In Sydney, Australia the evening of the next day was in full swing. In Calcutta and Sri Lanka's capital of Colombo the searing sun was just reaching the high point of November 1st. Residents of Rome, Paris, Berlin and London were still enthralled in their dreams as the sun waited to make its appearance to shock the masses back to the reality of another day.
In a small chapel just outside Qasr as Sabiyah, Kuwait, a tall, lanky altar server in his late 30's was pouring a small stream of water over the hands of another. The latter, a husky bearded priest in his early sixties, intoned "Lavabo inter innocentes manus meas" while wiping his hands with the small towel. Then the man in the cassock bowed and placed the cruet and bowl on a side table. The celebrant continued in Latin, the candles flickering on the altar as the breeze off the Persian Gulf began to pick up, always a precursor before the rising sun - just an hour away.
The garish lights of Broadway were flashing neon as pedestrians of every sort moved quickly on their appointed missions in New York City. Some passersby would occasionally glimpse at the giant neon ticker and Sony widescreen in Times Square where GNN was running a debate on various congressional issues between a pompous Republican senator and an invective Democratic consultant as the moderator tried to curb the constant interruptions of the combatants. In a matter of hours GNN would bring the images of New Nasiriyah to all on this gigantic screen overlooking the Great White Way.
The setting sun reflected a brilliant orange glow on the Luxor in Las Vegas as the neon jungle lit up the desert sky, the stream of headlights on the main strip created a spectrum of beams drowned out by the illuminated marquees above. Few in this Nevada city would be tuned to the events in New Nasiriyah this evening. They, more often than not, were more intent on the siren of the odds smiling on them. The gods of this modern Babylon were worshipped at the felt altars, incensed with the determination of a successful spin at the slots, praying for a bonanza that seldom came. The sacrifices were great as debts mounted, inhibitions decreased, and caution was cast to the wind.
In Los Angeles the sunset was unable to penetrate the smog-filled atmosphere. A dull burnt umber reflected off the grotesque shadows of the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels rising eight stories into the gray sky, a reminder of all that had been lost through the new ecclesial architecture. On this night, with the famed Hollywood letters on the hill barely visible, the cathedral seemed exceedingly monstrous in the tone of its colors that gave it an eerie reddish glow as if hell itself was beckoning.
An hour and a half to the south in San Diego flashlights were dancing on lawns as trick-or-treaters raced from house to house in various costumes on this brisk Halloween evening. The cool autumn breeze off the Pacific prompted them to move just a bit quicker, to capture the spoils before willing neighbors ran out of Snickers and other confectioneries that drove dentists crazy.
In Dallas an eclectic mix of costumed guests mingled, holding drinks and making small talk - stilted though it was - in a ballroom of the Anatole Hotel. On the dance floor a devil and a nun were doing the Texas two-step to the twangs of Dwight Hokam flooding from the speakers. Joining them were various assortments of characters from Frankenstein to French maids, witches and convicts, monsters and ghosts. A tableau of absurdity painted this fluorescent-lighted room, casting an uneasy abstractness to the scene. All hail Halloween.
Dateline: Dallas, Texas, October 31, 11:15 p.m.
Outside the wind howled with its customary North Texas fury, driving most people into warm sanctuaries-whatever those might be on this last night of October in Big D. People of common sense were already snug at home, many already asleep. There were always those die-hards who mocked sensibility, who sought to party night and day. If nothing else, it was already being said that this new millennium was a 'time to party' for world-peace was on the tip of nearly everyone's tongue these days. World peace-surely a phenomenon that would be the most spectacular event in all of recorded history. World peace, the great compromise, the great miracle, the great mirage! Time waited for no one.
The passing of time and the siren of world peace were the farthest thing on the minds of Patrick Gallagher and his long-time girlfriend Corrie Morelli this night. These two had youth on their side and that fleeting ally seemed to blind those who considered themselves above time, its changes, and its ravages. The consequences of being mere mortals did not seem to enter the equation…at least for now.
This Halloween night was colder than recent memory and the promise of colder weather yet to come had the entire Metroplex of Dallas-Fort Worth braced for a frigid winter. Within the dimly-lit confines of The Crooked Spigot Pat and Corrie had settled down for a few drinks to pay their respects to the owner Ben O'Fallon.
His little bar fit regular customers like an old glove for it had long been the famous and infamous refuge for those working nearby at the Metroplex Mirror, the very paper where Pat had been employed for years. The Crooked Spigot had long been the source of rumor and tips, where journalists huddled while combing the city night and day for any and all scoops that would titillate the mass audience of the city, state, the country, even the world at large.
The crowd that had gathered earlier had dispersed to more modern hoots, lured by the deafening, mind-blowing sounds of what today passed as music. Old man O'Fallon would never cave to that modern cacophony. He still maintained an archaic jukebox off to the right of the main bar; still only cost a quarter to play a pop tune from the 40's, 50's or 60's. He had stopped stocking any platter after 1965. Matter of principle he would state defiantly when challenged by the new breed that invaded.
On this night of goblins the Spigot resembled more of a ghost town. An eerie, tinny rendition of "Flying, purple people-eater" strained from the outmoded hi-fi system in the relic-like glass-encased nickelodeon machine with the crack spanning the entire face, the result of a pretty impressive brawl back in '89. Disco folks against the punk rockers. O'Fallon had 'em all thrown out. He was known for that. No nonsense. In the mind of the owner, bartender and chief dishwasher, Benjamin O'Fallon, now in his late 70's, principle always took precedence over crass trends, no matter the economic benefits.
Yet there was a tinge, only a tinge of regret as he wiped an imaginary spot on the antiquated brass rail that lined the inner face of the bar above the empty, but sparkling glasses below. Whether the Spigot was packed to the gills or teeming with only a few, his work ethic always remained the same. It was something he learned at the knee of his Da in County Cork. His father, a robust Irishman who had served in Belgium for the Irish battalion in World War I, wanted the best for his son Ben and had scraped and saved over the years to bring Ben, his mother Maureen and two younger sisters to Boston to start a new life. Complications from pneumonia prevented his father from ever seeing American soil, let alone getting on the boat. Maureen had at first resisted, but friends and family had urged her to take the family so they could get a new start. They would tend to Michael's grave on a small hill overlooking the Lee River. A small Celtic cross adorned the headstone with the simple words "Michael O'Fallon, 1887 - 1937 - …a father and husband of faith, hope and love who cared and shared."
Just as Ben was reaching his teen years, his mother found a job on Boston's Beacon Hill as a maid. He and his sisters had been blessed to be able to attend the parish school of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. At the time he was not aware the parishioners had paid his tuition. Maureen was eternally grateful and passed this virtue on to her offspring. Ben learned well. Whatever this ruddy mick received in life he was grateful. Someone giving him a cool drink and a piece of apple pie would send him into gyrations of enthusiasm and thanks. That was the kind of man Ben O'Fallon was. Always thankful, always seeing the glass half-full. This analogy he used wisely in his profession, something that began quite by accident after World War II.
Though the times had changed drastically, ol' Ben had not. Stubborn to the end, he refused to conform. Never did get his degree from Boston College. He did not blame the tough Jesuits for giving him a failing grade in 1943 in Chemistry; he did not blame the system for being drafted in 1944. He had regarded his role as all-important. "Clean-up!" he would brag, "they couldn't have ended the bloody war without us to wrap things up, by gorra."
This brashness had served him well following the war. Returning to Boston he held various jobs until he got the opportunity to tend bar. Love followed soon after. Both his sisters had married, but Ben's relationship was short-lived. His heart was broken. Molly did that to men. Another of life's lessons. After that and his mother's funeral, he had to get out of town. In February of 1957 he boarded a bus, somewhat bewildered and bitter. The diesel-powered Greyhound took him to Chicago, then St. Louis and he stayed onboard until the end of the line: Dallas.
Cowtown USA they called it, but he liked the wide-open atmosphere and the people. He was able to forge lasting friendships and when his mentor Billy Joe Barkley passed away in 1965 he left in his will, to the shock of the good bible-belt relatives, the deed to The Crooked Spigot to his trusted bartender young Ben O'Fallon. Accusations flew that it was illegal, that "somethang unnatchural was goin' on 'tween those two pokes." However, an appeals court threw these charges out as totally unfounded and The Crooked Spigot was Ben's lock, stock and barrel.
The real truth why Ben had been the grateful recipient came out over the years. The truth being that something supernatural was going on between those two friends - one an employer, the other a caring employee for the latter had, through many after-hours conversations, uprooted Billy Joe away from his Baptist leanings and converted him to Catholicism. Back in the early sixties Ben might have been tarred and feathered had local folk known all the details. Such was the prejudice of the times.
Ben had sought to break down walls through his easygoing father-like manner. With a thick brogue that took on a Texas twang he would offer his advice to those willing to listen. More often than not the subject always came around to faith and God. Ben was never ashamed or afraid to speak his piece even if it meant peace might be harder to achieve because of distilled enmity over misunderstood cultures. Compromise was not in Ben's vocabulary, but compassion was. That is what endeared so many to the aging Irishman.
O'Fallon was now silver-haired, slightly overweight with sparkling blue eyes and a perpetual smile. He carried on this night as if it was merely one of the "slow nights" that had happened occasionally over the last four decades.
O'Fallon even counted on his regular clientele to come to celebrate, for the last time, at his old-fashioned Spigot. After all, he reasoned silently, this was to be the last Halloween that his establishment would open its doors to the public. On January 2nd The Crooked Spigot would close its doors forever, giving way to that insidious progress of pavement. The weathered and timeworn buildings and the entire block and more would be razed in a matter of days in early January to make way for an extension of the freeway which transversed the metroplex.
He had gone all out with Halloween decorations. They literally littered the place: jack-o-lanterns smiled garishly; dog-eared black cats stared and smirked, pumpkins rested on the bar and the small booths and tables; cut-out witches kept yellow eyes on the entire scene, having been hung from the wooden beams overhead, some even peeking out from their post on wooden columns that were as polished now as they had been when O'Fallon had taken over The Crooked Spigot some forty years before.
His Irish temperament had gotten him through more than one rough patch in his life and so tonight his expression seemed to say "Nothing to be a worryin' about. Tomorrow the Spigot will be a teemin' once again with press people, all gossiping and tripping over themselves to get the by-line on the best scoop of the day. Rumor be a runnin' rampant again." Rumor, O'Fallon thought, would haunt this place, this area, long after a freeway extension replaced the actual building.
As 11:30 popped up on the analog Budweiser clock above the bar, Ben started to fix another draft for the table in the corner. One more they had said, "one for the road."
Next issue: First Chapter - Episode Four
"White Smoke, Black Fire!" is an original work, registered with the Writers' Guild and all rights are the exclusive rights of The DAILY CATHOLIC who owns the copyright. Because of the nature of the internet and the importance of sharing, we hereby give the reader permission to collect and disseminate by e-mail each episode as it is presented in each issue of The DAILY CATHOLIC, provided that one includes this 1986, 2001 copyright statement and source - www.DailyCatholic.org - and take nothing out of context, nor reproduce it for profit. This work, fifteen years in the making, is a work of fiction that replicates the reality of today in many ways. However names, characters, places and incidents are used fictionally and any resemblance to actual persons and events, except those recorded in history, are purely coincidental.
WHITE SMOKE, BLACK FIRE!