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Posted:|| December 18, 2019 Views: 176|
Chapter 103 of the book The French Letter
Chapter 103: Helen's whereabouts discovered.
"A Taste of Ash"
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.
The last paragraphs of Chapter 102 ...
Kayla chipped in, saying, "I'll bet that Genevieve's not his wife. I wonder what he does with her when he's back in Islamabad. It's not surprising he's short of cash. She'd be an expensive accessory."
"Now, now! Let's not be catty. The poor man deserves a bit on the side after what he's done for us." Bisto winked at me.
"You're just a pair of bloody misogynists. All men are the same. My time in Bangkok taught me that." Kayla shrugged. "Oh, well. That's life, I suppose. Come on, let's get moving. Bring a banana if you're still hungry."
I'd found the car supremely comfortable on our way back from the jail the previous day. It was a commodious sedan; Bisto's kind of vehicle. He pressed a button to open the boot.
"That doesn't look too bad," Kayla said, as she peered in. "Quite spacious, in fact."
I harrumphed. "You'd need to be a contortionist to fit in there, or Alain's friend, the dwarf at the Moulin Rouge."
Kayla laughed. "Go on, give it a go," she said.
Bisto measured the dimensions by eye. "About three feet square, I'd say. A tight squeeze. Look, old boy, you can always change your mind. In my opinion, you'd be much wiser to rest up in the hotel for a couple of days."
He was right, and I should have taken his advice, but Kayla caught us both by surprise. She hopped in and curled up like a hedgehog. "Look," she said. "It's easy!
I offered my hand to help her out. "Your turn now," she said.
Not wanting her to think me a wuss, I clambered in and attempted to adopt a foetal position. Six inches taller than Kayla and not half as flexible, I found it well-nigh impossible. No matter how hard I drew my knees up against my chest, they still pressed against a metal edge. I realised that an hour's journey on unmade roads would reduce me to a gibbering wreck. However, I was determined not to be left behind.
Bisto understood the absurdity of the situation. "Look, Charles," he said, "why don't you ride in the car with us? We can stop before the checkpoint, and you can climb in and play sardines for a short while until we get clear on the other side."
Only too thankful for the suggestion, I uncoiled myself. With considerable help from Bisto and Kayla, I regained firm ground. "Whew! That feels better," I said, stretching my arms and bending my knees.
"You are an old crock, Charles." Kayla sidled up behind me and started to knead my shoulders and massage my neck. "Just think," she whispered in my ear, "I was going to give you and Helen a copy of the Karma Sutra for Christmas. What a waste that would have been."
I shook myself free of her and climbed into the back of the car. "Oh, dear, now I've offended you," she said, blowing me a mock kiss as she joined Bisto in the front.
On the outskirts of Chitral, I tapped Bisto on the shoulder. "How about you drop me off somewhere in the middle of town, while you sort out your paperwork in the Registration Office. I don't fancy sitting in the car, parked outside the police station. Too many bad memories, and there's the risk someone might recognise me."
"Good scheme. We shan't be long. Will the main shopping centre do? You can browse around and maybe get a coffee or something."
"But how will we rendezvous?"
"I'll come with you," Kayla said. "Bisto can give us a call when he's through."
"No. It's better we stay together, Kayla. I might need your help. Why don't you lend Charles your phone?"
I liked Kayla's idea better but refrained from saying so. After all, it wouldn't be for long. She offered me the phone, saying "Two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate?" then snatched it back again as I put my hand out.
"Come on. Stop messing about," I said. "I can scarcely express the extent of my appreciation. Thanks very much." I took the phone from her and asked for the unlocking code.
"I've just given it to you, silly. Two, four, six, eight. Now you'll be able to remember it."
What was this? Did she think I was senile, or something? I climbed out of the car and made a rude sign at it as they drove off. Fortunately, I don't think either of them saw it.
Thrusting the phone into my back pocket, I headed for the entrance to the shopping centre. I'd scarcely arrived when I heard a dog barking at my heels. I looked round to see where it was, then realised it was her ringtone.
I reached for the phone. "Hello? Kayla's mobile. Can I take a message?"
"Is that you, Charles? Where the devil are you, and what are you doing with Kayla's phone?"
I recognised the voice immediately. "What a surprise. It's Ash, isn't it? We're in Chitral. We're leaving for the Kalash Valley as soon as Kayla and Ian Kidman return from the Foreigner Registration Office."
"Yes, of course. Now listen. You must stay put. I have to speak with Kayla. It's urgent."
"Can I get her to call you back? What's it about, anyway?"
There was a short pause. "It's about Helen. We know where she is."
"You do? Where is she, in God's name, and how did you find out?"
"One question at a time, old boy. That's what you toffs call each other, isn't it? Jeanne Durand received an anonymous message in Paris yesterday, with a ransom demand. There was a photo attached."
"A photo? What kind of photo?"
"A photo of Abdul Jaleel holding a knife to Helen's throat. He wants Kayla to deliver two million euros in cash within the next three days, or they'll start injecting heroin. Small doses at first."
My breathing became rapid and shallow, and I felt faint. For a moment, I thought my knees were going to buckle. A passer-by took me by the elbow and steered me towards a roadside stall. "Are you all right, sir? Come and sit down. You look as if you've seen a ghost."
I backed away with an apology. "Sorry. Just a dizzy spell. I'll be fine in a minute. Thanks, all the same." I put out a hand to steady myself against the side of the building. "Are you still there, Ash? Hello?"
"Yes, I'm still here. A shock for you, I'm afraid. Sorry to be the one breaking the news."
My mind was spinning. "Will you do something for me? Will you ask if Monty can replace my travel documents? I lost everything in a rockslide."
"I know. We managed to recover your backpack."
"Really? That's incredible."
"I'll be arriving in Chitral at midday, and bringing your documents on the flight. There's a great deal to put into place and not much time to do it. I'll expect you and Kayla at the airport to meet me."
There were other questions I wanted to ask, but the phone went dead. There was no way of calling him back either, as his number was concealed. There was just the message, 'No caller ID'. Nothing for it but to kick my heels until Bisto and Kayla returned.
Two questions loomed large in my mind. How were we going to rescue Helen, and how had Ash obtained Kayla's number? Was she, too, an integral part of Jeanne Durand's schemes?
|The book continues with A Game of Chicken. 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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