فصل 05

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فصل 05

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Chapter five

The Roadman Who Wore Glasses

I rested for a time on the top of a hill. The road ran across a flat space in front of me and then down to a river. A small house stood in the fields below, but there were no other signs of life. I was very tired, so I lay down and closed my eyes.

It was seven o’clock when a sound woke me; it was the plane again. I did not move. It flew low over the hills. It turned towards me and I could see the two men in it. Both men were looking at me. I felt sure that they knew me. Then the machine climbed quickly and flew away to the east. I had to get away from that place before they returned. They probably saw my bicycle, so I had to throw it away.

I left the road and pushed the bicycle into some trees. Then I saw a small pool and threw the bicycle into it. The day was warm and clear and I could see the road to the east and the west. There was nothing on it. But I was sure that my enemies were on their way down that road. So I turned across the hills to the north.

After a time I looked back. My eyes are very good, and I saw a line of men walking side by side. There was a space of about 9 metres between one man and the next. They were all coming towards the high ground. I ran but did not get very far. There were more men in front.

‘I can’t get away from here,’ I thought. ‘If I move, they’ll see me. So I have to stay on the high ground and hide somewhere.’

I ran along the top of the hill and reached the road again. I turned a corner, of the road and there I found the roadman. He was preparing for work, but he was moving very slowly. He looked up as I came near.

‘This is a terrible job,’ he said, ‘and I can’t do it today. I’m too ill to work, and that’s a fact.’

He was a strange-looking man and he wore a pair of large glasses. His eyes looked very red.

‘What’s the matter?’ I asked, but I knew the answer. ‘You do this job every day, don’t you? Why can’t you do it today?’

‘I do,’ he replied, ‘but my daughter doesn’t come home from London every day. She came home yesterday, and we had a party last night.’ He took off his glasses and then continued. ‘I got very drunk last night and my head feels terrible.’

‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘Bed is clearly the best place for you.’

Ah, but it’s not easy. My new boss is coming today to see me and my work. If I go home to bed, he won’t find me here. And then I’ll lose my job.’

Suddenly I had a good idea. ‘Listen,’ I said. ‘Perhaps I can help you. Does the new boss know you very well?’

‘No. I don’t know him but I know about him. He travels around in a little car.’

‘Where’s your house?’ I asked.

He showed me a small house in the fields below.

‘Good. You go back to bed then and get some sleep. I’ll do your job. If the boss doesn’t know you, he won’t know me either.’ He looked at me and then laughed. Well, you’re a very nice man. It’ll be quite easy too and you needn’t do much work.’

He showed me a pile of stones. ‘I broke up those stones yesterday,’ he said, ‘and you needn’t do any more of that. Go down the road until you come to a pile of rocks. Bring them up here. I’ll break them up tomorrow. My name is Alexander Turnbull but my friends call me Specky. That’s because I wear these glasses. When the boss comes, you’ll have to talk politely. And call him “Sir”. He’ll be quite happy then.’

‘Perhaps the boss knows that you wear glasses,’ I said. ‘Let me borrow them for today.’

He laughed again. ‘Well, well, this is fun.’ He gave me his glasses and his dirty old hat.

I took off my coat and gave it to him. ‘Take this home with you,’ I said, ‘and keep it for me.’

Then he left me.

Ten minutes later I looked like a roadman myself. I had put dirt on my trousers and shoes. Turnbull’s trousers were tied below the knee, so I tied mine in the same way. Spies look at everything, and I was worried about my hands. They looked clean and rather soft, so I made them dirty.

Turnbull’s food and an old newspaper lay on the side of the road. It was eight o’clock now, and I was feeling quite hungry. So I stole some of his bread and cheese and had a quick meal.

Then I began my new job and carried the rocks up the road. While I was working, I remembered an old friend in Rhodesia. He was a policeman when I knew him. His life was strange and difficult. When he was in danger, he often dressed as another person. He told me, ‘But clothes alone aren’t enough, Hannay. You have to try to be another person and you have to believe it yourself. If you can’t do that, you will fail.’

So now I believed that I was the roadman. And I thought about my life and my job. I lived in the little house below. My daughter came home yesterday and we had a party. I got drunk and was feeling sick. But the new boss wanted to see me today, and I had to wait for him.

I worked for an hour or more and got quite dirty. It was a very dirty job. Suddenly a voice spoke from the road and I looked up. A young man was talking to me from a small car.

‘Are you Alexander Turnbull?’ he asked. ‘I’m your new boss, and my office is in the town hall at Newton-Stewart. The road looks all right here, Turnbull. There’s a soft part about a kilometre away, and you should clean the sides of the road. I’ll be around here again next week. Good morning.’

He drove away, and I felt very happy. My acting was quite good enough for him.

At about eleven o’clock a farmer drove some sheep down the road. When he saw me, he stopped.

‘Where’s Specky?’ he asked.

‘He’s ill,’ I replied. ‘I’m doing his job for a few days.’

At about midday a big car came down the road. It went past me and stopped about a hundred metres away. Three men got out of the car and walked slowly back towards me. I knew two of them. They were the men who visited the Galloway inn. One of them was thin and dark and the other was rather fat. But I did not know the third man, who was older than the others.

‘Good morning,’ the third man said. ‘You have a nice easy job here.’

I took my time. I put down a large rock and stood up slowly. They were watching me, and their eyes missed nothing.

‘There are worse jobs than this,’ I said, ‘but there are probably better ones too. I’d like to have yours and sit all day in that big car.’

The elder man was now looking at Turnbull’s newspaper.

‘Do you get the papers every day?’ he asked.

‘Yes, I get them but they’re three or four days late.’

He picked up the paper and looked at the date on it. Then he put it down again. The thin one was looking at my shoes and spoke a few words in German.

Then the older man said, ‘You have a fine pair of shoes. Did you buy them here?’

‘I did not,’ I said. ‘These shoes came from London. I got them from the gentleman who was shooting here last year. Now what was his name?’ And I tried to remember the name.

The fat man now spoke in German. ‘Let’s go,’ he said. ‘This man is all right.’

They asked me one more question. ‘Did anyone go past here early this morning? Perhaps he was riding a bicycle.’

I thought about this question for a moment. Then I said, ‘Well, I was a bit late this morning. My daughter came home from London yesterday and we had a party last night. I left the house at about seven o’clock, and there was nobody on the road then.’

The three men said goodbye to me and went back to their car. Three minutes later they drove away. I felt very happy, but I continued to work. It was good that I did, too; the car soon returned. The three men looked at me again as they went past.

I finished Turnbull’s bread and cheese and by five o’clock the work was completed. But I was not sure about the next step. I felt sure that my enemies were staying in the area. I decided to go down to Turnbull’s house. I could take his things back to him and get my coat. I could stay there until it was dark. And then I hoped to get away across the hills.

But suddenly another car came down the road and stopped. There was one man in it and he called to me.

‘Have you got a light?’

I looked at him and knew him. This was a very lucky chance. His name was Marmaduke Jopley, and I saw him once or twice in London before the murder. I hated the man. He was a friend of rich young men and old ladies who often invited him to their homes. Well, Jopley was too weak to hurt me. I decided to act quickly.

‘Hullo, Jopley,’ I said. ‘I’m surprised to see you here.’

His face grew pale. ‘Who are you?’ he asked in a nervous voice.

‘Hannay,’ I said. ‘From Rhodesia. Don’t you remember me?’

‘Hannay the murderer!’ he cried.

‘That’s right. Now listen to me. If you don’t do this quickly, I’ll be Jopley’s murderer too. Give me your coat and hat.’

He was very frightened. He did what I told him to. I put on his new coat over my dirty clothes and put his hat on my head. Then I gave him Turnbull’s glasses and dirty old hat.

‘Wear them for a few minutes,’ I said. ‘Nobody will know you.’ Which way now? Jopley was driving from the east, and I decided to go back that way. I got in the car and ordered Jopley into the passenger seat. Then I drove off.

‘Now, Jopley,’ I said, ‘if you’re no trouble, I won’t hurt you. But don’t try anything and don’t talk. Remember that I’m a murderer. If you make any trouble, I’ll kill you.’

We drove 13 kilometres along the road. Several men were standing on the corners while we drove past. They looked at the car but did not try to stop us. At about seven o’clock I turned into a narrow road and drove up into the hills. The villages and houses were soon behind us. At last I stopped the car in a quiet place. I gave Jopley his coat and hat and took back Turnbull’s glasses and the old hat.

‘Thank you,’ I said. ‘Now you can go and find the police.’

I watched the red light of his car as he drove over the hill.

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