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Authors: John Grisham

The Confession

BOOK: The Confession
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ALSO BY JOHN GRISHAM

A Time to Kill
The Firm
The Pelican Brief
The Client
The Chamber
The Rainmaker
The Runaway Jury
The Partner
The Street Lawyer
The Testament
The Brethren
A Painted House
Skipping Christmas
The Summons
The King of Torts
Bleachers
The Last Juror
The Broker
The Innocent Man
Playing for Pizza
The Appeal
The Associate
Ford County
Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer

DOUBLEDAY

PUBLISHED BY DOUBLEDAY

Copyright © 2010 by Belfry Holdings, Inc.

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
www.doubleday.com

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

DOUBLEDAY
and the DD colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file with the Library of Congress.

eISBN: 978-0-385-53413-0

v3.1

Contents
PART ONE
THE
CRIME
CHAPTER 1

T
he custodian at St. Mark’s had just scraped three inches of snow off the sidewalks when the man with the cane appeared. The sun was up, but the winds were howling; the temperature was stuck at the freezing mark. The man wore only a pair of thin dungarees, a summer shirt, well-worn hiking boots, and a light Windbreaker that stood little chance against the chill. But he did not appear to be uncomfortable, nor was he in a hurry. He was on foot, walking with a limp and a slight tilt to his left, the side aided by the cane. He shuffled along the sidewalk near the chapel and stopped at a side door with the word “Office” painted in dark red. He did not knock and the door was not locked. He stepped inside just as another gust of wind hit him in the back.

The room was a reception area with the cluttered, dusty look one would expect to find in an old church. In the center was a desk with a nameplate that announced the presence of Charlotte Junger, who sat not far behind her name. She said with a smile, “Good morning.”

“Good morning,” the man said. A pause. “It’s very cold out there.”

“It is indeed,” she said as she quickly sized him up. The obvious problem was that he had no coat and nothing on his hands or head.

“I assume you’re Ms. Junger,” he said, staring at her name.

“No, Ms. Junger is out today. The flu. I’m Dana Schroeder, the minister’s wife, just filling in. What can we do for you?”

There was one empty chair and the man looked hopefully at it. “May I?”

“Of course,” she said. He carefully sat down, as if all movements needed forethought.

“Is the minister in?” he asked as he looked at a large, closed door off to the left.

“Yes, but he’s in a meeting. What can we do for you?” She was petite, with a nice chest, tight sweater. He couldn’t see anything below the waist, under the desk. He had always preferred the smaller ones. Cute face, big blue eyes, high cheekbones, a wholesome pretty girl, the perfect little minister’s wife.

It had been so long since he’d touched a woman.

“I need to see Reverend Schroeder,” he said as he folded his hands together prayerfully. “I was in church yesterday, listened to his sermon, and, well, I need some guidance.”

“He’s very busy today,” she said with a smile. Really nice teeth.

“I’m in a rather urgent situation,” he said.

Dana had been married to Keith Schroeder long enough to know that no one had ever been sent away from his office, appointment or not. Besides, it was a frigid Monday morning and Keith wasn’t really that busy. A few phone calls, one consultation with a young couple in the process of retreating from a wedding, under way at that very moment, then the usual visits to the hospitals. She fussed around the desk, found the simple questionnaire she was looking for, and said, “Okay, I’ll take some basic information and we’ll see what can be done.” Her pen was ready.

“Thank you,” he said, bowing slightly.

“Name?”

“Travis Boyette.” He instinctively spelled his last name for her. “Date of birth, October 10, 1963. Place, Joplin, Missouri. Age, forty-four. Single, divorced, no children. No address. No place of employment. No prospects.”

Dana absorbed this as her pen frantically searched for the proper blanks to be filled. His response created far more questions than her little form was designed to accommodate. “Okay, about the address,” she said, still writing. “Where are you staying these days?”

“These days I’m the property of the Kansas Department of Corrections. I’m assigned to a halfway house on Seventeenth Street, a few blocks from here. I’m in the process of being released, ‘re-entry,’ as they like to call it. A few months in the halfway house here in Topeka, then I’m a free man with nothing to look forward to but parole for the rest of my life.”

The pen stopped moving, but Dana stared at it anyway. Her interest in the inquiry had suddenly lost steam. She was hesitant to ask anything more. However, since she had started the interrogation, she felt compelled to press on. What else were they supposed to do while they waited on the minister?

“Would you like some coffee?” she asked, certain that the question was harmless.

There was a pause, much too long, as if he couldn’t decide. “Yes, thanks. Just black with a little sugar.”

Dana scurried from the room and went to find coffee. He watched her leave, watched everything about her, noticed the nice round backside under the everyday slacks, the slender legs, the athletic shoulders, even the ponytail. Five feet three, maybe four, 110 pounds max.

She took her time, and when she returned Travis Boyette was right where she’d left him, still sitting monklike, the fingertips of his right hand gently tapping those of his left, his black wooden cane across his thighs, his eyes gazing forlornly at nothing on the far wall. His head was completely shaved, small, and perfectly round and shiny, and as she handed him the cup, she pondered the frivolous question of whether
he’d gone bald at an early age or simply preferred the skinned look. There was a sinister tattoo creeping up the left side of his neck.

He took the coffee and thanked her for it. She resumed her position with the desk between them.

“Are you Lutheran?” she asked, again with the pen.

“I doubt it. I’m nothing really. Never saw the need for church.”

“But you were here yesterday. Why?”

Boyette held the cup with both hands at his chin, like a mouse nibbling on a morsel. If a simple question about coffee took a full ten seconds, then one about church attendance might require an hour. He sipped, licked his lips. “How long do you think it’ll be before I can see the reverend?” he finally asked.

Not soon enough, Dana thought, anxious now to pass this one along to her husband. She glanced at a clock on the wall and said, “Any minute now.”

“Would it be possible just to sit here in silence as we wait?” he asked, with complete politeness.

Dana absorbed the stiff-arm and quickly decided that silence wasn’t a bad idea. Then her curiosity returned. “Sure, but one last question.” She was looking at the questionnaire as if it required one last question. “How long were you in prison?” she asked.

“Half my life,” Boyette said with no hesitation, as if he fielded that one five times a day.

Dana scribbled something, and then the desktop keyboard caught her attention. She pecked away with a flourish as if suddenly facing a deadline. Her e-mail to Keith read: “There’s a convicted felon out here who says he must see you. Not leaving until. Seems nice enough. Having coffee. Let’s wrap things up back there.”

Five minutes later the pastor’s door opened and a young woman escaped through it. She was wiping her eyes. She was followed by her ex-fiancé, who managed both a frown and a smile at the same time. Neither spoke to Dana. Neither noticed Travis Boyette. They disappeared.

When the door slammed shut, Dana said to Boyette, “Just a minute.” She hustled into her husband’s office for a quick briefing.

———

The Reverend Keith Schroeder was thirty-five years old, happily married to Dana for ten years now, the father of three boys, all born separately within the span of twenty months. He’d been the senior pastor at St. Mark’s for two years; before that, at a church in Kansas City. His father was a retired Lutheran minister, and Keith had never dreamed of being anything else. He was raised in a small town near St. Louis, educated in schools not far from there, and, except for a class trip to New York and a honeymoon in Florida, had never left the Midwest. He was generally admired by his congregation, though there had been issues. The biggest row occurred when he opened up the church’s basement to shelter some homeless folks during a blizzard the previous winter. After the snow melted, some of the homeless were reluctant to leave. The city issued a citation for unauthorized use, and there was a slightly embarrassing story in the newspaper.

BOOK: The Confession
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