first time Franko saw her she was walking around
Tsamet, clicking snapshots of the minaret like
any American or German tourist. She was tall and
attractive in a curious mixture of exotic and
wholesome. She had her hair pulled severely back
and the base-ball cap she wore had a little opening
that allowed her hair to billow out in a brownish
red ball. It reminded him of the hole in the pants
of a cartoon character, through which Brer Fox's
pants were presumably relaxed fit, but the seat
When he got back to his crofter's cottage, up
on Dalilja's farm, he made a couple of quick pencil
sketches of her. They weren't quite right, he
hadn't gotten the nose or the eyes, but the wide
mouth and full lips were okay. Later he had a
chance to correct these sketches and ink them
He saw her a couple more times in town, or near
it, in the next week or so. In the meantime, he
went fishing, as usual. It was handy for making
his connections with the smugglers. The farmers
hereabouts were used to seeing him walking in
the fields, or the woods, along the streams, usually
after parking his battered old Subaru Outback
near a little stone bridge. He would have his
knapsack, with his sketchbook and lunch in it,
binocu-lars for birdwatching, his creel, and his
fishing vest and carrying his rod. And soon he
would be casting into the stream, wandering across
the fields, climbing fences, stalking trout, birdwatching,
sketching. "The Naturalist," they called
Under the bridge he would find the goods that
had been left for him. They would go into the
creel, or the backpack. Later, usually far upstream,
where the stream ran through the wooded glades,
he would encounter the young fellows to whom he
passed the goods, with their instructions for
delivery. Then he would go on.
He caught many trout. Very few people fished for
trout in these parts. He was fascinated by these
fish. They were small and easy to catch. He had
a handy device for tying flies stream-side, based
on the insects that he saw. And he would sketch
the little trout. Some of them were an undescribed
species, or at least a sub-species, that he couldn't
find in the taxonomic records. They had greenish
flanks with unusual vermiform mark-ings on their
backs. Most of them he released, but he always
kept a few to give to his landlord, Dalilja. He
drew meticulous pictures of their guts, their
organs, the insects they were dining on. He measured
them carefully, and weighed them with a little
He sketched everything on his almost daily fishing
hikes: the views of the mountains, the houses,
the farmers, the farmers' kids, the bridges, hay
stacks, the stiles that got one over the rough
stone fences -- each farmer built different kinds
of bridges, stacked his hay differently, had his
own idea of a proper stile. But mostly he sketched
wild-life: birds, marmots, foxes, the rare badger
snuffling through a field, and especially the
One day he was sketching a small trout and he'd
brought along some watercolors, to try to capture
the vividness of the green flanks, the red and
blue flecks, before the color faded, as it did
too quickly. He was in a little sunny clearing
in the woods, barely a foot from the pebble-bottomed
stream where he'd caught this fish -- sitting
on a crude bridge over it, in fact.
This was a bridge he'd sketched before: just some
roughly hewn logs thrown across the stream and
planks nailed to it. But the farmer who used it
to get from one meadow to another had made a rough
railing with extra logs, perhaps to make sure
that his reckless sons didn't drive the tractor
into the creek, and had planed off a place to
The stream skirted the edge of the woods. It was
only knee deep in most places, but there were
chest-deep pools, one close by, where he had caught
the trout. Small, colorful stones lined the stream.
He was concentrating and didn't see the woman
until she stepped onto the bridge. It was the
American woman, whom by now he had learned was
a representative of the American foreign aid agency.
"Hi," she said, and sat on the opposite
railing to watch while he quickly finished the
sketch and made some daubs of color in the proper
spots, as a guide for later.
Franko set the book aside with the pages open
to dry and said, "Hello."
"Can I see?" she said, coming across
to reach for the book. He let her have it. "That
paint is still a little wet," he said. He
was gratified to see that she handled the book
careful-ly, holding the freshly painted page open
and merely glancing back at other pages. Up close,
he saw that she was at least partly African-American,
but her skin was very pale, like old ivory, and
she had freckles. Her eyes were brown, with gold
"Is this me?" she said, finding an earlier
sketch. "Do I really look like that? What
a big butt you think I have!" She turned
her rear toward him, mockingly. She was wearing
khakis, as usual.
"It's just a quick sketch," he said.
"Here, let me fix it."
"Oh no, you're right," she said, smiling.
"I do have a big butt."
"Not at all," he said.
"Some men are crazy for big butts,"
she said. "Ah, here's that Romeo kid. He's
very handsome. What eyes! Oh ho, and here's a
buxom lass. What's that line of Walton's, about
the trout in the milk?"
"It's Thoreau," he said. "`Some
circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when
you find a trout in the milk.'"
"Is that from Walden? Maybe that's how I
got it wrong."
"I think it's from the Journals," he
"Well, this picture is a trout in the milk,"
she said. She showed him the picture, which he
knew well. It was of a farm girl named Fedima
-- Daliljaj's daughter, in fact, and she was nude,
from the waist up. She was washing her upper body
by a stream. "You don't want this to fall
into the hands of the farmer."
He looked rueful. "It was quite an innocent
occasion, I swear. I just happened to see her.
I couldn't resist the sketch -- when I got home."
"I'll bet," the woman said. She handed
the book back. "So, what are you doing up
here, spying on farm girls?"
"I'm not usually that lucky," he said,
setting the book down beside him on the railing
seat. He bent down to wrap the fish in ferns and
started to place it in his creel. Instead, he
said, "Would you like a fish?"
"My best offer of the day," the woman
said. "But no thank you. It's way too circumstantial.
Well, what are you doing?"
"I'm fishing," he said.
"Is that why you meet the young men in the
woods?" she said. "You're not gay, are
"I didn't think so, with your eye for farm
girls. I was just trying to get under your skin."
She was quite close, propped on one knee on the
seat to look over his shoulder at the picture
of the trout, again. He was uncomfortable, but
he didn't want to move away.
"Would you like to sketch me?" she said.
"I'd love to." He picked up the sketch
book. "This picture is dry," he said,
leafing over to a fresh page.
She sat down across the way. "Maybe you can
get the nose right," she said.
He began a preliminary line with a pencil. In
a moment of daring, he said, "Or the butt."
The woman laughed. "You're asking to see
"Just joking," he said.
"I don't mind," she said. She stood
up and began to unbuck-le her belt, then looked
about, cautiously. "Perhaps, not here. There's
always some one around that you don't notice until
too late, isn't there?"
But there was no sign of anyone. They were alone
on the little bridge. A copse of willow trees
blocked the meadow to the west, and the little
dirt road, after crossing the bridge, disap-peared
into a thicket to the east.
The woman stepped down from the bridge and wandered
along it. He hastily assembled his gear and followed.
She came to an old stone fence, now generally
fallen down. Here she stopped, glanced around,
and swiftly removed her boots, her pants and her
shirt. She wore no underwear. It was all he could
do not to gasp. She had a fine, full-figured body.
"How's this?" she said, sitting in the
sun on some moss. She leaned back gingerly against
the rough stone fence, stretched her arms along
the stones and languorously extended her legs.
She spread them well apart, one knee drawn up,
assuming a frankly wanton posture.
The sexiness of the pose was enhanced and mocked
by the fact that she hadn't removed her baseball
cap. He sketched very rapidly, eager to capture
the careless sensuality of her pose. He was also
fighting to sup-press an uncomfortable erec-tion.
His problem was not unobserved by his model.
"Should we do something about that?"
she said, with a sly smile.
He sketched the smile. It was perfect. "Do
you think that would be a good idea?"
"Too late," she said, rising to her
feet abruptly. She nodded toward the bridge, not
so very distant. A tractor could be heard approach-ing.
"What did I tell you?" She sighed and
stooped to gather her clothes. Before she stepped
into the shelter of the trees to dress, she looked
over her shoulder and said, "How's the butt?
He stood and stared after her, unable to think
of a suitable reply. Should he go into the woods
with her? Was this an invitation? But no, she
was dressing rapidly.
"Ciao," she said, and disappeared just
as the tractor issued out of the copse of willows
and started onto the bridge.
Franko glared at the tractor with real loathing.
The man on it did not see him. He was turned on
the seat, his back to him, to make sure that the
old and decrepit wagon that dragged behind, loaded
with fire logs, tracked properly. He was quickly
over the bridge and gone.
Franko looked back into the woods, hopeful-ly.
The woman was gone, of course.
It had become a habit of Franko to take his morning
coffee in the yard, literally the barnyard of
his landlord, Vornuto Dalil-jaj. This was not
as unappetizing as it might seem. It had been
a long time since the barn-yard had been used
by animals, although a faint and not unpleasant
aroma was still detectable. It was a large, open
ground nominally enclosed with a delapidated wooden
fence as well as the battered walls of some sheds,
the old barn, and the cottage. It was a staging
area for farm imple-ments, but it had an aspect
of privacy. One might almost de-scribe it as a
kind of bucolic plaza, populated by a few strolling,
garrulous chickens and the silent, prowling cat.
The east wall of the old stone cottage Franko
occupied also served as part of the enclosure.
In fact, if one looked closely one could see where
an overlarge doorway or opening in this wall had
been reduced with later stone work, not quite
in the style of the original, less crude and using
a finer mortar. A conven-tional door was mounted
in the newer opening.
Franko reckoned that animals used to be housed
in the stone cottage. He won-dered if it had been
the bullpen, in fact, where a cow was introduced
to the sire of her calves. Probably at the time
when the entry was reduced was also when the wooden
floor was in-stalled, to create housing for farm
hands, or another family. There was a definite
air of the byre about the cottage. It also had
a front door, which gave onto the area outside
Franko had found a weathered wooden bench that
he set next to the barnyard door. The crude, unfaced
stone wall behind the bench was plas-tered with
stuc-co in some long ago past, so that now it
had a pleas-ant tawniness that took the morning
sun very well, warm but not glaring. It was pleasant
to sit on this bench and lean one's back against
the warm stucco, particularly now, in this good
fall weather when there was a hint of frost in
the morning air.
From this bench Franko could look past the barn,
the tackle shed now used to store tractor parts,
an old granary converted into a chicken coop,
a delapi-dated jakes, and down the sectioned fields
to the east, down the mountain side to where a
minaret poked up above the tree tops. Then one's
eye rose to distant ridges, other farms half-hidden
among the trees. There was often a wisp of mist
rising out of the trees, mingling with smoke from
chim-neys, and generally as one's eye approached
the horizon the air thickened and blurred into
a grayish blue.
"Look away, look away ... Dixieland,"
were the words that came to his mind when he saw
this. But it was hardly a southern landscape --
almost exactly the same northern latitude as his
native Montana, six or seven thousand miles to
Franko sometimes brought out his notebook and
sketched the view. He thought moments like these
were made for smoking a pipe. But he had never
taken up smoking. So he just gazed and thought,
allowing himself to come fully awake.
Montana was also mountain coun-try, but it was
not much like this. These mountains were not as
large as the mountains around Butte, not as clearly
a part of a huge, distinct range. But maybe it
only seemed so, he thought, because these valleys
were smaller, not so grand and sweeping. They
were rugged and precip-itous, but somehow not
such massive structures. And then, he thought,
it could be that it was just lower here, with
the Adriatic not more than eighty miles away,
as the raven flew, beyond another mountain range
at his back.
These thoughts were pleasantly dislodged by the
appearance of the daughter of Daliljaj, very pretty
and dark-eyed Fedima, who was only eighteen and
looked remarkably elegant to Franko's mind in
her head scarf, blue jeans, a heavy sweater and
rubber Wellington boots. She was the crown of
his morning pleasure.
She tramped across the old, rough but well-flattened
and sun-baked yard carrying his coffee in a little
iron pot. She had ground the beans herself, he
knew, in a tubular brass device with a handle
on the top, and had poured the hot water over
it to steep. It was very strong, but Franko had
learned to like it. It was also too sweet, but
he tolerated that, as well.
It always happened, he noticed, that within a
few moments of Fedima's appearance around the
stone side of the old granary another person could
usually be seen -- remote but not too far off,
not so close as to require even a casual wave,
ostensibly uninter-ested in the conjunction of
Fedima and Franko. Often this person was old Daliljaj
himself, though frequently it was his wife, or
even one of Fedima's brothers. But there would
be someone, just a black image on the perimeter
of Franko's vision, a crow or raven, as it might
be, attending to some useful but not evidently
Today, it was old Daliljaj, repairing part of
the fence that formed the other part of the entry.
He was winding a length of baling twine from an
old fence post to the gate post. And at that moment,
the world changed forever.
A large, brutal-looking man in a paramilitary
uniform walked up to Daliljaj and kicked the gate
free of his hands.
"That your fucking tractor out on the road,
balija?" the fellow demanded loudly.
The old man gaped. Nobody, not even a Serbian
cop, talked to the old man like that. The phrase
"balija" was derisive and contemptuous,
and hadn't been heard in these parts until quite
recently. Certainly not up in this mountain village
where the Daliljajs had been farming for generations.
The cop didn't even have a real uniform, just
some foolish camo outfit. Was he even an officer?
What was his rank? But something about the oaf's
grinning face made the farmer hesitate.
"What is the problem?" he said, careful
not to address the policeman with disrespect,
but also not to honor him with a title like sergeant,
or lieutenant, which might not properly apply.
"The problem is that it's parked in the road,"
the cop said. He looked about the compound in
a way that suggested he was taking inventory.
He raised an eyebrow at the figure of Dalil-jaj's
daughter, Fedima. Like a good Muslim woman, she
immediate-ly vanished into Franko's house, leaving
behind the coffee pot sitting on the bench next
to Franko. A moment later she exited from the
other door and presumably went to the farmhouse,
via a route shielded from the eyes of the men
in the yard.
"Who are you?" the cop said to Franko,
who stood up and approached the gate.
Franko was cautious. He'd heard about this fellow
from Captain Dedorica, the police chief in Tsamet.
He was called Bazok, and he was the informal leader
of a handful of such men, sent down from Belgrade
to "assist" the local police chief.
But Captain Dedorica's infor-mation was sketchy.
Franko had meant to press Dedorica about it, but
"I live here," he said.
Bazok nodded. "Oh yeah," he said. "You
the one they call Franko? I want to talk to you."
He turned to Daliljaj. "Move the tractor.
You can't leave it on the road."
"Nobody ever complained before," Daliljaj
said. "There is no traffic, it's not in the
"Move the fucking tractor, balija,"
Bazok snarled, the smile icy now. When Dalijaj
went off, he turned to Franko and said, "Where's
Franko shrugged and led him back through the gate
and across the barnyard. He stopped and pointed
to the old stone cottage with a new metal roof.
Suddenly seeing it through a stranger's eyes,
it didn't look like much, a miserable hovel. The
stone had been laid in a style that he had known
at home as "pudding stone," that is,
a crude frame of wood was erected, stones were
simply dropped into a thick pudding of cheap,
sandy mortar. These old walls had a tendency to
fall down in fifty or sixty years, but someone
had kept this one repaired. Of course, if it had
been a bull pen that would account for the extra-thick
walls. Bazok gestured to go ahead, and took a
step toward the house, but stopped when Franko
did not move.