Holt: The Andalan Affair Chapter one (wip)
A mosquito hovered lazily, moving in ever tighter decreasing circles, its drone nothing but a whisper. Sebastian Holt was awake and lay perfectly still. He slowly pincered his fingers toward the stealthy little insect. He crushed it deliberately between thumb and forefinger, rubbing its remains between them.
Through the open window, the first calls of the muezzin’s prayers drifted out over the slums and buildings of Egypt’s capital.
Holt threw himself from the bug-ridden bed and walked to the shower. It sprayed water in intermittent tepid bursts allowing a brief sensation of coolness on the skin. Reaching for his travel kit, he stropped his razor methodically along the shabby strap. He shaved in cold water. The face staring back through the cracked mirror looked slightly older than twenty-three years. But that was because sleep had been a fitful few hours. Towelling quickly and giving his thick mane of hair a flick of the comb, he shrugged on a leather flyer’s jacket and checked the breech of his Browning 9mm. He took his travel kit, spare ammunition clips and placed them into a small duffel bag. Glancing one more time around the room, he shut the door quietly.
The corridor to the small hotel was dark, one flickering lightbulb indicated some level of electrical power was pulsing through the city. The rickety elevator groaned on its journey to reception. The hotel foyer was deserted. Holt turned a sharp left to a room where a slice of light flickered from under the door. He opened it without knocking.
“You shouldn’t have shaved, Chaiwallah,” said McGowan.
No names, no uniforms; just nicknames only – McGowan was ‘Paddy’, the leader. Holt because of his black hair and colonial gait ‘Chaiwallah’ and Rooke, - ‘Toon’, the Geordie sergeant. He raised a sleepy meaty tattooed arm as a greeting.
“There’s little by way of breakfast, gentlemen. A few re-heated stale flat breads, compensated, I must say, by strong coffee,” said McGowan.
An ornate coffee pot stood sentinel beside a bread basket and delicate china cups. The men helped themselves and pulled up chairs to face McGowan.
McGowan had pinned a city-grid map of Cairo and photographs to the requisitioned hotel notice board. He was lean and in his late thirties. He produced a silver hip flask and poured its contents into the three cups,
“The one lesson I learned in the desert was that like Rommel’s Afrika Korps, both are equally unforgiving. Drink up, its good scotch; the booze will keep your circulation tickin’ over in the midday heat,”
He tapped the map with a long, finely pointed pencil,
“Now that Nasser has thrown his lot in with the Russians, her Majesty’s government is keen to remove some highly sensitive material without drawing too much attention. We know now that the consular safe house is known to Egyptian intelligence, so time is of the essence. 2nd Para are holding this area here. There’ll be a Westland landing at 11:00 hours giving us very little time, gentlemen.”
He traced the pencil from the consular safe house to the landing zone.
Holt tried to visualise the route.
“Just like New Delhi” he said,
“Very good, Chaiwallah, again, like New Delhi; we’re an escort service for a young lady and a strongbox.” said McGowan, his rolling Irish cadences hanging in the air, “Any other questions?” he asked
Holt and Rooke shook their heads.
“Best not keep a lady waiting.”
He folded and tossed the map to Holt,
“Think you can get us there, Chaiwallah?”
“No problem,” replied Holt.
Holt felt the sheer naked power of the Mercedes 120w pulsing through the steering wheel. Rooke sat passenger side, McGowan perched uneasily on the plush back seat. Holt navigated the early morning city streets smoothly and pulled up to an old style French colonial house. It was an early Edwardian pile with ornate Rocco-style pillars framing a linear façade fronted by a large, well-manicured lawn. The sun was beginning its burning orbit above the city and a long streak of sunlight cast a red beam across the doorway. McGowan and Rooke alighted, went to the boot and took out two Thompson machine guns. They walked up the gravel drive. The Thompsons hung from their sides. Holt angled the rear-view mirror to take in the street. No doubt, the Egyptian secret police, the Ismalia, wouldn’t be far behind.
He checked his Rolex Tudor Gold, a gift from his mother before she died; it was 6.30am
He glanced back at the house.
The girl who stepped out was breath-taking. A thick blonde plait fell over her shoulder from under a broad brimmed summer hat. Her capri pants and ballet pumps coupled with large sunglasses made her look like a blonde Audrey Hepburn, but taller. Her legs were long and shapely. As McGowan and Rooke wrestled the huge metal-plated strong box into the boot, the girl slipped into the back seat, tossing the hat aside.
A delicately gloved hand appeared at his shoulder. Holt shook it awkwardly
“They call me, Chaiwallah,” he replied.
“You and your code-names - in this day and age,” she said, “I recognise you, you know?”
“Cambridge, a year ago. You gave a talk on hand guns, hate the blasted things myself.”
Holt got the impression, Miss Barnes had done this before. Her voice was light and cultured, but he thought she could deliver a hearty shout.
The boot clunked shut and McGowan and Rooke jumped in. They slid the Thompsons onto the floor.
Holt hit the accelerator and the Mercedes took off at speed.
Negotiating the elegant suburbs, Holt soon converged with the bustling free-for-all of a dense ancient metropolis coming to life. Carts, horses and donkeys competed with buses, cars, bicycles and motor-bikes for any available space. There seemed to be no left or right-hand lane, only a gap which was dashed at by all at a merciless speed. Holt weaved the Mercedes through the melee, keeping a steady speed.
“Two Packards have been on my tail for the past three minutes,” he said.
In his rear-view mirror two identical tan-coloured Packard Cavaliers parted the early morning rush hour traffic like knives.
“That’s the bloody Ismalia, can you lose them, Chaiwallah?” said McGowan, craning his neck.
The car offered little movement for the Thompsons at the back. Holt pulled his Browning pistol from its shoulder holster and dropped it between his legs on the driver seat. He tossed the pistols two magazines from his leather jacket on the passenger floor at Rooke’s feet.
“Give it a go” he said.
The Mercedes cleared through three junctions at high-speed before the back window shattered. The next bullet shattered the rear-view mirror. Holt hit the brake, locked the steering wheel to the left and put all his strength into hoisting the handbrake. Like a capsizing motor boat, the Mercedes spun one hundred and eighty degrees. Holt floored the accelerator.
“Hang on,” he shouted.
He hit the first Packard’s left side headlight panel at full force. The Ismalia lost control of their vehicle, it pitched upwards, spilling them onto the street. The second one slewed wildly, disappearing behind street stalls and café awnings. Holt wrenched the gears into reverse. Somehow, the rush-hour commuters weaved around the crumpled, smoking chaos as Holt straightened the Mercedes up.
One down, one to go, he thought
McGowan, Rooke and Barnes clung onto whatever came to hand.
The second Packard was more dogged. It appeared out of nowhere, almost colliding the Mercedes back.
“They’re going to a lot of trouble over that box, Miss Barnes,” said McGowan.
He cleared the back-window glass and the car was filled with the sound of him returning fire.
“What’s in it?” shouted Holt over the gunfire and screeching brakes,
“Ciphers, codes and transmission data from our Tel Aviv station to London.”
“Suggest you lie yourself on the floor, Miss,” shouted Rooke from the window.
“No, I will bloody well not!” she shouted back.
Holt swerved to avoid a long, battered donkey and cart. The animal reared, spilling the contents and the driver onto the street. The donkey kicked and jumped blocking the Packard’s progress.
“I thought we weren’t supposed to be drawing attention?” said Barnes
A bullet ricocheted around the car, coming to rest in the panel above her head.
“They’ve found us,” said Holt, “Could we switch with another car?”
“That box is too heavy, Chaiwallah,” said McGovern, “We’re out of time. The helicopter will only hold for ten minutes tops,”
The machine guns began firing again.
Holt accelerated and swung around the road trying to make the Mercedes a tricky target. The two cars, the pursued and pursuer, cleared the city limits and a long stretch of road appeared. Rooke was leaning out of the passenger door shooting. As he reached in to steady himself he was struck by a bullet. He gave a sudden cry and slumped out over the door. Blood splashed inwards onto the Mercedes’ ceiling. Holt felt Rooke’s dead weight dragging the Mercedes slowly to the left. In the one good wing mirror, Holt could see the Packard was accelerating alongside.
Samantha Barnes pressed herself deeper into the corner of the back seat. McGowan was sweating as he reloaded.
“Miss Barnes, can you take the wheel?” shouted Holt
“I thought you chaps had done this before?” she shouted.
“We have, Miss Barnes, but there are always unknowns – when you’re ready please,”
“Oh, Bloody hell,” she said.
Samantha Barnes clambered into the front of the car and Holt pushed up against Rooke’s body. Sliding his fingers through the blood, Holt opened the door, He pitched Rooke out.
“Sorry, Toon.” Said Holt
Rooke slid off the panel and crashed into the dust.
The Packard was alongside. One Ismalia agent, all mirror sunglasses and beige suit took aim at Samantha’s profile. Holt propped the Browning pistol across his arm and fired point blank. The mirrored sunglasses disintegrated, and the Packard veered wildly off onto the scrub.
The rendezvous bounced and shimmered on the horizon. It was a flat piece of land with a sandbag perimeter. Two parachutes lay unfurled in the sand making an X. Holt reloaded as McGowan spotted the Packard swinging back in from behind and angling toward Barnes’ side. Another burst from his Thomson was met by loud bangs and cracks. McGowan slumped across the back-seat. The front of his shirt was doused in blood. His eyes were wide open as if caught in a camera flash, his lower jaw just bloodied meat.
Holt glanced over at Barnes. Her sunglasses revealed nothing. She stamped on the accelerator. The needle on the Mercedes surged past 120kph.
“You really don’t remember me, Chaiwallah?” shouted Barnes
“I’m a little preoccupied, Miss Barnes,” replied Holt.
“We had dinner together in a pub. Near Queens Street.”
“The Mason’s Arms?”
“Yes, Chaiwallah Holt.”
“I remember it well,”
“No, you bloody-well don’t, Holt.”
From the back-passenger window, the beige Packard’s nose appeared. A burst of machine gun fire riddled the Mercedes’ roof. The remaining side windows shattered and thuds of bullets hitting the side panels shook the Mercedes’ chassis.
Holt emptied another magazine in return fire.
He fumbled for the Browning’s second magazine. He prised it out and cursed inwardly as a few rounds spilled onto the floor.
He fired a few probing bullets into the bonnet of the bucking, bouncing Packard.
They had little effect.
“Take this, Holt.” said Barnes.
Barnes reached to her neck and tugged, handing him a fine silver chain and crucifix
“My family live in Cambridge, Chaiwallah,”
“There’s the helicopter,” said Holt.
A huge Westland Whirlwind clattered overhead toward the sand-bagged clearing. It hovered over the rendezvous like a fat bug. The Packard was now alongside. Holt fired across Barnes’ face until the last magazine clip ran empty.
“I’m out,” he said.
Samantha Barnes tugged the steering wheel colliding with the Packard. The Ismalia driver gradually forced her back onto the road. She set her jaw tight and put everything into pushing back. Holt leaned in and added his weight to the wheel. A bullet from the Packard shattered the windscreen.
Holt smashed the rest of the glass away and he and Barnes leant closer in for a better view.
They cleared a rise and the landing zone came closer. Hole squinted at the silhouettes trotting into position.
They were setting up a machine gun nest.
“Brake! Now! Brake for Christ’s sake!” he shouted.
Holt pulled up the handbrake as Barnes stamped her two feet on the brake pad. The Mercedes skewed wildly, then stopped hard. The Packard flashed ahead and drove straight into concentrated withering machine gun fire. It idled slowly into a small gulley. Two more bursts from the nest and the car ignited.
Reaching back, Holt checked McGowan’s pulse - he was dead. Holt sprinted around and opened the driver’s door. It was when he unbuckled Samantha he saw her wound. Her blouse was soaked with blood
“Damn, Holt, damn…”
Two soldiers dashed past them and opened the boot.
She slumped into his arms. He could smell her perfume as he unfastened her seatbelt. Easing her gently out, Holt dashed towards the helicopter with her cradled in his arms. The helicopter began to increase its rotations.
“Best get aboard, son,” said the officer. His face was dusted by the desert. Like the rest of his men, he was covered in a patina of dust.
“McGowan?” asked Holt
“Have to leave him, son.”
“Rooke didn’t make it.”
“Did enough to get you here. Both were good men,”
The troopers were mounting the Westland and a medic had Samantha Barnes stretched out on the floor of the helicopter. Her complexion was as white as her shirt.
“Sorry, she’s gone,” he said
In less than an hour, they were high over the Red Sea. The Captain of 2nd Para looked at his watch and nodded. Two troopers man-handled the strongbox to the open doorway. The ocean swirled far below. They brought over Samantha Barnes and fastened her legs to the box with strong ropes.
“Wait, no!” said Holt
“She knew the risks, this is the deal,” said the Captain.
If he was upset, it didn’t show in his hooded eye lids and sagging crow’s feet.
The strong box was nudged over, then pitched over the side. It fell silently towards to ocean. Samantha Barnes’ long blonde plait fluttered in the cold Arabian skies.
Holt opened his bloodied hand. Her silver cross shone like a tear-drop. He closed his eyes and rested his head against the helicopters vibrating airframe. The soldier’s heads were all bowed in silent prayer.
“Mission accomplished, son,” said the Captain,
“I hope it was worth it,” replied Holt.
“Where will we drop you off?”
"Anywhere will do..." said Holt.