Thursday, 30th January 2020 - 0:00:14 am
It was nearly dusk on the third day when Ahmed and Yasin led the band of horsemen up the trail. More than a dozen Revolutionary Guards were farther in the swale, their hands over their heads. The larger Kurd was above them, on the left, holding an M-16 at the ready. The small Kurd came down from the right.
"Are you from Ahmed Kurtsan?" he asked. He was so young his voice sounded like a woman's.
"Yes," Yasin answered.
The larger one came down the slope almost as quickly as he could have fallen down. One moment he was on top. The next, he was standing near them. And yet, not a rock rolled after him. This is not an ordinary man, Ahmed thought.
The small Kurd whispered something to the larger man.
He looked at the small Kurd questioningly. Then the larger man asked, "Who is their leader?"
Ahmed put on his British veneer. "Why the one in front, old boy. Allow me to introduce myself. Ahmed Kurtsan, Oxford, class of '89. And you must be Colonel Steven Kincaid. A pleasure old chap."
"What kept you?" Steve Kincaid asked pointedly.
"Quite," the British sounding Kurd said. "A point well taken. We should have been here earlier." He looked at the prisoners and up the sides of the swale where some of the dead were visible. "But you seem to have managed quite well on your own." He nodded. "My compliments. Allow me to tidy up a bit."
"Have at it," Kincaid told him. "And send someone after our gear. It might be halfway to Iraq by now."
Steve Kincaid watched Ahmed closely as he ordered his men about on various tasks. Everything about the man from his tone of voice to his posture changed when he became the Kurdish leader instead of the English gentleman. There was a serious question in Kincaid's mind about which one was the real Ahmed Kurtsan. He knew he was dealing with a very complex man.
"This is a great Khan," Sabrina said quietly at his side. "He is known in all the councils of Kurdistan." She still had the Heckler & Koch slung over her shoulder.
"That reminds me." Steve Kincaid stood in front of her, his feet planted wide apart. "You disobeyed orders."
Sabrina's unruffled eyes were two inches below his. She lowered her head as if in regret, but a smile played about her lips.
"I'm serious and this is serious. It doesn't matter how it worked out this time. You left your position. You disobeyed orders. Another time it could cost lives or the mission."
"I am sorry for what I did," she said. She tried to erase the smile but without success.
Kincaid shook his head. "You're not sorry. You're proud of yourself. You think because it worked out okay everything is all right. Well it's not. You were wrong, no matter how it turned out."
"Yes, Colonel." The smile was gone. She said something under her breath.
"I couldn't hear that."
"Come on. If you've got something to say, let's hear it."
She looked away and said quietly, "Would you have ordered me to stay there if I had not been a woman?"
That set Kincaid off balance. He hadn't even thought about it. He answered honestly, "No."
"Even the PLO allows their women to fight alongside the men and we have all heard how the Arabs treat their women." A trace of a smile was back.
That put Kincaid even more off balance. He had the feeling that she was poking fun at him. He needed to change the subject. "How do you figure those Revolutionary Guards got here?"
"Van said it is a trail often used by smugglers," Sabrina replied.
"So they send out thirty or more men to ambush a nickel and dime smuggler?"
But Kincaid knew it was possible. This part of the Middle East was poppy land. Some of the smugglers could be a lot more than nickel and dime. It could have been worth the efforts of thirty or more men.
That was the only thing that kept him from aborting the mission right then and there. If the Iranians knew this much about his mission, then they knew everything. They were waiting for him.
Steve Kincaid was no fool. He never knowingly played against a stacked deck. But as long as there was a chance of succeed, he had to keep going. And there was a chance, a real chance, that the ambush wasn't meant for him.
Kincaid traded the M-16 he had picked up to Sabrina for his own HK 91. He field stripped the assault rifle and began cleaning it. To his surprise, Sabrina started doing the same with the M-16.
"This is filthy," she said. "You're lucky it didn't jam."
Kincaid suspected as much.
"Did you notice how the Kurds were armed?"
Sabrina continued anyway. "A few AK-47s. A couple of M-16s. The rest, semi-automatic rifles."
"These M-16s," she held up the barrel she was cleaning, "will be a, what do you call it, a fallwind?"
"Windfall, yes. That word never made sense to me. These M-16s they get today are a windfall for them."
"If they have any ammunition for them. Do you think they have any ammunition for them?"
"They are coming," she said.
Ahmed Kurtsan was returning on foot. Van was with him along with a bearded Kurd.
"Seems there's a bit of a mix-up, Colonel Steven Kincaid," Ahmed said. His tone was mild but his eyes were hard. "By the by, this is my brother, Yasin. He understands English but doesn't speak it very well."
Kincaid glanced up. Except for the full beard, Yasin was the mirror image of the burly Khan. Kincaid could see no evidence of friendship toward him in either of the brothers. That was okay with him.
"This is Sabrin," he said, not explaining her presence any more than that.
"As I was saying," Ahmed continued, 'seems there's been a mix-up. You see, we were expecting a bit more than our friend here brought." He indicated Van. "He has only four of the M-47s and a dozen of the M-72s. Isn't that true?" he asked Van.
The frightened smuggler nodded.
"That isn't quite what we bargained for, old boy."
"You really didn't expect us to bring it all today, did you?" Kincaid asked coldly.
"That was the agreement, I believe."
"You will have the balance when your information is verified." He began to reassemble his weapon. "In the meantime you can have these M-16s," he waved at the recent battleground. "You may consider them a bonus. Especially since you took no part in the fighting."
"I see," the Khan said. He spoke to his brother in Kurdish. Yasin grunted a reply.
"That does complicate things," Ahmed said. "As much as we appreciate the M-16s, our arrangement was for the missiles. It seems there are very few missiles. That does complicate things. Do you see that, old boy?"
"I don't see any complication," Kincaid said. "If your information checks out, you get what you were promised. It's that simple. What you got today you can keep as evidence of our good faith."
"Do you have a radio with you?" Ahmed asked.
Kincaid knew the Kurd had looked through everything. He had seen the radio. "I will call my backup when I have a positive identification," he said.
Ahmed's men were finishing their 'tidying up." The assembly area was just below them. Every Kurd now had an M-16. Some had two.
"You can call them now, old boy," Ahmed said. "Mohammed Parsee is in Sanandaj, about a hundred miles south of here. He goes on trial in two days. Then he will be shot."
Everyone seemed to be in agreement on the outcome of the trial Kincaid noted. "What time is the trial?"
Kincaid nodded grimly. He shoved the bolt home on the HK-91. It made a solid metallic click. "I"ll check it out," he said.
"Check it out, old boy?" Ahmed said, laughing lightly. "You're not serious."
Sabrina had finished reassembling the M-16.
"Are you going to keep that?" Kincaid asked her.
She nodded her head vigorously.
Kincaid stood up, slinging the HK-91 over his shoulder. "Let's move out," he said to Sabrina. He went down to check the pack horses.
Sabrina followed him.
Ahmed had a hurried conference with his brother.
Kincaid's equipment had been kept separate from everything else. It was packed on one horse. He checked everything out. It all seemed okay.
Sabrina prepared her horse.
Ahmed came down to where they were working. "Just what do you intend to do when you find this man?" he asked. "Are you going to kill him? Are you going to call in a strike with some kind of rescue force? Will you try to buy him free?"
Sabrina looked on impassively.
"What difference does it make?" Kincaid asked.
"It makes a lot of difference. Killing him would be the easiest thing to do. If you are worried about his talking, old boy, we could handle it. No problem at all. Save you a trip, don't-you-know." He said 'don't you know' as if they were one word.
Kincaid tightened a cinch on the horse. He had cause to be grateful for the hours he'd spent riding during basic training. He didn't answer Ahmed.
"If your intention is to pay for his release," Ahmed continued, "I think we could handle the negotiations far better than anyone else."
Kincaid still didn't answer.
"While if you intend to call in a rescue force, old boy, all that could be handled from right here. We know where he is, who is holding him, and how long he will be held. What could be simpler than that? Then you can radio your friends to send in the rest of our goods."
Kincaid didn't know how much to tell this man. It would be foolish to trust him completely, but he could use more help.
Ahmed knew why he was hesitating. "I don't need to know your plans," he said, "but I can't help at all if I don't know your intentions."
"I'm going to break him out," Kincaid told him.
"Really?" The Khan seemed amused by that. "Alone?" He flashed a grin towards his brother who was standing ten feet away.
"No," Kincaid said. "Sabrin will be with me." He checked the saddle on his mount.
"Then just the two of you?"
Kincaid pulled a map of the area out of a waterproof folder. He studied the route to Sanandaj. The light was rapidly fading.
"And if you don't get back," Ahmed said, "with some confirmation that we had done our part of the job?" He let it hang.
Kincaid shrugged. "That would be too bad."
"Yes. I see. No rocket launchers."
"You"ll never make it, old boy. You know that, don't you?"
Ahmed went over to his brother. The two of them withdrew out of earshot and began an animated conversation.
"He wants those launchers very much," Sabrina said quietly.
"The horses are tired."
"Let's go." Kincaid mounted the horse. He wrapped the rein of the pack horse loosely around his wrist and started south. He had only a vague idea where he was going.
Sabrina followed on her horse, the M-16 slung over her back.
"Kincaid!" Ahmed called him.
He stopped. Ahmed came over. "We've decided to join you, old boy."