War Crimes, a Noah Milano short story by J. Vandersteen
I was behind the wheel of my Dodge Charger, waiting for my target to leave his office. When he showed up I readied my Nikon camera. Michael Bass was a pretty well dressed, gaunt white haired guy. The suit he was wearing looked like a Hugo Boss or something. His laundry service did okay it seemed. Two days ago I was asked to investigate him by the owner of a deli I frequent, Zlatko Abdic. He came at me with a pretty weird story. He ran into Bass when he was taking his laundry over there and was sure he recognized him as Mikael ‘The Sadist’ Basic. Zlatko used to live in Croatia during the ethnic cleansings. He was sure he recognized Bass as the officer who tortured hundreds of Muslim Bosnians. Seeing him sure as hell brought back some nightmares for Zlatko. Basic had made him drink blood and gasoline, keeping him locked up without food and water for days. If Bass was indeed the person Zlatko thought he was, he wanted to make sure he got his punishment. I frequently do pro-deo work for friends. After coming into his place for four years now I counted Zlatko as one so I agreed to do some investigating for him.
My plan was to get as much evidence about Bass’ real identity as possible, so I figured I’d start out with some good photographs. I shot as many pictures as I could between the time Bass exited his office and entered his car, a dark Ford Fusion. He drove off and I decided to follow along.
I followed him across Venice to Abbott Kinney where he parked the Fusion and got out. He went inside a coffee shop. I waited in the car for a moment. After fifteen minutes I left my Dodge. If I could get my hands on the coffee cup he’d been using I might get some useful evidence from it for the DA. Fingerprints, DNA, stuff like that. If Bass really was Basic the DA would be interested in getting this guy incarcerated and extradited.
I walked into the coffee shop. It was a small but cozy little place, pop art on the walls. Lots of young kids have fancy coffee. No Bass however. Nowhere in sight.
I walked over the pierced girl behind the counter. I asked if she knew where the white haired older guy in the suit went. She said she saw him go to the bathroom.
“Did he drink something?” I asked the teen.
“No dude, not yet. Said I could get him something after he came back from the john. Hey, he’s taking a long time over there. Are you a friend of his? Maybe you should check if he’s okay?”
I went over to the bathroom. Nobody in there. I checked under the doors of the stalls. Nothing. There was an open window though. Had Bass made me? Was this his great escape? I kicked a stall in frustration. Fucking amateur moves!
I left the coffee shop and entered my car. I drove off to Zlatko, I had at least the pictures to show him.
Zlatko was cleaning a table in his deli with a wet cloth when I entered. He greeted me and I told him I had something to show him. Since we were the only people in we could have a seat at one of the tables.
I showed him the pictures and told him what happened.
“Taking a good look at those pictures there’s no doubt in my mind this is Basic,” Zlatko said. “But what do you think? Did he catch on that you were following him?”
“It looks that way. That means it’s wise not to wait too long before we tell the DA what we know. If we wait too long Basic might go further into hiding.”
“Will you contact the DA?” Zlatko asked.
“Yeah, I know the guy. He hates my guts but I know how to get in touch with him without going through a lot of red tape.”
“Thank you, Noah. If this demon gets his punishment a lot of his victims will be very thankful.”
“Good to hear, Zlatko.”
Zlatko made me a sandwich to go and I went to my Dodge and drove off.
*Two hours later I was having a drink at Ernie’s, my favorite watering hole when my cell phone rang. I answered it and heard Zlatko’s voice, “Basic is here. He just parked his car! He’s coming in.”
“Take it easy,” I told him. “I’m coming over.”
There was a loud bang and the line suddenly went dead. Fuck, fuck! I had to get over there, pronto!
*I was lucky that the cops didn’t stop me, because I was putting the pedal to the proverbial metal. I raced over to Zlatko’s deli and parked the Dodge without any regards for official parking spots. Drawing my Glock I left the car and ran over to the deli’s front door. It was unlocked and I entered. Tables were upturned, bottles were broken. On the floor there was some blood. It was clear that a fight had taken place over here. There was no sign of Zlatko. I had to assume he had fallen into Basic’s hands. I could only pray that he was still alive.
*I drove to Basic’s laundry service. All blinds were closed but I could make out the sounds of washing machines. The door was locked, but several solid kicks broke it from its hinges. I was inside.
Zlatko was sitting in a chair, one arm bound behind him, another arm extended. Basic was holding the arm with one hand. In his other hand he was holding pliers. He was in the process of ripping out one of Zlatko’s fingernails. The washing machines had obviously been turned on to drown out Zlatko’s screams.
“Stop it, you sick bastard! Drop those pliers!” I said, pointing my Glock at Basic.
“Go away, this is none of your business!” Basic told me.
“Help me, Noah! He’s torturing me because he wants me to tell him who I told about him,” Zlatko said. I noticed there was blood running down his temples.
I put Basic in the line of my sight. “Drop it, you sick fuck or I drop you.”
“You’ve got it all wrong!” Basic said.
“I think you noticed me following you around and managed to follow me to Zlatko. You recognized him as one of the men you tortured and decided to kill him before he told anyone about you. When you realized he already might have told people about you, you decided you had to make sure who he told about you so you could set out to kill them too. That means after Zlatko I would probably be next. That kind of makes it self-defense if I kill you.”
“I am not Basic! He is!” The man I was sure was Basic sounded pretty sure of himself. “This man who calls himself Zlatko is The Sadist, not me. He thought he recognized me as one of the men he tortured and wanted to make sure of it by hiring you. I’ve got him now, though. I will pay him back in kind for all he did to me. I will put him through exactly the same torture he put me through.”
That was a dilemma. How the hell was I to know who spoke the truth. Who was I going to shoot? What if this latest story was right. What if Zlatko was the war criminal? The other guy was the guy doing the torturing now. Didn’t that make him just as bad? I got a few nasty flashbacks about the shit I saw my dad’s fixer, Kane, pull. I stood by idly then. Was I going to stand by idly now? Didn’t The Sadist deserve this punishment?
“He’s crazy, kill him!” Zlatko yelled.
“Let me get my revenge!” Bass screamed.
I shot Bass in the arm. He dropped the pliers. I hit him in the face with my Glock. He went down.
“Thank god! Get me out of these ropes,” Zlatko said.
I shook my head. “I’m going to let the cops sort this shit out. Whoever you both are, you’re both sick shits. And whoever I used to be, I’m done with sick shits.” I grabbed my cell and called 911.
*It turned out Zlatko was indeed Basic. Bass, whose real name was Bolonic, turned out to be not much better than Basic however. The only difference was his war crimes were made for the other side of the conflict. They both were extradited to the Bosnian authorities. I later learned Zlatko / Basic hung himself. Bolonic got himself killed in prison, fighting over a pack of cigarettes. They all got their punishment in the end.
For a long time after that I found myself wondering when I would have to pay for the times I stood by, sometimes even aided and abetted my father’s thugs. I could only hope the good I tried to do would even up the scales enough for me when I had to face my maker.
Jochem Vandersteen has been writing for a couple of years now. His first full-length novel White Knight Syndrome is still on sale. He’s also the webmaster of the site that spotlights the fictional P.I.: www.sonsofspade.tk and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org