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Bishop in the West Wing
A Bishop Blackie Ryan Novel
By Andrew M. Greeley
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2007 Andrew M. Greeley
All rights reserved.
"Your good friend was on the phone earlier this evening."
Cardinal Sean Cronin leaned casually against my doorframe as though he was posing for a fashion magazine shoot, in light blue pajamas and royal blue robe. He had never appeared at my doorway in such array. I noted with some pleasure that he did not wear his cardinalatial ruby to bed at night and that his slippers were also royal blue, not crimson.
"Ah," I said as I turned away from the purgatorial task of catching up on my e-mail. Naturally I had no idea who friend was-a beautiful but troubled woman, a penitent Mafioso, a haunted priest, someone from Rome, a mystic with revelations that must be passed on instantly to the Pope. The rhetoric of Chicago discourse, however, required that he begin with such an indirect approach, as though all the rooms of the Cathedral Rectory were wired by hostile law enforcement agencies.
"The Megan thought I should talk to him since you were not around."
It was therefore a serious matter. None of the four porter person Megans who presided over the entrances to the Cathedral Rectory from after school to 9:30 would dream of disturbing the Cardinal Archbishop (whom they adored as "extreme cute") unless some important game was afoot.
(One must understand that for the younger generation "extreme" has become an adverb.)
"We have you on the 6:00 flight. Your friend Mr. Woods will pick you up at 4:30."
"P.M.?" I said, knowing full well that it was not.
Milord Cronin permitted a frown to furrow his handsome brow.
"The monks get up a lot earlier, Blackwood."
"Such as they are these days. However, patently I am not a monk."
"He was going to send Air Force One to pick you up, but I said it wouldn't look good for a lowly auxiliary bishop to fly around in that. Create a lot of comment, which he doesn't need right now."
"Arguably," I conceded.
So that's who "my good friend" was-John Patrick McGurn, POTUS, aka to the media "Machine Gun Jack."
Without asking my permission-he never does-Milord Cronin opened the secret cabinet on the wall of my study (hidden behind a portrait of our currently gloriously reigning Pontiff), removed a bottle of my precious Jameson's Twelve Year Special Reserve, and poured himself a good-size splash into one of the attendant Waterford goblets.
"You're proposing to assign me to the White House." I protested. "That won't look too good."
"You always say that you're the little man who isn't there. They won't notice you." He leaned against the door and sipped complacently from his goblet, looking all the more like a cover for GQ.
"The Nuncio won't like it."
"I'll worry about him."
If he did worry about the reaction of the ambassador of the Holy See's reaction to my translation to the White House, it would be the first such worry in his career.
"Why is it necessary that I abandon all my serious responsibilities here in your Cathedral parish?"
A weak argument, I acknowledge. Yet the game had to be played out.
The Ryan family has a gene that inclines them to resist travel. In my own case the power of the gene is primordial. The upper limit of my tolerance is the drive from Chicago to South Bend, Indiana, home of the fighting Black Baptists. However, the apparent need of the first South Side Irish Catholic from Chicago to become president of the United States overrode my reluctance, though not without a loud west-of-Ireland sigh which might suggest an attack of asthma.
John Patrick McGurn indeed needed help, though he would have been the first to deny it.
The media, especially the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Washington Post, hated President McGurn. They persisted in calling him "Machine Gun Jack" because the name broadly hinted of the Capone era and Chicago Irish political corruption. So deep in the subbasement of Chicago memory is the name of the alleged perpetuator of the St. Valentine's Day massacre that Jack McGurn had never been identified with a machine gun during his brief career in Chicago politics.
"He has some serious problems," the Cardinal continued with a sigh as loud as mine.
"Surely not the sexual harassment charges!" I protested.
Milord waved his hand in a graceful, dismissive gesture.
"Those go with the territory if you're a Democratic president. Jack will survive them."
"Arguably," I said without much conviction. The top national media hated Irish Catholics, especially from Chicago. They were determined, even though they would piously deny it, to drive Jack McGurn from office. Such assaults sold newspapers, increased TV ratings, satisfied needs to experience pious self-righteousness. Typically Jack did not shy from the Chicago identity, though he and his family had been at best minor figures in the various Daley administrations.
"Though I deserve little credit for it"--Jack would smile and his blue-green eyes would glitter with mischief--"I am proud to be identified with the most effective municipal administration in America."
"Why then," I persisted, "this late-night emergency call for the lowly sweeper to the Cardinal Prince of Chicago?"
This was a none-too-oblique reference to my conviction that an auxiliary bishop's main raison d'Ã?tre is to sweep up his Ordinary's messes, as the worthy Harvery Keitel had done for the Outfit in the film Pulp Fiction.
"Ghosts," Sean Cronin said in his most gloomy apocalyptic voice.
I warned myself mentally that I must not seem too enthusiastic.
"Ghosts. Or psychic phenomena or whatever."
"Legend has it that Mr. Lincoln's ghost haunts the building."
"It's more than that."
Sean Cardinal Cronin hesitated, something he almost never does.
"There are psychic phenomena happening all over the White House-in the West Wing, including the Oval Office, in the bedrooms, in the family quarters on the third floor, in the various museum rooms on the first and second floors, in the basement offices under the West Wing, in the guest bedrooms like the Lincoln Bedroom and the Queens' Bedroom, even out in the Rose Garden and the South Lawnâ??"
"Appalling!" I murmured with little conviction. "Of what sort are the phenomena?"
"The usual junk-doors slamming, chains rattling, paintings falling off the wall, vases flying across the room, windows springing open during snowstorms, thermostats going crazy, televisions switching on and offâ??"
"Nothing ever breaks, I presume?"
"Poltergeists," I said with some disappointment.
"Presumablyâ??There's a twist to itâ??"
The Cardinal hesitated again.
"The rumors around the White House, which still includes some service personnel who worked for the last president, are that Ellen has come back to harass Jack over the sexual harassment."
"Absurd!" I said hotly. "Ellen was not and is not that kind of woman! She might burn the White House down if she were sufficiently angry, but poltergeist phenomena are beneath her."
"Steady, Blackwood! You and I know that and so do most people in this city. However, the media have stirred up so much hatred for Jack and his family that the public is capable of believing anything about them. Irish Catholics from Chicago are capable of bringing every kind of evil to the White House, even ghosts. Many people will think that the ghosts are proof that he did mess around with those campaign bimbos."
The harsh truth about political campaigns that you will never read in the papers is that they are airborne orgies, traveling brothels in which boredom with the political rhetoric provides an excuse for the hangerson, including the self-righteous journalists, to indulge in day and night promiscuity. John Patrick McGurn's campaign was, heaven knows, not boring. Nonetheless, the habits of promiscuity continued. Sex on campaigns is far more important than the issues that allegedly divide the candidates. If the candidate's wife is not with him, then speculation erupts about whom he is sleeping with. In the bawdyhouse atmosphere of a campaign it is taken for granted that everyone is committing adultery, especially a candidate who has recently lost his wife. It is alleged indeed that some young women, one might call them groupies, join a campaign so that they can sleep with world-famous journalists and even perhaps spend a night with a man who may be the next president of the United States. Two such young women, who might not be utterly innocent of Milord Cronin's accusation that they were bimbos, filed sexual harassment suits against him three days before his inauguration, alleging that they had not received promised White House jobs because they resisted the candidate's sexual advances.
Those who did not know John McGurn as we did could easily have believed the charges. Most Americans did not know him very well. Indeed they were surprised that he was sitting in the Oval Office and had begun to wonder if they had made a serious mistake.
"Poltergeist phenomena," I observed, "are usually associated with an early adolescent, especially of the female variety. Does not the President have two such in his family?"
"It may surprise you, Blackwood," the Cardinal said with a touch of superiority permissible in an encrimsoned prince, "to learn that I know that about the playful spirits. However, Deirdre is back at Notre Dame and Granne is living with her aunt in Chicago until she graduates in June from St. Praxides Grammar School, your alma mater, if I'm not mistaken."
His Eminence had begun to talk like Sherlock Holmes, which was my role not his.
"Then our mutual friend needs as exorcist. If I am not mistaken, you have one such on your staff, against my advice I might add."
"You've been working too hard lately, Blackwood," he said with mock disappointment. "What would the Washington Post do or the Calvinist Vatican on Forty-second Street should they find out that the Catholic Church had sent an exorcist into the White House?"
Milord was always amused to describe the New York Times as a Calvinist newspaper.
"Especially one as eager to appear on television as your staff exorcist."
He ignored my sally, which was all he could do under the circumstances.
"Besides, we know from post experience that all you have to do is to walk into a haunted house-or aircraft carrier as far as that goes-and the playful spirits go out of business."
That lamentably was the truth. The adolescent who was, not altogether consciously stirring up trouble, knew better than to mess with Father Blackie.
"You yourself have observed that I have been working too hard," I said, knowing that the battle was lost. These battles were always lost, but it was nonetheless necessary to play out the scenario.
"The Post and the Times," Sean Cronin continued implacably, "know about the phenomena from their spies inside the administration. They are hesitant to use it because of their ideology that there is no such thing as the supernatural."
Having conducted a token search for a coaster, he placed his empty goblet on top of a stack of computer output.
"So they will wait till the supermarket tabloids run it and then they'll play it as a media story," I observed.
"And the sharks will swim in from all sides for a feeding frenzy."
We were both silent for a moment. American journalism had come a long way from its assumption that major public figures were entitled to their private lives. Even the most responsible media outlets would salivate at the prospect of poking into a president's parapsychological life.
"Blackwood," the Cardinal intoned, "John Patrick McGurn is a good and worthy layman of this great Archdiocese. I baptized him, I officiated at his marriage, and I baptized his kids. I said his wife's funeral Mass. Now that he is also president of the United States of America it is unfitting, offensive, and intolerable that he be haunted by ungodly spirits, especially when a revolution is sweeping China."
"Ah," I murmured.
"Moreover the bimbos that are suing him are also ungodly spirits. I expect that you will be able to deal with them too."
Swept by the power of his prose, Milord had just doubled my assignment.
"I won't have it," he said solemnly. "I simply won't have it."
"See to it, Blackwood!" he ordered as he turned towards the dark corridor whence he had come to disrupt my late-night tranquility.
He departed from my study with the swoosh of a passing but lordly hailstorm.
Copyright Â? 2002 by Andrew M. Greeley Enterprises, Ltd.
Excerpted from Bishop in the West Wing by Andrew M. Greeley. Copyright © 2007 Andrew M. Greeley. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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