Fr Maurice Skinner opened the door at the back of the old church. A stream of pale yellow light escaped into the night and bathed the solitary vehicle standing in the car park behind the building. Darkness reclaimed St Frank’s minibus when he closed the door behind him.
Fr Skinner had no need for a light to guide him on his way. The pale moonlight penetrating through the low cloud was more than sufficient to illuminate his path. Besides, Fr Skinner knew all there was to know about walking in darkness.
Dressed in priestly black, the old priest stepped into the night and merged with the darkness. He walked across the expanse of the yard separating his residence from the old church on autopilot. His head was still locked in the discussion he had been having with Robert Sturm, the supervisor of the men’s shelter located in the old church.
He was still ruminating on his impending enforced retirement when he reached the side door of his house. He was not happy that Bishop Kerry had turned down his plea to stay on as the chaplain of St Frank’s. He’d devoted the last ten years of his life to the men who used the shelter, and couldn’t see why he had to stop just because of some stupid rule.
Even though he was turning seventy-five, the Church’s compulsory retirement age, he’d argued that at least he was available to do the job. The bishop had insisted that there was no way he could allow him to stay on, as their insurance didn’t cover priests beyond seventy-five.
He was furious, but what could he do? The bishop held all the power. After his meeting with the bishop, he’d sulked all the way home and spent the evening complaining to Robert.
As far as he could tell, the bishop had no-one else to look after the needs of the poor souls that called St Frank’s home. It wasn’t as if the seminary was bursting with new recruits to the priesthood. God, if things don’t improve Robert will be right, he thought, and we really will be importing more priests from Africa and India.
On the threshold of his residence, Fr Skinner rummaged in his pockets for his keys. Standing in the dark, he silently rebuked himself for not having replaced the spent bulb in the security light that usually illuminated his approach to the door. He’d meant to replace it earlier in the day but had forgotten all about it, thanks to his meeting with the bishop. Too late now, he thought, as he felt for the keyhole.
After a couple of fumbled attempts, he managed to slip the key into the lock and turn the handle. As he opened the door, he felt a firm push in the middle of his back, and stumbled into the dark interior of the house.
He crashed onto the floor, hitting his head on the leg of the hat-rack standing in the hallway. He heard the door close behind him, and blinked as the light came on. A pair of firm hands grabbed him by the collar and roughly dragged him up into a kneeling position. With his head locked between two strong hands smelling of cigarettes, he couldn’t turn to see his assailant.
A cold fear rose up from deep within his gut. He thought he was going to wet himself.
‘What do you want?’
The silence was broken by a voice that Fr Skinner did not recognise.
‘I hope you’ve said your prayers, Father.’
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