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Chapter 10: The Old Priest

Daniel cowered in the small doorway that sat opposite the book shop. The rain had created a small stream carrying rubbish and filth downhill towards the main street. The stench of urine and stale alcohol hung thick in the air causing him to pull the wool coat tighter around his body, while cursing Michael’s lateness. From where he stood, he could see the old bookshop with its dark windows thick with grime. It seemed so out of play surrounded by a small sandwich shop and a modern hair salon. In fact, he’d imagine it would right in to a famous fictional alley. Deciding that he could not cope with the wet weather anymore, he made his way towards the shop.

A rustic bell clanged as he opened the door. Its sound echoed throughout the shop and Daniel was surprised to find it just as dingy and dark inside as it looked from outside. How this man did business was anyone's guess. His eyes struggled to adjust to the gloom and he could just make out the rows of shelves that lined the four walls and stood in two rows in the middle of the floor.

Volumes of books filled every available space and it seemed more like a storage facility than somewhere you would come and buy. As he edged in further, he felt as though many eyes were following him. It was as though the characters that lived inside the books were haunting the shelves living out their own tragedies and loves from beyond the pages. In the corner beneath a pile of papers and books, he could just make out a counter with an old till, which looked like it had seen better days.

A shuffling sound caught his attention and he turned to see a hunched man leaning on a stick hobbling towards him.

‘Can I help?’ he asked roughly, his voice holding an Irish twang that made Daniel think of his mother.

As the man came into the light, Daniel was shocked to see that, though his eyes made him seem younger, the body looked nothing more than a shell. His dark clothes hung loosely on him and his trousers were held up by an over tight belt. At a guess, he would he say that the man was at least in his seventies.

‘My name is Father Daniel McNeish. I am a friend of Father Michael Roach, he’s meeting me here.’

The old man stopped suddenly and Daniel felt eyes scanning his face. The air around them suddenly went cold as invisible barriers went up between them. The sound of the doorbell ringing broke the moment, as Michael entered muttering apologies about being late and the weather. Shaking the water from his coat, he went straight to the old man and grabbed his hand.

‘I see you’ve met Daniel,’ he said brightly. ‘Daniel, this is Ben Shaw, the priest I spoke about.’

The old man pulled his hand away from Michael’s and Daniel saw he wasn’t the only one to receive the cold welcome. Michael seemed to have neglected to tell him that he and Ben were more than passing acquaintances.

‘What do you want Michael? I’ve told you before, no more favours. There’s a reason I left the Church so I wouldn’t bothered by people like you.’

‘And why exactly did you leave? I don’t think you ever told me,’ Michael countered.

Ben smiled but it looked more like a grimace. ‘You follow your god and I’ll follow mine. Now if you don’t mind...’ He waved his stick towards the door.

Despite the hostility between Michael and Ben, Daniel noticed that the old man avoided his eyes also. It was as though it caused disgust to look at him. When neither of them moved, Ben started to walk away into the darkness of the shop. Daniel opened his mouth to say something to Michael, when Michael spoke first.

‘The twins have been found.’

Daniel saw Ben stop and body stiffen, but still remain with his back to them. ‘Why should I care,’ he said unconvincingly.

‘Well there are rumours that it was you that allowed them to be taken that night,’ Michael said. ‘We want to know why you let that happen.’

Ben continued to shuffle away and this time Daniel could see that he was leaning far too hard on his stick as he moved. Too nervous and obviously bluffing.

‘I’ve no idea what you are talking about,’ he whispered.

‘I think you do,’ Michael pushed.

The atmosphere within the small bookshop was growing overwrought. There was silence with only the sound of the rain hammering on the flimsy glass in the window adding to the tension. Ben slowly turned around to face them, with a determined look in his eyes.

‘You’re wrong, Michael, I had nothing to do with the children being taken, as for what you reckon to have found, you’ve the wrong girl.’

Michael started to smirk and Ben’s face dropped realising his mistake. He knew he had the old man. Michael had known Ben for a long time and he’s never seen him this nervous.

‘It's interesting that for someone who had nothing to do with them, you know enough to know they were not same sex twins. You see Daniel here has been assigned to them both and has already met the boy, Joshua.’

‘You think you’re so clever don’t you,’ Ben hissed at Michael, ‘but let me tell you this. At the moment you think you’re holding all the cards, but you’re not. You’ve no idea what you are dealing with.’

‘Why don’t you tell us then, Father,’ Daniel said trying to defuse the situation, but by the look on the old man’s he knew he had just angered him more.

‘How old are you boy? Mid to late twenties? The same age I was when I first got involved in all of this and it ruined my life. Take my advice, boy, and leave, go back to Rome and forget about the girl. She will destroy you.’ Ben then turned on Michael. ‘I’ll say no more to you, Michael. Now leave and never darken my door again.’

Outside the rain had merciful stopped as Daniel and Michael stood in stunned silence outside the shop.

‘What just happened?’ Daniel asked.

‘I have absolutely no idea, but for someone who knows nothing he’s being very secretive and defensive.’

Daniel followed Michael towards the main street and took one last look towards the shop, where he was sure he saw the shadow of Ben in the upstairs window. The hostility towards him was something he struggled to understand. He had never met the man before, yet he had treated him with as much contempt as Michael. One thing for sure was that Michael was right. There was something more to this than met the eye and for the first time since Michael arrived he appreciated having his friend with him.

Michael looked up at the tortured body of his saviour hanging from his sacrificial tree, surrounded by the golds and purples that told him of the season that was coming. The figure of Jesus hung over the elaborately dressed altar and Michael, on his knees, started to pray. The old church he knelt in was cold and damp, yet for him, it held the charm he needed to focus.

Symbolism was everywhere, from the green man who watched over the north door to the mason’s mark etched in stone. The altar of any church was the centre piece, decorated in order to catch the eye and this one was no different. A gold elaborate cross reflected candle light and placed at the altar’s centre as a focus. No doubt some ancient relic that had been given to the church in its youth. But it seemed small compared to its larger cousin that held a tortured man upon it.

The afternoon sun shone through the pictured glass on the west side. It displayed the image of Jesus with Mary Magdalene at his feet. In her hand was the jar of oils that, according to the gospels, caused a rift between the Disciples. Screwing his face, he forced himself to concentrate on the face of his Lord, but his mind kept wandering.

As a teenager, Michael had led a life of crime and gangs, his daily job was terrorising his local neighbourhood in Boston. His father, an unemployed drunk, had no care what his son got up to as long as he stayed out of his way and took care of his sisters. He frequently hit out at his four children blaming them all for their mother’s early death, choosing to forget that it was in fact he that drove her to take the pills and wash them down with a bottle of vodka. The results of such beatings were the reason Michael took his own frustrations on those much weaker than him in order to gain power and self-confidence.

Then one day, a day that has remained etched in his memory, he heard what sounded like a car backfiring. He had been walking home with his older sister, Carlene, when he was plunged into sudden darkness with screams and sirens echoing in his head. He had become a victim of his own crimes.

A rival gang member had driven past and taken a shot at him and his sister. He survived, but not Carlene and he could still remember vividly looking down at her cold grey face as she lay on the mortuary slab. Even the clinical smell of the place still lingered in his consciousness. He knew then he had to change his life and that he’d been taught a harsh lesson, but had no idea where to start. That was until he met another patient called Father Keith, who was in after having a heart attack. It seemed like the sign he needed and as soon as he was released he enrolled back into school and with the priest’s help made it to Vatican City.

Now as he tried to pray, he found his eyes wandering to every wound on Christ’s body and a thought came into his head. If either Joshua or Cayne were the new Christ did that mean that what he looked upon was now void? It was an image that had inspired artists throughout the world for centuries and now it looked like Jesus was about to give up his throne to the next generation.

When it came to Cayne, she was someone he’d not expected. She was so unaware of her inner power and that, to him, made her even more endearing. He had never met Joshua, but for some reason he suspected that the boy would be tainted by privilege and would already know how important he was. All he knew for certain was that he wanted to protect her and where that feeling came from he had no idea. It frightened him. He’d also noticed how defensive Daniel became when he reached out to her. He sometimes pitied the young man. He really could be his own worst enemy and his naivety would sometimes make him a target of abuse, especially by their peers; Matthew Trebey being one of them. The man was insufferable and driven to the point of vanity and Michael suspected that Daniel was merely a puppet for their superior’s deeds. But Michael had never been in a position to go against Trebey and so had to make do with watching the man manipulate who he could.

Getting to his feet, Michael crossed himself and he wondered whether this was truly a matter of God and the Devil or was there really something more to it. Cayne’s wounds were a curious development and now he was determined to find out before the poor girl left her home soil.

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