The boy needed to tell police what he knew about the fire. Cleansed by Fire. Chaper 4 – 3

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During the drive back to Prince of Peace, guilt draped over Father Frank, dragging his spirit down.

Somehow, he felt responsible, as if he could have pre­vented this fire. But he didn’t know there was going to be another fire. Certainly, he did not know another church would be targeted. What could he have done? Turned the police on Sammie? Let them try to sweat out of him what he knew?

Father Frank honestly believed that Sammie did not know about this fire in advance. Why do you think that? He shook his head, not knowing the answer.

Sammie hadn’t mentioned another fire. He sounded genuinely distraught about his part in the first fire. Surely he would have mentioned plans for another fire, if he had known.

Maybe Sammie knew nothing about this second fire until his parents were talking about it over breakfast, or one of his friends told him? Father Frank shook his head again. Or when the arsonist drove to the site and set the blaze.

Sammie is basically a good kid. He may be traveling with the wrong people right now, but Sammie wouldn’t be an active part in burning a church. He was at Mass last Sunday. He’ll be at Mass next Sunday. How could he burn a church of God?

He thought about Sammie and his unwillingness to tell what he knew. Was that some sort of loyalty? Some teenage code of conduct? You don’t squeal on your friends? But do you need a friend who would commit such an act?

Father Frank decided that had to fit into a sermon in the near future. A person must make decisions based on what is right, not on what a friend wants. That needed a little refining but the basic idea of decision making was spot-on. Why wait? Now was the time. Give the sermon next Sunday. Maybe it would put a little pressure on Sammie to tell the police what he knows.

The temperature continued to climb. The sun hovered overhead with not a single wisp of a cloud to impede its radiant heat. A drop of sweat ran down Father Frank’s neck and under his collar. He regretted not leaving his Roman collar in the car. In his haste to get to the basketball game, he had forgotten how hot it was today.

The Bisons were playing the Bobcats in the third game of the morning and the boys were running around the basketball court unaware, or at least unimpressed, that the thermometer had long since passed the ninety degree mark.

Ah, the advantages of youth, Father Frank thought.

He had tried to get the school district to open up the high school gym for his summer league. After all, it was not a church function but an activity for all the teenage boys of Pine Tree during the summer when there was little to occupy their time. The superintendent had refused.

First, it was the custodial problem and the cleaning. When Father Frank offered solutions to those problems, the obstacle became the insurance company. They would not approve it, would cancel the school’s policy if the school board allowed this non-school sponsored activity. Father Frank sug­gested that it become a school sponsored activity, and that he would do all the organizing, overseeing, coordinating, and what­ever else.

The school district would need to provide no personnel resources. In fact, they would get a summer program and the credit for a community service, all for the price of opening up the gym. Still the answer was an unwavering No. Father Frank didn’t believe the school board members were against the summer program, they simply found it easier to not be involved.

Eventually, Father Frank decided it was probably better this way. The games were played out in the open for all to see, and lots of kids dropped by to watch. Some of those had even formed a team and joined for the second round, just because they had seen other kids having fun. Maybe God decided the program worked for more boys when it was outdoors.

While he had managed to get an adult committed to over­see each game, Father Frank came to as many as he could. He believed his presence helped things go smoothly, and he wanted the boys to know he supported them, not just on paper, but with himself.

Besides, he enjoyed watching the young kids having fun playing sports. Many a day, he wondered if he could join an adult league in Tyler as just plain Frank DeLuca, ex-college basketball player who loved the game, and shoot hoops with the best of them. He remembered trying to impress on the UT/Arlington center the importance of a consistent motion in shooting free throws.

“I’ll bet I can make five out of ten with my eyes closed,” Frank had said.

“No way,” the tall, lanky player said.

“Okay. If I can’t, I stay and shoot a hundred free throws. But if I make five or more, you shoot a hundred before you quit today.”

“Deal.”

Frank made seven of the ten, eyes closed. The six foot ten center practiced late that day, eyes open. And his free throw percentage got better.

The Bobcats, aptly named as all three were on the small side, ran circles around the taller Bisons.

Speed is a great weapon, Father Frank thought.

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of a black Trans-Am rounding the corner and creeping along the street next to the basketball court.

The tinted windows made it impossible to see anything about the driver.

But Father Frank felt in his bones the man was studying the boys, looking for his next victim. It was common knowledge that drug dealers operated in Pine Tree. Just the thought of this predator enslaving one of these youngsters to drugs sent the priest’s blood pressure soaring.

On impulse, he jumped up and raced to the street. Father Frank stepped in front of the Trans-Am just as the low-slung car started to pick up speed. He put both hands up and stood stock still in its path. Sweat ran down his side. His heart pounded.

 

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.

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