LAST CHANCE

By 3tate4lace All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Other

Chapter 8

Later that afternoon when Arnold Park rang the bell at the rectory at five minutes past three, no one, including Patti Cleary or anyone else who had been at Polonia’s for lunch that day would have recognized him. He was dressed in the black suit and white collar of a priest. He stood slightly stoop shouldered, and he had added a good bit of gray to his hair, which was now slicked back with some sort of hair gel. He carried a battered brown briefcase in his hand and had acquired a slight shuffle to his gait. All in all quite different from the nondescript persona he used at the restaurant.

Mrs. Cleary went to the door, and seeing a priest standing on the porch, she smiled broadly and opened it as wide as it would go. “Well, good afternoon, Father. What can I do for you? Father Cass isn’t in right now. He’s off to the basketball game to watch the youngsters. He’ll be back in about an hour and a half. I don’t suppose you’d like to wait. But I can give you directions to the school. It’s just up the block and one street over, not far at all. However, if you’d rather…”

Arnold’s voice came out in nearly a whisper, low and gravelly, as if he’d had throat surgery of some kind or had been a heavy smoker. “My dear woman. Why no, you’re exactly the person that I’ve come to see. But if you wouldn’t mind, might I come inside? I’ve a bit of bronchitis and the day is cold and bitter as the berg that sunk the Titanic and all of her poor souls!”

Her mother’s instincts kicked into overdrive, and she threw open the storm door and nearly dragged the poor man inside. “Oh my goodness, you poor thing. Now, let me get you into the kitchen and get a cuppa into you. We’ll have you warmed up in no time, no time at all.” She settled him into a kitchen chair, put the kettle on, and was reaching for a clean cup and saucer before she spoke again. “I’m so sorry, Father. I didn’t even introduce myself. I’m Pattie Cleary. I take care of the rectory and of course Father Cass.”

Arnold’s face broke into a smile that would make the angels cry. “Of course you are. I’ve heard a lot about you. Let me introduce myself. I’ve been so rude barging in on you like this without calling. I’m Father Eugene Fouchey from the Michigan Catholic.

Every alarm bell in Pattie’s head went off. All she could think of was Emily and Alex warning her not to talk to the press, and here was a priest, a priest! And from the Michigan Catholic no less. How was she supposed to lie to a priest, even if he was a reporter? She turned back to the stove for a moment, took a deep breath, and turned around and smiled. “Well, I’m pleased to meet you Father Fouchey. But why on earth would you want to talk to me?”

Arnold was glad to see the panic in Pattie’s eyes. He had her right where he wanted her. This was going to be easier than he’d thought. “Why, Mrs. Cleary from what I hear, you are the person to go to when a person wants to know anything about Father Cass. Isn’t that right?”

Pattie could feel her blood pressure rising, she could feel a pounding in her carotid artery and her face felt hot. “I don’t know what you mean. What would you want to know about Father Cass?”

“Well, if you can keep a secret, the truth is, the Michigan Catholic has decided to do a piece this summer on exceptional priests who are working in inner-city parishes, making a difference in the community, like St. Florian’s. The fact is Father Cass is our choice for the first in the series.”

The kitchen chair she landed in was the only thing that kept Pattie from dropping to the floor when the blood that had been rushing to her head suddenly dropped on hearing Arnold’s words.

“Are you quite all right, my dear? Can I get you a glass of water?”

“No, Father, I’m fine. I’m just fine. You just surprised me is all. You literally took my breath away, I guess. Well, I’ll be! So that’s the whole secret, then?”

“Yes that’s our secret, and we want to keep it under wraps so to speak, at least for now. You know how we priests are; we don’t like to go on and on about ourselves…”

“Is the grass green? Especially Father Cass. Well I’ll tell you…I mean, well yes, you’re all very humble.”

“We want to gather a lot of information from friends, relatives, and so on, before we talk to the actual subjects, you see. So, I was hoping you could help me with possibly getting in touch with Father Cass’s family. Possibly even letting them know that I’d want to speak with them and why. Of course letting them in on the fact that this is top secret.”

“Oh, but of course I could do that, Father. Nothing and I mean nothing would give me more pleasure. Father Cass has done so much for me. I would do anything, just anything for that man. I’ll fix it up for you right away. You just give me your phone number, and as soon as I get everything set up, I’ll call you, I will. Now, will you be wanting to speak to me about Father Cass, too?”

“Of course I will. But you see, I’m one of those obsessive types, and I have my habits, you know. I just have to start at the beginning and work my way to the end. So, I’ll start with Father Cass’s beginning and work my way up to you. How would that be?”

“That makes perfect sense to me, Father, just perfect.”

“Now, here’s my card with my number. As soon as you’ve done your part, call me. Then I want you to throw this card away. The last thing we want is for Father Cass to accidentally find my card, and then start asking questions, do we?”

“Oh no! Well, this is just so much fun. I feel like just like Angela Lansbury on that TV show, I do!”

“That’s good. Now give me your word as a Catholic that you will not reveal this to anyone.”

“I promise, Father. I will tell no one.”

“You’re a good woman, Pattie Cleary. Bless you. I’ve got to get out of here before Father Cass returns. I so enjoyed meeting you. I look forward to talking to you again. Thank you ever so much, my dear.”

“Thank you, Father.

The smile on Arnold Park’s face over his success at hoodwinking Pattie Cleary lasted a good fifteen minutes after his car pulled away from the curb in front of the rectory and drove away. Forty-five minutes later his cell phone rang. He looked at the caller ID and noted that the number was listed as Cleary, John. He answered on the third ring. “This is Father Fouchey. How may I help you?”

“Father, I’m so glad I caught you. This is Pattie Cleary. Do you remember, we talked this afternoon?”

“How could I forget, Mrs. Cleary? Aren’t we on a secret mission together? Do you have any good news for me?”

“Oh!” Arnold could almost hear her face blush. “As a matter of fact I do. I spoke to Mrs. Radnaezewski, that’s Father Cass’s mother - and she was that thrilled, I’ll tell you. She said that she and her husband would be happy to talk to you. I told them about the surprise and all, so there’s no worry there. Now, here’s their phone number. Do you have a pencil?”

“Of course. Go ahead.”

“All right then, their number is 718-555-8930. By the way, they live on Staten Island. That’s in New York. Is there anything else I can do for you, Father?”

“Mrs. Cleary, you have been ever so helpful. I’ll let you know if I need anything else. Thank you again. And God bless you, dear.”

“Thank you, Father. Good-bye.”

“Good-bye, dear.” He closed his cell phone and thanked whatever God was currently working in his favor, because as well as things were going, he wasn’t about to muck the whole thing up by taking anything for granted. Arnold had always been the superstitious sort, and now investigating a priest who maybe performed miracles, he was definitely going to dot all his i’s and cross all his t’s.

In less than an hour he was back at the Motel 6 he had checked into yesterday to change back into his regular nondescript clothing and be through the TSA line and on his way to the United Airlines gate with forty-five minutes to spare until his flight to LaGuardia. That was the beauty of working for someone like the senator. Cost just wasn’t an issue. No cutting corners on travel or anything else. Whether getting from point A to point B cost $100 or $1000 simply wasn’t an issue. The issue was to get to wherever he needed to get to and screw the money.

Arnold had promised himself that someday he would be able to live like that too. Maybe if he could hitch his wagon to Gardner’s star, that just might happen, or maybe he could figure out what Gardner was after on this case and get in on that. Or maybe they were the same thing.

By the time he finally got settled in with an overpriced Michelob and the smallest bag of nuts he’d ever seen, the flight attendants were already making preparations for landing. He made a habit of only using carry-on bags, so he was in a cab and headed into the city on the double. He thanked God for strong satellite signals as he opened his tablet in the back of the cab and thanked Him once again for New York cabbies who barely spoke English or at least pretended ignorance, so avoiding conversation was a cinch.

He’d given the driver the address of the only Holiday Inn on Staten Island. It was on Wild Avenue which, according to the Google map in front of him, was about a thirty minute ride to East Buchanan Street, where Fred and Mary Radnaezewski resided, the next step in his investigation of the priest who apparently performed miracles. He closed the tablet and shuffled through his wallet until he found the appropriate ID for this trip. Maintaining the identity of priest/reporter for this part of the investigation was paramount if he was to gather the type of information he needed.

Arnold liked working alone and for the most part always had, but he had sources everywhere. He had associates in places that, well, if the people who hired him knew how deep some of his contacts were embedded, they would probably stay as far away from him as possible. But that was the thing about Arnold, he was just so low-key, so unassuming, that no one ever assumed anything. And as far as he was concerned, that was just fine. That was how before he even arrived in Detroit he already had a fake ID created with the name of the real Father Eugene Fouchey, who actually did work at the Michigan Catholic newspaper, and who actually was doing a story this summer on inner-city churches and their outstanding priests.

However, Father Cass and St. Florian’s was not part of that story. Better still, Arnold had learned from his inside source that Father Fouchey was under strict orders to keep the entire project under wraps until publication. The list of the priests and the churches was not to be released to anyone, regardless of the reason. So should anyone call the paper (which Arnold had purporting to be a member of the parish council of Our Lady of Sorrows) and ask about the project they were to be told that no information was available, which is exactly what he was told, more than once.

The taxi pulled up to the Holiday Inn, and Arnold and his bags got out of the backseat, paid the driver, and headed through the automatic door to the reception desk. The young woman staring at the computer screen in front of her didn’t notice him until he cleared his throat. Then she looked up at him as if he’d interrupted her from doing something very important. “Yes?”

He pushed his driver’s license across the counter toward her. “I’d like to check in. Just for tonight.”

She glanced at the license then looked at him, then glanced back at the license. Her back straightened and she cleared her throat. “Yes, of course. Let me see what we have available. Sorry to keep you waiting, Father.”

“No problem, dear.” When he had the photo taken for the ID he was wearing the traditional Roman collar. He knew at some point it would come in handy, and sure enough, it was already paying off.

“Here we go. I’ve got a nice room on six for you, with a king bed and a view too. If you could just give me a credit card and sign here, please.”

“If you don’t mind, I’d rather pay in cash. We don’t deal much in credit, dear. I’m sure you understand.”

“Oh of course. Whatever you want to do is just fine. Your room is 612 and here’s your key. The elevator is right over there, to your left. Enjoy your stay, Father Fouchey.”

“Thank you, my dear. God bless you.” He took the key and headed for the elevator.

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