Jack Higgins – The Iron Tiger

The children had disappeared and the street was quite deserted as he stood there listening to the sound of the Beaver in the distance, drawing happily on the English cigarette Drummond had given him.

Doors opened in the houses along the street and one by one soldiers emerged in peaked caps and drab quilted jackets. As Moro turned, the door to his house opened and a young officer emerged. He wore a beautifully tailored riding coat with fur collar and the red star of the Army of the People’s Republic gleamed brightly in his cap.

1 did well?’ Moro said.

The young officer took the English cigarette from the Tibetan’s lips and inhaled deeply. A sunny smile appeared oa his face.

‘Excellent. Really quite excellent.

Moro nodded, the eager smile still firmly in place and together they stood there, listening to the sound of the Beaver fade into the pass.

House of Pleasure

DRUMMOND emerged from the hot room, dropped his towel on the tiled floor and dived into the plunge bath, swimming down to touch the brightly coloured mosaic face of Kali, the Great Mother, staring blindly into eternity through the green water as she had done for a thousand years.

He surfaced and one of the house girls moved out of the steam and squatted at the side of the ancient bath, holding a tray containing a slender coffee pot and tiny cups. Drummond swam towards her and she handed him down a cup as he floated there in the water.

She was like all the rest of them, startlingly beautiful, with delicate features and great kohl-rimmed eyes. Her green silken sari was saturated with steam, outlining to perfection the firm body, the curving breasts.

As Drummond sipped his coffee, he heard a harsh laugh somewhere near at hand and Hamid’s great voice boomed between the walls. He was singing the first stanza of Zukhmee-Dil, a ballad immensely popular on the North-West Frontier, at one time the favourite march of the Khyber Rifles.

Wullud sureen shuftauloo-maunind duryah, Ufsose! mun n’shinaah.

Drummond handed his cup back to the girl and threw the song back at the Pathan, translating into English.

There’s a boy across the river with a bottom like a peach, but, alas, I cannot swim.

Hamid bellowed with laughter as he moved out of the steam, a towel about his waist. He was a Pathaa of the Hazara tribe, dark-skinned, bearded. A handsome buccaneer of a man of six feet three with broad muscular shoulders.

He smiled hugely. ‘Feeling better, Jack, headache gone?’

‘Ready for anything,’ Drummond replied.

‘Me, too.’ The Pathan ran his fingers through the long hair of the girl who still squatted at the side of the bath. ‘A good song, that, but where love’s concerned, I’m the old fashioned kind.’

He pulled the girl to her feet and the damp sari parted exposing her left breast. ‘Now there’s a thing.. He swung her up into his arms and grinned down at Drummond. ‘See you later.’

Drummond swam lazily across to the other side of the bath and back again. He repeated the process twics and then hauled himself out over the stone edge, smoothed by time. He picked up his towel, wrapped it around his waist and padded across the warm tiles.

The next room was long and narrow with a vaulted roof and lined with cubicles, some with curtains drawn. From one he heard Hamid’s deep chuckle followed by the lighter laughter of the girl and smiled to himself.

He went into the end cubicle, pulled the bell cord In the comer, climbed on to the stone massage slab and waited. After a while, the curtain was drawn and Ram Singh, the proprietor, entered followed by several bearers carrying buckets of hot and cold water.

The Hindu smiled. ‘All is in order, Mr. Drummond?.

“You’ve made a new man of me,’ Drummond said..We could do with you in Sadar/

The Hindu rolled his eyes to heaven in simulated horror. The end of the world, Mr. Drummond. The end of the world. I will send Raika..

He withdrew and Drummond lay there staring up at the ceiling. The end of the world. Well, that wasn’t far off as a description of Sadar. A capital city with a population of three thousand, which gave some idea of the size of Balpur itseE A barren, ugly land, harsh and “cruel as its inhabitants. The last place God made. Well, not for much longer, Praise be to Allah.

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Categories: Higgins, Jack