Volume 3 –
Chapters 201 To 300
Chapter 293 – Chewing Gum On The Bamiyan Buddha
The bodies of over a hundred Islamic militants were abandoned in the valley to become food for the wolves and crows. The convoy went through the canyon and onward on their way. Several of the White Rock Tribe had died in this battle and two of the Bureau 101 agents were sacrificed. There was no avoiding this as battles meant lost lives. This was actually also the best result. If it had not been for Xia Lei and his personally modified sniper rifle, all of them would have died there; not one would have left the canyon alive.
Kabir and his men abandoned one of the pickup trucks. One now led in front and one stayed at the back to cover the end. This was the advantage of having paid them – even though half of them had perished, they still had to fulfil the dual roles of guide and bodyguards. However, this was not because of work ethics but because the balance of 500,000 had not been paid yet.
Tang Yu-Yan drove their car right behind the leading vehicle. She watched the road and occasionally glanced over at Xia Lei in the passenger seat. For some inexplicable reason, every time she looked at him she would recall his buttocks, and what hung between his legs. Her face turned strangely red because of this and she felt embarrassed and ashamed.
Xia Lei, on the other hand, did not notice all this. He held a map and read it, looking for their destination. The map belonged to Tang Yu-Yan and a red mark circled an area on the map, deep in Bamiyan Valley. It was about 150 kilometres away from the famed Bamiyan Buddhas. The circle-mark was the destination for this rescue mission and based on their current speed, they would get there at nightfall, no incidents permitting.
“Our numbers are dwindling. How are we going back if we can’t use the way we’ve come?” Xia Lei broke the silence in the car.
“You don’t have to worry about this. Didn’t I tell you? Every mission has several plans and this mission is no different. If we can’t go back the way we came we can return through the Wakhan Corridor*. Afghanistan borders our land and the Wakhan Corridor was part of the old Silk Road too. We can go back through there,” said Tang Yu-Yan.
“Oh.” Xia Lei made just a small sound of acknowledgement before his gaze returned to the map, sweeping over the names of places and grumbling silently to himself ‘My father must know that I’m in Afghanistan. It’s possible that he knows that I’ve been in battle. Will he take the initiative to appear and meet me? If he doesn’t, then where could he be…?’
These questions plagued him.
“You look like you have something on your mind. Penny for your thoughts?” asked Tang Yu-Yan probingly.
Xia Lei put the map away and said with a smile, “Nothing much. I was just thinking how I can avoid paying the next 500,000 to Kabir.”
Tang Yu-Yan shook her head. “We cannot lose his trust. How will we work with them afterwards? Even if we don’t go back the way we came we will still pay the remaining 500,000. We have no lack of money – we just lack friends.” She then rolled her eyes at Xia Lei. “You really are a miser. Are all businessmen like this?”
Xia Lei just smiled. His aim was to distract Tang Yu-Yan and he had done it.
At that moment, the gunner on the pickup truck in front suddenly started shouting and looked rather panicky. Xia Lei did not understand what he said but Tang Yu-Yan cried out in alarm, “American drones!”
Xia Lei was alarmed. He stuck his head out the window and looked up in the sky. A flying object had indeed appeared and it was about 3,000 metres up in the air. The gunman who’d spotted it could only see a blurry image of it but Xia Lei could see it clearly. It was an American Predator. It boasted two rounds of air-to-surface guided missiles. He also made out the Stars and Stripes on the drone and all its military unit numbers and serial number.
What would come, would come. This was a battlefield dominated by American troops and last night’s defeat meant that some people would definitely not take it lying down.
“Hit it down!” Tang Yu-Yan issued the order.
A Bureau 101 agent climbed out of a Ford Raptor behind them. He had a surface-to-air missile launcher mounted on his shoulder.
The drone in the air abruptly increased altitude and flew to one side.
“It’s gone.” The Bureau 101 agent’s voice came from over the communications device. “I did not manage to lock-on to it in time.”
“Stay in the vehicle. Keep on the alert in case it comes back again,” said Tang Yu-Yan.
The drone did not fly fast and it would be difficult for it to avoid being shot down if someone managed to get it in his sights. The person controlling it must have discovered the situation on the ground and dodged.
Xia Lei wrinkled his brows. “It doesn’t seem its aim was to attack us. It had a chance to shoot at us but it didn’t. It may be checking us out.”
“Those guys must be keeping an eye on us. They attacked us openly last night. Think we can be bullied? If it dares show itself again I’ll have it shot down.” A trace of arrogance appeared between Tang Yu-Yan’s brows.
Xia Lei did not engage in conversation. He watched the sky with a brooding expression.
Things had got to this point. He was increasingly sure that the CIA had marked him. The mysterious soldiers last night, and the drone earlier were all targeting him. The drone had not fired its explosives earlier not because the person from the CIA was kind-hearted but because they wanted him alive, not a burnt corpse!
At that thought, a familiar face appeared in Xia Lei’s head. He let out an internal sigh. ‘The CIA wants to catch me… I wonder if she’s participating?’
She, Liang Si-Yao. A woman he would never forget in this lifetime.
If Liang Si-Yao took part in this mission and they met on the battlefield – would she fire at him?
The drone did not appear again. The shoulder-mounted aircraft-missile launcher was at the ready and the drone would definitely be turned into scrap metal if it appeared again. However, Xia Lei believed that the CIA would track his movements through American military satellites even if the drone did not come to check on him.
The journey afterwards was much quieter and nothing unusual happened, all the way to nightfall.
“The Bamiyan Buddhas are ahead.” Kabir’s voice came from over the communications device. “Let’s rest there. Our vehicles need petrol and we need to eat.”
“All right. We’ll take a break of half an hour,” Tang Yu-Yan replied.
The convoy stopped at a patch of empty ground by the road. Xia Lei alighted with the sniper rifle; it was not leaving his hands now. He also had a big box of bullets with him in his rucksack at all times. This was the only way he would have a sense of security in this land.
The Bamiyan Buddhas were before their eyes but they were not huge, sacred Buddha statues any longer – they had been turned into piles of rubble. One could still make out the outlines of the buddha statues from the mass of rock and it was a spectacular sight.
The White Rock tribesmen got busy. They refuelled the vehicles and filled the water container; some took out food and distributed it. The Bureau 101 agents did not sit idle either – some checked the cars, weapons and equipment and some handed out dry rations and liquids.
Xia Lei received a share too – a packet of high-calorie beef jerky and a bottle of mineral water. He walked to the base of the Bamiyan Buddhas after receiving his food. The wound on his buttock was not better and his gait was off when he walked.
“What are you going there for?” Tang Yu-Yan looked curiously at Xia Lei.
Xia Lei looked back at her. “To relieve myself. Is that a problem?”
Tang Yu-Yan smiled. “No problem. You be careful. Don’t get bitten by a snake or something, or you won’t be able to get relief.”
Xia Lei was speechless.
The degree of joking between them had increased with familiarity.
Xia Lei relieved himself behind a rock, then continued on his way to the Bamiyan Buddhas. He was not a devout Buddhist but its ancient air and the great change which had been wrought upon it piqued his curiosity. This was a miracle over 1,500 years old and he had to have a look at it since he’d come all this way.
The two statues were 400 metres apart from each other, one in the east and one in the west. The one in the east had been completely obliterated and the one in the west had been blasted too but the torso remained and he could see the body of the Buddha statue.
Xia Lei walked towards the Buddha statue in the west. He came to its feet and looked at the headless torso as his heart filled with wonder. People 1,500 years ago had created this miracle and built it with their own two hands, but the Islamic militants had used explosives to destroy it. Why could one religion not let another be?
He looked at it quietly for a while and then looked away, prepared to return to the convoy. Just as he was about to leave, a small piece of something white and shapeless stuck on the Buddha’s foot caught his attention.
It was a piece of chewed chewing gum.
Who could be so disrespectful as to do something so uncultured?
The piece of chewing gum on the Buddha’s foot excited Xia Lei. He pulled lightly at it and, as expected, found a roll of something hard in the soft gum. He pulled it apart to find the rolled up paper inside.
Lines of familiar handwriting met his eyes when he unrolled the paper: Why didn’t you heed my warning to not come to Afghanistan? You’ve been marked by the CIA and they will not let you off. Your destination is the White Hun* Tribe. I know I can’t stop you from going there now. Leave your friends when you get here. I’ll get Yelena to meet you.
Xia Lei activated his left eye and checked his surroundings. The darkness was no hindrance at all to his vision; he could currently see the insects crawling on the rock a thousand metres away. However, he did not see his father nor the blonde-haired Russian woman, Yelena.
“Hey! You done?” came Tang Yu-Yan’s voice, “We should get going!”
“I’ll be right there!” replied Xia Lei, and he turned and started walking to the convoy.
This time, he ate the paper but not the chewing gum. He just casually threw it into a crack in the rocks.
The White Hun Tribe – what sort of place was it?