The Vatican was not without their resources. As the United States has access to various agencies for specific yet unregulated work (did you really think a toilet seat costs $4,000?) so does the Vatican. Many of these small offices were uncovered and dismantled during the short term of Pope Francis I. His Holiness’s eagerness to help the poor, hurting, and disenfranchised and his zeal to rein in the rampant growth of greedy capitalists, elitists, and even those at the Vatican whose goal was to increase not the number of the faithful, but the bottom line were what ultimately led to his assassination from inside his own chosen circle of advisors. And from that small circle of advisors the white smoke had risen for the newest leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Leo XIV.
Since that time those agencies had been reinstated and grown in power. It was from these offices that Cardinal Marin called for backup. Paul Marin felt that he was certainly up to the challenge ahead of him, but no one could deny that Paul Marin was also not an easy man to miss, once seen. A gift for anonymity had never been his strong suit. So on a gray, slushy Tuesday morning in March, Cardinal Marin pulled up to the short-term parking lot at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, pulled the stamped ticket from the automated machine, and drove his rented BMW into the covered parking structure attempting to find a spot as close to the elevator as possible. Ten minutes later he had navigated out of the parking garage and was standing just outside the baggage area for his passengers to emerge, sans priests’ collars as he had instructed.
The cardinal had called in three of his top “lieutenants” as he liked to refer to them: Father Anthony Paglia, originally from New York with a masters degree in biochemistry from Harvard; Father Mitchell Zeminick of Cleveland, Ohio, something of an over-achiever with a double masters in biology and physics; and Father Francis Zolnierczak, born right here in Detroit, Michigan, receiving his undergraduate degree at the University of Detroit and his MD at the University of Michigan. All three were scientists who for reasons known only to them and their personal confessor had turned to the priesthood and were now integral parts of the investigative teams of the Holy See at the Vatican. As of today their mission had begun and they were no longer Father Paglia, Father Zeminick and Father Zolnierczak, they were simply Tony, Mitch and Frank: three soon-to-be new members of St. Florian Roman Catholic Church.
Cardinal Marin tilted his head toward the direction of the parking structure and smiled. “Welcome to Detroit, boys.”
Father Paglia spoke up first. “Does Detroit always smell like this?”
“Like what?” Father Zolnierczak looked at him, his forehead wrinkled, his shoulders raised.
“Seriously? You can’t smell that? The air. It smells like ten or twelve diesel trucks have surrounded us.”
“S’cuse me, Tony. Oh, I mean, Mr. ‘Ivy League Harvard Paris Vatican City Only Breathes Clean Air.’ This happens to be the Motor City. Most people around the world are familiar with the Motor City. And there’s a very good chance that your old man made a lot of the money that sent you to Harvard and Paris on the investments he made in the auto industry. Knocking something that probably got you most of the perks you’ve enjoyed most of your life seems downright churlish.”
“Hold your horses, Frank. If you took your nose out of a book once in a while, you might have heard that the auto industry tanked years ago. Though I must admit, you’re probably right about how the old man made his money. He was quite tight with the Ford family, if I remember correctly. Anyway…”
“That will be quite enough, gentlemen, and I’m using that term with high hopes for the future. Understood?” They all nodded. “Good, now get in the car so we can get on with this investigation. Now then, we’ll go to the hotel, have something to eat, and put our game plan together.”
“Cardinal?” Father Zeminick spoke quietly from the back seat. “If three strangers show up at this guy’s church all at the same time and just join up and start hanging around, don’t you think he’ll start wondering about a setup? I know I would.”
“Which is why that is not what’s going to happen. We’ll be at the hotel in less than ten minutes, and I’ll lay it all out for you. Until then, just give me some peace and quiet.” Cardinal Marin turned on the local NPR station and concentrated on the classical music as he smoothly merged the luxury auto onto I-94 East, headed toward their destination.
Finally the cardinal and his associates were comfortably seated in his new suite at the Book Cadillac Hotel in downtown Detroit. As far as anyone at St. Florian’s was concerned, the investigation was over and he had gone back to Rome. Coffee and assorted bagels and muffins had been delivered and at least one of the party’s appetite had been sated, namely Cardinal Marin’s. They had all happily poured coffee for themselves and Father Zolnierczak had helped himself to a bagel with a bit of cream cheese, but their fearless leader had tucked into most of the rest of the mid-morning feast.
Wiping the last few crumbs of a muffin from the front of his sweater, the cardinal retrieved his briefcase from the desk, pulled some papers from it, and finally spoke. “I have everything you’re going to need for your covers right here.” He handed each of them a folder. “Just take a second to look them over. You’ll have plenty of time to study them later on. For now I’d just like to touch on the highlights.
“Tony, the Josephine Ford Cancer Center is where you’ll be spending your working hours, well about twenty hours a week anyway. One of the biochemists in their research department will be going on maternity leave in two weeks. They’re expecting you Monday morning at eight. The information is all there in your folder.”
Tony nodded. “Sounds good.”
The cardinal went on. “As for you, Frank, the asthma clinic at Children’s Hospital in Detroit is looking for a doctor to temporarily fill in for one of their regular physicians who was recently killed in an auto accident, and fortunately for us, your resume fits the bill. They require you Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and to be on call every other weekend. All the relevant details are in there for your review. Any questions?”
Frank shook his head; he was glancing through the folder.
“And finally we come to you, Mitch. I’ve arranged for a consulting position for you with Ford Motor. They were very impressed with your resume and were happy to get you, even on a consulting basis for their R&D department. This shouldn’t take up too much of your time, and as you know we can’t really come off as part of the community unless you’re all really embedded.”
“That’s great,” said Father Zeminick. “I wouldn’t mind getting my hands dirty again. This could be a lot of fun.”
The cardinal was not smiling. “We’re not here for fun, Mitch. Try and remember that.”
The priest’s already pale coloring went from pale ivory to red hot in zero to sixty seconds. “Yes, cardinal. Of course.” His two accomplices snickered.
Cardinal Marin didn’t. “Do you guys think this is funny? Do you think this is going to be a paid vacation to the States? Are you planning on taking some time to catch up with family and old friends while you’re in the country? Because if you are you can put down those damn coffee cups, put on your coats, and I’ll have you back on a plane to Rome before you can say two Our Fathers. Am I making myself perfectly clear?”
All three stood. In unison they answered, “Yes, Cardinal Marin.”
“That’s better. Sit down and pay attention.” They sat, again in unison. They appeared as if they were back in parochial school and being dressed down for talking out of turn. The cardinal had all he could do to keep from losing his composure. He could feel an enormous bubble of mirth deep in his gut that was just aching to be released. But he needed to maintain complete control. In a situation like this, the best thing to do was to use fear, and that’s exactly what he would do.
He looked them squarely in the eye, then turned his back on them and spoke. “I am really not sure that you three are right for this assignment. No. Not right at all. I’m going to need some time to think about this. I may have to call Cardinal Vignola at the Vatican. We’ll discuss the matter. For now, stay here and study the files I gave you. I’ll give you my decision when I return.” Then he picked up his coat and hurriedly walked out of the room, slamming the door as he left.
Barely making his way out the door, by the time he got to the elevator he had a full-blown, pre-teen girlish case of the giggles that he just could not control. This was like a bad case of the hiccups, only worse because every time he pictured their faces and the way they stood and sat together as if they were joined at the hip, the giggles started all over again. Thank God and all His angels that the elevator was empty. He pressed the button for the lobby, and when he finally reached it and the door opened, he headed straight for the coffee shop. Perhaps with a croissant and a good cup of cappuccino, he could gain control of himself.