1952: Ridgway Household
Six-year-old, Gabriel, gazed up into his mother’s gentle, gin-soaked eyes as she finished reading him the bedtime story. She smiled down at him through candlelight that glinted off a golden crucifix dangling from her neck. She pulled the covers up around his throat and gave his stuffed bear a pat on the head. “Are you warm enough, dear? It’s bitter cold tonight.”
“Mm-hmm,” he murmured. “Can you say it now?”
“Sure I can,” she said, taking a sip from the glass on the bedside table. It was a mystery to her why Gabriel took such comfort in the Lord’s Prayer, just before blowing out the candle, but it always seemed to bring him conclusion and peace at the end of each day. As she began reciting it slowly, powerful alcohol on her breath, his eyelids drooped and, by the end, he had fallen into a deep, dreamless sleep.
6 June 2006: execution chamber
He had been tightly strapped to the gurney, after a prolonged struggle with the prison staff, and the intravenous tubes had been inserted, one in each powerfully muscled arm. The warden pressed a button on the wall and the gurney slowly began to elevate to a near-vertical position facing the four curtained windows of the semi-circular chamber. Guards hastily pulled the curtains aside revealing a theatre crammed with the families of the victims. They seemed to gasp and cringe in unison and held on to one another.
“Gabriel Ridgway,” intoned the warden in his deep, authoritative voice. “You are permitted to make a final statement to the witnesses, if you so choose.”
Gabriel slowly swung his head from side-to-side, surveying the audience, dark circles under bottle green eyes half-concealed with greasy strands of salt-and-pepper hair. “Yes. Yes, I do,” he said quietly.
“You may proceed,” said the warden gruffly.
Gabriel coughed violently and spat up an enormous wad of yellow-green phlegm. It hit the middle window with a sickening squelch and slowly slithered down the glass like a deformed slug. “FUCK YOU ALL!!!” he shouted at the top of his lungs.
“Let’s get this done!” roared the disgusted warden as he pressed the button on the wall to lower the gurney.
1963: Pious X High School –outdoor hockey game between the Jesuit Brothers and their pupils
The game was steeped in tradition and had been held annually for the past 6 decades, even during the war years. People flocked from all over the neighborhood to watch it. It was always a tough, gritty, game as it was understood that on the ice there was no religion and no teacher-student authority. For that one night they were all just hockey players, even though the Brothers played in their cassocks, much to the amusement and derision of the students. Beyond the game, it was also a night to settle old personal scores. The Brothers would take a good run at particularly hated students and vice versa. By the end, almost every player on both sides ambled off the ice black, blue and bloodied, the final tally on the scoreboard giving the victors bragging rights for the rest of the year.
Due to his extraordinary skating skills, young Gabriel, only in his first year at the school, had been bullied into playing in the game by the 18-year-old captain of the student team. His mother, who had once been an accomplished figure skater, had taught him how to skate, almost from the moment he could walk, on the small rink his father made each winter out in the backyard. He spent hours and hours out there every winter, practising. His father always complained that he never brought anybody over to play hockey. Gabriel hated hockey and the few friends he had hated hockey too.
It was late in the final period and the Brothers were leading 4-3. Gabriel was playing desultorily, much to the ire of his teammates. Fearing the inevitable repercussions, he streaked down the boards when the puck unexpectedly landed on the blade of his stick. Breaking out into open ice, he made the mistake of lowering his head to control the puck. He never saw Brother Peter coming and crumpled to the ice, as if his body were made of paper, after the devastating collision. Brother Peter fell on top of him, breathing heavily, and pinned him down with his stick. “You didn’t really think you’d get away with that, did you, you little shit?” he hissed. Leering grotesquely, he lowered his face to Gabriel’s and whispered: “I’m going to come and visit you in your room again tonight, pretty boy, to continue with your private lessons. You better be ready.” With that, he stood up, towered over Gabriel, clipped him fiercely across the side of the head with the butt of his stick and skated off. Gabriel rolled over onto his stomach and began to sob through the jeers as blood trickled from his ear, vivid red, onto the ice and heavy snow that had just begun to fall.
Christmas Day supper 1964: Ridgway household
They ate in virtual silence, mainly because Gabriel’s father was in an even uglier mood than usual; sitting at the head of the table and attacking the turkey on his plate as if the bird had somehow personally wronged him. A dockyard worker all his life, he had a boxer’s body, packs of muscle moving beneath his white shirt as he ate. He had recently been laid off and now spent most of his time ranting about the mob or corrupt government officials. Gabriel sat to the right of his father beside his mother. On the other side of the table sat his Aunt Martha, his mother’s sister, a spindly bird-like woman and her oafish red-faced husband, Uncle Chad. Gabriel had no brothers or sisters. The reason, his father often told him, was because his mother’s insides had become too polluted with booze, pills and cigarettes to give him a real son.
“Salt!” barked his father.
“It’s there,” said Gabriel softly, pointing at the salt shaker to the right of his father’s plate.
Gabriel’s father put down his knife and fork and stared at him, his thick black hair slicked back from his low forehead in brilliantine. “What’s with that black eye anyway? It looks disgusting.”
“I told you. I got beaten up at school.”
“How could you possibly forget that, Jack?! He’s bullied all the time at that awful place!” cried his mother, her speech slurred, as she poured another gin.
“Shut up, Grace” spat his father. “Listen son. How many times have I got to tell you to stop being such a cry-baby with these bullies? You’ve got to corner one of these assholes when he’s not with his gang and you’ve got to beat the living shit out of him. Send them a message. They mess with you again, you send the next guy to the hospital. Mess with you again? Send the next guy to the morgue! You’ve got to stop whining and holding your dick and be a fucking man!”
“Oh, that’s just fantastic, Jack,” his mother laughed mirthlessly as Aunt Martha and Uncle Chad stopped eating and bowed their heads. “What wonderful advice to give to your teenage son. Send him to the hospital! Send him to the morgue! You are such a fucking asshole…”
Gabriel’s father’s eyes narrowed to flashing slits as he pushed back his chair and rose from the table. Striding over to his mother, he grabbed her by the back of the hair. “You want to see what you do to someone when they disrespect you, Gabriel?! THIS is what you do!!!” he shouted, as he slammed his mother’s face down into a deep bowl of cranberry sauce, pushing harder and harder, bicep bulging, as her arms flailed around, sending things flying from the table and smashing to the floor.
“Jack! Stop! Stop! You’re going to kill her!” screamed Aunt Martha.
As he watched his mother struggle powerlessly, just before his father released her and threw her to the floor, an intense, emotionless fascination was lit deep within him.
Summer holidays 1964: Ridgway household
Gabriel sat in his father’s shed at the bottom of the backyard. The air inside was heavy with humidity and stale cigarette smoke. Sun dappled the dusty floor through a greasy window. His parents had gone to the beach for the day so he could take his time. He had just skewered an earthworm on a sharpened chop stick and he was staring at it desperately writhing. It did not occur to him that it might be in agony. What interested him was that it was still very much alive. Using one of his father’s Zippo lighters, he singed parts of the worm’s body until they were blackened. It still kept squirming. Getting bored, Gabriel finally disengaged the worm from the chop stick and, with his father’s hammer, smashed it into a gory red-gray paste that finally no longer moved.
The rush did not last very long and he went to feel empty. He looked down at the stray puppy he had captured in a back alley. He had chained it by the neck to a leg of his father’s work bench. As he laid out his father’s tools, one by one, in front of the dog, it began to whimper in pitiable tones. He studied the anguished expression on the dog’s face for several minutes before selecting a pair of pliers.
2003: the last murder
“Can I help you,” asked the old, white-haired priest as the heavy oak door of the rectory creaked open.
“I hope so,” said Gabriel quietly. “My favorite teacher in high school was a Jesuit named Brother Peter. He resigned before I graduated and disappeared into thin air. I’ve been looking for him all my life…”
“Yes?” said the priest, mystified.
“Well, yesterday, by pure chance, I came across a picture that appeared in your local newspaper a few years ago,” he said, reaching into his back pocket and unfolding a printout.
“Ah yes, of course, the midsummer fair,” he said, smiling warmly. “That was a lovely day. Lovely.”
“Yes, well, this man standing next to you is Brother Peter. I was wondering if you might be able to tell me where he is. I know he doesn’t live in these parts.”
“Actually, I can’t,” said the priest bluntly.
“Why not?” asked Gabriel through gritted teeth.
“Two reasons: first, his name was Brother Daniel and, second – ”
“No,” interrupted Gabriel tersely. “That is him. No doubt. He must have changed his name. Please tell me where he is.”
“He’s dead. His house burned to the ground in the middle of the night not 2 weeks after he moved here. Just a few days after that picture was taken, in fact. A terrible thing. Mysterious too. The church was adamant that the story stay out of the local press. Anyway, he was an interesting man – spent almost 4 decades teaching in the Congo.”
“Dead… Congo…” muttered Gabriel, his head spinning and rage surging within him.
“I’m sorry,” said the priest, his eyes kind and gentle. “If he was, indeed, this Brother Peter you speak of, it sounds like he was very special to you.”
“He was… he was…” said Gabriel, his voice trailing off as his face hardened. “I guess I’m just going to have to pretend.”
“What do you mean?”
“Father, do you mind if I come in for a minute? I have a few other questions.”
“Please – please, where are my manners?!”
“Thank you,” he said, as he fingered the hammer and long nails in the pocket of his knee-length coat.
Once the gurney was back in its horizontal position, the warden cleared his throat. “Last night, Gabriel Ridgway, the condemned, made a request to have the Lord’s Prayer recited prior to his execution,” he said, his voice thick with disdain. “As loathe as I was to grant this request, today I have undertaken to find someone, anyone, willing to perform the task. Until late this afternoon, for obvious reasons, everyone I asked declined”. He shuddered at the thought of the grisly details of the horrific rectory murder. “However, a volunteer has unexpectedly stepped forward. Johnson, let him in please,” he said with a sigh as he waved his hand at the door. “He’s waiting outside.”
“He?! I specifically asked for it to be a woman,” snarled Gabriel.
“You’ll take what you get!” snapped the warden as the door to the execution chamber opened. Gabriel’s head had been strapped in a face-up position and he was unable to turn his neck. However, through his peripheral vision, the blurry figure that entered appeared to be wearing robes. He heard the warden quietly thank the volunteer and then in a louder voice, he said, “please proceed with the prayer. The execution will commence immediately upon its conclusion.”
Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
That voice! That voice! Much more gravely with age but still unmistakable! He threw all his strength against his restraints to try and see the owner of the disembodied voice.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us,
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
“No! No!” he screamed, as tears and sweat began to stream down his cheeks. “I want my mother’s voice!!!”
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.
“Hello Gabriel,” said Brother Peter, his face coming into view above him.
“No… No…” he croaked. “The priest told me you were dead…”
Brother Peter leaned close and whispered snakily in Gabriel’s ear: “It was faked. I was facing a little bit of legal trouble at the time.”
His face came back into view. “No,” moaned Gabriel, “no…” as the sodium thiopental began to flow into his bloodstream. His last image, before slipping into unconsciousness, was Brother Peter giving him a sly wink as he leered grotesquely over him just as he had done all those years ago out on the ice.