From "The Man in the Green Plaid Sport Coat"

(A Tom Brady and Pastor Lester Mystery/Adventure)

Chapter 1

Be careful at family reunions. I wouldn’t have gotten stuck in a basement in South Bronx with a gun in my hand if it hadn’t been for a conversation at my family reunion. So, in one sense, this story is my Uncle Pastor Lester’s fault.

I’d gone to the reunion to try to reconnect with family, and see if I could dig up a little work. Work had been slow. I own a business: Finders-Keepers. I find things for people. Seriously. Want to find that rare 1800’s armoire to finish off your penthouse bedroom? Or want to reconnect with that old schoolmate who seems to have disappeared? I’m your man . . . for a price.

The reunion was pretty slow, too, until I joined my Uncle Lester on the ledge of the front porch of the little two-story white house with black shutters on South Fourth Street in Upper Sandusky, Ohio. The house I’d grown up in.

Uncle Lester peered around the corner post at me. He is a Pastor, as in Reverend. By marriage he is also my uncle. Aunt Lou Etta, Lester’s wife, is my mother’s sister.

He’d made his first mistake by asking, “How’s it been going, Tom?”

Not only had work been slow, but I’m recently divorced. Okay, two years ago, but who’s counting. Anyway, he asked for it, so I let it pour out like beer on tap at a frat party.

“Not so hot, Lester. Life’s been a regular country western song the last few years. Laura left.”

“Hmmm, that was three years ago, wasn’t it?"

“Yeah. Then the divorce had to be made final.”

“Right. That was two years ago?"

“Yeah, but then Becky and Bryan moved out.”

“They both went to college, didn’t they?”

“True, but then the dog died, business slowed and I had to downsize from an SUV to a Toyota Corolla.”

Uncle Lester’s bony legs were so thoroughly crossed that he had slipped the toe of his right foot around the back of his left calf. His left foot steadied him. He leaned toward me with his hands at his side, grasping the porch ledge, leaving his head sunken in the cavity between his shoulders.

He has a wavy wisp of graying brown hair; cup-shaped, silver wire rim glasses perched on a bird beak nose; and a thin wizened face. Sparkling, intense green eyes focused on me like radar, along with an understanding but toothy grin behind thin lips. His head nodded gently but incessantly in a demonstration of “active listening,” but I confess I was reminded of a bobble-head doll.

A part of me wanted to tell him to “just cut it the hell out!” Although if he’d asked, “Cut out what?” I’d have been hard pressed to tell him. Another part of me felt like I was being genuinely listened to for the first time in my life by an honest-to-God, Midwestern, middle class, Christ-like version of Gandhi. So, what the hell, I kept talking.

When I finished my little pity party story to Lester, he just looked at me for a long time. I had a vague feeling he was praying, though as little as I have prayed I have no idea why I thought that. Then he said, “I want to find the man in the green plaid sport coat.”

“What? I’m sorry, Lester. Did you just say you want to find the man in the green plaid sport coat?”

“Yep.” So much for that Christ-like Gandhi crap, eh?

“What does that have to do with anything I’ve just said?”

“You find things, right?”


“That includes people, right?”


“Help me find the man in the green plaid sport coat.”

“If that’s what he was wearing, are you sure you want to find him?”

Uncle Lester chuckled, uncrossed his legs and slapped his knee. “I like you, Tom. You go through hell and tell me all about it. Then I make what has to seem like an absurd statement and you’ve still got your sense of humor. You ever been to New York City?”

“Only briefly. A trip with a bunch of college classmates once.”

“Well, Tom, you may be right. I’m not sure I want to find this guy, but I know I need to.”

“Why’s that?”

“Do you know what I do or what I’ve done, Tom?”

“I know you’re a minister of some sort. I know you were at a church in northwestern Ohio until about seven years ago. Then you and Aunt Lou Etta decided to move to New York City. I know Mom thought you were both crazy.”

“We probably were, Tom, but it was what we sensed God wanted us to do. Your cousin Jeff moved there a couple of years ago and he and Janet didn’t want us so far away from the kids. We moved with no idea what we’d do.”

“So, what do you do?”

“Well, your Aunt Lou Etta found a job giving children’s tours at the City Museum and I started working at a coffeehouse behind the counter.”

“But I thought Mom said something about you pastoring a church again.”

“Oh, I am in a different kind of way, but I wasn’t at first. At first I was just the new man behind the coffee counter. But you know, I started to get to know people, and people started bringing me their problems. I got involved in discussions at the coffeehouse and some of the folks started listening to my ideas on how I believe faith and grace and peace are all linked together. Then one day the fellow who owned the shop said he and his wife were moving to Chicago. She’d been offered a professor’s chair at Loyola. I began thinking. What if I bought the shop and used it as a base for a, shall we say, unconventional church right there in Manhattan?”

“Okay. But what does this have to do with this guy in the green plaid sport coat? And Uncle Lester, I’ve got to ask another question.”

“What’s that, Tom?”

“Is this going to be a paying job?” What can I say? In my experience, ministers are notorious cheapskates.

He paid. A retainer’s fee of $2,000, on the spot with a personal check.

“Damn, Lester! Er, sorry. Darn offering plates must be doing okay these days.”

“We don’t use offering plates, Tom. That’s old school.”

“Sorry, haven’t been to church lately. I’m not up on these things.”

“Don’t worry about it. I can’t say that I blame you. This means you’ll do it? You’ll come?”

“I will, but I’ve got some questions to ask.”

“Not here, Tom. You just come and I’ll explain it more. I’ll pick up the airfare. You can catch Southwest out of Chicago for $59 one-way. Just one thing, Tom.”

“What’s that?”

“Don’t mention this to your mom or Aunt Lou Etta right away. Let me talk to Lou Etta first.”

“Okay. But what’s the big deal?”

At that point we were interrupted by none other than Mom, Aunt Lou Etta and my cousin, Mary Beth, with pie plates in hand.

Mary Beth had certainly grown up since I’d last seen her. She was five years my junior, which put her in her late thirties now, but I hadn’t seen her for almost twenty years. She was just beginning to blossom then, and I admit I paid attention. Aunt Lou Etta was always buxom, but also a little, shall we say, round. Mary Beth’s face, like her mother’s, was pleasant but not stunning. However, she’d manage to combine her mother’s most outstanding features with the wiry slenderness of Lester’s gene pool.

“So, who’s ready for pie?” Aunt Lou Etta queried.

“What’ve you got?” I asked

“I’ve got blueberry.” exclaimed Aunt Lou Etta.

“I’ve got apple.” my mom called out.

“And I’ve got a cherry,” chimed in Mary Beth.

“I’ll take some of that,” I responded, with a little too much enthusiasm. I remember actually feeling myself blush, massaging my forehead and temples and inwardly chiding myself:You pervert! She’s your first cousin! This is Ohio, not Kentucky!This was part of my developing realization that I had no social life.

Mom looked at me a little strangely but, always having been my protector and deliverer, even from my own pratfalls, she moved in and changed the topic smoothly.

“Speaking of cherry, Tom, did you tell Lester, Lou Etta and Mary Beth about that cherry wood antique sideboard you found for that man in New York City who we think just lives a few blocks away from them?”

Nice save, Mom!

“Why Tom, how could you come that close to us and not let us know?” Aunt Lou Etta asked as only an aunt who was the second person on earth to see you buck naked can ask.

“Because I actually never went to see the guy. It was an easy one. He was an older man with no computer skills. I went on line and found the piece at an antique store near Buffalo. I simply drove to Buffalo, checked it out, bargained for it a bit, then arranged for it to get safely shipped. I looked at a map and he lived just a few blocks south of Central Park in the area called Hell’s Kitchen, if I remember right.”

“Why we live in Hell’s Kitchen, and our Third Way Café’ is there.”

Uncle Lester and Aunt Lou Etta in Hell’s Kitchen struck me funny.

“He couldn’t possibly be further than three or four blocks away from us!” exclaimed Aunt Lou Etta. “Really Tom, you’ve got to come out and see us sometime. Maybe that man would have some customers he could refer.”

Mom had obviously been filling Aunt Lou Etta in on my business difficulties.

“Well, actually, Uncle Lester had just …” As I began this sentence Uncle Lester managed to untangle his legs and deliver a swift -- looked a like an accident but was hardly accidental -- kick to my ankle bone.


“Sorry, son!”

“It’s okay, Uncle. I was only going to say that you’d just invited me as well.”

“Oh, that’s right. I had just suggested the same thing, dear.”

“Well then, Tom, it’s settled. You must come soon.”

Settled it was, then. Between Uncle Lester behaving mysteriously and having a job for me, my doting Aunt Lou Etta, and Cousin Mary Beth’s cherry pie, how could I have resisted?

There was one more obstacle to my traveling to the Big Apple. One Rosemary Castalante.

Finders-Keepers isn’t a large company. In fact, it’s me and Rosemary. Rosemary is my secretary -- sorry, Executive Administrative Assistant. At 72, she’s old enough to be my mother, actually my grandmother, though she and her mother would’ve had to start poppin’ ‘em out at age 15 for it to be so. Do your math.

Rosemary is an Italian Catholic with rosary beads in the top desk drawer. Her family migrated from the old country to Hoboken, New Jersey, to the wild prairies of northern Indiana, Elkhart to be exact. Her favorite saying is, “Be careful what you pray for.”

I hadn’t known I was praying for more work, but had I foreseen the basement in the South Bronx, I’d have taken her advice.

So, after the reunion I returned to my office in exciting Elkhart to seek the traveling blessing of Rosemary Castalante. I put on all my Irish charm. Italian girls are suckers for Irish charm. So I’ve heard.

“Rosemary, me dear girl, aren’t you looking more and more like Sophia Loren every day now?” I greeted her as I entered grandly through the double doors into our small, but pleasant reception area – also Rosemary’s office.

“Who threw you up so you could bury me in bullshit?”

Her retort came without looking up. Did I mention she’s a charming elderly lady?

“Rosemary, since when would a fine Irish boy with blue eyes and sandy hair try to pull one over on a dark-haired, dark-eyed Italian beauty?” I leaned on the corner of her desk, trying to appear suave and dashing.

“At least since the day your grandaddy got off the boat at Ellis Island and saw his first Italian woman, no doubt. And my hair is no longer all that dark if you haven’t noticed.”

“Aye, you’re a hard, hard woman, Rosemary Castalante.”

“Well, the Good Lord knows it takes one to keep an eye on the likes of you. You ought to be thankful for me like your dear, saintly mother is, Mr. Tom Brady.”

“And I am! And I am most thankful to know I have someone around who is so thoughtful and reliable when I have to go on the road for a new project.”

“Is that what this is all about? I should have known. What god-forsaken place are you running off to this time? What are you looking for? And did you, just this once, get a retainer up front?” She continued reaching back and forth from her desk to the metal file cabinet behind her, efficiently filing while conversing.

This was classic Rosemary: part surrogate mother, part gossip-monger and always my manager and bookkeeper. In other words, without her, Finders-Keepers wouldn’t stay afloat. I do know that.

“And the answers, dear Rosemary, are: New York City – Manhattan’s lower west side to be precise, with my Uncle Lester and Aunt Lou Etta, to find a man in a green plaid sport coat. AND,” I said with a flourish as I extracted the check from my jacket pocket and bowed, “a retainer check for two thousand dollars!”

“Well hot-damn and hallelujah! There may be hope for you yet, Tom Brady!” She reached over her desk and with surprisingly fleet fingers for an old lady, pulled the check out of my hand to examine it. “Are your aunt and uncle, the Rev. Lester and Lou Etta Funk, good for this money?”

“I think so, though there is one little caveat I’d better warn you about. Unless he’s already talked with her about it, Aunt Lou Etta thinks I’m just coming for a friendly visit. Lester is the one who hired me and said he wanted to take care of telling Lou Etta. And one other little thing: Uncle Lester said not to tell Mom just yet either.”

“God help us!” She crossed herself. “Tom, what is going on and how to you expect me to keep a secret from your mother?”

“I’m not sure what’s going on, other than Lester feels he needs to find a man who came to some of his meetings and was wearing a green plaid sport coat the first time he saw him, and that he wanted to be the one to tell Aunt Lou Etta that he’d hired me. I’m hoping he’ll do it fast so we don’t have to keep it a secret for long. But, pulleeeze, Rosemary … ”

“Oh, Tom, I’ll try, but…”

“No buts, Rosemary.” I stood tall and raised my hand as if taking an oath. “But, I will try to get Lester to tell Lou Etta soon. After all, I’ll be there by this evening.” I grimaced. Rosemary hates it when I blow into the office for a couple of hours and then blow right out again.

“New York City, and you’re leaving yet today! You’ve not even been home long enough to have a decent meal! What is wrong with your head? You don’t know what this is about. Finding people is always touchier than finding things, and you haven’t been here ten minutes yet!” Now Rosemary was standing, her hands on her hips, when not using them as Italian weapons of conversational emphasis.

“How ‘bout you just pretend I wasn’t here at all since I need to leave for the airport about now.” I did a quick side step to my right and managed to miss the stapler that she had just flung at me.

“Go on then! What do I care? It’s New York City. Tom, this could be dangerous.”

I knew where that line was headed.

“Rosemary, I don’t need a gun. I hate carrying a handgun.”

“I know that, but I don’t want you getting stuck in some god-forsaken place being chased by someone or something and not have it.”

“I think it’s really unlikely. This is Uncle Lester I’m dealing with. How bad could this guy I’m supposed to find be?”

“You never know. Take it. If you find out it’s nothing, fine, but make a helpless old woman feel better.”

“Helpless, my ass! But all right, I’ll take it,” I said, rubbing my temple and forehead.

I guess I’m glad I did.

About the Author

Tim  Stair

Tim Stair lives in Goshen, Indiana, serves as consultant for Mennonite Health Services Alliances, and is working hard toward an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) from Murray State University in Kentucky. From 2000 to 2008 he was Minister for Outreach at College Mennonite Church in Goshen. He is a graduate of Goshen College and Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. The chapter printed here is the first one for the first of three in-process novels featuring Tom Brady and his uncle, Pastor Lester. Stair’s literary models and inspirations are Frederick Buechner, Dorothy Sayers, Will Campbell, Garrison Keillor and Phil Gulley.