A priest has his doubts

"Money Walks," a serial novel by 16 Los Angeles writers who will be appearing at this year's Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, runs Monday through Saturday until April 24. The festival takes place April 25 and 26 at UCLA.

The world had gone to hell and Rev. Franco did not use that word lightly. He sat at his office window looking at the line that had formed on the sidewalk, now stretching to Vermont.

Old folks, young folks, girls with babies, out-of-work men. All waiting, stolid, quiet, standing in the hot light of midday.

They were there for the Friday food giveaway. Three, four times as many people as usual. The food bank didn't even open for another hour. How could he tell them they couldn't feed them all?

The reverend stood up and closed the drapes and sat in his favorite chair. He flipped the little lever to lift his feet. How heavy he felt. Not a word from Rudy. He was beginning to feel bad about what he'd done. Quite guilty.

How could he justify asking an ex-con on parole, one of his "Success With Jesus" graduates, to pull a job for him?

Well he hadn't asked. Not actually. He'd . . . hinted. Was this not redistribution of the wealth? The loaves and the fishes, redefined?

His palms grew damp. He was not at all sure of his position, morally speaking. He asked himself the question he'd taught his flock to ask: What would Jesus do?

And he heard a voice: There is theft, and then there is theft. Wealthy old ladies can never spend all they have, nor enter heaven with their riches. Easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. If not you, who? Who, in this poor miserable land, will help the poor?

These thoughts consoled. Upon this rock, he thought. He sighed. "He will cover you with his feathers and under his wings you will find refuge." Psalm 91:4. If not you, who?

He pressed the button on the chair and felt the vibrations. The chair heaved as if it were breathing. Little knuckles bulged rhythmically, massaging his back and climbing up his spine like the fingers of a lover. The only lover he had. His body was beginning to thrum when the phone rang.

It was Rudy. "We got trouble, Father."

The reverend could hear Rudy breathing. It did not sound normal.

"I been shot."

"Shot?" He sat up and turned off the chair. The room grew terribly still. He could feel his body still vibrating. The molecules jumping.

"Never trust a broad," Rudy gasped. "Angela. We found a mark OK. Old lady in a Bentley. Got to her house -- oh God that hurts -- just a minute."

"Where are you, Rudy?"

"Better you don't know. Shot in the left foot. I'll take care of it."

"Angela shot you in the foot?"

"No. Old lady's Mexican maid. They took off in the Bentley. Left me to bleed. I catch them, I tell you -- "

"Rudy, listen. Revenge should not be on our minds. We must make a plan."

"My plan is to find them. Angie. Maid. I know where the old lady lives. I got accounts to settle."

Rev. Franco hated this talk. He hated even more having to ask the next question. "Did you, by chance, I mean . . . were you able to locate . . . anything of value?"

But there was no answer on the other end. The phone had gone dead.

Freeman is the author, most recently, of "The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved." She will be on the "Biography: The Artist's Life" panel at 2 p.m. on April 25 in Haines 39 at UCLA at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.