Bless Me Father

by Tom Walsh

No place is as intimate as where you go to confess your sins.

Bless Me Father is a “who done it?” A story of love lost and love found in the midst of contemporary social issues of homelessness, addiction, and bringing the untouchable to justice.

Cloistered conversations in the confessional are sometimes tragic, sometimes humorous. It is a modern day crime mystery with character depth, a forbidden love, and a resurrected cold case.


Chapter One


Grabbing a pair of surgical gloves from a nurse’s cart, his hands trembled as he slipped them on. His heart suddenly pounding heavily in his chest at the thought of what he must do. He realized that the antiseptic smell of the building made him nervous, reminding him that he was in a very controlled environment. This was not the type of place where a plan like his was typically carried out. He pulled a piece of paper from his shirt pocket under the doctor’s white smock that he had taken from the back of a chair just down the hall. He was looking the part, and he was feeling the part, like he belonged here. No one suspected. He checked the numbers on the paper as he strode with purpose. 108. 106. There it was—104.

Holding his breath, he slowly and quietly opened the door. Stepping into the darkness of the room, the door automatically closing behind him. The few lights penetrating the darkness of the room came from a distant streetlight beyond the closed curtains and the green digital readouts of medical equipment beside the patient’s bed. The only sound was a soft and steady whir of life support gear that was for some reason trying to keep this dying man alive. He approached the bedside.

The face of the man asleep looked haggard, gray and pale, in fact, he looked like he was already dead. Now he removed a bottle from the inside pocket of his inner jacket, unscrewing the bottle top, placing the cap on the rolling table by the bedside. Reaching down he grabbed a folded sink towel from a bedside shelf, neatly wrapping the towel around the open bottleneck.

With one hand, he reached behind the old man’s head and cradled his neck and skull, thinking that this man he once knew had shrunk considerably. He was surprised at how light the man’s body was as he pulled him up into an almost upright, sitting position. The man suddenly made a deep gasp and began to breathe deeply as if awakening from a nightmare.

He put the bottle to the man’s open mouth as his eyelids fluttered open and his bloodshot eyeballs seemed to roll back up into his head. For but a few seconds he was able to pour the fluid freely down the man’s throat, but then as he expected the old man’s gag reflex kicked in. At this point the man appeared to become fully conscious and he began to panic. The chaos of this moment was fueling him with more determination to control it. He tightened his grips on his victim.

The man’s weak arms flailed about but the tight hold on him limited his ability to do much else. The bottle began to knock dully against the man’s teeth as his bodily reflexes tried to reject the fluid that was now drowning him. The towel acted as a gasket and kept any fluid from escaping, otherwise it surely would have been spraying everywhere. The old man’s panic-ridden eyes tried to focus. They were searching for the cause of this sudden horror.

He then saw the moment of recognition in the old man’s eyes and felt great satisfaction in knowing that his victim now understood, their eyes communicating what was happening. No words were necessary.

The old man no longer flailed about, either because he gave up, or he was just unable to do so. His eyes were no longer panic-stricken. Instead, they seemed now focused on a point beyond the ceiling of the room. It was as if, that whatever he saw, he now saw clearly, and he had come to accept it.

Now loosening his grip on the old man, he removed the bottle and towel from his mouth and he let his body down gently on the hospital bed, closing the man’s eyelids and lifting his jaw to close his mouth. He gently turned the man’s head to the side, resting it on the pillow, and then placing the vodka bottle in his hand so it was trapped between his hand and leg.

He stopped to stare at the man before leaving the room, taking a deep breath just standing there momentarily at the foot of the hospital bed before he turned and walked out the door.


Chapter Two


A nameplate above the middle compartment of the confessionals read, “Father Timothy O’Keefe.” Empty pews explained the dim green lights shining above the outer two booths. A man walking in from the side entrance to St. Francis de Sales’ Catholic Church opened the nearest compartment door and quickly closed it behind him. He knelt down in front of a closed screen, now patiently waiting.

The shutting door mildly startled the priest in the middle compartment who was in a prayerful meditation. He slid the confessional panel aside noticing now the mustiness of his confined space as he made a deep yawn and the sign of the cross. Rain could be heard hitting the small window set higher up in the wall behind him.

Only a shadow profile of the priest was visible to the confessor through the screen but a ray of light allowed him to just make out the back of the priest’s gray and balding head. The man thought it metaphorical that the sinner seeking absolution was left in darkness until the forgiving servant of God allowed the light in. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” The man spoke with a hoarse whisper. He could just make out the priest nodding an affirmative on the other side, imagining the priest closing his eyes and resting his chin on his folded hands. “It has been some time since my last confession.”

The priest listening on the other side of the screen crinkled his brow at the unstated period between confessions but said nothing.

The penitent paused, not saying a word, almost as if waiting to see if the priest would nod off to sleep. But the priest patiently took a deep breath and spoke.

“Yes, my son,” the priest whispered with the slightest hint of a lilted accent.

“Father, I have killed a man.”

The rain must have turned to hail, or at least to the priest the rain seemed louder than it was just a few moments ago.

The confessor thought that the priest must have stopped breathing, and he grinned at the thought that the old man might be having heart palpitations. He was reveling in the power he felt in this moment. He could see that the priest was straightening his posture as the back of his head moved to the rear of the center compartment and he heard the priest deeply inhaling and then exhaling. His grin almost turned to a laugh as he became surprised that the old man did not ask him to repeat himself. After all, it wasn’t every day that someone confessed a sin of this weight.

“You did this by your own hand?” the old priest asked.


The priest was silent again. He was choosing his words carefully. “Was this in self-defense? Were you protecting someone?”

“I was protecting someone.”

“Tell me,” the priest implored, “Why is it you feel that you have something to confess if you were protecting another life?”

The man remained silent and did not answer. The priest patiently waited and again exhaled a long breath. The creaking sounds from his compartment told the confessor that the priest had again repositioned himself to be more comfortable. He thought that the priest must be readying himself for a lengthy conversation.

Not waiting any longer for an answer to his question the priest asked another, “Are you an officer of the law?”

“Does it matter?”

The priest ignored the question and asked another himself. “Has this been reported to the authorities?”

“No, it has not.”

“And why not?”

“Father, I came here to seek forgiveness and penance for my sin, I did not come here for an interrogation.”

Amazed at the penitent’s somewhat brazen response the priest stumbled in phrasing his words. He was aware of his growing anxiousness but he was not fearful. “Well, the taking of a life is a complicated matter. Is it not?” The priest had never had any one confess to taking a life before.

“It is not. It is a very simple matter actually, and you might even say that it can be quite enjoyable.”

“So you have guilt because you enjoyed taking a life?”

“I have no guilt, whatsoever.”

Both men were again silent. The moments of dead calm felt longer than they actually were as tension built with every passing second. The two compartments of the confessional now felt like one.

“Yet, you say that you seek forgiveness,” the priest said matter-of-factly.

“I seek redemption more than forgiveness, but if forgiveness comes with the penance then I’ll take that too.”

“Redemption and forgiveness are two different things. God does not require redemption in order to forgive. He forgives you if you are truly repentant. Redemption,” the priest hesitated, “redemption comes from voluntary works of mercy. It is not a spiritual cure that you can find here.”

“Then where do I find it?”

“Why, within yourself. Of course!”

The confessor was silent for a few moments. “Then what is to be my penance, Father?”

“You said you enjoyed killing this person.” “How can you take pleasure in the taking of a life, and do so with no remorse?”

“The one I killed didn’t deserve to live. He had it coming to him. It was long overdue.”

“Everyone deserves to live,” the priest quickly responded.

“He hurt children.”

The priest again was choosing his words very carefully. “Even so, every sinner has a right to life. It is not up to us to determine who lives or who dies. That decision is up to God, and God alone.”

“He did despicable things. The children he hurt are changed forever!”

“Still, Jesus taught us to forgive. There is no acceptable precept for taking a life.”

“Then what of the words of Matthew, the words of Luke and the words of John? ‘Who so shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea.’”

“Indeed, for those who harm innocent children it may be better, but I don’t believe these words were written as a call to action and to incite people to string millstones around people’s necks!”

“Thank you, Father, but I do not need the church to interpret the gospels for me. I am very capable of doing that for myself.”

“Yet you are somehow compelled to come here and confess.”

“Yes! And what is to be my penance, Father?” He was demanding in his tone.

The priest was becoming more agitated. “This is not a weigh station at the landfill man. This is not the place to come and dump your cart and then assume that you’ll pay your penance and then be happily on your way. There must be real repentance, genuine regret, and true contrition. Not just a repetition of words, of Our Fathers and Hail Marys but real works of mercy! Only then can there be an absolution of sin. How did you come to know what this man did, and if you had this knowledge then why did you not report him to the authorities?”

“I know a victim. And I know of others. I could not report him! I was but a boy, and he…” The man hesitated, then added, “He was a priest.”

“I am truly sorry for your pain and suffering my son.”

“And what of my sin, Father? What is my penance to be?” The man began to sound almost desperate in his request.

After a brief pause the priest cleared his throat. “Your penance,” Father O’Keefe said thoughtfully, “your penance is to report this matter to the authorities and to accept the consequences that come as a result. Only if you turn yourself in can you be granted absolution.”

“I cannot do that.”

“The authorities may be compassionate and lenient considering the circumstances.”

“I am not worried about what happens to me,” he said to the priest.

“Then why not report this?”

“Because I am not done with my voluntary works of mercy!”

“Then why did you come here at all? You cannot design your own penance for yourself. What was your point in coming here?” The priest heard the man abruptly leave the confessional booth and heard his footsteps fading away towards the rear of the church. The priest opened the door only slightly to his compartment. He surveyed the church and saw that no one else was waiting for the confessional so he proceeded to remove his confessional stole from around his neck. He made the sign of the cross and kissed the stole, placing it on a hanger on the inside of the door. As he stepped out of the confessional he glanced towards the rear of the church from where he could still hear the man’s footsteps echoing up from the church tiles. Then his jaw dropped and he felt a tightness grip his chest as he caught a glimpse of a man wearing the black cassock of a priest turning the corner behind a marble pillar leading out to the side exit of the church.

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Murder Mystery

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