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Chapter no 34 – All Saints

Lesson, in Chemistry

“What’s it called again? All Saints?” the bishop repeated in shock. It was 1933, and although he’d been hoping for a new assignment in a wealthy parish soaked in scotch, instead he’d netted a ratty boys home in the middle of Iowa where more than a hundred boys of varying ages in training to become future criminals served as a constant reminder that the next time he made fun of an archbishop he would try not to do it to his face.

“All Saints,” the archbishop had said. “The place needs discipline. Just like you.”

“The truth is, I’m not good with children,” he’d told the archbishop. “Widows, prostitutes—that’s where I really shine. What about Chicago?”

“In addition to discipline,” the archbishop said, ignoring his plea, “the place needs money. Part of your work there will be to secure long-term funding. Do that and maybe I’ll find something better for you in the future.” But the future never seemed to arrive. By the time 1937 rolled around,

the bishop still hadn’t solved the cash-flow problem. The only productive thing he’d done? Edit his ten-page list of “I hate this place” fury down to five central problems: third-rate priests, starchy food, mildew, pedophiles, and a steady trickle of boys deemed too wild or too hungry to be part of a normal family. They were the kids no one wanted, and the bishop completely understood because he didn’t want them either.

They’d been limping along via the usual Catholic means: sherry sales, Bible bookmarks, begging, brownnosing. But what they really needed was exactly what the archbishop had suggested—an endowment. The problem

was, rich people tended to endow things the boys home didn’t have. Chairs. Scholarships. Memorials. No matter how often he tried to sell the endowment idea, potential donors could identify the fatal flaws right off the bat: “Scholarships?” they’d scoff. The boys home wasn’t really a school in the same way a prison isn’t really a place to rehabilitate— no one tries to get in. Funding a chair? Same problem—the home didn’t have departments, much less department chairs. Memorials? Their wards were too young to die, and anyway, who wanted to memorialize the very children everyone was trying to forget?

So here he was, four years later, still stuck in the middle of cornfields with a bunch of castaway kids. It seemed pretty clear no amount of prayer was going to change that. To pass the time he sometimes ranked the boys by who caused the most trouble, but even that was a waste of time because the same kid always topped the list. Calvin Evans.

“That minister from California called about Calvin Evans again,” the secretary said to the now-much-older white-haired bishop, dropping some files on his desk. “I’d already done what you’d said— I told him I’d checked the records and no one by that name had ever been here.”

“Good god. Why can’t he let us alone?” the bishop said, shoving the files off to the side. “Protestants. They never know when to quit!”

“Who was Calvin Evans anyway?” she asked curiously. “A priest?”

“No,” the bishop said, envisioning the boy who was the reason he was

still in Iowa decades later. “A curse.”

After she left, the bishop shook his head, remembering how often Calvin had stood in his office, guilty of yet another infraction—breaking a window, stealing a book, giving a black eye to a priest who was only trying to make him feel loved. Well-meaning couples occasionally came to the boys home

to adopt one of the boys, but no one ever showed interest in Calvin. Could you blame them?

But then one day that man, Wilson, had appeared out of thin air. Said he was from the Parker Foundation, a filthy-rich Catholic fund. When the bishop heard someone from the Parker Foundation was in the building, he was certain his ship had finally come in. His heart beat fast as he imagined the size of the donation this man Wilson might propose. He would listen to the offer, then, in a dignified way, push for more.

“Hello, Bishop,” Mr. Wilson said, as if he had no time to waste. “I’m looking for a young boy, ten years old, probably tall, blondish hair.” He went on to explain that this boy had lost his family via a series of accidents about four years earlier. He had reason to believe the boy was there, at All Saints. The boy had living relatives who’d recently learned of his existence; they wanted him back. “His name is Calvin Evans,” he finished, glancing at his watch as if he had another appointment to make. “If a boy of that description is here, I’d like to meet him. Actually, my plan is to take him back with me.”

The bishop stared at Wilson, his lips parted in disappointment. Between the time he’d heard that the rich man was in the building and their introductory handshake, he’d already crafted an acceptance speech.

“Is everything all right?” Mr. Wilson asked. “I hate to push, but I have a flight in two hours.”

Not a single mention of money. The bishop could feel Chicago slipping away. He took a good long look at Wilson. The man was tall and arrogant. Just like Calvin.

“Perhaps I could go out and walk among the boys. See if I can’t recognize him on my own.”

The bishop turned to the window. Just that morning he’d caught Calvin washing his hands in the baptismal font. “There’s nothing holy about this water,” Calvin informed him. “It’s straight from the tap.”

But as eager as he was to get rid of Calvin, his bigger problem—money

—remained. He stared out at the dozen or so wilted gravestones that littered the courtyard. In Memoriam, they claimed.

“Bishop?” Wilson was standing. His briefcase was already dangling from one hand.

The bishop didn’t reply. He didn’t like the man, or his fancy clothes, or the way he’d arrived without an appointment. He was a bishop, for god’s sake—where was the respect? He cleared his throat, stalling for time as he stared at the gravestones of all the bullied bishops who’d come before him. He could not let the Parker Foundation with its promise of untold funds get away.

He turned to Wilson. “I have terrible news,” he said. “Calvin Evans is dead.”

“By the way, if that annoying minister ever calls here again,” the old bishop continued to instruct his secretary as she cleared his coffee cup, “tell him I died. Or wait, no—tell him,” he said, tapping his fingers together, “that you’d learned there was a Calvin Evans in a different home—somewhere like, I don’t know, Poughkeepsie? But the place burned down and all the records were lost.”

“You want me to make something up?” she worried.

“You wouldn’t be making something up,” he said. “Not really. Buildings burn down all the time. Hardly anyone takes building codes seriously.”

“But—”

“Just do it,” the bishop said. “That minister is wasting our time. Our focus is on fundraising, remember? Money for our living, breathing children. You get a money call, I’m in. But this Calvin Evans nonsense— it’s a dead end.”

Wilson looked as if he must have misheard. “What…what did you just say?”

“Calvin recently passed away from pneumonia,” the bishop said simply. “Terrible shock. He was such a favorite here.” As he spun the tale, he mentioned Calvin’s good manners, his Bible class leadership, his love of corn. The more details he gave, the more rigid Wilson became. Fueled by how well the story was going, the bishop went to the filing cabinet to retrieve a photo. “We’re using this one for his memorial fund,” he said, pointing at a black and white of Calvin, his hands perched at his waist, his torso bent forward, his mouth open wide as if telling someone off. “I love that photo. It just says Calvin to me.”

He watched as Wilson stared down at the photograph, silent. The bishop waited for him to ask for some sort of proof. But no—he seemed to be in shock, mournful even.

He’d suddenly wondered if maybe this Mr. Wilson wasn’t a so-called long-lost relative. One thing fit—the height. Was Calvin his nephew, maybe? Or no—his son? Good god. If that was the case, the man had no idea how much trouble he was saving him. He cleared his throat and allowed a few more minutes for the sad news to sink in.

“Of course, we’ll want to endow the memorial fund,” Wilson finally said in an unsteady voice. “The Parker Foundation will want to honor the memory of this young boy.” He exhaled, which seemed to further deflate him, then reached down and pulled out a checkbook.

“Of course,” the bishop said sympathetically. “The Calvin Evans Memorial Fund. A special tribute for a special boy.”

“I’ll be back in touch with the details of how we’ll structure our ongoing contribution, Bishop,” Wilson said, struggling, “but in the meantime, please accept this check on behalf of the Parker Foundation. We thank you for all you…did.”

The bishop had forced himself to take the check without looking at it, but once Wilson was out the door, he laid the slip of paper flat on his desk. Nice chunk of change. And more to come, thanks to his idea to create a memorial fund for someone who wasn’t even dead yet. He leaned back in

his chair and laced his fingers across his chest. If anyone needed any further proof of God’s existence, they need look no further. All Saints: the place where God actually did help those who helped themselves.

After leaving Madeline in the park, Wakely had returned to his office and reluctantly picked up the phone. The only reason he was calling All Saints yet again was to prove to Mad that she was wrong. Not everybody lied. But talk about irony—first he had to lie himself.

“Good afternoon,” he said, imitating a British accent upon hearing the secretary’s familiar voice. “I’d like to speak to someone in your gifts department. I’m interested in making a sizable donation.”

“Oh!” the secretary said brightly. “Let me put you straight through to our bishop.”

“I understand you’d like to make a donation,” the old bishop said to Wakely a few moments later.

“That’s correct,” Wakely lied. “My ministry is dedicated to helping—uh

—children,” he said, picturing Mad’s long face. “Orphans, specifically.”

But had Calvin Evans been an orphan? Wakely mused to himself. When they were pen pals, Calvin had made it very clear that he did, indeed, have a living parent. I HATE MY FATHER, I HOPE HE’S DEAD. Wakely could still see the typing in all caps.

“To be even more specific, I’m looking for the place Calvin Evans grew up.”

“Calvin Evans? I’m sorry, but the name doesn’t ring any bells.”

From the other end of the phone, Wakely paused. The man was lying. He listened to liars every day; he knew. But what were the odds that two men of the cloth would lie to each other at the same time?

“Well, that’s too bad,” Wakely said carefully. “Because my donation is earmarked for the home where Calvin Evans spent his youth. I’m sure you

do wonderful work, but you know how donors can be. Single-minded.”

On the other end of the line, the bishop pressed his fingertips against his eyelids. Yes, he did know how donors could be. The Parker Foundation had made his life a living hell; first with the science books and rowing silliness, then with their outsized reaction when they discovered their endowment was honoring the life of someone who wasn’t technically, well, deadAnd the way they knew this? Because good old Calvin had managed to rise from the not-really-dead and appear on the cover of some no-name magazine called Chemistry Today. And about two seconds later, a woman named Avery Parker was on the phone threatening him with about a hundred different lawsuits.

Who was Avery Parker? The Parker behind the Parker Foundation.

The bishop had never spoken with her before—he’d only ever dealt with Wilson, whom he now gathered was her personal representative and lawyer. But now that he thought about it, he did remember a sloppy signature that sat next to Wilson’s on every single endowment document for the last fifteen years.

“You lied to the Parker Foundation?” she’d shouted on the phone. “You pretended Calvin Evans died from pneumonia at age ten just to get an endowment?”

And he thought, Lady, you have no idea how bad it is here in Iowa.

“Mrs. Parker,” he’d said soothingly. “I understand you’re upset. But I swear the Calvin Evans who was here is very much dead. Whoever appeared on that cover shares his name, nothing more. It’s a very common name.”

“No,” she insisted. “It was Calvin. I recognized him immediately.” “You’d met Calvin before, then?”

She hesitated. “Well. No.”

“I see,” he said, using a tone that effectively communicated how ridiculous she was being.

She canceled the endowment five seconds later.

“Ours is a tough business, isn’t it Reverend Wakely?” the bishop said. “Donors are slippery fish. But I’ve got to be honest—we could really use your donation. Even if this Calvin Evans wasn’t here, we do have other boys who are just as deserving.”

“I’m sure they are,” Wakely agreed. “But my hands are tied. I can only give this donation—did I mention it’s fifty thousand dollars?—to Calvin Evans’s—”

“Wait,” the bishop said, his heart beating fast at the mention of such a large sum. “Please try to understand: it’s a privacy issue. We don’t talk about individuals. Even if that boy had been here, we’re really not allowed to say.”

“Right,” said Wakely. “Still…”

The bishop glanced up at the clock. It was almost time for his favorite show, Supper at Six. “No, now wait,” he barked, not wanting to lose the donation or miss his show. “You’ve really forced my hand on this one. Between you and me and the wall, yes, this is where Calvin Evans grew up.”

“Really?” Wakely said, sitting up tall. “You have proof of this?”

Of course, I have proof,” the bishop said, affronted, touching his fingertips to all the wrinkles Calvin had given him over the years. “Would we be home to the Calvin Evans Memorial Fund if he hadn’t been here?”

Wakely was taken aback. “Excuse me?

“The Calvin Evans Memorial Fund. We set it up years ago to honor that precious boy who went on to become an amazing young chemist. Any decent library will have tax documents proving its existence. But the Parker Foundation—they endowed it—insisted we never advertise it, and you can probably guess why. It’s not like they could afford to fund every home that lost a child.”

“Lost a child?” Wakely said. “But Evans was an adult when he died.”

“Y-y-yes,” the bishop stammered. “Correct. It’s just that we still refer to our past residents as children. Because that’s when we knew them best—as children. Calvin Evans was a wonderful kid, too. Smart as a whip. Very tall. Now about that donation.”

A few days later, Wakely met back up with Madeline in the park. “I have good news and bad news,” he said. “You were right. Your dad was at All Saints.” He went on to tell her what the bishop had told him: that Calvin Evans had been a “wonderful kid” and “smart as a whip.” “They even have a Calvin Evans Memorial Fund,” he said. “I confirmed it at the library. It was funded for nearly fifteen years by a place called the Parker Foundation.”

She frowned. “Was?”

“The foundation stopped funding it a while ago. That happens sometimes. Priorities change.”

“But Wakely, my dad died six years ago.” “So?”

“So why would the Parker Foundation fund a memorial for fifteen years? When”—she did a calculation on her fingers—“for the first nine of those years, he wasn’t even dead yet?”

“Oh,” Wakely said, reddening. He hadn’t noticed the date discrepancy. “Well—back then it probably wasn’t really a memorial fund, Mad. Maybe more of an honorary fund—he did say it was in honor of your dad.”

“And if they have this fund, why didn’t they say so the first time you called?”

“Privacy issue,” he said, repeating what the bishop had told him. At least that made some sense. “Anyway, here’s the good part. I looked up the Parker Foundation and discovered it’s run by a Mr. Wilson. He lives in Boston.” He looked at her expectantly. “Wilson,” he repeated. “Otherwise known as your acorn fairy godfather.” He sat back on the bench, waiting for a positive response. But when the child said nothing he added, “Wilson sounds like a very noble man.”

“He sounds misinformed,” Mad said, examining a scab. “Like he’s never read Oliver Twist.

Mad had a point. But still, Wakely had dedicated a lot of time to this and he’d expected she might be a little more excited. Or at least grateful.

Although why did he think that? No one ever expressed gratitude for his work. He was out in the trenches every day comforting people going through their various trials and tribulations, and all he ever heard was the same old tired line: “Why is God punishing me?” Jesus. How the hell should he know?

“Anyway,” he said, trying not to sound dejected. “That’s the story.”

Madeline crossed her arms in disappointment. “Wakely,” she said. “Was that supposed to be the good news or the bad news?”

“That was the good news,” he said pointedly. He had very little experience with children and he was beginning to think he wanted even less. “The only bad news is that while I have an address for Wilson at the Parker Foundation, it’s only a post office box.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Rich people use post office boxes to shield themselves from unwanted correspondence. It’s like a garbage can for mail.” He reached down to his satchel and after some riffling, came up with a slip of paper. Handing it to her he said, “Here it is, the box number. But please, Mad, don’t get your hopes up.”

“I don’t have hopes,” Mad explained, studying the address. “I have faith.”

He looked at her in surprise. “Well, that’s a funny word to hear coming from you.”

“How come?”

“Because,” he said, “well, you know. Religion is based on faith.”

“But you realize,” she said carefully, as if not to embarrass him further, “that faith isn’t based on religion. Right?”

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