Tehuti's Per On The Web 2.0!

D Is For Damien: Chapter 15

Odd Happenings

IT WAS LATE when they got home that night, not that Dino had much to do with it; he delayed them just a little, quickly afterwards promising to return home--which wasn't too far away, he added. Damien dropped his uncle off at his own house, then drove home. He found that the muscles of his neck ached, and realized just how tense he had been since that phone call. He tried to rub the ache out with his right hand, and his mind started to wander as he drove...

"Just one of three who became two who became one." How true Luther's words were. Yes, at first there had been three, those who had met at the railroad bridge; then they had become two, the two who had managed to stay together; and then there was one, the only one who had weathered the storm--so far. He couldn't be certain how much longer he could last. Because, if he were right, this was going to be a very long, very violent storm.

He reached home to find all lights, save the porchlight, turned off. He parked near the garage and tiredly went up to the porch, yawning as he reached for the door. Then he quickly drew his hand back, staring with astonishment.

There was a note posted to the door, inscribed with his name and a cross.

Startled, he pulled it down and tore it open, swatting at the moths and mosquitoes buzzing around the light as he tried to read. The note was unlike anything he had ever seen.

Dear Damien:

I've left this note for you and only you to find.
I wish to tell you not to lose hope.
Scorpio is not undefeatable, nor is Luther. Everyone has their weakness,
and I just happen to know his.
I cannot tell you too much for fear of what they will do to me;
you see, Luther and I are much closer than you will ever know.
You've known him for a long time as well; think back;
what was the one thing that happened to him
that frightened him most of all?
Think carefully, and remember this:
Though Scorpio rules the water,
that does not mean that those born under her
must needs take advantage of that.
I'll be praying for you,

A friend

Damien slowly let the paper down, unable, though, to draw his eyes from it. What did it mean? Who could have left it? There was no one left alive who knew of their childhood so well, except maybe-- He shook his head. No, that thought was too incredible! Folding the note in his hand, he went inside, turning off the light, disappointing the mosquitoes, and closing the door behind him.

As he readied to go to sleep, he found himself reading and rereading the letter over and over, as if he should memorize it and recite it at night like the prayer he very nearly took it to be. And, as he turned out the light, he carefully tucked it under his pillow, as if he knew that it and only it could protect him from the dark.

The next day found him trying to figure out the meaning of the cryptic note, to no avail. He just couldn't understand it. What was all of this about weaknesses? And something frightening? And "Scorpio ruling the water"? It just didn't make sense.

Dino invited himself over early that day, dropping in unexpectedly while they were just finishing up breakfast. Of course Harvey and Esmeralda had to get to know him, and they quickly got busy probing him with all kinds of questions. Dino, however, was a talky person, and answered everything as quickly and as detailed as he could, which was very fast and very detailed. The three of them must have been at it for at least fifteen minutes before Damien cut in, waving his hands to drive the kids away.

"Okay guys, enough is enough," he said, prying them away. "Dino and I gotta get going. Teresa's gonna come over later on to take you out to eat."

"Aw, we don't need a babysitter!" Harvey whined, stamping his foot in defiance. "I'm already seven years old!"

"And I'm even older!" Ez agreed with him, for once.

"Well, that's good to know. Since you're so old, you two can take Teresa out to eat. C'mon, Dino," Damien said, motioning to him to follow. Dino grinned at the kids, waved, and left. Harvey and Ez were not in the least amused by Damien's joke, but there was nothing they could do about it, so they just watched as the two drove off.

"Ez," Harvey said, as they watched the red shape of the Lamborghini recede in the distance, "did you ever have the feelin' there was somethin' you should really tell somebody, but you weren't sure they'd believe you?"

"Sure," Ez said. "Only when I did tell, they did believe, so you got in trouble."

Harvey snorted with disgust. "Never mind."

"So I'm driving down Main Street, right?" Dino was yammering on as Damien drove down the Main Street in question. "But all of a sudden it's not really me anymore, y'know--I'm really Big Bird, and I'm drivin' one of those little windup cars right through rush-hour traffic. Really weird dream."

"Uh-huh," Damien agreed, barely listening.

"And then there's the one where friends are comin' over for dinner, and I have to cook a horse for them, only the horse is still alive so I have to kill it, but I only manage to knock it out." Dino shook his head and rolled his eyes. "Now that is weird."

"Right on." Damien turned right at the intersection, driving over the Lincoln Bridge.

"Have you ever had that dream where you're driving a car," Dino went on, "only you don't know how to drive, so you have to jump out the window and into the ditch?"

"Well, sure. Everybody has that dream. Duh."

"Well, what about the one where you're swimming, and suddenly you forget how to swim, so you start drowning?" Dino asked. "How about that one? Is that as common as I'd thought?"

"Everybody has some kinda fear about drowning sometime, Dino," Damien said, before realizing what it was he'd been saying. Then his face went blank. Dino stared at him for a moment or two, before hearing a honk. He glanced out the window and, startled, grabbed the steering wheel from Damien's hands and veered to the right, narrowly missing a semi truck headed straight toward them. The Lamborghini skidded out onto the shoulder, spraying gravel and dust before coming to a halt beyond two treads of burnt rubber. At that moment Damien seemed to snap out of it, and looked around him with surprise.

"Dino--what--what happened? What'd I do?" he asked.

"What didn't you do is more like it," Dino said, instantly reverting back to his cooler side. "You just zoned out there for a minute. Just like you went into another dimension or something. If I didn't know any better I'd say you forgot how to drive! Hey, just what were you thinkin' of, anyway?"

"Nothing," Damien said in a dazed voice, steering back onto the road and driving on. "Nothing at all."

Father Damien finished reading the note Damien had given to him, and looked up at his nephew. They were at Father Damien's house; Dino was walking around admiring the priest's book collection and wall paintings. "Damien, why didn't you tell me about this before?" Father Damien asked, concern in his voice. "Somebody out there knows who you are and isn't about to hide that fact. Who could this be?"

Damien shrugged. "That's not really what's bothering me now," he said. "Just tell me, what message do you get from it?"

This time his uncle shrugged. "The same as you. I don't understand it, either. Who could know Luther well enough to know what his greatest fear is? It couldn't be a member of Scorpio. They'd never turn him in."

"It couldn't be one of them," Damien agreed, "but it could be a member of his family."

Father Damien started. "Family? There was only his mother and father. You told me about that police report. Luther killed his mother. And nobody knows what happened to his father--what they do know is that he abused Luther, and Luther hated him for it."

"And never forgave him," Damien said, nodding. "I know. But tell me, whatever happened to his mother's body? If she'd been killed like they said she was there'd be a grave or at least a death certificate. Today I looked and looked, and I found neither. It's as if both of them just disappeared from the face of the Earth."

"Yeeugh," Dino commented with a shudder, from the other side of the room. "Dysfunctional family."

Father Damien was looking confused now, but he said nothing about it. "So you think this informant is Luther's mother," he said to Damien. "The same woman who was said to have been raped and murdered by her own son four years ago, and is now helping you to seek him out. Would this be revenge?"

"I don't think so," Damien said, shaking his head, "only justice."

The priest shook his head also, to clear his thoughts. Too much had been going on too quickly lately. "In any case," he said, "what does this note mean? If it is his mother--and I'm still saying if--and she does know his greatest fear, why doesn't she tell what it is?"

"She did," Damien replied. "Only it's not as clear as we'd like it to be. I've been looking up some things at the library." He took the note and pointed to the bottom lines. "You see this thing about Scorpio ruling the water?"

Father Damien nodded.

"I checked out some astrology books," Damien continued, "and they said all the signs of the zodiac are ruled by one of the four elements--fire, earth, air, or water. And Scorpio falls under water."

The priest nodded. He'd read enough on astrology himself to know that. "And?"

"This is the strange part, the part I didn't get till Dino accidentally brought it up earlier today," Damien said, sitting down. "You of course know that, when we were little, Luther, Lilu, and I all played near the old railroad bridge, right?"

A nod.

"What you don't know," his nephew went on, "is that once, while we were up on the bridge, something happened to frighten us, and Luther lost his footing and fell. He was hanging on for dear life and we tried to get him to take our hands, but he was so scared of falling, which is just what happened. It's not a long fall--if you know how to swim. But Luther didn't. He nearly drowned. We had to get help to save him. Ever since that day, he'd never so much as set foot on the bridge, or go very near the water, or even take a drink of water from a glass. It terrified him that much."

"I understand now," Father Damien said, nodding again. "Hydrophobia. A fear of water."

Damien nodded as well. "And believe it or not, Morris tried to tell me the exact same thing on a computer program of his that I found, only then I didn't understand it, either--he said that 'Scorpio hates 71% of this world.'"

"I understand that too. 71% of the Earth is covered by water. But how can this help us find Luther?"

"Think about it, Uncle. If you were going to take control of some kind of new church, or more likely a cult, what's the first thing you'd do with your followers, to make them side with you? To make sure they stay?"

Father Damien thought a moment, then answered, "I'd set a standard for them to live by--my own set of strict rules. Rules they'd have no choice but to obey."

Damien nodded. "And don't you think, that if you were the respected leader of so many people, and you were terrified by water, that you'd want to keep all hints of it as far away from you as possible?"

A light came into Father Damien's eyes. "I see it all now! Since Luther's afraid of water, he doesn't want to accidentally come in contact with it--so he set up the rule that no one else in his following should have anything to do with it, either!"

"All the while apparently not knowing that Scorpio is the second of the water signs," Damien said. "Kind of ironic, don't you think?"

"And I remember Amy telling me something about that," Father Damien continued. "She said that when she went inside the warehouse none of the sinks except one worked, and that one was broken so the water couldn't collect."

Another nod. "And do you remember all that happened last year, when you and Derrick and I were at Dairy Queen and you got a cup of water? When you spilled it?"

The priest's eyes lit up even more, and he even snapped his fingers. "Yes! He jumped back and nearly passed out. He said it was the heat, but it was the water that scared him!" He quieted and paused thoughtfully. "So the way to tell if someone's with Scorpio is to find out their reaction to water," he said. "But what exactly do we look for? How do you think Luther would act if someone suddenly splashed him with a bucket of water?"

"I don't know," Damien admitted. "I've never seen him go near any since the day he fell from the bridge. But I'm sure that we'll find out one way or another. And where we'll start," he concluded in a low voice, cocking his head to the side to indicate their companion, "is with Dino."

"But wait a minute," Father Damien interjected, also in a soft voice, "don't you remember? When you and Dino met, he started to ask you if he could drive your car--and you pushed him into the creek. He got all wet, and it didn't upset him one bit--at least, not very much."

Damien looked thoughtful for a moment, then nodded. "You're right. I did do that. Well, who do you suggest we try out then?"

This time his uncle thought, then replied, "Anybody who's 'with' us, of course."

Damien nodded. "But we've got to be secretive about it. Don't let on that you know of this. Just act casual, like, 'Hey, would you like a drink?' and offer them some water; or maybe accidentally spill some on them. But right now we can't really trust anyone."

Father Damien nodded also, and smiled conspiratorially. "My lips are sealed."

Dropping by the Kingston Theater to pick up the kids as Teresa, the babysitter, was going out with some friends, Damien and Kat stopped at Dairy Queen to get them some ice cream. He was borrowing Father Damien's car since his couldn't seat four; Father Damien didn't really need the station wagon right now, and so let him use it, just as long as it didn't end up wrecked. As soon as they pulled in and parked Harvey and Ez bounded out onto the sidewalk, talking excitedly about the movie they had just watched--it was rated PG-13, but as Teresa was sixteen, they were all allowed in--in complete detail.

"Then the guy got shot twice!" Harvey was saying. "And he didn't even flinch!"

"There was this really sick part where this one guy was so hungry that he ate a cockroach!" Ez added, playing with some seeds in a small bag she carried, evidently a gift from Teresa or another moviegoer.

"Nice educational stuff," Damien said. "Glad to see you're learning something."

"And what exactly is that?" asked Kat, cocking an eyebrow at him.

Damien turned to her, smiling. "Don't you know? Health lessons. Cockroaches are full of protein."

Kat made a disgusted face and looked back at the marquee. "Deathwalkers. Nice, solid educational stuff. Right on."

Damien held the door open and stepped aside. "After you," he said, with a dramatic bow.

"My very own Prince Charming," Kat said sarcastically as she entered. "If I kiss you maybe you'll turn into a frog."

"You never know till you try."

"Fat chance."

Damien grinned again and let Harvey and Ez in before entering himself.

"In one part there was this big slimy snakelike thing," Harvey continued, walking backwards at first, and then spinning around on one foot, "only it spit blood from its fangs, and they were going to try to--" He stopped dead in his tracks, staring into the no-smoking section. Ez nearly ran into him. Damien and Kat looked at each other, then at the kids, and then in the direction they were looking.

"Harve?" Damien started to ask. "What's--"

Then he noticed. Seated in a booth by the far wall was Lieutenant Mabarak, working on a crossword puzzle book. He didn't seem to notice them.

"Guess who," Damien said with a crooked smile. "Let's pay a little visit."

Harvey tugged his shirt. "Dami, there's an empty booth over here," he said, anxiety in his voice. "Let's sit here, okay?"

Damien looked down at him, puzzled. "Hey, what's gotten into you kids all of a sudden?"

"Don't look at me!" Ez exclaimed, jabbing her thumb at her sibling. "It was him who said it."

"Please?" Harvey pleaded.

Damien looked at him hard for a minute, then shook his head. "If you two want to sit over here, fine. Kat and I are going over to visit the lieutenant. I'll give you some money to get what you want."

"Banana split!" Ez exclaimed, dragging Harvey away to the counter.

"What was that all about?" Kat asked, looking back at them as Damien placed some money on a nearby table for the kids and directed her over to the no-smoking section.

"Nothing," Damien said. "Just a kid thing, I suppose. Hey, Mabarak! Mind if we join you?"

Mabarak looked up at them as they came over. He gestured to the other side of the booth. "Have a seat."

"Such a small town," Damien commented as they sat down.

Mabarak just gave him a look. "Yeah," he finally said. "Pretty small town."

"Shouldn't we be introduced?" Kat asked, noticing the odd exchange.

Mabarak broke his gaze and held out his hand. "Lieutenant Dick Mabarak."

Kat shook his hand, replying, "Katrina Witchita."

"She's spoken for," Damien said in a snide kind of way.

"Excuse me?" Kat said, even though she'd heard him very clearly.

"Don't worry. I'm not looking," Mabarak replied, almost as snidely. He continued working on his crossword book. "What brings you here?"

"Oh, a sudden craving for something with chocolate in it. How about you? You like chocolate?"

"Had some fries," Mabarak said, waving his hand in the general direction of an empty paper bag on the table.

"Thirsty? I could order you something."

Kat's brows knitted together. She could tell Damien was up to something here. But what?

"Don't know," Mabarak murmured. He was getting reabsorbed in his crosswords. "Don't really care."

Damien got up and went to the counter. A moment later he came back with a cup of water and set it down in front of the detective, who didn't even look up but instead wrote in a word.

"Eight-letter word for 'unsuspecting'?" he asked the air.

"Gullible," Damien replied. Mabarak scribbled it in. "Aren't you going to have a drink?"

"Oh. Didn't notice. Thanks." Mabarak reached for the cup, still engrossed in the puzzles. Both Damien and Kat--though she didn't know why--were watching expectantly as his hand went forward, picked up the cup, brought it to his mouth, and--


Damien, Kat, and Mabarak all jerked back. The cry hadn't come from Mabarak. Instead they all turned their heads to look over into the other section. Harvey was away from his booth, shaking his head violently and sticking his tongue out. Ez was grinning.

"What's going on over there?" Kat asked in a warning tone.

"He fell for it! He actually fell for it!" Ez laughed. "I gave him one of those little pepper seeds, the really hot ones, and he actually ate it! The whole thing! Ha ha ha!"

A disgruntled snort came from Mabarak as he looked at the cup, as if finally noticing it, then put it down and glowered at the kids. He stood up, and said to Damien, with a sort of angry sneer, "Four-letter word for 'big mistake'?"

"Slip," Damien replied numbly.

Mabarak snorted again. "Not exactly the four-letter word I was thinking of. Excuse me," he said to Kat, "but I think I'll be going now. It would be nice to have some peace and quiet to do these damn things." He scooted out of the booth and, putting the book under his arm, walked out.

"Damn," Damien said himself. Kat's eyes opened wide.

"Damien?" she asked, also realizing that he didn't swear often. "Is there something wrong?"

He looked at her, then sighed and gave a tired smile. "Aw, c'mon, Kat, nothin' wrong in my world. Let's go," he said, getting up himself. "C'mon Harvey, Ez, we're going now. Get your crap together and let's bug out."

Still laughing, Ez followed them, Harvey a little behind because he had to rush to the bathroom to flush out his mouth.

"Well? I know you didn't come here to confess for anything; so how did things go with Mabarak?"

Damien turned from staring at the big stained-glass window overlooking the altar and faced his uncle, who was still dressed in his church vestments from a recent service. "How'd things go?" he echoed. "I'll tell you how things went. The guy got a lucky break, that's what. Just about to take a drink, and wham!--Harvey starts up a scream because he fried his tongue off. Instant saved by the bell. Mabarak left after that. I think he suspects us now. Oh yeah, this is going along just peachily!"

Father Damien sighed. "Don't give up on it yet. It was just one try. Keep it up. And while you're at it, I would check out the police too."

"Jones?" Damien snorted. "Nah, not him. Definitely not. He hates Broderick's guts. Anybody can see that."

"Just because you follow the leader," Father Damien said, "doesn't necessarily mean you have to like him."

"I suppose you're right. But if you're really a follower you don't try to get the leader turned in--unless you want to lead yourself." Damien grinned and shook a finger at the priest. "And I really don't think skulls and candles and pentagrams are Jones's style, do you? And could you just imagine how terrible he'd look in black? Really, that's not his color."

"True. Blue's his color. Whatever was I thinking," Father Damien said, in that dangerously terse tone that told Damien he was getting fed up. Damien instantly dropped his joking.

"But seriously," he went on, meaning it, "I really don't think he is. There's just no--chemistry between the two, y'know what I mean? I mean, there's always got to be some kind of chemistry between a leader and his followers, and it just ain't there. Nor with Brown or Slatinsky. I really doubt their being involved."

Father Damien didn't seem to agree with his nephew's logic, but shrugged anyway. "Believe what you will," he said. "I don't think so either. But look at Luther--you two were friends for years before you knew anything."

"But that's just it!" Damien exclaimed. "He wasn't with Scorpio when I knew him. He'd probably never even heard of them, just like me. It was only through Derrick's intervention that I ever learned of them."

"And it was also through Derrick's intervention," Father Damien replied, "that you got to know me."

Damien snorted and started to reply, but moved aside so a visitor to the church could walk by and exit. Then he continued. "It had nothing to do with Derrick, thank God for that. You contacted me first."

"But he drew us together," Father Damien replied. "I'm not saying that what he does is right. I'm just saying that you can't hate him for himself. You can only hate what he does."

Damien said nothing, but looked dubious. He waited for a few moments, until it was allowed that he change the subject politely, and did so by saying, "Well, I should be going home before they start getting--what would Amy say?--freaked by my absence."

Father Damien smiled at that and patted his shoulder. "You do just that. And think about what I said, will you?"

"Yeah, I will. Say hi to Sister Annemarie for me, okay? And try to cut down on the wine and crackers. I really mean it this time."

The priest laughed and shoved him away. "Get out of here before I have you thrown out!"

Damien grinned at him wickedly. "You wouldn't dare," he said, turning and walking up the aisle to the exit. Before he could leave, however, Sister Annemarie appeared from another room with a telephone in her hand.

"Father Damien?" she called. "There's a--oh!" she interrupted herself, noticing the singer. "Damien. I didn't know you were here. In that case I suppose you should take this call." She held out the phone.

The priest and the singer exchanged looks, puzzled. But Damien went back and took the phone from her. Before he spoke, though, his uncle put a finger to his mouth and made a sign to wait. Damien did so. Father Damien left the room for several minutes, then returned with another phone. He hooked it up, picked up the receiver and put it to his ear, covering the mouthpiece, then nodded. Damien nodded back and spoke.

"Hello?" he said.

"This is Damien?" an unfamiliar voice asked.

"This is him."

"I've been observing you," the person said. Damien looked at his uncle again. "A lot more recently than you may think. I see you have some questions about our organization."

"Who is this?" Damien asked. "Are you with Scorpio?"

A mild laugh. "Yes, there's no beating around the bush with you. I am. But that's not the point."

Damien flared. "I'd say it most certainly is! When are you people going to leave me and my family alone and let us get on with our lives in peace?"

"Don't sidetrack me, Damien," the person said in a dangerous tone, "or I may choose not to answer your questions. The only reason I am already is because of our leader--you'd know him better as Luther Broderick, though with us he has many different names."

"You could call him Elvis Presley for all I care!" Damien fumed. "What do you want with me?"

"You know the answer to that already. Ask something different."

Damien was ready to yell again, but, catching the look on his uncle's face, forced himself to calm down. "All right, then, if you answer without any of your stupid proverbs or deep thoughts or whatever it is that you call them."

"We already know you wouldn't be able to handle that."

"And no insults either! Just give me the straight answers."

"You have only to ask, and then thou shalt receive."

The tone was sarcastic. The words were ironic. Damien looked at his uncle, who by now was looking angry with this near blasphemy. He turned away again.

"Okay. You tell me this," he said. "For one thing, what's Luther got to do with you telling me what I want to know?"

"He has plenty to do with that," the stranger replied. "He admires you. Yes, he detests all that you stand for, but to him you are the epitome of dogged perseverance. You never give up. Luther likes that in a potential candidate."

"You tell him that it'll be a cold day in Tucson when I consider being a candidate for his crazy cult!"

The person laughed. "Don't worry. You aren't being considered at the time. But it's because of the fact that you don't give up that Luther is allowing me to tell you the answers to some of your questions. Ask on."

"Okay," Damien said, trying for a weak spot. "Just how do you get to be the leader of this cult?"

Another mild laugh. Evidently he found Damien's ignorance to be amusing. "What a silly thing to say. Luther is by no means the leader of the 'cult' itself. He only leads this branch, the one in this area. We have many different branches. All over the world. None of us have one single leader."

"Then who does lead Scorpio?"

"That's simple!" the voice said with a laugh. "Our beloved Master, Satan!"

Damien snorted. Father Damien got a sick look. "Okay--but how does one get to lead one of these branches?"

"That's easy also," the person replied. "You kill the previous leader, and agree to take his place."

Another look. "You kill him?" Damien echoed incredulously. "That's it? You just kill the guy?"

"No," the person said, sounding annoyed, "you don't just 'kill the guy.' You must murder him in a prescribed ritual--in Luther's case it was a shooting--and then you agree to take over in the name of the deceased leader and of Satan."

"Prescribed ritual? What, do you give everybody a different way to murder everybody else?"

"We don't give anybody anything!" the voice said, growing angered. Damien couldn't help a very slight smile at this. "Our Master does the choosing for us--we only follow his orders. We'd seen Luther before he ever came to join us, and our Master told us, 'He's the one, he's to be your next leader.' So we knew. And our Master told us that the method of killing would be by shooting--it would appear to be a random slaying, done out of anger and defense, but it would really be the means by which Luther would enter our order. So when he came, we knew him. We recognized him. We knew he was to kill our leader and take over, so we let him. We didn't try to stop him or kill him ourselves once he did. It was meant to be that way. So he became our high priest. And that's the way it was meant, and will always be meant, to be."

Damien traced circles in the air beside his temple and stuck out his tongue at Father Damien, crossing his eyes. He spoke up again. "So when Satan says to let some guy come along and kill your leader, you let him? What if I were to try?"

A laugh, only this time not so mild. "How many times must I explain it to you? Not just anybody can kill him--only he who has been chosen. And I'll let you know this right now--you most certainly have not been chosen for that task!"

"Too bad," Damien muttered.

"I hear you," the voice said, "and let me warn you that you're testing our patience. The only condition on which we'll leave your family alone is if you relinquish your D's to us and leave us alone. That's it. No questions asked. We can give you an appointed place and time, with no tricks from either of us, you or Scorpio, and it will be over. That's all there is to do."

"Go to hell!" Damien shouted furiously. Father Damien jumped back, surprised by this unusual reaction--and in the middle of a church, no less. "And while you're at it, take all of your crazy pals with you!" He slammed the phone down, as he'd done before upon hearing Luther's own taunting voice. The resounding echo was so sharp that it hurt Father Damien's ears, and he set the other phone down and briefly covered them until it died away. Then he took his hands away and looked at his nephew.

"Damien," he said, "we need to talk."

Damien looked at him, still half fuming. "Yeah? About what?"

"About you."

He looked surprised. "Me? What about me? What's there to say?"

Father Damien crossed his arms and looked at him closely. "There's a lot to say, Damien, and I think it's about time I've said it. You've got to do something about your temper. Someday--if not already--it's going to get you into trouble."

Damien sighed with exasperation and turned away, walking up the aisle. "Oh, come on. This isn't about me, it's about--"

"This is about you," his uncle said. "It always has been and it always will be. Take a look at you. You say you're reformed, and everybody else does, but that's only here. Tell me, Damien, haven't you ever thought about what'll happen after this life?"

"Come on!" Damien exclaimed, whirling to face him again. "Don't start getting into all of this redemption-salvation stuff with me. It just doesn't work that way, okay? I've been out to see the real world, and I know."

"So have I," Father Damien replied with a frown. "And I've seen a whole lot more than you have, and probably ever will. Unless you do something about it really soon." He came up and put his hand on his nephew's shoulder, while Damien averted his eyes and looked instead at the surrounding pews. "Damien, I'm just saying that I'm worried for you. If something ever happens, and you haven't asked for forgiveness yet, what could become of you? You've led a hard life and you've helped plenty of people but that doesn't cut it. You have to take yourself down a notch. You're not going to live forever--not unless you do just that."

Damien didn't speak for a moment or two. When he did, it wasn't to respond to his uncle's words. Of course; Father Damien should have known he wouldn't, but anyway it was worth the try. "C'mon," he said. "We should be getting home. It's getting late. The kids're probably worried by now." He pulled himself away and silently left the church.

Father Damien, left behind in the gathering gloom, sighed. He finally followed his nephew to the door. Once there, however, he stopped and turned back to the crucifix hanging in front of the window, saying a short prayer while crossing himself, and only then exited.

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