4: 53 p.m.
St. Marks Cathedral.
San Antonio, Texas.
“BLESS ME FATHER FOR I HAVE SINNED.”
Sometimes, when the air is just right, and the temperature is at the perfect degree, and all the nuanced little smells work together in just the perfect way, a place built for kindness and good can become the lair of evil. Wickedness . . . it can be like an infection. It can’t be seen one second, and the next moment, all that’s left is horror.
“Bless me Father, for I have sinned . . .”
The words lingered in the dark confessional while Father McMahon settled himself gently onto the wooden stool. There was hardly any light coming in through the tiny holes drilled near head level. Then again, this was not about aesthetics; it was about acceptance and admission.
The tiny fingers of dusty light seemed to burn through the small chamber and strangely illuminate the man.
“Tell me then, what is your confession?” Three generations of McMahon had depleted the feather of any discernible Irish accent, but his heart was there. The faith was something he always had . . . if nothing else.
There was a tangible, almost palpable silence that kind of floated around them. As if there was nobody else on Earth but those two. The Father waited as the quiet man across the obscuring metal mesh decided how to speak. He knew that it was very difficult for people to come to terms with their transgressions, and often a confession ended with little more than the same silence which he now faced.
Quite often, members of the congregation would simply enter the booth, say nothing, and then leave. Perhaps they were afraid of being judged. Perhaps they had summoned all the courage in their soul; simply to enter the confessional was a giant emotional step. Or maybe, there was something else going on. Something darker. Not everyone who enters a confessional comes reaching for forgiveness.
The man’s voice was calm and crisp, “I have been witness to a great many lies, Father.”
“Were these lies that you helped to promote?” the Father said softly. This was a very delicate matter, and cannot be pressed or forced.
There was a nearly inaudible laugh coming from the man, and it seemed to stagnate the air for the Father.
“No, no, Father . . . that’s not it. You see—” the man said, and then paused.
The Father squinted and tried to see past the mesh at what the man looked like. Often this helped him to create an image of those he would counsel. Sure, the confession is supposed to be ‘anonymous,’ but McMahon always had a good idea whom he was talking. He knew his congregation—all 700 members—like the back of his hand.
They were his flock, but staring through the thin metal wires he could not form any recognition. This man was new to the church. Just as well. The Lord works in such mysterious ways. Father McMahon knew better than to try to understand the mind of God.
“I have seen horrible things happen as a result of those lies . . . and I have only recently been able to adjudicate them.”
“Oh, my friend. You know that it is not our job to right the wrongs of others. I often find myself trying to do that very thing, but it is an impossible task . . . and unfortunately it is married with heartache and sadness.”
“So then, Father,” the man said, his voice lowering to just more than the volume of moving air. “. . . what would you have me do? Should I watch the others sin? Should I bury my head in the Bible and pray for a better tomorrow.” There was a rather cynical tone to the man’s voice.
The Father placed his thumbs on his temples and rubbed them gently as he considered this odd visitor’s words. He remembered a time when he wanted to pick up the sword; fight the crusade. But those times were when he had been younger, and cleaner. Things aren’t so simple. One cannot just decide to fight the good fight.
“I was like you, once.”
“Like me, Father . . . how so?”
“I wanted to fight injustice. I wanted to . . . to . . .” the Father was trying to find the right words. “. . . to force others to see the path.”
His eyes turned slowly downwards to his black vestments; following the shinny, black buttons up to his silver crucifix. Out of habit, his left hand gently brushed the warm metal cross hanging at his chest. “It’s just not possible to force all the flowers to bloom,” he said, more to himself than the man who he only knew as a voice.
“So you gave up?” the haunting voice asked.
The Father looked up. The inflection was sharp. Almost insulting. How dare this man talk to him in such a manner, in his church. “Excuse me?”
“You heard what I said. And you know exactly what I’m talking about.”
Father McMahon was being talked down to in a manner to which he was not accustomed. He did not like it, and he would not stand for it. Maybe this was his chance to take a stand, “Listen here, friend,” the Father said with a newfound vigor in his words, “I don’t like the way this conversation is going. I offered you my hand and the blessings of this church when you—”
Thump, thump, thump!
The noise was barely louder than a knuckle lightly rapping at a solid door, but the bullets had no trouble finding their target. As the three lead rounds made their way through the thin wood that separated the Father and the shooter, they pushed through his black cloak like hot metal through butter. The only resistance came from the third shot, which passed through the center of the Crucifix, chopping the small Jesus into tiny shards that followed the shock wave into Father McMahon’s chest.
The Father couldn’t mentally register what had just occurred. There was pain in his chest, but it was indescribable. His breath was getting choked short, and he started to gasp between coughs of frothy blood. His hands were locked in tight fists near his waist as he slouched forward and began to slide down the side of the confessional. All of it happening far too fast for his mind to comprehend.
The Father tried to breath through his nose, feeling as though maybe all that was happening was some instantly felt case of cramps. All of this was going on inside a dark, red oak box, with a tiny curtain covering all but his pale, sandaled feet.
As the tears rolled down the Father’s cheeks—an unconscious side effect of the .38 caliber slugs—he turned to his back to ease the now intense pressure and pain. As he did so he noticed a blurry figure standing over him.
“You . . . and the others like you,” the man said as he kneeled close to the dying priest, “. . . your time in this place is finished. Your rules and your religion are finished. And your sins will be paid for. And I’m not talking about this thing that I have done today. Oh, no. You will pay your debt on the other side.”
The man placed his latex-gloved fingers over Father McMahon’s watery eyes—half salt, and half realization. As the glove left the Father’s face his soul was gone. There were fits and contortions . . . but his life was snatched away to another place.
A darker place.
Three minutes later, his body was alone, cooling slowly as steam exited the wounds. The strange assassin was gone. All of it happened in a church; in a confession booth; under the dusty orange rays of light that God had created . . . or at least inspired.
If one were to have listened to the echoes quietly oscillating through the church, no longer audible to the human ear, you might have heard the strange man’s voice . . .
“Bless me Father, for I have sinned.”