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The Fiction of Don Thomasson
The Bent Wheel - Chapter 18

The Fiction of Donald William Thomasson
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Red line

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Red line

XVIII

After a carefully judged interval, Jimmy spoke with mock deference. 'I wonder if I could have a word with you.'

He was out in the moonlight now, and the fat man was too surprised to speak for the moment. Then he relaxed a little. 'Why, it's Mr Ferguson.' There was an ugly note in the voice. 'How on earth did you find your way here? Don't tell me you hid in the boot of my friend's car?'

Jimmy laughed with genuine amusement. 'That would have been a bit uncomfortable. I preferred to drive myself - not in my own car. Some of the roads round here are rather rough.'

Obviously mystified, the fat man said that the car must be rather remarkable, since it appeared to be invisible. 'Whereas the gun in my hand is neither invisible nor intangible. Nor are you. I think you'd better come over here and answer some questions.'

For the moment, the initiative lay with the fat man, and Jimmy could only do as he was told, but there were some surprises in store for his opponent, and he was content to wait his chance. The next car must be due soon, and then the real fun would start, but there was no sound of its arrival as yet.

'You really are a most annoying young man. I can't imagine how you found this place, so I can't afford to dispose of you here and now. I must know who has been talking.'

Jimmy laughed. 'You did the talking, Sykie.'

This really startled the fat man. 'Well, well. That name has not been in current use for quite a while now. I'm beginning to realise that it was foolish to write you off as comparatively harmless.'

Turning to the traveller, Sykie spoke sharply, obviously wanting to be rid of the man before he heard any more embarrassing revelations. 'Something must have gone seriously astray, but I can deal with it easily enough. You'd better be on your way. I'll be in touch.'

'I'm afraid he won't get very far.' Jimmy spoke in rather apologetic tones. 'The road blocks will be set up by now.'

The statement may have been optimistic, but it had the desired effect. Considerably alarmed, the traveller turned to Sykie. 'Come on, let's try the track. That won't be covered, and we can stop the others coming down.'

Sykie shook his head. 'No. I don't believe there are any road blocks. Until you came, no one but myself knew where we were meeting. He's bluffing!'

'Have it your own way.' Jimmy shrugged his shoulders. 'I passed word to the police at twenty to three, when you were on your way up from Hungerford.'

This shook Sykie so much that he failed to hear the first sounds of the second car coming down the track. Raising his voice a little, Jimmy sought to press home the advantage. 'I watched you meet your friend, here, at Abbotsbury Castle. You left first. When he was driving through Lytchett Minster, you were heading for Toller Down. When he was near Chichester, you were on your way here from Ilminster.'

'This is impossible!' Sykie was nearly frantic. 'You can't possibly know these things. There isn't any way in which you could have found them out!'

Astonishment and alarm had demoralised the fat man completely, but the sound of the approaching car, now clearly audible, made him pull himself together. Passing the gun to the traveller, he regained his confidence. 'Keep him covered, while I deal with this fellow. Then we can send him to see if there really are road blocks.'

In all probability, the new arrival was manned by club members, but there was just the bare possibility that it was car number eleven, with a traveller still in charge. Jimmy was wondering how to cope with that eventuality when a large stone flew out of the wood and knocked the gun out of the traveller's hand. It was a wonderful throw, and Jimmy later confirmed his immediate suspicion that Pat was responsible.

For the moment, however, he concentrated on making a dive for the weapon, which had skated some way up the road. Sykie, again showing surprising speed for his weight, was also diving, and the other man was on the move, too. All three fell in a confused heap, with Jimmy underneath. A moment later, however, the lighter of his opponents was unceremoniously whisked aside. Joe had joined the action.

That left only Sykie to be dealt with, the sheer weight of the man making the task difficult. As they grappled in the darkness, Jimmy managed to reach the gun and sent it spinning further away, after which he felt happier.

Then the whole scene was bathed in brilliant light, and running footsteps sounded. Sykie was hauled to his feet, and Jimmy was able to pick himself up, bruised but otherwise unharmed.

The first thing he heard was Mike's voice. 'Well, Sykie, you gave us a smashing run tonight. Don't go and spoil it by losing your temper.'

For the fat man, this was the last straw. All the fight went out of him, and he stood looking dazed and helpless, saying over and over again, 'It isn't possible, it just isn't possible...'

From there on, it was all plain sailing, except for the one traveller still in action. The scrambled finish order meant that he might turn up in five minutes or half an hour. Characteristically, Jimmy decided to play it by ear. 'Get these cars, except Sykie's, out of the way. Mike, would you go and ask the police at West Ilsley to come and collect the prisoners? The password is 'Knollend'. You may as well leave your car there and come back with the police. Try not to arrive when another car is due.'

The third car to arrive contained club members, so that was no problem. The fourth car was crewed by Colin and Ieuan, who immediately launched into a series of tall tales of fabulous average speeds and harrowing near misses, but Jimmy shut them up and set them to clearing cars out of the way. 'You won't miss anything. The next car due is seven, and they're already here.'

By the time the sixth car was due, the wood was becoming crowded. Spread out among the trees were Jimmy, Pat, a policeman and eight club members. At Jimmy's insistence, they all remained well hidden as the car came onto the road. Tension rose as it became evident that there was only one person aboard. This must be the missing traveller.

Pulling up behind Sykie's car, which still stood, empty and forlorn, where he had parked it, the traveller got out and looked around, clearly puzzled. The whole wood seemed to be holding its breath.

The objective was to get the man worried, and that was certainly succeeding. He looked into Sykie's car, stared around without seeing anything helpful, and eventually turned back towards his own car. When he had nearly reached it, Jimmy snapped his fingers as a signal, and from the silent and apparently empty wood came a chorus of blood curdling yells, some distinctly reminiscent of the Wild West.

The traveller stood petrified, and as the yellers began to emerge from the wood he backed away until he was stopped by contact with the front of his car. There, he stood looking at the scene in terrified amazement, expressed by his words. 'Blimey! Where the 'ell did you all come from? I thought this place was supposed to be secret!'

Dice Divider

As the sun began to warm a new day, a large party of people sat over steaming mugs of coffee in the Salisbury operations room, still chattering gaily about the night's adventures. From some of the more lurid stories, it seemed a miracle that there had been no casualties, but for rally enthusiasts, as for fishermen, it is sometimes necessary to make allowances and add a pinch of salt.

Jimmy was telling Geoff about the journey back. 'I can't imagine what people living along the route thought was happening. We came into Newbury in line astern. Seventeen cars, including two police cars at the front and two at the back. Ieuan said it looked like a high speed funeral. We left most of the cars in Newbury, because some of the lads were pretty tired.'

Geoff smiled rather wearily. 'I wish I could have been with you. It sounds as if it was worth watching, but my arm isn't in a fit state for that kind of thing yet.'

'If it had been, I suspect that I would have been sidelined.' Jimmy smiled wryly at the thought, but Geoff shook his head.

'No, I think I would still have preferred to rely on your ingenuity. I'm a strategist. You're a tactician. To that extent, we're complementary. As a result, we have been remarkably successful. We seem to have identified almost all the eventual customers. Very surprised, they were. So were we, in some cases.'

'In other words, you knew them.'

'Yes, but not in this context. The raid on the Bent Wheel was a total success. Mays will be charged with Carson's murder, and Kellberg for burning Gurney's garage. That will probably get him a more severe sentence. Murderers are so kindly treated these days, and people get much more worked up over the destruction of property.'

'Did they get Sam Williams?'

'Yes. He will be charged with Calvin Weston's murder, and his friends in West Street were also collected.'

'What about Gurney?'

'That was funny.' Geoff smiled broadly. 'They raided his house in Exeter, but found no one there. They did find a wig and lots of fingerprints belonging to your friend Sykie. After a while, it dawned on us that Gurney and Sykie were the same man.'

'No wonder Sykie told Kellberg to lay off Gurney! It was a bit late, though. So Kellberg was acting as an intermediary between Sykie and Sykie.'

'That's what it amounts to. Sykie wanted to keep collection and distribution separate, so he needed someone in the middle. They've both talked, and they're very annoyed with each other, which should help us a great deal.'

After a spell of silence, Geoff stirred and looked at Jimmy thoughtfully. 'Your methods may be unorthodox, but they work. Right from the start, you shook the opposition by doing things that were unexpected. I would have been more conventional, and therefore more predictable. It wouldn't have worked.'

'Praise from Sir Hubert.' Jimmy was rather embarrassed.

'You seem to like this sort of thing.' Geoff was elaborately casual, and Jimmy's eyes narrowed.

'Very much.'

'What do you do normally?'

'Nothing. No, that could be misinterpreted. I haven't a regular job, apart from the freelance journalism in my spare time. For a living, I rely on doing things I like. It seems to work.'

'A good cover. I must be on my way to London in a few minutes, so I won't see you again for a while. Meanwhile you can think about this. I often have work that needs to be done by someone who appears to be nothing to do with my department, someone who seems to have no official standing of any kind. The work is often rather dangerous, and the pay recognises that. If you took the job on, you could never tell anyone you were doing it.'

'Not even Pat?' Jimmy was taken aback at the thought.

'Especially, no one on my regular staff. I know that may be difficult, but it's essential. It may help you to know that Pat is going on an overseas assignment which will last for almost a year. That will complete her contract. What happens thereafter will be largely up to you, I suspect.'

Jimmy thought about this in silence. The old devil might have been reading his thoughts. Perhaps he was, but there was only one thing Jimmy could say. 'I'll give you my address and phone number. How do I get in touch?'

'You don't.' His objective achieved, Geoff grinned broadly. In the immortal words of show business, 'Don't call us, we'll call you', but I can assure you that the implications are different. You should discover that in about ten days time. It will take that long to fix the details.'

Dice Divider

Jimmy and Pat stayed at the Weslake until the end of the week. She had work to do, sorting out the finicky details that are inevitable at the end of an affair of this sort. Jimmy helped her, and they spent their free time very enjoyably.

Pat, no longer driven by mistaken ideas regarding her father's wishes, had mellowed considerably. Yet her new found happiness seemed uncertain and erratic. On the Friday evening, returning from an end of holiday party at the motor club camp, Jimmy noticed that she was very subdued. When they got back to the Weslake, he fetched drinks, and they sat for a while on the balcony where Sam had fooled them so successfully.

The difficulties of the situation were clear enough to Jimmy. The knowledge that she was going on overseas duty for a year was confidential, and he must not admit that he knew of it. Pat, regarding him as an outsider, would be equally reluctant to talk of her future movements. Geoff had them nicely tied up so that they could make no firm plans.

The silence went on so long that it almost became uncomfortable. In the end, Jimmy put the obvious question. 'What now, Pat?'

She sighed. 'I've got work to do. I may not be able to see you for a long time.'

'Long enough for you to forget this week?'

'I doubt it. There's a lot to remember.'

'So what can we say?'

Pat was silent, staring out over the moonlight sea, for a long time. Then she sighed again. 'Can you remember for a year?'

'Reluctantly, but if necessary, yes. It would give me a chance to do a lot of things I've been meaning to do for a long time. I might not be as free to do them later.'

Pat smiled gently at the implication of this. 'In a year's time, on the Sunday nearest to a year from today, I'll be at Knollend Wood at noon.'

Jimmy chuckled. 'It's a date.'

Dice Divider

THE END

Red line

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Red line

Mail me Keith Thomasson February 11th 2002