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The Angel and the Badman

December 26, 2018

My name is Pete Williams, and I’m an orderly at St Mary’s Assisted Living Center. I’ve been tasked with passing on a story, though I must admit that I know nothing about writing, and even less about storytelling. There are parts of this that are nearly impossible to believe, but I need you to believe them. I was not witness to the first part of this story, but I witnessed the end, and I can tell you that every word you read is the Gospel Truth. I’ve added some notes between the parts I didn’t witness and the parts I did. I hope it adequately bridges the gap for you. I guess without further ado, I present to you the story of Albert Danforth.

 

Albert Danforth peered over the rim of his glasses at the small, mousey looking woman sitting in front of him. Ada Perkins had been Albert Danforth’s personal aide for the better part of a decade. She was loyal, never called in sick, and knew how to follow orders. Unfortunately, she worked for Albert Danforth, and that meant anything short of death would disqualify her from taking any sick days. She looked at him and spoke. “It’s just a few hours. My son is so sick and we are going to take him…”

“Ms Perkins” Danforth interrupted, “If I had a dollar for every single time a mother told me she had to leave early on a holiday because of a sick child, I’d be the richest man in the world. Christmas Eve is just like any other day. You will leave at your usual time of 4:30, and not a moment sooner. Now if you’ll please excuse me, I have to look over the Mitchell report. Good day, Ms Perkins.” Danforth watched his longtime assistant gather herself and walk out of the room.  The problem with people, Danforth thought, is that they never understand the benefits of a full day’s work. All this hooey about holidays and days off, it’s nonsensical. When you’re an adult, you work, and if that seems unfair, it’s because life is unfair. After all, was it fair that my wife Marie, my parents, and my siblings died in a plane crash and I survived? Is it fair that every Christmas Eve since then is spent alone with the shadows of the past stalking me from every direction? With this last thought, Danforth brought down his fist upon his solid oak desk. “Fuck Christmas,” he said as he stood up and walked over to the decanter on the window sill that held 12 year old Old Weller Special Reserve bourbon. He poured himself a few ounces and downed it. He closed his eyes as the burn moved from the back of his tongue down to his chest. No, no early leave today. In fact, an example must be made. No more weakness.” Danforth sat down at his desk and picked up the office intercom. “Ms. Perkins, will you please report to my office at once. Thank you.” He switched the intercom off, leaned back in his chair, and waited.

When Ada Perkins walked back in his office, he could see the hope. She thought he had changed his mind. Good. Let this be a lesson. “Ms. Perkins, as you know, I run a multimillion dollar business. I didn’t reach this level of success in the shipping field by taking days off or leaving early. Danforth Shipping Incorporated started off in my garage and is now one of the world’s leading shipping giants. There is no place for days off and early holiday leave, do you understand me” Ada Perkins nodded an affirmative. “Good. You can leave now.”  He waited until Ada had almost reached the door before speaking again. “Oh, Ms. Perkins, you’re fired, Merry Christmas.”

 

At the same time Ada Perkins was pulling out of the DSI parking lot for the last time, her husband Rashan Perkins was receiving a call in his son’s hospital room at the Detroit Children’s Hospital. He answered and listened intently. First concern flashed through his eyes, then anger, followed by rage, finally settling on despair. Tears rolled down his eyes as he hung up and placed the phone back in his pocket.

 

 

At 4:30, Danforth sipped on bourbon as he looked on with contempt as his entitled employees left for the comfort of their own homes. If I could, I would fire every last one of them, Danforth thought. There was a time when Albert Danforth had a soul, and he knew it, but that was in the past, and he never ventured down that path. Who knows what kinds of ghosts are lurking in the shadows, waiting to ambush him. No, this was the only way to go through life. The world has a habit of taking the good, and the kind, and the giving, and chewing them up before spitting them back out just to repeat the cycle. He finished his bourbon and sat down to draft a list of new employee rules that would go into effect on January 1st. I’ve been too easy on them. They’ve had it way too good for way too long and it ends now. Thus the head of Danforth Shipping Inc lost himself in his tyrannical ways and consequently, lost track of time itself. Suddenly, a loud knock came from his office door, nearly knocking Danforth to the ground. “Who’s there?” Danforth had regained his composure and was now looking for someone to tear into. To his surprise, a young man in a white suit with long blonde hair walked into his office. “Pardon the interruption, but I was wondering if you could tell me where I could find Ada Perkins.” The man’s voice was quiet but there was strength behind it.

“Ms. Perkins was fired this afternoon. Her whereabouts are neither my concern nor my business.” Danforth watched the dawning horror spread over the young man’s face.

“Surely you didn’t fire her on the day they are pulling their son off life support. Not even a man such as you could be that heartless.” Anger shined in the man’s eyes and Danforth smiled as he stood up.

“I must say, hyperbole is not a good look for you young man. Ms Perkins has a sick son that is all. All this nonsense about life support…you’re lucky I don’t call the cops and have you thrown in jail. You are trespassing in my office!”

“Sit down.” The young man’s voice was quiet but it exploded in Danforth’s head. Shocked, Danforth did as he was told. “You are a poor excuse of a man. Have you really become so bitter, so angry, that you would allow yourself to aid in the death of a child? Have your personal losses been so great, that they outweigh your duty to your fellow man?” The man had not moved from his spot in front of Danforth’s desk, but Albert would have bet the house that the man had grown three inches in the time they had been talking.

“Ada Perkins said her son was sick, not dying. If she had meant dying, she should have said so. Not that it would have changed anything, every day children die. It’s life. It’s the natural order of things. As for your tone, you know nothing of me. You don’t know where I’ve been, you don’t know what I’ve been through. Now kindly get the fuck out of my office.”

“I was there the day your parents welcomed you into this world forty three years ago Albert Danforth. I was there the day you took your first steps, said your first words, and cried your first tears. I was there the first time you fell in love, and I was there the first time you experienced loss. I was there when you were the lone survivor pulled from a tragic plane crash, and unfortunately, I’ll be able to say I was there when you turned your back on someone who has been nothing but loyal when they needed you most. Ada Perkins son is being taken off life support at midnight tonight because his family can’t afford an experimental surgery that could cure him of cancer and save his life. A 13 year old boy will die tonight, and all you can do is hide inside your contempt. You live a miserable existence, Mr Danforth, and I will see to it that you face up to that fact.” Without warning, the man started waving his hands around much like that of a conductor. After a few moments, bells filled the room, followed by strings, and a choir. The man started waving his arms faster and faster, now there were images floating around the room, distorted and fuzzy, but then clear and horrifying. There he was with his parents and grandmother  on Christmas Eve sitting on the living room floor, then terror as his grandmother falls dead off her chair. The images get sharper and the music rises, the young man’s arms whip around furiously, sweat forming on his brow. The next image, college, a young and full of life Albert Danforth kissing Marie Brown under the mistletoe at the center of campus, their eyes so full of life and hope as they stand in the snow. The young man’s arms move faster and faster and the music gets more frantic, the room darkens. A fireball suddenly engulfs the room followed by screams and the smell of burning flesh. A married and quite happy Albert Danforth stares in horror as his parents and his beloved wife are sucked out of a plane thanks to an engine explosion ripping the side of the aircraft open like a can of tuna. The young man’s arms slow and the music grows faint. Albert Danforth is in a hospital room with a cast on both legs and one arm. The eyes that were so full of life and love are now filled with rage and grief. Danforth hears himself scream but he can’t tear his eyes away from the images. The next scene is also a hospital room, but the young man laying in the bed is not Albert Danforth. It is a child and the child is hooked up to so many machines and wires. Faces appear next, Ada Perkins’s eyes are wet and filled with sorrow, while her husband’s are filled with rage and grief, eyes that Danforth is very familiar with. Suddenly the music stops, the images disappear, and the young man half falls into a chair behind him. Danforth tries to tell him to leave, but he’s unable to speak. In fact, he’s unable to do anything but stand there and shake.

A few moments later, without saying a word, the young man walks out of a still shaken Albert Danforth’s office. Tears form in Albert’s eyes and he ushers forth a scream containing twelve years of grief all at once. For ten long and horrible minutes, Mr. Albert Danforth is reduced to a screming, grieving mess on the floor of the office he so proudly kicked Ada Perkins out of a few hours earlier. In those ten minutes, Albert Danforth feels every second of his miserable existence. When it is over, he stands up, makes a few phone calls and leaves the office. As soon as he exits the building a cab pulls up. This can’t be a coincidence, he thinks to himself. He gets in and practically screams at the driver, “Detroit Children’s Hospital and hurry, we only have an hour!” The Detroit streets are clear of traffic on this Christmas Eve and they arrive in ten minutes. Danforth rushes in to the hospital, asks the woman at the information desk where Ada Perkin’s son is, and runs off down the hallway, trying to outrun both the clock and his memory. He gets lost a few times but finally finds the room at half past eleven. He enters the room and is immediately charged by Rashan Perkins. “You son of a bitch! You dare show yourself in my son’s room after what you’ve done to my wife?” Danforth sees the punch coming and tries to roll with it. It connects anyway, knocking him to the ground. “Please, I want to help, I’m here to help.” Danforth stands up and brushes himself off. “Ada, I am so sorry for my actions today. I wasn’t aware of the situation and now that I am, I’d like to pay for your son’s surgery.”

Rashan Perkins lowered his voice, “We don’t want your help, you miserable son of a bitch.” Ada places a hand on her husband’s arm to calm him. “If your offer to help is a serious one, Mr Danforth, we would be honored to accept it.” Danforth smiles.

“It is a very serious offer, and so is this, I’d like you to come back to DSI, not as my assistant, but as my partner. You know the inside staff better than I ever have and they respect you. There will be a few months worth of training and adjustments on your end, but I can think of no one better.” Danforth’s offer is met with tears and squeals of happiness and hope. The doctor is paged and the surgery is scheduled for Christmas morning. Danforth spends the rest of the night apologizing and explaining what had caused him to fall down such a dark hole.

The next morning, as Albert stands in front of a mirror attempting to tie a tie with shaky hands, a voice rings out from behind him.

“You did good last night, Mr. Danforth.” Danforth whips around to find the young man with the blonde hair standing behind him.

“Jesus, way to scare a guy to death, what are you doing here?”

“I came to say goodbye. I’ve been waiting twelve years for you to unScrooge yourself, and last night it finally happened. Merry Christmas, Mr. Danforth.” With that, the young man disappeared.

 

<Narration> Albert Danforth did indeed make good on his promise to pay for the operation as well as bring Ada Perkins back as a partner. They had a good twenty year run together. At his retirement party, Albert Danforth surprised no one by naming a man who had risen through the ranks over the last fourteen years as the new owner of Danforth Shipping Incorporated. The new owner’s name, if you must know, was Xavier Perkins, son of Ada and childhood cancer survivor. Within two years, Xavier had expanded the company and was named Time Magazine’s Businessman of the Year. In honor of the man who paid for the operation that saved his life, Xavier started the Albert Danforth Fund which allowed for 10% of the company’s yearly profits to be split among all employees at the end of the year. By the end of his third year as head of DSI, the company was netting over a billion dollars a year. As for Albert Danforth? Well, this is where I come in. Lets take a peek shall we?

 

I never liked working the Christmas Eve shift at St Mary’s. It always saddened me to see these nice elderly folk wait with anticipation for family to arrive, only to be met with bitter disappointment. People don’t like to admit it, but some people use places like us as dumping grounds. A place where they can drop off an elderly family member and walk away like they never existed. On the rare year I actually worked the Christmas Eve shift I always tried to interact with the residents as much as possible. There was one resident, an Albert Danforth, who I particularly enjoyed talking to. He was nice, funny, sharp as a nail, but I think he had a few screws starting to come loose. He had been with us for three years by this point, and every year a few days before Christmas Eve, he’d start getting excited about the visitor that would be coming to see him the night before Christmas.

“Pete” He’d say, “This man has come to see me every Christmas Eve for thirty years. He’s never missed a single one. Funny fellow, very odd in that he never ages, he looks the same now as he did thirty years ago.” I’d laugh along with him, but none of us had ever seen this visitor. Still, there was no reason to ruin an old man’s excitement. At any rate, this past Christmas Eve I found myself bringing dinner to Albert Danforth’s room. As I approached, I heard laughter. I entered the room and saw Albert and a young man in a white suit laughing together. Albert caught my gaze. “Pete, my friend, this is the visitor I’ve been telling you about every year.” I walked over and extended my hand.

“Hi, I’m Pete Williams, nice to meet you.”

The young man grasped my hand in his. “The name’s Gabriel and it is nice to meet you as well. Albert tells me you are his favorite orderly.”

I blushed. “He is a good man. Speaking of, I brought down a tray for him. Added a little extra turkey I know how much he likes it.”

Suddenly the room grew silent. “I appreciate that Pete, but I won’t be needing it tonight. I am going to leave with Gabriel.”

“Oh, okay, well, is there anything else I can do for you tonight Mr. Danforth?”

“Actually, Pete, there is.” His eyes moistened and he looked at me for a moment without saying a word. “Thank you for being so kind to me Pete. On my shelf next to the bed is a journal that I’ve kept for thirty years. Will you please write about those years and let people know that the magic of Christmas is not an illusion?”

“Umm sure, I can do that, I guess. Don’t want to do it yourself?”

Albert Danforth smiled at me and then asked the man in white the oddest question.

“Gabriel, before we go, will it hurt?”

Gabriel smiled and said no. With that they walked out of the room hand in hand. I stood there stunned for a few minutes, not understanding what had just happened until the scream shook me from my stupor. I dropped the tray and ran out in the hallway. There, lying lifeless in the middle of the floor, was Albert Danforth. I quit my job right then and there. Too much death, even if it is natural death. A few weeks later a package arrived on my doorstep. There was no address on it just my name. Inside was Mr. Danforth’s journal and a note that said

Remember your promise, Pete.

                                                -G

And so here I am, following through on a Christmas promise I made to an old man moments before he died. His last words still vibrate through my head: “Will it hurt?” Judging by the smile that was on his face when we turned him over that night in the hall, I’d like to say no, it didn’t hurt at all.

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