Cheung looked at Piroo with something close to affection. ‘Let him go free, he has served us welL’
He went out and Piroo, to whom the interchange in Chinese had been completely unintelligible, turned eagerly to Sergeant Ng.
A strange man, the colonel, the sergeant told himself. Full of wild fancies, but a good officer for all that. He nodded to one of his men who grabbed Piroo suddenly, clamping a hand over his mouth.
Piroo saw the knife coming up, felt a coldness streaking under the ribs to the heart and plunged into darkness. They left him there by the fire, and a moment later the troop carrier moved away, its tracks scattering mud from the street across the walls of the houses.
The Bridge at Sokim
‘I CAN see the bridge,’ Sher Dil said, ‘and it’s still standing.’
‘Thank God for that.’ Drummond took the binoculars and focussed them quickly. ‘There certainly doesn’t seem to be anybody about.’
‘And no cover for an ambush,’ Hamid said. ‘We’d better cross now while the going’s good.’
They dispersed to the trucks and Drummond ploughed through the mud and heaved himself up beside Ahmed, glad to be back inside. It had rained without pause all morning, turning the road into a nitted quagmire through which they had progressed at little more than fifteen miles per hour.
They went over the hill and the road dropped steeply towards the great ravine which cut its way through the heart of the mountains. Ahmed selected bottom gear and followed Sher Dil cautiously.
The bridge was a narrow spindly thing, fit only for one-way traffic. As the road levelled off to approach it, the other trucks slowed to a halt and Ahmed braked quickly.
Til see what’s happening,’ Drummond said and jumped down.
Sher Dil leaned over the parapet examining the web of rusty steel girders. He turned as Drummond approached.
‘It would take the Chinese a long time.to construct another. A demolition expert’s dream.’
Thinking of doing it yourself?’
‘I don’t see why not It wouldn’t take long. Well cross over first, though.’
As Drummond went back to his own vehicle, Hamid leaned out of the cab of the supply truck. ‘What was he up to?’
‘He wants to stop and blow up the bridge. What do you think?’
‘An excellent idea. It would block the road for months.’
‘Don’t you think it might advertise our presence?.
‘I can’t see that it makes much difference. If there’s anyone up ahead, they’ll still be there whether we blow the bridge or not.’
Drummond climbed up beside Ahmed and the truck lurched forward and started the slow ascent on the other side. When they pulled over the hill, they saw that Sher Dil had stopped a little way up the road. They joined him as Amal and Brackenhurst drove up behind.
Brackenhurst came forward, Ms face white and strained. ‘Why are we stopping?’
Tve decided to destroy the bridge before moving on,’ Sher Dil said.
Father Kerrigan climbed down to join them and Janet stayed in the cab, an arm around young Kerim who was now sitting beside her.
Tor God’s sake,’ Brackenhurst said. ‘Haven’t we lost enough time?’
‘If we blow the bridge, the Chinese will lose even more,’ Sher Dil said patiently. ‘We’ll use the contents of my truck, grenades, ammunition and some demolition charges. You can all help. Well unload the stuff more quickly that way.’ He turned to Father Kerrigan.
‘You stay with Miss Tate and the Khan. We shan’t be long.’
He took the wheel himself on the journey back down the hill. When they reached the bridge, he turned and reversed as far as the centre. Drummond climbed into the back with Hamid and handed the boxes out to the others. They worked fast and each time he passed a box down to Brackenhurst, he noticed that he was sweating.
That’s about it,. Sher Dil said at last as he surveyed the boxes stacked across the bridge. ‘When that lot goes up, they’ll hear it in Sadar.’
‘What now?’ Hamid said.
Til set the fuses myself. Corporal Nadin and Amal can stay and help me. The rest of you better get back up the hill. You’ll have to walk. We’ll need the truck to make a quick exit before the big bang.’