The temperature was thirty-one degrees; balmy for March, but when wind and humidity were factored in, the air actually felt like a frigid thirteen degrees. Ahhh Michigan! Arnold Park had been born in a double-wide trailer on the outskirts of Reno, Nevada. He was always amused when famous people would talk about how when they were children, they lived a hard-scrabble life and had nothing to play with but sticks and rocks, because what they were describing was Arnold’s real childhood, not some public relations fairytale for a fan magazine.
Arnold’s father had never been in the picture, if there ever was a picture. His mother never talked about him, and the only time Arnold had asked, his mother had slapped his face and then told him to take out the trash. The double - wide trailer they lived in belonged to his grandmother, and after she died, the two of them, Arnold and his mother, stayed on. Their trailer wasn’t in a trailer park like most other trailers people lived in, like some of the kids who went to school with Arnold. Instead, theirs sat alone, surrounded by about an acre of nothing but sand, rocks, and a couple of hundred year - old cacti.
Inside was just as bad, but not as barren. His grandmother had been what his mother referred to as a collector. Of what, Arnold was never quite sure. But there were stacks of stuff everywhere: newspapers, magazines, photographs, plastic dishes, boxes of aluminum foil, Kleenex, rolls of wrapping paper-although he never remembered receiving a gift, wrapped or unwrapped, from his mother or grandmother his entire life. So most of his time was spent outside, in the dirt, literally playing with sticks and rocks.
Living this way gave Arnold a gift that he wouldn’t appreciate until much later in his life-the gift to plan and to wait, which is what he did. He knew he would need a plan if he were ever going to escape that life and create a new one. So he planned, he worked, he waited, and when the time was right, he said, “Adios” to Nevada and got the hell out.
His body was raised in the warmth of the Nevada desert, and although he promised himself he would never return, his blood refused to go along with his resolve and on blustery Michigan days like this one, his core yearned for the desert heat of his childhood.
He stood partially inside the doorway of a dry cleaner not yet open and took a long look down the street once again. Finally. In the distance he spotted under the streetlights the gleam of the black limo, glistening with the morning’s snow flurries. As the vehicle approached, it slowed down and the back door opened. Quickly he jumped in, closed the door, and the car sped away. At this time of the morning, before any of the businesses had opened, the likelihood of being observed was doubtful.
“So, Mr. Park. I hope I didn’t keep you waiting too long. Would you care for a coffee? It’s pretty cold this morning.” Senator Gardner sat comfortably back in the limousine, coat off, sipping at a steaming cup.
Arnold’s teeth were still chattering, and although he wore a pair of leather gloves, he felt as if his fingers were about to fall off. “Don’t mind if I do, if for no other reason than to warm up my hands. Damn, I hate Michigan! Black, one sugar, please.”
The senator poured the coffee, added the sugar, and handed the heavy ceramic mug to Arnold. “What have you found out?”
“The guy’s legit. No mirrors, no smoke, nothing up his sleeves. He’s no Vegas act. And I’m telling you right now. I don’t, repeat don’t, believe in miracles. But everything I checked out tells me that this Father Cass is bona fide. He’s performing miracles. This came from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, before they clammed up and wouldn’t talk to the cardinal that the Vatican sent in from Rome. Also, I had a contact check out the medical records of the stage four cancer patient and the Parkinson’s guy. They both check out. Now the doctors aren’t going to stick their necks out or put their reputations on the line and say these were miracles-I mean, would you? But I’m telling you, I’ve got a feeling about this.”
Senator Gardner was silent for a moment. He took a long look out the window and then turned back to Arnold. “Is Father Cass still holding these prayer circles?”
“I don’t think so. I think the Vatican sending the cardinal in to investigate, kind of spooked him. But there’s something else I haven’t told you yet.”
Arnold Park smiled as if he were a cat caught with a mouthful of feathers. “Father Cass was adopted.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Well, that depends.”
“On if you’re going where I think you’re going with this.
“A Catholic priest performing miracles. Ring any bells? Sounds a lot like Jesus to me, or are we talking about a Second Coming?”
The look on the senator’s face was not amused, but grim. “Just make your point, Mr. Park.”
“The guy is a Jew.”
“He’s Jewish. His birth mother was a Jew. She died giving birth. I just happen to have a copy of the birth certificate. It was an open adoption, and according to the Radnaezewski’s, his mother’s people came over from Germany in 1940, when things were really starting to heat up over there for their people.”
“I’ll be goddamned.”
Arnold Park smiled. “Apparently not if you’re on good terms with Father Cass.”
The detective’s smile was not returned. “This is not something to joke about, Mr. Park. This information could have national, possibly global, implications. Every step we take from here on out needs to be considered very carefully. One wrong move, a misspoken comment, and we could have a firestorm of epic proportions. I’m going to ask you only one question, Mr. Park. After that how we proceed will be up to you to either accept or decline, with no prejudice.”
Every nerve in Arnold’s body was tingling. This moment was what he had planned for, hoped for, and dreamed of, ever since he’d left Reno so many years ago. He didn’t know exactly what it was or what it meant, but he knew that this was his chance to sit at the big table. And without even knowing what the question was, he knew his answer would be yes. All of this happened in less than half a second.
Senator Gardner took a deep breath and in barely more than a whisper said, “Father Cass is apparently more than meets the eye, which puts him in a potentially dangerous position from many different factions, both here and abroad. But beyond that, I believe it is inconceivable to imagine all the possibilities surrounding the man. Once the national press gets a hold of him, we’ll have no control at all. And control is exactly what we need, if we’re to protect him.”
Arnold couldn’t help but interrupt him at this point. “Protect him? Is that what you want to do?”
“Of course. First and foremost he must be protected. But we also have to get every scrap of information about him that can be gotten, including whatever the Vatican has compiled and what they plan to do with the information. He needs to be handled. Is this a project that you’re interested in joining?”
“Count me in, sir. What would you like me to do?”
“I want you to find out what the Vatican is planning to do about him. Once you have that information, I need to talk with him, Arnold. Privately. No witnesses, no press, no recordings; just he and I. Do you have contacts in the Holy City? Or shouldn’t I ask?”
“Let’s say no.” Arnold hesitated a moment.
“Do you have a question about something?”
“As a matter of fact, I was wondering about our arrangement…”
“I think the time has come that we amended that, don’t you, Arnold? You’ve worked on a number of cases for me, some more sensitive than others, and you’ve always been professional and, sometimes more important than that, discreet. But this is something that neither one of us has ever dealt with or likely ever will again. Wherever it takes us, the outcome will most definitely be far-reaching. So my suggestion to you is this: I’ve had my lawyers draw up a contract between the two of us forming a Limited Liability Corporation, in which we are equal partners. The name is Park Limited and the start-up capital is twelve million dollars. It’s listed as a privately held research company. We each own a fifty percent share in the company. I have provided the capital, and I expect you to provide the so-called research, or in your case, investigation. I’ve already signed the papers.” He handed a brown leather portfolio to Arnold. “You can have a lawyer look them over if you’d like before you sign them. Then we can decide on what you think would be appropriate for your annual salary as president. Is all this agreeable to you?”
Arnold realized that he had been holding his breath since he’d heard “twelve million dollars.” He consciously relaxed and mentally reminded himself to breathe in and out, in and out. He took the leather portfolio from the senator, pulled out the papers, scanned through each page, and then pulling a pen from his pocket, he signed and initialed each page where indicated and placed them back into the portfolio.
Smiling at Senator Gardner, he handed him the folder and said, “I don’t see the need for a lawyer, John. I don’t believe beginning a partnership based on distrust would be a good idea, do you?
“Well said, Arnold well said.” The senator reached his hand toward Arnold, and Arnold in turn grasped the senator’s hand in a firm shake. “Would you care for a drop of Cognac in your coffee while we discuss your salary?”
Arnold smiled and felt all of the nerves that had been tingling wildly just a few minutes previously yield and relax in a way he had never before experienced. “I don’t suppose it could hurt.”