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Authors: Michael Gilbert

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BOOK: The 92nd Tiger
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The car would be locked. The garage too, perhaps. How would they get in ?’

That’s a mystery. And likely to remain one. There is very little left of the car or the garage, you understand.’

‘And it was the other man, the American, who went down to fetch the car because the Colonel was disabled?’

‘That’s right.’

‘And was blown up instead of him?’

‘It would seem so.’

‘Will the men be caught ?’

‘Probably. The policeman on duty gave the alarm at once. The airports were all warned. The ports, too.’

‘Could they have reached the airport
before
the warning?’

‘The police think not. Between the assault and the explosion was less than an hour. And much of that must have been spent in fixing the explosive. They could hardly have done all that
and
reached the airport.’

The Ruler considered the matter, stroking his head thoughtfully. He said, ‘Providence moves in a mysterious way. Three attempts have been made to kill me. One was prevented by the diligence of my guards. The other two by simple chance. On one occasion because I was late for an appointment. On another because I was sitting in the front of the car not the back. These matters are doubtless ordained.’

The Ruler appeared to dismiss the matter from his thoughts. He turned to Sayyed Nawaf, who had been sitting quietly in the background, and said, ‘Will you explain to Mr. Greest the arrangements we have made for money to be available.’

Sayyed Nawaf opened his brief-case. Hugo thought, for a moment, that he was going to produce an enormous bundle of currency. What came out were two documents. Nawaf said, ‘We have opened letters of credit, Mr. Greest. One with the National Westminster Bank at its head office in London for £120,000. A second one at the head office of the Arab Bank in Beirut for £480,000. These are copies of the documents. We understand that it is customary, in purchasing arms, to put down a deposit of not more than twenty per cent. Credits of up to thirty days can be obtained for the balance. You follow me?’

‘I think so,’ said Hugo cautiously. ‘You mean that the London credit is to cover the deposits and the Beirut one the balance. Why Beirut, by the way?’

The Ruler desires that the arms go by sea, in one consignment, from London to Beirut. From there they will be airfreighted in instalments to Umran.’

‘I see,’ said Hugo. It all seemed very businesslike. ‘I’d better have a word with Colonel Rex about it.’

‘I have arranged a conference for half-past two this afternoon, with the Chief Sales Officer from your Ministry of Supply. Colonel Delmaison will be there. It will be convenient for you, Mr. Greest?’

‘Oh, certainly,’ said Hugo. A thought struck him. ‘Are you sure you can get hold of this Sales Officer? Today’s Saturday.’

‘I spoke to him at ten o’clock this morning,’ said Nawaf. ‘He will be there.’

Hugo thought he might have under-estimated the Head of Finance.

 

The Chief Supply Officer was an excellent specimen of the polite, effective, impersonal, anonymous, dehydrated, senior civil servant which England alone seems to have the secret of breeding. After a mumbled introduction Hugo never discovered his name, and thought of him always by his initials. This seemed to add to his anonymity.

He had certainly done his homework, though how he had managed to do it between ten o’clock and half-past two was a mystery. He could hardly have had time for lunch. Did he eat no lunch? Did he survive from nine till six on buttered dockets?

‘We can find the greater part of your requirements in this country,’ he was saying. ‘I have already located provisional sources of supply for the helicopters and the field artillery. That is, if you are prepared to accept tracked 105 mm. Italian pack howitzers. The British Army is scrapping them for its own 105 light gun so there are plenty about. The signalling equipment will not be difficult. We have a quantity of reliable No. 9 sets. I imagine that conditions in the desert are favourable for wireless transmission, and in any event the distances will not be great.’

Nawaf and Colonel Rex nodded their agreement to this.

‘The rifles will present no difficulty either. It will simply be a question of how much you are prepared to pay. The standard NATO ammunition is .300 and almost all types of rifle are now available in that calibre.’

‘There is a lighter rifle which the Americans use in Vietnam,’ said Nawaf.

‘.223,’ said the C.S.O. ‘Unobtainable here.’

‘And undesirable if they were obtainable,’ said Colonel Rex.

Hugo looked at him.

‘I have seen the wound they make,’ said the Colonel.

‘Automatic weapons,’ said the C.S.O. ‘There is a government auction next week at Woolwich. I could bid for you, if you wished. All that would be necessary would be to set a hidden reserve price on them – your price – and we would buy them in for you.’

‘And ammunition?’

‘Not so easy. There’s an all-round shortage of .300 ammunition in this country at the moment.’

‘We can buy as much of that as we want in Spain,’ said the Colonel. He was marking the list he had in front of him. (Like his mother’s shopping. We
must
get our cheese at Harrods.)

‘Mobile a.a. and anti-tank guns. The obvious place for them would have been the Hasselberger factory in Sweden, but they won’t sell to Arab countries.’

‘I don’t think Hasselberger would sell to us anyway,’ said the Colonel.

‘Why not?’

They’ve got a close tie-up with Target. They’re not going to be happy about what happened to Nussbaum.’

‘I don’t see that,’ said Hugo. ‘It wasn’t your fault. You could have been blown up as easily as he was. More easily, really.’

‘You know that,’ said the Colonel. ‘And I know it. But these merchants have got nasty suspicious minds. Sweden’s out. We shall have to go shopping in Belgium. That being so, I’d like to get everything else there except the ammunition. We’re up against some fairly tight time limits.’

He looked at Nawaf who, so far, had said nothing. He continued to say nothing.

‘You won’t buy tracked vehicles in Belgium,’ said the C.S.O. ‘What you need are light Weasels or Snowcats. What’ll go across snow will go across sand.’

The Colonel drew a loop on the paper in front of him, then another loop and joined them together by a line. Then he said, ‘All right, we’ll buy them in Milan, have them railed to Bari, and pick them up on our way out. I’d like to pick up the Spanish ammunition, too, but can’t chance two stops. A modern boat, which doesn’t waste time, should make Beirut in twelve days with one stop at Bari. But it doesn’t leave much margin. I suppose there’s no chance of stretching these dates, Sayyed?’

Nawaf said, ‘It is essential that the arms be with us by the end of April. It is for that reason that his Highness has instructed me to draw the letters of credit with strict time clauses.’

Hugo said, ‘Would someone, please, explain? I thought letters of credit were the same as cash.’

‘Cash with a time fuse,’ said the Colonel. ‘This London letter is worth £120,000 to us,
if
it is presented to the bank before close of business on April 15th. One minute later it is worth nothing.’

‘Then let’s present it right away.’

‘Before the bank will pay out on it, they will need to see invoices covering all the goods purchased, bills of lading showing that they are on ship at London docks, and a certificate from the government inspectors here that they have examined all items and found them to be in good workmanlike condition.’

Hugo said, ‘Oh, I see. I’d no idea it was so complicated. Are we going to be able to do all that in time?’

‘It’s now March 25th.’

‘So it is. Lady Day.’

Nawaf, who had been following these exchanges with interest, said, ‘You have a special day set aside for ladies?’

‘I don’t think it means that exactly. It’s one of four old quarter days. I think it’s got a religious significance.’

‘It’s got this significance for us,’ said the Colonel. That we’ve got exactly three weeks to do a hell of a lot of work in. We’ve got to have all the stuff except the tracked vehicles examined here. Since they’re new I take it you’ll accept factory certificates?’

Nawaf nodded.

‘Before we can bring the guns in from Belgium we’ll need an import licence.’

‘No difficulty there,’ said the C.S.O.

‘Agreed. And an export permit to get it all out of this country. That’s sometimes more difficult. How often does the Committee meet?’

‘Once a week. There’ll be no difficulty about an export permit if you can produce an end-use certificate.’

‘Sayyed Nawaf should be able to do that for us.’

Nawaf said, ‘Please explain.’ Hugo felt pleased that someone else was out of his depth.

‘It’s a certificate from the Ruler that all these arms are for use in his own territory of Umran and not for export.’

Nawaf smiled faintly, and said, ‘There will be no difficulty about that. You shall have it at once. Does that solve your difficulties? Can you conform to the required dates?’

‘It solves one difficulty,’ said Colonel Rex. The others we shall see as and when they arise. I’ve never known a transaction of this sort go through absolutely smoothly from beginning to end.’

 

When Hugo got home he found a note on his hall table from his mother. It said, ‘A policeman called to see you.’ And underneath, ‘He called again. I said you’d telephone him when you got home. Dial 2323. Ask for Inspector Hayman.’

Hugo dialled the number, and was told that Inspector Hayman was out, but would be given a message as soon as he got back. This was a nuisance, as he had planned to go out himself. Instead he went down to talk to his mother, carrying a bottle of sherry with him.

‘You know I never ask questions about your work,’ said his mother, ‘but what on earth have you been up to? First that terrible American, and then the police – twice.’

‘That terrible American,’ said Hugo, ‘is dead. It was in the paper this morning.’

His mother said, ‘Good heavens!’ and took a large gulp of her sherry. ‘Heart failure, I suppose. He didn’t look very healthy.’

‘Heart failure would be one way of describing it.’ He found the paragraph in the
Daily Telegraph
and showed it to her. His mother read it through, her lips compressed into a tight line. She then examined the photograph of what was left of the garage and the car, and said, ‘So it was all a mistake. Not that that’s much consolation to his poor little wife.’

‘None at all.’

‘Do you suppose that’s what the police want to talk to you about?’

‘I expect it is,’ said Hugo. ‘And this looks like them.’ Headlights showed at the gate, a car door slammed and a man got out. He said, ‘I’ll take him round my side.’

Detective Inspector Haymann turned out to have longish pale hair and a pale moustache, and to smoke a cigarette in a pale amber cigarette holder. He said, ‘I expect you can guess what this is all about, Mr. Greest. The American gentleman who got himself blown up down in Kensington. I understand he came up to see you, is that right? Sometime on Thursday evening. Could you tell us what it was all about?’

Hugo told him. The Inspector listened with a faint smile on his face and said, ‘Cloak and dagger stuff, eh?’

‘Not really. Straightforward buying and selling. All above board and subject to licence.’

‘I hope so,’ said the Inspector. ‘I’ve heard it’s a rough business. This other man, the French Canadian. Had he been to see you?’

‘He was here on the Wednesday evening.’

‘And they were competing for the job?’

‘It started that way. But as I understood it, they were co-operating, not competing. Colonel Delmaison was able to supply some of the stuff. Mr. Nussbaum was going to get hold of the rest, through his contacts in Sweden. It was to have been a partnership.’

‘Merchants of Death,’ said the Inspector.

‘I suppose you could call them that.’

‘No, no. That was the title of one of your episodes. Merchants of Death. We always watch them. My children wouldn’t miss them for the world. I remember it particularly. It was the one about the Bulgarian scientist. He’d invented a deadly form of nerve gas, which he was planning to sell to the Chinese. You blew him up in his own laboratory.’

‘So I did,’ said Hugo. ‘I’d quite forgotten.’

‘Rather a coincidence, wasn’t it?’

 

Chapter Eight

 

Tammy

 

On Monday, after breakfast, Hugo’s telephone rang. A female voice told him to hold the line, and Raymond Taverner came on.

He said, ‘I thought you ought to know that Sheik Ahmed flew back to Umran last night.’

‘I didn’t know,’ said Hugo.

‘He asked me to apologise for him. He tried to get hold of you, but wasn’t able to. He had to go in rather a hurry. As a matter of fact we were lucky to get air passages for the whole party at such short notice.’

‘Why did he have to go? Has something happened?’

There’s always something happening in a place like Umran,’ said Taverner cautiously. ‘I gathered from our contact man out there – his name’s Martin Cowcroft, by the way – I should make a note of it. He might be useful to you.’

Hugo scribbled ‘Martin Cowcroft’ in the blank space beside
The Times
crossword and said, ‘Yes. Please go on.’

‘It’s younger brother trouble. That sort of thing’s endemic in Arab Sheikdoms. Son number two can never see why son number one should get all the berries.’

‘What
sort
of trouble?’

‘Mobs out making a nuisance of themselves. Public disorder. The sooner you’re out there to keep an eye on things the better, I should think.’

‘I can’t go till I’m sent for,’ said Hugo. ‘The Ruler seems to think that if I stop in London I can do something to hurry those arms along.’

‘I expect he needs the arms, too,’ said Taverner. ‘If only to maintain order among his faithful subjects. Well, we’d better keep in touch.’

Keeping in touch, thought Hugo. Everything seemed to turn on keeping in touch. Sit beside your telephone. Don’t go out. If you do, someone will be sure to ring up. Colonel Rex was a dedicated telephoner. Long conversations would take place in which the Colonel did all the talking and Hugo did all the listening. All he had been asked to contribute so far, apart from being an audience, was his signature to about a hundred documents. These he was able to sign under a power of attorney which he held from Sayyed Nawaf.

BOOK: The 92nd Tiger
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