From the Publisher
“A witty and delightful inside-out Faust with angelic choirs, a variety of loving, and an ending with a special twist. Greely has fashioned a novel about learning to love and doing it well.” San Antonio Express-News on Contract with an Angel
“Sit back and enjoy novel-writing Catholic priest Andrew M. Greely's little fantasy about a wealthy and powerful businessman who turns his life around--none too soon--after a visit from a Seraph.” Dallas Morning News on Contract with an Angel
On a flight into Chicago, millionaire media mogul Raymond Neenan is visited by his guardian angel. Michael informs Neenan that his life is almost over and that he needs to make amends for mistreating people in his profit-centered existence, among them his wife; his estranged offspring, who hate him; and numerous business associates. With Michael's careful orchestration, Neenan is able to resolve issues with this diverse group and even seems to enjoy his newfound attitude. While not great literature, Contract will keep demand high from fans of Father Greeley (An Occasion of Sin). Very capably read by Dick Hill, this is recommended for most public libraries.--David Scott, Southwestern Oklahoma State Univ., Weatherford Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Greeley (Summer at the Lake, 1997, etc. etc.) returns with more High Blarney, this time with an inversion on the Faust legend in which an atheist sells his soul to an angel. While flying into Chicago's O`Hare airport, cynical media mogul Raymond Neenan finds the empty first-class seat beside him invaded by the brown-skinned Archangel Michael, the six-foot-six head of the heavenly armies, whoþs flourishing a contract for him to sign. Neenan must sell his soul to Michael, heþs told, or go down with the plane. To sweeten the deal, the angel also gives him a brief but ecstatic taste of paradise. Neenan thinks he's hallucinating and, with nothing to lose, signs. Foremost in the contract, he has to give up his womanizing, predatory business practices and sharply sharkish bent toward everything consumable. Gradually, though, Neenan becomes convinced that he didnþt imagine the event. In unmaking the mess he's made of his life, the once fearsome Neenan turns cuddly with his office staff and son Vincent, romances his wife, Anna Maria (while an angelic choir that only he can hear sings joyously), accepts her advice about filming an eight-hour miniseries of Susan Howatchþs Starbridge, and decides to offer Loyola University, her alma mater, $5 million to fund four chairs in the humanities. He must also patch things up with his first wife and with the children by that marriage, who detest him. None of this provides much conflict, although Greeley clearly has a ball as the authorial angel setting miracles in motion. Amusingly, while sitting through a performance of Gounod's Faust (whose chorus gets a blissful assist from real choirs of angels), Neenan discovers thatasidefrom Anna Mariahe's spent his life seeking carbon copies of his punitive, mean-spirited, grudging mother. Will Raymond clear up his life's mess before a death warning is fulfilled and he has to check out the light in the tunnel? Should be read with Palestrina Masses playing in the background.
Read an Excerpt
Contract with an Angel
By Greeley, Andrew M.
Tor Books Copyright © 1999 Greeley, Andrew M.
All right reserved.
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 ingrammar 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. What 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 has 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 onto 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 gently, "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 fiftyfive. 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 want 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 the 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 experience all through your life."
"When your son was born."
"If he's an asshole, you had a lot to do with his becoming as 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.
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 in 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 gentleman, 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.
Copyright 1998 by Andrew M. Greeley Enterprises, Ltd.
Excerpted from Contract with an Angel by Greeley, Andrew M. Copyright © 1999 by Greeley, Andrew M.. Excerpted by permission.
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