damn sure won’t be sending out any Multi-cultural Holiday Event cards this year. My wife and I still send Christmas Cards.” “Be sure they have a nice Christian theme.” Freeman laughed. “That’ll piss the ACLU off even more.” Harrison smiled. “We bought every one of our cards from Saint Mary’s.” “You know what I’d really like to see? Their office packed from floor to ceiling with good old fashioned Christian, Joy to the World, the Lord is come, Christmas Cards.” *** The morning news was filled with details of the capture of another eight robbery suspects and, once again, Tony Clements was a hot item. But, today they also included Bill Higgins, and dug up stories from the past about their fathers. There were questions raised as to whether or not another team of Clements and Higgins would be prowling the streets in search of evil doers. Still, there was plenty of praise for Sergeants Harrison and Swanson, and the entire department for a job well done. Pushing the paper toward Tony, Angela said, “I see we have more material for our scrapbook.” “Right now, I’m more concerned about you than the scrapbook.” He walked to her chair, leaned down and kissed her. “You look so tired and I know you’re feeling terrible.” She nodded and whispered, “I am, but I’ve got so much to do.”
“Please, just take today and rest. I promise I’ll help you do whatever you wanna do tomorrow.” “Tony, what about work?” He rather sheepishly lowered his head. “Uh, well, I took vacation time. I mean, it’s not like I don’t have a bundle of leave on the books and…” “And you’re just worried sick about me.” “My God, Angela, you’re…” He stopped short and looked at her, fighting to keep the tears from spilling. “I just wanna spend as much time with you as I can.” She reached up, took his hand and held it to her face. “I know. I know you do. God, I love you so much. I…” “Mommy, have you seen Santa?” Sarah said, running into the kitchen. “No, I haven’t, honey. Maybe he’s still sleeping.” “He’s not downstairs.” Tony picked her up, and hugged her. “He might be out working on his Christmas list. You know Santa’s a very busy man at this time of year.” “Did he tell you he’s gonna go to school with me and Ryan?” He slowly shook his head. “Uh, no he didn’t.” Looking at Angela he said, “And, when’s Santa going to school with you?” “Next Friday.” Angela gave a little chuckle. “Sarah and Ryan are taking him in for the Christmas party?” “Uh huh.”
“The school Christmas party, or whatever they’re calling it now, is the afternoon of Friday the 19th,” she said as Tony put Sarah down. “I’m sure having Santa put in an appearance will liven things up.” “Especially this one,” Tony said. “Especially this one.” “You know, I wonder where he is,” Angela said, glancing toward the basement door. “I saw him first thing this morning and he seemed distracted. When I asked him what was wrong, he said he had something to take care of.” “Hummmm.” Suddenly Tony grinned. “You know, that usually means trouble for somebody.” *** While Tony and Angela continued to wonder where Higgins was, and what he was up to, Judge Sweeney was walking into a packed courtroom. His first order of business for the day was listening to arguments from ACLU attorneys, regarding the constant playing of Christmas music by every radio station in the listening area. And, it didn’t seem to matter to the ACLU that nobody was able to stop the music from playing, they wanted to be heard anyway. Naturally, there were a dozen or so members of the press, and television there to hear what the attorneys had to say. The town was already making national news with the nonstop playing of Christmas Carols, but the ACLU was always good for a few extra minutes, whether it was day or evening. Attorneys Gaston Grant and Helen Greenbaum didn’t set foot in the courtroom until Judge Sweeney was seated. They took their time getting to their table, and gave a very theatrical rendition of arranging their briefcases on the table. Grant centered the
water pitcher and cups between their briefcases before taking his seat, tightening the knot in his blue tie, and nodding to the judge. “Mr. Grant, Ms Greenbaum, are you ready to proceed?” Grant rose to his feet. “Yes, Your Honor,” he said, and reached for his briefcase. “Good. Then let’s proceed.” Grant raised the top on his briefcase, and suddenly Hark! The Herald Angels Sing blared out, startling him but bringing a chorus of chuckles from the audience. He banged the top shut, which stopped the music. He seemed rather bewildered as he stared at the briefcase, and cautiously reached for the top again. He slowly lifted it, but just an inch or two and waited. He took a breath, opened it all the way, and the audience was treated to O Come, All Ye Faithful. “What in the world are you doing?” Greenbaum snapped. “What am I doing?” he growled. “I’m not doing anything.” “Then where’s that music coming from?” she hissed, her puffy cheeks darkening. “How do I know?” “Don’t play games with me, Gaston,” she snarled. “Have you got a radio in your briefcase?” “No.” “Then where’s the music coming from?” “How the hell would I know?” “Are you two presenting arguments to the court, or arguing with each other?” the judge said, as he tapped the gavel on the bench. “I haven’t got all day to referee your joust, I have other cases to hear.”
“Yes, Your Honor,” Grant said. “I’ll…” Helen Greenbaum pushed her chair back, jumped to her feet, and the moment she opened her mouth she began singing, “Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen.” The courtroom was now filled with laughter, but Judge Sweeney wasn’t pleased at all. After a bang of the gavel he roared. “Ms Greenbaum, is this your idea of a joke?” She opened her mouth and sang. “When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.” Gaston Grant started laughing, and Greenbaum retaliated with a left jab to his jaw. Grant grabbed the water pitcher, and dumped the contents down the front of her blouse, after which she hit him over the head with her briefcase. Soon they were standing toe to toe, slapping at each other and trying to scream. Though instead of screaming they were singing. “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” Judge Sweeney’s gavel sounded like a machine gun banging away on the bench. “Get those two outta my courtroom,” he howled. “I want them held in contempt of court. And we’ll take a 30 minute recess.” He pushed the door open muttering, “God, I need a few aspirins—and if it were any later in the day, I swear I’d go for a drink.” Reporters had plenty to talk about well before noon, but by the time the evening television broadcasts rolled around the news pots were boiling. Channel Two’s Terry Allen was the first to hit the airwaves at 4:00 PM. “Good afternoon, everyone,” she said, with her usual bright smile. “The big news of the day comes from the courthouse, where ACLU attorneys went this morning to argue for an injunction against the playing of Christmas music.” She related the events inside
the courtroom and paused for a second to let viewers absorb what they’d heard. With a nod she went on. “But what took place inside the courthouse was only the beginning. Gaston Grant and Helen Greenbaum were released after their office paid a fine of $5,000 each. They left the courthouse, and continued to argue all the way to their cars. When they arrived at their respective vehicles they found them filled with Christmas Cards.” The camera cut away to show a tape of the attorneys as they opened their cars, and the flood of cards that poured out at their feet. “Attorney Helen Greenbaum was positively outraged over becoming a victim of what she termed a vicious prank. She dumped the majority of the cards on the parking lot and tried to drive away; however, a nearby police officer that witnessed her actions stopped her, and issued her a citation for littering when she refused to pick up the cards. Ms Greenbaum ripped up the citation, threw it at the officer, and kicked him in the shins. She was promptly arrested, charged with assaulting a police officer, and taken back again before Judge Sweeney. At that time, it was quite evident that Judge Sweeney’s patience with the attorney had run its course. He ordered Ms Greenbaum held without bond on the assault charge. She vehemently protested to the judge, declaring that she was on her way to do her Christmas shopping when the officer stopped her.” Terry Allen paused for a moment, looked into the camera and said, “Hummm. I wonder what message Ms Greenbaum is sending our viewers?” Near the conclusion of the broadcast, station manager Jack McGraw appeared to give an editorial comment. “For the past several days, not only our station, but stations around the region have been reporting about the strange events that have taken place in our area. It began with music mysteriously changing from our local radio station’s regular venue to Christmas Carols. There’s been no logical explanation for this and, no
matter what action has been taken by the stations, the Christmas music continues to play. Even CDs, DVDs, and music videos, from Heavy Metal to Rap, have suddenly begun playing songs of the Christmas season. And, you’ve heard from Terry Allen about what took place in our courthouse this morning. We’ve been swamped with calls asking what’s happened. The State Police, local police, the mayor’s office, the governor’s office and the FBI have been overwhelmed with calls about these unexplained circumstances. The music, singing briefcases, and ACLU attorneys singing Christmas carols in a courtroom remain part of an on-going mystery. And, quite frankly, ladies and gentlemen, nobody seems to be close to offering an explanation for these events.” The camera moved closer as he said, “Our viewers have expressed mixed views about the strange goings-on but, as odd as it might seem, the majority of callers have said it’s about time the radio stations played music of the Christmas season. In fact, a very large number of our callers said they were sick and tired of the trash that’s been aired for the past several years. Could this mean the majority is growing tired of having their lives infringed upon by a handful of ogres? Only time will tell.” The camera started to pull back while he was saying, “And one caller told me minutes before we came on the air that these peculiar events were occurring because The Ghost of Christmas Past is angry.” He smiled and nodded. “And with that, I bid you a goodnight.”
Higgins was very pleased with the last part of the news broadcast, and hurried out to see for himself what was going on. He immediately noticed a few more smiles, but he wasn’t pleased with many of the other things he saw. Signs and gaudy advertisements still lacked the respect for the true meaning of the Christmas season. This he vowed to change, and soon. Yet, he was certain that no matter what he did, there’d always be a few who’d keep their “Bah, humbug” attitude. In a way, he thought these were people to be pitied. They lived in their own dismal little world where they seemed to wallow in self-made misery, and wished everyone around them felt the same agony. He shook his
head and thought oh well, if they want to live their lives in the world of Scrooge-dom, then so be it. He turned and started back to the house. There was another matter he wanted to talk with Tony about, and maybe tonight would be a good time. He arrived in time to see Ryan and Sarah just before they went to bed and that meant he’d get a goodnight hug and kiss from them. And, this was indeed a part of his trip that he truly enjoyed. There was always something very special about a hug and kiss from a child, especially when it was given with pure affection. But, for some reason, at this time of year those hugs and kisses meant so much more. Suddenly he remembered his son’s early Christmases, and the joy he and Evelyn found in his excitement. Immediately after Thanksgiving the anticipation would begin, and it would grow with each passing day. Then, there’d be the endless answering of questions about Christmas, and reading Twas the Night before Christmas night after night until he could recite it from memory. Yet, these were things he never tired of. It was a thrill to see the glee in Billy’s eyes, and the smile on his face as he drifted off to sleep. And, he often imagined him dreaming of the sleigh and eight tiny reindeer floating on the crisp night air, and Santa making his rounds. Then, when Billy was almost five years old, they took him to church early on Christmas Eve so he could see the decorations. They let him roam around the church, with them close behind while he admired the wreaths and angels. Most of all, he remembered the tears in Evelyn’s eyes when Billy leaned close to the nativity scene and whispered, “Happy Birthday, Jesus.” Then, he turned and said, “We can go home now.”
Not long after the children were tucked into their beds, Angela said goodnight and started up the stairs. Of course, Tony was right behind her, and Higgins waited patiently for him to come back. When he returned to the kitchen and sat down, Higgins said, “I’m surprised you haven’t asked about your mother.” “I guess I was wondering whether or not I could ask about her—actually about her and dad.” “You can ask whatever you want, and I if I can’t answer your questions, or if I’m not allowed to answer, I’ll tell you.” Tony nodded. “Are they okay?” “They’re doing just fine,” he said. “I know Molly—your mom was so happy to see Anthony again.” He shook his head and smiled. “They were worse than school kids going on a date with their first crush. I was gettin’ a little embarrassed with them doing all that huggin’ and kissin’ right there in front of me. I mean, it was like I wasn’t even there. You would’ve thought it really was their first date.” “It does sound like they were happy to see each other.” “I guess she spoiled Ryan and Sarah before she left, didn’t she?” “Not really. I know there wasn’t a thing she wouldn’t do for the kids, but she didn’t really go overboard. She bought them gifts at all the appropriate times, but she always tried to make them understand that spending time with somebody you loved was more important than gifts.” Higgins sat back and gave a quick nod. “Now that was really smart of her, and a good way of teaching the kids about what’s important in life. You know, what I think?”
“No, sir, what’s that?” “Kids get too much too soon, and start takin’ everything for granted. You know, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first got back. Kids driving around in brand new cars, and everybody’s got phones and computers, their own TVs. But, I can’t help but wonder if any of ’em know what love and caring’s all about?” “I hate to say it, but probably not.” Higgins muttered, “Sorry to hear that.” “At least mom knew how to get her message across. I don’t think Ryan and Sarah worry too much about the number of gifts they’ll get, or what they’ll be getting,” Tony said, as he reached for his glass of water. “Angela and I try to keep the gift giving to a minimum too. Not that the kids are being deprived or anything, but I’m hoping they won’t get selfish and want something just because somebody else has it.” “How did the kids take it when your mom died?” “They seemed to understand, because Angela and I tried our best to make sure they knew that the time would come when Grammy—that’s what they called her—would leave. When she died, we told them that she’d gone to heaven and was with God. Ryan wanted to know if God would let her call us, because he was sure she’d taken her cell phone with her. I asked why he thought she took her cell phone, and he said he knew she never went anywhere without it.” “What did you tell him?” “I finally convinced him that heaven was just too far away for her cell phone to work.” “Good thinking,” he said with a nod.
“Yeah, but he said maybe God could get her a new one.” Higgins chuckled. “How’d you answer that?” “I told him I wasn’t sure that phone stores were in heaven yet.” “And he accepted that?” “For now anyway.” “I guess they miss their grandmother though.” Tony glanced away for a second. “Yeah, and to be honest right now I wish mom was here. At least she’d be able to help comfort Ryan and Sarah when…” He lowered his head and stared at the floor. “You know, you can always call Evelyn. She’d be more than happy to help you.” “Don’t worry, she’s called and asked to help,” he said, reaching for his water again. “And she’s been a big help already, picking up groceries now and then, or getting the kids from school.” “You might wanna go down to Saint Mary’s and talk with Father Murphy, or try a good counselor,” Higgins said, wishing he could convince the Chief to answer everyone’s prayers. “I’ve talked with Father Murphy at least once a week since this started, and just a few weeks back I started sessions with a counselor. But, I don’t know that the talking has helped. I still keep praying for a miracle.” “Don’t give up.” “I won’t—believe me, I won’t.” Higgins nodded. “Good.”
“But I don’t mind telling you that sometimes it gets pretty darn tough to keep on praying and praying, and watching Angela still slipping away.” “I think that’s the time you’ve gotta pray even more.” Tony took a deep breath. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” Higgins stood up. “Well, I’m gonna cut this little chat short. I’ve got a few things that need to be taken care of, and I’m sure you’d like to get some rest.” “Just one more question before you go.” “Sure, what is it?” He looked up at him. “Just how much of a role did you play in that fiasco at the courthouse this morning?” Higgins laughed. “Well, The ACLU’s just too uptight about everything. So I thought I’d just kinda help ’em bring a little joy to the season.” “You did a great job,” he said, as he got up. “Thank you,” Higgins said with a grin. “The Chief gives me a lotta nice powers to use while I’m here and I get away with anything—well I mean within limits set by Him. I only hear from Him when I get carried away.” “Well, maybe you should watch what you do.” Tony paused for a moment. “You really shouldn’t get carried away. I mean, I wouldn’t want the Chief to get upset with you for the things you do.” “Uh, I don’t think he gets too upset.” Though he was certain he was stretching the truth. “And He doesn’t mind the things you do to Ireland?”
“Trust me, God isn’t lacking a sense of humor. He enjoys a good laugh as much as you and I, even if it comes in the form of a dork wad like Ireland.” He stared at Higgins for a few seconds. “You know, I have a feeling that these things you need to do tonight are gonna make the news in the morning.” “You just never know,” he said, giving Tony a bear hug. “But, please remember—don’t overdo it.” “Uh, yeah, I’ll try and remember.” An instant later he vanished. He materialized in the shopping district and went straight to the mall. There was work to be done. He’d spend the entire night if he had to, going from store to store to be certain that their advertisements were appropriate for the Christmas Season. His first stop however, was outside the mall where the evergreens were standing. “You miserable limp brained frog turds,” he growled. “These are Christmas Trees and Christmas Wreaths, not Seasonal Greens.” And soon the signs no longer read Seasonal Greens. He worked through the night, making his way from store to store and on to lots where trees and wreaths were sold. Displays were changed to show respect for the season, and greeting cards, signs and billboards no longer carried the abbreviation Xmas. Some billboards now carried religious themes: three kings following the star, shepherds kneeling with their heads bowed in prayer, and scenes of Mary and Joseph beside the manger gazing at Jesus. The sun was breaking over the horizon when he finished his work, and he stopped to watch as it climbed above the treetops. The breeze whispering through the trees was colder, and there seemed to be a feeling of snow in the air. He looked around and
thought a nice fluffy blanket of white would add a glow to the season, maybe even bring more of a feeling of Christmas to everyone. He paused when he found himself on a familiar street, and looked at the house, knowing that Evelyn was probably awake. She seldom missed the 7:00 AM service at Saint Mary’s, but then she’d always been an early riser, even if she couldn’t go to Mass. He could almost smell the coffee brewing in the kitchen, and smiled as he remembered her standing by the counter waiting for the last drop to trickle into the pot. She so much enjoyed that very first cup of coffee in the morning. He knew he probably shouldn’t, but he was there, and somehow he just couldn’t pass up the opportunity for one quick peek. A moment later he found that, even as a spirit, he still deeply loved the woman who was pouring her first cup of morning coffee. Now, he quietly cursed himself because he couldn’t take her in his arms, and tell her how much he missed her, or how much he treasured the years they’d spent together. She turned and carried her cup into the living room, stopping to look out the front window. She watched the birds, as they started arriving to feast on the fresh seeds and breadcrumbs she’d put out for them. She couldn’t recall when she first started feeding them, but it didn’t really matter. It was something she enjoyed, and watching them gave her a measure of happiness. The ghostly figure stood beside her, and finally gave in to one more temptation. He raised a finger to his lips, kissed it, and gently brushed it across her cheek. He was surprised when she shivered, and turned her head. Then, she put her cup down, took a few steps and looked at the photograph of him in his police uniform, which still hung over the mantel. She stared for a few seconds and whispered, “Oh, I know you’re here. I
don’t know why, but somehow I can feel you, as though you’ve never really left me. And, just in case you’ve forgotten, I still love you as much as ever.” With that the spirit went soaring, soaring on the wings of eagles and angels. A giddy flight that carried him swiftly to the altar at Saint Mary’s, where he fell to his knees and said, “Thank you.” “That wasn’t one of your scheduled stops, Higgins.” “I know, Chief. I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help it.” He gazed up at the large crucifix. “I had to see her.” “I’ll overlook it.” He lowered his head. “Thank you.” “I see you’re determined to bring the Christmas spirit to everyone there, whether they like it or not.” “Uh, Chief, I’m just trying to get people to remember what Christmas is really about.” “And I do appreciate that, but…” “I haven’t made you believe, yet,” he said, getting to his feet. “Isn’t that right? I still haven’t made you believe.” “That’s right. I’m still waiting.” “God, what is it you want me to do? Just what is it I’m supposed to make you believe?” “Sorry, Higgins, I can’t tell you. But, there’s still time for you to figure it out.” “But, it’s gotta be before Christmas, right?” he said, pacing back and forth. “Yes.”
Before Higgins could ask another question the lights came on, and the nuns began coming into the church. He melted away as they started lighting candles, adding a few new Christmas decorations, and making sure everything was ready for Mass. Once again, his questions would have to wait.
Higgins went back to his basement hideaway, and continued his pacing there. He opened his suitcase, took out the Grinch sweatshirt and grumbled, “Pete, I swear I’ll get you for this.” He tossed the shirt on the bed, deciding to wear the red suit instead. He looked at a small crucifix hanging above the doorframe and said, “I’ll find out what it is you want, and make you believe, even if it kills me.” He stopped and shook his head muttering, “What the hell am I saying? I’m already dead.” He was about to go upstairs to the kitchen, and wait for everybody to get out of bed when he remembered that he didn’t change the signs at the schools. So, it was back
out into the brisk morning air, and off to the schools. Multi-cultural holiday bazaars and dances would soon be advertised as what Higgins thought they should be: Christmas dances and bazaars. But, a small number of teachers and principals were not happy when they arrived, and found the signs changed. Of course, they became more frustrated when they discovered that they couldn’t remove, or alter the newly posted signs. Betty Evans, principal of Riverside High School, vowed not to sit back quietly and ignore these atrocious acts of vandalism. She marched directly to the Public Address System to deliver a stinging commentary, hoping to lure those responsible, out into the open. She pressed the button down and spoke. “Mina-san, ohayoo gozaimasu,” which is good morning, everyone in Japanese. Apparently, she didn’t realize that she was making the announcement in a foreign tongue and went on. “Ima naji desu-ka?” Now, she asked what time it was. “Okane-o sukoshi kashite kudasai?” And, finally she asked to borrow money. “Mrs. Evans, Mrs. Evans, you’re speaking Japanese,” a teacher said, as she ran into the room. “What?” “You’re speaking Japanese.” Ignoring the teacher, she spun around and pressed the button again. This time she growled loudly, “Chiizu-no sandoitchi-o mittsu, Aisu-kuriimu-o kokonotsu kudasai.” She’d just placed an order for three cheese sandwiches, and nine ice creams. She continued to make strange announcements in Japanese, while Higgins took the opportunity to stroll down the hallways. Dressed in his bright red suit, sporting his
long, snowy white beard, and carrying a sack over his shoulder he was happy to add to the growing chaos. He opened classroom doors and shouted, “Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas.” Then, he tossed brightly wrapped packages of bubble gum and candy to students and teachers. And, they were as happy as if they were still elementary school children seeing Santa for the first time. “Merry Christmas, Santa Claus,” they greeted him in another room. “We love you, Santa,” rang out from a group of girls in the cafeteria. Members of the basketball team began singing Santa Claus is Coming to Town, when he passed gifts around to them in the gymnasium. In spite of efforts by Betty Evans, and a few teachers to squash the jovial mood, it was spreading quickly throughout the school. A spur of the moment idea by Higgins had ignited a fire of fun and joy in the entire student body and nearly every teacher. They were singing Christmas Carols, and nobody seemed to care about religious affiliations. And not a single student was offended by what was happening inside Riverside High School. Suddenly Higgins was a spirit on a mission. Traveling from school to school, he passed out the small gifts from his bag, finding that his efforts were having the same effect everywhere. Students and almost every teacher was finding the joy of the Christmas Season, and passing greetings of good tidings to those around them. From classrooms to street corners and office buildings, Higgins passed out small token gifts with a jolly, “Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas.” And, for a little while at least, there was a feeling of good will that showed on the faces of everyone he met.
The news broadcasts aired at the noon hour were filled with nonstop chatter about the latest goings on around town. Unfortunately most of the airtime was being allotted to the Scrooges who opposed the happenings, and they feasted on the opportunity to damn whomever was responsible. Anyone favoring the festive spirit, replacement of signs, and advertisements was cut off in mid sentence. Higgins was angered over the stance taken by the TV stations, and was tempted to pull the plug on their broadcasts. But, he decided to let their biased, one-sided opinions go on, hoping and praying that the people who were a part of the morning’s festive mood wouldn’t be swayed by the prejudices of others. *** Higgins arrived back at the Clements household just as Tony and Angela returned after spending the morning with a host of doctors at the hospital. He didn’t have to ask what the doctors had said. Their report was etched clearly on Tony’s face. Angela was continuing to slip toward her end. She drank a cup of green tea and said, “Well, I can’t sit around here feeling sorry for myself.” She got up from the table. “I’ve got work to do—and it doesn’t look like there’s much time left to finish it.” “I take it you’re going after the corporations again for donations,” Tony said, as he stood up. “I just can’t give up—not now.” She reached for the telephone and began dialing while saying, “Too many people still need those donations.” “Angela, you look so tired, and I know you’re in so much pain,” he said walking toward her. “Please, get some rest. Let me…”
She held her hand up to him as her call was answered. “Hello, Evelyn, I’m ready whenever you are.” She hung up, took Tony’s hand and said, “I won’t stay out too long. I promise. I’ll come home and rest before you pick up Ryan and Sarah. Then we can go out for a nice dinner, and after dinner we can drive around and look at the Christmas lights.” He gave her a nod of surrender. “Okay. I know it’s no use arguing with you, and I don’t wanna fight with you anyway.” She kissed him, looked into his eyes and smiled. “That’s because you never win an argument with me.” When she walked outside to meet Evelyn, Higgins took Tony by the arm saying, “Come on, let’s go to Saint Mary’s and light a few candles.” Inside the church, Tony dropped his money into the slot, and lit six candles before kneeling at the altar steps. He softly whispered, “Lord, I don’t know what else to say to you, except that I don’t believe Angela deserves to die. And, I can’t believe that you don’t know that—you’ve got to. There isn’t a selfish bone in her body, and you only hafta to look at all she’s done for others to know that. Even now, she doesn’t care about herself, or her pain. She’s still trying to help the needy. I’m not gonna get angry and curse you—I’ve already done that. I’m just gonna ask you one more time, please don’t take her away from us.” Higgins had heard all he could stand and hurried off to a darkened corner of the church. “Now you listen to me,” he said, jabbing his finger toward the ceiling. “Maybe he’s not gonna get pissed off, but you’re really pushin’ my nasty buttons. I can’t believe you’re gonna go through with this.”
“Higgins, I’m not in the mood to listen to you whine, and I’m certainly not in the mood for one of your temper tantrums. Why don’t you just go ahead and quit? Give up and admit that you can’t make me believe.” “Yeah, well I’ve got just one thing to say about that,” he said, this time shaking a fist at the ceiling. “Pete always calls me an Insufferable Prick, but I think he’s got me confused with you.” There was a loud crack of thunder, and the wind howled and seemed to shake the church while bolts of lightening danced around Higgins’ feet. Regardless of the display from above, Higgins defiantly stood his ground and growled, “You can’t make me quit. I won’t give up, and I swear before You take Angela from this earth, I’ll find a way to make you believe—whatever it is you want me to make you believe in.” After another loud clap of thunder, it was Peter who spoke. “Chief, like it or not, you’ve gotta admit, Higgins has a brass halo.” “His halo might be a little bent and crooked, but indeed it’s all brass.” “Please don’t take offense to this, but sometimes I think you get a great deal of pleasure from pushing his buttons.” “Peter, I’ve found that the best way to inspire Higgins to put forth his best effort is to do just that—push his buttons, and push them hard.”
Early the next morning Higgins was off on another mission, once again getting to schools as children arrived for classes. Greetings of “Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas,” filled the air when they got off buses and out of cars. But, today there were no gifts to accompany the greetings, just lots of handshakes, pats on the back and big smiles. A small number of principals, and school administrators made angry calls to police and demanded that jolly old Saint Nick be removed from the grounds immediately, or arrested for trespassing. Officers responded, but did so with half-hearted efforts, and were happy to find that on every occasion their “suspect” was gone upon their arrival.
When school sessions began, he walked the streets and visited office buildings, offering a cheery, “Merry Christmas” to everyone. There were a few grumbles, but he thought that generally everybody was pleased with his efforts to spread the Christmas spirit. He tried several times to talk with the Chief, but his calls went unanswered. Yet, he wouldn’t stop offering his own prayers for Angela, and pleading for her to be returned to good health. He made trips to Saint Mary’s morning, noon and night, and oftentimes in the middle of the night. He’d light candles and pray, wondering if his prayers were falling on deaf ears. He kept up his campaign to spread tidings of good cheer throughout the town and promised the Chief daily that he wouldn’t falter in his efforts. And, each day he’d check to see if Maxwell Washburn had had a change of heart, and each day he’d find that the money for the needy grew less. The morning of December 19th dawned colder than previous days, but Higgins didn’t care. Today there were two very important items on his agenda. The first, his visit to Mr. Washburn and the second, his afternoon with Ryan and Sarah at school. And, he was certainly looking forward to both. He went to the kitchen, and saw Angela pressing her left hand against the counter and clutching her stomach with her right. He moved quickly to her and put an arm around her shoulder. She leaned against him, fighting to hold back her tears, but it was no use. She was in too much pain. He let her cry, all the while looking upward, and silently asking for her pain to go away.
It took a few minutes, but at last she seemed to be okay and said, “God, I must look a mess.” “Don’t worry, you look just fine.” He gave her the silky white handkerchief from his pocket. “Here, take this. In fact, keep it.” She took it and pressed it to her face, drying her tears. After a few seconds she said, “This is really soft. I—I don’t think I’ve ever felt anything quite like it.” He smiled and nodded. “That came from a very special place.” She stared at him. “You mean?” “Yes, that’s where it came from.” She clutched it tighter saying, “I don’t know why, but all of a sudden I feel very calm.” He kissed her softly on the forehead, smiled and said, “I’ve got work to do now.” “You haven’t forgotten about this afternoon, have you?” she said, as she went to the refrigerator. “Certainly not. I’d never let the children down.” “Sorry. I guess I should’ve known you wouldn’t.” *** “Merry Christmas,” he shouted from behind Maxwell Washburn. There was a very resounding crack, and a scream from Washburn’s secretary, as she banged her head while trying to scramble from under the desk. “Oh, hey, I bet that hurt,” Higgins said with a grin. “And let me guess—you were under there trying to find your pen. Or, did you lose your lipstick? Or, perhaps your pet mouse escaped?
“By God, what’s the meaning of this?” Washburn bellowed, jumping out of his chair. “And how’d you get in here? The door’s locked.” Higgins gave a nasty chuckle. “Doors aren’t for me. I came in through the window.” “That’s impossible,” Washburn snapped. “This office is on the 20th floor.” “Well, watch this.” With that Higgins passed right through the window, drifted several feet backward and waved. Washburn toppled back into his chair, his secretary wet her panties, and passed out, and Higgins seemed very amused by all of it. So just for fun, he passed back and forth through the window three or four times, waving and bowing as though he had a much larger audience to appreciate his antics. Finally he came back inside, spun Washburn’s chair around and sat on the corner of his desk. “Well, Washy ole buddy, how’d you like that? Believe me now?” He gawked wide-eyed at him. “This is just a bad dream. I mean, this can’t be happening. I’m gonna wake up any minute now.” “Now, I have been called a nightmare before,” he chuckled. “But I’m the Ghost of Christmas Past and, right now, Christmas Present.” “I’m going home and getting back into bed.” “Well, Washy, I wouldn’t recommend going home and jumpin’ back in bed. It’s crowded enough in there right now,” he said, with a rather sneaky laugh. “Your wife’s busy getting an express mail delivery, making a list of attorneys and checking it twice, and telling the housekeeper she has a crush on her. You didn’t know she was that way, did you?”
“Is that your idea of a sick joke?” He threw his head back and laughed. “Actually, yes. Right now she’s at the salon, having her nails done and talking about what she thinks you and Little Miss Take Dictation’s been doing here at the office.” “This has gotta be a bad dream of some kind,” he muttered. “This just can’t be happening.” He looked at Higgins and suddenly realized that he could see through him. “Oh, God!” he blurted, jumping to his feet and pointing. “You—you’re—you’re really a ghost!” “Good observation, butt breath. Now, sit down and listen.” “Oh, God! Oh, God!” he howled. “God, help me.” “Oh, you’re gonna need all the help you can get if you don’t do what I want,” he said, pointing a misty finger. “Whether or not God’s gonna help you is another matter.” “What—what is it you want?” “I told you the last time I was here what I wanted, butt breath. I want a very nice donation to those worthy causes that Angela Clements works so hard for.” “No,” he said, shaking his head. “Absolutely outta the question. I won’t do it.” Higgins gave another wicked laugh. “Oh, yes you will. And I’ll tell you—no, actually I’ll show you why you’re gonna do it.” “What?” “Watch this,” he said, snapping his fingers and turning on the big screen TV. “I want you to pay very close attention because this is what’s gonna be on the noon news, the evening news, the late night news and, what the hell, I might as well make sure it’s on the national news.”
Instantly Maxwell Washburn’s image appeared in front of dozens of microphones and an audience of reporters. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to cleanse the slate, and confess my many misdeeds. Yes, the spirit of Christmas has helped me see the pain and suffering I’ve caused so many of you, and I’m here to publicly confess my sins. I know it would be appropriate to beg your forgiveness, but I really don’t give a big, hairy rat’s ass. I enjoyed everything I did.” With a flourish, he produced a stack of papers from an envelope. He cleared his throat and began reading. “Last week, at the ACLU breakfast buffet at the Regency Towers, I took a giant whiz on the pastries before they were served.” He paused to laugh. “I thought it was quite funny watching Helen Greenbaum stuffing her pudgy face with the jelly donuts. How many did you eat? Eight or ten? Hope they tasted good, Helen.” He gave a wave to the cameras. “Jack Dickerson, you really need to get two very large red flags and a sign that reads ‘Extra Wide Load’ to hang on your wife’s ass. Hell, she needs two picnic tables so she can sit down—one for each cheek. No wonder you’re driving a Ford Excursion, and I bet you hafta get the shock absorbers replaced every hundred miles. And, I’m sure it was specially reinforced to hold her fat butt. That’s the only Ford ever made where the entire side opens so you can drop her wide cheeks in there with a front-end loader. And, I can tell you, I’m glad I’m not footing the bill to feed her.” Washburn pounded his desk and yelled. “You can’t do this.” “Just watch the rest of it, then we’ll begin negotiations.” Washburn looked back at the screen. “And to the IRS I say, boy have I been screwing you. Yes, sir, I’ve cheated you gnat-heads outta millions. How do you like
that, huh? I’ve got money hidden away that you gnat farts couldn’t find if your lives depended on it. And, I’m gonna hose you outta even more this year. You know what I’m gonna do when I have about 40 million of your money stashed away? I’m leaving town—I’m leaving the country. “And, my loving wife, I won’t be taking you. That’s right, I’ll be taking Penny. If you don’t already know, Penny and I have been doing the nasty here in the office. I’d love to see the expression on your face right now, but I’m sure I’ll get the full beauty parlor, makeover effect later on. By the way, we’ve had a party or two in every hotel and motel in, and around town. How do you like that? Oh, and just for the hell of it, I’ve run the ole putter across the greens with most of your golfing friends, and did a little beaver trapping at your sister’s house. Surprised?” Higgins gave Washburn one of his finer grins. “Now, let’s pop the old checkbook out, and see where the bidding starts to keep that off the air.” “You can’t to this,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s—its blackmail. It’s against the law.” “Call it what you want.” Higgins tossed a pen to him. “Me, I like to think of it as an inspirational work of art. A masterpiece, if you please.” “You’re a real insufferable prick,” Washburn shouted. “Hey, I’ve had that confirmed by the very highest authority known to mankind.” He gave a satisfied laugh. “And I don’t mind telling you, I’m very proud of that.” “Listen, you can’t be serious about airing that piece you just showed me. I mean it’s all lies. Well, almost all lies.”
“Only you and I know that for sure,” Higgins said, smiling. “But, once it goes on the screen, you’ll never be able to fully recover from a confession like that. And, you can count on it airing if you don’t cooperate.” “Lord, I’ll be ruined,” Washburn groaned. “I’ll lose everything—my wife, my business, my…” “Yeah, after the IRS gets through running a microscope up your ole tube, you’ll hafta find a spot on a street corner so you could beg. Then, you’d hafta share all that wealth after an ugly divorce hearing, and you’d probably lose all those friends you insulted. Then, you could count on gettin’ sued by business associates and lose even more.” “And all over a pack of lies—I mean almost all lies.” He paused for a second and said, “Is there any way I can get outta this?” “Yeah, your reputation as a womanizer could bite you right in the ass. But listen, Washy, you can avoid all that trouble by writing a check, and then calling all your pals and having ’em make a sizeable contribution to a worthy cause. It’s that simple.” Washburn looked at him and shrugged. “Jesus, I don’t believe this. A ghost is blackmailing me, and there’s nothing I can do about it. And, I can’t tell anybody because I’d end up in a rubber room somewhere. How did this happen?” “You know how it happened, but now you also know the way outta this very sticky situation.” He took a deep breath. “Okay, who do I make the check out to?” “You know, I’m not really sure,” Higgins said, as he stood up. “But I’ll tell you what I’m willing to do.”
“What’s that?” “You call all of your friends and business associates and convince ’em to meet you at the Clements residence with their checkbooks. That way Angela can tell you who to write the checks to.” “What time?” “Let’s say noon.” Higgins sat back on the corner of the desk. “If you do that, I’ll make sure the media’s there to give you a big publicity splash for helping Angela, and her worthy causes. That’ll certainly make you look good in the public’s eye. And, it would be great advertisement for you personally.” “You’re gonna do that after you just threatened to ruin me.” “Hey, I’m not all bad,” he said, knowing that the publicity would bring in more money. “Yeah. Well, you sure had me fooled.” “Well, is it a deal, Washy?” “Do I have another choice?” Higgins laughed, and pointed to the TV screen. “No, I don’t think so.” By noon Maxwell Washburn, accompanied by friends and business associates, was knocking on the front door at the home of Angela Clements. And, Washburn found that Santa was true to his word. Reporters from very TV station and newspaper were gathered to record the event. Within a matter of minutes, Angela was so overcome by their generosity she was moved to tears. It took a little time for her to regain her composure, but she was finally able to say, “I’ll never be able to find the right words to express my gratitude. This will
mean so much to so many people, and just saying thank you seems so insignificant. Your more than generous contributions will buy food and clothing and gifts for the children. Your kindness and heartfelt donations will give them a Christmas, a Christmas they wouldn’t have had.” She wiped at her eyes with the handkerchief Higgins had given her, and smiled. “Thank you again. Thank you so much.” When everyone left, Angela grabbed her coat and headed for the door. She had to hurry to get to school for the afternoon’s festivities, but first she had a stop to make. And, soon she was lighting a candle, and kneeling in front of the Nativity scene in Saint Mary’s Church. She bowed her head and silently prayed. Thank you for answering my prayers and sending those wonderful people to help with our worthy causes. I feel better knowing the needy can celebrate Christmas with a good meal and warm clothes. I only hope they remember to thank you too, but just in case they don’t, thank you for them. She glanced at her watch, and lit another candle. I don’t wanna forget to thank you for all my blessings. Thank you for a good and loving husband and two beautiful children you’ve blessed us with. Take care of them when—well, you know when. And, thanks for Higgins. He’s truly a blessing, and he’s made so many people happy with what he’s done here. Oh yes, I know what he’s been doing; having Christmas music played and giving out gifts at the schools, and his courtroom pranks. Still, You made a great choice sending him back as Santa Claus, because he knows how to tell children that Christmas is so much more than gifts. Maybe he is really Santa Claus. She smiled and whispered softly, “And if anyone knows the difference between naughty and nice, it’s Mr. Higgins.”
Angela arrived at the school, and watched the children hurrying back and forth from their classrooms to the cafeteria and auditorium. This being the last day of school before the Christmas break caused the excitement level to rise to monumental heights. Naturally, the expected arrival of Santa Claus only added to the ever-growing frenzy. In fact, it could be said that the building was pulsating. Angela located Ryan and Sarah, who were finding themselves the center of a great deal of attention. After all, how many children could say that Santa Claus was a guest in their home? So, for today, wherever they went, they found celebrity status, and a willing entourage. Although neither really understood what the hubbub was about.
When the excitement was near the boiling point, Higgins took that as his cue to make his entry. And enter he did, lugging a huge sack over his shoulder, smiling and waving as he gave his most hearty, “Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas,” to hundreds of delighted children. The first stop was the cafeteria, where the final lunch serving of the day was just beginning. Angela, Ryan, Sarah and the principal escorted him to a chair in a corner of the large room where he dropped his sack on a table and sat down. He was given a hug and a kiss by each, and then began a task he enjoyed: handing out gifts to the children. He gave each a brightly wrapped package, and listened to their wishes and promised to tell them a story later. While talking with a young girl, he noticed a boy pushing and shoving his way toward the front of the line. He knew immediately it had to be David Riley, the little demon who reveled in finding new ways to destroy the beliefs and happiness of those around him. He stared at him, and wondered what the miniature terror had in store for him. He didn’t have to wait long to find out. David had knocked everybody aside, and was next in line to see Santa. He stood at the head of the line, arms crossed and scowling at the man in the bright red suit. Higgins purposely kept the little girl on his knee longer than usual, and saw David becoming more agitated. When he put the girl down, David Riley rushed forward, jabbed a finger in his face. “You’re just a big phony,” he blurted. “There’s no such thing as Santa Claus.” In spite of his claim, Higgins gave him a big smile. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” he said, smugly crossing his arms again. “You’re just some dumb idiot who pretends there’s a Santa Claus. My dad says it’s just a big racket to steal people’s money at Christmas.” He moved closer and, to be certain everyone heard him, yelled. “I bet this beard ain’t real.” He reached up, took a rather large handful of the fluffy white beard, and yanked as hard as he could. Higgins snatched him by the arm, jerked him closer and, while smiling, growled. “Listen, you little rodent turd, you’re startin’ to piss me off. So, don’t pull my beard again.” The boy laughed. “Yeah. Well, what’re you gonna do about it?” “Don’t push your luck, maggot breath,” he said, while continuing to smile for those nearby. “You’re screwin’ with the wrong man.” “Hey, up yours.” “Oh, an Ireland clone.” “Phony, phony, phony,” he shouted, pointing at Higgins. “Keep it up, kid, and I’m gonna have a reindeer take a dump in your macaroni and cheese.” “Ha! You ain’t got any reindeer. They’re just as phony as you are.” Higgins snapped his fingers, and suddenly there seemed to be two different worlds passing each other in the cafeteria. There was a world where the children and teachers laughed and talked, and a parallel world where only Santa and his tormenter existed. Higgins gave a quick wave of his hand. “Better check your lunch plate you little reptile turd.”
David Riley turned and looked over his shoulder. His chin dropped, and he stood like he was frozen to the floor, watching a reindeer climb gracefully onto the tabletop and make a steaming deposit on his plate. He ran to the table and screamed. “You’re gonna pay for this.” He grabbed the plate from the table, turned and started running back to where Higgins sat laughing. He’d only taken a half dozen steps when he suddenly tripped, and lurched forward. He struggled to keep his balance, but his struggle was in vain. Another quick step and he was falling face first toward the floor and the steamy mess on the plate. His face landed squarely in the center of the plate with a dull squish. He staggered to his feet, and looked down at the front of his blue shirt, as laughter echoed through the dining hall. He couldn’t believe his eyes. The entire front of his body was covered in smelly clods of reindeer dung. It oozed between his fingers, dripped from his ears, and ran down his face while everybody seemed to be laughing and pointing at him. Outraged, he bent over and grabbed the plate. But the instant he stood up he hit himself in the face with the plate, which had somehow become filled with another fresh batch of reindeer droppings. Humiliated more than ever, he tried to run away, but only slipped and fell on his back. And now it looked like he was doing a backstroke, floundering on the floor and splattering the steamy mess on every inch of his clothing. He screamed and cried, which brought only more laughter and humiliation. Then a voice called to him. “That’s what you get for being a little turd wart and trying to ruin Christmas for everybody. I don’t like people who do things like that.” “Stop it. Stop it,” he cried.
“Not yet. You need to learn a lesson that you’ll never forget.” He snapped his fingers and young Master Riley found himself surrounded by reindeer—reindeer that were adding to the mess he was swimming in. “Stop, please.” “Do you believe in Santa Claus?” “Yes, yes, I do,” he blubbered. “But, you said I was a phony.” “I didn’t mean it, honest.” “You said my reindeer were phony.” “I—I didn’t mean that either,” David squealed, while trying to get to his feet. “That’s good. Now maybe we can start over, how’s that sound?” “Okay.” He wiped at his eyes. “Okay.” “David, I want you to listen, and listen very closely to what I’m gonna say, is that clear?” “Yes—yes, it is.” “In a minute I’m gonna make this ugly mess you’re floppin’ around in go away. When I do, you’re gonna be a whole new person. You’re not gonna be a little rodent turd anymore. You’re gonna be nice a kid, or I’ll bury you up to your eyeballs in reindeer dung. Got that?” “Yes, yes.” “In fact, I bet you’d like to be Santa’s helper, wouldn’t you?” “Yeah. Sure. That sounds okay.”
Higgins grinned. “Santa’s personal elf maybe. You could help ole Santa pass out the gifts. How’s that sound?” “Uh, just fine—I mean, if that’s what you want me to do.” He nodded his head and held up his hands. “I’ll do it.” “You’re gonna tell everybody you believe in Santa Claus, and you’re never gonna try and ruin a holiday of any kind ever again. Got that?” “Yes. Now, please get me outta this smelly mess.” With a snap of his fingers it was as if nothing had happened, well, almost nothing. David Riley was now standing beside Santa dressed in a red and green elf suit, complete with curly-toed shoes. He was smiling, and handing out the gifts as the younger children approached to talk with Santa. Needless to say, there were many surprised, and even a few very shocked expressions from the school staff. And, when the last gift was handed out, it was David Riley who suggested that they go to the auditorium to hear Santa tell tales of Saint Nicholas. When everyone was seated in the school’s auditorium, Higgins began telling the stories of Saint Nicholas. He didn’t stand on the stage and lecture, but walked along the aisles and among the children, and still nobody missed a single word, or even a whisper. His story telling ability held his audience captive, and teachers whispered that they’d never remembered the school so quiet. He recited Twas the Night before Christmas and ended his visit with a cheerful, “Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas.” When he walked to the front door he had an additional escort, David Riley. Santa gave Ryan, Sarah and Angela a hug before turning to David, shaking his hand and saying, “Merry Christmas, David, and remember, always keep the Christmas spirit.”
He bowed his head. “I will and, I promise, I won’t forget.” Higgins leaned close and whispered, “You know, it’s a lot more fun when you make other people happy. The happier you make somebody else, the better you feel inside.” Much later that night Higgins paid a visit to David Riley’s father. Indeed the young lad needed a positive role model at home, and Santa wanted to be certain that the Christmas spirit reached the Riley household. In no time at all, it seemed that the Yule Tide energy was surging throughout the house. Christmas carols were being sung as the family decorated the home with signs of the season, and put up a manger scene in the font yard. *** Certainly it had already been a busy day, with so many good things happening, but the day wasn’t over. Although the police department’s promotions would not take effect until Monday, December 22nd, the presentations would be made at 7:00 PM this evening in the town hall theatre. Tony was getting dressed for the occasion, and trying his best to convince Angela to stay home and rest. “Sweetheart, you’ve had a very long day and you look like you’re about to drop. Why don’t you stay home?” “Tony, I can’t miss this,” she said, as she sat down on the edge of the bed. “I’ll be fine.” “If you don’t go, Bill and Evelyn will understand.” “Please,” she said, getting up and putting her arms around him. “I’ll come home right after the ceremony and go to bed.”
“Promise?” “Okay, I promise.” While they continued to dress, Higgins dropped to one knee in the basement. “The only thing you sent down here for me to wear were these Santa Claus outfits, and then you tossed in the Grinch shirts. Now, remember you told me I could be there for my son’s promotion and, even though he can’t see me, I’d still like to be able to attend in uniform. I guess you can call it a police thing, or in this case it’s probably a father thing, but I’d like to feel like I’m really a part of his promotion.” “I’d already planned ahead for the occasion.” It was the Chief. “Just look in the closet.” Higgins got up, walked to the closet and opened the door. “Damn,” he muttered, looking at the brand new dress uniform hanging on the back of the door. The Chief made sure his medals were placed in their proper order on his coat, including his Posthumous Medal of Honor. The uniform pants, which hung separately from the coat, were sharply creased, and the shoes gleamed. The gun belt and brass buckle were highly polished, and his badge sparkled like gold. Higgins was the first to arrive at the Olde Town Theatre, but he was never one to be late for an event of importance. He paced back and forth across the stage looking over the placement of the seats, and stopping to inspect the podium. Once he was satisfied that it was centered precisely in the middle of the stage he began pacing again. He was as nervous as if he’d planned the evening’s agenda, and was sure he’d forgotten something. Finally the doors opened, and families and friends were soon filling the seats. He saw old familiar faces and so many new ones. He turned and smiled when he saw Tony
and Angela walking down the far aisle with Evelyn and Bill. He was happy they were together, but wished Angela had listened to Tony and stayed home. The ceremony began promptly at seven when the Honor Guard marched in, and stood at attention at the front of the stage. But, “Ramrod” Reynolds was one Chief of Police who insisted that everything go according to schedule. Reynolds was beginning to show a little more gray in his crop of thick dark hair, but he remained an impressive figure in his perfectly tailored uniform. And, he still looked as though he could go the distance if someone challenged him. The governor was the featured speaker for the evening, but he kept his speech under 15 minutes and turned the podium back to Chief Reynolds. Reynolds praised his officers for their recent success in apprehending the trio of armed robbery suspects, and commended everyone under his command for a job well done throughout the year. When it was time to begin promoting the officers under his command, Reynolds called the Honor Guard to attention. That’s when Tony saw another ceremonial guard marching in perfect cadence, and taking their places on the stage. He felt the chill race along his spine, just as it had nine years ago, when he saw the same ghostly figures come to pay their respects to him. Men and women of honor, who selflessly gave their lives in the line of duty, once again gathered to salute those who now answered the call To Protect and To Serve. “Promoted to the rank of Sergeant, William Joseph Higgins, Jr.,” Reynolds said, as he snapped a crisp salute to the newly promoted sergeant. Behind them, Tony saw Higgins face the ceremonial guard, and order a salute for his son. Ghost or not, the tears of pride showed on the misty image of his face when
Chief Reynolds pinned the badge on Bill, Jr. A moment later he marched off the stage with his son, and stood at attention in the aisle beside his seat. When the formalities ended, Tony stayed back and watched Higgins march very smartly to the center of the stage. Just as he had years ago, he began to call the roll of fallen officers, and each answered with a proud, “Here, sir.” When roll call concluded, he called an officer from their ranks front and center, and they exchanged a salute. Higgins looked him squarely in the eyes saying, “Sir, you have permission to take our fallen heroes home.” Tony watched the parade of heroes as they marched out through a side exit and vanished into the night. He looked at Higgins, snapped him a salute and went to find Angela. Not long after they arrived home, Angela was sound asleep. She’d be up early tomorrow morning working with her friends to distribute the contributions. There was so much to do, but she was certain that with the volunteers she’d summoned to help, the job would be completed in time for Christmas. Tony slipped quietly into Ryan’s and Sarah’s rooms, kissed them lightly, and made one final check on Angela before going downstairs. He sat down in the leather recliner and reached for his glass of ice water. Higgins laughed. “Don’t you drink anything stronger?” “Yeah, but with Angela’s condition I haven’t had a thing to drink. I just don’t want a fuzzy head—not that I’d drink that much, but I just don’t want any alcohol.” “Probably very smart.”
He nodded. “You know, I’ve just gotta ask a question—that is if you don’t mind?” “Sure, fire away.” “The Honor Guard…” “Ah, you wanna know all about the Honor Guard,” Higgins said, with a smile. “Yes, I do. They’re just so impressive. I mean even if they are—I mean…” “Hey, I know what you’re trying to say.” He got up and looked out the living room window for a moment and said, “There’s been an Honor Guard up there for as long as anybody can remember. And they come back here more than you can even imagine. The Chief thought it was a good idea if there were more than just the ceremonial guards from down here at special events, and especially when it came to certain funerals and other functions.” “Like the promotion ceremony tonight?” “That’s right.” “Well, who takes care of making sure they’re ready? How often do they practice, or do they even hafta practice anymore?” He smiled and nodded. “Well, Michael’s in charge of overseeing all the Honor and Ceremonial Guards.” “Michael? You mean, Saint Michael the Archangel?” “That’s exactly who I mean. And you know how I always refer to the Big Guy— God, as Chief, well Michael calls him General.” “Wow,” he whispered. “Michael’s in charge of a lot up there. He keeps everybody assigned to those
details, and the Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen, on their toes. I guess he’s what you’d call a warrior’s warrior.” “Kinda like a very hard-nosed drill instructor too,” Tony laughed. Higgins flashed a big grin. “And, I think in today’s terminology you’d say Michael’s one bad dude.”
Angela’s volunteers were arriving before eight o’clock the following morning. Soon they were seated around the dining room table, going over the list of charitable organizations that needed money. While dollar amounts were noted for each group, Angela prepared the deposit slips for the bank, and compiled the final total from the previous day’s donations. Tony had been recruited to make the bank run while Angela and the others began writing checks. Of course, he found that he wouldn’t be driving to the bank alone. He’d have Higgins for company, and that suited him just fine since he hated going to the bank
on Saturday. There was always too much bickering among families, pushing and shoving by children and adults alike. But, today he left early enough to ensure that he’d be the first customer when the bank doors opened. “I see Angela’s on top of the world this morning,” Higgins said, from his usual spot in the passenger’s seat. “Yeah, those donations coming in yesterday really picked her up. I know she actually slept last night,” he said, with a sigh of relief. “For weeks she’d been tossing and turning, and talking in her sleep about being a failure. I hope that’s over with.” “The big question is, how’re you doing?” “God, I don’t know.” He gripped the wheel a little tighter. “Seeing Angela this morning lights a ray of hope that makes me feel somehow everything’s gonna turn out fine. That she’ll be okay.” He took a deep breath, and shook his head. “But, I know that’s not gonna happen. The doctors say there’s nothing that can be done.” “Don’t stop praying and hoping.” “I won’t, but it’s so hard to keep praying day after day, and having the doctors give you the same answers over and over.” He pounded the wheel with his fists. “If they’d only be able to tell us what’s wrong with her. God, they can’t even do that, and that’s what makes this so damn difficult. Just give me one thing—one thing that they know they can’t treat and I’d at least have some peace.” Higgins reached over and touched his shoulder. “Look, I know how you feel. I know it’s bad enough knowing that Angela’s dying, but not having a reason only makes it that much worse for you.” “How will I ever explain it to Ryan and Sarah?”
“In time you’ll find a way—and I’m sorry that’s all I can say to you. I wish I had an easy solution to help you face what’s ahead.” After Tony dropped the deposit off at the bank, he was driving near the mall, when he spotted Frank Ireland. “Well, there’s the leech out soliciting his Christmas freebies.” Higgins glanced over and said, “Sorry, my mind was somewhere else. What’s fat boy doing?” “Every Christmas he makes the rounds, going to as many businesses as possible and mooching something. He thinks everybody owes him a gift because of all he’s done for them during the year.” Higgins howled. “Him doing anything work related is a joke, but having the nerve to go out and solicit a gratuity for being a worthless pile of whale turds all year long is even worse.” “Take my word for it, this morning’s only a warm up. He’ll get down to some serious freeloading at work tonight.” Higgins’ grin matched that of the Grinch on his shirt. “Oh really? Well, maybe I can be of some assistance.” Tony laughed. “Yeah, I bet you could.” “Maybe I’ll be going to work with Ireland tonight, and helping him find some of his Christmas freebies.” “There’s one place he never misses that you might be able to, shall we say, make a real impression on Frank.” “And which business is that?”
“Hampton’s Meat Locker,” he said, as he pulled the car into the garage. “It’s just outside the city limits, and Ireland hounds those people all year long, but at Christmas he’s like a pack of jackals. Last year he hit ’em up for three fresh turkeys, three smoked hams, a half dozen Porterhouse steaks, and a beef tenderloin.” Higgins shook his head. “And that was just at Christmas?” “Yeah, that was his haul for Christmas.” Higgins rubbed his chin. “Hummmm. Tell me, do they butcher livestock on the premises?” “Yeah, why?” He gave a somewhat sinister laugh. “Oh, just wondering.” When Tony went back inside it looked like everything related to Angela’s worthy causes was hitting full throttle. Cell phones were ringing, people were knocking at the front door and, no matter what problem popped up, Angela had a solution. She knew where each and every check was supposed to go, what it was for, and how soon the person accepting the check could begin deliveries to the needy. By late afternoon the frenzy began to subside, and one look at Angela said that the work had taken its toll. She was so tired she refused to eat, and Tony insisted that she go to bed by four o’clock. He realized when she didn’t argue that she’d probably pushed herself too hard. But, he also knew there was no way he could’ve stopped her from making sure the needy would have a Merry Christmas. Evelyn Higgins stopped by to take Ryan and Sarah to dinner, and then shopping for an hour or so. She loved any excuse to be with the children, and was anxiously
awaiting Bill’s wedding, and hoping for an immediate grandchild of her own. For now, she’d be satisfied to be called Granny E by the Clements children. Tony sat by the bed and held Angela’s hand while she slept. He couldn’t help but notice how frail she’d become, and in recent days so much of the sparkle had disappeared from her lovely brown eyes. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes and prayed for that miracle he wanted to believe was still just a single prayer away. *** Captain Freeman held roll call for the evening shift and when it was over said, “I just need a few extra minutes before you hit the street.” He stepped around to the front of the podium and, for a moment, it looked like he was having a difficult time thinking of what he wanted to say. He looked around the room and began, “I know all of you are aware of Angela Clements’ condition. I called Tony just before roll call and he told me things aren’t good. It’s standard procedure when an officer dies to post an Honor Guard by the casket during viewing. I’m aware that we don’t have a similar protocol on the books regarding spouses, but I’d like to be able to do something for Tony. So I’d like to ask for…” “Count me in, Captain,” Roland Harper said. Ames nodded. “Me too.” Jon Hastings raised a hand. “I’m in, Captain.” “I figured I could count on you. Sergeants Harrison and Swanson from Criminal Investigations volunteered as well as Sergeant Higgins. I’ll leave a sheet here at the podium and, if you would, please just sign your name to it before you leave. That way I’ll have some idea of how to arrange things.”
Harper raised his hand. “I know this is morbid, but any idea how much longer she has?" “Probably not much,” Freeman said, shaking his head. “I think I speak for everybody here, Sir,” Harper said, as he stood up. “I’d like to be called right away. Time of day or night doesn’t matter.” “Okay. When I hear something I’ll notify everybody.” A few minutes later they were on their way to their cars when Ireland rushed by them to his cruiser. Grinning from ear to ear he yelled over his shoulder. “Time for everybody to ante up those Christmas goodies.” “This is the hardest he’ll work all year,” Harper muttered, as he opened his car door. “Well, maybe it’ll keep him from screwin’ up our night,” Ames said. It was just about dusk when Frank Ireland parked his car behind Hampton’s Meat Locker, and waddled inside. Ignoring the clearly posted No Smoking sign, he touched a match to a cigarette and announced, “Okay, it’s the Christmas Season. That means it’s time for Santa Hampton to fill the sack.” “Yeah, and I see a sack standin’ right there on the other side of the counter,” one of the clerks mumbled. Ireland flicked some ashes on the floor, raised the cigarette to his mouth, and took another drag. At that instant, the fire sprinkler above his head opened and hosed him for a full 10 seconds before shutting off. While clerks and meat cutters ducked behind the counter to laugh, Ireland screamed, “What the hell’s goin’ on? Who’s the smart ass who did that?”
Just as he was about to begin another tirade, he heard the familiar sound of a siren sounding from behind the building. He bolted around the counter and out the back door in time to see his cruiser drive across the lot. The lights were flashing, and the siren was quickly passing from one tone to another as it turned and started back toward him. It braked to a stop long enough for him to see a very large pig, which was wearing his hat, behind the wheel. When Ireland grabbed for the door, the hefty porker took off across the lot again, spinning wheels and kicking dust and gravel all over the front of his uniform. After a few donuts in the center of the lot, the car shot out the entrance and soon vanished down West Street. It wasn’t long before the car passed by Jerry Ames and Roland Harper who were leaving Mick’s Deli with their sandwiches. Ames blurted, “Did you see that?” “Yeah, it was Ireland.” “No, it wasn’t Ireland,” Ames said, stepping out into the street and looking at the car. “It was Ireland’s car, but he wasn’t driving.” “He wasn’t? Okay, so who was driving?” “Uh, it looked like a pig behind the wheel.” Harper laughed. “Hell, I wouldn’t worry about it. Maybe his wife signed up to ride along tonight.” “Roland, I’m serious, it looked like there was a pig behind the wheel, and I swear it was wearin’ his police hat.” Looking up at the sky Harper muttered, “God, please get me through this night so I can start my vacation.” Then he looked at Ames. “Jerry, you might wanna consider takin’ a little time off too.”
“Okay, wise ass,” he said, pointing. “Here it comes again. You look and tell me what you see.” When the car went by Harper dropped his coffee and said, “Oh shit, let’s get outta here. And. I don’t care who asks, we didn’t see a thing.” “Who’d believe us?” At that very moment the Duty Officer was on the telephone with Ireland. “Okay, Frank, is this some kinda joke?” Sergeant Rollins glanced up, and saw Captain Freeman coming toward him. “Hang on, Sarge, I’m gonna put you on hold.” Freeman stopped and looked at the Duty Officer. “Something wrong, Dan?” “Uh, sir, I have Sergeant Ireland on the line and he’s ticked off about—about, uh, well, sir, I know you’re not gonna believe this, but he says a pig stole his patrol car.” Freeman stared at him for a second, and raised his hand to his forehand. He spent some time massaging his eyelids and muttered, “It’s times like these that make wish I’d stayed in the Marine Corps. Guys in the Corps did a lotta crazy things, but that was considered normal behavior. But Ireland—hell, I don’t know what’s normal with him.” “Sir, do you wanna speak with him?” He slowly shook his head. “Gimme the phone. I might as well face this now.” He took the phone and said, “Okay, Frank, let’s have it, what’s happened now?” He paused. “Hello, Frank? Frank, are you there?” Rollins glanced at the switchboard. “Looks like he hung up, sir.” Freeman handed the phone back to him. “Unless the pig starts making traffic stops, I don’t wanna know about it.”
“Yes, sir,” he said, and then laughed. “If it makes an arrest, it’ll be one more than Ireland’s made during his career.” Freeman chuckled. “If it’s a felony arrest, I’ll try to get the damn thing in the next academy class. We can hire it as Ireland’s replacement.” “Excuse me,” he said, as the phone rang. “Duty Officer, Sergeant Rollins, may I help you?” He sat down. “Oh, okay, Frank, you say the pig just brought your car back. But now a bull’s taken it. Oh, you’re not sure if it’s a bull, or a cow. Well, no, not unless I see it I can’t tell you.” He stood up and tried to get Freeman to take the phone, but the captain wouldn’t touch it. “A cow has udders. Yes, that’s right, udders. They’re tits, Frank.” He sat down once more and stared at Freeman. “Yes, a bull has horns. Right. Uh, huh. Yes, of course, it has one of those too. It’s what? Hangin’ out the window? No, I’ve never measured one, but I’m willing to take your word for it.” He pulled the phone away, and choked back a laugh. “Are you sure that’s what it just did in your hat? Man, you’re gonna need a new hat. You’ll never get that mess outta there.” A long pause. “He hung up again.” “And to think, the night’s just beginning,” Freeman muttered. “Captain, you don’t think Ireland’s tryin’ to play some kinda Christmas joke, do you?” “Dan, I don’t think Ireland knows how to play a joke of any kind.” “Uh, well, how does he get into mysterious things like this?” Freeman tossed his hat on a chair. “Almost nine years ago something like this happened. It was like some divine force just showed up one day, and it took every opportunity to screw with Ireland. Not that everything that happened had eyewitnesses,
but some of ’em did. Like the night he ended up on a skateboard and sailed out of a store with an ice cream sandwich in one hand, and a bottle of wine in the other. There were at least a dozen witnesses to that. His notebook pummeled him during roll call. The water fountain attacked him. Some mysterious thing smacked him across the ass with a two by four, or something, when he was trying to get a drink. Drove his head right through the plaster. I saw the hole in the wall, but a few minutes later it was completely repaired. I mean, it was like the incident never happened. So, whatever’s going on out there with Ireland tonight, it’s probably the truth. Every last word of it.” “Are you gonna go by Hampton’s and see what’s going on?” Freeman laughed as he picked up his hat. “Not on your life. For all I know it could be the Almighty Himself playin’ a Christmas joke on Frank. Giving him a little payback for all that mooching he does.” There were no calls from Ireland for the rest of the night, and Roland Harper and Jerry Ames didn’t mention a word about what they’d witnessed earlier. But, they were happy to see the night end, and hurried into the station to complete their paperwork and hopefully get home early. Captain Freeman was sitting at the desk in the roll call room trying to hurry things up by reviewing some of the reports. He’d just completed an accident report, when what looked like a walking accident came into the room. He stared at Ireland and, in spite of his best effort, burst into a fit of laughter and soon everybody in the room was howling. Ireland’s jacket and pants were covered in feathers of various colors and sizes. Feathers protruded from his hair and eyebrows, and his shoes looked as though he’d been
dancing in a hen house. Small holes were torn in his pants and jacket and he smelled like he been wallowing in a barnyard for hours. Freeman slid his chair back, propped his feet up on the desk and said, “Hell, I’m not gonna say I’m surprised, Frank. Ever since you called in and said there was a bull in your patrol car with his pecker hangin’ out the window, I’ve been expecting you to show up like this. In fact, I expected worse. And, you know what, I bet everybody in this room can’t wait to hear what else went on tonight. So, please, don’t keep us in suspense.” “By God, Captain, you wouldn’t believe what happened.” “Yes, I would, Frank. From now on, anything you say I’m taking it as the gospel truth. Go ahead and tell us. We’ll believe every word.” Ireland pulled a cigarette out of his jacket, looked up at the sprinkler and figured he’d better not push his luck. He tossed the butt in a trashcan and started his story. He told of being sprayed, a pig stealing his car, a bull driving the car around the parking lot at Hampton’s Meat Locker, and the bull taking a dump in his hat. “And hell, that was just the beginning. I finally got the bull outta my car, and here comes about 30 of the biggest damn roosters I’ve ever seen in my life. They were all over me, peckin’ on me like I was a corncob or something. I ran down into one of the holding barns to get away from ’em, and the next thing I know a goat rams me in the ass and knocks me into some kinda slop. Then when I get outta that along comes about 50 or 60 turkeys. They’re all gobblin’ and squawkin’ and chasin’ my ass around the barn, and they get me cornered over on one side. The next thing I know, they’re jumping all over me, poundin’ on me with their wings like they’re pissed off at me about something. I managed to get away
from them, and I’ll be damned if that goat didn’t ram me in the ass again and knock me over into the hog pen. And, I can tell you that was one smelly mess.” “Yeah, we’re all aware of that, Sarge,” Hastings said, holding his nose. “Up yours,” he said, as a feather floated off the top of his head. “I mean there I am up to my ass in hog shit, and pigs are snortin’ and shovin’ me around. Jesus, it took me all night just to get outta there.” “You should’ve felt right at home,” Harper said, looking over at Ames and giving a quick shrug. “Up yours, Harper.” Ames laughed. “You got a date for the New Year’s Eve dance, didn’t you? I’m sure Roland and I saw her driving your car.” “Up yours too.” “Damn, Jerry, do you think it’s a good idea makin’ a comment like that?” Harper whispered. “I mean, how the hell’re we gonna explain…” “Look, right about now I don’t think it matters what anybody says. We could say we saw the pig at the pistol range with Ireland’s gun, and they’d probably believe us.” He shrugged. “I guess you’re right.” He gave a quick laugh and said, “And, if it did take his pistol and go to the range, the pig would probably shoot a better score than pork butt.” Ireland walked over to the desk and scratched his head. “Captain, if you don’t mind I’d like to take a few days off.” “Take a week or two, Frank. Spend Christmas with—with, oh hell, I don’t care who you spend it with. Just give me a leave slip, and get outta here.” He looked at him
and started laughing again. “We could all use a little fresh air, and a hot shower and some new clothes wouldn’t hurt you either.” Ireland looked down at his clothes and muttered. “I think I’ll burn these.” “Yeah, good idea,” Freeman said, as he signed the leave slip and handed him a copy. “Merry Christmas, Frank. Enjoy your holiday.” When Ireland walked out the door, leaving a trail of feathers behind him, Jon Hastings walked over to the desk. “Captain, how does Ireland get into things like this?” “God only knows,” he said, shaking his head. “And, I mean that. I think only God knows.”
Higgins was anxious to give Tony the details of Ireland’s night of mishaps, but when he arrived at the house he knew something was terribly wrong. Tony was standing by the door, looking out through the window as if he was expecting someone. Higgins hurried to his side. “What’s wrong?” “It’s Angela, I think she overdid it with everything,” he said, fighting to keep his emotions under control. “I’m waiting for Doctor Benson now.” “Ryan and Sarah, are they…” “Evelyn picked them up about a half hour ago.” He continued to look out the window. “She’s got them talked into staying for a camp-over.”
“That’s good.” “Yeah, but I sure hope Angela doesn’t—I hope she’s just tired from all she did today.” Higgins saw the car pulling into the driveway, and stepped back allowing Tony to open the door. When Doctor Benson got out of the car, Higgins melted into the shadows and made his way upstairs. He waited across the hall until Tony and the doctor went to her bedside, and then he slipped unnoticed to the far side of the room. Angela looked up at Doctor Benson. “I guess I pushed myself a little too hard. I hope you’re not mad at me.” He shook his head, reached down, and began taking her pulse. “A little weak,” he said, looking into her eyes. He took a thermometer from his case and placed it under her tongue saying, “I’m recommending complete bed rest—and that means you’re not to get out of this bed for any reason.” She was about to object, but he quieted her. “Except, of course, to make necessary trips to the bathroom. Understand?” “Yes, but…” He raised a finger, looked over the rims of his glasses, and pointed directly at her. “No. There are no buts, Angela. You’re to stay right here in this bed and, if you disobey my order, I’ll have you confined to a hospital room. I know you don’t want that.” “No, I don’t.” “I’m sure Tony’s more than capable of fixing meals for him and the children,” he said, glancing back at Tony. “Yes, I can do that and if I need help, I know there’re people I can call on.” All of a sudden a quick smile appeared on Tony’s face. In the soft light, Doctor Benson
looked almost like a younger version of Benjamin Franklin. He shook his head and thought it was probably the way he wore his glasses. He took out his stethoscope and listened to her lungs and heart, but didn’t say a word. He simply nodded, but that didn’t give Tony or Angela any indication one way or the other. Finally he said, “I think I’m gonna give you a sedative to make sure you get a good night’s sleep.” “I’d rather not if…” “Angela, you’ve got to get some rest. You’re very weak, and if you don’t sleep, and I mean soundly, your condition is only gonna get worse. And remember what you told me just last week,” he said, taking her hand. She nodded. “Yes, I remember.” “Then, please, do as I say.” “Okay.” After being given the sedative, Angela was asleep almost immediately. Doctor Benson looked at Tony. “She really needs to rest. That means you’ve got to be firm with her. You can’t let her out of that bed except to use the bathroom, and if she wants to bathe, I’d suggest you stay with her—even give her the bath.” “I understand.” Benson took a deep breath. “I swear I don’t know how she’s holding on, and I couldn’t believe it when you told me everything she did today. Did you try to stop her?” “Well, Doctor, those causes are Angela’s biggest concern all year long, but at Christmas there’s no stopping her when it comes to caring for the homeless and needy. Short of putting her in handcuffs, there was nothing I could do.”
“And, the handcuffs wouldn’t really be a good idea.” He forced another smile. “No, sir. I don’t think I’d like to fight with her, even in her condition.” Benson picked up his bag. “I can still see a fire in her eyes.” “I know I’ve asked this a hundred times, a thousand times maybe, is there any hope that things might change?” “Tony, I wish I could answer that in a positive way,” he said, shaking his head. “But, in spite of all the tests we’ve run and had run, we still don’t know what’s causing her to deteriorate the way she is. I’ve never felt so helpless or frustrated during my medical career. I’ve gotten up in the middle of the night, and reviewed her files over and over looking for something I might’ve missed. I’ve read over each and every report from all the other doctors she’s been examined by, and if there’s a cause, or a solution in those reports, I’ve missed it. I’m sorry.” “I had to ask.” Benson patted him on the shoulder. “I know, Tony. I know.” When Doctor Benson left, Tony went back upstairs, and sat down in the chair beside the bed. He looked up at Higgins when he appeared. “I think I’m just gonna sit here with Angela for a little while.” “That’s all right, I understand.” “Maybe I can find some prayer I haven’t said before, or hope that if I say the same ones over enough that they’ll get through.” “You just sit here with her and pray, I’ve got something I should do.”
“You’re not gonna go out and get in trouble again, are you?” he said, as he took Angela’s hand. “I think I’ve done enough for one night.” “You’ll hafta tell me about it later.” Higgins went to Saint Mary’s, and quietly walked to the altar. He spent a few minutes looking up at the crucifix, but didn’t utter a word. Finally he dropped to his knees, crossed himself and said, “Chief, if you’re listening, I’d like to ask a favor.” But there was no reply. “Now, I can’t believe you’re upset over what I did to Ireland tonight. You’ve even agreed with me that Rhino Butt needs a good wakeup call every now and then. So, if I’ve done something to frost your chalice, I’d like to know.” “Sorry, Higgins, the Chief can’t take your call right now. He’s busy trying to get things ready for Christmas. You know these Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services up here are colossal events, and it takes a lotta preparation to make sure they go perfectly. He’s gotta make sure there’s enough wine, and hosts, and then there’re the flowers and wreaths. You know how He can get if one leaf is outta place.” “Yeah, I know, Pete.” “Is there a message?” “Pete, things aren’t lookin’ good for Angela Clements. I think she absolutely wore herself out trying to make sure all these homeless, and needy people down here were gonna have a good Christmas.” “Yeah, I know—and everybody here knows.” “Look, can you tell me if I’m doing something wrong? I mean, I’m trying to do everything I possibly can to get people to remember what Christmas is supposed to be.
And, the Chief said He wants me to make Him believe. Pete, I’m really lost because I don’t know what I can do, or what I’m even supposed to do.” “The Chief’s aware of everything you’ve done so far and…” “Is He satisfied?” “Higgins, you’re really putting me in a bad position. I’m not allowed to pass along information like that—not without permission.” “Pete, I don’t want Angela to die. It’s not right. I don’t know if I’ve been too much of a clown and played too many jokes on Ireland and everybody else, and neglected what I’m really supposed to be doing. I don’t know if I’ve really offended the Chief and he’s making me suffer through Angela.” “Higgins, I don’t think He’d do something that, do you?” “No, I guess not,” he said, shaking his head. “Listen, I’m open to suggestions. If you’ve got any ideas—any at all, fire away, buddy.” “If I say too much I probably will be shark bait, but why don’t you take time, sit down and go over everything you’ve done since you were sent back. You know, kinda do a self-evaluation of your work. Maybe you’ll see some things that need some minor adjustments, or you might find something that needs a major overhaul. I think that’s the best advice I can give.” “Thanks for your help.” “Anytime.” But, he wondered if he’d said too much. “I guess I’ll hafta remember to bring you a special gift when I come home.” “Higgins, that won’t be necessary—especially after the last gift you gave me.”
Tony waited until Sunday evening to bring Ryan and Sarah home. By the time they arrived Angela had had over 18 hours of sleep and was feeling much better, even if only in spirit. Of course, coming home and finding mommy in bed meant that to give her the “hi, mommy, I love you” hug and kiss, required climbing in beside her. And climbing in soon meant snuggling as close to mommy as possible. Tony was going to order them off the bed, but Angela had her arms around them, and the look in her eyes clearly said she wouldn’t have it any other way. After a few minutes Tony said, “Ryan, Sarah, why don’t we go downstairs and see what we can fix for dinner?”
“Daddy, can we get pizza, and have a party here with mommy?” Ryan said. Sarah began jumping up and down on the bed. “Daddy, please. Please let’s get pizza and have a party right here with mommy. Please.” “And Santa can come too,” Ryan said. When Angela nodded, Tony said, “Okay, I’ll call and order a pizza, and you guys go downstairs and invite Santa to our pizza party.” While waiting for the pizza to be delivered, Tony dug out the old card table, and put it up beside the bed. Chairs were brought upstairs with Santa’s help, and soon Ryan and Sarah carried paper plates and napkins in. But, seating arrangements suddenly became an issue, and especially where Santa should sit. In the end, it was Santa who decided that Sarah should sit on his right, Ryan on his left, and Tony directly beside the bed. At last the pizza arrived, and Tony placed it in the center of the table. He was about to begin serving when Ryan said, “Daddy, we hafta say grace first.” “Santa, can you say grace tonight?” Sarah said, tugging on his sleeve. Tony nodded and gestured to Higgins, who smiled. “And, of course, this isn’t the time and place for one of my more colorful blessings.” “No, it isn’t.” Higgins bowed his head as Ryan and Sarah reached out and took his hands. “Oh, Lord, we give you thanks for the food on our table. Bless these beautiful children, their wonderful parents, and watch over them always. Amen.” Sarah leaned over and whispered, “You forgot to ask God to bless your reindeer.” “Oh. And, Lord, please bless my reindeer. Amen.”
When the last morsel of pizza was eaten, Tony cleared the table, and refilled the glasses with milk or soda. He suggested that Ryan and Sarah should take a bath and get ready for bed, but they insisted that they wanted to stay with mommy just a little longer. Higgins was trying to sneak quietly out of the room when Ryan caught him by the sleeve and said, “Santa, can you tell us a Christmas story?” “Well, I don’t…” “Please, Santa, tell us a Christmas story,” Sarah said, joining Ryan in tugging on his sleeve. “Okay.” He turned and walked back to his chair. “What story would you like to hear?” They were quiet for a few moments, and then Ryan said, “When Jesus was born.” Sarah nodded. “Tell us about when Jesus was born.” “So, you’d like to hear a story from long, long ago in a land far away.” Before he could begin, they climbed up into his lap, putting an arm around his shoulders and looking him squarely in the eyes. There was no need to ask if they were ready to hear the story of the first Christmas. Quiet expression can often say so much more than volumes of spoken words. “Joseph and Mary had to leave Nazareth, where they lived, and go to Bethlehem because the emperor, Caesar Augustus, wanted to know how many people lived in the world. So, they were making this long journey so they could be counted. And, since Mary was gonna have a baby, Joseph put her on a donkey, and walked beside them all the way to Bethlehem.” “Boy, it’s too bad they didn’t have a car,” Sarah said.
“You hafta remember this was a very long time ago, and there were no cars in the world. In those days, when people went places, they had to walk or they rode a horse, or a donkey. And sometimes some people even rode camels.” Ryan looked at him for a few seconds and then said, “You think Joseph and the donkey got tired because they had to walk?” “I’m sure they did, but they stopped and rested along the way.” “Oh.” “Now, when they finally got to Bethlehem it was time for Mary to have her baby, and they went to the inn to get a room. But, when they got there, the innkeeper told them there was no room for them. He said all the rooms were full, and now they had no place to stay. When Joseph looked around, the only place he could find for them to stay was a stable. There were cows and goats and sheep in the stable, but that was okay because it was cold, and the animals would help to keep them warm. Not long after they went into the barn, Mary had her baby.” “That was Jesus,” Sarah said. “That’s right,” Higgins said, with a nod. “It was baby Jesus. But, now they had a baby and no bed to put him in. So, Joseph had to take a manger—that’s a trough used to feed animals—and put fresh straw in it so Mary could make a bed for Jesus.” “And angels came to sing to Jesus, didn’t they?” Ryan said. “Oh, more than angels came to see Jesus. It was an angel who told the shepherds, who were guarding their flocks, that a very special baby had been born. When they heard this, they took their animals and went to see Him. People far away saw a bright star in the sky, and they knew the star meant a very special baby was born in Bethlehem. And,
three men who were kings, took gifts and followed the star to where Jesus lay in the manger.” After a few moments of silence Ryan tapped Higgins’ shoulder. “If Mary and Joseph came here, mommy and daddy wouldn’t make them sleep in a barn.” “No,” Sarah said. “They could sleep here, and if they still didn’t have a car they could put the donkey in the garage. And, daddy could go to the store and buy hay for the donkey.” Higgins smiled. “That’s because your mommy and daddy are very good, and always want to help people.” Ryan nodded. “And, Jesus could sleep in my bed. Then He wouldn’t get straw in his clothes and itch. When straw gets in your clothes, it makes you itch all over.” Higgins took a quick look over at Tony and Angela. “Well, both of you have some great ideas for making Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus feel welcome. I’m sure they’d be very happy to know that if they came here, they’d have a place to stay.” “Mommy could make brownies for them,” Sarah said. “Maybe some chocolate chip cookies too.” “Yeah, she makes really, really good cookies and brownies,” Ryan said, rubbing his tummy. “Let’s think about just one more thing, and then I think you should get ready for bed, okay?” “Okay,” they said. “What made the very first Christmas so special?” Almost together and in the same tone, “Jesus was born.”
“That’s right, Jesus was born.” Ryan slid off his lap, looked up at him and said, “Were you there?” “No, I missed that,” he said, smiling. “But, I know somebody who was there.” Tony could only shake his head as they excitedly cried, “Really! Really! Who? Who is it?” “You don’t know him. He’s a friend of mine by the name of Will Adams,” he said, with a laugh. “I think he built the barn that Jesus was born in. If he didn’t build it, I’m sure he designed it.” “Okay, Ryan, Sarah, it’s time for bed,” Tony said, as he turned them toward the door. He leaned over to Higgins and whispered. “Even with the kids, you just couldn’t resist, could you?” ”Can’t help it. It’s me.” “After I get the kids tucked in, would you mind staying with Angela for about twenty minutes?” “Not at all.” “Thanks. I’ve gotta run down to the pharmacy and pick up a prescription before they close.” “I can do it for you—I mean, if you don’t mind Santa Claus stopping and…” He laughed. “I really appreciate the offer, but I think I’d better do it. I just have this vision of you running into Ireland, or some weasel weenie, and there’s the pharmacy on the back burner.” “I sure hate being a foregone conclusion, but you’re right. I guess you’d better do it, and I’ll sit here and keep Angela company.”
“Look on the bright side. By staying here, it might keep you outta trouble from you know where,” he said, glancing up toward the ceiling. Higgins chuckled. “Yeah, I don’t wanna get in any more trouble with the Chief than I already am.” When Tony left, Higgins checked in on Ryan and Sarah before coming back to sit with Angela. They talked about the donations made for the homeless and needy, and how happy she was to see such large contributions. “There was so much this year, we’ll have money to spend for meals well into next year.” “That’s great,” he said, hoping she wouldn’t ask any touchy questions. But, before she had the opportunity, Tony came back with her medication. “Here you hafta take this now.” He handed her a capsule and a glass of water. She took the medication and looked at it. “I always thought these were in tablet form.” “I guess they can come in either capsule or tablet,” he said, looking at the bottle. “It’s the right label.” After swallowing the pill, she looked back at Higgins. “Thanks for taking time to tell the kids another story. I know they really enjoyed it.” He looked at her and smiled. “It’s kinda hard to say no to kids. But, they sure can put you on the spot with the stories they wanna hear. I thought I’d mess it up.” “Oh, come on, Mr. Higgins, you did a fantastic job telling that story. You told it so they could understand it—and they loved it.” Tony nodded. “Yeah, you have a way with them.”
“You should’ve seen him at the school on Friday. He was just like the pied piper with the children. They couldn’t wait to hear him tell his tales of Saint Nicolas and recite Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Angela crossed her arms and stared at him saying, “Now, there’s one thing I forgot to ask you when everything was over. How did you get David Riley to change his attitude? Everybody remembers him being a real—a real…” “ A real tick turd?” “Yes, I guess that’s a good way to put it,” she said, with a nod. “Then suddenly he was like a new person. One minute he hated you, and the next he was your best friend. He’s handing out gifts for you and asking you to tell stories. And I know he wasn’t wearing an elf costume when he came to school. That’s not David.” He laughed. “Maybe he was overcome by the Christmas spirit.” “Overcome with a little help maybe?” He grinned. “Well, just a little.” “I’m surprised that his father didn’t come looking for you.” She shook her head and stared at the wall for a second. “I mean, if you ever met him, you’d know why David is—was such a terror. The man’s a real evil person.” Higgins grinned. “Not anymore. You might say he’s a changed man.” “You didn’t?” He grinned again. “Yes, I did.” “Thank you.” She smiled, wondering what he’d done, but decided not to ask. “I’m happy that you took care of his problem.” “Oh, it was my pleasure. I assure you.”
“And, I can’t thank you enough for everything you’ve done for Ryan and Sarah,” Tony said. “They absolutely love you. And you know, I think they’ll always have a different view of Christmas because of what you’ve said and done. I think you’ve helped them see the entire season in a new way.” “I think that credit goes to you and Angela, not me. They’re not selfish, like so many children, thinking about what gifts they’ll get on Christmas morning. And, that didn’t come from me. That was in the way you raised them. It was Ryan and Sarah who said Christmas was special because it was the time when Jesus was born.” “We’ve always tried to get them to see their blessings in everything. We want them to see not only Christmas, but everyday as something special.” Higgins crossed the room and looked out the window for a few seconds. “Maybe it wouldn’t hurt if everybody looked at Christmas through the eyes of a child, especially a child who sees the season for everything it is. A child has a way, and maybe it’s their innocence, of being able to see all the magic and special miracles of Christmas. I don’t believe there’s a thing wrong with adults taking a step back, and trying to see things through the eyes of a child. It might give them an opportunity to see so many things they’ve forgotten, or even missed when they were growing up.” Angela took Tony’s hand and said, “You know, you’re right. And it would be fun to look at things like a kid again.” Tony looked at Angela, and suddenly wondered what it was going to be like trying to celebrate Christmases without her. He felt the stinging in his eyes and said, “God, I only wish—I…”
Higgins walked back and took them by the hands saying, “Don’t stop believing and, whatever you do, don’t give up hope. Sometimes the Chief finds a very unexpected way to work a miracle into someone’s life. And, so many times those who receive the miracle never know it; it’s that subtle. Then there’re always those miracles that are so obvious, they just kinda slap you right between the eyes. So, you keep praying for your miracle. You might find it yet.”
Higgins said goodnight, and left quietly to go to Saint Mary’s. Tonight, though, he wouldn’t demand a conference with the Chief, or call upon Peter to answer questions for him. Tonight he decided a humble approach might be best. “I thought I’d take time to say thanks for a few things. I appreciate You letting me attend my son’s promotion ceremony, and thanks for letting me go without the beard. You know, a fluffy white beard doesn’t really go well with the uniform. Anyway, thanks for everything.” He left the church, and started wandering through town looking at the homes and stores. He liked seeing the decorations, especially some of the newer ones, and thought
he noticed a few more nativity scenes. But his mind wasn’t completely wrapped up in lights, trees and wreaths. He was taking Peter’s advice, evaluating his job performance and trying to see what he could do better, or change in some way. He was looking over a storefront window display when a car stopped at a traffic light behind him. He smiled when he heard Do You hear What I Hear playing and for a few seconds he hummed along with the melody. He turned and watched the car pull away thinking I wonder if that guy really wanted to be listening to Christmas Carols? He can’t listen to anything else because of what I did. Damn, now I don’t know if I did the right thing or not. Even Tony said I shouldn’t do anything to upset the Chief. He spent the night walking from place to place, and going into twenty-four hour convenience stores. From coffee shops to gas stations, he heard the songs of the season from White Christmas to Jingle Bells and Silent Night. Although he didn’t hear anyone complain about the music, he wondered if they’d listen to, or play the songs of Christmas if they were given a choice. And, really, they should have the choice. Higgins vanished into the graying shadows of the approaching dawn, and fought with his ideas of good and bad. By the time the first gleaming light of day peeked over the rooftops, he knew there was something he had to do. With a wisp of his magical powers from above, he was able to have the managers and a majority of the disc jockeys of every radio station in the area assembled in one place by ten o’clock. They sat around a table in a conference room reserved at a local hotel, sipping fresh coffee and eating donuts while asking each other who had called the meeting, and the reason for it.
They were certainly surprised when Santa Claus came through the door, walked to the head of the table, and put a sack down beside him. He looked around the room, nodded and said, “I wanna thank all of you for coming.” “We’d like to know why we’re here,” said Joe Bauer. “I’ll explain everything and make it as brief as possible.” He looked around at them again. “Then I’ll leave the decisions up to you, okay?” Bauer shrugged. “I guess that’s a reasonable request, but first I have a question I’d like to ask.” Higgins waved a hand to him. “Please, go ahead.” “Are you the same Santa Claus we’ve heard so much about recently? There’s a Santa Claus who’s been quite a hit in the schools, along the streets, and in the business district. Are you that Santa?” He gave a nod. “One and the same.” Bauer smiled and sat back. “In that case, I’m willing to listen to whatever it is you hafta say.” “Ladies and gentlemen, please let me say what’s on my mind and I’ll be out of your way,” he said, with a quick nod. “Needless to say everybody’s been baffled by the Christmas music that’s been playing, and can’t be stopped. I’m responsible for that, but I won’t go into details of how the feat was accomplished.” In spite of dozens of shocked expressions nobody said a word. Everyone either stared at him, or dropped their donuts on the table and tried to understand if they’d heard him correctly.
“Maybe I was wrong for my rather brash approach, but I only wanted people to stop and remember Christmas for what it’s supposed to be. To take a look back in time to the way it was once celebrated—with a great deal of reverence and caring. I think the world’s forgotten the real reason for the celebration of Christmas, and because of that the world has changed, but not for the better. Greed and arrogance have taken the place of love and understanding. There was a time when the attitudes of people changed as Christmas approached. There were smiles and greetings, and time for others less fortunate. I don’t see that anymore. But, I won’t stand here on a soapbox and preach to you all day about my feelings on Christmas, and the spirit of the season.” He reached down, picked up the sack and began passing CDs and DVDs of the sounds of Christmas around to them. “I’ll leave it up to you to decide the fate of the rest of the Christmas season here. You have a choice now. You can continue to resurrect some of those feelings of old, or shut them down. So, do with the season what you will. And, just in case you decide to continue on with the Christmas music, these are my gifts to you for your radio stations. If you choose to go back to the venue your particular station plays everyday, you can trash these, or give ’em to somebody who might appreciate them.” When everyone had a stack of CDs and DVDs in front of them, he took his sack and walked to the door. He looked back, smiled brightly and said, “Oh, the coffee and donuts are on me. Merry Christmas.” He was gone for what seemed like a long time before anyone spoke, and it was Joe Bauer who broke the silence. “I’m not sure if we’ve just been slapped across the
face, had our eyes opened, or both.” He got up and went to the head of the table where he stood and looked around at his colleagues. “What’re your thoughts?” “It might take a lot of time to digest what he said, even though it wasn’t some long winded speech,” Lucinda James said. “Still, I thought he made a lot of sense.” “Care to take that a step farther?” “Just think back to when we were kids growing up, and what Christmas was then. Remember how our parents and grandparents always seemed to find a certain excitement in the days leading up to Christmas. But, the excitement never seemed to be centered on the number, or size of anticipated gifts. It was about the family being together for dinner, celebrating as a family at a church service, and wishing each other Merry Christmas, and everybody was really happy.” “Things aren’t that way anymore, are they?” Harvey Cranston said, as he sat back in his chair. “I mean, I think whoever this Santa Claus character is, he’s right. It’s greed and arrogance and, in some way or another, all of us in this room has contributed to it.” “Hey, let’s be real here, people,” Martin King, said tapping his pen on the table. “The bottom line is making money. I don’t give a damn if it’s Christmas, or the 4th of July. As long as it puts a dollar in my pocket, I’m happy. And, I’m gonna play the music my audience wants to hear, and to hell with Santa and what he likes. The happier my audience, the more money it brings to the station. It means more advertising, more requests for personal appearances and, again, it’s more money.” He tossed the pen on the table and stood up. “So, you do what you want. I’m outta here and announcing to my listeners that their music is back. In fact, I’m gonna open up the request lines 24 hours a
day, and play whatever they wanna hear. Risqué to downright obscene, I’m celebrating the season my way, and keeping my hands in the pockets of the listeners.” “Martin, obviously you missed the point he was trying to make and…” “Yeah, and I’m that much closer to my brand new Porsche,” he said, opening the door, and stepping into the hallway. “So, I really don’t give a damn about the point he was trying to make.” King laughed as he slammed the door. Lucinda James glanced around the room. “Well, what about the rest of us? What’re we gonna do?” “What the hell, we’re already here,” Bauer said. “We might as well keep the table open for discussion.” Harvey Cranston refilled his coffee cup. “You know I’ve got three kids at home, two boys and a girl. They’re always bickering, nothing serious, just the petty nitpicking stuff. Then the Christmas music started playing, and in a day or two it was peaceful. It was like the music calmed them down.” Bauer laughed. “I’ve got four, and it’s the same thing. There’s peace and quiet. No more competing to see who can turn their music up louder. And, they’ve actually been singing along with the Christmas Carols.” “You really think it’s the music?” James said, reaching for her cup. Cranston gave a quick shrug. “Well, I don’t have any other explanation” “Let me give you a little scoop from the news desk,” said Wiley Tillman. “In the past week the police log’s showing a noticeable drop in crime. Robberies are way down, and even the domestic violence calls have dropped.”
“Yeah, but the police nabbed that trio of robbers,” Bauer said. “That could have a big impact on the drop in robberies.” “I know, but I was also looking at the nickel and dime robberies. They’ve taken a nosedive too.” “Maybe it is the music,” James said with a wave of her hand. “Like he said, we have a choice when we leave here,” Bauer said, tossing a napkin on the table. “We can play what he gave us, or go back to what we were airing before.” Cranston rubbed the back of his neck. “You know, today’s the 22nd, and what have we got to lose if we finish out the season with the Christmas music?” “Probably nothing.” “Okay and let’s be honest with ourselves,” James said. “How many complaints have we gotten because of the Christmas music?” Bob Norris raised a hand. “At my station, not many at all, but I’ve been swamped with calls, letters and over 200 Christmas cards thanking me for what we’ve been doing.” “It’s pretty much the same for me too,” Cranston said. “The complaints I got came in the beginning, and not many since. The calls, letters and cards saying thanks have tripled over the past three or four days.” Bauer couldn’t hide his smile. “Well, my secretary kept a tally of complaints versus compliments, and compliments are leading by about a ninety-five to one margin.” “It sounds like the complainers are the minority in this case, but then we have the ACLU out there acting like the typical horses asses they are, and running to court to try and stop the music to please the few,” James said, as she refilled her cup.
Tillman howled. “But, they had a bad day in court. Actually, they came off like they were in favor of sounds of the season.” “Then are we willing to agree to play the Christmas music for a few more days?” Bauer said, looking around the table. With a nod Cranston said, “Well, I say we keep it going until at least midnight on Christmas Day.” “I agree,” James said. “But, why not continue till New Year’s Day?” “Hey, let’s steal a page from Marty King,” Tillman said. “Why not open up a new version of the request lines? Let’s get our listeners to call in and tell us if they’d like to listen to the sounds of the season through New Year’s day.” “I like that,” Bauer said, lightly slapping a hand on the table. “I like that a lot.” Cranston raised his cup. “Okay, let’s do it.” At two o’clock that very afternoon each station manager personally went on the air and asked listeners to call in and tell them what they wanted to hear. By 3:30 their lines were swamped, and Saint Nicholas would’ve been dancing in the streets if he saw the results. As for Martin King’s request lines: they suddenly went dead when two employees who were smoking a bowl of “holiday greens” set fire to the station. The damage would keep the station off the air for at least a month, maybe longer. King’s vision of a brand new Porsche in his garage sped away from the starting line, and rapidly faded in the distance. ***
Tony was pleased when he opened his front door and found Captain Freeman, Roland Harper and Jerry Ames on the porch. “Hey, what a pleasant surprise. “Come on in, I’ve got a fresh pot of coffee on and Evelyn Higgins dropped off a box of cookies.” “Jesus, Tony, don’t say that too loud.” Freeman laughed, as he stepped inside. “Frank might hear you and show up.” Soon, they were seated around the kitchen table, pouring coffee and sampling the batch of cookies. After his second cookie, Harper said, “How’s Angela doing?” “Today she seems to be doing pretty good. She’s taking a nap right now, and she’s had plenty of rest over the past two days. I think it’s really helped.” “Man, I’m glad to hear that.” He passed the cookie plate back to Jerry Ames. “I just keep hoping and praying for a miracle.” “We came by to cheer you up by telling you about Ireland’s latest, and possibly his greatest adventure,” Freeman said with a chuckle. “Well, it’ll be his greatest for now. I’m sure something else is gonna come along one day that’ll probably top this.” “What happened this time?” Although Tony knew Higgins was going after Ireland on Saturday evening, he still hadn’t heard what he’d done. “Or do I really wanna know?” Harper laughed. “Oh, believe me, you don’t wanna miss this.” Freeman leaned back, after taking a sip of his coffee, and began telling Tony what had happened. When he stopped, Tony thought that was the end of it, but he held up a hand and went on. “Do you believe that idiot called me at 4:30 Sunday morning, and woke me out of a sound sleep to tell me a few details he’d forgotten?”
“Yeah, I can believe it,” Tony said. “But what was so important that he had to wake you up to tell you?” “Okay, to begin with he’d had a few to drink by then—probably quite a few,” he said, after another sip of coffee. “So, anyway, fart brain tells me that while he’s being attacked by giant roosters and pounded on by these crazed turkeys, the cows and sheep were singing We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Then, he wants to know if I’d get outta bed, drive over to Hampton’s Meat Locker, and help him find his cigarette lighter.” When the laughter subsided, Tony said, “What did you do?” “I didn’t say a word. I just hung up, and unplugged the phone.” “So, that was the end of it?” Freeman smiled. “Well, not quite. The phone call woke Julia up, and she said she didn’t see any reason to waste the time. She tossed the covers back, and wanted to know if Santa Larry would like to help her wrap the last of the presents.” Ames shot a grin at Harper. “So, there was no wasted time.” “Not one second. I did my very best to show her that Santa Larry could be just as helpful as she wished. But, that does have certain fringe benefits.” When Ryan and Sarah walked in to raid the cookie plate, the topic changed. “I hear we’re supposed to get some snow,” Ames said. “I think they’re saying we could get about six to eight inches before tomorrow night,” Freeman said, taking the cookie Sarah offered. “Thank you.” “You’re welcome.” She stuffed two chocolate chip cookies in her pocket, and put the plate back on the table.
Tony didn’t miss the cookies in the pocket trick. “Sarah, where are you going with the extra cookies?” “Mommy wants some,” she said, as she opened the refrigerator and took the milk out. “She wants some milk too.” “That’s fine.” He wondered if Angela really wanted cookies and milk, or if she told Sarah it was okay to bring them to make her feel good. “Tell mommy not to eat too much and spoil her appetite. Remind her that if she’s feeling okay, we’re going to Outback for dinner.” “Daddy, it’s okay. Mommy said she’s really hungry.” “Wow,” he muttered, as Ryan and Sarah hurried out of the kitchen. Freeman looked at Tony as he refilled his coffee cup. “Something wrong?” “I don’t know,” he said, shaking his head. “Angela hasn’t had much of an appetite since she got sick. This is the first time she’s said she’s hungry in a long time.” “Maybe that’s a good sign.” “God, I hope so.” He whispered a silent prayer, and asked that this was a positive sign. About two hours later, he sat and stared at Angela as she devoured a bowl of salad, a plate of coconut shrimp, a baked potato and all but three bites of her steak. “Want me to finish that for you?” he said. “Don’t you dare,” she scolded, while pulling her plate closer. “I’m just resting up so I can eat the rest, and hope I have room for dessert.” “Chocolate Thunder from Down Under, right?” “We can order one, and share it with the kids.”
“Just one?” She laughed. “Let’s see how we do with one. If we’re still in the mood, we can order another one.” “It’s so good to see you eat like that,” he said, reaching across the table and taking her hand. “Daddy, it’s okay for you to tell mommy you love her—even here in front of everybody.” Sarah stood up on the seat beside him, and gave him a catsup kiss on his cheek. “But don’t get too mushy.” She took a bite of her French fry, and looked over at Angela. “Mommy, are you gonna cry?” “Mommy, it’s okay if you cry. You can blow your nose in this,” Ryan said, as he gave her a clean napkin. When they got home Ryan and Sarah rushed to find Higgins and tell him about their dinner. When they breathlessly finished their description of every morsel they’d eaten, they asked him to tell them a story. Even though they should be getting ready for bed, Tony and Angela agreed to let Higgins tell them another Christmas story. And they didn’t want to hear anything but the story of the first Christmas again. Still, it just wasn’t quite enough to satisfy them. So he sat back in the recliner to recite Twas the Night Before Christmas for them. But before he began he said, “Now, did you know that when this poem was first written, it was actually called A Visit from Saint Nicholas?” “No,” they said, staring into his eyes. “Well, it was, and it was only later on that it became known as Twas the Night Before Christmas.” He paused and smiled. “And just so you’ll know, a doctor named Clement C. Moore wrote it for his children because he loved to write poetry for them.”
Higgins paused for another moment, nodded and began: Twas the night before Christmas, when all through he house Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse; The stockings were hung by the chimney with care In hopes that St. Nicholas would soon be there; The children were nestled all snug in their beds, While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads; And mamma in her kerchief, and I in my cap, Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap Higgins continued, but soon noticed that, in spite of gallant efforts, little eyelids were growing heavy. Still, he wouldn’t disappoint them, and went on until the ballad of Jolly Old Saint Nick had ended. While Tony and Angela tucked them in, Higgins slipped away to Saint Mary’s for his nightly prayers. He knelt at the foot of the altar, and crossed himself. “Chief, I hope things are going the way You want them. I’m sorry if my first efforts on the Christmas Carols were a little forceful. I guess I should’ve known that wouldn’t exactly please You. But, it looks like my diplomatic approach worked. All the radio stations are gonna play Christmas music anyway—except one. Seems they had a fire over there, and it put them…” He looked up at the crucifix. “Say, You don’t know how that fire got so outta hand so quick, do You?” When there was no answer he shrugged. “I guess I didn’t really expect You to torch the place.” He began praying once more, but stopped. “Then again, You certainly put the torch to a place or two back when. Cooked a few sinners too.”
When Higgins left the church, Peter said, “Well, do You believe now?” “Not quite.” Peter couldn’t hide the anger in his voice. “I’m starting to feel like Higgins. I don’t understand You anymore. I don’t even know what You want.” “Be patient, Peter. Be patient.”
The snow was starting to fall just after sunrise, and it brought cries of joy from Ryan and Sarah the moment they saw it. They were anticipating their first sleigh ride of the season, and wondered if there’d be time for building a snowman. Although Tony tried to explain that the snow falling outside wasn’t the kind for building snowmen, they told him all snowmen were made of snow. Without hesitation, he decided it was better not to argue against such simple logic. The snow began covering the frozen ground, streets and sidewalks very quickly. Before noon there was already over three inches of the fine white powder blanketing the landscape, and by news time at six o’clock it had reached a depth of twelve inches. And,
the weather forecasters, near and far, were taking a bow, if not gloating, over their weeklong prediction of a white Christmas. After dinner Ryan and Sarah were looking out the front window, and watching the snow come to a stop. But, they’d already heard it was going to snow again before the end of the week, so it wasn’t such a major disaster when the final tiny white flake drifted to earth. Angela refused to listen to Tony’s constant pleas to stay in bed, insisting that she felt fine. “Please, I’m okay. I just can’t stay in this bed another minute.” “Angela, you’re…” “Tony, really, I feel fine.” And, truly, she indeed felt great. “My appetite seems to be back, and all of a sudden I can’t get enough to eat.” He smiled. “Yeah, you have been eating almost nonstop since dinner last night.” “Good. Then stop nagging me, and I’ll come down and bake you and the kids some cookies.” He grinned and snapped a crisp salute to her. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll stop the nagging immediately.” A few minutes later she came into the kitchen and Higgins said, “You know, Angela, you look a lot better. I mean, a whole lot better.” “I’ve felt fine for over a day now,” she said, while taking out ingredients for her cookies. “I don’t know what’s happened, but I feel like a new person.” Tony looked at her standing by the oven, and wondered if this was just a last burst of energy surging through her. After all, Doctor Benson said there were still no answers
to her health problems. But, this wasn’t the time to cast a shadow of gloom over the household. Angela hummed, or sang along with every Christmas Carol on the radio while she put batch after batch of cookies into the oven. Soon, the countertops and tabletop were filled with chocolate chip and gingerbread cookies. And, still, she seemed fine. When the last tray of cookies was squeezed onto the tabletop, Ryan and Sarah rushed back into the kitchen. “Can we go down to church and say a prayer for mommy?” Ryan said. “You don’t hafta go to church to say prayers for mommy.” Tony picked up a gingerbread cookie, hoping Angela would catch him.” You can say them right here at home.” “Me and Sarah would rather say them at church, because they’re special prayers.” “Ryan, we shouldn’t go out because the streets haven’t been plowed yet,” Tony said, wondering why he insisted on going to church to pray for Angela. “That’s okay, daddy,” Sarah said, with a smile. “Santa can take us to church in his sleigh.” “Uh, well, uh, uh, my sleigh’s in the shop being painted for tomorrow night. It’s gotta be all shiny, and like new when I deliver toys.” Higgins looked from Angela to Tony. “And—and the reindeer are sleeping.” Ryan and Sarah pointed a finger at Higgins. “Santa, you’re just teasing us.” “Oh, no I’m not.” “Yes, you are, Santa,” they said, grinning and shaking a finger at him. “Your sleigh’s in the front yard.”
“It is?” He looked rather puzzled. “And your reindeer too.” Without uttering a word Tony, Angela and Higgins walked from the kitchen to the living room, and straight to the picture window. Standing side by side, they stared out at the sleigh and eight reindeer in front of the house. Tony leaned around Angela and whispered. “Oh, hey, you’ve really outdone yourself this time. I mean, this even tops the tale I heard yesterday afternoon about what you did to Ireland.” “Hey, don’t blame me for this,” he muttered. “I had nothing to with it.” “You expect me to believe that?” “If you wanna blame somebody, blame Mr. You Know Who, and His pal Pete,” he said, jabbing his thumb toward the ceiling. “Yeah, well I hope you’re ready to take the kids for a sleigh ride down to Saint Mary’s.” Then he pointed over his shoulder. “They’re already grabbing their coats.” Angela turned and walked toward the children and laughed. “They’re certainly not going without me.” “You can’t go out in this weather. I…” “Tony, if Mr. You Know Who, as Santa here so eloquently described the Good Lord, put it there, I’m not passing up what’s probably a once in a lifetime opportunity.” “You’re serious, aren’t you?” “Absolutely. How many people do you know who can say they’ve taken a ride in Santa’s sleigh? Not only that, but with Santa driving and eight reindeer pulling—no, I’m not missing this.” She smiled, as she pulled on her coat. “Not at all.”
Tony flashed a quick smile and shrugged. “Oh well, might as well make it unanimous. Let me get my hat and coat. All right, Ryan and Sarah, bundle up good. It’s cold out there.” “And You and Pete grumble about my pranks,” Higgins mumbled, as he went down the stairs to fetch his heavy red coat. “Now, I’ve gotta go out there and pretend I know what I’m doing with a sleigh and a bunch of reindeer. That’s just great. I don’t know the first thing about driving a sleigh. Hey, do you drive a sleigh, or what?” “Have a little faith, Higgins. Everything’s gonna be okay.” “Pete, you’re really on thin ice,” he half growled, while pulling on his coat. “I’m tellin’ you right now those reindeer better not blow a big green cloud outta their butts at me.” “Higgins, would I do that to you?” “Darn right you would, you miserable no good…” “Ah, ah, don’t push your luck, Higgie. You might get more than the green cloud in your face.” He started up the steps muttering. “You just wait till I get back, shark bait. You don’t have a pair of shorts big enough for the snake I’m gonna shove in ’em.” By the time Higgins reached the front door, he couldn’t tell who was more excited, the children or Angela. Of course, he should’ve known there was a front and back seat to the sleigh. Seating arrangements weren’t difficult to guess either. Tony was seated in the back with his arm around Angela, holding her close, while Sarah and Ryan sat on his right and left. Even the thick blankets to keep his passengers warm weren’t really a surprise. Somebody up there had taken care of everything.
He reached down; picked up the leather reins and the reindeer took that as their cue. In an instant, the sleigh was being pulled across the lawn and out into the street. As the sleigh picked up a little speed Higgins thought well, with the kids right here beside me it might keep the gas clouds, or a stray turd from flying back at me. The reindeer pulled the sleigh straight to Saint Mary’s Church, and stopped just a few feet from the nativity scene. It looked like Father Murphy, or maybe the nuns had already been outside and swept the snow off the almost life-sized figures, and cleared a path around the stable. Or did they? They climbed down out of the sleigh and walked through the snow to the clearing. Tony held Angela’s right hand and Sarah’s left, while Angela snuggled close and held Tony’s left hand and Ryan’s right. Higgins stood just behind them, and a step or two to their right. After a moment he lowered his head and smiled. He shot a quick glance at the sleigh and reindeer, and thought this is quite a Christmas gift You’re giving them. A memory to last forever. Angela looked at the nativity scene, studying the stable and how it sat perfectly in a hollow made by the outstretched limbs of the huge evergreen. It looked as though the big tree was wrapping a pair of strong arms around Mary, Joseph and the infant. Even the shepherds and their sheep seemed protected by it. She finally gazed up at the only light on the tree, a very large sparkling star. “I’m sure that on the first Christmas the star was the only light, or at least the brightest light in the sky,” she said. “I wonder what it would’ve been like to stand like this, and look at Mary, Joseph and Jesus back then.”
At that moment, a soft breeze whispered through the limbs of the giant evergreen and Higgins understood. He stepped back, waved a hand and every light for miles went out and only the lights—except the star atop the tree. Without other lights to detract from its glow, the gleam of the star grew brighter, and the brightness shone down directly over the stable. “Wow!” Ryan and Sarah blurted. “What a beautiful sight,” Angela whispered. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more beautiful sight.” Pressing her head against Tony’s shoulder she said, “It’s positively breathtaking.” “Are you okay?” he said. “I’ve never felt better, or more at peace in my entire life,” she said, squeezing his hand tighter. Higgins looked up and down the street marveling over his handiwork. A mere wave of his hand had put out the lights as far as he could see. He was about to turn around when he saw them coming. Just a few at first, but then more and more people came out of their homes, and began walking toward the church. They stopped and stood in the snow behind Tony and Angela and the children. Nobody said a word. They simply stood there looking at the scene beneath the tree. The numbers started growing, and soon two dozen people turned to sixty and then seventy-five. And, still, nobody spoke. They seemed satisfied to stand in the cold and snow, and gaze at the figures under the tree. It wasn’t long before the crowd had swelled to over a hundred people, and more were walking along snow covered streets toward Saint Mary’s Church.
Angela glanced back over her shoulder at the growing crowd, and then back at the figures of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. A moment later she began singing: Silent Night, Holy Night, All is calm, all is bright. Round yon virgin mother and child, Holy Infant so tender and mild, Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace. Father Murphy and Sister Elizabeth came out of the church as everyone joined Angela in singing. But, when Silent Night ended, it was only the beginning. Christmas Carols were being sung one after another, and no one was leaving to go home. Father Murphy and Sister Elizabeth called the other priests and nuns to come join the spontaneous celebration. While they sang with everyone, Father Joseph and Sister Ellen brought hot chocolate and cookies outside. Handshakes and hugs were exchanged, with greetings of Merry Christmas. Higgins slipped quietly into the shadows and watched, until he heard the whisper on the chilly breeze. He nodded. Like it or not, he knew it was time to go. He wished he could stay long enough to say goodbye to Tony and Angela, and enjoy one last hug from Ryan and Sarah. But, the voice in the wind said the time was now. He looked up and said, “One thing before I head home, did I finish the job? Did I make You believe? Will Angela be okay?” “This isn’t the time to discuss it, Higgins.” “But, Chief, I can’t…”
“No more, Higgins.” He simply bowed his head and nodded. “Okay, Chief.” It was useless to argue with the Him, especially when he’d already made up His mind. It was some time before Tony and Angela realized that Higgins was gone, and along with him the sleigh and reindeer. They thought they’d have to walk home, when along came Captain Freeman in a rather large 4 X 4 pickup truck. He dropped them off at their home, wished them a Merry Christmas and headed for the station. Inside the house it was still dark and the lights wouldn’t go on, but that was fine with Tony and Angela. Ryan and Sarah were exhausted, and didn’t resist efforts to put them to bed. But, before closing their eyes they said they thought Santa had left to get ready to deliver Christmas gifts. Tony went down into the basement to look for Higgins, but the moment he shined the flashlight around the room, he knew he was gone. The suitcase was missing, and the police uniform no longer hung in the closet. And, just when he was about to feel very sad, he saw the Grinch sweatshirt draped neatly over the back of a chair. He turned around and smiled. “You’re a lot better Santa Claus than a Grinch, and I bet I’m not the only one who knows that.”
Tony was jolted out of a sound sleep just after 7:00 AM, and he recognized the frantic voice on the other end of the phone as Doctor Benson’s. “Get Angela to the hospital emergency room immediately,” he said. “My God, she’s been taking the wrong medicine.” “What? What’s that?” Tony said, trying to shake himself awake, and understand what the doctor was saying. “The prescription you picked up on Sunday evening was mislabeled,” Benson said. “The pharmacy was swamped with requests and, somehow in the confusion, two labels were switched. Angela has someone else’s medication.”
Tony woke Angela, told her to get dressed, and hurried to get the kids up and ready to go. Of course, that was no easy chore, but after he offered the right bribe, they were up and getting dressed. While everyone was dressing, he rushed out to start the car and warm it up. Then he checked the street, and was pleased to see that the plows had cleared the snow. Somehow he managed to get everybody out of the house, into the car, and on the way to the hospital before 7:30. He made a quick call to Evelyn, and gave her a very brief explanation of what was going on. She told him not to worry; she’d pick up food for the children, and meet them at the emergency room. Doctor Benson and several staff members were waiting for them at the emergency room entrance, and immediately escorted Angela to a cubicle. She was ordered on to the bed, and suddenly she was surrounded. She was having her blood pressure taken, blood drawn for testing, and her temperature taken, while a nurse listened to her heart and lungs. Three other doctors joined Doctor Benson, and they began probing her stomach, checking her eyes, looking into her ears and nose, and muttering incoherently the whole time. Tony was a nervous wreck in the waiting room, but he couldn’t leave Ryan and Sarah until Evelyn arrived. Finally she walked in, gave the kids a bag, which contained their requested breakfast delights, and asked Tony what was going on. He told her he’d let her know as soon as he found out, and hurried to the door. By the time he reached Angela’s cubicle Doctor Benson was scratching his head and mumbling, “I don’t understand. This isn’t possible.”
“What isn’t possible?” Angela said, getting back up onto the bed. “According to this scale you’ve gained seven pounds. That’s impossible. You couldn’t have gained that much weight in just six days.” But, within the hour, he would be making another shocking announcement. “Angela, I have no explanation whatsoever for this. There’s nothing wrong with you, you’re in perfect health.” She blinked and stared at him for a moment. “I am?” “Yes. Whatever was causing your body to deteriorate has vanished from your system as though—as though it were never there.” “God, that’s a—a—well, almost like a…” She paused, and looked at Tony. “I know what you’re trying to say, Sweetheart.” He felt the sudden lump in his throat. “I’m thinking it too, but I’m afraid to say it.” She looked back at Doctor Benson. “Is it possible the medicine I got by mistake could’ve cured the disease?” “Angela, by every medical definition, no.” He got up and shook his head. “I guess we shouldn’t question good fortune. And, I’m not sure I should even tell you to continue taking the medicine—the wrong medicine—well, if it was the wrong medicine.” He sat down again, and rubbed his chin. “Let’s take a chance. Stop taking the medicine, and see how you feel. If you start to feel bad, begin taking it again. But, even if you don’t feel bad, I want you back in here on the 26th for a follow up examination.” “Okay.” She slid off the bed, gave Doctor Benson a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Can I go home now?” “Uh, yes.” Suddenly, he smiled. “Yes, by all means.”
Tony held her hand, and they walked out into the waiting room where Evelyn took one look at them and burst into tears. She rushed to Angela, kissed her and said, “My Sweet Lord, look at you. You look wonderful. What did the doctor say? What— what’s happened?” Angela shook her head, and her eyes glistened. “I don’t quite know what to say. I—I’m still trying to figure it out myself. I think I’m in a daze right now.” “Let me drive the children home,” Evelyn said. “And, I’ll take my time. That way you and Tony can talk, or hug and kiss or whatever. But, I think you need a little time to yourselves right now.” Tony and Angela walked to their car in silence, but when they got there he took her in his arms and gave her the biggest kiss he could summon. Finally he pulled away long enough to say, “I love you, Angela. I love you with all my heart.” The tears were trickling slowly along her face when she whispered, “It looks like you might be stuck with me for a long time. So, I guess I should try and find a way to tell you how much I’ve always loved you.” He opened the car door. “I guess we’d better start figuring out how we’re gonna say thank you to everybody, starting with Mr. You Know Who.” Although the rest of the morning seemed like a hazy fog had settled over them, they found time to stop by the church, and whisper a quick prayer of thanks. Then they had to hurry home and get Ryan and Sarah bathed and dressed for the special Children’s Mass celebration at Saint Mary’s. At 3:00 PM Father Murphy would be offering a Mass for the children of the parish, and this year Ryan and Sarah seemed more excited than ever to be attending.
When they arrived at the church Tony said, “And why’re you two so happy? Is it because it’s Christmas?” They looked at each other and chuckled. “We know a Christmas secret.” With that they turned and walked hand in hand to their pew, and knelt for a moment of prayer. “A Christmas secret?” Tony looked at Angela and smiled. “Do you know what it is?” She kissed him. “Now, Sweetheart, if I did, it wouldn’t be a secret, would it?” “No, I guess not.” *** Higgins was growing more impatient with each passing minute. At last he’d had enough. “Okay, Michael, how long does the Chief intend to make me wait?” “I don’t know. The General’s been very busy,” he said, smiling over his chance to play the role of antagonist. “Besides, He didn’t give me a copy of his itinerary. He just asked me to greet you here at the gates, and wait with you.” “Great,” he muttered. “You know, Mike, sometimes I just can’t believe how insufferable He can be. Has He always been this obnoxious? Huh? Come on, Mike, you can tell me. Why’s He being so insufferable?” “Well, to put in your terms, He’s the Man, The Big Guy, The Chief and Mr. You Know Who, and I think that means He can be as insufferable as He pleases.” “You know what I think? Huh? You know what I think?” Michael laughed. “I’m sure you’re gonna tell me.” “I think that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—those guys who wrote all those good things in the Bible about Him were just suckin’ up. I think they were just trying to
worm their way into a better spot at the dinner table up here. You know, get a seat closer to The Big Guy, and snare an extra leg off the chicken, or a bigger slice of cheesecake. Or, maybe a little 25-year-old scotch, instead of wine with every meal. Next thing you know they’ll be slippin’ Him some designer sandals or…” “Okay, Higgins, loosen the knot in your shorts.” “Well, Chief, it’s about time. I’ve been here for hours.” “Higgins, do you have any idea how many services I’ve got to take care of before this day’s over? Then there’re the services tomorrow. I’m very busy, and I can’t drop everything to run over here and greet you.” “Sorry, Chief,” he said, bowing his head. “I’m just anxious to know if everything worked out the way You wanted. And I wanted to know about Angela.” “You did fine, Higgins. At first, I wasn’t sure you’d be able to do it, but then I sat back and watched you work. When you put your mind to it—and without all the jokes and other shenanigans you insist on doing—you can achieve just about anything. You made me believe.” “And Angela?” “Angela’s fully recovered.” “Thanks, Chief,” he said. “And I mean that from the bottom of my heart. She’s a good woman and a fine wife to Tony, and a great mother to those kids.” “I know.” “One more thing, Chief,” he said, staring at Him. “I’ve got to know. How did I make you believe, and exactly what did I make you believe in?”
He smiled. “You did a lot of different things. You gave the radio stations back to the mangers, and they chose to play Christmas music. They opened their request lines, and people asked them to continue the music through New Year’s Day. But, the man who didn’t proved that sometimes greed and arrogance has its own form of punishment. But, when you turned off the lights last night and left only the star atop the tree to shine down on the nativity scene, that brought everything together. The star was the only thing the people could see, and they followed it, because in their hearts it took them to where they really wanted to be. They joined with others and sang, because they felt the spirit that all along you wanted them to feel—the Christmas Spirit. Last night they made me believe in them, but it was only through you, and your efforts that I found my faith in mankind once again.” “You mean turning out the lights wasn’t your idea?” “No, Higgins. That was solely your idea.” “But, the breeze…” “That was merely circumstance. I had nothing to do with it.” “Chief, I think I owe you an apology for…” “No, Higgins, there’s no need for you to apologize. In fact, I should thank you for all you did. I…” “Higgins!” Higgins grinned. “Pete sure sounds upset, doesn’t he?” “What’ve you done to Peter now?” “Just brought him a gift.” “Higgins!”
“It sounds like he doesn’t appreciate your thoughtfulness.” “I can’t believe it, and after all the trouble I went to. Do you know how hard it was to find a 20 foot long rubber snake?” “Maybe you’d better go help Peter.” He laughed. “You got it, Chief.” “Well, General, it looks like things are back to normal, at least in certain areas,” Michael said, as Higgins passed through the gates. He nodded. “Yes, but you’ve gotta admit Higgins has sure brought some new life into the place since his arrival.” “He put new life in a few places, and a lotta people back on earth too.” “That he did, Michael. That he did. And I’m very proud of him for what he did, but then that’s why I chose him for the job.” He paused to chuckle. “At times I think he’s just a man who never wanted to outgrow his childhood, and it’s the heart of that big overgrown kid that finds a way to make miracles happen. And, my gift to him was to answer Tony, Ryan and Sarah’s prayers, and give them a Christmas miracle.” Michael smiled. “A Tony Clements Christmas Miracle.”
After the children’s Mass, they stopped at Evelyn’s for dinner, where Tony and Angela enjoyed the moment to the fullest, when Ryan and Sarah convinced Bill to read Twas the Night Before Christmas for them. After that, it was back home where Bill, and his future bride, would come by later to sit with them while Tony and Angela went to Mass. Before leaving again for Saint Mary’s, Tony and Angela told them they’d be allowed to open one present when they came home from Mass. Then, Angela added the stipulation, only if they promised to go to bed, and take a nap while they were gone.
Their promise to take a nap was immediate, and accented with a cross of the heart to seal their vow. Promise or not, it wasn’t easy for Bill and Vicky to get them off to their beds for a nap, and they couldn’t help but wonder just what it was they kept whispering about. As soon as Tony and Angela were out the door, cupped hands covered ears, and hushed messages kept passing from brother to sister and sister back to brother. And, after each whisper, they’d giggle and look toward the Christmas Tree. Bill and Vicky looked through Tony and Angela’s wedding album while waiting for them to come home. In the few moments of welcome peace and quiet they talked about their upcoming wedding, which was now less then a year away. They stole a quick kiss and heard a giggle. “You two better be in your beds,” he called out, while trying his best not to chuckle. The instant the front door opened, the sound of running feet could be heard from above, and Ryan and Sarah were in the living room before mom and dad had their coats off. “Did you take a nap?” Angela said, looking at them. They sheepishly nodded, while Vicky said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen kids this excited before. And, there’s some big secret they were sharing before they went to bed.” “Oh, that’s their Christmas secret.” Angela smiled. “They told us they had one this afternoon.” “Well, it must be a good one,” Vicky said, while Bill helped her with her coat. “I’m sure it is.”
Ryan and Sarah gave a cordial goodnight hug and kiss to Bill and Vicky, but it was obvious that their minds were elsewhere. As soon as the couple left, they turned and said, “Open a present now. Open a present now.” Oddly, Tony and Angela missed that they’d not asked to open one of their own gifts. They eagerly followed the children back into the living room, stopped and waited for them to rush to the tree. But, they stood side by side, looking up at their parents waiting for them to select a gift to open. “Okay, where did that big package come from?” Tony said, looking under the Christmas Tree at a package that was a little bigger than a western style hatbox. The box itself was wrapped in what looked like bright red foil. Around the red wrapping was a wide, dark green ribbon, which was trimmed along the edges with two single stripes, one gold, and the other silver. “I don’t know,” Angela said, glancing toward the tree. “But, I’ve never seen such a beautifully wrapped package before. Do you have any idea what’s in it?” Tony looked at her. “You mean you didn’t put it there?” She shook her head. “No, I didn’t.” Ryan and Sarah simply giggled, and looked at each other as Tony walked to the Christmas Tree, leaned over, and picked it up. “Well, it’s certainly not heavy at all.” He turned toward them, holding the package. Ryan grinned. “It’s not supposed to be heavy?” “It’s not? And why isn’t it supposed to be heavy?” “Oh, daddy, you’re so silly,” Sarah said, putting her hands on her hips. “Miracles aren’t heavy.”
“What?” Tony wasn’t sure what she was saying. “What do you mean miracles aren’t heavy?” Sarah pointed. “That’s the box that Jesus put mommy’s miracle in.” Tony put the package on the floor, dropped to one knee, and looked at them. He didn’t have to ask them, he knew they were very sincere, but wondered how they got the idea that the box contained a miracle. “Do either of you know how the package got under the tree?” “Maybe Santa put it there before he left,” Ryan said. “Yes,” Sarah said, “Or, maybe Jesus put it there.” “Okay. But, when was it put there? I don’t remember seeing it until just a minute ago.” Ryan looked at Sarah and nodded. “It was there when we came home from church last night.” Sarah giggled. “Yeah, me and Ryan peeked before we went to bed.” “You’re sure this present was here when we came home last night?” They nodded. “Yes.” “Why didn’t mommy or I see it?” “You were too busy to see it,” Ryan said. “And we had to go to the hospital this morning.” “And you think there’s a miracle in here?” “Uh huh.” Tony reached out and took their hands. “How do you know this package has a miracle in it?”
Ryan looked at Sarah and said, “When we went to church last night in Santa’s sleigh, we whispered a prayer to Jesus. We asked Him to put a miracle in a box to make mommy well, and put it under the Christmas Tree.” Tony was more puzzled then ever. “What makes you so sure there was—or is a miracle in the box?” “Because mommy’s well.” “Yeah,” Sarah said, nodding. “But it must’ve got out and made mommy well before she opened it.” Ryan smiled. “That was our Christmas secret.” Sarah took Ryan’s hand. “We knew there was a miracle under the Christmas Tree, but we couldn’t tell you.” “Yeah, we promised Jesus we wouldn’t tell,” Ryan said putting a finger to his lips. Angela took the package and, not wanting to damage the very special wrapping, she carefully slipped the ribbon over the edges of the box. She delicately lifted the top, and put it on the floor beside her. When she looked inside, she quickly raised her hands to her face, and stared for what seemed like forever into the box. Her hands were trembling as she reached inside, and lifted out the only item the box contained. She swallowed hard and her voice was barely a whisper. “Tony—Tony, look at this. Dear Lord, look at this.” She held out a large card to him. He took the card, looked once, blinked, and looked again. “God,” he muttered. He dropped to his knees, and took Angela’s hand. “How—I mean—do you know what, and who that looks like?”
Ryan and Sarah tiptoed closer, and peeked over the shoulders of their mother and father at the card they now both held. They smiled when they saw the most beautiful Christmas Card in the world. There was a perfect portrait of a large evergreen tree, its limbs spread to protect Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus, who lay in a manger. The star seemed to be sitting just above the treetop, shining down on the Holy Family, and those who came to worship. And in the foreground, standing in the snow was a family of four, holding hands, and with their heads bowed in prayer. “That’s us,” Sarah said. Angela continued to stare at the card. “It sure looks a lot like us, doesn’t it?” “Yes, but how?” Tony said, looking at her. “I wanna say it’s impossible, but I can’t say it and mean it.” He pointed to the card. “And look in the background, you can see a faint image of a church.” Together they opened the card and read its inscription: The First Miracle came to us on a cold winter’s night in a distant land, and a time long, long ago. But now miracles can come at any time, even Christmas Eve Your prayers were answered, because you believed. When they finished reading Angela said, “I don’t know how this could ever be explained.” “Maybe it isn’t meant to be explained.” Tony reached over and touched her face. “ Maybe it’s only meant to be enjoyed.” They turned to the children and said, “It’s time for you to go back to bed.” Ryan and Sarah didn’t say a word. They went up the stairs, but not straight to their rooms.
There was something they wanted to know, and made one last request. “Mommy, daddy, can we look out the window?” They smiled. “Sure, go look out the window.” Silently, almost breathlessly they hurried to the window, pulled the curtain back, and looked up into the night sky. A second later they gushed, “It’s true! It’s really true!” And then they stood and watched, looking higher and higher until there was a noise like someone dancing softly on the rooftop. Suddenly they turned away, and with smiles that could light up the night, ran to their beds and dove under the covers. But there was still one last thing to do before drifting away to sleep, and those magical Christmas dreams. “God bless mommy and daddy. God bless Santa, and his reindeer too. And most of all, thank You for making mommy well.” Next came a warm kiss, a loving hug, making sure the nighttime bear was snuggled close, and mommy and daddy’s bedtime chores were done. A few moments later when Tony and Angela were walking down the stairs she said, “The children didn’t ask to open a single present.” “I think there was only one gift they wanted to see opened. They wanted to see their mommy open her Christmas miracle.” “It’s your miracle too. You prayed for it more than anybody.” He stopped at the bottom of the stairs. “I wonder how much of a role our friend Santa Claus played in this? Higgins kept telling me not to give up hope, and to keep praying no matter what.”
“He certainly made me believe in Santa Claus,” she said, with a big smile. “You just can’t help but feel that somehow he played a bigger role in everything that happened than he’d ever admit. He’s truly one in a million.” “Well, after this Christmas season, I’ll never doubt anything about how special this time of year is, or what can happen.” Angela laughed. “I wonder what Mr. Higgins did when he got back to—let me say this the way he would—when he got back to you-know-where?” “Knowing him he probably got into trouble—and real quick.” Soon, they were standing by the Christmas Tree looking at the card again. “I think this should be tucked away in the family Bible,” she said. “No matter where it’s put, I have a feeling we’ll look at it often.” Angela wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tight. “What do you think Ryan and Sarah saw when they looked out the window upstairs?’ “If they truly believed in their hearts, like we know they do, I bet they went to sleep knowing that reindeer really do know how to fly.” “That’s another thing Mr. Higgins told them when he first got here. That nobody was ever too young, or too old to believe in Santa, the magic of Christmas, or miracles. He said they just had to believe it in their hearts, and everything was as real as they wanted it to be.” She leaned back and looked into his eyes saying, “And the noise on the roof—do you believe it was Santa’s reindeer?” “Angela, it’s Christmas, and in my heart I wanna believe just what Ryan and Sarah believe. So, I wouldn’t want it to be anything else but Santa Claus, and his reindeer. Besides, Higgins was right. No one is ever too young or too old to believe in
the miracles and magic of Christmas.” He held her a little closer and whispered, “Just think what the world would be if everybody lived Christmas through the hearts of children. Imagine how beautiful it would look in our eyes.” She kissed him. “Merry Christmas.” “Merry Christmas, Angela and God bless us, one and all.”
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