Spell of Magic – Part 9
by Harry Harrison (c) 1963 and 2008
Previously in Spell of Magic: Stage magician Merlo is an agent for Interpol. Pretending to be a crook, he has joined a gang of diamond smugglers, hoping to discover the gang leader’s identity. Merlo is in the mysterious headquarters of the gang when DuPont, whom Merlo believed to be in jail, suddenly arrives to expose him as a police agent…
Merlo dived to the attack, moving a single instant before the man in the doorway.
DuPont tried to turn to face the charge, but there was no time. Merlo hit him with all his weight, knocking the man across the room. This barely slowed his charge. He went on to crash into the door and slam it shut in the surprised faces of the guards before they could follow DuPont through the door.
But their rifles were raised, and if they had the sense to use them, the thick door would offer as little protection as a piece of paper.
The steel slugs would tear through it, and through Merlo’s body. He could almost feel their impact as he shot home the heavy bolt and turned the key in the lock… He was diving to get clear of the door when a sharp pain shot through his shoulder.
His first thought was that one of the bullets had hit him, so fierce was the agony. But the force of the blow had spun him about. He had a quick glimpse of the wickedly grinning DuPont swinging his fist and was just in time to dodge the blow. It whistled by his head, then he had to move back again as DuPont forced home the attack.
“Do not kill him, DuPont – I will do that myself after he has been questioned.” The Duke’s muffled voice spoke front the speaker on the table. “Hurt him all you want, but keep him alive. I’m sending men now to break down the door.”
“You speak and I obey, Duke,” DuPont shouted towards the microphone, and closed in on Merlo.
Merlo dodged another blow and backed away again. There was little else he could do. DuPont moved and fought like a professional boxer – and on each fist he had a savage knuckle-duster with spikes on the outer edge. The single blow that had struck Merlo had half-paralyzed his arm. Weaponless as he was, Merlo had no defense against this terrible attack.
He turned and ran.
“Come back, you coward!” DuPont shouted. “We’re locked in this room together and you can’t get away. Stand and fight…”
DuPont’s bragging words ended in a howl of anger as he saw what Merlo was doing. He had not been running away – he had really been preparing to kill two birds with a single stone. He grabbed the edge of the table and lifted, and the TV and radio apparatus fell crashing to the floor.
“Stop him…” The Duke’s voice shouted, then broke off as the loudspeaker smashed.
“That takes care of your mysterious boss,” Merlo said, gasping with pain as he took the weight of the table on his injured arm. He forced his fingers to cling on and to lift – to hold the table clear of the floor while he spun about.
“And that should take care of you,” he gasped as the plunging DuPont crashed into the table and fell.
The table ha only knocked the smuggler down, but before he could rise to his feet, Merlo was on top of him. This was no time for fair fighting: there was nothing fair about this gang’s dealings. Merlo chopped his open hand down. The outer edge caught DuPont on the side of his neck. The smuggler’s eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed.
Merlo wasted no more time on him. With a quick jerk he pulled the black hangings from the wall. It was solid, without openings of any kind. Behind him there was a thud as some heavy object struck the door, and it shuddered. Merlo jumped over the unconscious body on the floor and tried the other wall. The cloth fell away and he saw a window-frame. But the sudden spurt of hope died. The window was bricked and cemented, sealed for ever.
The door shook again to a heavy blow and this time there was a cracking sound the lock broke. Pieces of metal flew across the room. The bolt still held – but for how long?
When the door went down, the chase would be over and Merlo would be as good as dead. He sprinted to the rear wall, but it was as solid as the others.
Yet it did contain one opening – a small hole no bigger than a man’s thumb – that had been pierced through the plaster a foot above the floor. Through the hole ran the wires from the television and radio equipment that allowed The Duke to speak to anyone in the room.
‘Good enough!’ Merlo thought, and with controlled speed pulled his cigarette case from his pocket and thumbed a hidden release catch.
This thin platinum case was Merlo’s constant companion, containing many of the small devices that he used with a magician’s skill. It contained plastic pellets of sleeping gas, and it also held a small supply of micro-grenades. One of these tiny bombs fell into his waiting palm now.
Small, black and no bigger than a sixpence, it held almost as much explosive power as a full-sized hand-grenade. It had a three-second fuse in it. Merlo squeezed the fuse, pushed the micro-grenade into the hole in the wall and fell to the floor, to one side.
Behind him there was a crash and a howl of victory from the hallway as the door splintered and almost went down.
“Once more!” a voice shouted – then the words were drowned out in the boom of the explosion.
Dust and smoke billowed and Merlo could just make out a ragged hole that had been blasted through the plaster to an adjoining room.
Without looking behind him, Merlo dived for the hole, and forced himself through it, despite the ragged ends of wood and cement that tore at his clothes. Behind him, the shouts turned to cries of anger as they saw his escape.
The door was open and the room deserted, but against one wall stood a bank of television and radio equipment. This was where The Duke watched and talked to the other room – he could have left only moments before. For one instant, Merlo wondered at the identity of this mysterious leader of the diamond smugglers – then forced the thought from his mind. He could solve this puzzle only if he escaped.
There was another door leading from the room, and Merlo tried it, in the hope that he could confuse his trail a bit. It opened easily and revealed a rising stairway. Merlo slipped through, silently locked the door behind him and began noiselessly to climb the stairs.
Muffled shouts echoed from the room he had just left, and someone rattled the knob of the door, then went away. Quicker now, Merlo ran up the stairs, feeling his way in the darkness.
They seemed to go on for ever, and there were no doors at any of the landings. Merlo was gasping for breath when he saw a dim light above him. A few seconds later he had reached the door at the top of the stairs.
Sunlight came in through the keyhole and, when he pressed his eye to it, Merlo could see only blue sky. But waiting solved nothing. Merlo opened the door.
Before him stretched a few feet of sun-blistered tar roofing, and beyond this was a stone parapet. He stepped forward and looked down at an immense drop. The house was built on the very edge of the cliff, and it was a straight drop from the roof to the rocky ground below.
There was a low chuckle behind Merlo, and he spun round to face Petritz and two guards with leveled rifles, who stood facing him across the flat roof.
“Jump,” Petritz said, “or surrender. It makes no difference. The end will be the same either way.”
To be continued…