The Fiction of Don Thomasson
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| The Fiction of Don Thomasson |
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The immediate response to Jimmy's signal was not particularly spectacular. The cruiser made a wide sweep to starboard, the cutter meanwhile heeling away to port. When the cruiser was almost out of sight in the mist, it swung back onto its original heading and seemed to squat down in the water. A second later, they heard the roar of powerful engines and saw a vast plume of spray rise as the propellers took hold. Then the cruiser was shooting forward at an incredible pace, revealing itself as a fast racing boat in disguise.
Geoff chuckled in Jimmy's ear. 'I see what you meant about our friend's gift for understatement. I almost wish I was aboard her. What are they up to now?'
A fiery trail had shot away from the deck of the cruiser, heading in the direction of the yacht, above which it transformed into a spreading bloom of coloured light. Simon had begun to reveal his secret weapons. A second rocket followed the first and it revealed that the yacht's crew were taking a lively interest in the display. Fists were being shaken and two men were shouting, their words drowned by the roar of the cruiser's engines.
Making a perilously tight turn, the attacker came back for another pass. This time, by accident or design, one of the rockets passed so low over the yacht's deck that one of the crew had to duck to avoid it. It was clear that no one had noticed the cutter creeping up on the blind side. Geoff gave Jimmy an unobtrusive signal and they began to set the agreed boarding procedure in motion.
As the gap between the vessels closed, the operation went forward smoothly and with surprising speed. Tony had discovered some broad meshed rope nets fitted with grappling hooks . These were lifted up to hang from the yacht's rail, making the climb relatively easy. Jimmy led his party up first and the others followed close behind.
Not one word was spoken from first to last, though the need for silence was reduced by the pandemonium from the other side of the yacht. Shouts and yells mingled with the sound of the engines. The rockets had now been augmented by squibs and other noisy fireworks. A brilliant searchlight beam swung to and fro, adding to the confusion, and Jimmy felt he was missing the best part of the show. A touch on his arm diverted his attention to Geoff.
'Better look out, Jimmy. The Colonel's bound to come up to see what's happening and he might come up on this side.'
Glancing round, Jimmy saw that Tony was already leading his group forward to attack the wheelhouse, while the others were standing by, using whatever cover they could find. They were all keyed up and alert, whereas anyone emerging on deck would have no thought of immediate danger. After a moment's consideration, he decided to go ahead with the next stage of the plan, ignoring the possibility that Geoff had suggested.
At a wave of his hand his group went into action, hauling up the nets and hooking them onto the deckhouse roof. Again leading the way, he climbed aloft, his head rising above roof level just as another errant rocket fizzed by at uncomfortably close range. A moment later he was standing on the roof waving to warn those in the cruiser that it was time to cease fire, while others were clambering up to stand beside him. The cruiser immediately slowed and shaped up on a course parallel with the yacht at a distance of ten or fifteen yards.
Crawling to the further edge of the roof, Jimmy found himself looking down on five men standing immediately below. Though he had never before seen the Colonel in the flesh, he at once concluded that the man in the middle was a perfect match to the voice he was learning to know so well. His guess was confirmed when the man hailed the cruiser.
'What do you think you are playing at? Sheer off and leave us in peace, you young lunatics.'
The answer, in Simon's voice, made the Colonel start. 'Why should we? You haven't given me much peace during the past few months. Why shouldn't you have a taste of your own medicine?'
The Colonel rallied well but it was clear that he had been shaken. 'Indeed. Mr Carter, in person. How did you know where to find me? The traitorous Mr Mori, I suppose.'
'It's much more complicated than that.' Simon was enjoying himself. 'I'll tell you about it when I come aboard.'
'You will do nothing of the sort.' The Colonel spoke crisply and brought out a gun. 'Please make no mistake about that.'
At that moment, there was a slight lurch as the yacht's engines slowed abruptly. Simon laughed, guessing that this was Tony's doing. 'Very considerate. It will be easier to tranship at a lower speed.'
During these exchanges Jimmy had brought the others forward to join him at the edge of the roof. He felt that this was the moment to go into action. Warning his companions with a wave, he launched himself directly at the Colonel's back, both of them crashing solidly to the deck. There were other thuds, which he heard vaguely, followed by a brief struggle. Friendly hands helped him to his feet and he found the Porsche driver grinning at him.
'Nice work. Three out cold and the other two don't want to argue. What happens next?'
Dazed by the impact and a little winded, Jimmy took savage satisfaction from the fact that the Colonel had probably made an even harder landing. As his head cleared he saw that Geoff was taking charge of the prisoners and collecting their guns, so he felt it would be safe to bring the cruiser alongside. As he signalled the cruiser to come alongside he felt vindicated. He had managed to play a useful part in the affair after all.
When some semblance of order had been obtained, Tony was left in charge on deck and Geoff led Jimmy and Simon down to the main cabin, where the scene was very different. Although the disturbance on deck must have been audible to them, the five Council members, each flanked by two assistants, had remained in their places, perhaps too alarmed to move. They watched without a word as the newcomers filed in. It was left to Luciano Mori to speak first.
'I was afraid that you would be too late.'
The words earned him some unfriendly glances but no one seemed to be surprised. One of the secretaries, who had been among the group Jimmy had followed from the Scarecrow, produced a particularly vicious glance and seemed inclined to comment, though he thought better of it. Jimmy wondered if some of these underlings might not prove more of a problem than their masters.
After studying the scene for a few moments, Geoff moved across to take the one empty chair, presumably that recently occupied by the Colonel. Jimmy and Simon took up positions behind him, like military escorts.
When they were in position Geoff spoke quietly to the gathering. 'Well, gentlemen. You would no doubt like, and you are certainly entitled to, an explanation of this invasion of your privacy. You have already been subjected to threats by someone else and your patience must be wearing thin, but I must ask you to bear with me for a while. I hope you will find your patience rewarded.
'It has long been assumed that the Council of Five were invulnerable. Your readiness to destroy anyone who stood in your way, taking his power, his position, his money, or even his life, has daunted many. Fear is usually an effective deterrent. Recently, however, a new aspect of your position came to my attention. You are invulnerable to your more obvious enemies, but your defences are less effective against unimportant people who have neither power not position to lose and comparatively little money. You could still take their lives using your undercover supporters, but there are so many unimportant men. It would be difficult to kill them all.
'This evening, some thirty unimportant persons have called upon you to say that you must mend your ways. You will be quite at liberty to disregard them if you are ready to accept the consequences. They are your real enemies, the ones you never expected to fear. Merely by reporting what they have seen on this yacht they will be able to destroy the illusion that is the key point of your operation. They will be able to show that you act in concert.'
Geoff paused and the Council members looked at each other in dismay. It was evident that they could see the force of his intentions, yet they also seemed relieved that the attack was of such an indirect nature.
Noting this, Geoff smiled quietly. 'Perhaps you were expecting violence from us. We have had to be a little forceful with some of your minions, because they would understand no subtler argument. With you, we can adopt a more delicate approach. We have shown our faces openly, for example, because we know that you are in no position to complain of our actions.'
One of the Council members stirred in his seat and revealed himself as the possessor of the cold voice Jimmy and Geoff had heard over the radio link. 'You seem to know a certain amount about us, whereas we know nothing about you. I presume there would be no point in asking your name.'
Geoff's smile was very gently indeed. 'I doubt if it would mean anything to you. Put me down as one of the unimportant people I spoke of. I feel a certain pride in being just that.'
One of the secretaries spoke close to the Council member's ear and what he said was obviously surprising. The Council member's eyebrows rose and he produced an icy smile. 'I am told that one of your companions is Mr Carter, of whom we have been talking earlier this evening. We know a good deal about his work, though we were not familiar with his appearance. I take it you do not classify him among your unimportant friends.'
Simon answered this before Geoff could speak, obviously amused to be singled out for special comment. 'Tonight, I have no importance at all, except that I helped to organise this little visit to your yacht. I'm just one of the crowd. Yet, in a way, I'm the reason for your defeat. If you hadn't set your dogs on me, none of this would have happened. You tried to attack me and the attack backfired. I'm not afraid of you any longer.'
The Council spokesman nodded, as if conceding the point, and turned to Geoff again. 'Very well. We made a mistake and it seems that we will pay heavily for it. Perhaps you will name the amount involved.'
Bowing his head courteously, Geoff answered confidently. 'We will not enumerate the charges we lay against you. There is no point in arguing a case. You know what you have done as well as we do. That can all be taken as read. You might wish to argue that you have only directed and utilised the weakness, incompetence and cupidity of others, and that as much might have been done, in a less organised way, without your intervention. I would remind you that the rays of the sun, falling at random, are benign. Concentrated by a burning glass they can do serious damage. By correlating many minor evils you have brought death, destruction and misery to many parts of the world. This must be stopped.
'We might have left you at the mercy of the man who occupied this chair not long ago. That would have been poetic justice, but it would also have been dangerous, for it would have put great power in the hands of a man even more unprincipled and ruthless than yourselves. Therefore, we have decided to attack three weaknesses in your armour. First, we have stripped away your protective forces in this area, forcing you into a position where we could meet you face to face. Second, we propose to arrange matters so that your association can no longer be kept secret. The revelation will not be abrupt, because that might disturb the international markets in a dangerous way, but it will be complete within the next six months. Out third line of attack we propose to hold in reserve, to be used in case of need. You have recently arranged for Mr Carter to be subjected to a campaign of intimidation. It failed with him, but similar methods might not fail if applied to yourselves.'
There was a long silence and then the man with the cold voice sighed, looking at Geoff with reluctant respect. 'I am by no means sure that you are not the more ruthless of those who have occupied that chair this evening. Perhaps we should fear you more than your predecessor, who has the weakness of over confidence. Your proposition, I presume, is that we have become too powerful in our chosen sphere and must be persuaded to tone down our activities. Very well, it seems that we have no choice but to agree. What is the next phase of your plan? What happens now?'
'You will be photographed.' Geoff was relaxed now, confident that he had achieved his objectives. 'We will be as quick as we can, but there must be a couple of dozen amateur cameramen waiting for their turn. In this way, the evidence of your collusion will be scattered far and wide, in anonymous homes where you could never hope to find it. Jimmy, will you set the ball rolling?'
Jimmy's task was to send the party down to the cabin in groups of four and this gave him ample opportunity to talk to Tony, who was on top of the world. Having made sure that the prisoners were safely guarded he had found a ventilator serving the main cabin and through this had heard most of the talk between Geoff and the Council. He seemed surprised that it had been so easy, but Jimmy felt that was to be expected.
'They're business men and they know the score. The Colonel's bluster didn't impress them, particularly as he started at a disadvantage, having just lost his Monaco headquarters. Geoff didn't bluster. He stated the position quietly and they had no reason to disbelieve him.'
'I suppose that's true.' Tony laughed. 'In any case, it's been a smashing Monaco. Do you think Geoff could find something exciting for next year, too?'
Jimmy laughed. 'You never know. It's your turn to go and take photographs, though. We'll think about next year when it comes.'
For the moment the main preoccupation in Jimmy's mind was the need to organise the last phase of the adventure. While he had been down in the cabin, the little convoy of vessels had made a wide turn to seaward and was now heading back to Monaco, with the dim luminous glow of the coast far away to port. Everything was under control, but Jimmy had an uneasy feeling that it had all gone a little too smoothly. Since Geoff and Simon had remained in the cabin, the full responsibility for what happened on deck remained with himself and he found that a worrying thought.
The main source of his unease was the group of prisoners herded together on the aft deck, well out of the way. Tony had felt that this would be the safest arrangement, as spare arms might be hidden in the cabins, where the captives might otherwise have been held more securely. Jimmy paced round the deck restlessly, checking on all that was happening, but he kept away from the prisoners, apart from giving them an occasional glance to make sure their guards were alert.
Geoff appeared after a time and said that the Council members and their staff would be transferring to the cutter before long. 'We'll need to take the yacht back into the harbour and it wouldn't do for them to be seen in company with this crowd. That could lead to difficult questions. I'll arrange for cars to pick them up at Fontvieille. I've suggested that we put out a cover story that the yacht was stolen by undesirable and that we recaptured it and brought it back. Does that sound convincing?'
'As convincing as any story that would fit the facts.' Jimmy was barely thinking about the matter. 'We'd better put some people back on the cruiser to balance things up, but we've still got to guard the prisoners, so we'd better not transfer too many.'
'Agreed. Simon and I had better go back on the cruiser, so that we can land first and get things organised. We could take a couple of the prisoners off your hands if you like, but don't forget that you'll need experienced seamen when you get into the harbour. This is a big boat to manoeuvre in a confined space.'
When the cruiser had departed in a cloud of spray and the Council members had been transferred to the cutter, Jimmy felt very much on his own. His task seemed simple enough. The coast was showing up quite clearly now and the Porsche owner, who had taken charge of navigation, said they should be approaching the harbour within another fifteen minutes. Nevertheless, he still felt uneasy and he eventually traced this to the fact that the Colonel was aboard. That was why he had been keeping away from the prisoners.
Once he realised this, Jimmy knew that it represented a challenge that must be faced. The Colonel was little more than a voice to him, a voice heard mainly through a loudspeaker and a pair of headphones. He had looked down on the man from above, recognising the foreshortened figure without hesitation, but he had never seen him clearly. Perhaps a closer look would make him seem less formidable.
He found that the Colonel's appearance matched his voice perfectly. Slim and wiry, not particularly tall, his grey face lined and furrowed to a remarkable degree, he looked totally ruthless, even in repose.
Becoming aware of Jimmy's presence, he turned and smiled in grim recognition. 'Mr Ferguson! How surprising to see you here. Or am I being naive? Perhaps your relationship with Mr Carter was less casual than you suggested.'
Jimmy returned the smile warily. He was glad that the nearest guards were friends of Charles, the cruiser owner, and had come into the matter only recently. They would be less likely to understand what lay behind the Colonel's remarks.
He ventured a devious reply. 'I told you I was coming here, didn't I? This should make good copy.'
The grey face relaxed a little and a cynically sardonic expression indicated that he Colonel had returned to his earlier view of Jimmy's outlook on life. 'I should have realised. Yes, you have a scoop here, my friend. Perhaps a bigger scoop than you realise.'
The man seemed entirely at his ease and Jimmy wished he knew what was going on inside that tortuous brain. It seemed unnatural that a prisoner should be so cheerful, as if he was quite confident that he could escape as and when he wished.
Looking about him, Jimmy saw they were now rounding the Rock of Monaco, with the breakwaters just coming into view. This, perhaps, was the point of greatest danger. It would be just possible for a strong swimmer to get ashore. There would be a risk involved but that might not deter a desperate man. Jimmy took a snap decision.
'I think we'll take the prisoners below now. The main cabin's empty and they'll be safe enough there.'
The Colonel's reaction showed that this was a wise measure, but it would have been even wiser if it had been proposed a few minutes earlier. Realising that it was now or never, the Colonel acted without hesitation. A burly Australian, regarded as one of the toughest Formula Three drivers, was stiff armed away, staggering back against the rail. One of the other prisoners attacked a stocky Yorkshireman, who responded with a couple of vicious punches, while another prisoner made a dead set at Jimmy. The situation became confused. The Australian bounced back off the rail to deal with Jimmy's assailant in one bone shattering charge, while Tony came running aft in time to catch the Colonel's arm as he headed for the taffrail.
For a moment, it looked as if the escape had been thwarted, but the Colonel gave a frantic wriggle which left his coat in Tony's hands, and then he was gone. Though Jimmy rushed to Tony's side, there was no sign of the man who had been their most important prisoner. Exchanging mortified glances, they went back to the wheelhouse, wondering how they were going to explain matters to Geoff.
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| The Fiction of Don Thomasson |
|© Keith Thomasson February 11th 2002|