Chapter 6: Faith (part I)

Faith, like love, like sanity, and like morality, is deceptive in its apparent simplicity.

Despite what the list of synonyms that one can encounter in a thesaurus may imply, faith is not the same thing as devotion, as trust, as belief or conviction. It exists as a conglomeration of all these concepts, but simultaneously, it is gestalt. It is more. There is faith in God, in karma, in a greater being that rights the world's many wrongs - but to limit one's definition of faith to only the spiritual aspect of the human experience is analogous to limiting one's definition of dessert to cake and nothing else. There is faith in humanity, in science, in true love, in a million small actions taken every day, and in a thousand million heartbeats over the course of a lifetime.

It is faith that inspires droves of people to herd themselves into mosques and churches and synagogues and temples, faith that allows one human being to trust another, faith that leads so many who are weary and downtrodden to create and invent and achieve. If a person is a star, a great ball of burning hydrogen in the vast emptiness of space, then faith is the gravity that binds that star together.

Faith is closer to feeling than it is to fact, yet many act upon it as if it is fact. The truth of the matter must be acknowledged: faith is not fact.

Faith is flexible. Fact is not. Faith is subjective. Fact is not. Faith is soft, warm, and comforting like what one would imagine a mother's caress to be. Fact is not. Faith persists as a mountain persists: its features shifting naturally with the seasons and with time, but its foundation remaining constant, solid, strong like the rock that it is in the face of wind and rain and human fallacy.

But fact persists, too. Fact is rigid, fact is objective. Fact is hard, cold, and frustrating. Fact persists as mathematics persists: untouchable, unchangeable, unyielding, inescapable, void of hope and of aspiration and of affection.


The sky was painted with reds and pinks and violets when Max arrived at the Samaritan on Saturday morning. He found the door unlocked, and so he rolled his bicycle into the grey-tiled shop unannounced. The bike was left to lean against the wall near Neil's own mode of transport, whose chains appeared to be loose and recently oiled. Neither Neil nor his father was anywhere in sight, but looking for them could wait a few moments.

While the June weather may not have been cold, Max's puddle-soaked feet were most definitely freezing. He plopped himself on the stool by the counter and removed his shoes and his socks. The items dropped to the floor with heavy splats. It took at least three minutes and no small amount of effort to wring the water out of his footwear.

The heavy door that separated the storefront from the back room swung open, and out came Neil toting an open-topped box of green flyers. For once, his clothing appeared neat.

"Hey, Neil," greeted Max dourly, "Lake Lilac got bigger."

The taller boy set his box on the counter and sighed, "Seriously? There are a lot of broken things in this city, but God, you'd think a leaky fire hydrant would be a higher priority."

Max scoffed, "They're not gonna care when nobody drives down that street in the summer. Bet you a dollar that the thing keeps leaking till it bursts or till September."

"I'm not dumb enough to take that bet," snorted Neil, "You'd crack the hydrant open yourself if it meant winning."

"I would," acknowledged Max with an air of pride.

He tugged his socks and shoes back on. Neil handed him half of the green leaflets from the box, and he stuffed them into the bag hanging off his shoulder.

"You know," said Neil as he lifted the rest of the flyers from the container and set them down in front of himself, "I could help you put these up."

"Really? Awesome," replied Max, "Hell if I'm gonna turn down that offer. Thanks a million, Neil."

Casually, Neil responded, "It's no big deal. Not like I have anything better to do. If the store was open today, the people at synagogue would judge us."

"Are you sure they won't judge you for, y'know, not going to synagogue?"

With a dismissive shrug and a complete reversal of reasoning, Neil answered, "Hey, it's a small business. We gotta make ends meet. My dad said he'd cover the stamp pickup at the Icarus today, so I'm free. Just let me fix my bike and grab a roll of tape, and we can get out of here."

Across the street from Neil's synagogue, which had not yet begun to receive visitors for the Sabbath morning service, a troop of young girls in identical, pink-skirted uniforms were unloading flowers from a delivery truck. They brought the brightly colored bundles into an empty shop to stock its bare shelves. A middle-aged woman, who had chestnut-colored hair and who wore far too much makeup, held the door open for the children with a bored expression on her face.

The streets were quieter early in the morning. There were fewer automobiles, fewer people, fewer food carts, and generally fewer obstacles to maneuver around. The sky was becoming bluer, the light was paling from orange to gold, and a few shops here and there were beginning to open their doors. A strong breeze whistled down the roads and alleys, but despite what the radio forecast had predicted, the winds were not yet cold.

Max and Neil were making decent time on the Campbell flyer route, which happened to pass near Nikki's house. Sitting on his bike and looking down a side street as Neil taped a Campbell advertisement up on the side of a telephone pole, Max could see the hill that blocked the girl's residence from view.

"Do you think Nikki'd join us if we asked?" he wondered aloud.

"Nah," responded Neil with a shake of his head, "It's still too early. Besides, today's Saturday. She has that piano lesson with the church lady."

"Oh, yeah. Sucks for her."

Nikki was in the kitchen, enjoying a breakfast of oatmeal and apple slices that she had prepared herself. The table that she sat at was wide and circular and could seat at least ten people - but she was eating alone. She was wearing another blue summer dress with loose sleeves and a long skirt. Its color matched the tablecloth so exactly that she would have blended right into it if she allowed herself to. Her meal was interrupted when her mother stopped in to grab a banana from the fruit basket in the center of the table.

"Morning, sweetheart," she said as she dropped the fruit into her purse, "Remember to be nice to your piano teacher. And make sure that you practice before she gets here - you have that recital coming up, and she told me you're a little behind."

"Okay, Mom. But will you be-"

The woman gave her daughter a brief kiss on the forehead and ruffled the girl's curly hair.

"I'll have someone pick you up to join me and the cast for lunch, alright?"

"... Okay, Mom."

"Great. Love you, sweetie."

And then she left before Nikki could reply.

The sun was getting quite reasonably high in the sky, and the streets were becoming crowded. People with day jobs were heading to work by taxi or by subway or on foot. The sidewalk population of Brooklyn was getting dense enough that Max and Neil could no longer comfortably weave around the pedestrians they came across. So, they were forced to roll their bicycles next to them as they posted more of the Campbell flyers on the sides of buildings and on old fences.

"Say," inquired Neil curiously, "What's the new laundry service thing about?"

Max scorned, "Campbell's starting an 'in-house' business so that the younger kids can work. It's all just a scheme to pay off his gambling debt or something."

"I thought he made money off the Campbell Program's overhead fees."

Shrugging, Max replied, "Not enough, apparently."

Ever-skeptical, Neil questioned, "And a dime-a-load laundry service is supposed to fix that?"

"Who knows what goes on in that guy's head."

They biked another block before stopping to post the last of the flyers.

Out of nowhere, Max pondered, "Hey, do you think that telegram guys will swear if it's part of the message?"

"I dunno," responded Neil, "It probably depends on the person."

It was nearly ten o'clock, and David was standing just outside the door to the Campbell orphanage building with Darla. With the way that he was tapping his foot on the concrete, blinking rapidly, and clenching his hat in front of his chest, it was clear that he felt anxious.

He apologized profusely, "I'm really really sorry to leave early today and cancel tomorrow, but I have some important meetings to get to. I promise I'll make up the hours over the week."

She laughed softly, the corners of her eyes wrinkling amusedly, "Don't worry about it, David. You're our best volunteer - we'll cut you some slack just this once."

"Thank you, Darla," he inclined his head in gratitude, saying, "Could you tell Max I'm sorry I've missed him?"

"Of course, David," chuckled the dark-haired woman, "Have a good day, now."

He pulled his fedora back on over his head as he began to make his way down the steps with one hand on the railing. Looking back at Darla, he waved, calling out, "Thanks! You too!"

She watched him leave with a nostalgic smile on her face. It brought to her mind a feeling like the taste of dark chocolate on her tongue to reminisce upon the years that a young and angry green-eyed boy had spent under her care in the very same building whose steps she stood on now. Cameron Campbell had been much more directly involved in the daily running of the orphanage back then, which was for the best because she and Gregg had both been new hires. Neither had known at the time that they would still be happily doing the same thing fifteen years later. Darla had to admit to herself that she could not imagine the Campbell Orphanage without the two of them - or without David's many visits, for that matter.

Enjoying the rare moment of peace, she looked up and admired the clouds peppering the blue expanse of Saturday sky and the way that morning sunlight scattered off of stone buildings.

"Hey," a young voice interrupted her, "Where's David?"

She glanced aside at the sidewalk to find Max and his friend Neil standing in front of the orphanage gate with their bicycles next to them.

A regretful smile on her lips, Darla answered, "Sorry, Max, but you just missed him. He had to leave early today to make it to some important meetings. He said he wishes he could have stayed to see you."

Stiffening his posture defensively, Max retorted, "Yeah, well, whatever."

"Max, if you're not busy," said Darla tactfully, "Gregg could use another set of hands clearing out the cellar."

Sighing in an almost exaggerated complaint, Max replied, "Ugh, fine," before he turned to his friend to say, "Later, Neil."

"Later, Max," echoed the other boy as he turned his bicycle around, "I gotta go prep the machine for the new stamps anyway. See ya tomorrow."

Neil rode away, and Max wheeled his bicycle inside the gate, bringing it into the grass and leaning it against the wrought-iron bars of the fence. The sun reflected off the axle of the front wheel to strike Darla's eyes. She turned her head and blinked away the spots dancing in her field of vision. When she looked back at Max, he was at the base of the steps. It was while he climbed them that Darla noticed he was leaving wet footprints on the pavement.

"Max," she admonished, "Your shoes are soaked! Take those off and go inside. I'll set them out to dry."

He removed his shoes and went inside, being sure to shut the front door behind him so that he could not be berated for leaving it open. The house lamps were off, so the foyer that he entered was illuminated only by the ambient daylight that drifted in through the windows. He could faintly hear familiar voices coming from behind the door at the end of the hallway that he knew led into the cellar.

Creaking and squeaking, the wooden floorboards registered every step that Max took. He walked slowly, taking the time to look at some of the many photographs and documents that hung on the walls. They were in more or less chronological order such that the newer ones were nearer the front of orphanage.

Max saw himself and Nerris and Ered framed in glossy black and white, the three of them standing next to each other in last year's Christmas portrait with the rest of the orphanage residents around them. Plus David, who was squeezed in on the opposite side of the photograph from Cameron Campbell. Rolling his eyes, Max moved on. He passed by a number of other photos, but he did not stop for them as he had for the first.

He did, however, halt for a newspaper clipping preserved behind dusty glass and a gilded picture frame. It featured a hazy, grey image of a 20-something Campbell wearing his most winsome smile. Below the photo was an 800-word article about the young entrepreneur who was starting a new orphanage in an expensive part of town. Max's eyes were drawn as they always were to the last few lines of the feature piece, quoted directly from Campbell himself:

'Kids who've been unlucky in life deserve more than what the world has given them. I want to make a place for some of them to get the care that they need and the best resources that money can buy - like attendance at Lilac Academy. I have faith in humanity, and I'd love to show the world what can happen when you turn good intentions into action. That's why I'm dedicating my businesses and the rest of my days to creating the best orphanage this city has ever seen.'

Max scoffed. Whether or not that dubiously altruistic claim of Campbell's had ever been true, it certainly was not anymore.

It had been a perplexing case from the beginning.

The first victim, a young boy named Henry Weisz, had been killed in north Brooklyn on a February afternoon. A sudden blizzard had driven many people off the streets to seek shelter indoors, and so there was no one else about to see exactly what happened to a mother and son on their way home from the grocery store. The only thing that the police managed to put together was a crude timeline: the two left the store at four o'clock, and twenty-five minutes later, an elderly priest encountered a woman collapsed shivering in the street and a small, mangled body bleeding out into the snow.

When the police arrived, the first thing they did after taking the woman down to the station was reprimand the priest for covering the dead child's body with a white sheet and thereby tampering with the scene. They were confounded and somewhat suspicious to hear that the man had discovered the victim like that.

The simplest thing that could be done to solve the mystery was to ask the mother - who had been conscious and aware when found in the street - for her testimony. She became a sobbing wreck the first time she was questioned. The second and third time they interrogated her, she gave conflicting stories. The fourth, she claimed not to remember exactly what had happened. Psychologists were brought in, and they determined that she had repressed her memory of the traumatic event and was unlikely to recover it. Suspicions fell upon her as well as the priest, but both of them were soon exonerated as a lack of evidence against them persisted and as one strange murder became many.

It was seven forty in the afternoon, and David was sitting alone in a booth at Bon Voyage with a plate of strawberry-chocolate cake in front of him. He had his head in his hands, and he was barely picking at his food. Thoughts of the Weisz files he had re-read earlier and the possibility of simply calling Cecilia to cancel tomorrow's meeting flitted through his mind. The hours that had passed between leaving the Campbell orphanage that morning and where he found himself now had not been kind.

Speaking with those who had known Chapel Jack's early victims was a difficult experience, to say the least. He first visited the priest who had found Cecilia Weisz, and although the elderly man was amiable and talkative, he could tell David nothing that had not already been recorded in the police report.

None of David's other conversations had gone any better, and by the last meeting, he could barely go through with asking the questions that he had outlined yesterday night. It weighed heavily on his conscience that he had spent the last hour or more forcing a twelve-year-old boy and his grandmother to relive the experience of finding the child's parents dead beneath the stage of the Sparrow Street theater and still had nothing to show for it.

"Hey," said a familiar voice, "Mind if I take a seat?"

His musings of shame suddenly interrupted, David glanced up from the table to see Gwen standing next to him, her hat being folded into a pocket of her overcoat.

"Oh," he said, startled, "You're here two days in a row?"

Her tone became less laid-back and more annoyed, "Kind of a pot and kettle situation here, David."

"Right, right," he laughed tiredly, "Sorry. It's been a long day. Please, sit down. I could use the company."

She joined him across the table.

Quirking an eyebrow at him, she remarked, "It's kinda weird to see you in a hat. Even with the circus red thing you have going on, I can't tell what color your hair is under there. Are you going to keep wearing it indoors?"

"What?" David reached for his head, and his fingers found fabric. He removed the accessory with an embarrassed rush of words, "Oh, gosh, I hadn't realized I still had this on. I'm sorry."

"No worries," responded Gwen indifferently.

They conversed for some amount of time, discussing such things as long working hours and frustrating assignments and not having enough time during the week to become involved in other activities. Gwen ordered herself a few croissants, and David finished his cake. The waitress informed them that the bakery would be closing at eight, which prompted David to inquire as to whether or not the establishment would be open on Sunday. When told that Bon Voyage would be closed, he ordered a half-dozen doughnuts to go.

"Thank you," he said when the blue carton of pastries was handed to him.

"You're welcome, honey," answered the waitress before returning to her task of wiping down a nearby table.

Gwen put forward a droll comment, "Sunday doughnuts, eh? Looking to bribe a priest or something?"

With an amused smile, David responded, "No, just a witness," he glanced down at the box in sudden realization, worrying, "Oh, wait, she's Jewish. I hope these are kosher."

The waitress overheard him and called out, "Unless your lady's really Orthodox, you're fine, darling."

"Alright, then," sighed David in relief, "Thanks again."

He and Gwen left the restaurant not long after that. Both his subway station and her apartment happened to lie in the same direction, so they strolled together for a while as the sun drifted ever lower in the sky.

Author's Note: Please leave a review! Thoughts and feedback would be much appreciated.