The Berkley Diamonds

ROBERT J. C. STEAD July 15 1931

The Berkley Diamonds

ROBERT J. C. STEAD July 15 1931

The Berkley Diamonds

Regarding the unfortunate story of a crook who declared in diamonds only to discover that there was a joker in the pack

ROBERT J. C. STEAD

OSCAR MERTON had the Berkley diamonds on his mind. As he stood in the window of the branch jewellery store at Altonvale, watching the drizzle of warm rain on the pavement, he almost wished he never had become involved in the transaction. It was the first ten-thousand-dollar sale he ever had made and it had brought him a letter of congratulation from his firm, but just the same he wished the jewels were safely delivered and out of his care. The safe in the Altonvale store was not accustomed to holding so much treasure.

A car slid along the almost deserted street, and at first glance Merton thought it was Emily come down to drive him home. Not that Emily was in the habit of doing such courtesies, but, of course, one never could tell. He smiled rather grimly as the car passed without stopping. At any rate, one couldn’t very well worry over two things at once, and for a week the diamonds had kept Emily out of his mind. If only she would listen to reason. There really was nothing in it about that Norton woman, not a thing that couldn’t be explained, but Emily had been in no mood for accepting explanations. Well, perhaps a man was lucky to have a business that kept his mind occupied.

For the hundredth time he reviewed the diamond sale, even yet almost expecting to wake up and find it all a dream. Last Thursday—just a week ago today, that was—a stylish car with a New York State license had drawn up at his door. A man and a woman had got out, and he had seen them looking in his window. “Souvenir hunters,” he had said to himself. But the woman was indicating the little framed window card which announced modestly but suggestively that “Diamonds are cheaper in Canada.” They had seemed to discuss that for a minute or two, then they came in. Even at that Merton's hope did not rise higher than the possibility of selling a two-hundred-dollar solitaire.

He had taken them on himself, and had tried not to betray his excitement when the man, who introduced himself as Mr. G. F. Berkley, of New York, and his companion as Mrs. Berkley, had suggested “something pretty good” in diamonds. There had been much questioning and plausible explanation as to why diamonds were cheaper in Canada. Merton had emphasized in his best salesmanship manner the advantages of buying in a duty-free market. How the customer would get the diamonds across ‘the line” would be his own business and need not be discussed. Evidently Mr. Berkley had his plans in that connection. He showed the concern of an astute business man over such matters as quality and price.

At length, however, the whole thing was arranged. Merton carried no such stock of diamonds as could satisfy the wealthy Mr. Berkley, and he found that his customer, for a layman, had an astonishingly good knowledge of stones. Berkley wanted thirteen diamonds, as nearly matched as possible, perfectly cut and each weighing not less than oneand-a-quarter carats. They must be set in a simple cross of solid gold; five in the cross-arm, nine in the staff, the one in the centre of the cross counting both ways. He was willing to pay ten thousand dollars provided he was assured of

getting the best possible value for the money.

Merton referred to the nationwide reputation of his firm, which, he found, extended also to New York ; said he would have a special setting made in their own shops in Montreal, guaranteed as to both weight and quality equal in value to anything that could be bought in the country. They could be ready in five days, maybe four.

“That will suit fine.” Mr.

Berkley had told him. "You may not think it”

—glancing at his wife, who smiled prettily in return—“but we will be thirteen years married a week from tomorrow. We are planning to spend a week motoring—Georgian Bay, Timagami, perhaps—then through here again on our way home.

If you can have them for us on Friday week that will be fine.

“And now about payment,” he went on, while Merton trembled inwardly, wondering if there wasn't some catch in it. “Of course you won’t want to make this special setting without being assured of a sale, provided everything is satisfactory.”

“I have no doubt you can give references,”

Merton suggested.

“Oh, yes, easily. But perhaps a simpler course will be just to leave a cheque with your banker. He can call up my banker0 at New York, and Í think they will set his mind at ease. . have letters of identification with me. Then, the stones being satisfactory, you will hand them to me, and the banker will hand you the cheque. Nothing simpler, eh?”

Merton agreed that it was a very businesslike suggestion. He and Mr. Berkley walked over to the bank, while Mrs. Berkley bought some trifles from one of the clerks. The bank had found that Mr. Berkley was good for very much more than ten thousand dollars. The special setting had been made, and now the stones lay in the cashbox ir. Merton’s safe, delivered that very afternoon by the firm’s special messenger from Montreal.

IT WAS almost six o’clock, and the two clerks were already busy putting the trays of watches and rings in the safe. What would they say if they knew that, locked in the cash compartment, lay ten thousand dollars worth of diamonds? Merton had not taken them into his confidence. Secrecy, he figured, was his best protection. He had not even mentioned it to Bales, the night policeman on the beat. Bales would be almost sure to extend a confidence which contributed to his own importance.

Merton waited until the clerks were gone, then tried the safe himself. Good. It was locked. Almost superstitiously

he checked over his key-ring, making sure that it carried the key of the cash compartment. Yes, there it was. And the compartment could not be unlocked while he carried that key. Silly ! He shook himself. ‘Nerves, old man, nerves. No one in all Altonvale knows the jewels are in that safe. Even the messenger went back on the four o’clock.”

Yet he examined the back doors and tried the front lock a

second time before he finally decided to go out into the rain.

As he walked homeward, Merton’s mind began to swing from the worry in his store to the worry in his house. He honestly tried to be fair with Emily. In the early years of their married life she had worked as hard as, perhaps harder than, he, and on the whole they had been quite happy together. Latterly, since he had been made manager, life had been easier for her but not any happier. She had more time to mix with other women, and he fancied she heard things and perhaps saw things which had wakened in her a little demon of suspicion. She had learned by this time that all was not well with the world, and although she never had caught Oscar Merton at anything—well, he was a man, and a man was not to be trusted. That was something every woman knew.

That is, she had not caught her husband at anything until his last trip to Montreal.

Really, there was nothing to it, nothing at all. But make Emily believe it ! Make the St. Lawrence river run uphill !

Cynthia Norton was on the head office staff ; a dashed fine girl, yes, and Merton didn’t care who heard him say so. That was what made Emily so mad—he wouldn’t say anything against Cynthia. Emily raved against Cynthia, and Merton, goaded, raved about her. Really, he always had stood up for Emily, but he was beginning to wonder. If Emily insisted on keeping him reminded of “that Norton woman” she had only herself to blame if he couldn’t help making certain comparisons. He wasn’t a man to welsh, but if he had it all to do over again, well . . .

Mrs. Berkley snuggled deliciously toward him.

If only that trouble-making Mrs. Tugold hadn’t been in the wrong place at the right time ! He and Cynthia had gone out for the evening. Well, they had often lunched together, and he had a free night on his hands, and what of it? Did Emily think he was going to kick his heels around a Montreal hotel while he might be enjoying himself and also getting some worth-while business tips from Cynthia? Who could say how much it might be worth to have a friend at court in head office? Emily didn’t think of that, did she? Of course, it was all innocent enough. They had some supper and a little dance—nice, respectable place—and he had a cocktail or two, but what about it? Because he wasn’t used to liquor and it went to his head he got a little boisterous, and Cynthia hustled him back to his hotel in a cab—that’s the kind of a girl Cynthia was—and just as she was helping him out of the cab, who under heaven came by but Mrs. Tugold! Right there under the hotel lamps she stood and stared at them. Well, of course, what could a fellow do?

MERTON took a tighter grip on the handle of his umbrella, as though he might have occasion to swing it belligerently, and just at that moment a car swept up and stopped beside him.

"Mr. Merton, isn’t it?”

He thought he should know the voice, and the next moment he recognized Mr. and Mrs. Berkley.

“Get in, won’t you?” Berkley invited. “My wife was sure she recognized you.” Mrs. Berkley moved nearer to her husband in the wide front seat. “Let us drive you home.” Merton was not far from his house, but he accepted the invitation, dragging his wet umbrella in after him, apologizing for his damp suit against Mrs. Berkley’s dress.

"Oh, that’s all right,” she assured him. “This is the first rain of the trip. And such a trip !”

“Yes,” Berkley took up the thought. “We’ve been lucky all through, and we’re here a day ahead of time. Any word of the stones?”

“Arrived today,” Merton answered. “Very beautiful, sir. I am sure you will like them. You too, Mrs. Berkley. They are really very beautiful.”

She thrust her hands eagerly toward him.

“I’m so excited,” she confessed. “Of course George often buys me expensive presents—don’t you, George?—but this is different. I wonder—but no, of course, you couldn’t do that.”

“Do what?” Merton was eager to serve so good a customer and so attractive a woman. “Anything I can do—”

“No.” She shook her head firmly. “It is not reasonable.” She sighed irresistibly. “I was just wondering. Of course you have them in the safe, and the safe is locked?”

“What a child you are, Jerry !” her husband remonstrated. “You won’t be able to sleep now until you see them. They are very much better in Mr. Merton’s safe, Jerry.”

“Oh, yes, I know,” she agreed. “It was just a notion.” “There is really no reason why you should not see them tonight if you want to,” Merton volunteered. “Ours is not a

time safe. You could examine them and put them back until morning.”

“Are you sure it would be all right? It wouldn’t be too much trouble, or any risk?”

“Oh, not a bit. You see”—Merton was thinking it out— “as a precaution I haven’t told a soul about them. This is a law-abiding little town anyway, but one can’t be too careful.”

“Quite right,” Mr. Berkley agreed. “I really think you should withdraw your request, Jerry.”

But Merton had made up his mind.

“No, no; not at all,” he said. “With us the customer’s wish is a command. That is the way we have built up our business, Mr. Berkley. We will drive back to the store and you can wait in the front while I bring the diamonds from the safe. If any passer-by happens to look in he will think you are a belated tourist selecting some souvenirs.”

Still hesitant, Berkley turned his car.

“I suppose it’s safe enough,” he agreed. “If nobody knows, nobody will be any the wiser.”

In a few minutes they were at the store. Merton unlocked the door and admitted his customers and himself.

“Make yourselves at home; I’ll be just a minute,” he said.

True to his word, in sixty seconds he returned from the office with the precious little parcel in his hands. He laid it on a glass case, Berkley on his right, Mrs. Berkley on his left. Gently he folded back the tissue paper, then opened the velvet box, and the jewelled cross flashed before them.

“Oh, isn’t it beautiful!” Mrs. Berkley cried, taking it up in her hands. “Oh, George, you’re just too wonderful !”

At that moment Merton felt something hard pressed against his lower right rib and a grim voice sounded in his ear.

“Do just as you’re told and you’ll get out of this with a whole skin, but try any tricks and I won't be responsible. Did you lock the safe?”

Merton’s heart seemed to stop. His face went white, and a section seemed to fall out of his middle.

“Why—why—what do you mean?” he stammered. “You’re not holding me up? You’re not going to steal your own jewels, are you?”

“Do as you’re told and ask no questions,” Berkley ordered. “You’ve got the stones, Jerry?”

Jerry laughed.

“Sure, I’ve got them, safe in my little satchel. Too bad to distress the wee man, he was so kind—and susceptible. For that please don’t shoot him, George, unless you have to.”

“That will all depend on him,” Berkley answered. “Step lively now,” he ordered Merton. “We have no time to lose.” At the point of the gun in his coat pocket he made Merton lock the safe, and the three left the store together.

“Get into the car with us, and if anyone comes by don’t give any sign,” Berkley ordered. “I’ve no quarrel with you,” he went on rather amiably, "but I’ve got my plans, and you mustn’t interfere with them.”

MERTON got into the car. This time he was seated between them, and the woman took the wheel. She drove at a reasonable speed until they were out of the little town, then she stepped on it, and the car rolled along the highway at an amazing rate.

Merton sat still, trying to gather his badly scattered thoughts. He was a small man but no coward and his nerve was returning to him. But he was a philosopher also, and he knew that unarmed courage was at a disadvantage with a gun pressed against its ribs. He had a vision of Emily waiting dinner for him. She would be out of sorts that he should be so late. After a while she would call the store. Then she would become alarmed. Poor Emily! She would

have a bad night, and he would get the blame for it. And

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to-morrow. Where would he be tomorrow? Would there, indeed, be for him any tomorrow at all?

He turned to the man at his side.

“I don’t understand this,” he said, “but I am in your hands. What do you intend to do with me?”

“That’s a fair question,” Berkley answered. “I told you that if you behaved yourself no harm would come to you. That goes. We merely plan to give you a few weeks board and lodging in a quiet little place in the woods. Then you will be turned loose to go home, if you want to. But you won’t want to.”

“Won’t want to? Why won’t I want to? I can’t understand it at all. Here you go stealing your own jewels, with your cheque lying in the bank to pay for them, and kidnapping me in the bargain. What really is the big idea?”

Berkley laughed.

“I rather like you,” he said. “Don’t you, Jerry?”

“Oh, immensely,” the woman answered.

“Shall I tell him the whole scheme?”

“If you like. When he understands what he is up against, it will put him in the proper frame of mind.”

“All right, Mr. Merton. Here’s the little scheme: We present ourselves at your store tomorrow to get our diamonds. The clerks know nothing about them, but are considerably upset over the fact that you have disappeared. We consult with the local bank manager. He calls up your Montreal offices. There is discussion back and forth, but only one ultimate conclusion — Merton has skipped out with the Berkley diamonds. In due course our cheque is returned to us with the regrets—heartfelt regrets, no doubt—of your head office. In the meantime, of course, a warrant has been issued for your arrest. Now do you understand why you won’t want to go back? Do you think any jury would believe your cock-and-bull story about being kidnapped by the man who owned the diamonds? Tut! Tut!”

For some minutes Merton sat in silence. He was sizing up the plot. It was watertight in every particular.

Then he straightened up in his seat. What cared he for himself? There was the firm, there was Emily.

“You are two unscrupulous villains!” he declared.

“Listen to him,” the woman mocked. “The little man is showing signs of intelligence.”

Through the grey mist of rain and descending night the greyer band of the St. Lawrence stretched before them. The woman now had her lights on and was watching the highway carefully. At length she took a sudden turn to the right, plunging down a little used side road toward the river. The wet underbrush washed along the car. Under a grove of trees it was quite dark. Here she turned her lights off and on again; off and on, off and on.

“Some kind of code,” said Merton to himself.

Presently a man appeared in the road ahead of them. He came straight up to the

“Well, Hank, here we are,” said Berkley. “Everything according to schedule, including your new summer boarder. A rather decent fellow, so use him well, Hank. You’ve got the boat?”

“Yep,” answered the man addressed as Hank. “Right down here under the trees. All right, stranger, you come with me.”

Merton got out. There was nothing else

Hank led him down to the river through the wet trees. Behind them they heard the car purring to a turning point in the road.

“Here’s our ship,” said Hank, indicating the dark outline where a boat lapped in the grey water. “I don’t figure you’re goin’ to try to give me any trouble. If you do, I know how to deal with you. I’ve got an old anchor here an’ a piece o’ rope, an’ dead men tell no tales.”

AyfERTON climbed down into the wet ^ boat. He appreciated the logic of his captor’s argument and meekly did as he was told. Hank started the muffled motor, and a moment later they were out in the St. Lawrence. In twenty minutes they touched land on the other shore, again in a secluded spot sheltered by dark trees. They clambered ashore and Hank tied the boat.

“You’re leaving the boat here?” Merton asked, curious about the dovetailing of all the details of the plot.

“That’s arranged for. Lots o’ use for a quiet an’ speedy little craft on this river.” Hank chuckled quietly. “I’ve a car parked up here for your further convenience.”

They found the car and got in. Before starting it Hank delivered some instructions.

“We’ll be travellin’ most o’ the night,” he said, “an’ if you can sit quiet an’ keep your mouth shut if we happen to be meetin’ or passin’ anybody we’ll get along together fine. If not ...” He allowed Merton’s imagination to complete the sentence.

For a couple of hours they bowled along good highways. Eventually Hank pulled up by the side of the road.

“I’m leavin’ the highway now,” he said, "an’ it’s not in the plan that you should know where we’re goin’ from here. I can bump you on the head with the butt end o’ me gun, or I can tie a handkerchief aroun’ your eyes, whichever you like best.”

“I think I would prefer the handkerchief,” Merton answered.

He submitted to being blindfolded, and in a few minutes they were again on their way. The highway was succeeded by an unpaved surface, and as the night wore on the road became rougher and more tortuous. By the laboring of the motor and frequent changing of gears Merton knew they were in hilly or mountainous country. The road became slippery and treacherous, and the light car bumped about prodigiously. Merton lost all sense of time, distance, and direction. He wondered vaguely what efforts Emily was making to locate him, and sympathized in her concern. Would she call the police? Would she call the firm at Montreal? Horrors! Would she connect his disappearance with Cynthia Norton? No; surely, not that! How long would he be kept a prisoner in these mountains? Would the firm issue a warrant for his arrest? Would he be able to convince them of his innocence? Speculations such as these occupied his mind between the lurchings of the car.

It seemed that morning must be long overdue when at length Hank came to a stop and removed the bandage from Merton’s eyes. The headlights disclosed the inside of a little frame garage.

“You can get out here,” Hank said. “This is as far as we go by car. I’m warnin’ you not to make any breaks.”

Merton stamped around, stretching his cramped limbs, while Hank closed the garage doors. He produced a flashlight and a sack of supplies which he had taken from the car.

“We hoof it from here,” he said. “Go ahead.”

Hank had picked up the sack.

“Can’t I help?” Merton suggested. After all, there was no use in being stubborn.

Hank hesitated a moment, then handed him the flashlight.

“Take this,” he said, “an’ go ahead. Follow the path.”

It was a mere footpath around a mountainside; between trees, over rocks; hard going. Merton was thankful he had not been ordered to carry the sack. He reflected that under the circumstances he might have fallen into worse hands.

At length they came to a little structure against the side of the hill, so like its surroundings that Merton almost bumped into it. Hank, for the first time on their climb, laid down his burden. He produced a key and swung open the door. Inside, he found a lamp and lighted it.

It was a little, one-room building of rough' logs and boards. There were two bunks

against one end, a rusty stove, a table with some unwashed dishes, a couple of broken chairs. Merton stood staring about, not knowing what to do next.

‘‘Well, how do you like our summer hotel?” his jailer asked him. “It ain’t very luxurious, as you might say, but it’s mighty exclusive. You an’ me ought to get along pretty well here if you make yourself agreeable.”

“How long are you to keep me?” Merton asked.

“Two months. Then I’m to put you on a train with a ticket for Mexico, an’ I reckon you’ll go in that direction. But don’t let that begin to worry you. There’s good fishin’ here, an’ I’ve laid in a stock o’ grub. Reckon you’re hungry right now.”

Merton remembered that he had not eaten since noon, and agreed that the emptiness in his middle was associated with hunger.

“Get a fire started, then,” said Hank, “an’ we’ll eat before we sleep.”

Hank cooked ham and made coffee, and they sat down at the little table together. The ham went well with thick slices of bread, followed by molasses and washed down with strong coffee. Merton began to feel better. Thus he stated the case:

“I realize that you have nothing against me personally, and I’ve nothing against you, except, of course, that you are unlawfully detaining me, and you are an accomplice in a crime for which it is planned to make me suffer. Aside from that—”

“Accomplice, nothing !” Hank interrupted. “I’m gettin’ four hundred dollars to board an’ lodge you for the next two months, if you want to know, an’ it’s well worth it. With me it’s a straight business proposition.” "All right,” Merton agreed. “We won’t quarrel over the ethics of it. Feed me well and give me as much liberty as you can, and I’ll make the best of it.”

“You’re a good sport,” Hank answered with obvious appreciation. “I was scared I’d pull one o’ those peevish people that I’d have to wet-nurse all summer, or some smart guy that I’d have to manhandle. Now get to bed an’ have a good sleep. Only I’ll have to chain you to your bunk.”

“I don’t like that,” Merton protested. “It’s the custom o’ the hotel,” Hank told him. “To discourage sleepwalking.”

IT WAS noon when Merton was awakened by Hank stirring him. Another meal, simple but substantial, was on the table. They ate together, and afterward Hank produced fishing tackle and took him out along a mountain stream. There they lazed away the sunny afternoon. In spite of himself Merton felt almost happy. The tragedy at Altonvale seemed so far away that it was like a cloud on the horizon that surely would dissolve in harmless mist. Yet when he pulled his mind back to reality he knew, of course, that it must break in storm.

After supper Hank set up a target and showed Merton what he could do with a revolver. The object lesson was not lost upon him. Then they played cards for a while, and afterward Merton read some old magazines which he found in the hut. And then another night’s rest.

So things continued until the third day. Merton was settling down to the routine, although, with little to occupy his mind, his concern for Emily and for his own reputation worried him not a little. It was strange how Emily had grown closer to him in these few days. The nonsense about “that Norton woman” didn’t count at all. In his mental reactions Cynthia had given the centre of

the stage to Emily, not as one forced aside but gracefully, as was her due. Emily, Emily —it was Emily who was on his mind, in his heart, every hour of the day. It was humiliating that they had let trifles rise between

It was humiliating, too, to think how completely he had been tricked by two clever and unscrupulous thieves. He now had time to turn over some plans in his mind. Immediate flight, he saw, was out of the question, but he hoped to so lull Hank’s suspicion that some day or night there would be a chance to slip away. That mountain trail must lead back to civilization. Perhaps a few miles would bring him to some settler’s cabin. But if Hank’s plans were carried out and he eventually was placed on a train headed for Mexico, he would go no farther than the first stop. He had to think of Emily and his reputation in Altonvale.

At noon of the third day of Merton’s involuntary holiday, as the two men were sitting at their meal of pork and beans with bread and molasses, they were suddenly disturbed by the sound of footsteps on the path which led up from the garage. Hank sprang to his feet, his hand on his gun.

“Hands up, Hank; I’ve got you covered,” the leader of the intruders rapped out, and his coat pocket bulged significantly. “Mr. Merton, take his gun from him, please.” Hank’s long arms reluctantly obeyed, and Merton, trembling but obedient, laid the heavy gun on the table.

“Thanks; that’s better,” said the stranger. “Perhaps you recognize your visitors.” Merton’s eyes turned to the other two men. The first was Berkley, the second the messenger who had brought the diamonds from Montreal !

“I am with the State police,” the leader continued. “This is Mr. Laster, alias Mr. Berkley, you will remember having met recently under somewhat different circumstances. The other gentleman is Mr. Randle of the Canadian police.”

Hank found his voice.

“If you have double-crossed me, Laster, I’ll get you. You hear? I’ll get you!”

“Don’t be too hard on him,” the State policeman counselled. “He is really quite as annoyed as you are. Get up beside him. Laster !”

Doggedly enough Laster obeyed, and for the first time Merton noticed the glint of steel about his wrists. Another moment and the two culprits were locked together. Randle officiated, the State policeman still keeping them covered.

“You are wondering how it all happened. Mr. Merton,” said Randle, when he had made the prisoners secure. “Simple enough. As I think you know, there is in the head office of your firm a young lady named Cynthia Norton. The order for the diamonds passed through her hands, and—call it woman’s intuition or what you will—it looked queer to her. Why should anyone buy ten thousand dollars worth of diamonds in Altonvale with all the shops in Montreal to choose from? She mentioned it to Mr. Brown, your manager, and, just to make sure, he again called up the bank in New York. Yes, G. F. Berkley’s cheque was good. Mr. Berkley himself was at his summer home on Georgian Bay. They call him up, and the fat is in the fire. Absolutely he had signed no such cheque.

“Well, then the police were called in, and we put our heads together. I took the gems out to Altonvale, as you know, but I didn’t go back on the afternoon train. I stayed over for the big doings the next morning, lying low, to get ’em with the goods. Your disappearance upset the dope somewhat, but when Berkley demanded the return of his cheque we clapped the bracelets on him. As a precaution we had the woman searched, too, and right on her person we found the jewels.”

"So you got them all right?” Merton gasped with relief.

“Safe as a Government bond. Of course, having got them with the goods, they had no alibi. At first they claimed to know nothing about you, but a suggestion that it might go easier if you were produced, and certainly would go harder if you weren't,

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led to a change of heart, and here we are.” “And my wife—you’ve seen her?”

"Yes. She knows the facts. And in consideration of the distress she had suffered Mr. Brown gave her the jewels.”

Merton gasped again.

“Impossible!” he ejaculated. “I know Mr. Brown is generous but that’s absurd.” Randle smiled, as one who is in possession of a very satisfying piece of information. “Not so absurd as it sounds,” he said. “It

seemed only fair that you and your wife should have a little memento of the occasion. As for the diamonds—you didn’t examine them very closely, did you, Mr. Merton?”

“Why, no. I had no occasion to. Our firm’s reputation—”

"Exactly. If you had—this will interest you. Laster—you would have found they were white sapphires worth about fifty dollars, all told. You see, we couldn’t afford to take chances,”