CONFESSION - MARK JOSEPH KIEWLAK
Originally published in Scotland's Crime Scene, Spring 2006
"He's got a nun tied up in there."
"I know, Father."
"He's got her at gunpoint."
"Well, what the hell are you going to do about it?"
"Something," I said.
The church was out in the middle of nowhere. It was a small chapel built on a tiny hill at a fork in the road. In the springtime it probably looked pretty as hell. But this was the middle of winter. It was raining. It was getting dark.
"How did he know I was coming?" I said.
"I don't know," Father Michaels said. "He's a bad man."
"He's a kid," I said.
"He's a criminal."
"His parents are trying to change that," I said. "That's why they want him back."
"He's evil," Father Michaels said.
I turned and walked toward the church. "Don't follow me," I said. "Don't let anyone else inside."
I walked up the stairs to the door. I looked around. The bare tree trunks looked black in the rain. No one else was around. Every few seconds, a car would pass. It was a winding road through the mountains and windy as hell. Another set of headlights flashed by and I went in.
It was warm in the church. There was a glow of candlelight. There was a smell of incense. And on the far side, midway down the aisle, there was a nun chained to the radiator. I moved toward her slowly. I didn't see anyone else. But I sensed someone. There was someone else breathing the oxygen in the room.
She wasn't moving. Her body had sagged against the radiator. Her arms hung above her. Her feet were splayed in opposite directions on the floor. I moved closer. "Sister," I said. "Sister Mary Margaret." I had my gun out.
"She won't answer," a voice said. "She's like that. A bitch. A bitch who won't answer."
The voice came from between the pews. A kid sat up. It was Keith Denevere.
"Who the fuck are you?" he said.
"Salvation," I said. "With a fucking gun."
"Fuck you," he said.
"Just another typical church conversation."
Denevere stared at me hard. He had a gun, too. It was aimed at me.
"Get the fuck out of here," he said.
"I can't," I said.
"You can't? You fucking well better get out. You'll get out and you'll have a bullet in your ass, too."
I had stopped moving. I was a few feet from Sister Mary Margaret. Up close, she looked like hell. Her habit was torn and her hair was hanging in long sweaty strands down over her face. The chains that held her were rusty and probably from a garage somewhere. They were wrapped around the radiator and padlocked and she was handcuffed at the wrist and ankles to the chains. She was sweating profusely. I realized that the radiator was still on.
"Put your gun down," the kid said. Most of his body was shielded by the pews. I was out in the open.
"Put your fucking gun down now," he said.
I went to place it on the windowsill and he said, "On the fucking floor, asshole. Kick it under the pews." I put it on the floor and kicked it about a foot under the pews.
"What are you doing in here?" he said.
"I came for confession," I said.
Denevere got to his feet and moved toward the aisle. He was about ten rows in front of me.
"Your father sent me," I said.
"My father? My fucking father?"
"He sent me to bring you home," I said.
"I don't have a fucking father," Denevere said. He was a short kid but the shadows from the candlelight made him look taller.
"Your father and mother want you back with them," I said. "They want to help you. They want to fix whatever's wrong."
"They can't fucking fix nothing," he said. "They can fix shit with their fucking money."
"I tracked you a long way," I said. "They paid me a lot."
"Sure," he said. "Fucking sure. Sure they did. They want me back. They want me to play on the fucking varsity squad and learn chess and get a fucking father and son membership at the fucking country club."
"They're not your real parents," I said.
"Okay," I said. "Fuck them. I won't send you back there."
That threw him a little. He was in the aisle now and he stopped. He still had the gun on me but he was starting to forget that he did.
"Just like that," he said. "Just like that, you won't send me back."
He had sandy blond hair cut in jagged bangs and shaved above his ears. His jean jacket was soaked with what looked like blood. Unless he had a mortal wound and was hiding it, the blood wasn't his.
Sister Mary Margaret opened her eyes. It wasn't her blood, either.
"What's going on here?" I said to Denevere. "Why are you holed up in here? How'd you get out here?"
"I hitchhiked," Denevere said. "I needed to see the Sister here."
He was maybe eighteen but he was all anger. He was years past caring about anything ever again. Maybe.
"Give me the keys to the handcuffs," I said. "And we'll get her off this thing."
"She fucking stays where she is," Denevere said.
I looked at the Sister. She was groggy but becoming more coherent. The radiator she was chained to was an old iron monster and it was beginning to hiss.
"If we don't get her off that thing," I said, "she'll scald to death."
"She deserves it," he said.
"She lied to me."
"What kind of lie?" I said.
"The fucking worst kind, you fucking prick."
I was pretty sure he didn't know he was holding the gun at all now. Outside, darkness had fallen. Father Michaels would be calling the police soon. They would only make it worse.
"How did she lie to you?" I said.
"Fuck you, man. Just shut the fuck up with your stupid fucking questions."
"I lied about God," Sister Mary Margaret said.
We both turned to look at her. Her head was hanging. Sweat was dripping off the tip of her nose. The radiator hissed behind her.
"I told him," she said, "that God would protect him. That God would be with him always."
"That was a lie," Denevere said. "That was a fucking lie and you're a fucking lying bitch."
"I told him that he'd be safe and happy. I told him that his parents would love him."
"They fucking loved me all right. My old man loved me to death," Denevere said.
The radiator was steaming now. Sister Mary Margaret's hands were blistering. I didn't want to see her back.
"Fucking old man," Denevere said. "My fucking father."
"What about your real father?" I said.
Denevere nodded toward the blood on his jacket.
"Why hurt him," I said, "and not your other parents?"
"They didn't abandon me," Denevere said. "They didn't give me up."
"But you said your stepfather --"
"That's what stepfathers do," Denevere said. "Isn't it?"
"Keith, listen to me," Mary Margaret said. "I know we let you down. I don't blame you for hating us. But..."
"But what?" Denevere said. "But fucking what?"
"But you've got to get out of here," she said. "The police are coming. I don't want to see you hurt anymore. I've hurt you enough."
"You didn't do it," Denevere said.
"I did," she said.
"No," Denevere said. "No, Ma, I did. I did everything. I was a bad kid. That's why you sent me away."
Sister Mary Margaret turned away from him. "Lord, forgive me," she said. "Lord in heaven, forgive me."
I charged at Denevere and caught his gun arm before he could fire. I lifted him and slammed him backward against the wall. The back of his head cracked one of the stained glass windows and he dropped the gun. I slammed him against the wall a second time and he clawed at my face, scratching my eye and causing my grip to loosen. He slammed his fist into the side of my head and kicked me in the groin. I still had him by the jacket but he slipped out of it and got past me. He scrambled under the pews and came out with my discarded gun. He pointed it at me then at Sister Mary Margaret. Then at me. Back and forth between the two of us.
The blisters on her hands had cracked. There was puss oozing between her fingers. She looked Denevere in the eye. "It was a sin," she said. "What I did. It was a sin. But your birth -- that was a miracle. You were my miracle."
"Then why --" He choked on the tears that were starting to come. "Then why did you give me up?"
She stared at him. She began to cry. Soon, she was sobbing uncontrollably. Anguish was pouring out of her. Denevere pointed the gun at his own head. "Why didn't you want me?" he said.
"Because," Mary Margaret said. "Because I didn't deserve a miracle."
Denevere pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. He fell to his knees. He started sobbing. She tried to move toward him but the chains held her back. He curled up at her feet and cried. I bent over and searched his jacket pocket. I found the key to the handcuffs and unlocked her wrists and ankles. I pocketed Denevere's gun and took my own from his limp hand and pocketed that one too. I lifted Sister Mary Margaret in my arms and moved toward the front door. She reached over her shoulder for Denevere. He was still curled on the floor, sobbing. I could hear sirens.
"It was a miracle," she whispered in my ear. "He was a miracle and it was a miracle that saved him."
I didn't bother to tell her that before I entered the church I had taken all the bullets out of my gun.
BIO: In 2008 Mark Joseph Kiewlak's work appeared in more than two dozen magazines, including Hardboiled, Plots With Guns, Pulp Pusher, Thug Lit, Muzzle Flash, Powder Burn Flash, Clean Sheets, and many others. He was privileged to have served as judge of the 2007 Wild Violet Fiction Contest. He has also written for DC Comics (FLASH 80-PAGE GIANT #2).
Irish Times Crime Fiction column, February 2018
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