Jack Higgins – The Iron Tiger

He awakened suddenly to the cold night and realised that somebody was shaking him. He groaned and sat up. Ahmed said from the darkness. ‘You were having a bad dream, I think, sahib.’

‘Is it time?’

‘Yes, sahib.’

Drummond breathed deeply a couple of times to steady himself, then pulled on his mittens. He picked up his sub-machine gun, opened the door and jumped down into the mud.

He rain rushed steadily through the darkness and the mist still blanketed the wet ground as he moved through the pine trees to the road.

After a while, he paused and called in a low voice, ‘Amal, where are you?’

The Bengali moved out of the night to join him. ‘Drummond sahib?’

‘Anything doing?.

“Nothing, only the rain and yet more rain. Soon it will be snow. I have known it happen before this early in the year.’

‘Let’s hope not,’ Drummond said and the Bengali faded into the darkness.

He found a fallen tree and sat on it, arms folded, sub-machine gun across his knee, but the cold ate into his bones and from time to time he stood up and walked around a little, stamping his feet to restore the circulation. Finally, with a complete disregard for caution, he lit a cheroot. It tasted terrible, but the glowing end somehow comforted him. When he had finished it, he lit another.

He became aware of the noise very gradually. He straightened up and listened carefully. He could hear the sound of feet squelcHng through the mud from the direction of the camp. There was silence for a moment as if the person approaching was momentarily at a loss and then the steps sounded again, this time much more cautiously.

Very carefully, Drummond placed his still burning cheroot in a branch of the fallen tree, then slipped quietly into the darkness.

He v/orked his way round in a wide circle until he was certain he was behind the intruder and then moved forward. The dim bulk of a man appeared from the gloom, and glowing faintly through the dark beyond him was the cheroot

It was the stillness of the man that decided Drummond, that and the slight, ominous rattle of a gun sling as he eased from one foot to the other, still peering towards the glowing cheroot. Drummond took a pace forward, tapped him on the shoulder and punched him in the stomach as he turned round.

He lay moaning on the ground and Drummond struck a match. It was Brackenhurst, one of the Russian sub-machine guns lying in the mud beside him. The match hissed and was extinguished by the rain.

After a while, Brackenhurst groaned and sat up..What happened?. His voice quavered aad he sounded sick.

‘You shouldn’t go creeping around in the dark like that,. Drummond said. ‘People might get the wrong idea.’

‘I wanted a word with you, that’s all,’ Brackenhurst said. ‘Away from the others. I wanted to explain about what happened at Sadar. When the roof started to come down, I panicked. Didn’t know what was happening. I got to the Land Rover and when no onr else followed, I thought you’d all bought it.’

Which was a straight lie, but Drummond let it go. That’s all right These things happen.’

Brackenhurst hesitated. ‘Have you told anyone else?.

Drummond shook his head. ‘Only Hamid and I know and we’ve more important things to worry about’ He stood there, calm and somehow uncompromising in the darkness. ‘You’d better get some sleep. You’re going to need it. He picked up the sub-machine gun and held it out ‘Better take this with you.’

Brackeahurst stumbled away without speaking and Drummond went back to bis tree. Half an hour later, Sher Dil relieved him. ‘Anything happened?’

Drummond shook his head. ‘No, everything quiet up here,’ he replied and trudged through the mud back to the camp.

He climbed into the back of the truck and lay down, hitching a blanket over his shoulders. He was cold, numb all over and yet he wasn’t miserable. He was long past that point

He came awake slowly, yawned and turned on one side. Janet crouched over the oil stove, waiting for the kettle to boil, her face half in shadow in the subdued glow.

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Categories: Higgins, Jack