Authors: Year of the Tiger
Tags: #Cold War, #Fiction, #Tibet (China), #Suspense, #Thrillers, #Suspense Fiction, #Space Race, #Espionage
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
YEAR OF THE TIGER
Book / published by arrangement with the author
All rights reserved.
Higgins Associates Limited
This book may not be reproduced in whole or part, by mimeograph or any other means, without permission. Making or distributing electronic copies of this book constitutes copyright infringement and could subject the infringer to criminal and civil liability.
For information address:
The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
The Penguin Putnam Inc. World Wide Web site address is http://www.penguinputnam.com
Books first published by The Berkeley Publishing Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
and the “
” design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Putnam Inc.
First edition (electronic): July 2001
Also by Jack Higgins
ANGEL OF DEATH
ON DANGEROUS GROUND
EYE OF THE STORM
THE EAGLE HAS FLOWN
MEMORIES OF A DANCE-HALL ROMEO
A SEASON IN HELL
NIGHT OF THE FOX
TOUCH THE DEVIL
DAY OF JUDGEMENT
THE LAST PLACE GOD MADE
A PRAYER FOR THE DYING
THE EAGLE HAS LANDED
THE RUN TO MORNING
TO CATCH A KING
THE VALHALLA EXCHANGE
1959, after the failure of the revolt by the Tibetan people against their Chinese masters, the Dalai Lama, with the help of the CIA and British intelligence sources, escaped to India. A remarkable affair, and yet three years later the British masterminded an even more remarkable coup. It went something like thisÂ .Â .Â .
They were closer now; he could hear the savage barking of the dogs, the voices of his pursuers calling to each other, firing at random as he ran headlong through the trees. There was a chance, although not much of a one, if he could reach the river and cross to the other side. Another country and home free. He slipped and fell, rolling over and over as the ground sloped. As he got to his feet there was an enormous clap of thunder, the skies opened and rain fell in a great curtain, blanketing everything. No scent for the dogs now and he started to run again, laughing wildly, aware of the sound of the river, very close now, knowing that he'd won again this damned game he'd been playing for so long. He burst out of the trees and found himself on a bluff, the river
swollen and angry below him, mist shrouding the other side. It was at this moment that another volley of rifle shots rang out. A solid hammerlike blow on his left shoulder punched him forward over the edge of the bluff into the swirling waters. He seemed to go down forever, then started to kick desperately, trying for the surface, a surface that wasn't there. He was choking now, at the final end of things and still fighting and suddenly, he broke through and took a great lungful of air.
Paul Chavasse came awake with a start. The room was in darkness. He was sprawled in one of the two great armchairs which stood on either side of the fireplace and the fire was low, the only light in the room on a dark November evening. The file from the Bureau which he'd been reading was on the floor at his feet. He must have dozed and then the dream. Strange, he hadn't had that one in years, but it was real enough, and his hand instinctively touched his left shoulder where the old scar was still plain to see.
A long time ago.
The clock on the mantelshelf chimed six times and he got to his feet and reached to turn on the lamp on the table beside him. He hesitated, remembering, and moved to the windows, where the curtains were still open. He peered out into St. Martin's Square.
It was as quiet as usual, the gardens and trees
in the centre touched by fog. There was a light on at the windows of the church opposite, the usual number of parked cars. Then there was a movement in the shadows by the garden railings opposite the house and the woman was there again. Old-fashioned trilby hat, what looked like a Burberry trench coat and a skirt beneath, reaching to the ankles. She stood there in the light of a lamp, looking across at the house, then slipped back into the shadows, an elusive figure.
Chavasse drew the curtains, switched on the lights and picked up the phone. He called through to the basement flat where Earl Jackson, his official driver from the Ministry of Defence, lived with his wife, Lucy, who acted as cook and housekeeper.
Jackson's voice had a hard Cockney edge to it. “What can I do for you, Sir Paul?”
Chavasse winced. He still couldn't get used to the title, which was hardly surprising, for he had only been knighted by the Queen a week previously.
“Listen, Earl, there's a strange woman lurking around in the shadows opposite. Wears an old trilby hat, Burberry, skirt down to the ankles. Could be a bag lady, but it's the third night running that I've seen her. Somehow I get a funny feeling.”
“That's why you're still here,” Jackson said. “I'll check her out.”
“Take it easy,” Chavasse told him. “Send Lucy
to the corner shop and she can have a look on the way. Less obvious.”
“Leave it with me,” Jackson said. “Are we going out?”
“Well, I need to eat. Let's make it The Garrick. I'll be ready at seven.”
He shaved first, an old habit, showered afterwards, then towelled himself vigorously. He paused to touch the scar of the bullet wound on the left shoulder, then ran his finger across a similar scar on his chest on the right side with the six-inch line below it where a very dangerous young woman had tried to gut him with a knife more years ago than he cared to remember.
He slipped the towel around his waist and combed his hair, white at the temples now but still dark, though not as dark as the eyes in a handsome, rather aristocratic face. The high cheekbones were a legacy of his Breton father, the slightly world-weary look of a man who had seen too much of the dark side of life.
“Still, not bad for sixty-five, old stick,” he said softly. “Only what comes now? D day tomorrow!”
It was his private and not very funny joke, for the D stood for disposal and on the following day he was retiring from the Bureau, that most elusive of all sections of the British Secret Intelligence Service. Forty years: twenty as a field agent, another twenty as Chief after his old boss
had died, not that it had turned out to be the usual kind of desk jobânot with the Irish troubles.
So now it was all over, he told himself as he dressed quickly in a soft white shirt and an easy-fitting dark blue Armani suit. No more passion, no more action by night, he thought as he knotted his tie. And no woman in his life to fall back on, although there had always been plenty available. The trouble was that the only one he had truly loved had died far too early and far too brutally. Even the revenge he had exacted had failed to take away the bitter taste. Yes, there had been women in his life, but never another he had wanted to marry.
He went into the drawing room and picked up the phone. “I'm on my way, Earl.”
“I'll be ready, Sir Paul.”
Chavasse pulled on a navy blue raincoat, switched off the light and went downstairs.
Earl Jackson was black, a fact which had given him no trouble at all with the more racist elements in the British army, where he had served in both 1 Para and the SAS, mainly because he was six feet four in height and still a trim fifteen stone in spite of being forty-four years of age. He'd earned a Distinguished Conduct Metal in the Falklands and he and his wife, Lucy, had been with Chavasse for ten years now.
It had started to rain and when Chavasse
opened the front door he found Jackson waiting with a raised umbrella, very smart in grey uniform and peaked cap. As they went down the steps to the Jaguar, Chavasse glanced across at the garden. There was a slight movement in the shadows.
“He certainly is,” Jackson told him, and opened the passenger door at the front, for Chavasse always sat with him.
“You mean it's a man?” Chavasse said as he got in.
Jackson shut the door, put the umbrella down and slid behind the wheel. “But no ordinary man.” He started the engine. “Lucy says he's sort of Chinese.”
Jackson drove away and Chavasse said, “What does she mean by âsort of'?”
“She says there's something different about him. Not really like any Chinese she knows and quite different from those Thais and Koreans you see in their restaurants.”
Chavasse nodded. “And the skirt?”
“She just got a glimpse while he was under the lamp. She said it seemed like some sort of robe and as far as she could make out in the bad light it was a kind of yellow colour.”
Chavasse frowned. “Curiouser and curiouser.”
“You want me to do something about it, Sir Paul?”
“Not for the moment,” Chavasse told him,
“and stop calling me Sir Paul. We've been together too long.”
“I'll do my best.” Earl Jackson smiled. “But you'll be wasting your time with Lucy. She just loves it,” and he turned out onto the main road and picked up speed.
The porter at The Garrick, that most exclusive of London clubs, greeted him with a smile and took his coat.
“Nice to see you, Sir Paul.” He came out with the title as if he'd been doing it all his life.
Chavasse gave up and mounted the majestic staircase, with its stunning collection of oil paintings, and went into the bar. A couple of ageing gentlemen sat in the corner talking quietly, but otherwise the place was empty.
“Good evening, Sir Paul,” the barman said.
There it was again
. “Your usual?”
Chavasse went and sat in a corner, took out his old silver case and lit a cigarette while the barman brought a bottle of Bollinger RD Champagne, opened it and poured. Chavasse tried it, nodded his satisfaction and the barman topped up the glass and retreated.
Chavasse toasted himself. “Well, here's to you, old stick,” he murmured. “But what comes next, that's the thing.”
He emptied the glass rather quickly, refilled it and sat back. At that moment a young man
entered, paused, glancing around, then approached him.
“Sir Paul Chavasse? Terry Williams of the prime minister's office.”
“You must be new,” Chavasse said. “I don't think we've met.”
“Very new, sir. We were trying to get hold of you and your housekeeper told us you would be here.”
“Sounds urgent,” Chavasse said.
“The prime minister wanted a word, that's the thing.”
Chavasse frowned. “Do you know what it's about?”
“I'm afraid not.” Williams smiled cheerfully. “But I'm sure he'll tell you himself. He's on the way up.”
A moment later John Major, the British prime minister, entered the bar.
His personal detective was behind him and waited by the entrance. The prime minister was in evening dress and smiled as he came forward and held out his hand.
“Good to see you, Paul.”
Williams withdrew discreetly and Chavasse said, “Thank God you didn't say Sir Paul. I'm damned if I can get used to it.”
John Major sat down. “You got used to being called the Chief for the past twenty years.”
“Yes, well that was carrying on a Bureau
tradition set up by my predecessor,” Chavasse told him. “Can I offer you a glass of champagne?”
“No thanks. The reason for my rather glamourous appearance is that I'm on my way to a fund-raising affair at the Dorchester and they'll try and thrust enough glasses of champagne on to me there.”
Chavasse raised his glass and toasted him. “Congratulations on your leadership victory, Prime Minister.”
“Yes, I'm still here,” Major said. “Both of us are.”
“Not me,” Chavasse reminded him. “Last day tomorrow.”
“Yes, well that's what I wanted to speak to you about. How long have you been with the Bureau, Paul?” He smiled. “Don't answer, I've been through your record. Twenty years as a field agent, shot three times, knifed twice. You've had as many injuries as a National Hunt jockey.”
Chavasse smiled. “Just about.”
“Then twenty as Chief and thanks to the Irish situation, leading just as hazardous a life as when you were a field agent.” The prime minister shook his head. “I don't think we can let all that experience go.”
“But my knighthood,” Chavasse said, “the ritual pat on the head on the way out. I must remind you, Prime Minister, that I'm sixty-five years of age.”
“Nonsense,” John Major told him. “Sixty-five going on fifty.” He leaned forward. “All this trouble in what used to be Yugoslavia and Ireland is not proving as easy as we'd hoped.” He shook his head. “No, Paul, we need you. I need you. Frankly, I haven't even considered a successor.”
At that moment Williams came forward. “Sorry, Prime Minister, but I must remind you of the time.”
John Major nodded and stood. Chavasse did the same. “I don't know what to say.”
“Think about it and let me know.” He shook Chavasse by the hand. “Must go. Let me hear from you,” and he turned and walked out, followed by his detective and Williams.
And think about it Chavasse did as he sat at the long table in the dining room and had a cold lobster salad, washing it down with the rest of the champagne. It was crazy. All those years. A miracle that he'd survived and just when he was out, they wanted him back in.
He had two cups of coffee then went downstairs, recovered his raincoat and went down the steps to the street. The Jaguar was parked nearby and Jackson was out in a second and had the door open.
“Nice meal?” he asked.
“I can't remember.”
Jackson got behind the wheel and started up. “You all right?”
Chavasse said, “What would you say if I told you the prime minister wants me to stay on?”
“Good God!” Jackson said, and swerved slightly.
“I don't know, Earl, I really don't,” and Chavasse lit a cigarette and leaned back.
As they reached the turning into St. Martin's Square, Chavasse said, “Stop here. I'll walk the rest of the way. Time I took a look for myself.”
“You sure you'll be all right?” Jackson asked.
“Of course. Give me the umbrella.”
Chavasse got out, put up the umbrella against the relentless rain, walked along the wet pavement until he came to the next turning, which brought him into the Square on the opposite side from his house. He paused. There was a touch of fog in the rain and he seemed to sense voices and laughter. He crossed to the entrance to the garden in the centre of the Square.