The Fiction of Don Thomasson
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| The Fiction of Don Thomasson |
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That evening, Geoff held a conference. The Inspector had offered him the use of an office at police headquarters, but he had decided that it would be wise to minimise the chance that Roger and Peter might be identified as part of the official investigations, and had chosen to rent a room in a building on Portsmouth Point.
Reaching this room constituted something of an adventure. Starting at the entrance to a former boat-builder's premises, they had to squeeze through a rather narrow space beside a flight of stairs leading up to a clubroom, then negotiate more labyrinthine twists and turns to reach a cluttered space rather inadequately lit by a grimy window overlooking the Camber or by a single electric light bulb. Complaining that he was too heavily built to get to the room comfortably, the Inspector admitted that the availability of beer from the clubroom was a distinct asset.
Geoff opened the proceedings by remarking that the murder must complicate matters.
'From my point of view, the murder is a secondary consequence of more important misdemeanours, but no doubt you have to take a different view, Inspector.'
'That's true.' The Inspector spoke regretfully. 'There'll be some pressure on me to find out who killed Ecclestone. He was a popular man. I see your point, though. If we decided that your man Tooley was responsible, and arrested him, it might cramp your style a bit.'
'You put it mildly. Now, we both want to locate Tooley. When we've done that, our interests diverge. Perhaps we could compromise. If we help you to locate the man, could you agree to leave him alone until we can find out what he's up to? After all, you may need our help in making a case against him.'
'Persuasively plausible.' The Inspector grinned. 'I always did like a bit of genteel horse-trading. Well, I think I can meet you to that extent. In the ordinary way, we'd move in and ask a lot of questions as soon as we found our suspect. Ruling that out won't make my job any easier, as I'm sure you appreciate, quite apart from the problem of restraining any of my men who happen to get on his trail.'
'We may be able to make up for those inconveniences to some extent. For example, we can provide you with Tooley's fingerprints and other details. Does that help to persuade you?'
'Oh, I'm persuaded already. I may have to argue the point with my masters, but that's my worry. I suggest we take all that as read and consider what we've got so far in the way of useful information.'
Under the Inspector's determined direction, the police had been working hard, and a tentative picture of what had happened was slowly beginning to emerge. The police doctor had decided that Ecclestone had died of cyanide poisoning, probably somewhere between midnight on Thursday and the early hours of Friday morning. At first, the source of the poison had been a mystery. A glass near the body had suggested that Ecclestone had been drinking at the time of his death, and a locker containing bottles of wines and spirits had been standing open, but a careful check on the bottles had failed to produce any signs of poison.
Then someone had noticed another item in the locker, a special kind of bottle-opener fitted with a rubber pad that could be clipped over the mouth of an opened bottle to reseal it. The pad showed traces of cyanide, and so did an empty dry ginger bottle in the waste bin. The Inspector felt the meaning of all this was clear.
'The bottle must have been opened on a previous occasion and resealed with the opener. That was typical of Ecclestone. He was an economical soul. Some might have called him mean, but that wouldn't be fair. He just hated to see things wasted. Later on, he had another drink, and that was it. He was probably alone at the time.'
'Of course he was.' Peter looked up in some surprise. 'The dinghy told us that, didn't it?'
Geoff shook his head. 'The murderer could have jumped down and walked or waded ashore. All the dinghy told us was that Ecclestone died within a limited time either side of high water.'
The Inspector raised a warning hand. 'Hang on. Let's get the whole timetable straight, as far as we know it. Ecclestone was seen on board at dusk, and there was a light in the cabin later on, but the boat was grounded then. I'm told she's only afloat for a couple of hours around high tide.'
'Perhaps a bit more.' Peter was referring to his own notes. 'If she was there at dusk, she couldn't have moved before three a.m. at the earliest. I reckon that dinghy was tied up some time between four and six, give or take a few minutes.'
'That's interesting.' Geoff was frowning horribly in an effort to assemble the known facts. 'Ecclestone went aboard before dusk, knowing that he couldn't move until the early hours of the morning. Why? Was he going to visit Tooley?'
'A visit at that time seems uncomfortably noticeable.' Roger was working something out. 'Ecclestone could have gone ashore in the dinghy, rather than taken a trip in the big boat. Remember who was in Portsmouth that night.'
'Squalo' Geoff nodded agreement. 'That's a possibility, I must admit.'
'And who might Squalo be, when he's at home?' The new name had caught the Inspector's attention.
'A most unpleasant character, at home or away.' Geoff spoke with careful precision. 'You could get us both into trouble by repeating that comment in public, however, as the man has diplomatic immunity.'
'Thanks for the warning. You're welcome to him. Is he definitely involved?'
'Only through previous contact with Tooley and his presence in the area at the relevant time. He was noticed on his way home on Friday morning. I would have thought he might have got away more promptly if he knew that there was murder in the air.'
'He may have thought he was clear of suspicion.' Peter sounded impatient. 'What I can't understand is Ecclestone's behaviour. He goes on board at dusk, knowing that he's stuck there until the small hours. Then he goes ashore between four and six, returns to the boat with the intention of going ashore again quite soon, takes a drink and dies. Do you think he got a shock while he was ashore, and felt the need for a drink as a result?'
'It certainly seems an odd sequence of events.' Geoff was thinking deeply. 'Odder, perhaps, than you suggest. He must have been aboard a long time before dusk, unless he had a ladder or some other means of getting into the boat while she was grounded.'
'Too true!' The Inspector was annoyed with himself. 'If I go on working with you lot, I'll get an inferiority complex. You think too fast. However, there's one point you haven't considered, because you don't know about it. You've been assuming that the Hard would be deserted at night. That isn't guaranteed, especially when high tide comes around three or four. Some people may go down at any time to take advantage of high water. That gives me another line to follow up, but it also means that Ecclestone himself, if not his murderer, would be wary about doing anything particularly conspicuous, like wading ashore.'
Geoff smiled. 'I feel we've got as much out of our data as we can, in that area. What about Monday night? Have you any extra facts about that?'
The Inspector yawned cavernously. 'Sorry. I was up late last night, and I've been on the go all day. I don't think Congo Maiden went far on that occasion. The Navy had some sort of exercise on, and I understand they would have taken a keen interest in anything heading out to sea. They're pretty sure Ecclestone didn't. You know, I feel we've talked ourselves into the ground. Let's call it a day. Are you fixed up for the night, Mr Farnfield?'
'I'm sleeping on the Carella, thanks. That puts us all in one spot if anything fresh crops up. Peter doesn't mind sleeping in the cockpit, so we should be fairly snug. Come round and see us in the morning.'
After that, they had a final beer and made for their bunks. Peter and Roger were particularly in need of a good night's sleep, but Geoff sat on the quayside for some time, deep in thought. A faint pattern was beginning to form which might explain much of what had happened, but he was still reluctant to bring his full knowledge out into the open. It would be better if the facts were allowed to emerge by other routes.
Soon after six, they were woken by a shout from the Inspector, who grinned at them and said some people were lucky.
'I've been on the job more than an hour already. This should wake you up. Ecclestone was seen making the entrance to Langstone Harbour at around the top of the tide on Monday night - perhaps I should say Tuesday morning, as it was after midnight. He was seen leaving Chichester Harbour around half eleven on Tuesday. How's that for a breakfast present?'
Peter, still only half awake, pulled some charts from the navigation locker and spread them in the cockpit.
'That's a bit odd. He left Chichester Harbour too early to have used any of the shallower channels on the way out, so he started from that side of Hayling Island. That means he cut through from Langstone Harbour on the outward run. So why go into Langstone at all?'
'Diversionary tactics.' The Inspector's voice boomed out, making the others wince, for they were not feeling at their best. 'I agree with your estimate of Ecclestone's movements, but they don't tell you where he dropped his passenger, do they?'
'True.' Geoff was beginning to show signs of his normal alertness. 'All the same, his route does give us an indication of where we are likely to find Tooley, doesn't it?'
'East of Hayling Island.' Peter was firm. 'Even at high tide, the passage from Langstone into Chichester Harbour is tricky, and he'd need Tooley with him to lend a hand.'
Geoff laughed. 'If you're sure of that, you'd better start searching for him, before he moves on somewhere else.'
Since it was too late to take advantage of the morning tide, however, it was decided to delay the search until the afternoon. Meanwhile, the Inspector offered to lend them a police radio to help with communications.
'Easy enough to work. Must be, because I can manage one. We can pass on messages for you. One of my lads will fix it up. And you could do with an outboard, too. You won't want to take the Carella everywhere, and rowing the dinghy could use up a lot of valuable energy.'
These offers were gratefully accepted, and Peter went off to talk to the various harbour authorities about moorings. Geoff and the Inspector went off to attend to routine matters, leaving Roger in charge of the boat. A glance at the larder cupboard revealed some gaps, so he began with a brief shopping expedition, then tidied up the boat a little. He was reluctantly considering the need to prepare lunch when a hail from the quayside drew his attention. Looking out of the cabin hatch, he saw a big man clad in a disreputable blue jersey and an ancient yachting cap.
'Staying long? The Harbourmaster says I can have your berth when you go.'
Roger was about to give a simple answer to the question, when it struck him that there was something slightly odd about it. The Camber was by no means overcrowded, and there were several spaces which could have been used without waiting for the Carella to move. On the spur of the moment, he invited the man to come aboard, the invitation being accepted without hesitation, almost with alacrity. The visitor looked about him with approval.
'Very trim. Prefer sail myself, but every man to his taste. Nice to see everything so shipshape.'
'I'm only the cabin boy, really.' Roger smiled deprecatingly, though he was glad he had tidied things up. 'The skipper's gone to do some telephoning about a berth in Chichester Harbour. If he can fix one up we may move this afternoon. He shouldn't be long, if you can spare the time to wait.'
'Thanks. I may as well. Nasty business round on the Hard.'
Roger was a little startled, but he realised that the murder would be a natural topic of conversation among the small boat fraternity. All the same, a gentle probe seemed indicated.
'Did you know him?'
'Ecclestone? Quite well, in a casual sort of way. Did you?'
'I'm not sure. I haven't been down in these parts for some time, but I used to come down when I was a kid, and my father knew a chap called Ecclestone. There was another man, too, but I forget his name.'
All told, Roger felt that he had produced this tale with reasonable fluency, but the big man seemed to hesitate before replying.
'How old would these two be?'
'Oh, in their early thirties by now, I would think.'
'That would fit Ecclestone. The other one would have been Oliver Keston, I'm sure. They went about together quite a lot. Dangerous young rascals, they were.'
Under the scrutiny of a pair of extremely shrewd eyes, Roger wondered if it would be rash to probe a little further, but the risk seemed worth while.
'I don't remember the name Keston, but it was a long time ago. The other chap used to spout Shakespeare a good deal.'
'That fits Keston all right. Sad about him. Could have been a great sailor.' The big man shook his head. 'Funny thing, I thought I saw him up by Itchenor last summer. Couldn't have been, of course.'
'A sailing man?' Roger was almost holding his breath.
'Oh, yes. Not a purist, like me, but he knew these waters inside out. This your skipper?'
Peter came aboard looking thoroughly pleased with life, but Roger could have killed him. A few more minutes of casual conversation might have been invaluable. With Peter's arrival, the whole thing collapsed into chatter about the availability of the berth. When that had been settled in an amicable manner, the big man went away, casually mentioning that his name was Carrington.
'Where's lunch then?' Peter's tone suggested that Roger had been neglecting his duties.
'You'd better start on it yourself. I've got to phone Geoff and tell him Tooley's real name. If you hadn't come back when you did, I might have been able to get more information.'
Leaving Peter staring after him, he sought out a phone box and passed the news to Geoff, whose reaction was slightly unexpected, certainly less congratulatory than Roger had imagined.
'This will have to be checked, but it seems rather odd that a complete stranger should come along and give you information we urgently need. And why didn't the Inspector mention Keston? If he kept in touch with Ecclestone at all, he must have known of Keston's existence.'
Roger felt his face going red, but he had no answer to offer, and he went back to the boat in a rather chastened mood. Peter was examining a neat outboard motor which had just been delivered by a police technician who was busy fitting up the radio in the cabin. Peter was quite happy with the way matters were progressing, his only worry being that they might not have time to cook lunch. That problem was solved by eating in a nearby pub, where the food was good enough to cheer up Roger a little, but he was still feeling irritated when they cast off and set sail. Peter's cheerful chatter as he picked his way out of the Camber only made matters worse.
'I reckon that Tooley's using a shallow draught boat, maybe even flat bottomed. That would give him plenty of freedom, whereas a real sailing boat would be a bit limited.'
Impending trouble with a ferry distracted his attention for a moment, and thereafter he was too busy with navigational matters to follow his train of thought further until they were well past Southsea Castle on an eastward course parallel with the coast. Then he asked Roger a cogent question.
'How do you visualise Tooley's hideout yourself?'
'I don't. You're the expert.'
'Nothing smaller than this, if he's living on board.' Peter had carefully ignored Roger's taciturn answer. 'A galley would be essential, because he couldn't go ashore too often. If he's expecting any visitors, he'd need something larger.'
'What's the point?' Roger was cooling off slightly, but was still annoyed, mainly with himself. 'By this time, Tooley could be miles away. He may have left as soon as Ecclestone dropped him.'
'That's sheer pessimism. Look at that nit in the dinghy over there! He hasn't a clue. Better give him a wide berth, just in case. I can't see what Tooley's up to. If he just wanted to hide, he could have gone on a camping holiday, or stayed at an hotel. Instead of that, he lays a trail a mile wide right down to Portsmouth Harbour, and then goes off in a boat at a time when someone's bound to notice him going. If he'd waited until the morning tide, we'd still be fooling around asking questions.'
'Hold it!' Roger's mood changed abruptly. 'It almost sounds as if he wanted us to find him, but that won't wash. He could have told us directly, or through the police, if he wanted that. So what's he up to?'
'Playing the fool?'
'If he is, he's making a thorough job of it. He seems to have walked from his car to Haslemere station, so he can't have been carrying much kit. That suggests premeditation, advance planning. The police thought he goofed off last Monday more or less on the spur of the moment, but I don't believe that. It was a deliberate move.'
'Perhaps he wasn't bothering about the police at all.' Peter might have expanded this line of thought if an errant dinghy had not chosen to cross his bows at rather close range. Thereafter, he kept a closer eye on nearby craft and said nothing.
When a black conical buoy with conical topmark appeared ahead, he relaxed a little.
'Chichester Harbour entrance. Check me against the Pilot's Guide. Gable of the Treloar Hospital and tall mark in front?'
'Check. Bring them in line and turn a bit to port.'
Passing the West Pole buoy, they came to Eaststoke Point and ran close to the shore of Hayling Island, while ahead of them a vast expanse of water opened up. Peter chuckled.
'Decision time, Roger. More or less straight ahead for Emsworth, sharp right for the other channels, through Stocker's Lake. Which way do we go?'
'Emsworth.' Roger spoke without conscious thought, but with an odd conviction. 'I can't tell you why, but it feels right. I'm beginning to get an idea how Tooley's mind works, and I'm sure he isn't as devious as he looks.'
Since he had no better basis for making a choice, Peter simply nodded and made the slight turn to port which would take them up towards Emsworth. There were many more sailing boats about here, and he had to keep an eye on them, muttering under his breath now and then when some casual helmsman changed course unexpectedly. To Roger's inexperienced eye, it looked as if they could have made good use of the comparatively empty stretch of open water that extended for a mile or so to the east of them, but a glance at the chart showed him his error. Beneath the innocent-looking surface north of Stocker's Lake lay mud banks and spits on which they could have grounded helplessly.
The low-lying shores of the harbour closed in, and Peter had to be even more wary. On all sides lay hundreds of craft of all kinds, from small rowing boats to sizeable cruisers, and Roger at last began to appreciate the full magnitude of the task facing them.
With the Carella eventually secured safely to the moorings which Peter had booked, they took to the dinghy, the problem seeming even more daunting from the lower viewpoint. As the outboard carried them up the half-mile to Emsworth, Peter examined their surroundings with a gloomy eye, obviously seeing problems. Eventually, he pointed ahead.
'The channel goes round to the right past those hulks, but there may be no water there later on. We'd better land here.'
Roger was surprised, since there were still boats scattered all round them, some quite large, and it seemed absurd to worry about finding enough water for a small dinghy. However, he assumed that Peter knew what he was talking about, so he made no comment. They landed at some steps set against a long curving wall, which proved to be a dam enclosing a large stretch of water, originally a millpond. A broad path on top of the dam connected the sailing club, on the south, with the town, to the north. Peter headed for the town.
'Harbourmaster first. He may not be much help, but I've got to call on him, anyway.'
Understandably enough, the Harbourmaster found their questions amusing. 'There must be hundreds of boats that were lying unoccupied until last Tuesday. Most of them are still unoccupied, but I can't be sure which. As long as people pay their dues, they can come and go as they please. Am I allowed to know what this is about, or is it a secret?'
Roger barely hesitated. 'It certainly isn't for publication, but we're checking on the movements of a boat belonging to Mr Ecclestone, the man who was found dead yesterday. You may have heard about him.'
'Oh, Mr Ecclestone. Bad business, that. I heard he was up here only last Monday.'
'Someone saw him?' Peter's eagerness made the Harbourmaster eye him tolerantly, but the older man maintained his own leisurely pace.
'Maybe, maybe not. Couple of lads from the sailing club got back very late Monday night. Tuesday morning, more like. Said they'd been stuck on a shoal. Reckoned they saw or heard Congo Maiden down by the Sweare Deep. Not sure if I believe them or not. They only told the story when it came out that he'd been murdered.'
'Where can we find these boys?' Peter's excitement was undermining his manners, but the Harbourmaster merely smiled.
'At the sailing club, like as not. Ask for Sam or Ted. Everyone round there knows them. Pair of young rascals.'
Finding the boys was no problem. In a quiet corner of the club yard, two youngsters of fourteen or fifteen were working on a small sailing dinghy. Peter went over and watched them for a few minutes, then asked if they were Sam and Ted. The smaller of the two straightened up to answer, looking slightly wary.
'I'm Sam. This is Ted. Did you want us?'
'We're interested in your outing last Monday night. We were told you may have seen the Congo Maiden in these parts.' Peter had tried to pick his words carefully, but the expression on Sam's face turned to disgust.
'I suppose you don't believe us, either.'
Roger intervened. 'We do, as it happens. We know she was round here, but we want to know exactly where she went. Could you show us?'
Both boys were standing up now, interested but still wary. Sam continued to act as spokesman.
'She came down the Sweare Deep.'
'As far as the Emsworth Channel?' Peter put the question casually, but it seemed to give Sam confidence.
'More or less.'
'This must have been soon after high water. He didn't cut across the shallows south of Fowley Island, I suppose.'
'You know these waters.' The hint of approval in Sam's voice was obviously connected with the fact that the boys were visibly relaxing. 'Sorry, we thought you might be reporters. We were warned not to talk to the papers. Yes, they may have cut the corners a bit. It would be easier to show you on a chart.'
'Why not come down the channel with us and point out what you saw.' Peter was careful not to comment on the weakness of Sam's conclusion that reporters would have no knowledge of the area. 'We've got a motor cruiser moored a few hundred yards down the channel, and our dinghy will take four at a pinch. You can ask the Harbourmaster if we're the sort of people you ought to go out with, if you have any doubts.'
'No need to bother with him.' Sam was scornful. 'We make up our own minds about things like that.'
Roger and Ted, who had been largely ignored during these exchanges, smiled at each other understandingly, then tagged along as Peter and Sam headed for the dinghy.
By the time they reached the Carella, Peter was quite impressed by the knowledge of small boats which the boys were showing, and he let them slip the moorings, which they did with practised skill. Feeling that he had an appreciative audience, Peter swung out into the fairway with an extra touch of bravado, which was unfortunate, because he nearly collided with a boat coming up in the opposite direction.
This boat, called the Tudor Rose, had been hidden behind a big cruising yacht on the next mooring until the last moment, and had been moving altogether too fast for such confined waters. Nevertheless, a choleric little man at the wheel had immediately placed the blame on Peter's shoulders, stating his opinions loudly and volubly, to the evident satisfaction of a formidably stout lady who stood at his side. The two helmsmen parted coolly, Peter proceeding with chastened caution, but Sam told him not to worry.
'It wasn't your fault. He's a menace. He shouldn't have come up so close to the moorings at that speed. He's always doing that sort of thing and blaming other people if he runs into trouble.'
Rather relieved, Peter resolved to give the Tudor Rose a wide berth in future. For the moment, he had other things to worry about. He was in strange waters on a falling tide, and had no desire to damage his reputation further by going aground. Once again, Sam offered reassurance.
'We can warn you about shoals and obstructions. We know these waters inside out.'
Roger and Ted again exchanged amused glances, and Roger felt that a question on this point would not be unfair.
'In that case, how did you come to get stuck on the mud last Monday?'
Ted chuckled, and Sam went rather red but said nothing. It was Ted who provided the answer, speaking for the first time since they had left the yacht club.
'We didn't. We simply went too far and forgot about the time, but getting stuck seemed a better excuse. Sam thought so, anyway.'
They all laughed, Sam as loudly as the others, though he still looked slightly embarrassed.
'It serves me right. That wasn't true, but they all believed it. Then they thought we were making up the story about the Congo Maiden. I suppose that's fair exchange.'
Near the narrowest part of the harbour, Sam pointed to the north west.
'We heard her over there at first. We were somewhere around here, heading north. There wasn't much wind, so we ran towards Thorney to keep out of her way, and we nearly did get stuck, after all. By the time we'd got clear, her engines were idling, but we spotted her drifting down the channel.'
'You'd recognised her by then? In the dark?' Peter was careful not to sound as if he doubted what Sam was saying.
'Oh, yes. It was bright moonlight, and her lines are unusual. We saw her quite clearly, but after that we were mainly in a hurry to get home, because we realised how late it was. The wind wasn't helping much, so we tried paddling.'
'Yes, because that made her easier to manoeuvre.'
'So they may not have seen you.'
'I shouldn't think so. They were too busy manoeuvring themselves. Besides, they went behind the row of moorings on the west side of the channel, and that would hide us from them.'
'It sounds as if they may have been heading for one of the boats in the row.' Peter scanned the miscellany of boats pessimistically. 'You wouldn't know which, I suppose.'
'We weren't sure.' For the first time, Sam's eloquence faltered a little, and he turned to Ted for support, which was at once forthcoming.
'Not one of the first five or six, but almost any of the others. We did think we saw an extra mast behind a converted barge, but we couldn't decide whether it was like the Congo Maiden's mast.'
'We were too busy paddling to take much notice.' Sam's grimace suggested that the memory was not a happy one. 'Luckily the wind picked up a bit, so we didn't have to paddle all the way.'
'This converted barge.' Peter was supremely casual. 'Where is she now? I can't see anything of that sort in the row.'
'She isn't there at the moment.' Sam scanned the line of moorings and pointed his finger. 'You can see the gap where she was moored, just beyond the channel marker.'
'Do you know her name?'
'Yes, she's called the Caliban. Rather suitable for an ugly brute like that.'
Roger and Peter looked at each other with solid satisfaction. The appearance of the Shakespearean theme was reassuring. They were suddenly anxious to get back to Emsworth.
When the boys had been suitably rewarded and returned to the yacht club, Peter proposed another visit to the Harbourmaster.
'I'll try to be more patient this time. You know, I think we're on to something.'
'Except that Caliban might be anywhere now. We may have got to first base, but it isn't a home run.'
The Harbourmaster received them with the same slow grin as before, and listened to their questions with interest.
'Caliban? Yes, she's been down there for some weeks now. Saw her only this morning. Has she gone? Probably taking a turn round the harbour. I've got the owner's name here somewhere. Ah! Burbadge. Dick Burbadge. Not a common name, especially spelt like that.'
Peter and Roger sighed with relief in unison. They knew at least one place where the name was spelt in that particular way, for Dick Burbadge had been one of the best known of the Shakespearean principals.
Meanwhile, the Harbourmaster was still talking in his easy, leisurely way.
'He turned up late one night, I remember, saying he'd bought Caliban from a chap over at Poole and wanted temporary moorings. His dues are paid for two months, so I don't expect to see him for a while. However, if there's any message I can give him if he does turn up...'
'On the contrary.' Roger made it definite. 'We must ask you not to refer to our enquiries at all. If you want authority for that, I suggest you ring Portsmouth main police station and ask for Mr Farnfield.'
The Harbourmaster was taken aback. 'You don't mean this Mr Burbadge was involved in Mr Ecclestone's murder, I hope. He seemed such a nice young chap.'
'As to that, I can't comment. I can only ask you to be discreet.'
They left the Harbourmaster looking slightly bemused, and went to look over the shops and get a meal, since they felt they were justified in being lazy and avoiding the need to cook for themselves. Over the meal, they discussed the progress they had made, Peter contending that all was going well.
'We've been darned lucky. Without those boys, we'd have got nowhere, though we might have reached the same point in time by going through the harbour records. Perhaps we should have done that, anyway. Other people involved may use names from the list.'
'I did consider that, but decided against.' Roger was firmly in charge again, and had every intention of making sure that Peter understood the fact. 'Our friend the Harbourmaster could be talkative, and it may be as well if he doesn't know too much. What we need to do now is to find the Caliban.'
'Tomorrow.' Peter remained cheerful. 'We'll have a look round the harbour for a converted barge. There shouldn't be too many of them around, so that's a help. Meanwhile, I suggest that an early night is indicated.'
The intention was good, but they decided. to sample the local beer first. Naturally, much of the talk in the bar was about boats, and time passed unobtrusively. When he saw that it was almost dusk, Peter got up hurriedly.
'We'd better be on our way. Until we know our way round better, it could be difficult to find the boat in the dark.'
Roger was puzzled by this. He had taken care to memorise various landmarks which would help him to locate the boat, and he had assumed that Peter had done the same, so he failed to understand the problem until they came in sight of the harbour.
The wide stretch of water below the quay had vanished, leaving a mere trickle flowing through the middle of an expanse of mud, on which a number of boats lay high and almost dry. During the afternoon, children had been diving from the edge of the quay. If they had dived now, they would have landed on bare shingle.
The dinghy, which they had left afloat, had to be carried thirty yards down a path which had been submerged earlier in the day, and most of the landmarks which Roger had noted so carefully were unrecognisable. They found the Carella easily enough, by following the line of moorings, and Peter noted with satisfaction that she was still clear of the mud, the water being deeper here.
The radio was brought into use, partly to test it and partly to pass on news of their discoveries, and then they were more than ready to turn in, satisfied that the day had brought at least a measure of success.
Next morning, they took a short trip down the channel in the dinghy to see if Caliban had returned, but her moorings were still unoccupied. Pausing for a chat with two men on a nearby boat, they were soon hurrying back, eager to use the radio again. This time, they asked to speak to Geoff directly, and after a few minute's delay he came to the microphone.
'I gather you have some red-hot news.'
Peter explained that Caliban had been seen moving off soon after lunch the day before.
'If she had left Chichester Harbour, we would have seen her as we came in. Remember, I was particularly looking out for shallow draught boats, so even if she had left before we reached the entrance I think I would have spotted her. That's one thing. The other is that there were two men aboard her, one at the wheel answering to the description of Tooley himself, the other man sounding very much like dear Mr K.'
K stood for Kühlmann, the pseudo-diplomat and trouble-maker who had been seen taking lunch with Tooley. His presence on the Caliban was a clear indication that Tooley was doing more than merely hide from the police. Geoff agreed that this was valuable information.
'It would be interesting to know how he went on board. He could have been there for some time, except that I have an idea he was in London yesterday.'
'That's quite a point.' Peter was interested. 'Tooley could have taken him down from Emsworth by dinghy, but it would be a bit public, and a bit undignified, too. We'd better ask a few questions about that.'
'Let it go for the moment. By the way, your berth in the Camber is still free. Your Mr Carrington doesn't seem to have been in a hurry to move in, in spite of the trouble he took to arrange to do so. Roger may like to consider that.'
'I'd rather not.' Still smarting a little over that episode, Roger would have preferred to forget it. 'Have you checked up on the identification yet?'
'No, I haven't.' Geoff seemed slightly apologetic. 'The Inspector was busy last night, and he's been away since early this morning. I want to put it to him first, to avoid spreading information around too freely.'
This cheered up Roger a little, as it was rare to extract even so slight an apology from Geoff. 'Well, I don't suppose there's any hurry. The more immediate problem is to discover where Caliban's gone. We'd better set about that right away.'
Five minutes later, they were running down the Emsworth Channel to put this suggestion into effect. Peter was excited at the prospect of direct action, but Roger was more interested in making definite plans for the search.
'Where do you propose going first, Peter?'
'Chichester Channel, if we don't spot Caliban on the way. It's over there, beyond Pilsea Island. If I was more sure of the depth, we might take a short cut along the shore of Thorney Island, but it isn't worth the risk. We could be stuck for the best part of ten hours if we went aground. We'll go round by the Gardner and Stocker buoys, then work north again. Mind you, Tooley might take the short route, so we'll have to watch for that.'
The radio, left on listening watch, called their attention as they swung north towards Itchenor, but the message only confirmed their belief that Caliban had never left the harbour.
After a brief debate, they were content to cover the Thorney Channel at a distance, scanning the shore in that direction through binoculars while they followed the main channel towards Bosham. It was difficult to be completely sure, but they were fairly confident that they saw no barge-like craft on that particular stretch of water, which left the Bosham and Chichester Channels.
By this time, the water was becoming uncomfortably populous, with lines of boats moored almost continuously along the sides of the channel and the space between increasingly crowded with boats of all sizes. Progress was necessarily slow, and Peter was too busy with his navigation to look out for their quarry. Matters became so complicated that Peter decided to tie up at Itchenor for a while, continuing the search in the smaller and more manoeuvrable dinghy. Thanks to his telephone calls the day before, he was able to pick up pre-arranged moorings near the jetty, so the changeover was made with little delay. An hour later, they had scoured the Chichester Channel as far as Dell Quay without success, and they were beginning to feel slightly depressed. There was still the Bosham Channel to search, but they decided to eat first, for the fresh air had made them hungry.
Over the meal, Roger tried to make sense of Tooley's movements.
'Kühlmann goes aboard, we don't know how, and Tooley promptly moves to another place. Well, that would make life difficult for anyone who was following Kühlmann. It makes sense to that extent. They have a quiet chat somewhere, and then go back to Emsworth. They might be there now, or on their way.'
'Going down the channel while we were messing about up here? That's possible.' Gazing morosely downstream, Peter suddenly leaned across and grabbed the binoculars. After peering through them for a few moments, he handed them to Roger and headed for the wheel.
'Cast off for'ard. If that is Caliban, we need to stir ourselves.'
The tide was near full ebb, and the channel no more than two hundred yards wide, so Peter had to hold his enthusiasm in check until they reached Cobnor Point, where the fairway opened out and there were fewer sailing craft. When he opened the throttle, however, he realised almost at once that the dinghy was still bumping about astern. This forced him to make a difficult decision.
'If we stop and haul the dinghy aboard, we lose time, but if we don't I'll have to keep our speed down, which comes to the same thing. Which would you do?'
'I'm no Solomon. Leave the dinghy where it is. We took less than an hour to get this far on the outward journey, so we wouldn't save a lot by going faster. As long as we can keep Caliban in sight, we're all right, and we might not do that if we mess around with the dinghy now.'
'Good thinking.' Peter sounded relieved. 'Can you see Caliban still?'
'About a mile ahead if it is her. Rather more to the north than I would have expected.'
'Let's have a look.' Peter handed over the wheel and took the binoculars. 'Yes, he's hugging the very edge of the shallows by Pilsey Sand, so he's almost certainly heading for Emsworth. You'd better pass word on the radio.'
Mental arithmetic was not Peter's strongest subject, but with an effort he managed to work out that they were unlikely to catch Caliban before she reached her moorings.
'We'll probably take about forty minutes, and with only about four miles to go he should be there first, even if he's only doing six knots.'
'Then there's no hurry, is there?' Roger was calmness personified. 'You'd better throttle back before the dinghy takes off. It's bouncing around like nobody's business.'
'Oops!' Peter took one look and pulled back the lever to idling speed. 'A bit more of that, and we would have had to explain how we lost the outboard. We'll stop and ship the darned thing in Stocker's Lake, where we should be out of other people's way.'
'And watch your soundings. You're getting into the shallows.'
'Oops again! My mind isn't on my job, that's the trouble. Can you see if Tooley's on his own?'
'Kühlmann shows up quite clearly from time to time, when he gets up to take a look astern. I doubt if he could recognise us without a glass. Perhaps he's lost something. And you're going to hit something, if you don't keep further to port. I thought you were supposed to stay south of the red buoys. You went north of the last one.'
'Did I?' Peter was startled. 'Here, you'd better take over if you're going to be that critical, especially as I see the criticism's justified. As you say, red buoys to starboard, black to port. I must be getting colour blind.'
He retired with some dignity to the cabin, reappearing with the Pilot's Guide, which he began to study carefully. After a while, he looked up thoughtfully.
'Bosham has a crane. A hefty derrick. It might be a good place to off-load cargo.'
'What sort of cargo?' Roger was concentrating on his task, and the question came out automatically.
'Something illegal, for a start, but something that could be made to look innocent enough if it came from a boat that hadn't come far. Boxes of fish? Oysters, perhaps. There used to be oyster beds at Emsworth.'
'Put an enquiry through on the radio.' Roger was enjoying his spell at the wheel, and had no desire to be drawn into pointless discussion. The pleasures of messing about in boats were becoming evident to him, and if this had been a holiday he would have been very content indeed. As it was, he intended to make the most of the opportunity to learn more about navigation and seamanship.
By this time, Caliban was no more than a smudge in the distance, already some way up the Emsworth Channel, clearly returning to her moorings, so there was no need for any hurry at all. Peter took a last look through the binoculars, then went below to use the radio. He emerged several minutes later, looking pleasantly surprised.
'That was quick work. They got a police car down to Bosham and asked questions. Caliban turned up there not long before dusk last night and stayed until morning. There was some talk of engine trouble, and there was a good deal of coming and going all night. The cargo, whatever it was, probably went ashore during the small hours. Her engines seem all right now, don't they?'
Roger said the times were wrong, but Peter shrugged that off.
'Away from Emsworth after lunch, early in the flood, as if he wanted to get to Bosham at high tide, but he wasted five hours or so on the way. Went in at dusk, when it was nearly full ebb. Perhaps there was some talking to do, or negotiations to finish. They may have waited until the place was quieter, after the visitors went home. Coming back, they may have stopped again, probably anchoring in the channel. Remember, they were probably up all night, and needed to sleep some time.'
They were in more open water now, and the lack of nearby sailing marks was sapping Roger's confidence, so he decided not to argue. The tide running in through the harbour entrance was inducing a drift to the north, and he was finding more and more need to fight against it. Sailing boats were beginning their afternoon exercises, and that made navigation even more complicated. After a while, he reluctantly decided that he must ask Peter to take over again, and was surprised to find that his companion was staring at the water astern with evident concentration. Without turning round, Peter waved an arm expressively.
'Come about, Roger. Make a fairly tight turn to port. Steady... A bit more... Hold her at that.'
As the boat turned, Peter moved round the cockpit so that he could continue to look in the same direction. When Roger asked what he was looking at, the answer was terse.
'Something I thought I saw. Reduce speed. A bit to port... Dead slow, now.'
'We're getting into shallow water.'
'That doesn't matter. We're on a flood tide, so we can't get stuck for long. Half astern... I'd better take over.'
Only too glad to relinquish the wheel, Roger peered out, trying to see what had attracted Peter's interest. All he could identify was a faint difference in the surface of the water, as if something was floating there. At a range of fifty yards, it might have been no more than a ripple, a remnant of the wash of a passing boat, but as they drew nearer it began to look like something more unpleasant.
The figures shown by the sounder fell rapidly, and there was a gentle bump. Peter went astern to pull back into deeper water, then tried again, with the same result. Keeping his eyes on the object in the water, he asked Roger to hail any small sailing craft in the vicinity. Looking around, Roger saw a dinghy beating towards them, and cupped his hands to direct a shout. The men in the dinghy responded at once, coming alongside in an elegant sweep and simultaneously lowering their sail.
Still concentrating on the object ahead, Peter explained what he wanted.
'Something floating, about thirty yards over there. I don't like the look of it. Sorry to involve you, but we're baulked, and by the time we anchored and got the dinghy going we could have lost sight of it. Could you lend a hand?'
Getting out their paddles, the two men headed in the direction indicated. As soon as Peter was satisfied that they had reached their objective, he turned to Roger and began to give orders.
'You take over again and get us pointing into the current while I handle the anchor. I don't know what the bottom's like here, but we'll have to risk that. No, you can't go ahead to turn. There isn't room. You'll have to back off first. That's right.'
Roger felt nervous, but he kept his head, and they were soon riding at anchor. Pulling in the dinghy, they had to bail out the water that had slopped in during the run from Itchenor, and Roger reflected that everything seemed much more complicated than similar moves ashore, imposing a kind of discipline which he found invigorating.
By the time the outboard had been persuaded to start, the two men in the dinghy were waving urgently. Peter waved back in acknowledgment.
'Coming!' He shouted the word, then went on more quietly. 'They're optimists if they think there's any hurry.'
Then they were running fast over the shallows, reaching the other dinghy as the men in it were trying to hoist something aboard. Peter checked them.
'Not worth it.' He reached down into the water for a moment, then shook his head. 'Definitely not. Got a hook? Then we'll tow you back.'
The two men accepted his verdict on what Roger could now see was a human body. He was surprised to feel slightly sick. Neither he nor Peter were strangers to sudden death, but this seemed a different matter, coming so unexpectedly in the middle of a quiet run through peaceful waters.
Back at the Carella, the body was hauled up into the cockpit with the aid of a couple of ropes, all four men combining to take the strain, which was considerable. Peter remarked that several hours of soaking must have been involved for so much water to be absorbed. They laid the body on the floor of the cockpit and stood up to stretch their aching backs.
Peter again apologised for involving the two strangers, but they said they quite understood. As one of them put it, 'There may have been an outside chance, and you had a perfect right to ask for help. Not much chance in this case, though.'
They all looked down at the body, and Roger suddenly gasped.
'He was shot! Look at that wound in the side of his head!'
Kneeling down for a closer look, Peter suddenly moved the body to get a closer look at the face. Then he stood up and looked at Roger grimly.
'Well, this may explain why he didn't take over our berth in the Camber.'
Chapters | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |
| The Fiction of Don Thomasson |
|© Keith Thomasson February 11th 2002|