|That Yuletide Spirit
Author: James Hampton PM
Doyle Travers used to be a Wall Street rainmaker. Now deceased, he's found a new line of work. He's a Christmas ghost, whose job is to bring good cheer to people who need it. 1 of 5 now posted.Rated: Fiction T - English - Humor/Hurt/Comfort - Words: 1,055 - Published: 11-04-12 - id: 3071586
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
I took a deep breath, glanced yet again at the clock on the wall of the waiting area. A full hour had passed since my interview with the committee.
What was the problem?
I had left the chamber in an optimistic frame of mind. With my caseworker, Mr. Bennett, sitting next to me, I had given the committee members direct responses, shown appropriate and sincere contrition, and taken full responsibility for my actions during the life I had lived. All the members were courteous and seemed receptive to my statements. After they excused the two of us so they could begin deliberating, Mr. Bennett told me I had done a good job. So, yes, I thought things had gone well.
And yet here I was, seated in a dark, wood-paneled lobby on a plush leather couch, still waiting to learn my fate. That so much time had passed suggested disagreement over what to do with me. I was starting to worry that my performance hadn't been the slam-dunk I originally believed. But how could I have done any better?
Right now I was the only one in the lobby. Mr. Bennett had gone back to his office to make a few quick phone calls relating to other cases in which he was engaged. He had promised not to be gone long, although it felt as if he had been away for a while.
This is not fun, I thought. This is so incredibly not fun.
Finally Mr. Bennett came shuffling back. He was a stocky little guy, round-faced and bald but for a ring of white hair above his ears and along the back of his head, dressed in a dark blue, double-breasted suit; a gold watch chain hung across his belly like a sash. He plopped down beside me on the couch.
"Well." Mr. Bennett slapped my knee. "How are you doing, fellow?"
"Other than being dead, I'm fine," I said. "Thanks for asking."
"Don't worry. You'll get used to it eventually."
"That's a relief. So when will we know?"
"We should be getting a decision any minute now."
"I really don't understand why I have to go through this at all," I said. "I was a good person. Yes, I admit I could have been a little better at the margins. But in my line of work you had to be aggressive. I'm sorry, but that's just the way it was."
"We've been through all this before," Mr. Bennett reminded me curtly. "Yes, it's true that you were a fairly decent person. You never murdered anybody or robbed a bank. But here's the thing, Mr. Travers: you're not supposed to murder people, and you're not supposed to rob banks. That's just basic civilized behavior. You shouldn't expect anyone to applaud you for simply acting like a normal human being."
"Point taken, but still—"
"And as far as line of your work goes, you were aggressive all right," he continued. "You had some of the sharpest elbows in the business. You made a lot of people rich, including yourself, but you ruined plenty of people too."
but on balance—"
"On balance, Mr. Travers, you were a jerk. And you know it."
Stung, I replied, "I don't know why you're being so mean to me all of a sudden."
"I'm not being mean to you. I'm just telling you the facts. There's no way around it: you're going to need remediation before you can move on—maybe not as much remediation as some folks, but more than a lot of people. And that's nobody's fault but your own."
I crossed my arms over my chest and looked away from him. "I happen to think," I said quietly, "that I was a very nice man."
"Well, that's makes one of you," Mr. Bennett said, taking out his iPhone and looking at the news.
A brief, uncomfortable silence opened up between us. I looked at the clock again, sighed. How much longer?
"Oh, dear," Mr. Bennett chuckled, studying the day's headlines.
I craned my head around to see what he was seeing, but he moved the phone away from me, out of sight.
"What's so funny?" I asked.
"I'd rather not say."
"Come on, Bennett. I could use a good laugh right now. Let me see what's got you cackling over there."
"All right," Mr. Bennett said, handing me the phone. "But don't say I didn't warn you. It seems you made the news."
"Of course I made the news," I snapped, grabbing the phone. "People notice when a guy like me croaks. I matter." Scanning the headlines for my name, I added, "I certainly hope it's a fitting tribute."
"Oh, it is," my caseworker tittered. "Believe me."
I quickly found the story about me—and gasped.
"How dare they?" I cried.
It's best if you hear it straight from the horse's mouth, so here's what happened. When I was still alive, I gave great parties. Yes, obviously it helped that I was a billionaire and could devote plenty of money to making my parties a little fancier than, say, your average American Super Bowl confab with beer, nachos, and salsa spread out on a card table in the corner of the living room. But a big budget doesn't guarantee a good time. To host a truly memorable party, you need flair. You need imagination. You need a radiant personality. I had all of those things in abundance.
I also had a gigantic yacht: the Naughty Minx, a one-hundred-and-thirty-something foot long tri-deck vessel that cost me a cool fifty million dollars when all was said and done—but, man, it was some of the best money I ever spent. I hardly ever went out on the water in it, treated it less like a boat and more like a floating party house.
And, oh, what parties we had. An invitation to one of my soirees was a much-coveted item in the New York-Washington corridor, let me tell you. And why wouldn't it have been? You should have seen some of my guest lists. I'm talking hot babes. I'm talking movie stars. I'm talking professional athletes. I'm talking big-time politicians. I'm talking hot babes (yes, I know I'm repeating myself, but I always invited a whole lot of hot babes). And in the center of it all was me: Doyle Travers, kingpin of high finance, don of the Manhattan social milieu, a man who bought and sold companies like knick-knacks on E-Bay.
Well, it so happened we had closed a major deal at the first of the month of December. I decided that, even though it was a couple of weeks early, I would throw a Christmas party on my yacht for me and a hundred of my closest friends, a few of whom I actually knew pretty well. I hired an Elvis Presley impersonator to kick off the festivities with a rendition of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." As I watched his performance on the upper deck with some business associates, I got a tap on the shoulder from Herb Petrowski, my longtime bodyguard, a huge grizzly bear of a guy.
"Mr. Travers," he said quietly. "Your presence has been requested in the hot tub."
I arched an eyebrow. "Has it indeed? Is this an emergency?"
"The young ladies seemed to think so," Herb replied.
Young ladies? I thought. That's ladies, as in the plural form of lady, as in more than one?
"Then I had better go right now," I said. I turned to my guests. "Please excuse me. I have some urgent business to attend to."
I rushed down to what I like to call the Hot Tub Room, tearing off my jacket and tie along the way. The Hot Tub Room is, or was, my personal design: a simple room with, as you can imagine, a hot tub—big enough for eight—as well as a separate bar, romantic mood lighting, a premium sound system, and various other technological doodads to enhance the experience of relaxing in the water, bubbling water—or not relaxing in it, if you get my drift.
I burst into the Hot Tub Room and immediately found the young ladies in question. They had taken the liberty of filling the tub already. They had also helped themselves to a bottle of champagne from the bar. Both were in their early twenties, both were brunettes, and both were in the skimpiest bathing suits you could wear on a public beach without being arrested.
They waved to me from the tub.
I suppose this is as good a place as any to add that, like the rest of my yacht, the Hot Tub Room was decorated for the season. I had ordered a miniature artificial Christmas tree placed on the countertop next to the tub, as well as multicolored lights entwined around the tiny brass chandelier that hung above it. Those lights were also draped across the tree. Keep this setup in mind; it becomes relevant later.
"Well, well," I said, rubbing my hands together as I stepped forward. "Who have we here?"
"Oh, Doyle," said one of the girls, "you've hurt my feelings. Don't you remember me? It's Natalia."
"Natalia! Oh, yes, of course, I remember you now." She had attended a previous party of mine on the arm of a hedge fund manager with whom I had invested some money. "You were wearing more clothes the last time I saw you—not a lot more, but still enough to throw me there for a minute. And who, may I ask, is your lovely companion?"
"I'm Natasha," said the other girl.
I sat down on the edge of the tub. "Natasha." I took her hand and kissed it. "The pleasure is all mine."
"It sounds like everyone is having a good time up there," I said. "You don't think they'd notice if I slipped away for a while, do you?"
"Oh, no," Natalia said. "I think they'll be just fine."
"Pardon me for a moment," I told them, and went back to the door. I opened it enough to stick my head out. I was looking for Herb, but I figured the waiter now coming up the passageway with a tray of drinks would suffice
"Hey, you there!" I called to the young man.
He froze. "Me…?"
"Yes, you. Come here for a second, so I don't have to yell."
The waiter took a few tentative steps toward me. "Yes, sir?"
"Listen, Holmes, I'm going to be busy in there for the next hour or so," I said. "Keep an eye on this door and make sure nobody tries to come inside. Got it?"
"Yes, sir," he said.
I took a bill from my wallet and stuffed it in the front pocket of his white jacket. "Here's a fifty for your trouble. Don't let me down."
"No, sir," he assured me. "I won't."
I closed the door, began unbuttoning my shirt.
"And now," I said to the two chicks in the hot tub, "let the revelry begin."
Sure, I realize if I didn't have any money a scenario like the one I'm describing would have been pretty darned unlikely. But I was more than just some random guy with money. I was Doyle Travers—forty-four, perfectly-styled blond hair, a little meatier than I had been in my youth but still pretty fit, a young Master of the Universe—and yes, I had inherited a fortune, but I had also taken that same fortune and expanded it tenfold. So I think, with or without my $1.9 billion net worth according to Forbes Magazine (they shorted me by two hundred million, incidentally), I could safely be called a stud.
Anyhow, a few minutes later me, Natasha, and Natalia were all in the hot tub together, splashing around, imbibing liberal amounts of champagne, enjoying ourselves. We still had our bathing suits on, but I planned for that to change pretty soon.
Suddenly Natasha squealed, "Oh, no!"
"What?" I cried. "What is it?"
She pointed to the empty bottle. "We're out of Cristal!"
"I'll go get some more," Natalia said, climbing out of the tub.
"I'll come with you," said Natasha.
"Wait up, babe!" I protested. "There's no need for both of you to go."
That was when I did something phenomenally stupid. Luckily for the girls, they were both out of the tub seconds before it happened. I, however, paid dearly for my lack of common sense.
See, as I stood up in the hot tub, my intoxicated state caused me to lose my balance. I reached for the nearest thing to steady myself, which wouldn't have been a bad idea—in and of itself—if only that nearest thing had not been the Christmas lights strung overhead. When I slipped anyway, I pulled not only the lights but also the tree into the hot tub with me.
"Son of a—" I cried out, falling into the water.
I don't recall much after that except for a big flash, followed by darkness, followed by…well, waking up in another place and being told by a very nice attendant garbed in flowing white robes that I had thrown my last party.
Bluntly stated, I was now dead: electrocuted in my own hot tub.
Furthermore, I had been sent to a kind a holding place, a world between Earth and the Sweet Hereafter. Mine was a case that bore closer inspection before I could be cleared to move on. Not to worry, though: I would be assigned a caseworker, one Mr. Bennett, to act as my advocate in the scheduled proceedings.
So that's how it happened.
Now, of course, I was looking at a picture of the aftermath of my unfortunate demise. I wondered who had taken this awful picture. Perhaps it was one of my dear friends in attendance in the party, or possibly that waiter I had asked to keep everybody out. It didn't really matter, I supposed. All I knew was that, in death, I had become a joke. My many accomplishments in life and business would forever be overshadowed by this one photograph. At the time it was snapped the Christmas tree was still upside down in the hot tub with me. One of my bare feet—thankfully all that could be seen of my lifeless body—was poking out of the water, propped up on the rim of the tub. A string of multicolored lights was hooked over my big toe. Beneath the picture was a caption:
HOT TUB HORROR: WALL STREET DEALMAKER DIES IN HOLIDAY MISHAP
"That's so disrespectful," I moaned, handing Mr. Bennett's phone back. "How could they put that on the Internet?"
My caseworker, I noticed with distaste, was chuckling again.
"It's nice to see you're enjoying yourself here," I said, glaring at him. "Does it matter to you that I'm in misery right now?"
"Oh, don't be so sensitive. It's all over and done with, anyway."
I sighed loudly. "I wish I had kept working out, like I did when I was younger. All the police officers and paramedics got to see how overweight I was when I died. I should have at least left behind a fitter corpse."
"Don't worry about it, Mr. Travers. You probably looked so ridiculous no one even noticed how out-of-shape you were."
"You're a great comfort to me, Bennett."
"I do what I can." His phone rang. "Oops, here we go." He answered. "This is Bennett. Yes. Yes."
"What are they saying?" I asked. "Is it good, bad, what?"
Mr. Bennett waved his hand at me impatiently.
"All right," he said into the phone. "I thought it would be something like that. I'm sorry? No. No, I think this is definitely the best way to handle it. I'll tell him. Sure. We'll get it done. Thanks for calling." He hung up.
"Well?" I cried. "What are you going to do with me?"
"We're going to make you a Christmas Ghost, Mr. Travers."
"A Christmas Ghost?" I cried. "For how long?"
"Until you demonstrate that you're ready to move on to a better place."
"Okay, okay," I said. "Since you don't want to give me a straight answer, let me ask you this: is it possible I can show I'm ready to move on in just one Christmas? Has anybody ever done that before?"
"It happens all the time, actually."
"That's great! So which one am I going to be—Past, Present, or Future? I'd like to be the Future one, if possible, so I don't have to say anything. You know, I can just point to the old guy's grave, or show him his stuff being pawned off by the housekeeper. Can you make that happen for me?"
"You don't get to put in requests around here, Mr. Travers. And, for your information, that's not the way you're going to be employed."
"All right," I said, "so tell me then."
"You're going to bring Christmas cheer to four individuals who desperately need it."
"Is that all?" I sprang to my feet, began pacing to and fro in excitement. "Why, that's easy! I'll throw a party for them. I throw great parties. Just ask anyone. We'll have food, liquor, hot babes—"
"Will you be quiet?"
I froze. "You don't have to snap. I'm just trying to show some enthusiasm here."
"For starters, Mr. Travers, these are four very different people: two men and two women, ranging in age from twenty-two to eighty-four. And they all have very different needs."
"I'm a master entertainer," I assured him. "Trust me. I'll give these guys and gals a night they'll never forget."
"Sit down, Mr. Travers, before you further beclown yourself. These people do not need to be entertained. They need some holiday cheer. There's a difference."
"How is there a difference?" I asked.
"You'll have to figure that out for yourself—and I do hope you get it right, Mr. Travers. Or you'll be doing this job for a very, very long time."