The Mole loses an agent

The local amateur dramatic scene was one that Mrs Mole had fluttered into and in recent months had found herself elected "Treasurer" of the Bowlhead Green Amateur Dramatic Society. A more unlikely role it was hard to imagine, given Mrs Mole's head for accounts, but she seemed enthused by the idea and spent several evenings driving in the neighbourhood, putting up posters for the BGADS production of "Murder at the Vicarage", a typical Agatha Christie whodunnit with bags of adultery and murder. Just the thing for rural Surrey.

The play had been quite awful, the only source of amusement for The Mole being that the plot involved a Reverend and a Colonel. It was only afterwards when they were hanging around after the show with bottles of exceptionally bad wine, that The Mole met an American. His wife, he said, was keen on drama and had been drafted in to play Griselda Clement, the vicar's attractive and highly-spirited young wife. Finding actors and actresses is not always easy in Surrey and so the story had been rewritten to allow for an American.

"You have a delightful wife," said The Mole.

"Well thank you sir," said the American. "How do you fit in here?"

"Oh," said The Mole. "My wife is the treasurer."

"The money, huh?" said The American.

The Mole nodded.

"That's what I do," said the American. "I deal in money. The City."

"How very interesting," said The Mole, ignoring an awful sinking feeling in his stomach.

"Brewster Checkworth III," said the American.

"How very monetary," said The Mole.

Brewster Checkworth smiled. He was new to these strange people in England. They did not behave like Americans. They did not tell you their life history at the first meeting. They were reserved.

"What do you do?" he asked.

"Me?" said The Mole. "A humble civil servant I am afraid. Very dull. Industrial stuff, you know."

A spy almost always hides himself in mediocrity but The Mole could not stop himself adding: "Motor racing".

"You mean race cars?" said Checkworth. "Cool. Hey, I heard some stuff about race cars today in my office."

"Really?" said The Mole, suddenly rather curious.

"Sure, it was to do with those NASCAR guys," Checkworth said. "They were saying that someone is going to buy NASCAR."

Checkworth could not remember who.

"Hell," he said. "I'll find out. I've got my CrackBerry."

And with that he produced one of those strange hand-held things that turn people into frightful bores.

He prodded away for a moment or two.

"Oh yeah," he said. "It was CVC. That is the rumour on Wall Street."

"How very interesting," said The Mole. "And what a marvellous machine."

CVC was going to buy NASCAR from the France Family. That was an interesting idea.

The next day The Mole sent the Penelopes into action and soon the information was flowing.

"NASCAR has been run in recent years by Brian France," said Penelope (Wycombe Abbey). "He is the grandson of Big Bill France who started the whole thing. But the biggest shareholder is Jim, Bill's second son. He's now 63."

"And I believe that Big Bill's son Little Bill died?" said The Mole.

"Yes," said Penelope. "Last summer. Brian is Little Bill's kid and he and his sister Lesa (spelled with an 'e' for some reason) are both important shareholders. The thing is that Brian is said to want to move back to California and Uncle Jim probably wants to retire. And poor Lesa has had a hard time too. Her husband was killed in a plane crash so she lost her father and her husband within a month of one another."

"Poor thing," said Miss Pringle-Featherby (of the Berkshire Pringle-Featherbys).

Penelope (Roedean) had been told to do some checks on CVC.

"Well they have plenty of money, that is for sure," she said. "And after the F1 purchases they realized the value of owning motor racing championships. They just spent about $300m to buy GP2."

"How much?" said The Mole, his mouth falling wide open.

"Three hundred million dollars," said Penelope. "Seems like a lot, doesn't it?"

"A lot?" said The Mole. "That's like the Americans invading Penzance using the whole of the Fifth Fleet. Completely over the top."

"They'd use the Second Fleet," said Penelope (Roedean).

"Irrelevant," said The Mole. "The point is that it is overkill. Why would anyone pay that much for GP2?"

"Because someone did a great selling job on them," suggested Penelope (Cheltenham Ladies College). "Or that they just don't understand the value of money any more?"

The Mole nodded. That was a possible explanation.

"Anyway," said Penelope (Roedean). "The point is that in March CVC established its first US office on Fifth Avenue in New York, the aim being to expand its business in the United States. It hired a string of private equity people and they began sniffing around US firms to target. The first deal was the $1.7bn purchase of Samsonite."

"NASCAR is only big in the US," said The Mole. "And to a venture capital person that means there is a world of profit out there. And that expansion could be nicely controlled if CVC owned both F1 and NASCAR. The two series could work together. We could have F1 races at Daytona and NASCAR in Europe and Asia."

"And the competition authorities?" said Penelope (Roedean).

"I don't see the problem," said The Mole. "F1 and NASCAR don't overlap at all. They are different businesses but you can bet that there would be some synergies when it came to selling TV rights and stuff like that."

As the girls threw ideas backwards and forwards, The Mole drifted out of the conversation. He was wondering why Annabel, his agent in NASCAR, had not been the one to come up with the news.

She had been sent to the US to keep an eye on NASCAR, posing as a writer of romance novels. After finishing her course at the UK government's secret language school, where she had learned how to speak American, she had been posted in July, just in time for the USG Sheetrock 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. They had not heard much after that.

That afternoon The Mole rang Annabel and discovered that she had decided to resign. The bodice-ripper book world had turned out to be one in which fact and fiction were sometimes confused. She was planning to get married and settle in Virginia, where she could ride horses until the babies came.

November 14 2007

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