The Fiction of Don Thomasson
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| The Fiction of Don Thomasson |
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Next morning, after an understandably late breakfast, Jimmy set about the task of turning his plans into action. He had to be careful not to give orders or instructions which might have suggested that he had any official standing in the matter, but everybody seemed quite willing to follow his lead, no doubt hoping that he would lead them in the direction of further excitement. Simon might have been more critical than the rest, but his attention was diverted very effectively by Susan's arrival on the scene and he meekly allowed himself to be shepherded along in company with his friends and supporters.
In contrast to the warm sunshine of the previous day, the sky was overcast and the air almost cold. As they left the hotel a passing French girl said 'Bloody Eenglish vether' and went on her way, giggling.
Tony shook his fist at her with a mock glare of indignation, but he also shook his head regretfully. 'She's right, you know. We always seem to bring bad weather when we come here. It's odd, because the date of the race changes each year, as if they're looking for a dry weekend.'
'It isn't that.' Jimmy spoke absently, his mind busy with more urgent matters. 'They always hold the race on the Sunday after Ascension Day, so that the Thursday practice is a public holiday. That makes it easier to close the streets and get a good crowd of spectators.'
'Well, I'm darned!' Tony was both surprised and a little annoyed with himself. 'To think I never noticed! Shows how unobservant I am. Not that I know a lot about the religious calendar. It never seemed relevant to motor racing.'
'Why not? We have races on Good Friday and Easter Monday, don't we?' Jimmy was still giving only half his attention to the conversation and a sudden thought made him change the subject abruptly. 'We won't get a proper mid-day meal with the racing on, so we'd better forage in the market for fruit and other things we can carry around. Could you help to pass the word, Tony? The market's on the left, here. We'll meet up across the road, near that bus stop. Not more than ten minutes from now, please.'
In his preoccupation, Jimmy had spoken with a curt formality by no means appropriate to the atmosphere of an idle Saturday morning stroll. Tony glanced at him sharply for a moment before setting about his appointed task, to which he added warnings that this was no time for fooling about. Well inside the stipulated time limit the party reformed, their miscellany of paper bags and parcels making them look very much in holiday mood. Jimmy surveyed the effect with satisfaction and led the way down the hill towards the harbour.
Although the day's racing was not scheduled to start for another three hours, gangs of men were already busy with the preparations needed to turn the streets into a race track. Lengths of metal were being bolted into place to close gaps in the track side barriers, unwanted objects like foolishly parked cars were being cleared away and, most important of all from the organiser's point of view, wooden fencing was being set up across every possible access to the circuit. At some permanent race tracks there are unofficial back entrances through which impecunious or mean persons can pass unobserved, but anyone who gets a good view of the Monaco race free, without the permission of the authorities, must be very clever indeed.
As yet, however, the gates in the wooden fences were still open and the party were able to pass through unhindered, except for a noticeable increase in the number of people on the streets. The Principality is credited with a little over ten thousand regular inhabitants, but between ten and twenty times that number converge on the area during race weekend, generating an indescribable atmosphere of gaiety and expectation.
Even the harbour was more congested than usual and there was much activity on its northern side, where the cars race along the quay. Boats which had been moored there were being moved out to a safe distance, in case an errant car should plunge over the edge. On the central jetty a helicopter was buzzing, its engines being warmed up in preparation for the task of carrying a television camera aloft. When this sound died away it was possible to hear racing car engines being tested in the Formula Three paddock beyond the Casino. There was a sense of growing tension in the air and Jimmy felt that it would be wise to carry his immediate plans through as quickly as possible, before the rising tide of excitement could get out of hand.
He was fairly sure that two or more of the men he had spotted leaning over walls and parapets high on the Rock were neither admiring the view nor waiting to watch the racing. The main approaches to the Old Monaco were no doubt well guarded, but he hoped that at least one of the less obvious ways up to it had been either forgotten or ignored.
Following the southern side of the harbour, with the towering slopes of the Rock on their right, the party passed the base of the massive stone breakwater and seemed to come to a dead end, but the road wriggled past the projecting cliff and carried them another hundred yards before petering out in earnest among a group of small houses. It was very peaceful here, in contrast to the harbour area just around the corner. There was only the sound of the sea and the only people in sight were a small boy and his father, who were studying the art of boule, that peculiarly French relation of bowls.
Above the houses an imposing building seemed to grow out of the cliff, to which it clung precariously. At its nearer side rose a flight of steps that was steep even by Monegasque standards. Staring upwards, Jimmy noted with satisfaction that no watchful figures leaned on its balustrades. It looked as if the back door had been left unguarded.
An unobtrusive sign brought Tony to his side, eager for action. Jimmy gave his instructions softly. 'Pick half a dozen of the biggest lads and get up those stairs as fast as you can. I want to know if anyone's on the lookout.'
Seconds later the advance party was sprinting upwards, leaving the others to follow at a more leisurely pace. Before the main body were half way up, Tony could be seen leaning over the topmost parapet giving a thumbs up sign. Simon looked at Jimmy suspiciously, but made no comment. He was obviously reserving judgement for the time being.
The steps led to a pleasant paved courtyard surrounded by thick bushes. It lay a little below the level of the roadway beyond and was completely screened from view. Jimmy suggested that everyone should get their breath back after the climb and enjoy the scenery, but Simon's suspicions were thoroughly aroused now and he demanded to know what was going on.
His face the picture of innocence, Jimmy smiled gently. 'We might as well see the sights while we're here and this is certainly one of them. That's building's worth a look, too. The Oceanographic Museum. There's a darned find aquarium in there. Plenty of those rum tropical fish.'
Enlightenment dawned on Simon's face. 'I see. I usually hate being organised, but I must admit that you do it very well. I suppose you're expecting to find Lucy here.'
'It's possible. Why not go in and have a look? He may not be there yet, but I understand he usually calls in on a Saturday.'
Simon simply nodded. Taking Susan's hand he walked off towards the aquarium.
Tony, who had posted the advance scouts to watch the entrances to the courtyard, now detailed four of them to keep an eye on Simon and Susan and then looked to Jimmy for further instructions. For the moment, however, there was nothing to do but wait. Jimmy found that the minutes passed like hours. Having outflanked the watchers and reached the top of the Rock unnoticed, they were, to all intents and purposes, in enemy territory. If the Colonel's men found Simon now the consequences would be unpredictable but probably unpleasant. Almost anything might happen.
In a telephone conversation with Geoff earlier that morning, Jimmy had agreed the broad outlines of the plan, but there were inevitably a number of uncertainties involved. Geoff and the police had been busy and had found out that Luciano Mori usually visited the aquarium at about this time. He seemed to come alone, but there was a strong possibility that he might be watched from a distance and those watchers must not be allowed to see Simon. Geoff was therefore keeping an eye on Mori's house and would be in a position to give advance warning if the situation was unfavourable.
Since Geoff was nowhere in sight Jimmy had to assume that Mori was late. Any other assumption would be defeatist and Jimmy refused to adopt that attitude. Fortunately for his peace of mind, Geoff appeared before this resolution could weaken. The first glimpse of the elegant figure strolling towards the Museum made Jimmy give a sigh of relief, but he still peered anxiously in that direction. The road curved away to the right around the top of the cliffs and Geoff was on the outside of the curve and therefore visible at greater range. He made a tiny gesture towards the other side of the road and Jimmy relaxed. Luciano Mori was just coming into view.
There was really no doubt about his identity. This little bird like man, probably in his mid thirties, fitted exactly with all that Jimmy knew about him. He ambled along sadly, looking neither to right nor to left, the picture of a man subdued by forces he couldn't control or understand. Jimmy saw vividly for the first time just what the Colonel could do to a human being.
Pushing this thought aside he spoke to Tony in an urgent undertone. 'See that little man coming towards us on the right hand side of the road? That's Luciano Mori. He should be heading for the Museum. We want him to meet Simon, but anyone who's following him, except Mr Farnfield, of course, must be kept out of the way. I'm going inside. You link up with Mr Farnfield and explain the situation.'
Tony nodded without a word, the perfect lieutenant, and Jimmy went on his way confidently, sure that he had a good team backing him. This was a little surprising, since none of the people concerned had known each other for more than a couple of days, but the unofficial bodyguards had already shown their mettle, while Tony had emerged as an effective leader, able to control and channel their exuberance to good effect. Characteristically, Jimmy gave no thought to the possibility that his own unobtrusive leadership had influenced the matter.
Paying his money at the turnstile, Jimmy passed through into a vast hall beyond. For the moment he ignored the sign marking the stairs leading down to the aquarium, preferring to wait until Mori appeared. The little man went past sadly, his eyes on the ground in front of him. Jimmy followed on, descending to a darkened room lit only by luminescent oblongs in the walls, within which swam weird and wonderful fish that moved to create patterns of fantastical beauty.
Pausing to let his eyes adjust to the dimness, Jimmy was eventually able to spot Simon and Susan some distance away, their faces showing faintly in the chancy radiance. Mori was still lingering by the first tank and it seemed prudent to speed matters up a little. A sign to Simon brought the young couple hurrying back to meet Mori face to face as he moved to the second tank.
After a moment of absolute stillness, Simon held out his hands. 'Lucy, my old friend. How nice to see you again!'
Luciano Mori neither moved nor spoke, but tears suddenly glistened on his cheeks. Then he slowly shook his head and took Simon's hands in his own. He said nothing until Susan, distressed by his emotion, came and laid a hand on his arm. Then the spell was broken and he could speak.
'Simon! Miss Susan! You cannot imagine what this means to me!'
'I think we can guess.' Simon shook his head sadly. 'As you see, I am very much alive and I deeply regret that I should have been used to make a threat for you.'
'Yes.' The little man nodded gravely. 'They forced me to...but that does not matter. I know you are alive. The knowledge will not free me. I know too much, I have done too much for that to be possible, but...I know you are alive...'
During all this, Jimmy had been watching the entrance steps anxiously and he now decided that it was time to intervene. 'Mr Mori, you don't know me, but Simon will assure you that I'm a friend. You may have been followed here and it is most important that those who would follow you should not see Simon. Perhaps it would be better to talk outside.'
'Yes.' The little man peered at Jimmy through the gloom and seemed reassured by what he saw. 'I think they would not follow me. My habits are known. It would be nice to talk for a while, though. It would be interesting. But first, may I complete my visit? These beautiful things, they have been my only friends for so long. I would like to tell them of my happiness.'
Jimmy nodded and the little man turned to the line of tanks again, spending a few minutes before each window in turn, while the others followed, staying at a little distance as if they feared to intrude on his privacy.
When all the tanks had been visited Mori turned with a gentle smile. 'Now, let us talk. Where shall we go, so that we shall not be seen?'
After brief consideration, Jimmy suggested the courtyard at the top of the steps. Mori nodded. 'Yes. That is a good place. I go there sometimes when I wish to be alone and quiet.'
Emerging from the Museum, they found that the clouds had vanished, the sun shining as brightly as ever. What had been a faintly uncomfortable chill in the air had become a pleasant freshness and conditions were ideal for an open air conference. Tony posted his guards again and the others grouped themselves round Luciano Mori, perching on such seats or balustrades as were available, or sprawling inelegantly on the flagstones.
As Mori realised the size of the party his eyes opened and he smiled gently. 'I begin to understand why there has been so much excitement, men coming and going, extra watchers, many urgent and secret discussions. But how did you reach here unseen? If they had known you were on the Rock I am sure I would have been kept in my house.'
When Jimmy explained that they had climbed the steps from the Chemin des Pecheurs, Mori's smile broadened. 'That was clever. They would not think of that route, so roundabout and so steep, to such lazy men so improbable. You may need to be careful when you return. Or perhaps it is I who must be careful.'
'I'm afraid that may be so.' Geoff was looking rather grave. 'Now that the threat which brought you here is no longer effective, they may feel that you have become a threat yourself.'
Mori's lips tightened momentarily and then he nodded. 'I am a man of peaceful tastes, but I have felt no love for my masters, even when they seemed to be helping me to escape a worse fate. Now that I know the truth, even I am inclined to resentment.'
'Understandably so.' Geoff clearly appreciated the understatement. 'My own interest in the matter concerns Mr Carter's safety. Your masters have been threatening him. Yesterday they tried to kidnap him, after having made an apparent attempt to kill him. We believe that the reason for all this has been, at least in part, a desire to prevent you seeing him.'
'But that is incredible!' More looked astonished. 'Simon, either you have become a magician or you have had one to help you. These men do not often fail.'
Geoff smiled quietly. 'He has been protected by a special kind of magic, Mr Mori, the magic of men who are not easily frightened, whose loyalty is not for sale and who keep faith with their friends.'
'That is strong magic.' Mori nodded gravely. 'Magic that is the more effective against my masters in that it is a magic they do not understand.'
Simon stirred and put an unexpected question. 'Could it defeat the Council of Five, Lucy?'
Mori's well marked eyebrows rose alarmingly. 'You know even that? Then you are magicians indeed. I had thought you would only know of their thugs and mercenaries, but it seems that my masters are in a danger they do not suspect. It would be a pleasure to see you cast a spell over them and an even greater pleasure to help you to do it.'
Geoff seemed a little alarmed and Jimmy could understand why. What Mori was suggesting could be a very dangerous undertaking indeed, yet here, in this sunny courtyard, it suddenly seemed within the bounds of practicality.
Encouraged by Mori's words, Simon suddenly stood up and faced the little man squarely. 'Tell me, Lucy. Are the Council here?'
The little man nodded. 'Yes. Each year, when the races are run, they come to Monaco, pretending to be interested in the sport. Instead, they get into little old cars, less noticeable than the ones they use at other times, and come up to my house for a meeting. Perhaps I should say that they come through my house, for the room in which they meet is larger than all my rooms put together and the route to it is not obvious.'
'No doubt it is also well guarded.' Simon spoke dryly and it dawned on Jimmy that the tone marked a change in outlook. As if liberated from a need to consider his own problems, Simon was turning his thoughts outward and hardening into a new maturity. The man of ideas was becoming a man of action.
'It is guarded so well that you would never reach the meeting room against their will, or escape alive if you made the attempt.'
Mori's simplicity was convincing, but Simon smiled. 'What would they do if there were no guards? Supposing all the guards had been arrested. Would they still meet?'
After considering this deeply, Mori rose and looked out over the water far below, his eyes narrowed. He spoke softly. 'There is a fine yacht in the harbour. It belongs to one of them. Once before, when arrangements went wrong, they went aboard that yacht after dark and sailed out to sea while they talked. I think that is what they would do if the guards were taken away.'
Swinging round to face Geoff, Simon set his hands on his hips and threw his head back defiantly. 'You probably think I'm nuts. Well, I don't. These men are supposed to be invulnerable, but it suddenly dawned on me how much we've achieved. It seems worth trying to complete the job. Why not? Would that really be so much more dangerous than letting them carry on unchecked?'
Geoff, sitting hunched up on the balustrade, looked at Simon in amazement. 'You know what you're up against as well as I do. If that doesn't scare you, I can scarcely admit that it scares me. I'm paid to do this kind of thing and you aren't. What have you got in mind? Arresting all the Colonel's men and frightening the Council into meeting at sea? What then?'
A beatific smile blossomed on Simon's face. 'Well, we could go out and join them, couldn't we? Remember, the secret of their strength is that no one can prove that they act in concert. Suppose we took a few snaps of their meeting. That would put a spoke in their wheels, wouldn't it? How would they react?'
'I hate to think.' Geoff got up and stretched, then he turned to Mori. 'I imagine the local authorities wouldn't be very pleased to know what's been going on here, would they? If you came back with me and made a statement, they'd probably move in right away. Could you provide enough evidence to ensure that they made a clean sweep?'
'Certainly.' Mori's eyes were gleaming. 'And what I say need not concern the Council. These men of the Colonel's, they do other things, things that would upset the authorities very much.'
'Excellent.' Geoff seemed almost happy now he had come to a decision. 'I'll take you down in my car. You can hide under a rug in the back. The rest of you had better get a move on. The racing's due to start soon. You won't want to miss that. Don't talk about this business, even among yourselves. Just enjoy your holiday.'
Simon impulsively held out his hand. 'Thank you, Mr Farnfield. We'll see this through, I promise you. I couldn't have been happy to let it go by default. What they did to me didn't really matter. What they've done to Lucy is another thing altogether. Besides, this is a lot more useful than my usual job and it might even make the job easier to do.'
'That's true.' Geoff smiled in an oddly contented way, as if the situation had brought him unexpected satisfaction. 'I'll do what I can to help. Let's meet in the Casino Square tonight and talk over the details.'
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|