DARK DEBTS by Karen Hall
Michael sat on the witness stand, feeling like a six-year-old who'd just been informed that the nurse would be back momentarily with his shot. For what seemed like weeks now he'd been watching the defense attorney pace and think. Scott Bender. Court-appointed. In the middle of his Andy-Warhol fifteen minutes and milking them for all they were worth. Michael had developed a strong dislike for the guy somewhere around "nice to meet you," for no concrete reason. Something about his demeanor. Haughtiness with no money or breeding to back it up. Michael had come from plenty of money and breeding, and then chosen a career that necessitated downplaying it into oblivion. Which was probably his reason for resenting Bender -- the way someone on an eternal diet resents fat people walking around with ice cream cones.
Michael was addressed as "Father" about every third question, lest the jurors lose track and suddenly begin to think of him as an insurance salesman in a Roman collar.
"Father?" Bender repeated, for the sake of the truly dull, "Is Roger Wilbourne your immediate superior?"
"No, he's not."
"And who is?"
"Frank Worland. The Jesuit provincial."
"Can you explain how that works?"
If the jury was having trouble remembering his occupation, Michael doubted they'd be able to follow the intricate inner workings of the Jesuit hierarchy. Nor could he understand what difference it made to matters at hand. But Perry Mason should have thought of that before he asked. Michael explained. Provinces. Regions. Rectors. Provincials. Father General. Rome. The delicate balance of Jesuitdom. Forever and ever, amen.
"So, if you wanted to do something...out of the ordinary," Bender asked, "you'd need permission from your provincial?"
"In most cases."
"And that would be Frank Worland?"
Michael could see Frank glaring from his seat in the third row. It was a hard sight to get used to. Up until this insanity, he and Frank had been friends. Not particularly intimate, but close enough for the occasional dinner or game of racquetball. Those days were over, he knew. Their tense conversation from the night before was still churning in Michael's head like cerebral indigestion.