Absolution by Libby Cudmore

Christian’s too messed up to drive, so I take his keys and drop him off at his apartment. I offer to take him back to my place so he won’t be alone when he wakes up, but he insists he has to get up for work in the morning. Somehow I don’t think he’s going to make it in, hangover aside, I can’t imagine why he’d want to be around all those cops who cheered for Lily’s death. I drag him to bed and leave a note on his kitchen table telling him to call me in the morning and I’ll bring his car back.

I suppress a cough. God, those cigarettes tasted good. I smoke the last one in the prison parking lot, staring at the butts on the ground while I wait.

Carl’s shift ends right on time, just as dawn crawls begging on hands and knees. He doesn’t carry himself like a man who committed the crimes he did, in the waning streetlight he looks like every other working class bum, grinning like an idiot after another Friday night out with the boys. Anyone else looking at him might think he just bowled a three hundred or won a hundred bucks playing pool. My eyes get wet thinking about Lily; Christian cried hard enough for both of us at the church, but he didn’t shed a tear the whole time I was with him at the Elbow Room. I’ve never seen him act so cold—maybe it was the gin, but the whole mess made me uneasy. I blink my eyes dry. I’ve got work to do.

I slip out of the shadows and follow Carl to his car. He doesn’t notice the extra company, he’s probably too busy reliving the night’s events. I wait until he gets out his keys before I press my revolver to the back of his head. “Kneel,” I demand.

It obviously isn’t his first time and with all his gear in his locker, he’s no longer the tough guy he was a few hours ago. Carl puts up his hands and sinks to his knees. “My wallet’s in my back pocket, but there’s not much there.”

I don’t care about the wallet. “Put your head and your hands against the car.”

Carl obeys. “What’s this all about?”

“Confession,” I answer. “You’ve got a lot weighing on your soul and you need to unburden yourself if you’re ever going to get to Heaven.”

“You Bible thumpers are getting pretty extreme.”

“You could die tonight,” I point out. “Don’t you want to sit at the feet of our Lord? Or do you prefer eternal damnation and hellfire?”

“It’s all the same to me, pal.”

I cock the gun hard. “Then may God have mercy on your soul.”

“Wait!” Carl cries. “All right, all right, I’ll confess!” He fumbles to draw the sign of the cross.

“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.”

“Go on, my child.” He isn’t telling me anything I don’t already know, but I need to hear the gory details, sick as they make me. It’s the only way salvation can be given.

“Me and the other guards, we took turns raping a prisoner in solitary,” he blubbers. “I went first and she was crying so hard, she tried to fight us off, but we held her down so we could take turns. We hurt her real bad, like these two cops, they made her take on both of them at the same time. And we all laughed while we were doing her, until finally she just stopped fighting and lay there. Maybe she passed out, I don’t know, but she stopped screaming and she stopped moving, so we kept right on with the party.”

I’m glad Christian isn’t here, his faith isn’t nearly as strong as mine and it’s taking all the grace of God not to pull the trigger right now.

He continues. “When we were all finished and she was just lying there, bleeding, I beat her head in with my nightstick. We left her in the showers so the next shift would think the other prisoners killed her.” He dry-heaves twice and sinks his head against the car, exhaling a long, hissing breath.

“Say three Hail Mary’s and your sins will be forgiven.”

“Say them with me, Father, it’s been too long.”

“Hail Mary, full of grace.” I began. “The Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Hail Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of death.”

He prays twice more and starts to stand. “May I go now, Father?”

He just doesn’t get it. God doesn’t give a fuck about the words tripping off his tongue. There’s a special place in hell reserved for men like him, men who say their prayers and beg for forgiveness without meaning a word of it. A thousand Hail Mary’s can’t save his sorry soul. I don’t move the gun.

“I told you that you could die tonight,” I repeat. “I just couldn’t forgive myself if I let you die without a chance at absolution.”

Carl’s breath gets heavier for the second before I pull the trigger. He slams face-first into the car door and slumps to the ground. I step over his body and tuck my piece back in my coat. One more soul saved, one more bit of justice served. I change my mind about the wallet and take it for the collection plate. Might as well let the bastard do some good work in death, he certainly wasn’t doing any in life.

I make the sign of the cross across my own chest and murmur, “Go in peace, my child.”


Libby Cudmore is a regular contributor to Hardboiled magazine and has published stories in a Twist of Noir ("Props" was the 2nd runner up for the Bullet award at Eastern Standard Crime), Pulp Pusher, Crime and Suspense, Inertia, the Southern Women's Review, and Shaking Like a Mountain. She has short stories forthcoming from Thrilling Detective, Eastern Standard Crime, Battered Suitcase and the anthology Quantum Genre on the Planet of the Arts (with Matthew Quinn Martin).


Christopher Grant said...

Another hard-hitting, take-no-prisoners story by Libby.

The best part of the story are the questions that you're left with, questions that Libby forces you to ask and doesn't provide the answers to, leaving you to ponder and figure out for yourself.

That is what fiction is, or at least should be, all about.

Paul D Brazill said...

Brilliant! Powerful and gripping.