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The Fiction of Don Thomasson
The Bent Wheel - Chapter 10

The Fiction of Donald William Thomasson
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For those who have time to enjoy the scenery, Abbotsbury is a charming little village, the houses built of weathered creamy brown stone with garden walls to match. The layout is a little casual, the result of natural development unhampered by planners who see beauty only in tidy straight lines.

Jimmy had no thought of aesthetic considerations as he cut his engine and coasted almost silently down the main street. Picking out the Blue Swan without difficulty, he parked some way short of it and walked on rather warily.

If his suspicions were correct, Pat had probably walked that way in the small hours of the morning, looking for Geoff Farnfield. Then silent figures would have appeared to surround her...

The vivid picture made Jimmy pause. There was something wrong about his theory. According to Sam, the bogus message had been received at eight. If Pat had been in the hotel, and had left immediately, she would have reached Abbotsbury by nine, at the latest. That was too early. There would have been enough daylight to make an abduction dangerous.

As things turned out, she had not arrived until after four in the morning. Had someone waited all that time? They would have needed cover, for there were too many eyes that might have seen them hanging about in the open.

Another point which struck Jimmy was that map references are not exact. A six figure reference defines an area a hundred metres square. That might include the Blue Swan and half a dozen other buildings. Pat would have had to wait for further guidance when she reached the area indicated.

By the time he reached the Blue Swan, Jimmy had a lot to think about. Following Lessor's suggestion, he entered the bar on the left of the entrance passage. It was pleasant without being particularly outstanding, but the beer was something else. By calling it 'drinkable', Lessor had been guilty of understatement.

Having sampled the brew, Jimmy decided that it would be a good idea to check the map to see what the reference might cover. Moving away from the bar to make room for a somewhat bulky newcomer, he managed to hold both map and beer in a practical manner, which made the new arrival chuckle.

'You must be ambidextrous. But I'd better let you get back to the bar as soon as I can. We don't want you to spill your beer, or drop the map in it.'

The cheerful banter was infectious, and Jimmy had to smile in response, though he would have preferred to avoid casual conversation. The stout man evidently had other ideas. When he had obtained his beer, he reached out an inquisitive hand. 'That looks pretty venerable. May I? Ah, a 1945 edition.'

Surrendering the map reluctantly, Jimmy said it was a family heirloom, which had belonged to his father. As he watched helplessly, the stout man opened the northern part of the map and studied it with interest. 'These cloth backs last longer than the geography. The whole countryside changes before they wear out. Not much change around Yeovil, mind you, except in the town itself. Hullo! What's this?'

Jimmy was relieved to see that a stubby finger was tracing some long forgotten pencil marks, not the faint remnant of the points he had plotted more recently. The stout man chuckled as he followed the marks. 'Starts in the middle of nowhere, at the back of the Camels. Checkpoint twenty nine. Probably a map change. Chilton Cantelow, Mudford, Mudford Sock, skip around the back of Yeovil, Odcombe, Chiselborough, Lopen, with an 'approach from the north west'. I say! This can't be very recent. It's old style 'plot and bash'.'

'The 1959 Nightmare Rally, I believe. Before my time. My father was a marshal, and he taught me to plot it for practice.'

'Good idea. This looks like the work of Tiny Lewis to me. Quite a classic.'

'Full marks.' Jimmy was impressed. 'He won in 1958, so he had to plan the run in 1959. Everyone said it was a real nightmare.'

'It would be.' The stout man sighed nostalgically. 'Those were the days! I used to put in some reasonable times myself once, but I could have done even better in that nifty car you left up the road.'

These words changed the whole situation. Up to that point, Jimmy had been willing to put the stout man down as a chance acquaintance, rather garrulous but otherwise harmless. Now he appeared in a different light. Seeing no change in Jimmy's expression, however, the stout man blathered on happily.

'There were two of them, weren't there? Do you know what happened to the other one?'

'Written off.' Jimmy spoke laconically, but there was an edge to his tone that made the other man look up. 'Someone sabotaged the steering, and it failed on the M3. The driver was lucky, but if I knew who caused the damage I would take great pleasure in teaching him to show more respect for historic machinery.'

To Jimmy's surprise and satisfaction, his words hit home, and the stout man was unable to meet his eye for a moment, glancing aside to the window facing the street. With another sudden change in attitude, he finished his beer rapidly and nodded to Jimmy. 'Must be on my way. Pleasant chat. Nice to have met you. Talk again, sometime.'

Watching the man depart, Jimmy finished his own beer, drinking rather more slowly. Lessor should be arriving at any moment, and it would help if they could avoid being seen together. However, Lessor must be told about the stout man.

Drifting into the passage, Jimmy lingered in the outer doorway and was gratified to hear a whisper from the shadows to his left. 'Something's going on. Chap arrived in a Cavalier, came and looked into the window on your right for about half a minute, then went back to the car, over there by the lamp post. Fat man then came out and joined him, looking worried. They're still talking.'

Jimmy chuckled grimly. 'That's Kellberg's car, and I strongly suspect that the fat man is the boss. I'll go back to my car, so that I can follow them if they go off together. If the fat man doesn't go, we have to tail him.'

Setting off up the street as quietly as possible, Jimmy allowed himself a shred of hope. The fat man must have a base not too far away, and it seemed quite possible that finding the base might lead to finding Pat.

When he reached the car, he looked back and saw that the fat man was still talking to his visitor, presumably Peter Mays, but as he watched, the headlights of the Cavalier came on, and the unmistakable silhouette of the fat man could be seen walking away. Disconcerted by the sudden glare, Jimmy could only duck down in the shadow of his own car, feeling uncomfortably exposed in the headlight beam.

The Cavalier swept past, and darkness descended again. The sound of heavy footsteps marked the approach of the fat man, but he was on the far side of the road. Jimmy was able to watch him without risk, although he hoped there would be no more headlights for the moment.

Almost opposite the car, the footsteps paused, and there was the sound of a key in a lock. An oblong of light appeared, surrounding the fat man's silhouette, and then the door closed again. Jimmy made sure he could identify the house, and then went to meet Lessor, who was making a cautious approach. 'All well, Henry. He's gone to earth over there, in the house that's a little bigger than the rest. You'd better stand by to guide the reinforcements when they arrive. I'm going exploring. I'd hate to have them slip away while we sit here doing nothing.'

Before Lessor could protest, Jimmy had slipped away into the gloom. There were few gaps between the houses on the far side of the street, but he found a narrow entry leading to an overgrown back lane, and began to work his way along, counting the houses as best he could. It was not easy, for they varied in size and shape considerably. He made two false casts before finding the one he wanted. In a small back garden largely occupied by a stone built garage, he heard the fat man's voice.

'I tell you, I don't know. Perhaps she told him about the message, and he worked it out from that, but surely in that case he would have insisted on coming with her. If Kellberg had reported at the proper time, we would have known she was with this fellow and I could have made allowances. By the time he did report, it was too late to cancel. A telephone call might have raised questions.'

Which answered one of Jimmy's queries. The second voice he heard was unfamiliar.

'Where is he now?'

'Still in the pub, I hope, but he's only got to ask to find out where I live, and he might just do that. He's no fool, and I think he was curious about me. We'll have to move out, for the moment, at least.'

'What about the notes for Kellberg?'

'They've gone. I had them with me. Would you believe it, that damned fool Mays looked in through the window while I was talking to Ferguson. I could have fallen through the floor. Fortunately, he didn't come in. That would have put the tin hat on it.'

Jimmy edged closer to the open window through which the voices had come, and listened to the rustle of papers being collected and put away. Then the fat man spoke again. 'That's the lot. Warn the others that we're changing base. Further information by the usual channels. Put these in the car, and check that we haven't missed anything.'

'Who's this man Ferguson working with?'

'No one.' The fat man was impatient. 'He met the girl by chance, as she said. That rings true. And it means he'll be too busy looking for her to make a nuisance of himself, which is a blessing.'

'As long as he doesn't find her.' The comment was gloomy, and Jimmy smiled in the darkness. It sounded as if Pat was still alive.

'So we take her with us. We can't leave her here, dead or alive. That would really make things difficult.'

This put Jimmy in a dilemma. He hoped that Lessor and his reinforcements would arrive soon, but if they took much longer the men would have gone, and Pat with them. It was time to attempt a delaying action. Taking a deep breath, he climbed through the open window.

For some thirty seconds, no one moved or spoke. The fat man was obviously considering how to deal with the situation, while Jimmy knew that time was on his side, and was therefore content to grin provocatively at his opponent.

The fat man was the first to speak. 'There seems to be little point in trying to play the outraged householder. You may have been listening for some time. As you're outnumbered, I think the best thing would be to ignore you.'

'You can try.' Jimmy, still playing for time, spoke dryly. 'I may not be as big as you, but I can pack a useful punch. Did you wreck Farnfield's car?'

The unexpected question surprised the fat man, but he recovered quickly, managing a sad smile. 'I will admit that it was done on my behalf, but I would have chosen other means. I agree it was a shame to wreck such a fine vehicle. My agent had no such qualms.'

'I see. In that case, I won't mind how hard I hit you.'

'You won't be given the chance.' The fat man gestured meaningly to his companion, but before the other man's hand had moved halfway towards his pocket Jimmy had his hands on a chair, and as the hand touched the pocket the chair hit the man. Following up with enthusiasm, Jimmy produced a swinging right that deposited the man on the floor.

That was where things started to go wrong. Showing an unexpected turn of speed, the stout man laid firm hands on Jimmy's shoulders and hurled him away across the room. Caught off balance, Jimmy was barely able to save himself from a heavy landing, and took a moment to recover. Seeing that the fat man intended to use his feet, Jimmy just managed to roll away in time.

The situation then became confused, to put it mildly. Jimmy managed to throw another chair, to good effect, but the fat man moved forward and threw the whole of his considerable weight at Jimmy, who had no chance to dodge. The third man was showing signs of returning to the fray, but still looked rather groggy.

Jimmy felt that his only chance lay in an all out attack. Casting aside scruples about fair play, he waded in with fists, head and feet. The fat man responded in kind, and a kick on the thigh sent Jimmy flying again. He was on the point of concluding that he had lost the fight when he heard a thunderous drumming sound, which he identified as a knocking on the front door.

The fat man and his aide rapidly reached the same conclusion, and they collected their bags and parcels and disappeared, ignoring Jimmy completely. All Jimmy could do was stagger to the front door and open it. The police promptly tried to arrest him, but Henry Lessor bustled forward to sort that out.

The damage had been done, however. The confusion had given the two men time to start their car and depart. The sound sent the main body of police in the direction of the garage, but Jimmy had other priorities.

Staggering upstairs, he found a landing surrounded by doors. The first two he tried were open, but the third was locked. Feeling that a few more bruises would make little difference, Jimmy hurled himself at it boldly.

The result was impressive. Not only the door, but the door frame and a considerable area of the surrounding wall gave way under his onslaught, and he half fell into the room, where Pat was sitting calmly on the bed.

She looked at him blandly, and spoke with pretended disgust. 'What kept you?'

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Mail me Keith Thomasson February 11th 2002