The Fiction of Don Thomasson
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| The Fiction of Don Thomasson |
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On the advice of the two sailing men, the body was put ashore at the Sandy Point yacht club, the nearest convenient landing place. The police, alerted by a radio message, were already there when the Carella arrived, but the inevitable formalities took a long time, and it was late afternoon before Roger and Peter were able to depart in search of a much-needed meal. They headed north towards Emsworth, noting as they passed that Caliban was back at her moorings near Fowley Island.
Perhaps Peter kept his eyes on the Caliban a fraction too long. When he looked back at the water ahead, he was alarmed to see that a big cabin cruiser was veering across his path in an attempt to turn in an impossibly restricted space. By going full astern, he was just able to avoid contact, but it was a near thing, and he prepared to give the offending skipper a piece of his mind.
With unholy delight, he recognised the cruiser as the Tudor Rose. Since he was entirely free from blame on this occasion, he felt justified in passing back some of the rude remarks which the florid-faced man had made during their first encounter. His feelings much relieved, he then proceeded up the channel with some dignity. Roger, looking back, was interested to see that Tooley had come up on deck to see what the fuss was about, and appeared to be much amused.
Having cooked and eaten a satisfying meal, Peter and Roger went ashore and caught a train to Portsmouth, where they called on Geoff at his temporary headquarters. He seemed cheerful, though he said there could be problems ahead.
'This second murder complicates matters, by putting more pressure on the Inspector. He's looking in to have a talk before long, and I have a nasty suspicion that he'll be saying he can't hold back any longer.'
'You mean he'll want to arrest Tooley?' Roger looked doubtful. 'The man might be guilty, but I can't see much evidence against him, and if we hadn't been involved there would have been no evidence at all.'
'I think the Inspector realises that, and is grateful, but there is some indirect evidence. On the grounds of opportunity, Tooley had an excellent chance to poison the dry ginger, and you found the corpse almost in Caliban's wake. Add Tooley's odd behaviour recently, and I think there's at least a case for asking him some pointed questions.'
Roger shook his head. 'If he had dumped the body overboard on his way through Stocker's Lake, it would have drifted well into the shallows by the time we arrived. Tooley hugged the north of the channel, and there was a strong current to the north. I know, because I had to steer against it.'
For once, it was Peter who cooled the discussion down, by asking if it was known when Carrington had been shot. Geoff consulted his notes.
'Not precisely. He was alive at lunchtime yesterday, on your own evidence. Caliban left her moorings about an hour later, so he could have been aboard her by then, though I think that's unlikely.'
'Then the only place where Tooley and Carrington could have met was Bosham.' Peter made the assertion boldly, but Roger shook his head.
'Remember, there's a gap of some hours we can't fill yet. The Caliban may have put in anywhere along the route, and Carrington could have joined them there.'
Geoff decided that it was time to restore order. 'Theorizing ahead of the data is usually a waste of time. The important point is that there have been two murders, and in each case there seems to have been some involvement with Tooley. Carrington can scarcely have been on Tooley's side, or he wouldn't have given you that information about his identity. What he told you was perfectly true, by the way. The Inspector said nothing about Keston because he thought he was dead.'
'Correct!' The booming voice startled them as the burly figure edged into the room. 'I thought Keston died a dozen years ago. If he didn't, we wasted a heck of a lot of time looking for his body.'
Peter frowned. 'Then Carrington must have known he was dead. Why didn't he say so?'
'He did, in a way.' Roger was rueful. 'I simply didn't take in what he was saying. What sort of a man was Keston, Inspector?'
'Difficult to describe, for a start. Nowadays, he would probably be called a 'nutter'. Always up to something, usually something dangerous for himself or for someone else. The place was quieter after he'd gone, but a bit sadder, too. He wasn't vicious. Just a bit short on imagination, perhaps. Didn't always see where his jokes would take him.'
'That doesn't sound like a natural murderer.' Geoff made the comment quietly, and the Inspector nodded.
'Not the kind we've got on our hands now. He hadn't that sort of kink. Might have done someone in by sheer accident, but he would have been as sorry as hell afterwards.'
'Roger has been pointing out that there's no real evidence against him.' It was obvious that Geoff was trying to be diplomatic, but the Inspector saved him the trouble.
'I know what's on your mind. Relax. I'm still playing things the way we agreed, especially as I'm fairly sure Tooley didn't murder Bill Ecclestone.'
'Indeed? Intuition or fresh evidence?'
'I leave intuition to the ladies, thank you. They can talk their way out of the consequences more effectively than I can. No, we had a bit of luck, for a change. Around midnight on Thursday, one of our chaps heard noises down among the smaller boats near the Congo Maiden, and spotted some kids fooling about. He gave them a yell, and when they vanished he decided they'd gone home, and that a mention in his report would cover the matter. Not one of our brighter boys.'
Leaning on the table, the Inspector grinned deprecatingly.
'Around two in the morning, some anxious parents reported that they'd mislaid some children. A bit late to realise the fact, but I suppose they'd been out enjoying themselves. Can't blame them. They probably needed a break. Anyway, our men had a scout round, but the youngsters came home under their own steam early the following morning.
'The duty sergeant read the two reports, saw possibilities, and put a note on my desk. By the time I got round to it, the families had gone back home, so I had a nice little trip up to Brummagem today to ask a few questions. It wasn't easy to get the kids to talk, but once they started there was no stopping them, and I didn't want to try.
'That idiot on the beat had scared them stiff by yelling like that, and they hid in one of the boats. You know how it is with kids. Someone startles them in the middle of a game of cops and robbers, and the game seems to become real all of a sudden. By the time they plucked up enough courage to make a move, the boat was afloat on the rising tide, and that scared them more than ever.
'Mind you, local kids would have skipped over the side and waded ashore, but this lot didn't know what was going on. They thought the water might be quite deep. They even thought the boat had drifted off into the harbour, until they realised they could still see the street lights. I think they were plain petrified, but at least they didn't panic. Gave it up as a bad job and settled down for the night as best they could. They must have got some sleep, because the next thing they could remember was a light in the eastern sky. Very early dawn, probably, around three or four o'clock.
'They heard a splashing sound, and peeped out to see a boat being rowed out towards the Congo Maiden. There seemed to be an argument in progress, otherwise they might have asked for help. The man who was rowing didn't say much, but the other man said enough for both. The kids couldn't make out the words very well, but they said the talkative man sounded like a West Indian. That was probably pure prejudice.
'Kids tend to lie low when their elders are in a bad temper, and this lot were no exception. They didn't call out or show themselves. They just watched. They saw the two men go on board the Congo Maiden, and they saw a light come on in the cabin.
'They heard more talk, still unintelligible, and a clink of glasses. After a lot of argument, the talkative man said he must be going, and asked the oarsman to see if the coast was clear. The oarsman, presumably Ecclestone, came out into the cockpit alone, which would give the other man a chance to poison the dry ginger, and then they got into the dinghy and rowed ashore.'
His eyes sparkling with excitement, the Inspector tapped on the table to give emphasis to his next words.
'Now, the dinghy came back after a while, with only one man on board. Then it went ashore again, and finally returned to the Congo Maiden. What do you make of that?'
Geoff pursed his lips. 'Is there a pillar box near by?'
Slapping his thigh, the Inspector chuckled. 'Just what I thought. There is one, but what did he post?'
Considering this briefly, Geoff smiled. 'It has to be a guess, but I think he'd want to tell Tooley what had happened. He might also have posted a letter to himself by second class mail, if he felt there might be a need to put the facts on record for other people.'
His jaw at a ludicrous angle, the Inspector gasped. 'You could be right! I never thought of that. But where's the letter now?'
'At his home, I would think.' Geoff shrugged deprecatingly.
'I'll get one of my lads on to it right away.' The Inspector scrambled to his feet and disappeared into the gloom of the entrance passage, where they heard him shouldering his way through the narrow part before his footsteps faded into silence.
Sitting back comfortably, Geoff said that they seemed to be making progress at last.
'As the Inspector said, those youngsters were a stroke of luck, but he did a masterly job in getting their story. He must have quite a way with kids. I think it would be reasonable to guess that the foreign sounding man was Squalo. It looks as if Ecclestone was expecting him. Now, what was Squalo expecting?'
'A visit to Tooley?' Peter spoke hopefully, and Geoff smiled.
'Why not go direct, as Kühlmann did?' Roger felt he should speak.
'Ah, there lies the question. I think Tooley is expecting visitors to the Caliban, including some he doesn't want. He therefore took some care, not too much, to cover his tracks on his way to the boat. Enough to confuse Squalo, say, but not enough to fool the police for long.
Then he gets Ecclestone to act as front man, talking to the visitors and taking them along if they're on Tooley's visiting list. Squalo didn't come into that category, and tried to break up the act by poisoning Ecclestone, though I must admit that seems a bit drastic.'
'Masterly.' The Inspector spoke from the entrance. 'I hardly dared move, in case I broke your train of thought. Incidentally, I'd better put someone on the entrance to make sure you don't get any intruders. I could hear your voices faintly before I got past the stairs. Not words, just a murmur. That could explain Carrington. He was up in the club bar on Saturday night. I saw him when I went to fetch my whack of the beer. He might have heard. something. Not from you lot. Your voices are nice and discreet, but I rather tend to yell if I get excited.'
'Remiss of me.' Geoff sounded worried. 'What do you think he heard?'
'Enough to tell him we were talking about Ecclestone. He probably thought we killed him. After all, this isn't the kind of place where you expect to find an official investigation team. It's more like a thieves kitchen. Perhaps he decided to snoop around a bit. He was that sort of man. Not a plain nosey parker, but inclined to think he was an amateur detective. He'd have been tickled pink to be able to come and tell us who the murderer was.'
'I see.' Geoff smiled wryly. 'Then his approach to Roger was an attempt to obtain information, not to give it.'
'Bullseye! He probably mentioned Keston's name to see if there was any reaction. The main objective, though, was probably to get a closer look at you all. Perhaps he heard the name of the boat, and located you through that.'
'So he was playing at being a detective.' Geoff gave one of his wry smiles. 'Unwise in the sort of company involved in this case, as he found to his cost. He ran foul of someone, and was shot. Do we know anything about his movements before then?'
'Here we go again!' The Inspector looked at the others in turn with a mildly derisive benevolence. 'It's a pleasure to work with you. I still have to do the hard slog and get the facts, but I can safely leave you to think up the questions, can't I? Seriously, all I know is that Carrington's car isn't in his garage, and we haven't found it yet.'
'It might be at the bottom of the harbour.' Geoff's tone was grave, but there was an imp of humour lurking in his eyes. 'Or it might be in a place your men wouldn't expect, such as one of the local railway stations.'
'That's a point.' The Inspector chuckled. 'If it is, I'll have somebody's hide. What else can you think of for me to do?'
'Nothing, tonight, I think.' Geoff mused for a few moments, then spoke decisively. 'A pattern is really beginning to form, I believe. Carrington may well be a red herring, misleading and quite incidental to the main issue. Someone resented his curiosity, that's all. The mainstream of the matter lies in Tooley's activities. I would prefer to go on calling him that for the time being. After all, the identification as Keston isn't positive, yet. I think he and Squalo have fallen out, but he seems to be working with Kühlmann. I wish him luck. He'll need a long spoon.'
On their return to Emsworth, neither Roger nor Peter felt unduly tired, and Peter said it would be a shame to turn in too early and find they were unable to sleep.
'Barely eleven o'clock. Nice clear night, with a bit of moon. Fancy slipping down to see if Caliban's still there?'
'We don't want to put him wise to our interest, do we?'
'Of course not. Why should he suspect anyone who's just out for a moonlight run? We'd better not use the motor. That might look too purposeful. We can just paddle down gently. There isn't enough wind to make a sail worth while. What's the tide? Near the end of the ebb? High water was round seven. We'll have a bite to eat and go down on the last of the ebb, then the beginning of the flood will help us on the way back.'
About an hour later they cast off and set out to slip down the now very shallow channel towards Fowley Island. As Peter had said, it was very clear, with the waning moon low in the sky, and the light was almost perfect for their purpose, not strong enough to show them up clearly, but giving sufficient light to pick up the channel and to show them where they were. The sky, land and water appeared in different shades of blue and silver, with shadowy silence ahead and the distant sound and headlight beams of passing cars astern. Somewhere on the mainland a train was rattling along fussily. It slowed to a halt, paused, and rattled on again. Roger felt a sense of extreme desolation, of ultimate loneliness, yet it was, paradoxically, a friendly desolation, a companionable loneliness. Giving up an attempt to sort out these confused impressions, he peered into the misty blue ahead.
'Not far now.' Peter's whisper was barely audible, but Roger caught the sense of the words. They were quite close to the group of boats on the western side of the channel, approaching very slowly as the last flow of water towards the sea carried them along.
'There's Caliban.' The words were a mere breath. 'All quiet. We can go in closer.' A deft movement of the paddle made the dinghy change direction. Peter stared into the gloom intently, making little course corrections as they neared the squat shape of the converted barge.
Then, quite abruptly, he took several quick strokes which shot them towards the boat where they had talked to the two men that morning. It was silent and deserted now, and Peter put out his hand to grab the anchor chain and move them into deeper shadow. For a few moments he remained motionless, then whispered close to Roger's ear.
'Something odd. No dinghy, either in the water or on the deck. I don't think he's there.'
'I wouldn't bet on it.' Roger's warning words were emphatic.
'It's odd, though.' Peter broke off, his head cocked to listen. 'Watch it. Somebody coming.'
Quickly manoeuvring the boat towards the shoal side of the moorings, where they would be invisible from the channel, he ducked down to reduce the silhouette, and Roger did the same.
Peter listened for a moment, then whispered again.
'That's a motor launch coming up the channel, throttled well back, as if someone doesn't want to be conspicuous.'
The pulsing grew louder, and was joined by a quiet chuckle of water. Then the pulsing stopped, and there was only the sound of the bow wave as a small but speedy-looking launch came into view, drifting towards the Caliban. It ranged alongside, and one of the two men aboard stood up to grasp a stay and pull the two boats close together. The other man hoisted himself aboard the larger vessel, moving with exaggerated caution, and looked about him. Then he waved to his companion, who joined him on Caliban's deck.
'They've decided there's no one aboard.' Peter's whisper held amusement. 'They're going below.'
The two men disappeared, and there was a long silence. Roger began to feel cramped, and eased his position, but Peter raised a warning hand.
'Somebody else coming.'
The other boat also came from downstream. It was a dinghy with a single occupant, who rowed quite openly to the Caliban, tied up alongside the launch, and climbed aboard the converted barge. Going below, he emerged after a short interval with a limp figure over his shoulder. Dumping this burden into the launch, where it landed with an unpleasant thud, he went below again and returned with the second man, who was dumped beside the first.
After that, the newcomer seemed to pause for thought. Then, as if coming to a decision, he put a hand to his face and pulled away something which he threw into the dinghy. Jumping down into the launch, he started the engine and was soon drifting gently downstream, with the dinghy trailing astern.
When the launch was well on its way, Peter drew a very deep breath and released it slowly.
'That, Roger, I found thoroughly unnerving. I'm very glad we didn't go on board Caliban. Someone was obviously prepared to receive unwelcome visitors. With a booby trap, I'd say. And was lurking not far away, ready to tidy up the mess. Listen! He's opened up the engine.'
The distant roar of the exhaust slowly faded towards silence, and Peter said the coast appeared to be clear.
'I assume that was Tooley in the dinghy. It looked like him. Well, he can't have been far away. I doubt if he would hang around in the open, waiting for someone to turn up, so he must have another boat nearby. Let's see if we can find it.'
A few deft strokes took them out into the channel, and the last of the ebb carried them slowly past the row of moored boats, which Peter scanned carefully in turn. Opposite the last but one, he dipped the paddle to check their movement, and then laughed quietly.
'This must be it. The only one not battened down. No dinghy, but the fenders are out, and I think the hatch is open. Let's see what she's called.'
Paddling over to the stern of the boat, a handsome yacht, he took out a torch and shone it on the transom.
'Oh, how very obvious. The Miranda. We might almost have guessed. Tooley's sense of humour will be his downfall, in the end. I wonder where Prospero is.'
'Miles away, I hope.' Roger was far from happy. 'There was enough magic on the Caliban for my liking. We don't need any more.'
His words fell on deaf ears. Peter was standing up cautiously, one hand grasping the transom and the other wielding the torch.
'No sign of life. Blankets tumbled on the floor of the cabin, suggesting that someone turned out in a hurry. That figures. I think I'll have a quick look round on deck. Tooley won't be back for a while.'
A single athletic twist took him over the transom, leaving Roger to wonder if he would have to find his way back to the Carella alone. He was too intent on making sure that the dinghy would not drift away to see what was happening on the Miranda, and it was a great relief when a hand appeared and Peter dropped lightly back beside him.
'Very interesting. Let's head for home.' Peter was pleased with himself, nattering gently as he paddled back up the channel. 'I think I saw all I needed to. Nicely equipped sea-going boat, with a fine spread of sail and a big auxiliary. Must have cost a packet. Meant for pleasure, but could cope with quite a bit of cargo, and there's a clever bit of hoisting tackle stowed away in a locker in the cockpit. Also, a buzzer connected to wires going over the side to the mooring, and no doubt from there to the Caliban. Ingenious fellow, this Tooley.'
Back at the Carella, Roger expected that they would report their findings by radio, but was surprised by Peter's response.
'Leave it until the morning. All this excitement has made me sleepy.'
'We ought to report about those two men.'
'Why? If they're dead, they're dead, and no one can do anything about it. If they aren't, where would the police look for them?'
'I still think we ought to report.'
'Not by radio. It leaks.'
As Peter prepared to get into bed, Roger considered this statement, and admitted that Peter had a point.
'You mean someone might intercept the call?'
'I'll be more specific. Someone has already intercepted our calls. We find Tooley, and report by radio. Not long after that, Tooley gets unwelcome visitors. Coincidence? I think not.'
'In that case, we can't use the darned thing at all.'
'Not for passing key information. Only for keeping in touch, and then only if we watch what we say. That's at least a sensible precaution, Roger.'
'I suppose so.' Roger sighed. 'So I'd better go up to Emsworth and use the phone.'
Rather to Roger's disappointment, Peter neither objected to this nor offered to help, merely remarking that it wouldn't be wise to use the outboard, not only on account of the noise it would make in the silence of the night, but also because the propeller might foul with the tide at full ebb. An indifferent oarsman, Roger set his teeth and began to toil up the narrow channel, wondering if his journey was really necessary.
By the time he reached the quay and found a phone box, it was nearly two, and he was beginning to realise how his story would sound to an unimaginative policeman on night duty. Fortunately, Geoff was still at police headquarters, and could take the message directly. Clearly interested, he was so careful to thank Roger for reporting immediately that it was clear that he had detected the annoyance in Roger's voice. This was confirmed when he added, 'Mind you, I think Peter's right in saying we can't do much before morning, though we can certainly make some advance preparations. He's right about the radio, too. We'll have to be more careful what we say. You'd better go and get some sleep. You probably need it.'
Somewhat chastened by this oblique reproof, Roger made his way back to the quay. As he was feeling around for the dinghy's painter, he was startled to hear a soft voice close by.
'Are you going down the harbour, by any chance?'
Looking up, he saw two shadowy figures on the dam wall above him, and immediately regretted that he had left his gun on board the Carella. One of the two men looked uncomfortably like Squalo, though the moonlight was not strong enough to make identification certain. Thankful that he was in even greater obscurity, below the wall, he tried to answer as naturally as possible.
'I'm going a little way down, to a boat moored in the channel. Why?'
'We were expecting some friends of ours to arrive and pick us up, but they seem to have got lost. Perhaps you could help us out.'
'There isn't much water. I only just got through on my own. I doubt if we'd get anywhere at all with three on board. What kind of boat were your friends using?'
'A motor launch, painted brown. There were two men.'
'A launch couldn't get as far as this with the tide so low.' While he spoke mechanically, Roger's mind was working out his best course of action. 'The best landing place would be Fowley Rithe, over there.'
There was an unintelligible muttering between the two men. They seemed annoyed, especially the man who looked like Squalo. So far, the other man had done all the talking, keeping it smooth and polite, but a slight edge now began to appear in his voice.
'Can you take us to this landing place?'
'I'm afraid not. We'd have to go down the channel, then work back, and, as I said, there's not enough water for the dinghy with three of us aboard.'
There was another conference above, and then the man who looked like Squalo confirmed that identification, his voice unmistakeable as he addressed Roger directly for the first time.
'Do you know a boat called the Caliban?'
'I think I've seen it.'
'Tonight?' The question was peremptory.
'No. It's further down the channel than our boat.' Roger felt it would do no harm to indicate that he was not on his own.
'You don't know if it is still there?'
'No.' Roger considered that some resentment and impatience would be natural at this point. 'Look, I'd help you if I could, but there's nothing I can do. You'll have to wait until the tide rises, then your friends will be able to reach you.'
The men on the wall looked at each other for a moment, then the original spokesman took Squalo's arm and urged him away, saying, 'Thank you for your information. As you say, we will have to wait. If you should see our friends, please tell them we will be here for an hour longer.'
Considerably relieved, Roger lost no time in getting the boat to the water and on its way down the channel. The effect of the rising tide was already noticeable, and with more room to manoeuvre in, he made better headway than on the way up, despite the current against him. He found Peter snugly in his bunk, but the news that Squalo was about woke him up.
'A nasty situation. I'm glad it was you. I'd have made a mess of the job. What an incompetent bunch they are! They should have realised no one could get up here at full ebb.'
'I wonder where the launch is now.'
Peter chuckled. 'I had a thought about that. I reckon Tooley took it down to Marker Point and shoved it up the creek that runs near the south shore of Thorney Island. That would give him a mile to row back, which is reasonable with the tide helping him. As the water rose, it would push the launch further up the creek, away from the main channel, and away from Caliban and Miranda. It might even carry it across the Thorney Channel and bring it down from there at the next ebb.'
'Sounds a bit complicated.'
'It is. Remember, Tooley knows these waters inside out, and likes to use his knowledge. Doing what I've suggested, he uses the tide to move the launch for him, getting it away from his home ground with minimum effort.'
'Do you think the same applied in Carrington's case?'
'No, I don't. Carrington was shot, and that's a very different matter. A gun wouldn't be subtle enough for Tooley. I'm pretty sure he wore a gas mask when he went down into Caliban's cabin to get those men out. I reckon they'll wake up tomorrow with thick heads and otherwise none the worse.'
'I hope you're right. It's a pity we can't report Squalo's whereabouts.'
'Why not? That's a bit of news he knows already. It won't tell him anything.'
'It would link me with the radio, and that could cramp our style. Tooley may enjoy dealing with nocturnal visitors, but we haven't the equipment to imitate him with.'
Drowsily agreeing, Peter settled down in his bunk again, covering his head in a rather pointed way. Roger took the hint, and a few minutes later, the crew of the Carella were fast asleep.
They woke to a marked change in the weather. By mid-morning there were flurries of rain, and the wind was rising. Carella rocked gently at her moorings, making domestic chores more difficult, and Peter peered down the channel gloomily.
'Not ideal weather for messing around in boats. Let's hope nothing urgent crops up before the storms clear. I can just see Caliban and Miranda at their moorings. No sign of Tooley. Snug in his cabin, if he's got any sense.'
'Which cabin?' Roger, trying to brew coffee in difficult circumstances, was only making conversation. 'I can't see why he's got two boats, anyway.'
'I can.' Peter spoke confidently. 'Miranda is his home base, and Caliban's his office, or shop, or whatever he does business in. That's where he receives visitors. If they turn up in his absence, they get a nasty shock, and the buzzer in Miranda warns him.'
'You talk about his business. What do you think it is?'
'I thought that was fairly obvious, up to a point.' Peter seemed surprised at Roger's question.
'Of a kind, yes. Probably of a rather special kind. If he was running ordinary contraband, he wouldn't invite his customers aboard. They probably wouldn't even see him. A telephone call would tell them to pick up the goods from a suitably deserted stretch of shore, and to put the money somewhere else. I doubt if the goods would need a derrick to shift them, and if Tooley's don't, why did he go to Bosham?'
'Perhaps. I hope not, in a way. It doesn't seem to fit Tooley's personality. I feel I'm getting to know the man.'
Roger, having succeeded in making the coffee, tired of the discussion, which he said was pointless.
'Does it really matter what he's up to? Our original brief was to locate Tooley. By the time we'd done that, we had a murder on our hands, and now we've got two. Geoff obviously doesn't want to move in on Tooley yet. So what does he want us to do?'
'Haven't the least idea.' Peter shrugged his shoulders. 'Let's ask him. A trip to Portsmouth would be a change from stewing in here.'
A discreet radio call elicited an invitation to visit the temporary office again, but when they arrived Geoff was looking thoroughly frustrated and unable to offer any firm instructions or suggestions.
'We have a mass of bits and pieces that we can't assemble into a complete picture. They don't even tell us where we should look for more data. If we pry into Tooley's affairs too deeply, we may scare him off and find out nothing. However, I may as well bring you up to date with what has come in since we last talked.'
As Geoff has suspected, Ecclestone had written himself a letter giving details of his meeting with Squalo. The style of writing had been revealing, because it showed signs of a rather pedantic and unimaginative nature that had been brought into sudden contact with totally unfamiliar circumstances. Geoff said that the man sounded like an innocent.
'He certainly didn't think Tooley was doing anything illegal, and that, in the end, was what killed him. The letter made no mention of Tooley by name, but Ecclestone explained that their activities had to be kept secret, in the sense of business secrecy rather than national security. He suggested that Tooley might be willing to tell the police what he was doing. He was acting as Tooley's agent, but he wasn't very specific as to what that entailed, except that he had to meet people who wanted to be put in touch with Tooley.'
Geoff explained that this had led to the meeting with Squalo, who had made an appointment for the early hours of Friday morning.
'Although Squalo was among those who were not to be told where to find Tooley, Ecclestone felt he ought to see the man, if only to put him off. Squalo turned up with a couple of bodyguards, but there was no room for them in the dinghy, and he had to go out to the boat with Ecclestone alone. That seems to have upset him at the start, as he suspected a trap. Ecclestone judged it politic to offer him a drink as a conciliatory gesture, and that cooled the atmosphere a bit.'
Squalo had asked to be taken to see Tooley, and when Ecclestone refused, Squalo got more than a little excited. He offered Ecclestone financial inducements, and when that failed he produced a gun. That also failed to move Ecclestone, who pointed out that Squalo would not find it easy to row himself ashore, and would therefore be unwise to shoot his host.
'That could have been a bit of bravado in Ecclestone's letter.' Geoff was clearly unwilling to take the evidence at its face value. 'All the same, he must have coped with a difficult situation fairly well, up to that point. Then he made his fatal error, by threatening to tell the police about Squalo.'
Geoff laughed mirthlessly. 'You can imagine Squalo's reactions. He regarded this as a blow below the belt. He was also seriously alarmed, feeling that he had misjudged the situation in some way.'
The solution Squalo had adopted showed guile and a sound assessment of the psychology of the man he was dealing with. First, he asked Ecclestone to go outside and see if the coast was clear, no doubt taking the opportunity to plant the poison. Then he told Ecclestone he would be dead within a week. Geoff saw this as a very subtle move.
'It suggested that he had a few days grace, encouraging him to be a little careless meanwhile. When he wanted a drink, it didn't occur to him that it might be dangerous.'
'As simple as that.' Roger shook his head. 'Ecclestone scared Squalo, who therefore disposed of him. Nothing to do with Tooley, in a way. Certainly not much help to us.'
'Not directly.' Telling the story seemed to have revived Geoff's spirits, as if he had seen fresh implications. 'Consider the picture of Ecclestone which emerges from this, and compare it with our ideas about Tooley. Would the Tooley we know pick a man like Ecclestone as his agent? Wouldn't he want an experienced man who could look after himself? And how did Tooley explain he was Oliver Keston returned from the dead? Or did Ecclestone know he was alive all the time?'
'It doesn't fit.' Roger was feeling his way through confused thoughts. 'Unless... Look, suppose Tooley needed Ecclestone to take him over to Emsworth. He would have to spin him some tale to cover what he was doing, and it would be convenient to make it reasonably near the truth. But he never intended that Ecclestone should come into contact with people like Squalo. It could be that Squalo traced the connection between Ecclestone and Tooley in exactly the same way that we did, but got there earlier.'
'That's possible.' Geoff was interested, but not enthusiastic, and Peter jumped in.
'What interests me is that Tooley should be willing to reveal himself to Ecclestone. As you say, the fact that he was alive may have been known to Ecclestone before then. Now, Carrington went out of his way to say that Tooley was dead, though he really did no more than imply it. Was he in the know, too?'
This time, Geoff really did show interest. 'Ah! You're suggesting that the link between the two murders could be that both men knew that Keston was alive. Yes, that's worth looking at. Were they the only two? If not, we might be able to prevent other murders, though I think Carrington, like Ecclestone, rather asked for what he got.'
Referring to his papers, Geoff said that Carrington's movements had been traced to a useful extent.
'As I suggested, his car was found parked near a station, Portsmouth Town, to be exact. That made it comparatively easy to discover that a man of his size had travelled to Bosham on a Chichester ticket on Saturday evening.'
'He was following someone!' The prospect of progress made Peter break in, but Geoff smiled forgivingly.
'That would be my diagnosis. We have descriptions of two men who also left the train at Bosham. It could be either of them.'
'Anyone we know?' Roger was trying to keep cool.
'I can't tell you.' Geoff spoke smoothly, but Roger thought he detected a hint of evasion. 'All I know for certain is that the men were picked up by a lorry, which went off towards Bosham itself. Carrington followed on foot, after asking the times of the last trains. The next we know of him is your sighting of his corpse in the harbour.'
Peter was still eager. 'He followed the men, saw them landing cargo, and was shot to keep him quiet!'
'Most unlikely.' Geoff's comment was not unkind, but he obviously felt that Peter needed calming down. 'They wouldn't start loading cargo until later. To catch the last train, he would have had to leave the quay area by half past eleven, at the latest. We can assume he was dead by then.'
'Unless he was first prevented from catching the train, and shot later.' Roger, intrigued by the slight anomaly in Geoff's earlier statement, had decided to attack. 'Carrington was obviously snooping. He was probably shot because he saw too much. The question is, what did he see? Was it someone, or something? And didn't anyone hear the shot fired?'
'There may not have been much to hear.' Geoff was unperturbed by Roger's change of tactics. 'An air gun was used. However, we're getting away from the key point that Carrington was another innocent, like Ecclestone. The similarity may end there. For example, I doubt if Carrington even imagined he was working with Tooley, but he seems to have known what was going on, at least to some extent. Now, how can you explain a man like Tooley being mixed up with a couple of amateurs like Ecclestone and Carrington?'
'For all we know...' Peter hesitated, then decided to go on. 'Tooley may be an amateur, too. He isn't amateurish, but that doesn't prove anything. As I said, they may have been linked by a common interest, perhaps connected with Keston's disappearance.'
'I've been toying with the same thought.' The satisfaction in Geoff's voice was evident to Roger, if not to Peter. 'Although it seems unlikely, we'll have to bear it in mind. Now, I want to deal with a rather different matter. Your Carella has been extremely useful, essential, in fact, but she does have limitations. You need more speed. I doubt whether you'd be happy to venture too far from shore in bad weather. Do you agree?'
'Yes, I'm afraid I do.' Peter was downcast, perhaps mainly because he could see the rental money for the Carella being stopped prematurely. 'On the other hand, I'm not sure what we really need. Anything fast enough is liable to be uncomfortable and conspicuous.'
'What about the Congo Maiden?' There was a twinkle in Geoff's eyes. 'I understand that she's fast and seaworthy, and not too conspicuous. How would she suit?'
'Ideally.' Peter shrugged his shoulders. 'But boats like that don't grow on trees.'
'I made some enquiries.' Geoff's twinkle became a smile. 'The solicitors dealing with Ecclestone's estate would be willing to hire the boat out, providing proper insurance cover was arranged. It would be a help to them, because they've been asked to remove her from the Hard, where she's taking up too much space.'
'That's right!' The Inspector had arrived. 'She shouldn't have been there at all, really. Shall we get her moved right away, to work up an appetite?'
'Hang on.' Roger had objections to make, much to Peter's annoyance. 'Tooley knows the Congo Maiden. If he sees us aboard her, won't he smell a rat? And won't there be situations where she's too big, needing too much water?'
'You're quite right.' Geoff was still smiling quietly. 'But you could take a hint from Tooley, and use two boats, one to live on and one to work in. That was what I had in mind. If you have to chase him in Congo Maiden, there probably won't be much point in hiding your interest, and you'll be going where there's plenty of water. Satisfied? Then perhaps you'd better accept the Inspector's suggestion and set about moving her.'
'Not yet.' Peter was now completely happy. 'She'll only float for two hours either side of high tide, so we'll have to wait until a quarter to six. Besides, I'll need to look her over first, just to make sure everything's in good order.'
'Oh, well.' The Inspector sounded optimistic. 'Perhaps the weather will be better then.'
He was to be disappointed. By five, it was blowing half a gale, and rain squalls lashed down on them as they made their way out to the Congo Maiden in a borrowed dinghy. The Inspector looked as if he was regretting his offer to help. Peter would have liked to hurry back to Emsworth to make sure the Carella was safe, but the hire arrangement required that the boat should be moved to her regular moorings as soon as possible.
These moorings were in Weevil Lake, on the Gosport side of the harbour opposite the Hard. Reaching them in fine weather would have been no problem for anyone familiar with the route, but Peter was faced with the problems of handling an unfamiliar craft in unfamiliar waters in a fairly good imitation of a storm. He therefore checked Congo Maiden over very carefully, and though he expressed satisfaction with what he found, he added a gloomy rider.
'She could be a bit of a handful in confined spaces, especially as I don't know her special tricks. Still, I've got to learn them sooner or later, so I may as well start now.'
In the event, the big boat behaved very well, responding to his wishes promptly and accurately. There were a few anxious moments as he felt his way into the Lake, but he found the moorings without difficulty, and they were soon ready to make the short crossing to the shore in the dinghy. That was where their troubles really began.
To begin with, the dinghy was quite small. Ecclestone had considered that it would only take Squalo and himself, but that could have been an excuse to leave the bodyguards behind. There were now three men who wanted to use it, and as Peter rather rudely pointed out, the Inspector really counted as one and a half. The comment brought a dignified rejoinder.
'I may be a bit oversize, but you two shrimps balance that. If we play safe and take two trips, we're going to be messing around for ages. I vote we go together. Can we all swim?'
They set off cautiously, trying to preserve the inch or so of freeboard that lay between them and disaster. Oars were manipulated with anxious care to maintain the delicate balance, and they kept an eye open for small waves, which could have swamped them in no time.
These precautions brought them to within a few feet of the landing place without actual catastrophe, though the Inspector had been kept busy baling out the water that slopped inboard from time to time. Just when they thought they were home and more or less dry, a grating noise announced that they had grounded. Poking cautiously at the obstruction with an oar, Peter announced that they were stuck on a wall.
'That's what it feels like, anyway. Well, we can sit here and hope that the tide lifts us off, which is doubtful, because it may not rise any more, or we can risk trying to rock ourselves clear. Unless, of course, someone volunteers to paddle.'
The Inspector grunted. 'Don't look at me like that! From what I remember, there might not be much foothold. Look, pass me the oars.'
Moving with due caution, he pushed the oars down into the water on either side of the dinghy, probing for contact with the wall. When he had the oars in position, he shoved hard on both of them at once. The grating noise was repeated, and then they were afloat again, but only just, for water had flooded over the stern as they had slid clear.
After that, it was every man for himself. Peter grabbed one oar and impelled the boat towards safety. Roger, nearest to the landing, scrambled ashore as soon as he could find anything to hang on to, and the Inspector could only sit and pray.
In the end, they got themselves and the dinghy ashore without serious damage, damp but not soaked, and able to see the funny side of the matter. Leaving the dinghy in a nearby hut, they made their way to the Gosport ferry, still laughing over their adventure, but well aware that they had been luckier than they deserved.
When they got back to the Carella, which had ridden the storm quite safely, Roger and Peter agreed that a quiet evening in the snug cabin was indicated. The wind had dropped, but the rain was falling with a steady persistence that discouraged outdoor activities. Tooley's boats were still at their moorings downstream, and an occasional glance would suffice to check their continued presence.
Having nothing better to do, they discussed the best way to bring the Congo Maiden into use, a subject which provided plenty of material for argument. She must obviously be brought nearer to the Carella, but not so near that Tooley might become aware of a connection between the two boats. The discussion had become mildly heated when Roger decided that it might be wiser to drop the matter. He got up to look down the channel, then ducked back into the cockpit hastily.
'Dinghy coming up. Looks like Tooley.'
Peter cautiously peered out into the gathering dusk and confirmed the identification.
'Going ashore, by the look of it. Blast him. I suppose we ought to follow. At least the rain has eased off.'
Pausing in the act of unhitching the dinghy, he said it would be worth refitting the outboard, which had been stowed in the cabin to protect it from the weather. Since the tide was still fairly high, they were able to take a wide sweep up Fowley Rithe and then run parallel to the shore, reaching the quay ahead of Tooley, who was still rowing up the main channel.
The rain was still heavy enough to give them an excuse to hurry across the quay and seek shelter in the buildings beyond, where they waited in shadow for Tooley to appear. When he did, he headed straight up the main street, the others following at a discreet distance. Despite the rain, they were glad to have something positive to do, and they were even happier when Tooley led the way into the hospitable bar of the Crown, where all three were soon sipping stiff drinks calculated to dispel the effects of the damp chill outside. Nor were they unduly perturbed when Tooley wandered in their direction with a friendly grin on his face.
'More benighted sailors? I thought I saw you down the channel the other day. Not the best weather for the likes of us, is it?'
Within a few minutes, they were chattering away like old friends. Though Tooley had seen both Roger and Peter in the past, he was unlikely to recognise them, clad as they were in a miscellany of very casual garments. That he had recognised them as the crew of the Carella was unimportant, and Peter chose to introduce Roger and himself in those terms. Tooley blandly reciprocated by saying he was Robert Armin, of the Miranda, which was nearly too much for Roger's discretion, inducing him to murmur, 'If you have put the wild waters in this roar, allay them!'
Tooley gave him a sharp glance, and then laughed.
'Well, well! A fellow student of the Bard! Miranda's opening speech from the Tempest, an' I mistake me not, suitably adapted to th'occasion. Well said, sir!'
Hastening to deny any specialised knowledge of Shakespeare, Roger claimed to have remembered the words from his schooldays. Tooley seemed satisfied by this explanation, and became more talkative than ever. Then he paused, as if a thought had struck him, and he put a question with a smile, that looked a trifle forced.
'If you know Miranda and the Tempest, you may have noticed an amusing coincidence hereabouts. Have you?'
Roger chose the bold course. 'We saw a Caliban down the channel the other day. I hope you're keeping Miranda well clear. I seem to remember she had trouble with him.'
'How true!' Tooley's smile was not quite easy yet. 'As a matter of fact, they aren't all that far apart. I'll have to bear your warning in mind. Remember, though, that Miranda was protected by Prospero's magic.'
Looking surprised, Roger chuckled. 'I didn't realise there was a Prospero around as well. That seems more than mere coincidence.'
Tooley now showed clear signs that he was regretting having taken the joke so far, and Roger remembered the Inspector saying that Keston had sometimes failed to realise where his sense of humour was taking him. However, Tooley managed a grin and said that Prospero's magic worked at long range, a point which Roger duly noted.
Feeling that they would all welcome a change of subject, Peter began a discussion of the navigation problems in Spithead and adjacent waters, and all three joined in, even Roger, who was beginning to work up a growing interest in such matters.
So it fell out that after closing time Roger and Peter found themselves strolling down to the quay in Tooley's company, thankful that the rain had almost stopped. They had enjoyed the evening, not least because of the titillation of fraternising with the enemy, but they felt that they had found out little of practical value.
As they came to the quay, Peter saw a fleeting beam of light glance across the glistening cobblestones, and instinctively stepped back a pace. The others took two paces forward and then stopped, looking towards the source of the light. Peter merged himself into the shadows and awaited events.
The silvery torch beam moved to shine directly at his companions, and from somewhere nearby a familiar voice, which a boy from the Midlands had mistakenly thought to be of West Indian origin, spoke in tones of considerable satisfaction.
'How interesting! How interesting to find you together! I wondered, when I spoke to you the other evening, whether you had any connection with the gentleman at your side. My secretary thought otherwise. Clearly, he was wrong. Tonight, the tide is high, and you have no excuses. We will go to the Caliban. Whether we all come back depends on whether you are sensible. Shall we go?'
Chapters | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |
| The Fiction of Don Thomasson |
|© Keith Thomasson February 11th 2002|