Authors: John Creasey
First published in 1947
Â© John Creasey Literary Management Ltd.; House of Stratus 1947-2013
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
The right of John Creaseyto be identified as the author of this work has been asserted.
This edition published in 2013 by House of Stratus, an imprint of
Stratus Books Ltd., Lisandra House, Fore Street, Looe,
Cornwall, PL13 1AD, UK.
Typeset by House of Stratus.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library and the Library of Congress.
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|075511857X||Â ||Â ||9780755118571||Â ||Â ||Print|
|0755134915||Â ||Â ||9780755134915||Â ||Â ||Mobi|
|0755134923||Â ||Â ||9780755134922||Â ||Â ||Epub|
This is a fictional work and all characters are drawn from the author's imagination.
Any resemblance or similarities to persons either living or dead are entirely coincidental.
John Creasey â Master Storyteller - was born in Surrey, England in 1908 into a poor family in which there were nine children, John Creasey grew up to be a true master story teller and international sensation. His more than 600 crime, mystery and thriller titles have now sold 80 million copies in 25 languages. These include many popular series such as
Gideon of Scotland Yard, The Toff, Dr Palfrey and The Baron
Creasy wrote under many pseudonyms, explaining that booksellers had complained he totally dominated the 'C' section in stores. They included:
Gordon Ashe, M E Cooke, Norman Deane, Robert Caine Frazer, Patrick Gill, Michael Halliday, Charles Hogarth, Brian Hope, Colin Hughes, Kyle Hunt, Abel Mann, Peter Manton, J J Marric, Richard Martin, Rodney Mattheson, Anthony Morton and Jeremy York.
Never one to sit still, Creasey had a strong social conscience, and stood for Parliament several times, along with founding the
One Party Alliance
which promoted the idea of government by a coalition of the best minds from across the political spectrum.
He also founded the
British Crime Writers' Association
, which to this day celebrates outstanding crime writing.
The Mystery Writers of America
bestowed upon him the
for best novel and then in 1969 the ultimate
Grand Master Award
. John Creasey's stories are as compelling today as ever.
In the narrow window of Quinn's, that exclusive antique shop in Hart Row, W.1, a single diamond lay upon rich black velvet. This background was sombre, but the diamond gave the window life and brilliance. A dozen jewel-merchants in London's West End could have displayed diamonds of larger size and even of greater purity. Yet this gem without a setting was unique.
There was nothing to inform curious passers-by about its origin and history; nor was there a price ticket; only the diamond in its pristine beauty. It was an open invitation, as a surly patrol sergeant put it to a police constable, to every smash-and-grab raider in London.
Hart Row led off New Bond Street, and the few shops there were centuries old. The woodwork of Quinn's had recently been oiled. Fresh gilt lettering on the facia board was in Old English style, which suited the Slop's appearance of great antiquity.
Outside Quinn's stood a beggar.
Nearby, the constable, who had been warned by his sergeant of the temptation in the window, stood and watched the beggar.
Inside the shop, an old man and a young one worked among the miscellany of jewels,
objets d'art, silver, glass and porcelain. Quinn's did not specialise only in jewels; it was the Mecca of those who sought rare curios of East and West. Everything was steeped in history, none greater than the diamond.
The beggar stood looking at the diamond for a long time.
He was neither old nor young. His greying hair was long and untidy, and draped about the frayed collar of his patched and torn sports coat. His baggy flannel trousers were also patched, and frayed at the bottoms. He wore a pink shirt without collar or tie. In one hand he held a battered cardboard tray on which stood a few bootlaces and boxes of matches. He looked thin and hungry, yet in his blue eyes was an expression both wistful and longing; they were like the eyes of a man in love.
He had been there for some minutes when the constable pursed his lips and approached with heavy, regular tread. The beggar did not appear to see or hear him, and started when the constable's deep voice rumbled: âSeen enough?'
The beggar turned to look at the massive figure in blue uniform; after a long pause, he shook his head.
âNo,' he said.
âWell, I say you have,' announced the constable. âYou'd better move along.'
âI'm doing no harm here.' The beggar's quiet, protesting voice was not unpleasing.
âI didn't say you was doing any harm, I said it was time you got a move on. You won't sell many bootlaces along here,' added the constable, with heavy humour. âMove along, now.'
The beggar's eyes lost something of their wistful look. He straightened his shoulders and took a firmer hold on his tray.
âYou have no right to move me on,' he said firmly. âI am not interfering with anyone. I don't intend to commit a crime â and I haven't anything on me with which to break the window, if that's in your mind. In any case, I am goingâ' he paused, glanced up at the gilt lettering, and added firmly, âto see Mr. Quinn.'
âOh, no, you're not.'
âI tell youâ'
âBecause Old Quinn's been dead these eighteen months. And young Quinn nearly a year.'
âOh,' said the beggar, and pondered. âWho is the new owner?'
âHow should I know?'
âYou knew the original owner.'
âNever you mind,' said the constable, tired of arguing. âIt's time you moved along. Don't give me no trouble, now.'
âI'm not giving you any trouble,' said the beggar. âPlease move aside.'
The policeman was so startled by the request that he actually obeyed. The beggar nodded his thanks calmly, and went into the shop. He moved so quickly that by the time the constable peered into the gloomy interior of the shop, the elder of the two men working there had begun to come forward.
The constable pushed the door open an inch â and was too astounded by what followed to interrupt at once.
âGood afternoon, sir,' said the assistant, as courteously as to a millionaire. âCan I help you?'
âGood afternoon,' replied the beggar. âI am interested in the diamond displayed in the window.'
âIt is a wonderful jewel, sir, is it not?'
âIt is superb.'
âI fully agree with you,' said the assistant, a pale-faced man with white hair. He stood a head taller than the beggar, and appeared to be as deferential as he sounded. âI do not think I have ever seen a finer â no, indeed. The faint rose tint . . .'
âIt's South American, I suppose,' interrupted the beggar.
âThat is so. Early South American.'
âEarly? One of the
stones.' The beggar's voice was reverent.
âYes. One of those found when the Aztec treasure houses were looted during the Spaniards' first visit. We know its history for the last hundred and fifty years, but little before that.'
âThat's a pity, a great pity.'
âIt is indeed,' agreed the white-haired man. âI sometimes stand and look at it and try to imagine what happened before European eyes fell upon it. It has been cut since then, of course.'
âYes, yes â beautifully cut.'
The constable could stand the strain no longer. He pushed the door open wide and entered, heavily. The assistant looked round, murmured what might have been an apology to the beggar, and spoke clearly.
âGood afternoon, officer.'
âI'm sorry to bother you, sir,' rumbled the constable, âbut I was just wondering if this man is worrying you.'
didn't come to buy.'
The white-haired man smiled gently.
âMany people come without wanting to buy, officer.'
âA great many, yes.'
The constable looked at each man in turn. His expression hardened, and his tone became authoritative.
âIs he begging?'
âYou heard me.'
âI assure you that you need have no cause for complaint,' said the white-haired man, his voice sharper. âI appreciate your carefulness, and will tell Mr. Mannering of it when he arrives.'
âI see.' The constable hesitated, glared at the beggar, touched his helmet by force of habit, and said: âYou'd better be careful yourself.'
âThank you. Good day, officer.'
âGood day,' echoed the beggar, with great satisfaction.
The constable let the door slam, disappeared, took out his notebook and wrote furiously; his description of the beggar was adequate. He went to the nearest police box and called his Divisional Station, reporting on recent events of the neighbourhood in great detail. Duty done, he returned to keep an eye on Quinn's.
Inside the shop there was a long silence after the constable had gone. Then the beggar sighed.
âMay I ask another question?'
âBy all means.'
âWhat is the price of the diamond?'
âI am afraid that you have asked me something which I cannot tell you,' said the old man. âMr Mannering has not yet set a price upon it. If I judge Mr. Mannering's attitude correctly, he will sell only to a chosen client, and the price â well, the price will depend on the means of the client.'
âI should perhaps add that I do not think the price will be under one thousand pounds.' The assistant seemed sorry to have to say so.
âOh,' said the beggar. âIt is possible to learn its history?'
âI wish I had time to go into detail. As it is, I can do no more than tell you a little. The modern history is fascinating. The Duchess Zaraâ'
From the dark bowels of the shop appeared the other assistant, a young man with enormous eyes, a large forehead, and a chin which disappeared into his high stiff collar, with its grey bow tie. He was dressed in black. He did not speak, just attracted attention by standing there.
âPerhaps I should start at the beginning,' the older man said. âThe diamond was brought to Spain by the Conquistadores, and was for many years recognised as one of the priceless gems of the Spanish royal collection. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, it was given to a courtesan then in the King's favour. By then it had acquired a strange legend: that it rightly belonged to the reigning Queen, and any other who possessed it would die of violence. It was stolen from the King's favourite. She was left dead.'
âWith a knife in her breast, exactly where the jewel had rested.'
âAh, I see.'
âIt was the main gem of a necklace of Zara, fifth Duchess of Adalgo. She was the wife of a Pretender to the Spanish Throne. She was murdered for political reasons. Her children were exiled. They managed to take the family jewels with them, but were compelled to sell them, piece by piece. Some were eventually returned to Spain, not to the Adalgo family but to the Royal House. This particular diamond was among them, but was later stolen. Soon afterwards, the King lost his throne. It was returned to him while he was in exile, and sold, like many other royal jewels. It had several owners, but,' the assistant shrugged, ânever remained in the same hands for long. Women who wore it died â some by violence, some mysteriously. Eventually Mr. Mannering was offered it and, paying no attention to the chatter of the gullible and superstitious, he bought it.'
âI see,' said the beggar, and added. âSuperstition?'
âIt is a blood-diamond, or more properly a rose-tinted diamond. Its history has made it a jewel of ill omen. It is said that violent death will overtake all but its rightful owner â the true Queen of Spain. Today, there is no Queen, but much poverty and persecution. There has been much intrigue outside the country, of course, to restore the throne. You may have heard of Pedro Lopez, who came to England years ago to plead for British recognition of the Duke of Adalgo's claim to the Spanish Kingdom.'
âI've an idea I remember that,' said the beggar.
âOne day, perhaps, the diamond will grace the present Duchess of Adalgo. After that, who knows?' The elder man paused, and turned at last to the younger. âWhat is it, Simon?'
âI am sorry to interrupt, sir, but tea is ready.'
âTea? Is it so late? I was expecting Mr. Mannering before now. Tea, yes. Will you have a cup of tea with me, sir?'
âYou're very kind,' said the beggar.
âNot at all. I am fascinated by that gem â as you are. Come with me, please.'
The beggar followed, still holding his battered tray. In a small office, which could not be seen from the shop door, the tea things stood on a carved oak desk; bread and butter and cakes. There were two cups.
âYour assistant,' began the beggar, drawing back.
âHe will have his later, that is the custom.'
On one wall was an oil painting of a dark-haired, handsome man, whose smiling face dominated the office. The beggar studied it as he ate.
âThat is Mr. Mannering,' said the assistant. âIt is an excellent portrait, painted by his wife. They are a gifted pair, delightful people.'
âLorna Mannering? Theâthe great artist who has painted so many famous people?'
âYes. I think the word great is justified, yes. More tea?'
âThank you.' The beggar had cleared the food, the assistant eaten little.
âNo, thank you. I have lost the craving for tobacco, at considerable pains to myself. â
âYou were wise.'
âYes.' The beggar hesitated, glanced at the portrait, and went on slowly: âThere is one other question I would like to ask.'
âWill you please tell me why you have treated me like this?'
âI assure you I would have behaved exactly the same way with whoever had come in. I would have talked less with many, those lacking your obvious interest in jewels and in that gem particularly.'
âThe constable was partly right, you know.'
âYou came hoping to sell, but the diamond hypnotised you,' murmured the old man. âI have Mr. Mannering's permission to use my own judgment about callers. Had he been here, he would have done exactly the same. He is as absorbed in precious stones and those who love them, as his wife is in her painting. And of course, he is known wherever gems are known.'
The beggar gave a curious smile.
âYou would be surprised to hear where I first heard of him.'
âYes. I was in prison. I had been sentenced forâjewel robbery. It was for jewellery that was like tinsel compared with that diamond.'
breathed the old man, and pondered. âHow strange that Mr. Mannering should be known in prison! Iâbut here is Mr. Mannering.' The front door opened, firm footsteps sounded in the shop. âI know he will be very glad to meet you.'