The Fiction of Don Thomasson
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| The Fiction of Don Thomasson |
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It was almost dark when the party set out to walk to the little port of Fontvieille, just beyond the Rock. In Monaco, the coming of dusk passes almost unnoticed. Sunlight has faded and gone to be replaced by a softer artificial glow, but there is no chill breeze to send everyone scurrying indoors at sunset and life goes on much as before.
After they had passed the landward end of the Rock, however, the street lamps thinned out and the darkness seemed to close in a little. The fragments of chatter became subdued. A new kind of tension began to grow, a tension which discouraged laughter and high spirits. For the first time they began to consider what might be about to happen, to realise that it was not just a game.
A long flight of steps took them down the further side of the Rock above the deserted football stadium, animal noises from the zoo terraces higher up creating a weird background to their footsteps. Far below, their boat waited for them, a vaguely blacker shape against blackness. Beyond it, the dim glow of the sea seemed to stretch away forever into the distance. The last of the chatter faltered and died.
If the others were subdued, Jimmy was frankly depressed. Now that the original danger to Simon had been averted, his official task was accomplished and he was at a loose end. He had begun by pretending to be just another member of the tour party and the pretence had become a reality. Now it was Simon who conferred with Geoff and laid plans for the downfall of the enemy, plans of which Jimmy heard very little. It was extremely frustrating.
He had done his best to warn everyone about the dangers they were facing as Geoff had asked, but he suspected that many of the party had felt that he was expressing his own fears, rather than an official view. This had done nothing to improve his temper.
To make matters worse, Simon and Susan had slipped away when he wasn't looking and he neither knew where they had gone nor why. Others had taken their places, including the Jaguar and Porsche drivers, so there was no shortage of numbers, but Jimmy wanted to know what was going on. He suspected that even Tony, who had brought along a few new recruits of his own, knew more of what was afoot than he did himself, which was a bitter suspicion indeed.
These infuriating uncertainties were not resolved until they were all aboard the little coastguard cutter and it was nosing its way out of the tiny harbour entrance. Then Geoff put his head out of the cabin hatchway and called Jimmy to his side. 'Know anything about radio gear? Then come and give me a hand.'
The cabin was snug, even a little scruffy. There was only just room for the two of them in the niche where the radio was mounted, so they could talk quietly without risk of being overheard. Geoff grinned at Jimmy's mournful expression and said he didn't appear to be enjoying the trip. 'You can't be seasick already. What's the matter?'
Jimmy managed a laugh and felt better. When he explained the reason for his depression, Geoff nodded understandingly. 'Yes, there's nothing worse than working in the dark. It couldn't be helped, I'm afraid. If I'd brought you into the discussions without inviting all the rest, it might have looked odd.'
'Oh, I appreciate that. You don't have to apologise. I just want to know the form. As things are, I wouldn't even know if things were going wrong.'
'Very reasonable. You shall learn as much as I can tell you while I fiddle with this device. If you really do know how to work it, I'd be only too glad to let you take over.'
'Tell me what you're trying to do then.' Jimmy wriggled into the operator's seat and studied the controls. 'What are you trying to pick up?'
'Signals from a small transmitter in Luciano Mori's briefcase. We don't want to follow the yacht too closely for fear of putting the Colonel on the alert, so we need a radio bearing to tell us where they are. Apart from that, we need to know how the meeting's going so that we can time our action accordingly.'
Consulting a piece of paper giving the frequency of the transmission he had to pick up, Jimmy set to work with gusto while Geoff brought him up to date.
'When we learned that the crew of the yacht were the Colonel's men, I thought we ought to call the whole thing off, but Simon said it could be done if we had a second boat. I think he kept you out of the discussion because he thought you wouldn't agree.'
'He was right about that, anyway.' Jimmy spoke absently, his fingers busy with the radio controls.
'He even said he could lay his hands on another boat quite easily, one belonging to a friend of Sandy's. A chap called Charles, who was in the Formula Three yesterday. They showed me the boat. It looks like a pleasure cruiser but Charles said it has a fair turn of speed, though he seemed rather casual about that.'
Without taking his eyes off the tuning scale, Jimmy said he thought he knew of the gentleman in question. 'If I'm right, heaven help the sailors! When he calls something fast, boy, it's fast!'
'Then we must hope that we don't get in his way.' Geoff sounded a little worried. 'Would you describe this man as dependable?'
'Probably more so than he sounds. He once explained an excursion into the bushes during practice for a sports car race by saying that he was avoiding a couple of pink elephants. He can drive, though.'
'Oh.' Geoff digested this thoughtfully. 'Well, it's too late to change our plan now. Simon and Susan went along with Charles so that they could tell him what was going on and I gather they got some of the other Formula Three people to join in. Let's hope some of them are reliable.'
'I wouldn't count on it. Formula Three drivers are mostly mad to start with.' Jimmy spoke without rancour. 'Look, I'm getting no joy at all out of this thing. I hope he remembered to switch on the transmitter.'
'Keep trying. It's a bit early yet.' Geoff checked his watch. 'The Council had to keep their plans flexible in case any of them were delayed on their way to the yacht. Now, the plan is this. The cruiser stays with us, shadowing the yacht, until the time comes for action, when it will stage a diversion, allowing us to come up on the blind side. I doubt if any of this is strictly legal but with luck nobody will feel they're in a position to complain.'
'We'll need all the luck that's going. Legalities are the least of my worries. You think the Colonel will be aboard?'
'I'll be pleasantly surprised if he isn't. He's going to be our main problem, together with any of the crew who are armed. I doubt if they all carry guns, but I expect some do.'
'What about us? Have we got any guns?'
'A few. I have one.' Geoff slipped something into Jimmy's pocket. 'And so do you. Don't flash it around. I hope to avoid any real violence.'
'You may have no choice.' Jimmy spoke grimly. 'Where are we, by the way? The engines don't seem to be working very hard.'
'Riding the tide just off the tip of the Rock of Monaco. We wait here for the yacht to show up. Charles will probably follow it out, because he wasn't keen on idling around for too long. Said it might oil up his engines.'
'That probably means they're highly tuned. I wonder what he means when he says the yacht is fast...'
Abandoning this unprofitable speculation, Jimmy discovered that by twisting his neck at an awkward angle he could get a glimpse of the outside world through a small porthole. Even this restricted view was worth seeing. The coast was a fairyland of coloured lights, which ran up from sea level to fade out gradually on the mountain slopes high above. It was a scene of startling beauty and he found it difficult to turn away and resume his task.
As he did so, however, he caught sight of a wheel mounted horizontally above his head and realised that it was the control for a direction finding aerial. Rotating it at random he heard a faint signal at around the right frequency. After a few more adjustments he could hear a muffled conversation. He guessed that the briefcase was still closed and Geoff was inclined to agree.
'He wouldn't want to open it before the meeting started. People would be milling around and might look inside. He'll probably open it up when everyone is sitting down. Now that you've got this thing working, I think I can look after it for a while. Come and check that I haven't messed it up from time to time, but meanwhile I want you to go and tell the others what's in the wind. You can say I've asked you to pass the word.'
Going out on deck, Jimmy found the wider view breathtaking, but he had more urgent matters to think about. Cornering Tony, he told him what was planned and suggested that they ought to be making some plans of their own.
Tony glanced round the crowded boat and grinned happily. 'I'm ahead of you. I could see some organisation was going to be needed. Suppose we pick two teams of eight.'
'Too many.' Jimmy was decisive. 'Four teams of four is more like it. We need two more team leaders. I'll take the Porsche driver and you have the Jaguar man. How's that?'
The remaining details were soon settled and the process seemed to cheer the party up, as they felt something positive was happening. By the time the yacht emerged from the harbour, slipping past the bright lights like a grey ghost, morale was good and Jimmy was confident that matters were under better control. What might have become a totally mad escapade was now beginning to take shape as a properly organised exercise. he even dared to hope that it might be successful.
He was still a little puzzled by Geoff's attitude, which seemed to represent a complete reversal of his normal caution. The only explanation he could imagine was that Geoff felt the risk was worth while and saw no alternative course of action.
The cruiser followed the yacht out at a discreet distance and veered towards the cutter rather uncertainly, as if the helmsman was unsure of himself. Jimmy risked a soft hail. 'Shape up alongside for a parley.'
An equally cautious answer from Simon made Jimmy smile. He watched thoughtfully as the cruiser approached. What he had to say needed to be handled with care. He must not be too authoritative, but he had no intention of letting Simon have it all his own way. He chose to take the initiative. 'Mr Farnfield has asked me to speak for him, as he's busy with the radio. There's to be no action until we give the word, OK?'
'Sure.' Simon spoke breezily, but Jimmy detected a note of wariness. 'We'll follow you, close astern. Then you can give us a green light without the yacht seeing anything. We've ample reserve speed, so you can leave it as late as you like. When we get the signal, we'll press on towards the landward side of the yacht, or the starboard side if there's no land in sight. Then you come up on the other side. Any objections?'
Smiling inwardly at the slightly belligerent final words, Jimmy said he was quite satisfied. 'I'm to tell you not to get too close to the yacht, partly to be out of range in case they get annoyed and start shooting, but also to make it more difficult for them to identify you. If you see a red Very light, sheer off. Anything else?'
'I don't think so.' Simon seemed a little puzzled by Jimmy's tone, but evidently felt that this was no place for an argument. 'Don't you think we ought to get going? The yacht's out of sight already and that cutter can't be particularly fast.'
'Not to worry.' Jimmy grinned into the darkness. 'We've got a radio fix to follow and if we can't keep up you can always give us a tow. Don't take too many risks.'
Terminating the discussion with a cheerful wave, Jimmy went forward to tell the captain of the cutter that he could get under way. The fairyland coast began to shrink behind them and they headed into vaguely luminescent darkness.
There was no sign of the yacht at all and Jimmy wondered if her lights had been doused, but the captain thought otherwise. 'No, m'sieu. At sea, the more you try to hide, the more you will be seen. Go quietly about your business and no one notices you are there. The yacht is hidden by sea mist, no more. We may see it clearly when we are further from the coast.'
Hoping the captain was right, Jimmy went aft for another word with Tony about the details of their plans. When everything was fixed to his liking, he asked Tony how it felt to be involved in a naval action.
The reply, in quite serious tones, came as something of a surprise. 'I'm enjoying it. This is an opportunity I might never have had. You probably know all about this kind of thing. It sounds as if you do. I only know about it from books and films and television. The real thing's quite different. I'm understanding a lot of things that puzzled me, about war and danger. I'm glad I came.'
Slightly embarrassed by Tony's seriousness, Jimmy seized on one point. 'Why do you say it sounds as if I know about this sort of thing?'
Tony looked at him with a wry grin. 'Well, you're confident and direct for one thing, as if you know what you're talking about. You've run this show from the start without seeming to do so. I'd say you knew Mr Farnfield before we started. You certainly know more than you've let on.'
'I see.' Jimmy did some rapid calculation. 'Well, I'm not saying if you're right or wrong, but you'll realise those aren't ideas to be talked about too freely. If they're right, I wouldn't want other people to know. If they're wrong, talking about them would be foolish.'
'Oh, I won't say anything to anyone else.' Limpid innocence shone from Tony's eyes. 'Only, you did ask. Besides, if I'm right, you might be able to tell Mr Farnfield I wouldn't mind doing this sort of thing as a job, if he thinks I'd be any good at it.'
'You could mention that yourself.' Jimmy grinned at his bland lieutenant. 'I'll gladly put in a recommendation, for what it's worth, as long as you don't let me down on this exercise.'
After a while, Jimmy went down to see how Geoff was getting on and found him looking bored. 'Don't think much of this programme. I'd rather listen to you handling young Simon. That was smooth. Like to take over for a while?'
'Gladly.' Jimmy slid into the operator's chair and took the headphones. 'Talk to Tony if you want to know what we've agreed. He's angling after a job with you. I should take him on. He's useful.'
'So I've noticed.' Geoff was as bland as Tony had been. 'I was going to make him an offer anyway.'
Turning his attention to the radio, Jimmy found that the meeting on the yacht was now well under way. A coldly confident voice was summing up the implications of the raid on the Monaco headquarters and suggesting that the Colonel should provide a formal report on the matter.
After a moment's silence, Jimmy heard the familiar tones of the Colonel's voice, authoritative and scornful. 'What good would a report do? The facts are clear. Someone informed the police, who raided our headquarters. Many of my men are in prison, most on false charges. What else is there to say?'
'You might explain what went wrong with those security arrangements you used to boast about.' The cold voice expressed disapproval of the Colonel's tone. 'How was it that the police could walk in unhindered?'
'A traitor gave away our secrets.' There was anger in the Colonel's voice.
'That is your only possible excuse.' The cold voice was colder than ever. 'Are you guessing, or have you any evidence of that?'
'I think I can produce some.' The Colonel's voice was malignant now. Jimmy wondered what was coming. 'When you instructed me to bring Simon Carter into disrepute...'
'Really!' The cold voice was outraged. 'That is a most serious breach of confidence.'
'Is it?' Triumphant, the Colonel sounded supremely arrogant. 'I did not notice that Mr Mori expressed any surprise at what I said. He knew already that Simon Carter is alive. He has seen him and talked to him. After that, he talked to the police.'
There was a long silence, during which Jimmy managed to signal to Geoff that matters were approaching a crisis. Geoff came into the cabin and took up a spare set of headphones.
The cold voice came on again. 'In other words, your failure to deal properly with Simon Carter is the sole basic reason for this debacle.'
'What did you expect?' The Colonel's scorn was withering. 'I warned you it was dangerous. Carter would not work for you. He is not your sort.'
'Nor are you, yet you work for us.'
The Colonel laughed with genuine amusement. 'It has suited me to appear to do so. You look surprised. Consider. When you first approached me, I told you what my services would cost and you demanded details, which I provided. The details looked businesslike so you accepted them. I put much hard work into those details, using much imagination. Was that not finesse? Have I not provided equally artistic accounts telling you how your money was being spent? There were even little deliberate mistakes to give you something to argue about, but the totals were always within the agreed budget, so you were content. Meanwhile, I could spend the money as I pleased.'
An outraged expostulation in the background made the Colonel laugh again. 'Dishonest? Of course it was dishonest. What did you expect? You hired a man to do your dirty work. There are many who would not trust you the way you trusted me. They have more sense than you have.'
Another outburst brought a satirical tone to the Colonel's voice. 'Yes, I was well paid. Better paid than you thought. Did you think you had bought me? Money cannot achieve that much. It can buy neither loyalty nor honesty. Those are matters a man must settle with his own conscience, to his own convenience.'
Jimmy and Geoff exchanged puzzled glances. The Colonel seemed bent on destroying the Council's confidence in himself, but his motives were far from clear.
The man with the cold voice seemed to share these thoughts. 'You appear to be leading up to something. Stop wasting time and come to the point.'
'I will do just that.' The Colonel paused to give greater emphasis to what he was about to say. 'It is senseless being rude to each other. We are, as you might so appropriately say, in the same boat. The difference between us is that I could survive without your help, but you cannot survive without mine.'
'Is that a threat?' There was a slight tremor in the cold voice.
'Not at all. I merely state facts. You called upon my services because there were things you could not do yourself. You needed someone behind the scenes, working in the dark. You still do, perhaps more than ever after the damage that Mori has done. I, on the other hand, have no need of you. I can work for anyone. Is that not the simple truth?'
There was another long silence before the cold voice replied, wary now. 'Suppose we accept your facts. What conclusions do you draw?'
The Colonel answered without hesitation. 'The relationship between us must change. I must not be hampered by your ridiculous scruples. If we are to go on working together, I must have a free hand. As a start, I insist that the traitor must go overboard before we return to Monaco.'
Jimmy suddenly became aware that the voice was fading slightly and a hasty adjustment of the direction finder showed that the signal was coming from several degrees to starboard. Fascinated by what he was hearing, Jimmy had neglected an essential part of his task. He hoped the lapse would not prove to have too disastrous consequences.
Meanwhile, the Colonel's ultimatum had produced a buzz of angry discussion, from which the cold voice emerged in a desperate attempt to regain a position of authority. 'That would be totally unacceptable. As our agent, you have betrayed our trust. It seems that, to a very large extent, you have had a free hand already, so it would serve no purpose to formalise that position. As for Mr Mori, your evidence against him is flimsy. For all we know, you had told him Mr Carter was alive so that he would not be surprised when you mentioned the name. For all we know, you may have betrayed the secrets yourself.'
This brought the full weight of the Colonel's wrath into play. 'You think I would betray my own men? Never!'
The cold voice became as scornful as the Colonel's had been earlier. 'I don't see why not. A man who will falsify accounts is capable of anything.'
The note of righteous indignation restored the Colonel's good humour. 'Funny little man. Because I dip my hand into the petty cash, you think I might be a traitor to those who serve me. They were my own men. They trusted me. It would have been pointless to betray them.'
A new voice suggested that the accused man should be allowed to speak for himself and this brought a buzz of approval.
Mori was in no hurry and he spoke with a quiet dignity that contrasted strongly with the earlier exchanges. 'I could say much, but there is so little time. Sooner or later, in all things, there comes a need for change. You are right, Colonel, in thinking that this is such a time, but you are wrong in thinking that the change will put you in control. Something very different is going to happen.'
The soft voice was almost hypnotic and Mori seemed to be enjoying himself, but Geoff and Jimmy wondered if he was going to warn the Colonel of the impending attack. The next words reassured them.
'What is going to happen you will discover without my help. You, Colonel, will be destroyed as you have destroyed others. You have recognised that these men are vulnerable, but you are a wild beast for whom only one course of action can be considered.'
The Colonel broke in furiously, alarm mingling with the fury. 'Who are you to speak like that? What do you mean? Come on! Out with it.'
There was just the slightest change in Mori's voice when he answered, but his words were enough to send Geoff scrambling out of the cabin to see if the attack could begin at once.
'Your gun is only melodrama, Colonel.'
'You think so?' The Colonel was furious. 'Shall I prove otherwise?'
'You are in no position to use violence. Too many people know I am here. If I do not go ashore safe and sound, everyone on board will be arrested. Put your gun away, Colonel, before it kills you.'
Jimmy could stand it no longer. Hurrying out onto the deck, he saw the yacht emerging from the mist ahead. Exchanging signals with Geoff, he picked up the Aldis lamp and pointed it at the cruiser, dimly visible aft.
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|