The Sacred Heart
Thomas’ black leather coat was as useful as a window screen at protecting him from the biting wind. He clutched the collar to his throat and strode down the littered Bronx sidewalk with his head bent against the constant gust. Halfway down the block, a pair of tattered shoes entered his limited field of vision. Thomas slowed his pace and lifted his chin. His gaze traveled from the shoes, up soiled pant legs, past where the waist bent at ninety degrees, to the torso of a disheveled and unconscious man. Thomas took a step closer, peering at the man’s chest to see if it rose and fell. That’s when he spied the frayed wallet, half- wedged under the man’s hip next to a smudged Styrofoam coffee cup.
Thomas glanced quickly up and down the street, snatched up the wallet, and opened it. It was empty.
He tossed it back on the card board bedroll and walked on. A hundred feet later, he turned and crossed a small parking lot in front of Fortworth Saloon. He reached for the door handle and paused. A drop of water ran down the inside of the sweating glass. Thomas whipped his head left and right, popping his neck. He took a deep breath and pulled open the door.
“Are you freakin’ kiddin’ me?” Stevie Romero scoffed as he threw his cards face down. A cheer went up from the onlookers surrounding the table. Thomas raked all the chips from the ante pile toward him, including the Rolex laid neatly on top. The piles of chips at his side resembled the smokestacks of Jersey’s finest factories across the Hudson. Thomas allowed a boyish grin and avoided looking at the other players.
A large man in a white suit and matching ten bucket cowboy hat peered at Thomas. “So, Tommy Heart?” he drawled. “How come we’ve never seen y’all around the circuit before today? Y’all can’t be new to the game. Ain't beginners who can bluff like you.” He eyed Thomas’ chip fortress with suspicion.
“I been playin’ in the neighborhood for years. In Brooklyn, you gotta have your game face on all the time, ya know what I’m talkin’ about?” Thomas smirked and offered a knuckle bump to the cowboy who sat still, his emotionless eyes fixed on Thomas. Thomas lowered his fist.
“Aw, come on Tex, you’re just pissed off ‘cause he got your stupid watch,” shouted Romero from the other side of the table. “Your bluff was weak, man. Even I saw through it.”
As the Texan argued with Romero, Tommy Heart excused himself from the table. His cool composure cloaked his racing heart. In the vacant hallway leading to the restrooms, he pulled out his cell phone. Glancing left and right, he pushed speed dial number one.
“Sacred Heart of Brooklyn, may I assist you?”
“Sister Cecelia Maria?” he whispered into the phone.
“Father Thomas? Is that you? Where are you, we’ve been worried sick!”
“I’m fine, Sister. But I only have a minute to talk. Listen, please call the parish council and tell them to block the Youth Center demolition. I have raised the money for the new roof, and I suspect there’ll be enough to buy new furniture and get some of those programs off the ground we talked about for the kids.”
“Praise the Lord, Father! This is a last minute miracle. How did you do it?”
Father Thomas glanced at the poster on the wall advertising the semi-pro Texas Hold’em Poker Tournament. With a scarlet blush he said, “I found a room full of willing donators.”
“God is great!” Sister Cecelia Maria exclaimed. “I’ll make the call now. Thank you, Father. Thank you so much!”
“You are welcome. And Sister? One other thing. Please call Father Fitzgerald. See if he is available on Sunday to hear my confession.”
An hour later with the wind at his back, Thomas made his way up the block. He stopped in front of the sleeping homeless man. Retrieving the wallet, Thomas slipped six twenties into the billfold. He shoved the wallet squarely into the man’s trouser pocket. Snapping his arm out straight to reveal the watch, he unstrapped the Rolex from his wrist and dropped it into the man’s stained trench coat pocket. The man stirred and Thomas walked away.
As Thomas rounded the corner, he looked back. The homeless man was sitting up, one hand cupping the top of his head as he stared into his open wallet.
(Word Count = 749, not including the title)