Welcome to chapter seven of “December, 1919″, a serialized novel written by Oliver Gray. New chapters will be published every Wednesday. Links to all published chapters can be found here.
The wind whipped, fierce and angry, in random blusters that felt like ice-cold fists to my face. I’d known some cold winters in the city, but the weather now seemed crueler, more foreboding than a typical New Year’s eve in Philadelphia. I shrugged the wool of my coat up higher, to cover some of the exposed skin of my neck. I hadn’t had time to grab my scarf.
Mayor Moore plodded beside me. Behind, Berman lurked, collar up and hands in pockets, hat pulled down to the point where his eyes looked like a snake’s. Moore’s mustached lip curled ever so slightly up every time another gust cut across our path; the only sign he felt the cold at all. Nate would be furious I was gone, but who was I to deny two such lofty and prominent branches of the Philly tree of law?
We walked in silence for some time, Berman herding us at cross streets, leading us to destination unknown. We crossed the Schuylkill on 3rd, made a left on North 20th, and then sauntered past a ghostly, snow-dusted Logan’s Square. No one in their right mind would be in the park on a day like this. No one except the mayor, a detective, and some poor confused kid, that is. Just as I’d had enough, and was about to demand some information, we stopped at the bleach-white steps of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul.
“Let’s get out of the cold, shall we?” Moore said, lithely bounding up the steps. Berman lingered behind, the ever loyal sheep dog. I couldn’t refuse, and my bones wouldn’t mind the warmth.
The towering stone of the cathedral swallowed us up like spiritual down, wrapping me in soft, yellow, candle-borne glow and subtle waft of incense. I’d never been much for religion but always loved the churches themselves; such grandeur and sophistication, equal parts welcoming and isolating. A priest shuffled near the altar, arranging a piece of purple cloth, while another disappeared into the under croft through a tiny side door. The church hummed with latent energy, drowning out the whispers of the two docents near the entrance.
“I always come here when I need to think.” Moore said, leaning closer to me. He moved down the aisle towards the front of the room, gently waving, coaxing me to follow. Berman leaned against a pillar, but didn’t remove his hat or coat. I felt nervous but safe, somehow protected by the sanctity of the building, if nothing else.
“Father Donovan knows me well. My family has been coming here for decades.” Moore said, kneeling and quickly crossing himself before leaning back against the pew. “Do you go to church, Jack?”
“No…well not for a long time.” I said. “My mother was raised Anglican, but my father always said he was too busy to waste a Sunday morning away from the brewery.”
“A shame,” Moore whispered, “no man should ever be too busy for his spirit.”
I took a bite of the irony in his words. “My father was never too busy for his spirit. I’d say it was his spirit that drove him. He was just never one for genuflecting at someone else’s altar.”
“Hmm, having met him, I can believe that.” Moore turned around and looked at Berman. He hadn’t even shifted his stance. “I’m sorry about him,” Moore said, “He’s harsh, but effective. I needed to talk to you, and in private.”
The oddness of the situation made my head swim. Why would a man who directly worked for President Roosevelt need to talk to a seventeen year old nobody from Philadelphia? The dimness and heavy warmth of the church made the situation feel surreal, a dream Nate would snap me awake from any minute when he found me asleep on my desk. But Moore refused to dissipates into nothingness, and Berman refused to go with him.
“I know you’ve been following McGuire, and I know McGuire’s been looking into my office and associates.” He tilted his head backwards, starting straight up at the bas-relief dotted dome. “I know you’re looking for some closure, Jack. Your father was a good man, and the way he died was…regrettable.”
My mind dropped its clutch, shifting from confusion to anger. “Regrettable?” I nearly yelled, rippling an echo all the way down the nave and back. The priest at the altar turned, demanding silence with a steely look. I nestled back into the cushion of the pew, heart pounding, rage rising. “He was murdered.” I whispered, though gritted teeth.
“No, he wasn’t,” Moore said confidently. “It was an accident. The sooner you and McGuire accept that and stop hounding my colleagues, the sooner we can all move past this mess.” He turned his head, settling his square-framed eyes on mine. “You have to drop this and focus on taking care of your mother. I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to you, or your family, or even your livelihood, Jack.”
My brain fumbled, and I dropped my words. Moore raised his arm, beckoning Berman over. The sullen trenchcoat obliged, slowly.
“Berman will take you back to the Gazette,” he said, crossing his hands on his lap. “This is the last I want to hear about any of this. You do not want to see me again, understand?”
I forced a nod, as Berman grabbed the back of my coat and pulled me out of the pew. He jerked me back down the aisle and out the door, into a gentle flurry of the year’s final snow.
“Get lost, Cooper.” Berman all but threw me down the church stairs. “You know where you stand now, and it’s on the wrong side,” he said, knocking my shoulder as he walked past. “I’ll be watching you.”
I spit on the street behind him, but he didn’t turn back. The wind threw itself at my face yet again, nearly freezing the tears welling in the corners of my eyes. The church bells tolled, on and on and on, out into the coming storm.
To be continued…