The Fiction of Don Thomasson
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| The Fiction of Don Thomasson |
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After one look at the alleged scene of the ambush, Geoff had to admit that Jimmy's scorn had been justified. The road past the Princess Stephanie Gardens, once the site of the gasworks, was a main eastbound route through the Principality. Even at this hour it was carrying a fair amount of traffic. On the other side of the road the Rock of Monaco rose sharply to the Palace battlements, its face criss crossed by diagonal paths from which any activity below could have been seen clearly. A less likely spot for an ambush would be difficult to visualise.
Geoff drove a little way along the Boulevard Albert Premier, alias the Pit Straight, and parked against the Amoco barriers. He looked worried. 'I don't like this at all, Jimmy. What alarms me most is that there was no real attempt to put up a convincing story, which suggests that they felt the story needn't stand up for long. Now, why would they think that?'
'There could be several possible answers, depending on what they think they're doing.' Characteristically, Jimmy had reacted to Geoff's alarm by becoming very cool and analytical. 'Assume that the whole business, from start to finish, is supposed to look like a fake, with Simon aware that it is. In that case, they don't want the story to stand up. Your men only need cover for long enough to tell the tale. After that, they can scarper.'
Well aware that his worries might warp his judgement, Geoff invited Jimmy to extend his argument, adding, 'If you're right, it looks as if the whole affair is coming to a crisis and we haven't any real idea what that means. Can we argue from cause to effect when we don't know the cause?'
Jimmy smiled gently. 'We can guess the cause and see if the guess fits the effect. Let's go back a bit. Tell me something about the people we're up against. That might give me a better feel for the situation.'
Pausing briefly to gather his thoughts, Geoff began to explain what he had discovered. 'Your encounter with our military friend was a breakthrough, but the really vital information came from the men you saw in the Scarecrow. Once we identified them a lot of things became clear. Apart from the three you followed, who were the Colonel's men, they were all personal assistants to some of the richest men in the world. The fact that you saw them together solved a problem that has been bothering us for months.'
'Glad to have been of service.' Jimmy was a little taken aback by the apparent magnitude of the success he had achieved.
'It all began when Simon Carter put in a long report analysing certain aspects of international finance. He said that a lot of trouble was being caused by people who seemed to be acting independently but were really secret partners. It was only theory then and no one took a lot of notice, but later on he began to name the people involved and that caused a real fuss, because they were all powerful men. After that, Carter's theories were kept under wraps, within a very tight circle of people who could be trusted.'
'In other words,' said Jimmy, 'you were hoping he was wrong, but you were afraid he wasn't.'
'Precisely.' Geoff grimaced. 'We called them the Council of Five, which was just a sort of code at first, but I've since discovered that they use the same name themselves. I wish I knew whether we used it because someone knew they did, or they found out we were using it. Either way, there was a leak and I hope it wasn't from us to them.'
'How do they operate?'
'By dividing the parts of an operation between them. One or two will do something apparently foolish, which upsets the markets. The others reap the benefit. They appear to be deadly enemies, but what Carter spotted was that, on balance, they made a handsome overall profit, the gains being much bigger than the losses. By pretending to work against each other, they avoided accusations of conspiracy, which might have encouraged other people to oppose them. They concealed the real strength of their position, which is considerable. Until you saw that group in the Scarecrow we couldn't prove that the five top men were working in collusion, but once we had managed to identify them it was clear that Carter had been right.'
'Weren't they taking a bit of a risk, meeting openly like that?'
'Not really. Remember, only a few people knew about Carter's theory and none of them were likely to visit the Scarecrow. It was really pure chance that a report on the group reached anyone who could understand what it implied. Once we had that information we could use it to get more. I learned quite a lot from a friend in the banking world. He was pretty tight at the time and thoroughly frightened, or he might not have said so much. He was drunk because he had been discredited and he committed suicide two days later, for the same reason. That's what happens when someone tries to oppose the Council. The Council destroys them.'
'Where does the Colonel fit into all this?'
'In general, the Council manage their own affairs. They work with the tool they understand best, which is money. If a man can be bought, they buy him. If he can be frightened, they frighten him. If he can be brought into disrepute, they discredit him. Now and then, however, they come up against a situation that can't be solved by the direct use of money. If they fall foul of a man of real integrity and courage, money can be useless as a weapon. That's where the Colonel comes into the picture. He represents something that the Council dislike intensely, but they can't manage without him. My banker friend said that it was sad how seldom the Colonel had to be brought in, because most of the victims submitted without putting up any serious resistance, but when he is brought in there's no doubt as to the outcome.'
'What does he do? Kill them off?'
Jimmy's attempt to be lighthearted wilted in the face of Geoff's reply. 'If necessary. We can't prove it, but there have been a number of deaths that were convenient to the Council. Not that the Colonel is merely an executioner. He also maintains liaison staff and security forces which almost amount to a private army. We suspect that he arranges the rare meetings of the full Council and deals with a lot of detail work.'
Sighing, Geoff slumped a little in his seat. 'So you can see what we're up against. Once I knew who was involved I thought we would be lucky to save Carter's life. He was responsible for suggesting the Council's existence in the first place and some of his work has undoubtedly annoyed them. On one occasion, I think they tried to hit back by creating a situation he was bound to misinterpret. They may have hoped that we would lose faith in him, but he was able to show that his reasoning was sound on the known facts, only the facts had been deliberately distorted.'
'He said something about a situation like that this morning, though he didn't go into detail. I had an idea he was still peeved about it.'
'That's quite possible. He was very annoyed at the time. I still think that we can only hope to get him home alive, so that's what we should concentrate on. Bigger men than I have tried to fight the Council and have failed. You can't fight people like that without the backing of real power. Men of power tend to lose their integrity rather easily. They have more at stake and it makes them vulnerable. If I asked for all out backing to attack the Council I would probably be sacked on the spot.
'Make no mistake, Jimmy, we're up against some of the most powerful men in the world. Statesmen are put at a disadvantage by having to strut and posture in public, but the Council don't have to bother about that sort of thing. They stay out of sight and pull the strings, making the politicians dance without ever realising that the strings exist.'
Jimmy's reaction to what had been said might best be summed up as slightly incredulous respect. He was prepared to believe that the hard facts were exactly as Geoff had stated them, but all this emphasis on the power of the Council of Five seemed a trifle excessive. The members of the Council were only human, after all, and no human being is completely invulnerable. There are always weaknesses that can be exploited if the right approach is used.
As he considered this, the glimmering of an idea came into his mind and he began to think aloud, picking his way carefully as he took into account one factor and then another. 'Suppose there was a weakness of some kind in the Council's set up, a weakness the Colonel knew about. Suppose Simon Carter could attack that weakness. What would the Colonel do? He couldn't afford to act too directly, because that might expose the weakness. Any action he took would have to be camouflaged, especially if he didn't want the Council to know that the weakness existed.'
'I agree.' Geoff was listening with interest. 'Go on.'
'The Colonel knows that Simon is a nuisance to the Council. That's probably common knowledge. It sounds to me as if they'd be happier to have Simon on their own side of the fence, working for them.'
Geoff laughed. 'You hit that one fair and square. Approaches have been made to him, offering fabulous rewards. They want him badly.'
'Right!' Jimmy was delighted at the way his idea was taking shape. 'So what does the Colonel do? He can't do Simon in, because that would upset the Council. They might even be annoyed if he made any threats, because that might make Simon more reluctant to change sides. So he works out a scheme that will suit their needs as well as his own, only they don't know that his needs exist. How am I doing?'
'Very well.' Geoff nodded, deep in thought. 'The scheme must cover the weakness, bring suspicion against Carter, and give him the opportunity to change sides. The threats have certainly made us a little suspicious, but I can't imagine what the weakness could be and I can't see how Carter could be persuaded to join them. Until you can fill those gaps it's all just so much guesswork.'
'It has to be.' A faint note of obstinacy was creeping into Jimmy's voice. 'As you said, it looks as if a crisis is coming and we've got to decide how to react to it. As a start, I suggest that you should make it clear to Simon Carter that you still have confidence in him and will have confidence in him whatever happens. If he knows that he'll be a lot less vulnerable if they put him in a tight corner..
'You're prepared to vouch for him?'
'Absolutely.' Jimmy was firm. 'I think I understand him pretty well now and I'm absolutely certain that he had nothing to do with staging the threats.'
'In that case I'll go along with your suggestion. Be it on your own head. What then?'
'Try to work out what he's being steered away from. That might give us a clue to the weakness the Colonel's worried about. Finally, look out for a move to complete the picture, something that hasn't happened earlier because it needs to be interpreted on the assumption that Simon's up to something. Don't ask me what. I haven't a clue, but I think it will come.'
'Fair enough!' Geoff seemed to have cheered up. 'It's all delightfully vague and nebulous, but I agree that it fits with what we know so far. Now, you ought to be getting back and I ought to pay a brief call at the Sūreté Publique. If you don't mind waiting for me, I'll run you up the hill. It'll still be quicker than walking.'
Jimmy was only too glad to accept this offer and for a while he was content to savour the unusual experience of sitting in an ordinary road car parked on a motor racing track. The cars passing were progressing at quite normal speeds, but during the weekend other cars would pass that spot at speeds upwards of a hundred and fifty miles an hour, which was quite a thought. The roadway was lined with steel barriers that some people see as the panacea for all safety problems. There were marshal's posts grandstands and all the paraphernalia of a race track. The only unfamiliar feature was that the background was town rather than country.
While he was idly considering the scene, Jimmy suddenly noticed a man slipping unobtrusively along the promenade beyond the line of pit booths. It was one of the bodyguards who had appeared so opportunely at the hotel. While it would have been an exaggeration to say that the man looked furtive, there was a definite air of caution about the way he walked in the shadows.
Scribbling a note to Geoff, which he clipped under the windscreen wiper, Jimmy began to move along the shoreward side of the road, keeping pace with his quarry. He had the advantage of cover provided by the tribunes flanking the royal dais, but this was offset to some extent by the need to scramble over struts and access steps sprawling out across the pavement behind the stands. Beyond the Rue Princess Caroline, however, the stands came to an end and Jimmy was forced to lag behind rather more.
Reaching the Gasworks Hairpin and the Princess Stephanie Gardens, he was disgusted to see that the bodyguard was crossing the road towards the entrance to one of the diagonal paths leading up the Rock. It would be almost impossible to follow him up there, the paths being broad and straight with very little cover. The only hope was to seek a way up the steep slope among the rocks and shrubs, trying to keep in touch with the man without showing himself.
Plunging into the undergrowth with more energy than optimism, Jimmy made reasonable progress at first but then found his way blocked by a sheer rock face stretching away in either direction. He was about to give up and return to the car when voices from somewhere above made him freeze into stillness. It was very quiet, with only the murmur of the traffic to break the silence. Though the voices were faint they were quite distinct.
'Sure. No sweat. There was a chap coming along after you down below, but he didn't come up the slope. Probably heading for the harbour.'
'Good. I'm nervy and all this climbing doesn't help. Got a fag?'
Looking up, Jimmy saw a flare of light and a few seconds later a spent match dropped beside him. The two men were leaning over the parapet of the upper path some twenty feet above and he was glad that he had moved through the bushes fairly quietly. One man was obviously on the look out for strangers climbing the Rock and that suggested that there might be something interesting up there, just possibly the Colonel's weak point.
'What are you nervy about? It's nearly all over now.'
'I don't like the way things have gone. Carter's no fool and I think he's beginning to twig what's happening. And that gang of hooligans who came to his rescue. We didn't count on them horning in. A couple of them are a bit too bright for comfort.'
'Like the one who stopped Luigi at Brands Hatch?'
'Oh, he doesn't count. He's on the make himself. He'll play ball. If he doesn't, the boss will get him. No, what worries me most is the tight timing. We've had to give ourselves away to make it all convincing and that means I want to be out of here as soon as possible.'
'Tomorrow night. You can lie snug enough here until then. I know what you mean, though. The whole thing seems a bit pointless. Why couldn't they have sent Lucy away for the weekend? That would have been a lot simpler.'
'Couldn't be done with this meeting planned. Besides, it might have looked odd. Lucy might have asked some awkward questions.'
'That's nothing new.'
'Well, Lucy's important. Without Lucy, I don't know how this place would carry on. The main thing was to keep Carter off the Rock. Lucy doesn't like motor racing and won't be going down into the town until it's all over. Probably won't go out at all, except for the usual Saturday morning jaunt. Wouldn't miss seeing the little devils regularly every week, not if the world was coming to an end.'
Jimmy had heard enough and his most urgent desire was to get away unnoticed. If sounds from below rose as clearly as those voices had floated down from above, he would have to be very careful.
He hoped Simon wouldn't be embarrassed by the name cropping up just when he had come to terms with his feelings for Susan Clarewood. That would be unfortunate, but it would be even more unfortunate if the name meant nothing at all to him.
Treading wearily, Jimmy regained the road and made for the car, taking care not to look back or to hurry unduly. He could imagine the laconic comment from high on the Rock. 'There goes the chap I saw earlier.'
If the other man recognised Jimmy, he might become even more nervy and that might be unfortunate.
Geoff was waiting patiently and when he heard Jimmy's news he sighed with relief. 'Ah! That's more like it. You do produce the goods, don't you? Now we may be able to get somewhere!'
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|