the smuggler’s bible

George Bailey

It’s something in the ice cream. Two men go to the hospital after sneaking to the dessert table before dinner. Bailey dashes into a stairwell just ahead of the police. He’s cornered on a balcony overlooking the river.

“There are places you can’t imagine,” he says, eyes wild. “Whole other worlds where you never existed. I’ve seen them.”

Barraclough and Pontchartrain spread out, blinking through the snow.

“You have to leave your mark. Do things to make people remember you.” Bailey looks down, shivers. A church bell peals nearby. “Hear that?” he says. “Somebody got their wings. Maybe it’s me.”


“Jesus Christ, he’s everywhere,” Pontchartrain says. She has a file open on her lap, turning pages while Barraclough weaves through evening traffic. The light on the dash is flashing red and green. “Charity auctions, food drives, shelters—everything.”

“How does the opera house fit?”

“Bailey’s on the board of directors, focused on community outreach. Every year he gives the keynote speech at the Chamber of Commerce banquet.” Pontchartrain looks up, face stern. “That’s tonight.”

“They run everything downtown.” Barraclough whips around a truck hauling fresh-cut fir trees, dusted with snow. “How many?”

“Ten members,” Pontchartrain says. “Lords of Tinsel Town.”


The jewellers—those who buy and sell without asking too many questions—are clustered along Chestnut Street. Barraclough and Pontchartrain trudge through slush, rattling shop bells and asking about suspicious transactions. They realize quickly they must be more specific.

“Anyone looking for a handful of rings,” Barraclough says. “All gold.”

Finally, one tired old toy elf checks his receipt book and nods. “Last week. A small batch, sizes seven to nine-five. Not too picky, except for the metal.”

“Do you take names?”

“We aren’t all crooked, you know,” he says, turning the book to show a hasty signature. George Bailey.


Daybreak in Tinsel Town, and the city trades aspects. The night owl haunts, shimmering in the distance along a swooping ribbon of highway, fade into a snowy mist blowing in off the mountain that washes everything to match the white fuzz of television static.

“The papers aren’t even finished with the opera house,” Barraclough says. “I keep spiking interview requests.”

“It’s gruesome, so they love it. Nine beautiful dancers dead, and the production of the Nutcracker Suite with them.” Pontchartrain stirs her hot chocolate. “You ever get tired of this shit?”

“I’m gingerbread. Old cookies just get tougher and tougher.”