Paths of Glory - By Jeffrey Archer
SATURDAY, MAY 1ST, 1999
“LAST TIME I went bouldering in my hobnails, I fell off,” said Conrad.
Jochen wanted to cheer, but knew that if he responded to the coded message it might alert a rival group tuned in to their frequency—or even worse, allow an eavesdropping journalist to realize that they’d discovered a body. He left the radio on, hoping for a clue that would reveal which of the two victims the search party had come across, but not another word was spoken. Only a crackling sound confirmed that someone was out there, but unwilling to speak.
Jochen followed his instructions to the letter, and after sixty seconds of silence he switched off the radio. He only wished he’d been selected as a member of the original climbing party, who were out there searching for the two bodies, but he’d drawn the short straw. Someone had to remain at base camp and man the radio. He stared out of the tent at the falling snow, and tried to imagine what was going on higher up the mountain.
Conrad Anker stared down at the frozen body, the bleached skin as white as marble. The clothes, or what was left of them, looked as if they had once belonged to a tramp, not a man who had been educated at either Oxford or Cambridge. A thick hemp rope was tied around the dead man’s waist, the frayed ends showing where it must have broken during the fall. The arms were extended over the head, the left leg crossed above the right. The tibia and fibula of the right leg were both broken, so that the foot looked as if it was detached from the rest of the body.
None of the team spoke as they struggled to fill their lungs with the thin air; words are rationed at 27,000 feet. Anker finally fell to his knees in the snow and offered up a prayer to Chomolungma, Goddess Mother of the Earth. He took his time; after all, historians, alpinists, journalists, and the simply curious had waited over seventy-five years for this moment. He removed one of his thick fleece-lined gloves and placed it on the snow beside him, then leaned forward, each movement slow and exaggerated, and with the index finger of his right hand gently pushed back the stiff collar of the dead man’s jacket. Anker could hear his heart pounding as he read the neat red letters displayed on a Cash’s name tape that had been sewn on the inside of the shirt collar.
“Oh my God,” said a voice from behind him. “It’s not Irvine. It’s Mallory.”
Anker didn’t comment. He still needed to confirm the one piece of information they had traveled over five thousand miles to discover.
He slipped his gloveless hand into the inside pocket of the dead man’s jacket, and deftly removed the hand-stitched pouch that Mallory’s wife had so painstakingly made for him. He gently unfolded the cotton, fearing that it might fall apart in his hands. If he found what he was looking for, the mystery would finally be solved.
A box of matches, a pair of nail scissors, a blunt pencil, a note written on an envelope showing how many oxygen cylinders were still in working order before they attempted the final climb, a bill (unpaid) from Gamages for a pair of goggles, a Rolex wristwatch minus its hands, and a letter from Mallory’s wife dated April 14th, 1924. But the one thing Anker had expected to find wasn’t there.
He looked up at the rest of the team, who were waiting impatiently. He drew a deep breath, and delivered his words slowly. “There’s no photograph of Ruth.”
One of them cheered.
No Ordinary Child
ST. BEES, CUMBRIA, TUESDAY, JULY 19TH, 1892
IF YOU HAD asked George why he’d begun walking toward the rock, he wouldn’t have been able to tell you. The fact that he had to wade into the sea to reach his goal didn’t appear to concern him, even though he couldn’t swim.
Only one person on the beach that morning showed the slightest interest in the six-year-old boy’s progress. The Reverend Leigh Mallory folded his copy of The Times and placed it on the sand at his feet. He didn’t alert his wife, who was lying on the deckchair beside him, eyes closed, enjoying the occasional rays of sunshine, oblivious to any danger their eldest son might be facing. He knew that Annie would only panic, the way she had when the boy had climbed onto the roof of the village