Jack Higgins – The Iron Tiger

‘If we come back with the horses.’

‘At least it gives us a chance.’ Drummond shrugged. ‘Can you think of anything better?’

Hamid shook his head slowly. ‘That’s the trouble, Jack, I can’t. I don’t suppose we have much choice.’

‘Then I suggest we get some sleep. We’re going to need it.’

Janet passed him a blanket and he wrapped himself in it and lay down next to Hamid and the old priest Surprising how warm the stove had made the interior now. He looked across at Janet sitting against the boxes, head bowed, the young Khan sleeping in the hollow of her arm.

A wonderful girl. The shadows thrown by the stove on to the canvas hood moved in and out, now coming together, now separating. Just like people, he thought. Now they need each other, now they don’t. Now they mingle with each other, now they go their own way.

He slept well in spite of the cold that crept into the truck during the night and found himself crushed between the old priest and Hamid. When he awakened he sat up and lit the stove. The bright flame reflected suddenly from Kerim’s unbandaged eye and Drummond grinned at the little boy, huddled in the corner next to Janet.

He motioned him to silence and looked outside. It was that time just before dawn when things begin to take on shape again, to have definition. There wasn’t anything like as much snow as he had expected. Quite obviously, it had stopped falling hours before.

He felt curiously refreshed and jumped down into the snow, enjoying the fresh air in his nostrils after the close atmosphere of the truck. As he stood there, the trees started to stand out with a sort of hard luminosity and he knew that dawn was not far away.

‘Enjoying the morning air?’ Janet said quietly from title truck.

He turned and smiled. ‘I don’t know if you could say that exactly.’ He spread his hands in a vaguely French gesture. ‘I feel funny this morning. Close to home, wherever that is, and yet I know I’m not.’

She reached down for his hand in the darkness and gripped it tightly. ‘We’ll get there, Jack, I know we will.’

“Well just go on believing that.’ He grinned. ‘Better put some tea on the stove and wake Ali. We haven’t got much time.’

.No need.’ Hamid looked out of the canvas screen beside her and Janet moved back. ‘What’s the day like?’

‘Could be worse. It can’t have snowed for very long.’

It’ll be back, I can promise you that We’d better get ready.’

Drummond climbed back into the truck and found Father Kerrigan crouched at the stove beside Janet, opening tins of beans.

.How do you feel?’ Drummond asked.

Father Kerrigan smiled. ‘The old bones are beginning to creak a little, but Til manage.’

‘One thing I didn’t check last night Can you both rider

Janet nodded. ‘Since I was a child.’

The priest smiled. ‘I should imagine you’ve been used to a rattier more sedate mount than tile local variety, my dear. Intractable brutes, I know from bitter experience.”

Til manage,’ she said confidently. ‘What about you, Jack?’

‘I get by, but only just. Ali’s your man. He’s a Hazara. They spent about a thousand years galloping down into India and back again, usually with a woman across the saddle.’

Hamid grinned and broke open a case of Garrand automatic riSes and Drummond cleaned one quickly. He found a box of ammunition and slipped several spare clips into his pockets. Hamid primed half a dozen grenades and they took three each.

Janet called softly and they sat in a circle round the oil stove, drinking hot tea and eating beans. “That’s the last of the food,. she said. ‘I can fill the big Thermos with hot tea before we leave, but after that, we’ve had it’

Drummond finished his tea and handed her the mug. He glanced at Hamid. ‘Ready?’

‘As ready as I ever will be.’

Drummond shouldered his Garrand and dropped over the tailboard. When he turned to look up, Father Kerrigan and Janet were pale shadows in the darkness. ‘We’ll be back in a couple of hours,’ he said, trying to sound confident and they moved off.

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Categories: Higgins, Jack