Jack Higgins – The Iron Tiger

Cheung looked tired and the skin of his face stretched tightly over his cheekbones, was raw with frostbite. ‘One man coming with three mules,’ Sergeant Ng said.

Take the horses inside,’ Cheung told him and he moved up out of the hollow to the rim of the plateau.

He watched Drummond for a full minute and there was no excitement in his heart. He had failed, utterly and completely, and in Pekin he would have to face the consequences of that failure, but at least he would have something of value to take back with him.

He ran down into the hollow and went inside the hut The horses had crowded to the far end and were quietly feeding on the hay. Father Kerrigan was sitting up on the other side of the fire. Janet standing beside him and Ng waited by the door.

‘It’s Drummond,’ Cheung said. Til stay down here. You wait for him in the rocks on the edge of the hollow. Let him ride past you before you make your move.’

‘Do you want him alive?’ Ng asked calmly.

.At all costs.’

Ng went out, closing the door behind him and Cheung drew his revolver. He smiled gently across the fire at Janet and Father Kerrigan.

‘It would be unwise for either of you to attempt to make the slightest noise, do I make myself clear?’

Drummond came over the edge of the plateau and reined in. It was a peaceful scene, the hut standing below in the hollow, smoke rising into the gently falling snow. He had unslung the Garrand as a precaution while still in the ravine and now it rested across the saddle in front of him.

He dug his heels into his mule’s flanks and started into the hollow. He was perhaps half way down the slope, when there was a commotion inside the hut, the door was flung open and Janet ran outside.

‘Behind you, Jack!’ she called. ‘Behind you!’

Drummond released the two lead mules and jerked savagely on the bridle of his own mount, pulling it round as Sergent Ng emerged from the rocks at the top of the hollow, sub-machine gun in his hands.

He fired a warning burst into the air and Drummond’s mule reared, throwing him over its hindquarters as he reached for the Garrand.

He came to his knees in deep snow, the Garrand still in his hands, the three mules milling around him. Sergeant Ng crouched, trying to get a clear view, and Drummond fired twice in rapid succession, the bullets somersaulting the Chinese back over the rocks.

As the mules broke away, trotting down to the hut, he turned and saw Janet on one knee, Cheung holding her by the hair, the barrel of his revolver rammed against her neck.

Drummond walked forward, the rifle at his hip, and stopped a yard or two away. ‘Let her and the old man go, Cheung, take me. I could be of real value, more than you could ever realise.’

‘No bargains, Jack, quickly now.’

Cheung’s voice was as soft as ever, but quite implacable, and as he thumbed back the hammer of his revolver, Drummond threw the Garrand far away into the snow.

That’s better.’

As Cheung released his hold, Janet came to her feet and ran into Drummond’s arms. He held her close for a moment. ‘Is Father Kerrigan all right?.

She nodded. ‘What about M and Kerim?’

‘We reached the border safely, but the Indian Army has strict orders about crossing over. I had to come back alone.’

‘How very fortunate for me,’ Cheung said and he pulled Janet back against him. “You’ve caused me a great deal of trouble, Jack. I tried to follow you from Ladong Gompa last night and got caught in the blizzard. We had to turn back. Only Sergeant Ng and I made it. I knew I’d be too late and yet I still came on this morning. That’s the kind of man I am.’

‘Father Kerrigan and the girl can’t be of any use to you. Let them go. I won’t give you any trouble.’

‘They want you in Pekin, Jack,’ Cheung said. They know all about the work you’ve been.doing for Ferguson. When you stand before a military tribunal, these two will stand beside you, I’ll see to that personally.’

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