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26.12.2018

Chapter 22

A PERFECT LONESOME CHRISTMAS

The archangel Raziel hovered outside the Santa Rosa Chapel's big cathedral window, looking through a small pane of pink glass that formed Saint Rosa's cheek. He smiled at his handiwork, then beat his great wings and flew off to find some chocolate to sustain him on his trip home.

Life is messy. Would that every puzzle piece fell into place, every word was kind, every accident happy, but such is not the case. Life is messy. People, generally, suck. This year, however, the Lonesome Christmas party in Pine Cove was coming off with clarified joy, an infectious goodwill, and a general harmony of spirit that shone in the guests with a smooth, high polish  –  a no-mess affair.

"Theo," Molly said, "can you grab the other lasagna pans out of the back." She was carrying two of the long stainless-steel pans herself, and she was careful to bend at the knees as she set them down on the buffet table to keep the back of her short cocktail dress in the realm of decency. It was a plunging neckline LBD (little black dress) she'd borrowed from Lena just for the party  –  the first low-cut thing she'd worn in years.

"We could have barbecued after all," Theo said.

"I told you fucksticks that the storm would turn south," Mavis Sand growled as she sawed the end off a baguette like the moyl at a titanic bris. (Some people's goodwill shines differently than others'.)

Molly set down her lasagna and turned around into the arms of her praying mantis of a husband. "Whoa, sailor, Warrior Babe's got work to do."

"I just wanted to tell you," Theo said, "before everyone gets here, that you look absolutely stunning."

Molly brushed her hand across her neckline. "Scars don't do that, do they? They don't just disappear overnight like that, right?"

"Doesn't matter to me," Theo said. "Never mattered. Wait until you see what I got you for Christmas."

Molly kissed him on the chin. "I love you, even if you have mutant tendencies; now free me, Lena needs help with the salad."

"No, I don't," said Lena, coming out of the back room carrying a huge salad bowl. Tucker Case followed close behind with a stainless caddie of dressings.

"Oh, Theo," Lena said, "I hope you don't mind, but Dale is going to come by in his Santa suit tonight."

"I thought you guys were in combat," Theo said.

"We were, but he surprised me a couple of nights ago when I was stealing some of his Christmas trees, and was just losing his temper when Tucker happened along and popped him in the nose."

Tucker Case grinned. "I'm a pilot, we're used to handling tense situations."

"Anyway," Lena continued, "Dale was drunk. He started crying, getting maudlin, talking about how he was having trouble with his new girlfriend, saying how he hated that everyone saw him as the evil developer, so I invited him here. Thought maybe if he could do something nice for the kids, it would make him feel better."

"No problem," Theo said. "I'm glad you two are getting along."

"Hey, Theo!" yelled Joshua Barker as he ran across the chapel floor toward them. "Mom says Santa will be at the party."

"A quick appearance, Josh, then he has to get on his route," Theo said. He looked up to see Emily Barker and her boyfriend/husband/whatever Brian Henderson coming across the room. Brian was wearing a red Star Fleet Command shirt.

"Merry Christmas, Theo," Emily said.

Theo hugged Emily and shook Brian's hand.

"Theo, have you seen Gabe Fenton?" Brian asked. "I wanted to show him the shirt, I think he'll get a kick out of it. You know, nerd solidarity."

"He was here a little bit ago, Brian, but then Val Riordan arrived and they were talking. I haven't seen them for a while."

"Maybe they went for a walk. Beautiful evening, isn't it?"

"Isn't it," said Molly, coming to Theo's side.

"He said he was good with weather," said the Narrator.

"Shhhhhhh," said Molly.

"Pardon?" Brian said.

Out behind the chapel, the dead were feeling festive as well.

"He's going to do her right here in the graveyard," said Marty in the Morning. "Who would have thought a shrink could moan like that. A little carnal scream therapy, huh, doc?"

"No way," said Bess Leander. "She's wearing Armani, she's not going to mess up that outfit."

"You're right," said Jimmy Antalvo. "They'll just suck face and take the party home for makeup sex. But how do you know she's wearing Armani?"

"You know what?" said Bess. "I have no idea. Just a feeling, I guess."

"I do hope they sing 'Good King Wenceslas, " said Esther, the schoolteacher. "I just love that song."

"Has anyone seen the biologist's dreadful dog?" asked Malcolm Cowley, the dead book dealer. "Last year the beast urinated on my headstone three times."

"He was sniffing around a minute ago," said Marty in the Morning, "but he went inside when they started to bring the food out."

Inside, Skinner was sitting under the Christmas tree, looking at the strangest creature he'd ever seen. It was hanging from the lower branches, but it didn't look like a squirrel, or smell like food; in fact, it had a face that looked like another dog. Skinner whimpered and sniffed the air. If it was a dog, where was its butt? How could he say hello if he couldn't sniff its butt? He took a tentative step back to study the thing.

"What are you looking at?" said Roberto.