The Fiction of Don Thomasson
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| The Fiction of Don Thomasson |
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One of the best ways of convincing a foreign visitor that the British are mad is to show them Tring station. If the contrast between the wide expanses of deserted platform and the tiny station building is not enough, the great distance between the station and the town it is supposed to serve will clinch the matter. Nevertheless, the place has its uses. Secluded yet readily accessible, it is a good place for meeting when a minimum of publicity is desirable. There is a hotel beside the station and a few houses line the road beyond, but there are few inquisitive eyes to watch who comes and goes and embarrassing questions are rare.
Jimmy arrived at the station by a late morning train on the Tuesday following his visit to Brands Hatch. He noted with satisfaction that no other passengers left the train at that point and that the sun was shining with pleasant warmth. He felt that this was going to be a good day.
Having checked at the Station Hotel that a meal could be reserved for him, he strolled away past the houses to the point where the road crosses the canal, which lies far down in a deep cutting that gives it a vaguely sinister appearance. Hitching himself onto the parapet of the bridge, he stared down at the murky water, wondering what the canal had looked like when it was a main highway carrying important traffic.
His reflections did not prevent him from noting the passage of an occasional car. After the fifth of these had gone he looked back down the road for a full minute. Then, as if satisfied by what he had seen, though he had in fact seen nothing, he slid off the parapet and strolled back to the hotel.
There was only one other man in the bar, with whom Jimmy exchanged civil greetings, his thumb meanwhile pointing upwards in a significant but quite unobtrusive way. Later, they dined at separate tables, minding their own business. After a pleasant cup of coffee had rounded off an excellent meal, Jimmy paid his bill and set off to walk in the direction of Aldbury. He had covered barely a quarter or a mile when his fellow diner came past and offered him a lift, which he accepted.
This was a standard ploy which Geoff favoured whenever he and Jimmy needed to have a long talk. Regarding his own route to the rendezvous, he would only say that anyone who followed him would have to be clairvoyant. Jimmy's vigil by the bridge had been a final check to make sure that no one had shown that useful but elusive ability. It was all very careful and very effective.
When they were settled in the car park behind Ivinghoe Beacon, which was conveniently deserted at this time of year, Jimmy summarised the events of the past few days, adding, 'I thought the biggest problem was going to be getting a place on the Monaco tour. It looked almost impossible. Then, in the bar after the races, Sandy Clarewood told Carter he wouldn't be able to go with him after all and Carter actually asked me if I was interested in taking over the booking. It was all settled in five minutes and I've confirmed the transfer with the tour people.'
Geoff gazed at the view for a while before making any comment. 'On the face of it, a piece of luck. Did Clarewood say why he couldn't go?'
'No, he didn't'. Jimmy frowned. 'He simply said that something else had cropped up. He tried to look disappointed, without much success. Why, do you think his change of plan is connected with the rest of the business?'
'It could be. You say they were going together?'
'On the same tour, but it wasn't a joint booking. Clarewood booked about a fortnight after Carter did.'
'After the threats started, in fact.'
'Perhaps Clarewood thought Carter needed some help.'
'Yet he changes his mind and hands over the booking to a compete stranger, who might - for all he knows - be one of the people responsible for the threats. It almost looks as if someone has scared him off.'
'I doubt it.' Jimmy laughed. 'Young Sandy doesn't scare easily. He certainly didn't look scared when he said he would have to cancel the trip. I thought he was amused and pleased, but didn't want to make it obvious.'
Geoff shifted irritably in his seat, shaking his head. 'I don't like it. This stroke of luck of yours worries me more than any other aspect of the case I've come across so far. It's out of character, out of place. What made Clarewood change his mind? Why did he choose to tell Carter when you happened to be there? Why did they accept you so readily as a friend? Remember, Carter had excellent reasons to be wary of strangers.'
The questions were reasonable enough and Jimmy felt he had to defend himself. 'I don't know why Clarewood changed his mind, or why he mentioned it just then. I had a feeling that it was something quite recent that had made the difference and he was telling Carter at the first opportunity. As to why they accepted me as a friend, you have to remember that we were in a highly unreal and artificial atmosphere. Motor race meetings are like that.'
Rather to Jimmy's surprise, Geoff nodded agreement. 'Yes, I know what you mean. In my younger days, there used to be a catch phrase - the right crowd and no crowding.'
Jimmy chuckled. 'Things have changed a bit since Brooklands, though I suppose you could still talk of the right crowd. A chap I know went to Silverstone and left his camera hanging on the fence, walking on for the best part of a mile before he missed it. A couple of youngsters came along and handed it over. They seemed quite surprised to get a pound note as a reward.'
Raising sceptical eyebrows, Geoff enquired if Jimmy was suggesting that motor racing enthusiasts were more honest than their fellow citizens.
Jimmy laughed. 'Not at all. In some ways, they're a right bunch of rogues, but they're a good bunch and there's the sense of sharing a common interest. If I hadn't known a fair amount about motor racing, Carter would have spotted the fact in no time.'
Geoff savoured this and then nodded agreement. 'You may have a point there. Motor racing seems to breed fanatics. Carter may have felt inclined to trust someone who could talk the language, though it seems a rather naïve point of view.'
'He may be relying on you to warn him if I'm undesirable. He must know that he's being watched, unless he's blind. The man on duty on Sunday wasn't particularly subtle.'
'Carter is anything but blind, unlike the man you refer to, who gave a detailed description of you but saw nothing at all of the knife incident.'
'I shouldn't blame him too much. People who were much closer saw no more than he did.'
'They weren't supposed to be on the look out for trouble. He was... Tell me, Jimmy, what do you see as the salient point in all this business?'
There was no need for Jimmy to think about his answer. 'The fact that they seem remarkably anxious not to do Carter any real harm. If they want to keep him away from Monaco, why not put him into hospital with minor injuries? They've shown that they could do it.'
'Exactly.' Geoff looked worried. 'It suggests that the whole thing might be a put up job, that Carter isn't really being threatened at all. He might even be organising the whole thing himself.'
'I doubt it.' Jimmy shook his head. 'He isn't that sort of chap and some of his reactions don't fit with the idea.'
'Oh, I agree, though you have to remember that he could be acting, even when there appears to be no audience. He's no fool and he must realise that we're keeping pretty close tabs on him. That's why I'm worried about this cancellation business. They could be casting you in the role of fall guy.'
'I don't see it.' A stubborn note was creeping into Jimmy's voice. 'I was there. I saw their faces. You didn't. I think Carter's straight and I'm sure Clarewood is. He hasn't the imagination to be anything else.'
'All right.' Geoff's tone was conciliatory. 'I'll accept that, for the moment, but watch your step just the same. Will you be seeing them before the Monaco trip?'
'We're all going to Mallory Park on Sunday. Clarewood's in the Formula Three race. The weekend after that's a bit vague. There are nine meetings, but none of them have Formula Three events. Clarewood said he was planning to do a major overhaul. We offered to help, but he said we'd only get in the way. We might go to Brands, but that isn't definite.'
Geoff nodded absently and said nothing for some time. Then he shook his head, as if something was bothering him. 'It all sounds nice and friendly, but it doesn't fit with what I know of Carter. It doesn't fit at all. He's quite an important chap in his own line, you know. He's also a brilliant theorist. I simply can't imagine him helping to overhaul a racing car. It seems right out of character.'
This made Jimmy chuckle. 'From a couple of things Sandy Clarewood said, he felt much the same way. Last time Carter helped with an overhaul it took a month to get the car back in proper racing trim. I can't see what his job has to do with it. I don't even know what his job is.'
'No. We didn't put much about that in the dossier.' Geoff hesitated and then visibly made up his mind. 'Those slides go through a good many hands, one way and another, and I like to be careful how much they say. There's no reason why I shouldn't tell you at least some of the relevant facts. Do you know about international finance?'
'Only what I read in the papers and I don't believe much of that.'
'You're probably wise. It's much too complicated a subject to be handled effectively by the press. The thing to remember is that there are two entirely different levels, the practical and the theoretical. Most of the trade of the world works at the practical level, reacting to the real facts of supply and demand, but there's a significant amount of trading that hasn't any real basis at all. It's mostly trading in money. Someone decides to sell a particular currency because it suits him to do so. No goods are involved, just value, but if the deal's big enough it can alter exchange rates all over the world. it usually alters them in such a way that the man who sold can buy back the same currency more cheaply. He only has the same amount of money, but it's worth more.'
'I'll take your word for it.' Jimmy pulled a long face. 'You make it sound easy. I wish you'd show me how it works.'
'It certainly isn't easy. If I knew how to do it I'd make my own pile before telling you.' Geoff was becoming more relaxed as he got into his stride. 'Carter's special genius is that he understands the process perfectly. It annoys him, because it upsets the practical trading and makes nonsense of the basic economic rules. That's what he says, anyway.'
'It sounds like a typical example of his cussedness.' The thought made Jimmy smile. 'I suspect he gets real satisfaction out of refusing to do as people advise him.'
Geoff's eyebrows rose in surprise. 'That's a very shrewd comment, young Jimmy. Now you mention it, I'm inclined to agree, because it would explain a lot of things. It might even explain why Carter's so keen on his job, which is to beat the theoretical traders at their own game. He studies the situation and works out counter measures, aiming to stabilise the exchanges and minimise the ill effects.'
'Could his visit to Monaco help him to do the job better?'
'I can't see how.' Geoff gave this careful consideration. 'He isn't likely to meet anyone important, unless he makes special arrangements. He certainly wouldn't learn anything by walking round the streets.'
'Then I just don't get it.' Jimmy was frowning ferociously. 'These threats must be connected with his work in some way. I can't see that anything else makes sense, but how would staying away from Monaco affect his work? I...wait a minute! Staying away is only the negative aspect. The positive side is that if he doesn't go to Monaco he'll stay in London. Does that ring any bells?'
It was quite clear that Geoff found the suggestion of interest and as he thought about it he began to look more interested than ever. In the end, he looked at Jimmy with some surprise. 'Associating with Carter hasn't done your brain any harm, my lad. That is brilliant. It may even give us the explanation we've been looking for.'
A little taken aback, Jimmy invited Geoff to explain.
'You have to remember that Carter advises us how to meet a given situation on a basis of logical analysis of the facts. His advice is therefore predictable, to some extent. Now, suppose someone realised that and went a step further. If they knew what he was going to advise, they could anticipate the result and counter it. I'm not sure it hasn't happened already. Carter was furious with himself, but it wasn't really his fault. Now, suppose he was on holiday at the critical time. Instead of working to his advice, we'd have to manage as best we could. The result would be much less predictable and that might be dangerous for the people playing the markets. They'd be much happier to have him on duty.'
'Is there any way to check the theory?'
'I'm not sure. I'll have to get advice from the experts. I can't ask Carter, because he'd be biased. All the same, I think you've got something. It's the only idea I've come across that makes any sense.'
'Glad to help.' Jimmy was still a little shaken by his success. 'Does it affect your plans at all?'
'I don't think so. It may make your job easier, because once he leaves London they may as well give up. In that case, you can just enjoy the trip.'
Jimmy chuckled. 'I'll do my best. It might depend on Carter. I'm not sure what sort of companion he'd make in such circumstances. He isn't a teetotaller, which is just as well, but I haven't a clue regarding his attitude to women.'
Treating this casual remark seriously, Geoff gave a considered reply. 'He hasn't any permanent attachments, as far as I know, but he isn't monastic and he certainly hasn't any less desirable tendencies. He once said marriage was out of the question while his brain was working a hundred and twenty hours a week.'
'That's five days out of seven. Doesn't he ever sleep?'
'Perhaps he works in his dreams.' Geoff shrugged his shoulders. 'I wouldn't be surprised, from what I know of him.'
'Once, officially. When no one else could get him to talk, I decided to see what I could do. It wasn't as successful as I would have liked.'
They sat in silence for a time, thinking about what had been said. Jimmy suddenly remembered a point that had puzzled him. 'How did you find out about his trip to Monaco?'
Geoff smiled faintly. 'He told Clarewood about it during a telephone call.'
'I thought that might be it. So how did the people behind the threats find out? It doesn't seem to have taken them long.'
There was a pause before Geoff chuckled. 'Yes, indeed. How did they find out? I doubt if they can listen to telephone calls. It's difficult enough for us to arrange that kind of thing. Carter may have let it out himself, of course, but he hasn't all that many close friends.'
'The undesirables?' Jimmy sounded doubtful and Geoff was inclined to take the same view.
'He doesn't see them very often, now. As it happens, he was very busy during the critical period and scarcely had any time at all for socialising. I'll look into it. We might get a useful lead.'
'There isn't much time left. Sixteen days. Thursday fortnight. We get to Monaco at about lunchtime on the Friday.'
'I'll be looking out for you.'
After that, Jimmy expected Geoff to start the car and drive back to Tring station, but the older man sat silent and motionless for so long that Jimmy wondered what was making him look so grave. In the end, Geoff spoke quietly and reflectively.
'This is an odd case, Jimmy. I'm not at all happy about it. At first, I thought it was straightforward, but the more I dig the more complicated it seems to get. Just when I think I've got to the bottom of a particular aspect of the thing, I find something else beyond. I'm beginning to wonder how deep it goes.'
Jimmy nodded understandingly, but said nothing. Geoff was thinking aloud and might ask for an opinion later. For a moment, he only wanted sympathetic attention.
'You've provided more evidence than we've been able to get by any other channel. You've described the man with the knife and the girl. Those are the only descriptions we have of any of the people involved. We have quite a lot of facts, but facts aren't necessarily evidence. We haven't the beginnings of a case, even if we knew who was concerned.
'To me, that suggests we're up against experts. Crime used to be a rather amateurish business. Even in a big coup, there was an element of pure adventure, with people doing things for excitement as much as for profit. Things have changed. Criminals take their job seriously and that makes them harder to catch.
'Mind you, in talking of crime, I'm rather stretching the point. In legal terms the campaign against Carter is technically an offence, because it involves destruction of property, disturbance of the peace and that sort of thing, but you could hardly call it criminal. The threats themselves amount to nothing unless we can connect them firmly with the incidents they follow. In isolation, there's nothing wrong in ringing someone up and advising them not to do something. All the same, it would be surprising if we don't find something more behind it all.
'And that, Jimmy, is what worries me. We've got to be careful. You need to be particularly careful, because you could recognise some of the people concerned. If there's a lot at stake, they might not be as tender with you as they've been with Carter. Watch your step and report anything unusual. I expect you've been keeping a look out for anyone following you?'
Jimmy snorted. 'I make a habit of it since I started working for you. I haven't taken any special precautions, because I'm not supposed to know that I need to. If I start looking over my shoulder I can't very well pretend to be an innocent, can I?'
'You have an excellent grasp of the essentials.' Geoff nodded approvingly. 'Once you begin to take defensive measures you have to make them effective, because you have shown there is something to defend, but innocence is not an easy part to play. Overacting is fatally easy.'
'I wish you hadn't emphasised the fatal bit.' Jimmy was grinning and he stretched his legs out luxuriously. 'I'm no Thespian, so I don't try to act. After Sunday, a little wariness would be natural. As long as I'm not too professionally wary, the impression should be effective.'
'Well, if You're as confident as that, I won't argue.' Geoff smiled. 'Tell me, how do you visualise your audience? What do you make of the people who may be watching you?'
'No clear picture as yet.' Jimmy considered the point. 'The man with the knife was just a thug. Cockney of Italian origin, I'd think. Hired hand. The man who hired him must know where to find people like that, so he's probably your professional, but I doubt if he's the prime mover, because he wouldn't be likely to gain much by manipulating someone like Carter. So I place him as an agent, working for someone we haven't even glimpsed yet.'
Geoff nodded. 'The real instigator, his agent, and the recruit. I was visualising the same sort of structure, but I felt my imagination might be running away with me. The amount of money involved must be quite large. I only hope...but we'll cross that bridge if and when we have to.'
He started the car and drove back through Aldbury, dropping Jimmy a hundred yards short of the station. When the car had gone, Jimmy trudged down the road wondering what it could have been that Geoff had been reluctant to talk about and what might yet be brought to light by further digging.
Chapters | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 |
| The Fiction of Don Thomasson |
|© Keith Thomasson February 11th 2002|