Like Clockwork – the cover

Mark the date: 28th Feb is our target for publication. Since my last announcement my friends at Transmundane Press have been busy coaxing my vision out of the virtual paintbrush of a designer, and here we have it.

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Here’s a reminder of what it is all about:

Commander Raymond Burntwood of the Royal Navy has returned to England where he meets the reclusive heiress Lady Ariana Grayhart. After the scandal of a night spent dancing together, Ariana returns home to Northumberland. Raymond’s superiors—seeking information about Ariana’s father—dispatch the commander under the cover of courting the heiress.

All is not as it seems in the Grayhart household. Captain Grayhart is an invalid, the servants maintain a monkish silence, and secrets are layered upon secrets. Everyone has their own agenda, from Raymond’s friend and confidante Du Bois, to the family lawyer Sir Berwick, and Ariana herself.

In the midst of it all, Raymond must unravel the truth of Captain Grayhart’s decline and save Ariana’s reputation and fortune. In doing so, he learns dark secrets about himself that could tear his world apart.

And if that is not enough to whet your appetite here is an excerpt:

Mon ami, you have taken the enemy flagship as a prize.” Du Bois was in fine form that evening. He lounged in the little cubicle of the dark, panelled restaurant and pulled on a cigar, adding to the dimness. The clink of cutlery from the other diners was distant; this was evidently a place for quiet conversation between men of means.

“How so?” I tried not to take umbrage at his statement; my limited financial resources were a testament to my lack of success in taking ships as prizes. My record of sinking the enemy was, in contrast, something to be proud of.

“Lady Ariana Grayhart. She is the only child of Captain Grayhart, whose late wife was the only daughter of the Duke of Wearhaven. The title of course lapsed without a male heir, but she retains the honorific as the granddaughter of a Duke.”

“Of course.” I had no idea about this sort of thing, but a response seemed to be required.

“What that means is she is rich. Rich in the manner of my forefathers.” He ticked off the elements on his long fingers, “Grayhart money from trade and factories, Wearhaven land to invest it on, and of course, the grand weight of the title. Any one of those would be beyond the dreams of a bootstraps boy like you.”

He was not being unkind, what he said was true. I joined the Navy when my mother died. My father was a sailor I had never met, and who had long been lost at sea.

“The Grayharts already owned swathes of your cold country. Edward Grayhart marrying up into the Wearhavens caused something of a stir, but the result is that it makes Lady Ariana a unique catch. Her arrival in London from Northumbria was eagerly awaited, and all the landless second sons were lined up to woo her.” He pointed his cigar at me, “Until you came along.”

I laughed at that. “I had no idea of any of this.”

“That could be what attracted her, someone courting for courting’s sake alone.” He leaned forward and said in a conspiratorial tone, “The young ladies are, of course, agog with the romance and the scandal, as well as being delighted by the removal from the field of an unbeatable rival.”

“Removal from the field?” I laughed again. “You forget that I have been at sea all my life, what do I know of women and courting? Besides, I know nothing of her feelings, nor have I made any proposal to her.”

“Faugh, Raymond, hang your head in shame. In front of all London society, you dance with her all night. You both ignore everyone else. You even ignored me.” That last seemed to hurt him most of all. Sparks flew as he stubbed the cigar out angrily.

“And yet you sit there and claim to have made no proposal.” He gripped my arm, fingers like iron. “You may escape to sea again, and come home to marry the daughter of a baker or a spice merchant. But memories are long for girls, and London will not quickly forgive or forget yesternight.”

Head over to Transmundane’s blog to read another excerpt.

Make sure you bookmark my author site for all the links of where to buy, and follow me on Amazon so that the endearingly enthusiastic retailer can nudge you when the book is launched.

 

END

The Diversity Deal

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Diversity and inclusion are wonderful when they work in your favour. In the last week, Muslims like myself have been the beneficiaries of the world’s love and understanding. At airports around the United States people with open, liberal minds have acknowledged that most of us are just ordinary folk. We only want to live and work in peace and free from fear. Owing no allegiance other than our shared humanity these generous and passionate people stood up for our rights and our cause.

I’ll admit that I am conflicted. There are so many sides to what has happened that I am not sure how to reconcile them all. Let me lay them out for you.

Perhaps easiest to understand is that I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love in the face of an act of hate. It is a bright light in a time of encroaching darkness. I salute all those who have given of their time and skill and energy in the cause of humanity. May whatever powers you believe in uplift you.

But this has also left me with a sense of dread. I fear many Muslims do not understand that this is a two-way deal. We may be heartened by the efforts of others on our behalf, but what will we do when it is time for us to stand up and be counted? I have no doubt that the Trumpists are coming for us all. So, answer me this my Muslim brethren:

You want to live in peace, free from fear, with equal rights to your neighbour, and to practice your beliefs without interference. But if that neighbour is from the LGBT community and will not be served in a local store will you campaign on their behalf? That neighbour’s right to live without molestation is the same as yours.

What if that neighbour is a woman exercising her right to choose, and finds herself denied medical care; will you step forward and raise your voice? Her right to choose what to do with her body is the same as yours.

When emboldened fascists daub swastikas on the local synagogue will you be there to wash the walls and help protect your fearful neighbours? Their right to religious freedom is the same as yours.

All the things you want for yourself you have to be willing to offer to others, without stinting or reservation. If you’re unwilling to do that then you are unworthy of any shred of what has been put on the line for you this week.

That deal has embedded in it the Islamic concept of Adl – justice. What you want for yourself you must want for others, irrespective of what they believe and how they want to live. Freedom for Muslims means freedom for non-Muslims. If you aren’t able to sign up that then sign up to Trump or ISIS, they both believe in one law for them, and one law for everyone else. You think I am exaggerating? See if you can read beyond the first few lines of this from Breitbart without vomiting. I couldn’t. The Alt-Right would restrict women’s education in an echo of the Taliban, and it is their poison being whispered into Trump’s ear.

So how do you reconcile the freedoms you are morally bound to protect, if they war with your own beliefs? That, my friends is a test of faith. If you believe that the message we bear is the Truth then trust in it. Welcome everyone and let your capacity to love and accept bring them closer to you. Or maybe you and I just aren’t the same kind of Muslims. Maybe you are a Muslim that takes pride in the bloody history of Islam of the sword. If so, ISIS is waiting for you, what are you waiting for? My Islam is the one of mercy for mankind.

And in that internal argument of faith lies another source of discomfort. There are countries that export terrorism. Decades of Saudi money peddling the spiritually bereft Wahabi / Salafist ideology has created a generation of emotionally and mentally damaged people, willing to believe violence is an answer. In places this monstrosity has replaced mainstream Islamic thinking. My real dissension with the Trump ban is not its existence, every nation has the right to protect its borders and vet those entering for potential threats. But when that ban specifically excludes the nation that provided the 9/11 hijackers I am left aghast. If the ban had been properly consulted on, discerningly targeted and professionally implemented, it might have been a valid policy. Instead it is an act of naked racism, spiced with a toxic dose of Trump’s personal commercial interests.

And that last leaves me with a sense of fear. I live in London. I only have to contend with the backwash of Brexit and Theresa May trying to sell the country to the highest bidder. But I have friends and loved ones in the US. They are people who cling fiercely to liberal ideals, and carry a deep respect for their fellow humans, irrespective of creed or colour. I fear for them, because their chief executive is trampling on every concept of value in pursuit of his own limited interests. The coming battle for America’s soul is one in which there will be casualties, and my friends are people of conscience who will stand and make their presence felt. I fear for them almost as much as I fear for family in Pakistan who live in the shadow of lawlessness and Salafist terrorists.

The Trumpists are coming for us all, and that brings me back to my initial sense of dread. My challenge is to the Muslims – when they have had enough of you and bully the gay man two doors down from you, will you stand watch so he can sleep safely? Will you escort the woman past the baying mob to the health centre, will you link arms with the Rabbi to keep the fascists from the synagogue? If you want these people to stand up for you, you need to stand up for them. That’s the diversity deal.

END

picture credit Nuccio DiNuzzo

My author site

If you want to read more in a similar vein:

Remember, The White Folks Won

The Gates to Common Ground

J’accuse… the Muslims

 

Immigrant Car Wash

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They are Albanian and they never stop working. The queue usually stretches outside the gate, and covers the range of cars from executive cruisers to family run arounds. Their slick processes deal with each equally.

There are no six sigma consultants here, no industrial engineers, but to my eye the method is perfect. Young men swarm over the cars that are being washed, careless of the spray from pressure washers, and practised enough to know they won’t take a direct hit. The roles are well defined: hose, sponges, chamois, windows, vacuum and interiors, but like a Dutch football team from the 70s they can switch, seemingly on instinct, based on the level of demand. When a new car rolls through the gate someone will break off and begin by squirting industrial cleaning fluid onto the brake dust that coats the wheels. The supervisor is the libero, spotting gaps and filling in around his workmates, adding weight to any part of the machine that is slowing things down.

The pricing board has any number of options, but I think everyone buys the standard “inside and out”. The young men don’t skimp, they don’t cut corners and they take pride in their work. I’m not sure anyone would notice or care too much if the guy with the paintbrush didn’t flick over all the edges of the interior trim to get dust out, but he does anyway.

A couple of them speak enough English to understand any special instructions, the rest is done in the universal language of nods and gestures.

My late uncle had a theory that people drive better after they clean their cars. He said it instils a sense of pride that leads to greater care. I don’t see anyone boiling out of the gate and driving like a lunatic, so I have no evidence to suggest his theory is wrong. It has a charm to it, and I want it to be true.

Before the Albanians came the lot had been vacant for years. It was a goods yard once, a relic in this residential suburb, too close to the rail tracks for the property developers to take an interest, and bypassed by modern logistics. For fifteen years it has been a bustling corner of the cash in hand car wash trade. Cars come in one gate dirty, the owners leave the engines running, and the cars leave the other gate gleaming, with the sickly chemical smell of spray wax and cheap air fresheners.

The pricing is rudimentary, always just off a full note. It once was £8, and only a churlish hand took the offered change. It is now £12 and I would guess most, like me, offer £20, take the proffered £5 note, and leave the shrapnel. At the end of every day I bet someone sifts the chrome drum of the vacuum cleaner for coins.

It’s not a unique model of business, and you can find an “American Hand Car Wash” anywhere that a busy road passes a gap between businesses.

I don’t tell my mother I use the car wash. Her first reaction would be: “Save your money, I’ll do it.” That is despite the effects of age and arthritis and, that at barely five feet tall, she would need a ladder to reach the roof of my aging Renault. It is for the same reason we only warily take her to restaurants, and when we do we don’t show her the menu. After fifty years in this country she has not lost that working class, immigrant sensibility of saving every penny, of doing things yourself rather than paying others.

She was born in a mahal, which translates to palace, but is probably better understood as a chateau or stately home, and was the darling child of a proud and ancient lineage. She had a milk nurse. This was in part superstition – none of her preceding siblings had survived infancy – and in part because ladies of a certain stature, like my grandmother, did not nurse their own children.

All of that ended with partition. She left India with half her family to the newly created Pakistan and then she married my father and moved to London. She worked in a factory, a dry cleaner’s, and finally a greengrocer’s stall until my father died. Then she bought a sewing machine and ploughed through her grief, rocking me with one foot and working the machine with the other. Her desk job in a bank, which she retained until my brother and I bullied her into retirement, came when I was about three.

Thrift and hard work are the principles that have stayed with her in that arc from faded aristocracy, near destitution, emigration and now comfortable middle class. There is little in that arc that is unusual or noteworthy; in my corner of London I see it everywhere. The ethnic stores that pepper the high street open early and close late, if they close at all. It doesn’t matter if it is the Polish delicatessen or the Turkish convenience store. Old Gujarati ladies once lined the tills in the supermarket, blue branded jackets over their sarees; now paler faces are mixed in, with broad Slavic features and extra Js and Ks in their name badges. They pull the long shifts and late shifts and just keep going.

All of this cultural melting pot is inside the north London eruv, the hub of British Judaism. No one makes trouble because trouble won’t pay the rent and leave enough to send home at the end of every week. And that home is presently only an abstract concept. There is no going back; there is no option but to succeed. A return, in the rare instances that happens, leaves deep roots and ties here. Despite race, religion or any other distinguishing feature, here becomes home.

This is my home. My daughter was house captain in the local church primary school, my niece sang the hodie in the carol service in our local church (not as well as this though).

More broadly, making this country a home for immigrants matters. Immigrants work, immigration works. It provides weary economies with a supply of labour that is relentless and driven. It provides aging populations with youth and vigour.

Once the immigrants move beyond self-sufficiency, which they must to succeed, they become the source of wealth from which our top-heavy populations will pay for pensions and healthcare. Our task as mature post-industrial economies, hungry for sources of growth, is to harness that energy and determination, to take the skills and talents of new arrivals and use them. Weaving these disparate, different threads into the fabric of our society is a symbiotic act, necessary for our survival and theirs. It should not matter if it is a South Asian junior doctor or an Albanian youth with a burning desire to work all the hours he can, they are resources that want to be made productive.

In the same way disseminating the wealth of knowledge in our universities is to seed the world with its most dynamic workforce influenced by our culture and values. Closing bogus colleges is a valid, if costly policy choice. Restricting student numbers is blinkered short-termism.

That is not to ignore the structurally unemployed amongst our own populace. The decline of heavy industry and the growth in the service sector has left some regions in a spiral of decline. The solution there is different, and independent of creating a welcoming environment for migrants. Structural problems need structural solutions, and that means investment. The country needs an infrastructure that allows employers to disperse from dense metro areas, which they will if connectivity and access make the economics of moving viable. Education and retraining is needed for those whose jobs have disappeared, and those who have known nothing but a generation of unemployment. In the short term that investment will be re-distributive, but the point of an investment is that it pays back.

Today, our beloved NHS would fail without the contribution of migrant workers. But there is a genuine question to be asked: What restricts the educational attainment in certain parts of the country that means our own citizens cannot fill the gap in skills. The question is a supply side one, your Ghanaian nurse is a demand side response. The myth of migrants taking local jobs can only be true if the unemployed of Leicester or Middlesbrough are given the opportunity to gain competing skills.

In contrast, the investment for immigrants is not financial; it is in opening our hearts and minds to the contribution others can make, if we only stop thinking of them as “other” and instead as like ourselves: people trying to build a life for themselves and their families.

The young men at the carwash have changed in fifteen years, just as the faces lining the supermarket tills have changed. The car wash has changed around them. They all wear logoed sweatshirts now, and will change your tyres as well as wash your car. It would be naïve to think all the income goes through the books, but some of it does, where before the whole thing had no paper trail.

The lot, which served no purpose before they took it on, is always busy. They are always busy. I don’t envy them the cold water and back-breaking labour. I’m one generation on, living off the effort my parent’s generation put in. That means I know why they do it. One day their kids will bully them into retiring and grudgingly they will agree.

 

END

If you are interested in my writing check out my author site

Other essays you might be interested in:

Remember, The White Folks Won

The Gates to Common Ground

J’accuse… the Muslims

 

 

Coming Soon – Like Clockwork

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This is a lesson in heresy. Britishness comes with an over politeness, and a self effacing reticence that means we often don’t ask, and don’t get. We hold back, which to other cultures can come across as aloof and rude. If you don’t get it, follow Very British Problems on Twitter. Lucknowites have it too, and regular readers of my blog will know of my connections there. So I have this thing squared.

Except, once, and only once, I put it aside. Those lovely, life affirming, literature loving people at Transmundane Press were running an open call for submissions. After the Happily Ever After is out now and I urge you to buy it, even though I’m not in it. It is significant because I emailed them and asked.

The question was about The Lesser Evil (my Harry Potter fanfic).

It fits the brief, I wrote, but… copyright.

The inestimable Alisha wrote back: I like it, but… copyright. Send me something else.

I emailed them a 26k novella. Like Clockwork. They liked it. They’re going to publish it. It’s coming soon.

There’s the lesson in heresy. Sometimes you just have to ask.

And now you’re asking: What’s it all about Ali?

Here’s where the teasing starts. It is a gothic suspense/horror/mystery/anti-romance with some steampunk elements set in Victoria England.

It is also a bit Hornblower without the sailing. I worked with the Royal Navy for a year in a civilian, entirely non seafaring capacity, almost twenty years ago. I still look back on that time with great fondness, and Like Clockwork is a hat tip to the wonderful people I worked with. The etching of Portsmouth Harbour hangs over my desk, and was, among other things, a parting gift from the project team. No client gives consultants parting gifts, but they did to me. The image below is of the note on the back.

Head over to TP to read the blurb. I’ll be over here listening to Dionne and getting misty eyed.

imag1466 * Project CAPITAL rolled out the MoD’s financial management system. 2SL/CNH = Second Sea Lord, Commander in Chief Naval Home Command, which is the part of the implementation I joined.

Remember, The White Folks Won

Remember, the white folks won.

There is only one eternal law: to the victor the spoils.

You may have a proud and ancient history, Mansa Musa, Cyrus, Babur or any in a long line of famed kings and emperors, but they are just that: ancient. The white man had the last empire, the last colonies, and still has his client states and his bootlickers. Where are yours?

To him you are the subjugated and enslaved. You live in the country he colonised however many hundreds of years ago. You live on land he claimed, whether by conquest or by genocide. To the victor the spoils. You are there on sufferance. You are there because some few pricked his conscience, or because he ground his own labouring classes in his wars, and someone had to drive the trains and sweep the streets. And even then he says “go home”, and you cast down your eyes because you are rooted to this soil, this toil and nowhere in the world are you not alien or heretic, like me.

You think the riches ripped and torn from the shoulders of your ancestors give you some rights in return? You think your sweat has earned you a place at his table? You think basic human decency grants you a right to live? You may have won your manumission, but in his eyes you have no personhood. Your difference is stamped in your skin, in the hook of your nose or the cast of your lips.

You point to your white friends and I point to a butter smear of gentility over the white bred slabs of their compatriots’ contempt. For every one that marries you, or takes you to their home, their hearth, their heart, whose soull really is a light unto the worls, I’ll show you two who seethe with cold resentment when they see you on their streets.

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You say that they have laws, and I ask show me the justice? When the red man claims his rights he is subjected to the full weight of the baton and the gun. When the white man claims his rights he is the hero standing up against oppression. This is his justice.

He led the world to war, called all the righteous up against Hitler, and we too fought and bled for that was just. But on his park he still bows to the statue of King Leopold who depopulated Congo, and nor was he alone. He writes the history that he chooses to teach.

Crime knows no colour or creed. All have the capacity to be good or to do evil. But when you do wrong you are the epitome of your race, it is in your blood to flout the law and break the social contract. When one of his does wrong he whitesplains: it is high jinx or some disorder of the mind, not something deep beneath his hall pass skin.

You say they made a black man chief, a brown man mayor and see how we now hold some offices of state. I turn over the page and show you all the vitriol and the hate and wager: see how long he keeps his seat before the bigot or the braying fiend displaces him.

Come my coloured brethren, let us bow our heads. Remember that the white folks won, and we will always be the spoils.

END

 

If you are interested in my writing take a look here

The Footsteps of the Valiant

I had a tilt at the Bartleby Snopes dialogue only writing contest this year, an entirely new format for me. The rules are simple – only dialogue, no “he said”, no directions, just conversation. They keep the top five entries on the boil and reject everything else. I clung on for a few days, but inevitably got tinned.

That said I had a bit of fun with this and I hope you do to:

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Studded Door

 

The Footsteps of the Valiant

 

“Who’s there?”

“Archon? Archon, is that you?”

“It is. Child, you don’t sound like one of my regular guards.”

“No, your holiness. Far from it. I have come to save you.”

“Bless you daughter, but you are taking a terrible risk. Flee, before they find you.”

“Don’t worry; no one will be coming for a while. Your long captivity is almost over.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“The guards on this watch have been bribed. They’re all looking away.”

“‘By their own greed shall they be undone’ as it says in Acolytes Three.”

“Yes, your Holiness.”

“What is it that you are doing? All I can hear is a scratching at the door.”

“Trying to pick the lock. This one looks like a regular forbidding dungeon door with a big unsophisticated lock that a halfwit gaoler can manage, but it turns out to be surprisingly complex.”

“Well, they have had me locked up in here for a long time, I’m sad to say you are not the first devout soul with fire in your belly and righteousness in your heart to try and save me.”

“I know, there are memorial cobbles hidden throughout the city with the names of the holy martyrs.”

“Cobbles?”

“They prise one up, engrave it and replace it overnight. There’s also a threnody that is sung by everyone in attendance: “The Footsteps of the Valiant”, it’s quite a moving tune.”

“Cobbles are not lacking in humility I suppose.”

“You are a prisoner of the state Holiness. They could hardly erect statues.”

“No indeed. How are you getting along with that lock?”

“It won’t be long; the Duke had a similar one on his strong room. There’s a trick to it.”

“I see. I take it the path of righteousness has not always been the one you have chosen?”

“No your holiness I’m a thief. I don’t actually have any of that belly or heart stuff. Your followers got tired of sending each other to certain death trying to save you. They hired me. I’m a professional.”

“So what about that business with the holy martyrs and the cobbles?”

“It never hurts to empathise with the client. Especially when the client thinks they have a cause. It can get you ten, maybe fifteen basis points on the price. Bitter, hard bitten pros with no emotional intelligence have to sell their services at a discount.”

“My goodness, I had no idea it could be so complicated. I must admit I’m not sure how I feel about being rescued by someone who has not been saved.”

“Oh it’s your flock that are saving you. The money was raised by subscription. As best I can make out, you’ve had everyone from widows and orphans contributing pennies, to businessmen putting an entire year’s profits into the fund. It was very touching, but of course it doesn’t pay to get sentimental.”

“But you are the one who is doing the saving.”

“‘Judge not the sword, but the hand that wields it.’ That’s from Ruminations Six.”

“You know your scripture!”

“Good research on the client, adds another ten points to the price every time. Those surly hero guys hanging around in taverns half drunk and unshaven really don’t know what they’re doing. I have an office, and a secretary. Prospective clients get cinnamon tea and a brochure.”

“I suppose that makes me feel better about it. How is that lock coming?”

“Nearly there. Just one turn…got it. Stand back your Holiness. There’s a torch out here, and the sudden light may be painful.”

“That won’t be a problem.”

“Oh.”

“To be fair, no one else has ever got this far. We’ll have to review security arrangements.”

“Gosh. It’s rather nice in here isn’t it?”

“Well, there had to be some trade-off for being locked up all these years.”

“Your carpets are as good as the Duke’s and I happen to know that’s a third century jade vase.”

“You’re an educated woman.”

“Well, yes. But that one I stole to order for…”

“That was you? God bless you. It was originally stolen from the Church by the second Hieromancy. ‘It will profit them not the things they take unto themselves. For all shall be returned to its rightful place in time for judgement.’ Divination Twelve, in case you were wondering.”

“It seems I’ve been an agent for the Church before then. It’s good to know we’re on the same side.”

“Indeed. If you like what you see here, you should come out onto the balcony.”

“How do you have a balcony in a dungeon?”

“Come and see.”

“Oh. Oh my word.”

“It’s quite something, isn’t it?”

“I never imagined there would be a cavern inside the mountain. Where does the light come from?”

“As I understand it there are crystals in the rock that run right the way up to the surface. Or they redirect light to each other or some such. It does give the whole thing a lovely glow. And the rainbow over the waterfall is almost permanent.”

“I did wonder why you stayed here.”

“I am a prisoner, child.”

“Yes, but there are stories about how you gave sermons in two villages at the same time. I always wondered why someone who could do that would allow themselves to be locked up.”

“You believe the stories? I’m surprised.”

“I stole some records from before the dissolution of the Church. The parishes kept records of who came and went.”

“You really do your research very thoroughly.”

“Thanks, I had an intern do the actual data work.”

“And these records showed me in two parishes at the same time?”

“Yes, and it happened more than once.”

“Unfortunately it’s not a miracle or some God given power. The truth is a little more prosaic. I served four parishes as a young priest, and I had to walk from one to another. I wasn’t actually that devout, and they were all about fifteen miles apart around the Sky Lake.”

“I know, I have the records, remember?”

“Yes, but what you have to factor in is that two of the parishes were in a different diocese.”

“So?”

“I got paid by the sermon. I knew no one would cross check the records from one diocese to the other. They used to hate each other.”

“You were fiddling your attendance to get paid more.”

“Wouldn’t you?”

“I’m a thief, not a fraudster.”

“I always thought putting around the story that I was able to perform miracles by being in more than one place at a time was quite inspired.”

“Divine inspiration?”

“I wouldn’t go that far.”

“I take it you aren’t coming with me then?”

“Not as such, no.”

“You can let go of my arm.”

“You see, the Duke and I have an arrangement. He needs the people to believe in something to stop them falling for heathen influences. And the firebrands have a predictable cause to rally around. It makes them easier to track.”

“You’re quite strong for an old man.”

“You see those spars and blocks in the corner?”

“Yes.”

“That’s actually exercise equipment. I also do yoga. I’m in pretty good shape for someone who hasn’t been outside in a decade.”

“Do you have to grip so tight?”

“The arrangement serves the church as well. Nothing keeps the people as devout as a live case of someone suffering for their souls. Donations have never been so high, even though the services are held in secret.”

“I imagine that saves a lot in overheads.”

“You’re very astute. Church buildings are in need of constant repair. This way the worthy lend us their houses, and I’ve cut an entire layer of management out of the structure. It’s very efficient.”

“My arm is hurting pretty badly, do you think you could let go?”

“I’m afraid not. There are very few people who know what is happening. Even the guards just pass what they think they’re feeding me through a hole in the door. My meals actually come on a dumb waiter from the palace kitchens.”

“I’m really pleased for you, but I really think I ought to get going. I only bribed one shift of guards and they’ll change soon.”

“And there’s the rub. The arrangement works because it is secret. And a secret is only a secret if no one knows it.”

“Penitents Seven?”

“Good guess. Penitents is a go to book if you’re in doubt because no one ever reads that one, but actually that is all my own.”

“It’s an awfully long way down.”

“‘He who dies to serve the faith shall live for ever.'”

“Does it matter that I’m a she?”

“Not to God. On the plus side, maybe you’ll get your own cobblestone.”

 

THE END

If you are interested in my writing take a look here