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Posted:|| December 20, 2019 Views: 168|
Chapter 104 of the book The French Letter
Chapter 104: Differences of opinion.
"A Game of Chicken"
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 103 ...
"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?
I was still dwelling on these questions when I heard a horn blaring. I looked up to see a small flock of chickens scatter out of the way of the oncoming car. When Bisto drew up at the kerb, Kayla was remonstrating with him, presumably having a sly dig at his reckless driving. Just like her, I thought.
I climbed in. "Did you see that?" she said. "Ian was playing chicken."
"I was not."
"Never mind," I said. "We have news of Helen, and it's not good."
I told them about my phone call with Ash. They received the news in silence.
Bisto was the first to speak. "We'll have to get her out of there. God alone knows how, but we must find a way."
Kayla sat with her mouth shut tight and stared into the nothingness of the middle distance. I could see her face in the rear-view mirror.
"We'll just have to pray," I said, "We need time and a miracle."
"Pray?" She spat the word out like a hot chilli. "What's the point of that? We need to act, and quickly."
"Well, yes, of course, naturally. Action - that's what we need," I said, trying to placate her. "Ash arrives within the hour. He'll be able to tell us when the French intend to mount their rocket attack."
Bisto slipped the car into gear and eased away from the kerb. "At least that'll give us an idea of how much time we have."
"To the airfield then, and don't spare the horses. Or the chickens," I added in a feeble attempt to ease the tension.
As we drove north through the town, it occurred to me that Kayla hadn't expressed any surprise about the proposed missile attack. Since she wasn't with us when Bisto told me of it, my suspicion took another leap. She had to be connected with Jeanne's machinations.
I prayed that Jeanne's fondness for Helen would prompt her to call off the French airstrike - if such an action was in her power. No doubt Ash would have been keeping her briefed. However, I feared that decisions of national security were unlikely to be influenced by the safety of an individual.
We arrived at the airstrip ten minutes before Ash's flight was due. A fresh wind had sprung up causing the loose-fitting trousers of Kayla's salwar kameez to flap against her legs. As we walked across to the terminal building, Bisto pointed at the windsock. "Could be a tricky landing. Looks like a nasty crosswind."
"Turbulence from the mountains, too, I expect. I bet you wish you were up there. You were never one to shirk a challenge."
Long before it came into view, the incoming Fokker Friendship announced itself with the high-pitched whine of its Dart engines.
"Look! There it is," Kayla said, shielding her eyes with a hand.
The plane was rising and falling like flotsam in a rough sea, and it was slewed at an angle to the runway to compensate for the wind drift. Just before touchdown, the pilot wrenched the nose around. There was a screech and a small puff of smoke as the wheels hit. Then the aircraft ballooned back into the air before coming down for a second, and more sedate, landing. Ash was living up to his name when we saw him. His face was grey.
"Rough flight, was it?" I said.
He ignored me and turned to Kayla. "We need to talk - plans have changed." Then, levelling his gaze at Bisto and me as if we were cockroaches, "In private, if you don't mind."
"Oh, but we do mind," Bisto said. He was clearly rankled by Ash's tone. "Anything you have to say to Kayla is for our ears, too."
"Don't worry," Kayla said. "Ash thinks he's an international spy. All terribly hush-hush. Don't you, darling?" He regarded her impassively and said nothing. "I'll tell you both anything you need to know," she continued. "It's no big deal. In the meantime, why don't you take Charles back to the Registration Office to get his permit for the Kalash Valley?"
"No," I said. "I'm not going anywhere near that bloody police station. I'll get it at the Bumburet Valley Checkpoint. Just a formality, I'm sure. I've already been issued with the required entry/exit permit for the Chitral region. Besides, like Ian, I insist on hearing what Ash has got to say. We're all on the same side, you know."
"Aren't you forgetting that I still have your passport, visa, and permit?"
"Please don't threaten me, Ash. I'm sure Sir Robert would have something to say about that. Your liaison post at the High Commission is in his gift, I presume?"
"For goodness sake, stop acting like a couple of squabbling schoolboys," Kayla said. "There's no time to waste. We can talk in the car."
The operation was going to be difficult enough without the complication of internal bickering, so I backed down. "Off to Batrik, then. If we don't dillydally, we should arrive at your aunt's in time for tea. A lovely lady by all accounts."
"Batrik? Where's that? I thought we were going to Bumburet." Bisto looked confused. "Dashed strange placenames in this part of the world."
"It's about a mile south of Bumburet," I said. "Helen and I were on our way there when the border police swooped down on us."
"You're right, she is a lovely lady. My favourite aunt, in fact." Kayla climbed into the back seat with Ash. "You sit in the jump seat, Charles. It sounds as if you know where we're going. Besides, I'm chicken."
"Ha, bloody ha. I think we've done that to death, haven't we?" Bisto slammed the car into first gear and spun the wheels in the gravel as we fishtailed towards the main road.
The journey to Bumburet took well over the hour, and the road into the valley was diabolical. I would have had more bumps on me than a Jerusalem artichoke if I'd been in the boot. However, as I had predicted, there was no problem getting a Kalash Valley permit at the checkpoint, and we were on our way within a few minutes.
"Lucky you weren't here a few weeks ago," the police sergeant said. "You wouldn't have been allowed in without a police escort. Big trouble with bandits. My word, yes."
|The book continues with The Road to Bumburet. 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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