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Authors: Jon A. Jackson

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BOOK: Badger Games
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He was worried about Fedima. He wanted nothing more than to extricate her from the incredible brutality that was sweeping this country. She was too young, too innocent and fragile for this. She didn't deserve to have her young life shattered by this wretched madness.

The smell of war must reek of sexual license for the young guys, too, Franko thought. Maybe that was why there was so much rape. They were turned on by the violence, aroused. It was inexplicable to him. He could not imagine being sexually aroused by the brutal humiliation of a helpless, terror-stricken woman. How were they even able to perform sexually, especially before others?

“Where did you get this goofy Turk name?” Franko asked.

Boz laughed. “You don't like it? The Serbs think it's a hoot. I made it up.”

He was driving too fast for these roads, Franko thought. It had begun to rain and there were many huge potholes. If one didn't avoid them there was a risk not only of crashing but of shearing off a wheel, or at least breaking the steering gear. But Franko understood the impulse to speed: in these woods and hills, on a black night like this, there could be not only KLA snipers but independent random shooters—the hills were full of angry people ready to fire a casual shot at a passing vehicle.

“I was riding the rails,” Boz continued, his voice loud over the roar of the engine. “It might even've been in Montana—I'm not sure where I was, just out West somewhere. And I met this crazy old fucker in a boxcar, he was reading one a them men's magazines, you know?
Saga,
or something like that? And he was laughing, and I axt him what was so funny, and he reads me some shit, an article about the German air force, the Luftwaffe, you know? This writer is talking about the Stuka dive-bomber, which he says was invented by a Professor Stuka. The old guy thought that was a fuckin' riot. He says, ‘Maybe the bazooka was invented by Basil Bazook.' And he laughed his ass off. I don't know what was so funny, but I liked that Basil Bazook.”

“There was no ‘Professor Stuka,'” Franko said.

“No? Then what's the point?”

“That's the joke,” Franko said, pedantically. “‘Stuka' is short for
Sturzflugkraft,
or something even longer. But ‘bazooka,' that's a made-up word. The weapon was named after a kind of joke kazoo that George Burns pretended to play on the radio.”

“George Burns? The guy who played God?” Boz hunched, peering out through the rain. A stiff wind had come up and the rain had intensified. It was appallingly dark, visibility down to just yards, and he had slowed to avoid rocks that had rolled from the hillsides,
either washed down by the rain or with human assistance. Some of them were big enough to smash a transmission.

“I like that,” Boz went on, “God invented the bazooka! Anyways, I liked the sound of it. When I met Vjelko, in Chicago, I told him that was my name—Badger Bazooka. I put it on my social security card, only he had me spell it B-o-z-i B-a-z-o-k. Vjelko said that was a better spelling—the social security clerk would just think it was foreign, not made up.”

Jesus, Franko thought. “How long ago was this?” he asked.

“Three, maybe four years back. So, you see, I known Vjelko a long time.”

“Three years is not a long time,” Franko said. He braced himself as the jeep whirled around a bend and narrowly missed a tree limb that had blown down.

“Long enough. Now what the fuck is this?” Boz slammed on the brakes and they skidded to a halt near the stone wall that surrounded Daliljaj's compound. The old man, or someone, had parked the tractor squarely across the entrance. “I told that shithead to get his tractor off the road, but I didn't mean he should barricade the drive.”

Franko was instantly wary. “I wouldn't stop here,” he said sharply. “Move on. Turn out your lights.”

As if in reply an automatic rifle flashed and at least three bullets hit the jeep. Boz, swearing furiously, stamped on the gas, and they shot by the entry. He doused the lights, but unable to see in the pitch blackness, he also hit the brakes. The shooter keyed on the brake lights, and more shots hit the vehicle.

“Goddamn!” Boz roared. He let off the brake and they coasted away, apparently beyond the view of the shooter. There were no further flashes, and Boz let the vehicle roll to a stop near some wind-tossed trees. He seemed uncertain what to do. “Should we get out?”

Franko was already out. He hurled himself at the shelter of the stone wall and crouched at its base. Boz quickly joined him. “What now?” Boz asked. They were drenched instantly. The gale was blowing the rain sideways, huge drops of rain that impacted like soft bullets.

“Let's get the hell away from the jeep,” Franko said and scuttled along the stone wall in a duck walk that under less compelling circumstances he would have found impossible. This wall was not very well made, a mere repiling of stones laboriously removed from the fields and tossed along the perimeter. He'd sometimes thought that Daliljaj, or his ancestors, were poor wall makers, but he had come to see this as their practical way to clear the fields; the repiling of the stones was something they could be doing in some hypothetical leisure moment that never seemed to come. He had gotten used to this style of farming. Here and there, where the stones were not sufficient to provide a real barrier for grazing animals, they had erected posts and strung strands of mended, recycled wire and baling twine. He found one of these places and slipped through into the field, with Boz close behind.

When they reached a large boulder, well out in the field, Franko crouched in its lee. Boz hunkered down next to him, a massive Glock in his hand. “Was that Daliljaj, you think?” Boz asked.

“Shooting, you mean?” Franko shook his head. “He doesn't have that kind of firepower,” he said. “Must be KLA, or somebody. They're coming down out of the hills, I guess. They want to take advantage of the storm. I'd guess they're looking to ambush a patrol or something.”

“Well, shit. Time to get the cavalry in here.” Boz had fished out his cell phone.

“No, no.” Franko stopped him. “You want to get the goods, don't you? It could get complicated if you call the troops in. There's
probably just a handful of KLA, or whoever they are. They'll be watching the road. We can slip around the back.”

Boz seemed to grasp the wisdom of this, but then he said, “What about my jeep?”

Almost in answer, there was a boom and a flash back beyond the stone wall. “Looks like they got it,” Franko said.

“Now what!”

“We can always find a vehicle,” Franko said. “Come on.” He stood up and headed off into the storm, toward the compound.

“Where the hell you goin'?” Boz demanded. He grabbed Franko by the shoulder.

“Whoever they are, they'll be checking out the vehicle, to see if we're still in it. But first they'll have to wait for it to cool down. With any luck they won't hang around to make sure, or come looking for us. I'm going to check out the house.”

“Fuck the house,” Boz said. “You still thinkin' about that ginch? Jesus! Let's get the shit and get out of here. We go near that house and we'll get our asses shot off.”

There was something to what Bazok said, Franko realized. “Okay, but we better check out my place, anyway. We'll need a flashlight.”

“Can't we get by without it?” Boz said. Clearly, he didn't relish the idea of going anywhere near the compound.

“No,” Franko said. He hurried on. They stumbled across the field, the rain lashing them. As he'd expected, his little house was dark. They drew nearer and waited, listening. There was some activity out near the road, shouts, a few lights. Franko took a deep breath and ducked into the door. Immediately somebody jumped on him.

He gasped with relief when he realized it was Fedima. The girl was clutching him desperately, and he almost fell. When she saw his companion, however, she leaped back. In the pale light from
the doorway, just about the only light available in this gloomy interior, her eyes seemed huge and panic-stricken. Her mouth fell open, but she did not say anything, just backed into the darkness.

“He's with me,” Franko hastily assured her. “He'll help us get out. But what are you doing out here?” He seized her by her arms, then hugged her. She was tiny and felt frail, but she instantly responded, her embrace tight and fervent.

“My father sent me to find you, to warn you not to come back. The”—she glanced at Boz—“the Chetniks are coming!”

“Where are your father and your brothers?” Franko asked her. “Who is in the house?”

“They are with the fighters,” she said. “My mother and the others have gone.”

The “others” would be the extended family, Franko supposed—her grandmother, some cousins. “Gone where?” he asked. But before she could reply, he asked how many armed men there were.

Fedima wasn't sure. Perhaps there were twenty-five or thirty “freedom fighters” who had come down from the hills. They were expecting the Chetniks to come, she said. They were waiting for them.

To Franko that meant that they were going to ambush a Serbian force, probably by going farther down the mountain road. They must think that they had a chance of defeating them. He glanced at Boz, but he seemed indifferent.

A more important question for Franko was, What had her father meant by sending Fedima to him?

“He told me to wait for you, to flee to the cave if the Chetniks came before you returned,” she said.

“Yeah,” Boz interjected, “to the cave! Let's go there.” He looked about him anxiously. He didn't like the idea of being trapped in this little house with a couple of presumed KLA collaborators when the army arrived. He still brandished his Glock.

Beyond that, of course, he had other concerns, Franko knew. “Yes,” he decided, aloud, “we must go to the cave.” He had felt a little shock at Fedima's offhanded revelation that the old man was aware that the cave would be someplace known to him. How much did the old man know about his activities? Did it include the trysts in the cave? He pushed these troubling thoughts from his mind while he searched for and found a large flashlight. “Come,” he told them.

They slipped out into the howling wind and rain. Franko led them at a half run along the path that led through the rear barnyard gate and into the fields and then the woods. The way was wet and slippery, climbing over rocks, up the hill. It took them the better part of a half hour to reach a spot where Franko thought it safe to pause.

They were fairly high up now, perhaps a couple of hundred feet or more above the farm. The visibility was poor, but they could occasionally catch a glimpse through breaks in the storm of the flames flickering around the jeep. They could not see any people around it, nor any sign of vehicles approaching the farm on the old road.

“Where's this damn cave?” Boz gasped, panting. “I'm fuckin' freezin', wet to my balls.”

“This way.” Franko led them around more rocks, over fallen trees, until finally they were able to push through some protective brush and into the low opening of a cave. Inside, it was pitch-black but dry, with the inevitable cave odor of dust and dirt, not quite the mustiness of the cellar … but there was something else, as well. Franko stopped. Fedima held him by the waist, crouching.

Boz bumped them. “What is it?” he whispered.

Franko snapped on the flashlight. One after another the pale faces of Fedima's family gleamed in the light. Franko almost cursed. Instead, he took a deep breath and let it out. Boz cursed for him.

“What the fuck are they doin' here?”

“What do you think?” Franko said. They spoke in English. Now, in the Kosovar dialect, Franko said to the people, “Come, come, you mustn't stay here.” He shooed them toward the back of the cave. Fearfully, they rose up—an old woman in multiple skirts and babushka, the grandmother; younger women with children, the sisters and cousins. There was only one man among them, an old toothless grampa; Franko wasn't sure he was even related to the family, but he must have had some ties. Altogether, there were fifteen people. They followed Franko and Fedima and the flashlight deeper into the cave.

It was just a few moments of head-bent walking until they entered a larger chamber, the size of a small barn, perhaps, in which they could stand erect. There were a number of boxes, bundles, and artifacts of human presence stacked along the walls. One of the first things Franko did was to find a Browning automatic pistol in one of the boxes and thrust it into his belt, pointedly. Boz started to comment, but shut up.

“What are we gonna do with all these people?” Boz said. Franko had gestured to their guests to take places along the opposite wall. He pushed over some of the boxes for them to sit on, and got out some blankets for others.

“They'll be all right,” Franko said. “They won't bother us. They had to go somewhere. The only thing is, how many people know about this damned cave?” In particular, he wondered how long the old man had known that he and Fedima had used the cave. There was their pallet, an air mattress that he'd bought in town, along with some blankets, lying revealingly against the wall.

“Light some candles,” he said to Fedima.

“Where's the stash?” Boz asked, impatient with all this concern for the refugees.

Franko pointed at four small hard-sided suitcases. They looked like the kind of older Samsonite cases that once were popular with travelers.

Boz picked one up and carried it to the far corner of the chamber, away from the people. “Shine your light,” Boz said. He squatted and opened the unlocked case. It was filled with plastic bags stuffed with white powder. “All right,” he said, exhaling with relief. He glanced up at Franko. “All pure stuff?”

“What is it?” Fedima asked, peering around Franko, her hands locked about his arm.

“Our ticket out of here,” Franko said. “Right, Boz?”

BOOK: Badger Games
6.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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