Conscience Chapter One

Chapter Oneconscience

“Forgive me, father, for I have sinned.” He had a flat, emotionless voice.

“How long has it been since your last confession?”

“I was here this morning.”

“And you needed another dose of forgiveness?” There was a hint of mirth in the priest’s voice, just enough to open the door for a good-natured chuckle but not enough to be offensive in case the sin in question was not a laughing matter.

Apparently it wasn’t.

“I’m not here about my sins from this morning.”

“So you did something else this afternoon?”

“No, father but I’m about to.”

The priest’s skin crawled at the words and he struggled to find an appropriate response. His job was to provide a safe place where the darkest sins of humanity could find absolution but what was he supposed to do if the sin hadn’t been committed yet?

“I don’t understand,” the priest stuttered.

“I won’t be able to come back here afterwards so I wanted to confess my sin in advance. Will you let me do that?”

“Of course.” The priest found that his mouth was dry and the words came out hoarse and strained. “What are you going to do?”

“I am going to murder the father.”

Did he say the father? Sweat popped out on the priest’s forehead and his collar suddenly grew itchy and tight. The confessional was stuffy and he was beginning to feel a bit dizzy.

“You’re going to murder the father? Which father?”

The silhouette on the other side of the shaded screen recoiled slightly. Priests weren’t supposed to ask for details; they were supposed to grant unbiased absolutions and then assign the appropriate penance. Something didn’t feel right. He turned to go.

“No, wait!” The priest whispered urgently. “Please continue.”

The young man (he sounded like a young man) paused briefly and began to talk again and while he did so, the priest inched his cell phone out from under his robe and found the keypad in the dark. He punched 9-1-1 hoping the muted confessional walls would conceal the phone’s beeping.

“What are you doing?” The man asked sharply. “Who are you calling?”

Then he was gone, bounding out of the confessional booth and sprinting through the sanctuary and down the aisle toward the lobby.

“Wait!” The priest shouted, trying to follow him to the exit but getting tangled up in his robes. By the time he emerged from the confessional booth, all he could see was a shadowy backside slipping through the lobby and slamming itself into the massive, oak doors of the sanctuary. As one door swung open, brilliant daylight flooded the sanctuary making it even more difficult to identify the running man.

At the last moment, though, the man paused and turned to face the priest. He shook his head slightly, a gesture of disapproval and then he was gone, swallowed up in the busy afternoon foot traffic.

The priest stumbled toward the prayer altar at the front of the room, a regal, ornate bench carved entirely by hand out of a massive mahogany tree trunk and knelt before it, clutching its railing with both hands. Sirens began wailing in the distance and then grew louder as local law enforcement responded to the priest’s risky 9-1-1 call. They would be here any minute and there was nothing he could tell them. No crime had been committed, at least not yet. He didn’t know the man’s name and he didn’t recognize him from any earlier confessions.

The cops arrived, impressive response time, and burst into the sanctuary. “Father, are you okay?”

He took a deep breath. “Yes, I’m fine. Probably overreacting. Had an intense moment in confession and got a little frightened but that’s all. It’s over. So sorry to bother you.”

What was he supposed to say? Someone’s father is about to be killed but sorry I have no idea who it is?

Los Angeles County had over ten million people in it and the police were already stretched to the breaking point with a shortage of officers and a steady stream of convicts being prematurely released back on to the streets because of the swollen, congested prison system. If he told them about the confession, he would simply add to their stress and sense of futility. No, he would just say a prayer and hope that the confession was merely a fantasy from a deeply disturbed mind and not the mind of an actual killer.

He shuddered though, as he remembered the little headshake the man had given him before disappearing into the street. He was probably being paranoid in light of the circumstances but if he wasn’t mistaken, there was a clear threat in that look and without knowing who the man was and with only a shadowy glance at his face, there was no way to be on the lookout in case he returned for some payback. He thought of the man’s flat, hollow voice, not the voice of someone merely looking for attention.  A knot formed in the pit of his stomach.

“Yes, I’m sure, I’m fine. I’m truly sorry to take you away from your other work, officers. Thank you for your quick response and protection. God bless you for it.”

They turned to leave with respectful, if a bit gruff, nods to the priest and as he turned back to the prayer altar, one of the officers called out to him, “Excuse me Father but for our paperwork can you remind me of your first and last name?”

The priest turned. “Stan Jeffries.”

“Thank you, Father.”

Father Jeffries turned back to the bench and began to pray for the protection of two fathers, himself and the father whose future murder had just been confessed to him.

End of Chapter One. To purchase this book and continue reading click here.

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