Book excerpt

The Bishop and the Missing L Train

A Bishop Blackie Ryan Novel

Bishop Blackie Ryan

Andrew M. Greeley

Tor/Forge

Blackie
 
1
 
 
"One of our L trains is missing!"
Sean Cronin, Cardinal priest of the Holy Roman Church and, by the grace of God and abused patience of the Apostolic See, Archbishop of Chicago, swept into my study with his usual vigor. Since he was not wearing his crimson robes but a gleaming white and flawlessly ironed collarless shirt with diamond-studded cufflinks, it would not be appropriate to describe him as a crimson supersonic jet. Perhaps a new and shiny diesel locomotive.
"Tragic," I said, pretending not to look up from the Dell 300mx computer on which I was constructing the master schedule for the next month in the Cathedral parish.
"And Bishop Quill was on the L train!!"
He threw himself into a chair that I had just cleared so as to pile more computer output on it.
"Indeed!" I said, looking up with considerable interest. "With any good fortune we will find neither the L train nor Bishop Quill."
Out of respect for his status among the missing, I did not refer to our lost bishop by his time-honored nickname, imposed by his unimaginative seminary classmates-Idiot.
"You South Side Irish are innocent of charity," he replied. "You have any tea around?"
Normally he would have appeared at night in my study and commandeered a large portion of my precious Jamesons Twelve Year Special Reserve or Bush-mill's Green Label before he assigned me another cleanup task. Auxiliary bishops play a role in the Catholic Church not unlike that of die admirable Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction: they sweep up messes. However, it was morning, a sunny early autumn morning to be precise. Banned from coffee by his foster sister Nora Cronin, he was reduced to pleading for tea to fill his oral needs.
Before I could wave at my ever present teapot, he spotted it, stretched his tall, lean frame to the table on which it rested (surrounded by the galleys of my most recent book, There Is No Millennium), and poured himself a large mug of Irish Breakfast tea.
"Great!" he exclaimed with a sigh of pleasure. The pleasures of being a cardinal these days are, alas, few and simple.
I waited to hear die story of die disappearance of die L train and its distinguished passenger. He continued to sip his tea, a tall, handsome man just turned seventy, with carefully groomed white hair, the face of an Irish poet, die political skills of a veteran ward committee-man, and die hooded, glowing eyes of a revolutionary gunman.
"So what was Idiot doing on an L train?" I asked, realizing that I was missing one of the lines in our routinized scenario.
"Your brother auxiliary bishop," he said with radiant irony as he played with the massive ruby ring on his right hand, "was mingling with the poor on the way home from his weekly day of ministry in the barrio. Preparation doubtless for the day when he succeeds me." Milord Cronin laughed bitterly.
"He will never be able to learn Spanish that does not cause laughter among those who know the language."
"That, Blackwood, is irrelevant to the present story.…His limousine driver was to pick him up at the Kim-ball Avenue terminal of the Ravenswood Line and drive him back to his parish in Forest Hills."
"Brown Line," I said in the interest of accuracy.
"What?" he exploded, a nervous panther looking for something to spring upon.
"The Ravenswood Line is now known as the Brown Line."
"The Ravenswood Line is the Ravenswood line, Blackwood," he insisted with the sense of shared infallibility that only a cardinal can muster and that rarely these days.
"Arguably."
"So the train never arrived." He extended his tea mug in my direction and, docile priest that I am, I refilled it. No milk. The valiant Nora had forbidden milk as part of her virtuous campaign to keep the Cardinal alive. "And Bishop Quill never arrived either."
"Remarkable."
"The chauffeur became concerned and called the CTA, which, as one might expect, assured him that the train had arrived at Kimball and Lawrence on time-that's a Korean neighborhood now, isn't it, Blackwood?"
"An everything neighborhood-Koreans, Palestinians, Pakistanis, some Japanese, and a few recalcitrant and elderly Orthodox Jews who will not leave the vast apartment buildings they built so long ago."
"Safe?"
"Much safer than many others I could mention, some of them not distant from this very room."
"Who would want to abduct Gus Quill?"
"I could provide a list of hundreds of names, with yours and mine on the top."
"Precisely.…Anyway, the chauffeur then called the Chicago Police Department and apparently reached your good friend John Culhane, who called me about midnight. They have determined the L in fact never arrived at the terminal. Rather it has disappeared into thin air and, Commander Culhane assured me an hour ago, so has the Most Reverend Augustus O'Sullivan Quill."
Deo gratias, I almost said. Instead I took a firm stand for right reason and common sense.
"L trains do not disappear," I insisted. "Neither, alas, do auxiliary bishops, though sometimes they are treated as if they do not exist.…"
Milord Cronin waved away my self-pity.
"The CTA is searching frantically for their missing train. The police are searching frantically for the missing bishop. He was the only one on the train at the last stop. The driver has disappeared too. The media have the story already. I hear there are cameras at the terminal and up in Forest Hills-"
My phone rang. The Loyola student who monitors our lines until the Megan show up after school asked whether the Cardinal was in my room.
"Who wants to talk to him?"
"Mary Jane McGurn from Channel Six."
"I will talk to her," I said, as though it were my rectory.
"Hi, Blackie. What's happened to my good friend Idiot Quill?"
"Mary Jane," I whispered to the Cardinal, my hand over the phone.
Although Ms. McGurn was Sean Cronin's favorite media person-he having a weakness for pretty and intelligent women (what healthy male does not?)-he shook his head. "I'm not available for comment, am I?"
"You're in prayer for the repose of his soul?"
Milord winced.
"What was that question again, Mary Jane?"
"Our mutual friend, Bishop Quill, has apparently disappeared. Do you or Cardinal Sean have any comment?"
"Only for the deepest of deep background, Mary Jane: like bad pennies, auxiliary bishops always return."
Milord Cardinal favored me with a wry smile.
"Is the Cardinal available?"
"I think not."
No one in the media had much regard for Augustus O'Sullivan Quill. Mary Jane held a special grudge since the day he told her on camera that she should be home taking care of her children.
"The crews are descending on the Cathedral rectory at this moment. I'll be there in five minutes. We're going to want a statement about the disappearance of Bishop Quill."
"You may quote the Cardinal as saying that we are confident that Bishop Quill will be found soon."
Milord Cronin tilted his head slightly in approval of my statement.
"Nothing more?"
"Nothing more."
"Off the record?"
"We are praying for him."
"Yeah," she snorted, "so am I!"
I gently restored the phone to its base.
"We cannot permit this, Blackwood!"
"Indeed."
"Auxiliary bishops do not slip into the fourth dimension, not in this archdiocese."
"Patently."
"Especially they do not disappear on L trains that also disappear, right?"
"Right!"
"You yourself have said that we will be the prime suspects, have you not? Don't we have powerful reasons for wanting to get rid of him?"
"Arguably," I sighed. "However, as you well know, in the best traditions of the Sacred College we would have dispatched Idiot with poison."
Actually neither the State's Attorney nor the media would dare suggest that the two of us could easily do without our junior auxiliary.
"This is not a laughing matter, Blackwood," he said sternly.
"Indeed."
"The Nuncio and the Vatican will be all over us. They do not like to lose bishops."
"Even auxiliaries?"
"We have to find Gus before the day is over." He put his tea mug on the rug and rose from the chair.
"Ah?"
He strode to the door of my study, a man on a mission.
"That means you have to find him."
I knew that was coming.
"Indeed."
He paused at the door for the final words.
"Find Gus. Today. See to it, Blackwood."
He disappeared, not in a cloud of dust, since we do not tolerate that in the Cathedral rectory, but trailing an invisible cloud of satisfaction.
I sighed loudly, saved the file, and turned off the computer. Time for the sweeper to get to work.
 
Copyright © 2000 by Andrew M. Greeley Enterprises, Ltd.

Priest, sociologist, author and journalist, Father Andrew M. Greeley built an international assemblage of devout fans over a career spanning five decades. His books include the Bishop Blackie Ryan novels, including The Archbishop in Andalusia, the Nuala Anne McGrail novels, including Irish Tweed, and The Cardinal Virtues. He was the author of over 50 best-selling novels and more than 100 works of non-fiction, and his writing has been translated into 12 languages.

Father Greeley was a Professor of Sociology at the University of Arizona and a Research Associate with the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago. In addition to scholarly studies and popular fiction, for many years he penned a weekly column appearing in the Chicago Sun-Times and other newspapers. He was also a frequent contributor to The New York Times, the National Catholic Reporter, America and Commonweal, and was interviewed regularly on national radio and television. He authored hundreds of articles on sociological topics, ranging from school desegregation to elder sex to politics and the environment.

Throughout his priesthood, Father Greeley unflinchingly urged his beloved Church to become more responsive to evolving concerns of Catholics everywhere. His clear writing style, consistent themes and celebrity stature made him a leading spokesperson for generations of Catholics. He chronicled his service to the Church in two autobiographies, Confessions of a Parish Priest and Furthermore!

In 1986, Father Greeley established a $1 million Catholic Inner-City School Fund, providing scholarships and financial support to schools in the Chicago Archdiocese with a minority student body of more than 50 percent. In 1984, he contributed a $1 million endowment to establish a chair in Roman Catholic Studies at the University of Chicago. He also funded an annual lecture series, “The Church in Society,” at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary, Mundelein, Illinois, from which he received his S.T.L. in 1954.

Father Greeley received many honors and awards, including honorary degrees from the National University of Ireland at Galway, the University of Arizona and Bard College. A Chicago native, he earned his M.A. in 1961 and his Ph.D. in 1962 from the University of Chicago.

Father Greeley was a penetrating student of popular culture, deeply engaged with the world around him, and a lifelong Chicago sports fan, cheering for the Bulls, Bears and the Cubs. Born in 1928, he died in May 2013 at the age of 85.