Jack Higgins – The Iron Tiger

.What about ditching a couple of the trucks?.

Hamid shook his head. ‘If anything went wrong with the track we were travelling in, we really would be in trouble. Another thing – three tracks give us more of a show of strength than one. That could be useful if we run into any small patrols.’

‘What about the women?’ Brackenhurst demanded. ‘Don’t you think it’s time we left them?’

‘For the Chinese to get their hands on? Even for you, that isn’t such a sparkling idea. Get back to your truck and take up third position.’

The contempt in Hamid’s voice was obvious to them all. Brackenhurst turned as if he had been struck and stumbled away.

Tor heaven’s sake, Major,’ Father Kerrigan said, leaning out of the cab of Hamid’s truck. The man’s at the end of his tether, can’t you. see that?’

‘Which means he’s got to be driven, Father. It’s the only way, I’m afraid.’ Hamid turned to Drummond. ‘You and Ahmed take the lead in the supply truck, Jack, and I’ll follow. If you do run into trouble, try to block the road with your truck. That’ll give the rest of us a chance to turn round. If you, run fast enough, you should be in time for a lift’

‘I hope so,’ Drummond said.

He went round the front of Hamid’s truck and waved to Janet. She waved back and so did the boy, the first real sign of life Drummond had noticed from him.

He climbed up beside Ahmed and they drove away. The mist had lifted even more which wasn’t too healthy and the rain sluiced down relentlessly. It was bitterly cold and there was a bad taste in his mouth. He ran a hand over the stubble on bis chin and leaned back in the seat watching the road, a sub-machine gun in his lap.

They had been driving for no more than twenty minutes when Hamid sounded his horn a couple of times. Ahmed tamed in to the side of the road and Hamid pulled in ahead.

He jumped down and came to meet them. ‘Bracken. hurst doesn’t seem to be following.’

‘I wonder what the stupid bastard’s up to now?. Drummond said.

‘As far as I’m concerned, I’d leave frim to stew, but we’ve the women to think of.’

Drummond nodded. ‘You wait here. We’ll run back in the supply truck. It’s always possible that he’s just broken down. I can’t understand how the things have kept going this long..

Ahmed reversed and drove back along the road. Within five minutes they saw the track parked at the edge, the women and Brackenhurst standing beside it. tie drove past, turned in a tight circle and parked a few yards away. Drummond jumped down and walked back. Brackenhurst was smiling nervously, relief on his face.

Thank God you came. I knew you would.’

‘What happened?’ Drummond asked.

‘It’s the brakes. They’re hydraulic on this track. They’ve stopped working. There must be a leak.’

That’s all we needed.’

“We’ll have to leave the women now/ Brackenhurst said.

Take a look underneath, Ahmed,’ Drummond said and he climbed into the cab of Brackenhurst’s truck.

He pumped the brake pedal up and down several times, but there was no answering pressure. At that moment, Ahmed called to him. He jumped down, pushed his way through the women who had crowded silently around and crawled under the truck.

‘See, sahib/ Ahmed said grimly. The pipe has been deliberately fractured..

As Drummond started to examine itj the engine of the supply truck burst into life. He scrambled out frantically, but he was too late. As he shoved the womea out of the way, Brackenhurst accelerated. For a little while there was the sound of the engine and then that too died away and there was silence.

Ahmed moved to Ms side. ‘I think there must be a special place in hell reserved for Mr. Brackenhurst. What do we do now, sahib?’

‘Go after him, what else can we do?.

‘Without brakes, sahib?’

‘It wouldn’t be the first time. I’ll take the wheel.’

He turned wearily to the women as a small child started to cry. Its mother hushed it and there was silence again as they waited, stolid and patient.

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