Jack Higgins – The Iron Tiger
Jack Higgins – The Iron Tiger
The Place of Silence
BEYOND the mountains, the sky was sapphire and blue, a golden glow spreading across the ice caps as the sun slowly lifted. Below, the valleys lay dark and quiet, the only sound the tiny, insignificant drone of the Beaver’s engine as it followed the maze through to Tibet
Jack Drummond was tired and a slight dull ache behind his right eye nagged constantly. Too many late nights, too much whisky and he was getting old. Too old to be dicing in the worst flying area in the world at sixteen thousand in a non-pressurised cabin.
He turned to Cheung and grinned..There’s coffee in a black flask under your seat. I could do with some.’
His companion was Chinese, but it was obvious that he had European blood. The eyes were startlingly blue In the bronzed, healthy face and his mouth lifted slightly in a quirk of ironic good humour.
He wore a heavy sheepskin coat and aa astrakhan cap and shivered as he opened the vacuum flask and poured coffee into a plastic cup.
‘Is it always as cold as this?’
‘Drcmmond nodded. “The wind comes all the way fiom Mongolia. There have been times when it’s stripped pieces off the fuselage.’
Cheung peered down into the jagged valley below. ‘What would happen if the engine stopped?’
Drummond laughed harshly. ‘You’re joking, of course.’
Cheung sighed. ‘It becomes clearer minute-by-minute that you have been earning your money during the past six months.’
‘And perhaps a little more?.
The Chinese smiled amiably. ‘My dear Jack, in Formosa, we subsist almost entirely on the goodwill of our’ American friends. If it wasn’t for their generosity, we couldn’t even afford such minor gestures as this Tibetan venture.’
Drummond shrugged. ‘It doesn’t worry me. A couple more trips and I’m through. I’ve done this run too often. I’m on borrowed time.’
Cheung frowned. ‘But Jack, there is no one else. What will we do?’
‘There’s always someone else,’ Drummond said. “You’ll find him in one bar or another in Calcutta. Plenty of ex-R.A.F. types who can’t settle down or the other kind who’ve lost their licences to fly commercially. They’ll go anywhere if the money’s right..
They moved on through a landscape so barren that it might have been the moon, great snow-covered peaks towering on either side. Drummond handling the plane with the skill of genius. Once they dropped sickeningly in an air pocket, and on another occasion flew along a canyon so narrow that the wingtips seemed to brash the rock face. Finally, they lifted across a snow-covered ridge and plunged into space.
Beneath them an enormous valley dropped tea thousand feet, black with depth, purple and gold, great shimmering banks of cloud strung across it in broken strands. Perhaps seven or eight miles away on the other side was the last frozen barrier between Balpur and Tibet
The sound of tJie engine suddenly seemed strangely muted and Cheung sighed through the uncanny quiet The most beautiful sight Fve ever seen.’
The Place of Silence, that’s what they call it,. Drum-mond told him. ‘Used to take two days to get across on foot when caravans were still coming through.’
The Beaver seemed to glide on through the enormous blue vault, drifting through the shadows, and then they burst out into golden sunlight and the final barrier rose before them.
Drummond eased back the stick and the Beaver lifted, the sound of the engine deepening into a full-throated roar and a deep valley appeared between the peaks.
‘Sangong Pass,’ he called above the roar of the engine.
They swept into the pass, a brilliant red and gold leaf, bright against the dark walls, and the frozen earth rose to meet them. Drammond gave the Beaver full power and pulled the stick right into the pit of his Stomach.
Cheung held his breath, waiting for the crash as they rushed to meet the skyline, wheels no more than ten feet above the boulder-strewn ground and then they were over the hump and flashing across a great, cold glacier.
Rolling steppes, golden in the morning sun, stretched to the horizon and Drummond grinned. ‘Now you know why I charge two thousand a trip.’