Contract with an Angel: A Moving Tale of Redemption in the Tradition of It's a Wonderful Life

Contract with an Angel: A Moving Tale of Redemption in the Tradition of It's a Wonderful Life

by Andrew M. Greeley

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Millionaire media mogul Raymond Neenan can't believe his ears—or his eyes. the seat next to him, empty for the whole flight, now barely contains a huge man who looks a lot like Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan.

In fact, the "man" is the Archangel Michael ("Not Mike, not Mikey, but Michael. you got a problem with that?), and he's looking to make a deal for Neenan's immortal soul.

Neenan isn't interested in his soul or anyone else's unless there is money in it, but a little well-timed turbulence that sends the plane hurtling earthward caused him to reconsider. If he doesn't believe in it, what could it hurt to sign?

But for a man like Neenan,making amends is no easy task. Though he never knew it, he's damaged a lot of lives, including his own. He's hated or feared by his parents, his ex-wife, his children, and practically everyone he's ever met.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780765333797
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 07/15/1999
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 409,302
Product dimensions: 4.90(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

A native of Chicago, Reverend Andrew M. Greeley, is a priest, distinguished sociologist and bestselling author. He is professor of social sciences at the University of Chicago and the University of Arizona, as well as Research Associate at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. His current sociological research focuses on current issues facing the Catholic Church-including celibacy of priests, ordination of women, religious imagination, and sexual behavior of Catholics.

Father Greeley received the S.T.L. in 1954 from St. Mary of Lake Seminary. His graduate work was done at the University of Chicago, where he received the M.A. Degree in 1961 and the Ph.D. in 1962.

Father Greeley has written scores of books and hundreds of popular and scholarly articles on a variety of issues in sociology, education and religion. His column on political, church and social issues is carried by the carried by the Chicago Sun Times and may other newspapers. He stimulates discussion of neglected issues and often anticipates sociological trends. He is the author of more than thirty bestselling novels and an autobiography, Furthermore!: Confessions of a Parish Priest.

Read an Excerpt

Contract with an Angel

By Andrew M. Greeley

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 1998 Andrew M. Greeley Enterprises, Ltd.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-9702-7


"The scenario says you don't have much longer to live, Raymond Anthony Neenan," the man in the next seat said to him. "You'd better straighten out the mess you've made of your life."

Neenan hadn't noticed anyone sitting next to him on the Saturday-morning trip from Washington National to Chicago. He glanced at his companion, the only other person in the first-class section of the plane — a large black man in a brown suit, brown shirt, brown tie, brown shoes, and brown homburg. He was perhaps six feet six inches tall and as solid as an apartment building, an NFL linebacker or an NBA power forward. He was wearing a large diamond earring.

Pushy, Neenan thought to himself. Probably some kind of Bible-thumping preacher. He felt a slight jolt in his stomach. He should not have eaten that spicy salad at brunch.

He sipped from his vodka glass. Crummy stuff. Served him right for traveling commercial. His Grumman Gulfstream was out of service for repairs. Should buy another one. His time was too valuable to waste on this commercial junk, particularly in bad weather.

"My name is Michael," said the black man, "not Mike, not Mickey, but Michael. As in Michael Jordan. You got a problem with that?"

Neenan ignored him. Best way to treat pests since the law forbade strangling them.

"I'm a seraph," the black man continued. "In fact, as you will remember from Sister John Mark's class in grammar school, Raymond Anthony Neenan, I am the boss seraph."

Neenan snapped his fingers for the cabin attendant. He had turned on his charming smile for her when he boarded the plane — as he always did for service personnel who might contribute to his comfort. He had long since given up pursuing such women for his own pleasure. However attractive, they were generally empty and uninteresting.

"Yes, Mr. Neenan?"

He was about to ask her if he could change seats because the man next to him was annoying him. He stopped just in time. The seat was vacant. Neenan felt fear stab at him, the kind of fear that assailed him on those rare occasions when he could not escape entering a cemetery.

"Would you mind freshening up my drink?" he asked, smiling again.

"Certainly, Mr. Neenan," she said with a faint blush. Women tended to blush when he smiled at them, flattered and a little frightened.

"She can't see me, Ray," the black man said in a rich baritone voice. "Or hear what you're saying when you talk to me. Very few people are able to see us unless we want them to."

The cabin attendant brought back the replenished vodka. Neenan sipped it. It was terrible, no vodka at all, some kind of rotgut gin.

"Don't like it, huh?" the black man said with a smile that disclosed a mouthful of perfect teeth. "I'll see what I can do. Try it now."

Neenan didn't want to play the game, but he sipped the vodka again. It was the best he'd ever tasted. It reminded him of the body of a beautiful woman — soft, smooth, exciting.

"What brand?" he demanded.

"Something we make ourselves," the other replied with a grin. "You can't buy it, no matter how much money you have."

Lightning crackled near the plane. If it had not been for the stupid delay at Washington National, they would have beaten the weather front into Chicago.

"What the hell do you want?" Neenan demanded irritably.

"Your immortal soul," Michael responded promptly. "Well, that's the way you'd describe it.... I want to make a deal with you for your immortal soul."

Neenan sipped the vodka again. Absolutely superb.

"I don't believe in souls," Neenan told him. "I don't believe in God or heaven or hell or the devil or angels."

"So I understand," the Michael person said in a slow drawl. "So I understand.... What happens to you after you die?"

"We're like flashlight batteries. When we run out of energy, people throw us away and get new ones. There's nothing beyond this life. So we enjoy this one as best we can."

"And develop sophisticated tastes in pleasure."

Neenan shrugged his broad shoulders. "I'm a rich and powerful man. I can have whatever I want and whoever I want."

"A conqueror, just like the Huns or the Viking pirates."

Neenan had often used that image in his mind to describe himself. He had never mentioned it to anyone else.

"You take what you can while you can," he replied.

"Destroy men and conquer women?"

"I never killed or raped anyone." Why did this damn ape make him feel guilty?

"Big deal," Michael scoffed. "Actually you can't have everything you want. You can't have immortality, for example. And not every woman is a pushover for your charm either."

Lightning sizzled again, close to the plane, which rocked uneasily and swayed from side to side.

"I learned how to survive," Neenan continued. "Life is a jungle. You get them before they get you. Most of the men I beat were out to get me."

He recalled with pleasure the battle with Harvey Scott, who had dared to try an unfriendly takeover of his cable company. He had driven Harvey out of the industry and seduced his wife. Amy Scott had been a particularly delicious prize.

"Including your father, your son, the men you cheated out of their pensions, the workers you fired?"

"They were all out to take away what was mine."

"You're going to lose that pension case, you know that."

Why was he wasting his time babbling with this freak? "You're dead wrong. I have the best lawyers in the country. We'll wear them into the ground. Stall the case for years."

"Use the law to cheat them?"

"I didn't make the laws."

"You'll lose, maybe even while you're still alive."

"What the hell do you care?"

"It's my job to salvage your immortal soul."

"I don't have one ... and why should it matter to you?"

Michael said genially, "As far as I'm concerned, you're a worthless pile of refuse. But the Other wants us to make you a project. We generally do what we're asked to do."

"I don't believe I'm going to die."

"All creatures die."

"I know that. I'm in good health. I'm only fifty-five. I'm not about to die anytime soon."


"When am I supposed to die?" Neenan demanded as fear probed again at his gut.

"We don't usually know the exact details. Soon. Maybe before Christmas."

"Look, I don't know who you are or what you want. But whatever it is, leave me alone. I've got a stack of reports to read before we get to Chicago."

"I told you what I want: your immortal soul."

Suddenly the jet careened over on its wingtip in a sickening lurch and plunged out of control toward earth. Trays and dishes ricocheted around the cabin. Men and women screamed. The plane's structure groaned as it tried to tear itself apart. Neenan's body was pinned against his seat belt. His life rushed before his eyes. He didn't give a damn. He clenched his fists and waited for the end. Then he did give a damn.

"Save me!" he shouted.

The plane leveled off and continued on its course to Chicago. He looked around the cabin. Nothing had happened.

"Nice fake," he said as he gasped for breath. "Am I supposed to be frightened by the thought of hell or something like that?"

"It wasn't a fake," Michael said. "Look at the marks your fingernails made in your palms."

"Fake," Neenan repeated. "Good fake, scary fake, but still a fake. Now leave me alone."

"We don't use the hell metaphor much anymore. It's been misused too often."

"What else you got?"

"There's always love."

"That's not worth a damn."

Then time stopped for Ray Neenan. He was filled with love and light and laughter and joy and hope. He knew the whole universe and his place in it. Everything converged around him and absorbed him. He knew that all would be well. He was absorbed in happiness, bathed in wonder and surprise, possessed utterly and completely by love. He floated on waves of ecstasy that seemed endless. He rode the crest of eternity. Later when trying to describe to himself what had happened, he would say that the pleasure made orgasm look like a bite of candy.

Slowly it all faded, yet not completely. An afterglow of love lingered with him, consoling him, reassuring him, caressing him.

"That was a fake too?" Michael demanded.

"Was that supposed to be God?" Neenan gasped.

"It will do as a hint."

"And if I don't shape up, I lose that?"

"Appeal to your gambler's instinct?"

Neenan rubbed his hand across his face. "It was better than the best woman."

"You have a dirty mind," Michael said calmly.

"You know what I mean."

"Yeah.... Now, do we have a deal?"

"What's the deal?"

"You agree to sell your soul to me and maybe we save it."

"What do you mean sell my soul to you? Am I supposed to be Faust to your Mephistopheles?"

"You shouldn't take the opera version too seriously. Nor Goethe either. We bailed that idiot out at the last minute, but only because Marguerite wanted us to."

Michael produced a legal-looking document bound in a gold ribbon. He unrolled it and presented it to Neenan.

I the undersigned, Raymond Anthony Neenan, also known as "R. A.," do hereby admit that I am a worthless piece of excrement. Nevertheless, in view of the possibility of saving my immoral soul I do also hereby agree to entrust it to the supervision of Michael, chief of the heavenly hosts. I will follow all the instructions of said Michael to the best of my ability, so help me God.

"You mean immortal soul?" Neenan asked.

"Hmnn ..." The alleged seraph peered over Neenan's shoulder. "Isn't that what we say?"

The letter t suddenly inserted itself.

"Better get a new secretary," Neenan murmured.

Michael ignored him. "Soul is a word of which we're not particularly fond," Michael said smoothly. "Not salvation either, as far as that goes. We're interested in the fulfillment of the total person, as psychologists would say today. However, since you've learned almost nothing about religion since the sixth grade, we felt that these terms would have to do."

"Am I a slave or something?"

"Nonsense! We make suggestions, you consider them and follow them. We'll negotiate the small stuff."

The last sentence was a line that Ray Neenan had often used himself. Those who knew him never trusted him when he said that.

"I'm no mystic," he said, trying to stall, as he often did in negotiations.

"That wasn't the first time," Michael replied.

"What do you mean?"

"You had experiences like that when you were a little boy, before you went to kindergarten. You've never forgotten them. You've resisted similar experiences all through your life."

"Like when?"

"When your son was born."

"That asshole."

"If he's an asshole, you had a lot to do with his becoming an asshole.... Now, here's a pen, sign it!"

The pen was apparently of solid gold and thick. Seraphs apparently deserved the best pens.

Neenan hesitated. "How long do I have?"

"Frankly, as I said before, I don't know. Long enough to straighten out enough of your messes."

Frankly was another word that signaled those who knew him to be wary of R. A. Neenan.

"You softened me up with that fake crash and then knocked me over with that ecstasy stuff."

"It wasn't a fake. It's what would have happened if we hadn't intervened. The pilot on this plane didn't make all the checks he should have. More pilot error."

"Do you do these things often?"

"Prevent crashes? Why do you think there are not a lot more of them? Sign it!"

None of this was actually happening, he told himself. It was all a dream, a silly fantasy. There were no angels, much less seraphs. He was not going to die soon. There was no life after death. He was not being asked to turn his soul over to a large, black angel with a jewel in his ear.

There was, Ray Neenan figured, nothing much to lose. It was a win-win situation. Later he would conclude that he had miscalculated.

So he took the fat, gold-and-ivory pen from the alleged seraph and affixed to the document the famous and frightening signature for which he had become famous.

R. A. Neenan

The plane was filled with music and unbearably beautiful song, better music and far better song than he had ever heard in the great opera houses of the world. Neenan didn't understand the words — they were in no language he had ever heard. But he knew that they were songs of celebration, indeed of unspeakable joy.

"What's that?" he demanded.

"Oh, don't pay any attention to them," Michael said, waving a dismissive hand. "Some of my colleagues like to sing."

"When they think they've landed another fish."

"I wouldn't put it that.... Now, since we're going to have to circle around Lake Michigan for another hour or so, let's negotiate some of the small stuff."

"The pilot didn't announce that."

"I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen, we have an air traffic problem at O'Hare due to the thunderstorm which you can see to the north of the city. They're vectoring us over the Lake now. We expect an approach in ten to fifteen minutes."

The damn angelic chorus sang more loudly and more joyfully.

Hell, I must be a really big fish.


"First of all," Michael said, relaxing in his seat, "there is the matter of your parents."

"Senile fools," Neenan snorted.

"Ah, ah." Michael waved a warning finger. "We don't like that kind of language."

"It's true."

"It is fair to say your mother suffers from a serious case of Alzheimer's syndrome."

"And has for most of her life."

"Your father, however, is quite sane."

"And as mean and nasty as ever. He resents my success. You'd think he'd be happy that his son is one of the richest and most successful men in the telecommunications industry. Instead he hates me for becoming everything he wanted to be and couldn't because his wife wouldn't let him."

"A fact which you drive home to him on every possible occasion."

"He has it coming."

"I will not try to dispute that. Nonetheless you must try to make peace with him. His reaction to that is his problem."

"I don't want to."

"Might I remind you that you're under contract?"

Laurence and Maude Neenan had married in 1941. He was a corporal in the army, one of the first men drafted as America prepared for war. She had graduated the year before from Immaculata High School. He was four years older than she was. Both of them had grown up in St. Jerome's parish on the north side of the city, not too far from the Lake. He had paid no attention to her until he came home on his leave after his basic training, afraid of death and hungry for the body of a woman. He was overwhelmed by her full-bodied beauty. Who seduced whom was never clear, though in later life they would blame one another. They were married before he left for Hawaii after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the bride already three months pregnant.

In the wedding photograph, Laurence Neenan, a small, furtive man in a badly fitting uniform, looked like a trapped animal.

Raymond Anthony Neenan was the only child of that shotgun marriage. When his mother was unhappy with him because he did not follow her wishes that he become a priest, she would tell him that he was not good enough for the priesthood because he had been conceived in a rape. Larry Neenan suggested to him that someone else was probably his father because he did not resemble either of his parents. It had been easy to hate both of them all his life.

Larry's father, the original Raymond Anthony Neenan, had survived the Great Depression by operating a small machine shop on Irving Park Road. According to Maude, the elder Ray was a crook who cheated every customer who ever trusted him. The younger Ray never had any reason to doubt this charge.

Nor did he ever have any reason to reject Larry's suspicions about his parentage. A tall, husky, good-looking kid, he resembled neither of his parents. He did not consider his mother's obsessive piety as evidence that she had always been virtuous.

Larry came home from the war in 1945, having never left a supply depot in Hawaii. In early 1946 his father died. Larry inherited the machine shop and a small radio station in Elgin, Illinois, in the Fox River valley, which the elder Ray had picked up as a bargain in 1935. Both possessions were potential gold mines in the immediate postwar years. However, Maude, who had seized control of the inheritance before Larry's return, was certain that the Depression would return and forbade expansion of either enterprise. As it was, the Neenans made a lot of money in the postwar years, but Maude doomed Larry's dreams of becoming rich and famous.


Excerpted from Contract with an Angel by Andrew M. Greeley. Copyright © 1998 Andrew M. Greeley Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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