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The Bent Wheel - Chapter 4

The Fiction of Donald William Thomasson
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The local police inspector who arrived to take charge of the team dealing with the latest murder was not best pleased to be called out at such an hour, and he rudely treated Jimmy's account of his adventures with frank disbelief. Too tired to argue, Jimmy had refused to co-operate further until his story had been checked, and had then retired to get what sleep he could on a sofa in the lounge.

Before calling the police, he had managed to discover that the dead man was called Calvin Weston - at least, that was the name on papers in his wallet. No one admitted to having seen Weston in the hotel, which was possible but not very probable. Sam Williams, at least, should have noticed him.

Jimmy was reasonably certain that Weston had been another of Farnfield's associates, and had been waiting for Farnfield to arrive when he was attacked. That made him an associate of Pat Hale's, too, and Jimmy wanted to talk to her again before he told the police too much.

The inspector returned in a rather chastened mood, but his apologies were somewhat perfunctory, and Jimmy was not appeased. However, the inspector admitted that Jimmy had been far away at the probable time of Weston's death. Jimmy grunted acknowledgement of this, and went to sleep again.

At breakfast, the girl looked white and strained, barely able to echo the smile with which Jimmy greeted her appearance. Refusing to talk seriously, he set out to cheer her up. She responded gratefully, and was quite willing to join him in a stroll through the town after the meal.

At Jimmy's suggestion, they went right to the end of the harbour mole, away from the crowds, who preferred the shelter of the streets at that hour of the morning. Finding a nook that was sheltered from the breeze, Jimmy came straight to the point.

'Was Weston one of your men?'

Pat nodded. 'I suppose that's obvious.'

'He was to wait for Farnfield, and when we arrived you went up to warn him I would be using the room instead of Farnfield?'

'You're much too sharp. I never thought of looking under the bedclothes.'

'No reason why you should. You said nothing to the police about this?'

The girl's lips twitched. 'I wasn't asked. Just routine questions, that was all.'

'Will they find your fingerprints on the door?'

'They may do.' The girl seemed amused. 'Will it matter?'

'Not if you say you came to see me after we went upstairs. You might have to choose between losing your reputation and being accused of murder.'

'I'm not worried about my reputation, but I am worried about the murders.'

'Are they simply intended to warn Farnfield off, or is there a more direct reason for them?'

'I'm not sure. Both Calvin Weston and Carson, the lorry driver, had fresh information for Geoff, and that may be lost. The killings may have been a sort of warning, too. I wish I knew what Geoff thinks about that.'

'You could ring the hospital.'

'I did, but he's asleep, and they didn't want to wake him. He should be out in a day or two. I shouldn't need to disturb him. I ought to be able to cope on my own.'

'What do we do today?'

The girl was silent for a long time. Then she looked as Jimmy squarely. 'I ought to tell you to get out of this business and stay out. Come to think of it, I did, and you took damn all notice. I must admit it's a comfort to be able to talk to someone, even if I can't tell you everything. Look, I ought to do something in Exeter today. It would be a great help if you would give me a lift there are back, without asking questions, or trying to interfere. Will you do that?'

'No promises, but - when do we start?'

As they returned along the mole, Jimmy saw that a neatly dressed man some distance away appeared disconcerted to see them. Glancing round as if looking for somewhere to hide, he made a sketchy bow in their direction and hurried away. Jimmy caught Pat's arm. 'Who's the tailor's dummy?'

'Oh, no one of importance. He's called Jorge Kellberg, and he runs a road house between here and Exeter, a place called the Bent Wheel. He's nothing to do with this other business.'

'No?' Jimmy chuckled. 'He looked thoroughly guilty to me. We'll have to take a look at this Bent Wheel. Have you been there?'

'Yes, I stopped for a meal last week on my way back from Exeter in Sam Williams' car. It seemed a typical place of its kind, not too flashy. Good food, and plenty to drink if the breathalyser doesn't worry you.'

'You'll have to show me. Come on. It's getting late.'

Jimmy had forgotten that it was a Sunday, when summer travellers turn pleasant main roads into elongated car parks filled with frustrated drivers. Reminded of this by a slow moving queue, he branched off onto a side road at the first opportunity and told Pat to get out the maps. 'I hope you're a good navigator. What we want to do is to get as near as possible to Exeter without touching the main roads on either side of us. No whites, though.'

'And what are whites, may I ask?' The girl was handling the maps with cool efficiency, which was not all that easy with the wind of their passage blowing into their faces.

'Some roads are coloured blue, red, brown and yellow on the map. Those are usable, but roads that are left white need to be treated with suspicion. I want to keep clear of them.'

Dropping down the steep Chineway Hill into Ottery St Mary, Jimmy headed south and west, relying for the moment on his memory of the local roads, though Pat soon picked up the idea and was able to prompt him from time to time. It was while they were running quietly through Aylesbeare that Jimmy became aware that a car which showed now and then in his rear view mirrors had been doing so for some time. It seemed a little odd that they should match each other's pace so well...

'Is the next left any good?'

His crisp tone alerted Pat, and she checked the map quickly. 'It goes through, but it's a long way round.'

Taking the turn neatly, Jimmy put his foot down hard. 'What comes next?'

'Wiggly bit for about a mile, then a tee junction. Right to get back to the road we were on, left to get to the main road. Are we being followed?'

'Looks like it. Newish Cavalier, mustard yellow.'

Jimmy saw that the follower had also taken the turning, but the sports car was pulling away rapidly through the twists and turns of the road. Pat bent over the map, oblivious to their speed, and made a useful suggestion. 'Turn left at the tee, then left again in a quarter of a mile, just short of the main road. That might fool them.'

'Good girl!' Jimmy felt that they were working well as a team. 'Watch out between the two turns to see if they come into sight too soon.'

Taking the tee junction fast, he fairly rocketed down the quarter of a mile and swept into the side road, braking sharply. Pat said that the other car had not appeared, and Jimmy jumped out and ran back to the corner. 'You were right. They went the wrong way. Let's give them a bit of their own medicine.'

They caught up with the Cavalier within a mile and a half. It was moving comparatively slowly, as if the driver was wondering what to do. He never thought of looking in his mirror.

Jimmy was close behind when they reached the next junction, a converging fork, and they had a clear view of the Cavalier turning right, back towards Aylesbeare. Jimmy took the road to his left, highly amused. 'You know something?' He was triumphant. 'That was the car that slowed by the lorry.'

'I know something else.' Pat was equally excited. 'The driver was Jorge Kellberg. So maybe you were right to suspect him.'

'I'm always right.' Jimmy was laughing, not thinking about what he was saying. 'You'll have to get used to that. It may take a year or two, but it'll come in the end.'

Pat looked at him with some surprise, but she was not displeased. Seeing that they were nearly at the point where the main road was the only option, she put the maps away and smiled quietly, as if she was considering a whole new set of ideas.

Dice Divider

Arriving in Exeter on the stroke of noon, they decided that a meal was needed before anything else, which gave Jimmy another chance to try to persuade Pat to let him help her in whatever she planned to do. He spoke quietly but firmly. 'I've been wondering what sort of thing you intend to get up to here. Since you're so keen to keep me out of it, it could be something illegal, such as a spot of breaking and entering.'

Pat grinned. 'You don't sound particularly alarmed by the idea.'

'Well, it would depend on the motive. And the kind of place. Perhaps the garage that provided the lorry we found last night? I see by your expression that I'm guessing well today.'

'Too well.' The girl was annoyed with herself. 'I need a poker face with you around.'

'The one you've got will do very nicely, thank you.' Jimmy grinned at her embarrassment. 'I hoped we'd make a good team, and I think we do.'

Since Pat made no answer to this, concentrating on her food, a little pink around the ears, Jimmy changed the subject. 'You might like to know what else I've been guessing. Whoever sabotaged Farnfield's car didn't expect him to get as far as Dorchester, let alone Monckton, so it would be pointless for him to leave bodies around as a warning, or to prevent Farnfield getting information.'

Pat looked up quickly. 'Yes. That's obvious, now you've pointed it out. And it must mean there's more than one group of people involved. You're giving me an inferiority complex. I ought to have seen that for myself.'

'You had the story second hand. I lived it. That makes a lot of difference. By the way, can you do shorthand?'

'I can, though I'm not very good. Why?'

'Orthodox shorthand, or something special?'

'Very ordinary. What are you on about?'

'I thought you might be able to decipher something. I gather you can't.'

'Geoff uses a special shorthand, but nobody else can read it.'

'I'll have to see what I can manage on my own.'

Looking at him with some annoyance, Pat said that he seemed to have a very high opinion of himself. Jimmy laughed. 'I didn't say that I'd succeed. I meant that I would make the attempt. Do I really seem so smug? I don't feel it.'

'No, I suppose not.' Pat looked worried. 'Only you're far too good at drawing the right conclusion from very scanty evidence... Unless there's another explanation.'

'Such as?'

Pat hesitated, obviously reluctant to speak her mind. 'If you weren't guessing - if you already knew these things...'

'I see.' Jimmy spoke gravely. In a way, he was glad that Pat had seen this possibility. In other matters, she had seemed ready to take risks blindly. A measure of caution might be desirable in what she was doing. With a sigh, he shook his head. 'I won't bother to say you're wrong, because I would say that in any case. Do you think I'm an enemy?'

'No, I don't.' Pat's eyes were candid. 'That might be just feminine intuition, though, or wishful thinking...' She broke off abruptly. her face suddenly red.

Jimmy laughed. 'I said we make a good team. Remember, I'm in much the same position. I don't know what you're up to, but I'm stringing along in the hope that you won't land me in gaol. If that isn't wishful thinking, I don't know what is.'

Pat smiled. 'So there's something you can't guess! Look, I'm going to make a telephone call. You can watch, but you can't listen.'

'Fair enough.' Jimmy guessed that Geoff Farnfield would be woken up to take the call this time, however much he needed to rest.

The call was brief enough, however, to suggest that the injured man had been awake. Pat emerged looking slightly dazed, but she nodded immediately and spoke two words.

'Je dobri.'

The language, as much as the meaning of the words, told Jimmy a great deal. It meant that Geoff Farnfield was aware of one of Jimmy's adventures that was almost a state secret. It also meant that Pat could have learned about something else, something that could explain why she looked dazed. She confirmed that by a question.

'Did you know my father, Arnold Hale?'

Jimmy took a deep breath. 'Yes Pat, I did. And I realised last night that you must be his daughter. That's why I decided to trust you. He was a great man, Pat, and I was honoured to be able to work with him.'

'You saved his life.' Near to tears, she almost sounded annoyed.

'Only once. When the next time came, there was nothing I could do.'

Quite suddenly, her tearful expression gave way to a tremulous smile, and she tucked her hand under Jimmy's arm. 'Then we're a team. Come on. Let's get to work.'

Not unnaturally, Pat took a while to notice that Jimmy was speeding along without having been told where they were going. As they soared up out of the Holloway Street dip she looked at Jimmy suspiciously. 'Is this the way to Haven Banks?'

'Not directly.' Jimmy grinned cheerfully. 'I looked up the address of the garage while you were on the phone, and there was a handy street map to suggest a useful route.'

A little way along the Topsham Road he swung right into a narrow side turning that dropped away between high walls towards the river. It was very rough, and Jimmy said it was 'definitely a white', but by picking his way carefully he avoided the worst ruts and bumps and reached the bottom safely.

Leaving the car, they crossed a frail looking suspension bridge over the river, and cut through some allotments to the bank of the canal, where they took the narrow footpath over the lock gates. Jimmy pointed to a rough building consisting mostly of corrugated iron. 'That's the place. We could have got to the front by way of the canal basin, but I thought the back door might be better, so that we can see if anyone's at home before we break in.'

Pat agreed that this made sense, and they pushed open a rusty gate in the towpath railings, trying to look as if they were entering their own garden. This was a wilderness rather than a garden, a neglected patch between two sheds. Some attempt had been made to clear an area further on, however, and in this clearing stood Jorge Kellberg's mustard yellow Cavalier.

Dice Divider

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Mail me Keith Thomasson February 11th 2002