Monday, 29th May 2023 - 15:29:14 pm

That was why Kincaid had been stalling. "I thought you might," he said.

"With twenty men," Ahmed said, grinning at his own generosity.

Kincaid shook his head. "Too many. Five would be plenty."

"Ten then. We might need the extra fire power."

"Seven. And arm them with AK-47s so we can tell who the hell is shooting at who."

Ahmed nodded agreement. "I've got to look after my interests, old boy. We'd better move out. We"ll have to ride all night. Beastly prospect."

"This is my mission," Kincaid said. "I give the orders."

"When we get there, old boy. You'd better let me get us there."

"Agreed," Kincaid said quickly. "I want to bring those rocket launchers, all of them."

"Well, yes," Ahmed hesitated. "They might be useful, but they won't be coming out of my inventory, will they?"

"No. Those are on me. And we"ll have to do something about Van," Kincaid said. "I don't trust him."

"Yes. I see your point. You're quite right, of course." Ahmed thought a moment. "Well, we could open his throat a bit. From the outside of course. That has been known to cure excessive talking."

"If we left him here, could you make certain he wouldn't talk" I mean without killing him. I don't see the need to kill him. You'd have to hold his men too."

Ahmed rubbed a hand across his cheek. "I suppose we"ll need the little beggar later to carry in those missile launchers. All right, we"ll hold him, and his men too."

"So that he can't get any messages out?"

"Not to worry. We"ll see to it."

The prisoners were a problem. Kincaid could see that many of the Kurds, including the Khan's brother, wanted them to be shot. The Khan overruled them.

"He will keep them to exchange for Kurd prisoners," Sabrina explained.

Kincaid knew that there were occasions when prisoner had to be shot. Survival might depend on it. But he thought it was foolish to shoot them without good cause.

The Khan left most of his men to bring the prisoners in.

At the Khan's camp, they got fresh horses and a fast meal. Everything was done quickly but it was still two hours after darkness had fallen before the patrol set out to the south.


By dawn they had covered forty miles. It was still sixty miles to Sanandaj. The patrol was large, larger than Kincaid would have liked. Besides himself there was Sabrina, the Khan and his brother, seven Kurd fighting men, spare mounts and the pack horses. Every rider had a spare horse but the pack horses could not be changed. It would have lost too much time. It was the pack horses that slowed the party.

Kincaid was impatient at the pace but he knew it couldn't be helped. It would have been the same had he been traveling alone with a loaded pack horse.

During the night Ahmed had two of his men riding point and another two covering their rear. He couldn't put anyone on the flanks. They would have lost their way in the darkness.

At one time during the night Steve Kincaid was riding next to Ahmed.

"It looked to me," Kincaid said, "like somebody set us up for that ambush."

"Did it really, old boy?" Ahmed said, his voice tinged with sarcasm.

Kincaid adopted the same tone. "Let's say, just for the sake of argument, that we were set up. Who would be the most likely to have done it?"

"I don't like hypothetical questions, old boy."

"And I don't like to be betrayed, old man."

They rode in silence for a few minutes.

"Would it be Van?" Kincaid asked.

"Of course Van," the Khan said, "or one of his men, or someone he told. Who can say" Perhaps someone he slept with. There were too many who knew."

"There are always too many who know," Kincaid said.

Several times during the night they came across camps of migratory Kurds. The men always exchanged words with the night guards. Kincaid would rather have given them a wide berth. Ahmed told him that it was common for bands of men to be traveling the caravan trail at night so the guards would not think their party unusual. Kincaid thought otherwise. They had met no other such bands.

Soon after it was light they came upon a group of Kurds that was just beginning to break camp. Their camels were complaining noisily.

Ahmed spoke to the leader. The old man bowed low and went running to his followers.

"We"ll have a bit of a blow here," Ahmed said to Kincaid. "Choose whichever tent you like, old boy. We will be safe. The men of the camp will patrol for us."

They unsaddled their horses. The camp women took the horses to be watered and fed. Kincaid brought his pack horse to a small tent and started to unload it. Sabrina came and tried to help him but she was out on her feet.

"You go lie down," he told her.

She hesitated a moment. "I must stay with you," she said, "or else?"

"I know," Kincaid replied. "Get inside. We"ll stay in this one."

She walked unsteadily into the tent.

Kincaid finished unloading the animal. One of the women led it away. He carried all of his equipment into the tent. Sabrina had let her hair down and was unwinding the cloth from her breasts. She stopped when Kincaid entered and turned her back to him.

"It has been hurting," she said.

The cloth binding had left red lines on her back.

There was a carpet covering most of the ground inside the tent. It was about two and a half meters square which was large enough for two people. Goat skin rugs were there for cover at night. There would be no need for them during the warm day.

"Would you please go outside until I finish?" Sabrina asked.

"I"ll turn my back." He turned around, sat down and lit a cigar. He watched the smoke as it drifted to the side of the tent. It seemed to adhere to the side as it rose. Some of it passed through the material.

"Smoking will kill you," Sabrina said.

"If I'm lucky."

"What do you mean" Do you want to die?"

"Of course not. But I'd like to live long enough for smoking to get me. What are the chances of that?"

"I'm done."

He turned around. She was lying on the carpet with a goat skin rug pulled over her. The black rug was small. She was on her side with her legs drawn up, but it still didn't completely cover her. The clothing she had been wearing was neatly folded in a pile.

"How did you get into this business?" she asked. Her tone was soft, as were her eyes.

"What business?" He pulled off his boots.

"This business. What you do. Don't you fly around the world on special missions?"

"I am not in 'this business' as you call it. This is a one time thing. I don't do this for a living."

"Why do you lie to me? I can see you are a professional. Do you think I cannot see that you are a professional? Do you think I am a fool?"

"I have done this before but I don't do it for a living. I'm not lying to you."

"You may not do it for a living but you have done it a lot. You may think me a fool, but even a fool can see that."

"I don't think you are a fool. You performed very well today. You may have saved me with that supporting fire you gave me today. I never thanked you for that so I thank you now."

"So tell me, how did you get started in this business that you are not in?"

He had to smile at that. He had thought about that often. How had he gotten started? It would have been nice to assign noble motives to beginning of the wild part of his career but he couldn't. It really started from the moment he saw Phouc.

"It was a woman," he said. "A woman got me into this." If it hadn't been for her, he would have finished his tour in Vietnam in the Special Forces and probably continued in an Army career.

"She recruited you?"

Kincaid laughed. "Yes. You might say that. She didn't know she was doing it, but that's what she did."

"Did you love her?"

He stayed near the side of the tent so he could flick the ash from his cigar in the dirt at the edge of the carpet. "From the first moment I laid eyes on her. She was the most gentle creature I have ever known. She was everything I had dreamed of in a woman, soft, playful, and very, very sexy."

"Where is she now?" There was a slight catch in her voice that Kincaid didn't notice.

He had placed a pack under his head and was lying on his back, watching the smoke rise to the top of the tent. "She's dead." His tone had a note of finality that signaled the end of that discussion.

She let a minute pass before she asked, "Do you think you"ll ever find another woman. Or do you even try?"

His body was answering that question. The thoughts of Phouc had aroused an excitement in him. It could be seen under even the loose fitting Kurdish pantaloons. He heard Sabrina gasp. He quickly rolled over and turned his back to her.

He heard a rustling behind him. "You can't sleep like that." Her suddenly husky voice was nearly at his ear. "Let me help you undress." Her hand went to confirm what her eyes had seen.

Kincaid twisted the fire of his cigar into the ground before turning to her. She was naked. He embraced her. Very quickly all his clothes were off also.

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