‘Time to take a look’, said their leader. Despite his Arab dress, he spoke English; they all did. One man stayed with the vehicle while the other three climbed to a point just below the crest of the dune on the north side to throw themselves flat and wriggle up the last few metres to start scanning the desert. They used top quality night vision equipment as befitted members of an elite British military unit. Officially they were attached to the Saudi forces as ‘advisers’. Unofficially they wore Arab clothing, carried no formal identification and did their own thing. At present they were one of a number of units patrolling the border area where Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iraq met. If Saddam was up to anything in the area, they wanted to be the first to know about it.

‘Quiet as the grave,’ murmured one of the men.

‘Sand, sand and more bloody sand,’ whispered another.

Their leader checked his hand-held GPS navigational system and mentally thanked the American satellites above that had just given him his map position on the surface of the Earth to within three square metres. He noted it down in his log book and checked his watch before adding the time.

‘Skip, there’s something happening over there,’ said one of the soldiers. He said it quietly and without excitement. Understatement was a matter of professional pride among these soldiers. The others took their cue from his line of sight and picked up on two vehicles travelling on the Iraqi side of the border.

‘Convoy of two, they’re heading straight for the border.’

‘Don’t think it’s a convoy … more like a chase.’

‘You’re right. We’ll take an interest in this.

Two of the soldiers kept their glasses on the approaching vehicles while the leader of the unit, took a studied look around at their surroundings, mentally planning the best way for them to stage an interception, should the approaching vehicles actually cross the border into Saudi territory.

‘Military vehicles,’ updated one of the soldiers monitoring the action.

‘One man in the first, three in the second,’ added his colleague.

‘So they’re chasing a man who wants to cross the border. ‘Guess that automatically qualifies him as a friend of ours. Let’s go.’

The three men packed up their gear quickly and half rolled, half slid back down the dune to the Land-Rover. The soldier who had stayed with it saw their hurry and started the engine.

‘Move over!’ The leader took the wheel and coaxed the vehicle into a sliding, wheel-spinning acceleration down the steep gully leading out from the dunes. The other three checked their weapons and re-wound their keffiyeh across their faces.

‘On their present course, they’ll cross the border just north of a flat stretch that runs between two rocky outcrops about eight hundred metres west of here. The natural line will bring them between the two. We’ll take up station on either side.’

The instructions had been yelled above the engine noise but all three men nodded to signify they’d understood.

The Land-Rover came to a halt and the four men split up, two on either side of a narrow strip leading inland but with rock formations on either side. There was a steep entry to the pass ensuring that any vehicle entering would have to slow right down. As the four cradled their weapons and burrowed into a comfortable position in the sand they could already hear the engines of the approaching vehicles.

The first came into view and alarmed the watching soldiers with its seemingly erratic progress. It was weaving from side to side for no apparent reason connected with terrain. This was allowing the pursuing truck to gain ground on it.

‘The bugger’s pissed,’ offered one of the soldiers.

‘Thought they didn’t drink.’

‘Come on, come on,’ urged their leader, ignoring the background comments; he was very much aware of just how much ground the pursuing vehicle was making up ‘C’mon! You can make it, whoever you are.’

‘Jesus!’ they all exclaimed as the leading truck hit a large boulder and one side was forced high off the ground. For one long moment it looked as if it would capsize but it righted itself with a huge bounce that made the watching soldiers wince, and continued to lurch towards them. The pursuing truck was now only a hundred metres behind.

As the lead truck hit the rise, it slowed dramatically and its wheels sank into the build up of soft sand at the foot of the climb. Its engine screamed as the wheels lost purchase. It was still moving forward but in painfully slow motion. The other truck had almost caught up with it when it finally cleared the top of the rise and started to pull away again but the slewing motion induced by the acceleration was not being corrected properly by the driver. Suddenly the truck lurched violently to one side, as if the driver had completely lost control. It crashed into the rocks immediately below the waiting soldiers.

The soldiers looked to their leader. He held up his hand to signify that they do nothing. For the moment, they would remain as spectators. He was waiting for the pursuers to clear the rise. This they did a few moments later and their truck came to a halt in the middle of the narrow pass. Three Iraqi soldiers got out and levelled their weapons as they moved cautiously towards the crashed vehicle. They seemed reluctant; it was almost as if they didn’t want to get too close for fear of the unknown. This puzzled the soldiers above. They could clearly see that the driver of the first truck was unconscious and slumped over the wheel. What were his pursuers afraid of? Did they imagine he was playing possum?

The Iraqi soldiers approached cautiously, holding their weapons in readiness, then, when they were about five metres away from the vehicle they stopped and raised them. It suddenly became apparent to the men above that they intended to execute their quarry without further ado. The soldier’s leader sprang to his feet and shouted out in Arabic, ’Stop! Lay down your weapons!’

The Iraqis were taken by surprise. They looked up but only to see that they were in a hopeless position. Two soldiers on either side of the pass were pointing their weapons down at them. Common sense dictated that they should comply with the instruction but panic won the right to decide. One of the Iraqis dropped to his knees and began firing. The other two obeyed the herd instinct. All three perished in the hail of crossfire that was returned. The world returned to an eerie black silence

‘Fuck. I hope to Christ they really were on our side of the border,’ said one of the soldiers.

‘They were,’ said the leader. ‘But the brass still ain’t gonna like it.’

‘You can say that again.’

‘Border incident threatens Middle East peace,’ intoned one of the others.

‘Shit, what do we do now?’

Let’s check the guy they were chasing, ‘If we find out why he was running; we might still come out of this smelling of roses. ’

‘They tried to open the driver’s door of the crashed truck but it had jammed; the impact had deformed it.

‘Bring him out through the window.’

One of the soldiers reached in through the window and managed to get his arms round the slumped figure. He pulled the man back from the wheel and manoeuvred him across to the window. The others helped pull him through while the first soldier guided them. The injured man was laid down on his back in the sand and his keffiyeh removed.

Sweet Jesus Christ!’ exclaimed the first soldier who saw the man. He recoiled and fell back on to the ground, looking shocked. The others looked to see what was wrong.

‘Christ almighty,’ said one. ‘Look at him.’

‘This is all we need,’ said the leader as he looked down at the man lying in the sand, his features lit by moonlight. Every centimetre of his face was covered in small weeping pustules, his eyes were just tiny slits in the suppurating mess of his face. This accounted for his erratic driving. He was practically blind.

‘What the hell’s wrong with him?’

The leader shook his head slowly. ‘God knows, but he obviously thought he’d get more help this side of the border.’

‘Saddam’s been playing with his chemistry set?’

‘Could be biological.’

‘Poor bugger.’

‘Christ, where does this leave us?’

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