ANOTHER MIRACLE ON 34th STREET
22 December 1995 - 42nd Street
'Twas the week before Christmas...
Bonita Curillo hurried up 42nd street, into the teeth of a biting wind and the ominous threat of New York's first heavy snow of the season. It was ironic that she hated Christmas. After all, her seasonal job was vital in fending off the ever-present threat of eviction from her basement room (read 'cellar') over in the Village, as well as putting a few morsels on her table at food time. Just a few, mind...
Her face ached. Not just from the icy wind, but from six hours of continual smiling at the kidiwinks at Macy's, where she laboured as one of Santa's Elves. It was her size and rather pixie-like, pinched features that virtually guaranteed her work at this time of year. Five feet and half an inch (the half an inch being very important to Bonita Curillo!). Elf-size.
Of course, she was really an actress. That's what her Spotlight entry said, anyway. Any roles considered with an emphasis on song and dance. But, really...ANY roles considered.
It had been six months since her last acting job. As a 'child' in an off-Broadway show. She had even had a couple of lines of dialogue.
Hence her current parlous financial state and her (reluctant) acceptance of the Macy job.
Still, hope springs eternal and Bonita was on her way to an audition. A real life audition for a new Broadway show, no less!
She was just passing Bryant Park when she first saw the itinerant.
He was lounging on the sidewalk, his back resting against the low stone wall surrounding the park. People were walking around his outstretched legs, without so much as a sideways glance.
Bonita scanned him with an almost professional interest. It hadn't been all that long ago that she had been homeless herself and spent six months on the streets.
He was hatless and had barely a smudge of hair. He had jug-ears, with vacant eyes staring out of a rather hard face, dominated by a commanding beak of a nose. He was dressed in a leather jacket of indeterminate colour in this light, dark pants and boots.
At his side was a small sheet of paper, pinned to the wall. 'HELP ME' it said. She had seen them all, these pitiful cries for attention, ranging from rambling hard-luck stories squezed onto a square of cardboard, to the brutally honest; 'MONEY WANTED FOR WEED.' Hell, she had written her fair share! At least this was short and to the point.
But he was making fundamental errors. There was no hat or other receptacle on the sidewalk for donations. He had no pathetic-looking little dog at his side. He looked too well. At the very least he should be shivering in the cold. Above all he looked clean and fresh, as if he had just been hatched. It was going to be a long, hard winter for this guy.
All this went through Bonita's mind in a few seconds as she swept past, her mind hurrying ahead to her audition. Anyway, she had no money to speak of. The itinerant was forgotten in an instant. She didn't even notice his eyes following her...
23 December 1995 - 42nd Street
The following evening at about the same time, Bonita found herself hurrying past Bryant Park again.
A recall, by all that's holy!
They wanted to see her again! She tingled with anticipation. Maybe, just maybe...
The itinerant was there again. In exactly the same place. He looked as though he hadn't moved an inch, impossible though that was.
This time Bonita noticed his eyes slide to his left, towards the sheet of paper at his side.
She frowned, following the look. What she saw pulled her up with a sharp gasp of escaping breath.
'HELP ME, BONITA CURILLO' she read.
Her mind started racing.
Right, he's a stalker... bit public for a mugging, though... and a bit extravagant for a chat-up line...maybe he's a con-man, a bunco-artist...but no card tricks,no patter... maybe it's a joke from an old acquaintance...but I've never seen him before...except for yesterday...did he follow me...? should I scream for a cop?
All this ran through Bonita's mind in a revolving confused kaleidoscope. It expressed itself verbally as;
"What the hell -?"
The itinerant scrambled to his feet. Alarmed, Bonita stepped back but he made no move towards her. He just stood there, a luminous crooked grin on his face.
"Do I know you?" she asked, carefully.
He shrugged. "Dunno. Do you ?" His voice was flat, accented. Bonita had never heard its like before.
She pointed to the sign. "How do you know my name? What gives?"
"Oh. That's you is it?" He shrugged again.
"Quit the games, Bud. You wrote the damn thing -"
He shook his head. "Not me. The paper wrote it."
OK, so he's a nutjob, thought Bonita. But that still didn't explain the message !
"If you know who I am please tell me. I've lost my memory, you see." There was a sad desperation in his voice. Almost a longing.
"You had a bang on the head?" She couldn't see any bumps or bruises. "You should see a doctor."
The man seemed to consider the possibility; "Doctor..." he murmured, then shook his head. "No bang on the head. Just a big empty space. Except for one thing. About the only thing I know for sure."
No way was she going to ask. No way! She had an audition to go to. A call-back. A chance at last. She looked again at the amazing sign.
HELP ME, BONITA CURILLO
He looked at her expectantly, with his wide, questing eyes.
No. dammit. She wouldn't ask. If she did, she knew she would be lost. She could kiss her audition goodbye.
She thought about walking away without a backward glance. But...those pleading eyes! It would be like abandoning a drowning puppy. And she would never know about the message on the sign...
"OK. So what's your name?"
The grin became wider and the stranger stuck out a hand. "Pleased to meet you, Bonita Curillo. I'm Kris Kringle."
23 December 1995 – Pershing Square
"Now let's get this clear once and for all, You are NOT Kris Kringle."
They were sitting in a Pershing Square diner, to where Bonita had virtually dragged the stranger, out of the freezing darkness and snow flurries.
He raised his eyebrows. "I think you'll find that I am." he said.
"If you keep on saying it they're going to drag you off to Bellevue."
"And what's Bellevue when it's at home?"
"A hospital," said Bonita, making a circling motion with her forefinger by the side of her head.
He made a silent 'O' with his mouth but said nothing.
Bonita sipped moodily at her coffee (all she could afford) and glanced at her watch.
"Am I keeping you from something?"
"I've got... had...an audition."
"Oh! An actress are you?" His face broke into a delighted grin.
Bonita shrugged, opening her coat to reveal her multi-coloured patchwork costume. "I'm an elf at the moment. Over at Macy's. But yes, I have hopes."
"Why are you an elf?"
"Gotta go where the money is. It keeps the wolf from the door...just about."
"Actors are always hungry but..." She rubbed her forefinger and thumb together.
"Me too. I'm starving. Hold on."
He went quickly over to the counter, spoke to the waitress and was back sitting opposite Bonita before she could blink.
"Now, where were we? Oh yeah. You're an elf instead of being a great actress. But you've got hopes..."
Bonita shrugged. "My agent says I'll have to change my name if I want to get on."
"He wants me to call myself Bonnie Carr. He says I need to be more WASP."
"Wasp? Vespiform? Where?" The stranger half rose from his chair, looking around the diner anxiously. He seemed panicked by something.
Bonita laid a restricting hand on his arm. "It's OK," she said. "There's no wasp. It just means more Anglo-Saxon..."
He regained his seat warily. "I think you need to get a new agent," he said, evenly.
"I've been thinking that for awhile. Anyway. We've learned something about you. You don't like wasps. What was that word you used?"
She sighed. He was so odd. But the oddest thing of all was that she was calmly sitting here with him. Her audition had gone down the toilet yet she felt a kind of distant tingling excitement. A kind of anticipation.
She tried to focus. "Look, I need to know how my name came to be on that sign of yours."
"This sign?" He pulled out the folded sheet of paper from an inside pocket. He unfolded it. It was blank on both sides.
"More magic tricks?"
Before Bonita could say any more the waitress arrived with two massive plates crammed full of food. Thick steaks, smothered with fries and all the trimmings.
Long forgotten taste buds watered in Bonita's mouth. She hadn't seen anything like this in months. She tucked in with gusto, bordering on fervour. The food started to vanish at a rate of knots. Devour would probably be the right word.
She hardly looked up from her plate until it was empty. Not the most ladylike performance, thought Bonita. An observation underlined by the immoderate belch she emitted as she leaned back in her chair.
The stranger was sitting back too, staring into space, his plate untouched.
"I thought you were starving as well?"
"I am," he replied, looking down at his plate. "But I can't seem to..." He pushed the plate to one side.
Bonita fought down the impulse to demolish a second meal. After all, decorum had to draw a line somewhere!
Anyway, she now felt fortified enough to tackle him again.
"Earlier on you said the paper wrote my name."
"That's right. Just like it wrote mine."
"The paper told you that your name is Kris Kringle?"
"Yep. Spot on. Who is this Kris Kringle bloke anyway."
Bonita sighed and pointed to some of the tatty decorations in the diner window. "See? Over there. Santa Claus. Father Christmas. The jolly old guy in the red suit with the whiskers. Kris Kringle."
He frowned. "I don't look like that, do I?"
Right. She'd had enough. She was about to tell him so in no uncertain terms when she saw a single name, scrawled on the previously blank paper resting on the table.
His eyes followed hers and he picked up the paper. He flipped it over. There were two entries on the other side.
Kris Kringle...Kris Kringle
He flipped it back. The other side was now covered in writing.
Kris Kringle...Kris Kringle...Kris Kringle...
Their eyes met. Bonita felt scared. Probably for the first time since their meeting.
Slowly he turned the sheet over once more. The writing had vanished. In its place was a rough pencil sketch. A tall building on the corner of a street.
"Do you know where this is?" he asked.
She did. Her voice, when she found it, was tiny. "It's Macy's. I work there."
The stranger's finger pointed to a small arrow on the picture.
She leaned forward slightly. "It's pointing to the fifth floor. Where I work. In the grotto."
"Where the kids go to meet Santa Claus." She hesitated. "Otherwise known as..."
"Kris Kringle. Can you take me there?"
"Now?" Bonita looked at her watch. "The store closed nearly two hours ago."
She nodded and they rose.
"You'd better get the check first," said Bonita, handing him the bill.
He looked down blankly at it.
"You know. Money. For the food."
"Oh jeez." They were going to have to do a runner. It wouldn't be her first time but she would have appreciated a bit more notice. They could have sat nearer the door...
Suddenly the stranger flashed a grin and pulled out a small wallet from his inside pocket. He folded it back to reveal a blank piece of paper.
Incredulous, Bonita watched as he took the check over to the till and flashed the blank paper to the cashier. She smiled up sweetly at him.
"Thank you, sir. That'll do nicely."
Oh boy, thought Bonita as they stepped out into the cold night, I've gotta get me one of those!
23 December 1995 - Macy's on 34th Street
When they reached the famous store, over on 34th, it had been closed for a couple of hours, as Bonita had said. The temperature had plummeted. Snow was falling and settling.
The stranger took Bonita's hand and dragged her down to a side entrance. He stared at the bolted double doors for a moment, patted at his jacket and brought out what Bonita took to be a chunky pen from his inside pocket. There was a blue glow from the tip of the device and the sound of retracting bolts.
With a click he double doors swung inwards. Bonita flinched, expecting a clamour of alarms, but they never came.
"How the hell did you do that?"
He shrugged, pocketing the device. "Dunno."
Boy, thought Bonita as they went in out of the cold, I've got to get me one of them, too!
They stood in the entrance hall for a moment, the stranger looking around him, almost sniffing the air. Eventually he looked at her.
"Take me to him." His voice echoed in the stillness.
They took the stairs up to the fifth floor, where the grotto was located. Bonita was unnerved by the experience. The stranger used his device as a torch and the stairwells became silent, shadowy tunnels, their footsteps sounding, to her, like minor explosions.
She was glad when she pushed through the double doors onto the fifth floor. It was almost an alien environment to Bonita. She was used to a well-lit space, bubbling with excited children against a backdrop of Christmas muzak.
This was a cavern, peopled by shadows in the dim night-light. And the silence was tangible.
"Well, here we are. What is it you want?" Her voice was a whisper. It seemed appropriate.
The stranger nodded across the floor. "Him."
For a moment Bonita couldn't see what he meant. But she followed his gaze over to the tall chair in the centre of the room. Santa's throne.
With a start she realised it was occupied. A shapeless mass, slumped in the seat. A red coat, trimmed with white fur. A hood of the same colour.
It can't be Paddy, surely! Not the child-hating wino who sat patiently listening to the procession of kids all day before heading off to the nearest bar to drink his wages. Not at this time of night!
Bonita took a couple of hesitant steps toward the throne, trying to get a better view in this dim light.
"Stop! Don't come any closer!" The voice from the throne was flat, strangely accented and contained an undertone of controlled pain. Whoever it was, it wasn't Paddy!
"Are you OK?"
The red hood rose briefly then sank again, the face in shadow. "I think I shall be, now that you have brought him back, Bonita."
Someone else who knew her name! "What's gong on? Who the hell are you?"
The hood bobbed again. "I am the Doctor."
"Doctor? You sound like you need one, Bud. Do you know who this guy is? He seems pretty keen to met you." She jerked her thumb over her shoulder at the stranger, who was standing motionless behind her.
"He is also the Doctor."
"Oh, so we've got a convention have we?"
There was a noise from the red-suited figure that may have been a laugh. "I can see this has been a strange experience for you, Bonita."
"Brother, you said it!"
"It's going to get stranger. We are both the same, him and me. One person. One Doctor."
The figure on the throne made a gesture. "I haven't much time. But you should know that you have done me...us...a great service, bringing him here..." He coughed, convulsively.
Bonita frowned. "You should really see somebody."
"Don't worry, it's going to be OK..."
There was a movement behind her. The stranger stepped past Bonita without a word. Unhurriedly he approached the throne. With each step he became fuzzy, indistinct, until he was almost transparent.
As a goggling Bonita watched he seemed to flicker momentarily then fade away completely as he reached the figure on the throne, who flinched as if struck, then slowly stood with an effort.
Bonita gasped as the hood fell back to reveal a momentary vision of a hideously deformed face, ravaged by injury and streaked with blood.
Barely a second later she screamed as he seemed to explode, searing red and orange flame, pouring from the neck and arms of his coat. But no heat. It seemed to Bonita that time had stood still as the energy poured out of the man. Suddenly it snapped off, as if someone had turned a switch.
The Santa Claus robe dropped emptily to the floor. Standing in his place was the leather-jacketed stranger, beaming his crooked grin.
Bonita was trembling but his smile seemed to calm her. She found her voice.
"So you were Kris Kringle, after all," was all she could think to say.
He shook his head. "I am the Doctor." He took a step towards her. "Thanks to you."
She waited, patiently for the inexplicable to be explained.
The Doctor flexed his fingers, cracking his knuckles. "Not bad. Not bad at all. I could murder that steak, now." He looked over at the girl. "I owe you, Bonita Curillo."
"Some kind of explanation will do."
He stroked his chin." There was a war. I think I am the only survivor. But I was wounded. Crippled by radiation. My ship brought me here. It is a world I have...knowledge of."
Ship. That would be spaceship.
It is a world I have knowledge of. He's an alien then.
Bonita took this news calmly. After what she had just seen...
"My race has a kind of trick. A way of repairing damage in certain circumstances. You've just seen it. I was dying."
"And this trick includes being in two places at once?"
The Doctor shrugged. "Sometimes. When the situation is critical enough. It's is a kind of fail-safe mechanism. Belt and braces. That version of me you met out there was a kind of temporal projection. Incomplete. A mere trigger for the healing process." He sat on the throne.
Incomplete. Bonita remembered the untouched food.
"I've been skulking around the storage areas here for the past few days, waiting. He wandered off, you see. Out onto the streets before I could activate the process. I could only communicate via the psychic paper, and then only partially. Giving hints. But then you showed up."
Bonita pointed to the discarded red outfit. "And the Santa Claus impression?"
"I didn't want you to see me...as I was. Anyway, I was cold hanging around in here. Nearest thing to hand." He stood. "Are you OK? All this can be a bit much..."
She shook her head. "I'll be fine. When I wake up. What next?"
"I've got some work to do. About ten years from now. Across the sea. I picked up some unauthorised Phase Shunt technology. A possible Nestene signature. I really ought to get going." He paused. "What about you?"
"I'll be back here tomorrow. With the kids...same old."
He looked sideways at her. "As I said, I owe you, Bonita. That audition you missed..."
She had forgotten all about it.
"Maybe I can help you out. Put in a good word. I've got a few contacts."
"A bit small-time for a shape-changing alien, isn't it?"
"I always pay my debts. I have someone in mind. He owes me a favour. I gave him some career advice. Long time ago now. Gave him an image. Well, actually, he pinched it from me. Back when I was the Cosmic Hobo..."
The Doctor stepped forward and cupped Bonita's face in his hand. "I want you to go home now. Wait for your agent to call." He smiled. "You're going to do great things, Bonita Curillo. Bring happiness to a generation. But more important than that, you are going to give untold children a chance of life. I can see it. In your future. You're going to be...fantastic."
24 December 1995 - The Impresario on 42nd Street
He wasn't usually this indecisive.
Mr Edmund Schellhammer, Broadway producer and star-maker, chewed on his soggy cheroot and frowned at the three glossy photographs arraigned on his desk.
Outside his office, the gridlocked Christmas Eve traffic on 42nd Street played its angry concerto. It was all background noise to him as he weighed up his options. This was the last role to be cast for the new show and he had promised a decision in time for the New Year rehearsals.
All of them could handle the role. It wasn't a lead by any means, but it needed the right girl. He frowned and stood looking out onto the street below.
Perhaps her...but there was something not quite right...or her...but she seemed a tad too old...
Schellhammer scowled as his intercom buzzed.
"What is it, Miss Conway? I thought I told you I was not to be disturbed."
"I'm sorry, Mr Schellhammer. T-there's an urgent package for you. Special delivery..." His secretary sounded nervous.
Schellhammer sighed. Maybe the distraction would help. "Bring it through."
The padded envelope was book-sized, addressed to him personally and covered with 'private and confidential' stickers. Schellhammer had an idea what it was and was not surprised when he opened it.
A VHS cassette. There was no covering note, just the video.
Schellhammer sighed again. Not really the time for casting tapes. How the hell had this one got through the usual filtering system in the post room? Miss Conway confirmed that it had just been hand-delivered, before she hurried out of the office.
What the heck. His train of thought had gone anyway.
Schellhammer stuck the tape into his machine and switched on the TV.
There was the usual flurry of static before the picture formed.
Schellhammer edged forward. Cute, he thought.
Someone had really done their homework. It was fairly common knowledge around the industry that Edmund Schellhammer was a big Chaplin buff. His own father had worked at the Hal Roach studios in a few bit parts. Someone had obviously traded on that knowledge when making this pitch.
The Chaplin impersonator staring out of the screen at him was certainly among the best Schellhammer had ever seen. He was sitting in a directorial chair in full costume – The Little Tramp. In fact, Schellhammer had to re-evaluate his first impression. This was probably THE best Chaplin impersonator he had ever seen. It could almost be him – except for the simple mistake of the colour picture, of course.
Then the impersonator spoke, apparently to the cameraman. "Is that thing running, Doc?"
"Yep," was the disembodied reply. "Hold on a sec, Chas."
The picture pulled back to show a studio back-lot. Intrigued, Schellhammer squinted at the screen.
By God, that's good...
The picture zoomed back in on the seated figure.
"OK, Chas. In your own good time."
'Chaplin' looked at his watch. "It's just before noon on 1 June 1916 and I'm due on set in five minutes." He stared out of the screen. "But I've always got time for an old friend."
"Cheers, Chas," came the voice from behind the camera.
"Can you hear me, Mr Schellhammer? Mr Edmund Schellhammer? Out there on 42nd Street?"
Schellhammer's cigar drooped a little.
"According to my friend here it's just about three forty-five, 24 December 1995 where you are."
Schellhammer looked instinctively at his watch and his cigar drooped even lower.
"Now, Mr Schellhammer. You know who I am, don't you? And I've been asked to pass on a recommendation to you, for that part you are having difficulty in casting. You'll need a pen and some paper..."
Almost hypnotically, Schellhammer reached over and snatched up a pen and paper from his desk.
"I can't say for sure, of course" said the figure. "She hasn't even been born yet. But my friend thinks she might be worth looking at..."
Just then a hesitant young man entered the scene from the left hand side of the screen.
"Sorry Mr Chaplin. The director sent me over. We're ready to roll..."
"OK, Billy. Tell him I'll be right there."
The newcomer shuffled out of shot.
Chaplin looked at the camera. "Got to go, Edmund. But you know who that was don't you? That bit player? Billy Schellhammer. Nice kid..."
Schellhamer's cigar had dropped, unheeded, to the floor. Tears rolled down his cheeks.
Chaplin stood. "Oh, one last thing...and for some reason my friend finds this very amusing...This tape will self-destruct in five seconds."
The screen went blank. It was some moments before Schellhammer realised that there was smoke issuing from his tape machine. Trance-like he ejected the video and stared down stupidly at the blistered plastic case.
He sank into his chair, heart pounding. Was he overworked? Dreaming? But he looked at the paper on his desk. That was real enough.
He waited for his breathing to steady and pressed the button on his intercom with a still-trembling finger.
"Miss Conway. Get on to Central casting. Find out all you can about -" he glanced at the paper, "- Bonita Curillo."
23 December 1997 – Broadway
There was the usual shuffling and murmuring from the assembling audience in the auditorium as the Doctor and Donna took their seats.
Donna plonked herself in her chair with unnecessary vigour and folded her arms, staring straight ahead.
" Anything the matter?" asked the Doctor, a hint of a smile at his lips. "Seats not good enough?"
Donna sighed. And when Donna sighed it was enough to melt metal.
"Best seats I could get -"
"It's not the ruddy seats," she hissed. "I was expecting something special."
"Oh, a Broadway show is always something special," grinned her companion, studying his Playbill.
Donna turned on him. "'I'll show you the birth of a star', you said. I was expecting something...cosmic. You know, clouds of coloured gas in outer space...all that stuff."
"The birth of a star is what I promised. That's what you'll get."
He passed over an insert that had slipped out of his programme. It was a girl's photograph. Underneath the photo Donna read 'The role of Sandy will be played this evening by Bonita Curillo.'
The overture struck up.
23 December 2043 – The Bronx Cemetery
The group shivered as a cold wind whistled along the prim boulevard. There were about thirty of them, standing in a horseshoe around a tour guide. Behind him was an impressive marble structure depicting the twin masks of comedy and tragedy,
"And now we come to the final resting place of one of the world's greatest stars," he said to the group. "There are certain personalities who are so famous that you only need to hear their first name. Elvis, Marilyn, John, Paul, George and Ringo, Madonna and of course, Bonita. This is the last resting place of Bonita Curillo, born here in the Bronx on 16 October 1975 and died just two years ago, to this very day; on 23 December 2041, following complications of pneumonia. I hardly need to go through her list of achievements. Three Oscars, four Tonys, and six Emmys. Nor the fact that she graduated from a glittering career on stage, screen and TV to become one of Hollywood's most powerful women.
All of this is well known. But we must always remember her crowning achievement; The Bonita Foundation. She diverted most of her earnings into her charity work. In fact she died virtually penniless, as several of her ex-husbands found out when they tried to contest her will."
There was a general titter from the group.
"Bonita never had children of her own but her impact on the children of the world is astonishing. They say she had a deprived and abusive childhood and that is why all her charitable efforts were focused on the young. From providing clean water in Africa, to medical treatment, inoculations, paediatric hospitals and so on. Even after her death this work will continue. All royalties and residuals go to her foundation. It is estimated that some 500,000 children worldwide are alive today because of Bonita Curillo."
There was a smattering of applause at this.
Pictures were taken, people posing before the monument before the group moved off towards the cemetery gates, where their coach awaited them for the continuation of their Big City tour.
All except for two, who stood together at the headstone.
"You knew her then?" said Amy, shivering against the wind.
The Doctor smiled. "I knew her when she was just an elf," he said.
Elf? Amy resisted the temptation to ask.
"Was she one of...us? You know, did she travel with you?"
The Doctor shook his head. "She was destined for great things here. I gave her a hand I suppose. Did you hear him, Pond? All those children..."
"She must have been some lady."
The Doctor hopped over the little balustrade and rested his head on cold marble.
He whispered. "Did you hear that, Bonita Curillo? 500,000 children. You are their Kris Kringle. Sleep well, little elf."
He straightened up, rejoined Amy and together they walked away down the little boulevard just as snow began to fall.