The tour of Africa the following year proved interesting, though Jimmy’s two companions were not very talkative. The man looked like he might have been ex-army. He introduced himself as Standish, not adding his first name. He told Jimmy his interest was in the financial situations he could glean from the visit. The woman named Dorothy Glendenning was more concerned about the medical knowledge of the doctors they would meet. Jimmy’s brief was to test the capacity of those countries on the itinerary to deal with an outbreak of a dangerous contagious disease.
Three countries were of main interest; Zaire, Nigeria, and Sudan. It wasn’t explained to him why those particular countries, though he soon found out that they all had significant problems with infrastructure, tribal differences, or religious issues. They were warmly welcomed each time, and shown great respect bordering on embarrassing deference. The Foreign Office and the local ambassadors had done their preparation well, and the officials showing them around talked about how British aid money would improve their capacity to deal with any outbreaks of disease.
Being a traveller didn’t suit Jimmy one bit. He didn’t like the humidity, detested the local food, and found the endless table-talks boring in the extreme. But when it came time to fly back to RAF Brize Norton, he had done what he had intended to do all along.
During a visit to Kikwit in Zaire, he managed to discard a smart fountain pen that he had brought concealed in a special metal container. The pen was packed with material containing the Ebola virus. When picked up by someone, they would find it didn’t work, and no doubt unscrew it to see if it needed ink, thus exposing themselves and others in due course.
Any Ebola outbreak would be put down to the usual cause of consuming monkey flesh. The pen would have been long forgotten. It might come to nothing of course, but then it was merely a test run for Porton Down.
Lesley was delighted to see him back. The three weeks had seemed like an eternity to her. “I hope you never have to go away again, Jimmy. I felt so lonely without you around”. After dinner that night, she settled down to watch the latest TV channel, Channel 4. Jimmy went up to the spare room to make some notes ready to complete his report on the African trip.
His bosses were delighted with the feedback they had received, and interested to know if he had been successful in delivering the contaminated pen. The quiet men came to see him again, and wrote down the location he had described to them. One of them shook his head though. “We had been hoping you might have left the sample somewhere more conspicuous, and in a larger city, like Lagos. But never mind, we will see what happens, Doctor Walker”. Jimmy stayed calm, but inside he was furious. First God pestering him, and now these faceless men in suits implying he hadn’t done his job properly.
On the drive home that night he sat quietly in the car, wondering if it was time to change careers.
It took a year, but someone must have found the pen. News came of an Ebola outbreak in Zaire, causing great excitement in Biological Warfare Section. The first cases were reported in Kikwit, and had soon risen to over two hundred infections. With people going into local hospitals, and poor handling of the bodies of those who died, cases soon hit the three hundred mark, causing intervention from foreign aid medical organisations, and attracting interest from the United Nations.
By the end of August that year, two hundred and eighty people had died. But the outbreak was contained in that region, much to the disappointment of everyone involved with starting it. Jimmy had to go to London, to a special meeting. They sent a car to take him, and bring him home after the meeting. Standish was there, and Dorothy Glendenning, along with four other men who were not introduced.
They concluded that the experiment had been a success, marred only by the remoteness of the area concerned. One of the men thanked them after the short meeting, adding. “I hope we can count on you to go back some time in the future, for something bigger?”
In the car on the way home, the government driver asked permission to have the radio on. Jimmy nodded. After the first song had finished, the disc-jockey spoke to Jimmy in God’s voice.
He told him that almost three hundred in one go was good, but he had to do a lot better.