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Chapter 2: Twenty-Five Years Later

Father Daniel sighed as he climbed into the warmth of the taxi. His journey started in Rome and his flight had been a horrendous one. Bad weather hindered the plane journey and only added to his already frustrated mood. He did not want to be here, but the job needed to be finished and had convinced himself that once this last hurdle was reached he would be able to relax.

Gazing out of the misted car window, he saw people hurrying through the morning rush, each trying to get on with their lives with no care of what was happening around them. Shops were blatantly filled with decorations advertising the coming festive season. It saddened him that such a precious festival had been turned into such a demeaning money making racquet. Even children honoured the man in red over the holy child born in a stable.

The morning sun started to struggle to make it through the polluted air of London, reminding him that it had been nearly twenty four hours since he’d last seen a bed. Looking out at the winter scene of London Town, he felt nothing but disdain at being there. It had been so long since being on British soil and he could not wait to be off it once more. Britain was no longer his home and England even more so. Vatican life had spoiled him and he knew it. He was far too used to the finer things and England for him was nothing but a desolate graveyard that grasped at its once ancient beauty.

He had been twenty when he left his home to continue his studies with the Ponteficia Lateran University of Vatican City. All he’d ever known since was the comfort of the Church within the walls of the smallest country in the world. Now he was nearing thirty and been given the most important job of his entire career, the last thing he wanted was to mess it up. Because if he did there would be nowhere left for him to go. He wouldn’t be trusted with anything again. His reputation tarnished and the thought of being given a little parish to look after filled him even more with dread.

The warmth of the taxi began to take its toll as his eyes began to feel heavy and soon sleep took him. The drone of traffic coupled with the local radio station mingled in his dreamless sleep kept him held in a not so steady dream-state. He needed to rest, but his body was still on full alert from the travelling. All too soon he was being shaken awake by the taxi driver. He looked at Daniel through his zipped up fleece expectantly with a play of amusement on his face. The driver’s foul breath even closer than needed. Daniel struggled to focus his eyes and push the sleep away, paying his fare and pulled from the boot his small case. Looking up at the hotel, he was impressed. Priests in his position would normally stay with local convents, but his superior had insisted that he stayed away from anyone involved in the Church. He was not to draw attention to himself and so Daniel was treated to one of the best hotels in London and if he were honest he was not going to complain.

The lobby spread before him shone with false newness. It was made to impress, but Daniel had seen much more beautiful things within a bare stone church then in something as lifeless as this. He wondered how much this excursion was costing, but then monetary cost was nothing compared to what he had been sent to do.

As he approached the desk, a young suited man didn’t bother to look up until Daniel coughed softly. The man lifted his head with a bored gaze. He had a haughtiness about him that came from a superiority complex. The suit worn was probably designer and cost more than Daniel could afford in a month. Too pristine. Too perfect and too fake. Daniel inwardly smiled as he pulled his scarf free from his neck revealing his own superiority. The reaction was instantaneous. It seemed the little piece of cardboard did a lot to change a person’s attitude.

‘Welcome Father. Are you staying with us today?’

Daniel gave his name and waited as the young man gave him a key card with directions and with a thank you, left him standing at the desk.

Once in his room, he collapsed on to the soft bed and closed his eyes for a brief moment before he pulled out his briefcase and emptied the contents. Amongst the pieces of paper a colour photograph stood out. Daniel picked it up and looked at it.

The picture had been taken recently and it showed a young girl in her twenties with long brunette hair. She was sitting on a bench in a park and, though she was smiling while talking to a friend, there seemed to be deep sadness in her eyes. The picture had been new when he received it, but now the edges were curled from being constantly handled. He had no idea why he was compelled to look at it, but something about her eyes caused him to keep pulling it out. He knew so little about her. His information scarce. It had taken so long for them to even get the picture. But there was a familiarity about her. One that kept him looking at those eyes and wondering.

Pushing the picture away with a sigh, he moved around his new home for the next few days. Luxury was everywhere. His superior would not think twice about staying in such a place, but for him it felt alien. From the window, he could see that the winter fog was slowly burning away giving him a fuller view of the capital. This place had once been the catholic centre of England. God had come and gone from this place many times and a lot of blood spilled in God's name. But unlike other places in the world. This country just continued oblivious that God had left the building. No one seemed to care. But soon they would have to. Soon they would be no choice and that thought sent shivers through him. After a moment he decided he could no longer keep his eyes open and giving in to his exhausted body clock he rolled onto the plush pillows and fell asleep.

Cayne woke to the glare of the sun beaming through her thin curtains shining onto the neat, but bare bedroom. Stretching, she dragged herself from the bed and pulling on her robe she stepped out of her bedroom into the open plan living area. She peeked into her flatmate, Mary’s, room and seeing it was empty made her way towards the bathroom. She hated it when Mary pulled all- nighters. She had worked the streets all the time Cayne had known her, but it didn't stop her from worrying. However the all- nighters meant more money, not that Cayne or the flat ever saw it. The only person to benefit was Mary’s dealer and pimp.

She and Mary often fought over money priorities. The drug habit being the bane in their friendship. The flat they lived in was decent compared to others, but there was still work to be done. The paint was starting to peel and the carpets were still stained from weekends of partying. In the kitchen there were the bare basics and cupboards were scarcely full, but they both managed to survive and all in all Cayne could not really complain. She had lived in worse with a lot less.

She turned on the shower and, the water spluttered before it sprang into life, Cayne looked at herself in the scratched mirror. She had recently cut her hair short and bleached it blond, a look Mary insisted suited her; however, looking at her face now, Cayne felt she just looked old and tired. Undressing, her figure was much better, at least there she still had the glow of youth. She held a little weight on her hips that no longer bothered her. Gone were the days were she cared about what others thought. There was enough going on in her life without any superficial bullshit.

Stepping into the shower, she closed her eyes as the warmth enveloped her body and started to send her to a safe place in her head and that safe place was always in some beautiful cottage beside the sea. It was strange considering she had never been to such a place, but it was her safe haven and it seemed she knew it well.

‘Babes you up?’

Cayne smiled at the sound of her flatmate’s voice. Now she could breathe a sigh of relief. She was home safe. Pulling her head out the spraying water she shouted she was in the shower.

‘Well hurry up, I got breakfast,’ Mary shouted.

Cayne stepped out of the shower and grabbing a towel wrapped it around her body. Taking a comb, she started to pull it through her wet hair, and then stopped. In the reflection, she noticed the skin on her wrists looked angry and sore. Looking down, she winced as she pushed the skin causing the sores to bleed. Her heart sank. She'd hoped that she had seen the last of these random bleeds, but it seemed they had flared up again. This was the last thing she needed. She had hoped that those days were long gone. Grabbing some moisturiser, she rubbed thick cream into them and hoped that Mary would not see. The last thing needed was questions asked. It was her secret to keep.

Mary stood in the small kitchenette emptying pastries onto a plate and Cayne wrapped the bathrobe around her sitting down at the small bistro table. Mary had taken Cayne in from the streets. After her parents death when she was fifteen, she had spent her teens wandering from home to home. There had been friends who had offered sofa’s and spare rooms, but she couldn’t impose on them any longer. It was hard trying to be part of family when you were the outsider knowing full well that their sympathy would soon run dry. Making the decision to go at it alone had been a tough one, but she knew it was the right thing to do, so at sixteen she’d packed her bags and left the town she’d lived in before finding herself in London and on the streets. Cold and hungry, she’d gone into the back streets of Camden Town and there come across a group of women. They all gathered, convinced that she was trying to tout trade from them and proceeded to teach her lesson using their fists and feet. That was when Mary stepped in. She cleaned her up and given her a bed for the night, and that one night had turned into a permanent residence and a job at the local club. She’d not looked back since.

Mary told her, during her first night that she’d worked the streets since her early teens after running away from home, but even then she thought herself better than those girls that trawled the streets and conducted herself in that manner. She always dressed well and her dark hair was always perfectly groomed and her face expertly painted. The only thing that let her down was the drug habit. She enjoyed the feel of the needle on skin and the thrill it gave her. There were obviously demons there that Mary needed to hide from despite outward appearances. Cayne fought constantly with her to try and get clean, but how could she fight those demons when she had her own to deal with.

‘Have you had a good night?’ Cayne asked

Mary placed the plates in front of them as she sat down.

‘Very, even managed to keep some from Vince.’

‘Is that such a good idea, you know what he’s like if he finds out.’

‘Don’t worry babe, he won’t find out. There's so much shit going on at the club he won’t notice a bit missing here and there.’

Cayne watched as Mary tucked into her breakfast. She couldn’t help but feel nervous. Vince was not the sort of person that enjoyed being ripped off, nor would he let anyone get away with it. She, on many occasions, had seen the results of so called business deals that had gone wrong and to think of Mary being entangled in that sickened her. But Mary was on the top of Vince’s chain and this gave Mary some sense of security. She could work him to whatever she wanted. Cayne, however, was not convinced. Vince would kill his mother if she ripped him off.

The rest of the meal was filled with chatter from Mary about her nightly exploits and Cayne tried her hardest not to make judgements. She was, after all, only a bar maid in a poxy club and Mary brought in the real money. She wished deep down that they could both get the break they needed, so that Mary didn’t have to sell herself to the highest bidder and she didn’t need to wear a push-up bra in order to get bigger tips. Surely there was so much more to life.

‘Well, babes, I’m bushed and ready for my bed. What you doing with yourself for the rest of the day?’ Mary asked stretching in the chair.

‘Not sure,’ Cayne shrugged. ‘I might wander into town do some window shopping.’

‘Sounds good. I’ll see you tonight at the club, yeah?’

Cayne nodded and with a kiss on the head from Mary she watched her disappear into her bedroom.

An hour later she was dressed and wrapped up against the winter wind as she stepped outside. The chill bit through her clothes and she pulled the coat tighter around her and plunged her bare hands deep into her pockets as she walked. The high street of Kingsbury was filled with Christmas lights and tinsel and she found herself almost hypnotised by the flashing of colours. This was a time of year that used to fill her with warmth and all it did now was making her feel sad.

She had to keep her chin up. But for those alone, Christmas was a torturous time where all life’s fuck ups were exemplified to the max. Apart from Mary, there would be no gifts for her under the tree or family to serve her the roast turkey. In fact, she’d be lucky if she even saw Mary on that day. The prospect of earning three times her going rate too appealing to turn down. So Cayne would just find herself curled up in front of the TV with only a toastie to keep her company.

It would also be her birthday in a few weeks and Mary had promised her the party of a lifetime. At least that was something to look forward to. Arriving at one of those chain coffee shops she ducked in through the door and embraced the smell of coffee as well as the sickly sweetness of sugar. Going to the counter she ordered her favourite latte and sat down in the corner, just watching the world go by and enjoying the peace of being alone.

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