It’s Better Than Ever
written by: Diane Elayne Dees
The streets of Pottersville were thick with snow as Mary Bailey poked around the shops for a few last-minute gifts for her children. She and George tried not to spoil them, but they could afford anything they wanted, and it was hard not to buy one more toy, one more doll. George had made a more than modest fortune in his plastics business, and he and Mary lived in a house almost as splendid as Mr. Potter’s.
In case you’re getting confused, this is what happened: George Bailey turned out not to be a world-class sucker, after all. He let the bank fail, went on his fabulous honeymoon with Mary, and became Sam Wainwright’s partner. He still hated old man Potter’s guts, but what was he going to do about it? If he’d caved in to everyone’s expectations, he’d still be at the Bank & Trust with a nameplate that said “President,” and a net worth that said “fool.”
George and Mary lived in New York for several years, but came back to Pottersville because Mary’s mother was sick and needed her. George flew to New York once a month to meet with Sam, and, for the time being, things were okay, if a bit hectic. Then, one night, while Mary was doing some last-minute Christmas shopping, George ducked into a bar to get a Scotch and water.
“About time you got here, Bailey.”
George looked around for the source of the voice, but he didn’t recognize anyone at the bar. Then he saw a woman in a white silk suit sitting on a bar stool, legs crossed perfectly, a martini in her hand. She cocked her head and raised one eyebrow, all the time staring right at George.
“Excuse me, do I know you?” He knew he didn’t. Bailey knew everyone in town.
The woman, who reminded George a bit of Gloria Grahame, patted the stool next to her.
“Sit down, George. I’ve already ordered your Scotch.”
She sounded like Lizabeth Scott, very throaty and mysterious. George sat down, wondering how she knew he wanted Scotch, but too confused to speak.
“I’m Angelle Clarence.” She put out her hand, and George shook it gently.
“Nice to meet you, Miss Clarence. Or is it Mrs. Clarence?”
“It’s ‘Miss,’ and I’ll be so glad when another thirty or so years goes by so we can stop all this invasive nonsense with these damned female honorifics.”
George just stared; he had no idea what she was talking about. After a moment, he regained his composure.
“Well, Miss Clarence, nice to meet you, anyway. And one more thing—how did you know I was coming to this bar?
“That impressed you, did it, George?”
George took a long pull from his glass.
“George, what do you think of angels?”
“Well, now, Miss Clarence, can’t say I’ve ever thought much about ’em. I mean, we put one on the Christmas tree, and we tell our kids they have guardian angels, and I guess maybe they do. That’s a strange thing to ask.”
Angelle shifted on the bar stool and re-crossed her legs. She was wearing white pumps with three-inch heels, and it was hard for George to ignore those legs. She had on simple gold jewelry and her perfume was subtle, expensive, probably French.
“You know, George, Mary’s mother is going to be okay, and then you and Mary and the kids can move back to New York. But I didn’t come here to talk about New York—don’t you just adore the El Morocco?—I came here to talk about that horse’s ass, Potter.”
“You know Potter, huh?”
“Oh, he’s well known where I come from.”
“And where’s that?”
“Oh, here, there, everywhere. Which reminds me, in another twenty years or so, look out for these marvelous boys who look like they have mops on their heads but who sing divinely. But I’m digressing. I’m afraid I do that a lot, George.”
“Well, Miss Clarence—“
“Call me Angelle.”
“Angelle, I don’t know how you know Potter, but he’s ruined this town. You know, when I was younger, this was Bedford Falls. You got enough money, you can get the name of a town changed. Folks still call it Bedford Falls behind Potter’s back.”
Angelle ordered another martini, gestured toward George’s glass, and when he nodded, ordered another Scotch.
“Anyway, Angelle—say, that’s a nice name—Potter foreclosed on everyone’s mortgage, repossessed their cars, and ran the rents up on all the buildings he owned. Some people left town, some just gave up and took jobs at one of his stores. I heard one guy lost his life savings and killed himself. Potter’s the devil.”
“I’ll be the judge of that, thank you.”
“So what’s any of this got to do with you, Miss Clarence, uh, Angelle?”
The second Scotch was halfway down, and George concentrated on the way his new friend’s thick blonde hair fell onto her face when she talked.
“Let’s just say I think we can help each other. George, did you ever hear that every time a bell rings, an angel gets her wings?”
“Say, what is it with you and angels, anyway?”
“Have another Scotch, George, and I’ll tell you.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Mary’ll be home from shopping soon, and I should be there.”
“She’s getting you that herringbone sport coat you saw in Macy’s window.”
“She is?! What? How do you know? Who are you?”
She handed him his Scotch. “I’m your guardian angel, George.”
“How many of those martinis have you had, Miss Clarence?”
“No, really, I’m your guardian angel.”
“So where are your wings?”
“Ah. There you have it, George. Haven’t earned them yet.”
“You have to earn them?”
“Yes. I should have had mine a long time ago, too, but there’s all that favoritism, cronyism, sexism, you know. But I can get them now if I do a good deed for you, Mr. George Bailey.”
“Can’t say I can think of any I need done, Angelle.”
“What if I make you a hero?”
“Well, you had that other chance, you know, and you blew it.”
“Sorry. Messed it up. Put the kabosh on it.”
“Oh, that. I hated the goddamned Savings & Loan. Everyone thought I was going to stay and run it because, well, you know, after that thing with old man Gower, and dragging Harry out of the river, I jush became, I mean I ‘just’ became—“
“A great big Boy Scout?”
“Not everyone gets a second chance, George. Merry Christmas.”
She reached into her purse, pulled out a revolver, and handed it to George Bailey.
“Hey, wait a minute!” he whispered loudly. “Put that thing away. You shouldn’t be carrying that!”
Angelle grinned broadly, and held the gun out to George again.
“Don’t worry. No one can see. Take it, George. Potter’s over in his office with the door unlocked. Go put a bullet in him. He deserves it.”
“Can’t we just turn him in to Internal Revenue? I’m sure he’s crooked. I heard he—“
“You don’t think that’s been tried, George? He’s come out of every audit smelling like a rose. I say shoot the son-of-a-bitch.”
“But if you arrange it—the audit, I mean—“
“What do you think this is, George? A magic show? I don’t know how to perform all those machinations. I’m lucky they don’t have me baking cookies and typing the minutes. Look, I bet I can find someone else to knock Potter off—“
“Well, maybe you should, then.”
Angelle sighed. “Oh, George. I’m your guardian angel. Everyone hates Potter, even his family. No one will know you did it. Shoot him, give me the gun, and I guarantee no one will ever see it again.”
She smiled sympathetically. “Remember the way Potter treated your father, George?”
George Bailey didn’t answer. He held out his hand, and Angelle placed the gun in it. He walked out of the bar and down the street to the Potter Building, and sure enough, the light was on in the executive office. George went up the stairs, opened Potter’s door, and saw Potter sitting at his giant oak desk. George shot him once in the chest, and Potter fell over dead.
As he walked out of the office, George saw Angelle on the landing. He handed her the gun as he went down the stairs. When he reached the front door, he felt a bit shaky, but once he hit the street, his head was clear and his spirit was soaring. He turned around, hoping to have a word with Angelle, but she was gone.
Mary kissed him when he got home. “George Bailey, where have you been? You smell of Scotch. I have some news. Someone’s killed Potter. Shot him while he was in his office. Oh, George, isn’t it terrible?”
“Terrible? No, Mary, I won’t miss him. No one will miss the son-of-a-bitch.”
Mary went to reproach George, but she started laughing. “You’re right, George, no one will!”
Zuzu came in and hugged her father. Outside, Christmas carolers rang a bell.
“Daddy, teacher says every time a bell rings, an angel gets her wings.”
George nodded at his daughter. “Atta girl, Angelle,” he whispered, and winked at no one in the room.
- It’s Better Than Ever - December 26, 2022