It came to be on a particular weekend that we had ourselves a minor rescue and recovery operation of American military personnel on our hands. It seemed the kids upstairs, as we called them, missed their bedtime and needed someone to find them and tuck them back in.
Our safe house outside of Capajebo was three stories high. We occupied the bottom and second floor, and the top floor was used by some young JSOC communications soldiers — computer nerds — with no authority figure. They seem fairly self-sufficient up there as we never saw them other than on the rare occasion coming or going on the stairs.
I don’t think they even had a dedicated vehicle at their disposal. “They must have had blinding Internet speed up there,” is the only reason I could think of that could keep them up there. Why WE couldn’t seem to get more than 1400 bps on our second floor was beyond me. I supposed that they simply couldn’t spare the bandwidth topside lest they lose some of their streaming video capability.
“They’re inhuman to stay cooped up in there all day, day after day like that.”
“They must be remarkably disciplined to be able to remain in there so long.”
Such were the remarks among us hunters of Bosnian war criminals on the lower floors about the crazy comms kids on the nose bleed floor. But as superhumanly as they may have appeared, they became real human real fast the day they came up missing — the reason for which being most damning.
I was asked if could I make a quick meeting if I wasn’t doing anything. My response was if I wasn’t out on a war criminal hunt then, no, I wasn’t doing anything. Dan T. was already seated in the chair occupied by the one other guy in our task force who also wasn’t doing anything.
“So, what do we have going on, Dan-O?” I asked as I sat.
“Does it even matter?”
“Nope, I supposed it doesn’t; I’m up for anything, down with a mission… I’m up and down, all over the place.”
Dan’s face didn’t change at all, it never really did but I knew that inside he was slapping his knee and ROTFLMBO.
The boss stepped into the room with yellow a single yellow post-it note stuck to his index finger looking over the notes scribbled thereon.
Dan leaned over and with a microscopic grin: “Well… this shouldn’t take long.”
Now that was funny; Dan was a funny guy. I spent all day with Dan once there in Bosnia with a heavy transport cargo truck broken down on the Serbian side, the wrong side of the Zone of Separation (ZoS). We two had to walk along the highway trying to get a hateful Serb to give us a ride to an American Outpost miles and miles away.
“It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure,” Dan had muttered as we strolled with thumbs out. Dan was a funny guy.
Boss DeBarge spoke:
“An Air Force Colonel contacted me asking for help. He is in charge of the kids upstairs. They got out this evening and made a drive up Route Pear to a rumored brothel up there. They started drinking at the brothel and it turned into amateur hour real quick. Now the owners of the brothel fined them a sum they can’t pay and won’t let them leave.”
I divided a shocked look between the boss and Dan. Dan just grinned and nodded slowly the way he did any time he felt the shit was on. Now Dan was both a funny AND a happy guy.
The boss was running a ruler along Route Pear for us.
“We know where Route Pear is, Boss; it’s not our first day at this.”
We also knew that Route Pear began at the Serbian side of the ZoS, so they were in bad-guy country, and we knew that brothels — “Non-Stops” as they called them — were all owned by Mafiosos.
“Serbian Mafia — ain’t that special!” Dan grinned. I had a feeling Dan stayed in trouble most of his childhood, and from the way he wrote his letters he probably stayed expelled from school a whole lot too. That was all fine because he didn’t need to remember “I before E except after C” to break his foot off in a Serb mafioso’s ass.
“So, Dan-O… did you want to, say, drive us out, and then maybe I could drive us back, or…?
“Hey DeBarge,” Dan began, “do we know if these kids took guns with them?”
The boss face-palmed deeply and returned: “Good Christ I hope not.”
It was an hour-ish to the ZoS and the beginning of Route Pear, and then another 25 or so minutes to the Brothel. I had been on this route way more times than anyone else because I could speak the language and read the Cyrillic alphabet due to it being so similar to Russian Cyrillic. All signs changed from Latin to Cyrillic over the ZoS so it seemed like everyone going over thought they needed me to help them find the city Brčko (Birch-koe).
I finally had to put my foot down one day:
“Ok… no! You don’t need me to find Brčko. Just look for Bee, Pee, four, Kay, Oh (BP-4-KO), and that will be Brchko (Брчко) in Cyrillic!”
I repeated BP-4-KO over and over as an impromptu song and danced a jig to try and form a memorable jingle for the guys so I wouldn’t have to ride along all that way just to say:
“Turn right, here.”
“Turn right, here Dan-O,” I mentioned pointing at the Brchko city road sign.
Dan just gave me a cross look:
“This isn’t my first day at this, Geo — Bee Pee four Kay Oh.” I felt foolish.
When we pulled up to the Brothel I could see then why after all my time on Route Pear I had never seen a brothel. It looked so unassuming it could have been a warehouse for all I knew. Coats were unbuttoned as we approached the door and knocked. A small slot slid open and we could just see some unpleasant eyes looking at us through the opening. Dan looked at me to start the show.
“Non-Stop?” I questioned wondering that since “non-stop” was English why couldn’t Dan say that much.
The slot closed and the door opened. Stepping inside the foyer was dark and bathed in red light. On a bench up against the wall sat three unhappy man-boys, a robust leather-jacketed Serb brother sitting therewith.
“Hoću da razgovorim s-šefom?” I asked to speak to the boss.
“Pa, ja sam šef.” The robust brother answered standing up and crossing arms.
“Taj ljudi su kod nas, koliko cošta da oni odlaziju sa nasem?” “The people are with us, how much to let them leave with us?”
The boss quoted us a price. Dan shook the kids down for every Deutsch Mark they had, which was some 60 Marks short. 60 stinking Marks I had to shell out!
“You fuckers owe the man 60 Marks as soon as we get back, right?
“Yes Sir, yes Sir… as soon as we get back — yes Sir!”
“Nešto za popiti?” the boss invited Dan and me to a drink as I handed over the money to his smiling face. I told Dan the boss was buying us a drink to which he nodded and turned to the now standing and eager-to-leave kids:
“You fuckers sit back down while we discuss the further terms of your release with the boss,” Dan ordered. Dan was a funny, happy, and mean man.
We had a pleasant time of it with a shot and some chat with the boss. The theme I kept throughout the conversation was that we two were just soldiers in this entire mess of a war, just trying to get by and do the best we could. The boss seemed to appreciate that feeble analogy and shook our hands as we left.
“Follow us,” Dan ordered the man-kids as they slammed their car doors and revved the engine.
I drove us back — per our agreement — as Dan got on our INMARSAT (satellite phone before the smartphone was invented) and called back to Capajebo that our principal — the comms kids — were secure and back over the ZoS.
It was another quiet drive, as was always the case when traveling with Dan, a man of few words and even fewer jokes or smiles. The moon must have been blue that night, though, for after a seemingly endless bout of silence, the good Dan-O did indeed turn to me and remarked with a microscopic grin:
“So… you might say that tonight things went a little pear-shaped on Route Pear.”
Well-played, Dan-O. Dan-O was a funny man!
By Almighty God and with honor,