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Authors: J.B. Hadley

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She was kind of surprised to see him show up so soon. He had left to make some phone calls and had been gone only a day and
a half. Sometimes it was for six weeks. He went to a shopping center with her next morning and fixed things around the mobile
home in the afternoon—always a sign that he was having the guilts. Tina wondered whether it was another woman or because he
was leaving again soon and would be away for a while. She hated it when he was gone for a long time, but when he came home,
it was almost worth it because he was loving and peaceable. It was when he was around and inactive for months on end that
he became almost impossible to live with. So she took what came and hoped for the best.

Tina picked up the phone when it rang, listened for a moment, and said, “For you. He says it’s Andre.”

Campbell’s eyes flickered with anger at a mere phoning him here. How had Andre gotten the number?

“They picked me up coming through Kennedy Airport,” Verdoux’s familiar French-accented voice told him. “I’ve been given no
reason and have been locked in a tiny windowless room for five hours now. Then a gentleman arrived and gave me a piece of
paper with your name and this number on it. I’m standing at a private phone I’m sure is tapped. I’ve no idea what’s going
on. Have you?”

“What’s the name of the man who gave you my number?”

“Oh, yes. He left a card. Here it is. T. D. Lowell, Nanticoke Institute. Mean anything to you?”

“Who did you tell I was going to work with you?” Mike asked.

“No one. Except the two cameramen. I had to persuade them by assuring them of protection. I said Mad Mike Campbell would look
out for them. The Frenchman hadn’t heard of you, but the American cameraman had.”

“You bet. He also reported back home, which is why you are being held.”

“The pig!”

“I’m afraid Mr. Lowell wants his mission to take priority over yours, and he seems to have certain powers of persuasion,”
Campbell said. “What do you say?”

“Can I come?”

Mike laughed. Andre Verdoux was an old soldier who wanted to go to war, and it no longer mattered very much to him which war.

The Russians reacted like Turner guessed they would. After sending the three fake Americans along with the three other Afghan
puppet-government soldiers and six loaded asses into the Soviet encampment, Turner, Winston, and Baker hurried back to the
cave. While Winston and Turner loaded their asses with the missiles, Baker monitored the Russian-language broadcasts on the
radio. What they were listening for came soon: the proud boast of the Soviet unit that it had captured the three wanted Americans.
Other transmitters picked up the news right away, and the relief could be heard in the tone of the Russian voices.

“The pressure must have been hard on the bastards to find us,” Baker said in an almost sympathetic tone. “Wait till they find
they’ve made a mistake.”

“They might find that out sooner than we think,” Turner snapped. “Let’s move out while we can. It’s dark enough now, and we
can make a few miles while the Russians are still relaxing and congratulating themselves. We could have all night to travel
if the Russians decide to kick the shit out of their American’ prisoners and the three Afghans with
them, instead of questioning them. Either way, we better make tracks.”

They gained a little more than an hour before the first warning transmittal came through, and then it was only a caution rather
than a warning that the Americans were still loose. Apparently the Russians were finding the bad news hard to believe. Baker
had the radio strapped on the donkey next to him, with its loose wire antenna extended forward to the donkey in front. Confusion
continued. Reports were denied, then confirmed, only to be denied again. There was more resentment than urgency in the voices
over the radio, and it was plain to Baker that it would be some time yet before Soviet troops close to them on the ground
started an earnest search for them. Having kept on the move all night, they managed to clear the exit of the mountain pass.
Now they were in open country again and would be much harder to locate, even traveling by known trails. They spent the daylight
hours hiding in a gully and covered a lot of ground the next night. Gul Daoud’s men escorted them from there, traveling now
by daylight and consequently traveling much greater distances With relative ease. After two days of backbreaking trekking,
they reached Daoud’s territory. All three of the Americans looked at one another with genuine surprise. They had made it.

Gul Daoud was tall, skinny, bearded, and looked a little like Abe Lincoln with a heavy tan. He spoke good English and told
the three Americans that they had just achieved what his own men rarely had.

“We have never brought in anything nearly as big as this,” he said admiringly of the missiles. 44I didn’t think it could be
done.”

Baker was interested in Daoud’s accent. 4’There’s only one place on earth you could learn to speak English like you do, and
that’s New York City.”

Gul grinned. “I bet you never knew us Afghans are big in the fast-food business in New York. Like the Koreans are taking over
selling vegetables, the Afghans are moving into die grilled chicken business. One man started it all. He was an engineer from
Afghanistan, and the only job he could find was as a cook in a fried chicken place. He saved his
money, developed a recipe for his own special sauce, and then opened his own place after a few years. It succeeded, and he
opened others. Then he helped other newly arrived immigrants by giving them jobs in his places, and in time they went out
on their own. For a long time in New York, the only English I knew was words having to with chicken parts.”

He smiled. “I never really learned the language until I fell in love with a girl who spoke only English. We were just about
to get married, and I had qualified for a bank loan to open my own chicken place when my father and eldest brother were killed
by the filthy Russians. I still did not come back here. I was the youngest. I said they don’t need me, I have two older brothers
here. Then another brother was killed. I said I will come back for a short time—only on a visit. I delayed my wedding and
the buying of my store. I swore I would be back in two months. I really thought at that time I would.

“While I was here, my last remaining brother lost his right leg to a Soviet anti-personnel mine. He survived but could not
fight anymore. My father had been headman of this region, then each of my brothers in turn; now it passed to me. Everyone
looked at me to know what to do next. I tried to tell them about what I wanted to do in America, but they could not understand
why I would want to marry a Christian girl who did not even speak our language when I could pick and choose from the prettiest
girls in the mountains and make an important alliance with a powerful family through my marriage. They could not understand
why Chase Manhattan Bank wanted to give me money to cook chickens for people—why couldn’t they cook their own chickens? But
really the question they were asking was this: Has the Daoud family, famous for its warriors and leaders, produced a coward
and a weakling youngest son? My mother and sisters did not reproach me, my brother was too sick to care. But the people in
the fields and on the roads avoided me until they knew whether I would run away or stand and fight.

“Since then, as I think you have heard, I have been making up for my slow beginning. I am the Russians’ public
enemy number one, as your FBI would say. So long as I am free and alive to continue to fight against the invaders, I am a
hero and a symbol of resistance for everyone in Afghanistan. But I often wake up alone in the middle of the night and wonder
how someone who really wants to open a fast-food chicken outlet in the Bronx can be a rebel hero to fierce mountain tribal
warriors.”

The three Americans liked Gul, and he showed his gratitude to them for the missiles through his hospitality. Winston admitted
to having wanted to dump the missiles and said he now thought it was worth the effort to bring them all the way to Gul Daoud.
Turner suggested that if Gul got back to New York City and ran for mayor, Turner would vote for him in the unlikely event
that he happened to be living there. This was by far the biggest compliment Baker and Winston had ever heard Turner make about
anyone, living or dead.

The military situation was desperate. Gul told them, “A Soviet helicopter unit has established on a plain a base that controls
this region. Their engineers are now building an airstrip to allow MIG fighters to refuel and Antonov transports to fly in
supplies. If they get that airstrip completed and fortified, they will be able to drive every Afghan rebel from this whole
area and use it as a stepping-stone to put pressure on other places inaccessible to them up to now. It’s not just my turf
that is in danger here—though that’s an important propaganda element in it for both sides—it’s the question of whether this
entire part of Afghanistan can successfully resist the Soviet war machine or whether it will crumble and be ground under.
If we go under, no one can hope to hold out. If we succeed, everyone will gain hope from our example and fight all the harder.”

“So we have to take out that Soviet base,” Winston concluded.

Gul Daoud looked at him with interest. “You’re here to fight?”

“No way,” Turner put in. “I’m here to keep these two suckers outta trouble.”

“We’ll go along and just watch,” Winston conceded.

The missiles had been unloaded and the asses set free to
find grazing where they could. The big missiles, which made Gul Daoud’s eyes gleam, were eight DKZ-B free-flight projectiles,
each a little more than six feet long and a hundred pounds in weight.

Gul Daoud hardly bothered with the SAM-7s they had brought also, saying only, “They are no good against very fast jets, and
when the gunships keep very low, we can’t hit them, either. This is why we ask for the American Red Eye or the British Blowpipe.”

They knew that the Soviet-made SAM-7 heat-seeking surface-to-air missile was limited by its lack of radar target acquisition
and the small size of its warhead. It could also be easily outmaneuvered by alert pilots or diverted by flares or metallic
chaff dropped by the target craft. Still, it was Russian-made, easily bought, and Uncle Sam could not be held responsible
for its presence in the hands of the rebels. There was poetic justice in using Russian-made weapons against the Russian invaders.
On finally counting the missiles, they found that Sayad Jan’s men had stolen three SAM-7 missiles and one launcher but none
of the DKZ-Bs, which were the real prize.

“Up to this, we’ve never been able to get near the Russian chopper landing zone,” Gul Daoud explained. “They are able to see
us five miles away across the bare valley floor. We have had nothing to hit them with from that distance, and they have had
lots of time to counterattack before we could get within range of them. Now they are so confident, they are putting up buildings
and laying down a runway for their jets. But the DKZ-Bs you brought us will change all that.” He glanced at his watch. “Time
we were going.”

Each man picked his burden—one of the eight six-foot, hundred-pound rockets or one of the two eight-foot launching tubes,
which each weighed about fifty pounds, or one of the two folded tripod mounts for the tubes, each about three feet long and
weighing sixty pounds. The Americans and the Afghans toted their loads along winding paths in the dry, stony hills, sweating
like pigs under the blazing sun. A path led them through a narrow gorge and out onto an arid valley floor covered with small
stones and knee-high scrub.

“Snake country,” Baker said grimly.

Gul Daoud nodded.

No one had to point out the Russian installation to them. It was a cluster of cinder-block huts in the middle of the valley,
next to a chopper LZ with maybe forty gunships and slicks parked in rows of four. Yellow bulldozers crawled slowly nearby,
gouging the earth with steel jaws and blades, presumably clearing and leveling it for the jet runway.

“It’s impossible to gauge the distance,” Baker muttered, squinting his eyes. “Five miles is as good a guess as any, and it’s
nicely in range for our DKZ-Bs.”

“Yeah, I can see how they’d pick you guys off if you tried to cross this scrub to get at them,” Winston drawled. “If the snakes
didn’t get you first, them Russians would.”

Gul Daoud nodded. “You can fire from here? Good. I will get my men ready. They are behind those hills.”

Winston and Baker went to work mounting the tubes on their tripods while Turner growled and complained that this was the strangest
fucking “intelligence-gathering” mission that he’d ever been on. He also said that the Nanticoke Institute had made a mistake
in thinking that idiots could gather intelligence. Winston and Baker ignored him, and he shut up fast when he saw the expert
way in which these two greenhorns handled the Soviet equipment. They knew what they were doing, much to Turner’s surprise.
Another thing that Turner noticed was that the Afghans all seemed to know exactly what these missiles were capable of, perhaps
through having been at the wrong end of the launcher tubes previously.

The Soviet DKZ-B missile launcher was really only a single tube taken from the well-known truck-mounted BM21 multiple-tube
rocket launcher. Obviously the single tube could be taken into back country while the multiple-tube configuraton was limited
mostly to easily accessible territory in friendly hands. These HE fragmentation missiles had the longest range of all single-shot
launcher missiles, about seven miles.

The two Americans set the nose-mounted fuse of each missile to. explode on impact instead of delayed-action detonation. Then
they checked each missile’s folding stabilizing tins, the six jet nozzles set in the base, and the small
lug, up from the base, that imparted spin to the missile by catching in the rifling of the launcher tube. This rifling, along
with the panoramic sight and fitted quadrant, gave the launcher better accuracy than most rocket and missile tubes and allowed
reasonable shooting at relatively large targets at long ranges. With a missile fitted in each tube, and the tube’s angle of
elevation carefully calculated, Baker and Winston waited for Gul Daoud to return. The Afghans helping them were now openly
excited, laughing among themselves and occasionally shouting fierce-sounding things at the Russians far across the valley.
When Gul Daoud showed, they quieted and watched in tense anticipation. Gul nodded to the two Americans, and Baker counted
to three.

BOOK: Cobra Strike
8.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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