Martin Kenna was in a bad spot. The Lingenbergs had been good to him but he knew if he didn’t do what his older brother, Brendan, wanted him to do, which was to leave the back door to the bakery unlocked when he left on Thursday night, Brendan and his friend Double Trouble would beat the daylights out of him. Bren would probably only cuff him around a little but DT, Martin knew, would make him hurt. Once DT had it in his criminal mind to do something there was nothing Bren could do to stop him, even when it came to kicking the crap out of his would be-accompliceÕs little brother.
Martin had to talk to someone about his predicament, so he decided for the first time in his barely thirteen year old life to ask Father Ralph for advice. On his way to St. Rose of Lima, Martin Kenna ran into the Viper.
“Hey, Kenna, where you goin’?”
A cold drizzle began so Martin put up the hood of his blue parka. The Viper was hatless. His stringy black hair and his glasses were getting wet but the Viper didn’t seem to mind.
“Nowhere special. Gotta see someone.”
“A bunch of us is gonna play football at the empty lot on Ojibway. You want to come?”
“Maybe after. It’s gonna be muddy.”
The Viper grinned, revealing big green front teeth, and punched Martin Kenna lightly on his right shoulder.
“You can cut better in the mud,” said the Viper, “make tacklers miss.”
At St. Rose of Lima, Kenna entered the church and saw Father Ralph checking the rows, making sure the benches were clean. Martin walked down the aisle to the end of the row Father Ralph was inspecting and stood there.
“Hello, Martin,” said the priest, “what are you doing here at this hour?”
“I wanted to talk to you about somethin’, Father.”
Father Ralph stood in front of the boy and studied his face.
“You can put your hood down, Martin, the roof doesn’t leak.”
Kenna shook off the hood. Father Ralph was five foot-four, about a half-inch taller than Martin. His dark brown hair was thinning rapidly. Mrs. Kenna swore that Father Ralph used Sultan of Africa shoe polish to cover his bald spot; she said she could smell it when she stood next to him.
“What can I help you with, Martin?”
“It’s Bren, Father, my brother. He wants me to do somethin’ I don’t feel right about doin’.”
“Sit down,” said Father Ralph.
Both the priest and the boy sat down on the nearest bench. Father Ralph had one blue eye and one green eye. Martin looked mostly into the green one.
“Now, tell me, what is it Brendan wants you to do?”
“You know, Father, I work four days a week after school at the Swedish bakery on Belmont and Broadway.”
“Lingenberg’s, I know. Your mother told me. Go on.”
“Well, it’s this way, Father. Bren hangs around with this older guy, DT—Double Trouble—his last name is Korzienowski, I don’t know his Christian name.”
“A Polish boy.”
“Yeah, I guess. Anyway, he talked my brother into helpin’ him rob the bakery. They want me to leave the back door unlocked next Thursday night so they can boost the receipts which Babe Lingenberg don’t deposit in the bank until Friday mornin’.”
“How do they know this, Martin? That the receipts will be there overnight.”
Kenna unzipped his coat, then zipped it up again. “I told ’em, I guess.”
“And do they know where the receipts are kept?”
Kenna nodded. “In a desk drawer that’s locked, but it’d be real easy to bust open.”
“And you also told them where this desk is, did you?”
“Why did you provide them with this information, Martin?”
Martin Kenna looked away from Father Ralph’s green eye and down at the floor.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“Was the robbery Brendan’s idea or the Polish boy’s?”
Martin looked up again.
“DT put Bren up to it, Father, I’m positive. DT says he’s from a real poor family and the Lingenbergs are rich, so they won’t miss the money.”
“As Jesus said, the poor will always be with us, but I am here now,” said Father Ralph.
“Father, if I don’t leave the door unlocked, Bren and DT’ll beat me up. What should I do?”
“They won’t lay a hand on you, Martin, don’t worry.”
“How can you be sure, Father?”
“Like Jesus, I am here now. I’ll have a talk with your brother, and perhaps I’ll have an opportunity to discuss the situation with this Polish boy. What did you say his name is? His real name.”
“Korzienowski, okay.” Father Ralph stood up. “You go on now.”
Martin Kenna stood up, said, “Thank you, Father,” and turned to leave.
Kenna stopped and looked back at Father Ralph.
“You won’t forget to lock the back door of the bakery, will you?”
“No, Father, I won’t.”
Later that afternoon, Martin Kenna saw his brother and DT standing on the corner of Cristiana and Nottingham, smoking cigarettes. The drizzle had turned icy but neither Brendan nor DT had coats on. Both of them were wearing red and black checked flannel shirts, blue jeans with the cuffs rolled up twice, and scuffed black Chippewa motorcycle boots. Martin was across the street, they didn’t see him, so he kept going.
Years later, when Martin heard the news that Brendan had been killed in a knife fight in prison, he remembered seeing his brother and Double Trouble Korzienowski standing coatless in the icy rain. Martin didn’t know what happened to DT or what Father Ralph had said to him and Brendan about their plan to rob the Swedish bakery so that neither of them mentioned it to Martin again. It had always bothered Martin Kenna, however, that he had told Father Ralph about it, that by doing so he had betrayed Brendan. Martin knew it was foolish, even absurd to feel guilty about this, but still he often wished he had not asked the priest to intervene. It might have served him better to have just taken the beating. Now his
brother was dead and so, perhaps, was Father Ralph. It’s not only the poor who will always be with us, thought Martin.