My time in the caravan near Winchester will be cut short. The autumn weather has turned colder now and I’m wearing far too many layers of clothes whilst sleeping – even the dog has extra blankets at night.
It’s only one week short of my due leaving date and I’ll use the time at home to make some phone calls, reconnect and start to arrange my transition back to parish life. In the meantime I have continued to write when my hands are warm enough to type (where do you get hold of those fingerless gloves?) and below is the next section of draft one of the book. It continues from where a previous blog post left off and I have more already written but I’m holding that back for now. I hope you enjoy reading it and I really would appreciate any comments you may have about the story so far.
It was only twenty seconds of follow up news coverage but they were showing it again! Janko was fuming. For two days in a row the author of all his pain was staring down at him from that small television. Comforting a childless mother whilst turning the knife in this heart of a childless father. Why was he the only one that seemed able to see the evil in the eyes of Father James the Parish Priest? It was nearly the end of his shift, the washing up was slowing down so he made an excuse about a parole appointment and left early. Walking the short distance to the bar he knew quite well.
Sitting on the end of the bar, far from anyone who might want to engage him in conversation, Janko nursed his beer as he nursed his internal wounds. He sat silently and drank, slipping lower and lower into his own despair. Retelling the story of the raid that took his lovely Katerina and their teenaged daughter. Why had he gone into the woods that day? He knew why – they needed fuel, wood for a fire on which to cook and to keep warm around. He’d taken Stefan with him, not that Stefan was really old enough or strong enough to be of any actual help but he adored his father and his father adored him too. He loved the time spent walking in the woods, searching for branches that had broken off, trees that had fallen. Stefan loved to sit and watch his father work the axe, always asking for his go and never being able to split the log – but he was getting better. Had been getting better Janko corrected himself.
Walking back home that day with arms full of wood they hadn’t heard the screams that must have accompanied the destruction they did see. Smoke rising from buildings, a heap of rags lying by the roadside. Janko pushed Stefan aside so he wouldn’t see the face of their neighbour. Over sixty she had been but her skirts were pushed up around her waist and Janko was sure he could see the impression of a boot on her crushed cheek and nose. He put down his pile of wood and adjusted the old woman’s clothing. Too late to do any real good but still, dignity shouldn’t be taken away like that.
He hadn’t been too concerned about his wife and daughter. They had the cellar that Janko had strengthened and the marauding soldiers always looked for easy targets, no time to batter down well build doors when there were other prizes to be won. He’d always told Katerina to stay quiet, just to grab Dusa, lock the cellar door and stay there. “Just look after Dusa and yourself” he had told her; “that’s all we can do, save ourselves.”
It was when he entered the house and saw the cellar door open that his heart broke. Not just open but hanging on one hinge. His legs crumpled beneath him and the guilt arose afresh as he remembered sinking to the floor, Stefan running past him and down the steps to the horror below.
Janko ordered another beer. He wanted a dreamless sleep tonight and alcohol would help him achieve that.
It had been Stefan that had also emerged from the cellar, tear stained but determined. He’d found a rifle propped up against the wall, a soldier had taken it down there but not needed it to perpetrate the crimes they’d been involved with and then just left it. They might be back for it but it would be too late. Janko now had it and when the owner of that rifle did return with a friend late into that night Stefan and Janko were waiting. The soldiers deaths had been much quicker than they deserved but afterwards their bodies were cut into pieces and left for the wild dogs to devour. The day had taken his wife and daughter but now Janko and his son had a weapon each and a small stash of bullets to protect themselves and to hit back at those who had hurt them.
Where had the blue berets being? Why did NATO not protect them from these raids? Peacekeepers my arse! One day those pigs who did this would get their reward, and Janko would laugh when they did. And if those incompetent NATO idle goats got some too, well so much the better.
Another beer turned Janko away from the past and he looked at the other patrons of the bar. All of them were smiling. What had they to smile about? Life was shit on top of shit, couldn’t they see it? He looked at the bartender who happened to be looking his way, they made eye contact and the bartender took this as an invitation to wander over to talk.
“How you doing? I’ve seen you here before haven’t I?”
Janko looked at the young man before him, bright eyed, smiling, a strange floppy hair cut that fell over one eye – how could someone cope with only being able to see out of one eye all the time?
“Get your hair cut!”
The venom in his voice, as well as the words, stopped the bartender in his tracks.
“I don’t know what your problem is mate but if I were you I’d sort it out rather than taking it out on other people. By the way, you may as well leave now as I’m not going to serve you any more tonight.”
Still growling and grumbling under his breath Janko walked slowly to the door, careful not to weave too much. The cold air hit him and the words of the bartender came back to him; “I’d sort it out…” That’s what he was going to do. Janko did have a problem, one called Jim Pooley, and he was going to sort it out once and for all. All the pain that man had caused, all that had been taken from Janko. Now he knew that the cost of that pain would be paid by the one who had caused it. He would find Jim Pooley, Father James of St. Joseph’s Church Swanhill, and he would kill him.
Janko did some research over the next few days. He found out that he would need a visa to enter England. This picked at his anger again – they had walked into his country as part of the ‘peacekeepers’, they had done precious little to keep any peace. During their time in his country with all their guns and armament his wife, daughter and son had been brutally taken from him. Now they insisted that he get a piece of paper in order to cross their border. No way!
He let it be known around the truck stop that he was looking for transport across Europe and after nearly two weeks of asking and waiting he was called from the wash basin to have a quick chat with one of the drivers.
“I hear you want to go West?” the gravel voiced man before Janko asked.
Janko looked at him across the chipped formica table. A man about his age he guessed; eyebrows almost hooding his dark eyes completely. A nose that spoke of at least one breakage and a scar deep across the unshaven chin.
Janko smiled, here was a man who knew the world; “Yes, West.” He replied.
“As far as you can take me, I want to go over the channel.”
The eyebrows lifted a little; “With papers?”
Janko tried not to look downhearted; “Only Marks, or Euros if you’d prefer.”
A slow nod from the man opposite; “I understand. I could help, how much?”
“Five thousand Marks, 2,500 Euro”
“Euros will do.” The weathered face lifted and looked straight at Janko; “One more question. Why?”
Janko hesitated, then gambled a little on the history that the man had to have gone through for his face to be so beaten as it searched out his soul with an iron glare.
“Revenge.” He stated quietly, matching the intensity of glare with one of his own. Allowing the hatred inside to writhe just a little; “My son, my daughter, my wife. All taken from me and I know the man who did it all – through his actions and his inaction. I’m going to make him pay.”
Janko’s potential driver continued to look through him for a while then sighed a little, nodded and said; “The war. Most of us stopped fighting it some time ago.”
“And some of us,” Janko responded with steel in his voice; “have one more battle to go.”
“Okay, you have a deal. Give me your number and I’ll call when I next get a job that way. I’ll want all the money before we set off – this is a one way trip.”
Janko stood; “Thank you.” He quietly said and held out his right hand.
The two shook hands and parted soon after. Janko went back to work with a small smile on his face. Things were beginning to move. He felt his anger and hatred settle a little. Just die down to rest for a while. They would be needed soon, they would be set free soon to consume another, but for now they could rest. Janko set back to the pile of dirty dishes with an unusual gusto. It was only later in the shift that he realised he didn’t know the name of the man who had agreed to transport him two thousand Kilometres.
Janko had begun to lose hope that his conversation would draw fruit. It had been six weeks since he’d met the gruff stranger. The weather was starting to change in Zenica, autumn was coming fast. Then, one day as he walked home his phone rang. “Hello?”
“Washer man, you still want transport?” The voice was unmistakable, Janko’s heart leapt and a warmth began to stir within him.
“Yes, yes. When?” he asked with growing excitement.
“Four days from now, Saturday. Meet me at your truck stop. Eleven thirty at night. Have the money!”
“Of course, okay, 11.30 Thursday night at the truck stop. Great.”
Janko suddenly remembered; “Oh, before you go. I’m Janko. What’s your name?”
“Nikola.” The line went dead.
Nikola, Janko thought to himself, named after St. Nicholas, the bearer of gifts. And by December this year I’ll have the best gift ever. The death of Pooley and release for Stefan. The warmth grew within him as his undying hatred found the smallest chance that it could be released. The next step had been taken.
Janko rushed home to gather some clothes in a small rucksack. His old hunting knife would be handy. Photos of Katerina, Dusa and Stefan would help him remain resolute to the very end. Some rope which he knew was around his small apartment somewhere. He wanted to take his woodsman axe, remembering the grim pleasure of that day long ago when his axe had separated limb from limb, had splintered bone and teeth of those that had desecrated his wife and daughter. That would have to be left behind now, but what else? What was the packing procedure to hunt and kill an enemy in a foreign country?
Over the next three days Janko packed and repacked that small rucksack several times. Late on Thursday morning he went into the local bank to withdraw the vast majority of his life savings. It left him with just five hundred Marks. But that was a price worth paying.
He left the bank with an envelope containing 3,200 Euros and a small rucksack containing all he hoped would help him achieve the goal he set before himself. One last shift at the truck stop, he had to do something to pass the time until eleven thirty and this was as good a way as any. He didn’t want any suspicion to fall on him just yet.
At around nine he went to see the boss. “I’ve just got a message that my uncle is very sick. He and his wife have no-one to help them out. I need to go and be with them for a while. I’m sorry I don’t know how long I’ll be gone for. I need to hand in my notice now.”
There was some doubt in the eyes of Nidal the manager; “And you have to leave tonight?” he asked.
“Yes, I promised I’d be there tomorrow. Uncle is very ill.”
“Then finish tonight, I hope your uncle gets better.” And that was that, Janko was now free to fulfil his greatest desire. Now he just needed to wait until eleven thirty.
At quarter past eleven Janko wiped his hands, went to his locker to collect the small rucksack, the envelope and his jacket. Taking 700 Euros from the envelope and splitting them between his rucksack and his pocket he went outside and waited for Nikola.
It was nearly midnight when Nikola swung the truck into the parking area, flashed the headlights at Janko standing alone and parked the vehicle with the engine idling.
Running up to the passenger door Janko hauled himself up into the cab; “I thought you’d forgotten me.” He half joked.
The eyebrows and crooked nose turned towards him, there was the slightest notion of a smile; “Money?”
Janko handed over the envelope with the remaining 2,500 Euros in. Fidgeting whilst Nikola counted the money Janko couldn’t wait to get the journey started. Eventually Nikola looked up again; “Good. Three days, you sleep in the seat – I have the bunk. Okay?”
“Yep, fine, I just need to get to England.”
With a hiss of air brakes being released the huge truck and its trailer crunched across the gravel parking area and turned towards the E73, heading North through the night before swinging left and heading West, ever West towards Calais and finally England. Janko stared straight ahead, into the darkness and the patch of tarmac illuminated by the trucks headlights, wishing the Kilometres away faster than they travelled. Wanting only to be at the end of the journey, actually looking forward to seeing the face that haunted his dreams and had invaded his life again.