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فصل 13

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Chapter thirteen

Victoria lay in bed listening. She heard loud drunken arguing. Heard a voice insisting, ‘I had a fight with a man outside.’ She heard bells ring. More voices and a lot of movement. Then silence. She heard the gentle opening of her door and sat up in bed and switched on the lamp.

Dakin brought a chair up to the bed, sat down and looked at her as if he was a doctor.

‘Tell me what it’s all about?’ demanded Victoria.

‘Suppose,’ said Dakin, ‘that you tell me all about yourself first. Why did you come to Baghdad?’

Victoria thought afterwards that it was something in Dakin’s personality, but for once she simply told him everything: her meeting with Edward, her determination to get to Baghdad and the wonderful luck of Mrs Hamilton Clipp.

‘I see,’ said Dakin when she had finished. ‘The point is, you are involved in this whether I like it or not. So, you might as well work for me.’

‘You’ve got a job for me?’ Victoria said hopefully.

‘This job, Victoria, is dangerous.’

‘Oh, that’s all right,’ said Victoria happily. She added doubtfully, ‘It’s not dishonest, is it? I know I tell an awful lot of lies, but I wouldn’t like to do anything dishonest.’

Dakin smiled. ‘Strangely enough, your ability to invent a good lie quickly is one of your qualifications for the job. No, it’s not dishonest. In fact, you will be working for law and order. Have you thought much about world politics?’

‘I know everybody says there’s going to be another war sooner or later. Between Russia and America.’

‘Exactly,’ said Mr Dakin. ‘Therefore everything depends on them agreeing with each other. Instead, the opposite is happening. Every time there is a chance of agreement, something happens to create more distrust or hysterical fear. These things are not accidents, Victoria, they are deliberate - a group is working undercover to cause this destruction. A group that wants to take control.’

‘But how do you know?’

‘Money, Victoria. Money is always the clue to what is happening in the world - it’s the key to any plan. A group of people are cleverly moving very large sums of money around and using that money to create conflict.’

‘But who are these people?’

‘Idealists who intend, I fear, to “make the world better”! To think that you can force “Perfection” on the human race is one of the most dangerous ideas in existence. The belief that some men are Supermen and therefore good enough to rule the world - that, Victoria, is the most evil of all beliefs. For when you say, “I am not like other men”, you have lost the two most valuable qualities: humility and brotherhood.’

He sighed. ‘Well, I mustn’t preach a sermon. What we know is that in the past two years, many of the best young scientists have disappeared. The same has happened with engineers and other people with valuable skills. And we are beginning to guess what they are doing.’

Victoria listened with increasing concern.

‘There is a remote part of the world, protected by mountains and deserts, that is only visited by exceptional travellers. It can be reached from China, or the Himalayas, but the journey is hard and long. Machines and people from all over the world are being sent there.

‘One man followed that route. What he found was so incredible that when he got back to civilization, only two people believed his story. One was myself and, because he had been to these remote regions, the other was Sir Rupert Crofton Lee. It was from one of these journeys that Sir Rupert brought back some uranium-rich rock.

‘The result was that Carmichael, a man who works for us in the intelligence service, decided to go on a desperate journey We heard nothing for nine months, then news came. He’d got what he went to get. Proof. But the other side knew about him and their agents were already inside our whole system - some at a very high level. Somehow or other Carmichael got through safely - until tonight.’

‘Then that was - the dead man in my room?’

‘Yes, my dear. A very brave young man.’

‘But what about the proof? Did they get it?’

A slow smile showed on Dakin’s tired face. ‘Knowing Carmichael, I’m sure they didn’t. But he died without being able to tell us where that proof is. I think he tried to give us a clue.’ He repeated slowly, ‘Lucifer - Basrah - Lefarge. He’d been in Basrah - he tried to report at the Consulate and was very nearly shot. It’s possible that he left the proof in Basrah. What I want you to do, Victoria, is to go there and try to find out.’

‘Me? I’d love to go to Basrah,’ said Victoria with enthusiasm. Dakin smiled.

‘It suits you because your young man is there, eh? What a very good reason for going there. Nothing could seem more natural. You go to Basrah and look for what Lucifer and Lefarge mean.’

‘What do I use for money?’ said Victoria in a business-like way. ‘I did some reading on the plane and it’s about three hundred and forty miles to Basrah.’

Dakin handed her a roll of paper money.

‘Talk to Mrs Cardew Trench tomorrow morning, say you want to visit Basrah before you go off to this dig you’re pretending to work at. She’ll tell you at once that you must stay at the Consulate and will send a telegram to Mrs Clayton. You’ll probably find your Edward there - everyone who passes through stays with the Claytons. Apart from that, I give you one warning. If - er - anything unpleasant happens, if you’re asked what you know - don’t try and be a hero. Tell them everything at once.’

‘Thank you,’ said Victoria. ‘I’m rather afraid of pain, and if anyone were to torture me, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be brave.’

‘They won’t torture you,’ said Mr Dakin. ‘Torture’s very old- fashioned. They’ll put a drug in your arm and you’ll answer every question truthfully. That’s why I didn’t want you to get grand ideas of secrecy.’

‘What about Edward? Do I tell him?’

Dakin thought for a moment.

‘That would put him in danger, too. But I understand he had a good record in the Air Force. I don’t suppose danger will worry him. Two heads are often better than one. And he thinks there’s something suspicious about this “Olive Branch” he’s working for. That’s interesting.’

‘Why?’

‘Because we think so too,’ said Dakin.

Then he added, ‘And keep your ears open for any mention of a young woman called Anna Scheele. We would really like to know much more about her.’

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