Spell of Magic – Part 6
by Harry Harrison (c) 1963 and 2008
The Story So Far: Merlo, an Interpol agent, pretends to be a smuggler to join an international gang of crooks. He has successfully smuggled a consignment of diamonds ashore at Cannes. But now, a detective calls at his hotel room…
Merlo tried to blink away the fatigue and sleep as he stared at the man outside the door.
“I don’t quite understand what you want…” Merlo began.
“You understand well enough,” the detective answered coldly. “Let me in and we’ll have a nice, private chat about smuggled diamonds. I think you could tell me a lot.” He pushed past Merlo and into the room, a lean, gray man with short-cropped hair and a web of wrinkles around his eyes.
“I can call the desk and have you thrown out,” Merlo said.
“Why do that?” DuPont asked, dropping into a chair. “I’m not here to cause trouble. I want to do you a favor. You saw my identification, didn’t you?”
“Yes. It said only that you were a private detective working for a firm in Paris.”
“That’s all I am, believe me. I don’t want to put you into jail or cause you any trouble. I just want some information.” He dug into his side pocket and produced a thick wad of bank-notes that he threw on the table. “That could be yours. Four thousand new francs. Just for giving me some information about diamond smuggling.”
“What could I possibly know about that?”
“Don’t kid me,” DuPont snapped angrily. “The Customs men gave you a shaking up yesterday on a tip from a thug named Tonio… who has been mixed up in illegal diamonds himself. You know something. Tell me and I’ll pay for it. I work for a syndicate of diamond buyers in Paris who want to stop illegal gems from flooding the market. They don’t want to see you in trouble. They just want to stop the diamonds from coming into the country.”
Merlo found a cigarette and lit it before he answered.
“You have me interested… but not here and not now.” He pushed the money back. “Meet me at eleven o’clock tonight, DuPont, at the end of the ferry dock. It’ll be empty then and we can have a private talk. I might well have something for you.”
“You’re a smart man,” DuPont said, climbing to his feet and stuffing the notes back into his pocket. “At eleven then.”
When the detective had gone, Merlo yawned and slowly dressed. Yesterday had been a hard day – and this one was not going to be any easier.
As he strolled out on to the main terrace he saw that Petritz was there and had already ordered his breakfast. Merlo slid into the empty chair and casually dropped his newspaper on to the table.
“Well?” Petritz asked. “Where are they? You do have the diamonds… don’t you?”
“Relax, read the paper – plenty of time for business later.” He pushed the newspaper across the table, ignoring the pistol that suddenly appeared in Petritz’s fat hand.
There was no mistaking the menace that crept into Petritz’s voice. “Don’t play any games, Merlo. I want those diamonds…” Then his hand fell on the folded newspaper and he felt the bulge in it. He opened it as if he was going to read it, but instead took a long look at the plastic bag pinned inside.
Petritz breathed a sigh of relief. “Very good,” he finally said, and slipped the gun back into his pocket. “It looks like you are as good at this business as they said in Naples. There is something else we would like…”
“Don’t tell me now,” Merlo broke in. “It’s too early in the morning, and besides, I have some things to take care of first. Can you be back here at ten tonight?”
“Ten it is.” Petritz heaved his fat bulk to his feet. “I want to get rid of this shipment first, anyway.”
After breakfast, Merlo went back to his room and was not at all surprised to find his assistant, Tommy Archer, waiting there. The little ex-jockey jumped to his feet happily.
“You’re all right! I can tell you now, Merlo – I was worried about this job.”
“So was I… with good reason,” Merlo admitted, and told Tommy about the attack by Tonio and the earlier visit of the detective. “I don’t like it, not at all. Too many people seem to know my business and to be lying in wait for me. Breaking into this gang is going to be a lot harder than I thought, I have the feeling that someone is watching me and laying traps. When I get out of one there is another waiting.”
“Let’s turn the whole thing over to Interpol and get out while our skins are still in one piece.”
“No… I’m too dose to the inside now. The more I know, the more dangerous it gets. And the way things are happening to me, I begin to feel that the answer is very close. If I can find out how and where the illegal diamonds are being cut – and who is in charge of this international ring – I’ll have a real case for Interpol. If they act now, all they’ll pick up will be the small fry. I have a little plan that might crack this business open, and I’ll need your help to carry it out.”
Tommy listened. Then he set off to obey the magician’s instructions.
Merlo spent a quiet day preparing for what was sure to be a very busy evening. He met Petritz at ten and they strolled along the waterfront, looking out across the bay at the lights of the American fleet lying at anchor.
“I don’t get you…” Petritz complained. “What’s this all about?”
“It’s very simple,” Merlo grinned. “I just want you to stand behind that building on the dock out of sight, but where you can hear a conversation.”
“You’ll know why, once you hear it. Now, come on… we don’t have too much time.”
The diamond smuggler was stationed behind the dark ferry office when DuPont walked out on the deserted dock. He went over to where Merlo stood at the very edge.
“Well?” the detective asked. “You got the information for me about the diamond smugglers?”
“I have something for you right here,” Merlo said, reaching into his pocket. The detective gasped when he saw the wicked-looking knife that Merlo brought out.
“What are you doing?” he gasped.
“Taking care of a rat,” Merlo said coldly. “You want to know about diamonds? I’ll tell you this much. You should have asked someone else. I’m not a stool-pigeon.”
With those words, before the detective could protect himself, Merlo’s hand lashed forward. DuPont staggered backwards and fell over the edge of the dock. There was a splash in the, water below.
“What are you doing?” Petritz gasped, running up at a fast waddle. “You killed him!” He looked down at the dark water below, but nothing was visible.
Merlo had a strange smile as he put the knife back into his pocket. “You heard what he said to me. He wanted me to sell him information on the organization. That means he knew about me… and he may have known about you and the others. A man like that is dangerous, my friend, even if you tell him nothing.”
“But… but to kill him like – like that!”
Merlo looked down at the water, now smooth and dark and holding its mystery.
“That is the way – the only way – to treat people like that. Don’t you agree?”
Petritz took a long time to answer, and when he did there was a new tone in his voice.
“Yes. That is the only way to treat them. Now come with me. I have something very important to tell you.”
To be continued…