times unwelcome – trust was the most valued currency.

He trusted the general about as far as he could have kicked a discarded Coke tin, and the general trusted him implicitly, which was comforting and made for a satisfactory commercial relationship.

They had drunk their coffee, nibbled a biscuit, and the flight was called. He would return to civilisation with an independent French airline that would take him into Lyons.

They did the hug at the gate, and an approximation of a cheek kiss.

‘It’s a pleasure to do business with you, General.’

‘And I like to do business with you. You make me laugh, you have good stories, you are the best company. Maybe that is as important as your honesty. If I did not think you were honest you would be in a river’s silt, buried. A Lebanese is there because he was not honest with me. It is good to laugh and to have honesty.’

He went through the gate.

Other than the warmth of his smile, there was little to point out Harvey Gillot as a man of wealth, of business acumen, of anything remarkable. He was in his forty-seventh year, he carried a few pounds too many at his waist and his stomach bulged a little over his trouser belt. His hair had lost the fresh colour of his youth and there was grey above his ears. He walked with a purposeful stride, but without the swagger of success that would have attracted the attention of strangers, cameras or officials. His hair was tidy, his shirt clean, his suit pressed and his tie subdued. He had a full face, but not the jowls of excess or the gauntness of abstinence. Unless he smiled, people did not notice him.

A leather satchel was hooked on his shoulder. In it were his electronic notepad, a mobile phone and three pairs of socks he had washed for himself in his hotel bathroom, two crumpled shirts, a set of used underwear, an iPod loaded with easy-listening light classical, a pair of cotton pyjamas and his washbag. That was how he travelled. He had no need of a paperwork mountain, assistants or brochures. Travelling with a Spartan load was compatible with his occupation and did not obstruct his ability to initiate a deal that would cost the purchaser in excess of three million American dollars.

‘Trust rules,’ was his motto, handed down to him by his mentor. ‘Lose the trust of those you do business with, young man, and you might as well quit the work and go back to what you were doing because you’ll be dead in the water.’ Solly Lieberman had delivered the lecture to Gillot on 7 June 1984. It had marked the defining moment in his life. He had known that Mr Lieberman was about to alter his life, make an offer that could not be refused, and Gillot, aged twenty-one, had stood damn near at attention in front of the scratched desk behind which the wizened old guy had sat. He had heard the lecture in a gravel-coarse American east coast accent, and had not laughed at the advice.

Trust was Harvey Gillot’s lifeblood.

Trust would liberate several tonnes of surplus-to-requirements munitions and weapons from a Bulgarian military depot, and trust would ensure a purchaser handed him a healthy deposit as down payment on acceptance of terms. He needed, too, the trust of the shipping company, and of Customs officials at both ends of the transaction. Trust was as good a weapon as any in the global economic climate and – bless the Lord – in hard times the price of conflict didn’t much matter. Money could be found, if there was trust.

Many trusted Harvey Gillot, and he had worked hard to earn that trust. He could have called home as he walked out into the blast of the sun that reflected up from the concrete, but didn’t think the effort worthwhile and left his mobile in the satchel. If he lost that trust, and word spread, he would be back to selling office equipment and stationery.

His eyes smarted in the glare so he tugged his Polaroids from an inner pocket and hooked them on. The aircraft was in front of him. Above, the sun burgeoned from a cloudless sky, clear and blue.

The dog did well. From the table, it was given cheese cubes, slices of cold sausage, cake and biscuits. It sat on its haunches, its tongue hung out and its eyes showed unrestrained happiness.

The dog was a centre of attention. It was named King. It had been trained in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the fields near to the ravaged town of Mostar, had received certificates and been sold by its Austrian-born handler to Canadians who had shipped it first to Rwanda, in central Africa, then west to Angola. Now, in its eighth year, the German shepherd was in the last stages of a career that many called ‘distinguished’. Its final handler, a taciturn Croat from a hill village near to the Slovenian border, permitted the indulgence, seemed indifferent to it. He owed his life to that dog. Every day they worked, the handler could assume that if the animal’s senses and nose failed they would be dead. They could be killed by the cloud of razor slivers from the mines that severed limbs and cut arteries, leaving man and animal beyond help. He was used to this sort of occasion, where food and drink were laid out and local people pleaded their gratitude.

The noise around him grew and he saw empty bottles – plum, apple and pear brandy, all home distilled – taken out and fresh ones brought from the cellar.

If they had worked together for an extra hour the previous evening they might have finished the clearance before dusk made it too dangerous to go on. But he had been with these people for seven weeks and he would have reckoned it ungracious to slip away before their celebration, with himself and his dog as the honoured guests. Soon he would drive the dog back to his home on the outskirts of Osijek, where it would go into its pen, and he would sit at a desk, read papers, study maps and learn the detail of the next site he was to be assigned to.

There was no shortage of work. The government said that a quarter of a million mines had been laid during the war, but more realistic studies put the figure at close to a million. They had been in the ground now for seventeen, eighteen or nineteen years and had lost none of their lethal potential, were as deadly as the day when the spades had made the holes in the fields, the mines had been dropped into them and covered with earth. When the dog’s working life was over, it would go to his father and live out its last years as a pampered pet, and he would take on another dog, a two-year-old with its training just completed. When that dog was ready to finish there would still be the seeded fields all over his country where the conflict line had been.

The day he had started to work on strips of land at the edge of the cornfields round the village, close to where the Vuka river flowed, he had explained his tactic to the farmer on whose land he would be. He had said that mechanical flails mounted on an armoured bulldozer were acceptable on flat fields, but useless and dangerous on the steep-sloped riverbanks. He said, too, that if the clearance were to be done by hand, men on their knees with fine probes, it would take for ever, and this area did not warrant priority, so it was him and the dog. They worked along yellow tape lines, King a few metres ahead, on a long, loose lead, finding them; there were at least twenty, all primed, all killing agents. The dog could smell explosive chemicals, could smell also the fine metal filament wires that would trip the unwary and detonate a device. He had talked of the acoustic signature that the wires gave off, which the dog could hear when a man could not. He had thought the farmer cared only for another hectare made available to plant more corn or sunflowers.

He was called forward.

The handler knew what was required of him. From under his dusty overalls, he produced the certificate of clearance. Boldly, he signed it. Glasses were filled, raised and downed. The drink ran in dribbles from their mouths. He rarely drank. The telephone could ring at any hour, day or night, to tell him of a child mortally injured in a field that had once been a battle zone, a farmer blown up and lying injured with a leg held at the knee only by cartilage, and if he was drunk he could do nothing. People believed in his skill and the dog’s. He had done his best. He had lifted twenty anti-personnel mines from the wilderness ground at the perimeter of the field, then had gone down the bank. The strip he had cleared was at least two hundred metres long and forty wide. A very brave man, or a very stupid man, would declare that ground now free of mines. He knew the history of this village, of its fight and its courage, and knew, too, of its fall.

The dog slumped, satiated, and its tongue lolled with the heat.

He thought it was not often that these people had something to celebrate.

With the paper presented to the farmer, he believed it was a suitable moment for him to go, to move out of the lives he had shared these several weeks, to leave them free of the crack of the mines he had detonated. He assumed that after he had gone the music would be turned up, the dancing would start, more food would be eaten and the pile of bottles outside the back door would grow higher. He was wrong.

He knew the farmer as Petar, and knew the man’s wife but could not communicate with her because of her acute deafness – King was fond of her. He knew Mladen, who was most likely to be listened to in the village, and Tomislav, and Andrija, who was married to Maria and was her lapdog. He knew Josip, and… he knew such people in every village where he had worked since the land had been taken back from the Cetniks. He started for the door.

Вы читаете The Dealer and the Dead
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату