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Don't Go To Monaco - Chapter 9

The Fiction of Donald William Thomasson
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IX

This was the kind of situation Jimmy understood best, the kind he could tackle with confidence and enthusiasm. Letting out a yell which he hoped would bring reinforcements to the scene, he charged into the fray with gusto. Grabbing the shoulders of the man to his right, he flung him aside with a forcible jerk, sending him staggering away to sprawl helplessly against one of the beds. The next move needed more finesse, because Simon was already so far out of the window that only his grip on the remaining attacker was saving him for a rapid descent to the paving stones of the courtyard below.

Bracing his feet in the angle between floor and wall, Jimmy caught Simon's shoulders and heaved with all his strength, pulling both victim and attacker away from the danger zone. All three fell in a confused heap on the floor but he was not dismayed. Excited voices were heralding the arrival of helpers who would be able to bring matters under control.

By the time he wriggled free it was all over. The attackers were sprawled on the floor, each held down by three hefty young men who seemed to be enjoying themselves. Simon was being helped to his feet by others, the room being almost uncomfortably overcrowded.

Brushing aside Jimmy's enquiries, Simon spoke with an authority which clearly sprang from an inner fury. 'Get those two on their feet. I want a look at them.'

While this was being done, Jimmy quietly went across to shut the door. There was no need to attract further attention, which might merely lead to trouble. He would have liked to be able to call Geoff and ask him to take over the two captives, who looked like being in for a rather rough time, but that was out of the question for the moment at least. Meanwhile, the rest of the party were coping with the matter quite well.

Hands on hips, Simon looked the two men over, his face grim and furious. Then he spoke to the room at large. 'A fine pair, aren't they? Shall we give then a taste of their own medicine? I wonder how they'd like being dropped out of the window. They wouldn't have any opinion at all after they hit the ground, of course, but they'd have plenty of time to think about it on the way down.'

A chorus of menacing growls of approval responded to the calm virulence of these words and Jimmy, fearing that things were getting out of hand, was almost as alarmed as the two men. They were petrified.

Jimmy had no need to worry. Simon knew what he was doing. Having given the two men the fright they deserved, he relaxed and became his usual efficient self. 'On second thoughts, I don't think that's a very good idea. It would be messy and we'd have to answer a lot of awkward questions. Suppose we offer you the alternative of answering some of our questions instead. Does that appeal to you? If it does, we might be content just to drop you into the harbour, where you might survive the landing. How about it?'

The two men said nothing, though they looked at each other in dismay. It occurred to Jimmy that there was something odd about this. Their attempt had failed and from the moment of failure it must have been obvious that they would be asked questions, yet they suddenly seemed to have realised the fact. Watching them narrowly, he gained a vague impression that they were waiting for something to happen, something that would solve their problem. They seemed to think that the best thing they could do was to stall for time.

Simon began to bring more pressure to bear, without success. Then he said it seemed that drastic measures were needed after all. 'Let's hang the shorter one out of the window for a while and give him the feel of the thing. Let's see if that loosens his tongue. Don't let him drop - yet.'

Just as these instructions were put into effect there was a knock at the door. Noting the quick expression of relief that passed over the faces of the two prisoners, Jimmy swung the door open to reveal two men, one of them being the bodyguard he had seen at Brands Hatch. This man took a quick look round and offered explanations. 'We had a report that these two men were seen coming in here, so we thought we'd better investigate. I gather that no harm was done and you seem to have the situation in hand, which is just as well. We might have been too late.'

'That's nothing unusual.' Simon spoke sourly. 'You've been following me round for weeks, but you're never about when you're really wanted. Let them take over, lads. It's supper time and I'm hungry.'

The bodyguards exchanged slightly odd glances, seeming disconcerted rather than annoyed by Simon's comments. Then the spokesman asked for details of what had happened.

Simon's reply was succinct. 'They came in without knocking. I thought it was Jimmy, here, so I didn't turn round. The next thing I knew, I was half out of the window, fighting for my life. Take them away and lock them up until I've gone home.'

After he had answered a few more questions on matters of detail, Simon said he had waited quite long enough for his supper and everyone trooped downstairs, the prisoners in the middle of the group. The bodyguards had a small van parked nearby. They and the two captives were escorted into it with appropriate ceremony. To the cheers of the tour party it moved away in the gathering dusk, turned left into the Place d'Armes and disappeared from sight.

Jimmy watched it go, his eyes thoughtful. He was working out the implications of what he had noticed during and after the affray and he was reaching some very interesting conclusions.

Turning back towards the hotel, he saw that one of the young men from the tour party was standing by his side. This young man, Tony by name, seemed to be something of a ring leader and he had been one of those who had been helpful in Paris. Looking at Jimmy with a speculative grin, he made a suggestion. 'After Paris and this little lot, it might be a good idea if we all went around together. Don't you think so?'

Jimmy returned the grin. 'Meaning that you wouldn't like to miss any more fun that happens to be going. Have you been here before?'

'This is my third year in succession. Probably a record for this particular tour. I've got to know a lot of interesting places.'

Having a fair idea of the sort of place Tony might find interesting, Jimmy hesitated for a moment, but he realised that this tousle headed young man and his friends were likely to make far better bodyguards than those who were supposed to be fulfilling that role. They would also make it easier for him to slip away to meet Geoff, since his absence would be less noticeable if Simon was surrounded by other friends.

'I think you could be very helpful. Mind you, it's not a matter to be taken too lightly. It may seem rather a lark, but it might have been rather different if I hadn't got back to the room when I did.'

Tony's shrewd eyes flickered. 'You think so?'

The question told Jimmy that his new ally was thoroughly intelligent and observant. It seemed that he had seen what Jimmy had seen and drawn the same conclusions. Jimmy was content to reply by raising his eyebrows, but it was clear that he and Tony were in complete accord.

Over supper, Simon thanked Jimmy for his help and apologised for being rather brusque towards his rescuer. 'I was really rattled this time. Not scared, for some reason, though perhaps I should have been. Just annoyed.'

'You probably didn't have time to be scared. That's quite common in situations like that.'

'It sounds as if you speak from experience. All I want to do now is to stamp on the people responsible. Not those two men. They're only hirelings. I want to get at the people who did the hiring.'

Something in Simon's tone caught Jimmy's attention. 'It almost sounds as if you know who they are.'

'I have an idea. Nothing more. It came from something you said this afternoon, about being important. I don't want to go into details, but I'm afraid I may be right. I still can't see the motive. I liked your idea about the whole thing being a sort of bluff to confuse the issue, but this latest episode doesn't seem to fit.'

Jimmy said nothing. He thought the apparent murder attempt fitted very well indeed, but he wanted to check his conclusions before talking about them.

Later on, a round dozen members of the tour party set out in search of further entertainment. Since the enemy obviously knew where Simon was staying there was no point in skulking through the back streets any more, but even on the main thoroughfares the young men grouped themselves protectively round Simon in case of a sudden attack. Jimmy noted this with amusement. He thought that the precaution was unnecessary, but they obviously found their new role enjoyable, so he let them play it out to the full.

For the moment, Simon, unusually docile, was willing to go where the others led. Inevitably, they were soon leading him into a bar. After a brief stay there, Tony said they really ought to go on to Rosie's, otherwise known as the Chatham Bar, so they began to climb the Rue d'Ostend, Simon complaining that a totally unreasonable proportion of the Monegasque roads ran uphill.

Rosie, a tiny bundle of black haired energy, greeted Tony by name and made them all feel thoroughly at home. The Chatham Bar could be rather plain and dull, but the great array of photographs and souvenirs transforms it into a place where interesting discussions can start at the drop of a hat, a place where there is always something interesting to look at and talk about.

In the midst of all the noise and bustle, one man stood out in stark contrast, because he was almost completely motionless. Propped up by his folded arms resting on the counter, he swayed almost imperceptibly, keeping his balance by a miracle. From time to time, the bottle in his right hand crept upwards until its mouth touched the bridge of his nose. Then, with eyes squinting horribly, he would edge it down slowly until it reached his lips. After a deep draught, he would let the bottle sink down again and return to apparent unconsciousness. There are many different ways of enjoying the Monaco Grand Prix weekend and this is by no means the strangest of them.

Simon became involved in discussion of a complicated chart pinned to the wall, a chart showing every incident in the previous year's race, but Jimmy was paying more attention to the passage of time. He was due to meet Geoff before long and they were still an uncomfortable distance from the rendezvous. Much to his relief, Tony announced that fresh air was indicated and led the way up into the Casino Square and on to the Tip Top, which was crowded to overflowing with people talking mainly about motor racing. They did touch on at least one other subject from time to time, for even motor racing folk are human. Well, fairly human.

Figures painted on a mirror stated the odds being offered for the various fancied runners in the Grand Prix, a long established practice which helps to make the Tip Top a popular centre for the fans. The bookmaker, well known in motor racing in a number of other capacities, climbed onto a rickety chair to drum up more business and the crowd responded by betting on how soon he would fall off. All told, it was a pleasant bedlam in which Jimmy felt Simon should be perfectly safe. As an added precaution, he had a quiet word with Tony, saying that he wanted to slip back to the hotel. Accepting this statement with shrewd reserve, Tony promised to keep an eye on Simon and said that he was sure they would be staying in the Tip Top for at least another hour.

Extricating himself from the crowd with difficulty, Jimmy strolled down towards Mirabeau Corner as if he had all the time in the world. This was far from true. He was later than he had intended and he had no wish to keep Geoff waiting. Fortunately, their plan had been flexible enough to allow a little latitude in the timing.

Just short of Mirabeau, he turned left and sprinted up a steep flight of steps, crossing the Avenue de Grand Bretagne to a further flight, only pausing for breath when he came to the Avenue des Moulins. Looking back, he saw no one who could possibly be following him and decided, with relief, that he could afford to proceed at a more moderate pace. Outside the Hotel du Helder he paused briefly, moving on when he saw a discreet signal from the terrace. Checking his watch he headed for the Avenue St Charles. He had three minutes to reach the rendezvous but at that moment was accosted by three cheerful men who said they had just flown in from Canada to watch the race and wanted a meal. Could he advise them?

Answering as hastily as courtesy allowed, he sprinted furiously up yet more steps and a short sharp hill beyond, arriving in the Boulevard de France just in time to see Geoff pulling in to the kerb.

Geoff seemed in a particularly relaxed mood. He drove away up the hill in a leisurely fashion, appearing to understand that Jimmy was too breathless to talk for the moment. 'I think this is an occasion for hiding in the light. It could be a mistake to go out in search of a quiet spot up in the mountains and that might take too long. I've remembered a place I used to know that should suit us very well if it hasn't changed too much. A bistro called the Tonkin. I think it's along here.'

The car turned sharply into a side road that wound its way along the steep hill face. After a few hundred yards a sign lit by coloured lamps came into view. Geoff gave a grunt of satisfaction and began to look for a place to park.

Jimmy had got his breath back but he said nothing for the moment. He was thinking hard, however, for there was an obvious discrepancy between Geoff's serenity and the attack on Simon Carter. It seemed likely that news of the attack had yet to reach him, which was an interesting if indirect confirmation of the theories Jimmy had been considering.

The Tonkin was not a large place. In the front bar a party of Britons were lingering over the remains of a meal and watching a football match on a television perched high on the wall, their comments providing the locals with a good deal of entertainment. They paid no attention to the newcomers, who slipped quietly through into a small room at the back where they could talk without being overheard.

Geoff ordered beer and looked at Jimmy benevolently. 'I appreciate that it can't have been easy for you to slip away, but I felt we ought to have a talk. That puerile incident this afternoon was so weak and pointless that I'm hoping our military friend has given up. It was just a last fling that had nothing more than annoyance value. Do you agree?'

'I'm afraid I don't'. Jimmy chose his words with care, because what he had to say was going to upset Geoff and he wanted to soften the blow. 'Just after I rang you tonight, there was what looked like a determined attempt to push Simon Carter out of our bedroom window.'

He described the incident in some detail, stressing the points which had struck him as being slightly odd. Geoff looked more and more worried as the recital proceeded and when it was finished he nodded gravely. 'I can see what you're implying, but I find it difficult to accept. You suggest that the plan was based on the bodyguards arriving earlier and appearing to save the day, only they were late and you got in first. Have you any definite evidence to support this? Remember, those guards are some of my best men.'

Jimmy smiled sympathetically. 'I can understand how you must feel, but the facts are there. The attempt looked convincing, but it wasn't succeeding, even before I intervened. After that, the men were stalling for time, saying nothing and waiting for something to happen. It was quite clear that things hadn't worked out for them, yet they must have known they might run into trouble. It all looked staged, artificial, though the other people there might not have realised that. Then the bodyguards came and Simon made a scathing remark about them never being around when they were wanted. They looked disgusted by that. It seemed an odd reaction, but I realised that it might be natural enough if the remark spoiled a picture they were trying to create. If they wanted to create a suspicion that Simon Carter was staging all the threats himself, they had every reasons to be disgusted, because the attitude he was taking didn't fit that picture at all.'

'Well, you were there.' Geoff was reluctant to concede that Jimmy had made his point. 'I wish you had something more concrete, though.'

'Then try this. Neither Simon nor I went to the hotels we were booked for. No one could have followed us to the Swiss Hotel, either when we first arrived or when we went back to supper. Apart from ourselves, the couriers, the hotel staff and the people from the tour staying at the hotel, nobody knew where we were. Yet those two men not only knew which hotel to go to, they knew which room.'

Geoff sat silent for some seconds and then nodded. 'An interesting point. Not absolute by any means, but a lot more convincing than any you made before. I knew where you were, but only because I had official help. When I discovered that you hadn't appeared at the hotels where you were expected, I got the authorities to make enquiries and they found you through the official lists of visitors. My new knew... Yes, I'm afraid you're beginning to convince me.'

'There's one other thing.' Jimmy hated to hammer the point home, but it seemed important that Geoff should be convinced. 'Your men took the prisoners away some hours ago, yet you knew nothing about it. Isn't that a bit odd, too?'

'Very odd.' Geoff got to his feet. 'I'd better make a phone call, if Le Patron will permit me to do so.'

The elderly proprietor, enchanted by Geoff's courtesy and formal mode of dress, was only too glad to oblige. The call was brief and when Geoff came back he looked rather grim. 'It appears that the van was ambushed bear the Princess Stephanie Gardens. My men were tied up and left on board, the van being put in a parking place down on the quay. They were found about a quarter of an hour ago.'

'Codswallop!' Jimmy's scorn was no compliment to the credibility of this story. 'Come on, let me show you why. Remember, it wasn't even dark. They might at least have made it sound good.'

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Mail me Keith Thomasson February 11th 2002