Jack Higgins – The Iron Tiger

And then he had her, fingers hooking into her buttocks. As the crowd roared its approval, the drum stopped. She twisted from his grasp, her ofled body slipping between his hands, ran across the floor and melted through the curtain.

The musicians started to play again on a more muted key and the audience returned to their food, discussing the performance with much laughter and joking. When Prummond turned to look at Janet, her face was strangely pale.

“I warned you,’ he said..You wanted to see the real India and this is a country where sex is as much a part of daily life as eating and drinking, an appetite to be satisfied, that’s ail.’

‘Do you believe that?’

“Depends what a man’s looking for, doesn’t it? Had enough?.

She nodded and he called for the bill and paid it The room was by this time heavy with smoke and there was the sound of drunken laughter everywhere. As they threaded their way between the tables, eyes turned on Janet, there were winks and leers and sly nudges.

Someone stood up at the edge of the floor and made an obscene gesture. There was a roar of spontaneous laughter and as she turned her head, flushing angrily, she was aware of a hand on her right leg, sliding up beneath the skirt.

She cried out in rage and mortification and swung round. There were four men seated at a low table, three of them typical of a breed to be found the world over in spite of their turbans and loose robes, young, vicious animals, spoiling for trouble. The man who had grabbed at her was older with wild, drunken eyes in a bearded face. He wore a black outer robe threaded with gold and his hands were a blaze of jewels.

As his chin tilted, the mouth wide with laughter, her hand caught him full across the face. His head rocked to one side, there was a general gasp and the room was silent.

His head turned slowly and there was rage and madness in the eyes. As he grabbed at her coat, Drummond spun her to one side. The bearded man was only half way to his feet when Drummond’s right foot swung into his crutch. The man screamed, doubling over, and Drummond raised a knee into the descending face, smashing the nose, sending him crashing back across the coffee table.

And the thing Janet couldn’t understand was the silence. No one moved to stop them when Drummond turned, straightening his jacket, took her arm, and pushed her through the crowd to the stairs.

Outside in the street, he urged her on, turning and twisting through several alleys until, finally, they emerged on an old stone embankment above the river.

“Why the rush?’ she said. ‘Did you think they might follow us?.

That’s the general idea.” He lit a cheroot, the match flaring in his cupped hands to reveal the strong, sardonic face. The young squirt-about-town I treated so roughly back there happens to be the son of the town governor.’

‘Will there be trouble?’

“Not the official kind, if that’s what you mean. He’s got away with too much, in the past for anyone to start crying over Ms ruined looks at this stage. He might put someone on to me privately, but I can handle that.

‘Did you really need to be so rough?’

It never pays to do things by halves, not here. This isn’t tourist India, you know. The only thing I’m sorry about is taking you there in the first place. I should have had more sense.’

Tm not,’ she said. ‘You weren’t responsible for what happened. To tell you the truth, I rather enjoyed myself.’

‘Including the nautch dance?’

She laughed. Til reserve my opinion on that part of the programme. It was very educational, mind you..

‘Something of aa understatement You know, you’re quite a girl, and for someone who believes in turning the other cheek, you throw a good punch. You certainly rocked Mia back there.’

‘A quick temper was always my besetting sin,. shc said. ‘My old grannie used to warn me about that when I was a little girl back home in Maine. Quakers are really quite nice when you get to know them. FSesi and blood, too.’

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Categories: Higgins, Jack