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The Bent Wheel - Chapter 7

The Fiction of Donald William Thomasson
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VII

Jimmy gradually became aware that he had a splitting headache and a number of aches and pains in other parts of his body. It was still pitch dark, though he could see masses of stars. That seemed wrong, somehow.

His mind clearing a little, he began to remember what had happened. Realising that Pat was unconscious, he had forced himself into action. Slipping off his belt, he had looped it round a piece of wood exposed by the removal of the tiles, and passed it under the girl's arm, hoping that it would hold her in position. By that time he was scarcely able to move, and the best he could do for his own safety was to sprawl face down on the ridge with arms and legs dangling on either side.

But he was looking at the stars...

Keeping movement to a minimum, he cautiously explored the situation. His right leg was trapped, and he seemed to be hanging precariously with his left knee over the ridge, only the weight of his calf and foot preventing a dangerous slide down the tiles. With care and considerable effort, he managed to stretch up and get a grip on the ridge with one hand, and from there the only problem arose from his cramped muscles.

He found that Pat was still supported by the belt, but she was making odd little noises, and he hoped no one would hear them.

According to his watch, he had been unconscious for rather more than half an hour, but he felt as if he had been stretched out on a rack for half a day or more. Pat had been in a less uncomfortable position, but must be feeling much the same.

At least there was no sound from the room under the roof, nor did any light shine through the gap in the tiles. There were still cars in the parking area below, however, and it was no use hoping that Kellberg had gone to bed. Pat must be brought to proper consciousness as soon as possible, before someone heard her.

That process took several minutes, but in the end she was able to sit up and complain in a whisper that her arm hurt. Jimmy removed the belt, explaining what he had done. She sighed. 'You've done it again, haven't you? I won't feel safe on my own if you go on looking after me like this.'

'You're doing fine. Take it easy. We can't risk going back down too soon. I don't know about you, but I'm aching all over.'

'So am I. And coming up here was a waste of time. We didn't find out anything useful.'

'I wouldn't say that. Kellberg was on the phone, trying to talk his way out of mistakes. It sounded as if he was talking to his boss, whoever that is, and they weren't on the best of terms.'

'Good. When thieves fall out... If only we could see into that room properly. There's a beam in the way. Perhaps we could move some more tiles.'

'That wouldn't help. There's no light in there.'

'There is a bit. It's dim, but we might be able to see something useful.'

Despite his doubts, she was prising out more tiles, and he put a hand out to restrain her. 'If you take out too many, they might notice the gap.'

At the moment, the dim light in the room below blazed out brightly, giving point to Jimmy's warning. Kellberg's voice gradually became audible as if he was coming towards the door of the room.

'So you didn't find them. Well, it doesn't matter too much. The boss says he isn't Farnfield, and he told me not to waste time over the girl. I don't think they'll suspect anything. They probably didn't get much sleep last night, and may think they just nodded off. They're probably parked out on the Common. It's a nice warm night.'

Another voice, much less audible, seemed to ask a question, and Kellberg answered rather impatiently.

'The boss says we should go ahead as usual. The run on Wednesday should carry all we have on hand, and we'll have a clear fortnight after that to build up another batch. It means a lot of work making up the packets, but I'll be glad to have the place cleared out for a day or two. Things have been getting difficult.'

'What about Gurney?' The second voice had become clearer.

'The boss told me to leave him alone. He isn't much use now that his lorries have gone.'

'Why on earth did he do that?'

'Don't ask me. The man's a fool.'

Once again, Kellberg was covering up a mistake, by suggesting that Gurney had burned down the garage himself. Jimmy's respect for his adversary was waning rapidly. Anyone who wriggled like that might prove to be a weak link in the organisational chain.

By now, Jimmy was feeling a lot better. By standing on the ridge, with his hands pressed firmly against the barn roof, he could peer over Pat's shoulder and through the gap she had made in the tiles. Almost immediately below him, Kellberg was emptying a stream of brilliantly flashing diamonds from a bag, while the other man spread them out across the surface of a table. To one side lay sheets of waxed paper, string, and other packing materials. For the first time Jimmy realised the magnitude of the operation, and could understand why such extreme measures had been taken to defend and maintain it.

Half an hour later, Kellberg gathered up the pile of completed packages and left the room, the other man following. Jimmy voted that it was time to beat a retreat. Pausing only to patch the loose tiles back into place, with the hope that nobody would notice a slight irregularity in the surface of the roof, they made the descent successfully, and were soon squeezing through the hole in the fence.

Nothing was said until they were back at the car, and then only after Jimmy had expressed his feelings by other means. Pat released herself reluctantly, and shook her head. 'Not yet, Jimmy. Let's get this business cleared up first.'

On the way back to the Weslake they discussed the implications of what they had overheard, and agreed that they were scanty enough. However, they knew that there was a 'boss' somewhere, which was a step forward, and they knew a 'run' was planned for Wednesday. Not much, but better than nothing.

Dice Divider

When Pat failed to appear for breakfast, Jimmy was not unduly surprised. A long soak in a hot bath had warded off most of his worst aches and pains, but he still felt as if an elephant had been trampling on him.

Sam Williams had viewed them with avuncular disapproval when they returned not long before three, but he only said that there was a note on the rack for Miss Hale. It appeared to be nothing important, since she merely glanced at it and tucked it away in her pocket.

After breakfast, Jimmy decided to make a serious study of the black notebook, feeling he could only justify retention of it if he could put the contents to good use. Scribbling a short note to Pat to explain where he was going, he put it in the letter rack and went off in search of a quiet spot on the cliffs where he could work without interruption.

The obvious starting point was to transcribe some of the shorthand into phonetic symbols, but the result was not encouraging.

    TH S P TH M S K T B
    L M P P D L T W G ZH P L L M R TH S P TH M F
    R E TH B D F ZH P L D M G P L F.
    D F M P ZH T TH R P TH M F M.

Jimmy nearly gave up there and then, but he was reluctant to admit he was beaten. The most probable code was one involving substitution. For example, the word 'diamond' might well appear somewhere, and that would have the form D M N D. The pattern of the very first word was similar, being TH S P TH. Could this give a clue?

The result was not favourable. It gave DMND in one place, and DMNDx in another. The 'x' was probably S, which made the heading DMND SM... Staring at this in disgust, Jimmy eventually guessed that the second word was 'smuggling', and that was a breakthrough, aided by the fact that S became M and M became S. The same sort of interchange, applied elsewhere, produced:

    D M N D S M G L NG
    T S N N TH T L - K - N T T S - D M N D S -
    - N D NG TH - - N T TH S K N T -.

Before long, Jimmy had translated this as:

'Diamond Smuggling

It is known that large quantities of diamonds are finding their way into this country.'

Thereafter, all that was involved was hard work and some intelligent guesses. What emerged was this:

'Diamond Snuggling

It is known that large quantities of diamonds are finding their way into this county. There is no well defined source. They are appearing generally over a wide area. It is likely that only a small proportion are detected.

If this is true situation is alarming. Diamond market already disturbed. Illicit traffic must be stopped quickly.

Devon police have information suggesting that organisation is centred in south west. Priority one assistance immediate.'

The next group of entries seemed to be notes about planning conferences. Someone identified as '83' was to make contact with the informant. That was probably Calvin Weston. Number '81', detailed to assist 83, was probably Pat. It would be amusing to mention that number and watch her face.

The number '45' occurred here and there, coupled with a reference to the 'local man', but Jimmy could put no face to this person. Nor could he identify 'S12', who was mentioned in later sections. As he continued to decipher the notes, Jimmy began to wonder if Pat had been holding out on him. There was a good deal more information here than she had told him about. Then he realised that the additional information might never have reached her. There was a note saying '81 must be briefed on this when we meet'.

The key problem of the whole affair was that Carson had said there would be a 'run' on a particular night, and had even given the numbers of some of the cars which would be used to carry the diamonds. A big police exercise had been laid on, but it had achieved very little. Some of the cars had been seen in parts of Devon and Dorset, seeming to vanish into thin air, though one had later reappeared in the southern midlands.

The fiasco had made Geoff decide on drastic action. The last entries in the notebook read:

'Personal intervention essential. Progress nil. 83 talks nonsense about conjuring tricks. Cars do not vanish completely. Routes should be discoverable from known data.

Meeting S12 ten am Saturday. Pick up 81 mile west Dorchester eight pm. Collect informant and evidence.'

On the whole, Jimmy felt that he had a good deal of data which would be news to Mr Farnfield, but there seemed to be little point in passing it on while the man was still in hospital. Meanwhile, Jimmy and Pat would have to see what they could manage on their own.

Noting that it was nearly time for lunch, which meant that he had seen nothing of Pat for almost ten hours, he packed up his papers and made his way back to the hotel, running over the story in his mind. He was sure that the map in Gurney's garage and the map references in the notebook were linked with the mystery of the vanishing cars, though he couldn't immediately see how. The map references suggested routes through back lanes, and it would have been impossible to put a police guard on every lane. That might be an explanation...

He was rather surprised to find his note to Pat still in the letter rack. Surely she was up and about by now...

A gentle tap on her bedroom door, and then a firmer one, produced no response. Venturing a look inside, he found that the room was empty. About to withdraw, baffled, he noticed that the clothes she had worn at the Bent Wheel were lying on the bed, which was neatly made.

While he was prepared to admit that he knew very little about female habits, Jimmy was under the impression that they usually tended to be careful about the way they treated their clothes. It almost looked as if they had been there all night. In which case...

Seeking out the chambermaid, he learned to his alarm that Pat had not slept in her bed that night. The maid had decided to leave the clothes where they were, as she thought Miss Hale might return at any moment. Indeed, she managed to convey the impression that Mr Ferguson might have known where the lady was...

Dice Divider

Red line

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Mail me Keith Thomasson February 11th 2002