El Tigre

by DJ

Book Two - Barefoot Tiger

Chapter Ten 

 

Delgado looked up from studying the map spread out on the table and watched Juan enter the CP. He beckoned Juan over to the table and indicated the positions of the three southernmost mountain lookouts. “We've still not heard from South One and Three for some time. They last reported in at 04.00 hours and now we can’t raise them on the telephone. I think it is time we checked the telephone lines. It might be just slight faults; after all it was laid very much in haste and not by experts. Once you have located the faults, get in touch with the lookouts and check that they are all right. Let's just hope Blains gets those radios for us soon.”

 

“Do you want the other LP checked too? South Two reported yesterday, that they were having difficulty with a bad line.”

 

“Do that; in fact you can arrange for a check on all the lines. Send out extra patrols as well, in case Valdez is pulling any dirty tricks. If you want me, I will be with Phillip Massey in the sick bay.”

 

 

*  *  *

 

 

By the time Sue reached the camp, a stitch was tearing at her right side and she could feel the slickness inside her boot as a painful blister on her left heel began to bleed. Her lungs burned with each gasp she took and they felt ready to burst. She had long since taken her cap off and was using it to wipe away the sweat that threatened to fall into her eyes. With each step she took, she wished the track had been straighter with not so many tree roots to trip over as she cut the corners to save time. Both her knees were grazed and bleeding, as was her right elbow; and she was bruised in several places. Still she did not reduce her pace, even as she entered the camp. For the second time, guards challenged her then waved her through. At the back of her mind was the thought that perhaps Niki hadn't been able to overpower all three soldiers. Maybe, even now, he was in grave danger. At last she saw people running towards her and she stopped, and doubled over with her hands braced against her trembling knees. As everyone gathered round her, she struggled to bring her breathing back to normal. Once it didn’t hurt so much to breathe, she straightening up and found Delgado and Dutch at her side. She clung thankfully onto the big American's arm.

 

“Are you all right?” Delgado asked her, to which she could only nod. “Where's Niki?”

 

“Soldiers...at the villa...going to burn it,” was all she could gasp out and that started an angry clamour. “No, listen, listen.” Sue told her story as briefly and quickly as possible. “Niki went in after them while I came to raise the alarm.”

 

Immediately Delgado shouted for Juan and pushed his way out of the crowd with several men following him. Dutch smiled down at Sue. “Well now, seems you've been having quite an exciting time up that mountain.” In his eyes was the message of double meaning and Sue felt her cheeks grow warm. He laughed quietly. “You feelin' okay now? ‘Cos I think I'm needed somewheres else, and you've got some hard talkin' to do to a certain guy who's standin' right behind me. He’d be breathin' hellfire down my neck if he could reach.” He stepped aside to let her father take his place. Puzzled faces looked on as James gazed sternly at her, while she in turn felt very wretched and tongue-tied. Surely he wasn't going to give her a verbal walloping for disappearing with Niki, not in front of all these people.

 

“Susan Massey, you are a disgrace. How on earth did you get into such a mess? And oh, my goodness, look at your hair. I knew I'd rue the day your mother persuaded me to let you join the Guides and go camping.” Puzzled looks changed to smiles as her father reached out to take her in his arms. “I’m just glad you’re safe, Mrs. Monzanoz.” Sue wanted to cry, but she was determined to hold back her tears till they were on their own.

 

By the time they arrived at the FH, Anton, the Colonel, and Pepe were waiting for them; all three anxious for news of Niki, but, more importantly, the Colonel had the task of making a record of her story. Her father described it as 'a debriefing'. This was war now, and everything had to be documented; but first of all Monzanoz insisted that Sue's injuries were looked at. Anna had gone to the villa with Delgado, so one of her nurses came to dress Sue’s wounds to James’s satisfaction. At last, she told her story while Monzanoz wrote busily, asking the odd question now and then.

 

At last he closed his buff coloured folder. “I think that is all the information I need for the present. Thank you, Sue, you have been very helpful, and very brave.” He rose to his feet and took hold of her hands. “It only remains for me to say how proud I am to have you as a daughter in law.” He kissed her right hand, then kissed her on the cheek, gave her a fatherly smile and stood back to let Pepe move in on the action.

 

“Me too, sweetheart, I never thought I'd see my son, sorry Colonel, our son, netted so easy. It just shows it don't take an expert fisherman to net the big one. Good luck to ya, little darlin'; I just know you're gonna be good for him.”

 

Sue thanked the two men for their good wishes and said how glad she was to have them as fathers in law. Once the tent was quiet, except for two nurses attending to a man with a broken leg at the far end of the tent, Sue knew she couldn't put off talking to her father any longer. Feeling rather afraid, she looked up at James and to her surprise she saw tears in his eyes. She reached out to touch his arm. “Daddy, don't be sad. I'm still here. I'm still me. I haven't changed, even if my name has.”

 

James tried to smile, but couldn't. He looked away to hide the pain. “I pray to God that's true, my dear. I couldn't bear it otherwise.”

 

“Bear what, Daddy?”

 

“You know don't you? You had a right to know sometime, I suppose.”

 

“Know what?”

 

“About you and Phillip and I?”

 

Relief flooded through Sue and she had to laugh. “Oh, that. I'm not bothered about it one bit if you're not.”

 

James's eyes widened in surprise. “But what about Phillip; he’s your father, not me? I thought you would want to boot me out and start afresh?”

 

“Oh, Daddy, how can you be so silly? Uncle Phillip’s too Gung-ho to be a dad, and he’s definitely not the type to settle down. If you don’t mind, I'd rather stick with the old softy I know, thank you very much. So how about giving me a hug and telling me you forgive me for marrying my Latin lover behind your back.”

 

James didn't need telling twice and in seconds they were holding each other tightly. “How did you find out?”

 

“Aunt Bette, just before she went home to Australia. You were away and we were putting the house in order. We were going through the household papers and I found my birth certificate, and I asked her why it had Phillip's name on it instead of yours. She explained everything and I thought it quite romantic at the time. I didn't want to upset you, so I promised Aunt Bette I wouldn't say anything. I knew you would tell me all about it when you were ready. You've been such a good father to me; I just didn't want to cause any trouble.” Sue sighed contentedly and cuddled closer. “Tell me something; did you love my mother?”

 

“Oh, very much. We were courting long before Tigger bounced upon the scene.”

 

“Tigger?”

 

“Yes, from the “Winnie the Pooh”; Bette and I used to call Phillip that. He’d suddenly bounce into our lives then bounce out again just as fast. I was going to ask your mother to marry me but Phillip just swept her off her feet before I could do anything.”

 

“But you won her in the end, didn't you, Dad.”

 

“Well, yes, I suppose I did, even if it was only to pick up the pieces. She was alone and pregnant; someone had to look after her. But what about you marrying this young bandit of yours? I'd always dreamed of giving you a wedding to remember, with all the trimmings.”

 

Sue raised her head to smile into his eyes. “Dad, I had a wedding to remember, but we could still have something more in line with what you had in mind. There has to be a civil wedding as well.”

 

“So, you're not properly married yet?”

 

“Of course I am, in God's eyes, and that's what's most important.”

 

James looked a little sad as he gazed down at Sue. “My little girl, supposed to going back to school to study for her A levels, and here she is a married woman. Is he the man of your dreams?”

 

Sue stared up at him for a moment, and then she smiled and nodded her head. “Yes, Daddy, and I hope he’s all right.” Her tears began to fall at last.

 

 

*   *   *

 

 

Dutch drove the jeep; Delgado couldn't trust himself to. He sat beside Anna on the hard rear seat, with his rifle at the ready, a truck full of his men following close behind. A quarter of a mile from the villa, Dutch brought the jeep to a halt and waited till the truck stopped. From there, everyone left the track and made their way through the forest and went to cover at the edge of the patio; then Dutch whistled a signal only The Tiger would recognise. He heard the Tiger's answering whistle from inside the villa and he relaxed. “Everything's okay, Bandit. Have your men look around the place while we have a word with Macho Man.”

 

Anna was the first to run to the front door and disappear inside. When Delgado and Dutch stepped inside the villa, they found Anna standing in the doorway leading to her study. She was frozen to the spot and staring at something beyond. Delgado peeped in over her shoulder and saw large pile of photographs, books, and other flammable items in the middle of the floor. Anna's bureau was on its side, with its drawers strewn across the floor. Her desk had suffered the same fate. The rest of the room was a shambles with broken ornaments and furniture lying about; and pictures torn from the walls and trampled on. The lounge had received the same treatment but with not the same ferocity.

 

Niki was crouched beside the pile with two photographs in his hands. He was staring hard at them. He straightened up slowly, still holding the photographs. Delgado heard Anna catch her breath and saw her eyes widen with alarm. As Niki turned and walked towards them, she tried to speak. “Niki I…” Her voice faded as Niki looked up from the photographs and gave her the same accusing look he usually reserved for Monzanoz.

 

He dropped the photographs into her hands. “Nice pictures; the colonel’s excuse is he didn't know. What's yours?” He shouldered between them to walk across the lounge and out onto the patio.

 

Anna swayed and Delgado caught her, and led her to a chair, calling for someone to bring some water. The photographs fell to the floor and, once she was seated, he picked them up and studied them. Both were faded and yellowing with age. The first was an early one of Carreras and his wife standing on the palace balcony with their young daughter. Delgado guessed it had been taken on the day of Edwardo's official birthday parade; the one Delgado himself had taken part in. The second picture was of a young man in the uniform of a Captain of the Tamarigan Army with, "Yours forever, Nicolo." written across the bottom corner. Suddenly things began to click together. Anna? No! Please no! Then he remembered the day he and Steve Elliot had first talked to Niki after his escape from the timber camp. Anna had been so upset about something; she had broken a glass and run from the room. He stared at the pictures, his own hopes of romance shattered as the truth stared back at him from those pictures.

 

He turned to face Anna, sitting now with her face in her hands, weeping softly. He wanted to know; he wanted her to tell him he was wrong but, before he could speak, he heard the sound of angry voices coming from the lounge and his name called. With a sigh, he dropped the pictures onto a nearby table and hurried out of the study.

 

Dutch stood over a man in camouflage gear, lying at his feet; his hands and feet securely tied with wire. Delgado's men had carried him in from outside and gathered round, waiting their chance to deal with him; but Dutch was holding them back as the man groaned and writhed helplessly. Dutch jerked his head towards the rear of the villa and Delgado followed him out into the kitchen. A bound and gagged soldier sat on a kitchen chair, with a fragmentation grenade wedged between his knees with the pin removed; only the pressure of the man's knees keeping the lever closed. His face was ashen as he concentrated on keeping the grenade from slipping, his eyes wide with horror and pleading.

 

“The Tiger was keen on makin sure this one wasn't goin' anywhere,” Dutch said. “There's another one out in the back yard. Looks like some wire across the back door tripped up; then he had a real bad argument with a piece of timber. Guess he won't talk for a while; I sure hope he likes his food in liquid form.” He eased the grenade from between the poor man's knees. After examining it carefully, he smiled and tossed it to Delgado who yelped and tossed it back quickly then watched in amazement as Dutch proceeded to toss it from hand to hand, in full view of the captive soldier who's terror was slowly turning to anger. On the way back into the lounge Dutch showed Delgado a tiny red mark on the base of the grenade. “One of Tiger's little toys. Handy for makin' a prisoner stay put or loosen his tongue. The only danger in this little baby is when you drop it on your toes.”

 

Back in the lounge, he pointed to the prisoner on the floor. “This one has a couple of cracked ribs, but that’s not gonna stop him talking, is it sunshine?” Dutch nudged the man with the toe of his foot, none too gently. The man grunted in pain then came out with a string of angry words, in French. Dutch grinned down at him. “Well now, isn't that nice! All the way from gay Parree!” He proceeded to answer the man in fluent French. Delgado did not know much French but he gathered from Dutch's manner that he was asking question after question to which the prisoner only spat out a torrent of insults. Dutch said something to the prisoner and jerked his head in the direction of the front door. Another stream of expletives was his only reply. Eventually Dutch shrugged his massive shoulders and turned to Delgado. “This guy doesn't seem to respond to polite questioning so let's try a bit of psychology. Go and fetch Les Tigre.” The prisoner’s eyes suddenly filled with fear.

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