Book title in original: Fish Robert L.. The Wager

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Robert L. Fish

The Wager

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This Book is Dedicated 


Dick and Sue Wengel

Mike and Fran Weisman

Loyal Nephews and Nieces


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It was only a few minutes past eleven at night, usually the height of the evening at the exclusive Quinleven Club on East 63rd Street in Manhattan, but the slashing rain drumming in sheets in the street outside, combined with the normal lesser-activity-anyway of a Monday in midsummer, had left the club quite deserted. In the cloakroom only a few dripping umbrellas marred the almost military precision of the rows of ready hooks, testifying to the fortitude of their owners, while the kitchen had long since given up hope of late customers and had locked its doors. In the reading room several members restlessly rustled newspapers, waiting for the deluge to end, while the lone attendant stood at a window staring morosely out at the creeping cars; in the billiard room a member aimlessly batted balls around, unable to find anyone for a game. But it was in the cardroom, with its empty bar and bored bartender polishing glasses and trading idle gossip with an equally bored waiter, that the difference from normal evenings was most easily noted. The oasis of darkened tables made the few cones of light illuminating the scattered tables in use stand out starkly.

At one table two men were playing a desultory game of some sort, with none of the usual enthusiasm that might have been developed by a more crowded room or by noisier surroundings; and in a corner quite near to the two another pair were playing blackjack, while a third man watched their play from the shadows.

The faces of the two blackjack players were calm, as if they were merely passing time until the rain would subside and allow them to escape the mausoleum the club had become that particular night; but the expression on the face of the watcher in the shadows was less easily explained. There was a frown on his face and for some unknown reason he appeared to be disappointed in something; one might almost have assumed he had a stake in the game, although the stakes had been most modest by Quinleven Club standards, never exceeding fifty dollars a hand.

Until, that is, the deck was nearly depleted. Then the player facing the dealer smiled in friendly fashion across the table.

“Ten thousand dollars on the next hand,” Kek Huuygens said pleasantly.

The look of disappointment on the face of the onlooker in the shadows disappeared instantly. He nodded slightly, the merest tilting of his bulletlike head, obviously pleased. There was a glint of appreciation in his slightly hooded eyes.

The reaction of the dealer was more pronounced. He had been in the act of dealing a card to his opponent. Now he paused, replaced the card back on top of the deck, and stared across the table.

What ?”

“I said, ‘Ten thousand dollars on the next hand,’” Huuygens said gently. “Any objection, Max?”

The dealer placed the deck on the table, folded his hands across his ample stomach, and frowned at his companion.

“That’s quite a jump from your last few bets,” he said. His voice was not complaining, merely noting a verity. “Did you get an inheritance while we were playing that maybe I didn’t notice?”

Huuygens merely shrugged modestly.

“You’re really serious?” Max nodded and then answered himself. “Yes, you’re serious. What brings on this?”

Huuygens shrugged again. “It’s getting late. I’m ready to call it a night.”

It wasn’t getting late at all, but the unnatural silence and the emptiness of the normally crowded room could easily have made it seem later than it was. Huuygens suddenly frowned and studied the dealer with apparent concern.

“Is the bet too large for you, Max? If it is, of course I’ll cut it.”

The man facing Huuygens was probably the wealthiest member of the club, and rumor had it he once lost $300,000 in a single evening at Vegas and had slept like a child the same night. He smiled across the table.

“It isn’t too large.”

“Then you don’t mind taking it?”

“If these weren’t house cards, and if I wasn’t the one who was dealing, you could bet that much and more that I’d mind,” Max said decisively. “I think I can manage to pay if I lose. My worry is what will happen to you when you start buying Anita her jewelry at Woolworth’s.” He unfolded his thick fingers and drew the deck toward him. “Well, if instant bankrupcy is your aim, far be it from me to stand in your way. Do you want a new shuffle for that fancy bet of yours?”

“Those will do fine,” Huuygens said. “Anyway, it’s going to be my last hand.”

“Probably for a long time,” Max said with ominous humor. “You’ll be pitching pennies with the kids down the block for excitement after this deal, friend.” He dealt a closed card to his opponent and to himself, dealt Huuygens a second closed card and then flipped over his own second card. It was an eight. Max smiled widely.

Huuygens tipped the corner of each of his two cards, looked over to study the broad smile on the face of his opponent, and sighed deeply. He leaned back, frowning.

“Trouble?” Max asked softly. “I could have told you I never deal myself anything under eights.”

“If there’s trouble, it’s nothing that’s irretrievable,” Huuygens said, and made up his mind. “I’ll stay with these.”

“You’ll be sorry,” Max said expansively. “Did I ever tell you on any bet over fifty cents, I cheat?” He flipped over his hole card. It was a second eight, matching his exposed card. He sighed and shook his head.

“Trouble?” Huuygens asked softly.

“Nothing that’s irretrievable,” Max said, and put down the last card with a gesture. A seven stared back at him. The sight of it brought a wrinkle of disgust to the dealer’s nose. “Slightly over,” he said, and shook his head. “The story of my life. Max Fogelman, God’s gift to gamblers.” He reached into his wallet, brought out a blank check, scribbled a moment, and handed it over. “Did anyone tell you you were luckier than a guy with three balls, Kek?”

“Constantly,” Kek said. He winked at his opponent and came to his feet, tucking the check into his outside jacket pocket.

Kek Huuygens was a man in his middle to late thirties, with shoulders so broad as to appear slightly out of proportion to his slim, athletic, six feet of height. His thick dark curly hair was already beginning to be touched with gray; women considered it gave an extra-romantic air to his strong, cleanshaven face. Mercurial eyebrows slanted sharply over steady gray eyes that could glint with good humor at any of the pleasantries life could come up with at a moment’s notice. Such as winning a ten-thousand-dollar bet at blackjack. He raised a hand in a brief salute, smiling.

“I’ll be seeing you, Max.”

“I should hope,” Max said, in a liberal mood. “Suckers like me don’t grow on trees. Anyway, anytime, Annie. Blackjack, poker, or slot machines at three feet. Only don’t spend that dough you just won in any big hurry; I may just get lucky next time I get you here at the club.”

He started to shuffle the cards idly, and then glanced over his shoulder, as if to invite the stranger in the shadows to pick up the game where Kek had left off, but the man had come swiftly to his feet and was hurrying after Huuygens. Max shrugged and started to lay the cards out for solitaire, mentally giving himself house odds against his own winning. With his luck it was the only way he figured he could come out ahead.

M’sieu Huuygens! Un moment, s’il vous plaît —”

Kek paused, surprised to hear himself addressed by a complete stranger, even more surprised to hear himself addressed in French, albeit French with an odd accent, but most surprised of all to hear his name pronounced correctly. The manner in which telephone operators and hotel clerks managed to mangle what Kek considered a reasonably simple name, were many and unamusing. He turned and studied the man more carefully. He had been well aware of the exceptional attention the other had paid to the card game, and Kek’s more-than-normal curiosity had made him wonder why. Since Kek’s more-than-normal curiosity had either saved him from disaster on occasion, or on other occasions had led him into situations that resulted in profit, he had a tendency to allow it free rein whenever opportunity presented itself. It seemed very possible it was about to present itself once again. He nodded politely.


The stranger smiled. His teeth, Kek noted, were a tribute to the art of the laboratory, but the smile was slightly wolfish and died somewhere between the thin curved lips and the small, hooded eyes; these remained unwavering and hard. There was something both faintly familiar and faintly repulsive about the short barrel-shaped body and the swarthy pockmarked face, but still, Kek was sure they had never met. The hair was jet-black and obviously dyed, worn in a military brush-cut. A man obviously used to authority, Kek decided, but he could not place him. One thing: he was not a member of the Quinleven Club, and guest cards for unaccompanied guests were exceedingly hard to come by. Therefore a person of some importance; although one would have thought a person of some importance would have been more selective in his choice of tailors.

The man watched Kek’s expressionless face almost with enjoyment, quite as if he were following the mental evaluation step by step, and at least agreeing with the important parts.

“I should like to buy you a drink,” he said.

Kek smiled pleasantly. It was early; Anita was at Max’s home with a half-dozen other women interested in Rose’s bizarre cooking, and besides he had quite purposefully not had a drink immediately before or during his blackjack game. Where important things were at stake, such as money, Kek Huuygens preferred to keep a clear head.

“Thank you,” he said genially. “I think I would like one.”

He moved toward one of the barstools, but before he could swing it about, the man had touched him lightly on the arm and had turned away, moving toward an isolated table in one corner. Kek followed, his previous easy smile erased and replaced with a faint frown. The two other cardplayers had abandoned their game and had walked over to take seats not too far from them. The two, it appeared to Kek, seemed to be inordinately interested in their fingernails. The short stocky man saw the direction of Huuygens’ glance and smiled.

“Friends of mine,” he said briefly, and seated himself, waving for the waiter.

Kek sat down opposite the man, his interest increasing. A person who not only managed an unaccompanied guest card for himself at the Quinleven, but for two obvious bodyguard-gunmen as well, was someone of extreme importance, indeed. And why would anyone of such obvious importance be so interested in watching a card game and then buying a drink for someone of such little importance as himself? If time would tell, Kek was prepared to spend it.

He lounged back comfortably. Across the room, Max — having lost to himself by beating the house — had given up on solitaire and was moving in the direction of the cloakroom. He waved to Kek and disappeared down the hall. Kek and his companion remained silent until the waiter had taken their orders; then the stocky man reached into his pocket, bringing out a packet of Gauloises, offering one of them to Kek. Kek shook his head, watched the other light up, and waited.

The man inhaled deeply and spewed smoke from his nostrils, something Kek had not seen done for years. He placed the burnt match in the ashtray, nodding his head all the while in marionette fashion, as if wondering where to begin the conversation. Kek did nothing to help, but continued to watch the man politely. The man shifted the match to bring it to the geometric center of the ashtray and looked up, speaking at last. It was evident from his tone that he was not dealing with the matter in mind directly, but was taking an oblique approach.

“You know,” he said in a conversational tone of voice, “I thought for a moment there, during the game, that you were not paying attention. It was a great disappointment to me, I can tell you that! But I should have known better.” He smiled. “I suppose the drink I’m buying is perhaps in the form of an apology.”

Kek allowed his eyebrows to rise fractionally, indicating surprise. “I beg your pardon?”

The man might not have heard him.

“And you handled the matter of the wager itself beautifully,” the man went on, a touch of admiration entering the husky voice. “You—” He paused as their drinks were served. He scrawled initials across the check, waited until the waiter had left, and then raised his glass in a small gesture of a toast. “A votre santé .”

“Thank you,” Kek said politely. “And to yours.” He was quite sure that the only health the man across from him would ever be interested in would be his own; there was something distasteful about the other, some hidden meanness just beneath the surface — but the cognac, at least, was excellent, which was no surprise at the Quinleven. Kek sipped and placed his glass back on the table. “You thought for a moment I was not paying attention to what?” he asked with cordial curiosity.

The bright, hard smile came back, demonstrating again the pristine whiteness of the porcelain caps. A small, corded hand was raised, asking for the other’s indulgence.

“Please, M’sieu Huuygens,” the man said. Kek decided the huskiness in his voice came from too much smoking, or possibly from shouting orders; in fact the man seemed to be holding down the volume with effort. “Let us not insult each other’s intelligence. You know precisely what I am talking about. If you had not known the last five cards remaining to be dealt in that blackjack deck were two sevens and three eights, I should have been gravely disappointed.”

Kek stared in feigned astonishment. “They were?” His face relaxed. “But of course they were, now you mention it. I remember them being played.”

For an instant a fierce anger burned in the other’s eyes, but he forced it under control. “I’m sure you do,” he said at last. There was an edge to his voice, despite his control; it was evident he was not used to people dissembling with him; or worse, being sardonic. “And you stayed with a seven and an eight — fifteen — facing an exposed eight. And you bet two hundred times your usual bet. Am I correct?”

Kek merely waited, watching the man with no expression on his face.

“Yes,” the man went on. “I am correct. True, it was most fortunate that the card combination was one where you could not fail to win if you did not draw a card, but regardless of what the face value of the cards might have been, the advantage of remembering the final cards is bound to be overwhelming when the time comes for them to be played.”

“I’m sure you are telling me this for a reason—” Kek began, but the man overrode him, going on quite as if his guest had not spoken. There was an actual enthusiasm in his tone; for once he was not dissembling.

“It takes a most dedicated man to train himself to remember all the cards that have been played. Most dedicated! I once knew a man,” he went on in a reminiscent tone of voice, “who could remember all the cards played in a game of six-deck chemin-de-fer — they didn’t play eight-deck in those days, nor in our casino — but unfortunately he went mad. After that, of course, he was useless, and I was forced to—” The husky voice stopped abruptly; when it continued, it was back in the present. “I, myself, can just manage one deck, but that is my extreme limit, and I cannot even do that if I am playing. Only if I am watching. I’m sure you are much better.” The black eyes suddenly fixed themselves on Kek’s face, probing. “How many decks can you remember?”

Kek shrugged, “I’m afraid—”

“I asked you a question.” The voice was low, but harsh, almost threatening. The two men at the nearby table looked up, their interest temporarily removed from their fingernails. The smaller man waved his hand at them; they subsided. He forced an apologetic smile to his thin lips. “I’m sorry. I’m afraid that was rather rude of me. But I would be interested in your giving me an answer.”

Kek studied the man. It was obvious the question meant something to the other, but Kek couldn’t imagine what. Possibly the simple truth would bring out the reason.

“I can remember three decks,” he said.

“As a player, or as an observer?”

“As a player.”

“Marvelous!” The man crushed out his cigarette and immediately lit another. Kek wondered where the conversation was leading. Polite blackmail? A share of the ten thousand for his silence? A possible partnership in future card play? But there was nothing illegal in remembering exposed cards, although it was doubtful that Max would ever play with him if he knew. Not to mention the other members of the Quinleven.

But Kek was sure the man across from him had other interests; there was no doubt at all the man had come to the club for the sole purpose of meeting him and speaking to him, and the stranger could scarcely have foreseen the meeting with Max, or that he and Max would become involved in the blackjack game. Or, for that matter, how the game would come out.

It seemed about time to find out what this was all about.

“You are a professional gambler, M’sieu?” Kek asked politely.

“I?” The man laughed, a genuine laugh, and tossed the spent match carelessly toward the ashtray rather than carefully placing it, a clear sign of a more relaxed manner. “I suppose in a way you could say so, I’m sure if I had devoted the time to it, or put my mind to it seriously when I was younger, I certainly could have become one. And had I so decided, M’sieu, you may be assured I would have been a most successful one.”

His eyes came up, serious now.

“I have the proper attitude for a gambler, M’sieu Huuygens. As I am sure you do. I pride myself on being a good loser, but many do that. Far more important, I claim indisputably to be a good winner. Which is usually far more difficult.” He shrugged, smiling faintly. “At least I never complain about luck. I accept whatever the Fates hand me, either good or bad.”

“In all things?” Kek asked softly.

“Not in all things, M’sieu. But in gambling, yes.”

“And if the Fates,” Kek said gently, “can be helped along by the remembering of cards that have been played—?”

“Of course,” the man said. His smile broadened; he was enjoying the conversation. Kek felt a sudden revulsion toward the man; somehow he seemed more obnoxious when happy than when angry. “It certainly isn’t cheating to remember cards; it’s merely part of the skill of the game.” His smile faded; his voice became harsh again. “Sometimes, when you gamble for things more important than money, my friend, remembering the cards that have been played can be vital. When you gamble, for example, with your life. As I have, many times...”

A slight chill touched Kek. At last he recognized the man.


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Kek stared across the table curiously. “You’re Victor Girard.”

“Exactly, M’sieu.” Girard seemed more amused than pleased to finally be recognized. “Victor Eugène Armand Jean-Claude Girard, to be exact.” The fact that he had added most of the names himself once he had risen to fame — and that in all probability Huuygens was aware of the fact — did not bother him in the least. “It took you awhile.”

“It has been some time since M’sieu has been — well, in the news.”

“A year.” Girard waved it away.

“And to see you here in New York... I thought—”

“That I was still in Europe? That I was persona non grata  with your State Department? That little misunderstanding was cleared up almost two weeks ago.” Girard repeated his hand motion, airily brushing smoke away together with any unnecessary questions as to his presence in the country. “As a matter of fact I’ve taken an apartment here in New York. I may well remain here.”

“I see,” Kek said. “And could I ask how you came to know my name? And where to find me?” He did not ask the obvious question as to why Girard had wanted to locate him, but the question remained, even if unspoken.

“But, of course!” Girard sounded surprised at himself for not having mentioned it sooner. “You see, M’sieu,” he said, dropping his voice confidentially, although the two of them, other than the bodyguards, were the only ones anywhere in the vicinity. “In... well, in getting safely to Europe — and even when I was there — I had need of certain...” His hands moved delicately. They reminded Kek of the motion of a snake charming a bird. “Well, call them ‘special services.’ And some of those special services brought me in touch with what might be called ‘the Underworld.’”

The man’s tone capitalized the words; there was a twinkle in his eye. Huuygens managed not to snort. For Victor Girard to speak of the underworld in that manner was almost ludicrous; his special police would have made the roughest of Europe’s underworld look like choir boys. When he attempted lightness, Kek decided, he was even more repulsive than when he was honestly happy. Girard grinned at him and went on.

“A shame to find oneself in degraded company, but there it is. One does what one must. However, to get to you. Naturally, when I needed the services of — if you’ll pardon me, M’sieu — an expert in avoiding the distasteful attentions of your Customs Service, I made inquiries. And I found a universality of opinion as to not only who was the best  man, but the only  man for the job, that was quite remarkable.”

He smiled brightly across the table.

“You should feel flattered, M’sieu. Your reputation is formidable.”

There was no doubt that the man was, indeed, Victor Give-Or-Take-A-Name Girard, but why a man of Girard’s background should require Kek’s particular talents was a most interesting question. Rumor, backed by facts, had it that when M’sieu Girard left Ile Rocheux he had taken about everything with him except the dock from which he had escaped by speedboat. Still, the best way to find out what the man wanted was to let him wade through his interminable introduction. The brandy would have helped pass the time, but unfortunately Huuygens never mixed liquor and business. And this definitely looked like business. He sighed and pushed his nearly full glass away from him.

Girard recognized the gesture for what it was and seemed pleased by it. He emptied his own glass down his throat with one gulp, put out his cigarette after one final drag, and got down to business.

“I’m interested in making you a simple business proposition,” he said evenly. “I should like to offer you—”

He stopped so abruptly that for a moment Huuygens wondered if perhaps the man had suddenly changed his mind, or if they were about to be interrupted by a newcomer unseen behind his back. But neither was the case. Instead a beatific smile spread across the swarthy pockmarked face, the teeth flashed, and Girard began again.

“Let me rephrase that,” he said, his tiny reptilian eyes coming as close to twinkling as was possible. “An offer of mere money to a man who so easily managed to win ten thousand dollars before my eyes so short a time ago, is scarcely proper. What I meant to say is that I should like to make a wager  with you. A wager I am sure would be most interesting to a gambler such as yourself.” He paused, studying Huuygens. “You are a gambling man, are you not, M’sieu?”

“At times,” Kek said quietly, and waited.

“I admire caution, but this time there is small need of it. A simple wager, except I think you’ll will find the odds a bit unusual. But interesting. You see,” Girard said, quite obviously pleased with the brilliance of his newer approach, “I should like to wager fifty thousand dollars of my money, against” — he paused dramatically for effect, watching Huuygens closely — “against five  dollars of your money...”

He paused again, but if he expected a reaction from his companion, he was disappointed. Kek merely waited quietly. Girard smiled tightly, not to be denied the dramatics of his proposition.

“—that you will not  bring a certain object from Ile Rocheux into New York City through United States Customs, and deliver it to me!”

He leaned back triumphantly. There was a moment’s silence as Huuygens considered the other’s words. He was forced to admire the quaintness of the approach, but that scarcely answered the many questions the other’s offer had engendered. He nodded thoughtfully, considering the depths of the brandy before him, and then looked up. Girard’s eyes were bright upon him.

“As you say,” Huuygens said evenly, quite as if he faced ten-thousand-to-one odds every day, and occasionally even accepted them, “the odds are interesting. One might even call them generous. However, I assume in your investigation of my bona fides  someone may have mentioned that there are certain items which I prefer do not  elude Customs Service?”

Girard waved his hand impatiently.

“No, no, no! You mean narcotics! Of course they mentioned your scruples against touching them. Personally, that is your business. I have no interest in narcotics. No, no!” He leaned forward again, dropping his voice further; the excitement in his voice increased. There was an honesty, a dropping of pretense, to the man for the first time. “It is a carving—”

Kek’s eyebrows raised. “A carving?”

“Yes. But what a carving! In ivory. A Chang Tzu T’sien dating back more than eight centuries before the birth of the Christ. It isn’t very large — I imagine it would even fit into your coat pocket, although admittedly it would be bulky. It depicts a village scene in Hunan at that time — but I understand you are somewhat of an art connoisseur, yourself. You may even have heard of it. In translation its name means ‘The Village Dance.’” Girard paused, studying the frown that had appeared on Huuygens’ face. “You’ve heard of it? You know it?”

“I’ve heard of it.”

“You’ve seen it?”

“No,” Kek said slowly. “I’ve never seen it, but I’ve read the catalog data on it. The carving received quite a bit of publicity when Ile Rocheux bought it for their National Gallery. It was felt — if you’ll pardon me — that the money could possibly have been used better elsewhere, especially in a country where the per-capita income is about fifty dollars American a year...”

Girard’s eyes were suddenly hard; his smile had disappeared.

“I hope we are not going to allow our little discussion to wander off into sociology, M’sieu.”

“We are not,” Huuygens said amiably. “It was merely a comment in passing, to explain why and how I happen to be familiar with the work. I also wish to explain why I have certain questions about the entire matter.” His eyes came up. “Do you mind?”

Girard spread open his palms invitingly.

“First, then,” Huuygens said easily, “let me ask you to indulge my curiosity — because basically, I suppose, it’s hardly my business and could scarcely affect our — ah, wager. Still, the question remains and needs answering.” His eyes caught those of Girard and held them. “As I recall, M’sieu, when the Ile Rocheux museum bought the carving at auction at Sotheby’s in London, the price they paid was much less than the fifty thousand dollars you are now willing to — well, bet — to get it into this country. Am I guilty of error?”

The hooded eyes did not waver. “No, you are quite correct.”

“In fact,” Huuygens said, “the price that was paid was a bit over thirty thousand dollars, was it not?”

“Your memory is remarkable. The price was in pounds, but at the exchange rate of the day it came to thirty-one thousand, two hundred and fifty dollars, within a dollar or so.”

“Now,” Kek said, “even that  value could only be realized at a legitimate sale or auction, which would be rather difficult, it seems to me, under any circumstance involving illegal ownership. Possibly some time in the future — actually, centuries in the future, considering the carving’s evaluation rate to date — it may well be priceless. But today, frankly, it is not. So—” Huuygens shrugged. “Naturally, one wonders.”

Girard’s expression had been undergoing a change as Huuygens spoke. Now the disappointment he had mastered when watching the blackjack game returned compounded. He shook his small head slowly.

“You do not understand, M’sieu,” he said, and there was a genuine touch of sadness in the husky voice at Huuygens’ incogitancy. “You do not begin to understand. If you know anything at all about me, if

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you believe even one-tenth of the things the newspapers have printed about me, then you should know several things. First, I am not stingy. Second, I do not lack for funds. Good God! I am not interested in the monetary value of the Chang carving. I have no intention of selling it, or trying to sell it. The thought is obscene! I simply wish to own it.”

He stared at Huuygens with a look Kek had seen many times before when dealing with collectors. It was the look of a zealot, a fanatic — in short, a Collector with a capital C . Girard shook his head.

“You cannot possibly understand, M’sieu,” he said quietly. “Even the world doesn’t understand, or the Chang would be priced beyond the silly daubings that Sotheby’s auctions for fortunes every day of the week. But price means nothing. It is simply the most incredibly beautiful piece of work I have ever seen, and I want it. But you are incapable of understanding...”

He was, of course, quite wrong. Huuygens understood perfectly; he had dealt with collectors before. For a moment he found himself almost liking the repulsive little man across from him, but only for the moment. Victor Girard’s record was only too well known. Girard put aside the mental picture of the carving that had been with him when he had last spoken, and got down to business again.

“You wonder why my offer was so high — I mean, the terms of my wager. I can tell you quite openly that until you made that final bet at blackjack a while back, I had no intention of offering you more than a fraction of that amount. But then I knew, to begin with, that you were not a man to haggle with. And I also knew I had to make a large enough bid — I mean, bet — to interest a man of your caliber.”

He sighed and shook his head.

“So I went high. Purposely high. Possibly it was a mistake. Possibly I was wrong in my judgment of you. Perhaps I should have remained with a smaller offer. Then you would have been convinced I was merely a petty crook out for a small profit and let it go at that.” He looked across the table into the gray eyes and then shook his head. “No, you would not have thought any such thing.” He sighed at the unforeseen problems involved in hiring a man: it had been simpler in the days when he could just order things done. “In any event, are there any more questions?”

“Several,” Kek said, not at all worried about the other’s problems. He stared into his nearly full brandy glass a moment, formulating his thoughts. Then he looked up. “For example: if you wanted the carving so much, why not simply go to any reputable dealer — Sotheby’s itself, for that matter — and simply commission them to buy it for you? If money is no object, it shouldn’t present any great problem. I’m sure the treasury of Ile Rocheux could use the cash,” he added dryly, pleased to see the look of irritation cross his companion’s face, “especially if I am to believe one-tenth the things the newspapers said, as you have suggested. And I’m sure that, commission and all, it would have cost you less than fifty thousand dollars.”

So  suspicious,” Girard said softly. “And so  uninformed!” The faint smile had reappeared on the pockmarked face, forgiving the other his rude comment. He shook his head. “M’sieu, nothing in the National Gallery may be sold. At any price. Ever. Everything there belongs to the People.” Again his sneering tone capitalized the word; his opinion of the People was being thrust in Kek’s face, as if in challenge. Kek chose to disregard it.

“I believe you,” he said. “And I also agree that a sociological discussion at this point would serve no purpose. Now, let’s talk of the carving. I assume you were the one who suggested to the museum that they acquire it?”

“I suggested they do most of the things they did,” Girard said with irony. “And not just the National Gallery.”

“I imagine that’s true,” Kek said, and continued without pause. “I also imagine that when you felt the time to depart was approaching, and while you were still persona grata  in your own country, you were wise enough to replace the original carving with a cheap copy. Or maybe you did it when the carving first arrived—”

Girard was staring at him. Huuygens nodded.

“Cast vinyl, I imagine? Some of these imitations are remarkable. Well, where is the original? The genuine Chang? With a friend?”

Girard shook his head in disbelief. “Replaced what? With a copy? I only wish I had the chance!” He shook his head again. “The original — and only — carving is in the museum where it’s always been. On display in its little glass box — case, if you will — as always.” He sighed, just thinking about it.

There were several moments of silence as Huuygens digested this information. Girard frowned at him, as if wondering what was preoccupying the other man. At last Huuygens sighed with regret and placed his hands on the table as if prepared to rise.

“A pity,” he said with true disappointment. “And such lovely odds, too! Fifty thousand for five! You know,” he went on, “I think I would have enjoyed bringing the carving in, too. I’ve always thought there must be some fairly simple means of doing so, especially from the Caribbean...”

Girard frowned. “But what’s the trouble?”

“The trouble, M’sieu,” Huuygens said quietly, “is that I’m not a thief.”

Girard relaxed. He smiled a bit derisively.

“M’sieu,” he said quietly, “everyone has the privilege of putting a name to his own vices as he sees fit. You say you are not a thief. If you mean you are not a common  thief, I should certainly have to agree. If you mean you are not a professional  thief, I would be forced to concur even more heartily.” He waggled a finger. “My dear sir, I never thought of having you try to remove the carving from the museum; it is not your milieu , not your — how do the Americans say? — not your racket.”

“Then how do you expect to have it removed?”

“It will be removed by a person who is not as particular as yourself as to titles,” Girard said dryly. “By a professional thief. His name—”

“Hold it!” Huuygens raised a hand quickly. “I don’t want to know his name. And I don’t want him to know mine. There is no need.”

“Fair enough,” Girard said equably. “Our relationship — yours and mine — need only deal with the problem of getting the carving through Customs. It will take a clever man to bring it in and hand it over to me.” He suddenly grinned, his teeth looking like sugar cubes. “I am wagering those generous odds that that clever man is not  you.” He nodded, his small eyes shrewd. “And I am beginning to suspect that you are interested. Am I correct?”

“At those odds? Yes, you are correct.”

“Then we have a deal? I mean, a wager?”

“That’s right,” Kek said, and reached his hand across the table. Girard took it, gave it a quick up-and-down shake, and released it.

“Done!” Girard’s manner changed abruptly. Now that Huuygens was committed, the man’s false air of friendship disappeared; for all practical purposes he was now dealing with an employee, albeit an expensive one. “Now, how do you plan on doing it?”

A faint smile touched Huuygens’ lips. “That will be my problem.”

“I’m not asking for any of your secrets,” Girard said shortly, “but I will need to know enough of your schedule so that I can have that nasty man, the professional thief, bring the carving to the proper place at the proper time.” He ended on a slightly sarcastic note.

“True,” Huuygens said. “Where is he now?”

“Paris. But I’ll have him in Ile Rocheux in ample time, not that a man of his caliber needs it.”

Huuygens thought a moment, his fingers drumming the table. At last he looked up, one hand unconsciously reaching up to tug at his earlobe, a sign he was beginning to think of the actual problem.

“At the moment I have only the sketchiest of ideas. I’ll have to think about it. But I should have a definite plan worked out sometime tomorrow. Where can I reach you?”

“Here.” The smaller man delved into a pocket, producing a card. “At this number. If I’m not there, leave a number and time when I can call you back. Is that satisfactory?”

“I’ll call and arrange a place where we can meet and discuss it,” Huuygens said. He smiled. “Telephones weren’t built for secrecy.”

“Fair enough. How long do you think it will take?” Girard seemed to realize this was a foolish question and cut it off. “As soon as possible, let us hope,” he said abruptly, and brought out his Gauloises. He lit one, inhaled deeply, and waved for the waiter. “Now that our business is finished,” he said, “you can finish your drink.” He stared across the table thoughtfully. “Three decks, eh? And a man who knows when to drink and when not to drink. A clever man...” Kek might not have been there from the tone of Girard’s voice. “A clever man...”

“A careful man,” Kek said, and raised his glass. True, he had to develop a means of bringing the Chang Tzu T’sien carving through Customs without being detected and that required thought and thinking and drinking did not mix, but the thinking could wait until tomorrow. The Quinleven Club brandy was excellent, and he had earned the drink, if only for putting up with Girard for this long. Still, if things worked out as they should work out, he would only have to see the man twice more. Which was enough.

A profitable evening; first the blackjack game and now being on the correct end of ten-thousand-to-one odds. He started to raise his glass and noticed the hard set to Girard’s face. Could it have been too  profitable an evening? Well, Kek thought, I said I was a careful man rather than a clever one. Let’s try to be both in this caper. It could not only be profitable, but healthy, as well.

He downed his brandy and allowed the waiter to pour him a second.


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“Darling,” Anita said. “Let me have the comics.”

Kek, still in pajamas and robe, his curly hair even more tousled than usual, was having his second cup of coffee in his favorite easy chair while reading the morning newspaper. He lowered it to glance across at Anita with patient good humor, wondering how he had ever been fortunate enough to have found a girl who looked like this in the morning. Actually, as he recalled, Anita had found him, which was even luckier for him.

“My sweet Anita,” he said. “How many times must I repeat it? The New York Times  does not have comics.”

“Then why do you buy it?”

“To find out what is happening in this naughty world of ours,” Kek told her and turned a page.

Anita made a face. “You’d learn as much from the comics. Or more.” She was curled up on the sofa across from Kek, beautiful in a swirl of negligee, lighting her first cigarette of the day. She blew out the match and put it away. “Where do you think they got the idea of landing on the moon? From Bill Rogers.”

“Buck Rogers,” Kek said unconsciously, and turned another page.

“Buck— Bill—” Anita picked a fleck of tobacco from her lip, studied it incuriously a moment, and scraped it into the ashtray. “And wrist-radios—”

“Wrist-radios?” Nothing on that page of interest. Kek folded it over and started on the next.

“B. O. Plenty,” Anita said firmly. “Or Flat-Top. Dick Tracy wanted to catch them, and—”

“Dick Tracy wanted to catch an aircraft carrier?”

Anita suddenly smiled her usual gamine  smile. “You’re not even listening to me! I know! You’re studying the ads.”


As a matter of fact, Kek’s attention had just been caught by a certain advertisement, but he had no idea he was on the same wavelength as Anita. He had long since learned to be able to read his morning newspaper and still carry on a conversation of sorts with Anita without worrying too much about the particular subject.

Fur  ads,” Anita said, elaborating, and clapped her hands. The motion sent sparks flying. She slapped them out, put down her cigarette in the temporary interests of fire prevention, and clapped her hands again. This action completed, she picked up her cigarette and repeated her statement. “Fur  ads,” she said firmly.

“Fur ads in summer?” Kek said absently, and read on into his own advertisement. It was extremely interesting. He had always suspected such a thing existed, but had never before had proof that it was so. If true, it had to be a godsend to smugglers—

“Of course  fur ads in the summer, darling. That’s the proper time to buy furs. They’re much cheaper. And they’re an investment, too. You know how gold has been going, up and down? And you’re really not supposed to even own any. And the stock market?” Anita’s wrinkled nose gave the answer to that one. “No, furs are much better. It’s a wonderful place for you to put some of that ten thousand dollars.”

Kek was folding the particular page to isolate the advertisement that had struck his fancy. Amazing! If true, it was like giving smugglers a free pass. And it really seemed to be true, according to the paper before him. The timing would have to be right, of course... He drew the advertisement closer, studying the fine print, automatically answering Anita from much practice.

“Furs aren’t an investment, sweet. You’re thinking of diamonds...”

Anita considered this, then she nodded. “You’re probably right, darling. You usually are. Diamonds would be lovely.” She thought a moment. “We’ll put the ten thousand dollars into diamonds. Or maybe most of it into diamonds, and keep out just enough for one tiny little fur.”

“I still don’t think that furs—” The newspaper came down with a crash, or as much of a crash as newspapers can come down with. Kek frowned across the room. “What  ten thousand dollars?”

Anita giggled.

“Your reaction time is getting worse, darling. Especially in the morning. I mean the ten thousand dollars you won from Max in your last game of blackjack at the club, last night.” She picked up her cigarette, smiled, and blew smoke in Kek’s direction.

Kek wrinkled his nose. Since he had stopped smoking, Anita’s excess of the habit was one of the few — in fact, the only — thing about her he would have wished to see changed. He fixed her with a glare intended to make her wilt, well aware that wilting was not one of Anita’s other habits.

“How did you find out about the ten thousand dollars?”

“I have my spies,” Anita told him archly.

“All of whom are named Max, I suppose.”

“Well, yes,” Anita admitted. “It makes it easier than having to remember separate names.” She held up a hand. “But don’t blame Max. He simply wanted me to know about the money so that if you spend it on another woman, I would leave you and he would leave his wife, and he and I would get married.” For a moment her jocularity was a trifle forced. “Which is more than you will do.”

Kek had no intention of being drawn into that trap. He could not picture himself being without Anita, but he could also not picture himself permitting Anita to permanently tie herself to a man who might, at any time, end up spending a goodly portion of his remaining years in jail. And Anita was just the type who would wait for him, plus trying to smuggle files and things into prison in cakes. And in one of her cakes, of course, one would need a saw to gain entrance. Kek bypassed her final words, nodding thoughtfully.

“It makes a lovely picture,” he said, “you and Max walking hand in hand into the sunset.”

“I think so.”

“Of course,” Kek pointed out, “Max would have to trot to keep up with you. He’s a bit short and fat for hand-in-hand walking.”

“That,” Anita said haughtily, “is muscle.”

“His shortness  is muscle?”

Anita sniffed. “You know what I mean.”

“Anyway,” Kek said, finishing the discussion for all time, “Rose wouldn’t let him leave her.”

“Well,” Anita said logically, “that would be his problem. My problem would be, would you let me leave you?”

“I might,” Kek said, considering. “How much is Max offering?”

“You could have Rose.”

“Rose is fifty-eight and has three grandchildren.”

“You could probably have them, too,” Anita said, “and you know she’s a wonderful cook. She made Korean food last night, a new recipe for bulgoki. She called it steak, Japanese style. It was wonderful!”

“Man does not live by oriental food alone,” Kek observed, and then paused, reconsidering his words. “Well, anyway, not completely.”

“Kek—” Anita’s voice had lost its banter; she became serious.


“Are you angry because Max told me about your bet last night?”

There was a moment’s hesitation; then Huuygens lowered his newspaper again.

“My sweet Anita,” he said seriously, “of course not. Max could no more help telling of my winning than he could help telling if I lost. His enjoyment is in the telling, I sometimes think, even more than it is in the playing.” He smiled. “Anyway, you would have known about it sooner or later. When we came to spend it.”

“Oh, good!” Anita said, and clapped her hands, this time being more careful of her cigarette. “Then you don’t really think furs are a bad investment?”

“Forget furs,” Kek said definitely. “And put off thoughts of diamonds.” He tapped the newspaper advertisement. “How would you like a little trip? A cruise?” His idea for getting the carving past United States Customs was forming ever more rapidly in his mind; he looked upon it, as the details unfolded almost by themselves, and found it good.

Anita squealed with delight. “A cruise! Wonderful! The Mediterranean, or the Aegean? We could stop in Paris and maybe even run over to Rouen and see my people—”

“The Caribbean,” Kek said quietly.

Anita’s hands, separated in preparation for clapping, stayed in position a moment and then dropped to her lap. She crushed out her cigarette; a frown caused her pretty nose to wrinkle. She shook her head.

“Kek, my darling, you’ve been so busy playing cards with Max that you’ve allowed a season or two to slip right by you. I must remind myself to buy you a calender.”


“Because, darling, this is July. July is a month when people do not go to the Caribbean. In July the islands are very hot. Temperatures have been known to rise to — well, I don’t have the exact number on the tip of my tongue, but I could look it up, if necessary.” She waved the entire foolish notion away. “No, darling, forget the Caribbean. We’ll go to Norway, if you’re ashamed to face my folks. We’ll cruise in the fiords, climb the mountains, go swimming in ice-cold water and get real tanned in the sun—”

Huuygens laughed.

“You forgot to say ‘midnight sun’. You should write some of the ads I’ve been wading through; you’re far more convincing than they are.” His smile retreated; he shook his head. “You make it sound most attractive, but I’m afraid it will still have to be the Caribbean.”

Anita looked at him a moment; then she settled herself more comfortably on the sofa, lit another cigarette, put the match aside, and smiled at Kek encouragingly.

“Tell me all about him, darling.”

“All about who?”

“You know — the man Max said you talked to for so long after your card game last night.”

Kek sighed and shook his head half-amusedly. “Max is  a blabbermouth, isn’t he? Can’t I have any secrets?”

“Well,” Anita said, “Max drove me home, which is more than you did. And of course we weren’t going to just sit there mute, so we talked.”

“Couldn’t you have made love?”

“We talked about that, too, darling.”

“Or about how Rose and I will raise his three grandchildren?”

“You know better than that, darling; it would have depressed Max. You’ll make a terrible grandfather and teach them a great many naughty things. I feel very sorry for them.” Anita brushed ash from her cigarette. “Now, tell me all about the man.”

“Yes, dear.”

Kek grinned and leaned back in his deep chair, letting the newspaper slide to the floor, allowing his memory to recall the facts he had gleaned from his extensive reference library after he had returned from the club the night before. He had remembered quite a bit of the career of Victor Girard, but the library had augmented it in places. He frowned slightly as he marshaled his facts.

“Well, starting at the beginning,” he said slowly, “his name is Victor Eugène Armand Jean-Claude Girard, according to Who’s Who ” — Anita’s eyebrows raised; Kek nodded and went on — “but you want to remember that he wrote the blurb himself, or one of his secretaries did. One of the nice thing about Who’s Who  is that they let you invent all sorts of nice things about yourself, and then don’t work overtime to expose all your fibs. However — until about a year ago, Victor Eugène Etcetera was president of the Caribbean island republic of Ile Rocheux, one of the three or four remaining French-speaking islands of the Antilles. He thought he was president for life; and if he’d been less fleet of foot, I dare say it would have been.” He paused, frowning at Anita. “Certainly you must have heard of the man, sweet. He was in the news enough at the time.”

“Vaguely,” Anita said. “You know me and politics. Go on.”

“All right.” Kek reviewed his facts. “Girard is forty-eight years old, unmarried, about five-foot-seven, and is built like an oversized tree trunk. I doubt if M’sieu Girard carries as much muscular fat as your true love, Max, but it really doesn’t make much difference, since he carries along two very tough-looking bodyguards. He should also change his tailor, which has little to do with anything.”

Anita smiled. “It merely offends your sensibilities.”

“To a certain extent. He favors clashing colors in bad hues. In any event, he is undoubtedly a man of some connections, because to my knowledge it’s the first time anyone with two personal gunmen tagging along got unaccompanied guest privileges in the Quinleven.”

“Which offends your sensibilities even further,” Anita said shrewdly. “It bothers your sense of exclusiveness in your club. You’re becoming a snob, darling.”

“Where vicious ex-dictators are concerned? Who — incidentally — use perfume? Possibly,” Kek said, and grinned.

“Who do you think got him those privileges?” Anita asked curiously.

“I have no idea, and I wouldn’t know any more if I asked. The secretary would merely look at me with those fisheyes of his and wrinkle his nose, as if I should be ashamed for even having asked. The one thing I’m sure of, though,” Kek said, “is that it wasn’t Max.”


“Because he would have told you all about it on your ride home,” Kek said, and went back to his story. “Getting back to Victor Girard, though, he’s a lawyer by profession who was in the right place at the right time. The previous dictator was assassinated by an army officer who had ideas of taking over the government. Our Victor pointed out to the crowds how illegal it was for a colonel to kill a general, and when it was all over the colonel had joined the general, and Girard was president. The president-for-life bit came a few years later.”

“Was he one of the nasty dictators?”

Huuygens shrugged.

“He wasn’t one of the sweet ones, if there are any. His enemies had a habit of disappearing, and word is they didn’t go peacefully. But,” Kek went on thoughtfully, “when we see the wholesale carnage ordered without authority by some of the world’s freely elected officials, one has to wonder.”

“You don’t sound as if you liked him.”

“What’s to like?” Huuygens’ face hardened a bit. “When you’re around him, you can’t help but dislike him. Oh, he was polite enough; but you always know you’re speaking to a man who would as soon cut your throat as shake your hand if it suited his purpose. It has a tendency to reduce your liking for him. Still,” Kek said, “I don’t imagine my liking him or not liking him is going to interfere with his sleep.”

Anita looked at him through a haze of smoke.

“So what did he want from you? To smuggle him back to Ile Rocheux?” She crushed out her cigarette. “Incidentally, where is Ile Rocheux? I know I’ve heard of it, but you know me and my geography!”

“On a clear day you can see it from Barbados. It’s due west, between Barbados and St. Vincent.” Kek shook his head. “As for wanting me to smuggle him back, that’s the last thing he wants. I have a feeling they’re still waiting for him there with a strong rope and a high tree, or a thick wall and a lot of guns. No” — he smiled faintly at Anita — “it seems our Victor Eugène is a gambler. He made me a little wager. He bet me a lot of his money against an insignificant amount of mine, that I would not bring a certain small carving from Ile Rocheux through U.S. Customs and deliver it to him here in New York.”

Anita stared. “He bet you would not  bring it in?”

“I shouldn’t be greatly surprised he expects to lose,” Kek said dryly. “In any event, that’s what I was doing while you and Max were exchanging confidences. My  confidences, by the way.” He bent over, picked up the page with the ad, and came to his feet. “Well, I have to shower and get dressed. I want to check on tickets for our cruises.”

“Cruises? Plural?”

Kek smiled at her gently. “The way I feel about cruises,” he said softly, “is that if you’re going to do them, do them properly. Never stint. Take them in bunches, like bananas. Who knows? We may never get the chance — or the urge — to cruise again.”

Anita studied him shrewdly. “You have something in mind.”

“I do, indeed, sweet,” Kek said, and started for the hallway.

“Which you obviously want to keep to yourself. Well,” Anita said airily, “whatever it is, I don’t care. With ten thousand dollars you ought to be able to get the bridal suite. It’ll be like a second honeymoon. Except,” she added pensively, “we never had a first.”

Kek paused in the doorway to the hall. He looked a trifle embarrassed.

“Well, that poses a bit of a problem, sweet,” he said slowly. “You see, we’ll be having separate cabins.”

“Separate cabins?”

“That’s right.”

“But at least with a connecting door? Romantic!”

Kek rubbed a hand through his touseled hair. “Without a connecting door, I’m afraid. Actually, if I can arrange it, on separate decks and, if possible, on opposite sides of the ship.”

“You wouldn’t want me to stay home and just rent a rowboat in Central Park?” Anita asked with dangerous sweetness. “I certainly appreciate the way you invite people on cruises!” She stared at him a moment and then shook her head, her thick hair curling about her face. “I’m sorry, darling. I’m sure you have a good reason for it.” Suddenly she smiled her gamine  grin. “How are you going to avoid me, though, if I pursue you on board with an eye on a flaming shipboard romance? Or is that also verboten ?”

Kek considered. “Well,” he said, smiling, “that might be a possibility.”

“Thank you, sir. Anyway,” Anita said philosophically, “maybe it’s even better this way. You won’t be able to complain about my smoking in bed, or about my things hanging over the bathtub.” She frowned. “I’ll have to check my wardrobe to see what I’ve got to wear on a cruise where the temperatures are apt to melt my makeup. It’s a pity your M’sieu Victor Eugène Whatever didn’t want his whatever it is brought in during the winter. With my luck, Ile Rocheux will probably be the hottest, most humid of all the hot and humid islands.”

Kek had been on the point of walking out. Now he paused and looked back at Anita in surprise.

“Ile Rocheux?” he said. “Did I give you the impression that we would be taking a cruise to Ile Rocheux? I’m sorry, sweet. Plan on the other islands, but the one place, I promise, our cruise, singular or plural will not  be going, is Ile Rocheux!”

He shuddered at the thought, and went in to take his bath.


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The young lady behind the counter of the All-Ways Travel Agency beamed at the handsome man across from her, wishing she had done her hair differently and had worn the new dress she had so recently bought.

“A cruise? Of course, a cruise!” she said. Her tone indicated that the thought of a cruise as a possible vacation solution would never have occurred to her in a million years had it not been for the near-genius of her customer in bringing it to mind. “To the Caribbean? Oh, yes! Very good. Very  good. Do you like to play bridge?”

“On occasion,” Kek said cordially, “but I’m afraid I’m rather busy this afternoon, and this evening is out of the question. And tomorrow I have an appointment—”

“Or possibly you prefer canasta?” the young lady asked anxiously, certainly not wishing to make an improper selection at this stage of the game, particularly not to this nice gentleman.

“I beg your pardon? I thought we started talking about cruises.”

The young lady simpered. “We are  talking about cruises. Things people do on board.”

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A third possibility occurred to the young lady and she nodded emphatically, ashamed of herself for not having thought of it sooner, especially in view of the excellent physique of the handsome gentleman. “Of course,” she said. “Golf!”

“They play golf on ships?” Kek asked, suitably impressed. He sounded as if he knew they were building the floating palaces bigger and bigger, but this seemed a bit much, even for the most massive. “They must have done wonders with stabilizers since the last time I traveled. But I’m afraid it’s out of the question. With my slice...” He shrugged.

The young lady smirked at this bit of wit, properly interpreted it as being rhetorical, and dredged up a fourth possibility. “Or perhaps you would prefer to do nothing?”

Kek looked at her wonderingly. “You mean, forget the whole business and stay home?”

The young lady fought down a giggle at this waggery. She managed to bring it under control and turned, sweeping her arm in an arc to indicate a series of racks crowded with leaflets, pamphlets, and other folders in all colors and thicknesses.

“You see,” she said, getting down to the nub of the matter, “we have all types of cruises for all sorts of people with all kinds of tastes and for every size pocketbook. We have six-day cruises to St. Thomas, stopping in San Juan, where everyone plays cribbage day and night—”

Kek fought down a shudder as the young lady, now wound up, continued.

“—we have five-day cruises to Jamaica stopping at St. Croix for shopping, where the motif is canasta. We have golfing cruises where we stop at the islands with the better golf courses, and where our cruise director is a member of the PGA and gives driving lessons from the aft deck during sailing days. You must provide your own golfballs, of course. Naturally, we recommend old balls. Then we have cruises where the main interest is more cultural; one in particular — nine days to Jamaica with a stopover for shopping in Martinique — is proving a great favorite with mystery fans. Between writing classes, conducted by qualified people who have been published at least once, old Charlie Chan movies are shown in the ship’s theater. Then we have what we call—”

Kek had had enough. “Miss—”

“—Trips to Nowhere,” the young lady went on, nowhere near through with her pitch. “On these cruises the ship merely goes out into the ocean out of sight of land for three or four days and then comes back to the same port. These cruises are mainly for people who just love the sight and sound of the ocean and have no particular desire to take advantage of the tax-free shopping on most of these islands. Even the ship’s shop is closed on these cruises, so if you’re planning on much shopping, I would suggest—”

Young lady !”

The young lady skidded to a halt, suddenly aware that she had somehow lost the attention of her customer, wondering what on earth she could possibly have said to bring that steely look to those handsome gray eyes. She hadn’t even touched on the cruise to sunken pirate treasure, not to mention the pièce de résistance , the cruise for single persons. It was the one she had always preferred, herself.


“Look,” Kek said into the welcome silence, “these multitudinous sailings with everybody doing everything their hearts desire — or not doing them, if it so pleases them — are they recorded anywhere on paper, or did you have to memorize all that?”

“Oh, yes, sir,” the young lady said fervently, and indicated once more the racks upon racks of printed material. She suddenly seemed to realize what the handsome man was driving at. “Would you care for some brochures covering the various trips I mentioned?”

“Yes,” Kek said sincerely.

“Of course, of course!” said the young lady, and proceeded to round up an armful of various colored pamphlets, speaking as she did so. “The cruise for singles—”

“Do they have both schedules and accommodations? The pamphlets, I mean.”

“Oh, yes, oh yes!” It seemed the handsome man was not interested in cruises for singles. What a pity! Ah, well... She stuffed the lot into a large plastic bag and placed it on the counter.

Kek hefted it; it made for a goodly load. He had the feeling that every sailing vessel in the world must be pressed into service to carry vacationing Americans, pied-piper style, into the sun and sand. It made him wonder what happened to cruise-loving Finns, or Italians, when apparently all the ships in the world were in the Caribbean practically side by side.

The young lady smiled proudly, aware of a job well done. “Is there anything else I can do for you, sir?”

“Just one thing,” Kek replied. He tapped his package of brochures. “How much actual notice would be required to be sure and get the exact accommodations at the exact time for any particular ship? I mean, on any particular cruise? Or cruises?”


Kek chose not to explain. “That’s right.”

The young lady, having no choice, let the matter go. “It would depend on the time of year, sir.”

“This month.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t worry too much about this time of the year,” the young lady said with assurance. “Especially if” — she noted the suit and went on confidently — “especially if one were to book one of the higher-priced staterooms. A lot of people travel in July, but the more expensive staterooms are usually booked more solid in the winter. But July is a very good time to travel; it’s warm from the very first day, while some of the winter cruises are pretty chilly the first few days out of New York.”

“Thank you.” Kek turned to leave.

“There’s nothing else you need?”

“No, thank you,” Kek said. He rewarded the young lady with a bright smile, shouldered his mountainous load of brochures, and managed to get through the door before the hurrying young lady could get around the counter and open it for him.

Behind he left a young lady who thought what a pity it was that her own vacation didn’t come until November!

“July twenty-first, in Barbados,” Kek said to the swarthy man.

The two were occupying chairs in one corner of the reading room at the Quinleven Club; the cardroom was too active this night for conversation, even though the men spoke, as always, in French. The pair of bodyguards restlessly shuffled through the magazines on the long mahogany table in the center of the room, wondering what gave the management the idea that Business Week  was more interesting than Playboy . At least you didn’t have to understand English to enjoy Playboy .

Girard frowned unhappily. “July twenty-first? This is only the fifth! That’s more than two weeks! Why so long?” A more important question intruded on his thoughts. “And why Barbados? Why not Ile Rocheux itself?”

Huuygens sighed inwardly at the other’s lack of imagination; he would have assumed it would have been a necessary adjunct of any successful dictator’s makeup. On the other hand, Girard was not a sucessful dictator. Maybe that explained it.

“M’sieu Girard, picture it: the museum of Ile Rocheux is burglarized; I gather it is not something that can be kept from the police indefinitely. Any strangers on the island are going to be the first ones to be suspected. As a matter of fact, July twenty-first is particularly convenient; it not only suits my plans, but there will actually be a cruise ship in Ile Rocheux from the nineteenth until the twenty-second. That ship will, I assure you, be held up, searched from one end to the other, and its passengers made extremely uncomfortable. I try to avoid such discomfort where possible.”

“But Ile Rocheux is always full of strangers! The gambling brings them from the entire area! Two more—”

“No,” Kek said, quietly but firmly. “They will have to do without this particular stranger. Let it be my way. The presence of a cruise ship in Ile Rocheux will keep the staff of local police occupied while we — your thief and I — transact our business quietly and efficiently in Barbados, and then go our respective ways.” He watched Girard accept the answer, albeit not with complete happiness. “Now, as I was saying: I shall be a passenger on the motor vessel Andropolis , which docks in Barbados on July twenty-first. My passage is all arranged.”

Girard grimaced. “Damn it, my man is already on his way to Ile Rocheux! I had no idea you would delay like this! And why are you planning on returning to New York by ship rather than by plane?”

“How I return to New York is both my business as well as being highly unimportant as far as our — ah, wager, is concerned,” Huuygens said quietly. “When the Andropolis  docks on its return from that trip — which will be July twenty-fifth, if you want to come down to the dock with flowers — I shall not , repeat not  be taking any carving from the ship, whether I am on the ship or not. If that answers your question.”


Kek studied the other man steadily. “Yes?”

“Well, damn it,” Girard said angrily, “then when will you be bringing it through Customs? And what’s the purpose of this trip by ship, if you don’t plan to use the ship?”

“The cruise,” Kek said gently, “is for my nerves, which are on the verge of being unraveled, mainly by a lot of unnecessary questioning.” He shrugged, “In any event, our wager said nothing of dates—”

Girard’s face hardened. He sat a bit more erect. At the table the two bodyguards looked more alert. “Now you see here! Just remember to whom you are speaking! We made a wager, and I live up to the terms of my wagers, but I take that tone from no one!”

“I apologize,” Kek said calmly. “And, if it will relieve your mind, we’ll settle our little bet on the first of next month. That makes it less than one month from today, so I see no reason for complaint.”

There was a dangerous silence. Girard’s face was a rock. “Why so long?”

“I’m slow,” Kek said apologetically. “Your contacts in Paris should have explained that to you.” He looked at the other man expressionlessly, in no way intimidated by the stocky man’s dislike. “May I continue?”

Girard would have enjoyed nothing more than stalking off and forgetting the matter, but he had made a wager and intended to stay with it. And he also knew there was no question of changing horses in midstream. He bottled his temper and prepared to memorize the program about to be given to him.

“All right,” he said harshly. “On July twenty-first your ship, the Andropolis , will dock at Barbados — at Bridgetown, of course, since there is no other place to dock. My man will have the carving in his possession by then. He will bring it to Bridgetown—”

Not  by BWIA, nor by the Cap Antoine-Bridgetown ferry,” Huuygens interrupted. “Let him rent — not steal, even though he’s such a marvelous thief — a powerboat of some sort. For a few weeks’ fishing, let us say; he has to do something with his excess time. On the twenty-first he can land it in Barbados anyplace between Bridgetown and Holetown. Just beyond Paradise Beach are several good deserted spots. He can anchor there, bring the dinghy in to shore, and catch a bus into town.”

“It’s an idea,” Girard said grudgingly. “All right. He comes into Bridgetown without any hue and cry. He’ll do it fine; he’s good. The best, in fact. He’ll come aboard the Andropolis —”

“He will not  come aboard the Andropolis . In fact, there is no need for him to know the name of the ship, or the fact it will be docked there.” Kek’s voice was definite about this. He leaned toward the smaller man a trifle, as if for emphasis. “He will have nothing to do with the ship, and no more to do with me than is necessary for this operation.”

“Then, how—”

“What he will  do,” Kek went on, leaning back again, “is the following: He will go shopping at Harrison’s, in the Broad Street, and he will buy some object the same size as the carving. He will then go someplace private — the men’s room at the nearest bar might serve — and use the wrapping paper to rewrap the carving. He will not go into Harrison’s and ask for the paper, nor will he try to steal it. He will buy something. Harrison’s paper is quite distinctive.”

He paused. Girard regarded him stonily, each portion of the instructions remembered exactly. Kek nodded and continued.

“Your man will then take a taxi to Sam Lord’s Castle, arriving there as close to eleven o’clock in the morning as possible. The bar opens at that hour, and is deserted until the luncheon is served, which is much later. He will go into the bar, sit down as far from the bartender’s normal position near the cash register as possible, and order a Benedictine sour—”

Despite his composure, Girard was startled. “A what ?”

“A Benedictine sour,” Kek said evenly. “It’s like a whiskey sour, but with Benedictine, instead.”

“I never heard of it.”

“Neither have I. However, when I come in later and order the same thing, it will serve as some sort of identification. Beyond the package, of course.” He paused. “All clear so far?”

“Go on,” Girard said with no expression in either voice or face. He was finding it harder and harder to take this Huuygens character. Still, he had gambled with other people he had disliked in the past; it was one of the penalties of gambling. “You said, ‘Beyond the package.’ That would identify him, but not you.”

“In time,” Kek said, and went on. “Now, your man will have his package near his elbow, on the bar, and about that time I come in. By utter coincidence I shall also have been shopping at Harrison’s and I will have a package very much the size of his. Incidentally, tell him not to embellish the thing. Don’t have him put it into a shoe box, or something on that order. Tell him to merely cover it with tissue paper and rewrap it in the Harrison’s paper. I have the dimensions of the Chang carving from the catalog, so that’s no problem. In any event, I shall sit next to the gentleman, also order a Benedictine sour, and having drunk it — or as much of it as I can stomach — I shall leave, being careless enough to take his package and to leave mine. We will not  fall into conversation; actually, we need not even look at each other...”

Kek thought about this a moment and then nodded.

“In fact, that would be even better, if we do not even see each other’s face. For all concerned.” Kek suddenly smiled. “Tell your man to try and appear as British as he can; the bartender will think our mutual reticence only natural. All clear?”

Girard’s tiny eyes narrowed even further as he considered the matter. “It sounds a lot of cloak-and-dagger...”

Kek nodded. “More cloak-and-dagger than walking out of the museum and handing the carving to me on the street in Ile Rocheux? More cloak-and-dagger than coming from Ile Rocheux to Barbados and coming aboard the Andropolis  to hand it over, probably under the eye of the captain? Possibly, but it’s precisely that cloak-and-dagger that has kept me out of trouble in the past. Anything else?”

An objection instantly appeared to the smaller man.

“What if somebody notices you making the switch?”

“To begin with,” Kek said with a patience he was beginning to lose, “as I said, at that hour the bar is almost sure to be deserted. But even if they are having a wedding party with sixty-five guests, if anyone notices me making the switch, I shall change professions and take up ditch-digging.” His tone clearly indicated he felt he had been insulted.

Girard was not greatly saddened at having insulted the great Kek Huuygens. “And what will be in the package you leave?”

Kek stared across the table in honest surprise.

“What on earth difference does it make? I’m not asking him what he’s going to do with the ashtray, or whatever, that he  buys at Harrison’s.” He shrugged. “If I happen to be in a generous mood, I may buy him a nice Wedgwood platter — small of course, and not gaudy — to take home to his wife and loved ones. On the other hand, if I’m feeling particularly stingy, due to circumstances I cannot foresee at the moment, I may leave him a cheap soup plate made in Ohio. Why?”

“Nothing,” Girard said, his face reddening. It had been a foolish question, and Girard hated foolish questions, especially from himself. He moved from the subject. “All right. But just in case there happens to be more than one person sitting at the bar with a package from Harrison’s—”

“Hold it!” Huuygens said firmly. “We went through that one before. If there are twelve men and true sitting at the bar, all with identically sized packages from Harrison’s and all drinking Benedictine sours, then I suppose I’ll have to draw lots. But I’m really not too concerned about it at the moment.”

He thought a moment and added: “And you might also suggest to your man that he remain in the bar for at least fifteen minutes after I leave. I’m allergic to being followed, especially by professional thieves. Is that clear?”

Girard held down his temper with a maximum effort. Few people in his lifetime had spoken to him in this fashion and gotten away with it. One more month, thank God, and he’d be through with this — this — Words failed him.

“It is clear,” he said stiffly, and came to his feet. His bodyguards instantly lost whatever interest they had displayed in Forbes Magazine . Girard looked down at the still seated Huuygens with cold hate in his eyes.

“I’ll see you on the first of next month,” he said. A hard threat crept into the harsh voice. “Don’t be late!”

“I won’t,” Kek said cheerfully, and watched the ex-dictator and his two bodyguards march from the room. He sighed. Manners certainly weren’t what they had been in the old days, that was sure. Here he was about to go off on a cruise and M’sieu Victor Eugène Armand Jean-Claude Girard hadn’t even wished him bon voyage !


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The MV Andropolis , 22,000 tons of luxury liner only two years out of the Yokahama shipyards, with Athenian ownership, Panamanian registry, and an Italian crew that spoke a far superior brand of English than most Athenian-owned vessels carrying Panamanian registry, was having a hard time of it. Cape Hatteras was in one of its moods. While the young lady at the All-Ways Travel Agency had been reasonably correct in stating that July days were superbly suited to sailings from New York, today the Cape had decided to make a mockery of her words. The stabilizing gyroscopes were working like mad to cope, lashing themselves silly, but Hatteras, even though almost behind them, was easily the superior to a few oversized power-driven tops.

As a result the pool was closed and netted over, the shuffleboard equipment locked away, and the sun had given up any attempt to penetrate the lowering steel-gray clouds. Those passengers who sought relief in the interior bars had to divide their time between trying to prevent their glasses from skidding down the bar, and dabbing at their neckties with napkins; those passengers on deck were slouched morosely in deck chairs, rolling with the ship, while blue-jacketed stewards tried to interest them in bouillon or apples, or brought stronger fare to the more discriminating or to those with fitter digestions.

The advantage of being on deck, of course — to any male passenger, that is — was the sight of Anita striding briskly along the tilted deck, keeping her balance with ease, the wind whipping her short hair and bringing a bright flush of health to the pert face. The wind also molded her loose blouse to her full figure to best advantage, and every man watching — or at least every man unattached, even if only for the trip — was wondering wondrous thoughts. The passenger list for the cruise had not left the print shop as yet, but each man knew, mainly from plying the assistant purser with drinks the afternoon before, that the lovely lady prefixed her name with “Miss” and that she was traveling alone.

True, she had been equally pleasant with one and all in the lounge after the ship had sailed, but each man knew it would take an exceptionally brilliant approach to garner this flower for his personal bouquet. So, when the lovely lady suddenly and inexplicably lost her balance and caromed into the legs of the only man on deck who had not been paying her attention — since he seemed to prefer leaning on the rail and watching the huge waves fight each other — every other man within eyesight of the incident mentally kicked himself for not having been at that particular spot at that exact moment.

“You are  careless,” Kek murmured, and helped Anita to her feet. He restrained an impulse to brush the perfect figure; the gallery might have misunderstood. “Did you want to see me about something?”

“You are a dog,” Anita said simply, and smiled brightly for the benefit of the doleful watchers. “It was about the only way to get your attention. How long did you think I was going to wait until you arranged a proper introduction to me?”

Kek smiled. “To be honest, I was going to trip you up on your next round of the deck. However, now that you so cleverly managed the affair, may I buy you a drink to calm your jangled nerves?”

Anita’s smile thanked him for his aid, but her voice was grim.

“I don’t know if you’re telling the truth or not, darling,” she said under her breath, “but you are going to be buying me drinks for the rest of the trip, if I have to jangle my nerves every hour on the hour.”

She allowed herself to be led helpfully to a table alongside the bulkhead that separated the outdoor pool area from the interior saloon where the cruise directoress was giving Italian lessons to a group of pale women passengers who were wishing they had foregone breakfast. Anita sat down and watched Kek take a chair across from her.

“You may have noticed,” she said conversationally, “that you are not the only man on board. With a little effort, I’m sure I could manage other company, if you prefer.”

“And break Max’s heart?” Kek shook his head sadly at this lack of constancy, and waved for a steward.

Anita smiled. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Max could find a reason to join the ship at Miami, if I cabled him.”

“Without a doubt,” Kek agreed. “But with Rose.”

You  could have Rose.”

“Not without the grandchildren,” Kek said firmly, and then paused at the arrival of the steward. He started to order and then stopped abruptly, looking at Anita. “I beg your pardon, miss—”

“Call me Anita.”

“With pleasure. What would you prefer, Anita?”

“I’ll have a brandy, please.”

“Good!” Kek said in complete agreement, and turned to the waiting steward. “Two Dom Pedro Segundos, please. Not  in balloon glasses.” He waited until the steward had noted the order and left and then shook his head with a slight frown. “I’m getting careless.”


“I almost ordered for you without asking.”

A small frown creased Anita’s forehead, instantly erased. She smiled widely for the benefit of the audience. “What difference does it make? Actually, why all the mystery of our knowing each other?”

“A hunch that it’s better this way,” Kek said pleasantly.

Anita was aware of Kek’s hunches, and of the fact that usually they were based on more than mere presentiment.

“Do you think somebody may be watching you?”

Kek laughed, as at a joke.

“I have no idea; just a feeling.” His smile changed to a normal expression of a man doing his best to put across a line with a pretty girl. “I honestly can’t see what Girard would gain by putting a tail on me; he knows very well I’m not going to run away with his precious carving. And as far as I know, nobody else is even aware that I’m on this cruise.” A second thought followed the first, this one more logical. “He might, of course, put someone on me for what he considers my own protection — or, rather, for the protection of the carving. Another in his corps of bodyguards, to make sure nobody taps me on the head and takes it away from me.”

“I like the idea of a bodyguard better,” Anita said, and smiled her relief.

“Except I don’t particularly like being watched by anyone, including those with friendly motives.” Kek smiled and leaned back. “Well, enough of fantasy and worry. This is supposed to be a pleasure cruise. Why don’t we—” He paused as a steward approached their table, frowning slightly, since this one wore a white jacket rather than a blue one, and further because this one was not bearing drinks. “Yes?”

“Signore Huuygens? A radio-telephone for the signore. In the radio shack on the bridge deck.”

“Thank you.” Kek came to his feet. He looked down at Anita. All about them male faces evinced sudden hope at this sign of their rival parting so quickly; the faces fell again as the deck steward came up and deposited two drinks on the table. It appeared, worse luck, that the separation was only to be temporary. Kek, his broad shoulders masking his face from the audience, winked down at Anita. “Don’t drink mine while I’m gone.”

“Then don’t be too long. Trouble, you think?”

“I have no idea. More likely just a checkup; Girard seems to be the nervous type. And he’s the only one who knows where we are — I mean, where I  am. I certainly hope he doesn’t know it’s we.”

“But, why?”

“Because I wouldn’t like it,” Kek said flatly. “Well, I’d better go up and see what the little man has on his mind.”

Anita watched him walk away, admiring his athletic stride as always, thinking how happy she was with him, and then reached for a cigarette, her face reflecting nothing more than the normal friendly curiosity as to the handsome man who had been so kind as to forgive her clumsiness and to buy her a drink in the bargain. She managed to light her cigarette before any potential swains could leap to her assistance, suddenly conscious of the possibility that among them was one who might well be more interested in Kek than in herself. It was a reassuring thought that Kek might have a friendly bodyguard on board whether he liked it or not. She raised her cigarette and allowed the stiff breeze to take the ashes out to sea, resisting the temptation to study the faces watching to try and select which one might be also following Kek with his eyes. Interference, she knew, was one thing Kek would be slow to forgive.

On the bridge deck Kek easily located the radio shack by following arrows. The officer seated at the telegraphic console noted his name, mentioned the number of a booth, waited until Kek had wedged himself inside, and then started to fiddle with switches. As he waited, Kek thought how vulnerable a man would be in the tiny glass enclosure; memories of movies he had seen to that effect came unbidden, to be interrupted by the officer’s voice in his ear.

“Ready, Signore.”

Kek nodded, pleased to put the thought of machine guns away, and spoke into the instrument. “Hello?”

“Holà! Allô! Huuygens?”


“This is... well, you know who.” The husky voice in the accented French was identification enough, including the suspicion in it. There was a moment’s hesitation, then: “Where did we meet?”

“At the Quinleven Club in New York,” Kek said, and grinned to himself. This was the man who thought Kek’s ideas were cloak-and-dagger? “You had two friends with you, and you were wearing a bilious green suit with a blue shirt and a red tie—”

“Ah, so!” The tone was satisfied; obviously, after the first two words he had heard nothing. Kek’s grin disappeared; something must be on the man’s mind. The husky voice continued. “M’sieu, things have changed.”

Kek sighed. He had already had a feeling the call wasn’t after his good health, or to query the weather.

“Changed in what way?”

The rasping voice dropped momentarily and then came up in volume again, as if realizing that ship-to-shore connections suffered enough from static without adding to the problem by whispering.

“I have just read in the newspapers that the object we intended to purchase, unfortunately, will not be at the shop after the end of this week. After four more days, to be exact. On Friday next it is to be shipped out. A display of all the various models produced by the same manufacturer is to be sent around the world to all the trade fairs. Obviously, this fact changes our purchasing position. Do you understand what I am saying?”

It was quite clear that Girard had prepared his little speech well, and deserved a pat on the head for it, plus an apple after school, but that scarcely solved the problem.

“I understand perfectly.” Merde ! So there was to be a traveling exhibit of the carvings of Chang Tzu T’sien and “The Village Dance” would leave Ile Rocheux obviously on loan, and equally obviously under guard. In just four days. “So we forget the entire matter?” Kek asked innocently. “Of course, in that case, M’sieu, you must realize that at least technically I have won our small wager. However, possibly a compromise—”

“M’sieu!” Ice, touched by that tone, would have frozen; diamonds would have shattered under its induration. “Don’t play games!”

“Sorry. I thought—”

“Will you

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be quiet and listen! I have checked with your shipping line. As you know, your ship docks at Port Everglades tomorrow morning fairly early. I have already contacted the salesman I spoke to you about. He will arrange, as a convenience, to withdraw this one item from the trade-fair display tomorow evening. Everything will remain as we discussed, except the salesman will be prepared to accept your offer the day after tomorrow, rather than on the day we originally planned. You will have to leave your ship at Port Everglades and fly to meet him.”

“Why can’t he merely hold it until my ship arrives on schedule?”

“Because I don’t want it that way. The salesman is — well, a salesman, after all...”

Kek smiled again. It was all right to use a thief, but don’t, for Heaven’s sake, trust him. Or at least no more than you have to. Well, it was a logical position, when one considered it.

“I understand.”

“Good. The meeting will take place, as arranged, at the same place.”

“I’ll be there.”

“I will arrange your plane flight from Fort Lauderdale,” Girard said. “Call me from there at one o’clock sharp. I’ll be waiting. It’ll give you ample time; your flight doesn’t leave until one thirty.”

“Good enough,” Kek said, and heard the receiver at the other end placed firmly onto its cradle. He hung up and sighed. Merde , again! There went half his holiday with Anita! Not to mention the discussion that undoubtedly would ensue when he told her of the change in plans. He sighed, nearly suffocating himself in the restricted space, and managed to squeeze himself from the booth. The radio operator, seeing the expression on Kek’s face, nodded in understanding.

“Bad news, Signore?” It was a rhetorical question. Seldom did good news come in by radio-telephone. He waited interestedly in anticipation of a proper answer.

“Terrible!” Kek said.

“Ah!” said the officer happily, and bent to his duties, while Kek started down the narrow companionway leading to the stairs.

He took the turn at the bottom of the stairs and paused. Through the glass of the door he could see Anita in profile, and the men at the rail and the men in deck chairs all eyeing her. It suddenly occurred to him that he should have asked Girard if he was being accommodated by a helpful assistant he didn’t want; then a more interesting question came to him. He thought about it for several moments, and then went out on deck.

The wind had dropped a bit by the time of his return, and the waves, while still battling, were doing so halfheartedly, like third-rate fighters in the final round of a club match. Kek dropped into his chair across from Anita and nodded approvingly, as would any man whose newfound date had not only waited for him, but who had also forgone her drink until his arrival. He reached for his glass, smiled at Anita both for her patience and her beauty, and raised his glass in a toast.

“Here’s luck.”

Anita crushed out her cigarette and reached for her glass, smiling brightly for the onlookers.

“What was the call all about?”

“I’ll tell you later. This is brandy time.”

“Fair enough,” Anita said cordially. She tapped her glass to his, to the extreme discouragement of the eyeing stallions champing at their bits. Obviously, the stranger had the winning ticket on an Exacta. “To a happy cruise,” Anita said, and added, “together.”

Kek had been about to sip. Instead he paused, studying Anita over the rim of his glass. “Well, you see,” he said a bit diffidently, “that’s rather difficult to drink to...”

“What do you mean?”

“You see, I’m leaving the ship at Port Everglades tomorrow...”

Anita sputtered. Into the hearts of the watchers, hope sprang anew. From the instant disappearance of the dazzling smile and from the look that replaced it on the lovely lady’s face, there was no doubt their rival had said something undoubtedly stupid and probably improper, and stood a good chance of being scratched from the race. Each man was also able to draw several secondary conclusions from the scene he was witnessing: one, that the lovely lady had a hair-trigger temper: and two, that the path to the winner’s circle was one to be ridden with great care — the track might well be mined. In fact, several of the more cautious contenders declared themselves out of the event at that moment, but that still left a sizable starting gate.

“I’ll rejoin you when the ship gets to Barbados,” Kek went on evenly, not at all intimidated by the storm signals. “You’ll only be alone for five days, and all of those are in ports. You can get some of your shopping done. You’ve never been to any of the free ports, and—”

“You just think  I’ll be alone,” Anita said, steel in her voice. “Is there any reason you can dream up in exactly two seconds as to why I can’t get off the ship with you in Port Everglades? And rejoin it in Barbados with you? If it’s the extra expense,” she went on with savage sarcasm, “I can manage on my own, thank you! I’ve been saving from my household allowance!”

“A goodly virtue,” Kek agreed. “One never knows when a rainy day might come. But it really isn’t a matter of money. I still have most of your boy Max’s ten thousand.”

“I know you do. So that settles that; I’ll come with you.”

“It’s usually polite to wait until you’re asked,” Kek said gently, and waited for the explosion.

There was a moment’s silence. Every one of the breathless watchers knew that whatever their rival had said had not smoothed any ruffled feelings, and that the idiot had clearly asked for trouble. It came with a speed that no one — including Kek — had anticipated. Anita reached across the table and slapped Kek with all the force of an arm well tempered by daily exercise. The crack resounded over a startled gallery; two more watchers disqualified themselves on the spot. A deck steward started forward to prevent ship’s property from being damaged if further mayhem were contemplated by the lovely signorina, and then stopped, quite sure that any man who looked like Signore Huuygens undoubtedly could take care of himself.

Anita came to her feet with hauteur, looking down at Kek with loathing, and stalked off into the saloon. Kek shook his head, for his ears were ringing, and downed his brandy in one gulp. One of the watchers came hurrying up. He was a gangling, horsefaced man dressed in wild colors.

“Good Lord, man!” he said, barely able to keep from neighing with pleasure. “What on earth did you say to her?”

“I can’t imagine what upset her so. I merely asked her age,” Kek said simply, and reached for Anita’s untouched drink.

Through the porthole in his cabin Kek watched the edge of Florida creep closer, the startlingly white apartments along the beach of Pompano lined up evenly, as if at attention to pass the inspection of the MV Andropolis  and the passengers crowding the rail drinking in the welcome sight of palm trees and flooding sunshine. And among them, Kek was sure, would be Anita, undoubtedly accompanied by one of the entries who had been so jumpy at the gate the day before.

He let the curtain fall over the porthole and dropped onto his unmade bed, frowning in thought. He disliked leaving Anita with a chip on her shoulder, but as he saw it there was nothing else to do. Only once before had he ever involved Anita in any of his jobs, and he had promised himself he never would again. Still, it was a shame when one considered it. If it hadn’t been for that call from Girard, it might well have been a most enjoyable cruise. He would have to see what he could find in Barbados that might serve as a peace offering. Something from Harrison’s, possibly?

There was a scratching at the door and he glanced over. The ship’s news, probably, being pushed beneath the portal. He came to his feet to investigate. A slim envelope carrying the ship’s crest lay at his feet. An invitation to one of the captain’s cocktail parties? Possible, since the purser’s office handled invitations, and Kek had expressly not  told the purser of the planned hiatus in his trip, preferring to let them assume he had accidentally missed rejoining the ship after visiting Port Everglades. His baggage would assure them that he would eventually rejoin the cruise, and his passage was paid, so they wouldn’t really start any inquiry before their return to New York. And, of course, if anyone was  keeping an eye on him, it would be good for their experience to find him missing once the ship was on its way to San Juan.

At any rate, he thought as he bent to pick up the envelope, it could scarcely be a bill. The one major advantage of traveling by ship was you didn’t get nagged by bills one at a time; they waited until you were well rested and then slugged you with them all at once.

He carried it to his bed and sat down, opening the envelope. He was actually not at all surprised to see it was in Anita’s scrawl. A final argument for going with him? Or one last verbal slap to accompany the physical one from the day before? He held it to the light from his bedside lamp.

My darling Kek:

I’ve given you nearly twenty-four hours to suffer, wondering if I was really angry, yesterday. No, darling, I was sure I was following your lead. You did want me to slap you, didn’t you? When you leave me for Rose, I think I’ll ask Max to back me on the stage. Wasn’t I good?

I’m sorry that I slapped you that hard, but I swear it was a slip. (A Freudian slip? Or a Freudian slap?) It served two purposes, though — it convinced me the money I’ve spent on tennis wasn’t all wasted; also I think it impressed our viewing audience to HANDLE WITH CARE. Now I’ll be able to wait for you to rejoin the ship at Barbados without having to wrestle my way out of too many staterooms. (Was that why you wanted me to slap you?)

Have a good trip and a successful one. I’m sorry I can’t go with you, but you’ll be taking my love. Try to leave that  behind!


Kek reread the note and laughed. He should have known that Anita would see through him; it was one of the many reasons he loved her. She was smart.

He took the note into the bathroom, tore it into small pieces and flushed them down the toilet. His smile disappeared as he went back into the stateroom to wait for docking, when he would leave the ship like any other cruise passenger investigating the beauties of Fort Lauderdale.

Yes, my darling, he said to Anita silently, I did want to get slapped — even though not that hard — but it was not to save you from the pawing herd. It was because I still have the feeling there is someone on board with his eye on me, and on my way down from the radio shack it suddenly occurred to me that person need not necessarily be one of Girard’s boys. In fact, it might well be someone who actively dislikes Girard, as well as those who do his chores for him. Which could well make me some sort of a target.

And I do not like you to be closely associated with targets, darling.


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The huge white curving side of the MV Andropolis , geometrically dotted with neat portholes, towered above the blisteringly hot dock of Port Everglades, held in place by gargantuan hawsers warped around the pier stanchions and reeved taut by the winches on deck. It resembled a leviathan with a thousand eyes chained to the land against its will. Passengers edged their way downward with caution on the narrow gangplank, holding desperately to the railing, intimidated by the height and blinded by the glaring reflections from the white concrete below. Before the long Customs shed, the little auto-train for Fort Lauderdale waited patiently, baking in the July sun. Several taxis waited for more discriminating fares, having just unloaded those few passengers who were joining the Andropolis  at Port Everglades.

Kek stood at the ship’s railing, waiting for the crowd below to thin out. It was ten thirty in the morning, which allowed him more than ample time to have a leisurely lunch and catch his plane with time to spare. Of course, if it was necessary to lose a potential tail, he might have to forgo the leisurely lunch, but he was sure he could always get a sandwich and a drink on the plane.

Anita stepped onto the gangplank, ignoring him completely; her arm was held protectively by a husky young man with red hair, freckles, and shoulders even wider than Kek’s. The youngster’s face was flaming, and he was hard put to keep a triumphant grin of possession from his expression. The result was he looked as if he were running out of breath. Kek yawned politely and elaborately and was rewarded by the faintest quirk of Anita’s lips, instantly suppressed. He watched the young man hand Anita from the gangplank and herd her to join the others in the small auto-train. The motorman checked the several open cars and then climbed into his miniature cab; the train hooted once and rolled off on rubber tires toward the city. There was only one cab in sight on the deserted pier, from which two elderly ladies were descending laboriously. It was time to move.

Huuygens came down the steep gangplank easily, to be met by a staggering wave of heat at the bottom. He waited politely while the cab driver unloaded luggage from his front seat and began to move it toward the dock-porter’s area. Then, about to climb into the cab, Kek felt a slight tap on his shoulder. There was something almost diffident about the contact. He looked about in genuine surprise; he had been sure the last of the shoregoing passengers had been on his way. Facing Huuygens was the gangling, horse-faced individual who had inquired as to his conversation with Anita the day before.

“I say,” the man said apologetically, “I wonder if I might share your cab into town? I was phoning a friend, inside, and I’m afraid while I was talking to him I missed out on the available transportation.”

“Of course,” Huuygens said congenially. “Hop in.”

“You really don’t mind?” The man sounded extraordinarily anxious.

“Not at all.”

An accident? Possibly. This man didn’t look like a professional follower, but it was sad to think how unprofessional many professional followers were appearing these days. And why would anyone go inside to telephone when there was a battery of outside booths in plain view of taxis and auto-train? Huuygens got in and sat down, leaning back comfortably; his companion, having insisted that Kek enter first, followed, closed the door, and turned with hand outstretched. It was soft, but dry, a remarkable achievement on the sweltering day it was rapidly becoming. In the stilled cab the air conditioning continued to run, proof of the driver’s experience with Florida weather and its effect on customers.

“My name is Ralph Jamison,” the man said. “I’m from Worcester, Mass.”

“Kek Huuygens. I’m from New York.”

“Enjoying the cruise so far?”

At close quarters Huuygens could see that the other man’s blondish hair was thinning, revealing patches of pink scalp beneath; despite the youthfulness of the striped double-knit bell-bottom trousers and the open-necked exotic sports shirt, the man was much older than he appeared. Or, Kek thought, than he tried to appear.

“I’m enjoying it very much.”

“Me, too. Although passing Hatteras wasn’t anything to brag about.” Jamison suddenly neighed. “Come to think of it, it sure wasn’t for you! Tell me, what—”

He paused. The driver had finished delivering the luggage of the two elderly women and had climbed back into the cab. He instantly closed the door to participate in the air conditioning, and looked back at the two men with impersonal curiosity. Jamison looked at Huuygens.

“Where are you going?”

Kek shrugged. “Just into town, I guess, to look around. Where do you want to be dropped off?”

Jamison chose to ignore the question. “Have you ever been to Fort Lauderdale before?”

“No, I’m afraid not.”

It was, of course, a fib, and Kek had no idea of why he had told it, other than if Jamison was keeping an eye on him, any dissembling was better than candor. Actually, although Kek had visited Fort Lauderdale many times, he had always managed his trips in the wintertime. Florida in the summer passed tolerance, and Kek had often wondered what curious aberration had led the founders of beautiful Fort Lauderdale to locate it in Florida in the first place. It was true, of course, that Florida was one place that never had to worry about avalanches, but that seemed little enough excuse.

“Ah!” Jamison sounded as if he had hit a winning number. “Then you have to let me show you the town! I was stationed — I mean, I was stationed at Homestead when I was in the Army, and I came up to Lauderdale every chance I got. I love the place.” Jamison’s horsey smile disappeared suddenly; he looked almost woebegone. “Unless, of course, you would prefer to be by yourself?”

Kek smiled. “Not at all.”

Why the pause after the first “stationed”? And hadn’t Homestead been closed about the time a man of Jamison’s apparent age would have been in the Army? Maybe not; maybe it was all imagination and Jamison was simply a passenger, gregarious by nature, who had finally latched onto a listener after two days of enforced silence. It was possible. At any rate, even assuming Jamison was not as innocent as he appeared — or would like to appear — if one had to be followed, at least there were advantages in having your follower with you. It saved looking over your shoulder constantly, always bad for the neck muscles, and it also made for the economy of a single fare.

Jamison nodded happily and leaned toward the driver.

“Driver, could we rent the cab by the hour?” He turned instantly, raising his hand as if Kek had said something. “No! I insist! My treat. After all, it was your cab and you were kind enough to share it. The least I can do—”

“Sure,” said the driver, cutting into the diatribe. “Twenty-five bucks an hour.”

He could not have picked a better way to cut Jamison short.

“Twenty-five—” Jamison inadvertently blanched but recovered quickly. “All right, driver, but I’ll have to pay you in travelers’ checks and I’ll need a receipt.” He quickly turned to Kek to explain, almost as if the other had demanded an explanation. “I, ah... I’m traveling on doctor’s orders. With a receipt I can take it off my income tax, you see.”

“Of course,” Kek said, and leaned back, no muscle betraying the pleasant expression on his face. Was it humanly possible to be as inept a professional as this and still not starve to death in one’s selected profession? Or was the very ineptness a disguise in itself? This way lies madness, Kek thought; let time decide. He looked out the window, prepared to enjoy himself, at least until the time came when Jamison, follower or not, became a hindrance to his plans. Or, of course, until the air conditioning failed.

Jamison leaned over a bit authoritatively; it was obvious that for twenty-five dollars an hour he intended to direct the cab as much as he could without actually taking the wheel.

“Driver, first along the beach, north. Then up Las Olas, then over to Sunrise and down to the Intercoastal again. Then maybe to Pompano; we’ll see. And drive slowly.”

The driver nodded agreeably and put the car into motion. With gasoline prices what they were, for twenty-five dollars an hour he was willing to creep. Jamison leaned back again, lacing his long thin legs, tucking one hand between them as if for warmth, a habit, obviously, of long standing.

“I was about to say, back then when we first got into the cab,” he began, looking at Kek and unable to entirely mask the slightly malicious smile, “what did you actually  say to that girl yesterday?”

Huuygens smiled ruefully.

“I’m afraid I didn’t use very good judgment. I have a tendency at times to be impetuous, and when she practically fell into my arms...” He shook his head. “What I actually said to her is something I’d rather forget. After all, all it got me was a slap.”

“And what a slap!” Jamison said admiringly, and grinned. His teeth, to Kek’s surprise, were not the large blocks he had expected to fit the otherwise horsey face; they were small and delicate, and pointed inward a bit. “Still,” Jamison went on, “it sure would have been worth it if it had worked. You know the old story about the guy who made a pass at every girl he met, stranger or not, and then told his friends, ‘Sure I get slapped a lot, but I also get a lot of—’”

“I know the story,” Kek said, and smiled a man-to-man smile. Would Girard hire a man as obvious as Jamison to keep an eye on him? Highly doubtful; certainly not for protection, since Jamison would be hard put to protect a suma wrestler from a midget. Obviously, it couldn’t be Girard: if Girard wanted him watched, he’d have a man at the airport with a ticket on the same plane. And who else would — or could — have hired him? Who else but Girard knew he had planned to sail on the Andropolis ?

“Well!” Jamison said, and looked through the window, as if wondering where to begin his travelogue. “Ah! That’s the 66 Tower. And that’s the Bahia Mar, the largest marina in the world, some say. Maybe we’ll stop up at the 66 roof later for a drink. Everybody does; it’s one of the things visitors to Lauderdale all do. The platform up there rotates once every 66 minutes. It’s not a bad place for lunch, either, and the view is the best in Florida.”

“It looks very inviting.”

“It is. Ah! This is Las Olas Boulevard. Probably the most beautiful street in the most beautiful town in the world.”

It was, indeed, an unusually lovely street and Kek enjoyed seeing it once again. They completed their tour of Las Olas, including some of the adjoining islands, cut across to Sunrise and drove slowly back in the direction of the ocean. At Bay View they turned north again, passing the inlets from the main waterway, with boats of all sizes bobbing in the backyards of homes there. In the background large yachts could be seen moving majestically on the Intercoastal; they almost seemed unreal against the dark wood of the background, as if they had been posed by the Chamber of Commerce. Jamison rambled on, a fairly boring guide, while Kek turned off the little key in his head, the same key that enabled him to read his morning newspaper in peace while undergoing one of Anita’s interrogations.

If Jamison hadn’t been hired by Girard, who had hired him? And for what purpose? Certainly the gangling man beside him scarcely posed any physical threat. So, if logic meant anything, Jamison was just what he appeared to be — a garrulous passenger, happy to show off a favorite city. Still—

Huuygens looked at his watch. It was twelve fifteen; they had been driving nearly two hours. Beyond the window the beach of Pompano stretched north for miles, lined with condominium apartments. Time to start getting rid of the talkative Mr. Jamison, be he friend or foe. There was still a phone call to make and a plane to catch. Huuygens turned to his companion, interrupting him in a meaningless dissertation on the advantages of living on a golf course in Florida versus living on water.

“I think I’d like that drink we talked about before, up on top of that tower you pointed out,” Kek said. “It’s hot and I could stand something cold. And after that I think I’ll ask you to excuse me; I think I’ll go back to the ship for lunch, and then probably take a nap.”

“A good idea!” Jamison said enthusiastically, clearly indicating he might well do the same thing. He leaned forward and instructed the driver. The cab swung south and they headed for the 66 Tower. For the space of the drive, at least, Jamison was quiet, while Huuygens seriously thought of means of ridding himself of the leech. The car pulled up near the glass-enclosed elevator and Jamison reached for his wallet.

“Here’s twenty dollars on account,” he said, and scribbled hastily on two traveler’s checks. “Wait for us.”

“Take your time,” the driver said generously, and picked up the morning paper from the seat beside him.

All Fort Lauderdale spread before the two men as they rose in the elevator. Jamison’s pleasure in pointing out landmarks to his newfound friend was so genuine that for a moment Huuygens wondered if he had wronged the other man in his thoughts. Still, right or wrong, he certainly had no intention of being saddled with Mr. Jamison’s company much longer. Time was marching on.

The air conditioning in the large, slowly rotating room was welcome, and the two men sank into chairs near the abandoned and locked piano. They looked around for a waiter; all seemed busy, possibly because at least two were hovering over a table across the room. When they spread apart, Kek was able to see the reason why: Anita was sitting there, her large escort staring at her worshipfully. And with reason, Kek thought with an inner smile; you probably never got such good service before. The advantage of escorting a lovely lady... A sudden idea struck Kek. He forced down a grin and looked across the table at Jamison.

“Pardon me, but where are the telephones?”

“Just over there,” Jamison said, and pointed.

“Do you mind? I have a few calls to make.”

Jamison seemed to be studying the location of the booths; they were well in sight and nowhere near an elevator. “Go ahead. I’ll order for you. What are you having?”

“Gin and tonic. Bombay gin,” Kek said, and got to his feet. Across the room, Anita’s eyes took in Kek and their table and swept on with no expression in her eyes. Excellent, Kek thought, and walked over to the phones.

He squeezed into a booth from which he could keep half an eye on Jamison, smiled at him through the glass, and closed the door. He dropped a coin, gave a credit card number and a telephone number and waited. Jamison was speaking to a waiter. It was several minutes and then there was the sound of a ring and the instant raising of a receiver. Girard was on the line.


“This is your purchasing agent...”

“One o’clock exactly.” Girard sounded pleased. “Where are you? At the airport? Did you pick up your ticket?”

“Not yet, but I will very soon. Are there any further changes?”

“No, everything will be as we arranged. I spoke to the salesman and he will arrange for the material tonight. You will be met tomorrow morning at the proper place on the proper hour. Anything further from your end?”

“Yes,” Huuygens said. “I told you I didn’t like being followed by professional — ah, salesmen. I now wish to add to the list. I don’t like being followed by middle-aged men in striped pants and floral shirts.”

“What?” Girard sounded genuinely puzzled by Kek’s comment.

“Let me be blunt. Are you having me followed?”

“Followed? No. Why would I want to have you—” The import of the question suddenly registered. Girard’s voice showed shock. “You’re being followed ?”

“I’m not sure, but I think I am. However, not to worry.”

“Not to worry!”

“Take my word for it. Now, who have you told of our little wager?”

“Told? Nobody! Do you think I’m a fool.”

“I do not. Who introduced you to the Quinleven Club?”

“Forget him. He couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with it.”

Kek’s voice hardened. “This is important. Who?”

“The former American ambassador to my country. His name is Wellington. He wrote me a letter a long time ago, inviting me to be his guest with anyone else I wished to bring along.”

Huuygens eliminated the ambassador from any possible list of suspects. He knew Wellington quite well and the man didn’t have the intelligence to be involved in anything more complicated than politics. Besides, at the moment he was hunting tigers-or-something in the Sudan-or-someplace.

“Well,” Huuygens said thoughtfully, “that leaves only one answer. We’ve met twice, both times at the Quinleven. The only people near us during our discussions were your two bodyguards.”

There was a brief silence. When Girard spoke his voice was cold.

“The matter will be investigated.”

“Good.” Kek glanced at his watch. “I have to be going now.”

“Call me after you see the salesman tomorrow,” Girard said.

“Will do.” Kek hung up. There was still one more call to make. He looked over at Jamison, smiled again, and dropped a second coin, taking a pencil and a piece of paper from his pocket as he spoke. To anyone watching he would appear to be noting down whatever the other party on the phone was saying. He asked for information, got the number he wanted, and dialed. A moment later the telephone was answered by a deep bass voice.

“Tower 66 bar.”

“Look,” Kek said, “I know this sounds odd, but I would like to have a waiter pick up a note in a telephone booth and deliver it—

“What are you talking about?” The bass voice was suspicious.

“If you’ll look up,” Kek said patiently, “you’ll see me in a phone booth at the other end of the room. I’m the only person in one. When I go back to my table, I will leave a note in here—”

“You got to be some kind of a nut, mister—”

“Listen!” Kek said firmly. “There will also be a ten-dollar bill for you to split with the waiter.” There was immediate silenc

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e at the other end of the line. “That’s better. Now listen: I want the note delivered to that big red-headed young man sitting at the table near you with the girl—”

“The gorgeous dame? Oh, I get it. Women complications, is that it?”

“Sort of.” Kek was scribbling hastily as he spoke. He managed to turn his back on Jamison, fish a bill from his wallet, and tuck the note and the money together in the coin slot. “As soon as I leave. Understand?”

“Gotcha, pal.”

Kek hung up and squeezed himself from the booth, making his way back to the table. A waiter was coming across from the bar, while another was setting drinks before Jamison. The tall gangling man was putting a bill down on the small tray.

“You ought to at least let me pay for the drinks,” Kek said, sliding into his chair.

“No, no! My treat. My pleasure. You can buy me a couple back on board.” His small, dry hand was raised with his glass. “Cheers.”

“Cheers,” Kek said pleasantly, and saw the waiter bearing his note approaching the table with Anita and her escort. He saw the man hand the note over, and hid a smile behind his glass as he drank. If Jamison was truly only an innocent passenger attempting friendliness, then Huuygens would have to buy him a great many drinks in compensation for what Kek figured was about to happen.

At the other table the red-headed, freckle-faced young man was frowning as he read the note that had just been given him:

Honey: You look like a girl that likes fun. Why don’t you duck that red-headed muscle-bound farmer and let me show you a real good time. I’m the man in the flowered shirt and striped pants sitting near the piano. We’ve got a long time before sailing and I have a friend with an apartment. How about it?

Anita was looking at her escort with curiosity.

“It’s nothing,” he said, his jaw clenched. He jammed the note into his pocket and came to his feet. “I’ll be right back.”

He started across the room, his face redder than ever. Mr. Jamison was in the process of lowering the drink he was enjoying so much, when he felt himself being lifted bodily from his chair and swung about to stare into two ice-cold, very angry blue eyes.

“You and me, buster,” said the owner of the eyes, “are going into the washroom and have a little discussion.”

Jamison squeaked and tried to pull loose. “What’s the matter with you? What are you doing? Let go of my arm!”

“I said, let’s go!”

“Hey, that hurts!”

“Does it, indeed! This way, lover boy!” the young man said fiercely, and walked Jamison roughly from the table. Several waiters stood back, unwilling to tangle with anyone as obviously destructive as the large young man with freckles. Kek watched interestedly. Jamison tried to turn around.

“Stop! Waiters! Huuygens! This man is crazy! Help me!”

“I never mix in anything violent,” Kek said piously, and came to his feet.

Across the room Anita watched her escort shove the perfect stranger through the washroom door. Kek winked at her and headed quickly for the elevator. It was one fifteen, which was cutting it fine, but fortunately, Jamison had been thoughtful enough to have a cab waiting below.


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Kek Huuygens was in an expansive mood. He had landed at Seawall Airport late the afternoon before, assured that any pursuit — had it ever existed and not merely been a figment of his imagination — had been diverted, at least until he joined the ship again; and he wouldn’t worry about that until it happened. He sincerely hoped that Jamison hadn’t been chastised too severely, but even if the man was innocent, he still deserved something for being the biggest bore in the world. And Kek had had to pay twenty-five dollars for a short cab ride, because of Jamison’s penuriousness. Still, Jamison never got his receipt, which would probably hurt the man more than the punishment he suffered in the washroom.

Now, with a good night’s rest at the Barbados Hilton behind him, a long and vigorous swim in the warm and unpolluted Caribbean, and weather that, contrary to Anita, was far more pleasant for the month of July than New York City, Kek felt good. He emerged from his taxi before Harrison’s in the Broad Street in Bridgetown, determined not to be cheap in his selection of a gift for Girard’s professional thief. The man could well have a wife or girlfriend; even a mother somewhere in his history was a possibility.

Harrison’s, as usual, was crowded to capacity, for three cruise ships were in Bridgetown harbor at the same time, and the passengers had formed lines, like ants, to and from their respective ships, seemingly determined to leave Bridgetown Wedgwoodless or know the reason why. For a moment he studied the melee from the protection of the doorway and then plunged bravely in. His target was a large table in the center of the room, covered with blue and green boxes. He managed to get enough elbow room to study the pieces laid out, each on top of a stack of boxes, and knew at once what he wanted. It was a candy dish of the proper size, something Kek felt not every professional thief would probably buy for himself. He even managed to get the attention of a clerk, and to his complete but pleasant surprise, found himself out in the street again, his brightly colored package tucked under his arm, in a remarkably short forty-five minutes.

For Harrison’s, this was close to miraculous; Kek hoped it was an augury for a quick and successful completion of his mission. He glanced at his wristwatch. Ten twenty, which left forty minutes to get to Sam Lord’s Castle. Taking the direct road east through Windsor and Marchfield rather than the more picturesque but longer route along the beach front would get him to his appointment in ample time, and still get him back to his hotel in time for lunch. In fact—

He paused, frowning. In fact — now that he thought about it — why was it necessary, or even wise, to await the arrival of the MV Andropolis  in Barbados? And his not having even thought of rejoining the ship earlier was the most disturbing aspect of the affair; he wondered if perhaps in planning the matter he had overlooked some other equally simple thing. With the package in his possession he could check out of the Hilton and be at Seawall by one o’clock at the latest. There certainly had to be an afternoon plane to San Juan, and he could catch up with the ship at least two days ahead of schedule. And surprise Anita. It would also seem much more natural to the purser and/or any interested passenger if he were to rejoin the ship after only one port, rather than waiting four days to catch up with it in Barbados.

The thought wiped away his former irritation with himself. Checking the precious package at the airport would handle any matter of Customs, and he would pick it up when the ship docked in Bridgetown. With a smile at how easily things worked out for the righteous, he walked out of the shade of the Harrison’s awning into the sun of the narrow and crowded road, shouldered through to the curb, and flagged down a cab.

The trip to Sam Lord’s Castle was taken at the usual island speed, but Kek, who normally disliked being driven at all, let alone being driven at maniacal speeds, sat back quite relaxed and beamed cordially at the people his taxi almost struck at each intersection or bus stop. Certainly Providence would not permit an accident when everything was going so nicely. The huge sugar cane that towered above them reduced all vision of what might lie beyond the next curve of the winding road, but the driver was not at all intimidated, possibly feeling that with enough velocity he could overcome any unexpected obstacle that presented itself to him and his fifteen-year-old Juggernaut.

They pulled into the wide graveled drive before the white twin-porched building at eleven o’clock exactly, and the driver drew up at the bottom of the steps. In the waiting lot for taxis a cab of equal vintage was parked, its driver dozing at the wheel. Kek felt it was a further indication that all was well. The chances were strong that the cab belonged to Girard’s professional thief, and all was rolling along on schedule. He stepped down, feeling on top of the world.

The driver smiled at him through the open window, white teeth gleaming against black skin. “You wish that I wait, mon?”

“If you will.”

“A pleasure.”

“For us both,” Kek said sincerely, and trotted up the wide steps, his exotically wrapped candy dish in his hand. He certainly hoped the professional thief would like it, or if not him, at least his wife, girlfriend, or mother. If she or they weren’t on a diet, that is, so many women were. Fortunately, Anita had no need to.

The lobby was abandoned at the moment, the clerk apparently off on a chore. Through the facing doorway the castle’s famous gardens could be seen stretching down to the blue Atlantic beyond. Kek took a deep breath; Barbados was one of his favorite spots on earth, and Sam Lord’s Castle as lovely a hotel as he knew. For a moment he considered abandoning his plan to return to the ship immediately, but then he knew that he would rather be with Anita even more than enjoying Barbados. Ah, well — to work!

The Cobbler’s Reef Bar was open, and after the brilliance of the morning sun, seemed to be pitch dark. Kek paused just inside the doorway, allowing his eyesight to adjust. By the light used to illuminate the cash register he could see the aproned bartender looking in his direction, and beyond the bartender he could see a bulking shadow at the extreme far end of the bar. Kek closed his eyes a moment, squeezing them tightly shut, seeing a parade of weird shapes and lights behind his eyelids, and then opened them to find the room had miraculously cleared to a great extent. There was indeed a man at the end of the bar, his huge broad back turned resolutely away from the room, staring into a corner as per instructions; and there was, indeed, a drink before the man in a glass consistent with a sour, being neither a shot glass nor a tall glass.

There was, indeed, only one thing wrong with the script. There was no package of any sort on the bar before or near the man.

Kek had a sudden cold presentiment that his ebullience that morning had been premature to say the least. There was, of course, the possibility that this man staring so intently toward the corner was not his contact, and that his contact was merely delayed, but Kek doubted it. He sighed and walked over, seating himself next to the man, surveying the outsized shoulders, then turned and faced the bartender who had come up.

“A Benedictine sour,” he said clearly, and added: “Have you ever made one?”

“Yes, sir!” the bartender said proudly, resenting this impugnment of his knowledge of his craft. He did not add that he had made his first one only minutes before, nor did he show his amazement that two people in a row should demonstrate such inconsideration for their stomachs at that hour of the morning. Instead, he dutifully went back to his post and began mixing the ingredients, trying not to shudder as he did so.

So the bartender was familiar with Benedictine sours? Then the man beside him was  his contact and something had apparently gone very wrong. Merde!  But, in that case, why the frozen back? Which, in comparison with himself — and Huuygens was not small and knew it — belonged to an extremely large and well-muscled individual. Kek reached over and tapped one of the bulging shoulders a bit peremptorily, not at all surprised to find the jacket was not padded and that he was rapping on something very solid. He had hoped to carry out the assignment without the need for personal contact, but it seemed this was not to be. Life!

“Mister,” he said softly.

The man swung about abruptly. There was a sheepish look on his large, battered face.

“Hello, Kek,” he said.

There was a moment’s silent tableau. Then Huuygens looked at the ceiling, found no comfort there, and looked down again. He sighed mightily.

“Oh, no !” He shook his head. “André!”

“How’ve you been, Kek?”

“André,” Huuygens said, “do me a favor—”

“Sure, Kek. Anything. You know that. What is it?”

“Tell me you never heard of a man named Victor Girard. Tell me you’re vacationing in Barbados and had no appointment to meet a man here carrying a package from Harrison’s...”

André looked embarrassed. “Well—”

“On second thought,” Kek said, “don’t tell me.” He paused. “Bartender, we’ll take our drinks in a booth.”

“As you say, sir.”

“Kek,” André said in a pleading voice, “do we have to drink this—”

“And throw that stuff away,” Kek added to the bartender. “Bring us a bottle of brandy, preferably a good Portuguese or Spanish brandy rather than French, and two glasses. Not balloons.”

“Sir!” It was said happily. The contents of a mixing glass went into the sink.

Kek climbed down from his stool, walked to a booth, and slid in. André Martins followed, squeezing his large bulk into the restricted space across from his old friend. The two stared at each other until the bottle was on the table and the waiter had withdrawn. Kek’s face was expressionless; André looked as if he were waiting for the ax to fall. He quickly poured two drinks and took his own down in a single gulp, as if to give himself courage. Huuygens sipped his more slowly and then put his glass down. He shook his head at the other man sadly.

“André!” he said chidingly. “Whatever made you tell Girard that you were a professional thief?”

André preferred to postpone serious discussion for as long as possible. “How’s Anita?”

“Flourishing. And you didn’t answer my question.”

It had been a short enough interlude, but it had at least partially served its purpose; André had had time to pour and down a second cognac. The worst of the dreaded encounter over, he felt better. And the two brandies had done no harm to his self-confidence, which had certainly waned during his wait for Kek to arrive.

“Well,” he said defensively, “you know I can open any lock you can name. And any safe.”

Huuygens nodded agreeably. “Then you should have told Girard you were a professional burglar, not a professional thief.”

André was stung. “I’m not a burglar!”

“I know you’re not. You’re also not a thief. Certainly not a successful one. Unless you have the carving in your pocket?” The red on André’s face answered that question. Kek took pity on the large man. “I know you can open any lock or safe made, and you are also a master where explosives of any kind are concerned. And I’ve seen you break a man’s back with the back of your hand.”

André smiled proudly; it made his rugged face look almost boyish. The brandy was taking effect. “You have, haven’t you?”

“So,” Kek went on, his voice conversational, “after you knocked out the museum guards with one finger and blew up the museum with your exceptional talents, what happened? Why no carving?”

André looked down at his glass, his face reddening again. Kek continued, but this time his irritation got the better of him. He sounded aggrieved. “What in God’s name led you to tell Girard you were capable of robbing a museum? Have you ever been  in a museum in your life?”

André looked up and swallowed. He fingered his empty glass nervously.

“Well,” he said, “I heard through the grapevine that this Girard was going to ask you to bring something into the States for him, and then I heard he was looking for someone to steal it for him, and—” He paused, staring at the table shamefacedly.


André’s head came up. “And... well, I needed the job, so I told this guy to introduce me to Girard. With a strong recommendation. Or else.” A faint smile appeared on the lined face momentarily. “And he introduced me. With a strong recommendation.”

“I’m sure.”

“Well,” André said reasonably, reaching for the bottle again, “he didn’t want to get his neck broken.” He filled his glass and drank.

“I can understand his point.”

“Besides,” André went on quietly, “I wanted to see you and Anita again. It’s been too long a time for old friends.”

Kek refused to be diverted by sentiment, at least at the moment. “I hope Girard paid you in advance, is all.”

“Just half,” André said, then brightened. “But I got a tourist’s visa good for the States, which is something. Plus passage on the Andropolis ...”

“As things stand right now, the States is about the last place I’d suggest you visit,” Kek told him dryly. “Girard’s there.” He shook his head, but it was half-humorously. He and André Martins had had many adventures together, and the truth was the large man had saved Kek Huuygens’ life twice, whereas Kek had only saved André’s once. Which, Kek thought, considering it, left a certain debt without a doubt. Secretly, Kek was very happy to see André again, but not in the circumstances. There was still the matter of the wager, and now it appeared there was also the matter of André’s fee, whatever it was. Plus, most likely, André’s neck. Problems, problems! He took the bottle and poured two more drinks.

“All right. What happened?”

André looked embarrassed. “They had the place wired,” he said accusingly. He sounded as if wiring a treasure in a museum was cheating, by any standard a person wished to choose. “All around the thing.”


André took his drink and sipped it, a sure sign he was beginning to relax.

“Look. I didn’t have to rap any guards on the head, because they didn’t have any guards. They didn’t need any. The museum is right next to the army barracks, and the place is wired.”

“You mean they have burglar alarms? How inconsiderate!”

“Not just burglar alarms,” André said patiently. He considered finishing his drink and then decided to postpone it. He put down his glass and started to trace lines on the table with a finger the size of a sausage. “There’s this basement door, you see, down in a sort of a well, like the entrance to a cooling cellar on a farm, you know? Sort of a hatchway. It leads from the back of the museum, where they have a sort of driveway, down to a basement, which is full of junk.”

“You have a wonderful descriptive sense. Go on.”

André disregarded this. “I opened the basement door in about one minute. Who ever installed that lock should be ashamed; they haven’t used a lock of that type in any civilized country in twenty years. Then—”

“Then the alarm went off in the police station next door.”

“It’s an army barracks, not a police station,” André said patiently, “and no alarm went off, because that’s not the way the place is wired. If you’d only let me get a word in edgewise—”


“Well, all right,” André sounded only partially mollified. “Where was I? Oh, yes — in the basement. As I said, the basement is full of junk, stuff it would take ten guys to lift, junk like that. And a workshop, where they fix stuff, I guess. Anyway, maybe because it’s only junk, or because it’s too heavy to swipe, but they never bothered to wire the door—”

“Maybe they ran out of money before they— Oh, sorry.”

André looked at him chidingly. “Anyway, there’s a hallway that goes from this basement room to some steps that go up to the main floor of the museum. I listened hard and didn’t hear a sound, so I started to go up the steps and then I turned on my flash. That’s safe enough because the place doesn’t have any windows—

“Probably afraid of burglars.”

“—and there in the middle of the room was this glass case. All by itself. It’s about two feet square and three feet high and it’s on a table so it comes about to your chest. And that’s where they keep the carving that Girard wanted. I knew because of course I’d been there three or four times during the day to look the place over—”

“They call it ‘casing the joint’,” Kek said, and then dropped the banter from his voice. “Did they have guards in attendance when you were there during the day?”

“Oh, sure, during the day. One man in each room plus a man at the front entrance, to see people didn’t touch anything, or swipe anything either, I guess, because of course during the day the alarm system is off. Anyway, when I was there during the day I saw there was this metal strip inside the glass all around the edge, which I figured was an alarm, but that didn’t worry me, because I wasn’t planning on opening the case from the top. I had a glass cutter, and I intended cutting the case inside the strips, see?”


“I figured it was like taking candy from a baby. So that night, when I was inside, like I said, I went up the steps and flashed the light around, and it was quiet as a grave. So I started toward the case—”

“And all hell broke loose.”

André stared. “How did you know?”

“It came to me in a vision. They had the place wired with floor alarms.” Kek sighed. “And you’re a bit outsized to dangle from the roof à la Rififi .”

“You couldn’t there, anyways,” André said, taking his companion literally. “It’s too high in that room and it’s smooth; nothing to hang from. And I saw a movie once where a guy walked on the ceiling with magnets, but that wouldn’t work, either, because it’s marble.”

“Things are rough all over,” Kek said. “You’re lucky you got away in one piece.”

“I know it!” André responded fervently. “When that alarm went off I jumped a mile, and then I beat it the way I came in. I was in the junk room downstairs when I heard the soldiers come busting in the front door upstairs.”

A thought struck Huuygens. “Did anyone see you?”

“Me? No.”

“Did you close the door of the basement behind you?”

“Sure. If they came after me, I wanted to hold them up as long as I could.”

Kek frowned. “Then maybe they don’t even know there was  an attempt.” He turned abruptly. “Bartender, do you have today’s paper?” He waited until it was handed him and then started to leaf through the pages. “Ah! Here we are. I thought it might make the Barbados papers.”

“What’s it say?” André sounded eager.

Kek sighed and folded the paper. “It doesn’t mention you by name, if that’s what you want to know. But the authorities in Cap Antoine, capital of Ile Rocheux, do not understand the reason the alarm went off and, not wanting to take any chances, have stationed two guards around the clock to guard the famous museum. For the time being.”

“Which means until they shift the carving,” André said disconsolately, and picked up his drink, downing it.

Huuygens shook his head. Of all the inept burglary attempts in the history of crime, this one had to go to the head of the class.

“Damn it, André, didn’t Girard tell you about the alarm system?”

André’s face reddened again.

“I think he was starting to, but — well, I wanted to prove I knew my job, so — well, I interrupted him before he could say anything. I told him there wasn’t anything about the precautions museums took against burglaries that I didn’t know, and to prove it, I told him—” André paused and swallowed. He avoided looking at Huuygens. “Well, I told him I was the one who broke into the Louvre and stole the ‘Mona Lisa’ that time it was taken. Remember?”

Huuygens stared. “You told him what ?”

“I told him—”

“I heard you! And he believed  it?”

“Well, he believed the guy I was with, and the guy had told him he could trust me—”

“Because he didn’t want his back broken,” Kek said hopelessly. “I know.” He shook his head sadly.

There was a moment’s silence; then André spoke. He sounded truly repentant.

“I’m sorry, Kek. I guess I blew your deal. I don’t mind for myself, though I sure as hell could have used the rest of the dough, but I hate to be the cause of your losing out on the deal. I should have used my head. I should have admitted to myself I don’t know anything about robbing a museum. But I did  want to see you and Anita again, and I did want that trip to the States...” His voice slowed down and stopped.

Huuygens studied the lined, craggy face with the sad blue eyes. It was obvious that André did not clearly understand the mentality of a man like Girard. To be a good winner or a loser on a wager was one thing; Girard would take his beatings on that because it was a matter of pride. But to discover he had hired a man for an important job and the job had failed because the man had lied to him about his qualifications — that was quite different. To a person of Girard’s nature, the only answer could be punishment, both swift and dire; and even André’s enormous strength and courage would not avail against any of Girard’s gunmen if they were instructed to resolve the matter. A shot in the dark, or a fast car on a dark street somewhere. It also wouldn’t be too good for the man who had sponsored André. Maybe he would have been better off with a broken back.

Kek sighed. Well, he thought philosophically, if he had to turn professional thief at this late date, at least it would be in a good cause. He smiled to himself faintly. Don’t make yourself out to be such a martyr, Huuygens, he advised himself sardonically; there’s also the matter of your fifty-thousand-to-five-dollar bet riding on it. Let’s kid everybody but ourselves, he thought, and considered André thoughtfully.

“Tell me about this museum.”

André seemed surprised, but seemed to feel this was no time to question Kek on anything.

“Well,” he said, “I told you about the basement. The first floor has three main rooms, one big one and two smaller ones. The carving is in the biggest room. The main door is between the main room and a smaller one in front; the other small one is behind that.”

“How many floors?”

“Three. The floors upstairs are split up in more rooms than the ground floor, but the second floor is all there is to the museum. The top floor is for offices.” He looked at Kek curiously. “Why?”

Kek disregarded André’s query. “Tell me about the staircase.”

“Which one? From the basement to the first floor, or from the first floor up?”

“Tell me about all of them.”

“Well,” André said, mystified, “they all go up halfway to the next floor and there’s a landing, then they go up the rest of the way. They’re wide, made of marble from the first floor to the second, but plain wood from the basement to the first and from the second to the third. Oh, yes,” he added, remembering, “there’s an alcove at the landing on the basement floor; you can get a good view of the first floor from there — floor-level, of course — without being seen. The railing is heavy; all you have to do is look between the uprights.”

“Where are the toilets? In the basement?”

“No,” André said, his mystification deepening. “They’re on the third floor, where the offices are. Why?”

“And one last question,” Kek said, his face expressionless. “How did you get here? To Barbados from Ile Rocheux, I mean?”

“By boat.” André wondered where all this was leading. “Like Girard told me to.”

“I hope you didn’t steal it, like you were also told. They leave boats lie around fairly freely around here.”

André was insulted and his tone showed it.

“I know I’m not bright, but I’m not all that stupid! I don’t know these islands, but I know the Balearics, and I have a hunch all islands are alike. You can rob museums all day long, and they could care less, but steal a man’s boat? They’ll chase you until they catch you if it takes ten years.” He shook his head decisively. “That’s where half my money went. I rented it here in Barbados and took it to Ile Rocheux. In fact, I lived on it in Ile Rocheux for almost two weeks.”

“Well!” It was the first encouraging thing Kek had heard all day. “How long a ride is it?”

“A couple of hours. Why?”

Kek disregarded the question. “And where is the boat now?”

André’s mystification increased. “Now? I returned it, of course. What do I need a boat for now?”

“Go rerent it,” Kek said gently. “Do you have money?”

“I have enough for that, but rent it for what purpose?”

“To go back to Ile Rocheux, of course. Cap Antoine, to be exact. To get the carving you forgot to bring with you.”

For a moment André’s furrowed face brightened; then it fell.

“It’s impossible, Kek. If you’d have been with me the first time, you would probably have thought of something, and we might have pulled it off. But now it’s impossible. You read it yourself. They have two guards in the room, and floor alarms, and the army barracks right next door. There isn’t a chance.”

“Just go rent the boat. If worse comes to worst,” Kek said, “we’ll get in a few days’ fishing. Do you have a map of Cap Antoine? Good. If you left the boat without provisions, get some — enough for a day, at least. Where is the boat, by the way?”

“If I get the same one, it’s down at the yacht basin at Graves End beach. The one I had was called Beachcomber . I’d like it; it’s a good boat.” He frowned. “But aren’t you coming with me?”

“I’ll meet you there in an hour or so. I’ve something to do.”

“Okay.” André came to his feet. The gloomy look on his face suddenly brightened as he contemplated the matter. “Hey! It’ll be like old times, won’t it, Kek?”

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“I certainly hope so,” Huuygens said sincerely. “At least in the old times we came out of our little adventures alive and in one piece.”

He watched the huge André drain the last of his cognac and start for the door. Then he switched smoothly from the French he and André had been using to English, raising his voice a bit, speaking to the bartender.

“Could I have a telephone here, please?”

The bartender brought one over and plugged it in. Kek thanked him with a nod and a smile, and got through to the operator. He placed his call and hung up, returning to the cognac while he waited. A means of getting the carving was forming in his mind; he hoped the planning of his first burglary would be as successful as his usual schemes for bringing things through Customs in various countries of the world. He checked his idea carefully. There were dangers, of course; a pity, for example, that the architects who designed the museum for Ile Rocheux had been so non-American-oriented as to put toilets on the third floor. Still, overcoming obstacles was the reason man was given intelligence. It was a possibility at best, but without choice one took whatever chances he had to. Maybe, he thought with a smile, if this thing works I may become that “professional thief” I was decrying to Girard such a short time ago. Girard was right: every man has the right to name his own vices. I suppose, in the long run, the only thing that makes a thief professional is experience... He went back to his planning.

His call was finally completed; a moment later Girard had been called to the line.


The husky voice was instantly recognizable. It was an interesting fact, Kek thought, that Victor Girard’s “Hello” was always a statement, never a question.

“M’sieu? This is your purchasing agent. I am calling from Barbados. As per instructions.”

“Ah!” Girard sounded pleased. “You have it!”

“Not exactly.”

Girard’s voice changed, hardened. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“It means that to date our requisition has not been filled.”

What ! You mean he has not appeared?”

“Oh, he appeared,” Kek said. “Only he was alone.”

A blast of pure venom exploded into the receiver.

“That idiot! The incompetent! I was told he was the best in the business! He told me—” There was a sudden pause. When Girard spoke again his voice was deadly. “I hope nobody is playing any tricks, here, M’sieu.”

“M’sieu! Nobody is playing any tricks. And your man is  the best. When I saw him here in Barbados I recognized him instantly.” Kek’s tone brooked no nonsense, especially from someone several thousand miles away. “After all, M’sieu, one can scarcely call ‘incompetent’ the man who managed to — well, obtain one of the most valuable pieces of merchandise in the world, can one? From one of the most prestigious shops in the world?” His tone almost answered the question. “Obviously not.”

“Then what happened?”

“One of those things—”

“And why isn’t he  calling me? Why you?”

“He has laryngitis,” Kek answered evenly. “He’s been sleeping on a boat for the past two weeks. In any event, M’sieu, the matter isn’t closed. Far from it—”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying, if M’sieu will listen, that the matter isn’t closed. Your salesman merely asked me to get some additional information from you. With it he feels sure he will be able to complete the transaction to your complete satisfaction.”

“He had better,” Girard said. The very lack of emphasis in his voice constituted a greater threat than violence. “Time is running out. Well, what information does he want?”

“An address in Cap Antoine is all, M’sieu...”

“An address ?”

“We are wasting time, M’sieu.” Kek asked his question and marked down the answer on a table napkin. He tucked it into his pocket. “Thank you. That should be enough.”

“I hope so. You’ll be in touch?”

“Without fail, M’sieu. Good-bye.”

Kek hung up the telephone, made a small grimace at it as if in memory of the man at the other end of the line, and came to his feet. He carried his bill to the bar, paid it after adding a substantial tip, and then paused. The bartender looked at him expectantly.


Kek came to a decision. He unwrapped the candy dish and put it on the bar.

“Here. A present for your wife.” The bartender stared at him. Kek looked concerned. “You have one, do you not?”

“Oh, yes, sir.”

“Then give her this with my blessings. It was meant for my fiancée, but she preferred another. Man, that is, not candy dish.” Kek sighed and carefully folded the paper, putting it in his pocket. “I shall keep the wrapping in memory. With luck, I may be able to use it soon...”

He nodded to the bartender and left the bar. Behind him the bartender examined the candy dish a moment, shrugged, and then slid it along the bar to serve among the other ashtrays.


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“Paquet & company?” André was puzzled. “An architect’s office? What are you planning on doing? Retiring there and building?”

The two men were having an after-lunch brandy at a small restaurant just down the road from the Graves End yacht basin. Beachcomber , with both main and auxiliary gasoline tanks topped and with its normal supplies augmented by several bottles of the best cognac available in the neighborhood, bobbed gently at its dock within their sight.

“I’m planning,” Kek told him, “on seeing if you can break into architects’ offices with the same facility you exhibit with museum basements. This firm of architects happened to have handled the entire security system for the museum. Which includes the wiring job to those floor alarms that gave you such a start the other evening.”

André was watching him closely. Kek returned the other’s stare equably.

“I believe it was the poet Swinburne,” Kek went on, “who once said that even the weariest river winds somewhere safe to sea. In similar fashion, it occured to me that even the longest wire ought to wind, eventually, to a fuse box. If we can locate that fuse box from the plans...” He raised his shoulders in explanation, smiled at André, and finished his drink.

“It’s not a bad idea,” André agreed. “But there’s still the matter of the guards. What do we do about them? Do I knock their heads together? Of course,” he added, with less humor than he intended, “one of them might shoot me — might shoot us , that is — while I was handling his partner. And while you were figuring out what to do next. Five will get you ten the guards are armed.”

“I’ve enough bets at the moment. Maybe one too many.”

“They also probably have walkie-talkies to chat with their friends in the barracks next door.”

“Well,” Kek said, “we’ll try to figure out some method to keep us from being shot, if that’s all that’s bothering you.”

He rose, put money on the table, and led the way from the restaurant. The two men walked slowly back to the boat, the bright noonday sun hot on their faces, the cooling breeze from the ocean welcome on their skin. They climbed aboard and Kek ducked down into the small cabin. He dropped onto one of the bunks and spread out André’s map of Cap Antoine, the island’s only port. The street Girard had named was located once again; it paralleled the main avenue one block to the north. Kek raised his voice.


The large man climbed through the hatchway. Kek turned back to the map, pointing.

“This is the place. Do you know where it is?”

André bent over the map, frowning. It took him a few moments to orient himself; then he nodded.

“Sure. I know where it is. If it’s the one I think it is, it’s the only four-story building in town.”

“And where’s the nearest point we can safely dock the boat?”

André shrugged. “We could come right in and tie up at the municipal pier, as far as that goes. Nobody pays any attention.”

“They just might,” Kek pointed out dryly, “if we came running down to the pier at top speed with the army behind us, making our getaway.”

“Oh.” André rubbed the foolish look from his face and studied the map again. One of his thick fingers came down. “Somewhere around here, I’d say. It would be maybe a mile or a mile and a half from the architect’s office. We can anchor offshore here, and take the dinghy in. The island’s generally rocky, but there’s a sand beach here and the trees come almost to the waterline. We can duck the dinghy and walk into town.”

“And the museum?”

“They call it the gallery, and it’s over here.” The finger moved, paused to point, and moved again, a short distance this time. “The barracks are on this side. They take up two full blocks, and they’re full of troops.”

“As barracks should be. We’ll try our best not to disturb them.” Kek thought for several moments while André waited. At last he looked up. “How’s the night life on the island?”

André brightened in memory. “Active. Gambling is legal on Ile Rocheux, which it isn’t in Barbados, so they get lots of folks from here going over by ferry to lose their dough. And of course they get plenty of cruise ships. The main street” — he bent over pointing it out on the map — “must have a bar every ten feet. Hostesses and slot machines in all of them. Tourism is their biggest business, I guess. Girard started it all; it’s probably the only thing of his the present administration kept.”

Huuygens looked at the man towering above him with amusement.

“You really made a study of the place, didn’t you? A pity you didn’t spend as much time planning your remarkable break-in at the museum.”

André was hurt. “It would have looked funny if I’d spent all my time in the gallery. And it would have looked even funnier if I hadn’t spent some time in the bars and at the casino. After all, I was supposed to be a visitor there, and I was there nearly two weeks.”

“Girard is right,” Kek said. “He really doesn’t care what he does with his money. Ah, well. When does all this action start and when does it stop? In the bars and at the casino?”

“In the bars the action never stops, or practically never. The casino is different; it opens at eight in the evening and closes at four in the morning.” André suddenly frowned. He rubbed his jaw dolefully. “I get you! There are going to be people wandering up and down that street where the architect’s office is located. We’ll have to wait until morning if we want to find the town really deserted, or at least as close to deserted as it ever gets.”

Kek stared at him. “Heaven forbid! And lose a full night’s sleep? I’m surprised you haven’t learned the first lesson of being a successful professional thief.” Kek’s tone was reproachful. “Quote: ‘By far the easiest place to be inconspicuous is in a crowd.’ Unquote.”

André was looking at him curiously. Kek grinned.

“But who am I to be giving lessons to the man who stole the ‘Mona Lisa’ from the Louvre?” He erased his grin and yawned instead. “Now let’s take a swim and then a nap. I don’t know whether we’ll really lose that full night’s sleep or not, but if I were a gambling man, I’d give Girard’s kind of odds that we will...”

It was nine o’clock that night when Beachcomber  left its berth. All navigation lights were lit and properly trimmed, but twenty minutes later, when the western edge of Barbados had shrunk to a barely discernible band of twinkling lights against the low shadow that was the island, Kek went about the craft and methodically extinguished them. Only the faint glow of the binnacle remained, casting faint shadows across André’s craggy face. From then on they plowed steadily westward toward the dying light still faintly tinging the horizon from the already-set sun, until at last the night was completely upon them and the only sounds were the quiet slap of the small rollers against the prow, and the even burbling of the twin engines churning out the sea behind them. There was no moon and no clouds, and the sky was a low-hanging bowl of velvet pierced with millions of tiny pinholes, letting down slivers of light that failed to illuminate. The sea breeze was moderate, bringing the tang of salt air, humid and warm; the stars swung back and forth with the even swaying of the vessel.

Kek relaxed on a locker, staring into the blackness ahead. His scheme for robbing the museum was more or less firm, but he had little notion of the chances of success. Whenever planning to smuggle something through Customs, Huuygens always had the details worked out to the last step, but museum-burglarizing, he had to admit, was something rather out of his field. Well, he thought, live and learn. Even Robin Hood had to start with his first sheriff sometime and someplace.

Ile Rocheux first appeared out of the darkness as a blacker shadow towering in the night, visible mainly through its blocking out of stars. André turned his head, speaking quietly, as if aware of how sound can travel over water.

“Cap Antoine is on the far side of the island,” he said. “I didn’t want to head directly for the north point; that’s the main sea-lane, and without lights I didn’t want to play tag with some liner.” He started to swing the wheel. “We’ll run along the shore from here on. We’re about a half-hour from where we’ll anchor. There’s a ridge to the north of the town that will keep us out of sight until we’re ashore in the dinghy.”

“Unless they have patrols along the shore.”

André looked down at him, frowning. “Why would they have patrols?”

“I don’t know,” Kek said. “Maybe to keep the gamblers from escaping.” He came to his feet, trying to pierce the darkness and see the rocky shore that was approaching.

A thin line of curling white marked where the surf broke against the sheer walls that rose abruptly from the sea and disappeared into the night. The reason for the island’s name was evident; in sharp contrast to the soft, rolling hills of Barbados, Ile Rocheux had been thrust from the sea floor in some ancient cataclysm, stripped to its basic stone, rugged and forbidding. André brought the boat on course and pushed the throttles. The engines responded instantly, increasing their roar.

They chopped through the roughened sea for another twenty minutes before the northernmost point of the island was reached; a swing on the wheel and they were in the lee of the island, in calmer waters. André instantly reduced the speed, let them run in toward shore for a few minutes, and then cut the engines entirely. Beachcomber  coasted forward under its own momentum. André glanced at the binnacle clock and then switched off the tiny light. They were in complete darkness.

“Eleven forty-five,” André said softly.

“The shank of the evening,” Kek said, and stared toward shore. In the distance a faint glow against the sky indicated the presence of Cap Antoine beyond a spur of hill; in the stillness they could hear the weak sound of music. Beachcomber  had lost its forward motion and was rocking gently on the softly pulsing waves. André walked forward, wrapping his hands in old rags. He released the anchor and slowly paid out the chain through the hawsehole by hand, muffling any sound the chain might make. Other than a slight splash as the prongs struck the water, all was silent.

Kek was quietly lowering the light aluminum dinghy into the sea. When it was afloat, he lowered himself into it, easily holding it in place with one hand on the boat’s ladder; with his other hand he checked to make sure his pocket flashlight was in order by flicking it on inside his pocket. The faint glow was instantly extinguished and he waited in the rocking boat for André to appear.

The large man came back from the prow treading silently, and dropped with almost feline skill into the dinghy. He sat down, waited until Kek was also seated, and then took up the oars, pulling for the shore without a single splash to mark their progress. Behind them Beachcomber  disappeared almost at once; Kek hoped they would be able to locate it when they returned, but resolutely put the uncomfortable thought from his mind and concentrated on trying to see the shoreline.

Sand scraped under their keel before he was even aware they were close. André waited until the surf started to draw back and then leaped lightly to the sand, holding the boat’s painter. When the next comber came he stepped back from it sharply, hauling on the rope, bringing the dinghy to a stop high on the dry sand. Kek stepped down.

“Thank you,” he said. “I should have hated to walk down the street with wet trouser legs.”

“Always the dandy.” André grinned then became serious. “Let’s get this thing into the woods.”

The two lifted the light dinghy and walked it toward the line of trees faintly visible against the glow of the city. Inside the woods the night was darker than ever. Two steps and Kek backed into a tree, the prow of the dinghy jabbing him in the stomach.

“This ought to do it,” he said quietly. “If we’re holding this thing and can’t see it, nobody else ought to be able to.”

“Right!” André said, perfectly willing, and lowered his end.

Kek put the prow down, turned, and walked into another tree. His voice became slightly aggrieved. “The next time I come here I take the ferry.” He rubbed his forehead. “Or a taxi. Where the devil is the ocean? We just came from there.”

“We don’t want the ocean,” André said patiently. “We want the road. It’s only about a hundred feet through the trees.”

Only  a hundred feet? You’re very nonchalant about damages to my person.” Kek sighed. “Ah, well. Lead on...”

The main thoroughfare of Cap Antoine, one of the five paved streets in the capital, had had its name hastily changed from Avenue Girard to Boulevard Chef de Bataillon Richereau, and there had not been time in the past twelve months to prepare proper signs as yet. However, since the avenue was known throughout the Caribbean as Sucker Street, it made small difference.

The public way fulfilled André’s description faithfully. The west side of the road had at intervals to forsake bistros and all-night pharmacies mainly dealing in for-the-prevention-of-disease-only merchandise to accommodate the wharves that ran out to sea and provided dock space for the many visitors who, in turn, provided Ile Rocheux with its main source of income. The east side of the street, however, was not so penalized. From almost every doorway jukeboxes polluted the humid night air with enough noise to make ordinary thinking impossible, let alone the careful planning of a workable burglary. Or two workable burglaries, Kek thought. André, happily leaving these problems to his admittedly more intelligent companion, glanced into each passing doorway thirstily, wetting his lips.

“One little beer can’t hurt.”

“Later,” Huuygens said firmly.

“Just one little beer?” Nostalgia enfolded André. “We should have tapped that brandy back on the boat before we left.”

“It will still be there when we get back.” There was a slight pause which both men properly interpreted to mean if  we get back. Kek marched along. “How much further?”

André sighed. “Two streets down, then left one short block. Look, Kek, how about at least some tonic?”


“With some gin in it to take away the taste...”

“Later,” Huuygens said relentlessly, and followed André around the requisite corner. They walked on for less than a minute. Then—

“It’s that building—” André started, and stopped dead in his tracks. Huuygens walked right into the man. It was like walking into a brick wall. He rubbed his forehead again, beginning to get irritated.

“Now what’s the matter?”

André merely pointed. Kek looked up. The building they had been approaching, easily identifiable because of its height, was ablaze with lights. André was staring, astonished.

“What on earth—! It’s after midnight. It’s supposed to be a business office, not a bar! They ought to have been closed hours and hours ago!”

Oddly enough, the fact that the building was lit up like a hospital ship in a war zone seemed to dispel Kek’s displeasure with the way things had been going that evening. He stared up at the lighted building, a smile beginning to crease his lips.

“Well, well!” he said winking at André. “How’s your island French?”

“My what?”

“Can you do the accent they’re afflicted with down here? After all,” Kek pointed out logically, “you’ve been here two weeks, and all I’ve had to practice on was Girard’s few words.” He considered his statement and amended it. “Well, not exactly few...”

“Not me,” André said positively, and shook his head. “They talk as if they were eating at the same time. Why?”

Kek disregarded the question. “Well, in that case keep quiet and let me do the talking.”

“Talking to who?”

“To anybody. Try to merely look intelligent, or at least prosperous.”

Things were getting confused as far as André was concerned. “What do you mean? How do you look prosperous?”

“By not looking poor, of course. Let’s go.”

He started across the street. André stood a moment, wondering what their conversation had been all about, and then realized where Kek was heading. He sprang after him, grabbing his arm.

“Kek, Kek! Where do you think you’re going?”

Huuygens surveyed him companion calmly. “Into the building, of course. That’s why we came here. Up to the third floor.” He looked up at the building and sighed. “Probably by foot. I doubt they have elevators.”

“But there are people  up there!” André sounded as if any building infested with people should call an exterminator.

“Of course there are people up there — it saves us the trouble of breaking and entering, which is against the law.” Kek paused, thinking. “I wonder if merely entering is against the law? I shouldn’t think so. I’ll have to check that some day. The things one has to know if one is to become a successful professional thief! Frightening!” He smiled at André in kindly fashion. “Ah, well. Let’s go.”

André stared at Kek a moment, shrugged philosophically, and followed. Who was he to question Kek Huuygens? Although he would have sworn that breaking into an office that had people in it was basically a poor operation, at least in theory.

They crossed the street, pushed into the empty lobby, discovered — as Kek had anticipated — that elevators were a needless luxury in the edifice, and began to climb the stairs. At the third floor Kek consulted a small directory mounted at the landing, and led the way to the office they wanted. Through the frosted glass brilliant illumination could be seen. Kek winked at André and turned the knob, nor did he appear at all surprised to find the door opening under his touch. André swallowed and followed.

The outer office was empty, the receptionist’s desk abandoned. Still, they could see lights pouring from the various offices into a central corridor. André looked about nervously and then bent down, whispering into Kek’s ear. He tried to be as silent as he could about it, but to his own ears he seemed to be shouting.

“Kek, this is insane! Let’s get out of here!”

Huuygens smiled at him and pushed through the little swinging gate that separated the waiting area from the offices proper. He walked down the hallway, poked his head into the first doorway, shook it in disappointment, and marched farther along the corridor. André, more convinced by the moment that his old friend was dealing from a short deck, followed, prepared to at least save the other from his own folly, if hitting someone on the head was enough to do it.

At the third office Kek apparently found what he had been looking for, which had to be the people André had so correctly stated were on the premises. André saw a big smile light up Kek’s face, and heard an unbelievably correct imitation of the island accent issuing from the other’s lips.

“Ah, madame — working hard, I see. Well, I shall not disturb you. It is simply that M’sieu Paquet wishes me to show this client the plans for his new home. We outside salesmen have no hours! No, no, that’s perfectly all right. Go right ahead with your cleaning. If you finish before we’re through, you can leave. I’ll lock up.”

He smiled and continued down the hallway, with André on his heels. As the big man passed the small office he saw an elderly woman on her knees, scrubbing the parquet floor; she didn’t bother to raise her head at his passage. Kek came at last to the room he wanted, a large drafting room with wide drawing-files in one corner. The cleaning woman had obviously done the room, for the entire arrangement was incredibly neat, with dust covers on all tables, all drafting machines at precisely the same angle, all gooseneck lamps arched to the same degree. Even the wastebaskets, now empty, occupied equivalent locations beneath each table. Kek nodded.

“Let us hope their filing system is equally neat.”

He walked over, studied the lock on the first drawer, tried it, and smiled as the drawer slid open. “My, my! What security! On the other hand, I don’t suppose many people go around stealing architect’s drawings. The resale market must be rather limited...”

André let out the breath he had been holding, it seemed to him, for several hours. “Kek, you’re incredible! How did you know it would just be a cleaning woman up here?”

Huuygens looked up from the file, surprised.

“Who else would account for all  the lights being on in the whole building? One light here or another there could mean someone working late, or a meeting, or something on that order, but all the lights on in all the different offices? They probably have women working in the other offices in the building right now; when they finish they’ll go to another building.” He stopped to frown. “That wouldn’t be a bad method of robbing a place,” he said thoughtfully. “Break in and instead of stumbling around with a flashlight, turn on every light in the place. Ah, well, maybe another time...” He turned back to the file. “Museum, museum...”

“Gallery,” André said, wanting to contribute at least something to the evening’s endeavor.

“That’s right, I forgot. Here we are. Well, well. One full drawer, just for the security system. And I would be willing to bet,” he went on, “that the duplicate copies of these security drawings held by the army in their barracks are in a safe inside of a safe inside of a safe!” He shook his head humorously. “How it goes! Well, let’s hope most of these are detail drawings; I’d hate to have to wade through all of them to find what we want. We don’t have all night.”

He leafed through the vellum sheets, noting the titles in each bottom right-hand corner; then, with a nod of triumph he pulled one out.

“Here we are. ‘Basement Electrical — General Layout.’ Let’s have some better light on it.” He carried it to one of the drafting tables, laid it flat, and pulled the gooseneck lamp over, flicking the switch. “That’s better. All right, André, where are we?”

André bent over the drawing.

“Let’s see. Yes. This must be that little room I came into first, where they have the junk and the repair shop. And this is the corridor, and here are the steps.” He looked at Kek. “We ought to have the first-floor plan, too, to see where the floor alarms are.”

“We know where the floor alarms are,” Kek said reasonably. “All around the carving case. What we want is the power source, and that should be on this drawing.”

They bent over the vellum again. André checked the list of symbols neatly printed on the edge of the drawing and then returned to his study. His heavy finger came down.

“Here we are. These are the mains coming in from the street. They go to this box, here. If this thing isn’t just schematic, it would be in the basement corridor. Those would be the main fuses.”

Kek nodded. “Fine! That’s what we want. Is there anything there indicating telephones?”

“They wouldn’t be on this, but it ought to be easy enough to trace those from the nearest telephone pole.”

“True. By the way, do you remember seeing that fuse box in the corridor when you were there?”

André grinned. He was feeling better.

“On the way in I wasn’t looking, and on the way out I didn’t have time for any sight-seeing. But if it shows on the plan, there isn’t any reason why it shouldn’t be there.”

“True enough.” Kek carried the drawing back to the cabinet. He replaced it in its proper numerical position, closed the drawer, and returned to the drafting table. The gooseneck lamp was arched into its original position and Kek stepped back.

“Good enough. Step one completed, more or less. Shall we go?”

“For a beer?”

“Later!” Kek said firmly.

“All right,” André responded with remarkable tractability. The fact was that after the incredible ease with which they had entered the architect’s office and gotten the information they wanted, André had been convinced that robbing the museum — gallery, that was — would present no great problem. Although he had no idea of what Kek planned to do, his faith was high; now all he wanted was to get it over and get back to the brandy aboard the Beachcomber . He looked at Kek admiringly.

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“How come you never went in for this sort of thing before? You have a flair for it.”

Kek looked at André soberly.

“I’m not so sure I have,” he said quietly, “and I sincerely hope I don’t find out I don’t before tonight is over!”


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“It is the height of simplicity,” Huuygens observed. There was an assurance to his voice he was far from feeling. “If the idiots who designed the building had simply put the toilets in the basement, where they are in any other self-respecting museum, all we’d have to do is wait for one of them to visit the place. But since they didn’t, we’ll have to do it this way. We make enough noise to make the guards suspicious. One comes to investigate—” He raised his shoulders. “Voilà .”

The two men were strolling along the main street, their words lost in the cacophony about them. André’s interest in the conversation was such that even the soft calls from the bar doorways did not register on his consciousness. He listened to the words of his old friend and found them highly dubious.

“And if both guards come down to investigate our little noise?”

“All the better,” Kek said positively, and mentally crossed his fingers. “We simply take them, tie them up, lift the carving, and trot back to our little boat. Without, I might mention, stopping for any beer. Fini .”

André retreated. “And if only one comes downstairs?”

“As I said, we disarm him—”

“And if he yells?”

“We do our best to see he does not yell.” Kek held up his hand at once. “I don’t mean that the way I have a feeling you might think I do, if you know what I mean.”

“No,” André said honestly.

“I’m not surprised. It wasn’t well put. I mean, you hold his mouth and then we tape it up. Or, if absolutely necessary to prevent an outcry, I suppose you could knock him out, or something. But only as a last resort. And as gently as possible.”

Gently ?”

“I said, as possible. The less violence the better. I don’t want anyone hurt, that’s rule number one.”

“Including us.” André was in complete agreement. “Let’s make that rule zero. Or even minus one.”

“Fair enough. However,” Kek pointed out, “since we’re the aggressors, the burden of being careful falls on us. I don’t mind becoming a burglar — well, I do, but never mind — what I mean is I don’t want to end up being anything beyond that. Is that clear?”

André nodded. “So we have the first one tied up and gagged — because we don’t have any tape — and his partner comes down to find out what is taking the first one so long. And then we take him, too. Is that the idea?”

“In general, yes. And we do have tape. I have it in my pocket.”

André considered him admiringly. “You think of everything!” His face shifted to a small frown as he returned to considering the night’s work ahead. “But what if, when the first guard doesn’t return upstairs, instead of coming down to find out what happened, the second guard simply calls for reinforcements?”

“We intend to cut the telephone wires first, remember?”

“But what if he calls by walkie-talkie?”

“Then we run as fast as we can,” Kek said sourly. “You keep going on and on about walkie-talkies. What makes you think they have walkie-talkies? Did you see any on the daytime guards when you were in there?”

“No,” André admitted. He had been pleased with his role as devil’s advocate, but he was ready to be quitted of it. “Anyway, even if they have them we’ll be able to see them before we start anything. Like I told you, you can get a perfect look at that room through the railing from that alcove on the stair landing. You’re in the dark and they’re in the light. If they’ve got walkie-talkies, we’ll see them. Worse comes to worse, we can revise our plans—”

“Worse came to worst a long time ago,” Kek said shortly. “What the devil are we doing here, anyway?”

“Saving my neck,” André said quietly. “Or did you think I didn’t know?”

Kek glanced over at his large friend, surprised as always at the sharp insight André exhibited at times.

“Only partially. There’s still the matter of my bet with Girard.” He changed the subject. “Anyway, it’s the best idea I can come up with. Also the only one. I admit it lacks finesse. As a matter of fact, it’s a terrible plan, an awful plan, and I don’t like it at all. The only thing is I don’t have a better one. Do you?”


“Then let’s get on with this museum-breaking, shall we? It’s late and I’m getting tired.”

“Gallery-breaking,” André said, always the stickler, and led the way in the proper direction.

The Ile Rocheux Gallery of Art, pride of the island and home of the Chang carving, “The Village Dance,” was located at the end of a narrow park on the opposite side of the city from Sucker Street, but since Cap Antoine was not all that big, the distance was not all that great. It was, however, far enough from the harbor hubbub to save it from the raucous noise, as well as from many pedestrians at that hour of the morning. André and Kek, approaching circumspectly from the path which the rear wall of the gallery faced, were suitably impressed by the deserted area, lit only by a lone streetlight, as well as by the welcome silence; nor did their rope-soled deck sneakers disturb it.

André paused, looked about, and a moment later had pushed through the tall bushes that formed the rear boundary of the gallery grounds. Kek waited only long enough to note no objection to the surreptitious entry into the grounds, and then followed.

André was standing in the deep shadows of the side wall, looking up. Above his head a telephone cable looped itself gracefully from a street pole, clung to the wall by means of a clip, and then dropped down on cleats to disappear through a small pipe into the building. The point of entry was well within André’s reach. He looked about and then reached upwards swiftly. One powerful snip and he was back in position, all in one motion. They waited tensely for several minutes to see if anyone might burst from the building to investigate. No one did. Kek nodded, pleased that nobody had been talking to his girlfriend on company time; he liked to see dedication to duty. On the other hand it was very possible they were so used to having the phone service cut off that they assumed it was normal. He tapped André on the shoulder, pointed toward the back, and nodded.

André looked around and then edged his way to the rear corner of the large edifice. He crouched, peered carefully about the edge, and then straightened up, motioning to Huuygens. Another second and he had disappeared.

Kek made the corner in a quick, silent sprint, turned it, and almost fell down the steep stairwell André had described. He caught his balance and edged downward, glaring at André. In the faint light of the streetlamp angling into the areaway, Kek could see the look of embarrassment on the big man’s face.

“I forgot to tell you it was so close, didn’t I?” André whispered.

Kek put his finger to his lips and pointed to the lock. André nodded and turned. He brought out his flashlight, flicked it on, held the beam on the lock for the briefest of moments and then flicked it off. A smile appeared on his face.

“It’s that same lock,” he said in a pleased whisper. “I can open it blindfolded.”

Kek nodded, agreeably surprised as always when confronting economy in government; a more profligate administration might well have changed locks after a suspected burglary attempt, but not those in charge of the Ile Rocheux Gallery. He hoped it might indicate equal inattention on the part of the guards to other criminal possibilities.

There was a light scraping of metal on metal, then silence for several moments. Kek was about to suggest that André put on a blindfold if that would help, when the large man tested the knob and then swung the door wide to disappear inside. Kek followed, closing the heavy door behind him. In the complete blackness of the windowless room he was suddenly aware of his breathing; it seemed to his sensitive ears to sound like a subway train on an express run. He was sure that the guards had to hear it, even through the heavy door, the fifty feet of corridor, and the thick floor that separated them.

He brought out his flashlight and switched it on. To his surprise his breathing no longer seemed to be making such a deafening racket. He promised himself to investigate this phenomenon some day, but not tonight. He swung the light about. As André had indicated, the area seemed to combine the services of storage room with workshop. Large stone figures were placed haphazardly about in the crowded space, making it look like some street scene in an ancient Arawak village. A bench along one wall was apparently used either to make repairs or for assembly of the large statues. A torso reclined on it, patiently awaiting legs and arms, the stone eyes staring calmly at the ceiling. On the far side of the room the door to the corridor was closed.

“The first thing we do,” Kek said quietly, “is to move these figures out of the way. I want a clear straight line between the two doors. If we have to leave in a hurry — and in the dark — I don’t want to run head-on into one of these stone giants. I’ve had enough of that sort of thing tonight as it is.”

André tested one. “They’re heavy.”

“I’m sure. If they were light we could run right over them. Let’s go. And quietly.”

They bent to their task, shifting the stone figures one by one until a reasonably clear path had been laid out for their escape. The limited room prevented a perfect job, but it was far better than it had been. Kek paused, panting.

“Well, with a bit of dodging we ought to make it. Even if we hit them now, all we’ll break is a shoulder, which is better than a head.” He looked at the door to the corridor. “Now, according to that drawing, the fuse box is on, or in, the corridor about fifteen feet from this room and roughly forty feet from the stairway. Right?”

André nodded. “On the left-hand wall.”

“Then let’s go.” He put the flashlight beam on the door, held it there until André was behind him and his hand was on the knob, then switched the light off. In the sudden darkness his breathing seemed loud again. He pulled the knob.

The corridor was clearly outlined without the need for any flashlight; light from the floor above shone obliquely down the stairway at the far end and angled itself across the tunnellike hallway, illuminating it sufficiently. Kek nodded briefly and stepped out. André passed him, taking up a protective stance further along the bare corridor. Kek reached up to the box, set at head height into the wall.

His admiration for Paquet et Cie. grew as he lifted the metal cover and peered within. As neat as the drafting room had been, as tidy as the file holding the drawing they had studied, just so organized was the fuse box. Little metal nameplates clearly identified each circuit, the alarms on one side, the light mains on the other. With a nod of thankfulness to the architectural firm — and a solemn promise to himself never to use them if security ever mattered in one of his endeavors — Kek slowly and silently pulled down the requisite switch and closed the box.

André had been glancing back nervously over his shoulder. Kek grinned and motioned André to come back to him. When the large man had slipped silently to his side, Kek put his lips to the other’s ear.

“Your floor plates have been defused. I’m going to take a peek upstairs. You wait here.”

André nodded. Kek walked quietly on rope soles to the steps and then started up them slowly and carefully. As he went from tread to tread, the murmur of voices from the room above grew in volume. He came to the landing and stepped back into the alcove. From there the floor line of the room above was clearly visible through the heavy posts of the railing. The room he was surveying was larger than he had anticipated; the walls were lined with huge paintings while the small case containing the precious carving was clearly visible in the center of the room in the place of honor. But the thing that caught and held Huuygens’ attention was none of the art objects; it was the fact that instead of the two guards he had been led to expect, the room contained three men — two soldiers and an officer.

Kek frowned. His plan had not considered the presence of more than two men. Would it work in the case of three? Extremely doubtful. A second might follow a first who did not reappear, but a third would undoubtedly raise an alarm at the loss of two companions. He studied the scene above, attempting to come up with a workable solution to the problem, but his head seemed stuffed with cotton wool. Another thing against burglary, he decided, was the ridiculous hours.

The officer was standing, feet apart, hands locked behind his back, speaking in a high, nasal voice. The two soldiers stood at rigid attention. Each carried sidearms but Kek was pleased to see that walkie-talkies were not in evidence. This did not, of course, reduce the problem of the extra man, but it was something. The problem, as Kek saw it, was that while it was something he could not for the life of him see what that something was. Kek leaned closer, listening to the thick island accent.

“—in the morning. Is that understood?”

Kek could now see the stripes on one of the men’s sleeves. A corporal. “Yes, Major.” This voice was lower, harsher; it made Kek think of Girard’s voice.

The major continued, his jaw thrust forward. “His plane just landed and he wanted to come directly here. He wishes to remain here with you until the carving leaves at eight o’clock tomorrow morning.”

Kek’s frown deepened. So apparently there was still another man, making the group four  in total. Good God! The place sounded like the Gare du Nord during rush hour; Kek wondered if the museum was as busy during the day as it seemed to be at night. His original scheme, it was obvious, would have to be abandoned, but in favor of what? The major’s high, nasal voice continued in his drill-instructor’s manner.

“I will have replacement guards here at seven forty-five in the morning. At that time your responsibility here will end and you will return to the barracks. Is that clear?”

The corporal’s deep tone answered. “Yes, Major.”

“The gentleman speaks no French, but I see no necessity of communication.”

“Yes, sir.”

The major nodded abruptly. “In that case I shall leave you. You will lock up behind me.”

“Yes, Major.”

So from four people we are now back to three, Kek thought. Not the Gare du Nord at rush hour, but possibly at one in the morning. Kek watched the corporal do a stiff about-face and disappear from the scene behind the strutting major. The second soldier, a private, visibly relaxed and brought out a packet of cigarettes. He shook one loose and then wordlessly offered the package to someone out of sight. A man walked into view, shaking his head in refusal. Kek’s frown deepened, but he could not say he was completely surprised to see his old friend from Worcester, Mass. and Fort Lauderdale, Mr. Ralph Jamison.

How had Jamison gotten there? Quite easily. Probably from San Juan, assuming he had gone back to the ship after his meeting with the red-haired youth. The man was becoming a nuisance; or, rather, was continuing to be one. Jamison was dressed in island whites and there was a livid bruise high on one cheekbone that was clearly visible even at that distance. Kek silently applauded the freckle-faced youngster’s chivalry, not to mention his good right hand. Any apologies Kek may have felt might have been due Jamison because of the happenings at the 66 Roof were now, as a Washington press secretary might have put it, no longer operative. Exactly what part the gangling Mr. Jamison played in the affair was still a question, but a tourist he certainly was not.

“No, thanks,” Jamison said. “I don’t smoke.”

The soldier grinned the foolish grin of people who do not understand a foreign language, and withdrew the offer. He brought his cigarette to his mouth and brought out his lighter, but before he could spin the wheel he found it jerked from his hand. Before he could protest this indignity from the returning corporal, it was followed by the cigarette being plucked from his mouth rudely.

“You know the rules!” the corporal said harshly. “No smoking in the Gallery at any time . And no matches or lighters. There are masterpieces here, you idiot!” He looked at Jamison. “Sir — do you have any matches on you? Or a cigarette lighter?”

Jamison shrugged, uncertain as to what the man was saying.

“He didn’t take a cigarette,” the soldier offered.

It was insufficient evidence to satisfy the corporal. He held up the lighter. Then he made the motion of striking a match. “Do you have any matches? Or a lighter?”

Jamison finally understood. He shook his head and then patted his pockets to demonstrate his lack of incendiary elements. The corporal nodded and turned away, walking out of Kek’s sight. On his return a few minutes later he looked grimly satisfied.

“Your lighter’s locked up for the night,” he reported in his deep, harsh voice. “You’ll get it in the morning.”


“There are no buts! You’re lucky the major didn’t see you trying to light a cigarette in here, you idiot! If you need something in your mouth, bite your nails!”

Jamison, unable to understand the language, had been watching the scene with a touch of amusement. Now he turned from the soldier’s obvious embarrassment at being reprimanded before a stranger, and looked around. His eye fell on the case in the center of the room.

“Ah!” he said, pleased. “So that’s the famous carving, is it?”

He started to move toward it, but the corporal grabbed his arm, speaking rapidly in his island French; with his other hand he jabbed downward at the floor. Jamison would have been amazed at the corporal’s words, which recommended all smoking soldiers and all stupid foreigners to perdition, but he did get the general idea.

“I understand,” Jamison said, and pulled his arm free. “Floor alarms, eh?” He shrugged. “Well, I’ve waited this long to see the thing, I guess I can wait until morning.”

He leaned back against a column, took a copy of an American magazine from his jacket pocket, and calmly began reading. The soldier squatted down near the column and stared at his callused hands, as if surprised to see them empty of tobacco. The corporal strolled around the edges of the large room, studying the masterpieces he had so bravely defended from fire just moments before. With the magazine removed from Jamison’s pocket, Kek could note the bulge under one arm. So there were three armed men, not two! Could his original scheme possibly be revived? Kek sadly conceded it could not. How to get the carving without being seen and recognized?

An idea suddenly came, and Kek silently gave credit for it where the credit was due: to the corporal, bless him. He reviewed the scheme carefully. Very possible, he said to himself. There were of course certain chances involved, such as that someone might panic and use a gun, but he didn’t really think so. He backed quietly from the alcove and crept down the steps, pleased that whoever had built them — possibly those perfectionists, Paquet et Cie. — had made them solid enough not to creak. He approached André with a finger to his lips and led the way back to the storage room. André followed wonderingly and closed the thick door behind them. Kek flicked on his flashlight and stared up at André.

“There are three men up there, all armed.”


“That’s right. One of them is an American who was on the same boat as I was. He knows me.”

André glowered. “What’s he doing here?”

“According to the conversation, he’s here to accompany the carving when it leaves — which is at eight o’clock tomorrow morning — except if things work out the way I hope, it’s going to leave here a lot sooner — like in five minutes.” Kek frowned and shook his head. “Let’s forget him for the moment. Here’s the way we handle it. The first thing we do is see to it the back door, the one to the areaway, is on the latch, but not open enough for any light to show. And with the key in the lock from the outside, because we’re going to lock it when we leave, which should hold them up a little, if they catch on. Which I hope they don’t.”

“Catch on? To what?”

Kek disregarded this. “Next, we leave this door here, leading to the corridor, wide open, because I’m going to be coming through here fast. All clear so far?”

“No,” André argued. “That corridor is like a target range. Anyone comes down there will look like a clay pigeon in a shooting gallery. What keeps them from knocking you off?”

“Several things,” Kek said, and forced himself to think positively. “One, with any luck they’ll never think of the basement at all. Leave that part to me. Two, we’re going to do this job in total darkness and be out of here before they have a chance to cast any light on the problem.” He explained the corporal’s aid in saving the institution from destruction by flame. “So they shouldn’t have any means of illumination.”

“What about flashlights?”

“I didn’t see any on them.” He mentally crossed his fingers. “Let’s not think about nasty things like that. You man the fuse box and I’ll do the upstairs bit.”

“No,” André said stubbornly. “I know exactly where the case is upstairs. I can get the carving easier than you; I almost had it once. And if there are any arguments up there, I can handle them better.” His jaw hardened.

“You are going to man the fuse box and I am going to do the upstairs bit,” Kek said firmly, “and if there are any arguments, let them not be between us. The idea isn’t to prove we’re tougher than three armed men; it’s to prove we’re smarter. Besides, you didn’t do your homework on practicing the island accent, and I did. I’ll give you the signal from the stair landing. You pull the light switch in the fuse box. Then get outside and be ready to lock the door when I come through in a rush.”

“If you  happen to be the first one through the door,” André said direly.

“If I’m not,” Kek replied, “and it’s a man in a white suit, you have my permission to deal with him as ungently as you wish. He should be getting used to it by now.” In the light of the flash Kek studied André’s sober face. “All clear?”

“Just be careful.”

“Yes,” Kek answered — for there was nothing else to say — and turned off the light, reaching for the knob.


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The scene on the main floor of the gallery had changed but little when Kek regained the stair landing, slipped into the alcove, and peered through the railing posts to consider the large room. Jamison was still deep in his magazine, the soldier was still hunkered down, suffering the pangs of withdrawal, and the corporal was at the extreme end of the room, studying a full-sized statue that appeared to be bronze and which may or may not have deserved the adulation he seemed to be giving it. The case containing the precious carving was clearly visible in the center of the room, and the path to it was clear of obstacles, but from Kek’s point of view, barely above floor level, it was difficult to properly judge distances. Well, Kek thought philosophically, we’ll just keep walking until we bump into it, and then try to come back the same number of steps without falling down the stairs. He surveyed the scene once more, decided it was too peaceful, and motioned André to pull the switch.

Sudden blackness seemed to explode in the gallery. Kek was trotting lightly up the steps in the shocked moment of silence that followed, but before he had quite reached the top and the main floor, voices seemed to spring up from all sides of the place. Kek was pleased to note that the high-arched room seemed to add a certain echoing resonance that distorted the finer nuances of the various voices.

First, in island French from the corporal at the far end of the room, came a harsh, aggrieved growl. “What in hell happened to the damn lights?” Then in English Jamison said violently, “Damn banana republics, — don’t even know how to run a damn generator! Who the hell has a light?” The startled soldier, scrambling to his feet, merely said, “What—? What—?”

Kek felt it was time to contribute to the conversation. He dropped his voice as low as it would go, rasping it in his best imitation of the corporal, trying to growl to make up any difference.

“Soldier! The fuse box! It’s in the hallway on the second floor! Get up there and see what happened!”

“See what happened?” There was justified resentment in the soldier’s voice “You took my lighter! How can I see inside a fuse box, even if I could find it?”

“Use your hands! Feel! Get upstairs, hear?” Kek growled, and moved steadily toward the case in the center of the room. He was pleased that apparently the thought of an auxiliary power source had not occurred to Paquet et Cie.

“Where are the stairs?”

“Find them! Get up to the second floor!”

“Who’s that talking? Who’s that giving orders?” It was the corporal; from his voice it was obvious he was coming closer. There was a sudden bump and a grunt of pain as the corporal fell over something, but he was on his feet in an instant. Suspicion entered his voice. “I thought the major said you couldn’t speak French!”

Kek felt the smooth glass under his groping hand. As he quietly raised the cover and reached within, he felt a little more confusion could only produce good results. At a time like this one could scarcely have enough of it. Accordingly, he pitched his voice higher, making it nasal and angry.

“I am  the major, you fool! It’s fortunate for you that I came back.” He felt the carving, slightly slippery to his touch, and tucked it into his shirt. He lowered the cover of the case carefully, raising his voice again to hide any possible sound. “Why has nobody any matches?”

“Matches?” the corporal repeated, mystified. “But the rules—”

“No cigarette lighters?”

“But Major, the rules—”

“Quiet, Corporal! Rules are made to be broken. Soldier, where are you? Soldier?” Kek started quietly in the direction of the stairs, or in the direction he hoped the stairs were. If Jamison spoke it might help him orient himself — if Jamison hadn’t moved, that is.

The corporal attempted to explain the failure of his subordinate to respond. “I sent him — you sent him—” There was a pause as he considered his words. “Somebody sent him upstairs...”

“Upstairs? In this blackness?” Kek was treading carefully now; Jamison was somewhere in the Stygian night. “What idiot would do that?”

“The fuse box—”

“How could he see?” Where the devil was Jamison? Well, why not ask? “Corporal? Where is the American? This could be a trick! I didn’t like the look of the man in the first place!”

“I don’t know, sir. I... I can’t see.”

“None of us can see, you fool!” Where the devil were those steps? Had he been turned around by the idiotic conversation with the wandering corporal? One thing he certainly didn’t want to do was fall over any statue. He raised his voice, speaking now in a very badly broken English. “Meester Jamey — uh-soon?”

“Here, for Christ’s sake!” Jamison said angrily. “Who’s speaking? You speak English?”

“You hear, Corporal?” Kek’s foot slid into space, he caught his balance with an effort. He felt about and located the first tread underfoot. His hand located the newel post and dropped to the angled railing below, holding it with a feeling of relief. He paused to deliver the coup de grâce . “You locate that American and hold him for interrogation! This is undoubtedly a trick. Do you hear me, Corporal? That’s an order!”

“Yes, sir!”

“Don’t let him near that case with the carving, understand?”

“No, sir!”

“I’ll be back with lights and reinforcements. You wait.”

“Yes, sir—” Triumph suddenly competed with growling in the corporal’s voice. “I have him, Major!”

“Hey!” Jamison yelped, outraged at the sudden hands upon him.

“You cut that out,” the corporal said. There was the sound of a heavy slap.

“Hey!” Jamison responded, and that was the last intelligible sound Kek heard. He trotted silently down the steps, holding the railing, counting the stairs down as he had on the way up. No stumble at this point! He felt the landing underfoot, turned, and went down the balance of the steps to the corridor. Behind him muffled protests and growls alternated as he felt his way along the smooth walls into the storage room.

He closed the door behind him, risked a second’s flash from his light for direction, and then felt his way in darkness to the outer door. He pushed it open carefully to find a tense André waiting. André instantly shut the door and turned the key. As he pulled the key from the lock he looked at Kek.

“How did it go?”


“You got it

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“I have it.”

“Then what took you so long!” André’s relief almost caused him to raise his voice in that anger that so often comes when danger is past. “I was about to go back in and see what the trouble was!”

“No trouble,” Kek told him with a grin, and peeked over the edge of the areaway. All was clear. “It was just that I was having such a good time I hated to leave...”

They were through town and on the edge of the deep woods where the dinghy was stored when the first long, baying siren vibrated the night air, drowning out the sounds coming faintly from the bars along Sucker Street. Kek glanced over his shoulder without stopping his even pace, or hurrying it, either. In his mind’s eye he could picture the uproar back at the museum and in the barracks. Unless, of course, the siren was in response to some fire in some part of town, but Kek did not believe it for a moment. Not even the most match-conscious corporal could be expected to stick around in darkness forever when all he had to do was to march up to the front door and open it. The siren was repeated, and then joined by a second. They seemed to be echoing from different parts of the town. Kek glanced up at André.

“Now do you understand why we couldn’t stop for a beer?”

“I knew it all along,” André said, and grinned. The success of their mission was as exhilarating as it was surprising. “All I’m saying is that it’s a shame.”

“True,” Kek admitted. “Burglary is thirsty work.”

“Walking is thirsty work,” André said, and glanced back over his shoulder. The siren had paused in Sucker Street; he could picture the soldiers pouring from their trucks, starting the search of the bars and the ships at the pier.

“What surprises me,” Kek went on, “is that you were able to manage the burglary of the Louvre without an assistant standing by with a keg of beer.”

“It was a sacrifice,” André said with a grin, and dropped from the road to the small incline leading down into the woods where the dinghy awaited them. It was a well-timed move; they had barely made the protection of the trees when a police car, siren wide open, rounded the corner, its spotlight sweeping the area. They watched the lights from the car disappear around a curve and then made their way to the small boat. To Kek’s relief it was still there, and moments later they had launched it and were pulling for Beachcomber .

A fringe of waning moon had arisen and was trying to edge its way through the wisps of cloud that had crept up; it tipped the slowly rising and falling surf with touches of silver. André leaned into the oars with a will. Behind them the central siren rose and fell, coming, Kek assumed, from the barracks, while the whoop-whoop  of speeding police cars angled in to them from various parts of the town.

“Busy little bees,” Kek commented, and pressed one arm against the carving inside his shirt.

André merely grunted and pulled harder. Beachcomber  seemed to arise from the night like an apparition, a blacker shadow in the gloom, swaying evenly on the sea. André did not seem at all surprised at the ease with which he had located the boat; he pulled alongside, held the dinghy in place until Kek was aboard, and then came up the ladder lightly. One mighty heave and the dinghy was dripping on board. André went forward, raised the anchor, and dropped it against a deck stanchion; there was little time for customary shipboard neatness. He came back and looked at Huuygens.

“The engines are going to make noise.”

“Have you ever been in a car with a siren going in your ear?” Huuygens shook his head. “With that racket nobody will hear.”

“Right.” André nodded and started first one and then the second of the large diesels. He swung the wheel and headed away from the glow that marked Cap Antoine. Somewhere on shore a powerful beacon started to criss-cross the sky, but whether this new activity was supposed to help solve the robbery at the museum was difficult to say. Kek had a feeling that in the excitement the people at the barracks had probably turned on everything they had. The boom of cannon would not have surprised him greatly.

He dropped down to the small cabin, made sure the blackout curtains were tautly in place, and then turned on the lamp over one of the bunks. He sat down and brought the carving from his shirt, turning it in his hands, marveling that he had actually gotten away with burglary — or, at least, so far. Then, with a sigh, he put the activity of the evening behind him and bent to study his acquisition more closely.

His first attention was directed to determining the authenticity of the work, for it would have been truly tragic to have gone through all they had experienced — not to mention the beer André had not gone through — and discover they had picked up a substitute. But there was little doubt he was indeed holding a genuine Chang Tzu T’sien, and an excellent one, at that. The smooth patina of the ivory, still amazingly white after the centuries, the exactness of the artistry, left little question. This matter settled, Kek finally got down to considering the piece itself and had to admit at once that Victor Girard, whatever his other failings, was a man of excellent taste.

The carving was truly exquisite. Kek stared in wonder, appreciating the delicate nuances with which the artist had managed his intricate subject, the warmth he had been able to impart to the cold medium, the humor he had been genius enough to instill in the ivory scene. Each figure in the relaxed yet ritualistic village dance had his own posture, and although there were easily fifty men and women involved, carved with infinite detail on a plaque no larger than six by eight inches, and possibly three inches in thickness, there was no sense of crowding. One could allow himself to be drawn into the carving, Kek felt; to almost imagine movement or to hear the flutes. He sighed and then wrapped it carefully in his handkerchief and then in the paper he had brought with him from his candy dish. He put it down on the small table beside the bunk for the time being; then he lay back and studied the ceiling.

The first and possibly the most difficult part of the job was done. They had the carving in their possession. Now the next job was to get it into the States past Customs without losing it. He carefully reviewed his plans while they plowed steadily back toward Barbados, then suddenly sat erect.

If Ralph Jamison managed to convince the army and the police of Ile Rocheux that he was, indeed, the innocent victim of some unfunny jokester — which should scarcely be difficult, since a search of the man as well as the premises would prove fruitless — then where would Ralph make his next appearance? If I were a betting man, Kek thought, I would lay rather good odds that it would be the MV Andropolis , if only for a visit to see if that naughty man, Kek Huuygens, had possibly rejoined the ship during his absence. Ah, well, Kek thought with a faint smile, if Jamison does show up, maybe we can continue to make his trip an interesting one. Although, if the man does show up again, it might well require a slight change in plans.

Possibly it was just as well that André was  booked on the Andropolis . Kek leaned back again, reviewing the changes in his original scheme that would give an added bit of insurance to his plan. He reached up and turned off the lamp, lying in the darkness, listening to the steady growling of Beachcomber’s  engines as they drove the boat back toward Barbados.

Their sound made him think of the corporal’s voice.


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Ralph Jamison, late of Worcester, Mass. and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but most recently of Washington, D.C., sat on the edge of his bed in his room at the Barbados Hilton, nursing a swollen jaw which four hours of ice pack had done little to reduce in size; his other hand held a telephone receiver to a puffy and painful ear, waiting for the completion of a call he had been advised was coming in. As he waited he looked back in time. It was his fond hope that that idiot corporal from the museum be taken out and shot, following which Jamison hoped he be given the lash, reduced in rank, and put to work on the roads for the rest of his life. It would serve him right, and the roads could probably stand it, too. The affair with the crazed, freckled-faced maniac in Fort Lauderdale, which had permitted Huuygens to get out of sight in the first place, was explainable at least; the man was simply insane. But the corporal had been under orders and supposedly used to discipline. Why he had suddenly gone berserk and started to hit him was something Jamison simply could not understand. Maybe if he had been able to understand all that gibberish in French or Spanish or whatever language everyone had been shouting at the time—

His bitter thoughts were interrupted by the telephone operator, informing him that his party was on the line. Jamison wet his lips and closed his eyes, imagining the conversation that was about to commence. He opened his eyes suddenly; it would probably be even worse in the dark.

“Hello, sir,” he said weakly.

“Jamison!” The ice-cold voice managed to emphasize the name without being raised one decibel above normal. Jamison could almost see the narrowed flintlike eyes, the jutting jaw, the thin bloodless lips, the Hoover collar, and the twiglike fingers restlessly twiddling a pencil.


“What happened?” Jamison could also see the pencil being tossed aside and the hatchet face brought closer to the mouthpiece. “The morning newspapers report there was a burglary at the Ile Rocheux museum last night, and that a valuable carving was stolen. Is that the carving you’ve been raving about ever since this business began?”

“That was the one, yes, sir. It was a Chang Tzu T’sien—”

“I don’t care what it was! I thought according to your latest orders you were supposed to have Wilkinson there precisely to prevent the robbery! Were those or were they not your orders?”

“Yes, sir, they were, but—”

“Then where was Wilkinson?”

“He... he got sick in San Juan.”

“He what ?”

“Yes, sir. Lobster thermidor. So I took his place.”

“So where were you , then, during the robbery?”

“I—” Jamison swallowed. “I—”

“Well, man, speak up!”

“I was there, sir...”

There was a moment’s silence. Then a Gargantuan sigh came across two thousand miles of cable. “You are telling me that a museum was robbed under your very nose? With two guards there, as well? Is that what you are trying to tell me?”

“What happened, sir—”

“Just answer the question! Is it true that a museum was robbed while you were there, and a carving stolen you were supposed to protect? With two guards there as well? Yes or no!”

“Well, yes, sir, but—”

“And you want me to believe it was just an accident?”

“Oh, no, sir,” Jamison answered fervently. “It wasn’t an accident. It was a gang, sir—”

“A gang?”

“Yes, sir.” Jamison felt his confidence returning as he pictured the events of the previous evening and went on to explain them, sure he could convince his superior. “You see, sir, the lights suddenly went out; we later found the fuse box in the basement had been tampered with, knocking out the floor alarm system as well. And we found where we think the gang went out, too, sir. It was downstairs, in the rear. There must have been three or four of them, from all the yelling. No, sir!” Jamison said positively, now almost recovered. “It was this man Huuygens, sir, without a doubt.”

Disbelief marked every word of his superior. “I thought the poop sheet on Huuygens says he always works alone?”

“Well, sir, it’s true that’s what the sheet says, but he must have changed his modus operandi —”

Will  you stop using those words! Ever since you were stationed in Port Everglades and caught that one single woman with heroin in her earrings, you consider yourself a detective! You also know the sheet says that Huuygens does not resort to burglary. Or to violence.”

“There’s always got to be that first burglary for every crook,” Jamison said stubbornly, and thought with bitterness that so far the only violence that had occurred had occurred to him, which wasn’t fair. “This has all the earmarks of Huuygens, sir. It—”

“What earmarks?”

“Well, sir, the whole gang spoke French. I think—”

“Eighty million Frenchmen speak French,” the cold voice pointed out and considered. “Probably a lot more, now. I was thinking of a few years back.”

“Yes, sir.” Jamison plowed bravely on. “But in Port Everglades Huuygens didn’t come back to the ship, and the things in his cabin had been left intact. He didn’t take anything, not even his toothbrush, which you have to admit looks suspicious—”

His superior snorted. “He missed the ship, is all.”

“Yes, sir. I know he did. But he did it on purpose, I’m sure. And he didn’t catch it again in San Juan, like I did—”

The voice at the other end of the line was totally unbelieving. “You  missed the ship in Port Everglades, too?”

Jamison mentally kicked himself. He hadn’t meant to admit that fact.

“What happened, sir, is I came back to the ship and looked all over for Huuygens, and I couldn’t find him. The man at the gangplank didn’t remember him coming back aboard and it started to get dark, so I went back down to the pier to see if maybe he was coming—”

“And the ship sailed out from under you!” The sigh came again, a bit despairingly. “You know, Jamison, I think you’d better come home. To face departmental charges, probably.”

“Charges, sir?”

“Exactly. Let me tell you what I  think really  happened.” There was a brief pause as the owner of the cold voice marshaled his facts. Jamison waited, miserable. Damn that Huuygens; this was all his fault! “All right, then, Jamison,” the cold voice said, “let me refresh your memory. One month ago our department received a tip from a man who needed some money, a man who worked for Victor Girard as a bodyguard. Correct?”

“Yes, sir. He went broke in a gin rummy game. We paid him fifty dollars—”

“Don’t interrupt! I know what he got paid; you signed the voucher. If anything untoward happens in this case, that amount comes off your next paycheck. Now, according to your report, that tip told you that this Kek Huuygens was planning on bringing a stolen carving through Customs. Correct?”

“The informant said he thought  that was what was being arranged—”

“He thought ?” It was unbelievable! “What kind of informants do you have, anyway? Don’t they even listen  to the information they’re trying to sell?”

“He said he was still thinking about the gin rummy game, sir—”

“What about the second time Girard met with Huuygens?”

Jamison swallowed. “My informant was reading a magazine, sir—”

“Good God! Well, in any event, you’ve told me repeatedly you  believed Huuygens meant to smuggle the carving into the States, didn’t you?”

“Yes, sir,” Jamison said firmly. “I still do. More than ever.”

“We’ll come to that later. And at the time you received this so-called tip, I believe you were in favor of the burglary being allowed to take place, so you could catch this Huuygens in the act of smuggling and be rid of him once and for all. Right?”

“Yes, sir!”

“And I told you at that time that the Department does not operate that way. To begin with, it would have been entrapment, and in the second place—”

“But, sir,” Jamison said pleadingly, “it wouldn’t have been entrapment at all! We  didn’t ask Huuygens to bring stolen merchandise into the country through Customs, Girard did—”

“I don’t want to warn you about interruptions again, Jamison! As I was saying, I told you at that time the Department does not condone burglary, just to be able to catch the thief trying to smuggle something in later. I explained to you that it would be immoral, and probably wouldn’t work in the first place. I then instructed you to use Wilkinson on the case with you. I told you, if you insisted, that you could follow Huuygens and keep an eye on him, but that Wilkinson was to go to Ile Rocheux and warn the authorities there of the plot — or of what you conceived to be the plot — and to make damn sure nobody stole the carving. Or anything else.” The voice, if possible grew even colder. “And now you tell me Wilkinson, quite by accident , happened to get sick on fish in San Juan and that you had to take his place!”

“It was lobster thermidor, and it’s the truth, sir! Honest! Wilkinson will verify it. Ask him if I didn’t tell him to have the shrimp—”

“And as a result of these changes in my instructions,” the cold voice went on accusingly, “the carving has been stolen and in my estimation you think you can satisfy your overweening ambition by catching this man Huuygens trying to bring it through Customs.” The sniff from Washington was audible on the line. “And you want me to believe you did not purposely allow that robbery to take place? You must take me for a fool.”

“Oh, no, sir—”

“Don’t interrupt!”

“I thought you were through, sir—”

“Jamison! Jamison, do you realize what could happen if State ever got involved in this? Can you imagine the repercussions here in Washington if the story came out? Practically perpetrating a burglary against a friendly nation?”

“Honest, sir! I swear! On my life! On— on—” Jamison searched frantically and finally came up with the answer. “On the honor of the Department, sir.” It was said with simple dignity.

That was a show-stopper. There was a long pause. “Well; if you want me to believe it was just sheer stupidity on your part...”

“Oh, yes, sir! Please let me stay on the case and finish it!” Jamison put the full weight of his sincerity on the line. “Sir, I’m positive that Huuygens has the carving and will try to bring it into the States. Let me catch him at it. Please, sir?”

There were several moments of contemplation on the part of the man in Washington; then his gigantic sigh could be heard again. Jamison could almost see the other scratching himself in contemplation.

“It’s true we’re short of capable men,” the man in Washington said at last. “And I suppose it would be a feather in our caps if we were to bring this Huuygens to his heels...” A decision was reached with the rapidity and solid thinking that comes from true Washington executive ability once minds are made up. “All right! Stay with it!”

“Oh, thank you, sir! Thank you!”

“Don’t slobber. And don’t thank me, just bring it off. Now, what are your plans?”

“Well, sir,” Jamison said, almost as if he had given much thought to the matter, “I don’t think there is any doubt that Huuygens will be in touch with Girard again. Now, if we get in touch with that bodyguard and tell him this time to pay attention—”

Washington interrupted. “Our computers already thought of that. Unfortunately, the man seems to have gotten into an argument with somebody in an alley the other night. At the moment he’s in the hospital with a broken arm and several cracked ribs.”

“Oh.” Well, at least he wasn’t the only one to suffer in the affair, Jamison thought; somehow it made his jaw ache less. “Then I suppose I’ll have to pick up the ship again—”


“The MV Andropolis , sir. It docks tomorrow here in Barbados. I’m sure Huuygens had a very good reason for coming on the cruise, rather than coming down here by air, and I intend to find out what it is. I’m sure it has something to do with his plan on smuggling the carving past us in New York!”

“You think he’ll go back to the ship? To the whatever-it-is? Why would he join it in Barbados when he didn’t rejoin it before in any of the other ports? San Juan, or St. Thomas?”

“The carving hadn’t been stolen before,” Jamison said craftily. “I’m sure he’ll join the ship here.” He thought of a further argument. “And he left three suits and his luggage on board, and—”

“And a toothbrush. I know. But just to be sure, I’ll notify the airport personnel to be on the watch for him.”

“Oh, he’ll be on the ship, sir.”

“I hope you’re right,” said the man in Washington, “and I hope you catch him with the goods, because if you don’t, then the past two weeks are going to come out of your accumulated vacation time.” He thought a moment. Jamison could see the thin fingers reaching for the pencil again. “I’m not sure about the expenses. How much money do you have in your retirement fund?”

“It won’t come to that, sir. Don’t worry. We’ll nail him!”

“I sincerely suggest you do.” The other voice was frosty, “For your own sake.” The number in Washington hung up.

Jamison placed the receiver back in its cradle and stared at the telephone triumphantly. Not only hadn’t the confrontation been nearly as bad as others in the past — actually, in comparison to the last time, his superior had almost seemed jovial — but the opportunity of a lifetime had just been presented to him. To be the man who finally caught Kek Huuygens with the goods! The name Jamison would become a household word among Customs officials throughout the world. He might even get a raise in grade. He rubbed his painful jaw; it would even be worth the beatings he had taken at the hands of those two maniacs to bring Huuygens, at long last, to justice! Not only an international smuggler, but a man who had left him to be manhandled by a young bruiser in Fort Lauderdale. Jamison twisted his lip aristocratically. The fact was that this Huuygens wasn’t even a gentleman!

Oddly enough, to the profit of ITT and to the confusion of those who do not believe in coincidence, at the same time that Ralph Jamison was speaking with his superior, Kek Huuygens was also making a telephone call to the United States. There, however, the comparison ceased, for Huuygens was calling New York City, rather than Washington, and while he waited for his call to be completed he did not worry at all. Instead, he watched André model a newly purchased wardrobe to augment the meager amount of apparel with which he had come to the islands. Since neither Bajans nor tourists were anywhere near as outsized as André, the selection had been quite limited, and the shirt he was now displaying would have frightened a designer of Hawaiian patterns. André considered his image in the mirror, smiled his approval, and stripped it off to replace it with one equally exotic. Kek returned his attention to the telephone, which was making noises.

The familiar “Allô!” came on the line.

“Good afternoon,” Kek said pleasantly. “This is—”

The raspy voice contained anger. “I know who you are! What took you so long calling? The papers—”

“Ah, yes, the papers,” Kek interjected smoothly. “You will be pleased to know that all the papers have been signed, M’sieu.” The idiot, Girard! Was he attempting to advertise their part in the burglary? “The transaction is complete, M’sieu.”

Girard recognized his near-error and dropped his voice, but his irritation could still be heard. “Still, why the delay in informing me?”

“Completing the purchase was no simple matter, M’sieu. The bargaining took most of the night. Then there was the matter of sleep, and a few other chores we wished to do—”

We ?”

“Your salesman and myself, M’sieu.”

“But I thought you wanted no contact with him?”

“As I remarked the last time we spoke, when I saw your salesman I recognized him at once. He is a man of great talents, M’sieu, possibly even meriting a bonus. And now that I find he is returning on the same ship as myself—”

There was a subtle change in Girard’s voice.

“I want to speak to you about that. I strongly suggest you do not  return on that ship. You, I mean.” One could almost hear the shrug come into the harsh voice. “How the other returns is unimportant. His money is waiting for him here.”


“Please, M’sieu. Let me speak. Do you remember your curiosity as to how anyone might know we were bidding on that particular item? And might be keeping an eye on you to — ah, possibly outbid us?”

Kek frowned. “I remember.”

“I’m afraid it was one of my clerks, as you suggested.” Girard’s voice took on a sudden viciousness. “For a paltry bribe of fifty dollars! Fifty dollars, can you imagine? The fool!”

“He told you this?”

“He told me several things,” Girard answered harshly. “He was most contrite — in the hospital.”

“Oh — the poor man had an accident? Not too serious, I hope.”

“A broken arm and two cracked ribs. He’ll recover.”

“Very good,” Kek sounded, relieved. He certainly didn’t want to be the cause, consciously or unconsciously, of Girard’s full revenge being visited on anyone. He stared at the telephone thoughtfully. “Then I imagine he also told you which one of your competitors bribed him?”

“No, M’sieu.” There was a certain amount of satisfaction in Girard’s tone. “He told me it was your  competitor—”

My  competitor?”

“Exactly, M’sieu. Your perpetual competitor.”

“I see.” So the bodyguard had gone to the United States Customs, and the result was Ralph Jamison. One would think for the amount of taxes the American citizen paid, he would get better protection from his government. Well, better the devil one knew than the devil unknown, although to call Jamison a devil seemed to be building him up in stature. Imp, possibly? “Precisely what did your clerk tell my competitor? That I intended to make the purchase? Because originally I did not.”

“No, he simply told them you intended to make the delivery. It’s all he heard, the fool. On the other hand, if he had heard more and told them more, his accident might well have been more serious.”

“Then it was fortunate all around he did not hear more.” Kek shrugged philosophically. “In any event, my competition usually assumes the worst of my business practices, so any special knowledge on their part really makes little difference.”

“I still think discretion is the better part of valor,” Girard said stubbornly. “A change in schedule seems to me definitely to be indicated. They will be expecting you to return on that ship, and after all the trouble we’ve been to—”

Kek’s eyebrows rose humorously at the “we.” Victor Girard and Lindbergh. He looked up to see André watching him carefully. He winked at the large man and went back to his phone call.

“The existence of my competition, and their knowledge of my activities will definitely be taken into consideration in determining my future plans, M’sieu. Thank you for the information.”

“Good, good! I’m glad you agree. Then you’ll be back sooner?”

“I’m afraid it’s a bit early to say,” Kek said regretfully. “To be on the safe side, why don’t we stay with our original plan and meet on the first of next month at your apartment?”

Frustration crept into Girard’s voice. Kek could see him seething; it was a pleasant sight. “But what will you be doing in the meantime?”

“Keeping busy,” Kek said gently. “With this and that. Is there anything else?”

“No,” Girard said sullenly, and then woke up. “Yes! When will I hear from you again?”

“On August first. As scheduled. If you wish a more exact point in time, make it exactly noon.” Kek paused, then added coolly. “And please be prepared to honor the exact terms of our agreement, M’sieu.”

I’ll  be prepared. Just see that you’re prepared!” Girard said grimly, and slammed down the receiver.

Kek hung up and smiled at André.

“M’sieu Victor Girard would prefer that I do not return by way of the Andropolis ,” he explained. “It seems my old sight-seeing friend from Fort Lauderdale, the man in the white suit from our little adventure last evening, is really from the United States Customs service, and Girard is afraid he might return to the ship and — as they used to say in the Saturday afternoon serial — Discover All!”

André’s face fell. “So you won’t be coming back with us on the ship?”

Kek smiled. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” He came to his feet and studied André critically. “I have to do some shopping, so I suggest you come along. Maybe we can find some wide neckties to hide a bit of those horrors.”


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Under the watchful eye of the first officer perched on a wing of the bridge and directing operations with a radio microphone, two squat tugs fore and aft skillfully nudged the MV Andropolis  to its berth between an old rusty freighter and another cruise ship, whose early-morning passengers lined the rail and waved cheerfully across the water. In the background the gentle slopes of Barbados could be seen, rising evenly behind the low buildings of Bridgetown, reflecting the light from thick stands of palm and cane, with the brilliance of bougainvillea scattered among the

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m. The first officer substituted megaphone for microphone as the tugs withdrew; under the shouted direction hawsers were thrown ashore, looped over stanchions, and the ship winched firmly to the dock. A dock crane bent down like some curious prehistoric bird, peering into the open hatchway that had appeared at the purser’s square; it picked up the gangplank in its steel beak and angled it accurately from the ship to the pier.

Anita had forgone breakfast to be on deck for the arrival. She scanned the dock closely for some sign of Kek, but the bare concrete held only a lineup of minibuses, the only passenger vehicles allowed on the dock, waiting patiently to carry shoregoing passengers to the customs shed and the long queue of waiting taxis beyond. Her young red-haired companion, for a welcome change, was not along; a physique such as his required refueling at regular intervals, and he was in the dining room just completing his third helping of breakfast.

A minibus had detached itself from the distant shed and was approaching the ship. It slowed to a stop at the foot of the Andropolis  gangplank and Anita bent over to see who might emerge, certain it would be Kek. He had definitely promised to rejoin the ship here, and she would have thought he would have been as anxious to see her as she was to see him; and if there had been any change in his plans, there would have been a cable in some form or other she would have understood. But only one man emerged, dragging a heavy suitcase behind him while his other hand, with an iron grip, clutched papers that could only be passport and passage. It obviously was not Kek, and Anita was about to turn away in disappointment, when the man happened to look up. Anita’s eyes widened in surprise. It was impossible! But there he was, as large as ever, his face as battered as ever, and looking as good to her as ever. She leaned over the rail and screamed.

The face looking up found the source of the scream and frowned in complete nonrecognition. Then, the huge shoulders raised in a Gallic shrug of incomprehension and the large man lumbered up the gangplank with practiced ease. Anita turned and bumped into the red-haired youth. He grinned at her.

“What were you screaming about?”

“I thought I saw an old friend, but I was mistaken.”

“Well, don’t look so sad about it,” said the youth, pleased that no new friends were to be added at Barbados, the last stop before four lovely days of sailing home. He tilted his red thatch toward the shore. “How about going into town?”

“No,” Anita said slowly. “You go ahead, Billy. I think I’ll stay on board today.”

“Then I’ll stay here, too. Pool’s open. We’ll go swimming.”

Anita smiled; it was a smile that made Billy her slave. “You go ashore, the way you were planning. You’ve been talking about the lenses you wanted to buy here.” She put her hand on his arm. “You go get them.”

“Well... All right. But I’ll see you when I get back?”

“I’ll be here.”

“We’ll have dinner together? Separate table? I can arrange it with the dining room steward before I go—”

“If you want.”

“I want,” Billy told her, and disappeared, in a hurry to do his shopping and return as quickly as possible. Anita went back to the railing, pondering. Below, the minibuses were being crowded with shoregoing passengers, intent on spending money. A pity, Anita thought, that the beauties of the island would pass unnoticed by the huge majority, and that they would later proudly point to a bit of crockery as proof they had visited Barbados and were experts on its problems. She saw Billy join the others; he looked up, grinned, and waved. She smiled back and watched him climb inside.

Anita’s smile disappeared at once. She glanced down at the dock once more and then made her way inside. She walked down the steps to the dock below and the purser’s square, determination in her movements. There was no sign of the large man and his suitcase, but Anita had not expected there would be. Nor did she intend to ask the assistant purser, busy with papers as always in port, for any information. Instead, she walked to the bulletin board, noted the single name under the legend “Embarking At Barbados,” also noted the cabin number, and went back to the stairwell.

Deck B, Cabin 48. She walked down the corridor, but now in casual fashion, and paused outside Cabin 48 to search her purse for a cigarette. She pulled one out and then looked about as if to ask any approaching person for a match. There was no one in sight. Anita moved quickly to the door and rapped. There was no answer. She glanced about once again, still found herself alone, and rapped again. Again there was no answer. She paused to light her cigarette from her lighter and then walked on.

One deck above she turned into the starboard corridor, came to her cabin, and dug out her key. She unlocked the door and went in, not at all surprised to find the room occupied. André was sitting on the edge of her bed, looking a bit apprehensive.

Anita closed the door behind her, locked it, and went to sit on the small chair before the vanity. She crushed out her cigarette and crossed her arms, a danger signal to anyone who knew her well.

“If you want my honest opinion,” she said quietly, “both you and Kek have been reading too many spy stories lately. A little bit of intrigue goes a long way with me. And when I can’t even say hello to an old friend without getting the ‘cheese-it-the-cops’ sign-off, then I think we ought to rewrite the script.”

André looked unhappy. “Kek didn’t want us—”

“And, by the way, where is our friend Kek?”

“Oh, he’ll be here, don’t worry. When we came to the shed back there, he said he wanted to stay back for awhile. He said he wanted to wait and meet somebody.”


“All he said was it was a man in a white suit.”

“Someday,” Anita predicted grimly, “he’s going to meet two men in white suits and they’ll also have white jackets and they’ll take him and put him away. And I’ll visit him on weekends and look at him through a little window.” She sounded half-angry, half-hurt. “Why didn’t he tell me he was going to meet you?”

“Because he didn’t know,” André said honestly. “He’ll explain it to you.”

“How? If we musn’t look at each other and musn’t touch? He’s a terrible correspondent.”

“Maybe when we get back to New York,” André suggested. “He just said he didn’t want us to know each other on board.”

“Great!” Anita said in disgust. “So you calmly walk down the corridor and pick the lock of my cabin!”

“Nobody saw me.” André sounded hurt. “These cabin locks can be opened with a limp piece of spaghetti.”

“Well, all I can say,” Anita said bitterly, “is this is by far the worst cruise I’ve been on!”

André looked contrite. “I’m sorry.”

Anita felt remorse. “Look. It isn’t your fault. You’re as taken with that character Kek as I am. What does he do? Hypnotize us?” She shook her head woefully. “It’s just that I’d like to spend some time with some  friend on this trip.”

“We’ll be able to in New York,” André promised confidently. “I have a three-month visa.” He looked around the room, wetting his lips, smiling. “These reunions are thirsty work, aren’t they?”

Anita smiled despite herself. “In the drawer next to you.” She shook her head half-humorously. “That Kek! You might as well pour one for me, too...”

Mr. Ralph Jamison of the United States Customs Service sat in his cab while being driven from his hotel to the docks, and went over the scheme he had brilliantly concocted all in the space of a day. His superior hadn’t really been convinced that Huuygens had robbed the museum, but before Jamison was through, he’d have proof enough! This Huuygens may have been able to fool some of the other men in the Department — Jamison had to sadly admit that a few of the boys could be brighter than they were — but Huuygens had never been up against a first-class opponent before.

He climbed from his cab at Customs, paid the driver, and turned to almost stumble over Kek Huuygens. Huuygens had been lounging to one side, listening to the steel-drum band entertaining the people at the pier entrance, and Jamison felt such a sudden jump of joy in his breast that he inadvertently put his hand there. He had postulated that Huuygens would return to the ship after the robbery, and there he was! And if that wasn’t proof of his complicity in the burglary, Jamison would like to know what was!

He turned to face Huuygens, his eyes gleaming as he noted the package under the other’s right arm. It was exactly the proper size to fit the carving, and had been wrapped in colorful paper in a poor attempt to disguise it. Huuygens’ other hand held a light overnight bag, but it was the package that gripped Jamison’s attention. An attempt to use the Purloined Letter technique? But then Jamison reminded himself that Huuygens, poor chap, didn’t even know he was under suspicion. He put a big smile on his face.

“Mr. Huuygens, isn’t it?”

“Well, hello, Mr. Jamison!” A sympathetic look crossed Kek’s face. “What on earth happened to you? Don’t tell me that young red-haired ruffian did that to you? But no — those marks look more recent.”

“A minor accident, of no importance,” Jamison told him, and tried not to look smug. His glance went to the package with the force of metal being drawn by a magnet; he practically had to jerk his head to break the spell. He looked up. “You missed the ship at Port Everglades—”

“I’m afraid so.”

“And at San Juan? And St. Thomas, too?” The questions any solicitous passenger would ask of another, Jamison thought, pleased with his approach.

“The truth is,” Kek said, smiling, “you made Fort Lauderdale so attractive to me, that I decided to stop over there for a few days and catch up with the ship here. By the way, how has the cruise been?”

“As a matter of fact, I... oh, the cruise has been fine!” Jamison reported and then heard himself add, quite without volition, “Been shopping?”

“Shopping? Oh, this.” Huuygens squeezed the package a bit more tightly under his arm. “Just a candy dish I saw at the hotel. Waiter was using it for an ashtray, believe it or not! Wedgwood.” He looked at Jamison helpfully. “I’m sure there’s plenty of time before sailing if you’d like to go back into town and get one. Quite cheap, you know. Really a bargain.”

Especially if you don’t pay for it, Jamison thought, and almost felt sorry for the other man’s poor ability at dissembling. “No, thanks. I’ve had enough of the shore for now. I’ll be getting back to the ship.”

The minibus had arrived. “I’ll be along a bit later,” Kek said, and tilted his head toward the drumming musicians, sweating in the hot sun. “I like steel drum. I’ll see you on board. Buy you that drink I owe you.”

Which you never drank, Jamison thought, suddenly bitter at the memory of the 66 Roof. He nodded abruptly and climbed into the bus, taking a seat near the door and leaning back, putting the events in Lauderdale from his mind, concentrating on his scheme, the details of which were clicking into place like obedient safe tumblers.

Behind him Huuygens watched the back of the minibus thoughtfully, and then bent to stow his package in the overnight bag.

Jamison was in the captain’s quarters exhibiting his credentials. The captain was only half-listening; he had a short leave coming up after this voyage and his mind was more on his farm than whatever this man was talking about. Smugglers or something. What with one cruise after another, he had planted his tomatoes and green peppers pretty late, and while the peppers were fairly safe, the tomatoes were bound to be a dubious proposition.

“We are positive,” Jamison was saying, investing in his person the full panoply of the Department’s power, “that this man is responsible for the stealing of the valuable carving, that he brought it aboard this ship, and that he is planning on trying to smuggle it into the United States. It is our firm intention to” — he almost said “foil,” but saved himself in time — “to stop him.” He bent down one finger as he started to outline his clever scheme. “First, I will need to know who, if any, passengers joined the ship here in Barbados. Other than this man Huuygens I’ve been telling you about, of course. Captain?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I said,” Jamison added, an edge to his tone, “I need to know which passengers joined the ship here in Barbados, to return to New York.”

“It’s posted on the bulletin board in the purser’s square,” the captain said wearily. “C Deck.” He had a copy of the posting in a folder on his desk, but he hated to accommodate the lanky, horsefaced man across from him. In the captain’s opinion, if there were no Customs then obviously passengers would be happier, and happy passengers made for a happy ship. And a happy ship made for a happy captain. And a happy captain— He came out of it under Jamison’s most steely gaze, sighed, and reached for the folder. His finger slid down the page. “There was just one. His name is André Martins. He booked from Barbados, destination New York, three weeks ago.”

Jamison frowned. “He’s from Barbados?”

The finger moved to the right. “No. French national. His home is listed as Paris.”

Jamison’s frown disappeared. Despite his intention to maintain the discussion with the captain along calm, statesmanlike lines, he could not help but demonstrate his enthusiasm.

“Then I’ll bet he’s one of the gang! He came here for the robbery and now he’s accompanying Huuygens back to New York! Two to one he speaks French!”

“Being from Paris, I wouldn’t be surprised,” said the captain, and returned to his private thoughts. The radio shack kept him informed daily of Pennsylvania weather, but one never knew for sure just how much rain fell when the report said rain. Too much and it might have washed away that last batch of fertilizer; too little and possibly the tomatoes hadn’t even blossomed as yet. Being an absentee tomato-and-green-pepper grower had its problems.

Jamison, unaware that he did not have the captain’s full attention, went to bend down his first finger, found it already bent, and pushed down a second to join it.

“Next,” he said, “will be to thoroughly search their respective quarters—”

The captain came out of his reverie with a start. This he had heard. “Search the cabins of passengers? ”

“Oh, not by myself,” Jamison assured him earnestly. “I would want your security officer with me, of course. As a witness, if nothing else, to anything we might find.”

The captain seemed to finally realize he could not avoid the blasted problem. He sat more erect and leaned forward authoritatively, replacing green peppers and tomatoes in his mind with the question of having an internationally famous smuggler aboard his ship.

“Look,” he said reasonably, “you people have the equivalent of a young army on the dock in New York. They are paid — by the public, incidentally, which includes passengers — to be there for the sole purpose of searching baggage and to locate anything contraband. Our job on board this ship is to see that people are happy and having a good time. We are not paid to locate things people intend to smuggle.” A thought suddenly occurred to him; a touch of triumph entered his voice. “As a matter of fact, you don’t even know if people mean to smuggle until you have their declaration form in your hands, do you? They may well intend to declare and pay the duty.”

“You mean, declare and pay the duty on stolen goods?” Jamison asked smugly, proud of himself for having scored a distinct point. “On a valuable carving known throughout the world?”

“Well, no,” the captain admitted, wishing he had been more alert to that trap, and then realizing he had set it himself. “But you still haven’t given me the slightest proof that this man stole anything.” He stared at Jamison’s bruised eye. “Did you see him? Did anyone see him? All I have is your word on the thing.”

Jamison sighed. The captain was almost as bad as his superior.

“Look, Captain,” he said with a patience he was far from feeling, “if you insist, I can go through channels by radiotelephone and have my Department request permission for these searches from your company. This ship is, after all, still United States territory. Of course, asking in that manner will take time and probably interrupt a lot of your top company people in their more important duties, but I’m sure you’ll be able to explain to them why you didn’t let us make the search without any fuss.”

“I still think that searching—”

“For example,” Jamison went on, completely ignoring the captain’s weak interruption, “today is Saturday, but our Department works seven days a week. I can reach my superior by radio-telephone, and I’m sure he can locate the president of your line, probably out on the golf course—”

It had been a direct hit, and Jamison, seeing the expression on the captain’s face, knew he had been right. Outside of the Department, men simply weren’t trained to face crises.

The captain sighed deeply. He took off his cap, ran his fingers through his stubby gray hair, studied the insignia on the cap’s front as if seeing it for the first time, and then jammed it back on his head, tugging it straight. This horse-faced idiot across from him was right. After all, when one considered it from all angles, which was worse: approving a search by a Treasury man, under the eagle eye of his own trusted security officer, or facing the wrath of men to whom Saturday at the country club was sacrosanct? The truth was there was no choice. With the time he would lose in explanations — because in his company any questions at all instantly took on the form of an official inquiry that might have been instigated by the shipping board — he’d be lucky to get out to the farm at all on his short leave. And who would worry about his green peppers and tomatoes then? None of the principals involved, that was certain.

“All right.” He conceded defeat. He glanced at Jamison’s bruised face and a note of hope entered his voice. “However, if either this Huuygens or this Martins happens to come down to his cabin in the course of your search, don’t expect my security officer to leap to your rescue. You shall be on your own. I shall instruct my man to manage whatever excuse he can come up with, and then get to hell out of there, leaving you to your own devices. Is that clear?”

Jamison’s smile widened. His third finger bent down to join the other two.

“That’s the best part of the scheme,” he said smugly, and wondered why he had never thought of applying to the CIA, which obviously needed men of his caliber. “I know a very sure way to be positive both men are out of the way during the searches.” He reviewed his scheme and his face fell a bit as he suddenly remembered the young red-haired youth. “Of, course,” he added, “I shall need your good offices, but I’m sure we can rely on them, can’t we?”


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Young Billy Standish sat at the table for two he had arranged in the dining room and glowered. It was not simply that the captain, at the last moment and without even a written invitation, had invited Anita to be his guest and dine in his quarters, thus depriving Billy of a meal he was positive might lead to something, but what on earth had ever induced the man to ask that Jamison along, too? And nobody else? Billy knew, because he had stood sulking outside the door to the captain’s quarters for fifteen minutes, divided between a desire to break in and demand the truth, and plain hunger. Hunger had won, but Billy still didn’t like the setup. He chewed moodily, scarcely aware of the quantities, wondering what on earth they could be talking about in the captain’s cabin.

The trio he was thinking of so glumly had finished their dessert; the captain’s orderly had cleared away the dishes and was bringing out the coffee when the captain cleared his throat in a manner that indicated that unfortunately the time had come to get on with the silly business to be discussed.


Anita smiled brightly. “Call me Anita, Captain.”

“Thank you. With pleasure.” The captain beamed, pleased by the interruption. It seemed to him a rather shoddy business to involve a lovely young lady like this in Jamison’s scheme, but it was either that or the strong possibility of a few days on the carpet in New York. He sighed and motioned the orderly to bring cigars and brandy, and then turned back to the girl. Best to get on with it and get it over with. “Well, Anita, the fact is this gentleman here, Mr. Jamison, is with the United States Government. He... well, he would like your help.”

Anita looked at Jamison curiously. Throughout the dinner she had felt there was something faintly familiar about the man, and now it came to her. This was the man in the perfectly awful clothes who had been sitting with Kek in the 66 Roof when Billy Standish, for reasons never disclosed either at the time or since, had walked over and hustled the man around a corner, to return a few moments later dusting his hands. This could be very interesting. She looked at the captain.

“The government? My help?”

“Yes,” said the captain, pleased that the first step in the nasty business was over with. He poured himself a brandy and then suddenly remembered his manners, offering it to Anita. She shook her head and waited. The captain didn’t bother to offer anything to Jamison, but drank his drink. “Well,” he said, “you see—” He paused, sighed, and turned to his left. “Possibly you’d better explain...”

“I think it would be best,” Jamison said coldly, and looked at Anita in his most official manner. In his evening clothes he knew he cut a distinguished figure, and he wanted his voice to be equally impressive. “Anita, I am with the Treasury Department of the United States Government. There is, on this ship, a man who is an international smuggler—”

“No!” Anita’s eyes widened in alarm; her hand automatically went to her throat, as if to protect the small, heart-shaped locket there. Had Billy Standish seen the gesture, it is almost sure he would have instantly abandoned his charcoal-broiled sirloin, medium, with mashed potatoes and peas on the side, to go to her rescue, but fortunately for his appetite he was unable to.

Jamison smiled a fatherly smile; had Billy seen it he would have called it wolfish

“No, no! There’s nothing to worry about. It’s simply that you can be useful to us in helping to trap him. And/or his accomplice.”

Anita sounded more horrified than ever. “He has an accomplice?”

“We’re not positive, but we’re fairly sure.” Jamison made it sound as if there were files upon files of proof merely awaiting someone’s inspection. “However, with your help—”

“My help?” Anita repeated. She had never looked or sounded so helpless in her life.

“Yes,” Jamison said firmly, and got down to business. “This man — his name is Huuygens, by the way — and a second man who boarded here at Barbados just this morning — his name is André Martins — are the two we are talking about. They stole a valuable carving — a Chang Tzu — but never mind — from the National Gallery on the island of Ile Rocheux the night before last, and they intend, one or the other, to take it past Customs in the United States when we dock.” Jamison’s jaw tightened in manly determination; his eyes became as steely as he could make them, challenging John Wayne at his best. “Or, rather, they intend to try. I intend to stop them.” He added, a bit weakly, “With your help, of course.”

“Terrible people,” Anita murmured and looked at him wonderingly. “But what can I possibly do to help?”

“It is necessary to have their cabins searched—”

“You are suggesting that I—”

“No, no!” Jamison wished he could remember exactly how he had practiced this conversation. “What I mean is,” he said patiently (after all, this was just a young woman who had little experience of life), “we need someone to keep these two men occupied while the security officer of the ship, together with myself, go through their things.” He hastened to correct any possible misapprehension. “It isn’t that I have any physical fears of the consequences of being interrupted, but we have gone to great lengths to prevent these men from knowing we suspect them at all, and we don’t want their suspicions aroused at this stage of the game. Do you understand?”

“I... I think so. You wish me — to act — how do you say? As a decoy for these men?” If Jamison could speak in fits and starts, so could she, Anita thought.

“Not a decoy,” Jamison explained, trying not to sound testy. “All you would have to do would be to allow one or both of them — both of them, preferably — to buy you drinks. Would that be so hard?”

“If they were decent, upright people, no,” Anita said, and looked him evenly in the eye. “But what you are suggesting is not nice. You have already told me these are hardened criminals.”

Jamison bit his lip. “They are not  hardened criminals! They are—” A thought came. “Well, actually you know one of them. He’s the man whom you stumbled against the second day out, remember? The day we were passing Cape Hatteras? The one who bought you a drink.”

Anita’s finely chiseled nostrils flared with contempt. “That one! The things he said!”

“Then all the more reason for helping us put the man in prison, where he belongs,” Jamison said reasonably, pleased with his argument and already phrasing it in his mind for his final report together with his other acts of brilliance.

The captain felt he ought to say something; he wanted to get the whole silly matter finished and done with. “It’s for the government,” he added simply. He had a sudden feeling that if he explained to Anita about the green peppers and the tomatoes, she would understand and be only too willing to help, but it was doubtful if Jamison would have considered the argument consistent with governmental dignity.

Anita considered the matter carefully, a slight frown on her face.

“But you see,” she said, “I slapped him. Very, very hard. And with good reason. How could I now explain to him why I would allow him to buy me a drink?” She suddenly smiled and clapped her hands. “I know! I will tell him I am very sorry I lost my temper. I will tell him a pleasure cruise is no place to carry a grudge.” Her newly acquired animation faded; she looked at Jamison anxiously. “Do you think he’ll believe me?”

“He’ll believe you,” Jamison said confidently, and poured himself a carefully measured brandy.

The captain remained silent, his large hand twisting his empty brandy glass against the smoothness of the table linen. He was not overly pleased that a lovely young lady such as this should be involved in the first place, but once this objection was overcome, he had to admit that Jamison’s choice of a decoy was excellent. Anyone refusing to spend time with Anita had to be very sick, indeed.

“And this other one,” Anita went on brightly. “This—”

“Martins. André Martins.”

“If you point him out to me I will stumble into him, too. But this time on purpose.” Anita suddenly giggled. Jamison was pleased to see her getting into the spirit of the adventure. Suddenly the girl looked anxious again. “But wouldn’t it be better if I handled them one at a time? After all, two men...” She smiled modestly. “One of them might feel chivalrous and leave...”

“True,” Jamison admitted. This girl had brains as well as beauty; it was a pity that whoever hired the Department’s personnel in Washington never seemed to hire anyone like her. “On the other hand,” he went on, considering the matter from every angle, “if the two men are confederates, as I feel sure they are, one might come visiting the other’s cabin while we were searching it. No, I think it best that you keep the two of them hors de combat  at the same time.” His French pronunciation was terrible. “Can you do it?”

Anita looked at him earnestly. “I can try.”

“Good!” Jamison said heartily. He had no doubt of success. “Shall we say just before lunch tomorrow? Eleven o’clock? You see” — he dropped his voice conspiratorially, although the orderly had long since gone down to watch the movie — “I’ve made a study of my cabin to detect the possible hiding places for an object the size of the one our man stole. There are remarkably few, so that I should say thirty minutes per cabin should be ample.” He glanced at his watch; for a moment Anita thought he was going to ask her to synchronize hers with his. “I shall take the Martins cabin first; say, from eleven to eleven thirty; then this Huuygens’ from eleven thirty until noon. If you can keep them occupied for that hour?”

“I’ll do my best,” Anita promised.

“I’m sure your best will be more than ample. Well, we’re all set, then. Captain, thank you for your cooperation. I’ll be in touch with your security officer in the morning.” He glanced at his watch again. “And now, if you’ll excuse me, I believe I’ll go down and study my cabin once more. In my line of work, one leaves nothing to chance.” He smiled at them both paternally, and rose to his feet.

André Martins was far from unfamiliar with cruise ships and their general characteristics;

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he had carried thousands of pieces of luggage aboard, delivering them to hundreds of staterooms, in his days as a porter on the Barcelona and Lisbon docks. Nor was he unfamiliar with the other niceties of shipboard life. True, this was the first time he had been on the stool side of a shipboard bar, and the night before had been the first time he had pulled down a bedspread for the end purpose of climbing between the sheets and going to sleep in all that luxury. But in his day he had made enough of those beds and served enough of those drinks. And as for tips, that ever-present bugaboo of the traveler, André could have taught the most experienced. He had received the smallest and the largest in his time, and was prepared to outstare any shipboard employee who doubted his judgment.

His large fingers dwarfing the glass in his hand, he sat swiveled about, looking out at an extraordinarily calm sea, glistening peacefully beneath an azure and cloudless sky. Beneath his feet the steady faint vibrations of the engines driving them steadily forward felt comfortable and familiar. He smiled to himself, pleased with life, and raised his glass to his lips; then choked as someone bumped into him, dashing brandy up his nose. He sneezed mightily and then turned, prepared to deal with this rudeness in the only way, he felt, some people understood. And found himself facing an extremely apologetic young lady.

“I’m terribly sorry!” Anita said, and picked up a napkin, dabbing it at the damp red face before her. André took it away from her and completed the job of drying himself. The girl looked at him solicitously. “You must let me buy you another drink to take its place.”

André merely stared at her. She knew very well she shouldn’t be speaking to him, and Anita usually knew what she was doing. Bumping into him like that on a day as calm as this one certainly was no accident. Anita accepted his silence as agreement, and nodded to the waiting bar steward.

“Another one for the gentleman, whatever he was drinking. And an orange juice with vodka for me.” She smiled apologetically at the speechless André. “I’m going to take my drink at a table. Perhaps you would like to join me there?”

“Now, look—” André began in a low growl intended to avoid the steward’s hearing, but Anita had already moved to a table far from the bar and seated herself. There was nothing to do but follow. He climbed down, walked over, and sat across from her. “This is very foolish. Kek said—”

“Oh,” Anita said brightly, “speaking of that, do you know where he is?”

“He was out by the pool a few minutes ago, but I wouldn’t—”

“Hold my seat, will you? And don’t go away.” It was said with a touch of demureness, but André, looking into those steady eyes, read the message. He sighed and watched her get up and head for the outside area.

The poolside was crowded with bathers, either paddling as best they could in the restricted space of the pool, or draped about the deck soaking up as much sun as possible, almost as if New York in July had no sun. Kek was lounging easily at the railing, watching several men with shotguns trying to bring down clay pigeons being mechanically ejected from a lower deck, a sport he was sure all of them would consider childish on land. At an entrance to the main saloon, Anita caught a glimpse of Jamison, looking rather worried; beside him a large, uniformed man gazed stolidly out to sea. Jamison relaxed at the sight of Anita and tapped his companion on the arm; the officer swung about and also watched the girl’s progress through the crowd. Anita stopped before Kek and looked up at him with an enticing smile, speaking under the noise about them.


The slightly questioning frown that appeared on Kek’s face disappeared in almost the same instant. “Hello. What are you doing here?”

“I’m apologizing for having slapped you — when was it? Last week? And in return for my apology you can take me into the bar and have a drink with André and me. I bumped into him, too, but he didn’t say anything improper, so I didn’t slap him.” She took his arm. “Come along quietly, darling. We’ve already ordered.”

Kek forced himself to remain calm, although at the moment there was nothing he would have liked to do as much as turn Anita over his knee and spank her. He walked beside her quite casually. Anita noticed that Jamison and his uniformed companion had disappeared. The two came into the bar, appearing to be chatting about inconsequential matters, and then were seated at the table where André had been waiting. Kek ordered a drink and went through the fiction of introducing himself to the other man while it was being prepared. Then, with a small brandy glass in hand, he raised it. To anyone watching it would appear he was offering a toast, but his words and tone would have dispelled that notion quickly.

“Just which one of you two is responsible for this ridiculous meeting?” he asked, his smiled fixed, his voice dangerously quiet.

“Not me—” André began hastily.

Anita touched her glass to his. “I am, darling. I’m merely following orders. You see, I’ve become a government agent.”

Despite his iron control, Kek could not help but stare. “A what? ”

“Keep smiling, darling. Drink your drink. I said, I’ve become a government agent. A spy of sorts, you might say. Of course I don’t get paid for this job, but in the future I imagine I could ask for a fee. This is more or less training, I suppose—”

“Will you please tell me—”

“Right now. You see” — Anita became serious — “last night I had dinner in the captain’s quarters, and there was a man there named Jamison who is — a G-man, I think they call him. Anyway, he told me there was a dangerous smuggler on board, with another man he was sure was the smuggler’s confederate, and he wanted to search their cabins, but in order to do so without being unpleasantly interrupted, he needed some way to keep them occupied while he went through their luggage and drawers and things like that.” She smiled. “My job is to occupy you from now until noon.”

André’s face had hardened. He threw his drink down his throat and started to rise, his huge hands opening and closing, but Kek put a hand on the large man’s massive arm and urged him back into his seat.

“Relax,” he said, and sipped his drink. He put it down and looked at Anita, his eyes twinkling. “Go on.”

“That’s it, darling. I thought you’d want to know. I’m supposed to keep you here drinking until noon, and time is passing, so if either one or both of you would like to get down to your cabins before he musses up all your clothes—”

“And be responsible for your failing on your very first assignment?” Kek sounded shocked. “They’d drum you out of the corps, and you wouldn’t get that raise, either. Besides,” Kek added, “what would Max say if he heard you couldn’t keep the attention of two men for a mere hour? He’d think your attraction was only a flash in the pan, and then what of all your hopes when Rose and I go off with the grandchildren?”

André was looking confused by the entire exchange. Anita was also frowning in surprise at Kek’s attitude. She went on slowly.

“Jamison also said he’s made a complete study of possible hiding places in shipboard cabins — he looks the type — and he’s sure he can do a complete search of each cabin in half an hour. André is scheduled first and then you’re next, from eleven thirty until noon.” She looked at Kek anxiously. “Are you sure neither one of you has anything you don’t want him to find?”

“‘My strength is as the strength of ten, because my heart is pure,’” Kek quoted a bit sententiously. “Tennyson.” He winked at Anita and sipped.

“I’m going down and show this character my  strength!” André said fiercely.

“There’s a security officer with him,” Anita warned.

“Good! I’m in the mood—”

“Sit down, André,” Kek said, and pushed the other back. He smiled. “Let the boys have their fun. After all, if a man’s profession is searching, he has to take his practice wherever he can find it. Besides, you don’t have anything to hide, do you?” He thought a moment. “Except those shirts you bought yesterday?”


“Besides,” Kek went on, “the poor man has been manhandled so often on the case so far, I’m beginning to feel sorry for him. And he’s only been manhandled by amateurs so far. Let the poor soul alone.”

André sank back, confused. Anita looked at Kek ruefully.

“And I thought I was being so clever about the whole thing.”

“You were, sweet, you were. And deserve another drink for your successful efforts. The one thing I hate to see,” Kek admitted sadly, “is a thirsty spy. And, of course, the thirsty victims of a thirsty spy. So why don’t we all have another round of drinks and wait calmly for noon to come around, when we can have lunch? Just in case Mr. Jamison isn’t quite as rapid as he thinks he is?”

He raised an arm for the waiter.


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With the door to André’s stateroom closed and locked behind them, Jamison and the security officer — whose name was L. James Rafferty — stood and looked about themselves a moment in the gloom; then Jamison walked swiftly to the porthole, throwing back the heavy drapes. The schedule did not permit of daydreaming. Brilliant sunlight streamed in, brightening the already-made-up twin beds, the warmly upholstered furniture, and the colorful pictures on the paneled walls. Jamison nodded, satisfied with the arena, and turned to Rafferty.

“Let’s go!” He might have been a Marine drill sergeant from his tone, but Rafferty was no recruit. The security officer bit back a yawn and looked at Jamison curiously. “You take the dresser and the vanity,” Jamison ordered. “Don’t forget to take out the drawers completely and look behind them. I’ll cover the closets and the bathroom first. Then we’ll look under the chairs and get to the luggage last. We’ll do that together.”

Rafferty shrugged and bent down to the dresser. His instructions from the captain had been to follow Jamison’s orders within reason, and to see to it that Jamison didn’t break anything. Jamison disappeared into the bathroom to reappear a moment later, nodding his head at confirmation of his study in depth of his own facilities.

“Nothing there except shaving things and a toothbrush. The tub is even with the floor and the toilet has no flush tank; operates on pressure, so there’s no place to hide anything there. No closets in the bathroom. The medicine chest is empty.”

The security officer, well aware of these facts, continued to pull out empty drawers, look behind them, and replace them. Jamison emerged from one closet and entered a second. He came out carrying a life jacket, a gleam in his eye.

“Something I overlooked before; life vests. Proves even the best of us can slip up, regardless of practice. Here, give me a knife while I slit this thing open...”

Rafferty was on his feet in an instant. In his mind, cutting and breaking were in the same category. “Hey! That’s ship’s property. You can’t cut it open. Ships sinks and some character jumps overboard in a bum life jacket, he can drown! Anyways,” he added, “there’s lifeboat drill tomorrow. The guy sees his life jacket all cut up, he’s going to know somebody was in here today.”

“That’s true,” Jamison conceded a bit regretfully. He scratched his nose. “Well, maybe we can just tell by feel.” He pushed on the hard kapok and nodded. “I suppose you’re right. Anyway, what we’re looking for is too big for these narrow pockets.”

“Incidentally,” Rafferty said, now that the subject had been broached, “what are  we looking for?”

“A package. So big.” Jamison’s hands quickly outlined the various dimensions. “Probably wrapped in colored paper from one of the Barbados stores. It has an ivory carving inside, stolen from one of the other islands a few nights ago.”

“Oh. Okay, so long as I know,” Rafferty said, and moved to the vanity.

Jamison tipped over the two chairs and then put them back. He got to his knees to peer under the beds; in his schedule, peering under the beds followed dresser, vanity, bathroom and closets, and looking under chairs. He had never practiced it before, but he was sure it was the most effective progression. He came to his feet and was about to move to the suitcase, the pièce de résistance  to any old Customs man, when he happened to glance upwards. A gleam came to his eye.

“Ah! An overhead bunk, folded into the wall! My stateroom doesn’t have one. I should have considered the possibility, though...” He was speaking mostly to himself. He reached up, twisted the handle, and tugged downward sharply.

“Hey!” Rafferty said in a loud voice. He had wanted to warn Jamison that the overhead bunks on the MV Andropolis , seldom used on cruises, were not counterbalanced and required care in lowering them. But he was too late. Jamison, sitting on the floor and holding tightly to his nose, was looking at him reproachfully, tears welling in his eyes despite his attempt to contain them. Rafferty bent over him, concerned; after all, as security officer he imagined the captain would expect him to see that bunks didn’t fall on people. “You all right?”

Jamison started to struggle to his feet. Rafferty instantly came to his aid with a hand under the other’s arm. Jamison fumbled a handkerchief loose, pressed it urgently to his nose, and staggered to the bathroom. Rafferty looked after him a moment, shrugged, and put the last of the empty vanity drawers in place. He then felt around the overhead bunk enough to convince himself that no package of the requisite size was hidden there, then closed and latched the cumbersome contraption, after which he sat down and calmly awaited Jamison’s return.

If there was no time in the tight schedule for daydreaming, there was certainly none for accidents. Jamison bravely put aside the wet washcloth that had replaced the handkerchief, and returned to the job, determined not to be deterred from his duty by mere pain, although it did occur to him that there should be some limit to the battering one agent had to endure on any particular job. If a person had to take risks of that nature, he might as well be in the FBI and get paid accordingly.

Rafferty noted the livid welt across the bridge of the other’s nose, thought it fitted in well with the puffy ear, the lumpy jaw, and the more ancient but still visible bruised cheek, but he wisely made no comment on it. “Bunk was empty,” he reported succinctly. “Want to tackle the suitcase now?”

Jamison nodded; speech might affect his nose. And there wasn’t anything else in his search program, and time was running out. He walked over to the luggage rack and started to lay on hands with the experience of many years and many, many suitcases. He pushed aside the shirts on top and felt carefully along the edges of one side of the opened case. Nothing hard or rectangular came to hand. He moved to the other side of the suitcase and reached beneath, while Rafferty stared with admiration at the colorful attire.

“Ah!” Jamison looked up in triumph and withdrew whatever had caught his attention. It was a square bottle of brandy. His face fell. For a moment he was tempted to either take it into the bathroom and pour it down the sink as a sort of punishment, or take a strong nip for his troubles, but he thought better of it. He shoved it back, straightened out the top pieces of clothing, and shook his head dolefully.

“Well,” he said slowly, “I didn’t really think we’d find anything here, but we had to be sure. I doubted that Huuygens would trust a confederate with anything that valuable.” He sighed and glanced around the room. There were no signs that anyone other than the room steward had been there. He nodded, satisfied. “Eleven twenty-eight. Two minutes to get to Huuygens’ cabin. Let’s go!”

The main difference between the cabin of Kek Huuygens and that of André — other, Jamison was happy to note, than the absence of a third overhead bunk — was that the place had a lived-in look. There were books on the small ledge beneath the porthole, revealed when the drapes were drawn; there were two suitcases plus an overnight bag neatly stacked in one corner of the room, indicating that their contents were distributed in the proper drawers or on the proper hangers; a dish of caramels and a small clock were on the vanity, and the liquor bottles were lined up on the dresser.

The bathroom was disposed of with accustomed ease; Jamison was sure that no bathroom in the future would ever present a searching problem. The closets inspected proved to be devoid of interest, although Jamison carefully pressed each hanging suit and each pair of slacks between his palms before giving them clearance. The life jackets were opened, poked, and returned to place. During this endeavor, Rafferty had upended the chairs and determined that the stacked suitcases and overnight bags were, indeed, empty. Jamison approached the vanity and dresser with confidence; the answer simply had to be there. He found himself voicing this thought.

“It has  to be there,” he said, logic on his side. “I saw him with the package in Barbados. He didn’t even try to hide it.”

“Umphh,” Rafferty mumbled, not disagreeing, but not agreeing, either. He reached down and pulled out the first drawer, carrying it to the bed for Jamison’s more expert search while Rafferty peered back into the dresser through the opening, and then probed for hidden treasure with an extended arm. This procedure was followed faithfully with each succeeding drawer in both dresser and vanity, from shirts to underwear and socks through pajamas, cummerbunds, handkerchief and ties. Jamison was becoming more and more petulant as time went on. And time seemed to be flying.

“Impossible!” he muttered blackly as the last dresser drawer was slid back into place. “It has  to be here! I saw it.” The final possibility occurred to him; he moved the dish of caramels and the clock from the vanity, wrestled it away from the wall; but all he discovered was a year’s accumulation of dust. In disgust he shoved the furniture back in place, replaced the items on top of it, and dropped into a chair, glowering.

“Maybe he ducked it someplace else on the ship,” Rafferty suggested. In his own opinion anyone wishing to hide something on the MV Andropolis  had to be pretty lacking in imagination to choose his own stateroom. There were so many better places available; under the rowing machine in the gym, for example. Nobody had used the machine to his knowledge since the ship was launched; or behind the ancient deckle-edged books in the library, mostly H. Rider Haggard and Elinor Glyn, with an occasional time-and-tide table thrown in for interest. Anything placed there could remain undetected for generations.

“No, no!” Jamison said impatiently. “This carving is valuable! Hide it where some stranger might inadvertently stumble on it and keep it? Never! Not Huuygens.” He looked around the sunlit room in desperation, willing himself not to look at the small clock on the vanity and see how time was escaping. “Damn it! It has  to be here! I saw him with the package myself!”

“Well,” Rafferty said, more to fill in the conversational gap than for any other reason, “if I was going to hide something that size in a stateroom, myself, I’d put it in the air-conditioning duct, myself. The outside grillwork is—”

Jamison frowned at him. “The what?”

Rafferty pointed. “The air-conditioning duct. That thing there. The outside grillwork just snaps in place. Two seconds and you could hide—”

But Jamison was no longer paying attention to the other’s final words; he was dragging a chair over to the wall. He climbed on it, tugged the small wire grillwork free, and peered within. Less than six inches from his eyes was the neatly wrapped but gaudy package he had seen pressed so tightly under Huuygens’ arm just the day before. An unbelieving smile broke across his horseface; he looked like a sixty-to-one shot who finds himself to his own amazement in the winner’s circle.

“It’s here.” He said the words in a half-whisper, as if he really couldn’t bring himself to believe it. “It’s here!”  He stared at the package worshipfully for several additional seconds, and then carefully replaced the grillwork and stepped from the chair, dusting his hands. Rafferty frowned at him.

“You ain’t going to take it?”

“No, no!” Jamison said, once more the master of the situation and now expounding basic theory to a neophyte. “You see, if we were to remove it, even with you here as a witness, what could we really prove? Only that we found a package in an air-conditioning duct. We couldn’t prove that Huuygens  put it there. He’d simply deny it; after all, other people have access to his stateroom, he’d say, as witness our having found it. And what could we do? He’d walk off the ship scot-free.”

“Yeah,” Rafferty agreed, and fell back on principles of logic he’d been taught at his mother’s knee. “But you’d have  the thing, wouldn’t you?”

“I’ll have it just as much in New York when we dock,” Jamison gloated, and smiled wolfishly. “And I’ll have Mr. Huuygens with it. Like that!” He clenched a fist dramatically, and then realized there was little time in the schedule for fist-clenching. He put the chair back where he had found it and studied the room. All was as it had been on their entrance. He looked up at the air-conditioning duct proudly, Rafferty’s part in the discovery already downgraded in the mental report he was still composing. He glanced at his watch; twelve noon on the button. Even his time calculations had proven perfect.

“Let’s go,” he said to Rafferty, and without thinking rubbed his nose. The instant shock of pain reminded him that all things have their price, even victory. “Let’s go,” he repeated, although less exuberantly this time, and led the way to the door.

André, having returned from a five-minute absence and reseated himself, was surprised to find Kek looking at him reprovingly. André reached for his drink, frowning.

“What’s the look for?”

“You shouldn’t have done it,” Kek said, and glanced across the room. A stranger to André, accompanied by a large ship’s officer, was passing through the bar, and the stranger looked as if he had put his face into one of the ship’s ventilation fans nose first and held it there too long.

André studied the battered features in puzzlement; then intelligence finally struck. He downed his drink first, as being of proper priority, and then said. “That’s Jamison?”

“That’s right,” Anita said glumly, “and he looks like the cat who found the combination to the cream cellar.”

“I didn’t touch him,” André said, insulted. “I was in the men’s room. I never even knew what he looked like, before.” He found the clinching argument. “It couldn’t have been me. He’s walking, isn’t he?”

“In that case I owe you an apology.” Kek looked after the disappearing back sadly. “One thing is certain, our friend Jamison is accident-prone. I’d hate to be his insurance agent.”

“He winked at me!” Anita said, amazed at Huuygens’ attitude. “I tell you he found whatever he was looking for!”

“I doubt it,” Kek said calmly. “Well, one for the road — or I suppose roadstead would be more correct aboard ship — or lunch?”

“For the road,” André said, and wondered if his old friend Huuygens was losing his grip; if the redoubtable Kek was actually as unconcerned as he appeared to be.

Anita sighed. “Well, at least Jamison gave us an excuse to be together for the rest of the cruise.”

Kek looked at her gently. “I’m afraid not. As a matter of fact, your stint with us is done, and you managed it very well. I suggest you now go out to the deck buffet with that red-haired boy who has been glaring in this direction for the past half-hour. And then, when you have time, report to Mr. Jamison. And no, it is not necessary to report back to me what the two of you discuss.”

Anita frowned. “But I thought—”

“There will be other times and other cruises,” Kek told her gently. “And this time let’s not part with a slap. André is here to protect me this time.”

“Oh!” Anita came to her feet, whirled, and stalked from the bar. Billy Standish was after her in one bound.

“A little rough, weren’t you?” André asked.

Kek paused in calling a waiter. He faced André squarely, his gray eyes serious.

“You, my friend, are going to find out what being identified with me, even in someone’s mind as a ‘confederate,’ will mean when we go through Customs,” he said quietly. “I don’t like the thought of Anita being put through that routine...”


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The MV Andropolis , her flags flying bravely and her white paint gleaming brightly, plowed steadily through the Narrows, its polished railing crowded with passengers wondering where the two weeks had flown, drinking in the breathless wonders of the Brooklyn waterfront on one side and Staten Island on the other, pointing out, one to the other, things the other had just finished pointing out to them. The Verrazano bridge had been passed and commented on with awe, quite as if they had not seen it two weeks before on their departure. To their left, the Statue of Liberty stood, looking a bit tired after the years and many disappointments; to the right the twin towers of the World Trade Center loomed larger and larger in the morning sun, dwarfing the older, more dignified skyline of downtown New York. In the broad harbor ships drifted at anchor, ferries plied; garbage floated gently on the tide. The day was hot and humid, promising passengers a muggy welcome at the ancient gloomy Customs shed that should have been used for firewood when everything above Thirty-fourth Street was farmland.

In the interior of the luxury liner the companionways were jammed with stewards staggering Quasimodolike under mounds of luggage, transferring it from corridors to the promenade deck, where members of the deck crew piled it in mountainous heaps with the most crushable objects, if possible, beneath. Stewardesses frantically dragged linens from beds and pushed them into the corridor, or tried to drag vacuum cleaners into staterooms through the mob that was hastily preparing for the next cruise — for the ship sailed for Philadelphia as soon as the passengers were disembarked, there to allow others to rumple beds and fill ashtrays. In the bars, barmen counted bottles behind closed grillworks; in the huge kitchen storeroom chefs checked stocks while hand trucks propelled by caterer-employees feverishly tried to overcome the shortages before the ship sailed. In the saloons, passengers ladened with island purchases considered too precious for the handling by shipboard personnel busily scribbled each other’s addresses on bits of paper, to be examined curiously the next time a wallet or purse was cleaned out, and then thrown away. Whistles blew for unexplained reasons, horns honked at irregular intervals, while an insistent voice on the loudspeakers advised everybody not to dawdle once their luggage was on the dock, as the ship was sailing at once.

Jamison, having seen Kek Huuygens on deck patiently waiting for the tugs to edge the Andropolis  into her berth, nodded in satisfaction and went below. He found Rafferty where he had left him, standing stolidly in the purser’s square, tapped the large security officer on the arm, and motioned him to follow as he walked down the aft companionway, stepping on linens and squeezing past laden stewards. At Huuygens’ cabin he was pleased to note through the open door that the place was stewardess-free. He entered, pulling Rafferty behind him, and closed the door, twisting the latch. He dragged a chair to the wall and climbed up, tugged the grillwork free, and peered within. A smile crossed his horseface. As he had figured, the brightly colored package was gone.

“Bingo!” he said softly to himself, and got down again.

“Not there anymore?” Rafferty asked.

“Of course not. Take a look,” Jamison offered generously.

“What good would that do?” Rafferty asked, his tendency for logic once more functioning. “I never saw it there in the first place.”

For a moment Jamison’s face fell. He mentally kicked himself for not having used Rafferty to better advantage as a witness when the two of them were last in the cabin. It was true that in that case Rafferty would be of small use in court, but the evidence of the carving was actually all that a judge would need to put Huuygens behind bars where he belonged.

“It was there and now it’s gone. Take my word for it,” he said shortly, and then his face creased in a smile and he rubbed his hands. “Now to see how Mr. Huuygens tries to get it through Customs!”

Mr. Huuygens, edging his way down the gangplank and then walking in the direction of the huge H  hanging from a dingy rafter, was not greatly surprised to see a uniformed Customs official

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standing beside his three bags, refusing the importuning of earlier arrivals. In fact, he was surprised to see that other officials were also not at work as yet. He looked about for André, but although the large man had preceded Kek down the gangplank, he was nowhere to be seen. In the other direction, Anita, for once unaccompanied by Billy Standish, waited patiently for the Customs ritual to begin.

Kek came up to his bags and nodded pleasantly to the man hovering over them. “Those are my bags beside you,” Kek said, and reached into a pocket, bringing out a declaration form and handing it over. “Would you care to examine them?”

“I believe we’d rather do it inside,” the Customs man answered with a faintly malicious smile, refusing the declaration form by simply ignoring it. Stories about Huuygens were legion in the Customs service. “You don’t mind?”

“Of course I mind,” Kek told him a bit crossly. “Wouldn’t you?” He shrugged helplessly. “Well, if I must, I must, I suppose. Would you want me to help you carry one of those bags for you?”

“I can handle them quite nicely,” said the official, and picked them up. He led the way across the shed to offices there, while the other passengers looked after them curiously, certain a bribe of some kind had assured this passenger special treatment. They should know! Kek thought with an inward smile, and closed the door behind him. The Customs man set the bags down on a bench-cum-deck. Kek turned. His eyebrows raised in surprise.

“Mr. Jamison! You poor man, do they suspect you of something improper, too?”

“It’s time to end the masquerade,” Jamison said, and drew himself up, speaking in his most official manner. “Mr. Huuygens, you might as well know that I am with the Treasury Department — with the Customs Service, to be exact — and that we have strong reason to suspect you are carrying contraband. I’ve had my eye on you from the beginning; it was, in fact, my reason for being on the cruise. I’m afraid I must ask you—”

“No!” Kek said, absolutely astonished. “You mean—”

“I’m afraid it’s true. And I’m also afraid we must ask you to submit to a thorough search of your person and your belongings.”

“I’m amazed!” Kek looked it. “I must  compliment you on a masterful performance. Are you sure you never had stage training?” He shrugged and got back to the matter in hand. “But the truth is, I’m afraid you’ve had all your trouble for nothing. Here’s my declaration form.”

“Ah, yes, your declaration form.” Jamison took it and scanned it calmly, smiled, and looked up. “Nothing to declare?”

“That’s right. So you see,” Kek said earnestly, “you’ve been mistaken.”

“I doubt it,” Jamison told him, in command every inch of the way. “What about that — ah, candy dish I saw you with in Barbados?”

Kek looked puzzled. “Candy dish?”

“The package under your arm at the shed in Barbados.” Jamison was the soul of patience. He hoped that Blazak, the other official, would watch and learn. “While you were listening to that steel-drum band. You said you’d found some waiter using it for an ashtray.”

“Oh, that? I’d forgotten about that. I don’t remember what I did with it, as a matter of fact. I probably forgot it and left it on the ship. I certainly don’t recall packing it.”

“Well.” Jamison smiled in friendly fashion. “Let’s see if we can help you find it. We’d never want you to lose a candy dish.”

“Is it that important, really?” Kek asked, exasperated.

“Yes,” Jamison said simply and gestured toward the cases. “Would you unlock them, please?”

“They’re not locked.” Kek’s tone clearly indicated that only those without clear consciences needed to lock cases.

“Good,” Jamison said, unimpressed by the playacting. “Blazak?”

“Yes, sir!” The uniformed Customs man sprang to attention.

With Jamison’s gesture, the search began. Blazak started with the small overnight case, while Jamison alternated his gaze from the case to Huuygens’ face. It was amazing how often people gave away their guilt, or a hiding place, by a quirk of the eyebrows or a tightening of the nostrils. Kek merely yawned, however, and leaned against one corner of the bench as Blazak went through the items there one by one. Shaving paraphernalia joined toothbrush and toothpaste, and in turn was joined by aspirin, mouthwash, spare razorblades, and deodorant. It was plain to Blazak that if an object the size of a pin failed to escape his search, certainly nothing the size of the carving he had been told they were searching for could, or would. When the overnight case had been emptied, the case’s sides, top, bottom, and ends were rapped and checked for thickness. Only when both Jamison and Blazak were certain the case was innocent of any wrongdoing, were the items replaced. Blazak snapped the lock shut and moved to the smaller of the remaining cases.

Here the drill was repeated, with Jamison still watching and still not perturbed by the lack of evidence so far. He was sure that Huuygens had the carving — either Huuygens or his confederate — and the confederate was going through the same type of search in the adjoining room.

The second case was emptied and studied. Then Blazak began replacing the socks, shoes, ties, and other apparel. Kek was pleased to note that Blazak, in addition to being thorough, was also neat, a trait he most probably learned at his mother’s knee, rather than in the Department.

The second case was latched and the third case was opened, when Blazak found himself pushed aside as Jamison, in his eagerness, would not wait. “I’ll take this one myself,” he announced, and began dragging jackets and trousers precipitously from the case.

“Hold it!” Huuygens said, annoyed. “You’ll wrinkle them!”

“Will I, now!” Jamison said, and began pressing each garment between his hands.

“Yes, you will, damn it!” Huuygens said, his voice taut. “Leave them alone! You’ll ruin them!”

“Will I, now!” There was sudden triumph in Jamison’s voice; his horseface was aglow with success. He shoved a hand deep inside the inner pocket of a sport jacket. The lining had been torn and the object he had located was in back, down by the hem. A more casual examination might well have missed it. “You need a tailor,” Jamison told him with an attempt at humor, and withdrew a brightly colored package. It was the same one he had seen under Huuygens’ arm on the pier in Bridgetown, the one first seen and then removed from the duct in the other’s stateroom. “Well, well!” Jamison said, smiling. “I do believe we may have found that candy dish you lost!”

Kek tried to look relieved. “Well. I certainly hope so. So that’s where it went, eh? I’ll have to get that lining fixed.” He put out his hand. “Let me have my declaration back and I’ll mark it down. ‘One candy dish, fifteen dollars, Wedgwood.’”

“All my life,” Jamison said smugly, “I’ve wanted to see what a fifteen-dollar Wedgwood candy dish looked like.” He started unwrapping the package with hands that, despite himself, began to tremble with anticipation.

“Hey!” Kek said in alarm but it was too late. The package was open.

But Jamison did not hear him. He was staring down at the object in his hands. His lifelong ambition had finally been realized; he was seeing what a fifteen-dollar Wedgwood candy dish looked like.

That was the day that became known in shipping circles as the Day of the Big Search, and probably made more passengers swear they would never take a ship again than the beggars in Haiti, or Hatteras at its worst. A stentorian blast on the loudspeakers advised all Customs officials to report to the office Jamison had commandeered for Operation Huuygens, and when they returned to duty it was to go through each passenger’s luggage and person with a thoroughness unequaled in the history of a department dedicated to thorough searching. Female agents were called in from adjoining piers to handle the women passengers; the Customs man nearest Anita apologized profusely as he handed her over to a large, matronly agent, but Anita was searched as thoroughly as the others. Offices were taken over for the more delicate aspects of the search. Every possible place an object the size of the carving could have been hidden was probed, poked, patted, or squeezed. And when it was finished late that afternoon, and the last fuming passenger finally released, together with Huuygens and Martins, Jamison sat alone in the little office, his aching head in his hands, considering the day from its hopeful inception to its horrible conclusion. His biggest problem — other than fruitless wonder as to how the devil Huuygens had accomplished it — was what to say to his superior when he called in to report. It was, however, the one worry he did not have to contend with, for the telephone at his elbow rang before he could formulate his thoughts, let alone place a call to Washington. It was, as he feared, his superior.



The icy voice was withering in its anger.

“What in the name of God have you been doing all day? I’ve had sixteen calls in the past two hours! Did you know there was a tour of Justice Department wives on that cruise?”

“There was?” The truth was that at that point Jamison just didn’t care.

“And one of them just finished having hysterics over the telephone in my ear, and for fifteen minutes! What do you mean, body-searching the wife of an Assistant Attorney General?”

“Did they do that? I personally didn’t touch a—”

“Keep quiet! And did you know the press is saying we’re dictatorial, and that Congress should investigate your idiotic directions today? The Daily News  is asking for a special committee!”

“They are?”

“Keep quiet! And did you know,” the man in Washington went on cuttingly, “that the president of that steamship line happens to be an old golfing friend of the Secretary of the Treasury? Your boss, and — more important — mine?”

“He is?”

“He is! Now, start talking, Jamison, and make it good!”

Jamison sighed. He was past fear; now all he felt was weariness and the residual soreness of his nose and jaw.

“I don’t know how he did it,” he said, biting back a yawn, “but he brought it in. He didn’t have it with him, nor did his confederate, either — nor anyone else, for that matter, because we searched them, but still he brought it in. Under our noses. It was a candy dish.”

“Stop driveling! What do you mean, it was a candy dish?”

“Wrapped in colored paper,” Jamison added, and allowed the yawn to win.

“What are  you talking about? Jamison, are you sober?”

“He had it wrapped to look like a candy dish, only when we opened it, it was  a candy dish. Like I just said,” Jamison went on, unable to fathom why his superior, normally a fairly intelligent man, seemed unable to follow the discussion.

There was a long pause at the other end of the line. Then, “Jamison, go home and take a cold bath. And then take a glass of tomato juice with some Worcestershire sauce and two aspirin—”

“He had aspirin—”

“—and then sleep if off. When you feel better, report to the office. Better bring a bag with you.”

“I’m going somewhere, sir?”

“Yes. I intend to have papers cut, transferring you to Point Barrow.”

“Point Barrow, sir? Isn’t that in Alaska?”

“It is.”

“That’s above the Arctic Circle, isn’t it, sir?”

“It is.”

“Do we have an office there, sir?”

“If we don’t, we’ll open one,” said the man in Washington with finality, and hung up.

“Yes, sir,” Jamison said obediently to the dial tone, and yawned. “I’ll do that, sir. And thank you, sir...”

André Martins, having seen their luggage properly stowed in the front seat of the taxi, climbed in beside Huuygens while the other man gave the driver directions. He looked sideways and with admiration at Huuygens as the taxi started up and swung into 57th Street, heading for the East Side.

“How did you do it, Kek?”

“How did I do what?”

“You know damn well what I mean! How did you—” He paused abruptly, glancing at the driver, then lowered his voice, even though they were speaking French. “You  know!”

“Oh, that?” Kek laughed. “It’s a long story. I’ll tell you over a drink at the apartment.” He looked at André, a twinkle in his eye. “How did you enjoy the search?”

“I was going to object. Strenuously,” André reported honestly, “but I figured they’d take away my visa—”

“For breaking an inspector’s back? Or even his arm? Very likely,” Kek said dryly.

André considered his friend with respect. “You go through that all the time? And keep your temper?”

Kek shrugged. “It’s part of the game. Usually I’m the only one to suffer, but this time, because of that damned bodyguard of Girard’s and his big mouth — and because Jamison, for all his faults, was smart enough to figure out that if I had a confederate, it could well be whoever joined the ship in Barbados, and you were the only one who did — you and the rest had to suffer with me. I’ll try to be more careful in the future and not make verbal deals before third parties.”

He leaned forward, directing the driver. The cab swung in an illegal U-turn, coming to rest before a large apartment. Kek paid the man and climbed down after André. The large man picked up the four suitcases with ease, refusing help, and followed Huuygens into the building. In the elevator, the doorman behind him, André looked around, smiled at the luxury, and said, “Tomorrow I’ll get the rest of my money from Girard and find myself a small hotel for a few months.”

“You’ll pick up the money and then come right back to the apartment,” Kek said firmly. “Anita would never let me hear the end of it if you ever stayed anywhere else. And, after all, I have to live with the woman.”

André grinned. “In that case—”

The elevator door slid back silently. Kek led the way down the hall, dug out his apartment key, opened the door, and ushered André inside. “Put down the bags and let’s have that drink.” He raised his voice. “Anita?”

“Yes?” The voice was faint, coming from a bedroom.

“Come in here and have a drink with us. What are you doing?”

Anita poked her head around the sill of the hall entrance. “I’m unpacking, darling.”

Kek looked at her in surprise. “Unpacking?”

“That’s what people usually do when they come back from a cruise,” Anita answered reasonably, and came into the room.

“Ah!” Kek saw her point at last, and also her mistake. “But I promised you cruises , not a single cruise, don’t you remember? And this time we’ll have adjoining staterooms, and a flaming shipboard romance, and everything that goes with it, to make up for the last one.” He moved behind the bar and started to set out glasses while André and Anita stared at him. Kek reached for a bottle of brandy. “We leave at seven o’clock this evening, sweet. For Philadelphia, by train. The Andropolis  sails from there at midnight.”

Anita settled on a barstool with an unbelieving look on her pretty face. André sat down beside her, staring at Huuygens.

“You’re going to take another cruise? On the same ship?”

“Of course,” Kek said, and poured. He slid glasses over the countertop, retaining one for himself. “I have to. The carving is there on board.”


“Yes — behind a dresser drawer in my stateroom. I figured Jamison wouldn’t look there again, not after he found that lovely-wrapped package missing from the air-conditioning duct.” He laughed. “That was the carving, at the time. The candy dish was where it belonged, on the vanity, full of caramels. One thing I’m pleased about — I won’t have to keep wrapping and rewrapping anymore.”

There was a lot about this that André didn’t understand, but one thing was quite clear.

“Yes, but when you come back this time, they’ll be twice as suspicious!”

Kek smiled. “Not quite. As the young lady at the travel agency said, this one is just a Cruise to Nowhere, three or four days on the ocean for people who just like the sight and sound of the sea, and — although she failed to mention it — each other’s company.” He smiled genially at the two people staring at him. “And they don’t even open the ship’s shop, because, you see, passengers on a Cruise to Nowhere aren’t bothered by the nasty Customs when they return...”

He smiled more widely, winked, and raised his glass.

“And if nobody else does it this time, I’ll do it myself. To a bon voyage .”


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André Martins sat at ease on the sofa, feet elevated and a beer in one hand, doing his best to understand the mentality that could find pleasure in an early-morning game-show. The sound of a key in the lock was lost in the greater clamor from a correct answer to an infantile question on the television, for what reason André could not say. He looked up at the opening door and then jumped to his feet to help Kek with the luggage. Anita followed, looking tanned and happy, closing the door behind her. André, glad that his four days of lonely exile were ended, turned off the television set and went back of the bar, reaching for glasses.

“How was the trip?”

“Wonderful!” Anita said. “A lot better than the last time.”

“I always told you cruises should be taken in doses,” Kek said, and started to shuck his jacket. “There are just so many red-haired young men in the world, and fortunately the supply ran out before this cruise, so we were able to enjoy ourselves.”

“Don’t say anything about Billy Standish,” Anita said with mock severity. “He was thoughtful, and kind—”

“And courteous and helpful, and everything else Boy Scouts should be,” Kek conceded. “The one thing he forgot was that Boy Scouts shouldn’t lust after beautiful young ladies.”

Anita laughed. “If that was lust, give me — well, give me this last trip.”

André cut into the conversation, looking at Kek. “What about—”

“On schedule.” Huuygens put aside his jacket and bent over his small briefcase. He opened it and brought out a bulky package. The carving had been protected by several thick folds of cardboard, then further cushioned with a pair of Kek’s pajamas. He carefully unwrapped it, put aside the cardboard, and set it on the bar. Anita shook her head.

“I’ve seen it daily on the trip. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

“I know,” André said, and grinned. “Even if I never saw it except through a glass case.” He glanced at his watch and reached for the brandy. “What time do you have to be at Girard’s?”

“Noon.” Kek swung himself onto a stool. “Plenty of time.”

André pushed the bottle over. “Want me along? Just in case Girard changes his mind about the odds, now that the carving is actually here, and not there? Or tries to get cute in any other way? I wouldn’t put it past him. He’s not a nice man.”

Kek shook his head and poured himself a drink.

“I agree that Girard is not a nice man, but you don’t understand his mentality,” he said, and sipped. “I wouldn’t buy a used car from him, and if he handed anyone a pistol to start a game of Russian roulette, three to one all chambers would be loaded. But welsh on a gambling wager? He’ll live up to every comma and period on any bet he makes, if it breaks his heart. His pride wouldn’t allow him any other choice.” André didn’t look too convinced. Kek set down his drink, frowning. “You received the rest of your fee, didn’t you?”

“Oh, sure,” André said, waving that aside. “But that was peanuts. Your case is a lot different—”

“Not to worry,” Kek said confidently, and finished his drink. “Well, I’ll go in and wrap this thing decently, and then go visit M’sieu Girard. I’d hate to have him pacing the floor and thinking we Huuygens were men without honor, just by being a minute late.” He picked up the carving and paused before going into his study. “I shouldn’t be with Girard too long. Where do you want to eat?”

“How about right here?” Anita suggested. “I’m ready to start being a cook again, and I’m sure André must be tired of eating in restaurants.”

“You can start being a cook tonight,” Kek said, and smiled. “Let’s celebrate at lunch today. In fact, let’s celebrate at the Quinleven Club. At one?” Kek looked at his watch. “And to bring your cup to overflowing,” he added, “you can even ask Max to join us. With or without Rose.”

Anita frowned at him. “Max?”

“Max,” Kek said firmly. “We owe him more than you think,” he added and went in to prepare his package.

The apartment house in which Victor Girard lived was less than three blocks from Kek’s building. The day was unusually pleasant for early August, with a slight breeze and a dryness in the air that was almost invigorating. Kek walked along, his briefcase held firmly. Fifty thousand dollars to five; ten-thousand-to-one odds. Not bad, he had to admit to himself, and pushed through the heavy glass doors into the interior. He gave the doorman his name, glancing at the wall clock as he waited to be announced. Twelve o’clock exactly. A business deal to be consummated, and that would be the last time he would be forced to see M’sieu Girard. Which, Kek calculated, would be no great hardship.

Permission finally having been granted from above, Kek entered the elevator and was whisked to the proper floor. The door opened with a whisper and he found himself in an ornate corridor that gave an indication of the kind of luxury one might expect within the apartment. Kek pressed the small button and heard the chimes within. Before their echo could die away in the stillness, the door had been yanked open and Girard was facing him. The tiny black eyes darted instantly to the briefcase, even before he stepped back to invite Huuygens to enter.

“Come in, come in!”

“I’m afraid I don’t have too much time, M’sieu,” Kek said, and stopped in the foyer of the apartment, the door behind him still slightly open. “An early luncheon appointment. But we should be able to transact our business here without too much loss of time, if M’sieu doesn’t object—”

“The sooner the better,” Girard said in his harsh voice, and looked at the briefcase again with avid eyes.

“But before we do,” Kek went on evenly, “I should like to hear you repeat to me the exact terms of our wager, so there will be no possibility of any misunderstanding.”

The tiny eyes hardened, narrowing. “There’ll be no misunderstanding, M’sieu. I made a wager with you which I am prepared to keep, and which you had better  be prepared to keep.”

“And the terms?” Kek asked quietly.

“The terms, as you know very well, were as follows: I bet you fifty thousand dollars of mine to five dollars of yours, that you would not — repeat, not  — bring a Chang Tzu T’sien carving from the Ile Rocheux museum through American Customs and deliver it to me. Today! Now!” Suspicion twisted the pockmarked face. “Now, M’sieu, is your understanding any different?”

“No,” Kek answered with relief. “I’m pleased to say my recollection of our bet is the same as yours.” He sighed and reached into his pocket. “You know, M’sieu Girard, you are a very lucky man. You won.”

And he handed over five dollars.

“I think Girard was too stunned to say anything, or at least he didn’t say anything as I bid him fond farewell and got out of there.” Kek smiled at the memory. “I imagine he’s been saying all sorts of things ever since.”

Anita and André were staring at him in astonishment. Anita shook her head, bewildered. “But where—”

“The beautiful carving?” Kek sighed and shrugged. “On its way to the Ile Rocheux Gallery, sent by an unknown admirer — and repentant ex-professional thief — with the Metropolitan Museum as a return address if the post office cannot find Ile Rocheux, which wouldn’t surprise me. At times they have trouble finding Bridgeport, Connecticut. And I’m afraid the package was insured for far less than its full value. We’ll have to economize on little things like that, but little economies add up to big savings, I’m told...”

“I’m glad,” Anita said simply. “I never did like the idea of your stealing the carving. You’re not a thief.”

“Not a good one, that’s sure. Besides, there are dangers involved, like getting shot. And the hours are awful. But the big reason for sending the carving back was that I couldn’t bear the thought of Girard leering at that lovely piece of ivory every day.”

“And, of course, if M’sieu Girard had possession of it,” Anita added shrewdly, “you’d never get a chance to see it again, whereas in Ile Rocheux, as a visiting tourist—”

“As visiting tourists we  could see it. Yes, that thought also occurred to me,” Kek said, and smiled. He looked up at the waiter who had appeared at his side. “No, thank you, Michael. No drink for me this afternoon.”

André frowned in disbelief. “No drink before lunch?”

“Not today,” Kek said, and came to his feet as another man approached. “Ah, Max! Glad you could join us. Rose couldn’t come? Too bad. Well, Anita is showing my friend André the town this afternoon, so I thought that possibly after lunch we might have a little game of something...”

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