This is the twenty-ninth part of a fiction serial, in 769 words.
By the middle of 2012, Jimmy was approaching his sixtieth birthday, and Lesley had retired from teaching five years earlier. Since his trip to Africa, Jimmy had been ignoring God’s commands, and becoming more involved in his research at work. Lesley kept busy with her garden in good weather, and her new love of baking in the winter months.
She now had a fifty-inch LED television, and access to hundreds of channels via the Internet. Although she no longer had to go to work, she got up every day to drive Jimmy, using the Audi four-wheel drive car she had bought using her pension lump sum.
Financially, they were very comfortable. And both healthy too, though Jimmy had noticed a considerable weight gain due to Lesley’s constant delight in serving him large slabs of her latest cake. Although they had never been on holiday, Jimmy had continued to renew his passport. There was talk of a more extensive trip to Africa next year.
When he had been promoted to overall head of the biological warfare section, Jimmy had been able to interview his own replacement. He hadn’t hesitated to state his first choice, a young masters graduate named Sylvia Leung. She had been born and brought up in Berkshire, the daughter of parents who had emigrated from Hong Kong. She gained a double first in Microbiology at Oxford, and her Masters had concentrated on the Flu virus, especially the one that caused the Spanish Flu disaster in 1918.
During her interview, she spoke about how a simple virus could be clinically mutated so that conventional medicine would have no defence against it. Then subsequent mutations and strains would continue to confound the medical profession. She thought it might be a very effective weapon, if handled carefully.
That was enough for Jimmy, and he offered her the job before she left the building. Despite her lack of experience, she was just the sort of young genius his department needed. As soon as she started, he put her to work on a new strain of Ebola Virus, one that could spread more easily. In the laboratory working alongside her, he was stunned by her natural grasp of the concept and possibilities. So he sent a message to the quiet men, and they came to talk to her.
The next mission to Africa was sheduled for November the following year. This time there would be three teams operating separately, and they would be travelling to Guinea, Liberia, and Nigeria. All three countries were still keen on the chance of receiving British aid, and the groundwork had been arranged by the local diplomats. No Standish or Dorothy Glendenning this time though. Jimmy would lead the Nigerian Group, and he nominated Sylvia to travel to Guinea.
Liberia would be visited by a team from the military, pretending to be epidemiologists. Better prepared this time, they had the deadly virus concealed in boxes of medical research equipment like pippetes and flasks. They could easily be left behind, infecting laboratory and medical staff who gratefully opened the boxes when the teams had left.
They flew in three separate RAF aircraft, planning to spend only a few days in each country before returning. Lesley was pleased that Jimmy would only be away for less than a week. They had been married for well over forty years, and she still loved him as much as on that day at the Registry Office.
Jimmy didn’t mind it so much this time. A relatively smart hotel in Lagos, official cars to run them around, and no contact with the run-down slum districts that the city was notorious for. For his purpose, those same slums were ideal. No sanitation, little or no medical care, and the perfect breeding ground for easy transmission of a deadly disease.
The gifts of medical supplies were gratefully received, and each team left their respective countries before any of them would be opened. A debrief in London concluded a triple success, and Sylvia received additional praise for her professionalism and cool head.
All they had to do was wait. And they didn’t have to wait too long. Before Christmas, Guinea reported the first cases. By the time Lesley was serving up her own well-constructed three-bird roast on Christmas Day, there were news reports of cases in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali, and Nigeria. Speculation by reporters on the ground was that the outbreak had started in Guinea, and travelled across almost the whole of central Africa at lightning speed.
Of course, Jimmy knew better. Smiling to himself as he turned down a second helping of pigs in blankets.