The Prologue -A Thursday in November
`Yes, I agree, the implications are enormous. Goodbye, Archbishop.`
The Bishop replaced the telephone in its holder and reclined in his office chair. A smile of both satisfaction and relief filled his youthful-looking face.
`I have been taken seriously,` he whispered, stunned. His secretary sat opposite him, across the other side of a desk covered in papers. `I have an appointment with him next Friday,` he told her. `I`d like you to cancel anything that I have already got booked for then and the following two days.`
Sybil scribbled a note on the pad she was holding. `Do you literally mean anything?` she asked, for clarification.
`Yes, anything. Nothing could be more important than this.`
He studied the letters that lay before him; he had read them over and over again, for they had become the dominating preoccupation of his life; almost an obsession. All other subjects of his work had slid into the shadows of non-priority.
With reverence, he handled each letter, one by one, and placed them in a single pile, ensuring they sat neatly upon each other, and then returned them to the white card folder in which they had been safely stored. He was about to pass it back to Sybil when he paused to consider the situation.
`I think,` he spoke softly, as if fearing to be overheard, `I will hold on to this folder. If you need it, just let me know.`
`That`s only what I expected,` Sybil replied with a knowing smile. `I will see you tomorrow morning.` She left the office, closing the door gently behind her.
`Goodnight, Sybil. Thank you.` he called after her.
He was alone, again. After a few minutes of deep, prayerful thought, he lovingly picked the folder up in his arms, like a mother caressing her newborn baby. He heard the familiar sound of the Clio leaving the driveway. Now he was really alone.
He took the folder to another room – almost empty of furniture, except for a large table at the far end. Here he carefully placed it, quietly spoke some appropriate words, then turned and left the room, extinguishing the light. He walked to the lobby, whereupon he collected his black overcoat and left the house under the watchful rays of the external security lights.
Soon, he was in total darkness, but, quite quickly, his eyes became accustomed to the absence of the light on November evenings. He walked to the nearby parkland where the night sky would be vast, and he would feel totally insignificant.
There, he would be able to think. No distractions. No unwanted `phone calls. Nothing. He could plan his meeting with the Archbishop – making sure he wouldn’t forget to say all he needed to say. He stopped, and corrected himself – all that God wanted him to say.
A Friday during the preceding April
Watching and waiting
The man stood and watched. And waited. He looked across the quiet, unobtrusive cobbled square that proudly stretched out in front of the steps leading to the majestic Cathedral.
There were just a few youngsters visible at this early evening hour. Dwarfed beneath the two awesome west towers, they were waiting, too. He imagined it was a rendezvous point for others to join them before making their midweek pilgrimage to Club X, or whatever name it was known by.
He approached them, now huddled together like timid sheep. There were three girls and two boys, all, he guessed, under the age of sixteen, although the girls tried, and succeeded, in looking older. The boys with their tatty jeans and excited chatter, as always trying to impress the girls, acted much the younger.
From the top pocket of his jacket he took out a pile of cards, each the size of a bank credit card, and he gave one to each of them. One of the girls actually said `thank you`, and she looked at it for immeasurably longer than a split second. The others ignored what was in their hands, without even a mere glance at them.
With a parting smile, he walked back to where he had been standing, returning the remaining cards into the safety of his pocket.
Do you think that will do any good? came the expected question from a familiar voice, within.
`Not exactly,` was his terse reply, aggravated by the intrusion.
They`re only interested in a good time. Look at them running off, the dark voice continued.
Indeed, they were soon gone from sight, running along one of the many alleys or narrow streets that made the city so attractive.
He stealthily walked back to where the youngsters had been and looked down at the hallowed ground on which they had stood.
The cards were there; just dropped; discarded; of no interest. See, came the judicial voice of reason, I told you. You`re wasting your time.
He picked up the cards, two of which were crumpled beyond further use; the other two could be recycled on another day, he thought. Four cards. There were only four cards. He walked the route the young people had run. The fifth could not be found.
This time another voice sounded. It was just a whisper beneath the planting of doubt and despair. She may have kept it, you know. It could be in her purse or pocket by now.
`Yes,` the man said eagerly, `I may have finally reached her.`
Club X was dimly lit, crowded with young, sweaty bodies, echoing with thumping drums and screeching guitars, and screams of good humour. Thankfully, it was not a place that attracted trouble. It was well policed by security guards, and sold nothing more intoxicating than cans of Coke.
And yet, it was a real club and a cool place to go, receiving a tick of acceptance by the young people`s peer groups. At least for now, it was an `in` place. But, who knows what next week would bring.
The three girls pushed their way to the toilets, cramming themselves into a single cubicle.
`I`ll go first,` announced Trisha, the most vivacious of the trio; a dark haired, pretty girl, tarnished only by her fondness for black lipstick and over-zealous mascara.
`Well … I`ll go last, if you don`t mind,` insisted Jayne. `I`d rather …`
`Oh, listen to her,` interrupted Milly, with a hint of ridicule, `she needs her privacy!`
`Maybe I do,` Jayne objected, blushing as the truth was revealed; but not exactly the whole truth.
Soon Trisha and Milly – tall, blonde and elegant – had left the cubicle to beautify themselves at the washroom`s full length mirror. Jayne closed and locked the door behind them. Immediately, she rustled through her blue, velvet shoulder bag and carefully removed the card that had been discreetly hidden within. “Be who you are; for it is you who is treasured so much,” its message proclaimed in a font she did not recognise.
She read the words again; stopped to let them seep into her consciousness. I am treasured, she whispered. She couldn`t remember when she had ever felt treasured. It was a good feeling.
In an instant of unguarded emotion, which even surprised herself, she kissed the card before replacing it in the safety of her bag.
She flushed the WC, unlocked the cubicle door and rejoined her two friends.
Outside it was a mild, April evening with the sun beginning to set. The man had returned to stand in his accustomed place, occasionally handing cards to anyone who happened to pass by. Two policemen, on their evening beat, came near. One pretended to be moving him on.
`I see you`re `ere again, young man; I think we must arrest you for … er … loitering with intent,` said the burly officer in a theatrical, stereo-typical policeman`s voice.
The `young man` was flattered; he would have been at least 30 years older than both the officers.
`Intent `yes`; loitering `no`,` he laughed, handing them each a card.
The less burly policeman gave his back, immediately. `No, thanks,` he said with a shake of his head. `You know, sir,` he said, with authority, `you need to be careful. I`ve been watching you. There`s no law against what you`re up to but I`ve got my eye on you …`
The man instantly sensed a feeling of sadness as he digested the warning that PC Nicholas directed at him. A rebuke, like the disciples had rebuked when people brought their little children to Jesus. He felt that indignation now. And he had to respond, `anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.`
`You just need to be careful, sir. Other people may get the wrong impression of what your intentions are.`
The other police officer, Jeremy Hughes, read his card and slipped it into his jacket pocket.
`Thanks,` he said. Then, with a wink of an eye, continued, `don`t worry Nick`ll keep one, one of these days, you`ll see.`
`Don`t hold your breath,` PC Nicholas responded seriously, showing little interest in his colleague`s brand of amusement.
`Well, I`ll keep offering them,` the man sighed as the policemen moved away. He was then completely alone again; waiting; but it was still early. He understood the warning he had been given. It was a sad reflection on society that he appeared to be flouting the accepted rules of safeguarding.
How was he ever to reach out to the vulnerable – young and old – and to show his love for all people? But the words of accusation, `I`ve got my eye on you,` echoed in his head.
`It`s such a sad world,` he sighed.
Just a few streets away, the plush concert hall was full to capacity. The rock band – their famous faces glowing with exertion from the first half – waved to the appreciative audience as they exited for a well-earned interval.
A casually dressed woman, in her mid-thirties, peered down, two rows in front of her, to the backs of assorted heads, and to a neat, dark brown one, in particular. She had noticed this handsome-looking man taking his seat, just before the start. He was unaccompanied; as she was.
He stood up to take an interval walk, and she examined his well-shaven face; yes, she did know him. Could it really be him? After all these years? He looked no different than he did those 15 years ago when last she saw him.
She followed him to the bar. He ordered a half pint bitter shandy – she remembered he was always modest in what he bought for himself, and yet so generous with all other things. She waited for him to turn, whereupon their eyes would meet. He turned. She smiled and he responded.
At first, he was visibly shaken to see her, but then the unspoken words `I still love you` filled his honest face.
Things to think about
The story begins with intrigue. What were these letters about? Why were they so precious to the Bishop? Why was he surprised that he had been taken seriously? And, most importantly, what was it that the Bishop had told the Archbishop?
The Epilogue is the continuation and conclusion of this part of the story. In the meantime, the intervening chapters take the reader back to when the Cardman first arrived, and through the encounters that will lead to the Bishop`s intriguing telephone call.
Following on from the Prologue, the story – in retrospect – continues with further intrigue. Why is this man watching and waiting for those youngsters? What were his intentions? One is, at first, invited to think that he has `dark motives`.
Clearly he was regularly at this place because at least one of the policemen teased him. Or were they actually closely watching his movements?
This chapter ends with the introduction of two more new characters, and one is left to wonder what significance they have to the story. All will be revealed.