to eighteen hundred metres. We can’t afford to miss that junction.’

I checked the G3’s mag, safety, and that the Thuraya was secure in the parka’s inside pocket. My feet were starting to freeze.

‘You ready?’


He wasn’t Nuhanovic any more, he was just a target. It had always been easier for me to think of people that way before I killed them.

Hood down, I set off fast along the track. If a vehicle came down the road I’d have to go noisy and take it on with the G3. If the target wasn’t aboard, we’d have lost him for sure, but what choice did I have?

Fir branches scratched my face as I pushed my way through. Trapped water cascaded down on me.

Every ten paces I stopped, holding my left hand behind me until Jerry jammed into it. We had to keep together in the dark. Conditions were good underfoot: soft pine needles kept the noise down.

I did another ten metres and stopped, butt of the G3 on the ground, leaning forward with both hands on the barrel as I rested, taking deep breaths and waiting for Jerry to bump into me. I was soaked with sweat under all the layers of clothes, and it dripped down my face, making the scratches sting.

This time he got up close, his panting, minging breath across the side of my face. ‘That’s just over eighteen hundred.’

‘We’ll go a bit slower now; eyes open for the track junction on the left, OK?’

I closed my mouth, trying to get some saliva going to help my dry throat, and pushed myself upright on the G3.

A few minutes later I was at the junction with the track up to the house. I stopped again and waited. Now it was going to be his turn to smell my breath. It was eerily quiet, not a hint of wind to stir the trees. ‘Count off five hundred this time, OK? After that we’ll cut right and work our way through the trees towards the boundary wall. I want to box around that checkpoint.’

‘Got it.’

We moved off again, keeping in the middle of the track. I had the G3 in my hands. There wasn’t time to move tactically, weapon in the shoulder. I just moved with my head tilted to the right, keeping my ear pointed along the track. My eyes were hard right in their sockets, staring into the darkness ahead, trying to see any movement, any light, any indication of bodies.

I stopped and listened every five or six metres, trying to take deep, controlled breaths. Sweat poured down my face. Eventually Jerry came up, his mouth near my ear. ‘Five hundred.’

I set off very slowly this time, weapon held at its point of balance in my right hand. The left reached behind for Jerry, making sure we had contact all the time.

About one fifty short of the checkpoint, I could still see and hear nothing. We could have played safe and cut right, into the forest, but that would have slowed us down even more. We’d just have to stay on the track for as long as we could.

Another twenty and there was a clanking of metal, forward and left. I froze. I could see nothing but black and then more black.


I held my breath and leaned forward, eyes closed, head tilted. All I could hear was Jerry breathing to my left.

Then there it was again, metal on metal.

I turned back to Jerry and pulled him slowly into the treeline. Fuck the mines. The target’s people were under the canopy the other side of the track, so that was obviously secure. If they hadn’t cleared this side, we’d soon get to know about it. If it was going to happen, it was going to happen. Maybe some of that fatalism shit had rubbed off on me after all.

I kept a grip on Jerry’s sleeve. Even a few metres’ separation could mean we lost each other, and it wasn’t as if we could just call out to regroup. Now was the time to slow down.

It’s so easy to lose any sense of direction in pitch dark, but I got a good marker from the occasional clank and snatch of conversation the other side of the track, which became clearer the closer we got. With luck we were going to hit the edge of the treeline soon, and there’d be a short stretch of open ground, then the wall.

I felt my way along, waving my left hand in front of me for obstructions, the right still holding the weapon. Jerry’s hand gripped the butt to keep contact.

I stopped when a branch blocked my way, took a few paces back or sideways, tried to move round the obstacle and not make noise. Now that I’d slowed, I was more aware of the scratches to my face. My salty sweat made them as painful as wasp stings. My sockless feet had blistered in my boots. My whole body felt as if it was boiling under all the layers.

I stayed focused, trying to keep my sense of direction. An engine started up to our left. I guessed it must be further up the track, the other side of the hedgehogs. I hoped it didn’t move. If it did, and up towards the house, I’d have to assume it was going to pick up the target. I’d have to get out of the trees and take it on. There’d be a gang-fuck with so many bodies about, and only nineteen rounds.

We came to the edge of the forestry block. I dropped to my knees and crawled the last two metres on my own. After the inky blackness of the canopy, the stars seemed as bright as the sun.

The wall facing me was the one running along the right-hand side of the compound as viewed from the track. The door into the family courtyard was about forty metres down it. Beyond the wall I could catch just the odd glimpse of terracotta rooftop. The three- or four-metre strip of rough grass between the wall and the treeline was white with frost. No vehicles or bodies had been along it tonight.

Somebody near the checkpoint had a bout of coughing. Maybe it was the exhaust fumes. The engine was still on, but the vehicle was stationary.

I moved back to grab Jerry, and together we followed the edge of the trees away from the checkpoint, towards the family entrance. We came level, and I inched forward.

I looked left. No movement from the checkpoint. Vehicle still stationary.

I moved over the grass, leaving sign in the frost. There was no gap between the doors, but maybe an inch and a half beneath them. I got down on my knees, then lay flat on the ground. The grass was icy against my cheek. I couldn’t see any light or movement at ground level. There wasn’t the perspective to see any higher up.

I got back on my feet and gave the doors a gentle push where they joined, just in case they were unlocked. As if.

I moved back to Jerry and knelt down next to him. We stayed like that, just inches apart, as I got out the Thuraya and powered it up, one hand cupped over the display.


I crawled forward a couple of metres, got a signal, and pressed Send on the new number. There was only

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