top of page

Twenty-fourth level
CHAPTER 1: The Residence

On that hot sticky night the sky was hidden by low clouds. Even the gigantic statue of Christ the Redeemer spread its floodlit concrete arms unseen by the people of the motley, beautiful city two thousand feet below.

Amidst the brightly-lit streets, separating parts of the town from one another, were patches of deep gloom with few dim lights or none at all, where the morros rose suddenly above the house-tops, soaring up to five hundred, a thousand feet to show the grandeur of their granite sides and their shaggy coats of grass and wild jungle, wherever the trees of the mato could hang on to the precipitous rock.

They lie around the bay of Rio de Janeiro, these enormous boulders, like pebbles scattered aimlessly by a Titan’s hand. The civilised, pleasure-loving Cariocas look up at their formidable contours with pride and fear, for the morros are untamed. They shed off their flood-water in sudden, disastrous torrents; they obstruct the orderly growth of the city and confound its traffic; they send down avalanches on the houses and apartment buildings below. And they provide wild places where the homeless and the outlaws live, and where no limit is set to the savagery of human passions.

* * * *

In the deep strip of jungle which clad the lower slopes of the morro of Santa Marta the trees of the mato were high and dense, and it was as black as pitch. As black as the tall man who crouched in the fork of the mango tree and peered down into the darkness. Behind him a few dim lights from the shanties in the favela filtered through the thick foliage, but in front and beneath him he could see nothing. Yet he knew the wall was there, just in front of him, topped with barbed wire, snaking across the mountainside, separating him from the lower slopes of the morro. And from his enemy.

Suddenly he stiffened. In the unseen jungle beneath him, over to the left, his eye caught a glimmer of light. It flickered nearer, and now the watcher in the mango tree could hear the steps of the night-guard as he made his way along the slippery path beyond the wall, flashing his torch on the barbed wire to make sure that it was intact.

The black man remained still, hidden in the foliage, while the light passed below him and danced away through the trees. Then he climbed down until he could lower a foot and get a purchase on the top of the wall. Balancing himself, with one hand on a branch, he groped in the pocket of his ragged shorts—he wore no other garment—for a pair of wire clippers, snipped through the strands of barbed wire and jumped through the gap into the darkness. Clutched in his right fist was a long bow and a handful of arrows.

He crossed the path and began to work his way downwards through the mato, using the bow to probe in the underbrush ahead to dislodge snakes. The trees began to thin out and soon, peering through the tangled lianas, he could dimly see what he sought—a pale oblong in the darkness, the Residence of the British Ambassador. The black man moved silently towards it.

At the edge of the mato, where the hillside had been cut away to make a drive, the first floor terrace of the Residence was only thirty yards away, and still below the level of his feet. He could just discern the low balustrade and the tall bedroom windows beyond, but the terrace itself, covered by its tiled roof, was in darkness. He sat down, sheltered by the fleshy coils of a jiboya creeper, and waited patiently, unmoving, for over an hour. He was in no hurry. He knew that the guard would not be back until shortly before dawn, and that was several hours away.

There was a glow of light beyond the house, and the black man heard the gravel crunching under the wheels of a car. Around the corner of the building there was the sound of doors opening, and voices. Then the car purred past him towards the garage courtyard and the chauffeur’s lodge. Then darkness and silence again.

Suddenly, a light went on in one of the bedrooms opposite where the watcher crouched, and shortly afterwards a man wearing a dinner jacket stepped out on to the terrace, switching off the bedroom light as he did so to keep the insects out. He could be seen dimly as he walked up and down, breathing in the hot night air, with its mixed scent of datura flowers and sweet, rotting wood.

In the mato the black man’s hand tightened on his bow while his eyes strained to follow the vague figure on the terrace. But the darkness was like a thick veil between him and his quarry. He muttered to himself, wiped his eyes carefully with the back of his hand, and looked again. As if to oblige him, the man on the terrace lit a cheroot and sat down, still just visible above the line of the balustrade.

The glow of the cigar shone on the white shirt front, and the hunter drew a long breath and stood up. He fitted an arrow to the string of his bow and drew it back to the full extent of his arm, aiming at the white patch. He stood for a long moment, unbreathing, his face drawn in a rictus of concentration, the muscles of his arms and chest hard and rigid under the strain. Then he loosed off. The white shirt jerked and disappeared, and at the same instant the black man heard the loud thud of the arrow as it struck. He waited. There was no sound or movement, nothing at which the second arrow, already drawn, could be launched. The tree frogs and cicadas were still screeching their chorus, and above his head a night bird repeated its jarring, imperious call. But from the terrace there was no sound.

There was a sudden hot breath of wind and the black man’s eyes widened as he watched a tiny glow of light moving below the top of the balustrade. Then it disappeared, and there was a splutter of sparks on the gravel below. The cheroot had rolled out through the pillars of the balustrade.

The black man slowly relaxed and put down his bow, still peering intently through the darkness. Then he turned and ran, stumbling over rocks and bushes, tearing aside the lianas, on and up towards the wall and the gap in the wire. His breath came in great gasps and the sweat poured down his bare black chest and arms. In the wrinkles at his wrists, the white skin beneath was beginning to show through.

* * * *

Earlier, on that same day, Peter Craig had been sitting after lunch on the verandah of the Residence, talking to his hostess. Lady Blakemore’s ample form filled a large chaise-longue. She was fanning herself gently. Her pleasant round face was beaded with perspiration and there were dark patches on Craig’s silk shirt. Outside, the sun blazed down almost vertically on the trim lawns and fountains and well-groomed gravel, shimmering in the heat of January. Only the jungle-clad slope beyond the drive, dark but for the glints of percolated sunlight, offered any respite to the eyes. The rest was all a painful glare.

The Ambassador joined them, a cup of coffee in his hand. He glanced with affection at Craig’s dark, serious face, the blue eyes narrowed by years of African sun and the deep lines etched by experience and command. He remembered the slow-speaking, broad-shouldered young man who had joined his staff in Sierra Leone—how long ago? Good God it must be twelve years by now—as a raw Assistant Superintendent. Very nervous, at first, and the native sergeants had tried to pull his leg. But his pale face and broken nose had soon ceased to be a joke—they had a knack of turning up in places and at times when they were least expected. The nervousness had disappeared early, and within ten years he had been appointed Commissioner of Police. It was good to see him again, thought Sir Wallace, even if only for a few days.

He sat down on the edge of the balustrade. “Did you manage to see Alvim Gross?” he asked. “The jeweller?” said Lady Blakemore. “What did you want to see him for, Peter? He’s good, but terribly expensive.”

Craig smiled. “I didn’t want to buy any stones, Lady B. He’s right outside my income bracket. But I did go to see him today. I had a letter from him from a friend of mine who is head of the International Diamond Institute in London.”

“It sounds interesting,” said the Ambassadress curiously.

“Oh, it’s not really. It’s just that Blenkhorn is rather intrigued by some of the diamonds that Gross has been sending to the Institute for research purposes. So when he heard that I was corning here he asked me to have a talk with Gross. He knows I’ve made something of a study of diamonds—for professional reasons, of course.”

“What happened?” asked the Ambassador. “Did he identify any of the stones Blenkhorn is interested in?”

“Yes, he did. Not at first, because he hadn’t known that there was anything odd about them, except for their peculiar shade of blue. But he took note of the consignments that Blenkhorn had mentioned in his letter and told somebody to check.” Craig paused.

“Well, go on,” said Lady Blakemore impatiently. “I know you, Peter. You’re just building up the suspense. What happened?”

Craig grinned. “Some excitement,” he said. “All the stones had come from the same dealer.”

Sir Wallace raised his eyebrows. “Did you find out who it is?”

“Yes. Gross was going to send off one of his young men at once to ask the dealer where he got the stones from, but I persuaded him to let me have a go first. The poor chap would be likely to clam up if all the weight of Gross e Filho suddenly settled on his shoulders. Here’s the address.”

“Let me see it,” said Sir Wallace. “Sao Cristovao? That’s miles away. When do you want to go and see him? You can have the Rolls this afternoon if you like, after I’ve gone to the office.”

“That’s very good of you, sir. It would suit me very well.”

“Have you got a sample of these funny stones with you, Peter?” asked Lady Blakemore, “I still don’t see what all the fuss is about.”

Craig took out his wallet and produced a small envelope which contained, on a bed of cotton-wool, an uncut diamond about the size of four match-heads. She wrinkled her nose at it. “It’s not very pretty,” she complained. “This isn’t a gem stone,” said Craig. “It’s no use except industrially. But, as I said, Alvim Gross occasionally sends small parcels of different kinds of crude Brazilian stones to the Institute, and apparently these particular stones were included because they were a rather unusual very pale blue.”

“Well, then?”

“Well, the London experts, who examine the stones microscopically, noticed that all these stones, besides being the same odd colour, were also alike in the microscopic markings which sometimes reveal a stone’s history.”

“But couldn’t they all have come from the same stream? That’s where all the Brazilian diamonds are found, isn’t it?”

“Not entirely. Some are found in a hard conglomerate in places where streams used to flow. Then you have to break it up before you can get at the diamonds. But the odd thing about these is that they seem—if the London experts are right—to have come from a diamond pipe, like the ones in South Africa. And diamond pipes, as such, are unknown in Brazil.”

“But they all come originally from volcanic pipes,” said the Ambassador, frowning. “Surely it could be part of a pipe which had somehow not been ground up in earth movements?”

“That’s just the point,” said Craig. “If such a thing exists, where is it? And how big is it? Blenkhorn’s interest is purely academic, but Gross has a very practical concern in any potential source of diamonds. He agreed that I should have first go, as a harmless amateur, so as not to scare the dealer, but he insisted that I should only mention the similarity in colour and not in markings. I agreed. If I fail, Gross will pull out all the stops to get at the source of these stones.”

“Well,” said Lady Blakemore, “I wish you luck. If you can persuade a Brazilian diamond dealer to give up a trade secret like that you’ll be very clever. “But then” she added thoughtfully, “you are rather bright, aren’t you, Peter?”

He grinned at her. “This is going to be my Waterloo, Lady I don’t think I’ve got a hope. But once I’ve tried and failed I’ll leave it to Gross to follow up with Blenkhorn. I’ve got to get on with my own job.”

The Ambassador rose. “We must be off. Good-bye, darling. Remember we all dine with the Canadians. Oh, and Peter,” he added, “Madame Thierry likes black dinner jackets, not white.”

* * * *

The Rolls-Royce was waiting at the private entrance, and took them out through the main gates into the swirling traffic of Rua Sao Clemente, through one-way streets to the broad avenues along the edge of the bay, and to where the Chancery building stood, facing the entrance to the harbour.

The Ambassador looked at the white beach and the blue waters of the bay enviously. “Lucky dog,” he said to Craig, You can have a swim after you’ve coped with your diamond dealer. I’ve got work to do and then two hot, sticky cocktail parties before the Canadians.” He waved his hand and went up the steps. The chauffeur solemnly furled the standard of the Queen’s Representative (since he was no longer in the car) and buttoned on its waterproof sheath. Then he drove off. through the choked streets of the city centre to the outlying district of Sao Cristovao. The street where the dealer lived was not easy to find. It was a small turning off a main road, and although paved was in very bad condition. The Rolls flowed majestically over the potholes and stopped, at Craig’s request, twenty yards short of the dealer’s house. There was a jeep parked just ahead, with an elderly man sitting in front.

Craig got out and walked past the jeep towards the house, which stood by itself and seemed to be better cared for than its neighbours. Just as he was reaching the entrance, a white man came out of it. He was dressed in old leans and a rather dirty white shirt and—unusual for a Carioca—he wore a straw hat pulled forward over his eyes. Craig could not see his face properly, but there was something familiar about the tall, spare figure, and he turned to see where the man was going. He saw him get into the jeep, behind the wheel, and a moment later he had made a U-turn and was bumping back towards the main road. Craig watched, puzzled. He was sure that he had seen the man before, and knew him well, but he could not place him. He shook his head angrily and went into the house. A broad wooden staircase led to the first landing, where there was a door marked “Dona Yolanda, Modista” and a notice pointing to the floor above: “Vladimir Coutinho Gomes. Pedras e Lapidaçao. 2 Andar.” He went up the second flight and found the dealer’s office. A big, coffee-coloured man sat in the outer room and looked at Craig discouragingly. “Quero falar com o Senhor Gomes,” said Craig. His Portuguese, learned in Angola, sounded strange to the Cariocas but he could make himself understood.

“Nao esta,” said the man, tentatively. But Craig sensed the lack of conviction in the man’s voice and deduced, correctly, that Gomes was in, but occupied. He handed over his card and told the man that he came on behalf of Senhor Gross. The man reluctantly got to his feet and went through the inside door. He came out again and beckoned.

Craig went into a large room, unfurnished except for a desk, some wooden chairs and two antique safes. Behind the desk an old man with a lined face the colour of grey stone was looking at him enquiringly, while he moved some papers and a blue cotton bag into a drawer. “De parte, do Senhor Gross?” he asked.

Craig nodded and sat down in a chair which he brought up to the desk, without waiting to be asked. He looked at the little man while he slowly took out his wallet and produced the stone. The dealer reached out a delicate hand, looked at the stone for a moment and then, without bothering to screw the jeweller’s glass, which lay in front of him, into his eye, he flicked at it contemptuously with his finger.

“It’s not a gem stone.” he said. “Where did the Senhor get it?”

“From Senhor Gross,” lied Craig. “I know it is not a good stone. What interests me is the colour. It is an unusual shade of blue, but Senhor Gross said you might have some gem stones of the same colour.”

The dealer screwed in his lens, switched on his lamp and examined the stone briefly. “I have had some gem stones of the same colour, but they are expensive. I cut them myself. But they are rare.” He looked at Craig appraisingly.

Craig pushed back his chair. “What a pity,” he said. “I should have liked to see some of them. It is a hobby of mine to collect diamonds of every shade of colour, and unfortunately Gross has sold those you have supplied him. He could only let me have this useless bit of rock as a sample of what you might have. But if you have no good stones I shall have to make a tour of the other dealers. There must be plenty of them who get similar stones from the garimpeiros who pan the rivers.

The little man was stung to retort. “I told you these stones were rare. The colour is quite exceptional. If you will come back tomorrow—”

Craig moved to the window, through which he could see the Rolls. He pointed to it. “I’m sorry, but I see my car has come back already. I have another appointment, and must leave Rio tomorrow. Thank you, Senhor Gomes.” He turned towards the door.

The dealer’s eyes were still on the enormous car outside. “Sit down, Senhor,” he pleaded. “I may have a few stones of the colour you want, after all.” He opened the drawer of his desk and took out the same cotton bag which he had put away when Craig came in. “I told you these pale blue stones are expensive,” he warned.

“That does not worry me,” said Craig, in a pained voice. “Just let me see what you have to offer.”

The old man emptied the contents of the bag on to the desk. There were about twenty stones, all uncut. They gleamed faintly blue under the lamp as he arranged them on a piece of black velvet. It was obvious, from the rapid, unhesitating way in which he sorted them out, that he knew the contents of the bag by heart.

“These four, as the Senhor will see, are gem stones. The others are not good, except as industrial diamonds.”

“They are very small,” said Craig, enjoying himself. He picked out the biggest. It was the size of a large pea. “How would you cut this up?”

Gomes pretended to examine it carefully. He took a tiny pair of scales from a shelf behind him and weighed it, calculating. “One carat sixty-five puntos,” he said apologetically.

Craig smiled scornfully. “When you have a bruto which will cut a stone of six, or even four-and-a-half carats,” he said, “I might be interested. How often do you get these stones? I suppose they all come from the same garimpeiro?”

“They don’t reach me very often,” Gomes said. “This parcel only arrived this afternoon. It is always the same garimpeiro. He must have found a rich maça somewhere, but of course he won’t say where. He has only been coming to me during the past few months, but all his stones are of this colour. Some of them were large stones of great clarity and beauty, worthy of the Senhor’s attention. If he brings me anything of the size you describe I could perhaps write to you.”

“You say you saw him only this afternoon,” said Craig, thoughtfully. “So he must have been with you just before I arrived. What a pity. I should like to have met him.” He was amused to see the look of horror which Gomes gave him.

“The Senhor would not know how to deal with these rough men,” he said earnestly. “But I can get in touch with him and tell him to come to Rio at once if he finds a stone big enough to please the Senhor.” He pointed to Craig’s card. “Is that your address in London?”

“Yes, that is the name of my club. You can write to me there. But mind, I’m only interested in large gem stones of exactly this colour and completely unflawed.” He paused. “So you know his address, do you? Can you tell me—”

Gomes broke in. “The Senhor will understand,” he said firmly, “that I cannot give the name and address of this garimpeiro. I doubt whether it is his real name, anyway. They are very secretive, these men, and this one is very violent. He deals with me exclusively—so far as I know—because I have lent him money. As you say, he left just before you came in; otherwise you would have seen for yourself what an uncultured and secretive man he is.” He shuddered delicately.

“I think I must have seen him then,” said Craig, watching the dealer’s face. “Was he the man in a straw hat who—?” Gomes’s face went pale. “No, no, no,” he said. “I cannot tell the Senhor anything more. But I will write if I hear anything. Would the Senhor like to see some other stones? I have some handsome white diamonds which I have just cut. One of two carats.”

“Thank you, Senhor Gomes,” said Craig grandly, “but I have all the white diamonds I need for my collection.” It was quite true. He had a little stone, with a history of blood. and bribery attached to it. It was a small mistake, made by a big smuggler, and he had fallen into the trap.

Gomes insisted on accompanying him down the stairs and standing at the door with him while the Rolls silently approached, attended by a crowd of children who had been daring each other to touch it. One of them called out something, which Craig did not catch, and at once the open first-floor window of Dona Yolanda’s establishment filled with the proud busts of some of her young ladies, who were all apparently inviting him to come up and see them sometime. Gomes shouted angrily and they disappeared, spluttering with laughter. The car drew away.

Craig looked at his watch. It was half-past four, and he was to meet the Bangasi Chargé d’Affaires at five. There would just be time to return the car to the Chancery by five-thirty, when the Ambassador would need it. “To the Copacabana Palace,” he said to the chauffeur, and relaxed, thinking over the talk he had had with the dealer.

Craig was puzzled. The man he had seen leaving Gomes’s house was obviously the garimpeiro who knew the origin of the stones in which Blenkhorn was interested. If so, it could not be anyone he had met, surely. And yet—the man’s walk, the glimpse of close-cropped fair hair under the straw hat, the tall, loose-limbed figure—it all added up to someone he knew. And he could not place him.

* * * *

The majestic façade which the Copacabana Palace Hotel presents to the Avenida Atlantica and the long white beach has had its critics, but inside, on a boiling hot afternoon, the tables under their gay umbrellas around the huge swimming pool are a very pleasant place to sit.

The representative of the newly independent Republic of Bangasa had once, in the course of a chequered career, attended the Staff College at Camberley, and had never lost his taste for tea à l’anglaise. He lived in the hotel and had succeeded in persuading the chef to produce hot buttered tea-cakes and Indian tea. His black face lit up in a broad smile when Craig approached.

“My dear Peter,” he said, “what a pleasure to meet you in Rio, of all places. Come and sit down. The tea-cakes will be here at any moment.”

Craig mopped his forehead. “How you can eat those things in this weather beats me. In Jamestown the heat was at least dry, more or less. But I must say you seem to thrive on It. How’s Mary?”

“She was hoping to meet you here, but she has had to go to a diplomatic tea-party. She sends you her love. All our wives had a soft spot for you, you know, even when you occasionally sent us to prison.”

“Ah well,” said Craig, “I expect they liked to have you out of the way from time to time. And anyway, you richly deserved it, you subversive element.”

My dear Peter, I may have referred to you, occasionally, and in appropriate company, as a colonialist oppressor—”

“And a running dog of British imperialism a lackey of Lombard Street—I liked that one—and a reactionary enemy of the people,” said Craig, grinning.

“Oh dear me, yes, I am surprised you didn’t stop playing tennis with us, in protest.”

They smiled at each other. Each knew that the other had played fair, within certain limits.

“At least,” said the Bangasi, “you were the best Commissioner of Police we ever had. I mean that seriously, Peter. We’ve stuck to your recommendations, you know. We haven’t sacked any of the officers you trained. What are you doing here, by the way? Sir Wallace didn’t tell me.”

“I’m on my way to Chile, to do some more training. I’m one of the Diplomatic Service police advisers. As you know, we are all one Service now—diplomatic, Commonwealth and Colonies—so we get a bit of everything. The Chileans have asked me to give a course of lectures on guerrilla warfare.”

The tea-cakes arrived and the Bangasi, after complaining that the plate should have been warmed, tucked into them with evident relish. Two waiters drifted up to watch him, staring. Peter contented himself with a cup of tea.

There was a good deal to discuss and reminisce about, and they made plans for a further meeting. Then the Chargé d’Affaires got up to go. As they walked to the door, he said casually: “You see that man who Just came in with a girl—and what a peach she is! Over there, just sitting down—I’ll swear I’ve seen him before, and in Jamestown. But I never knew him. He’s a German, I think.”

Craig looked, and stiffened. “My God, he said, you’re right. It was in Jamestown.”

The Bangasi looked at him curiously, and then at his watch “I must run” he said as the doorman called for his Mercedes. “Don’t forget to tell me about him when we meet on Monday. And her, too. She’s a smasher.” He made a dignified entry into his gleaming car and was driven away.

Craig waved and walked slowly back, to stand for a moment in the portico, looking through the glass at the two figures sitting at a table by the edge of the pool.

At first glance the girl looked just another typical young Carioca, healthy, graceful and animated. But then he looked again. Her face was a clear honey brown, like her long legs; her eyes were large and dark, the brows clearly marked and curving widely; the body slim beneath a brief, brilliant dress. She was, he thought, a most attractive child. Much too attractive to be in Graben’s company.

For Graben it was, dressed in a Paraguayan embroidered shirt and a pair of raw silk slacks, his blond hair oiled and wavy—the complete Copacabana playboy, thought Craig. He seemed to be showing off about. something, with the occasional acquired Latin gesture of his powerful, thick hands, and the girl looked a little uneasy.

Of course it was Graben, the man he had sent to Jail in Jamestown. And the man—the violent man, as Gomes had called him—whom he had seen coming out of the dealer’s house, ragged and dirty, only two hours ago. Craig went up to the table, and with a murmur of apology to the girl turned to the German. “Servus Horst,” he said quietly, “Wie geht’s?”

Graben turned with a start of surprise, and for a moment, when he recognised Craig, a look of mixed fear and bewilderment passed across his face. Then he recovered himself quickly: “Ach, so ’was! Die verdammte Polizei. Can’t you see I’m busy?”

“I can see. that,” said Craig, glancing apologetically towards the girl, but I am very anxious to have a word with you. It’s important. But I’ll wait here until you are free.”

“No,” said the German suddenly. “Wait.” He spoke to the girl in Portuguese and she nodded. He moved away from the table with Craig, but only to round on him furiously. “Look here, Commissioner” he said in a low voice, “if you think you can extradite me you can guess again. There’s no treaty between Brazil and Bangasa.”

I’m not thinking of it, said Craig, genially. “This is a business matter.”

“Business?” said the German. “What are you talking about?”

“I’ll explain,” said Craig. “I presume you have settled in Brazil?”

“What I do is no concern of yours any longer,” said Graben.

“Oddly enough, it is. I should be very interested to know where you pick up those very fancy diamonds you sell to Gomes.”

For a moment Craig thought that Graben was going to have a fit. His face went grey and he stared at Craig with bulging eyes, struggling for words. Then he struck one hand hard into the palm of the other. “You were there,” he muttered. “I saw you. You—you’ve spoken to that old bastard and he told you—”

“No, no,” said Craig, soothingly. “I knew about it before I saw him, before I came here at all. I have friends who are interested professionally. You see—”

But obviously what he had said had only made things worse, and for a moment Craig thought that the man was going to hit him. His face was now suffused with blood and his eyes narrowed dangerously. Then he pulled himself together and leaned towards Craig.

“Bluff,” he said. His voice was lower, but had venom in it. “You’re bluffing. And if you think I’d cut you in, of all people, you’re making a big mistake. And a dangerous one, Mr. Commissioner. You’re not in Bangasa now, with blacks to do your bullying for you. You know nothing. And I’ll see that you learn nothing, either.” He added, very coarsely, what Craig could do instead.

Then, before the other man could reply, and without a word or a glance for the girl, he walked straight out of the patio and through the swing doors into the street.

Craig looked after him in astonishment. Then he shrugged his shoulders and slowly returned to the table, where the girl was waiting. “I must apologise,” he began, in Portuguese, but she replied in excellent English, with a look on her pretty face which was evidently meant to freeze him where he stood. Her voice was slightly husky, but very cool.

“I presume you are English,” she said. “Is it usual for English gentlemen to insult people in front of their friends? Do you realise that everybody is looking at us? Hadn’t you better go quickly before you make another scene?”

“And leave you to pay for Herr Graben’s whisky?” put in Craig. “That would be hardly—well, dignified, would it? What would people think? You’re quite right. They are looking at us. So wouldn’t it be better—” he saw that he had scored his point, and hurried on—if I just sat down here for a moment? I really do want to explain that there was a complete misunderstanding. I have no idea at all why he got so angry.”

She gave a slight nod, and he sat down and called the waiter.

“What is your drink—guaraná? It must be getting warm. Please let me get you another.” He ordered a Daiquiri for himself. She was still trying to look disapproving, but without much success. Really, he thought, the most charming child, and probably not more than nineteen.

“Now listen,” said Craig, in what he felt was a fatherly manner. “I’m quite respectable, really. My name is Peter Craig, and I used to know Horst Graben in Africa. I had no idea that he was in Rio, and I myself am just here for a few days, staying with the British Ambassador.”

“With Sir Wallace?”

“Yes. I see you know him, and Lady Blakemore no doubt.” She nodded. “May I ask your name?”

She hesitated, and then shook her head. “I don’t see the point.”

“All right,” said Craig, “I won’t press you. All I want to say is this: if you see Herr Graben again, please tell him that if he will telephone me at the Residence I will explain what it is I want to see him about. It is a purely business matter and it might be to his advantage. Better still,” he added, “tell me where I can get hold of him.”

She bit her lower lip and shook her head obstinately. “No’, she said firmly, “I won’t help you to find him. I think you have made more trouble than you know. I have never seen him so angry. I think it’s up to him to decide whether he wants to talk to you. From what I could see I think it’s unlikely he will.” She finished her drink and stood up, while Craig hastened to draw back her chair.

“But you will—” he began.

“Yes. I will tell him what you say. If I see him. Thank you for the guaraná.” She gave him a polite smile and walked off, very dignified, but with the swing of the hips which Brazilian women seem to learn in their cradles. Craig watched her with a smile until she passed through the doors into the fading sunlight outside. It was half-past six. Just time, he thought, to get back to the Residence for a long cool shower and change for dinner.

* * * *

It was nearly midnight when Craig came back with the Blakemores from the Canadian dinner-party, and by this time he was longing for another shower. But he wanted to savour the sounds and scents of the tropical night before retiring to his bedroom and the whirring, chilly breath of the air-conditioner. He had never got used to those things. He switched off the light in his bedroom, to keep the insects out, and went out onto the terrace. The chorus of night-birds and frogs greeted him from the dark, with the sweet, heady smell of the jungle which he loved.

Reluctant to go to bed, he sat down in one of the rocking-chairs outside the window of his room. He wanted to think back to those curious encounters he had had during the afternoon. He lit a cheroot and pulled at it thoughtfully. The point glowed in the darkness.

Kindle button for Twenty Fourth Level by Kenneth Benton
bottom of page