The Opel truck jolted its way down the unpaved road, and cast a shadow like a pointing finger over the mountainside. Neither the driver nor his passengers deigned to notice two figures picking their way through the talus and scrub in the distance. These soldiers of the New World Order had more important business to attend to. They were racing to a hidden airstrip just over the border with India, to rendezvous with a plane that would carry their injured officer to Berlin. As for those untermenschen? The Third Reich would deal with them in due time, when its empire extended even to this remote corner of Nepal.
The two ragtag travelers paused and looked up as the truck passed them by. The woman shuddered, a little, and the man put his hand on her arm.
"Bastards can drive in shifts" said Indiana Jones "so they may not stop in Patan proper. They could go straight through and beat us to Kathmandu."
"All to the good," Marion Ravenwood answered.
He muttered something skeptical.
"Didn't you say, you'd been a spy, Jones? Jesus, anybody who's ever read The Thirty-Nine Steps could figure this one out. Herr Mac must have asked questions in Kathmandu in order to find me –and I have a pretty fair idea where. If his pals go asking the same questions and don't get any answers…"
"They may assume you died when your bar burned down," Indy finished thoughtfully.
"Or that we had a falling-out and you pushed me over a cliff..."
Indy shot her a sour look. "Don't tempt me. Either way, they'll be looking for an American travelling solo. That'll buy us some time."
"Yeah. And if they bypass Patan city then it's safe for us to go to ground. So let's shake a leg, we want to make the outskirts before nightfall."
Once they reached the city, Marion took Indy's hand and led him through the winding streets. A woman taking control was a new but not entirely unpleasant experience-and he had to admit the rear view was easy on the eyes. Marion, he remembered, had more 'come hither' in her little finger than most women could manage from head to toe. And God, she was still beautiful. He watched her a little wistfully, searching for a trace of the teenage mistress who'd worshipped him. He had to hand it to her, though-she didn't whine, she didn't pout, and she didn't bitch about roughing it. That beat Willie Scott 3-for-3. On the other hand, Willie at least put out. Marion, alternately smiling and sarcastic, seemed determined to keep him at arm's length.
Indy's musings were interrupted when they paused at a sturdy building with a sign over the door. Well, some things were the same the world over. They stepped into a smoky taproom with a bar on one end and a fireplace at the other. Indy raised an eyebrow at the selection of familiar looking bottles on the shelves. Marion raised one right back, and answered his unspoken question.
"We're here because Daya, the owner, is a friend of mine. We bought our liquor from the same trader, and a lot of the climbers who made it to my place came here first. He owes me a favor or two and I can trust him and his wife to keep shut."
Indy watched as Marion cupped her hands and hollered whatever the local equivalent was for "Halloo-the house!" A Nepali woman with grey streaking her black braids hustled out of the kitchen. When she saw Marion she laughed and embraced her, then turned her head and called out to the back. An older Nepali man hurried in and rushed over to clasp Marion's hands.
"Jones," Marion said, "This is my friend Daya and his wife Prachi." But before Indy could greet them, a second, younger woman arrived and began speaking in anxious gasps. She tugged insistently at Marion's arm.
Marion nodded and replied in the crisp, authoritative tone he'd heard her use at the Raven. After she'd issued a string of what sounded like directions, the group scattered.
She turned to Indy and grabbed him by the elbow. "I need to park you, pal."
Indy was hustled to a battered plank table and poured a generous shot of Jack Daniels. Marion spoke firmly in his ear. "Stay right here until I come back for you. And for God's sake try not to talk much. No casing the locals for information."
Indy scowled, annoyed by this slur on his competence… "Marion…" he began.
"Listen up for a change, Jones. You'll never pass for a Nepali, and most of the climbers who come through here are Aussies or Brits. That American accent of yours sticks out like a sore thumb and people will remember it."
A grudging respect dawned in Indiana's face. 'Hadn't thought of that," he admitted. "Get any Frenchmen in these parts?"
"Some. Not many, though."
"Eh bien." He took her right hand and kissed the fingers gallantly. "Henri Defense, a votre service, mademoiselle."
Marion smiled. "A bientot, M. Defense," she said. She lifted a hand in farewell, and pelted out the door.
Indy sat and nursed his drink for as long as he thought he could get away with it. Then he smoked one of his dwindling supply of cigarettes. He'd been trying to conserve them- he didn't know if Marion liked one 'afterwards' these days, but he hoped for a chance to find out tonight. They didn't exactly cover this in the Boy Scouts, but it couldn't hurt to be prepared...
He looked around for her when he stubbed out the cigarette, but there was no sign. Halfway into his second drink she still hadn't returned. What the hell could be taking her this long? Well, if ever a woman had a knack for attracting trouble, her name was 'Marion Ravenwood'. Maybe it was time for her partner to investigate. So Indy rose, stretched, and ambled toward the back door-just like any other man on his way to the outhouse.
Once outside, he scanned his surroundings. The sun was just touching the horizon and a few stars showed in the cobalt sky to the East. Windows had begun to glow with the yellow light of lamps and candles. And there-in one of the outbuildings- a faint light flickered. Indy drew his gun, and with the ease of long practice, slipped from shadow to shadow though the yard.
Indy flattened himself against the outside wall of what had to be a stable and inched his way toward the door. As he got closer he heard the low murmur of men's voices. There was a rustle of straw and the thud of something heavy moving around. Oh, God. But…Marion had gone with them willingly. Surely she didn't think she had to bargain for their safety on her back? Or, he thought furiously, maybe one of those sons of bitches thought he could up the ante, while the man who didn't speak the language sat on his ass like a chump….
Indy wheeled into the open door as he heard the sharp boom of a kick on wood and a woman's ragged gasp.
"Jones!" Marion snapped. "Stay back!"
"Well, I'll be damned" he said, and shook his head.
For instead of the debauchery he expected the group of men was crowded around -a Nanny goat, lying in the straw. Daya was holding her head and Prachi, holding a lantern, hovered anxiously nearby. Marion, blessedly unharmed and thoroughly Marion, was kneeling at the tail end, flanked by a bucket of water and a pile of rags. Daya spoke urgently as the Nanny bleated and heaved. Marion bent to her work, muttering what he was pretty sure was a string of curses. Suddenly she cried out and drew her hand back.
A dark, wet bundle slithered onto the straw.
The onlookers grinned and slapped each other on the back. Daya dried the newborn kid with a rag while its mother turned to lick it. The Nanny stood up, and the kid butted her side and rose on wobbly legs to nurse. Someone lifted the kid's tail and an approving murmur followed.
Marion sat back on her haunches, wiped her forehead, and caught his eye. "Come to rescue me from Nanny goats, Jones?" she said with a weary smile.
He crouched beside her and holstered his pistol. "You didn't come back, I didn't know where you were, and I got worried. So shoot me."
"Sorry I had to scram so fast. Daya's best milker was kidding, but the kid was breech and his hands are too big to turn it. Mine aren't. Didn't have time to explain." She reached over to the feed trough. "Here, give Mom a treat-she's worked hard."
"So have you."
Indy held out a hand and clucked gently, until a soft nose investigated his palm and the mother accepted her snack. "Funny, I never pictured you as a midwife to goats, beautiful."
"Oh, it's one of my many talents. You can learn a lot in Nepal."
Marion stood up and arched her back to get the kinks out. Indy tried not to be obvious about noticing the delicious movement of her breasts, and the way her shirt rode up over the lithe curve of her belly. She flicked him an amused, knowing glance. Apparently, he wasn't hiding his interest any too well.
A younger man, possibly Daya's brother or son, came in with an armload of fresh straw and a wide eager smile for Marion. God, did every guy from here to Kathmandu have a thing for her? They spoke genially for a moment before Marion turned back to him.
"But I do have good news", she said. "We get dinner and hot wash water out of the deal. And I dunno about you, but I'm starving."
Indy and Marion were led to–not the taproom, but the kitchen where the family ate. They squeezed onto a bench with the others and tucked into steaming plates of Dhal-Bhat-Takari, rice and spiced lentil gravy, with curried vegetables on the side. Fresh goat milk yoghurt and achar, a spicy pickle made from radishes, completed the meal. When the bowls were cleared, their host produced a jug of the local Raksi and two shot glasses. He set them in front of Marion with a laugh-obviously challenging her. She put up her hand and shook her head when she replied-obviously declining.
"What's the matter, honey, aren't you gonna make us some rupees?" Indy joked out of the side of his mouth.
"If you haven't figured it out, mister" she hissed back in English, "these people are sticking their necks out for us. I can't draw attention to myself and risk letting Der Fuehrer's little pals find out we've been here. But if you want a drink so badly, have a shot before we go to our room."
'Our room', now that did sound promising. The Raksi burned like velvet fire down Indy's throat as the innkeeper's daughter led them up the back stairs to a corner room, tucked under the eaves by the chimney.
The room was small, but tidy and swept-and quite well appointed for these parts. There was a platform bed piled with blankets in one corner, a washstand and chamber pot, and a table with one chair. A gloriously steaming washtub sat by the small stone fireplace. Clean cloths for drying and pitchers with more hot water were laid out nearby.
Indy blew out his breath. "Shit, this is quite the set up- that must be some goat."
"Told you, Jones, she's his best milker. On top of that, the kid's a doe-he can keep her and double his milk and cheese, or sell her at a tidy profit. This is the least he can do for the lady who got him that payday."
Marion gazed longingly at the tub. "Speaking of which-you go find something to do while I have my bath."
Indy folded his arms and looked down at her. "Oh, no you don't, little lady. Unless we're sharing the water, the cleanest person goes first and that would be me."
Marion sniffed indignantly. "Cleanest? You? You smell like a Yak."
"Maybe I do-but I'm only sweaty. You on the other hand…"
Marion glanced down at her stained shirt and muddy trousers "All right-point taken."
Gracious in victory, Indy smiled. "I've got some soap and tooth powder in my bag-we can share."
"Good enough-I'll go take those blankets outside while there's still a little light and shake 'em."
Indy's mouth curled into his lopsided grin. "You could stay and wash my back instead…"
"I could do a lot of things" Marion answered repressively.
"Chicken" said Indy, working at his bootlaces.
She ignored this sally, gathered up the blankets, and beat a dignified retreat out the door.
"Don't take too long and use up all the hot water, alright?"
When she returned Indy was drying off by the fire, wearing only a cloth slung around his narrow hips. Marion studied him as he leaned forward and shook out his hair. He looked different-bigger and more muscular-than the young lover she remembered. His sun-kissed hair had darkened and that handsome, boyish face had settled into adult lines. But so many things were the same-the ears that turned pink when he was embarassed, the big calloused hands and big feet, his deep chest with its mat of curling hair. And oh, that crooked smile that had stolen her heart... She wondered what he'd do if she reached out and stroked down his spine the way she used to.
Indy turned then and saw her. Their eyes locked and he took a step toward her. "Marion," he breathed, " baby ..."
She licked dry lips. He didn't have to spell it out-she knew what he was remembering.
Marion wrenched her gaze down, fastened a smile on her face, and chucked him some blankets. When she could trust her voice, she said, cheerfully, "Here- you better stay warm. And if you've got an extra shirt I'd put it on if I were you."
He hadn't taken his eyes off her, "I do have one but, I, uh, thought you might like it. You always looked better in my shirts than I did…"
She pinned her smile back, even brighter. "Oh, no, that's OK, really. I caged a shift from Prachi- I'll be fine."
"That looks scratchy, and you should be comfortable." Indy ducked his head shyly and smiled. "C'mon, take my shirt, I don't mind. Really."
The worn khaki shirt did look soft, and it smelled of soap and leather and Indy. She held out a hand and smiled shyly back at him.
While Indy settled himself, Marion dragged the table in front of the tub and piled the chair on top of it. Then she covered them with her blanket.
There was an incredulous noise from the bed. "What the hell are you doing?" Indy asked.
"For one thing, warming a blanket. For another, getting some privacy."
Indy scowled. "Little late for that, isn't it?"
"That's as may be. But I still want my privacy, and I can't trust you not to look."
Indy's voice dropped to a warm purr. "Sweetheart, any man with a pulse would be looking."
Marion sighed. "You know, buddy boy, I'm tired, I'm filthy, and I delivered a goddamn goat today. I am not in the mood to hear some fool man pitch woo. So instead of making an idiot of yourself, Jones, why don't you…" She paused, trying to think of a suitable distraction…"tell me about the last movie you saw."
Indy took the bait and chuckled-"Well, I did see one lately with blankets. But that time, it was the fella stringin' 'em between him and the girl. He called them the 'Walls of Jericho'..."
Marion used to love the movies, and she was intrigued in spite of herself. "Yeah? What's it called?"
"It Happened One Night".
"So, what's it about?"
"It's about this spoiled rich girl-she's Claudette Colbert- who's running away from her father when she meets this guy-he's Clark Gable-and.."
By the time Indy got to the happy ending, Marion was re-braiding her damp hair and feeling much more at peace with the world. Though if ever a man was crazy about the sound of his own voice, she thought indulgently, his name is Henry Jones, Jr. I'll bet he just loves lecturing...
Marion took down her improvised barricade and tugged at her borrowed shirt as she started for the bed. "I left one jug of the water," she offered. "We can heat it up in the morning if you want a shave."
Indy looked her up and down, and let out a low whistle. Willie Scott, hung with pearls and diamonds, couldn't hold a candle to Marion Ravenwood in an old shirt and a smile.
"Wouldn't you rather I shaved tonight?" he asked softly. "Since we seem to be sharing the bed…"
That man. Marion put her hands on her hips and glared at him. "Since you seem to be confused, Professor, let me remind you that 'partner' is not spelled 'c-o-n-c-u-b-i-n-e'. We may have to share the blankets-but you can keep your sorry ass over on your own side, thank you just the same."
Indy scowled. "What? Look, honey, it's not like we've never…."
"So? Doesn't mean I owe you. Besides, we've got something more important than making whoopee to think about. This is the first time it's really been safe to talk. "
"We could talk about how beautiful you are..."
Marion rolled her eyes. "Or we could talk about how full of shit you are."
She paused, then resumed in a more conciliatory tone. "But seriously, Jones, what's the plan? I'm assuming you've got one…"
Indy rolled out of bed and took a step toward her. She flinched ever so slightly, and he felt a hot prickle of shame.
"Take it easy, I'm not gonna hurt you" he said roughly. "Get in bed for God's sake. I'm the better shot so I should be between you and the door."
When he slid in beside her she leaned over and pecked his cheek.
"What was that for?"
"To say thank you."
He folded his arms and frowned. "Let's get one thing straight, partner. If you want me to keep my hands to myself, I will. But I don't have to like it. So you better play fair-and that means no teasing, and no starting anything you're not willing to finish. Understand me?"
She nodded. "Fair enough."
Indy settled in, and stared determinedly at the ceiling, instead of looking at the alluring sight on the neighboring pillow. He sighed. "OK, the plan. As soon as we get out of Nepal we head for Cairo. Do you remember anything Abner told you about Tanis and the Well of Souls?
"Some -God knows he could go on about it forever."
Indy's smile was tinged with sadness- and a light helping of guilt. "Yeah, he sure could. But I've come to agree that the inscription on the headpiece holds the key. May I see it?"
Marion hesitated, then slowly lifted the chair from around her neck. "In case any funny business just crossed your mind, mister, you better remember that we're among friends-MY friends. If anything happens to me it won't go well for you."
He turned to face her, eyes wide. "Marion, you surely can't believe…."
Marion's face shuttered and her lips compressed into a thin, hard line. "There's a lot of things I never would have believed of you, Doctor Jones. Fat lot of good it did me. So don't start with me- just don't. Stick to the plan."
By the time he'd finished explaining, Marion's eyelids were heavy and her breathing was deep and even. Indy blew out the candle on the washstand, patted her shoulder, and turned to face the door with his gun in easy reach.
Indy had fallen into a light sleep, when a movement woke him. His eyes slitted open and he reached for his gun before he realized what it was. The slim body curled up on the other side of the mattress was shaking with suppressed sobs.
Instinctively, he rolled over and pulled her close. "What's the matter, honey?"
For a moment she melted into that wonderful warm, solid, masculine presence "Indy..." she sighed, and twined her arms around his neck. Then she opened her eyes, sat up, and pushed him away.
"I seem to remember," Indy said gently, "someone who put up with a few of my bad nights. Tell me what's wrong, Marion."
Marion wiped her eyes. "I was dreaming and I thought I heard Gurkha-he used to crawl into bed with me about this time."
"If he was sleeping with you he was one lucky fella," Indy said after a pause. "And his name means 'mighty warrior'. Was Gurkha your lover?"
She snorted. "Don't be an idiot, Henry Jones. Gurkha was my cat. And if you laugh at me, you bastard, I swear to God I'll shoot you."
"Hey, I'm the guy named after his dog, remember? I'm not gonna laugh at you." He patted the spot beside him invitingly. "C'mon back here and get comfortable. Then you can tell me about Gurkha."
She settled next to him and spoke softly. "Gurkha was a big handsome tom with black and white stripes. He was huge-a bruiser-and he had these enormous paws with extra toes. I got him as a tiny kitten with his eyes just open. The barn cat had a litter but she didn't come back one night, and Abner was trying to drown them. I was furious and Mohan backed me up. He said it was bad karma to slaughter the innocent without need."
"And Abe caved in?"
She exhaled a humorless laugh. "Bet your ass he did. Anyway, there was one kitten left, and he'd lived because he was a fighter."
"Hence the name?"
"Yeah. I carried him in my shirt all day and fed him goat milk until he could start eating bits of meat. When he got bigger he'd get down and walk but he followed me around all the time."
"Of course he did, he thought you were his mother."
"Maybe. I guess so. He just loved me to death-slept with me every night. He was a good ratter, too though I could have done without him leaving them in my bedroom."
Indy smiled and squeezed her shoulder. "Not every fella can bring you flowers and chocolates, baby. Poor bastard was doing his best to show you how he felt. So when did you last see him?"
"Before-before I saw you and we started arguing. I let him out to do his business ..."
"And then the goons showed up," Indy finished.
"Oh, but Indy-what if he's hurt and nobody's taking care of him? What if he's hungry? What if he's looking for me and wonders where I am?" She swiped a corner of the shirt tail over her face and sniffled.
Indy took the shirt tail and gently dried her face. Suddenly, Abner's little girl was looking up at him with woebegone blue eyes. Abner's little girl-who fed the squirrels and the pigeons, and wanted to take home every alley cat or stray dog that crossed her path.
And Indy remembered the guy who'd been Marion's big brother, protector and confidant. Back before she'd grown those tits and that ass and those legs. Back before he'd drowned in those eyes-and lost what passed for his mind.
"You know," he said at last, "I think your pal's OK. Cats are smart, Marion but they're skittish. The bastards had that noisy car, and he probably holed up when he heard the motor. Mohan or one of your other friends likely found him when he came out and they'll be glad of a good ratter, bet your bottom dollar."
Those big eyes looked up at him, wanting to believe, so he kept talking. "Gurkha's gonna have a long and happy life, sleeping by the fire, catching rats, and charming the lady cats. I'm sure of it. Why, maybe someday we'll come back to your village, and find it's overrun by cats with extra toes."
"We're partners, aren't we? Who knows where this will take us." Then he said as he often had, all those years ago, "Now, you put your head on my shoulder and try to catch some shut eye. It'll be better in the morning. Trust me."
Lulled by their shared warmth and the easing of the tension between them, Indy and Marion slept.
The next morning, Marion rose at dawn, and slipped down to the kitchen. She woke her tousled, sleepy-eyed partner to strong black tea, and hot shaving water.
"You" he said as he passed a hand over his face, "are an angel from the realms of grace."
"So what does that make you, Jones?" she replied. Her smile reached her eyes, this time.
They didn't speak of the night before-but then they'd learned never to speak of their intimacy where others might hear. Prachi gave them flatbread and eggs for breakfast and they set out side by side on the road to Kathmandu.