Saturday, 4th February 2023 - 3:10:57 am

Ahmed Kurtsan was pleased with himself. He couldn't lose on the deal he had made with Van, the Iranian smuggler. Ahmed would either have the missile launchers and armor piercing missiles he needed to carry on the fight against the Iranians or, if the deal fell through, he would be rid of Van. Certainly he would rather have the weapons, but he never expected to see them or the smuggler again. The whole thing was too far-fetched. The smuggler was finished in this territory. If he ever dared return it would give him pleasure to see the little opium trafficker die, bit by bit. He fell into a reverie of dismembered fingers and toes which was interrupted by a shout outside his tent. Ahmed"s brother, Yasin, rushed inside.

"A man from the western patrol is returning," Yasin said.

"One man""

Yasin nodded. "He is riding hard."

Ahmed rushed through the tent opening that Yasin held wide for him.

"Alert the men," Ahmed said over his shoulder.

Yasin started through the camp as Ahmed walked toward the lone rider who was approaching rapidly. Some of the tribesmen, all dressed in black, soon joined Ahmed at the edge of the camp. They could see the horse was white with foamy sweat before the man reached them and dismounted.

"Peace with God," the man said.

"Yes, yes. Peace with God." Ahmed had little patience for the normal salutations. "What has happened""

"Iranians. Revolutionary Guards. They are waiting for the smuggler."

"How many""

"Too many for us. Two truck loads. Thirty, maybe forty. They are well armed, oh great Khan. They all have the American automatic rifles."

"Dammit!" Ahmed reverted to English under his breath. "M-16s." His men had only a few weapons that could match the American M-16.

"The Iranians wait in ambush," the messenger continued, "on the first ridge before the mountains. We could do nothing. The patrol waits and watches."

"They do well." Ahmed told him. "You did well. Change horses. You will ride back with us." He looked around. "Yasin!" he shouted.

"Here my brother."

"Good. You heard""

"Yes, my brother."

"We will take twenty men."

"Will that be enough""

"At night, yes," Ahmed said. "It is but a few hours to dark. Today may be theirs. Tonight will be ours. All who go with us shall have automatic weapons."

"My brother is wise."

"We must be cautious. There may be more of them. Double the other patrols."

"It will be done."

"The Iranian trucks had to come in on the road to the south. When the southern patrol comes in we must explain to the leader the virtues of remaining alert."

Yasin flashed a cruel grin. "It will be done, oh great Khan."

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