The room was very quiet except for the hypnotic tick of a large sunburst wall-clock and the soft murmur of voices from behind a door opposite the entrance. There was a click and the door opened a few inches and a voice with a thick foreign intonation expostulated volubly: “Bud Mister Grunspan, why being so hard? Vee must all make a lifting, yes? I am telling you this vonderful stone gost me ten tousant pounts. Ten tousant! You ton’t pelieff me? Bud I svear it. On my vort of honour.” There was a negative pause and the voice made its final bid. “Bedder still! I bet you fife pounts!”
There was the sound of laughter. “Willy, you’re a real card,” said an American voice. “But it’s no dice. Be glad to help you, but that stone isn’t worth more than nine thousand, and I’ll give you a hundred on top of that for yourself. Now you go along and think about it. You won’t get a better offer in The Street.”
The door opened and a stage American business man with pince-nez and a tightly buttoned mouth ushered out a small harassed-looking Jew with a large red rose in his button-hole. They looked startled at finding the waiting-room occupied and, with a muttered “Pardon me” to no one in particular, the American almost ran his companion across the room and out into the hall. The door closed behind them.
Dankwaerts looked up at Bond and winked. “That’s the whole of the diamond business in a nutshell,” he said. “That was Willy Behrens, one of the best-known freelance brokers in The Street. I suppose the other man was Saye’s buyer.” He turned again to his paper, and Bond, resisting the impulse to light a cigarette, went back to his examination of the flower ‘pictures’.
Suddenly the rich, carpeted, ticking silence of the room struck like a cuckoo clock. Simultaneously, a log fell in the grate, the sunburst clock on the wall chimed the half hour, the door was thrust open and a big, dark man took two quick steps in the room and stood looking sharply from one to the other.
“My name is Saye,” he said harshly. “What goes on around here? What do you want?”
The door was open behind him. Sergeant Dankwaerts rose to his feet and walked politely but firmly round the man and closed it. Then he returned to the middle of the room.
“I am Sergeant Dankwaerts of the Special Branch of Scotland Yard,” he said in a quiet, peaceful voice. “And this,” he made a gesture towards Bond, “is Sergeant James. I am making a routine inquiry about some stolen diamonds. It occurred to the Assistant Commissioner,” the voice was of velvet, “that you might be able to help us.”
“Yes?” said Mr Saye. He looked contemptuously from one to the other of these two underpaid flatfeet who had the effrontery to be taking up his time. “Go ahead.”
While Sergeant Dankwaerts, in tones which to a law-breaker would have sounded menacingly level, and consulting from time to time a small black note-book, recited a story studded with ‘on the i6th instant’s’ and ‘it came to our knowledge’s’, Bond made an unconcealed examination of Mr Saye which appeared to perturb Mr Saye no more than the undertones of Sergeant Dankwaerts’s recitation.
Mr Saye was a large, compact man with the hardness of a chunk of quartz. He had a very square face whose sharp angles were accentuated by short, wiry black hair, cut en brosse and without side-whiskers. His eyebrows were black and straight, and tucked in below them there were two extremely sharp and steady black eyes. He was clean-shaven and his lips were a thin and rather wide straight line. The square chin was deeply cleft and the muscles bulged at the points of the jaw. He was dressed in a roomy, black, single-breasted suit, a white shirt and an almost bootlace-thin black tie, held in place by a gold tie-clip representing a spear. His long arms hung relaxed at his sides and terminated in two very large hands, now slightly curled inwards, whose backs showed black hair. His big feet, in expensive black shoes, looked to be about size 12.
Bond summed him up as a tough and capable man who had triumphed in a variety of hard schools and who looked as if he was still serving in one of them.
“… and these are the stones we are particularly interested in,” concluded Sergeant Dankwaerts. He referred to his black book. “One 20 carat Wesselton. Two Fine Blue-whites of about 10 carats each. One 30 carat Yellow Premier. One 15 carat Top Cape and two 15 carat Cape Unions.” He paused. Then he looked up from his book and very sharply into Mr Saye’s hard black eyes. “Have any of those passed through your hands, Mr Saye, or through your firm in New York?” he inquired softly.
“No,” said Mr Saye flatly. “They have not.” He turned to the door behind him and opened it, “And now, good afternoon, gentlemen.”
Without bothering any further with them he walked decisively out of the room and they heard his footsteps go rapidly up a few stairs. A door opened and banged shut and there was silence.
Undismayed, Sergeant Dankwaerts slipped his note-book into his waistcoat pocket, picked up his hat and walked out into the hall and then out into the street. Bond followed him.
They climbed into the patrol car and Bond gave the address of his flat off the King’s Road. When the car was moving, Sergeant Dankwaerts relaxed his official face. He turned to Bond. He looked amused. “I quite enjoyed that,” he said cheerfully. “Don’t often meet a nut as tough as that one. Did you get what you wanted, Sir?”
Bond shrugged his shoulders. “Tell the truth, Sergeant, I didn’t know exactly what I did want. But I was glad to get a good look at Mr Rufus B. Saye. Quite a chap. Doesn’t look much like my idea of a diamond merchant.”
Sergeant Dankwaerts chuckled. “He’s not a diamond merchant, Sir,” he said, “or I’ll eat my hat.”
“How do you know?”
“When I read out that list of missing stones,” Sergeant Dankwaerts smiled happily, “I mentioned a Yellow Premier and two Cape Unions.”
“It just happens that there aren’t such things, Sir.”
BOND felt the liftman watching him as he walked down the long, quiet corridor to the end room, Room 350. Bond wasn’t surprised. He knew there was more petty crime in this hotel than in any other large hotel in London. Vallance had once shown him the big monthly crime map of London. He had pointed to the forest of little flags round the Trafalgar Palace. “That place annoys the map-room men,” he had said. “Every month this corner gets so pitted with holes they have to paste fresh paper over it to hold the next month’s pins.”
As Bond neared the end of the corridor he could hear a piano swinging a rather sad tune. At the door of 350 he knew the music came from behind it. He recognized the tune. It was Feuilles Mortes. He knocked.
“Come in.” The hall porter had telephoned and the voice was waiting for him.
Bond walked into the small living-room and closed the door behind him.
“Lock it,” said the voice. It came from the bedroom.
Bond did as he was told and walked across the middle of the room until he was opposite the open bedroom door. As he passed the portable long-player on the writing desk the pianist began on La Ronde.
She was sitting, half naked, astride a chair in front of the dressing-table, gazing across the back of the chair into the triple mirror. Her bare arms were folded along the tall back of the chair and her chin was resting on her arms. Her spine was arched, and there was arrogance in the set of her head and shoulders. The black string of her brassiere across the naked back, the tight black lace pants and the splay of her legs whipped at Bond’s senses.
The girl raised her eyes from looking at her face and inspected him in the mirror, briefly and coolly.
“I guess you’re the new help,” she said in a low, rather husky voice that made no commitment. “Take a seat and enjoy the music. Best light record ever made.”
Bond was amused. He obediently took the few steps to a deep armchair, moved it a little so that he could still see her through the doorway, and sat down.
“Do you mind if I smoke?” he said, taking out his case and putting a cigarette in his mouth.
“If that’s the way you want to die.”
Miss Case resumed the silent contemplation of her face in the mirror while the pianist played J’attendrai. Then it was the end of the record.
Indifferently she flexed her hips back off the chair and stood up. She half turned her head and the blonde hair that fell heavily to the base of her neck curved with the movement and caught the light.
“If you like it, turn it over,” she said carelessly. “Be with you in a moment.” She moved out of sight.
Bond walked over to the gramophone and picked up the record. It was George Feyer with rhythm accompaniment. He looked at the number and memorized it. It was Vox 500. He examined the other side and, skipping La Vie en Rose because it had memories for him, put the needle down at the beginning of Avril an Portugal.
Before he left the gramophone he pulled the blotter softly from under it and held it up to the standard lamp beside the writing-desk. He held it sideways under the light and glanced along it. It was unmarked. He shrugged his shoulders and slipped it back under the machine and walked back to his chair.
He thought that the music was appropriate to the girl. All the tunes seemed to belong to her. No wonder it was her favourite record. It had her brazen sexiness, the rough tang of her manner and the poignancy that had been in her eyes as they had looked moodily back at him out of the mirror.
Bond had had no picture in his mind of the Miss Case who was to shadow him to America. He had taken for granted that it would be some tough, well-used slattern with dead eyes-a hard, sullen woman who had ‘gone the route’ and whose body was no longer of any interest to the gang she worked for. This girl was tough all right, tough of manner, but whatever might be the history of her body, the skin had shone with life under the light.
What was her first name? Bond got up again and walked over to the gramophone. There was a Pan-American Airways label attached to the grip. It said Miss T. Case. T? Bond walked back to his chair. Teresa? Tess? Thelma? Trudy? Tilly? None of them seemed to fit. Surely not Trixie, or Tony or Tommy.
He was still playing with the problem when she appeared quietly in the doorway to the bedroom and stood with one elbow resting high up against the door-jamb and her head bent sideways on to her hand. She looked down at him reflectively.
Bond got unhurriedly to his feet and looked back at her.
She was dressed to go out except for her hat, a small black affair that swung from her free hand. She wore a smart black tailor-made over a deep olive-green shirt buttoned at the neck, golden-tan nylons and black square-toed crocodile shoes that looked very expensive. There was a slim gold wrist-watch on a black strap at one wrist and a heavy gold chain bracelet at the other. One large baguette-cut diamond flared on the third finger of her right hand and a flat pearl ear-ring in twisted gold showed on her right ear where the heavy pale gold hair fell away from it.
She was very beautiful in a devil-may-care way, as if she kept her looks for herself and didn’t mind what men thought of them, and there was an ironical tilt to the finely drawn eyebrows above the wide, level, rather scornful grey eyes that seemed to say,