The air pressing against Bronstein's face was hot and dry. He could feel his T-shirt sticking, wet to his back. As Lucky edged around the truck towards him, eyes and M4 trained on the empty road, Bronstein could see the dark 'v' shape that permeated Lucky's jacket from his shoulders to the base of his spine. The Sergeant was monitoring Lucky's increasing nervousness. He could smell Lucky's distinctive musty body odour as the young man drew near.
From the city's minaret, they heard the call, "Hayya ala-l-falah, hayya ala-l-falah." Hasten to real success, hasten to real success.
Bronstein was conscious of his stomach. He put it down to being uneasy between the suburbs and the open scrub. Beyond the isolated building before them, beneath a merciless sky, the open road extended into a bear, hostile landscape. There were no natural features against which Bronstein could gauge the terrain. To his small-town, greensward, picket-fence eye, the land was alien and barren, the many shadows and subtle shades of brown and grey meaningless. The road markings imposed by the military, the white lines lining the dark camber-less road and the imported white shingle that bordered it, were the only perceptible indication of the landscape's rise and fall, scale and variation.
At his back lay the smell of burning rubber and the eyesore of city sprawl: angular grey-brown blocks uniform in construction, irregular in breadth and height, some unfinished, all with horizontal and vertical rows of rectangular windows, a pattern occasionally relieved by arched gaps of shadow. A few buildings were misshapen into chunks of rubble. The sawn-off skyline was broken by the turquoise dome of the mosque and the white cylindrical tower of its minaret, the detail of its golden fluted dome lost in the dark of gunmetal cloud slowly billowing, rising from the urban horizon to the clear cobalt heavens.
Bronstein was making a mental report on the immediate man-made location. Here, on the southernmost southern edge of the city, at the roadside, the south-facing single storey dwelling was in mottled hues of grey and pink. The facade was topped by a stone screen, which could, despite the two openings, each with four balustrades, conceal more than one sniper - as might the off-centre brick block on the roof, ostensibly housing a cistern.
"Assume nothing. Trust no-one," he had told his team. "Expect anything and everything."
On the roof, a satellite dish faced the sky. To the east of the house, was a waist-high wall that would provide good cover. Behind that, two palms rose, the outer one leaning at a precarious angle. The wood-panelled door was shut. Beside it, to the west, blocking a narrow opening, was an ornamental, turquoise, head-high, metal gate. Door and gate were flanked by barred windows, also painted turquoise. Bronstein believed the colour to be the same as that of the mosque dome at his back. There was one window on the eastern side of the house, in shadow between a bricked-up doorway and a sturdy table bearing a slatted rectangular box, possibly an air-conditioning unit. Beneath the western window, stood an upright rusting man-sized barrel and, lying on its side, an abandoned refrigerator deprived of its door. Bronstein noticed that the two pans by the barrel were shining new. The Frigidaire could hide a hostile child.
Among the rubble between the soldiers and the house that confronted them lay a solidified bag of cement, a car tyre and two empty blue plastic bags. There was no movement.