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Don't Go To Monaco - Chapter 12

The Fiction of Donald William Thomasson
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Sandy's anguished yell dissipated the easy going atmosphere in a flash, transforming the leisurely scene into one of bustle and excitement. The Lancia disappeared up the Avenue de la Madone with Sandy in frantic and apparently hopeless pursuit. Then Jimmy remembered that the Lotus was parked in that direction and he sprinted after Sandy, arriving just in time to vault aboard as he took off. They departed with such vigour that the was nearly ejected at once, but he hung on somehow, then managed to settle himself more securely as they snaked up the narrow curves of the avenue, though he still found time to wonder what he had let himself in for.

Back in the Casino Square, other cars were starting up and preparing to join the chase. Tony had blarneyed the Jaguar driver into taking him along, while Geoff was inserting himself into the Lola. The Porsche driver, who was known to be rather accident prone, found no takers and so he went alone. Each car was cheered on its way by growing crowds that seemed to be gathering from nowhere and who obviously had no idea what was happening. They were just in a mood to cheer anything.

Sandy was close enough to be able to see the reflection of the Lancia's brake lights in the shop windows lining the curved street ahead and his own brake lights laid a trail for the Jaguar, but the others were further back and had to rely on the staring faces of scattered pedestrians to show them which way to go. Fortunately, there was little other traffic about and they all had a clear run.

As the Place de la Cremaillere came into sight the road ahead straightened, but the Lancia had disappeared. On sheer inspiration, Jimmy yelled 'Hairpin right!' Then he hung on as Sandy made the car pivot on its front wheels, the rear end sliding wildly but responding to skilful control with inches to spare. Two lefts and a pair of rights were taken almost as a single s-bend, despite the fact that parked cars on either side of the street left only a narrow path clear. Then they were passing the Beausoleil police station at the start of the comparatively straight run up towards the Avenue de Verdun and the Lancia was in sight again. Jimmy breathed a sigh of relief, thankful that his guess had been a good one.

Startled faces in the police station doorway suggested that official intervention was probable, though Jimmy felt that the police would be lucky to keep in touch, let alone put themselves in a position to control events. Looking back, he saw that the Jaguar was closing up while the Porsche and Lola also appeared in the distance before a curve in the road cut off the view.

The straight had favoured power, but the Lotus had the advantage on the subsequent series of uphill hairpins. It was like climbing the side of a house, but Sandy tackled the corners with smooth skill, concentrating fiercely on his task. The Lancia's headlights, showing now and then at a higher level, seemed to be coming nearer all the time. Jimmy found that he could appreciate Sandy's expertise in an oddly detached way, thinking only of its effectiveness and pushing to the back of his mind the thought that one mistake could bring about a comprehensive disaster.

The hairpins led to the Moyenne Corniche and Jimmy wondered where the chase would take them. The Lancia might go west towards Nice, east towards Menton and the Italian frontier, or up the winding Route de la Turbie. He had no strong personal preference. All three possibilities were frightening prospects. On the whole, however, he was relieved to find that the third applied. The zig zag climb was slightly preferable to a flat out blind along a road perched half way up the cliffs.

As the Lancia skittered round the turning out of the Corniche, Sandy yelled 'He's mad! He'll never get away up there.' Jimmy was inclined to agree, but he also thought that Sandy might find it difficult to get past and they might find themselves chasing on through more difficult terrain beyond the crest of the coastal ridge, with no foreseeable end to the contest.

Sandy was visibly catching the Lancia now, while the Jaguar was holding its own by virtue of its superior speed on the straights, but the Porsche and Lola were lagging a little. Not very far behind them, a brilliantly flashing light warned that the expected police intervention was coming.

This much Jimmy saw in snatches, but most of the time he was fully occupied by the need to avoid being bounced around like a pea in a pod. Sandy was pressing on and the Lotus was responding nobly, but it was not an easy ride for a passenger.

Then the Lancia, pushed beyond the joint limitations of suspension characteristics and driving skill, managed to spin at a left hand climbing hairpin, coming to rest downhill on the inside of the bend. Warned by the headlights, both Lotus and Jaguar found a way past, braking hard in the hope of trapping their quarry. The Lancia driver, perhaps not fully aware of the extent of the pursuing forces, saw a chance to double back. He took the inside of the corner as the Porsche slid round the outside in the opposite direction and shot past the big Lola as it braked for the hairpin.

For a long moment the scene froze as everyone worked out what had happened. Then the Jaguar started to make a three point turn, while Sandy hared off up the road to gain momentum for a tail slide. The Porsche driver craftily slid back into the hairpin at an angle which allowed him to go ahead downhill, leading the chase, while the driver of the big Lola, unable to decide which method of turning would suit his outsized mount best, sat and swore gently.

Executing his skid turn neatly, Sandy passed the Jaguar as it was pulling away and hurried after the Porsche. Further down the hill, the Lancia passed the police car on a straight stretch, which was just as well for all concerned since the Lancia was using up all the available road in the corners. The police car nearly wrecked everything by trying to turn on the road as the others came down helter skelter, but they all managed to miss it by inches.

Far below, the lights of Monaco were spread out like a glittering carpet, but Jimmy was in no mood to admire the view. Having nothing to do but hold on tight, he found that his earlier sense of detachment was fading and he began to study Sandy's driving more critically.

Hunched over the wheel, Sandy was clearly concentrating on the immediate task, which was to catch the Lancia. He was too busy to worry about what would happen after that. Holding the brakes on deep into each corner, he was applying power as the brakes came off, balancing the two forces delicately to keep the car stable. The steering wheel was continually in motion, either correcting the incipient slides or picking the best possible line, the one which shaved off fractions of a second without wasting them again later. Jimmy realised for the first time just how hard a racing driver has to work.

Out in front, the Porsche seemed to be going well, in spite of a tendency to lift the inner front wheel in the corners, while the Jaguar was making up ground behind them. The Lola and the police car were out of sight, but sweeping headlight beams suggested that they were still in the hunt.

Back at the Corniche, the Lancia led them towards Nice, barely checking as he took the turn onto the main road. Jimmy decided that the driver was getting rattled. So was Jimmy. There was a very good chance that the Lancia might go over a precipice and Jimmy was supposed to be making sure that Simon came to no harm.

He felt a little guilty about the whole affair. He had expected some final attempt to discredit Simon and had even thought that kidnapping might be involved, so there could be no excuse for his inattention at the critical moment. He should have been at Simon's side, alert for trouble, not idling about looking at exotic cars. All he could do now was to work out what the men in the Lancia would do.

The original intention had no doubt been to take Simon to a hideout, where he could have been convinced that there was no point in returning to his friends. That plan had been spiked from the start, since Simon knew that his friends still trusted him, but his abductors knew nothing of this. They only knew that they had failed to make a clean getaway. Unless they could shake off their pursuers there was no question of them going anywhere in secret. They must keep going or surrender. This time there would be no prospect of a fake ambush to set them free again.

There seemed to be little chance that the Lancia would escape. Sandy was doing well and the Porsche was even closer, while the Jaguar was not far behind. No, it was alongside. To Sandy's fury, it sneaked past on a straight stretch and began to pull away, though the Lotus was able to win back a little on the next series of bends. He was slightly appeased when the Porsche got rather crossed up on another corner and took to the dust of a providential lay-by, restarting not far ahead of the police. The Lola was right on the tail of the Lotus by this time, looking for a way past but frustrated by the continual twists and turns.

In no time at all, they were dropping downhill into Nice, having covered some eighteen kilometres in less than ten minutes, an average of over seventy miles an hour. After a hint of uncertainty at the approach to a roundabout, the Lancia took the road to the left, towards the harbour. A few seconds later Sandy cheated the Jaguar by taking the roundabout in the wrong direction, but it was a short triumph. The outraged Jaguar pilot steamed past again almost at once, followed by the Lola, which at last had enough room to manoeuvre.

The end was near. On the broad Promenade des Anglais, mercifully clear of traffic at this hour, the Lancia was flat out, but the Jaguar was thirty miles an hour faster and the Lola could leave them both standing. Opposite the Negresco the Lancia still had a slender lead but long before the airport was reached the two big cars had drawn level, one on either side, with Sandy coming up behind to close the only escape route. In seconds, the chase was over.

Geoff extricated himself from the Lola, as dapper as ever, taking charge of the situation with professional confidence. After making sure that Simon was unharmed, he got the cars moved to the side of the road, remarking that hordes of police from all over the Cote d'Azure would no doubt be arriving at any moment, so there was no point in giving them any further reasons for annoyance.

For once, he was wrong. Not a single police car appeared. A number of private vehicles drove up, packed with people who had seen the mad chase along the sea front and wanted to know what it had all been about, their comments suggesting that the view from the roadside had been extremely spectacular as the contenders passed at speeds between a hundred and ten and a hundred and fifty miles an hour.

Geoff dealt with the more importunate questioners urbanely and then turned to Jimmy with a quizzical smile. 'The police seem to have got lost. I'm not altogether sorry. I'd hate to think how many laws we broke on the way here. What do you suggest? How do we get the prisoners back to Monaco?'

'Slowly, for preference.' Jimmy was pleased to see that his hands were quite steady, but had no desire to try his nerve any further. 'I suspect that the police who were following us may have run into trouble, possibly with the Porsche. He was getting a bit hairy when I saw him last. The local bobbies probably decided they couldn't compete. Suppose I drive the Lancia, with Tony and Simon to keep the kidnappers in order. You could go back with Sandy, if the Lola's too cramped.'

Geoff smiled gently. 'No, I'm glad to say I'm not too old to enjoy a really sporty car. It's very comfortable, once you're in it. I'd buy one if it was a little less conspicuous.'

Since all the vehicles except the Lancia were just as conspicuous, it was deemed wise to go back by a different route, the Jaguar acting as pathfinder to a decorous procession which wound its way through quiet back streets away from the sea front, emerging eventually at the Corniche Inferieure. Up to that point, the speed had been almost funereal, but such restraint was too good to last. The Jaguar and the Lola pulled away a little and the Lotus followed suit. Soon they were speeding off into the distance, but Jimmy let them go. It had been a great and enlightening experience, but he was now certain that he could never become a successful racing driver.

He delivered the prisoners at the Sūreté Publique, where Geoff was already explaining matters. The explanations appeared to be acceptable, which said a good deal for Geoff's presentation of them, though there was some regret that the situation had not been understood rather earlier, before the pursuing police car had hit a cliff somewhere along the Moyenne Corniche. No, no one had been seriously hurt. Only dazed. A kind gentleman in a Porsche had driven them home.

By the time they returned to the Casino Square, the whole place was buzzing with the story, which had arrived in instalments as each car got back. The Porsche driver was especially pleased, even though he had failed to complete the course.

'There was this series of sweeping bends, you see. I got through the first two all right but the third caught me out. Nasty solid cliffs all round, but thankfully I missed the lot. Ended up pointing back this way, on the other side of the road, relieved and a bit surprised. Could have been nasty. Then there was a terrific crash and a bang or two and this police car shot into sight, upside down and still going fast, bouncing from side to side against the rocks. How it missed me I'll never know. I jumped out to see what I could do to help and - blow me down - they weren't even scratched! Accepted a lift home gratefully, when their heads had stopped spinning. You know, I've often been chased by the cops, but that's the first time I've ever ended up ferrying them back to the station. It was quite an experience!'

This story made Jimmy more amazed than ever that there had been no worse casualties. He remembered the bends which had caught out the Porsche driver, because Sandy had taken them flat out, the steering wheel whirling from lock to lock as he corrected slide after slide. He wondered idly how Sandy would get on if he had a real racing car, instead of his tattered old wreck.

A prodigious yawn made Jimmy realise that he was very tired. The excitement of the chase had buoyed him up, but this effect was ebbing away, leaving him with aching limbs and leaden eyelids. The party was comparatively subdued now, which was scarcely surprising. Most of them had spent the previous night sleeping fitfully in the coach, while Susan had driven from London to Aix since she last slept.

Glancing at his watch, Jimmy concluded that he had forgotten to wind it, but other watches also said it was a quarter to three, so he suggested they ought to call it a day. The others agreed sleepily. It seemed that they had all felt it was time to go to bed, but had lacked the energy to take the initiative. The walk down the Rue d'Ostend revived them a little, but by the time they had climbed the fairly gentle slope of the Rue Grimaldi they were dead beat again, complaining that they would never manage the steep flights of stairs leading to their rooms. A small bar almost opposite the hotel entrance was still open and they gravitated there by common consent, to recuperate before that final climb.

Somehow, Jimmy's mind struggled back to wakefulness and he found he was thinking of a remembered phrase. One of the men on the Rock had talked of the 'little devils' and the words were haunting him. If he could interpret them he might know where Luciano Mori spent his Saturday mornings, which could be useful. Catching Simon's attention with difficulty, he asked what Mori had been like as a person.

Simon shook his head and yawned. 'Funny little chap. Always anxious to please, if you didn't annoy him. Good at organising things, very clever in some ways, rather stupid in others. Not too much imagination. A genius for arguing brilliantly from false data.'

'Did he have any hobbies?'

'Not that I remember.' Simon yawned again. 'Oh, he liked fish.'

'Angling, you mean?'

'No. Not that sort.' The struggle to stay awake was becoming a losing battle. 'The kind you keep in aquariums...aquaria? Oh, never mind. Those rum tropical beasties.'

Jimmy relaxed. He had his answer. The 'little devils' were probably the tropical fish in the Oceanographic Museum at the far end of the Rock. Slipping away to a telephone in the corner of the bar, he caught Geoff on the point of climbing into bed and talked earnestly for some minutes. Then, wide awake again, he set about the task of shepherding the others, some of them now definitely the worse for wear, up those long steep stairs.

As he and Simon rolled into their beds his mind was full of plans. It was only when he reached up to switch off the light that he realised that Simon was still sitting up, a puzzled expression on his face.

When he asked what was wrong, Simon shook his head muzzily. 'I've been trying to work out how many days we've been here and I can't. It's most odd.'

Jimmy chuckled. 'We got here about fourteen hours ago. It just seems longer. Never mind, the racing starts in ten hours time and we've got a lot to do before then.'

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Mail me © Keith Thomasson February 11th 2002