Saturday, 4th February 2023 - 2:40:46 am

They were nearing Sanandaj.

"Is there a way around the police compound?" Kincaid asked. "Things might get hot if we go by there."

"Many ways, old boy." Ahmed's eyes sparkled with excitement. "The byways of Sanandaj, although not quite endless, are at least intricate."

Kincaid looked at him. "Are you having a good time?"

"I, sir," Ahmed said, "am having a ball."

Ahmed turned right on the first street in the town. It wasn't a street really, merely a dirt road that curved around some buildings on the outskirts. The dirt road had soon curved enough that it was paralleling the main road. The buildings here were constructed of mud and straw bricks. Along the main road they were built of kiln baked clay bricks.

The buildings came in close on the dirt road. It became only wide enough for the Jeep and perhaps a horse; two horses if they were well trained.

There was smoke coming from most of the buildings. It had a pungent odor. Ahmed saw Kincaid sniffing the air.

"That's dried buffalo chips, old boy."

Kincaid didn't know what he was talking about. "What are dried buffalo chips?"

"The fuel. It's Buffalo shit. It's what they burn. No wood don't-you-know."

The first man they saw was a Kurd. He was walking toward them carrying an arm load of hay. He stood in the center of the road and stared at them curiously. Ahmed drove right up to him and stopped. The Kurd's eyes got big. He dropped the hay, turned around and raced up the road.

Kincaid got his Heckler & Koch out of the back seat.

Ahmed laid a hand lightly on the weapon. "These are my people," he said.

Kincaid nodded but kept the assault rifle on his lap and the missile launcher alongside.

The Jeep stayed where it was, parked in the middle of the narrow street. Ahmed started whistling softly. It was a tune Kincaid didn't recognize.

"Why aren't we moving?" he asked Ahmed.

"Patience, old boy, patience." Ahmed grinned at him. "You must learn the patience of the orient if you expect to survive in the orient."

"I thought we were in Iran."

"Of course we're in Iran, old boy. Well known as the gateway to the orient, you see. Yes indeed, well known."

"Why aren't we moving?"

Ahmed put the Jeep in low. It started creeping forward. "We are moving, old boy."

Kincaid was ill at ease. Ahmed was stalling for no apparent reason. "At this rate we"ll be in Kermanshah sometime next year."

Ahmed laughed. "Not to worry." He started whistling again.

Kincaid was about to insist that they go faster when Ahmed increased the speed and shifted into second. Three Kurds in a knot watched them pass. Ahmed inclined his head to them. Kincaid heard their animated conversation. The only word he could make out was "Khan," repeated over and over.

They were coming to a section of small shops. The road was still narrow and unsurfaced. Ahead of them, people were coming out of the shops and standing against the walls, waiting for them to pass. Kincaid saw that this was the Kurdish section of the town. They had encountered nothing but Kurds. The women were dressed as Sabrina had been when they crossed the border, except for the veils. All these women wore veils. The men wore the black garb of the Kurds. Again Kincaid heard "Khan" repeated over and over as they passed.

As they approached an intersection an armed Kurd on a black horse suddenly appeared ahead of them in the road. The horse reared high in the air while the Kurd raised the rifle in one hand even higher. He turned the horse and trotted it ahead of them. Before they reached the intersection, another armed Kurd galloped out of the side street and joined the rider in front. Kincaid looked down the side street as they passed. Two more horsemen were coming their way.

Before they reached the next intersection, four more horsemen galloped out and joined the two in front. This side street was blocked in both directions by more Kurdish riders. After they passed, the mounted Kurds fell in behind the Jeep. There were soon a dozen or more following.

Ahmed made no comment. Still whistling the unrecognizable melody, he nodded right and left as they passed Kurds on the sides of the street.

The street widened at a marketplace. Both sides of the street were lined with armed horsemen. They pushed a disarmed Iranian policeman forward for Ahmed's inspection as the Jeep passed. Ahmed smiled and waved. The Kurds fell in behind when the street narrowed again beyond the marketplace.

More and more horsemen joined ahead and behind as they drove through the narrow street. Kincaid soon lost count. At the far edge of the town, the houses fell away and the road curved back to the left. Ahmed sped up the Jeep. The riders broke into a gallop. Some rode up alongside. One shouted and fired his rifle into the air. Many others did the same. Soon they were all shooting into the air. Kincaid winced. The din could be heard for miles. So much for slipping quietly through Sanandaj.

Ahmed stopped the Jeep at the main road. He stood up in the seat and waved his hands for silence. The Kurds stopped shooting and crowded around. There were many of them and only a few could get close. Ahmed spoke to them loud enough for all to hear. Once he pointed to Steve Kincaid and the men let out a loud cheer.

When he finished talking, Ahmed sat down and started the Jeep forward. The horsemen moved aside, creating a narrow lane for them to drive through. Kincaid expected them to start shooting again but they didn't. He looked back as they sped away. There were well over a hundred armed horsemen behind them.

"They wanted to take the town," Ahmed said. "I told them we could easily take it but we couldn't hold it without the weapons that you were going to give us. I told them the next time I would come with the weapons and we would take Sanandaj and hold it."

Kincaid looked back again.

"No one will follow us, old boy."

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