I’m OK. What’s happening? There’s no strike. No strike, over.’

‘That’s a no strike, no strike.’ It was like she was taking an order at McDonald’s. ‘Wait out. Wait out.’

She obviously didn’t know what was happening either, but I couldn’t wait long for an answer. I needed to conserve battery power on the LTD in case I was going to have to stay here and redesignate.

The pause was taking too long. It was six minutes now since the attack should have happened. Renewed screams and cries for help came from the office block. The voice sounded different. The girl must have been replaced.

I was just about to hit the pressle again when she came back on. ‘Blue Shark Echo, Blue Shark Echo? Wait out, wait out.’

This wasn’t good enough. ‘Do I still designate? Do I have a platform?’

All she did was repeat, ‘Wait out.’

What was I supposed to do? I kept the LTD running. Why the fuck couldn’t Sarajevo get their act together?

I caught a blur of red in my peripheral vision and swung the binos.


Almost simultaneously, there was a yell from the right of my field of view. Zina was making a break for it. The remaining girl outside was on her knees, hands outstretched, screaming out to her. The Serbs just laughed and nonchalantly unslung their weapons from their shoulders. Their fun was just beginning.

I silently willed the Paveway to come tumbling out of the sky.

Zina scrambled across the open ground, slipping and sliding in the mud. The ski jacket was suddenly a sentence of death: it was going to make an easy target in the gloom.

Zina tripped and fell into a large puddle, then scrambled to her feet, face and hair dripping, and carried on running. She switched direction, making for the treeline. She was heading straight towards me.

The Serbs hadn’t fired a single shot. Maybe she was still too close to them, not enough of a challenge. I could hear them laughing and joking with each other; it looked as if they were trying to work out who was going to have first pop.

She was getting closer to me. I could hear her sobbing.

The first shot rang out. It missed. I didn’t see where it landed but I heard the thud somewhere in front of me.

Zina kept coming. There was another shot. Missed again. More laughter and jeering from the Serbs.

There was another shot, then another. They pounded into the mud in front of the hide. At this rate, it was only a matter of time before the LTD took a hit. Zina was no more than ten metres from me now, five. Then she saw me. Confused, she stopped, looked around, started to run again. There was another shot. She took it in the back and fell directly in front of me. Mud splashed through the cam net on to my face.

She managed to raise herself on her elbows and tried to crawl the last few feet towards me, her eyes begging me for help. I couldn’t do anything but look back at her, hoping the next round would kill her and stop the pain before she compromised me. Another couple of rounds rang out in quick succession. She jerked forwards, almost landing in the hide. She gave a whimper, then a gasp. Blood trickled from her mouth into the mud just a few feet in front of me. The entry wounds in her back steamed in the cold air.

I heard clapping and a few mocking cheers. Someone had won the bet.

I wondered how long it would take them to stop the backslapping and come to check her out. All it would take was one of Mladic’s boys getting busy with his binos.

I didn’t move an inch. I felt her lifeless gaze bore into me.

There were no sounds of feet splashing through the mud towards me, just more laughter from the Serbs and more screaming from the girl in the upstairs room 217 metres away.

Another shot was fired and Zina’s body jolted as she took the round. Good; it looked like they were going to save themselves the journey.

Then I realized one of her legs was splayed across the LTD’s line of sight.

I couldn’t hold the LTD: it had to be braced firmly on the tripod. I checked the field of vision to the right of the shell scrape, thinking I might be able to re-site it, but there were too many bumps in the ground. It had to stay where it was.

Besides, I’d run out of time.

I would have to clear the body.


I kept very still in case they were watching her, ready to take another pop. But I had to get my head up. The target had to be splashed. I raised my head millimetre by millimetre, and looked over the lip of the shell scrape.

Zina’s blood had stopped steaming in front of me and was already congealing in the mud. Her leg was still blocking the line of sight of the LTD.

The Serbs’ attention was back on the three surviving girls, two on the third floor and one still outside. Now was my chance.

I crawled out of the rear of the hide as the cries of anguish and despair continued from the top window. Taking care not to disturb the cam net, I inched forward to the left of the hide. Camouflage wasn’t a problem: the sniper suit was already caked with mud.

After five feet of crawling I was able to reach Zina’s leg with an outstretched hand and pull it towards me. Her skin was still warm. I had to be careful now: too much movement and one of Mladic’s boys might notice a difference in the body’s position, even if it seemed they had other things on their minds.

I crawled back into the hide and checked the viewfinder. The LTD had a clear line of sight once again on to the target.

The exertion had warmed me a little, but now I was static again the cold renewed its attack. I picked up the binos.

The last girl was being dragged into the building. Mladic stood in the doorway, his ugly fat face creased in a grin. I longed to plant a high-velocity round right in the middle of his greasy forehead. After a while he turned and went back inside. Maybe it was time to push his way to the front of the queue.

There was nothing I could do but wait as the girls’ screams and sobs rattled around the building. What the fuck was happening? Where the fuck was that platform?

I checked the viewfinder once more, but I had a sinking feeling deep in my guts. Who was I trying to kid? The strike wasn’t going to happen. Mladic and the rest of his bastards were going to get away with this. And they were going to live to do it another day.

Zina’s eyes stared back at me. They were no longer clear and bright, just vacant and drab like everything else around her.

Fuck the Firm, fuck Mladic. I should have called in the Paveway as soon as she’d turned up.


Washington DC

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