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Iran-Pakistan border. Midnight, 3 March 2002
"Hafez," the older guard said. "Someone is coming."
The headlights working their way down the rutted road two miles away were not a welcome sight, The two Pakistani border guards were standing their usual night duty on Pakistan's mountainous border with Iran. They both knew they weren't there because of their skill as guards. They were there because they had failed in their duties elsewhere, and the only place left to put them was an obscure border in the mountains on a rutted road in the middle of the night where one vehicle a night might come through loaded with chicken feed.
Hafez sat up in the drafty wooden shack warmed only by a glowing electric space heater that was inadequate against the biting cold. He breathed in loudly through his nose, trying to stretch while pretending that he hadn't been sleeping. They both had scruffy beards and wore mismatched Army uniform pieces. "I know," Hafez said harshly as he stood. Even though he was younger, he outranked the older soldier. Hafez was in charge of the border crossing until they were relieved in three hours. -We will inspect him completely," he said.
The older guard groaned. '-What for? There is never anything. Why bother?"
"Think about it! Why would a truck come through this checkpoint? We get shepherds, traders, refugees, but not trucks." Hafez sniffed against the cold. "Not many anyway."
The older guard looked at him, then at the truck, now half a mile away. It started to snow softly in the darkness. The floodlights pointing out from their guardhouse toward the truck highlighted the snowflakes. "We do gettrucks; five or ten every month. What difference does it make anyway?"
"It is our job," Hafez answered as he threw back the sliding door and put the strap of his assault rifle over his shoulder. He stepped in front of the truck that had pulled up to the bar that defined the border between the two countries. The Iranian border guards two hundred yards away had waved the truck out of Iran without so much as a comment. Hafez put out his hand for the truck to stop. He shook as a chill rushed through him. "Right here," Hafez said in Urdu.
The driver stopped and rolled down his window. "Good morning," he said in Farsi as he handed Hafez his passport and the truck's documents.
Hafez shook his head as he took the driver's papers. He didn't understand Farsi. He looked at the older guard behind him. "Iranian."
On top of a large hill between the border and the high mountains behind it, Riaz Khan lay on his belly on the cold ground and cursed as he studied the border scene through his night vision binoculars. "They are stopping the truck," he said to the men behind him, who could not be seen from the border side of the hill. "This was supposed to be the easiest crossing point," he said as he glanced back at one of his men.
"That's what we were told."
"You had better be right."
At the border, the older guard nodded, completely uninterested.
Hafez looked at the truck, then leaned into the floodlights so he could read the documentation. "Where are you going?" he asked the driver, again in Urdu.
"I don't understand," the man said in Farsi.
"You speak English?" Hafez asked.
"Little," the driver replied.
"Where are you going?" Hafez asked.
The driver's face soured. "Everything is in the papers."
Hafez didn't like that response at all. "Get out of the truck," he ordered.
The driver looked up at the falling snow, reluctantly grabbed his coat off the seat, and slid to the frozen ground. "What did I do?" he asked as he threw on his heavy, soiled coat and jammed his hands into the pockets.
"I didn't ask you about the papers. I asked you where you were going. Do you not know where you are going without looking at your papers?"
"Quetta," the driver said. He spit on the ground, partially in contempt of the guards, but ambiguously enough that they couldn't accuse him of it.
Hafez knew Quetta, a distant Pakistani city. "Why?"
"Because they told me to go to Quetta. My do you think I'm going to Quetta? For vacation?"
Hafez looked at the truck. It was a Russian-made stake truck that had seen better days. The diesel engine idled roughly. The back of the truck was full of random scrap metal exposed to the elements. "What is in the truck?"
"Where are you coming from?"
"From the Aral Company in Kazakhstan."
Hafez studied the papers in his gloved hands. "You are driving a piece-of-shit truck from Kazakhstan to Pakistan, all the way through Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Iran to deliver scrap metal?"
The driver hunched his shoulders. "If you think it is stupid, tell the one who is paying me to ship it. Now I must go. My penis is going to freeze off."
"I don't care about you or your frozen penis," Hafez said, stepping in front of the man. "Pull over there," he said, pointing at a dirt Spot to the right of the road.
"Aaaaaah," the driver protested.
"Move your truck over now," Hafez warned, "or you will never pass through this country."
The driver held his tongue. He climbed back into the cab. He forced the reluctant transmission into first gear and moved the truck to the side.
"Get the machine," Hafez ordered the older soldier.
The older guard protested in Urdu, confident the driver couldn't understand them. "Mat is the point? We have never found anything, and if we drop the machine it will break and they will make us pay --""Get it!" Hafez ordered.
The older guard mumbled as he walked to the storage shed behind their guard shack and took out... Fallout. Copyright © by James Huston. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.