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Monday, September 8, 2014

(”You don’t know how it feels, you don’t know how it feels, to be me.")…Tom Petty

For my family
"Father Hollyweird"
Chapter Six
St. Francis Rescue Mission…December 2, 2009…9:00am
            Becca Tran sighed and chewed on her lower lip while she waited impatiently for the stoplight to change. It never fails she thought, whenever you’re in a hurry you hit every red light, nice! If she factored in the fact that her partner, Detective Bob ‘Iggie’ Ingram had been yammering nonstop about his latest relationship failure, she had the perfect crappy day storm brewing. All she needed now was her monthly visitor to arrive early and she’d hit the trifecta. Iggie’s voice droned in a monotone in the background as he whined about little Miss so and so. Becca could care less but she was trapped for the moment. Honestly she thought, keeping this nimrod focused on the job was an impossible feat, Iggie was a true Wednesday’s child.
“So what should I do?” he asked finally.
Becca frowned and pretended not to hear him. She didn’t want to take sides and by doing so involve herself in Iggie’s woeful life. Besides she hadn’t really been paying attention. Iggie turned in his seat and pressed her for a reply, “come on Becca, you’re a woman, was I wrong or what?” he asked impatiently.
Alright he asked for it, she decided to invoke the universal female axiom, the triple whammy that ALL males were forced to accept, specifically, rule number one, the woman is always right, rule number two, the man is always wrong, and the tiebreaker, rule number three, in case of confusion refer to rule number one!
“Of course you were wrong, geez, get over it!” Becca barked, discouraging further discussion.
“Yeah but…”
“But nothing Iggie, we’ve got work to do man, put a sock in it for now!” Becca added quickly, cutting him off in mid-sentence as the light changed.
That seemed to do the trick as Iggie shifted gears mentally in sync with their unmarked Crown Victoria and focused his attention to the task at hand, bowing to the will of the young woman in the driver’s seat. He turned his attention to the road as they sped ahead and noticed the signpost announcing that they were entering the city of Reseda.
“What are we doing in the Valley?” he asked.
“While you were drowning your sorrows over getting dumped last night, I was doing a little advance work,” answered Becca.
“Well la-de-da Detective Brown Nose. You think you’re better than me newbie?”
“I know I’m better that you Iggie, everyone knows that.”
“Don’t worry Iggie, we’re partners, am I right?” Becca said apologetically. She didn’t mean to be mean but bluntness was her way. Speaking too soon was a rough edge that she was working on. 
“Right. So what’s in the Valley partner?” Iggie asked with only a trace of sarcasm.
“Looks like Mommy dearest was a runaway, and a recent one at that. I’m guessing her condition was the driver,” answered Becca.
“I see, so are we here to interview her family?
“Not exactly. Her mother is dead and her father is currently operating under the radar so to speak.”
“So who are you planning to quiz?”
“Social Services placed her in foster care at first.”
“But she was pregnant, they don’t place pregnant teens in foster care,” Iggie noted.
“Yeah well she lied about that at first but as soon as they found out she was routed back into the system.”
“How’d they find out?”
“Really Iggie?”
“Oh yeah, right.”
“Anyway Social Services found her a bed at this rescue mission we’re driving to, that’s where we'll start.”
“Okay, what about High School, did she go locally?”
“Yeah as a matter of fact, she graduated from Reseda High a couple of years ago.”
“We should go there too and talk with the staff, see what we can see.”
“Way ahead of you Iggie, we’ve got an 11:00am appointment with Principle Landry.”
“Great. Does he have a first name?”
“Yes, it’s Barbara.”
“How about the baby’s father, do we have a name for him?”
“That’s the $64,000.00 question. The birth certificate doesn’t list one.”
“I see, another immaculate conception. My sister Rose had one of those.”
“Don’t be a jerk Iggie,” scolded Becca.
“Sorry, so any leads at all on the fella?”
“Not yet but she may have told the priest. I mean he did make a film about her.”
“Oh yeah, Father Hollyweird, I’ve heard of him. He’s sort of a celebrity in this town.”
“You’re the second person today to call him that, what gives?”
“It’s a long short story. In a nutshell the padre is a bit of a trouble maker in the community. He likes to make expose films between Sunday Masses. Usually touching on subjects that the Hollywood A-listers would just as soon remained under the carpet where most dirt belongs.”
“What’s so weird about that?”
“Nothing, the truth is the press couldn’t find any mud to sling at the priest so they had to settle for good old fashioned name calling.”
“Awww, that’s so sad.”
“Nah, Father Quinn’s a good egg. Sticks and stones partner, sticks and stones.”
That actually made Becca giggle, “hahaha, fair enough partner,” she said smiling as she pulled into the parking lot of the St. Francis Rescue Mission. Iggie adjusted his shades and unlatched his seat belt just before the engine died setting off the annoying beep. Becca frowned at him and he shrugged, “alright Detective Tran, let’s start peeling this onion.”  
Immaculate Heart of Mary…December 2nd…7:00pm
            Father Nicholas Aloysius Quinn sat quietly in the confessional and scribbled on a small spiral notepad while he waited for the next sinner to arrive. It was his custom to wrestle with himself on paper whenever he struggled spiritually. He was a priest in the Roman Catholic Church that was for sure. But he was a human being as well and a male one at that. Tonight he wrestled with his conscience. He stared at the small notepad. He’d written her name half a dozen times, Megan it was. Each pass of the pen impressed the letters in bolder and bolder script. Tapping on his last pass he doodled question marks in the margin muttering to himself, “Where did I fail you child?”
The weary priest removed his spectacles and rubbed at his tired eyes. The Church was empty and uncomfortably silent, he could almost hear the candles burning. Leaning back in the small chair he looked up to the short ceiling and sighed audibly.
“Penny for your thoughts padre,” I said through the wooden screen separating sinners from absolution.
Father Quinn choked out a startled reply, “Forgive me my son, I must have dozed off,” he said in an embarrassed tone.
“Slow night Father?”
“You could say that. But enough chit chat, what is your good confession my son?”
I had to laugh, “hahaha, that’s rich your holiness, how much time do you have?”
“The house of the Lord is no place for levity young man,” scolded the priest.
“You haven’t heard my confession yet!” I replied with a chuckle. He didn’t respond right away so I spoke quickly before the nickel lecture started.
“Seriously Father, do you remember me?”
Clearing his throat he replied, “I’m afraid that you have me at a disadvantage.”
“We met at one of your location shoots downtown, I was a nosey passerby. You indulged my curiosity and invited me to stop your church if I was ever in the neighborhood. Well, here I am.”
“Yes, yes I do remember you now. You are the private detective, Mr. Roode, correct?”
“Whitey, please.
“It may surprise you to know that I was actually expecting you.”
“So you’ve talked to the Bishop.”
“Yes, and I have been instructed to give you my full cooperation. However if you don’t mind may we finish this conversation in an hour or two? This is hardly the place to conduct your interview.”
“On the contrary, I think this the perfect place. Sort of gives me an edge what with your vows and all. Like you said this is the house of the Lord and we are in a confessional after all.”
            That brought a chuckle to the priest’s lips and he replied light heartedly, “I like you Mr. Roode, you have panache.”
“I do? Thanks. What’s panache anyways?”
“Style Whitey, a very charming sense of style.”
“If you say so padre. Look, why don’t you give your side of the story in a nutshell. I’ll drill into the minor details later.”
            I saw the priest lean forward to rest his elbows on his knees through the wooden screen of anonymity. He sighed before speaking and then set about to answer the mail. “Well, in a nutshell as you say, her name was Megan Malloy. She was orphaned at a young age or so she said. I assumed that she was since she was living at the St. Francis Rescue Mission. Megan came to Immaculate Heart sometime in her second trimester scared and confused.”
“She came to you directly?”
“No, Father Garcia spoke with her initially and introduced her to Sister Pat, Patricia Cromwell our resident psychologist. Sister Pat is a wonderful nun and a very talented counselor working with our teen ministry.”
“I see. So when did you enter the picture?”
“I’m the Parish priest at Immaculate Heart and so you might say that I am in charge here. Sister Pat asked me to speak to Megan when the counseling sessions failed to help and she sank deeper into a low state of mind.”
“Yes, depression is the right term. In any event Megan wanted to end her pregnancy and asked Sister Pat to help her find a clinic that would perform the abortion. Sister Pat explained to her that an abortion at this stage could be dangerous and offered to take her to a doctor who could explain exactly what the risks might be.”
“So the nun’s only motivation was Megan’s physical well being, is that what you’re saying?”
Sister Pat, please,” Father Quinn implored, scolding me slightly.
“Sorry, Sister Pat,” I replied apologetically.
“Yes I believe that to be true. Sister Pat is a devout Catholic but she is also a dedicated professional with many years of experience dealing with matters like this. Contrary to popular opinion the clergy is not unsympathetic to the complex emotions surrounding this sort of deeply personal experience and decision. It’s just that for those of our faith there is also a spiritual element that we believe should be considered.”
“Megan was a Catholic?”
“No, she was an agnostic.”
“What exactly does that mean, agnostic?
“An agnostic is someone who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.”
“A fence sitter then, right?”
“Your words, not mine but yes I suppose you could say that.”
“Okay so Sister Pat had hit the wall with Megan and came to you for help. That was the first time you had met her. Let me ask you, did Megan seem suicidal at that time?”
“No, not to me but Sister Pat’s intuition seemed to think so.”
“What did you see that Sister Pat didn’t?”
“The girl who came to see me that first day was 180 degrees from the person Sister Pat described. She was bright eyed and cheery and openly ready to chat.”
“That threw you for a loop?”
“You could say that, but it was short lived. It didn’t take long to realize that it was an act. She meant to charm a blessing out of me where the abortion was concerned.”
“Which you did not give her?”
“Of course not. But not for the reason you might think. As I said her health and well-being was our concern at this point, not Church doctrine.”
“What happened when you refused her request?”
“About what you’d expect, she was angry and hurt and even more confused.”
“What happened next?”
“She composed herself, stood in front of my desk and asked me directly, “what should I do Father, please, help me, what should I do?”
“And you said what?” I pressed.
Father Quinn paused for a moment to remove his glasses to wipe the lenses clean, and I saw him discretely wipe away a tear.
“And I replied that I could not answer that question. Megan was hurt by my reply and she asked me why not. I didn’t have a good answer to give her.”
“Let me ask you this Father. Is abortion a sin in your faith?”
“In our faith it is a sin to take a life my son.”
“So you’re saying that abortion is murder then?”
“No, I’m saying that to take a life is a sin in our faith.”
“Clear as mud, did you share that with Megan?”
“I didn’t have to, she was aware.”
“How do you know?”
“Because she also told me that she did not want to go to Hell. To which I replied that nobody did.”
“I bet that went over well,” I said to the priest.
“About as you would expect, but that wasn’t the end of it. She then confessed to me that she didn’t want to have the baby either. At that point I was silent for a few moments to give us both some time to think. As a priest it is my responsibility to share God’s word and to avoid the temptation to re-write scripture to suit my personal views.”
“It sounds like Megan really put you on the spot,” I said as I watched his face for a sign of some sort, one that would tell my gut if he was hiding something.
            Father Quinn leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. He was studying me as closely as I was studying me and frankly it made me a little uncomfortable. “She did and she didn’t,” he replied after a moment, leaning back in his chair. “You know Megan isn’t the first girl to come to me with such a problem.”
“Do tell,” I replied.
“I have never been a parent, I’ve never had that pleasure. But I’ve witnessed the pure joy and vexing angst that is associated with being one. I believe that parenthood is both a gift and a chore on a grand scale. Many freely chose to accept the gift and challenge, often times more than once in their lifetime. And then there are those who have that choice thrust upon them. I suspected that Megan was one of the latter. She was at an incredibly lonely crossroad, and we feared that given her condition that the window had closed on the option of a safe cessation of life. Honestly, I could not and cannot imagine the pain and confusion the poor dear was suffering. Can you imagine how God must feel with all of mankind to call His own?”
Touching padre, so what did you tell the girl? How did you wind up filming her story? Why do you think she did this terrible thing? Who’s the father Father?
            The priest remained calm on the surface but I saw that I had touched a raw nerve or two, the eyes are the window to the soul they say. He stared me down for a moment before answering, studying me, my face my posture. He was mentally fishing for some insight to me as a person, and not wondering what I knew or what I suspected. My gut was telling me this fella was a good egg at heart, that he’d been blindsided by Megan’s actions. And I had a hunch that Megan knew that as well and that she used him for a purpose I had yet to figure out. She had her reasons for what she did, she was sending a message but what, who, why? I was wrestling with that when Father Quinn finally spoke.
“You ask what I told her. I told her that God has His plans for all His children. That perhaps He led her to Immaculate Heart, to me for a specific reason. Why here, why me I wondered with her? Then I proposed a theory. Perhaps she was here to inspire others. Perhaps my passion for film was a tool the Almighty could use to tell her story and chronicle her journey to a new life, for her and for her unborn child. Perhaps there was a purpose for her being at this juncture in her young life. Whatever circumstances led her here, she was here nonetheless, why not make a positive out of a negative? It was only a thought I explained. The church would be there with her no matter what she chose, I would be there with her no matter what she chose. We were not there to judge her, we were there to help her, to comfort her, to offer advice and explain her options. The choice was hers as God planned it. She had free will as do we all.”
“Nice speech Father, are you sure you’re not thinking of a career change and running for Mayor?”
That got a chuckle out of him, “I’ll take that as a compliment and not an insult. Actually I don’t think I’d make a very good politician, I’m not a very good liar,” he answered with a wry smile.
“So you do lie once in a while?”
“Doesn’t everyone? I’m as human as anyone else. If Sister Pat were to ask me if she looked fat in her habit I’d assure her that she looked just fine,” he answered with a little snicker. That made me chuckle out loud, I hadn’t expected a witty response.
Touche Father. I tell you what, I’m gonna wait outside for you to finish your shift in this little truth chamber. Thanks a lot for indulging me and I apologize for any offense you may have taken with my pushiness, it sort of comes with the territory in my line of work.”
“No offense taken my son.”
“Come on Father, it's Whitey, please. You’re making me feel like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar!”
“Alright, your penance is ten Hail Mary’s and ten Our Father’s, now go in peace my…I mean Whitey.”

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