EXCERPT: John Grisham's 'The Confession'

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"I have a brain tumor, Pastor. Malignant, deadly, basically untreatable. If I had some money, I could fight it -- radiation, chemo, the usual routine -- which might give me ten months, maybe a year. But it's glioblastoma, grade four, and that means I'm a dead man. Half a year, a whole year, it really doesn't matter. I'll be gone in a few months." As if on cue, the tumor said hello. Boyette grimaced and leaned forward and began massaging his temples. His breathing was heavy, labored, and his entire body seemed to ache.

"I'm very sorry," Keith said, realizing full well how inadequate he sounded.

"Damned headaches," Boyette said, his eyes still tightly closed. He fought the pain for a few minutes as nothing was said. Keith watched helplessly, biting his tongue to keep from saying something stupid like, "Can I get you some Tylenol?" Then the suffering eased, and Boyette relaxed. "Sorry," he said.

"When was this diagnosed?" Keith asked.

"I don't know. A month ago. The headaches started at Lansing, back in the summer. You can imagine the quality of health care there, so I got no help. Once I was released and sent here, they took me to St. Francis Hospital, ran tests, did the scans, found a nice little egg in the middle of my head, right between the ears, too deep for surgery." He took a deep breath, exhaled, and managed his first smile. There was a tooth missing on the upper left side and the gap was prominent. Keith suspected the dental care in prison left something to be desired.

"I suppose you've seen people like me before," Boyette said. "People facing death."

"From time to time. It goes with the territory."

"And I suppose these folks tend to get real serious about God and heaven and hell and all that stuff."

"They do indeed. It's human nature. When faced with our own mortality, we think about the afterlife. What about you, Travis? Do you believe in God?"

"Some days I do, some days I don't. But even when I do, I'm still pretty skeptical. It's easy for you to believe in God because you've had an easy life. Different story for me."

"You want to tell me your story?"

"Not really."

"Then why are you here, Travis?"

The tic. When his head was still again, his eyes looked around the room, then settled on those of the pastor. They stared at each other for a long time, neither blinking. Finally, Boyette said, "Pastor, I've done some bad things. Hurt some innocent people. I'm not sure I want to take all of it to my grave."

Now we're getting somewhere, Keith thought. The burden of unconfessed sin. The shame of buried guilt. "It would be helpful if you told me about these bad things. Confession is the best place to start."

"And this is confidential?"

"For the most part, yes, but there are exceptions."

"What exceptions?"

"If you confide in me and I believe you're a danger to yourself or to someone else, then the confidentiality is waived. I can take reasonable steps to protect you or the other person. In other words, I can go get help."

"Sounds complicated."

"Not really."

"Look, Pastor, I've done some terrible things, but this one has nagged at me for many years now. I gotta talk to someone, and I got no place else to go. If I told you about a terrible crime that I committed years ago, you can't tell anyone?"

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