The football game had really warmed up now. Today’s ball had mud caked on its matted grey hair and beard. I lowered my binos. I didn’t want to see that shit. If they found me, the next head could be mine.

The ground below me was soft but sappingly cold. I wished the Regiment boys had left me a roll mat. Tensing my body, I wiggled my toes again and again, trying to generate some heat, but it wasn’t working. Mladic had better turn up soon. I didn’t have a picture of him with me because of opsec, but I’d burned one into my memory before I came out. I’d know his ugly fat face when I saw it.

The LTD was housed in a green metal box about the size of a breeze block. The tripod it was mounted on was extendable to about two feet, though I had it just inches off the ground. It had a viewfinder at the back, and a lens at the front, protected for now by a plastic cap, which would fire a laser about ten miles. There was also a laser range-finder, which was how I knew the target building was exactly 217 metres away.

The theory behind this kind of attack was very simple. A jet would come in from behind me, roughly in line with the beam from the LTD, but low, the other side of the mountain, out of sight and sound of the factory. When it was about nine or ten miles away, the on-board computer would tell the pilot to pull into a steep climb. At just the right moment he would let go of the Paveway, very much like bowling a ball underarm. By the time it had cleared the mountain, the jet would have turned and be on its way home.

The Paveway wasn’t so much a missile as a standard 2000-pound lump of metal and explosive, with some fins strapped on its tail. Once it had been lobbed, the nose-mounted detector would look for the laser beam splashing on the target, lock on, and freefall to the target. This man-in-the-loop technology was all very well, but as I watched the soccer match, hoping I wasn’t going to fuck up and become their next ball, I wished someone would hurry up and invent no-man-in-the-loop technology.

I had to be this close because of the mountains behind me. When the LTD fired its laser, the beam would break up at the point it hit the target, giving the splash the Paveway would be looking for. Had it been aimed down at an angle from high ground, there would have been less splash, and the Paveway might have trouble locking on as it came over the mountain. I had only one chance of getting Mladic. To maximize the splash, I had to aim the laser at as near to a right angle to the target as possible, which meant being virtually on top of the factory – in fact, in tactical terms, close enough to spit on it.

I checked again that the alloy tripod was nice and solid. I had filled three plastic bags with mud and slapped them over the legs to keep the beam constant and stable. If Mladic was to get hit in the building, the Paveway’s fuse would be set to delayed, to make sure it penetrated the brickwork before detonating. Paveway had what was called a ‘circular error probable’ – in other words, circumference of fuck-up – of about nine metres. If I was out by three, the bomb could be out by twelve, but pinpoint accuracy wouldn’t matter too much today. The full blast of 945 pounds of tritonal would rain the steel casing down on him, and even I’d have to get my head down.

I’d taken a pair of badly made and cumbersome black nylon gloves from a body at the roadside. I pulled one off with my teeth and reached into the top pocket of the Gore-Tex suit for another two Imodium. I tried to time my bowel movements for the night.

The sound of engines rumbled up the valley to my right. I raised the binos again as a convoy of mud-covered wagons with canvas backs lumbered towards the factory. There were six of them, civilian vehicles. They all looked as if they had seen a few winters. As they got closer, I saw the drivers were in Serb uniform.

They drove into the compound and turned. I saw heads, many in headscarves, bouncing from side to side, sandwiched between Serb guards. The prisoners weren’t just men and women. There were children too.


The Serbs who’d been sitting in the back, AKs over their knees, jumped down, smoking and joking with each other. The Muslim civilians clambered out after them, scared and bewildered, wrapped in blankets and all sorts against the cold. Their breath hung around them in a big cloud as they huddled together.

The bottle-washers stopped playing football. There was a new game in town. They left the head where it was and ambled over towards their weapons.

More tailgates dropped and there was a lot more shouting. Children cried as they were wrenched from their mothers and herded out of sight behind the office block. The remaining men, women and teenagers were split into groups. It was not looking good.

This was the third job with Paveways I’d been on since the end of August. The theory was that if you wiped out the Serb command, the troops would dissolve into chaos and the Muslims might stand a chance against the fourth largest army in Europe.

The first two principals I’d hit were colonels in charge of ethnic cleansing brigades. I’d heard the horror stories. The Serbs moved in after the shelling and rounded everyone up. The men would get separated, then they’d get dropped. Then the women and children were brought forward and despatched alongside their husbands and fathers. Anyone unfortunate enough to be female and between the ages of about fourteen and thirty was raped, often repeatedly. Some were killed during the assaults. Many were held until they were at least seven months pregnant before being released.

Others were sold into the sex trade, exchanged for cash and drugs with the traffickers who follow all wars and do business with both sides. A white girl could be worth up to fifteen thousand dollars these days.


I checked my watch. It would take the Serbs a good half an hour to sort out the prisoners. If I called in the air strike right now, some of these people might stand a chance, if they survived the blast. It was worth a shot; as things stood, most of them were going to die anyway.

As I watched a 4x4 bouncing along the track towards the factory, I wanted to reach for the beacon big-time. But my hand didn’t move. That wasn’t the mission. I was here to take a life, not save it. It was not the best of choices, and I knew I’d be waking up in a sweat at three a.m. for the next few weeks, feeling a low-life for not having done anything but, fuck it, we all had to die some time. I just wished I wasn’t the one with his finger on the button.

The segregation was almost complete, except for one boy’s mother arguing with a soldier. The bottle- washers were kicking her, trying to pull her son away from her and put him with the men. She begged and pleaded, holding on to the boy for dear life. He didn’t look much older than thirteen.

My view was blocked for a second by the arrival of the 4x4, an unusually shiny Land-cruiser. The door opened, and out of it came a slight figure with a flowing beard, not very tall, who walked calmly towards the mother and son.

The man seemed to float across the mud. The Serbs couldn’t take their eyes off him. There was no begging, no arm-waving, the newcomer just held his hands in front of him and talked. I studied him through my binos. He was in his early to mid-twenties, and wore a Russian-style fur hat and a heavy greenish coat. His body language was confident. The bottle-washers seemed almost subservient to him. They stopped kicking the woman. She stayed on her knees in the mud, clutching her child to her chest.

The bottle-washers looked like they’d been told off at school. I couldn’t help feeling that the boy’s reprieve would be short-lived.

Beardilocks helped them to their feet and took them back to the group of women. The Serb guards even parted ranks to let him through.

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