Leap of Faith Chapter 2

"We have much in common," Cahill Ferguson smiled. He sat now across a table from Arron Day, a mug of beer raised to his lips.

"We, ah,  ‘minorities’ is it?" Aaron’s drink of choice at the moment was ice water.

Cahill shrugged. He apparently didn’t mind having his own words thrown back at him. "Tis simple truth. Yours and mine, Arron Day, have both been slaves. Disrespected. Robbed. Cultures raped, left in the gutter. Am I lying to ya, young man?"

Before them on the table were plates of steaming food: ribs, corn bread and greens for Cahill, steak and pasta for Arron. And a side order of peas that Cahill ordered when Arron had stepped away from the table to take a call. They sat next to his plate, untouched.

"Do tell," Arron’s smile was bordering on cynical.

Cahill continued, "The very things that drive us apart also bring us together, once crisis hits."

"Clarify, please."
"Y’see, by my way o’thinking, each nationality in this town has its own community. The Irish have Hell’s Kitchen. Coloreds have Harlem. Chinamen o’course have Chinatown. The Italians keep to Little Italy. The Jews have the Grand Concourse up in The Bronx. And so it goes."

"Your point?"

"Not a one of these ghettos have any money. Money is its own nationality. What they do have is pride and love, in their community ... and their religion. And fierce loyalty to both."

Arron Day stared, waiting. Cahill Ferguson busied himself with a rib, using his napkin often. Finally, he continued.

"Hurt a community’s pride, it will strike back. That’s divisive; us vs. them."

Arron was beginning to doubt this man had anything to say, or, if he did, that he would ever get around to saying it. "You’re telling me someone is trying to turn communities against each other?"

"Come now. Yer better than that, lad. If division was the aim, suspects would have been easily found. Or dupes set up, more likely, to fan the fires. This madness seems to me more of a herding. Someone’s driving these folks on, paying close attention to our communities, the better to exploit local scandals."

Arron offered only silence. He was tired of prodding.

Ferguson nodded, understanding. "Each community has its dirty laundry, don’t you know; the little corruptions and human failures that only their block speaks about. Suddenly now, these little failings are front-page news. They’re tied to the beatings and the killings. And everyone has dirty laundry of their own to be worried about. Ye see what I’m getting at here?"

Arron checked his watch. Ferguson’s eyes grew wide, as if he were offering the secrets of the universe. "Am I boring Mr. Arron Day himself now?"

Arron eyed the old man skeptically. "You’re suggesting these crimes are all linked? As if someone is snooping into every community, with some sort of city-wide terror as the goal?"

"That I am."

"What proof is there? Michelle Walker was a church-going girl. She sang in the choir."

"And recently the right Reverend Hunt took her to task before that choir for putting her professional goals before her duties to God and family. Am I right?"

Arron barely nodded. "How did you know?"

"Word gets around, my friend. That is exactly our problem. Now take Angus McBride. Shocked the Hell’s Kitchen community by marrying a Jewish gal from the Concourse. Both found themselves dead. Horrible for two ghettos. Or Stephen Flynn, found shot in the back two days after being caught in the arms of another man. Or Gail Anne Harrington, left for dead after her husband complained that she refused to have children by himself, drunken sot that he is."

"Complained to whom?"

"Come now, Arron Day, even you know how talk goes round the neighborhood. Take a friend into confidence and the word goes out to everyone on the block. That’s what comes from friends, eh? Explains why you have so few of them, doesn’t it?"

Arron tossed his own napkin onto his now empty plate. "You want me to help you combat neighborhood gossip mongers? I’ve heard enough." 

"No," Cahill’s smile vanished now, and his eyes burned in a way that kept Arron riveted to his seat. Very few people could do that to him. "Don’t you dare dismiss me like some old fool. What, is Arron Day himself too high and mighty to consider an uncomfortable truth?"

Ferguson wasn’t the only one losing his patience. Arron bared his teeth. "What is it you want?"

Ferguson bristled right back. "I want you to consider the possibility that there exists a group in this city for whom allegiance is of paramount importance. A group that wants to unite all communities ... through fear."

"And gossip. Right."

Cahill pressed on. "If you won’t help, have the decency not to sneer at these victims’ plight, thank you very much. Hmmphrph. At least there’s some comfort for these poor lost souls. In these same communities, following each murder, oddly unaccredited wall posters appear, all saying simply: ‘Return to God.’" He stood now. "Coincidence? I think not."

Arron ran a hand over his face. He shook his head. "So God’s a suspect now?"

"You are not naive enough to ask that question," Cahill shot back. "You yourself have fought self-righteous fanatics, on more than one continent. As did your father before you."

Cahill Ferguson grabbed his Blackthorn. He tapped the walking stick for emphasis. "Now, there is an Italian priest whose affair with the parish widow has just been exposed. I’m going down to Little Italy to prevent his murder. Here’s the address. If you’re not too full of yerself to help those in need, I’ll see you there. If not, I’ll share the shame your father must feel, God rest his soul."

Blackjack let Ferguson walk a good fifteen feet before testing the old man’s hearing. "Your brogue is gone."

Cahill Ferguson never even looked back. "Self-preservation," he called over his shoulder, reaching for the door. Suddenly the thick Irish lilt reappeared. "Tis nigh impossible to beat a leprechaun."

For one last moment, the two men stared hard at each other. Finally Cahill spoke, contempt right out front. "But then again, you learned well the lessons of self-preservation. Seems to me Arron ‘Blackjack’ Day is your sole concerned after all. More’s the pity."

With that he was gone.

Arron stared at the table, specifically the small white card with an address scrawled on it in the shaky hand of an aging warrior. Finally he sighed, and reached for that bowl of peas.

###


            "Ah, Margaret Agnes, another place I never took you, lass. The Church of the Immaculata holds within its walls the kind of reverent beauty usually reserved for the old country. They love Jesus here, darling. Love him through gorgeous statues, intricate stained glass, glorious oil painting. As to their daily prayers, well ...

            "Immaculata might have been the smallest church in Little Italy, but its congregation is large, loyal and hanging their heads shamefaced these days.

            "Actually, more shamefaced than usual, me love. After all, Immaculata is the church where Lucky Luciano got himself married, don’t you know? Where his crew baptize all their children. Of course, their patronage paid for the school, but still shame lingers on the older, unmade members of the congregation, if you get my meaning.

            "Now, Father Romano found with the widow Salmieto? It was unthinkable. How would the black-clothed matrons of the 6 a.m. daily mass be able to shop on Canal Street now?

            "And how Broome Street was alive with gossip! People knew or manufactured detail after detail. How the widow’s brother-in-law found the two of them in her apartment (maybe even her bedroom!). Sure, Father Romano claimed he was comforting one of his flock, but did he have to comfort her naked? Everyone also knew for a fact that Father ran out without his pure white collar. Hadn’t the brother-in-law stormed up and down Broome Street waving it?

            "Everyone was talking, but no one dared approach the church. Who in their right mind would challenge those chosen by God himself?

            "No one ever accused me of being in me right mind, Margaret."

            The neighborhood hissed as  the hobbling, shamelessly nosy Mic bastard gimped right up to the church doors, only to find them locked. Without a moment’s hesitation, he wrapped on the doors with that shiny black cane of his, then didn’t even let the ensuing silence slow him down. He just strolled into the alley, heading for the sacristy entrance. How dare he? You could just feel the eyes in the windows, all muttering, wait until the neighborhood hears about this ...

            "Nobody home? Seems strange, doesn’t it Margaret,  that no one was left to guard the fort during the storm? Surely at least a maid should be in the sacristy ..."

            He tripped over the body before he saw it, old legs buckling over the surprise impact, walking stick flailing, wind escaping painfully as he landed.

"Mary, Mother of God!" Cahill Ferguson sucked at the elusive air and scrambled off the corpse. "Tell me I’m not too late."

He was.

The body, clothed entirely in black save for the small square of  pure white at the Adam’s Apple, had most probably been Father Romano. The priest had been shot below the belt. Obviously someone’s idea of poetic justice.
Cahill Ferguson knelt over the body, searching frantically for a sign of life. Cursing his shaking hands, he could only feel hints of a pulse, weak, or imagined. He wasn’t sure.

Extreme situations tended to inspire Cahill’s self-deprecatory side. "Spent too much time on Mr. Arrogant Day, and all for naught, you old fool."

The deeper shadows of the alley came alive then.

"Guilt’s a powerful thing, isn’t it?" Cahill Ferguson called out, still desperately trying to register a pulse on the victim. "Was it the reference to your father, then?"

"That helped," Blackjack admitted, emerging from the darkness coming closer. "But ‘Mores the pity,’ sealed the deal though."
"Classic line, that. Learned it from me own Mehr, who used it often enough on me in her day," Ferguson sighed. "Wasted words, it seems. I’ve failed again."
"You couldn’t have prevented this." Arron Day crouched down next t him.

"So absolutely-Blackjack-sure of this too, like every other fact in the known world, eh?"
Arron ignored the dig. "I arrived five minutes ago, and I was too late as well. Heard the shot. Muffled. Sounded like a homemade silencer. Thought I saw the shooter and gave chase, but no dice." Arron let out a long sigh.
"Help me with the pulse at least," Ferguson insisted. "My hands are old ... Can’t get a good sign here."

Arron moved alongside this one-time friend of his father’s and put his fingers lightly on the priest’s neck. "Weak, definitely fading. We’ve got to--"

"Get you filthy murdering’ hands off the fadda! Dat’s what you gatta do!"

Neither Arron Day nor Cahill Ferguson needed to look up, but they did anyway. They saw exactly what they expected.

Eight guns. Each held by a member of Little Italy’s strongest organization. Each ready to shoot. Each aimed directly at the unlikely partners.
Cahill Ferguson leaned slightly toward Arron Day. "Still glad you decided to show, lad?"
END OF PART TWO.

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Christopher Ryan spent eight years as an award-winning Bronx crime and politics reporter, winning awards as Best News columnist (NYS Newspaper Association), Journalist of the Year, and a DeWitt Clinton Masonic Award for Community Service, among others.
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