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Authors: John Creasey

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BOOK: The Blood Diamond
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She dropped his arm, and swung round.

She snatched her bag from the desk and pushed past him to the door. He did not stop her, but followed quickly. The door of the fitting-room opened and
modom
and the dark-haired woman appeared. Marjorie Addel brushed past the customer, who reddened with anger as she staggered against the assistant.

‘I'll be back, Zara,' Marjorie said, and rushed out of the shop. She turned right, waving to a taxi, which went by.

A man on the other side of the road hurried in the same direction as Marjorie Addel; he was a Yard detective officer. The girl stopped to wave at another cab as Mannering caught up with her and he gripped her shoulder. She tried to push his hand off. Passers-by stopped, a man said in a nervous voice:

‘Now, what's all this?'

‘Let me go!' cried Marjorie. ‘Taxi –
taxi!
'

The detective-sergeant ran into the road. A car jammed on its brakes. Other cars were pulling up, a crowd gathered swiftly and the D.O. was on the fringe. The man who had spoken nervously, weedy-looking and middle-aged, touched Mannering's arm.

‘You'd better let her go.' He looked round for moral support from other members of die crowd.

‘I will do as I like with my own sister!' snapped Mannering, in an angry voice, and the nervous gallant backed away, nonplussed.

Mannering picked Marjorie up bodily, swung round and strode back to the shop. She was too startled to protest or struggle; but she was no lightweight. The D.O. was trying to force his way through the crowd.

A green Morris pulled up near the shop. Inside it, Bristow and several other men saw the girl, helpless as a babe, beginning to pummel Mannering's chest.

Mannering kicked open the door.
Modom
stood aghast, even the woman Zara was shaken out of her calm.

‘Marjorie!'

‘Be quiet,' said Mannering. ‘She isn't well.'

Majorie's fist caught him on the nose.

Bristow was already at the door.
Modom
had
never
been so insulted, she would
never
buy anything from
this
place of violence. Eager, excited faces pressed against the window.

Bristow reached the door with Tring. By then, Mannering was at the office door. He put the girl down, but still kept a grip on her arm. He whispered: ‘Where's Paul? Tell me or I ‘II put the police on to him.'

How desperate was she to keep Paul out of the reach of the police?

‘Hurry!'

Bristow said sharply: ‘Mannering.'

The girl whispered: ‘Paul Harding, The Lees, Guildford. If you tell the police, I'll—'

‘What's this, Mannering?' Bristow was just outside the door; had he heard? ‘Taken up kidnapping?'

Mannering eased his grip.

‘Hallo, Bill. Not kidnapping, just a little persuasion to make Miss Addel realise that she shouldn't go away before you arrived. She got excited.'

‘Oh,
did
she?' growled Tring.

The woman Zara, had managed to get
modom
out of the shop. She came towards the office, agitated and fighting to keep her composure. She pushed past Tring; the doorway of the little office seemed jammed with people. The assistant saw the letter on the desk, face uppermost. She looked pale and shocked, but the fire flashed in her eyes.

‘Will you tell me what all this is about?'

‘Now—' began Bristow.

‘Oh, this man Mannering is impossible!' exclaimed Marjorie. ‘I have an appointment I'd forgotten, and wanted to go, and he wouldn't let me.' That was quick, clever. She was talking to Bristow, ignoring the other woman. ‘Will you make him leave the premises?'

‘Soon. Who is this woman?'

Zara was at the desk.

‘Zara? My sister-in-law.' Marjorie stamped her foot; quite a little actress in her own right. ‘It's outrageous! This man—'

Mannering said: ‘Look, Bill.' He pointed to the brown stains on the blotting pad and rug. Bristow examined them closely. Tring went down on his knees to look at the carpet.

Marjorie Addel stood back, her breast heaving. Mannering was by her side, and pretending to watch the policemen. Actually, he was watching the sister-in-law, who was edging towards the desk. She looked over her shoulder, and saw two plain clothes men who were standing in the shop. She turned her back on them, and her right hand moved. Bristow and Tring seemed interested only in the carpet. Zara picked up the letter from Bray and slipped it into the neck of her dress.

Bristow looked up. ‘Yes, that's blood.'

‘Now have a look at the window,' said Mannering.

 

Chapter Nine
THE REPORTER AND A PHOTOGRAPH

 

‘What does all this mean?' demanded Zara. Two spots of colour burned on her cheeks; she had plenty of nerve – as much as Marjorie; two little actresses in their own right.

Bristow said: ‘I'm sorry, Miss Addel, but we shall have to ask you and your sister-in-law to wait here, while we look round.' He spoke from the window, which he'd pushed open. ‘May I have the keys or is the storeroom open?'

‘It's locked.' Marjorie pointed to the desk. ‘The keys are in the second drawer.'

‘What right—' began Zara.

‘Zara, don't be difficult, he's a policeman.'

Zara whipped round her. ‘They have no right to search here!' The two spots of colour were livid; they looked as if they hurt her, and her eyes were like glass. Nothing that was found was likely to surprise her.

‘Please do just what you think is necessary,' Marjorie said.

‘Thank you.' Bristow took out the keys and slammed the desk door shut. He climbed out through the window, and Tring followed. A detective-sergeant stood in the office doorway, blank-faced.

‘Mannering,' Bristow called.

‘Coming, sir.'

‘You needn't come out here,' Bristow said, at the window. He kept his voice low, so that the women could not hear. ‘What put you on to this?'

‘I've shown you.'

‘Did you break in?'

‘I was asked to wait in here and got as far as the yard, then sweet Marjorie arrived. So I had to show myself. I'd have liked another half hour alone.'

‘What has she had to say for herself?'

‘A lot of hysterical nonsense.'

‘I mean Miss Addel.'

‘So do I.'

‘Not much hysteria about her,' said Bristow. ‘Don't talk to either of them.'

‘No, sir,' said Mannering, humbly.

Tring was at the workroom door, trying the keys. Mannering drew back. Inside, Marjorie was calmness itself; a remarkable change, unless she was a practised Circe. She joined her sister-in-law, who couldn't keep still, and kept talking about angry customers and ruin; the red spots didn't fade.

Marjorie said little.

Now and again, the men in the shop called to someone outside. Inside, the waiting was getting on the women's nerves. Marjorie began to show it and looked as if the other's agitation worried her. She didn't once try to speak to Mannering.

He felt the nervous tension, went to the window and looked out.

Bristow appeared; a pale-faced Bristow, who strode across the yard.

‘Have you seen it, Mannering?'

‘Seen what?'

‘Never mind. Let me come in.' Bristow climbed through and stood watching the woman. Zara leaned against the desk, as if she would fall, but Bristow concentrated on Marjorie Addel.

‘Well?' he barked.

‘Will you tell me what all this mystery is about?' cried Marjorie. ‘It's driving me crazy.'

‘Will you tell me what a murdered man is doing in your workroom?'

Zara screamed:
‘No!'

‘Murdered,' echoed Marjorie. Was that trick of repeating a word deliberately used to gain time? ‘A murdered man. I don't—I don't understand. I—it's not true. It can't be true!'

Bristow said: ‘How well did you know Arthur Bray?'

‘Bray?' Her voice sounded blank.

Zara groped along the desk, reached the chair and sat down. Bristow didn't seem to notice her, but little missed him.

He said: ‘Come with me, Miss Addel, please.'

‘Why? Where?'

‘To see the man.'

Was Bristow persuaded that she knew more than her sister-in-law. The old trick of confronting a suspect with the body often worked, but why not try it on the two of them?

Marjorie said: ‘Very well.'

She didn't lack nerve; she wasn't so naive now. Was this the cunning of desperation, had the threat of danger to her Paul sharpened her wits?

She went out, through the window, in front of Bristow; Tring was still outside. Zara sat in the chair, her hands clenched in her lap. The letter hidden by her dress showed in faint outline; the dress had all the cunning of design of Marjorie's, they were beauties in their different ways. This woman's eyes were dark, her complexion almost sallow; olive, almost. She wasn't English and her name wasn't English, but except for its almost pedantic form, her voice wouldn't betray that she was a foreigner.

The shop door opened. A young man wearing an old raincoat end a battered trilby came in, dodged past the constable on duty, and said:

‘Where's Mr. Bristow?'

‘You can't come in here, sir.'

‘Not to see Mr. Bristow? Why, hallo – excitement this morning.' He could just see Mannering. ‘The great John!' He was Forsythe, a reporter from the
Morning Cry.
‘Hallo, Mannering! Big development from your trouble last night?'

‘Certainly not,' said Mannering, ‘I'm a spectator.'

‘Oh, yeah?' Forsythe had a merry face, fair hair which was thin at the front, and a first-class reputation. He grimaced at Mannering from the door. ‘Let's have the truth, old man – it's about the Adalgo diamond, isn't it?'

‘You'd better ask Bristow.'

‘Don't give us any trouble, Mr. Forsythe,' said the plainclothes man. ‘Clear out.'

‘I'll see you later,' said Mannering.

Forsythe beamed. ‘That's a promise. All right, sergeant. I'll go quietly.' He went away from the office, but stayed in the shop. Two men from other newspapers came in, the three stood in a group, talking in whispers.

During the interlude Zara had not spoken, but watched Mannering closely. She was still watching him, her eyes like black diamonds. Her back was to the policemen.At last she spoke, in a hoarse voice:

‘Are you
the
John Mannering?'

‘I think I'm your man.'

Tring called out: ‘Clark!'

The plain clothes man hurried to the window.

‘Come here,' Tring called.

Mannering was alone with the woman, and he went to her.

She said: ‘Will you help Marjorie?'

‘If I can and if she deserves helping.'

‘She does. You must believe that'

‘Are you really her sister-in-law?'

‘Oh, yes.'

‘What about the help you need yourself?'

‘I do not matter.'

Did that mean she was protecting Marjorie?

‘You know that they'll search you at the police station, don't you?'

‘That will not matter, either.'

‘I should get rid of Bray's letter before they search you,' advised Mannering. ‘It's addressed to no one, and any fingerprints on it will probably have faded by now. Take it out and screw it up and drop it in the waste-paper basket.'

‘You—saw me?'

Voices sounded in the courtyard; a door slammed.

‘You haven't much time,' Mannering said.

She snatched the letter from her dress, crumpled it up and thrust it into Mannering's coat pocket. Tring appeared, but hadn't seen what she had done; no one in the shop had seen. She snatched her hand away. Before Mannering had a chance to take the letter out, Tring climbed through the window.

‘Not bad,' Mannering said.

‘What's that?' Tring demanded.

The woman turned away from Mannering, and stepped towards Marjorie, who came in with Bristow. She was very pale, and had nothing to say. Her eyes were lack-lustre; was that from shock or pretence?

‘It's true,' she said. ‘It's true.'

 

Bristow took both women away, for questioning. The police took possession of the shop.

 

Marjorie begged him to help Paul; Zara begged him to help Marjorie. In his pocket was a letter Zara had been frightened that the police should find. A pretty mix up; and there was more, the bait of Paul Harding's address:
The Lees, Guildford.

Marjorie had kept her head well; too well?

Mannering went thoughtfully back to Chelsea.

Judy let him in, and said that Lorna was still in the studio. Mannering went whistling up the rickety stairs. Lorna glanced round at him, and Mannering felt her glow of satisfaction; all dark thoughts and brooding had been swept away by her work. Larraby had gone – but Larraby was there, on canvas. Mannering stood looking at the portrait, while Lorna wiped her hands on an oily rag.

‘Well, well,' Mannering mumured.

‘Do you like it?'

‘It's perfect.'

‘It's only half-finished, but it ought to be all right.'

‘It's got him, body and soul,' said Mannering. He went a little closer, and then drew back. ‘Mind, body and soul,' he amended. ‘Has he seen it yet?'

‘No. I sent him out to get some lunch and told him to be back at half past two.'

‘You're going to work yourself to death,' said Mannering, as she went to the wash-basin to wash her hands. ‘Judy's complaining that lunch is getting cold.'

‘I'm almost ready.' Lorna took off her paint-daubed smock. ‘I'll have to sign that with a diamond!' She laughed. ‘I wouldn't have missed Larraby for the world.'

They went downstairs. Judy brought in a chicken
en
casserole, and started to serve.

‘We'll manage,' said Mannering.

‘Very good, sir.' The girl went out, trim, prim, tiny.

Lorna said: ‘John, what a selfish beast I can be.'

‘You said it.'

‘How have you been getting on?'

‘Oh, uncovering an odd murder or so.'

‘Only or so?'

‘Just one, to be exact.'

She put down her fork.

‘You almost sound serious.'

Mannering talked, leaving nothing out. Before he had finished, the chicken was cool on their plates. Judy looked in, and bobbed out again. They finished the course in silence, and Judy brought in canned raspberries and cream.

‘You're fated,' Lorna said at last. ‘Fingerprints?'

‘Not mine. Bristow may fancy that I'd seen the body before, that's the only danger.'

‘I hope it is.' Lorna finished her sweet, slowly. Then she threw up her hands. ‘Isn't it wonderful? Two beauties to protect now, plus a young man. I can see it working out very well, darling. The police are watching you. You're keeping something back from them for the sake of a pair of pretty blue eyes. Before you know where you are, you'll be fighting Bristow openly. Why must it always work out like this?'

‘The spice of life,' murmured Mannering.

‘The vinegar. You won't go too far without telling Bristow, will you?'

‘I will not.'

‘I don't believe you. What happened to the note from Bray?'

‘It's still in my pocket.'

‘How nice! Supposing Bristow had the bright idea of coming here with a search warrant?'

‘The letter isn't addressed to anyone at Lander Street,' Mannering pointed out. ‘Bray came here several times and was due here last night, so there's no reason why he shouldn't have sent me a confirming note. I'm not a bit sure that it's any use as evidence.'

‘There may be prints on it.'

‘I'll soon find out,' said Mannering.

After a pause, Lorna said: ‘There are times when I understand why Tring hates you so, darling.'

Mannering chuckled. ‘Our Tanker's having a wow of a time. Coffee?'

 

Larraby was back on the stroke of half past two.

‘Come up when I call, will you?' Lorna went ahead to brood for a few moments, then throw a piece of cloth over the unfinished canvas until Larraby had taken up his position again; no sitter here ever saw a half-finished portrait.

‘Like the life?' Mannering asked Larraby.

‘It's just as good as a holiday,' said Larraby. ‘It's—it's a new life. Mr. Mannering, I hesitate to ask for anything else, but if afterwards you can think of a way of helping me to rehabilitate myself, perhaps find me work, I'll—'

‘I will'

‘Larraby!' called Lorna.

The little man's footsteps were firm on the staircase.

Mannering watched him out of sight, then went into the drawing-room. Larraby was a persuasive type; was his manner natural, or artificial?

Mannering took out the letter, held it close to the window, and then took a tiny bottle of grey powder from a writing-table and sifted it over the paper. A few faint prints showed, tiny fragments; the police might find them useful. Zara had been wearing cotton gloves, and on paper like this, prints soon faded.

A car pulled up outside. He saw a battered trilby on the man who got out.

Mannering went to open the door himself.

‘As arranged,' said Forsythe. ‘May I come in? Thanks. I tried to get round before lunch, but crime seems to be flourishing this morning.'

‘Where?' asked Mannering.

‘In most parts of London,' said Forsythe. ‘Three smash-and-grabs, an attempted murder – beer-and-passion variety – and a spot of bother at a Communist meeting.' He laughed. ‘Thanks.' Mannering offered cigarettes. ‘You're in good company.'

‘Yes,' said Mannering, dryly.

‘Yours is the titbit of the show, though,' Forsythe went on. ‘Murder and robbery here last night – I see you've still got a Robert on the doorstep – and the carved up corpse at Addel's this morning. A ripe piece, Marjorie Addel.'

‘Ripe's the word.'

‘What's the word for her sister-in-law. Exotic?'

‘Mysterious?'

‘Do you think so?' Forsythe was anxious.

‘I was asking you.'

Forsythe grinned.

‘It's a waste of time trying wordy warfare with you, John. I've just come from Bristow. He's up to his eyes in work and more like a clam than ever, which means that he's on delicate ground. I gather from his Eminence, Tanker Tring, that harsh things are being said about you at the Yard.'

BOOK: The Blood Diamond
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ads

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