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Chapter 41

Eight hours after Marko was admitted to the hospital, I received the most surprising call of my life. Police Chief Don Logan informed me that Marko Bakic wanted to hire me as his defense attorney. I told Logan that since I had witnessed some of Markos illegal acts, I couldnt act as his legal counsel. Logan said hed told Marko this, but that the boy wanted to talk to me anyway.

All I had to do was take the elevator up from the first floor, where the ICU was, to the fourth, where patients recovered from surgery. Two cops guarded the door of Markos private room. The boy lay in his bed with steel cuffs on his wrists and shackles on his legs. Another chain connected the leg irons to the hospital bed.

Marko laughed when I shuffled into the room.

Hello, Mr. Cage. You all right?

I nodded.

I didnt know that was you in the stream. I just found out this morning.

Why am I here, Marko?

I want you to be my lawyer.

I cant do that.

Thats what they told me.

So why am I here?

He smiled enthusiastically. I think maybe after you hear my story, you decide to be my lawyer after all.

Its not a matter of want. I cant legally do it. But even if I could represent you, I wouldnt.

A look of mock sadness. You dont like me?

No.

You could have shot me in the stream. But you didnt.

I wanted to make sure youd be convicted for Kates murder.

I understand that. But you shouldnt hate me, man. You never walked in my shoes. You dont know how I got here.

I know you had a tough childhood. So did a lot of other people. They didnt do the things youve done.

This amused him greatly. Not many people had childhood like mine.

Thats why Im here,I realized. He wants me to understand him. He wants me to hear his story and tell him hes not such a bad guy after all. Ive known a lot of criminals like that. Marko is one of those guys who, no matter what he might do, will never believe it was his fault. It would serve no purpose to hear him out, other than to gratify my curiosity about Kates last minutes. But that was reason enough.

Say what you want to say, I told him.

I need a cigarette.

I need a Ferrari.

Marko burst out laughing. Thats good! I like that.

I looked at my watch. Youve got five minutes.

What do you think theyre going to do to me?

Not what you deserve, probably.

What do I deserve?

The Big Sleep.

What?

Its a book.

I dont think theyre going to do anything, he said, like a gambler assessing the odds of a meaningless game. Not after they hear my story. This is America, man. Ive seen the talk shows. Theyre going to make me a cause.

Hes already got it planned out,I thought. He sees himself on the interview circuit. You going to do Larry King or Oprah first?

Yeah! he cried, laughing even harder. Thats it! Larry King Live! CNN. People see me even in Croatia!

The meters running, Marko.

Yeah, I know. Okay. I come from Srebece, yeah? Its a little village not far from Dubrovnik. When I was in Srebece, I was nine years old. I had a family. Sister, brother, mama, papa. Everybody happy. Then the Serbs came. It wasnt like CNN, okay? They came at night and beat down the doors. All the houses, everybodys doors smashed. The soldiers did what they wanted, took what they wanted. Everything. Money, furniture, cars, girls.

Marko sniffed and looked around the hospital room. He wasnt laughing anymore. When they came to our house, we were eating supper. Purple cabbage, I still remember it. When Papa got up from the table, they hit him with the butt of a rifle. Five soldiers, we had. Two older guys, three kids. All with Kalashnikovs. They beat my father to the floor. After him, my brother, Karol. Karol was sixteen. Then they took my mother and sister to the bedrooms. Three guys. Papa tried to stop them, so the oldest guy shot him in the stomach. Papa lay on the floor, holding his guts in while Mama and Katrina screamed from the back.

Where were you?

One of the soldiers held me. When he let go to light a cigarette, I tried to run to Mama. Thats when the old guy stuck his bayonet into my stomach. I didnt even feel it. It was like somebody knocked the wind out of me. Like a football hit me hard in the gut.

Marko began jangling his handcuffs. The raping went on for a long time. Mama and Katrina never stopped screaming. They fought the bastards. Finally the soldiers brought them back. No clothes, blood all over them. Then the old guy said he wants a show. He tells my brother to screw my sister. You believe that? Karol says no, he wont do it. The guy says, Do it or I kill your mother, you stinking Croat. Now I understand he meant to kill us all anyway, but thenI was a stupid kid. The Serbs did this all over the place, man. Especially to the Muslims.

Like the Chinese in Tibet.

What?

When the Chinese army invaded Tibet, they forced the Buddhist monks to kill their fellow monks. Because theyre nonviolent. The Chinese made them break their most sacred vow.

Marko nods soberly. Thats it. Same thing. So this is happening, yeah? Mama tells Katrina to help Karol do sex to her, do anything they say. And Karol is trying. Hes crying and doing this thing to my sister. My sister was a virgin, man. You understand this? My brother is fucking my sister on the couch. Papa is sobbing and screaming that the Serbs are animals, so they shoot him again to shut him up.

Did they kill him?

Marko nods. Completely. So Mama goes crazy. Her life is over, shes watching this obscenity, and she sits down on the floor and stares at the wall like an insane person. For a second I think maybe its going to be okay. Even though Im bleeding all over the place, right? Then I hear a commotion outside, and about ten soldiers run through the door. Theyre drunk, covered with blood. They go crazy, right there. Theyre screaming at the first guys to kill us, that were dogs like the Muslims. Then one of them takes out a knife, kneels down, and cuts off Papas head.

Marko made a slashing motion with the flat of his hand. The cuffs rattled.

He holds out Papas head to my mother and orders her to nurse it. Put her breast in its mouth, yeah? She ignores the guy, so he shoots her. It was a blessing, believe me. Then they force Katrina to take Papas head. Shes crying, but she does what they say. They all laugh, and then someone says its time to get back to the trucks. The old guy looks at Karol, says, Good-bye, dog, and shoots him in the chest. Then they grab Katrina and drag her outside. Thats the last time I ever saw her.

And you?

The last guy to leave stuck me again, in the balls this time. Then he left me there to die. I tell you, man, I dont know how I made it.

Or why.

Marko nodded vehemently. Thats right! Why, you know?

Theres no answer to that.

I guess not. Anyway, they moved me to a hospital in Sarajevo. They thought they were helping me. In some ways it was better there, other ways worse. But I learned to survive. And I got some payback.

Hows that?

Me and some guys, we found some Serb girls later on. One or two at a time, you know? When we finished, wed say, Tell them its for Srebece.

Why did you do that?

Marko looked confused. Because thats what they did to us. To our women.

The girls you raped didnt do anything to you.

More confusion. They were Serbs, man.

Why didnt you target soldiers instead?

A sly smile. We did that, too. We fucked some people up.

I walked to the window and looked out at the bypass. Cars were passing outside, the people inside them oblivious to most of what had happened in their town last night, unable even to imagine the horrors that Marko Bakic had endured in his hometown.

What about Kate? I asked.

Markos face closed. Thats something else, man. That was an accident.

What do you mean?

I always liked Kate. More than that, really. She wasnt like the other girls. She had something.

You had a thing for her?

Yeah. From the time I first got here. But I was cool about it. Kate was that type, you know? If you let her know you wanted her, she wouldnt look at you. So I waited.

And you slept with Mia Burke.

Another sly smile. You know about that? Yeah. Mias hot, too. But Kateshe had a dark side I liked. But she was dating that stupid football player. Anyway, I watched her for a long time. I was starting to think Id never get my chance, but then

She came to you for the pills.

Yeah.

You thought you had her then.

Marko nodded. Cyrus fucked that up.

So what did you do?

I kept waiting. I know how to wait, man. You learn to wait for water, you can wait for anything. I followed her sometimes. I even tracked her cell phone at the end.

Like Cyrus?

Marko laughs. Cyrus never tracked her phone. I just told the cop that to get him off my back.

So Sonny Cross never got the truth from Marko, not even with hisDirty Harry tactics. You were trying to cut Cyrus out of the trade, werent you? You and the Asians.

Think so?

You shot those people at Cyruss safe house. You were trying to kill him.

Marko cant conceal his pride.

Thats why Cyruss guys went to the Wilsons, to get payback.

The arrogance vanishes, replaced by a terrible bitterness.

Lets get back to Kate, I say quietly. Were you following her on the day she died?

Marko raises his cuffed hands and scratches at the bandage on his shoulder. Yeah. When the guys picked me up at Coach Anderss house, I ran home and checked my computer. I got a fix on her, and got them to drop me down by the creek. Not too close, though. They left me in front of a friends house. I didnt want them telling Cyrus what I was doing. I went in from Sherwood Estates, not Pinehaven.

How did you find her? I asked, remembering Ellens version of the story.

I wasnt sure exactly where she was. I figured she was jogging by the water, but it had been raining, so I wasnt sure. I went down there to see.

What did you find?

Kate, man. Her legs were lying in the water, and she was bleeding from the head.

Was she wearing clothes?

Sure. Tennis dress.

And a top?

Yeah.

What did you do?

Markos eyes were fixed on the foot of his bed. He seemed to be reliving what had happened next in his mind. I tried to wake her up. I couldnt tell if she was breathing or not. I didnt think so.

And then?

His eyes suddenly sought out mine, imploring me for understanding. I got to looking at her. She was wearing that skirt, and it started getting to me. Kate was hot, man. She reminded me a little of my sister. More than a little, really.

What did you do?

I decided to take a look. I pushed up her shirt. I squeezed her tits a little bit. She didnt move, but she was still warm, you know?

I nodded as though I understood his logic.

It made me hard, touching her, so I pulled down her skirt and went inside her.

Jesus.

It took some work, man. She was dry like sandpaper. But after a while, I got in there.

A wave of heat passes through my face.

Marko shrugged. What would you do, man? Like I said, she was warm. It was just like the real thing, only she wasnt moving. Some chicks are like that anyway, you know? I dont know what happened to Kate. I think she hit her head on something.

What happened next? Was she dead at that point?

Thats the thing, man! I did her for a while-both ways, you know? But when I was almost finished, suddenly her eyes opened up. Boom, she was looking at me! It freaked me out, because she started screaming.Loud. I told her to be quiet, but she wouldnt shut up. She tried to throw me off her, but I was so close, man, I just had to finish. You know that feeling?

Sure, I said, trying hard not to climb onto the bed and strangle him.

I put my hands on her neck. Just to shut her up, right? Not to kill her or anything. Just to keep her quiet until I was done.

I understand. She wouldnt shut up. So what happened?

Nothing, really. Marko squinted as though to see the memory more clearly. After I came, her eyes were closed again. I think she just died, man. I dont think I even killed her. I think whatever happened before I got there killed her.

Unbelievable.And then?

I heard someone coming. Moving fast. I thought maybe it was a deer, but when it got close, I could tell it was human. I ran across the creek and got down behind some bamboo.

Who was it?

The doctor. Elliott. He ran up to Kate and fell down on his knees. He pounded on her chest, then started pumping it like they do on TV. But it was no use. She was gone.

And then?

Marko made a derogatory sound. He was crying, screaming at the sky. I saw that all the time in the city.

Sarajevo?

Yeah. After a sniper hit somebody. People cursing God, wailing, screaming at heaven. But you know what? Not one person ever got up and walked again. God didnt save any of them.

Whats your point?

No point, man. Thats the point.

I realized Id heard enough. The rest of the story didnt interest me. I knew without asking that Marko had been the blackmailer on the motorcycle that first night, exploiting what hed seen that afternoon to get more money and drugs. I didnt know whod helped him, but neither did I care enough to give him the satisfaction of asking. Marko would soon be convicted by a jury, and his fate would be up to those twelve people. It was time for me to put it all behind me. I turned away from him and walked to the door.

Hey, he called. You leaving?

Yes.

Wait up.

I turned back. What is it?

Did you fuck Mia?

I stared at him in disbelief.

Come on, man. Did you?

No.

He laughed softly. Too bad. Shes good.

I wanted to break down the steel IV stand and shove it up his ass. But I didnt. I said, Im sure thats true. And one day, someone a hell of a lot luckier than you is going to spend his life with her. Somebody who earned her.

He seemed to consider this. Then he said, Maybe so. But shell always remember me.

I walked back to him then, fighting the urge to beat him into a puddle of wet bone and tissue. You know what you should be asking yourself?

What?

What your mother and sister would think of you if theyd seen what you did to those Serbian girls. And what you did to Kate.

Markos eyes radiated more hatred than Id seen in a long time.

And with that I left his room.

Two days after I left that hospital room, Judge Minor released Drew from jail under a JNOV-judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The day after that, a special grand jury indicted Marko Bakic for the murder of Kate Townsend. Just as in Drews case, this meant that Marko had to be transferred into state custody. Deputy Tommy Burns and another deputy picked up the prisoner from the city jail and drove him downtown to the sheriffs department. Billy Byrd himself stood on the steps, waiting to greet his new charge. The deputies dragged Marko from the cruiser and jerked him erect in his irons, whereupon Marko flipped Sheriff Byrd the bird and gave him a glare both scornful and defiant. The sheriff had opened his mouth to reply when a 180-grain deer slug tore through Markos heart, showering the sheriff with bright red blood.

The rifle shot was heard all over town. I was standing in my backyard on Washington Street, playing with Annie, when I heard what I thought was an electrical transformer exploding from the direction of the Mississippi River. Two minutes later, my cell phone rang. Caitlin had witnessed the shooting from thirty yards away. She said it looked like the bullet had come from one of the taller buildings near the sheriffs department.

Both Sheriff Byrd and Chief Logan believe that the Asians murdered Marko to prevent him from ratting out the drug traders to save himself. The joint task force issued a statement supporting this theory, adding a postscript that if the Asians hadnt done it, then Cyrus Whites crew probably had. That was the story that Caitlin printed in theExaminer. But when I asked Drew where he was when Marko died, he told me he had taken the day off to stay home with Ellen. Mending fences, he said, for Tims sake. Tim, of course, was in school at St. Stephens. A day later, I managed to ask Ellen the same question, and she backed Drews story to the hilt. But as Ellen spoke, I saw a profound disconnect between her mouth and her eyes. And I knew what that disconnect meant. Ellen Elliott will do whatever she has to do to save her family. After all, she has her own guilt to carry. But in her soul, she knows what I know now-that Marko Bakic, the boy who brutally murdered Kate Townsend, died by the hand of the man who loved her above all others.

And that is as it should be.


Chapter 40 | Turning Angel | Chapter 42