Mistress of the East
“Extraordinarily well written. I was stunned by the non-stop action and visual lushness of the characters. A book to remember.” – Don Bacue, International Features Syndicate
But when two o’clock the following day comes and passes, Paula worries. When she finally receives a call, it’s from Crazy Bob Dickson, her ski-patrol mentor, looking for help running a sweep of the mountain. An eight-year-old child turned up missing and he wants Shadar to help find him. She tells Bob that Shadar isn't back from his trip yet and volunteers to go in his place. Dashing off a quick note to her lover, she grabs her gear and heads out the door to the gondola.
Well past dark by the time she returns home, Paula hopes to find Shadar, but instead she walks into the house and freezes. Chairs are overturned, tables upset, drawers opened, papers scattered across the floor. Instinctively she reaches for the automatic pistol stored above the bureau, then stalks warily from one room to the next. Satisfied that the house is empty, she closes the front door and picks up the phone to call the police before pausing. There, in the middle of the room, is the golden cross she had given to Shadar for his birthday. He was wearing it when she saw him off to Hong Kong.
She sets the receiver down and picks up the cross. Examining it in the light, she turns it over. On the back side is scratched the word, "Help." Pocketing the jewelry, she picks up the telephone and calls the airlines to back-trace Shadar's flights from Hong Kong and learns that he had missed them all.
Hanging up, she wonders what happened. Where was Shadar? Why hadn’t he called? How did the medal get there? Who ransacked their home?
She weighs the temptation of calling the police against the possibility that Shadar is in serious trouble. His past is filled with escapades from his days in the Afghan
Underground. Still, she decides she must do something, she must act. Every minute that goes by could put Shadar in greater peril. She picks up the phone and dials.
Within the hour, Crazy Bob comes by with two patrolmen. One is fat, obnoxious, and self-serving; the other, a rookie. They offer little help other than to say that foreign nationals--like Shadar--often bring to America their drug connections from the past. Perhaps Shadar's past, they intimate, has finally caught up with him. They advise her to stay at home, with the doors locked, and wait. After all, it is too soon to report him missing, and whoever broke in is obviously long since gone.
Paula sees the officers off, and then Dixon, before beginning the task of straightening up the house. A knock at the door interrupts her. “Bob must have forgotten something,” she says out loud. But when she goes to the door, two armed men burst in. Speaking English in a thick, familiar accent, they demand to know where Shadar is. She tells them the truth, that he was expected home that afternoon but never arrived. She does not tell them about her call to the airlines. One of the men slaps her across the face and warns her to tell him that Savik is looking for him. "We will find him, and we will kill him," the man with the weasel's mustache and shock of thick, black hair spits contemptuously. He says something to his partner in Pashto, and then they leave her lying bloodied in the middle of the floor.
Frightened for Shadar's safety, terrified for herself, she reaches for the phone when it suddenly rings beneath her. She picks it up tentatively. A heavy voice says on the other end, "Three, two, nine. Six, five, eight." The phone goes dead.
She frantically searches her mind for an explanation. Writing the numbers on a piece of paper, she stares at them. What could they mean?
She picks up the gun, settles onto the floor with her back against the sofa, and stares at the fire crackling in the fireplace. She holds the gun in her lap, muzzle pointed forward, and sobs.
The next morning, Paula is off for Denver, where she arrives in time to catch flight 329 to Seattle, then 658 to Hong Kong. But what will she find there? And who called with the tip? Where is Shadar? And why did the two intruders warn her of the Czech secret police, then speak in the language of Shadar's homeland?
Paula follows a string of clues to Lantau Island off the coast of Hong Kong where she hears rumors of the sudden disappearance of a foreigner ... an Afghani! Following the directions she receives from a contact she meets at the wharf, she stumbles into a seedy building where she is drugged, bound, and taken prisoner. She awakens the next day on a ship bound for Saudi Arabia, where she is told she will serve as a sex slave for a wealthy sheik. Along the way, she is introduced to the demanding world of bondage and discipline, suffering the whip and other indignities, until she finally manages to escape with the help of one of her captors.
The two commandeer a Zodiac and set it overboard, speeding off in the direction of Lantau Island to the sound of automatic weapons firing in the background. Along the way, the man tells her that Shadar is dead. She demands to know how he can be so sure, and he tells her how Shadar had fallen into the hands of Savik undercover agents as he prepared to board a plane at Kowloon Airport. The agents were seeking papers detailing the activities of Usama Bin Laden--papers that Shadar had told them were safely stored back at his home in Steamboat Springs. Two agents were sent to retrieve them. Before departing, he continues, "Shadar gave them something to give to you so that you would know he was still alive and that you would cooperate with them. He gave them a cross.
"When the two men arrived and found the house empty, they tore it apart ... but failed to uncover the papers. They issued a message to you to relay to Shadar upon his return. But he did not return. Instead, you received a coded message to come to Hong Kong to meet him."
"How do you know all this?" she asks. "How do you know about the men ransacking our home?"
"Because," he replies softly, "I sent them."
"But, why? And what makes you think Shadar is dead?"
"Because," he says flatly, "I killed him."
Upon arriving back at Lantau, the captain robs Paula and leaves her bound on the wharf for the “rats to enjoy—both four-legged and two!” She is discovered and freed by a man who had been working with Shadar underground. He helps her retrieve her money from the captain—and a little more for her trouble—and persuades her to accompany him to his home. Wary at first, she finally agrees but soon regrets doing so when he pulls a gun and points it right at her. “You must find Shadar, he is still alive,” he says, then fires past her into the closed door. He turns and jumps through the window and into the river below as shots ring out and angry voices split the night air.
Stealing off into the night, Paula makes her way to Pul-i-Khumri—Shadar’s home village—where she learns that he had recently left to deliver supplies to the Northern Alliance in north-central Afghanistan. She sets off with a guide to find him, but when they are detained, she sneaks off to continue her journey alone. Stumbling upon a Pakistani border patrol, she is threatened with prison for being an American spy when shots ring out. Three patrolmen fall to the snow-packed ground as the 13-year-old son of Shadar’s closest friends motions her to follow him to the truck.
The unlikely duo work their way to Mazar-i-Sharif, where they are first threatened by the Shah Khan—the feudal lord who runs the Pathan tribal warriors there--then finally granted a convoy north to try to find Shadar, after whom, they are told, Usama bin Laden has dispatched a squad to kill him. When the convoy is stopped by rebels outside of Konduz and the Pashtuns made to stand with their hands against their trucks while they are searched, Paula hears a familiar voice.
“Watch that one. She has a habit of carrying a small automatic pistol in her right jacket pocket.” Paula starts.
From Konduz, the United Front rebels commandeer several vehicles and set out for Kandahar, where Shadar has learned that bin Laden is encamped in the former home of Mullah Omar Muhammad, the fanatic Islamic leader of the Taliban. Along the way, they learn of the terrorist attack and the destruction of the World Trade Center. Her world crumbling around her, Paula cries softly as the caravan moves through the Afghan night.
Once in Kandahar, a quick reconnaissance of the terrorist quarters sets the rebels into action. As they approach the house with automatic weapons drawn, Paula recognizes one of the men out front as the man who threatened her at their home. He sees her, as well, and quickly disappears into the building just as the soldiers burst in, opening fire on all in the room. Paula’s pulse races as she sees the deadly results. They got them! They actually did it! Bin Laden is dead! But when the leader of the Front shakes his head and announces that bin Laden is not among the slain, she turns to Shadar. Suddenly a single shot rings out and Shadar clutches his chest, slumping to the floor.
At a clinic in Herat, the rebels meet several United Coalition Special Forces members, who agree to remove Paula and Shadar to the safety of Uzbekistan, where he can recoup before flying back home. At the gunship, Shadar, hobbling behind her on crutches, stops. When she asks what’s wrong, he tells her that she is going on alone. He has to continue what he started, or the world would never be at peace. When she insists on staying with him, he nods to the commander in charge, who drags her into the copter. As she stands glued to the window, sobbing, the machine lifts quickly up and off toward the foothills of the north, as Shadar becomes a distant speck on the horizon.
NOTE: All material is copyright protected. No portion of this material may be copied or reproduced, either electronically, mechanically, or by any other means, for resale or distribution without the written consent of the author. All copy has been dated and registered with the American Society of Authors and Writers. Copyright 2009 by The Swetky Agency
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