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Triple Threat Thrill

Triple Threat Thrill

Автором Dakota Franklin

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Triple Threat Thrill

Автором Dakota Franklin

714 pages
7 hours
Nov 20, 2014



Dakota Franklin

On her thirty-third birthday she is broken in body from 15 years of racing on the ragged edge, and in spirit from bad luck and bad decisions in choosing her men. For her family she gave up Drew the ‘fortune hunter’, her beloved Hiroshi died headless in her arms, and Erich wanted only to use her to further his own ambition. Still, even if after a two-year absence from driving to be a ‘good wife’ to the treacherous pervert Erich she will never be grand prix champion, she is Jack Armitage’s all-time favorite driver, engineer and racing executive: ‘Triple Threat’ Thrill Morgan, the Parachute Queen Jack sends to salvage impossible situations in his auto racing empire.

Jack brings Thrill Morgan back from despair with Erich in Monte Carlo to be his successor as the head of Armitage when the younger generation takes over. First she will be Chairman of Armitage America which, in the usual excessive Armitage style, has vastly overextended its racing program. Jack sees the appointment as an opportunity for Thrill, who made almost her entire racing career in the Far East and Europe, to be a champion back home in the Indy Racing League—and perhaps in the Indy 500 itself. Jack also wants to confirm Thrill’s status as one of the most versatile racers of all time with a win in NASCAR stock cars, preferably at Daytona, and a win at Le Mans, where she has always driven support for the Armitage partner Charlie Cartwright.

Drew, now a successful publisher whom no one can accuse of being a fortune hunter, lives in San Francisco, just a short plane ride up the coast from Armitage America’s test track in the mountains back of Santa Barbara.

With work, her racing and her burgeoning relationship with Drew to keep her busy, Thrill is slowly rebuilding her shattered self-image. Briefly it seems as if the only question is: Will Thrill, born so fortunate, so talented, so celebrated, so loved by so many, once more end up in surgery — or worse:

‘That time I was certified I was dead only for seconds, then I was bitching Dieter, the trauma specialist, for carelessly dropping a bottle — which I caught as the other certifying physician drew the sheet over my face.’

–and all alone.

But Erich de Stahl will not give up his prize so easily. The son of an armaments tycoon, he commands the loyalty of whole platoons of Corsican thugs. If he cannot have Thrill, then no one else will either. If Erich cannot have the glittering racing career he wanted, he is determined that she will not have it either. A psychopath far more vicious than any on the most cutthroat track, Erich de Stahl will stop at nothing to revenge himself on the woman who, for a parting gesture, sank his family’s 190 foot, $100m superyacht across the mouth of the harbor at Monte Carlo so that the police would be forced to arrest him for child molestation.

Nov 20, 2014

Об авторе

Dakota Franklin was born in Palo Alto, CA, the daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter of automobile engineers. It was therefore predictable that she would become an engineer. Her mother, an educationalist, didn't believe in putting children in boarding schools, so Dakota travelled the world, wherever her father consulted. By the time she was ten she could swear fluently in every European language, and carry on a conversation in all the major ones.After college at Stanford and MIT, and further postgraduate studies in France, Germany and Italy, she worked on jet engines for Rolls-Royce, for Ford and Holden (GM's Australian branch) on high performance vehicles (HPV), then joined her father and grandfather in the family consulting business, where she has specialized in high performance machinery. She has since worked on contract or as a consultant with all the major automobile makers with a racing or HPV profile, and in powerboat and propellor plane racing. She insists racing regulators around the world love her, whatever they may say behind her back!Dakota started writing in 1996 when a painful divorce coincided with a testing incident that put her in hospital for several even more painful months. After a false start which resulted in having to trash three complete novels, she finally acquired the right creative writing guru, and started creating the series RUTHLESS TO WIN.She lives in Switzerland with her husband, an inventor, and drives or flies to the motor cities for her current consulting projects. She has one child, a teenager who travels with her and whose eclectic schooling has turned her into a linguist, just like her mother, but who has no intention of becoming an engineer.Dakota says, "I'm finally happy. Fulfilled may not be too large a word."

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Triple Threat Thrill - Dakota Franklin



Title Page


Dedication & Copyright

More books by Dakota Franklin & friends


Dakota Franklin

On her thirty-third birthday she is broken in body from 15 years of racing on the ragged edge, and in spirit from bad luck and bad decisions in choosing her men. For her family she gave up Drew the ‘fortune hunter’, her beloved Hiroshi died headless in her arms, and Erich wanted only to use her to further his own ambition. Still, even if after a two-year absence from driving to be a ‘good wife’ to the treacherous pervert Erich she will never be grand prix champion, she is Jack Armitage’s all-time favorite driver, engineer and racing executive: ‘Triple Threat’ Thrill Morgan, the Parachute Queen Jack sends to salvage impossible situations in his auto racing empire.

Jack brings Thrill Morgan back from despair with Erich in Monte Carlo to be his successor as the head of Armitage when the younger generation takes over. First she will be Chairman of Armitage America which, in the usual excessive Armitage style, has vastly overextended its racing program. Jack sees the appointment as an opportunity for Thrill, who made almost her entire racing career in the Far East and Europe, to be a champion back home in the Indy Racing League — and perhaps in the Indy 500 itself. Jack also wants to confirm Thrill’s status as one of the most versatile racers of all time with a win in NASCAR stock cars, preferably at Daytona, and a win at Le Mans, where she has always driven support for the Armitage partner Charlie Cartwright.

Drew, now a successful publisher whom no one can accuse of being a fortune hunter, lives in San Francisco, just a short plane ride up the coast from Armitage America’s test track in the mountains back of Santa Barbara.

With work, her racing and her burgeoning relationship with Drew to keep her busy, Thrill is slowly rebuilding her shattered self-image. Briefly it seems as if the only question is: Will Thrill, born so fortunate, so talented, so celebrated, so loved by so many, once more end up in surgery — or worse:

That time I was certified I was dead only for seconds, then I was bitching Dieter, the trauma specialist, for carelessly dropping a bottle — which I caught as the other certifying physician drew the sheet over my face.’

—and all alone.

But Erich de Stahl will not give up his prize so easily. The son of an armaments tycoon, he commands the loyalty of whole platoons of Corsican thugs. If he cannot have Thrill, then no one else will either. If Erich cannot have the glittering racing career he wanted, he is determined that she will not have it either. A psychopath far more vicious than any on the most cutthroat track, Erich de Stahl will stop at nothing to revenge himself on the woman who, for a parting gesture, sank his family’s 190 foot, $100m superyacht across the mouth of the harbor at Monte Carlo so that the police would be forced to arrest him for child molestation.

You maliciously sink my ship, you blackmail me, you mutilate my employees — and now you harass my son,’ Baron de Stahl said. ‘This cannot go on.’

Your son sent your employees to murder Thrill,’ Charlie said. ‘They did murder one of her guests. Your sainted son also promised to give Thrill to those Corsican thugs to rape.’

The Baron shrugged in his greatcoat.

His indifference shocked me more than anything else in the whole affair so far except seeing Tom Tripp stupidly killed because a Corsican thug did not have his reflexes under control.

Thrill is of course insanely competitive. That is how she rocketed to the top in a profession, a sport and a business for men in which the survivors are not renowned for their sensitivity and delicacy.

Kiss my ass, Lasalle. Kiss my ass again. Then kiss my ass goodbye!’

Thrill doesn’t care how many Corsican thugs Erich sends: she will return them damaged. But Erich, maddened by rage at Thrill’s celebrity as she returns to racing and takes Armitage public, cannot stop escalating. All the signals are that Erich is plotting some violent action against Thrill.

The vastly experienced Harringtons protecting Thrill are desperately worried. They consider Thrill to be one of them, as violently proactive as they are. So they cannot understand why Thrill as the head of Armitage must be more circumspect.

I turned to stare into Commander Oliver’s eyes. ‘And you have the cheek to lecture me about being reckless? We’re sitting in the Grecian colonnade at Armitage America’s headquarters — calmly discussing cold-blooded murder.’

Erich already set you up once for cold-blooded murder,’ Charlie said. ‘He’s doing it again. How many chances do you want us to give him?

But Erich, a master-manipulator, has faked them out, misdirected their attention to strike where Thrill least expects the blow, where it will destroy her forever as a woman and a human being if this time she does not win.

Triple Threat Thrill is loaded with engrossing sidelights on the rock’n’roll hysteria of celebrity, superb racing in the States, Europe and the Far East, a sensual love story and brilliant illuminations of a top racing team wielding the power of its wealth and fame.



Dakota Franklin


CoolMain Press


"This isn’t just a thousand to one shot.

This is a professional blood sport.

It can happen to you.

And then it can happen to you again."

Harry Kleiner: Le Mans

Miss Otis regrets

In my line of work a small distraction can maim you, and an emotional disturbance will very likely kill you.

I am aware of that, of course, but being aware of something in an intellectual way, and knowing it in your marrow, in your gut, in your ovaries, are two entirely different matters. All the same, I survived the professional by-effects of one emotional upheaval only lightly scarred, and should have known better when I returned to work than to let a second interfere in my survival. Cats may have nine lives; I don’t aspire to such unrealistic luxuries.

Even more embarrassingly, I was returning to work from a two-year sabbatical devoted to helping someone else deal with the results of an emotional upset disturbing his judgment at speed.

Perhaps you were at Oberstdorf for the world ski flying championships or watched on television when my husband misjudged his landing by an infinitesimal fraction of a second. Perhaps you were as horrified as I was when he hit the snow, which at 90mph is as hard as tarmac, and rolled and rolled, splintered skis sticking out of his body like wings, crashing to a halt against the barrier like an oddly-shaped sack of bones. You will be happy to hear that Erich has been reconstructed like new by the surgeons, with the aid of considerable amounts of titanium in his bones. He won’t jump again but after two years of painful physiotherapy he walks normally.

But Erich was the cause of my emotional disturbance. Perhaps I was not distant enough from the lesson of what happened to him for me to heed the lesson rationally. And I did survive my first experience. My witty Cousin Drew used to say, ‘Whom the gods wish to destroy they first make cocky, careless and reckless.’

Anyway, all of that is a reason for what I did on the day I returned to work. I wouldn’t want to pretend before my peers that it is an excuse. But it explains why I returned to the States under a cloud instead of in triumph.

Madame de Stahl’s marriage

Adam Boyle brought his glass to his lips but, recognizing the liquor on the nose, removed it without drinking. ‘Expecting me, were you? Or has Erich taken to drinking Laphroaig?’ Before I could answer, he expressed second thoughts. ‘You haven’t started dipping into the hard stuff yourself, have you?’

It was the last Monday in May, the day after the Indianapolis 500. Adam must have flown through the night from Indianapolis to be in Monte Carlo before 9am on the morning after the race. Though a hard worker, he is not man who appreciates having the accustomed comfort of his life disturbed; he didn’t come for his health.

‘Erich’s kick is morphine,’ I said unemotionally. ‘And I drink a glass of red wine with my evening meal. Sometimes.’ I didn’t resent the enquiry. Adam has a very substantial financial and, it must be said, emotional investment in me as a professional athlete; he is entitled to ask how I have looked after his investment.

He raised an eyebrow the tiniest fraction. Adam is not demonstrative. He is a predator. His father parlayed a village bar into a hotel and, after the Royal Air Force during World War Two made him a gentleman by virtue of being an officer, into a chain of hotels. Adam was thus educated at good private schools and an ancient university, followed by a stint articling at a prestigious firm of accountants in the City (the British version of Wall Street). Then his school friend Jack Armitage offered him a position in auto racing. Now Adam is one of the three partners at Armitage Cartwright Racing Limited, the world’s premier racing house. He is of course rich, by British standards.

Adam is certainly not simpatico, but I prefer the straightforward abruptness of his dealings with me to the sly insincerity of which he is also capable. Despite having been on contract to Armitage for all the twelve years since I graduated college (and on their payroll since I was 19), my meetings with Adam, who is the chairman and financial director, are almost entirely social except that once every three years I sit in on the last ten minutes of his negotiations with my manager to renew my contract, after the terms are already agreed between them.

Even those are social events. The so-called negotiations are a formality; Armitage is a generous and agreeable employer.

‘I bought the Laphroaig when I heard from the bank in Switzerland that you continue to pay me. I knew that sooner or later you would arrive to ask when I intend returning. I’ve been trying to write you a letter.’

‘What’s Erich’s problem? I saw the Spiegel article about his recovery. He looked pretty damn fit.’

‘It’s in his head, Adam.’ I squeezed the bridge of my nose.

This really is none of Adam’s business, but Armitage, for all its hard technology and engineering prowess, is a deliberately paternal organization. Though no one said anything about it, I was aware that everyone at Armitage thought Erich was wrong for me. They met him when he bought a car from Armitage with full technical support and raced it at Le Mans; that is how I met him too.

‘I always thought he was an irresponsible jerk. But this drugs business… I never thought he was weak.’

‘Not weak, and not cowardly. It turns out Erich’s talk of running his father’s business was just that, talk. He liked being a sports star, as distinct from being a sportsman. He thought that, when he became too old for the jumps and speed skiing, he would race automobiles forever. That’s why he bought his first car from us, when our cars were unproven at Le Mans, to observe the semi-retired champions we give a seat.’

‘Childish petulance? The accident took away his toy? And because of that he takes drugs?’

I nodded, embarrassed for Erich. ‘He was beautiful, Adam.’ It wasn’t much of a report on five years of marriage.

‘He still is, if you like pretty boys with muscles and a thousand-yard stare.’

I ignored the intentionally provocative remark. ‘He used to make me laugh.’ That’s better, I told myself. But the truth is that Erich, who as a sports star was amusing and intelligent, now when it is over behaves more like a thick jock than even the football jocks it was my misfortune to meet in college. It was still none of Adam’s business. ‘Why did you come yourself, Adam? If you want to discuss the termination of my contract, there will be no problem, but as a matter of form my manager should be present.’

‘Whatever gives you that silly idea, girl? You have a year to run on your old contract, which it would be fair to extend for two years on the same terms in return for a two-year leave of absence with full salary.’

‘Sounds fair to me, but—’

‘Besides which, we have a one-way option to renew your contract for another three-year term. I don’t see any buts here.’

‘I was only going to say that I will take the past two years of paid leave in lieu of the contracted paid two years after my contract runs out, during which time I am not allowed to carry your secrets away to another team and therefore won’t be able to work.’

‘We see no reason you shouldn’t retire out of Armitage when you’re sixty or seventy, unless you screw up even bigger than you did before.’

He didn’t mean my marriage to Erich. Here is a potted history of my life as it relates to Armitage.

‘Lady engineer’

As an engineering undergraduate at Stanford I raced the Corvette my daddy gave me for my sixteenth birthday in the club class. One day a man with an open-wheeler suffered dysentery. I was the first driver he saw on his dash for the toilets; he offered me the ride. I won against experienced opposition, which surprised even me, though I already knew from the sports car races that I have an inexplicable gift of making a car go inordinately fast around corners.

Before I left the track I was offered a ride with a pro team and the next year, when I was 19, Armitage gave me a car for all the races I could enter without interfering with my studies; in my second year with Jack Armitage I was regional champion for the first time.

This might sound like a big deal but it didn’t guarantee me a future in racing. At this point, in fact, I had never even met anyone employed at Armitage. My ride came to me via Jack Armitage’s freelance talent scout on the West Coast, and the car Jack gave me was bought off the shelf and operated on a contract by a retired racer. I was only one of a dozen promising young drivers in whom Armitage took an interest the year I was chosen.

Club and regional racing champions are a penny a dozen, a long, long way below the top classes. The difference between a club racer and a firm like Armitage, which every year spends $125 million to win Le Mans and a minimum of $350 million to win the Constructor’s Championship of Formula One, is more than money: it is a Grand Canyon of attitude. Surprisingly few make the transition successfully.

Towards the end of my last year at Stanford, Vic O’Conor, who is a year or two older than I am, was my first official visitor who worked at Armitage. He was then about to become the junior apprentice to the grand prix team and, on his way home after spending a year in the States working on American teams to round out his education, he came first to watch me race and then to visit me on campus.

Today Vic is a grand panjandrum, Chief Mechanic of Armitage Grand Prix, entirely at the top of his profession. Back then I was impressed by his daringly diabolical chin beard and the wicked glint in his eye. He still has both, and I am still impressed.

Vic said that he thought I drove all right, for a girl, and, ‘If you want, the bosses can fix you up with a job at either Renault in France or Porsche in Germany.’

I had already discovered in the campus hiring rounds conducted by the American auto manufacturers that ‘lady engineers’ are not highly prized. The college placements office was trying to steer me towards a branch of civil practice called materials surveying, a sort of engineering accounting — which I regarded with contempt. Renault I knew to be probably the most innovative of all the mass market auto manufacturers, and what can one say about Porsche that hasn’t been said before? Jobs at either were entirely beyond my expectations after my bruising encounters with the American auto-makers.

‘Which should I choose?’ I asked Vic.

‘Difficult to say, from an engineering viewpoint. Renault is without a doubt the world leader in monocoque body construction, which is important in our design studio, and they will always have a grand prix involvement. But Porsche is fabulous on engines and suspensions, and they too are racers, and development engineering is a big thing with any racing house.’

‘There’s another viewpoint?’

‘I imagine Mr Armitage will give you a drive as well as finding you a job. We just did a contract job turning a little Renault hatchback into a mid-engined turbo-charged fire-eater for a one-class series. If you go to Renault, they will want Jack to put you into that.’

‘Sounds interesting. But I’m not so sure I want to be a sedan racer.’

‘The little open-wheelers in Formula Ford will be a riot next year in Germany. At least three of our junior drivers will be in that. You’d make a fourth.’

And that is how I chose to spend my apprentice year at Porsche. The implication of the choice, that I would become a specialist engineer rather than a mass market engineer, entirely escaped me at the time. As it happened, I drove in Formula Ford only once, a miserable effort in which I first crashed, then broke the car, and as a final humiliation was censured by the stewards for ‘excessively competitive driving’ — a polite way of saying ‘at least aggressive and possibly dangerous’.

But the still unmet Jack Armitage’s Director of Operations, one Charlie Cartwright, raced a sedan in the BTCC, the British Touring Car Championship, for a regional BMW distributor called Ken Gilbert, and through this chain of connections I was given a test with BMW in Germany. In the DTM, the German touring car series, against fully-fledged and very experienced professionals I managed somehow not to disgrace myself and even to pick up a sixth place. This made me an instant star as the DTM, a halfway house for retiring grand prix racers, is a post-doctoral school compared to the kindergarten of Formula Ford.

At this point I was invited to Woking, in the South of England, and met Jack Armitage (this was several years before he was knighted) for the first time, and also Adam Boyle. They offered me a three-year contract as a driver. I could also have a job with them in track development and testing of their Formula Ford and Formula 3000 cars. They preferred to race me in Formula 3000, which was then a near-compulsory stepping-stone to a grand prix seat. (It’s now called GP2 but it is the same formula under a new name.)

This was a couple of years before Charlie Cartwright, the saloon racer (British saloon = American sedan) in the BTCC, was made a partner and started developing the Le Mans cars and the production cars based on them. At the time Armitage was exclusively an open-wheel racing house.

Jack said, ‘If you want instead to build on your success in touring cars, we have a position for an engineer based in Weissach near Stuttgart, liaising with Porsche on contract work. If you take that, our sponsor Simpresi will finance a deal with BMW for an unacknowledged works car in the DTM. Alternatively, you can work in the design studio here in Woking and we’ll find you a ride in the BTCC.’

I merely nodded. While I thought on this — not very profoundly because I still didn’t understand that these apparently casual choices would inexorably direct the rest of my life — Jack said, ‘Once we decide we want you, we are happy to let you guide your own career with us.’ After a few moments he added, ‘We want you to marry us for life. We want you to be very happy.’

I chose Formula 3000 but, as it happened, for quite a while didn’t work in Europe as Jack outlined. Because the Japanese and Oriental publics in general took to me, Simpresi, who sponsor the Armitage cars, asked that I be based in Japan. I spent more than half my first contract with Armitage racing in the Far East. When I wasn’t racing or ‘localizing’ our cars, I was the junior engineer on the Armitage resident team liaising with Honda about the engine they were designing for our grand prix team.

I met Hiroshi at Honda. It wasn’t exactly love at first sight. Hiroshi himself later said that he was ‘an ugly little bowlegged man’.

Though the Japanese loved me, I didn’t take to them much at first. They’re not an open people; the crowded state of their island forces them to dissimulate. Americans are used to more space, both in people and physically. I didn’t think the miniature scale of everything in Japan was twee: I was not a tourist.

There was also the matter of sex. I’d enjoyed a reasonably healthy sex life since I was sixteen with Cousin Drew. My father, who for decades supported Drew’s father in a business always on the verge of failure, didn’t think him a suitable match. There was no passion between us but we made each other laugh. Anyway, at college I couldn’t get laid if I paid: engineers may be very intelligent people, but TIME Magazine didn’t make any mistake when they asked why the ugliest people become engineers. And TIME didn’t mean physically repugnant, they meant spiritually. You can’t anywhere on earth outside a school for Muslim mullahs find more intense male chauvinist piggery than in an undergraduate engineering class.

As for the jocks, who should have been attracted by my sporting achievements, Cousin Drew, my bed-buddy, put his finger on it when a jock described me in my hearing with what for him was wit as ‘a moldy git’. Cousin Drew said, ‘What you may consider intellectual rigor to him appears as astringent contempt. Anyway, your daddy won’t like a jock any better than a congenital wastrel. His older daughters have married men fit to rule an empire.’ I didn’t fare much better with the intellectuals, who treated me with suspicion as a jock with the gift of the gab. Anyway, the only intellectual who wasn’t a weed was the one I already had, Cousin Drew. ‘It’s a weed or a wastrel,’ I told my father who was neither amused nor supportive of his unwanted daughter.

In my year in Germany I received three serious offers, all from married men. They were trophy-hunting; I politely froze their gall. No one else made any advance, though I went as far as I could to make clear that I was available. No one even offered to fix me up with a blind date.

In Japan the position was worse. I was invited only to group affairs. I was treated with great respect, escorted to my door and never even pawed. I wrote to Cousin Drew, ‘My git is in danger of becoming actually rather than merely jock-figuratively moldy from disuse.’ More and more at these affairs and at work I would sit next to Hiroshi because he made me laugh. He had been educated in the States, at Duke, so with me he didn’t put on the Japanese mannerisms I found so irritating. Don’t get me wrong: I began to love the Japanese after I came to know them better, but I shall always consider their exquisite manners fatuously inbred.

And don’t get the idea that the Japanese are without a sense of humor. Hiroshi, who should have been unpopular and perhaps even punished for his lack of professional gravitas — which in Japanese engineering mores is perilously close to clowning, was in fact universally appreciated for his fine sense of humor. Though too young for seniority — he was only a year older than me, Hiroshi was the one engineer in our sub-group who could obtain a hearing in the highest executive levels, among other reasons because his popularity was perceived as a leadership quality.

Hiroshi was just senior enough to have himself appointed liaison to the traveling engineers in charge of the field development of the F3000 engines, on the thin (well, actually spurious) ground that the grand prix engineers could learn something from our results in the races! This allowed him to travel to the races whenever he wanted. As a by-product of Hiroshi’s interest, the F3000 group acquired a certain reflected clout, evidenced as more resources and shorter waiting periods for allocations of machining and computing time.

Hiroshi was an exceptionally gifted engineer. Our engines picked up enough horses under his care for me to move up from seventh to third in the championship that first year. The two drivers in front of me have since become World Champion in Grand Prix and runner-up.

Vic, sent on an inspection tour of the Far Eastern F3000 operation by Jack, told me, ‘Godzilla has a kamikaze crush on you.’

This struck me as such an obvious truth, but one I missed, that I blushed in anger at my stupidity.

‘What?’ I said to Lanky Johnson, a tall Australian from Charlie Cartwright’s Operations Department who came East to make the arrangements for the grand prix at Suzuka, where I would be racing in a preliminary, and on instruction from Jack parachuted in on me to give me tips about learning Japanese. I already learned his major tip for myself: tell everyone who’s willing to speak only Japanese to you. That’s how a baby learns. But some of Lanky’s other tips were also super: if you learn only ten new words a day and use them in sentences, by the end of the year that’s 3650 words. Most people don’t have that big a vocabulary in their mother tongue, so by the end of one year you can be as fluent as a native speaker.

He repeated, ‘And don’t let him find out it is a hopeless passion, or the car will suffer.’

‘Stick to bribery and corruption and you can’t go wrong, Lanky,’ I snapped. ‘You don’t have the fashion sense to be a pimp.’

Lanky, who must have been in his later twenties at that time, was preceded by his reputation. He is a spectacular linguist who can pick up vernacular fluency in a new language in a week. He was also a spectacular womanizer, or so it was said. I knew Lanky well only after he married Gerda, since when he has been resolutely faithful to her despite the great temptations attendant on his work as Armitage’s fixer.

After a moment of silence at my over-reaction, Vic started talking about my tire choice for the race we were at (Macao, I think, off the coast of China hard by Hong Kong — honestly, these places soon become a blur of neon).

But I was severely brassed off. Listen, I was all of twenty-two, I was a star earning rock’n’roll money in a dangerous sport in exotic places, I had taken charge of the Armitage F3000 team because the team manager was indecisive and anyway the relationship to the key engineer, Hiroshi, was mine, not his — and I had made such an unexpected success of it so quickly that Jack Armitage sent an emissary to discover how it was done. Nothing goes to anyone’s head faster than seeing her own face selling premium branded goods on television. I even had several national fan clubs… Arrogant? Me? Never!

Good God, I must have been insufferable.

One of the things that irritated me then about the Japanese, and still does even after years of experience and enduring friendships with individual Japanese, is their xenophobia. They hide it under their pretense of good manners and professional reserve but the truth is that most Japanese prefer the company of their own kind. Unless Japanese engineers were educated in the West they don’t even know that it is offensive for them automatically to socialize separately and only with each other.

The bunch who traveled with the F3000 team used to sit at a separate table in the dining room and in the bar. If we wanted to speak to them we made an appointment in working hours. They were on their own turf, of course, but the behavior of the ones we have in Europe now, a decade later, is different only in slight degree. Honda even operates special shops for them so they can buy only products from Japan. The underlying attitude has not changed at all. It is not politically correct to say such things but, as my father says, ‘I’m too rich to lie.’

Hiroshi was different. He would come to our table and sit down without waiting for a calligrapher to inscribe him an invitation.

So, when that evening I saw him enter the bar in that shambling gait of his which made his expensive if correctly dull suits seem ill-fitting and crumpled, I gestured to one of our operations assistants at the bar to bring a drink for Hiroshi.

Yeah, right, I should not be arrogant. Even in the cadet formulae, in the provinces, Jack Armitage’s teams are royalty. The Far Eastern F3000 team in my time, even in its fledgling year, disposed of three operations assistants to see to our comfort. Armitage operations assistants are the ninth wonder of the world. Somewhere between body servants when they start and potentates of unimaginable power when they have risen, they, collectively the Operations Department, is the one reason I have never, no matter how much money was offered, even contemplated driving for another entrant.

Hiroshi flung himself into the banquette next to me. We always sat next to each other, because by now we were in the habit of whispering to each other in dull meetings, sitting there giggling. In retrospect, we were overgrown teenagers, our bad manners graciously suffered by everyone else for our manifest abilities, Hiroshi’s technical, mine athletic. I was of course reacting to the stiff formality of the Japanese, and Hiroshi out of infatuation.

‘Mr Johnson, Vic, yo,’ Hiroshi said.

‘Just call me Lanky.’ Even then Lanky was already an important executive, a department head who answered directly to Charlie Cartwright.

‘Thanks,’ I said to the operations assistant who supervised the waiter who put a bottle of Glenfiddich and a glass before Hiroshi, a careful drinker who liked to pour his own tiny drinks. I waited for them to return to the bar. ‘Hiroshi, this is a great day for Anglo-Japanese engineering co-operation. Our results have so impressed Mr Jack Armitage himself that he has sent his minister plenipotentiary, Vic O’Conor here, to spy out our magic for application to the grand prix cars.’

Vic blanched a bit at that. He’d been told to use our success as an example to light a fire under the comparatively lackluster European F3000 operation.

‘Exactly what I tell them in the big house,’ Hiroshi said carelessly. ‘We are not too proud to learn from a lesser formula.’

‘Hey!’ Lanky said to me, catching on before even the very quick Vic that I intended to make trouble and that Hiroshi would delight in stoking me up.

‘Mr Jack Armitage is so grateful that he also sent the superior panjandrum, Mr Trevor Johnson here, aka Lanky the Fixer, to further express their gratitude by ordering me to sleep with you.’

Hiroshi jerked the bottle. The glass rang but did not break. A big dollop of single malt splashed into the glass.

‘You go too far,’ Vic warned me.

One of our crib sheets about dealings with the Japanese was headed ‘Going too far’ and advised bluntly: ‘Make no jokes in or out of office hours. You cannot know how our Japanese colleagues will receive them.’

Lanky picked up my glass of orange juice and sniffed at it, then took a sip to be certain there was no alcohol in it. It was another warning. He suspected I was drunk.

‘Now that calls for a very big drink,’ Hiroshi said. But he took only a tiny sip, just enough to wet his lips. Over the glass he fluttered his eyelashes at me. He was blessed with long silky eyelashes like a girl, which went oddly with his very high forehead. ‘I knew a fellow at college in America. His father was a distinguished choreographer of classical ballet. But how he could afford to send his son to Duke was another matter. He made his money teaching black film actors how to walk like pimps!’

Lanky reddened. ‘Well, fuck the pair of you,’ he said.

‘I can only accept one offer tonight,’ Hiroshi said, studying Lanky speculatively. ‘Did anyone tell you yet that I am gayer than the flowers of May?’

Lanky reared back in his seat. Australians, or those that I know well anyway, all of them in racing, talk often about male bonding, what they call ‘mateship’. But they have an instinctive revulsion of homosexuality.

Vic burst out laughing, suspecting a joke.

Hiroshi smiled gently at him, then fluttered his eyelashes at Lanky.

‘Vic can’t help being politically incorrect,’ I said to Hiroshi. ‘He’s a mechanic.’ That was a deliberate insult. Though Vic’s title was then Junior Mechanic, he is a graduate engineer and entitled to be described as such.

‘We have the same problem with our engineers,’ Hiroshi said gravely, very professional, as if we were in a meeting at Honda. ‘I’m working on them. When I finish with them, I’ll come work on yours, Vic. Remind me to tell you about the fellows from the Canadian Air Force I worked on — er — with.’ He never took his eyes off Lanky as he said all this.

Lanky tried to rise to escape this impossible discussion but I held his elbow while with my other hand circling the air to signal for another round of drinks. ‘Don’t go, Lanky. Hiroshi wants to know what they should write in their briefing sheets about bed and breakfast fraternization with the other side.’

‘And we think the briefing sheet on homosexual relations could perhaps be mutually agreed,’ Hiroshi said to Lanky. ‘Shall I suggest that we two form the sub-committee? We could feel out each other on the subject.’

‘Good,’ I said briskly. ‘Turning now to engineering matters we also need to discuss—’

At this point I dug Hiroshi in the side with my elbow because he was shaking the entire banquette with suppressed laughter at Lanky’s stricken face. Perhaps the extra pressure of my pointed elbow was too much, for he burst into loud laughter, choking on a sip of whisky he took in an effort to lower his head out of view. Vic hit him on the back, none too gently.

I was in no position to help Hiroshi because I corpsed, curling up laughing.

Eventually, Lanky started laughing too. People stared at us.

As his goodnights, Hiroshi said, ‘Our briefing sheet is bigger than your briefing sheet,’ which convulsed us again. The first rule on the briefing sheet is that you don’t tell the other side that you have a set of rules regulating your converse with them. The second rule is the same.

Hiroshi’s superiors would have liked our joke no better than mine would.

‘Hold the elevator for me, Hiroshi.’ When he was gone, I stood beside our table and said, ‘If you ever again patronize my friend with words like kamikaze and hopeless, my reaction will not be a joke.’

‘That was dangerous enough for me,’ Vic said. ‘I just got married, sweetheart. If we screw up this deal with Honda, Jack Armitage will grind us into the ground. He pays good wages and he’s given Linda and me a house in a street where we’ll be proud to bring up our children.’

Lanky held up both palms to me. ‘I learned my lesson. Don’t hit me no more.’

‘Keep your back to the wall.’

In the elevator, I said to Hiroshi, ‘You should stop favoring me. It can’t be good for your career.’

‘We Japanese—’ he made a very French gesture of his hand, fingers expressively curved ‘—have a tradition of suicide as a celebration of the unattainable. What we do not have is a theater of the absurd.’ He duplicated the gesture. Hiroshi’s mind was superbly ordered. He always knew what he would say several exchanges ahead. The first theatrical hand gesture related not to suicide but to the absurd.

‘You’ve lost me.’

‘My absurd attempt to commit professional suicide because I cannot have you has turned absurd in the real world of engineering and accounting. This morning my superior telephoned to say that your performance with my engines has so increased the sales of our cars in the home market, and our standing with the international racing community, that I am to have my salary increased two grades. He has also nominated me to succeed him as section head, and I am to receive another increase at that time.’

‘Congratulations.’ I stepped forward to kiss his cheek. Then I just stood close to him. He smelt of the black Algerian tobacco in the Gauloises he smoked, and even more faintly of Eau Sauvage, a lemon-scented cologne by Dior; he had spent a year in France working at Citroen as part of an exchange scheme. Into his ear I said, ‘I’m not unattainable. We can laugh as easily in bed as around a table.’

He held me away by my shoulders so that he could see my face. ‘To have only your body, and temporarily, would be worse than nothing. I want to introduce you to my parents.’

That stopped me. I already understood the Japanese men who would invite me to group functions and then deliver me chastely to my door. I was a trophy but of a distinctly temporary kind, strictly for show rather than use, like a perpetual silver cup standing on a mantelpiece for your friends to see but never to be drunk from. They had no intention of introducing me to their parents, which implies precisely the same in their society as in ours, except more so.

For a Japanese executive in one of the big corporations, with their ferocious pressure for conformity, to marry a foreigner is an appalling risk and commitment.

Rise and rise

‘How shall I ever want anyone with such passion,’ I asked despairingly. When I realized what I had said, I added quickly, ‘How many engineers do you know who have true passion?’ Again, I was young and my natural mode was aggression.



‘There must be others. Somewhere.’

A bell rang. Someone was calling the elevator.

I took his hand and led him out of the elevator. ‘I’ll meet your parents.’

Cousin Drew and I enjoyed perfectly satisfactory sex, in a healthy animalistic way or, as he put it, ‘mutual masturbation’. But nothing in that experience — which was my only experience and sole standard — prepared me for the explosion of passion Hiroshi’s love for me generated inside me.

Hiroshi wanted to possess me. Far from being frightened by his passion, my cool and distant character melted. I wanted to turn myself inside out to intensify his pleasure. My fingernails left scores down his back every time we made love for as long as I had him. Some of those were deep enough to leave permanent scars. I couldn’t help myself. Hiroshi turned me into an animal.

His parents loved me. His father, a senior executive at Sony, took me to stand in a doorway at his office. When he touched my elbow to signal that the demonstration was over, I asked, ‘What did I see that I didn’t observe?’

‘Sherlock Holmes, yes. Most apt. You saw two half-breeds, rising through our hierarchy. Once upon a time the half-Japanese were outcasts. Now the times have changed. You may be dangerous to my son’s peace of mind because you are an exotic woman with reactions he may find at odds with our expectations, and you may be dangerous to his career because you are spirited, but you need not fear that his career will automatically be damaged because you are an American. He is already established as a shining star.’

We married. In the middle of the next year, when I led the championship, Armitage called me back to their headquarters at Woking in the South of England to be the junior of the three grand prix test drivers. This was at the beginning of the period in Armitage history that the late auto racing writer Ned Royal at its halfway mark (to date, since it continues) christened The Dominance.

Dr Christopher Priest became Technical Director a month or two before I went to Porsche. He persuaded Jack to hire the enormously expensive aerodynamicist Ludovico dell’ Mira from Ferrari. Between them they designed several extraordinary cars. Suddenly Jack needed not one but three test drivers. The two senior men were both ex-grand prix drivers on the downward slope of their careers. To give me a spot with such men was an honor that amazed many, an inexplicable elevation that some found frankly incredible.

Even to the informed it seemed as if I shot up from nowhere to be an overnight success. At this level club and regional championships count for nothing. My points place in a DTM round was currency but might have been a fluke; my single European open-wheeler outing in the mickey mouse class of Formula Ford had been a disaster, with the sanctioning body issuing a warning that the licensing authorities could not fail to note. This was before people paid any attention to the Far Eastern Formula 3000 as a source of top-class talent; my success, and the success of others, in the Far East series became the reason for adding it to the scouting grounds.

Charlie Cartwright, the Director of Operations, picked me up at Heathrow. Characteristic of Armitage, a deputation of four people came to greet a junior test driver. There were two further operations types, to see to my luggage, including a trunk of wedding gifts I shipped as excess luggage. There was also a man from Adam’s administration department, who shook my hand and gave me a folder. ‘Your house, bank accounts we’ve set up for you, car keys, credit cards, much useful information. You’re due at a medical at 9am tomorrow. Driving time will be forty minutes. Stick to the route marked on the map as there are road works elsewhere.’

‘Yah-yah,’ Charlie said. ‘She can read. I’ll take her to the house.’

He shook my hand and looked me up and down a lot more blatantly than I looked him up and down.

Back then Charlie wasn’t the living god he is now, after he won Le Mans so many times and his cars with other drivers won even when he didn’t himself take the flag. Charlie was just another middle-level auto executive who got his job because of his upper class accent and, in Charlie’s case, quite literally because his daddy, Lord Cartwright, called Jack Armitage to remind him that he once did him a favor — and would there be a job for his boy.

Like many upper class middle-level auto executives in Europe and the States, Charlie was a weekend racer; he was distinguished from that class only because he appeared to have more skill than passion, whereas they generally have more courage than sense. In short, while his technical ability was admired, Charlie was considered to lack the hunger to win. He was widely known as ‘Mr Perfect Number Two’.

If that description doesn’t square with what you know of Charlie Cartwright in recent years littering Le Mans with the broken cars of those who tried to deny him the road as he stormed through the field from behind, I can only say that his friends know two Charlie Cartwrights, the one back then, and the one after he met Carolina. She released something in him. But at the time I’m talking about none of us had yet met Carolina.

In his late twenties Charlie looked like the young Kevin Costner, non-descript, perhaps slightly chubby. Nobody I ever met — and you should know that auto design in general and auto racing in particular is the hunting ground of the worst liars of the genus Twenty-Twenty Hindsight — claimed to have spotted back then that Charlie was a world-class athlete and a spectacular businessman. He was just Jack Armitage’s troubleshooter, a weekend racer with good enough reflexes (and contacts) to get him a seat in the top-class BTCC, but without fire in his belly.

I’m not making this up. The only women who paid serious attention to Charlie were those who were too much aware of his family’s fortune.

The one notable thing about Charlie was a slight limp.

Being an American, I of course asked about it when he put me in his car, a Porsche Turbo which he drove with considerable panache. Translation: he frightened me shitless but he didn’t actually hit anything.

His first words to me, at the airport, after the accountant went away, were, ‘What the devil are you looking so miserable for?’

‘I left my husband behind in Japan. I love my husband and I want to work where he works.’

‘Why didn’t you say?’

‘To whom, Mr Cartwright? A flunky sends me a fax telling me Mr Armitage has made me a test driver — and an operations assistant says, Here is your plane ticket and we’ve allocated your apartment to the next driver in your seat, thank you very much, goodbye.’

‘Call me Charlie. Get in the car. We’ll go fix it. In future, something that big, you call me immediately.’

‘Do I work for you?’

‘You work for the Technical Department, so in theory Christopher Priest and Ludo dell’ Mira are your direct superiors. At the track you answer to Don Haig, the team manager. In practice, my people make all your schedules and arrangements and look after you. So yes, on anything but strictly technical matters, you work for me. Adam deals with money and Jack keeps an open door.’

‘Okay. Where’d you get that limp?’

‘I was mugged passing through London and decided to do something about it by joining the police. They didn’t think my First in Mathematics from Cambridge should be inflicted on muggers. I worked in the Fraud Squad. A flustered, otherwise harmless, embezzler pointed his father’s service revolver at me when I went to arrest him. I was actually laughing when he shot me. I laughed louder at the amazement on his face, until I passed out. I still don’t believe he knew it was loaded.’

‘You laughed.’ He reminded me of Hiroshi. That made me feel better about Charlie Cartwright.

‘My excuse is that I was in shock. Why are you called Thrill?’

In case I haven’t said, my name is Thrill Morgan.

‘It was my mother’s dying wish.’

The story is burned into my mind in letters of fire. I was born on my father’s 60th birthday to his fifth wife. She died only minutes after I was put into her arms. She looked up from me to my father, said, ‘A thrill,’ and died. My full name, inscribed on my birth certificate, is A Thrill Morgan. The A doesn’t stand for anything except itself, the indefinite article.

I’m the only one in the family who doesn’t believe my mother intended to name me with the words — or at least the only one who dares to say so, for my father will disinherit and otherwise persecute anyone who is stupid or reckless enough to contradict the hagiographic version. My mother may have meant it was a thrill bearing a child, or that it was a thrill being married to him for he was and still is an exciting man. Whichever it is, I am stuck with the name.

It’s a good epitaph, all the better for the enigma of meaning. And she died in a moment of optimism. ‘A thrill’ could be the beginning of a sentence she intended to complete.

Adam, it turned out, was on top of my problem already. When we reached his office in Armitage’s squat white headquarters among the extensive lawns of an up-market industrial estate at Woking, south of London, he said as we walked through the door, ‘I spoke to the local head man of the Honda liaison team about transferring your husband but he isn’t authorized to call forward an engineer for compassionate reasons. I’m not quite sure that Japanese engineers are permitted compassion.’

‘Bugger compassion, as far as they are concerned,’ Charlie said. ‘We want Hiroshi because he’s the best and the brightest of their engineers. Impress on them that we are Armitage: we have a right to their best.’

Only later would it occur to me that Charlie was admitting he spied on people. At the time I thought, That’s clever of Charlie. I said, ‘Ryochi-san is the most agreeable of the Honda bosses with authority to assign an engineer.’

‘I’ll get up in the middle of the night to call him, then,’ Adam said. ‘You owe me, missy. You sure your husband wants this? They will probably send him routinely in a year or so.’

‘Because of his association with our F3000 group, he’s the one with the most field development experience in their entire team. Woking is where development happens. It will add to his prestige that you ask for him by name.’

My apartment in Woking was a half-house (the British call it a semi-detached house) in a leafy street, with a half-circle drive at the front and a secluded garden at the back. ‘You can change the furniture if you don’t like it,’ Charlie said. ‘Just call Selfridges and ask them for a different theme. Keep asking until they give you something you like.’

Hiroshi arrived ten days later. We were a riot together. We worked well together. Hiroshi rose in his profession. I rose in mine when it became clear that I was more interested in working with the design department and the field engineers on development than the two more experienced test drivers, who were relaxing into retirement. I was also willing to work longer and harder than they were since otherwise I would just be waiting for Hiroshi, a ferociously hard worker, to knock off. Soon, by tiny steps and without anyone formally appointing me, I came to be the test group’s spokesman with our designers and also with the engine group from Honda.

I raced in Formula 3000, so that I was in the odd position of preparing grand prix cars for others to drive in F1 while driving cars in F3000 that were for the most part developed and tested for me by someone else. I was third in the championship only because I arrived too late to win it. The next year I was heading for a likely championship when the number two grand prix driver was killed testing. (Not to put too fine a point on it, he killed himself by burning the candle at both ends.) To everyone’s surprise, Jack gave me the seat for the rest of the year. One of our test drivers left in protest at ‘the sidekick getting the ride because she flashed her tits at Jack’. I took two second places and crashed the car twice.

I didn’t resent it when the next year Jack brought in two other drivers with more experience in the top class to drive the grand prix cars. I returned to F3000 and took the championship running away. Jack lent me for a year to a middle-ranking grand prix team. I didn’t think I did so brilliantly with their wretched (by Armitage standards) car, coming sixth in the championship, but before the end of the year my manager received a double handful of offers from other grand prix teams (including Ferrari and McLaren), from the States, from Porsche for their Le Mans team, and from all three of the other dominant German automakers for their development teams; I was now known not only as a driver but as a fast-rising development engineer as well.

Jack refused to let me take any of these offers; he simply gave me more money and told me to bide my time. God knows how he knew this, but he suspected the edge would go off one of his established grand prix stars. After four races he let one of the drivers go and by now no one was surprised when he gave me the seat.

For the rest of the year I covered the champion’s tail — and myself — in glory with no fewer than five second places; I was second in the championship. I knew that no grand prix seat is ever anyone’s by right, least of all at Armitage, where Jack has more than once fired champions out of hand. The doyen of the motoring writers, Ollie Pullman, told me, ‘You’re in a privileged position, having a professional career as an engineer and test driver with Armitage, rather than just a driving contract. That constantly puts the quality of your work before Jack.’

Jack rewarded me by giving me the number two seat in F1 for the next year. I was no longer just a rising star: it was openly assumed that sooner rather than later, when experience steadied me a bit (I still crashed rather more often than the other top drivers) I would be given the top seat at Armitage or another of the handful of racing houses which can aspire to the championship. I was in line to be the first woman champion.

In May of that year the world caved in.

Since we both worked weekends in the racing season, Hiroshi and I took Mondays off as our day together. We would sleep late — to seven or even, daringly, eight o’clock, instead of waking at four to arrive at a track to start testing at dawn. After making love and perhaps catching another nap, we would exit our bedroom at about ten or eleven and eat a light brunch. Then we would go gliding.

Hiroshi ascended in a balloon in France. But in England the sport has little commercial base so most ballooning is conducted over weekends, when racing drivers and racing engineers work. Handling a balloon also requires substantial non-flying crew with the right experience, who are volunteers with regular jobs and thus available only on weekends.

So I suggested Hiroshi try gliding because gliders can be rented from the clubs at many small airports any day of the week. I could fly already and converting my license to gliders was no problem; converting to an instructor’s license required only flying hours and an exam. After that I took over teaching Hiroshi. When he graduated I bought him his own glider.

In all my life no one and nothing ever constrained me. I grew up in plenty of physical and emotional space. I was never forced to attend a school I didn’t choose myself. I chose my own friend, Drew, despite my family considering him unsuitable. In defiance of expectations that I would enter the family business, I chose my own career. Even when I was a junior in my chosen profession Jack and Adam took exquisite care to let me choose my own path. To me a plane, and the ability to fly it, was simply a means of transport to places scheduled airlines don’t reach. As a sport flier, until I met Hiroshi, I was a dead loss, partly because I flew powered planes, which are no challenge.

But to Hiroshi, who grew up spatially and socially so very constrained, the ability to fly was a revelation. ‘To fly makes me a god,’ he said. ‘To possess my own

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