That year Charlie and he had planned to have their annual holiday together walking in The Himalaya region. It was Charlie who had insisted on getting down to details, which B preferred to leave behind at work. His inclination was to go whither his fancy led him and if this was to a palace bed or a sleeping bag on the floor of an empty hut it was all a part of the freedom and adventure he craved for himself. This would not do for Charlie, and so maps were studied and letters written. They decided to go first to Lahore for a few days and then from there to Abbotabad.

Malik Mustafha Khan had offered B his hospitality at Abbotabad many times, but B had been reluctant to accept. He did not want to get too close to this contractor, but Malik was a persistent suitor and B found that there is a line, up to which one can go, beyond which, refusals are counter productive, and brought with them ill feelings. His first dicovery of the extent of Malik’s largesse was when he received at Christmas a gift of a wicker basket hamper of such enormous proportions that he felt obliged to divide the contents up and distribute them by sending Sher to the occupants of the other ex-patriate bungalows. There were some sheepish looks later when he discovered that every bungalow had been favoured by Malik’s gifts, only his and Andrews’s baskets had been the largest. When he was ill in bed with malaria Malik had visited him with his brother and brought unnecessarily costly presents. He had returned these later and had observed the look of scarcely suppressed offended anger on Malik’s face. He was aware of his predecessor, George Stiven’s dubious financial dealings with the contractor and confided his concerns to Braund. ‘You can’t refuse everything he offers,’ Braund had said, ‘it’s a quid pro quo, and one has to gauge the borderline finely. We give him a lot of work and he gives presents from time to time, but one knows when the line is crossed.’ B didn’t, and was shocked that the Chief accepted presents. He had joined others at some of  Malik’s sumptuous parties at his large country house near Pindigheb, and greatly enjoyed the hospitality and atmosphere, meeting cultured Pakistanis.

Now Malik called on him. ‘I hear you are coming to Abbotabad on holiday. This time I insist that you stay as a guest in my house.’ ‘That’s very kind of you Malik, but I’m going with Charlie Williams.’ Charlie was an engineer and the technical staff were of little interest to Malik, as B knew; but this seemed to be no obstacle. ‘Williams will be welcome too, of course. How will you get to Abbotabad?’ B knew that if he was vague Malik would arrange a car for him. ‘Charlie has already booked seats on the bus from Lahore.’ Malik had probably never been on a public bus; he was born in the land-owning class and was a local politician having all the privileges that were a part of being the local aristocracy.

Charlie had a contempt for Malik and his pursuit of the administrative staff of the oil company for all the fat contracts available. ‘You can put it down to my back-sliding,’  said B, ‘and keep your honour intact.’ ‘It’s not your big brown eyes he’s fond of, you know’ said Charlie. ‘I know Charlie, I know, but he doesn’t get anything out of me.’  ‘He’s softening you up for the future; he had Stiven dancing to his tune and bought his old banger for three times its value.’ ‘You’re not comparing me to Stiven are you, you swine?’ ‘Well, don’t expect me to be pleasant to him.’ ‘Just civil, Chas.’

Abbotabad is a hill station and the last military centre of the Raj before the tribal lands and the Kyber Pass. In 1948 the newly formed Pakistan army had taken over the garrison from the British Indian army. Malik’s bungalow was spacious and luxurious and set in an immaculately tended garden which lay extensively all around an outer verandah that circled the building. He used the place as his summer residence when the heat of the plains became oppressive. He had bought it from a retiring British ex-patriate, who must have been someone of substance to have owned such a precious home where woods and hills could be seen from any spot.

They spent a lot of the time at the officers’s club where Malik was a member, and here they met the new crop of Pakistani officers with their parody of clipped, public school accents and their style of English humour that made them caricatures of the British Raj they had now replaced. Even the way they drank at the bar – in this country where alcohol was prohibited except for registered addicts and non-Muslim foreigners – was reminiscent of their British predecessors.

On the day before they were to catch the bus for Nathia Gali to start their walk Malik was called away to Pindigheb so they were left on their own. Charlie preferred staying in the bungalow confines, even though he disliked the presence of so many servants, walking about barefoot, asking him what he would eat or drink. B went along to the club where he met Roger, the Station Commander, (Major Roger Vance-Hamilton) who he already knew. Roger was a huge man, a Eurasian, rolled in fat from chin to stomach showing his liking for the good life. His attitude to his subordinates was that of the benevolent bully, while his treatment of the two English visitors had been a mixture of proprietorialism, protectionism, both patronising and showing off. Everything he said and did in their presence sent the message, ‘look at me; you who once had the power; well I have it now.’ He was an extrovert, larger than life character; a subtle, intelligent, shrewd, King Henry Vlll, flawed by the very circumstances of his being, but bold, arrogant, indomitable and, at the same time, beneath it, insecure, fearful, ready to fawn, on the instance, with boisterous condescension.

He greeted B loudly and affably, his exuberant demeanour fixing on him like a limpid. ‘What’s your poison Bill?’ he boomed. ‘Bring the drinks to the terrace,’ he ordered the barman. ‘Has Malik abandoned you? I know what we’ll do. We’ll have a good curry lunch with plenty of pink gins, and then you can come back to headquarters with me. I have some court marshals to take this afternoon, and you can sit in on them. You’ll be able to tell the people back home that the British Raj is still in good hands. What!’ A more unlikely leader of a new Muslim state would be difficult to imagine but, in the wake of great upheavals emerge such oddities, briefly using their weird talents until a more standardised society engulfs them and they pass on to an oblivion from which they hoisted themselves earlier. He wore his rank with an aura of mastery, a holstered revolver was on his belt and he seemed to control all those around him with his voice, as a lion tamer does his act.

After they had finished their lunch on the verandah, Roger glanced at his watch, then summoned the barman, giving him instructions to call for his transport. A staff car drew up on the driveway in the grounds below them, a soldier got out from the driver’s seat and, advancing to the verandah, saluted and waited for his orders. Roger called for the bill and signed it with a flourish. ‘Right, Bill, now I’ll show you how the army deals with its naughty boys,’ he roared with laughter and seemed to punch the air as he heaved his bulk out of the chair. But once on his feet he was agile and restless, leading the way to the waiting car. They drove along quiet, tree-lined roads that could have been in Surrey were it not for the towering mountain ranges that rose into the distant skies around three sides of the town.

During the ride B considered relating a story concerning his personal life in India and the air-force but dismissed the idea as Roger talked. Unaware that he had momentarily been the contemplated object of a confidence, Roger continued his monologue, ‘I was here as a rookie nearly 20 years ago and won the boxing trophy. I fought anything in the army on two legs. Colonel Patterson said to me, ‘you’ve got the guts to go a long way, Roger, and I’m going to give you your chance, but whether you succeed or not will be up to you, ‘ he’s gone long ago, but I’m back, and I’ve made it by God.’ There were no inhibitions about confidences in Roger and B felt the smaller in that he could not reciprocate. There was a softening in his feelings as he witnessed the hulk of sheer will and force wanting to tell a stranger of his triumph. ‘I’m eighteen stone now and I was ten stone then.’ Somewhere inside Roger was a young, eager to please boy, but the years had overlaid all that and the accumulated power hid the inner reality. Was not that the way with all of us?

Inside headquarters they went into the CO’s office, past a series of saluting sentries to where preparations were made for the courts marshal cases. Here, a number of hatless, young soldiers were marched in, one at a time, to the accompaniment of shouted commands from the duty sergeant. Roger sat at a table facing the door with B seated in front of the table, to one side. The routine was as laid down in the regimental standing orders, inherited from the British army, and not changed in one detail. This he knew well from his early days as a cadet in the RAF, when his transgressions had been dealt with. Now he was a spectator at a show put on by Roger for him to witness the transgressions of others being dealt with. Roger played to his one-man gallery, mixing his reactions in a thespian’s change of moods. now severe and censorious, now playful and ironic, now involved and caring. He played his roles with frightening intensity, that must have left some of the defaulters wondering if their punishments would be greater than they could have imagined, or whether they had overjudged the severity that might be meted out to them. Regardless as to whether any of the soldiers  standing rigidly at attention before him could understand his words, Roger spoke often in English, seemingly to to ensure that B would appreciate the scene. ‘My God, you are a fine soldier!’ ‘You know, I could put you away for two years.’ ‘Did your mother never teach you right from wrong?’ ‘You’ve been a very silly boy.’

And so, half a dozen miscreants had their cases heard and were judged, then marched out again amidst thunderous commands from the sergeant, and the final smashing of Roger’s giant fist upon the table ‘All trivial stuff,’ he laughed, as the last one vanished through the doorway. ‘They are village boys and don’t know what real crime is, like the city boys do. That’s why the Raj always preferred recruiting in the villages, where the lads are simple, loyal and brave. What did you think of it?’ B was never any good at that time dealing with these feed questions put to get approbation, admiration or an ego stroked, and so Roger had to forego any acclaim as he no doubt expected. The two were by this time tired of each other’s company and so parted with bonhomie and a hand shake.