Chinese headquarters had been set up at the palace and the commanding officer, General Ho Tsen, stood on the terrace and looked out over the garden. He seemed far from happy and paced up and down impatiently.
There was a slight cough from behind and he turned to fold Cheung standing in the window. ‘You have found him?’ he demanded eagerly.
Tm afraid not, General.’
Ho Tsen slammed a hand hard down on the balustrade. This is your direct responsibility, Colonel. I expected to find the boy ready and waiting when I arrived..
It seems that the priest and the American girl left the mission with the boy shortly before our men arrived. We’ve confirmed this by questioning herdsmen at a camp up river. I’ve just had a report that their jeep has been found abandoned ten miles north of here at a village called Quala. There was a vehicle ferry there which has apparently been destroyed so I’m assuming they’ve crossed by boat. A Land Rover belonging to the man Brackenhurst has been found in the same place.
‘Has the patrol gone after them?’
‘Unfortunately there were no other boats. The village was quite deserted. Obviously the entire population had crossed over. Since then the level of the water has risen with, the rains..
% there any place where the river may be crossed with vehicles?
‘Certainly not here. The current was always too swift for a ferry.’
Cheung spread out a map on a wrought iron table. Twenty miles north of here at Kama. The river is very wide and shallow there. We could cross in half-tracks.’ His finger traced a line to the border. There Is only one road to India and they have no transporf,rasember. We should catch them easily. They must stay on the road. The priest is an old man and in any case/ with the woman and the boy, he couldn’t hope to get through the mountains on foot by any other route.’
Ho Tsen nodded. 1 hope so, for your sake. Pekin will not be pleased if you fail. I w31 also send other patrols south on this side of the river in troop carriers. They should find boats sooner or later. Once across, they can proceed on foot and cut the road ahead of you.’
‘An excellent idea.’
Ho Tsen put a cigarette in his mouth and leaaed to the match Cheung offered. ‘One thing worriesme. What if the priest had an alternative plan? Perhaps a vehicle waiting on the other side. It would explain why they did not drive north to Kama and attempt to cross in the jeep. This man Drummond you spoke of? Yon. are certain he knows nothing?’
‘He is a, difficult man to be sure of and tko Pa&aa Is as stubborn as the breed usually are.’
.Y6u have exhausted the accepted methods?.
They take time, General, and in any case, Drummond must be preserved for a more searching examination in Pekin.’
“Why is this?
.He is known to have worked for British Intelligence..
Cheung hesitated. ‘I would like to have one last try before leaving in case they do have information of value. A small subterfuge which often has remarkable results.’
‘Which sounds interesting,. General Ho Tsen said. 1 think I shall accompany you, Colonel. Let us hope Fm not wasting my tune.’
The wind across the river was like a bayonet in the back and Drummond shivered as it cut into him. He flexed his hands to ease his cramped muscles and winced with pain as the wire that was twisted about his wrists bit into his flesh.
Hamid was next to him and on the other side one of Sher Oil’s soldiers in tattered uniform was silently weeping. Every few moments the man coughed and a trickle of blood came from his mouth. After a while, he slumped on his face and lay motionless. The guards standing talking a few yards away took no notice.
Two troop carriers, half-tracks biting into the mud, drove up and parked thirty or forty yards away, each containing a dozen men and a heavy machine gun mounted on a pivot
Drummond eased back on to his heels and looked along the line of kneeling men. There were at least thirty of them, mostly Sher Dil’s soldiers with a few tribesmen who’d been caught carrying weapons. In his mind’s eye he saw them keel over one by one as the machine gun curved in an arc and finally reached him and he shuddered.