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BOOK: The Priest's Graveyard
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So I had to think, which one would be most likely to stay and fight? Because that’s the one I would shoot last, knowing he
would not run. The one who would run, that’s the one I would shoot first if I wanted to get them all.

The one who didn’t like what they’d done was the most likely to run. I slowly angled the gun at him, and when the sights were
lined up, I pulled the trigger.

The booming recoil knocked me back behind the stove, out of sight, as the man’s body thumped to the wood floor. I quickly
righted myself and took aim at the second one who was spinning around, trying to determine where the shot had come from. His
eyes fixed on the stove. Then on me. And I shot him through his forehead.

This time I’d braced myself and wasn’t knocked back. I turned the pistol on the third soldier who still didn’t know which
way the shots had come from, and I shot him as well.

The gun’s echo faded, leaving only the sound of my pounding heart in my ears. There were six dead people in the house and
most of me wished it were seven.

I dropped back down against the wall with the pistol loose in my right hand and my rage gave way to pain once again. But I
had done some right to fix the wrong, hadn’t I? I had done what was right for my mother’s sake.

In some ways I took my first steps to becoming a priest that day, and my own house was my first graveyard. Or maybe I have
it all wrong.

That was how it all started, born in innocence when I was only fifteen. But that wasn’t where it ended.

Dear God, have mercy on my soul…

Father Andro flipped through the journal and saw that the remaining pages were empty. He set the book down and closed the
cover.

“I am so sorry, my dear. God forgive us all for the terrible tragedies of that war. Danny’s suffering cannot be overstated.”

“So you understand what he did?
Why
he did it?”

“Yes. I was here during the war—you must know that.”

But would he understand the rest? The journal was only a litmus test of sorts, a way for me to determine whether I could trust
the father with the rest of our story. Our story because Danny and I shared the same story now. We were both as guilty.

“And the rest?” Father Andro asked.

“The rest?”

“He writes here that this is how it all started.”

“The rest happens in America.”

“I assumed as much.”

“You’ll tell no one?”

“I’m a priest, Renee. Bound by my oath. There is nothing you can tell me that would change that.”

I sat back and crossed my legs, suddenly eager to tell him everything. As he said, he was a priest. Who could better understand
than a priest who had shared a similar history with Danny?

“The rest begins with me,” I said in a soft voice.

“Then tell me about you,” Father Andro said.

1

Eighteen Months Earlier

I can remember
some things about myself but not everything. My name, Renee Gilmore, for example, is something I could never forget—how could
I, after my failures had been so often pounded into my skull?

You’re throwing your life away, Renee. You’re screwing up, Renee. You’re an embarrassment, Renee.

That much I could remember as I lay in the alleyway with my face planted in the concrete. I also knew that I was in my early
twenties. That I was barefoot. That I was dressed in a T-shirt and jeans. That my mother and my father were both long gone
or dead.

Mostly I knew that I had to get up and get moving if I wanted to live, although I must admit I was having some difficulty
remembering
why
I wanted to live. A basic instinct, you might say, but when you’re strung out on heroin, basic instincts have a way of feeling
irrelevant.

These are some of the things I could remember then.

But if you had asked me in that state, I certainly couldn’t have told you other things about myself that should have been
as plain as day.

I couldn’t have told you that I preferred to wear only silver accessories, or that my first kiss was with Tobias Taylor on
a dare when I was six, or that my favorite food was a grilled hamburger with extra pickles and mustard but no mayonnaise,
please.

An orbital shift had tilted my psyche off its axis during the last twenty-four hours. I was aware that I might be overdosing
on the heroin that Cyrus Kauffman had helped me shoot up. But something else was pushing me.

I was seeing ghosts. Hearing voices. I was living through one long, uninterrupted panic attack. As a matter of fact, although
I didn’t know it at the time, I was suffering from a minor but real psychotic break that would only get much worse. My mind
had finally crumbled under the weight of its circumstances.

I was on my face and my palms were on the wet concrete, pushing down as if they, along with my scrawny arms, expected to lift
me up, too stupid to realize that even if I did get to my feet, I didn’t have a clue where to run, assuming I could get my
legs moving.

We’re gonna eat you, Renee.
The monsters were whispering.
When we get ahold of you you’re gonna wish you had turned that trick for Cyrus.

Fear came in waves, down my neck and back, to my heels. The rain on my back felt like stabbing icicles.
No good, no good, no good. He’s gonna squash you
.

My body started to spasm, but I pushed anyway and managed to lift my belly off the wet ground. I dragged my knees forward,
one at a time, and I shook like a rat stranded on a high wire.

Why was I here?

A few memories rolled around me like fog, but I wasn’t sure if they were true. My dad left me and my mom in Atlanta when I
was thirteen. My mother died in a car crash, and that was why I had come to California to go to school and make something
of my life. Maybe.

I whirled back to see the monster who’d rasped that, but my head moved only a little. Then more, until the walls were spinning
past me. I lost my balance and dropped to my right elbow but managed to keep from falling flat thanks to the brick wall next
to me.

My dark hair hung over my face. No wonder my dad didn’t want me. I was nothing but a scrawny mop head. A proper haircut at
a real hairstylist in downtown Atlanta was the first thing I’d done with the money my mother had left me in her will.

I spent another thousand dollars on clothes, leaving me almost fifteen thousand of the twenty-thousand-minus-court-fees payment
to apply toward a bus ticket, the deposit on my very own studio apartment, some living expenses for a while, and cosmetology
school in Burbank. Beautiful Styles Cosmetology. I wanted to find a school in Hollywood because acting was my real passion,
but the prices were too high.

The plan had been simple, something I’d talked to Mother about before the drunk driver slammed his black Dodge Ram into her
blue Honda Accord.

“What about cutting hair?” I’d said one Sunday afternoon.

My mother, Susan, nodded absently. “Sure. Cutting hair is respectable enough.” She was a cocktail waitress and made good tips.

“I mean, while I’m looking for a job,” I said. “You know, acting.”

Mother’s eyes shot up. “Uh-huh.” Only it sounded more like,
Yeah. Right. Fat chance.

“I mean, in Hollywood. I could wait tables or something until—”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Renee.”

“Why not? I’m pretty enough.”

“For starters, you don’t even have the money to
get
to Hollywood. What’re you gonna do, hitchhike?”

I should have dropped it then. But I’ve never been the kind to leave well enough alone.

“Maybe Dad’s got some money.”

Her eyes flashed. “Don’t be an idiot. Even if we knew where he was, he’s broker than a doormat. That much’s a foregone conclusion.
And if he does have a couple bucks, you’d be the last person he’d give it to.”

That hurt. I couldn’t just let the words sit there.

“So then he’s not much better than you, I guess.” I turned, knowing the words cut her deep. “I’ll just find my own way.”

I still feel guilty for the way I said it, and I certainly didn’t mean for her to die so that I could get out to California.
But that’s how it worked out.

The plan was really that simple: Move to the land of opportunity, get a job waiting tables, and start looking for a way into
acting. I wasn’t stupid enough to think landing a role or modeling job would be easy, so I would be responsible and learn
to cut hair as a backup.

Shaking in the alleyway, I couldn’t begin to remember how I’d gotten from there—on top of the world with fifteen thousand
dollars in my pocket—to here, enslaved by the most powerful pusher south of South Central, in three years. The last year of
hard drugs had fogged my memory. My descent mostly had to do with running out of money and hooking up with a girlfriend to
sell a bit of weed on the side. Was that it? Yeah, I thought so.

Like a magnet I had been drawn to my true, useless nature, as if subconsciously determined to justify my father’s disappointment
in me.

I pushed myself up off the concrete again, and this time I managed to get one foot under me.

A voice yelled out. I knew the voice well and didn’t have to look back to know that a black town car, window down, was at
the alley’s mouth. I’d seen Cyrus take out a woman’s teeth with his fist. I’d seen worse than that.

But it wasn’t Cyrus that terrified me. It was the voices.

The alley was closing in on me and the monsters—real monsters—were after me. Why they scared me more than the thought of Cyrus
beating me, I don’t know. Maybe because I had never heard them before. They weren’t just in my head, right? They were the
only detail in my world that was crystal clear.

I pushed off with my foot and lurched ahead.

“Around, around!” Someone was yelling again. “Go, go!” They’d seen me.

He’s gonna step on you and break all your arms like you deserve.

My bare toes scraped the rough concrete, but the narcotics in my system numbed the pain some. I had to get out of the alley
because the creatures there were reaching out of the darkness to grab me and pull me down.

And then I saw it directly ahead of me: a light hanging in the night sky, surrounded by soft sparkles of rain. I fluttered
for that beacon of hope like a moth with wet wings. Deep inside I must have realized it was only a streetlight, but at that
moment it was the promise of rescue.

The parking meters were there like sticks in the ground; cars were parked beside them like boulders, but my eyes were on that
streetlamp looming. Nothing else mattered to me, only that warm halo of heaven in the sky.

I was in the street before I noticed the twin beams of a car rushing toward me from my left. More light? Closer light? And
coming toward me. It stopped me dead in the center of the road. Maybe I was dying and this was the tunnel to heaven.

The choir sang, a high-pitched squeal like tires on asphalt, somehow beautiful. The lights swerved. The moment before the
car hit me I remember thinking it wasn’t the tunnel to heaven; it was a car.

The impact threw me through the air and landed me on my butt ten feet from the car, which had screeched to a stop. All I could
see were the lights, glaring at me, and I thought this was the end, because it had to be Cyrus and he was going to break my
arms and legs then give me to the gangbangers.

“Are you okay?”

The world was spinning and I was trying to crawl away. But my hands refused to cooperate. They clawed at the wet asphalt.
I began to retch.

I fell to one elbow, threw up on the street, then toppled over, still heaving. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that heroin
is the drug of the gods. It has far more to do with vomit.

The driver of the car that hit me was frozen in his headlights. A screech of tires from far behind him reminded me that Cyrus
was still coming after me.

“He’s…kill me…,” I managed. However unintelligible, the driver seemed to understand. He spun back, saw the car sliding around
the corner, scooped me up as if I were a crash-test dummy, and ran for his car.

I heard the bones in my left arm grating against each other as I bounced in his grip. Then I felt the pain and realized they
were broken.

The man opened a white door and set me into the passenger seat. “Hold on, honey.”

We were in a white BMW—I remember that as clearly as the light—and I thought maybe if angels really did exist, then he was
an angel.

He slipped behind the wheel and ran the back of his hand over a sweating brow. “Stay with me.”

Please don’t let them rape me. Save me, please.

But I couldn’t say it, because pain in my ribs and my arms made it hard to breathe. The car smelled like vomit. That had to
be me, curled up on the seat, staring up at my savior who was dressed in an expensive black suit and a tailored shirt. His
square, silver cuff links had crosses on them and held his sleeves neatly in place. He had large hands, and his fingernails
were trimmed and buffed.

The car surged forward. For a brief moment I allowed myself to believe I was safe. But then I remembered who was after me,
and I knew this rest was merely a delay of the inevitable.

Cyrus had a saying: Better die than be cheated. Thinking of that, I suddenly felt sorry for the man who’d run into me and
then rescued me. He’d helped a cheater, which made him a cheater as well.

Cyrus would kill us both.

Something popped behind us. My rescuer glanced up at his rearview mirror and swore. Wind roared, and I knew the back window
had been shot out.

Something hit my shoulder. Just a soft slap on my shoulder blade from behind. Either one of the monsters had reached through
the seat and punched me, or it was a bullet.

The driver swore again, more urgent this time. Maybe he knew we were dead.

“Hold on, honey,” he said. “Things are about to get a little bumpy.”

He was a man of understatement, and for some reason that comforted me. What could be bumpier than being in deep debt to a
man like Cyrus with nothing but your body to make good?

We’re gonna smash you up and crack the rest of your bones.

“Hold on!”

The car came to a screeching halt and I slammed into the dash, then crumpled to the floor, broken arm turned back at a sickening
angle.

An arm hooked around my waist and pulled me out of the car and hefted me over his shoulder like a half-empty bag of sand.
My savior had blocked Cyrus’s car with his own and taken to the streets on the other side.

I think I began to fall in love with him then, while I hung over his strong back, bouncing and bleeding. The numbing heroin
was maybe the only reason I didn’t pass out.

Until the next bullet hit me and shattered my elbow. I remember thinking that my arm had stopped a bullet that would’ve hit
the man carrying me—maybe killed him. He was trying to save me, but maybe I was saving him, too.

What neither of us could have possibly known was how soon he’d be dead anyway. Life can be full of cruel jokes, and the cruelest
of them all would soon find us for its punch line. Had I known, I might have moved my arm, let the bullet take him through
his back, and spared us both all that was to come.

He swore again. They were coming. I passed out.

BOOK: The Priest's Graveyard
3.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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