The Xanadu Talisman
From this printing: Words painfully gasped by a dying man throw Modesty Blaise and sidekick Willie into the hunt for an object so valuable that lives are meaningless in the bloody battle to possess the legendary - and evil - powers.
(Modesty relates a story from her childhood, when she wandered through North Africa with the old professor Lob)
She said, "You've never seen such a place, Willie. A big cave with smaller ones running off it, and lined with makeshift shelves. He must have spent a lot of time sorting stuff, putting it in boxes, and generally keeping the place tidy, but it was still stacked from floor to roof with junk. I suppose he was an obsessive hoarder. Still is, apparently, though God knows where he'd put another fifteen years of stuff since I last saw the place. I wasn't much interested at the time. All I wanted was to sell my wheel and get back to Lob. I knew Aläeddin wouldn't pay much, but the way we lived, I hoped it would see us through for a couple of months."
She had concluded the bargain, left with the money and her donkey, and decided to take the northern trail through the mountains back to where she had left Lob, rather than the main track. Even before Lob had civilised her somewhat. she had discovered for herself the pleasure of feeling clean and fresh, and so it was that two days later, towards dusk, she was stripped and bathing herself in an icy mountain spring when the tall, bony, dirty man on the mule came upon her. He called to her, and when she would not come out of the water he took her donkey and began to move away. Then she ran after him. When he turned and caught her she fought with her teeth and her nails, but he threw her down and hit her on the side of the head with the thick staff he carried. When she emerged from the grey fog, retching with nausea, her hands were tied behind her.
Willie Garvin muttered, "Oh, Jesus." He got off the bed and began to prowl aimlessly about the room.
She lay with a forearm resting across her brow and said, "Don't fret, Willie. I'm fine now." A little pause, then she went on, "After he'd had me, he hobbled my feet. When it was time to sleep, he tied one end of his staff to my neck and the other end to his wrist, so if I moved he'd know. Next day we moved on, heading back the way I'd come from Aläeddin. He untied my hands and lengthened the hobble on my ankles, so I could walk. I think I might have been able to run away, and maybe to climb up the rock face beside the trail quicker than he could follow, but I couldn't afford to lose the money and the donkey. That was all we had."
Willie Garvin returned and sat on the edge of the bed, looking down at her, chewing his lip. She grinned at him suddenly and said, "Cheer up, this isn't a sob story. I'm just telling you what happened."
"I'd like to find that bastard and kill him."
"You're too late. He had me again the next night. but by the night after that I'd managed to get hold of my homemade chiv."
The big nail bound to the bit of wood!"
"Yes. I'd acted cowed and harmless the night before, so he didn't tie me up this time, and when he was on top of me, groping to get into me, I killed the bastard."
He nodded slowly. "That must've been a bit … traumatic."