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.