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Rated: E · Novella · Action/Adventure · #1203882
The second installment of the latest Edgar Williams adventure.
Chapter One: Bangkok Nights

Bangkok.  The city of angels in the land of smiles.  What on Earth they were going to make of me, only the future knew, and she wasn’t telling.

My presence here had been requested at the highest level.  To this day, I still don’t know how His Majesty’s Government knew how to contact me as they weren’t exactly my typical type of employer.  After my enlightenment in Africa, I had bounced around the Dark Continent, turning my hand to whatever I could find that would keep me alive in the most entertaining fashion possible.  In this way I had picked up a number of skills, many of which were not the kind a gentleman expects to ever learn.  But then again, these days there was precious little of the gentleman left in me.

And so my reputation grew, until I was known across the land as a man who got things done.  It was perhaps not quite how I had pictured my new life but it certainly fulfilled the criteria of there never being a dull moment.

Whilst resting in Cape Town, licking my wounds after a near fatal run in with a band of renegade natives, I received a cable from one Sir Charles Wingrove, representative of His Majesty, suggesting I might like to pay him a visit in far off Bangkok, at the nation’s expense of course.  Thinking that it might be wise to put some distance between myself and my adopted homeland for a while, I agreed, cabling back my acceptance immediately.

So now after an epic sea voyage of several weeks, with its own fair share of dangers and delights, I finally reached Siam with nearly two days to kill before my meeting with Sir Charles.  I found myself in the chaotic sprawl of Bangkok, an altogether different kind of jungle to the one I was used to.

Drifting through the madness, wraith-like, a stranger no one wanted to know, I became uncomfortable, unused to the nightmare bustle of the city after several years away.  I took in the ornate temples, the staggering array of tastes, sounds and smells, but I felt a longing deep inside, a yearning to return to my beloved Africa despite the danger there.  For my own senses, finely tuned as they now were, could detect danger here, something new, something I could not put a name to, for this was not my world.  Perhaps I had made a mistake in coming here, I was not ready to leave Africa just yet.  I felt the panic rising inside me, threatening to overcome and engulf me in a tide of unaccustomed dread.

Spinning on my heel, I felt as if everyone was watching me, spying on me and they knew my very purpose in being here, even if I as yet did not.  I yelled out at them, startling them, startling myself, creating an instant divide between us.  I realised I had drawn undue attention to myself and managed to pull things together, before stepping swiftly to the nearest shelter I could find: a temple, a peaceful refuge from the hostile outside world.

As I stared up into the relaxed features of a reclining Buddha, I felt the stress drain away and I was able to regain control once more, to draw myself back from the abyss over which I was teetering dangerously.  I took a deep breath and stood, ready to face the world that lay just beyond this haven. 

I turned to the exit, and a sudden flash of guilty movement startled me.  Were my irrational fears more than simply mounting paranoia?  Was someone watching my every move?  I raced forth, my sharpened eyes searching the crowds for my suspected observer.  But in the milling throng I was unable to catch even the barest glimpse of anyone suspicious.  Or rather, everyone looked suspicious, I could just not tell of what.

As the sun was beginning its slow descent below the horizon, I decided it was time to retire after my exhausting day, for I would need to be rested and refreshed before my meeting with Sir Charles the following evening.  I had already made plans to stake out the location where we were to meet, for a good hunter always knows his surroundings and it would do me well to have an escape route in mind, just in case the situation turned sour.

I rolled over to sleep that night troubled, despite the luxury in which I found myself and I was plagued with strange foreboding visions, dreams of a most terrible kind.  But were they simply nightmares or the shape of things to come?

Chapter Two: The Meeting

After minimal sleep, I rose early and breakfasted lightly on something sweet and crunchy purchased at random from one of the seemingly innumerable hawkers positioned wherever there was room for a portable grill.  I then made for the turgid waters of the river, so that I might be refreshed by the pleasant breeze blowing in from the east.  I sat awhile, entranced by the sight of a wizened old local man as he stretched and contorted his way through an astonishing array of excruciating positions, despite his great age.  When this extraordinary display was over, he lit an incensed taper before a nearby shrine and took a great bow, offering up his thanks to the gently smiling Buddha before him.

Unable to do the same myself, not being a spiritual man, I rose and hailed a passing tuk-tuk to take me to my arranged meeting with Sir Charles: the holy shrine of Wat Po, home to the incredible reclining Buddha.

A hair-raising journey through the jumbled streets of Bangkok, where traffic laws are optional, at the hands of an energetic tuk-tuk driver was an astonishing experience and although I had faced death many times in the last few years, this day was the first when I faced that spectre with fear in my eyes.

To step into Wat Po is to step through a portal into another world.  Gone is the everyday assault on the senses that is the city, to be replaced by a state of absolute grace.  Golden robed monks sit deep in concentration beneath the mighty temples, overlooked by a gently rushing waterfall; their soothing prayers and arrhythmic bell-ringing or drum beating are the only sounds that serve to enhance the peace.  Most people would only see this place for what it truly is: a safe haven, a sanctuary against the evils of the world.  But I only saw a thousand opportunities for a trap, a snare waiting to be sprung.  The towering multi-hued spires could hide a hundred snipers; the many intricate temple entrances could hold an army of assassins, ready to leap forth in an instant.  But why would I be summoned here, only to die unknowing of the very reason why?  Perhaps I may seem overly paranoid, but in my line of business, it is the only way to stay alive.

Having reassured myself somewhat that I was in no immediate danger, I stepped into the cool shade of the home of the reclining Buddha.  A majestic sight, some hundred feet long, wreathed in the light smoke of incense, with a handful of softly flickering candles casting a blissful glow over his gently smiling features.  I stared  up in awe, marvelling at the exquisite workmanship that had gone into the sculpting of this everlasting monument to peace.

Locked as I was in this timeless state of blissful unawareness, I failed to notice the light footfalls of someone else entering the hall.  It took a discreet cough from this newcomer to make me look around into the rotund and heavily moustached face of…

Chapter Three: Sir Charles

‘…Sir Charles Wingrove.  Edgar Williams I presume?’

I took a moment or two to reply, to exit the state of harmony from which I had been abruptly withdrawn and return to the world to which I was more accustomed.  ‘Good day to you,’ I replied cordially.  ‘I was just admiring this magnificent creation.’

‘Splendid, isn’t it?’  He extended a well manicured hand, and remembering my manners, I returned the courtesy in what I hoped was a friendly manner.

‘So, Sir Charles, why am I here?’ I queried in my usual abrupt manner.

Wingrove laughed, a bluff and hearty sound that punctuated the silence of the shrine like a gunshot.  ‘Your reputation does indeed precede you,’ he said smoothly.  ‘I had heard that you were a man who did not waste his words.  I like that, I think it means I can trust you.’

A curt nod was my immediate response.  ‘I believe that if a man cannot be trusted, then he has no honour.  And a man is nothing without his honour,’ I concluded, somewhat pompously in retrospect.

Sir Charles turned on his heel, leading the way down the silent corridor that led around the giant Buddha.  My bare feet making the slightest noise on the cold stone floor, I followed in my curiosity.

At length, he spoke, a deep breath preceding his every carefully chosen word.  ‘There is a man, by the name of Buchanan, who I believe is known to you.’

I snorted derisively and exclaimed, ‘Indeed I do.  The man is a notorious scoundrel.  I have done dubious things in a short time, always unwillingly, but Buchanan was born a wretch who takes a positive glee in his dreadful deeds,’ I then declared with vigour.  ‘Our paths have crossed several times in Africa and I have learnt to despise him more on each unfortunate occasion.’

Sir Charles stopped suddenly.  ‘Excellent.  Then you should have no compunction with the task I am about to entrust to you.’  Again there was that brief pause as he considered his following discourse.  ‘A group of political rebels, calling themselves the White Tigers, have been creating mayhem in the city.  All efforts to track them down have proved almost fruitless.  We do know that they have struck north for the hills, for cover and to recruit members of the tribes to their cause,’ he explained in his precise and clipped tones.

‘And what are these beliefs?’ I interjected.

He glanced at me, as if annoyed by the interruption.  ‘Complicated.  But you do not need to know the details, suffice to say it is the usual radical nonsense that we have heard so many times before.  We have information that Buchanan’s services have been retained to supply this makeshift army with weapons.’

‘And His Majesty’s government doesn’t want that to happen?’  Despite the frosty response to my last question, I chose again to interject. 

‘It’s more a case of that we can’t let it happen,’ he replied calmly.’

‘And again, the reasons are many and varied and not necessary for me to know?’

‘You can shrewdness to your list of fine attributes Mr. Williams,’ smiled Wingrove.

‘How am I to find Buchanan?’

‘You will strike immediately north, heading for Chiang Mai.  On the way, you will pick up supplies and a guide in Kanchanaburi,’ he explained.  ‘We have a good man waiting there for you.’

‘Then I have no further questions.  I will begin at once.’

Our conversation had led us all the way around the lazy idol and back out into the sticky heat of the waning afternoon.  I turned to shake Sir Charles’ hand.  Gripping mine tightly, he stared deeply into my eyes and gave me one last sage piece of advice.  ‘I know I can trust you to do this properly Williams.  Your past history with Buchanan leaves me no doubt in this.  But this is a new country for you.  Its people and its ways may seem very strange to you.  Keep your wits about you and you will do His Majesty proud.’

I laughed mirthlessly at this.  ‘I have found that people are the same wherever in the world it is they call home.  And I have no intention of doing His Majesty proud, I simply intend to carry out the job I have been hired to do and come back safely to do the next one.’

To my surprise, this sat well enough with Sir Charles and there was a twinkle in his eyes and the barest hint of a smile on his usually serious face as he turned to leave.  He called back over his shoulder as he departed, ‘Then God speed Mr. Williams.’
 
I watched him leave, bowing deeply to the saffron clad monks, before he clambered into a richly decorated carriage.  With a sharp crack of the whip, he was gone, vanished into the tumult that is Bangkok.

                                                      *******

I threw the last of my meagre belongings into the well worn case that was the nearest I had to home.  Glancing out the window, I saw that night had conquered the city.  Already I could hear the clamour of its denizens as they continued their perpetual struggle against the darkness.  The movement of a shadow where there should have been none brought my finely sharpened reflexes back into the moment and into action.

I spun, to see a black-clad man, his face masked except his shining eyes, rushing towards me.  In his raised arms, he grasped a short but deadly sword.  His intent was clear.  As he approached, I reached up and grabbed his wrists, using his own momentum to send him crashing into the nearby wall.  His blade clattered to the floor.  He scrambled instantly to his feet, his hand grasping for his weapon.  I reached out for my still open case, where I knew my trusted Remington revolver lay, loaded and ready to perform its despicable task.

The bang was deafening in the enclosed space and was followed by the thud of my would-be assassin’s body as it crashed to the wooden floor.  I stared grimly down at the corpse, my suspicions tragically confirmed.  Although Sir Charles had made no mention of the fact, I knew that my task would have its detractors, people who would stop at nothing to keep me from success.  I had thought that they would not strike before I had left the relative safety of the city, but clearly they were more determined than even my cynical mind had thought.

Deciding to keep my Remington closer to hand from now on, I slammed shut my case and headed for the door.  A glance back at the body staring sightlessly up at the ceiling left my heart heavy.  I had killed both man and beast before, always unwillingly and I knew I would do so again soon.  But it is never something which sits easily on a man’s soul and leaves its mark on him for evermore.

Chapter Four: Rough Guide to Siam

I stepped heavily down from the searing heat of the slow train from Bangkok.  The station was already bustling with innumerable locals, heading for the local market, their wares perched precariously wherever there was room.  Even after the insanity of Bangkok, Kanchanaburi still seemed chaotic to a man used to the wide open savannah of Africa.  After my escape from enslavement in London, I had avoided cities wherever possible, finding them uncomfortable and restrictive.  I would not be here long though and hopefully the forests of the north would soon find me more at ease with myself, all the better to carry out my grim task with the utmost of efficiency. 

‘Mr. Williams, sir!’  Somehow over the hubbub, I was able to pick out the sound of my name being called out in an excitable local accent.  I turned to see a tall thin man with an unruly mop of jet black hair.  His face was creased in a welcoming smile as if he was unbelievably pleased to see me.  Poor fool.  He bowed and nodded excitedly, reaching for my hand and pumping it energetically.

‘Mr. Williams, sawasdee, you are most welcome,’ he said in surprisingly unbroken English.  ‘My name is Nut ta Woot.  We go to your hotel now?’

Realising that this last sentence was a question, I nodded curtly for him to lead the way.  He grabbed my bag and moved effortlessly away through the throng.  My own journey proved somewhat more taxing, for as soon as Nut ta Woot had moved on, the minimal gap he had created disappeared, forcing me to thrust my way through, all the time trying to ignore the various forms of livestock mere inches from my face.

At last we reached the relative sanctity of my lodgings, a pleasant enough place situated directly on the banks of the River Kwai and run by a particularly charming young lady who playfully introduced herself as ‘Melon’.  I think Nut ta Woot may have had romantic intentions on Melon, as he came over all shy and awkward around her, totally unlike his usual effervescent self.  Alas, I was never able to discover if he was successful in his amorous intents.

I informed Nut ta Woot that I would be taking a brief rest before our evening trip to purchase supplies for the next stage of our journey.  I also decided that the fellow should know what he was getting himself caught up in and related the tale of the attack in Bangkok.  His eyes like saucers, he listened to the story in mounting horror, wincing when I reached the gruesome climax.  I think it had the desired effect though, as from now on he was more cautious with his talk and his eyes never ceased prowling.

I found it a tad suspicious however that Sir Charles would have sent such an inexperienced guide along on what was an obviously dangerous mission.  I vowed there and then that I would keep a watchful eye on my helpful friend.

                                                  *******

I rose a couple of hours later, feeling greatly refreshed and reached for the reassuring form of my Remington, safely tucked close by.  I stashed it in my holster and slung over a jacket to conceal its unsightly presence.  Exiting the gently bobbing room, I paused briefly to savour the setting sun as it cast its baleful glow across the darkened waters.  Despite many such visions, it is the one sight which never fails to move my hardened heart, even to this very day; nature’s beauty in its purest form.

I had arranged to meet Nut ta Woot at the market in a couple of hours, giving myself time to gather my thoughts and form some opinions on how best to proceed.  I wandered idly amongst the packed market stalls, selling everything from handicrafts, to enlightenment, to insects to snack on. 

My thoughts now turned to my quarry, Buchanan, and our previous encounters in Africa.  The first had been shortly after my awakening and the chap had seemed pleasant enough, charming indeed in a roguish sort of way.  He had saved me from a rather nasty bar room brawl that I had inadvertently become embroiled in and we quickly struck up a kind of friendship.  He taught me much of Africa, its language, its wildlife and its people and their ways.  To be associated with Buchanan brought with it a reflected glory and I willingly basked in the light of his company.  To my untutored eyes, he was a hero.

A tap on my shoulder had me spinning around, reaching for my holster.  But it was only Nut ta Woot’s grinning face that greeted me.  He held up a bag filled with some dark shapes, indistinct in the intermittent light.  He motioned for me to grab a handful, indicating that they tasted good.  I grabbed a few, cramming them into my mouth, suddenly reminded of how hungry I was.

Lost as I was in the past, it took a few seconds for realization to dawn: I was eating insects.  Despite the initial wave of revulsion, I manfully forced them down, concluding that there wasn’t actually much more to them than simple crunch.  Nut ta Woot slapped me heartily on the back and I seemed to have passed some kind of test with the irrepressible chap.

We strolled onwards, carefully selecting and discarding the barest necessities for the next few days.  Eight years in Africa had taught me to travel light and to improvise wherever necessary.  If so-called civilisation was nowhere to be found, then Mother Nature would surely provide.

I returned to my lodgings with the supplies, leaving Nut ta Woot to check on the final details of the transport for our next stage.  We would be heading to Ayuthaya, some distance to the east, where we could expect to pick up some details of Buchanan’s recent movements.  Nut ta Woot informed me that the town itself was steeped in history and was home to many great and beautiful temples.  I was sadly forced to remind him that I was not a sight-seer, but a man with an unpleasant yet necessary task to carry out.

I immediately felt a slight pang of sorrow for the sharpness in my tongue and I was forced to remind myself that the world had not yet corrupted this young lad in the way that it had I.  No apology was forthcoming from my lips however, and I went to sleep thinking that I must say something in the morning.

                                                  *******

A frantic knocking at my door early in the morning had me reaching once more for my Remington, but then I heard Nut ta Woot’s cheerful tones extolling the virtues of the beautiful morning awaiting me outside.  Smiling despite myself, I eased back the revolver under the pillow and prepared to face the day.

The sight of a furiously grinning Siamese face is an unforgettable way to herald in the morning and it was precisely this which greeted me when I flung open the door.  I returned the sentiment in my own fashion, but a smile was not something I had had much use for these past years, so I was a little out of practice.  Nonetheless, I think the effort was appreciated.

The morning was indeed glorious and for a moment I was able to put aside the thoughts of things to come and revel in the simple pleasure afforded by the sight of a deep blue sky, surrounded by heavily forested mountains.  Savour it while you can, for there would not be much time in the coming weeks.

After a short, sweet moment of quiet reflection, it was time to return to the present and head once more to the railway station, where Nut ta Woot informed me our supplies were safely packed away.

However, as there was still a wait of some hours before departure, Nut ta Woot had taken it upon himself to arrange for me a short excursion.  Unable to bring myself to disappoint this ever-smiling young man, I nodded my agreement and indicated for him to lead on.

A short tuk-tuk ride to the outskirts of town brought the first of two startling delights: a magnificent cascade of divine waterfalls, seven in total, and each with their own pool of glittering emerald water, cool and refreshing in the rising heat of the morning.  Here I was able to soothe my muscles and luxuriate in the splendid isolation of this divine refuge from the ills of the world.

A bracing climb to the very peak, the occasional dip or exhilarating slide down the slippery rocks being my own reward for my exertions, led to memories of my beloved Africa.  For, as I climbed, numerous gibbons frolicked freely in the nearby foliage, gracing me with their presence, for which I was most thankful.

Reluctantly I returned to the bottom, grateful also to Nut ta Woot for bringing me here and yet eager to see what the second surprise might be.  If I was brought pleasantly, albeit briefly, back to Africa by the gibbons, what happened next was a shock of a most unexpected kind.  For Nut ta Woot had deigned to bring me to a local tiger sanctuary where half a dozen splendid specimens were raised in calm and safety by a group of peace-loving monks.

Approaching the largest, the lead male, I gazed deeply into the languid pools of his eyes, surrounded by magnificent orange and black fur.  As I stared though, the colours seemed to shimmer and blur, to become golden brown, to become, in short, the face of the lion whose whisker I had plucked those many years ago.  I was transported back to the very moment when my life was transformed, for better or worse I am unsure, and a name came to my lips, a name which I had thought many times but which I had not had the courage to utter aloud for so long: my Amy.

Confusion reigned supreme for a perilous moment, surging uncontrollably through my mind, forcing me to doubt my new life, but I was able through sheer force of will to rein it in, to tame it and ultimately subdue it.  I could not, would not, allow memories of my former existence to confuse me, to turn me from this new hand that life had dealt me.

I broke contact with the great beast before me, hearing a snarl as I did so and I caught a glimpse of a knife-edge fang in the corner of my eye.  But I knew, after years of experience, that there was no danger here, the creature was merely ensuring I knew who was master and commander and who was subservient.  Thus I was able to walk away, shaken by the flood of memories that had threatened to engulf me, but fearless of any sudden attack from behind.

I was unable to greet Nut ta Woot with the same pleasure as when I departed the falls, but as I was incapable of explaining to the poor fellow the depths of the experience I had just undergone, our journey back was made in confused and sullen silence. 

                                                  ******

We departed Kanchanaburi without incident, heading through the rolling green countryside at a bone rattling pace.  Nut ta Woot had gone to socialise with some friends of his, leaving me to reflect on my second encounter with the man I had been hired to kill.

It had been a couple of years since our first meeting and I had gravitated towards a clerical position of some authority at one of South Africa’s many diamond mines.  Buchanan, the born troublemaker, had formed a gang intent on relieving the owners of the troublesome burden of so much wealth.  I was fortunate enough to be heavily involved in the planning of their capture, an elaborate scheme largely concocted by myself and took great pleasure in witnessing Buchanan’s fury when he realised his plan had been foiled.

It was this encounter that defined the tone for all such future meetings and I know that Buchanan’s hatred for me had not dimmed these many years later.  But were we now to face our final confrontation somewhere deep in the jungle heartland of Siam?  I could not help but wish it so and yet I still felt a sensation of remorse at the thought.  For, if a man may be defined by the quality of his enemies, then Buchanan’s demise would leave an already poor man even more destitute, as I could surely never hope to find a greater adversary than he.

The sounds of a sudden struggle filtered through my thoughts and with a shock I realised that of the several voices I could hear raised in anger, I could distinctly make out the pained tones of Nut ta Woot.  I sprang instantly into action, grabbing my Remington instinctively and exiting the cabin in a fraction of a heartbeat.

Glancing swiftly down the corridor, I was just able to make out three or four masked men grappling with another two carriages down.  The captive was not making his attackers’ task easy though and as he fetched them another hefty thump, I caught a clear view of his face.

In terrible silence, I raced towards the scene, shoving several passengers out of the way in my fury.  The drawing of my gun had more of the desired effect and I found that I had an unexpected clear shot at one of the attackers.

A sharp bark, a cloud of acrid smoke and the man reeled backwards, his death rattle dying on his lips.  The loss of a comrade spurred the survivors onwards to greater efforts and one of them slammed a mighty fist down upon poor Nut ta Woot’s head, rendering him instantly unconscious.  Two of the remaining men then dragged their insensible captive out through the door while the final man drew two weapons of his own, Colt 45’s I noticed, and sent a fusillade of bullets in my general direction.  With a smile on my face, I ducked down behind the cover of a nearby chair and counted down the seconds to the other man’s demise.

If you have to engage a man in a gun battle, then pray that he has learnt how to shoot American-style, with less concern for accuracy than for sheer volume of expended ammunition.

I heard his guns click empty and seized my opportunity.  A single squeeze of the trigger and my path was clear.  Reaching the adjoining section, I saw that the door to the outside swung open.  I flung it back all the way to be greeted by the terrifying sight of the ground rushing by some hundred dizzying feet below as the train raced across a rickety old bridge.  I grabbed hold of a nearby handrail and swung myself up to the violently moving roof.

There I saw my quarry staggering under the deadweight of Nut ta Woot.  I fired a warning shot and yelled out something, I forget what exactly, hoping that my tone if not my specific words would end this pursuit.  To my great surprise, the men actually turned to face me, but I instantly realised they had no intent to surrender.  Instead, the largest man heaved the still unconscious Nut ta Woot high upon his shoulders and took the most almighty leap from the roof of the train into the thick undergrowth flashing by.

He was closely followed by his companion and I, in my astonishment, could only fire off a single hastily aimed shot, which I would like to say winged the man, but I could not swear to it.

I turned to stare uselessly back at the forest, where a vague rustling rapidly disappearing into the distance indicated the flight of the dastardly kidnappers.

Disheartened at the tragic loss of my companion, I made the precarious journey back to the relative safety of the interior of the train, where I needed time to think and re-plan my strategy henceforth.  Alas, this was yet something else which would not go entirely according to plan.

Chapter Five: Something Wicked This Way Comes…

After a short stiff drink, purely to calm my anger at the cowardly act of kidnap which had just occurred, I returned to my cabin to find some strange new company.  Upon entering, I was greeted by a charming young lady who introduced herself in tones that could only mean she hailed from Australia, as Miss Hardwick.  Now, I had met several Antipodeans in Africa and must say that they are quite my favourite people, honest, open, friendly and above all, trustworthy.  Under any normal circumstance, I would have been delighted to converse with the lady in question, as it had been some time since I had had the pleasure, but sadly my mind was still grappling with thoughts of what to do next, and I fear I may have given a poor impression.  My conversation was rather limited and presently she rose and excused herself, leaving me to mull over my situation in detail.

I could not afford to spend time seeking out Nut ta Woot, not knowing where to begin looking or even if such a quest would bear fruit, as perhaps my young guide had already met his end.  But it would be foolishness indeed to continue into the unknown jungles without any sort of a guide.  I was more than capable of looking after myself in such remote conditions, but I know well enough the value that a good guide holds.

No, I would find myself the best guide I could in Chiang Mai, the gateway to the northern jungles, but I would not reveal my true motives if possible.  Perhaps the guise of a botanist or naturalist in search of Nature’s bounty could I wear to aid my progress.

Having decided upon my course of action, I sprang up, heading for the bar once more, where I hoped to make a better impression on one Miss Hardwick.

I stopped instantly however, when I saw the unexpected sight of a cream rectangle of paper pushed under the door: an envelope.  I flung back the door, not really expecting to see anyone and I was not disappointed, for the corridor was empty.  I carefully tore open the envelope and pulled out a short note, written in an exceedingly educated hand, but with poor syntax and grammar. 

In short, the note instructed me, if I wanted to see Nut ta Woot alive again, to be at a certain temple in Ayuthaya the following morning.  However, before he would be returned to me, I would have to swear upon my honour to abandon my mission and leave the country immediately, never to return.

I snorted derisively to myself, astonished that these people might think I would give up my task for the sake of a guide, whom I had met just days previously.  Of course, I would go to the meeting as it was on my way and if I managed to regain the services of Nut ta Woot then it would save me the effort of having to find another guide.  Obviously the thought of leaving the country was out of the question.  Hopefully also, the meeting might provide me with some further information regarding what lay ahead.

As there was nothing further to be done until my arrival in Ayuthaya, I re-doubled my efforts to reach the bar, where I was delighted to see Miss Hardwick.  Sadly however, she was already surrounded by a number of admirers, eagerly hanging on the every word of a number of exciting yarns that she gleefully spun.  Somewhat downcast, I resolved myself to drinking alone once more and ordered some fiery local brew to drown my sorrows.

After but a short time, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned in surprise to see the pleasantly smiling face of Miss Hardwick.

Rising quickly, the remnant of the gentleman in me, I started to invite her to join me, but before I could even finish, she had slipped her way into the chair next to me and was ordering a drink to match my own.

The next few hours flew by in such an entertaining manner as I had not experienced in how many years I could not say.  We thrilled each other all night long with many tales of our tumultuous lives, each trying to outdo the other, each dredging our memories for our most dangerous, exciting or downright ludicrous experiences.  After several hours we were forced to call the contest a draw, unable as we were to choose a winner.

As the lady stifled a yawn, I rose once more and begged her forgiveness for keeping her out so late.  She graciously refused my apology, saying that she could not remember when she had last enjoyed herself so much.  I returned the compliment then bade her sadly goodnight, stating lastly how I hoped our paths would cross again.

I remained alone in the bar awhile, needing my own company as I always do after spending extended periods of time in the presence of others.  Eventually though, I wandered back to my cabin to retire and refresh myself for the coming day.



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