sowing… old grievances awakened and hatreds reborn.

That evening there was a fine sunset over the river, and cranes tracked the barges that plied upstream drawn by tugboats. A mist gathered, and the sun’s colour was diffused: it had been gold and became blood red.


He heard a long, shouted moan, voices in unison, calling to him. When he looked at them, arms, fingers and fists pointed behind him.

Petar was able to hear them because for the second day he had not brought out his best tractor, the Massey Ferguson 590 four-wheel-drive turbo, but used the older and lighter Prvomajaska, which had no closed cab. Their voices carried to him above the engine noise. On the first day he had dragged a chain-link harrow over the ground and it had rooted out much of the long grass, thorn scrub and thistles that had taken hold in the nineteen years since mines had been laid in the part of his field that was against the southern bank of the Vuka river. There had been no jolting detonation under the tractor chassis and he presumed that the work of the dog and its handler had been thorough, but he was wary enough of the danger from long-buried explosives to have told the men and women from the village to keep back from the tractor’s path: he knew, as did any farmer in the old combat zones of eastern Slavonia, that mines could float, that floods and ground movements of erosion or buried aquifers could shift the mines or tilt them. The last evening, after covering the ground with the harrow, Petar had taken it off his Pvromajaska and replaced it with an old plough. It didn’t matter to him if it was damaged by an explosion.

He was at the far edge of the land that had become a wilderness and to his right was the riverbank. His wheels had, perhaps, a metre more of secure tread. He was concentrating. The river, as he remembered it, was deep here – perhaps three metres – and if the tractor slid and went down, he might be trapped by the steering- wheel. He saw them pointing, waving, and he could hear them, but their gestures were behind him and he thought it unwise to swivel in the seat or turn his head. He would not risk losing control of the tractor because, briefly, he could not see the ground over which the front wheels were about to go. Yesterday, close to here, the front left wheel had gone into a hole as a vixen had sprinted clear and he had seen, momentarily, the bright eyes of cubs against the darkness of the den. Then the heavier rear wheel had gone over the hole and the tractor had lurched but not tipped. It had hurt to kill the cubs, and for the remaining hours he had worked the ground he had seen the vixen at the tree-line beside the river, watching him. Petar had inflicted violent death, had known the agony of it, but he had felt pain at burying the cubs.

He went to the end of the furrow, raised the plough and gunned the engine for power – difficult because the Prvomajaska lacked the finesse of the Massey Ferguson. He wrenched the wheel round and was relieved to be away from the drop of the bank. Sweat had dribbled into his eyes. He wiped his face with his forearm. He could see what they pointed at and their voices were now a clamour.

An arm thrust up out of the ground.

Well, Petar thought it was an arm. It could not have been a branch with tatters of cloth hanging on it. Mladen shouted, used his weight and his voice to keep the rest back. They stood – the village community and Petar’s entire world – at approximately the point on the road that the teacher had marked with a red-crayon cross before he had taken the young men out into the dusk. His boy had gone, with Tomislav’s, because they still had strength in their arms, legs and backs. The siege of the village had lasted already more than eighty days but his boy and Tomislav’s had had enough of their strength to be in that small party, as had Andrija’s cousin.

He was almost certain that the plough blades had turned up a body and thrown it aside at such an angle that the arm – outstretched – now rose like a mast from a ship that had sunk after a collision in the river beyond the town.

The key turned, the engine died. Petar was now sixty-seven. He weighted less than seventy kilos, was below average height, and had spent most of his adult life labouring on a farm – other than when he had been fighting for his village and the few years he had passed in the torture chamber, for him, of an urban refugee camp, wooden huts, on the outskirts of Zagreb. He did not spare himself. Stiffly, he swung his legs away to the side, hung on to the wheel for a moment, then dropped on to the turned earth.

He blinked, focused. A great quiet hung over the field. Petar coughed and spat. Then he started to walk towards the arm. They had been wearing camouflage tunics that night. The tunics had come in a batch, fifty of them, with camouflage trousers, and had been brought to the village by the police at Osijek before the siege had begun. Mladen, the teacher, his own son, Tomislav’s, and Andrija’s cousin – a giant of a man from Nustar – had all worn the black, grey and duck-green outfits. He did not know if the arm raised from the earth was, or was not, his son’s. He had not seen the vixen that morning. He thought she would have moved on, accepted the death of the cubs. He wondered how he, Tomislav, Andrija or the Widow would make an identification.

The sun sapped him. He wore a hat, woven straw, with the brim pulled low to keep the light from blinding him. None of the men in the village had rings, as none of the women had had necklaces, bracelets or wedding rings by the time the teacher had led three others – with the handcart, two wheelbarrows and the pram chassis – into the darkness and down the Cornfield Road. Not a bauble, nothing that was precious and could be dropped into a canvas sack – with money and house deeds – had been missed: everything had been collected three weeks before by Andrija’s wife at the teacher’s direction. It had gone to Zagreb when Zoran had sealed the deal and returned with a promise that the weapons were coming. At that distance, Petar could not tell whether the raised arm was the left or the right.

Could he remember which undershirt his boy had been wearing? The one of the New York baseball team or the one of the Dinamo club in the capital? The arm now seemed slightly crooked at the elbow and the material was dark, the colour had no meaning. There was no flesh on the skeletal hand and the fingers climbed to the sky and the sun – as if they had been liberated from the ground.

He did not know if the arm was his son’s. He sank to his knees and wept. It was the first time in nineteen years that Petar had allowed himself to think of his son, picture him, and tears to flow.

The others came. None ran; they advanced in a line to him, and made a circle. He shook his head, almost ashamed of his weakness. ‘Bastards,’ he spat, anger and hatred bubbling on his lips. ‘Bastards.’

His father was the main reason for Robbie Cairns to avoid carelessness.

Again, he followed the man. It was the third time, and the routine was solid. Out of the house within a five- minute window, then through the gates. Along the pavement to the newsagent, then the cafe, where a small pot of tea was drunk. A stroll home. No minder trailing him. It was a street free of closed-circuit cameras. Behind Johnny ‘Cross Lamps’ Wilson, giving him space, Robbie Cairns regarded this as quality time – getting-to-know time. He was some seventy paces behind the target, had good vision on him, and could think through where he would make the approach, on which stretch of pavement, and whether it would be on the way to the cafe and maybe close to the newsagent, or going back to the house and its electronic gate. He had options, which was important: Robbie knew the value of flexibility. They always said about sport that a football team had to have Plan B for when Plan A went down the sewer. He had Plans A, B, C and D, a fistful of plans, which all covered the killing of Johnny ‘Cross Lamps’ Wilson.

The first two times that Robbie had done leg-work on this target, he had noted that the man used basic anti-surveillance tactics. Didn’t this morning. He couldn’t see there would be any difficulty in getting up close for a head shot. Might do it from behind. Might do it from the front. Might step out from a shop doorway or from the cover of the bus shelter. Might walk into the cafe – the closest point to where Vern had parked in the Mondeo – when he was pouring tea and sucking sugar lumps.

His father was ‘away’, and would be for another four years, because he had been dumb enough to spit. Had wound down the window in the supermarket car park and spat. Then the armoured van had arrived and the cameras had shown men in balaclavas running from the car, doing the necessary with a shooter and two pickaxe handles, and the security blokes had frozen. They’d run back to the car and shifted out. It’d been a Flying Squad job, Robbery Section, and they’d done over Jerry Cairns’s second-floor flat on the Albion Estate, just along the walkway from where Granddad and Grandma Cairns were. The alibi trotted out in the interview room at the Rotherhithe nick was copper-bottomed and cast iron, strong as granite: he’d been down in Kent with Dot, looking at properties to buy, just driving along the lanes, and an army of respectable folks would come forward to swear they’d seen Jerry in

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