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During WWII, uncut diamonds worth millions are hidden on a pig farm in Sicily. Vandenberg Mining's head of security, Sean Corklin, is dispatched to find the lost diamonds after the end of the war. His search takes him from South Africa to England and then to Egypt.

 

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The Vandenberg Diamonds
historical

John Russo

 

Chapter One

 

"Did you radio our position?" Edwin Sharpe shouted to Mark Harris his co-pilot. "I can't keep this bloody thing up much longer."

"I'm trying. I'm try-y-y-i-n-g!" Harris shouted back.

"Captain, number one and number two engines are on fire and the wing looks damaged," Andy Cox, the flight sergeant, and only other member of the crew, yelled into his mouthpiece.

"I know, damn it. I know. The friggin' flack from that Italian gunboat bashed the hell out of us. We're going down."

The Ladybird, a four-engine Halifax bomber, vibrated out of control as her crippled engines billowed ribbons of smoke and flames.

"I knew this bleedin' flight was treacherous from the minute I received orders to make it." Only Sharpe had been briefed on the purpose of their mission. "Did you reach them?" he yelled to Harris, who was still trying frantically to make radio contact.

"I'm not sure. I'm only getting sporadic response. Our antenna must be damaged." He tried again. "Hello Suez, this is flight number thirty-seven. We've been hit. Repeat, we've been hit. Our location is approximately 175 miles south of Crete. We are no longer able to control flight and are preparing to crash land. Repeat. Preparing to crash land."

"Come in flight thirty-seven . . . static . . . static . . . Your message is not cle . . . static . . . static. Did you say crashing? Repeat pleas . . . static . . . static . . ."

"Shit, it's gone dead. I lost them."

"Forget them for now. Grab your controls and hold on as tight as you can. Thank God these Rolls Merlin engines have independent fuel lines. Now that I've cut the fuel supply to those two flaming engines, the fire should die out quickly."

"Yeah, okay." Harris was fighting his jolting controls with all his strength. "But that bloody wing's not going to hold up forever. Some of the topside panels are flapping loose."

"Oh jeez, how can I help?" Cox leaned into the cockpit.

"We're south of the Isle of Crete," the captain shouted. "Quick . . . figure out the nearest landfall. I'm not going to lay us in the drink if I can help it."

Cox flipped the pages of their route map. "About the closest dry spot would be . . . er . . . let me see now." He studied the map for a moment longer. "T-u-b-r-u-q," he spelled. "Looks like it's on the very edge of Libya about 140 kilometers from here. Just head south, Captain."

"Easier said than done," Harris announced as he fought his pulsating control stick. Sharpe's shoulders were bouncing almost comically as he fought, trying like hell to guide the crippled plane in the direction Cox had indicated.

"It's impossible to keep her on course, damn it," Harris yelled.

"We're dropping steadily," Sharpe said, "but as near as I can figure, at our rate of descent and our current speed, we can make land before she wets her wheels. Cox, pull that red lever to the right of Harris' head. We've got to jettison the extra fuel tank they mounted to increase our range."

Cox reached over and pulled. There was a sudden uplift as the tank released.

All three men were tense as they stared in the direction the battered plane and their weary arms were attempting to take them.

It was turning dusk when Harris shouted, "Look up ahead! See it?"

They could barely make out the flat beach of the North African coastline sprawled a few hundred yards ahead. It looked within reach. Sharpe switched on the landing lights. They were about fifty feet above the water's surface struggling desperately to keep the damaged wing upright. Suddenly, airlift on the good wing flipped them over. The dead wing tip skimmed the water like a shark fin in reverse. In a matter of seconds it hit the packed sand beneath the shallow water two hundred feet from shore.

The impact pitched the fuselage onto its nose. Sharpe and Harris were thrust forward through the windscreen killing them instantly. Cox was slammed against the back of the co-pilot's seat. The plane tumbled and split open coming to a stop just short of the beach. The rear section burst into flames that quickly turned to billowing steam as the Ladybird settled back into the Mediterranean surf. They had no way of knowing that on that September evening in 1941, the Ladybird had drifted eastward from their planned course and had crashed on the northern shore of Italian-occupied Egypt.

The fiery crash drew the attention of the occupants of a Fiat military vehicle patrolling the beach. Recognizing the plane markings as British, they quickly radioed their lieutenant.

Shortly after, Italian soldiers retrieved the three men from the wreckage. They also pulled two large, heavy aluminum cases out of the Ladybird's cargo hold.

Col. Alfonso Marchi was commandant of the Second Italian North Egyptian Brigade stationed along the beach at As-Sallum. His mission was to maintain a safe exit corridor for troops further inland should a retreat be necessary.

After establishing the identity of Sharpe, Harris and Cox as British RAF officers, Marchi ordered an immediate burial for Sharpe and Harris. The brigade's doctor attended to the unconscious and bleeding Cox.

"And these cases?" Lt. Stephano Brazzi, the Colonel's attaché and private pilot, inquired. "Shall I have them broken open, Colonnello?"

Dragging on a cigarette, Marchi, a short, swarthy, ex-teacher from Palermo, kicked one of the chests. "Wait until we are alone, Stephano. They could be of military significance."

***

It was early morning in London when the news came in from Suez.

"Goddamn bloody bad luck. Those diamonds are worth almost 8,000,000£. Tell me exactly what they said, word for word," demanded Brian Cutler, managing director of Vandenberg Mining, Europe's largest diamond exchange.

Jeremy Waters, his assistant, faced Cutler and two other members of the Exchange as he reread the radio wire. "They say they only got part of the Ladybird's transmission. It was mostly static."

"Go on, man. Go on," Cutler insisted.

"The crew indicated they were somewhere in the Mediterranean near Crete, that they had been hit by anti-aircraft fire and were crashing. That's all they got, sir."

Waters spread a map across Cutler's desk. "With the added fuel tank the Halifax's range had been increased so they could easily reach Suez for refueling." He traced the route with his pen. "After Suez, their next fuel stop was to be Uganda, and from there they were to fly directly to our offices in Pretoria."

"They bloody damn well didn't make it, did they?" Cutler brushed aside the map. "Now tell me how the hell we're going to find two chests of high grade rough diamonds somewhere at the bottom of the bloody Mediterranean." He was so upset that he snapped his Underhill briar in two.

Waters sat down quietly.

"An impossibility," one of his associates offered, "especially with this damn war going on. That whole region is a powder keg of military activity. Any attempt at retrieval will have to wait till this bloody mess is over and the world is back to normal."

"I suppose," Cutler replied, as he filled another pipe.

"Yes," another cut in. "At the club the other day, I heard that Rommel is invading the whole of North Africa. Apparently the Italians are having trouble holding Northern Egypt. There is some military opinion that British control of the Suez could now be in jeopardy."

"I made a real blunder in judgment," Cutler admitted. "I felt it would be better to return the diamonds we had in stock to our South African operation than to have them blown up by those bastardly nightly blitzes or, worse yet, taken by the Nazis if, God forbid, we're invaded."

"We all concurred with you at the time, sir," Waters acknowledged, "particularly since the Government allowed us to ship them on their special flight through Suez."

Cutler couldn't allow them to believe that the Royal Air Force just happened to be flying to Suez now that the flight may have cost three British airmen their lives. "The truth is, gentlemen, the Company coerced a high ranking official to arrange the flight. We reasoned that the diamonds should never be seized to help finance Hitler's world-domination madness. That's why there were only three men on board the Halifax rather than the normal crew of seven."

No one responded to his admission.

 

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Author Bio

John Russo is a former Creative Director for a Fortune 500 Company. A past member of the American Management Association, he lectured throughout the world and contributed numerous articles to various creative publications. John has had a number of short stories published and several have been submitted for a Pushcart Prize Award and a Derringer. His debut novel, The Bennie Arnoldo File, was published in December, 2002, by Five Star Publishing. His second novel, Indian Givers, was published in November, 2004. He designed the covers for both books. John is a member of The Mystery Writers of America and The International Association Of Crime Writers.

TTB titles: The Vandenberg Diamonds

 

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The Vandenberg Diamonds Copyright 2006. John Russo. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.

 

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