LAST CHANCE

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Chapter 10

“More coffee, Father?” Mary Radnaezewski lifted the pot and was refilling Arnold’s cup before he had a chance to decline. “I can’t tell you how much we appreciate you coming all the way to Staten Island to talk to us about Cass. He’d be so proud. Although I’m sure he’d never admit that even to himself.”

“That’s a fact. Cass didn’t need to take any vows to keep him humble, he’s just always been that way, almost like he was born to be a priest. Now, I’m not just saying that because I’m his dad, Father Fouchey. I’m telling you this straight up. I can show you his report cards from grade school on up, and they’ll tell you the same thing. Comportment, conduct, all his teachers said the same thing every year – he was a good boy who only cared about his fellow students and doing the right thing. We were blessed when we found him, weren’t we, dear?”

“We really were, Fred. God must have thought we’d done something right to deserve a boy like our Cass. And I guess now the church has recognized him too. Father Fouchey, I’m so sorry to be going on and on like this. Is there anything else that Fred or I could tell you?”

“Well, Mrs. Radnaezewski, you and your husband have been ever so helpful in the beginning stages of my investigation for the series we’re doing for the Michigan Catholic on priests who are making a difference in inner-city parishes. The last hour we have spent together has filled my notebook with enough info to probably write an entire article, though I’ll still need input from his parishioners, which is my very next stop.”

The light in Mrs. Radnaezewski’s eyes lit up her face and erased the past forty years, giving Arnold Park an idea of how she must have looked when she was a young wife and mother. Her eyes were a bright blue that still remained vivid and as she looked into her husband’s eyes, the detective noted that his eyes were also blue. And then pop! As often happened in his experience, two seemingly unrelated, unimportant facts wove themselves together into a wonderful, chewy, delicious clue.

Mary and Fred Radnaezewski both had blue eyes, yet in the photo Arnold had studied of Father Cass, the priest definitely had brown eyes, dark brown eyes. Arnold hadn’t been a particularly fabulous student in high school biology, but in his time as a private investigator the things he had learned had been burned into his brain never to be forgotten. One of those things was that in the matter of eye color, ninety nine percent of the time, two blue-eyed parents would produce blue-eyed children. And the other thing was that Mary Radnaezewski had said that they were blessed when they ‘found’ him.

He stood and began to gather his papers into his briefcase, smiling benevolently at the two beaming parents. Father Cass’s mother said, “I’m so very glad we could be so helpful. You’re sure there’s nothing else we can do for you?”

“No, I think you’ve given me everything I needed. Thank you for the coffee and for just everything.” He picked up his overcoat and then stopped. “You know, there is just one thing you mentioned that I was wondering about. You mentioned that you were blessed when you found Father Cass. What did you mean when you said ‘found,’ if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Mary?”

“Fred, why would anyone care now? In fact, I think I think the whole thing beautifully illustrates even more about the way God works. The truth, Father Fouchey is that Cass was adopted. For whatever reason we were never able to have children. We tried, but we were never blessed in that way. But we really wanted a family, so we looked into adoption.”

“I’ve heard that can be a test of faith in itself, what with the questionnaires and the long waiting lists and all.

Mary Radnaezewski’s eyes sparkled as she smiled. “But that’s what was odd; the struggle I mean, we never had one. I was helping out at Brooklyn Memorial Hospital, just volunteering, you know? And I mentioned to one of the nurses, I think her name was Helen, she worked up in the nursery with the newborns, that we wanted to adopt, and before I could say a thing, which I couldn’t by the way, because I’m sure my mouth was hanging open just like a monkey. Well you wouldn’t believe it.”

“Let me cut to the chase for you, Father Fouchey,” interrupted Fred. “The fact is that Cass had just been born that morning to a little girl, only twenty-two years old, who had died giving birth. There was no father on record and I guess her folks were so torn up, they decided the best thing to do was just cut ties altogether and find him a good adoptive home. Well, wham! There we were, ready, wiling, and more than able to give that youngster the best home ever. So a match was made. Almost like the Lord Himself had arranged the whole thing - not quite, but almost.”

Arnold Park’s investigative antennae jumped to attention. “Well that is just about the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard. How fortuitous for you that you were in the right place at the right time. But you know what they say, ‘God works in mysterious ways.’ But what did you mean about it being ‘almost’ like the Lord Himself had arranged the whole thing, but not quite? You’ve got me really puzzled there.”

Fred’s face turned a deep shade of red. “Oh, nothing really. I was just talking out of my hat. Don’t pay any attention to me.”

Mary gave him a playful squeeze and shook her head. “Honey, none of that matters now. Cass is a wonderful Catholic priest. None of that is the least bit relevant, really. Father Fouchey, when we adopted Cass, since we didn’t go through regular channels and all, we actually met his grandparents and his mother’s two brothers. They were all there at the hospital. I guess they wanted to see him before we took him home. But here’s the thing. Cass’s family, they’re Polish like we are. We were so pleased by that. We’re Radnaezewski and they were Zapinsky. They came over in 1940 when things were beginning to heat up in Germany. They left because they’re Jewish, so that would make Cass Jewish too. But none of that is important because Cass is a Catholic priest, right?”

The synapses inside Arnold’s brain were going off like fourth of July fireworks, but on the outside, Father Fouchey put his hand on Mary’s shoulder and calmly said, “Why of course not, dear. Cass is a wonderful priest. Why, we wouldn’t be doing this article on all of the good things he’s done in his parish if he wasn’t a wonderful Catholic priest, would we? Now, dear lady, I think I will have just one more cup of your delicious coffee. I can’t figure out what that extra special flavor is, but I can tell you that I want more.”

“You know, I found a very simple trick and everyone loves my coffee now,” Mary patted her husband’s hand as she reached for the coffee pot. “I add a tablespoon of cinnamon to the coffee grounds. I read about it in a Martha Stewart magazine. I’m so glad you like it.”

Arnold would drink coffee made from grounds sprinkled with horse piss to get this kind of information. Fortunately, the cinnamon was a much more pleasant addition.

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