As they walked through the grass, wet with dew, Anselm pursued his point. "If he's forced to go now, any uproar will be short-lived. And there is an explanation we can give in the future if we get hammered for throwing an innocent man onto the street."
"This is a monastery, not a remand home for the elderly." Anselm was pleased with the phrase. It was pithy and rounded: a good sound bite...prepared earlier.
The Prior nodded, mildly unimpressed. Anselm persevered, eyeing the Prior as he'd often eyed judges in another life when trying to read their minds.
"The alternative is the other, longer horn. If he moves in, and that's what it will amount to, we're in trouble. There could be a trial." Anselm paused. "Nothing we say will convince any victims that we're not on his side."
They reached the stile and the Prior climbed over onto the path, gathering his black habit under one arm, the white scapular thrown over one shoulder. Anselm sensed him drifting away, chasing private thoughts. "We should find out more tomorrow night. Detective Superintendent Milby's coming at six. I'd like you and Wilf to be there. Then we'll have a Special Chapter. Let everyone know, will you?"
"Yes, of course."
Anselm watched Father Prior disappear along the path, across a haze of blue and purple, his habit swaying in the breeze, his head bowed.
Anselm had met Detective Superintendent Milby several times in the past. In those days Milby had been a foot soldier with the drugs squad. He had long hair and dressed in jeans, but still managed to look like a policeman. Anselm had been a hack at the London Bar and their meetings had been limited to the pro-forma cross-examination about stitching up and excessive violence. Like all policemen familiar with the courts, Milby had taken it in his stride. That was well over ten years ago, and they'd both moved on since then.
Leaning against the stile gate, Anselm could almost smell the heavy scent of floor wax from his old chambers, and hear again the raucous laughter of competing voices in the coffee room. He smiled to himself, winsomely.
When Anselm left the Bar it caused a minor sensation, not least because it was such a wonderful Robing Room yarn. Since it was endemic to the profession to treat such things with private gravity and public levity, Anselm only heard the lowered voices of shared empathy: "Tell me, old son, is it true? You're off to a monastery? I can say this to you, but we've all got secret longings. The job's not everything..."
Anselm had knocked up ten years' call but, unknown to his colleagues, had never fully settled into harness. There was a restlessness that started to grow shortly after he became a tenant. Imperceptibly, he began to feel out of place, as if in a foreign land. There was another language, rarely spoken, and he wanted to learn it. Determined attempts to live a "normal" life as a professional man floundered at regular but unpredictable intervals. He could be waiting for a taxi or heading off to court, doing anything ordinary, and he would suddenly feel curiously alienated from his surroundings. It was a sort of homesickness, usually mild, and occasionally acute. He later called these attacks by stealth "promptings." All Anselm knew at the time was that they were vaguely religious in origin. He responded by purchasing various translations of the Bible and books on prayer, as if the answer to the puzzle lay somewhere between the pages. On one occasion he left a bookshop having ordered a thirty-eight-volume edition of the Early Church Fathers. They remained as they came, in three cardboard boxes strapped with tape and stacked in the corner of his living room, and used as an inelegant resting place for coffee-cups and take-away detritus. Anselm would then recover, and continue his life at the Bar until ambushed by another God-ward impulse. It was a sort of guerrilla war for which he was always unprepared and ill-equipped. And all the while his book collection became larger, more comprehensive, and unread. Eventually he stopped buying books. He realised one day whilst looking through a wide-angle lens that he wanted to become a monk.
From Chapter One of The 6th Lamentation by William Brodrick. Copyright William Brodrick. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written prior permission from both the copyright owner and the publisher, Viking Penguin.
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