X-Ray and I
Revenge is cold passion.
I’ve been living in the Black Prince nursing home for the last eleven years. When I first came to this luxurious converted Victorian workhouse I gave myself four years top-whack. I reckoned I’d get bored out of my skull and turn my toes up pretty bloody quickly. That’s what I wanted I suppose.
It didn’t happen. For a start they’ve got a really big library, everything from crime pulp to Shakespeare. The gym with top-notch trainers specialised in keeping old buggers like me fit without killing us and grounds full of shrubs and enormous Beech trees. In the summer you can lose yourself in there. It’s like living next to Hyde Park. There’s always something to keep us busy. If we do get bored, we’re free to go into town unaccompanied providing we can put one foot in front of the other and aren’t wheelers or droolers.
I signed up when I was seventy, a couple of years after I returned to England. It weren’t cheap, but I had a bit put away thanks to a big investment I made in my thirties. I had a plan when I arrived, but in the end I gave up on it. No family left and I’d lost touch with all my friends and contacts. I thought, Why not?
I’m pushing eighty-two now and feel as fit as I’ve ever been. Some of the inmates (we’re not supposed to call them that) are stuck in wheelchairs or suffering from senile dementia. Most of us are pretty good and the women – they can be very naughty. I’ve had some interesting walks around the grounds if you know what I mean. The staff are very good at turning a blind eye. Keeps us young at heart I suppose.
We get a lot of new arrivals and, of course, a lot of departures. It’s like a conveyer belt for rich geriatrics. That sounds cruel, but I’ve always had an odd sense of humour. Why worry I reckon. I could be the next one out of here in an oak suit. Not exactly rocket science to work that out.
About four months ago this new bloke in a wheelchair turned up, looked about the same age as me. He’d been sent here because his nursing home weren’t equipped to care for stroke victims. I didn’t take much notice at first, just another poor sod with more money than time.
Strange thing, life. A man can change dramatically as he gets old. Go bald, get fat, wrinkle like a prune, shrink to a dwarf and a lot of other things. But there’s always something that don’t change. One afternoon I heard a voice I recognised. A simple, “thank you,” when a nurse gave this new arrival a cup of tea. I couldn’t believe my luck.
I didn’t do anything straight away in case I was wrong. I moved my chair near so I could see his face better. I watched him struggling to drink his tea out of one of those cups with a spout like they give toddlers, trying to see if I recognised anything about his face. All the left side sagged twisting his mouth down so it was hard to see his features. I noticed his nose was broken bending slightly to the right, and his eyes were very light-blue. They seemed to look through people.
Yup, it was, “X-Ray” alright. His real name, Ray Jones. He’d got the nickname at school. James Woodbine was my name. We were best mates. Later, when we did business together, we were known as, “Jimmy-the-Smoke and X-Ray.”
I watched him drinking his tea. The cup wobbled in his good hand. I remembered he was left-handed, life would be doubly hard for him. When he finished, he put the cup down and knocked a little box containing his medication on the floor. I went over to him and picked it up.
‘There you go, mate,’ I said in a hushed voice.
He raised his eyes to look at me, but there was nothing in them to say he recognised me. ‘Thank you,’ he said.
I smiled and returned his gaze, but he looked down at his cup. He seemed to concentrate on it. I went back to my chair wondering if he’d lost his mind to dementia.
The following week, I watched him from a distance. Although he was severely handicapped it was obvious there was nothing wrong with his mind. He made little jokes with the nurses and some of the more sprightly residents. I could see from his lop-sided smile and his guttural chuckles he liked people fussing around him. It gave me an idea.
One morning I offered him my newspaper, but he shook his head. Said he couldn’t hold it upright. ‘It’s alright, mate,’ I said, ‘I’ll hold it for you.’
Over the next three weeks we got into a routine. Every morning I’d get a newspaper and hold it for him to read. He liked The Times. When he got tired, I’d go to the gym and have a workout. In the afternoons, I’d take him a cup of tea and a cake and I’d hold my newspaper for him. I like The Daily Mirror.
In all that time he never recognised me. It was over forty years since we last saw each other, but I thought something about me, my gestures or my voice might trigger something. I spent a very long time out of the country, no doubt losing my accent and picking up different mannerisms. People have said I seem a bit foreign. Certainly, I had more reason to remember him than he did me. When I was sure he didn’t, I decided it was time to introduce myself.
I chose a Saturday night to pay him a visit; there’s less staff on duty. Easy to move around without being noticed. I waited until about two in the morning before I went to his room.
He was asleep and lying on his back when I entered. That made things easier. I moved the emergency-remote out of his reach and I tied his right arm to the side of the bed with a bandage I’d brought with me. I filled his mouth with a load of compresses and stuck a wide a plaster over it. That woke him up. Took him a while to figure out he was tied down and I was in the room. It was pretty dim with just the night-light. He tried to struggle, but he couldn’t do much being almost paralysed from the stroke. It only took one hand to hold him down.
‘Hello, Ray. Remember me?’ I asked, quiet like. He shook his head from side to side. Other than that, he could hardly move.
‘Don’t you remember your old pal, Jimmy-the-Smoke?’ His eyes went wide.
‘We got a score to settle, don’t we?’ He shook his head again. Sweat formed on his forehead and he started to hyperventilate.
‘Take it easy, you’ll give yourself a heart attack.’ I said. ‘That wouldn’t be any good to me, would it?’ He relaxed or at least stopped moving.
I smiled at him. ‘Thought I was a fool didn’t you, Ray? Me telling Eileen where I hid my share in case of emergencies while I was inside.’ He started grunting, but the compresses muffled the sound. ‘Yeah. Inside taking the rap for the bloke you killed. Remember that?’ He closed he eyes and nodded slowly. A man resigned to his fate
I felt a tear roll down my face. ‘You didn’t have to kill her. She’d never have grassed you up. She knew she’d be alright even if you did take my share.
There were diamonds, Ray. A lot of smuggled un-cut diamonds. While you were beating shit out of hubby, I found ‘em tucked away in a drawer. Hidden inside a pair of silk knickers they were. Ex-wifey didn’t know about ‘em. Nobody did. Turned out he’d been planning to skip-off with some tart.
That’s why I went down for you. Thirty years for manslaughter, but I knew I’d be out in fifteen. I was going to cut you in when I got out. I couldn’t tell you at the time in case the coppers caught up with you. My investment for the future I called it. You took that future away from me. All for a measly hundred-grand.
The money you got from that job weren’t enough for you, was it? You wanted it all so you could start up that Spanish property business. Got to hand it to you, it was clever the way you made it look like you got your stake money by hard work, then bled in the loot to grow the company. Once you made it nobody would question a respectable landowner would they?
Eileen was five-months gone. Didn’t know that did you? Another thing you didn’t know: little Alice saw what you did to her mother. She was hiding on the landing. I suppose you thought she wouldn’t remember being just four. But she did. Scarred her for life. Topped herself when she was eighteen. Only a year before I got out.
Although I’d done my time, I knew the coppers would be watching me. I sold the house and got out of the country with the jewels as soon as could. Twenty-odd years in shit-hole countries slowly moving the ice. Lost count of how many times I changed my identity. Converted it to the best part of three-million by the time I could bring it back here. Not that it did me any good. You saw to that.
So there I was, a rich pensioner. No family. All my friends long gone, not that I could’ve made contact with ‘em anyway.
Never got Eileen and the kid out my head. Naturally I planned to find you. Killing you when I got back was the only thing that kept me going. Funny thing is, once I got here I realised you weren’t worth dying in prison for.
And now you end up here. Delivered to me on a plate. There must be a God eh? And I reckon he wants Jimmy-the-Smoke to finish his job for him.’
There wasn’t anything more to say. I took an old supermarket bag out of my pocket and held the plastic tight over his nose and mouth. It took him longer to die than I’d expected. Given his condition, he struggled a lot more than I expected. Those fitness sessions certainly paid off.
After removing the bandages and the compresses, I checked inside his mouth to make sure there was no lint. His teeth were as rotten as his soul.
Ten minutes later I was in my bed. Slept like a babe, I did.