Eleventh hour, p.1
Eleventh Hour, p.1Part #7 of FBI Thriller series by Catherine Coulter
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
A Jove Book / published by arrangement with the author
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Copyright © 2002 by Catherine Coulter
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Electronic edition: August, 2003
Don’t Miss Catherine Coulter’s FBI Thriller Series
(on sale July 28, 2003, from G. P. Putnam’s Sons)
TO PHYLLIS GRANN
YOU ARE A TREMENDOUS PUBLISHING TALENT.
THANK YOU FOR TWELVE INCREDIBLE YEARS.
I would like to thank Producer and Assistant Director John Isabeau for his relentless pursuit on my behalf to see my FBI books made into films. When everything finally comes together, it will be because of his efforts.
Thank you, John, you’re the best.
I would like to thank Inspector Sherman Ackerson and Spokesman Dewayne Tully for showing me around the main cop shop on Bryant Street (the San Francisco Hall of Justice), and answering every question.
I would like to thank Dr. Boyd Stephens, San Francisco medical examiner, who graciously showed me his facilities and answered all my questions, even the gruesome ones.
Nick sat quietly in the midnight gloom of the nave, hunched forward, her head in her arms resting on the pew in front of her. She was here because Father Michael Joseph had begged her to come, had begged her to let him help her. The least she could do was talk to him, couldn’t she? She’d wanted to come late, when everyone else was already home asleep, when the streets were empty, and he’d agreed, even smiled at her. He was a fine man, kind and loving toward his fellow man and toward God.
Would she wait? She sighed at the thought. She’d given her word, he’d made her give her word, known somehow that it would keep her here. She watched him walk over to the confessional, watched with surprise as his step suddenly lagged, and he paused a moment, his hand reaching for the small handle on the confessional door. He didn’t want to open that door, she thought, staring at him. He didn’t want to go in. Then, at last, he seemed to straighten, opened the door and stepped inside.
Again, there was utter silence in the big church. The air itself seemed to settle after Father Michael Joseph stepped into that small confined space. The deep black shadows weren’t content to fill the corners of the church, they even crept down the center aisle, and soon she was swallowed up in them. There was a patch of moonlight coming through the tall stained-glass windows.
It should have been peaceful, but it didn’t feel that way. There was something else in the church, something that wasn’t restful, that wasn’t remotely spiritual. She fidgeted in the silence.
She heard one of the outer church doors open. She turned to see the man who was going to make his midnight confession walk briskly into the church. He looked quite ordinary, slender, with a long Burberry raincoat and thick dark hair. She watched him pause, look right and left, but he didn’t see her, she was in the shadows. She watched him walk to the confessional where Father Michael Joseph waited, watched him open the confessional door and slip inside.
Again, silence and shadows hovered around her. She was part of the shadows now, looking out toward the confessional from the dim, vague light. She heard nothing.
How long did a confession take? Being a Protestant, she had no idea. There must be, she thought, some correlation between the number and severity of the sins and the length of the confession. She started to smile at that, but it quickly fell away.
She felt a rush of cold air over her, covering her for a long moment before it moved on. How very odd, she thought, and pulled her sweater tighter around her.
She looked again at the altar, perhaps seeking inspiration, some sort of sign, and felt ridiculous.
After Father Michael Joseph had finished, what was she supposed to do? Let him take her hand in his big warm ones, and tell him everything? Sure, like she’d ever let that happen. She continued to look up at the altar, its flowing shape blurred in the dim light, the shadows creeping about its edges, soft and otherworldly.
Maybe Father Michael Joseph wanted her to sit here quietly with nothing and no one around her. She thought in that moment that even though he wanted her to talk to him, he wanted her to speak to God more. But there were no prayers inside her. Perhaps there were, deep in her heart, but she really didn’t want to look there.
So much had happened, and yet so little. Women she didn’t know were dead. She wasn’t. At least not yet. He had so many resources, so many eyes and ears, but for now she was safe. She realized sitting there in the quiet church that she was no longer simply terrified as she’d been two and a half weeks before. Instead she’d become watchful. She was always studying the faces that passed her on the street. Some made her draw back, others just flowed over her, making no impact at all, just as she made no impact on them.
She waited. She looked up at the crucified Christ, felt a strange mingling of pain and hope fill her, and waited. The air seemed to shift, to flatten, but the silence remained absolute, without even a whisper coming from the confessional.
Inside the confessional, Father Michael Joseph drew a slow, deep breath to steady himself. He didn’t want to see this man again, not ever again, for as long as he lived. When the man had called Father Binney and told him he could only come this late—he was terribly sorry, but it wasn’t safe for him, and he had to confess, he just had to—of course Father Binney had said yes. The man told
Father Michael Joseph was very afraid he knew why the man had come again. He’d confessed before, acted contrite—a man in pain, a man trying to stop killing, a man seeking spiritual help. The second time he’d come, he’d confessed yet again to another murder, gone through the ritual as if he’d rehearsed it, saying all the right words, but Father Michael Joseph knew he wasn’t contrite, that—that what? That for some reason Father Michael Joseph couldn’t fathom, the man wanted to gloat, because the man believed there was nothing the priest could do to stop him. Of course Father Michael Joseph couldn’t tell Father Binney why he didn’t want to see this evil man. He’d never really believed in human evil, not until the unimagined horror of September 11th, and now, when this man had come to him for the first time a week and a half ago, then last Thursday, and now again tonight, at nearly midnight. Father Michael Joseph knew in his soul that the man was evil, without remorse, with no ability to feel his own, or another’s, humanity. He wondered if the man had ever felt truly sorry. He doubted it. Father Michael Joseph heard the man breathing in the confessional across from him, and then the man spoke, his voice a soft, low monotone, “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.”
He’d recognize that voice anywhere, had heard it in his dreams. He didn’t know if he could bear it. He said finally, his voice thin as the thread hanging off his shirt cuff, “What have you done?” He prayed to God that he wouldn’t hear words that meant another human being was dead.
The man actually laughed, and Father Michael Joseph heard madness in that laugh. “Hello to you, too, Father. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. You’re right, I killed the pathetic little prick; this time I used a garrote. Do you know what a garrote is, Father?”
“Yes, I know.”
“He tried to get his hands beneath it, you know, to try to loosen it, to relieve the pressure, but it was nice strong wire. You can’t do anything against wire. But I eased up just a bit, to give him some hope.”
“I hear no contrition in your voice, no remorse, only satisfaction that you committed this evil. You have done this because it pleased you to do it—”
The man said in a rich, deep, sober voice, “But you haven’t heard the rest of my tale, Father.”
“I don’t want to hear anything more out of your mouth.”
The man laughed, a deep, belly-rolling laugh. Father Michael Joseph didn’t say a word. It was cold and stuffy in the confessional, hard to breathe, but his frock stuck to his skin. He smelled himself in that sweat, smelled his dread, his fear, his distaste for this monster. Dear Lord, let this foul creature leave now, leave and never come back.
“Just when he thought he had pulled it loose enough so he could breathe, I jerked it tight, really fast, you know, and it sliced right through his fingers all the way to the bone. He died with his damned fingers against his own neck. Grant me absolution, Father. Did you read the papers, Father? Do you know the man’s name?”
Father Michael Joseph knew, of course he knew. He’d watched the coverage on television, read it in the Chronicle. “You murdered Thomas Gavin, an AIDS activist who’s done nothing but good in this city.”
“Did you ever sleep with him, Father?”
He wasn’t shocked, hadn’t been shocked by anything for the past twelve years, but he was surprised. The man had never taken this tack before. He said nothing, just waited.
“No denial? Stay silent, if you wish. I know you didn’t sleep with him. You’re not gay. But the fact is, he had to die. It was his time.”
“There is no absolution for you, not without true repentance.”
“Why am I not surprised you feel that way? Thomas Gavin was just another pathetic man who needed to leave this world. Do you want to know something, Father? He wasn’t really real.”
“What do you mean he wasn’t really real?”
“Just what I said. He didn’t really ever exist, you know? He wasn’t ever really here—he just existed in his own little world. I helped him out of his lousy world. Do you know he contracted AIDS just last year? He just found out about it. He was going nuts. But I saved him, I helped him out of everything, that’s all. It was a rather noble thing for me to do. It was sort of an assisted suicide.”
“It was vicious, cold-blooded murder. It was real, and now a man of flesh and blood is dead. Because of you. Don’t try to excuse what you did.”
“Ah, but I was giving you a metaphor, Father, not an excuse. Your tone is harsh. Aren’t you going to give me my penance? Maybe have me say a million Hail Marys? Perhaps have me score my own back with a whip? Don’t you want me to plead with you to intercede with God on my behalf, beg for my forgiveness?”
“A million Hail Marys wouldn’t get you anywhere.” Father Michael leaned closer, nearly touched that evil, smelled the hot breath of that man. “Listen to me now. This is not a sacramental confession. You believe that I am bound by silence, that anything anyone tells me can go no farther than the confessional. That is not true. You have not made a sacramental confession; you are not contrite, you seek no spiritual absolution, and I am not bound to silence. I will discuss this with my bishop. However, even if he disagrees with me, I am prepared to leave the priesthood if I have to. Then I will tell the world what you have done. I won’t allow this to continue.”
“You would really turn me over to the cops? That is very impassioned of you, Father. I see that you are seriously pissed. I didn’t know there was a loophole in your vow of silence. I had wanted you to be forced to beg and plead and threaten, but realize you’re helpless and let it eat you alive. But how can anyone predict someone’s behavior, after all?”
“They’ll throw you in an institution for the rest of your miserable life.”
The man smothered a laugh, managed a credible sigh, and said, laughing, “You mean to imply that I’m insane, Father?”
“No, not just insane. I think you’re a psychopath—ah, I believe the politically correct word is sociopath, isn’t it? Doesn’t make it sound so evil, so without conscience. It doesn’t matter, whatever you are, it’s worse than anything doctors could put a tag to. You don’t give a damn about anybody. You need help, although I doubt anyone could help the sickness in you. Will you stop this insanity?”
“Would you like to shoot me, Father?”
“I am not like you. But I will see that you are stopped. There will be an end to this.”
“I fear I can’t let you go to the cops, Father. I’m trying not to be angry with you for not behaving as you should. All right. Now I’m just mildly upset that you aren’t behaving as you’re supposed to.”
“What are you talking about—I’m not acting like I’m supposed to?”
“It’s not important, at least it isn’t for you. Do you know you’ve given me something I’ve never had before in my life?”
“Fun, Father. I’ve never had so much fun in my life. Except, maybe, for this.”
He waited until Father Michael Joseph looked toward him through the wire mesh. He fired point-blank, right through the priest’s forehead. There was a loud popping sound, nothing more because he’d screwed on a silencer. He lowered the gun, thoughtful now because Father Michael Joseph had slumped back against the wooden confessional wall, his head up, and he could see his face clearly. There was not even a look of surprise on the priest’s face, just a flash of something he couldn’t really understand. Was it compassion? No, certainly not that. The priest despised him, but now he was shackled for all eternity, without a chance for him to go to the police, no opportunity for him even to take the drastic step of leaving the priesthood. He was silent forever. No loophole now.
Now Father Michael Joseph didn’t have to worry about a thing. His tender conscience couldn’t bother him. Was there a Heaven? If so, maybe Father Michael Joseph was looking down on him, knowing there was still nothing he could do. Or maybe the priest was hovering just overhe
“Good-bye, Father, wherever you are,” he said, and rose.
He realized, as he eased out of the confessional and carefully closed the narrow wooden door, that the look on the Father’s face—he’d looked like he’d won. But that made no sense. Won what? The good Father had just bought the big one. He hadn’t won a damned thing.
There was no one in the church, not that he expected there to be. It was dead silent. He would have liked it if there had been a Gregorian chant playing softly. But no, there was nothing, just the echo of his own footsteps on the cold stones.
What did that damned priest have to look happy about? He was dead, for God’s sake.
He walked quickly out of St. Bartholomew’s Church, paused a moment to breathe in the clean midnight air, and craned his neck to look up at the brilliant star-studded sky. A very nice night, just like it was supposed to be. Not much of a moon, but that was all right. He would sleep very well tonight. He saw a drunk leaning against a skinny oak tree set in a small dirt plot in the middle of the sidewalk, just across the street, his chin resting on his chest—not the way it was supposed to be, but who cared? The guy hadn’t heard a thing.
There would be nothing but questions with no answers for now, since the cops wouldn’t have a clue. The priest had made him do things differently, and that was too bad. But it was all close enough.
But the look on the priest’s face, he didn’t like to think about that, at least not now.
He whistled as he walked beneath the streetlight on Fillmore, then another block to where he’d parked his car, squeezed it between two small spaces, really. This was a residential area and there was little parking space. But that, too, was just the way it was supposed to be. It was San Francisco, after all.
One more stop to make. He hoped she’d be home, and not working.
Special Agent Dane Carver said to his unit chief, Dillon Savich, “I’ve got a problem, Savich. I’ve got to go home. My brother died last night.”
Eleventh Hour by Catherine Coulter / Mystery & Detective / History & Fiction / Romance & Love / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes