(You can read part I here)
From my perspective, sitting in the passenger seat of the Cantor’s SUV, I didn’t have a feeling one way or the other that it was going to be a strange day. A strange day indeed for the PIFWC hunt. I never had feelings or premonitions about how the day was going to go. Those were pointless. Just vapid things to say after something significant happened to try to make yourself seem wise:
“Well, there you go… I knew something strange was going to happen.”
“Dang… I had a feeling that wasn’t going to go well.”
My favorite: “Gacy buried 30 boys in his basement? You know, I thought there was something a little off about him!” Yes, so you thought so after the first boy was killed and buried, but you wanted to wait for another 29 more boys before you said anything — just to be sure?
Ours was a quest to find the elusive, and much sought-after, magic backwoods route to our target Serbian cities, so we could stay off the same highway approach routes that were always watched. There were checkpoints along those highway routes manned by Serbian MUPs. The UN came up with its own user-friendly name for MUPs: Military Uniformed Police. Speaking the language, I knew it better to stand for Ministarstvo Unutrašnjih Poslova (MUP), Ministry of the Interior, the governing body under which the securities organizations fell.
Folks just didn’t have time for none-a that-there book learnin’ so I just kept it to myself.
The Cantor was a pipe-hitter to be sure — my immediate supervisor — but he also had a set of pipes not to be believed: my boy could flat-out sing like nobody’s bidniss, and didn’t mind doing it. I could blurt out the name of a tune and he would bust out with a brilliant rendition. My most requested song was Bohemian Rhapsody. There were no long boring cross-country rides with the Cantor in the car.
Kay-Kay was moping back at base because she wanted to ride along with us. I shot her down on that idea:
“Why would you want to come along on this just to sit in the back seat for five hours getting bounced around?”
“Who says I would have to sit in the back seat?”
A mental dagger to the chest put her back in her place and I got one in return. I didn’t feel bad about shooting down her request, as I would soon enough find myself trapped with her in a Volkswagen Jetta for five hours, listening to strange tunes and watching her constantly popping “mood pills” or whatever the phuq those were.
Yeah, “mood pills” — find yourself in a bad mood? Pop a mood pill and soon you’ll find yourself in a good mood. Me, I didn’t ask — didn’t want to know. Besides, her constantly popping mood pills was a direct reflection on me and my (lack of) charisma. I did wonder, however, if those were over-the-counter “mood pills,” or the kind she got from her supplier Lil’ D-BAP that was on speed dial for whenever she needed to find out from which street corner to pick them up. I did this to her; wasn’t I ashamed?!? Meh…
The Cantor was picking his way nicely through the backroads while I flipped and twisted a map around trying to follow and record the route. There was no great expectation that we would find a usable route at all, but we felt compelled to rule out the possibility so as to demonstrate due diligence to the concept. Inevitably some genius officer was going to step into the mission and in the first five minutes of his read-on would grace us with:
“Well, has anyone thought enough to try and find a back route to reduce our presence to the MUPs on the highways?”
Then he would expect us to throw confetti, release balloons and rejoice over his superior knowledge. Much like most places in the army, the men were in their assignments for a comparatively long time, with officers fleeting in and out pushing their shitass policies and bureaucratic whims long enough to topple morale, grab themselves a new medal, then launch off to stave the next org from the brink of disaster.
Was it any wonder that we succeeded at catching any PIFWC?
Ahead of us the road was jammed with people and vehicles. We slowed and strained to assess the situation. It would be unfortunate to drive up onto a MUP situation in the backwoods like this. It would also look suspicious for us to turn around and appear to flee an otherwise innocuous circumstance. We approach cautiously and deliberately.
“I see a gun, Cantor!” Me reaching behind my seat for my assault rifle.
“I see a vehicle stuck in a bog,” the Cantor returned.
I saw the stuck car. Men were shoving boards and branches under the spinning tires while others rocked the car back and forth, fully in receipt of a rooster tail of mud. There was a small lory with a dead animal lying in the back. The gun I saw was a hunting shotgun sported by the apparently agitated hunter.
There was immediately something strange about the hunter’s face — or at least I could say that I thought there was something strange about him, after the fact, if the situation panned into something significant. That would certainly make me seem wise to the Cantor. I needed all the wisdom I could muster around the Cantor, be it merely apparent or otherwise, because the brother always (ALWAYS) operated at least one step ahead of me — but usually two!
We had a winch on the front of our vehicle. On the one hand, we wanted to help them because that’s just what kind people did; and on the other hand, and more importantly, we wanted to clear the path for ourselves so we could continue on with our own mission.
“Geo, talk to these people but don’t speak the language well; I don’t want them figuring out where we are from.”
“I’ve got you covered, Cantor… because I, in fact, do NOT speak the language very well to begin with.”
“Dobar dan,” I waved as I exited the SUV with the Cantor, “Treba li Vi neko pomoći?” I butchered pointing to the winch on our grill.
A chorus of positive “AAAHHH”s rang out among the men at the sight of the winch. The Cantor positioned our SUV in a conducive spot to pull the stuck car out as I paid out the cable scope from the winch. One of the homeboys gratefully hooked the working end of the cable to the undercarriage of the stuck-mobile and we made short work of coaxing it out to dry road again.
The Cantor was tooling about being thanked by the local boys while I recovered the winch cable. I joined him where he stood with the hunter with the shotgun. It was an extremely classy Beretta or Benelli shotgun with hand-engraved metallic insets. This was a very expensive Italian firearm, and the hunter was obviously an affluent man of considerable standing in his community.
The Cantor gushed over the animal in the lory, which turned out to be a rather massive wild boar. The Cantor slapped the pig’s belly and held a thumbs up to the hunter with a praising grin: “Dobar, jako jako debar!” he said: “Good, very very good!” It sounded funny as hell but it was totally understandable and I didn’t know he could muster up that much of the lingo. He pointed to the shotgun and repeated the phrase with the thumbs up.
The Cantor pulled out a small digital Point-And-Shoot camera from his coat pocket and looked at me:
“Ask the gentleman if it’s ok for me to photograph the game.”
“Gospodine, bi bilo dobro ako prijatelji moji radi sliku od svinje?” Was my question straight from the butcher’s shop that read to the extent: “Sir, would be good if friend mine makes picture from pig?” I was certainly proud.
The gentleman nodded and the Cantor moved to a vantage point where he fumbled a mighty more than he usually fumbled with his camera; but he got the shot he wanted. He grinned broadly as he moved within eyeshot of the hunter, happily showing him the pig in the LED screen of his camera. The hunter nodded proudly.
We left the hunting party as they continued on the opposite path. The Cantor said nothing initially, but kept looking at me intently as if he expected me to already know what he wanted me to say.
“Ok, so?” he taunted.
“Ok, so… what? I queried.
“What did you think of our man, our shooter with the scattergun?”
“Oh, I don’t know… rich? I want to say there was something about him or his crew or his vehicle or…”
“It’s all of it, Geo — the vehicles, the crew, the way he was dressed and that shotgun.”
The Cantor held up the camera’s LED screen for me to see. I saw then why he was fumbling so much with the camera earlier. He had secretly snapped several photos of the hunter’s face. That looks like a rather large consignment of balls, I must tell you.
“Look at his face — who could that be; who is that?” He coaxed.
And then dawn slowly settled over my fat head as I finally replied: “Well… phuq me runnin’ in the rain in Rio De Janeiro… is that our boy?!?”
“I think that could quite possibly be our man Rado Vinković, my good fellow!”
The Cantor was amazing to me for his skill, demeanor and nerve. Hell, he didn’t need me at all that day, not a thing from me. I could just as well have stayed back and sent Kay-kay on this trip.
Either way, that was a break from her, a much-needed one. Because the very next time the two of us went out I made a woodland excursion and completely ripped the oil pan off of the Jetta. That turned a five-hour drive with her into a nine-hour symphony of ceaseless reprimands and mood pill-popping.
But in the meantime, the Cantor cocked his head back and peeled out:
“Mamaaa, just killed a man; put a gun up to his head, pulled the trigger now he’s dead… Mamaaa, life had just begunnn, and now I’ve gone and thrown it alllll awayyyyyy!”
By Almighty God and with honor,