Mr. Potter looked at the telegram again: Heh! he snorted, a small private sound of great satisfaction. What an excellent day; what a capital year. When the private investigators had first laid the picture on his desk, he’d known he had him. Sam Wainwright, important defense contractor, pressing his lips against the cheek of a woman of easy virtue. The company would fire him, sell his position to Potter, just to ensure their virtuous sheen. Never mind that the kiss was chaste - that harlot Violet had simply gone to Sam to ask him to invest in that Bailey boy’s pathetic little bank. More of a charity, really.

And then Bailey himself had walked into his office - sweaty, fearful, afraid, a man in need of a drink in his hand and a barrel at his temple. George Bailey, as I live and breathe. He didn’t know what Bailey was talking about at first - then he remembered: a deposit, that drunk Uncle of his. Potter had forgotten all about that episode when the telegram had arrived. And now George was pleading for mercy; it really was too sweet.

Listen, boy, he wanted to say. Nevermind your Building and Loan. It’s not worth the hair on a gnat’s behind. I own this town; I own the town to the north and the town to the south, and you really don't want to know about the east and the west. I own the ears of half the men in this state and the guilty consciences of the rest. It’s Sam Wainwright I want. But I’m not even going to let you know how insignificant you are to me. It’s Christmas. That’s my gift to you.

But he just let Bailey talk. It was good sport; like badminton with a child.

“ - and - and there’s my insurance policy,” Bailey was saying. “Five thousand dollars -”

“Seems to me, George Bailey, you’re worth more dead than alive.”

Bailey got a look Potter had seen before. Many times before, always on the other side of his great black desk. It wasn’t the look of a man who’d been beaten. It was the look of a man who just realized he’d been beaten long before he entered the room.

Bailey left. Potter watched him go, wondering if he knew how much Violet cared. People were interesting. They did the strangest things for the stupidest reasons.

The room was warm; the fire spat and crackled, and he felt drowsy, the way he felt when he’d had a grand dinner. Turkey, gravy . . . rich brown Armanac swirling in the glass, burning down his throat and blooming in his belly, that warm unfurling sensation of pleasure and success. The room really was . . . quite warm.

A nap would be fine . . . a nap would be capital . . .

. . . but he needed to have his wits when the call came from the meeting of the board. He pushed away from his desk, wheeled around and propelled himself towards the radio. Turned it on -
clanking chains, a moan of horror -

- but you’ve been dead these twenty years! cried a voice from the radio.

- I have come to tell you that before the night is out, another voice said, you will be visited by threeeee spirits.

Potter scowled. He should have known they’d play that idiotic ghost story. They played it every year. Once a teller had said that the actor in the play even sounded like him. She had thought it a compliment. He had fired her on the spot.

“Bah,” he said, and clicked the radio odd. Wheeled back to his desk. Looked at the telegram again. "Hmm," he said.

It really was quite warm. . .

Perhaps a small nap.

Mr. Potter, a voice called.

He heard it; he did not know it . . a new cashier, perhaps.

Mis-ter Potter.