“Shut up, you fucking Mick.”
Father Kilkenny wasn’t going to let Emmett get a rise out of him. “Come back to the chapel, Emmett, tell me what’s troubling you. Let’s not hash this out in the middle of the street.”
Emmett grinned. More of his yellow teeth were missing. “Whatever gave you the idea that something is troubling me, Kieran?”
The Father thought to look around; interested eyes peeked out at them from empty window frames and open doors. He really didn’t want to make more of a scene or be seen beating down a wretch like Emmett.
“Most people don’t attack a man of God in the street,” he said, loud enough for the prying ears. “If they do, it’s usually a good sign that something is wrong.”
“Is that what you think you are? A ‘man of God’?” Emmett laughed. He looked up at the sky. “Is he your man, God? Is this the one?”
The drunk cupped his ear and waited.
Father Kilkenny got a flash of his dream, of thorns digging into his hands. “Emmett…” he said, more menace in his voice than he’d meant for.
Emmett lowered his hand and laughed, a wet and alcoholic sound. “Nope, there don’t seem to be an answer. Y’know, I don’t think you are his man, Kieran. I don’t think you are at all. In fact, do you know what I think?”
“I’m afraid I don’t.”
Emmett pointed an shaking finger at him. “I think you’re the one that brought them here. The demons. You and your damn books and that magic you’ve painted all over our church. It’s the same stuff that those heathen Indians use and look where it got them.”
Though he couldn’t know it, Emmett was close enough the truth to fluster the Father. He had to pause, collect his words. “The prayers and holy symbols I use are authorised by the Vatican and I can’t say I know better than those who rule in the house of God. If the Indians are also using the Lord’s protection, I can only hope it’ll bring them into His light.”
The drunk sneered. “You sympathise with them, don’t you? Those godless savages. Disgusting. I bet you’ve broken your vows with many of their whores, haven’t you?”
The Father felt his fingers curl into a fist. He straightened them again. “Emmett, you need to dry yourself out. Bring yourself into the chapel and-”
“I’m not going into your damn heretical chapel!” Emmett roared.
He charged, dirty fists flailing.
With no other choice, Father Kilkenny met the assault; he blocked Emmett’s shoddy attacks and then shot an elbow into his stomach. The drunk doubled over but still threw clumsy punches even as he struggled to breathe.
Emmett wasn’t about to back down so Father Kilkenny had to finish the fight. A swift blow to the back of the neck sent the drunk to the ground. The Father watched him, made sure he wasn’t faking, and decided that he wouldn’t be getting up for a while.
Father Kilkenny sighed, crossed himself. Then he pointed into the nearest house, the Jones’, where three of his flock were watching him with a troubling voyeuristic glee. “You three, help Emmett into the sheriff’s office. I’ll be in in an hour or so.”
The two Jones lads and their mother slowly climbed from their house and approached nervously.
Father Kilkenny forgave their caution; Emmett had only voiced the same fears they and most of Crucifix had. They were simple folk who only knew the power of prayer, had only faced demons at a distance before, and so saw what was daubed on their church as dangerously heretical. It was just a pity that he couldn’t explain it without reading them through the volumes and volumes he owned, without informing them of the power of a Cardinal and then translating Cardinal Di Santo’s now famous Proclamations. It was a pity that he didn’t have the time to make them believe as he did. They might not believe him even if he tried.
It struck him that something was going to give soon; either his willpower, the structure of their chapel or his flock’s faith in him. All because of the secret, the promise he’d made when taking that confession. Father Kilkenny looked up and hoped that this was part of His plan, that he was not being stubborn or stupid.
When the Jones’ had taken Emmett away, he finished filling his wash tub and blessed the crystal clear water. He was putting his faith in the Lord that it wouldn’t kill him so he asked for one more favour; that he receive some sign from the Lord that protecting that valuable prize was not a ridiculous mistake.
Father Kilkenny dipped a finger into the water and tasted it. It was unsullied, pure. He took that as confirmation and so went about his day without regrets.