And here’s my attempt:
Collins Goes to Mass
Service had just concluded when I walked in. All the pretty families, with their pretty clothes, and pretty smiles came out into the sunshine talking about breakfasts and shopping.
I knew Father would be in the vestry, so that’s where I headed. I swam through the current of people taking in the smells of the mass. Memories were overwhelming; I had, after-all, been raised in the church, attended St. James, and one year of St. Johns until we were so broke I had to switch to public school.
I stopped in front of the altar, knelt down, and made the sign of the cross. Old habits die hard, I suppose. When I stood, I looked back at the few people milling about, mostly old men in worn suits, which made my job a lot easier. It had been many years since I had been here so I took in the place. The whole place had been restored in 1995 and I hadn’t seen it. The round arches and windows sported their original colored glass. Between the windows and on the ceiling, the walls were painted in a style that the nuns spoke of, but I only remember it literally meaning “fool the eye”.
I had to catch Father quick before he made it back to the cafeteria where he would greet his flock for coffee and Dunkin’ Doughnuts.
When I turned in the corner, Father had just put his robe in the closet and turned around. He jumped and grabbed his chest when he saw me standing there in the threshold. His wrinkles were deep grooves in his face. White hair and gray eyes made him look almost ghostlike.
“Oh. Ha, you gave a fright, young man.” He stammered. “I’ll be right out if you’d like to talk.”
I stepped in and smiled as I shut the door behind me. “Father, it isn’t appropriate to talk about what we need to talk about with jelly covering our lips.”
“Do I know you?” He asked, a shaking finger jutting in my direction. He had a good memory which was good for me.
“Father, are the Halls still parishioners?”
“Of course, they have been here for a long, long time and one of our biggest boosters. Good people. Why?”
“Does Chuck come in for mass or confession?”
“Confession sometimes. He barely comes in for mass anymore. He’s a little troubled.”
Troubled. That must be priest talk for sadistic asshole.
“Troubled like pushing some fat kid by the name of Jason to kill about 4 people and wound 2 more at a Sunday mass in 1994?”
“I don’t think he…”
I slammed my hand on the counter wall and Father jumped his eyes darting around the small room.
“I really must go,” he said trying to inch past me.
I pushed him back toward the robes, not hard, but it was enough to catch his attention. “Didn’t he confess? Didn’t he tell you what he was doing? C’mon, Father, be honest.”
“That was so long ago,” he whined again.
“I think confessions are good for the soul. You can confess to me, now. I’ll give you some Hail Marys and Our Fathers and you’ll be absolved.”
“I did nothing wrong.”
“Father, Father,” I said moving closer to him, and he stepped as far back as he could. Chuck is still a monster because no one stopped him then and I need to know how to find him.”
“I don’t know.”
“No shit, Father, where is his family?” I said, feeling my neck vein bump faster against my shirt collar. That was never good for the person I was talking to.
“They’re good people.”
“I’m good people, Father. And Chuck is not. You know it. Chuck took a friend of mine. And I need to find him.”
“Please,” he whispered, tears welling up in his eyes.
“Why are you protecting him? He won’t hurt you, Father. Not once I find him.”
Father suddenly looked tired and leaned up against the wall. “His family is important to the church. If they found out I gave you Chuck…”
My jaw tightened and my fists clenched. He was saying the damned Halls were boosters.
“Money, Father. Really? I thought the Catholic Church was about service, was about whatever you do to the least of them you do to me.”
“You don’t understand,” he said his chest heaving now.
“I understand plenty, Father. ‘From the least to the greatest, their lives are ruled by greed. From prophets to priests, they are all frauds’. You see I did learn something in school.”
His eyes widened with recognition. “Collins?”
“They gave a ton of money to the church. His son was an all-conference linebacker. You had to give him some leeway. I understand.”
He hung his head, thin white hair dangling over his brow. “A man has to make difficult decisions. Their money has helped us improve the school, run local food banks, start a homeless shelter. Don’t you see?”
“I see. You preach money does not bring happiness, but you don’t show your congregation that it actually does.” He started to shake his head and I kept going. “If I took half a man’s paycheck, they would be less happy, right? If I take your boosters away, your church would be quite sad indeed. Father, I understand. But I also understand you will be more sad if you don’t give me what I want.”
“I have made my decisions, now I am responsible to God.”
He just didn’t understand that right at that moment I was his god.
My boss, Bopa, would say I needed to get creative to get the information I needed. I’ve found creativity is over-rated. Simplicity was always more effective.
I hated this part of the job. I reached down and grabbed a handful of white hair.
About 5 minutes later I was walking out of the vestry with more information than I needed. Parent’s house, Chuck’s last apartment, where the bastard worked out. I looked back over my shoulder and Father sat in a heap in the floor covering his eyes, chest heaving, scalp bleeding, patches of white hair in clumps around him.
I needed to know who signed Chuck’s paycheck and I figured it will be a little more satisfying to hear his confession.