Chapter Seven - Boy Scouts to the Rescue
They left The Consulate on foot, after successfully operating the scrambler and short-wave radio and talking to some civil servant who just noted what they told him without comment. Things had moved fast that morning and, as they set foot on the highway outside, Bim looked at his watch and remarked with some surprise that it was still barely a quarter-past-eleven. He took the envelope he had been handed by the prime minister from his pocket and opened it as he walked along; he drew in his breath sharply as he saw the wad of bank notes within. On pulling one of them half out, he saw it was for £100 sterling. There were two bundles of ten, with no note of explanation.
'Two thousand bloody pounds reward for doing nothing - I don't think!' he exclaimed. 'No wonder he didn't want The Consul to know anything about it.'
Bob snatched out his envelope, and opened that also;
'Well, I suppose I can't grumble, but I've only got one bundle - a miserable thousand quid!' but a grin belied his words. 'This'll certainly buy the baby a new frock, anyway!'
'Back to the Consulate,' said his boss. 'Every moment this lot's in our possession we're at risk - and I don't mean of being robbed, though that's a possibility as well, of course.' He turned about, and Bob reluctantly followed his example. He admitted, 'You can see what a temptation it is though, once you've handled a wad like this. Even me, who realises the risk of hanging on to it - I feel reluctant to hand it in, though I know it's got to go.'
The Consul did not exhibit the slightest surprise at seeing them and led the way back into his office. When they had explained what they had been given, he told them that he had guessed what they had been called back for, as it was almost a normal procedure with them to 'oil the works'. He opened the safe and brought out a cash box. His only worry, he told them, would have been if they had not returned with it.
'This holds our charity fund - I put any doubtful cash like you've brought me, in here. We use it to rescue any British citizen who gets into financial trouble on the island. Folk seldom get robbed here, owing to the terrible punishments inflicted when they're caught, but sometimes passengers on ships or planes that call have already got themselves into one kind of scrape or another.'
It was still only eleven thirty when they walked out of the consular building that Thursday morning.
'What say we take a quick dekko at the town before we have something to eat,' said Bob. 'Why can't we wander round for an hour or so, and see if there's anything on sale worth taking home for presents?' Since his boss could think of no good reason for disagreeing, they turned their footsteps towards the small metropolis.
It did not take them long to reach the centre, where an imposing new edifice with a 'Barclays Bank' notice outside, occupied a prime position. The shopping centre, a little further on, they discovered to be rather disappointing and far from exotic, comprising, as it did, modern shop fronts with windows displaying almost entirely Western goods. The main difference from their home country was that as they passed each shop's doorway they were constantly accosted by their shopkeepers (mostly Indians and all of them seeming to speak English), attempting to force them physically into their establishments, while protesting that they were virtually giving their goods away that day. The dearth of visitors since the invasion was clearly inhibiting trade.
However, as they progressed eastwards, unpersuaded, along what seemed to be the single shopping street, the nature of the area gradually changed and poorer lock-up shops began to appear, displaying cheap Indian and Chinese products in brass and wood. Eventually they came to what must have been the souk, comprising closely packed lanes of what were probably the old original stalls where everything was bought and sold; that would be before the Europeans came on the scene.
The aura, redolent of a mixture of joss stick incense, garlic, curry and more unmentionable effluvia, was overpowering and indescribable. Nevertheless, they found the place more interesting than what they had seen so far, even fascinating, and bought a few examples of hand-worked brass and wooden hand-crafted work, plus a few carved wooden toys to take home for the children.
By the time they had finished looking round there, it was time to make their way back to the hotel for their first midday meal on the island, since they did not fancy eating at any of the unsavoury looking local cafés they had passed. Apart from various types of salad, which they had agreed to eschew, the only hot meal on the menu was a local fish and rice dish, which they ordered, and found to be delicious.
They followed the local custom of lying down for a couple of hours' siesta immediately after they had eaten. After leaving the hotel again at four o'clock, on this occasion they decided to go for a walk westwards along the sea-front, that is, in the opposite direction from that taken in the morning. This necessitated passing through the dock area first, where there were only two tramp steamers being worked, one unloading wooden crates of tinned foodstuffs, the other, taking forty-gallon drums of oil on board. Once clear of the quays, they joined the minor coast road that ran along parallel to the shore and was separated from it by a hundred yards or so of scrubland and sand dunes.
On their left they saw a ribbon development of comparatively neat and recently built private houses, mostly constructed of timber, with gaily painted corrugated steel sheets on their roofs. The fenced gardens, they observed, were mostly of raked gravel with the odd shrub or palm growing through. Grass would evidently not stand much chance here.
'I wonder where they get their fresh water from in this place,' Bim remarked. 'I've seen no sign of any wells or desalination plants and, in any case, right against the coast like this, the water from wells would be sure to be brackish and unpotable...'
'I just saw someone out of the corner of my eye over there in the scrub on our right,' Bob interrupted quietly. 'Whoever it was there seemed to be keeping up with us by nipping along from bush to bush and stalking us like we used to learn to do in the Boy Scouts.'
'In that case we'd better move into the scrub ourselves,' Bim replied; 'We'll be two to one and have the same cover as him then.' He suited his actions to the words, and seconds later they were both moving forward among the bushes, pistol in hand.
As they ran quickly from cover to cover, Bob spotted an eye glinting over a bush across to his left and then a hand holding some sort of weapon slowly manifested itself through the twigs; it was aiming straight at him. While he was trying to make up his mind whether to risk quickly raising his own pistol and firing, knowing that his enemy would almost certainly be able to get him first, there came a sound from behind;
'Boom Boom!' Starting round in surprise, he saw a boy aiming a gun at him; he was perhaps twelve to fourteen years old. Then several others stepped out from behind the bushes surrounding the two, all covering both him and Bim with the various kinds of guns they carried. They could now clearly see, however, that those weapons had all been roughly carved from wood. Bim rejoined his colleague.
There were five boys altogether and with their toy weapons still held at the ready, they closed in. Speaking in better English than many English kids, one of them, evidently their leader, told the two detectives;
'You are now our prisoners, we've had you covered ever since you left the docks and we shan't let you go until you've paid us all a ransom!'
'How many Ambo's have you got Bob?' the inspector wanted to know. (The one Ambo piece is a coin the same size as the old British florin, and produced for them by The Royal Mint). Bob said he had two; Bim found the other three, and gave the boys one each.
Evidently well satisfied, they all thanked the two politely; then the leader told them;
'We're your friends now and will protect you from your enemies. It would be safer for you to go back now, because there's an old hut further along and we saw a stranger with a big gun hiding behind it. He's the same man we saw following you this morning - and can we see your guns, please?' Bim extracted the rounds from his revolver and handed it over for inspection. The boys handled it in turn;
'Coo, isn't it heavy!' said the leader.
'I expect it is, after your wooden ones,' Bob told them, as the last of them handed the weapon back; 'And thanks very much for warning us, but are you quite sure you aren't making this story up?' There was a loud and evidently sincere chorus of denial and their leader told him;
'My father's a policeman and I'm a Boy Scout. On my word of honour, it's true and, if you like, we'll show you.'
'We've already had two narrow escapes that we know of and if this bloke's going to follow us every time we leave the hotel, unless we take some counter measures, he's going to get us sooner or later,' Bim told his constable. He continued; 'And I don't think there's going to be a better time than now since we have the advantage of knowing where the man's lying in wait.' Turning to the boys, he asked, 'Is there any way we can get round to the other side of that old hut, then, and surprise this fellow that's been trying to shoot us, from behind?'
Gleefully, the boys chorused an affirmative and their leader said proudly, and with authority;
'Just follow us, sir!' Turning to his troop, he told them; 'And no talking from now on and don't tread on any dead twigs or make any other noise!'
The lad clearly knew the area like the back of his hand, as he wound his way among the bushes and dunes, followed by the rest of the boys and then the two detectives. Soon the latter had no idea of where they were, or even in which direction they were facing.
It must have been over a quarter of an hour later that the boys halted behind what was almost a hedge of low bushes and their leader put his finger to his lips and beckoned. Bim crept forward and saw that they were on the edge of a small clearing, in the centre of which, perhaps ten yards away, was crouched the lone figure of a man holding a rifle. Bob crept up to join his boss and, as they watched, the fellow put his head round the corner of the hut, obviously looking out for them.
Bim moved well back, and whispered,
'Now you boys must go a long distance away, because that's a short Lee Enfield rifle the man's carrying and the bullets from that can kill at the distance of a mile and a half, which is about two kilometres. So we'll wait five minutes to allow you to get well clear, before we move in to attack.' Rather to his surprise, there was no quibbling from the troop and they crept quietly out of sight. Bim glanced at his watch, then whispered; 'That chap's about thirty feet away and, as you know, our pistols aren't very accurate at that distance, so we'll need to get closer in, if we can, before he spots us.'
Five minutes or so later, when they next saw their quarry peer round the corner, with pistols firmly gripped in their right hands they crept through the bushes on their fronts. They had covered about ten yards when the fellow unwisely lit up a cigarette, after which he casually looked up in their direction and suddenly espied the two. He started to raise his rifle.
'Drop that!' the two roared in unison. Instead of obeying, the fellow fired at them from the hip. With them providing minute targets down there on their bellies, as was to be expected, he missed and, as he hastily made to draw back the bolt to reload, two pistol shots rang out, and the man's rifle fell to the ground as he grabbed his right shoulder. With one arm hanging loosely by his side, he ran off before the detectives could get to their feet and disappeared into the bushes on the far side of the hut.
'Damn!' said Bob, but the words were hardly spoken before there was a loud clamour of mixed voices coming from the scrubland a few yards away. The two ran forward towards the pandemonium and the sight that next met their eyes almost defied description.
Their attacker lay on his back screaming in pain, while a boy hung on to each arm and leg and the fifth held his head down with a fistful of his long hair in each hand. There was blood oozing through his shirt from the bullet wound in his shoulder.
'One of you missed!' said the boy holding down the head, 'Because he's only got one bullet wound.'
The fact that the boys had stayed within range of their stray bullets suddenly hit Bim, and he remonstrated; 'I told you to keep well away, you could easily have been killed.'
Their leader replied, 'We were safe enough. We were lying in a hole in the sand we dug when we were playing cowboys.'
Relieved, Bim asked; 'Well, thanks for catching him. How did you manage it?'
'We've learned to play rugger at school,' was the reply from the heftiest of the boys, 'And I brought off a fine tackle!'
With the man still moaning and the boys hanging on, Bim ruminated that it was a pity they had no handcuffs.
'I've got a rope,' said another of the boys and extracted a length of blue nylon cord from his pocket. First he thanked the lad, then the inspector tied the fellow's feet together as a temporary expedient to prevent him from running away; after searching him to find out if he had any other weapons and removing a long knife he found in a sheath on his belt, he told the boys they could let go now, which they did, though somewhat reluctantly.
'Bob, do you think you could go to one of the houses and ask the owner to let you phone for the police?' Before he could reply, the boy's leader piped up with the information that he lived close by, would willingly go home and ring the police station himself and wait and lead them to the spot.
'Do you think they'll take any notice of you?' Bob asked him.
'I told you, my father's a policeman and they know I wouldn't dare to play tricks on them,' he replied and disappeared among the bushes before anyone could tell him otherwise.
While they were waiting, and with the boys sitting around them, watching interestedly, Bim removed the man's shirt and looked at his wound; he found the bullet had gone right through his shoulder muscle without hitting any bones and that the bleeding had now almost stopped. The inspection finished, and with the man now quiet, the inspector asked him why he wanted to shoot them, but was greeted by a stubborn silence; that was to persist, so they were never to know whether he understood.
Ten minutes later they heard the increasing sound of a siren as a police vehicle approached along the coast road and finally they heard it stop not very far off. The lad soon appeared, followed by four policemen, smartly dressed in khaki uniforms and flat caps similar to those worn in Britain. They quickly slipped handcuffs on the prisoner, removed the cord from his ankles and yanked him roughly to his feet. Two of them marched him off, with one of them carrying his rifle, while the other two asked the Englishmen to accompany them back to their vehicle, which turned out to be a Land Rover.
The police station proved to be not far off, in the docks area; the prisoner was quickly taken away when they arrived there and the two detectives were led into some sort of waiting room, where they had to sit twiddling their thumbs for a quarter of an hour, before being conducted to the office of a man wearing the uniform and insignia of a police superintendent. He told them to be seated and then asked, in excellent English, who they were and what exactly had happened. Before answering the second question, Bim introduced them both, and then they presented their warrant cards.
'We were hoping not to draw attention to ourselves while we are here, and if you can keep us out of any publicity, I'm quite certain His Majesty will be very pleased,' he told the super, when he returned their cards.
'You know our Sultan?' he asked with raised eyebrows.
'We were introduced to him and Mohammed Tarouk your Prime Minister, this morning,' was the reply, 'And we only arrived from England late yesterday afternoon, by the way.'
'I shall need to check on that before you leave, of course,' he told them, adding, 'But first, please put me in the picture as to what led to you shooting this man, who he is, and just what you are doing here.' Bim suddenly remembered that they were waved through the customs without any of the usual formalities, which must have meant that this man would have authorised it, and therefore knew who they were. Bearing this in mind, he replied that as far as his last question was concerned, he could only answer if authorised personally by Mr Tarouk.
Regarding his request for an account of what led to the present position, they were shot at while out for a walk this morning by what they assumed was the same man he was now holding. Moreover, while they were out taking the air this afternoon, they were warned by five very brave boys (who should perhaps be commended and rewarded), that this fellow was lying in wait for them with a rifle. Since this looked like the best chance they were going to have of nailing him, they got the boys to lead them to him. In the course of the action that followed, the man fired at them with his rifle and missed. They then shot him in the shoulder and the boys captured him as he tried to escape.
'If you doubt our word,' he concluded, 'An examination of the man's rifle will indicate that it has been fired recently and there must be a cartridge case lying somewhere on the ground where he was lying in wait for us. Those boys will probably lead you to the spot, if you ask them.'
The super's attitude changed quickly. With a smile, he told them;
'I believe all you've told me. I just wanted to hear the story from your end. You see, I'm in the dark as to your real function here and I was hoping you might let something of it slip. I expect they have their reasons for keeping quiet, though. With all the enemy infiltration of our services, they just don't know whom they can trust. And, incidentally, the leader of those boys has already given me his version of the day's events, that was why I had to keep you waiting when you arrived - I'm sorry for that, by the way. As a matter of fact, he's my son!'
When they left the police station, Bim said that he did not know how the constable felt, but he didn't much feel like doing any more prospecting up the coast.
'We've only been here for about twenty-six hours and, in this short time, we've been kidnapped once, shot at twice, spied on; we've also killed the spy, and been bribed. What ever's going to happen next, I wonder?'
Bob replied that if his 'better half' knew the risks they were running here, she would have eggs. He continued;
'Let's get back to the hotel, then, it'll be very nearly time for them to start serving dinner by the time we get there and, after that, we can take it easy over a drink, for a nice change.