Chapter 44 ~ The Search for Dad Nears an End
The trio left the Pancake House with Jody in the front passenger seat. Sam in the back. Joe stared straight ahead pretending he was concentrating on driving. Jody deleted email after email on her iPhone. Sam looked out the right side rear window. Ten minutes later, the BMW’s navigation system announced, Your destination is ahead on right. Your destination is ahead on the right.
Joe signaled his intention to make a right turn. He turned right onto a long driveway circling to a two story rectangular building. Joe turned a bit toward Jody, “You sure this is the place? You think Ritchie is here?”
“It’s the address Father Oscar gave me. I assumed it was a church. Father Oscar didn’t say where Ritchie was located. He said he wanted to talk to you.”
“Does it make a difference? You didn’t think he was gonna meet you at one of the casinos, did yah?” Sam said from the backseat.
Joe shook his head, “Sam has an answer for any occasion.”
“Don’t be so hard on Sam,” said Jody turning a bit toward back and smiling at Sam.
“Two against one is not fair,” said Joe.
“The last person I know’d who thought life had to be fair was Morty Fergus. You know Morty Fergus, Joe?”
“Joe pulled into the parking lot, found a parking space and turned the engine off, “No, I never heard of Morty Fergus and I don’t have time to hear Morty Fergus’s life story.” Joe looked at Jody, “Sam likes to teach me lessons with his stories, which he claims are all true. All of his stories are about someone he knew. I can’t count the number of stories he recanted on the way to Vegas.”
“My stories all got a lesson and your head is so thick you missed three-quarters of the lessons,” said Sam. “Don’t worry, I’ll tell you all about Morty when we gets back in the car. It’s getting hot, let’s get inside. I bet the temperature will top out over one-hundred five today.”
Jody tapped her iPhone. “Close, Sam. The predicted temperature is one oh seven. I didn’t think of bringing my bikini to lie by the pool.”
Joe turned a shade a pink. Sam and Jody started laughing. The trio walked through an automatic door and entered a small lobby. Father Oscar’s office was in room 201. They turned to the left and pressed the elevator button. A moment later the elevator door opened, and old woman and her younger daughter walked out. Sam tipped his ball cap and said hello. The old woman and her daughter both smiled at Sam.
They entered the elevator. The only option was the number 2. Sam pressed the number. Nothing happened. Joe pressed it. He pressed it again.
“What’s your hurry, Joe. The door will close when it wants to close,” said Sam.
Joe purposely put his tongue between his teeth. Sam winked at Jody. Jody touched Joe’s shoulder, “Take it easy, Joe. It’s been a long road. I honestly believe you’ll get closure today. I don’t know if you’ll get the closure you want. I believe, one way or the other, your search will end.”
The elevator doors closed and the elevator began a torturously slow ride to the second floor. Joe gave Jody a half smile, “I hope so. I really hope so.”
The elevator slowed, stopped, then settled down another two inches before the door opened. One by one they stepped out into a small wide corridor. At the right end of the corridor was door marked, Staff Only. Next to the elevator was another door marked, Stairs. Opposite them and off to the left were double glass doors with the number 201 over the door.
“I guess this is it,” said Joe pointing toward the double glass doors. “Let’s go.”
Sam stepped ahead and pulled a door open and motioned for Joe and Jody to step through the door. Sam followed them. They stepped into a large lounge area with a number of round tables surrounded by chairs. A coffee machine was off to the right. The coffee machine sat on a long bar. On the bar sat a bowl of apples and oranges. Next to the apples and oranges sat a plate of bananas. A man and a woman were pouring coffee into disposable cups. A reception desk was straight ahead. Joe led the three to the reception desk. He noticed a large clock on the wall. It read 10:45.
“Excuse me,” said Joe. “We’re here to see Father Oscar. We have an eleven o’clock appointment. My name is Joe Astore.”
A short, mostly gray haired, heavyset woman looked up from her computer at Joe, Jody, and Sam. She smiled and spoke softly, “Why don’t you have a seat at one of the tables. There’s coffee and fruit on the bar. If you’re hungry, there’s a refrigerator around the corner and you’ll find a box of pizza from last night. The fridge is next to the microwave. You can heat it up. Paper plates and napkins are nearby. You’ll be able to find cold soda in the fridge as well.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” said Sam. He touch touched Joe on the elbow and pointed to a round table with six chairs. Joe pulled out a chair and sat. Jody sat to his right and Sam to his left. The three sat and waited. Every few minutes someone came through the double doors, they waved as they walked by the receptionist and turned either to the right or left behind the reception area and walked down a hall.
At five past ten, a medium height, solidly built, nearly bald man dressed in black pants, short sleeved black shirt, with a Roman collar turned the corner from the hallway to the receptionist’s right. The receptionist nodded toward Joe, Jody, and Sam. He looked at them, smiled and waved. He held up his forefinger indicating he’d be a minute longer. He bent over and spoke with the receptionist. She kept nodding. He straightened and walked briskly over toward Joe, Jody, and Sam. The trio stood up as one.
“Hi, I’m Father Oscar. And, you must be Joe,” he said extending his right hand.
Joe grasped Father Oscar’s right hand and felt as if his hand was caught in a vice. Joe tried to match the grip. He returned Father’s Oscar’s smile and said, “I’m Joe Astore. Thanks for meeting with us, Father.”
“Sit down, please. We can talk here. Welcome to Sister Jean’s Hospice. I’m here every morning from seven to noon and I’m on call the rest of the time,” said Father Oscar who then introduced himself to Jody and Sam.
“Is Joe Ritchie here?” blurted Joe.
Father Oscar placed his arms on the table and clasped his hands in front of him, “I don’t have a formal office. I live with a group of Franciscans about five miles from here. After lunch, Brother George and I will hit the bridges and work with the homeless. We carry a backpack of food and on days like today we’ll muscle two more backpacks with bottles of water. You’d be surprised at the number of homeless people in this city. Lots of people assume the homeless are mentally disturbed, lazy, or dangerous. That’s not the case. For the most part, they’re good people who had a run of back luck. Each of us is only a step away from being homeless. It’s not a big step either. I’m not here to talk about the homeless situation in Las Vegas. I’m here because I told Jody I’d speak to you about Joe Ritchie.”
“Whatever you have to say to me, Father, you can say in front of Jody and Sam. They’ve been with me since I started my search.”
Father Oscar nodded. “I’m going to tell you a story. After I tell you the story, if you want to meet Joe Ritchie. I’ll take you to him.”
Joe felt his heart race.