I was always the unsqueamish one in our family. You know how members of a family play their allotted role? One becomes the noisy one, one the untidy one and one the sensible one (usually mother)? Well, I was the unsqueamish one. I think it started when they noticed I didn't faint at the sight of blood or kick up a fuss when I had to have an injection. Once the baby was sick where I wanted to play, and I cleared it up so I could get on with things.
"A remarkable child," said my father. "How often does one encounter someone who clears up a mess without being asked."
"Very often," said my mother. "They are called mothers."
But even she had to agree that I was unusual in my coolness about mess and blood. Perhaps I just did not have the imagination to be sickened. When my mother found a dead mouse brought in by the cat, she screamed and screamed (because it was dead and had had its head bitten off). I calmly rolled it up in a newspaper and disposed of it, and my mother stopped screaming. I was about six at the time.
After that they came to me whenever there was something unpleasant that needed doing. Unblocking drains was a favourite. So were dead birds. And getting rid of stuff left too long in the fridge.
I didn't start killing things until I was about 10. We kept some chickens, and one had to be killed for the pot. My mother couldn't face doing it. My father tried feebly and made a mess of it.
"Let me do it," I said, and twisted its neck till it broke.
"Well done, my boy," said my father.
I expect there are people who get a kick out of violence. People who torture each other. Rugby players who inflict scientific injury in the privacy of the scrum. I am not like that. It just seemed a logical way of doing things. As a boy, I never pulled the wings off flies. What was the point?
In my teens I was called upon to do other minor mercy killings. Kitten drowning. Finishing off a wounded rabbit. I never made a mess of it. I felt a master of the situation. Unlike my father, who never seemed to prosper at anything, least of all work. One night, at the supper table, he was discussing Mr Dawkins, his boss. If Mr Dawkins wasn't there, my father thought, he would step right into his job.
"If only we could get rid of Mr Dawkins somehow," sighed my father. Then he looked at me. "I don't suppose you could..."
"Well... you're so good at eliminating obstacles..."
"You want me to kill your boss?"
"Not kill, exactly... Just arrange it so he's not there."
The trouble with people like my father is that they can't bring themselves to say it. The next day I went to the place where my father worked and had a look round. Mr Dawkins's office was at the back of the building. There was nothing there except a rickety fire escape. My father told me that Mr Dawkins often used it as his own private entrance. But he wouldn't let anyone else use it.
Interesting. Two weeks later I advised my father to take the day off work.
"Let's just say that it would be in your interest."
The news came that the fire escape had collapsed, and Mr Dawkins, who had been climbing up it at the time, had never recovered from the fall. They never suspected it had been tampered with, so my father's alibi was rather unnecessary. Unfortunately, there was no happy ending.
"They've given Mr Dawkins's job to Mr Swain," said my father. "It is completely unfair. But if Mr Swain were to be removed..."
He looked at me.
"Father," I said. "It is quite unfair of you to expect me to handle all your promotion at work. I think you should make your own arrangements from now on."
There was a certain coolness between us after that, which never quite cleared before I left home and was recruited by the intelligence services.
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