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Posted:|| December 12, 2019 Views: 642|
Chapter 101 of the book The French Letter
Chapter 101: Premonitions of disaster
"A Restless Night"
Seconded to MI6, Charles and Helen are in Pakistan on a mission in the Hindu Kush to neutralise Abdul Jaleel Zemar (The Lion), leader of an international terrorist network.
Last paragraphs of Chapter 100 ...
Kayla snorted. "So that's it. You bastards don't trust me to keep clean, do you?"
I took a measured sip. "I say, this is jolly good stuff, isn't it?"
She glared at me, stood up, and drained the rest of her glass. "I'm going to bed - alone, if that's all right with you." The door slammed behind her.
"That went well, didn't it?" Bisto scratched the back of his head. "Funny creatures, women. Never did understand them. Not counting Jenny, of course."
Picking up the bottle, he looked at its label. "A pity to waste this." He poured himself another drink before offering me a top-up.
"I'd better not," I said, putting my hand over the rim.
"I quite understand, old chap. Tummy still feeling a bit rough, eh?"
He was only partly right. The truth was, I wanted to get some sleep if we were planning an excursion to the Kalash Valley the following morning, but Bisto didn't take the hint.
"Strange, Bamforth seeking me out like that. I was chuffed to get an invitation to lunch with the Air Attaché, of course. Never miss the chance of a good meal in Paris, eh? But it puzzled me, all the same."
He took a swig before continuing. "Turned out he knew about our friendship. When he asked if I could drop everything and come out here to rescue you, I jumped at the chance. Dashed lonely without Jenny, you know." A faraway look came into his eye.
"Always wanted to see the North-West Frontier and find out more about Great-grandpapa's goings-on. He was daft as a stick but an interesting old chap. A good shot, too, by all accounts."
I smiled. Shooting was never far from Bisto's mind, and the Boy's Own image of his ancestor as one of the heroes of the Chitral Siege would have appealed. "What have you done with Biggles while you're away?"
"Oh, he's all right. My next-door neighbour's looking after the old fellow. She'll spoil him rotten - absolutely adores him." He shifted uncomfortably. "Takes a bit of a shine to me, too. To be honest, I'm glad to get away for a bit. Dashed awkward sometimes."
I vaguely remembered the woman who had bustled in with pre-cooked meals for him just before Helen and I drove back down to Moonrakers.
"She's a worthy woman and all that," he went on, "but not my cup of tea. Now, your Kayla - she's a filly from a different stable."
I was surprised to hear Bisto talk of a woman like that. It seemed out of character. I could only put it down to the effect of the mulberry wine. "Out of your league, old boy. She'd eat you alive. Anyway, she's spoken for. Mess with her, and Alain will snip your bollocks off with a pair of garden shears."
He gave me a pained look. "I don't think so. They're fond of each other, but not in that way. On the other hand, I get the impression he rather fancies your Helen. He thinks the world of her. Otherwise, he'd never have put up money for the bribe."
"I realise that. We aren't exactly bosom pals. He must be a rich man now, though. How much did the painting fetch? I don't think you said."
"It caused quite a stir, as you'd expect for a missing Lautrec. Nothing like 'The Laundress', of course. A much smaller painting, but it still went under the hammer for a little over five million euros."
I whistled. "That's a tidy sum in anyone's language. More than enough to enable Alain to look after his sister for the term of her natural life."
Bisto refilled his glass again. "Let's drink a toast to Alain and his good fortune."
"To Alain! He's a rude bastard, but I feel a bit sorry for him. Things haven't always been easy." I took a small sip of wine, then, almost to myself, "I wonder what Madame Lefauvre will think of his new-found wealth."
"Oh, you wouldn't know her. Helen and I met her in Versailles. A nosy old bag with a pink poodle. She didn't have much time for Alain - and that's putting it mildly. I'll tell you the story some other time, old chap, but for now, if you don't mind, I'm ready to turn in. I could do with an early night."
"Of course. How thoughtless of me. I'll be on my way then." He finished his drink and got up to go. "You need to take care of yourself, Charles. We can't have you falling by the wayside just as things are beginning to get interesting, can we?"
He picked up the bottle and two glasses. "Better take this back to Kayla. A drink will probably do her good. Restore the old equilibrium and all that."
He swayed, looking as if he were the one out of equilibrium. "I'd leave it till the morning if I were you," I said.
"Nonsense! No sense of adventure, that's your trouble. I'll be getting along, then. Toodle pip, old bean." He half-closed the door with his elbow as he went out. As he wended his way down the corridor, I heard him humming the tune of 'Scarborough Fair'.
A few of the words came to mind. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme ... then she'll be a true love of mine. Pretty unlikely in his present condition. Perhaps I should have warned him that, like Helen, she was an expert kickboxer.
After he'd left, I lay flat on my back and started to turn things over in my mind. For a moment, I felt a pang of jealousy. I was ashamed to admit that Kayla sometimes had the same effect on me, even when I was stone-cold sober. He wasn't far wrong in calling her a lively filly; a sure-fire winner if she didn't fail the dope test. I forced myself to think of something else.
Wondering what the morrow would bring, I desperately hoped we'd be able to find clues to Helen's whereabouts. I missed her dreadfully. There was a snag, though. All foreigners needed a valid visa and a special permit to enter the Kalash Valley. I realised that, without my visa, I couldn't get the permit. There had to be a way around it, but what? Perhaps things would be clearer in the morning.
Try as I might, sleep eluded me. The idea of being left behind preyed on my mind, but I could see no alternative. The Lion, a faceless predator, lurked in the shadows, along with wild imaginings about Helen's fate. Not least, after weeks in prison, I couldn't adjust to the luxurious softness of my king size bed.
By two a.m., I was lying wrapped in my duvet on a Persian carpet by the window. I gazed up at the stars of the Mighty Hunter; Betelgeuse and Bellatrix astride his shoulders, and the triad of Alnilam, Mintaka, and Alnitak glistening at his belt. I imagined him in human form, swooping from the sky to aid me on my quest. Together we would be invincible.
After a while, my eyes grew heavy and the carpet rose gently into the air. It transported me through the casement window to the faerie slopes of Tirich Mir beyond. I saw a small herd of markhors grazing on the silver mountainside, unaware of a single snow leopard stalking them.
I called out, but my voice was swallowed by the night. In vain, I called again, powerless to stop the killing. Fangs sank into soft flesh. I awoke with a scream to see blood on the crest of the mountain and a sky transforming from obsidian darkness to the dawn hues of ruby and jade.
|The book continues with The Peacock. We will provide a link to it when you review this below.|
List of Characters
Charles Brandon - the narrator, a well-known travel writer.
Rasheed - a taxi driver in Lahore, radicalised by ISIS
Abdul - a taxi driver in Islamabad, working undercover for the British High Commission
Hassim - a tour operator
Ash - a French liaison officer attached to the British High Commission in Islamabad. Also a member of the French anti-drug squad (la Brigade des stupefiants), whose operations are directed by Jeanne Durand.
Montague (Monty) - a member of staff at the British High Commission in Islamabad.
Sir Robert - the Deputy High Commissioner at the British High Commission in Islamabad (a personal friend and confidante of Group Captain David Bamforth, the British Air Attache in Paris)
Tariq Habeeb - the Senior Superintendent of Police in Chitral
Abdul Jaleel Zemar (The Lion) - Coordinator of an international network of ISIS cells
Helen Culverson - a woman of increasing mystery
Kayla Culverson - her older sister, who disappeared somewhere in Bangkok and has surfaced again in Paris.
Group Captain Bamforth (alias Sir David Brockenhurst) - an intelligence officer with MI6 and Air Attache in Paris
Madame Jeanne Durand - a French magazine editor and undercover agent with the French Drug Squad.
Madame Madeleine Bisset - Helen's landlady in Paris
Mr Bukhari - a Pakistani businessman (now deceased)
Ian 'Bisto' Kidman - an ex-RAF friend of Charles's.
Monsieur Bellini - a denizen of the French Underworld.
Andre (aka Scaramouche) - an actor in Montmartre and friend of Kayla's
Dr Laurent - a veterinary surgeon in Versailles.
Father Pierre Lacroix - vicar of the Versailles Notre Dame church.
Madame Lefauvre - an old woman living in Versailles - the town gossip.
Alain Gaudin - brother of Francoise, a gardener at Monet's house in Giverney
Francoise Gaudin - Alain's intellectually disabled sister.
Estelle Gaudin [deceased] - mother of Francoise and Alain, a prostitute
Mademoiselle Suzanne Gaudin [deceased] - Alain's grandmother, to whom the mysterious 'French letter' of 1903 was addressed.
Jack and Nancy Wilkins - a Wiltshire dairy farmer and his wife.
Gaston Arnoux - Owner of an art gallery in Paris. A triple agent, who infiltrated the ISIS network in France and fed information to MI6, but who is now providing information to Abdul Jaleel Zemar (The Lion).
Colonel Neville Arnoux [deceased] - Gaston's grandfather. Author of the infamous letter of 1903
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