This is my story for Friday Flash Fiction. A big thanks to Cormac Brown for hosting this weekly challenge. The starter sentence this week is in italics. I hope you enjoy. It was rushed and may be a bit convoluted and grammatically shit, but I liked the idea of the story.
In matters of life and death, one could not forever rely on the judgment of his fellow man. This was the last thing Father Jacobs had said to me as he hung up the phone. I stared at the receiver, wondering what he had meant. I grabbed my jacket and headed for the car. I wanted to know the meaning behind this cryptic message.
I headed for St. Augustine’s on the corner of Wiltshire and Jackson. The traffic was heavy and the god-awful weather wasn’t helping my mood. I spotted a gap in the traffic and threw the car across both oncoming lanes and headed down a side street that would take me around the back of the church. Pulling into the parking lot, I grabbed my coat from the backseat, shrugged it on and headed for the rectory door; head down, trying to avoid getting soaked from the heavy rain.
Knocking softly on the front door, I was greeted by silence. I rapped on the wooden door again and was about to give up when a gap appeared and Father Jacobs’ wife appeared. She looked a mess; her usually well-groomed hair looked more like a rat’s nest, her face was devoid of the any hint of make-up and she looked absolutely distraught.
“Mrs Jacobs? Are you okay? Is Father Jacobs in?”
She stared at me, seemingly unaware of my identity. Which was rather strange as my family had known the Jacobs’ for over half a century. Father Jacobs had married my parents and he had baptised me thirty two years ago. I couldn’t understand the confusion that was evident on his wife’s face.
“Oh, Jimmy, it’s you.” This was almost a whisper. “Do you want to come in?”
She removed the safety catch and opened the door wide, gesturing for me to come in. I removed my boots and left them on the front porch, took of my wet coat and placed it down next to my boots. My mother used to get very angry when my brothers and I would march through our house with wet and muddy shoes, so it has become a habit now to take them off before entering someone’s home, whether they were wet or not.
“Sit down, Jimmy. Make yourself comfortable. Do you want some coffee? Maybe a cold drink?”
“A coffee would be lovely,” I replied, “But only if you are making one.”
She smiled thinly and left me sitting in the lounge room and headed for the kitchen. I could hear the rattling of teaspoons in ceramic cups but I also could hear Mrs Jacobs sobbing as well. I hurried into the kitchen.
“Hey, what’s the matter?” I gently placed my hand on her shoulder. The look on her face when she turned to face me was one of pure distress.
“He is in the hospital. I don’t know if he is going to make it.” And with that, she burst into tears and threw herself into my arms. I could feel her racking sobs and I pushed her away, feeling just a little self-conscious and a lot concerned.
She looked at me again, as if weighing up just how much she should tell me.
“He is at St. Vincent’s. Go and ask him yourself. I am sure he would be pleased to see you.” She turned on her heel and walked into what I supposed was the bedroom and closed the door behind her. I guessed that the conversation was over so I left her to her grief and went back outside, put on my boots and jacket and headed for the hospital.
Father Jacobs looked like hell. Tubes ran from every orifice in his head, thick bandages covered his forehead but it was the ugly bruising that shocked me the most. Someone had done a number on him, of that there was no doubt.
I approached the bed, thinking he was sleeping, when he turned his head toward me and smiled that million dollar smile of his. It was a smile I had seen every Sunday morning at church but this time it seemed strained and somewhat painful. He beckoned to me with his left hand and I could see that it too had a tube running from it to an IV drip that sat silently nearby, steadily pumping painkillers into his system.
I sat on the leather chair that was provided for visitors and he reached out to me. I took his hand in mine; it was the hand of a feeble old man, an experience I had never had before. Father Jacobs was a strong man, both physically and spiritually. His handshake was like crossing the palm of God. It was full of warm cheer and blessing. This felt like the shaking hands with a dead man.
“Jimmy Bertolli, what a pleasant surprise.” He swallowed hard; talking was obviously difficult for him. “How did you know I was here?”
I explained to him that after the odd phone call I wanted to know the meaning of the cryptic last line. I told him of my visit to his wife and that she had directed me here.
“How is Betty?” I could see a faint spark in his eyes; his love for his wife was as strong as his love for God.
“She’s not doing too well, but obviously better than you. Tell me what happened, Father.” I squeezed his hand to show him that I cared. “Take your time; I don’t have anywhere to be.”
Father Jacobs withdrew his hand from mine and reached for the glass of ice chips beside the bed. After sucking on them for a few seconds, he wiped his mouth and gestured for me to come a little closer.
“Son, I have known you for a long time, haven’t I? Our families go back quite a ways. So I will dispense with the preamble and just get right to it, shall I?”
I nodded, not wanting to interrupt with speech.
“During the morning service I was attacked by an unknown person. I was beaten, kicked and...” He pulled up his hospital gown to show three sets of stitches. “...I was stabbed a few times.”
I was in shock. Father Jacobs was one of the most generous, caring men I had ever met. Why someone would want to do this was beyond my comprehension. His breathing became more laboured so I encouraged him to wait for a few moments before continuing. He waved me off with a quick flick of his hand.
“Son, I have seen much violence in my life – always against my fellow man. I knew that, with the growing violence in our society that this was going to happen to me someday. I am an easy target; soft perhaps. And it has happened now. I will live, thanks to the wonderful people here at this hospital. They are good people.”
I was beginning to understand what the message meant. It was obviously directed at the bastard who had carried out such a cowardly act.
“Anyway, what I want to tell you is this. Do not be angry with my attacker. He knows not what he does.”
I stared furiously at the priest. “What do you mean do not be angry? This man attacked you in the house of God. Can there be a lower act perpetrated by one human on another?
Father Jacobs sighed deeply before continuing. “Son, I am afraid there is. You see, although you may despise the man who did this to me, there is a much worse crime to be reported.”
I couldn’t believe what he was telling me. There was more? “What, Father, could be worse than that? Is this not the judgement you were referring to in our phone conversation?”
“No, son, I am afraid not. The worst part of this sorry affair is that my congregation – my flock – sat idly by and watched what happened to me and not one person did a thing. No one saw fit to come to my aid, no one stood up and tried to help me in any way. Like I said to you on the phone: In matters of life and death, one could not forever rely on the judgment of his fellow man.