Monday, September 7.
The Buenos Aires autodrome on the dusty outskirts of Argentina's capital city was crammed with fifty thousand spectators who had come to watch the championship classic. It was a 115-lap race over the almost four-mile circuit. The race had been running for nearly five hours, under a hot, punishing sun, and out of a starting field of thirty cars only a handful remained. The crowd was seeing history being made. There had never been such a race before, and perhaps never would be again. All the names that had become legend were on the track this day: Chris Amon from New Zealand, and Brian Redman from Lancashire. There was the Italian Andrea di Adamici, in an Alfa Romeo Tipo 33, and Carlos Maco of Brazil, in a March Formula 1. The prize-winning Belgian Jacky Ickx was there, and Sweden's Reine Wisell in a BRM.
The track looked like a rainbow gone mad, filled with the swirling reds and greens and black and white and golds of the Ferraris and Brabhams and McLaren M19-A's and Lotus Formula 3's.
As lap after grueling lap went by, the giants began to fall. Chris Amon was in fourth place when his throttles jammed open. He sideswiped Brian Redman's Cooper before he brought his own car under control by cutting the ignition, but both cars were finished. Reine Wisell was in first position, with Jacky Ickx close behind the BRM. On the far turn, the BRM gearbox disintegrated and the battery and electrical equipment caught fire. The car started spinning, and Jacky Ickx's Ferrari was caught in the vortex.
The crowd was in a frenzy.
Three cars were outpacing the rest of the field. Jorje Amandaris from Argentina, driving a Sur-tees; Nils Nilsson from Sweden in a Matra; and a Ferrari 312 B-2, driven by Martel of France. They were driving brilliantly, daring the straight track, challenging the curves, moving up.
Jorje Amandaris was in the lead, and because he was one of them, the Argentinians cheered him madly. Close behind Amandaris was Nils Nilsson, at the wheel of red-and-white Matra, and behind him the black-and-gold Ferrari, driven by Martel of France.
The French car had gone almost unnoticed until the last five minutes, when it had started gaining on the field. It had reached tenth position, then seventh, then fifth. And was coming on strong. The crowd was watching it now as the French driver started moving up on number two, driven by Nilsson. The three cars were travelling at speeds in excess of 180 miles an hour. That was dangerous enough at carefully contoured racetracks like Brands Hatch or Watkins Glen, but on the cruder Argentine track it was suicide. A red-coated referee stood at the side of the track, holding up a sign: "FIVE LAPS."
The French black-and-gold Ferrari attempted to pass Nilsson's Matra on the outside, and Nilsson inched over, blocking the French car's way. They were lapping a German car on the inside track, moving up on it fast. Now it was opposite Nilsson's car. The French car dropped back and edged over so that it was positioned in the tight space behind the German car and Nilsson's Matra. With a quick burst of acceleration the French driver made for the narrow slot, forcing the two cars out of its way and shooting ahead into the number-two spot. The crowd, which had been holding its breath, roared its approval. It had been a brilliant, dangerous maneuver.
It was Amandaris in the lead now, Martel second and Nilsson in third position, with three laps remaining. Amandaris had seen the move. The French driver is good, Amandaris told himself, but not good enough to beat me. Amandaris intended to win this race. Ahead of him he saw the sign being flashed - "TWO LAPS." The race was almost over, and it was his. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the black-and-gold Ferrari trying to pull up alongside him. He got a glimpse of the driver's goggled, dirt-streaked face, tight and determined. Amandaris gave an inward sigh. He regretted what he was about to do, but he had no choice. Racing was not a game for sportsmen, it was a game for winners.
The two cars were approaching the north end of the oval, where there was a high banking turn, the most dangerous in the track, the scene of a dozen crashes. Amandaris shot another quick look at the French driver of the Ferrari and then tightened his grip on the wheel. As the two cars started to approach the curve, Amandaris imperceptibly lifted his foot from the accelerator, so that the Ferrari began to pull ahead. He saw the driver give him a quick, speculative look. Then the driver was abreast of him, falling into his trap. The crowd was screaming. Jorje Amandaris waited until the black-and-gold Ferrari was fully committed to pass him on the outside. At that moment Amandaris opened his throttles wide and started to move toward the right, cutting off the French driver's path to the straightaway, so that the only choice was to head up the embankment.
Amandaris saw the sudden, dismayed expression on the French driver's face and silently said, iSalud! At that instant the driver of the French car turned the wheel directly into Amandaris' Surtees. Amandaris could not believe it. The Ferrari was on a crash course with him. They were only three feet apart and at that speed Amandaris had to make a split-second decision. How could anyone have known that the French driver was completely loco? In a swift, reflex action, Amandaris swung the wheel sharply to the left, trying to avoid the thousand pounds of metal hurtling at him, and braked hard, so that the French car missed him by a fraction of an inch, and shot past him toward the finish line. For a moment Jorje Amandaris' car fishtailed, then went out of control into a spin, flinging itself wildly across the track, rolling over and over until it burst into a tower of red and black flames.
But the crowd's attention was riveted on the French Ferrari, roaring across the finishing line to victory. There were wild screams from the spectators as they ran toward the car, surrounding it, cheering. The driver slowly stood up and took off the racing goggles and helmet.
She had wheat-colored hair, cut short, and her face was sculpted with strong, firm features. There was a classic cold beauty about her. Her body was trembling, not with exhaustion, but with excitement, the memory of the moment when she had looked into Jorje Amandaris' eyes as she sent him to his death. Over the loudspeaker the announcer was excitedly yelling, "The winner is Helene Roffe-Martel, from France, driving a Ferrari."
Two hours later, Helene and her husband, Charles, were in their suite in the Ritz Hotel in downtown Buenos Aires, lying on the rug in front of the fireplace, and Helene was naked on top of him in the classic position of la Diligence de Lyon, and Charles was saying, "Oh, Christ! Please don't do that to me! Please!"
And his begging increased her excitement and she began to put on more pressure, hurting him, watching the tears come to his eyes. I'm being punished for no reason, Charles thought. He dreaded to think what Helene would do to him if she ever found out about the crime he had committed.
Charles Martel had married Helene Roffe for her name and for her money. After the ceremony she had kept her name, along with his, and she had kept her money. By the time Charles found out he had made a bad bargain, it was too late.
Charles Martel was a junior attorney in a large Paris law firm when he first met Helene Roffe. He had been asked to bring some documents into the conference room, where a meeting was taking place. In the room were the four senior partners in the firm and Helene Roffe. Charles had heard of her. Everyone in Europe had. She was an heiress to the Roffe pharamaceutical fortune. She was wild and unconventional, and the newspapers and magazines adored her. She was a champion skier; flew her own Learjet, had led a mountain-climbing expedition in Nepal, raced cars and horses, and changed men as casually as she changed her wardrobe. Her photograph was constantly appearing in Paris-Match and Jours de France. She was in the law office now because the firm was handling her divorce. Her fourth or fifth, Charles Martel was not sure which, nor was he interested. The Roffes of the world were out of his reach.
Charles handed the papers to his superior, nervous, not because Helene Roffe was in the room - he hardly glanced at her - but because of the presence of the four senior partners. They represented Authority, and Charles Martel respected Authority. He was basically a retiring man, content to make a modest living, reside in a little apartment in Passy and tend to his small stamp collection
Charles Martel was not a brilliant attorney, but he was a competent one, thorough and reliable. He had a stiff petsec dignity about him. He was in his early forties and his physical appearance, while not unattractive, was certainly far from prepossessing. Someone had once said that he had the personality of wet sand, and the description was not an unjust one. It was with a good deal of surprise, therefore, that the day after he had met Helene Roffe, Charles Martel received a summons to go to the office of M. Michel Sachard, the senior partner, where he was told, "Helene Roffe wishes you to assume personal charge of her divorce case. You will take over at once."
Charles Martel was stunned. He asked. "Why me, Monsieur Sachard?"
Sachard looked him in the eye and replied, "I can't imagine. See that you service her well."
Being in charge of Helene's divorce action made it necessary for Charles to see her frequently. Too frequently, he felt. She would telephone him and invite him to dinner at her villa in Le Vesinet to discuss the case, and to the opera and to her house in Deauville. Charles kept trying to explain to her that it was a very simple case, that there would be no problem in obtaining the divorce, but Helene - she insisted that he call her Helene, to his acute embarrassment - told him she needed his constant reassurance. Later he was to think back on that with bitter amusement
During the weeks that followed their first meeting, Charles began to suspect that Helene Roffe was interested in him romantically. He could not believe it. He was a nobody, and she was a member of one of the great families, but Helene left him in no doubt as to her intentions. "I'm going to marry you, Charles."
He had never thought of getting married. He was not comfortable with women. Besides, he did not love Helene. He was not even certain he liked her. The fuss and attention that attended her wherever they went discomfited him. He was caught in the limelight of her celebrity and it was a role he was not accustomed to. He was also painfully aware of the contrast between them. Her flamboyance was an irritant to his conservative nature. She set fashion styles and was the epitome of glamour, while he - well, he was a simple, ordinary, middle-aged lawyer. He could not understand what Helene Roffe saw in him. Nor could anyone else. Because of her well-publicized participation in dangerous sports that were normally the exclusive province of men, there were rumors that Helene Roffe was an advocate of the women's liberation movement. In fact, she despised the movement, and had only contempt for its concept of equality. She saw no reason why men should be allowed to become the equal of women. Men were handy to have around, when required. They were not particularly intelligent, but they could be taught to fetch and light cigarettes, run errands, open doors and give satisfaction in bed. They made excellent pets, dressed and bathed themselves and were toilet-trained. An amusing species.
Helene Roffe had had the playboys, the daredevils, the tycoons, the glamour boys. She had never had a Charles Martel. She knew exactly what he was: Nothing. A piece of blank clay. And that was precisely the challenge. She intended to take him over, mold him, see what she could make of him. Once Helene Roffe made up her mind, Charles Martel never had a chance.
They were married in Neuilly and they honeymooned in Monte Carlo, where Charles lost his virginity and his illusions. He had planned on returning to the law firm.
"Don't be a fool," his bride said. "Do you think I want to be married to a law clerk? You'll go into the family business. One day you'll be running it We'll be running it."
Helene arranged for Charles to work in the Paris branch of Roffe and Sons. He reported to her on everything that went on and she guided him, helped him, gave him suggestions to make. Charles's advancement was rapid. He was soon in charge of the French operation, and a member of the board of directors. Helene Roffe had changed him from an obscure lawyer to an executive of one of the largest corporations in the world. He should have been ecstatic. He was miserable. From the first moment of their marriage Charles found himself totally dominated by his wife. She chose his tailor, his shoemaker and his shirtmaker. She got him into the exclusive Jockey Club. Helene treated Charles like a gigolo. His salary went directly to her, and she gave him an embarrassingly small allowance. If Charles needed any extra money, he had to ask Helene for it. She made him account for every moment of his time, and he was at her constant beck and call. She seemed to enjoy humiliating him. She would telephone him at the office and order him to come home immediately with a jar of massage cream, or something equally stupid. When he arrived, she would be in the bedroom, naked, waiting for him. She was insatiable, an animal. Charles had lived with his mother until he was thirty-two, when she had died of cancer. She had been an invalid for as long as Charles could remember, and he had taken care of her. There had been no time to think about going out with girls or getting married. His mother had been a burden and when she died, Charles thought he would feel a sense of freedom. Instead, he felt a sense of loss. He had no interest in women or sex. He had, in a naive burst of candor, explained his feelings to Helene when she had first mentioned marriage. "My - libido is not very strong," he had said.
Helene had smiled. "Poor Charles. Don't worry about sex. I promise you, you'll like it."
He hated it. That only seemed to add to Helene's pleasure. She would laugh at him for his weakness, and force him to do disgusting things that made Charles feel degraded and sick. The sex act itself was debasing enough. But Helene was interested in experimenting. Charles never knew what to expect. Once, at the moment he was having an orgasm, she had put crushed ice on his testicles, and another time she had shoved an electric prod up his anus. Charles was terrified of Helene. She made him feel that she was the male and he was the female. He tried to salvage his pride but, alas, he could find no area in which Helene was not superior to him. She had a brilliant mind. She knew as much about the law as he did, and much more about business. She spent hour after hour discussing the company with him. She never tired of it. "Think of all that power, Charles! Roffe and Sons can make or break more than half the countries in the world. / should be running the company. My great-grandfather founded it. It's part of me."
After one of these outbursts Helene would be sexually insatiable, and Charles was forced to satisfy her in ways that did not bear thinking about. He came to despise her. His one dream was to get away from her, to escape. But for that he needed money.
One day, over lunch, a friend of his, Rene Du-champs, told Charles about an opportunity to make a fortune.
"An uncle of mine who owned a large vineyard in Burgundy has just died. The vineyard is going to be put up for sale - ten thousand acres of first-class Appellation d'origine contrôllee. I have the inside track," Rene Duchamps continued, "because it's my family. I don't have enough to swing the deal by myself, but if you came in with me, we could double our money in one year. At least, come and look at it."
Because Charles could not bear to admit to his friend that he was penniless, he went to the rolling red slopes of Burgundy to view the land. He was deeply impressed.
Rene Duchamps said, "We'll each put in two million francs. In a year we'll each have four million."
Four million francs! It would mean freedom, escape. He could go away to some place where Helene could never find him.
"I'll think about it," Charles promised his friend.
And he did. Day and night It was the chance of a lifetime. But how? Charles knew that it would be impossible for him to try to borrow money without Helene immediately learning about it. Everything was in her name, the houses, the paintings, the cars, the jewelry. The jewelry...those beautiful, useless ornaments she kept locked up in the safe in the bedroom. Gradually, the idea was born. If he could get hold of her jewelry, a little at a time, he could replace the pieces with copies and borrow money on the real jewelry. After he had made his killing in the vineyard, he would simply return her jewels. And have enough money to disappear forever.
Charles telephoned Rene Duchamps and said, his heart pounding with excitement, "I've decided to go in with you."
The first part of the plan filled Charles with terror. He had to get into the safe and steal Helene's jewelry.
The anticipation of the terrible thing he was about to do made Charles so nervous that he was barely able to function. He went through each day like an automaton, neither seeing nor hearing what was happening around him. Every time Charles saw Helene he began to sweat. His hands would tremble at odd times. Helene was concerned about him, as she would have been concerned about any pet. She had the doctor examine Charles, but the doctor could find nothing wrong. "He seems a bit tense. A day or two in bed, perhaps."
Helene looked long at Charles, lying in bed, naked, and smiled, "Thank you, doctor."
The moment the doctor left, Helene began getting undressed. "I - I'm not feeling very strong." Charles protested.
"I am," Helene replied.
He had never hated her more.
Charles's opportunity came the following week. Helene was going to Garmisch-Partenkirchen to ski with some friends. She decided to leave Charles in Paris.
"I want you home every night," Helene told him. "I'll telephone you."
Charles watched her speed away, at the wheel of her red Jensen, and the moment she was out of sight he hurried to the wall safe. He had watched her open it often, and he knew most of the combination. It took him an hour to figure out the rest of it. With trembling fingers he pulled the safe open. There, in velvet-lined boxes, sparkling like miniature stars, lay his freedom. He had already located a jeweler, one Pierre Richaud, who was a master at duplicating jewelry. Charles had begun a long, nervous explanation about why he wanted the jewels copied, but Richaud said, matter-of-factly, "Monsieur, I am making copies for everyone. No one with any sense wears real jewelry on the streets these days."
Charles gave him one piece at a time to work on, and when the copy was ready, he substituted it for the real piece. He borrowed money on the real jewelry from the Credit Municipal, the state-owned pawnshop.
The operation took longer than Charles had anticipated. He could only get into the safe when Helene was out of the house, and there were unforeseen delays in copying the pieces. But finally the day came when Charles was able to say to Rene Duchamps, "I'll have all the money for you tomorrow."
He had accomplished it He was half-owner of a great vineyard. And Helene had not the slightest suspicion of what he had done.
Charles had secretly begun to read up on the growing of vines. And why not? Was he not a vintner now? He learned about the different vines: cabernet sauvignon was the principal vine used, but others were planted alongside it: gros cabernet, merlot, malbec, petit verdot. The desk drawers of Charles's office were filled with pamphlets on soil and vine pressing. He learned about fermentation and pruning and grafting. And that the worldwide demand for wine kept growing.
He met regularly with his partner. "It's going to be even better than I thought," Rene told Charles. "Prices for wine are skyrocketing. We should get three hundred thousand francs a tonneau for the first pressings."
More than Charles had dreamed! The grapes were red gold. Charles began to buy travel pamphlets on the South Sea Islands and Venezuela and Brazil. The very names had a magic about them. The only problem was that there were few places in the world where Roffe and Sons did not have offices, where Helene could not find him. And if she found him, she would kill him. He knew that, with an absolute certainty. Unless he killed her first. It was one of his favorite fantasies. He murdered Helene over and over again, in a thousand delicious ways.
Perversely, Charles now began to enjoy Helene's abuse. All the time she was forcing him to do unspeakable things to her, he was thinking, I'll be gone soon, you convasse. I'll be rich on your money and there's nothing you can do about it.
And she would command, "Faster now," or "Harder," or "Don't stop!" and he would meekly obey her.
And smile inside.
In wine growing, Charles knew the crucial months were in the spring and summer, for the grapes were picked in September and they had to have a carefully balanced season of sun and rain. Too much sun would burn the flavor, just as too much rain would drown it. The month of June began splendidly. Charles checked the weather in Burgundy once, then twice a day. He was in a fever of impatience, only weeks away from the fulfillment of his dream. He had decided on Montego Bay. Roffe and Sons had no office in Jamaica. It would be easy to lose himself there. He would not go near Round Hill or Ocho Rios, where any of Helene's friends might see him. He would buy a small house in the hills. Life was cheap on the island. He could afford servants, and fine food, and in his own small way live in luxury.
And so in those first days of June, Charles Martel was a very happy man. His present life was an ignominy, but he was not living in the present: he was living in the future, on a tropical, sun-bathed, wind-caressed island in the Caribbean.
The June weather seemed to get better each day. There was sun, and there was rain. Perfect for the tender little grapes. And as the grapes grew, so did Charles's fortune.
On the fifteenth day of June it began to drizzle in the Burgundy region. Then it began to rain harder. It rained day after day, and week after week, until Charles could no longer bring himself to check the weather reports.
Rene Duchamps telephoned. "If it stops by the middle of July, the crop can still be saved."
July turned out to be the rainiest month in the history of the French weather bureau. By the first of August, Charles Martel had lost every centime of the money he had stolen. He was filled with a fear such as he had never known.
"We're flying to Argentina next month," Helene had informed Charles. "I've entered a car race there."
He had watched her speeding round the track in the Ferrari, and he could not help thinking: If she crashes, I'm free.
But she was Helene Roffe-Martel. Life had cast her in the role of a winner, just as it had cast him in the role of a loser.
Winning the race had excited Helene even more than usual. They had returned to their hotel suite in Buenos Aires, and she had made Charles get undressed and lie on the rug, on his stomach. When he saw what she had in her hand as she straddled him, he said, "Please, no!"
There was a knock on the door.
"Merde!" Helene said. She waited, silent, but the knocking was repeated.
A voice called, "Senor Martel?"
"Stay here!" Helene commanded. She got up, whipped a heavy silk robe around her slim, firm body, walked over to the door and pulled it open. A man in a gray messenger's uniform stood there, holding a sealed manila envelope.
"I have a special delivery for Senor and Senora Martel."
She took the envelope and closed the door.
She tore the envelope open and read the message inside, then slowly read it again.
"What is it?" Charles asked.
"Sam Roffe is dead," she said. She was smiling.