Jack Higgins – The Iron Tiger

Cheung wiped sweat from his forehead with the back of a gloved hand and managed a weak smile. ‘I’m beginning to get the point. How much further?.

Ten or twelve miles, that’s all. Better get ready.’

The Chinese reached behind his seat for a sub- machine gun, cocked it and held it across his knees. As the Beaver descended, he could see a narrow river, brawling across a mass of tumbled boulders, widening into a shallow lake. A hundred yards to the left, sheltered against a rock escarpment, was a ruined monastery, a scattering of houses at its feet.

Drummond pointed to a wide sand flat at the far end of the lake. That’s where we land if we get the signal/

‘And if not?.

‘We get to hell out of here.’

He circled, coming in low across the lake, and Cheung pointed excitedly. “There are people down there, standing in the shallows.’

‘Women doing the washing,’ Drummond said and swung in across the village, turning away from the escarpmentandthefire-blackenedruinsofthemonastery.

‘What happened there?’ Cheung demanded.

‘It was a headquarters for local resistance back in 1950 when the Chinese Reds first invaded Tibet There was a siege for a couple of days, but it didn’t last long. They brought up a couple of field guns and blew the necessary holes through the walls.’

Then what?’

Drummond shrugged. ‘They saved everything worth having, then burnt the place to the ground and executed a couple of hundred monks.’

To encourage the others?’

Drummond nodded and took the Beaver round to the other side of the lake in a graceful curve. ‘Not that it’s done them much good. In areas like this, they only control the towns.’

He took the Beaver down towards the village again and Cheung touched his arm quickly. ‘Is that the signal?’

Three flares, spaced out ia a crude triangle, started to burn furiously, plumes of white smoke lifting into the cold air and Drummond nodded.

He throttled back, turned the Beaver into the wind, dropped it neatly down on the firm, sandy shore of the lake and taxied along to the far end.

The women washing clothing in the shallows a few yards away, moved up on the shore, their long woollen shubas tucked into their belts and stood in a tight little group, watching the plane.

Cheung reached for the door handle and Drummond shook his head. ‘Not yet We’ve got to be sure.’

At that moment, a horseman galloped over the crest of the slope above them and plunged down towards the plane. Drummond switched off the engine and grinned in the sudden silence.

There’s our man.’

As he opened the door and jumped to the ground, the rider reined in his small Tibetan horse, dismounted and strode towards them. He was tall and muscular with a deeply-tanned face and high Mongolian cheekbones. He wore a long, wide-sleeved robe and sheepskin shuba which left his chest bare, and knee-length boots of untanned hide. His hair was coiled into plaits and he wore a sheepskin hat.

‘His English isn’t much good,’ Drummond said to Cheung as the Tibetan approached. ‘We’ll use Chinese and for God’s sake treat him with respect. He’s a nobleman. They can be touchy about things like that’

The Tibetan grinned and held out his hand, and behind him another dozen men rode down to the shore. ‘It is good to see you again, my friend. You have more guns for us?’

Drummond nodded as he shook hands. ‘Your men can unload them as soon as they like. I don’t want to hang around here for any longer than I have to.’

The Tibetan shouted an order and he and Drummond and Cheung moved out of the way. ‘Moro, this is Mr. Cheung,’ Drummond said. ‘He’s the Balpur representative of the Chinese National Government, the people who’ve been supplying the guns and ammunition I’ve been flying in to you during the past six months.’

Moro took Cheung’s hand warmly. ‘Before the Lord Buddha brought the way of peace to this land, the Tibetans were warriors. Your guns have helped us prove to the Communists that we can be warriors again. You will take tea with me before you leave?’

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