He leaned forward, fingers still together, elbows on the desk. ‘No need for profanity, son. What if I said you can’t leave? You know too much. That makes you a liability. What would you expect me to do about that? Motorcycles can be dangerous things, Nick.’

I stood up, leaving the cup on the carpet. ‘You can’t threaten me any more. What have I got to lose? Kelly’s dead, remember? My whole world fits in two carry-ons. What you going to do? Rip up my favourite sweatshirt?’

‘How about you coming back to work? I think you’re ready, don’t you?’

I turned to leave. ‘I’ll get out the apartment today, if you want. It’s in shit state, anyway.’

‘Keep the apartment. Use it to do some thinking in.’ George was as calm as ever. ‘This isn’t how the story ends, son, believe me. You’re just lonely right now. You’ll get over it.’


I sat staring vacantly at the Metro map above the head of the woman opposite, who was doing the same at the map above me. There was the smell of old margarine which had nothing to do with the train. I looked around, and suddenly realized it must be coming from me.

George was right. I was a liability now, and he would never make an idle threat. Fuck it, so what? If he wanted me dead it would happen, I had no control over that. All I could do was get on with what I wanted to do – and that was to get as far away as possible from being treated like a lump of shit. As bad as it was only having Kelly in my head now, it had sort of set me free. They couldn’t use her to threaten me any more. It was going to be a different sort of life now. I’d watched the re-runs of Easy Rider.

Dupont Circle was a few stops further on. Did Ezra know I hadn’t told him the truth about going to Bang Bang Bosnia? There were a whole load of things I’d either told various levels of lies about or withheld from him completely. Like my decision to bin the job, or that today’s session had been the last I was ever going to attend.

It made me wonder if shrinks just let you spout your bullshit, but have a good laugh behind your back at your self-delusion. Or maybe they did it over coffee and a sticky bun at shrink reunions in Vienna.

And then I thought: Why not go? It wasn’t as if I had anything else to do, and I’d got a few hours to kill before the Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt.

The carriage was about a quarter full, mainly families with tourist maps and digital cameras hanging round their necks. The kids looked excited, the mums and dads content. Shit, this was all I needed. George was right. I was lonely. But what he and Ezra didn’t appreciate was that I always had been, until Kelly had come along. Work – first in the infantry, then the SAS, then this shit – had seemed to fill the hole, but it never really did. It just helped me cut away from that feeling of exclusion I’d hated so much as a kid.

Now? I was back to feeling like a kid again. I had the same feeling every time I lay on the settee in the early hours of the morning, watching people on TV having relationships, families doing family stuff. Even the Simpsons shared something that I didn’t have.

I felt the same now as I had as a ten-year-old, bunking on the Underground all day to keep out of the rain, putting off going home and getting a beating from my stepdad just because the arsehole enjoyed doing it. It didn’t even get better if my mum saw him punching the shit out of me. She would simply deny it had ever happened and buy me a Mars bar.

What had hurt most was not having other kids to play with. I was the free-school-dinners, odd-socks-and- Oxfam-clothes kid. I used to spend days on my own just walking around, checking the coin returns in phone-boxes, waiting for when I was old enough to leave home without the Social coming looking for me.

Now I was back to square one. No work, no Kelly, and I’d closed the door on the only person I’d had to talk to, an ancient shrink with a helmet for hair. Anyone who’d ever come remotely close to being a friend had fucked me over or was dead. I looked down at Baby-G and played the break-dancer. At least now I had put a smile in my day.

I came out at Dupont Circle and wandered around trying to find the exhibition. This was supposed to be the gay area for DC, but all I saw were groups of Somalians and students from the university. In the end, I stumbled across it. Art Works had once been an upscale shop. Posters across the glass frontage advertised the show; I could see bright lights through the gaps between them, and a very hip-looking clientele studying wall-loads of photographs.

I pushed the door and went inside. One or two heads glanced in my direction. Very soon the main topic for the chattering classes of Dupont Circle was going to be the strong smell of margarine.

I counted maybe fifteen people, all looking as if the only clothes shops they knew were Donna Karan or Ralph Lauren. Everyone had what looked like an expensive catalogue in their hands. I thought I’d give that one a miss: I only had enough on me for teabags and a few jars of Branston.

No one was chatting. The loudest sound came from the air-conditioning unit that blew hot air down at me as I walked through the door. At a counter to the right, a woman dressed entirely in black was standing by a display of merchandise. Duplicates of some of the pictures were for sale. If you couldn’t afford the originals, you could take home a not-so-cheap souvenir. It made no sense to me. Who would buy it? There was nothing comforting about these photos. Bang Bang Bosnia was a collection of shots too honest to have made it into the Sunday supplements.

Immediately in front of me I saw black-and-whites of men dangling from trees after being hanged, drawn and quartered. Dogs pulling meat from the bones of a human corpse. A group of Serb infantry looking like they’d come straight from the siege of Stalingrad, swathed in white sheets for camouflage as they fought from building to building in the snow. The faces were gaunt, covered with grime, blood and bum-fluff. The eyes had the same haunted, hollow stare of frontline soldiers from the Somme to Da Nang.

I wondered about the kind of people who came to look at this sort of stuff. Suffering sold as art. It felt voyeuristic, almost perverted. What the fuck had Ezra been on? This wasn’t going to help me. Why would I want to see this shit? I felt myself getting angrier the deeper I walked into the gallery. But I couldn’t stop myself looking.

Art Works’ walls and ceiling were brilliant white. Small halogen lights played on each photograph, caption and price tag. I walked down the first pier of frames giving each picture a cursory glance. Villages getting burnt to the ground. Armoured vehicles driving over bodies. Some of the killing done by Serbs, some by Muslims or Croats. It didn’t matter in Bosnia: everyone just slaughtered everyone else.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe if more people did come and look at this stuff close up, they’d stop thinking of war as a PlayStation game.

The second pier was simply entitled ‘Children’. I wondered if this was what Ezra had wanted me to look at. I studied the first black-and-white, ten-by-eight plate under its perspex frame. A young woman, probably in her early twenties, held a baby in her arms. She was lying in the snow and mud at the base of a tree beside a road. It was obvious she’d been shot. There were bloodstained strike marks all over her, and splashes against the bark. Her eyes were wide open. She’d probably been sitting against the tree at the time she got hit.

This particular execution had been carried out by Muslims. In the background was a group of women, some with small bundles of belongings, being helped on to a truck by a man. Somebody had painted a white arrow on the bark just above the blood splash, and daubed the words ‘Chetnik Mama’. It was hard enough wondering why they’d shot her, let alone stopped to paint a message. What was even worse was that the Muslims hadn’t killed the baby: hypothermia had. I kept my eyes on the girl, staring into her eyes for clues. Had she stayed conscious just long enough for her to know her kid was going to die as soon as the frost arrived that night?

I rubbed a hand into my scalp and smelt it, wondering if the mother had been able to smell her child’s hair while taking her last breaths.

I moved down the aisle, drawn to a particular plate four or five shots along. A drab image, with a flash of red in it.

I stood in front of it and couldn’t decide if I should laugh or burst into tears. It was Zina, smiling at the

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