The Fiction of Don Thomasson
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| The Fiction of Don Thomasson |
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Geoff Farnfield was basically a cautious man. He was especially wary where lines of communication were concerned. The nature of his work was, of necessity, known to a good many people, not all of whom were on his side of the fence. Anyone who was known to have been in touch with him might be marked down as being similarly occupied. He considered this as something to be avoided wherever possible.
The techniques he used were based on the contention that in order to trace a line of communication, it was necessary to know the starting point. By tapping a telephone line, it is possible to discover all the numbers called by listening to the clicks as the dial turns. He therefore took care to ring Jimmy only from call boxes selected at random. He allowed Jimmy to use his own telephone in the flat for calls in the reverse direction, since it seemed unlikely that Jimmy's phone was tapped, but even then he preferred Jimmy to use a call box for any really important messages.
On a similar basis, Jimmy never visited Geoff's office. He was not even sure where it was. Their meetings were kept to a minimum and were always arranged in such a way that Geoff could make sure he was not followed to the rendezvous. There was still a tiny chance that someone who mattered might see them together, but even Geoff felt that this was a risk he could afford to take.
In accordance with this policy, Geoff travelled to Brands Hatch by train, walking the three miles or so from Longfield Station by field paths and lanes. Anyone who had tried to follow him would have been forced to reveal their interest long before he reached his destination.
Strolling into the paddock, he wandered idly among the cars until he came to Sandy Clarewood's, where he stopped for a chat. That was natural enough, since Sandy had met him before. It was equally natural that Sandy's friends, who arrived a little later, should join in the conversation. Except for Pat, they were all familiar with the world of motor racing and they chatted about drivers and cars and circuits, with never a word about mysterious underground places or dangerous military men.
Jimmy duly remembered to introduce Pat to Geoff, whose eyes twinkled in appreciation of this touch of finesse. She said introductions seemed scarcely necessary in such a free and easy atmosphere and that she was sure she was going to enjoy herself. Before long, she and Susan were busily involved in the work of preparing the car for its afternoon outing, Sandy having said that a well polished body might be worth a couple of extra miles an hour of top speed. Looking at some of the scruffy vehicles nearby, Pat suggested that some of the other entrants were evidently unaware of this.
After a scratch lunch, they all made their way to a grandstand high above Paddock Hill, where there were still plenty of empty seats. This was not a very important meeting and the crowd was sparse.
When they were settled, Geoff remarked casually that he gathered they had seen an old friend.
Simon snorted. 'Friend! Some friend. If the devil had his due, that man would have drowned.'
'Not him!' Geoff was almost amused, but his eyes were hard. 'He has more lives than a cat. Were you really surprised to see him?'
'Yes, I was.' Simon's eyebrows moved a trifle, as if acknowledging that he had missed something. 'Though I suppose it was a predictable possibility. After all, there are a number of links with the Monaco business. I suppose I hoped he was dead, so I didn't think about him.'
'I've thought about him a good deal.' Geoff looked around warily, to make sure they could not be overheard. 'I was sure he'd get himself back into action, somehow. I only wish I knew what he's up to this time.'
'Something unpleasant, for certain.' It was clear that Simon still resented the treatment he had received at the Colonel's hands. 'What annoys me is the sheer effrontery of it all. Surely they must realise that someone would be suspicious, sooner or later, and start asking questions. Unless they're alarmingly sure of being able to carry on, whatever happens, there must be something we're missing.'
Geoff sighed. 'I'm inclined to agree. Mark you, we must remember that they're much more vulnerable at the moment than they will be later on. I suspect that the excavation under Odstone Down is barely begun and the entrance is crude. When it's surrounded by buildings, the situation will be quite different.'
An idea that had been germinating in Jimmy's mind developed to a point where it seemed worth mentioning. 'I wonder if it's simply a matter of timing. The bit of information that made us suspect the place was Brent Livingstone's name. Quite by chance, Simon got hold of that item of news ten days before it was supposed to be published.'
'Jimmy, that's brilliant!' Simon was too excited to wait for the end of the explanation, but Geoff waved him to silence.
'Let him finish. We aren't all thought readers. Go on, Jimmy.'
'The news was released to Car Sport just too late for that week's issue, probably by intention. Now, as things worked out, we didn't go to look at the place until Sunday, and probably wouldn't have gone as soon as that if I hadn't been meeting Pat. We saw enough then to make us even more suspicious, but nothing really positive. We didn't do our night raid until ten days after that. If Simon hadn't got the news early, the timing would have been quite different. We would probably be thinking it over still. We certainly wouldn't have been on Odstone Down last Tuesday night.'
'As Simon said, young Jimmy, that's brilliant. It could explain a lot. You got off to a flying start. As a result you could well have caught them unprepared. I would go further. You really had a lot of luck. It might have taken a lot longer to discover so much if you hadn't been in the right place at the right time. There was a little more than luck involved, of course. You had to be very observant to spot the landing lights and you had to know what to look for in other respects.'
Simon nodded sagely. 'They probably have no idea that we know as much as we do.'
'I'm sure they haven't.' Geoff seemed pleased by the thought. 'We're a step ahead and we need to stay that way. However, Jimmy's explanation, ingenious as it is, may not be the only one. Perhaps our friends misjudged the reaction to the news. Or perhaps they judged it very precisely.'
This enigmatic statement mystified them all, but Simon was, as might be expected, the first to interpret it.
He snapped his fingers suddenly. 'If Jimmy's idea was brilliant, that one's stupendous. Of course! Who else could have been suspicious?'
Smiling, Geoff said he thought he should explain. 'What Simon means is that the news you heard was only suspicious because you had special knowledge. I doubt if Miss Hale, for instance, would have thought twice about the matter.'
'I wouldn't.' Pat chuckled. 'I still feel you were all a bit clairvoyant.'
'They know about Brent Livingstone, which sowed a seed of suspicion. Knowledge of motor racing economics strengthened it. Recognition of the man Sealey added fuel. And, finally, you recognised the key man. Not more than twenty or thirty people could meet those requirements.'
Jimmy stirred uneasily. 'So when you said our friends misjudged the reaction, you meant that they thought nobody would think there was anything odd about the plan for a new circuit. I get that, all right, but I don't understand what you meant about judging it precisely.'
The answer was provided by Simon, who spoke in an unusually subdued voice. 'What Geoff means is that the twenty or thirty people who could interpret the news are all people the Colonel has reason to hate, the people who defeated him earlier this year. Suppose he hoped they would be suspicious and would go to the place to investigate, only to find that they'd walked into a trap?'
'A trap!' Enlightenment dawned and Jimmy gasped. 'That's uncomfortably possible, I must say.'
Geoff broke the ensuing silence with words of caution. 'That's why I wanted to meet you here today, to warn you of what might be in the wind. You'll have to be careful.'
'How careful?' Simon was briskly practical. 'Do you think the danger is only in and around the new circuit, or does it extend further?'
'It would mainly be at the place itself.' Geoff spoke gravely to press the point home. 'But you must remember that it would be enough for you to be seen there. You could then be followed when you left. In your own case, Simon, that would be little use to them. They must know where you live already, from their previous attacks on you. I suspect that they would be much more interested to find out where the others live.'
'Then we're over a barrel.' Simon sounded depressed. 'If we go there to investigate, we may be walking into trouble. If we don't, then we'll never find out what's going on.'
'I don't agree.' Geoff was firm. 'There are many other lines of investigation and I'll be following those up. I suspect that there isn't much of real interest at the circuit yet. There probably will be later, but we can't afford to wait for that.'
They went on discussing the situation desultorily until the cars came out for the first race, after which they abandoned the subject and concentrated on what was taking place on the track. In due course Sandy thrilled them by winning his race against respectable opposition. By the end of the meeting they were well pleased with their day out, the threat that might be waiting in the background temporarily forgotten.
Simon wanted to organise another celebration after Sandy's win, but Geoff explained that he had already accepted Jimmy's invitation to spend the evening at the flat in Kenton. He did not add that the arrangement had been made to allow the three professionals to confer properly without having to conceal their status.
It was a memorable occasion, in its way, for Geoff would never consider visiting Jimmy in the ordinary course of events. This time, he felt that it was safe enough since he was quite sure that no one had traced him to Brands Hatch, while Jimmy would be able to make sure that no one followed them home. His route, aimed at avoiding traffic, was so unorthodox that any car they saw more than once must be following them. That, at any rate, was Jimmy's confident claim.
When they reached the flat, Pat set about preparing a meal, leaving the two men to talk, but she showed by occasional comments that she was following the conversation and even put in an odd question now and then.
Geoff was more than a little amused by a full account of their dealings with Robin Wightman, particularly by the manner in which they had pressured the big man into talking. 'He's quite a character, from what I hear. I've never met him, but I think I must one of these days. We use him as a source of information from time to time, without him being aware of the fact.'
This made Jimmy look up sharply. 'You don't trust him?'
'I prefer to organise things so that I don't have to consider the point. I think we'd trust him if we had to, so I'm not too worried about what you told him. What you got in return was worth far more.'
'Did you make anything out of it?'
'It helped with the Welsh end of the business. The landing strip up there wasn't difficult to find once we knew the route the plane followed. There isn't much flat ground in those parts which could have been used. Frankly, I found it difficult to believe that anyone could land a plane anywhere along that section of the route, but we found one possible place and confirmed it by spotting the wheel tracks.'
'But that wasn't enough on its own.'
'No, it didn't tell us where their base was. We were fairly sure of the base before the return flight, so we could have followed the passenger home, but it wouldn't have been easy and might have given away our interest. When I heard who it was, I was glad we hadn't taken the risk.'
'But Robin's information did the trick?'
'It did. Sealey acted as buying agent and signed the conveyance. You may care to spend your honeymoon at Beddgelert, which is far enough away for comfort, near enough for convenience.'
Poking her head round the door, Pat asked what progress had been made with the investigation into Sealey's murder.
Geoff shrugged his shoulders. 'I haven't enquired. That's a police matter and I don't want to show particular interest. If the motive came out, it might be a pity. We want to preserve a bland ignorance of anything like that.'
Pat lingered uncertainly. 'I kept wondering where he was coming from when we saw him. If Markham's keeping under cover, they aren't likely to have met in the open air.'
'Scarcely.' Geoff laughed. 'It could be an important point and I haven't ignored it. I think they have another base in that area, something quite ordinary and unobtrusive. A house. Perhaps a farm. I'm hoping to know what it is before long.'
'That may give us a useful lead...excuse me!' Pat vanished to attend to something that was boiling over, returning soon after to say that food was ready.
Rather to Jimmy's surprise, Geoff showed no desire to talk shop over the meal, preferring to ask them about their plans for the future. He seemed unusually relaxed and content. Over coffee, he congratulated Pat on her cooking and said that it was a rare treat to join in a family meal. The remark made Jimmy think, for the first time, about Geoff's private life. If a simple meal gave him so much pleasure, his ordinary routine must be austere indeed.
With this in mind, he was careful not to show any undue eagerness to return to business matters. For a time they went on talking of happier subjects. Then Geoff sighed and said they ought to get back to work. 'I want you to look at these aerial photographs. They were taken on successive days, covering the whole area of the Knighton Valley. This set are enlargements of the Odstone Down section, around the excavation.'
They studied the prints for a while and then Jimmy said that he found them very revealing. 'I'm sure these tracks weren't here when we walked across Odstone Down in daylight. There's been a good deal of traffic around the entrance box, hasn't there?'
'You might not have seen the tracks from ground level. They show up much more clearly in the photographs. However, I agree that there's been a good deal of traffic. The tracks get clearer every day. I'm told, by men who ought to know what they're talking about, that they are probably lorry tracks. They even went so far as to estimate the size of the vehicles and deduced that they probably carry away about eighty or ninety cubic yards of earth in a week.'
'How many weeks?' Jimmy was trying, without much success, to visualise a cubic yard.
'Probably four, at least. Now, my experts say that a yard of vertical shaft requires the removal of one cubic yard of soil, while a yard and horizontal shaft requires two cubic yards. These are the minimum figures and they mean that the shaft could go straight down about three hundred and fifty yards, which isn't likely, or could go forward a hundred and seventy. And a forward shaft might be extended by up to six yards in twenty four hours.'
Pat said it was difficult to guess what the excavation might look like from the inside.
Geoff agreed. 'One of my more imaginative men suggested that the opening was a vertical shaft about four yards high and would probably lead to a sloping section going down another four yards. That's twelve cubic yards. There must be some sort of chamber in which the Colonel transacts his business and that would account for at least another thirty cubic yards. He thought that there would be at least one other chamber of similar size. That only totals about seventy odd cubic yards, so there could be a lot of tunnel as well.'
'Rather a wild guess.' Pat was sceptical. 'Did he have any other bright ideas?'
Geoff chuckled. 'He was only trying to interpret the thing in understandable terms. He said there ought to be a ventilation shaft somewhere. That might run away with quite a lot of volume, but he was convinced that they're starting to dig something quite complex. None of the chambers can be very big, because they wouldn't be able to get the necessary support girders in through the entrance, but that doesn't mean they won't be able to enlarge the chambers later, perhaps by joining them together, if they provide a bigger entrance.'
Considering the figures that Geoff had given, Jimmy said it sounded like a lot of hard work. 'I'm not as good as Simon at this sort of thing, but I reckon shifting that amount of earth is equivalent to moving one bucket full of earth every minute for six hours a night. Are they really working at that speed?'
'My experts think so. They suggest that rather larger containers than buckets would be used, with some sort of lifting tackle. The containers would go back into the hole filled with wood for propping up the tunnel, and that sort of thing. One way and another, they'd need a fair number of men on the job and a great deal of advance planning.'
'Well it doesn't look as if we need wonder whether we're wasting our time. Anything done secretly on that kind of scale must be pretty important. Are you satisfied with the progress we're making?'
Geoff stretched his legs out and contemplated his shoes for a few moments. 'I'm satisfied with the information we've been able to get. I'd like to be sure that the other side aren't getting any in return.'
'You implied this afternoon that they weren't.'
'That was for the amateurs. I wanted to say enough to keep them away from the construction site, but I didn't want to alarm them. In the long run, success is going to depend on concealing the extent of our knowledge. The moment they realise what we're doing, it will become much harder to get information.'
'How could they find out?'
'There have been a number of opportunities. That man you saw on Odstone Down, when you first visited the place. He could have recognised you. I don't think he did, but it was a possibility. Carter taking Sealey home. They might wonder whether Sealey talked. I doubt if they knew of the incident, though. It might have made them more cautious. They might find out that the Carters camped near Odstone Down.'
Jimmy said he was puzzled by Geoff's concern. 'Suppose any of these chances had come off, and I don't think any of them did, would it matter? We would all appear to be acting privately. They wouldn't see anything official in what we did.'
'Does that make any difference? If they followed you back here, they might find it much easier to trace your association with me. In any case, you should try to keep this place secret, a place where you can relax. It's never wise to let your home base get too well known.'
Jimmy protested that he was always careful to check that he was not being followed. 'For example, I keep the sports car in a lock up garage about half a mile from here. The yard has two entrances opening onto different roads. When I'm using the car, I drive in by one entrance, then come home in the Mini, using the other entrance. It isn't foolproof, but it helps. I sometimes come that way when I'm using the Mini. If anyone followed me through the yard, I would know they were trailing me.'
'I'm glad to hear that you're so careful.' Geoff seemed a little embarrassed and Jimmy suddenly realised that the reason for all this concern was that Pat was now involved. Geoff had never raised the point while Jimmy was living on his own.
'What you're really saying is that we can't afford to make regular visits to the construction site in case we're spotted. Point taken. We'll also look out for any sign of undue interest in this place. Not that we ever get any visitors dropping in by chance.'
This remark came back to their minds very forcibly some minutes later. They had been continuing their talk on a more casual level, discussing possible lines of action. The sudden sound of the front door bell came as a completely unexpected interruption.
Chapters | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 |
| The Fiction of Don Thomasson |
|© Keith Thomasson February 11th 2002|