“The room’s soft lighting reflected off the ornate stone work, adding to the atmosphere that was already in abundance, thanks to the Gregorian chant collection playing in the background. Father Michael moved from pew to pew, gathering his strength after another evening mass and trying his best to shake off the burden of another day’s worth of confessions. Such terrible secrets the people of this city held, and such pain. One had to wonder if anyone would ever be capable of shouldering it all…
His eyes drifted to the front, where the bronze figure of the Savior hung on the cross. How sad he looked, his eyes downcast to the ground as he died. How heavily burdened he seemed too, carrying all of the world as he did on his slender shoulders, the cruelties, horrors, pains, petty jealousies of so many, the sin and vice of entire race. Was it really the nails and the spear point that had done him in, or was it the crushing weight of his children’s own nature?
Better you than me, he thought with some degree of mirth. At times like this, it was important to remember that one was never alone on the great battlefield. It was important to keep a sense of humor as well, otherwise one could go mad.
The father’s heart fluttered when he heard a noise behind him. His old bones could not turn fast enough to see what had caused it, but he knew something was back there, hiding in the knave somewhere. He began to walk slowly towards the rear, calling to it loudly.
“Who’s back there?” he said aloud. “Father Cleo? Are you back there?”
No answer. He approached it more quickly.
“Jack? If you’re sneaking around back there, I’m going to have to ask you to stop it. The congregation hall is no place for you and your brothers to be at play.”
He heard another noise. This time, it came from his left. His eyes were drawn to the far corner of the room, a small stand of candles that were rocking back and forth.
His heart picked up again as he realized that whoever, or whatever, was there was taking great pains not to be noticed. He turned back to the front to face the Saviour. He had known the risks of coming to the inner city to do the Lord’s work. He had been warned many times over what challenges he would be facing, and the dangers he would be asked to brave. He had always known that sooner or later, a misguided soul might come knocking, a poor fool who knew not what he did, but was prepared to do it.
“I shall fear no evil,” he whispered to himself. Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath to stoke his courage, and turned again to address the source. “Who is there? If you’re in here still, show yourself. You have nothing to fear from me.”
He walked back towards the altar and heard another small bump, but got no indication of where it was coming from. By now, the noise echoed off the walls and sounded like it could be coming from just about anywhere. Since it would not appear, he simply spoke ahead, knowing that it would hear him no matter which way he faced.
“If you are looking for money, I can tell you you won’t find much in here. Whatever we have is marked for good works and it is taken away on a daily basis. If you’re looking for drugs, you’ve come to the wrong place. The only things n here are aspirin, communion wine and my rheumatoid medication, and I don’t think you’d find much enjoyment there. And anything you might want to steal would be impossible to fence too. Pawn shops don’t take cherished religious items much, very little resale value.”
He was almost laughing now. He felt his courage returning by small increments, until he felt like a servant of God again. No fear in the face of evil, only forgiveness.
“If you are looking for food, shelter and forgiveness though, I have plenty to offer…” he looked around, waiting to see if that elicited any response. “Why don’t you come out and we will see what we can do for you?”
A slight breeze blew through the knave. The flames of every candle flickered as the slight chill passed them by.
“Father…” a voice said. Michael spun around to see a classical figure standing before him. His mind flashed back to seminary, all the research and study he had been required to do on the motifs and iconography of ancient Rome and Byzantium. Figured cared from marble and metals, perfect in their proportions and sculpted in their physiques. And yet, he knew that this one was very much real. A true physical specimen that now stood before him.
He took a deep breath and found his voice. “What can I do for you, my child?”
She took several steps forward, her boots clopping against the stone floor and the lapels of her white gown brushing against her legs. The candlelight sparkled off her green eyes and was dangerously close ot mesmerizing him. He listened closely so as not to fall under any spell she might be wielding.
“I bear a message,” she said. “The house of the Lord is being transgressed by men of depravity. They seek to make a new house of this city, a house of inequity and lust. Already, these men control a great deal of young women through the manufacture and sale of drugs, and seek to sell them to men to sate their most wanton and base desires.”
Father Michael drew back and tried to take in all he was being told. He was at once horrified and insulted by the thought.
“Who are these men? How are they using my church? What are you accusing us of?”
The lady raised her hand and smiled gently. “You are innocent in these crimes, Father, or so I believe. Your house is being used against its will, against yours. We seek your help in reigning these men in and restoring this place to its intended purpose. If you would help us, that is…”
Michael blinked a few times and ran his hand over his mouth. He was feeling suddenly fatigued and his back was beginning to ache. The ravages of old age and a life dedicated to others, he knew.
“Perhaps we would be more comfortable speaking in the rectory. I am in need of a drink and I think I should be sitting for the rest of this.”
The lady-goddess moved to his side and laid a hand on his shoulder. Father Michael stopped in his tracks and straightened. He drew in a deep breath and almost cried out. A blinding sensation filled him suddenly, driving out all vestiges of pain and fatigue. His eyes illuminated with a new clarity and everything around him became painfully clear in that instant.
She withdrew her hand. Father Michael looked down and took several more deep breaths to still his pounding heart. The sensation faded, but the pain and fatigue did not return. He looked to her and saw her with new found clarity and energy, charged by something incredibly bright and lively deep inside him.
“What did you do to me?” he asked. “Are you heaven-sent? An angel sent from the Lord?”
She smiled. “No, father. Just a messenger with her share of gifts, and a servant in her own right. And now I need you to listen, for we don’t have much time. Your quarry and ours is a man by the name of Robert B. Farnsworth, aka. Billy Bob. Do you know him?”
Father Michael’s memory seemed unusually clear. He recalled that name instantly. “Robert Bolton Farnsworth,” he said with a smile, and quickly turned it to a frown. “A troubled lad if ever I saw one. He was a student at the Sister Mary School for many years, but was removed because of all the trouble he would get himself into.” His frown turned to a look of dismay. “Is he the one doing all that you’ve said? Is he reducing women to the status of sex slaves?”
She closed her eyes and nodded somberly. Father Michael felt a sudden burst of flame in his heart and stamped his foot against the stone.
“That damnable cur! I knew he wasn’t coming here out of sincerity! I should have known! I should have seen it! He never changes! Thrice-damned liar!”
He continued to stomp around, placing his feet against the stonework and slamming against it with a ferocity he had not felt in years. He would have been surprised at his own vitality, were he not so consumed with rage. He had known Robert as a lad, seen him grow into a troubled youth, and then lost site of him for many years as he continued to go in and out of juvenile offenders programs. He had been relatively controllable when his mother still lived, but when she died…
“Father,” the woman said finally. “I need you to calm down. If we’re to stop him, we need your help. It’s only a matter of time before he returns, and we need to know when he does.”
Father Michael turned to face her. “What is he doing here? Is he using my church for some of his misdeeds?”
“Only it’s location, Father. Your church sits atop an ancient tunnel that runs under the city. He has been using for some time to allude detection and to find his way back to where he runs his operations in secret. When he comes through next, we need to know so we can tail him. We’ll take care of the rest.”
Father Michael nodded. He had heard rumors of an old network that ran into St. John’s, an avenue from the earliest days of the church’s existence when Catholics fears about the Reformation were still widespread. The tunnel had been meant to serve as an escape route, should the powers that be dispatch any officers on orders of the King or Church to round up Catholic heretics. He had never known it to be true or false, or where it ran. Perhaps his predecessor had known something of it, but failed to pass it on. In either case, the thought that it was being used for such purposes as this filled him with disgust.
Still, there was one concern he could not allow to slip by without mention.
“And once you have your hands on him, what will you do?”
She smiled again, in that same warm way of hers. “We will dispense justice, Father. But we will not kill him. That is not our way. We only wish to end the harm and torment he is causing, not add to it by enacting sentence. In the absence of authority and justice, we are Judge and Jury, but not executioner.”
Father Michael nodded. “You could say I have your word on that?”
“You can indeed because you do.”
Father Michael nodded again. He didn’t really need to ask, every instinct he had told her she was telling the truth. But better to do so and know that he did. His own conscience would abide nothing less. He lowered his head and asked one final question/
“Very well. How will I contact you?”
“Just speak the name of Justice, father. We will hear you.”
“Justice?” he said, looking up. She was gone. He looked in all directions for a sign of her, but there was none. She had left as easily as she had come.
“Where are you?” he said to the roof itself. It’s beams and buttresses did not reply. “What have you done to me?”
“I lessened your burder, Father. I lightened your load,” a soft voice replied. He knew it to be hers, though he still couldn’t see her.
He ran his hands all over himself and noticed that the pain of his rheumatism was also non-existent. His back was also straighter than it had been in recent memory and devoid of aches. He laughed aloud, and looked back to the heavens.
“Are you sure you’re not heaven sent?”
No answer. It was just as well. He knew he wouldn’t be told either way. A shame, but one could live with.
He walked back to the rectory, a new found bounce in his step. Would anyone believe him if he told them what happened here tonight? Probably not, he reckoned. And that he could live with too. He was sure the only parties that truly mattered had seen all they needed to see, and were quite pleased…
Next up, our exciting take-down of the notorious “Pimp Daddy”, Billy Bob himself!