Bond nodded. “Specialist crooks never take other people’s lines seriously. I bet he wouldn’t have talked to her about one of his country house jobs.”
“Not on your life,” agreed Vallance. “Or we’d have had him inside years ago. Anyway, it seems he was contacted by a friend of a friend and agreed to do a smuggling job to America for $5000. Payable on delivery. My girl asked him if it was drugs. And he laughed and said ‘no-better still, Hot Ice’. Had he got the diamonds? No. His next job was to contact his ‘guard’. Tomorrow evening at the Trafalgar Palace. Five o’clock in her room. A girl called Case. She would tell him what to do and go over with him.” Vallance got up and paced to and fro in front of the framed forgeries of five pound notes that lined the wall opposite the windows. “These smugglers generally go in pairs when big stuff is being moved. The carrier is never quite trusted, and the men at the other end like to have a witness in case anything goes wrong at the customs. Then the big men don’t get caught napping if the carrier talks.”
Big stuff being moved. Carriers. Customs. Guards. Bond killed his cigarette in the ash-tray on Vallance’s desk. How often, in his early days in his own Service, had he been part of this same routine-through Strasbourg into Germany, through Niegoreloye into Russia, over the Simplon, across the Pyrenees. The tension. The dry mouth. The nails ground into the palms of the hands. And now, having graduated away from all that, here he was going through with it again.
“Yes, I see,” said Bond, dodging his memories. “But what’s the general picture? Got any ideas? What sort of an operation was Franks going to fit in to?”
“Well, the diamonds certainly come from Africa.” Vallance’s eyes were opaque. “Probably not the Union mines. More likely the big leak out of Sierra Leone our friend Sillitoe’s been looking for. Then the stones may get out through Liberia, or more likely French Guinea. Then perhaps into France. And since this packet’s turned up in London, presumably London’s part of the pipeline too.”
Vallance stopped his pacing and faced Bond. “And now we know that this packet is on its way to America, and what happens to it there is anybody’s guess. The operators wouldn’t try and save money on the cutting-that’s where half the price of a diamond goes-so it looks as if the stones get funnelled into some legitimate diamond business and then get cut and marketed like any other stones.” Vallance paused. “You won’t mind if I give you a bit of advice?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Well,” said Vallance, “in all these jobs the pay-off to subordinates is generally the weakest link. How was this $5000 to be paid to Peter Franks? Who by? And if he did the job successfully, would he be taken on again? If I was in your shoes I’d watch these points. Concentrate on getting through the cutout who does the paying off and try to get on farther up the pipeline towards the big men. If they like the look of you it shouldn’t be difficult. Good carriers aren’t easy to come by, and even the top men are going to be interested in the new recruit.’”
“Yes,” said Bond thoughtfully, “that makes sense. The main trouble will be to get past the first contact in America. Let’s hope the whole job doesn’t blow up in my face in the customs shed at Idlewild. I shall look pretty silly if the Inspectoscope picks me up. But I expect this Case woman will have some bright ideas about actually carrying the stuff. And now what’s the first step? How are you going to substitute me for Peter Franks?”
Vallance started pacing to and fro again. “I think that ought to be all right,” he said. “We’re going to take in Franks this evening and hold him for conspiring to evade the customs.” He smiled briefly. “It’ll break up a beautiful friendship with my girl I’m afraid. But that’s got to be faced. And then the idea is for you to make the rendezvous with Miss Case.”
“Does she know anything about Franks?”
“Just his description and his name,” said Vallance. “At least that’s what we guess. I doubt if she even knows the man who contacted him. Cut-outs all along the line. Everybody does one job in a watertight compartment. Then, if there’s a hole in the sock, it doesn’t run.”
“Know anything about the woman?”
“Passport details. American citizen. 27. Born San Francisco. Blonde. Blue eyes. Height 5 ft 6 in. Profession: single woman. Been over here a dozen times in the last three years. May have been more often under a different name. Always stays at the Trafalgar Palace. The hotel detective says she doesn’t seem to go out much. Few visitors. Never stays more than two weeks. Never gives any trouble. That’s all. Don’t forget that when you meet her you’ll have to have a good story yourself. Why you’re doing the job and so on.”
“I’ll see to that.”
“Anything else we can help over?”
Bond reflected. The rest seemed to be up to him. Once he had got into the pipe it would just be a question of improvising. Then he remembered the jewellery firm. “What about this House of Diamonds lead the Treasury dreamed up? Seems a long shot. Any views?”
“Quite honestly I hadn’t bothered with them.” There was apology in Vallance’s voice. “I checked on this man Saye, but again it’s a blank except for his passport details. American. 45. Diamond merchant. And so on. He goes to Paris a lot. Been going once a month for the last three years as a matter of fact. Probably got a girl there. Tell you what. Why not go along and have a look at the place and at him? You never can tell.”
“How would I set about that?” asked Bond dubiously.
Vallance didn’t answer. Instead he pressed a switch on the big intercom on his desk.
“Yes, Sir?” said a metallic voice.
“Send up Dankwaerts at the double, please Sergeant. And Lobiniere. And then get me the House of Diamonds on the telephone. Gem merchants in Hatton Garden. Ask for Mr Saye.”
Vallance went and looked out of the window at the river. He took a cigarette lighter out of his waistcoat pocket and flicked at it absent-mindedly. There was a knock on the door and Val-lance’s staff secretary put his head in. “Sergeant Dankwaerts, Sir.”
“Send him in,” said Vallance. “Hold Lobiniere until I ring.”
The secretary held open the door and a nondescript man in plain-clothes came in. His hair was thinning, he wore spectacles and his complexion was pale. His expression was kindly and studious. He might have been any senior clerk in any business.
“Afternoon, Sergeant,” said Vallance. “This is Commander Bond of the Ministry of Defence.” The Sergeant smiled politely. “I want you to take Commander Bond to the House of Diamonds in Hatton Garden. He will be ‘Sergeant fames’ of your staff. You think the diamonds from that Ascot job are on their way out to the Argentine through America. You will say so to Mr Saye, the top man there. You will wonder if it is possible that Mr Saye has heard any talk from the other side. His New York office may have heard something. You know, all very nice and polite. But just look him in the eye. Put as much pressure on as you can without giving any grounds for complaint. Then apologize and leave and forget all about it. All right? Any questions?”
“No, Sir,” said Sergeant Dankwaerts stolidly.
Vallance spoke into the intercom and a moment later there appeared a sallow, rather ingratiating man wearing extremely smart plain-clothes and carrying a small attache case. He stood waiting just inside the door.
“Good afternoon, Sergeant. Come and have a look at this friend of mine.”
The Sergeant came and stood close up to Bond and politely turned him towards the light. Two very keen dark eyes examined his face minutely for a full minute. Then the man stepped away.
“Can’t guarantee the scar for more than six hours, Sir,” he said. “Not in this heat. But the rest’s all right. Who is he to be, Sir?”
“He’s to be Sergeant James, a member of Sergeant Dank waert’s staff.” Vallance looked at his watch. “Only for three hours. All right?”
“Certainly, Sir. Shall I go ahead?” At Vallance’s nod, the policeman led Bond to a chair by the window, put his small attache case on the floor beside the chair and knelt down on one knee and opened it. Then, for ten minutes, his light fingers busied themselves over Bond’s face and hair.
Bond resigned himself and listened to Vallance talking to the House of Diamonds. “Not until 3.30? In that case would you please tell Mr Saye that two of my men will be calling on him at 3.30 sharp. Yes, I’m afraid it is rather important. Only a formality of course. Routine inquiry. I don’t expect it will take up more than ten minutes of Mr Saye’s time. Thank you so much. Yes. Assistant Commissioner Vallance. That’s right. Scotland Yard. Yes. Thank you. Goodbye.”
Vallance put back the receiver and turned towards Bond. “Secretary says Saye won’t be back until 3.30. I suggest you get there at 3.15. Never does any harm to have a look round first. Always useful to get your man a bit off balance. How’s it going?”
Sergeant Lobiniere held up a pocket mirror in front of Bond.
A touch of white at the temples. The scar gone. A hint of studiousness at the corners of the eyes and mouth. The faintest shadows under the cheekbones. Nothing you could put your finger on, but it all added up to someone who certainly wasn’t James Bond.
“WHAT GOES ON AROUND HERE?”
IN the patrol car Sergeant Dankwaerts was occupied with his thoughts, and they drove in silence along the Strand and up Chancery Lane and into Holborn. At Gamages they turned left into Hatton Garden and the car drew up near the neat white portals of the London Diamond Club. Bond followed his companion across the pavement to a smart door in (he centre of which was a well polished brass plate on which was engraved ‘The House of Diamonds’. And underneath ‘Rufus B. Saye. Vice-President for Europe’. Sergeant Dankwaerts rang the bell and a smart Jewish girl opened the door and led them across a thickly carpeted entrance hall into a panelled waiting-room.
“I am expecting Mr Saye any minute now,” she said indifferently and went out and closed the door.
The waiting-room was luxurious and, thanks to an unseasonable log-fire in the Adam fireplace, tropically hot. In the centre of the close-fitted dark red carpet there was a circular Sheraton rosewood table and six matching armchairs that Bond guessed were worth at least a thousand pounds. On the table were the latest magazines and several copies of the Kimberley Diamond News. Dankwaerts’s eyes lit up when he saw these and he sat down and started to turn over the pages of the June issue.
On each of the four walls was a large flower painting in a golden frame. Something almost three dimensional about these paintings caught Bond’s attention and he walked over to examine one of them. It was not a painting, but a stylized arrangement of freshly cut flowers set behind glass in niches lined with copper-coloured velvet. The others were the same, and the four Water-ford vases in which the flowers stood were a perfect set.