Authors: James Patterson
Joe strained to hear Anna over the street sounds on McAllister.
Her voice cracked and then splintered as she worked to tell him what had brought her to the FBI. In the few words he clearly understood, he recognized the name of a war criminal who had been responsible for the death of thousands many years before.
“You’re from Bosnia?”
She dipped her head. Yes.
Djoba had been the warm-up act for the massacre at Srebrenica.
Joe knew a lot about the wars in Bosnia: How the six people’s republics that had formed Yugoslavia had torn the country apart. Serbs living in both Bosnia and Croatia had sought to unite with their brothers in Serbia. Fighting between the Orthodox Christian Serbs and Muslim Bosnians
had been particularly savage, a continuation of the wars set off by the Ottoman invasions centuries before.
But this was genocide—the slaughter of thousands of men and boys, the rapes of thousands of women, and the brutal murders of children.
Anna tried to stifle her tears, and then she broke down. Joe reached across to the glove box and handed her a packet of tissues, regretting that he hadn’t asked her to come up to his office. She should be talking to the duty agent, who would decide if a case should be opened.
Meanwhile, she deserved his full attention and he had to watch the road. Joe buzzed up the windows and shut off the heat so he could better understand what Anna was saying.
“Do you understand? I saw him
two hours ago.
“Yes. I know who he is. You can talk to me. I understand what you’re saying, where you come from.”
Anna blew her nose, unknotted her scarf, and began telling Joe about a hot summer day in the village of Djoba.
“I was washing my baby in the kitchen sink when soldiers entered the village by the main road,” she said, staring through the windshield into the horrors from her past.
“They came on foot. Then the tanks and officers in jeeps.
“My little boy, Bakir, started to cry. My husband came into the room and said, ‘Stay here.’ And then he ran outside. Zerin wasn’t yet thirty,” Anna said. “So strong and vital. That was the last time I saw him alive.”
Joe murmured, “I’m so sorry. So very sorry, Anna.”
She was looking out into the darkened streets, projecting her terrible story onto this blank screen. She spoke of how
her town had been declared a safe zone by the United Nations and how hundreds of refugees had fled there. How they had grouped together in the sweltering heat without enough food or water. And how most of those stranded in that so-called safe zone had been women, children, and the elderly.
Anna told him how the Serb soldiers had mingled among the refugees and executed the men at random, not stopping there but hunting down the ones who had hidden in the outlying fields and farmhouses. She described how the Serb soldiers had burned down the houses and barns and then turned their attention to the women and children left trapped in the town.
“I hid with Bakir in my house,” Anna told him, her voice hollow with shock, “but they found me. They took my child away, my beautiful boy. Then they held me down and … you can imagine what they did. Four of them. Laughing. Trying to hurt me as much as possible. Anyway, I passed out. The next morning they were gone. I found my baby boy on the side of the road with his throat slit.”
Anna groaned and then sobbed uncontrollably into her hands as she relived the unspeakable death of her child.
Joe pulled the car over to the curb and put his hand on Anna’s shoulder. She shook him off and leaned against the window, crying in ragged sobs until she was cried out.
Then she turned to him and said, “The most unbelievable thing is when something so unimaginable happens, a thing that kills you inside, you keep breathing and your heart beats and you still live. Time still goes on.”
Joe had to fight his own feelings, and they were many. He
wanted to comfort her. He wanted to kill someone—Petrović. He wanted to cry.
Anna said, “It has been so long since I’ve told anyone, Joe. I’m sorry that you had to be the one. But seeing Petrović today, healthy,
I thought he was dead. I thought he was long dead.”
“What can I do to help you?”
Anna and Joe sat in the parked car and talked for a while, Anna describing fantasies of killing him, detailing conversations she’d had with other women in Djoba. Hushed conversations in which they never said what had been done to them. They hadn’t had to.
Finally exhausted, she said, “Please drive me home now, Joe. I need to be alone.” He started the engine.
Ten minutes later Joe parked near the house where Anna was renting a studio apartment. He told her that he would bring the bike to get it fixed, not a problem, and carried her backpack upstairs. He gave her his contact numbers and said to call him when she wanted to speak again.
She thanked him, went inside, and closed the door behind her.
Anna’s pain had permeated Joe’s car.
He could still see the violent imagery she had drawn of old people hanging off the sides of trucks, the slaughter of children, the refugees who’d hanged themselves rather than suffer at the hands of Slobodan Petrović.
These images accompanied him all the way home.
I’d gone for a short run with Martha and was now home in our apartment on Lake Street.
The evening news was on the TV and the soup just beginning to simmer when Martha broke for the doorway, barking and shimmying, to greet Joe.
He bent to pet our good doggy, but his expression told me that he’d had a very bad day.
I said, “Hon. What’s wrong?”
“Did you eat?” he asked me.
“No. Did you?”
He shook his head.
“I’m heating up some split pea. I can give the chicken legs another few spins in the microwave.”
“Would you? I need to get out of my clothes.”
While I “cooked,” Jacobi called, and we updated each other on our lack of progress on the schoolteacher case.
“We’ve got zippo,” Jacobi said to me. “I hate this.”
We commiserated and talked over plans for the next day,
and I had just hung up as Joe came into the spacious kitchen/living room. His hair was wet and he was wearing his robe.
He asked about my day, but I said, “You go first.”
Between bites he told me about meeting Anna Sotovina, a Bosnian war survivor, a couple of hours before. Her chilling story had gotten to him. It was getting to
“What’s she like?” I asked.
“Terribly broken. Her face is scarred. Her whole life is scarred. She survived the worst—torture, rape, the murders of her husband and child—and came here after the war. She has a good job and a rental apartment on Fulton. She had started over, Linds. And then she sees Slobodan Petrović coming out of a house a few blocks from her place.”
“It was really Petrović? Is she sure?”
“She has no doubt.”
I didn’t need to tell Joe about eyewitness sightings—how the mind fills in memory gaps with convincing detail, so that every time a memory is pulled up for review, it is slightly overwritten in the present. We’d both had firsthand experience with witnesses making positive IDs on criminals who, at the time of the crime, were in maximum security at the Q.
“I considered that,” Joe said.
He carried his half-full plate to the sink, refilled his wineglass and mine.
“Petrović,” I said. “I remember what he looked like. A husky, red-faced hog of a man.”
“That’s him,” Joe said. “He was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, and went to trial but wasn’t convicted. It was a scandal at the time, but he was released.
“Then—he disappeared. A body was found in a river, I think, bloated and decomposing, and identified as Petrović. But identified by whom? Friends in high places? If Anna is right, he got out of town and ended up here.”
“What’s your gut tell you?”
Joe and I had been married for only a few months back then, but Martha loved him. She trotted over to him and rested her chin on his knee. Joe stroked her, drank his wine, and took long, thoughtful pauses that I did not interrupt.
Then he said, “I believe her, Lindsay. Enough to look into this. I don’t know yet how or if I can help her, but I’ll start digging into it tomorrow.”
In Joe’s place, I’d have done the same.
Joe was driving to work the next morning, thinking about Anna Sotovina, when she called.
“Can we meet?” she asked. “I have a couple of things to show you.”
Twenty minutes later Joe pulled up to the three-story house on Fulton Street where Anna lived. He was about to ring the doorbell when she got out of a red Kia parked across the street. She was dressed for work, wearing a blue skirt suit and lipstick. Her hair was combed so that it fell in a way that covered the burn scar on her cheek.
She waited for traffic to pass, then crossed, opened the passenger-side door, and got inside, saying, “I have to apologize for last night. All that crying.”
“Don’t apologize. You have good reason to cry.”
She said, “I was in shock to see Petrović.”
“I told you. I chased him on my bike. Crazy.”
“I’m glad you didn’t catch him,” Joe said.
She nodded. “I didn’t even think it was crazy. I couldn’t help myself. I saw him. And if I caught him—what did I think I would do? Call him names? But it was
The Butcher of Djoba.”
Joe said, “You were very brave, Anna. Crazy but brave.”
“You wanted to show me something.”
She opened her handbag, pulled out a plastic folder, 8½″ × 11″. Inside was a newspaper article that had been folded into thirds. She opened the yellowed and worn page with shaking hands and showed it to Joe.
The article was written in Bosnian. Anna tapped the photo at top center, just under the headline.
“That’s him going into the ICC in handcuffs. See them? He was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, but the charges were dismissed. I don’t know why. Thousands were killed. I saw the bodies. But he was simply
She took out her billfold and pulled a photo from behind a rectangle of clear plastic, then held the photo so Joe could see the picture of a young man in his twenties, laughing, bouncing a baby in his arms.
“You see how much love?”
Joe said. “I do.”
Anna said, “This is not in question, Joe. Petrović was the commanding officer of the destruction of my town. My poor husband was hanged,” Anna said. “They cut my little boy’s throat. Thousands were murdered, and Petrović killed many with his own hands. Why should my family be dead while he is alive and free?”
Joe said, “The words for these crimes are just inadequate.”
She nodded and went on, “You know, after Petrović was released, there was a big protest. Then it was said that he was killed.”
“I read that, too. His body was found quite decomposed in a river. Look, Anna, I’m just asking. Is it possible that Petrović was killed and the man you saw yesterday looked like him? Reminded you of him?”
him, Joe. Don’t you think I would know?” She held the palm of her hand a few inches from her face. “I’ve been
close to him. Under him. You understand?”
“Oh, God. I’m so sorry.”
He was more than sorry. He wanted to kill the guy who’d done this to her. Kill him slowly.
Anna said, “I also believed that he was dead. Now I know it was a mistake or a lie or a covering up. Petrović left Europe. Someone must know how he did that and maybe helped him.”
“I checked with Interpol last night, and there are no warrants out for him, nothing to prevent him from using his passport.”
Anna said, “When he was military, he wore his hair very short. His hair is longer now. He’s put on thirty pounds. Otherwise, he looks the same. He is fat and healthy. He has an expensive car. Seventy-five thousand dollars, Joe. Where is he getting his money?”
Joe couldn’t answer her question. Ten minutes of research had told him that Petrović might have changed his name and flown legally to the United States. The FBI had no jurisdiction over an ICC-charged war criminal who, for whatever reason, had walked.
“Do you mind if we take a ride?” Anna said.
The drive was three blocks down Steiner, three blocks on Fell, in under three minutes.
“Over there,” Anna said.
Joe pulled up to the curb, and Anna rolled down her window, saying, “That’s where I saw him.”
She pointed to a Victorian house, pale yellow with dark blue trim, well cared for. “He was coming down the steps like he owned America.”
Anna turned to Joe, pulled back the curtain of hair that had been hiding her scar. “He did this to me. After he raped me, when I called him all the names I could think of. I wanted him to shoot me. I wanted to die. He used his lighter ….”
“You were in the hotel?” Joe said.
She shook her head. “I can’t talk about that.”
She didn’t have to say more. Joe had been with the FBI in Virginia when the Serbs had slaughtered the men of Djoba, captured the women, and kept many in a school, calling it a rape hotel. The point had been not only to humiliate and
dishonor these Muslim women and girls, but to impregnate them with the children of their enemies.
Anna’s voice broke into his thoughts as she called his name and pointed to a Jaguar parked a hundred yards up the street.
“That’s his car,” she said. “He’s home, inside his house. Can you just go in there and shoot him between the eyes?”
“No. I can’t. Stay here.”
Joe got out of the car and took a picture of the house, and then the man that Lindsay remembered from his photos as a husky, red-faced hog came out the front door of the fancy yellow house. He walked rapidly down the steps while talking into his phone.
Joe aimed the phone’s camera at Petrović’s face, but his features were largely hidden by the phone in his hand. And then he was getting into his car and pulling out onto Fell Street.
Anna was out of the car, crying out to Joe, “That’s him. That’s
That’s Slobodan Petrović. Now do you believe me? Follow him.
Follow him, please.
The car had sped off, and other cars quickly filled the gap between the Jag and where Joe was standing with Anna.
“Anna, no. I can’t arrest him for crimes he committed in Bosnia.”
Anna sagged against the car.
“Well,” she said, “maybe I can do something. I need a gun. Then I can shoot him myself.”
Anna stretched her neck so she could watch the Jaguar disappearing up the street.
All around them, normal life went on. Dogs being walked.
Joggers heading into the park. A grocery truck making a delivery. People going to work. But to a woman who’d survived a massacre, none of these activities meant a thing.
Joe understood. Anna had built a life again. And then Petrović had appeared. How could it not enflame her?
Joe spoke to her across the roof of his car.
“Anna, listen to me. You asked for my help. I’m a federal law enforcement agent. I’ll do what I can legally do, the right way. Please. Look at me.”
She dragged her gaze away from the disappearing car.
“Do not confront this man on your own. You know if he feels threatened, you won’t get away from him. Promise me you’ll let me handle this. Promise me you’ll do that.”
“I promise,” she said.
Anna got back into Joe’s car.