The Fiction of Don Thomasson
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| The Fiction of Don Thomasson |
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In Pat's opinion, expressed at some length on a more convenient occasion, Jimmy had intended to explore the upper part of the house from the start. He denied this, asking what else they could have done, and pointing out that she had reached the stairs first. He also pointed out that it had been quite safe.
This was, perhaps, a matter of luck. They found the first floor deserted and dimly lit. There was even some cover, in that the staircase led to a gallery that completely surrounded the hall and was equipped with an ornate balustrade. Crouching in the part of the gallery that ran above the front door, they could feel reasonably concealed for the moment. They could also see what was happening below.
The footsteps they had heard in the further passage resolved into a manservant carrying a tray loaded with bottles and glasses, which he set on a large round table in the centre of the hall. Stepping back, he stood almost at attention, obviously waiting for the Colonel, who came into view a few moments later, waving a dismissive hand.
'That's all right, Bachner, we'll attend to ourselves. You needn't wait.'
The man bowed and retired, leaving the Colonel to turn to his companion, the once majestic Brent Livingstone. 'You're sure you wouldn't like to stay? We could easily fix you up. This is a bigger place than it looks and we have a number of spare rooms.'
The financier showed no particular appreciation of the offer of hospitality. He looked downcast and more than a little frightened. 'No. I must get back. I'm staying in Chester, where I have a meeting in the morning.'
'Then you have a long drive ahead of you. All of sixty miles. Have a drink before you go. Whisky?'
Livingstone hesitated, then accepted this further offer. 'Yes, I think I will. You have shaken me badly. I thought we were partners.'
Breaking in sharply, the Colonel waved his hand towards the passage leading to the billiard room. 'Now, you are threatening to be indiscreet. If our scientific friends heard you, it might disturb the ideas I have planted in their over-specialised minds with such painstaking care.'
With a sigh, Livingstone nodded. 'I accept that. But will she be safe?'
'Perfectly.' The Colonel was bland. 'She is merely a guarantee that you will use your common sense, and a reminder that money is not the only weapon, nor even the most effective one. You play your part and all will be well. Fail me...' He broke off, as if this was not a possibility that need be discussed.
Livingstone's face grew tense. 'And if I fail you?'
'I will leave that to your imagination, my friend. I trust that it will not arise.'
Setting down his empty glass, Livingstone said nothing, simply stood with hunched shoulders, looking into space. Then, pulling himself together, he said he must be going. The Colonel accompanied him to the door like a punctilious host. He came back into the hall with a smile on his face. As he did so, the two men who had been looking at microfilm also appeared.
He greeted them cheerfully. 'Are your problems resolved? Good! I wish mine would disappear as easily. I think I'll go and dream them away. Perhaps they will shrink during the night. Have a drink before you turn in. See you in the morning.'
He climbed the stairs and disappeared down a passage to the right, while the two men settled down, evidently intending to make the most of the invitation. Jimmy and Pat grimaced at each other. Their line of retreat was cut off for the moment, and they were trapped on the upper floor with a man who had shown afresh his utter ruthlessness.
After considering the position for a moment, Jimmy decided to turn necessity to advantage and began to crawl round the balcony to the left. Unable to express her feelings in words, Pat was forced to follow him. Within the shelter of the passage leading away from the balcony, they stood up and listened for a moment. All was quiet.
Jimmy decided to explore further, explaining the basis for this decision in a whisper. 'Sooner or later those men will come upstairs. They may go anywhere, round the balcony, down the other passage, down this passage. What we want is an unoccupied room. There ought to be some, from what the Colonel said. We can take cover there until everyone's asleep.'
Creeping down the passage, half expecting each door they passed to open and reveal their presence, they came to a short flight of steps leading up to a further passage, twin to that on the floor below.
Jimmy looked at the steps thoughtfully and risked another whisper. 'These steps don't make sense. Why build this bit higher? I wonder if there's something underneath the ground floor? In that case, though, they could surely have dug down a bit further.'
Pat put a finger to her lips, conveying some urgency in her demand for absolute quiet, and he suddenly became aware of an odd sound coming from behind one of the nearby doors.
Moving close to the door, Pat listened for a moment and then beckoned to Jimmy. 'I expect the door's locked. Can you open it?'
More than a bit mystified, Jimmy raised his eyebrows, but he delved in his haversack and produced some pieces of stiff wire. 'No guarantees, but I'll try. You keep watch.'
The task proved unexpectedly easy. There was a click, and when he tried the handle cautiously, the door opened an inch. Pat took over, leading the way into the room, where they found a girl in her early twenties squatting on the bed in her nightdress. Her cheeks were tearstained. Jimmy realised the sound they had heard had been the girl sobbing.
Not unnaturally, the girl looked at them with pure amazement. Jimmy was very glad to leave Pat to handle the situation, confining his own contribution to closing the door. Pat seemed to understand the situation perfectly, her first question making Jimmy kick himself.
'Are you anything to do with Brent Livingstone?'
The girl on the bed nodded bemusedly. 'He's my father.'
From that point, the story came out rapidly, following much the line that might be expected. Jean Livingstone had been kidnapped by the Colonel's men when she was on her way to visit friends. Though she had come to no harm, she had been told that she would be a prisoner for at least six months. It had not been difficult for her to guess that she was a hostage for her father's continued co-operation, though she had no real idea of what lay behind his dealings with the Colonel.
'I've only been here a week. He's been quite nice on the surface, but he frightens me to death.'
'I can understand that.' Pat spoke in a reassuringly businesslike tone. 'Now, if you like to get dressed - my husband will turn his back, or else - we'll see what we can do about getting you out of here.'
Only too willing to accept reassurance of this kind, the girl soon said she was ready to leave, but Jimmy said he would prefer to wait a little longer.
'It's nearly two. Let's hang on until ten past. It's odd, but people who stay up late tend to go to bed around the even hour. It makes a sort of milestone.'
Putting out the light, they found that they could just see a faint radiance spreading out from the hall windows. This disappeared within a minute after two o'clock by Jimmy's watch. Jean Livingstone was duly impressed. Even Pat admitted that he had done something moderately clever for once.
Creeping out into the passage ten minutes later, they found the house dark and silent. Scorning unnecessary complication, Jimmy unlatched the front door and led the party down the grass beside the gravel sweep leading to the track by which they had come. Striking off down the centre of the valley, they moved as silently as ghosts, their footsteps muffled by the springy turf, until they came to the ravine.
Pat asked how they were going to deal with the monitor. 'We can dodge the alarm beams, but if the guard happens to glance at the monitor, he'll be bound to see us.'
Jimmy grinned in the darkness. 'I'm not sure they'd catch us, even if he did. The system's designed to catch people coming in, not people going out. If we hurried, we might be able to find cover before they could reach us. All the same, I'd like to put the monitor out of action. It would be better if they didn't see us at all.'
Sounding slightly awed by his breezy confidence, Jean Livingstone asked how he would deal with the problem.
He answered glibly, recalling phrases he had heard Simon use. 'There must be lights of some sort. Television cameras can't work in complete darkness. It needn't be visible light. It could be infra-red.'
'So there are lights.' Pat broke in rather rudely, suspecting that he was showing off. 'Red, yellow, or sky blue pink lights. So what? How do you put them out? Blow the fuses?'
'That's what I had in mind.' Jimmy was amused by Pat's tone and spoke mildly. 'The first thing we have to do is to find them.'
'That shouldn't be difficult.' Uncomfortable awareness of Jimmy's amusement sharpened Pat's voice a little. 'The cameras are probably in the ravine, not too close to the alarm beams. They'd want time to get organised after the warning went.'
'Agreed. They'd also want the best possible field of view, with the cameras as far as possible from the track.'
'Then what are you doing on this side of the stream?'
'Looking for a place to cross. I don't want to get wet just before I start messing about with electrical power circuits. It might not be a healthy thing to do.'
'Try those boulders. They're probably covered with moss, but if you aren't too clumsy you might make it.'
Jimmy accepted this suggestion without comment, feeling that the discussion was becoming a trifle heated. No doubt this was partly a reaction from the stresses of the last few hours, but he wondered if Pat's acidity was due in some measure to Jean's presence and admiring attitude.
As he picked his way across the stones, he smiled to himself. Pat had no need to be jealous. Jean wasn't his type. She was very attractive, but she was on the plump side for his tastes and he was never much impressed by admiration. He preferred a slim figure and a mildly critical tongue, providing it didn't land him in too many arguments.
Picking his way through the undergrowth on the far side of the stream, he soon found the cables he had expected, the connection between the monitors and the camera. In the open ground near the house they were probably buried out of sight, but that was neither necessary nor practicable here.
Following the cables downstream, he found that they ended in a spidery metal structure camouflaged by the spreading branches of a large tree. Using metal rungs obviously provided for the purpose, he climbed up and found that the structure was surmounted by a central unit rather like an overgrown home movie camera, this being surrounded by six objects rather like old fashioned car headlights, which were very hot.
There seemed nothing useful that he could do to these items, so he descended the tower and had another look at the cables. He now saw that they entered a large box at chest height, smaller cables continuing on up the tower to the camera and lights. Opening the cover of the box without difficulty, he used his torch to explore the contents, becoming more depressed with every fresh gadget that he saw. What he needed was a hot line to Simon, who would probably regard the problem as elementary. To Jimmy, it was a conundrum of considerable magnitude.
Staring at the maze of wires thoughtfully, he gradually came to certain conclusions. A cable to the left looked like the sort of thing he had seen running down from television aerials. That probably carried the picture. Then there was a whole set of wires coming from a single casing. These looked too slender to carry much power. They bunched together and disappeared through the top of the main box. Dismissing them, he turned his attention to a set of heavier cables on the right hand side that looked more promising. There were three groups, each converging on one of three heavy screw terminals.
Mentally crossing his fingers, he took a big insulated screwdriver from his haversack and placed it in contact with two of the heavy terminals. There was a brief sizzling flash and a pyrotechnic display of sparks, but when he did the same thing again, nothing happened. To make sure, he climbed the tower, finding that the six lamps were creaking and cracking as if they were cooling off, and already seemed a little cooler. As he was about to descend, however, he was startled by a series of buzzes and clicks and saw that the camera was moving.
Disconcerted, he scrambled down to ground level again and reconsidered the matter. He had clearly put the lights out of action, but other parts were still working. Suddenly inspired, he got out the screwdriver again and put it in contact with another pair of the three heavy terminals. The firework display was repeated, and again a second trial produced no result. There was no way that he could link the two outer terminals of the three, so he hoped he had now done enough.
Climbing the tower a third time, he saw that the camera was now stationary, pointing at an angle above the horizontal, which seemed satisfactory. He decided to call it a day. No doubt someone would soon be coming out to see what was wrong and it would be silly to hang around waiting for them. Closing the door of the box, he hesitated only briefly before wading straight across the stream. This was no time for niceties. By the time he had got back to his previous crossing point, the repair party might be on the way. A flash of his torch beckoned the girls to join him and they walked on down the track.
His electrical experiments might well have put the alarm beam out of action as well as the monitor, but he decided not to rely on that. They bypassed the beam as they had done on the way in. Then they were walking down the rough track towards the lane and the waiting car as if they were out for a peaceful stroll. Nothing was said, but at one point Pat caught Jimmy's arm and gripped it briefly, by way of apology for her earlier acidity. An hour later, they were back in the hotel, having entered unobtrusively by a convenient fire escape.
Though she was tired, Pat was mainly concerned for Jean's safety. 'We ought to get her away from here, Jimmy.'
Relaxing easily in an armchair, he smiled lazily. 'It could be embarrassing all round if she stayed with us long, I agree. I suppose you mean that we ought to get her out of the Colonel's reach. Again, I agree, but where can she go?'
Thoroughly disconsolate, Jean said she could see no answer to that question. 'If I go home, or to any of my friends, he'll find me in no time. Going back to that place would be worse than never getting away at all.'
This was where Pat had her great inspiration. Looking at Jean more critically, she noted the comfortable figure, the pleasantly attractive face, and above all the firm and determined line of the girl's chin. Turning to Jimmy, she asked a simple question. 'What about Robin?'
Remembering what Pat had said after their visit to Robin's flat, Jimmy had to suppress a smile, but he had to admit that it was an idea. 'We can't drive straight down to London now, though. We ought to warn him we're coming. Let's get some rest and start tomorrow afternoon. No, it's tomorrow already, isn't it! The Maxi should be ready by then, so we could go up to Caernarvon and change cars, go on through Bangor and Conway to Chester, and pick up the M6 at Holmes Chapel. That should outflank anyone looking out for Jean on the main routes.'
Pat was a little doubtful about the first stage of this plan, covering the first twelve hours or so, wondering how they were going to manage, but Jean seemed to have no objections, while a wicked twinkle in Jimmy's eye challenged her to suggest an alternative. Since no other possibility occurred to her, she could do nothing but shrug her shoulders and agree with good grace.
As she drove the Maxi out of Caernarvon just after four o'clock in the afternoon, she had to admit that it had all been arranged with adequate decorum. She suspected that Jean, having been brought up in a highly orthodox manner, had rather enjoyed the situation, which was reassuring since the girl was about to find herself in an equally unorthodox situation of Pat's contrivance.
Feeling slight qualms about this, Pat forced herself to concentrate on the job in hand, to such good effect that she covered the ninety miles to Holmes Chapel in two and a half hours. Jimmy then took over for the motorway run to the Watford Gap, where they stopped for a meal. They pulled up outside Robin Wightman's flat just before midnight.
Robin had been warned by telephone to expect visitors at that time, but had been given no details. His eyebrows rose slightly when he saw the group on the doorstep, but he ushered them in without comment.
When they were settled in his living room, Pat explained the position. 'This young lady - her name is Jean, but we'll forget the surname for the moment, if you don't mind - is in a spot of trouble. Nothing criminal on her part, or anything you're likely to find socially embarrassing. She just needs to disappear for a while. We want you to let her stay in your flat. It's the last place anyone would think of looking for her.'
Thoroughly taken aback, Robin stared at her in utter amazement, then turned to look at Jean, who returned the look with interest. Then, as if hoping for moral support, he turned to Jimmy. 'Well... I don't know. I, er, you know that I live here on my own. It... It wouldn't be... Well, I...'
'Your clutch is slipping, or something.' Pat grinned, for she had seen in that brief exchange of glances the dawning of something she found reassuring. 'You're trying to say that it wouldn't be proper for a nice young lady to share your flat unchaperoned.' Robin made incoherent noises, but she steamrollered him ruthlessly. 'That is precisely the point. As you have so perceptively noticed, Jean most emphatically is a nice young lady, so nobody would think of looking for her here. It's a perfect hiding place.'
Robin looked at Jean again, a little more thoughtfully this time.
Jean looked at Robin and smiled demurely. 'If you've got someone who comes in to clean, I could go out for a time. If I wear big spectacles and do my hair differently, I should be safe enough walking round the shops, as long as I'm not recognised by anyone I know.'
After a perceptible inner struggle, Robin gave in. Flashing a look at Pat that congratulated her on her ability to negotiate, he shrugged his shoulders, saying that if Jean had no objections, he could scarcely refuse. This rather churlish remark was softened by the way he was looking at Jean at the time. She evidently read his thoughts quite well, for she took no offence.
Jimmy and Pat took their leave as soon as they could, fearing that their mirth might explode prematurely. As they drove away, Jimmy said that he hoped Pat wouldn't have cause to regret her inspiration.
Pat replied that she hoped Robin and Jean wouldn't regret it. 'They looked a good pair, didn't they?'
'They did, indeed.' Jimmy grinned. 'Your taste in such matters seems impeccable, which makes your errors of judgement all the more surprising.'
'What are you talking about?' Pat spoke suspiciously.
'Last night, you seemed to be regarding Jean as a rival. She's a nice kid, but she wouldn't suit me at all. You needn't worry about competition.'
Pat was silent for a moment. then she snorted with self critical amusement. 'I suppose I was a bit jealous. Silly of me. I didn't like the idea of you acting as knight errant to anyone else. I must be in love, or something.'
Jimmy chuckled contentedly. 'It's just as well. I like being in the fashion.'
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| The Fiction of Don Thomasson |
|© Keith Thomasson February 11th 2002|