This is all 30 parts of my recent fiction serial, “Come And See”, in one complete story. It is a long read, at 22,450 words.
Things were alright until his dad left home. That was when Jimmy’s mum found God.
Well, not in the sense that she woke up one morning and suddenly felt all religious. But when someone she worked with suggested she go with them to a prayer meeting, as a way of getting over the shock of her husband walking out after nearly twenty years together. It wasn’t long before she was really into it. Jimmy was only fifteen when she brought the first Bible home. She turned off Top of The Pops, and started reading it out loud to him while he was eating the pie and chips she had carried in the same bag.
Of course, his first reaction was to laugh out loud. But when she carried on, he concluded she must have gone mad. If only his dad had told him where he had gone to, he would have walked out and caught a bus there and then. What was he to do? He didn’t know anyone else he could go and live with, and he didn’t have any money, except what she gave him to buy lunch. So he sat there drinking his can of Tizer, and let her ramble on about God creating every creature and every living thing, hoping she would soon get fed up.
But she didn’t get fed up. So Jimmy waited until she had to use the toilet, and went up to his room to have a look at the copy of Men Only that he kept hidden under the sports bag in his wardrobe.
That went on for a long time. One day when Jimmy got home from school, the telly had gone. He asked his mum what had happened, and was shocked to hear she had sold it to someone up the street. She started to trap on about how it only broadcast evil stuff, and was probably the work of Satan. He didn’t hear the rest of her ravings, as he was already heading up to his room to sulk.
For his sixteenth birthday, his mum put two wrapped presents on the table when she got in from work. The first one was a large box of toffees, and the second contained a huge embossed Bible. Inside the front cover, she had written his name, and the date. Underneath that, she had added the words ‘MAKE A DIFFERENCE’ in capital letters. Jimmy took the presents up to his room and started to munch the toffees. Then he reached under his sports bag to grab his girly magazine. But it was gone. He felt his face flush.
She must have known, all along.
So he did his homework instead. Chemistry, Maths, and Physics. Then for want of anything else to do before dinner, he flicked through the new Bible. It was a fancy edition, no doubt. Nice clear print, and some border illustrations down the side of each page. And it had the Old Testament and New Testament combined in that one volume. No wonder it was so big. He remembered Genesis from his mum’s readings, and some of Exodus too. But skimming down the pages until he didn’t recognise the words, he started to finish Exodus, trying hard not to fall asleep before his mum called him down to eat.
On his way home from school one day after staying late for cricket practice, Jimmy was mortified to see his mum standing outside the Londis shop. She was holding a big placard with the words ‘REPENT NOW AND BE SAVED’ printed on it. And she was shouting out quotations from The Bible. People were avoiding her as they went in and out of the shop, but some local teenagers on bikes were mocking her from the kerb; repeating everything she said, and laughing fit to bust.
Hoping she hadn’t spotted him, Jimmy turned around quickly, and headed for the service road behind the shops. Letting himself in the house, he was wondering if any of the boys from school had seen her. He could do without them making his life at school any more miserable than it was already.
As if not having a telly wasn’t bad enough. Now this.
By the weekend, things got a lot worse. Jimmy’s mum took the three-step kitchen stool with her, and headed to the new shopping precinct in the centre of town. She told him she was going to use the pedestrianised area there to get her message across to the Saturday shoppers. He had a vision of her standing on top of the stool with her placard, scattering her leaflets, and everyone laughing at her. All he could hope was that nobody they knew noticed her. But that seemed inevitable.
The weather was unusually cold, and by lunchtime it was raining heavily too. Jimmy had cracked on with his homework, and then stopped to make some slices of toast for lunch. Then the house phone rang, and that made him drop a slice of toast as he was buttering it. Nobody ever rang the house phone.
His mum was in hospital, and a nurse was ringing. She told him mum’s leg was in plaster after falling and breaking her ankle, and that he should come and fetch her in a taxi. She had slipped off her step-stool in the precinct, and a shopkeeper had phoned an ambulance. Jimmy had never used a taxi, and didn’t even know a number for one. But he did know that if he walked to the station, there were taxis there.
He asked the taxi driver to take him to the Royal Victoria, and told him he would need to wait while he picked is mum up, and that she would pay when they got home. The elderly man eyed him suspiciously at first, then eventually decided he was genuine. Jimmy’s mum was in a wheelchair by the entrance. They had given her crutches, and he had a difficut time getting her into the taxi. Especially as the driver just sat in his seat and made no effort to help. They had to leave the wheelchair behind, but his mum told Jimmy that he would have to go and ask Mrs Faraday for a loan of her husband’s old one. As he was dead, he wouldn’t be needing it.
She paid the taxi fare, but told the driver he was getting no tip as he hadn’t tried to help at all. Then she lectured him about the Good Samaritan, and how Jesus would be ashamed of him for not helping a woman with a broken ankle. Once she was settled in her armchair, Jimmy walked up the street to ask Mrs Faraday about the wheelchair. She told him he could borrow it, but that she wanted it back in good condition, and clean. Mum said that if she was a truly Christian woman she would have just handed it over without any conditions and been grateful to help.
Then she moaned about breaking her placard, and snapping the metal foot off the step-stool. Both had been thrown away by the shopkeeper who rang the ambulance, and he hadn’t even asked her permission to chuck them. Once she had worked out how to get herself in and out of the wheelchair, she gave Jimmy more bad news. He was going to have to wheel her to the prayer group on Sunday morning. She couldn’t possibly manage to get there by herself.
Funnily enough, she did manage to cook dinner though, standing in the kitchen supported by the crutches. She told Jimmy that she had to go back to the hospital next week for a plaster check, and would likely have the cast on for six weeks. He could only imagine what a pain it was going to be to have to cope with her for those six weeks. So he went upstairs to try to stop thinking about it, and started to read the book of Numbers. He had already skimmed through Leviticus, and hadn’t though too much of it, to be honest.
God was really harsh to those Israelites, he decided. Just for complaining about the conditions on the way to the Promised Land, he killed so many of them. Not someone to upset, that was for sure.
But he got to the crossing of the Jordan before he fell asleep.
The prayer group meeting was nothing at all like Jimmy had imagined it would be. For one thing, it wasn’t in a church, but in the hall next to the Working Men’s Social Club. He had hoped to be able to wheel his mum in and make his excuses, but after he got her inside, a scary old lady bolted the door behind him. She said to take a seat at the front, so the wheelchair could be in the aisle.
Looking around, Jimmy guessed that his mum was the youngest in the group. Everyone else looked really old, and the whole place reeked of lavender water and smelly feet. He counted just eighteen people, besides him and his mum. They were sitting on the old wooden chairs arranged in rows, but everyone was in the first two rows. There must have been fifty chairs with nobody in them. He presumed it must be a slack day that Sunday.
Above the stage was a banner with ‘MAKE A DIFFERENCE’ printed on it in huge letters, and a black cross in each corner. Just like mum had written inside his Bible. Nobody seemed to be doing anything. There was no praying, and no hymn singing. Everyone was sat there just staring into space.
Then a man walked out onto the stage. He must have been standing to the side out of sight. As he appeared, the people all raised their heads and started smiling, including his mum. He was a big man. Tall, and stout too. He looked to be about fifty, and he was dressed in a three-piece black serge suit. In his left lapel was a silver cross, shining in the overhead lights, as was the greasy stuff he had used to stick his hair down. He looked around the room, nodding.
Someone behind Jimmy called out “Praise the Lord, Reverend George!” Then the rest of the people shouted the same thing. His mum reached out and grabbed Jimmy’s hand, beaming a smile at him, and inclining her head to suggest he join in. But he didn’t. Reverend George started speaking, and his voice was so loud, Jimmy wondered if he had a microphone hidden somewhere. He welcomed everyone, and thanked them for their preaching work in the community. Then he made a short speech about mum breaking her ankle, as she was preaching in the shopping precinct. How her willingness to injure herself to spread the word of God was an example to all.
Jimmy found that rather over the top. It wasn’t as if she had intended to fall off the three-step stool.
Everyone closed their eyes while Reverend George said a prayer about preaching salvation and repentance to those who had not seen the light. Jimmy kept his eyes open a bit, watching the man on the stage. When he finished speaking, the Reverend suddenly focused on Jimmy. He spoke even louder. “Today we have to welcome a new member of the congregation, young James. He has accompanied his mother to make her journey easier, and joined us for our service. Welcome to you, James”. Everyone repeated what he said, even mum. Jimmy felt his face go hot as he blushed.
For the next thirty minutes, George blabbed on about who should be going where to spread the word. He mentioned that there were plenty of leaflets available, and everyone should take some when they left. He kept on about how important it was for everyone to keep preaching in the town, claiming that the regular churches had been consumed by vice and greed, and only his group could make a difference.
Then he bent down and picked up a wooden box with a handle. Walking down the steps from the stage, he passed along the rows as the people stuffed money into the slot on top of the box. Jimmy was amazed to see his mum put two ten-pound notes into it. She didn’t earn much more than fifty a week, so donating twenty of that was a lot. When everyone had put in, George went back onto the stage to give the final prayer and blessing. It was more of a pep talk really, promising all the oldies a place in Heaven at the right hand of God if they continued to do their good work.
Just before they stood up to go, he suddenly called out Jimmy’s name.
“James! Be aware, young man. The Lord has special work for you. You will make a difference!”
After that first experience of the prayer group, Jimmy did a deal with his mum. He would wheel her there on Sundays, but not stay for the meeting. He had to tell the scary old lady not to bolt the door, and then made his escape before Reverend George appeared. There was something about that man he really didn’t like. He would hang around for an hour, then collect her for the trip home.
At least the broken ankle stopped his mum from going to the shopping precinct, or standing outside the Londis shop.
The downside was that she was off sick from work, and around all the time. At least he had school to get a few hours away from her, but she started going on about God as soon as he got home, so he retreated to his bedroom at the earliest opportunity. More used to the the very old-fashioned style of writing by now, he had got as far as Judges, and was almost up to Ruth. The main conclusion he had reached so far was that God was a very vengeful God, and anyone who crossed him was in serious trouble.
School was going well though, as long as he could avoid the taunts of the boys who teased him about his mum. They called her ‘Bible-Basher’, or ‘God-Botherer’ and one asked Jimmy why Jesus hadn’t just reached down from Heaven and healed her ankle, to save her having it in plaster. Good news was that he won a prize in Chemistry, and when he told his mum she said she would buy him a small statue of Jesus to keep in his bedroom. Jimmy would have preferred some chocolate-covered Brazil nuts, but said nothing.
He took his exams that summer, and when the results came in, he had Grade One O-level passes in Chemistry, Biology, Maths, and Physics. The passes in English, French, and Geography were not so great, but that didn’t bother him, as he intended to be a scientist. He would be going on to the A-levels the following year, and the Chemistry teacher told him to start thinking about university. But Jimmy’s mum had already fixed him up with a job after the A-levels, at the pharmaceutical company here she worked as a typist in the office. They would take him on as long as he got A-level Chemistry, which he was certain to get. Then he would get paid, be able to learn to drive, and hopefully save up enough money to rent his own place, and get away from his mum.
During the summer holidays, with mum no longer in a leg cast and back at work, he had more free time. But with no friends to speak of, and no telly to watch, he was soon up to the book of Proverbs. One line in that caught his attention. “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom”. There it was again. Fear. You had to fear God, and if you didn’t you could be sure you were in trouble. Once Proverbs was finished, Jimmy realised he was still only halfway through. They certainly knew how to write a book in the old days.
Of course, with mum mobile again, she resumed her preaching. She didn’t bother to buy another three-step stool though. Just in case. Some days, three or four of George’s group would work together. They went knocking on doors, handing out leaflets, and generally bothering all the neighbours. It wasn’t long before almost nobody talked to Jimmy, and when they saw his mum approaching, they would cross the street to avoid her. No telly, no friends, and now nobody talking either. Jimmy was starting to feel like an outcast.
By the time he had taken his exams the following year, he felt lonelier than ever. Mum had taken to preaching after work every evening, and all over the weekend. She told him she was guaranteeing them both a place in Heaven. But he had to cook his own dinner every night, and sit in the silent house on his own.
More time for reading meant he had almost finished The Old Testament. He was nearly at the end of the Book of Daniel, and there were only the Minor Prophets to go. Keen to get onto the New Testament to see if it was more interesting, he thought he might skip those.
They were only Minor, after all.
For Jimmy, the best thing about the new year of 1970 was that he would soon be eighteen years old, leaving school, and starting work. He had got the good pass grades he expected, and should be starting at Hopgood Pharmaceuticals just after Easter. For his mum, the best thing for her was that it was no longer the ‘Swinging Sixties’. She had hated all that pop music, free love, mini-skirts, and girls being on the pill. She was hoping for a better decade, a more God-fearing time to come.
Jimmy hadn’t had any of that free love, and since mum had sold the telly and thrown away the transistor radio, he hadn’t had any pop music either.
Mum’s prayer group had expanded a little. His mum said they now had twenty-six members, and Reverend George was better than ever with his fiery rhetoric. Jimmy had never been inside after that first time, and he had eventually got used to his mum always being out. He had also read a fair bit of the New Testament, though he had found it rather disappointing.
Jesus had started out well, throwing out the money-lenders and stuff, but Jimmy had found it hard to tolerate all those miracles. They seemed too far-fetched for his liking.
With the end of his schooling coming up, and a new job to prepare for, he had closed his Bible for now, reading up on his chemistry books instead. He was determined to make a good impression, and carve out a genuine career for himself in the Testing Department at Hopgood’s. As well as testing the efficacy of any new drugs, they also had contracts for blood tests, and bacterial testing. They would get samples sent in from hospitals, local councils, and even the police.
He had read up on that forensic side; establishing blood groups, identifying possible suspects, detecting poisons in tissue samples. It was all still rather new, but he hoped to get involved in that area, as it interested him.
The first day at work was rather embarrassing. Jimmy’s mum insisted they travel in together, then she walked him up to the head of his department, and introduced him as if he were a child on his first day at school. He could see his new colleagues eyeing her, and raising their eyebrows. She was not averse to expounding her salvation theories during the lunch break, something she had already told her son. Jimmy resolved to take the latest break allowed, as his mum sitting with him would tar him with the same brush.
That first week was something of a blur. He met a couple of dozen people whose names he was sure he would never remember, and was shown around the whole complex of buildings, even parts he would never be required to work in.
Then he was assigned a mentor. Lesley was a woman in her late twenties, and she had been working at Hopgood’s since leaving university. Jimmy got the impression she was unpopular, but his experience with women was no experience, so he didn’t notice the fact that she was overweight, wore thick-lens glasses, and had greasy hair. He treated her with great respect, and was keen to learn from her.
Very soon, Lesley liked Jimmy. She liked him a lot.
Once Lesley was on his side, Jimmy got to finally do some science. She mentioned extending his mentorship past the first week, just to be certain he was comfortable. He was happy to accept that, and she was soon showing him lots of the different aspects of the job, including the forensic analysis, which was her speciality. Because of her age, Jimmy naturally assumed she was married. But during a conversation when she mentioned living alone, he found out that wasn’t the case.
On Thursday, Lesley asked him outright if he was as crazy about religion as his mum. He explained about his dad leaving, having no television, and only having The Bible to read. But he was quick to critisize the prayer group and Reverend George, telling her he thought it was just a way for George to get money. Lesley looked very pleased by his answer.
On the way home that night, Jimmy’s mum complained of a blinding headache that she couldn’t shift. Back in the house, she prayed for The Lord to take away her headache, and went to bed early, unable to eat any dinner.
The next morning, Jimmy couldn’t wake her up.
Jimmy checked that his mum was actually breathing. Then he rang 999 and asked for an ambulance, telling the dispatcher that his mum seemed to be unconscious. After that he ran along the street to Mrs Faraday, gave her his mum’s keys, and asked her to wait in his house for the ambulance. He told her he had to go to work, and couldn’t possibly be late. Giving her no time to argue, he headed off to the bus stop.
At the eleven o’clock tea-break, he mentioned to Lesley about his mum, and she was shocked to hear that he had still come into work. She went to tell the head of department, and he insisted that Jimmy leave work immediately, and go to the hospital. Jimmy was reluctant to go, telling his boss that he would call into the hospital after work, and see if she was still there. But with Lesley joining in, he had no alternative but to go and get the bus to The Royal Victoria.
Casualty reception was quiet that morning, and a kind older woman said she would get one of the nurses to come and speak to him. Ten minutes later, a crisp and efficient Nursing Sister appeared. She took Jimmy into an unoccupied cubicle and told him that his mum had suffered a serious stroke. She used the word ‘catastrophic’ in fact. Although she was still alive, and likely to stay alive, she would probably be unable to speak or move. She asked Jimmy about family who could help, and he told her he was it. Then she took him to see his mum in a side room.
Norah Walker looked like she was sleeping soundly. In fact, she was snoring. Jimmy looked at her, thinking she looked a lot older than she did yesterday. Behind him, the nurse talked about long-term care, possibly in a residential facility. She was sure Jimmy could never cope alone, and said the doctor would come to speak to him soon. She left Jimmy siting by the bedside, without a clue what to say or do.
The doctor looked tired. He said his name was Doctor Singh, and he was wearing a turban. But his accent was the same as Jimmy’s. He repeated what the nurse had said. Mum might never recover, but she could possibly live for many years yet, maybe as long as twenty years.
When he concluded by asking if Jimmy wanted him to try to get her into long-term care, Jimmy was nodding before he had finished speaking.
That night at home, Jimmy did something he had never done before. He went through all of his mum’s papers, which were stored neatly in a drawer in her bedroom. There was a life insurance policy, but as she was still alive, he ignored that. Then he found some papers from a solicitor in town. Patrick Killane Solicitors seemed to have dealt with all of his mum’s business, and he thought he had better contact them.
He phoned the number on the headed notepaper, and he was eventually put through to Patrick himself. He didn’t have the expected Irish accent, and spoke softly in a very cultured way. “Mister Walker, I think you should come in and see me. I have things to discuss now Norah is in this condition. Will tomorrow at six be suitable?” Jimmy confirmed that appointment, and hung up.
That night, he carried on reading the New Testament, and got as far as 1 Peter before falling asleep.
Lesley was all over him the next morning. She wasn’t talking about work at all, just telling him she would cook him dinner, even come to his house to do it if he wanted. She said he shouldn’t worry about work, as she had spoken to the boss. He was happy to give Jimmy as much time off as he needed. Norah was a long-term employee, and much valued. Lesley said that if he wanted, she could stay in a spare room at his house, and look after him.
Preoccupied with the meeting with Killane later, Jimmy just nodded, and gave her his door key.
Lesley was beginning to get on his nerves. As he tried to concentrate on learning the new job, all she wanted to talk about was what he liked to eat, and what his house was like. She told him not to worry if his mum never came home, as she would look after him for as long as he needed her. He had to actually ask her to talk about work instead, and he noticed that she was rather miffed at that comment.
By the time he got to Killane’s that evening, the staff had gone home, and the solicitor was waiting for him in the outer office. He treated Jimmy with respect, ignoring his age, and the fact he had no experience with legal matters. “Your mother recently changed her instructions to me. I know she is still alive of course, but given her condition, we may be looking at trying to get you a power of attorney, so you can access any finances should you need to. Are you happy for me to do this on your behalf?” Jimmy nodded, and had to sign three different pieces of paper on the line marked with an ‘X’ in pencil.
Killane was looking at him seriously. “Are you aware of your mother’s instructions in the event of her death?” Jimmy shook his head. “Well you should probably be aware that she has left everything to someone called George Greaves. She added a note that he should use the funds to continue to spread the word of God. In all honesty Mr Walker, you are in a far better situation if she remains alive, that’s the truth of it”. Jimmy didn’t find that very surprising. Though his mum had never mentioned leaving her savings to anyone else, it was just the sort of thing he would have expected.
The solicitor told him he would be in touch about the paperwork, and mentioned his own fee of course. Then he shook Jimmy’s hand and wished a speedy recovery for his mum.
It was past seven by the time Jimmy got home. Lesley opened the door for him, suggesting she had been looking out for his arrival. He would have to get mum’s key back from Mrs Faraday, he reminded himself. She had cooked a spaghetti bolognese with some garlic bread, and had a bottle of red wine open too. Jimmy had never eaten garlic bread before, nor drunk red wine, but he tried both, just to be polite. And as they ate, he noticed something different about Lesley. Her hair looked nice, she seemed to have a lot of make-up on, and her skirt was much shorter than she usually wore them at work.
He decided he should probably say something, so he thanked her for doing the cooking, and said she looked pretty. That was all he could think of.
“Well I had a wash and blow-dry on the way home from work, and bought a new outfit to wear. I’m glad you noticed, Jimmy. I can go to my flat after work tomorrow and pack a bag, presuming you would like me to stay and look after you of course”. Jimmy shrugged, and with his mouth full of pasta, settled for a nod. When they had finished eating, Lesley cleared away and went into the kitchen to do the washing up. When she went back into the living room, she was surprised to find he wasn’t there.
She found him in his bedroom, reading a huge Bible.
“That’s not very nice, leaving a girl sitting on her own downstairs. Why didn’t you tell me you were coming up to your room to read?” It hadn’t even occured to him that she had expected him to stay downstairs, so he apologised and told her he was close to the end of the New Testament, and hoping to finish it that week. “Are you Bible-crazy then, like your mum?” She seemed unhappy. Jimmy told her that he was used to being alone, and he only had The Bible to read. He wanted to see what all the fuss was about, and why his mum and her friends were so obsessed with it.
She reached over and closed the book. Slipping off her shoes, she knelt on the edge of the bed and began unbuttoning her blouse.
“Oh I think we can do better than reading that old thing, Jimmy”.
All Jimmy knew about women was what he had learned from his one copy of Men Only magazine. In other words, he knew nothing at all about women. After thirty minutes with Lesley, he decided that the real thing was far preferable to a photo in a magazine, and she had also taught him more in that time than he had ever imagined. Following a short pause to finish the bottle of wine, she grabbed his hand and led him back upstairs.
“Your mum’s room this time, for the double bed. That tiny bed of yours will give me cramp otherwise”. Jimmy was tired long before his usual bedtime, and as Lesley curled her body around him and stroked his hair, he could feel his eyes closing. “Don’t worry, Jimmy. I am on the pill, so no little Jimmys to worry about. Not that I’m easy, you should know. There was only one before you, and he was a complete bastard”.
If she said anything else he didn’t hear it, as he was already asleep.
The next day at work, he felt awkward around her. She hadn’t bothered to make herself look nice that morning, so it was unlikely anyone suspected anything. Though on the way in, she had mentioned about packing a case again, and reminded him to get the key back from the neighbour. “And you really should ring the hospital today, and ask how your mum is”. He had almost forgotten about mum, so agreed he should do just that.
Mrs Wilby in the general office let him use the phone, and when someone was finally free to talk to him, he was told there was no change. That didn’t tell him much, but at least he had made the effort. Back in the laboratory, he told Lesley what the nurse had said. She seemed happy about that. “Oh good, I can come round tonight as planned then. I might just pick up fish and chips for dinner though, is that okay?” Jimmy was studying a slide under a microscope, so simply nodded.
Because Lesley had to go to her flat and pack, then queue for the fish and chips before she got to his house, Jimmy had plenty of time for reading when he got in from work. He was on the last chapter of the whole bible, The Book Of Revelation. Once he had finished that, he would have managed something few people have ever done. Read the whole of The Bible, Old Testament and New Testament too. Less the Minor Prophets of course, but they were probably best skipped.
He found a passage that really interested him, and read it twice.
‘And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.’
Now that was his kind of God. No messing about, take out a whole quarter of the human race, because he could. That was so much more interesting than parables, miracles, and all the ‘do unto others’ stuff he had put up with for years. A different reader might have interpreted that as a warning. Be God-fearing, or the fourth seal will be opened and Death will appear on a pale horse to punish mankind. But Jimmy wasn’t that sort of reader.
For him, it was a suggestion. Perhaps even an instruction.
When Lesley got back with her case and the fish and chips her hair was greasy, and she had no make-up on. Jimmy was hungry, and ate the food straight from the paper. She was a bit flustered, and looking at him with a worried expression. “What’s up with you, Jimmy? Sorry I’m not dressed up, but I’ve been busy. You didn’t even help with my suitcase, and I paid the taxi myself too. You have to learn to be a gentleman, to be kind. I’ve been very nice to you”. She didn’t like the strange look he gave her, when he turned round and said.
“Come and See”.
Lesley wasn’t at all sure what Jimmy was on about. “Come and see. See what? What are you talking about, Jimmy?” He smiled at her, making her feel even more uneasy. Then he told her that it was just a thought he had. Something he needed to do. His mum wanted him to make a difference, and he had worked out what that meant. Lesley was relieved, presuming he was talking about charity work or something, so she went upstairs to have a bath.
Jimmy took out an old notebook, and started to jot things down.
Swords were not really an option. You didn’t exactly see many swords, and trying to buy one might be noticed. Still, big knives were like swords, and you could buy a big knife anywhere. Hunger was a possiblilty, and he would look into that. The third option was Death. That was easy enough, as it encompassed any form of death. Definitely the most flexible option. Beasts of The earth. That was a tricky one. No locusts in England to cause starvation, only one kind of poisonous snake, and no man-eating beasts outside of a zoo. But he thought of a couple of possibilities, even so.
A Fourth Of The Earth was a big ask. Even a fourth of that town was over ten thousand people. He wouldn’t have time for that, and it would sure to attract attention. He concluded that he would have to settle for what was practical. Even a few would be making a difference, and sending a warning to people to fear God into the bargain.
When Lesley came back down, she had made an effort. Hair washed, make-up on, and a nightdress that was almost transparent. She had decided that if she was to keep Jimmy’s affections, she had to make sure she looked her best. Convinced his mum was never coming out of hospital, she saw her chance to move in and be a couple. The fact he was ten years younger didn’t seem to bother him, and it certainly didn’t bother her.
He was writing in a small notebook. “What you writing about, Jimmy, is it work stuff?” She was hoping he would turn around and look at her, notice how sexy she was. But he carried on scribbling, and shook his head. He told her it was just a few ideas for a project, and if she wanted to, she could help. She was more interested in her own current project though. That of keeping Jimmy attracted to her. “Why don’t we go upstairs? We could have some fun, before an early night”.
Closing the notebook he nodded, then followed her up to his mum’s bedroom.
She was sleeping soundly when the voice woke him up, and she didn’t seem to have heard it. It was a man’s voice, in what was best described as a loud whisper. “Make A Difference”. Jimmy wasn’t remotely afraid. He knew what it was. God was finally talking to him directly, and confirming what he needed to do. He turned over and went back to sleep, a wide smile on his contented face.
There was a good library at work. Lots of books about chemicals, poisons, contaminants, and bacteria. It wasn’t permitted to take them home, but they could be read at anytime, and as a new employee, he was expected to study. Whenever he had a spare moment, he would be in the small library, making notes and flicking thorough large textbooks until he found the sort of things that interested him. The head of department even mentioned to Lesley that Jimmy was an excellent employee. Hard working, keen to learn, and no clock-watcher.
Sounding proud about that, Lesley told him what the boss had said, as they were on the bus home from work that evening.
After cooking a nice chicken dinner, Lesley cuddled close to him on the sofa. “Why don’t I bring my television from the flat? We could watch it in the evenings, maybe a film, or a nice play? I could bring it over in a taxi, it’s not very big.” Jimmy shrugged and told her she could if she wanted to, but he was going to be busy with notes on his project. Lesley pressed her advantage. “Maybe I should think about giving up my flat, and moving in here full time? It doesn’t look like your mum will be coming back to live here”. He shook his head, and told her that wasn’t going to happen.
Unless she really wanted to help him.
“You know I will help you, Jimmy. I would do anything for you, you must realise that. What help do you need? Just tell me”. Lesley sounded desperate. She had been surprised by Jimmy turning down her offer of moving in permanently, and that showed in her quivering voice. He explained that he would need someone to look after him, but to ask no questions about where he went, and what he did. And if anyone came to the house asking about his movements, she was to say they were together at the time mentioned.
That sounded easy enough to Lesley, and she nodded vigorously. “I can do that, Jimmy. I will look after you, and tell anyone anything you ask me to tell them”. To seal the bargain, Jimmy led her upstairs to mum’s bedroom, and rewarded her with what he knew she liked best.
He got the afternoon off the next day, to go and see the doctor at the hospital. Lesley said she would get more things from her flat, including the television, then bring them over by taxi that evening. It was a different doctor who Jimmy was shown in to see. A young man who had already lost most of his hair, and seemed stressed during the conversation. “Well, Mister Walker. I think you are aware that there is little more that we can do for your mother at the moment. Our plan is to move her to the Edith Cavell unit, where long-stay coma patients are cared for. I would caution you to not expect to see any improvement, even in the long term”. Jimmy took the leaflet he was offered, explaining visiting times and procedures at the unit. Then he thanked the doctor and left.
On the way home, he called into Killane’s Solicitors, taking the man by surprise. “Mister Walker, I wan’t expecting you, but it just so happens I have some papers for you to sign. By the end of the month you should be able to control your mother’s money, both her current account, and deposit account too”. Jimmy told him about his mum moving to the long-stay unit, signed two documents at the bottom of the page, and then looked Killane in the eye. He said he was trusting him with all this, and sincerely hoped that it was all above board. Something in the young man’s gaze made the solicitor decidedly uneasy. “I assure you, it is all legal and straightforward”.
Lesley was flushed and excited when she turned up in the taxi. Jimmy helped her carry the portable television in, then paid the taxi fare as she dragged another large suitcase into the house. She produced a bottle of wine from her shoulder bag, and stood a carrier bag on the table. “I got us two nice steaks for tonight, and I will make some chips to have with them. I have sent my landlord a a letter giving notice on the flat, so by the end of next month it will just be you and me, living here”.
She headed off into the kitchen to peel potatoes and start preparing the meal. Calling to him from there, she sounded happy and upbeat. “I am going to have to change my address and phone number with work of course. That might cause a stir, so I thought we should say that you are renting me a room here, you know, just as a lodger. We can explain that you need the money to pay the rent once your mum’s sick pay stops. What do you think, Jimmy?”
When he didn’t reply, she carried on peeling the potatoes. Jimmy was writing down names in his notebook. George Greaves was already in there, and now he added the surname Killane, with a question mark next to it.
Over dinner, Jimmy said that the idea of her being a lodger was a good one, and they should stick to that story for now. Later on, they could start to let people know they were a couple, and it would seem like a natural progression of their relationship. Lesley loved the sound of that, imagining that she might even get an engagement ring to wear. If she had to buy it herself, she didn’t mind. With dinner over, it was still a little early to suggest going upstairs, so she had another idea.
“Why don’t we set up the telly, Jimmy? See what’s on”.
Jimmy soon discovered that Lesley liked to watch a lot of television. She had many favourite programmes, which she also liked to talk about all the way through them. He didn’t mind too much, as every so often he would get a familiar message from the screen. One of the soap opera characters might be spouting the lines that Lesley expected to hear, but Jimmy would hear them saying “Make A Difference”, in that same voice he had heard in bed that night.
Reverend George wasn’t in the phone book. That meant Jimmy would have to go out on Sunday. He told Lesley he was going to visit his mum in the new unit. He would do that too, just so he was seen there by staff. Lesley was looking forward to cooking them a Sunday dinner. “I got a nice half leg of lamb, and I make my own mint sauce. Yourkshire puddings too, if you want. Try to be back by two, so I can time it all”.
Finding a place across the road from the hall where the prayer group met, he managed to wait out of sight on the corner. Knowing what time they usually finished, he only had to be there for a few minutes, so was unlikely to attract any attention. The scary old lady was out first, after unbolting the door, then a dozen or so followed her before George Greaves appeared and waved them goodbye. Then he locked the outside padlock, and took the key into the social club before walking away at a brisk pace.
Following at a reasonable distance, Jimmy had to be careful not to be spotted. The streets were quiet on that Sunday morning, and it would have been easy for Greaves to suddenly turn and spot him. Fortunately, he didn’t turn, keeping up his fast pace until he got to a row of shabby-looking shops that were all shuttered up. Between two of them, George stopped and let himself in with a key. Presumably, he lived in a flat above one of them, Jimmy concluded. Checking the time on his watch, he wondered if he should get on with things now, or come back another time.
In his head, he heard one of his mum’s favourite sayings. “No time like the present”.
There were two doorbells. One had a faded paper name-plate with ‘Strickland’ on it, so Jimmy pressed the other one. It took some time for George to answer, and he seemed very surprised, almost startled to see Jimmy. “What can I do for you, young James?” Jimmy explained about his mum being in the long-stay unit, and that he had hoped to talk to George about the special work that the Lord had for him. Checking his own watch, he stood back from the door. “Come on up, but I don’t have long I’m afraid”. He didn’t ask Jimmy how he knew where he lived.
Inside, the pokey flat looked nothing like a residence you might associate with a man of God. Piles of clothes covered most surfaces, and a glipmse into the kitchen as they walked past had showed that no washing up had been done for a very long time. George sat down on a greasy-looking armchair, and pointed at the one opposite. Jimmy didn’t sit. Instead, he asked George if he could use the toilet, and the man nodded. “Just by the front door, opposite the kitchen”.
In the small bathroom, Jimmy removed a plastic carrier bag from his coat pocket. It contained a knife he had brought from home, with a blade about eight inches long. He inverted the bag until it covered his hand and sleeve, then grabbed the knife through the plastic.
George was pouring himself a whisky when Jimmy returned, his right hand behind his back. Before he could offer a drink to the young man, Jimmy stabbed him once in the side of the neck, turning the blade flat as he withdrew it. As George dropped the bottle and glass, a mystifed look on his face, Jimmy stepped smartly to one side, carefully avoiding the jet of blood that spurted from the neck wound. George tried to stand, but fell forward onto his knees, the colour draining from his skin.
Leaving the reverend face down on the floor making a strange gurgling noise, Jimmy turned and went back into the bathroom. Running the plastic bag and knife under the tap, he waited until there was no chance of any blood drips, then turned the bag inside out, and put the knife back inside. Before leaving, he went to check that George was dead, waiting a full two minutes to be certain his chest wasn’t moving. Then using his sleeve on the catch, he opened the door and let himself out.
On the way to the hospital unit, the thought of that roast lamb was making his mouth water.
Detective Inspector Jo Drummond had worked hard to get where she was. Twelve years a copper, putting up with all the sex talk, and being told to make the tea, or look after lost kids. She had stuck with it, and even though most of the experienced men on her team obviously resented having a woman in charge, they had to admit she got the job done. That Sunday afternoon, she was on call, and not expecting anything much to happen in that sleepy town. So when the Control Room rang to tell her about a murder, she was as surprised as the victim had been.
The first two uniforms on scene had responded to a three-nines call from a local prostitute. She had been supposed to call on one of her regular clients, even had a key to his flat, it seemed. Jo had a chat with her outside. Mandy was pushing fifty, and had started to do house calls when street trade dropped off because of her age. She had been seeing the dead man, George Greaves, every Sunday afternoon for over a year. He had given her the key in case he was late back.
Once an officer had taken her statement, Jo let her go home. She was never going to be a suspect, and her fingerprints were on file anyway. Then Jo went upstairs to look at the scene. No sign of forced entry, and what seemed to be one stab wound to the neck. There was a lot of blood around, so she was careful not to step in it. Using the radio in her car, she requested the forensic team, and asked for the rest of her squad to be called in from home.
Jimmy made sure to talk to the receptionist at the Edith Cavell Unit, asking her for his mother’s room number. She seemed amused. “You mean what Ward, not what room. She is on Mollett ward, just along the corridor to your right. See the nurse on duty at the desk”. Jimmy thanked her politely, and soon saw the sign above the double doors halfway down. The nurse was checking drugs in a trolley, and smiled as Jimmy came in. “Mrs Walker? Oh yes, she is in the last bed on the left, by the window. Please go and see her”.
There were six beds on each side, and they were all screened off by curtains. He could hear the machines beeping at different rates as he walked along. Opening the last curtain on the left, he saw his mum lying there. Her eyes had tape on them to keep them closed, and she had an oxygen mask over her face. A tube ran from under the bedcovers to a big bag full of yellow fluid, and a glass bottle of clear fluid was hanging from a stand, a long plastic tube was leading down from it, attached to her arm with a taped-over needle of some sort. As he stared at her, the nurse’s voice behind him made him jump.
“You should talk to your mum you know. She can probably hear you, even though she is unable to respond”. The nurse injected something into the plastic tube, and went back to her desk.
Thinking he had better make it look good, Jimmy chatted to his mum. He told her that Lesley was looking after him now, and that he had been to see the solicitor about her money. Not really having a clue what else to say, he started to recite some of her favourite sections of The Bible, checking his watch to make sure he stayed long enough to convince the staff. Then some kind of alarm went off, and people rushed in to help the nurse. In all the commotion, he slipped out of the ward, making sure to say goodbye and thank you to the receptionist as he walked out.
It was only ten minutes after two when he got home, so he wasn’t that late for his Sunday dinner.
Lesley was dressed very nicely, and wearing a striped apron over her clothes to protect them as she dished up the meal. As well as the Yorkshire puddings and home-made mint sauce, she had done roast potatoes, carrots, and peas. As Jimmy tucked in heartily, Lesley beamed with satisfaction.
“There’s an apple and blackberry pie for afters. I made that myself”.
Patrick Killane sent Jimmy a letter about the power of attorney. He had to take it into the bank and show it to them. Lesley arranged for him to have an afternoon off, and the bank manager saw him privately, in a small office at the back of the branch. “You will be able to draw on your mother’s account should you need to, Mister Walker. Also access her deposit savings account”.
The man slid a sheet of paper across the desk. It showed that Jimmy’s mum had almost one thousand pounds in her current account, and close to eleven thousand pounds in her deposit account. Jimmy caught his breath. He could buy a small house for that much, and it intrigued him how his mum had managed to save it. He asked the bank manager if his absent father could access that money.
He smiled, and shook his head. “As I understand it, your parents are divorced. In that case, he has no claim on any money whatsoever. Please bear in mind that should your mother recover, it will be up to you and your lawyer to explain to her why you have gone ahead with the power of attorney. I trust you will not be taking out much more than you need to pay your bills and live normally?” Jimmy was rather annoyed at the man’s tone, so he thanked him for his time, and left.
After a late night and a long day, Joanne Drummond was briefing her team before they went home that evening. She had already been in to see the Chief Inspector, and he had told her to carry on with the usual routine for now.
“Okay, so we have a victim, George Greaves. His real name was George Gardiner, born in Bristol, in ninteen-nineteen. He was fity-one years old, and recently moved to the town from Birmingham, after being released from prison. He had served three years for fraud. George was well known to us, it seems. He was originally arrested as long ago as forty-two, during the war. He had been selling Army rations to black marketeers. He served time for that in military prison, before being dishonourably discharged at the end of the war”.
Jo moved away, signalling Sergeant Bernie Cohen to come up and speak. Bernie held up some papers. “Fraud, Deception, Theft, Burglary. George was a busy boy. Three more spells inside before the last one, and just occasional cash-in-hand jobs in between. According to Mandy, his regular pro, he was running a nice little scam being some sort of Evangelist. She says he used to pay her with cash from his collection box every Sunday. She also tells me he boasted about a few of the old women leaving him money or property in their wills. Derek has already looked into that, and one of the worshippers gave him a list of five women who agreed to make him a benficiary”.
Walking over to stop him continuing, Jo waved her arm. “Okay you lot, off home for now. Thanks for all your hard work so far. We will get onto that list tomorrow”.
Jimmy had something to do before Lesley got home that evening. He made a few notes in his book, then placed that in the carrier bag with the knife he had used on George. Taking the bag out to the garden shed, he lifted the grass box on the front of the lawn mower, and hid the bag underneath. No chance Lesley would find it there.
While he was waiting for her to come home and cook the dinner, Jimmy settled down with a new book he had bought in a second-hand shop. It was about the history of biological warfare, and he was fascinated to discover that the idea went back to ancient times, when rotting carcasses were used to pollute water supplies, and the tips of arrows were coated in human faeces to infect wounds. He was still reading it when she came in. “How did you get on, love? Everything okay at the bank? Dinner won’t be long, just sausages, egg, and chips tonight”.
He nodded a yes to each thing she had said, as he had got to a good bit about how Roman soldiers would place their swords into decomposed bodies, so that anyone wounded by them later would die of Tetanus.
Sergeant Bernie Cohen put his head around the door of Jo’s office. “I have been through that list with Derek. Four of the women are widows, and have no relatives. But the other one has a teenage son. Maybe he found out about her leaving everything to Georgy boy, and decided to make sure he wasn’t around to inherit. I have the address, do you want me and Derek to check it out?” Jo thought for a moment. “No, tell you what, Bernie. I will come with you”.
There was no reply, but Mrs Faraday had spotted the strangers outside Norah’s, and came along to find out what was going on. “Oh, Norah is in hospital. But her son Jim still lives here. He is at work though. There’s a woman living here too now, she moved in when Norah didn’t come out of hospital. I saw her bring suitcases, and a television too. She brought them in a taxi”. Jo thanked her and said, “We will come back this evening when her son is home”. As they got back in the car, Bernie smiled. “Thank heaven for nosey neighbours”.
Jimmy was doing so well at work that the head of department suggested they send him on Day Release to college once a week. He felt Jimmy should definitely work on his degree, as he seemed to have a natural talent for the job, and could go far with the right qualifications. Jimmy graciously accepted, though he was concerned that his work was going to get in the way of his need to make a difference. The next time God spoke to him through the television, he would be sure to say sorry for his slow start. Not out loud of course, but God would surely hear his thoughts.
As they walked from the bus to the house that evening, Lesley was holding Jimmy’s arm. She had been out at lunchtime and bought some nice fishcakes, and she was telling him about the cheese sauce she was going to make to serve with them. The man and woman got out of the car parked outside the house, and smiled as they both held up small wallets containing badges and identity cards. “James Walker? I am Detective Inspector Drummond. This is my colleague Sergeant Cohen. Can we come in and ask you some questions?” Jimmy smiled and nodded, taking his key from his jacket pocket.
Lesley offered them a cup of tea, but they declined. Jimmy waved a hand at the sofa, and they both sat down. The Sergeant took out a notebook, and clicked his pen, ready to write. Jo was formal, hoping to take the young man off guard. “Do you know a man named George Greaves? Your mother knows him. In fact she left him all of her money in the event of her death”. Jimmy was completely relaxed. He said he had met George once at the prayer group, and that his mother’s solicitor had told him that mum had left everything to George. But his mum was in a coma, so the same solicitor had arranged for him to have a power of attorney over her money. That was all he knew. Jimmy was still standing, and watched as the man wrote down everything he said. Then the woman continued.
“Could you tell me where you were last Sunday morning, James? Specifically around eleven-thirty to midday?” Jimmy answered without hesitation, telling her he was at home until at least eleven thirty, then he walked to the Cavell Unit of the hospital to see his mother. He told her there were no visitor records, but he was sure that the receptionist would remember him, as well as the nurse who spoke to him and suggested he have a conversation with his mum. Then he turned to Lesley sitting in the small armchair, and smiled. Jo took the hint, and said “Were you here at the time miss? Can you confirm what James has told me? What is your name by the way, and your relationship to James?”
“I’m Lesley Keane, and I can confirm everything Jimmy has told you. He was back from the hospital by two in the afternoon for dinner. It’s a long walk you know. And my relationship is, er, well, I’m his girlfriend and I am currently staying here while Norah is in hospital”. She looked up at Jimmy to see if it had been okay to say she was his girlfriend, but Jimmy was already telling the policewoman that she was his fiance, and he just hadn’t got around to buying a ring.
On the way back to the police station, Bernie turned to Jo. “What do you think?” She changed gears with a flourish as she replied.
“Creepy and weird. And what’s that with the older woman? I reckon it’s him, one hundred percent”.
Four weeks after the murder of George Greaves, Jo Drummond held a briefing for her team. “Okay, thanks to everyone for your hard work. We have been working on the theory that George was killed by James Walker, to stop him inheriting his mother’s money. But we have nothing on the suspect. We cannot place him at the scene, and there are no fingerprints of anyone in the flat except for George himself, and Mandy, his working girl. Young Walker has no form, and appears to be clean as a whistle. I couldn’t even get enough on him to justify a search warrant for the house. If he didn’t kill George, then we have the prospect of the famous ‘unknown stranger’, and that leaves it all wide open. The boss has told me to leave it pending for now, and for us to work on the two recent Post Office robberies. Bernie”.
Sergeant Cohen stood up. “Looks like we will have to wait until James kills someone else, and he’s sure to do that. He has a great alibi too. The receptionist and a nurse at the Edith Cavell unit both place him on Mollett ward at around the time of George’s death. Then his bird backs up him arriving home at two. But then she’s bound to do that. Anyway, on to those two robberies”.
On the day when the police had called round, Lesley had been left speechless when Jimmy had called her his fiance. He had never mentioned being in love with her, or getting engaged. She had always hoped that would come in time, and had no idea he had fallen for her so quickly. After they had left, she had been getting dinner ready, but the need to say something overwhelmed her. “Jimmy, you told that policewoman I was your fiance. Is that a proposal? Are you going to buy me a ring then?” Jimmy’s reply made her drop the cheese grater she was holding.
He said that they might as well just get married. If it was going to happen after an engagement, why not just do it now? He suggested they have a registry office wedding in about a month, to give everyone at work time to get used to the fact that they were together. After showering his face in kisses, a delighted Lesley couldn’t stop talking. “Oh they will all be convinced I am pregnant, you wait and see. Then there’s the age difference, everyone’s sure to have something to say about that”. Jimmy told her he was hungry, and she went back to finish preparing the best fish cakes with cheese sauce ever served to anyone.
Two days later, he bought her a ring in the local branch of H. Samuel. A solitaire diamond engagement ring that cost him a whopping two hundred pounds. Lesley burst into tears when the girl in the shop put one the right size on her finger. On the way home, Jimmy said he would phone the Registry Office from work tomorrow, and book the wedding. Lesley was excited, but worried. “You know I haven’t spoken to my parents for years, Jimmy. Not since that business with that horrible man I was going out with. He was my Mum’s second cousin, and he treated me like dirt. They expected me to stay with him, and we had a falling out when I said no”. Jimmy told her that he would ask Patrick Killane and his wife to be the witnesses, but there would be no party, or big cake. Then he gave her thirty pounds to buy a new dress and shoes to get married in.
Back at the house, Lesley sat admiring her ring, hardly able to believe she was about to get married. And to someone as good looking and clever as Jimmy too. He took out a very small notebook, and asked her the name of the second cousin who had been bad to her. It never occurred to her to ask why he wanted to know.
Jonathan Carrington hated being a bank manager. He hated his stupid wife too, and the greedy son who didn’t want to go to work. All he had to do was put in his time, and get the pension. Then he intended to leave the silly cow and her spoiled parasite of a son and go to live somewhere warm, like Spain. Eight more years seemed a long time. But they would soon pass.
He was thinking about drinking a beer on a beach at sunset. Or maybe some Sangria, followed by a plate of Paella. Perhaps with a dark-haired beauty by his side.
That meant he didn’t notice the young man following from a reasonable distance.
As they kept walking south, Jimmy realised that they were heading for an area known as The Limes. It was a private estate bordering the town Golf Club, perhaps less than thirty houses mostly bought by people who wanted to be near the club. Suddenly, the bank manager turned right, heading up a pathway. Jimmy hesitated, as he would be very obvious. Giving the man time to walk ahead, he eventually followed, only to find himself on the edge of one of the greens, and a sign that said ‘Members Only’. The manager was walking ahead, and Jimmy assumed he had access to his house from the grounds.
Only needing to know which house he was heading for, Jimmy carried on, keeping close to the trees. A voice from behind startled him. “Excuse me. Can I help you? This is a private club you know. Are you a member?” He turned to see a man about sixty, dressed in golfing clothes and pulling a trolley with a set of clubs in it. He had no idea that people would be playing golf at this time in the evening. Jimmy smiled and said he was sorry, but he had been looking for Lime Crescent, and must have got lost. “There is no Lime Crescent around here, young man. You must indeed be lost”. Jimmy thanked him, and went back the way he had come.
Now there would be a witness, and that ruined any plan he might have had.
It was a long way from the dream wedding that Lesley had imagined, but it was still her wedding, and she had never felt happier. That Saturday morning was even sunny, and Jimmy looked so smart in the new suit she had made him buy. Patrick Killane introduced his wife Brenda to them outside the Town Hall. He looked awkward, probably wondering why he had been asked. But his chubby wife was friendly, and she had brought a plastic horseshoe tied with white ribbon, for Lesley to hold for good luck. Jimmy had the rings in his trouser pocket, and as he slipped the gold band onto her eager finger, Lesley failed to fight back a flood of tears.
The celebration, such as it was, consisted of a meal in a nearby pub, after which a relieved-looking Killane took his leave, wishing the couple well. Back at the house, if Lesley was expecting wedded bliss, she was sorely disappointed when Jimmy sat deep in thought. He was considering that the task he had taken on might be impossible, as long as he lived in such a small town, and had come to the notice of the police. The next time God instructed him to make a difference, he was going to have to ask him to wait a few years.
Still there was one job he had to do in the meantime, but he would wait until Lesley’s excitement over the wedding calmed down.
Simon Tobin was not a nice man. He would have been happy to have admitted that too, if anyone had ever asked him. His rugged good looks had gained him many female admirers over the years, but he had little time for women, other than to use them for pleasure. Their inane chatter drove him crazy, and they took such delight in wandering around shops, even when they bought nothing. As a result, he was now in his late forties, and lived alone. His only living relative was his cousin, Valerie Keane.
Her and her husband had loaned him money in the past, trying to set him up with their goofy-looking daughter. But Lesley had refused to put up with his physical and mental abuse, eventually rejecting his offer of marriage.
Now Simon spent his days working as a tyre fitter, and most of his evenings spending his wages in the local pub. People there tended to avoid him. He had a lot to say, and generally said it loudly. Only a few of the more timid regulars tolerated him, and sometimes bought him drinks. That night he was shouting his mouth off about how useless the local football team was, with his little gang of friends nodding in agreement.
The young man who had been sipping a shandy in the corner bar left early, long before the pub closed.
But he was outside, waiting.
Lesley had told Jimmy about Simon. How he had tried to control her, had taken money from her, and been violent to her sexually. She was ashamed that she had tolerated it for so long, but the thought of becoming his wife had filled her with dread, giving her the strength to move out of her parents’ house, split with her family, and rent her own small flat.
Jimmy watched as the man left the pub just after eleven. He was unaccompanied, and stopped to light a cigarette before walking off into the darkness. Jimmy already knew which way he would go. Lesley had mentioned where he worked, and Jimmy had followed him one Saturday afternoon when they closed. He had seen him go home, then watched as he came out again to head for the pub. He knew the route Simon would take, and he was prepared. There was no need to follow him, just be in the right place when he got there.
Earlier, Jimmy had concealed a large piece of wood under the approach to the bridge over the canal. It was part of a tree branch, probably left by a dog. It was heavy, and over four feet long. Wearing gloves, he had walked back to the pub and sat alone in the small bar after ordering a shandy. The main bar was very busy with people watching the football match on a TV fixed to the wall, and the man who served him the drink hardly paid him any attention at all.
The fresh air had hit Simon by the time he got to the bridge, and he stopped for a moment, holding onto the handrail. Jimmy stepped out from his hiding place under the approach, and struck Simon’s head with the branch, using all his strength. The bigger man let out a groan, and rolled down the side of the bridge and over the paved edge of the towpath. He slipped into the deep water feet first, and disappeared under with a gurgling sound.
Looking around to make sure nobody else was nearby, Jimmy crouched down to watch in case Simon surfaced. When he was sure he had been in the water long enough to drown, he stood up and walked back along the towpath to the main road, discarding the branch into the water a long way from where Simon had gone in.
It was a long walk home, and well after midnight when he got in. Lesley knew better than to ask where he had been, and offered to make him a sandwich and a cup of tea. When she came back into the room with them, Jimmy told her that if anyone asked, he had been at home with her all evening.
On Saturday, he took a bus to the other side of the town, and walked around to the back of a small block of flats that had a communal waste bin. In the carrier bag that he dropped into it were the gloves, and the old shoes he had been wearing. He had chosen a pair with a distinctive rip on the side of one sole, so that the footprints he had left by the canal bridge would be obvious. When he got home, he suggested to Lesley that they go to the cinema that evening, and she was delighted.
People like Simon don’t get missed. But he hadn’t shown up for work for almost a week, so his boss went to the flat. Getting no reply, he rang the police to tell them of his concern. The young woman at the end of the phone took some details, and asked him to go into a police station and file a missing persons report. But he wasn’t too bothered. The man was a pain anyway, a loudmouth. So instead of going to make an official report he phoned head office to ask them to place an advertisement for a job vacancy, saying that Simon had not turned up for work, so could consider himself sacked.
Declan Leach was once a hippy, and might later be described as alternative. He lived on a canal boat, and moved it up and down the country between jobs. He looked for cash work. Fruit-picking, window-cleaning, day labouring, anything that didn’t involve tax and insurance. After escaping almost being caught for not paying mooring fees the day before, he had headed north along the canal, stopping at an unfamiliar town when he ran out of tobacco and milk. After finding a shop up on the road, he walked back to his narrow-boat and noticed something caught up at the back of it.
The briefest look told him it was the body of man.
Simon’s body had not travelled too far from where he went into the water when it became snagged against an old motorcycle. That motorcycle had been in the canal since the end of the Korean War, after some celebrating soldiers had stolen it to ride back to barracks on, then run out of petrol. Rather than leave it where it could be found, they had dumped it into the canal.
The body might have stayed trapped there for much longer, if Declan’s narrow boat had not disturbed the water just enough for it to float to the top. As some ten days had passed, it was in something of a state.
Once Declan had given his statement to the police who arrived, he started his boat and got out of there before anyone turned up to ask for mooring fees.
The pathologist examining the body came to the conclusion that the man had hit his head after falling over drunk, and rolled into the canal where he had drowned. Wood fragments found in the wound were not deemed to be suspicious, as all sorts of things were under the murky water, or floating on it. The rats had nibbled at Simon too, but the police concluded he could still be formally identified. There had been no reason to search for footprints, or any other evidence along the canal.
Using the driving licence found in his wallet, it took them just over a week to find his only living relative, Valerie Keane. After she made the identification at the mortuary, she asked the officer how she could get back the money that Simon still owed her.
When almost two weeks had gone by and no police had called asking where he was that night by the canal, Jimmy concluded that there was no investigation into Simon’s death. He also concluded that killing people using violence was not the way forward. It involved the police, and they almost certainly still had their eye on him for George’s murder.
He wasn’t to know that the killing of George Greaves had been classifed ‘unsolved’, and added to the small file marked ‘Pending’. He also wasn’t to know that Jo Drummond had passed her interview board for promotion to Chief Inspector, and was moving to a uniform job at the Police Training School.
Jimmy threw himself into his studies. The next time God spoke to him was during an episode of Opportunity Knocks, a talent show that Lesley enjoyed watching. When the compere Hughie Green told him to make a difference, he answered in his head, telling God he was just going to have to wait.
Married life suited Lesley. She loved the regular sex, and even tolerated the lack of romance and genuine affection. She was destined to be a happy housewife, keeping the place clean, and making nice meals for them every night of the week. She carried on taking the pill though. She didn’t think Jimmy was quite ready to be a father, and truth be told, she didn’t want the encumbrance of a child in their life.
Jimmy worked hard and studied hard, and she used her experience to help him. He had developed an interest in the forensic side of biological hazards, and his first paper on that subject had earned him a merit.
She was so proud of her handsome husband, and was planning something special for his twenty-first birthday. He would get his degree later that year, so it was such a special year all round. The tutors had said they had never seen anyone so talented in the field, and they were amazed how fast Jimmy had progressed.
God was less pleased. During an episode of Coronation Street, a soap opera Lesley never missed, Elsie Tanner told Jimmy that he had let her down, and was no longer making a difference. It was God speaking of course, and this time Jimmy refused to respond. God was going to have to wait. Because Jimmy had a plan.
The evening before his twenty-first, Jimmy got a phone call from the Edith Cavell unit. His mum had just died. He thanked them for the call, and smiled to himself.
That was exactly the news he had been waiting for.
Jimmy’s degree had caused something of a stir in the scientific community. It was almost unknown for someone studying part-time to finish so quickly, and to get a first class degree too. He declined to attend the graduation ceremony, instead receiving the impressive document in the post.
Lesley felt so proud she thought she would burst, but she admitted to great disappointment that there would be no photo of her young husband in the usual graduation regalia.
That was of no concern to Jimmy. He wanted the qualification, not the acclaim that might have gone with it. With a letter of recommendation from his tutor to include, he sat quietly one Sunday afternoon and wrote out a job application. When it was ready to post, he chatted to Lesley about her thoughts on moving to another part of the country. She had no hesitation when she replied. “I will go anywhere with you, Jimmy. You’re my husband, and I love you. There is nothing to keep either of us here, after all”.
With the reassurance that Lesley would make no objection, he walked up to the post box on the corner, and slipped the large envelope into the slot.
Norah Walker’s funeral had been a sad affair. One of the nurses from the hospital showed up for the fifteen minute service before the cremation, and other than her, only Jimmy and Lesley were in attendance.
The following week, Jimmy had gone to see Patrick Killane about the will. “With George Greaves dead, you are the next of kin, and the power of attorney should help probate go through quickly, James. I will be in touch, once you have been confirmed as the sole heir”. Killane felt relieved when Jimmy left his office. There was something about that intense young man that made him feel very nervous.
Since Lesley had moved in, Jimmy had taken no rent from her. Although she bought most of the food, every now and again Jimmy would give her some money, saying he was sure she must need it for groceries. As a result, she had saved a tidy sum, added to the deposit from her flat that had been returned after she gave it up. So for his twenty-first, she had bought him a gold watch, an Accurist, with an expanding bracelet. He had accepted it graciously enough, but material things didn’t really concern him that much.
As an extra present, she had bought herself some delicate lingerie, including some old-fashioned stockings and suspenders. Then she had revealed herself in the bedroom, saying she was his ‘special gift’.
One evening, Jimmy talked to her about jobs. If they moved, she might have to do something different, and he wondered how she felt about that. Lesley was very positive. “I have always really fancied being a Pharmacist. Perhaps I could train for that, and get a job in a chemist’s shop, even in a big one, like Boots?” Jimmy told her he thought that was a perfect idea, and that he would support her doing that one hundred percent.
Even though she had no idea what job Jimmy had applied for, or where they might be moving to, Lesley had never been happier.
A month went by, and the money from Norah’s estate went through to Jimmy’s account. He paid Killane’s fees, and arranged for his mum’s now empty accounts to be closed. Every bill had been paid, and there were no outstanding debts. When Norah’s ashes were returned in an urn, Jimmy spinkled them in the lake in the local park. Lesley looked on, smiling. She had no idea that Norah had never liked the local park, and had only been there once in her life. She just thought that Jimmy as doing a wonderful thing for his mum.
Two weeks later, Jimmy received a letter. He had to supply a lot of personal information, for a vetting procedure. Based on that being successful, he would be asked to attend for interview. Lesley was shown the letter, and was suitably impressed. “Oh that’s wonderful, Jimmy. I had no idea that’s what you had applied for. I hope you get it, darling”.
The heading on the letter was from Porton Down. That was what everyone called it.
But the offical name of those govenment premises was the Ministry of Defence Science and Technology Laboratory.
It took a month for the vetting and references to go through. During that time, Jimmy discovered that Lesley had a driving licence. She had passed her test aged eighteen, but never had the money to buy her own car. Jimmy suggested he buy her one, using some of the inheritance money from his mum. They went to the nearest main dealer, and he paid by cheque for the car that Lesley chose, a Mini Clubman 1275 GT. She picked a rather garish orange colour, and it had a black stripe across the bonnet. As Jimmy cared nothing about cars, he allowed her to choose all the extras, then paid the salesman without haggling.
Before she collected the car, Lesley thought she had better have a refresher lesson. She hadn’t driven since the day she passed her test, so arranged for a two-hour lesson with a local driving school. That went well, and the instructor dropped her off at the dealer to collect her new Mini. Now she had the car and had arranged the insurance, they would no longer need to get the bus. They could also drive to the new large supermarket to buy their groceries. Lesley was beside herself. Nobody had ever been so generous to her in her life.
For Jimmy, there was another agenda. If he got the job he had applied for and they moved to Wiltshire, a car would almost certainly be essential.
The interview date came through by letter. Jimmy had to take two days of his holiday entitlement, and arrange train tickets for the journey to what was almost the other side of the country. Using a copy of Dalton’s Weekly, he found a respectable bed and breakfast establishment in Salisbury, and phoned them to book an overnight stay. That was around eight miles from Porton Down, and he would book a taxi once he got there.
On the day, the taxi had to drop him at the entrance, and he showed his letter to the guards at the gate. A lady came to get him, and gave him a temporary identity card to clip to his jacket lapel. She took him to a rather unimpressive office, where two men were waiting. Unknown to Jimmy, they were excited. His interview was little more than a formality, as his qualifications and references were exceptional, and his background vetting had been one of the cleanest they had ever seen. They asked him some questions about where he might live, and what his wife would be doing. Lesley had been checked secretly by them, and she had also come up squeaky clean.
Giving no indication of his success or failure, they thanked him for coming, and he was shown back to the gatehouse, where one of the guards allowed him to ring the same taxi firm to collect him. He had been told that the decision on his application would be sent by letter. The taxi took him to Salisbury station, where he arrived almost two hours early for the train. He bought a selection of the available local newspapers, two of which had property advertisements. A quick browse while he waited showed him that property in the outlying villages was affordable, and with a good deposit from his inheritance, they would have a very small mortgage.
That evening, he spoke to Lesley about them leaving Hopgood’s. They both had to give three month’s notice, so even if he got the job, he would not be able to start that year. He had told the men interviewing him that, and they hadn’t seemed concerned. Lesley told him she was going to write to Boots, and ask about work as a trainee pharmacist. Jimmy told her there was a really big branch of Boots in Salisbury, and she seemed excited about the prospect of a move, and a new job. She said it all seemed too good to be true.
But it was true, Jimmy knew that. And he knew for sure that God was fixing it for him.
The letter arrived in less than a week. A full job offer, including details of salary, pension arrangements, and a contract to sign and return. The pay was fifty percent more than he was getting at Hopgood’s, and that was a nice surprise, as he hadn’t even asked about the salary. Lesley jumped up and down with excitement, wrapping her arms around Jimmy.
He told her that they had to give notice the next morning, as he would be starting at Porton Down the first week in February.
Their head of department was very upset to hear the news that they were both leaving. He told them he could see why though, and wished them well. Jimmy turned down the offer of a leaving party, though Lesley was very gracious when she received the leaving gift of a set of cutlery for the new home.
Jimmy had informed the council of his moving date, and arranged to sell or give away most of the contents of the house. He agreed with Lesley that they should buy new things once they had bought a house. For the time being, their plan was to stay in a nice bed and breakfast until the mortgage was approved, and the house sale had gone through. Lesley had no firm offer of a job, but she was sure something would turn up.
They had settled on the village of Boscombe, close to Porton Down, and around ten miles from Salisbury. Lesley could take Jimmy to work on the way to the city, and pick him up on the way home. After spending the weekend there, Lesley had fallen in love with a two-bedroom Victorian cottage. It was small, and only had a courtyard garden, but the house was full of character and original features. The mortgage was easly affordable, and that meant Jimmy could manage it on his salary, even if it took some time for Lesley to find work.
Lesley Walker was under no illusions about her married life. Jimmy was young and attractive; she was ten years older, and looked more like fifteen years older. But he was kind to her, even though he was often distant, and showed her scant affection. He didn’t enjoy watching television, but at least he no longer only read The Bible, and he never spoke to her about religion.
In her heart, she just knew he had killed George Greaves. She was sure the police knew that too, but they had no evidence. Lesley didn’t care. Greaves was a heartless con-man, and had deserved what had happened. Jimmy had just been putting things right.
There was so much to be grateful for. Jimmy never so much as looked at another woman. He seemed to have no idea how attractive and eligible he was. For her, life was exactly what she had hoped for, ever since freeing herself from that awful Simon, and her uncaring parents. She had married a man who asked little from her, and had started to carve out a great career for himself. He had bought her a car, and provided the deposit for the little house of her dreams. And he was paying to furnish it exactly as she wanted, with no arguments. In her mind, she was the luckiest wife in England.
And he was buying a colour television for the new house. She had so wanted to watch in colour.
Moving day didn’t happen until the furniture and everything else had been delivered. Lesley felt like a princess in the small house, but Jimmy was more interested in his first day at work, the following Monday. As Lesley still had no news about any employment offer, she would get up with him and take him the short distance in the car. He would get his official pass at the gatehouse where it will have been left for him. As his working day was from eight until five, Lesley could easily pick him up at the gate when he finished.
Jimmy was rather disappointed to be told that his first week would be one of familiarisation, safety training, and tours of the site. As there was no other new starter, he had been assigned a mentor for that week, a serious woman called Eileen. She told him she had been there since nineteen-sixty, and there was nothing she didn’t know about what went on at Porton Down. Jimmy didn’t much care for the way she spoke to him, which reminded him of an officious female Geography teacher at his school. But she was right about being well-informed, and as she divulged secret after secret, he realised why he had been compelled to sign The Official Secrets Act.
Great Britain was a signatory to the Geneva Protocol, banning the use of chemical weapons in warfare. But that had failed to deal with the storage and testing of them, and despite Britain claiming to have destroyed its stock, Jimmy quickly discovered that was far from the truth.
Eileen told him about the special rooms that held stocks of mustard gas, and various biological contaminates, including a sample of the Plague bacillus. That made Jimmy raise his eyebrows.
The Black Death. Now that had made a difference.
That night at home, Jimmy was in a bad mood. He had read up on the black death, and was upset to discover that it could easily be cured now, using modern antibiotics. He was going to have to think of something else.
Lesley was watching the news after dinner. There was a sports report about a British Tennis hopeful. They were showing his debut at Wimbledon the previous year. All she kept on about was how green the grass was, making Jimmy exasperated. He spoke quite harshly to her, suggesting she could go and look outside to see green grass. His decision to allow her the colour television was proving to be a bad one. She sat in front of it all evening, going on about how rich the colours were.
Misunderstanding his grumpiness, Lesley suggested an early night, and some of what she called ‘bedroom fun’. Jimmy reluctantly agreed. At least that might relax him.
Day three at work involved being shown the protective gear and safety equipment. In some rooms, that involved using a full suit and helmet, with a tube connected to air mounted on the wall. Eileen put on her own suit, to show Jimmy how it worked. “You will get your own suit for each relevant area. There is a double-glove rule, and it also covers your shoes. Under no circumstances should you enter these specific rooms without being fully suited-up. Then whoever is working with you will check your suit for tears or damage, and make sure your breathing apparatus is working. Nobody goes into those rooms alone. Do you understand that, James?”
Jimmy told her he understood fully, then asked her if he would be working with her. “Sometimes, yes. You are being seconded to the biological warfare section, as I understand it. I mainly work in corrosive and toxic chemicals and gases. You must have impressed someone to go straight into that division”. Jimmy smiled, and shrugged. Always humble.
When they got home, Lesley proudly showed him a chicken and mushroom pie she had cooked for dinner. As she prepared the vegetables, she asked how he liked it at Porton Down. Jimmy told her it wasn’t exactly what he had expected, but he was sure it would work out well once he was used to the strict procedures. During the BBC News after dinner, the weather man spoke to him with God’s voice, asking why he had failed to make a difference. Jimmy told him he had to be patient.
This was going to take a lot longer than he had realised.
Friday was his last day with Eileen, before starting full time in his section. She took him into the animal laboratories to show him what went on. Jimmy wasn’t keen on those experiments. Pigs, monkeys, rabbits, rats, even birds. They hadn’t done any harm to anyone, yet they were being horribly killed here. People needed to know about God, but animals were just animals.
Eileen was almost boastful as she described how pigs were horribly burned with mustard gas, and monkeys choked to death with chlorine gas. Both had been around for decades of course, but she explained that they were constantly being refined, and were a good source of income when secretly sold for use by other countries, like Iraq and Syria. She almost laughed as she added, “The funny thing is that we get to sell them abroad in secret, and then the Foreign Secretary makes a big fuss about it when the countries use it on their enemies or their own people. He gets their ambassadors in and gives them a telling off, but it’s all wink-wink, and just a game”.
The last thing on her list that day was to show him an experiment using her much-improved chlorine gas on a monkey in a cage. In a sealed room, she made sure they suited up carefully. “This is the latest version. The effects happen in seconds, and there is no cure or antidote, James. It kills very quickly”. The creature looked unconcerned, and was holding onto the bars of a cage that seemed too small. When they both had their suits on, Eileen indicated that he should plug his airline into the receiver on the wall, showing him how to do it with her own one. When she was sure he was safe, she opened the valve on the small cylinder of gas next to the monkey.
Seconds later, unaware that Jimmy had quietly unplugged her airline, Eileen was writhing around on the floor, staring up at the dead monkey in the cage.
Jimmy waited two more minutes, then pressed the big red alarm button next to the door.
It was easy enough to quickly plug Eileen’s airline back into her suit before people appeared outside of the sealed room, and gestured through the glass that Jimmy should stay where he was. Immediately, he heard the sound of a very loud extractor fan in the ceiling overhead, and another alarm sounding, different to the one that had gone off when he had pressed the red button.
Two people showed up in full protective clothing, and one held a printed card up to the window, for him to read.
DO NOT REMOVE ANY PART OF YOUR SUIT OR DISCONNECT YOUR AIRLINE
WHEN IT IS SAFE FOR US TO ENTER WE WILL DO SO.
Although it felt like a long time before the outer door opened, it was probably only a matter of minutes. Both alarms were silenced, and he could hear them talking through the helmets of their suits. “James, disconnect your airline and follow us. Do not touch anything. Do you have any difficulty breathing? Are your eyes watering? Do you have any congestion in your mouth or nose? Don’t try to speak, just nod or shake your head”.
Jimmy shook his head in reply to all the questions, and they beckoned him to follow them. As they left the area, others went in to look at Eileen’s body, and also to retrieve the cage containing the dead monkey.
Following them at some distance, he was shown along a corridor and directed into a room. It contained showers. One of the men spoke to him. “Walk into the shower and stand still, we will operate the control. He did as he was told, standing under the running water for a very long time, so it seemed.
Then the first man gave him a thumbs-up, and said “Okay, remove the suit slowly, we will help you”. Jimmy stripped off the protective clothing with their help, leaving him standing in his own shirt and trousers that he had been wearing underneath.
After that he had to follow them down another corridor, to where a doctor and nurse wearing protective clothing gave him a full examination, including taking blood for a blood test.
A full hour after leaving the room where Eileen had died, he was allowed to dress properly, and taken to see a man he had never met. The sign on his door read ‘Contamination Officer’. The man seemed remarkably relaxed. “Sit down, James. I’m happy to see you appear to be unaffected by this tragic accident. There will be a full investigation of course, there always is. But meanwhile you are of course aware that you are not to discuss this with anyone outside of your department?” Jimmy nodded, trying his best to look suitably shell-shocked by the whole experience.
Leaning forward, the man asked him, “What do you recall of what happened in there?” He had no recording device or notebook, so it seemed to him that this was all a very long way from being official. He told the man that he and Eileen had plugged in the airlines of their suits as she was going to demonstrate the new form of chlorine gas by showing him how quickly it killed a monkey. The next thing he knew, she was on the floor, and he had pressed the alarm as he had been shown to do on Tuesday.
As the man was nodding to his replies, someone else came in and handed him a file. It only contained one page of type.
“Well, James. Your blood test is fine, and you do not seem to have been affected in the least. We are working on the theory that Eileen’s suit was somehow compromised. It doesn’t take much, a weak seam, or a loose connection in her airline. And it happens quite often. Well, not that often, but it happens. It’s a tragedy of course, but we are all aware of the dangers of working in this environment. If the head of department thinks it is necessary, he may take a statement from you later, for the formal enquiry. Meanwhile, you should go and get your things, and head home. Try to put this behind you, and have a relaxing weekend. I sincerely hope this hasn’t upset you too much, or put you off working here?”
Jimmy shook his head, and told the man it had made him more determined to make a difference.
Not long after Jimmy started in the Biological Warfare section, Lesley made a decision. She would train to be a teacher, and become a Chemistry teacher at a secondary school. Her application to go on a Teacher Training Course at Salisbury Training College was accepted, and she would still be able to drop Jimmy off at work, and pick him up on her way home.
It would be a full time course for one year, and additional training part-time later. Jimmy was very encouraging, telling her that it would be a good thing for her to do, and a long-term career.
Eileen’s death had been handled by people at the top, and the conclusion was that it was accidental, following some unexplained failure of her protective suit. Jimmy was asked for a written statement, but not called to give any evidence at the internal enquiry. As far as he could tell, it had been decided that he was too inexperienced to have been in any way responsible or negligent.
But he was annoyed with himself for his impulse to kill Eileen. He knew for sure that he couldn’t do anything like that again at work for a very long time, if at all.
When Lesley was watching the TV chef Delia Smith one evening, Delia spoke to Jimmy with God’s voice, asking him why he was taking so long to make a difference. As he was about to reply, Lesley broke his concentration. “Ooh, look at that delicious pie, Jimmy. I will make you one of those. I might buy her new recipe book too”. Before the programme finished, Delia told him he had to get a move on, or accept that he had failed in his mission. He decided not to reply.
God was becoming really annoying.
All Jimmy could do was to work hard, become accepted, and study to improve himself. He was in it for the long haul, no matter how impatient the supreme being was. God was going to have to like it or lump it. Lesley settled into her course realy well, and told him about it on the way home in the car every evening. Everyone else was significantly younger than her, but she wasn’t worried about not being invitied out with them, or not going to the occasional social events. They were both lost in their books most nights. Lesley even stopped watching Coronation Street as it delayed her studying.
The big Bible had been put away in a box in the loft, along with the old notebook from under the lawn mower, and the knife he had used on George Greaves. He didn’t need to read The Bible any longer, as he had memorised the only part that had really interested him.
With the summer coming, Lesley spoke to him about a holiday. Jimmy had never been on a holiday that he remembered. His mum had told him that they had gone to a holiday camp in Skegness once, but he had been too young to remember it. Lesley had her heart set on a caravan park in Weston-Super-Mare. She had sent a deposit for a week in late July, and they sent a colour brochure by return. “Look, Jimmy. There’s a shop, a social club, a small outdoor pool, and a playground for the kids. And it’s only a short walk to the beach too. I think we will have a great time”.
Jimmy couldn’t see the point of driving all that way just to sit in a caravan that was smaller than their house. But he smiled in agreement.
Arriving at the park that summer, Lesley tried not to look too disappointed. The pool was concrete-lined, and the water looked filthy. The caravans were very close together, and she had to park the Mini across the front of the one they had been allocated. That short walk to the beach was closer to two miles, and the stuff for sale in the park shop looked like it had all been found in a bin behind a supermarket.
On top of all that, it had been raining hard as they unloaded the car, and the toilets and shower block was all the way up near the entrance.
As they spent their first night listening to the rain on the roof, Lesley downed a full bottle of white wine, wishing she had brought her old portable television.
Lesley suggested an early night, and after taking ages to get comfortable on the thin mattress, they were eventually asleep just after ten-thirty. Less than an hour later, they were awake again, disturbed by the noise of the people in the next caravan returning from the social club. There was shouting and swearing at first, followed by lots of laughter, and then some loud music being played, presumably on a radio. Lesley was in an unusually grumpy mood, and when the neighbours failed to quieten down, she turned to Jimmy.
“You have to go and say something, Jimmy. We can’t have that nuisance, it will ruin our holiday”. Jimmy got up and put on the shirt and trousers he had taken off earlier, then slipped into his unlaced shoes without bothering with socks. As he opened the door of the caravan and walked down the two steps, he could see three young men urinating against the side of their caravan, cigarettes dangling from their mouths. Not getting too close, he called out to them in a strong voice. “Can you keep the noise down please? We are trying to sleep next door!” One of them stepped back, not bothering to sort himself out and zip his fly.
“Calm down mate. Why don’t you come in for a drink? Got plenty of beers in there”. Before Jimmy could reply, a side window opened, and a rough-looking girl leered at him. “Got some nice girls in here too, darling. Come in and have some fun”. Jimmy replied politely but firmly. “No thank you. Please just keep the noise down, and turn the music down too. It’s getting late, and I really don’t want to have to go and get the site manager”. The tallest one of the men walked over, Jimmy could smell the beer on his breath. “Manager is it? We invite you in for a drink, all friendly like, and you threaten us with the manager. Why don’t you just piss off back into your caravan, unless you want real trouble”.
Jimmy smiled at him, staring straight into his eyes. The man stopped talking and turned back to his friends. “Come on, let’s go inside, this killjoy is ruining my evening”.
The noise continued for at least another hour, and Lesley nagged at Jimmy, not like her at all. “You should have got the manager. Perhaps we can ring the police and complain? This bed is bad enough to sleep in without having to put up with those hooligans”. Jimmy didn’t bother to remind her that coming to this awful place had been her idea. He waited until her ranting had calmed down before he replied that she should leave it to him, and he wasn’t going to involve the management.
At least it had stopped raining the next day. Lesley suggested they drive into town and explore the promenade and shops. “We can do the beach on a warmer day, Jimmy. I’m going to need my cardigan this morning”. Jimmy stood outside while Lesley was getting her things.
There was no noise from the troublesome neighbours, but every now and again, one of them would flick the still-lit butt of a cigarette through the open window. There was already a decent sized pile of them on the ground outside. The grubby Volkwagen van they had parked next to their caravan had a flat tyre at the front. He guessed they were intending to stick around the park, as nobody was bothering to change it for the spare.
Before Lesley appeared, Jimmy crouched low down and walked to the back of the neighbouring caravan. Working quickly and quietly, and using all of his considerable strength, he unscrewed the valves from both canisters of propane gas that were stored underneath to supply fuel for the cooker. When Lesley appeared with her car keys, handbag, and cardigan, he was standing by the passenger door of the Mini.
They found a nice fish and chip place to have a sit-down lunch. Lesley had bought some small souvenirs for the house, and she was looking at them as they waited for the food to arrive. Jimmy said that after lunch, they should walk out onto the Grand Pier, perhaps have an ice cream. Lesley was in a better mood than last night. “Sorry about this holiday, Jimmy. I thought it looked like a nice place, but I know it’s horrible. I will choose somewhere better next year, promise.
From inside the restaurant, they couldn’t see the smoke rising almost three miles to the south.
When they got back to the caravan park, the fires were out. But they were stopped by a policeman at the entrance, and told they could only drive as far as the office. “You have to go and see the manager, madam. Nobody is being allowed back into their caravans for the time being”. Lesley thanked the policeman, and drove up to the office.
Inside, the manager seemed releived to see them. “Thank God you were out for the day. Terrible, terrible. The caravan next door to yours exploded, and that set off another explosion that destroyed your caravan too. I’m afraid anything you had inside has been destroyed. The one the other side caught fire, but luckily that family had gone to the beach”.
He slid a form across the counter. “If you can write down what you lost inside, I will send it to the owner. He is going to have to claim on the insurance. Lesley shook her head. “Oh dear, what about the people next to us, the noisy people?” The man lowered his head.
“There were seven of them in a four-berth. Shocking. I only saw the four of them, the rest must have been hiding inside their shitty old Volkswagen. All dead, I’m sorry to say, even though they cheated us with their booking. The fire brigade reckon they had been fiddling with the gas canisters while smoking cigarettes. I do have to tell you that you are going to have to go home. I have no alternative accommodation, and the police say there is going to be a safety inspection. But you will get five days refunded, once the owner has had time to process your form”.
While Lesley was filling in the form, listing what items she could remember were inside, Jimmy walked out and surveyed the smouldering remains in the distance. Two fire engines were still over near the caravans, and the old VW was burnt out too. Only seven. Better than nothing, but not as many as he had hoped for.
Five days back at home suited Jimmy very nicely. The weather was actually better than it had been on the west coast, and Lesley was happy to be able to watch television again. During an episode of the game show, ‘Sale of The Century’, the presenter Nicholas Parsons spoke to Jimmy as he was showing off a speedboat. He said that God was pleased, but not happy. Seven at once was an improvement, but he needed more. A lot more. Millions more. Jimmy was so exasperated, he refused to reply, and he went into the spare bedroom to continue to study for his Masters Degree.
Years passed, and it seemed God had finally given up on Jimmy.
Lesley had got a job as a Chemistry teacher at St Edmund’s School. It was an all-girls school on the edge of the city. By the time she started, Jimmy had gained his Masters Degree in microbiology, and was promoted to head of his section in Biological Warfare. They told him that he was thirty years younger than his retiring predecessor, but they were so impressed by his dedication and drive, that they were not about to turn down the chance of using his full potential. They also recommended he start to study for a doctorate as soon as possible. They would give him extra leave for study time, as they were sure he was something of a potential genius in that field.
Home life with Lesley had settled into a routine. She still dropped him off at work and picked him up, even during the school holidays. As expected, she was also a lot older than most of her colleagues, so she was happy to spend all her free time with the husband she adored, and help him in any way she could. That included doing all the housework, and all the shopping and cooking. With two good incomes, they decided to change the car for something bigger. Lesley chose a Citroen GS Estate, with plenty of room in the back for shopping, and four doors. Jimmy told her that it had an exceptionally comfortable ride, and he was pleased with her choice.
For some reason, God had completely stopped talking to Jimmy. That was okay with him, as God always wanted more than he could deliver.
And since that time at the caravan park, Lesley had never once mentioned another holiday.
“Doctor James Walker. Oh, I love the sound of that, Jimmy. I’m married to a doctor. Maybe not a medical doctor, but a doctor all the same”. Lesley’s delight and enthusiasm was infectious, and Jimmy had to admit he was suitably proud. His thesis was not exactly the sort of work that could be publicised though, so his honour was received in private, with a low-key ceremony at Porton Down that Lesley was unable to attend.
‘The Use Of Malaria As A Biological Weapon’ was the kind of headline the tabloids would have loved to use. But that title of Jimmy’s thesis came as the result of years of specialist work based on an idea that he had taken to his immediate superior. Malaria killed around half a million people every year, mostly in Africa. If the disease could be weaponised, then that could expand British power and control of certain African countries that would be completely unaware of how it had been spread.
Although his bosses had been excited by the idea, the practicalities proved to be another matter. It needed the victim to be bitten by the female mosquito to spread the infection, and synthesising that outcome was incredibly difficult, given the technology of the day. However, Jimmy’s theories excited those in power, and more funding went to the Porton Down facility as a result. This made him something of a golden boy at work, giving him more or less carte blanche to work on anything he chose.
Jimmy’s work of choice was on fevers and diseases that were effective people-killers, and could be spread widely, due to their ease of transmission. Ebola, Viral Haemorrhagic Fever, Marburg’s Disease, and Lassa Fever. All of those had great potential, especially for use against countries that had poor medical infrastructure, and little money to combat outbreaks without international help.
His work soon got the attention of some people in government. They were not people anyone knew about of course. Best known as ‘The Dark State’, they worked tirelessly to further the interests of British companies and the British government in areas usually described as ‘The Third World’.
One day, he was called into the office known as ‘The Boardroom’ to speak to two very quiet men. They asked few questions, and listened to his answers without interrupting him. After just over an hour, the tall thin man stood up, and shook Jimmy’s hand. He only said one thing. “Thank you, Doctor Walker. The money you need is immediately available. Please go ahead with your research”.
Lesley never asked Jimmy about his work. She was just happy that he was doing so well, and had even stopped mentioning the fact that he might want to learn to drive. He had applied for a passport though, the first one he had ever owned. That had been at the suggestion of his boss, who had hinted that he might soon be travelling on behalf of the British Government. Jimmy had never been in an aircraft, but didn’t tell anyone the thought of that made him rather nervous.
His friendly boss had told him it would be in an RAF aircraft. “No formalities, James. No baggage restrictions, or Customs and Immigration checks. It will all be very hush-hush”.
Approaching his fortieth birthday, Jimmy almost forgot that Lesley would soon be fifty. The Citroen car had long gone, replaced by a sturdy Volvo Estate, and Lesley had developed an interest in gardening, albeit in pots and containers, which now filled their small courtyard area. The sex had stopped a few years back, but Lesley never complained. How many women like her could boast of such an attractive and intelligent husband? She told him she would miss him when he went abroad, but he wondered if she secretly relished more time to watch nonsense on television.
The trip to Africa was dressed up as a ‘fact-finding’ tour. They were supposedly looking at certain countries to see where disease control could be improved, and the British government could help with that. But Jimmy knew better. The whole point of the three-person tour group was to identify the possibilities of completely destroying the economy of the countries concerned by introducing diseases that affected their infrastructure by reducing their available workforce.
Most of this would involve killing the children. The next generation of workers.
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.
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.
The Ebola outbreak lasted for years. Estimates of those who died in all the countries concerned ranged from eleven thousand, to over twenty thousand. That number included some foreign medical staff who had visited the countries and tried to help. They had no idea that this was a new, highly-contagious strain.
Lesley watched it on the TV news, oblivious to her husband’s involvement. As far as she knew, Jimmy was working very hard trying to find a cure for the Common Cold.
A visit from the quiet men confirmed their success. But like God, they wanted more. Sylvia Leung had come up with a fantastic idea, fully supported by Jimmy. She obviously had an issue with China, based on what her parents had experienced before the official handover of Hong Kong, in 1997. She still had relatives in the former colony, and she was keen to get them out, and living in Britain.
Jimmy told her that could easily be arranged. He had the contacts.
One night, Lesley was watching The Great British Bake Off, and presenter Paul Hollywood told Jimmy in God’s voice that he was very satisfied with his work in Africa. For once, Jimmy replied. He told God that his protege, Sylvia, had a plan that would bring on armageddon. God chuckled at the thought of that, and told Jimmy it was long overdue.
At the end of 2018, Jimmy was sixty-six years old. The top men at Porton Down called him in. He was a year past retirement, but they had let him carry on, as his work was so valuable. In fact, he had been recommended for an elevation to the peerage, for ‘services to science’. Lesley was so excited. Her husband was going to be a Lord. That made her a Lady by default, a very big deal in British heirachy.
As he was allowed to choose his name, Jimmy chose ‘Lord Boscombe’, in honour of the village where they lived. Lesley would become ‘Lady Boscombe’, ensuring them a table at any restaurant they cared to book. Lesley’s only regret was that she had nobody left to boast about it to. But for Jimmy, the downside was that he had to leave his prestigious position at Porton Down to accept his place in the House of Lords.
With no hesitation, he recommended Sylvia Leung to take over his role. He had never met anyone more capable, or more suited for the job. The quiet men then managed to arrange for Sylvia to join an intenational inspection team going on a tour of one of China’s biggest biological research facilities. It would probably happen sometime the following year.
Prouder than ever, Lesley finally got to see her husband honoured, with his Ceremonial Introduction at the House of Lords in the autumn of 2019. She was next to him in the official photographs later, even though when they received them she was horrified that to see that she looked more like his mother, than his wife. Even at the age of sixty-seven, there was a sparkle in his eye, and he still had a full head of grey hair.
As far as the outside world was concerned, Doctor James Walker, now Lord Boscombe, was a retired academic. In truth, he was still in daily contact with Sylvia Leung, who felt she owed him everything. And he could visit Porton Down any time he felt like it, no questions asked. Lesley was seventy-seven years old, and slowing down considerably.
Jimmy engaged the services of a local gardening company to continue her hard work with the containers, and a local taxi firm took care of any driving required. Lesley was still baking, but her cakes and pastries were mostly either undercooked, or burnt. He ate them anyway. He owed her that much for a lifetime of devotion.
Just after Christmas of 2019, the TV news was obsessed with an outbreak of a deadly flu virus in Wuhan, China. Lesley was upset, wondering if it would reach Britain. Jimmy consoled her that it would only be in China, because they ate bats, and other strange food. That evening as she watched television, he went into the bedroom, to talk to God.
God told him that Sylvia Leung was now doing his work. Jimmy had tried hard, but had not fulfilled his promise. God was happy though.
Sylvia would make a difference.