Queen of the flaming dia.., p.4
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       Queen of the Flaming Diamond, p.4

           Leroy Yerxa
 
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and don't think I'm notgrateful. More than that I can't tell you now."

  "Listen," Jim said. "I may have been drunk last night. Perhaps I'm amild sort of rotter, but at least I want to try."

  The girl shrugged her shoulders helplessly.

  "I'm sorry," she said. "It may sound foolish, but the success of mymission here depends on myself alone. The lives of many people arehinged on my playing the game alone. The curse that holds me, binds mypeople also."

  Puffy Adams' jaw dropped. He reached for the always ready bottle inthe small bar and poured a drink. He swallowed it with a loud gulp.

  "George Lardner shares your knowledge," Drake said.

  Sylvia's body shuddered under the fur.

  "Lardner is a snake." Her voice was as cold as ice. "His greed hasdestroyed my people. Death will be his reward."

  "All of which means," Drake said evenly. "You have recovered thediamond that you held in your hands last night at the Owl Limb."

  * * * * *

  The girl arose slowly. The fur draped itself about her body revealingwarm shoulders, slim, evenly tapered legs. She stood like somethingapart from them, small and queenly. Her voice was strained and hurt.

  "I cannot say more. You have helped me in the quest of the flamingdiamond and you will be rewarded. Now, I must go before I cause yourdeath also."

  Jim felt helpless--lost. She had aroused emotions in his heart thathad been long buried. Now with stark death and worse threatening her,Sylvia Fanton proposed to leave him forever. He was at her side, hishand clasping the warm wrist tightly.

  "Let me help," he begged. "I'm not much on speeches but you're introuble. I can believe what I have seen. If there is a way of savingyou torture, I'm going to do it."

  Sylvia stared up at him, tears misting her dark eyes. For a moment hewas sure she would throw herself into his arms.

  "You're very nice," she said softly. "I'd be grateful forever if you_could_ help, but you can't. I know my task and I have others with mewho know theirs. It will be best if we never meet again."

  Drake's jaw grew stubborn.

  "And if I refuse to let you leave?"

  The girl's eyes were cold and she twisted the cape around her slimbody tightly, wearing it like a queen's robe. Words tumbled from herlips swiftly.

  "There is nothing you can do to prevent it."

  A worried grin spread over Jim Drake's face.

  "If you insist on going," he said, "there isn't much else to say."

  "Don't think I'm not grateful to both of you." This time her smile wasfor Puffy and his chest swelled a good three inches under itsinfluence. "If you'll promise not to follow me tonight, I'll returnhere in the morning. If you insist on getting yourselves in trouble onmy account there isn't a thing I can do about it without appearingungrateful."

  "That's more like it," Jim said cheerfully. "Now, about your clothes.You can't wear that fur without something under it, although theeffect is appealing."

  "And revealing," Puffy added.

  She blushed.

  "Could--could you find something for me. Some of your clothing?"

  Puffy Adams chuckled. "With those shoulders Cinderella's got, you'lllook like an ex-prizefighter," he warned.

  * * * * *

  Drake started a search in the closet. Ten minutes later Sylvia Fantonmade an appealing picture in tan slacks, light jersey sweater and apair of sport shoes Jim had discarded years ago but had forgotten tothrow away. She stood at the door holding the fox fur close to herbreast. Then smiling brightly, she tossed it into his arms.

  "Take good care of it," she said. "If it's not here in themorning...."

  Drake stood close to her. He couldn't find words for what was in hisheart. A dull hurt feeling welled up in his throat. It was so damnedfutile sending a girl out when he had promised not to follow. If shedidn't come back in the morning....

  Sylvia's eyes grew tender. Standing on tiptoe, she pressed her lips tohis stubbled chin.

  "You've been up for a long time, laddie," she whispered. "Better shaveand get some rest."

  The door slammed quickly and she was gone. Drake held the furcarefully over his arm and rubbed his chin reflectively.

  "I'll be damned," he said.

  "So will I," Puffy spoke from somewhere behind him. "Looks likeCinderella Drake is gonna go huntin' for that other slipper, and afterall these years."

  Jim looked around the room for a safe place to hide the precioussilver cape. He decided on the big cedar chest in the open closet. Helocked the fur in safely and dropped the key in his pocket.

  "Ready for a little traveling?" he asked.

  Puffy had discarded his shoes and was stretched out comfortably, afrosted glass in his hand. His chin dropped, jumped forwardprotestingly.

  "Just let's relax," he begged. "I've worn the heels off my feet foryou today."

  Even as he talked the stout one started to tie the laces of his shoes.They went down the quiet hall and into the private elevator.

  "What about George Lardner?" Drake asked as they shot toward the mainfloor. "Find out his life history?"

  "At the police station." Puff admitted. Then in a puzzled voice headded, "all but the last two years of it."

  "And those last two years?"

  They passed quickly through the rear lobby and into the alley. The carwas still where Jim had left it. As they drove out of the narrow alleyand into the street, Puffy talked.

  "George Lardner has been in every racket the law knows about," hesaid. "The police have a complete record of him since he cut his eyeteeth stealing milk. But the last two years get me."

  * * * * *

  Drake settled down behind the wheel and they headed toward the rush ofdowntown traffic.

  "Don't kill me with the suspense," he said. "What's Lardner been upto that's so startling?"

  "Exploring," Puffy said dryly.

  "An expedition to the city's slums?" Drake queried.

  "No!" Puffy crossed his legs comfortably and scratching a match on thebottom of his shoe, touched the flame to his cigarette. "I had to goto the Explorer's Club to get the dope on him. Lardner has beenspending a lot of time in the Baker Lake district just east of HudsonBay in Canada."

  Drake's foot released its pressure on the gas pedal. "Thought thatcountry was pretty well explored years ago," he said mildly. "Nothingmuch but snow and ice up there, is there?"

  "And maybe diamonds," Puffy said. "At least that's what Lardner andsome of the boys at the Explorer's Club think."

  Drake's interest was increasing.

  "Is that where he found that big gem he displayed at the club theother night?"

  Puffy's lips split in a wide, toothy grin.

  "Cinderella Drake knows the answers," he admitted. "Yes! That's wherehe found the diamond and that's how he happened to get in with thestuffed shirts at the Explorer's Club."

  Drake was silent.

  Adams hesitated, then added,

  "Lardner showed up there six months ago claiming he had found theworld's largest diamond. He claimed he got it from a secret valleysomewhere in the Baker Lake district."

  "Fantastic!" They had reached their destination and Drake pulled thecoupe in smoothly to the curb. The lights over the door of the OwlLimb Night Club were darkened.

  "The Explorer's Club doesn't think so. They are mighty stirred upabout his find. The only thing that puzzles them is how come the stoneis cut. Lardner refuses to tell them who did the job. As for findingit where he did, it seems they've had an idea there were diamonds inthat country and were just waiting for someone to prove it."[1]

  [Footnote 1: Professor Hobbs of the University of Michigan has foundseveral small diamonds and diamond particles in the strata of theglacial flow throughout certain northern states.

  Hobbs, a careful and painstaking research worker, used his knowledgeof geology to trace the strata of the glacial flow. He determinedseveral years ago that the diamonds came from the north
, somewhere inthe Hudson Bay area. Although his co-workers are confident that he iscorrect, a rush of prospectors failed to find anything that wouldprove his theory.

  Although opinions among geologists vary, many believe in Hobbs and hiswork. A consulting gem expert at the world famous Field Museum putforth this story to your editor, and convinced him that Hobbs is aclear headed expert who knows what he is talking about. Somewhereunder the waste of snow, probably a little east of Hudson Bay, thereis a fortune in uncovered
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