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Authors: Evelyn Anthony

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‘I'll give it my best shot,' he said clearly. ‘And I don't expect to fail. Thank you, Julius. When do I go?'

‘See Reece,' Heyderman closed the subject. ‘With Andrews. He'll brief you both. Now, to the rest of business.'

The meeting ended an hour later. Heyderman went out first, followed by Reece and then Arthur. Ray Andrews and James found themselves behind Kruger and David Wasserman. Johnson went off without wasting time; he had a lot of work to do.

In the corridor, Wasserman stopped. ‘Well, Ray my boy, you got a dirty job ahead of you,' he said.

‘Bloody impossible,' Andrews said shortly.

‘You'll bring it off,' James piped up.

‘Ah, the wonder boy.' Kruger stopped and faced him. ‘How come you managed to crawl up Julius's ass without anyone noticing?'

Wasserman laughed; it was not so much a laugh as an old man's cackle, malicious and dry. ‘Now, Dick, don't be like that. You had your chance, like James here. Good luck to you, my boy.' He patted James on the shoulder. ‘You'll need it, won't he, eh?' He laughed again.

‘You'll need a bloody miracle,' Kruger snapped. ‘If you make a mess of it, Hastings old son, Julius'll chew your balls clean off. That's if you've got any left when Ivan Karakov's finished with you!' He turned and walked away. The old man looked after him and shrugged. Andrews looked embarrassed, James Hastings showed nothing except that he was white-faced, and Wasserman knew what that meant in some men.

‘Don't pay any attention to him,' he said. ‘He don't mean anything nasty; just forget it. He's edgy, that's all.'

James gave him a look that was quite impassive; his colour was still very pale.

‘Most people are edgy when they know they're past it,' he said. ‘I'll give you a ring, David; perhaps we could have lunch before you go back? Fine, I'll do that then. Come on, Ray. Let's go and see what Reece has to suggest.'

Reece stood up as they came into his office. It was furnished in ultra-modern style, with sepia-coloured walls and white wood furniture. There was a large reproduction of a Chagall abstract and a small drawing, which Hastings recognized as an original by Paul Klee; those two pictures and some framed photographs of his family were the only decorations in the office. Functional was the word that leaped to the mind; efficient, up to date, expensive, and quite without atmosphere. But the room wasn't a reflection of Reece's personality. The key to that lay somewhere in those two paintings and those dumpy figures in the photographs on his desk. As they sat down, James identified him as the sullen little boy with a little girl standing, he guessed, between their parents; the background was indeterminate, the group was windblown, and Reece's father looked self-conscious in a panama hat. Reece wasn't married, and that was all anybody knew about his personal life. A negative. James took a cigarette from the onyx box and looked into the man's dark, flat eyes. God, he was a creepy little bastard.

‘Mr Hastings, I think we'll have a general run-through with your side of the problem first. Then we'll deal with Mr Andrews; is that all right?' He looked from one to the other and smiled. He knew them very well, these two men, and his summing up had decided their present assignments, though they would never know it. He had first advised Heyderman to watch Hastings; Reece could smell ambition, and it was so strong in Hastings that it stank in Reece's nostrils the moment they met. He had an animal instinct for certain things; he knew if someone was afraid, and how far they could be pushed. That had been very useful on occasions when he had been left to distance the company from some awkward situation. He knew when threats were useless, and it was necessary to use other means, like money or promotion to close a mouth or stifle a pang of conscience. Hastings would have very little conscience. There wasn't much he'd balk at, if the prize was big enough, and that was why the Chairman had selected him to take on Karakov; he'd chosen him because Reece said he was the man, and Julius trusted Reece's judgement as much as he did his own. Reece knew this, and he was very gratified. If you happened to be a small man, and not much to look at, and with certain things to hide, it was a great satisfaction to be the right hand of a man like Julius Heyderman. They said there was a woman behind every great man; Reece didn't believe it. He knew there was usually a Reece. If Hastings had no conscience, then Ray Andrews had too much, and that was why he was going down while Hastings was going up. He had thought very seriously about Andrews. Julius had been inclined to dismiss him; he was Arthur Harris's man, competent but lacking the final flair which distinguished men destined for the top. In Reece's view that was unfair and unwise. Andrews was brilliant, it was just bad luck that his one mistake should have caught up with him now; but it seemed as good a time as any to begin the long-planned operation against Arthur by bringing down one of the men who could be counted on to stand by him. Andrews was being given the Russians to deal with, and though it looked impossible, Reece felt there was a remote chance that if he got to Yeltsin, they might come to terms. It wasn't essential that Andrews should fail in order to get the chocks from under Arthur. If he succeeded, they would change tactics. He must have a price; Reece didn't worry about that too much. Everyone had one.

‘Now, Mr Hastings, let's put you in the picture.' Reece buzzed his secretary. ‘Bring in the Karakov file.' He never said ‘please' to subordinates. When the file arrived he began leafing through it. ‘We don't have a proper agreement with Karakov. It's not a formal thing, just a letter of intent. He wanted an agreement, and we went through the formalities of letting his lawyers talk to ours, just to humour him, but naturally we can't let our clients have anything which might be interpreted as rights over us. Now, Karakov has been getting about half his total requirements from us, and the rest he has to go out and buy from the trade. What he does get from us is a far higher proportion of the large special stones than anyone else. He gets these stones very cheaply, as he takes so much of the poorer quality goods which are more difficult to sell.' Reece paused for a moment, and then went on. ‘As you know, there's an element of risk in the big special stones. You can pay a hundred thousand for a wonderful-looking piece, and then cleave it and find it's lost all its promise and life. You find yourself with two or three moderate stones worth about twenty thousand and a lot of small stuff at the end of it.

‘But, on the other hand, if you get a good one …' he shrugged. ‘Karakov likes the big stuff; he takes the risk. He's had some bad buys but overall he's made a great deal of money. If he gets a monopoly on these red diamonds, he'll be strong enough to cause us
serious
problems. As Mr Wasserman said, he's an egomaniac.

‘Now, Mr Hastings, Mr Julius feels you should go to the Paris office as soon as possible. Get established there. Rent a nice apartment. You'll make contact with Ivan Karakov – Mr Wasserman can arrange that. I suggest your approach is friendly, even ingenuous. Be nice, be a little bit pained about the rumours that he's falling out with D.E., but give the impression that you're not as clever as you think you are. You don't mind me saying this, do you? It's all just a suggestion – you'll handle it in your own way, of course. Get to know him socially. Entertain. Be friendly. Of course, you'll be taking your wife. Don't just stop on a business footing.'

James nodded. He didn't see the point of the lecture. Cheeky bastard, telling him what to do …

Reece continued, ‘Oh, and Mr Julius wants you to take a secretary/personal assistant from this office. Someone who knows the business at first hand and can be trusted with highly confidential material. Ruth Fraser is the obvious choice.' He looked expectantly at James. ‘I'm sure she'll agree to go,' he added.

‘You're not going! You ring through to that bastard and say you've changed your mind!' Dick Kruger was yelling at her. He'd lost control of himself halfway through her explanation and stood over her shouting.

‘For God's sake,' Ruth protested. ‘Half the office can hear you … Stop screaming at me!' She had never seen him lose his temper and she didn't like it. She didn't like being yelled at either, seeing how his fists balled up as if he were going to hit her. Under the South of France tan, she was quite pale. ‘Stop it, Dick, calm down …'

He took a very deep breath. In a lower tone, he said, ‘You're not going to Paris with Hastings. So don't let's argue about it, it's a fact. You just call Reece and tell him. Now.'

Ruth Fraser looked at him. ‘Sit down,' she said. ‘Just sit down and listen to me, will you please?' She got up and came to him. She put her arms round his waist. His body was rigid. Tact, she told herself, handle him carefully. Of course he's upset. He hears it from Reece first, then I accept before he gets a chance to hear my side of it … ‘Sit down,' she urged, pressing herself against him. Body contact never failed. It failed then. He pushed her away. He swallowed, in control of himself at last. The hurt showed in his eyes. That hurt her, too.

‘Why didn't you wait? Why didn't you talk it over with me first?' He sank into the chair behind his desk. ‘Why did you just say “Yes” right off?'

‘Because Reece wanted an answer,' Ruth told him. ‘If not me, then someone else … probably Judy Palmer. You know how ambitious she is … and she's no friend to you. Darling,' she lowered her voice, pleading with him, ‘you've been worried about Hastings from the start. Now he's got a top-level job from Julius. So where does that leave you, if he brings it off? Out!'

She paused. She came round the desk and stood beside him. She laid a hand on his shoulder. ‘But he won't,' she said very softly. ‘Not if I go with him. That's why I said yes. Because I can protect you.'

‘I don't need protecting,' he said. She felt him respond to the pressure of her hand. She knew she was going to win. ‘I don't want you living in Paris. I don't give a toss about Hastings or anyone else. I want you with me.'

She leaned against him, slipped an arm around his neck. ‘We can be together every weekend,' she said. ‘I can fly home or you can fly out. If Hastings screws up quickly, I'll be back before you know it.'

He sighed. He reached for her and brought her round to sit on his knee. She was very small and her feet didn't touch the ground.

‘Christ,' Kruger muttered. ‘I love you so much, Ruthie. I need you …'

‘I know,' she said. ‘We need each other. Darling, I want to do this for you. For us. I don't want that smug little shit to win. I'll let you know every last detail, so you can tell Arthur. And I'll pull the rug from under him if I get a chance. And I will. Reece said I would have access to all the confidential material. That's what got to me. I could see the opportunities.' She reached up and touched his mouth. ‘And you see them too. You're too good an operator to pass this up. Say I can go …'

Kruger didn't answer. He loved the feel of her, the scent of her. His stomach lurched at the thought of separation. Weekends together. That wasn't so bad. Paris was no problem. And she was right. She'd keep him ahead of the game, primed against Hastings and able to arm Arthur Harris.

The idea that Ruth could actually wreck any deal Hastings might negotiate with Karakov was far-fetched … typically feminine. But not impossible, with an adversary like Ruth. She was as clever as a grove of monkeys. And what she didn't know about Diamond Enterprises and the way it operated, was literally not worth knowing.

‘Say yes,' she prompted. ‘We can get married if you really want to. Will that make it better? No-one in the office has to know.'

He'd asked her often enough, and her lack of hurry had surprised him. It pleased him too, because a lot of his and Valerie's friends had said bluntly that she was after marriage and his money. But she wasn't. She wasn't anxious to tie him down. Or herself. That aspect had made him uneasy, and he had started pressing her for an answer. Now, unexpectedly, she had given it. Proof of her good faith. Proof that, as she said, what she was doing in taking on the job of assistant to his enemy, was for his sake.

He said, ‘I'll get a special licence.'

‘Would you like a drink first?' Julius Heyderman hesitated. He'd never visited this girl before. She came out of Reece's little book of useful names and addresses. She was very pretty, ash blond, very full breasted – he couldn't bear skinny, flat-chested women – and she had magnificent legs. The fee was five hundred. It included tickets for the new hit musical in the West End, if the client wanted a night out, with sex afterwards at his choice. Julius didn't feel like going to the theatre. ‘I've got whisky, gin, vodka and a bottle of champagne on ice if you'd like that.'

She was very well dressed, nothing cheap or tarty about her. She spoke well, was poised and friendly. The flat was nicely furnished, with decorator stamped all over the nick-nacks and colour schemes. Nobody would have imagined she was a very high-class prostitute.

‘Whisky, no ice, just water please,' Heyderman said. Reece knew he liked women straight. Once he made a mistake, with a sullen brunette who offered special services. Heyderman had walked out. He had never needed sexual deviation. Reece was left in no doubt of his error.

Heyderman liked the look of her. She was elegant and she knew how to sit still. He hated women doing what he described as a bloody Salome dance when they poured a man a drink.

‘Mind if I have a whisky with you?'

‘Why should I? It's your whisky.' He was in a bad mood; he had been irritable and restless back at his hotel, unable to relax. He was worried, and he knew the antidote for that. So he told Reece to make a date for him, and there he was in a walk-up flat in Mount Street, drinking whisky with a whore. For five hundred pounds flat rate.

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