It was Christmas Eve and Leonard Hughes was the happiest he'd been in years. His happiness stemmed not only from the natural joy of the season, but from the freedom he'd won from alcohol addiction a few years back, and now his newfound freedom from incarceration. His feeling of exhilaration was in itself a sort of Christmas miracle; it had been a long time since he'd had a good Christmas. Driving along, Leonard couldn't take his eyes off the decorations he passed. After four years in Reidsville penitentiary, he relished every blinking light, every monotonous repetition of White Christmas and Jingle Bells, and each and every plastic Santa. Even DeMario's ceaseless bragging--which made it sound like he was a city father and not a crack head on probation--didn't bother Leonard. After Reidsville, which was kind of like a vacation paradise for coloreds, Leonard had gotten used to such bragging. Despite the December cold, Leonard had the driver's side window down, for the fresh air, and the fact that the old van, used for errands and to ferry other inhabitants of the half-way house to and from work release jobs, smelled pretty funky. But that was okay; it had rained a bit earlier, clearing the air, and the black asphalt was still wet, causing the tires to sing pleasantly on the road. He watched the signs pass by: hotels, motels, fast food--liquor stores. The road was a wet, black mirror, reflecting the neon signs bordering the highway as electric orange, blue, and green neon squiggles, and giving things an even more festive look. For doing this job, on Christmas Eve, he and DeMario got a food allowance and twenty bucks apiece, both much needed. The food allowance had already been squandered on Big Macs, fries and shakes. Leonard would have gladly done tonight's chore for free. He'd been at the half-way house for two weeks so far and hadn't been assigned to a steady job on the work release program. It was enough to get out, see the city, get some fresh air, and enjoy the Christmas atmosphere. He had jumped at the offer. Besides, he did have another reason for being out. There were a lot of things he'd done without in prison. Last week, as if in answer to his prayers, he'd met Emma Milroy, sister of one of his roommates. Emma was a low light beauty: the lower the light, the greater the beauty. Still, she looked a sight more appealing than all them grinning sissies in Reidsville. She'd flirted openly with him and made her intentions pretty obvious--rightly confident that her feminine wiles were considerably increased by his years of incarceration. Hearing he was to be out and about on Christmas Eve, Emma gave him her address and told him to be sure and drop by, anytime after six, after her shift at the Awful Waffle was over. DeMario would be no problem, he had similar plans of his own. "Wha' were you in fo, again, man?" "Arson, mainly," Leonard told him for at least the third time, not embellishing the essential charge. DeMario's short term memory was screwed. That was what crack did. Fortunately, crack heads were generally pretty easy going, provided they didn't carry a weapon and you didn't tick 'em off. What Leonard was--had been--by profession, was a house painter--save when times got real bad; then he dabbled a bit in burglary and fencing hot car parts. The arson was a totally off the wall thing. "Shee-it. A pyro? Well, you got to through it to get to it, huh. Who you burn up?" "Nobody. They weren't home, thankfully." The "they" he referred to were his then pregnant ex-wife and her lover. Leonard had wanted to have kids. Thirteen years of marriage Sheila had been barren. A problem with her plumbing, she explained without a lot of unnecessary medical mumbo jumbo. Then, less than a year after the divorce, he'd run into her and her lover--a behemoth of a carpet muncher named Janice--at the electronic department at Wal Marts. Sheila was pregnant. Stunned, Leonard had listened as she explained like it was old home week how, with a turkey baster and some donated sperm, they'd acheived their little miracle. "But you always said . . ." "Guess I sorta lied. Well," she giggled like the imbecile she was and patted her stomach, "we gotta go. Lots of shopping to do. Merry Christmas." They disappeared into the crowd of Christmas shoppers. Stunned, Leonard sat his shopping bags on the floor and walked away. After the divorce he'd been hitting the bottle with everything he had. Fact was, he'd always had a bit of a drinking problem. As a professional house painter, that was more or less traditional; something in the paint caused it, he'd heard an older painter-alcoholic explain once. But the thing with Shelia really set him off. A contractor he worked for had finally got him into AA, and he'd got on the wagon just in time for the holidays. But after seeing Sheila pregnant, the ride was over; he left the Wal Mart, found a bottle, and jumped off the wagon. Three days later, after a seventy-two hour binge, he burned their trailor down. He was surprised, later, thinking about it, that he'd even been able to find their address, and in the dark, too. The cops found him passed out in his truck, not a block away, motor running, tape player blaring Merle Haggard's greatest hits. "She stole my durn life," Leonard kept repeating through his tears. One of the cops had a gun pointed at Leonard. Crying, Leonard suddenly grabbed the cop's hand, forced the barrel against his forehead, then begged the cop to shoot him. The cop told him, deadpan and enjoying it, "Sorry, Bud. We ain't allowed do that kind of thing at Christmas. You'd have to call the State Patrol for that. It's jurisdictional, you understand, nothing personal. Hell, I'd be glad to shoot you if it was up to me." At the trial, he found out that Sheila and her friend weren't even home, but at a Lamaze class. Every since, he pretty well hated the holidays. In prison, anyway, it didn't matter much, though the coloreds, calling it Kwanza, took to singing and carrying on more than usual. At least he'd dried out in jail, got a little therapy. So now, things were different. He had another chance for life, a chance be of service to someone, to help kids, even. Leonard took in a deep breath, saw the exit sign for Lakeland Road up ahead and turned his blinker on. Leonard found the county pound without any problem, turning on the first road to the right after the water tower just like the instructions said. A short, middle aged lady, cigarette cocked in her mouth like a permanent wardrobe fixture, nodded perfunctorily to them as she unlocked the gate and let them in. "You guys from the half-way house? You twenty minutes late. I'm Mavis, the caretaker. Pull around to the back, there." She pointed. "Puppies? Right?" Each word came out with a puff of smoke. "Seven of them," Leonard confirmed, glancing at the manifest he carried because it made him feel important. He had seven colorful bows--in either red, holly green, or plaid--and seven complimentary boxes of Puppy Chow some store had donated, already in the truck. "In here." She opened a door and flipped on a light, and the smell and sound of dogs hit them. "Uh, lets see . . ." Mavis walked to the enclosure's end, unconsciously thumping the ashes from her cigarette onto the cement floor as she went. "Ned Asher, runs this place. His brother 's on the city council 's how he got this job. He never tells me crap. Ah, must be them here. There's nine of 'em, right?" "Seven," Leonard corrected. "So just pick out seven you want, I guess. Or if you want extras, I guess that's okay. Don't much matter to me." DeMario bummed a cigarette from Mavis and both watched as Leonard got down on his knees to pick up the puppies and examine them one by one. Out of the cage, and in the less confined walkway, they were all over him, furry exuberance, jumping, licking, and barking playfully, or snapping at each other, or their own, short, stiff little tails. "Alright," Leonard said, petting head after head, "Which of you needs a home? Hey, what's your name fellow?" He scratched the dog behind the ears. "Little Joe?" He'd had a dog named little Joe back in Tennessee. "Look, Mac, can't you get your jollies playing with them at home? I'd like to get outta here sometime before next year." "Oh, I'm sorry, Ma'am." Leonard stood. "They're not for us. We delivering them for Christmas presents later tonight." The director of the half-way house, in conjunction with some social service agency or another, A Welfare to Work agency, or Women's Shelter, or some such thing, had arranged for them to go to homes. These would be mostly section eight housing in the suburbs, for abused or disabled children who lived with single parent families. Leonard had the names and addresses, a map clearly marked with a red route, and the whole thing had already been cleared with the mothers. He and DeMario just had to deliver the pups between eight and ten-thirty PM. "You got boxes for 'em?" "Boxes?" She flicked a cigarette to the floor and ground it out with her heel. "This look like Macy's to you?" "That's okay. Come here and help me, DeMario." Smiling, DeMario picked up a skinny red pup and stoked it. "Say, these is nice puppies. How much a nice puppy worth, you think? Why don't we bring a few extra ones along?" Reading DeMario's mind, Leonard didn't bother answering; he wasn't going to have DeMario standing on a street corner on Christmas Eve selling pound puppies for crack money. DeMario was a probation violation waiting to happen, just a cup full of pee away from being back inside. "Bet you wanna get high, don't you man?" DeMario addressed the puppy as his intellectual equal. Mavis didn't seem to notice. "Just drop me off at the housing project we passed 'bout two miles back, Holmes. Pick me up when you finished. Okay?" It was an apartment complex, actually, and a pretty upscale one; but to DeMario, apparently, all multiple dwellings were equal. No harm, Leonard figured, since dropping DeMario off--to hear him tell it-- was as safe as releasing a snake in a swamp. And it was definitely agreeable to Leonard, as he didn't think Emma would think it too cool if he brought his erratic helpmate along. After he let DeMario out, paying him his twenty bucks, Leonard put the bows on the puppies, talking to each one as he did, and naming it; there was, as well as Little Joe, Big Joe--who looked the same, brown and black, some kind of Shepard mix, only bigger--Tawny, Shaggy, Ray--whose heavy lidded eyes reminded him of a former cell mate of the same name; Sheila, a female--for obvious reasons-- and Wolf, a lanky pup with setter in his linage. He looked at them, short tails wagging with enthusiasm, colorful Christmas bows on--they would make some kids very happy. Leonard smiled. He'd missed a lot of good things in life. The pups seemed hungry. He couldn't open the boxes of puppy food, as they were part of the Christmas package. He rummaged around in the truck's pocket, found a pint of liquor in a paper bag, belonging to one of the regulars on the day crew, and his hand lingered guiltily for a moment before continuing. Finally, he found two packages of Hostess Twinkies, which he divided as best he could among the puppies. On the drive to Emma's, the pups settled down a bit. Little Joe, who had a keen, intelligent look about him, jumped into the passenger seat beside him and began watching the traffic, once in a while barking at the oncoming lights. Soon, however, the pup began shivering. A breeze was coming from the back of the van where; due to a slight accident, the doors didn't close smoothly, leaving a crack at the bottom. Leonard rolled his window most of the way up, which cut down the draft considerably, then reached over and petted Little Joe with one hand as he drove with the other. Emma lived in a duplex on a remote two lane road that could just as easily have been out somewhere in the sticks. It was only about a ten minute drive from there to his first drop off point. Leonard hated to leave the pups alone, in the cold, in the drafty old van, so he checked the gas tank, then left the motor running and the heat turned up high. He noted a certain smell, switched on the overhead and confirmed that one of the pups had a little problem. Perhaps Twinkies weren't the best thing to feed them. He'd be sure to bring some paper towels out and clean them up before he began delivering them. Thankfully, the plaid bow wouldn't show the stains as much as the solid colored ones. "Be back in a bit, Little Joe. I'm gonna make sure you get the best home of all." He scratched the pup playfully behind its ear then locked the van's doors. Emma was glad to see him and wasted hardly no time on such formalities as foreplay, which suited Leonard fine. They were both adults and knew what they were there for. Besides, he'd had that little performance anxiety problem after his divorce, so, he believed, once the artillery was loaded and ready for the front line, the serious maneuvers should begin at once, before the troops had a chance to go AWOL. Afterwards, he left Emma snoring in her bedroom and let himself out. Retrieving his coat from the arm of the sofa, he disturbed some mail sitting on her end table. He picked the letters up and one caught his attention. It was addressed to Ms. Emma Milroy and was marked "Urgent" in bold red letters in the upper left hand corner. The return address was the Twenty-first Street Health, Life, STD & AIDS Survival Clinic. Third Notice was stamped below the address. "Merry Christmas, Leonard" he hissed. "Merry bleeding Christmas! Damn, damn damn. You just slept with Typhoid Mary, and . . ." He spit several times then rubbed his shirt cuff against his tongue, wishing he had some mouthwash. He had noticed some suspicious bumps on her butt, but she had said they were only psoriasis. He started to turn around, go back and give her a piece of what for, but managed to calm himself after a few minutes. What good could it possibly do him now? He wasn't even supposed to be here. Maybe, he figured, closing the front door behind him, he should seriously consider giving up sex altogether. After all, he'd managed to give up booze. He suddenly remembered the pint bottle in the van's pocket. "No," he told himself. "Don't even go there, Leonard." He would visit a doctor next week and see how bad the news was. He wasn't going to let this nasty turn ruin Christmas for him. He thought of Little Joe and the other puppies again, and the joy they would bring those needy children, and smiled. "Hey, fellows. I'm back." Little Joe wasn't in the front. Leonard glanced in the back, saw a couple of haunches. The pups were quiet, napping contentedly in the heated truck. Leonard shut the door carefully, then started the truck. He'd forgotten the paper towels. He would stop somewhere before the first delivery and get some. He reached down into the bag he and DeMario had been given before leaving: a couple of Santa hats and two fake beards. Leonard put on his hat and beard, then turned toward the main highway. Some while later, feeling drowsy, Leonard hit a large pot hole, which jolted him back into full consciousness. "Sorry, fellows." He noticed his words were slurred, like he was drunk. Something was wrong. Leonard pulled into an empty parking lot in a shopping center. He got out of the truck and walked around, taking deep breaths until his head began to clear. What was going on? And how come the puppies weren't yelping? He opened the door and turned on the overhead light. The puppies were quiet and still, very still--and would be until judgement day, when maybe Saint Peter whistled for them. They were dead: carbon monoxide. Had to be. They all looked peaceful, meaning they died easy--except for one. "Ahhh, . . .Little Joe," Leonard said as he reached the back of the van. The smart pup had made it to the back, and had probably stuck his nose in the crack between the doors to survive on fresh air. He might even have made it until Leonard returned, except that he got thirsty. Next to the pup was a plastic jug of antifreeze, on its side, the top off and bluish-green glop still dripping out. The little dog's body was contorted from the convulsions it had gone through; it's tongue lolled out of its mouth, looking ridiculously long, and the lips had pulled back, exposing the gums and teeth in a grim looking rictus. Leonard went outside the van again. "Merry Christmas, Leonard! Merry F'n Christmas! This is not good. This is definitely not good. You stupid, doe-brained . . .." He hit himself in the forehead with the palm of his hand, then began kicking the side of the van, and continued kicking it until his right foot hurt, then began kicking it with his left foot. "Oh, Lordy, what am I gonna do now? Them poor puppies . . .them poor kids. A great daddy you'd 'a made." A car driving by slowed to watch his display of frustration, then went on. Not even sure how or when, Leonard found the bottle in his hands. He drained it quickly, then wondered where the nearest liquor store was. He had to think, and he couldn't think while he was in such emotional pain. Twenty bucks would buy a significant amount of liquid pain killer. After the liquor store, Leonard drove back to the same empty shopping center, only pulled in the back this time, where there was a huge garbage bin in the middle of the alley. He carried the pups in two cardboard boxes he'd picked up at the liquor store. "Sorry, fellows,:" he sniffed, "end of the line for you." The dumpster sat in a three-sided walled enclosure with a locked gate; people got pickier and pickier, like someone was gonna steal their garbage. Leonard set the two boxes in front of the locked gate. He started to remove the bows, but decided to leave them on. All in all, the pups looked peaceful enough--save for Little Joe, laying on top all spastic looking and with that horrible grin. He wondered for a moment if he should work him to the bottom of the pile; otherwise, it would probably give whoever found them a devilish start; but after giving it some thought, he figured it didn't much matter. Plain and simple, a dead puppy wearing a bow was a dead puppy, peaceful looking or not. As he rose to leave he noticed that the back door nearest the bin had a sign identifying it as the rear entrance to The Southside Women's Health And Birth Control Clinic. Despite the fancy name, an abortion place was what it was. Well, he suspected, the day after Christmas, when someone finally came back here, whether it was one of them abortion workers or a sanitation worker, come Monday, they would probably be applying to their insurance for a few therapy sessions. Not being sure what kind of eulogy was proper for dogs, Leonard decided to just toast them with another drink instead. That seemed most fitting. Besides, he'd forgotten how much the bottle helped him think; and the night was yet young, and he had a semblance of a plan. The plan had hit him like a inspiration as he stood working on his second bottle. He was out of dogs--but kids liked cats, too, and, hell, there were plenty of those running around lose, without homes. He just had to find the right place where cats would congregate--some place like maybe behind a restaurant, or a grocery store, where rats or food were in good supply. He'd simply come up to 'em, talking nice like he supposed people talked to cats, lure a few to the van using some of the puppy food. He could even stop at an all night drug store and buy some of those stick on bows people put on packages. Taming the things, of course, would be up to the kids after he delivered them. He had enough problems. Leonard felt better now. He had a good plan and the bourbon made a warm, familiar glow in his stomach. Behind the third restaurant he checked, some kind of Chinese place, he found what he needed; by the amber glow of a security light in the alley, he saw several cats feasting on top of and around a large open dumpster. The Chinese were less picky about having their garbage stolen. Leonard only knew one thing for sure about felines, and that was that they were skittish to beat the band, more so than a pink poodle with a fancy haircut; accordingly, he took off his shoes and moved in the shadows until he got within coaxing distance. Leonard stepped quietly from the shadows and gave a shake of the Puppy Chow box, to get their attention; the half-dozen cats around the dumpster scattered like they was electrons exploded in a bubble chamber--an image he had seen on a TV science show once. They neither paused in their flight nor looked back at him until they were a good sixty-yards or so away. Coaxing them back, from that distance, would probably take a few days. But as he started to turn away, he realized there was a crunching sound coming from inside the dumpster. Leonard edged closer and peeked in; a motley looking tom cat was chewing something; Leonard, knowing a bit about how the Chinese cooked, couldn't imagine what they'd throw away that would still be tasty, even to a cat. "Hey kitty. Don't be scared." It didn't flee, nor pause in eating, but regarded Leonard with one eye and began emitting a low growl. That was a good sign. "It's just me. Good old Santa. See my hat?" The cat continued to eye him warily, to emitt its low growl, and to gnaw on whatever was it was it had. Leonard opened the Puppy Chow box, dropped a few pellets near the cat. He continued to soothingly ask it if it wanted to go with Santa and find a home. The cat sniffled the puppy chow and found it to his liking. Leonard sprinkled some more, luring the cat closer. Still growling suspiciously, the cat consumed the steady line of pellets, moving closer and closer to Leonard. "Now Kitty, wouldn't you and some of your friends like to get some regular chow for a change, maybe a bath, and . . ." Leonard reached out and grabbed the cat by the nape of it's neck, as he'd seen people do. Suddenly, there was a screaming and screeching like Satan being baptized; before Leonard could properly react, he was holding a four-limbed buzz saw; whirring arms and kicking legs struck him a dozen painful blows before he could drop it. "Jesus H.! Holy mother of Bob!" Leonard exclaimed as he ran, not sure if mad cats pursued or not. A safe distance away, alternately clutching and shaking his stinging, bleeding arm and hand, he looked back. Under the security light, the cat, already joined by a couple of others, was dinning on the spilled box of puppy chow. People kept those things as pets? Back at the van, Leonard started to poor some bourbon over the cuts as antiseptic, but thought better of it, and took a swig or two. He looked at his watch. Time was critical now. "Dammit. I can't let those kids down." Leonard looked up; the moon was full, near as he could tell. Leonard leaned his head out the window and howled. It felt good. He wasn't going to let those kids down. "Where the hell are you. . . where the hell are you . . . where the . . . " he knew he'd passed the place somewhere along here. "Ah, gotcha." There it was, on the corner of a strip mall: Ben And Beth's Petables, the sign read. Parrots, exotic fish and petables. A hand painted sign in the front window said: Close out. All stock must go. Having come unprepared--no flashlight, for one thing--Leonard chanced turning on the lights. There were lots of fish tanks, a few anemic looking birds squawking, a large cage full of bunnies and another full of some kind of hairy rodents. Not sound of dogs barking. And no cats. Which was good. He rubbed his arm. If he never looked at another cat again he'd be happy. Leonard glanced at his watch again, only to find the numbers too fuzzy to read. Well, it had to be getting late, and he was out of options. "I'll take a bunch of you," he said as he opened a wire cage and got an armful of bunnies, brown, white, and mixed; the poor little kids could have a selection if they wanted. His final trip, for a little variety, he also grabbed some of the long-haired rat rodents from the cage marked guinea pigs. Like the rabbits, they proved easy enough to catch, having no room to maneuver in the cage. Surely, now, he had at least seven fuzzy looking pets to deliver, plus some spares, which he figured, after his experience with the puppies, was a good idea. Back in the van, with colorful bunnies hopping around, and guinea pigs running under foot, he felt like Santa again. The first lady took the black and white rabbit and a complimentary box of Puppy Chow without any hassle, figuring, Leonard guessed, that when something was free you took it without any questions. She did, after sniffing the air, ask Leonard if he wanted to come in and drink some coffee. At the second house, the woman eyed Leonard suspiciously and said, "That don't look like no dog to me." "You are right, Ma'am," Leonard affirmed. "Santa is having a special on rabbits tonight." "The lady on the phone says we wuz gettin' a dog." Leonard, with a surprising inventive turn which was aimed at thwarting further protest, glanced at his clipboard manifest--which only contained names and addresses--and asked, "What exactly is yore child suffering from, Ma'am?" "Well, let's see," she said, consulting her fingers, "uh, Jerome has the dislexsis, the ADHD, a behaving disorder, and a mostly crooked right eye." "Ah," Leonard said, "I thought as much. That explains it. It's the behaving disorder: A recent scientific study conducted at John Hopkins Hospital by a team of British doctors from Yale University has concluded that children with those get along much better with rabbits than dogs." "No, shit," she said, taking the bunny and the box of Puppy Chow. At the third stop, when Leonard went to the back of the van to select a Christmas bunny, he said, "Durn," and figured he should have gotten something to sop up the spilled antifreeze; one of the bunnies had gone the same route as Little Joe, and was now in bunny heaven, loping around in fields of clover. He knew he'd been smart to grab extras. After getting lost twice, Leonard still managed to give away five rabbits and two guinea pigs--four at houses on the list, two at a wrong address where the people took them anyway--before his erratic driving caught the attention of the police. Officer, Dale Watkins, a rookie who was ticked about getting stuck with the Christmas Eve shift and determined to take it out on the first luckless citizen he came across, exclaimed, "Yahoo!" when he spotted Leonard's van meandering back and forth across the center line as it came up the road toward where he and the cruiser were parked. Officer Dale pulled his cruiser in close behind--the kind of intimidation calculated to give the van driver the heebie-jeebies--lighted him up, and laid his night stick next to him in hopeful anticipation. When the driver of the van floored it, Dale couldn't believe his luck. Leonard was so startled by the sudden blue lights on his bumper that he almost dropped his bottle. "Why y'all do that?" he asked the car in his outside review mirror. The cop was behind him, dangerously close, prompting Leonard to increase his speed to keep a safe distance. "Back off, you idiot," Leonard mumbled, "and I'll stop." Then Leonard's attention was captivated by something in the sky, straight in front of him: a heavenly choir robed in white. He could make out some angels with white wings, and a little manger with people in robes and animals around it. A stone church, with a tall steeple and a cross lit by a spotlight, floated just above the manger and heavenly choir. "Dang," Leonard said, smiling, feeling better about the evening and not paying attention to the fact that the road before him took a near ninety degree turn in front of the idyllic scene. The van left the road and jumped the ditch with a teeth-loosening jolt. The nose of the truck hit a wall of green near head on, but rose from the dirt with the engine racing crazily and continued--gouging a furrow as it went--it's trajectory on a direct line with the choir and the manger; Leonard caught a glimpse of a yellow portable sign down near the winding driveway which, if he could have read it as his out-of-control vehicle sped by, announced the Waylon Heights Christian Tabernacle Living Nativity: Christmas Eve, Choir and Service. Through a blurry haze, he was dimly aware of Angels screaming, white-robed figures with horror-stricken faces running this way and that, a tethered donkey and a goat with panicked looks in their eyes, and wise men dropping frankincense, incense, and myrrh as they scattered to either side of his path as the wooden manger disintegrated in an explosion of wood, straw, and plaster-of-Paris baby Jesus. After demolishing the manger, the van came to sudden halt, a plume of hissing smoke rising from it's crumpled front end. The back doors flew open, allowing the remaining bunnies and guinea pigs to scramble out. Leonard opened his door and fell to the ground. Getting to his knees, and seeing a group of angry men in robes advancing toward him, he held up an empty liquor bottle to show them that it wasn't his fault, and that he was sorry. An angel with a broken wing shouted, "Watch out! He's got something in his hand," and they jumped all over him. Then Leonard was at the center of a sea of flailing fists and kicking feet. Leonard had never been kicked by sandals before. It was an interesting experience. Epilogue The death of the seven puppies--with the noted exception of Little Joe--turned out to be merciful. Mavis, through no fault of her own, had pointed Leonard to a pen full of puppies suffering from Parvo, and destined to be put down the day after Christmas anyway. The carbon monoxide allowed the puppies to simply go to sleep--after a welcome last meal of Twinkies--a more pleasant and humane method than the pound used. As for Little Joe, it is a little known fact that death by the method of poisoning that killed him has the side effect of inducing hallucinations; so, though he looked pretty grim, Little Joe actually didn't suffer too much, and was hallucinating that he was full grown and running through the woods chasing a deer as he lay in the van thrashing about. Emma Milroy, who didn't like bad news, had been afraid to open the envelope from the clinic--so sure was she that its contents would confirm her mother's negative prognostication about Emma's liberal sexual habits, which was that they would eventually bring her to ruin. However, after Leonard left, Emma felt guilty enough to open the envelope. It turned out that the first notice had indeed informed her of positive results on her AIDS test. With positive results, the lab automatically retests. The second letter was to inform her of the automatic retest; the third letter was to inform her that the second test cleared her, and that the first test results had been a false positive. Emma didn't have anything. Relieved, Emma committed herself to sexual abstinence and decided to approach life with a new, positive mind set. Though her commitment to sexual abstinence only lasted four days--due to the charm and availability of a long haul trucker from Alabama--Emma's positive mind set allowed her to reach her career peak the following February, when she was selected as employee of the month. Wendy Grizzle, a licenced practical nurse working at The Southside Women's Health And Birth Control Clinic, found the puppies and was so angst ridden after seeing Little Joe that she soon quit her job at the clinic and from that day on devoted herself to the preservation of animal life. Eventually she joined Greenpeace, and now spends her days harassing Japanese tuna boats in the North Atlantic. Due to an epidemic which swept through their exotic birds--for which they had no special coverage due to Ben's lack of foresight--Ben And Beth's Petables was tottering on the brink of bankruptcy. After Leonard's burglary--for which they were sufficiently insured--Ben was able to file a false insurance claim which said all the recently deceased birds had been stolen. The resulting settlement saved the business, and Ben and Beth's marriage. The members of the Waylon Heights Christian Tabernacle were near ecstatic after Leonard's bizarre interruption of their Christmas Eve services, since it proved the existence of Satan and validated their belief system. The following Sunday, from his pulpit, Reverend Billy Spears was positively ecstatic and openly invited Satan to send one of his crazed minions around each and every Christmas so that he, the deacons, and members of the choir, could whip his tail again. Kisha Edwards, single mom and mother of an emotionally handicapped child who received a pair of rabbits from Leonard, soon found herself inundated in bunnies--which her daughter, LaKeeta, loved and doted over. As a result of the extra expense, Kisha was forced to get her GED and take extra job training to advance herself. Due to her positive efforts at self-advancement, she eventually gained some note in her community and became a member of the city council. By lying and saying that it was blows from his baton--and not the blows and kicks to the head from the members of the Waylon heights Christian Tabernacle--which sent Leonard to the emergency room, Officer Dale managed to have his status among his peers raised considerably. After staying out all Christmas Eve and nearly freezing to death, DeMario was found by two workers for the Salvation Army and rescued on Christmas morning. Grateful for the life saving intervention, he turned his life around by subsequently cutting his crack habit in half and getting a job in the SA's soup kitchen, where he worked for two weeks, the longest span of continual employment he'd ever experienced. As for Leonard, he was convicted of burglary, DUI, cruelty to animals, and disrupting a religious service; his public defender managed to plea him down to twenty-two months. He was returned for another stretch at Reidsville; this time--having gained a bit of notoriety as The Christmas Eve Bandit--with greater respect and perhaps even a touch of admiration from the coloreds and the sissies. Though he will be eligible for a parole hearing in November, and stands a good chance of getting out in time for next Christmas, Leonard has no plans of petitioning the parole board for early release. The escaped rabbits thrived and bred prolifically, and there was no want of rabbits for years to come in the neighborhood surrounding the Waylon Heights Christian Tabernacle. As far as the one rabbit that died from the antifreeze--well, what's one rabbit more or less in the grand scheme of things, since, all in all, thanks to Leonard, everyone else had a pretty good Christmas.
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