At night after the big game Rick Romeo stood on top of Tychon Stadium. Noises of the crowd lingered through the empty stands. The deserted field held flashback images of the intense action and colors that’d been there hours before. The field vibrated. Rick grabbed an iron bar for balance, feeling the rushing air.
The southern part of the city stretched out before him. That compressed landscape of tight streets of narrow rowhouses had once been his universe. Utterly cheap and flimsy housing built 100 years ago for a mass of immigrants. Somehow those cheap houses were still around. Other immigrants from different lands now dwelled in many of them.
Rick distinguished the checkered pattern of streets, a different ethnicity crowded on each one: black, Irish, Italian, Mexican, Vietnamese and Chinese. A colorfully loud mess.
The old city before him was slowly being overlaid by gleaming new steel venues, like the Tower or this stadium, islands of entertainment and business for the city’s fast-moving high-tech people, who could be of any ethnicity because they were a separate breed, almost a new species. Men and women like Tychon were constructing a new city for new people. The old city with its tough people, poor and working poor, was considered dangerous. Yet the new city of unleashed competitiveness offered a new kind of danger—more ruthless because it was more refined, less human.
From up here, his old neighborhood-- once as vast as the world-- looked contained. In the larger scheme, tiny. Rick saw oxidized green steeples rising up from the so-narrow streets, Catholic churches dotting the entire long neighborhood.
His family’s rowhouse had sat in the shadow of a church. Rick saw in his mind a truck selling vegetables on the corner. In summer, a rainstorm flooding the block, kids of the neighborhood splashing in the urban stream. He knew well the interiors of the houses, Roman Catholic, tiny living rooms smaller than Tychon’s office bathroom, the rooms filled with religious statues and pictures of the sacred heart of Jesus.
A bleeding heart. Other denominations, other religions raised their children to be attorneys or doctors. Catholic families once wanted one son to be a priest.
That was the ideology in which Rick Romeo had been raised. One of his aunts was a nun. The local parish priest was a dinner guest in his parents’ house. Rick himself after college had attended a seminary intending to be a priest—then left to enlist in the Marines.
As a young man Rick had sensed his own wildness. He sought order, discipline, hierarchy, direction. But the Church was no longer a force. He’d wished it were—it’d lost the interest of larger society and it’d lost credibility. The priests he met seemed weak and flabby. Some turned out to be worse.
Rick remembered a young parish priest when he was a child, Father B. Something of a social activist. One time during a sleepy mass, in the sermon Father B began suddenly to speak about racism, violence, and hate—to confront the parishioners themselves. Rick and his sisters and brothers at up in the pew to listen. They’d never heard anything like it. An exciting moment. The message of Jesus became a living fact. Father B later left the priesthood, leaving behind the timid, the corrupt, and the simple-minded.
The Church, instead of a refuge from tragedy, became itself a tragedy, good deeds swept away by bad, the flock’s innumerable victims with nowhere to turn. Children had been unprotected. They were all children adrift in an uncaring universe.
The early Church hadn’t been a sanctuary, but a jumping-off point for changing society, led by fearless men and women ready to face anything, including the lions. Where today were the saints and martyrs? Today, Tychon was the world’s church: church and pope combined. The huge stadium on which Rick stood was contemporary society’s cathedral.
Rick Romeo was a soldier—a latter-day centurion who thrived by obedience to authority. Yet, Jesus had won over centurions as well as the sick and the homeless. he’d believed that anyone—anyone, no matter how corrupted by the world—could be saved.
Rick stood next to huge letters: “TYCHON.”
Tychon represented order and hierarchy. He embodied leadership and certainty—a certainty Rick knew everyone needed. Tychon was dominance personified. He showed no doubt, no hesitation, bolstered by untold wealth and power, manipulating the city and the leaders of the city through hidden strings. Existing on a higher mental plane, seeing farther, knowing others for the fools they were and always proved to be. Yet it was all material. It could be counted and quantified. Everything was appetite. There was no love in Tychon’s philosophy, and no love in Tychon. All love had long past been squelched within the man in pursuit of his magical dreams.
Rick saw the pollution-covered spires in his old neighborhood. He knew that on Sundays the churches were half-empty, parishioners chased away by scandal and irrelevance. Many churches were closed or were on the verge of closing by a cash-strapped archdiocese imploding upon itself. The presence of the Church in the city dwindled. Proportionally it was now a small wooden structure, little more than a chapel, a lonely cross atop a leaky roof at the end of a deserted street. The Church had returned to its very beginning: scorned and neglected. Abandoned, as Jesus had been abandoned at his execution by even his disciples, except the youngest one of them and a few loyal women, while soldiers gambled for his few belongings.
The games meanwhile increased and strengthened by the day. All the games—not only the sports teams. New religions. New idols. History had been reversed, Rick realized. He couldn’t comprehend how. Pagan ROME had renewed itself, thrown off its restraints, risen from the dust and formed itself into terrible new arenas. He saw it for real in front of him. On all sides. The return of power and greed.
Would the poor and meek now be thrown to the wild beasts, sacrificed on the altar of might? Maybe it was happening and he couldn’t see it.
Rick felt himself wearing an invisible team uniform. He’d become a priest after all—for the wrong side.
The once-vibrant image of Jesus had become muddied, no longer visible, covered in filth and betrayal. An entire city of betrayal, Rick Romeo one of the betrayers. Yet in the tiny chapel in the midst of tragedy, in his mind, a small light remained, a brittle, scarcely-seen ray of hope, a way out—a personality he’d tried to follow and every time like an infant trying to walk fell down.
Rick saw the stretch of the neighborhood, of the city, up to downtown, past gray City Hall with its yellow clock up to the unfinished Tower looming gigantic behind it. Rick felt the city’s rising chaos, the struggle of ambition and pain. A conflict of ideas ran through him. The world’s continuous noise. Rick had escaped here, to the stadium’s highest point above the scoreboards, skyboxes, and video screens, seeking peace. He wished for a quiet, spiritual place.
Despite his disillusion with the Church, he still carried a rosary. It’d been years since he’d said an Our Father or Hail Mary on it. Rick took the rosary from a pocket of his wallet and looked at it, held it up before him, the black beads of a medieval relic, badly out-of-date in the hyper-modern age. He ran the beads through his fingers, then put the rosary away.
The Tower was today, was now, was the city. Rising strength. Rick saw its cruel outline against the inharmonious night.
Near its top, directly beneath the shadow of incomplete girders, shone a spot of orange light. Lara Vox broadcasting. By herself?
Low clouds parked behind the skyscraper’s summit, creating a blue-white halo effect in the night sky. The spot of light pulled at him. What was the attraction he felt? What did Lara represent? The power of ideas? Perhaps there, in that single orange light, Rick glimpsed an opening.
Fan Appreciation Day was the day after next. Rick Romeo saw the collision of opposing forces. He knew Lara Vox was behind the ill-advised protest, directly or indirectly. Maybe he could stop it. He needed to arrange a meeting with Lara Vox. He needed to see her face-to-face and hear more of her thinking.
The night sky deepened. Rick made a mental note to have Connie contact Lara’s radio station in the morning.