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The Fiction of Don Thomasson
Don't Go To Monaco - Chapter 8

The Fiction of Donald William Thomasson
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VIII

Whirling round, Jimmy was just in time to see a little dark haired man vaulting the parapet on the inner side of the gallery, an evil grin of satisfaction on his face. A small automatic was clattering to rest on the stone pavement.

Jimmy darted forward, then paused to take stock. Simon was not far away, startled but apparently unharmed, while a number of people, Geoff among them, were hurrying towards the source of the sound. They were still some distance down the gallery and Jimmy saw a chance to take evasive action. Warning Simon to leave the gun alone he glanced over the parapet. It looked a long way down to the damp stones below but the little man had considered it a practical route. Rolling over the coping, Jimmy hung by his fingertips for a moment and then let himself drop. A moment later Simon landed beside him.

They found themselves looking out through a low tunnel at the sunlit sea. Halfway down the tunnel lay a lumberjacket and a pair of slacks but the little man who had been wearing them was nowhere to be seen. He was probably enjoying a swim, just another anonymous head bobbing around in the water among many others.

Crouching under the low roof, Jimmy led the way down the tunnel. His immediate objective was to prevent Simon being involved in the incident. Geoff would no doubt be doing his best to help back in the gallery, but that might give them only a few seconds grace. Pushing Simon towards the rocks piled at the side of the tunnel entrance, Jimmy pulled off his jacket and shirt, snarling a single word instruction, 'Sunbathe!'

Simon understood immediately and in a few moments they were both stretched out as comfortably as the rocks allowed, trying to look as if they had been sun worshipping all day, though their white skin rather spoilt the illusion.

When five minutes had passed without further incident, Simon ventured a cautious question. 'What was all that in aid of?'

Glancing around to make sure no one was in earshot, Jimmy answered with equal caution. 'Someone wants you out of circulation. If you'd picked up that gun and put your fingerprints on it you could have had some very awkward questions to answer. As it is, the only danger is that someone who was in the gallery might be able to identify us later on, but I think they were too far away for that. If we sit tight here until the fuss dies down I think we should get away with it. If anyone asks, we were asleep and heard nothing.'

Simon thought this over and appeared to accept Jimmy's advice, but he was obviously puzzled and after a while began to speak his thoughts. 'I wish I knew what all this was about. It doesn't make sense. I don't know anybody who lives here.'

'As far as you know.' Jimmy slipped in this comment adroitly in the hope of stirring up Simon's thinking processes, which seemed less efficient than usual.

'Fair comment.' Simon nodded approval. 'But if they're important enough to justify all this palaver I'd be likely to remember them. Maybe I've been thinking about it all for too long. The relevant area of my brain seems too tired to work properly.'

'Then try a new approach.' Jimmy was determinedly cheerful. 'The reason for the threats must relate to something or someone you mustn't see or to someone who mustn't see you.'

'Yes...' Simon sat up and flavoured the statement. 'Or perhaps a combination of those things.'

'How do you mean?'

'They might want to stop me seeing a particular person in association with a particular thing.'

'Where does that get us?'

'Nowhere.' Simon sounded depressed. 'You can't argue it out logically. I've tried. There aren't enough solid facts. The whole thing seems cockeyed. Even the threats weren't really convincing. They only made me all the more determined to come here.'

'There's a thought there.' Jimmy raised himself on one elbow and stared across at the Rock of Monaco. 'Suppose that was what they wanted. Suppose the threats were only meant to create a background situation which would make it possible for them to do something else. People might think you'd faked up the threats yourself as a cover for something. Or... It's no use. I've lost myself.'

'All the same, it's a brilliant thought.' Simon sounded impressed and Jimmy felt embarrassed.

'Come off it, Simon. I know my brain isn't as good as yours. It seemed a good idea when I started to explain it, but then everything faded away.'

'I wasn't kidding, Jimmy. It really was brilliant. That's the sort of thing I can't cope with. I can reason things out logically, but I can't visualise how other people's minds work. It's a handicap. There was one time when I made an awful fool of myself by accepting what I was told at face value. This could be the same sort of thing. Suppose the threats were just a smoke screen? What would that achieve?'

Jimmy had to think about his answer carefully, because he knew that Geoff had considered the same question. 'It might throw doubt on your integrity, Simon, at least among people who don't know you very well. It might make them see other things in a different light.'

'Yes.' Simon considered this dispassionately. 'That's reasonable. It might look as if I was intending to do something silly and preparing some sort of camouflage in advance.'

'Camouflage for what?' To persuade Simon to tell him things he already knew, Jimmy had to feign ignorance. It wasn't easy.

'Well...' Simon was reluctant to explain, but in the end he shrugged his shoulders. 'My job is rather hush hush. I can't tell you more than that, so please don't ask. It means that people have to feel they can trust me. Any serious doubts and I'd be finished. Suppose I disappeared during this weekend and someone produced evidence that I'd set up the threats myself. That would be it. Even if they let me loose again there wouldn't be much point in my going home. I'd have no job and no prospect of one.'

'Then we'll have to make sure you don't disappear.' Jimmy spoke with cheerful confidence and Simon smiled in response.

'You know, Jimmy, I'd have been lost without you, even if Sandy had come along. I'm very grateful.'

Jimmy made suitable deprecatory noises and then there was a period of companionable silence, which Simon broke rather plaintively. 'You know, I can't even work out how they found I was planning to come here in the first place.'

This was precisely the point Jimmy had made to Geoff and he wondered what Simon would make of it, given a little prodding. 'Could your telephone have been tapped?'

'It is, but only by official authorities.' Simon grimaced. 'They probably think I don't know but they give the game away now and then.'

Keeping his amusement to himself, Jimmy asked who had known about the trip before the threats started.

Simon considered this carefully. 'Not many people. Sandy and Susan. That's his sister. The Bensons, who keep house for me. I've known them for years, since I was a kid. I don't think I told anyone else. It seemed a bit flamboyant to talk about coming all this way to watch a motor race. People don't understand.'

'But someone found out.' Jimmy spoke the words softly but significantly.

'Yes.' Simon sighed. 'Someone found out. Someone who must have been prepared to go to a lot of trouble to make trouble for me. That's what I find so unbelievable and so disturbing. They must have been keeping tabs on me before that, maybe using bugs and that sort of thing. I hate it.'

Catching a glimpse of the misery and uncertainty in Simon's mind, Jimmy tried to be sympathetic. 'It happens, if you're important enough.'

There was another long silence, during which Simon gradually began to look more alert, less depressed. Jimmy wondered what was going on in that capable brain.

In the end, Simon laughed with a new air of freedom. 'Jimmy, you shame me. You're a genius. You keep showing me the things I've been missing. Yes, I am important, to a very small number of people. Say one in ten million or so. Maybe not as many as that. The rest don't know I exist and certainly don't care whether I come to Monaco or not. I was forgetting that. When you're important in one little world, you forget how unimportant you are outside it.'

'Does that narrow the field?'

'Very much so.' Simon's voice trailed away as if he had realised something. After a few moments he sprang to his feet and put his shirt on, clearly unwilling to discuss the matter further. 'The fuss and bother should be over by now. Let's finish our walk round the circuit.'

There was something new in his voice, a hard edge of resolution masking his usual tone of academic reason. Whatever had come into his mind, he evidently intended to meet it squarely and boldly.

Scrambling over the rocks, they found their way back to the road at the eastern end of the tunnel. All was quiet and no one gave them a second glance. Following the circuit in reverse they passed under the old railway bridge at Portier and climbed the steep Avenue des Spelugues to the Station Hairpin. The racing cars descend the Avenue in short sharp spurts, but walking up it is a different matter. They were glad to pause for a rest against a stone balustrade opposite the area where the station used to stand.

The railway has been diverted through a tunnel under the town, leaving an area of cleared ground. Part of this was in use as a paddock for the Formula Three cars. Looking in that direction, Jimmy spotted a familiar yellow shape and enlightenment dawned, a whole series of events at last falling into their proper perspective. He said nothing for the moment, wanting to check his facts first, but Simon was preoccupied and they walked on up the hill in silence.

As they approached the Casino Square, the highest point on the circuit, Jimmy pointed to a small bar on the far side of the road and said it was time for another drink. Surfacing from his thoughts, Simon looked at the sign over the doorway in some surprise. 'Surely this can't be the Tip Top bar you read about, where everybody goes after the race. It isn't big enough.'

'That's it all right.' Jimmy chuckled. 'There'll be anything up to a hundred people in and around it tonight and more tomorrow.'

They sat at a table on the narrow pavement and ordered beer, hemmed in by steel barriers erected for the racing. Jimmy said he was glad Simon was not a teetotaller, which could have been embarrassing.

Simon laughed. 'You can assume that I have all the usual vices in moderation, at least in theory. I don't usually get much chance to indulge them in practice. My job is very demanding. I sometimes have to work for thirty six hours or more at a stretch to maintain continuity and that makes me rather anti-social.'

He grimaced and took a deep pull at his beer. 'One result is that I decided some time ago that I must avoid close personal relationships. The Bensons understand the position and they don't worry if I don't turn up on schedule. They just assume that I've got a special job on hand. I always keep weekends clear so I can enjoy my motor racing and meet Sandy and other people, but I still try to keep it a bit remote, if you know what I mean.'

'I know very well.' Jimmy spoke sincerely. 'What you say applies to me, too, though for different reasons.'

'It isn't easy, is it?' Simon was opening his heart for once. 'I think I realised that properly for the first time during the trip. When I thought that Sandy was an enemy it upset me far more than I would have believed was possible. My immediate reaction was to get drunk, which was asinine. This morning I couldn't understand what had got into me until you asked me about Susan and I made a complete and utter fool of myself. You were kind enough not to comment. Ever since then I've been trying to decide something.'

This made Jimmy chuckle with genuine delight. 'You mean that you've decided something and you've been trying to convince yourself that you haven't.'

For a moment he was afraid that he had upset Simon again, but the moment passed. Simon laughed and shook his head. 'That's all very well, Jimmy, but how can I ask her to share the sort of life I have to lead?'

'See what she says. She must know what she'd be letting herself in for and it doesn't seem to dampen her interest in you, to judge by the way she keeps an eye on your well being.'

'I suppose there's something I that.'

Jimmy laughed good naturedly at Simon's bewildered expression. 'Now you've let all that come to the surface, maybe your mind will start working again. I wouldn't mind betting you could clear up all this mystery in ten minutes if you could stop worrying about irrelevancies.'

Simon looked shocked. 'It's all very well to talk about irrelevancies, Jimmy but Susan...'

'Thinking or talking about a girl is always irrelevant. Only action counts where females are concerned. All the same, we ought to clear up the question of what Sandy and Susan have been up to lately. The way she follows you about is natural enough. I suppose she does it secretly because you asked her not to... I thought so. She's a determined young woman. You'd better watch out. Now, Sandy cancelling his booking is a completely different matter.'

'I agree. It makes no sense at all. He could have kept an eye on me on the coach without all this cloak and dagger stuff.'

'He couldn't, you know.' Jimmy riffled through the pages of the race programme and pounced on an entry he had guessed would be there. 'If he'd been on the coach this morning, car number fifty eight would have missed practice. We only looked at the Formula One entries and never thought there might be something interesting in the rest of the programme.'

Simon let out a yelp of delighted surprise. 'The old fox! No wonder he went all cross eyed when we suggested that he might do a rebuild. Hang on, though. When would he practice? He was in Ostend on Thursday afternoon.'

'Who says so?'

'But I saw him. No, you're right, I only saw his car. Then who was driving? Susan can't have come all that way on her own.'

Jimmy chuckled. 'I said she was determined. Perhaps she's also tougher than you thought. Maybe you won't need me as a co-driver next year, after all. Look, it's nearly six. Unless you want to eat out, it's time we were on our way back to the hotel.'

Simon said he had every intention of eating all the food he had paid for, so they headed back in the direction of La Condamine. At Jimmy's suggestion, they abandoned the circuit and cut through the higher part of Monte Carlo, past the television station and over the upper Ste Devote bridge, which allowed them to approach the hotel by their back street route. On the way they came across a racing team at work in a garage perched high above the Ste Devote gorge. Not a lot was being done, so it could be assumed that practice had gone well. The three purposeful looking racers were lined up behind a waist high rope string from pillar to pillar, looking very smart. The leading driver of the team was perched on a wheel going through some graphs with the team manager, perhaps sorting out gear ratios, while other men were carrying out routine checks on an engine. None of them paid any attention to the small crowd who had gathered to watch.

A long and welcome downhill stretch, which Simon claimed was the first he had seen in the whole of Monaco, brought them to the steps leading down to the Rue de la Turbie. The narrow street was deserted and Jimmy was quite sure that no one was following them.

Back at the hotel, Simon announced that he was going to have a bath to soak his weary muscles. This suited Jimmy very well because he wanted to slip downstairs to the telephone and was saved the need to make any lame excuses. It took a little time to get through, but he heard Geoff's voice in the end and was able to report that everything seemed to be going well. Geoff agreed with his opinion but said he wanted to have a talk later in the evening to clear up a few details. All this was conveyed in indirect and circumspect terms which would have meant nothing to a casual listener and names were not mentioned at all.

A rendezvous was fixed, though Jimmy said it might not be easy to get away unnoticed. Before ringing off he checked on a point which had been intriguing him. 'I noticed you were being a bit retiring this afternoon. You said you had met our friend.'

'Once.' Geoff was interested. 'Why do you ask?'

'I wondered if that was where a certain blonde picked you up. She keeps a motherly eye on him. Her brother, the driver, does the same, more or less.'

'Ah! How interesting! That might explain a lot.'

'They're both here, by the way. She hasn't been far away from us since lunchtime yesterday but he came down earlier. If you look through the race programme you'll see why he changed his plans.'

'Indeed...' Geoff sounded more interested than ever. 'I'll have to pay them a call. My contacts can probably tell me where they're staying.'

As he climbed the stairs again, Jimmy was working out his plans for the evening. It would be rash to leave Simon on his own, but some of the younger members of the tour party were staying at the hotel and they might be only too glad to lend a hand. He decided to have a word with them after supper.

In the event, he needed their services a lot sooner than he had expected. When he got back to the bedroom, the two men he had last seen in the Place Blanche were trying to force Simon back over the windowsill.

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Mail me Keith Thomasson February 11th 2002