Hot Cross Son
by Steve Redwood
For most people, the name Albert Jenkins simply recalls a somewhat gruesome Easter Day prank. For those of us who knew the full enormity of his crime, it was a little different. We were aware that we were facing the threat of the end of civilisation as we knew it.
Yes, it really was that bad.
Here’s what I was able to piece together from the local newspaper reports. The Reverend Albert Jenkins was celebrating Mass in the small church in the Devon village of Ashleycombe as he had done for years now. Everything went fine up to the saying of the Lord’s prayer. But then, instead of offering consecrated wafers and wine, he produced a small plastic bag from behind the altar, and emptied its contents on the table. Splosh! Out poured what looked like chunks of stewing steak.
“Bread and wine, me hearties!” said he, departing somewhat from the liturgy.
Even the most devout found it odd that the bread was bleeding.
“It’s the latest style,” announced the priest, “you get to eat the body and drink the blood all in one go. Saves problems with the chalice if any of you lot have got any poxy diseases!”
It is not for nothing that a church congregation is called a flock. Despite wondering looks, five pillars of the community meekly accepted the ‘host’ until:
“But this is raw meat!” protested an old lady who had once shaken hands with Mrs Thatcher, and so wasn’t afraid to speak her mind.
“Isn’t that what I just said? Come on, tuck in!”
But she staggered back, spitting the offering out of her mouth.
Her decisive action at last broke the sacrosanct spell. The communicants who had been obediently chewing away finally came to their senses, and followed the lady’s example.
The priest became furious. “You fools! All these years you’ve been quite willing to be fobbed off with bread and wine, and now I offer you the real thing, you don’t want it! Bloody well eat it, you stupid cretins!”
And he leapt over the altar rail, picked up a bit of the ‘host’ that had been spat out, and tried to force it into the mouth of the lady who had defied him.
Churchgoers are usually a placid lot, and loyal to their priests. As old Neetzchy said, Christianity is pretty much a slave morality. But this was Easter Sunday, and they were all wearing their best clothes: clothes which were now getting spattered with wine/blood and assorted retchings. That is the only way I can explain the ferocity of their attack on their pastor. A well-wielded crutch put him into a coma, which lasted a week.
There’s a fascinating letter in the State Archives in Florence, dated July 24, 1567, from one Piero Gianfigliazzi in Pisa to Prince Francesco dei Medici.
‘On the 19th of the present month, while celebrating mass in the Cathedral of this city … the priest registered a most fetid taste and odour in the act of receiving the consecrated wine. However, he swallowed it down as best he could. Then, when he came to the purification, he wanted none of the wine that they wished to give him, saying that he didn’t want any more of that piss (non voleva più piscio). After expressing his displeasure to the choir master and the sacristan, he was brought another chalice and given good wine, which he was told he could purify. From all of this, I deduce that he was given urine to consecrate in place of wine. Though the Vicar has not been able to uncover the truth regarding who is responsible for such an obscenity, he has put a priest named Giobbo in solitary confinement…’
I never did find out whether they finally hung it on poor old Giobbo. I guess with a name like that suspicion was bound to fall on him.
I mention this little anecdote to show that this wasn’t the first time the host and wine had been interfered with. The police were informed, but didn’t find it important enough to investigate, or even to check just what meat it was. The deacon had already thrown it in the park for the local dogs, anyway
But a contact of mine was so amazed by what the priest told her when he came out of his coma that she gave me a call. I was passing my Easter vacation in Torquay for sentimental reasons, revisiting the spot which had witnessed one of the most satisfying moments in my long tumultuous relationship with my darling Katie – the place where I had thrown her first lover off the cliffs. Well, he should have known better than to mention my accident.
I asked to be alone with the Reverend (my Ministry of Defence ID secured acquiescence) and he at once burst into an amazing diatribe.
“The Central Mystery of the Church! Poppycock! The only mystery is why people have swallowed it for so long! It’s just word games. Transubstantiation: the bread and wine no longer exist, though there it is, sitting right in front of you. Consubstantiation: the bread and wine do at least exist, but they are also the body and blood of Christ. Impanation, Eucharist, host, elementals, accidentals, scaring bell, fraction, epiclesis, oblation, credence table, chalice, paten – words, words, words! Verbal foliage to hide the greatest con trick the world has ever known! Our version of the Emperor with no clothes!”
Strange stuff, coming from such a meek-looking priest, but in my profession we deal with all sorts.
“You’re preaching to the perverted,” I said. “But I don’t see that making the congregation sick with raw meat is any solution, do you?”
“Flesh, not meat. You, poor lost soul, indulge in the sins of the flesh, not the sins of the meat.”
I was on holiday, so I didn’t break his arm.
“You mean, that was human flesh you gave them?”
“Of course. A real Eucharist is the only way to save mankind! John 6:53-54, ‘Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, Verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you.’”
Well, you couldn’t put it much straighter than that!
“I’ve still got the rest of the body at home,” he added, clearly concerned lest I doubt his word.
Well, I called in my contact, and we got him dressed and into his detached house faster than a premature orgasm. First, the fridge. Contents: week-old skimmed milk, a few shivering veg, and a plastic bag containing maybe ten kilos of what looked like diced stewing steak. Then, the freezer. Contents: sundry innards, two arms, one leg, and a head attached to maybe half a torso.
I felt a new respect for this guy. Maybe we could recruit him later.
Only… that head. That head, I swear, was looking serenely up, with a warm forgiving smile on those frozen lips. Just looking at it, I felt that this guy would have immediately understood why I’d arranged for my darling Katie’s second lover to come into a terminal headlock with a bulldozer.
But that wasn’t all. There were nasty-looking holes in the hands and the foot.
You can’t blame everything on junk food. I was starting to get a real bad feeling about this whole thing.
I kept my voice even.
“Who was this … gentleman?”
“Jesus, of course.”
I’d expected that.
“No, I mean, who was he really?”
He looked at me, puzzled.
I went on: “Yes, of course, you knew it was really Jesus paying a secret Return Visit, but who did other less discerning people think he was? How did he disguise his Divine Effulgence? What did he do? Where did he live?”
“He lived here, down in the cellar, of course. No one else ever saw him. That’s not what I cloned him for.”
Well, that one threw even me, and I’m trained for the unexpected. Yes, cloning’s the in-thing these days, but you still need something to clone from. That’s why I still keep my darling Katie’s little finger, just in case I go too far one day, though at the time I was cutting it off I admit I was doing it simply for pleasure: we were going through one of our little tiffs.
The good Reverend smiled indulgently.
“You’re wondering where I got the DNA? Let me remind you, St John again, chapter 20, 6-7: ‘Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seethe the linen clothes lie, and the face-cloth, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.’”
What did he think I was? Your average uncultured assassin?
“The Turin Shroud? That tatty old sheet that’s supposed to have been wrapped round Jesus’ body in the tomb, and seems to have got a negative photographic image of a crucified man on it? Don’t come that old chestnut with me. That was Carbon-14-dated ages ago, and proved to be medieval, not first century.”
“Hardly proved,” muttered Jenkins, for the first time looking a bit nettled, “since they only took tiny samples from the edge of the cloth, which could well have been contaminated by later accretions. But, yes, its authenticity is in doubt, and besides it would have been impossible to break into Turin Cathedral and steal it. Too well protected. And anyway, what I needed was blood. And there was much more chance of finding that on the Oviedo Sudarium.”
Damn, he’d got me there. Sudarium? But come on, my hobby is to break limbs, not read up on Fairy Tales For Religious Nutters.
He told me that the Cathedral of San Salvador in Oviedo in northern Spain is now really famous for one thing – it’s the only cathedral in the world with just one tower. This wasn’t minimalist design, it was poverty. But it used to have a lot of prestige. El Cid himself had a quaff or two in 1075. The reason was the silver chest in the Cámara Santa, which contained what was believed to be the Sudarium, or face-cloth, which had been wrapped round Jesus’ head on the Cross to mop up the blood and serum coming out of his nose, and which was taken out of Jerusalem at the time of the Persian invasion, reached Seville, and then moved north in stages before the Moorish advances. But times change, and very few have even heard of the Oviedo Sudarium, all the glory being stolen by the Turin Shroud. The Italians just have more razzmatazz than the Spanish, and besides, the Pope lives there.
Jenkins went on to explain how the Sudarium is only brought out to be viewed three times a year, twice on saints’ days in September, and then again on Good Friday, and how he had broken in and stolen it at the end of September, knowing that it wouldn’t then be missed again for six months.
He’d then cloned Jesus from the DNA he’d found there.
By now I was growing impatient. OK, so the guy was funny, and had a neat way of hacking off limbs, but was he trying to take me for a sucker? I know all about Dolly, Polly, Golly. And all the mice, cows, cats, cockroaches, and top models cloned since then. Cloning takes time. Not just six months.
“There speaks an abandoned soul!” Jenkins said sadly. “You think a god isn’t going to grow a bit quicker, you idiot?”
I saw that he had a point, but I gave him a backhander anyway. Guess in my job it’s a kind of reflex. Besides, my darling Katie’s third lover had been a vicar.
He turned the other cheek, bless him, so I gave him another backhander, and then we went down to the cellar, and, yes, there sure enough was a pretty impressive looking laboratory. (I learned later that Jenkins wasn’t the first priest to play around in labs. Apparently, Hoffman’s mad scientist in Der Sandmann was modelled on the Roman Catholic priest Lazzaro Spallanzani who filled in his time blinding bats, decapitating snails, and resurrecting dried microscopic animals. It also turned out, would you believe it, that Jenkins had once turned down a job in the Roslin Research Institute – you know, where they cloned Dolly – because Wilmut and the other researchers were ‘amateurs and charlatans’ and had ‘a pathetically superficial knowledge of genetics’!)
In one corner of the lab, there was another freezer with the door hanging open and shelves full of what looked like a lot of Easter eggs for undernourished Hobbits. But I only noted that subliminally. Because next to the freezer was a cross.
A used cross. Unoccupied now. But used.
Don’t ask me. In my profession, you just know.
“But why the hell did you have to crucify him?” I asked the Reverend, who was tenderly releasing a fly trapped in a spider’s web.
He looked at me pityingly. “Don’t you know anything? A lot of good it would have done us if the Son of God had turned up the first time, taken a look round Palestine like Queen Elizabeth visiting Australia, and then just gone back to Heaven with unwanted gifts of Middle Eastern coffee pots and pictures of the Roman emperor! He had to die and be crucified to absolve us of our sins. The power lay in the crucified body, that was the whole point of it. The same with my new Jesus. Don’t think I enjoyed it! Or that it was easy! Have you ever tried to lift a struggling man up on to a cross by yourself?”
Well, not entirely by myself. My darling Katie and myself were still close at that time. That was the guy who’d sliced off… but I don’t want to think about that. But then he’d deserved it!
The Reverend was reminiscing. “And the names he called me! You could tell he had royal blood all right!” The gentle smile of the tolerant fanatic played about his lips.
I’d always thought the original Jesus must have done a bit of name-calling, too! ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do’ my ass!’ Sure, I can just see it!
Well, we had a pretty gruesome murder on our hands. A benign-looking parish priest somehow breaks into a Spanish cathedral, steals one of its relics guarded behind an iron grille, impossibly clones a man from old DNA in the cloth, accelerates the growth so that there’s a full-grown man within a few months, crucifies him, chops him up into wafer-sized pieces, and offers the pieces to his congregation on Easter Day.
Pretty bad, eh?
Well, that wasn’t the worst of it!
Those Easter eggs, you see.
The good Reverend suddenly noticed the open freezer, dashed across, and scrambled among the eggs – which I now saw were made of glass, not chocolate – with the ferocity of a tumescent, but unprepared, man searching for an unused condom. The eggs all had a spherical hole at one end.
“They’ve escaped!” he screamed.
The Reverend Albert Jenkins was a true visionary, a man who cared deeply about the whole human race, who hadn’t just wished to save the souls of his own small flock on this one Easter Day, but had planned to stamp out the Eucharistic fraud everywhere for a long time to come. A passing lamb had provided the uterus for his Jesus (no longer the Lamb of God, but the God of Lamb), but he had retained a hundred embryos which he had intended to later implant in other unwary passing lambs.
Now I admit I’m only guessing here. Very little research, it seems, has been done on divine chromosomes. A divine cell doesn’t necessarily obey the same laws as a humble undivine one, as Jenkins had found out with his accelerated Jesus. Certain faculties may be developed before the organs normally associated with them. The auditory sense, for instance, might precede the ear. Prayers not only have to reach as far as Heaven, which I’m told on very good authority is quite some distance away, but frequently aren’t even uttered until one reaches one’s death bed, by which time one’s voice tends to be muted. Maybe straining to hear these deathbed prayers had preternaturally developed the Divine audition.
Now the good Reverend had crucified his Jesus just a few feet away from the embryos. What if they’d heard the nails going in, sensed what was in store for them, and during the week the Reverend had been in a coma, done a bit of accelerated growing up by themselves, and then scarpered? Can’t say I’d blame them really.
Of course, I had to report all this to Section Thirteen. And the instructions went out just as I’d expected.
Search and destroy.
The world is ruled by economic imperialism. But judging from the antics of the original JC in the temple with the moneylenders, his clones wouldn’t be likely to accept that. And some of those Commandments! No other gods: end of the pop music and film industry. No killing: end of the armaments industry. No bearing false witness: end of politics and international diplomacy. No coveting your neighbour’s cow or wife: end of capitalism and good healthy competition.
In short, living by Christian precepts would rapidly bring the Christian world to its knees.
The next few days were tense. The Section’s greatest stroke of luck was when the main body of jaycees got cornered in Portsmouth, remembered their old skills, and cockily walked across the Solent to the Isle of Wight, making rude signs as they went. Hubris. Next day the island was nuked. Pity about the local inhabitants, but Section Thirteen has to see the bigger picture.
After that, it was a case of mopping up. Three jaycees foolishly headed for the Vatican, and were brought down by the halberds of the Swiss Guard on the direct orders of the Pope himself twitching furiously, and still mumbling incoherently, on his Balcony. Well, he stood to lose most, I suppose. Bit like King Lear: once you hand over your power, people don’t want to give it back.
The Simon Wiesenthal Centre used their expertise and accounted for half a dozen more jaycees. Quite a few were spotted because of their allergic reaction to the sight of a cross, and a fair number were nabbed in brothels: well, each generation does tend to rebel against the earlier one. One particularly cunning fugitive even set himself up as a pawnbroker, but gave himself away by offering fair prices for the articles pawned.
Oh yes, Jenkins ’s jaycees got up to all the tricks in the book, but Section Thirteen has branches in every country in the world. Soon we were pretty sure we’d bagged the lot.
Like Woody Allen in Zelig, this one popped up everywhere. Tiananmen Square, the White House Lawn, Red Square in Moscow, Mecca, the banks of the River Ganges, Super Bowl stadiums – anywhere where there was a crowd he would appear, stick his tongue out, blow raspberries, make dire threats, and somehow melt away just before our agents could get there.
Me, I bided my time. I knew that he would become more and more human every passing day. I knew that in the end, he would fall victim to that most elemental of weaknesses – the desire for vengeance. I knew that some day he would come back to settle the score with the Reverend Albert Jenkins.
And he did.
And I was waiting with my Kalashnikov.
He’s got plans. Big plans. Big horrible plans.
Losing ninety-nine brothers. That’s a lot. Kind of hardens your character. Seeing as he got resurrected on Easter Day, he declared last night as we placidly drank daiquiris, he’s going to wait till All Hallows! Samhain. And it won’t be the spirits of the dead he’ll be raising, but what’s left of their bodies. They’ll start with the World Bank. Chuckling, he said to me: ‘For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.’ Check in St John, chap 5, if you don’t believe me, you heathen!” He clapped me on the shoulder. “It’s not just the Devil who quotes scripture, you know!”
Oh, come on! The gun was just to show him I wasn’t negotiating out of weakness. You think I was going to blow away a guy who could heal the sick? Raise Lazarus? For a guy like that, my embarrassing problem was nothing. I don’t limp any more, and it sure does feel good having my balls back again.
My darling Katie’s back with me now, of course, now that I’m complete again. I guess that was the root of our problem all along.
Of course, I had to give him the Reverend in exchange. And I did feel a bit sorry for the old guy, dying like that – upside down, too, and in such a public place as the Dome of St Paul’s! – but then he had planned to crucify another five score jaycees.
Yep, I really do believe I’m going to enjoy working for my new boss.