Spell of Magic – Part 13
by Harry Harrison (c) 1963 and 2008
The Story So Far: A ruthless gang of diamond smugglers discover that Merlo, the magician who has joined them, is an Interpol spy. Merlo escapes their vengeance, and now leads a raid by Greek Marines on their H.Q. He hears the voice of the mysterious gang leader, The Duke, giving orders from behind the door. He bursts into the room, but it is empty. The orders are coming from a tape recorder…
“But the Duke has to be here!” Tommy raged. “There’s no possible way he could have known we were coming.”
Merlo looked at his assistant thoughtfully. “You’re right, Tommy,” he said. “I think there is another reason altogether for this.” He pointed at the tape-recorder playing The Duke’s orders into the microphone to the members of the gang in the other room. He could see them on the television screen, six of them, with two familiar figures in the front row.
“Look who we have caught in our trap,” Merlo said. “Standing there next to Petritz…”
“It looks like that gang-leader from Naples – Ravali. His gang is being arrested right now. Interpol has carefully timed raids in every country to bring in every member of every gang in this ring…”
Shots sounded outside the building as the Marines closed in – then suddenly blasted louder inside the building. They saw the smugglers on the TV screen turn startled faces, then run from the room.
“After them!” Merlo shouted. “Something has gone wrong.”
When they reached the other room, the smugglers were gone. The two Marines who had been left on guard outside the door were lying on the floor. Both had been shot.
“They’re still alive,” Merlo said, bending to them.
“Surprised…” one of the wounded Marines gasped. “Two others… from down the hall… the ones in the room… got away…”
“Don’t worry about them,” Merlo said. “They can’t get far. The house is surrounded and they don’t know that we are inside with them.”
One Marine was left to bandage and guard the casualties while the rest followed Merlo down the stairs. A crackle of gunfire from the front of the building told them where the smugglers were fighting back.
The building would have been hard to capture if Merlo and his Marines had not been inside. At the first alarm, steel shutters had dropped in front of all the windows, and the smugglers were firing back through gun-slits. They had heavy machine guns and boxes of ammunition. But they had no defense against attack from inside. The Marines cleared out one room after another until they reached the last. Merlo himself stood in the doorway, a captured gun in his hands, pointed and ready.
“Drop the guns and turn around!” he ordered.
“You!” Ravali gasped, mouth open and teeth showing, looking like a trapped rat. “I should have killed you when I had the chance…”
“Yes,” Merlo agreed, “you’ll have plenty of years in jail to think about that.”
“I must say you had me fooled,” the other man said coolly. It was Petritz. “But I can get some small pleasure from the fact that you have not captured The Duke – he left here this afternoon!”
“Really?” Merlo laughed. “A good try – but not good enough. You see, I have captured The Duke. Because you are The Duke.”
“You’re mad,” Petritz said calmly. “We were together when The Duke talked to us…”
“Easy enough to rig. I know a thing or two about tricks with tape-recorders myself. You recorded the first speech, telling yourself to leave, and turned it on by a concealed switch when we came into the room. Then, while I was answering the prepared questions, you ducked round into the control room and took over from there.”
Petritz looked flabbergasted. “You cannot prove that. I am only a member of this organization.”
“You are The Duke. I’ll wager that your fingerprints are all over the machines in the control room – and no one else’s. As Petritz, you might get a light sentence. As The Duke you will face more than one charge of murder…”
“Lies…” Petritz mumbled in a thick voice, his face suddenly white. He stumbled and leaned against the wall. “Just lies… my heart…”
“Watch out!” Merlo shouted, but it was too late.
One of the Marines had stepped forward to aid what he thought was a sick man. As he came close, Petritz straightened up with movements astonishingly fast for a man so big. Large hands clutched the Marine, lifted him clear of the floor and sent him crashing into the others. Before they could fight clear of the tangle, Petritz was out of the door and running for the stairs.
“Take him alive if you can!” Merlo, shouted, and led the pursuit. Only Tommy and a single Marine followed him; the rest guarded the prisoners.
Petritz started to go down to the ground floor, but hurled himself about at the last instant. He turned and ran upwards instead.
“We have him trapped now,” Merlo shouted as they charged after the escaping man.
They did not gain an inch on him, and they were still a floor below when he banged out through the door on to the roof.
Merlo ran out in time to see him dive behind a water tank. “Surrender, Petritz!” he shouted. “You don’t stand a chance.”
“I do not die – and I do not surrender,” the voice came back.
And a bullet thudded into the door near Merlo’s head.
“Is there another door to this roof?” the Marine sergeant asked.
“Yes,” Merlo, said. “It comes out on that side, over there…”
“Draw his fire. I’ll try and work behind him.” The Marine was gone before Merlo could stop him.
A full moon rode the sky, a tricky light to shoot by, but strong enough to see any detail. Petritz – The Duke – was trapped by their fire, but he must have expected them to try the other stairs. As soon as the other door opened, he jumped into the clear and raced across the roof, towards the side that faced the sea.
A single shot broke the darkness and the running man stumbled, clutching his side. Then he was up again and staggering on to the very edge of the roof.
“Take him!” Merlo shouted as they rushed forward.
“Never!” answered The Duke. Then he was gone. He toppled over the edge of the roof and fell towards the ocean far below, vanishing instantly in the darkness of the night. They looked down at the unseen water, listening to the rumblings of the waves.
“He’s dead,” Tommy said. “The bullet… then the fall…”
“I lived,” Merlo said quietly. “I wonder if we will ever know what happened to him? Know for sure…”