‘Get in!’ he said. ‘Go on, all of you! Get back inP
God knows what Brackenhurst would do when he reached Hamid and the others, probably keep right on going. And there was no means of knowing what Hamid might do. Best to try and catch up with him as soon as possible. They could unload the ammunition and transfer the women. If he drove carefully and used the gears, he could manage without the foot brake.
He climbed behind the wheel, eased off the handbrake and took the truck slowly forward. After a while, he gained more confidence, moved into top gear and put on speed. Within five minutes he reached the place where he and Hamid had stopped and rolled slowly to a halt He could see the tyre marks at the side of the road, and an oil splash, but that was all.
Which wasn’t good and he took the track forward again grimly. There was hail mixed in with the rain now, building up against the windscreen and the wipers were having difficulty in handling it. After half an hour, the road started to slope down.
He changed to a low gear and proceeded more cautiously. The valley widened until it stretched away into the rain for about half a mile, lifting into the mountains that could be seen dimly on his left The road dropped even more abruptly and peering through the misty windscreen, he saw a small bridge.
He crawled the rest of the way down the hifl in bottom gear. The bridge consisted of a flat surface of planks crossing what would otherwise have been a deep ford. There was still no sign of either of the other trucks and he drove across and kept on moving.
The road started to lift steeply, hugging the side of the mountain which now towered above his head and he began to sweat a little. The truck churned steadily upwards through the mud, Drummond gripping the wheel tightly, an expression of utter concentration on his face. He rounded a curve and came to the crest of a hill and the road dropped steeply into the valley below. He leaned across quickly and looked out There was no fence, only the crumbling, rain-soaked edge and two hundred feet of steeply sloping mountainside.
The truck began the descent, skidding occasionally with a sickening lurch. Drummond was trembling, and beside him Ahmed’s face was wet with sweat The truck lurched again as he negotiated a corner and then the-wheels skidded on the shaky surface and slid forward for about fifteen yards. He turned into a skid and then out of it, and by a miracle regained control
The sweat soaked through his shirt, ran from his forehead into his eyes and he took the truck forward again, hail rattling against the windscreen in a flurry of wind.
The road curved around a great outcrop of black rock and he followed it, hugging the side, turning the corner to where an apron of brown and white water flooded the road, rushing down from the mountain above and cascading into space.
As he started across, the front wheels dipped and the surface of the road dissolved beneath him, washed out in a great sliding scoop, and the track slewed towards the edge.
For a moment, it seemed to halt and Drummond tugged frantically at the handbrake, but it was not enough. The truck lurched and one of the front wheels dipped over the edge.
‘Jump for it!’ he cried to Ahmed.
He got the door open and went out head first, landing on his hands and knees, slipping in the thick mud as the track slid past him and went over the edge.
It hung there for a split second, and Ahmed, whose door had jammed, got it open a second too late. The truck went over with a chorus of screams from the wretches imprisoned inside. There were three terrible, metal-wrenching crashes as it bounced its way down the valley, a brief moment of silence and then a tremendous explosion.
Drummond moved cautiously to the side and looked down at the bright, orange tongue of flames and turned away, his body heaving in a great, uncontrollable spasm that emptied his stomach.