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Strictly Illegal - Chapter 14

The Fiction of Donald William Thomasson
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XIV

There was still work for Jimmy and Pat to do that night, for they had arranged to meet Geoff to discuss progress and to hand over the information they had taken from the Colonel's lair. The handover had been arranged with care, because if the loss of the documents had been discovered the Colonel might think it worth his while to set a watch on Geoff as a possible step towards their recovery.

Geoff was to catch the last train to Gunnersbury, a station that would have few passengers at that hour. They waited for him in a side turning not far from the station.

Arriving at the precise time appointed, his first remark was that they seemed to be having a somewhat hectic honeymoon. Jimmy grinned and said Geoff didn't know the half of it, but made no further comment as he drove off to find a quiet spot on the riverbank near Richmond, where they should be able to talk unobserved.

When he had heard the story, Geoff sat in silence for a minute or two, digesting the information. Then he sighed. 'An interesting situation. When thieves fall out... Were there any other points that struck you?'

Jimmy hesitated, then said there were two. 'According to Jean, they expected to hold her for about six months. This might be significant. It could mean that the Colonel reckons he'll be fireproof by then, or it could mean that Livingstone won't be able to do anything if he doesn't take action within the six months.'

'Quite a good point.' Geoff nodded thoughtfully. 'In either case, we need to be organised in less time.'

'The other thing was something the Colonel said when we were listening under the window. He said that even if you knew where to find him, you wouldn't be able to do anything effective. Have you any idea what he meant by that?'

Jimmy had been reluctant to put the point, but had felt it might be important. He was dismayed to find that Geoff was clearly as reluctant to answer the question.

'I have an idea, but I don't think I can discuss it at the moment. What you tell me confirms something that I have suspected. Let's leave it at that. I expect you'll be finishing your honeymoon somewhere else. I don't suppose you want to stay in that area any longer.'

Suppressing a temptation to ask further questions, Jimmy said that he saw no reason for an immediate change. 'We'll go back for the rest of the week, at least. I think it might be a good idea to change cars. This one seems a bit well known already. We'll take the sports special if Sandy got it home safely after the wedding.'

'It's up to you.' Geoff made no objection. 'If our friend knew what you've been up to, he'd have you dropped over the highest cliff on Snowdon.'

'He'll have to find us first. I want to look in and see how Al's getting on. We might pick up some news. It shouldn't be dangerous. The Colonel's a bit shorthanded at the moment, with Al in hospital. I don't think George would do us any harm.'

'It all sounds very dicey. Well, you've done a useful job. I'll get these papers to Simon, without telling him how I got them, and see if he can tease some sense out of them. Don't go into the valley again. Now that I know the set up there, I can probably check up occasionally. What are your plans for tonight? Are you staying at the flat?'

Jimmy paused uncertainly, but Pat answered for him, making the decision at the same time. 'I think we might as well go back to Beddgelert. It won't take all that long in the sports car, will it?'

'No time at all.' Jimmy looked relieved. 'I wasn't sure if you would want to go on motoring tonight, but it suits me well enough.'

It was a fast trip. Freed from the restraint of a partially run-in engine, they really motored, rolling into sleeping Beddgelert at a quarter to six.

Around lunchtime, Jimmy looked out of the window, yawning, to see what the weather was like. The rain had returned, which was no encouragement to abandon sloth, but the evening was fine. They decided to take a stroll to Pont Aberglaslyn, down the path of the old railway line, long since removed. At first, they strolled in silence, content with their thoughts. There were other strollers enjoying the fine evening and it might have been rash to talk where they could be overheard.

Beyond the abandoned girder bridge that had once carried the railway over the river, they walked on a broad shelf with cliffs to the left and the river on the right. Passing through a short tunnel penetrating a rock spur, they soon found themselves facing the longer tunnel that cuts through to Nantmor. The pitch blackness inside was discouraging and they sought another route beside the river itself. Scrambling through the rocks and undergrowth, they came to a place where further progress was only possible by the expenditure of more energy than seemed worth while. They decided to sit down for a rest.

After a while, Pat spoke of something that had been much on their minds. 'I don't like this business of the Colonel saying that Geoff can't do him any harm. What do you make of it? Geoff seemed to think it might be true.'

Idly tossing a small stone into the water, Jimmy said he wasn't sure what he thought. 'You remember when I asked Geoff if the Colonel could get a potty politician to help him? His face went completely blank. I wonder if it's something like that. I don't like this whole business. The Colonel's too confident. Oddly enough, he seems more worried about me than about the possibility of official interference. He doesn't seem to know that I work for Geoff, just that we know each other. Though he only spoke of me making trouble, he seemed quite alarmed about it.'

'Well, you do worry people, Jimmy.' Pat paused uncertainly. 'This isn't a criticism, or anything, but you're a very disconcerting person, sometimes. You do what seems obvious to you, but it isn't obvious to other people. It could be that you worry the Colonel because he can't place you, can't decide what you're likely to do next.'

Jimmy laughed. 'You may be right. I imagine he makes a lot of plans on the assumption that people will react in a particular way. When they don't, his plans could come unstuck. It's a thought. He certainly doesn't know of any particular thing that I've done to upset him.'

'Perhaps you're the one who doesn't know.' Pat spoke dreamily, for she was very comfortable. 'Suppose he tried to do something and you stopped him without realising the fact.'

'Maybe.' Jimmy was barely thinking about what he was saying. 'It might explain why he sounded so superstitious when he was talking about me.'

'Superstition!' Pat sat up suddenly. 'I believe you're right! He did sound rather like that, now you come to mention the point. I wonder if he's decided that you're unlucky for him. The most unexpected people do that kind of thing. We might make something of it.'

'We might. But not right now. I'm too comfortable.'

Nothing more was said on the subject then, but it cropped up quite independently when they visited Al the next morning. They found him sitting up in bed, looking much better.

He greeted them cheerfully, taking Jimmy's hand in a sincere grip of gratitude. 'I haven't thanked you properly yet,' was the first thing he said. 'I keep thinking how lucky it was that I didn't stick you with that knife a few months ago. You mightn't have been on the spot when I needed you.'

Jimmy grinned and said perhaps it was lucky for him, too. Al seemed a trifle embarrassed and looked away. Still keeping his eyes on the bottom of the bed, he said that George had told him there had been some excitement during the past few days. 'Without going into details, I think they lost something.'

'Something, or someone?' Jimmy's question was dry.

'Someone, then. So you do know about it. I wondered. I knew you were unlucky for the boss the moment I saw you in Portmadoc. You've got a gift for it. Which way did you go in?'

'We didn't trigger either of the alarm beams. I'll tell you that much.'

'I suppose you flew over the top, like a couple of witches. He's too clever by half, that bloke. Mind you, I don't think he knew anyone got in. He just knew that someone got out. But putting two and two together...'

'And making the answer a lot more than it ought to be.' Amused, Jimmy held up a restraining hand, because he wanted to ask a question. 'You said you thought I was unlucky for him. Does he think that, too?'

Al's eyes narrowed suddenly, and then he nodded. 'I believe he does. Ever since I saw you, he'd been like a cat on hot bricks. He might have know that you were going to be awkward. He hates your guts, I'll tell you that. Maybe he's scared for once and doesn't recognise the feeling. He isn't scared often.'

This was interesting and encouraging information, but Jimmy had other questions to put, so he changed the subject. 'What's under the newer part of the house, the part that's built into the side of the valley?'

'You know it all, don't you?'

'Not quite. I'd like to know a bit more.'

'Well...there's a passage downstairs that leads into the new wing by some steps. Just before you get to the steps, there's a sliding panel in the wall, on the right. You can't see it if you don't know it's there. That opens on a sort of landing. Steps go down from that into the conference room, as he calls it. I don't like the place. All dead and stuffy, if you know what I mean.'

'Probably soundproofed and padded.'

'I shouldn't wonder. Well, we don't often go down there, only when the boss wants to give us instructions about something special.'

'Are there any doors leading out of the conference room?'

Al frowned. 'Not that I've seen, barring the one you get in by, but there may be. He often has a lot of papers down there, but there's nowhere to keep them. No desk, or anything like that, just a big table.'

'And that's the lot?'

'Don't rush me. You can go up from the landing too. That takes you into the telephone exchange. Well, it's called that, and there is a switchboard there, but there's a lot of other stuff as well.'

'Couple of television sets?' Jimmy grinned.

'You've been there, all right! Not the sort of set your missus would like in the living room, and you don't get no commercials, but that's what they are. There's a sliding partition, too. You can move it to block off the other door, the one that runs straight into the main passage in the new wing, or you can move it to screen off the monitors.'

'That would be handy when the telephone engineers come.' Jimmy considered what he had heard. 'And the rest of that wing is straightforward?'

'As far as I know, yes. Though you've made me think a bit. If I get any useful ideas, I'll pass them on.

On the way back to the hotel, Pat said Al was proving quite useful and Jimmy agreed. 'I'm sure there's something interesting under that wing, but I can't see that we've a hope of exploring it. Oh well, we can't win them all. I don't think there's much more we can do in these parts. Today's Friday, isn't it?'

'I believe so. I've rather lost track of the days with all this night work.'

Jimmy chuckled, but continued with his original idea. 'How would you like to watch some motor racing tomorrow and then go straight on to the Lake District?'

Approving this idea without hesitation, Pat said she wouldn't be sorry to get further away from the Colonel. 'It's all very well staying here when there's a chance of finding things out, but I'd rather be somewhere else. I'm beginning to understand why he scares people, except you, of course. It seems that you reverse the process.'

Dice Divider

Making an early start next morning, they were able to be patient with the Saturday doddlers, who continually assert their right to hold all road users down to their own very moderate speed. They still reached Oulton Park well before the first race. After one look at Jimmy's car, an attendant directed him into the paddock, which made him grin.

He tried to correct the misapprehension, but the man merely grinned back. 'Go on. You can't put that in the public car park. It would be smothered in people wanting a closer look.'

Even in the paddock, the sports special attracted a great deal of attention. One man came up and stroked the bodywork affectionately, saying how nice it was to see it looking so well cared for. Another man came past with his schoolboy son and paused to recite an astonishingly detailed history of the car's race victories.

Pat, who had never quite realised how famous the car was, said Jimmy ought to put it in a museum, but he didn't fancy the idea, saying that it would be like putting a horse in a zoo. He preferred to make good use of his proudest possession.

Clearing his conscience by buying tickets, Jimmy took Pat for a stroll round the rows of cars waiting to race. Main interest was centred on the three litre racing cars in the Formula Three Thousand event. Much to their surprise they found Sandy Clarewood working on one of these.

He explained with a grin that the had been offered a drive and the opportunity had been too good to miss. 'I didn't fancy the idea at first. These are a lot bigger and more clumsy than my Formula Three tiddler. Then I looked over the results. When I saw who and what had won the earlier races this season it seemed worth having a bash. I might get a fifth or sixth.'

Jimmy laughed. 'Don't put the power on too early, and stay on the island. Those seem to be the rules with these big brutes.'

'I'd hate to bend it.' Sandy looked cheerful at the thought. 'The owner's trusting me to keep it in one piece. By the way, have you seen Brent Livingstone?'

The abrupt change of subject caught Jimmy off balance. 'Not today. Why?'

'In theory, he's making preliminary arrangements for a Three Thousand event at the new circuit, but his heart didn't seem to be in it. He was talking to my entrant, but he kept on looking at me as if he should know me.'

'That's odd. Jimmy was thoughtful. 'I wonder if he was looking for people who were involved in that Monaco affair.'

'Why should he do that?'

'He's got problems. Look out, here he comes.'

The still somewhat majestic figure approached rather ponderously, but the financier's eyes were alert, as if he was searching for something, searching rather desperately. Coming to a halt in front of Sandy, he peered at the driver intently for a moment before speaking. 'I, er, I may be mistaken, but, ah, I think we may have met at Monaco earlier this year.'

The voice was intended to be pompous, though that is not the word Brent Livingstone himself would have used, but something had gone wrong with his vocal control and the effect was rather pathetic.

Suddenly feeling sorry for the man who had found another rogue far more powerful than himself, Jimmy decided to intervene. 'At, or off, Monaco?'

The restless eyes switched to him abruptly, peered briefly, and then Livingstone nodded. 'Yes. To be strictly accurate, I should have said off Monaco. I would like to, er, have a word with you two gentlemen, if you could spare me a little time. There is a matter which, er, I think we could usefully discuss.'

'I think I might guess what it is.' Jimmy spoke crisply. 'Sandy, here, has a race to think about, but I'm sure he would be willing to let me speak for him. My wife and I have nothing particular to do before the first race, however. Not to keep you in suspense, I may as well say here and now that Jean is no longer in Wales. She is staying with a friend of ours.'

The instant relief of tension was so obvious that Jimmy was glad he had said this. The financier looked at him with an almost childlike gratitude. There was something else in his expression, something that suggested he was seeing unexpected possibilities. Nodding gravely, he thanked Jimmy simply but sincerely, seeming unable to say more. He was very human now, not majestic or pompous at all.

Jimmy knew that he still held the initiative and must make the most of it, whatever his feelings. 'We can't talk here. If the Colonel got to know, it would do neither of us any good. Excuse me a moment.'

A glimpse of George skulking in the middle distance made him break off abruptly. Marching over to stare at a convenient noticeboard no more than a yard away from the man, he spoke with a minimum of lip movement. 'Trailing Livingstone?'

George muttered assent, apparently rather amused by the situation.

Jimmy put another question. 'On your own?'

Again George gave a positive answer and Jimmy felt he could relax slightly.

'Go and buy a beer. You're probably thirsty. You haven't seen us. How's Al?'

Glancing at the coins that had been slipped into his hand, George grinned cheerfully. 'He's doing fine. Should be out before long. It'll be all right as long as I can pick up his lordship later. I'm only a deputy. The man who was following him had car trouble on the way up. Ran a big end at Watford Gap. I was supposed to pick him up as he left the motorway.'

Returning to the others, Jimmy said they could now talk at leisure. Livingstone suggested that they might use a caravan belonging to a friend of his. He had obviously been impressed by Jimmy's handling of George.

When they were settled in the caravan he said as much. 'I can see you are a very alert young man. I am deeply grateful to you for the news you have given me and for your consideration in giving it to me without delay. After that, I feel I am scarcely in a position to ask any favours of you. Indeed, I ought to put myself at your disposal. I gather you have some idea of what I wanted to talk about.'

'In general terms, yes.' Jimmy paused to consider. 'The Colonel, the new circuit at Uffington, an unpleasant conversation you had on Tuesday evening before you went back to Chester...'

'You know about that?' Livingstone was really startled now.

'Jean will probably tell you one day, when it's safe for her to see you again. I'm sure you realise that it isn't safe at the moment.'

For the first time a faint gleam of humour showed in the financier's eyes. 'You may have noticed that I have not asked you for details of her whereabouts. It would be better if I knew nothing of that.'

Nodding, Jimmy acknowledged the point. 'I imagine you found last Tuesday that instead of having at least a share of control you were no more than a puppet.'

'That, I fear, is no overstatement. Let me tell you how this all started.' Livingstone leaned forward confidentially. 'Last June, the Colonel got in touch with me. How he got back to England, I have no idea, and he has not been inclined to enlighten me, but he did tell me that he was gathering up the threads of the organisation that you and your friends had destroyed. He also outlined some interesting plans for the future, for which he wanted financial backing.'

For a moment, the big man looked a little hesitant, but then he shrugged his shoulders. 'You know what I and others have done in the past. There is no point in trying to make excuses. What I was asked to support was a highly sophisticated secret intelligence service, on a very big scale. He demonstrated some of the equipment to me and it was very impressive indeed. The first communications centre was to be built in Britain. It is being constructed under the circuit at Uffington.'

Perhaps Jimmy's bland acceptance of this revelation shook Livingstone more than anything else he had done. He started at Jimmy silently for some time. Then his lips actually twisted into something like a smile. 'I gather you know even more than I thought. You may not know it all, however. I have come to suspect that the proposed intelligence service is itself a cover for something even more secret. I received a letter from a man called Sealey...'

'The one who was murdered?' Jimmy put the question casually, to show that his knowledge was fairly complete.

'Indeed. If he had not been killed, I might have disregarded the letter, but his murder made me feel it should be followed up. There was little direct information, only surmise and far fetched conclusions based on what seemed scanty evidence. However, when I looked into the matter, I found horrifying confirmation.'

Livingstone paused. There was no sign of a smile on his lips now. They were set with suppressed fear. He made an effort to continue.

'I can only tell you a little of the matter here. Plans for war, death, destruction... You would find it hard to believe. It seemed there was nothing that I could do. Then I remembered a crowd of young men and an older man who said that unimportant men can sometimes succeed where important men fail. I knew they were interested in motor racing. I have been visiting the more important meetings in the hope of finding them, or someone who can take a message to them.'

Jimmy thought fast and made up his mind. 'I can certainly do that, but there is something you must do, too. Write down all you know and put it, with Sealey's letter, in an envelope. Someone will ring you tomorrow evening, if that isn't too soon, to tell you what to do with it. You may be asked to take or send it. You may be asked to go and meet someone. Will you do that?'

'Certainly.' The financier's head came up. 'You give me hope. You are so confident.' Then the little smile came back, softening his face. 'After all, you have my daughter in your care. This will do little to repay my debt on that score. Give her my love. She has had too little of it in the past. Tell her I said so. Tell her I know now what she means to me.'

Dice Divider

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Mail me Keith Thomasson February 11th 2002