Bishop Rutherford raised a bushy eyebrow at the verbal indiscretion, the gentle, swirling sweeps of his quill coming to a brutal and sudden stop upon the parchment laid in front of him.
‘I’m fucked’ reasserted the old man, spluttering the words from beneath beer splattered beard.
Rutherford gently eased the turkey feather into the ink pot at his desk and crossed his gnarled fingers in front of him. When he spoke, it was of the calm demeanour of a man who has seen far too much and understood too little.
‘To be fucked once could be seen as an accident, to be fucked twice? One would have to see that as intentional’.
The old man looked confused, at least Rutherford assumed that the expression was one of consternation. It was rather hard to tell, the saggy skin of the old man’s face seemed to simply crumple like paper into an undiscernible mess. Rutherford thought it best the old man sat down, and gestured with ringed fingers to the chair.
‘I’ve found the right person?’ questioned the old man as he creaked his limbs onto the wooden seat.
‘That rather depends’ intoned Rutherford ‘on what you mean by the right person?’
‘You’re the bishop, who offers’; at this the old man spoke in wheezing whisper, as if afeared that the shadows of the room hid away prying ears, ‘hell insurance?’
Rutherford’s eyes widened slightly, though the old man was not aware of this, for the dark deep bags surrounding them, hid any expression.
‘That is not a service I have been called upon in quite some time, the nature of your fucking must be severe indeed for you to require such a thing.’
‘I’ve been told’ the old man continued ‘that you can stop me from going to hell, that you can make sure I avoid that fate?’
The old man peered at the Bishop, wetness forming from the mess of his milky white eyes.
‘Is it true? Can you do it? Can you guarantee God’s forgiveness?’
Rutherford nodded, the fatty bulge of his neck folding into itself.
‘And if not God’s forgiveness, I can guarantee the Devil’s ignorance. For a fee.’
‘Anything’ the old man spat with desperation, ‘anything’.
‘This is not a fee that a man would like to pay. Are you certain?’
The old man reached forwards, grasping at the warped wood of the desk, ‘Yes. Please God yes.’
‘Very well’ Rutherford eased his bulk from his leather chair, and with a sweep of fine flowing robes, moved to the corner of the room. From a compartment, hidden from the old man’s eyes by the weakness of the pale candlelight, Rutherford retrieved an aged parchment and unfurled it upon the desk. He pointed with a stubby finger at the small and plentiful writing upon it.
‘A straightforward enough piece of legislation. And by the grace of God invested in me, capable of sparing you from an eternal fate of hell and fire.’
The old man grasped for the parchment but Rutherford swiftly swatted his hand away.
‘Can you write?’ asked Rutherford. It was a rarity for any of his clients to be able to do so, but he liked to ask, for if they could it would save him the tedious work of having to transcribe their dull transgressions. Thievery, adultery, murder. Hate, shame, fear, grief and pain. A man, Rutherford knew, could become distant and detached by the constant and reliable tedium of human frailty.
To Rutherford’s surprise the old man nodded. The Bishop whipped the quill from the pot and passed it to old man, a flick of ink darting from it to stain the wood of the table. The old man gripped the stem of the quill with trembling fingers.
‘Simply write your crime upon the dotted line. I, and the glory of God the everlasting, will take care of the rest for you.’
The old man slowly wrote four words on the parchment, his body tense and taut as he did so. And yet, Rutherford considered, on the completion of the fourth word the figure sagged and placed the quill upon the desk with focused consideration.
Rutherford gathered the parchment in his hands, turning it to face him and read the four words.
He read them again.
‘What is the fee?’ asked the old man.
Rutherford’s eyes glanced up from the parchment to focus on the man. He considered the possibility of this frail and feather light figure reshaped and reformed into the man he claimed to be.
‘What is the fee?’ repeated the old man.
Rutherford snatched the quill from the table and rammed it into the old man’s neck, who let out a soft, aching wheeze from the very depth of his lungs. Rutherford twisted and pulled, cold and crimson, across the papery skin. The old man’s life blood poured forth, darkening the deep red knots of the wooden desk, as his soulless body flopped, discarded, to the floor.
Rutherford carefully slid the bloodied quill into the ink pot from whence it came.
‘The fee is far greater than you can pay.’