The Diamond Hunters by Wilbur Smith

His flight had been delayed for three hours at Nairobi, and despite four large whiskies he slept only fitfully until the intercontinental Boeing touched down at Heathrow. Johnny Lance felt as though someone had thrown a handful of grit in each eye, and his mood was ugly as he came through the indignity of Customs and Immigration into the main hall of the international terminus.

The Van Der Byl Diamond Company’s London agent was there to meet him.

“Pleasant trip, Johnny?”

“Like the one to Hell,“Johnny grunted.

“Good practice for you.” The agent grinned. The two of them had seen some riotous times together.

Reluctantly Johnny grinned back at him.

“You got me a room and a car?”

“Dorchester - and Jag.” The agent handed over the car keys. “And I’ve got two first-class seats reserved on tomorrow’s nine o’clock flight back to Cape Town. Tickets at the hotel reception desk.”

“Good boy.” Johnny dropped the keys into the pocket of his cashmere overcoat and they started for the exit. “Now where is Tracey van der Byl?” The agent shrugged. “Since I wrote to you she has dropped out of sight. I don’t know where you can start looking.”

“Great, just great!” said Johnny bitterly as they came out into the car park. “I’ll start with Benedict.”

“Does the Old Man know about Tracey?” Johnny shook his head. “He’s a sick man. I didn’t tell him.”

“Here’s your car.” The agent stopped by the pearl-grey Jaguar.

“Any chance of a drink together?”

“Not this trip, sorry.“Johnny slipped in behind the wheel.

“Next time.” “I’ll hold you to that,” said the agent and walked away.

It was almost dark by the time Johnny crossed the Hammersmith flyover in the moist smoky grey of the evening, and he lost himself twice in the maze of Belgravia before he found the narrow mews behind Belgrave Square and parked the Jaguar.

The exterior of the flat had been lavishly redecorated since his last visit, and Johnny’s mouth twisted. He might not be so hot at earning the stuff - but our boy Benedict certainly was a dab hand at spending it.

There were lights burning and Johnny hit the door knocker half a dozen lusty cracks. It echoed hollowly about the mews, and in the silence that followed Johnny heard the whisper of voices from behind the curtains, and a shadow passed quickly across the window.

Johnny waited three minutes in the cold, then he stepped back into the middle of the mews.

“Benedict van der Byl,” he bellowed. “I’ll give you a count of ten to get this door open. Then I’ll kick the bloody thing down.” He drew breath, and bellowed again.

“This is Johnny Lance - and you know I mean it.” The door opened almost immediately. Johnny pushed his way through it, not glancing at the man who held it, and started for the lounge.

“Dammit, Lance. You can’t go in there.” Benedict van der Byl started after him.

“Why not?“Johnny glanced back at him. “It is a Company flat - and I’m the General Manager.” Before Benedict could reply, Johnny was through the door.

One of the girls picked up her clothing from the floor and ran naked into the bedroom passage. The other pulled a full-length caftan over her head and glared at Johnny sulkily. Her hair was in wild disorder, fluffed out into a grotesque halo of stiff curls.

“Nice party,” said Johnny. He glanced at the movie projector on the side table, and then at the screen across the room. “Films and all.”

“Are you the Fuzz?“demanded the girl.

“You’ve got an infernal cheek, Lance.” Benedict van der Byl was beside him, tying the belt of his silk dressing-gown.

“is he Fuzz?” the girl demanded again.

“No,” Benedict assured her. “He works for my father.” With the statement he seemed to gather self- assurance, drawing himself up to his full height and smoothing his long dark hair with one hand. His voice regained its polish and lazy inflection. “Actually, he is Daddy’s messenger boy.” Johnny turned to him, but he addressed the girl without looking at her.

“Beat it, girlie. Follow your friend.” She hesitated.

“Beat it!” Johnny’s voice crackled like a bush fire, and she went.

The two men stood facing each other. They were the same age, in their early thirties - both tall, both dark- haired but different in every other way.

Johnny was big in the shoulder and lean across the hips and belly, his skin polished and browned by the desert sun.

The line of his heavy jawbone stood out clearly, and his eyes seemed still to seek far horizons. His voice clipped and twanged with the accents of the other land.

“Where is Tracey?” he asked.

Benedict lifted one eyebrow in a pantomime of arrogant surprise.

His skin was pale olive, unstained by sunlight for it was months since he had last visited Africa. His lips were very red, as though they had been painted, the classical lines of his features were blurred by flesh. There were soft little pouches under his eyes, and a plumpness beneath the silk dressing-gown that suggested he ate and drank often and exercised infrequently.

“My dear chap, what on earth makes you think I know where my sister is? I haven’t seen her for weeks.” Johnny turned away and crossed to one of the paintings on the far wall. The room was hung with good original South African artists - Alexis Preller, Irma Stem and Tretchikof - an unusual mixture of techniques and styles, but someone had convinced the Old Man they were sound investments.

Johnny turned back to face Benedict van der Byl. He studied him as he had the paintings, comparing him with the clean young athlete he had been a few years before. A clear mental image in his mind pictured Benedict moving with leopard grace across the green field of play under the packed grandstands, turning smoothly beneath the high floating arc of the ball to gather it neatly, head high, and break back infield to open the line for the return kick.

“You’re getting fat, Laddy Buck, he said softly, and Benedict’s anger stained his cheeks dull red.

“Get out of here,” he snapped.

“In a minute - tell me about Tracey first.” “I’ve told you - I don’t know where she is. Whoring it up around Chelsea, I expect.”

Johnny felt his own anger surge fiercely, but his voice remained level.

“Where is she getting the money, Benedict?”

“I don’t know - the Old Man-” Johnny cut him short. “The Old Man is keeping her on an allowance of ten pounds a week. From what I hear she’s throwing more than that around.”

“Christ, Johnny,” Benedict’s tone became conciliatory, “I don’t know. It’s not my business. Perhaps Kenny Hartford is...' Again Johnny interrupted impatiently. “Kenny Hartford is giving her nothing. That was part of the divorce agreement when they split up. Now I want to know who is subsidizing her trip to oblivion.

How about it, big brother?” The?” Benedict was indignant. “You know there is no love wasted between us.” “Must I spell it out?” Johnny asked. “All right, then. The Old Man is dying - without losing his horror of all weakness and sin. If Tracey turns into a drug-soaked little tramp then there’s a good chance that our boy Benedict will come back into full favour. It would be a good gamble on your part to lay out a few thousand now, to send Tracey to Hell, Cut her off completely from her father - and all those nice fat millions.” “Who said anything about drugs?” Benedict blustered.

“I did.“Johnny stepped up to him. “You and I have a little unfinished business. It would give me intense pleasure to take you to pieces and see what makes you work.” He held Benedict’s eyes for long seconds, then Benedict looked down and fiddled with the cord of his dressing-gown.

“Where is she, Benedict?” don’t know, damn you!” Johnny moved softly across to the movie projector and picked up a reel of film from the table beside it. He peeled off a few feet of celluloid from the reel and held it up to the light.

“Pretty!” he said, but the line of his mouth tightened with disgust.

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