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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Bleeding Hands of Fate

Bishop Benedetto called me, “We need your help again.”  I recognized his voice, that odd combination of saccharine vowels and cigarette rasp. The Bishop had called on me and my investigatory services on several previous occasions. The last case I worked for Bishop Benedetto resulted in my arrest and a rather severe beating. Benedetto secured my release, quietly-eventually, and the church paid me for my services, but never apologized, never publicly retracted the accusations. I’d sworn not to answer any more calls from the Bishop, but I needed the money. Desperation makes liars of us all.

“Are you there?” he said when I didn’t respond immediately. “Did you hear me? We need your help.”

“Yeah, I’m here,” I said resignedly. “But I don’t know that I should be. Not after the last time.”

“Yes, well, we wouldn’t call upon your services again, either, except for this. It’s terrible. He’s been dead for fifty years and they still can’t leave him alone. It’s a desecration. You must help. The church will pay you, of course, handsomely, but you must help us. Please. You must help. ”

I hated to hear him beg in that croaky voice. “Bishop, please, take another Valda tablet and tell me what’s going on.”

“Someone has stolen the hands of Padre Pio.”

“Is that someone I should know?”

“Someone you should know?” the Bishop huffed through the phone. “Pio of Pietrelcina, friar, priest, mystic, stigmatist, and the venerated patron saint of January blues…does that sound like someone you should know? His feast day is celebrated on the 23rd of September with…”

“September 23rd,” I interrupted, “that’s my birthday. Quite the coincidence. I’m touched. And you say someone has stolen his hands?” Bishop Benedetto sputtered and fumed at the other end of the phone line. I knew, of course, all about Padre Pio and his bloody stigmata. I just wanted to mess with the Bishop.

And, besides, I don’t really go in for that mystic stuff. Talk to birds and angels, to trees and bees, but don’t talk to me about all that supernatural phenomena: magic, astrology, blitzkrieg bops, psychic healing, UFOs, and black steam… Inspired artist and mad scientist imagination are too much for me. I am the Never Wizard. Give me silver halide brilliant enough to fade away and I’ll solve your case. But silver particle physics, and silver mysteries and the host of related uncertainties have no traction with my simple mind.

I let the Bishop sputter on for quite some time before taking the details of the case from him. The hands of the beatified and sainted Padre Pio were secretly amputated after his death in 1968. He had, in life, often told people that, "After my death I will do more. My real mission will begin after my death." And, if Bishop Benedetto is to be believed, this proved true. Though the rest of Pio’s body was interred in an undisclosed crypt, his stigmatized hands were spirited away and put into a special reliquary. A secret order of mystic priests carried the box in their protection, walking the earth, meeting the faithful, getting into all sorts of outlandish adventures, and using the hands to bring about miraculous cures and deliverance around the world. They travelled covertly, never advertising their work, never drawing attention to themselves or their sacred charge.

But someone had found them and, in the dead of night, killed them and stolen the hands of Padre Pio. Many religious factions have a long and sordid history of relic theft. It’s considered a necessary ethical abomination so they’ve devised all sorts of justifications. Never mind the tortured leaps of logic required. Furta Sacra is big business, even today. But don’t try telling that to the good Bishop Benedetto. “There is no way out of here without them,” rasped the Bishop.  “It will be dark soon. There is no way out.”

God knows, the master would not approve; the whole thing’s been mishandled, but I did what I could. According to Benedetto, the Secret Priests of the Bleeding Hands of Fate had been attacked and killed in an abandoned warehouse down by the docks. Of course they were! Where else would something like this have occurred? All the ancient goblins and warlords are drawn to abandoned warehouses down by the docks. Manos! Gods of primal darkness, the hands of fate doomed these men. But I would do what I could.

It is the transverberation of the soul; he is attacked from within by flaming seraphs that pierce his poison heart with fierce darts, and eave him wounded. But still he walks on, walks right out of this world. He feels the breath of God in a particle accelerator, the breath of life in quantum equations. He is alive once more, and gasping for breath, and then he is gone. Psychoanalyze the cross mind out of view of punctuated beauty. The pain is immediate, blood and mind tripped, ripping from here and how to distant time and place unbearable – the suicide of the world - drive an invisible spike through wrist and foot.

I swung my flashlight back and forth across the empty expanse. Teenagers and hoods, derelicts and vagrants sometimes used these buildings but, unlike movie screen detectives, I never carried a firearm. Never needed a handgun. I didn’t see any criminals skulking about, with or without cloaks and hoodies. But there, in a heap, just as the Bishop had said, were the bodies of the Secret Priests of the Bleeding Hands of Fate, their corpses still dressed in cassocks of black wool and crimson silk left in a heap. The police hadn’t responded yet. No crime scene barricades, no human shaped tape outlines on the floor. How had Benedetto known? What was I getting myself into?

And there in the darkness of the warehouse with the sound of waves on the wharves beyond, I began to smell a miraculous fragrance. Was I beginning to hallucinate the healing powers of the supposed saint? Was I being handed a hex? Heading into hysteria? Headaches and heart guilt, unconscious at the altar, I did not believe. But that is when I heard the approaching police sirens and saw the flashing cherry lights through the warehouse windows. “Damn!” The Bishop had set me up again.

The cops outside set up with their high powered search lights, the brilliant lights of the long-deceased. They thought I was trapped. But I am clever. I am quick. A hatchway in the floor lead down to the cold water below. I had only a few moments to make my escape. I opened the trap door, then pulled one of the dead priests and propped his body over the hatch so it would shut with him on top of it as I closed it. I knew they’d find it before too long, but every second counts when you’re on the run from the police and from the momentous consequence of a solar eclipse. I dropped down into the water and swam for an hour or more before crawling up on an empty beach on the south side of town. From there I caught a bus back home. 

In my office apartment I shrugged off my wet clothes and listened to the messages on my answering machine. “Where are you?” it was the Bishop again. God, how I hated him and his dying luck hoaxes and his lying duck voice. “I thought you were going to handle this thing quietly! Now the police are involved and asking questions. Where are you? Call me!” I deleted the message and took a long hot shower.

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