This is a new idea I’m trying out.. ever wondered what would happen if one day you just gave in to an impulse to be evil?
Barnabus Jones, aged 53, walking to work along the canal path one bright November morning, suddenly decided to become evil. He was a clerk in East Drearsbury District Council, where as far as he knew, nobody had ever gone evil before. He paused, looking out across the sunlit water, and experimentally kicked a passing pigeon into the canal. It felt good. Barnabus almost turned on his heel and went back to set fire to his neighbour’s house, but thought better of it. Alan, with his obscenely large garden, overhanging Leylandi and patronising stare, could wait until he got home.
As he walked through town, he paused briefly to pour his coffee into a postbox and continued to the Town hall with a spring in his step. “Hello Joan,” he said to the receptionist, flashing his pass. “You’re looking nice today. Such a shame about Geoff and Eileen, isn’t it?” He smiled cheerfully at her worried frown and trotted onwards to his office, admiring the sound of his footsteps on the stone flags.
“I’m an extraordinary person,” he thought to himself gaily, “leading an unremarkable life.”
He made himself a cup of tea and looked around the office thoughtfully. Committee services did not pose many immediate options for mischief. I could poison the plants, he mused as he furtively spat into his colleague’s novelty “Number 1 husband” mug, or re-adjust people’s chairs – but such minor misdemeanours didn’t really appeal. Idly, he logged into a spreadsheet and changed a few numbers at random.
“Hilary,” he called over to his manager, a greying woman with a plump tweed skirt and a green cardigan fastened with a fake cameo. “I’m not sure the data entry temp is working out. I’ve had to correct his work all week and now look – he’s inflated his own performance figures.”
Hilary Winterbottom pushed back her wire framed glasses and peered over his shoulder, stroking her chin. Women her age should not wear make up, thought Barnabus, uncharitably glaring at the mole on her neck and the slightly pouchy flesh below. He suppressed the urge to swat her away, clearing his throat. Don’t be foolish, Barnabus old chap, he warned himself. You’re only just starting out – keep to your limits.
Hilary sighed irritably. “You’re right,” she said. “I don’t understand how he thought he would get away with that. Young people. Simon!” She marched out of the office, her tweeded posterior twitching forcefully.
Barnabus went over to her computer desk and put a dot of correcting fluid partially over the optical sensor on her mouse. He would have liked to rename all the icons on her desktop, but her log in had timed out and he didn’t know her password.
He returned to his desk, leaned back in his chair and flicked through his emails. A few minutes later, a loud nasal whine could be heard from down the corridor, and the sound of running trainers. He smirked with satisfaction.
“Service awards,” said the intranet. “Nominate a colleague for Team Member of the year.” Barnabus nominated himself, and signed it from Simon. “A font of knowledge in democratic services,” he tapped generously. “Carries the team. Should be recognised for his work.”
He looked up as the door opened. “Good morning, Geoffrey,” he said cheerfully. “How are you keeping?”
“I’ve been better,” Geoffrey replied, hanging up his grey suit jacket and folding himself miserably into the chair, his expression of gaunt suffering contrasting sharply with the rather daring pink shirt.
“Nothing too bad, I hope?” asked Barnabus casually, as he emailed a complaint about Hilary’s personal hygiene to Human Resources.
Geoff sighed and poured some soup from his thermos into his mug. “Number 1 husband,” he sighed. “What a joke. I can’t even get through a morning without being accused of having it off with the post room lady. I really think we’re heading for a divorce.”
“Oh really,” said Barnabus. “That’s so hypocritical given what she’s been up to!” He picked up some papers and made his way to his next meeting leaving Geoff open mouthed behind him.
After lunch, Hilary was looking subdued and and tearful. She was discretely dabbing at her eyes with an embroidered handkerchief and the air around her desk was quite hazy with perfume. Every so often she would shake her mouse and frown at her computer screen, then return to quietly sobbing.
“Oh, you poor dear,” comforted Barnabus, solicitously slipping a small handful of caffeine pills into her tea. “Do you need to take a moment? I can minute the eleven o’clock meeting for you if you like? Then you can have more time to prepare for the Executive next week.”
Hilary shot him a grateful glance. “That is uncharacteristically thoughtful of you, Barnabus,” she sniffed. “I’d like that very much – the paperwork is on the table, there.”
Barnabus smiled graciously, and flicked through the papers. The meeting was to discuss plans for a new leisure centre. He clipped a new rollerball pen into his front pocket and strolled into the committee room, dragging his hand idly along the stone walls, his eye falling on the brass plates engraved with the names of mayors since before Victoria’s reign. He had always loved the patina of age and permanence in the Town Hall, but today the solid walls seemed to pulse with energy. The ancient, gleaming wood of the Council table felt charged with promise. He briefly considered pissing in the water jug but decided that he would save such a prank for a more important occasion. He didn’t want to get caught for something frivolous.
He neatly lined the paperwork up as the Councillors and officers filed in, and opened a fresh spiral bound notepad with a flourish.
The Councillors settled down to their debate. Barnabus, scrawling in shorthand, comfortable in his upholstered chair, was almost lulled into a gentle sleep.
The Regeneration Futures Project Coordination Officer was talking. “We have had some initial issues with the location of the centre. Some – ahem – ecological interests have been lobbying against the site. They claim it should be redefined as an area of Special Scientific Interest, and they’ve got some sort of an endangered newt to prove it. The legal process is liable to cause substantial delays – and of course the funding may not roll over to next year.”
“A good point,” agreed one of the Councillors. “Better spend it as fast as possible, eh? Do you have any ideas for a new site?”
“If you’ll allow me,” said the Regeneration Futures Project Coordination Officer, and went around the table distributing photocopied ordnance survey maps of the area. Barnabus glanced at his, and then looked closer – he could see his own street. He could see his house. He could even see his neighbour’s garden, which backed on to a car park.
No sooner had the thought occurred, than he was scribbling on his map with a thick pen. “If I may, Chair, I have a suggestion,” and he presented it to the group. “Of course, you would have to use a compulsory purchase order, but house prices have come down so much since the downturn I think you’d find it compares favourably to the other options.”
The Chair frowned. “It does indeed – a really central location, thank you old chap. Good transport links, too. And only one individual affected. We’ll put it out to consultation, and,” he eyed the Regeneration Futures Project Coordination Officer, “I expect the results to be positive.”
The meeting meandered to a close. The Chair stood a few minutes, watching Barnabus tidy the papers away. “It’s Barnabus, isn’t it,” said the Chair. “No Hilary today?”
Barnabus shook his head. “She’s not been well,” he said sorrowfully. “It’s difficult being in her position, you know – with the cuts and everything. I think it’s beginning to get to her. She’s – oh, I won’t go into it here.”
“Oh yes, the cuts,” said the Chair cheerfully. “Bloody government. We’ll be discussing them at Executive next week. Care to come? I’m going to need all the support I can get.”
“Really? I’d love to,” said Barnabus. Hilary and Geoff usually had the Executive meetings sewn up between them.
The Chair turned as he got to the door. “And well done today, Barnabus. You might have saved the project. Bloody good idea. We’ll get those bulldozers rolling in the next couple of weeks, I should think. Might even name the centre after you. Ha, ha.”
Barnabus glowed as he shuffled his paperwork. He pictured the neat envelope which would shortly be arriving on Alan’s doorstep informing him of the compulsory purchase order, and the subsequent demolition of the offending Leylandi. He was quite looking forward to attending the Executive meeting, too.
Barnabus straightened his tie in the mirror and studied himself carefully in the harsh bathroom light. His rather bland face seemed subtly transformed; there was a glint in his eye, and something rather rakish about the set of his eyebrows. The streaks of grey in his hair which had previously worried him now looked distinguished – even a little malevolent. He felt enthusiastic about his work for the first time in decades, infused with energy. He had definitely made the right decision. It was hard to believe more people weren’t evil.
It was beginning to get dark by the time Barnabus finished typing up his minutes. Whistling, he scooped his jacket from its hook and hung it casually over his shoulder as he sauntered out, flicking off the light as he went. He heard muffled sobbing from the dark office behind him. As he passed reception he waved cheerily to Joan, but she was too busy shouting at somebody on the telephone to respond.
The sun setting over the canal was a beautiful sight. Orange light reflected off the gentle ripples like rose petals scattered on the water’s surface. At this time of the evening there weren’t many people around, and he enjoyed the sunset, thrusting his hands deep into his pockets and whistling.
As he passed under the bridge, he became aware of a little group of lads lounging in the shadows with their dogs. Out of habit, he kept his eyes fixed on the ground and began to give them a wide berth.
“Go on, jump then,” sneered one of the boys. Barnabus drew in a breath and felt his Evil returning.
“Actually, boys, I was wondering if you could help me with a little something,” he said, turning to them with a disarming smile. “I don’t suppose you’d know where I could purchase a number of, um, E’s?”
The boys glanced at each other. “’Ow many?” said one.
“About a hundred,” returned Barnabus promptly. “I’m having a party.”
The boys conferred in whispers. Every so often, one of them would glance at him slyly. “It’ll cost you,” said one finally. “A grand.”
“A grand!” said Barnabus. “That seems an awful lot. Are these particularly strong then? Actually never mind. I am sure they will be fabulous. You look like a trustworthy bunch of chaps. When can you get them?”
“Midnight, here. Bring cash right? You’re definitely going to show?”
“But of course, my dear fellow,” said Barnabus. “Tell you what, here’s my watch for surety. I simply can’t wait!” He shoved his hands back in his pockets and strolled jauntily off down the towpath, ignoring the snickering behind him.
By the time he got home he was in a wonderful mood. He poured himself a glass of wine and watched the remains of the sunset through the kitchen window while fixing himself some supper. The cat wound itself hopefully around his legs.
“I don’t think so, my lad,” said Barnabus, and pushed him vigorously through the cat flap, taping it carefully shut.
The telephone rang. It was his ex-wife, Alison. She was telling him that his maintenance payments needed to go up again, and that he was due to see his son during the half term holiday, so he had better take the week off work. She also thought that he needed to buy the boy some new clothes, and make sure he ate properly on his visits. He wondered what he had ever seen in the woman, and the small, pasty boy who took after her.
“No, you have it quite wrong,” said Barnabus finally. “I will not be seeing the child any more, and I don’t believe I will be paying for him either. You’re of course quite welcome to take me to court – although I am not quite sure how you will afford the fees.” He waited just long enough to hear her start to shout, the shrewish voice rising in pitch, then hung up and called his bank to remove the standing order. Suddenly he was standing taller. Everything was just so much easier.
He decided to go out to dinner to celebrate. He been vegetarian for some years, but this now seemed nonsensical. He telephoned Joan and asked her if she would like to meet him at “Le Steak Parisian” in town. She sounded sniffly, as if she had been arguing, but immediately perked up and accepted his offer. He heard her talking defiantly to somebody in the room behind her – “It’s none of your effing business Geoffrey!” before she concluded the phone call. He had always been quite attracted to Joan.
It was late when he got home; they had enjoyed two bottles of wine and an extensive supper, which he had put on an old credit card of Alison’s which had still been in her old desk. Joan had been excited about a book which she had just finished writing – she dreamed of leaving her job as a receptionist and becoming a famous author. She’d given him a copy on a data stick for him to read.
He glanced up at the station clock in the kitchen – it was nearly midnight. He took several deep sharp breaths and picked up the telephone. “Police, please,” he said in a panicky little voice. “I’ve been mugged! Yes – I was just walking home late along the tow path – four of them, officer. They took my watch! Thank you so much officer – yes. My name is Geoffrey Banks.”
When Barnabus woke the next morning, it all seemed like a beautiful dream. He rolled over with a happy sigh, waking gently into a world where – for once – everything was going well. He put on his sharpest suit and left the house with a spring in his step. The cat was waiting outside, wet with dew.
“I’m afraid you’re mistaken, old chap – you don’t live here any more,” said Barnabus with cheerful animosity. He took a step closer to the cat, intending to kick it, but the creature saw something in his eyes and slunk off.
The canal looked particularly beautiful in the morning light. Under the bridge there was evidence of a scuffle, and a few spots of blood. Barnabus smiled and waved at a passing narrow boat.
The office was very quiet the next morning, with neither Hilary or Geoffrey in. Barnabus decided that he had better have a chat with the Head of Democratic Services.
“They’re dropping like flies,” he said grimly. “Of course, you don’t have to worry about me. I can hold the fort.”
“Well, I’m very grateful Barnabus, but you are understaffed,” said the Head of Democratic Services. “Perhaps if you could cover for Hilary, and we get some agency staff in to do the donkey work, how does that sound? If this arrangement lasts for more than a few weeks we could even look at an honorarium for you. I must say, I do appreciate you stepping up to the plate like this.”
Barnabus thought it sounded fine. He arranged to interview the agency staff and chose two mature ladies of whose dress sense he approved. “I run a tight ship here, ladies,” he said sternly to them. “I think you’ll find me firm but fair. You may address me as ‘Mr Jones’, and I expect filter coffee to be waiting when I get in at nine.” He handed them each a pile of paperwork to file, and surveyed his surroundings.
Geoffrey’s desk needed to be pushed back against the wall and his personal effects tidied into a cardboard box before it looked suitably efficient, and Barnabus generously donated his own desk to one of his ladies, retiring graciously to the window seat at the back of the room which had formerly been occupied by Hilary. He called the porters to remove the posters and books, and sent one of his ladies out to buy an indoor tree and a coffee machine.
“It looks amazing in here,” said the Head of Democratic Services when he popped his head around the door to see how Barnabus was doing. “You look very efficient! I wonder if you’d care to take a couple of Scrutiny officers under your wing? Their manager is away at a training course – you might need to sub for him at Committee.”
“Of course,” said Barnabus. He logged on to the intranet and nominated his new team for an Efficiency award, using Hilary’s name. Then he called his union and told the lady there that he had heard Hilary racially abusing the temp, Simon, who had left in tears the previous day. That should keep the old bat away for a few more days, he though to himself.
He leaned back with his feet on the chair and gratefully accepted a steaming mug of good quality coffee. Life was good, and about to get better.
When he got home that night, Barnabus was full of ideas. He had been reading an article in the Telegraph warning about fraudulent websites, and he couldn’t wait to start one of his own. He called a bank in Switzerland and made arrangements to open an account. It didn’t take him long to find somebody who was willing to sell him a Russian domain name, and to register his details with a card payment provider. He also acquired a post office box in Jersey in case he needed one.
The web design was difficult of course, but not as bad as he had expected. He simply googled for financial services websites offering insurance and investment products, clicked “View Source”, and uploaded the whole thing onto his site along with a free template. He used a find and replace function to substitute his contact and payment details and clicked upload. The whole thing worked perfectly.
He left a message with the employment agency to say that he would like a telephone sales temp to work from home on a commission basis, and went to bed with Joan’s book, satisfied in the knowledge of a job well done. He had left a few trails behind him of course, but he thought that on the whole the Financial Services Authority probably didn’t pursue things like this too hard. If they did, he was confident that he could deal with the repercussions. He had of course used Geoffrey’s name on all his correspondence.
The telephone rang. Barnabus picked it up without checking the number and immediately regretted it. “Hello Daddy,” said Eric. Barnabus slammed the telephone down, experiencing unpleasant feelings of guilt. He quickly dialled the telephone company and demanded a new number. He spent the rest of the evening shooting furtive glances at the telephone corner, but it did not ring again.
On the way to work his jaunty walk along the canal was disturbed by cyclists, lycra clad, deep in conversation. They pedalled two abreast, gloriously unaware of their surroundings. He had to press himself up onto the tow path bank and nearly put his foot in something unpleasant. Dirty puddle water splashed over his brogues. He stared powerlessly at their retreating haunches, bristling with thwarted revenge. Why had he not had the presence of mind to kick their bicycles out from under them into the canal?
His mood did not lift until he became aware of a series of manhole covers along the tow path, partially concealed by mud and stray pebbles. It was a moment’s work to lift them using the end of his umbrella and throw the tops with a satisfying splash into the canal. He arrived to work five minutes late, humming “I can’t stop falling for you” and twirling his muddy umbrella.
There were tents and stalls up in the little marketplace flanking East Drearsbury Town Hall, adding an unaccustomed flash of colour to the brutalist architecture. Intrigued, Barnabus drifted closer. He found himself presented with an Affordable Warmth leaflet shaped like a pair of gloves and a free pencil from Victim Support. There was a lady from the Authorised Firearms Squad lolling nonchalently next to her police car and allowing small children to look down the sights of her Heckler & Koch MP5 SF A3 semi-automatic carbine. He found himself standing at the Community Development stall and was immediately tackled by an earnest lady in a wooly hat.
“So what do you actually, um, do?” he asked in some puzzlement, looking at the colourful maps on the stall behind him.
“We develop communities,” she said briskly, and then, seeing him open his mouth, “We help local people to organise themselves into societies and clubs and pressure groups. And take power back from the council. It’s localism, you see.”
“Oh yes, localism,” said Barnabus wisely, stroking his chin. “So – once you’ve formed a club, or a society – what would one do?”
“Tonnes of things,” she said, becoming animated. “We have groups of people running the allotments, people running community centres, libraries, volunteer networks helping people get back to work, all sorts of things.”
Barnabus was puzzled. “And they pay for this themselves?”
“Oh no, they seek funding. Banks, the government, the council – they’ve all got funding pots that you can bid for. We even have an officer who can help you do that.”
“And anybody can apply for these funds?”
“Well, no – you have to be a proper community group – you know, with a constitution, and a membership list.”
“Well, that is interesting,” mused Barnabus, leafing through the colourful information sheets.
The Committee Services office was buzzing with activity. Barnabus had his two ladies printing out the appendices for the Councillor’s information packs. The two Scrutiny Officers had been tasked with dealing with the smaller meetings. They were so efficient that he had time to settle down and read the papers thoroughly. The Executive meeting was to discuss cost cutting in order to meet the budget requirements for the next year, which had been severely reduced. Each appendix was a response by a department outlining how they planned to cut costs the next year.
Barnabus frowned. Most of the managers were trying hard to justify the head counts of staff in their departments, offering small savings in stationary and procurement costs. None of them had flair or imagination. He flicked through to the papers for Democratic Services – sure enough, the structure hadn’t changed. Hilary was still manager of Democratic Services, George managed Scrutiny, and Maureen managed Electoral Services. Each of them had three or four staff reporting to them, which they were determined to keep, as well as the department administration team and secretary.
Barnabus had no such scruples. He began to sketch in pencil on the structure charts and soon became so excited that he couldn’t stop himself logging in and altering the file. His efficient staff soon circulated it by email to the Councillors and he sat drumming his fingers nervously on the table. His cost cutting idea was faultless, but he had to admit that it was not normal proceedure to over-ride a report written by the Head of Democratic Services. There would no doubt be some awkwardness when the man stood up next week to deliver his savings plan and found that he was volunteering to make himself redundant.
There was no way around it – Barnabus would have to make sure that the Head of Democratic Services was not able to attend the meeting. It would be helpful, he thought, if he didn’t attend any meetings for quite some time. A sharp blow to the head might do it, but how could such a thing be arranged?
Searching for inspiration, he pulled the Health and Safety files from the intranet. There was a list of injuries reported by colleagues throughout the Council. There were even a couple of deaths, on which he pounced eagerly, but these turned out to be at the recycling depot which was half a mile away. Injuries at the Town Hall were depressingly sparse. There were a lot of trips, slips and falls but very few that required more than a couple of days away from work. Barnabus scrubbed his forehead in concentration. He had not realised that being evil would require so much planning.
Eventually he settled for a simple electrocution and waited until lunchtime before making his way unobserved into the Democratic Services office with a screwdriver and a pair of scissors concealed in his suit pocket.
He waited impatiently by his desk for the Head of Democratic Services to return from lunch and almost gave himself away by twice ringing downstairs to check if “everything was alright”. Eventually at half past five he was forced to conclude that the Head of Democratic Services had not turned his computer on that afternoon, and pounded the desk furiously, startling his ladies and nearly knocking over his coffee.
He clicked into the internal calender to find that his prey had been out of the office all afternoon at a meeting with his counterpart at West Drearsbury. Barnabus ground his teeth. If only he had driven to work this morning, he would stand a chance of catching him en route. If only he had access to the Human Resources database, there would be a home address. It was critical that the Head of Democratic Services should suffer an accident tonight, before he had a chance to log on to his computer and discover the changed report. Barnabus cursed himself for his lack of foresight. He would have to be far more careful in future.
Come to think of it, there was one person he know with access to the database – Joan, who used it to issue temporary passes. He scrawled her home number on the back of an envelope and gave it to one of the Scrutiny officers. “Could you call this number when you’ve finished what you’re doing and tell the lady we’ve received her paperwork and is she happy to commit to print?”
Smiling reassuringly at his worried staff, he edged around the desk and trotted down to reception. Joan looked up as he arrived; he thought she looked sad. Her mascara was smeared and had been hastily repaired.
“Barnabus!” she said. “You didn’t return my call – ”
“Terribly sorry,” he stalled, peeking round her at the screen. The icon for the database winked tantalisingly from behind her cardigan. “The thing is – I think Geoffrey is jealous of our friendship. Three’s a crowd, and all that, I thought -”
Joan had become quite pink. “How dare he!” she stormed. “He’s nothing but a dog in the manger!” On cue, her mobile phone began to ring. She rummaged in her voluminous bag. Barnabus put a calming hand on her wrist.
“If you wanted to take it outside, I could mind reception for you? I’m just on my way home -”
“Oh Barnabus,” she looked at him gratefully. “I won’t be a moment.”
It was the work of a few seconds to jot down the address of the Head of Democratic Services, a farmhouse some miles outside town. Barnabus peeked at his salary details, smiled, and closed down the screen moments before Joan emerged from the Ladies’.
“It’s the oddest thing,” she said. “I think somebody wants to publish my book – but they didn’t stay on the phone long enough to get any details.”
“Oh, that’s the way they work in the private sector,” said Barnabus comfortingly. “Rush, rush. I’m so proud of you, my dear. We must go out and celebrate some time!” He smiled winningly and darted out of the door just in time to catch the number 61x.
The bus journey was long enough for him to begin to get cold feet. He rested his head against the scratched glass of the window and watched the little terraced houses give way to semis, detached houses with big gardens, and then suddenly they were out in the countryside. The sky was beginning to darken and clouds were creeping across the horizon – it looked like rain. He still wasn’t sure what he was going to do – he’d have to take a look at the house and assess the situation.
It was already beginning to rain when he got off the bus and, turning his collar up around his ears, trudged down the narrow drive. It was a low slung old red brick farm house, with a garage and sundry out-buildings. A silver Mercedes lurked on the gravel. He was home, then. Barnabus, deciding that the direct approach was best, fingered the screwdriver in his pocket and knocked on the front door. Thunder rolled ominously overhead and the rain began to fall in earnest.
A light flicked on in the hallway. He could see a figure approaching slowly behind the frosted glass. At the very last moment, Barnabus lost his nerve. He turned and scurried away, looking for sanctuary. One of the outbuildings had a door hanging loose – he wrenched at it with a strength born of embarrassment, and managed to squeeze inside.
“Hello?” The familiar voice of the Head of Democratic Services called out into the darkness. Barnabus shrank back and tripped over some shovels, which clattered loudly around him. It was almost completely dark inside the outbuilding, but he could make out the outlines of some large farm machinery – rusty ploughs and other great metallic objects, propped against the walls.
“Is there anybody there?” The Head of Democratic Services had left the shelter of the house; his footsteps crunched in the gravel as a torch beam slid past Barnabus’ hiding place and he crept back further. “I’ll have you know I’m armed!”
Barnabus shook terribly. He had not for once instant anticipated that the Head of Democratic Services would have a firearm. He scurried further back into the building, heedless of the clattering as he tripped over buckets and pallets, and twisted his ankle rather badly.
He heard the sound of the rifle cocking; it chilled his blood. Trapped against the back wall, he cowered, feeling his bowels loosening in terror. The Head of Democratic Services pushed forward after him, ducking underneath the spikes of a cultivator. “I advise you to give yourself up,” he said smugly and then suddenly let out a terrible yowl; there was an almighty crash as something heavy rocked over into a new position.
Barnabus sat quietly, waiting, but all he could hear was a faint gurgle. It was almost an hour before he managed to pull himself together enough to pick his way out of the barn, gingerly avoiding the area where the Head of Democratic Services lay harpooned by a great rusting ploughshare, his rifle still clutched in his hand.
The rain was coming down in sheets as Barnabus hobbled back to his house, too shaken to wait for a bus. By the time he got home it was past midnight; he ignored the missed call light flashing on his answer phone and tucked himself up safely in bed in his favourite paisley pyjamas.