||“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Remember that God loves you unconditionally and you may have confidence in his unending compassion for you.”
“Amen. I am in a state of mortal sin, and it has been-“
“One week, I know. You realize you are only supposed to say that part when the priest doesn’t know you?” Fr. Karl asked as he adjusted the stole that hung around his neck. He did that when he was nervous or annoyed. I was betting he was annoyed with me. He had never been nervous of me – not even after confession.
“Hey, I am trying to be holy here.” I snapped back defensively. “Don’t screw with the sacraments.” I frowned, unable to keep my own annoyance under control. He’d started it.
“Maybe if you tried harder at being holy all the time instead of just during confession, you wouldn’t be in here so often.” He replied just as heated, arms crossed over his stomach and his dark gray brows drawn together as he frowned at me. His eyebrows were the only thing gray on him and the only hint as to his real age. Good genetics, I guess.
I couldn’t argue with what he had said, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to try. “I’ve only ever known one perfect person, Father, and He preached love and forgiveness – not grief and attitude.”
“Lucy, how long have I been hearing your confessions?”
I stopped, surprised by the sudden change in subject. Apparently we weren’t going to argue – I could live with that. Some how, arguing during confession seemed very wrong. “What? I don’t know… four, five years.” I replied. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“ Four years, eight months, and two hundred sixty-seven days.” Fr. Karl said slowly, the shadows played on his vestments and face and suddenly made him appear so much older than his 57 years. I had no idea he’d been keeping track so well. It made me more nervous, and I don’t like being nervous. “For almost five years you have come in here weekly – when you are physically able – to make the Sacrament of Penance.”
I blinked, still not understanding what this had to do with anything. Ok – it obviously had something to do with my confession, but I wasn’t sure what yet. It wasn’t like Karl to be this evasive. “Yeah.” I said, not sure of what else I was supposed to say.
“And you always confess the same thing.” He concluded, looking at me with deeply weary brown eyes.
I licked my suddenly dry lips and nodded my head once, watching him like a rabbit watches the fox. I wanted to be ready for him to strike out and try to catch me by surprise. “God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.”
“Oh don’t you quote the catechism at me!” He exploded, his hands flying into the air and shattering any semblance of solemnity that had been building. “Lucy, has it ever occurred to you that you should find a different line of work?” Oh, this argument again. We had it at least three times a year, usually whenever he showed up to give me Last Rites –oh, sorry, anointing of the sick in the hospital.
Sighing, I lowered by head into my hands and just cradled my forehead for a moment. I was trying to recapture the peace I had out in the sanctuary when it was just me and God. “It has, but I won’t do it. If I don’t do this job, then someone else will have to. Who would it be? Someone married? With children?” I lifted my head and looked into Karl’s somber brown eyes. I couldn’t tell much by the candlelight, but I knew he was listening to me. “Someone who may not be as good as I am and will get themselves killed? Maybe kill the wrong people? Kill for the wrong reason? I would rather it be me. I’m just not willing to risk others in that way.”
There was a stretch of silence in which we did nothing but sit and stare at each other. His brown eyes met my blue ones evenly and we stared. I was better at this game, but there was something in his face that I had never seen before. He was tired, but tired of what? I almost asked him. Almost.
“You cannot save everyone, Lucy. You are only human.” He said finally before giving a half-hearted laugh. “Even I cannot save everyone. We are mortal creatures with mortal limitations.”
“I prove that every time I kill someone, Karl.” I said, and even to me my voice sounded very tired. “But what I can control, those I can save, I will.”
Again we fell into that well of silence, but this time it was not strained or awkward. It was simply the two of us breathing. We would never completely understand each other, but that was fine because we didn’t need to. Not on this.
“A reading from the first letter of John.” He said breaking the spell of silence, opening his bible without looking and reciting from memory. “If we say that we have fellowship with Him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we confess our sins, He who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
The sun was warm against my face and I could feel the heat enveloping me like another layer of clothing as I stepped onto the front steps of the church. It was only in the low 90’s today and with evening fast approaching and a clear sky overhead, the temperature would be dropping. With a short sleeved men’s dress shirt over a black t-shirt, and blue jeans it was a little warmer. Black absorbs and holds heat faster and better than white, but white made it hard to hide black matte weapons.
Why did I need weapons? Because suicide was a mortal sin, and in my line of work you either defended yourself or you died. I preferred self-defense – it is a pardonable sin. That and I rather liked living, thank you very much. It isn’t much of an existence at times, but I do enjoy it.
A stiff wind caught me straight on and my top shirt, which was a busy print of blue and white to help hide the lumps from the holsters, billowed out enough to bring me a small relief from the heat, but not before I moved my arms to keep my shoulder holster and guns from being flashed. Showing off your guns in public without having just cause is called ‘brandishing’ and it can get your weapons taken away, and you in big trouble. I like to avoid that kind of trouble when I can.
It also tended to make people very nervous and scared – especially in this day and age and being not thirty miles from the nation’s capital, that made even owning a weapon difficult. But what was life without some challenges? Aside from peaceful, I mean?
I had just started down the wide, smooth steps of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church when another breeze hit me. This one blew my straight brown hair across my face and made me grateful for remembering to pull it back this morning. Reaching up to pull the strands out of the way, I caught sight of a woman making her way up the steps not far from me.
She moved with an easy stride, not hesitating on the steps but with her hand still on the rail. She was dressed in a conservative light brown pantsuit and was wearing leather boots that probably cost more than all of my weapons combined. The heel on the boots should have made it more difficult for her to maintain that stride up the steps, but it didn’t. She moved like she knew how to walk in them – you give yourself over to the sway, the stride, the posture that screams arcane bitch, even if you are really a Mother Theresa at heart.
She was the kind of woman who would have intimidated me in high school. Beautiful, confident, probably just as intelligent. And when her eyes turned towards me, it was there; the pretty face, the perfect skin, the intelligence burning in those eyes, and the tainted halo of a yellow nimbus around her head.
It was so unexpected that I stopped on the steps, staring at her. My head turned with her progress as she moved towards the door while I concentrated on the nimbus. Yellow was not a common color, and usually denoted grave mortal sins that had been waiting for a long time to be pardoned. There was a theory that if they are old enough, they – like paper – begin to yellow and taint. In this case, they taint your aura, your soul.
The woman was just at the door when she turned to look at me, hand hovering over the handle. She had a slight frown on her perfect face as she stood, ready to make a quick get away into the church. “Do I know you?” She asked, her voice carrying. She tried to make herself sound as confident as her body said she was, but there was a waver to her voice that betrayed her nerves. She didn’t like my staring.
“No.” I shook my head. “I don’t think so. I’m sorry.” I said, leaving it at that. She would probably think I had mistaken her for someone I knew. “Nice shoes.” I added before turning and resuming my walk down the twelve steps to the sidewalk. I didn’t turn back to see if she was still watching me. I had bigger and scarier things to worry about than whether she was making good confessions or not.
In fact, by the time I had reached my car, I had forgotten about the leather boots and yellow nimbus – thanks mostly in part to the man who was leaning against my car. I couldn’t keep the frown off of my face as I approached. My stride never broke, and I didn’t slow down at all as I, and my cheap little black running shoes, made our way across the asphalt.
“Get off my car, I just had it washed.” I said as I fished into my jeans for my car keys. The man leaning against the driver’s side door only smirked, his dark brownish-green eyes reflected more humor than was on his face.
“It’s new. I almost didn’t find you.” He said, his legs still crossed at the ankle and his arms hugging his chest casually. Casual was what he was going for anyway, but there was little to nothing casual about Justin Dent – at least not to those who knew him.
“How did you know it was mine?” I asked, standing patiently with the keys cupped in my hand.
“You transferred the tags instead of getting new ones.” He shrugged, as if this was something I should have known better than to do that.
“You’ve got my plates memorized?” The smirk deepened. “You stalking bastard; get off my car.” I glared, taking a step forward to get in. Justin moved at the same time I did, but he didn’t move off of the car. He slid down and turned on his side, propping his head up on one hand while his elbow rested on the top of the car. It put his upper body leaning into me, but restricted what he could do with his hands. Since he was on my right side, I didn’t care. My left hand was free to draw a weapon, which made me okay with the situation. “Why are you here?”
“You never struck me as a silver car type person.” He said, his tone still casual and friendly. “Red, maybe black, but not silver.” He blinked those friendly eyes at me and I stopped from putting the key fully into the lock. Instead I moved my finger to the panic button. True, I could shoot him twice and be walking away whistling Dixie between my teeth before he ever realized I had shot him, but I only killed in self-defense. Justin hadn’t done anything threatening, just annoying.
“What do you want, JD?” I asked, letting my voice sound as tired as I felt. “We both know you don’t give a rat’s left nut about what I am driving.”
“That’s not fair.” He replied, actually managing to look like he was pouting. Justin? Pouting? Oh he was working at something, I just wasn’t sure what. “Here I am trying to be friendly and show an interest in your life and you treat me like some invasive jerk.”
“That’s because you are an invasive jerk.” I pointed out bluntly. “What do you want, JD? This is the third time I have asked and twice you have avoided answering me. So either you are going to tell me something you don’t think I am going to like, or you’re just drawing it out because you know I don’t like that. You’re working way too hard at being my friend, so just can it and tell me what you’re here for. Please.”
I am betting it was the please, but whatever it really was I saw Justin fill back into his own face, his eyes. It’s not that he wasn’t Justin before, because he was. I had seen him be that casual and friendly for real, but that was not how he was feeling at the moment. The real Justin had eyes that were full of dark intelligence, and I watched it spill into his face until I was positive that I wouldn’t like what he was going to tell me.
“Word is your name came up on a list.” He said flatly, watching my face for any knowledge it might give him. I blinked once, and let him see how surprised I was at this knowledge.
“What list?” I asked, my voice sounding surprisingly calm. In our business, lists were bad. I could think of maybe one or two good ones to be on, but usually it meant someone was after you for something. Justin’s silence told me it was a bad list. “Dagnabbit.” I muttered, leaning into my car, my forehead resting on the top.
“For someone who doesn’t know what sort of list, you’re making yourself an easy target right now. What makes you think I didn’t pick you up?” Came a slightly amused question from Justin.
Without looking up, I just sighed heavily. The heat from the top of the car was making me uncomfortable, but at the moment I just didn’t care. “Because if you had, you wouldn’t have warned me or been so friendly. You like nice safe distances, especially when it’s up against someone who is better than you.”
“And you think you’re better than me?” He asked, a thread of anger stinging his words.
“I know I am.” I shrugged, still not looking up. It was not arrogance or pride, it was a matter of fact and if Justin believed differently than he was stupid. He might have been a lot of things, but stupid was not one of them.
The next few things happened so quickly, there was nothing to do but react. I felt him move beside me, but I had been anticipating it. Knowing he was going to grab a weapon and that he would need room to aim it, I slid in towards his body, giving him no room to maneuver. In the same moment I had drawn my gun, and swung it upward using my right arm to protect my gun hand from any deflection he might use.
We stood there with my gun aimed at his crotch, my right arm pushed against his chest, him standing with his gun only half drawn and not even aimed. Our eyes met and we stared at each other, neither of us breathing for the space of several seconds.
“Honesty now, JD.” I whispered, my lips barely moving. “Did you pick up my name from the list?”
Something flickered through his muddy eyes, but it had been too fast for me to read it. “Murder is a mortal sin, Lucy.” He taunted me quietly, a perverse bit of his personality coming through.
“Self defense isn’t, and if it is kill or be killed, I’ll take my chances in purgatory.” I answered him, letting him see how serious I was. It would suck to have to kill Justin, but I could do it if I had to and I let him see that.
There was one long moment where I thought that I might actually have to do it. And just as I was preparing myself, a smile cracked across his face and life filled his eyes. “You are one crazy chick, you know that?” He laughed, easing his hand away from his gun. It wasn’t until he had raised both into the air that I lowered my own and held it against my pants. It disappeared in front of the black material of my jeans.
“You have no idea.” I told him, taking a step away from him. “Now no more jokes, JD. Tell me what is going on.”
“Ok, but you’re going to think it’s a joke.” He shrugged before settling back against my car like this was going to be a long story of some kind. “Your name is on the red list, Miss Warwick. Word is anyone with a signed contract is to bring you in so they can try and sign you over with the suits.”
Anyone else listening to the conversation, unless they knew the terms, would have thought we were discussing a business transaction – which it was, in a manner of speaking. Red list was anyone who was working for the government. A signed contract meant you were unaffiliated with them, meaning you did things they didn’t want the general public to know about. Bringing someone in to sign a contract and join the suits meant they wanted to see you personally about doing some work for them.
“Why me?” I asked, knowing the answer already.
“Someone up there heard that you have a talent the rest of us don’t.” He shrugged, watching me carefully. He didn’t bother to try and hide his curiosity.
“Anyone say what that talent was?” I asked, never missing a beat.
“Nope, but I would love to find out.” Justin answered, an almost eager expression now. It actually made me a little nervous to be honest.
I looked away then, like I was making sure no one was sneaking up on us. I knew they weren’t – not even arcane bitch in the nice boots. I just didn’t want him to see my face in case I betrayed anything there. “Me too.” I sighed, jingling my keys with my fingers before looking back at him. He didn’t look like he believed me.