Wednesday, 22nd January 2020 - 23:32:16 pm
An M-16 fired a short burst south of the camp. It was followed by several bursts from deeper throated AK-47s. The firing lasted about half a minute. After an interval there came two single shots. Then silence.
Kincaid finished setting up the radio. "You hungry?" he asked over his shoulder.
There was no response. He looked in the corner. Sabrina was still wrapped in the goatskin rug. She hadn't moved.
"Are you all right?"
She nodded her head.
"Get dressed," he said again, softly this time.
"Help me." She dropped the rug and picked up the black strips of cloth. She had already put on the pantaloons. This time she was not so modest about exposing her breasts.
He helped her wind the cloth around her chest.
"What happened?" she asked. "I heard explosions and shooting."
He told her. "The guards were green," he concluded, "or else none of this would have happened."
They finished binding her breasts to her satisfaction.
The horsemen returned with many shouts and a couple of shots in the air to celebrate what sounded like a victory. Kincaid went out to see. The four Kurds were jubilantly displaying two captured M-16s and telling Ahmed of their feat of arms. Ahmed saw Kincaid coming toward him. He became embarrassed and curtly dismissed his men. Yasin remained at his side.
"It must seem strange to you," Ahmed said to Kincaid, "to see them celebrate such a little victory."
"I don't know what you mean," Kincaid said. "They did their job. They earned a little celebrating."
"That's very kind of you to say, old boy," Ahmed said mildly, "but after what you have done in the last two days, it was a very little thing indeed."
"Let's get some chow," Kincaid said. His stomach was churning.
The women had prepared a huge amount of a thick lamb stew. They poured it over rice in large baked clay bowls and handed it out to the men along with sheets of their hard bread and a strong tea with which to wash it down.
Steve Kincaid, Sabrina, Ahmed and Yasin ate some distance from the others.
The Kurd who had lost his fingers was back in camp, looking pale but telling everyone of his adventure. One woman was wailing be a tent and being comforted by several other women. Kincaid guessed she was the wife of the dead Kurd.
Kincaid noticed the tribesmen were staring at him. When he looked their way, they would quickly avert their eyes. Before, when he walked among them, they had moved away, giving him far more room than he needed.
Ahmed saw his expression.
"You must remember," he explained, "mine are a very superstitious people. When they looked up a while ago and saw you stalking across that field, well, you couldn't know it of course, but it was a rather awe inspiring sight. Trouble is, some of them didn't know you weren't coming after them. A frightening thought, what? That's why some confusion resulted. And then, when you dispatched those Iranians so efficiently when they seemed to pop up out of nowhere? Well, I"ll tell you, I have the feeling the story will be told around camp fires for years to come. No, no. There's no need protesting, old boy. What will be, will be. They even have a name for you."
"Yes. They call you 'Swift Death,' in Kurdish, of course."
"I've been called a lot of things. One more name won't matter. But tell them I'm on their side."
"They know that, old boy. That's not the point at all."
It was the only point as far as Kincaid was concerned.
"And now, Colonel Kincaid, you must let me finish what I was saying before."
"Have at it," Kincaid told him. He was too busy eating to stop him anyway.
"What you did yesterday, I thought might have been luck. Forgive me, old boy, but that's what went through my mind at the time. After all, a man and a boy challenging and defeating thirty three heavily armed men" Well, you must admit, it would seem that a large element of chance might have been involved."
Ahmed paused as if expecting a response. When none came he continued. "But after today? Well let me put it this way. I have seen a great deal of fighting in the past years. But never have I seen a feat of arms to match what you have done in these two days."
Kincaid finished what he had in the bowl. He thought it was pretty good. He was about to get up and get some more when Sabrina took the bowl.
"I'm just doing my job," Kincaid said matter-of-factly, "and I still have a long way to go before it's finished. That will be the bottom line. Nothing else matters. I'd like to know what caused these problems. These today," he waved at the field, "were here looking for us. If those yesterday had been good soldiers, I would be dead. The ones today were very well led. We're lucky to be alive."
"Granted," Ahmed said quietly.
"They are out looking for us all along this caravan trail," Kincaid said. "I was seriously considering aborting this mission, but we might as well keep on going because it would be just as hard to go back. We're nearly half way between."
Both Yasin and Ahmed agreed.
"Who knows the area around Sanandaj?" Kincaid asked.
"I have been there a few times recently," Ahmed said. "But Yasin made many trips there with our father. He knows the area better than anyone."
Sabrina returned with Kincaid's refilled bowl and some more bread. She handed it to him and resumed her meal.
"We need a place near Sanandaj where an aircraft can land. It's beyond the range of a helicopter so we need a short landing strip. One that is not used."
"How long?" Yasin asked.
"You said he couldn't speak English," Kincaid said to Ahmed.
"I speak a little," Yasin said slowly.
"You know of a strip?" Kincaid asked him.
"How long is it?"
Yasin thought a moment before saying something to Ahmed.
Ahmed interpreted. "He says there is a strip six hundred meters at least. Six hundred meters is..."
"Nearly two thousand feet," Kincaid finished for him. "Where is it?"
"Very bad strip," Yasin said. "Next to army."
"What does he mean, "Next to army?""
Ahmed questioned his brother.
"He says many years ago, the Americans built a short strip for their own use when they were building an army base there. The strip is near the base, to the north of the town. It has not been used for several years and is likely to be unguarded."
"There's no other place a plane can land?"
"It's a hilly country, old boy. Hills for miles around."
"It"ll have to do then. Your men will have to hold it for a time. Can they do that?"
"For how long, old boy?"
"Thirty minutes, tops."
"A piece of cake, as you chaps might say."
"Okay. Let's start getting ready to move out. Break out those missiles and have them ready to use. Tell the people in the camp here to bury all those Revolutionary Guards and hide the graves. They"ll have to move out of here tomorrow morning just as if nothing had happened. And tell them to keep moving. The Revolutionary Guards are looking for migrant Kurds who are camped during the day.
"Those people in Sanandaj will know we're coming but they don't know when. We"ll hit them on the dead run. The quicker we are, the less prepared they will be."
It was now understood without being verbalized that Kincaid had taken command of the patrol.
He went back to his tent to reload his gear. While there, he sent out a brief radio message.
He would have given a great deal to know how and why and by whom the hunt for him had been arranged.