Jack Higgins – The Iron Tiger

He grinned and took her arm..AH right, I suneader. Let’s’walk.’

They went on to the beach below the embankment and strolled through the moonlight without talking for a while. Now and then, sandbanks collapsed into the water with a thunderous roar and cranes threshed through the shallows, disturbed by the noise.

Huge pale flowers swam out of the night, and beyond the trees the sky was violet and purple, more beautiful than anything she had ever seen before. They passed a solitary fisherman cooking a supper offish over a small fire of dried cowdung and Drumiaond gave him a greetmg la Urdu.

“What do you do in Balpur beside fly in guns for Mr. Cheung?’ she said after a while.

‘Survey work for the Indian government^ freight general cargo or passengers. Anything that comes to hand/

‘I shouldn’t have thought there was much of a living in that.

There isn’t, but Cheung pays well for the Tibetan trips. And I’ll be leaving soon, anyway. I’ve had enough of de place..

.What’s it like?’

‘Balpur?’ he shrugged. “Barren, treacherous mountains, A capital of three thousand people that’s more like an overgrown village. An army, if you can call it that, of seventy-five. When winter comes, it’s absolute hell and that’s in another month. The roads are the worst in the world at the best of times, but during the winter, they’re completely snowed up.’

“What about the Khan?’

‘An old mountain hawk, proud as Lucifer. Quite a warrior in his day. To his people, something very special. Not only king, but priest, and that makes for quite a distinction. You’E like Kerim, his son. A great pily about his accident I hope your people in Chicago can fix him up all right’

‘He’s eight, isn’t he?.

“Nine in three months.’

‘My instructions told me to get in touch with a Father Kerrigan when I arrive. Apparently he’s in charge of all the arrangements.’

.You’ll like him,’ Drummond said. ‘He’s about sixty, A marvellous old Irishman who just won’t give in. He’s been twelve years in Sikkim and hasn’t made a single convert and the people adore him. It’s fantastic.’

If he hasn’t got a congregation, what does he do with himself?’

‘As it happens, he’s a qualified doctor. Runs a small mission hospital about a mile outside of Sadar, completely on his own. There’s one other European up there, a man called Brackenshaw. A geologist for some British firm or other. They’ve also made him British Consul, but don’t let that impress you. It doesn’t mean a thing.’ f

‘You don’t like him, I take itT

“Not much.’

He stopped to light another cheroot and she said casually, ‘Why did you leave the Navy, Jack?’

He paused, the match flaring in his fingers, his eyes dark shadows. ‘You really want to know?’

She didn’t answer and he shrugged, flicking the match into the night. They kicked me out, or advised me to leave, which comes to the same thing for a career officer.’

She could sense the pain in his voice and put a hand on his arm instinctively. ‘What happened?’

‘I was a Fleet Air Arm pilot during the Korean War. One bright morning in July, 1952,1 took my squadron to the wrong target. When we left, it was a smoking nun. We did a good job. We managed to kill twenty-three American marines and ten Royal Marine Commandos who had been serving with them.’

There was bewilderment in her voice. ‘But how could such a thing happen?’

The briefing officer gave me the wrong information..

.So it wasn’t your fault?’

‘Depends how you look at it. If I’d checked my orders more carefully, I’d have spotted the mistake. I was too Hied, lhat was the trouble. Overtired. Too many mis-‘ sions, not enough sleep. I should have grounded myself weeks before, but I didn’t.

‘So they couldn’t court-martial you?.

‘A quiet chat with someone with gold rings all the way up to his elbow, that’s all it took. I got the message.’

Tra sorry, Jack. Sorrier than I can say..

Her voice was warm and full of sympathy. They had reached a flight of stone steps leading up from the shore and he paused and looked at her.

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