Frank Bessac spilled his wooden cup of salt and butter tea as he raced over to peer out of the tent flap. The two young Tibetan women busy serving tea only moments before crowded up behind him and looked over his shoulder toward his camp. A hundred yards away a knot of horses and men circled Bessac's canvas tent. Puffs of smoke raced off on the wind as several shooters on their horses lowered their rifles. A dozen short-legged Tibetan ponies pranced around on the treeless plain, silhouetted against the vast sky.
One horseman climbed off his horse and advanced on the tent, shouting, with his gun drawn. In the distance, Bessac could see two horsemen approaching his tent from behind. The expedition was surrounded, and apparently everyone was in the tent as someone shouted back at the Tibetans. Bessac turned back to his hosts and for the fifth time tried his Mongolian and Chinese on the two Tibetan girls.
In their fright, they clung to each other but looked at him just as blankly as they had before. The old man, who had slowly warmed to him as tea was made and served, now got up off his carpet by the dung-fueled fire and walked to the tent door. Without ceremony, the old man started to push him out of the tent. Bessac grabbed the wool robe of the Tibetan, and tried to pull him toward his own tent, pleading. The old man quickly brushed off Bessac's hands, but he paused and listened, as Bessac shouted desperately in English.
You could talk to them. We're Americans. We're going to Lhasa! Meet the Dalai Lama. The government knows we are coming. Dalai Lama.
When Bessac finished pleading, the eyes of the old man remained flat, seemingly devoid of any understanding. They could not understand him in English, Chinese, or Mongolian, and now clearly they were not even going to let him back inside their tent. At sixteen thousand feet on the treeless Changthang Plateau, Bessac had only two options. Their tent or his. There was not even a rock to hide behind. The Tibetans were the first humans the expedition had met in two months. When Bessac turned back toward his camp and the swirling horses and men surrounding it, the rest of his party began to emerge from the canvas tent.
At a hundred yards, it was impossible to tell who was holding up the white flag. Doug Mackiernan and the three Russians were all dressed, like Bessac, in crudely sewn Kazak sheepskin robes. It was obvious to Frank that these were his friends, and not another party of Tibetans or Kazak, only because they had trekked together for so long. When he saw them walk out of the tent, Frank started running back. He grabbed his glasses, trying to keep them on his head as he ran, because without them he would be virtually blind. The Tibetans gathered in front of the tent with their raised guns.
Three men were in front, with the feeble- looking white flag advancing toward the guns. Behind them, someone crouched back, as if not sure he should advance unarmed on the Tibetans. The Tibetans were startled — perhaps by the flag or by the fact that the foreigners walked confidently toward them with no weapons in their hands. Some of the Tibetans remained mounted, their horses shifting under them. Others stood on the ground. Yet they all kept their guns keenly focused on Bessac's friends.
Suddenly, one of the Tibetans in the front rank of gunmen stepped back, and Bessac stopped running. The Tibetan, who had retreated a step, fired first. A puff of white smoke rose into the wind. Then almost at once, all the other Tibetans fired, and a wave of smoke rose above their heads. The sound of the volley reached Bessac as he started running again toward his friends. When the guns fired, the man who had held back dropped low and began to dodge between the bullets.
Bessac's heart leapt as he saw him make for the tent. Was it Mackiernan? At the same moment, the other three men moved in an entirely different way. They twisted in midair, the way bodies do when bullets hit them. And then they went down hard, and at such unnatural angles. Bessac was now close enough to see the amazement on the Tibetans' faces. As they turned around and saw him running toward them, they began to fire at him. The earth six feet to his left burst in a small fountain of dust.
Into Tibet | Grove Atlantic
Another blast of dust flared three feet to his right. His instincts, drilled into him at the Outfit's camp on Catalina Island, took over — Bessac found himself kissing the earth behind a tiny hillock that he had not till now known was there. A bullet kicked up the dirt just above his hat.
He waited, listening for the next bullet. The sweat that had broken out all over his body turned cold as he lay there. A minute passed, where he could hear only the wind. He raised his head just enough so that his eyeglasses peeked over the earth at the gunmen. One of them pointed at Bessac, and then began to trace circles around his own eyes. Again, he pointed at Bessac and shouted at his friends. Seeing this, Bessac realized that he was the only person in his party wearing glasses and wondered what that meant to the Tibetans.
Shouting erupted among the Tibetans. Bessac listened, watched, and then stood up. No one pointed a gun at him. He held his ground and removed his glasses to wipe off the dirt, pondering his next move. The Tibetans watched intently as he cleaned his glasses. When he started walking slowly toward them, they were still watching him with their guns lowered.
At twenty yards, Bessac again started shouting in English, then Chinese, and then Mongolian, repeatedly. There are 0 items available. Please enter a number less than or equal to 0. Select a valid country. Please enter 5 or 9 numbers for the ZIP Code.
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The First Atomic Spy
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