The Fiction of Don Thomasson
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| The Fiction of Don Thomasson |
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As the boys scrambled aboard the Carella, the three men looked at each other in dismay. Caliban's unexpectedly early return threw the whole time table out of joint. Tooley's statement that he would be away two days might be explained if he went off again in the morning, but it looked as if no cargo would be landed that night. Forgetting the presence of the boys, Geoff discussed this with the others, trying to decide on the right strategy. All three were startled when Sam spoke up, in unusually diffident tones.
'It's nearly dark, now. There wouldn't have been all that much light when Caliban left West Thorney. That would have been about half an hour ago, if he came directly.'
Geoff looked at the boy thoughtfully. 'So?'
'Well, if the cargo could be made waterproof, and left floating or even sunk, it could be picked up later, couldn't it?'
After a brief silence, Geoff laughed. 'How true! Roger. Tell me this. Remember what happened at Bosham. Remember that a police Inspector visited Caliban this afternoon, not to mention a casual passer-by who took an interest in the boat. If you were Tooley, what would you do?'
'Run for the high hills, probably.'
'Quite. Well, he may be doing just that, in his own terms. The method of landing cargo which he used at Bosham was risky enough, because the cargo went inland while he was still lying at the quay. At West Thorney, the risk would be even greater, because the cargo had to pass through a restricted area. Perhaps he decided to get out before any trouble could start.'
'Would that be any help?' Roger frowned. 'The police know he was at West Thorney, and it wouldn't take them long to find Caliban.'
Peter laughed. 'So Dick Burbadge disappears, and Robert Armin takes cover on the Miranda.'
'But does he stay there?' Sam had dared to pipe up again. 'He could get right away from here until things quieten down.'
Holding up his hand, Geoff said that guessing might be dangerous.
'Since you boys have obviously heard a good deal about this business, there's not much harm in your hearing more. You seem to have some bright ideas, and that might be useful. Tooley said he would be away on business for two days. We assumed that he meant to go off in Caliban for that time. He also said he would be going out in Miranda on Friday, coming back on Saturday. We therefore planned to follow him, using Congo Maiden.'
Wagging a monitory finger, Geoff said that the situation had now changed.
'The assumptions we made may not be valid now. We can't be sure what he's going to do. He may go off in Miranda tomorrow, a day early. He may go out in Caliban again. That means we have to be flexible and organise ourselves to meet either possibility. Unless someone has a crystal ball.'
Sam opened his mouth, shut it again, then plucked up courage to speak. 'Would it be all right if we went down and asked him what he was going to do? We could say we were looking for a mooring for a friend of ours.'
It was Geoff's turn to open his mouth without saying anything. Then he laughed. 'I must admit that such a direct approach hadn't occurred to me. Well, why not? What do you think, Roger?'
'There's only one point.' Roger was smiling. 'Whatever he does, Tooley will probably spend the night on the Miranda, as Robert Armin. That's the personality the boys know. If they approached Dick Burbadge, on the Caliban, it would rather give the game away.'
Not having heard the names before, Sam looked rather mystified, but Ted, who had been staring down the channel for some time, said there might be a better solution.
'Someone went from Caliban to Miranda just now, and I think he's getting back into the dinghy. If he's going ashore, we could meet him on the quay. Then it wouldn't matter which name he was using.'
Geoff moved towards the cabin. 'He mustn't see me.'
Sam, on the other hand, was moving the launch round to the blind side of Carella, away from the fairway, speaking rather severely meanwhile.
'Come on. If we don't get away quickly, he'll see us, and he may guess what's going on.'
Under his determined direction, the whole party transferred to the launch and were whisked off towards Emsworth, though Sam ran on part throttle to minimise the sound of the engine. At the quay, he took charge again.
'You get out of sight and leave this to us. Look, go to that house over there. That's where I live. Tell them I sent you.'
Rather to the amusement of Roger and Peter, Geoff seemed to accept this suggestion quite meekly, and they were soon sitting in a darkened lounge with Sam's parents, watching the boys wait for Tooley. Sam's father chuckled happily. 'Sam can be a bossy little beggar, but I'm proud of the way his mind works. I hope he's been making himself useful.'
'Very useful indeed.' Geoff echoed the chuckle. 'If he comes to me in a few years time, I might be able to offer him a job. No doubt you've got plans of your own for him, though.'
'We don't make plans for Sam. It would be a waste of time.'
A few minutes later, Sam and Ted came into the house, having met Tooley and exchanged a few words with him. Sam announced that the Miranda was sailing early in the morning.
'I don't think he was suspicious, but he did seem a bit different from the other night. Perhaps he was the other man, this time.'
This cryptic remark was not allowed to pass unnoticed, and Geoff saw no reason for keeping the story from Sam's parents, who were glad to know what was happening. Sam waited rather impatiently while Geoff was talking, and then asked what action was going to be taken.
'It wouldn't be much good to follow him in Carella, and then change boats. That might give him time to get away.'
Peter acknowledged this. 'I suppose we'll have to move to Congo Maiden, taking the radio with us, and stand by until we hear that Caliban's on the move.'
'That might not work.' Sam was still dominant. 'You might take too long getting out of Mill Rithe. There's no more than four feet least water at the entrance, and you'd have to take it slowly, especially in the dark. It would be better to wait somewhere near Black Point.'
'Can't be done.' Peter spoke gently. 'We'd need a continuous watch, away from the moorings, and that isn't on, with just the two of us.'
'You'll need a continuous watch anyway, to listen for the radio call.' There was an almost plaintive note in Sam's voice, and Roger suddenly realised where his argument was leading. 'You need a crew of four for the chase, too. He'll be on his own, but if he anchors anywhere to sleep you'll still have to keep watch, because you won't know when he's going to move off again. We'd better come and give you a hand.'
Though taken aback by this suggestion, Geoff managed to speak as gently as Peter had done.
'That's a generous offer, Sam, but I doubt if your parents would be too happy if we accepted it.'
Father and son looked at each other for a long moment, then the father looked at Ted. Getting up, he excused himself and left the room, carefully closing the door behind him. When he came back, he looked at Geoff with a serious expression.
'Would the boys be a help to you if they came?'
Geoff looked at Peter, who said that their help would be invaluable.
Sam's father nodded.
'Then they'd better go. I rang Ted's father, and he agrees with me. They're likely to get themselves into worse scrapes if we stop them going.'
After that, all was bustle and scurry, as the boys collected kit and provisions, but Sam's father had a quiet word with Geoff in the midst of the confusion.
'You may be surprised at our attitude, Mr Farnfield, but I think it would be wrong to cosset the boys too much. They're a perfect pair, because Sam provides the drive and Ted steadies him up. I only wish I could go along myself. You see, I knew about the Kestons and their problems, through family connections. Mrs Keston was a cousin of mine, and I feel we may not have helped her as much as we should.'
When Geoff told Peter and Roger about this, later on, he was surprised by their laughter, until Roger said, 'We said there was a similarity between Tooley and Sam. That explains it.'
By the time Carella was ready to leave for Mill Rithe, Tooley was back aboard the Miranda, so Peter crept down the channel very quietly, the engine barely ticking over fast enough to make the helm effective.
Aided by Sam's night vision, the entry to Mill Rithe passed off smoothly, and then came the tricky business of clearing Congo Maiden from her moorings and putting Carella in her place. Roger was thankful the boys were there, as he would have found it almost impossible to moor Carella single-handed. Wondering why Peter had failed to anticipate the problem, he began to suspect that his colleague's seamanship might be more limited than it had appeared.
In due course, however, Congo Maiden was anchored off the entrance to Mengham Rithe, not far from the harbour entrance, and the vigil began.
Sam had settled the watch system in his usual forthright way, by saying that he would pair with Roger and Ted would pair with Peter, thus tactfully indicating that he was aware of Roger's lack of experience. He and Roger took first watch, while the others settled down in the cabin to snatch four hours sleep. This allowed Sam to finish the task of re-installing the police radio from Carella, in which process he displayed yet another aspect of his precocious abilities. Roger watched the confident progress of the work with awed respect, quite content to be relegated to the role of unskilled assistant.
It was a still night, with just an occasional breath of wind, warm and a little sultry, but Sam said there might be bad weather on the way. It was so quiet that distant noises seemed startlingly loud. Overhead, a blanket of cloud hid the stars, but all around them lay a ring of lights from sailing marks and houses ashore, broken only at the harbour entrance. Nearer at hand, the water was a pattern of rippling reflections continuously in motion, creating an almost hypnotic effect.
When Sam was satisfied with his work, he and Roger settled down to wait, and the world seemed to wait with them. The radio, on listening watch, hissed gently, a disembodied voice sounding faintly now and then. After some time, Roger put a soft question.
'Do you think he'll come down before dawn?'
Sam, who had been comfortably curled up in a corner of the cockpit, uncurled and stretched in one sinuously economical movement.
'It's early yet. Low tide in three quarters of an hour. If he knows the channel well he could make it with less water, but with that shoal on the leading line it would be better to wait.'
Roger felt that Tooley, who certainly knew the channel well enough, might choose the most difficult time if he wanted to make a discreet exit, and that would put the crew of the Congo Maiden in the position of either taking the risk of following him or the risk of losing him. When Roger put this point, Sam seemed undismayed.
'We could watch him and copy his course. If we grounded, it wouldn't be for long. The flood would lift us off.'
Staring into the night, Roger reflected that life on land would seem comparatively simple in future.
The wind seemed to be rising a little, and Sam said it would rain soon, probably just before dawn. The first drops duly fell as the eastern sky began to lighten, and Peter and Ted, emerging to take over the watch, said it was most unfair after the others had enjoyed a dry night. Sam was more concerned with the possibility that the rain might later fall heavily enough to mask Miranda if she came down the far side of the channel, but Peter thought that was unlikely once the light improved.
The radio came to life with a call from Geoff, worried about the change in the weather.
'I tried to lay on a helicopter to give you a hand, but that may be ruled out by low cloud. You'll probably have to manage on your own.'
'We'll do our best.' Peter was doggedly cheerful. 'No sign of him moving, I suppose?'
'Not as yet. We've got a man watching from Thorney. You shall know as soon as Miranda moves.'
Those aboard the Congo Maiden tried to settle down again, but the lack of news made them restless, except for Sam, who slept on soundly.
Soon after five, Geoff reported that Miranda was on her way. Peter immediately started the engines to warm them up, and the noise woke Sam, who came into the cockpit looking as if he disapproved.
'Don't make too much noise. If we keep quiet, he isn't likely to notice us, but we're in clear view if anything attracts his attention.'
Peter throttled back reluctantly, knowing Sam was right, though he would have preferred to have the engines well warmed and settled down before tackling the entrance channel. All eyes turned to the north, but several minutes passed before Miranda loomed up out of the curtain of driving rain. It seemed that Tooley was in no great hurry, for he was cruising gently on the auxiliary, with all sails furled.
When she had passed, they began to edge out into the channel, but had to hang back a little, for Tooley was keeping a lookout astern towards the leading marks. When Miranda was almost out of sight in the misty rain, Peter headed for the entrance.
'How much water?' The question was addressed to Sam, who was watching the automatic sounder, a rather more luxurious instrument than the simple one on Carella.
'Plenty. Three fathoms and more. There should be at least seven feet over the bar if you keep well over to starboard.'
Peter smiled at the precise tones, but he was obviously glad to have Sam's help.
The tide was at mid-flood, and water was rushing in from the sea at an astonishing rate. With ample power available that was no problem in itself, but Peter had to be alert for changes in the direction of the current which might take them off course. Miranda was just visible ahead, a mere ghost half hidden in the murk, and Roger began to see the difficulties of the chase more clearly.
'How the heck do we keep track of him without letting him know we're doing it?'
Peter hesitated before answering. 'We can only keep him in sight and hope that he thinks we just happen to be going the same way.'
Almost as soon as he was clear of the channel, Tooley began to set his sails, still holding a southerly course. Sam thought he was making for the Nab Tower, and would set another course from there. Peter agreed, and opened the throttles a little with a view to reaching the Nab Tower first, on a course well to the east of Miranda. The rain had eased, but the wind was rising and a considerable chop was building up. Congo Maiden rode the sea well, and Peter expressed his approval.
'She's honest. I can't explain that properly, Roger, but it means that she's doing a good job of work. Nothing flashy, just effective. I wish I could buy her, but she would cost a lot more than I'll ever be able to afford.'
When they came within sight of the squat Nab Tower, standing in splendid isolation eight miles south of the Chichester Harbour entrance, there was no sign of the Miranda. Everyone scanned the heaving seas anxiously, but Sam was confident that Tooley would show up soon. They could see perhaps a mile in all directions now, but the nearest land was the Isle of Wight, five miles to the west, and that left a lot of room for a sailing boat to slip through unseen.
'He won't pass to the east of the Nab Tower.' Sam was thinking aloud. 'He would have ample water at this state of the tide, but it's almost a habit to stick to the regular channels. Besides, it could be a bit uncomfortable over the shoals in this chap.'
Without comment, Peter turned on to a westward course. If Sam was right, this would extend the useful field of view. After a few minutes, however, with the Tower fading away astern and no compensating glimpse of land ahead, Peter showed signs of uncertainty. Then Ted gave a delighted yell, his voice betraying an innocent satisfaction at having beaten Sam to the punch for once.
'There she is! North east of us, heading south west.'
Miranda was proceeding with majestic grace under as much sail as was advisable in the prevailing conditions, and perhaps a bit more. Peter swung the wheel to come on to a parallel course some way ahead of the other boat, and checked his compass reading. Then, rather hunched over the wheel, he grunted a question.
'What now, Mr Navigator?'
Blushing faintly at this complimentary form of address, but not unwilling to accept the implied responsibility, Sam studied the chart.
'On that course, he should pass about eight miles south of St Catherine's Point in about an hour and a half from now. I think it would be safe to go ahead and wait for him there. I doubt if he'll change course any earlier, though if he's bound for a port on this side of the channel he might be a couple of miles further inshore at St Catherine's.'
Once again, Peter made no comment, merely opening up the engines to put Sam's suggestion into effect. In the background, Roger suddenly understood what was happening. Out here in the open sea in a strange boat in slightly hostile conditions, Peter had lost confidence. While relying entirely on Sam's judgement, he couldn't bring himself to admit the fact openly.
Somewhat alarmed, Roger tried to think of a way to make Peter forget his worries, but then he noticed that Sam was looking at Peter thoughtfully. After a while, the boy began to talk softly, almost to himself.
'On her present course, Miranda would end up in the Channel Isles, about ninety miles away. Four and a half hours for us, perhaps twice that for Miranda in these conditions.'
Peter opened his mouth as if to speak, and Sam paused, but when no words came he went on talking quietly.
'I think the Channel Islands look the most likely. He might go further down the French coast, but that would be a long run, more than the day and a half he mentioned.'
Satisfied that Peter was being given the best possible treatment, Roger slipped below to glance at some charts of the Channel Islands which he had noticed earlier. Then he called Geoff by radio to tell him of Sam's ideas. Geoff was very interested, and promised to call back in an hour's time. Going back on deck, Roger found that Sam was still talking with a quiet soothing persistence.
'I'd like to go to the Channel Islands again. We went there on holiday once. It's a fine place for sailing.'
Quite suddenly, Peter straightened up and put out his arm to pat Sam on the shoulder, without looking at him.
'Thanks, Sam. You're invaluable. And thanks for not saying outright that I'd panicked. I'm all right now. So we wait six miles south of St Catherines.'
Smiling quietly, Sam said it was almost time to change watch, and Peter nodded.
'I could do with some coffee. Perhaps Roger could take the wheel, or does Ted want a turn?'
Ted, however, was already busy at the galley stove preparing a belated breakfast, so Roger took Peter's place at the wheel for the time being. Though he felt quite happy with his task, he suspected that it was the happiness of ignorance. If he had known more about the sea and about boats, he might have felt differently. As it was, he settled down to match compass readings and set course without a qualm, keeping a wary eye on the time.
The air was clearing, and the coast was visible as a shadowy outline to the north, so he could compare its features with the chart, and he saw quite soon that they were approaching St Catherine's Point. Looking round, he was surprised to find that he was alone on deck, even Sam having gone below to eat. Feeling that it was nice to know that the others had such confidence in him, he pulled the throttles back slowly and began to steer in wide circles to await Miranda's arrival. Sam came up from the cabin bearing a mug of coffee and took in the position with a comprehensive glance round. Apparently satisfied with what he saw, he handed Roger the coffee and disappeared below again.
The wind seemed to be increasing, and Roger wondered how Tooley was coping in the Miranda. Single-handed sailing round the world was almost commonplace now, but managing an ordinary yacht single-handed in rough weather not far from shore might be a different matter.
Before long, he had evidence that Tooley was no fair weather sailor, for Miranda came spanking up out of the misty distance at a fine pace, running across the wind and a little into it. The run to St Catherine's Point had been completed in a time well within Sam's estimate, and the course was still south westerly.
Roger's call brought the others out to see Miranda pass. Peter seemed fully recovered, and he chuckled when he noticed that Roger was holding a reciprocal course to the Miranda, going to meet her so that any suspicion of a chase would be minimised.
'Crafty. We can't go on doing that, though. It would become obvious after a time. Well, Sam, it does look like the Channel Isles, unless there's a meeting on the high seas.'
'That's still possible.' Sam spread the charts out. 'I don't think it's likely, though. Meetings at sea are difficult, even in calm clear weather. If there is a meeting, I think it would be within sight of land.'
Roger, relieved at the wheel by Ted, was beginning to wonder what had happened to Geoff's promised radio call. Without alternative instructions, they might have to shadow Miranda for another eight hours or so, and he had no relish for that. Peter agreed with him.
'We're almost certain to give ourselves away if we stay near him as long as that. I'd prefer to go ahead and wait for him. Then we could come out again to watch him arrive. That would at least give us a break.'
'It would be risky.' Sam was polite but firm. 'The Channel Isles are scattered, not grouped together like the Scillies. Alderney's ten miles off the Cherbourg peninsula, and Guernsey's more than twenty-five. Those two islands are twenty miles apart. Even if we knew where to look, it could take more than an hour to get to the place from Guernsey, running flat out.'
The decision was finally made by the arrival of the overdue radio call. Geoff's voice was faint, but his instructions were precise.
'Head for Guernsey and pick up further instructions there. You'll be met at St Peter's Port. Have a good trip.'
Roger acknowledged this, and asked if any cargo had been intercepted yet. Geoff said nothing had happened so far.
'We're still standing by. The cargo's there. Sam was right with his suggestion that it had been left, but it hasn't been picked up yet.'
Sam was glad to hear this, and accepted defeat over their immediate tactics with good grace. Though forceful by nature, he understood clear-cut orders and was prepared to obey them. Congo Maiden was worked up to a high cruising speed, and the spirits of her crew began to rise.
By the time they reached St Peter's Port, at around eleven o'clock, the wind had dropped to a comfortable level, and the rain had cleared away miraculously, leaving behind blue skies and bright sunshine. The crossing had been uneventful, though Peter had been glad to get a distant view of Alderney to check his course during the final stages of the trip.
A reception committee was waiting, in the form of a youngish man and his attractive wife, both clad informally in holiday dress. The man explained that Geoff had been in touch with them by telephone.
'He wasn't supposed to know where we were, but Pat said he'd be sure to find out if he wanted to - by the way, my name's Jimmy - and, of course, he did. She's usually right, I regret to say. Shall we talk ashore, or on board?'
The boat seemed a more discreet location for this purpose, and they gathered round the cabin table to hear what Jimmy had to tell them.
The situation seemed to amuse him.
'You probably know how much Geoff enjoys asking difficult questions. First he asked me to fix up radar cover, which wasn't much of a problem. All the coast stations and cross-channel ferries will be looking out for a boat coming from the north east, and that's how I knew when to expect you. If you want to go out and meet your man you'll have plenty of warning, but I don't think you'll have to go far.
'The second question was supposed to be the real stinker. Could I find out if there was anyone in the Channel Isles called Martin Swanson? I was to tell you that he was a Merchant Navy man with a big black beard. Ah! I see you recognise the description. The name staggered me so much that I had to repeat the question, and then Pat started laughing.'
'Jimmy isn't being very fair.' Pat dug her husband in the ribs reprovingly. 'You see, asking anyone here if they know Martin Swanson is rather like asking villagers if they know the Squire.'
'Well put, as usual.' Jimmy grinned unrepentantly. 'Swanson is quite a character. We got to know him on our second day here, and he's helped to make our holiday a success. Big man, with big ideas, a big beard, and a smashing boat.'
'Called the Prospero?'
Roger had put the question in the hope and expectation of surprising their new colleague, but Jimmy looked completely blank. Pat, on the other hand, began to chuckle.
'Well, yes, in a way. I seem to recall that Prospero was the rightful Duke of Milan, wasn't he?'
Jimmy laughed. 'I never did like crossword puzzles. Yes, Swanson's boat is the Duke of Milan. That big one over there, in fact.'
Looking across the harbour at a magnificent white yacht, Peter and Roger exchanged surprised glances. This was rather different from the boat they had visualised. For one thing, it was too big to go anywhere without attracting admiring attention. Sensing their surprise, Jimmy said he was rather out of the picture.
'I answered a couple of Geoff's questions, and set up one or two things at his request, but he didn't tell me what it was all about.'
Telling him the story, even in outline, took some time, but he and his wife listened with great interest, and it was Pat who made the first comment when the tale had been told.
'You don't think Miranda would come into the harbour here to do business, and I'm inclined to agree. Jimmy, hasn't Martin Swanson got another boat, a smaller one? That might be Prospero.'
'It might, indeed. I believe he mentioned something of the sort the other day. You're probably right. You usually are. Almost as bad as Geoff.'
'I'll go and enquire.' Pat ruffled her husband's hair in passing. 'Shan't be long.'
'OK. If you should see Sandy or Simon, get them to pass on any urgent messages, will you?'
Peter shook his head in bewilderment. 'What is this? Geoff's Channel Islands branch?'
Laughing, Jimmy explained that they were not regular members of Geoff's staff, but were always willing to give him a hand in case of need, even if they were on holiday.
'Our approach may be a bit casual and informal, which worries him at times, but if he wants our help he has to put up with that. Pat was on the department strength when I met her, so you can be sure she'll do a good job.'
Some minutes later, a fair-haired man strolled past and waved a casual hand to Jimmy. Pausing briefly above Congo Maiden's cockpit, he said that 'the subject' had been located fifty miles away on a heading which would take him south of Alderney and then between Guernsey and Sark. Having passed this message, the man strolled on as if he was entirely at leisure.
Roger and Peter were deeply impressed by the easy-going efficiency of their temporary colleagues, but Sam was more concerned with checking courses and distances. Working at the chart table, he said that they had three hours, at the most, in which to find Prospero.
'Miranda could get here by then, but it's more likely that Prospero will go out and meet her earlier. If they met midway, it would take us more than an hour to reach the meeting place. Shouldn't we make a start?'
Jimmy chuckled. 'Don't worry. At that rate, you should have plenty of time in hand.'
Before Sam could work this out, a girl who bore a strong family resemblance to the fair-haired man was looking down at the from the quay. She gave them all a friendly smile.
'Pat asked me to tell you that Martin Swanson went out in a sailing boat called the Prospero at about half past ten this morning. She's trying to find out where he is now. It shouldn't take long.'
'Thank you, Susan. Tell the others we'll see them at lunch.'
Jimmy turned to the crew of the Congo Maiden, who were beginning to feel slightly dazed by the rapid sequence of events. 'You'd better eat while you've got the chance. You never know in this game. It might be some hours before you have time for another meal. Now, while we wait for this last bit of information from Pat, is there anything else I can do for you?'
Roger laughed a little helplessly. 'I'm out of breath trying to keep up with what you've done already. You seem to have covered everything, except telling us what Squalo's up to, and things like that.'
'Squalo! I didn't realise he was involved.' Jimmy sat on the edge of the cockpit, suddenly alert.
'Sorry. I forgot we only gave you an outline. Squalo tried to attack Miranda's skipper at least twice, and came off worst both times. We've never really found out what he was trying to do.'
'This man Tooley can certainly look after himself.'
'We gave him a hand on the second occasion.'
'You did? No wonder Geoff said this was a complicated business. The relevant point, however, is that I saw one of Squalo's men here the other day, a nasty little man called Wedge, who goes about in a speedboat that's almost as nasty as he is. I believe it's called the Arabella, which is an appropriately nasty name, in my personal opinion. I wonder if he's here to keep an eye on Swanson.'
Before they could digest this information properly, Pat returned looking rather dissatisfied.
'Prospero seems to be going round and round Sark, as if Swanson's just idling about. I suppose he's waiting for Miranda.'
Making a dive for the charts, Sam studied them for a few moments, then yelled, 'That's it! Miranda lost time on the crossing, because of the weather, and she's late for the meeting. If we go now, we could just...'
He broke off, realising that Jimmy was looking at him with a kindly smile that expressed admiration for his enthusiasm but none for his strategy. After a pause, the boy faced Jimmy with an air of sheepish challenge.
'Well, what would you do?'
'Eat.' Jimmy laughed. 'Those boats are being watched by radar and telescope wherever they go, and they haven't a chance of finding out they're being watched. If you go out and butt in, you probably won't find out anything useful, but you may warn them that we're taking an interest in their movements. Why not come and have lunch with me at the hotel and relax for a while?'
As they strolled towards the town, Roger found himself beside Peter and a little separated from the others. He glanced at his companion and murmured, 'Are you feeling rather amateurish? I am.'
'Very.' Peter seemed cheerful enough, but he was also subdued. 'I don't know who this lot are, but they're good, very good indeed. Geoff must keep them for special work. I've sometimes wondered what would happen if Geoff retired. There didn't seem to be anyone to take his place. Now, I think I see the answer.'
They strolled on, thinking about the odd mixture of coolness and speed that characterised Jimmy's approach to the job, and wondering what it would be like to work under his direction. He certainly provided them with an excellent meal, and after it they all relaxed in the sunshine. The two boys were delighted to realise that the fair haired young man was a racing driver they knew well by name, while his brother-in-law was a computer scientist. Roger and Peter chatted to the two girls, Jimmy having departed to get the latest news. He returned looking thoroughly relaxed.
'All's well. The two boats have met and are now anchored in a secluded cove on the north side of the island. Swanson and Tooley have gone ashore, probably to have a talk over a meal. I don't think they'll hurry themselves unduly. Now then, young Sam, what do you think they'll do after that?'
Sam, who had been showing uncharacteristic respect for Jimmy, despite the comparatively casual way Jimmy was treating him, gave the matter careful consideration.
'If he's picking up cargo here, he'll want to get back to the harbour entrance around high water. Allowing nine hours for the trip, he could leave an hour or so after midnight or after lunch tomorrow. It's a bit late to load up by midnight, unless he hurries, and he'll need some rest.'
'So you think he'll go tomorrow afternoon.' Jimmy was stretched at full length in a lounge chair, but his voice was brisk. 'Of course, he might stay longer.'
Peter said, rather doubtfully, that Tooley had originally spoken of being back on Saturday evening, perhaps rather late, but he had started a day early, so that might not mean much.
'The reason for the early start may be significant.' Jimmy opened one eye to look at Peter thoughtfully. 'I can scarcely believe he made the trip just to see Swanson. That would surely have been a waste of effort. They must have used the telephone to arrange the revised programme, and with reasonable caution they could discuss their business quite freely.'
Roger stirred uneasily, feeling that he could only offer vague surmise where Jimmy wanted facts.
'We thought he might be coming over to pick up cargo, but the reason for the early start may have been something quite different. The pace was hotting up, and he may have felt safer out of the way.'
'That wouldn't make sense.' Jimmy's incisive tones were in no way insulting, because he coupled them with a smile. 'Why run away if you have to go back? I'm more inclined to think that he did a good bit of trading and ran out of stock. That still doesn't tell us what to do next. I gather you have no particular plans.'
'Not really.' Roger felt that frankness was essential. 'We've achieved what we set out to do. We've found Prospero, though you really did that for us. We have fairly strong evidence that Martin Swanson is Simon Keston, Tooley's father. Geoff might think that was enough.'
'Geoff isn't usually so easy to satisfy.' Jimmy grinned. 'I don't know what his real objectives are, and I don't suppose you do, either. He keeps that sort of thing very much to himself. In my opinion, though, you need to take back more than you've got.'
'What else could we get?' Roger felt much as he imagined Sam had felt earlier, when he had been forced to ask for Jimmy's advice, but it was impossible to resent the necessity.
'You might get lots of things.' Jimmy's smile became serene. 'You know Tooley, we know Swanson. If we all piled into a boat - yours, if you like - and called on them, they might give us some answers.'
'That might upset Geoff's plans.' Pat spoke reprovingly. 'You ought to have a word with him first.'
'Oh, I will.' Jimmy stood up in a single rippling movement and turned to Peter and Roger. 'Want to talk to him yourselves? No? Then I'll see what he thinks.'
When he had gone, Pat sighed. 'Jimmy always wants to take charge. I hope you don't mind too much. Geoff has an awful time with him, and says that Jimmy is responsible for most of his grey hairs.'
That set the holiday party talking about their past adventures while the crew of the Congo Maiden listened with growing amazement. The stories were discreet, but enough incidents were recognisable to show Roger and Peter that these happy and casual people had exerted a significant influence on recent history.
Jimmy came back looking amused, but with a shade of concern in his eyes.
'Geoff's in a rare old flap. I gather he was planning to intercept a cargo. Well, he did. It seems to have been a rather cheeky exercise. The stuff was found in a van that had taken food supplies to the RAF station. If Geoff hadn't been in a suspicious mood, he might have missed it, especially as the job was done in daylight. What he found shook him badly. Guns. Ammunition. Explosives. Time fuses. Drugs. Just about everything a revolutionary fanatic might be in need of. If Tooley had been there, he would have arrested him on the spot, no messing. Yet I feel he wouldn't have been entirely happy about it. '
'I can understand that.' Roger was a little dazed by the unexpected news. 'So would you, if you knew Tooley. Would you expect Martin Swanson to be mixed up in that sort of thing?'
'Frankly, no. I could imagine him playing the fool quite drastically in some ways, but not in that particular area. However, the result of all this is that Geoff has laid on a full-scale welcome for Miranda when she gets back, and your main job is to give him due warning of her probable time of arrival. He would also like evidence of the transfer of cargo at this end, to pinpoint the source of it.'
Considering this for a moment, Roger sighed.
'I suppose that means we'll have to watch the two boats until Miranda sails. Let's hope there's some decent cover round there.'
'Cover may not be important.' Jimmy produced a map and spread it out. 'I doubt if they'll move any cargo in daylight. This is where the boats are anchored. If you took Congo Maiden round to this other cove, a bit to the east, you'd have a useful advanced base. I can take Pat and Sandy and Sam in the car, and the rest of you can go by sea.'
Even without Sam's assistance, the trip round the coast to the north of the island passed off uneventfully until they were approaching their objective. Then, just as they were turning into the cove that Jimmy had indicated, a roar of powerful engines heralded the appearance of a fast outboard boat which emerged from the cove in a welter of spray, swerved round them at uncomfortably close range, and tore away eastwards. Dismissing this incident as irrelevant to their task, they anchored in fairly deep water and went ashore, Ted rowing the others across two by two.
Jimmy met them at the foot of the cliffs, and he had a curious tale to tell.
'When we arrived, I thought it would be best if Pat and I went down into the cove first. That wouldn't worry Swanson or Tooley, since they don't know who we are, except that we're on holiday. There was no dinghy waiting on the shore, so we concluded that they must both be aboard. The next step was to set up a watch post on the cliff, so we went back to the car to fetch the others. By the time we got back, there was a dinghy on the beach, but I'll swear no one came up the cliff path. Nor was there anyone in sight on the beach.'
'I wonder...' Roger told Jimmy about the boat they had seen.
'I thought the man seemed in a bit of a hurry. Perhaps he was snooping. He certainly wasn't Tooley, and he didn't match your description of Swanson.'
'You didn't see the name of the boat, I suppose? It could have been Wedge, the man I mentioned this morning. Let's make plans.'
Within a couple of minutes, everyone in the party either had an immediate task or had been told to get some rest in preparation for night duty. Then the long wait began.
Jimmy and Pat took themselves off to look for a building that might be serving as the yachtsmen's shore base, and when they returned an hour later Jimmy was looking pleased.
'There wasn't much choice, and I'm fairly certain we identified their hideout. An old barn, by the look of it, but modernised to some extent in an unobtrusive sort of way. No one there just now, but we saw the tracks of a Land Rover, or something similar, and I would guess they went into St Peter's Port for a meal.'
'You couldn't get in?' Roger put the question casually, almost hoping for a negative answer, but Jimmy smiled quietly.
'No problem. They couldn't afford to use a fancy lock. It might have aroused curiosity. There wasn't much to see. Just a few crates and boxes. The sort of thing Geoff found in his raid. I got some pictures that may prove useful.'
Roger's heart sank, but he said nothing. It seemed the final proof of Tooley's guilt.
As darkness fell, Jimmy took Roger down to the shore, saying that watching at long range was not enough. Moving with caution, in case the yachtsmen returned unexpectedly, they found shelter behind some boulders and waited. An hour passed before there was the sound of an engine and a vehicle came down the rough track, running on sidelights.
Rumbling across to the dinghy, still lying near high water mark, the vehicle stopped and disgorged two men, unrecognisable in the gloom, who set about the arduous task of moving a number of crates and boxes out to the yachts. Two dinghies were brought into use after the first trip, but the work took some time. Then both men returned in one dinghy, and they stood for a moment looking out over the water. Their voices came clearly to the watchers behind the boulders.
'Well, that's the last consignment, son. The scheme either works, or it doesn't. If it does, I may be able to come back openly, in my own name. That would be good. I'm tired of all this hole-in-the-corner stuff. When do you go back?'
'Oh, around noon tomorrow, or about one. That should suit the tides. Come on, let's get the Land Rover back in the barn. I want to get my head down. It's been a long day.'
The crew of the Congo Maiden had also had a long day, and they were glad to abandon the watch and turn in, sleeping soundly until well after sunrise.
During the morning, the weather deteriorated a little, clouds gradually obscuring the sun as noon approached, and the wind freshened slightly. Visibility remained good, however, and they had a clear view of the Miranda sailing away northward shortly after one. Sam watched her go with a slightly puzzled expression on his face.
'That's funny. His heading's about fifteen degrees. If he was making for the Isle of Wight, as we expected, it would be about fifty degrees.'
Peter glanced at the charts. 'Fifty would take him quite close to Alderney. Perhaps he prefers to stay clear of land with that cargo on board.'
'Perhaps.' Sam was not convinced, but a faint sound diverted his attention. 'Isn't that the speedboat we saw yesterday?'
Some way off to the eastward, twin plumes of spray showed the progress of a fast-moving boat. She drew level, and then appeared to attempt a tight turn. In a mad welter of flying water, she reared up, jerked twice, and then flipped over on her back. Peter rapped out urgent orders and started the engines.
'We'll probably be too late, but we've got to make the attempt.'
As Congo Maiden hurried out to the scene of the accident, her crew were too preoccupied to notice an elegant sailing yacht coming into view round the point, heading in the same direction.
The speedboat was upside down, and there was a man in the water not far away, unconscious and only kept afloat by his life jacket. Bringing him aboard, they were relieved to find that he appeared to have suffered no serious injury. Ted, a strong swimmer, risked a dive under the upturned boat to make sure nobody was trapped there, and then helped to attach a line to the far side of the hull so that the boat could be righted. Then he and Sam set about the task of baling water from it.
In the midst of all this activity, a loud hail from close at hand came as a shock.
'Ahoy, Congo Maiden! Want any help? What the hell are you doing here, Bill, anyway?'
A big man with an impressive beard was calling from the cockpit of an equally impressive sailing yacht. He looked rather puzzled.
'What goes on? Where's Bill Ecclestone?'
Roger thought fast. This was clearly Martin Swanson, and the unplanned encounter could create problems. Instinctively, Roger tried to think of the way Jimmy would have dealt with the situation, and he decided on a bold course.
'I'm afraid Bill Ecclestone's dead. Squalo probably killed him, though your son was suspected at first.'
Startled, the big man recovered quickly.
'We'd better have a talk. You'll probably do best to beach that monstrosity. Is the lunatic who was aboard it still alive?'
After a few forceful exchanges in similar tone, the Prospero and the Congo Maiden went back to the cove which had seen so much nocturnal activity, and anchored side by side. Martin Swanson came over in his dinghy, climbing aboard a little warily. One look at the man from the speedboat made his eyebrows rise alarmingly.
'There's lots of queer fish in the sea, but they don't come much queerer than this one. Wedge, by all that's powerful! What the hell are you doing here?'
The man on the bunk was conscious by now, but he was far from happy.
When he realised who was talking, he shrank away, looking as if he wished he was back in the sea. Swanson gave a snorting laugh.
'I suppose the sight of Prospero coming out to meet you scared the last vestiges of common sense from your pea-sized brain, and you tried to turn away too sharply. Typical! You're an insult to any boat, even to a nasty noisy stinking speedboat. I don't need to ask if you were snooping. I can take that for granted, though I can't imagine what good you thought it would do you.'
Spoken so forcefully, the words might have been even more frightening had there not been an undertone of rich humour and amusement that suggested a very different sort of personality from the one the big man chose to present to the world. Having berated Wedge, he turned to Roger belligerently, but with a smile.
'Two main things to be done. Get this clot ashore and have a bit of frank talking. I'd prefer them to be done in that order. I'm not keen on talking in his presence.'
Roger smiled gently and stood his ground, saying nothing until he felt the silence had made its point.
'Rather than getting rid of him, we might want to ask him a few questions.'
'Might you, now!' The big man returned the smile, obviously liking Roger's firmness. 'I doubt if he'll tell you much, unless you keel-haul him, and you don't quite look the type to do that.'
'He might tell us something about you.'
'No doubt he would. Then you'd have to judge for yourselves whether he was telling you the truth. If you don't propose to put him ashore, what do you propose?'
'That we all go back to St Peter's Port, dump our catch, and play it from there.'
'Taking me with you?'
'One of us will transfer to the Prospero, and you will keep station close behind us.'
The big man sighed, his mind obviously exploring the situation for some loophole but failing to find one. In the end, he shrugged his shoulders and let Roger have his way.
The sight of the two boats entering St Peter's Port together brought Jimmy out to meet them. Listening to the story with a gleam of humour in his eyes, he told Roger that he had done precisely the right thing, and then turned to face Martin Swanson.
'Let's clear the air a bit. Your real name is Simon Keston, isn't it?'
'It may have been, once.' Surprised, the big man was in no way alarmed. 'It may be my name again, when certain matters have been cleared up.'
Jimmy frowned. 'What can you hope to clear up by helping your son to smuggle materials for revolution and disorder into England?'
'What makes you think we're doing that?'
The question stopped Jimmy in his tracks. Roger saw the problem he faced. Geoff had intercepted such a cargo, and it had been reasonable to assume that it had come ashore from Caliban, but there was no direct proof of that. Jimmy returned to the attack, but more warily.
'Do you say you aren't?'
'I'm not saying anything.' The big man laughed. 'Not unless you make a formal charge, and prove that you have the authority to do so.'
This evasive answer restored Jimmy's confidence. 'Bluff will get you nowhere. The Miranda will be searched when she returns to England. Does that affect the position you want to take up?'
It was Swanson's turn to pause. He nodded absently, then looked at Jimmy squarely.
'You evidently know that Prospero and Miranda spent the night anchored side by side. There's not much I can do about that. Miranda's off Alderney by now, and I can't stop her.'
Sam reacted strongly to these words, and Jimmy asked him what was wrong. The answer was confident.
'That isn't true. Miranda won't be anywhere near Alderney. She was heading much too far to the north for that.'
The big man looked puzzled for a moment, and then laughed.
'You've got it wrong, sonny. He'd be steering between forty-five and fifty degrees, more or less parallel with the north coast of Alderney, as soon as he was clear of the Guernsey coast.'
This insulted Sam, the 'sonny' being perhaps the main cause.
'Nonsense. I watched him until he was hull down, and he was still holding a heading of ten to fifteen degrees.'
'Well, I didn't watch him that far.' Swanson was still puzzled. 'I was busy getting the anchor up. If he held that course, I can't explain why.'
At this point in an apparently pointless argument, Peter remembered the hasty exit of the speedboat from the cove, and a nasty suspicion entered his mind. He looked at Wedge, still lying on the bunk, and the man gave a faint moan of fear. Swanson stiffened immediately, and leapt into the cabin, grasping the little man and shaking him violently.
'Come on, you little rat! What did you do? Fix the compass?'
Jimmy hustled the big man aside without apparent effort.
'That will get you nowhere. He's more scared of what you'll do if he talks than of what you'll do if he doesn't. Let me have a go. Now, look here, Wedge. If Miranda goes missing, there might be a case for charging you with murder. You might avoid that if you tell me the truth.'
The man's eyes rolled horribly, but he refused to say anything, and when Jimmy tried again Wedge fainted. Just at that moment, there was a thud of hurried footsteps as Sam came bouncing down into the cockpit.
'There's a magnet stuck under Prospero's compass. I don't suppose you've used it this morning.'
The big man took one look at Sam's face, and scrambled out on to the quay. Diving into Prospero's cockpit, he returned seconds later with his face a mask of fury.
'The boy's right. Let me get my hands on that scum. I'll tear...'
'You'll do nothing of the sort.' Jimmy barred the big man's way with calm authority. 'You want to save Miranda? Then cool off and make plans.'
Swanson's rage vanished as suddenly as it had appeared.
'That's sense, if nothing else is, but get that bastard out of my sight before I strangle him.'
By a perfect example of high-speed organisation, Jimmy got Wedge ashore, set some members of the party to clearing away the speedboat, which the Congo Maiden had taken in tow, and took Swanson, Roger and Sam down into the cabin for a conference.
'What we want first is Miranda's intended course.'
The calm and factual question steadied Swanson, and he answered willingly.
'Oliver planned to make a landfall between the Needles and St Catherine's. This is the first time he's made a crossing that would end in the dark, so he wanted two familiar lights against which he could check his position.'
'A bit risky. They're fourteen miles apart, and yesterday morning visibility was a lot less than seven miles.'
Sam's comment was calmly mature, and Swanson treated it as such. He would never think of calling Sam 'sonny' again.
'That was my opinion, but he said he could stand off if the weather closed in too much.'
Jimmy asked if there was any chance of the error becoming apparent during the crossing.
'He should have passed quite close to Alderney. Would he have noticed that it wasn't where it ought to be?'
'I can't be sure.' Swanson was beginning to look worried. 'There were rain squalls over that way in the early afternoon, and he might have thought he had passed it during one of those. He's a bit casual, to tell you the truth, and he's liable to take chances.'
Jimmy smiled. 'I rather gathered that. Well, we should have a report of his course soon, and then we'll be on firmer ground.'
'Oho!' Swanson was amused by the implications of this remark. 'You've been keeping an eye on us, have you? I wondered how you found our hideaway.'
Sam showed impatience at this irrelevancy and said that the important question was where Miranda's false course would take her. Swanson agreed. Bending over the charts for a while, they then sat back and looked at each other with concern. Swanson pulled his beard thoughtfully.
'Near Portland Bill?
'Just about.' Sam was scribbling idly on a piece of paper. 'Fifty miles? Say about six o'clock.'
Swanson nodded. 'Check. What about the tide?'
'Five hours before Portsmouth. High water around six.'
'That's a blessing. And it'll be daylight.'
Sam drew a large question mark. 'He'll think he's still in mid Channel. Just the time to brew up.'
Swanson regarded Sam with mixed respect and alarm.
'That's unpleasantly possible. He could go on to those rocks without realising he was anywhere near land.'
Deciding it was time to turn from theory to practice, Jimmy asked what could be done, and Swanson shook his head.
'Follow him and warn him, if he's still on that course. If the Duke of Milan was ready, she'd be ideal for the job, but one engine's stripped down at the moment. We want a fast boat and a seaworthy one.'
'The Congo Maiden's fairly fast, isn't she?'
'She could do it. She's not really built for speed in the open, but she can go. Two and a half, perhaps three hours to catch Miranda. It's getting on for three o'clock now.'
Jimmy stood up abruptly and said he needed more data.
'Five minutes while I make a phone call. Don't do anything rash while I'm away. You might check your fuel.'
Returning within the stipulated time, he looked worried for once.
'Miranda is holding the course Sam suggested. There are thunderstorms all along the south coast, and a gale warning's in force. The Navy will do what they can, but aren't optimistic.'
After a few moments of silence, Sam spoke quietly and precisely.
'In that case, I think we ought to go after her now. If she gets into Portland Race, she won't stand a chance.'
Chapters | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |
| The Fiction of Don Thomasson |
|© Keith Thomasson February 11th 2002|