The Fiction of Don Thomasson
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| The Fiction of Don Thomasson |
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Pushing away some thorny bushes that were digging into his leg, Jimmy peered into the darkness and wondered if Geoff had really been wise to make Simon a member of the department. In theory, Jimmy was supposed to be keeping Simon in order and making sure that he did nothing rash, but the plan didn't seem to be working out very well.
Although Luciano Mori had made a good recovery, Geoff had felt that it would be wise for him to lie low in Jimmy's flat for a while. Simon had suggested that Susan and Pat should keep the little man company for a while, so that he and Jimmy could go on an expedition. The girls made no objection, especially as they were busy with plans and arrangements for the wedding, now fixed for the second Saturday in September. Jimmy had been a little doubtful, but Simon had threatened to go on his own, so Jimmy had given in.
Early in the evening, they had left London in Jimmy's smaller car, which had been loaded - he suspected that it was overloaded - with mysterious equipment that Simon had brought. There was a minor victory for Jimmy in this, for Simon had intended to take his white Marcos 1800, an idea Jimmy had vetoed outright, pointing out that his Mini would be much less conspicuous.
At dusk, they had arrived in the Uffington area, finding the house called Greystones without difficulty. With Mori's unpleasant experience in mind, they had approached the place with due caution, carrying Simon's equipment across two muddy fields to a point where they could see the house beyond a hedge and another small field. Simon had then vanished into the night, giving Jimmy strict instructions to stay where he was. Since it was scarcely the ideal place for an argument, Jimmy had yielded, subject to Simon's promise to be away no more than ten minutes. So far, he had been gone nine and a half.
The lighted windows of the house showed clearly in the middle distance, but all else was dark, the stars hidden by a heavy blanket of cloud. Trying to look at his watch again, Jimmy slipped. Putting out a hand to steady himself, he covered both the hand and half his arm with thick sticky mud. He began to think unkind thoughts.
A rustle nearby announced the return of the object of his displeasure. Simon was too keyed up to be apologetic. 'We're in just the right place, luckily. I didn't think it would be so dark. Now, I'll have to use a torch to see the connections.'
'Don't be a fool. It would show for miles!'
'Not this one. It's a very fine pencil beam. You can hold up this cover as a shield, if you like.'
Working deftly in the difficult conditions, Simon set up something that looked rather like a telescope on a tripod, which he connected to two anonymous boxes of equipment. From a third box he extracted two pairs of headphones, passing one pair to Jimmy.
'Put these on and point the laser at the window.'
'Laser? What is this? A death ray?'
'Don't be ridiculous. Point it.'
Shrugging his shoulders, Jimmy did as he was told and Simon moved away, first to one side and then to the other. Coming back, he told Jimmy to try another part of the window. 'Lower down, I think. Keep it steady.'
This time he only went to the left, gave a grunt of satisfaction and came back. 'We need to move about four feet this way.'
'To get the reflection right. And the tripod needs to go down an inch or two.'
Feeling out of his depth, Jimmy again gave in without argument. The tripod was moved, its height was reduced and Simon took over. He studied the window, hovering over the tripod like an old time photographer. He adjusted its position yet again. Then he seemed satisfied and began to fiddle with controls on one of the equipment boxes. Jimmy heard various clicks and plops in his headphones and then, with sudden and startling clarity, a voice.
'...can't get on any faster. For one thing, the roof beams aren't ready.'
It took Jimmy a few moments to realise that in some incredible way, Simon was picking up a conversation that was taking place in the room beyond the lighted window. An answering voice was muffled and only a word here and there was intelligible, but it seemed to suggest forceful authority. The first voice came again, as clear as before.
'Look, Markham, it's all very well for you to sit snugly here and demand this and that, but I've got to get the work done. It won't do any of us any good if I promise to do what I know is impossible. You just don't realise the difficulties. You haven't even looked at the place for weeks.'
The muffled voice spoke briefly and the first voice quietened a little.
'I think you'd find it easier to see our problems if you did. Take the alignment of the lower heading. I've done what I can, but we've never been able to set it up properly because we can't have the shaft open in daylight. At the moment, it's crude, and we might be yards out with the eastern tunnel. That would mean repositioning the grandstand. Yes, I know that would be almost impossible. The only way out is to dig a second shaft - quite a small one - to give us a check on the alignment. A tube a few inches in diameter would do if it was perfectly vertical.'
Again the came the muffled voice. This time the audible reply sounded rather resigned.
'All right. I'll draft a new plan and see what can be saved, but I'm pretty sure of the answer already. We should be able to get the pilot bore finished by the end of October. Then we can work faster. Once we're able to get rid of the soil in bulk, we can start the main excavation. The bare chambers should be done by the end of January, barring accidents. If you're ready to move the equipment in by then, we can be fitted out two or three weeks short of the deadline.'
There was an infuriating murmur and the clear voice became irate.
'What do you mean, the deadline's changed? May? But that's a month earlier. We'll never be ready by then. Why on earth can't you see that it's as simple as two and two make four? You want to make the answer three, or even two and a half...'
Simon tapped Jimmy on the shoulder and they took off their headphones. With justifiable pride, Simon invited approval of his miracle. 'Not bad, is it? Don't worry, it's all going on tape. We can listen later. Let's leave it running and come back in an hour. I'll just make sure it's working correctly.'
Satisfied that all was going well, he led Jimmy back across the fields to the car. When they were well out of earshot of the house, Jimmy asked what sort of magic they had been using.
Simon chuckled. 'Simple enough when you know how. The laser generates a narrow beam of light, which is reflected back from the window. By comparing the outward and return beams, you can get a signal telling you how far away the window is. The distance changes slightly as the window is vibrated by sound waves, so you can turn the signal back into the sound that makes the window move.'
'I'll take your word for it.' Jimmy felt in no position to argue. 'Why was Markham muffled?'
'I expect he was sitting with his back to the window. You can't win them all. I may be able to improve the recording by using filters.'
'Did you make all this yourself?'
'Yes, it's a sort of hobby I've taken up since the pressure of my work eased a bit.'
Jimmy groaned. 'What a hobby!'
When they got back to the car, Simon suggested that they should go and have another look at Odstone Down. Jimmy vetoed this most emphatically at first, remembering Geoff's warnings, but he allowed himself to be talked round, mainly because he rather liked the idea for its own sake. If they were careful, the chance of being spotted should be small.
On their way there, Simon asked if Jimmy appreciated the significance of the changed deadline. Jimmy said it meant nothing to him. Simon explained that it seemed related to an announcement in Car Sport.
'They're holding the opening meeting in May. A twelve hour race for the sports cars, counting towards the FIA Constructor's Championship. That's on the Sunday. There's a Formula Three tournament on the Saturday.'
'Crikey! What's happened to the BOAC Thousand?'
'It forms part of a new scheme. Six hour races at Brands, Silverstone, Oulton - they'll probably call that the Tourist Trophy - and possibly Snetterton. Distance completed in each race will be totted up and whoever covers the biggest distance overall gets an extra prize.'
'Sounds interesting. So they're opening the circuit earlier than expected.'
'Yes. I wonder who planned that, the racing side or the Colonel's outfit.'
Since this had to be a matter of speculation for the time being, Jimmy concentrated on finding his way to the road under Odstone Down. He was careful to park some way to the north of the shaft entrance, backing the car onto the grass verge ready for a quick getaway. Above them, the slope of Tower Hill loomed up in the darkness, which was less intense now that the moon had risen behind the cloud blanket. They climbed the slope circumspectly, pausing when the gradient eased so that they could look for possible watchers on the hill top.
They could see no sign of life, but Jimmy insisted that they should crawl along a line just below the summit, as they might otherwise stand out clearly against the lights of Swindon reflected from the cloud cover.
Even though they could see nothing, it was soon obvious that there were people about, for they could hear lorries grinding along and other more isolated sounds that suggested night work was in full swing. Finding a suitable place to cross, they crawled over the ridge and looked down into the Knighton Valley.
It was an eerie scene, with sparse illumination from scattered headlights and flares. The sounds of activity were much louder now. There seemed to be at least thirty men working on the site. One lorry was dumping earth somewhere near the main straight while another was taking on a fresh load at the original shaft opening, to their right.
As they lay watching the scene, they were startled by the sound of wheels close behind them. A vehicle running without lights passed no more than twenty feet away, speeding along the ridge track. Jimmy decided it was time to retreat.
When they had regained the road safely, he assumed that they would now return to Greystones to collect the equipment, but Simon paused, looking southwards along the slope they had just descended. In the middle distance, a glow of light shone outwards from the slope, flickering from time to time as if something were moving in front of it. Moving closer with due caution, they saw that the light was coming from a hole in the slope.
Simon spoke close to Jimmy's ear. 'Another entrance. I wonder if they broke through unexpectedly. We must make sure that we can find the place again. There's a gap where the wall has collapsed. That ought to make a good marker.'
Jimmy was by no means sure that Simon's guess was correct. There certainly seemed to be an air of urgency about the actions of the men working near the shaft, but that might be because it was visible from a public road. Long objects of some sort were being brought up to the hole from lower down the slope, then being inserted with some difficulty into the opening, which was less than a yard square. Jimmy was inclined to think that this was an alternative access route, built to allow longer objects to be taken into the underground workings.
Suddenly, the light went out. A few seconds later Jimmy heard the sound of a car approaching up the hill from the Lambourn direction. The headlights would be unlikely to shine far enough up the slope to illuminate the shaft entrance, which was in a shallow gully running up towards the ridge, but it would certainly show up two figures standing by the roadside. As if performing a well rehearsed acrobatic turn, they scrambled over the low wall behind them - and dropped into a foot of muddy water. Simon was fully occupied cursing his luck, but Jimmy was too busy working something out.
When the car had gone, he caught Simon's arm. 'Did you hear that car before the light went out?'
'No, I didn't. Does it matter? Let's get out of here.'
'Hang on. I think they must have lookouts posted. They might be able to hear a car in time to put the light out, though I'm fairly sure that they shut down some seconds before the car was audible. They'd still need warning of cyclists and people on foot.'
'So they may have seen us on the way down.' Simon was alert now. 'Arriving, but not leaving. What would they do?'
'Probably send someone to locate the car and then set an ambush round it. This is where we tread warily.'
Silent progress in the waterlogged ditch being out of the question, they risked returning to the road, where they walked on the grass verge, trying to keep the squelching noises from their shoes to a minimum. There was just enough visibility for them to see where they were going, but the more distant scenery appeared as varying shades of black, with the winding road ahead lightest of all.
As they came near the point where they had left the car, they slowed down and peered into the gloom, trying to spot some indication of a watcher. The only consolation for their lack of success was that they must be equally difficult to spot by anyone looking out for them.
But they were moving and therefore making noises, despite all their care, whereas a watcher could remain perfectly still.
Jimmy began to formulate a plan, which he whispered to Simon. 'We go another ten yards, then stop and stand still. If anyone is watching, he may be tempted to make a move after a while, in case we've got to the car. When I say 'go', dive for the car, get the passenger door open and push it out into the road. We go downhill, for the fastest start. OK?'
Their shoes had almost stopped squelching now and they were able to move nearly as quietly as Jimmy could have wished. Some twenty feet short of the car, they froze into immobility, standing almost back to back to get the best field of view. Jimmy counted seconds. He had reached almost a hundred and fifty before anything happened. Then a stone rattled somewhere on the slope and Jimmy grinned quietly. One man up there suited him very well. He counted another hundred seconds and heard a rustle from another direction, still some distance off. Fifty seconds later, he decided it was time to move.
The start went with whirlwind speed. He and Simon ran the car out into the road, built up pace a little and scrambled in. It took a couple of seconds to settle in place and switch on, then the car was in gear and accelerating away down the hill.
Just as Jimmy was on the point of laughing at the success of the manoeuvre, a voice spoke close behind him. 'Very neat, I must say, but I think you'd better pull up again. I have a gun.'
Praying that Simon would be able to anticipate his reaction, Jimmy stood firmly on the brake. The car bucked and plunged crazily and the man in the back seat was thrown forward, forcing Jimmy against the wheel. Simon, who had braced himself just in time, moved fast. The man sagged away and Jimmy started up again, heading towards Lambourn.
Simon leaned over the back of his seat. 'Out cold! Nice work, Jimmy. I saw your arms stiffen and guessed you were getting ready to brake. Where's his gun?'
'How should I know?'
'I thought it might have come forward over your shoulder. I can't find it back here.'
'Perhaps he didn't have one.'
'You could be right. Cheek! All the same, we ought to make sure.'
Spotting a narrow side lane, Jimmy turned into it and drove on until they were out of sight of the main road. 'We'd better not be too long. They may send someone after us. Is he still out?'
'Yes.' Simon was feeling around for the gun on the floor in front of the back seat. 'I used that chop with the edge of the hand that we were talking about the other day. It wasn't very accurate. Too far back. I can't find a gun anywhere. Is it under your seat?'
Jimmy was no longer worrying about the gun, which now seemed totally unimportant. He had become aware that the man in the back seat was very silent indeed. He borrowed Simon's pencil torch to allow a proper examination.
After a few seconds, he straightened up. 'Never mind about the gun, Simon. It doesn't matter now. You don't know your own strength. His neck's broken.'
Simon was shattered by this information. Jimmy was more than a little disturbed, too. Unlike Simon, he had seen violent death before and had even helped to bring it about, but this time it was different. It had been an accident, not a necessary action, though it would certainly save Geoff the need to hold yet another man under his discretionary powers.
'What are we going to do?' Simon sounded pathetic, but Jimmy was equal to the situation.
'Get out of here, for a start. I don't want to go back past Odstone Down, or through Lambourn, so we'd better see where this lane takes us.'
They bumped up the rough track without a word, Jimmy concentrating on selection of the smoother areas of the broken surface while Simon tried to come to terms with the fact that he had killed a man with his bare hands. After a while, Jimmy asked him to check the map, realising that he might be better off with some useful occupation to distract his mind.
Continually threatening to peter out, the track straggled on, climbing until it reached a cross track running along the face of the hill. Not wanting to climb too high, Jimmy turned right and eventually came to a surfaced road. Forcing himself to concentrate, Simon located their position and asked where Jimmy wanted to go.
Jimmy's reply was deliberately matter of fact. 'Greystones, of course. We have to collect your gear and we might as well take this chap home, so to speak. If we leave him anywhere else, he's likely to be found quite soon, which might make things difficult all round. I'm sure we can rely on Markham to deal with the matter discreetly.'
Simon thought this over for a while and then said it might work. 'Only, it will tell Markham that Greystones is known to be connected with Odstone Down.'
'I don't think that matters. He probably realised that Mori would give that away. The important thing is that we can't be identified.'
It was not until the following evening that Jimmy discovered he had forgotten something. Geoff rang up to say that he had been going through the tape recording made at Greystones.
'Very interesting, some of it. But I'm afraid the price may be rather high. Near the end of the tape, a man came in to report that someone had been snooping at Odstone Down and had got away. He said that didn't matter too much, as he had the number of your car.'
'Exactly. Now, will they get your present address?'
'No. I haven't renewed my licence since I moved, so I haven't bothered to get the log book changed. And since the Colonel knew my old address, I went to some trouble to cover my tracks.'
'So they'll get the name, but not much else. It might be worse. You aren't in the phone book, are you?'
'I'm not that foolish.' Jimmy was bitter. He should have been firm with Simon. Their visit to Odstone Down looked like turning into a catastrophe. 'There are other ways they might find me, though.'
'That depends on how hard they try, and how soon.'
'I don't get you.'
'You're going to sell that car. In theory, you sold it some time ago. Post me the log book and leave the car where Pat left Lucy's. Send the keys with the log book.'
After that, Jimmy had to wait for three days before Geoff could relieve his mind. Then he heard that an enquiry regarding the owner of the Mini had been made. The enquirer had been interested to learn that it had belonged for some time to a hire car company - but not very pleased.
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