“How did you find me, Nick?”
“Shit, Jack. I’m over here doing a little job for Mr. S. He told me about this place so I stop in to light a candle for my mother – not many churches left with those little votive candles – and there you are puttering around the altar. What were the chances? I couldn’t believe it.”
Fr. John Byrne sat in a pew next to his old friend and former protégé. He thought for a few moments before responding. The sound of the ocean just across Kalakaua Avenue and the equally relentless hustle and bustle of Waikiki’s busiest sidewalks were muted by the wood and concrete of St. Augustine ’s-by-the Sea. The French-Gothic structure with the distinctive green copper roof also provided some welcome relief from the midday heat and humidity. Fr. Byrne knew that was the real reason why so many visitors stopped into the church each day. Even so, he sometimes deluded himself that his numerous guests were actually seeking spiritual renewal amid the tourist juggernaut that roared on the streets of the area day and night. Many of those same guests were surprised to learn that the church, built back in 1901, actually pre-dated the rabid development of the 70’s and 80’s.
Byrne’s rugged features were highlighted by the ocean-teal and sky- blue light streaming in through the giant stained glass window depicting the church’s namesake high over his left shoulder.
“What are you going to do about this Nicky? You know there’s still a price on my head, right?”
“No kidding … $50,000. Mr. Salvatore hasn’t forgiven you for refusing to do that last hit or for taking off like that. Besides, you’re a real liability out here ‘in the cold’. If the Feds ever got to you, hey, you could put a lot of people away … including me. Finding you like this was ‘the luck o’ the Irish’ I guess. Hiding out as a priest, shit! You’re a genius.”
“Listen, this wasn’t a scam. My conversion was real. I’ve found a home here and I’m doing good work. Nothing will ever make up for the way I led my life before but at least I’m making a positive contribution now.”
Nick Amaroso looked at his one time partner. He took a pack of cigarettes out of his breast pocket then, remembering where he was, put them back.
“Sure. Sure. The thing is … that’s personal. I have to make a professional decision here, Jack.”
“Well, I’m not running. If you want me, you know where to find me.”
“Take it easy, Jack. I need some time to think. The truth is Mr. S. and I haven’t been getting along too well lately. Besides, I owe you. You taught me everything I know about the business. If it weren’t for you there’s no telling where I might have ended up. Hey, you want to hear something freaky? Last month I notched number eighteen. That’s your record, right? One more and I have you beat.”
Before Fr. Byrne could express his shame and regret, the two men were interrupted by the arrival of a noisy flock of Japanese tourists chattering away like birds. The clicking of their digital cameras added an even more pronounced avian note. As soon as the group left, Amaroso continued.
“I’m going to go for a walk, Jack. Do some thinking. You know in this same situation, if it were anybody else, I’d take care of things right now. Maybe I’ll be back … maybe not. Either way, it’s just business, right?”
“It’s never ‘just business’, Nicky. Remember? That was Lesson Number One. Anyhow, it was good to see you again, I guess. You always were a good soldier. Maybe you don’t know it, but you’ve already made your decision. See you around.”
Byrne spent the rest of the afternoon working on his homily for the coming Sunday. Around three o’clock he walked across the street and went for a swim. He came back, showered and then took up his position in the confessional. The rich scent of the varnished Koa wood was comforting. Forty minutes later, after the usual revelations concerning “impure thoughts” and affairs real or imagined, he recognized his old friend’s voice from the other side of the screen.
“I knew you’d be back, Nicky. It was inevitable.”
“What choice do I have, Jack? I can use the money and, maybe, this will get me back in Mr. Salvatore’s good graces.”
“You always have choices, Nick. But do you have enough courage to live with the results? As far, as grace goes, well, I’ve learned a lot about that during the last ten years.”
Before Nick Amaroso could respond, he heard the unmistakable “fupp,” “fupp” sound of two silenced rounds. The bullets tore through the thin partition separating the two sides of the confessional and struck him in the chest. He was alive just long enough to realize what had happened. “Damn,” he thought with his dying breath, “that was number nineteen.”
Fr. John Byrne never moved. He quickly punched a number into his cell phone.
“Salvatore? It’s Byrne. I did what you wanted. That wipes the slate clean, right? OK. Listen; put her on … I need to be sure … Máthair … are you alright?”
“Johnny? Of course I’m alright. Why wouldn’t I be? That nice Mr. Salvatore and his staff have been treating me like royalty. He’s even putting me on a plane tonight so that I can come visit you in Hawaii . You’ll be there to pick me up at the airport, won’t you?”
Satisfied, Byrne ended the call after reassuring his mother. He had two hours before the parish council meeting. That was plenty of time to clean things up … after all he had considerable experience in such matters. What really worried him was the thought of entertaining his elderly mother for two weeks. Maybe Salvatore was still out to get him after all.
Updated BIO: James C. Clar lives and writes in upstate New York. His short fiction has been published in print and on the Internet. Most recently his work has appeared in The Taj Mahal Review, Everyday Fiction, Orchard Press Mysteries, MysteryAuthors.com, Long Story Short, Word Catalyst and Bewildering Stories.