Authors: Jack Higgins
Tags: #Police Procedural, #Oil Industries, #Conspiracies, #Mystery & Detective, #Presidents, #Arabs, #Vendetta, #Dillon; Sean (Fictitious character), #Fiction, #Attempted assassination, #Suspense, #Thrillers, #Espionage
Edge of Danger by Jack Higgins
Paul Rashid was one of the richest Englishmen in the world. He was also half Arab, and few people could tell you which influence most ruled his heart.
Paul’s father had been the leader of the Rashid Bedouin in the province of Hazar, in the Persian Gulf, and a soldier by both birth and tradition. Sent as a young man to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, he had met Lady Kate Dauncey, the Earl of Loch Dhu’s daughter, at a formal dance there. He was wealthy and handsome and, despite the obvious problems, it was a love match, and so, despite the initial misgivings of both sets of parents, they had married, Paul’s father travelling back and forth between England and the Gulf as necessary. Over the years they had produced four children: Paul, the eldest, Michael, George and Kate.
The children were intensely proud of both sides of their family. In deference to their illustrious
Omani past, they all spoke fluent Arabic and were Bedu to the heart, but as Paul Rashid would say, their English half was just as important, and they fiercely guarded the Dauncey name and their heritage as one of England’s oldest families.
The two traditions flowed together in their blood, the medieval British and the Bedouin, producing a general fierceness that was most remarked upon in Paul, and was perhaps best epitomized by an extraordinary incident that occurred when Paul was himself about to pass out of Sandhurst. He’d just gone home for a few days’ leave. Michael was eighteen at the time, George seventeen and Kate twelve.
The Earl was away in London and Paul had gone down to Hampshire and found his mother in the library of Dauncey Place with a badly bruised face. She had reached to hug him and it was Kate who’d said, ‘He punched her, Paul. That awful man punched Mummy!’
Paul turned to Michael and said carefully, ‘Explain.’
‘Travellers,’ his brother told him. ‘A bunch of them moved into Roundhay Spinney with four caravans and some horses. Their dogs killed our ducks and Mother went to speak to them.’
‘You let her go alone?’
‘No, we all went, even Kate. The men laughed at us, and then when Mother started shouting at them, their leader, a large man, very tall, very aggressive, punched her in the face.’
Paul Rashid’s own face was very pale, the eyes dark, as he stared at Michael and George. ‘So, this animal laid hands on our mother and you let it happen?’ He slapped them both. ‘You have two hearts. A Rashid’s and a Dauncey’s. Now, I will show you how to be true to both.’
His mother grabbed his sleeve. ‘Please, Paul, no more trouble, it’s not worth it.’
‘Not worth it?’ His smile was terrible. ‘There is a dog here who needs a lesson. I intend to give him one,’ and he turned and led the way out.
They drove to Roundhay Spinney in a Land Rover, the three boys. Paul had forbidden Kate to come, but after they left, she saddled her favourite mare and followed anyway, galloping across country.
They found the caravans parked in a circle, with a large wood fire in the centre, and a dozen or so men and women grouped around it, along with several children, four horses and dogs.
The large man described by the two younger
boys sat on a box by the fire drinking tea. He looked up as the three young men approached.
‘And who might you be?’
‘My family owns Dauncey Place.’
‘Oh, dear, Mr high-and-mighty, is it?’ He laughed at the others. ‘Looks more like a prick to me.’
‘At least I don’t punch women in the face. I try to act like a man, which is more than anyone can say about you. You made a mistake, you piece of dung. That lady was my mother.’
‘Why, you little shite …’ the large man started, and never finished.
Paul Rashid’s hand went into the deep pocket of his Barbour, and pulled out a jambiya, the curved knife of the Bedu. His brothers followed suit.
As the other men moved in, Paul slashed with the jambiya down the left side of the large man’s skull, slicing off the ear. One of the other men pulled a knife from his pocket, and Michael Rashid, filled with energy he had never known, slashed sideways with his own jambiya, cutting open the man’s cheek, sending him howling with pain.
One of the others picked up a branch and used it as a club to strike at George, but Kate Rashid ran from where she’d been hiding, picked up a rock and hurled it into his face with a shrill cry in Arabic.
As quickly as it had begun, it was over. The rest of the group stood warily, in silence, not even the women and children crying out, and suddenly the skies opened and rain poured down. The leader held a soiled handkerchief to his ear, or what was left of it, and groaned, ‘I’ll get you for this.’
‘No, you won’t,’ Paul Rashid said. ‘Because if you ever come near this estate or my mother again, it won’t be your other ear you’ll lose. It will be your private parts.’
He wiped his jambiya on the man’s coat, then produced a Walther pistol from his pocket and fired twice into the side of the kettle over the fire. Water poured out and the flames began to subside.
‘I’ll give you one hour to clear out. I believe the National Health Hospital in Maudsley covers even scum like you. But do take me seriously.’ He paused. ‘If you and your friends ever bother my mother again, I will kill you. Nothing is more certain.’
The three young men drove away through the rain, Kate following on her horse. The rain was relentless as they entered the village of Dauncey and drove up to the pub named the Dauncey Arms. Paul braked
outside, they got out and Kate slid off her mare and tied her to a small tree.
She stood looking at them in the rain, her face troubled. ‘I’m sorry that I disobeyed you, brother.’ But Paul kissed her on both cheeks and said, ‘You were wonderful, little sister.’ He held her for a moment as his brothers looked on, then released her. ‘And it’s high time you had your first glass of champagne.’
Inside the pub were beamed ceilings, a marvellous old mahogany bar ranged with bottles and a huge log fire in the grate. Half a dozen local men at the bar turned, then took off their caps. The landlady, Betty Moody, who’d been polishing glasses, looked up and said, ‘Why, Paul.’ Her familiarity was expected. She had known all of them since childhood, had even been Paul’s nurse for a time. ‘I didn’t know you were home.’
‘An unexpected visit, Betty. There were some things I needed to take care of.’
Her eyes were hard. ‘Like those bastards at Roundhay Spinney?’
‘How on earth do you know about them?’ ‘Not much gets by me, not here at the Arms. They’ve been bothering people in the neighbourhood for weeks.’
‘Well, they won’t be a problem to anybody, Betty, not any more.’ He placed his jambiya on the bar.
There was a sound of vehicles passing outside, and one of the men went to the window. He turned. ‘Well, I’ll be damned. All they shites be on their way out.’
‘Yes, well, they would be,’ Michael said.
Betty put down a glass. ‘No one loves you more than I, Paul Rashid, no one except your blessed mother, but I do recall your temper. Have you been a naughty boy again?’
Kate said, ‘The awful man attacked Mummy, he beat her.’
The bar was silent and Betty Moody said, ‘He what?’
‘It’s all right. Paul cut his ear off, so they’ve gone away.’ Kate smiled. ‘He was wonderful.’
The silence in the bar was intense. ‘She wasn’t too bad herself,’ Paul Rashid said. ‘As it turns out, our little Kate is very handy with a rock. So, Betty, love, let’s open a bottle of champagne. I think copious helpings of shepherd’s pie wouldn’t come amiss, either.’
She reached over and touched his face. ‘Ah, Paul, I should have known. Anything else?’
‘Yes, I’m going back to Sandhurst tomorrow. Could you find time to see if Mother needs any help? Oh, and excuse the fact that the child here is too young to be in the bar?’
‘Of course on both counts.’ She opened the fridge and took out a bottle of Bollinger. She patted Kate on the head. ‘Get behind the bar with me, girl. That makes it legitimate.’ As she thumbed off the cork, she smiled at Paul. ‘All in the family, eh, Paul?’
‘Always,’ he said.
Later, after the meal and the champagne, he led the way across the road and through the graveyard to the porched entrance of the Dauncey parish church, which dated from the twelfth century.
It was very beautiful, with an arched ceiling and, the rain having stopped, a wonderful light coming in through the stained glass windows and falling across the pews and the marble gravestones and carved figures that were the memorials of the Dauncey family across the centuries.
Their peerage was a Scottish one. Sir Paul Dauncey it had been until the death of Queen Elizabeth, and then when King James VI of Scotland became James I of England, his good friend
Sir Paul Dauncey was one of those who galloped from London to Edinburgh to tell him. James I had made him Earl of Loch Dhu - the black loch or the place of dark waters - in the Western Highlands. As it usually rained six days out of seven, though, the Daunceys had understandably remained at Dauncey Place, leaving only a small, broken-down castle and estate at Loch Dhu.
The one signal difference between Scottish and English peerages was that the Scottish title did not die with the male heirs. If there were none, it could be passed through the female line. Thus, when the Earl died, his mother would become Countess. He himself would receive the courtesy title of Viscount Dauncey, the other boys would be Honourables and young Kate would become Lady Kate. And one day, Paul, too, would be Earl of Loch Dhu.
Their footsteps echoed as they walked along the aisle. Paul paused beside a lovely piece of carving, a knight in armour and his lady. ‘I think he would have been pleased today, don’t you?’ He recited part of the family catechism, familiar to all of them: ‘Sir Paul Dauncey, who fought for Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field, then cut his way out and escaped to France.’
‘And later, Henry Tudor allowed him back,’ young Kate said. ‘And restored his estates.’
‘Which inspired our family motto,’ Michael added.’I always return.’
‘And always have.’ Paul pulled Kate close and put his arm about his brothers. ‘Always together. We are Rashid, and we are Dauncey. Always together.’
He hugged them fiercely and Kate cried a little and held him tight.
After Sandhurst, Paul was commissioned into the Grenadier Guards, did a tour in Ireland and then in ninety-one was pulled into the Gulf War by the SAS.
This was ironic, because his father was an Omani general, a friend of Saddam Hussein’s, who had been seconded to the Iraqi Army for training purposes and found himself caught up in the war as well, on the other side. No one questioned Paul’s loyalty, however. For the SAS behind the Iraqi lines, Paul Rashid was a priceless asset, and when the war ended, he was decorated. His father, however, died in action. For his part, Paul accepted the situation. ‘Father
was a soldier and he took a soldier’s risks,’ he told his two brothers and sister. ‘I am a soldier and do the same.’
Michael and George also went to Sandhurst. Afterwards, Michael went to Harvard Business School and George into the Parachute Regiment, where he did his own tour in Ireland. One year was enough, however. He left the army and joined a course in estate management.
As for young Kate, after St Paul’s Girls’ School, she went to St Hugh’s College, Oxford, then moved into her wild period, carving her way through London society like a tornado.
When the Earl died in 1993, it was totally unexpected, the kind of heart attack that strikes without warning and kills in seconds. Lady Kate was now the Countess of Loch Dhu, and they laid the old man to rest in the family mausoleum in Dauncey churchyard. The entire village turned up and many outsiders, people Paul had never met.
In the Great Hall at Dauncey Place where the reception was held, Paul went in search of his mother and found one such person leaning over
her, a man in his late middle age. Paul stood close by as his mother glanced up.
‘Paul, dear, I’d like you to meet one of my oldest friends, Brigadier Charles Ferguson.’
Ferguson took his hand. ‘I know all about you. I’m Grenadier Guards myself. That job you did behind Iraqi lines with Colonel Tony Villiers was fantastic. A Military Cross wasn’t enough.’ ‘You know Colonel Villiers?’ Paul asked. ‘We go back a long way.’
‘You seem to know a lot, Brigadier. That SAS operation was classified.’
His mother said, ‘Charles and your grandfather soldiered together. Funny places. Aden, the Oman, Borneo, Malaya. Now he runs a special intelligence outfit for the Prime Minister.’ ‘Kate, you shouldn’t say that,’ Ferguson told her. ‘Nonsense,’ she said. ‘Everyone who is anyone knows.’ She took his hand. ‘He saved your grandfather’s life in Borneo.’
‘He saved mine twice.’ Ferguson kissed her on the forehead, then turned to Paul. ‘If there’s anything I can do for you, here’s my card.’
Paul Rashid held his hand firmly. ‘You never know, Brigadier. I may take you up on that some day.’
Being the eldest, Paul was selected to go to London to consult with the family lawyer about the late Earl’s will, and when he returned late in the evening he found the family seated by the fire in the Great Hall. They all looked up expectantly.