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Lunghezza:
382 pagine
6 ore
Pubblicato:
Jan 31, 2020
ISBN:
9781528984355
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

Born on the Serbian-Bosnian border and growing up in the Balkan conflict, Goran Marić is drawn into ethnic cleansing and making money for the generals by human trafficking of local women into prostitution. However, the war is now ending and he needs a way out. Tapping into a Greek criminal network, he forges a new and savage career, blazing a trail of misery and destruction across Asia. Flight Lieutenant Dave Mitchell, the newly qualified operative in RAF intelligence, sees some of his men die in a botched operation in Iraq. He vows that never again will he send men to their deaths and teams up with a CIA operative to build an intelligence network in the Near East. Little does he know that the danger is coming from behind him.
Pubblicato:
Jan 31, 2020
ISBN:
9781528984355
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Robert Hudson is a senior editor-at-large at Zondervan. With his wife, Shelly Townsend-Hudson, he has written Companions for the Soul, and with Duane W. H. Arnold he has written Beyond Belief: What the Martyrs Said to God. For several years he also edited the online literary magazine, Working Poet.com.

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Goran - Robert Hudson

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About The Author

Robert Hudson was born in a South Yorkshire coal mining village. On leaving school, he worked at the mine until he graduated in engineering at Sheffield. He went on to work as an engineer in the UK, France, Germany, Poland, Italy and India. It was in India that he started to write in an attempt to capture in words the amazing people and sights he saw every day. He now lives with his wife close to his family in the North of England.

Dedication

To Susan, 40 years of sunshine.

Copyright Information ©

Robert Hudson (2020)

The right of Robert Hudson to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with section 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.

Any person who commits any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales and events are either are the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.

ISBN 9781528984348 (Paperback)

ISBN 9781528984355 (ePub e-book)

www.austinmacauley.com

First Published (2020)

Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd

25 Canada Square

Canary Wharf

London

E14 5LQ

Acknowledgment

My thanks to my publisher and editor at Austin Macauley who were invaluable in putting this, my first novel, into publication. Thanks to Ruth Shaw for photography and Jenny Hudson for cover artwork ideas.

Prologue

For many years, the Soviets had hunted Rashid with Hind Mi-24 helicopter gunships, causing the ground to explode at his feet as he ran for the caves, but they only dared do this in the daylight. At night, the Russian pilots scurried back to their armoured bases to avoid the stinger missiles provided by American allies; at night, the country had belonged to the Mujahideen. Rashid had roamed the mountain paths at will, visiting villages and small towns to collect food and taxes, dispensing justice and setting IEDs against the cursed enemy for the next day. It had been a fair and honourable fight and the Mujahideen had won, the Soviets had fled Afghanistan and God had given the country back to the true believers.

It was near midnight and the cold drove Rashid to pull closer to the smoky open fire. The five men of his command huddling forward to catch the last of the heat as Poya, a boy of just twelve years, made sweet tea and gave out delicacies such as dried figs and apricots dipped in honey to the fighters. As they sipped their tea, they talked of the old days of raids into Kabul when they slaughtered Russians in the streets before fading away into the night. God is great and He watched over His children, – they were the chosen ones.

Unlike honey, the sweet taste of victory was fleeting on their lips as the rule of the Taliban was short-lived. Now, Satan sent a new enemy in the guise of old comrades, the Americans. The Americans who presumed that because they had been allies against the Soviets, they now had a right to tell true believers how to live, what was right, and what was wrong. Women should vote, girls should be educated and adultery tolerated. They set the word of their corrupt government above the word of God and this could not be accepted. Once more, the Mujahideen fought invaders, but this time it was not fair, it was not honourable. At least the Soviet pilots had risked their lives in battle like men, but the Americans played by other rules. Like cowards, they hid in filthy bunkers in the Las Vegas desert, commanding drones by satellite links, drones that could see better in the dark than they could during the day; drones that could kill as easily as they could see.

The troop had unrolled their prayer mats for Maghrib as the sun had set and God had protected them whilst they recited verses from the Koran. The fire was a risk, but so was everything. God had protected them before and He would do so now, Allah be praised. Rashid looked to the pinpoint stars and stretched his back as his old wounds reminded him that he was not long for this world, but for now it was time to move. The boy poured the remaining tea onto the fire and kicked dirt over it, the men shouldered their bundles and picked up their faithful AK47 rifles. Forming a line, they followed Rashid up the valley.

No drones watched them, no Hellfire missiles streaked out of the night sky, it was the will of God.

Command in Karachi had set the meeting up, it was Rashid’s task to rendezvous with a foreigner, to listen to his promises and make arrangements for a test. What this test was or how it would help God’s work, Rashid did not know. But as he silently trudged forwards, he thought that perhaps tonight, he would find out. The stony land rose as they entered the mouth of the valley, two kilometres further on, there was a small farm long ago abandoned, it was here an hour before sunrise where they were supposed to meet with the foreigner.

Rashid sighed, this farm had belonged to his son-in-law, but the Russians had scoured the valleys from the air and his daughter and grandson had been brutally killed. His son-in-law had been away, smoking the hookah in the local market square when it had happened, a craven who had left his wife and child to die at the hands of his enemies. Rashid had given him the gift of seeking the next life, perhaps he would fare better there.

Command said that the foreigner was to be trusted, he could supply modern weapons: Chinese assault rifles, American night-vision glasses, French tactical communication systems; and he could deliver straight into their hands anywhere in Afghanistan. Of course, buying weapons was not new to the Mujahideen, but they were usually old and worn out rifles from Pakistan, the Mujahideen having to pack them over the border themselves, losing men, weapons and mules in the process. This was a promise of modern equipment, delivered directly into the camps. If it were true, then this could make a huge difference.

As they approached the farm, Rashid sent out scouts to look for vehicles, tyre tracks or boot prints that might warn of a trap. The answer came back that nothing was disturbed, which could, in itself, be a problem. Had their contact not arrived? He thought about turning back, but the temptation was too great and warily, he walked up to the door of the farmhouse.

He was deep in sad memories as he approached when one of his men put his hand on Rashid’s shoulder.

Do not move, Father, you are in great danger.

Rashid looked at him curiously, he, himself, had heard nothing, seen nothing; then he turned to the door and saw his own reflection in the glass, there was a red laser dot on the centre of his forehead.

God is great, said Rashid loudly and consigning his life to the Almighty, he pushed the door open. Inside stood a man, perhaps of twenty to thirty years, short, stocky, with powerful shoulders and eyes like death. He lowered the laser-sighted pistol and stood silently.

Ayiee, whispered Rashid in Pashto, it is the devil who has come to help us.

Not the devil, said Goran in fluent Pashto, the devil does not bring gifts. He pulled a cloth off the rudimentary table to reveal seven H&K G36 assault rifles. Rashid’s eyes betrayed him as he stared with interest at the weapons. Although not new, they were far in advance of what he and his men carried.

A gift, one for each of your men, Rashid, even the boy, said Goran. That made Rashid think, how had this foreigner known who was coming? Or how many men were in Rashid’s group?

Many thanks to Allah for his bountifulness, replied Rashid, looking around the room. But our ammunition will not fit these wonderful guns.

They take standard NATO 5.56 mm rounds. Go and kill a few Brits or Americans, you will soon have ammunition enough, Goran replied.

Is this what you bring us? Seven rifles? asked Rashid, suddenly tired – perhaps this man was no different to the others.

No, I bring you the word of God, he paused. And the word of God is that the drones will fall from the sky, Satan will be blind and his fire will be cold for all time. Goran watched as Rashid’s eyes grew wider.

If this is true, then surely you are a son of the one true God.

Goran smiled inwardly; he had been called many things but never the son of God.

Chapter One

Goran

It’s two months before the baby is due, you need to keep the fire lit and make sure Magdalena has plenty of good food, the old crone said to Luka. It is getting very cold and soon, we will be snowed in, there will be no doctor coming this far up the mountain, so she needs to be strong for herself as well as the baby.

Goran was four years old and he was used to watching his father sit in front of the roaring fire, drinking Vodka whilst his mother cleaned, cooked and fetched water. He tried to help, he could fetch wood from the woodpile on the other side of the yard and he could sweep the floor, but always, he could see that Mama was tired.

Goran, you are a good boy, she would say, running her hand through his thick, dark hair, smiling down at him.

When Goran had been born, it had been spring, the sun had been beating back the snow, goats were being driven to higher pastures and the earth, the grass and trees smelled fresh and alive.

Has he a name? the old crone had asked after helping with the laboured delivery.

Magdalena looked at the wrinkled face resting on her breast and remembered her own father, long since dead, who carried the name of the tall one.

Goran.

The old crone smiled to herself, she too, fondly remembered the baby’s grandfather, although for different reasons.

Yes, it is a good name, he will grow up big and strong.

The village was called Cajetina, nestling in the mountain forest which straddled the Serbian border with Bosnia. There were ten wooden houses squatting along each side of the crushed stone road, with a mosque standing at one end and a church, with the tiny schoolhouse, at the other. Small farms and houses were scattered throughout the dense woodlands and children made their way through the tall trees to the school each day, carrying books, tied together with string and a piece of bread wrapped up in a clean cloth. If they were lucky, perhaps Mama had added a morsel of pungent goat’s cheese as a treat.

But now, four years had passed, winter had closed in and Magdalena was due to give birth to her second child. On Sundays, Luka would sit in the kitchen, drinking, whilst Magdalena dressed Goran in his best clothes for church. Mother and son never missed the service. So, after the sermon, the old crone looked around and could see neither of them. She thought to herself that she’d better call around and make sure Magdalena was all right. It was not too worrying because the baby was not due for another month but when she pushed open the front door, she immediately knew that something was wrong. Luka was snoring loudly in a chair with an empty Vodka bottle at his feet and the fire was cold. Magdalena was in the bedroom, gasping for air and writhing in pain. Little Goran stood to one side, watching her silently, unable to help.

Go fetch some wood for the fire, said the crone, shooing him out.

Magdalena, hold on, I will make a fire and then we will look and see what is wrong. It’s too early, she thought to herself, too early for anything good to be happening. She lit the fire and got Magdalena as comfortable as she could before examining her.

Magdalena, can you hear me? It is very early and it is breech. The baby is lying sideways and it needs to turn, you understand? Magdalena was sweating, her face was burning as hot as the wood in the fire. With a cry, she arched her back, gripping the bed with her nails before slumping back down on the mattress, exhausted. The crone shook her head, she would try. God knows she would try but this needed a proper doctor. And looking out of the window, she could see the deep snow drifts and understood that a doctor would not be coming. Minutes turned into hours, as the sun dipped behind the mountain peaks and things did not get any better for Magdalena. Luka woke up; still half drunk.

What’s she crying for?

I think your wife is dying, I have tried everything I can, but she is weak now, I do not think it will be long. Luka threw on his coat and stormed out of the house. By the time he came back with another Vodka bottle, Magdalena had passed and the new baby, with her. The crone closed her eyes and covered Magdalena’s face with a cloth.

Go with God, she muttered under her breath as she crossed herself.

She fed Goran with some oatmeal that she found on a shelf and after he had eaten, he stood by the bed again, staring at his mother. Luka sat by the fire and sobbed, and drank.

A year later, when Goran started school, people noticed the bruises on his arms and legs, sometimes a black eye. He never cried and he would not say how he got them.

He’s a clumsy child, insisted Luka when the teacher asked him, but she did not believe his excuses; he had turned into a mean father who was as fast with his fists as he was with a bottle. Goran grew up hungry, quick to steal and although he was quicker to run, it did not save him from regular beatings from his father when Luka was sober enough to catch him.

Then, at ten years old, Goran fell in love. Beautiful Saška was two years older than him, a Muslim girl who was tall with hair the colour of summer corn and eyes as clear and blue as a mountain stream. Goran would devise ways to walk past her in the classroom. She had the sweet smell of lilies and his heart would race as he passed close by. After school, he would hang about the yard and follow her home. Saška would taunt him mercilessly.

Goran, why are your boots too big for you?

Goran, you are a filthy Christian. You smell, when did you last wash?

He would run and hide behind the woodpile before crying in his shame and misery, but still he could not help stealing glances of her. Weeks passed and then months, his grandfather’s genes started to assert themselves and he grew taller and broader. He was no longer the runt of the class and after a fight with Saška’s brother in the schoolyard, some of the cruel taunts stopped.

Schooling, his father told him, is for the weak. A man should hunt for food and cut down trees for lumber to make a shelter. A man takes what he needs from the forest.

Goran desperately wanted to prove himself a man in his father’s eyes and when he was older, he would run off into the forest, sometimes for days, roving with his best friend, Petar, and four older boys. They would steal from farms, start fires and once, they caught an old man carrying a jug as he walked along the wooded path.

What you got there, old man? shouted Petar.

Please, it’s a jug of milk for my daughter, she has just given birth.

A baby, said Goran, he spat on the floor.

Please, I will just go.

Petar knocked the jug of milk from the old man’s hands and pushed him to the floor. They all carried wooden clubs that they had cut from fallen branches and the others started to beat him as he lay on the floor, sobbing and covering his head with his arms. Goran had stood back, wanting to run away.

Come on, said Petar. You are not scared, are you? Uncertain what to do, Goran watched; then slowly nodding, he stepped forwards and kicked the old man once in the back. Then again, and again.

Within a few minutes, the old man stopped moving and the boys became bored. He had blood streaming from his head and as they walked away, he stirred and started to crawl, lucky to escape with his life. He made it to the next village and told the policeman what had happened, he did not know the boys’ names but they were all from Cajetina, all Christians.

Come here! shouted Luka, slapping Goran soundly on the side of his head as he strode into the house.

Are you an idiot? Luka screamed.

Goran had the strength to fight back now, but he did not have the courage. Luka punched and pushed him across the kitchen to the table and started to unbuckle his belt. Luka smiled seeing the look of fear in Goran’s eyes. He doubled the leather up and raised his arm high, pausing before bringing it down across Goran’s back. Goran did not make a sound.

The police know. He’ll identify you and they’ll lock you up for years. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Goran tried to make himself as small as possible while his father lashed out at him time and time again. Eventually, Luka’s arm grew tired and he staggered into the corner where he sat nursing his bottle. Goran tried to stand but couldn’t. The pain in his back was the worse he had ever suffered, but it was nothing compared to what he was feeling inside. A small tight ball of burning hatred in his stomach, burning like acid and growing with the memory of each blow. It would not have been this way, he thought, if his mother had still been alive.

***

In 1992, the Bosnian Serbs rejected the referendum on independence. Officially, Serbian forces fought the Bosnian forces. Each trying to grab territory before a cease-fire froze boundaries into place, but in reality, it was also a war of old hatreds. Nurtured through decades of peace enforced by Soviet masters, the pressure had finally been released and in the countryside, militias roamed at will. At first, they had no uniforms and they carried shotguns or hunting rifles with which to settle old scores that went back generations.

Muslim bastards! screamed Christians as they set fire to a Muslim farm.

Christian devils! the Muslims shouted as they torched a church in retaliation.

Neighbours who had lived in peace for years now fought each other if they could; they ran or died if they couldn’t. Goran was with a Christian militia when Slobodan Milošević’s VRS started to use them to do the dirty work in a way they could later deny. Goran was a natural.

One day, an officer arrived with two trucks. He opened a case of automatic assault rifles and laid them out on the truck bed, lining the men up so they could see them.

Today, you choose. You choose to be men of Serbia. You choose to clean this good land of filthy swine to make it free for good Serbian settlement. Or you choose to go back to your farm, your village and wait like cattle for the slaughter. This will not be easy; these are hard times which need hard men. He paused to look deep into the eyes of the man next to Goran. You decide. If you are a good Serbian soldier, willing to do what is necessary for your country, step forward and take your weapon, if not, then go.

Well? he looked at the man at the end of the line who hesitated, then he walked up to the truck, picked up an assault rifle and stood at the other side of the road looking back at the ‘would be’ soldiers.

Good, and you? The next man was much older, mid-forties, at least. He looked around and shook his head. Picking up his hunting rifle, he turned on his heel and started marching down the road, away from his unit. The officer spat in the dirt and turned to Goran, saying nothing. Goran knew what was being asked, there would be mass graves, murders, wholesale slaughter. This was more than burning a mosque here or a farm there. He considered it for half a minute then looked the officer in the eye and nodded walking over to the truck. They were given uniforms and they hunted Bosnians like animals, making raids over the border and taking no prisoners. Then, things changed again.

New orders and a new officer. They still hunted along the border, but now they took selected prisoners. Goran was driving one of the trucks, his friend, Petar drove the other. They had a routine: at five o’clock in the morning, they would drive to within a kilometre of a village and stop, out of earshot. Half the militia would disappear unseen into the trees and throw a cordon around the houses. Then, just before daybreak, they would start the engines and roar into the village as people were eating their meagre breakfasts. It was always the same; people would come out to see what was happening, the women would scream and the men would look for any guns, knives or even farming tools that they had. Some would run into the woods, only to be herded back by the militia hiding there. Any men who had found a hunting rifle or shotgun were unceremoniously gunned down by automatic fire, the others were pushed and beaten with rifle butts in to a group in the centre of the village – women and children huddled in the middle, the men protectively on the outside. Goran would park his truck and light a cigarette whilst he watched the work. Standard procedure was to separate the men and older boys from the women, get them into his truck, then he and six armed guards would drive them into the forest.

He would follow a track for a kilometre or two and then turn into the trees. As driver, Goran could stay in the cab of the truck whilst his comrades processed the men, but he liked to join in; it felt good to be part of the group. The men were lined up and half a dozen shovels thrown on the ground. As they started to turn the earth, the rich smell of the soil and decaying vegetation would fill Goran’s nostrils and laughingly, he would shout.

Dig deep! This is your new home.

If any tried to run off the guards would shoot them in the back, taking bets on who could make the kill. Stakes were doubled for a single shot. When the trench was deep enough for the guard’s satisfaction, the boys and men were made to kneel on the edge and the militia would line up about ten metres behind them, the competition and bets starting again. In the early days, the guards would fill the grave in, or at least shovel some earth over the bodies to hide them, but now, they didn’t bother. Who was going to find them?

Back in the village, the younger women would be separated from the grandmothers and babies, weeping and crying as the soldiers pushed them towards the second truck.

Do not worry, you will see your fathers and brothers soon, you will meet them tonight. Petar would fire up the truck engine and the women would grip the sides as they lurched away; wailing and crying, not understanding why this was happening to them. The grandmothers and babes in arms were left to fend for themselves; the militia knew that they would not survive a winter on their own.

In March of 1993, Goran’s unit was on a routine raid as they surrounded the village of Ljubovija. They had the men and boys segregated from the women and children. As Goran smoked his usual cigarette waiting for his truck to be loaded, he could see a young Muslim woman close to the edge of the crowd. Saška was now nineteen years old and her beauty was striking. She was trying to get close to the group of men and Goran could see her brother had been separated with them. He went over and greeted her, a big smile on his face as he made sure the pistol on his belt and the rifle in his hands would impress.

Hey, Saška, remember me? he leered as he pushed his face into hers.

Goran, the smelly Christian, the dirty little boy. Not so little now, eh? He felt his heart beat faster when he saw the panic on her face. He reached out and put his hand on her shoulder, squeezing so hard she thought her bones might crack as tears welled up in her eyes. People started to look and Petar on the other side of the road grinned.

What is it, Saška? What do you want? he whispered, looking around. Ahh, you want him here? Safe with the children? She looked into his eyes, silently pleading but there was no mercy there, just an icy cold stare.

Yes.

I didn’t hear that, my Saška, what did you say?

Yes, she said, louder.

And the price, Saška, will you pay the price? You know what that is, eh, Saška?

Tears started to run down her face and over her cheeks. She looked around helplessly, but people turned away, they had enough trouble of their own and did not need more. In the end, she nodded; it was all she could do. He smiled at the faces surrounding them and took her arm, pulling her away from the group, leading her behind the church.

Please, she pleaded.

Without any warning, he balled his fist and hit her hard. Her head snapped to the side and she went down onto the grass, dazed, with blood streaming down the side of her face.

You fucking bitch, too good for the likes of me, eh? Too good for a Christian boy. He kicked her in her ribs and reached down. With one hand, he ripped the scarf off her head and with his other, he ripped open the front of her shirt. Her breasts were small, the cold made her nipples stand erect in spite of her fear. He hawked and spat down onto her chest and as the warm gob of spittle slid across her pale skin, he unslung his rifle and threw it to one side. He started to undo his trousers. Saška squeezed her eyes shut, sobbing uncontrollably.

It was less than ten minutes later when he led her back into the village. She had no tears left and she clutched her shirt across her chest as she stumbled; the blood that trickled down her legs left a bright red trail behind her.

Muslim whore! he screamed as he used the butt of his rifle to push her back into the women’s group. He wanted everybody to know her shame, what she had done, what he had made her do. He walked over to the captive men who were now loaded on his truck, waiting for him to drive off. Climbing onto the back, he found the teenager he had once fought in the school playground, pulled him to his feet and smiled over at Saška. Goran gave him a mighty backhanded blow which threw him across the truck bed.

No! she screamed and tried to run to the truck, but wiser hands held her back.

No, she sobbed as Goran climbed down to the cab, started the big diesel engine and drove away into the forest.

***

The militia officer liked Goran. He was good at his job, he only needed to be told once and it was done right, first time, every time. The officer relied on him more and more and when the villagers gave trouble, it was Goran who would quiet them down.

Do what you are told and your children will live, he would say. Sometimes it needed a blow from a wooden club, but one way or the other, they would do what was required.

It was hard work and the months dragged past. As snow clouds started to gather, the unit was on the road again, driving into a village they had visited before, hoping to pick up stragglers – those who had managed to run off the first time and were stupid enough to come back. In amongst the group of women was a boy of about eight years old. His grandfather had kept a revolver from World War II and the boy had taken it and hid it behind his back. When Petar started to pull at the boy’s sister, the boy hefted the heavy pistol from behind his back and using both hands to point it, he shot Petar plumb between the eyes. Four militia swung their rifles over and shot the boy point-blank range. The bullets threw his little body to the ground, killing an old woman and a three-year-old girl at the same time.

Shit, muttered the officer under his breath, but the damage was done – Petar was dead.

Burn the village, all of it, he said, wearily shaking his head as he thought that there was no profit in dead men. He looked up.

Goran.

Yes?

Do you want a special job? Something more important? Something more profitable?

There had been rumours. In the evenings, sitting around a fire drinking Russian

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