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Strictly Illegal - Chapter 19

The Fiction of Donald William Thomasson
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| The Fiction of Don Thomasson |

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Red line

XIX

The familiar voice came as something of a shock to Jimmy. He had seen the tweed coat and the dark glasses earlier that day as their wearer strolled about the paddock, but they had meant nothing to him. He had never seen the Colonel in daylight before and recognised only the voice. His mind began to spin as he thought about possible implications.

As they became evident, he began to smile. 'Well, well. The Colonel himself! I didn't know you were interested in motor racing.'

There was a sudden susurration in the surrounding crowd, as those who had failed to recognise the trim figure whispered his name.

The Colonel clearly found this disconcerting, his head shifting slightly from side to side as if he was trying to identify the source of the whispers, but he answered Jimmy evenly enough. 'It has not been an interest of mine in the past, but I thought I might meet some old friends here.'

Jimmy's smiled broadened. 'Friends, or enemies?'

The Colonel frowned. It seemed that matters were not taking the course that he had expected. 'You speak very frankly, Mr Ferguson.'

'Why not? Everyone around us knows exactly what you are and what you have done. Why shouldn't I speak frankly?'

For the first time, the Colonel's confidence faltered visibly. He had clearly misjudged the situation.

Jimmy followed up his advantage swiftly. 'I wouldn't have cared to come here alone, you know. You might not have shown yourself in such a sociable manner. You might have chosen to bring friends of your own.'

The words were carefully selected to hint much but state little. The Colonel considered them, his thin lips twisting into a parody of a smile. 'My congratulations. You have learned a great deal since we last met. Perhaps marriage has matured you.'

If the Colonel had hoped to score with this last comment, he was disappointed. Jimmy knew that there were many ways in which the Colonel could have learned he was married, without discovering anything else at the same time, and he refused to be disturbed. Leaning on the balcony rail, he looked perfectly relaxed, but his mind was racing away, trying to anticipate the Colonel's next move.

The Colonel, obviously thinking as hard as Jimmy, offered a fresh gambit. 'I would appreciate a few words with you in private, if you are not too reluctant to leave your escort for a few moments.'

Jimmy grinned cheerfully. 'I'm quite comfortable here, and there's no reason why I should move. You can say anything you want to here and now. I have no secrets from my friends. In any case, I find it difficult to imagine anything that you could usefully say to me. You are unlikely to tell me anything I don't know already, and you know that I would be equally unwilling to answer any questions you may think it worth asking. So what's the point?'

'I might suggest that your presence here, with so many supporters, suggests that you are planning further unlawful actions.'

'And I would ask you what unlawful actions I have been guilty of in the past. Your own presence, without any supporters, guarantees that you are planning unlawful actions yourself.'

'Of what nature?' The Colonel was blandly amused and Jimmy nearly fell into the trap. It would serve no purpose to show his hand at this moment.

He maintained his ease and temporised. 'Since you know, and I know, there isn't much point in going into details. We first met when Luigi brought me to see you at the point of a knife. You later made threats that you were unable to carry out. Not long ago, you sent Luigi after me again. I hope his injuries have healed well.'

The Colonel frowned, obviously puzzled. 'He seems fit enough, apart from a slight limp. What is the point of all this?'

'The point is simple.' Jimmy hoisted himself off the balcony rail, suddenly dominating the man who faced him. 'I'm warning you. You've annoyed me more than once and it hasn't done you much good. Now, it's too late. You could kill me here and now and it wouldn't save you. Others would take my place. You're finished and you'll realise it very soon. The Studentmeister has had his day...'

The last sentence was an inspiration. Jimmy had wanted to produce one example of what he knew about the Colonel, preferably something unconnected with his local activities. He suddenly saw, as if in a vision, that the Colonel and the Master of Students must be the same man. Their histories interlocked chronologically and there was a basic similarity of approach. It was a guess, but it seemed worth trying.

The moment the words were spoken, the guess was confirmed. The Colonel stiffened, his lips twitched, and then he made a stiff bow, turned, and marched away, the crowd opening a path as if they wished to avoid contact with him.

Jimmy sighed with relief, but he couldn't relax yet. He gave crisp orders to those near him. 'Tony, watch where he goes. The rest of you listen carefully. He must be followed, but he must not be followed too far. Stay above ground and stay in groups. Pat, you take Colin and Ieuan, with Mike, Russ and Charles as backup. Off you go.'

A telephone box had been installed in the area behind the main control tower for the convenience of the press, pending completion of a proper press box, and Jimmy made for it without hesitation. He felt in need of advice and it was the sort of advice he could only get from Geoff. It was slightly risky to phone from the circuit, but he felt that the risk was justified.

With the club members who had appointed themselves as his personal bodyguard spread round the box in casual poses he dialled the familiar number, reaching Geoff directly.

His opening words were cautious. 'I think it's Peter I want.' That should warn Geoff that there might be a risk of being overheard. 'His nibs surfaced to be sociable. I called him a name Gerd and Franz taught me and he scuttled back to his burrow. I need advice.'

'It doesn't sound like it.' Geoff seemed amused. 'You seem to be doing quite well. What do you want to know?'

'Why... He was about for some time, unrecognised, then came up and said hello.'

'Bait. I hope no one swallowed the hook.'

'So do I. That was what I thought.' Jimmy sighed. 'I hope I handled it right. I wanted to leave him wondering. The name was a shot in the dark, but he certainly reacted.'

'You don't need advice. You need reassurance. Come home carefully.'

Jimmy had to admit that Geoff had hit the nail on the head. The brief conversation had been infinitely reassuring and he knew quite well what he had to do. He must collect as much information as he could and disappear early, making sure that no one followed him home.

He was relieved when Pat returned safely, accompanied by her retinue. They found a quiet corner and she reported what had happened.

'It was suspiciously easy. He went round to the back of the grandstands. Mike and Russ went up to the promenade at the top of the ramps and the rest of us followed along the path at ground level. He almost seemed to be waiting for us. He even stopped for a moment at the bottom of the middle ramp to give us time to catch up. That was what it looked like, anyway.'

'He probably did want you to catch up. That was the whole idea, I think.'

'Oh, I see. Well, just beyond the ramp, there's a door opening on a passage that runs forward under the stand. I didn't go in, but Colin and Ieuan thought there wouldn't be any harm in having a look round. The Colonel went through the door alright, but they couldn't make out where he went after that.'

Jimmy shook his head. He thought Colin and Ieuan had been very lucky and he said so forcefully. 'You were playing right into his hands. However, you got away with it, so you might as well tell me what you saw.'

It was Ieuan, the less ebullient of the erring pair, who provided the answer, screwing his eyes up in an effort to remember details. 'The first passage led to another one running along under the stands, behind the offices looking out over the ground level path. The second passage goes on for ever in both directions, with doors all the way along one side. He hadn't had time to go far and we checked the nearer offices without seeing him. We thought he might have gone down a flight of steps running down below the ramp, but they ended in a blank wall. It was rather odd.'

'Why?' Jimmy was rather brusque. 'You can see a flight of steps ending in a blank wall at the back of the Brands Hatch main grandstand. It never made me unduly curious.'

'It made me curious.' Colin seemed rather sulky. 'I was sure the wall was really a door, if we could only find the switch that opened it. You probably have to set up a particular combination on the bank of light switches at the top of the stairs, but Ieuan wouldn't let me try.'

'Good for Ieuan.' Jimmy was sweating at the thought of the narrow escape they'd had. 'Did you see anything useful?'

'We did see a telephone exchange.' Ieuan was subdued, realised that Jimmy's concern was justified. 'It was empty. I don't think it's in use yet, but the lines are in and Colin copied down the numbers.'

Jimmy sighed. 'That let's you out. Give me the list. It may be important. Now, look here. You must not go exploring round there again. That is a firm and absolute order. The Colonel's whole idea was to get some of us to follow him down those stairs and through the secret door. Oh, yes, I think Colin was quite right. He went that way. If one or both of you had gone in, you'd have been collared. Before long, there would have been a whole bunch of you in there as hostages.'

They were silent for a moment as the idea sank in, then Colin, rather red, apologised. 'I'm sorry, Jimmy, I was being idiotic. Ieuan, old horse, you were right, after all. In future, I'll listen to daddy...'

When this matter had been disposed of, Jimmy began to think he and Pat ought to be on their way, to give them a chance of departing unnoticed while attention was still concentrated on the cars, but Sandy begged them to stay. It seemed he had devised a Machiavellian plan to make sure they were not followed. As the thought of Sandy being ingenious was fascinating in itself, they felt they had to agree.

They certainly appreciated the chance to watch the cars a little longer. The mixture of top class drivers and a circuit that was already being called the best in the world was providing excellent entertainment. The drivers themselves were delighted with the track, the paddock and the pits. Some of them seemed intent on completing full race distance, learning the circuit as they went. The club members were unanimous that it was the best race meeting they had ever attended, even if there were no races.

When the track was finally cleared and the planes parked beside the main straight were warming up their engines ready for take off, Sandy put his plan into action. Like all good schemes, it was essentially simple. Leading Jimmy and Pat through the covered passage linking the work bays of the paddock, he ushered them into a yellow Ferrari Dino, which he explained was the property of the man who had given him his first Formula One drive.

'I think he knows something about the Colonel. After he saw you talking to him, he said you seemed to know how to handle the man and he wished he could do something to help. He didn't ask any questions, but when I said it might help if I could borrow this at the end of the meeting, he simply smiled and nodded. Nice chap.'

By the time the explanation was finished, the car was moving out onto the straight and Sandy stopped talking to attend to his driving. He came to the end of the straight flat out, barely lifting off for the sweep of Castle Curve, soaring up the hill beyond like a rocket. Jimmy had been driven at speed by Sandy before, but Pat had not and she was hanging on very tightly.

At Idlebrush corner, Sandy braked hard and made a hairpin turn to slip through a gap in the barriers, left to allow ambulances and service vehicles to pass through. A moment later they were running much more quietly along the track across Uffington Down and Sandy felt free to talk again.

'I'd be very surprised if anyone could have kept up with us over that run. Mind you, the Formula One car would have done the track bit in half the time, but you wouldn't have found it very comfortable. Here we are, there's your Maxi, all safe and sound. You'd better be on your way. If I duck back onto the circuit, they may never notice that I left it. Bye bye.'

He was gone in a spurt of gravel and Jimmy led the way to the Maxi. Pat flopped into her seat and shut her eyes. 'Drive me gently. I'll never complain about fast drivers again. And he could have gone twice as fast in the other car... I'm glad it's a single seater.'

Later, however, when Jimmy was bowling along a motorway at a full seventy miles an hour, she said he needn't go that slow, and was astonished when he told her what their speed was.

Dice Divider

They were happy that night, but the next committee meeting had a very different atmosphere. Jimmy found it difficult to trace a particular source of the trouble. There was a general sense of frustration, which even the list of telephone numbers failed to dispel. Robin was worried about Jean and Simon was his usual difficult self. Both of them seemed a little annoyed they had missed the encounter with the Colonel. Jimmy was glad they had not been present, as they could easily have said something unfortunate, but he was tactful enough not to mention the fact.

The burden of complaint was that too little was being achieved, but with a more specific theme than usual. The first full meeting to be held at the new circuit was no more than seven weeks away and this had always been seen as a deadline by which effective action must be taken. There was no real justification for this, but both Simon and Robin were now demanding that firm plans must be made for the action in question.

Jimmy protested that it was impossible to plan anything on the basis of what they already knew. 'You know very well what our real job is. We're supposed to be getting some form of positive evidence that can be used against the Colonel and his supporters. We've got some, but nothing very important. I agree, we need to do a lot better, but we've got to plan on a rational basis. You want firm plans. All right. What can you suggest yourselves?'

Simon spread his hands expressively. 'I think you've stated the objective clearly enough. We want evidence. The evidence is in the Colonel's hands. Therefore we've got to get it out of his hands and into ours. The only way to do that is to look for it.'

'How do you propose to set about that?'

'By more positive action. You got that information out of Archer's office. That was positive action and I respect you for it.'

'It was expensive action. It laid Robin open to suspicion.'

'Yes, but we've got to risk that sort of thing. Otherwise we'll dither round the outside never getting anything at all. If we raided the Colonel's hideout in force, we would be sure of getting results.'

'Possibly.' Jimmy was in a quandary. He agreed with Simon's view in principle, but wasn't ready to say so yet. 'We could be equally sure of getting casualties. If he took hostages, we might find ourselves put out of action. That's what I was worried about at the practice day. Look, to get results, we don't just have to get in. We have to get out again, with the evidence, and we have to be able to use it.'

'All right.' Robin sighed. 'I'm inclined to agree with what you say, but I agree with Simon, too. We don't seem to be able to suggest anything useful. What have you got that we haven't?'

Jimmy smiled, thinking that he seemed to have more stamina in argument, but he kept the thought to himself. 'I suggest that we work independently for a week, trying to formulate positive ideas, then meet to make correspondingly positive plans. How's that?'

The chance to defer, perhaps to avoid, continuation of the argument ensured that his proposal was accepted.

Dice Divider

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| The Fiction of Don Thomasson |

Red line

Mail me Keith Thomasson February 11th 2002