The Fiction of Don Thomasson
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| The Fiction of Don Thomasson |
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'I don't like the look of this. The sea's getting up and the wind's gusting. Visibility's not too bad at the moment, but it closes in during the rain squalls.'
Swanson had to shout to make himself heard at the far side of the wheelhouse, where Peter was fighting to hold a constant course. The Congo Maiden was riding the heavy seas well, but she had never been designed for such conditions, and quite a lot of the water sweeping over the bows was finding its way inboard. Everyone was taking turns at the handpump to make sure the bilges were kept reasonably clear.
The decision to chase after Miranda had been based on more solid considerations than Sam's recommendation. She carried valuable evidence, without which there might be no case against the Kestons. When he had heard the situation, Geoff had urged that all possible measures should be taken to save the boat intact, though he may not have realised the dangers which the Congo Maiden and her crew might face.
At the last moment, Swanson had asked to be allowed to join the party, and Jimmy had raised no objection, saying that he was on holiday, and one inconvenient prisoner was quite enough to bother about, without adding another. The twinkle in Jimmy's eye had suggested that his real reason was rather different, and the big man was duly grateful. The extra help and tremendous experience he had provided had already proved invaluable, and everyone was glad he was aboard.
Peter had the Congo Maiden going well, and was reasonably happy about his engines, but navigation was difficult with the view ahead continually masked by spray. It would have been only too easy to find Miranda by running her down. Peter asked Swanson if he could think of any way of guarding against this, but the big man shook his head.
'Prayer is about all I can suggest. We certainly can't ask anyone to stand lookout in the bows.'
Down in the cabin, Roger was wrestling with the radio equipment. The specialised police radio was of no use in these circumstances, but Congo Maiden had a small installation of her own, and Roger was trying to learn how to use it. The task was made no easier by the way loose articles were sliding around as the boat rolled and pitched, but he succeeded in the end and bore the result up to the cockpit with a justifiable air of triumph.
'The afternoon boat from Weymouth to Guernsey reported a sailing craft of Miranda's description. She passed a couple of miles to the east, and they saw us on the same track half an hour later, just before four. I've got the positions, if you want them.'
'I certainly do.' Swanson took the piece of paper and stared at it intently. 'These don't look too bad, but I'd better do a proper plot. While I'm below, Roger, you'd better keep lookout on this side. As we can't see much ahead, we've got to do the best we can abeam.'
Looking out across the heaving sea, Roger marvelled that he had not been seasick. This had always been his bugbear, ever since a miserable trip to the Isle of Man on a blustery March day. Perhaps his mind was more effectively occupied on this occasion.
'We're doing well.' Swanson emerged from the cabin looking hopeful. 'We may overhaul her in another half hour or so. In about twenty minutes, we'd better try a run to port, to give us a better chance of seeing her.'
Peter nodded and checked his instruments. Thanks to Jimmy's forceful and systematic ways there had been plenty of time to refuel, and there were ample reserves. He was less happy about the engines, for the stern was lifting in the swell, and he had to throttle back now and then when the propellers came partly out of the water. Noticing this problem, Swanson relieved him at the wheel so that Peter could give his full attention to the engines.
A yell from Sam drew attention to a helicopter passing overhead, and Roger wished he knew its radio frequency and call sign. On impulse, he asked Ted to take over his lookout duty and slipped below to wrestle with the radio again. Working by intuition rather than on a basis of certain knowledge, he was surprised and gratified to pick up a patient voice calling the Congo Maiden. Hastily back-tuning the transmitter to the same frequency, he established communication and learned that Miranda was some three miles ahead and perhaps eight miles from Portland Bill. This information cheered everyone up, especially Swanson.
'Three miles? We can close that in twenty minutes. That chopper's a godsend. I wonder where it came from.'
In the helicopter, an enterprising press photographer hugged his camera and hoped for great things. It had been a rather vague tip that had inspired him to hire the machine, a word from a friend in the Channel Isles regarding unusual radar activity, backed by some intercepted radio calls. A lot of money had been needed to soothe the pilot's misgivings about the weather, but good photographs could be worth a great deal more. A picture of the meeting of the two boats would be ideal, but the light was beginning to fail, and it would be a close thing. He put a question to the pilot.
'Can we have another try at letting the chap know the others are trying to catch him up?'
Looking rather pensive, as if he regretted his rashness in taking the job on, the pilot shrugged his shoulders.
'We can, if you like, but there wasn't any response last time, was there. You don't know the whole story. He may not want to be caught.'
The photographer let that go. If there was more to the matter than a simple sea chase, so much the better for his pocket.
Down below in the storm-tossed Congo Maiden, all hands but Ted were keeping a keen lookout. Ted was pumping. Having checked the bilges, he was anxious to ensure that nothing raised difficulties at the crucial moment of interception. Rather more water was coming into the cockpit now, and it was being joined by spray blowing over the wheelhouse roof.
After an interminable wait, Roger went below and called the helicopter, returning in a hurry to say that Miranda was a hundred yards ahead. Peter backed off the throttles, Swanson swore and swung the wheel, and almost immediately they saw their quarry to port. Swanson brought them up on a parallel course while Peter matched speeds, glad that he had taken the trouble to learn how the boat responded to the throttle.
Coming alongside Miranda, with about fifteen yards of water between, Swanson swore again and pointed at the other boat's cockpit, which was empty.
'Sam was right. He's brewing up. It's a good job we came. Ahoy, Miranda!'
It was a stentorian roar that drowned even the noise of the wind and waves, but it brought no response. Swanson roared again, edging closer, but there was still no answer.
Overhead, the helicopter hovered nearer, the photographer holding his camera poised. The pictures of the interception were safely on film, but he felt there was more to come. Down there in the cockpit of the sailing yacht, surely there was a man lying down.
Seeing the photographer's frantic waves, Roger went down to the radio and reported the message, wooden faced. Swanson nodded grimly.
'I was beginning to wonder. She's been sailing herself on vane gear. I'll go across. Sam! You take the wheel. Edge in gently, and sheer off at once when I go. Understand?'
Sam nodded, his eyes bright with excitement but his face set in determined lines. Roger felt that Swanson had chosen his helmsman well.
Bringing out a coil of thin rope, Ted tied a loop round the big man's waist. Swanson nodded approvingly.
'May as well, though if I miss the jump I'll be yards astern in no time. In that case, let the line run freely, or you'll have me in the prop blades.'
Overhead, the photographer was hysterical with delight, but the pilot was looking to the north, towards the humped mass of Portland and in front of it the fury of waves over the rock ledges that form the Portland Race. He hoped they realised there was little time to spare.
Concentrating fiercely on his task, Sam edged towards the Miranda, keeping an eye on the vane gear in case it decided to change course. The gap closed to five yards, to two. Swanson steadied himself and jumped as the gap shrank even further. Landing awkwardly, he looked behind him in momentary alarm, but gave a thumbs up signal when he saw that Sam had already swung clear.
Bending down in the cockpit, the big man stood up looking very relieved. Putting his hand to the safety line to release it, he glanced ahead towards the race and changed his mind.
'I need another man across.'
Roger pointed to himself, and Ted looped a bight of the safety line round his waist. Sam repeated the closing manoeuvre, and moments later Roger glimpsed foam-lashed water under him as he jumped. Then a hand gripped his arm, and he was aboard Miranda. Tooley was lying on the floor of the cockpit, but his father said there was no serious damage.
'Just knocked out. We'd better get him below, and then set Miranda on a safer course.'
'How far are we from the Race?' Looking ahead, Roger saw the answer for himself, an answer which the big man confirmed.
'Not nearly far enough. Give me a hand.'
Putting the limp figure on a bunk, they tied him in place with the safety line so that there was no danger of him rolling off. Back on deck again, Swanson saw that the Congo Maiden was still in close attendance, ten or fifteen yards away, and let loose his roar.
'Sheer off! Give us sea room, we may need it. We have to shorten sail before we turn across the wind, but that's no reason for you to risk being dragged into the Race.'
Roger smiled wryly. He was now left with two wanted men on his hands, even if one was temporarily out of action.
He had little time to worry about that. Swanson set him to work, barking incomprehensible orders until he realised that they were not understood. Barely conscious of his surroundings, hardly aware of the consequences of what he was doing, Roger wrestled with reluctant ropes, clambered over decking slippery with spume, clung to impossible handholds.
Overhead, the sail pattern shifted and changed, but in what way and to what purpose Roger had no idea. The boat seemed to ease in its rush through the water, but the sea was very rough now, and getting rougher all the time.
At last, Swanson told Roger to get into the cockpit and stay out of the way. With infinite care, the big man brought Miranda round on to an easterly course, leaving astern the leaping fountains of water and spray that marked the edge of Portland Race. Roger preferred them from that viewpoint, especially as they were gradually moving further away.
'That's one problem solved.' Swanson's voice expressed a tempered satisfaction. 'Not all our problems, though, not by a long chalk. Where are the others? We don't want them to run on to the Shambles. They've only got their engines to keep them going, and engines can fail at the drop of a hat.'
The Congo Maiden was standing off at a discreet distance, her crew probably wondering what was going to happen next. That was precisely what was worrying Roger. He asked if it would be possible to put into Portland, and Swanson laughed.
'I wouldn't advise trying that. You'll notice the Navy haven't shown up. It's probably a bit hectic at the harbour entrance. I'd rather stay out in the open for the time being. The wind's dropping a bit, and I think the storm's nearly blown itself out. I suggest we run east. Poole Bay's only thirty miles off, and the sandy shore there is a lot more hospitable than the rocks hereabouts.'
Roger felt this was a reasonable scheme, and the Congo Maiden was invited to come closer so that Swanson could tell them what he planned. Peter signalled agreement, and the two craft began their three-hour journey, Miranda a little ahead and further inshore, Congo Maiden throttled back to match speeds. Satisfied that all was well, Swanson said he was going to look at the casualty.
'You take the helm. Good practice for you. Course a few points north of east, but keep it steady. No sharp changes of direction. Remember that idiot Wedge. We want to pass about three miles south of the cliffs you can just see in the distance.'
Disappearing below, he was gone for some time. When he came back, he was carrying a steaming mug of coffee.
'He's all right.' The comment was casual, but behind it Roger could sense considerable relief. 'Slipped and caught his head a nasty bang. Nothing serious, but he'd better stay below for a while. Not too steady on his pins.'
Swanson vanished again, and Roger felt a faint worry about what was being said in the cabin. Much as he would have liked to listen to the conversation, he had to stick to his post. The yacht seemed to be trying to head for the shore, and he had to fight it all the way. There were moments when wind and water seemed to be winning, and he had to resist a panicky impulse to jerk the helm instead of applying steady pressure. It was the more encouraging when Swanson poked his head out of the cabin and, after watching him critically for a few moments, smiled approvingly.
'Not bad for a landlubber. Can you carry on for a while? I'll spell you later and let you stretch. It won't be long now.'
The wind was still dropping, and the sea was visibly calmer.
Coming out for another check on the situation, Swanson decided that they could risk a little more sail. The adjustments he made increased their speed noticeably, and also increased the pressure which Roger had to apply to the helm, but he was feeling more confident now, and was able to take the change in his stride. Beyond the cliffs ahead, a winking array of shore lights began to appear through the wet dusk, marking Bournemouth's sea front illuminations.
Soon after nine, the two boats anchored in Studland Bay, off a sandy shore and in reasonable shelter. Peter came across to the Miranda, no doubt wondering what he would find. As he stepped on board, the man they still thought of as Tooley came out of the cabin and immediately started to laugh.
'Well I'm damned. I said you two had been around a bit, but you certainly fooled me. Well, here we are, and here you are. What happens next?'
'Yes, indeed.' His father looked rather more serious. 'We should be safe enough here, unless the wind veers, but it must be an embarrassing situation for you two. After a fairly heavy pasting for the last five or six hours, you probably feel you'd like to relax. The same applies to us, but you may think that we have more to lose.'
Roger shrugged his shoulders. 'That about sums it up. In some ways, we're rather in your hands. I doubt if I could stay awake for even part of the night. Any comment, Peter?'
'Nothing useful.' Peter looked dog tired, and Roger realised that he must have been under more strain than the others, feeling that he was responsible for the Congo Maiden.
'Look, this may seem mad.' Tooley laughed. 'In fact, it is mad, but I have an idea you might accept. Would you be willing to put us on parole overnight?'
Roger barely hesitated, though he was glad that Geoff was unaware of his decision.
'In fact, call a truce until morning. If Peter has no objection, I suggest we split the watches between us.'
In saying this, Roger felt that the risk was small. The Kestons might be crooks, but they were not petty, and they both knew that Miranda had been saved by the joint efforts of all concerned, a fact they would be unlikely to forget in a hurry. Even so, he was glad when Swanson insisted on going back to the Congo Maiden in exchange for Ted, so that the party was balanced up. One-man watches were agreed, on a basis of two hours on, four hours off.
Even so, the night seemed long, and Roger, seeing the first light of dawn in the east, felt he had been on the go for days. The sky had cleared during the night, and it was a fine morning, the sea almost calm, the wind gentle, and the sunlight particularly welcome. Shortly before eight, the two boats set off in convoy to complete the last leg of the journey, retaining their overnight crews.
It was this voyage that finally converted Roger to a deep and abiding love of sailing. Under Tooley's able tuition, he soon learned the difference between the simple process of going from place to place in a motor cruiser and the far more challenging business of getting the most out of a given combination of sail, wind and current.
In the comparatively gentle breeze that had replaced the previous day's gale, this art began to approach a measure of perfection as he followed his tutor's instructions and noted each small but gratifying improvement. The pleasure was greater in that Sam and Martin Swanson, watching critically from the Congo Maiden's cockpit, seemed to view his achievements with approval.
It thus came about that when they reached the Chichester buoy in the late morning, Roger was at the helm, his crewmates having gone forward to check that the mooring ropes were in good order. Roger shouted a warning and made the turn with care. Tooley, realising where they were, came aft to take over, but after one look at Roger's face he stood aside, watching keenly but saying nothing until they were past the inner point and heading for the Emsworth Channel.
'That, if I may say so, was very well done. You even got the kink to port to miss the new shoal. You'll make a sailor yet.'
'One day, perhaps.' Roger smiled quietly. 'I wouldn't have tried it if it hadn't been the top of the tide. You went out at half flood. I wouldn't risk that now, but I'd like to, one day.'
'You shall, you shall.' Tooley grinned broadly, but then the grin faded, and he added, 'If we don't get put into gaol for too long.'
Roger felt an odd pang of unhappiness. He had forgotten all about that.
They came up to Miranda's moorings, Congo Maiden going on to take Carella's former berth upstream. Before long, they were all aboard the bigger boat and Geoff and the Inspector had come down from Emsworth by launch to join them.
The Inspector came aboard looking as if he wanted to arrest someone on the spot, but Geoff was more wary. When they were all settled down in the warm sunshine, the two boys on the wheelhouse roof and the rest scattered haphazardly around the cockpit, Geoff opened the proceedings.
'I must make it clear from the outset that the Inspector and I have different interests in this matter. He would like to proceed on a formal basis from the start, but I have been able to persuade him that our purposes will be better served if he allows me to conduct an informal inquiry first, on the understanding that he may elect to use any information which you may give during that inquiry in any manner which he wishes. Is that understood?'
'I understand you, all right.' Simon Keston, seated comfortably in an angle of the cockpit, looked quite as wary as Geoff did. 'What is less clear is the general proposition. You seem to think we've done something illegal. Would it be in order to ask what the charge is?'
Geoff eyed the big man almost benevolently.
'Fair question. Suppose we begin by considering your identities. You are known as Martin Swanson, but I have good reason to believe that your real name is Simon Keston, sometime Commander R.N. Your companion has on various occasions given his name as Nicholas Tooley, John Rice, Robert Armin and Dick Burbadge, but I think he is also your son, Oliver Keston. It would simplify matters if you would agree that my identifications are correct.'
The younger Keston chuckled, waving a casual hand in the direction of the Inspector, who responded with a glare.
'Since my old schoolmate Mike has obviously recognised me, and as I was foolish enough to give different names to you and your henchmen, there isn't much point in trying to deny that I'm Oliver Keston, and proud of it.'
'Thank you.' Geoff seemed interested by the cheerful and carefree tone of this statement, but he merely turned to the older man, who continued to approach the situation cautiously.
'Since I suspect that Simon Keston may be wanted for questioning in respect of certain incidents which took place a long time ago, it seems to me that it would be very rash to admit to that identity.'
Geoff relaxed slightly, as if he felt he was getting the measure of the two men, and said he would be prepared to leave that question open for the moment.
'Though your reluctance creates a difficulty, Simon Keston disappeared in the company of a man who was never identified. I was hoping that we might discover that man's name. I do have an idea of what it might be, but I could easily be wrong.'
He looked blandly at Simon Keston, who grinned back, obviously appreciating that he was dealing with a man as crafty as himself.
'I might be able to help you that far. What did you think the man's name was?'
Preserving a perfectly straight face, though with evident effort, Geoff said that he thought it might have been Clive Helliwell.
This made everyone react in one way or another. Roger and Peter recognised the name of one of the drivers involved in the road accident which had started the whole business, and Roger, at least, guessed that Geoff had known from the beginning that the man was involved. The two Kestons grinned at each other, while the Inspector looked thoroughly mystified. Even the two boys exchanged surprised glances. Simon Keston spoke with amused respect.
'Mr Farnfield, I salute you. That was, indeed, the man's name. Look, if you'll tell me how you guessed it, I'll tell you what happened after Helliwell and Keston disappeared. How's that?'
'Highly irregular, but I think acceptable in the circumstances.' Geoff was beginning to enjoy himself. 'I must start from a road accident involving Mr - er - Tooley, Mr Helliwell and a Mr Climpson, during which a suitcase full of money appeared, money which no one seemed to own. The police thought it had belonged to Mr Tooley. I decided it might equally have been in the possession of Mr Helliwell. Mr Climpson merely caused the accident, and played no other part.'
Noting that he had secured the full attention of his audience, Geoff relaxed even more, becoming almost expansive.
'Mr Tooley incurred further suspicion by being seen in the company of certain undesirable people, including Squalo and Kühlmann, and by subsequently disappearing. In this process, he took such care to cover his tracks that the police concluded that he was contemplating unlawful activities.'
'Here, steady on!' Oliver Keston sat up, looking indignant. 'I had no intention of dodging the police. I didn't even know they were interested. I was trying to get away from Squalo, who had ideas of hijacking my little operation, instead of trading like an honest man.'
Geoff smiled. 'It did strike me that your precautions scarcely seemed adequate to cope with intensive police investigation, but they might well have thrown Squalo off your track.
'Mr Tooley left his car at Hindhead, walked to Haslemere and caught a train to Portsmouth Harbour station. There, he went on board this boat, by which he travelled via Langstone Harbour and the Hayling Bridges to the vicinity of Fowley Island, where he boarded the Caliban as Mr Burbadge.'
'Spot on!' Oliver Keston laughed. 'Almost, anyway. You might as well have it exact. I went aboard Miranda as Robert Armin.'
'Thank you.' Geoff was gently amused by this correction. 'Your friend Mr Ecclestone returned to Portsmouth next day. In the early hours of the following Friday, he was visited by Squalo, who wanted to visit you. Mr Ecclestone refused to help him, and made some rather rash remarks, which suggested that he had failed to understand what you were doing. Not long after that, Mr Ecclestone died, poisoned when he took a drink.'
There was a long silence. The Oliver Keston looked up soberly.
'I had a letter he wrote before he died. I picked it up on the Monday afternoon, and by then it was too late to do anything. By that time, Squalo had picked me up, heaven knows how, and I had other things to worry about. I suspected Squalo had killed Bill, but I had no proof. You seem to know as much about it as I do.'
Simon Keston looked at his son oddly.
'You never told me there was murder involved. I suppose you thought it would worry me. If so, you were right.'
'That wasn't the only thing I didn't mention.' Oliver had forgotten the others, and was talking only to his father. 'Someone else was killed, too. Josh Carrington.'
'Another old friend.' Simon Keston grimaced. 'My friends haven't done very well out of this business, have they?'
Seeing that the Inspector was about to make a remark, probably a pungent one, Geoff forestalled him.
'The immediate point was that Mr Tooley-Burbadge-Armin seemed to be deeply involved in some highly undesirable activity. When I found that Clive Helliwell was similarly occupied, I began to look for a connection, especially when I found that both men were in this part of the world.'
Oliver Keston chuckled appreciatively, but Geoff ignored that.
'By then, I knew that Tooley and Helliwell had appeared to be strangers before the accident, though they had often been in the same place at the same time. After the accident, they sometimes travelled together. I felt that it was possible that Tooley had been following Helliwell in an attempt to scrape an acquaintance with him, and the crash had provided an opportunity to do that.'
'Clearly, I needed to know why Tooley wanted to get to know Helliwell. When I heard the story of Simon Keston and the spy, I felt it was quite possible that Keston's son might have a credible motive for finding the man responsible for his father's difficulties. Helliwell fitted the description of the missing spy. As I told you, the identification was no more than a guess.'
The elder Keston smiled broadly. 'You're a good guesser. Yes, Clive Helliwell was the man. You call him a spy, and I suppose he was one in a way, but a darned inefficient one. When he realised our little security man was making a spot check on passes, the best thing Helliwell could think of was to get into an office whose occupant was above suspicion, and he considered that a naval officer would provide him with excellent cover. He was wrong, of course. The security man had no more respect for me than he would have had for a junior typist. Clive was most upset, and seemed to feel I'd let him down. His friends didn't let him down, though. They organised a very slick ambush, and we were transferred to a much more comfortable car and taken to Helliwell's home.'
'I had expected to join the others at the bottom of the quarry, where the car was dumped, but Helliwell thought he might get some useful information out of me. His wife was the gaoler. A dragon of a woman, inappropriately named Clarissa, she was a lousy cook, but she knew how to hang on to a prisoner. It was only when she went away for a couple of days that I was able to break out. By then, the fat was in the fire. The security man had played it so close to his chest that very few people had seen Helliwell. If I had denounced him, it could have been my word against his, and he could still have made himself unpleasant. To save trouble, I joined the Merchant Navy under a new name. And that's the story. I was neither a spy nor a murderer, but how could I prove that?'
'It could be difficult.' Geoff seemed to regard the point as unimportant. 'It could be equally difficult to make out a case against you, especially as a number of people seem sympathetic towards your interests. There might be some trouble with the Navy, but I doubt if it would amount to much after all this time. We can probably write all that off as past history. More recent events are an entirely different matter.
'Last Thursday morning, we were keeping an eye on the movement of goods from Thorney Island to the mainland. Caliban had spent the previous day on the mud off West Thorney, and it seemed possible that she had left a cargo there to be picked up later. We had expected a move during the hours of darkness, but nothing happened. Then we had a report that a lorry which calls regularly at the RAF station to deliver provisions had departed from its usual routine by going to West Thorney before leaving the station. We stopped it as it tried to leave the Island, and found that it contained a most undesirable collection of things, many of an illegal nature.
'Now, there is no direct evidence that the goods we found came from the Caliban, but there is a strong inference to that effect. If we found similar goods aboard. the Caliban or the Miranda, that inference would be strengthened to evidential level. If you have anything to say, it might save trouble in the long run.'
The Kestons smiled at each other, their only apparent concern being the question of which should do the talking. Simon Keston took on the task in the end.
'All that can, and will be explained. The best evidence in our favour will come from the source you expect to provide evidence against us.'
'It'll have to be darned good evidence.' The Inspector sounded morose. 'All the evidence I've seen so far says that you're a pair of precious rogues. Oliver always was a rogue, even in junior school. I said then he'd come to a bad end, and it looks as if I was right.'
'I hope I can disappoint you.' Oliver Keston was unrepentant. 'Let me tell you my part of the story before you jump to any premature conclusions. I trailed around after Helliwell for nearly three months before the car crash, hoping to find a way to worm myself into his confidence. He needed help with a project he was planning, and I was in a position to provide that help. Not trusting me right away, he involved me in some odd jobs that he thought would get me firmly in his clutches. One was that rumpus you had down here a while back.'
The voice changed to a mincing whine.
'I really don't know why you had to pick on me, Inspector. Those nasty little boys jumped on me and knocked me down for no reason at all.'
The Inspector sat forward with his mouth sagging open.
'John Shancke! You were John Shancke! Well, damn my hide.'
'I was sure you'd recognise me, but I made a special effort, and it came off. After that, I was invited to a conference at Torquay, not the kind that courts publicity. Rather the reverse, in fact. The agenda rather shook me, though I should have known what to expect. A massive campaign of civil disturbance, with all the trimmings. All highly efficient and planned to the last detail. My job was to supply certain things they needed that weren't available in the open market. That would put me in an ideal position to identify all the ringleaders and then sabotage the whole business. I already had the Miranda, which I bought some time back, but I wanted a second boat, because there were several reasons why I didn't want to 'live over the shop'. Caliban was just the job, especially after I fixed up arrangements to deal with unwanted visitors.'
Seeing that Roger and Peter were amused, he chuckled happily.
'Something tells me you know something about that. I hope our young friends... Hallo, where are they?'
Looking up, Roger saw that the two boys were no longer on the wheelhouse roof. Geoff looked amused.
'They slipped away in the dinghy a while ago. Just as well, really. They shouldn't hear too much of this.'
'I suppose...' Oliver frowned, then laughed as Geoff looked at him sharply. 'No, my imagination was running riot. Where was I? Oh, yes, my first customer arrived on Sunday.'
'Kühlmann.' Geoff made it a statement.
'Exactly. Since he wanted a lot of stuff, we went round to Bosham and lay alongside overnight. I got some sleep in while his men did the humping necessary. I suppose Carrington was shot because he got in their way. I can't imagine what he was doing there.'
Geoff stirred. 'He followed two men who arrived by train and were picked up by a lorry. This would have been around dusk.'
'Two men, you said? The lorry turned up with one, so the other must have got off on the way. Kühlmann went off on his own a bit later, probably to meet the man who didn't come as far as the quay, probably Helliwell, who likes to keep in the background as much as possible. If Carrington knew Helliwell by sight...'
'He did, son, he did.' The big man looked regretful. 'I saw Clive in Portsmouth one day, and pointed him out. Silly thing to do, really, but I thought Josh would have more sense than to start following the man. If he was killed by an air-gun... I gather I've hit on something.'
Annoyed that his thoughts had shown so clearly, the Inspector's response was surly.
'Suppose you explain why you mentioned an air gun.'
The big man smiled. 'Clive carries one, because the noise of an ordinary gun scares him.'
Seeing that the Kestons were tending to irritate the Inspector, Geoff intervened tactfully.
'We can check on that when we pick Helliwell up.'
'True.' Oliver was grinning again. 'That shouldn't be difficult.'
Geoff smiled back. 'I agree.'
'Good. We understand each other more and more. Where was I?'
'Still stuck with a load of smuggled undesirables to explain.' The Inspector was more morose than ever, and Simon Keston's eyes twinkled.
'All the talking in the world will cut no ice with young Mike. What do you think, Oliver? Shall we show them over Caliban?'
'It might help.' Oliver's eyes were dancing with amusement. 'You'll have to trust me to put the booby-traps out of action, Mr Farnfield, but that can't be helped. What about it? Do you fancy a conducted tour?'
Leaning back with a quiet smile, Geoff nodded.
'Oh, yes, I think so. I believe I'm getting the idea at last. It fits with your characters. You're a horrible pair, aren't you? Nearly as bad as young Jimmy and his gang. Same twisted sense of humour.'
As he talked, he was getting into the launch, beckoning to Simon Keston and the Inspector to join him. The others followed in Miranda's dinghy. As they were running down the channel, the younger Keston said quietly, 'Now I fully understand who and what you are, I'm more grateful than ever for your help the other night. I like your boss, too. If this turns out all right, I'm going to ask him for a job. Do you think he'd take me on?'
'That depends what you've got to show him.' Roger grinned. 'He might not be amused if one of your little tricks comes unstuck.'
'How very true.' Oliver looked uncharacteristically worried, but only for a moment. 'I gather you've guessed. I wonder if he has.'
After Oliver had disabled the booby-trap, they all followed him down into Caliban's cabin, which was pleasant and neatly fitted out. Oliver showed them how the trap worked, any unwary visitor getting a whiff of soporific gas.
'Automatic dosage. When they fall down, they don't get any more. It's supposed to knock them out for an hour, but I've never checked that precisely.'
The Inspector snorted. 'The two you left out in the harbour woke up about six hours later.'
'Really? Well, I made them comfortable. Perhaps they slept on for a while. Here's trick number two. A hatch into the forward hold. Come on, there's plenty of room.'
Stepping warily, they entered a dim-lit space which was completely bare. When Oliver opened an overhead hatch, it became clear that the space was less extensive than it had seemed in the darkness.
'I keep the hatch shut when I have visitors, in the ordinary way. The shape you see is the correct shape, but...' Oliver fiddled with something attached to the forward bulkhead, and both sides of the hold folded away to reveal long racks of boxes and cartons. '...as you see, there's more to it than normally meets the eye.'
Picking up a box, he opened the lid and showed the contents to the assembled party.
'Sample box of guns. All Sir Garnet. Open to inspection by the purchaser. He can even fire one, if he does it discreetly. Then he can order as many as he likes, but he doesn't get the ones in that box. He gets these.'
After Geoff and the Inspector had looked over the guns in the second box for a while, the Inspector started to laugh. 'Ever heard of the Trades Descriptions Act? You can't call these guns.'
'You'd get a shock if you tried to fire one, wouldn't you?' Oliver was beginning to enjoy himself. 'That's only one item. I won't invite you to sample our dangerous drugs. It wouldn't be fair, because they are dangerous, in a way. I'll leave you to analyse that item. The real party piece is the ammunition. If you don't mind, we'll look at that on deck, where I can see what I'm doing.'
As they trooped up into the sunlight again, the atmosphere had changed completely. It was now obvious that the Kestons, though certainly a pair of rogues, were not the kind of rogues they had appeared to be.
Oliver brought up a box of ammunition and opened it. Then he brought up an empty box and began to transfer the rounds into it one by one, examining each cartridge with care. Alarmed by the care he was taking, the Inspector began to look worried again. At last, Oliver gave a sigh, and put a particular cartridge down on the deck very carefully indeed.
'There's one of these in each box. We mark them with a scratch in case we want to take them out. We might want to delay things.'
Making sure that the cartridge on the deck was safely lodged against the coaming, he took the remaining ammunition below, a procedure which increased the Inspector's concern. He was reflecting that similar boxes of ammunition were in custody at the police station.
Oliver came back on deck, and began to dismantle the cartridge he had set aside. His father watched anxiously.
'Careful, Oliver. It might be touchy.'
'Move further away, then.'
The comment was casual, but he gave a sigh of relief when he extracted a tiny glass phial.
'This, as you can probably guess, is a time fuse. The acid inside eats through the metal closure in the end, and when it gets out the whole thing goes bang. You can produce the same result by breaking the glass, but if you want to try that you can do it ashore.'
As an afterthought, he turned to the Inspector and said he hoped the police would be careful where they stored the intercepted cargo.
'If you have to move it, tell your lads to avoid dropping anything, because there's quite a lot of explosive in the boxes. That's one reason why I didn't want to live here all the time. I might not have slept so well.'
The Inspector was speechless, but Geoff merely chuckled and asked when the fuses were due to act.
'Not for five or six weeks yet. We had to have a safe margin. The stuff is stored in remote places, so no innocent bystanders should get hurt if you fail to locate all the dumps in time.'
'I'm not sure that I intend to make the attempt.' Geoff had given up all pretence of maintaining an official attitude, while the Inspector, suddenly seeing the funny side of the matter, began to chuckle. Before long, he had to sit down and wipe his streaming eyes.
'You ruddy hooligans! What on earth did you think was going to happen afterwards? They'd have torn you limb from limb.'
'I don't think so.' Simon Keston looked happy, convinced now that the matter would turn out well from his point of view. 'My connection with the matter wasn't widely known, though that little stinker Wedge... Oh, you probably haven't heard of him.'
'Oh, yes I have.' Geoff was in high humour. 'He's been quite helpful in respect of information about Squalo. Jimmy threatened to hand him over to your tender care if he didn't talk. He talked.'
'Pity. I'd have enjoyed persuading him. I doubt if he knows much about me, and if you've got his boss inside he couldn't pass it on. In any case, I can look after myself. You managed to trace me, but I doubt if our friends could have done it. What we hoped, of course, was that we might be able to return openly in our original identities. Tell me, Mr Farnfield, what do you think of our chance of being able to do that?'
Geoff shrugged his shoulders, but he was smiling.
'That's not for me to say. It might be a mistake to allow you to settle down peacefully. You're more useful when you're on the run, though it might be wise to tame you a bit. I'm only sorry we picked up that cargo on Thorney. It would have been better to let it go on to its destination.'
There was a thoughtful silence all round, and then Oliver Keston cleared his throat rather ostentatiously.
'If... Mind, you, I'm only thinking aloud. If the man who wanted the stuff in the first place came back and asked me for a replacement order, I'd be left rather short. On the other hand, I think Mike would be only too glad to get the stuff off his hands. If it happened to come back to me, somehow, I could keep my client happy. There are a few more customers to come. I would have no objection to carrying on as before, if that's what you'd like. I don't want to leave it on Caliban too long.'
For some moments, Geoff looked at Oliver as if the proposition fascinated him by its ingenuity. Then he nodded seriously.
'It might work. If we bring the stuff back to you at night, preferably by sea, there's a fair chance no one would notice. You might have to explain how you got away without being arrested, but I'm sure you can think of some explanation. I see just one snag, and that's Helliwell. He knows me by sight, through another matter, and he's seen me around here lately. Having his fingers on all the facts, he might be suspicious, but I suppose the whole thing would collapse if we arrested him.'
'I don't think so.' Oliver considered the point with unusual gravity. 'He likes to stick his nose in, playing the big organiser, but he isn't as important as I thought he was. If we could pick him up quickly, before he has a chance to talk.'
He broke off to stare, with a rather odd expression, at an approaching motor cruiser, which Roger recognised as the Tudor Rose. Peter groaned.
'It's the local menace. I hope he doesn't ram us, with all this explosive aboard.'
'It may be the local menace...' Oliver continued to stare, his lips trembling with impending laughter, '...but that looks remarkably like young Sam at the wheel.'
Seconds later, a youthful voice asked that the launch and dinghy should be moved so that he could come alongside. Peter and Roger set about these tasks with Simon Keston's assistance, but Oliver was leaning weakly against the mast bubbling with uncontrollable laughter.
As the Tudor Rose came closer, they saw that the owner was sitting in the cockpit, thoroughly swathed in coils of rope. Ted was guarding the cabin entrance, boathook at the ready. Having brought the cruiser alongside and made sure it was securely moored, Sam stepped aboard the Caliban and gave Geoff a very presentable salute.
'While you were talking, we thought it would save time if we fetched Mr Helliwell.'
In the shattering silence which followed, Simon Keston stepped forward, his beard wagging with mirth.
'Well I'll be double-damned. It's Clive himself! What are you doing tied up like that, you old bastard?'
A screech from the cabin said that such language should not be used in the presence of a lady. The big man was highly amused.
'Since when were you a lady, Clarissa? Your manners are nearly as bad as your cooking. Hasn't he ditched you yet?'
Ted stood smartly to one side as Mrs Helliwell's rage overcame her fear of the boathook and she charged into the open.
'Who is that vulgar....Ooh!'
The sight of Simon Keston stopped her in her tracks. Despite the passage of years and the addition of a beard, she obviously recognised him at a glance. The big man chuckled happily.
'Leave that beldame where she is and bring Clive up here. I want to talk to him.'
'So do I.' Oliver's eyes were bright with mischief, and Roger almost felt sorry for Helliwell, who came aboard reluctantly and was at once shepherded across to the far side of the Caliban, where he stood nervously between the two Kestons.
'Well, my odious friend.' Simon Keston grinned in a way that the captive obviously found terrifying. 'The time has come when you must be made to talk. How I'm going to persuade you to do so escapes me for the moment, but I'll think of something. You won't be kept in suspense for long.'
Oliver intervened with gentle firmness, the satisfaction in his eyes reflecting that this was the end of a long long campaign to clear his father's name.
'You leave this to me, dad. He'll talk. Won't you, Clive, old boy?'
Eyes wide with horrified surprise, Helliwell looked from one Keston to the other. Then he glanced over his shoulder at the Tudor Rose, as if to make sure his wife could hear nothing, and finally looked at Oliver piteously.
'D-d-did you c-call him d-dad? He's your father?'
Smiling the most seraphic and frightening smile Roger had ever seen, Oliver nodded. Helliwell moaned softly, and Oliver looked more seraphic than ever.
'You're in a spot, aren't you? If you don't talk, I might tell Clarissa things about Torquay. Then you'd want to be put in prison to get away from her. Wouldn't you?'
To the surprise of most of those present, Helliwell caved in immediately, and was soon down in the cabin making a detailed statement to Geoff and the Inspector. Up on deck, Oliver was explaining that the man tended to panic under pressure.
'That's what caused the accident. Sheer panic. It makes him a menace in a boat. His brain seizes up solid, and he can't think coherently. I thought he might go to pieces when he found out who I was. The real conjuring trick of the day, though, was getting him here at the crucial moment. I want to know how these two lads managed it. When they slipped away, I had a wild thought that they might have gone to look for him, but that seemed impossible. Sam - explanations.'
'There isn't much to explain.' Sam seemed surprised by the question. 'We knew the owner of the Tudor Rose was called Helliwell, because the Harbourmaster mentioned the name one day when he'd been making a nuisance of himself. When you started talking about Mr Helliwell, we wondered if it was the same man. Then Mr Farnfield said he wasn't far away, so we decided to go and find out.'
'And how did you do that?' Oliver was delighted by Sam's simple directness, which was not unlike his own way of doing things.
'We slipped down to the Tudor Rose and asked the owner if he was the spy who was found in Commander Keston's office. He looked awfully scared, and his wife sort of screamed, so there wasn't much doubt, really.'
After a long silence, Simon Keston turned to his son.
'How can we thank these two properly for all they've done?'
Oliver put a hand lightly on Sam's shoulder.
'Tell me, young 'un, didn't I see you two casting rather envious eyes on a nice twelve-footer that's for sale up in the yard?'
Neither Sam nor Ted could reply, but their expressions were eloquent enough to make words unnecessary.
Two days later, when most of the tedious formalities had been cleared up, Geoff and Simon Keston were lounging at ease in the cockpit of the Congo Maiden while the three younger men cleared up after supper. The two boys had sailed past not long before, taking their new boat out for yet another trial, and there was a general air of contentment.
After a time, Simon Keston said it had all turned out very well, and he hoped Geoff agreed.
'I've got what I wanted. I can be myself again without any need to worry who sees me. That's great. Between us, we've put a spoke in a very dangerous wheel, and found young Mike a couple of murderers. Has it turned out as well from your point of view?'
'Oh, I think so.' Geoff smiled quietly. 'You had me worried more than once, but I managed not to panic. What still puzzles me is that you and your son seemed worried, when you knew you could put yourselves in the clear at any time. Why was that?'
'Two reasons.' The big man looked slightly sheepish. 'Oliver was a bit worried that he might be blamed for the murders, but he soon realised that you would deal with that problem. We were both more worried by the fear that you might stop our little scheme, which would have put me back where I started.'
'I see.' Geoff looked sympathetic. 'It can't have been easy for you. It's odd to think that I really got involved because Oliver chose to call himself Nicholas Tooley. But for that, I'd have left it to the police.'
'I'm glad you didn't. Mike and his colleagues are nice chaps, but they sometimes lack imagination. You'll have to take those two boys into your team, They've got all the imagination you could wish, and a lot of guts, too. They'd liven up your outfit no end.'
'I don't doubt that.' Geoff grimaced. 'Jimmy and his lot are bad enough, They'll be back from holiday soon, and that will probably liven things up quite enough for me. The boys can join when Jimmy takes over my job, they'll be old enough then. That should teach him a lesson.'
Chapters | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |
| The Fiction of Don Thomasson |
|© Keith Thomasson February 11th 2002|