Raymond Bernard clipped delicately at his moustache and gave himself a nod of approval in the mirror. Raymond was a precise and fastidious man in almost everything he did, which included his appearance.
Although vanity was a form of sin in God’s eyes, Raymond felt it important to always be presentable in front of his flock. The congregation of Matthew Prophet's were his sheep to herd after all.
He was a charismatic leader and while he shared at times an uneasy relationship with some of the other elders, he was generally valued and much to his concealed delight, seen as the leader of the local congregation.
Raymond’s main supporter was his father, Derek Bernard, who moved to the little town in Wales some thirty years ago, bringing his family with him. Raymond was an only child and he liked it that way, just like God’s only begotten son.
As one of the first settlers of the congregation and at the time the only elder, Derek Bernard made a senior position his own and did it all with great humility. So much so, he took on the role of congregation secretary. It was a bothersome task which none particularly wanted but no task was too small or too big for the meticulous Derek.
It offered Derek a wonderful opportunity as the task of secretary became the centre of his influence on congregation proceedings.
All correspondence that came from the congregation to the head office (based in London) went through Derek and vice versa. They called head office ‘The Society of Spiritual Order,’ which lent a vague yet imposing feeling of the ultimate authority for all matters Prophet related. That suited Derek down to the ground as he was a man who appreciated authority and over the subsequent years he became the local authority, and in many ways the local face of ‘The Society.’
Over time Derek gradually started to open some of the private correspondence and the letters that looked of interest or of some importance. If it came from The Society, he would open and read it before sharing it with his fellow elders in case there was a message or instruction he deemed not appropriate to share with his esteemed colleagues. The congregation was sensitive after all and he couldn’t have them upset or disturbed too much.
Then there were the letters from congregation members or elders that passed via him to go to The Society. They were given to Derek freely with no fear of foul play. Sometimes the letters detailed complaints or concerns about other congregation members or even elders. Depending on whether Derek’s opinion matched what was detailed in the letter, he’d have the final say in such a letter being sent. Derek didn’t share this fact with anyone and as the years rolled by, he gained an intimate ultimate knowledge of his flock and managed to do it all without raising suspicion.
Apart from one elder that was, Damon Brew.
Derek liked Damon, a lot. Who wouldn’t, he was jovial, easy going with an innocent charm. He had a comfortable manner that drew congregation members to him, especially when they had problems of the spiritual kind, or otherwise. The members liked to talk and confide in Damon more than most and when Damon had relayed certain information to Derek and suggested a referral to The Society, Derek found he had to tread a careful line in terms of how he handled such a request.
Matters were complicated further by Damon’s earnest need to support the brothers and sisters. He never assumed any level of treachery on the behalf of Derek but wasn’t shy in chasing up referrals either. This worried Derek, and in turn Raymond, for one day Damon may just stumble across a few hidden skeletons.
Raymond, having taken on the mantle of his father (although his father still prodded and poked at proceedings), had found a solution to the long-standing problem that was Damon.
Raymond had been watching the young boy grow and observed with interest the child’s developing apathy towards the faith. Raymond’s instinct was sharp, and he excelled at shepherding the youth of the congregation. Raymond knew when a child truly believed or not and Denny he could see, did not, or at the very least was hiding considerable doubt.
He couldn’t hide from Raymond though. Nobody could, and he saw Denny as a key pawn and trading card should Damon ever become suspicious or over-zealous in his pursuits.
He didn’t know how he’d use the child just yet, but he knew enough not to discount the kid. After all, when a parent within the congregation lost their children to the world, it was seen as a failure on behalf of the parents.
Naturally they would sympathise and share the grief but there were also whispers and disparaging opinions of why the parents had failed to keep their young-ling on the righteous path.
As Raymond made his way from the bathroom to the bedroom, he whistled one of the Prophet's hymns contented with the Damon and Denny strategy he was formulating.
Raymond’s train of thought was broken by his wife who lay on the bed. He gave her a cursory glance before putting on his crisp perfectly ironed shirt.
“Can’t you just come lay here with me for a little while Ray, we are married after all,” coaxed Catherine.
“Not today sweetie pie, I have more work to do. A sheep has lost their shepherd and you know the Lords work is never done,” replied Raymond as he straightened his tie.
Catherine sighed and felt a pang of anger rise. Not today he said. Not ever was more appropriate. They had barely managed to consummate their marriage such was his disinterest in anything sexual. She felt rejected and unattractive despite his constant reassurances that God cherished those who did not concede to base animal urges. He insisted they would be rewarded for their exemplary behaviour when the cleansing came.
Was this really going to be her life?
Catherine was twenty-five years old, beautiful, tall and sleek, most men’s dream and any boy’s wet dream, yet there she lay unappreciated and unloved.
The night of their marriage they had managed a very awkward and strained intimacy, but it ended all too soon and that was as good as it had got. In the two years since she had tried several times to seduce him or just have some form of foreplay even, but he almost seemed to recoil from her. Catherine, in her naivety, resolved that he was such an earnest and faithful man that she should trust him and his desires, or lack of. He was a man of God, held in such high regard, revered even by the congregation, and her trade off in being with him was accepting his stance on matters of love between a couple.
Raymond for his part dreaded his wife’s advances and of rejecting her. He knew when he married her she had desires to fulfil and as much as he tried to stealthily express his views on sex to her and that of God’s, she was budding and vibrant and had a fire that would not be easily extinguished.
Raymond feared her desires. They were a constant pressure to him and in truth he had no urges of his own despite her obvious untouched beauty. He’d never had the need or urge to make love and he never lusted after any woman, real or otherwise. He didn’t even fantasise about sex. He found the whole love making process to be a dirty act and only useful to create life. Soon she would want a child, another dread he’d have to face up to soon enough.
After they consummated the marriage, Raymond took a scolding hot shower straight after, washing clean the filth and dirt from his body. He scrubbed so hard and for so long he wondered if he may rub himself out entirely like a cartoon husband erased from the pages.
So, Raymond prayed with all his might, he prayed that God would sate his wife’s desires and lead her to his will. He prayed for God to change her, to make her what he couldn’t quite mould her to be before he lost control over her.
As Raymond left to visit one of his flock and to pick his father up on route, he knew Catherine would likely try to satisfy herself despite his urgings not to do so. He sat briefly in his car, praying that God would help to steer Catherine and he finished his silent prayer with a request to the big man, to reveal a definitive plan for Damon and Denny Brew, before driving to his shepherding call.