Authors: John Creasey
âAnd again! You've stuck out your neck with the Adalgo. The thieves didn't believe the real stone was at the shop, of course â perhaps they think they got it last night.'
âThey didn't get it,' said Mannering. âYou can print that.'
âThanks,' Forsythe said. âWhich reminds me, we're giving you a lovely piece of free personal publicity.'
âYou've got it. We sent a cameraman round to Quinn's this morning. He took a beauty of the Adalgo in all its glory. I had a word with the masterly Carmichael â where do you find âem?'
âCarmichael's been in the trade for years.'
âIf you'd said centuries, it wouldn't surprise me. And there's that chalk-faced boy with him, Simon. John, supposing there were a raid on Quinn's, what good do you think those two museum pieces would be?'
âSeriously, aren't you taking a risk?' Forsythe tapped the ash from his cigarette, and looked up with a crooked grin. âYou may not think so, but you'll read all about it in the
in the morning. Open invitation to smash-and-grab â that's the line. The editor has decided that you're to be the star for this story, and I've had to do what he tells me. Sorry. But you're warned.'
Mannering laughed. âThanks. You don't want a statement from me, you're doing pretty well on your own.'
âOh, come,' protested Forsythe. âWe say that Quinn's isn't protected well enough, so you ought to say something about it. How does this go: “Mr. John Mannering told a
reporter that he had every confidence in his staff and in the precautions taken to protect this treasure house from the depredations of burglars”?'
âMr. Mannering told a
reporter that he had no statement to make,' corrected Mannering, firmly.
âOh, well. Were you first at the scene of the crime in Lander Street?'
âI went to buy my wife a new dress, and the police came while I was there.'
Forsythe put his head on one side. âThat's interesting. Oh, that's most interesting. And you were so anxious to buy your wife a dress that when Marjorie Addel rushed out of the shop, refusing to sell to a man with such a reputation, you chased her, picked her up and carried her back.
interesting.' Forsythe paused. âHave you ever thought much about tourists in London?'
âI've often felt sorry for them.'
âThere was one in Lander Street you won't feel sorry for,' said Forsythe, dreamily. âHe was there with his little Leica, and I saw him with the Leica and heard he'd got a kick out of snapping you carrying the Addel beauty. I've paid him twenty pounds for the copyright. Don't say I haven't warned you.'
âIf you think you're going to blackmail me into making a statement by threatening to publish that picture, you're mistaken.'
âNot even whitemail?'
âI'm colour blind.'
âOh, well. It's a good picture. Your wife ought to like it'
âShe knows all about the Sir Galahad act. It's no use, Teddy. I'm not making a statement to you or anyone else, yet. When and if I make one, you shall have it first.'
âI'll believe you. You'd better mean what you say, or that photograph will be splashed.' He laughed. âI'm holding it myself. If I let the news editor see it, he would want a front page splash, but I'd rather get the story. Can I ask a few questions, off the record? Did you go to the shop this morning expecting to find trouble?'
âNo. I fancied that Marjorie Addel was up to no good, because she'd been to see me here. When I went to the shop she hadn't arrived. I was shown into the office, and saw the blood. It struck me as odd.'
âOdd! You ought to write for the films. Who showed you into the office?'
âThe mysterious exotic.'
âZara Addel,' mused Forsythe. âShe wouldn't have done that if she'd known that blood was splashed all over the place, would she? Most people know that you can smell blood better than a bloodhound. Pity. I was hoping Zara had done something she was going to regret.'
âDo you know her?'
âOne hears this and that. No one knows her well, but she's been a bit high-and-mighty with one or two calf-lovers who've met her at the shop and then bought gown upon gown for imaginary girlfriends. Zara's dark eyes capture young hearts. When the suitor thinks all is well because she's all melting at the shop, and suggests a trip further afield, she slaps faces. Some think it's her way of doing business, others that she's just not of a romantic turn of mind, and such advances surprise her. Whether you like her or not, you've got to admit that she's got plenty. You know what I mean â the latent lure of the hot blooded South and all that kind of thing.'
âMixed with naivete,' Mannering suggested.
âJust the word. Not really of this world â except where business is concerned.'
âWhat do you know about Marjorie Addel?'
âWe've dealt with her occasionally. Zara's the power behind the scenes, and Marjorie's one of the best woman designers in the trade. Your wife's bound to know of her. Well, I must be getting along. I won't use that snapshot unless you fail me over the exclusive story. Oh, I nearly forgot. We've dug out a bit about the history of the Adalgo, but we may as well have it right. Diamond of fate, wearers get stabbed to the heart, only rightful owner a Queen. Care to check?' Forsythe took a sheet of paper from his pocket.
Mannering read it through.
âNot bad.' He made several pencil alterations.
âCan I say you gave us the information?'
âYou'll say it anyhow.' Mannering gave the paper back. âDo you know if there's any prospect of an early arrest for the policeman's murder?'
âNot a hope. The car they escaped in was stranded, no fingerprints, no nothing. Any ideas?'
âI never have ideas.'
âModest Mannering! Well, thanks.'
Mannering saw him out, and returned to the study.
The flat was quiet. The settle-safe was closed. He glanced at it, imagining the scene when the squat man had forced Lorna to open it. Murder, intrigue, illogical beauties, Larraby, legend â all were tied up with one gem: the Adalgo. The squat man thought he had it; Marjorie Addel's Paul thought he had it.
What was Paul Harding like?
He'd find out.
The adalgo was living up to its reputation, but why were those paste replicas in existence? Why had so many people been convinced that they had the diamond? Two or three fakes, two or three mistakes, could be coincidence; there was no coincidence about this. Because he was believed to have the Adalgo, Bray had been brutally murdered, with two or three bullets in the stomach â as the policeman.
The same kind of crime often meant the same murderer.
He had the real stone, for possession of which bullets were being freely exchanged; no wonder Lorna felt frantic.
But he'd find out, on his own. He'd always worked alone, and would again. Out of the past, the old familiar compulsion gripped him. In the days of the Baron he'd been compelled to walk alone, trusting no one; he trusted no one now. Could he trust Lorna? There might come a time when her nerve would break if he told her everything that came to his mind in days like these; and there was danger, bearable alone but not when shared; he'd shared too much danger with her. The police? They were watching, lynx-eyed, in the hope that he would make a slip, would twist his words and misconstrue his actions. Marjorieâ
He could trust no one completely; but the truth was there, for the finding.
The telephone bell rang, and kept ringing.
He took off the receiver.
âCarmichael here, sir. I am sorry to worry you, butâ'
âThat's all right. What's the trouble?'
âI really think you ought to come here if you can. A young man who gives his name as Paul Harding is in the shop. He is very angry about the Adalgo diamond. Heâer has made somewhat wild and scandalous charges against you, sir. I have been able to calm him only by promising him that you will come at once.'
Mannering parked the
Talbot near Quinn's, and walked briskly to the shop. Tanker Tring was at the corner, behaving like an ostrich by ignoring Mannering. One policeman in uniform stood in Hart Row.
The diamond was there in all its beauty.
More people than usual were looking at it. The reward of publicity.
Mannering stood watching, and knew that he was being watched. A girl looked round, saw him, and exclaimed: âThat's him!'
darling,' corrected an elderly woman. âAnd whom do you mean?'
A dozen people turned and stared; Mannering beamed and went in, while at the corner, Tring scowled.
The shop was very dark.
Carmichael stood at the far end, with a tall young man; Carmichael raised a hand in eager welcome. Behind him, Simon stood like a pallid, black-clad ghost.
Paul Harding came forward, like a dog from a leash; trinkets and furniture shook.
He was young, a good looker, and well-dressed. His thick, brown curly hair refused to lie flat. Aggressiveness glowed in his eyes and showed in his manner. He looked a fighter, and undoubtedly was in a fighting mood.
âAre you Mannering?'
âWhere the hell have you been? I want to knowâ'
âCome into the office, and tell me what you want to know.' Mannering put a hand on the young man's arm; he was trembling; Marjorie couldn't have been more agitated. He let himself be ushered into the office.
Carmichael closed the door.
âI've waited for you for nearly an hour,' Harding snapped, as Mannering took a book out of a cupboard. âYou've the damned nerve to stand there fiddling about as ifâas ifâas if I didn't matter a damn!'
Mannering smiled amiably. âDo you?'
âI'll show you whether I matter! You palmed off a fake gem on Miss Addel last night. The real one's in the window. Before I leave here, I'm going to have it.'
âThe trade value is ten thousand pounds.'
âI know what it's worth, but you've no right to it. I'll make a full report to the police unless you let me have it.' He put his hand in his breast-pocket and pulled out a jewel case. He flung it down on the desk, and it burst open. The paste stone fell out and rolled along the table.
âThey're both mine.'
âThey're not! The real stoneâ'
âYou know, you and your Marjorie learned in the same bad school. What makes you think that you can come filibustering in here, shouting wild accusations, and then march off with a ten thousand pound diamond? It's time you grew up.'
Harding's hands clenched.
âYou've got the nerve to talk to
about filibustering! You've no right to that stone. You should never have been allowed to have it. It wasn't Bray's to sell.'
âHe didn't sell it.'
âI know he didn't, you had it on approval. You'll take it out of the window and give it to me, or I'll send for the police.'
Mannering took out his cigarette case, selected a cigarette with great care, and pushed the case across the desk. Harding didn't notice it. Mannering sat down, slowly.
âMannering, if youâ'
âYou weren't so fond of the police last night, were you?'
Alarm touched grey eyes which were as bright as Marjorie's.
âWhat the hell do you mean?'
âWhat I say. You thought they were following you, and you dodged them. I was in the car behind that MG.'
Harding gulped, but fought on.
âThat doesn't matter. The police have nothing on me. They'll have plenty to say about your keeping the stone which Bray sent you. Theyâ' Harding paused, and then rested clenched fists on the desk and thrust his face forward. He made a palpable effort to speak calmly. âLook here, Mannering, I'm not fooling. I mean to have that diamond. If I have to go to the police, I'll go to them. It isn't yours. You've admitted that. I don't want to make trouble, but I'll go the whole hog if you make me.'
Mannering said: âSit down, Harding. I like that tone much better.' He held out the case again, and Harding accepted both cigarette and light. Here was a man scared out of his wits but fighting hard, knowing what he wanted, facing risks which he hated. The desire for the diamond obsessed him. He was afraid of the police, but used them as a threat. Nothing mattered but getting the Adalgo.
Did he know about Marjorie's arrest?
Could he have kept silent about it, if he did?
âLook here, Manneringâ'
âI'm coming to it. How much does Marjorie Addel mean to you?'
âThat's my business. I'm hereâ'
âI know why you're here. Are you engaged to her?'
âNo. Will you give me that diamond, orâ'
âTake it easy. Marjorie's having a spot of bother with the police.'
Harding started back; the cigarette dropped from his mouth.
âShe's at the Yard, being questioned.'
Harding muttered: âAt Scotland Yard?' The news had knocked him silly.
âYes. Want to help her?'
âHelp her?' Harding sounded stupid. âI don't seeâMannering.
You told the police about her visit last night, because a few of your lousy stones were stolen. You've done this to her. Why, I'll break your neck!'
He struck at Mannering's face. Mannering caught his wrist as Harding swung another blow, then gasped as Mannering twisted. He was half way out of his chair, and couldn't move. The colour drained from his face, which was only a foot from Mannering's. Perspiration rose in little blobs on his forehead. He had the sense not to move.
Mannering let him go, and pushed him back into a chair.
âIf you and the girl would behave like ordinary human beings, we'd get somewhere. Bray was murdered last night or this morning.'
Harding caught his breath. âMurdered.' He had Marjorie's trick of echoing words.
âAt Marjorie's shop.'
âAtâAddel's,' gasped Harding. âBrayâ' he paused. He swallowed hard, and then stood up slowly. âIt's not true, it can't be true.'
âThe body was found in the workroom by the police, and Marjorie and her sister-in-law are now being questioned. Marjorie says she didn't know Bray. Obviously you did. Isn't it time you told me what you knew of him?'
âItâit doesn't soundâfeasible.'
âIt's the second recent murder over the Adalgo diamond. Anyone interested in the stone is going to be questioned by the police. Your turn's coming.'
âIt's dreadful,' Harding muttered. âDreadful.'
What had really shocked him most? Bray's death or Marjorie's danger?
At last, Harding said in a dull voice:
âThis is all true isn't it? Bray is dead?'
âThey can't think that Marjorie or Zara had anything to do with it.'
âThey can and they will until they know the truth. Both women will probably be detained for the time being. That's why Marjorie needs help. She needs it from someone who will keep a cool head. I've promised to do what I can.'
âWhat I can do depends on knowing the truth.'
âIâI'm sorry I lost my head just now,' Harding muttered. âI can't expect you to give me much of a hearing, after that. But thisâ'
âSupposing you tell me what you know about Bray, and how you came to meet him,' Mannering suggested.
There was no fight left in the man.
âItâit's simple enough. My father's a collector of precious stones. He hasn't got many, he's not what you'd call wealthy, but he's got a few very good diamonds. About six months ago, he bought the Adalgo. It was sold atâat rather a low price. Like a fool, I thought that he'd bought it under cover.' Harding raised his head, defiantly. âI expect
bought gems under cover before now. Every collector has. I thoughtâwell, thought it had been smuggled into the country, and that he hadn't paid duty on it. That's why I was nervous about the police last night.'
âI see,' said Mannering, expressionlessly.
âI had a heart-to-heart talk with the old man this morning,' said Harding, wearily. âHe told me that I was crazy. I must have been! He'd bought the stone at a private sale, there was nothing wrong about it. The previous owner didn't realise what it was â its history, I mean â and put too low a price on it. There's nothing wrong in that.'
âNothing at all,' Mannering agreed, heavily.
âThen my father had a bad run in his business, and lost a lot of money in one or two speculations. He had to realise on some of his collection. He did a lot of business with Bray, who often found him rare stones. He asked Bray whether he could sell the Adalgo. Bray said he knew you were interested, and brought it along.'
âI see,' said Mannering. âAnd then?'
âOne of those thousand-to-one chances came off,' said Harding. âMy father put a deal through his New York brokers a few weeks ago. It's come out a winner. Oil. He decided to cancel the sale of the Adalgo, and tried to get in touch with Bray. Bray wasn't at his office. I said I'd come and see you, and if you had the thing, get it back.'
âFair enough, up to that point,' Mannering said. âNext?'
âA rather queer thing happened, Mannering.'
âHow do you mean, queer?'
âWell, we were leaving the house â Marjorie was with me, and my father was alone in the house â when a man stopped us in the drive. I'd never seen him before. He was a tough customer, and put the wind up me. He told me he'd seen Bray, and knew Bray had offered you the Adalgo. He said he knew the Adalgo had been smuggled into the country, and would make trouble if he wasn't squared. I would have liked to have pushed his face in, but he caught me on the raw â I was already nervous about the diamond. I told him to come back and see me in the morning â anything to get rid of him. Then Marjorie and I drove to London. I don't mind admitting, Mannering, that I had cold feet â oh, not for myself but for the old man. He's sick, and I didn't want anything to go wrong. Canâcan you understand me?'
âI was anxious to prevent you or anyone else learning that my father owned the Adalgo,' went on Harding. âThat's why I was so nervous about the police. The long and short of it is that Marjorie said she would go and try to get it from you. Weâwe decided to put one across you.'
âWe knew a bit about your reputation,' Harding went on, heavily, âand we didn't think that any ordinary story would fool you. Marjorie's a bit of an actress â amateur â and we decided that she should put on an agitated girlish act, well, you
a bit of a ladies' man, aren't you?'
Mannering drew a deep breath.
Marjorie was to appeal to the Old Adam in me?'
âYes. Everything would have been all right, I think, butâbut when she got to your flat, she was so nervous she forgot Bray's name.'
Harding gave a weak grin.
âWhen she told me about it afterwards, I nearly split. I thought she had got the diamond then, you see, we couldn't tell paste from the real thing. The way she told me how she tried to remember that name, and kept waiting for you to ask her â she was sure you wouldn't let her have it without naming Bray â was damned funny. Well, you know what happened. We thought she'd pulled it off, and drove home. I realised we were being followed, and being a bit worried about the policeâ'
âWhy were you, just then?'
âWell, the man who'd stopped me had said he would get a reward from the police if I didn't pay him to keep quiet. I was pretty edgy. I've been busy lately. My nerves aren't what they might be,' added Harding. âWell Marjorie did a bit of weaving about Guildford, and we shook you off. If we'd known it was youâ' he broke off, and shrugged his shoulders. âBut
It's damnable! He always said he was worried about handling that stone. He said there was blood on it, and always would be. Besidesâ' Harding broke off.
âYes,' encouraged Mannering.
âI don't know how much I ought to tell you,' muttered Harding. âThe policeâ'
Mannering said: âCards on the table, Harding. If this is something the police must know, I'll tell you. If it can be kept from them, I'll hold it back. Don't make the mistake of thinking you can play ducks and drakes with the police. They're good. But you've nothing to worry about if you're told the truth. The diamond wasn't smuggled.'
Harding stood up abruptly.
âOh, what the hell! I suppose the police will find out, anyway. My father went out after we'd left the house last night. He saw Bray. They had a pretty fierce quarrel â I don't know what it was about, probably because Bray hadn't the diamond. It was at Bray's office. You can see why I'm worried, can't you?'