Authors: Arkay Jones
Copyright Â© 2014 Arkay Jones
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Enthusiastic young assistant to help with top secret experiments
Must like animals â and insects
Must be fast worker and team player
When Jay Jenks saw the advertisement, pinned up in the window of Frimton Post Office, his legs turned to jelly. He felt quite faint with excitement. He read it again and again. It was just made for him. He was really enthusiastic â about everything. He liked animals, well, most of them, and although he had not given it much thought before, insects were probably alright. He played football regularly for St. Wilfred's 2nd XI, so, obviously, he was a team player. And certainly he was fast, very fast. That's why everyone back home called him “Whizzer.”
Back home seemed a long way away now. When his Mum had first suggested that he might like to spend his holidays with Aunt Mavis in the country at Frimton, he had not been at all happy with the idea. In this particular case his usual enthusiasm had deserted him altogether. Not that there had been any choice anyway. Mum had explained that she needed to spend time with his Dad, whom he did not see very often and who lived somewhere in London. As his Mum had added, if she could do that, all three of them might be able to spend more time together in future. Jay was all for that but in the meantime what would there be to do at Frimton? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Until now. What a job! Top secret experiments! Wow!
For a few minutes, Jay stood musing on what it could mean; maybe even a secret agent of some sort? Suddenly a loud âping' from the bell on the post-office door jolted him back to earth. The door opened with a clatter and an elderly lady bustled out with her shopping trolley. This was his chance; the shop was empty. Just in case he was already being watched, Jay glanced carefully up and down the street before entering. All seemed clear. Not a suspicious character in sight. So, with a resolute push and another loud âping', he swung the door open and he was in.
At first he couldn't see anyone serving inside either. Then, peering from behind the counterâgrill he could see the bespectacled face of Miss Spratt, the post-mistress. Jay hesitated and sauntered about for a moment, wondering to himself whether it would be good manners to buy something before âenquiring within'. He surveyed the post-cards, then the sweets, still pondering. The silence, now embarrassing, was broken by Miss Spratt. “You're Mavis Jenks' nephew aren't you? Can I help you?”
Jay realised this was it â he had to go for it now. Putting on his deepest voice he ignored the first question and explained as casually as he could that he was interested in the job advertised in the window. Not the paper-boy, nor the part-time gardener, evenings only, but the other one. As the words “top secret â¦” came out his voice trailed away. The point, however, had been made. Miss Spratt reached down and with a kindly smile pushed a large, white application form under the grill into Jay's eager hands.
“The job isn't here, of course,” she said, “but the person concerned will be calling in later today to collect the forms. You can fill it in over there,” she added, passing a large brown pencil to him under the grill.
Jay rested against the opposite counter and, having filled in his name and Aunt Mavis' address, considered the first question. “Please give the name of a referee.” What sort of a question was that? Mr. Bingley, the maths teacher, always refereed St Wilfred's 2nd XI matches but what was that to do with the job? He was a bit odd sometimes but surely Mr. Bingley wasn't some sort of spy? No, that couldn't be right. Jay decided to leave that question for the moment. Question number two read “Do you mind funny smells?” That seemed rather easier and he was just about to fill in a large “No” when Miss Spratt called out to him.
“Oh, young man, that lady has left her stamps. Can you see if you can catch her with them, please?”
Jay felt rather cross inside â what a time to ask! But he just smiled and taking the stamps called out over his shoulder as he pinged open the door, “I'll do my best.”
In an instant he was sprinting down the street in the direction he had seen the elderly lady go. There was no sign of her but she might be in another shop. He ran on, past Value Plus Grocers, peering in. Then Shaheed's Chemist; plenty of customers but not the lady he was seeking. He looked further down the street and there, in the distance, emerging from Edge's High Class Butchers, was the elderly lady with her trolley in tow. Catching up with her, he handed over the stamps, hardly waiting for her thanks before pelting back to the post-office. In through the door he went â âping' â over to the far counter, fearing the application form might have been swiped by someone else. Oh no! It wasn't there. He looked all around; on the floor, in the bin, in the pile of leaflets. Not there. It had definitely been swiped.
As he went through the pile of leaflets for the third time, Miss Spratt emerged from the back room behind the counter-grill. “Did you find her?” she asked.
“Yes, in the butcher's. But my formâ¦ someone's swiped, I mean I've â¦”
Miss Spratt saved him from getting in a further muddle by interrupting. “In the butcher's! You tracked her down over quite a distance then.”
“Yes. But my form. I've lost my form,” Jay replied anxiously.
“Oh, the form,” said Miss Spratt in a cheery voice, “I've got that. And I don't think you'll need to fill in any more beyond your name. You seem to me to be very willing and enthusiastic. And you certainly are fast. In the butcher's, eh? Yes, very fast. It seems to me you would be a very good assistant for the gentleman concerned. In fact, he told me that if I personally thought that any particular person was a good candidate, he would certainly give them an interview. Well done!”
With that, Miss Spratt handed Jay a business card on which was printed, in bold green letters, the name âProfessor Theobald Ricardo' and an address in Frimton.
“I'll tell Professor Ricardo, when he calls in tonight, that a very helpful young man will be calling to see him at 10 o'clock tomorrow morning about a job. Now you make sure you are at that address in good time.”
âPing!' A lady with two noisy children came in and Jay's conversation with Miss Spratt came to an end as she turned to chat with the lady. Jay couldn't wait to tell Aunt Mavis of this new exciting development. With some hurried thanks he was off through the door and racing faster than ever down the lane, clutching the business card firmly in his hand. Things in Frimton, he thought to himself, were certainly looking up!
At the same time as Jay was making his way along the lane back to Aunt Mavis' house, almost 2,000 miles away, high in the Arctic Circle, the ice-breaker âM.V. Boundless,' a ship of some 12,000 tonnes, was buffeting its way through heaving ice floes.
On board the âBoundless,' the crew had just finished supper â a warming casserole of beef, carrots and onions, with plenty of suet dumplings. This was followed by equally hearty helpings of apple-crumble smothered in thick yellow custard. With the meal cleared away, some crew members sat chatting contentedly over mugs of coffee whilst others read or played cards. Some were already lounging in their bunks before turning in for the night. Not that sleeping was all that easy since it was the season of the âmidnight sun,' the season when the sun sinks lower in the Arctic evening sky but does not set and daylight persists for weeks on end.
As most of the crew relaxed, the ship's cook, Jamal, carefully put aside in the oven to keep warm, one extra-large helping of the evening meal. This was for the one crew member yet to eat, Able Seaman, Aksel Rasmussen. It was Aksel's turn to be âon watch' as the âBoundless' negotiated its perilous way through the creaking and shifting ice floes. He was currently in the look-out post, high above the deck, scanning the horizon through his binoculars.
Although it was not the usual time for ice-bergs this far south, these huge mountains of floating ice were his main concern. It was important, also, to be on the look out for other ships, albeit unlikely in these icy wastes, or indeed anything worthy of report. But, as Aksel would have told you, if you had the nerve to ask the 6'5” Dane, there seldom, if ever, was anything âworthy of report.' Nevertheless, the job had to be done properly and he carefully scanned the horizon, port to starboard, (left to right), every few minutes.
Even when wrapped up in several layers of clothing, the look-out's job was still very cold. With the usual ânothing to report,' it was also rather boring. The âBoundless' followed the old naval system of ship's duty watches. Each half-hour of the watch was marked by ringing the ship's bell â one bell after half an hour, two bells after an hour and so on. Aksel was looking forward to hearing the bells ring to signal the end of his particular watch at 8pm (or 20.00 hours, as Aksel would say), when he could, at last, sit down to his evening meal. He had just shrugged off the thought of that meal and picked up his binoculars to scan the horizon yet again, when, with a metallic clunk and creak, the iron door to the look-out post swung open and Jamal's cheery face peered in. Jamal and Aksel had been shipmates together on many a voyage and had formed a firm friendship. Jamal, for his part, always made sure there was plenty of hearty food to sustain the Dane's large frame. For his part, Aksel had used that mighty frame on a number of occasions ashore to keep Jamal from suffering the consequences of one too many cheeky remarks on outings in Helsinki and Reykjavik.
So the sight of Jamal emerging through the doorway with a mug of steaming, strong, hot coffee to warm Aksel through the last hour of his watch was doubly welcome. Aksel beamed broadly, reached forward for the mug of coffee and put down his binoculars half-way through his latest scan of the horizon. Which was a pity. Had he completed that sweep of the horizon, he would have noted something âworthy of report' and perhaps, in reporting it, might have saved Jay Jenks' future employer â and Jay himself â a great deal of time and effort. For, on the horizon, just as Aksel put down his binoculars, there emerged into sight two polar bears. A mother and her cub. They were ambling slowly along the length of a large sheet of ice just off shore.
When Aksel had, in the past, spotted the occasional polar bear, they were not easy to make out, merging into the whiteness of the ice-sheets on which they travelled. This time, had Aksel been looking through his binoculars, rather than joking with Jamal and sipping coffee, he would have had no such difficulty. The mother bear was glowing faintly but distinctly with an eerie purple light. The cub beside her glowed a soft, fluorescent green.