The Fiction of Don Thomasson
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| The Fiction of Don Thomasson |
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By the time Jimmy got back to the Tip Top, the crowd in and around it had grown considerably and he had some difficulty in penetrating to the inner recess where he had left Simon and the others. Having done so, he had to retrace his steps immediately, because they took his return as a signal that it was time to move to another bar.
Out on the pavement Simon turned to Jimmy with an accusing eye, evidently intending to ask him where he had been, but at the crucial moment Simon's attention wavered. Looking for the cause, Jimmy saw that Susan Clarewood was standing close by. She was obviously startled to see Simon and was clearly wondering how he would react to her presence in Monaco. It was equally clear that she found the answer totally unexpected. Simon took a deep breath, stepped forward with simple determination and showed that he had taken Jimmy's advice to heart. There was nothing at all irrelevant about the way he expressed his opinion of Susan and he found no need for words at all.
The crowd were delighted. If there had been bedlam before there was now chaos, everyone milling around in confusion, trying to see what was happening or giving sundry cheers of encouragement. A well known grand prix driver, who had been notably fast in practice and was reputed to be equally rapid in other matters, decided to show Simon how it ought to be done. Others joined in and there was a strong sense of competition. Jimmy decided it was time to move on before the contest became too hectic. He led the party up to the Cafe de Paris garden on the Casino Square. If all went well, he expected Geoff to show up there before long.
Once they reached the garden Tony took charge, making sure that Simon and Susan were seated in the centre of the group with the others ranged round them like a guard of honour, though perhaps a rather informal one. Susan still seemed rather shaken by Simon's unexpectedly enthusiastic welcome, but she looked happy enough. Her brother, on the other hand, looked completely bewildered. Jimmy spotted him hovering on the edge of the crowd and drew him into the circle, saying that it might be a good time to talk about what had been happening. A little reluctant at first, Sandy took a seat and accepted the offer of a drink, but Jimmy had to work hard to get him going. Once started, however, he was willing to talk quite freely and Jimmy soon began to understand some of the minor points which had been puzzling him.
'Simon wouldn't let us help him openly, so we had to do it secretly. Susan used to follow him around. Though she was a bit amateurish at first, she soon got a lot better with practice. I helped when I could.'
'Did she find out anything useful?' Jimmy was thinking that Susan had been anything but amateurish on the occasion when he had first seen her, but he preferred not to mention that.
'Nothing much. One or two oddments. She spotted two men following Simon and trailed them to a place near Earls Court. We couldn't find out anything about the building they went into. It looked like a big private house.'
Jimmy reflected that this was one up to Susan. Geoff would probably be glad to have the information she had collected, which Sandy had dismissed as being nothing much.
'Then there was the time Simon went out to a pub near Elstree. He met a man Susan thought must be the villain of the piece. She said he was too smart and too smooth to be true. She saw him again a few weeks later and trailed him to Richmond, but lost him when he jumped onto a bus that was just moving off. She picked him up again on the way back, but lost him again in Earls Court, not far from the place we already knew about.'
Keeping a straight face with difficulty, Jimmy said Susan seemed to be a thoroughly enterprising young woman. He kept to himself the thought that her reaction to Geoff's impending arrival on the scene should be well worth waiting for.
Nodding absently to the compliment to his sister, Sandy ploughed on with his story, evidently glad to have the chance to talk about it all. 'I booked on the tour so that Simon would have someone to help him out if necessary, but then I got an entry in the Formula Three race here, which put me in a spot. I wanted it to be a surprise but I wanted to find someone to take my place on the tour, because I didn't want to leave Simon on his own. Just at the right moment, you rolled up out of the blue. I might have been a bit suspicious, but Susan passed me a message to say she thought you were all right because of what you did when the man tried to stab you. She knew he was an enemy, because he was one of the men she had followed to the place in Earls Court.'
Feeling that it would have been uncharitable to say that this seemed a thoroughly defective piece of reasoning, Jimmy contented himself with an encouraging nod while Sandy went on. 'Susan still wanted to keep an eye on things on the way down, so she brought the Lotus. I gather you spotted her at the Relais de la Rallye Route.'
'That's the understatement of the year.' Jimmy laughed loudly. 'We saw her in Ostend, near Lille, at the roadhouse, at Montelimar...not to mention St Maximin.'
'I'd rather you didn't.' Sandy sounded pained. 'That was ridiculous. I'd gone out to meet Susan at Aix-en-Provence to help over the last stretch. After all, she'd covered the best part of eight hundred miles on her own. It was a bit of a rush because we couldn't get away from here until after half past seven when practice finished, but Jock drove me in the old banger we use as a tow car and made it just before half past ten.'
'Some old banger!' Jimmy whistled. 'You must have averaged over fifty and it isn't all fast stuff by any means.'
'Oh, it goes, particularly when Jock's driving.' Sandy seemed unimpressed. 'I can't get anything like that sort of speed out of it. The steering's a bit dodgy and it puts me off. We stopped for coffee at St Maximin and the coaches rolled up just as we were starting again. Simon would have worked it out better, but I haven't his head for figures. Susan was worried about what he might say if he saw her and I thought we might get away unnoticed if we hurried. There's no need to laugh! I know it didn't work. Then there was that nit in the 2CV. Did you see him?'
'He certainly saw you, which was just as well.'
'Those things shouldn't be allowed. We stopped about twenty miles from St Maximin to watch you go past, parking in the shelter of some bushes. He came wallowing along impossibly soon, saw us at the last moment and clamped on his brakes. He overshot by a mile, of course. He was all over the road and partly in the fields, kicking up an enormous cloud of dust. I didn't want to argue so I got going before he could sort himself out and drove straight here. People who drive those motorised prams are never entirely sane, but he was a real nutter. I reckon he'd do well at Brands.'
'In a 2CV?' Jimmy chuckled at the thought. 'Did your sister see anything interesting on the way?'
'There was another car keeping an eye on the coaches. Not as noticeable as the Lotus. A Lancia. Probably a Flavia 2000. Quite fast. About a hundred and fifteen flat out, I believe. There were two men on board.'
Jimmy opened his mouth to ask what the two men had looked like, but he was distracted by a sudden stir. Susan had caught sight of Geoff approaching and had sprung to her feet, pointing an accusing finger at him. Simon gently explained her error and she subsided, rather red in the face.
Geoff smiled urbanely and found himself a chair, which he placed at Simon's side. 'Well, Mr Carter. Still in one piece, I see.'
Simon nodded doubtfully. With Geoff's arrival, the whole group had quietened down considerably, as if recognising that here was a person of some importance.
Geoff stretched out his legs, emphasising that there was no need for unseemly haste and smiled at Simon benevolently. 'Last time we met, you weren't very helpful. After your recent experiences, do you feel any differently about the matter?'
Looking rather subdued, Simon nodded again. 'I thought I could look after myself. It seems that I was wrong. I've been rather silly.'
'I won't contradict you.' Geoff's smile took any possible sting out of this remark. 'However, we can only help you if you are prepared to be completely frank with us. For instance, have you formed any clear ideas regarding the motives behind the threats which have been bothering you?'
The words were quiet, but they concentrated attention on Simon and his manner intensified the effect. The rest of the party looked on, aware of undercurrents that few of them understood, while Simon considered his reply with lowered eyes. When he looked up it was as if he and Geoff sat in the beam of a spotlight while all their surroundings were dimmed.
'I have considered a number of possibilities, but there isn't enough evidence to choose between them confidently. Yet if I said that I don't know what's behind it all, it would be equivocation. None of the threats, until tonight, have been really dangerous. I'm not even entirely convinced about this latest one. Most of them were insulting, mere bluffs that cried out to be called. There seemed to be two possible reasons for that. Either they wanted me to call the bluff and come here after all, but that made no sense. I would have come in any case. The other possibility was that the threats were meant to look like fakes and that I was meant to seem aware of that fact. I can only give you my word that I'm not pretending to run a hate campaign against myself or helping anyone else to.'
'Your word is good enough for me.' Geoff's voice was still quiet, but Simon looked up gratefully. 'You can stop worrying about that. If the threats were part of an attempt to discredit you, assume that the attempt has failed.'
Simon bowed his head for a moment. 'Thank you. I'm glad to know that you trust me, though I'm not sure why you do.'
'My reasons may not be very logical, but I think they're sound. For one thing, I doubt if you're a good enough actor to have maintained such a consistent air of harassment. You certainly have been harassed, yet I gather that you never considered giving up the trip.'
'Why, no.' Simon looked surprised. 'I decided quite early on that the only way to find out what was going on was to come here and see what happened.'
'Yet you must have known who was responsible.'
'Strangely enough, I didn't.' Simon smiled crookedly. 'Not until this afternoon, when I realised that only five men would have either the incentive of the resources to put over such a scheme. In a way, I suppose it's a compliment of sorts.'
'I think it is.' Geoff was grave now. 'Though it isn't a compliment I would envy. There are obviously motives where that particular group are concerned, yet I have reason to believe that the real motive is less obvious. Tell me, have you ever known a girl called Lucy?'
As Jimmy had expected, Simon found this question a little embarrassing, but he also found it puzzling, which Jimmy had feared the more. Simon shook his head in evident bewilderment. 'Not that I remember. It isn't a common name these days, is it?'
'Are you sure it's a girl?'
Sandy's question made Simon snap his fingers. 'Of course! Luciano Mori!' Do you remember him, Susan? That takes us back a few years, doesn't it? When we were young a foolish. Or younger and more foolish.' He turned to Geoff eagerly. 'Some time ago, we got mixed up in a rather queer crowd. You know how it is. You want to do something different, or be something different, or know something different. There was some off beat political movement in the background, but we didn't have any truck with that, though one or two people have tried to persuade me that the authorities might think otherwise.'
'It has occurred to us as a possibility.' Geoff was smiling. 'I see that Mr Clarewood looks surprised.'
'I never told Sandy. It all seemed so petty at the time, but I'm not so sure of that now. Lucy was on the fringe of the politics, but not very happy about them. He told me he would like to get away, a long way away. He couldn't go back to his native Italy, for reasons he didn't specify and into which I didn't care to enquire. He longed for the Mediterranean sun and hated the English climate. In the end he disappeared and I assumed he'd come south. How does he come into all this?'
'I don't know.' It was Geoff's turn to look bewildered. 'He must be the Lucy I spoke of. He fits too well in ways that I can't explain, but which convince me completely. Did you part on good terms?'
'Not exactly.' Simon laughed. 'I was sorry about that. The last time we met, I made a tactless remark about Italy and he took a swing at me. He wasn't very big, but he hit me fair and square and knocked me out. I'd hate to think that had anything to do with him leaving. He had every right to be annoyed with what I said.'
Once again it was Sandy who provided the vital clue they needed. Chuckling reminiscently, he recalled that Simon really had been knocked out for several minutes. 'What a fuss! They hustled him out of the room pretending you were badly hurt and made one hell of a palaver about it.'
Jimmy, who had been trying to stay in the background since Geoff's arrival, forgot his role completely. 'That's it! They told him he'd killed you and offered to get him away to a safe place if he'd work for them. No wonder they didn't want you here. One look and he'd know how he was fooled. I don't suppose he'd be all that pleased, either!'
Fortunately, the excitement produced by this theory masked the fact that Jimmy was showing more knowledge than he was supposed to possess. Geoff had only mentioned Lucy's name. He had never said that Lucy was in Monaco.
Everyone was talking at once, suggesting one outrageous scheme after another. One of the milder proposals was for a house to house search for Luciano Mori. Another was that they should hire a loudspeaker van and tour the streets paging him.
Geoff firmly brought the meeting to order. 'Wait for it! This seems quite a reasonable suggestion which must be followed up, but there's no tearing hurry. I've arranged for a police guard on Mr Carter's hotel, so he should be able to sleep soundly tonight. In the morning, I should be able to get hold of Mr Mori's address, which will save a good deal of fuss and bother. For the moment, let's be content to enjoy the evening air and this very expensive beer. I think the next round should be on me.'
This suggestion was accepted without hesitation, though Sandy seemed a bit doubtful. As he confided to Jimmy, 'The Lotus is parked in the Avenue de la Madone, over there. I took the hard top off this afternoon, so anyone who knows how to frig the ignition could pinch her. Besides, I've got a couple of races to think of tomorrow.'
'A couple of races?' Jimmy kept a straight face. 'You'll be lucky to finish the heat, let alone the final.'
On the point of taking this seriously, Sandy saw Jimmy smile and chuckled in response. After that, he seemed to be in no great hurry to leave.
It was pleasant under the white painted pergolas of the garden, but there was a rising tide of excitement in the adjacent Casino Square as one exotic car after another appeared to join those already surrounding the central island. The members of the party gradually drifted over to the railings for a closer look and even Geoff eventually succumbed to the lure of the glittering machinery.
Tony explained that this was an annual event, which usually reached a climax on the Saturday evening. 'There's a sort of unofficial competition for the car that attracts the biggest crowds. It needs to be something pretty fabulous.'
Leaning on the railings, Jimmy looked at the starry sky overhead and at the milling throng inspecting the cars. He decided that all motor shows ought to be held in the open air, especially in a climate which could produce a warm, almost sultry evening in May. It was a perfect setting in which to relax after the turmoil of the day.
A voice at his elbow said as much and he saw that Geoff had come to stand beside him. 'Well done, Jimmy. I think you've hit the nail on the head this time. I only hope nobody noticed how well informed you were. I think you got away with that. Ring me in the morning and we'll fix up some plans. You know, seeing all these cars makes me regret that crash of mine more than ever.'
Jimmy smiled sadly, knowing that Geoff was talking about the occasion of their first meeting, when Geoff has crashed his sports car, twin to Jimmy's own. It was an unhappy memory, though it had left Jimmy's car as the sole surviving example of the design.
Drifting with the crowd, they moved out into the square itself to find themselves looking at a Lola GT, more common on the race track. This was one of the few road models and it appeared to belong to a thick set man with a short black beard who looked very familiar. Geoff paused to talk to him, evidently attracted by the car's appearance, while Jimmy went on to where an even more familiar figure, a short man with a much more luxuriant growth on his chin, was arguing the merits of his Jaguar E Type with a racing driver turned journalist who owned the Porsche in the next parking bay.
The Lola driver and Geoff came along to listen with amusement. The Porsche man was getting quite heated, his craggy face irradiating enthusiasm. The smaller man pontificated, claiming that his was the only one of the three cars which was practicable for use in and around Monaco. The argument was interesting and Jimmy listened with a critical ear, half inclined to suggest that his own car would beat the lot.
Suddenly, he became aware of a disturbance and saw Tony waving violently. Sandy sprinted past, yelling, 'There goes that blasted Lancia! They've got Simon!'
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|