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Posted:|| January 7, 2020 Views: 156|
Chapter 106 of the book The French Letter
106: Kayla reveals her motives
"Vengeance is Mine"
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 105 ...
Safe? What was I thinking? The photograph of Helen with a knife at her throat loomed large in my consciousness. Being suddenly blown to kingdom come would be a kinder fate than the one The Lion had in mind for her.
Two million euros? Out of the question. I knew the current British government would never accede to a ransom demand. Even Alain would baulk at that figure. Besides, we had no way of contacting him.
While the two girls were recharging our cups with rocket fuel, Kayla and her aunt leant towards one another to exchange a few words in private. Mozama was doing most of the talking. I watched as Kayla's expression gradually changed. She seemed to be struggling to retain her composure. The light from the hurricane lamp threw her face into sharp relief, accentuating her furrowed brow and pursed lips. Whatever Mozama was telling her appeared to affect her deeply.
Bisto and I shifted our feet, unsure what to do. Ash suppressed a yawn. He got up to stretch his legs and walked out onto the veranda for a breath of fresh air. I watched as he leant his elbows against the rail and gazed across the orchard to the mountains beyond.
When I turned back, Kayla had risen to her feet. Her aunt was holding her in her arms, one hand cradling her niece's head, drawing her into a tender embrace. They maintained this tableau of grief for several seconds before Kayla pulled away and brushed a tear from her cheek with the back of her hand.
A sudden oath from outside broke the tension. "Mon Dieu! The bloody mongrel's pissed on my leg." There was a sharp yelp as he kicked out. The dog snarled and leapt forward. He sank his teeth into Ash's calf. Wrenching himself free with a cry of pain, Ash fell back against the rail. It swayed and creaked before giving way under his weight.
Bisto and I looked at each other in amusement. "Serves him right," Bisto said. We drained our earthenware cups with a grimace and strolled out to offer assistance.
Standing back from the broken rail, I peered down at the writhing figure below. "I say, old chap - are you all right?"
"What do you think? Of course I'm bloody not. I've been bitten." He struggled to his feet, holding his right arm across his chest. "- and I think my shoulder's dislocated. It hurts like hell."
By this time, Kayla had joined us. She quickly sized up the situation and spoke a few words with her aunt.
"Auntie Mozama says there's a medical clinic in Bumburet. You'd better drive him there, Ian, so they can take a look. They should be able to strap the shoulder properly. They may even have some painkillers." Bisto nodded and felt in his pocket for his car keys.
He stooped to pat the yellow dog and calm him. "There, there. You'll be all right, old fella. Did the nasty man kick you?"
Ash glared at him. "I'm reporting that savage brute to the police. He ought to be shot."
"Yes," I said. "He does look pretty dangerous." I noticed a few flecks of slobber on Bisto's trousers. "Foaming at the mouth, too. Get them to jab a rabies shot into your butt while they're at it." Mozama's dog wagged his tail as if he liked that idea.
Kayla went inside and came out with a couple of old tea towels she had torn into strips. "Here," she said, "let me bandage your leg, then we can knot two of these together to make a sling for your arm."
After she had completed her rough and ready first aid, Kayla assisted him to the car. When he was comfortably ensconced, she went around to the driver's side and leant in to give Bisto directions to the clinic and a light kiss on the cheek. "You're a darling to do this, Ian. We really appreciate it."
As they drove off, she said, "He shouldn't have any trouble finding it. According to my aunt, there's a large white sign at the side of the road, marked BHU, with a red arrow underneath. There aren't any doctors in the Kalash Valley, but a Basic Health Unit provides nursing care."
"They won't be able to do much for him, then?"
"No. They'll have to refer him to the hospital in Chitral if his shoulder needs an X-ray."
"He won't like that," I said. "I have a feeling he wants to stay with us every step of the way. Do you know why?"
"Not exactly. He hasn't had a chance to tell me yet."
"There was plenty of time in the car. Why all the secrecy? I know he works for Jeanne Durand, and I have a pretty good idea that she's the reason you're here, too. What's going on? We're all on the same side, you know."
Then, realising that tack wouldn't get me anywhere, I shortened my sail and came up closer to the wind. "What was Mozama telling you that made you so upset?"
"All in good time. Come with me. I've something to show you first."
She led me down a narrow path. It was steep and craggy and wound through granite outcrops garlanded with fallen leaves of yellow and gold. A few bulbous pears still clung to trees, their amber skin disfigured, like that of ageing men, with liver spots and scabs. Drunken insects crawled among the fermenting fruit that lay rotten on the ground. What had seemed from a distance to be an Arcadian orchard was, on closer inspection, a treescape of decay. I mentioned my observations to Kayla.
"Much like my people," she said, "infected by Islam. Only a few still struggle to maintain the ancient ways. Our women are coerced into abandoning their birthright of dance and laughter, exchanging seasonal festivities for the shadows and subjugation of Sharia law."
As if to emphasise the point, she ran on ahead, a dancing faerie figure skipping through the scattered leaves. We burst out of the orchard, breathless, drawing the fresh mountain air deep into our lungs and laughing with the sheer joy of being alive.
"Come on," she said, dragging me onto a low stone wall. "Look! This is what we've come to see."
There, in the shade of a small grove of walnut trees, were the remains of scores of wooden boxes, open to the elements, all about six feet long. They lay, haphazard, in what might once have been regimented rows.
"What is it?" I asked, mystified.
"A Kalash burial ground. Auntie Mozama brought Helen here the day before she disappeared." There was a pause. The trees stretched out their roots and held their breath. Her next words fell like feathers. "Our mother and father are buried here."
I took her hand in mine. She led me to a plot edged with stones, a granite boulder at its head. There was no inscription. "Why commemorate the bones?" she said. "Death is a celebration. It releases our souls to unite with the eternal creator. Such joy cannot be carved in stone. That is why there were no lids on the coffins in the old days. The soul was able to fly free to a land beyond the mountains, guided by the faerie folk, the mountain peris. The body, an empty, useless thing, was left for the vultures and wild beasts, a final offering to the living."
"But how is it possible to celebrate a murder?"
"That was the question my sister asked. She stood here at the graveside and swore vengeance. 'A knife is placed in the hand of the dead. So help me, God, I shall use it.'"
Kayla withdrew her hand from mine. "My Aunt Mozama tried to dissuade her. 'The ground squirrel does not defeat the viper,' she said, but Helen refused to listen."
Fanaticism flared in Kayla's eye. "I, too, seek vengeance. I swear it on my mother's grave." Her words burned into me. "You think I'm here to do Jeanne Durand's bidding. That's true only so long as our interests coincide. I'm here to support my sister and to avenge the murder of my parents by Abdul Zemar and his henchmen."
Her intensity took me aback and it took a few moments for the significance of her words to sink in. "Where does Ash fit into this?", I said. The relationship between them now seemed more marginal.
"I'm not sure yet. Maybe we'll find out when he returns. It is only a wild guess, but I suspect he wants me to carry the ransom to Zemar. Jeanne has strong personal reasons for wanting Helen to stay alive."
"So do I," I said. "So do I."
|The book continues with Snakes Alive!. We will provide a link to it when you review this below.|
The ransom ... those of you who have been following the story so far may notice that I have changed the ransom demand from US$ to euros. This is because two million euros in 200-euro notes fits into a standard size briefcase and two million dollars in American C-notes does not.
List of Characters
Charles Brandon - the narrator, a well-known travel writer.
Abdul Jaleel Zemar (The Lion) - Coordinator of an international network of ISIS cells
Helen Culverson - A Kalasha woman,
Kayla Culverson - her older sister
Auntie Mozama - their aunt
Madame Jeanne Durand - a French magazine editor and undercover agent with the French Drug Squad.
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.
Alain Gaudin - brother of Francoise, a gardener at Monet's house in Giverney
Francoise Gaudin - Alain's intellectually disabled sister.
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
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
Group Captain Bamforth (alias Sir David Brockenhurst) - an intelligence officer with MI6 and Air Attache in Paris
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.
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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