STICKS AND STONES - J.R. LINDERMUTH
Originally published in the Fall 2006 edition of Crime And Suspense.
"Bugger the man!" Lanigan said.
"No, that's what he was doin'," Kelly corrected, "and him a priest."
Taking time for a swig of beer and to wipe his chin with the back of his hand, Lanigan turned to Fenwick who sat hunched over at the bar, staring into his mug, wishing he'd kept his yap shut.
"Would they let him get away with somethin' like that?"
Donovan's is the kind of place you go to drink, not comment on social issues. But this night - with the weather getting fierce outside, snowing and blowing, and the gossip of the day fresh in their minds - they weren't talking about much else. They didn't know whether it was true, though they had decided who was to blame.
Donovan wiped down the bar between them and whispered, "It's happened in other places. The diocese keeps the cops from doin' their jobs."
"Can you believe it - the diocese and a police department brimming with good Irish cops?" Kelly said, shaking his head. "And they'll let him off with a slap on the knuckles and a transfer."
"But, Father Martin?" Lanigan said. "Christ! We've known the man since we was kids."
"I know. It's hard to believe," Fenwick told him. After a pause to light a cigarette, he went on.
"But it's got to be true. There's talk a boy was molested at the church. The cops was there when I left, talkin' to the priest. Who else could it be?"
Kelly gave a coarse little laugh. "Mebbe it was you."
"Fuck you, Kelly."
"Yeah. Mebbe you're right. You hear about it all the time in other places. Why should our town be any different? Give me a cigarette, will you?"
Fenwick slid his cigarettes and lighter down the bar to his friend. He took a drag on his own cigarette and blew smoke out his nose. "I admit, I always liked Father Martin. It ain't easy to believe something like this. But, I mean, who else?"
The men were silent for a moment, nodding their heads and not looking at one another, each locked in his own thoughts. "If it is true, then he shouldn't get away with it," Donovan said, finally. Not getting an answer, he added, "Who's ready for another beer?" He was always a man for business.
Kelly pushed his mug forward. "Might as well," he said.
The door opened then and Jimmy Spinosa came in, bringing the cold with him and puffing on one of those Italian stogies he favors as though it might help keep the chill off. "Didcha hear?" he asked.
They all turned to face him.
"Pervert priest molested a kid."
"You know that for a fact?" Lanigan said.
"Well, who else could it be?" Spinosa asked. "It happened at the church. Nobody else there." He slid onto a stool between Lanigan and Fenwick. "Unless it was Fenwick here," he said with a grin.
"Watch your mouth," Fenwick said, scowling. "I'm the janitor. I got nothin' to do with the kids."
"Well, it ain't funny."
They all agreed that it wasn't, nodding their heads or muttering affirmations, then the lot of them went silent, nursing their drinks and thinking their private thoughts. It was only a short while later, just after Kelly asked, "Do you really think he could of done it?," that the door behind them opened again, ushering in another blast of cold air. They turned in unison.
"So, whyn't we ask him?" Spinosa said as they saw the priest standing there just inside the door.
"What a day I've had," Father Martin said, stamping snow off his boots and unwrapping the scarf from around his neck. "You wouldn't believe it, boys. What a day it's been."
They stared at him, none of them believing the audacity of the man to have shown up here of all places. No one spoke for a minute, looking at one another, nervous and coughing though there was nothing wrong with anyone's throat. "You've had a day," Fenwick said, finally. "What about that poor boy?"
Father Martin stepped closer. "I know. It's a shame, in'it?" he said. "Christ, what a day. Set me up a drink, will you, Donovan? What a day I've had. Don't know what got into the boy to say such a thing."
"You're sayin' it's not true, then?" Fenwick asked.
"True? Of course it's not true. How could any of you think?"
"Why would the boy lie about such a thing?" Spinosa asked, exhaling a miasma of smoke.
"Yeah. Why would he?" Kelly agreed.
"Now, boys," Donovan put in. "Let's not jump to any conclusions. Let the Father have his drink and his say." He wasn't one to miss an opportunity for a sale, even if the man did prove to be a pervert.
"I can't speak for the boy," Father Martin said, reaching for the shot Donovan had poured for him. "He must be a troubled soul. I'll have to spend some time with him and..."
He didn't get to have his drink or finish the sentence for that was when Kelly, a man of strong passions and weak intellect, slugged him. The priest fell back with a groan. Before he could recover himself, Kelly hit him again and he went down on the floor. As he tried to get up, Lanigan belted him once more. Then he kicked him in the ribs for good measure.
"For God's sake, boys," Father Martin cried, rising to his knees and wiping blood from his chin with the back of one hand, "why are you doing this?"
Spinosa jumped up from his stool, grabbed the priest by his hair and banged his head to the floor. "Creep! You know why. We haint gonna let you get away with it."
"For the love of God, boys!" Donovan shouted, coming around from behind the bar and grabbing Spinosa by the arm. "What are you doing? You'll be killin' him."
"That's what we should do," Kelly said, giving the priest another kick.
It might have got to that point, their emotions were in such a state, had the front door not opened again just then. "Here! What's goin' on?" barked a voice they all recognized. Tommy Boyle, a local policeman, came forward, pushing them aside. He helped Father Martin to his feet, then guided the priest to a booth where he sat him down. "What's got into you lot?" Boyle demanded, turning to face them.
The men shuffled around, looking at the floor, rubbing sore knuckles. "We didn't want him to get away with it," Lanigan said.
"You know, what he did to the kid."
"Father Martin? He didn't do anything," Boyle told them. "The boy made the whole story up. Nobody molested him."
"Then why'd he say it?"
Boyle shrugged. "Kids. Sez he was in some trouble at home. Figured if he come up with this tale his Da' wouldn't be hard on him. He broke down and confessed less than an hour after he told us his story."
Kelly walked over to the priest and looked down at him, bloodied and dazed as he was. "Will you forgive us, Fa-ather? We was..."
Father Martin raised a hand and waved him away.
"If we'da known, Father," Lanigan chimed in.
They gathered around, making their apologies and didn't notice when Fenwick slid off his stool and made his way out the door.
Outside, turning up his collar against the cold, Fenwick grinned. He looked up at the dark sky, at the swirling flakes of snow, and he laughed. He owed the boy, owed him big, wondered if he had paid him enough to keep his mouth shut about the rest of the story. He walked on through the falling snow, gloating over the beating the priest had taken. That would teach the man not to threaten firing over a little drinking on the job.
BIO: A retired newspaper editor, J.R. Lindermuth is the author of six novels, including three in the Sticks Hetrick mystery series. He has published short stories and articles in a variety of magazines, both print and online.
Check out Jack's Place for reviews and sample chapters of Thin Ice, short story, Amazon Shorts; Twin Stars, short story, Amazon Shorts; Trees and Memories, short story, Amazon Shorts; Schlussel's Woman (2003), Author's Choice Press; St. Hubert's Stag (2004), iUniverse; Something In Common (June 2007), Whiskey Creek Press; Cruel Cuts (Nov. 2007), Whiskey Creek Press; The Accidental Spy (July 2008), Lachesis Publishing; and Corruption's Child (June 2008), Whiskey Creek Press.