As he settled into the cab and it pulled away, Father Brian Doherty looked back one last time with an ache in his heart. The mission had not only been home to him for many years, but it had also been the center of his life, the focus of his every waking moment. Now, to see it disappearing in the distance, left Father Doherty feeling empty and without purpose.
As suddenly as the melancholy mood had come, it dissipated as a brief smile crossed his face. The half forgotten dream from his younger days, the secret wish that he couldn't give voice in his own prayers had been granted. He had a son. And what a son. Zane was a strong, fit young man, but more importantly, he was a good man. Father Doherty desperately wished he could have spent more time with his son and gotten to know him better, but circumstances were such that other priorities took precedence.
Those other priorities filled his mind, the kids, his kids, traveling to God only knows where, searching for a place to live where they'll be safe. He knew that his faith was being tested. He fought down the worry and reassured himself that the children, his children, along with his own son, were now in God's hands and that all would proceed according to His will.
As the cab pulled to the curb, Father Doherty looked around curiously. He didn't know the area well, but he knew enough to tell that he wasn't in the right place.
"I have taken you as far as I can go, Father. At this time of night, no cab will go any farther than this." The cabbie said with a truly remorseful look in his eyes.
After a moment to consider, Father Doherty paid his cab fare, then carried his suitcase out of the cab.
"May your God be with you and protect you, Father." The cabbie said respectfully.
Father Doherty was somewhat surprised, because the cabbie was not only obviously of middle eastern descent, but from his clothing, also appeared to hold closely to his traditional beliefs.
"May your God be with you and protect you as well, my son. Thank you." Father Doherty said sincerely, then watched as the cab pulled away.
* * * * *
"Father D?" A voice called, jarring Father Doherty out of his thoughts of his son and the children as he carried his luggage down the sidewalk.
Before the Father could identify the young man who was approaching him, the man continued, "What the fuck are you doing out here at this time of night? Are you lookin' ta get yer ass killed?"
"Whatever happens will be as God wills. It's good to see you again, Darnell. Since I haven't seen you at the mission recently, can I assume that you're doing well?" Father Doherty asked with a gentle smile for the young man at his side.
"What? Yeah, yeah, I'm fine, Father. Where are you going? You really need to get off the street before you get hurt." Darnell said with concern as he looked around nervously.
"I'm going to my new mission." Father Doherty said pleasantly as he started to walk again.
"Lady of the Angels is way the fuck over that way." Darnell said as he motioned up the street.
"No, no. Saint Barnabas." Father Doherty said frankly, then quickly crossed the street.
"Is that place even still open?" Darnell asked uncertainly, as he followed along.
"I'm told that it is. But recently they seem to be having trouble keeping staff..."
"I'm guessing from the neighborhood that they're in, that their problem ain't with your staff quitting." Darnell said frankly.
"Why do you say that?" Father Doherty asked curiously.
"The people in the ghetto, they look at that neighborhood and say 'Damn, what a hellhole!'. I'm betting that the reason you ain't got no help at the mission is because they're bein' carried outta there, tits up." Darnell said frankly.
Father Doherty stopped to consider for a moment, then looked Darnell in the eyes and quietly said, "I've been called to a life of service, and the church has assigned me to this mission. There is little I can do but have faith and trust that God has a plan in mind for me."
"Yeah, there's something else you can do. You can get your ass off the street! It's not safe out here. There are people out here who will KILL YOU." Darnell said urgently.
"I appreciate your concern, but I cannot allow myself to be diverted." Father Doherty said frankly, then started walking again.
"Give me that." Darnell said as he snatched the suitcase from Father Doherty's hand.
"I don't mind..." Father Doherty began to say.
"Come on! You need to move like the devil himself is at your heels, because... it ain't far from bein' the truth!" Darnell said as he sped up his pace and urged the priest to keep up with him.
Father Doherty began to hurry, not out of fear, but just to placate Darnell, who seemed so concerned.
* * * * *
As they finally reached the modern style mission building, Father Doherty gazed sadly at the decrepit condition of the fifteen year old structure in the poor orange light of the street lights, and sighed heavily.
"Darnell, I can't believe how battered this place looks." Father Doherty said sadly.
"You think it looks bad now, hell, wait till you see it in daylight." Darnell replied. "Okay, you've been outside too long. Get your sorry ass inside, before you end up in the fuckin' morgue."
Father Doherty stepped forward and knocked on one of the large, wooden doors.
Without waiting for an answer, Darnell reached around from behind, pulled the door open, and gently but firmly pushed the priest inside.
"Father, you should be okay, now, but I really gotta get my ass out of here. I's sposed to be with my boo, Tonesha, an hour ago. She was fixin' collard greens and BBQ ribs, and she was even gonna try to make some fried green tomatoes, if she could find us some."
"Thanks, Darnell, for helping me out. I know you don't believe me, but I know down deep, you are a good man, even if you don't always act like it."
"Yeah, right. If you only knew half of the shit that I've done, you wouldn't think I'm anything close to good."
"I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on that one. Just, please, always remember, regardless of anything, I'll always look on you as a good person and a friend. I will always welcome you into my home."
"Thanks, Father, that really means a lot to me."
Darnell then knocked firmly on one of the heavy steel inner doors of the alcove, then backed out the doorway and headed back the way they had come.
Father Doherty looked up and smiled to himself. "Thank you, God, for sending him to help me. Please protect him and his loved ones in the days ahead."
Just then, a young man in a priest's robe and an apron cautiously opened one of the doors
"How may I help you, Father?" the young priest asked, obviously surprised by Father Doherty's presence.
"Actually, I think I'm supposed to help you. I was sent here by the Archdiocese. Monsignor Driscol said that you were short handed, and to make matters worse, that Father Haslip was not working out. What do you need me to do, Son?"
"We were just starting to get the evening meal ready, I wasn't sure that I really heard someone knocking out here, but I thought I'd come and check, just in case."
"You're cooking dinner at this late hour?" Father Doherty asked with surprise.
"Yes. But we only have six people staying here, right now, and it has been a while since any of them have had a meal. Things have been very hectic here lately, and we are quite short handed. We serve a modest lunch every day to anyone who is here at noon, and we usually provide a substantial supper for those who are here in the evening. However, today, things have conspired to keep us from getting started with supper, and I find that time has slipped by a lot quicker than I thought." The young priest said before needing to stop to take a breath.
Father Doherty was impressed by the younger priest. Although the dark circles under his eyes and the 'too thin' gauntness of his cheeks spoke of a bone-weary man, the young priest's enthusiasm seemed unencumbered by the demands of his physical body.
"I'm Father Franklin, by the way, and Father Kinsey is still in the kitchen working on the meal. Would you like to see your office, or your room?" Father Franklin asked in a gentle tone.
"Can't see much reason for me to see either when there are hungry people needing to be fed. There's nothing in this suitcase worth stealing, so I can just leave it over in the corner until I am ready to go to bed. I'm sure I can do more good helping get supper ready than anything I could do in the office right now. Oh yes, I almost forgot. I'm Father Doherty."
"You're Father Doherty? I thought you were running the Gay Outreach Shelter."
"No, Son, it was not a gay outreach shelter. The Church would never sanction such as that. Mine was simply a mission shelter for the homeless, not unlike yours. But, be that as it may, they closed it down, and re-assigned me to this one. There was no decline in need, so I am sure it was something political, but I am God's servant, and I plan to serve him in any capacity I can." He reached out and shook hands with the young priest.
"I understand that it couldn't be recognized by the Church as being a mission reaching out to gays. But I can assure you, whenever we encountered a troubled gay youth we were told by just about everyone, that your mission would be the absolute best place to send such a child." Father Franklin said with conviction.
"I simply did God's will to the best of my meager ability. But for now, let's get in that kitchen where I can do some good. I'm a pretty darn good cook, if I do say so myself." Father Doherty said warmly. In just a few minutes he had come to admire and respect the younger priest.
"So is Father Kinsey. He was studying to be a chef after he finished seminary, then they assigned him here." Father Franklin said as he closed and set the deadbolt firmly into place, then led Father Doherty away from the substantial, hopefully burglar resistant, door.
"There were four priests working here until last week when Father Rodrigos was shot to death, just down the street. He was coming back here with the groceries. He only had about twenty dollars on him when he left, and he was carrying two bags of groceries back, so there couldn't have been much money left. They must have been upset, because he didn't have enough money to suit them, so they just blew him away."
"We heard some gunshots, not that that's unusual around here. But we started to get worried when he had been gone longer than usual. When he was found, his wallet was missing, and the groceries were strewn all around him."
"The thing is, we hear gunshots almost every night, so we usually don't think that much about them. Isn't it sad when it seems perfectly normal to hear people shooting at one another?" Father Franklin asked as he stopped in the hallway to wipe his eyes.
"Did they catch the killer?" Father Doherty asked as he started to tear up. He could see how deeply the recent events were troubling the younger priest.
"That was never a possibility, not in this neighborhood. No one saw a thing. Not one witness came forward. The gangs around here are pretty much in control, so no one will even think of reporting what they might have seen."
"What about the police, didn't they show up and try to apprehend the killer?" Father Doherty asked cautiously.
"Not for at least another half hour after we heard the gunshots. That's standard procedure, with the cops around here. I guess they don't think the people who live around here are important enough for any of them to risk getting shot at. They wait until they think the criminals have left the scene before they come racing in, sirens blaring, making a big show about coming to SAVE THE DAY."
"Just like Mighty Mouse." Father Doherty remarked, flatly.
"Mighty Mouse?" asked the younger man.
"Just an old cartoon character from when I was a kid." Father Doherty answered. "The mouse was just an ordinary mouse most of the time, but whenever there was some sort of danger, or someone was in trouble, the little guy would transform into a little super hero and start to sing, 'Here I come to save the day, that means that Mighty Mouse is on the way!' Then he would jump up in the air, just like Superman did, and go rescue the cute little girly mouse, who acted like some poor little frightened kid." Father Doherty sighed again. "The darn mouse was so full of himself, that he had to brag about how he was going to go save the day; buncha crap, as far as I'm concerned."
The young priest's eyes opened wide, for just a second. "Wow, you said crap. That's the first time I have ever heard that word used by a priest."
"Well, you'd better get used to hearing things like that, or worse, because I don't pull any punches. I say just what I mean. In fact, I would probably have used the word shit, if I had known you a little better." He patted the younger man on the shoulder and encouraged him to start walking again.
"We'd better get out to the kitchen and give Father Kinsey a hand. This is going to end up being more of a midnight snack than a dinner, as it is. But with all the chaos of Father Haslip leaving, and rescuing another gunshot victim, we've only just been able to think about food."
* * * * *
The pair of priests walked past a large, empty table and over to a decent sized industrial kitchen.
"Father Doherty, this is Father Kinsey. Father Kinsey, this is Father Doherty."
"Nice to meet you, young man. I believe that we should have plenty of time to get to know each other when there aren't people with empty bellies waiting on us." Father Doherty said frankly, then added, "I would be glad to help in any way I can. Father Franklin said you had the cooking situation in hand, and that you are a budding chef. I am pretty handy in the kitchen, myself, so if you need me to do anything, just let me know, and I will do whatever you need me to do."
Father Kinsey looked at Father Doherty with surprise for a brief moment, then turned his attention back to his cooking.
"That includes serving food, and any cleanup needed, once everyone has been served." Father Doherty said loudly enough so that Father Kinsey could hear him over the sizzling food in his skillet.
"Thank you, Father. I can see already that you are going to be a lot easier to get along with than our last boss." Father Kinsey said without looking up from his work.
"He was a lazy old goat who hardly ever left his office, let alone doing any work himself, and just screamed out orders left and right, with no thought as to what any of us were doing. He was pulled out of here the day after Father Rodrigos was killed. I don't know if he asked to be transferred, or if the higher ups decided that that was the last straw and moved him before he could make things any worse. I guess we will never really know, but honestly, I don't care. I am glad you came." Father Franklin reached out and took Father Doherty's hand and gave it a friendly shake.
The three priests got down to the business of getting supper ready for their six hungry guests.
Father Doherty pulled the freshly baked bread out of the oven. It smelled heavenly.
"I just remembered, you said you had four priests here, and that one of them was killed, but now there are just two of you. What happened to the other priest?"
"Well, you said yourself that Father Haslip wasn't working out. He was the fourth priest here." Father Franklin explained. "And, now that you are here, we number three."
"Honestly, for all practical purposes, there were only three of us working here, even while Father Haslip was here, since he never did any work himself. I suppose he would be referred to as someone who delegates the work to others, but he was more of a slave driver than a real boss. He never spoke a civil word when he spoke. He just blurted out orders, and we were expected to obey them without any questions asked."
Father Doherty slowly nodded, he had heard from others that Father Haslip was more worried about currying the favor of his superiors than doing anything that might actually help others.
"I must admit that I do feel a little guilty," Father Franklin blushed, "since my thoughts sometimes run to wishing it had been Father Haslip who had gone to the store that night, but that, of course, would never have happened. He simply would never have stooped to doing any actual work. He was THE BOSS, and that was that."
Father Doherty smiled. "Believe me when I tell you that over the years, I have also had supervisors who acted that way, and almost every one of them have eventually been moved to places where they will do as little harm as possible."
"Rest assured, Father Haslip will not be doing much bossing in the job where he is currently assigned. He is going to be pushing papers in the downtown office, and is likely to remain there for the foreseeable future, according to Monsignor Driscol." Father Doherty said as he sliced the freshly baked bread and plated it for service.
"I remember when the Monsignor visited here, a month or so ago. He was surprised to find that Father Haslip was not participating in any of the day to day activities here. I don't know what he said to Father Haslip, but I think he might have told him he was being transferred, because he mostly stayed in his office with the door shut, and only yelled at us if he wanted his meals sent in. He never ate with the residents. I think he was afraid he might catch some germs from one of them."
"Well, let's forget about your former boss, and think about getting supper on the table. Where do you keep the dinnerware?" Father Doherty asked as he looked around.
"The plates, cups, bowls etc. are in the cupboard over there." Father Franklin pointed, and Father Doherty retrieved a stack of plates and began to set the table.
Father Franklin opened a drawer, grabbed the silverware he needed, and began to place them on the table.
Father Kinsey brought a large bowl of salad to the table, and asked Father Doherty to bring in the roast beef and bread that he had helped prepare.
The bowl of mashed potatoes was already in the middle of the table along with a steaming bowl of seasoned green beans with bacon.
Father Franklin went into the sitting room and called the residents into the dining area. Four of the men came in quickly, but the other two came in much more slowly. One of them was using crutches, and the other man had his shoulder bandaged and seemed to be in considerable pain.
"Gentlemen, I'd like you to meet Father Doherty. He is replacing Father Haslip, and I am sure you are going to like him."
"I don't know that I could step into Father Haslip's shoes, but I have been sent here to help, however I can." Father Doherty said humbly.
Father Franklin and Father Kinsey exchanged an amused smile as they helped those that needed it to be seated.
As the men sat down, Father Doherty and Father Kinsey walked around the table while Father Franklin started the introductions.
The first one they came to was the wounded man. "This is Ahmid Harrish. He just came to us yesterday. We tended his wound, and called for the Doctor to come check him out, but Doctor Radcliff was not available. He is the only Doctor we have found who will even come see our people, and unfortunately, we are not very high on his list. His nurse said he would come as soon as he could, since Ahmid's injury was not life threatening. God willing, he will come by sometime tomorrow afternoon."
"It's nice to meet you, Ahmid. I am sorry you are hurt. Can you feed yourself, or would you like some help?" Father Doherty asked with concern.
Ahmid's mouth fell open, and he mumbled, in a slight accent which Father Doherty couldn't quite place. "I can feed myself, Thank you, Father, I am right handed, so I don't have to use my left one, too much."
"Okay, if you would like any help, just let me know. What would you like to drink? We have coffee, hot or iced tea, milk, and I believe I saw some pop in the fridge. I'll be glad to get you whatever you would like." Father Doherty offered.
"Thank you, Father, I think I would like a cup of tea, if it wouldn't be too much trouble." Ahmid answered, still totally in awe of the new Father.
"Coming right up." Father Doherty replied, as he made his way to the urn and prepared a cup of tea, which he brought to Ahmid.
"Here you go, young man. I left the tea bag in the cup so you can make it whatever strength you prefer. Do you want sugar or cream for the tea?"
"One spoonful of sugar, please." Ahmid replied. Father Doherty added the sugar and handed Ahmid the spoon. "Enjoy, and let me know if there is anything else I can do to help you."
"You are very kind, Father. I have not had much contact with priests in the past, but those I have talked to before I came here were not at all friendly to me. I suspect it is because I look to be Muslim.
"My family is Muslim, but I am not part of any religion, right now. I have, however, studied many different faiths. If more of the people who claim to be Christians acted the way your Jesus taught, I would find Christianity to be the most promising of all the faiths. Sadly, most Christians tend to shy away from me, or ignore me completely."
"We're all God's children, regardless of which name we choose to use when we call upon him. I promise you that you will not be ignored while you are here with us." Father Franklin assured the young man. "From the moment we took you inside, you became our responsibility, and you now have our protection, and our friendship, if you will accept it. In any case, you are welcome to stay with us, as long as you like. You have my word."
"You have mine as well." Father Doherty echoed.
Father Kinsey started dishing up plates for some of the other men, and after they finished helping Ahmid get his food dished up, they started helping the other men sitting near him.
"Father Doherty, this is Arthur Pratte." Father Franklin introduced the man.
"Nice to meet you, Father, I am happy to say that I am not injured. I am, at the moment, without a job and I completely exhausted my savings. I wasn't eligible for unemployment, since I actually quit my job. If you think Father Haslip was uncaring toward his employees, compared to my old boss, he was a saint." Arthur sighed.
"Mrs. Gorgan was a total nut case. There was no way any of the employees could please her. I am pretty sure she actually wanted the turnover, since that way she could keep hiring new people so she wouldn't have to worry about anyone having any seniority."
The two priests continued dishing up food, passing the plate from one to the other, as they added the food from various serving platters and bowls.
"What would you like to drink, Arthur?" Father Doherty asked.
"I realize it might sound strange, but I would really like a glass of cold milk. It kinda settles my stomach." Arthur replied.
"Coming right up!" said Father Kinsey, as he made his way to the fridge, grabbed the jug of milk, and filled a good sized glass for Arthur.
As he set the glass in front of Arthur, he said, "If you want more of anything, just let one of us know and you can have it, at least until we run out. However, I am not going anywhere at this time of night."
"It looks as if everyone now has food in front of them, if we could just pause for a short prayer, then I think we can begin eating." Father Doherty said, and noticed that some of the men around the table seemed to be bracing themselves for an unpleasant chore.
"Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive, through Christ's bounty. Amen." Father Doherty said reverently.
As he looked up from his prayer, he noticed that everyone around the table seemed to be at a loss, waiting for more. With a smile, Father Doherty timidly explained, "My calling was to a life of service, not preaching. If you want a sermon, I'm sure something can be arranged. But for now, let's eat."
As they ate the delicious meal, Father Franklin introduced Father Doherty to the remaining residents.
"Father, this is Harry Walters." Father Franklin said, as he stood next to the man who had a pair of crutches on the floor to either side of his chair.
"Harry has a bit of a problem with his back, so he needs the crutches to help him keep his balance when he is on his feet."
"It's nice to meet you, Harry. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help you. Just so everyone knows, any or all of you are welcome to come see me, wherever I am, and no matter what I might be doing. My job, as I see it, is to be there for each and every one of you, however you need me. I can give spiritual guidance, lend a helping hand, or just provide a shoulder, when the situation calls for it. Even if you just need someone to talk to, to help you sort through your thoughts, I'll always have time. I can even play a decent game of chess, if I put my mind to it."
The beginnings of smiles could be seen from all the men around the table at the sincere offer.
"I am not nearly as good at card games, although, I have been known to hold my own with a few people, over the years, except that Brother Jacques could always see right through me. Almost everyone else had a bit of a hard time figuring out what kind of a hand I was holding." Father Doherty chuckled.
"Brother Jacques?" Father Franklin asked curiously. "Was he a monk, or priest, or something? I didn't realize we had any monks in our order."
"No. Father, Brother Jacques wasn't any sort of priest, although, if he had been called to that duty, I have no doubt that he would have been outstanding. Let me see... it must have been nearly eight years ago, now, when a rail thin boy came into my mission and sought me out. I was absorbed in some duty or another, I can't recall what, now, when this young snip of a boy asked to speak with me privately."
"Of course, I didn't think anything of it at the time, and believed that the boy might be wanting me to give him absolution for some unpardonable crime like breaking a window, or some such a thing. But I stopped whatever it was that I was doing and made time for him. As soon as we were alone, the boy... to put it bluntly, he propositioned me."
Looks of surprise flashed on the faces of all the men around the table.
"In essence, he offered me the use of his body in exchange for food and shelter for two younger boys that he was trying to protect." Father Doherty said, as his eyes began to glisten with unformed tears.
"Make no mistake, he knew exactly what he was offering. In the fullness of time, I found out that he had been prostituting himself for years. But near the same time, when his pimp was killed, he found himself in the company of the two boys, twin brothers. Their mother had abandoned them. Brother Jacques took it upon himself to watch over them and to see that they didn't have to face the same choices that he had."
"When I declined his proposition, I could see him losing hope. So, in an effort to keep him from making the same proposition to someone else, I offered to allow him and his young companions to stay at the shelter, in exchange for their help."
"All three of them were grateful and willing to do almost anything to earn their keep. But it didn't take long for me to notice that Brother Jacques had a problem. When I confronted him about it, he admitted that he was heavily addicted to drugs. He seemed sure that I was going to throw him and his young friends into the street when I found out."
"I'm not in the habit of making promises that I can't keep. But that day I very nearly did. I promised Brother Jacques that I would find a way to get him some help with his addiction. I had, of course, had some contact with the treatment facilities, and I knew some people to talk to. But what I discovered, in my efforts to find him help, was that the overwhelming majority of those places are simply profit seeking ventures, disguising themselves as hospitals."
"The only way I could find to get Brother Jacques any sort of help was to bribe an administrator at a so called 'non-profit' treatment center. I gave him two thousand dollars and he somehow found an immediate opening."
"During the time when Brother Jacques was in treatment, I kept a close eye on the twins and got to know them very well, as I 'took them under my wing'. I could see what it was that Brother Jacques wanted to protect. They were both innocent, and although they had witnessed some of the worst examples of man's inhumanity to man, they still hadn't lost hope."
"When Brother Jacques completed his treatment, let's just say, I had my doubts. The boy was so jittery and desperate, I was afraid that he might run off at any moment. But, somehow, the twins and I were able to get him to stay clean. It was about that time that I started calling him 'Brother'. It was my way of announcing to everyone in the shelter that Brother Jacques had a position at the shelter and was under my protection, for what it was worth."
"It was my hope that, by doing that, maybe some of the drug dealers and the boy's former clients might be less inclined to seek him out. The twins and I did our best to protect him, especially in the early days. And, by the grace of God, Brother Jacques has remained clean and sober from that day until this."
"He sounds like quite a fine young man." Father Franklin said, with his own eyes beginning to tear up. "Why didn't he come with you?"
"He and the two brothers I spoke of, are taking some of the more vulnerable children we were caring for at the old mission, as far away from here as they possibly can. We have received word that the current administration is not interested in anyone who is not completely self sufficient, so to speak, or who doesn't meet the standard idea of proper beliefs, and we have no idea what they have planned for those people who don't meet their standards. I will just say that we had reason to believe that several of the children we were caring for would not fall into the category of 'normal' youngsters, and we feared for their futures. So we made some discreet inquiries, and were assured that they would be safely moved to a more tolerant atmosphere, somewhere farther west from here."
"That sounds like a very good idea. I can imagine what you meant by not considered normal children, knowing the reputation of the shelter you were operating." Father Franklin said knowingly.
Father Doherty acknowledged his statement with a nod, then turned his attention to the man next to him at the table. He didn't want to bring up the topic of sexuality and the politics of same, in the company of these men when it would serve no purpose.
The next man to meet Father Doherty looked to be in his late twenties or early thirties. Father Doherty was not sure as to what the man's racial heritage might be. He seemed to possess some distinct facial features of a black man, but he had what looked like soft light brown hair, which he wore tied in the back in a loosely bound ponytail. His complexion was more like chocolate milk, than anything else, so Father Doherty knew he was of mixed race, but for the life of him, he couldn't tell what those were.
"Father, this is Jim Borders. He, too, has joined us in the last few days." Father Franklin introduced the young man.
"It's nice to meet you, Jim. Would you like to tell me a bit about yourself?" Father Doherty asked.
"I recently returned from the Middle East, I was a civilian employee of the U.S. government. I was assigned to install and maintain various computers and other technical equipment, over there."
Father Doherty nodded with interest and waited for him to continue.
"I started losing some of my vision and checked with the local Doctors, and they couldn't find anything wrong. So I was sent back here to the states, and apparently, I acquired some sort of eye infection, which has been taken care of. But since my medical reports from the Doctor overseas said there was nothing wrong with me, my Government provided insurance refused to pay for any of my treatments, and the bills have continued to pile up. I had no money for rent and my landlord kicked me out. He also took possession of all my stuff, saying he would count it against what I still owed him. I left there with what I had on my back, and a few things I was able to carry, as I left."
"Don't worry, Jim, I am sure you will do fine, once you can get back to working, and you certainly are welcome to stay with us, as long as you like." Father Franklin said with a caring smile.
"Thank you, Father, I am sure I will be able to find some things I can do to help out."
Father Franklin patted the next man on the back and said, "This young man is Gregory Farnsworth. He has a bit of a hearing problem, from being too close to a bomb while fighting in Afghanistan. But he has become very good at lip reading, and when he uses his hearing aid, he can pick up most conversations; unless there is a lot of background noise, then he has a bit of trouble, distinguishing things."
Father Doherty smiled. and looked directly at the young black man. "It is nice to meet you, Gregory," he said, as precisely as he could. "I have had several deaf people in my care, over the years. So I have picked up a bit of American Sign Language, as well as the manual alphabet, and, of course, I do try to keep my head turned toward people who read lips."
"Please, Father, call me Greg, my dad was Gregory, and whenever I hear that name, I look around, trying to find him. Of course, I won't ever find him, now, since he has been dead for nearly five years. He was killed by a guy who was texting while driving a semi, and not watching the road. Dad had the right of way, and he didn't see the truck 'till it was too late to get out of his way. The guy ran right through the red light and plowed into dad's Triumph, smack into the driver's side door. Dad was killed instantly. The trucker hardly got a scratch out of it, and somehow, he was found to be blameless. I guess he had one hell of a good lawyer." A tear ran down his cheek, as he went on. "I was on my way to Afghanistan, when it happened."
"When I got hurt, I was in the hospital for almost a year, what with all the physical therapy and skin grafts, etc. I was lucky, considering how close I was to the bomb. I still don't know how I came out of it alive. The most annoying thing, now, though, is that no one wants to hire a man with all my problems. I mean, I've pretty much recovered my physical functionality, but I still have flashbacks, and I tend to black out, or loose myself in the flashbacks."
"They have been coming less frequently as of late, and they are less severe, now, too. But, I am still not employable, as far as most people are concerned." He sighed deeply. "The V. A. payed for my initial hospitalization and treatments at the Heinz V. A. hospital facilities, in Mt. Prospect. But once I was physically capable of getting around they released me, and pretty much washed their hands of me. I have completely depleted my savings, and no longer have my house, after the bank foreclosed on the mortgage."
Father Doherty paled, as the young man continued his story. "My 'loving' wife took my eight year old son and went to live with her mother."
"I found this place totally by accident. I had just gotten off the bus, when I realized I was at the wrong street. I looked off to my left and I saw the sign above the door. I had just made it inside when I started having one of my spells. Luckily, one or both of these guys caught me before I fell and hit my head on something. Finding my way here was the best thing that has happened to me in a very long time. God must have been watching out for me."
"I am glad you came out of it without further injury. Now that you are here, we can most likely find something you can do to earn some money, and you, too, can feel free to remain in our care, as long as you wish." Father Doherty replied.
The last man to be introduced looked to be in his late sixties. He had a full head of hair, which was mostly red, with a few streaks of grey throughout, but his mustache was completely white. He was still quite fit looking, with no obvious signs of flab showing. Father Doherty had the impression that this man was taking very good care of himself.
There was something about the man's eyes that made Father Doherty look at them for a long moment. He couldn't figure out what it was that was so intriguing about those eyes. They were so intense, and when he looked at you, you felt as if he could see right into your soul. Father Doherty thought, "This man is very special, and I am going to find out what he is made of, if it's the last thing I do."
"Hello, Father, I'm Artimus Stout."
"It's nice to meet you, Artimus. I'm sure you already know who I am, but I'd really like to get to know you better."
"Well, for starters, let's just say that you and I have a lot more in common than anyone might think." Artimus said, grinning broadly. "You see, I was once a priest, in the Catholic Church. I lived in St Louis. Somehow, though, my faith, or what passed for faith at the time, was severely shaken when my brother was stricken with Cancer."
"Somehow, I managed to try to blame God for not saving Josh. He was only thirty years old at the time, and had a wonderful family. His wife, Kathy stayed by his bedside, as much as possible. I took on the task of caring for his son Ray, who was only six at the time, and he practically worshiped his dad. I prayed and prayed for God to let him live, but the cancer had already spread through his entire body. There was nothing that could be done for him. Apparently, he'd had it for quite a long time before anyone caught it. By the time they figured out what was wrong with him, it had practically taken over every cell in his body. He was in a great deal of pain at the end, and I must say, my faith was severely shaken, and I retired from the priesthood."
"After the funeral, and several weeks of finishing up all the things that had to be taken care of, I decided I needed a change of scenery, so I packed up and headed for Chicago. I had a friend, here, and I was staying with him, until he lost his job and had to move in with his brother. They both offered to let me stay there, with them, but I knew that I would just be a burden on them. So, I decided to look for lodging elsewhere, and I found this place, so here I am."
Father Franklin spoke up. "I didn't know you were a priest."
"Well, I'm not a priest, anymore. But I do whatever I can to help... mostly at lunch. This place has been understaffed for some time, now. Especially during the day. There are just a few of us, six at the moment, plus the priests, who stay here, in the evenings, but during the daylight hours, we serve lunch for somewhere between sixty to as many as two hundred people. So we use the large dining hall, and we set up the serving line. We have a steam table and a cold table for salads and desserts. Not everyone who comes in here for lunch is homeless, of course. Some of them are simply hungry. Most of them have places to stay at night, and believe me when I say, no one will venture out at night in this neighborhood, unless someone is chasing them." Artimus said seriously.
Father Kinsey nodded, and added, "Anyone who finds themselves still here after sunset, will usually stay here for the night, rather than try to survive long enough to get back to their place. There are no buses running in this area after sunset, and no cab will venture in here after dark."
"Yes, I'm afraid that I found that out the hard way. My cab driver stopped about six blocks from here, told me I would have to walk the rest of the way, and that no cabs would come into this neighborhood after dark." Father Doherty lamented.
Everyone had finished their meal and most of the residents headed for the community room, or to their own rooms to get some sleep. The priests and Artimus began to clear the table, put the leftover food in the fridge, and started washing the dishes.
Father Doherty chuckled to himself, and of course the others all looked at him, wondering what he was thinking about.
"Sorry, I just had a silly thought. Artimus, you and Arthur could both be addressed as Art, so, it seems to me that we now find ourselves to be patrons of the Arts."
"Well, hearing you say that, is kinda funny, but truthfully, No one has called me Art or even worse, Artie, in ages. I don't really like being called Art. I used to get teased when I was a kid. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised, since kids seem to love to tease each other. They called me Artsy Fartsy, Art Attack, and any number of other things, which usually made me mad, and of course, I would get into a fight over it. The funny thing was, that we kids usually got over the fighting pretty quickly, but those darn old Nuns would always step in to 'calm us down' and of course, that just made things worse. And when we wouldn't calm down, they would paddle us all. No matter who started the fight, we were all punished. And those old biddies actually seemed to enjoy giving pain." He suddenly frowned, as he remembered something else.
"Sister Ambrosia was the worst of the bunch. She was a pinch faced ugly old crone. I can see her face as clearly as if she were standing right there." He pointed to the corner. "She handed out punishment for the most minor infractions of the rules. She had a wooden ruler, that had a strip of metal on one edge, and when she hit you on the back of your hand it hurt like blazes. It actually left a mark for several days." He pointed to the corner. "I think we all hated her. At least I know I did. Funny, even now, I can feel my blood pressure rise when I think about her."
Father Doherty smiled and nodded at the man, whom he realized that he genuinely liked.
"In any case, I'd really appreciate your not calling me 'Art'."
"I have no problem with that. I pretty much go with the flow." Father Doherty answered, smiling. "I don't know about anyone else, but I have had a pretty stressful, and very long, day today. I was up at the crack of dawn, getting everything ready to close down my old mission, and then I had to make sure that everyone was safely sent on their way. It was not an easy day for me, under any circumstances. Thank the Lord, a wonderful loving man came to the rescue, and along with Brother Jacques, put everything together and allowed all of my flock to find their way to safety. At least that is what I fervently hope and pray ended up happening." Father Doherty sighed. "I always put everything into the hands of the Lord, and he has never failed me, yet. After hearing about what has been happening in this neighborhood, I know that the Lord sent Darnell to make sure I got here safely."
"Darnell brought you here?" Father Kinsey asked. "I guess that explains your getting here in one piece, coming here this late at night. That guy is amazing. He is one rough tough customer. I once saw him disarm two men who were fighting each other with knives. He just walked right up to the two of them, bold as brass, and took their weapons right out of their hands, fast as lightning. I have no idea how he did it, but he was sure quick, and he didn't take any nonsense from either one of them. I don't know how long he talked to them, but by the time he left, they were both having a reasonable conversation. They both had their weapons, but were no longer trying to kill each other. I have never seen the like in my whole life."
"Darnell and I go way back. He used to hang around by the old shelter, at times, and he did a pretty good job of handling himself, considering he was a user and a dealer. He never gave me any trouble, though. We had, and still have, a mutual respect for one another. I see something in him, something that he, himself doesn't know. He thinks of himself as completely self sufficient, and in control, and he doesn't have a good opinion of himself, at all. I know, however, he is not as hard nosed as he thinks he is." Father Doherty sighed. "I only hope that he can somehow escape this life he is leading, and come to an understanding of himself as the worthwhile person I know he is."
Father Doherty yawned. "I seem to recall I was thinking of going to bed. I really think I need to get some sleep. I guess I need to see my room now."
"Yeah, that makes sense. We kind of got carried away, there, and time just flew by. If you will follow me, I'll show you where it is." Father Franklin opened the door to the hallway.
"Let me just grab my bag. I'll be right there." Father Doherty answered.
He grabbed his bag and followed the younger man down to the end of the hall and to a set of outsized ornately trimmed double doors. It almost looked as if he were about to enter a sanctuary. Father Franklin opened the doors and reached for the light switch.
Once Father Doherty walked into the room, and looked around, he was struck by the absolute absurdity of the decor. They were standing in a richly appointed sitting room, complete with a huge, very expensive, leather sofa, and two matching recliner chairs all facing a wall sized flat screen TV. There were floor to ceiling shelf units, that were filled to capacity with various brik a brak, some of which was obviously modern and some was older looking, perhaps antique, but all extremely ugly. The best word to use to describe the scene in front of him would probably be 'tacky'. Not one of the pieces of 'art' could be considered anything but showy and exaggerated.
One wall was painted a bright orange and had a huge fake fireplace right in the center, which was complete with a simulated log with a flickering light inside. The large mantle was covered with a series of FabergÃ© eggs, depicting the life of Jesus. Father Doherty couldn't help but notice that some of the eggs depicted Jesus as being blond, while others had his hair in various colors from red to black.
"Jesus, Mary and Joseph!" Father Doherty exclaimed in wonder.
"Oh yeah, that one's right over there, on the far left; see the little baby in the diamond encrusted golden manger?" Father Franklin said as he pointed.
Father Doherty shook his head, then wearily asked, "Where is the bed?"
"I think it's down the hall and around the corner. I seem to remember seeing him come out of there, once. Let's go find it. I've never really been farther in than this room. I'm sure it will be interesting."
After Father Franklin switched on the wall sconces, the two men started down the ornately decorated hallway. There were still more gaudy representations of Christ in different settings, each one framed in simulated gold. "How in the world could he stand to look at this junk, day after day?" Father Doherty puzzled.
As they made their way along the hall, they finally came to a large door. Father Doherty grabbed the shiny looking door handle and opened the door to find, rather than a bedroom, it appeared to be a huge bathroom. In the middle of the room was an enormous Jacuzzi sunken tub. The floor was tiled in brightly colored splendor. In fact, everything in the room was shiny and bright. The walls were actually chartreuse, and not just any old plain chartreuse, but day-glow chartreuse.
There were decanters arranged along one end of the tub containing various scented soaps, creams and oils, all to try to help smooth out the vain, old priest's wrinkles. There was Queen Bee Jelly, a bottle of Rogaine and, it seemed, for emergencies, a can of spray on hair.
"I take it all this is as much a surprise to you as it is to me?" asked Father Doherty.
"Oh, definitely. I have never been in any room other than the sitting room we entered first. When Father Rodrigos was here, he spent some time working for Father Haslip, in here, and in his office. Father Haslip never interacted with us while he was here. He took all his meals in his rooms and during business hours he would spend some time in his office. He never even saw our guests, and as far as I know, none of them ever saw him."
"I must admit, this room and its contents have aroused my curiosity about the rest of his territory. I'd like to see the bedroom, for instance."
"I suppose that door over there might lead into the bedroom." Father Franklin answered. "We might as well try it."
Both men headed toward the door, which looked as though it would lead to the bedroom. This was a rather large door, with what looked like carvings all over it, but if you looked closely you could tell that they were merely glued on the cheap hollow core door. The whole door, carvings and all, was very light weight.
When they opened the door they found that the bedroom was at least as full of brik a brak as the sitting room was, and also sported a fake fireplace. But this time, the mantle was adorned with various small figurines of various shapes, sizes and materials. As the two men gazed at the room, they both frowned. Father Franklin spoke first. "I don't believe it, but I have to say this, that man had no sense of beauty, whatsoever. Everything in this place is butt ugly."
Father Doherty nodded. "Yes, ugly, gaudy and tacky. Not one piece of genuine beauty in the whole mess. I have never seen so many outlandish color combinations in my life. It's like walking into the land of OZ from that movie with Judy Garland. Everything is in technicolor. I have seen better art on the walls of a kindergarten classroom. And that is an insult to the kids in kindergarten. Look at that monstrous bed! I don't think for a minute that I could actually sleep in here. Is there another room I could use? Please tell me I don't have to try to sleep here."
"The only other staff room was Father Rodrigos' room. I can show it to you if you'd like. It isn't anything like this one."
"Thank God for that! I honestly can't imagine how anyone could stand to be in this room for more than a few minutes, without getting a headache from all the wild colors in here." Father Doherty actually shuddered as he thought of spending time in the room. "I fervently hope that I will never have to set foot into any part of this hideous place for as long as I live."
As they made their way out of the preposterously opulent suite of rooms, Father Doherty mused. "For all the parish's money he must have spent fitting this place out the way it is, we could have done a much better service to the people in this neighborhood, who should have benefited from it."
"The funny thing is, that he never seemed happy. With all this pompous garbage that he seemed to crave, I don't think I ever actually saw him crack a smile. He's just a bitter selfish man, no more, no less." Father Franklin added. "Let's get you settled in a nice comfortable bed, small, admittedly, but comfortable."
They entered Father Rodrigos' room to find it plain and cozy. The walls were a soft shade of tan, and there were a couple of nice looking watercolor paintings of nature scenes. There was a light brown bedspread on the twin bed along one wall, with a nightstand to one side. The dresser sat along the opposite wall, and had a good sized mirror attached to it. There was a modest closet next to the door that led to the bathroom he shared with Father Kinsey.
Father Franklin opened the door to the bathroom, turned on the light, and showed Father Doherty the double sink, the nicely sized shower bathtub combination, and the smaller room containing the toilet, which had a door for privacy, in case both people needed to use the room. The double sinks were far enough apart that two men could easily clean up at the same time.
This room was a far cry from the hideous spectacle that passed for the residence of Father Haslip, but that suited Father Doherty just fine, thank you, God!
Father Doherty finally got to sleep, but it did take him longer than he had hoped it would. He had a lot on his mind. He was still worried about the children, and about his newly discovered son. All things considered, though, he was pretty sure that Ben had a really good head on his shoulders, and that with Brother Jacques and the twins, they would take good care of the youngsters. Zane and the children would be safe. He finally fell asleep, after asking God to watch over all of them.
* * * * *
Father Franklin and Father Kinsey were seated at the table the next morning, discussing the events of the previous few days.
The subject of Father Doherty came up, and both men agreed that his joining their mission might actually be the best thing that could happen to the area, not just the mission, but the entire neighborhood.
"He is certainly a positive force, and I must say, although it sounds like a cliche, I truly believe he is, in fact, a Godsend." Father Franklin said seriously.
"I just wonder what God has in store for us that he would send Father Doherty here." Father Kinsey responded quietly.
"My ears are burning. Was someone talking about me a minute ago? Wait, before that, is there any coffee to be had?" Father Doherty asked as he walked to the kitchen area.
Father Kinsey stood up, reached for the freshly brewed coffee, and poured a cup for Father Doherty, then held up the pot as he looked at Father Franklin.
"Yes, please, I could certainly use another cup, and maybe still another one after that."
All three of them sat around for a while, discussing plans to revive the mission, and, in turn, improve the neighborhood.
Father Kinsey then walked to the stove with a dishtowel and picked up something before returning to the table.
"You remember that I was telling you that Father Kinsey was a culinary student?" Father Franklin asked, then broke into a smile and accepted a large donut on a napkin from Father Kinsey.
"Wait, is that what I think it is?" Father Doherty asked with a smile breaking onto his face.
"That's right. Handmade, homemade donuts." Father Franklin said happily.
"I can't even remember the last time I had one of these...they smell wonderful." Father Doherty said with a grin, then looked at Father Kinsey with surprise as he said, "It's still warm."
"That's the best way." Father Kinsey said before taking a sip from his cup of coffee.
After taking a bite, Father Doherty said, "I can't think of any particular verse that says that this is sinful, but I'm sure that anything that I enjoy as much as this, must be."
"As long as you don't overindulge, there shouldn't be a problem." Father Franklin said with a smile at Father Doherty's enjoyment, then added, "Besides, you wouldn't want to spoil your breakfast."
* * * * *
"I think I hear the sounds of men waking up." Father Doherty said over his coffee cup as the unmistakable noises of feet trodding on the wooden floor could easily be heard.
The six men who were the permanent guests of the mission made their way into the dining area of the kitchen. This room was always used for meals that didn't involve the crowds of hungry people who came to rely on a healthy hot meal around noon, each day.
"What would you gentlemen like for breakfast?" Father Doherty asked, as he glanced in the fridge. "I see we have eggs, bacon, bread for toast, or maybe French Toast. There is milk, which you can have plain or with chocolate, I can heat some up and make cocoa. This looks like orange juice," he said, as he held up a jug that did indeed look like orange juice. "Of course, we have several kinds of cereal. There is also plenty of coffee."
"Can I do anything to help?" Artimus asked slowly.
"You can help us at lunch. Right now, just sit back and enjoy." Father Franklin said with a smile at the man.
After a little hesitation, the men cautiously placed their orders, then watched as the priests made them breakfast.
During the first daylight hours of the morning, there were only a few people going about their business. Most of the neighborhood consisted of an abundance of bars and 'clubs'. Occasionally, there was a small storefront that appeared to be a convenience store, but the majority of what they 'conveniently' sold, no law abiding citizen would be interested in buying. The only 'market' in the neighborhood was more of a liquor store than a grocery store, but they did keep some food in stock, for those rare few who didn't feed themselves exclusively with drive-thru cuisine.
All kinds of people showed up at the mission during any given day. Some came in search of a meal, others wanted clothing, which the mission gave to anyone who requested it, no questions asked.
"I expect we will start having people showing up around ten or eleven, wanting our help. In the six years I have been here, we have never turned anyone away." Father Franklin explained as he started placing food on the table. "The Church has given us a budget, and we are free to serve people who ask us for help, in any way we see fit. At least that is the way it used to be."
"I'm familiar with the process, from my time at my last mission." Father Doherty said simply.
"Yes. Of course you would be." Father Franklin chuckled.
"Do you think you could take a look at the books for us? Neither Father Franklin or myself are well versed in accounting..." Father Kinsey said timidly.
"Plus, we've been too busy keeping things running to give it much thought. But I'm sure that there are bills needing to be paid and things like that that have been neglected since Father Haslip left us." Father Franklin said urgently.
"Or before." Father Kinsey added.
"If you can do without my help for a few minutes, I could take a look at things as soon as we're finished eating." Father Doherty said simply.
"I'll help them clean up." Artimus said seriously. "You go do what you need to do to keep this place open. It's too important to too many people."
Father Doherty smiled at Artimus, then nodded his agreement.
* * * * *
It only took about three minutes of looking at the books to find that the state of the accounts was far worse than he could have ever imagined.
Somehow, Father Haslip had been able to secure various loans to 'renovate' the mission over the past few years, but had neglected to ever pay a single cent of the money back to the bank.
From the jumble of paperwork that he was trying to sort through, it appeared that whenever Father Haslip ran short of money, he would simply take out another loan. The mission building was mortgaged to the hilt, even though Father Doherty knew that Father Haslip had no legal right to use Church property as collateral.
The phone ringing snapped Father Doherty out of his thoughts, for which he was grateful.
"Saint Barnabas." Father Doherty said cheerfully.
"To whom am I speaking?" A cold voice asked on the phone.
"This is Father Doherty, how may I help you?" Father Doherty asked, trying to keep his voice somewhat pleasant.
"Let me speak to Father Guzman." The man said sharply.
"I'm sorry, but there's no one here by that name." Father Doherty said slowly.
"Jesus Fucking Christ! He was supposed to be there last night!" The man growled.
"I'll be happy to give him a message if he shows up." Father Doherty said slowly.
"As soon as he walks in the door, tell him to call Father Haslip. He has the number." The man said, then hung up the phone abruptly.
"I've got your number, too." Father Doherty said slowly as he hung up the phone.
"Father! You'd better come out here! It's the police!" Father Franklin said breathlessly from the office doorway.
"I'll be right there." Father Doherty said as he closed the folder on the desk and turned off the computer monitor.
TO BE CONTINUED...
It really seems strange to be writing Co-Author's Notes instead of Editor's notes, but MM said it was appropriate, so here goes.
This chapter kinda came out of the blue, for both MultiMapper and me. We both felt we needed to know more about Father Doherty, but we weren't sure just how to go about doing so.
As we discussed writing a chapter to tell what was happening in Chicago, after everyone left, we decided we needed to see where the Church would send Father Doherty, and so, we have this chapter.
Normally, when MM and I work together, he writes the chapters and I follow behind and add a few words here and there, and perhaps some additional punctuation, but as we talked over what we wanted to do with this chapter, we both realized that we each had some ideas, and that if we put them all together, we might be able to come up with a better chapter than either of us could do alone, so we started working out details, together, and you now have the result. I will be curious to know if anyone can tell which of us wrote what parts.
I hope you found it interesting. It certainly gave us information we didn't have before, but then, I have always found that given the opportunity, our guys will fill in the blanks for us.
I will say, right now, that this is not the last we will hear of Father Doherty and the others he met at the new mission.
As this chapter finishes, the time is obviously still Wednesday morning. No one has even thought about what is happening with the election, the previous day, but we did manage to have us a cliffhanger, though, didn't we?
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher