He tried to warn the kids. Was he getting through to them? Cleansed by Fire.

More chapters from Cleansed by Fire

A VG Serial: Cleansed by Fire

Chapter 23

The clock hand clicked over to nine just as the telephone rang. Georgia put down her coffee and answered it on the third ring.

“Hi, it’s your friendly policeman calling to check on you. I hope you had a good night’s sleep.”

Georgia’s mouth curved into a smile. “Yes, I did, and thank you for calling.”

“Have you decided to take another turn at long, revealing conversations?”

Georgia twisted the phone cord around her hand. She hadn’t expected Mike to call this early, and truth be known, she had not figured out what to do.

A part of her wanted to say, Come on over and we’ll talk until lunch. But a small voice said, Not so fast. Are you really able to evaluate this relationship?

She knew the answer to that. No, she couldn’t. Still, did she have to know the end to make a start? She just had to watch her step along the way.

“Ah, the POPsters have a rehearsal tonight and I should be there. How about tomorrow night? I’ll cook something and we can listen to some good music.”

“That’s a long time off. Guess I’ll just have to tough it out.”

“You’re tough enough.”

Georgia replaced the phone in its cradle. He was strong. And yet, he seemed so gentle when he talked to her. Sensitive. Caring. Was that all an act? For her benefit? He was a detective, after all. He had to be pretty calloused to stay in that kind of a job. It wasn’t a place for the weak of spirit, or the thin-skinned.

And yet, they had talked for many hours already in their short—she had trouble saying it—relationship. Still, that’s what came to mind. It sounded more permanent than she was willing to admit. Those hours had told her a considerable amount about him.

And I’m sure he’s learned a lot about me. I even talked about Leo at length. Probably shouldn’t have. But it is a part of me. Leo helped define who I am. No use trying to hide that. If he can’t deal with that, this—there’s the R-word again—this relationship surely won’t go anywhere.

Father Frank had bought and installed a new lock on the church door, and replaced one of the light bulbs that burned out during the night. He had almost forgotten the Poor Box, until Ms. Zimmerman pointed it out to him after morning Mass. He thanked her, not mentioning that he had seen it last night. He as­sessed the damage, determined he had the materials to repair and reinstall it, and set about fixing it.

Forty minutes later, he stepped back and surveyed his work.

“Not as good as new. But it will serve its purpose. Ac­tually, it doesn’t look bad at all.”

He knelt down in the last pew and said a prayer that the problems plaguing Pine Tree would stop, with no more churches lost. He asked God to watch over the youth, protect them from the many temptations surrounding them. He asked God to keep Tim safe and return him to his family. And lastly, he asked God to show him how he might better serve the people of Prince of Peace.

He made it down to the town basketball courts and watched the eleven o’clock game. The boys sweated under the intense sun, calling time out to grab drinks of water, and wipe their faces on the tails of their jerseys. He had to smile, thinking of all the summer days he’d done the same thing. It might be too hot to mow the lawn but it was never too hot to play ball.

From a distance, the mournful sound of a siren floated through the park. Father Frank stiffened and caught his breath. Surely it wouldn’t be a church fire in the middle of the day. All the others had been late at night. The frightful sound was coming closer now. Father Frank looked around, trying to focus on the direction of the noise. And then he saw it. An ambulance streaked across an intersection, aimed toward the hospital. Father Frank let out his breath.

Please, God, watch over the patient in the ambulance. And thank you that it’s not another church.

Across the park, he saw Earl speaking with some   teenagers. They didn’t play in Father Frank’s basketball league, but they were kids. Earl didn’t have any business talking to them. At least, I hope he doesn’t have any business with them. The priest got up and started over, but before he had covered fifty feet, Earl left.

“Hi, guys,” Father Frank said. “What did that man want?”

The boys looked uncomfortable, one studying the ground, another checking his shoes, and a boy with silver studs in both ears mumbled something completely unintelligible to Father Frank.

“He’s bad news, guys. He will only get you into trouble, or worse. Please, don’t let him get you into something you can’t get out of.” He looked at each of the group. No reaction.

“Listen, if you ever need to talk, have a problem you want help with, anything at all, come see me. I’m at Prince of Peace, over on Vine Street. You don’t have to go to church there to come and talk. And I won’t betray your confidence. Okay?”

Again, he looked at each one, hoping for a nod of the head, or some indication that he was getting through to them. None responded. He continued to look from one to another.

Finally, the kid with the ear studs said, “Yeah. Got it. Vine Street.”

Father Frank nodded and smiled, then turned and went back to the basketball game, wondering if he had wasted his time.

No. If even one stays away from Earl, I didn’t waste my time.

Chapters of the serial are published on Monday, Thursday, and Sunday.

You can learn more about Cleansed by Fire and other James H. Callan novels on his Amazon Author Page.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,