"Clarkie, you fat fuck, if I hafta come over there I swear to God, I
will kick you in the nuts so fuckin' hard..."
Jack Leon's threat echoed through the vast expanse of the church. It
was like there was five of him. "Get your fat head in this fucking squeegee
right the fuck now."
Clarkie shuffled up the center aisle of the church toward Leon and
the waiting mop bucket while strains of "Silent Night" drifted up from the
music room, where Mrs. Opitz practiced the choir for tonight's vigil mass.
Behind Clarkie, Father Kelly burst through the sacristy door.
"Mr. Leon, you mind your language in God's house."
"Yes, Father Kelly. Sorry, Father Kelly." Leon called back over his
shoulder, but as Clarkie drew closer he whispered, "I am gonna fuck you up
The old priest genuflected and stepped backwards off the altar.
"Jesus does not look with favor on the bully, Mr. Leon.", Said
Father Kelly without breaking stride. "I'm due in the rectory for our seven
fishes dinner, but I'll be back to hear your confessions in one hour."
"Father", Clarkie asked, "Does God really forgive our sins?"
The priest paused for a moment and considered the two boys. Jack
Leon, a strapping high school football star, and Thomas Clark, three years
younger, overweight and uncoordinated. "Is something troubling you, Thomas?"
Father Kelly asked.
Clarkie hesitated. "No, father. Just askin'. I ain't got no sins on
my soul. I just wondered."
"Of course God forgives us our sins, Thomas, that is, if we're truly
sorry, and make a sincere promise to never repeat the trespass."
The priest had come to terms with the code of the neighborhood a
long time ago. It was the same in every parish. As much as there appeared to
be no justice in it, The Meek would always be taking the heat from assholes
like Leon. There wasn't enough time to intervene in every beatdown or verbal
assault. These things usually had a way of working themselves out.
"Very well, then. I'll see you gentlemen in an hour." And with that,
the priest was gone.
"I ain't got no sins on my soul, Fatha." Leon mocked in a sing song
voice as he swung his wet mop around, catching the younger boy on the side
of the head, sending Clarkie skidding headlong into the unyielding walnut of
a pew with a slap and a muffled thud. "Get your fucking head in this
squeegee before I lose it!" Leon boomed in the cavernous church.
This was their routine. Leon would squeeze his head until Clarkie
begged sufficiently to end the cruel game. Leon would insist that Clarkie
thank him for toughening him up. Every day since he took this job at Saint
Tim's he'd endured Leon's abuse. Most times while the other guys just stood
around, too scared to help him or in league with the big dope. Nobody was
about to get in Leon's way. He was too big and too scary.
Clarkie shimmied over toward the bucket on his knees, his red hair
matted to his cheek.
"That's a good dog", said Leon, "tuck your fat little coconut right
Clarkie leaned forward toward the bucket when the stench of the
filthy, gray water incited an involuntary gag reflex. Leon put a hand on the
back of his doughy neck and pushed the kid toward the open maw of the
squeegee, but Clarkie resisted just the slightest bit, causing the bigger
boy to lean on him with all his weight, and they both tumbled into the slop
Clarkie lay face down on the hard terrazzo floor waiting for Leon's
punishing fists to pound his kidneys, but the beating never came. Raising
his head tentatively, Clarkie found Leon propped at an odd angle, a broken,
three foot length of mop handle buried in his back. The top of the mop
handle was jammed under a kneeler with the sharp, broken end tucked neatly
between Leon's ribs, the spiked tip just inches from his racing heart.
Leon's feet scrabbled for purchase on the wet floor but the odd
angle of the mop handle and the pain in his back quickly immobilized him.
Clarkie stood slowly, casting a glance at the crucifix over the
altar. He looked down at Leon and wondered if this might be his chance to
win the older boy's favor. Like the mouse who pulls the thorn from the
lion's paw, God was serving up Clarkie's redemption on a silver platter.
Clarkie took Leon's right hand and positioned his sneakers to get a solid
grip on the wet floor.
Bright pink blood bubbled from Leon's nose and mouth. His eyes
darted wildly around looking at nothing in particular, when all at once he
locked eyes with Clarkie, and in a voice choked by the unnatural leaking of
body fluids, Leon croaked, "I'm gonna bash your fucking skull in, you little
fuck." Leon wheezed and more bloody bubbles popped under his nose and
trickled down his chin.
Clarkie held Leon's hand for a moment longer and looked back up at
the altar ringed by red and white poinsettias. He thought about what Father
Kelly said. About God's forgiveness.
Turning back to Leon, Clarkie gripped down tightly on the older
boy's wet hand. Leon tried to say something, but Clarkie wasn't listening
anymore. He slipped his right foot out of his Chuck Taylor, placed it on
Leon's chest and leaned into it with all his weight, driving the splintered
mop handle through Leon's black heart.
"When can I talk to the kid who saw this go down, Father?" asked
"Let him finish his penance.", Father Kelly answered, looking over
at Clarkie, head bowed, firmly resolving, with the help of His grace, to sin
Yes, the old priest thought to himself, these things usually have a
way of working themselves out. "He won't be long at all, detective."
Don Lafferty is a member of the Philly Liars Club, the social media director of the literary magazine, Wild River Review, and serves on the board of directors of the Philadelphia Writers' Conference.