Bill Meilen
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Chapter Five

THE two cars had been climbing for some time, following the route of the valley to the south, mounting ever higher, the road gradually becoming worse as they travelled until it had become a cart track. Inside the cars the air was stifling even with the windows wide open.

Reynal, jammed between the sneering Corsican and Leduc, concentrated on keeping his nose away from the reek of garlic from the sneerer, preferring the fresh sweat smell of the pink-skinned fat man. Some time before the cars had stopped at a village while the men had passed water noisily at the side of the road and Soller had received directions from a half-asleep policeman who was also the local Douane. Since then the discomfort had become almost intolerable. They could have had the grace to provide a hearse, thought Reynal. At least I would have been able to stretch my legs. He looked past the fat barbouze out of the window.

Well above the tree-line, the land was featureless and arid, with nothing to attract the eye. He knew they were in the Pyrenees. The accents of the policeman had told him that. Pure Basque influence there, softly nasal just like the old gate corporal at Bel Abbes who had died at Aïn Sefra. Where had he been brought up? Gav...something? Gavarnie? I'm sure we must be near the same valley—the accent was so similar. If so, we should be able to see Monte Perdido or Posets.

He looked out again. There in the distance rose a peak, snowcapped even in the summer heat, but he was unable to put a name to its shape. My God this man reeks of garlic! He tried to ease himself further away from the stench. From where he sat he could see the man's shoes, cracked where the toes bent the leather, white encrustation of sweat showing through the cracks. Feet, too. Does he have a wife who can tolerate his stench? I can't bear bodily dirt.The car bucked over a pothole and began to slow in its climb.

Ahead, the other Citroën had halted and the driver was climbing out, waving back towards them. The driver braked and looked at Soller.

”Out,” said Soller. “Everybody out.”

The car emptied rapidly, the men sighing and groaning in relief, stretching. The fat man smiled bleakly, allowing Reynal out first, assisting him with a surprisingly firm grip on his good arm. He grunted thanks, emerging into the comparative cool of the mountain road, feeling the pins and needles in his legs from the long cramp.

The track came to an end a short way away in a jumble of rocks. Soller was standing off to the side looking up at a cleft far off in the mountain top, referring to a map held by the driver of the first car, waving an arm. After a few moments the sharp man turned back to him.Taking Reynal by the arm he led him to a shale path to one side of a stunted bush.

“Start walking,” he said.