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LAST CHANCE

By 3tate4lace All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Other

Chapter 18

Before Pattie had gotten a block from the rectory, she saw them. Poland Street was covered with news vans from WXYZ News Channel 7, WJBK News Channel 2, and WDIV News Channel 4. There were even trucks from the PBS station, CBET in Canada, and a few she didn’t recognize, and reporters were tramping all over the lawn and gardens. “Lord God in Heaven,” Pattie said to herself. “What on earth was going on? How am I going to get inside, I’ll ask you that? Oh dear, now I’m talking to myself. Well that’s for sure, Pattie Cleary. Now, stop being daft and let’s figure this out.” She continued on for three more blocks, parked at the Walgreens at the corner and walked back to the rectory going in the back way, hoping no one would see her.

Thank God she had all her keys with her, not that she usually locked the back door, but since Father Jack had been killed, she’d been hyper vigilant about locking up. It was a good thing Father Cass was gone for a few days, and it was an even better thing that he hadn’t told her where he was going. It was a character flaw, she knew, but she’d finally had to admit to herself that she must be a soft touch. Emily was right when she said that people were always able to weasel information out of her. So it was just better that she didn’t know where he was, especially now that every news van in town was camped out at the rectory. Someone must have talked to the papers; but who? We’d all agreed to keep mum. And now here they were camped out all over the lawn. The best thing for her to do was to lay low.

Lay low, that was the expression Humphrey Bogart used last night in Casablanca. Or was it the policeman? Or maybe it was Ingrid Bergman. Anyway, somebody had said something about it. It was best to lay low until it was safe. Yeah, that was it. Well, that seemed to fit the situation right now. So that’s what she would do, because you know darn well, those blood-sucking reporters were going to want to talk to her. Well, as far as Pattie Cleary was concerned, they could go talk to the man in the moon. And she went to call Emily.

“I know all about it, Pattie. They were camped outside my house too. How many news trucks do you think they have, anyway? And how long do you think they’re going to sit there waiting for someone to come and talk to them?”

“I don’t know, Emily. How did you get by them and into your house?”

“I didn’t. I’m at the Marriott downtown. I’m staying here tonight, and then Edie is flying in tomorrow morning and we’re checking into the Book Cadillac under her name. If the press is looking for me, they won’t find me under Edie Mason’s name.”

“Oh, Emily. You’re that smart, you are. And it’ll be such fun, seeing your daughter again. It’s so sweet of her to come and help you out. Are Larry and the twins coming?”

“Edie’s always been a good girl. No, Larry’s got to work, and she said she needs a break from the boys and it wouldn’t hurt for them all to have some ‘guy time,’ which I guess means living on pizza, tacos, and dirty clothes for a while. You can join us you know. Edie’s always considered you as sort of an aunt.”

“I don’t want to intrude. It’s your special time.”

“And I don’t want you hounded by the press. It’s decided. Edie’s flight gets in at ten minutes past nine. We can pick you up on the way to the hotel. Will you be at your house or somewhere else?”

“I’m at the rectory now. I snuck in the back way, but I don’t want to stay here. So as soon as they get tired of hanging around, I thought I’d slip over to Melanie and Luke’s. I talked to her, and so far no news vans are bothering her. Emily, who do you think let the cat out of the bag? You know for sure, somebody must have, otherwise those reporters wouldn’t be stalking us. Anyway, Melanie’s not working tomorrow, so how about if we meet you at the Original Pancake House in Grosse Pointe at say, ten fifteen? That way the girls can catch up and Melanie can drive back home, and then I’ll leave with you and Edie.”

“I haven’t been there in ages. Remember when the girls were little and we used to take them there on Saturdays? Edie will love it. I think you’re the smart one, Pattie.”

“No, Emily. I think I’m the one got us into this fix.”

“And how did you come to that conclusion?”

“If I hadn’t opened my big mouth and told the cardinal about Luke. I’m that sorry…”

“I don’t think it has anything to do with Cardinal Marin. But I do have some thoughts on how they found out, which I’m going to keep to myself for the time being. Don’t take on blame that you don’t deserve, Pattie.”

“I guess so.”

“Right. Well, I’ll see you tomorrow for pancakes at ten fifteen.”

“Ten fifteen. And, Emily, I’m ever so grateful to you for everything you’ve done.”

“And what have I done?”

“You know. You’ve never wavered. Not when I talked to Cardinal Marin or anything. You’re a good, good friend, Emily Scanlon, you are.”

“For the past fifty years, Pattie Cleary. Why would I stop now? I’ll see you in the morning. Bye-bye.”

“Bye.”


Marie paid no mind to the news vans and trucks parked in front of her house and the reporters standing all over her lawn armed with cameras and microphones. She parked on the opposite side of the street, two doors down. Then she got out of her car and walked as bold as you please up her front walk, onto her porch, and straight to the front door. When she opened the screen door and pulled her keys out, the reporters went into a feeding frenzy.

Microphones stuck out at the ready, the rapid-fire questions were shouted at her across the lawn and in her face. “Are you Marie Khirshon?”

“Is your husband home?”

“Can we talk to Alex Khirshon?”

“What can you tell us about Father Cass?”

“Did Father Cass ever perform a miracle on you?”

“How much money did National Secrets pay you for your story?”

“Why hasn’t your husband talked to the press?”

“Where’s Father Cass?”

“Is he from another planet?”

“Are you from another planet?”

“We heard that you saw Father Cass raise someone from the dead. Any comment?”

“Is Father Cass the antichrist?”

“Where is your husband?”

“What kind of miracle did Father Cass perform on you?”

And on it went. There were so many questions that it was difficult to separate one from another as they were all talking, or to Marie’s ears, they were all screaming at once. Finally she heard another voice, a familiar one. “That’s enough! This is private property! If you don’t get your vehicles and your cameras and yourselves off this property in the next two minutes, I’m calling for backup. Now move it!”

There was absolutely no response from the assembled news hounds.

The large man on the lawn stood about six feet three inches tall and looked to weigh about two-hundred-fifty pounds, if you accounted for the fact that muscle weighed more than fat. A neighbor must have called the local precinct, because he’d pulled up in a squad car, which he’d parked in the middle of the street. He pulled his sidearm from its holster, raised the weapon into the air and in an authoritative tone announced, “I repeat, get into your vehicles and leave. Now. You will not receive another warning.” They didn’t need to be told again. Within seconds the whole crowd was hightailing it down the street, and all that could be seen were vanishing taillights. He put the gun back in the holster, walked up onto the porch, and looked down at his mother. “Mom, what the hell have you done now?”

“Oh, Craig, honey. I’m so glad you’re here. Let’s go inside.”

“Fine.” They went into the living room, and the sight that met them stopped Craig dead in his tracks. His parents’ living room had always been the same. Old, worn Early American style furniture-a sofa, two easy chairs, and a La-Z-Boy where his dad liked to sit and watch the game. All purchased years ago at Art Van, as was all the furniture in the house. There was a stained and scratched maple coffee table with two matching end tables, all of them covered with crocheted lace doilies that his mother had made years ago.

His parents had told him over and over, particularly when he got old enough to move out on his own, “Art Van sells solid furniture, son. You don’t need to shop at one of those new, modern upstart places. They’ve been around for years and they’ll be around when you have grandchildren. Stay with what you know.” Now everything was gone, and he would bet his house, his wife, and his two kids, that nothing in the room he was looking at came from Art Van.

The centerpiece of the room was a white velour sectional that was far too big for the tiny room, two chrome and vinyl side chairs that looked as if they belonged in a porno film, and a chair that honest to God looked like a lady’s high-heel shoe, covered in red velvet and faux black leopard skin. The art on the wall was what Craig supposed would be called Abstract, but if you asked him, it just looked like somebody painted a couple of lines and dots on a large piece of black velvet and then stretched it. His two boys, only one of them old enough for preschool, probably could have done better. Well, he thought, at least they hadn’t screwed up the hardwood floors yet. They just covered them up with a couple of really ugly pink fluffy rugs.

“What happened to the living room?”

“Isn’t it to die for?” Marie’s smile indicated she was looking for approval.

After the scene outside, Craig wasn’t up to an argument. I suppose that’s one way to put it.

“Honey, this is tres chic. I had my designer do this.”

“Uh-hmm. And where did you find this designer? In the back of the TV Guide?”

“Well, uh…well. Don’t you think the colors are striking?”

“Look, Mom. About those checks you sent Jeanine and Doug and me. What’s going on? And where’s Dad?”

“Were you surprised?”

“Surprised doesn’t cover half of it. You send me a check for twenty thousand dollars with no explanation, no note, nothing. What do you expect me to do? Then I come over here and the news trucks are all over your lawn yelling about miracles or something. What the hell is going on?”

“Don’t swear, Craig. It’s not nice.”

“I’m going to leave if you don’t answer me right now.”

“Okay, fine. I think you should sit down. Do you want some coffee? How about espresso or a cappuccino? I have a machine; it’s top of the line. You can’t buy one better than this one…”

“Mom, I mean it.”

“Alright already, geez. Okay. You know how your dad’s Parkinson’s got better so quickly? You know, he couldn’t even walk to church anymore, and then BOOM all of a sudden he could walk to church again, just like that. Well, it wasn’t his medication or anything the doctors were doing. He was going to these prayer circles at St. Florian’s with Father Cass. A few other people with health problems were going too: Emily Scanlon, you remember her-she comes to our New Year’s Eve party, you know, her daughter’s name is Edie, she lives in Chicago…”

“Get on with it, Mom.”

“Right. Anyway, there was Emily, she had ovarian cancer and then Margaret Kozlowski’s daughter Amanda had been diagnosed with Leukemia, she was dying, poor thing was only four years old. So they were all going to Father Cass’s prayer circles, and well, they were all cured, just like that.”

“Just like that? You mean like a miracle?”

“Except not like a miracle. It was a miracle. Really.”

“Okay. So what does that have to do with the press and the money?”

“Well, I just figured that miracles are good news and they should be shared, right?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. What does Dad think?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“I’m just wondering. Dad’s a very private person. I don’t think he’d want to talk to strangers about something like that.”

“Oh. I’m not sure. Anyway, National Secrets offered me five hundred thousand dollars for the story of Father Cass and his miracles, and you and your brother and sister are the lucky recipients of some of that easy money. Play your cards right, and there may be more where that came from.”

“I see. And just how did National Secrets find out about Father Cass and his miracles in the first place?”

“Beats me.”

“Really, you have no idea. So they just called you out of the blue?”

“Uhm…yeah. They just called me.”

“Do you think it might have been Dad?”

“Oh God no. Dad was against telling anybody, I mean…” She clapped her hand over her mouth as if she could push the words back in like they’d never been spoken.

“Is that so? You said earlier that you didn’t know how he felt about talking to anyone. Did you momentarily forget, or did you just remember, or were you lying then, or are you lying now, or have you said anything that was the truth since we began talking?”

“Young man, you have no right to talk to your mother that way. I will not stand here and…”

“And I will not stand here and listen to you lie to me about what you’ve done. It’s clear that you are the one who called National Secrets and told them about Father Cass and Dad and Emily and Mrs. Kozlowski’s daughter. What did you think the repercussions were going to be for all of those people? Did you think about them at all, or did you only think about the money?”

“Yes, I thought about the money. I thought about what so much money would mean to you and Jeanine and Doug and to your dad and me, that we could all live easy and no one would have to struggle. If I could do that for all of us, then I would be doing what was right.”

“That living room, that’s not ending a struggle, that’s an exhibition of gluttony, which happens to be one of the seven deadly sins. I have no idea what you did with the rest of the money, and I don’t want to know. But know this, I’ll be tearing up the check you sent me, because I have no desire to share in your thirty pieces of silver. I’m pretty sure Jeanine and Doug will feel the same way once they know where the money came from.”

“That’s ridiculous. You’re over-reacting. You can’t mean that, Craig. It’s not the same thing at all. You haven’t thought this through. You don’t understand.”

“I understand everything perfectly except for one thing. Where’s Dad?”

“Oh, he got mad and left. He’ll be back. Once he thinks things over. He’ll be back.”

“That’s something you never understood about him, Mom. Dad had his faults-he appreciated what he could get for free and he liked a bargain-but he was honest and good, through and through. You’d better get used to living alone. He’s not coming back.” He stood up, turned around, and left.

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