Sparrow by L.J. Shen


Trinity Chapel

South Boston, Massachusetts

SILENCE. THE MOST loaded sound in human history.

The only sound audible was the click, click of my Derby shoes against the mosaic floor. I closed my eyes, playing the game I relished as a kid one last time. I knew the way to the confession booth by heart. Been a parishioner in this church since the day I was born. I was christened here. Attended Sunday mass here every week. Had my first sloppy kiss in the bathroom, right fucking here. I would probably have my impending funeral here, though with the legacy of men in my family, it wouldn’t be an open-casket event.

Three, four, five steps past the holy water font, I took a sharp right turn, counting.

Six, seven, eight, nine. My eyes fluttered open. Still got it.

It was there, the wooden box where all of my secrets were once buried. The confession booth.

I opened the squeaking door and blinked, the smell of mold and the sour sweat of sinners crawling into my nose. I hadn’t set foot in reconciliation in two years. Not since my father died. But I guess confessions were like riding a bike—once you learned, you never forgot.

Though this time, things would go down differently.

It was an old-fashioned booth, in an old-fashioned church, no living-room bullshit design and fancy, modern crap. Classic dark wood covered every corner, a wire grille divided the priest and the confessors, with a crucifix hung above it.

I settled in my seat on the wooden bench, my ass hitting the scarred pew with a bang. At 6’4”, I looked like a giant trying to fit into a Barbie Dream House. Memories of sitting here as a boy, my legs dangling mid-air as I told Father McGregor about my small, meaningless sins raced through my mind, tangling into a messy ball of nostalgia. The thought of how big my sins were turning out to be would make McGregor sick to his stomach. But my rage toward him was stronger than my morals.

I folded my suit coat on the bench beside me. Sorry, old man. Today you’ll meet the maker you’ve been preaching about all these years.

I heard him sliding his side of the screen open with a screech, clearing his throat. I did the sign of the cross, reciting, “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

His chair creaked, his body stiffening at the sound of my voice. He recognized me. Good. I relished the thought of his death, and to some people I guessed that would make me a psychopath.

But it was true.

I was fucking thrilled. I was a monster, out for blood. I was vengeance and hate, fury and wrath.

“Son…” His voice trembled, but he stuck to the usual script. “How long has it been since your last confession?”

“Cut the bullshit. You know.” I smiled, staring at nothing in particular. Everything in the place was so goddamn wooden. Not that I expected an interior designer’s touch, but this shit was ridiculous. It looked like the inside of a coffin. Certainly felt like one.

“Can we move on?” I cracked my neck and rolled up my sleeves. “Time is money.”

“It’s also a healer.”

I clenched my jaw, balling and releasing my fists.

“Nice try.” I paused, checking my Rolex. His time was running out. Mine, too.

Tick tock, tick tock.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. Two years ago, I killed a man. His name was Billy Crupti. He shot a bullet straight into my father’s forehead and blew out his brains, causing my family pain and devastation. I killed him with my bare hands.”

I let the weight of my confession sink in and continued. “I cut his arms and legs, just enough so he wouldn’t bleed to death, tied him up and had him watching as a pack of fighting dogs fought over his parts.” My voice was eerily calm. “When everything was done and dealt with, I tied a weight to his waist and threw him from a commercial pier on the bay, still twitching, to die a slow, painful suffocating death. Now tell me, Father, how many Hail Marys for a murder?”

I knew he wasn’t the type to bring a cell phone into the booth. McGregor was too old and cocky for modern technology. Even though he went rogue on my father, he never imagined he’d be caught. Least of all by me. Least of all like this. I waited patiently for two years for the perfect moment. For him to be exposed, off-guard and alone at church.

Now, as I confessed my sin, he knew I was going to wait at the other end of the booth and claim his life, too. He had no way out.

He was mostly silent, calculating his next move. I heard him swallow hard, his fingernail scraping at the wooden chair he sat on.

I crossed one leg over the other and cupped one of my knees, amused. “Now your turn. How ’bout we hear about them sins, Father?”

He released a breath he’d been holding in a sharp sigh. “That’s not how confessions work.”

“Don’t I fucking know it,” I snorted. “This one’s a little different, though. So…” I brushed the screen dividing us with my glove and watched as he flinched on the other side. “I’m all ears.”

I heard the clatter of his rosary beads as they dropped from his hand and the creak of his chair when he kneeled down to pick them up.

“I’m a man of God,” he tried to reason with me.

I seethed with resentment. He was also a man who spilled secrets from the confessional.

“Not a soul on earth knew about the whereabouts of my father every Tuesday at ten p.m. Not a soul other than him and his mistress. And you,” I drawled. “Billy ‘Baby Face’ Crupti tracked down my father, unprotected and unarmed, because of you.”

He opened his mouth, intending to argue, but clapped it shut, thinking the better of it at the last minute. Somewhere in the distance a dog was barking and a woman was yelling at her husband in their backyard. Classic Southie reminders of the people I used to know before I moved to a skyscraper and reinvented myself.

McGregor gulped, stalling. “Troy, my son…”

I stood up, pushing my sleeves farther up my arms. “Enough. Out you go.”

He didn’t move for a few seconds, which prompted me to take out my knife and slice the grid open with a ripping sound. I shoved my hand into his booth, grabbing him by his white collar and pulling his head through the hole so I could take a good look at him. His gray hair stood out in all directions, damp with sweat. The horror in his eyes lightened my mood. His narrow, thin mouth hung open like a hooked fish.

“Please, please. Troy. Please. I beg you, son. Do not repeat the sins of your father,” he chanted, crying out in pain as I jerked him closer to my face.

“Open. The fucking. Booth.” I extended every word like it was a sentence of its own.

I heard a sleek click as he fumbled for the door. I released his hair out of my fist, and we both stepped out.

McGregor stood before me, several inches shorter. A chubby, sweaty, corrupted man pretending to be God’s messenger. A tasteless joke.

“You’re really going to kill your priest,” he pointed out sadly.

I shrugged. I wasn’t a hitman. I drew a thick red line somewhere near homicide, but this was personal. It was about my father. The man who raised me while my mom was too drunk on Bloomingdales sales and Sunday-brunch cocktails. She was so absent from my childhood, not to mention adulthood, that I was practically half orphaned. If nothing else, my father deserved closure.

“You’re just like them. I thought you were different. Better,” McGregor accused.

I pressed my lips into a thin line. My job had nothing to do with Irish mobsters. I didn’t need the Feds crawling up my ass every time someone farted in my direction and certainly had no interest in the framework of gang leaders and soldiers. I was a lone wolf, who hired a few people to help him out when help was needed. I had no buffer between me and my clients, colleagues and enemies. And most importantly, I sailed smoothly under the radar. Didn’t need to hide behind a dozen soldiers. When I needed someone gone, I handled them myself.

And Father McGregor had to pay for his sins. He was already supposed to be dead—collateral damage. But he hadn’t shown up where he was supposed to when I took out the guy he’d ratted my dad out to. Billy Crupti. The asshole.

So now I had to do this in a fucking church.

“Be quick,” he requested.

I nodded grimly.

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