Boatman's dream 27
By Parson Thru
Bellingham-Smythe and his son-in-law, Tim, remained at the breakfast table as we got up to leave. He was busy scrolling through his phone contacts. Eddie got into his car to drive back home to Bridgwater. Merlin and Dennis headed off to their beds. It had been a wearying forty-eight hours.
Ben, The Herald photographer, followed me out to the wharf fence where we stood and looked at the burned-out boat. The smell was still hanging in the air after several weeks.
I lit a cigarette and offered the pack. Ben declined it politely.
“What do you think started it?” he asked, following my gaze.
“One of these, probably.”
“Did the traveller ever turn up?”
“Danny? No idea. We haven’t heard anything. He was meant to be heading to Totnes.”
“Do you think he did this?”
“Intentionally, you mean? Why would he?”
“It’s odd that he just disappeared.”
“You’ve got a suspicious mind.”
I stamped the cigarette out, crushing it into the sandy mud at the roadside.
“Did you really hear oars?”
“Leave it, Ben.”
A breeze came through the yard, jangling rigging against masts.
At the disused quarry, a group of climbers called out to one another. Their voices were carried unhindered across a small lake. We watched someone wearing a pink helmet lean back onto their rope and begin abseiling down the face.
“Ever done that?” Ben asked.
I smiled at the recollection. “Many, many years ago, up in Yorkshire. My knees wouldn’t stand it now.”
“I’ve often thought about it, but I’m not keen on heights.”
A gentle involuntary snort escaped as I turned to look at Ben. “Maybe not your thing, then.”
He was in his early twenties, earnest and seemingly keen to make something of this job with The Herald, which was casual and part-time.
I decided to head back to town. Ben spoke before I could get away.
“Look, Kevin, I was already coming down here yesterday, before I heard about the man overboard. I wanted to get some photos of Arthur and try to talk to him. He’s caused a bit of a stir in the town. The article about the club meeting the other week didn’t really do justice to him.”
“I don’t know. I never read it.”
“Can you keep something to yourself?”
“No, seriously. Can I trust you?”
I looked at Ben’s boyish features – innocent, idealistic eyes set like virgin pearls.
The burden was already on me.
“Yes. You can trust me.”
“The article about the extraordinary meeting, and everything since… it’s nothing more than external comms… publicity, for Bellingham-Smythe and his marina development.”
“You can relax, Ben. I think we all understand that.”
“He’s manipulating everyone. The townspeople, the council, everyone, and my editor’s following orders from above.”
“We’re owned by a group. This goes up a long way. Are you sure I can trust you?”
“Life’s like that, Ben. Don’t go screwing things up for yourself. You’re young, just starting out. When I was your age, old gits like me said ‘Keep your head down. Keep your nose clean, and don’t rock the boat’.”
“Did you follow their advice?”
“For a while.”
“But you rocked the boat?”
“In the end.”
“So why are you telling me not to rock the boat?”
I watched the one of the climbers belaying someone as they picked their way from hand-hold to hand-hold, foot-hold to foot-hold. I felt like the one steadying the rope.
“No one can tell you what to do, Ben. You have to take your own risks.”
“Tell me about the oars.”