“There’s no record of violence. Quite a pleasant sort of chap, they tell me. Bit of a card, really. One of the stars at the Christmas concert. Imitations, you know the sort of thing: Mike Yarwood stuff. No, he’s just a congenital kleptomaniac, that’s all.”
“Me ‘at? Huh!” Evans put his right hand lovingly on top of the filthy woollen, and smiled sadly. “D’you know, Mr Jackson, it’s the only thing that’s ever brought me any sort o’ luck in life. Kind o’ lucky charm, if you know what I mean. And today I thought—well, with me exam and all that…”
Buried somewhere in Jackson was a tiny core of compassion; and Evans knew it.
“Just this once, then, Shirley Temple.” (If there was one thing that Jackson genuinely loathed about Evans it was his long, wavy hair.)
“In the top right-hand corner write your index number—313. And in the box just below that, write your centre number—271. A’ right?”
Was this the sort of thing the Governor had feared? Was the phone call a fake? Some signal? Some secret message…? But he could check on that immediately. He dialed the number of the Examinations Board, but heard only the staccato bleeps of a line engaged. But then the line was engaged, wasn’t it? Yes. Not very intelligent, that…
“Will ye please stop writing a wee while, Mr Evans, and listen carefully. Candidates offering German, 021-1, should note the following correction. ‘On page three, line fifteen, the fourth word should read goldenen, not goldene; and the whole phrase will therefore read zum goldenen Löwen, not zum goldene Löwen.’ I will repeat that…”
There, sprawled back in Evans’s chair was a man (for a semi second Stephens thought it must be Evans), a grey regulation blanket slipping from his shoulders, the front of his closely cropped, irregularly tufted hair awash with fierce red blood which had dropped already through the small black beard, and was even now spreading horribly over the white clerical collar and down into the black clerical front […] the minister’s hand felt feebly for a handkerchief from his pocket, and held it to his bleeding head, the blood seeping slowly through the white linen.
“And which one of you two morons was it who took Evans for a nice little walk to the main gates and waved him bye-bye?”
“It was me, sir,” stammered Stephens. “Just like you told me, sir. I could have sworn—”
“What? Just like I told you, you say? What the hell—?”
“When you rang, sir, and told me to—”
“When was that?” The Governor’s voice was a whiplash now.
“You know, sir. About twenty past eleven just before—”
“You blithering idiot, man! It wasn’t me who rang you. Don’t you realise—” But what was the use? He had used the telephone at that time, but only to try (unsuccessfully, once more) to get through to the Examinations Board.
Yes, it had been a jolly good idea for “McLeery” to wear two black fronts, two collars. But that top collar! Phew! It had kept on slipping off the back stud; and there’d been that one panicky moment when “McLeery” had only just got his hand up to his neck in time to stop the collars springing apart before Stephens… Ah! They’d got that little problem worked out all right […] But all that fiddling about under the blanket with the black front and the stud at the back of the collar—that had been far more difficult than they’d ever bargained for […].
“Tell me, Evans. How did you manage to plan all this business? You’ve had no visitors—I’ve seen to that. You’ve had no letters—”
“I’ve got lots of friends, though.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Me German teacher, for a start.”
“You mean—? But he was from the Technical College.”
“Was ‘e?” Evans was almost enjoying it all now. “Ever check up on ‘im, sir?”
“God Almighty! There’s far more going on than I—”
“Always will be, sir.”
“See you soon, Evans.” It was almost as if the Governor were saying farewell to an old friend after a cocktail party.
“Cheerio, sir. I, er, I was just wonderin’. I know your German’s pretty good, sir, but do you know any more o’ these modern languages?”
“Not very well. Why?”
Evans settled himself comfortably on the back seat, and grinned happily. “Nothin’, really. I just ‘appened to notice that you’ve got some O-level Italian classes comin’ up next September, that’s all.”
“Perhaps you won’t be with us next September, Evans.”
James Roderick Evans appeared to ponder the Governor’s words deeply. “No. P’r’aps I won’t,” he said.