Marley was dead; that much was certain. Nothing was certain but death and taxes, and death was one of those. Now old Scrooge knew the truth of the latter part of that Yankee aphorism, for Marley’s estate had been ravaged by shameless looters, the vultures of government, who are eternally poised to pick a man’s bones clean. Even beyond death, the all-devouring maw of the state had ways of tearing its unearned portion from the flesh of the enterprising individual. Scrooge, who had been Marley’s only partner for thirty years, bled with him, sweated with him, suffered and toiled by his side through the very blackest of times, and, who, in the end, minded his affairs, even as the older man had departed to open a branch office in Elysium — this same Scrooge had been bilked of his rightful piece of Marley’s legacy by the insatiate Vampyre known as “the State.” The State, cowering behind the skirts of “The People.” The Great Unwashed were always demanding their “fair share” of Scrooge’s hard-won profits, to buy Red Bull, lottery tickets, “Bath Salts”, X Boxes, deep-fried bacon-double-chocolate Oreo sundaes, and $1,000 basketball sneakers. And somehow, for his thrift, Scrooge had been branded with the supposedly derogatory epithet “greedy.” The world had indeed gone topsy turvy.
It was Christmas Eve. Scrooge’s sniveling and whiny cur of a Chief Clerk Bob Cratchet exploited the occasion to try to wheedle some absurdly extravagant labor concessions out of his morally and intellectually superior employer.
“I demand a living wage, Scrooge,” Cratchet peeped in his shrill, hateful voice, not unlike that of a sewer rat’s. “How are I and my brood of ignorant, shiftless tree sloths going to fatten ourselves on delicacies tomorrow if you don’t give me more money than I deserve for the unsatisfactory work I perform here? What’s more, it’s chilly in this office. I demand that you jack the heat up to 90 and if you don’t allow it, I’ve got OSHA on speed dial.”
Scrooge remained calm as the man spat in his face.
“That’s not a very friendly attitude, Bob, ” he reasoned. “Why don’t you look at it from my perspective? You can’t very well expect a company this small to just turn on the spigots every time someone says they want our money. We’d go broke in no time. There would be no more business. Then you’d be out of a job and you’d have NO money.”
‘Don’t threaten me, old man. You’ll give me what I want and like it. All you rich people are the same — always crying poor. Well you’d better find the money someplace, or it will be EXTRACTED from your cooling and trussed-up carcass.”
“You’re overwrought, Bob. Why don’t you take the rest of the night off and spend it with your family?”
“Yeah, I knew that’d scare you. You don’t care anything about my family. You can’t even tell me all their names or where they go to school or what clubs they belong to or what teams they play for. Can you? Can you?? CAN YOU???”
Scrooge was taken aback. “Ours is a professional relationship, Bob. In exchange for the work you perform here, I pay you a mutually agreed upon salary. Now, I’m sure your family is very nice, but it seems to me the time I might spend closely following your family’s exploits might be better spent marshalling the resources that allow you to feed, clothe and educate them.”
Cratchet sneered at Scrooge with condesension and contempt.
“You’re sick! Sick!” spat Cractchet. “Remind me to give you the name of a good therapist.”
“I can’t afford a therapist.”
“Well I don’t know why not. After all, it’s covered on my insurance plan. Anyway, I’m out of here. See you in three weeks.”
“You mean three days, don’t you?”
“Oh, didn’t I tell you? I’m taking all of my federally mandated holiday time for christmas, Chanukah AND Kwaanza, ten personal days, three days vacation and two sick days.”
“What do you mean “sick days”? How do you know in advance you’ll be sick?”
“Do the math, Old Man. It’s three weeks. I’d have taken at least two sick days anyway. And I guess you know that I demand to be paid in full for those three weeks, even though I won’t be doing any work.”
Scrooge wiped his forehead with a handkerchief.
“This is a fine look-out. Three weeks paid vacation. You’ve already taken eight weeks this year.”
“Very funny. I guess you know that was federally mandated maternity leave.”
“I couldn’t help noticing that you’re not a woman.”
“It was a sympathetic pregnancy.”
“Well, it appears there’s no sympathy for me or my 30 years of sacrifice and devotion. How is the company to function in your absence?”
“That’s your problem–bub.”
Cratchet tossed his head back and laughed scornfully. Then he was out the door.
Scrooge contemplated the injustice of a world in which this inert bloodsucker Cratchet felt entitled to rob him — yes, rob him — of thousands of dollars with impunity. What had Scrooge done that was so wrong, besides save his money and carefully manage his resources, so that he could realize his dream of owning a small business? Why, when he tried to protect his own interests, was he accused of every calumny under the sun? Why was he being punished for what he considered to be his virtues?
But there was little time to dwell on this, for, at that moment, in walked Scrooge’s scheming, jobless nephew Fred.
“Merry Christmas, Uncle,” Fred beamed. Fred was indeed jolly, for he’d just come from the wild party he’d thrown for all of his friends with the last of his December trust money.
“Spare me the song and dance, Fred. I know what you want.”
“Peace and Goodwill Toward Men is all I want, Uncle.”
“I suppose you don’t want your January money a little early? That’s all you ever come in here for.”
“Ha, ha, ha! Very funny! Merry Christmas, Uncle! Merry Christmas!”
“Been a-wassailing, have you?”
“Oh, ha, ha, ha!”
“Look, don’t you think you’re laying it on a bit thick?”
“Why, whatever do you mean, Uncle?”
“All this happy-jolly fol de rol.”
“Why, it’s no fol de rol, Uncle. How can you say that? Christmas is the merriest day of the year.”
“Then I suppose you haven’t come here looking for money?”
Fred looked at the floor a second. His face took on a contrite expression.
“Well, sure, but—”
“Good. Now we’re getting somewhere. Rank hypocrisy, Fred. And when I say ‘rank’ I mean it stinks. Coming in here mewling a lot of pablum about Christmas when all you really want me is a check from me.”
“It’s rather ungenerous to badger me, don’t you think, Uncle? Considering that it is my rightful inheritance.”
“Yes, yes, and I’m your guardian. Which means, I’m more than just a bank-teller, Fred. I’m your mother’s brother. Occasionally I may be called upon to dispense useful advice. You have no job, you have no skills, you have no ambition, apparently you have no future and you’re nearly 40 years old. Surely I’m doing you no favors by letting you spend off your patrimony on a lot of relaxation you can hardly be said to need.”
‘As greedy and judgmental as ever, eh, uncle?” Fred laughed, rubbing his hands together and licking his chops. “And now, how about my money?”
Scrooge’s pen had barely left the paper when Fred snatched the check out of his hands and ran for the door.
“See you next month!” he called absent-mindedly.
“Merry Christmas, Fred.”
A puzzled expression came over Fred’s face as he paused at the door.
“What’s that, Uncle?”
“I said “Merry Christmas”.
Fred’s face brightened, as he’d just gotten a very funny joke. “Ah, yes! Quite.”
Then he was gone.
Scrooge had no sooner gone about the business of closing up shop when two fat, sweaty men with eyes like those of rabbits barged in.
“May I speak to the person responsible for your firm’s charitable-giving decisions?” the fat man on the left asked.
“There is no such person at Scrooge and Marley,’ Scrooge replied.
“And when will he back.”
Scrooge was losing his patience.
“He won’t be back. We keep no such person on staff here.”
The other fat man chimed in.
“Then may we speak to the proprietor?”
“That would be me, ” Scrooge admitted.
“Then, sir, at this time of celebration, when so few of us have so much, and so many of us have so little, may I ask that you consider a small contribution to the United Chartitable Contributions Bureau, a not-for-profit clearing-house for several deserving causes. What with federal cutbacks–”
“I like federal cutbacks,” Scrooge cut in, barely suppressing a snarl.
“Then,” chimed in the first fat man, ‘Like us, you are a believer in private charity. Now then–”
“I am a believer in each man cooperating with every other man to make his own way in the world with as little hindrance as possible from lecherous “Takers”. You got any charities that cater to that?”
“Ha ha! Very funny!, ” chimed in the second fat man, “Now what can we put you down for? How about a small donation to Shut Down the Factories? How about Fresh Lobster for Felons? No? Neighbors Against Electricity?”
Just then, Scrooge exercised his 2nd Amendment rights by pulling his Saturday Night Special out of the desk drawer.
“Here’s your donation! Here’s your donation! What’s the matter? Why don’t you gentlemen come and get your very generous donation?” he asked as the men beat a hasty retreat. The fact that one of them slipped and then fell on the ice on his way out made Scrooge feel just a little bit better.
Scrooge flipped off the lights, put on his coat, locked up his shop, and headed home.
Scrooge sat in his chamber by the hearth eating his evening modest meal when he heard a mysterious dragging of chains on the roof above him, accompanied by low groans, and a sort of subdued cackle. This alarmed him, for he had no neighbors.
“What the devil-?” Scrooge asked.
“Not the devil, but very like him. ‘Tis I, your old partner in life, Jacob Marley, ” called a voice from out of nowhere.
“Impossible,” Scrooge snorted. “I am an Aristotlean. I disbelieve in the existence of an immaterial. Jacob Marley is quite dead and there is no such thing as a soul to float about in the absense of his body. I am either hallucinating or I am being tricked by some malevolent and jealous enemies. Very likely the latter. Well, if you don’t get lost, I’m calling the cops.”
Scrooge’s evening was quiet after that.
Next morning was Christmas day, and Scrooge woke up feeling refreshed and full of purpose.
“I’m going to make a new beginning,” he thought to himself, “I know just what I’ll do.”
The day began with a number of phone calls.
“Hello, Cratchet? Ebeneezer Scrooge. You’re fired. Fired! Not only are you incompetent, but you’re surly. Furthermore, I intend to hire private detectives to shadow you the rest of your born days and anonymously tell each of your new employers what a rotten, shiftless bum you really are, which would only be the truth.”
‘Hi, Fred. Merry Christmas. It’s me, Uncle Ebenezer. Remember that clause in your mother’s will about me, as your guardian, withholding your monthly allowance at my discretion? I’m employing it. What’s more I’m changing my phone number and my address, and they won’t be listed. If you show up at my house, I’ll have both your legs broken. At the femur, where it takes longest to heal. ”
“Hello, Internal Revenue Service? Yes, I’m calling from the United Charitable Contributions Bureau, and I was wondering if you wouldn’t do a little audit on our company. Yes. Go through our books with a fine tooth comb. Leave no stone unturned. I want to make sure that we’re absolutely clean. Thanks! And Merry Christmas to you!”
Lastly, as the perfect end to a perfect day, he took two truckloads of fertilizer, snuck out under the cover of darkness, and blew up the FederalOfficeBuilding, which was his right. After all, it had been built with his tax dollars.
copyright (c) 1997 Trav S.D.