Great stories, beautifully told
by Barry Charman
They called me in at midnight, told me Father Finnegan’s killer had walked into the station and confessed.
There was a hitch, though.
I met the duty sergeant, and we shot some shit. Lottery numbers, the new girl in the café across the street, the usual. He fetched me the evidence bag, it wasn’t so heavy, made you wonder how easy it was to kill a man.
They’d put him in the interview room with some suit from county. I opened the door and took a look. The kid sat with his head bowed, hands pressed together like he was stuck in prayer.
Didn’t seem to be anyone listening.
I glanced through the report as I took a seat, letting the evidence bag drop on the desk between us with a light thud. The kid looked up long enough to look back down again.
“It’s Billy, right?”
The suit coughed into his hand. “Billy’s parents–”
Were long gone. I held a hand up. “It’s all here, don’t bother.” I flicked through to the end of the report. There were plenty of gaps to be filled. It looked like he wanted to dance, so I decided to lead.
“So, you came in with something to say, huh?”
He just nodded again.
“You made a confession.”
“I did it.” His voice was lower than a whisper, it was barely anything at all.
“Why? Father Finnegan was one of God’s men, lad.”
He snorted. “Does it matter?”
“Mattered to him, I’d say.” Billy kept quiet. I sighed. “Want to tell us how you did it.”
“Do I have to?”
“That’s how we know we got ’em, kid.” I gave him a rueful smile. How old was he? Fifteen, if that? His clothes were frayed, dirty, looked like he’d been sleeping rough.
He stared down at his fists, which lay curled on the table, idle now the devil had stopped playing with them.
“The cross,” he said, “I hit him with the cross. I stabbed… I stopped when– when Jesus fell…” He trailed off, voice now a desolate thing.
The suit fidgeted. “You don’t have to say anything–”
Billy scowled. “I came here to tell.”
I fixed the suit a cool look. “He wants to get it off his chest, it’s only hurting him now. Isn’t that right, Billy?”
“So why did you do it? Finnegan was a good man. Wasn’t he?”
Silence walked in, sat with us. I let it.
Somewhere rain was lashing against a window. The light above us was humming sharply. In the distance Bert was doing a crossword at the front desk, tapping his leg with his notebook. Billy looked up, and I knew he didn’t have words for whatever he’d done, whatever he’d seen.
I leaned back and let the silence breathe.
When he looked restless, I gave him something to think about. “World doesn’t always make the sense it should. Good men do terrible things. Terrible men wear good deeds. Knew a boy, once, thought there was no greater calling than to kneel before God. I’ll rise a man, he said, like he weren’t gonna be that anyways. He walked into faith like it would be the making of him. When he lost his faith, he never talked about it. Wasn’t God that let him down, I knew that… But people make the mistake of looking at some men and expecting to see God. Never works like that.” I changed my tone. “If you tell us why you did it, son, that might make the world of difference.”
He shook his head. “Won’t matter. Everyone loved him.”
I shrugged. “He took in all the kids the city didn’t want, made him some kind of saint, right?”
Billy was stick thin and staring from nowhere. He wasn’t even trying to get out of this. I tapped the evidence bag. “We ran the prints. First thing we do. Lot of fingers on this.”
“It’s a cross. Belongs to everyone.”
“You alone when you killed him?”
He nodded, his eyes slid over the bag and away.
“Was Finnegan no saint? That it? You ever try to talk to anyone–”
His voice broke for the first time. “No one would have listened, no one ever listens!”
I left the suit to pat his shoulder when he started to cry.
Outside, Joe walked up as I took a moment to pull the threads together. There’s always a hitch. “Too many prints,” I said.
“Kid’s taking the fall for someone?”
I hesitated. “Maybe. Ever hear anything on Finnegan?”
Joe gave me a sideways look. “You ever opened a can of worms?”
“So, you just read the lid?”
He laughed. “Kid wants to be someone’s hero, let him.”
No one who needs to be a hero ever wants to be. I could have told him that, but the hell good would it do? I could have leaned on the kid, probably got a name, maybe Sister Catherine’s. I’d heard that rumour, even if no one else had. Confessions were kept by all those who took them, after all.
All the troubled ones came to me, or so it felt. They were looking for someone who would step outside the rules, as if they were used to it. The rules meant too much to some and nothing to others, I wasn’t learning anything new there.
She’d trembled like an animal. I remembered Catherine’s bruises. That stained-glass skin. Much the same as I’d noticed on the boy. Each had tried to hide them, and failed, except few people had cared to notice.
If I hadn’t lost my faith the way I had, I might have had more to say about it. Justice had got what it wanted, I supposed.
Joe walked off, and I watched him go.
Silence was walking with him, it got so you could see the signs.
Copyright © 2019 Barry Charman