The light of dawn dispelled the darkness and brightened up the land and skies. Ahead was a valley and a simple village could be seen in the distance. An old man walked towards them, driving a herd of goats before him and Xia Lei stopped the car to let the goats pass. In the passenger seat, a gun had appeared in Tang Yu-Yan’s hand in preparation for any sudden change.
“This is White Rock Tribe’s outpost. It’s too quiet; something’s wrong,” said Tang Yu-Yan a little nervously.
Xia Lei looked into the distance and scanned the hills on both sides. He soon discovered the militants hidden on the hills - they were headscarf-wearing men, most with old AK47s. They had RPG rocket launchers too and there were about 20 of them.
Though he already knew what situation they were in, Xia Lei still put on an act, lifting the binoculars to his eyes and then handing them to Tang Yu-Yan. “There are armed men on the hills. Take a look and see if they’re from the White Rock Tribe.”
Tang Yu-Yan looked through the binoculars and wrinkled her brows. “They’re from the White Rock Tribe. There’s not many; should be an outpost. Shit. Where’s that guide?”
Xia Lei glanced up at the hillsides. The tribe militants were making their way quietly towards them. Xia Lei grew nervous. It wasn’t so much of a problem if they ended up exchanging fire since these militants were not Special Forces like the soldiers last night and probably had inferior combat training. But this was their home ground, and exchanging fire would mean that they’d made enemies of over a thousand White Rock Tribe militants.
The old man driving the goats seemed to have sensed something and he went off the main road. He drove his goats to the hills on the right.
A man on horseback came into view at this moment.
The man on horseback wore a headscarf and traditional Afghan-style black robes. The horse below him was a big white creature of healthy strength and great speed. Xia Lei’s gaze went to the rider’s face and discovered that he had lots of wrinkles in the corners of his eyes and that his skin was well-weathered. This was a weather-beaten man and he was almost fifty.
“Is he the guide?” asked Xia Lei.
“Should be. Let’s get out of the car,” said Tang Yu-Yan. She then spoke into the communications device, “Everyone else, remain in your vehicles. No firing weapons if they make no move to attack.”
Xia Lei got out of the car with Tang Yu-Yan. The man on horseback reined in the white horse and jumped from the horse’s back.
“What are you doing here?” asked the Afghan man.
Tang Yu-Yan replied in Pashto, “We’ve lost some lambs and we’re looking for them. We are waiting here for our guide.”
The Afghan man walked over to Tang Yu-Yan and Xia Lei with a smile on his face as he said in Pashto, “I am your guide. My name is Muhammad Kabir. You can call me Kabir.”
Tang Yu-Yan shook hands with Kabir. “Good thing you’re here. The situation would have turned ugly if you were any later.”
“Are you talking about my people? No, no, it is them who discovered you and informed me of you.” Kabir turned to the hills on the left and let out a wolf’s howl.
The armed militants on the hillside stood and came walking over with normal steps. They had guns on their backs.
“I already know of what happened last night. You were unlucky to encounter an American ambush. Your combat abilities are terrifying indeed - my people have great respect for you,” said Kabir.
Tang Yu-Yan just gave him a faint smile.
Americans were not looked upon kindly here. They forced their ideologies of freedom on the people here and these ideologies were what disgusted the tribe leaders. Different lands bred different races and different cultures. Promoting the ideologies of freedom in a supremely religious land - you don’t need to be a genius to figure out what the result would be.
Xia Lei relaxed and shook hands with Kabir too.
“My people and I will escort you through our territory and I will personally bring you to Bamiyan Valley, but… What will you give me in return?” said Kabir.
“Name a price. You know how we work. We will not shortchange friends,” said Tang Yu-Yan.
Kabir laughed. “You Chinese sure don’t beat around the bush. All right, one million US dollars.”
Tang Yu-Yan paused. “A million US dollars…”
“Transfers are accepted too if you have no cash,” said Kabir.
Tang Yu-Yan thought for a bit and said, “Please wait. I’ll first discuss with my friend.”
Xia Lei was standing right next to them and had heard everything Kabir and Tang Yu-Yan said but they had spoken in Pashto. Xia Lei had just started learning Pashto and knew very little so he did not understand at all. Tang Yu-Yan pulled him by the hand to one side just as he was wondering what they were talking about.
“What did you two talk about?” asked Xia Lei.
“I was just about to discuss that with you,” said Tang Yu-Yan, “He wants a million US dollars. I don’t have that much on me and it’ll be very troublesome to contact the higher-ups. This amount of money would have to go through many levels of approvals and we’d still have to go to the intelligence station to collect it when it’s all approved… We cannot delay. Do you have the money?”
True, no one would take a million US dollars in cash with him on a rescue mission, but Xia Lei was a portable cash machine. Shentu Tian-Yin had opened an overseas account for him after he’d won a billion from Gu Ding-Shan and He Jia-Ying. He also had a gold Swiss bank card on him and could withdraw this money any time.
Xia Lei smiled wryly. “I do. But I want to know if you guys will pay me back.”
“What do you mean by that?” Tang Yu-Yan rolled her eyes at Xia Lei. “This isn’t me borrowing from you. This is a special circumstance and Boss Shi will definitely give the money back to you when we go back. Jeeze, you’re so petty.”
Xia Lei looked at Tang Yu-Yan, nonplussed. She just opened her mouth to ask for a million US dollars out of nowhere and she called him petty?
Tang Yu-Yan went back to stand before Kabir and say, “Deal, but we’re only going to pay half first. The remaining half will have to wait till we make it back.”
“No problem,” said Kabir, “Come with me to the village first. You can make payment there. You can also rest and replenish your supplies.”
Tang Yu-Yan and Xia Lei got in the car and drove towards the village in the valley. Kabir got on his white steed again and followed with his men in tow.
“Yu-Yan, isn’t this guy one of ours? Why do we have to pay him?” asked Xia Lei uncomprehendingly.
“He’s not one of ours, just someone we know and had had dealings with before; he’s a last resort. Every mission has several mission plans to counter various situations. This Kabir is quite an influential person in the White Rock Tribe and he can guarantee our successful crossing of White Rock territory. His prices are steep, too,” said Tang Yu-Yan.
“Isn’t this guise for extortion?”
“This is their way of life. There’s no helping it,” said Tang Yu-Yan, “If he hadn’t traded with us and built a small friendship with us he would probably have kidnapped us and demanded ransom. They plant poppy too and use them to trade for weapons and ammunition. They will do anything to survive.”
“I see their poppy fields.” Xia Lei moved his gaze beyond the window and it was met with the sight of a huge swathe of poppy fields. The poppies bloomed under the sun, bright and colourful but they had a sinister aura.
Some farmers lifted their heads to look about but they went back to work as soon as they saw the militant tribesmen behind the cars.
Their cars entered the village and a group of children surrounded them, chasing and shouting as they went. A child of about ten ran at Xia Lei and Tang Yu-Yan’s car, yelling, “Mehruika, mehruika!” He then raised his hand in the shape of a gun. “Bang! Bang!”
This child seemed to think Xia Lei and Tang Yu-Yan were Americans.
“Scram!” A militant tribesman roared at the group of children.
The children dispersed like a flock of birds, their feet pattering as they disappeared, leaving no shadow behind.
Xia Lei and Tang Yu-Yan alighted. The Bureau 101 agents in the other two cars also alighted. They had guns in their hand and were on high alert, prepared to react to any sudden changes in the situation.
“No need to be nervous. We are not the enemy,” said Kabir, “Come with me. I want that 500,000 USD.”
Xia Lei and Tang Yu-Yan followed Kabir into a house. Kabir took out a computer and equipment for a bank transfer. This tribe made money internationally by dealing in drugs, so there was no worry about having no way to transfer money.
Xia Lei transferred 500,000 USD to the account Kabir provided. Kabir was very happy and he hugged Xia Lei as he said with a laugh, “Friend, you need women? I can give you two. Both are virgins.”
Xia Lei did not understand what he said and he asked Tang Yu-Yan, “What’s he saying?”
“He says he wants to give you two goats. Want them?”
Xia Lei shook his head. “What do I need goats for? No.”
Tang Yu-Yan shrugged at Kabir. “He’s gay. He doesn’t need women.”
Kabir let go of Xia Lei immediately and moved far far away from him. “I’ll bring you to your rest. You have two hours. You can replenish supplies, food, petrol and nap. We leave in two hours.”
“Please have someone prepare a hot meal for us,” said Tang Yu-Yan, “We’re starving.”
Kabir smiled. “No problem. I will have someone roast a whole goat for you. We have to get ready too before we are ready to depart.”
“All right,” said Tang Yu-Yan.
Xia Lei did not understand any of that but he didn’t ask about it. He was worried about the members of the Special Forces who had fled. They had 17 dead, so this wouldn’t be over just like that. This was Afghanistan, but the American military’s territory as well, and this made his heart fill with worry. And his father, Xia Chang-He - where was he?
They exited Kabir’s house. Some village women came up to them, bearing food and water. Tang Yu-Yan reached for a flatbread but Xia Lei was quicker and he snatched it away.
“Where’s your manners?” said Tang Yu-Yan in annoyance.
Xia Lei ignored her and quickly used his X-ray vision on the flatbread. He confirmed that there was nothing wrong with it and handed it to Tang Yu-Yan. “Never mind, you can have it. I’ll wait for the mutton.”
Tang Yu-Yan rolled her eyes at Xia Lei but there was no anger in her eyes. They had gone through so many things together and her feelings towards Xia Lei had been imperceptibly influenced and changed by their various interactions from the time they exchanged martial arts to last night’s battle. She just had not sensed it yet.Previous Chapter Next Chapter