Chapter 1: Default Chapter
I do not own the concepts, characters, etc. of the original It's a Wonderful Life; I believe the copyright of the film has expired (which explains the proliferate reruns and video versions). Philip Van Doren Stern wrote the original story on which Frank Capra based his classic film.
I wrote this partly for my own amusement, partly in answer to Connie Willis, who wrote some rather pointed comments about IAWL in the introduction to her Miracle and Other Christmas Stories, otherwise a great collection of short sci-fi/fantasy Christmas stories. It wouldn't be the Matrix Refugee is she didn't find something to disagree with: much as I admire Ms. Willis's stories, I disagree with her regarding IAWL—to me it will always be the best Christmas movie of all time. But I do agree with her on the fact that the film has a major loose end, that the real villain of the piece, Mr. Potter, goes unpunished and unrepentant. So, I have taken up the challenge. Read and enjoy and review. I accept constructive criticisms, but if you're just going to bash my take, I suggest you keep your bile to yourself.
Where Moth and Rust Corrupt
An It's a Wonderful Life Sequel
By "Matrix Refugee"
Fletch touched Potter's shoulder. "It's almost midnight," he said. Potter, who sat forward in his wheelchair, elbows on the edge of his desk as he examined the last of the account books, barely stirred.
"Mr. Potter, it's almost midnight," Fletch repeated.
Now aware of the hand on his shoulder, Potter shook it off. "Be quiet, boy," he growled.
"The doctor said you need more rest or your bronchitis will relapse," Fletch urged.
Potter glanced up at his bodyguard-cum-wheelchair pusher. "Hah! I've outlived every doctor I've ever had. I could buy them all out if I wanted to."
"You won't be able to if you don't get some rest," Fletch insisted.
Potter reached his right hand into his waistcoat pocket and drew out his watch. Sure enough, the hands stood at midnight. "Blast it," he murmured, stuffing the watch back into his pocket. Aloud he added, "All right, take me home. But we have a stop to make first."
"Where, sir?" Fletch asked, pulling his master's chair away from the desk and wheeling it across the office.
Potter allowed himself the luxury of a smile, a half-smile because of the palsy that crippled much of his left side. "The Bedford Falls jail, to see how our frustrated young man likes his new office."
Fletch collected his master's hat and coat form the rack just inside the door and helped him put them on. He took the lap robe from its special hook, unfolded it, and tucked it around Potter's legs before putting on his own fedora and topcoat. He opened the office door and pushed the chair into the bank lobby; Potter took a ring of keys from inside his coat and locked the office door himself.
The night guard in the lobby nodded to them and got up from his chair to open the door to them. Fletch wheeled the chair out into the night and the falling snow.
Potter's low-slung Packard stood waiting against the curb. Malloy, the driver, armed with a brush on a long handle, bustled about, trying to clear the snow off the car. Falling flakes had already formed a white drift on the young man's coat collar.
"Stop that scraping, boy; you're wasting your time," Potter growled.
Malloy straightened up. "Just throyin' t' get the wurst o' the snaw off yer car, sorr," Malloy said, smiling nonchalantly. He stumped around to the back of the car and opened the rear door. Fletch started to jockey the wheelchair into position to roll it into the open door, but Malloy put out his hands and lifted it, Potter and all, and carefully set it down on the car floor, where the rear seat would have been. Fletch elbowed under Malloy's arm, closed the rear door and got into the front seat. Malloy folded his long frame into the driver's seat, started the car and pulled away.
"We're stopping at the police station first, Malloy," Fletch informed the driver.
"Sure, sure. Thanks far the far warnin'," Malloy replied.
Potter poked Fletch in the neck. "Tell him to stop chattering and drive." Malloy only nodded.
They pulled up before the Bedford Falls police station. Malloy got out first and beat Fletch to the rear door; even though the older man had a shorter distance to travel, he found himself staring up into Malloy's big brown eyes over the top of Potter's bowler hat when he turned to open the rear door. The two of them lugged Potter and his chair up the steps to the station door.
"Watch it on that ice," Potter groused, jabbing a hand down at a few crumbs of broken ice in the corner of the steps.
"Indeed, sorr," Malloy said.
Fletch took over once they got Potter and his chair over the threshold. Sounds of laughter and loud voices wafted from the inner recesses of the station. No one sat at the front desk when they entered, Potter reached up and pounded on the desk. A young officer came in from the squad room, laughing and shaking his head. Seeing Potter, his pink young face sobered, but only for a second.
"Can I help you, Mr. Potter?" he asked.
"I've just come by to see about your newest prisoner," Potter said.
"Well, he should sober up by morning," the rookie said. "They always do."
"Figures, these little clerks always drown their misery in drink instead of facing them like men, not that they were men in the first place," Potter said to nobody in particular. "I trust you have him thoroughly secured by now? He didn't cause any trouble, I trust?"
"It took little to secure him: he fell asleep on the way over, and he's still asleep now."
"Let me see him."
"Well, it's not necessary, unless you're a relative or his lawyer."
"I am neither; let me see the prisoner any way!"
The stripling looked about, trying to focus. "I'll ask the chief." He went out.
Now I've got you just where you belong, you warped, frustrated young man, Potter thought. But for his heart, he would have allowed himself the luxury of a good laugh.
A moment later the rookie returned with a ring of keys. "I'll take you to him, Mr. Potter, but it's really not necessary."
"I'll decide what's necessary or unnecessary!" Potter snapped.
The youngster led them down a corridor, then helped Fletch carry Potter down a flight of stairs to the basement. He led them along the short passageway lit by one bare arc light in a steel cage and lined with all of five cells, most unoccupied except for one. The rookie led them up to it. Potter leaned over to gaze into the cell, at this rabble-rouser finally cornered…
He looked at a shirt, fat man in his early fifties, bald except for a white fringe about his ears, his overcoat pulled up around his round face, snoring blissfully, his breath reeking of eggs and brandy.
"Well, where is he?" Potter demanded. "Where's George Bailey?"
"Last I knew he and his family and just about the whole town were having a shindig at his house, what with his brother home from the war and getting the Congressional Medal. Bert went out to find him when he ran out on his family in a fuss, but he found him alive on the Hudson Bridge, acted like he'd hadn't seen Bert in ten years, but he ran straight home. Last I heard he was still there with them."
"What became of the warrant? What about the DA's men? The reporters?"
"They threw it out. No sense locking up a man who managed to produce the cash that went astray."
Potter thought he felt something burn in his chest. Indigestion, he thought, though he knew the sensation lay too high. His hand went to his breast pocket.
"Confound you! I want that overridden; if you don't bring him in here, I'll have you demoted and blacklisted form the police union!"
The rookies smiled calmly. "If you don't believe me, Mr. Potter, maybe you should go see George Bailey yourself."
"Take me out of here, take me to George Bailey's house," Potter ordered. Fletch turned the chair away and tried to drag it up the stairs himself, but the rookie had to assist him.
Back in the car, Potter fumed in silence as Malloy drove them down Main Street and turned onto Sycamore Street. Curse these Baileys and all their kind! They'd molly coddle these useless lower classes into utter unproductivity if we let them and their kind have their way. They'd take the funds out of the hands of the competent and waste them on the utterly incompetent, who'd drain this world of its resources. Them and their women and brats. All mouths to be fed, but they can't give anything back. The fungus of civilization…
To be contined…
Chapter 2: It's a Wonderful Life: the Final Chapter Chapter II
They reached the end of the street, where it turned and met Oak Street. They pulled up before 320 Sycamore, what the yokels used to call "the old Granville house", but which the rabble now called "George and Mary Bailey's house." A couple of cars, one with official tags in the window, stood outside, one in the drive, the other in street. He had to admit, that clerk's little wench had succeeded in turning an eyesore into something half presentable, but he cursed himself for not buying the property sooner and having the old pile torn down to make way for a high-class bordello. Yes, that would keep these yokels from breeding more…
But he couldn't waste time woolgathering. He started to reach out and poke Fletch and order him to get out and bring him to the door, but he stopped and looked up at the window.
A lamp stood on a table in the front room; George and that woman of his Mary and his fool of an uncle Billy lingered around it, counting money while Billy's hare-wit son, whatever his name was, clacked away at an adding machine. George stood talking to a youngish man, probably a reporter, who wrote rapidly on a pad of paper. A second man, wearing a slightly better cut suit stood nearby, shaking his head as if in amazement and talking. The two men shook hands with George, who led them out of the range of the window. A moment later and the door opened. The two men, joined by two others, emerged and walked down to their cars, laughing and talking excitedly among themselves. Potter rolled down his window.
"Hey, you! One of you come over and tell me what's going on?" he cried.
The more rumpled of the better-dressed men came to the side of Potter's car. "Mr. Potter, good evening."
"Is this way you conduct justice around here? Letting white-collar thieves run loose in our society? I'll have you disbarred!" Potter cried.
"You can't convict a man or put him on trial for mislaying money; perhaps there was a little negligence, but if that were a crime worthy of conviction, we'd all have to be locked up. He's lucky he has friends who could help him out; I wish to heaven there were more people like them."
"Even rats help each other. I want that conviction carried through!"
"You're forgetting something, Mr. Potter: It's Christmas; all the judges and juries are in recess, and unless you want to pull together a kangaroo court, there's no way they can do anything with it until after the New Year."
"Then I'll get Congress to override this Christmas nonsense and have it wiped from the calendar."
The lawyer smiled. "And lose a major economic asset? Be careful what you ask for, Mr. Potter, because sometimes you get it, and it's not what you really wanted."
With that, the lawyer walked away and rejoined his colleague near the other car. The younger man grinned and said something that sounded like, "I guess you told that money-grubbing buzzard a thing or three." Potter rolled the window up as fast as he could.
"Take me home!" he ordered.
Malloy stuffed his rosary back into his breast pocket and started the car.
A quarter of an hour later, they pulled into the drive of Potter's house. Unlike most people's impression of wealthy men, Potter chose not to live in a mansion, but in the same crooked old house where he had grown up. He had more than mere sentimentality in doing so: it cost less to maintain than a mansion. A mansion attracted dust and cobwebs more than most houses, and that required an army of maids to keep it clean, and that meant having women about. Women! Except that they usually had more expensive tastes and requirements than men and that meant heightened demand for consumer goods, they served no purpose to the economy…Oh he might have turned his office downtown into a showcase, but he did so only to impress the bumpkins.
When Fletch and Malloy carried him indoors, he found Gable, his personal accountant, sitting in an armchair in the front room, asleep, his white trench coat open about his too-thin frame. As Fletch wheeled Potter into the front room, the young man stirred and opened his dark eyes. He pulled himself to his feet and stepped out on his right foot to steady himself. His left leg had grown crooked following a failed operation to curb the osteomyelitis he'd developed as a child.
"Henry, do you wish me to stay, or shall I leave?" he asked in a deep sonorous voice touched with irony. "I would have gone over them myself, but I knew you'd want to double-check them with your own eyes."
"It's late, we'll go over the accounts in the morning, Joseph. You may go now; you must be tired waiting up," potter said with something approaching benevolence. For a moment, the image of George Bailey, free as a bird, faded from Potter's eye.
"Thank you, Henry. I'm hardly tired. May I be so bold as to ask…what took you so long?"
"Business, child, just some business with an old enemy.
He gathered up the sheaf of ledgers on the table beside his chair and hobbled out into the front hallway.
The thick envelope in Potter's breast pocket rubbed against his breastbone; his hand went to it almost of its own volition. He had to do something with it before anyone suspected... "Joseph?"
"Yes?" the young man turned on his good heel and turned his swarthy, saturnine visage toward him. In the shadows, it looked more skull-like than usual.
"Never mind, it can wait till the morning." Gable only nodded, his thin mouth gathered in a faint smile. He went on his way out.
Fletch wheeled Potter to the master bedroom in the rear of the ground floor and helped him settle in for the night.
Once he lay alone in bed with his thoughts, Potter let them run wild.
If only that young man were like Gable, who knows a good chance when he sees it! Ten years ago, Potter had offered George Bailey a chance to help manage his properties, but Bailey had refused to let go of that rattletrap Building and Loan. But then he had met Gable, a young man with a mind like an adding machine, working as a floorwalker in the Stock Exchange, and he saw someone who knew how to handle money. The youngster would lie down and roll over like a dog if he ordered him to, but he knew how to make a profit and how to build up his assets. Bailey has the stuff, the ambition, the know-how, but he feels too much and thinks too little! Men like that should never have been born, or they should be drowned at birth with their mothers, to keep more like that from being born…If you'd been smarter, George Bailey, you'd be in Joseph P. Gable's boots right now. In a lock box bolted to the floor of Potter's clothes-closet lay a sheaf of papers declaring Joseph Peter Gable to be the heir to Henry Flyte Potter, to come into effect December 25, 1945, his Christmas present to the best accountant he'd ever had. If he'd had a son, he wished he could have been like this capable young man, not a single nerve of sentiment or emotion in him. Potter allowed himself one moment of sentiment; besides having the most business sense in the state, they both had their handicaps: Potter had his paralysis which had struck him forty years ago, Gable had his gimpy leg, which thankfully had kept him Four-F. They'd both overcome the limits of nature and made themselves far more useful than many men in full use of their capabilities.
He caught himself feeling the same way about George Bailey and his bad ear, but he steeled himself. That youngster had brought it on himself, diving into that cold water, but it just showed how little sense he had. And that was just the beginning of his chuckle-headedness! If only he hadn't been born, this town would be far more productive….
He let himself drift off with these thoughts.
Chapter 3: It's a Wonderful Life: the Final Chapter Chapter III
Someone shook him awake. He pushed the hand away. The hand gripped his shoulders and shook him harder. "Lay off, you'll dislodge my brains," he muttered.
"Mr. Potter, you have to get up, they're coming for you," Fletch's voice begged.
Potter opened his eyes. Fletch helped him up in the dark and helped him to dress. Malloy stood near the window watching, a pistol in his hands. He looked at Fletch, who nodded to him; Malloy slid along the wall, out of sight of the window and crept out of the room.
"Who's coming for me? What's all this for?" Potter demanded as Fletch helped him into his chair.
"The North American National Socialists," Fletch said, wheeling him out into the dark hallway.
"The what? Oh, don't bother me with talk about politics; it's too late. Is this your idea of a joke?"
"No, this is serious. If we don't get you out of here and up to the cave on Mt. Bedford, they'll hang you."
"They can't hang me! I'll have them expatriated. If they want to follow German politics, they can go to Germany."
"That's just it," said a voice in the dark hallway. A searchlight beacon swept in through the window.
"Who's there?" Potter demanded.
Joseph hobbled out of the dark into the brief light. "This is what I've been trying to tell you: the or the NSAAP, National Socialist American Workers' Party has a lot more strength than you've bargained for. It's all over the American People's Watchman, their official organ: the New York province has to put down the capitalist of possible Jewish descent Henry F. Potter, allegedly Herschel Fischer or Herschel Pincus. You'll either have to hide until this blows over or we'll have a mob in here hanging you from the alder tree outside."
"How do you know all this?" Potter demanded.
"I have a few…friends who have access to inside information," Joseph said, smiling humorlessly.
They hurried out into the snowy night. A cold wind blew across the hilltop on which the house stood; a barbed wire-topped stone fence surrounded the yard. Searchlights posted on the corner posts swung in slow circles, lighting up the yard. Fletch and Joseph lifted Potter's chair into the back of the car. Joseph got in beside him sitting on the floorboards. Once they shut the doors, Malloy backed the car down the drive; a gate at the end of the drive opened slowly. They pulled out onto the road. Malloy swung the car around and onto the road to Mt. Bedford.
"I passed through the center of Pottersville on the way over—" Joseph started to say.
"Pottersville? Never heard of it." Potter snapped.
"Sir, you renamed the town fifteen years ago, after you saved it from turning into a ghost town in the Depression, don't you remember?" Fletch piped up.
"I did no such thing! George Bailey took this town away from me."
"Who?" Fletch demanded.
"We might have awakened him too suddenly, he must be dreaming still," Joseph said.
They rode in silence along the valley road. Their track gradually rose as it climbed up the back of a hill. At one point, Potter looked out over the valley and saw rows and rows of gleaming lights and the garish flash of neon signs.
"That's Pottersville," he said.
"That is your greatest accomplishment," Joseph said.
Malloy groaned. "When thurnin' a wee town into a pitiable copy awf a city is a grait accomplishment, then man is close to desthroyin' his own soul."
"Oh be quiet and drive," Fletch muttered. "Them Nazis will hear us."
"How can we have Nazis in America? We conquered Germany and Japan," Potter demanded.
"George Bailey wasn't there to save his wee brother Harry from an icy grave, an' so Harry wasn't there to save the soldier-boys and their thransport in the Narth Atlantic. America fell to Jarminny a year ago; now them Nazis have worked a horrible wonder on the wee folk in the small towns, thurnin' 'um against all that roight an' decent. Man 'll embraice any idée, however insane that presenths isself, what seems better 'n the horror he knows."
As he spoke, they rounded the crest of the hill and the
"Shut you mouth!" Potter demanded. "Wait, you said George Bailey's name; do you know him?"
"Know him?" Malloy snorted, half humorously, half painfully. "He'd be the best man in this thown if he'd been born."
"How do you know these things?"
"I know because I'm an angel."
"We'll all be angels if you don't step on it," Fletch groused. Malloy stamped on the accelerator. They sped down the hill and swept up the next rise. They rounded another turn. Potter thought he saw the black shadow of a man crouching under a snow-covered bush, a man with a machine gun. Potter huddled himself in his chair. Malloy groaned and made the sign of the Cross.
They climbed a steep slope, the car vibrating every nut and bolt in the frame as Malloy tried to shift to a lower gear. They pulled off the road. Malloy stopped the car and killed the motor. He and Fletch climbed out of the front and ran to open the back door. They half carried, half dragged Potter into the bushes at the roadside. Potter thought he saw Joseph's fedora go flying off as he scuttled to keep up with them.
"The cave's just ahead," Malloy said. "I put some supplies there." Fletch let go of Potter's chair, pulled a small flashlight out of his coat pocket, and ran ahead to part the bushes. He uncovered the mouth of a small cave. They crawled inside.
"We can hide out in here," Malloy said. "We'll be safe."
"Not unless you have company," Joseph said very loudly.
Light suddenly filled the small enclosure. A group of twenty armed men surrounded them from all sides, men from Bedford Falls or whatever they called it now. Potter recognized most by their faces, if not by their names. Bert the cop stood over him with a torch in one hand and a machine gun in the other. A silver death's head grinned on the peak of his black military cap and a red armband bearing a crooked black cross encircled his left arm. All the others wore exactly the same armbands
"Well, looky here! The Jewish capitalist himself!" he cried. "Thought you could hide from us, eh Mr. Potter, or is it Reb Pincus?" The others laughed like hyenas. They closed in on Potter. They tore him from his chair and flung him to the ground; they stomped on him, grinding heavy boot heels into his face and back.
They lifted him up by the remains of his hair. Pain tore through his scalp.
"Joseph, do something!" he screamed to the lean young man who stood idly by, watching, the others' coats piled at his feet.
"I already am," he said calmly. "You wonder how I came to know about the planned lynching? I wrote that article. I called these true men of New Nordia to cleanse this land of the subhuman and the nonhuman who would enslave the Anglo-Saxons and Nordics who colonized this land. And that includes you, Mr. Potter—or Reb Pincus." He reached into the breast of his trench coat and took out a folded legal document. "Oh, and thanks for the inheritance, even though the American Reich will have to reach across your corpse to get to it."
"You gossoons will have to reach over my dead body!" Malloy roared. He broke loose from the two guards that held him and tore Potter from their grasp. They lunged after him and tried to pin the both of them, but he wiggled free and ran from the cave, carrying Potter as if he were a child. Machine gun fire and gunshots broke out over them. Bullets whizzed past them, clipping Malloy's clothes. Malloy fled through the trees and bushes, taking a cross-country route back to the house.
They reached it only to find it in flames. Malloy hunkered down in the bushes in back of the yard, covering Potter who lay flat on the ground.
"You see, sorr, George Bailey saved a lot more than this town or his brother: he saved you from yourself, even when you never knew. You might own plenty o' property, but where is that going to go when you die?"
"Gable inherits it, though I just might disinherit him for this!"
"But what will happen to it when he dies?"
"He'll leave it all to the Nazis, unless he squanders it first!"
"No, he won't be able to do much with it either. He'll die before he can father children and that money will be lost before anyone can do anything with it. See, you've been bankin' on the wrang riches. What good are metal coins that rust and paper cash that deflates and inflates as fast as the bills are printed and wear to smithereens a' fore y' can do much with 'um?"
"They can buy a lot of power, not that you'd know how to go about it."
"No, I'm afraid I don't. Where I come from, it's easier fawr a camel loaded with people on 'is back an' the spices and silks o' the East loaded in packs beside 'um to pass through a wee narrow gate than it is for a rich man loaded down wit' money and the caires an' woes it causes to enter."
"And what part of Ireland is that?"
"No part o' Eire, but 'tis the real thing o' which Eire is but a pale reflection—"
Potter swung his fist toward the Irishman's head. "Confound you and your chatter! Answer me in no more than five words!"
"I'll give ye one word then: Heaven."
Potter looked up at the Irishman. "Then where are your wings?" he sneered
Malloy smiled. "If I'd warn them, they'd have been catchin' awn everything and we'd oll be thrippin' awn 'um."
"If you're an angel, then why can't you change all this?"
"I'm not God: only He can change men's harts, but awnly when they let Him, awnly when they give their harts into His merciful hands and let Him do His work wit' 'um. Trouble is, you've put yer hart in the last place a human hart should be: in yer safe deposit boxes an' vaults an' stocks an' bonds."
"How else is a man supposed to get by in this world?"
"True, but that's awnly fawr this wurld. It won't get you even into the door in the next."
"So, God would send me to hell just because I'm rich. Your God can have His Heaven if He wants to fill it with these idle poor and miserable failures like George Bailey."
"If that is as ye want it, so shall it be given ye. But I don't think the real Henry F. Potter would want that. Why did ye keep yer awld home?"
"Because it's cheaper to maintain. No use wasting money on a mansion when a frame house will do just the same."
"No, you know as well as I why ye kept it."
Images passed through Potter's mind, vague half-forgotten shadows of things past, nothing major except things like the geranium plants in tin cans on the kitchen window sill, his mother hanging clothes in the backyard, his baby sister Hester and he playing under the oak tree before… He fought back the huge shadow he saw looming over him.
"What happened to that boy that used to romp wit' his wee sister?" Malloy asked.
"His father half-broke his back with a strap when he was only ten, so he ran away at sixteen to work the coal mines in Pennsylvania, only he'd been weakened so badly he couldn't swing a pick for long. But they found I could add figures in the office better than the lot of them. I lived low and saved, invested. By the time I was twenty-one, I part owned the company, Owned it and a dozen mines before I was thirty. Palsy struck me then, so I came back here…to where?"
"Only to yer roots. There's still time to rebuild yer soul, but ye have to choose to do that. God doesn't force a man to walk a path he thinks he doesn't like. The question is: does a man know he's chosen the right path?
"Take your friend George Bailey—"
"He's no friend of mine! You know as well as I the man hates the air I breathe."
"No man could have so good a man for an enemy. Thank god that you do: other men would never have spared you for what you've down to him.
"Despite this, he has far greater things than you. He has a loving, lovely wife like a star brightening his home, he has four lovely wee children who run to meet him when he comes home from work in the evenin's. He has a home that's a home, not just a house, but a refuge from the sthorms o' life, which he and his wife made a home with their own love and their own hands. Almost every man and woman in this town knows him by face an' firsth name; even the dogs smile an' wag their thails when they see him. Perhaps he lost his faither, but he sthill has his maither an' his brother who owes his life to him, and his uncle. He's kept the family business aloive despite all you've done to thear it down. It's because of good folk like him that the Lord lets this old earth keep thurnin' when He might will to desthroy it on account o' cruel folk loike you."
"So what are you saying, angel? I'm supposed to stoop down and become like that?"
"No, yer supposed to sthoop daine an' be the Henry Pother ye were meant to be. Ye may not have thaime to have the everlasting goods Bailey has, but ye can at least get yer sawl in arder a' fore yer called t' the foinal balancin'."
Malloy sat up on his haunches; his form suddenly shimmered and vanished. Potter reached out to him. "Please, tell me what I have to do!"
Snow began to fall over him, rapidly covering him. The cold ground beneath Potter's back grew softer and warmer as everything grew lighter…
And he realized he still lay in his bed in his own room, the sunlight streaming in through the curtains Fletch had just opened…
Chapter 4: It's a Wonderful Life: the Final Chapter Chapter IV
For the first time in several years, George went to church with his family without Mary having to gently twist his arm before they went out. He hadn't done this since V-J day, but he meant it even more whole-heartedly than he had that day. He had a lot of catching up to do with God…and he had to thank Him for that strange little fellow who'd jumped into the river to save him.
When he came out after service, leading Mary and the kids out into the fresh-fallen snow, Uncle Billy came running up to him full tilt and nearly collided with him.
"Ho there, Uncle Billy! Has Potter sent out the hounds after you?" George said, catching him by the shoulders. "Mary, you take the kids home, I'll catch up with you," he added, turning to Mary.
"Goody, then we can get ready for our Christmas play!" Tommy cried. Janie looked at him, horrified that he'd blurted this out.
"Not at all, not all, but I've finally remembered what happened to that eight thousand dollars," the older man puffed, his face gleaming with exertion and excitement. "It all came back to me when I was shaving this morning." George noted the bandage on Uncle Billy's chin and hid a smile behind his hand. "I had the envelope in my hand when Potter came into the bank yesterday morning; he had a newspaper with him with that headline about Harry and I took it from him, started boasting and carrying on about Harry and the medal. I must have slipped the deposit envelope into the newspaper so Potter wouldn't see it, but he must have taken back the newspaper, envelope and all."
"Why that no-good money-grubbin' rat, of course he'd be the one to get his fingers on it," George muttered. "Have you told the police yet?"
"I didn't want them to jump on it until you'd heard about it, what with Harry's homecoming this afternoon."
"We'll wait till tonight. Potter'll be at the homecoming just to save his shriveled face, but we can't act any later than then.
"C'mon home with me, Mary and the kids'll be wonderin' what's takin' us so long."
They started walking down Main Street, heading for Sycamore Street. As they left the churchyard, George thought he saw, out of the corner of his eye, a short dark figure limping away.
That afternoon, Potter gave Joseph his inheritance, but he asked him something first.
"You never had any…dealings with the American Nazi Party?"
Joseph gathered his black brows. "No, not after the run-in I had in Europe with German Nazis. Why?"
"Oh I…was just wondering."
The door to Violet Bick's salon opened to a cascade of bells the afternoon of the twenty-sixth. She came out of the back room, then she recognized the uneven step she heard advancing through the front.
"Is Mamzelle Violete in?" a sonorous voice asked.
"Er, yes, she's in the back room; shall I tell her you're here?" Marilyn, the shop girl replied in her squeaky voice.
"No need to, I'll find her myself."
The beaded portiere that covered the door parted; a short young man stood framed there for a moment, then he approached Violet with what he meant to be a swagger, but which his limp distorted into an obscene waltz-step.
"I thought by now you'd be in New York, signing that contract with Elizabeth Arden," he said, leaning his hip against the edge of her desk.
"I changed my mind," she said without looking up from the ledger on her desk.
He perched himself on the desk. "What made you change your mind?" She didn't answer for a moment; he started hummed "La Donna e mobile" under his breath.
"I'd miss this place, I mean, everyone I know lives here."
"This hole in the mountains?" he snorted. He laid himself down across the ledger and looked up into her eyes. "Whatever happened to the Violet Bick I met who wanted to go to the big city?"
"I guess she changed her mind too."
"Viiiii," he crooned, taking the cuff of her blouse sleeve and rubbing it between his fingertips. "What is it? Insecurity? I can help you now."
She tugged her sleeve free. "What do you mean?"
"I mean I just came into my inheritance. Old Man Potter just turned the lump sum let alone the portion to the prodigal son. I thought I'd tell you before the papers splash it all over town."
"So what do you intend to do?"
He shrugged without getting up. "I dunno, maybe go back to the city for a while under cover of managing my estate. The old man doesn't have to know, does he? Maybe you and I could-"
The shop door jingled open. Voices rustled outside in the front; Joseph lifted his head and sat up, almost sliding to the floor as he dropped to his feet.
"Is Mr. Joseph Gable here?" said a gruff voice. A short, thickset man in a battered trench coat stepped in through the portiere. He pulled back the lapel of his coat to uncover a badge pinned to his jacket. "I'm Jack Cole, I'm with the police."
"Regarding?" Joseph replied.
"I just need to ask you to step outside and answer a few questions."
"As you insist," Joseph replied. He followed Cole out into the snow.
"You probably heard about the Bailey Building and Loan misplacing eight thousand dollars," Cole said.
"Yes, it's been in everybody's mouth—except Old Man Potter's."
"A guard at the bank spotted you in the lobby the morning of Christmas Eve about the time William Bailey misplaced the cash. He thinks Potter got it. You seen Potter with any extra cash you can't account for?"
"I saw him with an envelope I couldn't account for and he had it in his breast pocket that night. He kept acting odd about it. Oh and then this morning, he asked me if he knew of a way I could dispose of eight thousand dollars in a hurry. I gave him a pat answer: invest it, put it in a safe deposit, but he didn't seem to like those ideas one bit."
"Thanks, all we needed to know." Cole started to walk away.
"Wait, I have to ask you something," Joseph called.
Joseph looked around and hobbled up to Cole. "If it turns out to be true, don't let him know I knew."
Joseph swallowed a hard lump in his throat. "I've just come into my inheritance, and if he knew I'd ratted on him, he'd disinherit me and take everything I have."
"I'll see what I can do, but the DA may call on you to testify if this goes to trial."
Later that afternoon, George and Uncle Billy had both just left the Building and Loan, heading to their respective homes when a small man in a too-large trench coat hobbled up to them.
"Can I talk to you gentlemen alone?" he asked.
"Wait, you're the little snipe who works for Potter, aren't you?" Uncle Billy said.
"I am, I'm Joseph Gable," the small man admitted.
"Why you little, rat—" Uncle Billy doubled his fists and tried to throw a punch at the small man, but he ducked out of the way and sprawled in the snow.
George grabbed Uncle Billy by the arm and held him back. "Hold on, hold on! He might not have anything to do with the missing money."
"I don't, but I need to talk to you about it."
"Well, come on in, it's cold enough to freeze the nose of a brass monkey."
George led them upstairs and into his office. Joseph sank into the chair George offered him and drew in a long breath. "Mr. Bailey, George, I was there when Potter took your company's eight thousand dollars. The police sent a detective to speak to me. I told him all I knew which was really more than I cared to tell."
"Just trying to save yer own skin," Uncle Billy muttered, hovering beside George.
"No, it's more than that." Joseph looked up to the ceiling in silence for a moment. "Potter just turned all his assets over to me as an inheritance, not to say that he's retiring, far from it. That old snake will be working till the day he slumps over his desk and gives up the ghost if he has one. But I need that money, or most of it."
"For what? Gambling debts? Or are those stories about you and Violet—" Uncle Billy cut in.
"Yes, they are true, but there's more to it. I have a son living in New York City. He's been living in an orphanage ever since his mother died bringing him into the world. I've been trying to get him out, but it isn't easy when you aren't married. Needless to say, little Joey's the spitting image of his old man, right down to this." He whacked his shriveled leg with his hand. "The Mayo Brothers Clinic has a new surgery and treatment to correct it, but I'll need about twelve thousand dollars to send him out there. If Potter finds out I know, he'll sack me for sure."
"So what brings you here?" George asked.
"I'll need a job. I'll need a loan. I can help you get this place in fine form. I worked the Stock Exchange for a while before Potter found me."
Uncle Billy and George looked at each other, but George focused on something else. He saw himself in Potter's office Christmas Eve, begging for a loan, Potter sneering at him and reaching for the phone to call the police…You can get back at Potter for this, through this miserable little clerk, not just through the investigation… a wheedling little voice said in his mind's ear. And be just like Potter? Not for a million dollars, no! He looked at this small man and noticed for the first time that his trouser cuffs trailed loose threads and his shoes had scuffs on the toes. They'd all had to make do with little during the war, but someone working for Potter might have had special privileges.
"Well, didn't Potter pay you well enough for what you did for him?" Uncle Billy asked, some of the edge in his voice fading.
"No, he paid me enough for me to eat, keep shirts on my back, and rent a one-room apartment with a remote bath I had to share with five other people," Joseph spat.
"We'll see what we can do," George said. "Things have gotten better now that the war's over; maybe we can find a place for you."
Joseph smiled quietly and rose to his feet. "I can see why Potter hated you," he said.
Chapter 5: It's a Wonderful Life: the Final Chapter Chapter V
Over a late supper, George told Mary about Gable.
"I always took him for a tintype of Potter, but I guess I was wrong," he said.
"I barely know Mr. Gable, but I've met him a few times around town," she replied coming from the stove with a steaming teakettle and filling George's teacup from it, refreshing the teabag in it. "I always thought he seemed a lot less secure than he made himself out."
"Anybody working for Potter would be that way." He shook his head. "Gosh."
"Remember before Tommy came along, when Potter tried to offer me a job? That could have been me…no, that could have been us. I'm glad I turned him down cold. If I hadn't asked him about the Building and Loan, I'd be in Gable's worn shoes right now."
"Don't think about what could have been, think about what comes next."
A heavy knock at the outside door interrupted Mr. Potter's breakfast.
"Go see who that is," Potter ordered over his coffee cup. Fletch went to answer it.
He came hurrying back a moment later, Bert the cop, the pink-faced rookie and Cole the detective at his heels.
"I hate to interrupt yer breakfast, Mr. Potter, but yer under arrest."
"For what? On what charge?" Mr. Potter started to say. But his eye went a think envelope lying on the mantelpiece. Cole followed his gaze and stumped over to the shelf.
"I think it has something to do with this," Cole said, opening the envelope.
Bert eyed the envelope as he and the rookie strode over to put the cuffs on Potter. "Hot dog! Looks like George's missing cash."
"Yup, looks like seven thousand smackers to me," Cole said, putting it in an evidence bag. "Wish I had that kind of cash to leave it just lyin' around."
"Not if you have to get it by stealing it from the poor to feed the rich," the rookie said. "Shades of Robin Hood!"
Mr. Potter put up his hands in surrender. "Don't hurt me," he whimpered.
"We'll put a nice 'handle fossil with care' sticker on you," Cole said. Bert slapped the cuffs around Potter's wrists. He and the rookie hoisted up Potter's chair and lugged it out to the waiting van.
"So what happened to Mr. Potter?" Clarence asked Joseph, his Supervisory Archangel.
"He did something right in his life: he pled guilty to embezzlement when he was arraigned in the district court the next day. But he never served time."
"He didn't!" Clarence cried, clutching at his wings.
"No, he died of a stroke in his cell in the Bedford Falls lockup ten days later. Harold Fletch, his bodyguard, was sentenced for five years for refusing to comply with authorities and for accessory to the crime."
Clarence looked down from the heights. "But what about Joseph Gable? Did George give him the job? What about his son?"
"Look and see."
Clarence looked down at Bedford Falls, glowing in the darkness of a winter night. He saw into Ma Bailey's kitchen, where the Baileys and their friends had gathered for a New Year's Eve party.
George had just stood up with a glass of champagne (courtesy of Mr. Martini). "Everybody, everybody, I'd like to make an announcement and propose a toast." The chatter and laughter among the guests died down. "I'd like to announce that the Bailey Brothers' Building and Loan Association, as of January 2, 1946 will have a new name and a new junior partner. From now on, we'll go by the name Bailey and Gable Building and Loan now that we're taking on Mr. Joseph P. Gable."
"Former slave to Potter," Joseph growled, lowering his deep voice an octave.
"Who's now slaving in his proper place in hell!" Uncle Billy cried out.
"Sancta Maria!" Mr. Martini cried, blessing himself.
"In which case, I guess I have something to do," Joseph said, setting down his drink on the sideboard and pulling himself to his feet. He knelt in front of Violet, who sat in the chair next to his. "Vi, now that we've both got a future…will you marry me?"
She blushed and looked away with a mock pouty face. Then suddenly she turned, leaned down and kissed him. Everyone laughed and clapped.
Joseph tore his face from Violet's "Rrraow! I guess that's a yes."
"Oh my!" Ma Bailey cried, laughing in spite of herself.
Annie the maid trundled off into the kitchen shaking her head. "Matches may be made in heaven, but so are thunner an' lightnin'," she groused.
"You still got that toast, big brother?" Harry teased George, as Violet helped Joseph up off the floor.
"Well, I had it in mind for s-somebody else, but I think I'll rededicate it…to the happy couple!"
They drank to the lovers. As the other guests crowded around the couple to wish them well, George took Mary aside.
"You were going to propose that toast to Mr. Potter," she said.
"Guilty as charged," he replied with a sheepish smile. He laughed low in his throat, but it sounded almost like a sob.
"When I was running home Christmas Eve, I ran by Potter's office and banged on his window to wish him a Merry Christmas, and he wished me 'a happy New year to you—in jail'."
"And now the shoe is on the other foot."
"Yeah," he said, gathering Mary to his heart. He looked up and said in the silence of his heart, Put in a word for that old buzzard, will you Clarence?
The End Afterword:
As I began to write this I researched the Internet Movie Database's file on It's a Wonderful Life, partly for information, partly for inspiration. I discovered that there is a scene missing from the film: in the last ten minutes of the film, after George bangs on Potter's window and wishes him a Merry Christmas, Clarence appears to Potter and drags him over the coals for being so nasty to George for so long. I don't know if this scene was never filmed or ended up on the cutting floor because of time, but if anyone has the COMPLETE original script, could they let me know?