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 Marko’s illegal acts, I couldn’t act as his legal counsel. Logan said he’d 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 Marko’s 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 didn’t 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 can’t do that.“
”That’s 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.“
”It’s not a matter of want. I can’t legally do it. But even if I could represent you, I wouldn’t.“
A look of mock sadness. ”You don’t like me?“
”You could have shot me in the stream. But you didn’t.“
”I wanted to make sure you’d be convicted for Kate’s murder.“
”I understand that. But you shouldn’t hate me, man. You never walked in my shoes. You don’t know how I got here.“
”I know you had a tough childhood. So did a lot of other people. They didn’t do the things you’ve done.“
This amused him greatly. ”Not many people had childhood like mine.“
That’s why I’m here,I realized. He wants me to understand him. He wants me to hear his story and tell him he’s not such a bad guy after all. I’ve 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 Kate’s 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. ”That’s good! I like that.“
I looked at my watch. ”You’ve got five minutes.“
”What do you think they’re going to do to me?“
”Not what you deserve, probably.“
”What do I deserve?“
”The Big Sleep.“
”It’s a book.“
”I don’t think they’re 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. I’ve seen the talk shows. They’re going to make me a cause.“
He’s 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. ”That’s it! Larry King Live! CNN. People see me even in Croatia!“
”The meter’s running, Marko.“
”Yeah, I know. Okay. I come from Srebece, yeah? It’s 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 wasn’t like CNN, okay? They came at night and beat down the doors. All the houses, everybody’s 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 wasn’t 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. That’s when the old guy stuck his bayonet into my stomach. I didn’t 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 won’t 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 then…I was a stupid kid. The Serbs did this all over the place, man. Especially to the Muslims.“
”Like the Chinese in Tibet.“
”When the Chinese army invaded Tibet, they forced the Buddhist monks to kill their fellow monks. Because they’re nonviolent. The Chinese made them break their most sacred vow.“
Marko nods soberly. ”That’s 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. He’s 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, she’s 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 it’s going to be okay. Even though I’m bleeding all over the place, right? Then I hear a commotion outside, and about ten soldiers run through the door. They’re drunk, covered with blood. They go crazy, right there. They’re screaming at the first guys to kill us, that we’re dogs like the Muslims. Then one of them takes out a knife, kneels down, and cuts off Papa’s head.“
Marko made a slashing motion with the flat of his hand. The cuffs rattled.
”He holds out Papa’s 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 Papa’s head. She’s crying, but she does what they say. They all laugh, and then someone says it’s 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. That’s the last time I ever saw her.“
”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 don’t know how I made it.“
Marko nodded vehemently. ”That’s right! Why, you know?“
”There’s 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.“
”Me and some guys, we found some Serb girls later on. One or two at a time, you know? When we finished, we’d say, ‘Tell them it’s for Srebece.’“
”Why did you do that?“
Marko looked confused. ”Because that’s what they did to us. To our women.“
”The girls you raped didn’t do anything to you.“
More confusion. ”They were Serbs, man.“
”Why didn’t 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.
Marko’s face closed. ”That’s something else, man. That was an accident.“
”What do you mean?“
”I always liked Kate. More than that, really. She wasn’t 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 wouldn’t look at you. So I waited.“
”And you slept with Mia Burke.“
Another sly smile. ”You know about that? Yeah. Mia’s hot, too. But Kate…she 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 I’d never get my chance, but then…“
”She came to you for the pills.“
”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.“
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, weren’t you? You and the Asians.“
”You shot those people at Cyrus’s safe house. You were trying to kill him.“
Marko can’t conceal his pride.
”That’s why Cyrus’s guys went to the Wilsons‘, to get payback.“
The arrogance vanishes, replaced by a terrible bitterness.
”Let’s 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 Anders’s 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 friend’s house. I didn’t want them telling Cyrus what I was doing. I went in from Sherwood Estates, not Pinehaven.“
”How did you find her?“ I asked, remembering Ellen’s version of the story.
”I wasn’t sure exactly where she was. I figured she was jogging by the water, but it had been raining, so I wasn’t 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?“
”What did you do?“
Marko’s 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 couldn’t tell if she was breathing or not. I didn’t think so.“
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 didn’t 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.“
”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 wasn’t moving. Some chicks are like that anyway, you know? I don’t know what happened to Kate. I think she hit her head on something.“
”What happened next? Was she dead at that point?“
”That’s 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 wouldn’t 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 wouldn’t 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 don’t think I even killed her. I think whatever happened before I got there killed her.“
”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.“
Marko made a derogatory sound. ”He was crying, screaming at the sky. I saw that all the time in the city.“
”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 didn’t save any of them.“
”What’s your point?“
”No point, man. That’s the point.“
I realized I’d heard enough. The rest of the story didn’t interest me. I knew without asking that Marko had been the blackmailer on the motorcycle that first night, exploiting what he’d seen that afternoon to get more money and drugs. I didn’t know who’d 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?“
I turned back. ”What is it?“
”Did you fuck Mia?“
I stared at him in disbelief.
”Come on, man. Did you?“
He laughed softly. ”Too bad. She’s good.“
I wanted to break down the steel IV stand and shove it up his ass. But I didn’t. I said, ”I’m sure that’s 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 she’ll 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 your mother and sister would think of you if they’d seen what you did to those Serbian girls. And what you did to Kate.“
Marko’s eyes radiated more hatred than I’d 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 Drew’s 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 sheriff’s 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 Marko’s 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 sheriff’s 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 hadn’t done it, then Cyrus White’s 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 Tim’s sake. Tim, of course, was in school at St. Stephen’s. A day later, I managed to ask Ellen the same question, and she backed Drew’s 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.