General Fiction posted January 15, 2020 Chapters:  ...105 106 -107- 108... 

This work has reached the exceptional level
Kayla tells of her time in Phuket.

A chapter in the book The French Letter

Snakes Alive!

by tfawcus

Seconded to MI6, Charles and Helen are in Pakistan on a mission in the Hindu Kush to neutralise Abdul Jaleel Zemar (The Lion), leader of an international terrorist network.
The closing paragraphs of Chapter 106 ...

A fanatical look flared in her eye. It bored into me as she said, "I, too, swear vengeance. I swear it on my mother's grave. You think I'm here to do Jeanne Durand's bidding. That is true only so long as her plans and mine coincide. I am here to support my sister and to avenge the murder of my mother and father by Zemar and his henchmen."

"Where does Ash fit into this?"

"I'm not sure yet. Maybe we'll find out when he returns. It is only a wild guess, but I think he wants me to carry the ransom to Zemar. Jeanne is very fond of Helen. She has strong personal reasons for wanting her to stay alive."

"So do I," I said. "So do I."

Chapter 107

"You realise that the moment Ash gets accurate coordinates on The Lion's hideout, he'll send them back to Jeanne in Paris. She'll be the only person who can save Helen. The place will get blown apart. The question is whether she'll allow enough time for Helen to escape before that happens." 
I was acutely aware of the close bond between Helen and Jeanne and could only pray it might buy Helen a little extra time.

"If I'm the one delivering the ransom, that goes for me, too. I suspect the briefcase will have a tracking device on it, and the courier's task will be nothing short of a suicide mission." A faraway look came into Kayla's eyes as she said this, and I was taken aback by her tone of voice. It seemed as if she had already accepted her likely fate, and there was no turning back.

"We're jumping the gun a bit, aren't we? It's only a guess that Ash's briefcase is stuffed full of euros. Anyway, what makes you think the French government would bend to a ransom demand any more than the British would?"

Kayla brushed a loose strand of hair behind her ear and glanced down before answering. "I've been involved with Jeanne before - when I was in Thailand."

I sensed that she was teetering on the edge of an uncomfortable revelation and in two minds about continuing. "Go on," I said, "I'm a good listener. You never did tell us what happened to you after your night in Phun Phin with the bogan Aussie tourists."

She gave a wry grin. "One night in the Queens Hotel with Davey Boy was enough to ensure that I split up with them as soon as we reached Phuket. It's a long story, and I won't bore you with it now."

I urged her on gently. "Perhaps just the bare bones? You can't leave it there now you've piqued my curiosity."

She gave me a playful push. "All right. You've asked for it."

As she led me back through the orchard, she plucked a ripe pear from one of the trees and tossed it to me. I was reminded of the bizarre arrangement Bamforth had told me about in Paris. A list of all the ISIS operatives in Europe concealed in a pear. What a ridiculous idea.

"Follow me," she said. "There's a seat beyond that rock. It overlooks the valley. A special place I used to come to as a child
when I wanted to be alone. No one will overhear us there."

She waited until I sat down, then squeezed up close and put an arm around my shoulder. I drew away, feeling ill at ease, and sank my teeth into the pear. Juice dribbled down my chin. "Erotic fruit, aren't they?" she said, leaning over to wipe the dampness away with her fingers.

Her scent made me dizzy with desire. It was the same perfume that Helen had worn months before in the Rendez-Vous des Amis, a musky fragrance of jasmine with undertones of spice. I pushed her away and threw the remains of the pear against the trunk of a tree. Its flesh caught in the bark like a bug smashed against a windscreen.

She tossed her head back, running her hand through her hair. "Don't mind me," she said. "I'm only teasing. I know it's Helen you love, more's the pity. She's a lucky girl."

By this time, I was thoroughly confused, and if not actually the colour of a beetroot, close to it. I took out a
pocket-handkerchief and wiped the rest of the juice from my chin. "Go on," I said. "Tell me about Phuket."

I remembered from our late-night conversation in Rue Gabrielle that Thaksin, her Muay Thai instructor, was the reason Kayla had chosen Phuket as a refuge after she'd killed Bukhari. She trusted him and knew that he had moved there to take up a position as an instructor at a boys' training camp. It was an out-of-the-way place 
at the southern end of the island that she hoped might be beyond the purview of Bukhari's drug cartel.

"After I met up with Thaksin, I lay low for a while. His boys were being prepared for fights in the Patong Boxing Stadium, where there were plenty of tourists prepared to pay good money for a bit of blood sport. I was surprised at how many were barely teenagers. There were a couple of girls among them, too, and I helped with their training to earn my keep."

I was anxious to keep the story on track, so I interrupted her. "What about Jeanne?"

"I don't know how, but she discovered where I was. I'd had a good workout with the girls and was enjoying a can of Fanta at a beachside shack near the fighters' gym. It was a humid day without a breath of wind but I suddenly felt a cool breeze on my neck. There she was, standing behind me, with a silly little battery-operated fan in her hand."

I could see this was going to be a long story. Kayla's idea of the bare bones wasn't the same as mine. Anyway, it transpired that Jeanne wanted to intercept a major drug shipment bound for France. It was due to leave from the port of Ranong, close to the Myanmar-Thai border in less than a week. Kayla was to have a pivotal role as a courier, buying the shipment on behalf of the Paris drug cartel. That was the fiction, anyway.

"She wanted me to make the payment to a man in one of the Patong bars. It was to be in used 500-euro notes, ones that had been consigned for destruction by the Banque de France. They were all marked. I was to deliver them to him in a briefcase that had a tracking device on it. That's what leads me to think a similar method will be used by her here."

"Why you? Surely, there was a danger you would be recognised." The whole idea seemed absurd to me.

"She said it was to cancel a debt incurred by Helen for her flight to Paris and her subsequent accommodation there, and she hinted at dire consequences for my sister if I didn't comply."

"The cunning vixen! She certainly knew the weak point in your defences."

"Yes. Worse still, she set me up. Bukhari's mob no longer trusted her after I killed him. They were sure she had something to do with it. I was being offered as the sacrificial lamb, a token of her good faith. Her ulterior motive was to get the goods on Bukhari's successor. She wanted photographic evidence of the transaction that could ultimately be used against him. Killing two birds with one stone, as it were."

I was about to reply when Kayla slid her hand across and clutched my knee. "Stay still," she said, nodding in the direction of the tree I'd recently assaulted with my pear. There was a rustle in the leaves beneath as the sinuous curves of a darkly mottled snake slithered towards us. When about three yards away, it raised its head slightly, as if sensing the air. Then it changed direction and disappeared into a crevice between two rocks.

My body tensed, and I felt a dryness in the back of my throat. "I didn't know you had snakes up here," I said.

"Oh, yes, there are a few, but you don't usually see them in the daytime. I'm pretty sure that one was a pit viper. Probably after mice."


"Enough to kill a rodent. You wouldn't want to be bitten by one - especially if you were a rat. You're not a rat though, are you, Charles?"

"Come on, Kayla. I think it's time we returned to the house. The others won't be much longer."
As we walked back, I asked her how she’d escaped from the situation.

“I talked the whole thing through with Thaksin. He thought I’d be mad to go along with Jeanne's plan, but seeing I was determined, he said he’d bring a few of the boys along to the bar in case things turned nasty.”

“So, what happened?”

“They turned nasty all right. One of the bodyguards with Bukhari's successor recognised me. All hell broke loose. Suddenly, the room was full of the whirling arms and legs of screaming kickboxers. Talk about the Art of the Eight Limbs. One of them sent the briefcase flying and the contents were scattered all over the place. I managed to grab a handful of notes as Thaksin dragged me away. Before we reached the door, a shot was fired. The bullet grazed my arm.”

As if to verify her account, she rolled up her sleeve and showed me the scar. “See? I was lucky to get out alive. Even luckier to have a bunch of 500-euro notes to exchange on the black market. They were what got me out of Phuket and across to Paris. I think you know the rest.”

She had scarcely finished her tale when I heard the muted purr of Bisto’s car coming up the road. Ash was sitting in the back, like some chauffeur-driven aristocrat.

Book of the Month contest entry


List of Characters

Charles Brandon - the narrator, a well-known travel writer.
Abdul Jaleel Zemar (The Lion) - Coordinator of an international network of ISIS cells
Helen Culverson - A Kalasha woman,
Kayla Culverson - her older sister
Auntie Mozama - their aunt
Madame Jeanne Durand - a French magazine editor and undercover agent with the French Drug Squad.
Ash - a French liaison officer attached to the British High Commission in Islamabad. Also a member of the French anti-drug squad (la Brigade des stupefiants), whose operations are directed by Jeanne Durand.
Alain Gaudin - brother of Francoise, a gardener at Monet's house in Giverney
Francoise Gaudin - Alain's intellectually disabled sister.
Rasheed - a taxi driver in Lahore, radicalised by ISIS
Abdul - a taxi driver in Islamabad, working undercover for the British High Commission
Hassim - a tour operator
Montague (Monty) - a member of staff at the British High Commission in Islamabad.
Sir Robert - the Deputy High Commissioner at the British High Commission in Islamabad (a personal friend and confidante of Group Captain David Bamforth, the British Air Attache in Paris)
Tariq Habeeb - the Senior Superintendent of Police in Chitral
Group Captain Bamforth (alias Sir David Brockenhurst) - an intelligence officer with MI6 and Air Attache in Paris
Madame Madeleine Bisset - Helen's landlady in Paris
Mr Bukhari - a Pakistani businessman (now deceased)
Ian 'Bisto' Kidman - an ex-RAF friend of Charles's.
Monsieur Bellini - a denizen of the French Underworld.
Andre (aka Scaramouche) - an actor in Montmartre and friend of Kayla's
Dr Laurent - a veterinary surgeon in Versailles.
Father Pierre Lacroix - vicar of the Versailles Notre Dame church.
Madame Lefauvre - an old woman living in Versailles - the town gossip.
Estelle Gaudin [deceased] - mother of Francoise and Alain, a prostitute
Mademoiselle Suzanne Gaudin [deceased] - Alain's grandmother, to whom the mysterious 'French letter' of 1903 was addressed.
Jack and Nancy Wilkins - a Wiltshire dairy farmer and his wife.
Gaston Arnoux - Owner of an art gallery in Paris. A triple agent, who infiltrated the ISIS network in France and fed information to MI6, but who is now providing information to Abdul Jaleel Zemar (The Lion).
Colonel Neville Arnoux [deceased] - Gaston's grandfather. Author of the infamous letter of 1903
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