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Authors: J.B. Hadley

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BOOK: Cobra Strike
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Aleksei thoughtfully put his prick back in. It was an easy thing for a Russian soldier to lose in Afghanistan, and he was
going to be needing it for Natulya in a few days time.

Colonel Matveyeva placed the aerial photos on the lieutenant’s desk, walked across the office, and gazed out the window at
the bare, stony soil that stretched levelly around the barracks. The lieutenant carefully looked at each shot. There were
six separate stills that a low-flying jet had taken on two passes over the target at first light that morning. The other fourteen
or fifteen photos were all enlargements of details from these six photos. They showed six asses laden with tubular objects,
two Afghans, and three American-looking Westerners—two white, one black—exactly as the private had described everything. The
lieutenant was pleased to be vindicated after all the fuss he had raised.

“How did these pictures come to be taken, Comrade
Lieutenant?” the colonel asked. “I heard you were responsible.”

She had spoken without turning around from the window, and her voice was neutral. Perhaps she was playing a game with him,
hoping to make him worry whether he had followed the correct procedure. If this was what she was doing, she was wasting her
time. He was an officer, sure, but he was a draftee, just like the private who had started this whole thing, and like him,
all he wanted was to be out of this place and out of the army as quickly as he could. So he looked at the way the sunlight
from the window outlined the shape of her body, her narrow waist, swelling hips, and long thighs in her military skirt, and
he took his time before replying.

“A private who survived an ambush saw them and realized they were heading for the mountain pass to cross through it during
the night. He stayed where he was until a truck convoy arrived with a military escort. They radioed in his report. I was on
duty and spotted it. I had him flown in by helicopter so I could personally verify the incident. From there it was easy to
estimate how far they could have traveled during the night and to locate them by jet on the other side of the pass at first
light this morning.”

“Has this private ever been abroad before serving in Afghanistan?”

“Never, Comrade Colonel. He’s from a small town near Rovno, in the Ukraine. He’s never even been to Moscow.”

“Interesting,” she said, still without turning around. “I asked that because there are some who think this is some kind of
deliberate provocation—three very obvious Americans appearing like this in a slow-moving group with weapons. How could they
have come this far from the Pakistan border without being observed before this?”

“I don’t know, Comrade Colonel.”

“Neither do I,” she said, finally turning around to face him. “Do you think this private told you the truth about what he

“Absolutely. He’s very proud of himself and is demanding to be sent home without delay as a reward, along with an honorable

“Offer him a promotion if he stays on here.”

“I did,” the lieutenant said. “I told him he was sure of making sergeant. He turned that down.”

She smiled. “See that he’s posted to a barracks near his home. But he has to serve out his time in the army.” She came over
and sat on the edge of his desk, her skirt hiked up to bare her knees. “He probably has someone at home he’s anxious to get
back to.”

The lieutenant glanced at the smooth skin of her legs and wondered what she was up to. Why would a colonel bother with him
when she could have a general?

“Who designated this incident as top priority?” she asked softly.

“I did,” he told her firmly. “I thought the chances of it being true were slim but that it was worth making an effort to check

She looked at him appraisingly. “Through normal channels this would have taken about three days to get such a decision from
career officers. You showed unusual initiative, Comrade Lieutenant.”

“Do I get a reward?”

“You want to go home too?”

He nodded.

“We could use officers like you in the Red Army. You would go far if you decided to stay with us.” When he said nothing, she
sighed and rose from the desk. “I’ll see what I can do for your transfer. If we can take these Infiltrators alive, you’ll
be a people’s hero and get a good job and a large apartment, even a car. But first we must capture at least one alive. Orders
are being sent out to deploy men behind them to cut off all possible escape routes back to Pakistan. With the Soviet Union
to the north of Afghanistan, and Iran to the west, they have to head east or south to return to Pakistan. They seem to be
heading northwest now. Any idea where they are going?”

“They could be bringing those weapons to any of maybe twenty tribal leaders. But there are so few passable routes, they should
not be hard to ambush now that we know they exist.”

She nodded. “I want all villages who help them severely punished.”

The lieutenant nodded back wearily.

The sergeant in a Pakistan army listening post across the border from Afghanistan placed a sheaf of intercepted messages on
the major’s desk. “More of the same, sir,”

“Nothing new at all?” the major asked.

“No, sir. A lot of them have the exact same wording as the ones I brought earlier. All in everyday codes that they know we
can crack in less than an hour. The Russians are going all out on this one, sir, and they don’t give a damn who knows.”

“But it sounds crazy, Sergeant. I think those three men must be a television team, and all that stuff on the asses’ backs
is equipment, such as cameras and microphones and so on. You know all the stuff they drag around, making a nuisance of themselves
and expecting to be treated like the American ambassador.”

“I just heard locally that they bought those missiles in Peshawar, sir,” the sergeant said in a respectful voice, as if reluctant
to destroy the major’s last illusion.

“So they are missiles?”

“Yes, sir. And they are Americans. And they did buy the weapons in Pakistan and transport them across our border.”

“The Russians will blame die Pakistan army for allowing this to happen,” the major said thoughtfully. “That is why they want
to take these Americans alive—so that they can accuse Pakistan.”

“Maybe they will be more interested in blaming President Reagan,” the sergeant suggested tactfully.

“Of course, you are right! Pakistan is a mere pawn in the game Moscow and Washington play. Tell Abdullah to telephone the
American consulate in Peshawar and connect me to Mr. Dobbs. He will want to hear about this.”

The six asses were content to lie inside hillside caves all day, out of the glare of the sun, munching on little piles of
grass and leaves foraged for them by Baker, Turner, and Winston. They traveled by night—sometimes quite short
distances. But according to the local men acting as their guides, they had no other choice. The Russians and government troops
were everywhere, questioning people about three Americans, offering rewards, making threats, bombing villages the Americans
were thought to have passed through, executing individuals suspected of having helped them. The Russian message was clear—these
three Americans were a plague and would bring sorrow and misfortune on everyone who went near them. But it was not the local
people they had to worry about, according to Baker’s interpretation of the men’s signs. It was the soldiers lying in wait
for them. They no longer traveled by path at all, trudging instead across rocky slopes in pitch blackness, their guides leading
the front ass and the others following. They relied more on hearing than on sight and ended each night trek with bruises and
cut legs from banging against unseen rocks. While they were preparing to move out at the onset of darkness for the fourth
successive night, a local man came to their hiding place and spoke with the other Afghans. They shook their heads and pointed
to the asses. They could not travel tonight.

After a lot of signaling by oil lamp inside the cave, Baker summed it up for the others. “Last night cattle, goats, horses,
and asses were shot during the night by helicopters with floodlights. I guess we were lucky they happened not to hit the area
we were in at the time. The people hereabouts were warned today to bring in all their livestock tonight. It sounds like the
Russians must be using some kind of infrared heat-sensing device and dispatching the gunships to where they pick up signals.
The door gunners in the choppers probably just shoot whatever they see for the hell of it. These six asses of ours would give
off an awful lot of body heat. If they can pick up a single horse in a field—and that’s what they were doing last night—they
can hardly miss us. Our Afghan friends here want to stay put, and I’can’t say I blame them.”

So they stayed put in the cave all that night and all the next day. Then the next night and day. Then another night. They
were all ready to kill one another by this time. Fortunately the cave was large enough for them to put some
distance between themselves and the six animals, but they now had the added restriction of the Afghans pleading with them
not to leave the cave by day, even to stretch their muscles and breathe some fresh air. The Russians were conducting sweeps
through the hills. They were photographing from the air (by now the three Americans realized they had been photographed by
the jet that had swooped down twice on them as they left the mountain pass at first light). They would be safe where they
were, even if the Russians or government troops came close, because the cave entrance would be found only by someone who knew
where to look.

Cooped up in a dry, dusty cave, with only primitive oil lamps for illumination, Turner, Winston, and Baker succeeded in avoiding
arguments with one another, which in a way only served to build up the tension between them and the irritation they all felt
with one another. They were prepared to wait the Russians out, if it took them a month, and knew they had the discipline to
do so, even if they did take to biting their nails.

On the morning after their third night in the cave, a local man brought news of a rebel victory close by—they had heard the
gunfire—in which ten government soldiers had been captured alive. They had learned by then that government troops deserted
to the rebels all the time, bringing their weapons with them or just throwing down their weapons and refusing to fight their
fellow countrymen, like those they had seen after the truck was hit by the rifle grenade. But these government troops held
captive were different. They had been guilty of atrocities, and the local people were demanding that they be executed.

“I think he’s come up here to invite us to the execution,” Baker said. “One day they say we can’t step out of this damn cave
to take a breath of air, and the next day they’re inviting us, no doubt as guests of honor, to a public execution.”

“Ask if they can give us six of them alive,” Turner said, sensing an opportunity to break out of their entrapment in the cave.
He rapidly explained to Baker and Winston what he wanted. It took Baker a long time to get the Afghans to understand that
they needed six of the prisoners, unharmed
and blindfold. The local man left, still puzzled and doubtful. Baker persuaded one of their escort to go with him to make
sure they got the men. Turner was already adjusting their small radio receiver and stringing an antenna wire out of the cave

It was early afternoon before the prisoners began to arrive, brought in one by one, twenty minutes apart, hands bound behind
their backs, electrical tape across their eyes. Turner raised a finger to his lips upon the arrival of the first one. He wanted
no more English spoken, and within earshot of these prisoners the Afghans knew they were not to mention that Americans were

Turner chose the prisoner with the darkest skin to represent Winston and picked two others with light skin. With a scissor
he clipped the hair of all three into brush cuts, although Turner himself was the only American with extra short hair. Then
he shaved off the mustaches and beards of all three, although both Winston and Baker had two weeks growth of beard by this
time. Then he ripped off their clothes with his Marine Corps combat knife, giving each of them a few minor cuts and scrapes.
All three prayed aloud to Allah for mercy. Then he forced on them a spare set of his, Baker’s, and Winston’s clothes. He looked
them over critically and nodded with satisfaction in spite of Baker and Winston’s smirks.

It was late in the afternoon when the six new asses arrived, and Turner paid generously for them from a wad of Pakistan rupees.
He examined the long, empty burlap sacks draped over the animals and put Baker and Winston to filling them with dead grass
and whatever they could find. The animals were assembled outside the cave entrance, calling to and being answered by those
inside the cave, when a group of Afghans arrived with four bound men who were gagged but not blindfolded. Turner was furious.

“Ask them why they brought them here,” he ordered Baker. “They’ve seen us. I didn’t want that.”

He watched impatiently as the Afghans gestured to the burlap sacks and Baker waved his arms. “Baker, they can’t put those
four assholes in the sacks because they’ll struggle.”

Baker signaled some more and finally shrugged. “They say they won’t move. Don’t ask me why.”

One of the Afghans demonstrated why. He pulled a long blade from under his loose tunic and very casually sliced it across
the throat of the prisoner next to him. Spurts of blood leapt out over the crimson blade, and a gallon of it ran down the
man’s front. His eyes rolled and he fell on his side.

The Afghan with the knife slit up along the leg of the fallen man’s pants. He swept the blade in a short, sharp arc, hacked
twice, and lifted out the man’s penis and testicles in a single blood-dripping lump. This he stuffed in his victim’s mouth.

Turner heard Winston behind him gag, then vomit. He glanced at Baker, who was as white as a sheet.

The Afghans carefully inserted the mutilated corpse into a sack, tied the neck, and lifted it onto an ass’s back.

BOOK: Cobra Strike
6.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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