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The Confession
Author: John Grisham


John Grisham - The Confession

The Confession
John Grisham

classics/mystery/thriller

The_Confession/index

 

PART ONE

THE CRIME

CHAPTER 1

The custodian at St. Mark’s had just scraped three inches of snow off the sidewalks when the man with the cane appeared. The sun was up, but the winds were howling; the temperature was stuck at the freezing mark. The man wore only a pair of thin dungarees, a summer shirt, well-worn hiking boots, and a light Windbreaker that stood little chance against the chill. But he did not appear to be uncomfortable, nor was he in a hurry. He was on foot, walking with a limp and a slight tilt to his left, the side aided by the cane. He shuffled along the sidewalk near the chapel and stopped at a side door with the word “Office” painted in dark red. He did not knock and the door was not locked. He stepped inside just as another gust of wind hit him in the back.

The room was a reception area with the cluttered, dusty look one would expect to find in an old church. In the center was a desk with a nameplate that announced the presence of Charlotte Junger, who sat not far behind her name. She said with a smile, “Good morning.”

“Good morning,” the man said. A pause. “It’s very cold out there.”

“It is indeed,” she said as she quickly sized him up. The obvious problem was that he had no coat and nothing on his hands or head.

“I assume you’re Ms. Junger,” he said, staring at her name.

“No, Ms. Junger is out today. The flu. I’m Dana Schroeder, the minister’s wife, just filling in. What can we do for you?”

There was one empty chair and the man looked hopefully at it. “May I?”

“Of course,” she said. He carefully sat down, as if all movements needed forethought.

“Is the minister in?” he asked as he looked at a large, closed door off to the left.

“Yes, but he’s in a meeting. What can we do for you?” She was petite, with a nice chest, tight sweater. He couldn’t see anything below the waist, under the desk. He had always preferred the smaller ones. Cute face, big blue eyes, high cheekbones, a wholesome pretty girl, the perfect little minister’s wife.

It had been so long since he’d touched a woman.

“I need to see Reverend Schroeder,” he said as he folded his hands together prayerfully. “I was in church yesterday, listened to his sermon, and, well, I need some guidance.”

“He’s very busy today,” she said with a smile. Really nice teeth.

“I’m in a rather urgent situation,” he said.

Dana had been married to Keith Schroeder long enough to know that no one had ever been sent away from his office, appointment or not. Besides, it was a frigid Monday morning and Keith wasn’t really that busy. A few phone calls, one consultation with a young couple in the process of retreating from a wedding, under way at that very moment, then the usual visits to the hospitals. She fussed around the desk, found the simple questionnaire she was looking for, and said, “Okay, I’ll take some basic information and we’ll see what can be done.” Her pen was ready.

“Thank you,” he said, bowing slightly.

“Name?”

“Travis Boyette.” He instinctively spelled his last name for her. “Date of birth, October 10, 1963. Place, Joplin, Missouri. Age, forty-four. Single, divorced, no children. No address. No place of employment. No prospects.”

Dana absorbed this as her pen frantically searched for the proper blanks to be filled. His response created far more questions than her little form was designed to accommodate. “Okay, about the address,” she said, still writing. “Where are you staying these days?”

“These days I’m the property of the Kansas Department of Corrections. I’m assigned to a halfway house on Seventeenth Street, a few blocks from here. I’m in the process of being released, ‘re-entry,’ as they like to call it. A few months in the halfway house here in Topeka, then I’m a free man with nothing to look forward to but parole for the rest of my life.”

The pen stopped moving, but Dana stared at it anyway. Her interest in the inquiry had suddenly lost steam. She was hesitant to ask anything more. However, since she had started the interrogation, she felt compelled to press on. What else were they supposed to do while they waited on the minister?

“Would you like some coffee?” she asked, certain that the question was harmless.

There was a pause, much too long, as if he couldn’t decide. “Yes, thanks. Just black with a little sugar.”

Dana scurried from the room and went to find coffee. He watched her leave, watched everything about her, noticed the nice round backside under the everyday slacks, the slender legs, the athletic shoulders, even the ponytail. Five feet three, maybe four, 110 pounds max.

She took her time, and when she returned Travis Boyette was right where she’d left him, still sitting monklike, the fingertips of his right hand gently tapping those of his left, his black wooden cane across his thighs, his eyes gazing forlornly at nothing on the far wall. His head was completely shaved, small, and perfectly round and shiny, and as she handed him the cup, she pondered the frivolous question of whether he’d gone bald at an early age or simply preferred the skinned look. There was a sinister tattoo creeping up the left side of his neck.

He took the coffee and thanked her for it. She resumed her position with the desk between them.

“Are you Lutheran?” she asked, again with the pen.

“I doubt it. I’m nothing really. Never saw the need for church.”

“But you were here yesterday. Why?”

Boyette held the cup with both hands at his chin, like a mouse nibbling on a morsel. If a simple question about coffee took a full ten seconds, then one about church attendance might require an hour. He sipped, licked his lips. “How long do you think it’ll be before I can see the reverend?” he finally asked.

Not soon enough, Dana thought, anxious now to pass this one along to her husband. She glanced at a clock on the wall and said, “Any minute now.”

“Would it be possible just to sit here in silence as we wait?” he asked, with complete politeness.

Dana absorbed the stiff-arm and quickly decided that silence wasn’t a bad idea. Then her curiosity returned. “Sure, but one last question.” She was looking at the questionnaire as if it required one last question. “How long were you in prison?” she asked.

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