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LAST CHANCE

By 3tate4lace All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Other

Chapter 15

Bloomfield Hills, one of Detroit’s wealthiest suburbs fit Arnold Park like a finely tailored suit that had been donated to Goodwill. The new owner appreciated the beautiful fabric, as well as the fact that he hadn’t paid anywhere near full price. And he didn’t mind that the sleeves and pants needed to be hemmed. Though Arnold no longer had to count his pennies, he still found himself cringing when faced with paying what he considered to be market value for anything.

Subsequently he nearly swooned at the prospect of buying a five bedroom, five-and-a-half-bath, Tudor-style home on a one-acre lot that was being offered in a foreclosure sale. The asking price was one-half of what the other homes in the upscale neighborhood were going for, and he was determined to get it. When offers and counteroffers were all said and done, Arnold had indeed become the owner-of a disaster. Being foreclosed upon, the owners had literally torn up the inside of the house before they moved out: toilets, sinks, tubs, lighting, and wainscoting had been removed in the dark of night the day before Arnold received the key.

Nearly thirty percent of the money he had saved in buying a foreclosed property would have to be used to make repairs before he could even consider moving in. Fortunately Arnold was also the type of person who managed to learn something with every experience, and so he did with this.

Things went much smoother with his new office, which he located in downtown Birmingham. It was a small suite of offices in an established building that housed a large law firm and a small bank. He hired an executive secretary and a receptionist, both prior clients who would do absolutely anything for him, and then bought all of his office furniture online. In a matter of five days his office was set up and looked like it had been there for years. The sign on the door said Park Ltd., and unless anyone cared to dig deeply, no one really knew what kind of a business Park Limited was or what exactly they did. And that was just fine with Mr. Arnold Park.

Arnold pulled his new Lexus into the underground garage and parked in one of the six spots designated for Park Limited, his spot-the one closest to the elevator. He got out of the car, walked to the elevator, and pushed the button. Once inside he said, “Three,” and the elevator rose to the third floor. He got out and was immediately met with the sight of Barbara, his receptionist. He was still blown away that his office was the entire third floor of the building.

“Good morning, Mr. Park. I have one message for you. He wouldn’t leave a name, but he said that you would recognize the number. I hope that’s all right?”

Arnold took the message and recognized the number as Senator Gardner’s. “Yes, that’s fine, Barbara. Thanks. Is Fran in yet?”

“Yes, she got in about fifteen minutes ago. Would you like a cup of coffee?”

“That’d be great. Thanks.” Arnold smiled and walked down the hall to his office where he met Fran just coming out of the conference room.

“Hey, Fran.”

“Morning. I was just setting up the conference room for your meeting. Will you be meeting today, do you think?”

“I’m planning on today, but the senator is a busy man. We’ll see. Do you really think we need to use the conference room? I really think my office would be just as good. Seems like overkill to use the big room.”

“Mr. Park, you hired me to be your executive secretary, which by the way, is a position I have held, at GM, Nissan, and GE. Yes, you’re meeting with just one man, but number one, he’s a very important man and, number two, you have a huge amount of material to go over with him. The conference room is exactly the right place for that. Trust me.”

“Right. You’re absolutely right. Thanks, Fran. Remind me to give you a raise.”

“Not yet. It’s only been two weeks. Let’s wait for ninety days and see how things are going.”

“You know, at some point here I’m going to get the hang of this boss thing and we’ll be turning the tables here, right?”

“Absolutely. Yes, sir.”

“When Barbara has my coffee, just bring it in. I’ll be on the phone.”

“Gotcha.”

Arnold went into his office, threw his jacket on the chair, undid his tie, rolled up his shirtsleeves, and finally settled himself into the five-thousand-dollar leather Eames chair. The chair was the one extravagance he had allowed himself, in fact, the only item he recalled that he’d ever happily forked over full retail for, and smiled. He’d sat in one at the senator’s office, and frankly, his back and rear end had never been treated so kindly. On the way out of the office, he’d asked the secretary what kind of chair it was and she had been happy to tell him.

Once settled he picked up his phone and dialed the senator’s number. The phone rang twice and Gardner picked up. “Yes?”

“Park here. We need to meet. I’ve got to go over this info with you in detail. Park Ltd. has been set up. We’re in the Haley Bank Building on…”

“I know exactly where you are. Will you be available this evening? Say, eight o’clock?”

“Eight o’clock is fine. See you then.” The line went dead. Arnold picked up the phone on his desk, and just as he was about to buzz Fran, she knocked on the door and walked in with his coffee. “I was just about to call you. The senator will be here at eight tonight. Can you have everything ready by then?”

“Not a problem. Do you want Barbara or me to be here?”

“No, I don’t think so. Let’s keep things the way they are for now. He obviously knows I have a staff, but there’s no sense getting him all worked up about something he doesn’t need to worry about. Besides, I have a much stricter vetting process than he does anyway.”

“Arnold, you could give the NSA, CIA, and FBI a run for their money.”

“You’re just trying to get on my good side, aren’t you, Fran?”

“You got me, boss.”


John Gardner guided his secretary Nancy’s blue Ford minivan through the streets of Birmingham, down Chester, turning right onto Townsend, and making another right directly into the underground parking structure beneath the Haley Bank Building. He parked in one of the visitor spots, and before exiting the vehicle, he removed the battered Detroit Tigers ballcap with the attached ponytail and the ancient motorcycle jacket, a remnant from his college days and the Harley he used to ride until a very close call and incredible good luck had convinced him that cars were a wiser choice. Then he hiked the fifteen yards to the elevator. By the time he got to the third floor, he had just enough time to straighten his tie and check his hair in the elevator’s mirror when the doors opened and he was greeted by Arnold Park.

“John, good to see you.”

“You too, Arnold. You said you have some information for me?”

“I do. Let’s get started. Would you like a cup of coffee, a drink?”

“Coffee, one cream. Thanks.”

“Okay. Right this way.” Arnold led the senator to the coffee station adjacent to Barbara’s desk, poured his coffee, added the cream, handed the cup to him, and then led the way down the hallway toward the conference room. “Let’s go.”

“Do you have any information on which way the Vatican is going on this?”

Arnold opened the door to the conference room, flipped the light on, and gestured for the senator to step inside. “Come on in and I believe I can answer most of your questions.”

The sight that met John Gardner’s eyes when he walked into the room swept away any remaining doubts he may have had regarding the twelve million dollars start-up capital he had invested in Park Ltd. In fact he wondered why he hadn’t thought of doing it years ago. It was clear that when Arnold had inferred that his sources were deeply embedded, he wasn’t just blowing smoke. This guy could teach the NSA a thing or two. He found a chair, took a sip of his coffee, and paid close attention.

Arnold was gratified to see the look on Gardner’s face and grateful beyond measure for Fran’s efforts in insisting on using the conference room. She was right. The impact of the evidence wouldn’t have been as startling sitting in a stack on his desk. He closed the door and dove in.

“First of all there are the miracles themselves.” A fifty-two-inch state-of-the-art video screen emerged from the far wall, and the senator found himself staring at a picture of his granddaughter. “We’ll concentrate on the ones that brought Cardinal Marin from the Vatican. First and most importantly for you is your granddaughter, Amanda. Diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL at age four, went into remission after treatment, and then for no apparent reason, the ALL came roaring back with no hope of treatment or remission.”

Amanda’s picture faded and an attractive grandmotherly type woman appeared in her place. She appeared to be in excellent health – good color, great affect, all in all, someone you would expect to live at least twenty or thirty more years. “Second is Mrs. Emily Scanlon who was suffering from stage four ovarian cancer, from which there is usually no hope.”

Mrs. Scanlon’s picture faded and was replaced by an elderly man, possibly in his late seventies. “Third is Mr. Alexander Khirshon, diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, who while receiving traditional pharmaceutical treatment was experiencing no relief.

After attending prayer circles with Father Cass of St. Florian each of these subjects experienced radical healings. Amanda went into complete remission with no evidence of cancer anywhere in her body. Her doctor was not at liberty to speak with anyone regarding Amanda. Mrs. Emily Scanlon went into complete remission with no evidence of cancer anywhere in her body. Her doctor, Ethan Jantz, MD would not claim a miracle but had no other explanation other than to say, ‘Her body got lucky.’ Mr. Alexander Khirshon is currently having no symptoms concurrent with the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease and is currently taking no medication prescribed for this illness. This is according to his pharmacist, as of last Tuesday. His doctor, Eli Burnette, MD was also not willing to claim a miraculous healing but said perhaps he was mistakenly diagnosed. The opinions of the treating physicians I’m relating to you were taken from the interviews that Cardinal Marin had with Doctors Jantz and Burnette. Passkeys are easy to come by, and the cardinal frequently leaves his briefcase in his room when he’s snacking at the coffee shop.

I took the investigations further by speaking with the nurses who cared for these patients. Nurses are overworked and underappreciated. Knowing this and using it can yield quite a lot of information. The nurses that cared for your granddaughter, Mr. Khirshon, and Emily Scanlon were all, without exception, convinced that something supernatural was going on regarding the quick and unusual paths their healings took. Even those who do not consider themselves people of faith said that something beyond medicine was involved in their healing. I have signed statements from each of them.

I’m going to play a recording for you of a conversation between Alexander Khirshon, and his wife, Father Cass’s housekeeper, Pattie Cleary, and Emily Scanlon. This recording was taken on March third at approximately twelve fifteen.”

At that point Arnold turned on the recording. In the background was the sound of chairs scraping and dishes clattering. A man’s voice said, “Sure, I could use another warm-up.” The tape played all the way through until “…besides, the less we say, the less likely we are to be overheard. Let’s go.”

The senator pushed his chair back from the table and exhaled loudly. “Holy God!”

“I’m more inclined to agree with you these days, yes.”

“Is there more?”

“We’re about halfway there.”

“Fine. Let’s finish up.”

“Direct your eyes to the video screen, please. What you are about to see is the tail end of a waitress tripping over a kid at Polonia’s Restaurant in Hamtramck. I was tailing Father Cass and it was just good luck that I happened to be in the right place at the right time. It was even better luck that I had the good sense to use my phone to record the event. Okay, take a look.”

The video ran nineteen seconds. When it was finished, the senator looked up at Parks and said, “I don’t get it. What am I missing?”

“It’s easy to miss if you don’t know what you’re looking for. This time keep your eyes on Father Cass and the other priest. Don’t look at the waitress. Keep your eyes on the priests.” He ran the video again.”

“Run it again.”

Arnold ran it again.

“Can you slow it down?”

“Sure.” Arnold slowed it down.

The senator rose to his feet and slammed his hand on the table. “Holy Mother of God! Has anyone else seen this?”

“No.”

“What about your staff?”

“No, my staff hasn’t seen it. But even if they had, it wouldn’t be an issue. I’ll put my vetting process up against the CIA and the FBI any time you want.”

“You’re right. I apologize. It’s just…this is…I don’t know what the hell this is. Okay, fast-forward this for me. What happened after this? Did they stay and talk? What did you hear?”

“They only stayed briefly and I only heard a bit, then they took off. What I did hear was good. After the coffee/healing thing, the two priests got into some kind of an argument. I know they were louder than they would have wanted. To settle it, I think, and to get the other priest to calm down, Father Cass agreed to give him the whole story as long as they went somewhere else. But by the time I got to my car, they were long gone.”

“So you’re saying no one else in the restaurant noticed what happened?”

“I’d swear to it. Everyone was so concerned with the waitress falling and whether or not the kid was okay, the pot of coffee was an afterthought. The only one who really questioned it was the waitress. And once she saw that the coffee was all over the table and no one was hurt, she accepted it for what it was; people see what they want to see.”

“Have you had a chance to look into this other priest? What’s his name?”

“Father Jack DuMont.”

“What do you know about him? Is he with St. Florian’s? Does he have his own parish?”

“He’s not with St. Florian’s. He works with boys in the inner city. Officially he’s connected to Catholic Social Services. His connection to Father Cass is the seminary. They met there, and they’ve been good friends ever since.”

“So if he’s going to talk to anyone, it would most likely be DuMont.”

“Based on what I witnessed, I’d say that would be our best guess.”

“Good. Where are we with the Vatican?”

“I was just getting to that. Everyone at St. Florian’s believes that Cardinal Marin has returned to Rome, including Father Cass. They believe that because he checked out of his hotel. It never occurred to them that he may have done that to mislead them into believing he was gone so that they in turn would let their guard down and go back to doing whatever it was they were doing that the Vatican was investigating. In truth, Marin has checked into the Book Cadillac downtown, and after consulting with his superior at the Vatican, Cardinal Vignola, he has brought in reinforcements to aid in his investigation. Three priests, born, bred, and educated right here in the U S of A, arrived about a week ago with the express purpose of infiltrating St. Florian’s to gather as much information as possible relating to Father Cass and his prayer circles and/or miracles. They have been placed in rental homes and apartments in St. Florian’s parish and are gainfully employed, really gainfully, I might add. Of course to be fair, they worked for it: their education is nothing to sneer at. Father Anthony Paglia has a masters degree in bio-chemistry and is working in research at the Ford Cancer Center, Mitchell Zeminick has a masters in biology and physics and is consulting with G.M. in research & development and Frank Zolnierczak has a medical degree and is working at the asthma clinic at Children’s Hospital. All of which would beg the question-why are these high-earners living in low rent housing in Hamtramck? My guess would be that they’re not going to be sharing their occupation with the parishioners at St. Florian’s.”

“I’m not surprised.” The senator smiled. “The Vatican definitely has its gifts but sometimes falls far short on getting it right when it comes to relating to ‘the people.’ They would have been better off putting these guys in these jobs, finding them homes in Grosse Pointe, and then giving them cover stories having to do with loving the pageantry of the church of their childhood, and therefore St. Florian’s fits the bill. The simpler the lie, the easier it is to pull it off. It will be interesting to see if these guys will be able to sound authentic about making six figures a year but wanting to live in Hamtramck. Yeah, that makes sense.”

“Boy, you got that right, John. I came from a place that makes Hamtramck look like the Ritz, and now that I’m making real money, I wouldn’t consider living there for five seconds, even if it was only temporarily.”

“So, do you know if they’ve made first contact with St. Florian’s yet?”

“They have. They all went to Mass last Sunday, and what a coincidence. Mitch Zeminick and Frank Zolnierczak went to lunch at Polonia’s afterward and ran into the Khirshons, Emily Scanlon, and your daughter and her family.”

“Is that so? What about the other guy?”

“Poor thing, a bad case of the flu is making the rounds at Ford, and apparently he’s got a weak constitution. Went to Mass and then straight home. I don’t think Marin is going to be too happy with him.”

“So how was lunch?”

“Not what they expected, I think. Nobody’s talking anymore. About anything. The only subjects up for discussion were the new star on the basketball team, the upcoming bake sale, and the fuss that the altar guild is making about some new design for the altar cloths or something. It was a total bust for Marin’s spies.”

“So do you think they’ll give up and go back to the Vatican?”

“No. This is just the first wave. Marin knows something is going on. He’s not going to give up because people stopped talking. I don’t know the man personally, but I know his type. He’s a bulldog. He’s got a taste of this bone, and he’s not going anywhere until he’s got the whole thing-not just a piece of it. He wants everything, the marrow and all. And he’s prepared to do whatever’s necessary, run over whoever he has to, to get it. Don’t let his looks fool you. Guys like him use their looks and demeanor to lull others into a false sense of security. ‘Who me? I’m just a fat, dull, witless guy. Don’t worry about me, I’m nobody.’ Don’t ever underestimate him. That’s not who he really is. He’s dangerous.”

“Understood. If that’s it for now, have you eaten yet?”

“That’s it so far. And no, I haven’t.”

“I’m impressed, Arnold. I just wanted to say that. Let’s get some dinner.”

“Thanks, John.”

They walked out of the room and Arnold turned off the lights. The elevator door silently glided shut as dinner plans were discussed to celebrate the success of the first day of the rest of Arnold’s life. This is what was going on in Arnold’s head. The possibilities and responsibilities of what he and Arnold were about to take on were what was going on in Senator John Gardner’s head. Either way, the die had been cast.

One of the best-kept secrets in downtown Birmingham was Lou’s. From the outside it looked like a tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant that time had forgotten, and for a lot of people that’s exactly what it was, which was perfect. Perfect for the regulars who would prefer that the mouth-watering burgers and just-greasy-enough fries be their little secret, not to mention the New York strip steaks that Lou’s served on Tuesdays only. Arnold had never heard of it, but John was in the mood for a good burger, so Arnold was in luck.

It was five past eleven and they had just tucked into strip steaks when the local news came on over the bar and nearly caused Arnold to choke on a perfectly cooked piece of steak. “Hey, would you mind turning that up, please?” he asked the bartender.

“No problem. It’s really a shame isn’t it? These damn kids. Killing a priest.”

The TV showed a reporter at Mt. Olivet Cemetery. Behind him was a long funeral procession of parked cars and scores of people in attendance at what was by all appearances the funeral of someone of importance. The reporter spoke “…Mourners gathered today for the funeral of Father Jack DuMont, the Catholic priest murdered three days ago by Idarian Simms, a gang member who was killed during the incident by a young man defending Father DuMont. Father Jack, as he was known by the many troubled young boys of Detroit, ministered to many who had no one else to speak for them. He was a frequent face in juvenile court and also started many after-school programs to benefit inner-city young people. Interestingly, prior to becoming a priest, Father DuMont was a professional hockey player…”

Arnold waved to the bartender. “Thanks, you can turn it down now.”

“Did you know about this?” John’s face was ashen.

“I don’t know how I missed it. If this happened three days ago, it was just after the incident with the coffee. I think we need to move things up.”

“I agree. I need to speak to him now.”

“I’ll set it up. Let’s get the check.”

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