by Jack Bates
This week KRL mystery fans get a little bonus with a St. Patrick’s Day related original mystery short story never before published, written by Jack Bates, a 2011 Deringer Finalist for Best Short Story. This story is rated PG-13 for some strong language, violence & sexual content.
“Bless me Father for I have sinned.”
How many times have I heard that?
I lean my head back against the polished wall. I listen through the grate that barely obstructs the face of the sinner on the other side. He prattles on and on about lusting after his wife’s sister, how he is so attracted to her tits- excuse me- breasts he corrects himself. He weeps. The lust is in his heart, he tells me. Of course it is, I think. Where else is lust going to be? He feels terrible about the thoughts he has, about the things he’s done alone in the bathroom. He sobs, now, the guilt racking him deep from inside. Forget the fact that he reeks of stale beer from yesterday’s celebration of the blessed Saint Patrick.
Part of me wants to push my face through the grate and scream at him, ‘Nobody gives a flying flip!’ Your real sin, buddy, is that you are lying to your wife and family, that you spend all that time thinking about humping your sister-in-law when you should be out venerating the saints you drink to. Your real sin, I want to say this,– God, who I worship I want to say this sometimes–, is that you’re an asshole. Not just an ass but one with the hole, the one with those extra four letters network television has to bleep.
But I can’t say that. I lean forward and give him some soft words to make him feel better about himself. He protests, says he knows what he has done is bad. I tell him to make his acts of contrition, to do the Stations of the Cross three times. His breathing hitches.
The door closes heavily behind him. I wonder how much longer I can hold back. I wonder how long I can resist the temptation to push my hands through the thin lattice of the window and grab the throat of the next sinner. If St. Patrick did, indeed, drive the snakes out of Ireland, I want the same resolve to deal with these dopes.
I suffer through several more low-end, self-absorbed confessions. A young wife who did something nasty to her boss in the break room; a grandmother who swore a curse upon a neighbor; a man who didn’t offer charity to someone in need. These are the sins of the flock. They all seem to suggest the same about my parishioners. Behave like the devil for six days and on the seventh, just ask for forgiveness. My time in the box seems eternal. I wonder if I am in Hell for something I did.
The last of the evening’s confessors enters the booth. The wooden partition slides back on the sinner’s side. He is a long-faced man. His voice is as old as salt.
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been six weeks since my last confession.”
“Why so long, my son?” I ask.
“I forced my teenage niece to have sex with me. I’ve been, well, staying away.”
‘Bingo.’ I think and I sit up straight. The blood pumps through my body at an accelerated rate. I put one hand on the lattice. My fingers curl through the ornate loops. “Go on.” I tell him.
“What I tell you in here, the cops can’t know, right, Father?”
“I am an officer of God, my son. What you tell me stays with me. You do go to this parish, don’t you?”
“No, Father. I’m actually from across town. But yours was the closer church tonight and this has really been bothering me.”
I don’t say anything. I wait. He shifts uncomfortably on the other side, the bench squeaking under his restless weight.
“My niece, y’see, is this beautiful young woman. You can’t walk through a mall or open a magazine without seeing her. She models bathing suits and panties. Sometimes bras, but mostly panties because she has this great little—.”
“I understand,” I say. But I don’t mean it.
“Well, I ran into her at a bar last night. She was drunk, too much green beer I’m guessing. She’s hanging all over me and telling her friends what a great uncle I am. There’s only ten years between us, right? She’s buying me drinks and hanging on me. She’s pretty well gone, Father, and I tell her I’d better make sure she gets home all right. I get her in a cab and she can barely tell the driver where she lives. So I get in with her. Her head falls in my lap the first turn the guy makes. And I don’t lift her out of the way. I leave her there. My niece is face down in my lap and I don’t touch her until we get to her place.
“I pay the guy. She’s kind of groggy at this point and acting all embarrassed. She starts to go and then turns back and plants a kiss on me for getting her home. I ask if she can make it and she says she can but she’s stumbling up her steps. So I get out and I catch an arm around her and get her inside. She’s really out of it and now. Too much of St. Pat in her. She can’t find her key so I take her handbag and I get it out and I open the door. She pushes past me and barely gets to her bathroom in time before she pukes up some sour green water. It’s all over her clothes and she’s just standing there, crying like a baby. She’s so out of it she can’t even unbutton her blouse so I do it for her. She’s not wearing a bra and she’s just standing there, looking at me with her soft brown eyes and all I can see are these two pink nipples. I heard her grunt or moan and I thought she was going to puke again so I turned her around and got her to her bed. She fell face first onto it, her short skirt rising up. She was wearing some green, stretch panties…”
I am done with him. I was done with him as soon as he labeled his sin. In a moment he’s going to tell me when he talked to her this morning, she didn’t even remember how she got home. Part of me thinks he wants her to remember, he wants her to say something about what a great lover he is, the sick twist.
I want to lecture him. I want to let him know that his mortal sin has impacted his niece’s life whether she talks about it or not. It has changed her in ways he will never know. Any amount of Rosaries or prayers or acts I tell him to make will take his soul to a higher place but will leave hers tarnished forever. Yet I do what I have to do. I tell him what God expects of him. He thanks me and he leaves.
I leave as well.
I exit the confessional. The uncle hurries down the aisle, anxious, I surmise, to be free of his guilt. He goes out the front door and I move to the rectory in the back. I watch from a window as the man crosses the street. He wears a red ball cap with a big white A on it. I remove my robe and pull on a black turtle neck, put on a black cap, and zip up my black leather jacket. Then, before I leave my sanctuary and step out into the night, I go to my wall safe, the one I put in behind my bookshelves. I move my thick, old world Bible written in Latin. I spin the dial, pull the handle, and open the door.
It’s never been used, this small gun I slip into the waist band of my pants. I took it from a young man who came to me questioning his existence. I told him all of God’s creatures had a purpose. We never know the necessity of our lives until God’s mission is revealed to us. The lad had thought the gun was meant for him to take his own life but I knew when he showed it to me what it was meant for.
It was meant for me to use to drive out the snakes.
I walk at a brisk pace. My heart still races. I drink in the cool evening air of fall. I move amongst people who don’t seem to recognize me and if they do, it doesn’t matter. The man is thirty or forty feet or so in front of me. He goes into that dive near the Viper Room on Sunset. I follow him in.
He’s not from my parish; he doesn’t know what I look like. He spends an hour making small talk and drinking beer with those who sit on either side of him. Eventually a young woman takes a stool one down from where he sits. He says something to her. She doesn’t readily respond. A quarter of an hour goes by until he says something else to her. The bait is taken. A conversation begins. She leans closer and so does he. She laughs and sits back. He leans closer. The band tonight is loud.
They flirt like this for nearly an hour before she gets up to use the bathroom. He looks around the bar but doesn’t notice me watching him. He drops a pill into her drink, swirling a straw to mix it. He coolly sets it back on the bar. The woman returns and takes a quick sip. The small talk continues until he stands. Now it’s his turn to walk away to test her, to see if she’s still there when he returns. He walks right past me not knowing it’s me.
I drop a ten dollar bill on the bar for my two Jack and gingers. I go down the long dark hall and wait outside the men’s room door. My phone is up at my ear so it looks like I’m engaged. When the door opens I block his path and he looks up at me. I’m already shoving him back inside. He falls to the floor as I reach behind me and lock the door. He starts to get up. He’s on one bent knee when I pull the gun out from the back of my pants. His eyes grow wide; he can’t understand who I am or why I’d want to kill him. I push the gun barrel into the fleshy part of his belly. His hands grab my wrist to push it away. He’s blubbering, begging me not to harm him, asking who I am. His eyes are wide with terror.
Outside the bathroom the band cranks it up a notch. The shot to his head echoes briefly in the bathroom. I pull the man into the stall and close the door. When I leave the bathroom, no one is waiting to go in. Everyone is more concerned about the girl passed out at the bar.
I stroll out into the night.
I walk the streets back to my church alone. Inside I take off the ball cap, the jacket, and the turtle neck. I put them in my book bag. I go back to the confessional and go in the opposite side of where I sat and kneel down.
Bless me Father for I have venerated. I drove out the snakes tonight. Just like I was meant to do.