Read Gibraltar Passage Online

Authors: T. Davis Bunn

Gibraltar Passage (10 page)

Pierre shouted something across the floor in French. A pair of panicked voices screamed back their reply. Pierre turned and nodded.

Immediately several men jumped down, sacks in hand. They called out, raising the sacks as they came into view of the cave floor. Standing well back so that the prisoners could not see, they began scattering objects around one side. Jake craned, made out oranges and apples and bananas. The apes immediately lost interest in the beds and came loping over. The men stood their ground as several of the apes plucked up fruit and then leapt into the men's arms.

Suddenly Fernando was beside them. “Gibraltar apes tame,” he explained. “My brother chief keeper. He feed them here. Others help.” He grinned proudly. “Was good idea, yes?”

“Outstanding,” Teaves said, his voice as shaky as Jake's knees.

“Go,” Fernando said. “Ask questions. Men talk now for sure.”

Chapter Ten

Admiral Bingham glowered at each man in turn. “I must say that I disapprove strongly of your methods, gentlemen. I condemn them in the sternest possible terms.”

“They weren't ours,” Pierre replied for them all. “Sir.”

“We sort of got swept up in it all,” Jake agreed.

“Officers under my command are expected to behave in a gentlemanly fashion at all times,” the admiral bristled. “Am I getting through to you?”

“Loud and clear, Admiral.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

“Then we won't say anything more about it. Where are the prisoners now, Teaves?”

“In the brig, sir.”

“Well separated, I hope.”

“Yessir. Saw to it myself.”

“Their injuries seen to?”

“They were delivered undamaged, sir. That is, except for chafed wrists and ankles and one pair of rapped knuckles.”

The admiral nodded once. “Very well. Tell me what you have learned.”

Pierre took a breath. “They assume I am Patrique.”

“They do not know your brother has a twin?”

“I did not ask.”

“I see.” The admiral mulled it over. “Interesting.”

“A price has been put on my brother's head. Fifty thousand francs.”

Bingham's forehead creased until his eyebrows almost joined. “The price was set in French currency, you say.”

“That may not mean anything about where the traitor is from, sir,” Teaves offered. “The contract was set in Morocco.”

“French-controlled territory. Quite. Very well, proceed.”

“They only had two leads,” Pierre went on, “Marseille
and Gibraltar. They found nothing in Marseille, but it seems they expected that from the instructions they were given. Their orders were to first check Marseille and then to come to Gibraltar and wait.”

Steel-gray eyes bore down hard on Pierre. “When were these orders issued?”

“Just over two months ago.”

“And that was after your brother was supposed to have died, I take it.”

“Yessir. By many months.”

“Fascinating.” Admiral Bingham leaned back in his chair. “It appears, then, that your search is not entirely in vain.”

“My feelings,” Pierre replied, “exactly.”

“So what do you intend as your next step, Major?”

“The orders were issued by one Ibn Rashid in Marrakesh,” Pierre answered. “Does that name mean anything to you?”

The admiral thought it over, decided, “Nothing at all. Teaves?”

“I came up blank as well, sir.”

“Colonel Burnes and I have discussed it. We think we should try to find passage to Tangiers, go immediately to Marrakesh, and try to find this Ibn Rashid.”

“Take the struggle to the enemy's lair,” Bingham said. “A risky business.”

“I see no other way.”

“No, perhaps not.” He turned to Teaves. “What do you think, Commander?”

“Me, sir? I didn't realize I was paid to think.”

“Only when so ordered,” Bingham replied.

“Well, it seems to me they could use all the help we could give. Passage on one of the regular weekly transports, to begin with. I believe one departs tomorrow.”

“See to it.”

“Aye, aye, sir. And perhaps you could write your contact in Tangiers. The harbor commander.”

“Quite so. Admiral Peltier. Draft a letter. No, belay that.
Send an urgent communication, mark it highest priority, requesting that every possible assistance be granted to Major Pierre Servais and Colonel Jake Burnes.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Supply them with revolvers and ammunition. I will sign the authorization. Can't have them traveling to the back of beyond unarmed. Then issue these gentlemen travel documents and copies of the communiqués. Duplicates in French. To whom it may concern, from the commandant of Gibraltar garrison, you know the proper form.”

“Consider it done, sir.”

“Thank you, Admiral,” Pierre replied quietly.

“Very much,” Jake added.

“Don't mention it. Least we can do here. I'll also be sending a note to your commanding officers.” A gaze as domineering as a pair of gun barrels swiveled in Jake's direction. “That wouldn't be General Clark in your case, would it, Colonel?”

“Yessir. But it's not necessary—”

“Know him well,” Bingham said, overriding his protest. “I'll give him a call. I intend to do the same with your commander, Major. Let them both know personally how impressed I am with your performance here.”

A glint of humor returned. “This matter of the apes, however, should perhaps best be held strictly between us, wouldn't you agree?”

The air was as fresh and clear as the sea. Gentle rollers lifted the aging steamer and sent it splashing eagerly on toward a new and unseen shore. Jake stood at the bow, the salt-laden breeze cleansing him of wrong and doubts and regrets. He looked to his right, where the sun descended in a cascading symphony of colors, and thought of Sally. Here, he discovered, such thoughts were possible without pain. Here the sea and the adventures ahead granted him sufficient distance to look at the past few months as though examining the life of another man.

Whatever happened, he realized, it had been her decision. He had done as much as he could to make his feelings known. He hoped that they could be reunited. He prayed for it. He yearned for her look, her voice, her touch. But here and now there was a peace in his heart. He had given it his best. The rest was up to God and Sally. For the moment, for this glorious moment of limitless horizons, he was able to let go and turn the future over to more capable hands.

He sensed more than saw Pierre move up beside him and grasp the rail as the ship descended easily into the next deep-blue trough. “The skipper says we should be able to spot land just before nightfall.”

Jake allowed his thoughts to return earthward, to matters at hand. “You still planning on heading straight to Marrakesh?”

“It seems best. Then the element of surprise may still be with us.”

Jake was about to speak further when in the corner of his eye he spotted another figure move hesitantly toward the railing. One cloaked from head to foot in gray folds. Slender and graceful. Jake watched as one delicate hand reached and grasped the rail to his other side.

As smoothly as he could, Jake allowed the next roller to push him back a staggered step. When he returned to the bow rail, it was to Pierre's other side, so that he no longer stood between them. He sidled up close to his friend so that with the next gentle roll Pierre took a step away. Closer toward the cowled figure, whom Pierre had not yet spotted.

Jake held his breath.

An endless moment later, one hesitant hand rose and clutched the hood. Another breathless wait, and the hood was drawn up and away. A breeze caught Jasmyn's dark hair, and flung it up and out like a dark mane. She stood revealed, exposed, trembling.

Pierre raised his eyes from the waters below, cast a half
glance toward the figure to his right, and jerked around with a cry of genuine pain.

Jasmyn turned slowly toward him. She stood tall and regal, her eyes wide and defenseless. The wind tossed her hair high enough for the setting sun to shine through and burnish it like a lustrous copper crown.

Jake turned and silently left the bow. As he reached the shelter of the side deck, he thought to himself that there stood the bravest woman he had ever known.

Chapter Eleven

The train rattled so hard that conversation was impossible. The windows had rusted partway open, which meant both the night's chill and the locomotive's smoke billowed through continually. But this was not all bad, as it kept the compartment's stench from overpowering them.

Goats and lambs bleated and roamed the aisles. The five Arabs crammed into the wooden benches alongside Jake and Pierre passed around a hookah stem, while the tall brass pipe stood at their feet, bubbling merrily and sending up great pungent clouds. Every now and then the Arabs huddled together, shouted fierce arguments, then subsided into sullen, smoky silence. The overhead railings were packed with rolled carpets and bulky sacks and chickens that fluttered futilely, their legs fastened to nearby bundles. Pierre ignored it all, his face turned stonily toward the dark window.

Jasmyn was nowhere to be seen.

Jake had waited almost two hours by the boat's starboard railing until his friend had reappeared. Pierre had remained silent ever since, his face clamped down tight. Jake had let him be as the ship pulled into the Tangiers harbor. When the gangplank had been laid in place, the first officers up the walk had called in French for Major Servais. Pierre had roused himself to exchange salutes and to be ushered from the boat.

Jake had struggled to keep up. As he had pushed his way through the throng eager to descend the gangway, Jasmyn had appeared at his elbow. He had shouted over the clamor, “Last I heard, we were planning to head directly for Marrakesh.”

She had nodded as though expecting nothing less. “Find Father Mikus. You will be safe there.”

Before he could ask more, he had been pushed forward and away from her. The last he had seen of Jasmyn, she had
been staring after Pierre, her jade-green eyes soft and aching with unanswered yearning.

Once into the waiting car, Pierre had adamantly refused what Jake assumed was an invitation to return to headquarters. Their guide had finally responded with a Gallic shrug and driven them to the train station. With the aid of two other officers, places had been found for them on the night train south, a feat that to Jake had appeared next to impossible. The entire station had been flooded with humanity and animals, all shouting and struggling for space on the already packed train. The officer had seen Pierre off with another salute and a stream of words that Pierre had accepted with a single nod. Since then, he had not spoken once.

Three hours into their journey, the train pulled onto a siding and stopped. Jake poked his head through the window and saw nothing but stars and desert and a single wood-lined water tower. A team of shouting Arabs struggled to draw a great hose down and over the locomotive's boiler.

Jake drew his head back in to find Pierre staring at him. “You knew, didn't you.”

“Yes,” Jake said, determined not to flinch, not to lie to his friend.

“And yet you said nothing.”

“Jasmyn asked me not to, as did your mother.”

The pain-edged gaze drew even tighter. “My mother?”

“She sees Jasmyn every week,” Jake said, glad despite Pierre's agony to have this in the open.

The facts somehow did not mesh in Pierre's mind. “My mother?”

“There is something we don't know about Jasmyn,” Jake said. He struggled to describe the reaction Jasmyn had received from the cafe patrons and the churchgoers.

Pierre listened with growing confusion. “You must have imagined it.”

“Almost every man she passed bowed toward her, Pierre. I was watching. This was not something they did to other
women. They treated her with special respect.” Jake leaned forward. “You remember telling me about Le Panier? How everyone escaped unharmed before the Nazis destroyed the district?”

Pierre's eyes widened. “You think Jasmyn warned them?”

“Think about it. There's something we're not seeing here. Even you told me that after the welcome was over, people seemed to be watching you and waiting for some reaction.”

Pierre shook his head slowly, struggling hard with what his mind could scarcely take in. “She told you this?”

“She's told me nothing. Nothing except that she loves you.”

Bitter, time-hardened anger leapt into the Frenchman's features. “She chose a strange way to show this love.”

It came to him then. There in the tumult of an ancient Moroccan train, in the middle of a dark and empty desert, Jake felt himself filled with the same comforting wisdom as before.

This time he struggled a moment, afraid to give in. He found himself able to push it away. Yet as he did so, he caught a fleeting glimpse of an aching sorrow, of a chance lost, of a gift refused. So he stopped, and listened to the silent voice, and found the message waiting. Along with the strength to speak. “Did you ask her how it was?”

Pierre waved the air between them, a gesture so weak he could barely raise his hand. “Words.”

Words. They rang in his heart with such gentle power that Jake felt his entire being vibrated. He did not need to raise his voice to command, “Tell me what she said, Pierre.”

His friend did not have the strength to refuse. Pierre replied in a hoarse whisper, “She claims she was not his mistress.”

“I believe her,” Jake said firmly. “And I think you should too.”

Pierre remained trapped within the shocking anguish of that unexpected encounter. “She claims to have led this Nazi officer on. He sought to impress her with his power by boasting of his knowledge and his position. He seemed to careless
for her as a woman than as a prize to be shown about. She allowed him to parade her about the city as his woman, but she says she never . . .” Pierre hung his head, unable to go on.

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