EXCERPT: John Grisham's 'The Confession'

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Dana scribbled something, and then the desktop keyboard caught her attention. She pecked away with a flourish as if suddenly facing a deadline. Her e-mail to Keith read: "There's a convicted felon out here who says he must see you. Not leaving until. Seems nice enough. Having coffee. Let's wrap things up back there."

Five minutes later the pastor's door opened and a young woman escaped through it. She was wiping her eyes. She was followed by her ex-fiance, who managed both a frown and a smile at the same time. Neither spoke to Dana. Neither noticed Travis Boyette. They disappeared.

When the door slammed shut, Dana said to Boyette, "Just a minute." She hustled into her husband's office for a quick briefing.

The Reverend Keith Schroeder was thirty-five years old, happily married to Dana for ten years now, the father of three boys, all born separately within the span of twenty months. He'd been the senior pastor at St. Mark's for two years; before that, at a church in Kansas City. His father was a retired Lutheran minister, and Keith had never dreamed of being anything else. He was raised in a small town near St. Louis, educated in schools not far from there, and, except for a class trip to New York and a honeymoon in Florida, had never left the Midwest. He was generally admired by his congregation, though there had been issues. The biggest row occurred when he opened up the church's basement to shelter some homeless folks during a blizzard the previous winter. After the snow melted, some of the homeless were reluctant to leave. The city issued a citation for unauthorized use, and there was a slightly embarrassing story in the newspaper.

The topic of his sermon the day before had been forgiveness -- God's infinite and overwhelming power to forgive our sins, regardless of how heinous they might be. Travis Boyette's sins were atrocious, unbelievable, horrific. His crimes against humanity would surely condemn him to eternal suffering and death. At this point in his miserable life, Travis was convinced he could never be forgiven. But he was curious.

"We've had several men from the halfway house," Keith was saying.

"I've even held services there." They were in a corner of his office, away from the desk, two new friends having a chat in saggy canvas chairs. Nearby, fake logs burned in a fake fireplace.

"Not a bad place," Boyette said. "Sure beats prison." He was a frail man, with the pale skin of one confined to unlit places. His bony knees were touching, and the black cane rested across them.

"And where was prison?" Keith held a mug of steaming tea.

"Here and there. Last six years at Lansing."

"And you were convicted of what?" he asked, anxious to know about the crimes so he would know much more about the man. Violence? Drugs? Probably. On the other hand, maybe Travis here was an embezzler or a tax cheat. He certainly didn't seem to be the type to hurt anyone.

"Lot of bad stuff, Pastor. I can't remember it all." He preferred to avoid eye contact. The rug below them kept his attention. Keith sipped his tea, watched the man carefully, and then noticed the tic. Every few seconds, his entire head dipped slightly to his left. It was a quick nod, followed by a more radical corrective jerk back into position.

After a period of absolute quiet, Keith said, "What would you like to talk about, Travis?"

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