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The Boys Upstairs (Father Jay Book 2), страница 1

 

The Boys Upstairs (Father Jay Book 2)
 

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The Boys Upstairs (Father Jay Book 2)


  Table of Contents

  The Boys Upstairs

  Jane Lebak

  One

  Two

  Three

  Four

  Five

  Six

  Seven

  Eight

  Nine

  Ten

  Eleven

  Twelve

  Epilogue

  Also by Jane Lebak: Half Missing.

  One

  Two

  The Boys Upstairs

  Jane Lebak

  Three homeless children. Two estranged brothers. One last chance.

  Kevin Farrell is a jaded police officer trying to save three homeless children. But it’s three nights before Christmas, and the only one he can ask for help is his brother Jay, a disabled priest.

  The catch? He and his brother have been estranged because after all the evil he’s seen, Kevin cannot believe in God. Only now, to save these homeless kids, with temperatures below zero and falling, Kevin knows it’s going to take both him and his brother working together, but first they’ll have to mend the breach between them.

  Philangelus Press

  Boston, MA USA

  The Boys Upstairs Copyright © 2010, Jane Lebak.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. So there.

  The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, or events, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

  Cover art by Charlotte Volnek

  “It is a better work to feed the hungry

  than to raise the dead.”

  Saint John Chrysostom, 3rd Century Bishop of Constantinople

  One

  Officer Kevin Farrell took three steps up the walkway before returning to the patrol car. His partner put down the window, and Kevin leaned in. “Maybe this isn't a good idea.”

  “It's a fine idea.” His partner's voice had a Nothing to see here depth. “Get your hand off your gun. I doubt you'll get shot down on the front steps of a church.”

  Kevin looked at his hand as if he hadn't known what it was doing. “Yeah. But for them—” He glanced in the back of the patrol car at three shadowed figures. “I'm not so sure.”

  “Go!” Bill looked in the back seat. “I'll be waiting here. If you're not out in twenty minutes, I'll come after you, guns a-blazin'.”

  Kevin snorted. “Do you think it's a sin for a priest to lop off his brother's head?”

  The streetlights cast a sparkling glimmer on the two-day-old snow. The church's parking lot was plowed, and the pathway to the rectory shoveled so well that he heard no crunching underfoot. The two-story rectory shone with lights in all the windows. Winter nights darkened early, and Kevin suspected the residents wouldn't settle to sleep for hours still.

  At the front door, Kevin waited only a few moments before a boy answered his knock. The kid stood uneasily for several breaths, taking in the policeman's uniform.

  “I'm here to see Father Jay Farrell.” When the boy didn't move, Kevin took a step around him. “Would you like to go get him, or should I go find him myself?”

  The boy blinked rapidly. “I'll get him.”

  The St. Augustine rectory furnishings were spare, and Kevin’s shoes left grit on the threadbare carpet while he stood, arms folded, to the side of the entryway. He'd never been inside before, and the plainness surprised him. Where were the elaborate religious paintings, the deep pile carpet, and the overstuffed furnishings? Or even stuffed furnishings—well, stuffed after 1960. It was clean, but the clean of emptiness, like a home no one had moved into yet. Maybe there was clutter upstairs where the boys lived.

  Jay—Father Jay—had a reputation for taking in homeless boys, and now that Kevin thought of it, someone had mentioned that one of the kids seemed a bit slow. Jay wouldn't say it that way, of course. He'd say the kid needed extra processing time.

  It was a wonder that with him taking in homeless kids, the rectory hadn't been rifled for stuff they could fence. Although, and with this thought Kevin afforded himself a small smile, there was nothing here to steal. Then he told himself to cool it: it was more than a little uncharitable to be insulting Jay's propensity for taking in homeless kids, given how many months it had been since they'd last spoken. And what he was about to ask.

  It took Jay a long time to come to the door, something Kevin accepted without question. When he finally heard steps from the basement, he straightened and moved into the center of the foyer, nearer the light.

  As the priest turned the corner, he focused for a long moment before his eyes flared and his breath caught. He took a sharp breath and then limped to the front entrance with a shuffle that even months of physical therapy hadn't erased—but at least there was no indication of pain in his step. It hadn't always been that way. The boy who'd answer the door stuck close to the priest like the Swiss Guard. Two other boys peered down the steps.

  Jay squinted at the boys upstairs, and Kevin wondered if he'd noticed their expression of unease in the presence of a police officer.

  The cold seeped through the door, and Kevin rubbed his bare hands, looking at them rather than at Jay's habitual squint, his close-cropped black hair and the manner he had of looking directly at the person to whom he spoke. Jay still had his lean, wiry build, but nowadays he had more of the lean than the wiry. Kevin felt bulky and awkward before him, conscious of how Jay had changed from the days they'd raised havoc side by side.

  As if he sensed the analysis, Jay turned to Kevin. Without any peripheral vision since his injuries, Jay stared into him like a video camera, and Kevin turned aside.

  Jay folded his arms. “What can we do for you, officer?”

  Officer? Maybe that was just a formality because Jay's boys would spread this exchange all over the street in the next couple of days. Maybe it wouldn't do to have the kids mistrusting Jay because his brother was a cop.

  Or maybe Jay was being obtuse, and that was a serve Kevin knew how to return. “Father Farrell,” and he made sure to put similar ice into his voice, “I heard you've been housing homeless kids in the rectory. Do you have any room?”

  Father Jay Farrell regarded Kevin with an expression he hoped no one, neither the boys nor his brother, could read.

  “There's always room for one more,” slipped out before he realized that this time, there really wasn't. Currently eight boys lived upstairs, and four of them slept in blankets on the floor. One had no pillow.

  “Actually, there's three.” Kevin lowered his voice. “We found them in a luggage alcove in the bus station. They need a place to stay.”

  Jay's expression blanked, and his jaw tightened. “Until you can find them a foster home?”

  Kevin shook his head. “They've been in four foster homes already. They're little escape artists, and they want to stay together. If we separate them, they get back together and run away again. We need them all in one place, and I knew you could do that.”

  Jay rubbed his temples. “Sure, we'll take them in.” He couldn't really blame them for wanting to stay together if they were all they had in the world. From what he knew of the public shelters, they were no place for children. Neither were the streets, even when it wasn't five degrees below zero.

  As Kevin went to get the kids, admitting a gust of winter, Jay turned to the boys on the stairwell. “Clear out one of the rooms. These kids need to stay together.”

  One of the boys spoke up. “Where are we going to fit three more?”

 
We'll make space for them.” Jay's mind combed every inch of the rectory, but no new rooms miraculously appeared on the floor plan. “Even if someone has to sleep on the floor in the boiler room, it's warmer here than outside.”

  Eddie stood beside Jay, but Jay couldn't read his expression. He laid a hand on Eddie's shoulder. “Go to the kitchen. Heat up some soup.”

  Kevin escorted in three boys, two of whom hung back behind his legs; one he carried.

  Jay looked them over while Kevin tried to get them all inside enough to shut the door. Their breath frosted up, and the middle one had reddened eyes. All of their coats were too small, and none of them had mittens or gloves. Only the littlest wore boots, and even those looked like hand-me-downs. The other two had snow-soaked battered sneakers.

  “Come on inside. Let's get you fed.” Jay approached, and the two older kids backed against the door. “I'm Father Jay Farrell. You can call me Jay or Father Jay if you want. What are your names?”

  After a moment, the oldest said in a small voice, “I'm Louis.” He pointed to the littlest one. “That's Jamie.”

  Jay turned to the middle one. “And you?”

  A tiny voice emerged. “Maria.”

  Jay's heart stilled. He moved up close to Kevin, and with urgency, whispered, “I don't have the facilities to house girls here! There isn't a separate bathroom, and—”

  “There's heat and four walls.” Kevin shook Jay's hand as if he were an obstetrician congratulating a new dad. “I won't report you.”

  Jay grabbed Kevin's shoulder, his voice barely louder than a breath. “Can't you find them somewhere else? They'll get eaten alive!”

  “What are we supposed to do? Chain them to a radiator at the station house?”

  Jay's tone grew dangerous. “It's far better to chain them to a dresser in the rectory?”

  There was a silent standoff. Jay looked again at the three smudged faces, the sodden sneakers, and the tangled hair.

  “Fine.” He sighed. “Let them stay.”

  “See, that wasn't so hard.” Kevin sounded smug. “I knew you'd never refuse me to my face.”

  “Get out of my church.” Jay had long ago perfected a stare that stopped everyone in his tracks, except for his brother, who regarded him with a Teflon smile. “I can't believe you'd drop out of the sky trolling for a favor.” He folded his arms. “Stop by tomorrow with some blankets and I may forgive you.”

  After the door creaked shut behind his brother, Jay escorted the three children up the steps. The rectory's first floor had a standard layout: the parish office, a waiting room, and a conference room. The rectory was designed for four priests, but currently Jay was the only one, and the makeshift basement apartment had seemed the most efficient residence. Before this September, he'd kept the upstairs sealed off to conserve energy. As it had grown colder, though, and the Archangels gang had taken on a couple of homeless boys, he had opened the upper floor for the kids.

  Kevin was an idiot. Jay would never have refused those kids no matter who'd brought them.

  In the kitchen, chilly even with the heaters banging away, Jay helped the castaways out of their jackets. The girl appeared frostbitten, but she might only have been windblown; her curly blond hair looked chewed-off, as if someone had cropped it close with no care to leave it even. The other two had the same hairstyle, which was why he had assumed she was a boy. While Jay settled them at the table, he asked Eddie to get down bowls and spoons, and also cups. He poured each a glass of milk. Still the children said nothing. Jay took a seat.

  “Louis—am I remembering that right? How old are you?”

  The boy murmured, “Nine.”

  The girl looked a couple of years younger. The little one could be no more than four.

  Jay said, “The other boys here are a bit older.” A mixture of throwaways and runaways, they'd all lived on the streets longer as well. Jay wondered if they would scam on the kids or just show them the ropes and make them appropriately cynical. “The older boys live here because they also have nowhere else to go.”

  Maria said, “You'll keep us together?”

  Jay nodded. “You can stay here together, yes.”

  Jay told Eddie to take the soup off the stove. Two other boys had shown up in the doorway. “He has to get a job,” the taller of the boys said.

  “Louis is too young to work. What do you think, Nick? Should I send the four-year-old out to work too?” Jay smiled at the kids, who stared hungrily at the soup Eddie set before them. He said to them, “The older boys have to get jobs to stay. Then they chip in to pay for food and a little rent.”

  If you could call ten dollars a week rent. Jay all but begged shop-keepers or restaurant owners to take on the boys, who then needed to learn basic job skills such as showing up on time. Some of them bussed tables or helped stack boxes at a grocery store. The boys were working off the books, but Jay didn't worry too much about the law. The law had enough to take care of with the homeless kids resorting to theft and prostitution. As shown by his brother's visit, the police knew what he was doing. They just didn't stop him.

  Eddie put some crackers on the table as well. Jay reminded him about the spoons, and after a pause, Eddie brought back five spoons.

  Nick snorted. “If the resident idiot doesn't have to work, neither should they.”

  Jay didn't need to turn to Eddie to know he wouldn't realize the jibe for a moment, and then when he put it together, would get a sick look on his face. Although dealing with physical disability made Jay's life difficult, he suspected mental disability must be much harder, particularly for a homeless boy who needed to survive by his wits.

  Turning to Nick and his sharp-eyed smirk, Jay said, “And for that remark, you'll be giving Louis your bed and pillow tonight.”

  “But—”

  Jay sounded placid. “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head, and now neither do you. Go clear out of that room.”

  Nick stomped away even as Jay fought the urge to chuckle.

  Jay looked at the three kids. He ought to know what to say to them. After all, hadn't his own childhood been a nightmare of gangs, guns and drugs? All that could come to him, though, was, “You'll have a home here as long as you need.”

  The four-year-old sniffled, and a tear traced down his chapped cheek. Jay reached across the table and put a hand on the boy's shoulder. The little one tensed, but Jay lifted him into his lap and gave him a hug. He shouldn't have done that: even though the boy couldn't have weighed more than forty pounds, it felt as if he'd pulled every muscle in his shoulder.

  “We'll take care of you,” Jay said.

  The boy looked at his lap. “But how is Santa Claus going to find us?”

  Two

  Bill pulled away from the curb while Kevin radioed to say they had dropped off the kids. As he set the radio back on the hook, Bill said, “How'd you know he'd take them?”

  “He can't say no. He's got a whole zoo in there.” Kevin laughed. “He's even got a little gang of kids that protects the parish. They call themselves the Archangels.”

  Bill did a double-take. He was a tall black man, well-muscled and imposing in his uniform when he wanted to be. “I've heard about them. They're his?”

  “He caught a bunch of kids brawling in the parking lot one night and somehow got them to not only stop fighting, but to leave their older brothers' gangs. I have no idea what he said to them. But you know how it is: they just formed a new gang, and they call the church their territory.” Kevin shrugged. “They said the bishop had five kinds of fits.”

  With a laugh, Bill said, “I can imagine!”

  In a slightly off-key voice, Kevin sang to the tune of Jesus Christ Is Risen Today, “Jay's in trouble with the bishop again. How surprising!”

  Bill snorted. “What's his deal? I like kids, so I got married and had three. You'd think if he liked kids that much, he wouldn't have become a priest.”

  “I don't think he likes kids. At least, he didn't.” Kevin adjusted the patrol car's he
ater. “Maybe it's penance or karma or something. He was a little hooligan himself.”

  “Is that how he got shot up?”

  “No. Gulf war.”

  “You're kidding! Army?”

  “Yep.”

  “Chaplain?”

  Kevin barked a laugh. “Not hardly. You know how you just know which kids on the street corners are only a nuisance and which are going on to become career perps? He was going that way fast.” Kevin laughed. “Heck, I was too! We were 'Farrell and His Shadow', a pair of hell-raisers, but he was always the one in the lead, coming up with ridiculous stunts, telling me what to do, introducing me to all sorts of things he shouldn't have, just like a big brother.”

  Bill slapped his leg. “I knew there was more to you, man!”

  “Really?” Kevin paused. “Well, my dad worked like a thousand hours a week. He didn't care what we did, as long as he didn't have to get called into the school or into the station house.”

  Bill shook his head.

  “It surprised the dickens out of everyone when Jay enlisted.” Kevin swallowed. “Me too. I didn't even know he'd been talking to the recruiting guy. Then Jay went to Iraq and came home half-dead.” Kevin took a deep breath. “He got all weird on us, always talking about God and reading his Bible. He became Catholic, and then two years later he went into the seminary. I kept hoping they'd kick him out because he's nearly blind, but no.”

  Bill sat straighter. “You'd rather he was a career perp than a priest?”

  “I'm not sure which one I'd prefer.” Kevin's mouth twitched. “I can't say which view of the world is more twisted. Either you're out there taking what you can because you're stronger than everyone, or else you're taking what you can because God told you to do it.”

  Bill pulled onto the main strip. “Bitter much, Kevin?”

  Kevin snorted. “What's God ever done for him?”

 
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