VIATICUM PART ONE
It was promising to be a misty morning. That is if one could call 3 AM morning. A cold breeze drifted in off the Atlantic Ocean, bringing the noise of some distant breaking waves. Little crabs scurried back to their holes as I parted their huddle. It wasn’t intentional, I appreciated all of God’s creatures. My robe clung to my calves as I walked along the pebbled beach front, the wet hem making a boisterous flapping sound each time the wind picked up. I kept my left hand in my pocket for warmth, and my right hand fingered the rustic rosary, for another type of warmth.
Lee, my half-brother, and best friend since childhood, had called me to this secluded spot as he always did. I could make out his balding, pot-bellied shape, standing next to a small fishing boat that kissed the beach. Palo, a suspicious, but obligated fisherman, willing to lease his boat for tonight’s excursion, was conversing with him. I hated these calls, but some things were necessary. It was part of my calling.
“Morning father.” The fisherman, a man with the built of an adolescent, but the forearms of a lumberjack, and two missing fingers greeted me.
“Morning Palo. How’s the family?”
“They are doing okay. Thank you for asking father.” He held the boat steady as I climbed aboard.
Lee didn’t acknowledge me. His companion in the boat nodded. His mouth gagged; hands shackled. He seemed afraid, but quietly accepting or his fate. He should be.
Palo shoved the vessel away from the beach and as Lee revved the engine, the tiny, wooden vessel lunged forward. I hated being on the ocean. Salty air, the uneven motion of undulating waves, the silence… God knows I hated the silence ever since my time in Latin America.
For twenty minutes we pushed into the blackness of the night, until the lights on the shore danced like fireflies in the distance. Lee cut the engines and allowed the vessel to drift to a stop.
“How are you doing little brother?” He finally spoke to me, as he got up and walked over to our guest.
“God is good. I am well Lee.”
I watched as he removed the gag and pressed his boot into the man’s chest. He was frail and exhausted. Bloodied about his hands and face. Lee had softened him up a bit. His hands were dry and scaly. I could see several small lacerations to the soles of his feet, most likely man made, as Lee didn’t want him attempting to run.
“Isaac here, has an appointment he must keep.” Lee slapped him across the face; more like a friendly, gentle nudge.
Isaac had been on the run for three weeks. Having snuck into the country as a hired gun, he had hoped tonight’s boat ride would be his means of escape. It would be in some way.
“How long has it been since your last confession?” I asked him.
He stared at me. Eyes focused and panicked, like a cornered animal. There was this moment, of that awkward disconnect of realization and disbelief; of hilarity and incredulity, as he perhaps saw for the first time the robe, and the rosary beads. No ordinary rosary.
“You are a priest?” his lips were brittle and bleeding. Dehydration or rather the aftereffects of some drug, as Lee was not known for his kindness. I nodded to answer his question and offered him a sip of water from a half empty plastic bottle.
“Could we be quick about this?” Lee shackled a heavy cylinder block to Isaac’s ankles. It weighed at least two hundred pounds. I’d seen him use one before.
“Every man deserves to have a clear conscience before he meets his maker.” I spoke to Lee without taking my eyes off Isaac.
He looked at the cylinder block, then at me. His eyes suddenly pleading. There was a quick glance for a possible escape, a reckoning that quickly confirmed it would be futile. Either way his eyes returned to the shackles and the block attached to him. Lee resigned himself back to the edge of the boat, sitting next to the engine. It was warmer there.
“You won’t get away with this. Others will come looking for me.” The wooden boat wobbled with a small swelling and the chain slid under his legs. He adjusted it with a tug. Testing, hoping… futile.
“No one cares for you Isaac. You were a useful idiot. You won’t be missed.” Lee enjoyed provoking him.
There was a breach in the water, then a splash. A dolphin or a fish running from a predator. Sharks infested these waters. Another reason why I hated the ocean.
“What do you want from me father? A confession doesn’t change my destination. I’ve always had a one-way ticket to hell.”
“There is forgiveness for all who seek it.”
“Even for me?” his eyes had now shifted to Lee. I know he was calculating his options. Lee was older, overweight, and would be slow to react. But that would be a costly miscalculation. My half brother would shoot first rather than chase after him. No one outran a bullet.
“Even for you Isaac.”
He set his right heel against part of the framing, and the other he wedged near the keel. He was steadying himself.
“I’ve been at this too long Father. There’s no God. If there was, he would’ve stopped me at conception.”
“I did not make the rules. Time is of the essence Isaac. I have a meeting at sunrise.”
I got up and squatted down closer to him.
“He was six.” I whispered.
“He was a witness.” Not even a hint of remorse.
“Who orders a hit on a child?”
“His overly inquisitive father and his talkative mother who never minded her own business.” He smirked and raised his eyebrows.
“Confession time Isaac.” I pulled him closer to the edge, and Lee moved toward the block.
“The payment came through the usual channels. A Syrian restaurant owner downtown.” His sentence was hurried.
“Does this businessman have a name?” salt water sprayed my face.
“It’s the only name that matters around here.”
“Who else was involved?”
“An Uber driver who lives on Kenneth Street. Drives a Jeep Cherokee.”
“Anything else you’d like to tell me?”
“Just that you should enjoy all those little boys while your God still lets you live. I’d be waiting for you Father.”
I was unmoved. Isaac had been a scourge on this neighborhood for a long time. Popping in and out when his services were in demand. The authorities would conveniently be late to the scene, and he could never be found thereafter. But this time he crossed the wrong person. I nodded to Lee.
“Wait, wait, wait!” he pushed himself away from the edge, the chains pulling taut.
Lee did not stop, but he rested the block on the edge of the boat. It leaned violently, then bobbed back into position.
“What is it my son?” I was eager to get back on dry land.
“Would it be… would it be quick?” he peered over the edge; it was only blackness. Water sprayed into the boat. It was cold and smelt fresh.
“Only if you resist. Have a few mouthfuls on the way down. You look thirsty.” Lee grabbed him under the armpit and tossed him over.
The block didn’t move, as Isaac was as light as a feather. He surfaced, barely keeping his head above water.
“I am sorry for these and all my sins. I ask pardon of God, penance, and absolution of you, Father.” He shouted above the swells. Then he laughed at me, the kind of laughter that mocked the very essence of what I pretended to be.
The cylinder block plunged into the water with a loud splash, and in a split-second Isaac’s head was suddenly jerked forward and beneath in hot pursuit. The doughy, white, soggy soles of his feet was the last thing I saw.
“I want the Uber driver alive, Lee.” I put the image out of my mind as I sat down again in the small fishing boat.
The engine started up, and the boat pirouetted in a tight semi circle as we made our way back to the shore. Morning mass would be filled with the usual crowd.