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For his own good

Patrick Anderson


Taking a seat in the front pew facing the giant crucifix above the church altar, I clasp my hands between my legs and bow my head. Mike makes a little noise in the back of his throat and I glance over.


           “What’re we doing here Brig?” he whispers.


            I cross myself and kiss my fingers.


            “Brig, why’re you doing that?” he asks.

“I’m paying my respects,” I say. “You cross yourself when you’re in a church.”

“But you don’t even believe in this.”


             Mike’s got a paunchy face, wearing a wrinkled baby blue button-down and cream shade slacks. Always greasy, like he washes them in olive oil. Standing and stepping out into the aisle, I straighten my black jacket, dust off my black pants and slip my black glasses in the pocket near my shoulder holster. Mike jumps up and follows.


             “Come on, Brig, why are we here?” he whines.


             I keep walking.


             “You’re not going to do what Mr. Black said, are you?” he says near my ear. “It’s not right.”

I pause. “It’s my job, Mike.”

“But you said you were going to quit.”


              I reach inside my jacket and touch the silencer.


              “I never said that, Mike,” I say. “You did.”

“But this isn’t right, Brig,” he says.

“So what, we should be broke?” I say, facing him. “That what you want, us broke and homeless?”

“No,” he says, pouting. “Can’t you get a real job?”

“How about you get a real job,” I grumble. “See if anybody’ll hire you.”


               I take a seat at the back of the church outside the mahogany confession booths, a hum of whispering voices behind the wine-red curtains. Mike sits next to me.


               “What if you become a fisherman?” he says.

I glance at him. “A fisherman?”

“Yeah,” he says. “We could buy a boat, head down to the Keys. Cruise around the ocean, catch ‘em, eat some, sell some. That sound good?”

“I don’t know how to fish, Mike.”

“Can’t be that hard,” he says, bringing his hands up into fists and placing one on top of the other. “How you think those other people do it? You just gotta find the right spot.”

“I don’t like fishing, Mike.”

“Then what do you like?” he asks, dropping his hands. “Killing?”

“I told you. It’s a job.”

“I hate to say it,” he says. “But I wouldn’t be here if you weren’t doing this. They put me here to help you, you know.”

I stifle a laugh. “Help?” I say. “You’re helping me?” I pause. “And who is ‘they’?”

“They,” he says, motioning towards the crucifix on the altar. “Him.”

“Jesus Christ did not send you here, Mike.”

“How do you know?”

“Because,” I say, looking at the floor. “It don’t work like that.”

“But how do you know?”

“Because Jesus don’t help people like me.”

“Why you gotta be so negative all the time?” Mike says. “Nobody’s all bad.”

“Never said I was,” I say. “Not that good either.”


               The whispering in the confession booths stops and the curtains flutter. The muscles in my shoulders bunch up. The voices resume and I relax.

“We could leave right now,” Mike says. “Empty out your savings and just go.”

“Go where, Mike?” I hold up a finger. “Do not say fishing again.”

“I don’t know,” he says. “Canada? England? I always wanted to go to England.”


“Yeah, England.”


                Mike stares at me with his big blue piercing eyes. I try to see through him to the church wall, the way everybody else does.

“You know,” I say, cracking my knuckles. “I used to have a partner.”

“Here we go,” he says, rolling his eyes.

“Brown,” I say. “Good man, Brown. You’d have liked him.”

“I bet.”

“Brown was there the day you showed up, you remember?”


                Mike stays quiet.


                “Martinez job, Downtown. I’m cleaning and you just waltz right in, like it’s a Starbucks or something. You remember, Mike?”

“Yeah, I remember” he mumbles.

“You remember what happened after?”

Mike crosses his arms.

“You don’t?” I say, rubbing my hands together. “Well, allow me to jog your memory. I’m cleaning up and you walk in. I tell you to get the fuck out, Brown asks me who the hell I’m talking to and—you remember this, Mikey?”




               “I point at you,” I continue. “Brown looks at me like I’m crazy and all of a sudden Black’s sending me to shrinks and Brown wants a new partner.”

“It’s not like he was the best company anyways,” Mike mutters.

“Now I’m stuck with you,” I say. “Alone, but not really alone right, Mikey? No, I’m stuck hanging with your stupid ass all day long because you decided that I quote unquote need your help.’” I swipe at the corners of my mouth, chuckle. “If this is your idea of help, my friend, I’m just fucking alright.”

“Come on, Brig,” he says. “You can’t swear in church. It’s sacrilegious.”

I glare at him. “It’s a building.”


               A figure emerges from behind the curtain and I duck my head; a young dark-haired woman in a tight dress and high heels crosses herself outside the booth. She hurries down the center aisle towards the giant crucifix, the clack of her heels against the tiled floor bouncing off the walls like a loosed atom. I wait until she’s out of earshot then stand.


               “Brig, you don’t have to do this.”

“Shut up, Mike,” I say, approaching the booth.


                Pushing the curtain aside, I sit and reach in my jacket, dropping my .45 on my lap. A soft breath drifts over from the other side of the wall, the sound of pen scratching on paper. I pull the silencer from my other pocket and there’s a metallic click as I screw it on. I gently pop the clip and check it, sliding it back in just as the curtain in front of me swishes to the side. Mike’s large dome appears and my chest hitches, my hand shooting up to point the gun directly at Mike’s forehead. He jumps back, scrunching up his face.


                 “What the fuck, Mike,” I hiss, bringing the gun down slowly.


                 He points at it. “Look at you, Brig,” he says. “You’re wired, man. You don’t want to do this. This is a bad idea and you know it.”

“What’d I say about bothering me while I’m working?”

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this, Brig,” he says. “Can we please just leave?”

“No,” I say firmly, snatching the curtain closed.


                 “Is everything okay?” says a light, almost feminine voice from the other side of the wall. It’s eerie, that disembodied sound. I peek through the small mesh screen, glimpse wrinkled skin and a white collar.

“Yeah,” I say. “It’s…nothing.”

“That doesn’t sound too convincing, my son,” he says.


                 I flip the safety off, the gun trembling in my hands.


                 “Yeah,” I say. “Well, I’m not too convinced myself.”

“What’s the problem?” he asks.

I smile, look around the booth. “So this is where I’m supposed to do the whole confession thing, huh?”

“Yes, my son,” he says gloomily.

I grip the gun in both hands. On the other side of the curtain, Mike’s feet turn and disappear, soundless.

“I’m losing my mind, father,” I say.


                  The priest stays quiet.


                  “Lost it already, actually,” I add.

“Why do you say that?”

“It’s Mike,” I answer, raising my voice. I squeeze my eyes shut and rub my forehead. “Not Mike, me.”

“And who is Mike?” the priest asks.

“That’s the thing,” I say. “He’s nobody. He’s not even real. He’s in my head, which is the problem when you get down to it. He knows me. Knows how to get under my skin, make me think about—” I twist the silencer tighter, look up at the dim light above my head. “I don’t know. Like maybe I should reconsider some things, you know?”

“It sounds like you are at a crossroads,” he says.

I purse my lips. “Crossroads can get you killed in my line of work.”

“What is this line of work?” the priest asks, and I’m suddenly reminded of the head shrink’s office, how he kept asking questions and drawing circles on that notepad in his lap like I didn’t notice. Catholic priests are just holy psychiatrists, really. The thought makes me laugh, long and hard until the priest clears his throat.

“Sorry,” I say, catching my breath. “It’s just—I’m starting to think maybe what I do ain’t the best for my health. Like maybe it’s hurting me or something. Without me knowing it, you know?” I pause. “I mean it’s not like I’m sad for these schmucks out here or anything like that. It’s just—I don’t know.”

“What exactly—”

“I’ve got dreams,” I say. “It ain’t like I grew up wanting this. It just sort of—” I close my eyes, take a deep breath. “—happened. But I was happy. Or I thought I was until Mike showed up. Now it’s like I can’t even tell what happy is anymore.”


                The priest clears his throat. I peek at him through the mesh screen again.


                “My son…” the priest says, tiredly. “What are the sins you wish to confess?”

I throw my hands up. “That’s the thing, father,” I say. “I’m not even Catholic. I’ve never confessed nothing to nobody a day in my life. You asking me that—I don’t even know where to begin.”

“This man you speak of,” the priest says. “Mike. He sounds like he’s trying to help you.”

“But I don’t need help,” I say. “At least I didn’t. Not until he showed up.”

“Maybe he showed up for a reason.”

“See, I’m not buying that,” I say. “Mike keeps spewing that same crap but then—how come it ain’t happened to nobody else?”

The priest shifts noisily. “Everybody is saved in different ways, my son. It’s how the lord works”


                  I lean back and fiddle with the gun. The curtain flutters in front of me. I imagine the dark haired woman with the tight dress and high heels on her knees at the altar, crossing herself repeatedly, staring up at Christ’s agonized expression.


                  “I just wonder sometimes,” I say. “If there’s a point to all this.”

“The Lord is the point,” the priest says quickly. “He is the point, and his will is our reasoning.”

“Uplifting,” I say. “But what if the reason I do what I do ain’t a reason that would necessarily piss off the man upstairs?”

The priest pauses. “I don’t under—”

“There should be a person up there who passes judgment on whether or not you meant to do what you done, way I see it.”

“That’s not how—”

“I mean, I don’t mean to hurt nobody,” I say, raising the gun. “Not emotionally. I just got a job to do. And somebody else’d do it if I didn’t, like—” I jack a bullet into the chamber with a resounding clack. “—today, for example. I’m only here ‘cause Mr. Black sent me. I don’t know you from Joe fucking Schmoe, but Mr. Black knows you. And you probably know Mr. Black.”

The priest coughs for a full ten seconds.

“You okay, Father?” I ask.


                   The priest’s voice is strained. “Mr. Black—”

“I’m assuming you know him,” I continue. “Or he wouldn’t have sent me here. Mr. Black’s a lot of things. Mistaken’s not one of them.”


                   The wrinkled cheeks on the other side of the mesh go slack.


                   “And if I don’t do my job right now,” I say. “There’s a ninety-nine percent chance Mr. Black’s going to turn me into a job.”

“I—we—” the priest stutters. “Mr. Black—”

“So we throw the self-defense issue in,” I say. “And I gotta ask, don’t I got a lawful and spiritual right to protect myself? To provide and survive by any means necessary?”

“I told him last week was a mistake,” the priest says quickly. “Johnny came late and things just—”

“And what about you?” I say, tapping the gun against the wall. “You obviously did something to piss Mr. Black off, something that probably weren’t too Godly. This is a job to me, but you?” I scoff. “Who’s on the back end of that moral dilemma?”


“Ain’t I justified in doing my job long as I ain’t taking out innocents? Moving on with my life, maybe get saved in another way down the line? Or am I supposed to sacrifice myself so you can keep doing…whatever it is you do?”

“The cash goes—”

“And money,” I say. “Like—did your God take that into consideration when he created all these rules? What, I’m supposed to starve my way into heaven?”


                The priest coughs again, his voice thick with despair. “I just need a few more days,” he says. “A week maybe. Please.”

The gun looks blacker than space in my hand, almost like I’m holding nothing at all.


                “I just don’t know how anybody’s supposed to know what to do at any given moment,” I say.

“Please,” the priest whispers. “Tell him I’ll pay him soon.”

“But like I keep telling Mike,” I say. “A job is a job. We’ve got to live. This is better than being broke and homeless.”

“What are you going to do?” the priest blubbers.

“The only thing I can be sure of, Father,” I say. “Is my will. It’s all I got in this world, the only reality the way I see it.” I glance at the ceiling. “If there is somebody up there, he should’ve made this shit clearer.”


                My .45 at hip-level, I pull the trigger and the gun bucks with a whoomph. I pull the trigger again and my elbow knocks against the wall. Two smoking holes appear beneath the mesh screen and the wrinkled face and white-collar on the other side slump out of view. Stepping out of the booth, I walk over to the priest’s curtain, pull it aside and squeeze the trigger two more times.

Facing the altar, I notice the woman with the dress and heels is gone. So is Mike, leaving the church empty. I unscrew the silencer and place the gun back in my shoulder holster, slipping the hot cylinder in my pocket. Rays of sunshine jet through stained-glass windows above, rainbows streaking across the walls and ceiling. The sun moves behind a cloud and the colors disappear, throwing the church into darkness. I wait another minute before I leave.


                Outside, I get in my car and grab the half empty pack of cigarettes from the middle console, shaking one out and sticking it in the corner of my mouth.


                “I don’t know what it’s going to take for you to quit those things.”


                The cigarette falls from my lips and I snatch my gun from the holster, swinging it around to point right at Mike’s left eye.

Mike doesn’t move, doesn’t even flinch.


                “That’s the second time today you’ve pointed a gun at me,” he says.

“That’s the second time today you’ve scared the shit out of me,” I say.

“Sometimes a man needs to be scared,” Mike says. “For his own good.”


                 For a moment there’s nothing but the sound of my labored breathing.


                 “Can you get that gun out of my face?” he says.


                  The air is thick, a bead of sweat creeping down the side of my forehead. Then I lower my gun and slip it back in the holster. Mike’s mouth quivers and he breaks into a dumb smile and I can’t help it, I smile back. Then he laughs, so I laugh.

Starting the car, I reverse out of the parking lot, and Mike and I laugh the whole way home.

Patrick Anderson received his BA in English from Florida State University and his MFA in Creative Writing from University of Central Florida. He has had several short stories published in various e-zine’s and print journals including Existere Journal, The Worcester Review and Midwest Literary Magazine. Currently, he is a Creative Writing Professor at Miami Dade College where he's taught for the past ten years. 

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