Cervantes was quite satisfied with how well things had gone. Three attacks in four days, all carried out faultlessly, creating exactly the effect Madrigal had wished for. The effort involved in exercising such control would not have been wasted on Lubomir Uka, whom he had traveled to the Macedonian city of Skopje to meet. He didn’t think his optimism about reaching a settlement was misplaced; while there was no doubting the Kosovar’s ability to use violence when it was needed, it had taken more than mere bloodlust to get him to where he was today. Uka kept a close eye on all areas of their operations and stamped out any activity he viewed as inconsistent with the long-term goals he had defined. While he may have been willing to approve some speculative forays against the Alliance, Cervantes could not see him pursuing it any further. The Kosovar chief had to see that a continuation down the road they were on would be disastrous for everyone. This was not to say he wasn’t nervous; a certain amount of negotiation and diplomacy was still required.
He was relieved of his firearm before being granted access. His companions were instructed to wait in the courtyard outside while he headed in alone. Regardless of his confidence concerning his task, he felt quite vulnerable when he was led into the darkened study. Uka, seemingly oblivious to his arrival, sat behind a large desk studying a photograph under a lamp, which provided the sole source of illumination. Guards stood around the perimeter of the room as motionless as statues. He yearned to get this over with, and his discomfort grew as the silence dragged on. Finally, Uka placed the photograph face down on the desk and looked up at him. In his late forties, with dark skin and a slightly receding hairline, he possessed a natural air of authority.
“I’ve been told that you want to deliver a postscript to your actions?”
Cervantes found something in the casual tone of the question off-putting, but there was no time to dwell on it. “Lubomir, we regret the action we’ve been forced to take, but we had no alternative. We want to put this dispute behind us and resume working together for mutual prosperity. I hope you’ll see how sincere we are from the restraint we exercised.” He had mentally rehearsed what he wanted to say again and again, but now that the time had come, he was annoyed with himself. Rather than the calm, measured delivery he had hoped for, the words had tumbled out.
“Restraint? Please elaborate, so that I’m sure I can draw full comfort from this control you exercised.”
He recognized that Uka was determined to make him spell it out and in the process make it as uncomfortable as possible. He was obviously put out over the targets they had hit and would not admit their relative unimportance. He hadn’t expected such petulant behaviour; the Kosovar had always struck him as a wholly pragmatic man. Still, if a satisfactory resolution required his dignity to be slightly compromised, he could deal with that.
“We know that the attacks caused some financial injury and unavoidable bloodshed. It was the last thing we wished for, and we want to stress that we don’t see any need for further action. We want this to end here. You must see that if we truly sought to do real injury there were other targets and …,” Raul hesitated, “… personnel we could have singled out.”
“So you targeted only what you felt was necessary to make a point? Am I to infer from this that the victims of the attacks were considered token and that I should be grateful it wasn’t much worse?”
He wondered why Uka was putting such an emphasis on the elimination of some hired guns. He was all for the use of diplomacy to smooth ruffled feathers, but the Kosovar was being churlish. He had agreed with Madrigal that the meeting might get fairly heated and that harsh words might be exchanged, but they had anticipated that any rancor would focus on more substantive issues, like the damaged supply lines or lost inventory. Perhaps this was a negotiating tactic. If he complained strongly about the loss of contracted labor, he might think he was building a case for compensation on the material loss. If that was it, Cervantes realized he needed to adopt a stronger stance to illustrate that Madrigal’s desire to be reasonable had its limits. Uka was aware of Cervantes’ position and closeness to Madrigal; this awareness provided Raul with a degree of protection. Emboldened by this, he decided to be more direct in the hopes of getting the conversation back to where he wanted it.
“Lubomir, let’s be honest with each other: this could indeed have been much worse,” Cervantes said. “You know some of the people Luis has to deal with and their tendencies. Believe me, it’s a good thing that only Luis and I were involved in deciding what to target. It’s unfortunate anyone had to die, but frankly, these men can be easily replaced.”
Uka’s nostrils flared and his face trembled. He threw the photograph he had been studying out to land at Cervantes’ feet. The Colombian looked questioningly at Uka, whose stare bore through him. Stooping over, Cervantes picked up the photograph.
“Tell me again how I should be grateful for your restraint. I must be stupid or blind because no matter how long I look at this and the others, I can’t understand it at all.”
Cervantes was so riveted by the image in his hands that he barely heard Uka. A feeling of dread overcame him as he realized that Uka blamed him for what it contained. He had seen many dead bodies, and more than a few had died at his own hands, but the scene contained in the photograph was beyond anything he had ever witnessed.
“Who …. ?” Raul began.
“It’s clear to see what your intention was. You believed your visit, so close on the heels of Nisret’s torture, would have us cowering in fear,” the Kosovar shook with rage as he uttered the words, but then with a noticeable effort, quelled all outward signs of emotion. “The calculation was that the brutal slaughter would be terrifying. We would gratefully accept whatever subordinate role you’ve envisaged for us and be thankful that you stopped when you did. After all, if my cousin meant so little to you …. well, the object lesson hasn’t been wasted.”
He nodded his head and two of the guards drew their guns and fired. The bullets shattered Cervantes’ shinbones and he collapsed. The pain was unbelievable, and he struggled to retain consciousness as wave after wave of agony assailed him. Uka walked around the desk and looked down at the writhing Colombian.
“Please, this wasn’t us. You must see that?” Cervantes pleaded.
Uka wasn’t listening. “I’m saddened but not totally surprised. Madrigal obviously believes himself beyond our reach, unaccountable for his actions. Well, we’ll see.”
A second nod from Uka was accompanied by another explosion of pain as both of his knees disintegrated under the impact of the soft-nosed rounds. This time he did lose consciousness.
When he was revived, his suffering lingered for what seemed an eternity, before the next, final, release.
WINNER THE JOHN MURRAY SHOW / RTE GUIDE / KAZOO COMPETITION
A brutal conflict unleashed.
Who stands to win?
A bloody massacre at a Mexican heroin refinery; a Miami-bound freight ship hijacked for its cargo of illegal narcotics; the ruthless assassination of a Kosovar drug lord – a war has erupted between two drugs superpowers.
As DEA Agent Diane Mesi investigates she becomes convinced that the conflict is being orchestrated by an unknown third party. But she is marginalised by her colleagues and her judgement is challenged at every turn. Only if she can expose the truth will she be able to stop the violence and save her career.
Michael Larsen is an ex-soldier and hired mercenary who has been contracted to fuel the conflict at every opportunity until it destroys both sides. As he battles his own demons, he hopes that by directing the violence he will attain some measure of redemption.
But neither Mesi nor Larsen know the full extent of the forces at play or of what is truly at stake. As they each pursue their own resolution, the violence escalates and they become increasingly vulnerable to the dangers that stalk them.
Incitement won the John Murray Show / RTE Guide / Kazoo Competition from over 500 entries.
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Genre – Thriller
Rating – R
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