Authors: James Patterson
Joe picked up where he’d left off.
“Anna is sure the man she saw that morning was Petrović. She seemed credible, but I couldn’t know. Was she right? Or having flashbacks because of a man who resembled Petrović? I decided to vet her story and see if we should look into it.”
Steinmetz looked at his watch, then told Joe to keep going.
Joe said, “Almost done. Day after running into Sotovina, I met with her near the place where she’d seen this man. He appeared, coming down his front steps. I took his photo, but it was in profile, and his hand and phone obscured much of his face. He looked like the pictures I’ve seen of Petrović, but I couldn’t be sure.
“I reached out to Nguyen in Virginia to make the shot usable, and then I got a match. The man Sotovina saw is, in fact, Slobodan Petrović, now using the name Antonije Branko.”
Steinmetz’s eyes widened. Joe guessed he was alarmed
that Joe had gotten Nguyen involved without having a case number. Or maybe he was reacting to the frankly shocking news that Petrović’s ID and fake ID had been confirmed.
One thing seemed sure. Steinmetz couldn’t be happy that Joe had begun running an operation without clearance.
The branch supervisor shook his head, ran his hands through his hair, and swiveled his chair right to left and back again, settling in Joe’s direction.
He said, “I get the feeling there’s more.”
“Well, yes. Yesterday I followed Petrović into a steak house on California. I ordered lunch. Ten minutes later he comes out of the kitchen, and he’s clearly the boss. It gets worse. He made me from when I took his picture. And he connected me to Sotovina.”
“Oh, that’s just great,” Steinmetz said. “And after you choked on your steak, what did you do?”
Joe apologized. He couldn’t remember ever having to do such a thing professionally, but he knew making contact with Petrović had been a serious error in judgment.
“What I know now is that Petrović was tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the ICC and released. Now he’s living high and he opened this restaurant. According to police records, he’s been questioned twice in the last two years for associating with drug dealers but so far hasn’t crossed the line.”
Steinmetz said, “So you have nothing on him.”
“Not exactly nothing. I’ve confirmed that he’s a mass murderer using a fake name and flying as free as a bird in San Francisco. Craig, what’s he doing here? Do you know?”
Steinmetz didn’t answer, but he asked Joe a dozen
questions, all of them about Joe’s motive for taking on a possible career-ending flier outside the Bureau’s bounds and regulations.
He established that Joe hadn’t taken money or used Anna to advance his career, hadn’t betrayed the Bureau or the government, and had brought this off-road investigation to Steinmetz before going any further.
Steinmetz said, “Assure me that you’re not having a relationship with this woman.”
Joe said, “There’s nothing between us and there will never be.”
Steinmetz dotted some i’s on his notepad, crossed a couple of t’s, then turned off the recorder.
He said, “I’ll be ready to see the witness in a half hour.”
Anna had plugged back into her music when Steinmetz opened the reception room door and said, “Ms. Sotovina, I’m ready to see you now.”
Joe made the awkward introductions, then returned to his seat on the rigid sectional. He stared ahead through the wall-to-wall glass at a gray sky and replayed his meeting with Steinmetz. Of course, he hadn’t been able to read the supervisor’s mind. He didn’t know if he’d be working the Petrović case even if Steinmetz found Anna believable.
Joe had promised Anna he would get Petrović off the street, but even with a green light, it wouldn’t be easy. As far as he knew, Petrović hadn’t done anything criminal. Red-faced hog opens steak house: not exactly the crime of the century.
There was a good chance Steinmetz would shunt this investigation to the DC branch, and if so, Joe would have to roll with that and break his promise to Anna. This worried
him. She’d told him more than once that she would shoot Petrović herself. He believed her.
Joe read a left-behind copy of the
until Anna returned to her seat and Steinmetz asked Joe to come back in. They stood together in the corridor, where Steinmetz said without expression or inflection, “You’re approved to open a case on this suspicious person.”
Joe felt a surge of relief. Steinmetz told him to keep him posted, and that if a case against Petrović didn’t come together in the next thirty days, that would be the end of it.
Joe shook Steinmetz’s hand.
The door closed and Joe walked over to Anna, touched her arm.
“You did great. I’m officially working the case,” he said.
Anna got to her feet and hugged Joe. “Thank you. I can’t say how happy this makes me.”
Joe said, “I’m glad. I’m very glad to be able to help. There’s our elevator. Let’s go.”
Joe walked Anna out of the building and up Golden Gate Avenue three blocks to her small red Kia.
They talked about the meetings, and Joe commented that it was a small miracle that Steinmetz had gotten behind this. After all, Petrović hadn’t committed a crime on US soil, as far as they knew.
“He will,” Anna said.
“I’ll try to be there when he screws up, and I’ll let you know when I have news to report. But Anna, Petrović knows you ride past his house on your bike.”
“He said that?”
“He saw us together last week. I don’t know that he recognized you from Djoba, but don’t give him a chance to think about you. For now, drive to work. And don’t chase him.”
Anna lowered her head and said, “You don’t have to remind me. That was my last chase.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scold. I’m worried that he could pop you from his front step. You know that better than I do.”
She nodded vigorously. Then she hugged him again, hard.
Joe patted Anna’s back, opened her car door, watched as she buckled in.
She said, “Thank you so much,” with a breaking voice. “I thank you for my son and my husband.”
Joe said, “Be safe,” closed her door, and stood on the sidewalk as she drove away.
He headed back to the FBI building. Once he was inside his office, he locked his door, texted Lindsay:
It went well. I’ll tell you all about it tonight.
He booted up his computer and dug back into the files he’d begun collecting on the ethnic cleansing that had devastated Bosnia in the mid-1990s. The images came up on his screen and flooded his mind; stories told by the women separated from their families and brutalized, men detained and forced to sing Serbian songs and to commit sex acts upon one another as they waited to be executed.
There were fresh images now; Anna’s half-told story of her imprisonment in a cell-like room in the rape hotel as the very men who’d killed her husband and child repeatedly assaulted her. One of them had been Petrović himself.
He remembered Anna’s expression as she told him about the horrific assaults, and could almost feel her terror and revulsion, with the threat of imminent death something to wish for.
He got up, walked down the hall to the coffee room. Ten minutes later he was back at his desk, going through his files, looking for something that would reveal more about Slobodan Petrović.
Petrović was mentioned in hundreds of the documents Joe
had accumulated. His military career was all there; a soldier moving up steadily through the ranks, peaking with his command of the massacre at Djoba. There were photos of him in uniform inspecting a barn where dozens of people had hanged themselves from the rafters, choosing suicide over the torture and humiliation of death by Petrović’s hands.
Joe stared at those bodies and at the shadows they cast on the floorboards, Petrović’s sadistic smile and his triumphant expression.
There had been witnesses at Petrović’s trial, but while Filip Nikolic and his top commanders had received life sentences, Petrović had been sentenced to only five years, despite the number of witnesses against him and the incontrovertible proof of his unspeakable crimes. Then Petrović had been released.
Joe got up from his desk, crossed his office, and leaned against the window frame as the sun sank below the shabby buildings across the street. His mind was still swimming in the horrors of the war in Bosnia, but it was time to narrow his focus to the commitments he had made. He was one man working from an office in San Francisco. He could probably get Steinmetz to assign another agent or two to this case, but unless or until he had something worth the manpower, he was working alone.
He’d promised Anna he’d try to neutralize Petrović. The other commitment, the official one, was to Steinmetz, either to make a case quickly or to walk away.
As of this moment, Joe didn’t know if he could do either.
But he was determined to do his best.
Joe was at his desk at the San Francisco branch of the FBI, but his thoughts were in Quantico, Virginia.
As clearly as if he were there now, he remembered sitting at a long table in the basement conference room at Quantico. He had been a profiler with the Behavioral Science Unit. With him at that meeting had been a dozen and a half officers from the counterterrorism watch center: FBI, CIA, military.
He hadn’t been thinking about Petrović when he’d been sitting in that subterranean room, watching the video that legal attachés from the American embassy in Sarajevo had sent by pouch—a video of the ICC tribunal handing sentences down to the convicted war criminals that stood before them.
The worst of them was Filip Nikolic, the commander responsible for eight thousand deaths in Srebrenica. More than five hundred witnesses had testified against him. More than ten thousand exhibits had been presented to the court,
and after four years at trial, Nikolic was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Several high-ranking officers of the Serbian Army were also sentenced. The victims’ families had crowded the courthouse and the streets around it to glimpse the monsters who had assassinated a hundred thousand civilians.
One of those grief-stricken wives, a young mother, told a reporter, “They had to be held responsible. But even with the justice done, there is nothing the tribunal could do that would be sufficient punishment for these men.”
Joe was sure that Anna’s feelings were the same.
There had been a more prominent person on trial, and her photos had flashed across the curved face of the old TV on its stand at the head of the table.
Jelena Jovanovic looked completely ordinary, a stiffly coiffed white woman of a certain age who would’ve been at home behind a counter in a department store or at a cocktail party in Georgetown. But the seventy-two-year-old woman was the former president of Serbia, known as the Iron Lady. Jovanovic had been an unapologetic proponent of ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs, Muslims in particular, calling the eradication of non-Serbian people a “natural phenomenon.”
After governance issues and confrontations with her cronies, Jovanovic retired from politics. But she didn’t get far enough to avoid scrutiny by the International Criminal Court.
The year following her retirement, Jovanovic learned that there was a sealed indictment against her containing numerous counts of genocide and crimes against humanity. She denied the crimes and voluntarily turned herself in to the ICC to stand trial.
While waiting for trial, Jovanovic had an apparent change of her so-called heart. She pleaded guilty on all counts and even recanted her earlier position, stating that the victims of her purge had been innocent.
Back at Quantico, Joe, along with members of the counterterrorism agencies, had watched the announcement of the trial chamber’s decision. He had been stunned to hear the court announce that Jovanovic’s confession and admission of guilt would be more meaningful to the survivors of the still war-torn country than a guilty verdict after a many-years-long trial.
Where was the justice in that?
In return for pleading guilty to war crimes, the genocide charges had been dropped. Jovanovic had been sentenced to fifteen to twenty-five years for crimes against humanity, but before serving a day, her sentence had been reduced to eleven years, to be served in a Swedish prison that featured all of the amenities of a first-class resort.
Later her sentence had been further reduced to five years for time served and good behavior, and at age seventy-nine, after six years of imprisonment, she had been released.
How had this happened?
Had Jovanovic gotten her break not just in exchange for her confession but for giving up information on other military officers, in this mother-of-all-grande-dame deals? The unbelievable kicker was that once she was free, Jovanovic retracted her confession in full, saying that she had confessed only in order to get a lenient sentence.
After reviewing the disposition of Jovanovic, Joe felt more
certain that Petrović was free because he, too, had gotten a plea deal.
Petrović had been a colonel. He had taken orders from generals who’d gotten life sentences for genocide and crimes against humanity.
If they were obtainable, Joe wanted both the facts on Petrović’s deal and the terms of his release. For God’s sake, how had it come to pass that the Butcher of Djoba had opened a steak house in San Francisco?
Joe was hungry, but he didn’t want to stop his work to go home and eat.
It was still afternoon in DC.
Joe punched numbers for the State Department into his phone, and when his call was answered, he asked to speak with deputy director Brandon Reilly. The call was switched over and Reilly picked up.
After some catching up, Joe said to Reilly, “Do you remember a colonel in the Serbian Army named Slobodan Petrović?”
“That evil scumbag. I remember. He drowned or something, didn’t he?”
Joe sketched it in for Reilly, that Petrović was living in San Francisco, very much alive and well. Once he’d caught Reilly up, Joe made the ask: information on how the bastard had skated on a life sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Reilly said, “Hang on.”
Joe did and was relieved when Reilly got back on the line.
“Molinari, still there?”
“Yes. What do you know?”
“It looks like Petrović rolled on a few people in the high command in exchange for immunity. There were seven indictments and convictions as the result of the information he turned over to the ICC.”
“Son of a bitch.”
Reilly went on.
“That’s why he got a deal. Due to the number of enemies he acquired, he was given a new identity, passport included, and allowed to leave the country. He’s now known as Antonije Branko.”
Joe said, “What were the conditions of his release?”
“Only one,” said Reilly. “If he commits a felony anywhere from Bosnia to the moon, the original sentence of life imprisonment will be reinstated.”
“So as I understand you,” Joe said, “if Petrović is convicted of a major crime, he goes back to the ICC, and he’d have to serve the sentence they set aside in return for a guilty plea and information.”
“Yep. Of course, it might not fly. In order to deport him, you’d have to nail him to the wall.”
“Thanks, Reilly. That’s what I needed to know.”
Joe made notes to the file and closed down his computer. As long as Petrović ran a clean business and didn’t flaunt the conditions of his agreement, he was free to zip around town in his Jaguar and be the big man of Tony’s Place.
But if he laundered money, or transported drugs, or trafficked children, he could be sent back to The Hague, and from there to prison—where any number of his former fellow officers would be happy to murder him.