The man in black stood solidly against a backdrop of torrential rain , raising a gloved hand and smoothing back his sodden, raven-dark hair. He stared across the road to the church, grimly determined. He was waiting for someone.
The night before, he had had a dream. Perhaps this would be normal for some, but to the man in black, it was exceedingly peculiar. He hadn’t dreamt for twenty-seven years. It wasn’t that he couldn’t remember them, it was just that he simply did not have them. Dreams defied logic, and logic defined his existence.
A light flicked on in a church window. The man looked at his watch. Twenty-six past three exactly. Time to do something new.
He crossed the road, his flawlessly polished shoes clicking across the drowning cobbles. He reached the old church door, lifted his silver cane, and rapped three times on the wood.
The door swung open, and there stood a thin, elderly man dressed in a smart suit. Only the white collar around his neck gave away his profession.
“Yes?” the priest croaked, with a faint Irish accent.
“I’m here for the confession.” The man’s voice was cold and calculated, relinquishing the words with a harsh reluctance.
“Ah. Right. Didn’t think we’d have anyone tonight, but do come on in out of the rain…” the priest trailed off as the man in black stepped briskly past him and inside , making no attempt to wipe his feet on the mat .
“Let’s get this over with,” the man said.
“Right, right, come this way.” The priest bustled out through a pair of double doors, and the man followed. He was led into a small square room, containing a couch and large wooden screen dividing it in half. The man looked at the screen and raised an eyebrow.
“Oh, some like me not to see their face. Makes it anonymous, you see. But I don’t think we’ll be needing that, seeing as I already know what you look like.”
The man didn’t respond. There was no need. The priest had made a statement, and it was correct. He sat down on the couch, and the priest sat beside him. Closer than the man normally allowed, but the circumstances required certain changes to regime.
“Name?” the priest burbled.
“I’d prefer not to give it.”
“To be sure , to be sure. Well then, let’s get started.”
The priest produc ed a battered copy of the Bible and began to read. The man let the words wash over him, only vaguely acknowledging their meaning. He was here because of the dream, not because of some old book that gave the weak- minded a flicker of hope in the darkness . He hadn’t hoped in years. He simply chose what he wanted and made it his.
“And now we will pray silently for a few moments.”
They sat there in silence.
After a minute had passed, the priest raised a hand and made the sign of the cross. The man mimicked the motion stiffly , and then the priest bestowed upon him a blessing that he knew meant nothing at all.
“Now, the confession. You start with “bless me father, for I have sinned…”
“Bless me father, for I have sinned…” the man repeated. This was what he was here for. “I possess thirty billion pounds, spread across twelve different bank accounts across the globe, and every penny was taken illegally.”
It is said that there is nothing a priest has not heard. Up until this point, the Irishman thought that to be true.
“I am what many would call a criminal mastermind,” the man continued, gazing out at some distant object only he could see.
“I acquired my fortune through multiple methods. One of the first was through information. My organisation has been collecting sensitive data from members of the public via the distribution of Trojan horse software for the past couple of decades. I make my money by selling said information on to the highest bidder on the dark web .” His face remained expressionless as he said this. The priest’s face, however, was similar to that of a goldfish whom has suddenly been told his bowl has been repossessed.
“That contributed five billion pounds. A further ten b illion pounds was earned by organising the hostage-taking of British Prime Minister Theresa May .”
The goldfish was then told that all water was now property of the Porpoise and Dolphin Federation, and could no longer be used for respiration without a license.
Th -that was you?” the priest stammered.
“Indeed. The remaining fifteen billion was a result of selling weaponry and firearms to the group known as the Taliban .”
The goldfish was finally informed that his wife had left him for a clownfish, and his children had run away with the circus.
“Bu- bu bu … but…”
“Are you ill, perhaps?” the man in black asked the stunned priest. “No? Them my penance shall be?”
The priest gazed around the room for inspiration, hoping against all probability that this was a joke, or a dream or something, and he wouldn’t actually be expected to come up with penance for this.
Thirty seconds passed . The man’s expression was unwavering. The priest gulped.
Er , well, er , this is most irregular, but… I think turning yourself in would be a start.”
The man did not move.
“And then, er … a prayer every morning for the rest of your life. Also, I don’t suppose returning the money would be out of the question?”
The man did not move.
The priest suddenly felt a surge of pity for the man in black, and wasn’t quite sure why.
“Look, my son,” he began, laying a hand on the man’s shoulder. “Why are you here?”
The man met his gaze, and something close to an emotion slithered across his face. “I had a dream.”
The priest waited for this line of conversation to continue.
It did not.
“Are you sorry for what you have done?”
The man stared at the wall. His eyes suddenly flicked left and right, and his lips moved soundlessly. It was like he was having an argument with himself. Most unnerving.
The man in black flinched, and he spoke. “I… believe so. I feel something. I have never known regret for anything I have done, but this feeling is something new.”
Good enough for me , the priest thought bitterly.
“Well then, there’s the contrition to go through now.” The priest told the man what to say, and he repeated it back to him. It was long and complicated, but its general meaning was this:
“Oh My God, I am very sorry that I have sinned against you. Because you are so good, and with your help , I will try not to sin again. Amen.”
The priest in turn said something long and complic ated, which essentially meant: “I absolve you from your sins. You are forgiven. But if you do not achieve what you have told me you will, then you will be bound by your actions forever.”
The man in black left the church five minutes later. He crossed the road and stood in the rain , letting the water run down his face and neck and soak again into his clothes. After a long time, he reached up and removed the black scarf he wore around his neck, revealing the white collar beneath.
Nobody’s perfect.