Death on the Pont Noir - By Adrian Magson


December 1963 – Picardie, France

The gleaming black Citroën DS with the curtained rear windows ghosted along the deserted country road at a steady 70 kph, its hydropneumatic suspension making light of the undulating, pitted surface. Inside the car, its two occupants were as shielded from the cold tarmac underneath as they were from the frost-glazed mud of the fields on either side, warmed by the controlled whisper of heated air wafting gently around them.

‘Belt up tight,’ said the driver. His name was Calloway. ‘This could hurt, otherwise.’ He checked his double shoulder harness with its quick-release button and, for luck, tapped the padding on the roll cage, an ugly non-factory addition to the otherwise plush, stylish interior.

‘Just get on with it,’ muttered Tasker, his passenger. ‘You talk too bloody much.’ But he checked his harness and settled lower in his seat, bracing himself with both hands.

Calloway flicked a glance across the field to his right, to where the stubby shape of a truck was moving away from a strand of pine trees. It accelerated quickly, bouncing along a rough track on heavy-duty tyres, bits of mud and vegetation flicking up in its wake. Olive green in colour, it had the low, front-heavy bulk of a bulldog, made uglier by a large black oblong strapped across the grill.

And it was aiming towards the road in front of them on an intercept path.

‘Two hundred yards,’ Calloway murmured, watching the truck’s progress. He was calculating its trajectory, his foot steady on the accelerator. A quick glance at the road, keeping to the centre line, then back to the truck, the eye movement and speed of the two vehicles bringing them closer together in sharp bursts like the stuttering frames of an old film reel.

‘Hundred yards.’

‘He’s gonna miss.’

‘No, he’s not. Seventy.’ Eyes to the road and back. Surface clear, no other traffic, just as they’d been assured. Something on the grass verge but no time to look now. Concentrate.

‘He’s bloody shifting a bit, isn’t he?’

‘Fifty yards.’ The truck was suddenly bigger, solid. Brutish.



‘Go, for God’s sake!’ Tasker pounded the dashboard in panic as the Renault tore out of the end of the track and loomed all over them, its grill grotesquely dwarfed by a railway sleeper held in place by steel hawsers.

Calloway calmly flicked the wheel and stamped on the accelerator. It was too late for a complete miss, but limiting the damage was as instinctive to him as breathing. The Citroën’s rear end drifted sideways on the slippery surface, an elegant shuffle of its aerodynamic lines like a lady performing a two-step. The movement absorbed some of the impact, but the wooden sleeper still slammed into the car just aft of the passenger seat, punching the panel hard against the reinforcing struts welded into the interior. The car spun violently on its axis, jerking both men hard against their harnesses, and the scream of tortured metal and rubber echoed across the cold acres on either side of the road.

‘What’s he trying to do – bloody kill us?’ Tasker turned to glare at the truck driver, who was grinning down at them as he slammed the truck into reverse and pulled back several yards along the road.

‘Isn’t that the general idea?’ Calloway coolly spun the wheel and stamped on the accelerator, taking the car back up the road, its rear end sinking under the extra power being transmitted to the wheels.

‘Idea! I’ll bloody give him an idea,’ Tasker raged. ‘Let me out! Now!’

Calloway stood obediently on the brakes. Stopping the car altogether took a while due to the extra weight of steel reinforcements. But he compensated by spinning the wheel again and bringing the Citroën to a wallowing halt side-on to the truck, now stationary on the grass verge. The sleeper, he noticed, was hanging drunkenly from the front where it had become dislodged by the impact.

Throwing off the harness, Tasker struggled into the rear seats and kicked at the door on the undamaged side, moving with difficulty in the confined space. His breathing whistled harshly through his ex-boxer’s smashed nose and his face was flushed with anger.

Before he could clamber out fully, however, two shapes rose up like wraiths from a nearby ditch and ran towards the damaged car. Dressed in camouflage smocks, each man carried two bottles with rags stuffed in the necks. They paused a short distance away, breath puffing white in the cold air, and hurled the bottles against the side of the vehicle. As the glass smashed on impact,