Kemp emerged from the dark woods behind the little St. Andrew’s church and took a moment to look things over. One car sat in the small lot and a few stained glass windows glowed with feeble light. His watch showed 8:58 p.m. All good for his scheduled private confession.
Collar up and hat low, he hurried through the January cold across the potholed blacktop to the spotlighted side entrance of the shabby building. Inside, he surveyed with a sneer the bare altar, peeling crucifix, and worn pews that served an obviously downscale parish. Nothing unexpected, considering the sleaze factor involved. But what an embarrassment for the diocese. Standing in this pitiful place, Kemp felt contempt. Then the green light above the confessional door blinked on. Show time.
He slipped into the dim booth and knelt until the plastic window slid aside with a bang. The vague profile of the priest floated two feet beyond. Muttered Latin blessings stopped, cueing.
“ullhall . Kemp! dance tonight! Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” Kemp said. “My last confession was one year ago and these are my sins… Father, I’ve been horrible to my wife. May I explain?”
“I never turn away from my flock. But be brief. This is confession, not therapy.”
Hooked. Kemp smiled. Just what he’d hoped. “I began to mistrust her months ago. She’d changed, seemed uninterested, dismissive of everything I did. It was my fault, working long hours and traveling on murky assignments for years. I wanted a good life for us. Instead we grew distant.”
“A common scourge of our times.”
“I tried to explain but she was cold, blamed me for mental abuse. Nothing made any difference. I offered her jewelry, vacations to Europe. She laughed.”
“You suggested counseling?”
“She refused but I suspected she was talking to someone.”
“Disaffection in a marriage is not necessarily fatal. But you have to tread carefully to not destroy whatever commonality is left. What path did you take?”
“Father, she wasn’t the loving wife I’d married, as if someone were controlling her. So I hired a private investigator, a colleague. I had to know if there was someone else.”
“This is indeed a serious escalation.”
“The investigator followed her. I felt like a traitor. He came back with photographic evidence. Even so, I didn’t want to believe it. She wouldn’t betray me.”
“This led where?”
“I finally saw proof I couldn’t deny,” Kemp said, slipping his hand into his coat pocket. “A syrupy card, with graphic sexual descriptions, hidden in her car.”
“I’m very sad to hear this,” the priest said, hesitating. “But you’ve committed no sins. Say your Act of Contrition and you’re free to take communion.”
“Her name is Erica.”
The priest was silent.
“Did you hear, Father? Erica. And the card was signed by some slime ball named Tom.” Kemp was already screwing his familiar thin Gemtech tube onto the Canik Elite 9mm semiauto.
“These names are meaningless.”
“Really, Father Thomas? My investigator tracked you down once he had photos of you and Erica. He even planted a bug in her SUV and recorded you two creeps. Would you like to make a confession, before I–”
The priest jolted upright and snapped a light on. “Who are you?” he said, leaning in, eyes burning and contorted face hovering in the window. “Get the–”
Kemp stood and fired a whispery shot through the screen into the face, throwing the priest backward to the floor with a crash. He peered through the opening for a moment, watching, spotted a tiny movement of the priest’s hand. Kemp stuck his arm through the window and pumped two rounds into the body, stopping the movement.
Outside in the chilly nighttime forest, Kemp hustled toward his car ten minutes away, relieved to escape the reek of corruption and immorality at St. Andrew’s. One day Erica would pay, too.