Leslie Charteris

The Saint and the Fiction Makers[1]

Foreword

The history of this book repeats that of The Saint on TV and The Saint Returns. That is, it started life as a television scenario, not written by me, and not based on anything that I created except the character of Simon Templar. After its second draft I was allowed to make some suggestions, not all of which were adopted. However, in this readable adaptation by Fleming Lee (who also worked on those other two) I have availed myself of the producer’s privilege in reverse: just as movie producers always take unto themselves the right to change any story they have bought in adapting it to the screen, so I with the collaboration of Fleming Lee did not hesitate to make what improvements I thought I could see in translating the screen play to the printed page.

The only difference between this and our previous experiments is that The Fiction Makers in its original form seemed much too good and spacious an idea to throw away on just one TV show, and was therefore expanded first into a two-parter, and then abducted bodily out of the television series to be presented as a full-length feature film. In conformity with that aggrandizement, this adaptation has become a full-length novel.

As with the preceding composites, I worked closely with Fleming Lee on this adaptation, and personally revised the final manuscript to satisfy myself that it was as close to an authentic Saint book as anything could be of which I had not written every line myself. But the only honest way to present a work like this, to which three other writers have contributed their imagination and their talents in such measure, seems to me to be to give them full credit as co-authors — unprecedented perhaps in the middle world where ghosts walk.

Chapter one

How Simon Templar dodged a party and learned new facts about literature

1

Like a monstrous silver manta ray, the giant hovercraft moved over the marshy plain. Fleeing ahead of it across the treeless flat-land, Charles Lake’s jeep seemed in comparison no larger than a darting minnow.

The chase was as unequal in other factors as in size. Lake had no true road to follow, only a pair of pitted ruts which at intervals almost disappeared entirely or were submerged in mud and water. His only real chance of escape had been to drive out of sight of the hovercraft before its crew had noticed he was gone. Now that they were in pursuit, he could see no hope of outdistancing or evading them. His jeep’s speed was reduced by holes and bogs, while the hovercraft roared effortlessly along on its cushion of air two feet above the ground. Propelled at an unvarying seventy miles an hour, it would overtake Lake within a minute.

His jaw set, he glanced anxiously over his shoulder at the huge shape bearing down on him. If he could not escape the machine, he would have to fight it. He slowed a little, allowing the hovercraft to come within fifty yards. Having no braking mechanism, the craft begun to slow cautiously by reducing power. It was then that Charles Lake stamped his jeep’s accelerator to the floor and shot ahead in a fresh burst of speed.

Behind him he could hear the sudden change in tone of the hovercraft’s propellers as it once more put on full speed. It was almost on him, only sixty or seventy feet behind. At that moment Lake brought his foot down on his brake pedal in a move that brought the jeep to a sudden halt and took the pilot of the hovercraft completely by surprise. With no way of stopping quickly and no way of making a sharp turn at such speed, the machine hurtled helplessly towards the jeep like a flat stone on ice.

Lake, the instant his vehicle had stopped, had rolled from the driver’s seat and scrambled for safety. He heard the hovercraft’s metal front crash into the jeep, and looked in time to see the pursuing monster swing to one side, its rear jarred high into the air as its front came to an abrupt halt. The fans which held it off the ground, set out of sight within the base of the body, were not designed to make it fly, so the rear, which had been thrown into the air, came down with all the force of its tons of dead weight, overriding the cushioning fans and smashing into the ground. It bounced up again, helped by the still operating fans, while the pilot cut off the upper propellers.

Charles Lake dashed forward at the machine, tearing one of the metal buttons from his jacket. It was much heavier than an ordinary button, and as it was torn from the threads which had held it a pin was released which activated the fuse inside. Lake tossed the button with perfect aim under the hovercraft and himself to the ground with his hands over his head.

The fantastically powerful explosion which followed disabled at least two of the four supporting fans. The hovercraft crunched to the ground, helpless. Even before the shower of mud and stones thrown from beneath the machine had come to earth, Lake ran to the hovercraft and leaped up its sloping side. The thing was as large as an ordinary house. The pilot’s cabin was a plastic dome set among the propeller columns on top, and inside that transparent cover Lake could see one man collapsed forward on the control and another on his feet with pistol in hand.

Seeing Lake, who was carrying no weapon, the man threw open the sliding hatch of the plastic dome and fired wildly. Lake dodged, tore another button from his jacket, and sprawled flat on the metal skin of the machine as he threw the miniature bomb past the man with the pistol into the cabin. An instant later the cabin and its former occupants were an unrecognizable smoking wreckage.

Lake leaped inside, kicked open the door which led down into the main deck of the craft, and felled a startled crewman with a karate chop to the throat. Taking the man’s pistol, he ran on, sure of his way since he had been in the craft only minutes before, until he came to a door at the end of the deck. It was unlocked, and he flung it open, ready to fire.

“Welcome, Mr. Lake. Drop your gun or the girl dies.”

The man who spoke, the leader who called himself Warlock, stood with his hand on an electronic control panel. On a steel table, her wrists and ankles clamped firmly to the metal slab, lay Warlock’s hostage, beautiful, blonde, almost nude. She could only writhe futilely as a blinding ray of light from the ceiling moved along the slab towards her, melting the steel in a bubbling channel as it came.

Simon Templar’s profile was illuminated by the flickering Technicolor glare as he inclined his head to speak to the girl sitting beside him.

“Ten to one that gorgeous form of yours comes through unbarbecued,” he whispered.

She was the same girl who was clamped to the steel slab on the screen, and so she seemed eminently well qualified to appreciate his comment.

Carol Henley’s narcissistic engrossment with her own shadow had been almost embarrassingly intense throughout the film, but now she managed to tear her eyes away from her picture long enough to glance at the face of her companion. It was a keenly active, momentarily ironical face whose startlingly handsome swashbuckler’s features might have stretched credulity almost as far as the events in the film he had been watching for the past ninety minutes.

“You do look irritatingly relaxed about the whole thing, I must say,” the actress whispered back. “Aren’t you the least bit worried about what might happen to me?”

“Not in the least,” Simon answered with a shrug. “A clever producer like Starnmeck isn’t likely to let them kill his highest-paid sex symbol, especially when she’s been on the side of the angels since the beginning. That’s one of the rewards of virtue and top billing.”

When Simon Templar’s prediction was almost immediately fulfilled, Carol Henley turned up her lovely nose in feigned exasperation and concentrated on the scene of her rescue, which was effected when Charles Lake caused the chief villain’s body to short-circuit an electrical control panel in time to stall the sparkling death ray just before it took its first searing taste of Carol’s excitingly exposed flesh. The film ended in a geyser of sparks, a skull-quaking series of stereophonic explosions, and a close-up view of Carol Henley’s lips — eight hundred times life size — readying themselves for the attentions of her hero, that same Charles Lake who, as of tonight’s premiere, completed his fourth consecutive cinematic fouling-up of the machinations of S.W.O.R.D. — the Secret World Organization for Retribution and Destruction.

The screen dimmed, and the first-night London audience blinked its way back from fantasy as the cinema lights came on, applauding with a vehemence that Simon Templar could only think must reflect the hidden but deeply persistent yearning of modern man for the taste of violence and derring-do.

Of all the people in the cinema, he alone, Simon Templar, could be said to have lived a life which for excitement, danger, and impossible adventure equalled that of the fictional Charles Lake. And yet even the Saint — as Simon Templar was more widely known, feared, and uneasily admired by both the police and the criminal world in his role of modern buccaneer — felt amused and refreshed by his filmic voyage into a land of utter improbability. At the same time he felt, as the other members of the audience must have fel ...

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