Mystery and Crime Fiction posted September 14, 2015


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In the Name of the Father

by mfowler


'And now bow your heads, sinners, pray for forgiveness before you meet your maker.'

The bushranger's 'holier-than-thou' attitude towards the victims of his crime was off-putting to say the least. Since I was about as dead as a live man could be at that moment, I ventured one last question before he put a bullet in my skull.

'Mr Bushranger, sir, why would a fella in such a strong position as you most undoubtedly are, take it upon yourself to care about our mortal souls?'

All I could see was the morning sun gleaming off his fine leather boots and all I expected for my insolence was a crack across the head or the bullet he'd been promising to deliver for the past ten minutes or so.

'Because, sir, I am a man of God and I care about the way a man dies.'

The stage driver, who'd been kneeling beside me shaking and whimpering throughout  our ordeal, retched  wildly, leaving his last meal sprayed over the eucalypt leaf-covered earth. Part of it hit my shirt and a smattering flicked onto those fancy bushranger boots. The poor man lurched forward becoming prostrate among the dirt, the leaves and his own puke. I heard him mumble, 'Sorry, mate. Spare me.'

The bushranger seemed satisfied with the driver's performance. He directed his vitriol in my direction. 'See, a man who knows how to be humble before the Lord.' With that came a terrible thud and a burning sensation across my face.

I tumbled down beside the driver. The stench, and the wailing of the driver and old Mrs Fitzgibbons on the left side of me, stirred me to rise up against the pistol and the man who'd applied it to my face.

The masked man seemed taken aback by both my swift recovery and my impudence in standing up to him. Before he could speak, I asked,' Do you intend to confess your crimes once these foul murders are done?'

He seemed to squint. The kerchief round his mouth revealed only so much. His eyes dilated and he looked at me fiercely.

'That's between me and my maker.' I expected another heinous threat, not an explanation.

'What about yer poor, wee mother?' said Mrs Fitzgibbons who'd turned to join the conversation. 'Surely, sir, yer ma  would be ashamed of ya? Robbin' and killin', and the like.'

'My mother wouldn't care if I roasted in hell,' replied the bushranger. 'She ran off with the blacksmith when I was only ten. If anyone's to blame for my life of crime, it's her.'

Mrs Fitzgibbons stood up and walked cautiously toward the bandit. 'Yer poor lad. So ya had no mammy ter love ya. No wonder yer a killer.'

I swear I saw a tear form in his eye but he quickly recovered. 'Enough. Down on your knees, the pair of you. My life is no concern of yours. Prepare for your own deaths.'

'I don't know how you can claim to be a man of God, sir. You'll kill innocent people who just happen to be in your way.' I had to keep at him while his motivations were wavering.

'I was a man of God just like my father was. He was a man of the cloth, but he was the one who taught me to hate. Always going on about the wrath of the Father. Always blaming God for allowing my mother to leave.' He spat on the ground.

'I knew it,' said old Jed, the driver, suddenly standing. 'You're Reverend Lowry's kid, Jackson. Knew that sanctimonious old bastard back in Bathurst. You were a hard kid to like.'

The bandit removed the mask revealing a bearded, pasty-faced, young man. He was exposed and looking jittery.

'Old Jed. I thought it was you. Now, I am going to have to kill you, for sure. Up till now I was just threatening to get co-operation.'

'Yer poor boy,' offered Mrs Fitzgibbons. 'Life's been bad to yer, sonny. But, don't give up on Jesus. He'll fergive ya if ya show mercy.'

'Will the law?'

'The law don't need know nothin',' said Jed. 'You skedaddle out of here and no harm's done.'

Lowry smiled awkwardly. 'That's all good and proper old man, but I've got to keep my reputation, feed the belly and stay free. Good try, though. I still have to kill you all.'

A tiny explosion suddenly cut through the tense morning air. Lowry looked horrified. A trickle of blood emerged from beside his heart where the bullet entered. He slowly slumped to the ground.

Mrs Fitzgibbon popped the Derringer back into her purse.

'Why?'

'Poor wee lad,' she said sincerely. 'The good Lord helps those what helps themselves. Yer'll be a lot happier now the pain of yer hard upbringin' is over.'

Lowry looked up benignly at the sweet old lady, then closed his eyes.

The ride to Bathurst was sombre. Lowry's body was slumped over his horse which was tied behind the coach. Mrs Fitzgibbons sat calmly knitting the jumper for her grandson.

'I don't believe you just did that. You saved our lives.'

'He was a bad seed, that young 'un. Would have killed us fer sure. Trust me, he's better off dead.'

She seemed so sweet yet her deeds and words suggested otherwise.

'Did you know him?'

'I knew his ma. She were the harlot that stole me husband. The whole family were rotten. Now, the ledger's a little bit more even. Tooth for a tooth, I say.'

I said nothing after that. The place of God, godliness and goodness in the whole episode left me totally confused.

Soon after we arrived in Bathurst, I headed to St Patrick's and asked for a little guidance.

I'm still waiting.


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