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The Bent Wheel - Chapter 14

The Fiction of Donald William Thomasson
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Red line

XIV

At breakfast time, many of the campers were still asleep, but Jimmy and Pat were up and about quite early, anxiously aware that time was getting short. Between mouthfuls of toast and marmalade, Jimmy explained his plans.

'I rang Henry, and he'll be here within half an hour. He said we'd better stay here in the camp today. We can't afford to waste time being shot at or kidnapped, and they won't look for us here. There will be plenty of things we can do. By the way, that note we didn't read was a warning that Sam Williams wasn't to be trusted.'

'How did Henry find him out?' Pat was pleasantly relaxed, and she asked the question almost idly.

'Sam was stupid. I told him to report that you were missing, but he never went near the police, even to tell them that he had got his car back. When Henry discovered that, he made some enquiries, and found that Sam had only just started work at the Weslake when you arrived there. The previous man, Kelly, was Geoff's real agent, but he vanished. Sam could probably tell us why.'

'I suppose he was the one who killed Calvin Weston.'

'He had the best opportunity. I knew all along that there must be someone else. Sam fits that perfectly. Peter Mays probably went to see him in Monckton on his way to the Blue Swan, which makes him look like one of Kellberg's men, but I think Sam took orders from the boss, too. The message he gave you probably came from the boss, and he knew it did. That's why he got tangled up over times and voices. I should have suspected him then, but I was too worried to think properly.'

Pat went a little red, and apologised again for being a nuisance, but Jimmy merely smiled. 'As for the idea of getting club members involved, Henry was a bit doubtful, but he admitted that we need specialist help.'

Mike strolled into the room, yawning, and joined them at their table. Jimmy looked at him and shook his head. 'You're early. Couldn't you sleep?'

The mournful face expressed sheer misery. 'I didn't want to miss anything. I'll bet that even Colin and Ieuan will be here soon, and they don't usually show up until lunchtime. What's cooking?'

'Our official friend will be here soon, and then we can talk. You'd better sit in on the discussion, to represent the club.'

'I'd certainly like to.' Mike almost looked happy. 'And you'd have a job to keep these two out of it.'

Colin and Ieuan had appeared, rubbing sleep from their eyes but otherwise looking remarkably alert. While they gave immediate attention to food, they still managed to make suggestions for the coming evening. Colin was particularly forthright and specific. 'It's quite easy. We post ourselves near the checkpoints and hijack the travellers as they leave. We can then use the tape recording to complete the run, locate the customer, and find out where he goes after that.'

'Wait one...' Mike held up a monitory finger. 'You don't even know for certain that a tape will be used. And by the time you report back, the customer could be miles away.'

'I agree.' Ieuan was not to be outdone by his navigator. 'We need communications. This needs working out in detail. The police ought to be on hand to take over the driver when we hijack him, and they can arrest the customer, too.'

Jimmy brought the discussion to order. 'I agree that we need to take over the cars. Trying to follow them would be too risky. We need the police to help pass messages and look after the people we collect, but I only hope they'll be willing to cooperate.'

A delicately over emphasised cough made Jimmy pause, and a dry voice from the doorway filled the ensuing silence. 'Before you call out the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Marines, I'd like to have some idea of what you expect them to do.'

Swinging round, Jimmy saw a slim man with smiling eyes. Even with his left arm in a sling, the man looked elegant, and Jimmy had no doubt that this was Geoff Farnfield. They examined each other with frank interest for a moment, and then they both laughed.

The tension broken, introductions followed, and Henry Lessor bustled in to explain that he had picked Geoff up at Dorchester station. By common consent, they all adjourned to the camp office, where there would be more privacy.

Geoff took a seat at one end of the table, and everyone present accepted that he was now in charge. He lost no time in getting down to business. 'Henry has told me a good deal on the way here, so I have a broad understanding of the position, but it would help if I knew a little more about what you are expecting to happen. Perhaps Mr Ferguson might oblige?'

Taking a deep breath, Jimmy did his best to explain as briefly as possible how he thought the diamonds would be carried, and went on to outline his ideas for intercepting them. 'It's all rather speculative, but we haven't time to get more information. Henry, did you ask about special equipment in that car that crashed near Swindon?'

'Yes, I did. There was nothing, except a perfectly standard tape recorder.'

The general reaction to this seemed to surprise Henry, who had yet to hear the story about Sykie, but Geoff rapped the table and demanded an explanation. When this had been given, he nodded gravely. 'Then we're on the right track, and it would be feasible to intercept the cars and continue on their intended routes. I agree that the club members could be a great deal of help in this, but you must all remember that it is not a game. Two men, perhaps three, have died already, and but for a great deal of undeserved luck I would have joined them. Miss Hale, on the other hand, seems to owe her continued good health to Mr Ferguson's resourcefulness, rather than to her own common sense.'

Pat accepted this reproof meekly, but Jimmy would have made a comment had he not been forestalled by a raised hand.

'As you are not on my staff, Mr Ferguson, I won't suggest that your ability to get out of difficult situations derives from a long experience of landing yourself in trouble. That would be unkind, especially as I am indebted to you for what you have done to assist Miss Hale. I only hope that you have not given her a false impression of what constitutes sensible risks and what are acts of sheer lunacy.'

Having reduced his helpers to a proper appreciation of the seriousness of the matter in hand, Geoff allowed a faint twinkle to appear in his eyes. 'Unofficially, you've both been damned lucky, and I'm glad you got away with it and picked up so much useful information. I'm not sure, however, that you've picked up enough.'

Allowing a few moments for this to sink in, he began to tick points off on his fingers. 'One, we know diamonds are being smuggled, because you've seen them being handled. That's an improvement on hearsay. Two, we know that a distribution run is planned for tonight, unless recent events have made out friends change their plans. Yes, Mr Ferguson?'

'I suggest that recent events may have the opposite effect.' Jimmy spoke boldly, but he was very much aware of Geoff's eyes watching him. 'Kellberg must realise by now that he's under suspicion. He'll want to get the diamonds away from the Bent Wheel, in case there's a police raid. He won't want any delays.'

'I accept the point.' Geoff looked interested. 'Now, thirdly, you have reasoned, on rather flimsy evidence, that the diamonds will be carried by the drivers of twelve cars travelling at least partly through side roads. Since there is no better basis, we can only plan on that assumption. Perhaps we should adjourn to Dorchester. We will need good communications.'

Mike, seeing the promise of excitement slipping away, raised a diffident hand. 'You could take over this office. There are three phones here and in the next room. And you'll need people who can drive and read maps. You wouldn't find a better bunch at short notice than our lot. Can't we help?'

Hesitating for a moment, Geoff nodded his head. 'I suspect that we might have some difficulty in keeping you away. Unofficially, I welcome your offer, but you must appreciate that I can't do so formally. This is a police matter. However, the police are always at liberty to call on private citizens to assist them.'

Nodding lugubriously, Mike said he quite understood that, and would ensure that his fellow members also understood the position. 'You decide what needs to be done, and we'll set about organising it.'

Turning to Jimmy, Geoff raised enquiring eyebrows. 'Your guesses seem to have turned out very well so far. What do you guess we ought to do next?'

A little startled, since he had thought that he would now be no more than a mere acolyte, Jimmy hastily collected his thoughts. 'We need to think big. With the help of the club members, we should be able to allocate a team of two to each car. We need a policeman to back them up at each of the interception points. Perhaps they could provide a touring Black Maria to collect the catch. And the teams must be taken out to their posts.'

'I can handle all that.' Henry Lessor was making notes, but Jimmy was just getting into his stride.

'We need a more central operating base, really. I would suggest Salisbury. All news can be passed to that base, but initially to Dorchester.'

Geoff held up his hand. 'I entirely agree. Henry and I will take Salisbury. But shouldn't we being planning the interception points?'

Heaving himself out of his chair, Mike said he would organise that, and left with Colin and Ieuan in attendance. From that point, the bare bones of the scheme were gradually filled out step by step.

Around lunch time, Jimmy made a fresh entry in the vast and complex sheet of times and places which he was compiling, and stood back to look rather doubtfully at the result.

'At this rate, we won't be able to spare time to blow our noses.'

Pat chuckled. 'You'd better put in some allowance for emergencies. Have we heard from party number three yet?'

Geoff looked up from the telephone. 'I'm talking to them now. They suggest 586941 as a starting point. Any comments?'

Looking at the huge map pinned to the wall, Jimmy shook his head. 'Don't like it. The checkpoint's on Eggardon Hill, two miles to the west. The car might go several ways, most probably to the Roman road or towards Maiden Newton.'

Passing on that message, Geoff listened to the reply, and repeated the response. 'They say that was why they picked the location. It's high up, and they reckon they can see the checkpoint, so they would know which way to go.'

Jimmy checked the map again, and capitulated. 'In that case, let them have their way. I can't see anywhere else for them to go, unless we use two teams.'

'Can't spare them.' Geoff was decisive.

This exchange was repeated for each of the twelve teams. In some cases, the best interception point was obvious, in others it had to be a matter of guesswork. There must be no risk of the 'marshal' seeing the interception teams, and it had been necessary to deduce his probable route.

Towards four in the afternoon, the pressure began to ease off. Two time schedules had been worked out, one for use if the most southerly checkpoint was used first, the other if the first car went to the northern point.

Geoff said it was time to tie up loose ends. 'What limits do you place on the operational area, Mr Ferguson?'

'At a wild guess, Alton, Oxford, Bristol and points south and west. Ten thousand square miles? Something like that.'

'Then some cars may need to refuel. We'd better have a list of petrol stations open all night. Pat, will you deal with that?'

Moving restlessly about the room, Geoff said that he hoped they had not over planned, and Jimmy shrugged his shoulders. 'That's always possible, but we need a framework to use as a basis. We'll need to be flexible, though, if things don't turn out as we expect. You'll be off to Salisbury soon, I suppose.'

'Yes. I may move further north later, but I don't want to be too mobile. This arm of mine is still sore, so I'll have to rely on you to deputise for me to some extent. I'm thankful that I've got a deputy at all, let alone one as effective as you are.'

Disconcerted, Jimmy almost blushed. 'Thanks. I hope I live up to your opinion of me. As you know, I've been in some quite exciting affairs before, but this is different. I'm having to think.'

'You do it very well. I want you to keep an eye on the Dorchester base, at the start. They may need to be kept on their toes.'

'I was hoping to join one of the interception teams, following along to get an idea of what might happen.'

'By all means. I suppose you'll take young Pat along with you.'

Looking up from the telephone, Pat said that nothing should stop her going, and Jimmy and Geoff laughed. Then Geoff spoke to Jimmy softly. 'Look after her. Arnold Hale was a great friend of mine, and I would hate to feel that I had let him down.'

Jimmy smiled. 'I could say precisely the same thing.' Then he told Geoff what Arnold Hale had said about his suitability as a husband for Pat. Geoff nodded. 'Of course. You were in that business, weren't you? By comparison, this must be almost a holiday for you.'

'I am on holiday.' Jimmy grinned. 'Didn't you know?'

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Red line

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Red line

Mail me Keith Thomasson February 11th 2002