Monday, 17th February 2020 - 20:02:45 pm
In this strange land, Steve Kincaid slept on combat alert. He put his clothing back on before lying down again. Before falling asleep be accustomed himself to the sounds around him; to the heavy breathing of Sabrina at his side, to the sound the tent made when the wind blew at it, to the voices of the camp women as they gossiped their way through the day, to the rattle of pots around the fire, to the complaining of the camels, to the bleating of the goats and sheep as they grazed farther off. He even took note of the background noises; the buzzing of flies around the tent, the chirping of locusts in the surrounding grass.
All of these sounds were registered and indexed in Steve Kincaid's mind. Then he went to sleep, the Heckler & Koch in easy reach. He woke many times during the day when an unindexed sound came to him; when two women spoke close to the tent, when a pot was dropped, when a shepherd's dog barked loudly, when a child started crying, and every time a man's voice sounded in camp.
These sounds would wake him. He'd quickly analyze the source and just as quickly go back to sleep.
On two occasions other groups of migratory Kurds passed through the camp. Those times Kincaid was at the tent flap in seconds, the HK-91 ready in his hands, a thumb on the safety. Only after the Kurds had passed out of sight would he lie back down beside Sabrina. He'd quickly be asleep again.
Sabrina slept through everything, a trace of a smile on her lips.
Kincaid awoke with a start in the early afternoon thinking something was wrong. He soon discovered what it was. The locusts on the west side of the camp were silent. He listened for them to start up again while he put on his boots. They didn't.
He went to the tent flap and looked out to the west, expecting to see something out there. There was nothing visible in the high grass near the camp. That made him sure something was wrong.
Kincaid put his hand over Sabrina's mouth and shook her awake. It scared the hell out of her but he couldn't help that. He took his hand away as soon as she was aware of where she was. He gestured for her to remain silent. He handed her the M-16 she had been carrying since the attempted ambush and signaled that he wanted her to cover the west side of the tent and the tent flap on the south side. She was frightened but she indicated that she understood.
Kincaid donned his equipment hurriedly. The silenced Beretta Brigadier was snugly holstered beneath his left armpit. The powerful Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum was slung in its holster on his right hip. The holster was suspended from a military web belt. The garrote was in its pouch on the belt. Four frag grenades were in a canvas bag hanging from the belt.
He laid the HK-91 on the carpet at the east side of the tent and pulled the sliver thin stiletto from its tight sheath. The stiletto made quick work of the light rope that was holding down the tent there. He sheathed the blade and, grabbing the rifle, went quickly through the opening.
He walked several paces away from the tent before casually glancing around the camp. His irregular exit hadn't been noticed. Everything seemed normal in the camp. The women were preparing food at the fire.
Kincaid cursed himself for not having scouted the surrounding landscape that morning. It could turn out to be a fatal mistake. He strode easily into the tall grass on the east side of the camp, keeping his tent directly behind him.
About eighty meters from the camp he came to a dry creek bed that ran from north to south. He dropped lightly into the depression and set out at an easy run to the north, the assault rifle now in his hands. His ground consuming strides took little effort. The hundreds of combat patrols he had been on had taught him how to conserve energy for when he would need it.
As he ran, he counted each stride. At one hundred he stopped. It was risky to cut back across the field this close to the camp but he might be short of time.
He came up out of the creek bed and surveyed the treeless field. Except for the camp, now two hundred meters south of him, there was no sign of life. The camp was as quiet as he had left it.
Kincaid went into a low crouch and moved soundlessly through the grass. Only the locusts were aware of his passage. Their chirping silenced at his approach, not to begin again until he was well past. Kincaid knew that was enough to give him away to an alert enemy.
He crossed the caravan trail and was into the grass on the other side. There was no sign that he had been detected. Ahmed had said the camp would be guarded. Kincaid wondered where the guards were.
He was over a hundred meters into the grass on the west side of the caravan trail when a muffled sound ahead caused him to hit the ground. He froze a moment and listened. The sound came again, from directly in front of him. It was high-pitched but muffled. It sounded like an animal in pain.
Kincaid extended the rifle crosswise in front of him to lower the grass silently as he advanced toward the sound on his belly. As got closer, he heard the splash of water. He also identified the other sound. It came from a man. It was a muffled scream. It was a man in great pain.
The grass ended a few meter farther. Kincaid left the last of it standing. He rose up on his elbows to look through it. He was on top of a two meter high bank. A creek flowed below him, six meters away. Between him and the creek, a Kurd was stretched out on his back, his head toward the water. He was bound and gagged. Two Iranians were bent over the Kurd. Kincaid recognized them as Revolutionary Guards from their armbands.
The Kurd's hands were tied in front of him. His hands and the front of his clothing were awash in blood. One of the Iranians was holding the hands tightly while the other sawed off a finger with a knife. Two of the Kurd's fingers had already bee cut off.
Kincaid slipped the Beretta from its sheath under his left armpit. He spread the last of the grass and moved up the final foot to the top of the bank. There were no others in sight in either direction.
"You could have stayed at home today," he said, just loud enough for the two Iranians to hear.
The man with the knife still had a cruel grin on his face when he looked up. His expression turned to horror as he stared into the unblinking eye of the black Beretta. He froze where he was, glancing sideways at an M-16 on the ground only a meter away.
"Try for it, little man," Kincaid told him softly. "You have nothing to lose. You might as well die trying."
The other Iranian watched Kincaid, still gripping the Kurd's hands in numb shock.
Whether he understood or not, the one with the knife shook his head.
"Come on," Kincaid purred. "Make it interesting. Either way you die."
The man made the mistake of dropping the knife before he made his move. Kincaid had plenty of time to caress the trigger and squeeze off a shot as the man began an awkward motion toward his rifle. The whispering Beretta made a little hole in the top of the man's left ear. A four inch section of the other side of his skull splashed into the water behind him along with most of his brains. The gray matter started floating downstream in the clear water. What was left of his head fell to the edge of the creek. A red stain followed his brains downstream, becoming lighter as it went.
The other Revolutionary Guard turned slate gray. He finally gave up his grip on the Kurd's hands and staggered to his feet.
"Salaam," he said with one hand stretched out beseechingly.
Kincaid knew the word meant "peace."
The guy tried to smile but all he could manage was a horrible grimace. A wetness started at the crotch of his pants and spread downward, dripping on his shoes.
"Salaam," Kincaid said, caressing the trigger a second time. The Beretta whispered and a hole appeared where the man's left eye had been. The body walked backwards four full steps into the water and nearly sat on what had once been its brains. It sat there a full second and then flopped on its back.
"Salaam," Kincaid said again. He looked up and down the stream. There was still no one in sight.