“Ye..yes, I do. He is a squadron commander, Kemal, he may not have the influence you seek. How do you….”
“Do not be concerned. I know much of your travels. You flew in the skies over Dezful with your American counterpart recently, for example.” He smiled, regarding the wine in its flute. “Remember that I am an ally. And I tell you this: the man you call Bones must know that Muhammad is more than he seems. If he is broken, he will tell his captors much of the Iranian forces’ dispositions. I fear that the Americans do not know his true worth. The man Bones can make them understand in ways that you and I cannot, whether or not he physically leads those who hold Muhammad. You must go to Bones and tell him all that I tell you now. Heed me, Sacha, because should the Ayatollah fall, the Imam’s power will be greatly lessened, and our military will cement its hold on our government in my beloved Turkey. Never again must the theocrats rule in Turkey.” His dark eyes burned as he spoke. “Promise me this, my beautiful Russian bird. Deliver my message to Bones.”
“I will deliver this message. But cannot our own people….”
Kemal shook his head. “No. This is too important to become caught up in wrangling between the intelligence services of your countries. You must find a way to go to the carrier, Sacha. You are resourceful.” He rose. “Now, you must go. Ahmed will escort you to the helicopter. Hurry.”
I scooped up the dogtags, clasped the watch about my own wrist next to my father’s Strela, slid the ring over my thumb. I carefully replaced the veil and took Ahmed’s arm. Outside, we made our way back to the helicopter. The rain was slowing now, and visibility beginning to improve. Waiting for us, the Georgian pilot. He eyed me suspiciously.
“What is that, on your wrist?”
Ahmed faced the Georgian, speaking in a tone of command. “It is none of your concern. Start this thing up and return us to Batumi. The Imam’s message has been delivered.”
“This woman was not wearing a Swiss watch before. Who gave it to her?” Before Ahmed could prevent it, he grabbed my wrist to look at Lt. Lindel’s Submariner more closely. Very loose on my arm, it slid back, pushing up the sleeve and revealing my father’s Strela chronograph. The Georgian’s eyes opened wide. “That’s a Russian watch! The contact was supposed to be an American! This woman is Russian!” He reached for my veil, ripping it loose before Ahmed could intervene.
“The killer of Abu Jihad! The gold is mine! Guards, guards! The killer of Abu Jihad is among us!”
Ahmed pushed me toward the forest surrounding us. “Go! You must escape!” He turned quickly, striking the pilot’s pistol up as the Georgian tried to fire at me. He and the Georgian struggled. I stumbled, clawing at the abaya, trying to free my Makarov. As I secured it and spun to take aim, another shot rang out, I saw Ahmed slumping to the ground. The Georgian screamed in triumph, raising his blood-stained pistol.
I was faster.
I have never killed a man before, my friends. At least, not like this. Sergei has often told me that it is something you will not forget, it weighs on your soul. He is right. I have flown many missions and doubtless have slain those both in the air and on the ground. But this…it was personal. It is the Georgian’s shocked look as he sagged, falling over Ahmed’s lifeless body, that haunts me still.
The only thing I could do was run for the woods. From them, I could hear machine-gun fire. I was running into the lion’s den. Below me, a long slope leading into a gully. I tore off the abaya as I ran, for it only would hinder me. Through the woods, I heard shouting, and I saw something move-a gun crew manning a large gun! They frantically cranked its long, deadly barrel toward me. I had to be within fifty meters of them. I dove for the ground, trying to escape the cannon shell I knew was coming.
And the explosion came, as I feared…but I was not hit! The explosion was behind me, in the direction of the gun!
How did this happen? If you are thinking that it was Sergei and his men, you are right indeed, for that is who saved me.
After the first ambush by the MT-LB and its RPG team, they had continued on, Dan guiding them toward Aacy. They were trying to find a place to stop, and watch the village. Perched across the gully from where I would shortly be, sealed inside their metal monster, Sergei panned his optics around the valley.
“That is Aacy, there atop the next hill?”
Dan squinted at the map, spread out over the breech of the 100mm gun. “That’s the place. We need to get close enough to see what’s happening inside the village. Look for a helicopter, or military type vehicles. She’s got to get here somehow. The meet was set for today.”
“Uh oh.” Pavel, peering through the gun’s much-better optics, saw something he didn’t like.
“What do you see?”
“There is a gun…it is a big one, Sergei. A 2A45M, the 125mm Sprut-B. Bearing 137, it is about 150 meters distant. They must be able to hear us, Sergei, the gun captain has binocs on us….”
“It will punch through this relic as if it were made of tinfoil.” Vadim on the interphones. “They think we are mujahids. It is all that saves us. Sergei, we should take out that gun before they get ideas, or back off this ridge.”