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LAST CHANCE

By 3tate4lace All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Other

Chapter 17

It was Father Cass’s habit to walk from St. Florian’s to the rectory after saying Mass on Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons. In the winter months, this was something that Pattie Cleary constantly argued about with the priest, as the Saturday service usually didn’t finish up until about six fifteen, and by that time the sun had already set. Now after the death of Father Jack, she seemed to have made up her mind that there was a gang member hiding around every corner, waiting to gun down her beloved Father Cass. Nevertheless he had put his foot down, which is something he seldom did, informing her that all their lives were in God’s hands and she simply must have faith. With that argument she had no rebuttal, and the priest continued to walk home in the dark.

After Mass on Saturday, April 21, the day before Easter Sunday, as Father Cass turned onto Poland Street, a dark-colored, late model SUV slowed down and the passenger window opened. A nice-looking, but obviously distraught woman leaned out of the window and hollered to Father Cass, “Excuse me, sir! Excuse me! Can you help us? I think my father is having a heart attack!” The vehicle stopped, and the woman got out and came toward Father Cass. “Can you help us, please?”

Father Cass began to put his arm around her, and before he could utter a word, the back door opened and two men emerged from the vehicle. Within just seconds, the two men, the woman, and Father Cass were inside the vehicle and they were driving away. There was no one on the street to witness a thing. One minute he was there and the next minute he was gone. It wasn’t until about eight p.m. when he hadn’t shown up for dinner that Pattie Cleary called the police and reported him missing. They however refused to file a report as he had only been gone for approximately three hours. They told her to call back Sunday night if he hadn’t shown up by then. Pattie Cleary had to be sedated by her physician.

Inside the vehicle, things were calmer than one would expect. Once Cass realized what had happened, he was more concerned with who had taken him and why. Though they had taken his cell phone, he never felt as if he were in danger, which was probably the reason his assailants were successful, he guessed. So instead of resisting, he sat back and tried to enjoy the ride. The windows were completely tinted and there was a dark screen between the front and back seats, so he couldn’t see where he was going, but he could still hear, so there was that. The men in the vehicle, one on either side of him didn’t look very talkative, but they also didn’t look like kidnappers, so he thought, Why not?

“Do you do this often, snatch people off the street, I mean?”

No answer.

“Any chance you could tell me where we’re going?”

No answer.

“Would you be willing to tell me who you’re working for?”

No answer.

“You do know I’m a priest, right?”

No answer.

“So, too bad about the Lions, eh?”

“Seriously! I lost a hundred bucks on that game!” The guy on the right slammed his right fist into his left hand.

The guy on the left leaned over and punched the guy on the right in the shoulder. “Eddie, shut the hell up. We’re not supposed to say anything.”

“Right. Sorry.”

Cass smiled. “Not a problem, Eddie. Don’t worry about it. I won’t say a thing.” For the next forty-five minutes or so they drove in silence. At last they arrived at their destination. To Cass it felt like they were going underground, maybe a tunnel or an underground parking structure. The vehicle stopped, and they all got out and entered an elevator directly to their left. Cass was shoved to the back so he had no idea what floor was pushed, and someone had rigged it so the lights weren’t working. The elevator went up a few floors, and when the door opened, Cass was guided to the front and pushed out. He heard the doors close behind him. When his eyes adjusted to the light he couldn’t believe who he was looking at-none other than Senator John Gardner. Cass had voted for him-twice.

“It’s an honor to meet you, Father Radnaezewski.” He offered his hand. “Please excuse the unorthodox method of bringing you here. But I couldn’t risk contacting you by phone or email. I’m certain that by now your phone and email accounts are all under surveillance, and it’s urgent that we speak. Please allow me to offer condolences on the death of your friend, Father DuMont.

Cass shook the senator’s hand. “Thank you. Excuse me. You’re Senator John Gardner, is that correct?”

“Yes, I am.”

“I’m somewhat naïve when it comes to government intrigue. Why would I be under surveillance, and why am I here?”

“Yes, I’m sure it’s a lot to take in. Would you care for coffee, a soda, water?”

“Coffee, coffee would be good. Black, please. Thanks.”

“Right this way.” John led Cass over to the coffee station near the receptionist’s desk in Arnold’s office suite and poured him a cup of black coffee. Handing it to him he said, “Why don’t we go into the conference room where we can be more comfortable and I can explain all of this to you?”

“Sure, why not?”

Once comfortably seated, the senator began. “First of all I’d like to thank you for what you did for my granddaughter, Amanda Kozlowski. Please don’t bother to deny it and tell me it was the doctors or some spontaneous remission. I know what happened. I know everything, or at least everything that can be known from the outside. I cannot know what you know or what God has given you to know.”

Standing up to leave Cass said, “I think you’re mistaken, Senator. We believe what we…”

“Please sit down for a moment and watch the video screen, Father.” There in living color was Polonia’s restaurant, there was Anna tripping and the coffeepot tipping its contents onto Jack’s shoulder and arm, and then suddenly with Cass’s touch, the coffee disappeared from Jack’s shoulder and arm and was transferred to the table.

The senator spoke quietly. “Would you like me to play it again?”

“No,” he said. “No. That won’t be necessary. What do you want?”

“Excuse me? What do I want? I don’t want anything. I want to help you. That’s all I want to do is help you. Are you aware that Cardinal Marin is still here? He’s checked in at the Book Cadillac downtown and has called in three more investigators from the Vatican, who are even now attempting to infiltrate your parish with the intent of squeezing information from your parishioners. The last thing the Vatican needs is a priest who can perform miracles. You remember how that worked out the last time, right?”

“He’s still here? How do you know that? Why do you know that?”

“It’s a long story.”

“Well considering no one knows where I am right now, I have nothing but time, Senator. Please, go on.”

“I will on one condition.”

“I see. You do want something. What is it?”

“No, you misunderstand me. My only wish is to help you, but in order to do that there will be questions I’ll need to ask you. I don’t expect you to share anything with me that will jeopardize your plan, but otherwise I would hope that you will provide me with some answers.”

“Senator, this isn’t about me or my plan. This is only about God and God’s plan. Ultimately it’s His agenda. But I will provide you with any information I can.”

“Understood. All right. It all began with Amanda. I’ve always been the kind of person who needs to know how everything works. Even as a child I was that way. It used to drive my mother crazy. She still tells stories about how when I was five years old, I took our toaster apart. She gets a lot of laughs with that one, but she rarely completes the story by telling her listeners that I put the thing back together and it actually worked. If she did that, it would be amazing and my mom prefers funny to amazing any day of the week. Anyway, that’s me; it’s how I’ve always been.

When Amanda went into remission and then the leukemia came back, this time with no hope of a recovery, and then WHAM! you prayed with her a few times and suddenly the leukemia was a thing of the past, I wanted to know why. No, I didn’t want to know why, I needed to know why. Margaret told me to let it go, to just thank God and enjoy the fact that Amanda was cured, and I wanted to, God knows I tried to, but I couldn’t. That nagging feeling wouldn’t go away. I needed to know why.

As politicians go I’m as honest as I can be. I’m not trying to portray myself as a saint, because I’m not. But for the most part I try to stay on the straight and narrow. Occasionally though I find myself in need of information that’s difficult to ascertain, and when that happens I have a very reliable source that I use. He’s more than a private investigator. I’d call him a research gatherer, because that’s what he does. So when I needed an answer about Amanda and about how she was healed, I called him and I asked him to do some research regarding you, Father Cass, and that’s why you and I are here today in this room talking about you and the miracles you’ve performed and how we can join together to help you achieve your goals.”

“I see.”

“Pardon my being blunt, but I don’t think you do, Father Cass.”

“You say that Cardinal Marin is still in town and I’ll take you at your word on that, but aside from that incident with Father Jack there’s really nothing else for him to find out. So as far as I can see, it’s not a problem that he’s still here even if he has, as you say infiltrated St. Florian’s. Incidentally, how has he done that?”

“He has embedded three investigators from the Vatican into your parish. Let me take a look at my notes. Ah here it is. Mitch Zeminick, Tony Paglia, and Dr. Frank Zolnierczak. Three priests, although they won’t be introducing themselves to you as priests. They all have jobs in and around the Detroit area but have been assigned to housing in Hamtramck and are currently attending Mass at your church.

Father Cass, the cardinal knows much more than you realize. We’ve had a look at his files. It’s really very remiss of him to leave them in his room when he goes out for coffee. Anyway, although my daughter wouldn’t sign any releases for Amanda’s doctors, he has managed, incognito of course, to not only meet my son-in-law and grandaughter, but to speak to another parishioner, a Mr. Joe Zalecki, who apparently participated in the prayer circles. He was quite open and more than willing to talk all about Amanda and her miraculous recovery from leukemia. The cardinal has also had an interesting conversation with your housekeeper, Pattie Cleary about her son-in-law. The interesting notes he made regarding that conversation weren’t about the son-in-law’s recovery but about the fact that you asked her not to speak to anyone about it. This was a red flag to Cardinal Marin, who is of course trained to spot red flags. If word were to get out to him of what happened between you and Father Jack regarding the spilled coffee, the entire Roman Catholic Church would most likely go to Def Con One. In that case you wouldn’t have been quietly picked up by my associates, sitting here having coffee; you would most likely have been taken out by a sniper before lunch. That is assuming you are mortal.”

“Of course I’m mortal. I would think with all the investigating you’ve been doing, you would have figured that out.”

“When dealing with God, Father Cass, I assume nothing.”

“Understood. But I disagree with you. Why would the church want to kill me? It doesn’t make sense.”

“Of course it does. Think about it. When you boil it down, what does the church essentially care about? Don’t answer. I’m not talking about parish priests or nuns or teachers or members of the Church in general. I’m talking about the Holy Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican who has its own bank, the church who killed the one Pope who could have saved them from themselves, Francis, all because his focus was on people and not the church. Now think about it and answer me. What does the Church essentially care about?”

“I think I see what you’re getting at. You’re talking about power, about money. You know, it was never proven that one of Francis’s inner circle was his assassin. But even if the main focus is power and money, how does that make me a threat?”

“That depends. Are you willing to trade what God has given you for cash?”

“Excuse me?”

“Exactly. It’s an abhorrent question, because God has chosen you, has touched you, has marked you for something special, and to in any way tie that or equate that with money would be an abomination.”

Father Cass let out a deep breath that he didn’t know he’d been holding, his shoulders slumped, and his body suddenly felt heavier than it had in years. He felt tired, exhausted really. “Okay, let’s say I agree with you, just for the sake of argument. Wouldn’t it be easier to just ship me off to some parish in the uninhabited edges of Canada or a tiny village in Iceland?”

“Would it? Would you stop doing what you’re doing? Would you put an end to God’s plan for you, for the rest of us?”

“No. I wouldn’t. I can’t.”

“Seems to me you’ve answered your own question then.”

“Yes. I see your point. So I assume this is the part where I ask you what exactly you mean by ‘helping me.’ Am I right?”

“If you want it, I have the resources to supply it. And I think I’ve figured out a way to keep you safe without hiding you. But there will be sacrifices.”

“My mother used to tell me that everything that was worth having was worth fighting for; she was talking about equal rights, but I think it applies here as well.”

“Indeed. Look, Father Cass, I know you don’t know me from any other joker on the street, but know this. I really don’t want anything from you. By healing Amanda you’ve already given me more than I could ever have dreamed of in a thousand lifetimes. I’m not a greedy man. But I also know that who you are or what you are is too important, too precious, for the Church or anyone else to destroy. So if you’ll trust me, I believe I can help you in whatever your mission may be.”

“What about your partner, the research gatherer? What does he want?”

“We just want to help. You have my word.”

“All right. If that’s true, I’d like to call my housekeeper to let her know I’m fine. Would that be acceptable to you without messing up ‘our’ plan?”

“Certainly. Can you find a way to let her know you weren’t kidnapped?”

“I’m pretty resourceful. After all, when you think about it, you’re a parishioner too.”

“Ah. I think I get it. The phone is behind you on the credenza. Help yourself.”

“Thanks. Do I need to dial nine or anything like that?”

“No. Just dial the number.”

Shortly Father Cass began to speak. “Pattie?...Slow down…What?...Why on earth would you call the police?...I’m fine…If you’ll calm down I’ll tell you…there, that’s better…I’m with a parishioner who’s going through a rough patch right now. I was walking home after Mass, and a friend of his drove by and we said Hello and he mentioned that this friend was having a really bad time of it. So I just decided on the spur of the moment to go over there with him. I’ve been here ever since. It’s as simple as that…What?...No, actually I can’t, Pattie…He’s a bit famous in the area right now and he’d rather I didn’t say, so don’t mention anything to anybody…If anyone asks where I am, just say that I needed to get away for a couple of days to deal with Father Jack’s death…That’s great, Pattie…I’ll be home in a few days…Bless you, Pattie.” When he hung up the phone he turned to Senator Gardner and said, “Now what?”

The senator stared at him. “You’re a born politician, are you aware of that?”

“Somehow I don’t think that’s a compliment. What do you mean?”

“Your conversation with your housekeeper. You gave her all the information she needed and technically you didn’t lie to her. Number one-you are the friend who’s in trouble right now, and number two-you do need time to grieve for your friend. That, Father Cass, is classic politispeak. Amazing.”

“I’ve always thought that politispeak was intentional misdirection. I in no way intended to mislead Mrs. Cleary. I simply don’t want her to worry about me. My intentions are up front and straightforward.”

“Yes, I understand that. I was just floored and impressed by how you dealt with a difficult situation. Please accept my apology if I offended you in any way by bringing politics into it. It was clearly not my intention.”

“No offense taken, Senator. An apology is unnecessary. So where do we go from here?”

“First of all, please call me John.”

“All right. John, where do we go from here?”

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