If Tomorrow Comes Chapter 34

Amsterdam

FRIDAY, AUGUST 22 - 8:OO A.M.

Daniel Cooper and the two detectives assigned to the listening post heard Tracy and Jeff at breakfast.

’’Sweet roll, Jeff? Coffee?’’

’’No, thanks.’’

Daniel Cooper thought, It's the last breakfast they'll ever have together.

’’Do you know what I'm excited about? Our barge trip.’’

’’This is the big day, and you're excited about a trip on a barge? Why?’’

’’Because it will be just the two of us. Do you think I'm crazy?’’

’’Absolutely. But you're my crazy.’’

’’Kiss.’’

The sound of a kiss.

She should be more nervous, Cooper thought. I want her to be nervous.

’’In a way, I'll be sorry to leave here, Jeff.’’

’’Look at it this way, darling. We won't be any the poorer for the experience.’’

Tracy's laughter. ’’You're right.’’

At 9:00 A.M. the conversation was still going on, and Cooper thought, They should be getting ready. They should be making their last-minute plans. What about Monty? Where are they meeting him?

Jeff was saying, ’’Darling, would you take care of the concierge before you check us out? I'm going to be rather busy.’’

’’Of course. He's been wonderful. Why don't they have concierges in the States?’’

’’I guess it's just a European custom. Do you know how it started?’’

’’No.’’

’’In France, in 1627, King Hugh built a prison in Paris and put a nobleman in charge of it. He gave him the title of comte des cierges, or concierge, meaning 'count of the candles.'His pay was two pounds and the ashes from the king's fireplace. Later, anyone in charge of a prison or a castle became known as a concierge, and finally, this included those working in hotels.’’

What the hell are they talking about? Cooper wondered. It's nine-thirty. Time for them to be leaving.

Tracy's voice: ’’Don't tell me where you learned that - you used to go with a beautiful concierge.’’

A strange female voice: ’’Goede morgen, mevrouw, mijnheer.’’

Jeff's voice: ’’There are no beautiful concierges.’’

The female voice, puzzled: ’’Ik begrijp het niet.’’

Tracy's voice: ’’I'll bet if there were, you'd find them.’’

’’What the hell is going on down there?’’ Cooper demanded.

The detectives looked baffled. ’’I don't know. The maid's on the phone calling the housekeeper. She came in to clean, but she says she doesn't understand - she hears voices, but she doesn'see anybody.’’

’’What?’’ Cooper was on his feet, racing toward the door, flying down the stairs. Moments later he and the other detectives burst into Tracy's suite. Except for the confused maid, it was empty. On a coffee table in front of a couch a tape recorder was playing.

Jeff's voice: ’’I think I'll change my mind about that coffee. Is it still hot?’’

Tracy's voice: ’’Uh-huh.’’

Cooper and the detectives were staring in disbelief.

’’I - I don't understand,’’ one of the detectives stammered.

Cooper snapped, ’’What's the police emergency number?’’

’’Twenty-two-twenty-two-twenty-two.’’

Cooper hurried over to the phone and dialed.

Jeff's voice on the tape recorder was saying, ’’You know, I really think their coffee is better than ours. I wonder how they do it.’’

Cooper screamed into the phone, ’’This is Daniel Cooper. Get hold of Inspector van Duren. Tell him Whitney and Stevens have disappeared. Have him check the garage and see if their truck is gone. I'm on my way to the bank!’’ He slammed down the receiver.

Tracy's voice was saying, ’’Have you ever had coffee brewed with eggshells in it? It's really quite - ’’

Cooper was out the door.

Inspector van Duren said, ’’It's all right. The truck has left their garage. They're on their way here.’’

Van Duren, Cooper, and two detectives were at a police command post on the roof of a building across from the Amro Bank.

The inspector said, ’’They probably decided to move up their plans when they learned they were being bugged, but relax, my friend. Look.’’ He pushed Cooper toward the wide-angle telescope on the roof. On the street below, a man dressed in janitor's clothes was meticulously polishing the brass nameplate of the bank... a street cleaner was sweeping the streets... a newspaper vendor stood on a corner... three repairmen were at work. All were equipped with miniature walkie-talkies.

Van Duren spoke into his walkie-talkie. ’’Point A?’’

The janitor said, ’’I read you, Inspector.’’

’’Point B?’’

’’You're coming in, sir.’’ This from the street cleaner.

’’Point C?’’

The news vendor looked up and nodded.

’’Point D?’’

The repairmen stopped their work, and one of them spoke into the walkie-talkie. ’’Everything's ready here, sir.’’

The inspector turned to Cooper. ’’Don't worry. The gold is still safely in the bank. The only way they can get their hands on it is to come for it. The moment they enter the bank, both ends of the street will be barricaded. There's-no way they can escape.’’ He consulted his watch. ’’The truck should be in sight any moment now.’’

Inside the bank, the tension was growing. The employees had been briefed, and the guards ordered to help load the gold into the armored truck when it arrived. Everyone was to cooperate fully.

The disguised detectives outside the bank kept working, surreptitiously watching the street for a sign of the truck.

On the roof, Inspector van Duren asked, for the tenth time, ’’Any sign of the damned truck yet?’’

’’Nee.’’

Detective Constable Witkamp looked at his watch. ’’They're thirteen goddamn minutes overdue. If they - ’’

The walkie-talkie crackled into life. ’’Inspector! The truck just came into sight! It's crossing Rozengracht, heading for the bank. You should be able to see it from the roof in a minute.’’

The air was suddenly charged with electricity.

Inspector van Duren spoke rapidly into the walkie-talkie. ’’Attention, all units. The fish are in the net. Let them swim in.’’

A gray armored truck moved to the entrance of the bank and stopped. As Cooper and Van Duren watched, two men wearing the uniforms of security guards got out of the truck and walked into the bank.

’’Where is she? Where's Tracy Whitney?’’ Daniel Cooper spoke aloud.

’’It doesn't matter,’’ Inspector van Duren assured him. ’’She won't be far from the gold.’’

And even if she is, Daniel Cooper thought, it's not important. The tapes are going to convict her.

Nervous employees helped the two uniformed men load the gold bullion from the vault onto dollies and wheel them out to the armored truck. Cooper and Van Duren watched the distant figures from the roof across the street.

The loading took eight minutes. When the back of the truck was locked, and the two men started to climb into the front seat, Inspector van Duren yelled into his walkie-talkie, ’’Vlug! Pas op! All units close in! Close in!’’

Pandemonium erupted. The janitor, the news vendor, the workers in overalls, and a swarm of other detectives raced to the armored truck and surrounded it, guns drawn. The street was cordoned off from all traffic in either direction.

Inspector van Duren turned to Daniel Cooper and grinned. ’’Is this red-handed enough for you? Let's wrap it up.’’

It's over at last, Cooper thought.

They hurried down to the street. The two uniformed men were facing the wall, hands raised, surrounded by a circle of armed detectives. Daniel Cooper and Inspector van Duren pushed their way through.

Van Duren said, ’’You can turn around now. You're under arrest.’’

The two men, ashen-faced, turned to face the group. Daniel Cooper and Inspector van Duren stared at them in shock. They were total strangers.

’’Who - who are you?’’ Inspector van Duren demanded.

’’We - we're the guards for the security company,’’ one of them stammered. ’’Don't shoot. Please don't shoot.’’

Inspector van Duren turned to Cooper. ’’Their plan went wrong.’’ His voice held a note of hysteria. ’’They called it off.’’

There was a green bile in the pit of Daniel Cooper's stomach, and it slowly began to rise up into his chest and throat, so that when he could finally speak, his voice was choked. ’’No. Nothing went wrong.’’

’’What are you talking about?’’

’’They were never after the gold. This whole setup was a decoy.’’

’’That's impossible! I mean, the truck, the barge, the uniforms - we have photographs....’’

’’Don't you understand? They knew it. They knew we were on to them all the time!’’

Inspector van Duren's face went white. ’’Oh my God! Zijn ze? - where are they?’’

On Paulus Potter Straat in Coster, Tracy and Jeff were approaching the Nederlands Diamond-Cutting Factory. Jeff wore a beard and mustache, and had altered the shape of his cheeks and nose with foam sponges. He was dressed in a sport outfit and carried a rucksack. Tracy wore a black wig, a maternity dress and padding, heavy makeup, and dark sunglasses. She carried a large briefcase and a round package wrapped in brown paper. The two of them entered the reception room and joined a busload of tourists listening to a guide. ’’...and now, if you will follow me, ladies and gentlemen, you will see our diamond cutters at work and have an opportunity to purchase some of our fine diamonds.’’

With the guide leading the way, the crowd entered the doors that led inside the factory. Tracy moved along with them, while Jeff lingered behind. When the others had gone, Jeff turned and hurried down a flight of stairs that led to a basement. He opened his rucksack and took out a pair of oil-stained coveralls and a small box of tools. He donned the coveralls, walked over to the fuse box, and looked at his watch.

Upstairs, Tracy stayed with the group as it moved from room to room while the guide showed them the various processes that went into making polished gems out of raw diamonds. From time to time Tracy glanced at her watch. The tour was five minutes behind schedule. She wished the guide would move faster.

At last, as the tour ended, they reached the display room. The guide walked over to the roped-off pedestal.

’’In this glass case,’’ he announced proudly, ’’is the Lucullan diamond, one of the most valuable diamonds in the world. It was once purchased by a famous stage actor for his movie-star wife. It is valued at ten million dollars and is protected by the most modern - ’’

The lights went out. Instantly, an alarm sounded and steel shutters slammed down in front of the windows and doors, sealing all the exits. Some of the tourists began to scream.

’’Please!’’ the guide shouted above the noise. ’’There is no need for concern. It is a simple electrical failure. In a moment the emergency generator will - ’’ The lights came on again.

’’You see?’’ the guide reassured them. ’’There is nothing to worry about.’’

A German tourist in lederhosen pointed to the steel shutters. ’’What are those?’’

’’A safety precaution,’’ the guide explained. He took out an odd-shaped key, inserted it in a slot in the wall, and turned it. The steel shutters over the doors and windows retracted. The telephone on the desk rang, and the guide picked it up.

’’Hendrik, here. Thank you, Captain. No, everything is fine. It was a false alarm. Probably an electrical short. I will have it checked out at once. Yes, sir.’’ He replaced the receiver and turned to the group. ’’My apologies, ladies and gentlemen. With something as valuable as this stone, one can't be too careful. Now, for those of you who would like to purchase some of our very fine diamonds - ’’

The lights went out again. The alarm bell rang, and the steel shutters slammed down once more.

A woman in the crowd cried, ’’Let's get out of here, Harry.’’

’’Will you just shut up, Diane?’’ her husband growled.

In the basement downstairs, Jeff stood in front of the fuse box, listening to the cries of the tourists upstairs. He waited a few moments, then reconnected the switch. The lights upstairs flickered on.

’’Ladies and gentlemen,’’ the guide yelled over the uproar. ’’It is just a technical difficulty.’’ He took out the key again and inserted it into the wall slot. The steel shutters rose.

The telephone rang. The guide hurried over and picked it up. ’’Hendrik, here. No, Captain. Yes. We will have it fixed as quickly as possible. Thank you.’’

A door to the room opened and Jeff came in, carrying the tool case, his worker's cap pushed back on his head.

He singled out the guide.

’’What's the problem? Someone reported trouble with the electrical circuits.’’

’’The lights keep flashing off and on,’’ the guide explained. ’’See if you can fix it quickly, please.’’ He turned to the tourists, a forced smile on his lips. ’’Why don't we step over here where you can select some fine diamonds at very reasonable prices?’’

The group of tourists began to move toward the showcases. Jeff, unobserved in the press of the crowd, slipped a small cylindrical object from his overalls, pulled the pin, and tossed the device behind the pedestal that held the Lucullan diamond. The contrivance began to emit smoke and sparks.

Jeff called out to the guide, ’’Hey! There's your problem. There's a short in the wire under the floor.’’

A woman tourist screamed, ’’Fire!’’

’’Please, everybody!’’ the guide yelled. ’’No need to panic. Just keep calm.’’ He turned to Jeff and hissed, .’’Fix it! Fix it!’’

’’No problem,’’ Jeff said easily. He moved toward the velvet ropes around the pedestal.

’’Nee!’’ the guard called. ’’You can't go near that!’’

Jeff snrugged. ’’Fine with me. You fix it.’’ He turned to leave.

Smoke was pouring out faster now. The people were beginning to panic again.

’’Wait!’’ the guide pleaded. ’’Just a minute.’’ He hurried over to the telephone and dialed a number. ’’Captain? Hendrik, here. I'll have to ask you to shut off all the alarms;we're having a little problem. Yes, sir.’’ He looked over at Jeff. ’’How long will you need them off?’’

’’Five minutes,’’ Jeff said.

’’Five minutes,’’ the guide repeated into the phone. ’’Dank je wel.’’ He replaced the receiver. ’’The alarms will be off in ten seconds. For God's sake, hurry! We never shut off the alarm!’’

’’I've only got two hands, friend.’’ Jeff waited ten seconds, then moved inside the ropes and walked up to the pedestal. Hendrik signaled to the armed guard, and the guard nodded and fixed his eyes on Jeff.

Jeff was working in back of the pedestal. The frustrated guide turned to the group. ’’Now, ladies and gentlemen, as I was saying, over here we have a selection of fine diamonds at bargain prices. We accept credit cards, traveler's checks’’ - he gave a little chuckle - ’’and even cash.’’

Tracy was standing in front of the counter. ’’Do you buy diamonds?’’ she asked in a loud voice.

The guide stared at her. ’’What?’’

’’My husband is a prospector. He just returned from South Africa, and he wants me to sell these.’’

As she spoke, she opened the briefcase she carried, but she was holding it upside down, and a torrent of flashing diamonds cascaded down and danced all over the floor.

’’My diamonds!’’ Tracy cried. ’’Help me!’’

There was one frozen moment of silence, and then all hell broke loose. The polite crowd became a mob. They scrambled for the diamonds on their hands and knees, knocking one another out of the way.

’’I've got some...’’

’’Grab a handful, John....’’

’’Let go of that, it's mine....’’

The guide and the guard were beyond speech. They were hurled aside in a sea of scrambling, greedy human beings, filling their pockets and purses with the diamonds.

The guard screamed, ’’Stand back! Stop that!’’ and was knocked to the floor.

A busload of Italian tourists entered, and when they saw what was happening, they joined in the frantic scramble.

The guard tried to get to his feet to sound the alarm, but the human tide made it impossible. They were trampling over him. The world had suddenly gone mad. It was a nightmare that seemed to have no end.

When the dazed guard finally managed to stagger to his feet, he pushed his way through the bedlam, reached the pedestal, and stood there, staring in disbelief.

The Lucullan diamond had disappeared.

So had the pregnant lady and the electrician.

Tracy removed her disguise in a stall in the public washroom in Oosterpark, blocks away from the factory. Carrying the package wrapped in brown paper, she headed for a park bench. Everything was moving perfectly. She thought about the mob of people scrambling for the worthless zircons and laughed aloud. She saw Jeff approaching, wearing a dark gray suit;the beard and mustache had vanished. Tracy leapt to her feet. Jeff walked up to her and grinned. ’’I love you,’’ he said. He slipped the Lucullan diamond out of his jacket pocket and handed it to Tracy. ’’Feed this to your friend, darling. See you later.’’

Tracy watched him as he strolled away. Her eyes were shining. They belonged to each other. They would take separate planes and meet in Brazil, and after that, they would be together for the rest of their lives.

Tracy looked around to make sure no one was observing, then she unwrapped the package she held. Inside was a small cage holding a slate-gray pigeon. When it had arrived at the American Express office three days earlier, Tracy had taken it to her suite and released the other pigeon out the window and watched it clumsily flutter away. Now, Tracy took a small chamois sack from her purse and placed the diamond in it. She removed the pigeon from its cage and held it while she care fully tied the sack to the bird's leg.

’’Good girl, Margo. Take it home.’’

A uniformed policeman appeared from nowhere. ’’Hold it! What do you think you're doing?’’

Tracy's heart skipped a beat. ’’What's - what's the trouble, officer?’’

His eyes were on the cage, and he was angry. ’’You know what the trouble is. It's one thing to feed these pigeons, but it's against the law to trap them and put them in cages. Now, you just let it go before i place you under arrest.’’

Tracy swallowed and took a deep breath. ’’If you say so, Officer.’’ She lifted her arms and tossed the pigeon into the air. A lovely smile lit her face as she watched the pigeon soar, higher and higher. It circled once, then headed in the direction of London, 230 miles to the west. A homing pigeon averaged forty miles an hour, Gunther had told her, so Margo would reach him within six hours.

’’Don't ever try that again,’’ the officer warned Tracy.

’’I won't,’’ Tracy promised solemnly. ’’Never again.’’

Late that afternoon, Tracy was at Schiphol Airport, moving toward the gate from which she would board a plane bound for Brazil. Daniel Cooper stood off in a corner, watching her, his eyes bitter. Tracy Whitney had stolen the Lucullan diamond. Cooper had known it the moment he heard the report., It was her style, daring and imaginative. Yet, there was nothing that could be done about it. Inspector van Duren had shown photographs of Tracy and Jeff to the museum guard. ’’Nee. Never seen either of them. The thief had a beard and a mustache and his cheeks and nose were much fatter, and the lady with the diamonds was dark-haired and pregnant.’’

Nor was there any trace of the diamond. Jeff's and Tracy's persons and baggage had been thoroughly searched.

’’The diamond is still in Amsterdam,’’ Inspector van Duren swore to Cooper. ’’We'll find it.’’

No, you won't, Cooper thought angrily. She had switched pigeons. The diamond had been carried out of the country by a homing pigeon.

Cooper watched helplessly as Tracy Whitney made her way across the concourse. She was the first person who had ever defeated him. He would go to hell because of her.

As Tracy reached the boarding gate, she hesitated a moment, then turned and looked straight into Cooper's eyes. She had been aware that he had been following her all over Europe, like some kind of nemesis. There was something bizarre about him, frightening and at the same time pathetic. Inexplicably, Tracy felt sorry for him. She gave him a small farewell wave, then turned and boarded her plane.

Daniel Cooper touched the letter of resignation in his pocket.

It was a luxurious Pan American 747, and Tracy was seated in Seat 4B on the aisle in first class. She was excited. In a few hours she would be with Jeff. They would be married in Brazil. No more capers, Tracy thought, but I won't miss them. I know I won't. Life will be thrilling enough just being Mrs. Jeff Stevens.

’’Excuse me.’’

Tracy looked up. A puffy, dissipated-looking middle-aged man was standing over her. He indicated the window seat. ’’That's my seat, honey.’’

Tracy twisted aside so he could get past her. As her skirt slid up, he eyed her legs appreciatively.

’’Great day for a flight, huh?’’ There was a leer in his voice.

Tracy turned away. She had no interest in getting into a conversation with a fellow passenger. She had too much to think about. A whole new life. They would settle down somewhere and be model citizens. The ullrarespectable Mr. and Mrs. Jeff Stevens.

Her companion nudged her. ’’Since we're gonna be seat mates on this flight, little lady, why don't you and I get acquainted? My name is Maximilian Pierpont.’’


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