An Excerpt from: Balkan Spring

Copyright © 2011 John M. Dargo

All rights reserved, Wild Child Publishing.

“Why, Josep? Why do we have to move on? Ivanovic is not going to come looking for us all over the countryside. Remember I told you, technically we can’t be charged with desertion. We aren’t, and never were, officially soldiers. They have better things to do than chase down runaway volunteers.”

Petr looked up and realized he had spoken Ivanovic’s name too loudly for such a public place.

“Well, what if Ivanovic thought he was chasing murderers and traitors and not just deserters?” asked Josep in a whisper.

“What are you talking about?”

“If he were chasing traitors then he would come after them until he found them.”

Now Petr became irritated, “I asked what are you talking about? Are you saying Ivanovic thinks we’re traitors? Or was that murderers you said?”

Josep appeared to be trying to muster the courage to go on. “You remember, back at the farmhouse, just before we left? You asked me if I had seen Mikelal.”

Suddenly Petr felt a growing fear. “What has the old guy done?” He tried to remain patient, hoping his anxiety might still prove unwarranted.

“And I told you I heard something over by the lavatory,” Josep continued. “Well I did hear something. But what I did not tell you is I went over to investigate and found Mikelal, and he was very drunk. He did not hear me approach, but I heard him talking to himself.”

Petr wished Josep would hurry and get to the point and he motioned for him to go on.

“OK.” He paused. “The son-of-a-bitch was muttering Svena’s name and talking about how he had enjoyed her. It sounded to me like he was saying he forced himself on her.”

“What?” Petr was having a hard time believing what he was hearing.

Josep continued, “So I went to him and grabbed him by the shoulder and asked him what he was talking about. He was still peeing and he did me the favor of wetting my boots as he turned. He asked if I had not known her too. Because it was easy because she would not even cry out for help.”

Petr now sat completely in shock.

“And he looked at me and laughed. What was I to do? I lost control. So I took the butt of my rifle and I rammed it into his face. And when he was down on the ground, I suddenly realized what I had done, but by then there was no choice but to finish the job, so I beat him until I could be sure he wasn’t going to be able to get up again.”

“My God. Josep. You killed him?” So that was why Josep had been acting so strange. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because it is such a stupid thing to do, and I knew you would be mad. But, also I didn’t want to have to tell you about Svena. And besides, we were leaving. I thought maybe we were going far enough away no one would find us no matter how hard they tried.”

“So they will be after us,” said Petr. “ Ivanovic could be closing in on us even as we speak.” This was worse than Petr could possibly have feared. “And what about Svena? Have you talked to her about what happened? Is she all right?”

“I have not talked to her about it,” replied Josep. “She does not know we know. But she seems to be OK. You’ve seen her, just the same as I. And she does not know that I killed Mikelal!”

Petr saw two of the customers at the bar had turned and were now looking in their direction. It seemed possible they overheard part of the conversation.

“Look, we need to go back to the room to discuss this.”

Josep shook his head. “But Svena is there. We can’t just blurt out that we know about what happened.”

Petr had already considered what to say to Svena. “If she is awake, then we must tell her it is urgent we move on. We can tell her you got into a fight with Mikelal and say you killed him accidentally. No need to mention what he said about her. But we have to discuss right now what we are going to do. And we can’t talk here.”

Now Petr really wished for better visibility on their trip from Staunch to Visegrad. Partisan soldiers, or even Ivanovic himself, could have been in plain view along the road in either town and he would never have known it. How could Josep have been so stupid as to kill Mikelal? Wasn’t Mikelal some distant relative of Ivanovic? And Svena. She must be so distraught with no shoulder to be able to turn to for comfort. But could it even be true? Maybe it was just drunken boasting on Mikelal’s part. Had Svena been upset when Petr went up to her room to get her before they left the farmhouse? He couldn’t remember now.

Svena lay sleeping when Petr and Josep arrived back in the room. Petr was glad she slept. He was not sure of how, or if, he should broach the subject of Mikelal with her. And if what Josep surmised was true, and Mikelal had raped her, what then? Svena surely was not aware of what Josep had done to Ivanovic’s man. And if she found out Josep killed Mikelal because of her? Svena might feel their current predicament all her fault, and Petr would not want to add to her misery.

“We cannot stay here. We must leave in the morning,” Petr whispered.

“Yes. We must move on, even past Sarajevo,” replied Josep.

“That is something we will have to discuss later. But I’m still not in favor of leaving Yugoslavia for a foreign country. Right now we need to decide where we are going tomorrow and how we are going to get the money to make the trip.”

Petr thought for a moment. The party needed to pick up their pace and get to Sarajevo, or wherever, in a hurry. The three would need a different form of transportation other than going on foot or in a wagon. They might attempt to steal horses, but rustling could be almost as dangerous a proposition as waiting around for Ivanovic. Horse thieves did not get dealt with kindly. Maybe the group could manage to purchase a ride toward Sarajevo, similar to their trip from Staunch to Visegrad with Jure’s friend, except this time in a motor vehicle. Then it dawned on him, another form of travel lay at hand. The Drina was a navigable river at this point and flowed northward out of town. If Petr could remember correctly, it soon turned eastward, met with the Sava River and flowed into the Danube at Belgrade. From there, the waterway divided Romania and Bulgaria until it eventually flowed through Romania before emptying into the Black Sea.

Heading into occupied territory seemed anything but an ideal situation, and since the three were nominally Partisans, even hooking up with the Chetnik resistance was out of the question, but a boat trip would save them time and would be a relatively inexpensive proposition. It certainly would be easier than traveling westward over the rugged, mountainous terrain toward the Adriatic coast, especially on foot. Even an unassumingly small boat would have no problem accommodating three passengers down river with the current, Petr thought. It would be simple to catch a ride with a local merchant or fisherman, and if it were a private craft, the group might possibly even receive free passage in exchange for helping crew the boat.

Petr explained his idea to Josep. His friend agreed the plan made sense, even if it did mean heading eastward. So they determined the party would go down to the river early in the morning and catch a ride on the first boat out of Visegrad.

“That is,” Petr thought, “if Ivanovic is not waiting for us on our way out through the lobby.”

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