Saturday, 4th February 2023 - 2:54:29 am
This time there were three of them on point when they started out, Steve Kincaid, Yasin and the Kurd who had volunteered to ride the next gauntlet. The tribesman had a fresh horse with him. The rest of the patrol was as before except Kincaid had them close up the interval even more.
The light from the half moon had increased as it rose so they could make better time. Kincaid pressed forward, breaking his horse into a canter where the trail allowed it, slowing it to a walk where it didn't. They were beginning to make good time.
After ten minutes, Yasin rode up beside him.
"Here," he said. "The water."
They halted. The Kurd joined them.
"Tell him," Kincaid said. He could hear the main party coming up from behind.
Yasin pointed ahead and spoke to the Kurd.
Kincaid heard a single horse start at a gallop from the main group.
Yasin and the other Kurd looked back just as Sabrina sped by on her horse.
"Keep low!" Kincaid shouted when she was opposite him.
He saw her bend low in the saddle as she disappeared into the darkness ahead.
"Okay," Kincaid said, "forward at a walk." He led the way.
Ahmed was suddenly at his side. "How did you...?"
The sound of automatic weapons ahead crashed loudly in the still night air. A horse screamed. There were more bursts. Then silence.
Fear grabbed at Kincaid's gut with a cold hand. His first instinct was to ride after the girl. But he had been a soldier too long to do anything that foolish. The soldier in him took charge.
"Take some men to the left," Kincaid told Ahmed. "I"ll take the right."
He went off at a gallop, hoping either he or the horse would see the creek bank in time to stop. He heard the hooves of at least one horse following him but he couldn't look around. It didn't matter anyway.
"Stop!" someone shouted behind him.
He yanked back on the reins. The horse stopped just in time. The bank yawned open below him.
"Close," Yasin said at his side.
Kincaid was off the horse in a flash, loading a grenade, the first he found, into the launcher.
"Stay here," he said. With one hand on the grip of the M-203 and the other on the top of the bank, he dropped into the darkness below. The ground jolted him. He had expected to drop farther. The dry creek bed was solid. He turned to his left and ran toward the trail.
A figure loomed up before him. Kincaid fired the M-16 from the hip without breaking stride, a long burst across the man's gut. The guy sat down and tried to push his intestines back inside.
In a few more strides Kincaid saw some other figures up ahead. They were wearing dark coats but light colored pants. One part of his mind wondered why anyone would try to fight at night in light colored clothing. Kincaid dropped to one knee and let the grenade fly. He was mildly surprised when the phosphorus grenade exploded. The flash partially blinded him.
He hurried on anyway, now firing short bursts from the M-16 as he went. He found he could see better by not looking directly at something. Straight ahead was blacked out but he could see out of the side of his eyes.
The smell of burnt flesh assaulted his nostrils. He didn't bother with the men he past who were screaming as they burned. After a short burst the M-16 clicked silent. He discarded it and pulled out the .357 Magnum from the holster at his hip. Figure after figure rose up in front of him. He blasted them down one after the other with the powerful slugs as he ran along the bottom of the back. Then no more figures rose up but still he ran on.
Someone had been shouting at him. He looked up.
"It's over," Ahmed shouted from the top of the bank. "It's over."
Kincaid looked around. His sight was coming back. He had crossed the trail and was well on the other side.
"It's over," Ahmed shouted again. "It's over."
Kincaid nodded. He walked back along the creek bed to the trail, reloading the revolver without thinking about it. He picked up the discarded M-16 and grenade launcher on the way.