RED-LINE MONTE CARLO - Omnibus 3 : Peter Baker

Red-Line Monte Carlo  Serial copyright Peter Baker
Omnibus Edition 3, 14 June 2020 – Follow the daily episodes on Peter Baker’s Facebook page

Freebie Freeman and Jim Hayward together made a formidable negotiating duo and within three months the Weybridge Garage contract had been duly signed, and everyone in the race team moved to the new headquarters. The financial package agreed by all was extremely generous but, as ever with Freeman, the devil was in the detail, in this case, a single sentence neatly added into the ‘terms and conditions’ allowing the undisclosed backer a surprising amount of control. It went unnoticed.

Larry Braker as Chief Designer had little interest in finance, instead concentrating full time on the Blake Special Mk2. For the last seven days both he and Winston had been living on the premises, preparing for the official unveiling at Shawstone Park.

Nobody could deny. This new car was nothing short of a revolution, a break-through in race technology.

The power unit was pure jet, mounted at the rear and fitted with an ingenious plus-power storage chamber, operated by an electric seven-stage releaser. The chamber itself, designed as a form of undertray, made a significant contribution to the car’s exceptional low drag factor, while the lightweight, unequal torque-steer rear suspension units absorbed unwanted energy, keeping the car straight under full power. At the same time, in wet conditions, the driver could switch on ‘divisional separation’ by purely selecting the left or right gas revolver.

Taming energy delivery on deceleration proved a problem, with persistent brake burnout. Luckily, Stanley Hooker over at Rolls Royce found a solution. “Simple. Just fit a reversing needle valve into number three sub-chamber. Then, at all times the braking system enjoys the benefit of rocket assistance. Of course, if you also add a second uplifter tube, delivering to the front hubs, brake pressure will become spasmodic, an ideal way of preventing lock-up.”

The question of heavy fuel consumption was addressed by fitting a turbo-return throttle body and running the unit on super pink paraffin. Heat dilution and overrun cut-out also improved mid-range flex-tripping. Initial figures showed an equivalent consumption rate approaching 51mpg. As a final bonus, circulation sub-tubes provided effective windshield demisting, something very much appreciated by driver Jet Thompson

A fully detailed press release was being prepared.

+ New lap records, and multiple spelling mistakes are on the way.

Dr. Eiger of Oxford and Cambridge had long since discovered that a Grand Prix driver, when subjected to regular cheering and applause, stood a much higher chance of outright victory. Booing, on the other hand, produced the reverse. And with this mind, Larry had commissioned Eiger to go one step further. The result? Another breakthrough.

The programme GAMO, standing for ‘Get a move on‘, was based on a magnetic tape recording, featuring the dulcet whispering tones of Jet’s girlfriend Jenny, mixed with excerpts from Adolf Hitler’s war speeches. This tape was then cut and spliced, and played back into the cockpit at a speed associated with a particular lap record, in this case Shawstone Park. Thus, the perfect lap brought with it one long, non-interrupted message of unrequited love. Of course, any spin or serious lapse of concentration received the ‘Hitler’ one-minute penalty.

A second tape triggered during the final stages of a race played either, The Stars and Stripes’ or, ‘Better Luck Next Time.’

Other driver comforts included the ‘Floating Seat’ contrived by famed deckchair designer, Emile of Copenhagen. Fabricated in red, white and blue to match the bodywork, and suspended all round by gas filled struts, the seat could be adjusted anywhere between fully prone and bolt upright, the latter, also known by its acronym WUC (short for ‘wake-up call’) was remotely controlled from the pits.

Naturally, when Pete presented his Special Mk2 to the World Press on that sunny day in early September, items such as contra-rotating inner-bearing supports and fine pitch oscillator, were still on the secret list. Even so, they left impressed, having watched Jet Thompson whoosh through the speed trap at 221mph.

Now gone, the team we’re left alone to reflect.

“She turns in beautifully.”
“The pink paraffin smells fantastic.”
“It’s the sound, I love that sound.”
“Temperatures never moved, steady as a rock.”
“Let’s face it guys, this is one hell of a car.”
“Three cheers for Larry.”
“Three cheers for Jet.”
“Three more cheers for the boss.”

Throughout, Jet had remained unusually quiet. “It’s the headaches, they just won’t go away. Maybe Winston could take over some of the testing?”

+ Has Winston got his foot on rung one of the Grand Prix ladder?

Weybridge Garage, now under the control of Pete Blake Racing was busy, with enthusiasts from all over the country eager to take advantage of their specialised services. Customers buying a new or second-hand car were proud to display the unique company rear window sticker while, at the same time, taking advantage of the comprehensive PBR tuning menu. This ranged from a simple carburettor upgrade, to full race preparation, carried out by Winston personally, leaving Larry Braker to concentrate on the Blake Special Mk2.

The Garage, larger than most, enjoyed a prime location on the main road, attracting a never-ending stream of motorists wanting to save tuppence a gallon. They were more than happy to queue knowing the smiling team of female petrol attendants would happily chat as they cleaned windscreens, checked tyre pressures and dipped oil. These young ladies could also add up and subtract, none better at it than Maisy the forecourt manageress. She could tell a sixpence from a shilling and recognise, in an instant, a fake ten bob note. She also had a photographic memory.

Maisy had come by her mental dexterity whilst serving as a junior cypher clerk at Bletchley during the war. Able to break codes with the best of them and, having been born on the continent, it was only a matter of time before she found herself behind enemy lines liaising with members of the French Resistance. Some, like Victor Laslow, remained her friend and kept in touch. By coincidence, he worked for the well-known French racing outfit, Equipe Framboise, and when Maisy mentioned she worked for Weybridge Garage he put forward a proposition.

In return for certain information, Laslow offered to pay Maisy 25 pounds. She agreed.

“You must tell no one, this is between only us. Just like old times.”

“Oh, mon dieu, c’est une horreur. But, for my Victor, there is nothing I will not do.”

They hugged: “Good luck mon ami.”

+ Well, well, dirty work at the crossroads. Watch out Winston, Maisy is coming to get you.

Shawstone Park. Having received a favourable weather forecast the time had come for driver Thompson to run the Blake Special Mk2 at high speed over a complete Grand Prix distance.

Drawing courtesy Ian Shapland
Following normal visual checks the constant mesh primary starter switch was flicked open, allowing the necessary pulses of paraffin to kick start the jet. Thompson waited impatiently, waiting for engine revolutions to rise. At 55,000rpm he released the converted Ford Ten handbrake and shot forward. Three-hundred feet equalled 120 miles per hour. At this point Level 2 Fuel Enforcer engaged, lifting all drag restriction. Thompson held his breath, watching his speed along the Murray Straight surge beyond the double hundred. Then, after just one lap, Jet Thompson turned into the pit-lane.

“It’s no good, this headache is giving me double vision. Let Winston have a go.”

Winston settled into the special driver’s seat now nicknamed ‘the flying deckchair’ and raised power to Gas Mark Seven. Pete Blake shouted in his ear, “Listen to me. No heroics. Or you’re out on your god damn ear!”

Of course, the young man ignored all threats and second time around whistled his way to a new lap record. Winston found it all, so easy. Then he began to feel faint. Holding on to consciousness, Winston slowed and stopped, before eventually, passing out. When Larry and Pete found him, he was delirious. “Keep the lions away. Don’t let them near me.”

Back at base Larry contacted Dr. Eiger who listened intently.

“Ah. Such things can happen to racing drivers. They are concentrating so hard. Sometimes memory simply attacks forward thinking, the clash causing mental breakdown. Also, maybe a fuel leak. Any poison in the air triggers nausea or perhaps hallucination.”

Larry immediately inspected the circulation sub-tubes that transferred engine heat, through the chassis rail, up to the windshield. Sure enough, constant vibration had resulted in a minute fracture, allowing pressurised paraffin gas to escape. A quick redesign and the problem was solved. No more headaches, and no more lions appearing on track.

+ Sighs of relief all round.

Maisy, having finished her shift, wandered into the experimental workshop where Winston was working on the Blake Special.

“I’m afraid you can’t come in. Top secret.”

Her eyes lit up at the very mention of the words ‘top secret’. In an instant she was back at Bletchley Park receiving last minute orders from Colonel Marchon.

“I know we’re asking a lot Maisy, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s you. After tea we’ll drive to Duxford where Bertie will be waiting with the Lysander. There’s a full moon tonight. Whatever happens, don’t let them catch you. By the way, take this pill.”
“What’s it for?”
“Indigestion. Those French sausages can give one terrible heartburn.”

Winston wiped his hands. “Sorry Maisy, but the boss would go crazy if he found a stranger anywhere near the Special.”

“Oh come on Winston. I’m no stranger. Just let me sit in the cockpit?” She fluttered her eyelids and blew him a kiss. Winston went weak at the knees.

Maisy soon made herself comfortable in the seat, searching for the Minox miniature camera that had always served her so well. Then, when Winston was looking the other way, she flicked the primary starter which, for a few seconds, lit up all the dashboard. Click, click and click again. Job done. These pictures will make Victor most happy, Maisy thought with a certain satisfaction.

Back in Blake’s Berkeley Square office a meeting was taking place between Pete Blake, lawyer Martin Freeman and Jet Thompson. “Good News. Maserati have agreed to release Jet so he can drive our car at Monte Carlo.”

Next morning, at ten forty-five precisely, the cunning Victor Laslow drove his Volkswagen onto the petrol forecourt of Weybridge Garage, looking for Maisy. She waved, and he parked at the far end, asking that she check the oil.

“It needs a quart.”

“You are a clever woman, knowing the engine of this model is at the back.”

“But Victor, don’t you remember, it’s the same as our getaway car.”

That lucky day in June 1944, Maisy and Victor had almost been captured while planting explosives. Only some quick thinking, and the stupidity of a German officer leaving his engine running, allowed their escape. Even so, it had been a close call.

Maisy again felt that same tinge of excitement as she slipped the thin roll of film into Victor’s pocket.

“That will be £25 please sir.”

“Oil is very expensive in this garage.”

“It is my personal service you are paying for, mon ami. Not the oil.”

“Ha. Vous etes drole. Au revoir, pour le moment.

+ Maisy is playing a dangerous game.

Martin Freeman was a smart lawyer, and an inveterate gambler, not afraid to play both ends against the middle. To him life was no more than a game of chess, where the unimportant players could easily be sacrificed. He was, in essence, a lonely man with no family or friends, unless you counted Long John Silver, his pet parrot.

Long John was more than just another Macaw, he was Freeman’s confidant, who knew more about him than anybody else. Trust was implicit and, when in doubt, it was to Long John that he turned for advice.

They would spend many a long evening together, and while Freeman explained in depth his latest example of skullduggery the bird, engrossed in the subtle detail, would lean forward and stare into his eyes, waiting for the punchline.

“Did I do the right thing?” Freeman would ask.

Using a sixth sense, Long John would either nod his head, or bite him on the nose.

Freeman the lawyer didn’t always come out the winner, dubious intuition sometimes losing a client thousands of pounds. In an effort to redress any shortfall, money could mysteriously leave one account and arrive in another. Obviously, even Long John Silver couldn’t be expected to remember every transaction so they were recorded in a notebook that always stayed with him.

Then, one day, he lost the book. This was serious. Not the least of his problems being a particularly large sum of money currently missing from the Weybridge funding arrangement, being used to support a private venture. Loan amounts and crucial repayment dates were all written down and if found would lead any investigation straight to him. But that was not all. The undisclosed backer of the Weybridge project, having now read the small print contained in the original contract, was preparing to sue. Even worse. The person in question was a prominent member of London’s underworld.

Freeman remembered the notebook being in the glovebox of his Buick, and he also remembered leaving the car with Maisy at the Garage, to be valeted. That was the last time he saw it. Unbeknown to Freeman, Maisy had found the notebook and, realising its value, photographed the evidence, and then stupidly, forgot to replace it. Only after he‘d left did she find the book still in her pocket.

+ The plot thickens.

When Freeman opened the front door of his apartment he was not only surprised to find Maisy standing there, but also suspicious.

“Hello Maisy. Better come in. And don’t mind Long John, he’s just a stupid parrot. I’ll pour you a drink.”

“Mine‘s a whisky. Mine’s a whisky. And make it a double.”

“What brings you here at this time of night?”

“Mine’s a whisky. Mine’s a whisky.”

Maisy ignored the parrot. “I think this is yours?” She showed Freeman the notebook.

Long John ran up and down his perch. “Hello Maisy. That’s my bloody notebook. That’s my bloody notebook. Hello Maisy. Hello Maisy. And make it a large one.”

Freeman came at her, but she was ready, and in one deft movement, threw him to the ground.

“That’s the way to do it. That’s the way to do it.”

“Not so fast Freeman. We need to have a little talk.”

“It’s all written in code, you’ll never understand it.”

“Ha. I was the country's number one super spy, it is very simple. Every name, every address and all their telephone numbers. You are a crook.”

“We can work things out Maisy. There is plenty in the pot for two. I’ll give you 25 per cent.”

“Ask for 50. Ask for 50.”

“I’m afraid it’s not that easy. We have been watching you for some time, just waiting for a mistake.”

Freeman was beside himself with anger. “Give me that notebook.”

From her handbag Maisy produced a small gun. “Don’t move, just stay where you are.”

The parrot, beak open wide, was spellbound.

At that moment Detective Inspector Steven Wilkins of Scotland Yard burst in, along with Pete Blake and Victor Laslow. “It’s all over, Freeman.”

Freeman ignored Wilkins and instead stared at Laslow.

“We had an agreement. I paid you £500 for plans of the Blake Special.”

“Indeed. And I delivered the film, as promised. You were then followed to the Blue Angel Nightclub, where a meeting with Maserati took place. The recording clearly shows £2,000 changing hands. Sensibly, the company decided to share its secret and co-operate with the police.”

“Martin ‘Freebie’ Freeman. You are under arrest.”

Long John stared at him and shook his head. “Who’s a naughty boy? Who’s a naughty boy? Lock him up. Lock him up.”

+From now on, anything could happen.

Next Omnibus Edition – 21 June 2020
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