The Man Who Reached Back
Albert J. Manachino
The First Sunday Was Marked By The exchange of handshakes between a Roman Catholic priest and Dr. Rosenberg. "It was good of you to come, Irv."
"You know that for you I'm always available, Father O'Shea. How goes the old gentleman?"
He was referring to the priest's father.
"As well as can be expected of a ninety-year-old man with terminal cancer and in the final stages."
"There is nothing I can do except try to make him more comfortable. His sufferings should have been ended years ago." Dr. Rosenberg was carrying a black handbag, which he set down on the floor while he was removing his coat.
The priest held out his hand. "I do not wish to discuss euthanasia now, Irving. I do not think he is in pain. He is not cognizant of his surroundings and frankly, I do not believe that he will survive the night. I am certain he wishes to die. No! I wanted you here for another reason."
Dr. Rosenberg waited for the revelation.
"I've sent for Chastine."
The doctor's face exhibited surprise and resentment. "The faith healer?"
"Yes, the faith healer. I met the fellow several weeks ago and in the course of conversation, described Dad's condition. He said that he thought he could be of help."
The look of surprise changed to one of disbelief. "I realize that it is a tenet of the Catholic faith to believe in miracles but I hope you haven't permitted him to arouse false expectations. There is nothing that medicine and science can do for your father."
"I was very specific, Irving. He still maintained that he could help by a laying-on of the hands. I don't know why, but I asked him to come."
There was resignation in the doctor's voice. "Anyway, he can't either hurt or help the old gentleman now. I take it that you wish me to act in the capacity of observer?"
"Would you please, Irv?" The words were in the nature of a plea. "I don't think I could force myself to be in the room with them. It sounds strange because I've stood beside so many deathbeds, but somehow, this one seems different."
Dr. Rosenberg was sympathetic. "Of course, Father O'Shea."
The Old Gentleman Lay In His Bed staring at the ceiling through closed eyes. There wasn't very much of him. Just a skull with a few scanty wisps of white hair on top and a little skin below. Occasionally, as an afterthought, he breathed.
Chastine was an exquisite figure. Slight and perfectly built, he made the inexpensive clothing he wore seem high fashion. He was beautiful. "Handsome" would have been too coarse an appellation to have been applied to him.
"Are you Doctor Rosenberg?" The voice was a melody as perfect as the speaker.
There was a noticeable amount of curtness in the doctor's response. "Yes!" He could not keep the resentment he felt from creeping into his voice. Then, abruptly, he asked, "Where is your magic paraphernalia?"
"This is the only paraphernalia I need." Chastine displayed an open bible. Turning to the bed, he began to read the twenty-second psalm.
At the conclusion, he bent, positioned a hand on either side of the withered skull and placed a kiss on the forehead.
"Is that all?" the doctor asked. "No bells? No incense? No abracadabra?"
"That is all, doctor. I really do not need the bible. I've repeated the words so many times that they come by heart. It is that I derive a feeling of comfort from its touch."
Dr. Rosenberg gave vent to his feelings. "If I had my way, Mr. Chastine, you would have been tarred and feathered and carried out of this city on a rail as in the good old days."
Chastine seemed amused. "Of course, just like in the good old days. I didn't expect anything else. Religious leaders have a tendency to react along similar lines."
The old man stirred and opened his eyes.
Down Below, Detective Lieutenant Cardo sat in the old-fashioned parlor, speaking to Father O'Shea. "I'm very interested. Unofficially, I've spent a good many hours researching our friend Chastine."
The priest felt apprehensive. "And what have you discovered, Lieutenant?"
"About Chastine personally, absolutely nothing. Where he came from is a mystery. His fingerprints are not on file. His present intentions are unknown. He does seem to be able to back up his reputation."
Father O'Shea nodded in agreement. "I also have made discreet inquiries concerning him among my parishioners who have had dealings with him. He does not seem to have existed previous to ten months ago."
"When I first heard of him, I said to myself, here is another charlatan, preying on those pitiful, forlorn creatures who are clutching at any crumb of hope in their despair. But, it doesn't appear so. He rarely accepts money and prefers to work among the poor," Lt. Cardo said.
"Not that he will refuse a rich client just because he is rich, but he gives preference to the needy. I'm glad Irving isn't here to hear this. He has been quoted as saying that the rich can afford the expensive services."
"On the two occasions I know of, he donated the entire fee from a wealthy client to what he considered worthy causes. He professes a special sympathy for children, the aged and animals, so his idea of a worthy cause may not be an orthodox one."
Father O'Shea said, "Chastine seems to transcend denominational boundaries, and I'm sure his use of the twenty-second psalm is mostly because of the extreme beauty of the words rather than the religious affiliation."
"That is fairly close to what I have observed." Then the detective came to the purpose of his visit. "I had hoped to witness one of his miracles, but it appears I got here too late." Lt. Cardo hesitated, started to say something more and then changed his mind.
"I have asked my old friend Dr. Irving Rosenberg to be with Dad during his visit," the priest said. "Chastine did not offer any objections."
"Having a medical man present is even better. You see, it is not my intention to harass him for doing good, but having been a policeman so many years, I have a tendency to be cynical about what is not explainable in everyday terms. Naturally, I cannot force my presence upon him during his enactments. He could simply refuse to proceed."
Chastine came down alone and smiled at them. Lt. Cardo felt uncomfortable; the smile should have been bestowed on them by a beautiful woman. "The doctor is still with your father. Why don't you go upstairs. I'll let myself out."
From above they could hear a voice raised in querulous protest.
The Priest And His Father Confronted one another. It was difficult to determine which was the father and which was the son by the puzzled expressions on their faces.
"You look like Michael," accused the patient. Physically, they were as much alike as twin brothers.
Dr. Rosenberg was repacking his bag with shaking hands. "He's as sound as any fifty-year-old man you'll ever find anywhere."
The priest was overcome. "Dad " he started to say.
Dr. Rosenberg looked at the elder O'Shea. "You've been very ill for a very long time. Sit. There are a good many things you will not remember." Then, turning to the priest, "This evening I have witnessed a miracle. Thank you for having invited me."
Detective Lieutenant Cardo stood in the background. He was holding his hat, not quite knowing what to do with it.
"Dad, it's me, your boy Michael." There were tears streaming down Father O'Shea's face.
"Michael? You can't be Michael. You're much older." Then he yelled at the doorway, "Bridget! Bridget! Where are you?"
"Mother died twenty years ago. Don't you remember?"
The news stunned the senior O'Shea. "No!" He refused to believe. "No! You're lying to me."
"It is true, sir." Dr. Rosenberg confirmed the news. "What is the last thing you recollect clearly?"
The older O'Shea thought. "It seems we were making preparations to welcome Chaplain Bobby from overseas duty with the Twenty-sixth Infantry Division."
"That was in 1946." The priest continued, "Bobby is his younger brother."
Dr. Rosenberg spoke to the elder O'Shea. "You have been a victim of amnesia, sir. There are a great many things you will not remember." Later he advised the priest, "Try to convince him that this is so."
The Three Men Were Back In The old-fashioned parlor. Dr. Rosenberg was departing in company with the detective.
"There doesn't seem to be any doubt that Chastine is the real McCoy," Cardo said as they went out to the street. "He has failed only twice that I know of."
"Failed?" The doctor did not understand.
"Not exactly failed," the policeman explained. "He refused the parents of a young man afflicted with cretinism and a very young child with a double curvature of the spine."
"Curious and curiouser," said the doctor. "Did he explain his refusals?"
"He told the parents in both cases that there was nothing he could do. He was quite frank and made no effort to arise false hope. Which in my book is a point in his favor."
Lt. Cardo was not used to taking outsiders into his confidence. He seemed to struggle with himself before continuing. "I was going to mention that I actually had witnessed one of his miracles earlier but it was on a minor scale."
"Yes?" the doctor encouraged him.
"I've tailed him on occasion. All off the books, you understand. I was trying to establish a pattern of his habits, visitations, special followers and so forth." Cardo pulled the wrapper off a cigar and groped for a light, which Dr. Rosenberg courteously supplied. "Number one, I doubt that he suspected being under surveillance."
The detective drew deeply on the cigar until a cherry red glow appeared on the end.
"Number two, I did it irregularly so that he scarcely would have known when anything stage-managed for my benefit would be observed." Lt. Cardo emitted a cloud of cigar smoke.
"Number three, the nature of the incident I witnessed makes it very difficult to believe it could have been arranged."
Cardo continued. "In the vicinity of Ardmore Street, I observed a little black girl walking her dog. The dog tugged itself free and ran into traffic where it was struck by a passing vehicle.
"It lay there yelping in pain and before I could act, she had run out and picked it up. I don't understand why she wasn't struck also but she made it back to the sidewalk.
"The girl was absolutely heartbroken and stood there with the dog in her arms and screaming at the top of her voice and the dog was crying and none of those lousy by-passers, including people of her own race, did more than glance. Let me tell you, for a few minutes I wished I could have laid out among them with a nightstick.
"Anyway, Chastine walks up to the little girl and places his hand on her shoulder. I see him smile but I can't hear what he is saying. She stops crying and the hand begins to pat the dog. The moment he touched it, it stops crying, wiggles its way out of her arms and stands there wagging its tail. He says a few words and leaves.
"I made no further efforts to tail him that day. You understand, even a cop can get emotional. Instead, I walked up to the child and asked her, 'Who was that man?" Both she and the dog were still looking in the direction Chastine had disappeared in. Without turning, she replied, "That ain't no man, that's God."
The priest and Dr. Rosenberg remained silent. Lt. Cardo made an exclamation and hurled his cigar into the gutter.
The Following Sunday, They Met In the kitchen of Dr. Rosenberg's home. "This is where I live," the doctor explained. "The rest of the house is incidental."
Batteries of stainless steel pots and pans, chromium toasters, blenders and coffee makers reinforced his statement. Antique and modern implements vied for attention. A percolator emitted tantalizing odors of freshly brewing coffee, which in turn mingled with that of Lt. Cardo's cigar and a cake just out of the oven.
Of the three, the doctor was the one most noticeably ill at ease. He began with the statement, "Chastine is not a healer."
Lt. Cardo looked directly at him before replying. "May I remind you, sir, that no less eminent a person than yourself was a witness to one of his miracles?"
"I witnessed a miracle, there is no doubt of that, but it was not one of healing." The doctor had their undivided attention. "Chastine's talent is undeniable, unique I might say, but," he repeated, "it is not one of healing."
Father O'Shea maintained an outward veneer of calm. "Just what is his talent, Irv?"
"I think he manipulates time." The silence that followed was so intense that the smoke from Cardo's cigar might have been heard striking the walls and ceiling of the kitchen.
"Will you please explain?" the priest finally asked.
"I think that Chastine can somehow reach back just prior to a patient's affliction and can bring him forward into the present, which is why," he aimed the remainder of his statement at Father O'Shea specifically, "I strongly recommend that you all have proper medical checkups in time to avert dangerous ailments.
"As it is, the old gentleman will most likely outlive you. He, I think, will have the same life span but it need not be in discomfort and pain." The doctor paused as a thought struck him. "Or, then again, tomorrow he may be killed by a car while crossing a street. It will be a completely different life, with different experiences. But approximately of the same duration."
"So that is why he was looking for Mother. To him, she had not yet passed away."
"Exactly. Chastine reached back approximately thirty years. She was still living then. It also explains why he refused to visit the young man afflicted with cretinism and the baby with the double curvature of the spine. They were born that way. Reaching back would not have helped them. Neither the little girl that Lt. Cardo mentioned or the dog would have remembered the accident because to them, it would not yet have occurred. And you do have to admit, Chastine has a compelling personality even to an adult, much less to a child." The doctor sighed. "In his presence I've felt so humble that I've wanted to throw myself on the ground and worship him. Or, so resentful that I have wanted to destroy him."
There was a thoughtful expression on Father O'Shea's face. "I wonder, just how far back in time he can reach?"
The Third Sunday Found Three Sorely puzzled men congregating in the tiny closet Lt. Cardo designated as his office. There actually wasn't enough room for his telephone to ring in. Reluctantly, he drowned his cigar in the dregs at the bottom of a paper coffee container.
"I am in a peculiar position," began Father O'Shea. I mentioned during a sermon that repairs to the Blessed Saint Home for aged and indigent men of all faiths would cost about a quarter of a million dollars. We had hoped to add at least one hundred beds."
Dr. Rosenberg interrupted. "If your position is peculiar, think of mine. Ten years ago, I signed Mr. Feldman's death certificate."
Lt. Cardo broke in with his contribution. "This morning, I was detailed to fingerprint an elderly gentleman and check out his prints against a set obtained from the Veterans Administration. They matched. There is not a doubt about their authenticity. Mr. Feldman served as a captain in World War II."
Father O'Shea picked up the circle of the narrative as it straggled by him. "This morning a messenger delivered an envelope containing a check for two hundred and fifty thousand dollars from Mr. Feldman's widow. Only, it appears she isn't a widow any longer."
"And," Dr. Rosenberg went on, "I received a call from Mrs. Feldman, after Chastine visited them. We don't know what he did but we can guess. I examined an elderly man. Elderly, but in good physical condition. Ten years is a long time and I didn't remember Feldman until his wife produced the certificate and asked me to void it. You can imagine the predicament I'm in."
Father O'Shea was mildly amused. "If the medical profession is in a pickle, think of how the legal profession will react when the news gets out, as I take it Mrs. Feldman has no intention of keeping the happy event a secret."
Lt. Cardo added his speculations to those of the priest's. "Lord, yes! Just think of it. If Chastine goes to work on an assembly line basis, a whole new class of unofficial citizens can spring into being. Sort of a class Ccategory. Alive, dead, alive again. Think of the social security people, the welfare agencies, the voter registration people and so on almost without end. It might even become legal to pad voter registration rolls with names off tombstones."
He said this so seriously that Dr. Rosenberg became discomfited. He said desperately, "I think we've all missed the point. If he can raise the dead, he is more than human. What is to prevent him from resurrecting some unutterable monster who will bring chaos upon mankind?"
Father O'Shea attempted to soothe him. "I think not. He appears to have a very strong social conscience. If it was his intention to resurrect a monster, as you phrase it, he'd scarcely have utilized his talent openly." "He could be forced to, Father O'Shea. Fear is a terrible lever."
"Somehow, I don't think so, Irv. That he might be more than human I could concede, but that he'd be afraid, never. No, I believe he is deeply disturbed by the current trend of our society and is attempting to redress it."
The doctor was openly skeptical. "How?"
"By fomenting a religious reawakening." Then he changed the subject. "As a matter of curiosity, was Mr. Feldman's grave exhumed? Just to ascertain that it is indeed unoccupied."
"You bet it has," the lieutenant affirmed. "Moreover, we went back ten years to interrogate witnesses who had attended the funeral, including the mortician who closed and sealed the casket. Members of the family rode behind the hearse and escorted the coffin directly to the grave. The officiating rabbi and several others remained until it was lowered into the grave and covered. There doesn't seem to have been any opportunity of body removal at that time. However, in the ten years that followed " A shrug concluded the sentence.
"Is there any possibility that someone else might have been initially buried?"
Father O'Shea asked, "Is there any possibility that the fingerprint cards you mentioned might have been exchanged?"
Lt. Cardo spread his arms outward in resignation. "The casket was empty. A chemical analysis of scrapings from the insides and snippets of the lining indicate that it was never used. No residue. Nothing. I suppose that the fingerprint cards might have been exchanged but it would not have been easy. I would hate to tangle with anyone who has those kinds of resources at his disposal."
Dr. Rosenberg still clung to his apprehensions. "How can we prove his intentions are for good or for evil?"
"Prove them, we can't," said the priest, standing up. "Why don't we just ask him?"
"Funny, I'd never have thought of that," spoke Lt. Cardo, groping for a new cigar.
The Fourth Sunday Found Them back in the old-fashioned parlor where the adventure had begun. In addition, Chastine was present. "These are evil times," he said. "Love and honor have been displaced by hatred and strife. Pestilence and fear walk the face of the earth even among nations supposedly at peace. Mankind needs a standard, a beacon if you will, to light the way. We need a great hero to lead us into the paths of righteousness and harmony." He paused to let Dr. Rosenberg speak.
"Will such a person ever pass our way?"
"He passed two thousand years ago. He was scorned and vilified. He was degraded and finally crucified."
"You mean Jesus Christ," said Father O'Shea.
"Yes, I mean Jesus. He and he alone can reunite us and make a single people of us all."
Lt. Cardo was doubtful. "Perhaps even he could not prevail. After all, there have been less than one hundred and thirty years of peace in the entire world in the two thousand years since his departure."
"His teachings have failed because man is not as perfect as the image he was cast in. The teachings failed because Satan is constantly among us, constantly on the offensive. We have failed because we haven't had the great general to lead us in person. Jesus will not fail this time. Faced with its miserable history and the prospect of atomic annihilation, mankind will have to listen."
"Mr. Chastine, this is what is termed metaphysics, protested the doctor. "Your statements cannot be either proven or disproven."
"I will prove them," Chastine said quietly. "Then there will be peace and happiness forever."
"You will prove this? How? How are you going to prove this?"
"I will resurrect him, doctor."
The silence that followed this statement was so profound that in truth, it could have been likened to a state of shock. The priest was the first to recover. "Can you really do that?" he finally asked.
Dr. Rosenberg appeared to be in a trance. He was whispering to himself, "No more wars, no more racial strife, no more pogroms. No more gas chambers."
Lt. Cardo chimed in, "No more murders, no more rapes, no more abused and battered children."
"No more broken homes. No more drunkenness or drug addiction or poverty or wretchedness," finished the priest.
They looked at Chastine. Dr. Rosenberg acted as spokesman. "What can we do to have a share in the making of this miracle?"
Chastine seemed embarrassed. "I can manipulate time but not geography. To perform the resurrection, I will have to travel to the scene of the crucifixion. There, on the spot where he died, I will reach back." Chastine hesitated and said somewhat shamefacedly, "I will need money. I've never kept any that was given to me."
"How much?" asked the doctor.
"Do you think one thousand dollars would be sufficient to pay the costs of travel and lodging?" asked Chastine.
The sum was so modest that they were actually staggered. Dr. Rosenberg's hand went into an inside pocket and brought out a checkbook. "That's no problem at all," he declared.
Father O'Shea made an objection. "That will never do. All of us must make a contribution. I have four hundred dollars which I will donate as my share."
Lt. Cardo was agreeable. "I lose more than that on the horses in the course of a year. It won't hurt me to miss a race or two."
"Your share will be the same," Father O'Shea told the doctor.
The three were jubilant at the prospect of bringing about a better world at so insignificant an outlay. Father O'Shea brought out a bottle of Irish whiskey. Glasses appeared.
"Made by my favorite nephew and sent to me all the way from Ireland," the priest announced. "I've been hiding this from the bishop."
Chastine refused the whiskey but accepted a small glass of wine. "To a mankind united by love and understanding," toasted the priest. They drank.
"To happiness, learning, tolerance and wisdom," followed Dr. Rosenberg. They drank.
"To streets that will be safe to walk on. To doorways that never need be locked again. To the unfortunates and downtrodden that will never need to beg again," proposed Lt. Cardo. They drank. Father O'Shea was holding his liquor better than his companions.
Chastine looked on and smiled that beautiful smile that was characteristically his own. Slowly he sipped his wine. His happiness was one that radiated from within and he wore it like a halo.
They turned as one to toast him. "To the new savior of mankind. May he be blessed forever and ever." Their faces glowed with an exhilarated rapture. And then the doorbell rang.
A neat but tiny lady dressed entirely in black ushered herself in without so much as a word of invitation. She pointedly ignored the priest and the others and vented her undivided attention on Chastine. In his condition, the priest wondered if they had been invaded by elves.
She marched directly to Chastine and began to flay him with whips of Italian. Visibly shaken, Chastine began to diminish before their eyes.
Father O'Shea tried to say, "This conduct is unseemly." Chastine continued to shrink. Father O'Shea and the detective continued to listen raptly. Cardo, who understood Italian, turned pale and then his face assumed the wreckage of a sinking ship. Chastine appeared to be only half as tall as when he had entered the parlor.
O'Shea, who did not understand Italian, tried to divert the conversation into English channels.
Again he was ignored, as if he did not exist. The priest, Cardo, and Dr. Rosenberg continued to listen in various degrees of incomprehensibility. The three men were in a thrall that they were unable to break. The tirade continued. Cardo wore the saddest, most abject expression ever seen on a human face. Chastine detached himself from the woman in black. He spoke. "It will not be necessary to complete the arrangements we were discussing. I have to leave now. You will not see me or hear of me again." Then he walked out in the wake of the little woman.
Cardo explained. "The woman was his mother. She wants him to become an accountant."
Two Thousand Years Ago, A Frail figure shouldered a heavy burden and began his journey to meet his destination. He carried a heavy wooden cross on his tired and lacerated back. There were few to help him and his wounds were sore and festering. For Him, there was no deliverance.
Albert J. Manachino
Absolute Background Textures Archive
The Albert J. Manachino Series