Chapter 11: Edited Excerpt
The jacarandas were in bloom, lavender blossoms glowing in the moonlight. Forming an extravagant canopy, they lined the driveway to the Peshawar Club, a faded-yellow, colonial-era oasis of gentility. The air was still and hot.
Backed by a low-slung building, the front lawn was a communal space with scattered seating areas, each grouped around an electric fan. Nick and Robin settled into a pair of comfortable rattan chairs, the parcels at his feet.
Across the lawn, two Pakistanis were relaxing in front of a large television. The evening news just finished, they were watching an episode of Bonanza.
A turbaned waiter approached, tall and dignified. “Good evening, Mr. Daley.”
Nick handed him a newspaper-wrapped package. “Mangoes to knock your socks off, Mohammed. Half for you, half for me.”
“Thank you, sir.” The waiter sniffed the fruit and smiled.
“I see mangoes have gone up lately. They say it’s because of all the Afghan refugees.”
The smile faded. “What can we do? This is our sacred Pashtun duty, hospitality to the guest. Melmastia.”
“‘The bigger the man’s tablecloth, the bigger the man.'” Nick glanced at Robin.
“You know us well, sir.” Mohammed bowed. “I will bring dinner.”
Nick winked. “Don’t forget the naan.”
She wiped her hands. “I love all these smells.”
“A reminder you’re not in Kansas anymore. In case you ever were. Which I was.”
“You’ve come a long way.”
“Yeah. I’ve lost my taste for Kentucky Fried.”
Robin grinned. “It was wonderful, Nick.”
“As good as home cooking.”
She gazed around the ‘living room’ lawn. “It is like a home, isn’t it?”
“About as close as I’ve got.” He shrugged. “How about a nightcap?”
A hint of wariness returned. “I suppose it can’t be served out here on the lawn?”
“My ice cubes are made with bottled water.”
Robin met his glance and held it. “Well, in the name of intestinal health…”
He took her hand, she left it there. Something about time and place and out-of-context, because the big city writer and the CIA cowboy were drawn to each other, despite themselves and certainly despite their better judgment. But they both kept telling themselves it was just part of the job.
Nick led her through the garden along a narrow path overgrown with roses. The air was heavy with their scent, mingling with the jacaranda and jasmine. The effect was sensual, silky, almost overpowering.
The path stopped at his bungalow, covered with purple bougainvillea and more jasmine. They walked up two steps to his door. There was a pause, then he turned the knob and they entered.
After a moment of mutual discomfort, Nick gestured. “This is it. Make yourself at home. Be right back.”
Robin looked around. It was casual, mostly leftover Victorian. Definitely lived-in. Sun-bleached, floral chintz curtains. A once-dark-green armchair, paisley quilt tossed on its matching but less faded ottoman. An old Royal typewriter on a small teak desk. A crowded bookcase, stacks of the Frontier Post and International Herald Tribune. A man who moved with typewriter and books and didn’t pay much attention to where he landed.
She noticed the map of Pakistan behind it. Then others, tacked around the wall. His own history, perhaps? Southeast Asia, India and Iran. Afghanistan. A topographical map of the North-West Frontier Province. At least, no girlie calendars. Reassured, Robin sat down on the overstuffed brown sofa, avoiding the spring poking up from the middle seat cushion. There was a little carved ivory elephant on the wrought-iron coffee table. It was all quirky and non-threatening.
“You like Armagnac?” he asked, from a small alcove off the living room.
“Guess we won’t need ice after all.”
“Tell me if you’ve heard this one. ” He popped in a cassette. “Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin. My kicking-back music.”
The music was both floaty and energetic. “I like it. It’s cozy here. Like a California bungalow.”
“Comes from the Hindi.”
“The word bungalow.” Reappearing with the brandy snifters and bottle, Nick sat. “A legacy of the British Raj. Another kind of import. Like ‘pyjama’ and ‘chintz.'”
She glanced at his curtains. “I thought chintz was Victorian.”
“It is. By way of India.”
“I take it men walk around in pyjamas there, too.”
He nodded. “Just like here. Ever been to India?”
“You’d be hard-pressed to know when you crossed the border. India and Pakistan had a bitter divorce almost forty years ago.”
“You’ve done your homework. So you know that before, they were ‘married’ for centuries.”
“And their culture is community property.”
“All the way from muslin to Muslim.”
She bobbled her head side-to-side in the local manner. “Including pyjamas in the street.”
“You think maybe they know something we don’t?”
“You mean how to dress in hot weather?”
“At least.” He poured two small shots, then lifted his glass in a toast. “To—Jamal.”
Pleased with the oblique reference to her trip, she raised her glass to his.
There was a musical clink. Then a sweet warmth trickled down their throats. The scent of jasmine drifted through an open window.
Placing his drink down, Nick pushed the spring back inside the cushion. As she reached to help, their fingers touched. Their skin the same golden color. But her hand was chilled, while his was hot.
Nick plucked her glass away. His hand moved to her thick hair, crossing her head as if he wanted to get inside. Robin froze. His fingers touched her cheek, circled her dimple, then he took her stubborn jaw and turned it to him. The hands that had met on the sofa were now entwined.
They looked at each other and then kissed. A tentative kiss. Shy but firm. Their lips drew apart, but only slightly. His mouth moved to the dimple on her chin; his tongue explored it first, then teeth and tongue and lips. Robin shivered: a new erogenous zone.
Suddenly Mr. Yu burst through the door, waving a pistol. Still in his business suit, yet resonating with frantic menace.
Robin tensed with fright, fingers digging into Nick’s arm.
He reassured her with a pat, shifting gears. “Why, Mr. Yu, a new Beretta?”
“Quick trip to Darra, no problem.”
Nick raised an eyebrow. “You found a shop open this time of night?”
“Good customers in Darra. They do me a small favor this evening. Now, finish talking. You will be pleased to return my property.”
Bewildered, Robin glanced from one to the other.
“I’m sure we can work something out, my friend. But please, stop waving that gun around. There’s a lady present.”
Mr. Yu didn’t budge, nor did the .22. “Nothing to work out.”
“I wonder how your government would feel about a trusted official sidelining in drugs while the guest of an important ally-who also happens to be an important customer? And not for just the small stuff. Right?”
Yu directed a murderous look Nick’s way.
“International relations are at stake, not to mention foreign exchange. The Pakistanis pay with dollars, as I’m sure you’re aware.” Nick stared hard at Yu. “Just as you are aware of China’s stringent anti-drug laws. They’re not too big on murder, either.”
Mr. Yu slowly lowered the pistol.
Robin followed the unfolding events…fear turning to confusion to fury. Guns, drugs. Murder. Turned-on, turned-off. Just what was Nick up to and who was he, really? More important, how would this situation impact her plans?
“I’ll tell you what,” Nick sat forward, holding Yu’s gaze. “I promise to keep my mouth shut and return those nasty drugs. But I do need a small favor.”
“What about my money?”
“You mean the Russian dope dealer’s money? There’s an old American proverb: Finders keepers, losers weepers.” Nick relaxed back in his seat. “I’d like our relationship to remain friendly. I could use you as a ‘consultant’ on a little deal I’m working on.”
Whatever the “deal,” Robin wanted no part of it. She’d seen Midnight Express; she knew about the prisons in this part of the world. The guy was trouble—even dangerous—a threat to everything she planned to accomplish. Robin leapt to her feet. “It’s been really swell, Nick, but I want to forget I ever saw the inside of this room. I’ll leave you two boys to continue your discussion in private.”
“Sorry, Robin, business.”
“Get it while you can, Nick.” She turned sharply to go, but kept her ears open. The bastard didn’t say a word to stop her. Well, good riddance! So what was that little grain of disappointment she felt? She slammed the door behind her.