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The Fiction of Don Thomasson
The Bent Wheel - Chapter 12

The Fiction of Donald William Thomasson
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XII

After a pleasant lunch at the Stag, Jimmy and Pat set off with the intention of returning to Monckton, but before they had gone far Jimmy had a better idea. 'The clouds have gone, the sunshine's warm. If we go back to the hotel there's nothing we can do. So let's relax for a while.'

Rather to his surprise, Pat raised no objections, and they were soon parked near the Hardy Monument, on the highest part of Black Down. For some time, they were content to sit in silence, but after a while Jimmy turned to look at Pat thoughtfully. 'You're very quiet lass. What's on your mind?'

She sighed, staring out over the distant hump of the Isle of Portland. 'I've got problems. You're the biggest one. Three days ago, I thought I knew where I was going. Then you turned up from nowhere and made me look a fool.'

'That's not true.'

'It is. I am a fool. I've made a complete mess of this business, and you've wasted far too much time digging me out. Without me, you'd probably have had it all sorted out by now.'

Her voice was rising a little, and Jimmy felt it was time to intervene. 'Now, look. This won't get us anywhere. If you really were a fool, I wouldn't have wasted ten seconds on you. Credit me with that much sense. I think something's driving you, something you can't control. It makes you take risks without considering the consequences. It's probably something you've never talked about. Why not talk about it now?'

There was a long silence, and then Pat turned to him with a smile. 'All right, Professor Freud. I suppose I might as well. I'll probably tell you one day, in any case.'

Looking away from him again, this time fixing her eyes on the gaunt column of the monument, she spoke quietly, almost dreamily.

'I was very close to my father. My mother died when I was quite small, and he never married again. I remember him saying that it wasn't worth it. I didn't understand what he meant at the time, but after he died my aunt told me the reason.

'He'd always wanted a son. I came along, and he wasn't too disappointed, because the next child might be a boy. It was, but it was stillborn, and my mother died soon afterwards. He felt that it was his fault for wanting a son, though there was really no connection between the birth and my mother's death. She got up too soon, and caught pneumonia.'

Jimmy said nothing. He had heard much of this directly from Arnold Hale, and could remember that stern man's pain and self condemnation. It wasn't too difficult to guess what was coming next.

'He taught me a lot of things he would have taught a son. I can shoot reasonably well, I can sail a boat. I can tramp for miles in rough country. I can... Oh, lots of things like that. I understand why, now. Then he began to disappear for months at a time. I didn't know where he went, until the time when he didn't come back. Then Geoff came to tell me what had happened. He didn't say what Dad had been doing, but I could guess. Taking risks, going into dangerous places, doing things that not many people care to do. But you know all about that, don't you?'

Jimmy nodded. 'Yes, I do. So you felt you ought to take up the same kind of work, pretend to be the son he wanted, carry on in the way he would have wished.'

Startled by his insight, Pat was staring at Jimmy now. 'It was natural, wasn't it?'

'Understandable, anyway. You father was a great man, Pat. And he was proud of you. But he no longer saw you as a substitute for a son. He saw you as an attractive young woman, and hoped you would make a happy marriage. He told me so.'

After a long time, Pat sighed. 'It all seems a bit silly, now that I've told you, and now that I know what he was thinking. It seemed so important at the time. In a way, it still does. Geoff took me on under protest, saying I wouldn't last a week. Well, I've lasted nearly a year, thanks to your help. Most of the jobs have been easy. This one would have been if Geoff hadn't crashed. He would have made sure of that.'

Jimmy laughed. 'So you got involved with Geoff because you thought it would have pleased your father, and you want to carry on to show Geoff you can cope. What are you trying to prove? That you've got guts? I'll vouch for that. That you can do a man's job? Well, what about proving that you can do a woman's job as well?'

This made Pat snort indignantly. 'I'm not going to ask what you mean by that. I might not like the answer. I can be female enough if I want to, but at the moment I'm supposed to be doing a job of work.'

'You still manage to look feminine.'

'I feel it, too. Blast you, Jimmy, you're turning me inside out. I don't know what I want, now.'

During the next half hour, Jimmy did his best to clarify her doubts, with a marked degree of success. Since some sort of celebration seemed to be in order, they drove down to Portland Bill and had a meal at a nearby hotel. One way and another, it was quite late by the time they got back to the Weslake, and Sam's greeting made them feel a little guilty.

'I thought you were never coming back. A man has been ringing up for you every hour, and there's a note for you in the rack.'

Jimmy patted him on the shoulder soothingly. 'Now, now, Sam. You worry too much. I'll pick up the letter while you raid the bar. Then we'll go and sit somewhere quiet and compare notes.'

Since it would have looked odd for the porter to sit with guests on the terrace, they decided to use the balcony of Jimmy's room, which had enough space for a small table and two chairs. Sam elected to lean on the rail or against the wall, alternating between the two positions like a restless hen.

The note was sealed into an envelope addressed to 'Mr Ferguson or Miss Hale' in what looked like Henry Lessor's writing. Just as Jimmy slit the envelope and took out the paper inside, Sam let out a startled grunt. Jimmy asked him what was the matter.

'Someone moving about below. Just a shadow.'

They peered in that direction anxiously, but saw nothing. Then there was a loud crash, and one of the window panes behind them fell in fragments to the floor.

After a moment of shocked silence, Jimmy went into action. Leaving Sam to fend for himself, he bundled Pat into the room and pushed her to one side. When Sam joined them, Jimmy took a careful peep around the curtains.

What he saw rather puzzled him. The face of the Weslake marched with the cliff edge, the space in between being occupied by a gravel drive leading round to the garage yard at the back of the building, and by a stretch of scruffy grass commonly known as the lawn. The only cover was provided by clumps of bushes to the side of the lawn, but a bullet fired from there would have travelled in a direction parallel to the window which had shattered.

Jimmy made a rapid decision. 'Pat, you stay here. Lock the door and keep away from the window. Sam, you take the left hand side of the lawn, and I'll take the right.'

Sam seemed reluctant, but he was given no chance to back down. Jimmy ran him downstairs and pushed him out into the open, then made straight for the bushes. It was immediately clear that they provided little cover, and he cautiously explored further. The lawn appeared to end abruptly at the cliff edge, and Jimmy confirmed this with a quick glance.

Thoroughly mystified, Jimmy went back to his room, Sam appearing a few minutes later. The porter was pulling the lobe of his ear, which Jimmy interpreted as a sign that the man was worried.

Sam put the worry into words. 'Seems to me you aren't safe here.'

'That's what Mr Lessor said.' Pat looked at Jimmy doubtfully. 'Only we don't know where else to go.'

Continuing to massage his long suffering ear, Sam said there was a man he knew in West Street. 'He might take you in, at a pinch. Couple of attic rooms. Not very posh, but better than being shot at.'

'How can we get there without being spotted?' Jimmy was still inclined to caution.

'I can take you in the Mini, if you duck down.'

This scheme was approved, and Sam went off to ring his friend and get the car ready, while Jimmy and Pat gathered together what they would need for the night and packed it in duffel bags. Sneaking down to the garage, they stowed themselves away in the car, in concealment if not in comfort. After a short journey through the town, they emerged to find themselves in a narrow dead end street between blank walls. Sam led them round the corner to a row of old terraced houses.

The houses had never been particularly impressive, and some were now thoroughly dilapidated. The front door that Sam pushed open led to a small parlour that was clean and tidy, needing little more than a fresh coat of paint to make it a very pleasant little room. Facing the front door was a further door that opened onto an enclosed flight of stairs leading up to a tiny first floor landing. Another door and a second flight took them to a half-attic divided into two small rooms, each with a single window. Telling them to make themselves at home, Sam disappeared.

Left alone, they felt restless and unsettled. It seemed odd that they had seen no one on the way in. Perhaps his friend was round at the local pub, and Sam had gone there to tell him that his visitors were installed. Jimmy tried to be cheerful. 'Oh well. Any port in a storm. At least we're out of the reach of snipers... Need you prowl around like that? It makes me nervous.'

Looking at the recently distempered ceiling and the smartly painted window frames, she remarked on the contrast with the first room they had seen.

Reluctant to admit there was anything odd about the place, Jimmy shrugged his shoulders. 'Maybe the guest rooms get the first lick of the brush. Oh, come on, let's try to work out what we're going to do about that run tomorrow.'

Pat obediently sat on the edge of the bed. 'Start by telling me what you think will happen.'

'For a start, the cars leave the Bent Wheel, starting fairly late in the evening, and going off at intervals. They go to the checkpoints, where they get fresh instructions.'

'Who from?'

'The boss, perhaps. Call him the marshal. Someone, anyway, who doesn't want Kellberg to know where the diamonds are going. He provides data for the rest of the route. He'll be pretty busy. There are twelve points to visit, and he probably has no more than about ten minutes to get from one to the next. And some of them are three or four miles apart.'

'He needs to be a fast driver, then.'

'Yes, That's true. Our Sam wouldn't enjoy the task.'

Quite suddenly, Jimmy fell into a brown study.

Sam had greeted him as though he were Farnfield. But now that Jimmy had heard Farnfield's voice, that seemed absurd. If Sam had ever heard that voice he would always know it again. Yet he had thought that the message to Pat had come from Farnfield.

The only conclusion that Jimmy could draw was that Sam had never heard Farnfield's voice. But in that case, how could he be one of Farnfield's men?

Turning to Pat, Jimmy put a question. 'How did you make contact with Sam when you arrived?'

Her eyes opened wide with surprise. 'Well, he was just there. That's all.'

'Did you identify him by name, or number, or what?'

'As the porter. And as number forty five.'

'He gave you the number himself?'

Pat was suddenly still, seeing the point of the questions. 'I... I'm not sure. What are you suggesting?'

'I'm just beginning to wonder whether Sam is all he seems to be. Do you remember how he greeted me when I arrived? And he thought the telephone message was from Geoff. And he could have smashed that window. He was behind us all the time.'

'He was looking over your shoulder as you opened the letter. Then he said he saw a shadow in the garden.'

'If he was looking at the letter, how could he see what was in the garden?'

'And where's the letter?'

'In Sam's pocket, I should think. We've been had! This place isn't a sanctuary. It's just the opposite. We need to get the hell out of it pronto.'

That was easy to say, but Jimmy suspected that there might be difficulties. Picking up the duffel bags, they crept down the first flight of stairs and listened at the head of the second flight.

The room downstairs was no longer deserted. Voices were coming from it, and the voices were calmly discussing a double murder. The intended victims looked at each other grimly. This was going to test Jimmy's miraculous powers to the full.

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Mail me Keith Thomasson February 11th 2002