one ring before the monotone answered.

I talked normally, but kept my voice low. ‘It’s Nick. Get a fix: what’s the time to target?’

Monotone came back, ‘Eleven minutes, twenty-two seconds to target.’

Slowly and, I hoped, clearly, I began to explain the set-up of the house to him as if he was walking through the guest doors – the guest courtyard with its one-storey building dead ahead, and two-storey guest accommodation to the left, with the passageway into the family compound where the buildings met.

I checked after each detail with ‘Roger so far?’ I got back, ‘Affirmative,’ each time.

‘The target’s last location was the far right corner of the long building in the family courtyard. Roger so far?’

‘Affirmative. We have a fix on you. I repeat, we have a fix.’

‘Roger that. Wait out for the fire-control order: I do not have a target yet. This is not a weapons-free zone. You understand?’

There was a second or two’s pause. Then, ‘Affirmative.’

‘Roger that. Wait out.’

I kept the Thuraya switched on. I wanted to be able to pull it out, get a satellite, and start talking the moment we had the target. Until then, I didn’t want some colonel, or whoever was watching the screens in the operations room and making decisions, to go and hit whatever he saw on the other side of the wall because he was flapping about fucking up.

We needed to be well away from here when the Hellfires came calling. The target had to die. There was no margin for error.

The operators in the AWACS would be watching their screens, running checks on the Predators’ surveillance packages as Bosnia passed beneath them. The forward-looking infrared would be giving the operators a green negative of the landscape. Thermal imagers aboard the UAVs would be homing in on heat: the hotter the source, the whiter the image. Bodies would be picked out easily, even through the canopy. Just as important would be the LTD in the nose, and the feedback saying that the Hellfires were online and ready to go.

I crawled back to Jerry. ‘Listen, they’re here in about ten. The doors are locked. I need you to get over the wall and open them. I’ve got to stay this side. If that wagon comes to pick him up at the other doors, I’ll need to get down there with the G3.’

He started getting to his feet. I grabbed him. ‘When you get to the other side, you might not be able to open it, you realize that? It might be padlocked and then you’re in the shit unless you can get back over. You understand what I’m telling you?’

There was no point bullshitting him. We’d come too far now and he needed to know.

He put a hand firmly on my shoulder and looked into my eyes. ‘I’m already in the shit.’

He let go and started rummaging in his parka. ‘I think I’d better split these up.’ He handed me one of the cameras. ‘Just in case. It’ll make a little money for Renee. She’s with Chloe, at her mother’s in Detroit.’

I shoved it into my pocket.

‘She’s staying there until I get back from Brazil. You’ll find her. Give it to her. She’ll know what to do with it.’

We both started across the grass. I laid the G3 on the ground and got my back against the wall, eyes straining down to the right, towards the checkpoint. The wagon’s engine still turned over in the darkness.

I bent my legs and cupped my hands between my thighs. Jerry stepped back a little, positioned his right foot in them as a launch pad, and jumped up. I kept contact with his foot, twisting myself round towards the wall and pushing myself up until it was past my face. Then I held it against the wall so he had something to push against. He hooked his arms over the top, and seemed to stay like that for ages. I didn’t know if he was flapping, didn’t have the strength to get the rest of his body over, or had spotted something.

A few seconds later, he started to scramble over the wall and his foot left my hands.

I picked up the G3 and put my ear against the door just as he landed with a bump the other side. Almost immediately, there was the gentle groan of metal being drawn across metal.

The door opened very, very slowly. I let Jerry do it: he was in control.

As I slipped through and into the courtyard, Jerry closed it again behind me. He didn’t bolt it.

To my right, ten or eleven metres away, was the room where we’d last seen the target. The lamps were still burning.

Somewhere in the darkness, cooking pans clanged. To my left was the one-storey building separating the two courtyards. There were no windows this side of it. The first floor of the guest block, where we had showered, was completely dark.

I got the butt into the shoulder, flicked the safety on to single-shot, and positioned my trigger finger along the guard. Keeping Jerry behind me, I started to move towards the illuminated window. There was going to be nothing covert about this: there wasn’t enough time. I had no option but to open doors and look through windows.

I knelt beneath the window, to the right of the grime-covered frame. As I slowly raised my head, I could see the door to the left. I came up some more. The oil lamps were still burning where Jerry had left them. But the room was empty.

Even the meal things had been taken away.

I lowered myself, still butt in the shoulder, safety off, and began to follow the wall to the veranda and the door we’d gone through. No shoes outside; no target inside.

The kitchen noises were louder now, and joined by muttering in Serbo-Croat. The kitchen had to be behind one of the doors along the veranda.

My breath clouded around me as I stopped and listened. The muttering wasn’t from the target; it wasn’t that slow, deliberate, favouriteuncle voice. It sounded more like some old bottle-washer having a moan about the greasy plates.

I touched Jerry’s arm and pointed towards the passageway and across the courtyard.

I’d taken just a few steps when I heard an engine. A vehicle was approaching the house.

Fuck the noise. We ran for it.


I grabbed the door handle and we legged it down the corridor. My left hand was out, ready to make contact with the door at the other end. I got there; took a breath, listened. There were voices the other side, four or five of them. The vehicle was static, but not in the courtyard.

Trying to block out the sounds of our breathing, I put my ear to the wood, my right hand firmly on the pistol grip, safety catch still off, trigger finger still across the guard.

The voices were urgent and low. None was the target’s. Then his gentle tones sparked up, calming everyone down.

The engine noise got suddenly louder. The gates must have been opened.

‘Stand by.’

I fumbled for the handle with my left hand. My fingers closed round it and I pulled back. The headlights were blinding.

I made out a mass of bodies in the beams, shrouded in their own breath and exhaust fumes.

From just two feet away a body loomed in front of me, weapon coming up. I fired; he went down. His AK clattered across the threshold.

There were screams and shouts from near the vehicle. The driver revved the engine. Weapons came up into the aim.

I just blatted away, single shots at anything that moved, then into the vehicle.

Shit, it started moving.

Rounds came back at us, taking chunks out of the plasterwork that sandblasted my face.

I turned and legged it down the corridor. Jerry grabbed the AK from the floor, its barrel dragging behind him

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