Penguin.com (usa)

Eleventh Hour

Eleventh Hour

Catherine Coulter - Author

ePub eBook | $7.99 | add to cart | view cart
ISBN 9781101214640 | 352 pages | 24 Jun 2003 | Jove | 18 - AND UP
Additional Formats:
Summary of Eleventh Hour Summary of Eleventh Hour Reviews for Eleventh Hour An Excerpt from Eleventh Hour
In a cat-and-mouse chase that runs from the streets of San Francisco to the television studios of Los Angeles, FBI agents Savich and Sherlock are in a race against time to find the madman responsible for a slew of murders.

S A N F R A N C I S C O

Nick sat quietly in the midnight gloom of the nave,

hunched forward, her head in her arms resting on the pew

in front of her. She was here because Father Michael

Joseph had begged her to come, had begged her to let him

help her. The least she could do was talk to him, couldn’t

she? She’d wanted to come late, when everyone else was

already home asleep, when the streets were empty, and

he’d agreed, even smiled at her. He was a fine man, kind

and loving toward his fellow man and toward God.

Would she wait? She sighed at the thought. She’d given

her word, he’d made her give her word, known somehow

that it would keep her here. She watched him walk over to

the confessional, watched with surprise as his step suddenly

lagged, and he paused a moment, his hand reaching

for the small handle on the confessional door. He didn’t

want to open that door, she thought, staring at him. He

18882_ch01.qxd 4/15/03 5:19 AM Page 1

didn’t want to go in. Then, at last, he seemed to straighten,

opened the door and stepped inside.

Again, there was utter silence in the big church. The air

itself seemed to settle after Father Michael Joseph stepped

into that small confined space. The deep black shadows

weren’t content to fill the corners of the church, they even

crept down the center aisle, and soon she was swallowed

up in them. There was a patch of moonlight coming

through the tall stained-glass windows.

It should have been peaceful, but it didn’t feel that way.

There was something else in the church, something that

wasn’t restful, that wasn’t remotely spiritual. She fidgeted

in the silence.

She heard one of the outer church doors open. She turned

to see the man who was going to make his midnight confession

walk briskly into the church. He looked quite ordinary,

slender, with a long Burberry raincoat and thick dark hair.

She watched him pause, look right and left, but he didn’t see

her, she was in the shadows. She watched him walk to the

confessional where Father Michael Joseph waited, watched

him open the confessional door and slip inside.

Again, silence and shadows hovered around her. She

was part of the shadows now, looking out toward the confessional

from the dim, vague light. She heard nothing.

How long did a confession take? Being a Protestant, she

had no idea. There must be, she thought, some correlation

between the number and severity of the sins and the length

of the confession. She started to smile at that, but it quickly

fell away.

She felt a rush of cold air over her, covering her for a

long moment before it moved on. How very odd, she

thought, and pulled her sweater tighter around her.

She looked again at the altar, perhaps seeking inspiration,

some sort of sign, and felt ridiculous.

After Father Michael Joseph had finished, what was she

supposed to do? Let him take her hand in his big warm

ones, and tell him everything? Sure, like she’d ever let that

happen. She continued to look up at the altar, its flowing

shape blurred in the dim light, the shadows creeping about

its edges, soft and otherworldly.

Maybe Father Michael Joseph wanted her to sit here

quietly with nothing and no one around her. She thought in

that moment that even though he wanted her to talk to him,

he wanted her to speak to God more. But there were no

prayers inside her. Perhaps there were, deep in her heart,

but she really didn’t want to look there.

So much had happened, and yet so little. Women she

didn’t know were dead. She wasn’t. At least not yet. He

had so many resources, so many eyes and ears, but for now

she was safe. She realized sitting there in the quiet church

that she was no longer simply terrified as she’d been two

and a half weeks before. Instead she’d become watchful.

She was always studying the faces that passed her on the

street. Some made her draw back, others just flowed over

her, making no impact at all, just as she made no impact on

them.

She waited. She looked up at the crucified Christ, felt a

strange mingling of pain and hope fill her, and waited. The

air seemed to shift, to flatten, but the silence remained absolute,

without even a whisper coming from the confessional.

Inside the confessional, Father Michael Joseph drew a

slow, deep breath to steady himself. He didn’t want to see

this man again, not ever again, for as long as he lived.

When the man had called Father Binney and told him he

could only come this late—he was terribly sorry, but it

wasn’t safe for him, and he had to confess, he just had

to—of course Father Binney had said yes. The man told

Father Binney he had to see Father Michael Joseph, no one

else, and of course Father Binney had again said yes.

Father Michael Joseph was very afraid he knew why the

man had come again. He’d confessed before, acted contrite—

a man in pain, a man trying to stop killing, a man

seeking spiritual help. The second time he’d come, he’d

confessed yet again to another murder, gone through the

ritual as if he’d rehearsed it, saying all the right words, but

Father Michael Joseph knew he wasn’t contrite, that—that

what? That for some reason Father Michael Joseph

couldn’t fathom, the man wanted to gloat, because the man

believed there was nothing the priest could do to stop him.

Of course Father Michael Joseph couldn’t tell Father Binney

why he didn’t want to see this evil man. He’d never really

believed in human evil, not until the unimagined

horror of September 11th, and now, when this man had

come to him for the first time a week and a half ago, then

last Thursday, and now again tonight, at nearly midnight.

Father Michael Joseph knew in his soul that the man was

evil, without remorse, with no ability to feel his own, or

another’s, humanity. He wondered if the man had ever felt

truly sorry. He doubted it. Father Michael Joseph heard the

man breathing in the confessional across from him, and

then the man spoke, his voice a soft, low monotone, “Forgive

me, Father, for I have sinned.”

He’d recognize that voice anywhere, had heard it in his

dreams. He didn’t know if he could bear it. He said finally,

his voice thin as the thread hanging off his shirt cuff,

“What have you done?” He prayed to God that he wouldn’t

hear words that meant another human being was dead.

The man actually laughed, and Father Michael Joseph

heard madness in that laugh. “Hello to you, too, Father.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. You’re right, I killed the

pathetic little prick; this time I used a garrote. Do you

know what a garrote is, Father?”

“Yes, I know.”

“He tried to get his hands beneath it, you know, to try to

loosen it, to relieve the pressure, but it was nice strong

wire. You can’t do anything against wire. But I eased up

just a bit, to give him some hope.”

“I hear no contrition in your voice, no remorse, only satisfaction

that you committed this evil. You have done this

because it pleased you to do it—”

The man said in a rich, deep, sober voice, “But you

haven’t heard the rest of my tale, Father.”

“I don’t want to hear anything more out of your mouth.”

The man laughed, a deep, belly-rolling laugh. Father

Michael Joseph didn’t say a word. It was cold and stuffy in

the confessional, hard to breathe, but his frock stuck to his

skin. He smelled himself in that sweat, smelled his dread,

his fear, his distaste for this monster. Dear Lord, let this

foul creature leave now, leave and never come back.

“Just when he thought he had pulled it loose enough so

he could breathe, I jerked it tight, really fast, you know,

and it sliced right through his fingers all the way to the

bone. He died with his damned fingers against his own

neck. Grant me absolution, Father. Did you read the papers,

Father? Do you know the man’s name?”

Father Michael Joseph knew, of course he knew. He’d

watched the coverage on television, read it in the Chronicle.

“You murdered Thomas Gavin, an AIDS activist who’s

done nothing but good in this city.”

“Did you ever sleep with him, Father?”

He wasn’t shocked, hadn’t been shocked by anything for

the past twelve years, but he was surprised. The man had

never taken this tack before. He said nothing, just waited.

“No denial? Stay silent, if you wish. I know you didn’t

sleep with him. You’re not gay. But the fact is, he had to

die. It was his time.”

“There is no absolution for you, not without true repentance.”

“Why am I not surprised you feel that way? Thomas

Gavin was just another pathetic man who needed to leave

this world. Do you want to know something, Father? He

wasn’t really real.”

“What do you mean he wasn’t really real?”

“Just what I said. He didn’t really ever exist, you know?

He wasn’t ever really here—he just existed in his own little

world. I helped him out of his lousy world. Do you know

he contracted AIDS just last year? He just found out about

it. He was going nuts. But I saved him, I helped him out of

everything, that’s all. It was a rather noble thing for me to

do. It was sort of an assisted suicide.”

“It was vicious, cold-blooded murder. It was real, and

now a man of flesh and blood is dead. Because of you.

Don’t try to excuse what you did.”

“Ah, but I was giving you a metaphor, Father, not an excuse.

Your tone is harsh. Aren’t you going to give me my

penance? Maybe have me say a million Hail Marys? Perhaps

have me score my own back with a whip? Don’t you

want me to plead with you to intercede with God on my

behalf, beg for my forgiveness?”

“A million Hail Marys wouldn’t get you anywhere.” Father

Michael leaned closer, nearly touched that evil,

smelled the hot breath of that man. “Listen to me now. This

is not a sacramental confession. You believe that I am

bound by silence, that anything anyone tells me can go no

farther than the confessional. That is not true. You have not

made a sacramental confession; you are not contrite, you

seek no spiritual absolution, and I am not bound to silence.

I will discuss this with my bishop. However, even if he disagrees

with me, I am prepared to leave the priesthood if I

have to. Then I will tell the world what you have done. I

won’t allow this to continue.”

“You would really turn me over to the cops? That is very

impassioned of you, Father. I see that you are seriously

pissed. I didn’t know there was a loophole in your vow of

silence. I had wanted you to be forced to beg and plead and

threaten, but realize you’re helpless and let it eat you alive.

But how can anyone predict someone’s behavior, after

all?”

“They’ll throw you in an institution for the rest of your

miserable life.”

The man smothered a laugh, managed a credible sigh,

and said, laughing, “You mean to imply that I’m insane,

Father?”

“No, not just insane. I think you’re a psychopath—ah, I

believe the politically correct word is sociopath, isn’t it?

Doesn’t make it sound so evil, so without conscience. It

doesn’t matter, whatever you are, it’s worse than anything

doctors could put a tag to. You don’t give a damn about

anybody. You need help, although I doubt anyone could

help the sickness in you. Will you stop this insanity?”

“Would you like to shoot me, Father?”

“I am not like you. But I will see that you are stopped.

There will be an end to this.”

“I fear I can’t let you go to the cops, Father. I’m trying

not to be angry with you for not behaving as you should.

All right. Now I’m just mildly upset that you aren’t behaving

as you’re supposed to.”

“What are you talking about—I’m not acting like I’m

supposed to?”

“It’s not important, at least it isn’t for you. Do you know

you’ve given me something I’ve never had before in my

life?”

“What?”

“Fun, Father. I’ve never had so much fun in my life. Except,

maybe, for this.”

He waited until Father Michael Joseph looked toward

him through the wire mesh. He fired point-blank, right

through the priest’s forehead. There was a loud popping

sound, nothing more because he’d screwed on a silencer.

He lowered the gun, thoughtful now because Father

Michael Joseph had slumped back against the wooden confessional

wall, his head up, and he could see his face

clearly. There was not even a look of surprise on the

priest’s face, just a flash of something he couldn’t really

understand. Was it compassion? No, certainly not that. The

priest despised him, but now he was shackled for all eternity,

without a chance for him to go to the police, no opportunity

for him even to take the drastic step of leaving

the priesthood. He was silent forever. No loophole now.

Now Father Michael Joseph didn’t have to worry about

a thing. His tender conscience couldn’t bother him. Was

there a Heaven? If so, maybe Father Michael Joseph was

looking down on him, knowing there was still nothing he

could do. Or maybe the priest was hovering just overhead,

over his own body, watching, wondering.

“Good-bye, Father, wherever you are,” he said, and rose.

He realized, as he eased out of the confessional and

carefully closed the narrow wooden door, that the look on

the Father’s face—he’d looked like he’d won. But that

made no sense. Won what? The good Father had just

bought the big one. He hadn’t won a damned thing.

There was no one in the church, not that he expected

there to be. It was dead silent. He would have liked it if

there had been a Gregorian chant playing softly. But no,

there was nothing, just the echo of his own footsteps on the

cold stones.

What did that damned priest have to look happy about?

He was dead, for God’s sake.

He walked quickly out of St. Bartholomew’s Church,

paused a moment to breathe in the clean midnight air, and

craned his neck to look up at the brilliant star-studded sky.

A very nice night, just like it was supposed to be. Not

much of a moon, but that was all right. He would sleep

very well tonight. He saw a drunk leaning against a skinny

oak tree set in a small dirt plot in the middle of the sidewalk,

just across the street, his chin resting on his chest—

not the way it was supposed to be, but who cared? The guy

hadn’t heard a thing.

There would be nothing but questions with no answers

for now, since the cops wouldn’t have a clue. The priest

had made him do things differently, and that was too bad.

But it was all close enough.

But the look on the priest’s face, he didn’t like to think

about that, at least not now.

He whistled as he walked beneath the streetlight on Fillmore,

then another block to where he’d parked his car,

squeezed it between two small spaces, really. This was a

residential area and there was little parking space.

"VINTAGE COULTER: exciting, enthralling and totally mesmerizing." -BookBrowser

"Fast-paced romantic [and] suspenseful." -Booklist


To keep up-to-date, input your email address, and we will contact you on publication

Please alert me via email when:


The author releases another book