Spell of Magic – Part 12
by Harry Harrison (c) 1963 and 2008
Previously in Spell of Magic: The armed smugglers close in on Merlo. His only chance of escape is to jump from the roof of the gangs’ headquarters – a dizzy, bone-crushing drop to the sea, hundreds of feet below. Merlo has no choice. He jumps – with bitterness in his mind that he has failed his duty as an Interpol agent to bring the gang to justice…
As Merlo leaped from the roof the guns behind him cracked. Bullets screamed past him. None of them came too close, and Merlo scarcely noticed them. He was thinking of the sea below, and the waves and rocks rushing towards him. The air tore at him as he struggled to dive straight. If he turned and hit the water sideways, the impact would kill him.
The white wall of the building rushed by him, then the cliff, and he was still falling. He would miss the rocks – but there was another danger below he had not counted on. A man in a rowing boat at just the spot where he would enter the water!
The sound of the shots had been heard by the boatman. He looked up. His mouth dropped open with shock when he saw Merlo’s body falling straight towards him. He pulled madly at the oars. This was the last thing Merlo saw when he put his arms over his head, his fingers clasped tightly together. His chin was tight against his chest. He would have to hit the water as cleanly as an arrow if he were not to kill himself. If he missed the boat…
Then a spine-jarring crash shook his whole body.
Stunned by the blow, his first thought was that he had hit the boat. But the water rushing past told him he had missed. Pressure pushed on his chest and he bent his arms to curve his dive back to the surface. But the water was not deep enough. A deeper blackness crashed into him – the sandy bottom of the cove. The impact drove precious air from his lungs. Fighting against the numbness that wanted to drag him down, Merlo began the slow battle back to the surface.
Above him was the dark shadow of the rowing boat, and he could make out the outline of the boatman leaning over the side. In spite of the burning in his lungs, Merlo forced himself to swim to the other side of the boat, to raise his face silently from the water, and to breathe in the life-giving air without a sound.
“Can you see him?”
The voice floated down from the cliff above. Merlo could not see the speaker, he was covered by the side of the rowing boat. Neither could anyone see him.
“He hit right here!” the boatman shouted. “I saw him go down. Just like a rock. Probably broke his neck. The undertow around these rocks will carry his body out to sea.”
“Keep looking!” the voice called from above. “We must be sure he’s dead…”
“He’s dead – take my word for it!”
While they talked, the pain slipped from Merlo’s body and the ache died from his lungs. He breathed deeply, preparing for a long underwater swim. The entrance to the cove was two hundred yards away. He should be able to swim that without coming up for air. The cove was in shadow. If he swam deep he would not be seen from the house above. Once out of the cove he would be safe.
With a last deep breath of air he slipped beneath the surface again and began to swim.
No ripple disturbed the surface from Merlo’s strong, steady movements. The dim shape of the rocks at the entrance of the cove came towards him and he rounded them, staying underwater as long as he could. When he finally surfaced he was safely out of sight behind the cliff.
From out at sea he heard the beat of a powerful engine. When he rose on a wave he caught sight of a big motor-launch. Both her color and lines indicated she was a warship. On the next wave he made out a Greek naval ensign at her stern. Merlo swam towards the boat and wondered what chance had brought her here at this time. He had a feeling it was more than luck.
Merlo was right. When he was close enough to wave, there came an answering shout from the boat – in a familiar voice!
“Tommy Archer!” he laughed, as his assistant reached down to help him from the sea. “Ugly as your face is, I can’t think of a prettier sight at this moment! You made fast time getting here – and brought the navy, too.”
“That was their idea,” Tommy said, helping Merlo into the boat and wrapping a blanket around him. “As soon as I got your letter I flew to Athens and talked to the Interpol guy there. He got all excited about the diamond smugglers maybe having an HQ in his country, and everyone wanted to help me. There just happened to be a naval ship on maneuvers near here.”
“So you found yourself with a naval escort instead of looking around quietly on your own!”
“You said it! They pin-pointed that big building on the cliff as the only spot where the smugglers might be, and we’ve been sort of keeping an eye on it.”
“Well, you found the right place. They are all in there now. I wonder if the Greek Marines would like to see some action?”
“Like?” Tommy snorted. “They have been breathing fire! The Interpol man has been working full-time with the cruiser captain to stop them from landing and wiping the island clean!”
“Well, they are going to get their wish!”
Merlo found that Tommy had been right. Holding back the Marines was harder than getting their aid. Each one of the sixty Marines on the ship wanted to be the one to personally stamp out the international diamond smugglers who dared to use a Greek island as the center for their world racket. They grumbled, but agreed to have the building surrounded by an hour after dark – and not to attack for a quarter of an hour more. This was to give Merlo, Tommy and five rugged Marines a chance to climb the steep part from the sea and to enter the house from the rear.
It was after dark when the rubber dinghy nosed into the dark cove. Merlo led the way, climbing the rough trail by touch alone. Someone coughed at the cliff edge above – a guard. Merlo leapt into silent, lethal action. A few seconds later the guard sighed gently, and one of the Marines helped Merlo ease the unconscious body to the ground.
“Single file, in the house,” Merlo whispered. “Stay close behind me.”
He led his raiders in through a window he opened with the tip of his flick-knife. They were in a dark room, and when Merlo checked the hall outside it was empty also.
Merlo hissed his orders.
“We’ll move fast from here on – but try to avoid any extra noise. Keep the guns for last. We have four minutes left before the attack starts and we are going to try and capture The Duke, the leader of this gang; and hold him until the building is taken.”
“Let’s go!” Tommy whispered. “I’m itching for a good brawl.”
“Watch out you don’t get stepped on,” one of the big Marines said, picking up the tiny ex-jockey and holding him out at arm’s length.
“Three minutes… up the stairs… NOW!”
They went in a silent rush. One of the guards was coming down the stairs. But before he could raise his gun or even shout, a weighted cosh spun through the air and he fell. The attackers ran by a closed door and Merlo stopped them.
“Listen!” he said. Through the dark wood came the muffled tones of The Duke giving orders.
“Two of you stay here,” hissed Merlo. “There will be some of the gang in this room. The Duke is talking to them through a radio set-up. He must be in the control room. The rest of you come with me.”
They reached the door of the control room exactly at zero hour. Merlo crashed the door open and they plunged in. The Duke’s voice went on without change.
The room was empty! His voice was coming from the spinning reel of a tape-recorder, playing into a microphone to the other room.
“He knew we were coming!” Tommy shouted. “He got away!” In the distance a whistle and scattered shots signaled the beginning of the main attack.
To be continued…