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Authors: Matthew Palmer

The Wolf of Sarajevo

BOOK: The Wolf of Sarajevo
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ALSO BY MATTHEW PALMER

Secrets of State

The American
Mission

G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS

Publishers Since 1838

An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street

New York, New York 10014

Copyright © 2016 by Matthew Palmer

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

eBook ISBN: 9780698196001

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Palmer, Matthew, date.

The wolf of Sarajevo / Matthew Palmer.

p. cm.

ISBN 9780399175015

1. Political fiction. I. Title.

PS3616.A3435W65 2016 2015025533

813'.6—dc23

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

This one's for you,
Mom

 

The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.

—J
OSEPH
C
ONRAD
,
Under Western Eyes

He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.

—F
RIEDRICH
N
IETZSCHE
,
Beyond Good and Evil

We have met the enemy and he is us.

—P
OGO

SREBRENICA, BOSNIA

JULY 12, 1995

PROLOGUE

I
t was mid-July, but the concrete floor of the old tractor factory was as cold as death. Meho Alimerović sat propped up uncomfortably along an outside wall, the heat from his body leeching slowly into the raw bricks. His head rested against a pitted metal sign that advertised in faded red letters the
SREBRENICA TRAC
TOR COLLECTIVE
.

His nose itched. There was no way to scratch it, not with his hands tied tightly behind his back with wire.

When the siege lines broke, Meho had sought shelter at the UN compound where the Dutch battalion of peacekeepers had their headquarters. The whole Srebrenica enclave was supposed to be a safe area protected by the United Nations. Hundreds of others had the same idea. The Dutch had shut the gates and posted guards to keep them out. There was no room at the inn.

Meho looked to his left and right. There were maybe four hundred of them packed in tightly like matchsticks in a box. They were men and boys, the youngest ones looked to be no more than twelve or thirteen. The women and girls had been separated and taken somewhere else. Meho shuddered to think about what was almost certainly happening to them right now, at least to the pretty ones.

His sister, thank god, was in Sarajevo with their parents. Amra worked with him. She was a journalist too and good with people and languages. But she did not have Meho's foreign connections or his ability to move through the siege lines that encircled Sarajevo like a hangman's noose. Amra had wanted to come with him to Srebrenica to get out of the open-air prison that was Sarajevo even if only for a couple of days. It was lucky that he had said no. If they had taken his sister, it would have made him insane. He would have fought his well-fed captors with their shiny black guns slick with oil and sweat and he would be dead already.

As it was, death would wait. But Meho knew that her patience would not be tested today. Death would feast soon enough.

Why else would they separate the men from the women and children, with “men” defined very loosely to include boys just barely old enough to hold a gun? He could see it on the faces of their captors. They were little more than boys themselves, but their faces were set hard with the grim look of men who had an unpleasant but necessary job to do. And they harbored murder in their hearts.

The men holding them were not regular army, neither the Yugoslav National Army nor the Bosnian Serb Army. They were paramilitaries. Meho recognized the stylized lizard patches on their shoulders as the unit badge for the Green Dragons. Not as bad as
Arkan's Tigers, perhaps, but a close second. Bosnia was awash in paramilitaries, many of them appropriately enough named for poisonous insects or other creepy-crawlies. There were the Yellow Wasps and the Scorpions, the White Eagles and the Red Ants, New Byzantium and the Serbian Guard. Most were “weekend Chetniks,” regular guys with regular jobs who took a few days off every week or two to hunt men for sport and pillage defenseless towns for profit.

The various combinations of colors and animals were almost comical and certainly juvenile, like children playing with exceedingly dangerous toys. Under siege in Sarajevo, drinking smuggled coffee and liquor by candlelight, Meho and his friends would joke about imaginary groups like the Purple Cocks and the Gold Fish.

It didn't seem so funny now.

In spite of this, a single hot cinder of hope flickered in his chest. Eric would come. Eric would save him. Him if not the others.

Eric was his employer and, Meho hoped fervently, more than that. Eric was his friend. And his friend had friends. In the American embassy. In the UN system. In the Bosnian government. Even in the Bosnian Serb “capital” in Pale. Eric would come. Eric would save him.

The man pressed up firmly against Meho's right shoulder had bad breath and his clothing stank of onions and stale cigarette smoke. He looked to be in his sixties and was thin to the point of emaciation. It was hard to imagine that he posed much of a threat to the future of Greater Serbia, but there he sat, waiting along with the others to learn his fate.

To Meho's left was a teenager, fifteen or sixteen years old at the most. He was crying softly but trying not to let anyone see. Meho pretended not to notice.

A few men whispered to one another, their voices muted and indistinct. Most sat silently.

Meho shifted again, but no matter which way he turned, the wire seemed to dig even more firmly into the soft flesh of his wrist.

The older man to his right looked at Meho appraisingly.

“They won't kill us all,” he said confidently. “There are camps, like the ones the Germans and Croats used to have back in the last war. They'll send us to one of those. My father was in one of the camps for a while. It was bad, he said, but he lived. We will too.”

“I'm sure you're right,” Meho agreed in a voice lacking all conviction.

The older man seemed to reassess, maybe spurred by Meho's own doubts, maybe by his own fears.

“But just in case,” he said. “If you should make it and I should not, I have a brother in Sarajevo. His name is Emir Safetović and he runs . . . ran . . . a bakery in Ilidža. Tell him that Sulejman is buried somewhere in these mountains and that he should find my bones and bury them next to my wife.”

Meho nodded, confident that this was a message he would never have the chance to deliver.

“Is there a message you might have for someone?” the old man prompted him. If it was a fair trade, it would not be such bad luck. It was a small enough kindness that Meho could offer him.

“Tell my sister Amra Alimerović from Vratnik that I love her.” He paused, thinking seriously about what he would want to leave behind. “And I have a friend, an American named Eric. Tell him something for me.”

“Yes.”

“Tell Eric . . . tell him that it's not his fault.”

“And he will understand?”

“Yes, he will.”

The old man leaned toward Meho as though he wanted to shake hands to seal their pact, pulling up short when he remembered that his hands were bound.

The metal doors on the opposite wall swung open with a loud crash. A tall, broad-shouldered man swaggered through them onto the factory floor. His black jumpsuit was starched and creased. The pants legs were tucked into black leather boots that gleamed with a fresh coat of polish. The butt of an automatic pistol protruded from a low-slung tactical holster strapped to his thigh. His face was obscured by an emerald green balaclava, and as ironic as it seemed to Meho that he would recognize a man by his mask, there was no doubt as to his identity. At that moment, whatever hopes Meho might have harbored for salvation were extinguished. The old man was wrong. They would all die that night.

This was Captain Zero. Commander of the Green Dragons. The Butcher of Bijeljina.

Captain Zero was a sociopath of the highest order, with a reputation for cunning as well as ferocity. The Dragon was also something of a firebug. Arson was his calling card and the balaclava was his trademark. As far as Meho knew, no one had seen the captain's face. No one had taken his picture. A few in the foreign press had speculated that he was scarred or deformed in some way, like the Phantom of the Opera, but no one knew anything for sure.

The captain walked up and down the line of captives, assessing them as though picking out the choicest cuts at the butcher shop. They were not men, only meat.

Zero stood in front of Meho in what was approximately the middle of the room. And then he did something that scared Meho more than the time a sniper's bullet had whipped inches past his ear and shattered the window of his car.

He took off his mask.

It was a death sentence.

Meho tried to look away, but he could not. He was trapped by the Dragon's gaze as neatly as the little tailorbird had been hypnotized by the cobra in that Kipling story about the mongoose. The captain was no more than two meters from Meho, and his eyes were so dark that they seemed to be made up of only pupils with no visible irises. To Meho, they looked like two polished onyx marbles.

The eyes were mirrored by a shock of thick black hair. Beyond that, Captain Zero was perfectly ordinary-looking. The kind of man you might see waiting in line to buy bread at the bakery or a coffee and pastry at the corner café. Just a man.

Captain Zero offered Meho a reptilian smile and an unspoken communication.

I am going to kill you tonight,
he seemed to say.

I know,
Meho thought back. His pulse hammered behind his eyes.

Captain Zero turned to his lieutenant, the man who had seemed to Meho to be in charge before the paramilitary leader had arrived.

“Get them up and outside,” Zero said.

Uniformed thugs rousted the captives and lined them up, marching them outside into the cool dark night.

The low growl of a diesel engine got louder as they moved through the woods. Emerging in a field, Meho saw a yellow backhoe
digging a long trench in the earth by the light of the moon. The trench looked just wide enough for a man to lie down in. A grave.

There were other trenches, Meho saw. And other groups of men and boys. Thousands of them gathered in the dark to be slaughtered like spring lambs.

The rest of Meho Alimerović's life was a blur. He was lined up with the others alongside the trench as the Green Dragons began to execute their captives.

Captain Zero did his part with the pistol from his thigh holster. As the paramilitary leader worked his way murderously down the line, Meho measured his life in gunshots. He would be dead in eight gunshots.
Seven. Six.

He thought about running, but that would be both futile and somehow undignified.

It's not your fault, Eric. I should have known better. I shouldn't have come.

Five.

Four.

There was a man on the other side of the trench holding what looked to be a video camera. Who would want to record something like this? It was a snuff film on an industrial scale.

Three.

Two.

The man to his right stiffened as the captain put his gun to the base of the man's skull and blew a hole through his head. He tumbled forward into the trench, needing only someone to place his feet in the shallow grave with all the others before he could be bulldozed under.

One.

Meho could feel the hot steel of the gun barrel burning the hair and skin on the back of his skull as the captain bade him farewell.

“Good night, Turk,” he whispered.

Zero.

BOOK: The Wolf of Sarajevo
9.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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