Caveat: harsh language
Parking a car with hidden cameras mounted in it was never a major production by any stretch; it was just… parking a car. If you could park a car, you could emplace a clandestine video recording device in Bosnia. Such was the scope of the task we had planned for a very early morning effort to get 24-hours of recorded gawk at the apartment of a man in Vlasenica, Republika Srpska (RS) who was wanted by the Hague for war crimes.
The scheme of maneuver was sterile: Kay-Kay and I planned to drive the car with the cameras installed and park it in a spot with a look angle conducive to watching the front door of our man’s apartment. We were to leave the car and walk a short route to the main road that led out of town. By the time we made our turn on that road, we were to be picked up by our support vehicle driven by our team lead — the Cantor.
The Cantor was having us rehearse the actions on the objective an annoying number of times with some toy cars and simple mockup of the target he had arranged on the floor: A cracker box was the apartment building. Strips of duct tape stuck to the floor represented the streets and were labeled accordingly, though Cantor had labeled them in English letters rather than Cyrillic ones — the road signs in the city were all in Cyrillic.
I had accepted and was comfortable with my own personal conclusion that I could have been the most God-awful worst operator to every slam šlivo in Sarajevo, and I probably was, but I would be doomed to be carried to success on my knowledge of that unreasonably difficult language, and the Cyrillic alphabet to boot. I’m put in mind of the three months I spent prior to my deployment at home and on my own time studying the language and listening to hours of tapes:
“You’re wasting your time!” my X nagged me. Now to her I hold out my middle finger and will leave it out there for the rest of eternity. Those three months were not time passed in vain.
“Why is he being such a hen about this operation?” Kay-Kay had whispered to me while the Cantor poured himself more coffee. I gestured her a bewildered shrug — like “how in blazes was I supposed to know?” Yet at the same time, I marveled (a little) that she and I had actually agreed on a thing; the Cantor was mother-henning the dog poop out of us over a purely routine event.
Cantor: “Ok, let’s go over this one more time.”
Kay-Kay: “UUUUUGGGGHHHHH SHIT!”
“Yeah, show some respect, Kay-Kay… what’s the deal with this plan, Cantor? Let’s stick a fork in it already.”
“Yeah, yeah — no — yeah, we’re done. I just had a shitty dream last night about missions going south and stuff falling through cracks.”
“Well, the cracks ain’t all they’re cracked up to be, Chicken Little. Things can go wrong and slip away, but that’s why you have us — well me — I’m the guy who is supposed to fix all those bad things for you when they happen.”
Cantor’s stare was fixed on Kay-kay, who, when I adjusted my gaze at her, was looking at me like I just raped her grandmother — twice!
“US, Cantor… that’s why you have US — me and the little lady!” I said with my arm around her shaking her from side to side. Cantor’s grin was a polar match for Kay-Kay’s frown, such that they looked like that happy/sad poster logo for the Theater Arts.
Cantor asked me later as an aside if I needed anything or had any challenges. Though I had none I couldn’t resist asking him why we even needed Kay-Kay — her profile — at all for the mission scenario, as there simply was nothing in it to support her presence.
“That’s a directive from higher,” he responded. That was ’nuff said for me, as I had bullwhip marks already all over my back from fighting that fight and being the mission’s whipping post.
“Daddy, what did you do in Bosnia?”
“Well, son… I went on promenades with some really bitchy obstreperous chick.”
“That doesn’t sound very brave or even dangerous, dad.”
“Now son, you have no idea how very brave your daddy truly was!”
We had a 0300, Bosnian time, roll out from the base to make the transit to our release point. It was there at the release point that Kay-Kay and I planned to flip on the recorder. From there it was about a seven-minute run until Time on Target (TOT).
“Cantor… can Kay-Kay just ride with you to the release point and then transfer there?”
“Christ geo, that is just shitty — be a man for Pete’s sake!”
Yeah, I got that but it was worth a try. Cantor and Kay-Kay got along famously, almost like best friends even. He was just all mission-oriented and really wanted things to go well, so go well they would, even if it meant having the myriad of my personal faults laid out before me and painfully defined in the most excruciating of detail — thank you for making me a better person, Kay-Kay!
The drive across the Zone of Separation (ZoS) into the Republic of Serbia (RS) was a cake, as Kay-Kay was a big sleepy-head and slept most of the way with her mouth open snoring like a King Tiger hog. I swerved and swayed gently along the road avoiding the potholes so as not to awaken Miss Piggy from her critically-needed beauty snooze.
Ker-THUMP — we hit an unavoidable pothole. She stirred slightly.
“Rooock a-by baaaby, in the treee top…” I softly sang, and she lay still once again (YAY!).
At the release point, we drifted off to the shoulder of the road and to a stop as Cantor pulled past us toward Vlasenica. I shoved Kay-Kay a couple of times to wake her as I crawled into the back seat to switch on our rearward-facing cameras. I glanced over to check the grease pencil “X” mark on the rear window that I used to calibrate my look angle in the rearview mirror when backing up and sighting the camera.
“We should get Chuck to wire us up a remote switch in the front so we can switch the cameras on without doing that awkward crawl to the back seat,” Kay-Kay suggested.
“That’s a good idea, Kay-Kay,” I replied, but she glared crossly at me.
“No, I mean it — seriously that is a good idea. Let’s hit up Chuck when we get back!”
Her glare turned to guile (Kay-Kay guile — not people guile) as we rolled forward again. We were forced to make a right turn just prior to the target apartment. Kay-Kay announced that she saw open spaces to the front of the toad’s apartment. I had not been able to catch that eye-full but we would soon see.
Looping the block, we made a left turn into the parking lot and there were indeed at least two empty spots in very plain view of the toad’s door. I was able to pull forward into a decent spot; no backing up was required. I made some fine adjustments of our axis, aiming at the door using yet another grease pencil mark on the front windshield. We two sat momentarily:
“Make the call,” I told Kay-Kay, and her eyes got big; I was letting her do something, why not?
“Cantor, Cantor… Kay-Kay; package delivered, over.”
We picked up two squelch breaks right away over the radio meaning that Cantor had heard and understood the message.
Time to go.
Kay-Kay got out and instantly slipped on ice and crashed to the ground — predicted and expected! She recovered and shut her door, then I saw her make sure it was locked. That was great. She came around and started to hook my right arm with her left — that is how couples strolled together in Bosnia, arm-in-arm. I wrenched my arm away from hers.
Clearing my throat I lit up a cigarette to stall a little time as I turned my left side to her and gave her a knitted brow to make her rethink what she was doing. Very nicely she hooked my left arm with her right… and then we walked on. She knew I was a right-handed shooter and carried on my right side. She wasn’t supposed to walk on my gun side lest she tied me up from a draw.
Coughing and spitting out my cigarette, because I don’t really smoke, we came to the T-junction with the main road leading out of town and made our right turn. There were no cars seen up to this point, and there sure as shit were no other couples so madly in love that they just had to go out for a romantic stroll. Still questioning the validity of our foolish profile, I took note that we were getting rather close to running out of city light and Cantor was down-right overdue.
As we ran completely out of city light and into Winter dark I was somewhat… disenchanted.
“Jesus Christ where in the fuck is this mother fucker??” Kay-Kay whispered hoarsely. That was the typical vernacular she used when she was really pissed-off, upset, or irritated, most of which coincidentally happened when she was around me.
“Steady now,” I encouraged her. Taking a glance around I just went for my radio for a couple of hails:
“Cantor, Cantor… geo, over,” nothing came back.
Kay-Kay was just filling her lungs for another salvo of expletives when an oh-shit set of headlights came up from behind us. Resisting the urge to look back at the approaching vehicle we saw that it was slowing to a halt next to us — at last the Cantor? It did stop but to our dismay, it was not the Cantor. The passenger window came down and a voice came out:
“Gdje ideš (where are you headed)? I smiled and pointed in our straight-ahead direction.
“Trebaš voznju s’nima? (need a lift)?” I smiled and shook my head and waved them off with my hands.
The samaritan reluctantly motored off.
“Why didn’t you talk to them? That was weird, you just looked weird!” Kay-Kay worried.
“Look, I can speak the language pretty well, but I can’t even say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ without a foreign accent. Besides we already look weird, this whole thing looks flippin’ weird. Nobody in the RS ever stops and offers anyone a ride. Something is up. Let’s cross over and head on back down towards the city. We’ll freakin’ die if we just keep walking to nowhere in the cold!”
And now I was annoyed. Kay-Kay let out that second salvo of expletives that the samaritan had so rudely interrupted, and then she let out a third. I lit up a cigarette and coughed. A quick look around and I pulled out my radio and coughed out a hail for the Cantor.
Stay tuned for part II.
By Almighty God and with honor,