His contract called for five flights a week, no more..
‘He should have added that they didn’t pay me for the time in hospital,’ Drummond told her. That’s the wily oriental for you.’
He increased speed and banked In a long, sweeping curve that took them out of a shallow pass and into a valley beyond. A broad river flowed sluggishly, snaking between jagged cliffs, a thread of silver in a landscape so savage and sterile that it took the breath away.
‘Remember what I told you,’ Drummond said. ‘The last place God made. And to think the Chinese have laid claim to this bloody lot.’
‘But why?’ she said.
The same psychology the Roman Emperors used,’ Hamid told her. ‘Give the mob circuses to take their mind$ off the more important problems. In China in 1962, the harvest was bad and thousands starved, so their army invaded India, a country completely unprepared for such an attack, and presented their people with a ready made victory. In Pekin, they were able to tighten their belts and wave banners.’
‘Have they really laid claim to Balpur?’
‘Along with almost every other border country. Actually, Balpur was a part of the Chinese Empire in ancient times. The people are Mongolian. Only the ruling class are Muslims, descendants of the original invaders. But no one seriously imagines that they would invade. For one thing, the old Khan has preferred to stay completely neutral. He’s the only ruler of a border state who hasn’t signed a mutual defence pact with India.’
‘Yet he accepts you as an adviser?’
To an army of seventy-five men. A political gesture only. In Pekin they laugh about it.’
She almost mentioned Mr. Cheung, but remembering what Drummond had told her on the previous evening, kept silent Even if Hamid did know the troth, that Cheung was in fact a Chinese Nationalist agent, that Drummond was flying in guns to Tibetan guerrilla fighters, he would probably prefer to know nothing officially. Remembering Vietnam, she sighed heavily..The same pattern, violence, blood and suffering turning on each other in a circle that had no ending.
They were flying at no more than a thousand feet above the floor of the valley and suddenly, in a bend of the river, she saw Sadar, flat-roofed houses scattered untidily across a broad plateau, the Khan’s palace like a fortress in a walled garden.
The Beaver banked tightly and swept in past the graceful tower of a mosque, and beyond the town on the plain to the south she could see the airstrip, a narrow slot laboriously carved out of the rough terrain, a windsock on a tall pole at one end. Dnimmond circled once then turned into the wind for a perfect landing between two rows of empty oil drums.
There was a small improvised hangar constructed of lusting corrugated iron, barely large enough to house the Beaver from the look of it He taxied towards it and switched off the engine.
He unfastened Ms seat belt jumped to the ground and turned to give Janet a hand. At the same moment, & Land Rover appeared from among the houses on the edge of the town and came towards them in a cloud of dust
She shivered and wrapped her sheepskin coat more tightly around her. ‘It’s colder than I thought it would be/
“Winter coming,’ Drummond said. ‘Maybe it’ll be early this year.’
An old army jeep, still painted in the grey-green camouflage of wartime, its canvas tilt patched and mended in many places, was parked inside the hangar. He and Hamid had just started to transfer the luggage to it from the plane when the Land Rover arrived.
Mr. Cheung jumped out of the passenger seat and came towards them wearing a heavy blue quilted jacket and an astrakhan hat His driver was a young fair-haired man with a bronzed, reckless face. He wore a sheepskin jacket in untanned hide and knee-length boots. A revolver, slung low on his right hip in a black holster, seemed theatrical and out of place.
He came forward with a ready smile, eyes fixed oa Janet, and Hamid said maliciously,.Why the gun, Tony? Expecting trouble?’
The young man flushed. Tm driving up to my base camp at Howeel for a couple of days. They’d cut your throat for the shoes on your feet up there. Fve come for that new theodolite I ordered if Drussmond’s remembered to bring it.