After wiping down the small table where he usually ate, with a worn, wet rag, Jack cleared the assorted magazines and clothes off the two chairs and indicated that Cass should sit. “I haven’t been home for a couple of days. Two of my boys are in lock up, so I’ve been spending a lot of time downtown trying to see what I can do to straighten things out.” He opened the refrigerator door. “I had some KFC in here a few days ago and I think maybe half a bean burrito. You want something?”
“No, no thanks, I’m good. You go ahead.”
Jack pulled out the remains of what might have at one time been a bean burrito, pulled the paper wrapping off, set it on a plate and put it into the microwave on re-heat. Jack had one of those economy-style microwaves; it had two settings-reheat and boil. When the red light went off he removed it and squirted hot sauce over the top. It was unclear if the sauce was used to season it or to cool it down, because it was so hot, it was a miracle the plate hadn’t melted. He proffered the plate to Cass. “Bite?”
“Seriously, I couldn’t. Would you have a beer, perhaps?”
“Beer-no, but we’re in luck. I’ve got four lagers. Here you go.” He opened two bottles and handed one to Cass.
When they were finally settled at the table and Jack had managed to eat the burrito, they started on their lagers and Jack finally asked, “So if this is God’s plan, and you’ve already said so without saying so, how do you know for sure? What makes you so certain? When did it start? And most of all, more than anything, how do you know for sure that it really is God? I mean, really, Cass, you’ve got to be questioning that, don’t you?”
Cass sat quietly for a moment, as if he were drawing strength from the very stillness around him. As Jack watched him, watched his face, his eyes, he knew the answer before Cass had uttered a word. He knew that he had been chosen. He didn’t know why and he didn’t care why. The point was that all of a sudden, God was listening. But still Jack was eager to hear what Cass had to say, and what he said did not disappoint.
“You asked me when it started. I know it was a long time ago, but the earliest I can remember, I think I was about four years old. My dad and I were in our backyard. We were helping my mother plant vegetables. I remember how much fun I was having being allowed to play in the dirt and not get scolded. Anyway, while we were outside I saw a squirrel run up this big oak tree in our yard, and suddenly this tiny bird flies out of its nest. Except it didn’t fly; it was too young and it fell to the ground. My dad ran over to the bird right away to see if it was all right, and so did I. But my mother grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let me go. My dad picked up the bird and then looked at my mother and shook his head. Then he asked my mom to go in the house and get a shoebox and he told me to come over to him and see the bird.
I had never seen such a sad look on my dad’s face, so I took my time walking over to him. When I got there, I reached out and took the bird out of my dad’s hand. He tried to stop me but I didn’t pay any attention to him. I just picked up the little bird and held it in my hands for a moment. I remember saying a prayer. And then when I opened up my hands, the wings of the bird began to flutter a little and it’s beak opened and it made a little peeping sound. My mom had just stepped back into the yard with the box, and the look on my dad’s face stopped her in her tracks. I remember this like it was yesterday. He patted me on the shoulder and then said, “The bird is okay, Mary. Our Cass’s got the touch, I guess.” I think at the time he just assumed that the bird had been in shock or something, not really hurt as bad as he’d thought. But I knew. Somehow I just knew. Things were different from that moment on.”
“How were they different? What changed? You were just a child, Cass. How could you have understood any of it?”
“That’s the thing, Jack. I was only a child. Yet after that day, my eyes were opened. The changes in me were small, and they didn’t happen all at once. I don’t believe God would ever be that cruel. Although I imagine He could manage it so it wouldn’t be, cruel I mean. But in my case, He opened my eyes and my mind slowly, a bit more every day, as much as I could handle. And that’s continued to this day. That’s what I meant when I told you that I don’t have the entire plan, but I know I will soon. The time is drawing near.”
“I’m not meaning to offend you, but how can you be sure that this hasn’t all come from your mind? I’ve heard that people can have really vivid experiences that actually come from lesions on their brains or certain diseases. Have you considered any-”
“Jack, I’ve considered it all, and in light of everything, how would you explain the healings, yourself included and the bird in particular?”
“Right, right, there’s that, eh. Why the bird in particular, then?”
“The bird was dead, Jack.”
Jack’s jaw went slack and he stared into Cass’s eyes. When he finally regained his voice, it was hushed and more respectful than Cass had ever heard it. “Really dead, then?”
Cass reached out and took his friend’s hand. He noticed that it was trembling slightly. “Take it easy, Jack. It’s just you and me, just like old times, nothing to get worked up about. Yes, the bird was dead. But remember this, it was God who did the healing. He just used me as a conduit. Okay? Are we good now? Are you going to be all right? Can I get you another lager?”
Jack shook his head back and forth as if waking from a deep sleep, pulled his hand from Cass’s and stood up. “Damn straight I need another lager! Didn’t I tell you I was gonna put you up against the boards? All right, then. Next time just let me know if you’re planning on high-sticking me and chopping my head off in return. So! God has been grooming you for something special since you were a tot and you’ve been known to raise the dead. Is there anything else you’d like to get off your chest?”
The smile on Cass’s face was a cross between the Cheshire cat and the love he felt for his good friend. “No,” he said, “that’s about it. If you’re willing to part with it, I could go for another lager.”
“Well, it’s good to know you can’t just produce one out of thin air,” said Jack as he handed him the last lager from the fridge.
“Thanks. And I’m sure you know it’s not really about slight of hand and turning water into wine. It goes a lot deeper than that.”
“Really, Cass? I didn’t know that. I thought your plan was to take it on the road. You know, maybe you could book the Fox. What about this? I could be your lovely assistant. Do you take me for a fucking idiot? Of course I know that. You should really think before you speak, you know?”
Cass put his head in his hands and let out a long breath before he spoke. “You’re right. I’m sorry, Jack. Really I am. This whole thing with Cardinal Marin has been really stressful, and I’m beginning to feel a bit isolated, I guess. I didn’t mean to take it out on you. Nobody’s perfect, right?”
“Even when you’ve got the Almighty at your beck and call?”
“I wouldn’t put it that way, but yes, even then.”
“Right. Okay then, what can I do to help? There must be something. What about…”
Before he could say another word, there was a loud banging on the back door and a voice hollering, “Father Jack, Father Jack, let me in!” interrupted their conversation. Jack was up faster than Cass had ever seen him move, and within seconds standing before the two of them was a young African-American boy, with a face full of fear, left arm dripping with blood, and shaking uncontrollably.
“Derrick, what happened? Where have you been?”
The boy needed time to calm his breathing down enough to be able to speak, and when he did, his story came out in bits and pieces. It seemed to Jack that he might be going into shock. “Idarian shot me! He got out! Mason’s gone! Idarian shot me! You gotta hide me!”
“Breathe, Derrick. Try to calm down and breathe. That’s right. Now take another breath. Good. Now let’s get your jacket off and take a look at your arm. Okay, let me just pull your arm out of here…”
“I know it hurts, Derrick, but I can’t help you if you don’t let me look at it. Cass, I’ve got a first aid kit in the bathroom, can you get it, please?”
Jack could see that Derrick’s wound wasn’t as bad as he’d thought. The bullet had passed completely through his upper left arm. He was sure it hurt like hell, but all he’d need would be some stitches and he’d be fine. “It’s not bad at all, Derrick. No real harm done. You just need a couple of stitches. Now let’s talk about how this happened. Where the hell were you?”
“You don’t get it, Father Jack. It’s Idarian. He’s outta jail. Mason told him that I was the one that told the cops, but it wasn’t me. He’s after me. He’s following me. He finds me, he’s gonna kill me.”
“It’s fine, Derrick. You’re safe here. He’s not going to find you here. You can stay as long as you need to. It’s not a problem. As long…”
“Long you stay hiding ‘hind the priest’s dresses you’ll be just fine. Ain’t that right, Derrick?” Idarian must have gotten in through the front door or the basement window because he was standing less than six feet from them with a gun in his hand. Jack wondered where the hell Cass was. “Or is it under his dress you like to be? That it, little Derrick? You one a’ them dollies the queers likes to play with, that it? This priest you hiding out with one of them?”
Jack felt Derrick jump and before he could react, Derrick had reached his right arm around to the back of his waistband, pulled out a gun and aimed it at Idarian. Derrick pulled the trigger, hitting Idarian, who shot back wildly, hitting Jack squarely in the heart killing him instantly. The bullet that came from Derrick’s gun had hit Idarian in the neck. It took him about thirty seconds to die. It was at that moment that Father Cass came out of the bathroom with the first aid kit. He found Idarian dead on one side of the room and Derrick, in shock collapsed over the body of Father Jack, on the other side of the room.
He knew then and in the bathroom when he had heard the shooting that there was nothing he could have done to change the events of the evening. That did not stop the tears that coursed down his face as he looked at the bodies of his friend and a young man he had never known, nor the sleepless nights that followed.