Authors: Jon A. Jackson
He pointed at the loft, to which a ladder led. “What's up there?”
“Storage,” Franko said. He leaned against the counter. “Go ahead, look.”
Bazok climbed the ladder until his head was above the level of the loft floor. There were boxes, a suitcase, an old television set. “What's in the boxes?” he called over his shoulder.
“Junkâit was here before.”
Bazok climbed down. “How long you been holed up here?”
“Six months, maybe more.”
“You don't watch the tube?”
“They don't carry the ballgames,” Franko said, sourly. “I'm not interested in propaganda.” Lately, the Serbian television stations had been spewing anti-Muslim “news” broadcasts and special programs extolling the regime.
“Nice radio,” Bazok said, nodding at the fancy Telefunken broadband radio sitting on the kitchen table. Franko didn't respond. “So, where do you keep the shit?”
“What shit would that be?”
“I don't have any dope,” Franko said. He was sure that Dedorica would not have suggested to the young cop that narcotics were readily available here. But maybe the cop was just asking a cop question. “When were you in Butte?”
“A couple years ago.” Bazok aped a southern accent: “Just kickin' around the country. Ah'm from Atlanta, originally.”
“Really? You speak pretty good Serb,” Franko observed.
“Actually, I was born in Yugoslavia,” Bazok said. “I think. I got adopted by an American lady. Grew up in Atlanta. But I got tired of it and hit the road when I got old enough. You grow up in Montana? That's nice country. I liked it. It's a little like this, the mountains and all.”
“I wouldn't exactly say that,” Franko said. “This is more like West Virginia, Appalachia, don't you think?”
Bazok nodded. “Yeah, I can see it. Well, listen, we gotta talk.”
“What about? I'm happy to meet a fellow Yank, even one from Atlanta, but I've got to be cool. These folks don't exactly dig Serb cops, you know.”
“Hey, I'm cool, dude. I'm not gonna blow your cover, Frankie. The deal is, I know the bros, in Belgrade. Ziv and them. They said to look you up.”
“Zivkovic?” Franko was suprised. “How do you know these people?” He thought it was interesting that they hadn't told Bazok that he was an American. It suggested that they hadn't been totally open with Bazok, for whatever reason, but he didn't bring that up.
“I met 'em in the States,” Bazok said. “That's how I got to this fuckin' shithole country. I'm part of their posse. Then I got into this vigilante gig.” He gestured at his outfit. “It was Ziv's idea. It's a good scam.” He laughed. “I'm kind of diggin' it. But it's a long story.”
“I'd like to hear all about it,” Franko said. He was sincere. “But not here, not right now. Maybe I could meet you in town, in Tsamet. At a beer garden, maybe. Or, I know, I could come by the station. We could talk.”
“Yeah, that's okay,” Bazok said. “But the news is there's some heavy shit going down. You wanta get your show ready for the road. In a couple of days you don't wanta be here.”
Franko was stunned. “What kind of operation? When?”
“I'm not sure, but it'll be heavy, is the word,” Bazok said. “The army will be along pretty quick, in a day or two, maybe sooner. I got the feeling, though, that they'll have me and some other outfits like mine do the dirty, at first anyway. Ziv found out about it, he called me.” He tapped his breast pocket, evidently where he kept his cell phone. “You got one of these? What's your number?” Franko gave it to him. “All right, I'll give you a buzz.”
“I've got to know how soon,” Franko said. He looked out the kitchen window toward the barn, the lane, the orchard. No one
seemed to be about, but he felt uneasy in the house with the thug. The big question was how much Zivkovic had told this guy. “I've got shipments, things scheduled. I can't just pick up and run.”
“It's gonna get jungly,” Bazok said. He sounded excited. He came over to where Franko was and stood too close; his breath was foul. “They'll be putting up roadblocks pretty soon. Your shipments won't be coming in or going out. You gotta think like you might have to just walk, leave everything. I'll try to get up here first, make sure there's nothin' too suspicious layin' around. Prob'ly have to torch the house. See what I mean?”
This was serious. Franko thought of Fedima. He'd have to get her out. That wouldn't be easy. He had to think. Maybe he could get Daliljaj to go too. That would probably be best. Get up into the hills, to the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army), maybe. Daliljaj would have contacts; they could get over into Montenegro, maybe, or down to the coast. Maybe get out through Albania.
“I can't just walk away,” Franko said. “There are people due in here, valuable goods to consider.”
“I gotcha,” Bazok said. “But like I say, I doubt that your people will be gettin' through. When the shit starts, it'll come down like a storm outta the hills. You don't want to be thinkin' about your business. C'mon, let's get outta here.”
Outside, the cop took a deep breath of the mountain air. He looked around. “That your car?” He nodded at the beat-up Subaru Outback. “I thought you'd have something with some jump to itâyou're makin' a ton here. A Cherokee, maybe even a fuckin' Humvee.”
“It runs,” Franko said. “That's what passes for a good vehicle in these parts.”
“Ah,” Bazok said, nodding, enlightened. “You don't want to make too big a scene out here in the sticks. But you got to be thinkin' about haulin' your shit down to the barracks, tonight.”
“Tonight!” Franko didn't like the sound of that. Deliver close to a couple hundred thousand dollars' worth of raw opiates to this doofus in his barracks? Not likely.
“It's happenin',” Bazok said. His face was big and grinning, like a jack-o'-lantern. He was not an ugly guy, if he could think to keep that menacing grin off his faceâthe teeth mirrored the badger image on his patch.
“What about my people?” Franko said.
“What people? I told youâ¦. oh, you mean these
? What the fuck do you care? Whoa, I get it. You're shaggin' the ginch. I seen her, not a bad little piece of ass. What's her name, Fatima or something?”
Furious, Franko stepped toward the grinning oaf, fists clinched. Suddenly the cop's boot shot out and slammed Franko's right leg on the side of his knee, causing it to buckle. The cop caught him by the hair, burying his powerful fingers in it, while his other hand wrenched Franko's right arm around behind his back.
“You fuckin' dog,” Bazok growled loudly in Serb. “I ought to kick your fuckin' ass and haul you down to the station.” He bore Franko to the ground, facedown, with his knee on his back. He knelt to rasp in his ear, “How can you fuck something like that? I'll bet she's as hairy as a coon.” He stood up but held Franko down, pinned with a heavy boot. “You get your ass down to the station this p.m., shithead. Don't make me come back up here lookin' for your sorry ass. And you,” he snarled at Daliljaj, who had come around the side of the barn, “did you move that fuckin' tractor? All right.”
He kicked Franko playfully in the butt, then strode off, taking a lazy swipe at Daliljaj, who ducked. He laughed and walked out to the road and got into his police jeep and drove off.
Daliljaj rushed to help Franko up. “Are you all right?” he asked anxiously.
“I'm okay,” Franko said, standing up and brushing himself off. “Filthy bastard. He didn't hurt me.”
“What did he want?”
“Just throwing his weight around, I guess,” Franko said. “Listen, my friend, I must go down to Tsamet. It'll be all right. Dedorica won't allow anything serious. But I'm concerned about you, and your family. This man's behavior concerns meâsomething unpleasant must be happening.”
“You don't worry about us,” Daliljaj said. “You mustn't say anything to Dedorica.” He looked fierce. “We can take care of ourselves. We have friends.” He looked toward the forested mountains about them. “These pigs, they will pay.”
The old man was not really very old, just into late middle age. He was short but stocky, a powerful man. He knew that Franko was dealing contraband, but he wasn't sure what it was. It didn't pay to inquire too closely. He also suspected that Fedima was attracted to the man, but he didn't believe that it had gone very far. He could not allow that, although he liked the American. Franko was not a Believer. It would not do. Still, the patriarch understood women: they had no control over their passions. A man had to govern them. The American was a good man, as foreigners go, but had no morals, of course; that was certain. It was up to Daliljaj to see that nothing foolish went on. A little flirtation, that was nothing.
Sometimes, though, he had thought that maybe Fedima should marry this American, go to his country. Things were getting bad here. He and his people would survive; they would rise up, take Kosovo. He was a Believer, but he was a practical man, after all. If the American wanted the girl and took her with him when he wentâand he was sure that Franko would go, he had always known thatâthen perhaps that would be all right, even though the man was not a Believer. At least he wasn't a Serbâhe might have the
name of a Serb, but he was not a Serb. She would be safer with the American when things got really bad. A woman in Kosovo, a Muslim woman, was always in danger from the Chetniks. But the American could not have her here. That would not be right. It would make Daliljaj look bad, although the American was well liked.
“I have a bad feeling,” Franko said. “This Serb, he is too bold. If he can behave like this, it means that something evil is coming.”
“Oh yes, the evil is coming,” Daliljaj said. “But you need not fear for us, my friend. We will be all right. Besides, the
is not a Serb. Couldn't you tell? He's a German, I think.” He was being polite, distinguishing the policeman from his tenant.
? You mean like a Turk? A terrorist?”
“No, no,” the old man laughed. “That's what they call him and his men, but it is a bad joke, I think. The Chetniks will use him and his friends like dogs, to hunt the Kosovars. But they will be the first to die.”
Franko was depressed by this bravura rhetoric. The farmers were fierce men, bold men, but they were farmers. He had seen what kind of weapons they hadâold rifles from World War II, a crazy confidence in knives. Against AK-47s, rocket launchers, heavy machine guns, they had no chance.
He spent the afternoon relocating his goods, especially the cash. There were some secure places to stash things back beyond the home pasture, in the woods, among the caves in the rocks. He got together a practical kit of passport, money, and a handgun. It was a plausible kit, one that the foolish cop would approve. Then he drove into town.
aptain Dedorica knew from the start that the new guy was trouble. He was big and rough, but that wasn't the problem. He grinned in a disarming way, but he had a way of standing a little too close at times. Dedorica didn't like some big lout sticking his face into his, especially when he was supposed to be a subordinate.
That was the heart of the problem: he wasn't really a subordinate. He had been sent down from Belgrade to Dedorica's little town, Tsamet, along with five other fellows. It was supposed to be a kind of government-aid programâauxiliary policeâbut it was something else, Dedorica understood.
His name was given as Bozi Bazok, but that couldn't be his real name. It was a rude joke, like their insignia patch, which depicted a cartoon beast said to be a badger. The glaring, teeth-baring badger with the white blaze on its forehead clutched two lightning bolts crossed before it in a way that unnervingly suggested the old Nazi swastikaâanother layer of confounding imagery, evoking the hated UstaÅ¡e, the Croatian collaborators of the last war. A fake Latin inscriptionâ
âunder the cartoon completed the joke: Beware the Badger.
Dedorica had a bad feeling about all this bizarre playacting. He had no illusions; he knew what was going on. But what was the point of confusing the situation by borrowing all this flummery and playacting from your enemies and then making it into a new bogeyman? It was the same old business wasn't it? Maybe it had to be made new, somehow. Still, it had nothing to do with police work.
Not that Bazok and his pals made much pretense of being working cops. They never pulled regular shifts. Mostly, they hung out in the taverns and caused trouble. They got drunk, made loud statements about “filthy
” Very soon they were an all-too-visible presence in Tsamet and the neighboring villages. And the funny thing about Bazok: he looked like an Albanian himself. He was darker, more Mediterranean, perhaps, than a Slav. And it couldn't be ignored that he didn't speak Serb all that well. It was rumored, in fact, that he was an American.
Bazok didn't seem much like an American to Dedorica. In his view, Americans were rich, didn't speak Serb at all, or any languages but their own, for that matter. The Americans he'd met seemed so easygoing, cheerful, and confident, but not in the menacing way of Boz. There was Franko, for instance, who despite his Serbian name was clearly of that easygoing, practical, and enterprising Yankee style. Or the US AID representative who had hung around town for several days this summer, asking all sorts of impertinent questions, so boldâin a friendly way, of course. And so tall, such long and slim legs, and what an ass! She was frank and open, in the famous way of American womenâa whore, doubtless, but vivacious, amusing, and sure of herself.
Still, Dedorica could hardly complain about Bazok. As police chief, he was always asking Belgrade for help. This, however, was no help. This only exacerbated the problem. The half dozen Kosovar policemen on the force had quit, probably to join the resistance, or maybe even the KLA. So he was no further ahead, was he? Actually,
it was worse yet, since tensions in the community had risen, thanks to the new guys.
âthat's the way it isâwas the only thing you could say.