Sequel & prequel to his ‘MOSAIC’, Clive Ashman’s second starts with some high-speed 1950s action, before we revert to modern Europe. To a complex society on the brink & two Newcastle lawyers on a trip to Italy who get caught in its chaos – whether social, financial or political. Two old friends thinking they’ll escape home, work & family for today’s modern version of the famed ‘Mille Miglia‘. A recreated road-race for classic cars & playboys – run from Brescia to Rome, then back again. Nostalgically evoking with priceless cars from that era, the final 1957 edition whose notorious fatal accident had first got it banned.
Competing in car no. ‘286‘ are Geordie barrister, Bill Cariss, with his colleague Michael Tryton. Though why Bill keeps disappearing during the race – or Michael fixates on his wife – won’t find explanation until they’re finally home. After battling back to northern England through a world whose computers are down, its infrastructure failing. Driving to Rotterdam in Bill’s 1950s Lancia – ‘Xenobia – to fight for their place on the final Hull ferry. On an awful sea journey thats only the start of it – once the Carabinieri or a Home Secretary’s minder seem to harbour old grudges, want to dig up the past…
To another time, another era – one soon strangely familiar. To AD 286, where a junior military tribune his admiral nicknames’Triton‘ finds himself drawn into a whole continent of social unrest. An insecure era riven by warfare. By monetary collapse & political crises, raging inflation or the tolls of taxation. In an empire criss-crossed by the flight of refugees & raiders from the sea; the forced march of armies. And an isolated Britannia which that mentor he so admires – the usurper, Mauseus Carausius – the Belgic river-pilot who defied an empire, commands whole fleets & legions – claims for a safe refuge of sorts. Walling-up his rebel island against a rising sea of dangers, barred from Europa for his defiance of Rome.
Asymmetric and awful, here’s how it looks – brutal and crude: ‘286‘ as the number all of them share. The number which binds them, across two separate eras. Be it future or past – whether leave or remain – the sum’s just the same.
Two men against Europe, one woman between them: Diana the Huntress, the ‘Sea-Wolves‘ their quarry.
What calculation save them?
“Men leave no mark on the sea and nor would I…”
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Product description: ‘TWO-EIGHT-SIX’ by Clive Ashman.
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(Approaching Bologna, Italy: Sunday, 12th May 1957, am)
That famous Spanish sportsman and racing driver, Alfonso Antonio Vicente Eduardo Angel Blas Francisco de Borja Cabeza de Vaca y Leighton; Grandee of Spain; Count of Mejorada and of Pernia; Marquis de Moratalla; Marquis of Portago and Duke of Alagon; comes from a very long line of men used to getting their own way.
‘Fon’ as his closer friends call him, is also a millionaire. One famous playboy.
All of them the factors to make him intolerant of delay.
On this day of all days. An historic occasion. The day he finds himself lying third overall in this year’s running of the famous ‘Coppa Franco Mazotto’.
Italy’s legendary road race, the Mille Miglia, with barely a hundred Roman miles of its eponymous thousand left to cover. His greatest chance to pass into legend. Tantalisingly close to a win, dangerously close to losing any place on the podium whatever.
All to play for.
So when, on the outskirts of Bologna, the half-cut driver of an overloaded gardener’s van has the nerve to lumber out onto the route of Italia’s finest motorsporting occasion and right into his path, despite warnings signalled by roadside crowds, De Portago gives him both barrels. Air horns at full blast.
Serve him right!
Maybe so, but when the FIAT’s befuddled steersman finally registers a rear-view mirror full of main-beam headlight and red carosserie so close it is almost nudging him off, our unhappy gardener panics. His little beige giardinetta shimmying up the minor road as it is pushed along. He gets the message though, swerving back off the highway and straight into a field entrance to let the Count go howling by, his four-cam Ferrari’s astonishing acceleration fed as much by fury as benzina.
It was not as if the fool could not have known what was going on today. The crowds, the carabinieri. Flags and banners everywhere. Decorated umbrellas. The unique ‘freccia rossa’ red-arrow symbol of the Mille Miglia writ large on every one. Plastered over houses and shops. Painted across roads, even onto churches. So how could anyone Italian have been so stupid? The roads may not have been officially closed but they are lined with people. Soldiers, police and public. Every one of them knowing that while the Mille Miglia is running there’ll be sports and racing cars coming through here at speeds which average one hundred miles per hour. Nearly one hundred and sixty kilometres an hour.
Born in London, brought up in Biarritz, flat in New York – ‘Fon’ could swear in any language. Including Anglo Saxon.
“Fon’ forget him!” shouts Nelson, the Count’s co-driver, above the engine’s roar. Only just audible. “He’s gone, he’s finished! Calm down, Alfonso, we’re nearly there. Just keep her on the island. Look after the car. Hold onto our place for Christ’s sake!”
Good advice from a good friend.
Edmund ‘Gunner‘ Nelson and the Marquis make a good team on specialist road events like this one. Unless De Portago is off doing Formula One instead, smashing up Grands Prix single-seaters at exotic locations around the world. Last year, if proof were needed, they’d won the automotive Tour De France together. And wasn’t this 42 year-old US Air Force veteran the guy getting De Portago into motorsport in the first place? On his keen encouragement. Wasn’t it friend Edmund who’d ruefully admitted to ‘The New York Times’ in interview how often things like this would happen? How the aluminium nose cones on De Portago’s circuit racers always came into the pits a little bit crumpled, from his naughty habit of nudging the opposition out of the way.
At one hundred and thirty miles an hour.
About the speed they were doing now as it happens. No, probably a lot more.
On a public, open road.
Hang on, he’d said. Not far to go. We’re on the homeward run and our open-top Ferrari is running like a Swiss watch. A beautiful car, no doubt, if a bit dirty and travel-stained from all those miles she’s covered in the race. Right across Italy but everything aboard still working fine. Engine and transmission a mechanical symphony in perfect motion: “Bella macchina!” As the crowds by each Time Control always comment to her crew.
Whose Bologna checkpoint is coming up fast on the rails.
Only the wear on his ‘Englebert’ tyres giving Alfonso anything to worry about on the car, but by this stage in the event that was to be expected – for every competitor. Like they said at Rome. With no question of losing time or a place by stopping and changing them at the next Control, even if the rules allow it. So we’ll rush in, Edmund get the time card stamped, some petrol sloshed in the back if need be, then on our way again.
Anyway, Linda might be there.
Tyres and cars the same – like all my women. High on maintenance, always a source of worry. Taking a hammering on a long distance event like this one, especially the tyres. Taking more every time I unleash the power that’s pent-up inside this fabulous V12 engine. Stripping the rubber. Four-point-one litres coming in like a rush.
Linda in the Hotel Medina at Modena, four days ago. Visiting the factory to finalise the car.
But why did Enzo give me this car of all cars? An out-and-out racer instead of something more refined, like that GT tourer he let me practice in? He’s so greedy for success, that’s why. A clean sweep for his team. Hey, that man: il commendatore Enzo Ferrari. A genius at building cars, a devil for exploiting human weakness. A Ferrari win at all costs, his drivers expendable. Still grieving over last year’s loss to illness of his one and only son, the beloved Dino, but never less than careless over other fathers’ sons. The manipulative bastard. When that’s all that matters, all he cares about: an Italian car, his car, in an Italian team. His Scuderia winning an Italian event. OK, maybe with a Spanish driver – it’ll just about do. Yes, as a Latin, suppose I’m near enough.
Gotta’ be better than some German in a kraut car, one of those bloody Mercedes. Or else driven by an Englishman, some Anglo-Saxon like the year before last. That Stirling-Bloody-Moss and his weirdly bearded mate, with their crazy idea for a set of pace notes that unroll like toilet roll.
All the same, Enzo must have known. Still, it’s his decision, he’s the boss. But letting me loose in a big car like this vee-twelve, on an open road event like this one, is surely asking for trouble – like some folk are saying. Hell, I’d even bent one in practice, dodging all the hay carts and cyclists. What a bloody shame, a beautiful thing broken. Like my marriage to Caroll, I suppose, the American showgirl who’s lost to me now. Knowing it’s a shame, but that life must go on.
Such a beautiful body but what a brutal thing, this Ferrari 355S – matching those we use at Le Mans. Except that’s held on a closed circuit, unlike this road route. Brutal to drive, too. Bloody hard work. A man’s car if ever there was one, with enough power under the bonnet to strip tarmac off a road surface, let alone the rubber and cord carcass off our bloody Belgian crossplies. Yes, those tyres. Those bloody ‘Engelberts’. No, they’ll have to last to the finish. We’ve no time to be fannying about tonight, chopping and changing.
Look on the bright side, ‘Fon’: tomorrow it will all be over and you’ll be a free man. The race and your marriage both. Divorce papers coming through tomorrow.
Freedom at last.
Married at twenty to an older woman I hardly even knew. Oh Caroll, we managed two lovely children together, but hardly knew each other. Not even furniture in our apartment, let alone time. While I was too young, too handsome, and too rich to settle down – the world too full of pretty girls. So little time, so many women.
Tomorrow, Caroll, I’ll be free and so will you. Except that I won’t be, because already I’m torn. Torn between two more women. Between my darling Donna – with whom I’ve had a young son – and dating one of the most desirable women in the world: screen idol Tyrone Power’s gorgeous ex-wife, Linda Christian.
What a choice, eh? What a chance!
Can you believe it? Me and Linda Christian, a Hollywood star in her own right.
Never mind bad thoughts about bloody Enzo or Caroll, it’s the nice idea of lovely Linda waiting for me that matters. Fair, fragile and fey. If I married her now, would that make me into a proper Christian? And could she, could anyone?
Sinner that I am.
Loyal Linda, who was there for me at Rome and might be waiting by the Bologna control too.
If I’m lucky. And when was I ever not?
Bologna, il Grosso. Bologna, the Fat: rich and comfortable.
Linda The Legs.
We’re speeding towards them through her suburbs now, Carabinieri troopers in black Alfa Romeo saloons turning out to escort us through cheering crowds lining the route. No traffic on these city roads, the local police have seen to that. Barriers and road blocks. Trains stopped, level crossings down.
Skittering sideways across polished cobble junctions past red lights on too little tread, under Pirelli, OM and SEAT banners lining the piazzas.
Middle-aged race officials in sports jackets and ties waving us down. Enzo there with his big nose and undertaker’s scowl, watching over us while they do but saying nothing yet. And good old Luigi of our race mechanics, smiling away. Kindly, unflappable and reassuring in his greasy overalls, unfastening the alloy fuel-filler cap before competing car five-three-one has even stopped rolling, tending to his baby:
“How’s she running, Fon?”
“Fine, fine, she’s perfect. Just the tyres getting a bit thin, Luigi. Not much tread.”
“No, no, she’s fine. There’s no time. They’ll last as far as we need to go….”
And then she appears.
Linda pushing forward through a friendly mob. Yes, she’s really here! Leaning over the open cockpit on my side and into the scarlet car. Finding me filthy, but at least with the foresight to have slid my goggles up and over the peak of my crash-helmet.
Ready for her.
One succulent kiss, me stinking of petrol, engine-oil and sweat. The sweetness of her scent. The Ferrari’s motor still running while I hold her tight for one priceless moment.
Heat and fumes.
“I love you…” she says, and I realise how much I do her. Far more than any of the others.
I really do.
“Taruffi’s got axle trouble…” says Enzo in his raincoat “….you could make second!”
Back in the car, I gun the engine and we’re away…