If you’re coming in late, the novel starts here: CHAPTER 1: Some bugger steals my sushi
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Daniel and I were taken aback, and more than a little shocked. Then Daniel found his voice, and spoke up.
“I thought the Cathedral was deconsecrated after the first earthquake,” he said, softly. “Why are you here?” We thought there were just a few guys keeping an eye on the place now. I didn’t realise that the place was still operational as a church at all.”
“Most people don’t know,” said Bishop John. “They see the damage at the back of the building, remember the deconsecration ceremony a few years ago, and don’t really think about it any more than that.
“But it goes further back than that. Despite being in a prominent place on the Octagon, St Paul’s has always been invisible to the eyes of Dunedin. And I think you know a little about why that might be. And that is why you’re here. I just don’t understand why you’re here now”
I looked at Daniel. “Can we trust him?” I said, quietly.
“I don’t know,” sighed Daniel. He was tired too. “I don’t think we can trust anybody these days.”
“No,” said the Bishop, overhearing our conversation. “You can’t. You can only believe, and hope that someone is on your side a little bit. Or you can assume that they’re not, and avoid them. It’s a choice, but you never really know.”
“He sounds like a clergyman to me,” muttered Daniel wryly. In spite of my exhaustion, I grinned.
“What do you think?” I asked Daniel. He had a much better sense of people than me, he was good at judging them, and picking up on body language and all that stuff that I wasn’t really very good at. Unless there were women involved – I knew how to manage women. Usually.
“I think he’s for real,” said Daniel, after several seconds of silence. “And if we don’t talk with him, and find out what’s going on, we’ll get nowhere. Maybe this time around,” he said, directing his words at the Bishop, “Sharing our knowledge might help all of us. But don’t try to mess us about. You hear me, John?”
The Bishop smiled, and visibly relaxed a little. “You know if the authorities come looking for you, I’ll simply deny everything.” he said. “And I never saw you.”
“Yeah,” said Daniel. “That’s okay, because we’ll be long gone before any authorities arrive. And we never saw you, either.”
“Seems like we understand each other,” said the Bishop.
“I guess we do,” I said. “Are you really a Bishop, then?”
“I’m afraid I am,” he said. “And please, call me John. It’s been a long while since I did anything to qualify me as Bishop. And how do you know about the suicide, and the choir room, and any of this? Why did you come here so late at night? If you want me to tell you anything at all, you have to start by being honest with me.”
Daniel raised his eyebrows, but said nothing. I said: “So you know about the suicide?”
“I’m guessing you’re talking about the same one the others have been in to see me about? Ryecroft? Nearly two centuries ago? Yes, I know about it – well, I know as much as anyone does.” He took his round rimmed glassed off, and cleaned them with a corner of his thick woollen coat. “What did you want to know in particular?”
I was stunned. “You mean, we’re not the first to come in asking about this? And two centuries ago?”
“Well, almost two centuries ago. Before the Cathedral was even built, in fact. You see, before the Cathedral was built, there was an older building that stood here, right in this very spot.”
“I never knew that,” I said.
“Most people don’t,” said John. “The Cathedral is so old, and now – with the quake damage and all – beyond repair and no one with the money to fix it, sitting here all forgotten, as a ruin. People have forgotten that it’s actually a replacement for what was here before – an older church, that stood on this place and had a history and life of its own.”
I leaned forward, interested in the Bishop’s tale.
That Church was also called St. Paul’s, and it, like the Cathedral, was unwelcome. It was unwelcome because this land had been stolen by white people, and building in stone was a desecration. It was also unwelcome because, of all things, to build an Anglican – Church of England – Church, right here in the middle of a Scottish city was an affront to most of the town’s inhabitants, who worshipped otherwise.
“No one even goes to church,” I interjected.
“But they did, two hundred years ago,” said the Bishop. “The church was the heart and soul of the community. And for this particular church to be built in this particular place created division and hurt in the people. Instead of creating harmony, which is what a church is supposed to do, it created factions and feuds that have carried down, even through to this time.”
“But what has this got to do with a suicide?” I asked.
“And why are two young men asking about that suicide, and pestering a tired man who just wants to go to bed, in a broken Cathedral, in the middle of the night?” replied the Bishop acidly. “Listen: everything is connected. Everything. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. So if you’ll be quiet for a few minutes, you’ll understand!”
Okay,” I said, feeling foolish.
“The old church had problems. Rumour has it that it was cursed, if you believe that kind of thing. The money on which it had been raised was drawn from the whaling, and the theft and rape of the seas, as the legend now tells it. Certainly the cash to build the original church came from a wealthy whaler, the rest of the story you can believe or not as you like.
“But the walls began to crumble within a very short time, and the stonework began to mould and fall apart. Superstitious people at the time said that the spirits of the land and of the sea itself was rebelling against the place, willing it to fall apart and return to the earth.
“What a load of bull,” observed Daniel.
“I don’t believe that either,” said the Bishop. “But what is fact is that pretty soon the old church was a dangerous place to be. It was clear that, if the congregation didn’t do something, the whole place might fall apart. So they decided to raise money to replace the building. And build a Cathedral – this building, in which we now are.”
“And this man – Ryecroft – killed himself here?” I said.
“Not exactly,” said the Bishop. “Ryecroft was around before this Cathedral was built. He was charged with looking after the money that was being raised to build the Cathedral. He was the treasurer, and it was his job to check that finances were secure and that all money raised was safe.”
“Let me guess,” said Daniel, interested. “He fiddled the books?”
“He fiddled the books,” replied the Bishop. “No-one knows the details of why, but its suspected he was a gambler, and his debts were catching up with him fast. And one night, it is guessed, his creditors came after him. His time was up.
“He ran for it,” suggested Daniel.
“Yes,” said the Bishop, looking at the both of us curiously. “He came to the church – not the Cathedral, but the church that stood here before the Cathedral was built. He ran to the old church here in the middle of the night, taking sanctuary from those chasing him.
“He stayed here, hiding himself by the altar, while his creditors, the men he owed vast sums of money to – hundreds of pounds in those days – surrounded the building and tried to call him out. And, finally, when it was clear there was no escape to him, he shot himself – just once was enough – in his left side with his pistol, as he knelt in front of the altar.”
“Shit,” said Daniel, staring at me.
I whitened, feeling sick. In my mind’s eye I could see him again, kneeling in front of me, hat by his side, pistol in his hand. I could hear the sound of the single shot as it was fired, and echoed around the stone walls. Bile rose in my throat, and I swallowed, hard.
The Bishop continued softly. “Ryecroft took hours to die. He lay there, in a pool of blood by the altar, for hours before he was discovered by the verger. By then it was much too late for the man. He died some hours later, without saying anything more than three words…”
A chill seemed to creep right through me. I knew what those three words were.
” ‘Don’t tell anybody’ ,” I said. “He said, ‘Don’t tell anybody.’ ”
The Bishop looked at me, stunned. “You know? You know this? How?”
I rubbed my hands together, suddenly aware of how cold I was, and how tired. “I know because I was there. I saw him die, on his knees in the choir room, just this morning.”
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