THEY LEFT Gadwal in the deep darkness before dawn, hoping to steal a march on the Russians by setting out so early. Ellis knew how difficult it was for even the most capable officer to get a squad of soldiers moving before dawn: the cook had to make breakfast, the quartermaster had to strike camp, the radio operator had to check in with headquarters, and the men had to eat; and all those things took time. The one advantage Ellis had over the Russian commander was that he had no more to do than load the mare while Jane fed Chantal, then shake Halam awake.
Ahead of them was a long, slow climb up the Nuristan Valley for eight or nine miles and then up a side valley. The first part, in the Nuristan, should not be too difficult, Ellis thought, even in the dark, for there was a road of sorts. If only Jane could keep going, they should be able to get into the side valley during the afternoon and travel a few miles up it by nightfall. Once they were out of the Nuristan Valley it would be much more difficult to trail them, for the Russians would not know which side valley they had taken.
Halam led the way, wearing Mohammed's clothes, including his Chitrali cap. Jane followed, carrying Chantal, and Ellis brought up the rear, leading Maggie. The horse was now carrying one bag fewer: Mohammed had taken the kitbag and Ellis had not found a suitable container to replace it. He had been forced to leave most of his blasting equipment in Gadwal. However, he had kept some TNT, a length of Primacord, a few blasting caps and the pull-ring firing device, and had them stowed in the roomy pockets of his down coat.
Jane was cheerful and energetic. The rest yesterday afternoon had renewed her reserves of strength. She was marvelously tough, and Ellis felt proud of her, although when he thought about it he did not see why he should be entitled to feel proud of her strength.
Halam was carrying a candle lantern, which threw grotesque shadows on the cliff walls. He seemed disgruntled. Yesterday he had been all smiles, apparently pleased to be part of this bizarre expedition; but this morning he was grim-faced and taciturn. Ellis blamed the early start.
The path, such as it was, snaked along the cliffside, rounding promontories that jutted out into the stream, sometimes hugging the water's edge and sometimes ascending to the clifftop. After less than a mile they came to a place where the track simply vanished: there was a cliff on the left and the river on the right. Halam said the path had been washed away in a rainstorm, and they would have to wait until light to find a way around.
Ellis was unwilling to lose any time. He took off his boots and trousers and waded into the ice-cold water. At its deepest it was only up to his waist, and he gained the far bank easily. He returned and led Maggie across, then came back for Jane and Chantal. Halam followed at last, but modesty prevented him from undressing, even in the dark, so he had to walk on with soaking-wet trousers, which made his mood worse.
They passed through a village in darkness, followed briefly by a couple of mangy dogs that barked at them from a safe distance. Soon after that, dawn cracked the eastern sky, and Halam snuffed the candle.
They had to ford the river several more times in places where the path was washed away or blocked by a landslide. Halam gave in and rolled his baggy trousers up over his knees. At one of these crossings they met a traveler coming from the opposite direction, a small, skeletal man leading a fat-tailed sheep which he carried across the river
in his arms. Halam had a long conversation with him in some Nuristani language, and Ellis suspected, from the way they waved their arms, that they were talking about routes across the mountains.
After they parted from the traveler, Ellis said to Halam in Dari: "Don't tell people where we are going."
Halam pretended not to understand.
Jane repeated what Ellis had said. She spoke more fluently, and used emphatic gestures and nods as the Afghan men did. "The Russians will question all travelers," she explained.
Halam appeared to understand, but he did exactly the same thing with the next traveler they met, a dangerous-looking young man carrying a venerable Lee-Enfield rifle. During the conversation, Ellis thought he heard Halam say "Kantiwar," the name of the pass for which they were heading; and a moment later the traveler repeated the word. Ellis was angered: Halam was fooling around with their lives. But the damage was done, so he suppressed the urge to interfere, and waited patiently until they moved on again.
As soon as the young man with the rifle was out of sight, Ellis said: "I said you are not to tell people where we are going."
This time Halam did not pretend incomprehension. "I told him nothing/' he said indignantly.
"You did," said Ellis emphatically. "From now on you will not speak to other travelers."
Halam said nothing.
Jane said: "You will not talk to other travelers, do you understand?"
"Yes," Halam admitted reluctantly.
Ellis felt it was important to shut him up. He could guess why Halam wanted to discuss routes with other people: they might know of factors such as landslides, snowfalls or floods in the mountains that might block one valley and make another approach preferable. He had not really grasped the fact that Ellis and Jane were running away from the Russians. The existence of alternative routes
was about the only factor in the fugitives' favor, for the Russians had to check every possible route. They would be working quite hard to eliminate some of those routes by interrogating people, especially travelers. The less information they could garner that way, the more difficult and lengthy their search would be, and the better the chances Ellis and Jane would evade them.
A little later they met a white-robed mullah with a red-dyed beard, and to Ellis's frustration Halam immediately opened a conversation with the man in exactly the same way as he had with the previous two travelers.
Ellis hesitated only for a moment. He went up to Halam, grabbed him in a painful double-arm lock and marched him off.
Halam struggled briefly, but soon stopped because it hurt. He called out something, but the mullah simply watched open-mouthed, doing nothing. Looking back, Ellis saw that Jane had taken the reins and was following with Maggie.
After a hundred yards or so, Ellis released Halam, saying: "If the Russians find me, they will kill me. This is why you must not talk to anyone."
Halam said nothing but went into a sulk.
After they had walked on awhile, Jane said: "I fear he'll make us suffer for that."
"I suppose he will," said Ellis. "But I had to shut him up somehow."
"I just think there may have been a better way to handle him."
Ellis suppressed a spasm of irritation. He wanted to say So why didn't you do it, smartass? but this was not the time to quarrel. Halam passed the next traveler with only the briefest of formal greetings, and Ellis thought: At least my technique was effective.
At first their progress was a lot slower than Ellis had anticipated. The meandering path, the uneven ground, the uphill gradient and the continual diversions meant that by midmorning they had covered only four or five miles as the crow flies, he estimated. Then, however, the way
became easier, passing through the woods high above the river.
There was still a village or hamlet every mile or so, but now, instead of ramshackle wooden houses piled up the hillsides like collapsible chairs thrown haphazardly into a heap, there were box-shaped dwellings made of the same stone as the cliffs on whose sides they perched precariously, like seagulls' nests.
At midday they stopped in a village, and Halam got them invited into a house and given tea. It was a two-story building, the ground floor apparently being a storeroom, just like the medieval English houses Ellis remembered from ninth-grade history lessons. Jane gave the woman of the house a small bottle of pink medicine for her children's intestinal worms, and in return got pan-baked bread and delicious goat's-milk cheese. They sat on rugs on the mud floor around the open fire, with the poplar beams and willow laths of the roof visible above them. There was no chimney, so the smoke from the fire drifted up to the rafters and eventually seeped through the roof: that, Ellis surmised, was why the houses had no ceilings.
He would have liked to let Jane rest after eating, but he dared not risk it, for he did not know how close behind them the Russians might be. She looked tired but all right. Leaving immediately had the additional advantage that it prevented Halam getting into conversation with the villagers.
However, Ellis watched Jane carefully as they walked on up the valley. He asked her to lead the horse while he took Chantal, judging that carrying the baby was more tiring.
Each time they came upon an eastward-leading side valley, Halam would stop and study it carefully, then shake his head and walk on. Clearly he was not sure of the way, although he denied this hotly when Jane asked him. It was infuriating, especially when Ellis was so impatient to get out of the Nuristan Valley; but he consoled himself with the thought that if Halam was not sure which valley to take, then the Russians would not know which way the fugitives had gone.
He was beginning to wonder whether Halam might have gone past the turning when, at last, Halam stopped where a chattering stream flowed into the Nuristan River, and announced that their route lay up this valley. He seemed to want to stop for a rest, as if he was reluctant to leave familiar territory, but Ellis hurried them along.
Soon they were climbing through a forest of silver birch, and the main valley was lost to view behind them. Ahead of them they could see the mountain range they had to cross, an immense snow-covered wall filling a quarter of the sky, and Ellis kept thinking: Even if we escape from the Russians, how can we possibly climb that? Jane stumbled once or twice and cursed, which Ellis took as a sign she was tiring rapidly, although she did not complain.
At dusk they emerged from the forest into a bare, bleak, uninhabited landscape. It seemed to Ellis that they might not find shelter in such territory, so he suggested they spend the night in an empty stone hut they had passed half an hour or so earlier. Jane and Halam agreed, and they turned back.
Ellis insisted that Halam build the fire inside the hut, not outside, so that the flame could not be seen from the air and there would be no telltale column of smoke. His caution was vindicated later, when they heard a helicopter drone overhead. That meant, he supposed, that the Russians were not far away; but in this country, what was a short distance for a helicopter could be an impossible journey on foot. The Russians might be just the other side of an impassable mountain - or only a mile down the track. It was fortunate that the landscape was too wild, and the path too difficult to discern from the air, for a helicopter search to be viable.
Ellis gave the horse some grain. Jane fed and changed Chantal, then fell asleep immediately. Ellis roused her to zip her into the sleeping bag, then he took Chantal's diaper down to the stream, washed it out and put it by the fire to dry. He lay beside Jane for a while, looking at her face in the flickering firelight while Halam snored on the other side of the hut. She looked absolutely drained, her face
thin and taut, her hair dirty, her cheeks smudged with earth. She slept restlessly, wincing and grimacing and moving her mouth in silent speech. He wondered how much longer she could go on. It was the pace that was killing her. If they could move more slowly, she would be all right. If only the Russians would give up, or be recalled for some major battle in another part of this wretched country. . . .
He wondered about the helicopter he had heard. Perhaps it was on a mission unconnected with Ellis. That seemed unlikely. If it had been part of a search party, then Mohammed's attempt to divert the Russians must have had very limited success.
He allowed himself to think about what would happen if they were captured. For him there would be a show trial, at which the Russians would prove to skeptical nonaligned countries that the Afghan rebels were no more than CIA stooges. The agreement between Masud, Kamil and Azizi would collapse. There would be no American arms for the rebels. Dispirited, the Resistance would weaken and might not last another summer.
After the trial Ellis would be interrogated by the KGB. He would make an initial show of resisting the torture, then pretend to break down and tell them everything; but what he told them would be all lies. They were prepared for that, of course, and they would torture him further; and this time he would act a more convincing breakdown, and tell them a mixture of fact and fiction that would be difficult for them to check out. That way he hoped to survive. If he did, he would be sent to Siberia. After a few years, he might hope to be exchanged for a Soviet spy captured in the States. If not, he would die in the camps.
What would grieve him most would be to be parted from Jane. He had found her, and lost her, and found her again - a piece of luck that still made him reel when he thought of it. To lose her a second time would be unbearable, unbearable. He lay staring at her for a long time, trying not to go to sleep for fear she might not be there when he woke up.
Jane dreamed she was in the George V Hotel in Peshawar, Pakistan. The George V was in Paris, of course, but in her dream she did not notice this oddity. She called room service and ordered a fillet steak, medium rare, with mashed potatoes, and a bottle of Chateau Ausone 1971. She was terribly hungry, but she could not remember why she had waited so long before ordering. She decided to take a bath while they were preparing her dinner. The bathroom was warm and carpeted. She turned on the water and poured in some bath salts, and the room filled with scented steam. She could not understand how she had let herself get this dirty: it was a miracle they had admitted her into the hotel! She was about to step into the hot water when she heard someone calling her name. It must be room service, she thought; how annoying - now she would have to eat while she was still dirty, or let the food get cold. She was tempted to lie down in the hot water and ignore the voice - it was rude of them to call her "Jane" anyway, they should call her "Madame" - but it was a very persistent voice, and somehow familiar. In fact it was not room service, but Ellis, and he was shaking her shoulder; and with the most tragic sense of disappointment, she realized that the George V was a dream, and in reality she was in a cold stone hut in Nuristan, a million miles from a hot bath.
She opened her eyes and saw Ellis's face.
"You have to wake up," he was saying.
Jane felt almost paralyzed by lethargy. "Is it morning already?"
"No, it's the middle of the night."
"Fuck." She felt angry with him for disturbing her sleep. "Why have you woken me?" she said irritably.
"Halam has gone."
"Gone?" She was still sleepy and confused. "Where? Why? Is he corning back?"
"He didn't tell me. I woke up to find he had gone."
"You think he's abandoned us?"
"Oh, God. How will we find our way without a guide?'' Jane had a nightmare dread of getting lost in the snow with Chantal in her arms.
"I'm afraid it could be worse than that," said Ellis.
"What do you mean?"
"You said he would make us suffer for humiliating him in front of that mullah. Perhaps abandoning us is sufficient revenge. I hope so. But I assume he's headed back the way we came. He may run into the Russians. I don't think it will take them long to persuade him to tell them exactly where he left us."
"It's too much," said Jane, and a feeling almost like grief gripped her. It seemed as if some malign deity were conspiring against them. "I'm too tired," she said. "I'm going to lie here and sleep until the Russians come and take me prisoner."
Chantal had been stirring quietly, moving her head from side to side and making sucking noises, and now she started to cry. Jane sat up and picked her up.
"If we leave now we can still escape," Ellis said. "I'll load the horse while you feed her.''
"All right," said Jane. She put Chantal to her breast. Ellis watched her for a second, smiling faintly, then went out into the night. Jane thought they could easily escape if they did not have Chantal. She wondered how Ellis felt about that. She was, after all, another man's child. But he did not seem to mind. He regarded Chantal as a part of Jane. Or was he hiding some resentment?
Would he like to be a father to Chantal? she asked herself. She looked at the tiny face, and wide blue eyes looked back at her. Who could fail to cherish this helpless little girl?
Suddenly she was completely uncertain about everything. She was not sure how much she loved Ellis; she did not know what she felt about Jean-Pierre, the husband who was hunting her; she could not figure out what her duty to her child was. She was frightened of the snow and the
mountains and the Russians, and she had been tired and tense and cold for too long.
Automatically she changed Chantal, using the dry diaper from the fireside. She could not remember changing her last night. It seemed to her that she had fallen asleep after feeding her. She frowned, doubting her memory, then it came back to her that Ellis had roused her momentarily to zip her into the sleeping bag. He must have taken the soiled diaper down to the stream and washed it and wrung it out and hung it on a stick beside the fire to dry. Jane started to cry.
She felt very foolish, but she could not stop, so she carried on dressing Chantal with tears streaming down her face. Ellis came back in as she was making the baby comfortable in the carrying sling.
"Goddam horse didn't want to wake up either," he said, then he saw her face and said: "What is it?"
"I don't know why I ever left you," she said. "You're the best man I've ever known, and I never stopped loving you. Please forgive me."
He put his arms around her and Chantal. "Just don't do it again, that's all," he said.
They stood like that for a while.
Eventually Jane said: "I'm ready."
"Good. Let's go."
They went outside and set off uphill through the thinning woodland. Halam had taken the lantern, but the moon was out and they could see clearly. The air was so cold it hurt to breathe. Jane worried about Chantal. The baby was once again inside Jane's fur-lined coat, and she hoped that her body warmed the air Chantal was breathing. Could a baby come to harm by breathing coid air? Jane had no idea.
Ahead of them was the Kantiwar Pass, at fifteen thousand feet a good deal higher than the last pass, the Aryu. Jane knew she was going to be colder and more tired than she had ever been in her life, and perhaps more frightened, too, but her spirits were high. She felt she had resolved something deep inside herself. If I live, she thought, I
want to live with Ellis. One of these days I'll tell him it was because he washed out a dirty diaper.
They soon left the trees behind and started across a plateau like a moonscape, with boulders and craters and odd patches of snow. They followed a line of huge flat stones like a giant's footpath. They were still climbing, although less steeply for the moment, and the temperature dropped steadily, the white patches increasing until the ground was a crazy chessboard.
Nervous energy kept Jane going for the first hour or so, but then, as she settled into the endless march, weariness overcame her again. She wanted to say How far is it now? and Will we be there soon? as she had when a child in the back of her father's car.
At some point on that sloping upland they crossed the ice line. Jane became aware of the new danger when the horse skidded, snorted with fear, almost fell and regained its balance. Then she noticed that the moonlight was reflecting off the boulders as if they were glazed: the rocks were like diamonds, cold and hard and glittering. Her boots gripped better than Maggie's hooves, but nevertheless, a little while later, Jane slipped and almost fell. From then on she was terrified she would fall and crush Chantal, and she trod ultracarefully, her; nerves so taut she felt she might snap.
After a little more than two hours they reached the far side of the plateau and found themselves facing a steep path up a snow-covered mountainside. Ellis went first, pulling Maggie behind him. Jane followed at a safe distance in case the horse should slip backward. They went up the mountain in a zigzag.
The path was not clearly marked. They presumed it lay wherever the ground was lower than in neighboring areas. Jane longed for a more definite sign that this was the route: the remains of a fire, a clean-picked chicken carcass, even a discarded matchbox - anything that would indicate that other human beings had once passed this way. She began obsessively to imagine that they were completely lost, far from the path, wandering aimlessly through endless snows;
and that they would continue to meander for days, until they ran out of food and energy and willpower, and lay down in the snow, all three of them, to freeze to death together.
Her back ached insupportably. With much reluctance she gave Chantal to Ellis and took the horse's reins from him, to transfer the strain to a different set of muscles. The wretched horse stumbled constantly now. At one point it slipped on an icy boulder and went down. Jane had to haul mercilessly on the bridle to get the animal to its feet. When the horse stood up finally Jane saw a dark stain on the snow where it had fallen: blood. Looking more closely, she saw a cut on its left knee. The injury did not appear serious: she made Maggie walk on.
Now that she was in the lead, she had to decide where the path lay, and the nightmare of getting irretrievably lost haunted every hesitation. At times the way seemed to fork and she had to guess, left or right? Often the ground was more or less uniformly level, so she just followed her nose until some kind of pathway reappeared. Once she found herself floundering in a snowdrift, and had to be pulled out by Ellis and the horse.
Eventually the path led her onto a ledge which wound far up the side of the mountain. They were very high: looking back across the plateau so far below made her a little dizzy. Surely they could not be far from the pass?
The ledge was steep and icy and only a few feet wide, and beyond the edge was a precipitous drop. Jane trod extra carefully, but all the same she stumbled several times, and once fell to her knees, bruising them. She ached so much all over that she hardly noticed the new pains. Maggie slipped constantly, until Jane no longer bothered to turn around when she heard her hooves skid, but simply pulled harder on the reins. She would have liked to readjust the horse's load so that the heavy bags were farther forward, which would have helped the animal's stability on the uphill climb; but there was no room on the ledge, and she was afraid that if she stopped she would not be able to start again.
The ledge narrowed and wound around an outcrop of cliffs. Jane took gingerly steps across the most slender section, but despite her caution - or perhaps because she was so nervous - she slipped. For a heart-stopping moment she thought she was going to fall over the edge; but she landed on her knees and steadied herself with both hands. From the corner of her eye she could see the snowy slopes hundreds of feet below. She started to shake, and controlled herself with an effort.
She stood up slowly and turned around. She had let go of the reins, which now dangled over the precipice. The horse stood watching her, stiff-legged and trembling, evidently terrified. When she reached for the bridle the horse took a panicky step backward. "Stop!" Jane cried, then she made her voice calm and said quietly: "Don't do that. Come to me. You'll be all right."
Ellis called to her from the other side of the outcrop. "What is it?"
"Hush," she called softly. "Maggie's frightened. Stay back." She was dreadfully aware that Ellis was carrying Chantal. She continued to murmur reassuringly to the horse as she stepped slowly toward it. It stared at her. wide-eyed, breath like smoke coming from its flared nostrils. She got within arm's length and reached for its bridle.
The horse jerked its head away, stepped backward, skidded and lost its balance.
As the horse's head jerked back, Jane caught the reins; but its legs slipped from beneath it, it fell to the right, the reins flew from Jane's hand, and to her unspeakable horror the horse slid slowly on its back to the lip of the ledge and fell over, neighing in terror.
Ellis appeared. "Stop!" he shouted at Jane, and she realized she was screaming. She closed her mouth with a snap. Ellis knelt down and peered over the edge, still clutching Chantal to his chest beneath his down coat. Jane controlled her hysteria and knelt beside him.
She expected to see the body of the horse embedded in the snow hundreds of feet below. In fact it had landed on a
shelf just five or six feet down, and it was lying on its side with its feet sticking out into the void. "It's still alive!" Jane cried. "Thank God!"
"And our supplies are intact," said Ellis unsentimentally.
"But how can we get the animal back up here?"
Ellis looked at her and said nothing.
Jane realized they could not possibly get the horse back up onto the path. "But we can't leave her behind to die in the cold!" Jane said,
"I'm sorry," said Ellis.
"Oh, God, it's unbearable."
Ellis unzipped his down coat and unslung Chantal. Jane took her and put her inside her own coat. "I'll get the food first," said Ellis.
He lay flat on his belly along the lip of the ledge and then swung his feet over. Loose snow flurried over the prone horse. Ellis lowered himself slowly, feet searching for the shelf. He touched firm ground, slid his elbows off the ledge and carefully turned around.
Jane watched him, petrified. Between the horse's rump and the face of the cliff there was not room enough for both of Ellis's feet side by side: he had to stand, with his feet one behind the other, like a figure in an ancient Egyptian wall painting. He bent at the knees and slowly lowered himself into a crouch, then he reached for the complex web of leather straps holding the canvas bag of emergency rations.
At that moment the horse decided to get up.
It bent its front legs and somehow managed to get them under its forequarters; then, with the familiar snakelike wriggle of a horse getting to its feet, it lifted its front end and tried to swing its rear legs back onto the ledge.
It almost succeeded.
Then its back feet slid away, it lost its balance, and its rear end fell sideways. Ellis grabbed the food bag. Inch by inch the horse slipped away, kicking and struggling. Jane was terrified it would injure Ellis. Inexorably the animal slithered over the edge. Ellis jerked at the food bag, no longer trying to save the horse, but hoping to snap the
leather straps and hold on to the food. So determined was he that Jane feared he would let the horse pull him over the edge. The animal slid faster, dragging Ellis to the brink. At the last second he let go of the bag with a cry of frustration, and the horse made a noise like a scream and dropped away, tumbling over and over as it fell into the void, taking with it all their food, their medical supplies, their sleeping bag and Chantal's spare diaper.
Jane burst into tears.
A few moments later Ellis scrambled up onto the ledge beside her. He put his arms around her and knelt there with her for a minute while she cried for the horse and the supplies and her aching legs and her frozen feet. Then he stood, gently helped her up and said: "We mustn't stop."
"But how can we go on?" she cried. "We've nothing to eat, we can't boil water, we've no sleeping bag, no medicines. ..."
"We've got each other," he said.
She hugged him tightly when she remembered how near to the edge he had slipped. If we live through this, she thought, and if we escape the Russians and get back to Europe together, I'll never let him out of my sight, I swear.
"You go first," he said, disentangling himself from her embrace. "I want to be able to see you." He gave her a gentle shove, and automatically she began to walk on up the mountain. Slowly her despair crept back. She decided her aim would simply be to carry on walking until she dropped dead. After a while Chantal began to cry. Jane ignored her, and eventually she stopped.
Sometime later - it might have been minutes or hours, for she had lost track of time - as Jane was rounding a corner, Ellis caught up with her and stopped her with a hand on her arm. "Look," he said, pointing ahead.
The track led down into a vast bowl of hills rimmed by white-peaked mountains. At first Jane did not understand why Ellis had said Look; then she realized that the track was leading down.
"Is this the top?" she asked stupidly.
"This is it," he said. "This is the Kantiwar Pass. We've done the worst part of this leg of the journey. For the next couple of days the route will lie downhill, and the weather will get warmer."
Jane sat down on an icy boulder. I made it, she thought. I made it.
While the two of them looked at the black hills, the sky beyond the mountain peaks turned from pearl gray to dusty pink. Day was breaking. As the light slowly stained the sky, so a little hope crept into Jane's heart again. Downhill, she thought, and warmer. Perhaps we will escape.
Chantal cried again. Well, her food supply had not gone with Maggie. Jane fed her, sitting on that icy boulder on the roof of the world, while Ellis melted snow in his hands for Jane to drink.
The descent into the Kantiwar Valley was a relatively gentle slope, but very icy at first. However, it was less nerve-racking without the horse to worry about. Ellis, who had not slipped at all on the way up, carried Chantal.
Ahead of them, the morning sky turned flame red, as if the world beyond the mountains were on fire. Jane's feet were still numb with cold, but her nose unfroze. Suddenly she realized she was terribly hungry. They would simply have to keep walking until they came across people. All they had to trade, now, was the TNT in Ellis's pockets. When that was gone they would have to rely on traditional Afghan hospitality.
They were also without bedding. They would have to sleep in their coats, with their boots on. Somehow Jane felt they would solve all problems. Even finding the path was easy now, for the valley walls on either side were a constant guide and limited the distance they might stray. Soon there was a little stream burbling alongside them: they were below the ice line again. The ground was fairly even, and if they had still had the horse they could have ridden her.
After another two hours they paused to rest at the head of a gorge, and Jane took Chantal from Ellis. Ahead of them, the descent became rough and steep, but because
they were below the ice line the rocks were not slippery. The gorge was quite narrow and could quite easily get blocked. "I hope there are no landslides down there," said Jane.
Ellis was looking the other way, back up the valley. Suddenly he gave a start, and said: "Jesus Christ."
"What on earth is the matter?" Jane turned and followed his gaze, and her heart sank. Behind them, about a mile up the valley, were half a dozen men in uniform and a horse: the search party.
After all that, thought Jane; after all we went through, they caught us anyway. She was too miserable even to cry.
Ellis grabbed her arm. "Quick, let's move," he said. He started hurrying down into the gorge, pulling her after him.
"What's the point?" Jane said wearily. "They're sure to catch us."
"We've got one chance left." As they walked, Ellis was surveying the steep, rocky sides of the gorge.
"They'll find a way over or around it."
"Not if they're all buried underneath it."
He stopped at a place where the floor of the canyon was only a few feet wide and one wall was precipitously steep and high. "This is perfect," he said. He took from the pockets of his coat a block of TNT, a reel of detonating cable marked Primacord, a small metal object about the size of the cap of a fountain pen, and something that looked like a metal syringe except that at its blunt end it had a pull ring instead of a plunger. He laid the objects out on the ground.
Jane watched him in a daze. She did not dare to hope.
He fixed the small metal object to one end of the Primacord by crimping it with his teeth; then he fixed the metal object to the sharp end of the syringe. He handed the whole assembly to Jane.
"This is what you have to do," he began. "Walk down the gorge, paying out the cable. Try to conceal it. It
doesn't matter if you lay it in the stream - this stuff burns under water. When you reach the limit of the wire, pull out the safety pins like this." He showed her two split pins which pierced the barrel of the syringe. He pulled them out and put them back in. "Then keep your eye on me. Wait for me to wave my arms above my head like this." He showed her what he meant. "Then pull the ring. If we time this just right, we can kill them all. Go!"
Jane followed orders like a robot, without thinking. She walked down the gorge, paying out the cable. At first she concealed it behind a line of low bushes, then she laid it in the bed of the stream. Chantal slept on in the sling, swaying gently as Jane walked, leaving both of Jane's arms free.
After a minute she looked back. Ellis was wedging the TNT into a fissure in the rock. Jane had always believed that explosives would go off spontaneously if you handled them roughly: obviously that was a misconception.
She walked on until the cable became taut in her hand, then she turned around again. Ellis was now scaling the canyon wall, presumably searching for the best position from which to observe the Russians as they stepped into the trap.
She sat down beside the stream. Chantal's tiny body rested in her lap. The sling went slack, taking the weight off Jane's back. Ellis's words kept repeating in her mind: If we time this just right, we can kill them all. Could it work? she wondered. Would they all be killed?
What would the other Russians do then? Jane's head began to clear, and she considered the likely sequence of events. In an hour or two someone would notice that this little party had not called in for a while, and would attempt to raise them on the radio. Finding that impossible, they would assume that the party was in a deep gorge, or that its radio was on the blink. After a couple more hours without contact, they would send a helicopter to look for the party, assuming that the officer in charge would have had the sense to light a fire or do something else to make his location easily visible from the air. When that failed,
the people at headquarters would start to worry. At some point they would have to send out a search party to look for the missing search party. The new party would have to cover the same ground as the old one. They certainly would not complete that trip today, and it would be impossible to search properly at night. By the time they found the bodies, Ellis and Jane would be at least a day and a half ahead, possibly more. It might be enough, Jane thought; by then she and Ellis would have gone past so many forks and side valleys and alternative routes that they could be untraceable. I wonder, she thought wearily. I wonder if this could be the end. I wish the soldiers would hurry. I can't bear the waiting, I'm so afraid.
She could see Ellis clearly, crawling along the clifftop on his hands and knees. She could see the search party, too, as they marched down the valley. Even at this distance they appeared dirty, and their slumped shoulders and dragging feet showed them to be tired and dispirited. They had not seen her yet; she blended into the landscape.
Ellis crouched behind a bluff and peered around its edge at the approaching soldiers. He was visible to Jane but hidden from the Russians, and he had a clear view of the place where he had planted the explosives.
The soldiers reached the head of the gorge and began to descend. One of them was riding, and had a moustache: presumably he was the officer. Another wore a Chitrali cap. That's Halam, Jane thought; the traitor. After what Jean-Pierre had done, treachery seemed to her an unforgivable crime. There were five others, and they all had short hair and uniform caps and youthful, clean-shaven faces. Two men and five boys, she thought.
She watched Ellis. He would give the sign at any minute. Her neck began to ache from the strain of looking up at him. The soldiers still had not spotted her: they were concentrating on finding their way along the rocky ground. At last Ellis turned to her and, slowly and deliberately, waved both his arms in the air above his head.
Jane looked back at the soldiers. One of them reached out and took the bridle of the horse, to help it over the
uneven ground. Jane had the syringe device in her left hand and the forefinger of her right hand was crooked inside the pull ring. One jerk would light the fuse and detonate the TNT and bring the cliff tumbling down on her pursuers. Five boys, she thought. Joined the army because they were poor or foolish or both, or because they were conscripted. Posted to a cold, inhospitable country where the people hate them. Marched through a mountainous, icy wilderness. Buried under a landslide, heads smashed and lungs choked with earth and backs broken and chests crushed, screaming and suffocating and bleeding to death in agony and terror. Five letters to be written to proud fathers and anxious mothers at home: regret to inform, died in action, historic struggle against the forces of reaction, act of heroism, posthumous medal, deepest sympathy. Deepest sympathy. The mother's contempt for these fine words as she recalled how she had given birth in pain and fear, fed the boy in hard times and easy, taught him to walk straight and wash his hands and spell his name, sent him to school; how she had watched him grow and grow until he was almost as tall as she, then even taller, until he was ready to earn a living and marry a healthy girl and start a family of his own and give her grandchildren. The mother's grief when she realized that all that, everything she had done, the pain and the work and the worry, had been for nothing: this miracle, her man child, had been destroyed by braggardly men in a stupid, vain war. The sense of loss. The sense of loss.
Jane heard Ellis shout. She looked up. He was on his feet, not caring now whether he was seen, waving at her and yelling: "Do it now! Do it now!"
Carefully, she put the pull-ring device down on the ground beside the rushing stream.
The soldiers had seen both of them now. Two men began climbing up the side of the gorge toward where Ellis stood. The others surrounded Jane, pointing their rifles at her and her baby, looking embarrassed and foolish. She ignored them and watched Ellis. He climbed down the side
of the gorge. The men who had been scrambling up toward him stopped and waited to see what he was going to do.
He reached the level ground and walked slowly up to Jane. He stood in front of her. "Why?" he said. "Why didn't you do it?"
Because they are so young, she thought; because they are young, and innocent, and they don't want to kill me. Because it would have been murder. But most of all ...
"Because they have mothers," she said.
Jean-Pierre opened his eyes. The bulky figure of Anatoly was crouching beside the camp bed. Behind Anatoly, bright sunlight streamed through the open flap of the tent. Jean-Pierre suffered a moment of panic, not knowing why he had slept so late or what he had missed; then, all in a flash, he recalled the events of the night.
He and Anatoly were encamped in the approach to the Kantiwar Pass. They had been awakened at around two-thirty A.M. by the captain commanding the search party, who in turn had been roused by the soldier on watch. A young Afghan called Halam had stumbled into the encampment, said the captain. Using a mixture of Pashto, English and Russian, Halam said that he had been guide to the fleeing Americans, but they had insulted him so he had abandoned them. On being asked where the "Americans" were now, he had offered to lead the Russians to the stone hut where, even now, the fugitives lay in unsuspecting sleep.
Jean-Pierre had been all for jumping into the helicopter and rushing off right away.
Anatoly had been more circumspect. "In Mongolia we have a saying: Don't get a hard-on until the whore opens her legs," he said. "Halam may be lying. If he is telling the truth, still he may not be able to find the hut, especially at night, especially from the air. And even if he finds it they may have gone."
"So what do you think we should do?"
"Send an advance party - a captain, five troopers and a
horse, with this Halam, of course. They can leave immediately. We can rest until they find the runaways."
His caution had been vindicated. The advance party reported back by radio at three-thirty, saying that the hut was empty. However, they added, the fire was still alight, so Halam had probably been telling the truth.
Anatoly and Jean-Pierre concluded that Ellis and Jane had woken up in the night, seen that their guide was gone and decided to flee. Anatoly ordered the advance party to go after them, relying on Halam to indicate the likeliest route.
At that point Jean-Pierre had gone back to bed and fallen into a heavy sleep, which was why he had failed to wake at dawn. Now he looked blearily at Anatoly and said: "What's the time?"
"Eight o'clock. And we've caught them."
Jean-Pierre's heart leaped - then he remembered that he had felt this way before, and had been let down. "For sure?" he asked.
"We can go and check just as soon as you put your trousers on. '
It was almost that quick. A refueling helicopter arrived just as they were about to board, and Anatoly judged it wise to wait a few more minutes while their tanks were filled, so Jean-Pierre had to contain his consuming impatience a little longer.
They took off a few minutes later. Jean-Pierre looked at the landscape through the open door. As they flew up into the mountains, Jean-Pierre realized this was the bleakest, harshest territory he had yet seen in Afghanistan. Had Jane really crossed this bare, cruel, icebound moonscape with a baby in her arms? She must really hate me, Jean-Pierre thought, to go through so much to get away from me. Now she will know that it was all in vain. She is mine forever.
But had she really been caught? He was terrified of another disappointment. When he landed, would he find that the advance party had captured another pair of hippies, or two fanatical mountain climbers, or even a couple of nomads who looked vaguely European?
Anatoly pointed out the Kantiwar Pass as they flew over it. "Looks like they lost their horse," he added, shouting into Jean-Pierre's ear over the noise of the engines and the wind. Sure enough, Jean-Pierre saw the outline of a dead horse in the snows below the pass. He wondered if it was Maggie. He rather hoped it was that stubborn beast.
They flew down the Kantiwar Valley, scanning the ground for the advance party. Eventually they saw smoke: someone had lit a fire to guide them in. They descended toward a patch of level ground near the head of a gorge. Jean-Pierre scrutinized the area as they went down: he saw three or four men in Russian uniforms, but he did not spot Jane.
The helicopter touched down. Jean-Pierre's heart was in his mouth. He jumped to the ground, feeling sick with tension. Anatoly jumped out beside him. The captain led them away from the helicopters and down into the gorge.
And there they were.
Jean-Pierre felt like one who has been tortured and now has the torturer in his power. Jane was sitting on the ground beside a little stream with Chantal in her lap. Ellis stood behind her. They both looked exhausted, defeated and demoralized.
Jean-Pierre stopped. "Come here," he said to Jane.
She got to her feet and walked toward him. He saw that she was carrying Chantal in some kind of sling around her neck which left her hands free. Ellis started to follow her. "Not you," said Jean-Pierre. Ellis stopped.
Jane stood in front of Jean-Pierre and looked up at him. He raised his right hand and smacked the side of her face with all his might. It was the most satisfying blow he had ever struck. She reeled backward, staggering, so that he thought she would fall; but she kept her balance and stood staring at him defiantly, with tears of pain running down her face. Over her shoulder Jean-Pierre saw Ellis take a sudden step forward, then restrain himself. Jean-Pierre was mildly disappointed: if Ellis had tried to do something, the soldiers would have jumped him and beaten him up. Never mind: he would get his beating soon enough.
Jean-Pierre raised his hand to slap Jane again. She flinched, and covered Chantal protectively with her arms. Jean-Pierre changed his mind. "There will be plenty of time for that later," he said as he lowered his hand. "Plenty of time"
Jean-Pierre turned away and walked back toward the helicopter. Jane looked down at Chantal. The baby looked back at her, awake but not hungry. Jane hugged her, as if it were the baby who needed comforting. In a way she was glad Jean-Pierre had struck her, although her face was still hot with pain and humiliation. The blow was like the decree absolute in a divorce: it meant that her marriage was finally, officially, definitively over, and she had no further responsibility. If he had wept, or asked her forgiveness, or begged her not to hate him for what he had done, she would have felt guilty. But the blow finished all that. She had no feelings left for him: not an ounce of love or respect or even compassion. It was ironic, she thought, that she should feel completely free of him at the moment when he had finally captured her.
Up to this point a captain had been in charge, the one who had been riding the horse, but now it was Anatoly, Jean-Pierre's Oriental-looking contact, who took control. As he gave orders, Jane realized that she knew what he was saying. It was more than a year since she had heard Russian spoken, and at first it sounded like gibberish, but now that her ear was in tune she could understand every word. At the moment he was telling a trooper to bind Ellis's hands. The soldier, apparently prepared for this, produced a pair of handcuffs. Ellis held his hands out in front of him cooperatively, and the soldier manacled him.
Ellis looked cowed and dejected. Seeing him in chains, defeated, Jane felt a surge of pity and despair, and tears came to her eyes.
The soldier asked if he should handcuff Jane.
"No," said Anatoly. "She has the baby."
They were shepherded to the helicopter. Ellis said: "I'm sorry. About Jean-Pierre. I couldn't get to him. ..."
She shook her head, to indicate there was no need for apology, but she could not manage to speak. Ellis's utter submissiveness made her angry, not with him but with everyone else for making him like this: Jean-Pierre and Anatoly and Halam and the Russians. She almost wished she had detonated the explosion.
Ellis jumped up into the helicopter, then reached down to help her. She held Chantal with her left arm, to keep the sling steady, and gave him her right hand. He pulled her up. At the moment she was closest to him, he murmured: "As soon as we take off, slap Jean-Pierre."
Jane was too shocked to react, which was probably fortunate. Nobody else seemed to have heard Ellis, but none of them spoke much English anyway. She concentrated on trying to look normal.
The passenger cabin was small and bare, with a low ceiling so that the men had to stoop. There was nothing in it but a small shelf for seating, fixed to the fuselage opposite the door. Jane sat down gratefully. She could see into the cockpit. The pilot's seat was raised two or three feet off the floor with a step beside it for access. The pilot was still there - the crew had not disembarked - and the rotors were still turning. The noise was very loud.
Ellis squatted on the floor beside Jane, between the bench and the pilot's seat.
Anatoly boarded with a trooper beside him. He spoke to the trooper and pointed at Ellis. Jane could not hear what was being said, but it was plain from the trooper's reaction that he had been told to guard Ellis: he unslung his rifle and held it loosely in his hands.
Jean-Pierre boarded last. He stood by the open door, looking out, as the helicopter lifted. Jane felt panicky. It was all very well for Ellis to tell her to slap Jean-Pierre as they were taking off, but how was it to be done? Right now Jean-Pierre was facing away from her and standing by the open door - if she tried to hit him she would probably lose her balance and fall out. She looked at Ellis, hoping for guidance. There was a set, tense expression on his face, but he did not meet her eye.
The helicopter rose eight or ten feet into the air, paused a moment, then did a sort of swoop, gaining speed, and began to climb again.
Jean-Pierre turned away from the door, stepped across the cabin, and saw there was nowhere for him to sit. He hesitated. Jane knew she should stand up and slap him - although she had no idea why - but she was frozen to her seat, paralyzed by panic. Then Jean-Pierre jerked his thumb at her, indicating that she should get up.
That was when she snapped.
She was tired and miserable and aching and hungry and wretched, and he wanted her to stand up, carrying the weight of their baby, so that he could sit. That contemptuous jerk of the thumb seemed to sum up all his cruelty and malice and treachery, and it enraged her. She stood up, with Chantal swinging from her neck, and thrust her face into his, screaming: "You bastard! You bastard!" Her words were lost in the roar of the engines and the rushing wind, but her facial expression apparently shocked him, for he took a startled step back. "I hate you!" Jane shrieked; then she rushed at him with her hands outstretched and violently pushed him backward out through the open door.
The Russians had made one mistake. It was a very small one, but it was all Ellis had, and he was ready to make the most of it. Their mistake had been to fasten his hands in front instead of behind his back.
He had been hoping they would not bind him at all - that was why he had done nothing, by a superhuman effort, when Jean-Pierre started slapping Jane. There had been a chance they might leave him unrestrained: after all, he was unarmed and outnumbered. But Anatoly was a cautious man, it seemed.
Fortunately Anatoly had not been the one to put the handcuffs on: a trooper had. Soldiers knew that it was easier to deal with a prisoner whose arms were bound in front - he was less likely to fall over, and he could get in and out of trucks and helicopters unaided. So, when Ellis
had submissively held out his hands in front, the soldier had not given it a second thought.
Unaided, Ellis could not overpower three men, especially as at least one of the three was armed. His chances in a straight fight were zero. His only hope was to crash the helicopter.
There was an instant of frozen time when Jane stood at the open doorway, the baby swinging from her neck, and stared with a horrified expression as Jean-Pierre fell into space; and in that moment Ellis thought: We're only twelve or fifteen feet up, the bastard will probably survive, more's the pity; then Anatoly sprang up and grabbed her arms from behind, restraining her. Now Anatoly and Jane stood between Ellis and the trooper at the other end of the cabin.
Ellis whirled around, sprang up beside the pilot's raised seat, hooked his manacled arms over the pilot's head, drew the chain of the handcuffs into the flesh of the man's throat, and heaved.
The pilot did not panic.
Keeping his feet on the pedals and his left hand on the collective pitch lever, he reached up with his right hand and clawed at Ellis's wrists.
Ellis had a flash of dread. This was his last chance and he had only a second or two. The trooper in the cabin would at first be afraid to use his rifle for fear of hitting the pilot; and Anatoly, if he too was armed, would share the same fear; but in a moment one of them would realize that they had nothing to lose, since if they did not shoot Ellis the aircraft would crash, so they would take the risk.
Ellis's shoulders were grabbed from behind. A glimpse of dark gray sleeve told him it was Anatoly. Down in the nose of the helicopter, the gunner turned around, saw what was happening and started to get out of his seat.
Ellis jerked savagely on the chain. The pain was too much for the pilot, who threw up both hands and rose from his seat.
As soon as the pilot's hands and feet left the controls, the helicopter began to buck and sway in the wind. Ellis
was ready for that, and kept his footing by bracing himself against the pilot's seat; but Anatoly, behind him, lost his balance and released his grip.
Ellis hauled the pilot out of the seat and threw him to the floor, then reached over the controls and pushed the collective stick down.
The helicopter dropped like a stone.
Ellis turned around and braced himself for the impact.
The pilot was on the cabin floor at his feet, clutching his throat. Anatoly had fallen full-length in the middle of the cabin. Jane was crouched in a corner with her arms enclosing Chantal protectively. The trooper, too, had fallen, but he had regained his balance and was now on one knee and raising his Kalashnikov toward Ellis,
As he pulled the trigger, the helicopter's wheels hit the ground.
The impact threw Ellis to his knees, but he was ready for it and he kept his balance. The trooper staggered sideways, his shots going through the fuselage a yard from Ellis's head, then he fell forward, dropping the gun and throwing out his hands to break his fall.
Ellis leaned forward, snatched up the rifle and held it awkwardly in his manacled hands.
It was a moment of pure joy.
He was fighting back. He had run away, he had been captured and humiliated, he had suffered cold and hunger and fear, and he had stood helpless while Jane was slapped around; but now, at last, he had a chance to stand and fight.
He got his finger to the trigger. His hands were bound too close together for him to hold the Kalashnikov in the normal position, but he was able to support the barrel unconventionally by using his left hand to hold the curved magazine, which jutted down just in front of the trigger guard.
The helicopter's engine stalled and the rotors began to slow. Ellis glanced into the flight deck and saw the gunner jumping out through the pilot's side door. He had to gain
control of the situation quickly, before the Russians outside gathered their wits.
He moved so that Anatoly, who was stretched out on the floor, was between him and the door; then he rested the muzzle of the rifle on Anatoly's cheek.
The trooper stared at him, looking frightened. "Get out," Ellis said with a jerk of his head. The trooper understood and jumped out through the door.
The pilot was still lying down, apparently having trouble breathing. Ellis kicked him to get his attention, then told him to get out, too. The man struggled to his feet, still clutching his throat, and went out the same way.
Ellis said to Jane: "Tell this guy to get out of the helicopter and stand real close with his back to me. Quick, quick!'
Jane shouted a stream of Russian at Anatoly. The man got to his feet, shot a glance of pure hatred at Ellis and slowly climbed out of the helicopter.
Ellis rested the muzzle of the rifle on the back of Anatoly's neck and said: "Tell him to have the others freeze."
Jane spoke again and Anatoly shouted an order. Ellis looked around. The pilot, the gunner and the trooper who had been in the helicopter were nearby. Just beyond them was Jean-Pierre, sitting on the ground and clutching his ankle: he must have fallen well, thought Ellis; there's nothing much wrong with him. Farther away were three more soldiers, the captain, the horse and Halarn.
Ellis said: "Tell Anatoly to unbutton his coat, slowly take out his pistol, and hand it to you."
Jane translated. Ellis pressed the rifle harder into Anatoly's flesh as he drew the pistol from its holster and reached behind him with it in his hand.
Jane took it from him.
Ellis said: "Is it a Makarov? Yes. You'll see a safety catch on the left-hand side. Move it until it covers the red dot. To fire the gun, first pull back the slide above the grip, then pull the trigger. Okay?''
"Okay," she said. She was white and trembling, but her mouth was set in a determined line.
Ellis said: "Tell him to have the soldiers bring their weapons here, one by one, and throw them into the helicopter.''
Jane translated and Anatoly gave the order.
"Point that pistol at them as they get close," Ellis added.
One by one, the soldiers came up and disarmed.
"Five young men," said Jane.
"What are you talking about?"
"There was a captain, Halam and five young men. I only see four."
"Tell Anatoly he has to find the other one if he wants to live."
Jane shouted to Anatoly, and Ellis was surprised by the vehemence of her voice. Anatoly sounded scared as he shouted his order. A moment later the fifth soldier came around the tail of the helicopter and surrendered his rifle as the others had.
"Well done," Ellis said to Jane. "He might have ruined everything. Now make them all lie down."
A minute later they were all lying face down on the ground.
"You have to shoot off my handcuffs," he said to Jane.
He put down his rifle and stood with his arms outstretched toward the doorway. Jane pulled back the slide of the pistol, then placed its muzzle against the chain. They positioned themselves so that the spent bullet would go through the doorway.
"I hope this doesn't break my fucking wrist," said Ellis.
Jane closed her eyes and pulled the trigger.
Ellis roared: "Ow, fuck!" At first his wrists hurt like hell. Then, after a moment, he realized they were not broken - the chain was.
He picked up his rifle. "Now I want their radio," he said.
On Anatoly's order, the captain began to unstrap a large box from the horse's back.
Ellis wondered whether the helicopter would fly again. Its undercarriage would be destroyed, of course, and there might be all sorts of other damage underneath; but the engine and the main control lines were on top. He recalled how, during the battle of Darg, he had seen a Hind just like this one crash twenty or thirty feet, then lift off again. This bastard ought to fly if that one did, he thought. If not ...
He did not know what he would do otherwise.
The captain brought the radio and put it into the helicopter, then walked away again.
Ellis allowed himself a moment of relief. As long as he had the radio, the Russians could not contact their base. That meant they could not get reinforcements, nor could they alert anybody to what had happened. If Ellis could get the helicopter into the air, he would be safe from pursuit.
"Keep your gun aimed at Anatoly," he said to Jane. "I'm going to see whether this thing will fly."
Jane found the gun surprisingly heavy. Aiming at Anatoly, she kept her arm outstretched, for a while, but soon had to lower her arm to rest it. With her left hand she patted Chantal's back. Chantal had cried, off and on, during the last few minutes, but now she had stopped.
The helicopter's engine turned over, kicked and hesitated. Oh, please start, she prayed; please go.
The engine roared into life, and she saw the blades turn.
Jean-Pierre looked up.
Don't you dare, she thought. Don't move!
Jean-Pierre sat upright, looked at her, then got painfully to his feet.
Jane pointed the pistol at him.
He started to walk toward the helicopter.
"Don't make me shoot you!" she screamed, but her voice was drowned by the increasing roar of the engines.
Anatoly must have seen Jean-Pierre, for he rolled over and sat up. Jane pointed the gun at him. He lifted his
hands in a gesture of surrender. Jane swung the gun back toward Jean-Pierre. Jean-Pierre kept coming.
Jane felt the helicopter shudder and try to lift.
Jean-Pierre was close now. She could see his face clearly. His hands were spread wide in a gesture of appeal, but there was a mad light in his eyes. He's lost his mind, she thought; but perhaps that happened a long time ago.
"I will do it!" she yelled, although she knew he could not hear. "I will shoot you!"
The helicopter lifted off the ground.
Jean-Pierre broke into a run.
As the aircraft went up he jumped and landed on the deck. Jane hoped he would fall out again, but he steadied himself. He looked at her with hate in his eyes, and gathered himself to spring.
She closed her eyes and pulled the trigger.
The gun crashed and bucked in her hand.
She opened her eyes again. Jean-Pierre was still standing upright, with an expression of astonishment on his face. There was a spreading dark stain on the breast of his coat. Panicking, Jane pulled the trigger again, and again, and a third time. She missed with the first two, but the third seemed to hit his shoulder. He spun around, facing out, and fell forward through the doorway.
Then he was gone.
I killed him, she thought.
At first she felt a kind of wild elation. He had tried to capture her and imprison her and make her a slave. He had hunted her like an animal. He had betrayed her and beaten her. Now she had killed him.
Then she was overcome by grief. She sat on the deck and sobbed. Chantal began to cry too, and Jane rocked her baby as they wept together.
She did not know how long she stayed there. Eventually she got to her feet and went forward to stand beside the pilot's seat.
"Are you all right?" Ellis shouted.
She nodded and tried a weak smile.
Ellis smiled back, pointed to a gauge and yelled: "Look - full tanks!"
She kissed his cheek. One day she would tell him she had shot Jean-Pierre; but not now. "How far to the border?" she asked.
"Less than an hour. And they can't send anybody after us because we have their radio."
Jane looked through the windscreen. Directly ahead, she could see the white-peaked mountains she would have had to climb. I don't think I could have done it, she said to herself. I think I would have lain down in the snow and died.
Ellis had a wistful expression on his face.
"What are you thinking about?" she asked.
"I was thinking how much I'd like a roast beef sandwich with lettuce and tomato and mayonnaise on wholewheat bread," he said, and Jane smiled.
Chantal stirred and cried. Ellis took a hand off the controls and touched her pink cheek. "She's hungry," he said.
"I'll go back and take care of her," said Jane. She returned to the passenger cabin and sat on the bench. She unbuttoned her coat and her shirt, and fed her baby as the helicopter flew on into the rising sun.