Deb turned the tiny cassette over and over with her fingers, her fragment of interview with Konrad Selivanov, all but worthless. She stuffed it back into her shirt pocket, pulling out a near-empty pack of cigarettes.
“And what do you think of this man?” Ibrahim asked, wrestling with the jeep’s steering wheel, urging it forward over a particularly bad section of road.
“He’s hiding something,” Deb said, lighting her cigarette.
“My sister serves him like she is his slave,” he said. “Only she does so with joy.”
“That’s not slavery,” Deb answered. “It’s worship.”
The jeep dipped and bounced along the roadway. Deep gouges etched by the rains left high ridges, like an exposed ribcage where the flesh had all rotted away. Deb grimaced, almost losing her cigarette.
“What of the others?” the driver asked.
“The refugees? Hell if I know. I never laid eyes on a single one.”
“But they must be there. Hundreds from the local villages fled there when the fighting first began.”
“Should make for a hell of a story,” Deb said.
The driver braked. Rounding a curve in the road ahead, another jeep had halted. For an instant it sat still, then began to accelerate towards them. Deb could see the camouflage fatigues worn by the men even at that distance, the glint of light off gunmetal.
“Rebels!” Ibrahim hissed.
“Oh, shit!” Deb said. “Get around ’em, quick!”
The approaching jeep stopped just ahead of them; two men jumped out brandishing machine guns.
“Go!” Deb shrieked.
The driver slipped the jeep into first, the gears grinding in protest. Before he could accelerate, one of the men in the road leveled his gun and fired. The windshield exploded inwards with the sound of bullets sinking into the fabric of the seats and into flesh, all preceding the report of the AK-47.
Deb had seen the man raising his weapon and had ducked below the dashboard in the instant that his finger constricted on the trigger. Her head in the driver’s lap, she felt a faint stinging sensation as though heated needles pierced her skin in various places. Whether from bullets or shards of glass, she couldn’t tell.
An instant later, it had ended. Deb felt warm liquid on her face. Blood. Glancing up, she noted with both revulsion and relief that it was not her own. Ibrahim reclined in the seat, his chest showing a half-dozen bullet holes. Deb choked down an exclamation. Still in her seatbelt, she unfastened the clasp, sitting up. The two men were nearing the jeep, guns cradled in their arms, talking and chuckling. For all appearances, they might have been out on an afternoon stroll.
As fast as she could move, Deb unfastened the driver’s seatbelt. Reaching over, she unfastened the door and, with a sudden effort, pushed his body from the jeep. Then, in the same motion, Deb slid behind the steering wheel and stomped the accelerator. She ducked below the dashboard as the men, surprised, raised their guns, but they had no opportunity to fire. The jeep rolled over them with the ease that it managed the ruts in the roadway, its wheels grinding them into the mud.
Deb sat up in time to see the other jeep loom directly in her path. A third man, unseen before, leaned out the passenger window with another AK-47. Deb jerked the wheel to the side and missed a head-on collision, her jeep shearing along the side of the other, crushing the gunman between the two vehicles. Then, getting clear, Deb floored the accelerator, ignoring the tortuous roadway, heading for the comparative safety of the border.
She covered several miles before she stopped shaking.