Authors: Gerald Seymour
Even where I stood in the trees behind the tape I could hear - and I have bad hearing - the growling of the dog. The men were more I l ightened of the dog than of the mines. Each metre they advanced in their corridor, before they stopped, the growl of the dog was more threatening. They said they would go no further unless the dog was shot, and one of them was sent to the village of Ljul to find a gun to kill the dog - the Serbs have many guns, they have not changed. I have worked with dogs all my life, a good dog is as important in my life as my children or my wife. I went down the corridor to where the men were with the lamps and their iron sticks. I talked to the dog. A rifle was brought from Ljut, but I gave my word that the dog would not hurt the de-miners. I saved the dog. We reached him. The dog was beside him and Joey had his arm over it, he held the coat of the dog. It is a good dog. It is of little use for work, but it is a friend . . . There should be a celebration tonight, because of the certificate, we should drink brandy until we can no longer stand - there will be no celebration. We are all honoured, sir, that you came.'
The farmer shook his hand, walked away with the dog, and was replaced at the queue's front.
He could not catch the name, so he wrote: Foreman (de-miner).
'He had lost most of his stomach and one of his arms and his right leg was very seriously injured.
There had been trauma and a great loss of blood. If we had been able to retrieve him quickly, within thirty minutes, then we might have saved his life, but he would still have required the amputation of his leg. I think, also, he may have been blinded but I have not seen any autopsy report . .. He confused me. Earlier that day I had met him and I had refused to move towards the man who was trapped in the field and had explained all of the dangers, and he had listened to everything I had said. Why did he then go into the field? Why did he wait until we had all gone, and it was dark, before he went into the field? I cannot say what drove him into the field . . . His life had gone when we reached him. We made this pile of stones where he was.'
At the ceremony, before he had abandoned it and had headed for the field and the cairn of stones, a certification of area cleared had been handed by the de-miner foreman to Kovac and Bekir, and the diplomat had murmured in his ear that the certification was good for ten centimetres in depth - enough for now. The couple presented themselves to him. He remembered her from the airport: 'With the kindergarten, am I?' she'd asked. Either she had aged or she did not wear the cosmetic blanket he had last seen employed, and four local policemen stood sombrely behind them.
He jotted the two names: PC Frank Williams (South Wales Constabulary), Margaret Bolton (surveillance consultant, SWC).
'We felt we had to come. We were a part of it, you see, a part of what he did here. And we found each other here, Maggie and me. We walked out on him, and we'll carry that to our graves. I said to him, at the end, that we were disgusted at what he was doing. I called him arrogant. I'm with the armed-response vehicles now. I do my shift, I check my weapons back into the armoury at the end of my duty, and I go home, but I don't take my work with me. I don't talk about winning and losing, as he did. Did he achieve anything, did he win?'
'Do you know, Mr Gough, what were his last words to Frank, when Frank ditched him? They were "Give Maggie my love" . . . If I'd been here, if I'd stayed, if I'd had to bloody well sit on him, I'd have stopped him walking into the field, but I didn't stay. I'm a consultant now. I lecture on surveillance practices and develop equipment, then I go home to Frank and we have a little meal and we don't talk about what happened here. But he's with us. I see those damn great stupid spectacles, and his kid's grin . . . What's the worst, he didn't want us to stay with him .. . We were just in the way. It was personal, it was between the two of them. I'm glad it was here, in a rather lovely place.'
The man who marched forward had irritation on his face as if not used to standing patiently in a queue
. . . He felt he was the bereaved relative at the chapel gate. He sensed that this was a mourner who had travelled from Sarajevo more because of a slack day's diary than a degree of loss. The name was rapped at him. Was he supposed to know it? He did not. He wrote: Benjamin Curwin (SIS, attached to United Nations Mission to Bosnia-Herzegovina).
' I hear they booted you out after the fiasco. Well, it was all rather childish, wasn't it? I'd have thought an organization like yours would have known how to keep its people on a tighter rein . . . I told him he was, quote, "a fucking nuisance here", unquote, and interfering - I told him to do his investigation someplace else because he was upsetting the cart . . . Serif's empire still stands and his reputation is augmented by the rumours that he possesses NATO anti-tank weapons, and a communications system we can't decrypt. His tentacles still reach into the body politic, he still owns the government, but it's harder for us to track his dealings . . . Not all gloom. I was in London last week and heard the latest on your old target. Very far from gloom. You're out of the loop now, so you won't be up to speed. Packer reached Sarajevo, hijacking vehicles en route at gunpoint, then holed up there for a couple of days with some UN woman, before moving on - she treated some nasty dog bites on his arm. Now, he's living like a Trappist in northern Cyprus. I would have thought the Scrubs or Wandsworth would be preferable. We monitor him there. He's in a villa up a hill between Kyrenia and Ayios Amrovisios, courtesy of the Turkish Cypriots -
the word is it's cost him five million to square them and that awful hood from the mainland, Fuat Selcuk.
He's a busted flush. His wife came out to join him, stayed a month, then went home - she's now with her mother. They say his major subjects of conversation, when he can find anyone to talk to, are the price of tomatoes, the quality of the water supply and the frequency of the power-cuts. I heard he'd been ripped off rottenly by his new number cruncher . . . not all gloom. He's behind a big fence, sirens and electronics and lights - must feel quite like gaol. Don't get me wrong, I rather liked your man - a prig, but he had guts.'
A hand was offered, for shaking, but he continued writing his notes, and didn't take it. He had feigned indifference when told of Albert Packer's situation.
What he had learned since he had left the Church was that the highest and thickest wall imaginable separated serving officers from former officers. His status had gone with his identity card. He had received, in exchange for current reports and assessments, a carriage clock, a decanter set, and enough whip-round cash to purchase a ride-on mower. On his last day at the Custom House, before sherry with the CIO and the pub session with Sierra Quebec Golf, he had headed the meeting where the Crown Prosecution Service solicitor had pitched cold water on the prospect of a successful prosecution of 'Atkins' without the evidence of Joey Cann (deceased). The little queue had gone, and he put away his pad and capped his pen. He turned and laid his hand on the heap of stones. The diplomat had stepped back, as if understanding his mood. The funeral, down in the West Country, had been private; the family had requested that the Church did not attend, and it had not been disputed. There would be no plaque carrying SQG12's name and his dates in the lobby of the Custom House:
'Clear defiance of instructions, can't have that . . .
Broke all the rules in the book, made a mockery of the m a n u a l . . . Brought it, let's not muck about, down on his own head . . . Put up a memorial and we send a message to future generations that we sanction personnel operating outside legality . . . It was a vendetta, unacceptable behaviour.' There would only be the stones in the valley. He heard the approach of the car, and the diplomat touched his arm. A Mercedes limousine approached, hugging the hammered-down ruts dug by tractor wheels. The doors opened. A sleek elderly man helped a young woman into a wheelchair, and bumped the chair towards the cairn. He had not seen them at the village ceremony. She held a small posy of flowers. He felt a wearying sadness. A spit of rain was falling.
He took out his notepad again, and wrote down their names: Judge Zenjil Delic, Jasmina Delic.
'We had a choice to make, the present or the future.
We chose to safeguard the future.'
'He bought me flowers . . . Before we rejected him I showed him the old burial stones in Sarajevo. On one was written, "I stood, praying to God, meaning no evil, yet I was struck to death by lightning." It is good that they have put stones here, where the lightning struck . . . I return his flowers.'
She gave him the posy of alive strident colours. He leaned forward, and down, kissed her cheek, then laid the flowers at the foot of the cairn. He stared at the heaped stones. Some had dried earth on them and some were covered with lichen. He heard the car drive away over the field. He felt a crushing weight of responsibility. They had all told him he was not responsible - the CIO had said it, and the team had clamoured it, and his wife had sought to persuade him of it - but he knew what he had done . . . Or had there been, in that valley, a young man's fulfilment?
The diplomat coughed, then said quietly, 'If you're to catch that flight, Mr Gough . . . '
He looked around him. He saw the fields, ploughed and grazed by livestock, and a vineyard of new posts and new bright wire, and the wooded slopes, and the gold of the leaves on a big mulberry tree, and the smoke from the villages' chimneys, and the river, and he thought it a perfect place, a place of peace. He took from his pocket the little knife with which he cleaned the inside of his pipe bowl, and opened it, and knelt beside the cairn. He chose a large stone, scratched the words on it, and wondered how long they would last against the weather.
CANN do - WILL do.
The words, above the flowers, glimmered back at him. He turned on his heel.