“I think they’re trying to kill us, Clay.” She said it quietly, like she was talking about shoes. We were on the Monmouth road, the tunnels coming up fast. The car in front of us was a dark number, its driver lining up a part for a funeral cortège. I’d made to overtake it more than once and every time the car had veered out. An old lady hitting the sherry, maybe. There were plenty of those in Monmouth, along with funeral technicians who shared the embalming fluid with the corpse…one for you, one for me. Hell, maybe the little old lady was a funeral technician. That would make sense. More sense than a killer waiting for me and Sheri on a quiet road to Monmouth.
“Why’s that?” I said from the corner of my mouth. The other corner was clamped hard on a Marlborough light.
“A motorbike has been tailing us for some time, but you knew that, Clay.”
“And if it comes any closer, it’ll be kissing my sweet derriere.”
“Well he sure as won't be kissing mine, but you’re right, kid. Something ‘s screwy going on here.” And then I remembered. “You got it safe?”
She patted the book and smiled. Placed it between her thighs. “It’s safe, Clay.”
I glanced to my right where a white fiat was bent on sharing my space. I veered out, the bump and scrape a friendly hint. The jerk didn’t respond, just stared kind of fish-eyed at something ahead. Maybe he had designs on the old broad who drank embalming fluid with corpses. Maybe he was stupid. One thing for sure, between the three of them they seemed intent on making us into some kind of sandwich – and let me tell you, I ain’t that mouth friendly.
“This reminds me of the Spencer case,” Sheri whispered, retrieving her pearl handled cold 45 from her purse.
“You don’t say.”
“She met with an ‘accident’.”
“What kind of accident?”
“The death kind of accident – just like this – crowded in as she was entering a tunnel.”
“So they all got it.”
Sheri snickered. Sexy as hell. “You’d think wouldn’t you, only the motor bike and car in front plumb vanished – the driver of the fiat likewise never traced. Poof.”
Her lips pursed turning the sound into something you’d dream of later that night. Poof! poof !
“Motive, Sheri. Who wanted her dead?”
“Well, she had a boy friend. Word is he was some kind of oily little bed-hopper; Guy named Dodi.”
“Dodi? Ain’t that a girl’s name?”
Sheri shrugged. “Egyptian I think.”
Rameses, Tutankhamen, Dodi. I wasn’t convinced. “You think he put the finger on her?”
“No, he died with her in the crash.”
“She had a husband.”
“Only he don’t seem like no killer.”
“As every bent lawyer whines; half of death row could plead that one. Who else had it in for her?”
“Well she’d compiled some kind of dossier on illegal arms trading – landmines – that kind of thing. Word is government ministers were involved, along with half the Secret Service.”
“Jeez, she had no chance then.” I knew how things worked. Paint her as some kind of flake-head, an accident waiting to happen, her boyfriend a sex fiend and lush. These boys had power. I listened as Sheri proceeded to tell me how much power.
“She knew that. A year or two before her death she’d met up with her lawyer, Lord Mishcon.”
“A goddamned lord, what was she, a princess?”
Sheri gave me her Mona Lisa smile. “She left him a note, confiding her fears that ‘Efforts would be made to get rid of her…like an accident in her car’.”
“What did the jury make of that?”
“Scotland Yard kept it to themselves.”
As I said, these boys had power. The dame had no chance. “Okay, so she knows an accident is being planned for her, and she’s rich – so why not buy a chauffeur, get herself some kind of body-guard?”
“She had both. Her driver was a guy named Henri Paul.”
“French. That the best she could do?”
“Hmm.” Her lips curled.
“You’re saying he was got at.”
“The line is he was driving while drunk; but those with him earlier that morning say different.”
“The night before, he vanished for three hours. No trace or record of his movements - and get this, Clay.” Sheri paused.
I hoped she wasn’t planning pausing too long. The tunnels were coming up fast, and we were still no nearer to clearing this.
“Henri Paul had regular, unexplained, but quite sizable amounts of money going into his several bank accounts two or three months before her death.”
“And he died in the crash. Hell, and ain’t that convenient.” And then I remembered: “She had something they wanted, too – some kind of dossier, you said.”
Sheri squeezed her thighs tight and the car swerved. “She had something – only after the crash her personal stuff vanished.”
Dead driver, vanishing dossiers, missing cars… “Hold on, cup-cake. Just hold on there. The cameras would have picked up their number plates.”
Sheri sighed. “You’re right, only the cameras weren’t working on that particular tunnel on that particular night.”
Who were these guys? And who was the dame that had lured them from out of the shadows? “And the inquest bought all this?”
The way she said ‘Hmmm,’ man it was poetry, but I knew there was something behind that hmmm. There always was with Sheri.
“There was another inquest ten years later.”
“When the trail was nice and cold.”
“Maybe, but the jury clearly smelt a fish. They returned a verdict of unlawful killing by the drivers of the vehicles involved.”
“You mean these ones here.” The tunnels were closing in on us fast. “Hold on, kid.” I swung the car hard to the right, smashing the fiat off the road, then hauled on the brakes. The car jerked to a sudden halt. The biker who’d shown such interest in Sheri Lamour’s derriere swung into the air and kissed asphalt instead.
There was just the little old lady who had suddenly discovered acceleration. Maybe she was thirsty, maybe she feared death. Either way she’d never have to worry about embalming fluid again.
Tyres chewed dirt and gravel screamed in all directions as we hurtled through the tunnels and screamed into Monmouth town. I was on her tail and gaining fast, my right foot aching on a pedal that was damn near scraping the road.
Monmouth passed in a blur and we were on the Hereford road, straining up one of those goddamned hills the Welsh are always singing about for want of anything better else to do. It was a long, gleaming-wet road, built for the hunter and its prey. I was screaming, consumed by the lust for revenge. Screaming and howling as if some nameless beast had taken possession of my soul. But the guy I still thought of as the little old lady had one more trick. She vanished in shadow whilst I was still making my jungle noises and licking imagined blood from my teeth.
Sheri pointed as the side road came into view, dropping steeply into an unlit abyss. Hell! I thought, stomach caught between teeth.
We plunged onto the road like a comet from the infinitesimal voids of space, missing a paint van and avoiding a lamppost by inches. What-the-hell! We were gaining and no back alley-dodging-hide and seek was going to stop us now. I was near enough to see a shadow hunched, ape like over the wheel. Someone else was in the car; face stark in panic, his gun aimed at Sheri Lamour.
Sheri smiled and it was obvious why. The jerk was scared and just then wouldn’t have aimed straight with a slide rule. The ‘old lady’ and Tonto were reaching retiring age and Sheri was about to make the presentation. A pearl handled colt 45 with silencer attached don’t fire no gold watches, but he got the message - in the head. The dark car crashed as its driver got his. “Nice shooting, Sheri,” I breathed, trying without success to disguise the envy.
“That’s for the princess,” she breathed.
“And the book,” I said. “The Frugal Way. Tell me it’s safe.”
Sheri unleashed her thighs and held it up triumphantly.
“They didn’t look the Frugal Kind,” she breathed.