Confession

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Confession

Postby Havoc » Fri Jun 05, 2009 12:24 am

by Bill 'Hafoc' Rogers
©2008 Bill 'Hafoc' Rogers
Creative Commons, free distribution but tell where you got it and who wrote it-- my pitiful ego needs the boost. Please don't make any altered versions.

Slop © Mulefoot. Slop characters, notably Sam, and Slop events used by permission.

Drifting a bit further from Slop canon, but Sam is still mentioned at least. Creepyhorse rides again!



CONFESSION

"Get rid of that! Get rid of that now!"

The big Clydesbank horse-man looked startled. "Get rid of what, Mr. Fairweather?"

Fairweather was livid; in the state he was in, his horns could easily be a danger to life and limb. "That--inhaler! If you ever bring that stuff to work again, I'll fire you, do you hear? Fire you!"

Derrick looked at the Campho-Rub inhaler in his hand as if seeing it for the first time. He put the cap back on and dropped it into his pocket, his fingers flying away from it as if it were a snake. "Right away, Mr. Fairweather." He looked startled, and there was a world of mournful hurt in his big, soft eyes.

He turned and disappeared into his office. As a combination of personal assistant, receptionist, and security officer, his office was right behind the reception desk.

Art Fairweather shook. He took a deep breath, raised his hand, and rubbed his head at the base of his horns. "Sorry," he half-whispered to the other employees nearby. A few had sad understanding in their eyes. "Sorry. Let me, ah, catch my breath. I'll explain it to him."

Ten minutes later, he tapped on the doorframe of Derrick's office. "Derrick? May I come in?"

"Of course, Mr. Fairweather."

The office was dark, and scented with tea and... cedar incense? The desk lamp cast a pool of light on the green felt pad on Derrick Clydesbank's desk, but didn't let Art see the horse's eyes clearly. They were just faint gleams in the murk. With a pang, Art thought that perhaps Derrick didn't want him to see tears there. It also reminded Art of something, somehow. Something with a strong emotional connection, but he didn't quite place it.

"Look, Derrick, I'm sorry about the... inhaler. I'm sorry."

"I understand, sir. The medicine has an intense odor; it's really too strong even for me. I didn't stop to think how powerful it might be to a goat such as yourself."

Art barked something between a laugh and a sob. He took the normal-sized chair in front of Derrick's oversized desk. "No, it's not that simple. It's just that, ah, the odor of camphor brings back bad memories. But you don't need to worry about that. I was out of line, and I apologize."

"I doubt you could help it. They say scent is the most powerful of our senses, that it goes straight to the center of our minds and awakens associations without our being able to control it. I'm sorry to have awakened whatever ghosts haunt you."

In the shadows, Derrick turned and took something from the tabletop behind him. Art heard a clink and the sound of liquid pouring. The scent of tea intensified. Without asking, Derrick set a china cup, filled with tea and resting on its saucer, on the edge of the desk nearest Art. He set a much larger mug of tea in front of himself. Derrick always had wonderful tea; Art had no idea where he got it.

"Thank you, Derrick. I can use this just now."

"Perhaps you could tell me why the scent of camphor troubles you so. They do say confession is good for the soul..."

Art laughed. "That's it!"

"What?"

"That's what your office reminds me of. The darkness in here, the cedar incense. And I know you're there, and can hear you, but I can't really see you. It's like the confessional at church, back when I was a kid."

Derrick chuckled. "Strange you should say that. I once considered joining the priesthood myself."

"You do have a bit of a priestly manner about you, somehow. Yes, a lot of us raised in the Church have that idea when we're younger."

"I went so far as to enter a seminary. But I found something inside myself that was not appropriate for a man of the cloth."

Art chuckled. "Ah. Lust."

"No, sir. Priests feel that also; controlling it is part of their calling. For any worthy of calling themselves priests, anyway. No, what I felt was something else."

"What?"

"Something horrible for a priest to hide in his heart: I found I could not believe in the justice of God."

"Ah." Art sipped his tea. "Perhaps in that we can agree."

They sat in silence for a while.

Art set down his cup. "Our mutual friend Sam said you'd be a fine employee, and he was right. How much did you work with Sam before you came here? How much did he tell you about Nan's kidnapping?"

"We hardly knew each other, sir. Sam had dealings with my former employer, Mr. Crane, and spoke with me when he visited our offices. Somehow I must have impressed him, I have no idea how. Perhaps it was the tea, perhaps it was the way I finished my work, how I answered all the calls of duty I owed my employer, even under unusual and distressing circumstances.

"In any case, after Mr. Crane's tragic death, I needed a new position. Sam said he'd put in a good word for me here. As for the kidnapping, Sam was most circumspect. He told me it had occurred, and nothing more."

"And of course the kidnapping is public knowledge."

"Of course, sir."

"So our badger friend kept the rest to himself. I would have expected noting less from him."

"He did seem most professional. Although, to be frank, I wasn't sure exactly what Sam's profession might be."

"Sam... arranges things." The tone in Art's voice gave the bland words much significance. "He arranged a money transfer to some people. I think he may also have impressed upon them that it would be best if Nan returned to me unharmed. Unharmed." He sighed deeply.

"I believe you are trying to say she suffered no physical harm, at least."

"I can't say that, either. At least she came back alive..." Art sighed. "Let me explain about the Campho-Rub. The kidnappers kept her hoodwinked for the whole time they had her, and kept the hood well doped with that stinky stuff. That way she couldn't identify them by sight or scent. I suppose I should thank them for that, since if they hadn't been so careful, they might have thought they'd have to kill her to protect themselves. But ever since that day, just the slightest scent of Campho-Rub sets her off. Her, or me."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Fairweather. I didn't know."

"Of course you didn't. Don't worry about it, Derrick."

"And the police never caught the kidnappers?"

"No, and with the Statute of Limitations, now they won't even try. It might not be so bad if we knew the three of them weren't still out there somewhere, or even if we knew who they were, so we could avoid them. But we don't. Nan sees them in any stranger. For her, they live in every shadow."

"There were three of them?"

"Yes, Nan was fairly sure of that. Two of them raped her, a canine and a feline. She thinks there was a third, but has no idea what his or her bloodline might be."

Derrick nodded. "It's a terrible thing, sir."

"She's married now, and mostly happy. I guess we're both doing as well, things are going as well, as you could expect."

"But things could be better."

Art paused. "Yes. I suppose they could."

"Did you suspect any of your employees might have been involved?"

"Of course not! I only hire good people. I take care of them and they take care of me. That wouldn't have saved anyone if I'd had a hint they were involved, but... no. None of my people were involved. I'd stake my life on it."

"Please, have some more tea. It's good that your people are always so trustworthy. I have to wonder whether any of them behaved strangely, though, or perhaps left your employ around that time. Surely the police would have asked that question, and would have checked into anyone you mentioned. Just as a matter of routine, of course."

Art let Derrick top up his teacup. He picked it up and sipped, looking off into the winter's early darkness outside, not really seeing it. "No, nobody. Well, as I told the police at the time, there was one fellow, a summer student intern. But he doesn't count."

"Why not?"

Art set down his cup with a loud clink. His eyes were angry. "Are you insinuating that Presley O'Bannon could have been involved in this?"

Derrick leaned back in the darkness. "I'm afraid I really cannot say one way or another, since I have no idea who Presley O'Bannon is, or was."

"Oh--yes--of course. Well, I know his family. His mother is one of my oldest friends from high school." Art took a deep breath. "Presley's a good kid. As I said, he was a summer intern. It's my practice, you know? I hire young architecture students from Carillon College over the summer. They get a little practice in their chosen field of study, they earn a little pocket money. School costs are unbearable these days. Carillon is a private school, and it's even worse than most. It always was expensive. Even back when I got my architecture degrees there."

"It's most admirable that you help the youngsters that way."

"Thank you. Presley was with us the summer after his first year in the program. He left at the end of the summer, as all interns do. There was nothing unusual about that."

"Did he return after his sophomore year?"

Art sipped his tea before replying. "No, we never hired him again."

"That's not your usual practice, though, is it? Didn't someone say that one of your interns this summer, Thisbe, was in her third year with you?"

Fairweather twitched an ear dismissively. "Presley left architecture. That's not unusual, either. You can have all the heart and talent in the world, but the hours you have to put in during the architecture program are brutal. He broke down from stress, lack of sleep, I'd guess. Something like that."

"Ah. A perfectly innocent explanation."

"Of course. As I said, he and his family are fine people. He had nothing to do with Nan. I never suspected him for an instant."

"Of course not, sir."

#
"Mr. Clydesbank is here to see you, Lieutenant."

"Please send him in." Briley slid the list of shift assignments aside with a sigh of relief. He might not know what Art Fairweather's personal assistant wanted with the Fort Pitt Police Department, but anything--anything--was better than administrivia.

As he'd expected from the name, Derrick Clydesbank was an example of why ceilings in public buildings had to be so high. At that, the horse had to lower his head a little to get through the doorway without getting a concussion. Not for the first time, Briley thanked God that he himself was just a mutt dog, and not a large one at that.

"Mr. Clydesbank? I'm Lieutenant Briley. Please have a seat." Warned in advance by Clydesbank's name, he'd moved furniture for this appointment. The little couch that was usually against the wall was on the far side of his desk, where he usually had a small guest chair. That had been a good move.

"Thanks for meeting me."

"Anything for Arthur Fairweather. But I don't know why you wanted this meeting..?"

"Please understand that I am not acting for Mr. Fairweather in any official capacity, sir. He is not aware that I am investigating the kidnapping of his daughter Ananda, several years ago. I presume you are familiar with the case?"

"A bit. I was afraid that might be what you wanted. What's your interest? It's been so long that nothing could be done to bring the perps to justice now."

"Aside from my other duties, I handle security at Fairweather and Company."

"You?"

"Me. Even a placid Clydesbank can be an adequate security officer when there are no threats at hand. But as security is part of my job, I want to look to it as best I can, however great my natural handicaps in that area. And it seems to me that the people who kidnapped young Ananda are the greatest proven security threat the Fairweathers face."

"You may be right. I'm sorry I can't help you."

"Ah. You have an official policy against releasing criminal investigation records?"

"What? Oh, no, nothing like that, not for Art Fairweather. Or even his security officer. Not for a case that's as cold as this one.

"The problem is, we don't have anything on the case any more. When you called for an appointment, I went to look up what we had on the case, and there's nothing. Maybe our files got thrown out when we moved to the new building nine years back; maybe somebody purged the files more recently. No matter how much file space we have, we never seem to have enough. Now, statute of limitations or no statute of limitations, we should have kept the notes and evidence. What there was of it. But... it's just not there."

Briley spread his hands wide and sighed. "Look, I'm sorry. It's terrible, but I can't do anything about it."

"A true pity. But you, or other officers, must still remember something about the case. To begin, can you tell me who handled the investigation?"

"Detective Sergeant MacFaoil, as he then was."

"Would that be the Kelly MacFaoil for whom this building is named?"

"It would." Briley sighed again. "The surest way to get a building named after you is to die while it's under construction. See how tall this desk is? It was ordered for him, not for me. He never got a chance to use it."

"A big fellow with an Irish name. He was an Irish Hound, then? I wouldn't have dared bring up the stereotype of the big Irish cop, but there he is. And I saw another Irish Hound in uniform, on the street outside, as I came in. They're everywhere. I swear, it's almost as if they were bred for police wo-"

Briley's ears went back. His hackles rose. "We dogs are not bred. We're people, damn it, not just dumb animals you can breed any way you... want..."

He felt his ears drop, his eyes widen, and his face go cold all the way down to his fingertips when he realized what he'd said, and to whom. "Oh God, I'm sorry. I didn't mean..."

Clydesbank smiled. There was no anger in his eyes. A little sorrow, perhaps, but no anger. "No offense taken. My clan is proud of its heritage in war and afterward, to be sure. But we don't condone or forgive what the Highland Lairds did to us. Some of the things they did were beyond forgiveness. Does the term ‘gelding' mean anything to you?"

Briley flinched. "I know what it means."

"The Lairds' experiments in... breeding... were nothing less than criminal. But it wasn't your crime, or mine. It was finished, and the consequences were settled centuries ago."

"Indeed. Just what bloodline were the Highland Lairds, anyway?"

"They were an especially huge breed of deer; their closest four-legged analog on this continent would be the elk that roam the Western Mountains, I believe. But their antlers were even more massive. I've never seen it, but I'm told that the Clydesbank Clan Hall preserves several examples of them, mounted here and there on the walls."

Briley shuddered. He decided not to pursue that line of conversation any further. "About the kidnapping, then. I do remember a little... Back then, I was just a rookie walking a beat. But I heard a few things.

"The victim was of high school age. She was attending a private school--I don't know, that prep school on the West Side where all the rich kids go. You know its name? Nobody talks about it, of course, but one of the big reasons, maybe the biggest reason to go there, is the security." He shrugged. "I don't like to say it, but class and how much money you have make you a target, and that works both ways. Not to mention some of the meat-eater/leaf-eater problems that still crop up. Sorry to mention them."

"Well, the old antagonisms do still exist. I must say it strikes me as only proper that an officer of the law should recognize that fact. There's no need to worry about offending me by speaking the truth."

"Thank you. People can be so touchy, and considering history, I can't say I blame them."

The big horse nodded. "Mr. Fairweather should have felt Ananda was safe enough at a private school that is almost a fortress. I can see how shocked he would be when events proved she was vulnerable even there."

"Yes. Stunned was more like it. I saw him come into the station once, when the case started. They led him in, steering him by his elbow so he didn't walk into doors and walls."

"Horrible. Did they kidnap her from school?"

"No, just outside. Normally her father's car came for her, but she loves to sing--she used to love it, before, I mean. Thursdays she'd go to singing practice in Symphony Hall. She'd ride there with a friend. Her friend usually parked her car on the street, about a block from the school's gates. The kidnappers grabbed her on her way there. They jumped out of a van, threw her in the back, and left, simple as that. Got clean away, too. Nobody else saw it happen.

"After that, nothing much. The Feds came in, and they wanted to tap Fairweather's phone lines, but he wouldn't have it. We watched him and his people, and it wouldn't surprise me if the Feds had a tap on his line, permission or no. But somehow he managed to pay the ransom without our seeing who delivered the money for him, where the drop was, any of that.

"The kidnappers released Ananda Fairweather alive. Usually they don't, ransom money or no ransom money. I knew that, so during the case I thought Mr. Fairweather was stupid to handle things the way he did. With the way things turned out, though, maybe he was right.

"It didn't help us catch the perps, though. We had nothing on them. They got clean away, and that made me furious--still does. There's nothing worse than the kind of swingbacks who would kidnap and gang-rape a young girl. They're rabid four-leggers, not people. They should be hunted down and killed like the beasts they are."

"Did you happen to hear anything about Sergeant MacFaoil's progress in the case?"

"Nothing. He worked alone on this case. But let me assure you, if there were any evidence it would have led him to the criminals. He was good in those days. I think his failure weighed on him; I remember he seemed terribly depressed whenever I'd see him. He slowed down a lot after that, and the quality of his work suffered. Of course he must have been very sick, too, although none of us knew it."

"He was promoted to Lieutenant afterward, in spite of poor performance?"

"Well, MacFaoil had been an excellent officer. He was brilliant, in fact, a legend on the Force. It seemed to half-kill him that he couldn't solve the Fairweather case. I'm not sure he ever did get over it... ‘Time heals all wounds,' but for that you need the time, and he didn't have much. The heart attack that carried him off was only a few months later.

"I thought he'd get over it. And I remember thinking, even then, inexperienced as I was, that maybe he'd seen too much of life on the street. As Lieutenant, I do a lot more administrative work. It isolates me from some of the things you see out there, things you'd rather forget. Frankly, that's not all bad.

"I think MacFaoil's promotion was a good idea. I think he would have recovered and would have been fine, if he'd lived. If he wasn't a big Irishman. So many of them die so young; they're heartbreakers. So sweet, they seem so strong, and then they just... keel over. Tragic."

"Very sad. And that's all you know?"

"Not quite: I know what everyone else does. Ananda Fairweather said three people, at least two of whom were male, were involved in her kidnapping. One of the males was a canine and one was a feline. Also, the ransom was $180,000."

Clydesbank sat up taller, if that were possible. "That's a strange number, don't you think?"

"Money's money. I was so mad about the case that I hadn't thought about it. What do you mean?"

"I'm no expert on the ways of criminals, of course. But it seems to me that in setting a ransom, kidnappers might make either of two mistakes. They might set it too high, or too low. Correct?"

"Well, obviously."

"Please excuse a poor, slow-minded drafthorse for thinking that such basic observations are startling. But let us ponder this. They set the ransom rather low, correct?"

"Um. Arthur Fairweather seems to have a lot of money, yes."

"Yes. If I knew Mr. Fairweather's finances, circumspection would require me to forgo speaking of them. But it would not betray any confidence for me to observe that Mr. Fairweather's financial resources are... considerable.

"So, Lieutenant Briley, we have a paradox: You will no doubt have noticed that Miss Fairweather was kidnapped at the one point where she was most vulnerable. In order to know her movements that well, they would need to observe her daily routines in detail. That hints that the criminals were professionals. Yet they raped her. Having raped her, they let her live. And they set a ransom far lower than they could have. All those things say the criminals weren't professional at all.

"The amount of the ransom itself is strange, because it is not the sort of number that would naturally occur to someone. The sum of two hundred thousand bux, or even a million, would be something one might expect the criminals to demand. The number they chose instead seems oddly precise, oddly specific. It is as if they requested a specific amount, for some specific purpose."

"Which begs the question, ‘What purpose?'"

Clydesbank smiled. "Yes, it does indeed raise that question, Lieutenant Briley. It seems to me that if one knew what costs exactly $180,000--or, more precisely, what would cost three individuals exactly $60,000 each--one might be well on one's way to solving this case."
#
Karen bustled into the second floor break room. "Where's my carrot cake?"

Dall laughed and poured a cup of coffee for her. It was special, a Java Island variety infused with cherry and chocolate. They always had something special for the Thursday Morning Flock Meet. "I thought you weren't going to make it. I thought Sally and I would have to eat your cake for you."

"We wouldn't do that. And we have extra we could save for you anyway," Sal said. She looked worried. She was sweet, and always took things more seriously than she should.

"Nobody gets my piece of carrot cake! I wouldn't miss the Flock Meet for anything. All the wolves and lions and bears and such around, we sheep gotta stick together. Where'd you get the coffee, Dall?"

"The Beanery just got it in. How's things in Admissions?"

Karen struck a dramatic pose, back of her wrist against her wooly forehead, eyes heavenward, ears laid back in despair. "Terrible. It's not enough dealing with my real work, oh no. The Alumni Association's riding my fuzzy butt for copies of the archives, updated to the new format, too. And what they're doing is wrong. Carillon College is supposed to have standards! We shouldn't be supporting spam and junk mail campaigns. Blasted marketoid, that's what they're making me, and to Hell with education, we gotta squeeze money out of anyone who ever set hoof in this place. And then my computer croaks, as always."

"You should have them replace that thing."

"They won't. They say the computer is fine, but it isn't. The Internet is broken again. You can't believe how long it takes me to read any of those old files! I can't get anything done."

Sally said "I saw someone in maintenance working in that metal box, you know, the one on the outside wall near the west entrance? Bet the IT guys were trying to fix something and broke something else."

Karen grumbled into her coffee. "I bet. You know what I call them? Itiots. ‘Idiot' with an I-T, get it? I called them and gave them a piece of my mind. They said they'd send someone over, but he couldn't get here until 10:00."

"Ten o'clock?" Dall said, glancing at the clock on the wall above the sink. "You mean now?"

"Yes. My, the cake is fine this week."

Sally asked "How's IT going to fix your machine if you're not there?"

"I left it on for them."

"Don't you think you should think about security sometimes? Leaving your machine unattended and open like that?"

"Oh, posh, Sally. Obsolete files, who cares about them? You're a darling, but sometimes you're almost as bad as the itiots. All this security crap is just their making themselves look important to preserve their jobs, if you ask me."

Sally's words did make Karen worry, when she had time to think about it, but she wasn't going to show that. She finished her cake and coffee. She took her time about it, and enjoyed the usual gossip. (The new secretary in the office of the Dean of Liberal Arts was a canine of the dingo line, and he insisted on wearing traditional native Australian scents that made him smell like he'd rolled in a three-week-dead fish. Dreadful!)

When the twenty minutes were up, though, she hurried back down to Admissions. She almost ran.

Her office door was closed but unlocked. The lights were out. Inside, on her desk, surrounded by a mound of register books and miscellaneous papers, her computer was running some program she didn't recognize. She thumped down in her chair and squinted at the screen.

FILE STRUCTURE CHECK: DONE
VIRUS SCAN: DONE
SPYWARE SCAN AND REPAIR: DONE
DISC CLEANUP: DONE
FRAGMENTATION CHECK: DONE
FINAL CLEANUP AND SECURE DELETE: 89%

Should she stop it? She didn't know what it was doing--she didn't dare interfere!

And as she considered it, half in panic, her computer beeped and the screen went blank.

It flickered. The machine began to boot. Everything seemed normal. In fact, the computer booted faster than she expected.

Heart in throat, she checked the files she'd been searching and editing. Everything was where it should be. All her latest edits were in place. And file access was very, very fast.

Her computer worked beautifully after that, to the point that she called IT to get the name of the tech who had fixed it. Whoever it was, she wanted them the next time the Internet broke. But they couldn't find any record of her trouble ticket.

Itiots!

#

Emily Redcloud braided the second feather into the fur behind her right ear, and then stopped for a moment. Outside, the winter drizzle was unrelenting. She sighed deeply.

Anna, the nurse, stopped trying to fit a stylish brown half-shoe around Emily's footpaw. "What's wrong, dear?"

"Nothing. It's just such a dreary day. I wish I could get out to the park or something."

"You're not thinking about that again, are you?"

Emily was, but she wasn't going to admit it. "No, not at all. I just wish the sun would shine. Am I presentable for my gentleman friend?"

"You look ravishing, Ms. Redcloud. A true princess of the plains, as always."

"Liar. I'm an old, old wolf." But Emily smiled anyway. "My walker? No, not walker, my cane, please."

"I think we should wheel you down in the chair."

"I have my dignity, girl. Besides, I'm never going to recover if I don't exercise. Nothing personal, but the last thing I want is to be stuck in a nursing home for the rest of my life."

"But you're still so slow walking with the cane, and you'll be tired by the time we get there. Let's do this: Get in the chair, I'll take you to the door and you can go in to meet Mr. Wouters under your own power. Deal?"

"You're a saint, Anna. Thank you."

The Convalescent Center had what they called parlor rooms. They were quite homey, actually. Anna stopped the wheelchair just outside Parlor Number 2. Emily heaved herself to her feet. She planted her cane on the floor, took two tiny steps, planted her cane on the floor, took two tiny steps, into the parlor.

It was warm from the fire in the gas fireplace. The writer's name was Stefan Wouters. A big horse, he was already in the parlor; he rose to his feet as she came in.

He'd eaten apples for breakfast. Otherwise he smelled of soap, hay, a spicy cologne that was far too powerful for a wolf's nose, and some chemical--leather polish, hoof polish, something like that, she wasn't sure quite what.

Like all the Belgian Blacks she'd met, he had a luxurious mane, magnificent sweeping tail, and long ‘feathers' of hair at his wrists; at his ankles, too. They spilled from his jacket sleeves and from his trouser legs across the top of his impeccably polished black hooves. He was all black, except for a white star on his forehead. But he was much bigger than expected. Belgian Blacks were big horses, but this fellow was at least a hand or two taller than the standard.

He smiled. She didn't smell any threat in him, and his eyes were mild and friendly. He stepped forward to take her hand. His handshake, his entire body had the strength of granite, of some sort of force of nature. Somehow, effortlessly, subtly, his handshake became a grip to steady her.

"Ms. Emily Redcloud?"

"Yes. And you would be Mr. Stefan Wouters, of The Church Today?"

"You got it. Boy, am I glad you agreed to meet me! You prob'ly know why I'm here... but it's getting toward noon. How 'bout I treat you to lunch? There's a good place pretty close, and interviews go a lot smoother over good food."

Emily considered. This big horse smelled all right. He seemed as harmless and eager to please as a cub--rather typical of the drafthorse breeds, that--and surely they would have checked his credentials when he came in. She shouldn't be in any danger.

"I'd be delighted, Mr. Wouters, if it's not too much trouble or expense for you. Anything to get out of this place for a while."

"Great! My van's just outside."

He took her arm, a polite gesture that let him unobtrusively support her on the side of her broken hip, and to hold a huge umbrella over their heads to protect them from the drizzle.

Mr. Wouters's van looked like a plain tradesman's model. It was silver-gray, clean, undistinguished and unmarked. The rear tires looked a bit wide; that and the way the windows were darkened were the only unusual features.

Wouters opened the door for her. Emily stopped for a moment, eyes widening. Then, with a hand-up from Wouters, she got into the passenger seat, sinking down into a horse-sized bucket seat that was more like an armchair than a bucket. It had some serious padding beneath what seemed to be best-quality leather.

Wouters closed the door for her, walked around, and got into the driver's seat. He stepped on pedals and turned the key. A powerful engine started, smooth, deep, and quiet. Fastening his seat belt, Wouters shifted the five-on-the-floor into gear and put them in motion. Turning onto the street, the boxy vehicle slid into traffic with the smooth assurance of a shark easing into a school of mackerel.

There was music. It was rather insipid music, provided by the local Top 40 station. Wouters kept the volume low, thankfully. But if the music was utterly unmemorable, the stereo was very special indeed. Emily had spent much time around college students back when music systems were the big thing, and she still knew her audio. The European stereo system, by itself, was worth as much as this whole van appeared to be from the outside.

They pulled into the lot of a decent-looking local restaurant; not one of those chain jobs. Wouters came around to offer her his arm again. They walked in. Someone, a graceful and happy feline who might be the owner, gave them a big smile and led them to their table.

The place smelled wonderful. She wanted a steak here, yes. She sniffed. The one with the swiss and bleu cheese, and the sautèed onions and mushrooms. Her nose told her they had other good dishes, but that one--they'd probably call it a smothered steak--had to be their best.

Wouters helped her with her chair, then sat down himself. He picked up his menu and glanced at it.

"Mr. Wouters, I'm more grateful than you can know for getting me out of that house of suffering. I do have to wonder why you'd want to interview me for your article, though."

Wouters perked his ears up. "What's wrong with your place? Okay, it's a nursing home, but I figgered the Church ran it pretty good."

"Nothing. It's fine--for a nursing home." She looked at the drizzle outside, which seemed to be turning into rain. "It's just that I don't have long. I want to get out of there before my end comes."

"Hold it--‘end'?" He set down the menu and looked at her, all concern. "Your nurse said you had a busted hip, but you were doing great on the healing..."

"So they tell me. But I'm of the Plains People, full-blooded." She touched the feathers braided into her fur and smiled, a little sadly. "I follow the old ways, not the Church's ways. And we of the Plains know things. I know that I'll meet Death soon. When I do, I want to meet him on the prairie, or in the woods, alone and face-to face, as is proper. That's the way the Plains People should die, Mr. Wouters. Someplace peaceful and natural, where you can make your own peace with the end of a beautiful life. Not in some hospital with tubes running in and out where tubes have no business going."

He nodded and smiled. "Oh. Well, Death, everybody meets that guy some time, huh? Y' know, back in the real old days--before the Awakening, I mean--anyway, the horses back then, a lot of 'em had what'cha might call a suicide thing. They're gettin' old, can't run so fast, ain't so tough or strong any more... so they do one last thing for the herd: They split off by themselves. Give the wolves an easy target. They're dead no matter what, but this way, them dyin' helps out the entire rest o' the herd. So those old-time horses an' wolves, I guess it's kinda like a contract between 'em; mutual assistance, in a weird way."When they were old and their end was near, their last gift was to turn aside to lead the wolves away, as far as they could, before they were pulled down. They gave meaning to their deaths by sacrifice, and gave meaning to the sacrifice by removing a threat from the herd. We of the herd share those memories with you of the pack. I suppose it makes us colleagues, in some strange way."

"In a very weird way. Yet for those who are still in touch with nature, the link is strong."

The waiter came; they put in their orders. She ordered the smothered steak. Wouters ordered a sirloin salad. That was odd: Every sapient creature had at least some ability to handle an omnivore's diet, but she hadn't known many horses with a taste for rare meat.

He must have heard her chuckle; he looked up. "What?"

"You're not what you seem. A horse eating a steak salad, that's odd enough. But the bill here won't be small. Your clothing is plain, but I recognize fine British cloth when I see it. As well, your van is not exactly a standard model. You have a lot more money than the average churchman, Mr. Wouters. More polish, too, if I may say so."

"Who said I'm clergy? Sure, I write for a church magazine, but I ain't never gonna be ordained--not my calling."

"My argument stands. If there's anybody that has less money than churchmen, it's writers."

"Damn, you're sharp!" He laughed. "Okay, the writing's kind of a hobby for me. I like it and I'm good at it, but if I had to live on it, I'd prob'ly starve. The reason I don't is, I got lucky with some real estate back in the Troubles."

"Hm. Well, then: Why do you want to talk to me about Father Presley O'Bannon?"

"'Cause Pres and me went to Carillon College back in the druggie days. We both had the same temptations; I know how I dealt with it, but I wanna find out how he ended up."

"I see. Fascinating." The waiter slid her steak in front of her; it looked almost as good as it smelled.

"So... you was Pres's landlady?"

"Yes, the one and a half years he was at Carillon, including the summer between school years. He was a dear kid, always polite, always kept himself smelling nice. Of course, like most of the kids who took rooms along State Street, he didn't have two brasses to rub together."

"What sort of friends did he have? Was there anybody he hung out with in particular?"

Emily sniffed. She smiled. She might be old, but her teeth were still very good; they gleamed. "Why do you want to know?"

Wouters laid his ears back; only a fraction, but they did go back. "Well, I'm... writing about the guy..."

"Mr. Wouters, don't try to fool one of the Plains People. I broke my hip, not my nose. I can smell deception, I can smell that your casual question means way more to you than your story can explain."

He sighed. He looked away, then looked back at her again. "Okay. I was kind of a mess back then, right? If it was something you could smoke, snort, or drink, I was there, suckin' it down by the quart. An' Pres was a buddy.

"So, one night, I hit this huge party with him--him and two other guys, another dog and a cat. Don't remember anything else about 'em; as stoned as I was, that's no surprise, huh? An' somewhere along the way, things got real fuzzy; I got a few bits and pieces stuck in my mind, an' that's it. What I remember... I'm pretty sure somebody grabbed all the cash I had on me. I heard the door crash open, an' somebody screamed about the Drug Squad. Pres and some other guy, they dragged my tail outta there; they made me puke and cleaned me up.

"The next morning, I woke up in my own dorm room. I felt like a pack o' wolves'd ripped me apart, chewed on the pieces, and put the leftovers back together, but I was alive! An' I've been stone-cold sober ever since.

"I may not know who saved my ass that night, but I'm damn sure somebody did--and I've never had a chance to thank 'em."

Emily chewed a piece of steak, savoring it. She swallowed, set her fork down, smiled. "You never had a chance to thank whoever took your money, either. I bet it was that bobcat. I never did like him." The restaurant's owner flicked an ear in her direction. Emily vowed to lower her voice a bit more from here on.

Now Wouter quoted Scripture: "‘Gratitude is mine, but vengeance is the Lord's.'"

"So they say. I'm glad you believe that."

"Yeah, I do."

"Well, then: Since you've been such a nice young man... I called them the Cat Pack. It's not right for two canines to follow a feline's lead like that, you know. Presley broke free eventually, luckily for him.

"I'd guess it was Colin who helped Presley drag you out of there. I don't know his last name, but he was one of Father O'Bannon's two closest friends."

"What was he like?"

"Big dog, really big. He could smile like the sun, and some days it felt like he'd do anything for you. But on other days he'd get moody, slow, and surly. I think he had a good heart, all in all. He struck me as a bit lazy. That was his real problem; he let the bobcat tell him what to do, because it was easier than thinking for himself."

"And the bobcat? What about him?"

"Trevor... something-or-other. Trevor." She snorted. "I never liked him. Oh, the few times we talked, he was all right. Kind of quiet, very polite, very polished. And he was reserved. There was always something going on inside that head that he wasn't saying. Like you."

Wouters blinked. "Should I be insulted?"

"If you like--but at least I don't smell any malice in you. Trevor, now, he didn't smell right. He'd wear scents strong enough to gag you, trying to hide what was going on in his heart, but they weren't enough to fool me. That's why I never trusted him."

"Um... how do you mean..?"

"Sorry, but I fear I cannot explain. Not even to most other canines. A bloodhound, or another member of the Plains People, yes; but otherwise, forget about it. I can say he smelled... sour. That little bit of tension, as if he had that little bit of fear that someone might figure out what he was up to.

"And then, I was always afraid I might catch some disease from him."

"That's weird. Did he, I dunno, cough a lot or something?"

"No, no... come to think of it, he didn't. I think he struck me as ill because he smelled like medicine."

"Camphor?"

"Maybe. Something sharp, something like medicine anyway."

Wouters nodded. "Was Pres involved in church youth groups back then?" And so the interview continued.

#
As he had when they left the convalescent center, Wouters gave her his arm and held an umbrella for her as they walked back inside.

"Goodbye. Thank you for a wonderful lunch and an interesting conversation," she said.

"Hey, it was my pleasure."

"Mr. Wouters, I am of the Plains People. We get feelings about things. And more and more, something tells me you aren't what you seem to be."

"Is anybody, Ms. Redcloud?" He smiled, bowed slightly, and walked back out into the drizzle.

She used her cane to go on into the lobby. Her favorite nurse was waiting for her with the wheelchair. "Good afternoon, Anna," she said. She nearly sang it out.

"My, you seem happy. Was Mr. Wouters such a wonderful host?"

"He was all right. But I'm happy because I'm not worried about that any more."

Anna's eyes brightened. "I told you that you had a lot of good years in you yet! So you decided your premonition was wrong?"

She turned and looked back out into the drizzle. The nondescript silver van was at the end of the driveway. Mr. Wouters was just a darker blot behind the darkened windows.

The van turned right, out of the driveway. It accelerated to traffic speed. It went behind a line of trees and was gone.

"No, I was right--just in a different way than I thought. You see, there's more than one way to meet Death..."

#

Somewhere down the flagstone corridor, somebody was running. Father O'Bannon heard rapid footsteps. Then a skidding sound. A door thumped closed, somewhere off toward the church office.

He gritted his teeth, not sure whether to be more amused or annoyed. Kids--at least they weren't afraid to come into the church, as so many seemed to be these days! But he really should check into it.

"Hello? Hello?"

There was nobody there. He opened the office door and poked his head inside. Mrs. Kranz wasn't in, but perhaps she had been; there was a warm, sweet electrical smell, as if the computer had been running.

He shrugged and headed back toward the sanctuary. It was quiet there. He really should stop wasting his time with Wednesday evening confession. Some people had come in when he'd first started it, but even busy people seemed to prefer Saturdays. Oh, well; maybe the idea of ‘convenient contrition' was a little bit silly.

But no, there was somebody in here after all! He was sure of it. The door to the confessional's left-hand compartment clicked closed just as he returned to the sanctuary.

He hurried to the confessional and got into the priest's compartment, the one in the center. He sat down and turned out the light. He couldn't see who was on the other side of the screen, nor could he smell them; the cedar incense prevented that. Good. God knew who they were, and only God mattered.

"Blessed be the Blood of the Martyr, who took away our sins. And blessed be the Creator and the Messenger, who with the Martyr are worthy of all praise and glory. Amen."

Nothing. No sound, no movement on the other side of the screen. Could he have been wrong? Was there anybody in the confessional at all? But no, there was. Somehow he could feel it, a presence in the dark, sacred silence. Someone listening, waiting.

Finally a voice came. It was deep, but soft. Not a whisper, but a low mutter almost too faint for him to hear. "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been... ten years. Ten years since my last confession."

"Why so long, my son?"

"Because of a great sin. One that weighs on me so heavily that I couldn't bear to speak of it, even to the Creator who knows all. But... I can't be silent any more, Father. To save my soul, I must confess that one great sin, compared to which nothing else I have done, good or evil, seems to matter."

"Then speak."

"Thank you, Father." The penitent took a deep breath. He said nothing more for what seemed a long time.

"Ten years ago," he said, finally, "I needed some money. I thought it was for a good purpose. My parents and my aunt were scrimping for every brass they could save, to put me through the Community College. And yet there was never enough.

"I was going to do great things, things that would help so many people. If there wasn't more money, that wouldn't happen. All the work of my family, all the good I could have done in this life, would be lost. Gone forever, just because I didn't have a little bit of money."

Father O'Bannon swallowed hard. He tried to speak. "Go on, my son. Go on."

"I had three friends who were in the same boat. We talked about it. One of them, the guy who was usually our leader, said he had a solution."

"What... what species was he?"

"Does it matter?"

"No, no..."

"I worked for the owner of the student bookstore. She was nice enough, and she did pay me. A few brasses, a few crumbs off her table. But she had so much money, and what had she ever done to deserve it? While all I needed was a little bit of what she had. I'd use it wisely, for tuition, room, and board. She wouldn't miss it, right?

"So Trevor told me--"

"Trevor?"

"That was his name, Trevor. He said ‘Just let us know how to get in and give us the safe's combination. We'll do the rest. Maybe you can watch the door and tell us if anyone else's coming, but other than that, keep yourself clean. The cops will never know you were involved, and if they don't get you, they won't get us either.'"

Father O'Bannon could hardly breathe. "Go on."

"But my boss was in the store that night. They tied her up, they beat her, they broke her arm. Maybe they did worse things to her. I was across the street, watching the door. I told myself I didn't know what was going on, but I did know. I knew, but I just didn't want to. That's the truth of it.

"I took the money. I finished my degree, and I've tried, Father, I've tried so hard to live a good life. To do things to help people, to do what's right. But it's all based on that old crime. Oh, Father, what should I do? What can I do, after all these years?"

Father O'Bannon couldn't speak.

"Father?"

"It's all right, my son. One moment." He took a deep breath. "You have to make it right."

"But how? I can't unbreak an arm. I can't unbetray a person who trusted me."

"You can confess to them. You can tell them how sorry you are, and you can ask their forgiveness. Perhaps they can't forgive you. My... your crime is so great that forgiveness may be more than any mortal can give. But God can forgive all."

"So I should..."

"Confess to her. That is your penance."

A gasp, a long breath. "It's too late for anyone to send me to jail for it, but who can trust me once this truth gets out? I may lose my job. I may lose my family. Those who respected me will scorn me."

"What you say may be true," the priest agreed, "yet you must make it right. All that you gained by your silence is built upon a foundation of lies." He tried not to sob. He had almost forgotten, he had tried to forget, but God... God never forgot. "If your life isn't built upon the truth, then it's not your life."

"But--my friends! People might be able to figure out who else was involved. What if I ruin their lives too?"

"Your sin is yours, and your penance is yours. You don't have to mention anyone else's names. But you owe it to them to give them a chance to cleanse their own souls, as you are cleansing yours."

"It... will be hard, Father."

"I know, my son. But there is no other way."

"I will..." The penitent sobbed. "I will do as you say. But one other thing, Father. I have spoken with people about this crime, and I have lied about my involvement in it. What is my penance for that?"

"For that? Oh, that‘s a venial offense--say five Blood of the Martyrs. Making the crime right again, as best you can, that is your true penance."

"Thank you, Father."

"God forgives you, my son. Hail to the Creator, the Messenger, and to the Martyr whose blood took away our sins. Go in peace."

The confessional shook. Father O'Bannon heard the penitent's door open. He heard heavy footsteps walking away. He heard the sanctuary door hiss open and thump closed again.

He sat there for a long time, alone in the darkness.

He had tried to fool himself for years, but deep in his soul he'd always known what he had to do about his greatest sin. It was time to face the truth.

#

"Well, hello again, Mr. Clydesbank! Come in, sit down. What brings you here today? Did you find anything about the Fairweather case?"

"No, Lieutenant. Not that I should have expected to, when the professionals have had such little success. But I did have one new idea, silly as it may be. It's definitely clutching at straws."

"What is it?"

"When I was here last week, I thought I saw another Irish police officer. A large fellow--they're about as hard to mistake as I am myself. Someone told me that you have an Officer MacFaoil on the force. Would MacFaoil be the Irish officer? And if so, would he be related to the late Lieutenant Kelly MacFaoil?"

"Him? Yeah. That's Colin, the Lieutenant's son."

"You sound as if you disapprove of him, somehow. It's only natural that, having lost his father, you'd want to give the son a chance on the Force."

Briley barked a laugh. "We're professionals here, Mr. Clydesbank. We'd never let someone onto the force just because we felt sorry for him. Colin may not be what his father was, but he earned his place on the Force. He met all the qualifications."

"I see. That includes a degree in criminal justice these days, does it not?"

"Yes. Colin has his degree. From Carillon College, too. They're good."

"They are indeed. Rather expensive, though. The younger Officer MacFaoil must be very glad that his father left enough life insurance to pay his way through Carillon. Even back then, it would have cost fifteen thousand a year. But I didn't come here to ask about Officer Colin MacFaoil. I came to ask him questions. After all, he was very close to his father. Perhaps he overheard something that might be of use to us."

"I don't think they were really that close."

"Is something wrong, Lieutenant Briley? You look troubled."

"Nothing at all," Briley said. Mary MacFaoil's mobile home was decent, but it didn't look like Kelly had left her very much money. It was confusing. "It's... nothing. Nothing at all."

"You're sure?"

"I am." Briley sniffed the air. "Colin MacFaoil's been around the building some time today. He's on his beat now. I suppose I could call him in if you want to question him."

Clydesbank coughed. He pulled a Campho-Rub inhaler out of his pocket, inhaled the fumes into each nostril, made a face, fumbled the cap onto the inhaler, and tossed it in the wastebasket. Briley could smell the sharp stink of the camphor. "Foul stuff, that," Clydesbank said. "I don't think I'll ever buy it again. No, that's all right, Lieutenant. Maybe I'll come by and ask him about it, with your permission, some time in the future.

"But I can't think of any other leads to pursue. I consider my investigation of the case to be closed. It's a pity nobody was able to find and punish the guilty parties."

"Yes. A true pity."

#

Seven lousy years walking a beat... At least he had enough seniority to work days, now. But it made him sick, thinking about how much of his life he'd wasted out here.

A trio of youngsters--probably ferrets, although it was hard to tell with the loose clothing they wore--saw him and ran away from the car they'd been trying to steal. He pretended he hadn't seen them. He was almost back to the station, and he didn't want to work late filling out paperwork on a theft arrest.

Seven years. And how many more until...

"Colin?"

He stopped and blinked at the mutt who stood before him, wearing a clerical collar. "Presley? What are you doing here? You crazy, man?"

"Colin, I can't live with my part in what happened. I must confess. It will be my ruin, but I have to speak anyway. I'm sorry."

Colin reached for his revolver. But--shooting a priest? How could he justify that? He hustled Presley O'Bannon aside, into the shadows of a doorway, instead. "It will be my ruin, too, mine and Trevor's. We're your friends, the best friends you ever had. We trusted you! Do you ever think of that?"

"Every day. You don't need to worry about me; I'll never betray you or Trevor. But you should confess, too, Colin. You and Trevor both, for the good of your souls."

Colin almost laughed in the priest's face. But Trevor wouldn't like that. He forced the laugh down. He put on a serious look. "Shouldn't we meet and talk things over, before you do anything rash?"

"I have to do what's right. Finally, after all these years, I know that."

"But I don't know what I should do! I'm confused. Let me think, and let's talk again before you say anything. Please? We could meet at the old coffee shop where we used to go. Say, 11:00 tonight?"

"All right. All right, Colin. I'll pray for you."

"Thank you, Father."

He walked the rest of the way to the station in a daze. He walked up the steps and into the lobby, then around and back toward his locker. He tried to greet the people he met as he always did, but he was sure they could smell the guilt on him.

Briley had gone home for the evening, thank God! There was something in the air he couldn't identify; a medicinal sharpness that filled him with guilt, somehow.

Thank God he didn't have to talk to Briley, thank God that--

There was a message slip in his slot. With a trembling hand, he picked it out. He unfolded it and read:

MacFaoil--Want to discuss w/ you anything you know & can remember re: Fairweather kidnapping case. Pls meet, my office start of shift tomorrow.--A. E. Briley

Somehow he got into his street clothes. He wobbled out of the station house, hardly smelling or seeing anything around him. Someone called out to him, but he kept going, out into the early darkness.

#

Alderman Trevor Goodwill had found it was often useful to have a few prepaid cell phones he'd purchased with cash. When the pager number came in, he pulled one of them out. At the right time, he dialed MacFaoil's own disposable phone.

"Hello?"

"Hello, Bey. This is Al. What's the story?"

"It's... it's the janitor. He got sloppy drunk." Presley O'Bannon has told somebody the story.

"You're sure?"

"Man, he told me he was going to. And then somebody left me a note asking about it."

"Somebody important?"

"The Head Usher." A cop of high rank. That was bad, very bad.

"I see. Well, if they didn't escort you out, they must not know anything yet. It's time to clean up the mess. There's no need to worry too much, though."

"Are you sure? What if he's already..."

"I'll have Jerry get you a ride home." I will have a ‘friend' get a stolen vehicle for you. You can find it at Jerry's Garage. Use it as we discussed. "He'll be driving a blue pickup. He'll leave you a present in the glove box, something to calm your nerves."

"You know I don't... I never would have gotten into this trouble in the first place, you wouldn't have talked me into... if it weren't for... my nerves."

"You need some medicine just this once. Calm down, Bey, it will be all right."

"If you say so. I bloody hope you're right."

"I am right. Just don't lose your head. Don't leave any spots in the carpet. The Head Usher isn't any relative of yours, this time. He won't clean up after you."

"Why does everybody always have to bring up my father--all right, all right, Al. No errors."

"And don't forget your nerves."

On his way home that day, Trevor Goodwill tossed the cell phone into the river. It was always best to dispose of the evidence as quickly as possible. He hadn't known that when he was back at good old Carillon College, wondering where he'd find next term's tuition. But a life spent climbing the slippery slope of politics had taught him a thing or two since then.

In the old days he hadn't always known to dispose of the evidence. But better late than never.

#

Lieutenant Briley drank the last of his coffee. He set the mug down on his desk with a grumble. Where was MacFaoil?

Maybe he hadn't seen the note? If so, it wouldn't be the worst mistake that lug had ever made on the Force. When he thought about what a great cop the elder MacFaoil had been...

He walked out into the main office. "Anybody seen MacFaoil today?"

"Boss?" Officer Stanson, a cute little female who usually worked the riverfront, looked worried and confused. Her whiskers twitched, her deep brown eyes were all seriousness and concern. "We have something on that hit-and-run last night."

"What?"

"Father O'Bannon has come out of it. He's a mess. They don't know how bad the head injuries are, or if he'll walk again. But he's conscious, sort of."

"Great. What's the description on the vehicle that hit him? Did he see the driver?"

"He isn't talking about that, Lieutenant. He says he wants to confess, says it over and over and over."

"Get him another priest, then."

"No. He wants to confess to you, and--" She held up a card in her webbed hand and squinted at it. "And to some people named Ananda and Arthur Fairweather."

Briley froze. His mouth dropped open. "Damn me," he whispered.

"Sir?"

"Damn me!"

Once, when they'd met him on the street, Father O'Bannon had addressed Colin MacFaoil by name.

They had both gone to Carillon College, at the same time.

Presley O'Bannon had worked for Arthur Fairweather, and would have known almost everything about Ananda's movements.

Sixty thousand dollars would have paid for three years at Carillon, maybe even four.

Kelly MacFaoil--the officer everyone on the Fort Pitt Police nearly worshiped--hadn't been able to find suspects in the Fairweather kidnapping. But he had found them. He hadn't found any evidence. But he had found evidence; found it and destroyed it. He'd worried himself into an early grave because he couldn't solve the case. But he had solved it. What killed him was that he knew exactly who had done the crime, and he couldn't tell. Because...

"Where the Hell is McFaoil?"

"He didn't show up this morning, Boss."

"Stanson--with me! Scramble three squad cars, have one pick us up at the front door! MacFaoil's apartment, fast!"

It took ten minutes to get there, lights flashing but the siren off. They parked at the curb. Three officers, revolvers drawn, took the elevator. Briley, Stanson, and the rest pelted up the stairs.

Briley knocked on the door. "MacFaoil? Open up." There was no answer. He stepped back to kick the door in. Stanson reached forward and turned the knob before he could. The door was unlocked.

They rushed into the apartment. They didn't have to go far. MacFaoil was on the couch, a half-full bottle of Bourbon on the end table. He looked peaceful.

Stanson holstered her revolver and touched MacFaoil's throat. "No pulse. Calling the EMTs." She keyed the microphone on her shoulder.

"Damn," somebody said. "The Big Irish. They all seem to die so young."

Briley growled. He sniffed the bottle of Bourbon, careful not to touch it. "No. This is too convenient. Just too convenient. And his father's death, too... was that convenient for somebody?"

"Sir?"

"MacFaoil didn't drink a single drop of booze all the time I knew him. And all of a sudden now, with everything that's happening, he gets drunk and conveniently drops dead? It stinks to high heaven! Nobody touches anything--anything. I want a tox screen. I want MacFaoil and this bottle tested for every poison known and unknown, strychnine, wolfsbane, eye of newt, everything. I want all the detectives in the world up here and why the Hell are you all still standing there? Get moving! Get me the lab, get the detectives, go go go! Damn me!"

Stanson said "EMTs are on the way." It was too late for an ambulance, she knew that as well as anybody, but the forms had to be followed. "This is a murder scene, sir?"

"Sure as Hell's a mantrap. Check everything. Check his mail. Check his computer and his email. We have a cop killer on the loose, people." He might not have been much of a cop, but he was still a cop. "We will find this killer. We will bring him to justice, if all of Hell stands in the way."

#

It's only after the tooth has been pulled that you know how bad the toothache was. That's how Alderman Trevor Goodwill felt when he woke up the next morning.

He'd spent the night alone, which was unusual for him. But it was all good. The sun was bright, there wasn't a cloud in the sky, and a threat that had hung over his future for a decade was gone. The evidence would be gone by now. There was no way they could trace the ancient crime back to him.

What did it matter, anyway? It's not like they'd hurt that rich little bitch, not really. And if a crooked cop and a sniveling weakling of a priest had to be put aside to make Trevor's career safe... well, no great loss.

He hummed to himself as he made coffee. A flash of orange outside caught his eye. He lived in a gated community; nothing unusual was ever supposed to show up on his street. But this was just a telephone repair van, or something like that. They'd set up a traffic barrier and a little shelter around a manhole. That was all right, then.

Still humming, he decided to sit down and check his email before getting ready for work.

It was just the usual junk. News from some mailing lists he followed, a bit of spam that had slipped through his filters; notably something from dear old Carillon College. He deleted it. And then--

A and B--I will never betray you. But the guilt is too great. I must speak, for my own good. I pray for you and urge you to do the same. God can still forgive you.
--Omega

His jaw dropped open. That idiot. That idiot!

O'Bannon had changed the header on his email to hide its origin... or he'd thought he had, but the idiot priest didn't know the first thing about email systems. With a
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Re: Confession

Postby Uncle » Fri Jun 05, 2009 8:29 am

Havoc wrote:by Bill 'Hafoc' Rogers
©2008 Bill 'Hafoc' Rogers

O'Bannon had changed the header on his email to hide its origin... or he'd thought he had, but the idiot priest didn't know the first thing about email systems. With a


Ok wise guy, where's the rest. ;-)

Uncle

Note: Very well done
Emoticons are the wheelchair ramps for the humor impaired.
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Postby Havoc » Fri Jun 05, 2009 3:00 pm

Where's the rest? What does he mean, I posted the whole...

AARRRGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!! ****!!!!

(insert big sigh here) OK, I'd be guessing what happened to that, but here's the rest.

At least I found a way to get someone to comment. :D

(CONCLUSION:)

A and B--I will never betray you. But the guilt is too great. I must speak, for my own good. I pray for you and urge you to do the same. God can still forgive you.
--Omega

His jaw dropped open. That idiot. That idiot!

O'Bannon had changed the header on his email to hide its origin... or he'd thought he had, but the idiot priest didn't know the first thing about email systems. With a sinking heart, Trevor checked the raw data: Yes, damn, damn, damn, the original message routing information was still all there! So was Colin MacFaoil's email address, and Colin should be dead by now. The email linked them all; O'Bannon, MacFaoil, and poor Trevor Goodwill, who until this morning had had such a promising career in politics.

For an instant, he thought he might be all right anyway. The statute of limitations meant they could never get him for the kidnapping and the fun he'd had back then. He was free and clear of any prosecution. His career would be over, maybe, but he could talk his way out of it. A setback, only a setback--

Except he'd killed a cop. His heart sank.

Cop-killers somehow always seemed to die resisting arrest. Assuming they survived that, things didn't go well for them once they got to prison. The cons might appreciate a cop-killer, but when a knife in the cop killer's back, or breaking his spine, or cutting off his less immediately vital body parts could buy a few privileges or a few cigarettes from the guards... business was business, after all. Trevor's career in politics had taught him that, too.

Maybe there was still time to get out..? He opened the blinds a bit and looked out into the street.

The telephone repair van was still there. There were three large males, mostly hidden by the shelter around the manhole. They didn't seem to be doing much work. He caught a glint of sunlight on glass, perhaps a lens, from a chink in the shelter. There were two more gentlemen in the front seat of the van, staring resolutely anywhere except toward Trevor's house. One was a lion, one was a bear. They looked like weightlifters.

Something moved in the corner of his eye. He looked down the street. Cops, revolvers out, were moving from another van toward him. They wore protective vests. Three ran aside, toward the back of the house; three came on along the sidewalk. He looked the other way. Maybe something was moving toward his house from that direction too; he couldn't really see, but he'd thought something moved.

He rushed to his front door. It was a design usually found on drug houses, and had three locks. He locked them all and walked upstairs to his safe.

He'd kept some ancestor's big .44 hinge-frame revolver, because Old West antiques were worth a lot. Most of the bluing had worn off decades before, but the revolver itself seemed solid.

Pounding at his door. "Mr. Goodwill? Police! Open up!" More pounding, then a much louder BOOM. And another, and another. Even his reinforced door wouldn't stop a battering ram for long.

He fumbled two or three cartridges into the revolver's chambers. The pasteboard cartridge box had almost disintegrated into dust. The cartridges themselves were corroded; the brass was a dark olive-brown with a few flecks of green, the lead had a coating of white powder.

He put the barrel of the revolver in his mouth. He had a moment, as his finger tightened on the trigger, to wonder whether such an ancient cartridge would still work.

It did.

#

"Derrick, somebody named Briley from the police department called, and--if Ananda calls, tell her I've already gone to the hospital, will you?"

"Mr. Fairweather? What's happening? What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong. Well, I don't know. What will I do? What will I say?"

"Mr. Fairweather, sir! Whatever has happened, I know you can face it. I know things will be all right. Please, calm yourself, sir."

Art took a deep breath. Then another. He straightened, and let go of the frame of Derrick's door; he stood taller when he stood straight on his own hooves. "Yes. Yes, you're right." He even managed to smile. It was shaky, but a smile nonetheless. "We can handle it. Everything's going to be fine now."

"Do you wish to talk to me about it, sir?"

"No. Well, maybe later. Not now. I have to... if Ananda calls, tell her."

"Of course, sir."

Art hurried out of the office. He'd forgotten his overcoat, but that was all right; the clouds, snow, and drizzle had finally cleared. The police had sent a car for him. It was already at the curb, its passenger door open.

Derrick smiled quietly to himself. He picked up the pot and poured himself another mug of tea.

THE END DAGNAPPIT!
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Postby Ramseys » Sat Jun 06, 2009 3:15 am

Both stories are excellent!
A very good read.
Seams Sam has a knack at finding 'interesting' folks.
Four legs good, two legs bad. (G. Orwell)
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Re: Confession

Postby neandernitz » Thu Oct 28, 2010 6:46 pm

Freakin' damn EXCELLENT !!

Don't know where exactly this fits into the rest of Slopworld, maybe nowhere, just a parallel storyline taking place somewhere, like real life?

Was I supposed to read your other story first?


Where's the rest? What does he mean, I posted the whole...

AARRRGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!! ****!!!!

(insert big sigh here) OK, I'd be guessing what happened to that, but here's the rest.

When I saw "Your post can contain no more than 60,000 characters" I thought :shock: , but I bet you were over--
Let's see.... 1,2,3,4, ********************************** 59998, 59999, ...... Hey, you got ripped off for 1 letter! I'd demand my money back if I wuz you.....
Never Underestimate the Gentle Giant

Si ego certiorem faciam.... mihi tu delendus eris
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Re: Confession

Postby neandernitz » Sat Oct 30, 2010 4:52 pm

Dern shame about Trevor--
Compared to the assorted malfeasants, miscreants and felons this election cycle, kidnapping a goat for money would have put him in the upper 50% nationally. But he just had to run down a priest, and kill a cop......


Question:
I particularly like the black drafty character, (I wonder why......).
Who was he working for? I know he wasn't actually employed, being comfortably wealthy from real estate, but who was behind his interviewing the old Wolf lady?
Never Underestimate the Gentle Giant

Si ego certiorem faciam.... mihi tu delendus eris
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Re: Confession

Postby Havoc » Tue Nov 02, 2010 1:37 pm

Thanks for the comments.

I hope you don't have to read the earlier stories to understand this one, but if you did you might start to see a pattern. There are several different horsies involved when Derrick starts to get interested in the case. They differ in their occupation, clothing, color, and the way they speak, but they're all big 'uns like he is. Funny, that.
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Re: Confession

Postby littljohn » Tue Nov 02, 2010 11:28 pm

It points up yet again. Confession >may< be good for the soul, but it sure fucks up the corporeal life. I side with Willy Nelson, "Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes??"
Excellent writing though.

--lj
Sometimes I wonder what tomorrow's gonna bring
When I think about my dirty life and times.
---Warren Zevon
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Re: Confession

Postby neandernitz » Tue Jan 30, 2018 5:32 pm

Havoc wrote:Thanks for the comments.

I hope you don't have to read the earlier stories to understand this one, but if you did you might start to see a pattern. There are several different horsies involved when Derrick starts to get interested in the case. They differ in their occupation, clothing, color, and the way they speak, but they're all big 'uns like he is. Funny, that.


I would like to read them in order, if only I knew the order--
Never Underestimate the Gentle Giant

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