Viktor Danilov had killed more people than he cared to remember, in more ways than he cared to describe, and while he didn’t take any pleasure from murder, he didn’t take any pain either. For Danilov, death was just a way of life.
He stood motionless in front of the church sporting a black rain slicker and wide brimmed Fedora. A tall man, at least six-foot-four, with a wiry frame that carried no excess fat, and skin that was almost translucent. The midday sun beat down on his shoulders but the heat didn’t bother him. Nothing did. He was in the zone. Controlled breathing, slowed heart rate, his mind a blank canvas save for one thing. His target. In Danilov’s experience, clarity of thought led to clarity of action.
He pulled on a pair of clear latex gloves, first covering the sickle on the back of his left hand, then the red hammer tattooed on his disfigured right, before pushing open the heavy oak doors and ducking inside. The church was empty, and a stifling aroma of dust and disuse hung heavy in the air. Etiquette demanded that he remove his Fedora, but he left it on. He bolted the door then walked forward to claim a seat in the rear pew.
His eyes were drawn to the altar. The venerable old table was safely ensconced behind a communion railing, its pitted surface home to an ornate wooden cross and a jewel encrusted reliquary. The railing annoyed him, providing so obvious a barrier between the priest and his so-called flock. What was the priest afraid of? Did he need protection from those that he sought to enlighten? Organised religion. A crutch for the weak. Praying to some unseen deity was for fools and savages. He checked the steel chronograph that encircled his wrist. It was almost time.
The door to the sacristy opened outwards and a priest emerged. He was garbed head to toe in a traditional black cassock, but the cincture was tied a little too low around his waist, which had the unfortunate affect of exaggerating his paunch. After casting a weary glance around the church, he shuffled over to the lone confessional booth and disappeared inside.
An old Russian proverb flitted through Danilov’s mind; not all who wear cowls are monks. Maybe he’d toy with this one a little. He rose from the pew and headed for the booth, where he made himself uncomfortable on the faded kneeler. The small shutter in the dividing wall slid open to reveal a thin wire mesh.
“Yes, my son?” The priest’s avuncular tone was perfect. How could a man not admit his failings to so friendly a voice?
“Forgive me Father, for I have sinned,” began Danilov, his Russian accent as thick as molasses.
“How long has it been since your last confession?”
“I not remember.”
“Do not worry my son, many of the flock become separated from the shepherd at some stage of their lives, but the important thing is that you’re back on the path towards righteousness. What is it that you wish to confess to?”
The priest stiffened on the other side of the booth. When he next spoke, his voice was measured and sombre.
“You have committed a diabolical act. The taking of life is a power that resides with God, and God alone. In what circumstances did this death occur?”
“How did it happen, my son? Was it an unfortunate accident of some sort?”
“Nyet, no accident. You not understand. Man not dead yet.”
“So you have yet to kill a man, but you intend to?”
“I have killed many men, Father, but they not important. I want forgiveness for man I’m about to kill.”
“I cannot grant forgiveness for such a deed ahead of its undertaking, for a man cannot be truly contrite for a heinous act he has yet to commit, only afraid, for he knows that he is about to set out on the long and lonely road to damnation. Put these dark thoughts from your mind, my son, stay here and pray with me, and together we will find succour in the healing arms of the Lord.”
“That I cannot do. Man must die. I must kill him. I leave now.”
The Russian rose to his feet and stepped out of the booth. His chest rose and fell with all the randomness of a metronome. A horn-handled stiletto appeared in his hand. When he thumbed the release catch, five inches of stainless steel sprung forth soundlessly.
In…out, went his breathing.
He opened the door to the confessional. The priest half turned in the confined space to look up at him. His face showed surprise, then fear. The old man’s mouth started to open but the time for talking was past. Danilov pushed on the priest’s forehead to expose a mottled neck, then slashed left to right, cutting through folds of scraggly flesh to sever the carotid artery. Blood spurted out, a few splatters hit his rain slicker. No matter. The priest’s eyes turned glassy while he cleaned his knife on the holy man’s vestments.
In…out, went his breathing.
Just two more tasks to complete. He busied himself with the corpse for a few seconds then stood back to appraise his work. The priest’s lifeless eyes stared outwards no longer, having been covered by a black silk blindfold. He let the door of the confessional swing shut to leave the body entombed in its upright coffin, then headed for the altar. Once there, he spread out twelve playing cards in front of the wooden cross – jacks, queens and kings, the three picture cards from each suit. Game over. Time to leave. He got as far as the main door then doubled back to the sidewall to light a solitary candle. It never hurt to cover all the bases.
His breathing went in…out, cool as you like. For Viktor Danilov, it had been just another day at the office.