The Khan nodded. ‘Good, my soa must certainly be saved at all costs.’
Then by my reckoning that gives us a possible passenger list consisting of yourself, Kerim, Father Kerrigan, Miss Tate, Brackenhurst here and Major Hamid. Colonel Sher Dil, too, of course, if he wants to come.’
“What about Cheung?’ Brackenhurst put in.
.I was forgetting him.’ Drummond turned to the Khan. ‘Your Highness is probably well aware of Mr. Cheung’s true politics. God alone knows what the Reds would do if they got their hands on him.’
The major domo returned and handed the Khan a polished leather belt and holster containing a heavy British Army service revolver. He belted it around hi waist, and smiled grimly.
Then I think it is time to move, gentlemen. You may drop me at Colonel Sher Dil’s headquarters. I suggest you then continue on to the airstrip and prepare the plane for immediate take-off..
Outside, it was even lighter now, the sky a heavy uniform grey, the rain turning the dirt road into a quagmire as they drove down through the streets to the main square, braking to a halt outside the grim, barrack-like building that was Sher Oil’s headquarters.
There was already a bustle of activity, and as the Khan got out the colonel came down the steps to meet him, Major Hamid at his shoulder. The Pathan glanced enquiringly at Drummond who held his thumb down and Brackenhurst drove away quickly.
Beyond the city, one or two tents were pitched, a Sock of heavy, mountain sheep crowding in close to where a herdsman’s fire already trailed grey smoke into the morning.
They bounced over the rutted track, skidding slightly in the mud, and went over the escarpment and dowa towards the airstrip.
The cprrugated iron hangar looked ugly and forsaken in the grey morning and Brackenhurst braked to a halt a few yards away and nodded towards the airstrip itself, already a sea of mud.
‘Not much of a surface to take off on.’
‘Anything will do for a Beaver,’ Drummond said. That’s why they’re so good for this kind of country.’
He took out his key, unlocked the padlock and pulled the doors wide, revealing the red and gold plane, and a quiet, precise voice said, ‘Excellent, my friend, now move away, please.’
Cheung came round the corner of the building, an automatic pistol in one hand. In the other, he held a grenade. ‘Going somewhere, Jack?’
“That was the general idea.’ Drummond slipped his hands casually into the slanting pockets of his flying jacket, fingers closing around the butt of the Smith & Wesson. ‘What is this?.
Fauna moved from behind one of the doors and stood at Cheung’s shoulder, looking faintly ridiculous in Drummond’s sweater, which was by now so sodden and heavy with rain that it almost reached her knees.
“Well, I’ll be damned,’ he said.
Cheung smiled gently. ‘No one is going anywhere, Jack. It was not in the plan.’
In one quick movement, he pulled the ring from the grenade with his teeth and tossed it inside the hangar. In the same moment, Drummond pulled the Smith & Wesson from his pocket and loosed off a wild shot that splintered the door behind Cheung’s head, sending him running for cover.
Drummond turned and ran. Brackenhurst was already scrambling behind the wheel of the Land Rover. As the engine roared into life, the grenade exploded, hot air reached out to enfold Drummond, and the entire hangar seemed to sag.
As he jumped in, the Land Rover shot away, wheels churning the mud to liquid. Cheung moved into the open, firing steadily, the gun held in both hands with all the expertise of the marksman.
Brackenhurst took the Land Rover into a gully that slanted up the hillside giving them some kind of cover, and a moment later the Beaver’s fuel tank blew up.
‘And I hope that’s taken the bastard with it!’ he shouted.
They roared out of the gully on to a plateau which jutted like a shelf from the side of the mountain and gave a view of the plain below.
Cheung was standing a little distance away from the burning hangar looking up towards them and the girl lay face down in the mud a yard or two away from him.