The Ghost of Christmas Present (9 page)

BOOK: The Ghost of Christmas Present
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Patrick went to work, peeling off the beard and spirit gum from his chin and sideburns, a large bit of the gum here and there always getting in his hair. If he couldn't easily pull it out, then manicure scissors would have to cut out a chunk of hair. This he'd had to do a number of times, so much so that his hairline had begun to take on the jagged shape of a butchered hedgerow.

Now for the splash of water across his face and the thick coating of Albolene makeup cleanser to scrub off the theater paint. Even as a young actor he'd always hated the post-performance scouring of the oil-based foundation. But off it finally came, and Patrick looked at the mirror to once again see himself . . . and a police officer standing behind him.

Patrick turned around to read the man's badge pinned to his blue chest. He wasn't a street cop, just a transit cop; the shield looked like a tin toy. But the gun hanging from his belt and the baton in his hand were real enough.

“Now what variety of Halloween do we have here?” asked the policeman, who approached Patrick swinging the baton from the strap wrapped around his thumb.

“I'm not dressed up for Halloween.”

“Well, seeing as how it's five weeks past, I'm happy to hear it.” The cop was now next to Patrick, looking him full in the face. “What are you dressed up for then, friend?”

“A costume party.”

“A costume party? On the first Friday afternoon in December?”

“I was the only one in a costume.” Patrick's old improvisational skills had clearly rusted.

“And were other people there to ask you why you were dressed up?”

“There were. They were children. It was a children's party.”

“A children's party? And just what kiddie character are you supposed to be?” the police officer asked, looking the green robe up and down. “The Velvet Avenger?”

“I'm . . . an elf.” Patrick prayed that God would reach down and take away the shovel he was using to dig himself a tunnel into a prison.

“You're an elf?”

“Not an elf in the way that most people think of elves, little, smiling Christmas creatures.”


“I'm an elf as created by Dickens in his character the Ghost of Christmas Present.”

“Uh-huh,” repeated the cop, who leaned back on his heels and studied Patrick, who pointed to his costume. “Well, I'd say your Christmas present is looking to have a dim future.”

“I'm the original spirit of Christmas. I'm the authentic elf.”

The cop looked at the bag of coins sitting behind Patrick on the sink counter. “So all that change wasn't pickpocketed?”

“Those are tips.”

The policeman pushed his baton through the loose change and bills. “The parents tipped you all this for a kiddie party?”

Patrick swallowed. “‘The habit of giving only enhances the desire to give.' Walt Whitman.”

The policeman nodded and then lifted his baton to rest under Patrick's chin. “The habit of you coming back here again will get this stick shoved in your ear. Transit Officer Sean McKnight.”

atrick had wasted nearly ten minutes conversing with New York's finest and he'd been forced to take a taxi down to the lower West Side and hop out with the driver yelling after him, “Hey, what's with all this silver?” He ran into the front of the restaurant and past Booth One with Wally yelling after him, “Late again, Patrick.”

He expected a slow night and that's exactly what he got, but what he didn't expect at his shift's end was to look up to see, sitting in the middle of his section, Rebecca Brody.

“How are you, Mr. Guthrie?”

“Tired, Ms. Brody. It's been a busy night.”

“Really,” she said as she took a quick survey of the empty place.

“It was busier before. The dinner rush is over, and I've dumped most of the over two hundred dollars I made tonight in my locker in back.”

“Two hundred? That's very respectable. Have you been earning that on a consistent basis?”

“Every day. People have really been getting into . . . the Christmas spirit.”

“I see. Well, then you won't mind my seeing a bank statement soon.”

“Not at all. Give me chance to deposit my money over the weekend and I can have it for you on Monday.”

“Very well,” Rebecca said. “In the meantime, I'd like to order a deep-dish pizza, whatever kind you recommend.”

“Are you sure? You'll feel like you've been hurled back into the 1990s.”

“It's a decade I remember fondly.”

“Why's that?”

Rebecca paused for a moment.

“I still felt young.”

A half-hour later, Patrick cleared her plate and brought her change as Rebecca laid down a ten-dollar tip.

“Thanks for the memories,” she said as she rose.

“Hey, I can't take this,” Patrick said as he tried to hand her back the bill.

“Of course you can. You provided a service and are now being compensated.”

“Why are you helping me?”

“Ted Cake has had the hearing moved up a couple days.” She handed him a new court order. “He's got a lot of pull with the city and apparently he's not afraid to pull hard.”

“No, why are you helping me?” Patrick asked and held up the money. “You're supposed to be making sure I can take care of my boy on my own.”

Rebecca thought it over for a moment.

“It was something someone said to me today. ‘Things without all remedy should be without regard.'”

Patrick ran his hand across his cheek, an unconscious reflex to make sure he really had washed away his makeup.

“I see you working so hard and it's incredible how you're socking away two hundred a day.”

“It is . . . incredible.”

“So I want to help. Things without remedy should be without regard. But maybe there's a remedy for your case. Well of course you would know that quote.”

Patrick's throat closed. “I would?” he croaked.

“You're a drama teacher and it's Shakespeare.”

“Yes,” said Patrick, becoming more uncomfortable. “
But I don't remember if it's Act Two or Three.”

“It's Act Three, Scene Two,” said Rebecca, whose eyes suddenly began to study Patrick's face.

“What is it?” Patrick asked in a nervous voice.

“Who cuts your hair?”

Patrick exhaled and ran his fingers through his slaughtered hairline. “My lawyer said I can't talk about it. It's still in litigation.” He offered up a smile.

Rebecca laughed out loud. It was the first time Patrick had seen any kind of joy spring to life in her face.

“Tell your lawyer he has an airtight case,” she said, still laughing.

“I was just going for a civil settlement. Should I press criminal charges?”

Rebecca held her hand over her mouth to stop her laughter. When she finally did, she looked at Patrick and said something that only a few days ago would have been the last thing she'd say to this man. “Would you like to go get a cup of coffee?”

And Patrick answered with the first thing that came to his mind. “How about a movie?”

Chapter 12


aptain Pluton declares that this Milky Way before us shall stand as our field of combat!”

The animated purple-caped and purple-tongued superhero cut a bold swath across the galaxy, leaving a wake of light behind him that fractured into a rainbow of lavender, plum, and dark grape.

Patrick sat next to Braden in the recreation room of St. Genevieve's children's wing, young folk stretched out before him in the dark, all craning their necks to look at the screen where the new release played. It was a kindness shown by the movie studio to give children too ill to ever have a hope of seeing it in an outside-world cinema the chance to enjoy Captain Pluton and his exploits. A small privilege in an otherwise grim existence.

For these children, it was the world beyond these walls that was a dream. Inside them was the reality of hospital slippers and stuffed baby seals. Baseball caps covering heads in warm rooms, and bathrobe belts too big for waists that grew smaller by the week.

Patrick made a point of keeping his eyes on the movie. He knew that if he looked down at Braden sitting cross-legged next to him, he wouldn't be able to pull his gaze away. And that would only distract the boy and make him self-conscious, but still he couldn't help it as his eyes settled on the profile of all that was important to him.

“Dad, you're staring again. I know I always look too cool for school, but you don't have to point it out to the lady, do you? You're totally cramping my style.”

Rebecca, sitting on the other side of the boy, smiled.

“Sorry, buddy.”

“It's okay, but if you're gonna be my wingman with women, you've got to let me fly the plane.”

“Got it. I'll stick to serving peanuts to the passengers.”

Braden looked up at Rebecca, who was clearly amused by the repartee between the son and his father.

“You'll have to excuse him. He hasn't had a date in, like, three years. The only ladies he talks to already have a thing for me.”

Rebecca considered the medical reality of Patrick's “love life”: all love for Braden.

“Sounds like he's stuck playing second fiddle to a real Romeo.”

“I don't have to work hard at it. They all love me for my big heart.”

Rebecca reached out and stroked the boy's hair. “I can see why.”

Braden leaned over and whispered, “If only Dad would take a night off from staring at me while I'm asleep and put a little romance into his life. It would free me up to nab one of these nurses for myself.”

Rebecca looked over at Patrick, whose eyes were fixed on the cartoon where Captain Pluton, in a cape befitting his purple essence, flew across the heavens followed by a host of supporting superheroes.

Captain Pluton's character was the embodiment of Pluto, which had been stripped of its standing as a planet in the solar system by astronomers on earth. So he had a chip on his shoulder and hadn't been willing to help out Angela Earth, even though she was being held captive by her jealous younger sibling, Sister Moon. But now Captain Pluton had had a change of heart and was charging into action. He was now ready to face off with Sister Moon and her minions of comet foot soldiers, who brandished their tails like sabers.

“The fate of the whole cosmos hangs in the balance of the fight we fight here tonight!” Saturnia, Pluton's love interest, proclaimed this as she arrived at the last second and spun her deadly rings into the ranks of the oncoming comet foot soldiers.

You got that right
, Patrick thought as he couldn't help but reach out and grip Braden's hand.

Rebecca watched the tight squeeze between the two. Her mind began to churn. She'd worked so hard for so long to bleach herself of any kind of bias. It was her job to ensure the welfare of children; here was a child on the brink of having his heart opened and closed, left to a father who she wasn't satisfied was capable of taking care of him.

Financially, that is. Emotionally, there was no debate. Patrick was a balm to the boy; that was clear. But Ted Cake had put so much pressure on her supervisor, who in turn dumped it on her: Patrick was months behind on his rent, electricity, heat, the essentials of life, let alone the amenities that could make this boy's complete recovery a certainty.

And Ted Cake could offer those amenities: a huge income and a comfortable place to live. So many material advantages, servants, the best food, vacations for the boy. Her brain went into a full swirl as she reprimanded herself for being in this position in the first place. She'd never wanted to dictate people's lives; she'd wanted to save them.

She'd wanted to be a doctor. Why had she thrown it all away on some ridiculous mistake? It was a mistake that would never be her friend, ever.

Her eyes traveled across the sea of small heads looking up at the screen, knowing she'd been disallowed to treat any of them, now only directed to take one small boy away from his dad and place him with someone who wasn't his parent. Once Ted Cake got his hands on Braden, who knew how long it would be before Patrick could gain full custody again? Maybe only weeks, but then again, maybe months. What if it turned out to be a year? A year in the lifetime of a father and son was just that, a lifetime.

BOOK: The Ghost of Christmas Present
9.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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