Deadeye flashed the headlights repeatedly and finally from out of what seemed a dark hole came a blink in response.
After two nights of rumbling between steep mountain chains and down dry river beds and dirt tracks in a captured Russian flatbed truck, we had found the redoubt of a group of Islamic guerrillas fighting Soviet invasion troops in western Afghanistan.
It was the fulfillment of a promise made by "the General" over dark bread and tea in his goat-skin tent near the Afghan border: He would get our group of five Western correspondents to his rebels' mountain hideaway on condition they tell the world of his need for modern weapons to fight the Soviet tanks and Migfighters.
Between his pledge and the night-time rendezvous at the head of a narrow canyon in the Mountains of the White Earth was a bone-jarring journey of about 150 miles on the wooden slats of the flatbed truck, with a glacial winter wind scraping at exposed skin and pushing through the seams of heavy parkas.
At the wheel for most of the trip was Deadeye, a teen-age guerrilla so named by his Western guests after he hit a 50-caliber cartridge dead center from 50 yards with an ancient single-shot rifle that he wrote slung over his shoulder like a badge of early manhood.
Beside him in the cab sat the Biker, a sharp-featured youth who earned his sobriquet because of the goggles he wore propped above the folds of the white turban of Afghan peasantry. His weapon was a Soviet -designed AK 47 assault rifle and he packed his extra ammunition in a little cloth bag that looked for all the world like a homemade woman's purse.
Riding shotgun was the Sarge, squat and coiled with the assurance of someone who has heard a lot of shots fired in anger and would not mind hearing a few more. He had been detailed by the General to lead the truck to the canyon where rebels rest in caves and tents between raids on nearby roads controlled by the Soviets.
He led it first to the wrong canyon, a deserted dead-end closed in by rock promontoriest on the other side of promontories on the other side of which lay the Soviet-held city of Farah. But within minutes a chance meeting with an old man walking along in what seemed to be empty wilderness provided the necessary clues to where the rebels had gone.
Another three hours of shaking along and trying to sleep through the cold and we found the right canyon. Armed partisans who had seen our headlight signals emerged from the deep depression that formed a natural barrier at the entrance.
With the aid of their flashlights, we picked along a rocky path into the canyon and said "Salm aleikum" ("Peace be with you") to everyone we saw on the way. On either side sheer rock rose in a protective wall, making the hideout unassailable except through the narrow entrance where no vehicle could pass.
About halfway to the end where the main rebel camp was set up, the field commander came out of the darkness to greet his guests. His black beard and imperious eyes sallied out from under a white turban and he wore the flowing robes that marked his status as a Moslem holy man.
The imam and his lieutenants, a colonel who defected from the regular army and a former high school principal, plied there visitors with everything they had to offer -- more dark bread and tea. Their followers crowed around the camp's most luxurious tent -- the one with blankets on the rock floor -- to peer at the question-and-answer session going on inside.
If the rebel leadership regarded the correspondents' presence as a chance to tell their story, the guerrillas themselves clearly saw it as diversion from a stunningly primitive life amid the rocky peaks.
Communication with the rebels was impossible except through layered translation. Most spoke only Pashto. But their welcome was evident in ready smiles and demonstrations of solicitude that ranged from carrying parcels and cameras to sending an armed guard to escort Westerners to the right rock to urinate on.
Each passage before another camp-site included an invitation for a glass of tea. Some stops also included invitations for a pinch of dull-green ground leaves that the rebels seemed to such on throughout the day because, they said, it made their head feel good.
It also appeared to make their head fel good to pose brandishing their weapons for a television camera that had been packed into their hideout. The rebels said journalists had never before come to seek their story and they gave the impression that they were delighted to tell it.
"The General," an air force defector who once commanded Shindand Air Base near the rebel camp, also seemed pleased to get a platform for his cause. Although the idea of bringing Western journalists to the guerrillas apparently had not occurred to the General before we made our request, once the correspondents came knocking, he was quick to recognize and exploit the opportunity for exposure.