Jack Higgins – The Savage Day

‘Name’s Ferguson,’ he said. ‘Brigadier Harry Ferguson, Royal Corps of Transport.’

Which I doubted, or at least the Corps of Transport bit, for with all due deference to that essential and important branch of the British Army, he just didn’t look the type.

‘Simon Vaughan,’ I said. ‘Of course, you’ll know that.’

‘That’s true,’ he said. ‘But then I probably know you better than you know yourself.’

I couldn’t let that one pass. ‘Try me.’

‘Fair enough.’ He clasped both hands over the knob of his cane. ‘Fine record at the Academy, second lieutenant in Korea with the Duke’s. You earned a good MC on the Hook, then got knocked off on patrol and spent just over a year in a Chinese prison camp.’

‘Very good.’

‘According to your file, you successfully withstood the usual brainwashing techniques to which all prisoners were subjected. It was noted, however, that it had left you with a slight tendency to the use of Marxist dialectic in argument.’

‘Well, as the old master put it,’ I said, “lifeis the actions of men in pursuit of their ends. You can’t deny that.’

‘I liked that book you wrote for the War House after Korea,’ he said.’A New Concept of Revolutionary Warfare. Aroused a lot of talk at the time. Of course the way you kept quoting from Mao Tse Tung worried a lot of people, but you were right.’

‘I nearly always am,’ I said. ‘It’s rather depressing. So few other people seem to realize the fact.’

He carried straight on as if I hadn’t spoken. “That book got you a transfer to Military Intelligence, where you specialized in handling subversives, revolutionary movements generally and so on. The Communists in Malaya, six months chasing Mau Mau in Kenya, then Cyprus and the EOKA. The DSO at the end of that little lot, plus a bullet in the back that nearly finished things.’

‘Pitcher to the well,’ I said. ‘You know how it is.’

‘And then Borneo and the row with the Indonesians. You commanded a company of native irregulars there and enjoyed great success.’

‘Naturally,’ I said. ‘Because wie fought the guerrillas on exactly their own terms. The only way,’

‘Quite right, and now the climax of the tragedy. March 1963, to be precise. The area around Kota Baru was rotten with Communist terrorists. The powers that be told you to go in and clear them out once and for all.’

‘And no one can say I failed to do that,’ I said with some bitterness.

‘What was it the papers called you. The Beast of Selengar? A man who ordered the shooting of many prisoners, who interrogated and tortured captives in custody. I suppose it was your medals that saved you and that year in prison camp must have been useful. The psychiatrists managed to do a lot with that. At least you weren’t cashiered.’

‘Previous gallant conduct,’ I said. ‘Must remember his father. Do what we can.’

‘And since then, what have we ? A mercenary in Trucial Oman and the Yemen. Three months doing the same thing in the Sudan and lucky to get out with your life. Since 1966, you’ve worked as an agent for several arms dealers, mostly legitimate. Thwaite and Simpson, Franz Baumann, Mackenzie Brown and Julius Meyer amongst others.’

‘Nothing wrong with that. The British Government makes several hundred million pounds a year out of the manufacture and sale of arms.’

‘Only they don’t try to run them into someone else’s country by night to give aid and succour to the enemies of the official government.’

‘Come off it,’ I said. ‘That’s exactly what they’ve been doing for years.’

He laughed and slapped his knee with one hand. ‘Damn it all, Vaughan, but I like you. I really do.’

‘What, the Beast of Selengar?’

‘Good God, boy, do you think I was born yesterday? I

know what happened out there. What really happened. You were told to clear the kst terrorist out of Kota Baru and you did just that. A little ruthlessly perhaps, but you did it. Your superiors heaved a sigh of relief, then threw you to the wolves.’

‘Leaving me with the satisfaction of knowing that I did my duty.’

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