I double pressed to acknowledge. That was it. Precisely fifteen minutes from now, the Paveway would make contact. All that was left for me to do was switch on the LTD in eight minutes’ time, make sure I could hear the little motor start up, check the sight picture hadn’t been moved from the building, then splash the fucking thing before ramming both index fingers in my ears and getting my head down.

I heard shouting and lifted the binos. Beardilocks had swung back into action. He must have torn himself away from the rest of the prisoners, because he was now at the door of the building, remonstrating with a guard. Not many seconds later, the blanket across the door was pulled aside. Mladic appeared, his features contorted by rage.


The general’s BDU jacket was off, revealing an olive shirt with rolled-up sleeves. There was a towel in his hand. He combed back what was left of his grey hair and prodded Beardilocks angrily in the chest. The guy stood his ground, calm and collected. It was Mladic who was going apeshit. I was just waiting for him to take the pistol from his belt and discharge it into his head.

Beardilocks’ hat fell into the mud as Mladic struck him, but he didn’t even blink. He had a black skull cap underneath. He was either a very mad mullah or a very brave one.

He took the beasting completely calmly, just wiping the mud off his beard now and again with his right hand as he picked himself off the ground. Mladic was the frustrated one, still hollering and shouting, waving his arms about. His hair had lost its groomed look.

Mladic knocked the bearded man to the ground one final time, then stood, hands on hips, looking down at him. Finally he shouted something to one of the officers and, pointing at the track, disappeared back inside the building.

The officer moved over to a group of soldiers and barked a series of orders. They began to herd the prisoners together on the football pitch. An old woman bent and picked up the ball, cradling it in her arms. The bottle- washers just looked on, smoking, weapons hung loosely over their shoulders.

I got myself ready to hear the .50 cals open up to finish the job quick time.

Instead, something strange happened. Under Serb orders, the survivors started to shuffle back towards the trucks. Beardilocks stood by the door, waving for them to get a move on. Some paused to kiss his muddy hands.

I checked my watch. It was time. Whoever was driving those trucks had better get their foot down. I checked that the spring was holding the green cover on the objective lens in position. There was no need to worry about the sun giving away the hide today. I grabbed a sheet of toilet paper and wiped the lens again. I couldn’t lean forward enough to see the glass; I just had to hope it was clean.

I checked the viewfinder one last time, then tightened the adjustment screw on the tripod. It didn’t need it: it just made me feel better. We were set. I pushed the power button and listened for the gentle whine of the electrics. A small red LED told me the target was being splashed.

Just six minutes to go. The platform would be screaming in towards the mountain range now, keeping below the skyline, ready to pull up and lob its load.

I looked back at the building. The last of the trucks was leaving the compound. Two remained. They weren’t needed: their passengers were all lying in the mud. Beardilocks was still by the door, his gaze fixed further inside the factory compound. I followed his line of sight.

One small group of prisoners had been kept behind; maybe twenty young girls with their arms outstretched, clutching at each other. Their bodies jerked with sobs as one final victim was added to their number.

This time I felt a surge of adrenalin and my heart thumped painfully in my chest. I might not have recognized Zina’s face, but there was no mistaking my red ski jacket.


Beardilocks gobbed off at the blanket that covered the door, then climbed into his Landcruiser and followed the rest of the vehicles down the track. It looked like he’d got what he wanted. The group of girls was brought to the two trucks. I lay there willing the Serbs to kick Zina faster towards the fucking things.

I was wrong: not all of them were going to the trucks. Five were being kept back.

Serbs closed in on them. Two girls, no older than sixteen, were pulled away from the others and frogmarched towards the office block. Their legs slipped and slid in the mud as they tried to resist.

I got my binos on Zina. She was being held outside the building with another two girls. She didn’t cry as she watched the trucks disappear down the track; she wasn’t even looking frightened. She stood there with the kind of dignity I’d never had, or that I’d lost years ago doing this sort of shit.

There were screams from upstairs. Both girls had been dragged to the third floor. One was hanging out of a window-frame, her blouse stripped off, arms flailing. She turned her head, screaming and begging, her body jerking as the first Serb pushed himself into her. The other girl was getting punched and kicked for resisting.

I time-checked: three minutes to go.

Another loud scream from the third floor. I swung the binos up in time to see the first girl’s body land on top of one of Mladic’s 4x4s, mangled by one of the .50 cals. She didn’t move again.

Mladic pushed his way through the blanket covering the door and strode over to the new vehicle, pointing animatedly at the blood running down the side panels.

Get back in that fucking building!

The bottle-washers scurried around; two jumped on to the flatbed and dragged the body away. Seconds later another appeared with a bucket of water and a cloth.

Two Serbs poked their heads through the upstairs window and Mladic laid into them, pointing at the state of the wagon as he disappeared back inside. Thank fuck for that.

Over the last few months, I’d seen women’s bodies hanging from trees as the Serbs advanced. Suicide was often a whole lot better than survival.

Thirty seconds to go. I got my head down below the lip of the shell scrape, fingers in my ears, and started counting.

Five, four, three. I braced myself.

Two, one. Nothing. I counted another five seconds. Maybe I’d got my timings wrong. I checked my watch. Spot on. Maybe it was the LTD. I got my head up and checked. It whined gently. The red light was still illuminated. I checked the cap was still up – everything was right.

The target was designated. Where the fuck was the Paveway?


Two minutes passed, and still nothing.

I hit the pressle and her voice was waiting for me. ‘Blue Shark Echo, radio check.’

I spoke quietly, I didn’t whisper. Whispering always comes over as mush on the net, and in any case you always do it louder than you think; it’s better just to keep your voice really low and constant. ‘Blue Shark Echo. OK,

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