HOLY TRINITY A comedy novel by Â
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Chapter 1 The two men stood side by side as snow fell from a heavy sky. Both were clad in heavy, dark overcoats making the snow that settled on their shoulders glitter in the receding light. A resigned and rather sad voice broke the silence. ‘Dad, it’s time to walk away.’ Without altering his steadfast gaze, the older man responded in a monotone. ‘I’m not leaving.’ It was a statement made with a certain tone of finality. ‘But you have to. It’s time to walk away. You’ve done all you can,’ the first voice pleaded. ‘I will not walk away, Joshua,’ the second man stated firmly, this time gesticulating with arms flailing. ‘Did Joshua walk away when he saw the walls of Jericho? Did he just say, “Oh dear these walls, my oh my, so big, so thick already, I think I’ll just walk away”? No, he didn’t. And do you think that Moses just wandered off when he saw the Red Sea? Did he say, “Oh, I think it’s a bit too windy to part the Red Sea today. I think I’ll just leave the Israelites here and sneak off. Maybe another day”? No, he said nothing of the sort, and neither will I.’ ‘No, Dad, I mean you really have to walk away from here, and right now.’ Joshua Mannheim spoke with desperation in his voice as he grabbed his father’s arm and started to pull him backwards. The old man stubbornly pulled back, wrenching his arm from his son’s firm grip with little success. ‘I said no, Joshua. Did Abraham—’ The old man was instantly cut short as he was almost pulled off his feet and yanked backwards, just as a huge iron wrecking-ball hurtled a few inches past his head. There was a tremendous crash as the massive object slammed into the front entrance of the old synagogue. The front wall exploded under the tremendous force of the impact as bricks, glass, and concrete flew into the air. Both men were thrown to the ground by the shock wave, which blasted them backwards. The giant ball swung back on its pendulous momentum again ready to unleash its violence. The two men desperately scrabbled backwards on their hands and knees, trying to escape the carnage around them. A dark cloud of cement, dust and falling debris instantly surrounded them. As they slowly emerged from the dust storm, Joshua grabbed his father’s arm and pulled him upright, dragging him to the safety of the road. ‘I did say walk away, Dad,’ said Joshua, coughing and spluttering from the dust cloud and trying in vain to brush bits of concrete from his raincoat. Joshua’s father, the elderly Rabbi, coughed and sneezed violently as he stood shaking dust from his clothes. He watched helplessly as the destructive wrecking-ball continued to batter the old synagogue to rubble. ‘Look what they’ve done to my synagogue, Joshua. They’ve demolished God’s house. They—’ He coughed again and his voice was 3
drowned out as the air was yet again filled with a deafening crash as the last wall erupted into a storm of bricks, splintered wood, and rubble. The fist of iron had done its work and the old synagogue lay in ruins. An eerie silence filled the polluted air. Joshua held his father’s arm and pulled him away from the scene of destruction. Just as they began to walk away, a muffled ringing could be heard coming from the pile of rubble. ‘Did you hear that?’ the Rabbi asked. ‘Hear what?’ said Joshua, straining his ears. ‘A ringing sound, like a bell,’ said the Rabbi. ‘I can’t hear anything, Dad,’ said Joshua, holding a cupped hand to his ear. The ringing began again; it was coming from underneath a pile of bricks nearby. The Rabbi pulled away from Joshua and sank to his knees in the rubble, trying to find the source of the insistent ringing. He then started frantically digging into the broken pile of bricks and masonry, throwing pieces of wood and wreckage over his shoulder as he delved deeper into the rubble. Finally, his hand emerged, covered in dirt and dust, and holding a telephone receiver. He blew a cloud of dust from the phone and held it tentatively to his ear. ‘Dad, come away from there. It’s not safe,’ shouted Joshua. ‘Hello,’ the Rabbi said into the phone, ignoring his son’s pleading. ‘Hello, is that Rabbi Mannheim?’ a voice asked. ‘Yes, this is Rabbi Mannheim. Who is this?’ asked the Rabbi warily. ‘How are you today, sir?’ asked the voice. ‘Errm, actually not my best day. Who is this?’ ‘Very good, very good,’ responded the voice, seemingly ignoring the Rabbi’s comment. ‘Sir, do you have a draught problem in your synagogue?’ asked the voice, as if reading from a script. ‘You could say that,’ said Rabbi Mannheim, beginning to realise this was a cold call. ‘I thought so,’ droned the voice. ‘Well, this is a fortuitous day, Rabbi, because I can solve your draught problems for you. My name is David and I am calling from Goliath Windows. We are the biggest window company in Europe and, just for today, we have a very special offer on our replacement windows and—’ David was cut off by the Rabbi’s calm, yet intimidating, interruption. ‘Wait a minute. Are you actually telling me that you are David from Goliath Windows?’ The Rabbi’s voice was brimming with anger. ‘Yes, sir, and today—’ The Rabbi held the phone at a distance, nodding his head at it as if it were alive. He looked at Joshua with raised eyebrows.
‘It’s David and Goliath on the telephone, and he’s asking me whether we have draughty windows.’ Joshua looked perplexed. ‘David and Goliath, Dad? What are you talking about?’ The Rabbi squinted through the dust and spoke calmly into the telephone, ignoring his son’s question. ‘Actually David, from Goliath Windows, I don’t have a draught problem any more.’ ‘You don’t?’ said David. ‘Not really,’ said the Rabbi. ‘Oh,’ said David. ‘Actually, we don’t have any windows at all.’ ‘You don’t?’ ‘No son, we don’t. In fact, we don’t have any doors either, or floors, or ceilings, even a roof for that matter.’ The Rabbi’s voice rose to a crescendo. ‘You don’t?’ repeated David in a somewhat more nervous response. Joshua was now pulling his father away, but the Rabbi resisted and continued his tirade. ‘No David, we don’t.’ The Rabbi was now screaming into the phone. ‘We don’t have a building because some schmuck just rammed a damn great ball into it. So, go get your sling, stick a big piece of stone into it. Oh yes, and if you’re short on stones, I have a big supply right here. Then go sling your stone at the mighty Goliath and deck the bastard. Understand that, D-A-V-ID?’ The Rabbi did not wait for a reply and, wielding the receiver high above his head, he slammed the stricken object repeatedly onto a pile of bricks where it smashed into a million pieces. All that remained was the mouthpiece and a dangling bit of curly cord, which he clutched manically in his hand. Then, just to make certain that the phone was completely and utterly destroyed, he began jumping up and down on the splintered plastic remnants as if to pulverise the phone into oblivion. Joshua suppressed a grin and instead moved to his enraged father. ‘I guess you told him, then. Come on Dad, you’re upset. Let’s go home.’ Joshua pulled his father away from the rubble and, after a final jump; the muttering Rabbi walked away with Joshua. ‘Yes, I guess I did give him what for. Now I think I will do what Moses did after he went up the mountain,’ said the Rabbi. Joshua looked perplexed. ‘What was that, Dad?’ ‘Take a tablet,’ quipped the Rabbi. ‘I got a headache.’
Chapter 2 The wrecking-ball truck had left the demolition site, leaving behind a scene of utter destruction. The old synagogue lay in ruins; not a single piece of wood, concrete, or masonry gave even the smallest hint as to the former building’s function. A fine cloud of dust, mixed with swirling snow, settled over the site as two workmen wearing hard hats and yellow vests, with the words ‘Hornfield County Council’ written in black print across the back, stood leaning on their tools. One of the men carried a pickaxe and the other a shovel. ‘I tell you this, mate. There’s sommat not right about wrecking a church,’ announced the man with the shovel to his fellow worker. ‘Nah, it was condemned, weren’t it? Council said it was unfit fer ’uman ’abitation,’ said the man with the pickaxe. ‘Ah well, see. That’s where yer wrong, innit?’ continued shovel. ‘Council ain’t God, is it? A church is a church, and it ain’t right to smash it to bits. Wouldn’t be surprised if we was struck off.’ ‘Down,’ said pickaxe. ‘What?’ ‘It’s struck down, not off. Doctors get struck off.’ ‘Oh, it was a doctor’s house then, was it? Not a church? Guess that’s all right then,’ said shovel, scratching his head. ‘No, stupid. You said we might get struck off. I said struck down, not off. Only doctors get struck off. This was a synagogue anyway, not a church,’ replied pickaxe. Shovel’s eyes looked around the demolition site, still not quite understanding. ‘Oh, right you are then,’ he muttered. ‘My missus doctor got ’iself struck off once.’ ‘You mean ’ole doc, Travis? I thought he just died of old age?’ insisted pickaxe. ‘Nah, he was struck off. Caught fiddlin’ with me wife’s bits, he was,’ continued shovel. ‘But doctors are s’posed to fiddle with people’s bits. That’s what they do, innit?’ ‘Yeah, but my missus was a receptionist at the time,’ chuckled shovel. ‘Anyway, what I was sayin’ is, that we could get struck off - I mean down - for demolishin’ a church. Funny things ’appen when you tamper wiv’ the cosmos n’stuff.’ Shovel looked around, as if a lightning bolt were about to strike him on the spot. ‘Nah,’ said pickaxe confidently, as he lifted the heavy tool above his head and began swinging it towards the ground. ‘Besides, this was a Jewish place, not our God, see? Different fella than our one. Believe me, we’re safe as ’ouses.’
There was a momentary clang of steel hitting steel, followed by a huge explosion. A yellow flash shot out of the ground, which immediately crumpled inwards to leave a large crater. A mixture of rubble, dirt, and mud was ejected twenty feet into the air as the two workmen were catapulted sideways. They landed flat on their backs six feet from where they had been working. Bits of pipe, mud, and rubble rained down onto the men. Pickaxe was holding the splintered handle of his tool, while shovel was staring at the gaping hole in the ground. Mud and other unrecognisable goop ran down his dirty face. ‘You were sayin’?’ asked a dazed shovel. *** Joshua and the old Rabbi were walking along the road, about half a mile away from the site of the demolished synagogue, when the Rabbi heard the muffled explosion. ‘What the hell was that?’ asked a surprised Joshua, stopping in his tracks to look behind him. ‘God’s sweet retribution, probably,’ replied the Rabbi. ‘Sounded like an explosion of some sort. I think it came from the synagogue,’ said Joshua, shielding his eyes from the rain as he tried to identify the source of the sound. Joshua then nudged his father and pointed to a blue-ish cloud of smoke that rose above the roofs of the houses. ‘Sounded like a gas main or something. I hope no-one was hurt. You think we should call the emergency services?’ He began searching his pocket for his cell phone. ‘It’s a sign that God is displeased, I tell you Joshua. It’s a sign. Mark my words, things will be different. Dangerous times are upon us,’ ranted the old man. ‘Oh Dad, stop with the melodrama,’ said Joshua. The Rabbi continued. ‘That was just the first sign. You can’t destroy a house of God and expect nothing to happen. There will be more signs, rest assured, Joshua.’ ‘Good grief, Dad. It was a gas main, I’m sure. There are no signs—’ Just at that moment, a metal object plummeted from the sky and bounced on the pavement in front of Joshua. The Rabbi stooped to pick it up and waved it in front of Joshua’s face with a look of satisfaction on his lined face. In his hand he held a battered and bent Star of David that had once been attached to the roof of the synagogue. ‘I told you, it’s a sign. You didn’t believe me, but here it is plain and—’ ‘Bent,’ laughed Joshua, unable to keep a straight face.
Rabbi Mannheim whacked Joshua on the arm with the battered Star of David. ‘You laugh now, my boy, but did the armies laugh when Joshua brought down the walls of Jericho with a single blow from his trumpet?’ ‘Maybe it would have been easier if they’d had that giant wrecking-ball,’ replied Joshua. He laughed even harder as tears began to run down his face. ‘It’s not funny, Joshua. My synagogue has been demolished. That greedy council condemned a perfectly good building. The centre of our faith has been turned to rubble.’ The Rabbi looked down; he looked miserable as he held the battered star in his old hands. Joshua stopped laughing and put his arm around his father’s shoulders. ‘I know dad,’ he said softly. ‘What they did was wrong. Something stinks about that council and, believe me, I will pursue this. But don’t you worry about that. You are our Rabbi and you must think about what we do next. Your congregation needs a place of worship. So you worry about that and I will concentrate on the council. Now, let’s go home, shall we? It's been a hard day for us both.’ So saying, father and son walked away, arm in arm, down the road.
Chapter 3 The concrete multi-storey car park was a stark and ugly intrusion in the town of Hornfield. Situated at the end of the high street, it stood defiantly as a tribute to functionality. It was a prime example of uninspired and unsympathetic town planning. How it had managed to get through the planning committee, not to mention a mass protest of residents and local business people, no one knew. At the protest meeting, questions about the building of the car park were swatted away by imperious and uncaring officials, who claimed it was a necessity because of the poor parking facilities in the town. Yet, the building went ahead despite ferocious opposition. Three storeys of utilitarian concrete replaced ten beautiful Victorian, locally-owned shops that had been compulsory purchased at so-called market value, then brutally reduced to rubble within a few hours of the sale completion. Once the old shops had been demolished and the ground levelled; building work on the new car park began. Local people were outraged by the blight that had appeared on their landscape. However, after a period of time, the fervor eventually subsided and a resigned apathy took its place. Hornfield council was known for its arrogance but, at each election time, the same council members seemed to be voted back into power, despite any opposition. The ground floor of the car park was reserved for important members of the council. In a parking bay that was marked ‘MAYOR’ in large black letters sat a large, highly-polished black Bentley. In the back of the car, surrounded by luxuriously soft leather, sat an overweight, balding figure. The dark grey pinstriped suit would have looked immaculate on someone of lesser stature, but the obvious strain on the material made it appear as though it was holding back an avalanche of flesh. Cigar smoke filled the interior of the car as a cell phone played ‘Flight of the Valkyrie’. Jasper Harper, Hornfield’s town mayor and self-professed business mogul and entrepreneur, flicked open his cell phone and blew out a spume of acrid cigar smoke. ‘Harper,’ he rasped into the phone. ‘It’s me,’ came a thin voice that was forcibly whispered. ‘Who the hell is this?’ spat Harper. The voice whispered a little louder. ‘You know who it is. It’s me!’ ‘Look, I have no idea who this is, so bugger off.’ Harper snapped the cell phone shut in disgust. ‘Bloody cranks,’ he muttered as he sucked deeply on his Cuban cigar. The cell phone played the opening bars to the ‘Valkyrie’ once again. ‘Yes!’ boomed Harper. ‘Who the hell is this?’ ‘It’s me,’ the quavering voice whispered. He then spelt out the letters. ‘From the C-O-U-N-C-I-L.’ 9
‘Cotteridge, you idiot. Why didn’t you say so in the first place?’ replied Harper impatiently. ‘We said no names on the phone,’ said Cotteridge, who sounded as though he was speaking from underneath a blanket. ‘Oh, righto, C-O-T-T-E-R-I-D-G-E from the C-O-U-N-C-I-L,’ replied Harper sarcastically. ‘You’re an idiot, Cotteridge. An I-D-I-O-T.’ ‘The job’s done, as we agreed. Now, when do I get my money?’ whined the blanket-covered voice. ‘Are you underneath a blanket or something, Cotteridge?’ asked Harper. ‘You sound muffled.’ ‘I’m trying to disguise my voice.’ ‘Hmm, not doing a great job, are you?’ said Harper as he blew another stream of smoke into the air. ‘You sure everything went to plan? I don’t want any hitches. Not like the last time, with that old grocery store.’ ‘No loose ends. All went to plan,’ said Cotteridge. ‘You don’t leave loose ends, Cotteridge. You leave bloody great frayed knots.’ ‘That grocery store was not my fault. How was I to know there was a gas main and sewer running through the main foundations?’ replied Cotteridge indignantly. ‘Well, I guess half the town found that out when it demolished three council estates and rained shit for an hour,’ retorted Harper. ‘I mean, it’s not as though you could have done anything, was there? Like looking at the blueprints, for instance?’ Harper bristled. ‘Anyway, you’ll get your money when I see the hole where the synagogue used to be.’ ‘Actually, there is a slightly bigger hole than we expected,’ simpered Cotteridge. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ replied Harper. ‘Ermm, well, seems there was an old gas pipe—’ Cotteridge was cut off mid sentence. ‘You great pillock!’ shouted Harper. ‘Another gas main? Why didn’t you learn from the first time? I’m working with imbeciles!’ ‘No one was hurt. Just a bit of a hole, that’s all. And the synagogue is history,’ said Cotteridge. ‘I suppose that’s something, at least. Okay, meet me here in the multistorey at three this afternoon. You’ll have your money after another little job I have for you. Park your car in bay 320 and be discreet, Cotteridge. Flash your lights twice, got it?’ ‘Another job? I said this was the last, Harper. I can’t afford for this to be found out. My career would be in ruins, not to mention the fact that I’d probably go to prison,’ whimpered Cotteridge.
‘What career, Cotteridge? I know a giraffe at the zoo that has better career prospects than you do. Anyway, you still owe me, and I need this job done. So just be here.’ ‘All right, but I’ll meet you on the third level, not the ground floor,’ whined Cotteridge. ‘What on earth for? What’s wrong with the ground floor?’ remarked an annoyed Harper. ‘Someone might see us and I don’t want to be seen with you,’ replied Cotteridge nervously. ‘You wanker! You’re seen with me virtually every day. You work in the same fucking building. Who the hell is going to notice? Anyway, it's Sunday. This place is like a graveyard.’ ‘I still want to meet you on the third level,’ replied Cotteridge stubbornly. ‘O fucking K then, you dweeb. Third level, three o’clock sharp. I suppose you’ll be wearing a wig and dark glasses?’ retorted Harper as he snapped off the cell phone. ‘I’m surrounded by idiots,’ he muttered to himself. Throwing his cigar out of the window, he started the Bentley and eased out of the parking space.
Chapter 4 At the end of a small, tree-lined cul-de-sac, on the edge of Hornfield town, stood a small terraced house. Built in the early 1900s, the original Victorian two-up, two-down would have had sash windows and red brickwork. The Gupta Raj family, who were now the very proud owners of 22 Marsh Street, Hornfield, had replaced the draughty windows with new double-glazed units. The units had been on special offer from a replacement window company called Goliath Windows. Thus, as a result of a cold call one particularly rain-swept afternoon, Mrs Indira Raj, the lady of the house, who had instantly taken a liking to the polite Mr David, had ordered the new windows. She was very proud the day they were fitted, and frequently stood outside her house with arms folded, occasionally casting her eyes towards the new windows whenever anyone passed her house. Her husband, Gupta Raj, was not so impressed with the windows. He thought they were garish, expensive, and unnecessary, but Gupta Raj was a peaceful man and adored his wife Indira; he also preferred not to be chastised or screamed at, and so agreed to the transaction with little debate. He also agreed when Indira decided to cover the beautiful red brickwork with equally garish plastic, fake, Cotswold stone. Inside the terraced house on the first floor was a small room and, on this particular day, the room was shrouded in the smoke of cloying incense. Through the haze of sweet-smelling smoke, the head of a large elephant, mounted onto a human body, could be seen dominating the rear wall. Around its neck hung a garland of flowers. This was a statue of Ganesh, the great Hindu God. Sitting cross-legged in front of the statue sat Gupta Raj and, sitting behind him, sat a small group of ten faithful worshippers. The small, cramped room did not allow each member of the group much space and so there was considerable shuffling and fidgeting. The room was filled with soft chanting that bestowed an atmosphere of calm and serenity. This serenity was suddenly shattered as the door crashed open, and into the room stomped an extremely large woman who was dressed in an impressive amount of material. She was wielding a can of air freshener. Indira Raj sprayed excessively around the room as she trampled over knees and stood on feet. Howls of pain erupted as the small congregation of worshipers struggled to get out of the way of Indira’s onslaught. Everyone started to cough as the overpowering spray filled the room. ‘I am telling you, Gupta Raj, I have had enough. You just jolly well get up and get rid of this…’ she waved her arms at the terrified audience, ‘this rabble. And wipe that stupid grin off your face. And tell these ignorant fools to stop humming,’ she finished. ‘Why Indira, oh radiant light of my miserable life. What a pleasant surprise,’ gushed an embarrassed Gupta Raj. 12
‘Just stop the nonsense, Gupta Raj, and get rid of these people now. We need to talk.’ ‘I always cherish our little talks, my dear, but these are Lord Ganesh’s followers. I can’t just—’ Indira interrupted him before he could finish by grabbing his arm and yanking him from the room. ‘I don't give a damn if they are following bloody Gandhi up the Ganges. Now get them out of here NOW,’ shouted an enraged Indira as she stomped out of the room, dragging Gupta Raj behind her and shooing the terrified men out of the way. ‘Shoo, shoo, all of you. Out of my way,’ she ranted as she shoved Gupta Raj out of the door. Gupta Raj was apologising profusely to his small congregation as he was hoisted outside. Indira slammed the door closed and stood defiantly with her hand on her wide hips. ‘What is so pressing, light of my life?’ asked a concerned Gupta Raj. ‘Do not take that tone with me, Gupta Raj. I am telling you now. I am having a letter from our dear cousin Danesh in India. He is very rich, and famous also. He has a son, equally as rich and famous, and is being called Ravi, and he is coming to stay with us.’ ‘That is very good news indeed, my love,’ responded Gupta Raj. ‘Errm, who is cousin Danesh?’ ‘You are sooo ignorant of family matters, Gupta Raj. I am telling you, cousin Danesh is the third son of my mother’s aunt's daughter. Such a kind and clever man.’ Indira’s eyes watered as she stared into space, as if recalling a lost moment of her life. ‘I really do not think I have met him, Indira,’ replied a confused Gupta Raj. ‘My God, of course you have not met him. He lives in Bombay and he has never even been to England. But such a good man. Anyway, cousin Danesh is a very important businessman. Very rich and well-connected.’ ‘Well connected to who?’ ‘Whom,’ said Indira indignantly. ‘Who is whom?’ asked Gupta Raj even more confused. ‘Well connected to whom. It is correct English, isn’t it? Ignorant fool that you are,’ admonished Indira. Gupta Raj scratched his shaven head as he tried to grasp the last remnants of the conversation, which were rapidly eluding him. ‘So, is this person also going to stay?’ he asked. ‘For goodness sake, you ignorant man. Ravi is coming next week and he needs somewhere to stay, so he is going to stay with us,’ said Indira. ‘But we have no space. There is our bedroom, and Jamilla's room, but we have no other room for him to stay,’ replied Gupta Raj. A sudden look of alarm crossed his face as realisation began to dawn. ‘No Indira, not the temple?’ ‘It is a bedroom, Gupta Raj, not a temple. It was a bedroom before your little group of Hari Krishnas came here and festooned it with animal statues, 13
and it will become a bedroom once again. The house smells like an Arabian brothel with all that incense. The decision has been made. New furniture will arrive tomorrow and the decorators will be in the next day, so you and your fellows can find somewhere else to play.’ Indira glared menacingly, just daring her diminutive husband to argue. Gupta Raj recognised that he was beaten and that it was pointless trying to argue. ‘Yes, my dear. Your clarity is like a fiery diamond. I will find another place for our worship. Lord Ganesh does not mind where we worship him. He will show us the way,’ he said with resignation. ‘I am so pleased Lord Ganesh will be pleased. But as a good Catholic, Gupta Raj, I don't really give an elephant's left testicle.’ With that, Indira stomped down the stairs as Gupta Raj opened the door to his beloved temple. ‘Friends, I have dreadful news,’ spoke Gupta Raj to his friends, who were sitting patiently on the floor with their legs crossed. ‘We must find another temple so that we can worship our beloved Gods. Alas, this place must be used for some other purpose.’ ‘But where shall we go?’ asked Ramesh, one of Gupta Raj’s closest friends. ‘Lord Ganesh will guide us, I am sure,’ replied Gupta Raj. Everyone agreed in unison as heads wobbled from side to side. Ganesh looked on impassively.
Chapter 5 Snow was now falling in huge white clumps, from ominously dark clouds that seemed to touch the ground. A fierce wind howled, creating snow flurries that obscured visibility to a few feet. A thick white blanket covered the trees and buildings. The ground was like a giant flocati rug that crunched underfoot, while a heavy silence filled the air. Through the blizzard could be seen the outline of an old church that stood at the corner of Hornfield High Street, just past the multi-storey car park. St Xavierâ€™s origins dated back to Norman times. During its lifetime it had been damaged by fire, plundered, repaired, plundered again, repaired again, and finally bombed during the war. A wayward V-rocket had veered off course and plummeted through the roof. Luckily, it had failed to explode, but had managed to cause the main roof to collapse and completely destroy the interior of the church, though leaving the main structure intact. Built of Welsh stone, the building was strong, with six large, beefy-looking buttresses surrounding the church. A tall battlement-type tower loomed authoritatively over the building. At some later stage, a date unknown because the records had disappeared during the many renovations, some brave architect wanting to make his mark decided to add a steeple to the tower. It was a strange-looking church, but somehow it had character and was a characteristic addition to Hornfield. After the V-bomb incident, the inside of the church was subsequently rebuilt and the roof replaced. However, the lack of funds and poor workmanship had taken their toll. The roof leaked badly and the steeple had a large crack in the stonework, which looked much worse than it actually was. Outside the main arched entrance, a large plywood thermometer showed the roof renovation fund and, had the temperature reading represented a clinical thermometer, the patient would not only have been dead, but would not have required refrigeration. The sound of discordant singing wafted depressingly through the almost empty church. A few hardy members of the congregation plodded through a virtually unrecognisable rendition of â€˜Onward Christian Soldiersâ€™ to the accompaniment of the screeching sounds of the ancient, pedal-assisted organ. The organist, Mrs Violet Chattel, was pedalling furiously, whilst her pudgy fingers, often missing notes, or pressing two keys at once, crawled across the dingy yellowing keys of the groaning instrument. The rhythmic squealing of the pedals made more noise than the organ itself. To make matters worse, Mrs Chattel was an asthmatic and the constant pounding of her legs against the pedals made her out of breath, causing her to emit a strange wheezing noise. To compensate for this, she often slowed down the pumping of the pedals; this, in turn, resulted in a slowing down of the music. The combined cacophony of wheezing, grunting, pounding, screeching and missed notes created a noise comparable to a rusty wheelbarrow being dragged over a cat. She was also hard of hearing, so her enthusiasm for playing outweighed any talent she actually possessed for the instrument. The 15
congregation simply sang along, ignoring the din. Eventually, the hymn petered out and the organist, still halfway through the chorus, having realised that everyone else had finished, ground to a stop in a flurry of strange chords and manic pedal-pumping. At the front of the church stood a wooden pulpit, which was accessed by a small and unstable-looking stairway. Standing in the pulpit stood an imposing figure dressed in the robes of a Catholic priest. Father Harley Jackson stood over six and a half feet tall; his thick dark hair was flecked with silver grey and was tied back in a ponytail that hung down past his shoulders. He looked more like a professional wrestler than a priest. Harley visibly cringed at the concluding noises of the brutally savaged old hymn, and his large muscular chest heaved a sigh of relief as silence fell over the pitiful audience, who were scattered around the pews. His gravelly voice boomed out from the pulpit, echoing as it bounced off the stone buttresses of the old church. ‘And as we close our service for today, let us all have faith. When times are hard, and everything seems to be difficult, let us turn our eyes upwards towards heaven above, and not be too proud to pray.’ Harley opened his arms dramatically and flicked his wrists upwards, whilst eyeing the congregation as if encouraging them to look towards heaven. ‘At times, it may not seem like God is listening, but I assure you he always is. His answers may not always be clear, but you can always be sure that he hears your prayers. Mysterious are the ways of God.’ Just at that very moment, as if choreographed by the Almighty himself, there was a loud grating noise followed by a sharp crack. A considerable chunk of roof parted company with the rest of its surrounding structure, and plummeted to the rear of the church, where it landed with a splintering crash onto an empty pew. Actually, the pew was not quite empty, for there was one sole occupant sitting, slumped forward, at the end of the seat. Mr Collins, a member of St Xavier’s congregation, had fallen asleep. He had been dreaming of his summer holiday in Majorca. In his dream, he had been swimming in the warm Mediterranean, but was wondering why it had suddenly turned cold and he was shivering. As he awoke, startled from his slumber, Mr Collins found himself knee-deep in snow. Father Sebastian Weatherby-Smythe, who had been standing at the back of the church, ran forward and began scraping the snow from a confused Mr Collins, who by now realised that he was not actually swimming in the Mediterranean after all. As wind and snow howled through the newly-formed hole in the roof, Harley continued un-phased, despite the mayhem at the rear of the church. ‘And let us not forget the church roof renovation fund. Father Sebastian will pass around the collection plate before you leave,’ he concluded. Sebastian looked up as his name was mentioned. Having freed Mr Collins from the avalanche, he looked around for the collection plate which, at the present moment, lay buried under a mound of snow, broken wood, and slate 16
tiles at the back of the church. Large flakes continued to fall through the huge hole in the roof as Sebastian hunted around for the plate. The congregation, anxious to avoid being crushed to death by the remaining roof, decided it was time to leave. They hurriedly vacated their seats and moved into the aisle. They all crossed themselves at record speed and shuffled towards the exit. Sebastian was still searching around for the elusive collection plate when Harley brushed past him muttering, ‘Don’t bother Seb. They’ll be long gone by the time you dig it out.’ Suddenly, a thought of inspiration and improvisation crossed Sebastian’s mind as he ran down the aisle towards the altar. He then up-ended the plate containing the sacrament wafers and ran back to the exit before the first of the congregation left. Both priests now waited by the large wooden door, where Sebastian held the plate out in front of him, waggling it enthusiastically. As each person passed Sebastian’s exaggerated plate-waving, they dug into their pockets to find some morsel of change to drop into the plate. Sebastian eyed the roof with suspicion as the last member trundled up to Harley. Mrs Chattel grabbed the priest’s massive hand in both of hers and shook it ferociously. ‘Nice sermon, Father,’ she shouted. ‘I couldn’t help but notice that a bit more roof came down. Do you think we have enough money to fix it yet?’ ‘We shall see what we can do, Mrs Chattel,’ replied Harley. ‘Eh?’ shouted Mrs Chattel, hand to her ear. ‘The roof, Mrs Chattel. We shall see if we can repair the hole, at least,’ shouted Harley. ‘Prepare a feast? No, I don’t think that will do. You need a roofer, not a caterer,’ replied Mrs Chattel. Harley raised his eyebrows and shrugged his massive shoulders as he looked despairingly at Sebastian. ‘Goodbye, Mrs Chattel. See you on Tuesday,’ said Sebastian, pulling Harley away and rescuing him from a further bewildering conversation. Sebastian rattled his plate towards Harley. ‘It may not be much, but it all adds up,’ he said, extracting a fine-tipped marker pen from beneath his robe. Sebastian made a careful mark a fraction of a centimetre above the existing line on the thermometer. ‘At this rate, Christ himself can repair the roof at his second coming,’ mused Harley. ‘That wouldn’t work,’ responded Sebastian. ‘What?’ ‘You need a roofer, not a carpenter.’ ‘Well, we’re truly stuffed then.’ 17
‘Oh, ye of little faith,’ sighed Sebastian. ‘We really do have to do something about that roof, Seb. Next time someone could get hurt,’ said Harley, pointing to the hole in the ceiling of the church. Then, as if to emphasise the point, another slate crashed to the floor. ‘The Lord provideth, and taketh away,’ smiled Sebastian. ‘Sebastian, faith I have by the bucketload. Come to think of it, rubble I have by the bucket load, too. In fact, if the volume of rubble is directly proportional to the volume of faith, I'll be canonised! Faith I have a plenty, but right now I would prefer my faith to be a resident of God's House, not God's new open-air amphitheatre!’ Harley slammed the door shut as another muffled crash resounded from inside the church. The two priests then walked towards the Manse house that was situated just behind the church. Snow continued to fall as they crunched down the path through the falling snow.
Chapter 6 Joshua sat at the table as his mother, Miriam Mannheim, flitted about the kitchen, waving bits of bread about. The smell of freshly-brewed coffee and burnt toast filled the room. ‘Dad’s really taking this hard,’ said Joshua as he wafted away the smelly smoke. ‘Well, it’s not every day his synagogue gets demolished, Joshua. It’s hardly surprising, he loved that old place,’ said Miriam, placing another two slices of toast into the toaster. ‘I know,’ sighed Joshua. ‘It’s all a bit suspicious, anyway. There was nothing wrong with that building. One minute it was all fine, the next that damned council hit us with a condemned order. It doesn’t make sense. There’s no logical reason.’ Joshua rubbed his nose. ‘Reasons? Who needs reasons to do these things, Joshua? The whole world is mad, and reason is the last thing anyone needs these days. When I was a little girl, things were very different…’ Flames were now rising from the toaster as Miriam threw a cup of water over it. The toaster fizzled, followed by a loud bang, whereupon two pieces of blackened bread soared into the air and landed on the table in front of Joshua. ‘Forget the toast, Mum. I’ll just have bread, okay?’ remarked Joshua, throwing the charred toast into the bin. Just then the door opened and Rabbi Manni Mannheim, still wearing his overcoat, shuffled into the kitchen and plonked down at the table sniffing the air. He had changed his shoes for his favourite battered old brown felt slippers. ‘Burned the toast again, Miriam?’ he mumbled. ‘Toast, shmoast, it’s that old toaster. Time it was replaced,’ retorted Miriam. ‘I think it’s long past replacement,’ said Joshua. ‘I’ll just have coffee,’ said Manni. ‘You need a good hearty breakfast, not just coffee,’ said Miriam as she grabbed two eggs from the fridge. ‘Not hungry,’ came the response. ‘Look Dad, you have to eat. I know it’s hard what happened, but you have to stay positive,’ said Joshua. ‘Hmmph,’ Manni replied. ‘I’m going to look into why they condemned the synagogue, Dad. I promise to get to the bottom of it,’ said Joshua. ‘Won’t bring it back,’ replied a depressed Manni. ‘They smashed God’s house. It’s enough to make me eat bacon.’ ‘You want bacon, Manni?’ asked Miriam enthusiastically. 19
‘No, Miriam, I don’t want bacon. I said it’s enough to make anyone eat bacon,’ Manni argued. ‘Because if you want a nice bacon sandwich, I can make you—’ ‘I’m a Rabbi, Miriam. I don’t eat pork. I was just being sarcastic,’ replied Manni. ‘Facetious,’ said Josh. ‘What?’ asked Manni, confused. ‘It wasn’t sarcasm, it was facetious—’ replied Joshua. ‘I don’t care what it was!’ yelled Manni thumping the table with his fist. ‘Okay, okay,’ replied Joshua. ‘Anyway Mum, I’d quite like some bacon, if there’s any going.’ ‘Sure, Joshua. Just one sandwich or two?’ asked Miriam. Manni stared across the table at Joshua, ‘What do you mean? You’re Jewish, you don’t eat pork.’ ‘Come on, Dad. I’ve been eating it for years.’ ‘And how come we have bacon in the fridge, Miriam?’ asked Manni exasperated. ‘Because Joshua likes it, Manni,’ she responded. ‘Even my own family is turning against me,’ said Manni looking resigned. ‘It’s just bacon, Dad. No one’s turning against you,’ said Joshua. ‘Oh well, that's fine then, isn't it?’ replied Manni. 'I suppose Moses said to God, “I'm sorry God, these tablets are much too heavy. Can't I just remember the commandments instead?” Fine then, let’s have suckling pig for lunch. To hell with it.’ ‘You want roast pork for lunch, Manni?’ asked a confused Miriam. ‘No Miriam, I do not. Oh, forget it, I’m going for a walk.’ With that, Manni got up and headed for the front door. ‘Ermm, Dad,’ said Joshua. ‘What?’ asked an annoyed Manni. ‘You’re still wearing slippers and your PJs.’ Manni looked down at his feet and a grin crossed his face. ‘Guess I’m losing the plot, after all,’ he said, as he sat back down. ‘Look Dad, I have an idea. What about if I look around at some places for you?’ said Joshua. ‘What sort of places?’ asked Manni. ‘The sort of places you could use as a synagogue, at least maybe temporarily. Just until you find something more permanent.’
‘It was a synagogue, Joshua, not a billiard hall. We can’t just find any old place. It has to be, well, it has to be…’ Manni searched for the right words. ‘Holy,’ he concluded. ‘The important thing is to have somewhere to worship, isn’t it Dad? You’re always telling me that true worship comes from the heart, and that it doesn’t matter about where you do it.’ Manni looked thoughtful. ‘Hmmm, I suppose you’re right, Joshua. It won’t do any harm to look,’ replied the old man. ‘Fine then. I’ll have a scout around for you,’ replied Joshua. ‘Good, that’s all settled then. So it’s roast pork for supper, is it?’ asked Miriam innocently. Both men looked at each other and laughed.
Chapter 7 As the black Bentley slipped quietly into the allotted parking bay, the softly burbling six-litre engine gently came to a standstill. Jasper Harper opened the driver side door and pulled his huge frame out of the luxurious seat. The door closed with a respectable clunk and, as he pressed the small button on his key fob, an almost imperceptible chirrup sounded as the stately Bentley armed itself against unwanted intruders. Jasper walked towards the ramp, which led to the upper floors of the multi-storey car park. He started to climb, then stopped briefly to check his gold Cartier watch. Continuing up the ramp, he panted slightly as gravity challenged his wobbling body. A bright red, scruffy-looking Vauxhall Astra wound its way up the ramp, slowed down to a crawl as it passed Jasper, and then sped away in a plume of blue exhaust fumes. Jasper was now breathing heavily at the exertion of climbing the ramp and, as he gulped in the mixture of air and exhaust fumes, he swore to himself. ‘Why the blue fuck did I agree to meet that idiot on the third floor? One day that little turd will feel my size ten boot up his skinny arse,’ he muttered just as another car, which looked remarkably like the one that passed him earlier, slowed down. It passed him, and another belch of blue smoke polluted the air as it sped up the ramp. Jasper Harper coughed again, wafting the air with his hands as he reached the third level. He checked his watch again and stamped his feet, trying to warm himself in the freezing cold of the car park. The red Astra - in fact, the very same car that had passed him twice before on the ramp - was trying to reverse into a narrow space between the only two other cars parked on the entire third level. The Astra was on its third attempt to reverse when it crunched into the front end of a Range Rover, locking its rear bumper with the front number plate of the stationary vehicle. With the engine over-revving, it jerked away, ripping the number plate from the Rover with a noisy squealing sound, while simultaneously managing to clip the front wing of the Jaguar parked on the other side. The Range Rover’s computer decided that enough was enough, and screeched into deafening action. All its lights blinked in a synchronised ballet of blaring horn and flashing headlights. The Jaguar, not to be left out of the drama, also engaged its own antitamper system and screamed to life with an ear-piercing siren. The cacophony that filled the third floor was deafening Jasper Harper ran, or rather lumbered, back down the ramp, followed in earnest by the retreating red Astra. On the ground floor, the sound of the shrieking alarms from the third floor was slightly less intrusive. The Astra pulled alongside the Bentley and parked without incident. Frank Cotteridge emerged from the Astra looking shaken. ‘I suppose that was your idea of being discreet, was it Cotteridge?’ asked Harper as he rubbed his ears. They were still vibrating from the sonic onslaught of the third floor. 22
‘The space was a bit tight,’ uttered Cotteridge. ‘A bit fucking tight? There were at least a hundred other spaces you could have fit a Panzer tank into. Even a small light aircraft, for that matter,’ responded Harper. ‘When God handed out brains, you must have slipped out for a crap.’ ‘I didn’t come here to be insulted. You can always get someone else to do your dirty work, Harper,’ moaned Cotteridge. ‘So, you got my money?’ ‘You get your money after the next job, and only then. Remember, I could sink you anytime I please, and you could go rot in prison,’ Harper threatened. ‘If I go down, then so do you,’ returned Cotteridge with not much confidence in his trill voice. ‘You have absolutely nothing on me, Cotteridge. But I have files, mate,’ said Harper, tapping his bulbous nose. Cotteridge capitulated, knowing he was outmatched. ‘So what’s the job? Kiddies’ playground? School? Old people’s home?’ he muttered. ‘Nope. I’m going to use the land to build a golf course,’ replied Harper enthusiastically. ‘But there’s no access road to those fields. How the hell are you going to…’ Cotteridge saw a glint in Harper’s beady eyes, and an outstretched arm pointed to the left of the car park where they stood. His eyes followed the pointing finger at the end of Harper’s arm. Realisation dawned in horror as his brain connected the dots. ‘You can’t be serious?’ stuttered Cotteridge. ‘I never joke about business, you know that,’ smiled Harper menacingly. ‘It can’t be done. Impossible. No way,’ croaked Cotteridge. ‘There’s always a way, Cotteridge. And you, as head of town planning, can make it happen,’ sneered Harper. ‘Jesus Christ, there’d be outrage. I mean, a condemned order against a run-down old synagogue is one thing, and even that was met with strong opposition, to say the least. But this…’ Cotteridge shook his head, a despairing look crossed his face. ‘You said that when I had the synagogue demolished, but nothing happened, did it? You over-estimate people, Cotteridge. No-one gives a toss. I needed that synagogue land. It’s going to make a nice pro-golf shop. Top of the line equipment, golf clothing, that sort of thing. I tell you, it will make a fortune being almost next to my new club.’ Harper was gloating. ‘The only resistance I encountered was the amount of money I had to pay the other council members. Those greedy bastards are on my payroll, and they know which side their bread is buttered. I say jump, and the only question they ask is, how high? So just get on with it. You’ll get your share when it's done.’ Harper pressed the key fob and the Bentley’s alarm was deactivated. ‘It’s not just the town council. There are, ermm, higher powers to consider. It’s just not that easy. In fact, it's almost imposs—’ Cotteridge was at a loss for words, but he was cut short. 23
‘Don’t worry about that, Cotteridge. We have God on our side - well, at least one of his employees. You let me worry about that. You just get that retarded bunch of tossers on the council to play ball, preferably a large iron wrecking-ball.’ Harper smiled at his own joke and opened the door to the Bentley. Cotteridge stood as if in shock. He stared in the direction where Harper had previously pointed. Through the heavy snowstorm, Cotteridge could make out the shape of a building that lay beyond the multi-storey car park. He did not need to see the building to know what it was. The large spire mounted on top of the square tower was almost obliterated by the falling snow. Jasper Harper closed the door of the Bentley and the driver’s window slid silently down. ‘Just do it, Cotteridge. I need that land.’ With that, Harper closed the window and the huge car silently slipped out of the parking bay. It drove away, leaving Cotteridge shivering, a glazed expression forming as he stared through the snow.
Chapter 8 Harley Jackson sat in his favourite overstuffed armchair. He was barefoot, wearing jeans and a black T-shirt with the words ‘Thank God I’m a Buddhist’ written under a benevolently-smiling, cross-legged Buddha. He was reading Cruiser Magazine, which sported a huge, shiny Harley Davidson motorbike on the front cover. ‘Nice T-shirt,’ said Sebastian as he entered the large, oak-panelled sitting room of the Manse house. ‘Glad to see you’re working on inter-faith tolerance.’ ‘I was thinking of converting,’ said Harley, as he placed the magazine on the small wooden table next to his chair. ‘You’d look good in saffron,’ replied Sebastian. ‘It would be an easy transition to live in a cave. That old church gets more and more like one every day. You seen the size of that hole?’ ‘In case you hadn’t noticed, I was standing under it at the time,’ said Sebastian who was searching around the shelves. ‘It’s next to the lamp,’ said Harley. ‘What is?’ asked Sebastian. ‘Our Virgin Mary,’ replied Harley grinning. Sebastian found what he was looking for; a ceramic statue of the Virgin Mary stood next to the fake Tiffany lamp he had purchased on a whim in Portobello Road. He picked up the statue and started to unscrew the head, revealing a bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin. ‘Pour one for me, Seb. Easy on the tonic and no ice,’ said Harley. ‘Coming up, big boy,’ said Sebastian in an exaggerated gay voice. Sebastian poured a healthy measure of gin into a crystal tumbler and then pushed on a panel in the wall, which sprung open to reveal a fridge. He took out a can of tonic and grabbed some ice cubes from the freezer compartment, breaking them into the glass. ‘I hope we don’t get visitors,’ said Harley, ‘especially with you wearing that outfit.’ ‘What’s wrong with it?’ said Sebastian looking down at his pink, stretch Lycra running shorts. He also wore a huge red sweater with a cheery Santa Clause emblazoned across the front. ‘It’s a bit, errm, flamboyant,’ said Harley searching for the right word. ‘That’s me,’ quipped Sebastian. ‘Anyway, the shorts show off my physique,’ he continued, as he sauntered across the floor to hand Harley his G&T. ‘What physique?’ replied Harley, suppressing a chuckle. ‘I’m working on it. I ran three kilometers on the treadmill this morning,’ said Sebastian as he stretched his left leg. 25
‘It's one thing being a self-professed gay priest, Seb, but you don’t have to flaunt it,’ replied Harley. ‘Look who’s talking. Anyway, I’m not practising. I’m an ex-gay, but old habits die hard, Harley.’ Sebastian poured himself a large helping of gin. Then, as if reconsidering, added another healthy splash to his glass. ‘Had a tough confessional?’ asked Harley, grinning. ‘Oh no, not old Mrs Whittlehurst?’ ‘Yup, in the flesh. Our resident compulsive confessor. If she had been born four hundred years years ago, she would have rendered the Spanish inquisition obsolete!’ replied Sebastian, sitting down on the couch and swinging his legs up. ‘Actually, it was just called the Inquisition, and it was five hundred and thirty-one years ago, to be precise,’ replied Harley. ‘The Spanish caught on a bit later and made up their own version, a tad more aggressive than Pope Sixtus imagined.’ ‘Good grief, Harley. You actually carry these factoids around in your head? Oh yes, I was forgetting, you were doing a history PhD before seminary,’ replied Sebastian. ‘Double, actually. Psychology as well, before history - or was it the other way around?’ said Harley scratching his head. ‘Bloody hell, rub it in won’t you?’ retorted Sebastian taking a drink from his glass. ‘Can’t help being smart,’ quipped Harley. ‘Don’t forget your little foray with our lovely boys with the bikes,’ responded Sebastian. ‘Essex Chapter, you mean? Oh, that was a while ago, Seb. Past history,’ said Harley, referring to his days as a Hell’s Angel. ‘Hmm, that would be why you still ride your Harley Davidson, Big Boy, or whatever it is,’ said Sebastian. ‘Fat Boy,’ returned Harley. ‘Whatever. It’s big, shiny, more chrome than metal, noisy and macho, and you wouldn’t part with it if St Peter himself asked you to,’ said Sebastian. ‘He’s probably got one himself,’ replied Harley. ‘Anyway, don’t change the subject. What was up with old Mrs Whittlehurst?’ ‘I thought confessional was supposed to be confidential?’ said Sebastian with feigned concern. ‘I’m in the loop,’ said Harley. ‘So spill the beans.’ ‘Her cat,’ said Sebastian with a heavy sigh. ‘Her cat?’ laughed Harley. ‘She claims it was possessed. This was after confessing to me that she was a witch in her past life!’ continued Sebastian. 26
‘Good grief, that woman never ceases to amaze me,’ sighed Harley. ‘She thinks that she was the cause of her cat's possession. It apparently leapt off her lap when she was watching Big Brother on TV, then attacked the goldfish.’ ‘Well, if I was sitting on her lap, and Big Brother came on, I think I'd attack anything to hand,’ groaned Harley. ‘The cat hasn't been seen since, and the goldfish apparently has an odd look about it. She thinks she put a spell on it by watching TV on a Sunday.’ ‘Ah, the mind of Mrs Whittlehurst. Such a kindly soul, but completely crackers,’ said Harley. ‘Anyway, changing the subject, as riveting as it is. What are we going to do about our new air-conditioned roof?’ asked Sebastian, downing another mouthful of gin. ‘I was going to talk to a friend about patching it up, at least until we can find a way to re-tile the entire roof,’ responded Harley. Sebastian grimaced. ‘Patch it up? You’ll need a band-aid the size of a duvet to patch that up.’ ‘I agree it’s a bit big, but my friend can work miracles,’ replied Harley confidently. ‘I don’t like the sound of that,’ said Sebastian looking suspiciously at Harley. ‘Sound of what?’ ‘Both bits, friend and miracle. I know your friends, Harley. Big greasy fellas with tattoos and muscles. Actually, a bit like you,’ returned Sebastian. ‘They might be a bit left of centre,’ said Harley, ‘but they’re a good bunch of lads. I’m sure we can get the roof patched up.’ ‘You reckon?’ ‘Ye of little faith.’ Just then the doorbell of rang. Both priests jumped at the sound and looked at each other. ‘You expecting someone, Seb?’ asked Harley looking towards the door. ‘Nope. Certainly not in this awful weather. No idea who would be daft enough to come out on a night like this, unless…’ Sebastian’s face contorted in horror. ‘Oh bollocks!’ snorted Harley almost choking on his drink. ‘It can’t be, surely?’ ‘It’s him. I feel it in my underpants,’ said Sebastian. ‘And I can tell by the insistent ringing. It’s Satan in disguise.’ ‘Calm down. It might just be Mrs Whittlehurst bringing the cat for an exorcism,’ said Harley as he stood up and peeked out of the window.
‘Oh bollocky bollocks! It’s the old Tool himself, and he has Dick Head in tow,’ grumbled Harley. ‘Shit, shit, shit,’ whined Sebastian as he bounced off the sofa and dashed for the back door. ‘Tell him I’m in the shower.’ Sebastian stood holding his glass of gin as he heard Harley opening the front door, a look of utter terror etched on his boyish face as he heard muffled voices. Realising that he was still holding his glass, he hid it under the sofa as the door to the sitting room opened, and in walked a tall, gaunt-looking figure dressed in a black cassock, and wearing the hat denoting the status of a Bishop. He was followed into the room by a slightly overweight, balding man, with bright red cheeks and deep-set piggy eyes that seemed to scan the room as he entered. ‘Bishop O’Toole, what a nice surprise. And you’ve brought your pet with you - sorry, I mean Father Head,’ stumbled Sebastian. ‘Father Head is my trusted assistant, and he came with me,’ retorted the Bishop. ‘I thought it was the way he was walking,’ muttered Sebastian as Harley suppressed a snigger. ‘Yes, isn’t it a nice surprise, Father Sebastian?’ said Harley, winking at Sebastian. ‘You should have called, your Grace. We could have arranged dinner for you.’ His voice tinkered on the edge of sarcasm. ‘Father Sebastian, still conforming to proper dress code I see,’ sneered Bishop O’Toole. ‘And Father Jackson, interesting T-shirt. You look more like a thug than a priest.’ ‘I’m sure God doesn’t mind how I look, your Grace,’ replied Harley, a slight edge to his voice. ‘I see your attitude hasn’t changed either,’ retorted the Bishop. ‘Never one to disappoint, your Grace. I like to be consistent.’ ‘I’m not here to discuss your fashion choice or your consistency,’ continued the Bishop. ‘The pair of you are a disgrace to the Mother Church. If it were up to me, you’d both be thrown out on your ear.’ ‘Actually only a mandate from the Vatican—’ Harley was cut short. ‘Do not lecture me on the procedures of the Church,’ Bishop O’Toole snapped. ‘And don’t interrupt me. I’m here on official Church business,’ he continued. ‘I hear that part of your roof collapsed onto one of your flock, almost killing the poor man.’ ‘You make them sound like sheep,’ responded Harley. ‘Anyway, it was just a few slates. No-one was even close to it, and they certainly were not injured.’ ‘Guess Father Harley’s sermon brought the house down,’ muttered Sebastian. ‘And you can shut up as well,’ fired the Bishop. ‘Anyway, it’s somewhat beside the point. That place is a death trap, and I’m giving you notice that I 28
am beginning proceedings to close this church down, permanently,’ finished the Bishop with a smug grin. ‘You can’t do that,’ Harley raised his voice in protest. ‘Yes we can,’ came a thin, raspy voice that belonged to Father Head. ‘We can get permission to obtain a condemned order and have this place demolished. Health and safety, you know.’ Harley gave Father Head a look that would have withered an oak tree. Father Head retreated behind a chair for good measure. ‘Why would you close down this beautiful old church? It’s part of history’ said Harley. ‘And soon it will be history. You have no congregation, no money, and no roof, that’s why,’ replied Father Head from behind the chair. ‘And you have no brains, or loyalty for that matter. But no-one’s suggesting we close you down,’ responded Sebastian. ‘Enough!’ shouted the Bishop. ‘You can’t give me one good reason why we should keep this church going, when St. Peters is only a mile from here. What little congregation you do have, can worship there.’ ‘What about our outreach programme? Our congregation has grown substantially since you last visited, and we have money to repair the roof,’ stated Harley, his hands set firmly on his hips. Sebastian looked surprised. However, he saw Harley give him a look. He caught on and improvised. ‘Yes, our outlook programme, it’s very popular,’ said Sebastian with a slightly perplexed look. ‘I thought you said it was outreach?’ sneered Father Head. Sebastian corrected himself quickly. ‘That’s what I said - outreach.’ ‘You said outlook,’ replied Father Head. ‘I don’t care what it’s called,’ shouted Bishop O’Toole. ‘The last time I came here it was Harvest Festival. You had a congregation of fewer than ten people, and one of them was a goat.’ Father Head chuckled, but was shot a menacing glance from the Bishop, so he shut up. ‘Well, it has grown substantially since you were last here,’ Harley continued. ‘We have money and we plan to fix the roof next week. I was just telling Father Sebastian before you arrived.’ ‘I don’t believe you, Father Jackson. What is this outreach programme you are spouting on about? I’ve never heard of it.’ ‘Outreach is our programme to bring the Church to the streets, to make it more acceptable to the underprivileged and the poor. Why, only this week we had our highest attendance yet,’ bluffed Harley. ‘Outreach is a new initiative and it's really working, reaching the people and bringing them into the fold.’ ‘Rubbish! If this outreach is so popular, then I assume that I shall see a full church this coming Sunday?’ retorted the Bishop. 29
‘Absolutely. Full to the gunnels,’ said Harley. ‘I don't believe a word of this, Jackson. But as a good Christian, I shall come to see for myself next week, and if that roof is still in its present state,’ said the Bishop, pointing a trembling finger at Harley, ‘you’re finished.’ He then pointed his gnarly finger at Sebastian. ‘And so are you, my gay friend, and your historical church shall be a pile of rubble before the New Year.’ The Bishop turned sharply and walked towards the door. ‘Don’t see me out. Come on Head, I don’t want you contaminated by these two.’ As the Bishop left the room, Harley stood in the path of Father Head and faked a lunge. He yelped and ran after his Bishop. The front door slammed shut. ‘Outreach?’ asked an astonished Sebastian. ‘We have money for repairs? What were you thinking, Harley?’ ‘I had to think of something, Seb. They’re not pulling our church down, pompous prat that he is.’ Harley sat down in his chair and retrieved his gin from the floor. ‘I need another Virgin.’ ‘Coming up. I’ll just reach out and fill your glass,’ chuckled Sebastian. ‘Funny man. I need to think. We have a week to work this out,’ said Harley, rubbing his head. ‘I’m sure we can come up with something,’ said Sebastian, handing Harley a full glass. ‘If we don’t, then Wallace and Grommit will see it was all a ploy and we shall be like the Red Sea.’ ‘The Red Sea?’ asked Harley looking up. ‘Parted,’ replied Sebastian. ‘Yup,’ said Harley. Sebastian took a hefty swallow of his gin. ‘Cheers! Nothing like a bit of the Holy Spirit to settle the soul,’ he said. ‘I’ll drink to that, Father. But we have to think of something before next Sunday, or we’re gonna be cooked,’ grimaced Harley. ‘We need a plan.’ ‘Have faith, brother Harley. Solidarity!’ Sebastian winked as he raised his glass. ‘Solidarity usually requires something solid,’ said Harley. ‘All we have is fresh air. In fact, quite a lot of that is coming through the roof just now.’ ‘Look,’ replied Sebastian. ‘All we need to do are two things. One, get the roof patched up. Two, fill the church on Sunday. What could be so difficult about that?’ Harley got up from his chair and looked out of the window. ‘Wow, looky there. I could have sworn I saw a pig flying!’ ‘Funny man. But really, we can do this, Harley.’ Sebastian’s eyes were suddenly bright, as if an idea had just occurred to him. ‘Look, you deal with the roof, and then we’ll both go on a recruitment drive. Come on, we both know loads of people. Whatever it takes, we will not let St Xavier's close down, especially not to that pompous—’ 30
‘Careful, brother Seb. He’s a man of God,’ interrupted Harley, with slight sarcasm to his voice. ‘I know, but he act likes he’s the son of God sometimes,’ said Sebastian thoughtfully. ‘I tell you, that man has it in for us. There’s more to this than meets the eye.’ ‘I guess we can give it a go. I’ll go see some friends and check out what we can do,’ responded Harley with more enthusiasm. ‘Don’t forget the roof.’ ‘Okay. First thing tomorrow I’ll work on getting the roof sorted, or at least patched up. Then I’ll go down the Jolly Roger in the evening and talk to some friends,’ said Harley as he walked towards the door. ‘For now, I’m going to have a word with the Big Guy, then get some shut eye. See you in the morning, Seb.’ ‘Say hi from me,’ replied Sebastian. ‘I’ll do the same. I’m pooped and I have a feeling it’s going to be a long week.’
Chapter 9 The road conditions were atrocious as Father Richard Head peered through the snow-battered windscreen of the Mercedes. He was trying to concentrate on keeping the car in a straight line as snow began to settle thickly on the already slippery road. Bishop O’Toole sat in the passenger seat staring blankly in front of him, his stony face set in a rictus-like grimace. ‘Those sorry apologies for priests!’ O’Toole suddenly exploded. ‘They will regret they ever entered the priesthood.’ Father Head was so startled by the sudden outburst that he let go of the steering wheel, causing the car to slew sideways on the slick snow. Grappling furiously with the wheel, he tried unsuccessfully to bring the heavy vehicle back into line. He over-steered and sent the car into a sideways pirouette that culminated in it bouncing up the curb and onto the pavement, narrowly missing a lamppost. ‘Watch what you’re doing, Head. Are you trying to kill me?’ screamed the irate Bishop. ‘Sorry, your Grace. You scared me,’ whimpered a flustered Head as he steered the car back onto the road. ‘That church will be a pile of rubble before the New Year, just mark my words,’ muttered the Bishop. ‘But what about their outreach programme? They say they have money to fix the roof. You can’t get the church condemned if they do everything they say they will do.’ Head’s voice sounded shrill in the confines of the Mercedes. ‘Ha, you actually believe that hokum? Rubbish! It’s all bluster. If you believe that, you’re more naïve than I thought you were.’ ‘But what if they do? I mean—’ Head stuttered as he was interrupted. ‘Baloney! Next Sunday that place will be deserted, and the roof will still be leaking like a sieve. Come Monday, those two freaks will be church-less,’ retorted O’Toole. ‘Trust me, Father Head, St Xavier’s is finished, and I’ll finally get my hands on the chalice.’ The Bishop realised that he had said too much in front of his assistant, and tried to change the subject. ‘That church is a disaster waiting to happen. I’m only thinking of the safety of the people.’ ‘What chalice?’ ‘Oh, nothing just a trinket,’ replied O’Toole dismissively. ‘You said chalice. What chalice are you talking about?’ persisted Head. ‘Nothing, really. It’s just an old cup,’ remarked the Bishop with a false yawn. Head was now intrigued. He took his eyes off the road for an instant to look at the Bishop, who was now fidgeting uncomfortably. The Mercedes continued in a perfectly straight line, but unfortunately the road didn’t, and the car mounted the curb with a jolt that bounced both driver and passenger into 32
the roof. Head slammed on the brakes as the ABS system kicked in. However, despite the sophisticated anti-locking brakes, the car did not posses an anti-tree system and it collided with an old oak. ‘You bloody great idio—’ The Bishop’s rebuke was never finished as his mouth was suddenly filled with an air bag. As the bag deflated, having done its job, the Bishop fumed. ‘Head! Your driving skills leave a little to be desired. How do you propose we get back to London this evening? WALK?’ he screamed the last word with a vehemence that made Head leap out of his seat, and he banged his head against the car roof once again. ‘It wasn’t my fault. It’s snowing. The road, the road was—’ ‘Oh, it’s not your fault? Well, that’s all right then, isn’t it? So what was it? Divine retribution?’ ‘But what’s this about a chalice?’ Head was again picking up the subject, as if nothing had happened. ‘Will you stop going on about the bloody chalice, and get us out of here,’ ranted O’Toole. ‘Phone someone. NOW!’ Richard Head pulled a cell phone from his pocket, stared at it for a while, then turned to the red-faced Bishop. ‘Ermm, it's dead,’ he said quietly, hoping he wouldn’t be heard. The Bishop looked at him with malevolent eyes, and his voice bristled. ‘Then you had better find a pay phone, hadn’t you? Or you just might receive the same fate as your phone.’ With that, Head got out of the car and, pulling his coat around him against the driving snow, he plodded up the street to find a pay phone, muttering under his breath as he went. ‘Do this Head, do that Head. One day he’ll see what I’m made of. He’ll get his come-uppance, then his world will turn upside down.’ Just then, his feet slid from under him and he landed on his backside with a painful jolt. ‘Why me, God? Why me?’ he yelled to a snow-filled sky.
Chapter 10 The smell of freshly-made chapati and various aromatic spices wafted through the house as Jamilla, daughter of Indira and Gupta Raj, bounced down the stairs and into the kitchen. Jamilla was tall and model thin, with long, silky black hair that hung loose down to her waist. Her huge dark eyes were intense and her skin a shade of golden honey. ‘Where’s the coffee, Mum?’ asked Jamilla as she dumped a pile of the morning mail onto the table. ‘Whatever happened to the word please, Jamilla? You used to be so polite when you were a young girl,’ said Indira. ‘Oh Mum, don’t start. I’m in a hurry. Got a big day at the office today.’ Jamilla located a coffee-press and began heaping spoons of ground coffee into the glass container. ‘You’re always in a hurry, Jamilla. I swear you are getting thinner every day. Why don’t you eat?’ Indira picked up a pile of unopened letters and started ripping them open. ‘I tell you, all bills or double glazing leaflets. Why are the English so obsessed with double glazing?’ ‘They’re not all double glazing, Mum. Here’s one for central heating,’ said Jamilla waving a leaflet around. ‘You see, double glazing, heating. It's because this country is always so bloody cold, everyone is obsessed with heat,’ announced Indira as she waved her hand about to emphasise the point. ‘Here's an air mail letter. It’s from India!’ ‘That will be from your cousin Danesh from Bombay. He telephoned yesterday to tell us that his son, Ravi, is coming to stay with us for a while.’ ‘Oh, God not more bloody family from the outback, isn’t it?’ Jamilla added the ‘isn’t it’ with an exaggerated Indian accent. ‘Anyway, it's called Mumbai now. They changed the name yonks ago.’ ‘Bloody Indians, always changing things,’ replied Indira. ‘What was wrong with Bombay? It has always been called Bombay. Even the filmmakers called it Bollywood. So what are they going to call it now? Mumbywood?’ ‘Whatever, Mum. Who is Ravi, anyway? I’ve never heard of him.’ ‘Ravi is Danesh’s son, and he’s a movie mogul. He works in the film studios, and he is very rich and famous,’ replied Indira proudly. ‘Who the hell is Danesh? Jeez, Mum, how many relatives have you got?’ ‘Watch your language, my girl. I have many relatives in India. I come from a long line of very prosperous Brahmins, and Danesh is my first cousin. Or is he a second cousin?’ Indira scratched her head thoughtfully. ‘Anyway, the point is that Ravi is coming to stay with us next week, so—’ ‘Mum, if he’s sooo rich and such an immense movie mogul, why isn’t he staying at the Dorchester or the Ritz?’
‘Because, he, well… because,’ stammered Indira. ‘Hotels are impersonal and he would much prefer to be in a homely environment.’ ‘Oh, right! I’m sure he’d prefer a dingy little terrace to a suite at the Dorchester. I mean, who wouldn’t?’ said Jamilla sarcastically. Just then, Gupta Raj walked into the kitchen. ‘Wouldn’t what?’ he asked. ‘Hi Dad. Mum was just telling me about our visitor, Ravioli,’ said Jamilla, kissing her father on his forehead. She was at least two inches taller than he was. ‘It’s Ravi and yes, he prefers to stay with his family. So that’s it, he’s staying with us and you, young lady, will be civil to him,’ said Indira throwing a glare at Gupta Raj. ‘Whatever. Anyway where the heck is he going to sleep? On the couch? We don’t have any spare room.’ Jamilla looked at her father as realisation suddenly dawned. Gupta Raj looked at his daughter, and raised his shoulders in resignation. ‘You’re taking over Dad’s temple, aren’t you?’ retorted Jamilla. ‘It’s not a temple, it’s a bedroom, and once that elephant has been removed, it shall be redecorated and become a living space, to be occupied by Ravi, and that’s the end of the discussion.’ Indira scooped some vegetables from a wok that had been bubbling on a gas hob, and piled them onto a plate, which she unceremoniously ponked onto the table in front of her husband. Some of the yellow sauce splashed Gupta Raj’s white dhoti as he uttered a thank you. Jamilla knew there was little point in arguing once her mother had made up her mind. She cast an apologetic eye towards Gupta Raj who was spreading the yellow stain further afield in a vain attempt to wipe it away. ‘What are you going to do, Dad? You had a lovely little group, and I loved the chanting and the incense,’ she smiled sympathetically. Gupta Raj shrugged as he gave up with the stained dhoti and sat to eat his vegetables. ‘I’m sure something will turn up,’ he said with little conviction. ‘Maybe you could find somewhere else?’ suggested Jamilla. ‘I can have a look around in the classifieds if you want. I get to see all the advertising before it goes to press, and I can give you a heads-up if I see something.’ ‘That would be very kind, Jamilla. You’re such a good girl,’ replied Gupta Raj, who managed to drop a potato onto his already stained dhoti. ‘Why do you wear your food, Gupta Raj? Why not just sit in it?’ sniped Indira. ‘Stop nagging him, Mum. He’s lost his temple, thanks to Ravioli, so be nice,’ said Jamilla. ‘Maybe Ravi is looking for a beautiful wife?’ said Indira, winking at Gupta Raj, who was busy retrieving his lost potato. ‘Oh, not that again,’ groaned Jamilla. ‘If that’s your little plan, then your Ravi, or whatever his name is, can sod off back to Mumbywood.’ 35
‘I don't know why you behave like this, Jamilla. You are twenty-five now and should be looking to settle down,’ said her mother. ‘I have a career, Mum, as you very well know. The last thing I need now is to settle down with some geek from the swamps,’ replied Jamilla, as she gulped down her coffee. She was intent on leaving before an all too familiar conversation started up. ‘He is not from the swamps,’ replied Indira indignantly. ‘He is the son of very rich man, as well as being a successful movie mogul.’ ‘Mum, I don't give a flying shit if he is a porno star. I will marry whomever I chose to marry. I’m not some piece of baggage you can flog off to some swamp rat.’ Jamilla banged her coffee cup onto the table and a large splash flew into the air, landing just to the side of the yellow dal stain and under the bit of potato that had stuck to Gupta Raj’s now colourful dhoti. ‘Jamilla Raj, I will not have that talk in my house. You may think you are an important journalist on that tin-pot newspaper of yours, but you could do a lot worse than marrying a nice Indian boy,’ ranted Indira, looking at Gupta Raj’s food-covered dhoti in disgust. ‘I’m going now, before I say something I’ll regret.’ Jamilla kissed her father’s head and laughed as he looked up and dropped another spoonful of dal onto his already ailing dhoti. ‘I’ll see you tonight. Like I said, Dad, I’ll have a look around and see what’s about.’ Jamilla left the kitchen and the front door banged closed. ‘My God, that girl. Whatever happened to our little Jami?’ whined Indira. ‘She grew up, my sweetness. She’s a good girl. Must you be so hard on her?’ ‘What do you know, Gupta Raj? The girl needs a husband and Ravi may be just the man she needs. Now, go and change your shirt - you look like Joseph and his coat of many colours,’ said Indira as she snatched away Gupta Raj’s plate. In doing so, another wayward lump of sauce sploshed across his ravaged dhoti. ‘Yes dear,’ replied Gupta Raj resignedly as he got up from the table. His eyes, however, were full of delight as he thought about what Jamilla had said about finding an alternative venue for his temple.
Chapter 11 The rather drab offices of the Hornfield Herald were located on the first floor over the bakery shop. They were accessed via a small staircase at the side of the bakery down a small alleyway, just off the main road. The main office was open plan with a separate room at the far end. There was a large glass window and a door with Editor stenciled in black letters. Several desks sat back to back, and computer screens littered every available surface. On what little surface remained were stacked folders and notepads. Little fluffy animals, personal stickers, post-it notes, and the odd photograph decorated each person’s workspace. A large notice board was attached to a grubby, yellowing wall that contained photographs and scrawled notices. Jamilla’s desk sat near the back of the room in front of the Editor’s office. She was staring at her computer screen when Joshua walked in. He was holding two large paper cups of coffee. He placed one on Jamilla’s desk and sat next to her on a small wheely-chair. ‘What’s new, Jam?’ said Joshua slurping his coffee. ‘Thanks,’ said Jamilla picking up her coffee. ‘Nothing particularly exciting. I’m working on a small piece about our local dramatic society; they plan on putting on a play again. Then there’s the usual stuff - classifieds, advertising, the state of the roads. I’ve a bloody good mind to write a scathing piece about how our lazy, good for nothing council does squat about clearing the snow.’ ‘Hmm, I wanted to talk to you about them,’ said Joshua. ‘You know they passed a condemned order that allowed them to demolish the synagogue? I’d just love to know who bought the land. I swear there was nothing much wrong with that building that some basic renovation would have fixed. There’s something fishy about it.’ ‘Easy enough to find out,’ said Jamilla. ‘It should be on public record. Have you tried the Land Registry? I think it costs a few quid and you can get all the details. I could look it up here if you want?’ A few seconds later she had the Land Registry site up on her screen and entered her credit card details. ‘Here you go! They should email me details later this morning. I’ll let you know what I find out.’ ‘Thanks Jam, it’s appreciated. My dad’s cut up about it. I said that maybe he could find somewhere else, so if you see anything like a hall for rent in classifieds, let me know, okay?’ said Joshua. ‘Oh, by the way, I took some pictures of the synagogue before it got trashed. Don’t know if they could be useful for anything, but I’ll email them to you.’ ‘Funny you should mention finding a hall to rent. My poor dad just lost his temple - well, actually it was our third bedroom that he used. But all the same, it was his own, and he loved having his friends round, doing their chanting and stuff,’ replied Jamilla. ‘My crazy mum has invited some movie bloke from India to stay, so she chucked my dad out of his temple. Anyway, I said I’d look around. So if I see anything, I’ll give you the wink.’ She winked at Joshua, who blushed and rolled away, waving as he went. 37
Joshua returned to his desk and pulled up his photographs of the synagogue, resized them, and attached them to an email to Jamilla. He pressed ‘send’ and, almost immediately, a ‘received OK’ email bounced back that was empty of text, apart from a yellow animated smiley face. Josh looked at the smiley with an expression of longing. He had joined the paper as a freelance photographer almost a year ago, but he knew that it was not strictly freelance because it was his only paid work as a photographer. However, he loved the job and enjoyed his photography. What was more, he loved Jamilla. When he first saw her, his heart thumped madly in his chest. At first he thought he had something wrong with his heart, and so he went to see his doctor. After exhaustive tests, he was told that there was absolutely nothing wrong with him. Yet, whenever he saw Jamilla his pulse level soared and he could feel is heart bashing away in his chest. The day he realised he was in love with Jamilla, she was reaching up to change a light bulb over her desk. She wobbled on her chair just as Joshua was walking past; she then fell backwards and he caught her in his arms. The smell of jasmine in her hair almost sent him into apoplexy. He couldn’t put her down and just stood there, holding her in his arms, smelling her hair. She had said thank you and kissed his cheek, and he didn’t wash that bit of his cheek for a week. Ever since then, he’d never worked up the courage to ask her out, and so they had developed a friendship in the office that was never consummated outside. Joshua stared at the little smiley and made a decision. He typed an email back saying ‘How about we have a drink after work?’ He was about to send it, his finger poised over the send button, when he decided to add ‘to discuss the council’. He pressed send. A few seconds later a reply came back into his inbox. He opened it and stared, his mouth sagging open like a gaping hippo. ‘I thought you’d never ask me. But I can’t tonight, family stuff. How about tomorrow?’ Joshua’s heart leapt. His pulse rate escalated and he actually punched the air with a silently mouthed ‘Yes!’ Jamilla saw his fist punch upwards. It's about time. I’ve fancied that guy for ages, she thought to herself. She smiled as another email popped into her in-box. This time it was from the Land Registry with an attached file showing the owners of the synagogue site. ‘Hey Josh,’ she called. ‘I have that information you wanted.’ Joshua shot across the floor on his chair and collided with a waste paper basket. He picked up the overturned bin and continued his slide across to Jamilla’s desk. ‘It seems to be owned by a company called Grant Holdings, whoever they are,’ said Jamilla pointing at her screen. ‘Never heard of them,’ said Joshua frowning. ‘I can get onto the Company House website later and dig up some information. If they have filed accounts, we can find out who the directors are.’
‘Thanks a lot, Jam. I tell you, there’s more to this than meets the eye. Anyway, see you tomorrow night, yeah?’ he said enthusiastically. ‘Sure thing, Josh. Where do you want to go?’ ‘How about that new wine bar on the high street? What’s it called? Tamara or something like that,’ said Joshua. ‘Tamarind. It's called Tamarind, and it’s a gay bar,’ laughed Jamilla. ‘But it should be fun. I'll meet you there at eight. I have to go home first. I always eat with Mum and Dad - more to save him from Mum’s wrath than anything else.’ ‘Great, I’ll wear pink,’ joked Josh. ‘See you tomorrow.’
Chapter 12 The thunderous chugging of the Harley Davidson’s engine filled the silent evening like heavy machine-gun fire. A final rev and it stopped. The rider, dressed in a thick leather jacket and wearing a knitted black scarf wrapped around his muscular neck, dismounted the motorcycle, which rested at a gravity-defying angle. Other motorcycles filled the car park of the Jolly Roger. Harleys, Kawasaki cruisers, Suzukis, even a giant Honda - all lay side by side, as if they were in a cruiser bike showroom. Every machine glistened with polished chrome and there wasn’t an engine size less than 1,400 cc. Removing his helmet, the rider entered the Jolly Roger. He pushed open the door to the public bar and was immediately assaulted by the deafening sound of Aerosmith. The bar was typical of its era; built in the early 18th century, it had low ceilings, and time-warped black beams added to the ambience of the room. The bar itself was made from a single slab of polished oak, and an overhead beam was littered with various ornaments, mainly consisting of motorcycle parts. An old drive chain sat next to a giant gear cog and a set of chrome foot-rests. In the centre of the oak beam sat a pair of handlebars that were slightly bent, underneath of which was a brass placard that stated Lizard 1951–2007. Virtually everyone in the bar was a biker. Girls with long flowing hair, and equally long legs, sat perched on high stools chatting animatedly. Groups of men in leather jackets and denim played pool or sat around drinking pints. It was a rowdy atmosphere as the rider walked in. Suddenly the music stopped. The chatter and clinking of glasses ceased abruptly, and silence hung like a blanket over the crowded room as the leather-jacketed man strode up to the bar. All eyes were focused on him as he ordered a drink. ‘Pint of Guinness, please,’ asked the man. The girl behind the bar looked at the crowded room as if for permission to serve the man. There was a shuffle from the back of the room as a huge giant pushed his way forward through the crowd. He was a colossus of a man, dressed in jeans and black leather square-toed boots. His plain black T-shirt strained against his huge muscular chest, and his arms bulged with massive muscles that threatened to tear the cotton fabric apart. Long dark hair, worn loose, hung down to his huge shoulders, like a waterfall breaking over boulders. His deep, ice-blue eyes stared menacingly at the man. ‘What brings you here, stranger,’ boomed the giant’s voice. The man turned with a slightly bored expression on his face. ‘What’s it to you, big boy?’ he asked. There was an audible gasp as the two men faced each other. The giant stepped forward, towering over the other man. He then bent his knees, lowering his enormous frame so that he could stare into the other man’s eyes. ‘Plenty, sunshine. You want to make something of it?’ 40
‘Sure do, ya big lug,’ replied the man, returning the fixed stare. The two men then crashed into each other, their faces splitting open in huge grins as they hugged each other. Thor yelled to the crowd. ‘Hey guys, this is my brother Harley.’ A voice yelled back, ‘Didn’t know you had a mother and father, Thor. Thought you were just created.’ ‘Funny boy, Bones. Just cos you were created by micro-chip. Anyway, my Dad’s name was David and this is Harley, David’s son. Get it? Harley David’s son.’ Thor emphasised the connection to the famous bike brand as if no one could get it. Everyone groaned, including Harley, who had heard this a thousand times; he had been ribbed remorselessly at school and university. Harley had been born in the mid-sixties into a biker family; his father was head of a Hells Angels chapter, and his mother was a biker chick. He and Thor spent their youth travelling around the country, usually astride a Harley Davidson. Even his mother owned one. Thor had not given up the mantle, even though Harley chose to go to the seminary after university. No one really knew why - except, of course, Harley. ‘Harley, it’s good to see you, bro,’ said Thor, as the bar returned to its former relaxed state. ‘Jeez, it’s been - what? - three months since I saw you. Where you been? Hiding in that old wreck of a church?’ ‘Thor, you big lump. You taking steroids or what? You look like Schwarzenegger,’ said Harley, still hugging his brother. ‘Nah, no chemicals, man. Just pushin’ weights, workin’ out ‘n’ stuff. Give the man a drink, Dolly. It’s on me,’ said Thor as he thumped the bar with his fist. The beam visibly shook. ‘Come on bro, sit down. What brings you here? You fed up with the company of St Faggot?’ ‘Come on Thor, be nice. Seb’s ok,’ admonished Harley as he took his Guinness, and swallowed with a gulp. ‘Just seems odd, having a queen priest and all. Hey, you think they had fags in JC’s day?’ ‘Well, he did hang around with twelve blokes most of the time, so y’never know,’ replied Harley grinning. Just then, a beautiful girl sauntered up to the bar. She had a mane of almost white hair that flowed endlessly down to her slender thighs. She walked up to Thor and hugged him. ‘Didn’t know you had a brother, Thor. Such a handsome man, too,’ she purred, eying up Harley with her glittering eyes. ‘This is Bernice,’ said Thor. ‘And you have no chance, girl. He hasn’t got a dick!’ ‘Yes, I do. It’s just temporarily decommissioned,’ retorted Harley. ‘So you haven’t given up the beer for Lent, then?’
It’s winter, you idiot. Lent’s at Easter. Anyway, I need some help - your kind of help,’ said Harley, raising his eyebrow as if giving some mystical clue. ‘I need a roofer, cheap as possible.’ ‘That old relic of a church fallen down finally!’ laughed Thor. ‘Not quite, but part of the roof fell in yesterday and… well, it’s a long story, Thor. I have to get the roof fixed before next Sunday or I lose the church altogether.’ Harley explained all that had happened as Thor looked on, nodding sagely, but remaining silent until Harley had finished. Thor grimaced, then lowered his voice theatrically. ‘You want we to dispose of your troublesome Bishop? Just a word from you bro, and he’s a gonner.’ ‘Hmm, let me think about that, Thor.’ Harley opened his arms as if to highlight an invisible newspaper headline in the sky. ‘Priest sends biker hit squad to annihilate Bishop. Can’t see it working, Thor, old chap. The Catholic Church doesn’t take kindly to assassination.’ ‘That’s not what I heard. Anyway, s’pose not, it was just a thought,’ shrugged Thor. ‘But I think I can help with the roof. Big Mick can help. I’ll send him round tomorrow.’ ‘Big Mick?’ asked Harley with a hint of suspicion in his voice. ‘Don’t worry, bro. He’s a good roofer - well, most of the time,’ replied Thor thoughtfully. ‘What does he do when he’s not roofing, or shouldn’t I ask?’ ‘Ermm, he’s a collector,’ replied Thor looking away. ‘What does he collect, exactly?’ asked Harley, grabbing Thor's big chin and turning his face towards him. ‘This and that.’ ‘Thor?’ ‘Cars,’ replied Thor, vaguely waving his arm around. ‘And tell me, dear brother. Do the owners know he collects them?’ Both looked at each other seriously. ‘Not always,’ Thor burst out laughing. Harley also cracked up, and both men could not stop as tears rolled down their faces. ‘I just don’t want to know,’ said Harley finally. ‘Anyway, I don’t have much dosh, so I hope he’s cheap.’ ‘Don’t worry, my man, this one’s on me. Won’t cost you a cent.’ Thor whacked his brother on the back. ‘This is for all those times you helped me out.’ ‘That’s decent of you, bro. Just one question,’ asked Harley. ‘Will we have any lead left on the roof when he’s finished?’ ‘You wound me, brother,’ said Thor looking hurt. 42
‘Even if I get the roof fixed up, there’s still the problem with the congregation,’ sighed Harley. ‘O’Toole is coming on Sunday to see the swollen congregation I told him we had. I guess I exaggerated a bit. Once he sees an almost empty church, we’re done for.’ ‘Why on earth did you promise that? The last time I was at St Xavier's there was no one there, except for you, the fag priest - sorry, Sebastian - and a strange woman who was twitching in the front row.’ ‘That would have been Mrs Whittlehurst,’ said Harley. ‘So, what you gonna do?’ ‘Maybe I could bribe everyone at the local old folk’s home!’ joked Harley. ‘I go there every Thursday,’ interrupted Bernice. ‘What?’ said both men simultaneously. ‘I do the old folk’s hair for them every Thursday. If you want, I can try to rustle up a few?’ ‘Anything will help. Thanks Bernice,’ said Harley. ‘There you go, see? And I'm sure I can persuade some more volunteers,’ suggested Thor as he looked around the pub. Everyone feigned disinterest. ‘Oh sure. Hells Angels suddenly get religion?’ laughed Harley. ‘Oh ye of little faith,’ replied Thor. ‘I've heard that a few times this week,’ said Harley. ‘You always were a doubter. Surprised you became a priest. You'd have been better off staying with the Angels.’ Harley gave Thor a look, then bashed him on the shoulder. ‘You lug. My round, I think?’ ‘What, no water into wine?’ asked Thor with a feigned shocked expression. ‘No, but give me a minute and I’ll turn beer into water!’ ‘You know where it is, chump,’ said Thor as Harley headed toward the toilets at the back of the bar. Thor called over a group of his friends, and they huddled together as if conspiring. Suddenly, the group roared with laughter. They were still laughing when Harley returned. ‘I miss something?’ asked Harley. ‘All will become clear, bro. All will become clear,’ said Thor as Harley ordered another round.
Chapter 13 Sebastian was perched on a high stool nursing a flute of champagne. He was wearing a black shirt and dog collar underneath a beautifully tailored Armani jacket. The definitive image of a typical priest was, however, shattered by the bright yellow jeans he wore with gold trainers. As a noisy group of flamboyantly-dressed guys entered the bar, Sebastian waved enthusiastically. The group all yelped with delight as they ran over to where he was seated. ‘So, how's it hanging, guys?’ asked Sebastian. ‘Hi Seb,’ said Rolley, who was one of the group. He was wearing an incredibly stylish dark blue Versace suit. ‘Oh! Whichever way the wind blows. You know how it is. How's life in the monastery?’ ‘It's a church, Rolley, not a monastery,’ responded Sebastian. ‘Whatever. All those hours locked up with other men, enough to turn anyone a bit queer,’ replied Rolley. ‘You're already queer, Rolley. And I'm not a monk, for goodness sake,’ said Sebastian laughing. ‘I know that, you just don't have sex! Not much difference, monk, priest, hermit, whatever, anyway what's up?’ said Rolley. ‘You look stressed out!’ Sebastian shifted in his seat and finished his champagne. He slipped off his jacket and slung it over the back of the stool, as if getting down to business. ‘We may have to close the church down,’ began Sebastian. ‘We have this Bishop who would make Mussolini look like Mother Theresa. He has it in for Harley and me and wants to demolish St Xavier’s.’ ‘What you been up to then? Been having wild parties with the nuns?’ asked Rolley. ‘This is serious, Rolley. You may think I don’t take this vocation seriously, but it is my choice and St Xavier’s means a lot to us both. It’s a fine old church. Bishop O’Toole sent Harley and me there over a year ago because we didn’t fit into the mould that he thinks we should adopt. The Church is changing, Rolley. Times are changing and we need to adapt, not wither like an old vine. If it was up to O’Toole, we’d all still be burning witches. He wants us gone, and he wants the church gone too.’ Sebastian sighed and put his head in his hands. Rolley put a hand around his friend’s shoulder and motioned to his other friends to leave them alone to talk. Everyone walked away, chatting quietly. ‘I know, Seb. I’m sure that you do a good job - errm, what exactly do you do, Seb? I mean, apart from pray a lot, that is?’ Sebastian looked up and started to say something, but paused thoughtfully before the words came. ‘We provide a community service.’ ‘What does that mean exactly?’
‘Sort of moral support for the community,’ said Sebastian. It was more of a question than a statement. ‘Weddings and funerals. Harley does a great funeral and there's always a need for those. Then there’s the soup kitchen.’ Rolley grimaced. ‘Oh yes, I do recall the last funeral. Your thuggish Harley Jackson managed to screw it up. That poor Mr Marshall.’ ‘That was a mistake. Not our fault at all,’ said Sebastian defensively. ‘And I suppose the fact that he cremated the wrong body was not his fault either?’ smirked Rolley. ‘Well, the funeral directors delivered the wrong one. How were we to know?’ ‘And when they asked for the body back,’ continued Rolley, ‘I distinctly recall that Hells Angel Harley handing them an urn! Not exactly what they were expecting somehow, especially as they wanted a burial.’ There was an awkward silence that was broken by Rolley. ‘Ok, well I guess there’s a need there somewhere, Seb. So what you going to do to save your little church?’ ‘It’s a sort of work in progress. I need to fill the place next Sunday. Can you round up a few people to fill the church?’ ‘Always there to help a friend. What’s so special about next Sunday, anyway?’ asked Rolley. ‘Because the Tool is coming with Dick Head. If they see an empty church with a gigantic hole in the roof, then we are stuffed my friend,’ replied Sebastian. ‘So, as I understand it, you need people to fill your church. Is that all?’ ‘For now, that’s all. Harley is trying to get the roof fixed up. If we can just fill the place when the Bishop turns up, we have a chance to stall things a bit,’ said Sebastian. ‘But we still need to raise some money. That roof can only be patched up. We need to replace it, and that will cost us.’ ‘That’s a tough one,’ said Rolley. ‘You could always rent it out!’ ‘Great suggestion, Rolley. Yeah, we could rent it out as a guest house. Free air conditioning, or even maybe rent it out to…’ Sebastian stopped midsentence. ‘Rent it out?’ he murmured, looking at Rolley with glazed eyes. ‘You okay, Seb?’ ‘What? Sorry, I was just thinking about something. You were saying?’ said Sebastian dreamily. ‘Well, I think I may be able to help you there, old son,’ replied Rolley, a grin spreading across his face. Sebastian looked at his friend suspiciously. ‘What’s on your mind, Rolley? You suddenly got religion? I always saw you as somewhat satanic.’ ‘Hmm, don't like all that black and chanting, it’s not my look. Anyway, I can help you.’ Rolley pulled up a stool and sat down and continued. ‘I can
provide at least fifty people, but I need a teensy, weensy, tiny, little favour in return.’ ‘Am I going to regret this?’ asked Sebastian, his eyes rolling upwards. ‘I think I’ll need another drink before I hear this. You want one, Rolley?’ ‘Champers, please and get a bottle. This one’s on me,’ replied Rolley. Sebastian ordered a bottle of champagne. The barmaid walked from behind the bar and brought a bucket filled with ice. She expertly opened the bottle and poured two glasses. Sebastian raised his flute and clinked glasses with Rolley. ‘So what’s this favour?’ ‘You remember we have this dramatic society?’ said Rolley. ‘Vaguely.’ ‘Well, we’re supposed to be putting on a play next month, but we’ve just got chucked out of our rehearsal rooms. Now we have nowhere to put on the play or rehearse. If I remember correctly, St Xavier's has a huge gallery. It would make an ideal stage and rehearsal room. You let us use that once a week, and I'll fill your church on Sunday and every other Sunday for the next few weeks.’ ‘I don't know,’ replied Sebastian cautiously. ‘What sort of play is it, Rolley?’ ‘Oh, don't you worry. It’s one of the classics,’ said Rolley dismissively. Sebastian pondered, then decided it probably was not a bad trade. ‘It would have to be on the QT, and you would have to be discreet.’ ‘My middle name is discreet, darling,’ replied Rolley theatrically. ‘No, your middle name is Gervaise,’ replied Sebastian. ‘Bitch!’ ‘Father bitch, to you! Okay, it's a deal. What's the worst that can happen? They could close us down, or they could, err… well, close us down. But how are you going to fill St Xavier's?’ ‘You leave that to me. Have faith dear boy, have faith. Drink your champagne before it gets hot.’ Rolley filled their glasses once more and raised his in a toast. ‘To St Xavier’s.’ Sebastian clinked his glass. ‘To St Xavier’s,’ he replied, at the same time wondering if this was a good idea after all. Chapter 14 It was early morning when a battered, white van slowly crunched through the snow-covered drive to St Xavier’s. A set of rusty ladders clanked loudly on the roof of the van as it slewed to a precarious halt just in front of the church doors. Harley was waiting on the drive. The door to the van opened and a large-booted foot slid out of the driver’s door. ‘Hello there. You must be Mick?’ said Harley offering his hand. 46
‘No, Oi'm Pat. He's Big Mick,’ said the fellow, pointing to the passenger door. An extremely small man dressed in a blue, scruffy-looking donkey jacket hopped down from the passenger side of the van. A brilliant smile illuminated his weathered face, and his head just about reached up to the wing mirror as he walked around the front of the van, extending his hand in greeting. ‘Right,’ said a confused Harley, looking at the strange couple of guys. ‘That’ll be me, alroit,’ laughed the little man, who called himself Big Mick. ‘Gets a tad confusin’ so it does. Like me bein’ so small n’all, and him,’ he pointed to Pat, ‘bein’ so big n’that. So you must be Thor’s brother?’ ‘That's me,’ said Harley. ‘So you have the roof tiles?’ ‘Oh yes, so I do. Quite fortunate, really, that I happen to have ’em and you, like, needin ’em,’ said Mick, scratching his head as he sauntered to the back of the van and opened the doors. He pulled out a beaten cardboard box full of roof tiles. There were other boxes stacked haphazardly in the back of the van, along with bags of cement and other tools. Harley looked at the tiles, then up at the roof of the church, then back to the tiles. ‘Ermm, our roof tiles are black, and those are red! They won’t really match, will they?’ Big Mick looked at the tiles and inspected them closely. Then he grinned toothlessly. ‘To be sure, it’s no problem at all, vicar. You won't know the difference by the time o’im finished.’ Big Mick and Pat then started to pull the ancient ladder from the roof of the van. ‘Better get on with it, then, before it snows again,’ said Mick as Pat carried the ladder to the side of the church. ‘I’m a Father,’ said Harley, almost as a last thought. ‘Hey, it’s none of my business, vicar. But I thought you guys were celebrate?’ shouted Mick, as he tested the ladder by jumping up and down on the first rung. Harley looked confused. ‘No, no, I'm called Father. I'm a priest. And it’s celibate, not celebrate!’ ‘Oi'm a father too, vicar,’ stated Pat with a grin. ‘No, no, I’m a priest. They call me Father, not vicar.’ Harley’s voice faded out as he realised he was rapidly losing the conversation. ‘Fine by me, vicar. I'm all for modern-day thinking,’ shouted Mick as he ascended the ladder. Harley looked on in sheer amazement as Mick deftly climbed up with the box of tiles teetering on his shoulder. ‘If you need anything, just yell,’ said Harley as he squinted up at Mick, who was now clambering up the roof. Pat quickly followed with a box of tools, whistling tunelessly as he went. ‘Will do, vicar,’ shouted Mick from the roof. Harley shook his head and walked towards the Manse house. 47
Whilst Harley was outside dealing with Big Mick and Pat, Sebastian was busy on the telephone in the sitting room. ‘Hello, is this the classified ads?’ asked Sebastian ‘No it’s not classified, dear. This is the advertising department,’ replied a loud woman with an upper class accent. The voice belonged to Elsie Gunnel who took care of reception at the Herald newspaper. In fact, Elsie took care of many things at the Herald, including making tea, answering the phones as well as being in charge of taking advertisements over the phone. Elsie was a little hard of hearing and tended to shout down the phone. ‘Fine, I want to place an advert please,’ continued Sebastian. ‘Go ahead, dear. I haven’t got all day,’ shouted Elsie impatiently. ‘I have a room for rent.’ ‘You'll have to speak up, dear. I can't hear you very well,’ shouted Elsie. ‘I said, I have a room for rent,’ shouted back Sebastian. ‘You have a loom for Lent?’ asked a surprised Elsie, wondering why someone had a loom at all, and especially at Lent. ‘No, no, I… have… a… room… for… rent,’ replied Sebastian, speaking slowly so that he could be understood. ‘Ah, a room for rent, is it?’ ‘Yes, it's a large hall and I want to rent it out for six days a week.’ ‘You have a large ball and you want to rent it out for sex days every week?’ shouted a shocked Elsie, who had heard some strange things in her life, but took exception to her caller. ‘I'm sorry, sir, we don't take that sort of advertisement. This is a decent newspaper, not some sordid top shelf magazine.’ ‘No, no, no. I have a large HALL for rent. It’s available S-I-X, six days a week,’ Sebastian yelled into the phone, his voice becoming hoarse. ‘You don't have to shout. I'm not deaf, you know,’ shouted Elsie as she wrote down the details. ‘The advertisement will appear in next week’s edition. Thank you for calling,’ she finished and hung up. Sebastian rubbed his sore throat and put down the phone, just as Harley entered the room. ‘What you up to, Seb?’ ‘I have a plan,’ replied Sebastian, still croaking from his shouting match with Elsie. ‘What sort of plan? Is it likely to get us arrested by any chance?’ Sebastian, still wearing his flannel pyjamas, started to speak with distinct excitement. ‘It came to me last night, in the bar when I was drumming up some business for next Sunday. I was speaking to Rolley. You remember Rolley?’ 48
‘Oh, how could I forget Rolley?’ snorted Harley. ‘I remember having to prise his neck from Thor's fist when Rolley tried to kiss him.’ ‘Well, it was Thor's birthday. He was just being friendly,’ said Sebastian defensively. ‘I don't think Thor took kindly to Rolley pinching his butt, either. Sort of the straw that broke the camel’s back,’ laughed Harley. Sebastian shrugged as he continued. ‘Anyway, Rolley and his amateur dramatics company need a place to rehearse their new play, so I promised to let them use the gallery in the church. They got booted out of their rehearsal rooms so, in exchange for me letting them use St Xavier’s, they promised to fill our pews each Sunday for the next four weeks,’ Sebastian finished breathlessly, looking very pleased with himself. ‘So how are the roof repairs going?’ ‘I think it's sorted. Big Mick is on the roof as we speak. I spoke to Thor last night, and he offered to send Mick around. What’s more, it’s a freebie.’ ‘That must be illegal,’ scoffed Sebastian as he got up and walked into the kitchen. ‘Want coffee?’ ‘Not everything Thor does is illegal,’ said Harley. ‘Well, not everything, I guess.’ Harley frowned, as if trying to think of something that Thor did that was on the level. ‘Anyway, we have no money and it is free. What can possibly go wrong?’ Harley already knew the response that woud come back from the kitchen. ‘Whenever Thor has even the slightest involvement, things tend to blow up, collapse or go badly wrong!’ ‘We shall see,’ replied Harley. ‘Anyway, the roof is being fixed as we speak. So what’s this plan of yours? And what are we going to do about this money situation, Sebastian? We are like the proverbial highway hedgehog.’ The door to the kitchen opened, and Sebastian entered with two steaming mugs of tea. ‘Highway hedgehog?’ asked Sebastian placing the tea on the coffee table. ‘Flat and broke,’ replied Harley. ‘That's disgusting. However, I have been thinking about that. In fact, it was Rolley who gave me the idea.’ Sebastian was animated, his eyes flashing with excitement. ‘Don't like the sound of this, replied Harley. ‘Rolley plus idea equals disaster.’ ‘We rent!’ ‘We what?’ asked Harley, as if not hearing the first time. ‘We can rent it out. I have it all planned,’ said Sebastian. ‘It may have escaped your attention Seb, but we are a church, not a brothel. Knowing Rolley, that’s probably what he suggested.’
Sebastian gave Harley a reproving look, and continued. ‘Not a brothel, you idiot. We have a huge space, Harley. The church is only used a few times a week, and no one attends Mass anyway. Except for the odd confession, the place is empty. We could advertise in the local rag - you know, women’s guild meetings, social club, whatever. It can’t hurt, and we need the cash.’ ‘But how would it look if we rented out the place? O’Toole would have all the ammunition he needed to shut us down on the spot,’ said Harley looking exasperated. ‘I can just see it now. CHURCH FOR RENT, BISHOP SUPPLIED, BRING YOUR OWN ACTRESS. You’re insane, Sebastian. We can't rent out a house of God.’ ‘Errm, I already have,’ replied Sebastian looking slightly embarrassed. ‘You what?’ said a shocked Harley. ‘The advert comes out next week, and it’s on the website tomorrow.’ ‘We're dead.’ Harley raised his arms to the sky in exasperation. ‘Really it will be fine. We can select who rents it and everything,’ argued Sebastian. ‘And we only need to do it for a few months, just so we can get some money in. Come on Harley, what other choice do we have? It will give us some breathing space.’ ‘As much breathing space as a gas chamber. What were you thinking, Seb?’ Harley was silent for a moment, then sighed in resignation. ‘Well, I suppose there might be some societies or groups that might want to use it. It’s not such a bad idea, but we have to be careful. O’Toole must never find out or we’ll be dead meat.’ Harley paused for a moment to slurp his tea. ‘The worst case scenario is we are shut down. The best case scenario is… well, I guess we are shut down, so what do we have to lose?’ ‘There you go. I'm not just a pretty priest, am I?’ Sebastian laughed aloud. ‘No comment on that one. Okay, you’re in charge of this one, Seb. Just be careful who you rent it out to.’ ‘Things are looking up,’ Sebastian said as he grinned and drank his tea. ‘Speaking of looking up, I wonder how the guys are doing with our roof?’ said Harley putting his cup down. ‘I think I’ll just go check them out.’ Harley got up and walked to the front door. As he opened it, he saw the scruffy white van disappear down the church driveway. The ladders were back on the roof, clattering loudly as the van bounced over the curb and onto the road. Harley scratched his head as he watched the van, then walked down the Manse drive to the church. He could see already that the hole in the roof had been patched up. However, something did not appear to be altogether right in his mind as he stared at the roof. Then it dawned on him. It was the tiles. The ones Mick had taken from the back of the van were distinctly bright red, yet the tiles on the roof were the same colour as the rest of the tiles up there, which were black! Sebastian joined him on the driveway, still wearing his pyjamas under a large duffle coat. The hood was pulled up over his head as he stared at the roof with Harley. 50
‘Hey, looking good,’ he said, shivering. ‘Seems they did a good job.’ ‘Hmm, yeah. Looks okay,’ said Harley, still contemplating the tiles. As they turned to go inside, the paperboy walked up the drive and threw the local paper at the door. Sebastian picked up the newspaper and stopped dead as he read the front headline. ‘Ermm, look at this, Harley,’ said Sebastian pointing to the newspaper. Harley looked at the paper, then at Sebastian. Both priests then looked at the roof of St Xavier’s and back at the newspaper. ‘ST PETERS ROOF RANSACKED. THIEVES STEAL OVER 100 TILES.’ The headlines seemed to jump out from the page as Harley and Sebastian looked at each other. Harley was the first to speak. ‘You were at St Peters before you came here, weren't you?’ ‘Just for a short time. Why do you ask?’ ‘What colour was the roof?’ asked Harley. ‘The what?’ responded a confused Sebastian. ‘The roof, what colour was it?’ ‘Bright red. Gaudy thing, really. Why?’ Sebastian replied. Then realising what his friend was thinking he said, ‘No, no, it’s just a coincidence. The roof was definitely bright red, our tiles are black. It’s just a coincidence. You worry too much.’ Harley shook his head as they entered the house. Just before the door closed, he took another look at the roof of the church. A strange feeling of foreboding drifted through his mind and sat somewhere near his heart, like a heavy lump of cement.
Chapter 15 Miriam Mannheim sat in her favourite battered old armchair. The pattern in the upholstery had long since disappeared, and it was so worn in places that the stuffing appeared to be leaving of its own accord. The arms of the chair were also worn down, as if they had been sandpapered for a hundred years. Miriam was knitting, her favourite pastime; her eyebrows were scrunched up together, giving her a distinctive frown of concentration as her needles clattered away like a woodpecker on amphetamines. ‘What are you knitting, Mum?’ asked Joshua as he looked up from his magazine. The manic needle clattering was jarring his brain into soup. ‘I'm not sure until it's finished!’ she replied, her eyes not leaving her knitting. ‘Any clues?’ enquired Joshua. ‘Well, it started out as a jumper for your father, but he says he doesn't want anything so colourful. He’s been a bit down in the dumps since, you know what happened.’ ‘So what is it destined to be now?’ continued Joshua, looking at the woollen production that Miriam was wrestling from the depths of the chair. ‘I haven't decided yet,’ she replied, returning her gaze to the strange manifestation that emanated from her busy needles. ‘It looks big enough to live in! Hey, Dad could pitch it in the garden. It could be his new synagogue,’ mused Joshua. ‘A cardigogue!’ he cried, laughing at his own humour. ‘Don't be so rude, Joshua,’ retorted Miriam, a hint of a smile on her face. ‘By the way, I spoke to Elsie in advertising today,’ said Joshua. ‘She gave me the inside tip on a hall for rent. It won’t be in the paper for another few days but it will go onto our website tomorrow. I might check it out for Dad if it's a local number.’ Miriam looked up from her knitting and her face lit up. ‘Why don't you call them up and get some details? Your father could do with some good news.’ ‘Where is he, anyway?’ asked Joshua. ‘He's over at Uncle Jonathan's,’ said Miriam, returning to the clacking needles. ‘Is that safe?’ quipped Joshua. ‘Safe?’ asked Miriam, looking slightly confused. ‘The last time he went to see Uncle Jonathan, he came home thinking he had dengue fever,’ said Joshua, recalling the time his father had a slight temperature. Uncle Jonathan was a physician who had specialised in tropical medicine. He had spent many years in tropical countries - or, rather, had done in his day. He’d retired over twenty years previously. ‘Your Uncle Jonathan is a good doctor,’ said Miriam reprovingly. ‘He’s just getting on a bit, that's all.’ 52
Mum, Uncle Jonathan retired twenty years ago. They were still casting out evil spirits and burning witches when he was in medicine. Poor Dad comes home with a different disease every time he goes there. Remember last year when he had a slight temperature and a swollen leg? He came back convinced he had Elephantiasis.’ ‘Your Uncle Jonathan practised medicine for over fifty years,’ announced Miriam defensively as she continued knitting at an even more frenzied pace. ‘The operative word being practised! He still never managed to master it,’ replied Joshua. ‘Well, he likes Jonathan’s company. So why don't you make that call? At least find out where it is, and how much they want. Your father needs some good news,’ ‘Okay, I’ll check it out,’ said Joshua returning to his magazine. ‘When?’ asked Miriam after a brief pause. ‘I’ll call tomorrow,’ muttered Joshua, knowing what was coming. ‘No time like the present. Idle hands make—’ Miriam started to go into one of her famous quotes. ‘Okay, okay. How about I do it tonight before I go out?’ replied Joshua. ‘Good boy,’ responded Miriam, satisfied, and she returned to a moderate level of clattering. The last few words suddenly registered with Miriam and she put her knitting down. ‘Where are you going? You don’t normally go out,’ she asked with interest, and a slight edge of suspicion. ‘Oh, just to see a work colleague,’ replied Joshua knowing there would be an interrogation. ‘So who do you know at work? I thought you were freelance?’ enquired Miriam, now digging in for the duration. ‘I spend a lot of time there, Mum. It’s just a work colleague. We arranged to meet to discuss an article. She’s a reporter.’ Joshua immediately realised his mistake. ‘She?’ Miriam almost leapt out of her chair. ‘Just a friend, Mum. Don’t get into a panic,’ replied Joshua, regretting having ever mentioned it. ‘So what’s her name?’ ‘Mum, it really doesn’t matter. She's just a friend,’ groaned Joshua, knowing this reply would never suffice. ‘So you don’t want to tell me her name, is that it? If she’s just a friend, then you wouldn’t mind telling me what her name is, would you?’ ‘Ok Mum, it’s Jamilla. Happy?’ ‘Ja whata?’ replied Miriam. ‘Jamilla, Mum. Jamilla,’ sighed Joshua. 53
‘What sort of name is that? Sounds Arabic to me. I hope she’s not a terrorist?’ retorted Miriam with concern. ‘For goodness sake, Mum. She’s not Arabic, she’s Indian. Even if she were Arabic, not all Arabic people are terrorists, you know. It’s that sort of attitude that creates so much hatred in the world. You should know better than that,’ replied Joshua who wanted this conversation to end. ‘I just want what’s best for you Joshua, that’s all. There’s no need to get so huffy,’ said Miriam, now on the defensive. ‘Like I said, it’s just a friend. Now, can we drop it please?’ said Joshua returning to his magazine. ‘Fine,’ said Miriam returning to her knitting. Apart from the clacking of the knitting needles which, to Joshua’s ears, seemed to have speeded up again, silence reigned for about sixty seconds. ‘So what’s she like, this Jihadi?’ Miriam almost whispered. ‘J-A-M-I-L-L-A,’ said Joshua, spelling out her name. ‘She’s a gorgeous, raven-haired beauty. She’s smart and a bloody good journalist.’ The words seemed to pour out of him in a torrent. ‘Ah ha!’ announced Miriam in a deeply satisfied tone. She dropped her knitting into her lap. ‘I knew it.’ ‘Knew what, Mum? She’s just a friend. Now, please let me read in peace.’ ‘I always thought you’d marry a nice Jewish girl, Joshua.’ As she spoke, Miriam wiped an imaginary tear from her eye. ‘For goodness sake, Mum, Jamilla is just a friend, a colleague at work. We’re meeting to discuss our corrupt town council, if you really want to know. You know, the same guys that demolished Dad’s synagogue. It’s a meeting, that’s it.’ Joshua knew he was not sounding at all convincing. His heart was thumping in his chest like an over-revved engine and his pulse was climbing to new dizzying heights. A vision of Jamilla appeared to him. She was wearing a skimpy bikini and tossing her mane of hair over her golden shoulders. He started to sweat at the intoxicating vision that refused to go away. ‘You look all hot and bothered, Joshua. You sick?’ he heard his mother say. ‘No, it’s just a bit stuffy in here. I think I’ll pop out for a walk.’ ‘Where to?’ asked Miriam returning to her knitting. ‘Just out, Mum. Just out,’ replied Joshua. The vision had now diminished, leaving him a bit disoriented and exhausted from Miriam’s questioning. He got up, walked to the door, and picked up his overcoat. As he put it on, a voice trailed after him from the sitting room. ‘Wrap up warm, Joshua. It’s cold outside.’ ‘Yes, Mum,’ he replied and opened the door to a cold and windy afternoon. 54
Chapter 16 Indira was busy peeling vegetables in preparation for the evening meal. She loved to cook, it was her passion, and she was very proud of her culinary creations. She often invited her many friends and relatives to dinner. Gupta Raj never particularly enjoyed these forced social events, instead preferring to meditate or just spend time in his temple. He preferred to have his own spiritual friends come round, when they would sit in front of their beloved Ganesh, recite mantras, or simply read from the Holy Scriptures. For Gupta Raj, his religion meant everything to him. He would rise very early in the morning, before anyone had even woken up. He would wash as quietly as possible so as not to wake anyone, then he would go to his little temple room where he would recite from the Rig Veda, light small lamps, and place them on the altar. He would carefully prepare little flower offerings or fruit platters, and every day he would replace the garland of flowers around the neck of Ganesh. The statue of Ganesh was his pride and joy. It had come all the way from Tamil Nadu in India, and been blessed in the temple at Madurai especially for his use. The beautifully carved statue was made from stone and stood over four feet tall; it was so heavy that, when it had first arrived in the wooden crate, it took four of his friends, including himself, to lift it up the stairs of the small terraced house. Indira had complained bitterly. She had resolutely stood guard, with arms folded across her chest at the bottom of the stairs, at first refusing to allow the statue to enter the house. It was only through the mediation of her daughter, Jamilla, that she finally capitulated - at least, that was the story she always told to her friends. In actual fact, she dearly loved Gupta Raj and would have given in anyway, but she was a little too proud to give in without a show of defiance. Indira was from South India and was raised in a Catholic family, although she did not attend church regularly except for Christmas and Easter and the occasional confessional, which she did at St Xavierâ€™s Church. She liked the big handsome priest, Father Jackson, although she thought that there was something a bit odd about the diminutive Father Sebastian that she could not quite put her finger on. Indira had married Gupta Raj, not as an arranged marriage as was the tradition with her family, but out of love. As far as her family was concerned, it was a mixed marriage. He was from a relatively poor Hindu family, and she was from a wealthy Catholic one. There had been bitter disputes at the beginning, but it was the kind and caring nature of Gupta Raj that had won everyone over eventually. Indiraâ€™s family admired the young man who was always polite, understanding and, despite his lack of wealth, seemed very well-educated. In fact, Gupta Raj had won a scholarship and had earned a degree in comparative religion from Trivandrum University. It was Gupta Raj himself who had actually suggested a formal Catholic wedding and, with this concession, the family was entirely agreeable to the match. They were not informed, however, of the discreet Hindu ceremony that 55
Indira had insisted would take place a few days into their honeymoon in Goa. Afterwards, even her parents were often heard boasting to their relatives about what a fine match they had suggested. In 1980, Gupta Raj and Indira decided to visit relatives in England. Gupta was offered a fellowship at a university and fate sealed the rest. England became their adopted new home, and Indira flourished as the wife of an assistant professor. They loved each other deeply. Jamilla was born in the summer of 1985. She was the pride and joy of her adoring parents. She was always a feisty child and was rarely satisfied with the status quo. Jamilla’s sharp intellect was her friend and, at times, her worst enemy. She always got into heated discussions at school with her teachers when she disagreed with something they said, but she always seemed to win the argument. As Jamilla grew up, her mother Indira seemed to change. She shouted a lot at Gupta Raj, who just accepted everything in his stride. He never lost his temper, or argued, but simply smiled and got on with it. Indira loved to socialise and tried desperately to become a modern socialite. Her home reflected this desire and was immaculate, despite the slightly garish decorations and ostentatious furnishings that often clashed alarmingly. Nevertheless, Indira loved her family and, despite her outbursts, and often fiery temper, she would do anything to protect them. As Indira continued to peel vegetables, Jamilla came up to her, kissed her on the cheek and picked up a peeled carrot and started to munch on it, chewing loudly. ‘I tell you, Jamilla, I am so looking forward to cousin Ravi coming from India to stay with us. It’s so exciting,’ said Indira, slapping Jamilla’s hand as she stole another carrot. ‘But why does he have to stay with us? Poor Dad will be upset at having to relocate his temple,’ replied Jamilla, stuffing the carrot into her mouth. ‘I am not putting up with that man's temple any longer. All sorts of strange people coming and going, and that awful smell.’ ‘It's incense, and you used to love it,’ said Jamilla crunching her carrot. ‘No, I don’t mind the incense so much. I think it's Mr Prakash from the Curry House more like.’ ‘Well, I think it’s jolly mean to throw him out of his temple. It's his whole life and calling since he retired from his university post. It’s all he has,’ stated Jamilla indignantly. ‘I am telling you now Jamilla Raj, that temple is going. Your father can find somewhere else to call his temple.’ ‘Anyway, who is this Ravioli?’ said Jamilla, changing the subject. ‘We don’t even know him. Have you ever met him?’ ‘Well, I’ve actually never met Ravi. But Danesh I’ve known since we were children, and he comes to us highly recommended,’ replied Indira. ‘Recommended for what, exactly?’ enquired Jamilla suspiciously.
Indira looked at her daughter and shook her head. ‘You need a husband, Jamilla. Soon it will be too late and you will be left alone in the world, with no children to look after you, and no grandchildren.’ ‘God mum, do we have to have this conversation all the time? I told you, I am not going to marry, at least not until I’m ready to. When I do it will be to someone I love. I seemed to remember that you married for love as well?’ Jamilla knew she had hit a nerve. ‘That was different,’ retorted Indira. ‘Your father proved to be an exceptional man.’ ‘And I might find an exceptional man as well, mother. So don’t force this Ravioli, Fettucini, bloody Penne pasta, whatever his name is, on me.’ Jamilla made it clear that she wanted this discussion over with. ‘It’s Ravi dear, and you never know.’ ‘I've told you mother, I want a career, not a man.’ ‘A career won't give me grandchildren,’ muttered Indira as she returned to peeling the vegetables. ‘And stop eating the carrots.’ ‘I’m going to be a famous reporter one day, you see. Then, when I am wealthy in my own right, I might get married.’ ‘I'll be old and infirm by then,’ retorted Indira savagely, attacking another carrot. ‘Mother, you will never be infirm. You have the constitution of an elephant,’ replied Jamilla. Just then, there was a tremendous crash that reverberated throughout the entire house. Jamilla and Indira looked at each other as a small cloud of dust billowed from under the kitchen door. There was another crash that was followed by a howl. Suddenly, a large elephant’s head came smashing, trunk first, through the glass kitchen door. Indira screamed and Jamilla leapt out of the way as glass flew across the floor. The elephant’s head finally came to rest on its trunk, the big, round eyes seeming to glare with the indignation of its plight. ‘Gupta Raj, what the hell are you doing?’ screamed Indira. ‘I am so sorry, my love,’ came a small voice from outside the kitchen. ‘I am afraid Ganesh had an accident.’ ‘Just look at my door. Get that thing out of my house!’ cried Indira, pulling a broom from the closet. Another head appeared alongside that of Ganesh. It was Ramesh, one of Gupta Raj’s friends. ‘Hello, Mrs Raj. Hello, Jamilla Raj.’ ‘Hmmph, I might have known you’d have something to do with this mess,’ shouted Indira, sweeping up the glass. ‘Where are you taking Ganesh, dad?’ asked Jamilla, trying to conceal a giggle. The two heads were now joined by a third as Gupta Raj poked his head through the broken door. Jamilla erupted as she could no longer contain 57
herself. The sight of Ganesh, her father, and little Ramesh was too much and she let roar, tears streaming down her face. ‘It’s not funny, Jamilla,’ shouted Indira, but her own face was starting to crack. Then, as if on cue, Ganesh's head slipped sideways and Gupta Raj, along with Ramesh, slid down on top of the statue. Indira burst out laughing, and eventually everyone was howling. Finally, Jamilla managed to control her laughing fit. ‘So where are you taking him, Dad?’ ‘Mr Singh has an allotment,’ said Gupta Raj, wiping tears from his eyes. ‘He said that we could put him there until we find another temple.’ ‘I can help, Dad. We had a call this morning to classifieds. Someone is renting a large hall. It’s a local number so I’ll call them tomorrow.’ ‘You could call them tonight,’ pronounced Indira. ‘Ermm, it will be late, and anyway, I’m go-’ Jamilla stopped herself. ‘Going where?’ asked Indira. Jamilla realised it was too late and she stumbled over the words. ‘Oh, just to see a friend, we’re following up on an article about the town council.’ Jamilla rambled on, hoping to avoid the next imminent question that she knew was coming. ‘What’s her name? What friend? Do I know her?’ asked her mother, in a flurry of questions. Just then there was more grinding and scraping as Ganesh’s head was pulled from the wreckage of the door, taking half the frame with its trunk. The interruption allowed Jamilla to exit the room before any more questions could be asked. ‘Just going for a shower, folks. I’ll leave you all to it. See you at dinner.’ Jamilla left the kitchen and hurtled past the two men struggling to take the statue outside.
Chapter 17 Joshua sat at the bar nursing a glass of white wine as he waited impatiently for Jamilla. He was a bundle of nervous energy. All day he had been running over in his mind what he would talk about. His mother had made him even more nervous by asking questions about Jamilla. He took another gulp of wine. The alcohol surged through his bloodstream, increasing the adrenaline flow. Calm down, Josh, he thought to himself. What are you? Sixteen? Cool your jets, it’s just a drink. He tried to calm himself and began to feel less nervous. He had been looking forward to this all day. He had seen Jamilla that morning, but only briefly. His editor had given him an assignment to photograph the missing tiles on the roof of St Peter’s church after they had been discovered missing a few days ago. The newspaper printed an article written by Jamilla about the theft, but now they wanted some pictures for a follow-up story. So he had left the office and walked to St Peter’s to take some pictures. He had been pleased with the photographs once he had downloaded them to his computer. The roof of St Peter’s was an ugly, bright, red colour, and there was a patch of exposed woodwork where the tiles had gone missing one night. It seemed strange to Joshua that the thieves had only stolen a few tiles, and some lead flashing. Anyway, Jamilla was following it up so his part was done. Now, he was going to meet her, and he was starting to feel nervous again. Suddenly, a hand tapped his shoulder. As if a bolt of lightning had surged through his spine, he leapt off his stool and almost fell. His glass of wine slid over the bar, upturning itself over one of the customers sitting close by. ‘I’m so sorry,’ said Joshua to the man, who was busy trying to soak up the spilled wine with a paper napkin. ‘Oh, it’s fine, dear. No damage,’ said the man cheerfully. ‘I’ve had much worse things spilled over me.’ Joshua smiled politely, not quite certain what to say. Jamilla pecked him on the cheek, which made him blush. ‘Hi Josh, sorry I’m a bit late. Got the third degree from Mum about where I was going, who I was seeing, how many babies I was going to have,’ grinned Jamilla. Joshua laughed. Jamilla looked absolutely radiant and she smelled of jasmine. He thought his heart was going to break out of his chest. ‘You too? I had the same treatment. My mother thinks I should be married with at least three kids by now,’ said Joshua. ‘Let me get you a drink. What you having?’ ‘White wine please,’ said Jamilla sitting down next to Joshua. She crossed her shapely legs and Joshua could not help but look. She was wearing a knee-length skirt and high heels; however, when she crossed her legs the skirt hitched up about four inches past her knee that sent Joshua’s heart into palpitations. 59
‘Ermm, yes, me too. Wine, yes, white,’ stumbled Joshua. ‘You okay?’ asked Jamilla smiling. ‘Looks a bit like a lovesick puppy,’ came the voice of the man seated next to Jamilla, who was still mopping up the wine that Joshua had spilled. Joshua smiled and ordered the drinks. ‘So, nice piece about St Peter’s.’ Jamilla straightened her skirt, pulling it a little bit higher than was necessary. Joshua tried very hard not to look, but failed. ‘Strange story,’ replied Jamilla. ‘I mean, it was a bizarre theft. They just stole about a hundred or so tiles and a bit of lead flashing. Couldn’t have been worth more than a couple of hundred quid, if that. It was almost like whoever it was had stolen the tiles to fix their own roof.’ ‘Yeah, I took some pictures this afternoon. Looked quite odd. What some people will do, eh?’ ‘It was something to write about, anyway,’ smiled Jamilla. ‘By the way, I did some more digging into that company, Grant Holdings. You remember? It was the company who owned the land that the synagogue used to occupy.’ ‘Great,’ said Joshua. ‘What did you find out?’ ‘Grant Holdings owns two supermarkets, one here in Hornfield, the other in Watford. They also own the land on which the multi-storey was built.’ ‘I thought the council owned them, seeing as they compulsory purchased those shops?’ questioned Joshua. ‘That’s what I thought. But when I cross-checked with the Land Registry, I saw that the council owned the car park but they lease the land from Grant Holdings. Grant also owns a big tract of land just behind St Xavier’s. It used to be farmland, but it was purchased about a year ago from local farmers.’ Jamilla spoke with an animated interest as Joshua listened intently. ‘Plus, I also found out that there is an application to change its use from agricultural to commercial.’ ‘Wow, that’s a lot of research. So who owns Grant Holdings?’ ‘That’s where I drew a blank. It seems it’s owned by another company called the Marshall Group. They’re into all sorts of stuff - building, contracting, development, you name it.’ Jamilla took another drink. ‘Any idea who’s behind them?’ asked Joshua. ‘There must be a board of directors, some names?’ ‘There is a board, but no names I recognised - all except one, that is.’ Jamilla had a glint in her eye as she paused before she said the name. ‘Jasper Harper.’ ‘Might have known our beloved Mayor had a hand in all this. He’s crooked, Jamilla. He’s a hard-nosed businessman and as bent as a hairpin. How he got elected I shall never understand. Great work, by the way,’ said Joshua. ‘You’re a good journalist, Jam. The best.’
Jamilla looked at Joshua and smiled. Then she leaned forward and kissed him on the lips, just very lightly, but with sufficient force to make Joshua turn bright crimson. ‘I’m glad you asked me out, Josh,’ she said, her eyes twinkling. ‘It took a while, but you eventually got round to it.’ Joshua took Jamilla’s hand and squeezed it gently. ‘I wanted to for ages, but never had the courage,’ he replied, smiling back. His heart was doing cartwheels as the electricity of her brief kiss was still zapping his brain cells. ‘Well, I’m glad you finally did,’ said Jamilla. ‘Anyway, about this Jasper Harper. I’m going to do some more digging. That car park was built against the wishes of many people in this town. Not to mention the compulsory purchase of those shops. Something doesn’t smell right to me, and I’m going to find out what it is.’ ‘I’ll help if I can,’ replied Joshua. ‘By the way, did you find anywhere for your dad to use? I saw an advert appear on our classifieds this morning. It won’t be published until the next edition, but I might give them a call for my own dad. He desperately needs somewhere for his congregation. Even though it's just a small community, they still need their synagogue.’ ‘I saw it too. My dad only needs a day a week. He’d like something more permanent, but it might do until he finds somewhere better.’ ‘Maybe we can both go and see it?’ said Joshua. ‘I’ve no idea where a hall could be located in this town. I thought I knew most places.’ ‘Me too, but I guess it’s worth looking into. I hate to see my dad without his temple. He’s even moved his beautiful Ganesh out of the house.’ ‘Ganesh?’ ‘Hindu God. Head of an elephant, body of a man,’ explained Jamilla. ‘Sounds cool,’ said Joshua. ‘Anyway, like I said, I’ll call the number first thing tomorrow and let you know. I was supposed to have called them this evening. My mum’s been nagging at me, but I was so nervous about meeting you that I forgot all about it. How about another drink?’ ‘Nervous about moi?’ Jamilla pointed to herself and pouted provocatively. Joshua blushed and managed to knock over his wine once again. Jamilla laughed. ‘Oh good grief, get a grip,’ said the man next to Jamilla, as the wine once more slopped over his trousers. ‘Oh, sorry, my fault. Really, I am such a clutz,’ apologised Joshua to the man. ‘It’s okay, really. I was in love once. I know how it feels,’ gushed the man. ‘Such a beauty he was, left me for a ballet dancer. Bloody dancers, such queens.’ Jamilla and Joshua looked at each other and grinned. ‘Let me get you a drink,’ continued Joshua. ‘I’m sorry about spilling wine over you, twice.’ 61
‘No need, really, though a glass of champers will ease the torment,’ said the man as he theatrically wiped his forehead and smiled. ‘My friends call me Rolley,’ he said, holding out his hand to Joshua who shook it firmly. ‘Hmm, such a strong grip.’ Joshua rolled his eyes at Jamilla. ‘My name’s Joshua, and this is my friend - I mean, girlfriend,’ he corrected himself, looking at Jamilla as he did so. ‘Jamilla.’ ‘The pleasure is all mine,’ replied Rolley.
Chapter 18 It was a drizzly, cold Wednesday morning, and three days had passed since the meeting with Bishop O’Toole. Sebastian was thinking about the advertisement he had placed to rent the church out as he sat in the confessional box with the door closed. It was peaceful inside the box. The smell of wax polish permeated the old oak panelled confessional. Sebastian sat in the box frequently, just for some peace and quiet, and today was one of those moments. Suddenly, he heard the other door of the confessional open. The seat creaked as someone down. Sebastian slid open the little sliding partition that separated the priest from the person confessing. ‘Forgive me Father, for I have sinned,’ came the familiar words. Sebastian suppressed a groan. He knew it was Mrs Madelaine Whittlehurst, and he also knew his peace had just been shattered. He began to wish he had bought a flask of tea, as he sometimes did, but today he had forgotten. Sebastian sighed inwardly. ‘How long has it been since your last confession, sister?’ Sebastian knew full well how long it had been. It was precisely three days ago, almost to the hour. He had decided that Mrs Whittlehurst was either a professional sinner or a guilt-ridden worrywart, or just plain bonkers. ‘It’s been three days, Father. Forgive me, for I have sinned, very badly,’ said Mrs Whittlehurst gravely. ‘Tell me your sin, sister’ said Sebastian, then added hopefully, ‘briefly.’ ‘Well Father, it all started yesterday - or was it the day before? I get awfully confused. No, it was definitely yesterday, in the afternoon - or was it morning? No, it was afternoon, because I had just had my afternoon cup of tea. I like to have my tea, especially with those nice biscuits, you know Father? The ones with chocolate on the inside and they have—’ ‘Yes sister, please just tell me what you did?’ asked Sebastian. He knew this was going to be a particularly lengthy confession. ‘Yes, of course, Father. I know how busy you are. Where was I?’ Mrs Whittlehurst drifted into a muttering whisper as if trying to recollect where she had left off. ‘Your tea, dear,’ reminded Sebastian. ‘Oh yes, as I was saying. I had just had my tea with those nice biscuits that I like, when Lucy jumped up onto my lap.’ Mrs Whittlehurst made a strange sucking noise as if she was taking her teeth out. Sebastian raised his eyebrows, shook his head, and ploughed on, knowing the worse was yet to come. ‘Lucy?’ he asked. ‘Yes, Lucy. I call her LuLu. My cat, Father. Anyway,’ the strange sucking sounds continued, ‘she jumped up onto me, and coughed up a fur ball into my tea.’ The sucking changed dramatically to a loud slopping noise, a bit like a fish swimming in soup. 63
Sebastian winced at the strange sound emanating from the other side of the wooden lattice screen. ‘A fur ball?’ he enquired. Slurp, smack, phlooophrgh, continued the sound effects from Mrs Whittlehurst’s mouth. ‘Yes Father, I swear on the Holy Mother, it was a huge fur ball. All sticky with some juice that was—’ ‘Please sister, I don’t need too much detail. What was the sin you committed?’ ‘I’m coming to that, Father. Anyway, the fur ball, Lucy’s fur ball, landed in my tea. So naturally I jumped up.’ There was a particularly loud and distinctly wet slurp that was followed by something clattering onto to the wooden floor of the confessional box. Mrs Whittlehurst continued speaking, only now there was an awful wet lisp. ‘Oh dear, I theem to have lotht my teeth,’ announced Mrs Whittlehurst as she started hunting for the set of teeth, which had obviously fallen out of her mouth. The confessional box began to rock violently as she started to search. She also carried on talking. ‘Tho, I jumped up and Luthy thot off my lap and thee thcratched my bad leg. I found them!’ she cried. Sebastian could contain himself no longer. He tried hard not to make a noise as he convulsed with laughter, and tears began to roll down his face as he clutched his stomach. The confessional box gave a final jolt as he failed to suppress a laugh that came out as a strangled cough. ‘Are you all right, Father?’ asked Mrs Whittlehurst, who had by now put her teeth back in. Sebastian was now hysterical and could hardly speak. ‘Hmmm mmm,’ he attempted to respond. ‘You sound a little odd to me, Father,’ she continued. Recovering sufficiently to speak, Sebastian said, ‘Go on sister, I’m fine.’ ‘Well, as I said, Lucy scratched my bad leg after she leaped off my lap, having coughed up a fur ball into my tea. Then, that’s when I sinned, Father.’ Sebastian had regained some control over his hysterics, and was now intrigued. ‘What did you do?’ he asked. There was a moment of silence when a loud, wet, and very long fart shook the confessional. Sebastian collapsed into convulsions as a foul smell drifted through the lattice window. Mrs Whittlehurst did not seem to notice her gas attack, and simply continued as if nothing had happened. ‘I screamed at Lucy and used a very bad word, Father,’ she finished. Sebastian could not respond. He was gagging from the smell and trying not to erupt into gales of laughter. He tried to pinch his arm in an attempt to induce pain that would hopefully bring him back into control. This did not work and, as tears streamed down his face, he gave up and howled with laughter. ‘It’s not funny, Father. I said a very bad word and I took God’s name in vain.’ Mrs Whittlehurst’s voice sounded indignant.
‘Say, say ten…’ Sebastian tried to speak, but the words would not come out between the grunts and spasms. ‘Pardon Father, I can’t hear you. Speak up,’ shouted Mrs Whittlehurst. ‘I said, say ten Hail…’ Sebastian tried again but was wracked by more spasms. ‘Marys. Ten Hail Marys,’ he gasped between breaths. ‘But it was a very bad word, Father. Only ten Hail Marys?’ ‘Yes, you are abtholved. Go in peeth,’ howled Sebastian. ‘I think you need to see a doctor, Father. You sound as though you have the Flu.’ Mrs Whittlehurst finally left the confessional. Had she looked back she would have seen the box rocking back and forth, as Sebastian was now on the floor in complete hysterics. As Mrs Whittlehurst left the church, Harley entered through the south transept side door. As he entered the main body of the church, he saw the confessional box rocking from side to side. The sounds coming from the confessional box were a mixture of howling laughter and violent snorts. Harley opened the door of the box to find Sebastian sitting on the floor. His arms were wedged between the small seat and the side of the box. Tears were streaming down his face. He seemed totally hysterical as Harley pulled him upright. ‘What’s going on, Seb? You look a little distraught there, my friend.’ ‘Mrs Whittlehurst,’ he tried to articulate. ‘Lucy… fur in her tea.’ More gales of laughter erupted. ‘Lucifer in her tea? What was Lucifer doing in her tea?’ asked an astonished Harley. ‘No, no, not Lucifer. Lucy’s fur!’ wailed Sebastian. ‘In her tea?’ asked Harley, trying to understand. Sebastian finally took control of himself and, between the occasional snort, he explained what had happened. ‘That woman is seriously demented,’ said Harley. ‘Come on, I’ll make you a nice cup of tea.’ ‘Just no Lucifer in it, please,’ sighed Sebastian. The two priests walked back to the Manse house as the rain started to lash down. They hurried down the path to the house and entered. Harley removed his coat and helped Sebastian with his. Just as they walked into the sitting room, the telephone rang. Harley answered. ‘Hello, Father Jackson speaking.’ ‘Oh hello,’ said the voice. ‘I’m not sure this is the right number. Did you just say Father Jackson?’ ‘Yes, this is Father Jackson, as in priest,’ replied Harley. ‘Right, okay. Well, do you have a hall to rent by any chance?’ asked the voice. 65
Harley realised that someone was replying to the advert that Sebastian had placed and handed the telephone over to him. ‘Hello, this is Fath… ermm, Sebastian speaking. Can I help you?’ ‘Yes, thank you. My name is Joshua Mannheim. It’s about the hall for rent. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions. Then maybe come along with a friend to have a look, if that’s okay?’ asked Joshua. ‘Absolutely. No problem. Ask away.’ ‘How big is it?’ asked Joshua. ‘How big is what?’ asked Sebastian. ‘The hall. How big is the hall?’ asked Joshua in a slightly frustrated tone. ‘Oh sorry. Yes, of course, the hall.’ Sebastian said the last two words with peculiar emphasis as he tried to get Harley’s attention. ‘It’s quite big, actually, ermm, long and wide with benches either side.’ Sebastian was trying hard not to be too evasive. ‘Hmm, it’s big, long and wide with benches on either side. I’ve lived in Hornfield since I was a kid, and don’t know of anywhere like that,’ said Joshua. ‘It’s only just become available. It’s quite old,’ replied Sebastian trying to improvise. ‘Hang on a minute. Who was the man who answered the phone?’ asked Joshua suspiciously. ‘That was my, ermm, father,’ said Sebastian. ‘He said he was a priest,’ returned Joshua. ‘Ah yes, he is. Father, ermm, priest as well,’ Sebastian flustered as Harley raised his eyebrows. ‘I think that a long, wide building with benches down either side sounds remarkably like a church to me,’ said Joshua. Sebastian thought it better to stop the subterfuge. ‘Well, it is. It’s St Xavier’s, actually. We’re renting out the main church for a few days a week because we need the money,’ sighed Sebastian. Harley shook his head in disbelief and went to make the tea. ‘Why didn’t you say so in the first place? Well, I want to come and see it with my friend. Will tomorrow morning be okay? Say ten?’ ‘Sorry, I should have been open with you before,’ replied Sebastian. ‘It’s just a little, shall we say, unorthodox to be renting out a church.’ ‘It’s okay. Unorthodox I understand very well. So we’ll see you tomorrow, then?’ said Joshua. ‘Can I ask what you want to use it for?’ asked Sebastian. It was Joshua’s turn to be slightly vague. ‘Ermm, a meeting place,’ he replied, thinking up the reply at the last second.
‘A meeting of what?’ asked Sebastian who was now becoming a little suspicious himself. ‘I’ll explain it all tomorrow. Don’t worry, it’s nothing that God would not approve of.’ ‘Well, I guess that’s okay then. See you tomorrow.’ Sebastian hung up the phone. Harley came into the room with a tray of tea and biscuits. ‘What was that all about?’ asked Harley as he put down the tray. ‘It was Joshua Mannheim. He’s coming round tomorrow to look at the church. Says he needs it for a meeting place.’ ‘Any idea what he wants it for?’ prompted Harley, as he sat in his old chair and crossed his legs. ‘Not exactly. But he said that God would not disapprove, whatever that meant.’ Sebastian picked up his tea. He paused before he drank, checking out the cup for stray fur balls. ‘Strange thing to say,’ said . ‘Oh well, let’s see what happens. And why are you looking at your cup so intently?’ ‘Lucifer!’ replied Sebastian as he shrugged and drank his tea.
Chapter 19 Jamilla was absorbed in her computer as Joshua walked up to her desk holding two cups of coffee. She did not notice him at first because she was studying some council files she had found. The files related to the compulsory purchase order of the shops that occupied the land upon which the multistorey car park now occupied. Joshua watched her flick through pages intently. He thought she looked particularly stunning as she worked. He noticed that her beautifully manicured nails were painted deep crimson, and her deft fingers flashed across the keyboard as she made notes in a separate file. Joshua was lost in thought, transfixed by Jamilla. She turned suddenly to see him standing there, like a rabbit caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. ‘Hi Joshua. How long have you been standing there? Sorry, I didn’t see you. Is that coffee for me, or are you drinking both?’ Joshua was pulled out of his trance. ‘Oh yes, sorry,’ he said, handing her a coffee. ‘This is yours - black, no sugar, right?’ ‘Thanks,’ said Jamilla flashing him a huge smile. ‘So, what you doing there? You looked pretty absorbed,’ asked Joshua regaining his composure. ‘I found something strange about that compulsory purchase order the council passed. You know, those shops where the multi-storey car park was built?’ said Jamilla, looking back at her computer screen. ‘What did you find?’ asked Joshua, craning his neck to look at the screen, his eyes glancing briefly down the front of Jamilla’s blouse. He caught himself and was embarrassed. Jamilla did not notice and continued to scroll through documents. ‘For instance, look at this date,’ she said, pointing to a page. ‘The council passed the resolution through the planning committee in an incredibly short time. The planning department simply rubber-stamped the order in a matter of days. Normally, these things take weeks if not months, but this was pushed through very quickly.’ ‘You think someone got paid off?’ asked Joshua, staring at the screen and trying hard not to gaze at her cleavage. ‘Can’t prove anything from these files, but it looks suspicious to me. This, combined with the fact that Jasper Harper is involved with the Marshall Group, who own Grant Holdings, who lease the land to the council, seems too much of a coincidence. I think that Jasper Harper is crooked and pushed the compulsory purchase order through. And here’s something else.’ Jamilla pointed to another document. ‘The demolition of those properties occurred just one week after the order was approved. This gave no one a chance to apply for an appeal. It just stinks of corruption.’ She closed the files and took a sip of her coffee. 68
‘So do you think he was involved with the demolition of the synagogue as well?’ asked Joshua. ‘I checked the files for that too,’ said Jamilla. ‘The demolition order was also approved by the council in record time. The land was purchased the day before the wrecking crew arrived.’ Jamilla looked at Joshua, her dark eyes glinting. ‘It all sounds very suspect,’ replied Joshua. ‘Harper sits on the board of the Marshall Group who owns Grant Holdings, who own the land the multistorey car park was built on. They also own the synagogue land, and the land behind St Xavier’s. It looks to me like Harper is up to something, and it sounds big. I think we should keep an eye on this, Jam.’ Joshua sat on the edge of her desk and drank his coffee. ‘I don’t think this is finished yet,’ continued Jamilla. ‘My guess is that Harper is planning something. Why would he want the land behind St Xavier’s? The only access is through the church. Plus, there is the application for change of status from agricultural to commercial use. It just doesn’t add up, unless you build a new road round the church.’ ‘Or though it,’ said Joshua. ‘What?’ ‘Think about it, Jam. Harper wanted the land for the car park, right? But the shops were in the way, and so he had them demolished. He obviously wanted the land that the synagogue stood on, so he had that demolished too. Now he’s purchased the land behind St Xavier’s, so it seems logical to me that he’ll want to smash that down as well.’ Joshua raised his hands in the air to emphasise his point. ‘He can’t demolish a church that’s almost eight hundred years old,’ replied Jamilla. ‘Anyway, the Catholic Church owns it. Harper may be well-connected, but I doubt he has connections to the Vatican.’ ‘Hmm, I guess you’re right. All the same, the man is corrupt, as well as powerful. We need to see what he’s up to.’ ‘I’ll keep an eye on things and find out if there is anything going through planning,’ replied Jamilla. ‘That’s a matter of public record, so we shall soon find out if there is anything big happening.’ ‘I’m going to check up on Harper as well. Maybe follow him, get some pictures, see who he meets, what he’s up to,’ said Joshua. ‘Just be careful. That guy is a nasty piece of work.’ There was concern in Jamilla’s voice. ‘I’ll be discreet, but we need to see what he’s up to.’ Joshua was bursting with joy that Jamilla cared for his safety. ‘Oh yes, I almost forgot,’ he continued. ‘I called that number about the hall for rent.’ ‘Cool, so did you find out where it is?’ asked Jamilla. ‘You will not believe this one,’ he said. ‘It’s not just some old hall. It’s St Xavier’s church.’
‘What? You mean they are renting out the church?’ asked an astonished Jamilla. ‘I spoke with someone called Sebastian. He was vague at first, but then admitted they needed money and wanted to rent out the church for a few days a week. But he asked me to be discreet.’ ‘I know Father Sebastian,’ said Jamilla, ‘and Father Jackson. Harley Jackson was one of my lecturers at university. He taught philosophy classes sometimes. Cool guy, very smart. Halfway through semester he disappeared. Next time I saw him was three years later and he was a priest. Did Sebastian ask you why you wanted to rent it out?’ ‘Not exactly. I just told him that God wouldn’t object.’ ‘Subtle move.’ ‘Anyway,’ continued Joshua, ‘I thought that we could both go tomorrow to have a look. I thought we could go in the morning.’ ‘I’m not sure how my dad will feel about using a Catholic Church as a Hindu temple. I’m not even sure they will let him, for that matter,’ sighed Jamilla. ‘I might have the same problem too. My dad’s a bit orthodox, so it might be a non-starter. But looking on the brighter side, at least it’s a spiritual place, and neither could argue with that could they?’ Joshua did not sound convincing. It came out more as a question than a statement. ‘Look, I think it best I talk to my dad,’ said Jamilla. ‘Then, if he wants, I’ll take him along. I suggest you do the same.’ ‘Okay, it’s probably a good idea. I’ll talk to him tonight.’ Joshua stood up as if to go, but stalled. ‘So, you want to go out for dinner Monday night? I know a really great restaurant just outside of town?’ Jamilla’s face lit up. ‘Absolutely. What time?’ ‘I’ll pick you up outside the office at seven. Is that okay?’ asked Joshua, trying not to sound too eager. ‘You got it,’ said Jamilla. Joshua walked back to his desk, grinning from ear to ear.
Chapter 20 Jasper Harper sat in his office behind a huge, polished, oak desk. The office of the Mayor was situated on the upper floor of the Town Hall. The walls were lined with bookshelves that were filled with files and various official-looking records. A large tiered crystal chandelier hung from the high ceiling, and motes of light glittered through the crystals. On the highly-polished parquet floor was an ornate Persian silk carpet. The office was impressive and intimidating to visitors, just as Jasper Harper intended it to be. Two straight-back chairs sat in front of his desk. Anyone sitting on them would feel even more intimidated as well as uncomfortable. Jasper Harper liked power; he wanted people to feel in awe, and he always wanted his own way. A buzzer sounded on his desk phone. He pressed a button, and with a loud voice that boomed around the room, he shouted ‘What is it?’ His secretary was used to being shouted at and answered calmly. ‘It’s a Bishop O’Toole on line one for you, sir.’ Jasper Harper grinned to himself. ‘Tell him I’m on another call and put him on hold for two minutes. Then put him through.’ Jenny Logan had been the secretary to the Mayor for three years and disliked the man intensely. However, she was smart and enjoyed her job, so she bit her lip and just got on with it. She was efficient and, perhaps, the only person who would put up with Jasper Harper’s rude and often intimidating manner. She also knew that he liked to make people wait. The more important they were, the more they waited. It was his style and it always put them at a disadvantage. Jenny waited two minutes and then put the Bishop through. ‘I don’t like being kept waiting, Mr Mayor,’ said an impatient Bishop O’Toole. ‘So sorry Bishop, your highness, or whatever the correct title is,’ sneered Harper. ‘I had an important international call.’ ‘Well, I’m important, Mr Harper, so let’s get on with this business, shall we?’ retorted Bishop O’Toole. ‘Okay, to the point, I like that. So, what’s it going to take, Bishop? I want that church. I’ve already purchased the land behind St Xavier's, and I’m willing to be, shall we say, generous!’ ‘We have a common goal, Mr Harper. I want the church gone as much as you do. I want to rid myself of those two buffoons who call themselves priests. But it will cost you. To demolish a church needs special authorisation at the highest level. I have such contacts, and can get the job done so you can acquire the property.’ ‘As I say, what is it going to take, Bishop?’ Harper was used to getting his own way, and wanted this business concluded. There was impatience in his voice. ‘Like I said, it will be an expensive business,’ replied Bishop O’Toole. 71
‘Just get on with it, man. How much is this going to cost me?’ Harper was now getting angry. ‘One million in an off-shore account.’ ‘Jesus Christ, Bishop, that’s a hell of a donation,’ replied an astonished Harper. ‘Churches do not come cheap, Mr Harper. That money is for me. You will have to pay market rate for the actual property itself. Take it or leave it, Harper.’ ‘You’re a greedy man, Bishop. But I need that property badly, so you’ll get your million. But be warned, my holy friend. If you don’t deliver the goods, I promise you that your little indiscretion will be headline news, so do not fail me,’ threatened Harper. ‘You’re just as guilty as I am, Mr Harper. So if I go down, then so will you. Just make sure the money is in my account. You have the details.’ Bishop O’Toole disconnected the conversation. ‘Little creep,’ muttered Harper as he slammed the phone down. He then pressed the buzzer that connected him to his secretary. ‘Get me Cotteridge. Send him to my office now.’ Jenny Logan sighed and called Frank Cotteridge in the planning office. After two rings, Frank Cotteridge picked up the phone. ‘Hello, Mr Cotteridge. It’s Jenny Logan here. The Mayor has asked that you come to his office immediately. Do you want me to tell the Mayor that you are on your way?’ asked Jenny politely. ‘Do I have a choice?’ groaned Cotteridge. ‘I’m sorry, Mr Cotteridge, I guess you don’t really,’ said Jenny apologetically. ‘Tell the Fuhrer I’m on my way,’ sighed Cotteridge and hung up. Jenny giggled at the reference to the despot and connected back to the Mayor. ‘Mr Cotteridge is on his way up, Mayor.’ ‘I hope you told him to hurry.’ ‘Yes sir, he is on his way now.’ Five minutes later, the door to Jenny’s office opened and in walked Frank Cotteridge. He was wearing a drab, grey, ill-fitting suit. The trousers were too short, revealing an inch of white socks, and his shoes were tatty and unpolished. He walked with a permanent slouch, and his hair was dishevelled. Frank Cotteridge was an unhappy man. He hated his job in the planning office, but most of all he hated Jasper Harper. The man was a bully and a thorn in his side. He often thought of telling Harper to shove his job, but he knew he was hamstrung. It began with the car park. Harper had convinced him, with a small bribe of one thousand pounds cash, to push through the condemning order that allowed Harper to buy the land and lease it to the council. Frank Cotteridge was a bought man, and he could see no escape. If he left his job, Harper 72
would make sure that he never worked anywhere again. Nor could he tell anyone about Harper’s corrupt activities; the man covered his trail well, and was rich. A dozen hard-nosed lawyers would descend on anyone who so much as breathed a bad word against him. So, Frank Cotteridge remained in his awful job and was forced to go along with whatever Harper made him do. He dreamed of the day when he could get his own back, but for now he just had to bide his time. Frank was a bachelor and lived alone in a small flat on the High Street, above a hardware shop. His only passion in life was his caravan. He loved taking off for the weekend. He would hitch his caravan up to his old Vauxhall Astra and simply drive. Very often his drives were totally unplanned, but he didn’t care. He would just drive until he found somewhere to park his caravan. Away from the office, and away from Jasper Harper, he would listen to music, read books or simply go for walks. He dreaded Monday mornings when he had to return to his dreary job in planning. Now, he stood in front of Jenny who looked at him sympathetically. ‘You can go straight in, Mr Cotteridge.’ Frank opened the door to the Mayor’s office and went inside. ‘Don’t you ever knock, Cotteridge?’ snarled Harper, not even looking up from his desk. ‘Sit,’ he grunted. ‘Seems God is on our side, after all. My friend the Bishop will help us out.’ Harper finally looked up at Cotteridge, who was sitting slumped in the chair. ‘Jesus, Cotteridge, you look a mess. Don’t you look in the mirror before you leave the house?’ ‘I thought you wanted to discuss business, not fashion,’ replied Cotteridge. ‘Whatever,’ sneered Harper. ‘As I was saying, we should be able to move on St Xavier’s very soon. So, as soon as I give you the word, it’s up to your department to put the wheels in motion. Once my corporation takes over the property, we will submit a planning application. And you, my scruffy friend, will push it through without a hitch.’ Harper gave a look of poor venom. ‘Christ, Harper, it’s a church. There are bound to be all sorts of objections.’ ‘From who, exactly? The congregation? From what I hear, there are only five of them and two loony priests. No, Cotteridge, there will be no objections. The planning committee will just be paid their usual fee - and, of course, you’ll get yours. So just get on with it. Grease the wheels, lay the tracks, do whatever it is you do and don’t let me down, Cotteridge, or else.’ Frank Cotteridge knew it was pointless to argue, so he got up and left the Mayor’s office. ‘And close the door behind you,’ yelled Harper.
Chapter 21 The smell of roast lamb filled the kitchen as Indira set the table for supper. The places around the dining room table were arranged with great care. The polished silver cutlery shone brightly, each piece set in order of the courses she had prepared. Crystal glasses, large for red, smaller for white, and tumblers for water were also precisely arranged at each place. A large floral arrangement sat in the centre of the table. Indira stood back, admiring her handiwork. Gupta Raj shuffled into the dining room wearing his favourite dhoti. He was sniffing the air. ‘Smells wonderful, Indira. And what a wonderful table you have prepared. Is this a special occasion?’ ‘It is a very special occasion, Gupta Raj. I have invited Naveed and Ramesh to dinner, and we are having roast lamb with roasted potatoes, vegetables, and gravy. Naveed loves an English roast.’ ‘Well, it all looks very professional indeed, my dear. And it is very kind of you to invite Ramesh, especially after the little incident with the kitchen door.’ ‘Naveed is my dear friend, and it is mainly for her that I am making this effort. However, I realise that I have been a bit harsh with you, Gupta Raj, and so I thought that an evening with my best friend, and indeed your best friend, would be a kindness,’ said Indira kindly. ‘You are my best friend, Indira, and I appreciate the gesture all the same. Ramesh will be very happy. However, there is one slight problem,’ Gupta hesitated. ‘Both Ramesh and I are vegetarians, my dear.’ ‘I know that, Gupta Raj, and so I have also made a special vegetarian dish for you both. Naveed loves lamb, and so does Jamilla, so we will all enjoy tonight’s meal, no?’ Indira smiled. ‘You are so kind and thoughtful, Indira,’ said Gupta Raj. He placed his arm around Indira’s waist and gave her a kiss on her cheek. Indira blushed. ‘But please, Gupta Raj, please change into something more comely for this evening.’ Gupta Raj looked down at his dhoti, and noticed a big greasy spot on his sleeve. ‘Yes, my dear. What time are they coming? ‘Seven sharp,’ said Indira looking at her watch. ‘That’s in exactly an hour, so you had better change soon.’ Just then, the front door opened and Jamilla walked into the kitchen. Jamilla threw her jacket over the back of a chair and plonked herself down. ‘Hi Mum. Mmm, what’s that amazing smell?’ ‘Roast lamb,’ smiled Indira, ‘with roasted potatoes, vegetables, and gravy.’ ‘Wow, something special?’ asked Jamilla.
‘I’ve been a little hard on your father,’ replied Indira, ‘so I have decided to invite Naveed and Ramesh over for supper.’ ‘I thought Ramesh was vegetarian?’ ‘I know that, Jamilla. Don’t you think I know that? I have made something vegetarian as well,’ said Indira, a little impatiently. ‘Sorry I spoke. Anyway, it’s nice that you’re making an effort for Dad. I think I have some good news for him too,’ continued Jamilla. ‘I found somewhere that he can rent as a temple. I thought I’d tell him tonight, and we can both go to look at it tomorrow.’ ‘He will be very pleased to hear that. Where did you find this place?’ asked Indira as she busied herself at the sink. ‘It was advertised in the Herald,’ Jamilla hesitated, as she did not want to go into too much detail until she had told her father. ‘Where is this place?’ asked Indira who detected the hesitation. ‘Ermm, it’s a hall in town.’ ‘I don’t know of any halls in town, Jamilla. Where exactly is this?’ Jamilla knew she was fighting a losing battle. Once her mother sank her teeth into a subject, she chewed it until it was either swallowed or spat out. ‘I can’t say just now. I want Dad to see it first, then we can tell you all about it,’ said Jamilla, fending off the question. ‘It all sounds a little suspicious to me.’ Just at that moment, Gupta Raj came into the kitchen. He was wearing a light grey suit, white shirt, and dark blue tie. Both women stopped their conversation to look at Gupta Raj. ‘My God, Gupta Raj, you look very handsome,’ said Indira as she clasped her hands together in delight. ‘Wow Dad, way to go,’ said Jamilla as she ran over to give him a hug. ‘Your mother has gone to great efforts for this evening, so I thought I should do the same,’ smiled Gupta Raj. ‘Jamilla has some good news for you, Gupta Raj,’ said Indira as she returned to the sink. ‘You do?’ asked Gupta Raj. ‘I think I have found somewhere you can use as a temple. At least until you find somewhere more permanent,’ said Jamilla. ‘That’s wonderful, Jamilla. Where is this place?’ asked Gupta Raj enthusiastically. ‘It’s better you see it first. We can go together tomorrow morning.’ Again Jamilla deflected the question. ‘You are such a wonderful daughter, Jamilla. It sounds very interesting, but I would like to know where we are going.’ 75
‘Well, it’s a bit unusual, but I’m sure it will be a great place,’ said Jamilla trying desperately to avoid the question. Gupta Raj shrugged, but Indira pressed home. ‘I think you are holding something back, Jamilla. Tell your father where this place is.’ Jamilla sighed, knowing she would have to tell the truth. ‘It’s St Xavier’s. They need to raise some money, and so they are renting out the church for a few days a week. Honestly Dad, I think it would be a great idea. After all, it is a place of worship, so it sort of fits.’ Jamilla tried to sound convincing. Gupta Raj roared with laughter as Indira gasped aloud. ‘What? St Xavier’s? A Catholic church being used as a Hindu temple? Jamilla, are you insane?’ bellowed her mother. ‘I know it’s unusual Mum, but I’m sure it would be all right.’ ‘All right, Jamilla? I don’t think it is all right at all. It’s a Catholic Church. A house of God. You can’t have a bunch of chanting heathens desecrating a church.’ ‘At least come and see it, Dad. Really, it sounds ideal to me,’ persisted Jamilla. ‘My God, I have heard it all now,’ snapped Indira. ‘For goodness sake Gupta Raj, tell her she is being ridiculous.’ ‘I will come and see your church, Jamilla,’ replied her father. ‘I think it is quite ironic actually. And you are right, it is a place of worship, so why not indeed?’ ‘Gupta Raj, I forbid it! I absolutely forbid it,’ screeched Indira. ‘My dear Indira, I think for once you cannot forbid this thing. I shall go with Jamilla and at least see what is what. After all, these are times of religious tolerance, are they not?’ replied Gupta Raj, who was trying hard not to laugh. ‘Well, I think it is intolerable. You can’t mix religions like this. What happens if the Catholic Church wanted to hold mass in your temple? Or the Jews decided to pray in a mosque? How can you go along with this, Gupta Raj?’ ‘Maybe the world would be a better place, my dear, if they did. After all, peace, tolerance, and loving kindness are taught by all faiths. I think it is a splendid opportunity. So, Jamilla my dear, we shall go to St Xavier’s in the morning, and we shall see what can be done.’ Gupta Raj spoke defiantly and Indira simply threw her arms in the air, but did not persist in the argument. ‘So let us enjoy a fine supper together. And my dear Indira, let us not mention this to our friends just yet, shall we?’ Indira had rarely heard her husband make any sort of demand, but she somehow knew she had little choice, and simply nodded silently. ‘Then, it is settled,’ said Gupta Raj. ‘I’m going to get changed,’ said Jamilla as she left the room, smiling to herself.
Chapter 22 Joshua arrived home to find his mother watching the TV alone. Miriam loved to watch soap operas, and could rarely be torn away. Joshua sat down beside her on the settee. ‘Hi mum, what you watching?’ ‘EastEnders,’ grunted Miriam, who was totally absorbed in her programme. ‘Ah, misery, mayhem, crime, violence, and thuggery. Very educational.’ ‘Hmmph.’ ‘I’m going to make some tea. You want some?’ asked Joshua, getting up from the settee. ‘Hmmm,’ responded Miriam. ‘I take it that’s Neanderthal for yes?’ Miriam glanced up from her programme. ‘You’re not too old for a slap, young man,’ she replied, before returning to her TV trance. ‘Right then, tea it is,’ said Joshua as he disappeared into the kitchen, where his father was sitting reading the newspaper. ‘Hi Dad. You want some tea?’ asked Joshua. ‘Yes please, Josh. How was your day son?’ asked Manni, looking up from his newspaper. ‘Oh fine, thanks Dad.’ Joshua ran water into the kettle and switched it on. ‘I think I’ve found you a place for your synagogue,’ he continued, with as little emotion as he could muster. ‘You did?’ ‘Maybe if you’re free we can go and take a look tomorrow,’ said Joshua. The questioning he was expecting did not come. ‘We can?’ replied Manni as he studied his newspaper. ‘Yes, shall we say about ten?’ ‘Sure, ten will be fine,’ replied Manni, distractedly. Joshua could not believe his luck. He didn’t want to get into a discussion about St Xavier’s just now; he would rather just take his father to see the church and deal with the situation at the time. ‘Be fine for what?’ Miriam came into the room as the East Enders theme tune drifted into the kitchen. Joshua cringed. He knew that his mother was about to start a barrage of questions. ‘Oh nothing, Mum. Just talking to Dad,’ replied Joshua in a dismissive tone. ‘About what?’ 77
‘Joshua is taking me to see a place available for rent tomorrow,’ said Manni. ‘Where is this place, Joshua? And how do you know it’s going to be suitable?’ questioned Miriam. Joshua grimaced. He knew he had no choice but to tell the truth. ‘I’m taking Dad to see a place he can rent, at least temporarily. It’s a bit unusual, but—’ He didn’t get a chance to continue. ‘What do you mean unusual?’ asked Miriam. Joshua sighed loudly. ‘Okay, it’s a church. St Xavier’s. They want to rent out the church because they need the money for repairs. I think it could be a possibility.’ ‘A church?’ replied Miriam in disbelief, folding her arms across her chest. ‘You’re telling me you want your father to use a church as a synagogue?’ Joshua knew the signs. Folded arms across the chest meant trouble. Miriam was on the attack. ‘Look, at least it’s a place of worship. Better than nothing, isn’t it?’ said Joshua looking at his father for support. ‘I don’t know about this, Joshua,’ said Manni. ‘I know you mean well, son, but a church? How do you know that they will rent it, especially when they find out what I want to use it for?’ ‘I don’t, but let’s just go and see, shall we? There’s no harm in looking, is there? If you don’t feel comfortable, then we can look for somewhere else.’ ‘I think you’re both mad,’ said an exasperated Miriam. ‘How can you even consider this, Manni? It’s a church, Catholic even. It would be like… like… changing your religion!’ Manni rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he looked at Joshua then at Miriam. After almost a full minute, Manni finally spoke. ‘I will go with Joshua and see what is there. Honestly, I can’t see a major conflict. Ultimately it’s not the building that matters, for God is everywhere. A synagogue is, of course, ideal, as it’s where everyone can meet and worship. But it is just bricks and mortar. What is sacred is what we believe. The implements, such as the Menorah, the Ark, the Torah, can be moved. Catholics believe in one God, Jews believe in one God. So we differ on interpretation, and the rituals are different, but ultimately we worship the same God. Therefore, I don’t see a major problem.’ Manni looked solemn as he spoke with authority. He was on home ground and knew his subject. Joshua looked at his father with admiration. He was proud to be his father’s son. Miriam sniffed and relaxed a little. ‘I still think it’s a bit peculiar,’ she continued, with resignation in her voice. ‘But you are the Rabbi Manni, and you know what’s best.’ ‘You’re a great man, Dad. I’m proud of you,’ said Joshua as he hugged his father.
‘Poppycock,’ said Manni. ‘I’m just a simple man, and I’m making no commitment. I just said we should go and look.’ ‘So what’s for supper?’ asked Manni changing the subject. ‘Roast pig with prawns,’ replied Miriam sarcastically. ‘Funny, Mum,’ said Joshua laughing. ‘Chicken soup and freshly baked bread,’ sighed Miriam. ‘At least I’m not changing my diet to a Catholic one.’ ‘Oh Mum, behave,’ said Joshua as he hugged his mother. ‘No-one’s changing religion, just location.’ ‘Let’s eat, I’m hungry,’ said Manni. ‘You want to say grace, Manni?’ asked Miriam. ‘A reading from the Koran perhaps, or maybe even a Buddhist prayer?’ Joshua and Manni looked at each other. Both men shrugged.
Chapter 23 The Church had been good to Desmond O’Toole. He was born in 1949, a post-war baby boomer. His family was by no means wealthy, but neither were they poor. His mother was a nurse, and his father a carpenter. At school, Desmond was no academic, but he scraped through a sufficient number of exams to enable him to go to university. He studied history and was especially fascinated with religious history. It was during his final year of university that Desmond became obsessed. He had few friends, so was not distracted by parties or social events, and so he fed his obsession with a focused determination through books and ancient manuscripts. As the fire of his obsession burned, he realised he was rapidly running out of fuel. The books, manuscripts, and documents he had collected during his university years could no longer satiate his appetite. It was during Christmas, whilst attending a carol service at a Catholic Church, that he had an epiphany. Desmond was not a religious person, but he was enthralled by the pomp and ceremony of the Catholic Church. He loved the ritual and the intoxicating aroma of incense. He knew then that his future lay with the church. His epiphany was not motivated by any belief or faith. It was motivated by his thirst for knowledge. He realised it was the church that could provide unlimited fuel for his obsession. After graduation, Desmond applied to the seminary. At his interview, he managed to say everything that the panel expected to hear and was duly accepted. Three years later, he was ordained into the Holy Orders. Desmond adapted well into church life and, uncluttered as he was by any sense of moral conscience, he rose through the ranks, and within six years became bishop. He visited the Vatican on many occasions and had access to the extensive libraries, including the most secret vaults. His obsession grew, until it occupied virtually every waking moment of his life. The Internet provided even more fuel for his consuming passion, and he spent endless hours searching, sifting, and trawling through various websites. Finally, he found a chink of light at the end of the tunnel. A clue that his unhinged mind grabbed like a lifeline in a storm-swept sea. And the clue had led him to St Xavier’s. St Xavier’s was originally a Norman church. It was thought to have been built around 1100. Extensive research by Desmond revealed that there was a connection to the Knights Templar. In fact, there were several references that were of particular interest to Desmond O’Toole. He had reached a conclusion. To his fragile mind, the trail led nowhere else. There was no other possibility. This was the culmination of his obsession. St Xavier’s was the final resting place of the Grail, and it was his for the taking. He would have wealth and power beyond his wildest dreams. Now all that stood in his way were two reprobate priests and a derelict church. Desmond sat at his desk in his Knightsbridge apartment. It was late at night, and the light from his computer cast an ethereal glow throughout the sitting room. His boney fingers flew over the keyboard as he stared at the 80
screen. With a final flourish he hit the return key, and sat back with a manic smile on his face. ‘Finally I will be rid of those lunatics,’ he muttered to himself. ‘This report will damn them to hell and close that decaying ruin of a church for good. Then all I need are a few days to search and it will be mine, mine, mine.’ Desmond cackled, then his shrill laugh echoed around the apartment. He clapped his hands in glee as he looked at his report to the Vatican. The cell phone rang next to his computer. He picked up the phone and looked at the screen. The call was from Richard Head. ‘Another meddling idiot,’ he mumbled as he flipped open the cell. ‘Father Head, thank you for calling at this late hour,’ he said, his voice calm and sincere. ‘You left a message for me to call you, your Grace. I hope it’s not too late?’ ‘Not at all, thank you Richard. I need you to do something for me,’ said Desmond O’Toole in his most persuasive voice. ‘Of course, your Grace. What can I do for you?’ ‘I need you to check up on those two priests at St Xavier’s. I don’t trust either of them. They are up to something and I want to know what,’ continued the Bishop. ‘I want you to find out where they go and who they meet. In fact, I want to know when they take a leak.’ Desmond realised his last remark was a little over the top as his enthusiasm carried him along. ‘I’ll do what I can, your Grace. I’ll start first thing tomorrow,’ replied Father Head. ‘I won’t let you down, your Grace.’ ‘Good man. I won’t forget this, Father Head. I want those priests excommunicated and that church razed to the ground,’ rasped Desmond O’Toole. ‘When this is over, you will be rewarded well.’ ‘Thank you, Bishop. My reward will be to serve you, your Grace. I shall see you Sunday evening at St Xavier’s. Goodnight,’ replied Father Head and hung up. ‘Sycophantic twerp. You’ll get your reward all right,’ muttered Desmond O’Toole. ‘Once the Grail is in my hands, you can all go to hell in a hand basket, and I will be rich. Rich and powerful. It will soon be mine, mine, mine.’ He banged his fist on the desk, and the computer bounced from the shock. A twitch developed in his right eye that enhanced the crazed expression on his strained features. His mind slowly unravelled as he paced the apartment.
Chapter 24 Sebastian was drinking coffee in the kitchen and reading the newspaper when Harley came into the room. He grabbed a mug from the cupboard and poured himself a cup from the coffee machine. Harley looked worried as he silently drank his coffee. ‘Who died?’ asked Sebastian. ‘What?’ asked Harley. ‘You look pensive,’ replied Sebastian. Harley sighed loudly and took another gulp of coffee. ‘To be honest, Seb, I’m a bit concerned about this renting out business. I mean, it could go horribly wrong and if O’Toole finds out, which I’m sure he will, then it’s the end for us.’ Sebastian placed his newspaper on the table and scratched his head. ‘Look,’ he replied, ‘the way I see it is that we have limited options. O’Toole wants us closed down, and he will do anything to accomplish that. We have to stop him by any means available, and if that means a little subterfuge, then so be it.’ ‘I guess you’re right, Seb. At least we got the roof fixed, and if we can manage to even half fill the church then it will make O’Toole’s job harder. But we have to repair that roof properly. What Big Mick did was just a patch job. I only hope the roof doesn’t collapse completely.’ Harley sighed and continued. ‘So yeah, I guess we need some money, but we have to keep this rental thing as quiet as we can. If it gets out that we are renting the place out, we are truly sunk.’ ‘It’s all a question of depth,’ quipped Sebastian. ‘As long as we don’t become completely submerged, then we can cope with a little damp.’ Harley laughed. ‘I’ll say one thing, Sebastian. You have a bucketfull of optimism.’ ‘Always have,’ replied Sebastian. ‘Anyway, didn’t you say we have our first customers this morning?’ ‘I’d forgotten about that. Yes, I think it’s best you see them, as you have a better disposition for this sort of thing.’ ‘You mean more bullshit?’ replied Sebastian. ‘Something like that,’ smiled Harley. ‘I’m glad to see you’re wearing your civvies. If you’re going to bullshit, at least don’t do it wearing your uniform.’ Just then the doorbell rang and Sebastian headed for the door. Standing on the step was an apparition of beauty. The girl had dark eyes that were accentuated by a hint of mascara. Thick, lustrous hair cascaded over her slender shoulders and down her back. Next to her stood a diminutive man, at least six inches shorter. He was wearing a thick overcoat and a woolen scarf. Sebastian could see the man was Indian. ‘Hello, I’m Sebastian,’ said Sebastian holding out his hand to the girl.
‘Hi, I’m Jamilla Raj. This is my father, Swami Gupta Raj,’ replied Jamilla, taking Sebastian’s hand and shaking it firmly. Sebastian thought he was going to drown in the girl’s eyes. Finally, he pulled his hand away and offered it to the man, who simply put his hands together and bowed slightly. Sebastian let his hand fall to his side. ‘We’ve come about your advert,’ said Jamilla. ‘Can we see the church?’ Sebastian composed himself before replying. ‘Yes, of course. Sure, follow me.’ He closed the door behind him and they all walked down the path to St Xavier’s. ‘So, why do you want to rent the space?’ asked Sebastian. ‘Actually, it’s my dad who wants it for his, errm, group,’ said Jamilla cautiously. Gupta Raj smiled at his daughter’s use of the words, but did not comment. ‘What sort of group?’ asked Sebastian who was intrigued. ‘It’s best we see the church first, then my dad will explain,’ said Jamilla as they approached the main church entrance. ‘What a beautiful church. It looks very old.’ ‘It was built around 1100 AD. Norman architecture,’ said Sebastian. ‘It’s been repaired frequently and, unfortunately, it needs quite a bit of work. The roof leaks and the steeple is cracked; hence, we need the money.’ He opened the doors and they entered the old church. ‘Wow,’ said Jamilla, ‘this is so cool. Look at that roof - those buttresses are huge. What do you think, Dad?’ she asked her father, who was straining his neck to look up at the vaulted roof. ‘Very impressive,’ replied Gupta Raj. ‘May I ask you a question, Mr Sebastian?’ ‘Yes, certainly,’ replied Sebastian. ‘I thought the Catholic Church was very wealthy. Why doesn’t it pay for the repairs?’ Sebastian was caught off guard by the question. ‘Well, I guess you should ask them,’ he replied. ‘If we can’t raise enough money to repair the church then, well, that’s another story.’ ‘Well, it’s a great shame. It’s a beautiful church,’ said Jamilla. ‘What’s up there?’ She pointed to the gallery. ‘That’s the old gallery. In the olden days, the choir used to stand up there. It’s not really used any more. We don’t have enough people to fill the ground floor, let alone the gallery,’ said Sebastian sadly. ‘Can we see up there?’ asked Gupta Raj. ‘Of course,’ said Sebastian and he showed them the stone stairway that led to the gallery.
They ascended the steep, winding staircase and entered the gallery. Most of the pews had been removed to make space for storage. The wooden floor was polished, and oak panelling lined the walls. Gupta Raj smiled and winked at Jamilla. ‘This is amazing,’ said Jamilla. ‘You still have not told me why you want to rent it,’ said Sebastian. ‘I am Swami Gupta Raj,’ said Gupta Raj, removing his coat to reveal his white dhoti and baggy trousers. ‘I want to hire this gallery for my little group.’ Sebastian looked at Gupta Raj and saw kindness in the man’s eyes. He felt a fuzzy warm glow in this man’s presence. ‘And what does your group do, Swami?’ ‘We are Hindu, Mr Sebastian. We simply want a small place where we can meet each week and practise our faith, much as you practise yours, I would imagine.’ ‘You mean, you want to practise Hinduism? Here, at St Xavier’s?’ asked a somewhat astonished Sebastian. ‘Indeed, Mr Sebastian. Just once a week, if that is possible. We would be very quiet. Ours is a quiet religion. Contemplation, a little chanting, and the occasional bell ringing, nothing more.’ Sebastian was stuck for words. He had not expected to be renting out his church to a Hindu priest. It was Jamilla who persuaded him as she flashed her dark eyes. ‘This is a house of worship, Sebastian, isn’t it? The building is just bricks and mortar, wood and stone. But it is a spiritual place and we are, after all, spiritual people, are we not? I myself was raised a Catholic and I can see no reason why there should be a conflict here. You need money, my father needs a place to carry out his religion. It is a match made in heaven,’ finished Jamilla as she gently touched Sebastian’s arm. Sebastian gulped and, before he knew what was happening, he was nodding his head. ‘Then, it is settled.’ Gupta Raj clapped his hands with delight and slapped Sebastian on the back. ‘We would like the gallery every Tuesday evening if that suits you, Mr Sebastian?’ ‘Ermm, well, I guess—’ stuttered Sebastian. ‘What figure did you have in mind for the rent, Sebastian?’ asked Jamilla. ‘Ermm, well, what about three hundred a month?’ Sebastian heard the words come out of his mouth. ‘That sounds very reasonable,’ said Gupta Raj. ‘How about we begin next Tuesday?’ ‘Fine, I guess,’ said Sebastian who was still in shock. Just then, he heard Harley’s voice coming from downstairs in the main church. He was talking to a man. Sebastian looked over the balcony and saw 84
two men. One was dressed in a long black coat and wearing a wide-brimmed black hat, the other much taller and wearing jeans and a puffer jacket. Jamilla came to his side, and looked down at the three men. ‘Seems you have guests,’ said Jamilla. ‘Yes, it looks that way,’ replied Sebastian. ‘I’d better be going. By the way,’ he said, turning to the girl with the piercing eyes. ‘Can we keep this low profile? It’s not exactly the sort of thing we want to shout about.’ ‘Discretion is our middle name,’ replied Gupta Raj placing his finger to his lips. ‘We shall see ourselves out. Thank you, Mr Sebastian.’ Jamilla and Gupta Raj followed Sebastian down the stairs and left through the front door. Joshua was talking to Harley when he noticed a flash of familiar dark hair as Jamilla left the church with her father. ‘So,’ said Harley, ‘what do you want to rent the place for?’ ‘A synagogue,’ replied Manni. Sebastian stopped in his tracks as he overheard the word. He could not believe what he was hearing. It was hard enough to have just rented the gallery out to a Hindu priest. Surely his mind was playing tricks? ‘Father Sebastian,’ shouted Harley, seeing Sebastian standing in the aisle. Harley thought he looked a bit pale. ‘Come and join us. We have an interesting situation.’ Harley turned back to Manni Mannheim. ‘I don’t think I heard you correctly. Did you say a synagogue, as in Jewish synagogue?’ ‘Is there any other sort?’ replied Manni. ‘But this is a Roman Catholic Church,’ said Harley as he looked around. ‘Really, I would never have guessed that if you had not had mentioned it. I did wonder about all those Mary statues, but I think it was that statue of the crucifixion that gave it away,’ said Manni sarcastically. ‘What I mean is, we are different religions. Doesn’t it bother you?’ asked Harley. ‘Bricks and mortar…’ ‘Wood and stone,’ Sebastian continued Manni’s unfinished sentence. ‘What?’ asked Harley staring at Sebastian. ‘It’s a place of worship. The rest is just a building,’ said Sebastian repeating Jamilla’s words. Harley looked at Sebastian, who was grinning sheepishly. Then, he looked at Manni and shook his head. ‘I have to think about this.’ ‘What’s to think about?’ said Manni. ‘You need the money, all I want is to use the church one day a week. The Sabbath, on Saturdays.’ ‘I know when the Sabbath is,’ retorted Harley. ‘I’ll pay you five hundred pounds a month, and I will donate another thousand pounds towards the repair work to your roof. After all, I don't want it 85
falling down on my flock, do I?’ said Manni Mannheim, looking up at the ceiling of the church. ‘Deal,’ shouted Sebastian. Harley shot him a look and was about to speak, but decided to remain silent. ‘Good, excellent,’ said Manni. ‘Thank you. We shall begin next week, if that’s okay?’ ‘Fine,’ mumbled Harley. ‘May God have mercy on us all.’ ‘Oh, undoubtedly he will,’ said Manni. Joshua shook hands with Harley and Sebastian, and led his father out of the church. ‘What the heck just happened?’ said Harley. ‘We just rented a Catholic Church out to a Rabbi, so that he can use it as a synagogue.’ Harley shook his head and flapped his arms in a wild gesture. ‘If you think that’s peculiar, wait until you hear what I just did,’ muttered Sebastian. The two priests walked slowly down the aisle towards the exit. As they walked away a lone voice reverberated around the old church. ‘YOU DID WHAT?’
Chapter 25 The day had arrived. It was Sunday. It was the day that Bishop O’Toole and Father Head were coming to see for themselves the true situation at St Xavier’s. Harley and Sebastian were sitting in the sacristy. Both priests were wearing their robes and were looking a little apprehensive. Sebastian fidgeted restlessly while Harley was praying silently, his lips moving slightly as he uttered his invocation. ‘I hope it helps,’ said Sebastian breaking the silence. Harley looked at him and blinked as if waking from a sleep. ‘We shall see,’ he replied. ‘Nothing short of a miracle is what we need today.’ ‘Well, at least we tried. The impossible takes time, miracles take longer,’ said Sebastian, as cheerfully as he could. ‘Maybe their car will break down?’ ‘Maybe the Pope himself will intercede,’ replied Harley grimacing. ‘Perhaps we should give him a call then?’ ‘I don’t have his mobile number I’m afraid, Seb.’ ‘Shame,’ replied Sebastian shaking his head. Just then, the door to the sacristy opened and in walked Bishop O’Toole and Father Richard Head. The Bishop wore a black suit and Father Head wore the same. To Harley and Sebastian, they looked like evil twins. Both men looked smug. Bishop O’Toole was the first to speak. ‘Well, Father Jackson, are you sure you want to go through with this fiasco?’ sneered the Bishop. ‘Or shall we just call it a day?’ ‘This is still a church, and I am going ahead with the service, Bishop O’Toole. You, I trust will, respect that?’ said Harley with a severe tone. The Bishop sighed as if he were bored. ‘Fine then, as you wish. Enjoy it while you can. It will most likely be your last.’ Father Head suppressed a sneer as Harley gave him a glance that drilled through his brain. ‘As you can see, we fixed the roof,’ said Sebastian cheerily. ‘Not much point in having a roof if there’s no-one inside, is there?’ replied Father Head. ‘Not much point in having a head if there’s no brain inside, is there Father Dick?’ shot back Sebastian. ‘Enough of this,’ grunted Bishop O’Toole. ‘I’m here to see for myself what‘s going on here and to make sure there is no funny business.’ ‘No funny business here, except for Father Dick,’ quipped Sebastian as Harley gave him a look that told him to keep quiet. ‘You give new meaning to the word comedic, Father Wetherby-Smythe. How on earth did you ever become a priest, anyway?’ 87
‘The pay was awful in my last job, and the housing is free with this one. Anyway, I like the uniform. It's so swishy,’ said Sebastian doing a little pirouette. ‘Don't get sassy with me, Father Sebastian. Your days are numbered. I am sure that after tonight there will be no more St Xavier's. Now, can we just get on with this debacle?’ ‘Shall we proceed, Father Sebastian?’ asked Harley as he stood up and brushed past the Bishop, knocking his shoulder. ‘Indeedy, brother Harley. Let’s go and tend to our flock,’ grinned Sebastian as he stepped on Father Head’s foot. ‘Oh, was that your foot, Father? So sorry, how clumsy of me.’ Sebastian winked at Harley as Father Head yelped in pain. Both priests opened the door to the sacristy and entered the church. It was empty; not a single pew was occupied. Sebastian lit the incense burner and hung it near the altar. Harley prepared the sacraments. A silence hung over the empty church, while only the rain could be heard pattering onto the roof tiles. Harley glanced at the part of the roof that Big Mick had repaired, as if willing it to stay intact. Sebastian caught his eye and winked. Bishop O’Toole stood at the side, whileFather Head walked to the back of the nave. He took a seat on the end of a pew. He instantly stood up, feeling his bottom. He’d sat in a wet patch that still remained from the previous week’s incident. Harley saw Father Head wincing at the damp mark on his trousers. ‘Had a little accident back there, Dick?’ said Harley sniggered. ‘The little nun’s room is at the back. Just shout if you need any help.’ Just then, the door to the church opened and in walked Mrs Chattel. She stopped momentarily to cross herself. Her knees cracked loudly as she straightened herself. She shuffled up the aisle toward the old organ, where she stopped and removed her coat. She wore a bright pink floppy hat that looked as if it had been poured onto her head. Mrs Chattel then looked at the priests, waved cheerfully, and sat down at the organ. Another violent crack echoed around the church as her knees adjusted to their new position. Opening her huge leather bag, she pulled out some sheet music. As she did so, several of the contents clattered to the floor. Sebastian ran over and picked up the various bits and pieces, handing them back to Mrs Chattel. She nodded gratefully and started to pump the pedals of the ancient organ. The instrument creaked and groaned under the assault as strange gasping and wheezing noises filled the church. It was hard to tell who was making the most noise, Mrs Chattel or the organ. The pedals squealed and screeched as Mrs Chattel pumped away like a woman possessed. Her breathing became laboured and she started to wheeze. Suddenly, a dreadful sound pierced the air. It was followed by an equally disturbing rendition of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue. The cacophony of missed notes, squealing, and groaning caused Bishop O’Toole and Father Head to cover their ears. Harley and Sebastian simply grinned.
There was a scuffle at the entrance as a small crowd entered the church. Sebastian winked at Harley, who looked on in amazement at the strange spectacle he was witnessing. To Harley, it looked as if every gay activist had descended on the church. There were men dressed in every conceivable colour of clothing, except for the man who seemed to be leading the others up the aisle. He was wearing a beautifully tailored Armani suit, white shirt with French cuffs, and a purple bow tie. One man was wearing a long black coat that flowed behind him like a cape. Another was wearing what looked like skin-tight jeans made of silver Lycra, and he was holding hands with another man who wore a leather jacket, leather trousers, and a leather cap. Bishop O’Toole and Father Head stared in astonishment at the spectacle as everyone pranced up the aisle making their way into the pews. Sebastian gently used his finger to push Harley’s gaping mouth closed. ‘What is this, Seb? A Village People reunion?’ whispered Harley. ‘You wanted to fill the church, didn’t you?’ replied Sebastian grinning. As Harley was about to answer, there was a sudden roaring noise outside the church. It sounded as if an armoured regiment had arrived. Engines were revving as more vehicles arrived. Harley recognised the very distinctive sounds of large motorcycle engines. All at once the engines died, leaving a resonating echo that bounced round the inside of the church. There was a scuffling noise outside and the doors burst open. At least fifty leather and denim-clad bikers marched into the church like an army regiment. Young women trailed behind the leather entourage, all wearing either skin-tight, leg-hugging jeans, or tiny skirts that almost showed their underpants. The leader, a giant of a man, waved at Harley and glanced at the Bishop, who was standing near the wall at the side of the nave. A look of menace crossed his face and the Bishop quickly looked away. The bikers looked at the gays sitting on the left side of the church, and they then all sat on the right, filling the pews from the front to the rear. Several of the bikers glowered at the gays, giving them one-finger salutes. Rolley gave a little wave to Thor, who returned a look that would have turned Medusa to stone. Father Head looked terrified as a huge biker sat next to him and winked. Thor took a seat at the front of the church, and Bernice, his girlfriend, sat next to him. Bernice crossed her long legs, showing a good length of bare thigh above her suspenders and fishnet stockings. ‘Looks like Thor came through for you,’ whispered Sebastian. ‘Oh yeah, big time,’ replied Harley, looking at the strange congregation that almost filled the small church. Mrs Chattel, having finished the Toccata and Fugue, dived into a discordant assassination of what sounded like Beethoven’s Ninth, which was never meant to be played on an organ anyway. However, she ploughed on pedaling furiously. From the doorway, an elderly lady entered and crossed herself. It was Mrs Whittlehurst. She looked at the weird congregation and crossed herself 89
again and then scurried down to the front of the church, where she took a seat on the front pew next to Thor. It was an odd sight to behold. Mrs Whittlehurst was a frail-looking woman in her eighties. She wore a beige, floral suit, which was probably as old as she was. On her head was perched a large, wide-brimmed hat decorated with plastic flowers that were yellowing with age. Thor glanced at Mrs Whittlehurst and smiled. Mrs Whittlehurst looked up at the giant man and nodded her head. Eventually, the dreadful organ music stopped and Harley stepped forward. ‘Welcome, everyone. It's wonderful to see you all here this morning. We shall start our service with a short prayer. Please kneel.’ The bikers looked around, bemused, not knowing what to do. The gays, however, all stood and, like a well-rehearsed dance troupe, kneeled simultaneously. The bikers stood and did the same with less co-ordination. A scuffle broke out at the back of the church as one biker thumped another. Thor gave them a glance and they stopped. There was a moment of silence as everyone settled. Thor was the first to smell it. A foul smell permeated the atmosphere. Then a ripping sound, like a wet rag being torn in half, echoed around the walls. Thor looked to his left and saw a strained look on Mrs Whittlehurst’s face. The smell was appalling. The row of bikers behind Thor held their noses. There were groans and coughs as the aroma wafted further back. ‘Christ, what was that?’ one biker moaned. Harley was used to Mrs Whittlehurst’s gas problems and continued regardless. ‘We thank thee, oh Lord, for this gathering today. Please grant us your blessings that we may please you. In the name of the Father…’ another fart rent the air, ‘the Son…’ more coughing and groaning, ‘and the Holy Ghost, amen.’ Everyone got up from their knees and sat down again. Mrs Chattel's knees cracked loudly again as she stood up. Thor was holding his nose, shuffling sideways to put as much distance between himself and Mrs Whittlehurst as possible. ‘We shall now sing hymn number 412 in your hymn books,’ said Harley. There were blank looks from the congregation as they looked at each other. Some of them started looking around. One biker stood up and looked under the pew. Harley looked at Sebastian. ‘What did you do with the hymn books?’ he whispered. ‘Oops!’ said Sebastian. ‘Great, you forgot to put them out, didn’t you?’ ‘Double oops,’ said Sebastian, looking a little sheepish. 90
‘Sorry about this folks,’ said Harley. ‘Father Sebastian will hand out the hymn books, won’t you, Father Sebastian?’ It was more a statement than a question. Sebastian quickly disappeared into the sacristy and returned with a wobbling pile of hymnbooks. He trotted down the aisle, handing out piles of books to each row. Finally, everyone had a hymnbook, and Sebastian returned to his position. ‘Please turn to page 412. We shall join together and sing Jerusalem,’ said Harley. Mrs Chattel was rifling through manuscripts, trying to find the right one, as everyone waited for the organ to start. Finally, she found what she was looking for at the bottom of her bag. As she fished out the manuscript, a large bag of boiled sweets dropped to the floor. The bag burst open and the sweets rolled everywhere. Mrs Chattel tried to pick them up and fell, nose down, onto the floor. There was giggling and snorting from the bikers. Sebastian hurried across the nave to help Mrs Chattel get up, when his foot hit a boiled sweet and he went headlong into the organ. He picked himself up and helped Mrs Chattel to her feet, sitting her down at the organ. She started to pump away as Sebastian walked back to the altar. The awful noise that filled the church created total confusion. Many of the congregation held their ears, and some were clearly in pain. The singing started slowly as Sebastian’s soprano voice rang out. Taking a cue from Sebastian, Rolley burst into enthusiastic song. His voice was loud and piercing, but unfortunately he was completely tone-deaf and what emanated from his mouth bore no resemblance to the hymn. Harley winced and looked at Rolley, who appeared to be completely unaware of his vocal impediment. He continued to brutalise the hymn. Gradually, everyone tried to follow. By the second verse most of the people seemed to have the hang of it and sang along. Mrs Chattel was running out of energy and her tired legs slowly ground to a halt. Her wheezing increased and the music slowed down. The congregation tried to follow the tune as it slowed down and petered out. Eventually, Mrs Chattel sat panting at the organ. The hymn faded out and eventually silence ensued. Harley turned to the altar to prepare to give the sacraments. Sebastian helped and poured wine into a silver cup. Harley then turned to the congregation and spoke. ‘And now we shall take communion, where we will take the wine being the blood of Christ and the bread, his body. Those who wish to take communion please come forward.’ Mrs Whittlehurst was the first to come forward, who was followed by Mrs Chattel and then Rolley. The bikers looked at each other, not knowing what to do. Thor stood up, and walked to the altar. He knew what to do because of his relationship with his brother, Harley. The rest of the bikers simply heard 91
the word wine, so they slowly filed forward, watching Thor to see what he would do. Harley was horrified. No one was supposed to take communion without being baptised, or having taken confession, yet here were all these people coming forward to take communion. He couldn’t do anything about it now, so he simply moved his lips in the pretence of giving communion, but not actually saying anything. That way, at least in his own mind, he was not actually giving the sacraments. It was definitely a grey area, but it would have to do. As people came forward, they kneeled before Harley who gave out the wafers. His lips moved but no sound came from his mouth. Sebastian looked confused at first, but it then dawned on him what Harley was doing. He handed them the goblet of wine. All went well until the bikers came forward. They took handfuls of wafers in their hands, along with big gulps of the wine. Soon, there were no wafers left and the wine was rapidly running out. Harley whispered to Sebastian. ‘Go get some more wafers and wine, we’re running out.’ ‘Okay, I’ll just pop out back,’ said Sebastian trotting to the sacristy. Once inside, he looked in the cupboards but could not find any more wafers. There was just a packet of cheese crackers and a bottle of Sherry, which he poured into the jug holding the wine. Several minutes passed before Sebastian returned with a plate piled high with cheese biscuits. ‘What are those?’ whispered Harley looking horrified. ‘It’s all I could find. These and the Sherry,’ said Sebastian, shrugging his shoulders. ‘I had to improvise.’ ‘Good grief,’ muttered Harley as he continued handing the biscuits to the remaining bikers. Harley then noticed that several bikers were coming round again, obviously for another slug of wine. He also noticed that Bishop O’Toole was coming forward to take communion. As the Bishop stepped up to the altar, a huge biker shoved in front of him. The Bishop was about to say something, when he saw the menacing look on the biker’s face. Finally, the Bishop knelt and took the cheese cracker. He grimaced and threw Harley a look of disgust. As he took a sip of the wine, he almost gagged. His face contorted with rage as he left the altar. The bikers eventually went back to their seats, some of them a little tipsy after several slugs of Sherry. Harley continued with the service as best he could. One of the bikers started to snore at the back of the church. He was woken up with a thump from his neighbour, and he fell to the floor with a crash. Harley decided it was best to wind up the service before any more damage was done. ‘And so we draw our service to a close. Once again, I thank you all for coming, and we look forward to seeing you again next week. In the meantime, 92
we shall be passing the collection plate. Please give what little you can, thank you.’ Harley nodded to Sebastian, who went down the aisle with the collection plate. The plate was passed along the row as each person passed it to the next. The Bishop watched in astonishment as everyone put money into the plate. He did not, however, see Sebastian walk to the back of the church with the offering plate and stand by the door. Everyone stood and began to file out of the church, the bikers grabbing their money back from the offering plate as they walked past. As the last person left the church, Sebastian looked at the plate and saw two cheese crackers and a ten pence piece. He quickly pocketed the crackers and put the plate behind his back as the Bishop and Father Head approached. Harley was walking behind them. ‘That was some spectacle, Father Jackson,’ said the Bishop. ‘I told you. Our outreach programme was working,’ replied Harley. ‘I don’t know how you did it, but something doesn’t feel right about any of this,’ said the Bishop. Father Head nodded in agreement. ‘You saw for yourself, Bishop O’Toole. What more can I say?’ said Harley. Bishop O’Toole and Father Head walked out of the church into the rain, which was now falling heavily. Father Head opened a pale blue umbrella to protect the Bishop. Harley and Sebastian walked behind them. As the Bishop walked down the road at the side of the church, Harley saw large black drops of what looked like diluted paint. It was splashing the umbrella and running down onto the Bishop’s coat. Neither the Bishop nor Father Head noticed as Harley looked up at the roof. Precisely where Big Mick had replaced the tiles he saw rivulets of black paint running down the tiles. As he squinted through the rain, the black tiles gradually changed colour from black to bright red before his eyes. Harley glanced at Sebastian, who also saw what was happening. ‘I’ve seen that colour of tile before,’ whispered Sebastian. ‘Same colour as the roof tiles at St Peter’s, by any chance?’ replied Harley. ‘Exactly.’ They walked quickly and escorted the Bishop and Father Head to their car. ‘Thank you for coming Bishop, and you Father Dick,’ said Harley as the rain continued to pelt down. ‘This is not over yet, Father Jackson. I have my eye on you,’ said the Bishop. ‘You as well, Wetherby-Smythe.’ Their car pulled away and, as it passed next to the church, a huge slurry of black paint gushed over the parapet and slopped over the rear of the white car. It drove out of the driveway without stopping. 93
‘Well, that went well,’ said Sebastian. ‘Cheese crackers and Sherry?’ asked Harley as water dripped off him in rivulets. ‘Black painted tiles?’ responded Sebastian. ‘Touché,’ said Harley, as both priests walked into the Manse house.
Chapter 26 Inside the Mercedes, Father Head was concentrating on his driving, when Bishop O’Toole suddenly yelled out, causing him to jump. The car swerved and quickly righted itself. ‘Imbeciles!’ shouted Bishop O’Toole, thumping the dashboard with his fist. ‘Do they honestly think they can get away with this?’ ‘Disgusting spectacle,’ agreed Father Head. ‘They made a mockery of the Holy Communion.’ The Bishop’s face turned bright red as his anger increased. ‘I want you to find out who those people were. I want names and places. I want to know where they all came from. Those conniving fraudsters will regret they ever tried to deceive me. I know their game, and it isn’t going to work. I shall expose them for what they really are. An abomination, the devil’s work, demons in disguise,’ ranted O’Toole, his voice sounding demented. Father Head nodded in agreement, but a warning light suddenly came on in the back of his mind as he saw the deranged look on the Bishop’s face. He drove on as the Bishop could be heard muttering under his breath. It was then he saw the flashing blue lights in his rear mirror. Slowing the car down to allow the police car to pass, he noticed that it was now flashing its headlights. ‘I think we are being stopped,’ said Father Head as he brought the Mercedes to a halt. The Bishop stopped mumbling and looked behind as the police car pulled up behind them. Two police officers got out of the car and walked towards the Mercedes. One of the officers tapped the window on the driver’s side of the car. Father Head pressed the electric window button and the window rolled down. ‘Driver’s license and registration please, sir,’ asked the police officer. ‘What’s the problem officer?’ asked Father Head. ‘Just give me your driver’s license and registration please, sir,’ repeated the police officer. Father Head fumbled in the glove compartment and took out the registration papers and his license. He handed it to the police officer and noticed that the second officer was walking to the rear of the car. He was staring at the trunk. The first police officer looked at the papers and told Father Head to switch off the engine and wait. He walked back to the patrol car and got inside. The second officer walked around the rear of the car and up to the driver’s window. ‘Do you realise it is illegal to obscure your rear number plate, sir?’ asked the officer in a severe tone. ‘Pardon?’ asked a confused Father Head. ‘You do speak English, sir?’ asked the police officer. ‘Of course he speaks English,’ interrupted Bishop O’Toole. ‘What’s all this about, officer?’ 95
‘I was addressing the driver, sir, not you,’ said the police office politely, but there was an edge to his voice. ‘I am Bishop O’Toole, and I demand—’ He was abruptly cut off mid sentence. ‘Please get out of the car, gentlemen,’ said the first officer, who had now returned and was standing by the passenger window. ‘What for?’ asked the Bishop. The police officers exchanged a look and the first officer opened the passenger door. Taking the Bishop by the arm, he asked again. ‘Please step out of the car, sir.’ This time the officer’s voice was more demanding and the Bishop got out of the car. Father Head also got out and stood by the door. ‘What is this all about, officer? Was I speeding? Did I run a traffic light?’ ‘As I said sir, it is illegal to obscure a rear number plate. Your rear lights are also obscured and we saw you driving dangerously back there,’ said the first officer. ‘Dangerously?’ asked Father Head. ‘We saw you swerve the car,’ said the officer. ‘Oh, I can explain that,’ said Father Head. ‘It was the Bishop. He shouted and made me jump.’ ‘Shouted what, sir?’ asked the officer, looking at his colleague. ‘Imbeciles,’ said Father Head. ‘There’s no need to be offensive, sir,’ said the officer. ‘No, I mean the Bishop said imbeciles,’ Father Head tried to explain. ‘The Bishop called us imbeciles?’ said the officer, his eyes glinting with anger. ‘No, I didn’t mean that, I—’ Father Head was suddenly pushed against the car and the officer started to pat him down. The Bishop in turn was also pushed against the car and frisked by the second officer. ‘You can’t do this. I am a man of the church,’ complained the Bishop. ‘You insulted a police officer. How do I know you’re not terrorists dressed up as priests?’ snarled the first officer. ‘Terrorists? We are not terrorists. I am a Bishop and this is Father Head. He’s a priest,’ yelled the Bishop. ‘Show me some identification please, sir,’ said the second officer in a calm yet menacing voice. The Bishop fumbled in his jacket, but realised he had left his wallet in London. ‘I don’t have anything with me just now. But you can call my office,’ he said, his voice quavering as he continued. ‘You saw Father Head’s driving license. You know he’s a priest.’ 96
‘Mr Head’s license just says his name is Richard Gillian Head,’ said the first officer, with a slight smirk at the middle name. ‘It says nothing about him being a priest.’ It’s Gillian, you pronounce the G like in Gun,’ said Father Head. ‘Like a gun?’ asked the second officer, his attention alerted by the reference to a weapon. ‘Well, not like a gun. I meant my name is pronounced like the G in gun. I never got round to changing the license details,’ whined Father Head. ‘So, you are telling me that your license is also not up-to-date with the correct information, sir?’ asked the first officer. ‘That’s also an offence, sir.’ ‘What’s all this about a gun?’ asked the second officer. ‘No, no I didn’t mean a real gun, I just meant the G—’ ‘Just shut up, Head. You’re making it worse,’ snarled the Bishop. ‘Look officers, I am sure this is all a misunderstanding,’ he continued, in an attempt to retrieve the deteriorating situation. ‘Why is there black paint over the rear of your car? I think you were trying to cover your number plates,’ said the second officer. ‘What are you talking about?’ asked the Bishop. The officer took the Bishop by the arm and pulled him to the back of the Mercedes. The trunk of the car was covered in black paint. The rear lights and number plate was completely covered. Bishop O’Toole stared at the car in astonishment. ‘I don’t understand where this came from,’ stuttered the Bishop. ‘Of course you don’t, sir,’ said the officer taking the Bishop by the arm. ‘I’m afraid we are impounding this vehicle, sir. You and your colleague here are coming to the station for further questioning.’ The first police officer took Father Head by the arms and escorted him to the rear of the police car. The Mercedes was locked and the second officer stuck a yellow notice to the windscreen of the vehicle that said ‘IMPOUNDED’. Both Bishop O’Toole and Father Head were pushed into the rear of the patrol car. The office then got into the driver’s seat and closed the door. ‘I absolutely must protest,’ screeched the Bishop. ‘This is all their fault, those devil worshipers and heathens. It’s all their doing.’ The officers looked at each other and shook their heads. Father Head rested his head on the back seat and looked miserable as the police car pulled away. ‘They will pay. I’ll get them. I will reduce that church to a pile of rubble, and then they will see,’ muttered the Bishop. The patrol car screeched to a halt. The driver turned to the Bishop. ‘What did you say?’ he asked, his voice threatening. ‘He didn’t mean that,’ said Father Head, realising the misinterpretation.
‘Shut up, I was talking to him,’ shouted the officer. ‘You said you would reduce the church to rubble. Is there a bomb in that car back there?’ ‘I didn’t mean what I said. I meant—’ stammered the terrified Bishop. ‘I heard exactly what you said, and so did my colleague. You said you would make them pay. You would reduce the church to rubble. Call the AntiTerrorist Squad, Jeff,’ said the first officer to his colleague. Father Head dropped his head into his hands and started weeping. The patrol car pulled away at great speed, its lights flashing and its siren blaring. ‘Two terrorist suspects under arrest. We are coming in hot,’ shouted the second officer into his radio. Send a bomb squad to the corner of Park Street. White Mercedes, black paint covering the trunk. It might be booby trapped, so alert the team.’ ‘Roger that,’ came the reply. The officer clicked off the radio and turned to the back seat. ‘Just stay put and don’t say a word. Anything you say will be taken down and may be used as evidence against you. If you do not have a lawyer, then one will be provided for you.’ The officer turned back to face the front. ‘But… I… This is all a mistake,’ spluttered the Bishop. ‘Just be quiet, Desmond,’ whispered Father Head. ‘Don’t you dare refer to me as Desmond. I am—’ The Bishop was interrupted. ‘I don’t care if you’re the bloody King and Queen of England. Just be quiet, the pair of you,’ shouted the second officer. Bishop O’Toole scowled at Father Head, who just looked out of the window. Tears were streaming down his face.
Chapter 27 Jamilla sat at her desk in her office at the Herald. She was reading the morning newspaper. As she turned to the second page, she was astonished to see a leading article alongside a picture of two priests walking out of a police station. The article read: Priests Arrested on Terrorist Charges Police arrested two priests last night on suspicion of terrorism. The car, a white Mercedes, was destroyed as army bomb disposal experts carried out a controlled explosion in Park Street, near the town of Hornfield. A police spokesman said that the car was seen driving erratically along Park Street at approximately 20.00 hours last night. When the two occupants of the vehicle were questioned, they became aggressive. One of the occupants, claiming to be a Bishop, was overheard threatening to blow up a church. Police arrested the suspects and took them to Hornfield police station for further questioning. Army bomb disposal experts destroyed the car. The suspects were released once their identity was confirmed. Father Richard Gillian Head and Bishop Desmond O’Toole said they were outraged at the accusations made by the police and would sue for damages. Jamilla put down the newspaper as she saw Joshua walk into the office. ‘Hey, Josh. You have got to see this!’ Joshua walked over to her desk and looked at the article she had been reading. ‘Wow, incredible. What a cool story,’ said Joshua. ‘Incredible. Anyway, have you got anywhere with Jasper Harperyet?’ she asked. ‘I followed him at the weekend, but there was really nothing unusual. He lives in an old manor house, just outside of town. He pretty much spent the entire weekend at home, except for one short journey to a golf club. It was called Fairlawns, must be his club. He was there for about five hours, then came back to his house. I got a few pictures of him, but there is really nothing exciting to report.’ Joshua shrugged his shoulders. ‘I know he’s up to something,’ replied Jamilla. ‘Keep on it, Josh. I’ll keep digging around. I might even set up an interview on the premise of his position as Mayor. Then, I’ll ask some awkward questions once I’m in front of him.’ ‘Just be careful, Jam. That guy is very well connected. You don’t want to get under his skin.’ ‘I’m a journalist, Josh. It’s what I do. But I take your point. I’ll be careful all the same,’ she replied. ‘So, we all set for dinner tonight?’ ‘Sure. Where we going?’ 99
‘I’ve made a reservation at the L’Escargot restaurant. Thought we could go exclusive,’ said Joshua. ‘Wow, that place is expensive, Josh. Are you sure?’ asked Jamilla, but her look told him she was thrilled. ‘Of course. Nothing but the best for my girlfriend,’ replied Joshua proudly. ‘Then I shall dress the part. I’ve just got to get past my mother without the third degree,’ she laughed. ‘I brought a suit with me, so I won’t even go home. If I do, I’ll only get the same treatment from my mum. I could do without that,’ replied Joshua. ‘Cool. I’ll see you tonight, then. I’m going to the Town Hall to see if I can get an interview with Harper.’ ‘Just be careful,’ repeated Joshua, and kissed her on the cheek. Jamilla stood up and put on her raincoat. She then grabbed her pocket recorder and briefcase and headed out of the office. Her car was parked in the multi-storey car park and it would take her about ten minutes to walk there. Instead of taking the stairs to the first floor, Jamilla walked up the ramp as it was quicker than the stairs. As she began to ascend, she heard a car approaching. It was a large black Bentley and at the wheel was none other than Jasper Harper. He drove past her and continued up to the first floor. Jamilla saw the Bentley pull into a bay at the far end of the floor. Not wishing to be seen, she crept behind the parked cars and made her way to the far end of the parking area until she was crouched behind the Bentley. The driver’s window slid down silently and a cloud of blue smoke plumed out of the open window. Just then, another car appeared and drove slowly to the parking bay next to where the Bentley was parked. A man in a black suit got out of the car and walked round to the passenger door of the Bentley. Jamilla saw immediately that the man wearing the black suit was wearing a dog collar. She recognised his face from the photograph in the morning newspaper. It was Bishop O’Toole. The passenger door opened and the Bishop climbed inside. She crept around to the side of the car, keeping as low as possible. Jamilla could hear the men talking and she took out her recorder and clicked it to record. She held the recorder as close to the open window as she dared. ‘I told you, it's not a good idea to meet in public, O’Toole. What the hell was all that about in the paper this morning? Talk about keeping a low profile.’ It was Jasper Harper who was talking. ‘It was not my fault. Those two buffoons did something to my car. I don’t know how they did it, but the police stopped us. Then, it all went to hell,’ replied Bishop O’Toole. His voice was full of loathing. ‘Whatever, it’s your problem, not mine,’ sneered Harper. ‘So, where are we with that church? You made any progress yet?’ ‘That’s why I needed to meet you,’ replied the Bishop. ‘There has been a bit of a complication.’ 100
‘What do you mean by a complication?’ asked Jasper Harper angrily. ‘I’m not sure how they did it, but those damned priests managed to fill the church yesterday. It’s going to make my job a lot harder. What’s more, they even fixed the roof. But don’t worry, it can’t last. It’s a ruse. They set me up. I’ve got someone on the case to find out where all those people came from. Trust me, it won’t be long. Once I find out what they are up to, they will be exposed for what they are. Fraudsters, the pair of them. We shall both get what we want very soon,’ said Bishop O’Toole with satisfaction in his voice. ‘You had better. I have a lot of money at stake in this. If you let me down, I warn you now, you won’t like the consequences. Now, get out of here and go do your job.’ The passenger door opened and Bishop O’Toole stepped out. He got back into his own car and drove out of the car park. Jamilla quickly crept behind the Bentley as the engine started, and the car pulled out of the parking bay with a screeching of tyres. She stood up once the car was out of sight and quickly checked her digital recorder to make certain that she managed to get everything. The recording was clear, so she switched it off and put it in her pocket. This time, she took the stairs down to the street level and walked back to her office. As she arrived, Joshua was just walking out of the door. ‘You are going to love this,’ she said to him and, grabbing his arm, pulled him back inside the office. ‘You look excited. Was it the thought of seeing me?’ ‘That too, but listen to what I’ve just recorded in the car park.’ Jamilla handed the recorder to Joshua, who played the recording. Joshua listened intently. Once it was finished, he switched off the recorder and looked at Jamilla. ‘This is dynamite, Jam,’ he said. ‘It proves Harper is up to something.’ ‘And it has something to do with St Xavier’s. Why the Bishop is involved I’m still not certain, but it sounds as though he has it in for Harley Jackson and Sebastian. I’m sure there’s more to it, though.’ ‘Harper wants that church. He has the land behind it, and it makes sense he wants that property,’ said Joshua. ‘My guess is the Bishop is his key to getting it. Harper can’t get hold of St Xavier’s without his help. But, why would the Bishop want to help him to acquire it? It doesn’t make sense.’ ‘Not unless he has something to gain,’ replied Jamilla. ‘Like what? Money? You really think he took a bribe?’ asked Joshua in disbelief. ‘I think he might have done. Harper threatened him in the car, so he’s got something on him for certain. But honestly, O’Toole hates those priests. If he really wants to close that church down so Harper can buy it, then he must have some pretty strong motivation.’ ‘If we can find out why Bishop O’Toole wants rid of that church, then we have half the story,’ said Joshua. ‘But, Harper has his own agenda as well. He
wants the church for the land, and he wants the land for something big. We need to find out what.’ ‘Maybe someone in the planning office knows,’ said Jamilla. ‘Whatever he plans to do, he has to get it approved by the planning department. I think I might pay a visit to the Town Hall planning office and see what I can find out.’ ‘Good idea. I’ll keep tabs on our Bishop friend. Maybe it’s worth talking to Father Jackson about what you overheard?’ suggested Joshua. ‘You said you knew him, so maybe let’s go talk to him tomorrow?’ ‘Excellent idea, Josh. We make a good team, huh?’ said Jamilla smiling. Joshua blushed. ‘In more ways than one.’ It was Jamilla’s turn to blush. ‘I’m looking forward to tonight,’ she said, squeezing his hand. ‘Me too, can’t wait.’ ‘Well, I’m going to the planning office. See you later, Josh.’ Joshua watched as Jamilla turned and walked out of the office.
Chapter 28 Frank Cotteridge sat at his desk rummaging through a pile of folders. His office was in the basement of the Town Hall. It was dark, devoid of any natural daylight, and was lit by an overhead fluorescent strip that flickered. His desk was cluttered with a heap of folders and various bits of paper. A single steel chair that sat in front of his desk was piled high with old magazines and journals. He finally found what he was looking for and opened the file. The file contained an application form from Grant Holdings requesting a change of use from agricultural to commercial. Frank Cotteridge removed the form from the folder and studied it. He then took out a rubber stamp from his desk drawer. He stamped the form and scribbled his signature across the impression. Sighing loudly, he put the form back into the folder and placed it in his out tray. At that moment his phone rang. He picked up the receiver. ‘There is a Miss Jamilla Raj to see you, Mr Cotteridge,’ came the voice of the receptionist. ‘What does she want?’ asked Cotteridge. ‘She says it’s a planning matter,’ came the bored reply. ‘Okay, send her up,’ he replied. Two minutes later there was a knock on his door. ‘Come in,’ he shouted. His eyes almost fell out of his head as the beautiful woman walked into his office. She smiled at him enticingly and held out her slim hand. Cotteridge shook her hand, holding it a little longer than he meant to. He was completely captivated by this woman’s eyes. She was the most amazing woman he had ever seen. ‘Errmm, please take a seat,’ he stumbled over his words. Jamilla looked around his small office looking for a chair. He scrambled from behind his desk and dumped the magazines onto the floor. ‘I’m afraid it’s a bit cramped in here,’ he said apologetically. ‘Can I get you anything? Tea? Coffee?’ ‘No thank you,’ replied Jamilla, giving him her most dazzling smile. ‘My name is Jamilla Raj. I’m a reporter with the Herald, and I’m writing an article about land reforms. I just need to ask you a few questions about the planning process to complete my article.’ She removed a note pad from her briefcase. ‘Planning process?’ asked Cotteridge. ‘Yes, I want to know more about the due process. I know absolutely nothing about planning consents, or how you process things like that. It’s just to add some more information to my article.’ She fluttered her eyelids and he blushed visibly. ‘It must be a fascinating job you have?’ ‘Oh, not really. It’s quite boring most of the time,’ replied Cotteridge. ‘I’m sure it isn’t. I mean, you must see all sorts of interesting things coming through here,’ continued Jamilla.
‘Well, of course, there are a few interesting moments,’ Cotteridge gushed. ‘But the majority of applications are just routine.’ ‘What sort of things do you do?’ asked Jamilla, as business-like as she could. ‘Mainly planning consents. You know, building extensions, conversions, usage - that sort of thing.’ ‘What about things like condemning orders, or change of use? Do you handle those applications?’ asked Jamilla as she took notes down on her pad. ‘Oh yes, all that comes through here,’ replied Cotteridge. He was captivated by her charm, and she was a wonderful distraction from his drab job. ‘Wow, fascinating,’ said Jamilla as she continued to write. ‘So tell me, for instance,’ she paused as if thinking of an example. ‘What about, say, a condemning order? What’s the process?’ Frank Cotteridge was enjoying himself. He never thought anyone would be so interested in what he did, especially an attractive woman like Jamilla Raj. He explained enthusiastically. ‘Well, firstly, there is an application, which must be supported by a surveyor’s report. Then, once it is approved here, it’s passed to the committee for final approval. Once that’s done, an order to vacate is issued. Then it’s down to the demolition company.’ ‘So, do you initially approve these applications yourself? That must be a very responsible job?’ Jamilla was trying to flatter him. She knew the effect she was having on him. ‘Well, yes, I initially review the case. Then I make the recommendation to the committee,’ he said proudly. ‘And the committee will then just rubber-stamp it?’ ‘Usually, I am quite well-respected. I’ve been doing this a long time.’ ‘I can see that,’ said Jamilla. ‘You must be very proud of what you do.’ Frank Cotteridge puffed out his chest. He rarely received compliments. ‘Of course, I take pride in what I do,’ he replied. Jamilla suddenly caught sight of a beige folder sitting on top of his outtray. On the outside cover were the words ‘Grant Holdings’. She had to see inside that file. Jamilla had an idea. She started to cough and held her chest, as if trying to catch her breath. ‘Would you like some water?’ asked a concerned Frank Cotteridge. ‘That would be very kind, thank you,’ said Jamilla as she produced another bout of coughing. Frank Cotteridge got up from his desk and left the office to fetch her water. The door was slightly ajar, so she could see if he was coming back. She quickly grabbed the folder and opened it, scanning each page as quickly as possible. She saw that the change of use had been recommended, and Frank Cotteridge’s signature was scrawled across the department stamp. She heard footsteps and quickly returned the folder to the tray. 104
Frank Cotteridge returned with a paper cup of water. ‘Here you are,’ he said, handing her the cup. Jamilla took a sip as he sat back behind his desk. ‘Thanks very much. Now, where were we?’ she flipped the pages of her notebook. ‘Ah, here we are. So, what about change of use? For instance, land that was commercial and someone wanted to build a residence?’ ‘That’s relatively straightforward. An application is submitted and, as long as there isn’t any land contamination, or any specific legislative issues, then it will go through.’ Cotteridge was beginning to feel slightly uncomfortable. ‘What about the other way around? Like land that is used as farmland and someone wanted to use it for something else, like a factory or something.’ Jamilla noticed a sudden change in his features. She had pressed a button, and he had reacted. Frank Cotteridge suddenly became suspicious. A warning bell sounded at the back of his brain at the last question. ‘I’m sorry Miss. Raj, but I am very busy. You must excuse me, I have a meeting I have to attend. It has been pleasant to meet you, but I really must bring this meeting to a close.’ Frank Cotteridge stood up as if to emphasise the point. ‘Oh, okay. Well, thank you very much, it has been most informative, Mr Cotteridge. I’m very grateful.’ Jamilla smiled, but this time his face was rigid. ‘I’ll see myself out,’ she finished and left his office. Frank sat down at his desk. He was worried. The last question had been too specific for general information. She knew something and he now felt suddenly vulnerable. His first reaction was to go and see Jasper Harper, but he stopped himself. Perhaps he was just being paranoid, after all? Harper would only berate him, and for what? No, he would just forget it. There was nothing to worry about. He hadn’t given anything away, so why be concerned? Yet, there was an odd fluttering in his stomach that would not go away, and the warning bell in his head was still ringing.
Chapter 29 An old and somewhat battered van pulled up outside St Xavier’s. Gupta Raj and Ramesh, his friend, got out. They walked around to the rear and opened the back doors. Inside the van was a large object that almost reached the roof of the vehicle. It was covered in a white sheet and stood on a low frame with small wheels. Gupta Raj and Ramesh pulled the heavy object forward. It tilted precariously as the weight shifted towards the two men. They staggered and almost dropped the thing, but managed to regain balance as they lifted it clear out of the van. Then, very carefully, the two men lowered the object to the ground. Closing the doors to the van, they pushed the object towards the entrance of the church. The wheels struggled under the weight, but they slowly managed to manoeuvre it forward, rattling and wobbling as it made its way along the uneven path. Ramesh opened the doors and turned around to pull the trolley and its shrouded payload over the threshold. Gupta Raj pushed with all his strength and finally managed to get it inside. Both men stood panting. Gupta Raj closed the church doors behind him. Sebastian was standing near the altar and saw the two men enter with the strange object. As he walked down the aisle, he recognised Gupta Raj. ‘Hello, Mr Raj. What have you got there?’ asked Sebastian staring at the shrouded object. ‘Hello, Mr Sebastian,’ replied Gupta Raj. ‘Actually, it’s Father Sebastian, Mr. Raj. It looks very heavy, whatever it is,’ said Sebastian. ‘It is for our meeting tomorrow,’ said Gupta Raj. ‘Very heavy indeed. We are needing to be getting it up the stairs.’ He was panting from his exertion. ‘Up the stairs,’ repeated Ramesh. ‘Maybe I can give you a hand?’ offered Sebastian. ‘That would be most kind,’ smiled Gupta Raj. ‘Most kind,’ said Ramesh. The three men pushed the trolley toward the staircase that led to the gallery. Sebastian, being the largest of the trio, took the weight, and tried to climb the first step. However, it was just too heavy and, after a struggle, the men put it back on the floor. Just then, Harley walked into the church. Seeing the three men struggling, he went over to see what was going on. ‘What you guys doing?’ ‘Trying to get this thing up to the gallery,’ replied Sebastian. ‘Gallery,’ said Ramesh. ‘What on earth is it?’ said Harley, lifting the sheet to take a look. ‘Wow! It’s an elephant.’ 106
Sebastian pulled the sheet off the object and stood back in amazement. A large stone statue stood on the makeshift wooden trolley. The head of the statue appeared to be an elephant with short, thick tusks, one of which was broken. A long trunk curled to form a loop. Its body was that of a man sitting cross-legged on a small plinth. Underneath the body was a small mouse. The body had a large protruding stomach, and there was a peaceful expression on the elephant’s face. There were four arms protruding from the body. One hand held a noose, another was held palm outwards, and another held an axe and the last one held a string of beads. Harley and Sebastian stared at the statue with a mixture of admiration and surprise. Gupta Raj spoke quietly, a tone of deep respect in his voice. ‘This is our Lord Ganesha. He is the Lord of success, and the destroyer of evils and obstacles. He is also worshipped as the God of education, knowledge, wisdom, and wealth.’ ‘Lord Ganesha,’ repeated Ramesh smiling. ‘Wow, it’s… quite a beautiful piece,’ said Harley. ‘Amazing,’ added Sebastian. ‘Where did it come from?’ ‘It was made in South India and exported to England. However, we Hindus do not see it as just a carving. Each aspect of the statue is symbolic,’ continued Gupta Raj. ‘The axe represents cutting through the worldly attachment. The noose traps illusion. The string of beads represents the continual pursuit of knowledge, and the open hand represents protection and fearlessness.’ ‘That’s cool,’ said Sebastian. ‘I didn’t know all that. I thought you just worshiped a statue. This is far more sophisticated.’ ‘Hinduism was the precursor to Buddhism, often called the science of the mind,’ explained Harley. ‘I see you know something of our religion,’ said Gupta Raj. ‘I studied many religions at university,’ said Harley. ‘It’s quite fascinating. However, our immediate problem is getting our friend here up these stairs, so we had better get on with it.’ Harley took the back of Ganesha and Sebastian the front, while Gupta Raj and Ramesh helped. They all lifted the statue and slowly ascended the narrow staircase. After considerable manipulation, and a few grazed knuckles, Ganesha arrived at the gallery entrance. Gupta Raj then pushed the statue to the rear of the gallery, the wheels making a rumbling sound as the heavy carving moved across the wooden floor into position. He stood back in admiration. Over the years, the gallery had subsided to form a gradual slope and, as the four men looked at the statue, it slowly rolled forward. They quickly ran and stopped its progress. Harley found a piece of wood and jammed it under the wheels. Just then, a voice from the nave called out. ‘Is there anyone here?’ shouted the voice as it echoed around the church. 107
Sebastian recognised the voice immediately. ‘Good grief, it's Dick-Head. What’s he doing here? Last I heard he had been arrested.’ ‘What?’ asked Harley. ‘Didn’t you read the papers this morning? Bishop O’Toole and Dicky Boy downstairs were arrested on terrorism charges. Something about black paint obscuring their number plate. A patrol car pulled them up and then something went down that got them arrested. Even his Mercedes was blown up by the bomb squad.’ Sebastian was smirking. ‘I had no idea,’ said Harley, who was clearly astonished. ‘Must have been the paint from the roof. Oh great, now he’ll be after blood. We had better go see what he wants.’ He turned to Gupta Raj. ‘Mr Raj, please stay out of sight up here with your friend until the church is empty. Then you can leave.’ Harley and Sebastian then went down the stairs to the nave. Father Head was standing at the entrance to the stairwell and was about to climb up when he met the two priests on their way down. ‘Father Head, to what do we owe this pleasure?’ asked Sebastian with an undisguised hint of sarcasm. ‘What were you doing up there?’ asked Father Head. ‘Oh nothing. Just storing some stuff,’ replied Sebastian. ‘What do you want, Richard?’ asked Harley, his large frame pushing past the priest who followed him down the aisle. ‘Bishop O’Toole sent me to check on you. He said that, due to the increased congregation, you might need some help with all the additional confessional sessions.’ ‘I’m sure we can cope,’ said Sebastian. ‘The Bishop insists that I help,’ retorted Father Head indignantly. ‘Well, if the Bishop insists, how can we refuse?’ said Harley. ‘How about you come Wednesday afternoon? That’s when we normally hold our confessional.’ ‘I shall certainly do that. Maybe I should bring a book to read. It might stop me from getting too bored when no one turns up,’ replied Father Head. ‘I wouldn’t be so sure of that, Father,’ said Sebastian. ‘And how is the Bishop after your little fracas with the police?’ Harley could not keep a straight face as Father Head fumed. ‘It was all a mistake. You two must have had something to do with it,’ he sneered. ‘Be careful who you accuse, Richard.’ Harley gave him an intimidating look and the priest kept quiet. Suddenly, there was a loud crash from the gallery.
‘What was that?’ shouted Father Head, as he started walking towards the rear of the church. Harley grabbed him by the arm and spun him around, just as an elephant’s tusk appeared over the balustrade. ‘It’s just some stuff we stored up there. It must have fallen over. Nothing for you to worry about. Now that your business here is finished, I suggest you leave.’ Harley escorted Father Head to the exit and gave him a firm, but gentle, push out of the door. ‘I shall be here on Wednesday,’ said a flustered Father Head. ‘Oh, we all eagerly await it, Dick,’ said Sebastian. As the priest left, Harley looked up toward the gallery and shook his head. ‘It’s going to be a long week,’ he said as his mobile phone starting to ring. He took it out of his pocket. ‘Father Jackson speaking.’ ‘Hi Father, this is Jamilla Raj.’ ‘Hello Jamilla. You must be Gupta Raj’s daughter?’ he replied. ‘Yes, I used to sit in your philosophy class at Uni,’ she responded. ‘I remember you. You’re the one who always asked the awkward questions.’ ‘That’s me, still do.’ ‘What can I do for you, Jamilla?’ asked Harley. ‘I need to talk to you,’ she replied. ‘Can we meet up tomorrow?’ ‘Is this philosophical, religious, or something else?’ ‘It’s to do with your Bishop O’Toole and our illustrious Mayor. I overheard them talking about St Xavier’s this morning.’ ‘What was the Bishop doing talking to the Mayor?’ asked Harley, as a violent scraping sound came from the gallery. He looked up to the balustrade and saw that Ganesh was being dragged backwards, his trunk caught on the railing. Harley sighed. ‘That’s why we need to talk,’ said Jamilla. ‘Okay, sure. Come over to the Manse house tomorrow morning. We can talk then.’ ‘Thanks. See you then,’ replied Jamilla, and finished the call. ‘What was all that about?’ asked Sebastian. ‘Seems our Bishop is up to something other than theological matters,’ replied Harley. ‘Doesn’t surprise me at all.’ ‘Jamilla overheard him talking to the Mayor, of all people.’ ‘Jasper Harper? The guy’s a crook if ever there was one,’ said Sebastian. There was another grinding noise as Ganesh’s trunk disappeared from view. ‘It never rains, but it pours,’ groaned Harley.
‘Speaking of which, we should get those tiles re-painted before Head notices them,’ said Sebastian. ‘I’ll go see Thor tomorrow night,’ Harley sighed. ‘By the way, I have an idea that might keep our Father Head a bit busier than he anticipated,’ said Sebastian as they walked towards the exit. ‘That sounds like trouble, Seb.’ ‘Might need help from Conan as well,’ muttered Sebastian. ‘That’s my brother you’re disparaging. And if it involves Thor, that’s even bigger trouble,’ said Harley as Gupta Raj and Ramesh joined them at the exit. ‘I thought we could muster up some extra confessions,’ grinned Sebastian mischievously. ‘That’s not a bad idea,’ replied Harley, as Gupta Raj tapped him on the shoulder. ‘We shall be going then. We will be back with our little group tomorrow evening,’ said Gupta Raj. ‘Tomorrow evening,’ added Ramesh. ‘Have a good evening, gentlemen,’ said Harley as they all left the church. ‘All we need now are some Buddhist monks and we’re set,’ said Sebastian. ‘Don’t tempt fate,’ replied Harley as his cell phone rang again. ‘What now?’ ‘Hi bro, it’s Thor.’ ‘Thor, I was going to call you. You need to get hold of Big Mick. Seems like his tiles have changed colour.’ ‘Never mind that just now,’ replied Thor. ‘I have something of yours here.’ ‘Where’s here?’ Harley stopped walking. A large moth flew around inside his stomach. ‘Jolly Roger,’ replied Thor. ‘What have you got that’s mine? Did I leave something there the other night?’ Harley was certain he hadn’t left anything anywhere. ‘Not exactly. We had a visit from one of your priests.’ ‘Oh no, don’t tell me. Father Head, by any chance? Short balding guy, beady eyes?’ Harley screwed his face up and cast a look at Sebastian. ‘That’s the fella. He came in here asking questions,’ said Thor. ‘Stupid idiot,’ said Harley. ‘I trust you didn’t remove his head?’ ‘Nothing so crude, bro. He’s ok. In fact, he’s still here. Sort of decided to hang around, so to speak. Maybe you should come get him?’ ‘Okay, I’ll come over. Try not to terrorise him, Thor. We’re in enough shit already,’ said Harley and hung up. 110
‘I take it our colleague decided to do a little background check on our congregation?’ asked Sebastian. ‘Looks that way,’ replied Harley. ‘What a prat. No one goes to the Jolly Roger unless they own a steel horse with enough power to outrun a Porsche. Either that, or they have a death wish.’ Harley opened the door to the Manse house. He grabbed his leather jacket, bike keys and helmet, then opened the garage door, and straddled his Harley Davidson. The engine fired up with a deafening roar. The back wheel spat gravel as it leaped down the driveway.
Chapter 30 The Jolly Roger was full of bikers. Music blared as Harley entered the pub. He walked up to the bar, where Thor was standing with Bernice. He looked around to see if he could locate Father Head. ‘Where is the dozy twat?’ asked Harley shaking his head. ‘Like I said, he’s hanging around somewhere.’ Thor was grinning from ear to ear. He then pointed to the corner of the room. Harley’s gaze followed Thor’s pointing finger. ‘Oh, Christ Almighty.’ Harley saw what Thor was pointing at. Dangling from a rope that was strung up over a wooden beam, Father Head was swinging back and forth. He was trussed up like a Christmas turkey. A rope was tied around his waist, and he dangled at an angle about a metre from the floor. ‘I told you he was just hanging around,’ laughed Thor. ‘Don’t worry, he’s okay. Just his pride took a battering, that’s all.’ Harley walked over to Father Head and put his mouth to the dangling priest’s ear. ‘You’re an idiot, Richard. What on earth possessed you to come in here?’ Father Head’s mouth was wrapped in a bandana so he could not reply. ‘Mmm, mmm, mmm,’ he muttered. ‘What? Didn’t quite make that out,’ repliedHarley, putting his hand to his ear. ‘Mmmm, mmm, mummm,’ wheezed Father Head as Harley gave him a push. ‘Richard, if I get you out of here, you will go home and you will swear on everything you believe that you will never, I repeat never, come in here again. If you do, I won’t rescue you. Understand?’ Harley gave him another push that sent him swinging violently. Father Head nodded his head vigorously. ‘Good boy,’ said Harley. He turned to Thor, who was laughing aloud at the spectacle. ‘Let him swing while I have a beer, then get him down.’ He then walked back to the bar with Thor. ‘So, tell me about your roof,’ said Thor as he ordered two beers. ‘You read the paper this morning?’ asked Harley. ‘Oh, the arrested priest thing? So that was him?’ asked Thor, pointing to the swinging priest. ‘Him and our favourite Bishop.’ ‘What’s that gotta do with the roof tiles?’ asked Thor, downing a large gulp of beer.
‘It rained, the tile paint wasn’t waterproof and ran over their car covering the number plate. The cops stopped them and things got out of hand. I suspect the Bishop gave the cops an earful, so they gave him a taste of their hospitality. Not sure why their car was blown to bits by the bomb squad, though,’ said Harley, scratching his head. ‘Maybe they just got what they deserved. I guess you’re not the Bish’s favourite priest, then?’ Thor slapped Harley on the shoulder. ‘That’s not all. I had a call from Jamilla Raj, who works at the Herald. Says she overheard O’Toole talking with Jasper Harper.’ ‘The Mayor? That slime ball. Gotta be something dodgy going on there,’ replied Thor. ‘I’m meeting Jamilla tomorrow to get the details. I’ll let you know what’s going on. By the way, I need your help again.’ ‘Ask and thou shalt receive, little brother,’ said Thor as he ordered another beer. ‘You want another? Our friend isn’t going anywhere just yet.’ ‘No, I’m driving. I think some of our friends here need to confess.’ Harley spoke quietly so Father Head didn’t overhear. He swept his arm around as if to include everyone in the pub. ‘Confess what?’ asked Thor. ‘Anything they like. Just get a few to show up on Wednesday afternoon for confessional,’ said Harley. ‘Is this a conspiracy, Father Jackson?’ ‘No more than the conspiracy to shut down St Xavier’s.’ ‘I’m sure we can find some sinners for you,’ replied Thor, grinning. ‘And get Big Mick to re-paint those tiles. Tell him to use waterproof paint this time. We don’t want another incident with the anti-terrorist squad,’ said Harley. ‘Will do, bro. Suppose we better get your priest down before he throws up. He looks kind of pale.’ Thor pointed to Father Head, who had stopped swinging but looked very white. He nodded to some bikers next to the suspended priest and they untied the rope. Father Head slid to the floor. Harley picked him up and frog marched him out of the pub. ‘Go home, Richard, and thank the good Lord you still have your head attached to your shoulders.’ Father Head staggered to his car and drove out of the car park of the Jolly Roger. The car swayed a little, then straightened up and disappeared out of sight.
Chapter 31 The L’Escargot restaurant was busy. Most of the tables were occupied as waiters drifted from one to the other, either serving drinks or bringing starters. Several tables were located at the rear of the restaurant. They were divided from each other by small stalls that enabled the guests an element of privacy. Joshua sat in one of the stalls, drinking a glass of water. He had arrived a little early so as to ensure a private area. An impeccably dressed man glided over to his table and introduced himself to Joshua. ‘Welcome to L’Escargot, sir. I am William, your maître d’. Will you be dining alone this evening, sir?’ ‘I’m waiting for someone,’ said Joshua. ‘Very good, sir. Does your guest happen to be a young lady, with long black hair and dazzling eyes?’ replied William. ‘Yes, how did you know?’ asked Joshua, slightly surprised. ‘Because she has just walked in, and almost every male head in the restaurant has turned to look,’ said William, turning to the receptionist and nodding. Jamilla looked stunning. She was wearing a short black dress that revealed her slender figure and long legs. The top was cut in a slight V that showed just the hint of cleavage. A pair of ethnic silver earrings hung from her ears, and her silky black hair tumbled over her shoulders and down her back. Her high heels clicked on the stone floor as she walked over to the waiting maître d', who showed her to her seat next to Joshua. Her intoxicating perfume caused Joshua’s pulse rate to soar. When her thigh touched his, an electric shock surged up his leg and ignited a small nuclear device in his stomach. Jamilla kissed his cheek and he blushed intensely. ‘Hi, Josh. How was the rest of your day?’ she purred. ‘Nothing too exciting, until now,’ he grinned. ‘You look amazing.’ ‘Not so bad yourself,’ she replied with a wink. ‘How did it go with the planning department? Any luck?’ Joshua was finding it difficult to concentrate. He thought that perhaps her perfume had realigned his brain somehow. ‘Interesting meeting,’ she replied, tossing a stray strand of hair over her shoulder. ‘Frank Cotteridge is the planning officer. He was quite helpful at first. I managed to get him to leave the room for a minute and looked through a file. The file was a Grant Holdings application for change of use from agricultural to commercial, and Frank Cotteridge had already recommended the file for approval. However, the file was only dated a few days ago, so Frank could not really have done any due diligence. It seems he just approved this on his own.’ ‘So, this thing goes even deeper than we expected?’ asked Joshua. 114
‘I’m sure Cotteridge is involved in all this. After all, his role would certainly make things easier for Jasper Harper’s plans. If Harper has a tame planning officer who is on the take, then he can pretty much get anything he wants. As soon as I started to ask questions about some of the processes, especially about changing the use of the land, he clammed up and virtually threw me out.’ Jamilla adjusted her dress and again her leg brushed against Joshua. This time, it seemed to linger there longer than was necessary. ‘Sounds like he’s in it up to his neck,’ said Joshua. ‘Anyway, shall we order?’ Joshua waved at a passing waiter. The waiter handed two menus to Joshua and Jamilla. ‘Would you like to order drinks, sir?’ asked the waiter. ‘I’d like a bottle of Laurent Perrier, please,’ said Joshua. ‘Of course, sir. I shall be right back.’ The waiter hurried off in the direction of the bar. ‘Wow, champagne! Are we celebrating?’ asked Jamilla. ‘Well, sort of,’ replied Joshua. ‘It’s our first real date, so you could say that's what we're celebrating.’ ‘And I hope there will be many more.’ Jamilla took his hand and held onto it. The waiter returned with the champagne and a cooler. Placing two crystal champagne flutes on the table, the waiter deftly wrapped a white napkin around the bottle and popped the cork. He then poured champagne into the glasses and returned the bottle to the cooler. Joshua raised his glass and Jamilla did the same. They touched glasses and Jamilla proposed a toast. ‘Let’s drink to us. It took you a while, Joshua Mannheim, but you finally got around to it,’ said Jamilla, clinking his glass. Joshua grinned like a cat that just got the cream. He sipped his champagne and then kissed Jamilla on her lips. She returned his kiss, and afterwards rested her head against his shoulder. Joshua then opened the menu to look inside. His eyes were reading, but his mind was reeling. He knew he had fallen madly in love with this girl, and he felt a deep longing to spend the rest of his life with her. ‘It all looks tempting,’ said Jamilla as she scanned the menu. They eventually decided on what to eat and the waiter took their order. Joshua chose a starter of scallops in white wine, followed by the house specialty of roast duck. Jamilla selected an avocado salad with smoked chicken. For her main course, she decided on a grilled filet mignon with a side salad. Joshua ordered a bottle of wine to go with the meal. They sat and talked until the starters arrived. As Jamilla was about to take a mouthful of smoked chicken, she stopped, her fork hovering in front of her mouth. Joshua saw her staring across the restaurant. He followed her eyes and saw what she had seen. It was Jasper Harper. He had walked into the restaurant, barked something at the receptionist, who showed him to the stall 115
just next to theirs. Jasper Harper sat at his table and demanded a whisky to be brought to him. The receptionist turned and called over a waiter. Joshua looked at Jamilla, who was still holding the fork in front of her mouth. ‘Talk of the devil himself,’ said Jamilla finally, as she at her chicken. ‘I wonder what he’s doing here?’ Just then, another familiar figure entered the restaurant and was immediately guided over to where Jasper Harper was seated. ‘Well, well, there’s a coincidence,’ said Jamilla. ‘That’s Frank Cotteridge, the guy a met this afternoon. This doesn’t look the sort of place that he would frequent, so Harper must have asked to meet him here.’ Jamilla was craning her neck to try to listen to what was being said in the next booth. ‘Or Cotteridge wanted to meet up with Harper,’ replied Joshua, who was finishing his scallops. A raised voice could suddenly be heard from the booth next to them. ‘I tell you, she knows something.’ It was the voice of Frank Cotteridge. ‘Keep your bloody voice down,’ snarled Harper. ‘No one knows anything, unless you blabbered. And meeting me here isn’t going to help matters. So be a good civil servant and bugger off back to your little hovel. Just deliver those papers to my office. But let me warn you again, if you don’t follow through, Cotteridge, then you can start looking for another job.’ ‘You’ll have your damned application, and then that’s it. I’m done with all this. If that reporter finds out what we have been doing, then we both sink,’ moaned Cotteridge. ‘You’re done when I tell you you’re done, Cotteridge. Now get out of here. You’ll make me lose my appetite.’ Frank Cotteridge shuffled out of the booth and left the restaurant. Jamilla ducked her head so that he wouldn’t see her. She whispered to Joshua in a soft voice. ‘He was referring to me, Josh. I knew I had rattled his cage. So they are up to something. I have to find out what that land is going to be used for. And I’m sure St Xavier’s will be the next building to fall.’ ‘When are you meeting Father Jackson?’ whispered Joshua. ‘I meet him tomorrow. He has to know what’s going on and I don’t think there is much time left. Whatever Harper is up to, it’s happening now,’ replied Jamilla. ‘Well, for now let’s enjoy our dinner. Cheers,’ said Joshua, raising his glass to hers. ‘Cheers, Josh,’ and she raised her glass to his. ‘WAITER!’ boomed the voice from the next booth. ‘Where’s my wine? I haven’t got all night!’
‘Sounds like Harper is in a foul mood,’ giggled Jamilla. ‘Guess he can consider his cage duly rattled.’ ‘Well, you rock my world, Jamilla Raj,’ replied Joshua. ‘So a little cage rattling is a minor tremor compared to that.’ ‘I haven’t even started yet,’ said Jamilla, her eyes flashing. ‘I think I love you, Jamilla.’ Joshua spoke in a low voice as he played with his fork. ‘You only think? You mean you don’t know?’ asked Jamilla, teasing him. ‘Oh, I know all right. It’s definite,’ he said grinning. ‘I should hope so. I’d hate to think it was only me who felt like that.’ Joshua’s heart leapt at the realisation that she felt the same. ‘But you know it’s not going to be that easy for us, don’t you?’ he continued. ‘Oh, I know that. My mum’s already suspicious. She wants me married off to this movie mogul. But don’t worry about that, Josh. It’s you I want, not some Bollywood bozo.’ ‘I can’t wait to see the look on my mum’s face,’ said Josh. ‘She expects me to marry a nice Jewish girl and go live in Golders Green and raise twenty kids.’ ‘Well, I don’t know about twenty, but we can see what happens.’ Jamilla squeezed is hand. ‘We’ll get through it. They will just have to deal with it. This is the twenty-first century, not the middle ages.’ ‘You obviously don’t know my mum,’ groaned Joshua. ‘Maybe I should meet her then,’ she responded. ‘Soon enough,’ said Joshua. ‘For now, let’s finish this wine. Here comes the main course.’ The waiter arrived with the main course, as another stream of invective could be heard from the next booth. He raised his eyebrows as Jasper Harper began shouting at one of his colleagues. ‘Dissatisfied customer, by the sound of it,’ said Joshua. ‘He’s always like that. Nothing ever pleases that guy,’ said the waiter, as he placed the plates of food in front of Joshua and Jamilla. ‘Enjoy your meal.’ Seems like our Mayor isn’t so popular with his public,’ said Joshua. ‘By the time we’ve finished with him, the only public he’ll see will be his fellow inmates at Bellmarsh prison,’ replied Jamilla raising her glass. ‘To justice,’ she toasted. ‘I’d rather toast just us!’ replied Joshua. ‘Okay then. Here’s to just us,’ said Jamilla as they clinked glasses. In the next booth, Jasper Harper sat alone. His face was contorted into an expression of anger as he spoke in a lowered voice into his cell phone. ‘Find out who that bloody reporter is. I want this dealt with before it gets out of hand. Do whatever is necessary.’ He snapped the cell phone shut and 117
signalled the waiter to bring him a refill. ‘Meddling reporter. She’ll be sorry she ever heard the name Jasper Harper,’ he muttered to himself
Chapter 32 It was a crisp, cold sunny day. The sky was a cloudless azure blue, and a ground frost covered the grass and trees around St Xavier’s. Sunlight sparkled on ice crystals, and the entire scene looked like a classical winter wonderland. Harley loved this time of year; everything crunched underfoot, while the air felt pure and pristine. He stood at the front door of the Manse house looking at the old church, surveying the beautiful winter scene. He gazed up at the steeple that glistened with frost; his eyes glanced over the roof and he saw the small area of red tiles surrounded by the original black tiles. He chuckled softly and then started to laugh out loud at the events of the past few days. He thought about the strange congregation of bikers and gays; poor old Mrs Whittlehurst’s gas problems, and Mrs Chattel’s awful organ playing; the Bishop and Father Head being arrested, all because of some black paint. He stood laughing and holding his side as tears rolled down his face. Sebastian poked his head out of the door and saw Harley’s shoulders jerking violently. ‘You okay, Harley?’ he asked as he walked up to his friend. ‘Sure. I was just thinking of the past few days. It’s funny if not a little tragic. But despite it all, I look at this old church and can’t see it being torn down. I just have a strong feeling everything will be all right in the end.’ ‘I know what you mean,’ replied Sebastian. ‘It’s all a bit bizarre. But, as we know, God works in mysterious ways,’ and he slapped Harley on the back. ‘So do bishops and mayors,’ replied Harley. ‘Speaking of which,’ said Sebastian pointing to a figure walking up the driveway towards them. ‘Hi Jamilla,’ said Harley, walking towards her to greet her. Sebastian’s stomach did a cartwheel as he saw the beautiful Jamilla. A little surge of adrenaline sloshed around his circulatory system. He ended up with a feeling of guilt somewhere in the back of his brain. Harley noticed a change of expression he could not quite recognise form across Sebastian’s features. ‘Shall we go inside? I’d like Sebastian to hear what you have to say,’ said Harley as they walked into the Manse house. They were all seated in the sitting room. Sebastian had made fresh coffee, and Jamilla had bought some butter croissants with her. ‘I think you should know that something is going on,’ she began. ‘I’m really not sure what it is yet, but I will investigate further. My friend - boyfriend, actually - Joshua, is following Jasper Harper, and trying to see who he meets and where he goes, but as yet there is nothing conclusive.’ Jamilla took a bite of her croissant and continued as Harley and Sebastian listened intently. ‘I overheard Bishop O’Toole and Jasper Harper discussing St Xavier’s. It was obviously a clandestine meeting, and they didn’t expect anyone to overhear them. Harper was warning the Bishop not to let 119
him down. He said he had a lot of money tied up in something.’ Jamilla stopped to drink her coffee. ‘What do you think is going on?’ asked Sebastian. ‘I can’t prove anything yet, but it’s my guess that Harper wants St Xavier’s. He owns a huge tract of land behind the church that he purchased through a shell company. I mean, this isn’t just some field; it spreads to about a hundred or so acres. But, access to the land is through St Xavier’s; there are no other roads, as this was farmland.’ ‘What does he want with a hundred acres of farmland?’ asked Harley. ‘I went to see Frank Cotteridge in the planning department to see if I could get any more information. He really got scared when I started asking specific questions. However, I did manage to get him out of the room and look briefly at a folder. The folder contained an application by Grant Holdings, one of Jasper Harper’s shell companies. The application was for the change of use from agricultural to commercial. When I looked at the papers, it had already been stamped by Cotteridge for approval by the planning committee.’ Jamilla took another gulp of coffee and continued. ‘If that approval goes through, Harper will need St Xavier’s to be able to access the land. It’s my opinion that Bishop O’Toole is helping him, but I also think that he’s got his own agenda as well.’ Jamilla finished her coffee and sat back, waiting for a response. ‘Bishop O’Toole really dislikes us both,’ said Harley. ‘I know he would do anything to get rid of us. But to close down a church? That goes above and beyond disliking a couple of priests. He wants the church shut down, he’s as much as said that.’ ‘I’m also convinced that Harper paid him as well,’ replied Jamilla. ‘Although I can’t prove that. I’d need access to his bank accounts and, knowing Harper, he has covered his trail.’ She sighed and looked at the two priests. ‘I’m not sure I can do that much. Harper is smart; he has people in his pocket and, by the looks of it, he has inside help from this Bishop O’Toole.’ Harley sat in silence, rubbing his square chin. Suddenly, a thought occurred to him, and a look of inspiration came over his face. ‘I know that look,’ laughed Sebastian. ‘What’s on your mind, Father?’ ‘If we can’t prove Harper bribed Bishop O’Toole, maybe we can prove it the other way round?’ said Harley as he winked at Sebastian. ‘Oh boy, this sounds illegal and immoral!’ said Sebastian. ‘Not exactly. If we can somehow prove that Bishop O’Toole took a bribe to get the church closed down, and we can find out what else he has to gain by that, then maybe we can get Harper and the Bishop O’Toole in one go? We will then save St Xavier’s in the process.’ Harley was suddenly excited by his plan. ‘So, how do you intend to do that?’ asked Jamilla as she sat forward in her chair.
‘Oh, I’m sure Father Jackson has his ways,’ added Sebastian, as he shot Harley a look. ‘He has, shall we say, some unusual connections.’ ‘I’ll make some enquiries and see what we can come up with,’ said Harley. Jamilla stood up. ‘Okay, let me know if I can do anything to help. Meanwhile, I’ll stay on top of Harper and see what he’s going to do with that land. I have to get back to the office, so let’s keep in touch.’ Harley and Sebastian showed her out. When she had gone, Sebastian turned to Harley. ‘So, when are you going to see Thor?’ ‘I’ll go tonight and talk to him, Seb. We have to get to the bottom of this and, if it takes a bit of improvisation, then so be it. It’s not as if what O’Toole is doing is exactly above board, is it?’ ‘I know, but let’s not drop to his level. We don’t want to end up in deep dodo.’ ‘Don’t worry. We’re just going to do a little research.’ Harley picked up his cell phone and dialled his brother. ‘Thor? I need some help, bro. I’ll come over this evening to your place, not the pub. This is a bit sensitive. And bring Bones with you, we might need his, ermm, shall we say innovative skills.’ Harley hung up the phone and turned to Sebastian, who was still looking a bit suspicious. ‘Sorted,’ he said. ‘Who on earth is Bones?’ asked Sebastian. ‘Bones is a computer whizz. He used to work for IBM as a programmer.’ ‘You mean he doesn’t work there anymore?’ asked Sebastian. ‘He had to take a three-year sabbatical.’ Harley sounded a little vague. ‘What sort of sabbatical, exactly?’ pressed Sebastian. ‘The sort of sabbatical paid for by Her Majesty’s Government,’ said Harley, raising his eyebrows. ‘You mean he went to prison?’ ‘It was just an administrative error.’ ‘You mean the sort that involves computer fraud, by any chance?’ said Sebastian. ‘Hacking, actually. He hacked into the World Bank and managed to plant a virus that crashed their system for two days.’ Harley looked sheepish. ‘No real harm done. He was trying to prove a point.’ ‘Prove a point? What was the point exactly? That he could wreak havoc in the banking system?’ ‘He wanted to prove that their security systems were inadequate. He had developed a new firewall, and was trying to convince IBM to use it. They didn’t see it that way. He was fired and then prosecuted. They made an example of him,’ said Harley defensively. 121
‘So what does he do now?’ ‘Oh this and that - a bit of programming, some web development. Anyway, he can help us, Seb. If he can find out what O’Toole is up to, it might just save St Xavier’s, and that’s what is important.’ Harley turned to look out of the window. There was the noise of an approaching vehicle. It stopped outside on the driveway. ‘Looks like our tile decorator has come to do some painting,’ said Harley, pointing to the van parked in the driveway. ‘This is becoming more like a scene from the Godfather every day,’ said Sebastian. ‘We have crooked Bishops, bent Mayors, criminal roofers, and now we’re getting involved with some computer hacker. Maybe I should take up a life of crime instead of being a priest?’ ‘You worry too much. We are just doing God’s work,’ grinned Harley. ‘We just need a bit of human help, that’s all. Now, let’s go and see what our Irish friends are doing, shall we?’ Big Mick was pulling down the ladder from the roof of their van as Harley approached. Pat was holding a large container of waterproof paint. ‘Hi guys. I hope this paint doesn’t come off in the rain like the last lot,’ said Harley, pointing to the paint. ‘Not at all, not at all,’ said Big Mick merrily. ‘It’s the best stuff. They paint swimming pools with this.’ ‘Well, let’s hope that we don’t all take a dive,’ muttered Sebastian. Big Mick started to climb the ladder and Pat followed, holding a large paintbrush. ‘Be done in a jiffy. You won’t know we were even here,’ shouted Big Mick as he climbed onto the roof. ‘You think the magistrates will accept that?’ asked Sebastian as he entered the house. ‘I’m very sorry, Your Honour, we didn’t know that the tiles were actually stolen from St Peter’s. No sir, we didn’t know they were red. Someone must have come and painted them.’ ‘We don’t know they were stolen, Seb. Anyway, they all belong to mother church, so technically it’s not actually stealing, is it? They just moved location,’ grinned Harley. Chapter 33 As the sun dropped in the sky, an orange glow appeared across the horizon. A large red minibus pulled up the driveway to St Xavier’s and stopped near the entrance to the church. The doors opened as a large group of Indian men and women exited the vehicle. Sebastian watched from the driveway as an impossible number of people climbed out of the bus in an endless stream. To him, it seemed amazing that so many people could fit into one vehicle. Gupta Raj was the last person to exit. 122
It was then that Sebastian saw the entrance to the church. It was festooned with tiny fairy lights. All around the high archway was draped a string of coloured lights that twinkled in the twilight. The group of Indians followed Gupta Raj into the church. When they had all disappeared inside, Sebastian followed at a distance, curious to know what would happen. All of Swami Gupta Raj’s friends were assembled in the gallery. The statue of Ganesha held pride of place in the centre of the rear wall. Another statue stood beside Ganesh; it was a beautifully carved, six-armed Shiva. The arms radiated outwards from the body. Above the head of Shiva was a large Cobra, its hood spread to form a canopy over the head. There was a slightly raised plinth that was covered in bright yellow silk material. All around the gallery were many candles that provided a soothing, ambient light. In addition, the oak panelled walls of the old gallery were strewn with more tiny fairy lights that twinkled in the candlelight. Gupta Raj had also brought with him some cushions and each person placed a cushion on the floor and sat down, cross-legged. The Swami sat on the raised plinth; he was wearing a simple white dhoti and kurta. Sebastian was peeking over the last step to the gallery. The rest of his body was obscured from view as he lay on the stairs. ‘I want to welcome you all to our new temple,’ began Gupta Raj. ‘It is thanks to Lord Ganesha and, of course, Father Harley Jackson and Father Sebastian, that we have this wonderful new temple.’ He gestured with his open arms, looking in the direction of the stairwell. ‘Father Sebastian, would you like to join us? I’m sure you will catch a cold in your bones lying there on the stone steps.’ Everyone turned to look as Sebastian climbed the top step and came into the gallery. Everyone clapped their hands and applauded Sebastian. He was taken by surprise at the gesture and looked embarrassed; he raised his hands in front of him and waved in an attempt to stop the applause. ‘Please,’ he said, ‘I didn’t mean to interrupt. Just carry on. I’ll leave you in peace.’ Sebastian turned to leave but was stopped by the Swami. ‘Please, Father Sebastian, stay. Take a cushion and join us,’ he insisted. A cushion was handed to Sebastian and he sat on the floor, crossing his legs. He was not used to sitting in such a position and he winced in pain as he tried to make himself more comfortable. The Swami placed his hand together at his forehead, and everyone else placed their hands together at their heart. Sebastian followed, his knees cracking as he adjusted himself again. The clear voice of the Swami resonated throughout the church as he began reciting ‘Om’. To Sebastian, it was a beautiful sound and, as everyone else began to follow, the Swami then started to recite a mantra. Everyone chanted along with the Swami, the sound appearing to flow like a gentle stream. Sebastian found it easy to pick up the chant, singing along with everyone else. The repetitive mantra had a soporific effect on Sebastian. It seemed like every care in the world had simply dissolved and there was nothing but the sound of the soft mantra. When eventually the singing stopped, Swami Gupta Raj led everyone in meditation. 123
‘Simply follow your breath,’ said Gupta Raj softly, his voice calm and guiding. ‘Allow your thoughts to arise naturally, but let them dissolve. Do not cling to them, or follow them.’ Everyone sat silently, and only the occasional creaking of the rafters could be heard. Sebastian sat, concentrating on his breathing. The discomfort in his knees had subsided and he felt a wonderful calmness throughout his body and mind. An hour had passed before Swami Gupta Raj spoke once again. ‘Everything we see and experience in our lives is like an illusion,’ he continued, his soft voice breaking the silence. ‘Nothing is at it appears to be, our minds interpret events and objects with our own judgmental attitudes and habits. It is only through meditation that we shall truly see clearly. Cast aside your prejudices and preconceived ideas and allow your mind to be at peace. All our suffering is brought upon ourselves. Only loving kindness, tolerance, and patience will bring us peace. Lord Ganesh will guide us, but we have to do things for ourselves. No one can give us enlightenment, like a pill for an illness. We have to do it ourselves.’ Swami Gupta Raj then clasped his hands together and bowed slightly to everyone. Once again, everyone began to chant softly ‘Om, Om, Om’. Downstairs, the side door to the nave opened and in walked Mrs Whittlehurst. She did not use the front entrance and thus did not see the lights decorating the door. As she entered the church, she crossed herself and sat on the front pew. It was then that she noticed a faint glow in the darkened church. She looked around to see where it was coming from. Her eyes scanned the church, the altar and statues. She looked up at the stained glass windows and saw them glow in the strange light. Then, she heard the sound, it was soft at first, but she began to hear it more distinctly. It was like chanting, but as far as she could tell there was no one in the church. She began to feel uneasy. The light seemed to flicker, casting strange shadows across the nave. The statues of Mary and the various saints seemed to move in the surreal light. Mrs Whittlehurst new from experience that demons could interfere in the world of humans. Her own cat had been possessed. Her eyes darted nervously around the church. She looked up at the roof above the altar and saw a terrifying sight. A black shadow crawled over the beams of the roof. The head appeared to be wearing a crown of some sort. The apparition had six arms, and each arm appeared to be waving at her. The head looked like a giant snake, and one of the arms held a three-pronged spear that moved from side to side. The chanting noise had grown louder and sounded like a million harpies descending to carry her off to hell. She was transfixed by the demon on the ceiling. Suddenly she stood and screamed. Sebastian was yanked out of his reverie by the blood-curdling scream from the nave below. He got up, then immediately collapsed as his legs had gone numb from sitting cross-legged for an hour. He managed to get up slowly and hobbled to the stairwell. Everyone else looked around. Swami Gupta Raj asked everyone to stay seated. Sebastian arrived at the nave to see Mrs Whittlehurst charging towards him down the aisle. She did not see 124
Sebastian and crashed headlong into him, sending them both sprawling onto the floor. ‘Demons! Banshees! The end is near! Satan has entered the world,’ screeched a delirious Mrs Whittlehurst. Sebastian pulled himself up and helped Mrs Whittlehurst to her feet as she continued to rant. ‘Oh, Father Sebastian, it’s you. The demons are here, Father. A huge one, with six arms, tried to stab me with his spear. And the wailing, can’t you hear the wailing? Souls being tormented in hell. We are doomed, doomed,’ she shrieked as she pulled away from Sebastian. He followed Mrs Whittlehurst as she bolted to the front entrance. Sebastian managed to grab her arm and tried to calm her down. ‘Mrs Whittlehurst, it’s okay. There are no demons, it’s just, ermm…’ He was stuck for an explanation. He couldn’t exactly tell her that the gallery had been converted to a Hindu temple, so he improvised. ‘I was just clearing out some rubbish from the gallery, Mrs Whittlehurst. I lit some candles and you just saw shadows on the roof, that’s all.’ Mrs Whittlehurst stared at Sebastian with eyes full of fear. ‘Shadows? But what about the chanting? The souls in torment?’ ‘I was listening to some, ermm, Gregorian chants on my radio,’ replied Sebastian. ‘But I saw a six-armed demon, right up there,’ and she pointed a boney finger at the roof above the altar. The candles had been extinguished in the gallery and there was no longer any shadow on the roof. Mrs Whittlehurst looked around, her eyes glinting. She then looked at Sebastian. ‘I know what I saw,’ she muttered. ‘The mind can play tricks, Mrs Whittlehurst. Why don’t you go home and make a nice cup of tea? I assure you, there are no demons here,’ reassured Sebastian. Just then, there was a loud rumbling noise followed by a crash. Mrs Whittlehurst screamed as she looked up to the gallery. The fairy lights were still on, some of which were flickering on and off. There was a strange blue glow emanating from the gallery that seemed to pulse. Mrs Whittlehurst screamed again and pointed to the apparition that appeared above the balustrade. The head of Ganesh dangled over the rail. His trunk waved from left to right as the statue balanced precariously. ‘Demons, see? It’s the devil himself!’ Mrs Whittlehurst crossed herself and bolted for the door. Sebastian watched as she ran down the drive and disappeared. He could still hear her yelling in the distance. Swami Gupta Raj came down the stairs and walked up to Sebastian. ‘Is everything all right?’ he asked. ‘I thought I heard someone scream.’
‘Oh, don’t worry. It’s just one of our more imaginative flock,’ said Sebastian. ‘How’s Ganesh? I hope he’s not damaged.’ ‘No, not at all. I tripped over the piece of wood holding the wheels in position; unfortunately, the statue rolled forward before I could catch it. But there’s no damage. Lord Ganesha is back in his place, safe and sound.’ Gupta Raj turned as the group of Indians came down the stairs and left the church. ‘Well, thank you again, Father Sebastian. I hoped you enjoyed our little meditation together?’ ‘Very pleasant indeed,’ said Sebastian. ‘Maybe you could just take down the lights at the entrance before you leave?’ ‘Yes, of course,’ replied Gupta Raj. ‘See you next week, Father.’ He then walked outside and closed the door behind him, leaving Sebastian alone in the church. He looked around the church and shook his head at the thought of poor Mrs Whittlehurst. On the roof he saw a faint outline of a six-armed shadow that appeared to undulate. On the gallery he could just see the head of Shiva; a solitary candle still burned at the foot of the statue, sending shadows up to the roof. Sebastian sat on a pew and laughed. ‘Poor Mrs Whittlehurst,’ he thought aloud. ‘It’s going to be a very long confession tomorrow. I almost feel sorry for Father Head.’ Sebastian got up and walked to the entrance. The night was cold and the winter moon shone brightly from a clear sky. He was sure that, in the still of the night, he could hear a voice in the far distance. ‘Demons, banshees, the devil. The end is here,’ wailed the voice.
Chapter 34 The three men sat around a laptop computer. The light from the screen cast shadows around the room. A tall, thin man, with long hair that was tied back in a ponytail, stared at the screen. His long, slender fingers formed a ballet across the keyboard. Harley and Thor sat either side of Bones and watched him at work. ‘So, you want to get access to the Bishop’s computer?’ said Bones as he tapped the keys. ‘I need to know what he’s up to,’ replied Harley. ‘He’s got an agenda. Jamilla is certain he took a bribe from Jasper Harper, but we have no proof.’ ‘Easy enough to get access,’ said Bones. ‘I need you to send him an email - make certain it says something that will make him open it. I can attach a file to the email. He won’t know that it’s there, but once he opens the file it will run a program that will allow me to download everything on his drive.’ He opened up a file and started to type a code. ‘Here, open your email account and send him something that will grab his attention,’ and he pushed the laptop towards Harley. Harley opened his email account and entered the Bishop’s email address. He started to type in the message box. Dear Bishop O’Toole, I know you want to close St Xavier’s, and I now know why. Once the Vatican learns about your vendetta against me and your plans for St Xavier’s, your career will be over. I have proof. Father Harley Jackson. Harley pressed the send button, and the email was sent. They all sat back and watched the screen. Within minutes, a small icon appeared on the screen. It flashed for a few seconds, and then a window opened. It was the log-on screen of another computer. ‘Well, well, seems as though your Bishop took the bait,’ said Bones as he adjusted the window to the side of the screen. There was a ‘ping’ as message screen popped up. It was a reply from the Bishop’s account. Harley opened the file and read. You know nothing. The only reason I want you shut down is that you and your freaky friend are a disgrace to the church. The church is a ruin and a danger to everyone. Your time has come, Father Jackson. Bishop O’Toole Harley shook his head and laughed aloud. Bones typed something into the log-on window, and the screen changed as Bishop O’Toole’s hard drive came into view. ‘Okay, let’s see what he’s up to,’ said Bones as he cracked his fingers.
His hands flew over the keyboard, opening files and searching through directories. ‘Why don’t you guys give me half an hour?’ said Bones, glancing up from the screen. ‘I’ll let you know what I find.’ Harley and Thor moved to the kitchen. Harley sat at the kitchen table as Thor made some tea. ‘You never did tell me why you gave up teaching and became a priest,’ said Thor, as he placed a large mug of tea in front of his brother. ‘It only took you ten years to ask?’ said Harley as he drank his tea with a loud slurping noise. ‘I always thought it best to keep quiet. But, what with all this going down with the Bishop and the Mayor, plus everything else, it seems like a good time to ask,’ said Thor as he looked into his brother’s eyes. ‘It was a long time ago, bro,’ replied Harley, who was staring into space as if recalling an unpleasant event. ‘If you’d rather not talk about it, that’s okay,’ sighed Thor. ‘Maybe it’s time you knew what your brother is really like,’ said Harley. ‘I think I know you pretty well, bro. I don’t think anything can shock me.’ ‘It happened almost ten years ago,’ started Harley. ‘I was lecturing at a university in London. One night I had to stay late, marking some mid-term papers. By the time I had finished it was almost midnight. So I packed my stuff and picked up my Harley Davidson from the car park. I was tired, I know that, but I thought I was fine. The streets were deserted so I gunned it a bit. I turned a corner, and that’s when it happened.’ Harley stopped and stared at his brother. ‘What happened?’ ‘I killed someone,’ said Harley. He looked away and held his head in his hands. ‘You what?’ Thor almost shouted. ‘It was an accident. But all the same, I killed someone. As I turned the corner, he was standing in the middle of the road. I couldn’t stop and hit him head on. The guy flew through the air and landed on the pavement. I dropped the bike and went over to him, but he didn’t move. I freaked out, Thor. The guy was dead for sure, so I picked up the bike and did a runner.’ Harley shook his head and looked at his brother. ‘I couldn’t live with it, bro. The next day it was on the front page of the newspaper. I couldn’t even read the article. I didn’t want to know his name. So I resigned my post at the university. I tried all sorts of things to salve my conscience, but nothing worked. So I joined the seminary, thinking that if I could help other people the guilt would go away.’ ‘And did it?’ asked his brother. ‘No, it didn’t,’ replied Harley. ‘I think about that man every day. I think about his family. What if he had kids? I ran him down like a dog and never told anyone, until now.’
‘Wow, that’s heavy stuff, man,’ said Thor as he drank his tea. ‘But you have done a lot of good, Harley, and you will do more. I know you will.’ ‘Not if I lose the church. I’m finished if that happens. I’ve even been thinking of going to the police, just tell them everything and have done with it,’ said Harley as he toyed with the cup. ‘You do that bro, and not even I can help you. We won’t let the church close down, and Bones in there will find something to help us,’ said Thor. ‘We're in this together, bro. I may not have your beliefs, but I respect what you are and I’m here for you. So are all the guys.’ ‘I appreciate that,’ said Harley. Just then, Bones stuck his head around the kitchen door, a huge grin on his face. ‘Oh, you have to see this, guys!’ he said. He carried the laptop onto the kitchen table and opened a page from a file he had found on the Bishop’s computer. Harley and Thor pulled their chairs around to see the screen as he began to explain. ‘This guy has a hobby. Actually, it’s more like an obsession. There are over four hundred pages here, and all relate to one subject. I checked his web history too. There are hours and hours of research on some really obscure websites. This guy is seriously whacked out of his head.’ Bones opened another file and Harley saw the object come into focus. ‘The Grail?’ said Harley, his voice breaking as he looked at page after page on O’Toole’s computer. ‘He’s been at this for years by the looks of these files. Talk about an obsession. This Bishop of yours thinks, breathes, and probably dreams about the Grail. I found something else, too,’ said Bones as he opened another file. ‘Look at this. It seems as though his research has led him to a particular place. I honestly think that Bishop O’Toole believes he has found the resting place of the Holy Grail. He’s bonkers; of course, but take a look at this, Harley.’ Bones turned the screen so that Harley could get a better look. ‘Christ, it’s St Xavier’s,’ shouted Harley, standing up. ‘I knew he had an agenda. I knew it wasn’t just me he was after. The conniving little rodent!’ Harley was angry. ‘He thinks that by shutting down the church he can go and dig around for this fictitious old cup. He’s nuts - completely off his head,’ fumed Harley as he sat back down. ‘Actually, that’s not the best bit,’ said Bones as he took over the laptop again. ‘I found out that he has an offshore account. He was a bit dumb with his passwords. Even his windows login password was BISHOP - not very subtle. He’s obviously not security smart. I found out his account number and logged on. It didn’t take me long to hack into it. A few days ago, he received one million pounds Sterling into that account. I tracked the source, which appears to be a Cayman Island bank. The account is registered to something called The Marshal Group. I’ll run some more checks, but I don’t think it will take me long to track down who they are.’
‘I think I might be able to save you some time,’ said Harley. ‘Check out Jasper Harper - he has to be connected to this somehow. My friend, Jamilla Raj, is investigating him already. She’s found out that he owns a company that owns the land behind St Xavier’s. She’s convinced Harper wants St Xavier’s. Finding money in an offshore account belonging to O’Toole is more than a coincidence.’ Harley stood up again and paced the kitchen. ‘Find out as much as you can about Harper’s business activities, Bones. I have an idea that might draw out our Bishop friend.’ ‘What’s on your mind?’ asked Thor. ‘Anything I can do to help?’ ‘If Bishop O’Toole wants to find the Holy Grail, then maybe we can let him,’ said Harley. ‘A set-up. Cool,’ replied Thor, his eyes glinting with excitement. ‘The game is afoot,’ said Harley, reciting a line from Sherlock Holmes. ‘And a Bishop goes down,’ added Thor. ‘Indeed. Maybe we can take our Mayor with him.’ Harley thumped Bones on the shoulders. ‘Thank you, my friend. You may have saved a church.’ Bones shuddered under the impact of Harley's fist. ‘Anytime, Father. Anytime. I’ll dig up what I can and let you know.’ ‘If you find anything on Harper, send what you have to Jamilla Raj at the Herald. She’s investigating him, so she could use any help you can give her anonymously, of course,’ said Harley. He then put his hands together and looked upwards. ‘The Lord works in mysterious ways. Thanks mate,’ he said to the ceiling. Thor pulled out three glasses from the kitchen cupboard and poured three large whiskies. He raised his glass and made a toast. ‘The Grail,’ he shouted. Harley and Bones raised their glasses and toasted along with Thor. ‘The Grail,’ they shouted together.
Chapter 35 Father Richard Head was a troubled man. After the incident with the police, he had become more paranoid. Every time he heard a police siren, his heart skipped several beats. His memory of spending the night in a police cell was etched permanently onto his brain. To his way of thinking, it was Harley Jackson and Sebastian Wetherby-Smythe who had caused him to be arrested. He also began to feel uneasy about his association with Bishop O’Toole. He knew that the Bishop was becoming more deranged. The sooner the church and its priests were shut down, the better it would be for him. Maybe then, the Bishop would either retire, or move somewhere else. He was fed up being a lackey; he just wanted a nice, quiet diocese somewhere in the country. He parked his car on the road, just outside of St Xavier’s, and walked down the drive. Opening the church doors, he entered the nave and smiled to himself. The church was, as he expected, totally empty. He genuflected and walked to the confessional box. Closing the door behind him, he made himself comfortable and took out his book. He thought to himself that he would stay here for a few hours, just to be able to say that he had waited. However, he knew it was a waste of time; there was no congregation, and there were no confessions to be heard today - or any other day, for that matter. He opened his book to the first page and began to read. After a short while, he heard the door to the confessional open and someone sat down. It was a female voice that spoke. ‘Forgive me Father for I have sinned,’ came the voice. It was Mrs Whittlehurst. ‘How long has it been since your last confession, my dear?’ replied Father Head. He was rather annoyed at being disturbed, especially as he was not expecting anyone. ‘Just a few days ago, Father,’ said Mrs Whittlehurst and continued. ‘I missed Mass, and I haven’t said any prayers for the past two days.’ ‘Was there a specific reason that you missed Mass, and didn’t say your prayers?’ asked Father Head. ‘Yes, Father. It’s the church, you see. I couldn’t come into the church.’ The woman’s voice had an edge of hysteria that made him feel uncomfortable. ‘And why couldn’t you come into the church, my dear? This is God’s house, and all are welcome.’ ‘The church is possessed!’ screeched Mrs Whittlehurst. ‘Demons, harpies and wailing banshees!’ ‘What?’ Father Head jumped at the sudden verbal barrage.
‘Possessed, Father. Evil spirits. I saw them. I heard their wailing and chanting. It had a big spear and wanted to stab me,’ wailed Mrs Whittlehurst, her voice quavering as she recalled her satanic experience. ‘I’m sure that God’s house cannot be possessed, my dear. Maybe you were upset?’ ‘I wasn’t seeing things, Father. I saw them as clear as day. Horrible spirits, awful chanting, and demonic entities. The church is harbouring evil. You need to exorcise it or we shall all perish.’ ‘I can’t exorcise a church, my dear. I think you should go home. Say fifty Hail Marys and have a nice cup of tea. I’m sure you will feel better. I can assure you, there are no evil spirits in this church.’ ‘If you say so, Father. But I saw something. You be careful, Father. I warn you, there are entities here.’ With that, Mrs Whittlehurst left the confessional. He could hear her footsteps fade as she walked out of the church. Strange woman. Must be mad, thought Father Head. Once more, he settled back to read his book when he heard the church door open and many footsteps walked up the aisle. Some steps sounded heavy, while some sounded like stiletto heels clicking on the stone floor. The door to the confessional opened and slammed shut with a bang. ‘Ermm, forgive me mate, ’cus I fucked up.’ The voice was slightly slurred. Father Head could smell alcohol emanating from behind the lattice partition. ‘When was your last confession, my son?’ he asked. ‘What?’ replied the voice. ‘Your last confession. When did you last confess?’ ‘Oh, dunno. Maybe when I told the wife I’d been busted for possession.’ ‘Possession?’ ‘Yeah, drugs. Cops got me for possession.’ ‘So are you confessing to taking drugs, my son?’ ‘Of bloody course not, you daft twat. I take ’em all the time, don’t I? Nah, I nicked a car.’ ‘You stole a vehicle, my son? When did this happen?’ asked Father Head. ‘About twenty minutes ago. Daft bugger left the keys in the ignition, so it was sort of their own fault.’ There was a muffled giggle from somewhere outside the confessional. ‘That is no excuse, my son. You must stop this thievery and repent. Say a hundred Hail Marys, my son, and go in peace.’ ‘A piss I can do, but what’s a Hail Mary when it’s at home?’ replied the voice. ‘I said go in peace not… Oh, never mind. Just pray for forgiveness.’ ‘Will do, mate,’ slurred the voice. 132
The door opened and he heard the man walk away. There was a yelp and a curse as he heard the man fall over. The door opened once again, and this time it was a female voice that spoke. ‘Forgive me, Father, I have sinned.’ The voice sounded more like a long sigh. ‘When was your last confession, my daughter?’ said Father Head. ‘Oooh, about ten years ago, I think.’ The voice seemed to take on a seductive tone. Father Head gulped at the sound of the sexy voice. ‘That’s a long time. What was your sin?’ ‘There have been quite a few, Father. I’m not sure I can remember them all. How many do you want to hear? I’ve been a very naughty girl, you know.’ The voice purred suggestively. ‘Tell me the ones you remember, my child.’ Father Head was starting to shake. ‘Well, Father, there was the time I gave my boyfriend a blow job.’ ‘Ermm,’ he coughed. ‘I’m not certain that’s a sin, my child.’ ‘It is when it’s inside a church,’ replied the voice. ‘My God, you committed oral sex in a church? When was this, my child?’ ‘Last Sunday, Father.’ ‘Good grief. What else is there?’ asked Father Head. ‘There was the time I was a porn star. Did all sorts of stuff. You know, blow jobs, masturbation scenes, flagellation. I even took it up the—’ ‘That’s enough, my child. I get the point.’ Father Head was breathing heavily. ‘Say one hundred - no, five hundred - Hail Marys, and go in peace.’ ‘Thanks Father. You sure you don’t want to hear more? I was very naughty. I could even come round there and show you if you want…’ said the voice provocatively. ‘No, no. Just go!’ shouted Father Head. The door opened and the heels clicked on the stone floor. This time, the door opened again and someone, who was obviously very heavy, sat on the bench. The confessional rocked alarmingly. There was silence from the other side as Father Head waited for the confession to start. ‘How can I help you, my son?’ asked the priest after a few minutes. There was a long sigh before the deep, raspy voice spoke. ‘Done a lot of bad shit in my time.’ Father Head suddenly felt very uncomfortable. The voice sounded extremely threatening. He spoke as gently and as calmly as he could. ‘When was your last confession, my son?’ 133
‘I’m not your son,’ replied the annoyed voice. ‘It’s been a while. Like I said, I done a lot of bad shit. Just need to get it off my chest.’ ‘Go ahead, my… Just go ahead,’ said Father Head. The next two hours were the most terrifying Father Head had ever experienced in his life. He heard about all forms of crime, assault, armed robbery, GBH, drug busts, dealing in stolen goods, prison sentences, and escape from prison. He would have never believed that one person could be capable of committing so many crimes. As he sat there listening to the litany of misdeeds, his pulse rate escalated, while his heart seemed to be pumping treacle. Finally, the monologue finished. He didn’t know quite what to say. It seemed that no amount of Hail Marys could absolve this man’s crimes. He was also worried that, if he gave the man too many, he would be beaten to a pulp there and then. ‘I suggest you pray for forgiveness, my son. God is merciful. Try to change your bad ways and go in peace.’ He could hear heavy breathing coming from the other side of the confessional box. There was a grunt and the box jarred sideways, almost falling over as the man left the confessional. The stream of confessing individuals never seemed to stop. One after the other, he heard tales of debauchery, depravity and all forms of sexual deviance. It was now almost two in the morning. He was exhausted and still they came. At one point he almost fell asleep, until a thump on the side of the confessional woke him up. ‘You asleep in there, Father?’ said a female voice. ‘I’m trying to confess my sins and you’re asleep. Sorry if I’m boring you.’ ‘No sister, I’m sorry. I was, ermm, praying for your soul,’ said Father Head. Early the next morning, Harley entered the church to see a bedraggled and exhausted Father Head stagger from the confessional. The sorry-looking priest sat on a pew as Harley sat next to him. ‘Busy night, Father?’ asked Harley. ‘I’ve never heard so much sin in all my life,’ muttered the priest. ‘Your congregation is a bunch of criminals, hookers, alcoholics, and drug dealers. There was also this crazy woman who thought the church was possessed.’ Father Head held his throbbing head in his hands. ‘I told you we were reaching out into the community, Richard.’ ‘Reaching out?’ said Father Head. ‘For God’s sake, I think you reached into the abyss with this lot.’ ‘Go home, Richard. Get some sleep. Any time you want to help with the confessional, feel free to ask,’ said Harley as he stood up. Father Head teetered down the aisle towards the door. He walked down the driveway to his car. It was no longer where he had parked it. He had a bad feeling and recalled the first confession. The person had admitted to car theft. 134
He searched in his pocket for the keys. They were not there. He realised he had left them in the ignition. Harley heard the scream and stepped outside to see Father Head jumping up and down in a rage. â€˜Poor guy. Must have been too much for him,â€™ Harley said to himself as he walked back inside the church.
Chapter 36 A new message arrived in Jamilla’s email account. It was from an unusual email address that read firstname.lastname@example.org. Jamilla opened the mail. Her eyes lit up as she read through the message. She immediately picked up her cell phone and dialled Joshua. ‘Hi Josh. Jamilla here. Look, I need you to go to that golf club you saw Jasper Harper visit last week. I think you said it was called Fairlawns?’ ‘Okay,’ replied Joshua. ‘I’m actually not far from there now. I’ll pretend to want to be a member so I can look around.’ ‘You got your camera with you?’ asked Jamilla. ‘I’ve got a small digital camera with me. Always carry one, just in case.’ ‘Come back to the office when you’re done. I need to give you an update. There’s been an interesting development, but I need to chase up on some details.’ Jamilla blew a kiss into the phone and hung up. She read through the message from Bones once again and then logged into the Companies House website. She typed ‘Fairlawns Golf Club’ into the search engine. The company was listed as active and Jamilla requested the last filed accounts. She gave her card details and, a few minutes later, a new email message arrived from Companies House with the last accounts for the golf club. She opened the attachment and read through the accounts. Everything seemed normal except for one odd expenditure, which caught her eye. The club had spent over £100,000 on tree maintenance. She knew it was a golf club, and there would be ground maintenance fees, but this was a lot of money to spend on trees. She dialled Joshua again. ‘Hi Josh, me again. I want you to go and look at the trees. It seems that Fairlawns spent over a hundred grand on tree maintenance.’ ‘That seems excessive. What were they doing, creating a rain forest? I’ll check it out. See you later.’ Joshua drove to the Fairlawns Golf Club. He entered the gates and parked in the car park. It was an expensive-looking club. The glass doors slid open as he walked into an opulent reception area. The walls were lined with luxurious, walnut panels. The huge reception desk was made of a highlypolished wood that matched the panelled walls. He approached an attractive girl behind the reception desk. She was dressed in a businesslike black suit, and she gave Joshua a brilliant smile. ‘How can I help you, sir?’ she asked in a soft voice. ‘I’m thinking of becoming a member here,’ said Joshua. ‘Is it possible to have a look around?’ ‘Certainly, sir. I’ll give you a temporary pass card, and you can have a look around as much as you want.’ She handed him a brochure and tapped the keys on her computer. ‘Just stand and look at the camera please, sir.’ 136
There was a brief flash as a camera took Joshua’s picture. A printer whirred in the background. The receptionist handed Joshua a plastic case that contained a pass card with his picture on the front. ‘Thanks,’ said Joshua. ‘My pleasure, sir. The clubroom is just inside the wooden doors here, and the fairway is to your left.’ Joshua walked through the huge wooden doors and into the clubroom. It was as sumptuous as the reception area. A beautifully polished hardwood floor extended to a large, glass-fronted bay window. There were many comfortable armchairs and low wood tables, and a bar was situated at the rear of the room. Joshua approached the big glass doors that slid silently open onto the first tee of the golf course. There were several players, and Joshua felt a little conspicuous without a set of golf clubs. Two players eyed him with suspicion as he walked across the fairway towards the second tee. The course was beautifully manicured. Many trees and bushes lined the fairway extending into the rough. Joshua walked past the second tee and found a shortcut to the eighteenth hole. Here, there were many tall trees - oaks, silver birch, and maple trees - which provided a verdant barrier. As Joshua approached the treeline, he noticed something that did not look right to him. Although it was winter and the foliage was not in bloom, he could see by the bark that some of the trees were dying. The bark was almost completely stripped from one tree, and the branches of another snapped like brittle matchwood under his fingers. He pulled out his camera and snapped some close-up shots of the dead or dying trees. Joshua then scooped up a small sample of the soil around the dead tree and put it into a paper napkin he had with him. He then headed back to the clubhouse. Handing his pass back to the receptionist, he thanked her and said he would read through the brochure and get back to her. Back at the Herald, Joshua made his way to Jamilla. She waved as he walked to her desk, where he sat on a nearby chair. ‘So, what did you find out?’ asked Jamilla. ‘You first,’ Joshua replied. ‘You said you had an update?’ ‘I think one of Harley’s friends did some digging around for us. I received an email earlier that told me Jasper Harper’s company, Grant Holdings, owns Fairlawns. That on its own would not be suspicious, but I also did some more research on the Internet. I found out what Harper is going to do with that land.’ Jamilla sat back, her hands folded behind her head. ‘You’ve been busy. So what’s he going to do with his hundred acres?’ asked Joshua intrigued. ‘A golf course,’ replied Jamilla.
‘Another one? Why would he do that? It would be in direct competition with Fairlawns. It doesn’t make any sense.’ ‘What did you find out at Fairlawns?’ ‘Half the trees are dying. That would certainly explain why they spend so much money on replacing them. I’ve no idea what is killing those trees, but I took a small sample of the soil. Maybe we can get it analysed?’ said Joshua as he pulled out the folded napkin from his rucksack. ‘Trees don’t just die,’ said Jamilla. ‘Unless they are poisoned.’ She looked at Joshua, her eyebrows raised as if asking a question. ‘How do they build golf courses, Josh?’ ‘I assume they just buy some land and design one,’ he replied. ‘Some of the golf courses in the UK are built on landfill sites,’ said Jamilla. ‘Usually it's land that was once owned by coal board companies, or steel works. But, some are used as garbage dumps. They fill the land with waste material, then build a golf course over the top. The email that this guy sent to me also showed that Harper owns a waste disposal company. He has a major contract with several councils to dispose of their waste. It’s my guess he’s buying the land to fill it with waste, then he can build a golf course on top of it and make even more money.’ ‘But I don’t really see anything illegal in that, do you, Jam?’ ‘Not unless he’s disposing of toxic waste illegally. Those trees are not dying from malnutrition, Josh. I’m sure they are dying because they are being poisoned. Poison coming from underground. That bastard is dumping toxic waste and that, my dear Joshua, is illegal. If we can prove this, we’ve got him.’ Jamilla looked triumphant as she sat back in her chair. ‘We have to get that soil sample analysed,’ said Joshua. ‘It’s our only chance to get Harper.’ ‘I know some people at the university. I’ll get the sample tested and we shall see what he’s been up to.’ ‘I wouldn’t like to get on your bad side,’ smiled Joshua. ‘I only reserve this side of me for my enemies,’ replied Jamilla as she leaned forward to kiss Joshua. ‘Not the man I love.’ Joshua grinned and stood up. ‘Harper’s going down,’ he said, thrusting his fist in the air. ‘Big time, if we have anything to do with it,’ she replied. ‘I’m going to give the good news to Harley and Sebastian. This could save St Xavier’s. See you later, Josh.’ With that, Jamilla grabbed her car keys and left the office.
Chapter 37 ‘It’s done,’ said the voice on the cell phone. ‘Good. No connection to me, I trust?’ said Jasper Harper. ‘None. It will look like an accident,’ replied the voice. ‘There’s something else you should know, as well.’ ‘What now?’ asked Harper. He was becoming very agitated. ‘We had a visitor at Fairlawns this afternoon, posing as a potential member. The security cameras saw him prowling around the golf course. In particular, he was taking photographs of those trees near the eighteenth hole.’ ‘Christ almighty, do you think he’s onto something?’ asked Harper, who was now extremely annoyed. ‘It won’t take them long to add it up. But with my intervention that won’t happen,’ replied the voice. Jasper Harper snapped the cell phone closed and thumped his desk. ‘Bloody meddling reporters. She’ll get hers,’ muttered Harper. Jamilla entered the car park and walked to the first floor, where her car was parked. She got in, started the engine, and eased out of the parking bay. Exiting the multi-storey, she turned onto the main road. There was a steep hill at the bottom of the road, and Jamilla changed gear as the car climbed steadily. At the top of the hill, the road forked. She took the lefthand fork that led towards St Xavier’s church. It was a very steep descent. There were crossroads and a set of traffic lights at the bottom of the hill. Jamilla was a careful driver and so she approached the downward slope cautiously. The car started its descent and began to accelerate. Jamilla gently pushed on the brake to slow the vehicle. Nothing happened. The car continued to accelerate. She stamped her foot on the brake pedal but there was no resistance. Her pulse raced as the car swerved alarmingly. She desperately tried to keep the vehicle in a straight line. She pumped the brake, and even tried the handbrake, but that didn’t work either. The car was approaching the traffic lights, which had already turned red. Jamilla knew she was in trouble as the car hurtled across the junction and through the red light. The driver of the truck could not react in time as he saw the car lurch across the road in front of him. He hit the brake pedal as hard as he could. There was a hiss as the airbrakes kicked in. However, there was not enough time, and the truck slammed into the side of her car. The windscreen shattered and the door crumpled as the car was swept sideways by the momentum of the truck. The front wing panel flew from the car, and the passenger window smashed into a million pieces as the car was flipped over onto its roof. The car slid to a standstill with a terrible grinding noise. The driver of the truck leapt from his cab unharmed. He ran to the wrecked car and looked through the smashed windscreen. There he saw a girl with blood running
down her face. She was unconscious, maybe even dead. He pulled his cell phone and dialled 999. He could not stop trembling. Sebastian heard the dreadful sound of the car crash as he was walking down the driveway to the Manse house. He knew what the sound was. He turned and ran back down the driveway onto the road. At the end of the street, just near the crossroads, he saw a car on its roof. An ambulance and a police car had arrived in record time. A fire engine tore past him, sirens blaring, and screeched to a halt near the overturned car. As he approached the carnage, a police officer barred his way. ‘Sorry Father, you can’t come here. It’s a nasty accident,’ said the officer. ‘Any idea who was in the car?’ asked Sebastian. ‘A young lady. We don’t know who she is yet. The fire service is going to have to cut her out.’ The police officer looked at the twisted metal and shook his head. Sebastian waited outside the cordoned-off area. The fire service worked quickly and cut through the driver’s door. The ambulance crew secured a neck brace and the woman was gently pulled from the wreckage. They placed her carefully onto a stretcher. Sebastian saw her face. It was Jamilla Raj. ‘Oh no,’ cried Sebastian. ‘You know her, sir?’ asked the police officer. ‘Her name’s Jamilla Raj. You need to call her parents. I’ll give you their number. Which hospital will she be going to? I want to be there for her,’ said Sebastian, as he wrote down the number of Jamilla’s parents in the police officer’s notebook. ‘Central,’ replied the officer. ‘I can give you a lift there if you like, Father. I just hope she doesn’t need you, if you know what I mean?’ ‘Thanks. And yes, I know exactly what you mean,’ said Sebastian as he followed the officer to the patrol car. Chapter 38 The steady beeping of the cardiac monitors was the only sound in the small hospital room. Jamilla lay still; her head was bandaged, and several wires connected her to the machine that measured her vital signs. A plaster cast covered her left arm from her wrist to her elbow. Joshua and Sebastian sat with Gupta and Indira Raj in the waiting area. They were awaiting news of Jamilla’s condition. A doctor dressed in theatre scrubs walked towards them and sat down. ‘She’s a very lucky lady,’ said the doctor as she continued to explain. ‘Jamilla has a fractured radius, but it’s a clean break, and it will heal quickly. Her head took a severe knock - mostly bruising, and some tissue damage, but there is no fracture of the skull. As far as we can tell, there is no internal bleeding.’ ‘Is she awake?’ asked Gupta Raj, his eyes moist with tears. 140
‘Not at the moment,’ replied the doctor. ‘She is still heavily sedated. She will wake up in about an hour or so.’ The doctor stood to leave, and then turned to face them. ‘I think the police want to talk to her about the accident, but I’d rather they waited until she was rested. I’ll pop back in an hour and check on her.’ ‘Thank you, doctor. We will wait here until she wakes up,’ said Gupta Raj. When the doctor left, Joshua was the first to speak. ‘I’m so sorry this has happened, Mr and Mrs Raj. She was on her way to see you,’ he said, looking at Sebastian. ‘Thankfully it sounds as though she will be okay,’ said Gupta Raj. ‘Jamilla is such a careful driver. I don’t know how this could have happened.’ ‘Do you know why she wanted to see me?’ asked Sebastian. ‘She found out that Jasper Harper intends to build a golf course on the land behind St Xavier’s. Together we have been investigating Harper’s business activities. It seems that he also owns Fairlawns golf club. What is even more concerning is that it looks as though he may have been dumping toxic waste. Several trees have been dying on the Fairlawns course, so Jamilla was going to send the soil sample to be analysed.’ Joshua saw the expression of concern on Sebastian’s face. Gupta Raj sat forward in his chair, and looked directly at Joshua. ‘Do you think that what happened to Jamilla was not an accident?’ ‘What are you saying, Gupta Raj?’ asked Indira. ‘You think that someone tried to—’ Indira could not finish the sentence as tears welled up in her eyes. ‘I’m just asking the question, my dear,’ said Gupta Raj as kindly as possible. He reached forward and held Indira’s hand. ‘It seems to me that a man like Jasper Harper is not going to sit back and do nothing if he knows that he is being investigated,’ said Sebastian. ‘He is a very unpleasant piece of work. If this is true about the dumping of toxic waste, then he will feel very threatened.’ ‘In addition, he wants St Xavier’s closed down,’ said Joshua. ‘He needs that land as access to the new golf course. You already know that he had a discussion with Bishop O’Toole, and we know that O’Toole is desperate to have the church shut. It all fits together into one heck of a conspiracy.’ ‘You really think he wanted to hurt Jamilla?’ asked Indira through her tears. ‘I think that Harper is very capable of something like that, yes,’ replied Joshua. ‘We must tell the police. They will investigate this, surely?’ said Gupta Raj. ‘I will talk to them, but Harper is very smart. If he did try to hurt Jamilla, he would have used someone else to do his dirty work,’ replied Joshua. Sebastian looked thoughtful. He then caught Joshua’s eye and signalled to him. Joshua understood that Sebastian wanted to talk privately, so he stood up and asked if anyone wanted some tea. 141
‘That would be nice. I’ll help you get them,’ said Sebastian, as they both stood and walked down the corridor to the vending machine. ‘I’m going to go back and let Harley know what’s happening,’ whispered Sebastian. ‘This is all very suspicious. Harley has, shall we say, some unusual acquaintances who might be able to help with this.’ ‘Jamilla received an email from someone calling himself Bones. Would that be one of those acquaintances you are talking about?’ asked Joshua. ‘Him and a few others. If Harper was involved with hurting Jamilla, then he would have covered his tracks. I doubt that the police will get very far. This needs the expertise of someone who is as devious as he is, and I know just the person - or, at least, Harley does.’ Sebastian shook Joshua’s hand and smiled. ‘You stay here and look after Jamilla. I’ll go and talk to Harley. We shall pray for her recovery, Joshua. We shall also get to the bottom of this, one way or another.’ Sebastian walked purposefully down the corridor and out of sight. An hour later, the doctor went to examine Jamilla again. Joshua, Gupta and Indira all stood as the doctor approached the waiting area. ‘She’s awake. A bit groggy, but conscious. Her vitals are good, but she has a nasty bruise on her head, so please don’t stay too long. She needs to rest,’ said the doctor. Joshua stayed behind as Gupta and Indira went to see their daughter. After a short while, they came out of Jamilla’s room and Gupta Raj touched Joshua’s arm. ‘She wants to see you, Joshua,’ said Gupta Raj. ‘I can wait until she has rested,’ said Joshua. ‘I think it’s best that you go in. She was quite insistent,’ replied Gupta Raj. ‘Not too long please,’ said Indira. ‘She needs her rest.’ ‘Of course. I’ll just pop in for a few minutes,’ said Joshua as he walked to Jamilla’s room. She was lying in bed. The top part of the bed was angled upward so that she could sit up. Joshua sat next to her and held her hand. He could not speak. His eyes filled with tears as he looked at his girlfriend. Her head was bandaged heavily. A large purple bruise blossomed around her swollen left eye, and there was a small plaster across her nose. ‘Guess I don’t look my best, do I?’ she spoke with a croaky voice. ‘You look adorable, Jam. Purple is definitely your colour,’ said Joshua, trying not to sound as choked-up as he felt. ‘It was the brakes, Josh. They didn’t work. The footbrake, or the handbrake, both of them failed. I couldn’t do anything. I—’ Jamilla’s voice faltered as she recalled the accident. ‘Don’t say anything else, Jam. I think we both know what happened,’ said Joshua as he squeezed her hand gently.
‘Harper did this. He had someone tamper with my brakes. The car was just serviced. There was nothing wrong with it yesterday…’ ‘That bastard will pay for this,’ said Joshua. ‘Don’t get mad, get even, Josh.’ Jamilla held onto his hand tightly. ‘I’m onto it, Jam. You just get well. I nearly lost you, and that’s never going to happen again. I want to grow old with you, Jamilla. I love you so much.’ Joshua stood up. ‘You rest and I’ll come back later.’ ‘I love you too, Joshua Mannheim. Please, just be careful and don’t do anything risky. I want a long life with you too.’ ‘See you later. Sleep, okay?’ ‘Okay,’ she replied and her eyes closed as he left the room. Joshua returned to the waiting area and said goodbye to Gupta and Indira. He promised them that he would come back later to check on Jamilla. He then left the hospital. He was angry and upset, but he had also promised Jamilla that he would not do anything risky, so he had to give careful thought about his next move. His cell phone vibrated in his pocket. He had switched off the sound because he did not want to disturb Jamilla. Pulling the phone from his pocket, he flipped the top open. ‘Joshua, this is Harley Jackson. I heard about Jamilla from Sebastian just now. How is she?’ ‘She’s okay, Harley. That bastard, Jasper Harper, tried to have her killed,’ replied Joshua. ‘So I heard,’ said Harley. ‘I need you to come over this evening. There are some people I’d like you to meet.’ ‘Sebastian mentioned to me that you had some interesting friends,’ said Joshua. ‘That they are, and they can help where others can’t.’ ‘I’ll come over this evening,’ said Joshua. He said goodbye and hung up.
Chapter 39 Rabbi Manni Mannheim parked his car near the driveway leading to St Xavier’s. He got out of the car and opened the rear hatch. In the back of the car was a large candelabrum. It was the Jewish Menorah. There was also an elaborately carved wooden cabinet with two small doors at the front. The top part resembled a gabled roof and, at the apex, was a six-pointed Star of David. The Rabbi carried the candelabrum to the entrance of the church. Harley stood inside as the Rabbi entered. ‘Hi, Rabbi. Need any help there?’ he asked. ‘Just bringing in a few things for the service, if that’s okay?’ asked the Rabbi as he looked around for somewhere to put the Menorah. ‘There are a few more things in the car outside.’ ‘I’ll go and get them for you,’ said Harley as he walked outside. Harley went around to the rear of the car and pulled out the heavy cabinet. He carried it back to the church and placed it carefully on the floor. ‘Where can I put this?’ ‘It really needs to be somewhere where it won’t be disturbed,’ said the Rabbi. ‘There’s also a ner tamid that I need to put up above the Ark.’ ‘The eternal light,’ said Harley. ‘You know your Judaism?’ said the Rabbi, obviously impressed at Harley’s knowledge. ‘It hangs above the Ark, which contains the Torah or scrolls,’ replied Harley. ‘I’m impressed, Father Jackson.’ The Rabbi was still looking around, deciding on the best places to put the various items. ‘Hmm, you know I think it might be better if I could use the space up there,’ he said looking up at the gallery. ‘That way I can set all this up properly and it would not be in your way.’ Harley suddenly had a vivid image of Ganesha and Shiva. ‘Ermm, sure, no problem. Just let me go up there and make sure it’s, ermm, tidy.’ Harley bounded up the stairs and into the gallery. He found some white sheets in the corner of the room and quickly covered Ganesh and Shiva. He finished just as the Rabbi came up the stairs carrying the Menorah. ‘This is wonderful,’ said the Rabbi looking around. ‘If you can bring up the Ark, I’ll go and get the ner tamid.’ Harley went back down and fetched the Ark. He carried it up the stairs and the Rabbi asked him to place it at the front of the gallery. There was a beam just above where the Ark was placed. The Rabbi looked around for something on which to stand so that he could hang the light. Harley found a wooden box and, together, they lifted the light and hung it from the beam. ‘Wonderful, wonderful,’ the Rabbi clapped his hands together. ‘Thank you again, Father Jackson. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your help. I shall 144
be here tomorrow evening with a few of my friends. You are very welcome to join us, Father, if you wish?’ ‘That’s very kind, Rabbi, but I’ll be a little busy tomorrow. I hope everything goes well for you,’ said Harley as he cast a glance at the enshrouded Ganesh and Shiva. He left the Rabbi to arrange the room as he wanted. ‘What on earth could possibly go wrong?’ he muttered under his breath. Sebastian was waiting in the sitting room when Harley walked in. Thor was glowering at Sebastian. He was standing as far from him as was possible. Bones was sitting at the desk with his laptop opened. ‘Hi guys, glad you could come over. I’m expecting one more person and then we can start,’ said Harley. The doorbell rang and Sebastian went to the front door. Joshua entered the sitting room and joined the others. Bones then began tapping away at the keyboard. ‘So what’s this all about, bro?’ asked Thor. ‘This afternoon, Jamilla Raj was hurt in a car crash,’ he replied. ‘Joshua here is her boyfriend, and he suspects it was no accident. He and Jamilla are investigating Jasper Harper. They have uncovered something that will severely compromise Harper if it proves to be correct. So it seems to me that the accident was no coincidence. Harper tried to shut her up.’ ‘We think he’s using the golf course projects to dump toxic waste,’ continued Joshua. ‘If that’s the case, and we can prove it, Harper will resort to dangerous measures to protect himself.’ ‘What a creep,’ replied Thor. ‘So, what do you need me to do?’ ‘First, we have to find the person he contracted to tamper with Jamilla’s brakes, maybe get them to talk,’ said Harley. ‘Second, we need to find a way to draw Harper out into the open. He’s juggling too many balls and he’ll drop one sooner or late. And we need to be there when he does.’ He looked around the room as if waiting for a response. ‘Better still, we’ll shake his tree and make him drop one,’ said Thor. ‘Nothing like a bit of pressure to get someone to make a mistake.’ ‘What’s on your mind, bro?’ asked Harley knowing his brother had already thought of something. ‘Harper already feels compromised, so he must have panicked to have arranged something as desperate as a car accident. It didn’t succeed as he planned, so he knows that Jamilla is still in the game. But for the moment she’s in hospital so can’t do much. If he’s well-informed, he also knows that Joshua here is also involved. It seems to me that, if Joshua gets in his face, Harper will have to make a move. This time we’ll be watching him and, with a bit of luck, those juggling balls will come crashing down.’ Thor folded his arms across his massive chest. ‘It means that Joshua will be bait. I’m not so sure about that,’ said Harley.
‘After what he did to Jamilla, I don’t care what it takes. I can get so far in his face he’ll need a JCB to dig me out.’ Joshua was angry and keen to do something. ‘You’re quiet over there, Bones,’ said Thor. ‘What you up to?’ ‘I’m hacking into the Fairways golf club to get a list of the members there. See if any names crop up that we might know. If Harper used someone to get at Jamilla, then he must have trusted them. Chances are, he’s a member of that club,’ said Bones as he tapped away. ‘I’m also going to see if I can get the manifest documents when they were building the Fairlawns club. If he was dumping toxic waste, as Josh says, there will be a record of it somewhere. It might tell us where it came from and where it was supposed to go.’ ‘Sounds good to me,’ said Thor. ‘So, Josh, you up for some cage rattling?’ ‘Absolutely,’ replied Joshua enthusiastically. ‘I got something!’ said Bones suddenly. ‘I have the member list of Fairlawns. There’s a name here you might recognise, Thor.’ ‘Oh yeah? Who would that be?’ asked Thor. ‘Sammy Boy Willard. You remember him?’ ‘Christ, I thought he was still inside.’ ‘Who’s Sammy Boy Willard?’ asked Joshua. ‘A very nasty piece of work,’ said Thor. ‘He’s a contractor, but not the building sort. This guy was sent down years ago for attempted murder. His specialty was making people disappear. He gave new meaning to the word accident! If Jamilla’s brakes were tampered with, this sounds like Sammy’s back in business.’ ‘Look Thor, are you sure about this?’ asked Harley. ‘I don’t want Joshua hurt. Things are bad enough as they are.’ ‘Now we know that Sammy might be our man, we’ll get the boys to watch Josh’s back. Don’t worry bro, he’ll be safe.’ ‘I want Harper taken down. I’ll do whatever’s necessary,’ said Joshua. Just then, Joshua’s cell phone rang and he answered. It was Jamilla. ‘Josh, I’ve just had some interesting news. The results from the lab came in from the soil sample you brought back from Fairlawns. The toxic chemicals in the soil are the same as those written on the labels of the drums you photographed in that fake factory. It has to be more than a coincidence. Harper is storing those drums so he can dump it into the landfill of the new golf course.’ ‘Wow, that’s great news Jam, and excellent timing. I’m going to rattle our Mayor’s cage and see what falls out.’ ‘Just be careful, Josh.’ ‘Okay, Jam. You get some rest, you hear?’ Joshua told Harley and the others what Jamilla had discovered. 146
‘Excellent,’ said Harley. ‘Now you can really confront Harper. You’ve got something concrete to go on, and you have photographic evidence. Harper’s done for.’ ‘Is there word on our Bishop O’Toole?’ asked Sebastian, who had been quiet up until now. Harley glowered. ‘I have plans for him, too. He’s involved in all this, but his motivation is different to Harper’s. O’Toole is obsessed with the Grail, so I’m going to let him find it.’ Harley looked at Thor. ‘You know any good antique dealers, bro?’ ‘Is the Pope Catholic?’ replied Thor. ‘I thought so,’ said Harley.
Chapter 40 Jenny Logan sat at her desk, staring at the phone. She was staring at it because she knew that, at any second, it would start ringing. Then that arrogant, half-witted son-of-a-dumpling would soon be calling her to scream more orders and demands, with no word of thanks. The person to whom she was referring was Jasper Harper, who was sitting at his desk yelling into his phone. ‘You idiot! Why could you not do the simplest, bloody thing?’ shouted Harper. It was actually more like a very loud whisper, but it was difficult for a man like Jasper Harper to maintain any sort of low volume in anything that he did. ‘Stop yelling at me. You’ll be overheard if you keep up that racket,’ said Sammy Boy Willard. ‘I can make the accident happen, but I can’t always predict the result. That’s why it’s called an accident, Jasper.’ ‘Well, Sammy, it failed as an accident and it failed as a job! So basically, IT FAILED,’ yelled Harper. His voice was now several decibels above a normal person’s scream. ‘Shit happens,’ said Sammy flippantly. ‘Yeah, well, it didn’t happen to who it was supposed to, did it? We have to meet up, discuss the next move. I’ll call you.’ Harper snapped the cell phone closed. His face was almost crimson and a vein in his neck pulsed at dangerous levels. He sat at his desk and tried to think. Jamilla was still alive, but at least she was in hospital so she couldn’t do anything for a while. That left her boyfriend. He had been seen snooping around at Fairlawns taking pictures of trees. The phone buzzed and he snapped out of his reverie. ‘Mr Cotteridge to see you, sir,’ said Jenny from the outside office. ‘Oh, just great. Send him in,’ growled Harper. Frank Cotteridge walked into the mayor’s office. He possessed a determined quality to his step that was unusual for him. He had heard about the accident with Jamilla, and all his instincts told him that the incident possessed the hallmark of Jasper Harper. He had had enough of the threats, enough of the cajoling, and enough of being a slave to his fear and dread of Jasper Harper. Today was the day he would stand up to him, despite the consequences. Frank Cotteridge decided to stand and not sit. Harper always liked his visitors to sit in the uncomfortable chairs in front of his desk. Today, however, Cotteridge was defiant and stood. ‘No more. I’ve had enough,’ said Frank. ‘I know you had something to do with that accident. It’s too convenient. I don’t want anymore to do with this. Your land change has been approved, and that’s as far as I go.’ He was confident and spoke his mind.
Harper was silent for a moment. He sat at his desk, his hands folded in front of him. He simply gazed at Cotteridge with indifference. ‘Well, well, well. So the mouse has turned into a rat, has he?’ said Harper. There was disdain and menace in his voice. ‘You can say what you want. I’m done.’ Frank threw a manila folder onto Harper’s desk and turned to leave. ‘You forget something, Cotteridge. I can crush you anytime I want. And you’re finished when I tell you you’re finished, and not before.’ Jasper Harper glared at Cotteridge, his face red and angry. Frank then did something he never thought he was capable of. He walked up to Harper’s desk, placed both his hands on the edge, and leaned forward. Then, in a voice that seemed alien to him, he spoke. ‘Fuck you, Mr Harper, and your job. Fuck your money. Fuck your golf course. You can do what you want. I really don’t give a toss. In fact, I resign. You can stuff your job where the sun doesn’t shine.’ Frank was astonished. He rarely stood up for himself and it felt good. ‘Don’t push it, Cotteridge—’ Harper was interrupted. ‘I said, I resign. That’s it.’ Frank turned and, despite the berating that came from behind him, he left the office. As he walked past Jenny at reception, she silently clapped her hands. Frank walked back to his office, a proud man. He had finally stood up to that monster. He had not anticipated resigning, but he knew it was the only solution left to him. He felt awful about that girl, Jamilla. He opened his computer and pulled up an empty document. He typed his resignation and printed out the letter. Folding it, he placed it into a confidential internal mail envelope addressed to personnel. That was it. The deed was done. He was not sure what he would do now. He had some money saved up, and that would have to do. At least he was free from Jasper Harper. Something, however, nagged at him. He still felt uncomfortable. Maybe it was guilt, guilt about Jamilla. Although he had not been directly involved, he knew he was guilty by association, if nothing else. He then made another decision. He would go to confession. He was Catholic after all. Although he hadn’t been to church in a long time, it was the only way he could salve his conscience. In fact, he would go to confession that very day. Frank sat back in his chair and, for the first time in many years, he actually felt a sense of satisfaction. He was doing the right thing. The future was open to him in a different way. One door had closed and another had opened. He did not know what lay beyond, but he didn’t care. It didn’t involve planning, or bribery, or deceit, or cowardice. Something strange then happened to Frank’s face that had not happened for many years. He smiled. It was a smile of contentment. His phone rang, but he didn’t care any more. He was a free man. Once absolved of his sin, he could get on with his life and he felt liberated because of that. 149
Later that day, Frank left the office. He was leaving early for once. What did it matter, anyway? After all, they could hardly fire him. He collected his briefcase and some documents he wanted to take home, and walked into the foyer of the Town Hall. Just then, he saw Jasper Harper marching down the corridor. Frank did not want another confrontation, so he held back and stood behind one of the marble pillars. Harper’s large frame wobbled as he approached the main doors. Frank eased out from behind the pillar and watched as Harper stood on the top of the Town Hall stairs. Then, the fireworks started. Harper was standing at the top of the steps, when a man approached him with a large camera. He was momentarily blinded by a sequence of flash bursts from the photographer. Then, as his vision cleared, he saw that it was Joshua Mannheim, the photographer from the Herald, who was standing directly in front of him. ‘Get out of my way,’ said Harper as he tried to push past Joshua. Joshua then took another close-up picture and pulled out a recorder. He stuck the recorder into Harper’s face. ‘What do you know about the trees that are dying at Fairlawns, Mayor Harper?’ asked Joshua. ‘None of your Goddam business,’ blustered Harper as he tried to outmanoeuvre Joshua. ‘Did you know they are dying from poisoning? Possibly from the toxic waste you had buried on your golf course?’ Joshua pressed on, dodging into Harper’s path to prevent him from leaving. ‘I wouldn’t know anything about that. Now, I have a meeting, so get out of my way,’ replied Harper. He was angry and frustrated. Joshua continued his barrage of accusations. ‘I understand that you are going to build another golf course. Why does this town need two golf courses, Mr Mayor? More space to dump your rubbish onto the community?’ ‘Maybe there are just a lot of golfers. You ever consider that? Now, buzz off back to your little journal. Oh, and please give my regards to your colleague. How is she, by the way?’ Harper knew which buttons to press, and sneered as he pushed Joshua out of the way. Joshua had to hold himself back. The look on Harper’s face said it all. He had tried to have Jamilla killed, and he was letting Joshua know. He took another set of photographs as Harper got into his Bentley and drove off. Frank Cotteridge saw, and heard, the exchange outside the Town Hall. When Harper finally drove away, he came outside and walked down the steps. Joshua was packing away his camera when Cotteridge approached him. ‘That man is trouble,’ said Frank. ‘I would suggest you don’t provoke him too much. He’s well-connected and can cause you a big problem if he chooses to.’ Joshua turned to look at the man who had spoken to him. 150
‘You work here?’ he asked. ‘Frank Cotteridge, planning officer - well, ex-planning officer. I just resigned,’ replied Frank as he fiddled with his briefcase. ‘You met Jamilla. It was you who gave her some information about planning procedures.’ Joshua recognised Frank’s name from the recent conversation with Jamilla. ‘That was me, yes. Anyway, I resigned, so I’m not going to be planning anything much for a while,’ replied Frank. ‘How is Jamilla? I do hope she’s not badly hurt?’ ‘She’s recovering, thanks,’ said Joshua, zipping shut the pocket to his camera bag. What he heard next sent a chill down his spine. ‘You know he had something to do with it, don’t you?’ said Frank in a low voice. Joshua froze. He was convinced that Jasper Harper had something to do with hurting Jamilla, but to hear it from one of his employees was something else entirely. ‘You have proof?’ asked Joshua. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t. That’s the problem with Harper. You can’t pin anything on him because it’s all hidden under piles of subterfuge and diversion. He’s an expert in misinformation. Sorry, but you will have to dig deep to catch that worm.’ Frank walked away, leaving Joshua standing on the steps.
Chapter 41 Sebastian sat inside the confessional. The church was empty, but he enjoyed sitting there in the silence. It gave him time to think, to pray, and to contemplate life. The doors temporarily shut out the outside world. He thought about his life, and about his younger days. He had always been a bit on the flamboyant side. He liked to wear colourful clothes, and he was a very social animal. But, he also had a problem with being accepted. Even at school, and then university, he spent many hours alone. He never seemed to fit in, until one day when he was introduced to the gay community. Sebastian had never had any gay desires; he liked women well enough, but did not have any sexual preference for men. Yet, he fitted into the gay community. He liked their sense of pride, their wonderful sense of living on the edge. But, try as he might, he just did not have any physical attraction to men. He was a straight gay! Eventually, he realised his calling. He wanted to help the community, to help people, and he had a strong spiritual sense of being. He was not sure about his unquestionable belief in a creator God, but he liked the organisation of the church. It gave him a sense of being a part of something. So Sebastian applied to the seminary and was subsequently ordained four years later. He also stayed in constant touch with his gay friends. He played the part well, as he was slightly effeminate, and dressed in flamboyant attire whenever possible. He loved to ‘camp it up’, as he described it. So he sat in the cubicle. ‘I’m an agnostic, a straight gay, and a priest,’ he said to himself and laughed. Just then, the door to the confessional opened and someone sat down. ‘Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned,’ said Frank Cotteridge from the other side of the lattice partition. ‘How long has it been since your last confession, my son?’ asked Sebastian. ‘It’s been a few years, Father. I need absolution. I’m starting a new life, Father, and I want to confess my wrongdoing.’ ‘It is always a good thing to start a new life with a clean slate. It is also important to try to keep it clean, my son,’ said Sebastian. ‘Confess your sins to me.’ ‘I work in the planning office at the Town Hall. At least, I used to - I resigned today. I work with the Mayor. Over the past years I have taken bribes to facilitate things that would not have ordinarily been facilitated. I have been weak, Father. But, I am no longer going to walk that road. I resigned because I am not prepared to continue with that life. I don’t want to be involved in anything that will harm this community.’ Frank’s voice was steady and unemotional.
Sebastian detected humility in the man. There was a genuine need to confess, not with guilt but with real regret. ‘Please continue, my son,’ he said gently. ‘The Mayor, Jasper Harper, is corrupt. He had a synagogue demolished, and he wants to get his hands on this very church, Father. I’m not going to help him any more. I should never have got involved in the first place, but I did. I've regretted it every day since.’ Sebastian suddenly had a strange feeling. He was being told that the Mayor was corrupt. Well, he knew that, but here was one of his employees spilling the beans. But it was a confession. He could never use the information, yet his church was about to be bulldozed and the land taken by Jasper Harper. ‘Many people have suffered, and might well suffer in the future, because of your actions,’ replied Sebastian. ‘However, God forgives us if there is real regret. I detect you are genuine, so I will ask you to absolve yourself by doing two things.’ ‘Anything, Father, just tell me what to do,’ replied Frank. ‘You will say one hundred Hail Marys. You will come to Mass as regularly as possible. And you will confess your sins publicly.’ ‘Publicly, Father? I could go to prison.’ Frank was a little worried at this prospect. However, there was a part of him that could accept that possibility if it meant he would be absolved. ‘There’s no need for that, I’m sure. You can admit publicly but, perhaps, anonymously,’ suggested Sebastian. ‘Anonymously?’ asked Frank in surprise. ‘I think you should let someone write about what has been happening, like a newspaper for example. Reporters always keep their sources confidential. I am sure that if you were careful you could reveal the corruption that exists within the officialdom. That way, you are absolved, and you let people know what is going on.’ Sebastian knew he was pushing the boundaries a little, but he also thought it would work to everyone’s advantage. ‘You are right, Father. It’s a great idea. I even know a reporter. That girl, who had the car accident. Jamilla Raj. I could tell her,’ said Frank. He was delighted to be able to absolve himself and do something positive at the same time. ‘Wonderful. Go in peace, my son,’ said Sebastian. The door to the confessional opened and he heard the man walk away. It was already dark outside when Sebastian opened the door to the confessional. As he walked down the aisle, he saw the front door to the church open. A large group of men walked in; they all wore either kippah or wide-brimmed black hats. At the front of the group he saw Rabbi Manni Mannheim, who wore a long black overcoat. The group ascended the stairs to the gallery.
Sebastian realised it was Friday evening and that the Rabbi was going to hold his service. He sat on a pew and watched the gallery from below. The Rabbi took his place in front of the Ark, opened it, then took out a scroll. The scroll was then ceremoniously carried to the small reading desk. The Rabbi began to read out loud in Hebrew. Sebastian thought it sounded very beautiful. The Rabbi had a clear, resonant voice which carried around the church. The recitation continued for some time. Then the singing began. It was an amazing sound. Sebastian felt that he was witness to something very special. A Catholic church, now home to a Hindu Swami and a Jewish Rabbi. It was actually very fitting. Sebastian had never been a conforming spirit, and so a part of him really enjoyed the unusual circumstances. The singing resonated as cadences rose and fell. The male voices harmonised beautifully and, to Sebastian’s ears, the sound was extraordinary. A movement caught his eye. At first, the familiar grinding and screeching was partially obscured by the choral music coming from the gallery. But, then it hit with a resounding discord that pierced the serenity like a jackhammer. Mrs Chattel had come to practise. The awful noise screeched around the walls of St Xavier’s. The singing faded as the small congregation in the gallery was assaulted by the cacophony that dominated the church. Rabbi Mannheim stuck his head over the balcony, while Sebastian stood and shrugged his shoulders. He then approached Mrs Chattel, who was oblivious to anything but her rendition of ‘The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’ by Handel. Sebastian thought that Handel would have run away screaming had he heard the version that was being butchered by Mrs Chattel. He approached Mrs Chattel and put his hand on her shoulder. She stopped playing and turned around. ‘Hello, Father. Just practising this new piece for next Sunday. What do you think?’ asked Mrs Chattel. ‘It’s, very, errmm, distinctive,’ said Sebastian. ‘But we have a choir practice going on in the gallery just now, my dear. Perhaps you could practise tomorrow?’ Sebastian asked kindly. ‘Oooh, I didn’t know we had a choir,’ said Mrs Chattel. ‘It’s a new thing, Mrs Chattel. So, tomorrow will be okay for you?’ he asked again as he gently pulled Mrs Chattel from her organ. ‘Yes, yes, Father. I’ll come back tomorrow,’ she replied and shuffled off. Sebastian turned to the gallery and gave a thumbs-up sign to the Rabbi, who smiled and turned back to his congregation. The singing once again started and filled the church with harmonious sounds. The Rabbi wore a shawl as he led the singing. Shadows danced across the ceiling of the church from the light cast by the candelabrum and eternal light. The singing subsided to a soft chanting. As the Rabbi moved, so did his shadow. To Sebastian, it looked eerily as though a huge man, wearing a cowl, was sliding across the ceiling. The flickering lights, combined with the soft voices, gave a slightly ethereal atmosphere to the church. 154
The scream ruptured the air. Everyone jumped in shock. It was a bloodcurdling howl that echoed around the church like a banshee. Mrs Whittlehurst was standing in the nave, staring up at the roof. All she could see was a demon wearing a hood crawling across the wooden beams. ‘It’s back! The unholy. The beast returns,’ she yelled. ‘Demons! Banshees! The church is possessed. The devil lives here,’ she continued to scream as she bolted for the exit. Sebastian tried to follow, but she was fired by pure adrenaline that surged through her terrified veins. ‘It’s a busy place, isn’t it?’ said Rabbi Mannheim. ‘Just a few of our rather more unusual flock, Rabbi. Don’t worry about it. Mrs Whittlehurst will be okay once she’s run a few miles. Chapter 42 The weekend was relatively quiet. Sunday Mass went ahead as usual with no intervention from either Bishop O’Toole or Father Head. There appeared to be an increase in the congregation as well. A few bikers came along, as did some of the gay community, and there was an informal atmosphere to the church. Harley and Sebastian had enjoyed leading the Mass. Even Gupta and Indira Raj had decided to attend. Jamilla had left the hospital the previous day and was sitting at home with her laptop. Indira was busying herself in the kitchen, although she frequently asked Jamilla if she wanted tea or something to eat. Despite Jamilla’s protests that she was not hungry, her mother kept bringing little dishes of dal, vegetables, a few Indian sweets, and the occasional chapati. ‘You have to eat to keep your strength up,’ said Indira as she fussed about. Jamilla detected that her mother was up to something. The house looked immaculate; everywhere had been dusted and polished, and every time Jamilla put down a magazine or her notepad, Indira would come trotting into the room to tidy things up. ‘Mum, what are you up to?’ asked Jamilla, as she grabbed her notebook from her mother. ‘I’m just making sure you are comfortable,’ said Indira indignantly. Just then, the doorbell rang and Indira jumped at the sound. She did a quick circuit of the room, tidying up a bit more. She trotted to the front door and Jamilla heard her mother talking to someone. ‘Oh welcome, welcome. We are so pleased to have you come and stay with us,’ gushed Indira at the guest. Indira suddenly burst into the room. Trailing in her wake was a small, rather chubby little Indian man. He had very dark skin and slicked back hair that was combed sideways to cover what Jamilla thought was a bald patch. A potbelly bounced over his trousers, and he made strange grunting noises from his throat, as though he was clearing his chest. ‘Jamilla dear, we have a guest. It’s your cousin Ravi. From India, isn't it?’
‘You must be Jatilla?’ asked the small man, his large eyes almost popping out of his head. ‘It’s Jamilla,’ replied Jamilla from the couch. She did not get up. ‘Begging you pardon, isn’t it?’ replied Ravi apologetically. ‘Cousin Ravi has come all the way from Bombay,’ Indira continued to gush. ‘And how is Mumbywood?’ asked Jamilla as Ravi sat on a nearby armchair. His stomach was obviously causing severe distress to his shirt buttons. ‘Mumbywhat?’ asked Ravi, looking confused. ‘Never mind. How was your flight?’ asked Jamilla trying to be polite. ‘Most excellent. The food was wonderful, and so many movies, very entertaining. I didn’t realise how big those planes are,’ said Ravi, his face like an innocent young kid talking about his first ice cream. Jamilla cast a glance at her mother who was, at that very moment, offering a plate of food to Ravi. ‘You must do a lot of flying, being a movie mogul and all,’ said Jamilla. Indira detected a slight edge of sarcasm to Jamilla’s voice and interrupted. ‘Ravi must be tired after his long journey,’ said Indira as she handed him a cup of tea. His left hand was holding his plate, while his right was stuffing a particularly gooey-looking pink sweet into his mouth. He had no hands left to hold his cup of tea, which Indira kept pushing at him. The plate eventually lost the battle, and he put it down in favour of the teacup. Bits of pink sweet dropped down his ample belly. ‘Movie mogul?’ asked Ravi, trying to balance the cup and brush sweet debris from his shirt. ‘Mum told me you are a big movie mogul in India,’ said Jamilla. ‘Oh no, no, no, no. I work in the accounting department of a film company. Just a small one, really,’ said Ravi, as he lost control of the cup and slopped tea down his shirt. ‘But I thought—’ began Jamilla. ‘Maybe I exaggerated a little,’ said Indira. Ravi shook his shirt, and her eyes caught the cascade of crumbs as they hit the carpet. She disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a small work-top vacuum cleaner. She began to suck up the crumbs. ‘Oh yes, just a beans man really,’ said Ravi, as he shoved another piece of sweet into his mouth. Another chunk of pink matter bounced down his shirt and onto the carpet. Jamilla cast a glance at her mother, whose facial expression showed less of the enthusiasm she had exuded earlier. Indira sucked up the last bit of 156
sweet from the carpet and went back into the kitchen. Jamilla stood up and, excusing herself, followed her mother into the kitchen. ‘Are you seriously trying to marry me off to that… that… man in there?’ asked Jamilla angrily. ‘He seems very nice,’ replied her mother sheepishly. ‘He has a good job working for a movie company, isn’t it?’ ‘He’s a bloody accountant, mother! And he’s not exactly a movie star, is he?’ ‘Well dear, I know that he’s a bit… Well, he’s not quite what I expected but—’ Jamilla stood defiantly. Her bruise had turned a bright shade of purple and the swelling in her eye had gone down a little, but her face was still puffy. ‘Anyway, you’re not exactly looking your best, are you?’ retorted Indira. Jamilla was about to say something in response, when a shrill voice drifted into the kitchen from the sitting room. ‘Is there being any more tea, and maybe some more of that wonderful Barfi, isn’t it, Mrs Raj?’ Jamilla burst out laughing. Indira tried hard to look indignant but failed and she, too, started to giggle. Both mother and daughter soon dissolved into fits of laughter. Just then, Jamilla’s cell phone rang. Still giggling, she answered the call. It was Joshua. ‘Hi Jam, glad to hear you laughing. You must be getting better?’ ‘Mum and I were having a private joke,’ said Jamilla. ‘So, what have you been up to, Josh?’ ‘I’ve been badgering our friend, Jasper Harper. You can consider his cage suitably rattled.’ ‘Please be careful, Joshua. You’ve seen what he is capable of doing. Just go easy. I don’t want to see you hurt as well.’ Jamilla’s voice took on a serious tone. ‘I’m okay, I have back up. Some friends of Harley Jackson are watching my back, so I’m safe.’ Joshua tried to sound convincing. ‘So, are you getting enough rest? Not working, I hope?’ ‘Well, funny you should mention that,’ replied Jamilla. ‘I just happened to check my emails and discovered there are more revelations about our favourite Mayor.’ ‘What else has he been up to?’ asked Joshua. ‘Bones sent me some documents. Harper has a company somewhere up North. It’s a toxic waste handling business called Harcom Industrial Waste. So, he’s involved in handling the stuff as we suspected. He also has three contracts with local councils to dispose of general waste. But, here is the interesting part. He has contracts with a big company called Industrial 157
Chemicals. He handles all their toxic waste produce.’ She paused, waiting for Joshua to respond. ‘Wow, that really caps it, Jam. Send me the email, will you? I’m going to do a little travelling to the North. I’d like to see this waste disposal company for myself.’ ‘Be careful, Josh. We are dealing with a dangerous man. But I agree, we need to find out about that company, if it actually exists. I’m still waiting on the soil analysis; it should be through in a few days, so we shall see what we are dealing with.’ ‘Ok, I’ll see you soon. You take care of yourself. I love you.’ Joshua hung up. ‘Who was that?’ asked Indira. ‘Joshua. You met him at the hospital. He works with me at the Herald,’ said Jamilla as casually as possible. ‘Ah yes, I remember. He seems a nice boy - for a white man, of course.’ ‘Mother, really. What do you want? Do you really want me to marry someone like that Barfi balloon next door?’ Jamilla stood defiantly. Just then, Ravi walked into the kitchen. He was holding an empty plate and his big, puppy dog eyes were looking around the kitchen for more food. ‘Wonderful Barfi, Mrs Raj. Is there any more?’ he asked and then added, almost as an afterthought, ‘You look very glowing, Juntilla.’ Indira and Jamilla looked at each other and smiled. ‘It’s JAMILLA,’ they said in unison.
Chapter 43 The train pulled into the station as Joshua grabbed his camera bag from the overhead rack. He stepped off the train and found a taxi stand. He gave the driver the address that Jamilla had given to him, and the taxi pulled away. Driving through country lanes Joshua could only see fields and trees. The undulating landscape passed by, until eventually the taxi pulled into a driveway that opened out into a large parking area. It was a small industrial estate with several buildings. Joshua walked around the estate looking for a company plate. Eventually, he found what he was looking for. On a small, aluminium plate was stamped the name ‘Harcom Industrial Waste’. The building looked deserted. A roller shutter was closed to the left of the glass door entrance. Joshua rang the buzzer, but there was no answer. He tried the door, but that was locked. He then spotted a small notice that told him there was a delivery entrance around the rear of the building. He walked around to the back through a small alleyway. There was a similar roller shutter that was also closed. A solid door to the right of the shutter was also locked. Looking around to make certain that no one was looking, he inserted his hand through the letterbox in an attempt to reach the lock on the inside. His hand could not reach, so he withdrew his arm. He then undid his trouser belt and formed a loop with it. Inserting the looped belt through the letterbox, he managed to catch the door handle and pull sharply down. The door swung inwards to his satisfaction. He entered the building. Taking his camera from the bag, he started to look around. There were three offices that were totally empty of furniture. He then entered what appeared to be a warehouse. Inside the warehouse were stacked several large drums with labels that said ‘Danger Toxic Waste’. There were no other indications that this was any form of processing plant - no machinery, no people, just the large drums. Joshua began to take photographs. He took pictures of the empty offices and the warehouse. He then took close-up pictures of the drums containing the chemical waste, and even closer images of the labels. Joshua knew that this was just a dummy company, that Harcom Industrial Waste didn’t exist. This was just a forwarding depot. ‘Where does Harper send the waste to?’ asked Joshua to himself. He then packed up his camera and left the building. He did not notice the security guard who had been watching him from a distance. The guard then pulled a cell phone from his pocket and dialled. ‘You have a visitor,’ he said. ‘Did you talk to him?’ asked Jasper Harper at the other end of the call. ‘No, I just watched what he did. He managed to get into the building. He had a camera with him.’
‘Shit! It’s that interfering busybody. Okay, don’t let on you saw him. I’ll deal with him in my own way.’ Jasper Harper hung up the phone and slammed his fist on his desk. He then dialled a number on his cell phone. ‘Sammy, I need you to take care of something,’ said Harper menacingly, and then went on to give his instructions. ‘And make sure you do the job properly this time, He should be coming back to Hornfield tonight. I suspect he went by train. Check the arrivals from Huddersfield. Deal with it, Sammy.’ Harper then hung up, not waiting for a response. In his small office, Frank Cotteridge was at ease. He only had a few more days to go and he would be a free man. Free to pursue his caravanning expeditions, free to do anything he wanted to do. But, there was one more thing that needed his full attention. He pulled up his email account and put in the email address of Jamilla Raj that he had taken from her card. He started to write. It was a long email. Almost three pages of text. When he had finished, he checked it over once and pressed send. Frank sat back in his chair; he was now content. He knew that he had done everything he could. His conscience was clear; he had done the right thing. Now, it was just a question of waiting for the hammer to fall. He just hoped that he didn’t get hit in the fall out. A message arrived on Jamilla’s laptop telling her there was a new email in her in-box. She opened the mail and started to read. As she read the email, her face contorted; she was both angry and elated. This was exactly what she needed. Frank Cotteridge had given her a full breakdown of all Harper’s dealings - how he bribed the Bishop and how he bribed the planning committee. Frank even admitted that he had taken money from Harper. He also added that he would give the money to St Xavier’s, as he didn’t want it on his conscience. Jamilla read through the email again. She then started to write the article, making certain that she did not reveal her source and keeping Frank Cotteridge anonymous. She thought he was not a bad man and he should not suffer any more than he had already. An hour later, Jamilla finished her article. Her cell phone rang on her desk, and she picked it up. ‘Hi, it’s me,’ said Joshua excitedly. ‘I went to the factory. You won't believe what I found.’ ‘Let me guess. It was a dummy operation?’ ‘Spot on, except there is one very worrying aspect to this,’ he continued. ‘There were drums of toxic waste sitting in the warehouse. I’ve no idea where Harper intends to send them.’ Joshua then told Jamilla about the photographs he had taken of the empty building and the drums of toxic waste. ‘I suspect he is hoarding them until he starts work on the golf course. Then he can bury the drums,’ said Jamilla. ‘I also have some very good news. I had an email about an hour ago. It was from Frank Cotteridge, the planning officer. It seems that he had a problem with his conscience and he has resigned as senior planning officer. He also sent me full details of Harper’s corruption and nefarious dealings. I’m going to do an article and expose him 160
for what he is. Bring me the pictures as well, Josh. And be careful - if you were seen, Harper won’t hesitate to come after you.’ ‘I’ll be careful, Jam. As soon as I hang up I’m going to call Harley Jackson and get a little additional protection.’ He said goodbye and then rang Harley Jackson. He explained what he had found out and that Jamilla was going to expose Harper. ‘I’ll call Thor and make sure you have some backup,’ said Harley. ‘When does your train arrive at Hornfield?’ ‘Around eight o’clock this evening.’ ‘Just keep your eyes open, Joshua.’ ‘Will do, and thanks again. How you getting on with your Bishop friend?’ asked Joshua. ‘I’m putting the plan into action as we speak. I need the help of Jamilla with this one,’ said Harley. ‘Give her a call. She’s in her office just now.’ Harley hung up the phone and dialled Jamilla’s cell phone. After a few rings, she answered. ‘Jamilla, I’ve just spoken with Joshua. Sounds like you’re taking Harper down. He’s not the only one about to be exposed, but I need you to write a little piece for me.’ ‘Sure, what do you need?’ asked Jamilla. Harley told her what he wanted, and she laughed. ‘Oh boy, that should be fun,’ she replied, still laughing.
Chapter 44 The train from Huddersfield pulled into Hornfield station. The platform was deserted apart from a railway employee who stood by the open train doors. Joshua stepped down onto the platform and walked to the exit. The exit comprised of a ramp that entered a short tunnel which, in turn, led out into the car park. Joshua walked down the ramp and into the tunnel. Halfway down the tunnel he was grabbed from behind. Strong powerful arms pinned his arms to his chest. He was being dragged down the tunnel towards the car park. Joshua could not see who was bending his arm behind his back in a painful hold. A hand clamped down on Joshua’s mouth, preventing him from calling out for help. They stopped behind a black Range Rover. The assailant pointed a fob toward the car and the rear door clicked open. He picked Joshua up effortlessly and dumped him into the rear of the car. He then tied a gag around his mouth and tied his arms and legs. Slamming the rear door shut, he got into the driver's seat. He then started the engine and pulled out of the car park. Joshua was frightened. If this was the man who had almost killed Jamilla, he might not make the same mistake twice. Joshua’s head banged against the wheel arch as the driver sped away. After a few minutes, Joshua could hear something. Over the noise of the engine, he heard a loud rumbling like a thousand bumblebees approaching. The Rover suddenly accelerated, sending Joshua crashing back against the rear door. The car slewed sideways and jumped forward again. The rumbling grew louder now. Joshua then realised what the noise was, and he knew that he would be okay. The Harley Davidson Road King’s huge V2 engine sounded like a machine gun as it overtook the Range Rover and swerved in front of the car. Twenty other bikes surrounded the vehicle, forcing it to stop. The driver looked shocked as several leather-clad bikers pulled him from the driver’s seat. Thor went around to the rear of the car and opened the back door. He undid the ropes that bound Joshua and helped him to his feet. A large bruise was forming on Joshua’s forehead where he had been thrown around in the back of the Rover. ‘You’re okay now, Josh. Take it easy. That’s a pretty nasty bruise you have there, pal,’ said Thor as he helped Joshua to steady himself. ‘Thanks, Thor. I’ve never been so pleased to see anyone in my life as you guys,’ said Joshua as he felt the swelling on his head. The bikers had Sammy Boy Willard down on the ground. They formed a circle around him. Thor approached the man on the ground and, bending his knees, he dropped to a squat. ‘You’ve been a bad boy, Sammy,’ said Thor in a calm voice. ‘Piss off,’ said Sammy, who had regained some of his composure.
‘That’s not very polite,’ said Thor as he pulled Sammy to his feet. ‘We’re going for a little ride.’ Thor pulled Sammy toward his Harley and dumped him unceremoniously on the back seat. He pushed a helmet onto his head and, using the ropes that had bound Joshua, Thor tied Sammy’s arms behind him and secured his legs to the bike so that he could not move. Thor then started the huge bike and, like a rocket, the big engine catapulted the bike down the road at tremendous speed. Sammy was jerked backwards by the acceleration. The bike eventually stopped outside St Xavier’s church. Sammy was pulled off the back of the motorbike and then dragged inside the empty church. His feet did not touch the ground as two hefty bikers pulled him up a stone staircase. They arrived at a small door, which opened onto the parapet of the church spire. ‘What are you doing to me?’ Sammy struggled in vain as he was hauled onto the parapet. A rope was tied around his waist and he was lowered over the edge. The rope was tied off and everyone left the parapet, leaving Sammy hanging in mid-air. ‘You can’t leave me here,’ Sammy yelled. Thor and his friends gathered outside. They all looked up as Sammy swung from the tower precariously. ‘When you decide to tell us who put you up to this, we might let you down,’ shouted Thor. ‘You have till morning, Sammy. If you don’t tell us what we want to know, then we’ll let you down, the hard way.’ ‘Don’t leave me hear. Please…’ begged Sammy as he dangled by the rope. ‘See you in the morning, Sammy. Don’t hang about too long, will you!’ Thor and the bikers mounted their bikes and drove off into the night. Chapter 45 Early the next morning, Sebastian was making coffee in the kitchen. He happened to look out of the window and, to his astonishment, saw a body dangling from a rope over the parapet of the church tower. Its arms were flapping about so he knew it was still alive. He ran out of the kitchen and yelled to Harley to come downstairs. Harley emerged from the bathroom and went down the stairs. He was wearing his dressing gown. ‘What’s up, Seb? Why are you yelling?’ ‘Since when did we start hanging people from our steeple?’ asked Sebastian. Harley looked confused as Sebastian pointed out of the kitchen window at the dangling body. ‘Good grief. Who’s that?’ asked Harley. 163
‘Not sure. We could go and ask him, I guess,’ replied Sebastian. The two priests went outside and walked down the drive to the church. Standing underneath the suspended figure, Harley yelled out. ‘What are you doing up there?’ Just then, Thor arrived on his bike and parked beside Harley and Sebastian. He looked up at the figure and shouted. ‘You ready to talk yet, Sammy?’ Thor then turned to Harley. ‘Let me introduce you to Sammy Boy Willard. Sammy is a contractor. He’s a bit like an exterminator and gets rid of unwanted obstacles. Especially the ones that investigate powerful people. Sammy tried to abduct Joshua last night, and I’m pretty sure he was responsible for Jamilla’s accident.’ ‘Please let me down! I’ll tell you everything, just get me down from here. I’m freezing to death,’ yelled Sammy as his teeth chattered loudly. Thor and Harley entered the church and went up to the parapet and hauled Sammy up. When he was almost to the top, they stopped pulling him and Thor spoke to Sammy. ‘So, who put you up to this?’ ‘Jasper Harper,’ came the teeth-chattering response. ‘Did you mess with Jamilla Raj’s brakes as well?’ asked Thor. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ said Sammy. As soon as the words had left his mouth, he suddenly found himself plunging down the side of the tower. He screamed. Okay, okay, it was Harper,’ cried a terrified Sammy. ‘I cut the brake lines, but he ordered the hit.’ Thor and Harley then pulled him up over the parapet and stood him up. ‘Okay, you’re going on record with this,’ said Thor. ‘You’re going with Father Jackson here straight to the cops and admit what you did. You will also implicate Jasper Harper. If you don’t, then Father Jackson will bring you back and the next time you’ll be hanging from the tower by your neck.’ Sammy nodded his head vigorously as Thor untied the ropes. They climbed back down the stairs and Harley went to the Manse house to put on some clothes whilst Thor waited with Sammy. ‘What was that all about?’ asked Sebastian as Harley walked into the house. ‘That’s the guy who tried to hurt Jamilla,’ replied Harley. ‘Thor caught him last night. He was trying to abduct Joshua. Thor decided on some gentle persuasion to get him to talk and he admitted that it was Jasper Harper that put him up to it. So, we’re going to the police now. It’s the end of Harper. All that’s left now is our Bishop O’Toole. He should be reading the Herald just about now, I guess.’ Harley looked at his watch. ‘What’s in the Herald that would interest him?’ asked Sebastian. 164
‘You’ll soon find out,’ said Harley as he grinned mischievously.
Chapter 46 Indeed, the Bishop was reading that morning’s edition of the Herald. His eyes were screwed up and his face contorted with rage as he read the article. Holy Grail May Be Linked To St Xavier's Father Harley Jackson, of St Xavier’s Catholic Church, Hornfield, told this newspaper that his research has led him to believe that the Knights Templar visited Hornfield around the 12th century. The Templar knights were thought to be the custodians of the famous Holy Grail. Father Jackson further commented that there might even be secret hiding places in the church where the Grail could be hidden... Bishop O’Toole finished the article and threw down the newspaper. He paced the room in a rage. This was not going to plan. The Grail was his project; he had done all the years of research and Jackson was not going to spoil his plans. Picking up a cushion, he started to twist it in his hands. His eyes took on a demented gaze as he thought through his next move. Just then, his computer beeped and a message appeared in his in-box. Sitting at his desk, he opened the email. There was an attachment. Bishop O’Toole looked at the letter and his heart leapt with delight. This was wonderful news. The attachment was a letter from the Vatican agreeing to the closure of St Xavier’s. This was what he had been waiting for. Finally, he could get rid of the meddling priests and close down St Xavier’s. He decided that he would wait until the evening and then go and confront the priests. He would show them the letter and shut down the church. Then, later in the evening he would go into St Xavier’s and start searching for the secret compartment that held the Grail. He would find it and then the world would know what a brilliant historian he was. The Vatican would most likely make him an Archbishop for this. He would even meet the Pope himself! The Bishop fantasised about the fame that would very soon be his. Later that afternoon, Bishop O’Toole left his flat in London and drove to Hornfield. It was early evening by the time he arrived at St Xavier’s. He parked the car and walked confidently to the doors of the church and entered. He thought he might have a quick look around before confronting Harley Jackson. He looked around and walked to the altar. He was surprised to find Harley on his hands and knees behind the altar. ‘What are you doing on your hands and knees, Father Jackson? I’m sure you’re not praying down there,’ said Bishop O’Toole. Harley jumped at the sound of the Bishop’s voice. ‘Errmm, I’m just looking for something I dropped,’ he said unconvincingly. ‘I’m sure you are,’ said the Bishop sarcastically. ‘I have something here for you to read, Father.’ He pulled out the letter he had received from the Vatican and presented it to Harley. 166
‘So, it’s over,’ said Harley. ‘You got what you wanted after all.’ ‘Yes, so there is no need for you to be here, is there? This church is closed,’ said the Bishop with an air of satisfaction. ‘Fine,’ replied Harley and walked out. Sebastian was waiting outside. ‘Well, did he go for it?’ ‘Big time. He even showed me the fake letter. Good old Bones - amazing what he can do with Photoshop,’ replied Harley with a smile. ‘Now all we have to do is wait.’ The Bishop was delighted that Harley had left with such little resistance. He immediately got down on his hands and knees and started to search where he had seen Harley behind the altar. He lifted the cloth that covered the altar and started to search along the stone base. Then, he spotted it. His heart raced, and excitement filled his body. In the wall, about twelve inches from the base of the stone altar, was a small square stone. Very faint, but just visible. In the stone was etched a cross. It looked very much like a Templar Cross. Removing a small knife from his pocket, he began to scrape at the edges of the stone. At first, it was difficult, and nothing really came away except for a little dust. Then, after pressing a little harder, chunks of mortar fell to the floor. After thirty minutes of scraping, the stone became loose. The Bishop eased it out of the recess. It was heavy and made a dull thud as it hit the floor. There was a hole where the stone had been and the Bishop pushed his hand inside. Feeling, around his hand touched something soft. He grabbed the object and pulled. It was a small box covered in what looked like sackcloth. Hardly able to contain his excitement, the Bishop slowly and carefully unwrapped the box. The lid was carved and looked ancient. Gently he prised open the lid, and there it was. The Holy Grail itself. The chalice did not look anything special. It was neither carved nor ornate and looked quite plain. But to the Bishop, this was the most precious thing he had ever seen. He quickly placed the chalice back inside the box. He replaced the stone and covered the altar with the cloth cover. He then placed the box under his coat and walked down the aisle. As he approached the rear of the church, he heard sounds coming from the gallery. What if there was someone up there and they had seen him remove the Grail? He started to climb the stone stairwell up to the gallery. Suddenly, there was singing. How d'you do? I see you've met my faithful handyman He's just a little brought down because when you knocked He thought you were the candyman. Don't get strung out by the way that I look, Don't judge a book by its cover I'm not much of a man by the light of day, 167
But by night I'm one hell of a lover I'm just a Sweet Transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania. The words registered in his brain, but he could not comprehend what was happening. He entered the gallery and was confronted by a man wearing a lace-up leather vest. Long silver sequined gloves covered his arms. The Bishop looked at the man in complete shock. His gaze ran down the man’s body and he almost fainted. The man was also wearing very tight ladies panties and his legs were encased in fishnet stockings. To complete the picture, he also wore black patent stiletto shoes. Bishop O’Toole then noticed that there were several other men who were dressed in various forms of outrageous clothing. One wore a gold girdle, while another wore a black, long-tailed coat and a top hat. He wasn’t sure if he had gone crazy as he looked around the gallery. At the rear was a large stone elephant; next to it stood a six-armed idol. His mind was reeling. ‘Well, hello there,’ said the man wearing the fishnets. ‘Who in God’s name are you?’ bellowed the Bishop. ‘I’m Rolley. Who are you?’ asked the man. ‘I am Bishop O’Toole and I want to know what you are doing dressed up as a hooker in my church?’ The Bishop’s eye started to twitch violently. ‘They are my friends and I told them they could rehearse here.’ It was Sebastian who had overheard the Bishop’s ranting and decided to investigate. He was also a little shocked at the sight in front of him. He had no idea that the drama group was rehearsing The Rocky Horror Show. ‘I might have known you were involved in this outrage,’ said the Bishop. ‘Well, like I told your colleague, this church is closed. These… people… can go and rehearse their debauchery elsewhere.’ The Bishop wanted to get out of the church. He could not care less what happened now; he had the Grail, and that was enough. He turned to Sebastian. ‘Enjoy your last day, Father Wetherby-Smythe. Maybe you should consider a different career, because this one is finished.’ He turned and stalked out of the gallery and down the stairs. Sebastian looked over the balustrade and watched the Bishop stomp out of the church. ‘That went well,’ said Rolley. ‘Rocky Horror Show?’ asked Sebastian. ‘Yes, good isn’t it? A great musical and we love the clothes.’ Rolley did a little pirouette. Sebastian shook his head and left the gallery. ‘So, can we stay and finish?’ asked Rolley. ‘Actually, it makes little difference now,’ replied Sebastian.
Chapter 47 The article about the Holy Grail and St Xavier’s was not the only story to run in the Herald. It actually was not front page news, but ran on the second page. The main headline feature was far more serious. Jasper Harper read the article on the front page of the Herald. He was furious. Below the headline that read ‘Town Mayor in Corruption Scandal’ was a picture of him, as well as several photographs showing several barrels of toxic waste sitting in his fake factory. There was also a picture of Sammy Boy Willard. He was wearing handcuffs and held firmly between two large police officers. ‘Jenny!’ he yelled. The door to his office opened and in walked Jenny Logan. She stood in front of Harper’s desk and looked him directly in the eye. ‘You don’t need to shout. I can hear you quite well from three feet away,’ she said. There was an element of disdain in her voice. ‘Get me my lawyers here now,’ raged Harper. His face was bright red and a vein in his neck bulged. ‘I don’t think your lawyers will help you very much. I think it’s more like a miracle that you need, Mr Mayor,’ said Jenny as she turned and walked out of his office. ‘Oh, by the way, there was a call from Fairlawns golf club. They were closed down by the environmental agency this morning. I suggest if you want to speak with your lawyers then call them yourself. I’m taking the day off.’ ‘How dare you. How—’ That was as far as he got. A sudden pain gripped his chest and shot down his arm. He grabbed the side of the desk, but everything was starting to go black. Jasper Harper slid to the floor and lay very still. Jenny Logan stuck her head around the door and saw Harper lying on the floor. ‘Serves the bastard right,’ she muttered and called an ambulance. As Jasper Harper was carried out on a stretcher to the waiting ambulance, he regained consciousness. He opened his eyes. Everything was foggy and the pain in his arm and chest was still there. An oxygen mask covered his nose and mouth. As he was wheeled outside, a dozen reporters pushed microphones towards him. Everyone was asking questions. He tried to shield his eyes from the camera flashes. Then, the world went black again. *** The sound of a steady beeping noise filtered through Jasper Harper’s world. Gradually he opened his eyes. Wires trailed from his chest to a monitor 169
by the side of his bed. His mouth was dry and parched. He tried to lift his head, but a pain in his temple forced him back onto the pillow. He then tried to move his arm, but it wouldn’t move more than a few inches. There was a hard object around his wrist. He looked at his hand and saw that a pair of handcuffs was attached to his wrist and through the rail on the side of the bed. A police officer sat on a chair in his room. ‘What are you doing here?’ he said. ’And why am I in handcuffs?’ His throat was dry and seemed to be full of gravel. ‘You are under arrest, sir,’ said the police officer. ‘Under arrest?’ croaked Harper. ‘You are being charged with conspiracy, attempted murder, environmental negligence, bribing officials and willful damage.’ The police officer was referring to his notes as he recited the list of charges. ‘And that’s just for starters. I think the Crown Prosecution has another list waiting for you.’ ‘I want my lawyer,’ said Harper. ‘No problem, sir. One will be appointed for you by the court.’ ‘You don’t understand. I want MY lawyer,’ rasped Harper. ‘Actually, sir, all your assets have been frozen. Your lawyer called us at the station and said he will not be representing you.’ ‘Fuck,’ said Harper. ‘Indeed, sir,’ said the officer.
Chapter 48 Unseen by anyone, a large group of Indian men arrived at St Xavier’s. It was two in the morning. The sky was overcast and there was no light. Ladders were removed from the minibus in which they had arrived. For three hours, the men worked. Then, satisfied with the result of their labour, they all climbed back on the bus and disappeared as silently as they had arrived. Bishop O’Toole sat in his apartment gloating over the Grail. His telephone rang, disturbing his reverie. ‘Bishop O’Toole,’ he answered sharply. ‘This is Jamilla Raj from the Herald.’ ‘How can I help you, Miss Raj?’ ‘I understand that you might have found the Holy Grail. Is that correct?’ The Bishop was taken by surprise. ‘How did you know about that?’ ‘It’s my job to know,’ said Jamilla. ‘So, is it true. Did you find the Grail in St Xavier’s?’ The Bishop could not halt his ego from replying. ‘Yes I did. After many decades of ardent research I identified the Grail’s final resting place. That article you wrote was inaccurate; it was I who did all the research, not Father Jackson. I am the one that found the Grail.’ The Bishop’s voice was bursting with pride as he looked at the wonderful cup sitting on his desk. ‘That’s wonderful, Bishop. Would you like to come to St Xavier’s for an interview? We could take some pictures of you holding the Grail. This is a big story. It will most likely go national, if not worldwide,’ said Jamilla. ‘Of course, of course. When would you like me to be there?’ ‘Shall we say two o’clock this afternoon?’ ‘Yes, absolutely. I’ll be there.’ He put the phone down and sat back in his chair. Suddenly there was a knock on his door. He got up and opened the door to find Father Head standing there. Father Head’s expression was serious. He pushed past the Bishop and entered the apartment. ‘Did you take a bribe from Jasper Harper?’ asked Father Head. ‘How dare you ask me such a question,’ said the Bishop. His heart flipped and his pulse rate accelerated. ‘Harper has been arrested. They are saying he bribed officials. You wanted St Xavier’s closed down and so I’m asking you again. Did you accept a bribe from Harper?’ Father Head was angry and stood defiantly in front of the Bishop. ‘Absolutely not, and I resent the accusation.’ ‘I heard that you shut down the church. Is that true?’
‘That is true, I received a letter from the Vatican giving permission. I went to see Father Jackson and I closed it down.’ ‘So, did you get your chalice?’ asked Father Head. ‘What? I don’t know what—’ Father Head pointed to the Grail that sat on the Bishop’s desk. ‘Ah, that. Well yes, errmm, I discovered it in St Xavier’s.’ The Bishop, realising that he could no longer cover up his find, told Father Head about his research and how he had found the Holy Grail. Father Head looked at the chalice with renewed interest. ‘That is truly incredible. But there is one slight problem.’ ‘What problem?’ replied the Bishop. ‘This is amazing news. I shall be famous!’ ‘If what you found is truly the Holy Grail, then that makes St Xavier’s a very special place. People will want to visit the church from all over the world. And you’ve just shut it down.’ The Bishop realised Father Head was right. St Xavier’s would become as famous as himself. ‘I shall go to the press conference at St Xavier’s this afternoon. I shall show the world what I discovered. Then, I shall announce that St Xavier’s will not be closed down after all,’ replied the Bishop. ‘What about the two priests?’ asked Father Head. ‘Hmm, I shall have them sent to a different diocese. You can be St Xavier’s priest. Your very own church, Richard. How does that sound?’ ‘Wonderful. Thank you, your Grace,’ said Father Head. ‘Now, I must prepare my speech for this afternoon,’ said the Bishop as he showed Father Head to the door. He spent the next few hours preparing his speech. This was going to be his finest hour. After the interview, he would be famous. His name would be known far and wide. He also had a million pounds in his offshore account so he was set up for life. He reread his speech and sat back in his chair. He dozed off after a short while and he dreamt that he was at the Vatican. He was wearing the robes of a Cardinal and the Pope was congratulating him on his precious find. The dream then moved location. He was admiring his new residence; it was a spacious penthouse apartment on the very top floor of an expensive block of flats overlooking the River Thames. Again, the dream changed. He was now driving his new Mercedes; it gleamed with the pristine newness of a brand new car. He could even smell the leather. He then awoke from his dream. He felt fantastic. Looking at his watch, he realised that he would have to move. His interview was in just two hours and he had to drive to St Xavier’s. He decided to wear his formal dress robes. A black, full-length cassock. When he arrived at St Xavier’s, he would put on the white embroidered robe. On his head, he would wear his Mitre. He would look
fantastic. With a final glance in the mirror, he packed the Grail into its box, wrapped it in the original sackcloth, and left his apartment. When he arrived at St Xavier’s, there were a crowd of journalists gathered outside the church. Father Jackson and Father Wetherby-Smythe were already there, standing at the entrance to the church. The Bishop put on his Chasuble and Mitre. He then picked up his Crosier and walked to the small dais that had been erected for the interview. He stood there proud and elated. There were photographers and many journalists; there was even a television crew. It was then that he noticed a tall man standing quite close by. The man was dressed in a beautifully tailored black suit. Around his neck there was a dog collar denoting that the man was a priest. The priest looked at Bishop O’Toole. There was no discernable expression on his face. Then the Bishop noticed the ring on the priest’s finger. It was an ecclesiastical ring, the type only worn by Bishops or Archbishops. Jamilla made the introductions to the group of journalists. ‘Thank you very much for coming today. As you have heard, we are here to interview Bishop O’Toole. It was the Bishop who discovered the Holy Grail here in St Xavier’s church. It is an exciting discovery. I would also like to welcome Archbishop Ribaldi who flew in this morning from the Vatican.’ There was a brief round of applause as the priest wearing the black suit bowed slightly. Bishop O’Toole was ecstatic. The Vatican had sent an Archbishop! This was too good to be true. Jamilla continued and began the questioning. ‘How did you find the Grail, Bishop O’Toole?’ ‘Through many years of research,’ replied the Bishop proudly. ‘I have been studying the Knights Templar for over thirty years. My research led me to believe that the final resting place of the Grail was here, at St Xavier’s.’ ‘Is it true that you have closed down the church?’ ‘Yes, it is true,’ responded the Bishop. ‘I have here a letter from the Vatican giving permission to close the church. However, I hope that it is just a temporary necessity so that the church can be made safe.’ He noticed a look of surprise on the Archbishop’s face. Jamilla turned to the Archbishop. ‘Your Grace, is this true? The Vatican has granted permission to close St Xavier’s? Surely, if the Grail is genuine then this church is very special?’ ‘I can assure you that the Vatican would not close down a church without a very good reason,’ replied the Archbishop, his voice serious. ‘I know nothing of any such letter.’ He stared at Bishop O’Toole. The Bishop looked confused. He then glanced at Harley and Sebastian. They both looked back at him and simultaneously shrugged their shoulders. A butterfly started to perform acrobatics in his stomach.
‘Are you absolutely convinced that what you found is the Holy Grail?’ asked another reporter. ‘I have no doubt. My research is very accurate. This definitely is the Holy Grail.’ The Bishop began to unwrap the box. Then, opening the lid slowly for dramatic effect, he withdrew the chalice and held it up so everyone could see. Camera’s flashed and clicked as photographs were taken of the Bishop holding up the Holy Grail. One of the reporters walked up to him and asked whether he could photograph the chalice at close range. The Bishop, proud of his discovery, placed the chalice on the dais and allowed the reporter to look at the cup. The reporter carefully picked up the chalice and looked at it closely. Revolving the cup in his hand, he turned it over to look at the bottom. His face screwed up as he examined the base. He then looked up at the Bishop. ‘Is this some sort of hoax?’ asked the reporter. ‘What are you talking about?’ snarled the Bishop, taking the cup from the reporter’s hands. ‘Well, if that’s the Holy Grail, why does it say “made in china” on the bottom?’ ‘What?’ screeched the Bishop. Suddenly, his mouth went very dry. He turned the chalice over and looked at the base. The blood drained from his face. He started to shake and tremble. A cold sweat broke out on his forehead. Looking up, he saw Harley Jackson and Sebastian rocking with laughter. He knew then that he had been set up. Suddenly, there was a barrage of questions. ‘Did you fake this so you could take the credit?’ asked another journalist, thrusting a microphone into his face. ‘What do you have to say about closing the church? Where is this letter from the Vatican you claim to have?’ asked someone else. The Bishop was stunned into silence. He could not think. His vision became tunnelled. He then ran from the dais to his car, barging through the thong of reporters who followed him. They were still shouting questions and taking pictures as he opened the car door. As he sat in the driver’s seat, he saw the look of fury on the Archbishop’s face. He drove away as fast as he could. When he arrived back at his apartment, he threw his robes onto the floor and sat down. His put his head in his hands and tried to breathe slowly to calm himself down. He was ruined; his reputation would be in shatters. He could no longer be a Bishop once the Vatican found out what had happened; they would send him to the most remote part of the world for the rest of his life. He knew what he had to do. He would resign with dignity. After all, he had a million pounds stashed away; he could find a nice place to live, maybe in France or Italy. Yes, that’s what he would do. It was not such a bad option.
The Bishop then opened his laptop and brought up his offshore account. He logged into the account and stared at the screen. The balance of his account was zero. Not a penny. The neighbours heard a piercing scream from the Bishopâ€™s apartment. This was followed by shouting and crashing. Glass shattered as a stone chalice flew through a window and smashed on the pavement below.
Chapter 49 After everyone had left, Harley Jackson walked into the church. There were several people inside. Some were simply looking at the old church. Others were sitting in the pews in quiet contemplation. There were also some people waiting to take confession, so he entered the confessional. The door opened and someone sat down. Harley slid the partition open. ‘Forgive me Father because I have sinned.’ The voice was clear and precise. ‘My name is Rolley and I have lived with sin for the past ten years.’ ‘God is forgiving, my son. Tell me what happened.’ asked Harley. There was a deep sigh, a clearing of the throat and then the confession began. ‘It all started ten years ago, Father. I was a different person back then. Always getting into trouble. I am gay and was always proud to show it. This particular night it was my birthday and we were celebrating at a nightclub. I got very drunk and rowdy and was eventually thrown out of the club. I wandered around for a while, but was so drunk that I could hardly stand up. ‘I remember wandering into the middle of the road...’ Rolley paused for a while before continuing. ‘It was then that a huge motorcycle came around the corner. It was like a one-eyed monster, roaring and howling. The rider tried to swerve, the brakes squealed on the tarmac but it was too late. The motorbike hit me. After that I don’t really remember much. Luckily, there was no damage; it must have been the alcohol. They say that if you have an accident, and you are drunk, your body is relaxed and absorbs the shock. Anyway, I was fine, but I felt so bad about the rider. Whoever they were they must have thought they’d killed me and had to live with that all these years.’ Harley could not believe what he was hearing. ‘This happened ten years ago?’ he asked. ‘Yes, Father,’ replied Rolley. ‘Where exactly did this happen?’ ‘It was near the university, North London.’ ‘My God,’ sighed Harley, a mixture of relief and guilt flooded his mind. ‘That was me.’ ‘What?’ asked Rolley, his voice had risen by an octave. ‘It was me who was riding that bike. I thought you were dead. I got scared and drove away. I’m sorry I did that.’ ‘You’re sorry? It's me who has to apologise, Father. This is wonderful. Finally, after all these years I can meet the man who knocked me down. I am truly sorry. You must have suffered for all this time.’ ‘But I read about the death that night,’ said Harley. ‘Someone on a motorbike was killed. I thought that was you.’ ‘I heard about that, too. ‘It was another accident several miles away. A motorcyclist hit a lamppost and killed himself.’ 176
‘Wow, and all these years I thought I was responsible for your death.’ It was as if a heavy weight was suddenly lifted from his shoulders. Harley felt elated and free of guilt. ‘You are absolved, my son. And so am I,’ laughed Harley. He then opened the door to the confessional. The two men shook hands and hugged each other. For the rest of the afternoon, Harley remained in the confessional until there were no more people. It was getting dark as he left the box. Outside, he could hear the voices of many people. There were cries of delight, and people cheered and laughed. Sebastian came running into the church. ‘You have to see this! It’s amazing,’ said Sebastian. Harley went outside with Sebastian. There were about a hundred people, all staring at St Xavier’s. Before he saw the spectacle, Harley noticed a bright glow around the driveway. He turned his head and was astonished at the sight before him. St Xavier’s was covered, from steeple to buttresses, with tiny twinkling lights. The entire church looked like something from a fairy tale. The lights were wound around the steeple forming a radiant spiral. All along the roof the tiny lights glittered against the night sky. Down the walls hung strings of lights, like pearls. It was an amazing sight to behold. Even the entrance to the church was festooned with colourful strings of miniature lamps. All along the driveway were small candle-lit lanterns. Harley stood stunned into silence. ‘Really cool, isn’t it?’ said Sebastian as he stared at the illuminated building. ‘What happened?’ said Harley, his neck beginning to ache from looking upwards. A small man walked up to Harley and Sebastian; it was Swami Gupta Raj. ‘It is Diwali, the festival of lights,’ said the Swami. ‘I hope you don’t mind our little decorations, but it is an important day in the Hindu religion. It is traditionally a five-day festival that honours our Goddess of wealth, Lakshmi. The lamps are lit to help Lakshmi find her way into people's homes.’ ‘It’s quite amazing,’ said Harley. ‘We are now going inside to perform puja,’ said Swami Gupta Raj and he clapped his hands to get everyone’s attention. The crowd followed him inside the church and they all filed up the stairs to the gallery. There were too many people, so some of them stayed downstairs and looked up at the gallery. Ganesh and Shiva were moved to the front of the gallery and placed next to the cabinet that contained the Torah. Harley and Sebastian joined the Swami in the gallery. Harley glanced at the Ark and the eternal light hanging above it. Ganesh and Shiva appeared to glow from the overhead light and the candles around the gallery. ‘I know what they are,’ said Gupta Raj, following Harley’s gaze. 177
‘I’m sorry, what did you say?’ asked Harley. ‘The Ark, which traditionally holds the Torah. The ner tamid, or eternal light, that hangs above the Ark. I studied comparative religions, Father Jackson, so I know what these are. However, I am not sure why they are here.’ ‘I can answer that,’ said a voice from the entrance to the gallery. Everyone turned to look. The man standing at the doorway wore a widebrimmed, black hat. A shawl was draped over his shoulders. He walked forward to meet Harley, Sebastian, and Swami Gupta Raj. Rabbi Mannheim stood next to the Ark. He looked at the statues of Ganesh and Shiva, then back at Harley. Just then, Joshua and Jamilla walked into the gallery. Everyone was looking at the Rabbi. ‘Father Jackson here very kindly rented out the gallery so that I could use it as a synagogue for my congregation,’ he began. ‘My old synagogue was torn down by that greedy Mayor who, I believe, is now in custody for corruption and fraud, thanks to Jamilla Raj and my Joshua here.’ The Rabbi continued, his voice calm and collected. ‘I see that the gallery is also used for something else,’ and his hands pointed to the two statues. ‘Ganesh and Shiva, if I am not mistaken.’ The Swami looked at the Rabbi, his eyes full of kindness and affection. ‘It appears our intrepid priests have some explaining to do!’ he said. Harley sighed. He looked at Sebastian and then back to the Swami and the Rabbi. ‘I’m sorry, gentlemen. We didn’t know what else to do. The Bishop wanted to close down the church. We had to repair the roof and had no money. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I’m really sorry if we have caused you any offence.’ ‘Offence? Not at all, I think you did a wonderful thing here,’ said the Swami. ‘Indeed, a very wonderful thing,’ continued the Rabbi. ‘You showed no prejudice in your decision to rent the church to two completely different religions. It is a true sign of religious tolerance. And I love these lights - it’s like Hannukah,’ he laughed aloud. ‘In fact, Hannukah is just a few weeks away. I suggest we leave the lights as they are and we can use them for our festival.’ The Swami also laughed. They were soon joined by Harley and Sebastian. Jamilla and Joshua looked on in amazement. ‘Please join us for our puja,’ said Swami Gupta Raj. ‘Come everyone, let us all celebrate.’ As everyone celebrated and joined in the puja, a deafening blast of chords reverberated around the church. Mrs Chattel sat at the organ pumping away merrily. Harley and Sebastian looked at each other and erupted into gales of laughter.
Chapter 50 Jamilla sat at her desk in the offices of the Herald, Joshua standing next to her. The editor in chief had purchased a case of champagne in celebration of the successful work of the two journalists. ‘I want to thank Jamilla Raj and Joshua Mannheim here for the work they have done to uncover the corruption in our town,’ he said, to everyone standing around. ‘It was a brilliant piece of investigative journalism. I also want to announce that Joshua is now our full-time photographer.’ Everyone cheered and toasted the two journalists. As the noise abated, Joshua turned to Jamilla. ‘I have an announcement myself,’ he said. He dropped to one knee and pulled a small box from his jacket pocket. ‘Jamilla Raj, I love you so much. I want the world to know how much I love you. Please, will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?’ Jamilla’s heart skipped several beats. Her eyes welled with tears and she held out her hand. ‘Yes, Joshua, I want to be your wife. I love you so much.’ Joshua slipped on the engagement ring and everyone cheered loudly. ‘I’m not sure what our parents will say,’ said Jamillla. ‘I think my mum will have a heart attack, but I don’t care!’ Meanwhile, inside the Manse house, Harley and Sebastian were also celebrating. St Xavier’s was saved from closure, the Bishop had been exposed for what he was, Jasper Harper was behind bars, and the Swami and Rabbi had become friends. ‘So, we are back where we started,’ said Sebastian. ‘We still need money to make the necessary repairs.’ Harley looked at Sebastian. There was a glint in his eye. ‘The Lord will provide, Seb. He always does.’ ‘What are you up to?’ asked Sebastian suspiciously. ‘It appears we have an anonymous benefactor. There was a suitcase in front of the altar when I went inside the church this morning,’ replied Harley, grinning like a Cheshire cat. ‘What was in it?’ Harley pulled a battered suitcase from behind his chair and handed it to Sebastian. ‘Take a look for yourself.’ Sebastian released the catches and pulled open the lid. His jaw dropped as he stared inside the case. ‘Wow!’ he cried. ‘How much is in here?’ ‘A million quid,’ said Harley. ‘Is this the same million that…’
‘The Lord works in mysterious ways,’ replied Harley. ‘Ours is not to question, Seb. It was a kind benefactor who wants to remain anonymous. Let’s just leave it at that, shall we?’ ‘Thank the Lord for his mercy and kindness,’ replied Sebastian as he picked up a wad of notes. ‘By the way, I heard that Rolley made a confession. He told me all about it.’ ‘That was amazing,’ said Harley. ‘You can’t imagine how relieved I am, knowing I didn’t kill anyone. So many years of guilt, Seb. I should have confessed it years ago. Not very priestly of me, was it?’ Sebastian cast his eyes down. There was an expression of embarrassment on his face. ‘I have a little confession of my own,’ he mumbled. ‘Come on, Seb. I can’t imagine you have anything much to confess. I know about your background, the gay clubs and all that stuff.’ Sebastian sighed. ‘Actually, I’m not gay.’ ‘What?’ asked Harley in surprise. ‘I’m not gay. I never was. I just seemed to fit into that community. No one judged me or criticised my opinions. I just enjoyed their company. So I went along with it all. I dressed the part and was accepted.’ He looked at Harley, who gave him a huge grin. ‘I always suspected something like that, Seb. I saw the way you looked at Jamilla Raj. It was almost lustful,’ replied Harley. ‘She’s one hot mama,’ laughed Sebastian. There was a knock on the door. Sebastian got up and went to see who it was. As he opened the door, he saw four people standing outside. It was Swami Gupta Raj and his wife Indira. Standing next to them was Rabbi Manni Mannheim and his wife Miriam. ‘May we come in and talk to you and Father Jackson?’ asked Gupta Raj. ‘Of course,’ said Sebastian as he stood aside to let them in. Once everyone was seated, the Rabbi spoke. ‘It is about our children. We love them very much. We also think they love each other very much.’ ‘A mother knows when her daughter is in love,’ added Indira. ‘I know my son feels the same way too,’ said Miriam. ‘The thing is, Father,’ continued Gupta Raj, ‘we know they are scared to tell us. So we thought you might like to talk to them.’ The two sets of parents nodded their heads in unison. Harley and Sebastian smiled at each other. ‘Of course we will,’ replied Harley. ‘They make a lovely couple. I think they are well suited and will be very happy together. I am pleased that you came to us. Are you not concerned about their different religious affiliations?’
‘Oh, come on, Father Jackson!’ said Rabbi Mannheim. ‘After what we have been through? Here we are, a Catholic church, a Jewish Rabbi and a Hindu Swami. We are all practising our respective faiths under one roof. How on earth can we criticise our children when they are just following our own example? It’s a wonderful example of inter-faith tolerance and we should all celebrate this union.’ ‘Indeed it is,’ said Sebastian. ‘I think we should all celebrate. There is one question I would like to ask, though.’ Everyone looked at him. ‘Where on earth will they get married? Will it be a Catholic, Hindu, or Jewish ceremony?’
Chapter 51 It was late evening on Christmas Eve. Snow had been falling all day and it had settled over the town of Hornfield like a white blanket. St Xavierâ€™s church was lit up like a Christmas tree. The lights that had been used for Diwali still hadnâ€™t been taken down. At the front entrance, Sebastian had erected a garish Santa Claus and reindeer, which were now lit up with flashing lights. The newly formed Town Council had donated a huge Christmas tree, and everyone had been invited to help with the decorations. Harley had trudged around Hornfield putting up posters, announcing a carol service at the church at eleven oâ€™clock on Christmas Eve. The two priests were waiting inside the church and admiring the nativity scene that had been assembled. It was an unusual and eclectic mix of images. The baby Jesus lay in a straw crib surrounded by Mary and Joseph. The three wise men stood near the crib holding their gifts. Behind the crib stood Ganesh, who was draped in a crimson garland and, standing next to him, was the six-armed Shiva. On top of the manger was a dented Star of David, which had been donated by Rabbi Mannheim. Mrs Chattel even had a brand new electric organ. She no longer had to pedal furiously to make it work; however, the array of switches and knobs were still a little confusing to her. People began to arrive for the carol service and were slowly filling the pews. Mrs Whittlehurst took her usual place at the front. Harley and Sebastian had explained to her about the statues. Although she was still somewhat skeptical, her fears about demonic possession had been assuaged. In deference to her, Harley did have to compromise. He had to perform an elaborate exorcism of her cat. Swami Gupta Raj came into the church with his wife, Indira. They were accompanied by many of the Indian community, who wanted to come along to have a singsong. Cousin Ravi took his place near the end of the row, and sat chomping on a mince pie. Jamilla and Joshua sat together behind them. Rabbi Mannheim and Miriam also came along, and they sat with their friends. The men wore their little caps, while the ladies wore a variety of wonderful hats. Outside the church could be heard the rumble of motorcycles. Once they had all parked, Thor led the bikers into the church and they sat in the pews. They wore a strange array of clothing and had tried to make an effort to look as respectable as possible. Some wore ties that were just tied in a knot around their neck. Most still wore their leather jackets and colours. The girls wore their short skirts and high heels and sat with their partners. Even the gay community had turned up, dressed as flamboyantly as usual. They all sashayed into the church and sat among the congregation. The bikers glowered at them and they, in turn, gave little waves back. Cousin Ravi sat in his pew, his jacket covered in mince pie crumbs. He was disappointed that it had not worked out as planned with Jamilla, but he 182
enjoyed being in England and was delighted with the vast array of food that Indira had presented to him. Just as he was stuffing another mince pie into his mouth, a girl sat next to him. Her short skirt revealed her long, shapely legs. Her thick black hair hung over her shoulders and draped down her back in a long plait. Her skin was a beautiful shade of brown and her huge eyes fluttered as she looked at Ravi. ‘Hi my name is Shanka,’ she said. ‘Who are you?’ Ravi quickly swallowed the remaining mince pie. ‘I’m Ravi,’ he replied. He was totally captivated by Shanka’s amazing eyes. ‘I’m pleased to meet you, Ravi. You have a cute smile,’ said Shanka. ‘I’m pleased to be meeting you also, Shanka.’ His eyes lit up brightly. ‘Oh, I am realising something,’ he continued. ‘My name is Ravi and yours is Shanka. Ravi and Shanka. Ravi Shankar! He is very wonderful sitar player, isn’t it?’ Shanka laughed at the connection and sat a little closer to Ravi. ‘It seems like cousin Ravi has made a friend,’ whispered Jamilla into Joshua’s ear. The organ began the opening bars of ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’. Except for a few missed notes, it was not a bad rendition. The congregation sang enthusiastically. Sebastian’s tone-deaf voice echoed around the church, but no one took any notice, except for Harley who was standing next to him. For the next hour, they sang all the favourite carols and, when they had finished, Harley stepped up into the pulpit and began to speak. ‘It’s so great that you could all come to our carol service. We have a wonderfully mixed congregation tonight. There are Catholics, Hindus, and Jews all sitting here, side by side, and enjoying the Christmas carols. I am sure there are other faiths here, too. It doesn’t matter where we come from, or what religion we are, or even our cultural background. It doesn’t matter what your sexual preference is, either.’ He looked at the gays and smiled. He then looked at Thor and the bikers, and continued. ‘Nor does it matter if you don’t believe in God. To me, it shows that it’s not important what we believe, but how we live our lives. Tolerance, compassion, and kindness is the religion here this evening. So, from Father Sebastian and I, we thank you for coming and we hope you all have a very wonderful celebration.’ The entire congregation stood up and clapped loudly. No one heard the creak that was followed by a grinding noise. Suddenly, several tiles parted company with the roof just above where Harley and Sebastian were standing. The tiles crashed harmlessly to the floor, but a large pile of snow dumped itself on top of the two priests. Shaking the snow from their robes, Sebastian looked sideways at Harley. ‘Guess we should use that donation to fix the roof now.’ Harley laughed aloud, as did everyone else. ‘Merry Christmas, everyone,’ he shouted. ‘And a happy, peaceful, and prosperous New Year.’ 183
Chapter 52 Six months had passed. It was summertime and the sun shone brightly on St Xavier’s church. It had now been fully restored and two new additional buildings were attached to the old church. The bells of St Xavier’s rang out across the town. Crowds of people gathered at the church entrance. Everyone was dressed in their best clothing. Women wore large floppy hats, some of which were trimmed with flowers while others had big bows. The men wore suits. Indira Raj was also there, wearing a stunning silk sari. There were Indians wearing traditional dress and many Jewish people. The men wore the Kippah and the women all wore hats. Even Mrs Whittlehurst wore her Sunday best, even if it was half a century old. Harley Jackson and Sebastian stood at the entrance to the church wearing their robes. Everyone filed into the church as the bells continued to ring out. When they were all inside, a long white Rolls Royce pulled up outside the church entrance. The door was opened by a uniformed driver and out stepped Jamilla Raj. She was wearing the most beautiful wedding dress. Her hair was loose and hung over her shoulders in ringlets; she wore a translucent veil and held a bouquet of flowers. Gupta Raj stood beside his daughter. He wore an incredibly embroidered kurta with gold pointed slippers. Father and daughter walked into the church. As they walked down the aisle to an unusual rendition of the wedding march played by Mrs Chattel, Jamilla saw her future husband standing at the altar. He was also wearing a beautifully embroidered Indian kurta. He looked very handsome as he stood waiting. After the ceremony, the newly-married couple walked back down the aisle together. Everyone followed them outside. Then, Jamilla and Joshua continued to walk around the front of the church and into the entrance of the Hindu temple built onto the side of St Xavier’s. Everyone followed them inside. The Hindu wedding ceremony began. Instruments were played and drums beat out a rhythm. There were pujas to Ganesh, who sat at the head of the temple. A large copper vessel full of water and flowers sat next to the Swami. He placed the bride’s right hand into the groom’s right hand and tied the ends of the two scarves that each was wearing. Joshua then placed a string of black beads around his wife’s neck and completed the ritual by dabbing some red powder onto her forehead. The couple then took seven steps around a lamp that signified the sacred fire. They both recited their vows as they walked. At the end of the ceremony, the bride and groom walked out into the sunshine. Again, they continued to walk around to the other side of the church and into the new synagogue that had been built onto St Xavier’s. Everyone followed them inside. The Jewish wedding ceremony was then performed. Inside the synagogue was a tall canopy. Joshua and Jamilla stood under the canopy as the Rabbi read from the Psalms, while a small choir sang hymns. Indira then stepped up and, escorting her daughter, they circled around Joshua seven 184
times. The couple then exchanged rings. The Rabbi wrapped a wine glass in a white cloth and handed it to Joshua. He placed the glass under his foot and smashed it. The bride and groom then left the synagogue and walked out into the sunshine to start their new life together. *** Bishop O’Toole sat on the terrace as torrential rained poured from a tropical sky. The Amazon Rainforest was alive with the sounds of insects and other creatures. A mosquito landed on his arm, which he swatted, angrily. He was hot and uncomfortable. His robes were damp and sticky. He sat disconsolately, contemplating his new posting. Father Head walked out to the terrace and sat next to Bishop O’Toole. ‘This is all your fault,’ he moaned. ‘Stop whining and get me a glass of water.’ ‘Get it yourself,’ grumbled Father Head as he walked into the rain. The End