The congregation ran heavily to old ladies, among whom Jimmy seemed to feel particularly comfortable. The back pew had no one in it, and, not wishing to intrude into pre- service gossip, they took seats there.
The clergyman was a large robust man who reminded Melissa of Jethro. When he spoke of battling the secularism and disbelief of modern England, she could imagine him leading an assault of fanatics on the houses of parliament. It would be frustrating for him, she supposed, that his congregation was so passive. On the other hand, Jimmy, at least, did look inspired.
When they knelt to pray, Melissa felt a hand on her back. This was evidently the sort of stimulus Jimmy needed. Then, when the hand dropped down to her waist, she looked sideways at him. He was looking straight ahead, thundering his amens straight into the ear of, she supposed, God. The hand returned up along her back, perhaps taking an inventory of the straps of her underclothing, but it never approached an erogenous zone. Melissa continued with her own liturgical responses as if nothing had happened.
As they rose to sing, Melissa stood straight with her arms close to her sides. When the dreadful cracked sopranos of the congregation began to get properly to work on the hymn, Jimmy whispered to her,
"Will you marry me?"
He had a truly terrified look, like that of a boy who has just confessed to a major sin and is expecting massive retribution. His face was also bright red, and his eyes were popping. It was scary, and Melissa feared a stroke or heart attack. Despite the absurdity of marriage to Jimmy, she murmured her consent in the hope of calming him. She could always get out of it later, the way she had with Bradford.
Jimmy's face and demeanor immediately underwent a tremendous change as he moved into euphoria. The blood pressure might still be dangerously high, but, if he blew a gasket, it could be assumed that he would die happy.
It seemed to Melissa that the vicar must have noticed Jimmy, and most probably thought that he had just converted an atheist. Her problems, on the other hand, were just beginning. She was thankful that Jimmy didn't whisper to her during the sermon and interrupt her train of thought.
She wasn't poor. She didn't need to marry money. Not to say that a hundred million couldn't solve some problems. And there would be respectability undreamed of with Jethro. No one would care that it all came from Dawn Strike. But, then, another big question. Would Jimmy want children? She sensed that he would. Could she herself finally overcome her fear of penetration? What about the awfulness of pregnancy and childbirth? Yet more questions.
The minister, now fairly roaring, was on to sex. There was much too much of it in the magazines and in the cinema. And then, abomination of abominations, it was now widespread outside the sancity of marriage. As he went on to describe, somewhat graphically, the sorts of things that shouldn't happen, he made them sound uncommonly attractive. Melissa was reminded of the store-front preachers of Cincinnati who so inspired Shannon and her family. One didn't expect an Anglican minister in a wealthy area to thump the pulpit with his big fist in quite that way, but the world was full of surprises.
The preacher now lowered his voice momentarily as he went on a different tack. Inside marriage, the coupling of man and woman constituted the highest duty of both. THERE MUST BE CHILDREN, LOTS OF CHILDREN. It was a little odd that he was so exhorting women a good thirty years too old to have children, but everyone seemed used to him. No one giggled, and the preacher went on to ask rhetorically WHY there must be children. Answering himself, he thundered,
"BECAUSE THERE MUST BE ENOUGH YOUNG ENGLISHMEN TO MAN THE RAMPARTS AGAINST THE ASSAULTS OF THOSE BARBARIAN NATIONS WHOSE PEOPLES MULTIPLY LIKE RABBITS!
The minister paused, seemingly out of breath, and Melissa looked at Jimmy. He was absolutely convinced. There would have to be lots of young Pickersgills to carry Dawn Strike and Stiff Upper Lip to the darkest and uttermost corners of the earth. Melissa was sure that it would there be well received.
If children there must be, no one could be less threatening than Jimmy when it came time to perform the necessary act. Then, too, it would be a matter, not only of what went in, but of what might come out. A more or less Pickersgillian child could be dealt with. A Jethroesque one might set fire to the school and insult one's mother.
Thinking of her mother, another thought occurred. When Mrs. Medway first met Jimmy, she would, for the first time in her life, be reduced to speechlessness.
However, fun and games apart, one had to be objective. What would
an ordinary rational person think of a marriage between herself and
Jimmy? What would Miller Muggins think? Melissa could only imagine a
look of disbelief on his face when she told him. He, too, might be
speechless. In this case, that wouldn't be good.
Miller and Jethro had just left the Y, and were sitting on adjacant stools at a somewhat superior cafe. Miller was speaking,
"She went to the airport and got on a plane, that's all I know."
"Jimmy's been missing at the Y. Did he go with her?"
"Somebody said that he's in England, where he comes from. But I got some stuff on him."
Jethro waited expectantly and Miller continued,
"There's this woman he sees. She's not a prostitute, really, but he does pay her. The thing is, though, he just looks. He never touches her."
"You've talked to her?"
"Yeah. It cost a lunch and a little gift, but I'll include it in the package I trade for the painting."
"Well, Lis is all mixed up about sex herself. They might get along. She might like that."
"But you don't know they have anything going at all."
"I'm pretty sure. I bet she flew to wherever he is. Maybe England."
"What would you do to them if you did catch them together?"
"Nothing. Something funny happened."
"I'm your detective. You can confide in me."
They both laughed. Jethro then said,
"Lis didn't call me, but she had her mother call me. It might be because Lis is in England and couldn't call without my hearing the international operator."
"What did her mother say?"
"That Lis was worried that I'd be lonely."
"That's weird! She couldn't think that."
"No. But her mother invited me out to her place for dinner."
"What's she like?"
"A very sexy lady. Hardly older'n me. And rich."
"Did you stay there all night?"
"Yeah. But, of course, Lis knows her mother. She must've known what would happen."
"Probably. Are you going to marry the mother?"
"She didn't say anything about wanting to marry me. But she does want to sell my work. She's got connections all over the place, and she probably can."
"So you've got a new girl friend and a patroness."
"It may work out pretty well."
"Be careful. It'll be tricky to go from daughter to mother. Besides, you don't yet know what problems the mother may have."
"It's okay. I'm more in control of things than I've ever been."
Melissa and Jimmy continued to go from one restaurant to another. Jimmy wanted to get married right off in England, but Melissa said that she wanted a proper wedding with her mother and relatives present. That, at least, gave her time to think. Unfortunately, Jimmy was gathering momentum. There seemed to be no chance that he would get up one morning and decide that the marriage was a bad idea. The longer Melissa waited to break the engagement, the harder it would be. Jimmy might even go into cardiac arrest.
An unsettling event took place one morning at the entrance to the Gloucester Road underground station. They were in the habit of buying the international Herald Tribune there, and Melissa stopped to glance through it. There was an item on an inside page with the word 'Cincinnati' in the heading that caught her eye. Since Cincinnati hardly ever made the international news, she exclaimed to Jimmy as she began to read it.
An unidentified man entered Cincinnati's Central Police Station and shot to death Sergeant Daniel Evans at his desk. In the resulting shoot-out, the assailant and one other officer were killed.
Melissa had never before passed out. When she came to, she found herself in a sitting position on the pavement. Jimmy was at her side, holding her arm and saying something she didn't catch. He and another man then lifted her to her feet. She had lost one shoe, and the cement felt cold and rough under her foot, but she was able to stand. As Jimmy retrieved the missing shoe, she caught sight of the opened newspaper on the ground and remembered. She almost collapsed again, but the man who had helped her up was large enough to support her easily.
As they sat with coffee in the nearby cafe, Jimmy broke the silence,
"The article didn't say who the assailant was."
"I'm sure it was Jethro. They must have identified him by now."
"We could call and find out."
"I'd call mother, except that she'll be hysterical and incoherent. I'll call Miller Muggins."
It was the middle of the night in Cincinnati, but Miller told Melissa that he hadn't been able to sleep. It was, of course, Jethro. There would be a funeral of sorts, but he advised her not to attend.
When Melissa emerged from the booth, she said to Jimmy,
"Jethro's gone. There really isn't anything to be done. I don't have anything I want in those rooms. Templeton's taking care of the art work and Miller's got Mortimer. Will you adopt him?"
Jimmy agreed immediately, even before asking whether Mortimer was a dog, cat, or child. He was certainly supportive, and he did know when not to say much.
Their engagement would be an additional unpleasant surprise, to various degrees and in various ways, to a number of people. Among those would be numbered Miss Brenda Osborne, Mr. Miller Muggins, Colonel Bubba C. Huggett, Mr. Reginald Templeton, and Mrs. Henry Medway. Mr. Templeton would find it easier than Miss Osborne to adapt to Melissa's new status. Mr. Muggins might be persuaded to act as Jimmy's trainer.
Mrs. Medway, having recovered speech, would begin by finding that there were a good many women in her district of Hyde Park who did, indeed, envy her. Later, she might find that there were respects in which Mr. Pickersgill resembled the late Henry Medway.