Let’s be clear, I’ve done a lot of dirty shit in my time, but I’ve never killed anyone in a church. At least not during a service.

“Have you ever been to a church not to kill somebody?” Damien asked.

“There’s been a few times I went to church just to get paid,” I replied. After a beat, I added, “For killing someone.”

“You aren’t a good person,” Damien half laughed.

“Never claimed to be,” I answered.

I was at the six o’clock Sunday night service at Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church. One of Father Joseph’s victims had come through with the cash a few days ago. Service would be over in fifteen minutes. Father Joseph would be dead in under an hour.

In this day and age-in my line of work--this wasn’t an unusual gig.

“It doesn't cost all that much money to off someone.”

And I give a discount for payback.

Chris, the former altar boy paying me to be here, wanted me to inhume Father Joseph in the same room he’d made Chris an altar man. It’d taken Chris a few years to get over it and a few more to get the money together. My target was currently holding the Holy Host over the altar and sounding off the magic words that transubstantiated it into Jesus’ flesh without even changing an atom.

“Careful,” Damien said, “your bias is showing.”

“Fuck off,” I shot back. Damien is the Dragon that lives in my head. Read a different story if you want an explanation.

The priest’s not-magic-spell drew to a close, and then it was time for everyone in the pews to receive the host. The children’s choir providing the music for the service broke into song. It was saccharine sweet, a dozen little cherubs extolling the virtues of ritualistic not-quite-cannibalism.

I’d taken a spot at the end of the last pew at the back of the church. The congregation filed row by row up to receive their cracker and sip of wine. I stayed in my seat when my row’s turn came.

Belief is, and I didn’t.

“Besides, Jesus’ numbers are fucking huge right now,” Damien said. “Take a bite of him and he’s sure to notice.”

I suppressed the laugh up my sleeve and waited for the service to end. After the Eucharist, it was just a few more prayers and half a dozen rounds of kneeling then standing till the end of the mass. Say what you will about Catholics, they get their aerobics in.

 The church itself was huge, with plenty of seating for the few hundred people assembled there. The altar, dais, and baptismal font were all made of marble. The congregation in attendance had been more than generous in their donations, a bunch of rich old fucks and young trust fund kids contributing for bragging rights. The whole church was bowl shaped, descending towards the altar with pews spaced just a few degrees shy of stadium seating.

Finally, the last of the congregation had received their snack, everyone was back in their seats. Another round of kneeling for Jesus, Mary, the Holy Spirit, or whoever the fuck. It was time for Father Joseph to read the announcements from the parish bulletin.

“Alright people,” he said from the lectern, “I’ll keep it short. The Steelers are in the playoffs, and Jesus wants you to watch and pray.”

There was a hearty laugh from the congregation. Father Joseph was a crowd favorite, he got it. He kept it short and simple in his sermons. So charismatic there was no way he diddled little kids in the name of Jesus.

“Alright,” the middle aged priest said from his podium, “this week’s Teen Life meeting is going to be extra awesome. We’ve got the standard pizza and games, but today we’re going to be officially welcoming all of the new--”

A burst of automatic gunfire cut off whatever Father Joseph was going to say. A deafening barrage of sound and incoming rounds ripped through the back doors of the church directly behind me.

The screams were instant.

The gunfire had stopped just long enough that I knew the gunman was reloading. There was red splattered all up and down the center aisle between the pews. I threw myself forward and took advantage of the church’s bowl shape. The stone floors were cover between me and the gunman at the front door.

More and more people were screaming in pain and fear.

Another half minute burst of automatic fire ripped through the main doors and the wooden benches. I heard meat dropping to the floor.

“Jesus H fucking Christ on the cross,” I swore to Damien. “The fuck is going on here!?”

The screams were unbearable. An entire church full of people was loudly objecting to being shot up. Fat load of good it did.

From the ground, I watched an elderly man catch a round in the back of his head. It splashed through the front of his face, and he dropped into what I presumed was his granddaughter’s lap. I’d have worried about her life long mental state after this sudden trauma if two more rounds hadn’t immediately put a hole through where her heart had been.

She’d been maybe six.

The gunfire stopped again. Another reload.

It was time to move.

I threw myself up from the ground and towards the back door. Between me and the door was the aforementioned baptismal font, a marble monstrosity the size of a jacuzzi with the sole purpose of waterboarding babies for Christ. Water and rock stop rounds far better than air and flesh. As far as I could see, it was the only hard cover in the church besides the altar.

Another continuous stream of automatic fire ripped through the shattered front doors as I ducked my head below the stone rim of the fountain. I felt marble chips pelt me from where the rifle rounds struck rock.

Taking cover behind the holy water fountain gave me a perfect view of the destruction being wrought on the gathering of faithful. There were more innocents down and bleeding than I could estimate at a glance. The choir pit directly before the altar was a pile of prepubescent bodies.

The gunfire ended again.

I drew the 1911 pistol from within my jacket, I make a habit of keeping it ready to fire. I popped up over the stone, eyes lined down my pistol’s sights before they could even focus.

The double wooden doors to the church were hanging from their hinges. They’d been shattered by the hundred or so rounds they’d already taken. Through the wreckage, all I could see was the winter night and the parking lot beyond. No sign of a shooter.

Past the front doors of the church was a walkway flanked by a series of long columns holding up an absolutely massive concrete crucifix. The macabre stone display was lit up against the black sky. The top of the cross was a few dozen feet above the ground, and the whole thing weighed tons.

“Why is this what you’re thinking about?” Damien asked as I slipped through the wreckage of the front door. Even as smashed-to-shit as it was, the screams from inside were near inaudible past the ruined threshold.

Outside, the concrete path split off towards the side doors on opposite sides at the far end of the building. The path was lined with eight foot tall stone statues of the saints and angels most favored by whoever had paid for them.

Another burst of gunfire split the night air. It came from around the corner. Another wave of screams cried out from within the building. The animals trapped inside were whipped into an unimaginable frenzy.

The burst was cut short--wherever the gunman was, he was close enough I could hear him swear. I posted up behind one of the concrete pillars of the church and peaked around the side.

The gunman was wearing a balaclava, duster, and black on black on black. Hanging over his shoulder was a wood furnitured AK-47 knockoff. He was holding a khaki AR-15 type rifle in his hands, and judging by his frantic motions, it had misfired.

He smacked the bottom of the magazine, yanked the charging handle, and swore again, “Motherfucker!”

The rifle had jammed, and tap-rack-bang hadn’t worked. Before he could clear the malfunction or switch weapons, I popped around the corner, both hands gripping my 1911 firmly.

I’ve been firing 1911s for over a decade. I’d passed a hundred thousand rounds fired more years ago than I can remember. At twenty five yards nailing this fuck right in his heart was so easy I hat-tricked it.

“Mother of christ!” he screamed, which three rounds of .45 ACP to his lungs and aorta should have prevented. He fell to his ass and threw the jammed AR-15 away from him.

I came around the corner and put the last four rounds of my mag into the gunman. Two took him in the chest, one in the gut, and another took him in the side of his leg. The leg shot was the only one that sprayed blood across the concrete.

The gunman screamed again, quite a surprise considering he’d just taken seven nickel sized rounds to the body.

“Jean, the fucker is wearing a plate carrier!”

I dropped the empty mag from my pistol as I ducked back behind cover. None of my center of mass shots had killed the target thanks to his concealed body armor. Still, he’d just been punched by a handful of two hundred thirty grain slugs and was feeling it.

I slapped a fresh magazine into my handgun, the slide slammed forward, and I came around my cover again.

The gunman was still on his back, but he’d struggled the AK-47 to his shoulder.

He opened fire as I left cover, a brilliant flower bloom erupted from the barrel pointed straight at me.

I threw myself to the ground an instant before he squeezed the trigger. I popped off a pair of shots as I dove.

Miraculously, one of the Hail Mary rounds caught the shit-head in the arm. He screamed in pain and most of his shots went wide.

Emphasis on most.

A freight train the size of a child’s thumb slammed right into my solar plexus. A supernova of pain replaced my heartbeat--I couldn’t move or breathe for an agonizing eternity.

“You’re so lucky you have me,” Damien laughed as I gasped for air.

The gunman was struggling to get to his feet while I fought to get in a breath. My soul bond to Damien had saved me, again. His Dragon scales had replaced my human flesh before the 7.62 round could tear through my body.

The gunman was crying in pain, whimpering like a car-struck dog. I pushed up from the ground while he kicked futilely against the pain and concrete. He’d fired over a hundred rounds and taken two.

I stood up, one hand on the ground as I pushed back to my feet. I swallowed the need to vomit that came with my ability to breathe again.

The ski-masked mass shooter was still crying and weeping in pain from his wounds. I hadn’t killed him, and if he made it to the hospital, he’d probably be fine.

I put two rounds through his wailing mouth and another through his nose.

His head smacked to the ground like a rotten jack-o-lantern. Brain, skull, and blood fanned out across the concrete around his cratered cranium.

Without ear protection, the cacophony of the firefight left a ringing in my ears that spun the world right round. There was a small pond of crimson pooling around the corpse of the shooter. It seeped into the cracks of the pavement, scarlet rivulets branching out towards the feet of uncaring stone saints.

They were still screaming inside.

Every one of the windows in the church had shattered in the barrage. The congregation was even worse off. From where I was standing, I could only see casualties, whether or not they’d been hit.

“Dammit,” Damien swore. “Half of Father Joseph’s head is decorating the altar.”

“Fuck me.”

I was gonna have to give Chris his money back--I couldn’t finish the job.

I’m not a bad guy. Just not a good one.