The phone rang six times before Emily Scanlon answered. The press had seemingly stopped hounding her, but they had turned her naturally trusting soul into a suspicious, worst-case scenario kind of woman. Finally she picked up. “Hello?”
“Oh, Emily. Thank God! I thought I’d never get you. Are you alright?”
“Pattie! I’m sorry. It’s those darn newshounds. They’ve been leaving me alone, but you just never know. Have they been bothering you?”
“Not since Hank Wozny spilled the beans. I imagine they’re camped out on his front lawn, poor thing. They haven’t bothered me since he talked. But that’s not why I called you. Did you see Joe Frank’s column this morning?”
“No. I cut the paper to just the weekend edition a few months ago. It seemed like it was just stacking up and then I had to worry about recycling it, and it was just a huge bother. Besides which, I can get all the news I need from TV, the Internet, and of course, you. What’s so important about Joe Frank’s column, anyway?”
“Let me read it to you. No. Meet me at Polonia’s. You have to read it for yourself. I’ll see you in twenty minutes. Bye.”
“Wait a minute, Pattie. I’m not even dressed yet. How about you just read it to me? Pattie? Hello? Did you hang up? Lord, how the heck am I gonna get dressed, do my hair and get to Polonia’s in twenty minutes?” She hung up the phone and raced to her closet, stripping off her pajamas as she went.
It was closer to thirty-five minutes by the time Emily walked in the door of Polonia’s and joined Pattie at their regular table. Anna met her with a hot cup of coffee, and she ordered cheese pierogi with a side of sour cream. It wasn’t on her diet, but she promised herself that she wouldn’t use all the sour cream. She took her coat off, found a place for her purse, fixed her coffee, and then finally turned her attention to Pattie and said, “Why couldn’t you just read it to me over the phone?”
“Just because; because you need to read it yourself to get the full effect, here.” She pulled Joe Frank’s article from her purse. The column had been carefully cut from the newspaper and then folded and opened and folded and opened and folded a number of times. Emily wondered just how many times Pattie had read it, or if she’d shown it to others. She put on her reading glasses and began to read, “According to Joe…” by Joe Frank.
I grew up on Walden Street, near Harper and Van Dyke. It was a great neighborhood, full of first-generation Americans-big families with lots and lots of kids. Nobody was rich in the common sense of the word, but everyone had what he or she needed. While I was a kid, just on my street and Pressler, the street behind mine, there were sixteen boys, aged seven to fourteen. It was great. We had enough for two baseball teams; we made it work for football, and each team had two goalies when we played hockey. Cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, we had it all. Most importantly we had friends.
One friend in particular stands out. His name was, and is, Hank Wozny. Hank was different from the other kids because when he was six years old he got a bad case of the measles that ultimately took his hearing. But that didn’t make any difference to Hank. Hank decided he would learn to adjust, because that’s the kind of person he is, and because he adjusted, we kids adjusted. So the fact that Hank was deaf never mattered to any of us. To all of us, Hank was never different than we were. Sure he went to a different school for a time, which came in very handy to all of us when we were teenagers. It helps to have a wingman with the ability to read lips. (Sorry about that, Hank.) But the point is this: Hank never expected to be different than the rest of us. He wanted to be seen as a regular guy, and he achieved that goal.
Now, all of these years later God, yes I said God, has chosen to lift up this regular guy and restore his hearing, 100 percent. I have seen it with my own eyes, and it is as real as the earth I am standing on. As much as Hank would like to think that he’s still a regular guy, he’s not. He’s been given an extraordinary gift, and if he does nothing more than testify to others about what has happened to him, that’s enough, because no one could ask for more. Some may say that this restoration, this healing, comes from a place or a person not from God, but I ask you this: if God in his wisdom allowed Hank’s hearing to disappear, who else but God could allow it to return?
Emily removed her glasses, then folded the article and handed it back to Pattie. “I had no idea that Hank knew Joe Frank or that they’d grown up together. Did you?”
“Not until I’d read that article. So what do you think?”
“Good grief, Emily! What do you think about the article? Do you think we should do anything?”
“Why would we do anything? It’s a wonderful article. If you ask me it can only help. Have you heard anything from Father Cass?”
“Oh, goodness! I’m sure if it were my job to keep all of my parts together there would be bits of me littering the whole city. I’m such a dunderhead.”
“Stop berating yourself and tell me what you’ve heard.”
“Right. The bell rang just after I hung up with you, and wouldn’t you know it but it was Mannino’s Florist. Well I thought for sure they had the wrong address, but no. You’ll never guess: the flowers were for me. Lovely they were too. There were peach colored roses, white daisies, blue delphiniums, and there was some of that, I think it’s called wild bear grass, oh, it is oh so pretty. You should see it, you really should.”
“That’s great, Pattie. But what does that have to do with Father Cass?”
“Oh! The card, I forgot to tell you about the card! So I opened the card; it was sweet it was, it had a little bluebird on…”
“Pattie Cleary, if you don’t get to the point, I swear I’m…”
“I’m sorry. It’s just, well nobody’s sent me flowers since Jackie died, and well I, any way, I’m sorry. The card was from Father Cass. It wasn’t in his own handwriting, but he referred to a kind of private joke we have between us, so I know it was truly from him.”
“What did it say? Is he alright? Where is he?”
“He’s fine. I actually brought it with me. Here, you can read it yourself.”
“Well, why on earth didn’t you say so?”
“You didn’t ask, now, did you?”
Emily took the card out of the envelope and read it. “Pattie, I wanted to let you know that I’m fine. I can’t come home yet; it isn’t safe. Give my love to all. I’ll make eggs for you when I return.” The signature was a smiley face. “I don’t get it. How do you know it’s really from him?”
“Simple. We have a little joke between us about how he can’t even crack an egg properly, much less cook one. For him to say he’ll make eggs and then sign it with a smiley face means he’s joking, you see?”
“Yeah, I get it. That’s pretty good. But I still don’t understand why he has to hide out. I figure the reporters will get tired of the story sooner or later, right?”
“I hope so.” Something caught Pattie’s attention behind Emily’s shoulder that made her eyes go wide and her mouth drop open. All she could manage to do was poke Emily and point to the television over the bar.
When Emily turned and saw Father Cass on the screen, she asked the bartender to turn it up. He was happy to comply since most of the patrons had already clustered closer to the TV anyway. Over the picture of Father Cass a reporter’s voice could be heard, “The Office of the Holy See in the Vatican has issued a plea to all of the world and to the United States, in particular. They are calling on anyone who knows the whereabouts or has knowledge of Father Casimir Radnaezewski to contact the number on your screen. Father Radnaezewski, as some of you may have heard is the Roman Catholic priest associated with St. Florian’s parish right here in Hamtramck, where instances of miraculous healings have been reported. The Vatican has reliable information that Father Radnaezewski may be in mortal danger. Again, for his own safety, if you know the whereabouts or have knowledge of Father Casimir Radnaezewski, please contact the number on your screen. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.”
When Emily turned back to Pattie, she felt heavy, as if her body had been filled with lead. She was uneasy, and though she wanted to speak, fear stopped her. Pattie reached across the table and took Emily’s hand in hers noticing that it was ice cold. Just above a whisper she said, “Em, what should we do? Should we call the number?”
Emily could barely move but she managed to slightly shake her head to indicate no. Finally a word fell from her lips, “Home.”
“Okay, Em. I’ll take you home. Let’s go.” She left a twenty-dollar bill on the table, gathered their purses and coats, slowly led Emily to her car, and in fifteen minutes she was helping her out of the car and into the house. Emily barely made it to the couch before she crumbled into a trembling mass of tears. Doing what she did best, Pattie pulled her into an embrace and held her until the tears finally stopped nearly twenty minutes later. She held her at arms length and looked into eyes that she had never seen on the face of a woman she had known most of her life, eyes filled with abject terror.
“Honey, what is it? Talk to me, please. Nothing gets better leaving it locked up inside, that’s true as it’s ever been. Please, Emily let me help you. What’s wrong?”
Emily grabbed a few tissues from the box on the coffee table, dabbed at her eyes and then blew her nose. “I don’t know how to explain. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before, nothing. We were watching the TV at Polonia’s and they were giving that announcement about the Vatican and Father Cass and all. Then all of a sudden I felt like everything was far away and I didn’t feel like I was at Polonia’s anymore. Then I saw a man, he was dressed in red robes like a cardinal and he was signing a paper, and then suddenly I saw a young woman and she was aiming a gun at Father Cass, and then I was back at Polonia’s again, but I could hardly breathe.”
“Are you saying you had a vision?”
“No. Yes, I don’t know what I had, or if I had a vision, but it was something and it scared me. But Emily, what scared me worse was something else.”
“For God’s sake, Emily. What on earth could scare you more than that?”
“I’ll show you. Can you get the card that came with the flowers out of your purse?”
“Sure.” She dug around in her purse and handed it to Emily. “Here. Why do you want it?”
“Okay, look at what it says. Right here he says, ‘I can’t come home yet, it isn’t safe.’ Think about that for a minute. He didn’t leave because of the reporters; he left because it wasn’t safe. Now why isn’t it safe? When is a church not safe?”
“Well, I don’t know. A church is always safe, isn’t it? I mean a church is a sanctuary, right? That’s considered a safe place, right? How could a church not be safe? I don’t get it.”
“I’ll tell you, Pattie. But you won’t like the answer. A church isn’t safe when the people who run the church are afraid of you and what you can do. It isn’t safe when what they want to do is stop you at all costs, even if it means…”
“Don’t say it, Emily! I mean it, don’t you dare say that about my church. That’s not possible. You’re wrong.”
“I’m not talking about your church, Pattie. I’m talking about very bad people who happen to be in positions of power in our church. It’s happened before and we both know it. Don’t get me started about Pope Francis.”
“He was that holy, he was.” Emily bowed her head and made the sign of the cross. “A sainted man who must be looking down on us even now, and if you’re right about this, then his eyes are surely filled with tears. So what do we do now?”
“I have no idea. He found a way to contact you, but how on earth do we contact him?”
“Don’t ask me. You’re the one who reads that James Patterson fellow.”
“And you’re the one who watches all those mystery shows on TV. Come on let’s put our heads together and figure this out. There has to be a way.”
“Okay. We can’t call him. We can’t text him. How about email?”
“No, I’m sure somebody’s probably watching that.” She got up and walked around the room, stopping at the flowers on the hall table that Father Cass had sent Pattie. “You’re right, they really are lovely.” Looking down at her mail she commented, “Looks like you get as much junk mail as I do.”
“I really don’t know why people bother sending it out. Don’t they know that most of us just toss it out or throw it in the recycling bin? It’s such a waste.”
“Pattie, why do you get the paper copy of the Parish Newsletter? You can choose to get the online one and then you don’t have to deal with having the paper ones pile up.”
“I know. Fact is, I like to keep them around. Sometimes I re-read them just to make sure I know what’s going on in the parish.”
“Uh-huh. Pattie, do you think maybe Father Cass may be checking out the newsletter online while he’s away?”
“I don’t know, probably. Why?”
“How often do updates get added online, do you know?”
“Oh, parishioners can log in and add stuff, like prayer requests or births and things, so I’d say pretty often.”
“I think I’ve got an idea. It’s definitely a long shot, but it might just work. It’s worth a try, anyway.”
“So tell me already!”
“Okay. What if you write a ‘thank-you’ to the whole parish for the lovely flowers, but we word it in such a way as to let Father Cass know that we need to speak to him?”
“But the parish didn’t send the flowers.”
“They don’t know that, do they?”
“Oh, you’re the clever girl, aren’t you? So what do we say?”
“It’s not ‘we’, Pattie, it’s you.”
“Oh, dear Lord. I couldn’t do it. I’d mess it all up. I wouldn’t have an idea of what to say. I’d boggle it completely, Emily.”
“No, dear. I only meant it will come from you. We’ll figure it out together. Okay?”
“Okay. My goodness, you had me near to having a fit.”
“Well don’t do that. Now let’s get to work.” They sat down in the living room and after a few fitful starts and stops, ninety minutes later they had what they thought might work. They posted it in the Parishioner Comments section of the newsletter and hoped it would get the attention they were seeking. It read:
“I would like to thank the entire parish for the lovely flowers I received today. They meant so much in Father Cass’s absence, particularly now that Emily Scanlon has been in such serious need. The doctor recommends eggs.”
Once it was posted, Pattie drove Emily to Polonia’s to pick up her car and then they both drove to St. Florian’s. It was nearly dinnertime and the parking lot was empty, not a soul around. The front door to the church was locked, but Pattie had a key to the back door where Father Cass entered to prepare for Mass or any other church functions. She unlocked it and they both went in.
The sun was just beginning to set and the amber rays shone through the red of Jesus’s robe in the largest and most glorious stained glass window of the church. Ruby shards of light danced across the tile floor and oak pews. The smell of incense, not used since Easter Sunday, could still be detected; its essence was firmly and forever embedded in each and every porous surface it touched.
Pattie and Emily walked over to the apse on the eastern side of St. Florian’s where the statue of the Blessed Virgin stood. It was a beautiful statue of Mary, wearing a crown of gold; in her arms she held the Baby Jesus. She was protected on her left, right, and above her by heavenly angels. Beneath the statue hung a beautiful portrait of the Madonna, which was framed in gold. In cascading tiers wreathed around the virgin were row upon row of white votive candles in glass cups tinted blue. More than two-thirds of the candles were lit, and the scent of wax was heavy in the air. Both women reached into their purses and proceeded to pull out a couple of dollars, which they then placed in the ancient wooden box to the right of the glowing candles. They each picked up a long match, lit it, and then in turn, lit a candle and blew out the match. The prayers they said as they knelt before the virgin were fervent pleas of help for their beloved Father Cass.
It was ten agonizing days until either of the ladies heard a thing in response to their posting in the Parish Newsletter. Well, to be precise ten days passed until they had a response from Father Cass. They had a number of responses from the parish, which they should have expected given the cryptic nature of their message, but when you’re new to the cloak and dagger business, it’s not unusual to miss every single repercussion.
The morning after the posting, Emily’s phone rang so many times from friends, acquaintances and, really, people she only knew so much as to nod to, she finally stopped answering. In the beginning the calls were from friends who were worried about her. She reassured them that she was fine and indicated that Pattie was probably just making a joke, or maybe it was a typo? After that when people she really didn’t know began calling, it started to get a bit intrusive and downright rude. Thank God for caller ID.
When she finally stopped answering the phone, she noticed people were coming up on her porch, but no one was ringing the bell or knocking on the door. Time and again, by the time she got to the front door and opened it, whoever it was had gone. But when she looked down there were gift baskets, cartons, and boxes of farm-fresh, Amish, and cage-free eggs of all sizes and hues, together with notes of goodwill and get well from people all over the city. She brought them all into the house and stacked them as best she could into the refrigerator. Finally, ten days after they had placed the ad, when there wasn’t room in her kitchen fridge or the one she had in the basement for overflow, for even one more egg, she pulled out her ragged Yellow Pages and called Forgotten Harvest. If anyone could use twenty or so dozen eggs, the good people at Forgotten Harvest could. They promised her they would send someone out as soon as possible.
About four hours later while she was waiting for the Forgotten Harvest truck to come and pick up the eggs, Emily saw a white van pull into her driveway. She got up to go into the kitchen to start pulling the eggs out of the fridge when something on the van caught her eye; it was the name on the side of the van – Mannino’s. This wasn’t the Forgotten Harvest truck; the van was from Mannino’s Florist, the same place that delivered Pattie’s flowers from Father Cass.
She hurried to the front door just as the courier was about to the ring the bell. “Hi. Mrs. Emily Scanlon? These are for you.” She opened the door, and he handed her a beautiful potted garden of ivy, dieffenbachia, orange kalanchoes, and schefflera in a heavy, white rattan basket. There was a card in a sealed pink envelope tucked into the basket. “Be careful,” he said. “It’s a bit heavy.”
“I’ve got it. Thank you so much. Have a nice day.” Emily took the basket from him and closed the door. She walked back into the kitchen, set the basket on the table and tore open the envelope. Inside she found the same type of notecard that Emily had received: white with a tiny bluebird in the corner. The card read: “Emily, sorry you’re ill. I’m sending my aunt; she’ll be in her brown pantsuit. Wednesday at two p.m. at Jeb’s House, back booth. Bring Pattie. I’ll make eggs.” The card was signed with a smiley face.
Emily nearly fell over the kitchen chair in an effort to grab her cell phone, which she’d left in the living room. It took Pattie four rings to answer. “Wednesday at two o’clock!!!”
“Wednesday at two o’clock. We’re meeting Father Cass’s aunt on Wednesday at two o’clock at Jeb’s House. He sent me flowers from Mannino’s, just like you. We got through to him. It worked, Pattie, it worked!”
“I don’t think so, Emily.”
“Of course it did. He said, ‘Bring Pattie. I’ll make eggs.’ Then it was signed with a smiley face. No one else would have known to do that.”
“That’s true. Nobody else could know that. But…”
“But what? What’s wrong?”
“It’s…well…The thing is, Father Cass doesn’t have an aunt. There’s just his mom and dad, you see. So why would he say he’s sending his aunt, then?”
“Maybe it’s not his aunt. Maybe that’s just a cover because he can’t say who he’s really sending. So he’s telling us that he’s sending a woman and she’ll be wearing a brown pantsuit so we’ll be able to recognize her. That makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean it’s not like he can come out in the open and meet with us, right?”
“As usual, Emily you’re one step ahead of me. You’re that smart. Okay then. But would you mind if we went earlier, like say at one o’clock? I’ve really been craving one of their bacon, lettuce, tomato, and avocado sandwiches. That way we can have lunch and then we’ll spot her when she walks in, right?”
“Sounds good to me. See you on Wednesday. Bye.”
“Oh, wait, what kind of flowers did you get?”
“A lovely basket of plants. Come by later and take a look if you like. I’m not planning on going anywhere. Besides I have to tell you about the eggs.”
“I’ll tell you when I see you. Bye for now.”
It was Monday when Emily received the flowers and the note from Father Cass. She found that waiting for Wednesday to arrive was a lesson in patience unlike any she had ever endured. The vision, though she hated to call it that, that she had experienced at Polonia’s had stayed in the forefront of her mind, regardless of all of her efforts to put it behind her. She tried every tool in the arsenal she’d gathered in her sixty-one years of living, and nothing worked. Over time a person finds ways of dealing with stress, develops coping mechanisms that may seem strange to someone else but work perfectly well for them.
Emily tried everything. Jigsaw puzzles (big ones-5000 piece minimum) always relaxed her. Not this time. Music and deep breathing were often helpful, but after three concertos she felt as if she couldn’t breathe and wanted to throw a brick through a window. Often baking was the right fix; it wasn’t, but the Carsons next door were thrilled to receive two zucchini breads, and the Sardellis, guardians of their three grandchildren, who lived across the street, were overjoyed to be the recipients of an angel food cake and four dozen snickerdoodle cookies. Emily cleared out the basement, washed and waxed the floor, sewed new curtains for the guest room, and watched a six-hour marathon of Shirley Temple movies on AMC. The neighbors were happy, the house looked good, and she could probably win a trivia contest if the subject were Shirley Temple, but she still didn’t feel any better.
By Wednesday morning, her anxiety hadn’t lessened, her patience hadn’t improved, but at least it was eleven thirty and she and Pattie would be meeting with someone who she hoped could reassure them about Father Cass in approximately two-and-a-half hours, and that was as least something.
Pattie had agreed to drive, as Emily was concerned that meeting with someone to talk about Father Cass might cause another “episode” as she had decided to call it. If it happened again, she didn’t want to have to leave her car at Jeb’s House while Pattie drove her home. As much as she loved their BLT&As, and it was true that they made the best lattes in town, there was no getting around the fact that Jeb’s House was definitely on the seedier side of town. It was a real credit to the drive and talent of Faye and Lucy, two schoolteachers from the inner city, who after they retired decided to pool their money and take a chance on opening a restaurant using all of their family recipes going back seven generations.
Looking out the living room window, she saw Pattie pull into her driveway. Before she could even put the car in park, Emily was out the door, blue chiffon scarf flying, nearly tripping over the uneven cement on the walk. She finally landed in the front passenger seat of Pattie’s car. “Let’s go!”