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.