Jack Higgins – The Iron Tiger

A jeep drove up and parked behind the troop carriers and Hamid said quickly, ‘We’ve got company, Jack..

Cheung walked across the broken ground towards them, General Ho Tsen at his side. They paused a few yards away and the General said calmly, These are the men?1

Cheung nodded. They both speak Chinese..

‘Excellent.’ The General came closer. “Let us not waste any more time, gentlemen, I find this rain most unpleasant. We wish to know the whereabouts of the Catholic priest and the young Khan. If you are sensible and help us, I will see that you are well treated. If not….

Drummqnd and Hamid stared up at him without speaking and Cheung sighed with exasperation. ‘You’re a damned fool, Jack,. he said in English. ‘You always were. We’ve found the jeep at Quala which means they’ve crossed the river. They won’t get far, I promise you..

He and the General turned and walked back to the troop carriers. Ho Tsen climbed into the shelter of the jeep and Cheung looked up at the sergeant who stood beside the heavy machine gun in the first troop carrier.

‘You have your orders. Stop firing when you reach the Indian and the Englishman. If you harm either of them, Til have your head.’

He climbed into the jeep beside the General and Ho Tsen smiled and offered him a cigarette. ‘You were quite right, Colonel. This should prove most interesting.’

Drummond stared at the sodden earth, numb with cold and waited for what was to come. He wondered about Father Kerrigan and Janet and the boy, somewhere on the other side of the river in the mist, and prayed that the old man would have the sense to keep on the move. But the Indian border was a long way oflj all of three hundred miles.

A burst of shrill, girlish laughter came from the

Chinese and he stiffened. They strutted towards the line of prisoners, their thin voices bird-like on the wind and Dnunmond dropped his head and waited.

A boot thudded into his chest and he rolled on his face and fought for breath. The wire was torn from his wrists and a kick in the side drove him to his feet The Chinese soldier grinned amiably and held out a spade.

Drummond glanced once at Hamid and they started to dig. The soil was soft and sandy and lifted easily. Beside them the other prisoners worked silently, and as Drummond bent to his task, he knew with a feeling of utter hopelessness that it wouldn’t take very long.

The rain increased into a heavy downpour and the Chinese turned and ran to the shelter of their vehicles leaving one man on guard, a sub-machine gun crooked in one arm.

The trench was now a couple of feet down and Drummond wondered how deep they wanted it Six feet was the statutory requirement for a grave back home, but it was unlikely that the Chinese bothered about such niceties.

He leaned on his spade for a moment and Hamid moved closer. ‘I don’t suppose we’ve got much longer,’ Drummond said.

Hamid glanced once over his shoulder at the mist rolling up from the river. ‘Not if I can help it Any good at the hundred yard dash, Jack?’

Drummond frowned in bewilderment ‘What in the hell are you talking about?.

This,’ Hamid said crisply and slapped Mm heavily in the face.

As Drummond staggered back, momentarily dazed, the guard hurried across to see what the disturbance was about. He leaned over the trench, the sub-machine gun pointed threateningly and Hamid swung the edge of the spade against his neck. The man fell Into the trench without a sound.

The rain was now a heavy grey curtain that almost shrouded them from the troop carriers and the jeep. Hamid snatched up the guard’s sub-machine gun, scrambled out of the trench and ran towards the river. Drummond went after him, slipping and stumbling in the mud.

Behind him he heard a cry and glanced over his shoulder. The other prisoners were strung out in a ragged line, running for dear life. Beyond them, the first Chinese had already reached the trench, firing as they advanced, and one of the troop carrier’s heavy machine guns opened up above then. heads.

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Categories: Higgins, Jack