Marley was dead to begin with. Just another of the many corpses in this filthy city. Scrooge was Marley’s partner, but what did that add up to, when all was said and done? Nothing more than a plugged nickel. You could still make out the “Marley and” over the “Scrooge Investigations” on the cheap door to the dark office they shared once. Bobbi Cratchet had twice asked Scrooge if he wanted to scrape it off proper, class up the joint. But Scrooge would have none of it.
“Time will wear it away, doll, at no cost to us,” Scrooge would say, and that would be the end of it.
Bobbi was at the door now, tapping her heel on the floor. “Two gentlemen to see ya’, boss.”
Scrooge cocked an eyebrow. “Clients?”
“How’s their shoes?”
“Then by all means, send them in, darling.”
They were a pair of soft rolls, with awkward smiles on their round faces. One of them carried a handful of books and papers, while the other occupied his free hands by slowly taking off his gloves.
“Scrooge and Marley’s,” said the man with the papers.
His partner picked up at the next beat. “Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr. Scrooge, or Mr. Marley?”
“You’re out of luck if you’re looking for Marley. The old screw’s been pushing daisies going on seven years.” Scrooge replied.
“We have no doubt his generosity is well represented by his surviving partner,” said man with empty hands.
“You could say that.”
“It’s Christmas, Mr. Scrooge.” The gentleman had finally succeeded in removing his gloves, and took an offered pen from his partner. “It is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time.”
“Listen, pal, I don’t know what your game is,” Scrooge said. “But I ain’t a snitch and don’t do charity. Folks can’t pull themselves together at this time of year, that’s on them, see? Ain’t none of my business. You got a case for me? Or you just looking for handouts?”
The two men looked at each other, neither knew what to say.
“I thought so.” Scrooge said. “You can go out the way you came. Or I can throw you out. Your choice.”
Scrooge raised the .45 at the apparition. “Not another step, buster.”
“You’re a bit late for that. But then, you always were.” The ghost gave a sharp chuckle that sounded like a neck being broken. “You don’t recognize your old partner, do ya?”
“Marley?” Scrooge asked. He lowered the piece.
“Look at that. You’ll make a proper shamus yet,” Marley’s ghost said. “I ain’t here to be your target practice. You’re going to be visited by three spirits. You’ll like ‘em. They’re all skirts.”
The spirit had legs like mountain road, full of curves and danger. Scrooge found himself smiling in spite of himself. With white fingers she pulled a cigarette out of a white case that came from the white pocket of her white coat.
“You got a light?” the spirit asked. “Nevermind. I never ask a man for something I can do myself.” With that, the spirit glowed with an intensity that Scrooge had to shield his eyes. When he lowered his hand, she was already blowing smoke rings.
“Neat trick,” Scrooge said.
“You should see what I can do with a cherry stem,” the spirit said. “I’m the Ghost of Christmas Capers Past. And I’ve got something you’ll want to see.”
“You sure do, doll.”
“Stay with me, now, Scrooge,” the spirit said, and the world around her tilted and blurred until they were no longer in Scrooge’s bedroom, but out in the street.
“Where are we?” Scrooge asked.
“You’re the shamus,” the spirit said. “You tell me.”
A frightened man ran past the two of them, with a mug and a blue coat Scrooge recognized. “Fezziwig!” Scrooge called out. The man didn’t break stride, so Scrooge gave chase.
“That’s my old mentor Fezziwig! He taught me everything I knew! Why ain’t he stopping?”
“This is the past,” the spirit said. “Your past. These are just shadows, pal. They can’t see you.”
“But if this is Christmas, that means…” Scrooge stopped in the snow. Fezziwig stopped, too, and raised his hands. Three shots echoed from an unseen gun, and Fezziwig fell, three holes in that famous blue coat, each leaking red.
“Sad end for such a man,” the spirit said.
“He knew what happened to snitches,” Scrooge said. “He knew.”
Bobbi Cratchet sat down in her tiny apartment and opened two cans of tuna. “Here ya go, Tiny Tim,” she said to the gray tabby at her feet. “Christmas dinner. One for you, and one for me.”
“Not much of feast,” Scrooge said.
The Ghost of Christmas Present’s capacious cleavage flushed with anger. “You think she can afford more, on what you pay her?”
“That’s a fair cop,” Scrooge said.
Scrooge watched in horror as a man who looked remarkably like himself, a little grayer, a little more run down, met the business end of a bullet right in front of him.
“That’s…that’s not me?” Scrooge asked.
The spirit shrugged, a motion that sent ripples down her black satin dress.
“What did he do? To be gunned down in the street like a filthy rat?”
“He deserved it,” the spirit said. “He knew what happened to snitches.”
“Naw, that ain’t possible!”
“You’re the one on this trolly, chump. You want to go somewhere else, you best whistle down another ride. You know how to whistle, right? Just put your lips together and blow.”
Scrooge burst open the window, and called out to a boy in the street. “You there, what day is it?”
“I ain’t a snitch,” the boy yelled back.
“What a delightful lad,” Scrooge said. “Don’t you see, boy? We’re all snitches on Christmas!”