I thus feel compelled to urge any reader not to pre-determine either predominant central characters or surmise that the plot is of a 'cloak and dagger' variety ; [ actually it's a very long and complex murder mystery set in a seminary - with twists aplenty !!] I should hate to disappoint even more than I already have with my limitations....
One more thing: Please remember this is an alternate universe; bearing little, if any resemblance to reality. Any comments regarding any individual should not be assumed to relate to any real person : living or dead.
May God Bless you all. Paul Priest 16/1/08 }
If We Shadows... A Novel by Paul Priest
Prologue: Fear No More....
My answers will not help you : believe what you will.
If there is such a thing as incontrovertible Truth , it will solely be found in hope.
This is a sincere account ; grounded upon fact ; with an occasional veering towards heartfelt conjecture.
What follows happened : only the precise way these events arose, the times and places they occurred , and the names of those involved ; differ [ lest I commit the sin of detraction] .
The innocent have been hurt enough ; and it was never my commission to punish the guilty [albeit ,for a brief period, it was shamefully my sworn intent].
Should you consider seeking out this tale from other sources , I would advise against it. Those who care for you will lie : Others will be far from charitable [or indeed knowledgeable] in their disclosure.
Let the dead bury the dead : Let Charity go beyond any demands for justice. [A.W]
[ Diary entry 24th January 2031 Mgr Michael Storm : "Notes upon the death of Cardinal Listener"]
....From this it can be deduced that Monsignor,later Bishop Storm , was present during the majority of events surrounding what is now known as "The Dagger of Eris" affair ; and, despite a none-too-subtle code; should be considered a credible source of eye witness reportage to substantiate and corroborate our own operative files.
I therefore submit all relevant items for discretionary classification level zero , transferred to section 14 ; and forthwith all electronic records of its existence on the central registry be eliminated.
[Lt. Colonel Dr. Dolores Hunt, acting Departmental Head , RGSE]
I snapped the folder shut.
His Holiness smiled briefly, his eyes grew distant and moistened; his memories must even now be too raw.
'" Might I ask how you obtained this 'non-existent' file , Holiness ?"
"You may ask...?" he smiled wistfully.
"Forgive me. I..."
"No Eminence . It is a good time for me to confess my mis-spent youth ."
His conspiratorial candour seemed almost childlike.
"Let us say my old teacher was exceedingly resourceful ; and that I was quite adept in my early days with electronic equipment - a simple camera relay in a photocopier made everything readily accessible - May God forgive our machinations. "
The subsequent silence was broken only when a flock of birds , high above the window ; took flight; yet in those few seconds of hesitancy the man before me ; his shallow swallow and downcast eyes ; this man was still enmeshed in the past - and this folder ; an admission of most poignant vulnerability ; was merely a minute fraction of his enduring penance....
"Now I am afraid if you will excuse me I must pray my office and rest before my journey."
He raised his hand in blessing ; I hastily bowed and retreated.
"Do not judge us too harshly. Our motives were pure ; however tragic the outcome."
He did not expect a response; even now I do not consider myself capable of giving one.
Preliminary : Enter Levi : Dramatis Personae
Central Dublin, March ,2005
The recently sand-blasted Georgian edifice of the Gardai station towered before her ; the wide stone balustraded steps reassuringly echoed her stilettoed heels as she ascended.
Her melodramatic banging-open of the immense glass-panelled hardwood doors made no effect upon the overweight world-weary desk-sergeant .
Giving her name as Professor Akanke Udezi and an assurance the investigation representative would meet her presently ; she was
nonchalantly dismissed to a remote green vinyl corner seating unit .
The far-from-faint odour of vomit and disinfectant ; the peeling posters advertising long-abandoned gardai-initiatives to combat various forms of street-crime and a far-from-proprietous hiv-awareness warning, the unsanitary-looking pile of magazines; the overly varnished dark woodwork , the garish duck-egg blue walls ; all this merely intensified her fury at the 'Guardians of the Peace's' gross incompetence....
The young tousled-haired detective seemed to appear from nowhere ; loudly mispronouncing her name ; his garish two-tone tie, near-fluorescent white shirt and sharply symmetrical decade-out-of-fashion suit; with an overpowering near-feminine aftershave ; induced a brief moment of temporary disorientation - during which she could only smile hesitantly....
Once his introduction and lengthy overly-enthusiastic handshake came to an abrupt awkward conclusion ; she made her carefully prepared statement ; never looking the officer once in the eye.
The stunned , rapidly-paling detective ran towards the security doors ; turning only briefly to throw a rapid 'excuse me..' over his shoulder.
Akanke remained standing - the desk sergeant's attention had now been stirred and he intermittently threw her glances , weakly smiling.
The detective was still presumably making attempts to inform his superiors of this new information the african professor had provided...
The entrance doors to the Station flew open. Two dark suited men , each holding walkie-talkies to their ear ; waited by the open doors
A short, balding, sharp-featured man in a grey suit entered ; followed by a sharply-dressed middle-aged woman with severely tied-back platinum hair .
Looking at nobody in particular the man barked :"GET ME SHERIDAN !"
The terrified desk-sergeant attempted to mumble some excuse between the stammers but with increased volume the man repeated his demand - the desk-sergeant fled - to the corridor...
Instantly the detective returned at a half-jog and, looking directly at Akanke, failed to notice the man in grey before his arm was roughly grabbed and he was forcefully spun around to face the...
"Where's Sheridan ?"
"Sir , as you know, he's still in quarantine at St Vincent's"
"I know that you damned fool - I mean how do you contact him ? I want to speak to him - NOW!!!"
The young man extracted his mobile phone, fumbling , it slipped from his hands only to be caught by Minister Sheerin...who immediately began to search the phone's contact list.
Trying to assist ; the detective reached out "Sir....it's"
"Son - I know how to use a fucking phone !"
After a few seconds it was obvious to all that the recipient's mobile had gone to answer-phone.
"Sheridan - Sheerin - listen to me you eejit ; if you want to keep your job and your bollocks get back to me within the hour , ya hear ?"
The detective tried a placatory "Sir is there anything I can do ?"
Sheerin was now incandescent with rage :
"Yes son you can please tell me how your God-awful detective section ; which couldn't find its way out of a revolving door ; can cause an international incident with the Vatican of all places if you please, over the murder of some black nun who WASN'T MURDERED !"
"Sir...it's only just come to our attention that...WHAT????!!!"
"Yes Sonny lad - she wasn't murdered - I've just received the examiner's report "
Raising his hand aloft the minister closed his eyes and exhaled .
The evidently-efficient female assistant quickly provided her superior with the requested file:
" Let's see : Natural causes - breast cancer if ya will - and all that cutting and scarring wasn't wounding ; t'was a rudimentary rural autopsy in some God-forsaken place called - what was it? LESS - OH - THOH..."
Akanke responded sharply :"It's pronounced Les-ooh-tooh"
Sheerin turned - incorrectly presuming from Akanke's bespoke suit that she was also Gardai - his intonation turned to a slow, high-pitched sarcasm....
"Oh really ? and who might you be ? No - don't tell me - you're the murdered nun back from the grave - knowing this bunch of gobshite mammy's boys you've been dusted up for evidence and lost in their filing cabinets for twelve days - am I right ? Go on - Tell me I'm right !"
He hurled another withering scowl at the young detective ; who found his voice and stuttered: "Sir she's not one of us ; she's..."
Akanke was stunned only briefly ; but loudly commenced a counter-offensive...
The Minister raised his hands aloft and halted her in her tracks...
"' I'm sorry , that was inexcusably rude of me - and I can only express my deepest apologies - in the heat of the moment it was ill-considered of me - I take it you're a relative of the deceased - my heartfelt condolences miss ? Miss ...?"
"Actually Minister Sheerin you were correct the first time : I am Professor Akanke Udezi ; once known , many years ago , as Sr Alice Udezi - your 'murdered' nun."
Akanke closed her eyes and , half-turning ; walked a few steps towards the exit ; the stunned group's darkened faces indicated they were now oblivious to any consideration which wasn't directed towards saving their own skins.
The Minister half-opened his mouth as if to deny the possiility that what she said was true...but he fell silent.
The incredulous desk-sergeant's : 'Then who the hell's in the morgue?!' ; seemed to break the spell.
Akanke was now in the entire assembly's eyeline : She repeated her identity.
...and Chaos followed.
The lecture had been an unmitigated disaster .
Irrespective of the Dean's reassurance at the end-of-evening summation ; that experiencing the heated confrontation was wonderfully exciting - just what the Academic staff wanted from his appearance - Indeed :For the college to witness, and thus be participants, in the intellectual cut-and-thrust of ground-breaking ethical debate was something to appreciate, even cherish, forever - it cut no water with the professor.
The crowds of hand-shaking students , the scores asking him to autograph their copies of his book. It meant nothing.
Neil's self-credibility now lay in shreds.
The man in black was nowhere to be seen - apparently he too had 'evaporated like mist in the morning sun' ; after he had so depicted the cogency of Neil's theories....
He quickly gave excuses to flee the ravaged intellectual battle-scene ; even though most were utterly oblivious to the consequences of the dark interloper's seemingly innocuous "requests for clarification" ; and student and fellow-lecturer still idolised Neil as the genius; acknowledging him as being at the forefront of ethical re-synthesis ; the professor realised this was not merely the beginning of the end .
His insecurity in the face of the questioner had shattered his heretofore inviolable self-assurance that he was not only credible - he was right ! Right about his onto-centric situationism : Right about post-preference utilitarianism : Right in his resolutions of every major ethical dillemma facing contemporary society and their ochlogenic disordering- and yet it took all but eleven minutes of almost naiively innocent scrutiny by this elfin stranger to make Neil's theories turn to dust before him . Irrespective of the majority still finding his positions tenable ; the casts had fallen from Neil's eyes . Eight years of research , paradigmatic shifts and revisions were now irredeemably consigned to academic oblivion....
It was merely a matter of time.
He raced through the crowds of departing students and headed for the toilets. Splashing water upon his face gave little solace ; seemed to compound the nausea; and left him with a discomfortingly cold and saturated shirt-collar.
Sweeping the damp fringe from his eyes he entered the now-deserted corridor and made his way across campus towards his office.
His vainglorious attempt to sneak past his secretary was met with remonstration:
"..and where d'ya think you're going without telling me how it went ?"
"Sorry Agnes...I..." he exhaled deeply in exhaustion and despondency ; and for reasons which even he was unaware ; he began to laugh.
Running his hand through hair , turning towards her and cocking his head to an over-exaggerated angle he grinned resignedly. Amid breathy chuckles he roared over-dramatically,
"it was a bloody nightmare!"
Agnes knew she should vociferously counter that it couldn't have been so bad ; but she remembered the young man in Neil's office ; the whole of tonight's events' revelations could wait a few minutes.
"You have a visitor" she declared unapprovingly.
"I have ? Who ? Not...?"
"No. No. You're safe on that account - I don't know why you had anything to do with..."
"I know - you've told me a hundred times - I'm sorry - Now - this visitor : Who is it ?"
"Well he said he knows you ; but when I asked if he was your friend he smiled and said "Well I'm not sure if I can say that" ".
Then it clicked . Neil allowed his briefcase to slowly fall from his hand to the floor. He made a jerking movement towards the door then stopped himself.
Neil remembered exactly who the stranger in black was ; memories flooded in at break-neck speed and - surprising even himself -his heart leapt; however unpleasant their past had been ; meeting him again wouldn't be. Even after he'd just annihilated his ethical grand-opus....
Speedily he pulled at the corners of his suit , tightened his tie and swept back his fringe.
"How do I look ?"
"Like a desperate puppy ! You're not actually going to...?"
Preventing himself from declaring "I wish!" he raised a dismissive hand to eye-level and stuttered "no-no- what d'ya mean ? he's straight anyway !"
"well he's pretty enough - better than your usual sort - so I might have known you couldn't fall that lucky !"
"Thank you Agnes"
Conspiratorially she placed her elbows upon the desk and moving her face forward she whispered :
"Come on then - who is he ?"
"Someone who changed my life - twice - I owe him everything...oh , that's another thing : If he's here it means he's after something so I might have to cancel a few things - remind me to see you about my schedule..."
"How did you meet ?"
The stranger's face emerged from around the office doorframe
"Are you sure you want to tell her Neil ?"
Agnes was stunned at Neil's reaction - standing there biting his lip like a nervous schoolgirl.
The stranger continued "Go on - you might as well tell her !"
Neil laughed :
"Ok - if you must know - he shot me !"