Now Shyam stepped into the road with his rifle. The truck kept barreling forward, and he stepped back. No use being stupid about it. Those kids were blind drunk. A beer can was lobbed into the air, hitting the ground with a thunk. From the sound, it was a full one.
The truck veered around the first knife rest, and then the second knife rest, and kept going.
"Let Shiva tear them limb from limb," Arjun said. He scrubbed at his bushy black hair with his stubby fingertips. "No need to radio the backstop. You can hear these kids for miles."
"What are we supposed to do?" Shyam said. They were not traffic cops, and the rules did not permit them to open fire on just any vehicle that failed to stop.
"Peasant boys. Bunch of peasant boys."
"Hey," Shyam said. "I'm a peasant boy myself." He touched the patch sewn on his khaki shirt: ARA, it read. Army of the Republic of Anura. "This isn't tattooed on my skin, all right? When my two years are up, I'm going back to the farm."
"That's what you say now. I got an uncle who has a college degree; he's been a civil servant for ten years. Makes half what we do."
"And you're worth every rupee," Shyam said with heavy sarcasm.
"All I'm saying is, you got to seize what chances life gives you." Arjun flicked a thumb at the can on the road. "Sounds like that one's still got beer in it. Now, that's what I'm talking about. Pukka refreshment, my friend."
"Arjun," Shyam protested. "We're supposed to be on duty together, you know this? The two of us, yes?"
"Don't worry, my friend." Arjun grinned. "I'll share." When the truck was half a mile past the roadblock, the driver eased up on the accelerator, and the young man riding shotgun sat down, wiping himself off with a towel before putting on a black T-shirt and strapping himself in. The beer was foul, noisome, and sticky in the heavy air. Both guerrillas looked grave.
An older man was seated on the flat bench behind them. Sweat made his black curls cling to his forehead, and his mustache gleam in the moonlight. The KLF officer had been prone and invisible when the truck crashed the checkpoint. Now he flicked the communicate button on his walkie-talkie, an old model but a sturdy one, and grunted some instructions.
With a metallic groan, the rear door of the trailer was cracked open so that the armed men inside could get some air.
The coastal hill had many names and many meanings. The Hindus knew it as Sivanolipatha Malai, Shiva's footprint, to acknowledge its true origins. The Buddhists knew it as Sri Pada, Buddha's footprint, for they believed that it was made by Buddha's left foot when he journeyed to the island. The Muslims knew it as Adam Malai, or Adam's Hill: tenth-century Arab traders held that Adam, after he was expelled from Paradise, stopped here and remained standing on one foot until God recognized his penitence. The colonial overlords--first the Portuguese and then the Dutch--viewed it with an eye to practical rather than spiritual considerations: the coastal promontory was the ideal place for a fortress, where mounted artillery could be directed toward the threat posed by hostile warships. It was in the seventeenth century that a fortress was first erected on the hill; as the structure was rebuilt over the following centuries, little attention was ever paid to the small houses of worship nearby. Now they would serve as way stations for the Prophet's army during the final assault.
Ordinarily, its leader, the man they called the Caliph, would never be exposed to the confusion and unpredictability of an armed engagement. But this was no ordinary night. History was being written this night. How could the Caliph not be present? Besides, he knew that his decision to join his men on the terrain of battle had increased their morale immeasurably. He was surrounded by stouthearted Kagama who wanted him to be a witness to their heroism or, if it should turn out to be the case, their martyrdom. They looked at the planes of his face, his fine ebony features, and his strong, sculpted jaw, and they saw not merely a man anointed by the Prophet to lead them to freedom but a man who would inscribe their deeds in the book of life, for all posterity.
The Janson Directive. Copyright 2002 by Myn Pyn LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews Reproduced by permission of the publisher, St Martin's Press.
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