Monday, 29th May 2023 - 17:10:07 pm

Steve Kincaid was just an ordinary man. He knew fear like normal men. He hated war and killing like normal men. And, like a normal man he had no extrasensory perception. But years of combat had honed his normal perceptions to a sharpness far beyond that of a normal man.

What had warned him of danger when he was still across the other ridge, far out of the sight of these potential assassins? Halfway down the slope he had the answer. The ambushers were chattering away as if they were at a Sunday picnic. They were even calling to each other across the swale through which passed the smugglers trail. It must have been these sounds that reached his combat senses below his consciousness and warned him of danger. It was these sounds, though he couldn't understand the words, which told him the location of most of the men waiting to kill him and his party. He had no need to look for them as he moved from cover to cover. They betrayed themselves.

As he neared their main position on the uphill side of the swale, he made a quick reconnaissance for backup men. He found none.

Not only undisciplined, he thought, but foolish. Why the hell can't amateurs stay at home, he wondered. But he knew the answer. They were hunters, hunting the ultimate game: Other people. It seemed so easy for a bunch of guys with guns to go out and kill a few people. It was hard to resist. It was especially hard when all the odds seemed to be on their side. He'd soon see what he could do about those odds.

Kincaid worked his way to the easternmost end of the ambush line, the end away from where the smugglers would come, and looked for a position. As he had seen, one of the Revolutionary Guards had a spot, high on a flat rock, which looked down on his friends on this side of the trail. Kincaid made sure there was no one backing up the commanding position to the east.

The man on the rock was carrying on an animated conversation with someone below him and off to the right. Kincaid used the noise to cover the sound of his movements up and onto the rock. Then he had to wait precious seconds for a pause in the talk. He was afraid, while he crouched behind the man, that he might be visible to those waiting on the other side of the swale.

A pause finally came in the conversation. Kincaid used the garrote on the hard man's windpipe. When the body relaxed he could free a hand to plunge the stiletto through his ribs. That conversation ended forever. He had to reach out a foot to pin the man's M-16 against the rock to prevent it from clattering down to the ground. When the man slumped down, he put the rifle in a more secure place. In the split second it took him to grab the weapon and move it gently behind him he couldn't help but notice rust on the barrel.

He left the man where he lay, his eyes and tongue bulging out, and took a position beside him. Now was the time for the Beretta Brigadier. Because it was ordinarily one of the most quiet of hand guns, it was also one of the most efficiently adapted to a silencer. Kincaid had squeezed off thousands of rounds with this weapon and its sisters. It felt comfortable in his hand.

He quickly spotted the man at the other end of the late conversation. For the moment the man's attention was to the opposite ridge, where it should have been all the time. Kincaid took a quick glance there but saw nothing. Van and his smugglers hadn't appeared yet. The man soon got bored doing his duty. He turned back, saying something to his dead friend on Kincaid's rock. His words stopped when he saw the tiny hole of the Beretta and the piercing eyes of the soldier behind it. The look of surprise had just formed on his features when the whispering Beretta made it permanent with only a small hole over the right eye to mar the portrait. His brains splattered on the rock behind him. The head fell back to join the brains it once contained.

Kincaid was already looking for his next target. Although he had the silencer he had to be careful of other noises that might give him away. A ricochet or equipment dropping might turn every gun on him.

The next man in line wasn't taking part in the general conversation. He was nodding off to sleep. His head dropped lower and lower then jerked up when his chin made contact with his chest. His back was propped against a rock so he faced up hill and away from the trail he was supposed to be guarding. His M-16 was two feet away from him, leaning against another rock.

The range was about forty feet. Kincaid waited until the man's head was leaning forward. He squeezed gently on the trigger. The cold berretta hissed. The round made a sound like plunking a ripe melon as it entered the man's right temple. The entrance hole was less than three eighth of an inch. The exit hole was the size of a fist. Nearly empty, the man's head fell forward on his chest for the last time in this life.

Kincaid didn't want to take the next two men from his position on the rock. They were too close together and looking at each other. There was too much risk in getting off a pair of sixty foot shots with the short barreled Beretta.

Kincaid slid backward, then crept down and around the rock he was on. As he crawled past the two dead Revolutionary Guards, he took one of their M-16s and a couple of clips. That's when the general conversation from both sides of the swale suddenly stopped. At first Kincaid thought he had been spotted. He raised his head to see what was happening. Van and his troop of smugglers with the pack train had appeared on the ridge opposite and were starting down into the valley. It was the sight of them that had caused the ambushers to fall silent, finally.

Kincaid knew he didn't have much time now. When he took up a position behind the next two men he saw another problem. There were half a dozen more hard men who could see back to their position. All they had to do was turn away from the smugglers.

He had to take the chance. He placed the M-16 with its clips within easy reach. The 9mm Beretta whispered twice and two more would-be assassins had gone to meet Allah. The second man dropped his M-16 with a loud clatter. In the silence all the others on this side of the swale heard it and turned. Kincaid snapped a quick shot with the Beretta at the next man just as he was raising his M-16. The slug plowed into his chest and dropped him to a sitting position. He died with a surprised look on his face.

Kincaid had the M-16 in his hands when the man hit the ground. Before he could squeeze off a burst, the next guy in line dropped his weapon and raised his hands. Kincaid would have to drop him anyway to get a clear shot at the guys behind him. He was about to fire at the man with his hands raised when the guys behind him dropped their weapons and raised their hands.

There were at least six. He wondered what the hell he could do with half a dozen prisoners when there were still armed men in the rocks across the swale.

Then an idea hit him. He motioned to the men to move over the side and down into the swale. One of them started and the rest followed without a word.

Kincaid quickly backtracked and went down the ridge and across the trail on the flank away from the smugglers. As he had hoped, the Revolutionary Guards filing down the slope with their hands in the air caught all the attention of their comrades. Kincaid made it across the trail and up the other side without being seen. It was then simple to move behind the positions on that side of the ambush.

He had just found a vantage point behind the last man in the line when an automatic weapon opened up from the side he had left.

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