Thursday, 1st June 2023 - 3:24:06 am

Yasin was waiting at the trail with Kincaid's horse. A dead horse and several bodies were scattered around. The smell of burnt flesh was heavy in the air. It was a smell like no other. Two of the bodies at the trail wore the clothing of Kurds.

"We lost two?" Kincaid asked numbly.

Yasin nodded. "Maybe more," he said.

There was a pistol shot back up the creek, the way Kincaid had come. Ahmed appeared out of the darkness, holstering his pistol. "Tidying up," he said. "That chap was done for, anyway."

"Ours or theirs?" Kincaid asked.

"Oh, theirs , of course. We didn't lose anyone up that way." He looked around. "Bad luck here, I see."

Kincaid had become accustomed to having Sabrina near. Her hawk-like features were not pretty, but he more and more had been reading the character they exposed. Her features may not have been pretty, but he was seeing the reflection of beauty there.

Ahmed interrupted his thought. "I've sent some chaps to recover our animals. This was all a complete mess, I'm afraid. Things scattered every which way."

Kincaid liked Sabrina's expression when she thought out a problem and her happy smile when he praised her. He even enjoyed her stubborn look when she challenged one of his decisions. But look where that has got her.

"There's at least three horses down," Ahmed said. "Did we lose anyone else up your way?" he asked Yasin in English and then quickly switched to Kurdish.

Yasin set off the find out.

Kincaid knew their episode in the tent was also influencing his emotions. She had been a warm and loving bed partner. That had been a total surprise. She had been a fierce warrior in battle. Who would have suspected such a transformation in bed?

Two Kurds straggled in. Ahmed told them to dig graves for the dead Kurds as soon as the pack horses came in with shovels.

"No point in trying to tidy up here, old boy," Ahmed told Kincaid. "We"ll never find everything in the dark. Some of those swine ran off, I'm sure. They"ll be half way to Tehran by now."

"Yasin was right," Kincaid said, "it was a stupid place for an ambush."

Ahmed heard something in his voice. He put a hand on Kincaid's shoulder. "You put on a good show, old boy. You did all you possibly could."

That's the way it works out sometimes, Kincaid thought. They made a mistake. I made a mistake. And then Sabrina saved us all. She knew what she was doing and she wanted to do it. She was a good soldier. A damned good soldier. Except she couldn't take orders. She was going to make one hell of a woman, given the chance. Ah hell!!

Memories flooded back to him of another time, another place. He tried to reject the comparison but it was there. Had she lived, Sabrina would have had an important place in his life. Try as he would, there was no use denying it. He had only known her these three days but in that time he had learned to care for her. Why did it always have to end the same way?

Kincaid field stripped the M-16, wiped the parts and reassembled it. It was something he could do in the dark. It was something he could do blindfolded. When he finished that he did the same to the grenade launcher. When he finished that he did the same to the .357 Magnum. When he finished that, he ducked below the creek bank and lit a cigar.

He had to laugh at himself. 'We just fought World War Three here and now you're afraid the glow of a cigar might give away our position?' But lessons learned in combat are hard to unlearn and Kincaid knew he could never do otherwise.

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