Jack Higgins – The Iron Tiger

The firing ceased as quickly as it had begun and the Migs faded into the distance, leaving only the smoke and the flames and the ruins behind.

Drummond got up and helped Hamid to his feet and Brackenhurst joined them. When he spoke, his voice shook a little. ‘We’ve got to get out of here, Drummond. We’ve got to get moving..

Drummond ignored him and turned to Hamid who was leaning against the wall, shaking his head from side to side like a wounded bull. ‘Where was tlie Khan when the attack began?’

Something clicked in Hamid’s eyes and he took & deep breath. ‘In the radio room. Through here.’

The door was off its hinges and the room beyond was a shambles. Four or five meni dead or badly wounded, lay sprawled amid the wreckage and Colonel Sher Dil knelt by the window, the Khan in his arms. In one corner, the wireless operator still crouched by !us seat, earphones in place.

Sher Dil was covered in dust, his uniform singed and torn, but he seemed otherwise unharmed. Drummond dropped on one knee beside him and looked down at the Khan. The front of the old warrior’s uniform was soaked in blood and when he opened his eyes, death stared out

He gazed uncomprehendingly at Drummond for a moment and then his eyes seemed to clear. He reached put one bloodstained hand and held on tight, his mouth opening and closing as he tried to speak.

‘Kerim,’ he croaked. “You will save Kerim? Your word on it.’ it’s all right,’ Drummond said. ‘I give you my word. We’ll get the boy to safety, I promise you.’

The hand tightened on the front of his flying jacket, there was a hollow rattling in the Khan’s throat and blood erupted in a sudden flow between his lips.

Drummond forced the bloodstained fingers apart and Sher Dil laid the Khan gently down on his back. The colonel removed his tattered tunic and covered the face and Drummond stood up and turned to Hamid.

‘Any sign of the party from the mission?’

Hamid shook his head as Brackenhurst stepped in ‘through the shattered doorway. The Land Rover’s still intact, thank God. At least we’ve got transport. I hope that bastard Cheung rots in hell.’

Hamid turned to Drummond. ‘What’s he talking about?’

‘It seems our good friend Cheung was working for the opposition all along. He got to the plane with a grenade before the Migs came in.’

‘But we checked him out with Formosa,’ Hamid said. ‘He was a Nationalist agent, there can be no doubt about that They communicated with him regularly.

We looked the other way for obvious reasons, but we knew’all about it’

‘Probably a double agent,’ Brummond said and toned to Sher Dil ‘If you heard that, you’ll know we’re on our own and it’s one hell of a step to the border. Have you managed to contact the Indian Army yet?

‘No, but the operator’s still trying..

There was the Sound of sporadic gun&e and they all turned and looked out of the window. A current of warm air had momentarily snatched away the veil of smoke revealing a small sugar loaf hill on the other side of the town. People were running towards the river, refugees from the town,.men, women and children, a few herdsmen on horseback, their panic-stricken flocks rushing this way and that, getting ia everyone’s way.

A second later, the top of the hil was alive with troops in drab quilted uniforms. They started to firr as they swept oa and the screams of the mob rose into the air like the smoke as they started to falL

The tidal wave surged oa, the soldiers calling to each other like hounds in full cry, running down the hill towards Sadar and Hie pall of smoke dropped back into place.

Hamid turned to Sher Dil. ^We’ve got perhaps five minutes before they get here. You must contact Indian Army headquarters.’

A section of the roof crashed through into the room, scattering Same and sparks, and as Hamid and Drummond ran forward to stamp it out, Brackenhurst rushed outside. A second later, the engine of the Land Rover roared into life. When Drummond reached the door, it was already disappearing into the smoke.

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