"Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned."
"How long has it been since your last confession?"
Pause. "Long time. Twenty years, anyway."
"And now you've done something so bad you feel you have to come in?"
Another pause. "No, it's not that. There's something I'm going to do. Nothing bad. I just want to, you know, clear my conscience."
"What do you want to confess?"
An even longer pause. "I've done a lot of bad things. I never hurt anyone that didn't deserve it. I kinda fell into things and, well, I mean, times were tough and I was doing what I had to do. Pretty soon you're working for people you shouldn't be spending time with, and—look, I ain't proud of any of this, but I was making a living. A good living."
Late at night, the settling of a beam ricocheted through the empty church.
"That's pretty vague for a confession. If you're done, that is."
"This is hard to talk about."
"It's supposed to be. Contrition is the first step toward absolution."
Silence. The clearing of a throat. "You're saying I have to be sorry for what I did?"
"Going to confession doesn't hand you a Get Out of Hell Free card. Your sins can't be forgiven unless you repent."
"I wish I never did any of that stuff. Does that count?"
"Any of what stuff?"
"Jesus Christ, Father, do I have to spell it out for you?"
"Watch your mouth, and yes, you do."
A deep breath let out through the nose. Shifting feet. "I don't know where to start."
"Let's start with why you're here tonight."
"What do you think I came here for? I came to confess."
"Why tonight, of all nights? You said you haven't been to confession for at least twenty years. What's special about tonight?"
"I'm in trouble. In case things go wrong I want to be in a—what do you call it?—a state of grace."
"Are you in danger?"
"Because of the things you came to confess?"
"Yes. No. It's complicated."
"You said before you were going to do something, but it wasn't bad. Is that why you came now?"
"In a way. Yeah, I guess." He blew his nose. "I said before I worked for people I shouldn't a spent time with. There's this guy, Mike Mannarino. People call him The Hook. Anyway, I started doing little things for him and he liked me. At least I thought he liked me. Worked for the guy twenty years, then I find out he sent me to do a job might be a set up, you know, to be sure everything was jake before he really committed to it. Like I was contrary in a mineshaft, or something.
"So he was right, and the job was screwed up and I got pinched. He either forgot or didn't care I had some things over my head, I couldn't take a fall. The cops bring me in, keep me there almost a week, I can't make bail. Talk to me every day, twice a day, and I stand up the whole time. I wouldn't tell them if they asked me who the quarterback for the Steelers was. They offered me deals. New life. All charges dropped. Uh-uh. I'm looking at five years and I don't say a word."
"Loyalty is admirable, even when it's misplaced."
"Loyalty, huh? Let me tell you about loyalty. This Mannarino, he bailed me out this afternoon."
"Didn't you want him to?"
"Yeah, a week ago. Today, maybe two hours after I'm out, I'm leaving Big Boy and someone takes a run at me. Like the word's out I talked, or something."
"You said you didn't."
"I didn't. That don't appear to be the word that got out."
"It could just be a misunderstanding."
"Guns don't misunderstand, Father. What I think happened is, Joe Rienstra let slip what happened that night I got picked up. He got a case hanging over him, too, and I was what they call collateral damage. Joe got to Mike first, with me in jail, and told him I talked, that's why bail was so low. Which it wasn't, or I woulda bonded myself out."
"I don't understand how any of this brought you here tonight."
"Because I ain't safe anyplace else, Father. I want to get good with God, then tomorrow I'm going to make the deal. Fuck Mike Mannarino, and fuck Joey Rienstra. I never did anything but stand up and this is what I get. I want my soul clean in case they get to me before I can get protection."
"I understand. I think your willingness to make things right with the police counts as contrition. Say a Hail Mary for me, and I'll pray for you."
"Just one Hail Mary? Thanks, Father. That seems pretty light."
"It's all you got time for, you rat bastard." Two shots from a .22 sounded like not much more than a couple of hard hand claps in the hollowness of the church.
Stretch Dolewicz eased himself out of the booth. Not squeamish, but sitting in a confessional for forty-five minutes with a dead priest who thought he was a hero not his idea of a good time. And now The Hook would want him to take care of Rienstra.