William Brodrick

The Day of the Lie

After the Day of the Lie gather in select circle

Shaking with laughter when our real deeds are mentioned.

Czeslaw Milosz, ‘Child of Europe’


An autumn sun lit the beads of dew upon the pink tiles of Larkwood Priory, the seventeenth-century manor that had once belonged to a king’s trumpeter. For services rendered — belting out pomp for the Reformation — he’d been given a Benedictine monastery in Suffolk which he’d briskly demolished to the benefit of the local building trade, holding back enough stone and timber to erect a residence of more secular appeal. All that remained of the former abbey was a line of soaring, broken arches, the white limestone speckled with lichen and charged with the memory of cowled voices that had sung while the world lay sleeping.

With a troubled humph, Father Anselm Duffy, jazzman, beekeeper and brooder upon life’s conundrums, put the phone down and turned away from the calefactory window that faced the glistening, tangled rooftops.

‘You want a lawyer?’ he complained, entering the cloister, still hearing his friend’s anxious tone.

After the trumpeter had blown himself out — and following a noisy inheritance dispute that triggered three hundred years of real estate trade — a group of monks had returned to the quiet valley divided by a fast-flowing stream. Penniless and footsore, they’d taken a boat from Calais after the First World War, a motley band of men from different shattered nations with eyes on a wider horizon. By then the manor had crumbled from a prized asset to a maintenance headache that could only be resolved by donation to a cause deemed worthy. The monks — Gilbertines this time — had solemnly accepted the title deeds only to mislay them within a week. Far from the concerns of ownership, their minds had wandered elsewhere, slowly restoring the tiles, the thatch and the chant, helped by passers-by and well-wishers: anyone with a mind for the value of reflective living. In time, a deep music had pervaded the surrounding countryside, its pulse reaching as far as the holding cells of the Old Bailey where Anselm, then a restless barrister, made a living explaining the difference between justice and mercy.

‘So you don’t want a monk,’ he mumbled, with a frown.

He opened the door that led to the reception area and paused to glower at Sylvester, Larkwood’s timeless Watchman. White-haired and ascetically thin, his bones almost pushing through his soft flesh, the old man had never fathomed the relationship between a telephone and the noise it makes to announce an incoming call. In fairness there was a large console, flashing lights and three internal lines, each with their own receiver, but Sylvester would have been baffled by anything more complex than two tins linked by string. And even then…

‘Sorry, Anselm,’ said the Watchman, scratching the soft down on his cranium. ‘The thing is, you don’t get any warning… do you see what I mean? It just rings.’

‘Sylvester,’ replied Anselm, wondering how to break the news gently, ‘the ring is the warning.’

‘Don’t talk nonsense.’ Sylvester shook a loose fist at the countless thousands who rang without writing first. ‘It’s folk today. They never use pen and ink. What’s wrong with paper? Stamps? Envelopes? Copperplate and decent grammar?’

‘Things aren’t what they once were,’ sighed Anselm.

‘They’re not.’

‘Much that was good has passed away.’

‘Too true.’

‘These are the dark times.’

Sylvester prodded the phone as if to check it was still alive. ‘Anyway, no harm done. You got the call.’

‘I did. Your triumph, at least, remains.’

Having bowed with that special ceremony reserved for Larkwood’s most frustrating yet best loved elder, Anselm stepped outdoors remembering the pithy conversation with John Fielding, the old friend whose urgent call had initially been routed to various extensions in the monastery where Anselm was least likely to be found.

‘I need a lawyer,’ he quoted, heading towards the woodshed.

The phrase was laden with the past. It rang from nineteen eighty-two when Anselm had still been at the Bar and when John, booted out of Warsaw by the Communist Junta, had come back to London with a swollen jaw talking about a violent arrest in a graveyard. The real, abiding injury, however, had been out of sight. The look in John’s eye told something of the pathology but Anselm had never been able to properly construe the symptoms. Like Sylvester, he’d needed something simple to hang on to, and John had become… complicated; he wouldn’t explain. Part of him had been secretly dying; and localised death — the inner kind — had ultimately left its imprint. Dragging open the large door that hung on one valiant hinge, Anselm paused to inhale the warming aroma of dry wood shavings mingled with the zest of fresh cut timber.

I’d better explain in person, John had continued. You know I don’t like the phone.

There’d been no further elaboration. John had simply asked if he could come to Larkwood that evening. I’ll make a fire, Anselm had replied, knowing from that pointed reference to the law that John intended to go back to the cold part of his life: to his secret meetings with dissident thinkers and his brush with State violence. But Anselm was also apprehensive. John’s voice had been tense, his breath catching on the line.

‘Why now?’ murmured Anselm, running his thumb across the dull edge of an axe. ‘What has happened to bring back that unforgotten year?’

Lengths of wood, old and new, were stacked in different piles at opposing ends of the room. Anselm went for something green, something that was still holding sap.

Part One

The Friend of the Shoemaker

Chapter One

‘Oh no,’ snapped Roza. ‘It’s him again.’

The lawyer had written formally to Madam Roza Mojeska. He’d telephoned, late and early He’d left brisk messages on the answer machine. He’d written more letters. He’d trailed Roza around Warsaw in that battered blue 2CV, pleading his case through an open window. Undeterred by the constant refusals, he’d turned up cold and knocked on Roza’s door. He’d pushed lightly against the frame, with Roza shoving back from the other side. He’d flicked a business card through the closing gap. And now he was having another go — late on a Sunday afternoon.

‘Blast him.’

Roza had only looked out of the kitchen window by chance. She’d just thrown back a Bison Grass snifter — on her doctor’s orders — and was about to rinse the glass when she glimpsed that car parked on the main road, three floors down. Which meant the lawyer must be on his way up.

‘There’s no stopping him,’ muttered Roza.

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