If you’re coming in late, the novel starts here: CHAPTER 1: Some bugger steals my sushi
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For a long while Daniel and I just looked at each other, both of us attempting to absorb the meaning of Daniel’s suggestion, and its implications. Then I laughed suddenly.
“But you’ve got to be wrong! That can’t be right!” I said, feeling a huge weight lift from my gut, almost dizzying me with relief. “That’s impossible. I mean, things like that just don’t happen in real life.”
Daniel didn’t smile. “Neither do nanobots. Or evil twins.” He sighed, and pulled up a clump of grass; started ripping it to pieces, blade by blade. “Look, I’m not suggesting it’s sensible, or I understand any of this at all, and I’m a pretty smart guy..”
“…with an ego to match,” I muttered.
“…but it makes sense.” Which is why we should head to the Octagon, to the old Cathedral. The place has been pretty much closed down for decades, but I think someone still keeps an eye on the place, even since the earthquake, and keeps squatters out. There’s a chance if we go take a look around, someone might be able to fill us in on the history of the place, and tell us if what you saw this morning was real, or just your imagination.”
“It must have been my imagination,” I said stubbornly.
“That’s possible,” said Daniel, trying to be reasonable. “It’s also possible that you, like me, had heard about the whole Regent fire thing. It’s pretty well known to a lot of people: I’m amazed it didn’t click in my head before, but it’s been a bit of an insane day.”
“You’re dead right about that,” I agreed.
“But if any of the stuff that you said you saw in the Cathedral happened at all – like, any of it,” said Daniel. “Then maybe it wasn’t a trip, is all I’m saying. Maybe it was real. You’ve got to agree with me on that, right?”
“I suppose so,” I said, a feeling of dread rising in me again. For a lot of reasons I understood in my gut but I really didn’t want to explain to Daniel, I really, really didn’t want to go back to that Cathedral. It had a bad vibe about it, worse than any graveyard.
And no, I’m not superstitious. Not generally. But this morning’s experiences, topped off by the Evil Twin Doctors of Doom at the hospital, had creeped me right out. If it had been possible, right now I’d be leaving Dunedin as fast as I could, and I wouldn’t stop running until I hit Africa.
Except these days, with no transport except a few trams, horses, bikes, and our own two feet, running away is really hard.
Okay, there’s that little ocean problem in between New Zealand and Africa. And Australia. But you get my point, right?
“So we need to go suss out the Cathedral, and see if we can find out if any of the stuff you saw actually ever happened. Right?”
“Right,” I agreed, unhappy.
Daniel stood up, and took a look around. It was completely dark, and there was no sign of anyone around. I stood up next to him, feeling dwarf-like, as usual, by comparison. “If we’re going to go, let’s go now,” I said.
Most of the street lights in Dunedin haven’t worked since I was a kid, and if you’re careful to stay out of the way of the few that still operate, you can get around after sundown pretty well from one end of town to the other without being seen.
The sidestreets are best, of course, because then you don’t run the risk of any late night authorities on the tram system, keeping a look out for troublemakers. Which is us. Not that we cause trouble, but as most of our earning capacity involves stuff that isn’t exactly legal, we’re not really in favour with the law. So we keep out of their way, make sure we have a fake ID on us at all times (just in case) and generally life runs smoothly.
The sidestreets are also easier to dump any goods on, if you happen to be chased or questioned suddenly. Dump pretty much anything of value, and chances are it won’t stay long on the kerbside, and its disappearance will be untrackable. Not good for us, and Daniel’s runners have had to dump coffee and other, more precious commodities more than once when doing their deliveries. But better to dump and lose than be caught with the stuff and pay, and Daniel knows that better than anyone.
The Octagon was a half hour’s walk, as the crow flies, from the Waters of Leith. As the sore and aching fugitive travels, it took us just over an hour. The town hall clock was striking ten o’clock by the time we arrived at the Octagon.
The Cathedral stood in shadow, tall, cold and imposing, at the topmost edge of the deserted Octagon. It had never struck me as a friendly place, and now, in the chilly wind that was whirling around the circuit that was the Octagon, it seemed more foreboding than ever. I stood at the side of the building, hidden in the overgrown wasteland that had always lived between the town hall and the Cathedral – who knew why? – and from my vantage point I could see the same wall over which I had looked earlier in the day, and could just make out the top of the wooden side door into which I’d run, in my attempt to escape the cop.
I wondered, suddenly, what that cop had made of everything. Whether he’d noticed anything unusual. Or if his experience of the morning had seemed normal?
“Come on,” urged Daniel, sensing in me a reluctance to get any closer to the building.
“Yeah,” I said, pausing. “Yeah… right.” We made our way up the incline of the Octagon, and around the side of the Cathedral, careful to avoid the orange pools of light from the few operational streetlights in this area. We were also cautious about avoiding the few CCTV cameras perched on their various vantage points – at the top of the town hall, on the left side of the front stairs of the Cathedral, on the top of a nearby street light post, concealed in one of the trees.
The side door to the Cathedral was shut.
“Locked,” I said, trying to push the door open and failing. “Now what?”
Daniel answered by pressing an old plastic doorbell, suspended halfway up the door frame. After several moments, when no-one answered and nothing replied to his ring but silence, he broke the quiet by knocking three times in rapid succession on the old wooden door. I was already edgy, and physically jumped at the noise.
After a long while, and just when we’d thought that no-one was going to answer, the door suddenly swung open.
We found ourselves face to face with a middle-aged man, his frame dark in the doorway against the glow of candlelight. He wore old-fashioned glass spectacles, with round black rims, and he had a long black beard, which was starting to turn grey. His hair on top of his head was thinning. He wore a long woollen coat, buttoned from the knee right the way up to his chin. He was thin – thinner than normal, even, and his long fingers and hands gave me the strong impression of a spider in human form.
“Yes?” he said, seemingly annoyed. He peered into the darkness at us, frowning.
I was taken aback. I don’t know why, but I guess I expected someone at a Cathedral – even an abandoned one – to be welcoming.
“Hi,” I said, trying to sound confident. “I was wondering if we could talk to you – or to someone who knows – about the history of the Cathedral?”
“What? At this hour?” he asked, incredulously. “You’ve got to be joking. Come back on Sunday, late morning, 11 am. We run a small service then, all unlisted of course, but the government just turn a blind eye, they know we don’t have any money. Yes, 11 on Sunday. Goodnight.”
He was just about to close the door, when Daniel put a hand out, stopping it from closing, stepped forward onto the threshhold, and said in quiet, intense voice, looking down into the bearded man’s face, “We’re here about the suicide.”
The man’s face paled visibly – I could see that, even in the shadowy light – and he said quietly, slowly, almost meditatively, “I see. I think you’d better come inside.”
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For the second time that day I found myself inside the Cathedral. However, instead of going to that choir room I’d hid in earlier, trying to escape the cop, he led the pair of us straight across the tiled floor of the portrait room to a small, glass enclosed office.
He shut the door to the room behind us, presumably by force of habit, because some of the panes of glass partitioning the room from the portrait hall were cracked and broken, and I had no doubt that anything that might be said in this small room would easily echo through to the larger, exterior gallery.
The room housed a large rectangular wooden table, surrounded by rickety plastic pre-form chairs. The man motioned for us to sit down. The neon blue plastic chair I selected squeaked and bent backwards under my weight, almost giving way.
The man lit a couple of candles in wall sconces, then sat down, taking a good look at our faces in the light. I didn’t like being observed in this way, by a stranger on his own turf, but there wasn’t much I could do about it: we’d knocked on his door, after all.
“So,” he said, slowly. “What’s this about a suicide?”
After his initial response at the door, and the way he’d let us in, I was surprised at the caution in his voice. Then I realised we’d caught him by surprise, and now he’d had a few seconds to think things through, he was just as nervous about this sudden meeting, late at night when he’d probably been just about ready to go to bed, as we were. He’d let strangers in, and now he didn’t quite know how to deal with us.
“We know about it,” said Daniel. “We know how it happened, and we need to know when and why.”
“How could you know about anything that has happened here?” he asked suspiciously. “And why would a suicide in a Cathedral interest a couple of young men like you two?” He rubbed at his beard, unconsciously pulling at the hairs.
“Why could it possibly have anything to do with you, and how could you know about it? That doesn’t make sense.” He looked deep into my face, and I got the impression he was searching for any trace of a lie, or of my trying to catch him out, or cheat him in some way. He was searching my expression and my eyes, to try to learn who I was, why I was here, and whether I was lying and intending to steal from him or rob him. Then, obviously unsatisfied by what he found in my face, he turned to Daniel and started examining him.
“We know about the man who shot himself in the choir room,” I said. “Just over there.” I pointed at the wall, indicating the room just beyond it. “And we need you to tell us who he was, and when it happened!” I said, becoming exasperated. Then I looked hard at him. “And I want you to tell us. We want to know.”
“But why?” said the man. “Why do you come to me, late at night on a Friday night, to ask all this? You both look exhausted. Are you fugitives, or is this some sort of a ploy? Why do you want to know?” He steepled his fingers together. ” I might be able to tell you what you need to know, but if I’m going to tell you anything, I need to know why.”
I looked at Daniel. “We don’t even know who this guy is,” Daniel said, in response to the query in my face. “Or whether we can trust him. He could be anyone.”
The man unbuttoned his woollen coat at the neck, revealing a white collar and, below it, a rich purple shirt, a Bishop’s shirt. “Now you know who I am, and what I am. But just call me John.”
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READ ON:CHAPTER 10: The Bishop’s tale
Image of St. Paul’s and the town hall by Edwin 11