Jack Higgins – The Savage Day

‘Later. How’s Binnie ?’

‘Flat on his back. I’d better go and make sure he’s all right. I’ll see you later.’

The door closed behind her and I tookKathleen out through the harbour entrance in a long sweeping curve into the Firth.

The masthead light began to swing rhythmically from side to side as the swell started to roll beneath us and spray scattered across the window. A couple of points to starboard I could see the outline of a steamer against the slate grey evening sky and her red and green navigation lights were clearly visible.

I reduced speed to twelve knots and we plunged forward into the gathering darkness, the sound of the engines a muted throbbing on the night air.

It must have been close to eleven o’clock when she returned. The door opened softly and she came in with a tray. I could smell the coffee and something more. The delicious scent of fried bacon.

Tm sorry, Vaughan,’ she said. T fell asleep. I’ve brought you some coffee and a bacon sandwich. Where are we?’

‘Well on the way,’ I said. ‘There’s Islay over there to the east of us. You can see a light occasionally between rain squalls.’

‘I’ll spell you if you like.’

‘No need. I can put her on automatic pilot.’

I checked the course, altered it a point to starboard, then locked the steering. When I turned and reached for my sandwich I found her watching me, a slight frown on her face.

‘You know, I can’t figure you, Vaughan. Not for one single minute.’

‘In what way?’

She lit a cigarette and turned to peer out into the darkness. ‘Oh, the Beast of Selengar bit.’

‘My finest hour,’ I said. ‘Believe me, MGM couldn’t have improved on the part.’

And I had made her angry again. ‘For God’s sake, can’t you ever be serious ?’

‘All right, keep your shirt on. What do you want to know ? The gory details ?’

‘Only if it’s the truth, no matter how unpleasant.’

‘And what’s that ?’ I demanded and found that for no accountable reason, my throat had gone dry. I swallowed some of the coffee quickly, burning my mouth, and put the mug down on the chart table. ‘All right, you asked for it.’

I sat down on the swivel chair, unlocked the automatic steering mechanism and took the wheel again.

‘There was an area in Borneo around Kota Baru that was absolutely controlled by terrorists back in 1963 and most of them were Chinese Cbmmunist infiltrators, not locals. They terrorized the whole area. Burned villages wholesale, coerced the Dyaks into helping them by butchering every second man and woman in some of the villages they took, just to encourage the others.’

‘And they put you in to do something about it?’

I was supposed to be an expert on that kind of thing so they gave me command of a company of irregulars, Dyak scouts, and told me to clean out the stable and not come back till I’d done it.’

‘A direct order?’

‘Not on paper – not in those terms. We didn’t have much luck at first. They burned two or three more villages, in one case after herding over fifty men, women and children into a longhouse beforehand. Finally, they burned the mission at Kota Baru, raped and murdered four nuns and eighteen young girls. That was it as far as I was concerned.’

‘What did you do?’

‘Got lucky. An informer tipped me off that a Chinese merchant in Selengar named Hui Li was a Communist agent. I arrested him, and when he refused to talk I handed him over to the Dyaks.’

There was no horror on her face and her voice was quite calm as she said, ‘To torture him ?’

‘Dyaks can be very persuasive. He only lasted a couple of hours, then he told me where the group I’d been chasing were holed up.’

‘And did you get them?*

-j6The Savage Day

‘Eventually. They’d split into two which didn’t help, but we managed it.’

‘They said you shot your prisoners?’

‘Only during the final pursuit, when I was hard on the heels of the second group. Prisoners would have delayed me.’

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