An excerpt: SURVEILLANCE

Excerpt from SURVEILLANCE: © T. A. Moore September 25, 2021

1:: Moana Duff:: Monday, October 12, 2020

The skeleton is out; Father Stephen Howard is alive. However, the rest of the world doesn’t know, including my Chief.

Father Stephen invited me to support him at his disciplinary hearing, (as his spiritual advisor.) Stephen is one of the suspects in my investigation, but I like him so accepted. I invited my girlfriend to join me as my support person because my job can be stressful.

For example, my chief behaved treacherously during this evening’s conference call. (I was too exhausted to attend a meeting in person.) This boss has demanded that I explain my part in the assumed death of Father Stephen tomorrow at high noon. ‘Be there, Girl, or else,’ the boss said. I hate divulging secrets so will remain on edge until after the showdown.

I should also have told my girlfriend about Father Stephen’s secret resurrection. However, I am on my way to meet her at Mojo Café. I can correct my omission then. As I hike behind the damp crowd on Lambton Quay, a bright bell rings from up Cable Car Lane, spurring my sodden energy.

Last evening, my girlfriend and I hiked up through the local graveyard to reach the Retreat Centre beside the lake. The troubles started there: After finding Father Stephen’s room, we soon opened our first bottle of wine. My girlfriend’s eyes drifted to the loud boathouse beside the lake, to the party shed. We all three strolled down to the boat shed about 9.30pm. Father Stephen watched as we girls taunted the traditionalist evangelical priests and flirted.

Moana, don’t let Bishop Archie and his priests bully Father Stephen,’ my girlfriend begged. An hour before the boys started playing live rock music, I knew there was a power struggle between the traditionalist evangelical priests and the liberal socialist priests. The traditionalist priests do not like socialism and so intend to destroy Father Stephen.

My girlfriend and I live our lives differently, but we have enough in common to have slept together in Stephen’s room last night, after me perving at her bum for hours. (All the time we danced, we didn’t dare make eye contact.) My girlfriend should be cautious around me, what with her having family members who are communists. Of course, my Chief and his Department of Justice (DOJ) have me investigating her. Another damn secret.

Mojo Café is downtown in the ‘Olde Bank Arcade’ where the tiled walkway leads to cherry-wood double doors. It has a reputation for excellent food and expensive drinks. There she is at the bar. Her shabby coat and handbag sit atop the only vacant bar-stool. I rush to meet her lovely lips. Oh, my. I get a happy little shiver at the sound of her voice. She is the sexiest communist I have ever met. That is why we cannot possibly have sex. Anyway, the bar might be full of gangsters and spies for all I know, and after us spending the previous night in bed with a priest, I need to be discreet with my girlfriend today. Besides, she is both lesbian and secretly in love with a man.

My relationship with my girlfriend feels secure because I have recently got the rhythm of it. She has turned out to be, in some ways, not the person I assumed. It has taken hard work to figure out how many devious facets are hidden within her personality. Despite this, I have promised myself that I won’t try to repair my girlfriend: Wanting to diagnose a personality is to want to fix her. However, identifying a problem without fixing that problem is not only neglectful, but immoral.

You look gorgeous, Moana. We didn’t get much sleep last night, you know. The newspaper says that Father Stephen is dead.”

I rush to tell her the news: “He’s still alive, but that’s got to be our secret.” She is shocked, of course. “No one else knows, not even my Chief, who blames me for Stephen’s cardiac arrest. The Chief has called the division of Human Resources (HR) to complain about me.”

I am a compassionate prosecutor and so easily sucked into the conflicts of older religious men. “The chief says I am a difficult woman to work with; says I go against the productive flow of his men.”

My girlfriend is supportive, “I think your chief is sexist. Such men can be outrageously controlling and eager to fire young revolutionaries like you.” My girlfriend can also be philosophical: “Isn’t the conflict bound to drive one party or the other to desperate measures? What are you going to do?”

The barman must have the hots for my girlfriend because he gives us another drink free of charge.

I’ve got to tell my Chief soon, otherwise I will be crucified if he finds-out from someone else. Why did I move from rural Waitati to study psychology, and work in the Wellington section of the DOJ that is investigating a gang of priests—to become stale-mated? I had hoped my Chief would be a mentor who would not stress too much and would allow me the creative space to play with my assignments. My plan was to persuade my boss to allow me to think for herself; to show initiative, to be autonomous and creative, to choose my suspects, to make my own schedule, and to select my methods of surveillance, interrogation, and prosecution. In a wealthy country like New Zealand I should be entitled to an enlightened boss. But that is not happening. Am I cancelled?”

Get off your pity-pot, Girl, and think about what went wrong?”

Okay, I screwed-up. The troubles started when you and I went with Father Stephen down to that Retreat Centre party.”

I’m self-conscious about dancing until I get loaded,” my girlfriend says.

Soon Naughty Girl, you and I were dancing an erotic writhing, punctuated with the sinking of more champagne amidst Bishop Archie playing guitar. Father Stephen left early to evade becoming the further butt of Archie’s gossip about Stephen’s assumed sex life with me.”

We partied hard last night, remember,” my girlfriend says.

She and I eventually gave-up on singing through the microphone and staggered up to the Retreat Centre to crash in Father Stephen’s room—I had planned for us to walk down the hill and go home. However, we were tired-drunk and Father Stephen, (although older) was attractive enough to crash with, has an erect bearing, intelligent eyes, and an educated voice.

Father Stephen was asleep, and did not stir. We stripped off and slid silently into his bed, not realising that Bishop Archie would be arriving in the morning to summon Father Stephen to his disciplinary hearing.

At 9am, Father Stephen was lounging with us in his bed. (Did you check it out? We were located at the end of the Hobson wing of the Retreat Centre, a historic building that was once a Military Academy.) Father Stephen scowled as Bishop Archie rudely entered his room without knocking. Archie saw us girls naked in bed each side of Father Stephen. That’s the second thing that went wrong.”

That was a nightmare, Moana. Bishop Archie is envious of Stephen’s imagined sex-life with you so he invaded the bedroom. That was a violation of privacy. Archie then flashed his Cadre-Lodge ring and upped the stakes: ‘Follow me, Father Stephen. It is time for me to administer your exorcism.’ Exorcism! How nasty.”

My girlfriend pushes her next free drink away. “But I didn’t have sex with Stephen— and we slept on either side of him, so sure as hell, you and I didn’t have sex. It was all innocent.”

I remember the envy that preceded Archie’s bullying threat.” My girlfriend understands the mechanics of the conflict and further enlightens me with her insights: “Father Stephen refused to be exorcised, of course, insisted upon staying in his room with us girls, with his assumed lovers. Who wouldn’t refuse? You are gorgeous, Moana. Father Stephen supposedly suffered a heart attack before the disciplinary hearing could begin.”

Did I make a mistake? Should my girlfriend and I have gone home early, as I had intended? Should I have left Bishop Archie to have his way with Father Stephen? “It wasn’t my fault. I lost you then, Sweetheart: When Bishop Archie and you panicked, rushed out to call a doctor, I went down on the priest to perform CPR; have always been practical in a crisis. Father Stephen resuscitated so quickly that I knew he was faking his cardiac arrest. Relieved that the priest was okay, I went to the bathroom. However, when I returned, Father Stephen was gone, had vacated his room… I eventually found him, half an hour later, in the green belt beyond, talking to a journalist from under a bush.”

And why didn’t you call me right then?” my girlfriend demands.

Stephen was on the run, and my boss bugs my phone! I knew I would meet you this evening and have this opportunity to tell you in person… But I must be careful. The walls have ears because the Vatican and the Catholic Church have the best Intelligence System in the world because of the pervasiveness of the Confessional Booth. A better surveillance system is yet to be invented.”

What then?”

I smuggled Father Stephen from that bush beside the Diocesan Retreat Centre, down the hill, through the botanical gardens, across a motorway, and up the fire escape to a loft in his Cathedral. He seemed none the worse for wear, and happy that a newspaper would publish his version of the story,” I say.

So, you were in a loft, alone with this man. What then?”

It wasn’t about sex, but about a DOJ investigation. ‘What are your plans, Stephen?’ I asked.

Moana, you must come to the Cathedral for a luncheon at noon next Sunday to discuss the future. My gang and I will then fly down to Dunedin to hide-out until things settle down,’ Stephen said.”

The prospect of a luncheon easily distracts my girlfriend, “I’m up for the lobster next week. Let’s go. It’ll be fun. Maybe we can sing?”

Okay, but back to the crisis: ‘Do you believe in God, Moana?’ Father Stephen asked. ‘Yeah, I go to Church occasionally. However, with my detective job I see things that make it hard to sustain faith,’ I said. Why did he ask about God?”

Stephen probably wants to recruit you,” my girlfriend says.

It seemed like he needed a witness when he said, ‘I am grateful that you, a detective, recorded what happened. Bishop Archie wants to get rid of me and I’m freaked,’ Stephen said. That made two of us that were freaked.”

And I make three,” my girlfriend says. “Can you, Prosecutor Moana, nail whoever is the guilty party? Now, rather than waiting until you have made a feature-movie about your case, (at least in your own mind?) Can you give-up your do-gooder role and get on with imprisoning the guilty and quickly liberating the innocent?”

Touché, are my flaws that obvious? I walked home this morning, pondering on just why I wanted to rescue Father Stephen. Am I a sucker for victims of religious persecution? My job is to perform professionally as a prosecutor. However, I used to work at Burger King when I was a student. Both jobs are full-time drudges. Being a prosecutor is also part-time spiritual advisor. However, trying to fix Father Stephen’s life is demanding. Like most people, he doesn't want his problems solved—we all rely on our foibles as if they are stage-props—rather than living life as the serious drama it is intended to be.”

Did you go home after that, ignoring me?” my girlfriend asks.

No, I didn’t. Blessed Grace Cathedral is just a few blocks below my home, so I dropped in on Bishop Archie at the Cathedral, unscheduled, looking for new insights into this other subject of my DOJ investigations. That seemed important. Archie Bligh was still wearing a mitre on his head and a cape over his robes.

Archie glared. I was not welcome so had to challenge him: ‘What have you got against Father Stephen? He seems innocent,’ I said.

Archie didn’t flinch, ‘Father Stephen’s life is thoroughly diabolical—is plagued with sacrilege, false witnessing, and molesting a nun. Furthermore, I know he advocates for Liberation Theology and the Vatican II Council’s proclamation… a disgusting communist blue-print that has the new Pope’s liberals selling-out the Divinity of Jesus Christ and individual property rights in return for political power over his communist, ecumenical, and atheist allies—for the sake of global wealth redistribution, resulting in frequent green lock-downs being scheduled post-pandemic, and for the new Pope becoming Emperor of the World.’ Archie said.”

Church politics can be the pits,” my girlfriend says.

Archie wasn’t finished. ‘Stephen is part of the greatest ecclesiastical villainy since that betrayer of Christ, Judas Iscariot.’ What else was I to do but try to exorcise and defrock him?’

Archie got me angry. ‘How can you believe that, Mr Bishop? Your accusation seems far-fetched, like a conspiracy theory,’ I said.”

My girlfriend reaches for my hand. “Outrageous, he’s a fruit-cake. Poor Stephen… Bishop Archie is beyond therapy.”

Archie got worse, ‘I know you want me to seduce you, Moana, but I’m not up for sloppy seconds.’ What was I to say to that?”

Did you smack him?” my girlfriend asks.

It was time to get blunt. You know how I am when offended. ‘I’m here to interrogate you, not to donate or worship with you,’ I said.

Archie was furious, ‘What makes you from the other island, a country hick, belong in this capital city?’ What could I say to that?

From there it was an uphill walk to my home; that in my bleak frame of mind, was just a cheap rental of rotting studs and worn carpet. Then it came to me: My school motto is ‘to seek the truth.’ My purpose in life is to find the truth by firstly overcoming my fears of the dark side of human nature, as well as my insecurities about being a woman in a man’s job and of being a ‘country hick.’”

My girlfriend turns my arm and softly traces my veins. “Good luck for your Internet date with Ray tonight, Moana. I better get back before I’m missed.”

She is leaving to hang-out with her new boyfriend so isn’t available for me. I have to deal with my boss alone tomorrow. (The Chief didn’t invite me to bring a support person to the noon showdown.)

My Internet date arrives. He slides onto the bar-stool beside mine.

Hi, Ray. I remember you from somewhere. Was it a twelve-step meeting? Love Addicts Anonymous?” Some people don’t get my jokes.

Very well, Moana. I have performed my background research to discover just who I am dating.”

Ray goes on and on, so I have to accept another drink and take-over the conversation.

Listen, Ray, I don’t tell just anyone about the wicked spying I’ve done at DOJ—I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. It’s easier to keep my past to myself. No one knows how bad things are with my Chief. They’d think less of me for staying on the job. I’m constantly spying and making up stories to cover up. When I lie, I feel sneaky and ashamed.”

Ray tries to buck me up, “I sense that you are a healer, Moana. You’ve been chosen by a higher power to work at DOJ and heal.”

Management is trying to define absolute rules based on simplistic observations. The dysfunctionalities of the traditional hierarchical organisations like DOJ, and the way that careers are planned and executed, is counter-productive. Management must create an environment of psychological safety, convincing people that they will not be humiliated if they speak up with concerns or make mistakes. I have almost carved out a space to start from…”

Ray interrupts, “Your career could be a beautiful story. In most careers, super-competence is more objectionable than incompetence. Ordinary incompetence is no cause for dismissal; it is simply a bar to promotion. Super-competence often leads to dismissal because it disrupts the hierarchy and thereby violates the first commandment: The hierarchy must be preserved.” Then he asks if I’ve had training from a psychic healer. “I have a vision for you, Moana,” he says. “You could heal both priests and gangsters if you can just overcome your shame. I can teach you if you’ll do some work on yourself.”

Ray goes on like this until the 11pm closing time, “Moana, you look okay, except for your donkey teeth. But you need a psychic healer. When you get your act together, email me on the dating site. But not before.”

I catch a taxi home, deep in thought, perhaps too self-aware, definitely too alive.