Jack Higgins – The Iron Tiger

‘And guest,’ Hamid said. ‘The wanderer returns.’

Drummond followed him over the tailboard. He dropped the canvas curtain back into place and turned. As Hamid had said, half the vehicle’s load had gone and the remaining boxes had been stacked so as to create a small enclosed alcove. An oil stove was set on a box hi the centre throwing out life-giving warmth as well as a dim light

Father Kerrigan murmured something, a hand on his shoulder, but Drummond had eyes only for Janet kneeling on the other side of the cooker next to the young Khan.

‘Jack,’ she said in a whisper. ‘Jack?.

He moved close, dropped on one knee and took her hand. There were no words, none that would say the things he wanted to say and he touched it to his lips briefly.

‘What happened?.

He told his story again in a few brief sentences. When he finished, there were tears in her eyes. Those women, those poor women and children. And Ahmed.’

There was nothing I could do,’ he said. ‘Nothing.’

‘I thought we’d never get round that mountain ourselves,’ Hamid said.

In the silence that followed, Janet seemed to puU herself together and put the kettle on the stove. Father Kerrigan said slowly, Then the shooting we heard earlier? That must have been Brackenhurst?.

Hamid nodded. There were Chinese on horseback up on the road. That means they must be in the next village.’

‘Are we safe here?.

Tor tonight.’

‘And in the morning?’

Hamid shrugged. ‘I don’t honestly know. Even if we could get the truck out of here again, which I doubt, there’s nowhere to go. We’d never get through the village and we all know who’s coming up behind.. He held out his hands to the stove. ‘We’ve got shelter, food and warmth and that’s a lot under the circumstances.’

‘Beans,’ Janet said. ‘Beans and tea..

‘Sufficient unto the day, isn’t that what the Bible says?8

She poured tea into two tin mugs and passed them to Hamid and Drummond. “Those are all we’ve got. We’ll have to share.’

Drummond took off his mittens and wrapped his frozen hands around the mug, conscious of the warmth and from the shadows opposite, Kerim watched him solemnly, swathed in blankets.

He smiled, showing even white teeth and Drummond smiled back at him. ‘He’s beginning to liven up.’

Father Kerrigan nodded. The natural resilience of the young, I suppose..

Drummondsat there, staringinto the fire, remembering many things. The city burning, the old Khan’s eyes blazing into his as he exacted that final promise, Cheung’s pale, handsome face. Strange how things turned out. They’d been’very good friends, really. And what happened now?

He emptied the mug and passed it to Janet. ‘Where’s the map?’

Harold produced it from a pocket of Ms parka. ‘Any ideas?’

‘Not at the moment. How far are we from the village?’

‘Here.’ Hamid pointed as Drummond spread the map on the floor. ‘Perhaps five miles. It’s called Chamdo. The border’s about fifty miles on the other side.’

Drummond examined the map carefully and frowned. ‘Where does this track go to running over the mountain from the village? There’s a place up on top on the plateau. Ladong Gompa.’

‘Ladong Gompa?’ Father Kerrigan put in. ‘But that’s a monastery, a Buddhist monastery. There’s a shrine in the next valley, very famous in the old days. Pilgrims used to cross over the mountain and stay overnight at the monastery. I believe that’s why it was built in the first place. The old Khan told me about it once.’

Hamid examined the map and shook his head. That.s eight or nine thousand feet up, Jack, and the snow starting. Father Kerrigan and Janet could never get across.’

‘But you could with the boy,’ the priest said.

Drummond cut in quickly. ‘We all could if we had horses.’

‘Horses?’ Hamid said with a frown. ‘And where are we going to get horses?’

‘As you said, the village is only five miles along the road. If we slipped in just before dawn, we shouldn’t have too much trouble.’

“All of us?’ Hamid said.

Drummond shook his head. ‘Just you and I. The others can wait for us here. When we come back with the horses, we can cut up across the shoulder of the mountain and join the track above the village..

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