Chapter One - Biology Lesson
'I think I'll be glad when you get another big case to worry about, Bim,' moaned Harry, as Detective Chief Inspector Bim Trotter mooned around their kitchen looking for something to occupy his mind during that cold and wet December Saturday evening in the early eighties. Bim was an abbreviation of Abimilech, He had never quite forgiven his parents for this, who, after all, had wanted their only son to be a bit out of the ordinary. What young couple does not want that for their kids? Most of them, however, do not go to such lengths.
Harry, short for Harriet, had just put their three youngsters to bed and was hoping to persuade Bim to play Scrabble, but she suspected that in his present mood he would never be able to concentrate. He was a pain to play against at the best of times and if he beat her it would only be because he had the luck of the draw with him from start to finish — which was not very often. Neither was it that she did not like winning, but she did prefer to have to fight for her victory; after all, surely a detective should be able to detect a few words.
She finished her clearing-up and they moved from the kitchen into their living room, where her husband flopped into his favourite chair.
'I've never known it so slack down the nick, not since I got my first promotion,' he complained, looking worried. 'If things carry on like this for much longer the Chief Con's going to start thinking about thinning out my staff — and you know what'll happen then? The crime rate'll quadruple overnight, and we won't know which way to turn!'
'Stop moaning and draw your chair over here!' Harriet replied, having changed her mind at short notice. 'We'll have a game of Scrabble, and you can occupy your mind with more important things!' She proceeded to wipe the floor with her man.
The next morning, Sunday, with the weather looking and feeling as if there was snow on the way, the inspector was barely a third of the way through his bulky Sunday Telegraph when he was accosted by those familiar dreaded words: 'Time you got yourself ready for Church, Bim — we have to be there in half an hour. I've got the children ready, I'm just going up to my boudoir to powder my nose and do my hair, and if you have time to clean my shoes while you're doing you own and the kids' I'd be grateful.'
It was not that he was an atheist, Bim reflected, but their old vicar did get a bit boring these days. He really would have preferred to be left in peace with his paper, but.... He closed his eyes for a moment. 'Polish the shoes!' Harry had said; incredible how the odd word could trigger off nearly forgotten memories of past events. His thoughts went back to one day long ago, when he had only been a constable on the beat for a year or so.
There had been a case of swine fever on their patch and they had been instructed to visit all the unaffected pig farms within twenty miles radius of the outbreak to warn the farmers that a standstill order was being imposed on all their herds until further notice. That would be a severe blow to the smaller establishments selling weaners — not only because they would have nowhere to put them when they were ready to go to the fatteners (and little pigs grow very quickly into big ones), but many of them lived hand-to-mouth and needed the cash. His own job had been to call on the nearer farms.
He had been a know-all young man in those days — he admitted it now — and it had never been better exemplified than when he had called on that old farmer, Morgan Phipps, who in those days farmed a hundred acres five miles the other side of Braintree. That was barely enough land to be viable. Dead long since, of course; he had moved here from his native Wales with his mum and dad when he was in his twenties. His accent now was a strange mixture of his native Welsh lilt corrupted by Essex countryman.
Bim remembered as if it were yesterday, how, green young constable that he was, he had leaned his bike against the open five-barred gate and looked apprehensively at the pool of slurry that he would need to cross in his highly polished boots to reach the old chap in the long piggery, where his wife had just told him he was sure to find Morgan, castrating weaners. Young coppers now would be issued with wellies, and given a Panda car to drive around in.
After walking round the edge of the pool where it was most shallow, he opened the door of the wooden piggery, only to be hit by a concentration of ammonia that almost took his breath away. Old Morgan, who must have finished his castrating, was standing by the first pen, scratching the back of a huge Welsh sow. On looking up and seeing Bim standing there with running eyes and holding a handkerchief to his nose, he told him, with a grin, to breathe it in free while he had the chance; it would kill all his germs and leave him cold-free for the winter.
Once Bim got acclimatised to the effluvium, he told the old fellow the bad news.
'I'm afraid there's been an outbreak of swine-fever on Lord Oakley's estate up the road, sir, and until further notice no stock may be moved off or onto these premises. I am instructed to affix notices to that effect at all the access points round the farm.'
With that he was about to hand over one of the yellow notices for the farmer to inspect, when he noticed that the old fellow's eyes were closed and his lips moving in what was probably silent prayer.
Hearing the rustle of papers, Morgan Phipps opened his eyes and saw the pitying look (or perhaps 'sardonic' might have been more appropriate) in the young man's face. Glancing up at him sadly for a moment (being a short, stocky man), he then turned to his right and over his shoulder told Bim to follow him to the office. 'Office' was a very grand name for the partitioned-off dusty corner of the piggery, wherein was to be found (or not!), strewn higgledy-piggledy, everything from pig medicines, castrating, ear-punching and nose-ringing tools, to prize rosettes and paperwork. To the constable's surprise, Morgan pulled out a drawer in the ancient desk and removed a rather strange-looking instrument
It was straight, about eighteen inches long overall, and made from hard pink rubber or plastic. At one end was a point which devolved into a perfectly turned right-hand thread about eight inches long, not unlike a giant good-quality, engineered corkscrew. The threaded portion was about one and a half inches thick. The other end of this appliance was in the form of a plain rod, three-quarters of an inch thick and ten inches long.
'What d'ye think this is, boyo?' he said, handing the strange thing to Bim. After much head-scratching, the young copper handed it back and confessed he hadn't a clue, at the same time wondering what the silly old fool was playing at.
'Well, I'll tell ye what it is — it's an exact replica of a boar's pizzle. Inside the sow there's an exact female copy of this male thread for the pizzle to screw into. When the owd boar gets on the job, 'e stands quite still for a quarter hour or so, instead o' wasting energy moving 'is 'eavy carcass up and down, and ye might think he was asleep. But all that time he's screwing 'is pizzle in and out, with both on 'em standing there still, eyes closed and bliss on their funny old faces. This 'ere rubber one is what I used to artificially inseminate me sows with afore I could afford me own boar. I got three on 'em now.'
'When you saw me offerin' up a wee bit prayer just now, I see in ye're eyes ye was a thinking that this silly old Welsh clod 'opping country bumpkin who left school afore he was fourteen, believes there's someone up there a-listening to him. Well maybe there be, and may be there b'ain't, but just you tell me this. If everything on this 'ere Earth evolved unplanned, by odd mistakes keeping on creeping in on newborn things, an' some of these being better than the original so they were more likely to survive and breed. Now, how many of these tiny intermediate birth mistakes would have had to happen to boar and sow at the same time, before this perfect engineering job was accomplished? Well, however many thousands of millions there had to be, it's certain that it wasn't until nearly the end of the process that it would begin work to the advantage of the creature, and therefore more likely to survive than the others.
'So ye see what I'm a-getting at, don't ye — this pizzle stood no more chance of finishing up like this 'ere without being planned in advance, no matter how long it took to evolve by our standards of time, than Saint Paul's Cathedral happened to form like it is, from stuff dropped out of an airyplane at random for millions of years. An' things can't be planned without a planner, ye knows.'
Bim was lost for words for a minute. He took the pizzle back and made as if to examine it further to cover his confusion. He now noticed for the first time there was a fine hole running through it, no doubt to convey the semen right into the womb. Seeing that the young fellow was not about to reply, Morgan continued, 'Evolution all takes place through the genes, they tell us. Well, ye know I keeps bees; these little creatures are as advanced in their own way as we humans — perhaps even more so — yet they reached their present stage of evolution over 300 million years ago. That's before we humans were even thought of. Their workers have a language dance that's so definite that when one of them finds a good source of honey she can come home and direct the others to within just a few yards of where to find it without leaving the hive herself. These same clever undeveloped females who can never breed are able to build perfect octagons from hard wax they make themselves, turn nectar into honey by evaporating the water, make special meals for their common mother, nurse their babies and make bee bread from pollen and honey for them that they'll never eat themselves and perform a thousand other highly skilled jobs. In fact, every single bit of skilled work in their community is performed by these sterile creatures. So believe it or not, boyo, they never pass on any genes at all, because none of them can have any female offspring, although they have a mother and father. You see, the father bee can mate a queen, just once in his life, so his genes get passed on when the workers decide to make one of their queen's eggs into another queen to replace the old one. But the drone only has the queen's genes, because he has a mother and no father; that's because the queen, when prompted by the workers, lays a male egg by omitting to drop a sperm on an ordinary egg. Then, having no father, it becomes a male, and the workers make bigger cells for them.
'Such an intelligent lifestyle must have taken hundreds of millions of years to evolve and since it definitely could not have evolved by the progressive random mutation of workers' genes, again, it had to be planned. I ain't got a lot more time to spare, young fellow, but if ye likes to go around wi' ye eyes open in future, ye'll see for sure hundreds of other things, from flint stones that could produce knives, to trees that grew wood for the flints to cut, that all form part of some mysterious plan.
'An' it don't make much difference whether ye call the planner Allah, God, Lord, or anything else ye choose; if ye've enough common sense left to think straight, after all the eddication they stuff into ye these days, ye'll know it don't do no harm to call on whoever it is up there for a wee bit help. And when ye sees how the youngsters behave these days, believing in nothing but themselves, mebbe ye'll see what they're missing.'
'Of course, ye'll often come across a few bits o' mumbo-jumbo from the vicar ye can't swallow. D'ye know the tastiest bit o' a pig is its belly? Well, would ye throw that scrumptious piece o' meat out just because there were a few bits o' gristly bone running through it, or would ye swallow the meat after spitting out the uneatable bits? No need to answer, boyo.'
Morgan put the facsimile of a pizzle back in its drawer and turned to make his way back to the old sow he had been with when Bim arrived. Suddenly, Bim pulled himself together. Running after the old chap, he stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. 'Thanks, Morgan — you've given me plenty to think about and I will keep my eyes open a bit more in future.'
He did, too; scarcely a day was to pass during the following weeks when he did not notice some other unexplainable marvel, now that his eyes had been opened. And when he married Harry shortly afterwards, they had got into the habit of going to church on Sunday mornings. When he came to think of it, what a wonder it was that Harry put up with the cocksure young idiot he was in those days, let alone loved him....
Bim nearly jumped out of his skin.
'You're still sitting there daydreaming and we have to be off in a few minutes. Whatever are you thinking about? And now we'll all have to go out with dirty shoes!' Her husband disappeared up the stairs three at a time.
The following morning, just as our detective was about to leave for work as usual, his wife stopped him in the hall. 'I've been thinking, dear...'
The 'dear' put her husband on his guard immediately — for run-of-kiln matters she called him Bim.
'... you've got a week of your holiday to come, love, and you know how good you are at these do-it-yourself jobs.' (Absolute rubbish, as he realised.) 'We've had these kitchen units for over ten years now and they don't only look old-fashioned, but none of the doors shut properly and a lot of the of the worktop surface wore off long ago. So why not take that week they owe you while you're slack and do the work yourself?'
Bim's thoughts accelerated through his mind like lightning as he checked through all the possible escape routes. They had enough cash in the bank now for the units; it was true that they owed him a week that he could take when he liked. As no viable excuse occurred to him on the spur of the moment, he opted for procrastination. 'Can't stop now, love — I'll think it over during the day, and we'll talk about it tonight when the kids have gone to bed, if you like.' He kissed her quickly and was out of the door before she could argue.
As was his custom, he had left home early enough to call at the newsagent's for his Daily Telegraph to take to the office so that he could to cast his eye over the salient points of the latest news before starting work in earnest. The main item on the front page did not disturb him unduly. There was so much trouble, so many petty disputes going on in remote corners of the world, now as ever, that one could not afford to allow oneself to be disturbed by them. He read:
RUMOURS OF BLOODY COUP D'ETAT IN AMBOUNA
Stories are emanating from what are regarded as usually well-informed quarters that this small but oil-rich island-state in the Arabian Sea, until now controlled by a democratically elected moderate Islamic government, is being invaded by a group of fanatical fundamentalists, supposedly based in Pakistan.
It is said that the invaders are advancing toward the capital and main port, Ambounadi, leaving a trail of burned villages and mayhem in their wake.
Ambouna, together with its territorial waters, is not only important to the Western world as an important source of oil, with huge reserves for future exploitation, but the position in which it is situated, between India and the African continent, makes this independent state extremely important strategically for us. In addition, if it fell to a Pakistani sect, even though one not overtly supported by its government, it is certain that India would be unlikely to tolerate such a potential hotbed of disruption and subversion on its doorstep. Relations with her bellicose neighbour, on a knife-edge as they always are, could easily be precipated into outright war for the second time within a couple of generations. Those who remember the wholesale blood-letting then will realise how important it is that what is so far a minor fire does not develop into widespread conflagration.
It is also known that Russia has always kept a jealous eye open in this sphere, which is why the West has always been careful, overtly at least, to keep its fingers out of this particular pie, to avoid any excuse for reciprocal action.
Though probably unconnected with the coup, ever since the occupation of the island by the Japanese army during the last war there have been tales in circulation of mysterious happenings having taken place on Ambouna during the two years their soldiers were there. Local residents will never discuss this subject.
See page 4 for report by our Middle East Correspondent.
Bim grunted and turned for a quick look at the weather forecast (a blizzard to come, followed by zero temperatures) before stuffing the newspaper in a drawer and looking in his diary to see what little there was for him to attend to on this miserable, overcast and cold morning. By half past ten he had more or less completed his foreseeable tasks for the day; it was all routine stuff, like okaying the issue of gun licences and allocation of staff to the few current enquiries on their books, so he then wandered off to the canteen for a cup of coffee. The phone on his desk was ringing when he re-entered his office a quarter of an hour later. He snatched it up from across the desktop before sitting down with it to his ear.
'Hi, Bim!' It was the voice of Superintendent Jolley, his friend and boss, that greeted him. 'I think you'd better pop into my office, old chap; can't talk about this over the phone.' Wondering just what the mysterious 'this' could possibly be, he made his way up the stairs to the super's first-floor room. Upon entering, he was waved to a chair that Jolley had already drawn up for him on the opposite side of his desk. 'You'd better take a look at this for yourself, Bim. Then you'll know as much about the situation as I do.' Jolley handed him an envelope that had already been split open. 'It came by dispatch rider a few minutes ago.' The envelope was marked 'Urgent & Secret. For the personal attention of Superintendent Jolley.'
Bim extracted the contents: a short letter bearing the coat of arms of the foreign office, again headed 'Secret', followed by a code number.
An emergency situation has developed whereby I have to instruct you to second two of your staff to this office for special duties. Since information concerning the delicate task that has to be delegated to them is on a 'need to know' basis, I regret that I am unable to tell you what this operation is all about.
Will you therefore please instruct the following two personnel to report to me here as soon as they are able, this afternoon if at all possible, telephoning me on the above number before leaving. All expenses incurred from this time forth will be met from this department:
- Chief Det Insp A Trotter.
- Det Constable R Bateman.
Please instruct Trotter to bring this letter with him, both as a means of identification, and in order that he may be shown up to my office. I remain, sir,
Your obedient servant,
Bim looked up from reading the letter, too surprised for the moment to speak.
'Yes, it does seem a bit cloak-and-dagger, I agree, but I expect you'll soon know more of what it's about — whereas I'm apparently going to be kept in the dark,' Jolley observed. 'However, although I'm as curious as you probably are, as there's nothing I can do about that, I suppose I'll just have to suck my orange and try to manage without you. Fortunately, as you know only too well, there's not much going on at the moment and I hope it stays that way until I get you both back. Bateman went out with the team that's working on the Braintree Night Club drugs case and I've already got a message out there to the sergeant in charge, asking the constable to report back here at once. The rest is up to you, Bim — you're out of my clutches from now until they send you both back to me! I've taken a photocopy of that letter, by the way, to cover myself in case anything should go wrong — like if you should disappear without trace, for instance, in which case I'd have no evidence to show you weren't under my jurisdiction. Let's hope nothing does go wrong, but we both know exceedingly well, and to our cost in the past, what these ministries are like: always ready to pass the buck, especially if one has nothing in writing. As you can see, the letter includes a note of phone number, address and the name of the bloke you'll be dealing with,' he added.
Bim had by this time recovered his equilibrium. 'Well, sir, since it's not eleven yet I guess we should be able to make it to Whitehall by about three o'clock this afternoon — that is, if Bateman gets here within the next half hour or so. And as it's so urgent I suppose expenses will be able to include a taxi fare. I'll be in my office until then, clearing up loose ends and writing up details of open cases for whoever you're going to delegate to take over my patch until we get home again.'
Jolley held out his hand. 'Well, good luck Bim, and hurry up back to us, because I'm going to miss you.'
No-one could wish for a better boss than old Jolley, Bim reflected, as he shook his hand, and then hurried back down to his own office.
Detective Constable Bateman put in an appearance half an hour later and Bim showed him the letter. While he read and brooded over it, the chief inspector rang the number stated in the letter, was put through to Mr Reynolds and announced that, barring accidents, they would attend upon him that afternoon at 3.00pm. Turning to the constable, he told him, 'You can take the rest of the morning off, Bob, but I want to see you back here at half-past-one. In the meantime, I suggest you tidy yourself up and have something to eat.' (The CID officers were encouraged to try to look as unlike policemen as possible when on drugs cases.) 'Also, perhaps you'd better warn your wife that we're off on an expedition into the unknown and that she should expect you back home tonight when she sees you. And I hope she doesn't cut up too rough at the news that we may be about to be sent off on an away job. Come to that, I hope mine doesn't either. I don't suppose we'll be late back this evening, but I don't know whether this is a job they want us to accomplish in hours, days or weeks, so we'd best be prepared for any contingency.'
Bob Bateman was not a typical Englishman — at least not in appearance. His eyes were dark, nearly black, as was his hair, and his skin was a light olive in colour. He stood six feet and was very powerfully built. Now thirty-nine, he had joined the infantry as a boy and worked his way up through the ranks to achieve captain by the time he retired from the regular army at twenty-five years of age. Having boxed and played football for his regiment, after retiring from the infantry and joining the force he had carried on with his two sports until comparatively recently. His wife, although secretly proud of them, constantly grumbled at the time it took her to dust and polish his numerous trophies. He still kept very fit by enjoying amateur wrestling and neither smoked nor drank. He had only been transferred to the Chelmsford branch six months previously, and this would be the first time that Bim had worked with him.
Their taxi entered Whitehall and drew up in front of the Foreign Office portico at 2.45pm. Bim paid the fare and asked for a receipt before they climbed the steps to be met by a plainclothes doorman whose bearing looked remarkably like that of an old soldier. He examined their letter and then spoke into an intercom. Turning to the pair once more, he informed them, 'Someone will be down to show you up to Mr Reynolds shortly, gentlemen. He's in office 81 on the first floor.'
'Well then, take a seat, the pair of you,' said Reynolds, a shade patronisingly perhaps, while shaking hands with them after the two policemen had been shown in and Bim had introduced himself and Bob. He looked surprisingly young to have the authority to requisition them from the force. 'And if you're wondering what you are here for, don't look at me, because I know no more about it than you do,' he continued. 'In fact, I'm just a go-between and this isn't my office, even — just a sort of temporary interview room, in fact. So if you'll excuse me, I'll go and fetch Mr X, who is at the moment swilling tea in my office.' With no more ado, he turned round and left them, passing through the only door.
While they waited in silence, Bim's thoughts returned to his wife, and in particular to their kitchen. With a bit of luck this job the Foreign Office was wanting them to do should give him the excuse he was looking for. On reflection, though, perhaps she did deserve to have something done about those tatty units. Supposing he told her they could afford up to five hundred pounds and that she could get their handyman in the village to do the work. He knew that each week she put aside a nice little sum saved from the housekeeping into a nest egg she really kept for emergencies, so if it was going to cost any more and she really wanted the job done badly enough, perhaps she wouldn't mind subsidising it. Yes, that would be fair enough, he thought....