Padre Innocente looked over his empty chapel as the time for the exchange approached. Tall columns loomed over rows of empty pews cut by the diagonal rays of the setting sun slanting through the rose window. The glowing shafts of red, green, and blue speckled the rich dark wood and red velvet of the seats. A large and bloody figure of Christ crucified dominate the wall behind the priest, but he hardly gave it a thought. Like the altar before him, that symbol had long ago stopped having any spiritual significance. As he looked down at the altar, he felt again the physical urges sweep through him, and his face wrinkled slightly as he fought them. It was no use, though, and images of her on the altar – the way he wanted to – if only she’d… His breathing hissed through tight lips as he fought against the lust that invaded his mind.
Abruptly his face cleared. He might not serve the church any longer, but that simply meant a different master. While the relationship wasn’t giving him everything he wanted right now, the promise rewards were always tantalizingly close. Also, he reflected with a touch of fear, the consequences of failure even closer. Padre continued to play his part as a “spiritual leader”, as if he had something to offer the misshapen souls that came through the big sacristy doors in search of something beyond their pathetic lives. Over the years he had provided guidance, it is true, sending them wherever his Master wanted – off to New York City to feed the city’s vast hunger, or the hands of the Incubikers or Kitten’s Playroom here in Detroit. They all fed into the machine of control held tight in the Master’s hands.
Then she had come to town a few weeks ago. Isabella, the computer guy’s wife, bringing their son and her own special brand of sexy to the cybersex company. Padre’s master had seen this red-haired woman as an opportunity to gain more leverage over the wily Australian. He was to watch her, report, and then use her as his master directed, or send her off for someone else’s amusement. Padre Innocente had done it with dozens, hundreds, maybe, of girls before, and he’d meant to do it this time, too.
Really, he had.
But then that damned Greek gangster, Michael, had grabbed her – as if he knew there was something was special about her. A minor setback, but Padre was a patient man, and he knew how to wait for her to come into his sphere of influence. He hadn’t been surprised when one Sunday, in a fit of generosity, Michael had let Isabella come to Mass. Padre Innocente tried not to imagine what she had done for the filthy man in return for that brief freedom.
As he watched her from the pulpit that sabbath he knew her motivation wasn’t spiritual. The homily he’d delivered hundreds of times before suddenly felt foreign to his tongue, his mouth dry as he tried to maintain his composure in the presence of her glorious form. The homeless rejects who sparsely attended the service seemed oblivious, and Padre wanted to shout at them: Don’t you see? How can you not fall to her feet and worship her? SHE is the true divine!.
Isabella hadn’t even looked at the priest. Her gaze had focused beyond the bored Incubikers set to guard her to the pew on the left where a tiny boy sat next to his father across the aisle. Her son, Padre Innocente had realized, and her husband. That was the moment his passionate hatred for Alex, the man who dared claim that title, was born.
It burned deep and strong because as Padre looked at Isabella, her red hair wildly curling down her shoulders, her neck draped with a delicate chain hung with amber, her body a suggestive wave of lust covered by her wrap…he had fallen.
It was quite simple, really. His master wanted her, and eventually his master would have her. Padre Innocente had no doubt about that. But first, surely, he could have just a taste, just a bit more of that unnameable feeling that she inspired.
Surely the master would not mind that much? he had thought on that day, weeks ago, standing in this same pulpit.
Now he shivered as the cold fall air seeped through the thick stone walls of the sanctuary. His master had minded, it turned out, and was not pleased with the Padre’s attempts to console Isabella. It turned out that Michael’s kidnapping had been designed to demotivate her, to break her as so many other women had broken. As ineffective a priest as Padre was, his words had comforted her, given her hope of a negotiated peace to reunite her with her husband and son. Padre had given her carte blanche to come to him for support at any time. Then she had come, but not alone, not helpless so that he could be her salvation. No, she’d shown up with her husband and child in tow, and really…what else could he have done?
Padre shivered, remembering how beautiful she’d been, how her sad face had begun to lighten with hope the last time he’d seen her, leaving the chapel with that pitiful, unworthy scum who called himself her husband…
Innocente’s thoughts were interrupted as the door at the far end of the sacristy opened. The remains of the light outside starkly silhouetted a small form, sending long tails of Jane’s shadow darting up the aisle between the empty pews. She stepped in warily, eyes flashing up and around the large chapel, her hands open and ready at her sides.
Padre Innocente idly wondered if she had any guns or other weapons with her. He found this woman distasteful; her hair short, stunted like her body, nothing like the Isabella’s long lush beauty. Isabella’s beauty had been a lie, though, he reminded himself, a cruel teasing mockery. It stiffened his posture as Jane worked her way down the aisle.
When she reached the midpoint of the aisle, Jane finally focused on Padre Innocente. She smiled at him with a sarcastic, devilish grin that made him uncomfortably unsure whether she was planning to laugh at him or fuck him. He flexed his fingers, wanting to reach into his pocket for the comfort of what rested there.
He held still with the discipline of impersonated reverence, ignoring her smile. After a moment, she moved to sit in the pews at his left. Don’t think I missed you choosing the left hand of God, whorebitch he thought. She brought two fingers to her lips and let out a shrill whistle.
More silhouettes appeared at the door then. First Michael, then Theo supporting the shambling, barely-conscious Tony. The IncuBiker leader’s hands were palm out before him, showing peaceful intent. He looked for all the world like a supplicant come to the faith at last. The trio paused at the head of the aisle, looking down the expanse of the sacristy towards where Padre Innocente stood.
He waited a moment to see if more IncuBikers followed, but none did. The priest knew they waited just outside, but outside was all he needed. He lifted his right hand, two fingers raised together as if about to bestow a blessing. Behind him, the door to the vestibule cracked open, and Kitten peeked out. “Is – is it safe?” she asked, querulously, and Michael’s sardonic laughter echoed through the church.
“Is it safe? Are you really asking that? And me without my dental chair…” He smiled over at his brother, but Theo was looking at him blankly. “’Is it safe.’ Olivier? Marathon Man?” As Theo continued to look at him with a blank stare, he shook his head. “Oh, my brother. I have neglected your education…” He looked down the aisle again and called out. “It’s as safe as it’s gonna get, bitch. You have the flash drive?”
She nodded, and handed it to Padre Innocente, who motioned to Theo and both began walking down the aisle towards each other.
Michael and Kitten watched their designates slowly approach each other at the center of the chapel. Michael had a frowning, almost bored expression while Kitten nervously shifted her weight back and forth, fingers fluttering first at her chest then dropping and drumming frenetically at her legs. Jane leaned back in the pew, legs crossed, watching it all with an amused and aloof expression as if in a box seat at a Shakespearean drama.
As the Incubiker and his captive came closer, Padre Innocente saw Tony’s face, a ruin of puffy flesh, ragged cuts and abrasions. One eye was swollen shut and there was a thin trail of spittle drizzling down the left side of his mouth. Dark bruises on his torso were visible through a rip in his shirt and one foot seemed to be twisted off to the side, necessitating Theo’s support under his shoulder. Padre Innocente closed his eyes, realizing he actually had a shred of sympathy for the man. Then he remembered his master’s priorities his eyes snapped open, dark and glittering.
Padre had carefully paced it so that they all reached the midpoint of the sanctuary where Jane sat at the same time. Without looking at her he held out the flash drive and Jane took it casually. Lifting her other hand she fit it into a socket near the wrist of her fingerless glove. She stretched her fingers flat, the small black squares of plastic on each knuckle aligning to form a small rectangular screen. It flickered amber, small lines of text appearing row after row. Jane tsked with approval and looked up at Theo as if she were about to say something. Seeing his serious face she apparently thought better of it and simply nodded.
Theo nodded back, and sullenly dipped from under Tony’s arm. The wounded man sagged, barely managing a half-step towards the priest. Padre Innocente caught him awkwardly, his white robes instantly soaked with blood that covered Tony from head to toe. Theo turned and began walking back up the aisle where his brother waited, ignoring Jane.
She stood but waited a moment longer to make sure the beaten Tony and the priest could walk back. That meant she saw Kitten first. The aging porn starlet was standing in front of the altar, the last of the evening night glittering orange reflections on the blade she held at Isabella’s throat.
Theo was still walking towards his brother, blocking his view, and so Michael saw them just as Theo grinned and yelled “Now, Beecee!” Michael’s incoherent “No!I” followed a split second later.
Padre and Tony reacted very differently to the shouts as they stumbled down the aisle between the pews. Tony hunched, conditioned to associate those voices with the onset of more pain. He curled away from the priest and fell painfully thump to the worn carpet.
Padre Innocente, angry at the idea of any voice but his being raised in his chapel, turned indignantly towards the Doukas brothers. Beecee’s bullet, fired from the choir loft, tore through his left jugular and exited the back of his neck, half decapitating him. His head flopped forward onto his chest, eyes still rolling wildly, body still too shocked to fall. The last image on Padre Innocente’s retinas was not, as he would have liked, the tearful face of Isabella, crying at his demise. Instead he saw Jane, upside down, looking at him with pity. He wanted to snarl at her, to roar out the truth of his master and his awesome purpose and make her tremble in fear.
That was his final thought – of his master, and how terribly disappointed he would be at Padre’s failure. As the darkness engulfed him in an inexorable tide of cold oblivion, the priest had time for one final wish.
He wished he were an atheist.
Michael found his words as the priest’s body thumped to the ground, shouting “Hold your fire, Beecee!” even as the clear metal click of another round being chambered into the rifle came from the loft.
Kitten screamed. “I have her, Michael, and I will slit her fucking throat right now if you do anything else to my husband!” Her voice was edged with a twangy panicked whine as she beckoned her husband. “Come on, Tony, love, come here, we’ll get away…”
Tony tried to get up, but fell again, clutching his side. Michael swore, eyes fixed on Isabella. Theo was looking back and forth, first at his brother, then down the aisle to where Kitten held Isabella as a human shield. He was torn between not understanding his brother’s obsession and fearing him enough to not dare object to it.
Jane looked at Isabella. She was dressed for travel in an open-necked white blouse and jeans, hair pulled back in a ponytail which Kitten used to pull her head back viciously. Isabella didn’t look at Jane. Instead she leveled a burning glare at the fallen body of the priest, slowly bleeding out a final sacrament into the center of the chapel. Janes hands flexed as if wanting to hold something, but no one seemed able to move except for Tony, inching his way towards his wife’s end of the chapel.
“For fuck’s sake, Jane, help him out,” Theo finally said, and Jane jumped at the sound. She glanced back at the brothers and saw that Michael was still staring at Isabella, the fear replaced with a growing anger. “Jealous boy…” she murmured, shrugging, and stepped into the aisle, doing her best to avoid Padre Innocente’s blood. She reached Tony within a few steps and bent down to help the injured man to his feet.
As they hobbled along she did her best to support him but everywhere she touched seemed to bring a new hiss of pain. Some places were worse than others, moving under her hands with the sickening wrongness of broken bones. When they finally reached Kitten and Isabella, Tony focused his one good eye on his wife and her strategy for saving him.
“No, ya bitch!” he moaned hoarsely. “Without the fookin’ ginger whore we’ve got nothing – we need the…this was all for…” He reached out towards Isabella and the woman hissed in disgust as his bloody hands ineffectually smeared her white shirt crimson.
Her reaction inspired a reaction in Tony. He looked wildly between Isabella and his wife. Something seemed to give him more energy, perhaps the imminent reality of his escape from the IncuBikers, and he pushed Jane away. He braced himself at the edge of the altar and Jane stood there as he and his wife made their slow, hobbling way. Kitten kept the knife at Isabella’s throat until they reached the doorway of the sacristy. As Tony pushed it open Michael’s voice rang out. “Take her and I will tear that building to the ground, Nesmith!”
Tony turned, a wild smile twisting his broken mouth. “Take the bitch, then!” he laughed, nudging his wife’s arm. She frowned, protesting, and he roared at her. “Let her go, ye fookin’ cuntbag! We don’t need her anymore!” Eyes widening with understanding, Kitten pushed Isabella hard and simultaneously stepped back with her husband. The door shut with a solid thud as they locked it. Isabella stumbled back towards the altar, trying to recover her balance.
Jane caught her before she fell, eyes full of questions. She didn’t dare ask anything as they both stood. Michael and Theo were walking quickly down the aisle, leaping over the remains of Padre Innocente like wolves on a hunt.
“Thank you, Jane,” Michael said, grabbing Isabella’s arm and pulling her to his side. He held out his other hand. “The flash drive?” Jane nodded absently, eyes still on Isabella as she unclipped it from her glove and gave it to him. Then she looked away, muttering to herself. Michael tilted his head. “What was that?” he asked in a mild tone.
“I said, Mr. Doukas, that was quite the clusterfuck.” She motioned towards Padre Innocente. “Was that really necessary?”
“Of course not.” Michael’s tone hardened. “In fact, it was entirely unexpected – as was her being here.” He pulled Isabella closer, then paused. He looked at the redhead with a puzzled expression. Isabella returned his gaze coolly as if nothing was wrong, as if she hadn’t shown up in the hands of his enemies instead of in the lavish prison he’d created for her.
Michael studied her a moment longer, then turned to Jane. “Speaking of surprises, Kitten called me just before we got here. She wanted to clarify one detail that you got wrong about that video.”
‘”Oh?” Jane said, voice casual, shoulders tensing.
‘”Yes. She told me the whole video was shot from the point of view of someone sitting on top of the tanker.” He waited, but Jane didn’t respond. “She also told me that it showed all of my boys, especially Theo. In fact, there was only one person it didn’t show at all.” He paused again, then nodded towards her. “You.”
Jane bent her knees to spring at Michael when Theo’s arm came around her throat. She felt his muscles clench around her carotid arteries like an iron vise. She coughed and struggled as he lifted her entirely off the ground.
Michael reached into his pocket. “I didn’t need her to tell me that, though, to know you were a scheming bitch,” he continued. “You also left this in Isabella’s room.” He held up the silver sarong she’d worn during her duel with Theo. He dropped it fluttering to the floor as Jane lost consciousness.
Isabella watched Jane’s body go limp as Theo grinned. She looked bored and pressed closer to Michael with an easy possessiveness. “Yeah, the little lezzy just wanted to fuck me the same way all your boys do, Michael. Throw her ass back on the street. ” She traced a finger idly down his jaw, a purr of lust filling her voice. “You never did celebrate your victory over Tony, you know…”
Michael pulled away and looked at her, his expression still puzzled. “When I first saw you,” he said, “you filled my vision. I couldn’t eat or sleep without wanting you, craving you, more than anything else. Your touch made my head feel brighter than the best drugs I’d ever tried. You completely entranced me.” Suddenly he shifted, grabbing her wrist hard. She cried out as he forced her to her knees.
“I don’t know why, but you don’t do that any more,” he said flatly, raising his fist. “and that pisses me off.” His punch caught her flat against the side of her head. Isabella’s eyes rolled up and she slumped unconscious to the floor next to the crumpled pile of silver fabric that glittered with the last rays of the sun.