Sunday, 12 August 2012

The Boy Done Wrong Again

(Belle and Sebastian - The Boy Done Wrong Again)

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It has been twenty-three years since my last confession.

Well, I say twenty-three years, but I don't know if that last one counts - I wasn't quite as forthcoming as I ought to have been. I did tell Father McConnell about the disrespecting of my parents, and about the not paying attention in class. But I didn't tell him about the goings on with Janice Parker. And there was a lot of sinning to confess there. An awful lot.

Sorry, drifted off there for a minute. Mind, Janice was long before I met my Anne. I may have done a few things in my life but I've never been unfaithful. Not once. Even since her condition came along, and things between us in that department became...well, you know. Yes, I am talking about the same Anne you're thinking of. The Anne you visited the other day. That's her. And yes, that means that was me who made the tea, while you two talked. Brought in a plate of digestives. Chocolate ones too, I hope you remember that when you're dishing out the penance. Speaking of which, I'm hoping we can make this confession a package deal, throw in all the old stuff from the last twenty-odd years, give me a couple of hundred extra Hail Marys to make up for it, and deal with the more recent stuff too. In particular the letters.

Oh, I think you do know which letters. The first one dropped through your door a few weeks back. Dear sir, no obligation, you have been specially selected to receive this information, blah blah, ChemiCorp's stock to rise in the market. You probably tossed it in the bin, didn't even give it another thought. Maybe you remember the second letter. United Agronomics. Predicted right again. And I bet that by the third one you were taking notice. These letters coming through your door, not asking for anything, just predicting changes in the stock market. And every time, getting them right.

Still, three times in a row, that's just a lucky run, eh? Coincidence, no more. But it went on. ICTS Global. Entermans Media. Schlesinger Pharma. Each prediction bang on the money each time. Until one week, the letter didn't arrive.

But that wasn't a problem, was it, because that was when the phone calls started. Yes, I can tell you remember the voice now. That was me.

Over those calls, I spun you the pitch. We were developing groundbreaking new expert system software, fuzzy logic and neural nets analysing millions of tiny fluctuations in the economy to predict changes in the market . We needed members of the public, like you, to do our blind trials with, to prove the product - hence the letters. All had gone so well - as you'd seen - that it was ready for prime time, and of course any investors who happened to get in at the ground floor with us - well, they'd share in the success.

And you'll have thought, how could it not be a success? And you'll have thought well, surely even priests are entitled to a decent retirement, bit of luxury in their old age after a lifetime of dedication and poverty, not easy on the pittance the church gives you. Worth investing your retirement savings in. Not to mention the parish funds, just on a ah, temporary basis. Ah come on Father, I know you don't have that sort of money tucked away in your bank account. Just a short term loan of course, who'd know? What can go wrong?

Quite a lot, to be honest.

See, we sent out tens of thousands of letters at first. Half tipped Chemicorp stock to go up. Half tipped it to go down. It went up, so the people who got the predictions wrong never heard from us again. But for the people like you, where we got it right, well we wrote to them again the next week. And so it went on, the same thing each time, dropping the half where we got it wrong, sticking with the half where we got it right. Simple maths, Father. Start off with enough punters, and after a few weeks we still end up with a decent number who've seen us pull off prediction after prediction, and would swear blind that we have the secret formula - and enough of those would be greedy enough - forgive me Father  - to want in on the deal. All going as sweet as a nut.

Then Father O'Donaghy fell ill, and you helped him out by visiting his sick parishioners. Like my Anne. And that's when you met me. You've been good to Anne, she really appreciated your kind words, she's a very pious woman and it was a lot of comfort for her, so I don't like the thought of you losing your savings, not to mention the contents of the poor box and all the trouble that would land you in. So I'm warning you off now, even though if my colleagues knew I'd be in big trouble. And then of course there is the other reason.

After your visit I got to thinking. What if you recognised my voice? You're a smart man, could well put two and two together eventually, voice on the phone, same as the voice you heard saying "More tea, Father?" So I thought I'd come here and confess my guilt. Repent.

Which means that now I've told you, you can't tell anybody else about this, can you? Sanctity of the confessional box and all that, you've got a professional obligation not to talk.  This is just between you, me and God now, isn't it? He'll judge me as he sees fit. And you'll forgive me and say nothing because that's your job. Just like playing a scam is mine. And a cheque for the full amount you sent me will be sitting on this cushion on my side of the box when I leave. All your money. And the rest you, ah, added.

And when you think about it, we're not that far apart, you and me. No, really, don't make that offended noise. Working hard, trying to get people to have a bit of faith, persuading them that if they keep that faith they'll get their reward in the end, and if along the way they need to put their hands in their pockets from time to time for the upkeep of the church roof or whatever, well so be it. Not that different, is it? Judge not lest ye be judged and all that. Anyway, enough talk of judges, makes me feel nervous, so Father, if you'll remind me of the act of contrition I'll get on with it and repent all of my sins here in the secrecy of the confessional. All just between me, you and the big man.

Oh, and don't forget to include Janice Parker, mind. Long time ago now, but Father, there really was a lot of sinning there. An awful lot.

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