madman's screams faded into the distance as he was dragged away. Behind him, the door creaked as it swung freely in the strong
mountain wind. Then it shut with a thud, cutting the screams off with ominous finality. The patrons began talking amongst
themselves; watching a man suddenly go mad was quite a diversion in a lonely, desolate place, and even the drug smugglers
seated at a table in one corner had interrupted their business to watch.
Even more Interesting, though, was the way in which he had disposed of the place. The attractive
brunette standing by the bar looked around, carefully hiding her surprise at the turn of events. Being given the place was
one thing; holding on to it would be quite another. After a year of working there, she knew the kind of venal, untrustworthy
people she had to deal with. Here, in this way station on the smuggling route between China and India, strength, not right,
was the only thing that mattered. Any show of weakness, and she would lose the bar, her sole means of survival.
She glanced warily at the customers, and began edging toward the large stuffed raven, behind which she had concealed
her father's old pistol. This was a lucrative business -- and it would only be a matter of time before someone tried to take
it away from her.
A large, dirty hand grasped her arm. "We're not through with our business yet, girl." The voice
belonged to Namygal, a Tibetan tribesman, and a regular customer. His tribe, the Kham-pa, were known as bandits as far back
as the time of Marco Polo. He was a heavy man of medium height, dressed in fur traveling robes; he needed a bath -- badly.
Like many of his people, he painted his face with red ocher to protect it from the cold in the high mountains. But the paint
did nothing to hide his unpleasant expression.
"I say we are finished. This is my place now, and nobody tells me what to do here. Now, get your
lousy hands off me!" she demanded in the same Sherpa dialect he had used. He
laughed, and tried to drag her toward the stairs. The brunette grabbed a whiskey bottle from one of the shelves behind the
bar and smashed it across the counter, breaking it in the middle. She held the bottle's neck and jabbed the pointed ends deeply
into the man's wrist; he jumped back, shrieking and bloody. Once free, she lunged for the gun, aimed it carefully at the enraged
bandit, and fired.
The bullet passed through his clothing, burning his thigh as it went. She stared challengingly
at him. "Now, get the hell out of here or the next one goes a little higher." She
glared around the room, carefully keeping the gun trained on Namygal. Then, to emphasize her point, she deliberately raised
the weapon to aim at the area she meant. "And that goes for the rest of you bums, too. This is MY place now, and I'm running
it MY way. From now on, the only thing for sale around here is the drinks. And don't think you'll get around that by getting
me drunk. I can drink any one of you motherless bastards under the table, and
you know it. Now, everybody -OUT. The bar's closed until tomorrow." She repeated her announcement in Nepali and Hindustani
to make sure everyone understood, then waved them toward the door with her pistol. Slowly, grudgingly, the men left.
The big Tibetan was one of the last to go. He favoured her with a resentful look, holding his
bottle-gashed arm. "And remember, you misbegotten piece of goat dung," she said sweetly, "don't come back." Her smile was
as icy as the glaciers that had formed the high mountains aeons ago. "If you do, I'll be more than happy to put a bullet right
through that pig-eyed face of yours."
Once the last customer was gone, she closed the door, pulled down the heavy wooden bar, and bolted
it against any unwelcome visitors. That done, she sat down at one of the rough wooden tables, her knees suddenly weak. Slowly,
she appraised the disreputable dive she now owned. Hellhole though it might be, to her It was a ticket out of Patan, a way
to get the money for her trip back to America.
She smiled bitterly as she poured herself a glass of scotch, then sat, nursing her drink. Precise
rows of houses with neatly manicured lawns and whitewashed fences. Faculty Row. It was hard to remember that places like that
really existed. Now, nearly seven years later, her life in Chicago seemed no more than a dream.
The road to this desolate corner of the Himalayan foothills had been long and hard, and it had
turned a naive, trusting university professor's daughter into a tough, cynical woman.
Ravenwood was barely seventeen years old when she left Chicago for another archaeological with her father. Abner had another
theory about his pet project, the Ark of the Covenant. This time, he thought it might be in the isolated mountain kingdom
of Nepal. The place was almost impossible to get permission to visit, but as a well-known scholar of British birth, he had
a better chance than most, since the British did have some access to the country. He used every contact he'd developed in
his years in academia, and finally obtained the needed permits.
He was not so lucky with regard to funding, however. No institution was willing to provide the
-money, regarding the theory as too far-fetched, but this didn't discourage him. He simply sold everything of value that he
owned, and raised the money for expenses himself.
At first, his daughter was surprised by his insistence that she accompany him. She was about
to finish high school, and expected to be at college while Abner was away on his expeditions; she could visit him on vacations,
like most archaeologists' daughters did.
Most girls her age, though, hadn't had a romantic liaison with one of their father's protégés before they were sixteen
years old. Her disastrous affair with Indiana Jones had ended less than a year before, when he ran away, tall between his
legs, with a phony promise that he'd be back. And Abner simply hadn't trusted
her on her own after that.
So they left Chicago. From Darjeeling in India,
they traveled on foot to the Kathmandu Valley and the city of Kathmandu Itself,
ancient capital of Nepal. There, as guests of the British resident, Abner carried out a few fruitless exploratory digs in
the Valley. The Rana family, hereditary Prime Ministers and autocratic rulers of a country whose King was a mere figure-head,
took great interest in his work.
It was a fascinating life, even for a young girl who'd traveled over much of the world as a child.
Between work on the digs, it was a carefree time of tiger hunts in the Terai with the royal hunting parties, royal functions. As her father's assistant, she went everywhere with him. And being one of the few women in a man's world, although far from a new experience for the girl, was a
heady experience for the young woman she had become.
As months turned into years, Marion watched with concern as Abner became more and more obsessed
with the idea that the Ark was buried somewhere in the Himalayas. Through his contacts with the Rana family, he finally got
permission for something seldom awarded to foreigners -- permission to leave the Valley.
The trip through the foothills, on roads that could be used only by pack animals and men on foot,
took weeks. At last, they arrived at the site Abner had selected, a tiny namesake of the ancient city-state of Patan, located
a day's march from the Sherpa bazaar of Solu Khumbu. After the relative civilization
of the Valley, it was hard to adjust to the cold, loneliness, and desolation of the mountains. And there were other adjustments
to be made as well. The tiny hamlet with its small scattering of buildings was not so much a town as a way station on a smuggling
route. It didn't exactly provide a comfortable or secure environment.
High in the mountains, might made right, and the Rana's law was very far away. Abner had established
his reputation when they first arrived, demonstrating his strength by winning local drinking contests, and skillfully handling
serious trouble with fists and gun. And Marion learned how to handle herself among the men of all nationalities who made Patan
their stop along the difficult overland smuggling route.
No Caucasian woman had ever been there before, so she was a novelty, and couldn't just blend
into the scenery. This made her a centre of attention for men who were accustomed
to taking whatever they wanted. They soon learned that, in her case, it wasn't as easy as it looked. She carried Abner's spare
pistol, and several times proved herself both able and willing to use it. In addition, she swore at anyone who accosted her,
using the filthiest words she knew In English, Nepali, Sherpa, and Arabic, words learned in a lifetime spent on archaeological
She began drinking, too, even braving the local dive to bet on some of the drinking contests.
Abner never noticed the extra money she earned this way, any more than he noticed the other changes in her -- or anything
else that wasn't at least a thousand years old and buried halfway up a mountainside.
As the years passed, Marion tried to convince her father to give up his search. His violent reaction to the suggestion forced her to realize he was no longer rational on the subject.
In the past, he'd always been willing to accept defeat and move on; now, he refused to even consider the possibility that
the Ark wasnt in Nepal. No matter how often she tried, nothing worked. He'd always been single-minded, but never to this extent.
It frightened her, making her realize that, no matter what, he had no intention of leaving without his precious Ark.
There was no way to communicate with the outside world, no one to turn to for help. Even the
Ranas, with their dislike of foreigners, seemed to have forgotten their existence; they were never contacted and asked to
leave. Marion kept hoping the tax collector -- the only official ever to visit the isolated village, and that only on a yearly
basis -- would one day arrive to tell them they were ordered back to Kathmandu. Maybe being thrown out of the country would
shock Abner into realizing how unbalanced his obsession had become.
Then came 1934, the year of the biggest earthquake in Nepalese history. Abner and Marion were
with an expedition on one of the lower peaks when it occurred. Their party weathered the quake without difficulty and were
on their way back to Patan when the avalanche struck. It swept Abner and three porters along with it, and just barely missed
Marion and two others. Numb with shock and grief, low on supplies because of
what had been lost in the avalanche, the small party slowly made its way back down
A few days later, Marion sat alone in the middle of the floor of the one-room hut she and her
father called home, sorting through his belongings. She glanced contemptuously
at the small pile of Chinese, Nepali, Indian, and British currency lying atop the drawstring bag in which it had been kept;
it was all she had. It wouldn't even get her a guide back to the Valley,
much less get her to America. Abner hadn't even cared enough to make sure she
had a way to get home...
Her grief for her father was gradually
replaced by anger and fear. What good
were archaeology books, or little bits and pieces of junk from long-dead civilizations, when she needed cold, hard cash to
get out of this freezing hellhole? The Buddhists were right about their hell of freezing cold; she'd lived in it long enough
to swear to that.
She carefully sorted through their meager belongings. A good many things had been left behind
with relatives in Illinois, pending their return. Not that they'd be much help to her. What she needed were practical things
-- tools, clothing, valuables. These, she might be able to sell to one of the smugglers. But everything of real value had
gone to fund the original trip. She needed something better than the little bits of junk Abner had collected over the years.
Her remaining grief over her father's death was pushed aside by the more pressing need for survival.
Clothes and tools were far outnumbered by virtually worthless books and journals. She dumped the books and clothing into a
pile of things to be sold; the journals were worthless except as fuel for the fire. She vented her anger by hurling them against
the wall, where they landed with a resounding thunk.
Lying on the floor was a bronze medallion set with a crystal. She picked it up and looked at
it - disgust. "The headpiece of the Staff of Ra..."
She whirled suddenly, tears of fear and frustration trickling down her cheeks, and hurled it
with all her strength. "God damn you!" she screamed in a choked voice as the medallion skittered down the wall, joining
the journals. If it weren't for that damned Ark, Abner would still be alive and she wouldn't be in this mess!
But it wasn't his fault alone. If it hadn't been for that bastard Jones, her father would never
have dragged her along to this stinking hellhole.
Her eyes hardened. She wasn't going to give
up so easily. That bastard was responsible for wrecking her life, and by
God, she was going to live to get out of this place and make him pay for it.
No matter what she had to do, she would find a way to survive.
Marion dried her tears with the back of one hand. It
wouldn't do to show any weakness. Deals had to be conducted from a position of strength. Her jaw set, she headed for the bar
to see what she could sell.
It was slow going. Although she bargained well, she couldn't get much, and only in fits and starts,
as new expeditions passed through. Word of her father's death spread quickly; soon, everyone knew how badly she needed money.
Meanwhile, what little she had went quickly. She noticed herself being watched closely, and felt
like a yak surrounded by snow leopards, waiting for them to spring. The drinking contests helped; she was an old hand at them,
and with a few preliminaries -- yak butter, although repulsive, was highly effective -- managed to hold her own.
But the day finally came when her luck and her money both ran out. Gandaki, the ex-Gurkha who
ran the bar, had a predatory gleam in his eyes when he called her over to talk. The small, powerfully-built man had run an
extensive smuggling racket while stationed in India; after being found out and cashiered, he'd fled to Patan and moved his
operations to the ancient and little-known mountain route between China and India.
"What have I got to talk about with a jackal like you?" Marion demanded in the Gurkha's Nepali
"Business. You are trying to sell things. I've got a deal for you. Let's go upstairs and talk
"Ha! My father may have been a crazy old man, but he didn't raise an idiot. We talk here."
"As you wish," he agreed expansively, gesturing for his bouncer to replace him behind the bar.
Then he steered Marion toward the corner by the stairs. "This deal interests you?"
"Maybe," she answered, her face expressionless.
"After I find out what it Is. Start talking."
."I know you are out of money, and you have little of value left to sell." He looked her over slowly and thoroughly, in a way that suddenly made her feel highly vulnerable.
"And so, out of the kindness of your heart, you're going to help me -- for a price. Don't make
me laugh. That line's even older than these damned mountains."
"That may be true. But what choice do you have?"
Her face hardened. He had her there. Once the money was gone, she was finished. Her only options
were to die slowly of starvation or to die quickly by jumping off a mountain. And she was determined to live. She was silent,
desperately trying to think. There had to be another way to earn her keep.
"My proposition is most reasonable. You stay here, and I will provide for you, in exchange for
"And we both know what services you mean, don't we? You're taking a hell of a lot for granted,
"I think not. I merely assume that you wish to survive."
She watched him carefully, her eyes cold, calculating. They both knew she eventually had to accept
his offer. Selling oneself into slavery was a common solution for indebtedness, even in the cities of the Valley. But the
consequences were different for a woman.
Marion suddenly remembered a myth Abner had taught her long ago. This was her personal Gotterdammerung.
If she was strong, she would survive. If not, she would die.
Icy calm replaced her outrage. If this was what
she had to do in order to live, then she would do it. No fate was worse than death. And at that, being Gandaki's mistress
offered a better deal than she'd gotten as Jones's lover. All he'd ever given
her was a load of phony promises.
Like the men here, he was out for whatever he could get,
and she was just another notch on his belt.
But not again. This was a business deal, and she intended to get full value for her services.
"Then you agree? Good. There won't be any problem finding customers for tonight."
Her head snapped up in astonishment. That wasn't what she'd agreed to! "What? You lousy, double-crossing little prick!" she stormed, shoving him against the wall,
her eyes blazing. 'Nobody said anything about any customers!"
I never put out money without getting e good profit in return. On a novelty like you, I am sure
to get it." He twisted her around and pushed her back against the wall,
pinning her there with his weight. She tried to free herself by kicking him in the groin,
but he blocked the move; although short and slight like most lowland Nepalese, he was very strong. He grabbed her shirt collar and twisted her chin around with his other hand, forcing her to meet his eyes. Cold
and expressionless, they reminded her of a snake's. "Remember, right now, I am the only person who cares if you live or die.
Make sure I keep caring."
mind raced. The fumes from the opium and hashish being smoked nearby made it hard to think. It was stupid, underestimating
him that way. She should have known better. But the fact remained -- she had to survive.
The situation was too ironic for words. A whoremonger
cared more about keeping her alive than her own father had. In trying to "protect"
her from the likes of Indiana Jones, Abner had left her open to a far worse fate. She
nearly laughed, but feared that if she did, she would become hysterical. She'd have been better off living with the consequences
of her own mistakes, rather than with the consequences of Abner's. Maybe it was just as well she and Jones had been lovers;
in a way, he had taught her a trade.
What choice have you got?" The words echoed in her brain. Unfortunately, she knew the answer.
And what did it really matter, anyway? If
not the Gurkha, then someone else. She had no other way to live. The longer she waited, the more desperate she would be --
and the less she'd get from the deal.
"Fine. You want a whore, you've got one -- on one condition. I won't be much use to you if I
get knocked up or catch a dose. You make sure I have a way to protect myself, or Ill end up unable to work. You won't make much of a profit if you let your merchandise get damaged."
The man looked thoughtful. "That is true. You will be quite in demand, so it won't lose me much business. But it won't change things. You are still my property. No tricks, or you
will wish you had died in that avalanche." His hand tightened briefly on her throat, as if to demonstrate his threat, then
he released her and pushed her toward the door. "Get your things, then come back. You start work tonight."
She stared at him contemptuously, then walked through the bar, her chin high. She wasn't about
to give anyone the satisfaction of seeing her cave in. They might possess her body, but it would be on her terms. Her mind
and will were hers alone.
Marion was learning. And when her chance came, she would be ready to beat them at their own game.
The brunette shivered as she drained her glass. Who'd have thought the old Gurkha would crack
that way? Of course, except for the Sherpas, everyone seemed to, eventually. She knew she had to get out before she went crazy,
that, she poured herself a little more whiskey. "Here's to you, you old bastard. May you rot in every one of those seven hells
She tossed off her drink, then lowered the glass again with a triumphant smile. Never again would
she be meat on the hoof, for sale to the highest bidder. It was time to start settling old scores.
They all thought they had control
over her, using sex as a weapon
against her. Meanwhile, they had unknowingly taught her how to use it to control them. She intended to make that very clear.
They would pay, all right, and in more ways than one. No one owned her now, and no one ever would again.
The fire was beginning to die down, and Marion banked it for the night, then went upstairs alone
-- for the first time in nearly a year. It was a pleasant change. That part of her life was over and she was going to earn
enough money so she would never be that desperate again.
Money, she had learned, was the most important thing in the world, and she would never be short
of it again. She wondered how long it would take to earn enough for the trip
home. It couldn't be soon enough. Once
she got out of Nepal, she intended to set up a little business somewhere where they'd never even heard of the Himalayas.
She yawned. The events of the day, combined with
the whiskey, were making her sleepy. Tomorrow would be time enough to go over the bar's inventory and get things in order.
Cautiously, she peered out the window. There was
no one in sight, but she wasn't about to take any chances. Bandits desperate enough to ambush smugglers' caravans would think
nothing of trying to rob this place, or even steal it from her. If they considered a woman an easy mark, that would be their
She checked and loaded the Gurkha's old rifle, which she planned to keep by her bed. The business
was hers now, and after what she'd gone through to earn it, she didn't intend to give it up without a fight. But it didn't
look like there'd be any trouble, at least not right away.
The young woman smiled bitterly. Was there really anything
for her to be afraid of? She'd already lived through the worst that could possibly happen. After that, what was left?
She laid the rifle down within easy reach and settled in for the night. There was no use dwelling
on her problems. Things that couldn't be changed were best left for morning, when something could be done about them. No need to worry until then about defending what she'd so abruptly acquired. Tomorrow was time enough to start rebuilding her life from the wreckage of the past year.
After all, tomorrow was another day.