The apartment block sat at the end of a narrow side street leading into a cul de sac. Catherine took her bag from the back seat of the taxi and looked up at the two storey townhouse before walking down the three steps into the ground floor apartment. "Who has cultivated such beautiful roses?" she asked, stopping at the small square lawn. "Oh I like to have a few flowers every year," Maria replied. "Yes, and not everyone can produce beauties like that," Catherine said, looking at the deep red of the roses. "A royal family you've got there!" Maria laughed away her compliment and welcomed her friend to her apartment.
"Let's just fill you in on the neighbours," Maria remarked. "Upstairs to the right of us, there are three Chinese students studying medicine. They have just arrived and their English is not the best. The eldest of the three may call in to you. He was here yesterday to ask for assistance with some forms they had to fill out again for the Immigration Office. In the ground apartment beneath them are a young couple recently married. In the townhouse over us there are no tenants, they have just vacated the premises and the curtains have been taken down. It should be a pretty quiet time for you. I won't be home any evening until about eight so I do hope you enjoy the rest and prayer. Across from the apartment block you'll see a big old house on private grounds. That's a centre for religious studies and the residents here in Cobbler's Court are free to walk around those beautiful gardens anytime. It really is lovely over there in the evenings if you'd like to have a walk around.
The next morning, after Maria left for work, Catherine made some breakfast and walked outside. She was delighted at Maria's invitation to have a week over at her apartment, the other side of the city. It couldn't have come at a better time. The house on Mary's Road, beside the parish church, was busier than usual with the doorbell ringing non stop, the phones ringing and several guests staying. One lively character who repeatedly sang "New York, New York," into the late evening hours added a lot of laughter and humour to the already busy house. It seemed just the right time to get away for a quiet week. Her hopes of such a week wasn't going to work out quite like that.
Outside, the sun spilled in golden strips onto the rose bush, prompting Catherine to make a quick return into the apartment and bring out a chair with her Bible. "I really must settle down and get in some scripture reading," she thought. She fixed the chair neatly in by the window. The red roses were in full bloom. The morning was warm with a soft breeze that swept over the petals like a heavenly duster, displaying the beauty of God's creation in the most hidden corners of Ireland. With the scriptures on her lap she closed her eyes for a few moments enjoying the sun's warm light on her face. Lost in her own thoughts she was unaware of the long silver car that pulled silently into the kerb.
The door of the car opened. A song on the radio stopped in mid chorus and a travel bag dropped onto the path in front of her, shaking her out of her private thoughts. Catherine wanted to look up but somehow she couldn't. She opened the scriptures still sitting on her lap pretending to read. Next, a pair of black slip on shoes appeared in front of her. The driver continued to sit there for a few seconds before getting out. He locked his car door and then walked around to the boot. Catherine remained as she was looking at the page in front of her. Tins of paint were carried to the stairs of the townhouse. The man stood on the bottom step and waited there, the view of his neighbour down the steps a lot clearer. His silent presence commanded her attention and she found herself looking up into a face that both surprised and startled her. "Hello," he spoke to her. "Hello" she replied in turn. He was dark haired, a neat hair cut that heightened his deep set blue eyes. They were not kind or warm eyes but they held your attention. His grey shirt, tucked inside casual grey trousers displayed a fit and healthy body that moved with agility and confidence as he picked up the tins of paint, threw his luggage bag over his shoulder and checked his key ring as he ascended the steps. Halfway up he stopped, looked down over the railings at the Bible on her lap, and then walked up into his house and locked the door behind him. "Wow," Catherine thought. "Wonder why a look like that would make a heartbeat stop for a second. He was a mystery man, that's what he was. A mystery man with a cold authority that made one feel one had to stand to attention in the presence of this stranger."
That evening, deciding to have a short stroll, Catherine went up the three steps and walked towards the private grounds of the Religious House in front of her. As she turned into the garden her shoelace became loose and she stopped at a corner seat lifting up her foot to retie it. As she was fixing her shoe she noticed the man from the townhouse standing out on the steps, his thumbs in his trouser pockets, watching her walking. Catherine returned to the apartment a short while later. She descended the steps only to see him looking out at her from where he now sat in his front room upstairs. Rows of books were stacked on the table beside him. He looked up from where he was reading and nodded at her.
The next day the sun beckoned her out and she sat in her chair. Hardly three minutes passed when the man appeared and startled her with an unexpected "Good morning!" She opened her eyes. "I didn't hear you. Are you there long?" He took a newspaper from under his arm. "Nope, I'm just returning from the shop." Once again his eyes fell on her Bible "You a nun?" "Do I look like one?" He laughed. "It's hard to tell these days." He walked down the steps. "May I join you for a few moments? I should have introduced myself yesterday. My name is Gary, I own the apartment upstairs. I have new tenants arriving soon so I'm here to do a bit of painting." Catherine brought out another chair. "If you're not a nun why are you reading the Bible?" "I work for the Lord," she replied. He looked at Catherine for a long time. "So you have a vocation? My mother is very Catholic. She prays all the time. She says everyone has a vocation, would you agree?" This was not what the young woman expected and she in turn looked at the mystery man. "May I ask," she said, "what are you studying?" "Oh just a bit of study." "What did you study?" he asked her without answering the question. "I didn't," she replied. "You didn't go to college?" he asked, astonished. "No." She laughed at his disbelief. "Why did you think I did?" He became disturbed and then suddenly jumped up, mumbling quietly to himself. "Excuse me, I've just remembered I have to make a call." He walked off with a quiet goodbye that contradicted the icy aloofness which greeted her the previous day.
The following morning Gary arrived down. "Sorry about yesterday. I have to leave again. I've business abroad so I have to go tomorrow." "Where do you travel to?" she asked. "I go to Spain, Holland and Italy mostly." Again, he gave her that look that made her feel a little uneasy. Somehow she didn't want to know about his work abroad. "Anyway, I'd like to ask you something before I go?" Catherine waited. He sat down on the empty chair beside her. "I was chatting to a guy in the pub the other night and he was talking about people involved in certain organisations." He looked at Catherine before continuing. "This guy said that there are people who take oaths, you know, like promises and they make them within secret societies, or secret political groups? This guy said that the people involved, who take these oaths have power." He stretched out his legs and folded his arms across his chest. He looked intently at her and said "Now, my question to you is, do you think that could be right?" Catherine thought of the man the evening before who commanded her attention and she looked back again at his expression. "You speak of the wrong kind of power." "And what do you mean by that?" he asked abruptly, his arms still folded across his chest. "You speak of a power that harms, that works in secret, a power that works in opposition to God and to the Light. Therefore, a power that inevitably leads to the destruction of all that God has created good. In answer to your question? - it's the wrong kind of power." As Catherine finished speaking a police car swerved into the kerb beside them and two policemen got out, checking the small notebook in their hands. Gary jumped up and looked at Catherine in disbelief, his facial expression almost accusing her of something she couldn't comprehend. She looked at the policemen and then back at Gary. He rushed off and took the steps two at a time before locking his front door. The policemen continued to check the notebook with the house numbers on the doors overhead. Eventually one of the policemen pointed to the house where the Chinese students were staying and they walked up and rang the bell.
The following morning Gary arrived down to where Catherine sat, carrying his luggage bag. "I'd like to apologise about yesterday. I was in a hurry to make a phonecall." "Well, let's just say my plan for a quiet few days didn't exactly go that way, but when we walk God's road we can expect the unexpected!" "Will you pray for me?" he asked suddenly. "Yes." "Then there's one thing you need to know" his voice softened. "I'm not studying. Those books you saw me reading? It was an act. I left school very young. Yesterday evening I wanted to make an impression. The truth is I suffer from dyslexia." Catherine knew it to be an important moment. "When we follow God, Gary, we don't need to impress, we find our own call and we become who we are intended to be." He nodded, his deep set blue eyes almost changing colour as the sun's rays fell over onto his face. "Maybe we'll talk again, if you're still following the Lord that is," he added humourously. She walked with him to the car. "Where to this time?" "I have a meeting in Spain tomorrow morning, I'm flying out tonight." Catherine suddenly remembered she was only on a short holiday. "I won't be here when you return," she called out as the engine started. "I'll know where to find you," he said from the open window, saluting her before the car moved off as silently as it had arrived.
The next evening, after dinner, Catherine took the plates to the sink while Maria turned on the TV for the evening news. The headlines flashed across the screen. "Concerns are growing over possible paramilitary activity in Spain following a report this morning of three Irish men seen in a hotel in Spain in the company of a known terrorist......." Suddenly the man sitting in the chair, his arms folded across his chest, flashed through her mind. That night, as she lit the blessed candle, Catherine joined her prayers with the mother who sought the repentance and conversion of her son, the son who was bound by the dark power of a secret oath. With the prayers rising to the Almighty, she recalled the words from the Mass - 'All powerful and ever living God......'