Our efforts to observe the apartment of a Bosnian war criminal — the Toad — wanted by the Hague were one-deep and depended solely on the sightings from our tactical reconnaissance teams hiding in woodlands while evading and avoiding goat herds. Sure, we were “gathering intelligence” on the guy, but it was just so… one-dimensional and shallow. We finally entertained a much-needed shift in gears, a shakeout of creativity to get closer to and collect faster on the Toad.
During a spitball session one brother threw this out:
“We’ve got deep pockets, let’s buy the goat herd so we can get rid of them, then move closer and stay longer in persistent stare on the Toad.”
“What in the name of shit do we do with a herd of goats, Bob?”
“We sell them off on the cheap and recoop most of our money, Cantor.”
“That is the most God-awful stupid idea, Bob… just God-awful stupid!”
“Well fuck me, Cantor… that’s what you do at a spitball — let’s hear YOUR stellar ideas.”
“We get an apartment — Geo gets an apartment as close to the Toad as he can, so the Toad can be watched longer, closer, and from his face — not his ass.”
“Risky as hell; my idea has fewer risks, man.”
“Well my idea has fewer goats, Bob!”
And so it went.
The spitball harvested the grand scheme to find and rent an apartment as close to the Toad’s as possible, then sit and watch him, reporting as close to real-time as possible. My role was going to be huge once again simply because of the language. I never realized what a double-edged sword learning the Bosnian language was going to be for me, but honestly, I really couldn’t give a shit because it was benefitting the mission.
My friend Delta Colonel Pete Blaber wrote: “The Mission, the Men, and Me.” The very premise of his book outlines the priority of those things most important to a leader and a team player. I was just flailing about trying to learn which side of the language sword was sharper so I could either avoid it or make it work to my advantage. I’ve been cut by that damned Damocles sword always hanging over me like a black cloud.
“Geo, are you ok with getting an apartment in Zvornik, you down?”
“Cantor… heh, heh… are you asking me if I want to be thrown back into the briar patch? Gosh, please don’t trow Brèr Rabbit back in dat nasty-ol’ briar patch next to dat goudron, Brèr Fox!! I’m down for that as much as I am down for most anything here in Bosnia, which is not much at all, but sure I’ll do it!”
“Take Kay-Kay with you.”
“…………………………..come again, Cantor?“
“Just for the rental interview — she doesn’t have to be your ‘wife’, she can be your girlfriend, or sister, or… maid?”
“Oh, is that really supposed to make it more palatable, Cantor? Deal’s off, brother!”
“Geo, don’t make me go Big Army on you; there was never any ‘deal;’ it’s an order. This sort of profile enhancement thing is why she is on this mission. Until now there has been zero opportunities for her to do her job.”
“Ok sure, Cantor… this is alll about Kay-Kay and making her look good for the brass — bring it!”
“Careful there, Geo… remember what happened to Icarus: he flew too close to the sun and it melted the ice he was standing on… then he fell through! he said with a savvy grin.”
“Heh… you’re a real peach, Cantor — that made zero sense.”
I put together a plan on how to proceed at the interview. I had open range on how to handle it, I just couldn’t be American — that was my one and only hard-fast edict. Gosh, did I really need an edict to help me figure out not to be from America? I only knew I was going to save German for last because just too many Bosnians I had met had been to Germany for work. Chances were that the interviewer might speak German, and if I told him I was from Germany… well, I would be compromised because my proficiency in German just couldn’t sustain that cover.
I had once tapped my way out of a claim to be German by back-pedaling to: “Oh, well yes did say that I am from Germany, but by way of France. You see I am from France, but I was living and working in Germany before I came here — vive la France!!” When the opposition broke out into better French than I could speak, I tried to triple layer the deceit by saying I was “from France but by way of Spain where I was actually born and raised!”
I was promptly chased out of that neighborhood by a Makarov… or a Walther PPK. You know I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at the time, and as a Green Beret weapons man, I really took disgust with myself for that. I know we are at times our own worst critics; we beat ourselves up and kick ourselves in the balls over trivial matters at times, but I think in all it served to make me a better person.
Now that I think of it… it really could have been a P38 — AAHHRRGG!!!
So I had my plan, or my un-plan as I drurthered it. Kay-Kay, bless her bloody little heart, devalued my plan by shredding it into fine strands during the whole drive to Zvornik. All the while I mentally translated the children’s’ rhyme “Fatty Fatty Two-By-Four” such that it still rhymed even in Spanish to preclude me from hearing a single word she said.
“You haven’t heard a single word I’ve said!” she bitched, “You have said NOTHING this whole trip — say SOMETHING!” I looked at her and recited:
“Gordita, gordita, de gran tamaño, no puedes pasar por la puerta del baño!”
“What does that mean??” she snapped, “Are you making fun of me??”
“Waah-waah WAAH-waah, waah-waah WAAH-WAAH-waaaah, (Charlie Brown grownup-speak).
Her harangues went right through my two ears like crap through a goose. Thanks to her I was so much more proficient in all of my languages. I once cured cancer on a particularly long trip with her… I would just be damned if I could later recall the cure. She was just a widget in this. She wasn’t going to say a single word during the interview, or even understand a single word… so how did that translate (no pun) into her having a say in the plan?
She was going to be the wife, or the girlfriend, or the sister, or the drag queen I had picked up op in Vlasenica — whomever I chose to introduce her as to the landlord. So I had to continuously remind her to kindly “SHUT THE FUCK UP!” at exhaustingly brief intervals. I could tell she was on the very edge of bawling so I tapered off — I didn’t want her to meet the landlord all puffy-eyed and looking like I beat her.
“Come along, dear…” I invited with my hand and arm outstretched through the open doorway of the car door. I had just opened it for her like the chivalrous and gentlemanly husband that I was. We climbed a few cement porch steps to the front door and I hammered on it. Kay-Kay didn’t give me so much as a sideways glance — which was cool! — during the awkward moments we waited for an answer to our knocks.
The job, the position I was in, was a sucking-ass wound as I saw it, and the only way to carry it through to a successful end was to have the upper hand all the time. To gain the upper hand, keep and maintain the upper hand, and to never (EVER) lose it! My game, my rules; and the rules changed at the speed of light as I needed them to — welcome to geo’s Bosnia!
So the interview was challenging and entertaining — what more could I ask for? The Mrs. politely smiled and shook hands with Mr. Marković my expected landlord. Afterward, we, the happy couple, strolled arm in arm to the car, where I once again held open the car door for the little lady, and off we drove.
“Ok, so??” Kay-Kay started.
“Piece-o-cake, mama.” I returned.
“YEAH SCORE!!” she thundered, and commenced to elaborating on how deliriously happy she was that the interview had gone so well — oh, how wonderful life is while you’re in the world!
Back at home base proper, I shook my head “no” meekly at the Cantor when we met.
“I don’t know what to tell you, Cantor… I just didn’t have the right answers to all his prying questions. I thought I was doing ok, but in the end, there was nothing but an adamant ‘NO’. I must have had a zit, I stunk, I had an eye twitch, a big nose, I scratched my nuts — I shouldn’t have told that ‘How many Serbs does it take to change a lightbulb joke!’”
“Don’t beat yourself up, Geo… this is just strike one of our attempts at this surveillance angle. We’ll keep trying until we get a place — that’s all.”
“Yeah, man! That’s how I see it and I’m ready for round two. I know it will go all the better next time; I really can feel it.”
The Cantor and I sipped coffee in silence. By the end of the day, we were both satisfied with the operations as they stood and hopeful of how they would progress. I think the Cantor truly believed that I had tried, and I knew in my heart that I truly had tried. I was at peace with the Cantor, and he at peace with his coffee.
And the door busted open with the jubilant Kay-Kay holding a bottle of šlivovic in her hand and a short stack of plastic cups in the other she shouted:
“LET’S CELEBRATE BOOOOOOYZ!!”
By Almighty God and with honor,