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«A Perfect Evil», Alex Kava

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The first book in the Maggie O'Dell series

Prologue

Nebraska State Penitentiary

Lincoln , Nebraska

Wednesday, July 17

 

“Bless me Father, for I have sinned.” Ronald Jeffreys’ raspy monotone made the phrase a challenge rather than a confession.

Father Stephen Francis stared at Jeffreys’ hands, mesmerized by the large knuckles and stubby fingers, nails bitten to the quick. The fingers twisted-no, strangled-the corner of his blue government-issue shirt. The old priest imagined those same fingers twisting and choking the life out of little Bobby Wilson.

“Is that how we start?”

Jeffreys’ voice startled the priest. “That’s fine,” he answered quickly.

His sweaty palms stuck to the leather Bible. His collar was suddenly too tight. The prison’s deathwatch chamber didn’t have enough air for both men. The gray concrete walls boxed them in with only one tiny window, black with night. The pungent smell of green pepper and onion nauseated the old priest. He glanced at the remnants of Jeffreys’ last supper, scattered bits of pizza crust and puddles of sticky soda. A fly buzzed over crumbs that were once cheesecake.

“What’s next?” Jeffreys asked, waiting for instructions.

Father Francis couldn’t think, not with Jeffreys’ unflinching stare. Not with the noise of the crowd outside the prison, down below in the parking lot. The chants grew louder with the approach of midnight and the full effect of alcohol. It was a raucous celebration, a morbid excuse for an outdoor frat party. “Fry, Jeffreys, fry,” over and over again, like a childhood rhyme or a pep-rally song, melodic and contagious, sick and frightening.

Jeffreys, however, appeared immune to the sound. “I’m not sure I remember how this works. What’s next?”

Yes, what came next? Father Francis’ mind was completely blank. Fifty years of hearing confessions, and his mind was blank. “Your sins,” he blurted out over the tightness in his throat. “Tell me your sins.”

Now, Jeffreys hesitated. He unraveled the hem of his shirt, wrapping the thread around his index finger, pulling it so tight that the tip bulged red. The priest stole a long glance at the man slumped in the straight-backed chair. This wasn’t the same man from the grainy newspaper photos or the quick television shots. With his head and beard shaved, Jeffreys looked exposed, almost impish and younger than his twenty-six years. He had gained bulk in his six years on death row, but he still possessed a boyishness. Suddenly, it struck Father Francis as sad that this boyish face would never wear wrinkles or laugh lines. Until Jeffreys looked up at him. Cold blue eyes held his. Ice-blue like glass- sharp glass-vacant and transparent. Yes, this was what evil looked like. The priest blinked and turned his head.

“Tell me your sins,” Father Francis repeated, this time disappointed in the tremor in his voice. He couldn’t breathe. Had Jeffreys sucked all the air out of the room on purpose? He cleared his throat, then said, “Those sins for which you are truly sorry.”

Jeffreys stared at him. Then without warning, he barked out a laugh. Father Francis jumped, and Jeffreys laughed even louder. The priest gripped his Bible with unsteady fingers while watching Jeffreys’ hands. Why had he insisted the guard remove the handcuffs? Even God couldn’t rescue the stupid. Drops of perspiration slid down the priest’s back. He thought about fleeing, escaping before Jeffreys realized one last murder would cost him nothing more. Then he remembered the door was locked from the outside.

The laughter stopped as suddenly as it had begun. Silence.

“You’re just like the rest of them.” The low guttural accusation came from somewhere deep and dead. Yet, Jeffreys smiled, revealing small, sharp teeth, the incisors longer than the rest. “You’re waiting for me to confess to something I didn’t do.” His hands ripped the bottom of his shirt, thin strips, a slow grating sound.

“I don’t understand what you mean.” Father Francis reached to loosen his collar, dismayed to find the tremor now in his hands. “I was under the impression you had asked for a priest. That you wanted to offer up your confession.”

“Yes…yes, I do.” The monotone was back. Jeffreys hesitated but only for a moment. “I killed Bobby Wilson,” he said as calmly as if ordering takeout. “I put my hands…my fingers around his throat. At first, he made a sputtering noise, a sort of gagging, and then there was no noise.” His voice was hushed and restrained, almost clinical-a well-rehearsed speech.


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