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Souls on Fire: The Chronicles of The Grey Monk [MultiFormat]
eBook by John L. French

eBook Category: Mystery/Crime/Suspense/Thriller
eBook Description: SOULS ON FIRE: THE CHRONICLES OF THE GREY MONK... "Vengeance is Mine, sayeth the Lord... and I am His Agent!"... A grim, hooded figure armed with blazing .45's stalks the streets meting out Justice to whatever Evil he encounters, from Drug Dealing Hoodlums to Thuggees of the Cult of Kali... THE GREY MONK is John L. French's most intriguing Hero in the tradition of The Shadow & The Spider! This volume collects all the previously published tales, as well as some that have never been released before today! If you love Pulp Fiction, you can't go wrong with this exciting, non-stop thrilling book! You won't be able to put this one down! Cover Art by Ver Curtiss.

eBook Publisher: Wild Cat Books/Wild Cat Books, Published: 2008, 2008
Fictionwise Release Date: June 2008


12 Reader Ratings:
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SOULS ON FIRE: The Chronicles of The Grey Monk

Created and Written by John L. French

Copyright © 2008 by John L. French.

All Rights Reserved and Used with Permission.

Designed and Edited by Ron Hanna

A Wild Cat Books Publication

Copyright © 2008 by Wild Cat Books www.wildcatbooks.net

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored, or transmitted by any means whatsoever without the express written consent of the author or publisher, except where permitted by law.

Cover Art by Ver Curtiss

Copyright © 2008

All Rights Reserved and Used with Permission.

www.art-nocturne.com

To Elaine,

Who brings joy to my life and makes everything worthwhile

J.L.F.

* * * *

IN THE BEGINNING

"Vengeance is Mine; I will repay," says the Lord

--Romans 12, 20

You shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe

--Exodus 21, 23-25

Two men lingered in the mouth of an alley off Calvert St. Passing a bottle back and forth, they watched people go by, waiting for the right one. Some of those who passed were students who had stayed late at the university. Despite the chill in the air, they were wearing only jeans and shirts. Others, a little better dressed in off-the-rack suits, seemed to be on their way home from work. Those that passed wearing finer clothes probably had early dinner reservations and tickets for the theater or symphony. None of them were the one the men were waiting for--an attractive woman alone, one too pre-occupied with her own business to take the precautions needed to walk alone in the city.

"Remember, George," said the younger of the two, "this time I get to pick."

"I hope you pick better than the last time, Fred," his brother complained. "That one didn't last more than two days."

The brothers had done this before. The first time was a bungling affair, their victim yelling and fighting all the way to their van. It was only luck--good for them, bad for her--that no one heard her screams. The second time was a little smoother, but still not perfect. By now, though, after their fifth time, they had it planned out and were working it smoothly.

The alley they had chosen opened on to a parking lot. At this time of day, it was empty. The people who parked there for work had already left; the ones who lived nearby weren't home yet. Fred had a bag ready to throw over their victim's head, and George had a sap in case she struggled. Covered by the early darkness of November, they'd pick a good one, snatch her and take her to their van. Then they'd drive back to their house. An attached garage insured that no one would see them take her from the van into their home. Once safe inside, they would do what they liked until they tired of her, then kill her. From her ID, they'd find out where she lived, and dump her body close to her home. This would keep attention from being drawn to their hunting ground.

After a longer wait than they had planned, Fred finally pointed down the street. "That one," he said, pointing to a long legged brunette coming toward them. There was no one else on the street.

"Good choice, little brother, let's take her."

The two men stepped back into the alley. No sense in having her cross the street to avoid them. They let the woman go by. As she passed, George grabbed her arms and pulled her to him. Fred threw the bag over her head and together they dragged her toward the van.

A shapeless form stepped out of the shadows of the alley and blocked their way. They did not see it until it was too late.

"Release her," the form commanded. The brothers could now see that it was a man dresses in a dark grey robe, a monk's habit. A deep cowl hid his head and face and long sleeves covered his hands.

No priest was going to ruin their fun. George was ready to use his sap when the figure brought one arm up. The sleeve dropped back--a .45 appeared. George stopped quickly.

"Release her," the command came again. Fred loosed his hold on the woman's arms. She pulled off the bag and ran from the alley. It was she who would give the police their first description of the city's new defender.

"Okay, she's gone," said George. "And now what, we wait for the cops? Simple assault, no time." George looked back in the direction his victim had fled. "That's if she shows for court."

"You're right," said the man in the monk's garb. He pulled the trigger of the .45.

The blast tore a hole in George's chest, knocking him to the ground. Fred turned to run, but a second shot took him in the leg. He fell face forward. Before he could move, the warm metal of the gun barrel pressed against the back of his neck.

"Tell them," a cold voice whispered, "The Grey Monk is here. Then confess. If you go free, I will find you. You will suffer, then die."

Fred felt the gun withdraw as sirens sounded in the distance. When he turned, he was alone in the alley with the dead. When the police arrived, it was only seconds after they finished with his rights that he told them everything.

The man who had called himself the Grey Monk watched from distant shadows. He had been haunting these alleys ever since discovering the common link in the brutal deaths of several women, deaths that the police had not even connected. Now the victims were avenged, and their killers brought to justice. It was a good start.

* * * *

THINGS LEFT UNDONE

We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.

Morning Prayer, General Confession, Book of Common Prayer (1662).

There's a street like it in every city. Sometimes it has a name--the Strip, the Block, the Walk. Other times it's nameless, but everyone still knows it's there. Here it was called the Miracle Mile, by the cops if no one else. They called it that because if you had anything to do with the girls who walked it and came away with your health and money intact, well, that would be a miracle.

She called herself Lola, from a song she had heard and liked a long time ago. She'd been walking the Mile for a few months now. She didn't like it, but it was what she did to get by. She'd done two already that night but needed a few more. I hope they come soon, she thought, smiling bitterly at the wordplay. And as if in answer to some corrupt prayer, a truck stopped in front of her.

The truck was a pickup, she noted with another bitter smile, brand new and shiny. "Hi, she said, "Looking for a date?"

"No, Ma'am," came a country voice from the cab, "But I would like some sex."

Well, this one's no cop, she said to herself. Lola leaned in a little to get a better look at her would-be client. It was hard to tell by the streetlight, but he seemed young, clean and not bad looking. The hick voice could be a put on--that, the truck and his T-shirt and jeans all part of a fantasy the man needed to be doing this. It didn't matter, her street sense telling her that he was probably harmless.

She told him what she could do for him and what it would cost.

"That'd be just fine," he said and opened the side door for her. She got in and directed him to the place she used, a parking lot between three downtown buildings, all closed and dark for the night. It was a well-used area, one pointedly ignored by the police. She took his money and then in the darkness did what he had paid her to do. Then she heard the clicks of the automatic locks closing.

"What..." was all she got out. She couldn't see him in the blackness of the cab. She didn't see the Mayberry demeanor drop away and a different kind of delight than the one he had just experienced appear on his face. She did feel the knife slide into her chest, but not for long. She died so fast she didn't have time to bleed.

The automatic locks clicked again. Lola's now satisfied client took what he needed then got out of the truck, quietly, so as not to disturb any other couples parked on the lot. He just as quietly closed the door, and in the darkness walked away from the stolen truck.

* * * *

The small confessional was quiet and dark. No sounds came in from the outside. He imagined that this would be how a coffin felt. He heard the priest slide shut the panel on the other side. The other penitent had said his piece, been forgiven and had received his penance. Now it was his turn.

He knelt quickly. As his knees hit the pre-dieu they depressed a switch, turning the amber light inside the box to a deep violet. Nice touch, he thought. The priest slid the panel on his side open. A heavy metal screen kept either man from seeing the other's features too clearly.

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It's been ... well, it's been a long time since my last confession."

"That doesn't matter," he heard the priest say. He sounded young. "The important thing is that you're here. Now then, what's troubling you?"

"I've killed someone, Father, a woman."

There was no sound from the center of the confessional. The man imagined the priest thinking about what he had just heard, wondering if he had heard correctly, quickly praying to God that he hadn't.

"Father, are you all right in there?"

"Yes, I am. You said that you'd, you'd hurt someone."

"I said that I'd killed someone, Father."

"When was this?"

"Last night, not far from here."

He heard the priest settle back in his chair. The initial shock over, he was back into his pastoral role. He was again the shepherd, and he would bring this lamb back into the flock.

"Last night and you're here now. That's good." The voice from behind the screen was soothing, the concern genuine. The priest was saying all the right things. He almost wished it mattered. He let the sound wash over him, not caring what was being said. "...shows you're troubled and regret what you've done. Let's talk, tell me what happened and together we'll find the best way to resolve this."

Next he was supposed to say how he didn't mean for it to have happened, and how sorry he was. Then he'd be told that, to be truly forgiven, he had to confess not only to God, but to the police as well, so that his victim's family could find peace, so that the wrong man would not be punished.

No, that was not why he was here.

"I'm not troubled by what I did, Father. The woman was a harlot, defiling His temple, betraying Him for pieces of silver. I stopped her sinning, and sent her to God to be punished. I'll send Him more when I can." Let him think about that.

"That's not what God wants you to do, my son." The priest's voice was now higher, the words more rapid, a little louder.

"He does, Father. You told me, last Sunday."

There was no reply. He waited as the priest went over in his mind all that he had said last week, knew he wouldn't get it.

"In the Gospel, Father, 'Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.' I've always obeyed, never swore, never lied. I'm sinless, it's up to me." That wasn't true, of course. He had sinned many times in his life, and he would keep on sinning. But no need to tell this priest that. Let him think it's partly his fault. Just another way to prolong the fun.

"Of course," he added, "I used a knife, not a rock."

He stood up, the violet changing back to amber. From the screen came the question, one last desperate try.

"What about the commandment, 'Thou shalt not kill?'"

"It's not a sin if God tells you to do it." He opened the door and left the church, knowing the priest would not, could not, come after him.

Father David Scott watched helplessly as the man stood up and walked away. He fought down the urge to jump up, rush out of the box and confront the man, to hold him for the police and tell them what had just been said. What was heard in the confessional stayed in the confessional, kept in the mind, held in the heart. To break the Seal was a grievous sin, far worse than anything else, even--murder. Father Scott found himself praying that the man had been delusional, just one of the poor confused souls this city had too many of. Then he said a quick prayer for the police, that if the man had been telling the truth, the real truth and not just a fantasy that seemed real, that the police would have their best people on the case, and solve it before another woman died, and another and...?

"Father?"

At first Father Scott thought that the man had come back, maybe to tell him that it was all a joke. But no, it was just a boy, a regular from the parish.

"Father, are you all right?"

That was how the last one started.

"I'm fine, it's just a little hot in here. Are there many more out there?"

"Just a few."

As the boy began the ritual, Father Scott put aside his thoughts of what had just occurred, and took some comfort in the more familiar litany of uttered "hells" and "damns," of lies told to teachers and parents, and the surreptitious watching of forbidden cable movies and afternoon talk shows. Somehow, he got through the rest of the afternoon.

When confessions were over, Father Scott hurried back into the rectory. He found himself almost running into the kitchen where he had left that morning's paper. He didn't recall reading any articles about murders or recently discovered bodies. Still, he went through the paper again to be sure and almost missed it this time as well. The story was small, no more than a paragraph on page three of the local section. A woman believed to have been a prostitute had been found stabbed to death in a stolen pickup truck. Police were investigating. A location was given, some place downtown. Father Scott knew the general area but not the exact location.

It means nothing, Father Scott thought. The poor soul could have read the article this morning and in his confused mind believed he had committed the act. And if not, what can I do? Even if I were to call the police, what could I tell them? That a voice from the darkness confessed to a crime then ran away. They'd be no closer to solving the murder than before.

All week it worried him. Was it just a troubled soul, driven to confess sins he hadn't committed? He understood that the police got them all the time, people coming in and confessing to the crimes of others. Maybe this was one of them. He hoped so.

Confessions the next Saturday went smoothly--nothing more serious than a woman feeling lust for a man other than her husband. When no one came in for fifteen minutes Father Scott thought about ending the session early. Then he came in.

"There were others, you know."

It was the same voice. Father Scott froze. This was not something taught in the seminary. "Others?" he finally asked, keeping his tone as level as possible. "How many?"

"Eight, I think. One or two may have survived."

"And were they, were they all..." He couldn't think of a proper word.

"Harlots? Sinners?" The voice from the darkness laughed. "I just said that last time to get your attention, have a little fun. No, I may have sent them all to God, but not for any particular reason."

"Who were they?" Keep him talking, Father Scott told himself. Look for something you can use to turn this man away from his path.

"Hitchhikers, homeless, someone who took a bad turn in the wrong neighborhood. I take them where I find them."

"And you've come to me, why?"

There was another joyless laugh. "Not because I'm sorry, and I'm not asking for forgiveness."

"Not yet, anyway." Father Scott had to make the effort, plant the seed.

"Or ever," came the cynical retort.

"Then why come to me?"

The answer that came back through the screen was the one Father Scott didn't want to hear. "It adds to the spice, someone else knowing, someone who can never tell."

There was silence. Before Father Scott could form a reply he heard the click of the pre-dieu and the closing of the door and knew he was alone. And for a long time afterward he sat in the darkness, praying for help and wondering how it would arrive.

None came. Every morning after that Father Scott read the local section of the paper, looking for news of recent murders, ones that could have been caused by his penitent. A week went by, then two. People died by the gun, in arson fires and from savage beatings. They died because of domestic violence, from street robberies gone bad and as casualties in the never-ending drug wars. Whatever the reason for their deaths, none seemed to be the victim that Father Scott was looking for.

* * * *

Her shift over, Delores walked to the Metro. She hated night work, but it was the best she could find. Mopping hospital floors didn't pay that well and wasn't the most glamorous job in the world, but it was steady and the benefits included free medical for her and her family.

Delores checked her watch. No need to hurry, there was plenty of time to catch her train. Then twenty minutes later she'd be home. Her husband would have the kids up and dressed, and the four of them could enjoy breakfast together. She'd get the kids off to school, and then just maybe she could convince her husband to be late for work. Lord knows they didn't have that much time alone anymore. One day, she thought, things will be better.

Delores held on to this hope as she crossed the hospital parking lot and headed down the street to the Metro stop. If she saw the parked van she didn't pay it any attention. Nor did she notice the man seemingly asleep behind the wheel. She certainly didn't see him get up from the driver's seat as she approached. When the van's side door slid open as Delores passed she might have turned and tried to run, but by then it was too late. After she was pulled inside, a sharp knife eventually ended whatever dreams she might have had.

* * * *

As soon as Father Scott read the paper he knew that his penitent had been at work again. He also knew that the next Saturday he'd get another visit in the confessional. What he didn't know was why he felt the need to visit the crime scene.

That afternoon found Father Scott walking the same path that Delores had taken, from the hospital across the parking lot and down the street where she had met her death. There wasn't much to see--chalk markings where the van had been, stray bits of crime scene tape still tied to light poles, a pair of rubber gloves left by a careless police officer. Father Scott spent an hour there, wandering up and down, concerned about what he could do next. Most anyone who saw him would think that he was just another gawker; one of many who were drawn to scenes of brutal crime for the vicarious thrill it gave them. And except for one who kept to himself in the relative darkness of an alley, no one took any special notice of the priest.

Saturday. Each time Father Scott heard the confessional door close, each time he slid open the panel he thought he would hear the killer claim another victim. Not this time. Sins of pride, avarice and lust were confessed, but no one mentioned murder.

Another week, another death--this time of a young boy, a teen who had been missing for two days. A drug user, a sometimes prostitute, and presumed to be a runaway, the boy's body was found along a jogging trail in Patterson Park. This time news of the murder was accompanied by hints that this death might be connected to others in the area. And while the police department had no official comment, no denial was issued.

And again Father Scott was drawn to the scene. Why, he asked himself, did I come here? I'm not a detective. I'm not going to find the one clue that the police missed that will lead me to the killer. And even if I did, could I use it against him? As he walked the scene he prayed. He prayed for the souls of those who had died. He prayed for the killer to be captured or to turn himself in. He prayed for himself, that he would find the right words to say when the killer came to him again. And finally, and with some amount of shame, he prayed that he might never have to face the killer again. As he finished he thought of Gethsemane and added, "But Your Will be done."

* * * *

Confessions started late that next Saturday, and it was only through Father Scott's sense of duty that they started at all. Midway through he thought guiltily that maybe his last prayer had been answered, but then he heard, "Do you want to know what I do to them, Father?"

"No, I don't," Father Scott said with a calm he didn't feel. After the last time he had thought long and hard about what he was going to say and do if the killer came back. Before he could reply the priest went on. "If you're here to confess, if you're sorry for what you're doing, if you need my help in any way, then I'm here for you." Father Scott hoped this would work. "But if this is just part of your twisted game--well, I'm not playing any more."

He moved to slide the panel shut. As he did so, he heard the man on the other side say, "Wait."

Father Scott paused, the panel half closed.

"You're in a bad mood today, I'll come back when you're feeling better." The man stood, but didn't leave the confessional. His voice came out of the darkness. "And the next time I hope you're feeling better. It would be a shame to have crime scene tape littering your schoolyard."

Father Scott sat back in despair. Other penitents came in, were ignored and finally left, leaving him alone and surrounded by his own darkness.

Things grew worse the following week. Two more people, another young boy and an older man, were killed in a manner similar to the other deaths. The police had ceased any pretense of denial. At a press conference, the commissioner announced that a task force had been formed some time ago to investigate this series of killings and that the department was devoting all of its resources to bringing the killer to justice.

Father Scott continued going to crime scenes. He now saw these visits for what they were--penance for his weakness, for his lack of faith, for his inability to be anything other than a living victim of this beast. His prayers were now for the police, that they'd soon find and stop the killer. He had little hope that these prayers would be answered.

It was the day after the week's second murder, that of the older man, and Father Scott was walking the levels of the parking garage where the body had been found. He wondered if he should just keep walking, away from his duties, away from his vocation, when a voice called to him from the shadows between two parked vans.

"Are you lost, Father?"

Yes, Father Scott thought, but not in the way you mean. "No," he answered, "just walking back to my car."

"You look like a man in need of direction," came the whispered voice.

No kidding, Father Scott thought bitterly to himself. He looked up, but whoever had addressed him had gone. It wasn't until he returned to the rectory and took off the street clothes he always wore on such outings that Father Scott wondered, "How did he know I was a priest?"

Whoever it was hadn't been one of his parishioners; Father Scott knew that for sure. He would have stopped to talk. And it wasn't--him. Father Scott knew the voice of the killer all too well. He heard it in his sleep, in dreams that taunted him for his failure as a priest. Who then, and how had he known?

The murders were now the lead story on all the TV news shows--each of the city's four local stations selecting a different victim to profile, each story complete with exclusive interviews with families and friends of the deceased. The city's daily papers published a list of all the known victims--fifteen in all, the police had finally admitted. The dead were young and old, male and female, killed in no discernible pattern except maybe opportunity.

Experts were hired, by both the media and police task force. Called in were FBI profilers, renowned crime scene specialists, a psychic or two and even a prominent mystery author whose popular series of novels were written from the killer's point of view. All of them had an opinion as to the type of man who would commit such crimes. None of the opinions matched, none of the experts helped. And the one man who knew enough about the killings to give the police any kind of a lead sat alone in his rectory, watching the news every night and reading the paper every morning, praying for a miracle and slowly losing his faith in God.

Another week went by, another body was found--number sixteen if the official count was to be believed. Father Scott put off his usual visit to the site, there was no longer any need. He had seen all he had needed to on television. And soon it was Saturday again. The killer didn't come last week; he'll be here today, Father Scott thought as he dressed for morning Mass. During the Service the readings seemed to mock him, speaking as they did of the Lord's divine justice and mercy. One line in particular, from Paul's Letter to the Romans, stayed with him.

"'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay' says the Lord." Like the tune of a too familiar song, the line stayed with Father Scott as he walked through the empty church after Mass. "When?" he shouted toward the altar. "When will You stop this? If vengeance is Yours then take it."

Father Scott's words echoed through the empty church as he looked around, hoping no one was there to hear him. Seeing no one, he walked into the sanctuary and knelt before the altar. Saying nothing, thinking nothing, he waited for an answer. And again, none came.

How long he knelt there Father Scott didn't know. When he finally stood up he said, "It's not Your way anymore, is it? No more Divine Intervention? You put us here and gave us the Word, and now the rest is up to us."

And then it came together. It is up to us, to me. And what was the Word? "Vengeance is Mine?" Father Scott knew what he had to do.

Buying the gun was easy--the city had yet to establish waiting periods and record checks--he just handed over his credit card and walked out with a .38 revolver and ammunition.

He returned to the church just in time, thirty minutes before confession was to start. He took out the gun, opened the cylinder and loaded the cartridges. Could he do it? He'd never fired a gun before. Just point and shoot, he thought. I'll be close enough that marksmanship won't matter. What if there are other penitents? He put that thought aside. What happens, happens and then I'll call the police.

And tell them--nothing. They'll arrive. I'll hand them the gun and admit to the killing. I'll say nothing after that. The Sanctity of the Confessional extends after death. With luck they'll link the dead man to the murders. If not, at least the killings will stop.

I wonder if I'll be allowed to practice some sort of ministry in prison, Father Scott thought as he took his prayer book out of its black leather case and replaced it with the gun. He zipped up the case. All set.

"You won't be needing that." Father Scott loo something in the paper about this man, some sort of vigilante who had just appeared in the city.

"I've been watching you, Father. I watched you from an alley after the death of Delores Smith and again when you visited the park. I thought at first you were the killer. Later I learned otherwise. He confesses to you, doesn't he? And now you mean to stop him." A gloved hand pointed to the leather case Father Scott was still holding.

"So, what if I am? You of all people should understand. It's what you do, isn't it?"

"It's what I do," The Monk admitted. "The gun, once taken up, is hard to put down." The whisper of the Monk's voice grew softer. "I was once like you, a man with souls in his care. One day to save those souls I used this..." In the Monk's hand there was suddenly the biggest gun Father Scott had ever seen, some sort of automatic the priest supposed. "A deadly answer to a terrifying problem, but at the time the only one I could find. After that my path in life was set. And so will yours be if you don't turn aside."

Father Scott heard the chimes mark the hour. Time for Confession. He knew this man was offering to take the burden from him. Of course, Father Scott would have to identify the killer, and there was only one way to do that. It was tempting, but so are most sins.

"I can't help you."

"You'd kill rather than violate the sanctity of Confession. Which sin is greater, do you think?" The Monk quickly moved forward. "Forgive me, Father."

Which sin is greater, the Grey Monk thought as he sat in the darkness of the confessional. Assaulting a priest and leaving him tied and gagged in a closet, or impersonating him and hearing confessions. The Monk felt no guilt about either. Lesser sins to prevent greater ones. Father Scott would never have cooperated willingly. And to whom did people confess, the priest or God? If God, then did it matter who sat in the box? And if to the priest, then they were wasting their time. Besides, it wasn't as if this were the first ... no, that part of his life was over, best not to think about it.

There were few penitents that day. Not like it used to be, the Monk remarked to himself, remembering the days when the line for confession was five or six people long on both sides of the box. Of course, that was when the Mass was still in Latin and mystery and ritual surrounded all the sacraments. He listened to those few who came to recite their minor offenses and transgressions and gave out penances appropriate to the sin. Much like my real life, he thought, momentarily glad to be dealing out Pater Nosters and Ave Marias rather than punishment and death.

An hour went by. Will he come, worried the Monk. That Father Scott was bringing a gun into the box suggested that the priest was expecting him.

The Monk waited. In came a girl who had been mean to her sister, a man who had cheated at cards, a wife who had cheated on her husband. The Monk heard them and sent them away with prayers to say and amends to make.

Fifteen minutes left. The church would be empty by now. This tactic had failed. Maybe the killer had decided not to come; maybe he had heard someone remark that "Father Visitor" was hearing confessions today. Maybe...?

The Monk heard the door of the confessional open and close, then the click of the pre-dieu. He slid the panel open.

"They're wrong, you know," came the voice from the other side. "It's only fourteen. The other two weren't mine."

Mimicry was not one of the Monk's gifts. Keeping his voice low and trusting to the darkness of the confessional, he hoped to pass for Father Scott just long enough. "Which two?" he whispered through the metal screen.

"The guy in the garage and that old woman last week. I didn't do them."

"But the other fourteen, they are yours? You take responsibility for their deaths?"

"That's right. Good to hear you're in a better mood, good for both of us."

Not understanding the reference, the Monk ignored it. "And are there any bodies not yet found?"

"Not yet, but there's always..." The killer paused in sudden realization of the deception. "You're not Father Scott." The pre-dieu clicked as the man stood.

The Monk was already in motion. He was out of the box as the killer was opening his door. The Monk shouldered it hard, forcing it shut. He heard the man inside fall to the floor.

With .45 in hand, the Monk opened the door and quickly stepped back, prepared for the killer's rush. Instead, he found him sprawled half on the floor, half seated on the pre-dieu, bathed in the violet light of the confessional.

"Don't," the Monk whispered. The killer, who had been about to stand, looked at the automatic pointing at his head and obeyed.

The Monk kept his attention on the man in front of him. He hoped that the church was empty, and prayed that anyone present would flee rather than try to interfere.

"You have made a mockery of this holy place. There is time for one last, true confession." He would give the man in front of him that much of a chance.

Hands raised, the killer smiled. "Nothing to confess. Whatever the priest told you, whatever I told you, can't be used. And when the police get here, I'm just a poor sinner attacked by a crazy man."

Time was short. The police would be here soon. And there was no reason for them to hold this man, this poor sinner. And sinner he was, the Monk reflected, but one who won't repent in this life. So let him be judged in the next.

"Forgive me, Father," the Monk said aloud, and pulled the trigger.

One more sin, the Monk thought as he fled the church. A greater one this time. If he had time, he'd ask Father Scott for absolution. But it was better to leave the man tied up in the sacristy, the better to absolve the priest of the murder committed in his church.

As he drove back to his small, downtown apartment, the Monk wondered if the dead man would ever be linked to the serial murders. He hoped so, but it really didn't matter. The killing had been stopped, and the Lord's Justice and Vengeance meted out. There was more work to be done, but for today it was sufficient.

* * * *

DEN OF THIEVES

After leaving work, Harry Smith turned left and walked toward the police station. It wasn't right, he thought. No matter how much they offered him it wasn't right. Then the thought of the money made him reconsider going to the cops. It was a lot and he could use it for his kids. Food, clothes, school--all of it cost, and the cost kept going up. The only thing going down was his salary. His hours had been cut at the museum and he was worried about paying the bills. A security guard didn't earn that much to begin with, and now he would be making even less. The money would come in handy, and all he had to do was be somewhere else when...

No! Harry had tried to raise his kids to always do the right thing. He wouldn't preach one thing and do another. He'd go to the district station and tell the cops. That would stop things cold. Maybe then the museum would restore his hours, even promote him, at the least they might give him a raise.

Going to the police was starting to look like a very good idea as Harry crossed the street. He didn't hear the truck that had been following him speed up, and didn't see it until it was on top of him. Then there was darkness.


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