Dan spun around at the scraping sound behind him. Outlined against the bright lights from the main road, a gangly figure shuffled oddly toward him, a big gold crucifix glinting as it swayed on a heavy chain against an ankle-length, black cassock. Dan's pulse shot into his temples at the sight of the gun.
I'm getting mugged by a priest!
He fingered the Buddha talisman in his pocket. Self-defense was OK but with only fifteen days to Kathmandu, he wasn't going to risk his life on a filthy side street in Mumbai. That's not how he'd planned to die. He dropped his bag and held his hands out to the sides. The priest stepped awkwardly toward him, dragging a heavy built-up boot. He used it to kick the bag into the gutter.
“You want money?” Dan unclipped his money belt. “Take it,” he said, holding it out at the priest.
The priest ignored it and stumbled closer. His hatchet face caught the light: the unblinking, pallid eyes of an executioner.
He intends to kill me!
Dan caught his breath. His heart thumped. He readied the Buddha statue to throw along with the money belt, preparing to rush the gun and hope for the best.
“Drop your gun, asshole!” barked an American voice.
The priest jerked around. The silhouette of a huge man showed starkly black against the white glare of the lights. The priest moved his gun slightly then hesitated.
An abrasive laugh mocked the priest. “Try it and you're dead, buddy!”
The priest dropped his gun and held his hands out from his sides.
“Vamoose,” ordered the American with a jerk of his gun.
The priest maybe didn't understand cowboy English but he got the message. He stepped and dragged his way across the street, giving Dan a definite evil eye. The American kept his gun pointing at the priest until he turned the next corner.
Dan squinted into the light at his imposing savior: wider than Dan and taller even if he took off his boots, a baseball cap pulled down over the lined face of a bearded man in his fifties, this Goliath had to be the heavyweight champion of somewhere. “How can I—?”
“No need, bud. See that cross?” He snorted derisively, sliding his gun under his arm. “He's lucky I'm a better Christian than he is or I'd have shot him to cull the asshole crop.” He shook his lantern-jawed head at Dan. “Trying to get killed, you dummy?”
Dummy? Dan let it slide. After all, he'd been one. “Let's get back to the road before he thinks of coming back,” he suggested and didn't wait for an answer. He picked up his bag from the gutter and shook the wet dirt off it.
The American picked up the priest's gun and thrust it at Dan butt first. “Here, looks a dope like you'll need it. A souvenir Glock of when I saved your sorry ass in Mumbai, buddy.”
Dummy? Dope? Sorry ass?
Dan's taut nerves triggered a sharp response this time. “No thanks. Don't like them. Stick it with the grenades and AK-47 in your toy collection, buddy.”
“Frightened of nasty guns?” the American asked mocking him.
“Frightened of nasty India?” Dan snapped back.
The American glowered at him. “Sure you won't need it if you're stupid enough to go down a dark backstreet again?”
Stupid enough? Dan bit his tongue as they walked back toward the main road. The jerk had saved his life after all. He found a couple of pills in his pocket and forced them down his dry throat. He introduced himself to break the silence.
The American said he was William J. Loskota. “Call me Bill,” he ordered brusquely.
“How come you were down there?”
“Saw you turn thataway. Reckoned you were a total tourist ass. Thought I'd make sure you got to where you were going—other than heaven. Where are you going?”
Dan stopped abruptly. “This dummy is heading his stupid tourist ass to the Consort Inn,” Dan said fixing a wry smile to take the edge off. It fell on Bill's stony ground.
“I hope the rube gets there,” Bill growled.
“Want to come for a drink as thanks?” Dan offered tonelessly.
Without Dan asking, Bill directed him to the hotel, only about a quarter of a mile away. He ordered him not to stray off the main road until he reached the big church on the right because he had other things to do besides saving Dan's ass again. Dan thought of asking Bill for the Glock since he wanted to shoot him. Instead, he watched Gulliver stride off through the Lilliputians along the sidewalk.
Dan walked slowly toward the church allowing his body and mind to quieten—and the Percodan to dull his throbbing headache. It had been a narrow escape—someone wanted him dead and he could think of only one person. But how had he been traced to Mumbai after a year hiding in Africa? He'd just got off the plane from Cairo and the gunman had been waiting for him? Followed him from the airport and into the side street? Was it the UK passport he'd stolen from a colleague and had doctored for a bargain thousand bucks? No information was safe in India—every kid was a computer hacker or money bought any so-called secure data the criminals wanted. He toyed with the idea of not going to the hotel but he couldn't go back to the airport and fly somewhere else, not if it was the passport. And it was the last thing he wanted to do. Here he was, at the start of a journey across India, a lifetime dream. Mumbai. Jodhpur. Jaipur. Jaisalmer. Agra. Varanasi. Lumbini. Kathmandu. The names had conjured up the exotic in his child's mind: the fortresses of Kipling's Northwest Frontier, maharajas in howdahs atop trumpeting elephants, ferocious tigers, chests of jewels, gold and silver, and vindaloo curries ready to burn a hole in white men's heads. He couldn't see any way Vijay Gill would know he was joining a trip to Kathmandu.