Friday, August 13, 2010

Oil & Hay - 10

I took a sip of my seventh whiskey sour, feeling uncomfortable. Out of sorts. A little cross. I took out my flattening pack of Gauloises, pulled one between my lips and flickered at it with my faltering Zippo. B.B. Douadji walked over grandly, holding out his immaculately manicured hands.

"And this is the guest of honour!" he exclaimed. "The great Malcolm! The great Wood!"

"Thank you, B.B."

"Allow me the privilege of lighting the cigarette of a winner," he said, holding up his flame.

The crowd formed a circle around us as we spoke, a pocket of deference and exaltation as might befit a warrior hero come to meet his king. B.B. slapped me on the back.

"What a race today Malcolm! What a race! And you, my friend! You are the winner of the race!"

I exhaled a plume of rich smoke from my nostrils. "It was a difficult race today. A sad day–"

"Oh! Lorenzo Maldarelli!" he interrupted, eyes wide. "Vroom! Vroom!" he went, pretending to hold a steering wheel. Then his arms shook as he pretended to brake. "Ee-ee-ee-ee-ee!" he exclaimed in staccato squeaks. "Boom! Whoosh!" Arms flailing in the air. Finally he pinched his nose, closed his eyes and descended into a crouch, his other arm above his head, a pantomime of a drowning man. After a moment in the depths he stood back up and smiled brightly.

"That's right," I said. "That's right."

"You drivers, you are not afraid to die," he stated, suddenly solemn.

"Well, I don't kn–"

"When you die, it is beautiful. When everyone else dies, it is shit."

As he cocked his head and frowned I thought I detected a flash of resentment in his face. I nodded dumbly, wondering how much more of this I was due to endure.

He's a real nowhere man.

B.B. rested his arm around my neck and paraded me along the promenade. It was dark now. Across the harbor the palace sat glowing on the rock.

"Maldarelli's death was a great death, a wonderful death," B.B. continued. "Did you see it?"

"I got there late."

"You should have seen it, Malcolm. I was standing right there on the other side of the boat," he said, pointing. "I saw the death and it was..." He shook his head. "Magnificent."

"You saw his car go in the water?"

"It exploded from the street. Spinning! Burning!"

I drank the last drops of my drink as we leaned on the rail. B.B. sighed and gazed up past the tangle of masts.

"I could have been a driver myself, you know."

"Is that so?"

"My father would not allow it," he said, and spat into the sea.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Oil & Hay - 9

Our host for the evening's formal affair was Bambang Duadji, the louche and dissolute Indonesian playboy, art forger, champion water-skier, alleged arms dealer and heir to a rubber fortune known to friends and others as B.B. I adjusted my bowtie and stepped onto the gangplank to the Virgin of Bali, moored along the Quai des États-Unis, near the chicane, not half a kilometre from Lorenzo's off.

I weaved through the crowd of royalty, near-royalty and lesser nobility to find the bar at the end of the after deck. After ordering a whiskey sour, I joined a group of fellow drivers leaning glumly on the railing: Zé; the American Hasu driver Danny Youngblood; the Spaniard Sergio MartínBustamente-García, better known as Checho, Santiago's second at Hewitt-Clark; Rodney Sutcliffe, my former teammate at Hewitt-Apogee; and his teammate Jean-Michel Vaton, the ingenuous French heartthrob with perfect teeth and eyes the hue of the iridescent sea. Straight away Danny started in.

"What did you see, Mal? You were right behind him."

"I wasn't right behind him. I didn't see a thing."

Skeptical expressions flickered on each face.

"How could you not be right behind him?" Danny persisted. "It was lap, what?"

"Lap twenty-four," asserted Checho.

"Twenty-five!" Jean-Michel interjected.

"Twenty-five," I confirmed. "It was lap twenty-five."

"You're tellin' me by lap twenty-five, Zo was outta sight?" As Danny gestured towards me to make his point, gin and tonic sloshed out of his glass to rain on the tips of my shoes. He seemed intent on impugning me one way or the other, for dishonesty or lack of pace.

"I couldn't keep up with Zo. When I turned the corner at Lower Mirabeau all I saw was bits and pieces."

Danny gave me a baleful look. "You ran him off the track."

"I did nothing of the sort!"

Jean-Michel quickly changed the subject. We all need another drink, he said, and so we dutifully queued up at the bar. When we reconvened, Zé made a statement in my defense.

"Danny, I was not too far behind Mal. I do not think he was close to Maldarelli."

"You're one to talk."

"What does this mean?"

Danny slurped his drink and peered over the rim at the Brazilian.

"You hated Maldarelli."

Things happened then in quick succession.

Zé slammed his Martini onto the teak in wordless exclamation. It popped into a hundred shards, the olive rolling God-knows-where. He lunged at Danny, managing to grab him by his tuxedo lapels before anyone could intervene.

"Seu cabrão!" he shouted, slapping the American on the side of the head.

Danny, enraged, now ducked into a charge, wrapped his arms around Zé's abdomen, and heaved him overboard. We watched as he fell twenty feet and splashed arse-first into the Port of Monaco. He emerged sputtering, panting, ludicrously treading water, his jacket floating from his shoulders like a cape.

Zé's submergence broke the bitter atmosphere. Danny quickly unfastened a lifesaver and threw it to his erstwhile foe, then we all took a spot on the rope and pulled the soaking man aboard. It was enough, for now, that one of us emerge from the water alive.
Google Docs displays to the author a reassuring message from time to time:


Thursday, August 05, 2010

Oil & Hay - 8

When I got to my hotel room I took off my shoes and lay down with her messages unread in my fist. My right hand still gripped the neck of my half-drunk magnum and kept it balanced on the bed. I examined the elaborate mouldings on the ceiling: the chain of decorative beading on the periphery, the stylised leaves in the corners and around the chandelier. I thought about the breach through which Lorenzo disappeared. My racing suit was soaked through with sweat and Champagne.

I perched the bottle on my belly and leaned it to my lips. The fluid tasted alive. Electric. It spilled down my chin and neck, drenching the pillow. I just kept staring at the ceiling and drinking. Finally the bottle was empty and the telephone rang.


"Mal, it's me."


"It's me."

"Where are you?"

"I'm still in New York. I was at the studio late last night."

"You must be tired. What time is it?"

"Morning here. Evening there."

"When can you come–"

"You sound drunk. Are you alright?"

"They offer Champagne to the victors."

"I heard what happened in the race."

"Word of my glory travels fast."

"No, Mal. Yes, I know. But I heard what happened."

I kept silent for a moment or two. It annoyed me that she brought it up. I'm rather ashamed to admit.

"So terrible, Mal! I'm so, so, sorry."

"He's the one who deserves the sympathy I should think."

"You really liked him!"

I paused again, resolving to be calm. "He was very quick."

"Mal, are you crying?"

"No, Mel. No."

"But I can hear it in your voice!"

"When can you come over? I should like to see you."

"I can fly to Brussels in a week. Is Spa near Brussels?"

"It's near Liège."

"Can I fly to Liège?"

"I don't know, darling. Perhaps you could fly to Paris?"

"I'll try to fly to Paris."

"I've got to get dressed for a party on a yacht."

"Try not to get too drunk. You know what happens to your energy when you drink."

I sighed. "I'll speak with you soon, Mel."

I hung up and got back on my feet.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Oil & Hay - 7

I parked my car before the royal box, as is the custom, and stepped out of the cockpit in a daze. As I slowly removed my goggles, helmet and fireproof gauze, Tex, the Star team boss, ran over from the pits. When one of his cars won he usually cheered it at the checkered, leaping and tossing his Stetson in the air. Today he hadn't.

"Malcolm. Good race, pal," he said, panting.


"And Lorenzo Maldarelli's dead."

I sighed. "Just like that?" I asked. I can only think of stupid questions about death.

"Just like that? I dunno what you mean by just like that. He exited the track."

"Into the sea?"

Tex nodded. "Musta slammed into somethin' first."

"He crashed the wall?"

"He crashed the wall."

"Rolled over? Caught fire?"

"You know how the story goes."

"Then he plunged into the Mediterranean Sea?"

"Frogmen retrieved his corpse."

"What killed him? The fire or the water?"

"Jesus, Mary'n Joseph, Malcolm."

"Are you telling me he couldn't swim?"

"If he coulda swum, he'da swam, goddammit!"

"Did he suffer?" I hadn't meant to ask this question. But then I heard it out my mouth.

"Did he suffer. Jesus motherfuckin' Christ. He died like a man!"

I found myself pressing the point. "But Tex, it's import–"

"Of all the ghoulish goddamned questions! Did he suffer. I dunno. You ever die before?"

"Yes, but – no, but I mean–"

"Mal, he's dead. He died."

A moment passed. I hung my head.

"Thank you, Tex."

The buildings reverberated with the sonorous drone of the announcer revealing to the masses the tragic end of the great Lorenzo Maldarelli, hereafter consigned to legend. There followed a minute of silence. One could hear the rustle of the trees.

Then the speakers came to life anew. It was me they celebrated now. Malcolm Wood of Britain in his Star-Apogee. Winner of this twenty-fourth Grand Prix de Monaco. A blonde darling in a miniskirt and go-go boots approached me and placed a wreath around my neck.

I ascended the royal box's felted steps as the prince and princess stood to greet me. Grace, resplendent in blue and rose and a flowered hat, extended her hand to me and smiled.