was the smallest home on the short gravel road.
At first glance its origins as a storage shed were obvious. A quick second look revealed the crooked
mismatched windows and a shadowy doorway with the torn screen door that flapped
idly in the cold fitful wind.
Inside it was dark and cold, so cold the water dregs in a
dirty cup on a crate next to the sagging bed had a thin skin of ice. The man stretched out in the bed struggled to
breathe, wheezing and groaning with each breath. He shivered as he huddled beneath ragged
blankets and two old, dirty coats piled on him for warmth. Snow flakes whirled through the broken window
pane above the bed, settling in the worn fabric folds covering him.
In the tiny bathroom, a desperate conference occupied the
old man’s companions. Harold the rat moderated,
earnestly leading the discussion about what to do for Otto, their human
sleeping in the next room.
"He needs a doctor," Harold growled. "We need to call 911."
"No one will come because none of us can tell them
what's wrong." Sally Squirrel
sighed, close to losing her patience.
Harold just wouldn't listen.
"In the TV shows, the operator always asks what the emergency
is. We can't tell them."
Mick, the chipmunk tentatively cleared his throat. "Siggy could bark."
Harold's whiskers bristled and he snorted in
disgust. "And what good will that
do?" One ear, ragged and torn,
twitched in agitation.
"It always worked for Lassie," Mick's wife,
Daffy retorted while pulling her scrap of blanket closer to her thin chest. "It worked for Benjy, too."
"Those are TV dogs.
Of course it worked. TV isn't
real, you know," Siggy woofed softly.
"I don't mind barking, mind you, but I doubt that it would do much
good. Besides, even if the emergency
people came, that wouldn't solve our problem.
How are we going to let them know who he is? How are they going to know he's the Christmas
Angel? If they just think he's a bum,
nobody will ever know how generous and unselfish he is. And his family might not find him."
Gloom settled over the small group. Then Daffy hesitantly offered, "If we
could get his treasure box open, we could place one of the money bundles on the
bed with his red coat and hat. There can't
be that many red cowboy hats or red and green coats made from a Navaho blanket
in Cleveland and they'll take a closer look because of the money."
"How do we get the box open?" Sally's reasonable question was
unanswerable. They had no idea where
Otto had hidden the key.
Siggy sighed gustily and softly padded from the dank
bathroom out into the main room. The
others could hear faint clicks and scratches.
Then Siggy reappeared with a battered basket stuffed with odds and ends
clutched precariously in his mouth. He
dumped it on the floor in the center of their little circle and tipped it over.
Pitty Paw, a mottled gray cat, who remained silent until then,
patted through the rag-tag collection until she spied a broken nail file. "Aha!
Isn't this what that silly woman on CSI used last week?"
The whole group studied the broken file dubiously. Finally, Sally slowly nodded. "It might work. The rest of you keep looking through this
junk while Pitty Paw and I go try to open the lock."
Sally and Pitty Paw went out into the main room and
trotted briskly over to the bed. Wiggling
through the small space between the boxes stuffed under the bed, they wove
through Otto's jumbled belongings until they reached the treasure box against
the back wall. Sally brandished the
rough little file and then poked it in the keyhole. Immediately, it jammed tight and they
couldn't get it unstuck. After several
more futile attempts to free it, Pitty Paw silently went to fetch help.
In a few minutes, she returned with Jacko, Harold's right
paw rat. Jacko silently studied the
problem before worming around in the dust bunnies until he was flat on his back
with his powerful hind legs pressing against the file. "You two brace me so I don't slide all
over," he directed a bit breathlessly.
"I'll push on three.
One…two…three!" Jacko lashed
out with both hind paws. There was a
faint ping before the file when flying off into the darkness.
"Bother. Thank you,
Jacko. I'll just go see if I can locate the
stupid thing so I can try again. Next
time, I'll try not to get it jammed."
"Hold up there," Harold whispered loudly behind
them. "We found a key." He dragged it up to the treasure box and
dropped it with a faint clank. "Try
She clutched the key in her tiny paws and carefully
inserted it into the keyhole. "It
fits." Jacko helped her maneuver
the key back and forth until they heard a tiny click and the lock sprang
free. The lid tilted up revealing a
Harold tilted his head and peered into the box. "I see the money bundles. Let's drag one out so we can get this
done." They huffed and puffed and
tugged and pushed and pulled and it was all in vain. The box lid, jammed against the bottom of the
bed, wouldn't open any further. There
just wasn't enough clearance to extract one of the thick bundles of money.
Pitty Paw crouched down with her head on her paws and
thought. "Do we need the entire
bundle?" she asked.
They all stared at each other for a few moments before
Harold shrugged. "I don't think
so. What's your idea?"
Pitty Paw crept forward, grasped the tattered green pile
of bills poking out through the opening with her sharp teeth, and yanked. There was an ominous ripping noise, and
abruptly, she crouched in front of them with a mouthful of money, sticking out
in all directions like so much lettuce.
She spat it out with a grimace and poked it in Harold's direction with
her nose. "There is the money. Now what do we do?"
Sally and Jacko gathered up the money while Harold
scampered back to the bathroom to work out the next steps. By the time they crawled out from under the
bed, Siggy was trotting across the room with Otto's red and green coat clutched
in his mouth. He dumped it on the bed
across Otto's feet and went back for Otto's hat. When she saw that Siggy couldn't shake the
hat loose from the hook where it hung, Sally skittered up the coat tree, pushed
the hat until it teetered on the very edge and then flicked it once with her fluffy
Seconds later, they all stood around trying to stifle
their laughter because the hat landed squarely on Siggy's head, slumping down
over his ears and one black eye. His damp
black nose poked out from under the brim.
He sniffed and tossed his head, dislodging the hat.
In a very few minutes they had everything arranged so
that they were ready to make the important call to 911. Sally tipped the phone off the hook and
methodically poked at the numbers with her tiny fisted paw. Shortly, the operator answered and Siggy
began to bark…
By the time the first police car responded, Siggy was
nearly hoarse. The officer quickly
called in a request for an ambulance.
While it was enroute, he noticed the animals, all sitting in a composed
little group next to the bed. Keeping
his eyes on them, he called out to his partner, "Joe? Come in here for a second."
Joe poked his head inside and demanded, "What? I'm trying to talk to the guy that lives
across the road."
"Look at the animals, Joe. When have you ever seen a bunch like this all
together? A dog, a cat, two rats, four
squirrels and three chipmunks--all together in a little group. They aren't acting like they're afraid of us,
While the two officers watched, Sally climbed up on the
foot of the bed and sat next to the bright red cowboy hat. Tilting her head to one side as though to
say, "Well?", she waited for them to make a move.
Cautiously, Officer Joe slowly approached and lifted the
hat. He turned it in his hands, noting
the name printed in the hat band.
"Mike, I think this guy is that Christmas Angel that hands out
money every Christmas. You know the one
that gives away fifty dollar bills down in the projects?"
Mike scoffed at the very idea.
"He's just some bum."
"I don't think so.
The name in this hat is Otto McKenzie."
What would a millionaire be doing in a dump like this?" Mike held out his hand for the hat so he
could see for himself.
Joe handed over the hat and pushed back his own hat,
scratching his ear in thought. "I
seem to remember reading that McKenzie walked out of his headquarters one day
and just disappeared. There was
something about him resigning because of unethical business practices by his
board of directors. He turned them into
the SEC and most of them went to jail."
"Well, if he's really McKenzie and also the
Christmas Angel, I guess we know where the money came from. Wasn't there a special program on TV not too
long ago about him? I think his children
have been searching for him. I'll bet
this will make for a real happy Christmas for them." Mike heard the sirens approaching and went to
direct the EMTs. In the hustle and
bustle of getting Otto ready for the ambulance, the officers lost track of the
animals. When they finally had a few
minutes to close up the little house, the animals were no where to be
Both officers looked very carefully before admitting that
the animals were gone, but when they had locked up and returned to their patrol
car, they both agreed that there was something very odd about the little group. They acted like Otto McKenzie's guardian
From their observation point, deep in a bush at the
corner of the little house, the animals watched the patrol car slowly move down
the gravel road.
"Otto will be alright, now," Harold declared
with satisfaction. "We did a good
job. His family will appreciate him now
and be glad to have him home."
Pitty Paw observed thoughtfully. "I
hope on the next assignment God gives us, we get to have hands."
"And can speak to humans," Siggy growled
with a flash and twinkle, they were gone.