Monday, 29th May 2023 - 16:12:23 pm
An alarm went off in Steve Kincaid's combat alert mind. One of his senses was warning of danger bur he wasn't sure which sense or what danger.
"Van!" he called quietly but sharply to the small Iranian guide. The smuggler was twenty feet ahead of him on the trail.
When the man looked around Kincaid silently signaled him to halt. Van came back to him.
"Have we crossed the border yet?" Kincaid asked him when he was near enough to whisper.
"Oh yes sir," Van replied. "Perhaps two kilometers ago we left Iraq and entered Iran." He looked around. "All is safe. You will see."
It's still light, Kincaid thought, so they were on schedule.
The rest of the party, three of Van's smugglers, the girl, and the pack animals came up. The going had been rough so all were on foot.
Kincaid signaled everyone to be silent and waved the girl up to join him and Van. He knew very little about his female helper. Although he thought of her as a girl she was a woman of twenty seven. Her name was Sabrina Mashurka. She had been born to a Kurdish family in Turkey on the east side of Lake Van near the Iranian border. In that part of the world it is very common for children to learn four or five languages while growing up. Her parents had been relatively wealthy but they had no sons.
Through a combination of unusual circumstances she was able to attend the American university in Beirut.. Unusual because a girl raised in a traditional Muslim family has little or no chance for a higher education. While at the university she was recruited by the CIA. She was given intensive training in undercover operations at a base in Langley, Virginia. After that, she returned to her studies in Beirut where she had no problem joining the PLO.
Sabrina went through the PLO training in Libya after which she went on missions to Lebanon, Italy and Pakistan, all the while reporting to the CIA. On the last mission she came under suspicion by her associates in the PLO. The CIA arranged for her disappearance and 'retired' her to New York City. In addition to a regular pension, they arranged for her training as a computer operator and found her employment in a firm with ties to the 'company.'
Ex-field operatives in what Rudyard Kipling called 'The Game' fall into two distinct categories when looking back on their employment. In one category are those who hated every minute of it. They would not go back to save their own lives. They treasure every minute away as if it were a bonus minute of life which, in many cases, it is.
In the second category, the much smaller group, are those who only felt alive when they had been playing 'the grand game.' Who look on their present lives as drudgery after the excitement they had known. People in this group, of course, would jump at the invitation to return.
Sabrina Mashurka, as chance would have it, fell into the latter group. She jumped at the offer of a mission to Iran. She was delighted to be asked to return to the game.
Sabrina was not a beauty. Her dark complexion and thin, elongated face were typical of the Mediterranean. She could have passed as a native of any one of the countries that surrounded that ocean. Her nose was a bit too large but it was thin, as were her lips. Kincaid thought she had the look of a hawk, especially her eyes. They were piercing and hard to read. She wasn't very much feminine-seeming, but that suited Kincaid. On this job, the less feminine the better.
As she came forward when Kincaid called, the men at the horses watched her with narrowed eyes. She was wearing a shapeless black robe belted at the waist, but it could not hide the figure of the woman under it. She did not have a full figure. It was rather on the slim side for her height, which was taller than average. But as she walked the material below her hips swayed with each step.
Kincaid still had a feeling that it had been a mistake to bring her.
Sabrina joined Steve Kincaid and Van where they had stopped just below the crest of the shoulder of the hill they were climbing.
"What's wrong?" she asked. She stared at Van. Kincaid knew from the start that she didn't trust the little smuggler. But she hid her distaste well.
"Maybe nothing." Kincaid eyed the crest above them. "Follow me, both of you. Do what I do and come up beside me. And no noise."
Kincaid started up the hill. The others followed. As he neared the crest he ducked lower and lower, finally squirming the last few yards on his belly. He pulled his Bausch and Lomb 10 X 50's out of the case on his cartridge belt and was studying the other side of a small valley when the others wriggled awkwardly up on each side of him.
"Is that the path through that swale over there?" he asked Van.
The valley was about a hundred and fifty yards across before the ground rose up another shoulder. Kincaid could see traces of a trail entering a shallow depression on the other side. There were rocks and boulders everywhere, on the valley floor, on the slopes, but especially along the swale through the other shoulder. There was no sign of anything unusual.
"Yes sir," Van answered, "but there is no danger. I have come this way countless times. You will see, sir. It is safe."
"Maybe," Kincaid replied. "Sabrina, would your people wait for us out of sight?"
"We Kurds are cautious people."
"Would they wait out of sight even when they meant us no harm?"
Kincaid looked off to the left. The valley narrowed and disappeared about five hundred yards farther up where the two shoulders joined.
"We're going back the same way we got here," Kincaid told them. "Understand" First backward on your bellies. Keep your heads down."
He went first, making the move with an easy, practiced grace. The others tried it awkwardly. The bottom of Sabrina's robe worked its way up over her head exposing scanty, western style panties and a tight round bottom. Only the belt around her waist kept it from rising up to her armpits. One of the men at the horses made a loud comment before she had worked her way low enough below the crest to straighten the robe out.
Kincaid spoke quietly to Van. "You tell your men to be silent or I will silence them." He hadn't like the look of them from the start. Their trade was smuggling but they had the look of thieves.
Van looked into the hard eyes for an instant before hurrying to his men.
"Must you wear that robe?" Kincaid asked Sabrina?"
"The women in this part of Kurdistan wear nothing else."
"It isn't working."
They walked back to the horses.
"Get us some clothes," Kincaid ordered Van, "shirts and trousers. The kind Kurdish men wear. Two sets."
Van glanced from Kincaid to Sabrina. "For you both" The two of you?"
"For us both."
Van searched through the pack animals and brought forth a bag of clothing. Kincaid expected he would have some. A smuggler must be prepared.
They opened the bag. There were all colors of material. Kincaid could find no shape to the cloth. It hardly resembled wearing apparel.
"One size, one size," Van said. "All fit. You tie up, it fit."
"A woman cannot wear a man's clothing," Sabrina protested.
"A boy could," Kincaid replied. "You are slim enough to pass for a boy. Does the color matter?"
Sabrina looked down at her chest. The outline of her breasts were obvious even in the loose robe.
Kincaid shrugged. "We can try. Does the color matter?"
Sabrina sorted through the garments, choosing some. "Black. Where we are going, black is worn. You will have to help me. I have enough for us both." She moved off behind some rocks, taking the clothing with her.
Kincaid hesitated a moment.
"Are you coming?" she called. "Bring a knife."
He followed her behind the rocks. She was taking off her robe keeping her back to him. She stripped down to her panties. Here among the rugged rocks she looked extremely small and fragile.
Still keeping her back to him, Sabrina tossed him the robe she had been wearing. "Here. Cut some strips," she told him. "Long strips."
Her voice was low pitched. Kincaid thought it could pass for a boy's.
She started putting on a pair of black pantaloons.
Kincaid used his stiletto to cut the robe.
The waist of the pantaloons would have fit around two or more Sabrinas. She tied it snug and did the same thing around each ankle. "Give me the strips." She covered her breasts with one end of a strip. "You"ll have to help me."
She held the strip in place with both hands on her breasts while Kincaid wound it around her back and across her chest. The material was long enough to go around her several times.
"Not too tight," she told him. "That hurts. Loosen it a little. That's better. Now another one."
After they wound the second strip around, she slipped on a black blouse. It hung loose until she tied it at the waist.
"How do I look?"
"It should work if no one looks closely. How about your hair?"
"That's simple." She took another strip and wound it around her head with her hair tucked inside. "All the men wear these." She secured the head-piece at the side. "Now I"ll help you. Take your clothes off."
The borrowed apparel had a foul smell. That probably meant they were full of vermin. Kincaid said nothing. He was glad enough to have the clothing, vermin and all. It was his own fault for not foreseeing this.
The two of them went back out to where the smugglers were waiting. The men were wide-eyed at the transformation but they made no sound.
"No a word of this," Kincaid told Van. "Tell your men."
Van did as he was told without asking questions.
Kincaid put their discarded clothes with his equipment on a pack animal. Then he started picking out weapons and ammunition. Like any experienced campaigner on the trail, Kincaid carried nothing himself until it was absolutely necessary.
Van followed him around, watching his every move.
"Do you still think the trail is safe?" Kincaid asked him. He unwrapped a cigar and put it in his mouth. He didn't light it.
"Oh yes sir," Van said. He thought a moment. "Did you see something ahead?"
"You see, sir? It is safe. I come this way many times. It is always safe."
"It probably is," Kincaid said, "but I want to make sure. Sabrina and I will go look." He checked his watch. "You give us thirty minutes then you go ahead on the trail. We will meet you across the valley. If anything goes wrong, come back here. Do you understand?"
"It is safe," Van said again. "You will see."
"I want you to repeat what I told you to do."
Van repeated Kincaid's orders.
"Make sure you do that." Kincaid turned to Sabrina. "Follow me closely and keep your head down." Without waiting for an answer he started up the slope.
As he moved out he checked his equipment. A Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum with a 9 cm barrel hung from the web belt on his right hip. The 9mm Beretta Brigadier with a silencer was snug in its snap-draw holster under his left arm. His Heckler & Koch HK 91 was slung over his right shoulder. Extra clips for the Beretta and HK and extra rounds for the Smith & Wesson were stashed in canvas pockets clipped to the webbed belt around his waist. In another pouch were a half dozen grenades, both frag and flash. The stiletto and garrote were carefully tucked away.
Kincaid wasn't at all displeased with the black, loosely fitting, Kurdish garments. They were well suited to the treeless landscape of northwest Iran. The clothing blended into the light and shadows of the rock strewn landscape easier than the green and brown camouflage outfit he had been wearing.
He moved swiftly but had to pause now and then to allow Sabrina to catch up. She carried only a sidearm but that was a big one. A Colt .45. He thought it was too much gun for a girl her size but he said nothing.
By keeping below the ridge line they were able to keep out of sight of anyone who might be on the opposite ridge. When they had to cross over to the next ridge there was enough cover that they were exposed only briefly.
Kincaid stopped at the top of the ridge and pulled out his binoculars. Using a large rock both for cover and to support his elbows, he looked down the slope. The entire ridge was now exposed to him. He could see more than a dozen armed men among the rocks on both sides of the smuggler's trail. He expected there would be more out of his line of sight.
He handed the binoculars to Sabrina.
"Take a look. Are those your people?" He hoped they were.
It took her a moment to find them in the lens. Her sudden intake of breath answered his question.
"No," she said, her voice trembling slightly, "they are Revolutionary Guards. I can tell from the armbands. They kill without trial. They are here to kill us."
"That would be my guess," he said grimly, taking the binoculars back. He studied the position of the ambushers and the possible routes down the ridge, figuring the odds. "The smart thing to do would be for us to go back," he said, almost to himself. "I wonder how good those guys are."
He studied the position some more and finally said, "Well fuck it. We found them before they found us, they must be pretty dumb." He turned to Sabrina. "Can you use one of these?" he asked her, indicating the HK 91.
"Yes," she said without hesitation.
He looked at her, trying to divine whether or not she was telling the truth. She met his gaze calmly. "I have been through PLO training," she told him.
He went back to studying the slope. As he had learned to do the hard way, Kincaid went into combat carefully, turning the odds in his favor as much as the situation allowed. This was not at all hopeless. There was a lot in his favor. There was no sign that they had covered their flanks. This had to be a hard probe, silent, swift and hard. He planned his path carefully, rock by rock, for maximum cover down the ridge. Then he handed the field glassed and the assault rifle to Sabrina. He detached the canvas pouch with the extra clips for the Heckler& Koch from his webbed belt and laid it at her side.
"You wait here," he told her, "until I call you. If you see me start back give me three round bursts for cover. Don't worry about hitting anything, just make a lot of noise." As an afterthought he added, "If I go down just get the hall out of here. You know the way back to Iraq."
"But?" she started, then bit off the words. She nodded silently and looked away. When she looked back, Kincaid was gone.
She spotted him moving down the slope. At least she thought she spotted him. A shadow flicking between rocks, becoming still and blending in with a rock, then suddenly flicking again. She knew what to look for and still had trouble finding him. When he was three quarters of the way down she lost him altogether, even though she used the powerful field glasses.