The party spotted Oliver.
The three guards pushed aside their robes to reveal automatic rifles, which they shouldered and pointed at Oliver. They began shouting in Arabic for him to drop his gun and lay down on the ground.
Behind them, a young woman wrapped her arms around the older woman she had been escorting and dropped to the ground, rolling to put her body between Oliver and the elderly woman.
Oliver dropped his gun and raised his hands.
This day just keeps getting worse and worse, he thought.
He stepped back from the gun, keeping his hands in the air, but did not drop to the ground. He had no idea why these people were in the canyon, let alone threatening him, but he intended to find out.
“I am unarmed,” Oliver shouted in his best Arabic. He at least hoped that was what he was shouting. “I mean you no harm. My partner was recently kidnapped, that’s why I had my gun out.”
The men glared at Oliver and continued to keep their weapons leveled at his chest, but they stopped shouting.
“My name is Oliver. I am an archaeologist. Who are you? What do you want with me?”
The older woman began shouting at her younger counterpart in a dialect that Oliver could not understand, but recognized as variant of Arabic. The young woman was doing her best to keep her elder down on the ground, out of danger, as they argued. One of the men turned around and joined in the discussion. Oliver had no idea what they were saying, but got the impression that the older woman wanted to get up and look at him, while the others were concerned for her safety.
Ultimately the woman won the argument and used her guardian’s shoulder as a prop to push herself to her feet.
The old woman moved towards Oliver with a tottering step, her wrinkled brown hands stretched out towards him. Her assistant leapt to follow, skirts spraying sand as she hurried to the old woman’s side and took her arm.
One of the men approached Oliver, keeping his gun pointed at him the whole time. He came almost within reach, then stopped and said, in Arabic, “We heard shooting and saw helicopters moving west. What happened here?”
“I told you. My research partner was kidnapped. The men who took her were trying to kill me. They probably think that they succeeded.” He nodded towards the bullet-riddled remains of the Range Rover.
The man nodded gravely and glanced back at the others. The old woman was still shuffling forward. She was not far away now. He called out to her in the dialect that Oliver could not understand. She replied with a burst that sounded to Oliver like questions.
“Why are you here?” the gunman asked.
“I might ask you the same thing.”
“You might, but you are… what, British? American? You speak Arabic with an accent… and I’d wager you don’t have a permit to excavate here.”