The Fiction of Don Thomasson
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| The Fiction of Don Thomasson |
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Apart from the pleasant square and the cafe surrounding it, the small town to St Maximin de la Ste Baum offers no particular opportunities to find entertainment at short notice. The second coach had also arrived and most of the party spent their time strolling in the sunshine and easing muscles cramped by the overnight journey. Simon, accepting Jimmy's advice, was chatting to everyone in sight, looking as if he hadn't a care in the world, so Jimmy decided to have a quiet word with Tim.
The courier was looking tired but he said the trip was going well. With his dishevelled black hair and bird like quickness of movement, he looked like a dissipated crow. When Jimmy told him that he laughed. 'No good bothering with appearances while we're on the road. You wait until I can preen my feathers. Well, we've covered eleven hundred kilometres and there are about a hundred and sixty to go. Nearly there, in fact.'
'What time do you expect to arrive?' Jimmy wanted all the facts he could get.
'It's getting on for eleven now. Oh, before two, with any luck. We have to drop some passengers in Nice first, but that won't take long.' Tim paused uncertainly and then, carefully looking away from Jimmy, went on. 'Shut me up if I'm talking out of turn, but I've been wondering about that little affair in Paris. That yellow Lotus, too. I don't want to seem inquisitive, but if you think anything's likely to happen it might help me to know about it in advance.'
This gave Jimmy exactly the opening he had been looking for, but he pretended to hesitate for a moment. 'I can't tell you anything definite, Tim. Mr Carter is a bit worried about something connected with the incident in Paris and the Lotus, but I'm not sure of the details. Someone didn't want him to come on this trip, I gather. They may still be trying to persuade him to go home. I doubt if they'll succeed, mind you.'
'Mmm.' Tim frowned. 'We don't want any trouble. Routine problems are enough of a headache. Is there anything I could do to help?'
Once again, Jimmy hesitated. 'Well, I was wishing that Mr Carter and I were in the same hotel, so that I could keep an eye on him more easily. I suppose that couldn't be fixed, could it?'
'Hang on a minute.' Tim went across to speak briefly with the other courier and returned with a broad smile on his face. 'How would this suit? John and I were going to share a room at the Swiss Hotel, but we could swap places with you and Mr Carter. It would mean that you would both change hotels, of course.'
'That might not be a bad thing.' Jimmy was beginning to understand how Tim's mind worked and he deliberately allowed himself this apparently indiscreet comment, which produced a useful response.
'In that case, may I make another suggestion?' Tim barely waited for Jimmy's nod. 'When we get to Nice, you could transfer to the other coach. John should have plenty of room after dropping people there. He should get to Monaco a little ahead of this coach and anyone looking out for Mr Carter might miss you both.'
'Good scheme.' Jimmy nodded approval. 'Where do you unload?'
'Various places. Your best bet would be the new railway station. Do you know Monaco well?'
'The hotel's in the Rue Grimaldi and you could get to it by a back street called the Rue de la Turbie.'
Screwing up his eyes to visualise the relevant part of the map he had been studying, Jimmy nodded. 'Up the hill a little way from the station, then down some steps on the other side of the road.'
Tim grinned cheerfully. 'You know the place better than I do. If you go that way you'll come out close to the hotel.'
'Good.' Jimmy looked at Tim with real gratitude. 'You've been very helpful, particularly in not asking questions to which I haven't got any useful answers. I'll have to see if Mr Carter likes the scheme, of course.'
The courier's eyes flickered with understanding amusement and Jimmy wondered how much he had guessed. 'Suppose I ask him for you. I could say there's been a mix up over the rooms. Then he needn't know you were involved.'
While this suited Jimmy very well, he was a little taken aback by the implications of the offer. Tim obviously saw that Jimmy wanted to conceal his interest in Simon Carter's well being and had decided that there was no ulterior motive behind the concealment. Seeing this thought reflected on Jimmy's face, Tim grinned again.
'I think you're on Mr Carter's side, but you don't want the fact to be too obvious. That as clear enough in Paris. I'll see what he thinks of the switch.'
Simon raised no objections, in fact he seemed very pleased. He was totally relaxed now, genuinely so and not as a result of mental gymnastics. This could have been due to the pleasant sunshine, but the comic incident involving the yellow Lotus had probably helped. Jimmy was inclined to reserve judgement in that matter, but he had no wish to destroy his companion's sunny mood and was content to talk idly as they resumed the journey to Monaco. On the spur of the moment, he asked Simon why he had chosen to come by coach rather than drive down in the Marcos.
Simon laughed. 'Mainly laziness. I don't think it occurred to me that it would be a practical proposition. The distance seemed a lot greater from the other end. Not that I regret the choice. If I'd started at the same time I might have got to Monaco by three o'clock this morning, dog tired and ready to sleep for hours. Where would there be any advantage in that?'
'You wouldn't have slept much. Practice started at half past five.'
'I'd have stayed up to watch it, I expect. Then I'd have been more tired than ever. It would be easier with someone to help, of course. Now that I know the route a bit, I might drive down next year. Do you fancy coming as co-driver?'
With complete sincerity, Jimmy said he regarded the invitation as an honour, in more ways than one. As the coach rolled on towards Nice, they began to discuss times and schedules, other worries temporarily forgotten.
The dusty plains of Provence suddenly gave way to the foothills of the coastal mountains, but the new autoroute kept them moving at a steady pace. Too hilly and tortuous for really fast progress, it is much better than the old road along the coast and the scenery is worth at least a second look. In the warm sunshine it was surprising to recall the fears of the night hours. Here they were, within fifty kilometres of their destination and it seemed certain that Simon would get to Monaco after all. Had the Colonel give up, or had he been defeated by the irregular schedules of the coach trip? Perhaps he planned a last ditch attempt during the final stage of the journey.
When they stopped to drop some of the party in Nice, the change to the other coach went smoothly and they were in their new seats before the process of sorting out everyone's luggage was half complete. A few minutes later they were climbing the Boulevard Carnot on the last leg of the long haul from Ostend.
There are three roads along the coast between Nice and Menton. In places they are almost vertically above one another as they wind across the face of the rocky cliffs. The Grande Corniche, at the top, is the most spectacular, while the Moyenne Corniche runs it a close second, but despite sweeping road improvements these are not the easiest of routes for large vehicles, so the coaches followed the Corniche Inferieure, close to sea level.
Jimmy kept an eye open for the yellow Lotus, but Simon said it would probably take the Moyenne Corniche. 'That's what I'd do myself. Then I'd park and wait for the coaches to arrive. Where would you expect him to wait?'
'I don't know for certain.' Jimmy spread out a street map of the Principality to show Simon the options. 'In the Place D'Armes, I suppose. The coaches could come in by more than one route, but you would probably see them from there whichever way they came. We can dodge round that area by cutting through this back street.'
'That scarcely seems worth while. Would it matter if Sandy did see us?'
Jimmy shook his head. 'Even if you assume he's on your side, there may be other watchers. If we avoid one, we have a chance of avoiding them all.'
'All? You make it sound as if there are hundreds of people after me! Well, I suppose there might be one or two, but I don't think Sandy's one of them. When we get back we'll probably have a roaring party down at his flat in Castelnau and laugh ourselves silly over the whole thing.'
Jimmy felt as if he had received a forceful blow in the solar plexus. It had never seemed necessary to find out where Sandy lived and Geoff might have thought the same. The young racing driver had seemed comparatively unimportant, other than as a stepping stone in getting to know Simon. So he had a flat in Castelnau, did he? And the honey blonde had disappeared in that thoroughfare and reappeared in Sandy's Lotus. How very interesting. A casual question seemed urgently necessary.
'Does Sandy live on his own?'
This produced a totally unexpected and violent reaction. Simon seemed to find the question offensive and looked as if he was about to explode. His face completely expressionless and unfriendly, he answered curtly. 'He lives with his sister. Why?'
Mystified by Simon's evident annoyance, Jimmy found himself torn between a desire to cool the temperature and an urgent wish to obtain more information. He tried to compromise. 'Vulgar curiosity, I suppose. Was that his sister in the Lotus?'
The compromise was not a success. The colour came into Simon's cheeks. 'Where? At St Maximin? It can't have been. What did she look like?'
He was so vehement that Jimmy, flustered for once, made a mistake. 'Honey blonde, tall and slim, about five foot nine, very attractive...'
'You can't have seen all that when she was sitting in a car!'
An explosion seemed really imminent now. Simon's fury was inexplicable, but it was none the less real and Jimmy knew he had to cover his error. 'I saw her at Brands, the day you and I met. She was in the paddock and later on she was sitting at the other end of the stand we were in.'
Simon's anger evaporated into amazement. 'What on earth was she up to? Keeping an eye on me again, I suppose. Well I'm damned!'
He seemed rather pleased, but Jimmy was a little dubious about this explanation for the girl's behaviour. She had a lot to account for. There was her interest in Geoff Farnfield's movements and her recognition of Al Capone as an enemy. Taking into account the mysterious manoeuvres of the Lotus, Jimmy was not inclined to dismiss the young lady's motives too lightly.
Perhaps fortunately, a stir of excitement consequent to their arrival in Monaco ruled out further discussion of the matter for the time being. Jimmy advised Simon to keep his head down at the coach pulled to a halt. 'Pretend to be repacking your bag or something. If anyone's watching, they'll lose interest when they see it's the wrong coach and then we can make a move. We go straight from the coach into the railway station.'
Peering cautiously out of the booking office doorway a few minutes later, Jimmy could see neither familiar faces nor suspiciously lurking loungers. He refused to make a further move until the second coach, the one in which they had started the journey, came in sight, hoping its appearance would divert the attention of anyone on watch.
Much of Monaco is built on steep slopes. Flights of steps are as common there as canals are in Venice. Cars may find an easier gradient by taking the long way round but pedestrians are lucky to find a level stretch that extends for more than a few yards. Residents and well informed visitors make use of private lifts in buildings so set against the slope that they have street entrances both on their top floors and in their basements, but this is a measure to be used with caution. The average visitor may have to climb a hundred steps to reach his evening meal and descend two hundred and fifty more to reach his favourite bar after the meal. At least the food is well digested and it is astonishing that so many Monegasques manage to acquire such comfortably rounded figures.
The steps by which Jimmy and Simon reached the Rue de la Turbie were quite short by Monaco standards, just fifty sufficing for the descent. At the bottom, Jimmy waited for a full minute, but no one followed them down and he judged it safe to go on down the hill between the tall buildings which let only reflections of the Mediterranean sun penetrate the cool shadows. After a brief pause at the corner of the Rue Grimaldi for a quick look round, they walked the few yards down to the hotel entrance and found themselves among friends again. When the mild chaos attendant on the allocation and occupation of rooms was beginning to subside, Tim emerged from the scrimmage to explain what had happened when the coach arrived.
A fair haired Englishman matching Sandy's description had asked where the rest of the passengers were and been most surprised to learn that some had left the coach in Nice. Tim had seen no need to mention the fact the two of these had continued their journey in the other coach.
Climbing to the top floor room where they were to spend the next three nights, Jimmy and Simon relaxed thankfully on their beds, recruiting their strength for whatever the rest of the day might bring. Reviewing the situation in his mind, Jimmy felt reasonably satisfied with the way things were going. Unless the Colonel had any of his men planted among the tour patrons staying at the hotel, he probably had no idea where Simon was, so it was permissible to relax vigilance for a while. He closed his eyes and slept for an hour.
When he woke up, he found Simon perched precariously on the windowsill admiring the view. Somewhat alarmed, he pointed out that there was a sheer drop of fifty feet or more below the window.
Simon apologised sheepishly. 'Silly of me. I've survived so much lately that I'm getting careless. I was so interested in trying to trace the circuit that I forgot the risk involved.'
'You can't see much of it from here.' Having made his point, Jimmy hastened to change the subject. It wouldn't do to sound too protective. 'That traffic you can see passing is on the pit straight, which is really a long gentle curve. That's the Boulevard Albert Premier. From there, the circuit climbs the hill on the left, into Monte Carlo.'
'Isn't all this Monte Carlo?'
'No, just the area round the casino. Monaco old town is up on top of those cliffs on the right. That's the Rock of Monaco. The battlements and turrets at this end of the rock belong to the Palace. There's a good view of the circuit from there, but you need binoculars.'
'Where's the Gasworks Hairpin? That's what I want to see.'
'Right under the Palace cliffs.'
'Surely the gasworks weren't under the cliffs too.'
'They were. They've been moved now and replaced by the Princess Stephanie Gardens, which makes more sense. The flowers and trees must send a much nicer smell up the cliffs. This area we're in is La Condamine. But we may as well go and have a look around. We need to pick up programmes and admission badges and it wouldn't do to leave that too late.'
Jimmy looked round warily as they left the hotel but saw nothing to worry about. They strolled down the hill to the Boulevard Albert Premier, now occupied by everyday traffic which would have to use another route when the roadway became a race track. Turning left, they picked their way past the scaffolding of the tribunes towards the offices of the Automobile Club. where they bought programmes and badges in a room filled with enthusiasts seeking accommodation and tickets, speaking every imaginable language and a few highly improbably ones as well. Escaping with difficulty from this pandemonium, they sought the quiet of an umbrella topped table on the quayside, where they sipped beer and studied the programme.
Noticing a long black smear on the pavement under Jimmy's chair, Simon suddenly realised that they were sitting in the middle of the circuit, at the point where it swings through the narrow gap between the guard rail and the window of a tobacconist's shop. The Tabac has been the scene of many famous incidents and Jimmy pointed out some cracked tiles reputed to be a legacy of the time Jim Clark slide wide in 1967. While Simon's attention was concentrated on this a familiar figure came into view. Geoff was dressed for the part of a traditional British visitor and therefore stood out in strong contrast to the more informally clad people around him. He ambled up to a nearby table and ordered beer, carefully keeping out of Simon's line of vision. Jimmy saw a piece of paper slide under a beer mat and knew that it must carry an important message. Geoff's beer vanished with commendable rapidity and he went on his way. When Jimmy and Simon followed, the beer mat and the piece of paper were safely in Jimmy's pocket. He was fairly sure that no one had seen him collect them.
It was natural to follow the quayside to the chicane, where Ascari and Hawkins went bathing in their cars and where Bandini might have been luckier if he had followed their example. Trapped in his overturned and blazing Ferrari for four horrifying minutes, he had no hope, whereas the others had been able to swim ashore. The chicane had since been moved nearer to the Tabac, but Jimmy was able to point out the older site and the massive bollard which was probably the 'steel mooring' which Ascari just missed and which had certainly played a part in deflecting Bandini's car away from a comparatively safe plunge into the harbour, ripping open the fuel tanks, tearing off the suspension and probably turning the car over.
Leaving this famous and infamous spot, they followed the tree lined pavement to the tunnel under the Tir-aux-Pigeons, a surprisingly complicated structure which carries the road past the Pointe Focignana without disturbing the shooting range above. The footpath curves away from the road through a semi-circular gallery that cuts across a number of radial vaults open to the sea. In a corner of this gallery Jimmy found a chance to read Geoff's note.
You are being followed. Short swarthy man, checked red and brown lumberjacket. Picked you up at the Automobile Club, as I did. Ring me six to seven.
This was both good news and bad news. Jimmy felt that he should have realised that the Automobile Club was a danger point and that he should have gone there alone. However, there was nothing to be done about that now. At least Geoff had been on the ball and could identify one of their enemies.
At this point, Jimmy's reflections were interrupted by a tremendous crash of sound which echoed back and forth in the stone vaulting of the gallery with bewildering effect.
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|