It’s great when you have friends who treat you like - well friends. That’s what I thought Jonathan Dennis was, until I agreed to help him with an experiment. We’d been good mates at school. But Jonathan was the clever one. When it came to Bunsen burners and trigonometry I was useless but Jono, as I liked to call him, was fantastic. He wasn’t the typical idea that most people have of an egghead either. He had a flawless complexion with dark hair and a toothpaste-advert smile. He was always well dressed, and you’d never see him in a brown corduroy jacket and grubby trousers. After leaving school he went to work for a research laboratory on the edge of Dartmoor. I thought he would’ve gone on to University. From the time the careers officer from the local unemployment exchange interviewed him, all he could think about was going to Dartmoor. It was strange how he wasn’t put under any pressure either. That was 1997. It was a couple of years before I bumped into him again.
I’d gone to a local rare record shop. They were selling the Beatles ‘Butcher Cover’ album. I would’ve gone to the north of Scotland just to touch a copy. I’d met several long faces as I’d gone into the shop, and once inside I realised why. Behind the counter hung a massive picture of the album and a price tag of £2500. A plump man, who wouldn’t see fifty again, was pushing slender fingers through almost-white hair. He was pleading with a younger man who was shaking his head.
“No mate,” he said. “The price is there, and that’s it.”
“But come on,” the older man said. “Two grand, that’s a fair offer?”
“I’m sorry, no.”
I’d only brought £1800 with me, in the hope I could have beaten down the asking figure. I realised straightaway I wasn’t going to get anywhere if two grand was being rejected. I didn’t wait around. I shoved my way passed a crowd of hopefuls that had formed and found some space across the street. My disappointment was tempered when I realised I was outside a pub and it was open. A drink might take away some of the pain.
That first mouthful of cold lager is in the top ten most wonderful things, keeping company with such exhilarations as sex and steak and kidney pie. I began to take in the second gulp when a slap on the back made me choke. I put my free hand over my face, and tried to swallow, at the same time turning to see who it was. It was Jono.
He was wearing a brown jumper with corduroy panels and jeans that’d been blue once when hanging in Marks and Sparks. His colourless complexion disappeared behind a large moustache.
“Hello Richard,” he said. From somewhere amongst the growth on his face I could see his white teeth grinning at me. Even though it hadn’t been that long since we’d seen each other, he seemed to be years older than me.
His eyes were bloodshot. That’s something you never saw in Jono at school. He looks a mess, I thought, as the last drop of lager poured down my throat. At last I was able to speak.
“I wasn’t expecting to bump into you today Jono. Come on I’ll get you a drink and we can chat about what you’re up to.”
“Go on then. I’ll have a scrumpy.” He said.
It wasn’t long before I’d replenished our glasses and we’d found a quiet corner table. I hung my jacket over the back of a sturdy looking wooden chair. We toasted one another with the usual cheers and I emptied a quarter of my pint. Jono drank for longer and when he did stop there was less than a quarter of his left.
“I don’t remember you liking cider that much mate?”
“It’s an acquired taste.”
“That must be good stuff then?”
“So are you still working in that secret laboratory on Dartmoor?”
“Shhh...” he said. “It’s not something I’m supposed to shout about.”
“It’s OK just keep your voice down.” He paused and swilled the last drop of cider around his glass. “I’m still working there but I do some stuff at home.”
“Yeah it’s boring work at the lab. But what I’m doing at home is nearly...ready...” His voice trailed off and his eyelids flickered. Then his eyes began to stare. He had the look of a man who’d been hypnotised. “It’d be great if a friend...” his voice dropped to a whisper again and he appeared to be looking straight through me.
“What’d be great?”
“You,” he said.
“What about me?”
My question seemed to bring him back from wherever he’d gone. He drank the remains from his glass.
“You,” he repeated and slid his chair closer to me. “Could help me with the greatest invention the world has ever seen?”
For a moment I was flattered. I was the one who’d struggled with fractions at school. He was the one who’d passed all the exams. How could I possibly help him? Then I thought, it wouldn’t hurt to listen. There was only an empty flat waiting for me since Vicky had left. Perhaps if I stayed away for a while her lingering perfume would be gone when I returned.
“Well will you?”
“How great will it be?”
“It’ll make us famous all over the world.”
That was enough for me. He didn’t know I was on the rebound. I had a few quid in my pocket so I decided what the hell.
“OK. So what now?”
He scraped his chair back and stood up.
“Let’s go, we can do it tonight.”
Jono lived in a Victorian style house, the type with thick wooden window frames announcing a small bay and a basement flat. I’d never seen him so excited. Thrusting home his yale key he said,
“I took the basement cause I could have the cellar as well. That’s where all my equipment is...come on.”
I hadn’t any idea what I was expecting to find, but a computer and a chair with a few wires trailing from it wasn’t my first thought. The only light came from a single shade less bulb hanging near the centre of the ceiling. It looked anything but the office of a boffin. The PC appeared new though, but its graceful lines were spoiled by the fact it was sitting on an upturned wooden crate. The chair was one of those 80's metal things - nice to look at but horrendous to sit on.
“Sit in the chair Richard.” Jono had already booted the computer and as the fan whirred into life he was plugging wires into the back of it.
“Just a minute, what’s going to happen?”
“It’s OK,” he said, tracing a blue wire back to the chair. “It won’t hurt I promise. I’ll attach some rubber diodes to your temples and when I switch on you’ll feel a tingly sensation. In less than a minute it’ll be over and we can go on to phase two.”
“Well if you’re sure it won’t hurt.”
“Mates honour,” he said making the sign of a cross on his breast pocket.
The chair moved a little as I sat down. Jono pushed the first diode against my skin and I felt the suction pull at the tiny hairs on the side of my head.
“There see,” Jono said, standing in front of me hands on hips. “That’s all there is to it really. So just keep still now, OK?”
I nodded. I closed my eyes and began wondering what was going to happen. I became aware of my heart beating harder. I tried to swallow but my mouth was dry and my throat stuck together. I could feel small beads of sweat running down my cheeks.
I’d decided not to go through with it, when I heard Jono say.
I felt a strong prickling sensation in my head followed by a concentrated surge of electricity rushing through my body. Then I blacked out.
When I came round, I was in a small room with a large window in one wall. There were crowds of people in tight fitting one-piece suits pointing and staring at me. I couldn’t hear any sound. I stumbled toward the glass and kicked a crumpled piece of paper. I picked it up and read.
‘Richard - Vicky and I will be very happy now - Jono.’
Opposite there was another larger room with a Tiger pulling at a chain tied to its foot. A sign above said,
‘Millennium Year 3000. Live Animal Exhibition.’