فصل 09

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فصل 09

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Chapter nine

Snout telephoned me about two o’clock that afternoon. He told me that during their interrogation the brothers confessed everything. Snout said that they were like two frightened little boys. They were first offenders, so they had no experience of being questioned by police authorities. The Asians were more difficult, obviously hardened criminals. But they were caught red-handed, and the police had all the evidence they needed to prosecute them. Snout also told me that the two night security men were also in custody. They were paid by the rest of the gang to open the gate and help to carry the cushions up the driveway to the house. The other three security men were clean; they knew nothing about it.

Then, because there were some things I didn’t have clear, I asked Snout some questions. For example, how did the boys know about the secret room?

‘They found it when they were only kids, while they were playing in the living room. They decided to keep it a secret; their private place that no one else knew about. One night, a few months ago, while Miss Willing was in the United States on business, they carried the table down there. They needed a surface to cut open the cushions.’

‘And how did this operation start?’ I wanted to know.

‘Well,’ said Snout, ‘two or three months after they received their inheritance, the brothers went to Bangkok. They wanted to see the factory. They were there about two weeks. Somehow they got involved with a group of local people. You have met three of them. One is Burmese, by the way, and the other two Thais. These people are, in fact, experienced jewel smugglers, but the brothers didn’t know that at the time. And the idea for this operation came from them, not from the brothers. Now, the brothers are pretty simple-minded, frankly. They were taken out to dinner several times to good restaurants by these ‘nice’ people. Always invited, always paid for. After that, I think that it was easy to persuade them to take part in the scheme. Now, the company makes furniture from teak, and the accompanying cushions. So the plan was that the brothers return to London with the three Asians, which they did. After that, a small group of local people, in the pay of the smugglers, began to enter the factory late at night, two or three nights a week. Their job was to make the cushions. And into every third one, before they lined it, they put a bag of precious stones. They marked these cushions with a tiny ‘x’ on the bottom surface. Then, together with other furniture which the company made, they were exported to England to be stored in the company warehouse in West Kensington. So, when each consignment arrived, the brothers and the three other men visited the warehouse at night and filled a van with all the cushions marked with an ‘x’. They then drove to Miss Willing’s house in Surrey. They arrived between eleven and twelve. It was the brothers’ idea to store the stones in their secret room.’

‘And then? When they got to Selena’s house?’

‘Well,’ said Snout, ‘they couldn’t drive the van up the drive - too much noise. So, the guard on duty opened the gate and the six men carried the cushions up the drive to the front door. Then, before they opened the door, the guard returned to the gate. One of the brothers then opened the front door and went quickly and quietly to open the secret door. A second later, the other men went into the house as quickly and as quietly as possible with the cushions, and they all disappeared through the doorway beside the fireplace. They closed the door using the lever inside. The whole operation, from opening the front door to closing the door of the secret room, took only a few seconds. You and Miss Willing probably heard noises when the men were going in with the cushions. But by the time you got up and started to go down the stairs, everything was all over. The boys said that it is impossible to hear any noise from inside the secret room in any other part of the house. And they stayed there until about one in the morning, while they were taking the stones out of the cushions. Then they left quietly.’

‘All very impressive,’ I said. ‘But why didn’t Selena and I hear the men when they were going up the drive?’

‘Well, firstly, because they were trying to be as quiet as possible. And, secondly, because Miss Willing’s bedroom is at the back of the house. It overlooks the back of the garden. Where did you sleep, Richard?’

‘The same, yes. My bedroom overlooked the back, too. I didn’t think of that. But, just one more question, Ronald. Where did the stones come from?’

‘Well, from Burma, actually. There are several gemstone mines in Burma. And they don’t seem to be very well controlled. They mine various precious stones, but rubies and sapphires are the most valuable. Now, Burma and Thailand are separated by a natural border, the Moei river. Along this river, on the Burmese side, are little border towns. And a great number of the stones which are mined are stolen and smuggled to these towns. The two best-known border towns are Mae Sot and Mae Sai. Then the stones are rowed across the river - sometimes people swim across the river carrying bags of stones - into Thailand and the eager hands of international smugglers. The smugglers pay the Burmese relatively little, compared to what they earn by selling the stones in Europe.

Oh, and yes, the Burmese also have a pearl-farming industry at Mergui in the archipelago of the Gulf of Martaban, to the south of the Burmese mainland. Many of the pearls from there also end up in the border towns.’

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