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Who Shall It Be

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Everyone could see that there was something the matter with Monsieur Prideaux, even people who were not as devoted to his welfare as Bill Roach. Ever since Jim's mother's mysterious death and Jim's absence from the school, Jim had been too unhappy even to shout at Spikely. He was trapped in a bubble of solitude more absolute than the one that surrounded Roach himself.

"You watch, they're going to find him in his caravan with his..." Sudeley, who was older than Roach, mimed blowing his brains out, to the sound of nervous laughter from the others. Every night Roach checked the classroom just to be certain Jim wasn't throwing a rope over a beam. He thought that Matron should be warned, but if the adults hadn't noticed it themselves, surely they wouldn't take the word of a student. It would only draw attention to Roach's surreptitious surveillance and possibly put a stop to it.

But the spying was worthwhile, for when the stranger came to visit Jim in his caravan, Roach knew about it even before Jim did. He saw the strange car parked in the distance and watched the man approach, hunched, hands in his pockets, glancing about with the same nonchalance that Jim had, which took in everything without showing any reaction. At once Roach claimed illness and fled not to the nurse, but through one of his secret escape routes to The Dip, dashing from bush to tree to remain hidden in the falling dusk.

Jim poured the stranger a drink and they talked about people they both knew, or had known, since Roach understood quickly that many of these people had died. There was a dead man they called Control, which Roach was sure was a nickname -- like Jumbo, the nickname Jim had given to Roach -- and someone they called Smiley, which was a more pleasant-sounding nickname though they spoke of him more like a person one would expect to be called Control.

"Smiley can't be very happy with you," said the stranger, whose name, Roach had made out, was Peter. "He could have traded for Bill -- perhaps two or three."

Roach cowered below the window, trying to peer inside, not understanding. What did any of their cryptic conversation have to do with him?

Jim was studying the nearly-drained contents of his glass, looking unconcerned about this revelation. "Can Smiley prove it was me?" he asked.

"We both know he could if he wanted to. I think he's decided you've suffered enough."

"You've discussed it, then?"

"Of course not. I only realized he'd known all along because I was standing next to him when I figured it out. I looked at him and said, 'Jim Prideaux -- or Ellis. That's what happened to Bill Haydon.' Smiley looked at me like I was an idiot and said, 'Yes.' He was surprised it took me that long to put it together."

A different Bill, then, this Haydon person. Bill Roach cherished the memory from the day he had met Jim when Jim had said all the Bills he had known had been good 'uns.

But who was Ellis? A false name, perhaps, that Jim Prideaux had had to use in that other life where he had, perhaps, loved some other Bill.

"Haydon was dead anyway," muttered Jim.

"We might have got someone useful back for him. You gave him a quicker death than he deserved."

Surely Peter didn't mean what that sounded like. Roach tried to fathom what could make Jim kill someone. Surely not any sort of bullying, since Jim wasn't afraid of anyone. It would have to have been something terrible. Maybe that other Bill had been responsible for Jim's mother's death, which had taken Jim from the school for all those awful days.

Or maybe the death had been an accident. Roach couldn't get the thought of Jim with the gun out of his mind. Merely remembering the sight of seeing Jim through the window holding the gun made Roach recoil, and his foot landed on a twig, snapping it.

There were sudden noises from within the caravan, two faces glaring out at him in the darkness. "Is that you, Jumbo?" Jim demanded.

Caught, Roach had no choice but to emerge. Jim looked exasperated, his lips a tight thin line. Peter looked like someone who might be called Smiley, as if he were trying not to grin.

"This is Peter Guillam," said Jim. "An old friend."

Roach tried not to let his resentment show on his face. He'd wanted Jim to have a friend if it would help to keep Jim safe, since Bill knew the disparity in their ages meant that he couldn't be a proper friend to Jim, but he hadn't expected someone lively and handsome from Jim's past to turn up.

"It's late, Jumbo. You should be in your dormitory." It was a dismissal. Now Roach tried not to let his unhappiness show, but his glasses were misting and his chin sagged.

"Nice to meet you, Jumbo," Peter said kindly, casting an inquiring glance at Jim, probably curious about the nickname. But Jim did not explain it, and Roach realized that Jim had not called him by his true name in a long time, as if the ghost of that other Bill had spirited away the word.

"Training him already?" Roach heard Peter ask as he slouched and began to walk away.

"I've tried to make him go. He won't be deterred. Like me, once, following Haydon as if the whole world moved with him."

Bill Roach had never heard such loathing in Jim's voice. It made him shiver, particularly since it was directed not at himself but at the ghost-Bill who had somehow ruined everything.


The caravan shook rhythmically against his palm, making the newly-placed curtains shiver in the moonlight. It was silent out in the dark, yet Roach's face was flushed with shame as if he could hear what was going on inside. He knew more, now, than he had known a year earlier when Jim Prideaux had arrived at the school, for he had been listening to the older boys, eavesdropping on important conversations about adults and the things they did. Jim seemed more solid now, less likely to fall off the world, but it was Peter, not Bill Roach, who anchored him.

There was a sound like a muffled grunt, very like the noise Jim made when he spun round too quickly and twisted his shoulder. Roach wanted to cover his ears so that he wouldn't hear, but he knew that a good watcher would force himself to listen. Instead he shoved a hand into his trousers to relieve the pressure there, though he knew that it was wicked. What was happening inside the caravan might be much worse -- the worst thing a man could do, if the older boys were to be believed.

Roach wondered whether Jim might have killed the other Bill because Jim had hated him as much as Bill Roach hated Peter. All of Roach's current misery was Peter's fault, aside from a nagging sense that Jim might have been so unhappy before Peter's arrival because Jim missed doing the awful thing with someone else. It was possible the other Bill was to blame.

Eventually the shaking stopped, though not before Roach had to wipe his wet hand in the grass. He sat and cried until the world behind his glasses blurred as much as the world beyond them.

Peter found him like that just before morning, curled in on himself, freezing. With Jim's help, Peter got Roach inside and put a blanket on him, then Jim gave Roach a drink of something to warm him up that burned his throat and chest. Peter took off Roach's wet shoes and rubbed his feet with a towel. "You can't take him to the sick bay. They'll send him home," Peter told Jim.

The thought of being sent to another prep school, his third in four terms -- a school without Jim -- made Roach's spectacles mist over. He shook his head furiously.

"I've told him that he can't hang around here," Jim said, not looking at Roach.

"He won't do it again, will you," said Peter, smiling at Roach. "We won't tell this time. You won't either, will you, Jumbo?"

"Don't call me that," Roach muttered and burst into tears. Peter ignored this, continuing to rub him dry until his teeth had stopped chattering.

Jim found a pair of dry socks and put them on Roach's feet, slowly and carefully because of the painful shoulder. "Peter and I used to work together," Jim explained as if this might be the reason Peter had spent the night in the caravan.

"Was he a teacher?" asked Roach sullenly.

Unexpectedly, Jim smiled. "No. He was a spy, like you."

Peter winked at Roach over Jim's shoulder, and Roach thought that, eventually, he might not hate Peter quite so much.


"Sir, who was Bill?" he asked one night when Jim and Peter were letting him write out his French assignment at the table while the two of them murmured about a circus and the man nicknamed Smiley who didn't think Peter should keep visiting Jim.

Both heads swiveled in Roach's direction. "What are you talking about, Jumbo? Not tired of me calling you Jumbo, are you?"

Roach shook his head. "Not me, sir. The other Bill. The one you both used to know." From bits of overheard conversation, Roach had worked out that whatever else the other Bill had done to Jim, Bill Haydon was the reason that Jim had come to teach at Thursgood. So Bill Roach felt a kind of guilty gratitude toward him.

Peter and Jim glanced at each other, then at the window, as if they expected this Smiley person to appear like a clown grinning in at them. "Bill was someone we used to work with," Peter said.

Nodding, Jim pushed the French book closer to Roach in silent command. "Now, no more spying. Either do your work or go play with the others."

Without looking up, Roach began to write out French words with too many silent letters. It was confusing to try to imagine Jim working with someone besides Peter, especially if Peter worked with him too. Did "work with" mean the same thing about Bill Haydon that it meant when Jim and Peter spoke of each other -- someone who might have crept into a caravan under cover of darkness?

Perhaps Smiley had ordered that other Bill not to visit Jim, just as Smiley was trying to do to Peter. Roach dared to glance up and found both men watching him with the same sad, kind smiles they'd always given him.

"He's not bad at this," said Peter to Jim.

"Do you think I could be a spy?" Roach asked. Apart from Jim, no one had ever told him before that he might be good at something.

"He'd rather be a teacher, wouldn't you, Jumbo," Jim replied. "With an Alvis and a couple of loyal dogs."

"Yes, sir," said Roach, though he did not want to be a teacher unless he could teach at the same school as Jim. He would never know enough to teach anything, and the boys would see it and torment him behind his back, the way they did about Jim's hunchback.

Perhaps, thought Roach, Jim would like a dog. Perhaps if he'd had a dog, he wouldn't have needed Peter.

Then again, if Jim had had a dog, perhaps he wouldn't have let Roach sit at his table pretending to study French.


Peter did not appear for many weeks. It made Jim so grim-faced and sullen that Roach missed him, even though Jim never pulled the curtains over the caravan windows while Peter was away.

"Sir, is Peter coming back?" Roach asked one day when he'd snuck an apple from dinner to eat at Jim's table.

"Course he is. He's traveling now. He has to work."

Roach nodded. Timidly, he asked, "Sir, is he really a spy?" Jim lowered his drink. "Were you a spy too?"

"What do you think?" Jim reached back to rub his bad shoulder, wincing at the stretch. "Do I look like I could be a spy?"

Roach didn't answer. After a few minutes, chewing a bite of his apple, he asked, "Was the other Bill a spy?"

"He was a liar." Jim sat back heavily, looking at Roach. "You don't want to be like him, Jumbo. You don't want to be like me."

"But what if --"

"No!" Jim's fist slammed onto the table, making Roach jump and bang his knee against the underside, spilling some of Jim's drink. "Secrets are poison. I tried to tell you."

"Then why do you have so many?" It was the boldest thing Bill Roach had ever said to Jim Prideaux. For a moment he expected to be told he shouldn't be here and chased out.

To his astonishment, however, Jim began to laugh. "That's not a fair question, Jumbo," he said.

Roach studied what was left of his apple. "Peter's a secret, sir, isn't he."

Jim sat up as straight as he could with his wounded shoulder. "Did somebody ask you --"

"No, sir. Nobody asked. I wouldn't tell if they did." No one needed to explain to Roach that even a whisper of suspicion about Peter could force Jim to leave Thursgood. He bit his lip, then blurted out, "Was the other Bill a secret?"

As quickly as he had sat up, Jim slumped back. "I thought I was his secret," he muttered, looking out the window. "But I was the least of them."


When Peter reappeared, creeping to the caravan on a late afternoon while Jim was supervising a football match, Roach intercepted him and gave Peter the boot scrape he'd made for Jim. Unlike Jim, Peter thanked him for it.

They sat on the ground and Peter shared some chocolate he'd brought with foreign writing on the wrapper. "Did you get this while you were working?" asked Roach suspiciously, wondering whether Peter had other friends, perhaps even a wife, in some place more exotic than France, whose people spoke the only other language Roach could read even a little.

"I got it in Amsterdam. Though that was just a quick stop on my way back." Peter sighed. "I have to go away again soon."

Roach did not demand to know whether Peter was still a spy, or a secret. "You knew the other Bill, right?" he asked instead. Peter nodded, his eyebrows lifting, though his face did not darken as Jim's had when Roach had asked about Bill Haydon. "Is the other Bill why Ji-- why Monsieur Prideaux walks the way he does and can't move his shoulder?"

Peter didn't answer right away, tearing the wrapper from the chocolate into small shreds. "Bill used to be my friend," he said finally. "But some things can never be forgiven. Do you understand that? Jim might forgive someone for hurting him, but if someone hurt, say, his family, or his country, Jim couldn't ignore that. None of us could."

So it was true, thought Roach: Jim was a spy. Or had been. "What's he doing here, then?" he asked.

"Training up boys is important, too." Peter's hand rubbed the back of Roach's neck the way he'd pet a dog, but his voice was pained. "You look after him, when I'm not here, don't you?"

Roach thought of the gun and of the terrible things he'd feared might happen to Jim. Most of them were things that Jim might have made happen himself. They hadn't happened, though, and since Peter had arrived, Roach didn't worry about them as often.

"I look after him," he agreed. "But I don't watch him all the time. He doesn't want me to spy."

"Quite right, Jumbo." Peter laughed and squeezed Roach's arm just as Jim came over the rise. Peter's use of the nickname didn't bother Roach any longer. Jim had given him that name, and shared it with Peter, so Roach supposed that meant Jim was sharing a bit of Peter with him in return.

Jim was rubbing at his shoulder, but when he saw Peter, he broke out in a smile. "I have to go," said Roach, who then ran all the way back to the dormitory, waving at Jim as he fled. From inside the school, he could see that the curtains in the caravan had been closed.

In his bed, he tried not to let himself think about Jim, but he couldn't help himself. Thinking was not, after all, the same thing as spying. And Peter wanted him to take care of Jim.

Maybe one day, thought Bill Roach, he might even get to work with Jim Prideaux, since Jim wanted him to be a teacher, not a spy.