Everybody dies, p.41
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       Everybody Dies, p.41

         Part #14 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 41

 

  I didnt see any way out but the way wed come in, but Mick struck off to the left, and the beam of his flashlight revealed a path. He had the canvas sack in one hand and the flashlight in the other, and I was carrying the second flashlight and had my other hand free. I had the revolver hed given me in my shoulder holster, and the little. 22 automatic in my pocket. And Id kept one of the guns Id taken from Andy, another automatic, this one a 9mm. I was carrying it as hed carried it, under my waistband in the small of my back.

  The air was cool, and I was glad of the Kevlar vest if only for the warmth it provided. The ground was soft underfoot, the path narrow. Our own footfalls were the only sound I could hear, and it seemed to me we were making a lot of noise, although I couldnt see how it mattered. We were well out of earshot of anybody at the farm.

  After a long silence he said, "He didnt have a priest. I wonder if it matters. We used to think it did, but theres much thats changed with the years. I doubt he cared whether he had a priest or not. Priest or no priest, hell be seeing it now. "

  "Seeing…"

  "The picture of his life. If thats what happens. But who knows what happens? Though I suspect Ill find out soon enough. "

  "We both may. "

  "No," he said. "Youll be all right. "

  "Is that a promise?"

  "Its the next thing to it," he said. "Youll be home soon enough, sitting in your kitchen drinking coffee with your good woman. Ive a strong feeling about that. "

  "Another feeling. "

  "And theres a twin feeling alongside of it," he said. "About myself. "

  I didnt say anything.

  "Youve the second sight, my mother said, and right now its a wonder to you, Mickey, but youll find its as much a curse as ever it was a blessing, for it will show you things youd sooner not see. There were things she was wrong about, by God, but that was never one of them. I dont think Ill live to see the sun up, man. "

  "If you really believe that," I said, "why dont we turn around and go home?"

  "Well go on. "

  "Why?"

  "Because we must. Because Id have it no other way. Because if Im not afraid of the men and their guns, whyever should I be fearful of my own thoughts? And I have to tell you this. I dont mind dying. "

  "Oh?"

  "Whoever would have thought Id last this long? Youd think someone would have killed me by now, or Id have died of my own recklessness. Oh, I had a good old run of it. Theres things I did and wish I hadnt, and theres others I wished Id done and never will, but I wouldnt change the whole of it if I could. And just as well, because you never can, can you?"

  Nor all your tears wash out a word of it…

  "No," I said. "You never can. "

  "Im lucky to have had what Ive had, and if its over then its over. And Ive seen too many men die to fear the act of dying. If theres pain, well, theres pain enough in life. Im not afraid of it. "

  "When you were in Ireland that time," I remembered, "I had to trade a suitcase full of money for a kidnapped child, and I had to walk right up to a couple of guns in order to do it. The men with the guns were unstable, and one of them was crazy as a shit-house rat. I figured there was a very good chance Id die then and there. But I honestly wasnt afraid. I know I must have told you that, but did I ever tell you why?"

  "Tell me. "

  "It was a thought I had. I realized Id lived too long to die young. And I dont know why the hell I found that reassuring, but I did. And I wasnt afraid. "

  "And that was a few years ago," he said, "and Im a couple of years older than yourself. " He cleared his throat. "I wont have a priest myself," he said. "You know, I have to say that bothers me. "

  "Does it?"

  "Not the lack of some whey-faced lad in a dog collar to touch me on the forehead and send me fluttering off to Jesus," he said. "I dont care about that. But I always had it in the back of my mind that Id get a chance to make a full confession before I died. I thought Id die easier with the weight of the sins off me. "

  "I see. "

  "Do you? You probably dont, not being brought up in the Faith. Its hard to explain Confession to someone whos not Catholic. What it is, and what it does for you. "

  "We have something like it in AA. "

  "Do you?" He stopped dead in his tracks. "But I never heard that. You have a sacrament of Confession? You go to priests and bare your souls?"

  "Not exactly," I said, "but I think it amounts to essentially the same thing. Theres a program of suggested steps. "

  "Twelve of them, isnt it?"

  "Thats right. Not everybody pays attention to them, especially at first, when its hard enough just staying away from the first drink. But people who work the steps seem to have a better chance of staying sober in the long run, so most people get to them sooner or later. "

  "And confessions a part of it?"

  "The fifth step," I said. "The precise language of it- but do you really want to hear all this?"

  "Indeed I do. "

  "What youre supposed to do is admit to God, to yourself, and to another human being the exact nature of your wrongs. "

  "Your sins," he said. "But how do you decide whats a sin?"

  "You figure it out for yourself," I said. "Theres no authority in AA. Nobodys in charge. "

  "The lunatics are running the asylum. "

  "Thats about it. And how you approach the step is open to interpretation. The advice I got was to write down everything I ever did in my life that bothered me. "

  "By God, wouldnt your hand be cramped up by the time you were done?"

  "Thats exactly what happened. Then I sat down with my notes in front of me and talked it all out with another person. "

  "A priest?"

  "Some people do it with a clergyman. In the early days that was the usual way. Nowadays most people take the step with their sponsor. "

  "Is that what you did?"

  "Yes. "

  "And that was the Buddhist fellow? Why can I never remember the poor mans name?"

  "Jim Faber. "

  "And you told him every bad thing you ever did. "

  "Pretty much. There were a few things that I didnt think of until later on, but I told him everything I could remember at the time. "

  "And then what? He gave you absolution?"

  "No, he just listened. "

  "Ah. "

  "And then he said, Well, thats it. How do you feel now? And I said I thought I felt about the same. And he said why dont we go get some coffee, and we did, and that was that. But later I felt…"

  "Relieved?"

  "I think so, yes. "

  He nodded. "Id no idea your lot did any of that," he said. "Its a good bit like Confession, but theres more ritual and formality our way. No surprise, eh? Theres more ritual and formality to everything we do. Youve never done it our way, have you?"

  "No, of course not. "

  "No, of course not. Theres no of course about it with you, is there? Youve been to Mass with me. More than that, you took Holy Communion. Do ye even remember that?"

  "I wouldnt be likely to forget it. "

  "Nor I myself! By God, what a strange fucking time that was. The two of us fresh from Maspeth with blood on our hands, and there we were at St. Bernards at the Butchers Mass, staying put as we always did while the others went up to take the wafer. And all of a sudden there you are, on your feet and on your way to the altar rail, and I a step behind you. I with decades of sins unconfessed, and you an unbaptized heathen altogether, and we took Communion!"

  "I dont know why I did it. "

  "And I never knew why I followed you! And yet I felt wonderful afterwards. I couldnt tell you why, but I did. "

  "So did I. I never did anything like that again. "

  "I should hope not," he said. "Neither did I, you may rest assured of that. "

  We walked a little ways in silence, and then he said, "Ritual and formality, as I was saying. Bless me, Father, for I have sinned, is what Id say as a way of s
tarting. It has been forty years and more since my last confession. Sweet Jesus, forty years!"

  I didnt say anything.

  "And then I dont know what Id say. I dont think theres a commandment Ive not broken. Oh, Ive kept my hands off the altar boys, and thats more I guess than some of the priests can say for themselves, but I can take no credit for that as its been lack of inclination thats spared them. I suppose I could go through the list, commandment by commandment. "

  "Some people do the Fifth Step by going through the list of deadly sins. You know, pride, greed, anger, gluttony…"

  "It might be easier. Theres seven sins, and thats three fewer than the commandments. I like your way, though. Just saying the sins that are weighing on your soul. Well, Ive enough of those. Ive lived a bad life and done bad things. "

  A twig snapped underfoot, and I heard something scurry in the brush, some small animal wed startled. Off in the distance I heard what must have been the hooting of an owl. I dont think I ever heard one before. He stopped walking, leaned his back against a tree.

  "One time," he said, "I was trying to get this man to talk. He had money hidden and he wouldnt say where it was. Hurting him only seemed to strengthen his will. And so I reached in and took his eye out, plucked it right out of his head, and I held it in the palm of my hand and showed it to him. Your eye is looking at you, I said, and it can see right into your soul. Now shall I take the other one as well? And he talked, and we got the money, and I put the barrel of my gun to his empty eye socket and blew out his brains. "

  He fell silent, and his words hung in the air around us, until the breeze could waft them away.

  "And then there was another time," he said…

  Ive forgotten almost everything he said.

  I cant explain how that happened. Its not as though I wasnt paying attention. How could I have done otherwise? The wedding guest could have more easily ignored the Ancient Mariner.

  Even so, the words he spoke passed through my consciousness and flew off somewhere. It was as if I was a channel, a conduit for his confession. Maybe thats how it is for priests and psychiatrists, who hear such revelations regularly. Or maybe not. I couldnt say.

  We walked and he talked, sometimes at great length, sometimes quite tersely. There was a point when we reached a clearing and sat on the ground, and he went on talking and I went on listening.

  And then there was a point when he was done.

  "A longer walk than I remembered it," he said. "Its slower going at night, and we stopped now and then along the way, didnt we? The streams my property line. Its just a dry ditch in the heat of summer, and a regular torrent when the snows melt in the spring. Lets find a place to cross it where we wont get our feet wet. "

  And we managed, stepping on a couple of rocks.

  "After he heard you out, your Buddhist friend," he began, and caught himself. "Jim Faber, that is to say. "

 
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