For the umpteenth time, the Reverend Father Theo rose from the couch and walked to the window to see if she had arrived.
The priest was nervous. It would not do for a man of his stature to be caught, figuratively speaking, with his pants down. If a prophet had foretold some months ago that Theo would be conducting an affair, he would have firmly advised the said unfortunate to seek spiritual guidance, or failing that, have his head examined by a lower authority. Yet here he was, on the threshold of fifty, twenty-odd years of which had been in the service of the Lord, worshiping another heavenly being. Her name was Sarah. She was twenty-two, beautiful and had spent the last seven months laying blissful waste to his mind and body.
A friend had brought her to him one evening, seeking guidance. Out came her tale of woe: drug abuse. He had her taken to a nearby Mission Hospital, handing her over to the doctors. In time, her body, young and strong, healed well but not so the mind.
She returned to him, for counseling she insisted that only he could give, and from this unlikely relationship sprang first an uneasy attraction and then infatuation that erupted into passion. They had been seeing each other ever since, twice weekly, for an hour or so. He always looked forward to each rendezvous, always missing the feel of her skin under his, the texture of her hair against the gauntness of his cheek…
He saw Sarah’s car settle against the curb and he exhaled in a relieved sigh. Fifteen days ago, she had suddenly said their affair had to end, and his heart had almost stopped. Tears rolling down his cheeks, he asked her if she was no longer attracted to him. Her answer had been to draw him close, whispering that she had only been joking. He held her tightly, his voice choked as he told her that he would die rather than live without her. Later, contemplating, he came to a startling realization: Sarah, with her whole life ahead, might be tiring of him.
He watched as she stepped from her car, and was about to drop the curtain when something halted his action.
A figure rose from the curb, stopping her. He realized that they were talking and before he could wonder how she knew anyone in this alien community, Sarah had turned and was coming toward the house where he waited. The person followed, gait slow, unsteady.
Theo felt his pulse quicken. What was she doing? He had rented this house at the start of their affair because it was out of the way, and no one would recognize them. How could Sarah jeopardize this by inviting someone inside?
Sarah entered, and seeing him, a smile appeared on her face. But his eyes were on the man behind her.
“It’s okay, Theo. He’s a beggar. He says he hasn’t eaten in days. How could I say no?” She placed her handbag on the table. “I’ll give him some food and send him away.”
He nodded as she led the beggar into the kitchen: one shouldn’t turn away a soul in need.
Sarah closed the kitchen door and turned to the ‘beggar’. “Are you ready?” she asked. Her hands were placed behind her back because they were shaking. She couldn’t believe what she was about to do to Theo. To a man who had stepped in when her life falling apart and offered her hope, dignity and a chance to start anew.
The ‘beggar’ studied her face. “Sarah? Are you okay?”
She stared, forlorn. “I don’t know if I can do this, Joe. Theo has been everything to me, a father, a figurehead, a guiding light…”
“And your bed buddy.” pointed out her cousin. “You did the right thing by telling me about this last week. And believe me when I say that what we’re going to do now is the right thing too.” He placed his mobile phone on the counter. “You have to go out there, tell him that I’ve left, out the back. When you two get cozy I’ll rush out and start taking photos.”
She looked uneasy. “He might suspect something.”
“My plan is foolproof, Sarah. After I’ve taken the snaps, while both of you are still in shock, I spew out a tale of how an anonymous caller tipped me – a newspaper reporter – that a priest and a girl were RVing here every few days. He swallows the story, and begs me not to run with it. I agree to think it over then disappear. The fright of discovery causes him to re-think the wisdom of continuing this liaison. He then decides to stop seeing you – exactly what we want.”
Sarah sighed. It had to come to this, she thought. The initial excitement had tapered off with the realization that she was bogged down with an old man. Not any old man, but a man of God, a virtual untouchable if she even considered a future together. And so she had broached the topic, and the manner in which Theo had reacted – vowing to take his own life if she left – had frightened her. She knew she could not simply walk away and not care about the consequences. She owed him too much to do that. There had to be another way; some way to make him break things off.
“I’m ready.” She said. Her cousin nodded and crouched behind a stool. She switched off the kitchen lights and went into the sitting room.
Theo was standing near the window and turned. “Where is he?”
“I let him out the back.” She gave him a kiss.
He smiled, but it wasn’t his usual cheery smile. It seemed forced. She felt her heart beat quicken. Did he suspect something? But she had no time to dwell for the doorbell rang.
Theo stared at the door as if unsure someone was outside it who had just pressed the bell. It sounded again. He looked at her then went to the door.
The man at the door already had a gun out, and he pressed it into Theo’s chest and forced him back into the house. He shut the door with his free hand. “Inside, now!”
Then Sarah looked up. The sight of the gun made her gasp out loud. The gun in the man’s hand jerked, as though startled by the sound and Theo, using his right hand, swiped at it.
The gun flew toward Sarah, landing almost at her feet, and then both men were struggling, empty-handed.
Sarah stared in shock. The assailant was a young man, and he clipped the priest on the jaw. Theo fell to the ground, shaking his head, looking dazed. The man towered above him, and as Sarah watched in horror, he took something from his jacket. It was a switchblade. He flicked it open, and his lips drew back over his teeth in a snarl. “I’m going to cut you up, old man. Make you bleed to death. And then I’ll go after her.”
“Dear God, help me!” cried Theo. He turned, in desperation, to Sarah. “The gun! Shoot him, Sarah!”
She had never handled a gun in her life, yet the abruptness with which she had been thrust into this crisis coupled with the fact that a threat of bodily harm had been issued, saw her reacting in the only way she knew how. She grabbed the gun, held it up, and as the assailant stared at her blankly, presenting her with a target she couldn’t miss, she pulled the trigger.
There was a loud report and then the man clutched his chest and swayed. She looked, over the gun, at the red stain under his hands, and then his whole body seemed to sag and he toppled to the ground.
The gun fell from her hands, and she covered her face.
Theo scrabbled on his knees to the man, and felt for his pulse. After a while, he looked at Sarah, shaken. “He’s dead.”
She collapsed on to the couch, sobbing. What had she done?
Theo rushed to her side, his arms coming round to crush her in a tight embrace. “Sarah, listen, listen to me.” He held her face up. “There was nothing you could have done; you had no choice.” He wiped the tears from her cheeks. “If you hadn’t shot, he would have killed me, and then- you heard him, didn’t you.” He comforted her by kissing her eyes.
“What are we going to do?” she whispered.
He looked at the body grimly. “I’ll get rid of it. Nobody needs to know what happened.”
She was shocked. “Theo! We- I, I just killed a man…”
He looked hard at her. “A no-good, ruthless human being. He won’t be missed, and his death is no loss. Besides, have you forgotten that we’re not supposed to even be here? What do you think would happen if the police came? Imagine the details that would have to be revealed. Is that what you want?” She shook her head. “Good. That’s settled. Wait here while I dump the body in my car. I parked it out back today.” He picked up the gun.
She tried not to look while he took the corpse by the shoulders and pulled it through the sitting room and to the kitchen door. In her fright, she had forgotten about her cousin.
In the kitchen, Joe heard the door being opened. He stiffened. Hell, what was this? According to the plan, he was to wait till the sitting room went dark. That was Sarah’s cue that the couple was heading upstairs. But now-
He quickly hurried to the back door, opened it, and slipped out into the back yard.
Theo was huffing, out of breath, by the time he reached the back door. He straightened then said: “Okay, Santevini, you can get up now.”
The ‘corpse’ sat up, and rising, stepped out into the darkness. “Did it go the way you wanted it to, Father?”
He nodded. “You played your part well, my son.” The man smiled, pleased. “Never mention this to anyone, you understand?” Not much chance of that, he thought. Though a nice lad, poor Santevini was mentally-challenged. Even if he did say something, it was unlikely anybody would take him seriously.
Santevini nodded, and Theo closed the kitchen door and locked it.
Crouched behind the priest’s car, Joe stared. What was going on? And why was there a dark stain on the man’s t-shirt? He shook his head, but decided: he wanted this on film.
He rushed out, and as the startled man looked up, began clicking. Santevini, reacting quickly, turned and ran off.
Joe stared at him, then at the lights in the sitting room. The kitchen door was locked, and he had no key, so that put paid to his plans for tonight. Should he knock on the front door – make sure Sarah was okay?
He crept to a window looking in on the sitting room, and cautiously peeked. Both the priest and the young woman were on the couch. They were sipping.
“Here,” The priest offered. “this will do you good.” Looking at her taking a small sip, he felt anger at himself for putting her in this situation. But what was he to have done?
It had begun when Sarah spoke of ending their affair. The thought nagged him for days: she might one day decide to leave him. He knew he couldn’t accept that, not after all this. But how to persuade her that their liaison was a good thing and one to be sustained, no matter what the cost? No matter what the cost. The phrase stuck in his mind, and he realized that he might have to resort to trickery to achieve his ends. The scheme came to him quickly and he was so eager to put it into effect that he spent little time calculating future risks.
His plan appeared simple. An armed intruder would force his way in. Sarah’s scream would serve to distract him, thus prompting the subsequent scenario. In brief, Sarah would ‘kill’ him, and the knowledge they shared – of her guilt – would bind them.
Sarah stared at the images on the mobile in bewilderment. All were of the assailant she had shot dead, standing in the backyard, his t-shirt stained, startled. And alive.
Joe was curiously. “What happened in there last night?” They were in his office the following morning. He had called to explain why he hadn’t been able to complete his part of the plan, and to show her the photos.
Sarah didn’t answer. Instead, she asked: “And you say Theo told him not to mention what had happened to anyone…” Sarah shook her head. “I don’t understand.” She was relieved. She was not a killer. But she was also angry; it was clear that, for some reason, Theo had deceived her. “Why would he do something like this?”
“Sarah – tell me what happened.”
She hesitated. After all, she had been under the impression that she had killed a man. But these photos… She decided to tell him.
Joe scratched his head. “What would he gain by a stunt like that?”
And then, Sarah suddenly knew. “He was scared about what I told him that day: about ending it.” She was stunned. “He didn’t want to let me go.”
“But to go to such lengths… This guy is trouble, Sarah.”
She pursed his lips. “I think it’s time we ended this once and for all…”
The priest looked up from his desk at the man who had entered. He was alone in his office. “Yes?”
Joe nodded deferentially. “Father, I work for a politician, as a Personal Security Officer.” He held out his phone. “Do you know this man?”
Theo stared at the image with a growing sense of shock. It was Santevini, the ‘assailant’. He frowned. “I’m – not sure…Who is he?”
Joe pocketed the mobile. “The name he gave when he met me last night was Malcolm. He told a tale of how you made him perform a charade. Then he mentioned the name of the boss’s niece. Do you know anything about this?”
He shook his head. “What utter nonsense!” He laughed out loud. It sounded harsh in the small room. “He’s lying!”
Joe nodded slowly. “I’m glad to hear that, Father. Malcolm is not someone to associate with. Look at his criminal record.”
Theo stared at him, expression vacant. “He has a criminal record?”
“He’s been in jail twice, once for attempted murder – of a relative – and twice for rape.” He shook his head in disgust. “Needless to say, he should be considered dangerous. The girl will be out of the country for a few months, for higher studies.”
The priest saw him to the door. Long after Joe had disappeared from sight, he remained standing in the doorway. Then, sighing, he looked up at the Cross hanging above the door. Thank you, Lord, he thought, for coming to my aid and opening my eyes. Thank you for making me see the error of my ways and even more for the chance to mend them.
He had been playing with fire, had virtually become one of Satan’s disciples. But it was over now. Father Theo simply had no choice: too many people knew too much. Backing out now, taking the opportunity to walk away was the wise choice. It would hurt, he knew. It would be a deep and lasting hurt, the loss of something he had held dear for so long.
He closed the door and crossed over into the vestibule where a young man was swabbing the floor with a mop. “Santevini,” he said to him. “come – it’s time for lunch.”