Monday, 29th May 2023 - 16:16:39 pm

Bob Douglas swung the plane low over the town of Shahabad. The town had shown on his maps but there had been no indication of and airstrip. There was no sign of and airstrip on the ground either.

A black cluster across the valley caught his eye. Men and horses! He flew closer. Bingo! Men and horses and the white police Jeep and there was the panel on the ground.

He banked the plane, making the shortest approach in the history of aviation, set the wheels down, reversed the pitch of the prop, braked slightly, and had the plane stopped in seventy five feet. He opened the door, expecting to see his passengers jump in. No one there. What the hell!

There was Kincaid, still in his native clothes, signaling him to cut the engines. Something was going on. Bob Douglas cut the engines and hopped out the door, taking his M-16 with him. Kincaid had turned and rejoined the Kurds. Douglas went toward him.

Christ! Look at those Kurds! There had to be more than fifty of them. Half of them wearing swords. All of them with guns. I bet Kincaid feels right at home with them. Douglas smiled at his thoughts.

Kincaid had been absorbed into the group. The Kurds farther out were on their horses. No one was making a sound. Bob Douglas picked his way through and found Kincaid. He was standing behind some Kurds on foot, watching some kind of ceremony.

"What's going on, Steve?" Douglas whispered.

Kincaid's eyes warned him that the mission wasn't over. He was still on combat alert. Kincaid motioned to the man on his right. The little man shifted over between Kincaid and Douglas.

"This is the man we came to get," Kincaid said. "He can tell you."

The CIA agent held out his hand. "Mohammed Parsee."

They shook hands. "I'm Bob Douglas."

"The big guy standing over there," Mohammed Parsee indicated ahead, "is the Khan Ahmed Kurtsan. He's the high muck-a-muck among the Kurds. He can raise an army at the drop of a hat. The guy in the robes that they got staked out is the Ayatollah Rashad Hassim."

The two were across a ditch from where Douglas was standing. Only the Khan and the Ayatollah were on that side. The ground across the ditch was three feet higher so everyone got a good view. Evil smelling smoke was rising from a fire in the ditch.

The Ayatollah was spread eagled on the ground. His hands and feet were tied to steel pins driven into the ground.

"He's what you'd call a hanging judge," Mohammed Parsee continued. "He's a renegade Kurd that the Iranians back. The Khan wants some information from the Ayatollah. I"ll lay five to one that he gets it."

"But he's got a gag in his mouth," Douglas said. "He couldn't talk if he wanted to."

"That's a little game the Kurds play. They won't let him talk at first. Think how glad he"ll be to talk when they take the gag out."

"If he doesn't swallow it."

Someone in the ditch said something and a sword was handed up to the Khan. Douglas could see the blade glowing and radiating heat.

The Ayatollah's eyes bugged out as the Khan made a couple of passes over him with the red hot sword blade. First he faked a cut at a foot, then at a hand, then at his head. Douglas saw with a shock that the pass at the Ayatollah's head hadn't been a fake. His left ear had been cut clean off. There was hardly a trace of blood.

"The sword cauterizes the wound as it cuts," Mohammed Parsee explained. "They wouldn't want him to lose too much blood." He saw the look on Douglas" face. "Don't waste sympathy on him," he said. "He's earned this."

The Khan handed the sword back down in the ditch. He gave a sign to the nearest tribesman. The Kurd climbed out of the ditch to the Ayatollah and started to remove the gag. Out of the corner of his eye Bob Douglas saw Steve Kincaid edge forward.

Someone standing at the front of the crowd of men opened up with an assault rifle. Steve Kincaid was on him before he could get off the third round. Kincaid knocked the rifle out of the man's hands and smothered him to the ground in a bear hug.

"What the hell?"" Douglas started. He was surprised to see the Khan still standing across the ditch. The Ayatollah had had it though. Half his head was blown away. The Kurd who had been removing the gag was holding a hand in agony.

The Khan suddenly looked old and weary. He said something in Kurdish.

"Bring him to me," Mohammed Parsee interpreted.

Steve Kincaid got off the downed man. Half a dozen pairs of hands grabbed the fallen Kurd and half carried, half dragged him down into the ditch and up the other side.

The man was deposited on the ground before the Khan. The Khan waved everyone else away and spoke to him quietly. The man answered in a voice too low for anyone else to hear. The Khan reached down and raised him to his feet. The two men embraced.

The Khan turned his back on the man and said something.

"Prepare yourself," Mohammed Parsee interpreted.

The Kurd went to his knees and prayed silently. Bob Douglas wanted to look away but couldn't. The Kurd on the ground finally spoke.

"I am ready," The CIA agent interpreted.

Without looking at the man, the Khan got the reheated sword from the men at the fire. The Kurd put his hands on his knees and leaned his head forward. The Khan raised the sword high in the air, holding it with both hands, and brought it down with all his strength. The Kurd's detached head fell to the ground and rolled a half turn. The rest of the body slumped over on its side.

Kincaid was standing in front of Douglas. He turned to face him and gave a sad shrug.

"What the hell is going on?" Douglas asked.

"We had problems," Kincaid replied.

"Problems" That seemed like a lot more than problems."

"How's the girl?"

"She's doing fine. She wanted to come. I was going to ask for a medivac but she seemed to be okay. Besides, we weren't supposed to be there. It would have been hard to explain."

"She wanted to come" She must be doing pretty good."

"She didn't say so, but I could see she wanted to come."

"Let's get out of this crowd," Kincaid said. "We"ll wander over to the plane. I've gotta say goodbye to Ahmed. He might be busy for a bit."

The three Americans worked their way out of the crowd of Kurds and walked toward the plane.

They heard a horse coming up behind them.

"Colonel Steven Kincaid," a voice hailed them. It was the Khan. He pulled the horse up in front of them and leaned over the saddle. "You owe me."

More Kurds came galloping up. They formed a circle around the Khan and the three Americans.

"You're right about that," Kincaid said. "I owe you a lot. You"ll get the missile launchers we promised and anything else I can smuggle across that goddamned border."

The Khan dismounted. "You owe me more than that," he said. He came face to face with Kincaid.

Douglas" hands were wet on his M-16.

"This adventure has cost me a brother," the Khan said. "How can you ever repay me that?"

Kincaid seemed calm. "Yasin was a good man," he said, "but he made a mistake and paid for it."

"Yes," the Khan said. "He admitted everything. But that doesn't answer my question. How will you repay me?"

Kincaid shrugged, "How can I repay you? Yours is a great loss. There is nothing I have to make up for it."

"I have thought long on this," the Khan said.

Kincaid looked at him strangely.

"Yes," the Khan said, "I may have anticipated this. I have thought long and I will tell you how you can repay me." The Khan held out his hand. "A brother is lost," he said, "and a brother is gained."

The two men shook hands for the first time.

"You have proven yourself worthy," the Khan said. "You are now my brother."

Bob Douglas was sure he saw tears in the Khan's eyes.

The two men embraced for a moment.

The Khan held Kincaid at arms length. "Now you must promise to return."

"I will," Kincaid replied.

"We can make a great fight together." He looked around. "We have work to do. The army will be here soon and we have bodies to bury." The Khan went back to his horse and mounted. "Allah be with you." He rode off with a final wave of his hand.

Kincaid turned and watched the Kurds ride away.

"Let's get out of here," he said.

HTML: Validator CSS: Validator Support: Captain Tom Moore