“Make sure you get your Last Rites read before leaving St. Patrick’s, because as soon as you step out of this church, the whole family’s gonna be waiting for you.”
For Adán, the five months before Ava’s wedding passed like a rushing freight train–and felt just as heavy. Fortunately, the Freneau and Giacona families took care of the copious wedding preparations, including obtaining Adán’s permission to marry outside his parish. Meanwhile, Adán retreated into his work for the Society of Leopold. Frankly, the horrors he researched and spied upon for the Order of St. Ambrose were easier to handle than the horrors within his own heart.
Madeleine was all-too happy to have more time with “her saint.” Their closeness also grew when Jupp was finally able to enlist in the waning months of WWII, as his German-Italian blood was less of a black mark with the only remaining war front being against Japan. In Jupp’s absence, Adán became Absalom’s de facto godfather, and the child was a singular source of joy for the man.
That joy–and Madeleine’s and Adán’s bond–became all the more important to the priest when Father Fontenot passed away in late September. The Jesuit was one of the rare cases of a Leopoldite ending his Vigil peacefully in his sleep.
Yet, with the Jesuit’s passing, Adán inherited not only several of the man’s religious relics, but also his place as head of the archdiocese’s Order of St. Ambrose. The role’s responsibilities were many, but Adán was delighted to more fully devote his days and nights to the Church Militant. It also distracted him from Ava’s imminent wedding.
Thus, when the day of the wedding arrived in November of 1945, Adán was bone-weary and numb with exhaustion. That numbness seemed to become increasingly mental and emotional as he was called upon to lead the marital ceremony. He said his lines and played his part, as if he was a hollow puppet being pulled by strings. During the ceremony itself, he kept his eyes focused on the church’s Gothic Revival architecture, and hardly looked at Ava, her brother, or her new husband.
Immediately after the wedding, his only direct interaction with Ava was brief, but pained. He expressed his sincere wish that she have the “full measure of marital happiness and love.” Seeing her tear up, he tenderly passed her his handkerchief–the very same one she had gifted him 21 months prior.
When she tried to return it, he took her hand in his and gently squeezed, but he refused to take back the cloth. Before she could protest or say anything else, Cesare swept in, vigorously shaking Adán’s hand and thanking him for performing the ceremony. He then wheeled away his new wife into the throng of wealthy, influential guests who had come to give their congratulations to the couple.
As if distancing himself from that marital celebration, Adán turned his back on the crowd and attentively gazed up at the fan vaulting of the 85-foot-tall, as well as its sixteen stained glass windows. Thus, while he was regarding the painting of Christ pulling St. Peter from the sea, he was unprepared for the sudden, but heavy thump of a hand upon his shoulder:
“Father!” shouted the voice that accompanied the forceful gesture, “I just wanted to give my thanks, and look you in the eye, face to face and man to man.”
So startled, it took Adán a moment to place the voice and its owner: his old dock boss, Tito. No sooner had he made that connection, then did Tito give him a crushing side-embrace, during which Tito leaned in and whispered:
“You’re a hard man to find, Bruno Legaré. And as Christ is my witness, I wasn’t really sure it was you up there, with me way back in the pews, so I just had to see for myself.”
“Think carefully, Tito, about what you do in the House of God,” the priest said firmly, his eyes reflexively darting back to Ava.
“Oh, don’t you worry, Bruno–or should I say Father Cyprien–about me causing no scene, not here. Why, I wouldn’t dream of it. After all, the groom’s a giovane d’onore, son of the consigliere.”
To Adán, the revelation was like a slap with a tire iron. Seeing the priest’s reaction, Tito laughed loudly, playing his part by giving the priest another hard ‘congratulatory’ pat on the back.
“Why, you didn’t know?! Ah, that’s rich, that is.”
Pretending to wipe a tear from his eye, Tito continued, “Oh sure, the whole family’s here. And not just the Giaconas, no, I mean the family. Carlos and Catfish Freddy–I’m sure you remember them, right? Why, even Don Carollo’s here. Oh, you probably didn’t hear about how his deportation got cancelled on account of the war. Why, old Silver Dollar Sam, he’s got Congressman Jimmy Morrison drafting a bill to award Silvestro with American citizenship. Ain’t democracy great!”
“What do you want, Tito?” the priest asked, as he tried to further turn and scan the crowd.
“Oh, me?” Tito replied with a light, cruel laugh. “I just came to see your old mug nice and close. That, and to give you a little present, courtesy of the family, from one Judas to another.”
The dock boss and capo then leaned in and gave Adán an il bacio della morte, a kiss of death. Laughing, Tito provided some parting advice as a cruel lagniappe, “So if I was you, Father–and boy oh boy am I sure glad I ain’t–I would make sure you get your Last Rites read before leaving St. Patrick’s, because as soon as you step out of this church, the whole family’s gonna be waiting for you, and no amount of fancy boxing moves or sweet-talking is gonna save your collared neck.”
‘Patting’ the priest on his back again, Tito departed with a final shout: “Thanks again, Father, for all your service. I hope to see you real soon!”
True to Tito’s word, the Mafia was present in force. They ‘behaved’ themselves while the couple remained inside St. Patrick’s, but more than one soldato had been posted at each of the church’s exits, preventing his escape. By the time the wedding couple and party left, the number of mafioso tripled. Adán was trapped.
Furthermore, and to Adán’s shock and disgust, the other clergy of St. Patrick’s parish seemed to be fully in the Black Hand’s pocket, such that they rendered him no aid, or seemed to feign disbelief. Attempts to use the archpriest’s office phone were similarly blocked on account of the phone allegedly being “out of commission.”
Surrounded by his enemies like unto Elisha at Dothan, Adán prayed. Like Elisha, he petitioned the Lord to help him see that “they that be with us” were still more than “they that be with them.” Yet, unlike the seraphic host that delivered Elisha from the Aramean army, Adán’s rescue came from a single, elderly man.
“Well, Cœur de Lion, you seem to have gotten yourself in quite the bloody clanger.”
“Jamesie?” Adán exclaimed, excited but surprised to see the nominal Anglican inside a Catholic church.
As if guessing the priest’s surprise, he replied, “Oh, don’t get too cheeky with your hopes, lad. I didn’t take a page from Mary Stuart and embrace the Roman Rite. After all, look where it got her. No, I am here for more secular reasons, or at least, so I had thought before seeing you from the pews.”
“You were a wedding guest?”
Sir Gallier nodded as he leaned upon his cane. “On the bride’s side, though my heart wasn’t truly in it, as I have only the faintest of acquaintances with the Freneaus. Though, to be honest, my old friend, it didn’t seem like your heart was in it either.”
Adán could only nod.
The knight raised a brow, but then continued, “Though I do have to say the post-ceremony entertainment was far more rousing. It’s not often I get to see the Mafia give the kiss of death to a priest inside my proto-cathedral.”
“Your proto-cathedral?” Adán asked, with both surprise and some hint of rebuke.
“Forgive my license, but we Galliers do get a touch possessive over things we build.”
“I thought James Dakin designed St. Patrick’s?”
“Ah, ever the knight of history–but let me rectify a gap in your armor of knowledge. You are right that my family had no part in the original design, but Dakin’s crew bungled the execution on account of the lamentably high water table. Consequently, my great-grandfather was called in to take over construction of this marvelous edifice.”
Always a rapt student of ecclesiastical architecture, Adán’s interest suddenly became intensely personal:
“Jamesie… you wouldn’t happen to know of any clandestine exits from St. Patrick’s, would you?”
“Why, my boy, I thought you would never ask. The answer of course is a resolute ‘yes.’ Secrets are in the Galliers’ blood, after all. My great-grandfather could no more resist adding secrets to Dakin’s designs than a fish could refuse to swim or a lion refuse to roar. Though, if the rumors are true, the secret passageway is used today mostly by a group of Catholic vampires who perform Black Mass blood rituals, which for whatever reason, are not considered witchcraft by my fellow Anglican knights. What is your doctrinal opinion on the matter?”
Adán wasn’t sure if the Knight of St. George was speaking truly or teasing his Catholic counterpart, but he put aside that question to refocus the discussion:
“Jamesie, can you show the secret passageway?”
“Well, there’s the rub, Cœur de Lion. Last time I did something like that, you cast my pearls before the swine you call the Brotherhood of St. Athanasius. And we both know how well that turned out, don’t we?”
“Jamesie, I told you I had no notion of what the Brotherhood was planning, or how they would use that information.”
“Did you? Still, loose lips sink ships, as they say.”
“Jamesie, please, I do not have time for another one of your gauntlets. The mobsters outside will eventually bore of their blockade. I worry they, now knowing my identity, might strike out at my friends and loved ones. Please, Jamesie, I have a godson. If they were to harm him…”
“A godson? Well then, as one father to another, or sorts, I can empathize with your plight. How about this, I help your family out of this dog’s dinner, but then you help me out with a little jam of my own that all started around–”
“Jamesie,” interrupted the increasingly exasperated priest, “I do not have time for another history lesson now, however interesting and erudite it might be. I need your help now. Are we not friends?”
“Oh, we are, Cœur de Lion, we are. I thought my last little parcel to you proved that, even though you’ve still never apologized for all of the dreadful things you said about my automobile.”
“An honest man should not have to apologize for speaking the truth.”
“Perhaps, though he still may feel sorry for speaking it.”
“Please, Jamesie,” the priest begged.
“Oh, very well…”
With the help of the Knight of St. George, Adán stealthily escaped St. Patrick’s. In doing so, he slipped the Black Hand’s noose–at least for that night.
Much like the flight of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus from King Herod’s wrath, Adán convinced Madeleine, and thus Absalom, to join him as he went into hiding from the murderous Black Hand. Their Egypt, however, was the Jeansonnes’ home along the northern shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Namely, the fishermen’s families had both moved from the largely deforested Eden Isle to Madisonville, where they fished the Lake, Bayou des Mats, and Tchefuncte River when not otherwise ferrying individuals and cargo to and from Mandeville and New Orleans. The Jeansonnes readily embraced the return of Adán–though they made him promise, somewhat jokingly, not to take any more of their boats out into hurricanes.
Initially, Pierre and Andre were reticent about taking in the quadroon woman “their priest” brought back with him. Part of that reservation was undoubtedly the ingrained racism of the time, and part of it, ironically, was that they were not used to sharing “their priest” with outsiders. Pierre in particular disliked the direct, if not too intimate way she spoke with and sat near Adán. Ultimately, both fishermen came to begrudgingly accept her, in large part as their wives embraced the woman as their own.
Their love, acceptance, and compassion were unexpected treasures for Madeleine, as she had never known healthy female companionship. Indeed, Pierre’s wife, more than any other person, taught Madeleine how to actually be a mother and care for Absalom–lessons that her own mother had certainly never supplied. In turn, Madeleine surprised and delighted the Jeansonne women with her “priestly” knowledge of Catholic doctrine and scriptures. In short, it was the happiest time of Madeleine’s life, as she had not only Adán and Absalom, but her first ‘extended family,’ not to mention one that loved and respected her.
When not fishing with Pierre, Andre, and their sons, Adán spent his time writing clandestine ‘epistles’ to the archdiocese’s Society of Leopold’s, assisting their operations as best he could, while also doing much to codify their protocols and clarify doctrinal issues the Shadow Congregation often faced. He also sent a similarly secret set of missives to Thaddeus. In them, Adán did not disclose his location, but he did explain the purpose behind his flight as well as his concerns for St. Patrick’s clergy–and the potential threat of wider Mafia influence within the archdiocese. Although nothing was done about the “Mammon-tainted priests of St. Patrick”, Father Malveaux’s political influence helped shield the in absentia priest from immediate suspension or worse ecclesiastical punishments.
A year passed in relative peace. As October of 1946 came and nearly went, Adán became increasingly desirous to return to New Orleans. He believed he needed to confront his accusers within the archdiocese, as well as the Black Hand. Pierre and Madeleine argued against the plan, as both were sure the mob would kill him, especially as Adán seemed all-too willing, if not eager, to die a martyr. Madeleine begged Adán to stay, and when that did not deter him, she swore that if Adán returned, so too would she and the two-year-old Absalom. That alone made the priest stay, but he was increasingly thinking of a way to return to New Orleans like a “thief in the night.”
New Orleans, however, came to him–or at least a part of it.
A part that refused to die.
Thursday evening, 31 October 1946
On Hallow’s Eve, Adán went into the nearby bayou to hold his private Vigil of All Saints, where he fasted and prayed for the Church Triumphant to aid him in his righteous endeavors. Meanwhile, the Dorleans spent the evening at Pierre’s home, where his wife lead Madeleine, Absalom, and the Jeansonne children in making soul cakes for Allhallowtide. Outside, a thunderstorm began to fall on Tchefuncte River.
Driven home by the storm, Pierre entered the domestic scene, where he loudly complaining that his nets were “good fer catchin’ rain.” When he heard that Adán had not returned, the fisherman grew concerned and summoned his brother and their sons to go hunt for the priest–”lest dat priest done try to drown himself ‘gain to study da archemtecture of St. Peter’s pearly gates!”
Pierre’s wife, however, just laughed and accused her husband of wanting to go hunting since he couldn’t go fishing. “He jus’ worries, him do,” she said to Madeleine once they left, “as he loves yer man mightily.”
“My man?” the shocked Madeleine repeated, as she had never heard another use those words. “But he is not… he can’t… he’s a priest,” she found herself surprisingly saying out loud.
Pierre’s wife just shrugged. “My man’s done named after St. Peter himself, the first bishop and pope, and da Bible says clear as day dat he was married. Besides, wont it da Almighty himself who done said dat it’s not good fer man to live alone? Who is I to done argue with da Good Book?”
With Madeleine left speechless, the Jeansonne matriarch led the children in an Allhallowtide song:
“A soul! a soul! a soul-cake!
Please good Missis, a soul-cake!
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us all merry.
One fer Peter, two fer Paul
Three fer Him who done made us all.”
The matriarch then sprinkled the children with flour to “make them ghosts” and led them in another round of the song’s chorus. Yet, they only got to through the first four words, “A soul! a soul!” before the front door blew open. Outside, a bolt of lightning revealed the shape of a hulking, drenched black man.
Gator Johnson had found them.