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The Fiction of Don Thomasson
The Bent Wheel - Chapter 5

The Fiction of Donald William Thomasson
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V

When he saw Kellberg's car, Jimmy assumed that investigation of the garage would be deferred until a more propitious moment, but Pat had other ideas. Spotting a small side door almost concealed by the undergrowth, she opened it and slipped inside before Jimmy could intervene. He followed reluctantly, feeling serious misgivings about such boldness.

They found themselves in a gloomy cavern of a place, the view immediately ahead blocked by a number of scruffy lorries. From somewhere beyond came a murmur of voices, the argumentative tones suggesting that a heated discussion was in progress. Judging that the participants might be too deeply involved to notice intruders, Jimmy moved forward cautiously, keeping a firm grip on Pat's arm.

The voices were coming from a corner of the garage which had been enclosed by a rough hardboard partition, and Jimmy decided that a big pile of discarded tyres standing against the partition would provide useful cover. Pressing their ears against the hardboard, Jimmy and Pat could hear elegant and precise tones expressing partially controlled irritation.

'So the police have been asking you questions. Well, don't blame me. It's no affair of mine if one of your drivers gets killed.'

'I ain't so sure.' The second voice was broad in accent. 'Why was 'e killed, then? Tell me that. If he'd been shooting off his gab too much, you'd be the one to want him out of the way, wouldn't you? Maybe you killed him yourself.'

'I didn't, as a matter of fact.' Something about the curt precision of this statement made it sound like an evasion, and Jimmy smiled quietly to himself.

'All right, then... You wouldn't tell me if you 'ad done 'im in, so it makes no odds. What 'appens now?'

'The lorries are out. The police are too interested in them. I will make other arrangements. If you have any consignments here now, I'd better take them. Don't accept any more. I want this place clean.'

'So do I.' The second voice sounded surly. 'I didn't bargain for killings when I went into this.'

'It's a bit late to worry about that now. If we can head off the new man who appeared yesterday...'

'Who's that?' The question was sharp.

'He passes under the name of Ferguson, but I think he's Farnfield, though he looks a bit young. I trailed him in this direction this morning, but he got away. He had Farnfield's car, and that thing is fast.'

'Farnfield's car?' There was surprise in the question. 'You mean the racer?'

'Yes, of course. Why not?'

'Oh, nothing. I would have thought it was too obvious to use on a job like this, that's all.'

While that was not an unreasonable comment, Jimmy wondered whether the surprise suggested that the second man knew about the sabotage.

The man grunted discontentedly. 'If 'e got away, 'e probably saw you following 'im, and knows you're involved. That's not good.'

'I kept well back. That's how he was able to lose us. More to the point, why was he coming this way? To have a talk with you, perhaps?'

'He wouldn't have learned much.' Jimmy noticed that the broad accent was slipping slightly, as if it was an act put on for the other man's benefit, and difficult to sustain for long. The elegant voice sounded impatient.

'In any case, we ought to get away from here immediately, in case the police come round again. I must get back and talk to the boss. You can do what you like, providing you keep in touch.'

The two men were moving out of the enclosed area now, but they never glanced towards the pile of tyres. Peering out cautiously, Jimmy saw Kellberg and a biggish man with a mop of greying hair and steel-rimmed spectacles. The two headed towards the door by which Jimmy and Pat had entered, but Kellberg suddenly paused. 'Hang on a minute, Gurney, I've forgotten my briefcase. I won't be a moment.'

Jimmy and Pat shrank back into cover, but Kellberg never looked to left or right. He seemed to take an interminable time finding his briefcase, and Jimmy and Pat held their breath until he was following Gurney through the small door. A clang and an ominous click suggested that the door had been locked.

For a long moment, the intruders remained where they were, and then Jimmy released the tension with a sigh. 'Oh well. We'll have to find another way out, that's all.'

Pat's face was alive with wicked amusement. 'You should take it as a compliment that Kellberg thinks you're Farnfield. Geoff's very good looking.'

'Is he, now?' Jimmy was scanning the garage intently, and gave only a part of his mind to what she was saying. 'Are you telling me I have a rival?'

'Geoff is at least twenty years older than you, which rather spoils it...'

'This business is putting years on me. Hadn't you noticed? And you don't help by dashing into places which might be dangerous. What do we do now?'

'I want to look at Gurney's papers. He runs this place, and we need to know more about him.'

'All right. You do that, and I'll check on our line of retreat.' Jimmy was still worried by the locked door. The main walls were superficially flimsy, but corrugated iron is stronger than it looks. The only windows in the place were grimy transparent panels in the roof, apart from a window in the enclosed area, which was protected by a grid of iron bars.

The side door might be the best hope, as the lock was held in place by accessible bolts. They looked rather rusty, though. A spanner was needed, and it would be easier to find one in the stygian gloom with the aid of better light. Wandering into the enclosed area, where Pat was busily scanning through papers, Jimmy asked if she had seen a torch. Without looking up, she pointed behind her. 'I think I saw one on a crate over there.'

There was, indeed, a black cylindrical object standing on the crate, but it wasn't a torch. Vaguely wondering what it really was, Jimmy decided to concentrate on the job in hand. He did spare the time for a glance at a big map of south west England that was pasted to the wall. A close look showed that there were pencilled crosses that looked as if they could correspond to the map references in the black notebook, but Jimmy was more interested in organising a way out.

Finding a fearsome looking adjustable spanner on a bench, he tackled the bolts holding the lock with some ferocity, but they refused to budge. Perhaps a hacksaw might be needed. He soon discovered that this was not a good idea. More skin was removed from his knuckles than metal from the bolts, and he sat back to consider what else he could do.

At the back of his mind, he was worrying about the black object that wasn't a torch. If it wasn't a torch, what was it? At the top end, he had noticed two short red lines. Hurrying into the enclosure, he saw that one of the lines had moved, and was almost aligned with the other.

Kellberg's briefcase. The black thing would have fitted into that easily enough. it wouldn't have taken a moment to get it out and set the fuse...

Picking up Pat bodily, despite her protests, he carried her to the far side of the garage.

'What on earth do you think you're doing?'

'That black thing on the crate... I think it's a bomb.'

'Oh! Well, hold these papers while I go back for the rest, will you?'

'You're staying here. It could go off at any moment.'

'I ought to get the map off the wall. It looks interesting.'

'That wouldn't help if you were blown to bits.'

The ludicrous argument was cut short by a loud whoomph from the enclosed area, and in moments the whole of that end of the garage was a mass of flames. The heat was searing, and the flames spread rapidly. Even Pat looked dismayed at the sight.

Jimmy only saw one possibility. One of the lorries faced the main doors, and he dragged Pat in that direction and thrust her into the cab. The left side of the lorry was already alight, but only at the rear. Praying that there was an ignition key in place, Jimmy scrambled into the driving seat. Yes. One hurdle passed. The engine responded reluctantly to the starter, and he forced himself to wait for it to get back into its stride. If it stalled, he would have to back up and try again.

Motioning to Pat to crouch down, he engaged low gear, built up the revs, took a deep breath and let in the clutch. The lorry leapt forward towards the big doors. Not knowing what lay beyond the doors, Jimmy had been reluctant to attack them too forcefully. He had no wish to find himself careering into a solid stone wall, or the canal basin. Despite a massive crunch, the doors remained in position, and he had to back up after all.

This time, amid a shattering din of splintering wood, breaking glass and tortured metal, the lorry broke through, stopping just short of a startled man who was rushing towards the scene. The left side being well ablaze, Jimmy pulled Pat out through the driver's door, and was astonished to see that she was still clutching the sheaf of papers which she had taken from Gurney's office.

They had both escaped lightly, with nothing worse than a few bruises and minor cuts from flying glass. What was needed now was an unobtrusive exit. Urging Pat through the wilderness onto the canal bank, Jimmy called a halt. 'Get your breath back. We've got to look like innocent bystanders for a few minutes, then fade away gently into the distance. If we depart too quickly, someone might think it was suspicious.'

'Check.' Pat looked at him with grateful approval. 'That should do fine... And, Jimmy - you certainly are a useful person to have around. I don't know what I'd have done without you.'

'I'm not thinking about that. I don't want to. I'm just glad I was there.'

It was natural that they should cross the canal to get further away from the burning building, especially after the fire was intensified by explosions, probably the petrol tanks of the lorries blowing up. A pause there, and they moved into the allotments beyond. Nobody took any notice of them. Everybody in sight was staring at the blaze, and the final retreat across the suspension bridge passed unnoticed.

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Mail me Keith Thomasson February 11th 2002