"Before I start that typical 'forgive me father yadda, yadda yadda,' I have to tell you something. It will help you understand the rest of the story, father. One of the things that constantly irritates me is the lack of ownership. Most people would just shrug it off, but good or bad, I just can't do that. Even the Good Book calls for accountability. So when I pushed your brother off the roof of the building, I found I needed to confess, tell my side so to speak. I wanted …no I needed to own up to my deed."
The dismayed gasp from the other side of the partition was involuntary, as Janet knew it would be. She didn't know how long she would have the priest attention and if she wanted to get out of there before he made a scene, she needed to finish quickly. "What's the matter father, aren't you going to forgive me for my sins. No Hail Mary's and tell me to repent. Or is your forgiveness only offered to pedophiles like your brother and yourself. That's all right father, I don't want or need your forgiveness. The town of Hanover paid for my clean conscious and any forgiveness I might need. They were specific in their instructions. They wanted you to know pain, humiliation, fear and… justice. So, know this I am coming for you. And you will know hell on earth. You can't go to the police or they will find out what sick pervert you are."
"It's not true. You couldn't have killed him. I just talked to him."
"Absolutely. I was there while you were making dinner plans. What kind of human being are you that you couldn't tell your baby brother was standing on the edge of a building holding on for dear life while you were prattling on about lamb chops and rosemary?"
No, I don't believe you. It's not …you couldn't have … you murder." The priest moaned.
Janet scoffed and continued in a condensing tone. "Tisk, tisk, a pervert priest calling names. What a shock! Well since you're not going to give me penance, I guess we are done. I trust I still have the seal of the confessional. It would make things a little awkward when the police come and want to know why you broke it for this but kept quiet about the gang member's murder a couple months back."
Pleased with herself, and how easy the job was coming together Janet adjusted the big floppy hat and wig. She stood, opened the confessional door and peered into the church. It would be a mistake to try to leave. People noticed things like that and tended to remember after the fact. His shock and disbelief wouldn't hold him much longer. Keeping with her disguise instead, she hobbled over to one of the benches as far from the confessional as she could without making it obvious and sat down. Her goal was to look as if she had just come into the sprawling interior of the large Catholic Church.
She had only a minute to spare before the balding man in church robes burst out of the confessional wildly looking around. Which meant he had tried to call Jacob and received no answer.
"Did anyone see the woman? She would have left the confessional two minutes ago." Jerimiah asked the almost empty room.
Several of the perishers looked up from their prayers and shook their heads. Even Janet turn to reply with a negative shake of the head. Several of the nuns who had been in the front row making supplications moved in the direction of the priest.
"Sister Mary Margret, call the police. There has been a murder."
"A murder? Who? How do you know?" the nun's agitated voice responded.
Jerimiah scrutinized the small congregation. The partition didn't allow him a good look at the woman who confessed but of the six parishioners, he didn't see anyone who could be the voice in the cubical. He cursed his inattentiveness when she had first joined him. Maybe then, he could have pointed her out to the police. If she thought, he was going to hold the sanctity of the confessional sacred, she was wrong. "Jacob. She killed Jacob. The woman in the confessional."
"But father, no one was in the confessional and no one left." A young woman in shorter version of the habit walked up joining the group of nuns.
"Elizabeth, "Mary Margret chided the novice. "This is none of your concern. Finish your duties and return to the convent."
Janet was starting to get concerned. If the priest didn't leave the church soon then her entire plan was toast. She pulled the walker she was using as a prop, dug through the bag in the basket, and glanced at the cell phone screen. Placing her finger over the home screen, she unlocked the streaming video. There was Jacob where she left him. He wasn't dead yet but she didn't know how much time she still had.
Debating the next step was eating precious time, but if she called attention to herself now, someone was bound to remember her. Yet just waiting for him to leave wasn't working either. Indecision was eating at her but she had never pulled anything this elaborate before. Against her better judgement, she tucked the phone back in the bottom of her purse and made to stand when fate intervened.
The church doors burst open and three teenagers entered the great hall. Their excessively loud laughter echoed, and horseplay as they pushed and shoved each other, was out of character in the somber place. Someone eight feet away could smell the alcohol. The tall lanky one who seemed to be the leader yelled "Yo Father, you got another one to pray for. The dude jumped." He hiccupped, burst out laughing and sing -song said, "my bad, you guys don't pray for suckas who kill themselves."
It was the just the push Jerimiah needed. The normally stoic priest pulled his robe up to his thighs and started running toward the door. He quickly looked over his shoulder and yelled, "call the police, she pushed him. It wasn't suicide. She confessed."
Janet was already standing and moving toward the door when fate intervened again with the help of those same three very drunk teenagers. The four of them went down in a tangle of arms and legs. The nuns rushed forward to help Janet thinking she was the old woman she pretended to be and to chastise the boys.
"Look grandma's fallen and she can't get up," the smart ass with the mouth said.
If she wasn't incognito, Janet would have taught the demented morons a lesson. But she was and they were smashed out of their minds and wouldn't remember it anyways. So instead, she allowed the two sisters standing with Mary Margret to help her to her feet and mumbled in a feeble voice about being clumsy.
It wasn't until the Novice Elizabeth placed her scattered bag back in the walker basket and handed her phone that Janet knew she'd been made. She glanced down at the screen and almost breathed a sigh of relief the lock screen was in place. She glanced once more in to the novice's eyes to see if absolute knowledge was there. Janet's heart dropped she didn't know what gave her away to the nun in training but the woman knew. She would never again give Dustin a hard time. If the girl didn't give her away now it was something she would have to deal with later. She needed to get out of the church before the Priest got to his brother's house.
She held her breath waiting for the other shoe to drop and the novice to betray her. When the girl stepped back and bowed her head Janet knew Elizabeth wouldn't say anything … for now. But that was a worry for another time. As she hobbled toward the door, she heard Mary Margret and Angus Marie discussing calling the police and smiled. The plan was back on schedule. As she hobbled down the stairs one at a time, her heart pounded against her chest as the novice ran forward to help her down the stairs.
"I know who you are. I promise I won't tell anyone about you but you have to come back her tonight."
Janet didn't know what the girl knew and but now she was against the clock. She waited until she was on the bottom step and she said quietly, "If you know who I am do you think asking me to comeback is a good thing?"
A shiver ran up the girl's frame and Janet wasn't sure if it was from the biting November wind or fear but the look in the novice's eyes showed that she was not going to cower. "No. But you are going to have to deal with me tonight or…"
Janet held up two heavily latex fingers and dropped her voice to a horse whisper, "It is not wise to threaten. Unforeseen consequences have been known to …happen."
"Oh, I wasn't threatening. But you will have to deal with me. Your kind doesn't like loose ends. I will wait for you in the rectory tonight." With that, the novice turned and ran back up the concrete stairs and back into the large arched doorway.
Janet's barrowed cadi was just down the block. She needed to get in and drive away without calling attention to herself in less than five minutes. If Braxton PD held to schedule, the first police car would be here in seven minutes. Her disguise would hold up among the faithful of Saint Francis Catholic Church. But not for a detective's interrogation. She hobbled a little less, pushed the walker a little faster, and hoped everyone had cellphone tunnel vision.
She shoved the walker without folding it into the large back seat of the 1983 Cadillac. The car was ancient but it fit her disguise so well she had to use it. It was a good thing too because as she closed the driver's side door the first patrol car pulled up. Janet pulled away from the curb as two more patrol cars passed her. The jumper had not been part of her plan but she was grateful his death would do some good.
The old brownstone apartment building was just around the corner. She had made good time considering. If her luck held, old Mrs. Atkins would still be sleeping and never know, that Janet borrowed her look and her car. She pulled the cadi in to the parking space provided, even going so far as to put one wheel on the curb like its owner left it last night. The best thing about wearing as much latex as she was there wasn't a lot of forensic evidence left behind. Just to be sure, a quick wipe of the seat as she got out of the car and pushed the door shut with her hip. Opening the door with the handkerchief, she reached in and pulled out the walker.
So far so good Janet though placing the keys on the peg by the door. From there she started striping, rolling the old woman garments and hair into a ball. By the time, she got to the kitchen where the tiny washer dryer combo was she was down to her bra and underwear. She shoved everything including the wig into the washer basin. Her latex face and hands were next when a sound alerted her to the presence of someone else moving around the apartment. She had just a second to grab the first piece of clothing in the dryer. To her horror, she gave the muumuu Mrs. Atkins when she moved in.
Relief flooded Janet; it was Joanna, Mrs. Atkins live-in daytime nurse. She would look in on the old woman once a day and make sure she had taken her medicine. She was a simple woman and believed what Janet told her. It wouldn't be hard to convince her that she had just be out for a run and threw the gown on to do some laundry.
"Is the Misses up?" Janet said gauging her new companion.
"Oh yes. She got up about half hour ago. She was looking for you."
It took everything in her power not to groan. That meant her alibi had been up for most of the visit with the priest. And while she was old, Mrs. Atkins was sharp as a tack. There would be no fooling her.
"Halloween was yesterday. Why on earth are you carrying around that mask?"
How many times did she have to remind herself not to crow before the job was done? Here she was thinking how well thing were going and everything was falling apart. If she weren't careful, she would have to kill three more people tonight. Janet briefly looked to the heavens and silently said, "You could help. I was cleaning up for you." Not expecting an answer or help, she took a deep breath to respond and was saved.
"Joanna," the raspy voice called from the back bedroom.
"I better go see what she wants. She's not happy with me. I took away her cigarettes. Did you know she was smoking and using the oxygen machine?"
Janet shrugged as if it was out of her control and said, "Don't worry about it, she'll forget by tomorrow. Tell you what she was looking for me so I will check in on her before I head over to Josh's day of the dead party."
Joanna raised her eyebrow but didn't say anything. Her forehead wrinkled as if she was trying to figure something out. She shook her head, picked up the backpack and slung it over her shoulder. Halfway to the door she stopped turned around and looked at Janet. "Josh's party huh. You tell me how that goes tomorrow."
Janet massaged her temples and chided herself. If she ever decided to get more creative, then a bullet to the back of the head for another job she would just shoot herself. The nurse wasn't quite as simple as she was once though and was going to be trouble. Like the novice, something she would have to deal with later tonight.
"Hold on Mrs. Atkins, I'll be right there." Janet said struggling to remove the latex from the back of her hands. But of course, it was peeling off in small little pieces and floating to the ground. Here was where the forensic evidence was going to get her. Franticly she looked around the room for a cover up. Nothing.
"Janet," voice from the back room called again for the third time.
There was no more putting it off. She would just try to keep the old woman focused on something other than the chunks at her temples and the back of her hands. Mussing her hair so that it was wispy around her face Janet walked into the back bedroom.
The twin size hospital bed sat in the far corner made up. Joanna had even put some of the stuffed animals the past nurse had gotten in the center of the pillow. Sitting the winged back orange recliner chair trying to stand without the aid of her walker was the 79-year-old terror.
"Do you know what she did to me, Janet? She took away my cigarettes."
"You know they're not good for you, especially with your oxygen machine. You told me your doctor has been yelling at you for years to quit."
I'm old and if I want a cigarette then I should have a cigarette. No busybody with a half a medical degree is going to tell me I can't have one. Please Janet be a good girl and get them for me."
If she handed the old woman, the pack then Mrs. Atkins was going to notice her hands. And then she would have to make up another excuse. Truth was this job was becoming nothing more than a nest of loose ends. She debated just killing the old woman right now. It would save her trouble in the end. Although she hated to do it, first killing without payment was a waste. Plus, if she was to die suddenly then police would investigate who was in church this morning. And since the nurse was next on her hit list it would be too coincidental. Detectives hate coincidence. That kind of thing turned them into bloodhounds.
"You're right. At your age…"
"My age has nothing to do with it. It my right I bought them with my own money and it's my body."
Janet tried to keep the mirth off her face. It was one of the things she liked about the old bidy. Her strength of will. It was going to be a shame when she died. She was a perfect example of a crotchy old folk. "Okay tell you what, I will get them for you but we have to turn the machine off while you smoke."
"Not on your life. If we turn it off, I can't breathe. I have been smoking for the last year with that bloody machine going in the background. It a sealed. It's not going to explode."
That gave Janet an idea. She was right it hadn't exploded yet. They didn't work that way. It created extra oxygen making things more flammable. All she had to do was make sure more oxygen went into the air then went into her. It would work like a delay switch. "Okay. But promise me that you will have one less than you did yesterday."
She walked across the room and reached up on the top shelve of the bookcase to get the pack of menthol cigarettes ignoring the old lady's grumbling about people wanting to take away all the small pleasures. Adding more oxygen to the air wasn't' going to be too much of a problem. Finding food on the other hand was going to be tricky and she still hadn't checked on her priest. Here she was with something else complicated.
And yet once she decided on action plan it was very simple. She handed the woman the soft green pack, delighted that Mrs. Atkins was more interested in smoking than what hand that gave it to her looked like. She turned and walked toward the door hearing the scratch of the lighter strike and the deep inhale. Things were looking manageable again.
Now that Mrs. Atkins had gotten her fix, she was animatedly telling Janet about bingo last night. And what she thought of the parents who brought the younger children to the church bingo hall for trick or treating. Janet on the other hand was making non-comitial noises as she once again set out to get rid of the tell-tell latex and put on decent clothing.
"Would you like a cup of tea?" Janet asked putting the kettle on to boil. She was going to drug the Mrs. Atkins with her own medicine. Just because she was going to kill her didn't mean she wanted the old lady to suffer being burned to death. Not really paying attention to the answer, she rummaged through the cupboards to find a cup. To the bottom of it, she added two tablespoons of Mrs. Atkin's prescription morphine and two spoons of sugar. While she waited for the water to boil, she walked over to get her phone out of the bag. It had the streaming video of Jacob's house.
There was Jerimiah standing in the middle of the room. His white robes covered in blood from where he'd pulled the cooking knife out of his brother's shoulder. The knife had worked like a tourniquet slowing the blood loss until the priest pulled it out effectively killing his little brother. Requirement one complete, he would know pain. He was standing there in cuffs arguing with the cops, trying to tell them about her confessing. When one of the other cops came into the room carrying photos of crimes against his victims. Stealing them from his safe and planting them there was a job but he needed a motive for killing Jacob. Which meant requirement two, humiliation was complete. He would need to know pain, which would come from being a pedophile on the inside but just in case she would go and visit him under the guise she was taking his frame story seriously and make his cause of detention known to his fellow inmates. Then after the trial and convention, she would put a bullet in his head.
The kettle began to whistle pulling her out of mental checklist. Janet pulled the kettle of the burner grateful things were back on track. Turned over the phone, popped off the back and pulled the battery and sim card. She put it in the bag with the latex mask and stuffed both in the gym bag she'd left earlier. Adding first the tea and then the water to the cup Janet carried into Mrs. Atkin's bedroom.
"Here you go my dear," Janet said sitting the cup down on the table at the old woman arm deliberately moving the ashtray so the hot ashes would fall on the lace doilies.
"You changed. Why on earth were you wearing that awful caftan?"
I had gone for a run and realized that I had forgotten to put your laundry from the washer to the dryer. I didn't want your clothes to mold after you graciously let me barrow your machine. So I threw that on and ran down stairs."
Janet watched the widow hold the cup up to her mouth and blow on the hot liquid before taking a sip. She grimaced, "Who taught you to make a cup of tea? It doesn't taste as if you put any sugar in there at all."
Well that was good information for the future two tablespoons of sugar did nothing to hide the taste of morphine. "Oh I'm sorry. Let me go get you some more. I thought I had enough."
"While you're at it could you bring me a few of those sugar cookies. I've had a sweet tooth recently and that busy body keeps harping on me about my sugar. I keep telling her its quality of life not quantity. I don't want to live five more years if I have to keep eating cardboard."
She walked back to the kitchen and grabbed the sugar jar as well as the cookie container. She gave it one last look around to make sure she wiped everything down. Things were definitely back on track and she was in the home stretch. Coming back into the room she accidently bumped the oxygen machine so she would have to readjust it.
"Not that I am ready to leave this place. I'm not quite ready to see Alfred again."
Janet added two more spoons of sugar to the tea and stirred. She pushed the teacup back into the old woman's hands and watched her take a gulp. When she had taken another gulp, she traded the cup for the cookies.
She turned to walk out the door when Mrs. Atkins said, "Don't take that girl. These cookies are dry and without liquid I might choke my silly self."
Janet smiled a wan smile. Truth, she was getting to the end of her patience. Not that the old woman was doing anything wrong she just wanted to be done. She'd always been like this, well as long as she could remember anyway. She handed the woman back her cup and watched her drain it. Now with the Percocet Joanna gave her in the morning she would sleep through the coming fire.
Janet made idle chitchat and it wasn't fifteen minutes until her victim was beginning to slur her words. She talked for another five just to make sure. "Mrs. Atkins, I have a party to go to so I am going to go now. I'll check on you later."
When she didn't receive an answer, Janet knew she was out. She walked over to the oxygen machine and pulled the rubber tube off the outflow nozzle so the oxygen would flow directly into the room. She then put several wadded up Kleenex the ashtray so it overflowed onto the table. Taking care to move it to its original space. She looked around the room one final time and lit the cigarette before placing it so it would soon catch on the paper. It wouldn't take long for dry paper in an oxygen rich environment to go up in flames so she had better get a move on.
On her way out of the living area, Janet grabbed the gym bag, slung it over her shoulder and pulled the living room door shut behind her. One loose end out of the way it was time to go surprise a novice.