Harvest House Publishers
Monday afternoon. On the last day of his life, Father Nathan McNally ran his finger along the back of the pew and found dust. It wasn’t that much, really, but the young priest thought he might mention it to the maintenance man—better to hear it from him than from the grumpy senior priest, Father Summers. It was cold out, even for November, and the frigid blast off the streets burst right through the sanctuary every time someone opened the big front doors of the church.
There had been relatively few confessions today; only a little time was left before the session was over. Mrs. Johnson and old Miss Lawry were up front by the altar. Father Mac, as he was popularly known among parishioners, had found out in his brief (but not quite brief enough) conversation with Mrs. Johnson (bless her heart) that, among other family news, her nephew had won some sort of writing award at his school. Old Miss Lawry had little to say—she seemed barely aware of where she was. Too bad. After this stop, the ladies were attending a birthday party for a young niece who had just turned two.
A couple visitors were sitting toward the middle of the sanctuary, here to admire the church design or, perhaps, to simply come in out of the cold. They tried to chat quietly but, of course, the acoustics of the big open room meant the sound still echoed. Father Mac had wondered whether he should offer to speak with them (he did, after all, have a growing reputation as “the people’s priest”) but decided they would rather be left to their visiting.
As the new priest in the Kansas City–area church, he was also generally considered the most accessible. And chose to be so. He was a modestly handsome young man with soft brown hair and black-rimmed glasses that made him look more well read than he sometimes was.
As Father Mac waited for last-minute confessions, he began a mental checklist for the week ahead: The local high school had some sporting event coming up. The kids from church would be glad to see him come show his support. They weren’t the best players on the court, generally, but they worked hard.
There was another meeting scheduled for the Urban Church Coalition, too, later in the week. He was still waiting to hear where it would be held. The group, made up of local church leaders and prominent residents, hoped to finally break the grip of organized crime on the neighborhood. Father Summers had told him to leave things be, that it was not the place of “the new priest” to meddle in local politics.
But Father Mac knew these people needed to be free. Free from the tyranny of the local despot. Free from the shadow of fear hanging over the neighborhood.
Besides, as he explained to Father Summers, if the local merchants weren’t bleeding all their money on a “protection” racket, that meant more money left for the church. That wasn’t the young priest’s priority, of course, but it seemed like a good point to make.
Father Mac was pulled from his thoughts by the snap of the confessional door. Turning toward the aisle, he made his way to the booth. Stepping inside, the silence was thick. He waited for the person to speak.
Finally: “I’m not too good at this.” A man’s voice.
“Well, it’s not that hard, really,” Father Mac replied gently. “As the cliché goes, ‘Confession is good for the soul.’ And clichés are generally true. Just tell me what’s on your mind.”
Father Mac could hear the faint noises of the others out in the sanctuary. Someone coughed.
Then the man said, “I should probably tell you I don’t have much faith in God.”
“I see,” Father Mac replied.“Do you mean you feel He let you down at an important time in your life? Like He was too distant?”
“Actually, I have a hard time believing there is a real person called ‘God.’ And even if there is, he has more important things to do than worry about our little lives. You live, you suffer, you die. Death is a gift.”
Father Mac furrowed his brow. “This really is not the proper place for such a discussion,” he replied slowly, calmly. “If you would like to schedule an appointment with my office, we could discuss this topic at length. I could share with you some of the resources available on this topic. However, the real purpose of ‘confession’ is to admit to the sins you have committed.”
“I’ve done a lot of bad things.”
Father Mac couldn’t place it, but there was something off about this man’s voice. Something out of place. “Could you be more specific?”
“You mean, like, you want me to tell you about my childhood or my relationship with my dad or something like that?”
“If you feel the need to,” the priest replied. “But I’m not an analyst. This is not about what others have done to you. It’s about what you have done. We can go in any direction you like—the important thing is getting your sins out in the open so the Lord can deal with them.”
Another lengthy pause. Father Mac pulled off his glasses and wiped them with his robe, his attention wandering. He could hear Mrs. Johnson finish murmuring her prayers at the altar and then try to convince feeble Miss Lawry it was time to go.
The man on the other side of the screen spoke again. “I kill.”
“I…I’m sorry,” the priest stammered, replacing his glasses on his nose, dimly aware he had only smeared sweat on the lenses.“What did you say?”
“I kill people.”
Father Mac couldn’t help thinking of a recent news program about a priest caught between his vows and becoming a federal witness. “Do you mean that you killed someone by accident?”
“No.” Another pause. Waiting. “For money.”
Father Mac mentally sorted through any articles he’d read and movies he’d seen that might prove relevant. He’d read that The Sopranos was not as true-to-life as many assumed, but it certainly left a vivid impression. “Why would you do such a thing?” Somewhere in the back of his mind, Father Mac noted the sound of heels clacking out the door, Mrs. Johnson and Miss Lawry headed for the niece’s birthday party. He couldn’t hear the other visitors; they must have already left.
The stiffness of the answer shocked the young priest. His mouth went dry. He’s been stalling.
Father Mac tried to speak, his words catching on sandpaper. The room was silent—he was alone with this man.“Wh-what do you want?” he finally coughed.
“Fat Cat had a good thing going. You church types should have left well enough alone.”
As the first bullets splintered through the wooden confessional wall, Father Mac didn’t recognize what was happening. What were those popping noises? Then he saw blood. His blood. As he fell against the confessional door and out onto the floor, he felt numb.
A tall man in a tan overcoat stepped out of the other door. Holding his gun with a steady black-gloved hand, he fired two bullets into Father Mac’s head. The priest’s last thoughts in this world were about apologizing to maintenance for the blood pooling on the floor.
The man grimaced. “You’re welcome.” Shoving the .45 Taurus and the silencer in separate pockets, Solomon Long walked briskly toward the big doors and pushed confidently out into the sun. As he reached the street corner and checked his watch, he pulled his collar up against the wind. He removed his gloves and pulled an antibacterial towelette out of his pocket, wiped his hands, then crumpled and tossed it. Pulled a wrapped sandwich from one pocket and, munching on tomato and bacon on whole wheat, headed to the bus stop.
With a stiff face, he glanced at the gray sky. Looked like snow.
Excerpted from Forgiving Solomon Long by Chris Well. Copyright © 2005 by Chris Well. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.