You always remember the first person you ever kill. At least that’s what they say, whoever ‘they’ are. In my case it’s true. I’m not a braggart, and I’m not proud of some of the things I’ve done. I’ve been on teams whose job it was to hunt down criminals, and the intent wasn’t to just detain them when we found them. In my line of work the chances that I would ever kill anyone were slim to none; even in my glory days running with Slice, the worst I’d ever done was a few dustups here and there. Nobody had died in any of those, as far as I knew. I’d been beaten, severely beaten, more than once and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. When a thug is beating you, regardless of whether you’re helpless or fighting back with all you’ve got, you just don’t know what will happen. Fear is the mind killer, or so some science fiction guy wrote a long time ago. Rarely does a fight afford you the opportunity to think much about what is going on, but when it does…
I was working a case of a peculiar type, houses were being broken into, and things were being stolen. Not the kinda things you would miss right away, like your television or your Picasso. What was going missing was information. Bank account numbers, pins, passwords and other bits and pieces that were being resold and turned into cash by people in faraway places. These weren’t the kind of people who couldn’t afford a few losses, they were all wealthy beyond my simple means. But the wealthy didn’t get or stay wealthy by allowing people to steal from them.
The shitter of the job was that I wasn’t even going to get paid, I was doing this for a guy who used to be known as ‘Woody.' Woody came from wealth, a rare shiner who didn’t need to work or go corrupt to make ends meet. His happy circumstance of birth meant he traveled in circles far different than my own…except we were both shiners, and that put us, uh, squarely in one circle together. He never liked me, Woody. You see, I’m what they call ‘low rent’, and at the time I was fresh out of the Vitellos. Young, brash and, it pains me to admit it, but stupid. But he knew my rep, and he needed it. Whoever was robbing his snooty friends couldn’t be stopped by conventional means, so he called in a ringer which I owed him for…well, let’s just say I owed him and leave it at that. He called in his chip, and I had to make good. If there was one person I was going to make good to, it was him; I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of telling people I had stiffed him. He knew that too, which is probably why he extended me credit in the first place.
Woody met my terms, and I zeroed in on the bad guy right away, we headed over to his place, which made my ‘low rent’ lifestyle look good, and the guy wasn’t home. My shine was telling me the guy was there, but we tore the place apart and found nothing. Just mice, rotting garbage and the personal effects of a hobo. Woody looked the stuff over and found a notebook with numbers on it, not in any order, just all over the place. He flipped through it and stopped when he spotted a string of figures at the top of the page that matched his parent’s street number. The rest was gobblety-gook to him, but a quick call to his parents confirmed some of the strings matched up to bank numbers, further investigation revealed that some of the digits were converted from alpha using a standard binary encoding. Woody was a sharp guy, and he gets credit in my book for figuring that out in less than 10 minutes. The whole notebook was filled with this stuff, one family to a page.
While he was using that big old brain of his, I was amusing myself chasing the mice around. The little gray bastards were pinging my shine something fierce, and I suspected I was looking for a shape shifter who turned into a swarm of the little suckers. Stomp, one less mouse. Stomp. You get the picture. This did not raise Woody’s opinion of me in the least, but I was persistent and young and stupid.
I remember he and I got into a fight about the notebook, not just a ‘yelling back and forth’ sort of fight either. He was going to keep the entire notebook, after he’d made the mistake of telling me what was in it. There is nothing like a righteous, newly converted do-gooder. I told him he could keep the page with his family’s stuff on it and give me the rest to hand over to the cops or…well actually there wasn’t much of an ‘or.' During the scuffle, which I was losing, I stepped backward onto another little rodent and felt the thing’s spine crack under my heel.
When that happened was the mouse turned back into a skinny human; right under my foot, like a werewolf returns to its human form when shot with a silver bullet. So the damned mouse throws me off balance, and I go down on top of him with Woody standing over me, clutching the notebook to his chest. That was my first kill; Mouse or whatever his name was. Woody called the cops, but we came to an arrangement about the notebook before they arrived. Now it was he who owed me a favor.
The Abbey of Saint Walburga is a quiet place of contemplation. They also have a medical room. Only one and it is in near constant use, seven days a week, 363 days a year, usually in three 8 hour shifts. The old nun in charge of it is North America’s version of Mother Theresa.
The medical room is called the Hall of Sister Charlene. Currently, fast tracking Saints is all the rage in the Catholic church and Sister Charlene was one of them under consideration. She had died young, in the early sixties at only seventeen years old. Her bones were interred in a crypt that stood upright against the wall in her most holy of places. The room itself is very sunny and cheerful in the mornings and somber and desolate at night.
Sister Charlene was beatified under John Paul II, but her canonization has been held up for years, despite the daily proof that asking her for aid results in miracles. Some say it is political, others point to a conspiracy, I’ve always thought those two were one and the same. The church had called for her mortal remains to be brought to Rome for examination of her miraculous power, but the federal government of the United States had so far resisted the churches attempts to remove the old bones. Next year the case might be heard by the Supreme Court. Lucky for me I’d had the good fortune to be diced into pieces this year.
Citing my heroic actions with Slice and given the nature of my injuries, I was bumped to the first place in line the same night that my extremities had been cut off. This was a rush order, knocking other parties out of the room, including one billionaire on his last legs, so to speak, who had donated heavily for the privilege of spending the night in Charlene Hall. Score one for the meek of the earth. Only the governor or perhaps the president could order such a thing, and Governor Black of South California had stepped up to help the hero who had helped take down Slice.
I was wheeled into the hall with my legs and arms sew loosely into place, surgeons had reconnected the major blood vessels and maybe they could have given me partial use of my limbs back with modern medicine. However, Charlene would fix them good as new, and this wasn’t the first time an amputee had been placed in the room. Previous experiences had led them to discover that limbs that were not present grew back painfully and took many hours in the room, but limbs that were placed more or less where they anatomically belonged tended to rejoin and revive, making the process faster. When they put me in the room, they pulled out all the tubes in my arm and those running into my detached limbs and left me with the mother superior of the Abbey.
“Billy Greer.” She said.
It is amazing how quickly the pain returns when the morphine is taken away. I nodded mutely to the woman.
“I have sent for Father Murdock. He will hear your confession as we wait for the blessed miracle of Sister Charlene.”
“I made it to the Abbey?” My mind wasn’t working fully yet.
“Yes.” She answered with a faint smile and a nod.
“I still hurt.”
“The Lord works in mysterious ways. Through Sister Charlene, he bestows healing, but I am afraid you will hurt. The good news is that I expect you to be fully healed after only a few hours. During this time, I recommend that you reflect upon your life and your relationship with the Lord.”
The door opened behind her, and a middle-aged priest came into the room. “Mother.” He said, giving her a respectful nod.
“Father. Mister Greer is awake and in considerable pain. I will leave you to talk before the medicine wears off completely.” She excused herself gracefully and left the two of us alone. Well the three of us technically.
“Mister Greer, I know that you are in pain. Do you want me to hear your confession?”
“I haven’t been to church since I was confirmed.”
“Not much has changed.”
“I can’t remember how, Father.”
“Well, I shall help you through the rough spots. You do remember the different kinds of sin, don’t you?”
I struggled to remember my childhood, “Mortal and Vinyl.”
“Venial. Good. Mortal sins are the big ones, like murder, rape, adultery. They must be deliberate. Killing to defend yourself is not a mortal sin.”
“What about killing by accident?” I asked.
“Did you have full knowledge that what you were doing could result in someone’s death? Was the act deliberate? To kill by accident is no sin at all. To kill someone by drunk driving would be a mortal sin; you would have known what the potential consequences were, but deliberately did it anyway.”
“Gotcha. Okay, put me down for numerous acts of mortal adultery and a few venial acts of death, including Slice’s.”
“You didn’t kill Slice.”
“I could have prevented it.” I tried to wipe my eyes with my good arm but remembered too late it was strapped down, not to mention severed. When I brought my left hand up the hole from where the intravenous line had been was already scabbed over. “For the first time, I almost think I’m going to be fine.” I completed wiping the water out of my eyes. Damn pain meds were making me emotional. The priest wasn’t content for a laundry list of offenses and I was forced to explain each one to him before he relented. That took all of half an hour and made me glad that I had left most of the stuff off of the list. I did remember to be contrite for my sins.
Father Murdock told me that my efforts working with the police made much atonement for my sins, but that penance would still be necessary to get back into God’s good graces. I was to walk the stations of the cross every day for a month, and recite the Lord’s Prayer three times when I woke and three times before laying down for bed over that same period. I was to apologize to the women I had committed adultery with and do so no more, a real challenge considering at least one was dead, one was married to a mob boss and none of the others, aside from Ruby, would be happy to hear from me again. Not such a bad penalty considering the dead guys and all. Finally, he offered absolution.
“The Lord has chosen you for great things, William. He has bestowed amazing gifts upon you and expects you to use them for the betterment of your fellow man. Protect the weak and defend the poor. Give thanks to the Lord.”
“For his mercy endures forever.” I responded. See? It’s like riding a bike.
“I shall guide you through the Lord’s Prayer now my son. You are in for a long night, and I am sure you could use all the mercy the Lord can spare you.”
“Thank you, Father.” I mumbled and was caught off guard as he started, “Our Father, who art in heaven…” By the end of the third one, I felt like my stumps were burning. No, not burning, being consumed by fire ants. No burning. As Father Murdock left the screaming started, leaving me to wonder who else was here…a quick look around the room revealed it was only me.
My arm and legs had hurt badly enough coming off, but being put back on was much worse. Sometime during the night, a nun came to me with a bowl of water and a damp cloth, she sponged my sweaty head and shushed my screams. She poured me cold water from the pitcher next to the bed and held the cup so I could drink. Her very presence seemed to keep the pain at bay.
“Thank you, sister.”
She nodded, “You are welcome. I know it is hard, but you must continue if you are to be made whole by the morning.”
“Does this happen often? Overnight guests?”
A small smile blessed her face, and she nodded again. “The wealthy donate millions to spend the night here. But age cannot be cured. Jobs was here for cancer and even Hitchens wasn’t turned away for his suffering, despite decrying the Lord as he was healed.”
“I only know the one guy. So what happens to the rich after they pay and don’t become young?”
“Oh, they feel better. The body wears down with time, the aches, the pain, the daily grind of living. Tissue and joints are mended, no one feels worse after a night here.”
“I’ll bet I will too. How are you keeping the pain away? Is it something in the water?”
She shook her head, “No.”
My eyes widened, “It’s you! But…but you’re dead! You died years ago…”
“Sh-sh…” She held a finger to my lips and cast a furtive glance at the door of the room. “The spirit endures forever, Billy.”
I let out a chuckle, “Aren’t they in for a surprise?”
“The Vatican. When they move your body to Rome nothing is going to happen, you’re here and always will be, won’t you?”
“I suspect they may be disappointed. But no, Billy, I won’t always be here.” She shook her head sadly, “Are you ready to start again?”
“No.” The pain came back like she had switched on a light.