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Bruce Pratt

Missing Person

   Hasib shoved his last Courant into the green tube and continued around the cul de sac as disparate flurries enfiladed the December darkness, and, gazing a moment at the waning moon as it was swallowed by a ragged cloud, reassured himself that the days would soon lengthen and spread toward spring like spilled molasses. Accelerating onto Laurel Lane, his tires spit sand against a For Sale sign on the lawn of a house Hasib had seen in the Real Estate Section while scouring the Sunday classifieds for a new apartment. The asking price, he imagined, would suffice to buy all of the shops in his ancestral village—and a sudden vision of his native square, purpled by the mountains’ shadows, danced across his eyes.
   Hasib fingered the envelope in his shirt pocket containing the letter from The International Commission On Missing Persons requesting a sample of his DNA for a data bank for identifying remains exhumed from the mass graves of Bosnia and Croatia. He had intended to go to the first blood draw in November, but had received Milka’s letter, and begun to dream about the girl whose name he could not remember.
   Had he been able to get three sound hours of rest after coming home from the restaurant at night, and four or five more in the late morning and afternoon after delivering his papers, Hasib would have been fine, but fatigue left him quarrelsome. That was why, he knew, Milka had left him for, Rampelli, the Italian she and the girls lived with in New Jersey. Hasib knew he had been a poor husband, and his Milka was making him pay. If she remarried, she lost his alimony, so he slaved at two jobs while she kept another man’s house and warmed his head against her smooth breasts.
   Angular shadows marched up the street in slanted rows like the ghosts of mountain trees in late-winter light, as Hasib wrestled his green Escort into a space across from his apartment, and paused to imagine that the clouds clotted above the rooftops were snowfields and that he could hear the whirr of Johorina’s ski-lifts.
   Shades drawn, covers wrestled up beneath his chin, he lay down. The dream came, beginning as it always began—Hasib at his kitchen table opening the mail: an L.L. Bean catalogue with crossed snowshoes on the cover, an Ace Hardware flyer featuring snow shovels, and the envelope addressed in Milka’s hand. As he reads her letter, it bursts into flame in his hands, and the face of the girl emerges from the fire. As her body steps through the flames and joins her head, she berates Hasib, but he cannot understand for she raves in a language he does not know, a tongue he imagines to be the dialect of devils and the damned. The nightmare ends with Milka comforting the girl, and soldiers, in uniforms Hasib does not recognize, emasculating him as his daughters cling to the Italian. Though he dreams less often when drunk, drinking vivifies the horror and each time he awakens from the dream he fondles his balls to confirm that they are not missing.
   Three times, to halt the nightmare, Hasib forced his eyes open. At noon, too exhausted to sleep, he slumped at the kitchen table remembering how the girl insisted they shower, recalling the rose tattoo on her hip and the dimples along her spine. He remembered that she’d helped change the bed; tucking the fresh sheets with tight smooth corners and snapping the pillows into clean cases.
   Christmas Eve, the restaurant had closed at eight. Hasib had nowhere to be. The other Bosnians who worked at the restaurant, mostly from Srebenica, had seen the war first hand, and Hasib believed they resented him because he’d left Bosnia long before the Serbs began massacring Muslims, and because Milka’s family had been Christian converts, though some told him he’d been smart, wiser than many.
   At his apartment, Hasib had opened a bottle of Egri Bikaver, Bull’s Blood, and the girl had splashed it into melon shaped goblets he’d borrowed from the bar. She swapped sips from her mouth, swirled his cock in her glass, dipped her nipples in his, and when she’d taken him in her mouth the warmth had buzzed into his heart. Hasib recalled being seated on the edge of the bed the girl impaled on him as he sought to swallow her modest breasts then mounted astride her, her heels locked to his ass. As he neared his climax, she’d begun to slap him and begged him to forgo the pleasure that had erupted twice from her throat, crying that he should not come inside her, but aware that the wine would defeat him if he delayed, he knitted his fingers beneath her and climaxed.
   As he rolled away from the fury of her fists, she rose to her knees and tore at his hair. Parrying her blows, Hasib saw that she was small and young. She endeavored to knee him as he hauled himself from the tangled bedclothes. “You pig,” she shouted as she rooted among the sheets for her panties. “It’s Christmas-fucking-eve for Christ’s sake. I would have gotten you off, but I can’t get pregnant.”
   Where she had gone after gathering her things, Hasib did not know. He’d finished the wine and dozed a few hours, awakening thick-tongued.
   When he’d limped home from delivering his papers that Christmas morning—the Bull’s Blood still roaring in his temples—Hasib phoned his daughters, but got no answer. Believing Milka and Rampelli had taken his girls to mass, he did not leave a message, and passed the morning, guts riven with gas and his stomach roiling with aspirin and coffee, adding up the Christmas tips his customers had left for him in their paper tubes.
   Before they’d left, he’d used that money to take Milka and the girls to Cape Cod each July. While they splashed in the surf and stuffed their bellies with beach food, Hasib, slumped under an umbrella, slept the sleep of the dead. Milka said it was the rhythm of the surf which lulled him into such entombing slumber, but Hasib believed the waves reminded his unconscious of Johorina’s humming lifts, the drone of his grooming cat, and the buzzing summer nights when the bars and streets chuckled toward morning.
   His second Hartford winter, Hasib worked as a groomer and snowmaker at Ski Sundown, about a half hour from the city, but it was never the same as being in Johorina where, when the night sky was brittle and cloudless, it seemed that he could peer into every corner of the earth—a feeling that kept him working there though it paid half the wages he’d made at the cigarette factory in Sarajevo.
   Johorina first bewitched him when as a young boy he and his uncle witnessed Jure Franko win an Olympic silver medal, the first Slovenian or Yugoslavian, ever to do so. To celebrate, his uncle gave him beer and sips of slivovitz. It seemed to Hasib that the entire nation was singing and dancing. The next morning, on the ride down to Sarajevo, he retched out the window of his uncle’s Skoda, a stream of green gruel streaking the wheel well.
   The burden of those memories pummeled his forehead and Hasib folded his arms on the table. Sleep called. Midday traffic murmured along the street. His dread of the dream riveted him to his chair, but he knew that if he dozed in that position he’d be hobbled at work, and though it seemed to him that he was moving another man’s body, he shuffled to the bedroom for a robe.
   Gripping the railing and humming a melody he could not place, Hasib descended the stairs. A rubber band bound copy of The Southender Gazette, encircling the rest of his mail, protruded from the box, and he carried the bundle upstairs, separated the bills, and tossed the newspaper onto a chair. A mustard-yellow flyer sailed to the floor. Hasib tucked his left fist into the small of his back and bent to retrieve it. In large script across the top were the words, Missing Person, and beneath that a picture of the girl from the dream. Below her face, he read, Angela S. Benedetto, age 23. Last seen leaving Bertucci’s Restaurant in Bishop’s Corner on November 23 at 1:15 PM. Anyone with any information regarding her whereabouts is asked to contact the West Hartford Police. All communications confidential.
   In the photograph the girl’s hair was shorter than it had been when Hasib had lathered it in the shower, but it was unmistakably her. He grabbed the paper and, on the front page below the fold, found another picture of Angela. A bubble of bile soured his mouth as he read:
   A single mother, Benedetto lived with her widowed mother after leaving her job at a manufacturing plant in Canton to care for her infant son, Mario, born in September. Friends described her as friendly, and her mother said that she rarely left home without the baby. A friend with whom she had lunch at Bertucci’s said that Benedetto planned to stop at “a grocery store” before returning home. Police are treating this as a missing person’s case.
   Though no one outside of the neighborhood read the paper, the article included a toll free number to call with information.
   Hasib counted on his fingers. The possibility surged through him with the ferocious dread one feels as his car begins to slide on black ice. If so, why had she not found Hasib to tell him? Had she been so drunk as to forget where she’d been? “Angela,” Hasib said out loud, his stomach rioting like a hive of disturbed bees.
   That night at work, the kitchen staff discussed the missing girl whose picture had been on the noon news, but no one mentioned remembering that she’d been in the bar the previous Christmas Eve.
   A week later, Hasib saw Angela’s mother on the news begging anyone with information about her daughter to contact the police and announcing a rally the following noon in Elizabeth Park. “We need her home for Christmas,” she said. Hasib winced. It was like when the Serbs took a man away from his house, he thought, there could be no good ending.
   That night he dreamed not of the girl, but of her mother, whose face was softer and darker than Angela’s. While driving his route, Hasib determined to attend the rally, to see her in person, and slept only to eleven. He shaved with purpose, polished his shoes, and brushed his best suit.
   Hasib parked alongside the winter-dead, rose stalks laced among the snow-gray trellises and trudged toward the Pond House, his breath ghosting, his wet hair clammy against his neck. He envisioned the park as it had been in the spring of 2004, the centennial of the rose garden; a vision of Milka bent beside the girls, the three of them smelling the multi-hued roses, snagging in his throat. Melt water lay frozen in the low places on the grass; diaphanous ice glinted on the duck pond. A man tested a microphone. In their winter coats, the policemen directing the crowd looked like soldiers, and when a group near the stage began to chant, “Bring Angela Home,” Hasib shut his eyes against the ghosts of the Balkan dead.
   The police chief, a priest, and a woman from the community relations board spoke, then Angela’s mother, introduced as Mrs. Eva Benedetto, tiptoed to the microphones. Television crews jockeyed for the proper angle to record her anguish. As she spoke, Hasib paused at the rear of the crowd and accepted a collage of photographs of Angela handed to him by a chubby, copper-haired girl. In one picture, Hasib recognized the overcoat Angela had thrown over the chair in his kitchen and flicked his eyes closed, faces of the long-deceased swirling on his lids, tears wetting his mustache.
   “You know Angela?” the girl asked.
   “I met her once,” Hasib said, riveting his eyes on the stage, searching for Angela in her mother’s face, but the hard, small smile was missing.
   At the end of the rally as Hasib picked his way around the thawing puddles, a policeman and the copper-haired girl intercepted him. “You know Angela?” the cop said.
   Hasib flinched and waited for the words to form in his brain. “I met her once at the restaurant where I work.”
   “When did you see her last?” the cop asked, his eyes piercing Hasib’s gaze as if to force him to blink.
   “Last Christmas Eve, in the bar.”
   “Not since?” the cop said.
   “What’s your name?”
   “Am I in some trouble?” Hasib asked
   “Just like to know who we’re speaking with,” the cop said.
   “I am Hasib Begovic.”
   “Officer Forker,” the cop said offering his hand. “Which restaurant, Hasib?”
   “Europa Haus.”
   “Still there?”
   “Angela stops in you’ll call us?” the cop said handing him a business card.
    “Of course,” Hasib said.
   “Sure you haven’t seen her since then?”
   “No, I only remembered her face.”

   At work, Hasib glimpsed Angela everywhere: beside piles of pots in the sink, atop crates of tomatoes in the pantry, astride the stools in the bar, in the rest room’s print-smudged mirror, and spied her mother’s face peering at him from the meat slicer. At home that night he had the dream twice and Hasib pondered requesting a relief driver when his alarm shattered his rest, but knew he was too agitated to sleep.
   Once he’d begun his route, a familiar torpor seeped into his shoulders and eyes. Each time his lids threatened to close, Angela’s face flashed across the windshield and he started upright.
   Hasib drowned in dreamless afternoon slumber.
   When he arrived at Europa Haus, leg weary and yawning, Marek, the headwaiter, told him, “You need more sleep, Hasib.”
   “I overslept,” Hasib said. “Now, I’ll be awake half the night.”
   “Quit the other job,” Marek said, gathering an armload of menus. “Let the Guinea pay.”
   “If it weren’t for my girls, I’d go back to Johorina,” Hasib said.
   “Go. Insist on having them for the summer,” Marek said.
   Hasib slapped his cheeks to clear the cobwebs. “Summer in Bosnia? No judge will grant me that. I leave, I never see my girls again.”
   Moving toward the dining room, Marek said, “I forgot. Stivek wants to see you.”
   “Why?” Hasib asked.
   “Didn’t say,” Marek said, the swinging doors sighing closed behind him.
   Hasib paused to catch his breath at the top of the stairs and to wonder what the owner might wish of him. Stivek’s office door was closed and the blinds on the window drawn. He knocked and was asked to come in. Stivek sat behind his desk, and an angular man in a gray suit sat in one of two straight-backed chairs facing him. “Please sit, Hasib,” Stivek said.
   The man in the suit smiled and stood up. He reached to shake Hasib’s hand and said, “Detective Pearlman, State Police. How do you do Mr. Begovic?”
   Pearlman’s hand was warm and moist. Hasib said, “I am fine, tired, but fine.”
   “Sit, sit,” Pearlman said pointing to the chair next to his.
   Hasib sat down and searched Stivek’s eyes, but he glanced at Pearlman.
   “Mr. Begovic,” Pearlman said, “You were in Elizabeth Park recently where you told…” he stopped speaking and fished a notebook from his suit coat pocket, “An officer Forker, that you’d met Angela Benedetto once. Can you tell me where that was?”
   Hasib stared at Stivek. “Hasib,” he said, “Answer the man.”
   Hasib said. “At the bar. Last Christmas Eve.”
   “Here?” Stivek said.
   “You met her, too, Mr. Stivek. She had a drink with the staff.”
   Stivek shook his head. “I don’t recall her.”
   Pearlman scratched some notes on his pad. “We’ve checked her credit card receipts for the previous two years and she never used one here. Sure you saw her here, Hasib?”
   “I believe it was her,” Hasib said.
   “To recognize her from a picture you’d had to have had a pretty good look at her. It’s dark in the bar. Any chance you’re wrong?” Pearlman said.
   “It’s possible.”
   “But you think you’re right? Pearlman said.
   “Yes,” Hasib answered. “I wish I could help more, I know what it is to have a missing friend.”
   “That so?” Pearlman said.
   “In Bosnia, many are missing,” Hasib said.
   Pearlman sat back and twisted in his seat to face Hasib. “I read in The Courant that they’re building a DNA data base to try and identify some of the dead over there. You must know about that,” he said. “Lose family in those massacres?”
   “I had an aunt and uncle taken by the Serbs.”
   “Your ex-wife is Croatian right? Took up with an Italian guy,” Pearlman said.
   “Why do you bring that up?” Hasib said.
   Pearlman said, “I am interested in two odd facts. You’re interested to the point of tears about a missing girl you say you met once, and you skipped a blood draw where there would be a DNA record.”
   “I missed the first draw. I was tired. I work two jobs. I’ll go to the next one.”
   Pearlman spoke to Stivek, “Stan, you mind if I take Hasib over to Hartford Hospital to have a little blood drawn? Have him back in an hour.”
   “This is not right,” Hasib said. “I have done nothing wrong.”
   “Then why do you care?” Pearlman said. “Stan will pay you for the time you’re gone.”}
   “I want to see a lawyer,” Hasib said.
   “You’re not under arrest,” Pearlman said.
   “Then why do you do this?”
   “Because you’ve said you want to help,” Pearlman said, “A green card doesn’t mean you can’t be deported. Your girls are in Jersey, right? Long way to Bosnia.”
   “This is like communism, what my father told me, you go to a rally and you get hassled by the police,” Hasib said.
   “For someone who wanted to help a few minutes ago you’ve become awfully uncooperative,” Pearlman said.
   “Why do you need my blood?” Hasib asked, raising his hands.
   Pearlman did not answer. He snapped his notebook shut. “We’ll be in touch Mr. Begovic,” he said, rising. “Stan says you’re a good worker. So did your boss at the paper. Think about the mother and the boy.” Pearlman smiled as he turned to open the office door. “Thanks, Stan,” he said. “Goodnight, Mr. Begovic.”
   Hasib slumped in the chair and stared at Stivek. “I never saw that girl again, after that night. Why does he ask me those things?”
   “Someone is missing a month—that’s a long time. They follow every lead,” Stivek said. “Pearlman isn’t a bad guy.”
   “But you know me. All I do is work.”
   “Hasib, I believe you, but Pearlman is doing his job.”
   “Can you tell me the name of a lawyer to ask about this?” Hasib asked.
   Stivek placed his hand on his computer mouse and clicked it several times, then scribbled some words on a tablet. As he tore the sheet from the pad he said, “This is the number of my friend Will Klebos. I’ll call him in the morning and you call his office after noon.”
   Hasib sat on a milk crate among the sides of beef in the cooler warming his hands around a bowl of onion soup he could not eat. He did not know if he shook from fear, fatigue, or cold. He tried to remember the night with Angela, not just the dream, but the true night, and recalled that she had a broken fingernail, but could not remember on which hand, remembering only that it had teased along his back. She had said to him, after settling her tab and tip, “Don’t you have somewhere to be?” and he’d replied, “No one is waiting for me.”
   She’d asked him about his accent, but he did not remember asking her about herself. It was the kind of mistake that Milka tongue-lashed him for, for not remembering to ask about her. Milka’s face pulsed on the lids of his shuttered eyes. Hasib wondered what the Italian asked her when he came home. How are the girls? When is dinner? Did anyone call? What else, Hasib wondered, would a man ask a woman who sat in a house all day waiting for her children and boyfriend to return?
   Hasib dozed like a drugged man and dreamed of the mountains, Jure Franko, and Milka’s breasts, nipples engorged and raw from a nursing child’s teeth, leaking their milk into her nightgown.

   “Sorry you had to wait Mr. Begovic,” Klebos said. “I was talking to INS about a client seeking refugee status, a Nigerian Muslim who’ll be killed if she’s deported.”
   “It is my night off,” Hasib said, “I appreciate you seeing me.”
   Hasib settled into a chair as the lawyer flipped his yellow pad to a blank sheet. “Stan gave me the basics,” he said, “But I’d like you to tell me everything you think is important about this matter.”
   “First, Mr. Klebos, I must ask how much this will cost. I have alimony and child support which leaves me little.”
   “Your wife moved out of state with another man?” Klebos said.
   Hasib started. “Yes,” he said.
   “Perhaps we can get your alimony lowered. We’ll discuss fees later. First the Benedetto girl,” he said,
   Hasib drew a long breath, his heart thrumming in his ears. “Last Christmas Eve, we were done in the kitchen early because it was a holiday. She was sitting at the bar. I asked Tony, the bartender, if she was with someone on the staff. He said no, that she had been alone all night. He allowed her to stay after he’d given last call. We serve a Hungarian wine, Egri Bikaver, in English, Bull’s Blood. When I ordered a glass she, Angela, asked me where I was from and if the wine was good and where it was from. I told her I was Bosnian, the wine Hungarian, and I ordered her a glass.”
   Hasib paused and Klebos smiled at him over the rims of his half glasses. “Go on,” he said.
   “We talked. She asked about Bosnia and if I was married and I told her I worked two jobs because I was divorced. She laughed a lot, not loud, but she…the word is, giggled. She said she had nowhere to go and I was very sad for I had no one waiting for me, either.”
   “You left the bar together?”
   Hasib winced. Klebos adjusted his glasses and said, “You need to, one, tell me the truth, and two, leave nothing out.”
   Hasib said, “We drove to my place in my car.”
   “Who saw you and the girl leave the bar?”
   “No one, I think. She told me to meet her outside.”
   “Why, you’re both single? Do you see how it could look now?” Klebos said.
   “But I never saw her again,” Hasib answered.
   Klebos squeezed the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. Reaching into his desk, he drew out a business card. “Listen carefully, Hasib,” he said. “Anyone contacts you, in person or on the phone, local cops, State Police, anyone, call the cell phone number on this card, and do not talk to anyone without me there. Get a copy of your divorce settlement to my secretary and I’ll look at it. I advise you to have your blood drawn for the ICMP project. It looks good for you. Don’t let Pearlman or any other cop take you to have it done. They can’t do that.”
   “But my green card?”
   “They cannot touch you unless you are convicted of a felony.”
   The doctor who addressed the donors was Croatian, the nurse who drew Hasib’s blood a Muslim woman from Srebenica. Hasib spoke to her in Bosnian, but she answered in English, “That language is dead in me,” she said.
   The dream was drawn from Hasib with his blood.
   In April, the snow melted. In May, forsythia and mountain laurel bloomed. In June, Hasib’s days began just before the first light crested the eastern ridges and ended but an hour after the last rays slid behind the Berkshire foothills.
   On a diamond-bright midsummer morning, Hasib inched the Escort into the last legal space on his block and jogged toward his building, his bladder bursting. “In a hurry?” a voice said. Hasib slowed to a brisk stride and squinted into the sun to see Pearlman in the doorway of his building. “Yes,” Hasib said. “I have had to pee for half an hour.”
   Pearlman let Hasib pass. “Mind if I come up?” he said.
   “I cannot speak to you without my lawyer,” Hasib said, remembering that his billfold with Klebos number was locked in the Escort’s glove box.
   “You’ve heard Angela’s been found?” Pearlman said following him up the stairs.
   Hasib halted and pivoted to face Pearlman who’d paused several steps below him. “Alive?” Hasib said.
   Pearlman shook his head. “Two kids digging for worms along the Farmington River near Unionville found her beneath a pile of stones,” he said.
   “Come in detective,” Hasib said, “They are sure it is her?”
   “Forensics says yes.”
   When Hasib came back from the bathroom, Pearlman was sitting at the kitchen table. “How do you do it, Hasib?” he said.
   After a moment Hasib said, “Do what?”
   “Work all the time, get nowhere, come back to this place, which, if you don’t mind me saying so, is not exactly bursting with charm,” Pearlman said. “You can’t think the wife is coming back?”
   “For my girls,” Hasib said, “ I see them every six weeks. Rampelli drives them up here for the day. And because if I don’t work I have no hope.”
   “I have kids,” Pearlman said, leaning on the table, “And no idea how I’ll get them through college. Bet you’re like me, squeezing a buck ten out of every dollar. That why you’ve been looking for new digs?”
   Hasib began to fear Pearlman’s tone. “Digs?” he said.
   “An expression, a new place to live. The rental agencies tell me you’ve been in a few times.”
   “As you said, this place has no charm. I check the paper every day, too. No harm in looking.”
   “No harm in a few more questions either?”
   “I should call Mr. Klebos,” Hasib said.
   Pearlman stood up. “Fair enough, Hasib,” he said. “I don’t think you killed Angela, but I know you haven’t told me all you know. Get your blood drawn?”
   Hasib paused. “Yes,” he said.
   “I hope what you did helps someone find a missing person over there. My mother’s parents died at Treblinka. Both my folks came over on the boat. Pearlman is an Ellis Island creation. Clerk mixed up my father’s village in Poland with his name.” Pearlman took three steps toward the door. “I can’t find the bastards that gassed my grandparents, but I will find the prick who killed Angela.”

   In the pre-dawn dark of the first of July a week after Pearlman’s visit, Hasib awoke to the sound of sirens on the interstate. While the kettle boiled, he wolfed down two pieces of toast slathered in peanut butter, then peeled and sectioned three oranges, which he placed in a seal-tight bag. The coffee ready, he poured half into each of two travel mugs, added milk, gathered the rest of his breakfast, and shuffled down into a humid morning.
   Unless it was raining and they had to be bagged, Hasib folded his papers as he drove. Though the night had been rent by thunder, the morning was clear. Dimming stars were strewn like a child’s jacks across the sky, and a ribbon of energy sparked through his limbs.
   At noon, Hasib called about a duplex apartment advertised in the Southender Gazette, but was told it had been rented. The neighborhood had few Bosnians and he supposed that his accent had scared off the owner. Agitated, but not distraught, he sat back down with the paper. On the education page, he found a story about a drive to establish a scholarship for Angela’s son, Mario, and a picture of the boy with his grandmother. He studied the boy’s features certain he’d inherited the prominent, chocolate eyes of Hasib’s mother. He’d given Milka only daughters, yet the boy’s face would fit into a portrait of Hasib’s family, like the kind Americans sent out as Christmas cards.
   Through the afternoon, Hasib slept the sleep of saints.
   After work, Marek suggested a nightcap at Gieleckis, a bar that reminded Hasib of Johorina, where Polish, Magyar, and the splendid languages of the Balkans were batted through the scent of pickles and beer.
   Setting a stein of beer in front of him, Marek said, “My cousin, Mike, needs a building super. Two hundred cash a month and an apartment.”
   “I know making cigarettes, running groomers, and washing pots,” Hasib said, “Not pipes and wires.”
   “He’ll show you the ropes, he needs an honest man. You could give up the paper route.”
   “It is not for me,” Hasib said.
   Marek excused himself to the men’s room. Hasib sipped his beer, pondering what Marek had said. He stared off toward the bar at the television, the volume either muted or too low to be heard over the din. A Toyota commercial morphed into a beer ad, then a pitch for a women’s razor, then the opening collage for the eleven o’clock news—text for the hearing impaired racing across the bottom of the screen.
   From the corner of his eye, Hasib noticed Marek pause, glance at the TV, then wave to Hasib to join him.
   Hasib wended through a labyrinth of chairs and outstretched legs to the far end of the bar. Pointing to the screen, Marek said, “They arrested two people for killing that girl.”
   “Angela?” Hasib said.
   “Yeah, some couple that killed five other women in Pennsylvania and Jersey.”
   Hasib stared at the screen reading each word as it appeared in sequence beneath the breasts of the anchorwoman: both have confessed to Benedetto’s murder as well as four of the other five crimes in which they are suspects and are being held without bail. Arraignment set for tomorrow. Acting on a tip, Connecticut and Massachusetts authorities, along with the FBI, raided a cabin on the Farmington River just south of Sandisfield Massachusetts where they discovered the pair asleep. Police spokesmen offered no other information at this time, though sources close to the investigation say all the alleged murder victims may have been videotaped while being sexually-assaulted during the making of so-called snuff films.”
   In the parking lot, Marek explained it to Hasib, “The movies, they torture and kill the women, you know?”
   “They must be Serbs,” Hasib said.
   “Go home,” Marek said. “Think about the job.”

   A week later, Hasib called his relief driver at midnight. “Two days, please,” he told him.

   Hasib let the shower pelt his body, lathering and lathering again, to scour the restaurant from his skin and hair. As Angela had made him do, he changed the sheets, plumped the pillows in their new cases, and then lunged into etherized sleep.
   He dreamed of Mario and Angela’s mother walking through a field, the boy picking flowers and weeds to show to his grandmother, who cooed out their names to him, and, then, for what seemed to be hours, he dreamed of driving his groomer high up in the Italian alps with Angela, her naked belly round and full with child, beside him in the cab.
   When he awoke he showered again, shaved twice and, took pains to knot his tie so it fell just to the top of his belt. He drank his coffee and ate some toast, a towel draped over his chest so he did not stain his best blue shirt.
   Angela’s mother’s house was wedged beside a narrow road in a small depression, obscured by foliage and set back from Route 44, near the New Hartford line, a place, Hasib thought, he must have glimpsed the winter he worked at Ski Sundown when the leaves were stripped from the maple crowns and when, at night, the little cape’s lights would have shot shadows across the snow in the field between itself and the highway. Had it not been for the large green mailbox with Benedetto in white letters, he might have driven by without noticing it, as he was daydreaming of Angela, her legs spread, the boy’s shoulders slipping into the doctor’s gloved hands.
   As he spun the Escort into the side road, Hasib noticed a sign declaring it a dead end. He drove past the house until two boulders blocked the way where the road met the river, shut off the engine, and eased his seat back imagining how he would tell Klebos about the child. Watching the dark water ripple along a small rapid, he envisioned telling Pearlman, too, who would understand about the missing persons in a man’s life, and how the living must be reclaimed from the grasp of the dead. Hasib had lost a wife and daughters to another man, gloomy uncle Adnan and brash Aunt Ismeta to the Serbs, while Pearlman had lost his name and grandparents to the Nazis, all snared in the skeins of Europe’s hatreds.
   Hasib muscled the Escort around and eased to the edge of the road in front of Eva’s house, his stomach roiling as if punctured by needles of ice. As the engine cooled and ticked, he checked his teeth and tie in the rearview mirror, jiggling and flexing his legs as one might when afflicted with night cramps. Afraid that if he did not go directly to the door his presence would alarm Angela’s mother, Hasib scanned the front windows to see if he was being watched. Gulping a breath, he opened the driver’s door and swung his body into the sunlight.
   Hasib’s first tentative knock was not answered, but when he rapped with authority a muffled voice called, “Just a minute please.” As he waited, Hasib listened over the trip hammer of his heart in his ears and the drone of a yellow jacket in a lilac bush for footsteps, and as the seconds groaned on wondered at the wisdom of his visit. His calves spasmed and shook and his neck grew damp where his tie’s knot constricted his breath.
   When Eva opened the front door and peered at him through the screen, she had the boy in her arms. Before Hasib could summon his voice she said, “I have seen your picture, it was taken in Elizabeth Park by the police.”
   “Yes,” Hasib said. “I knew Angela, but only for a night.”
   “Why have you come,” Eva said, “To tell me that my daughter spent a night with a stranger?”
   Hasib stared a moment at the boy who was suckling a pacifier and pawing at a button on his grandmother’s shirt. “Because,” Hasib said, “I believe that I am the boy’s father.” Fear quaked across Eva’s face and as she groped for the handle of the door Hasib stepped back and said, his arms raised as if surrendering, “I mean no harm, only to know if this is so.”
   Drawing the boy’s head to her shoulder, Eva backed into the shadow of the half closed door and, shifting her weight from side to side, stared for a moment at Hasib. “Mario will nap soon,” she said, pushing the door open again with her foot, “While he sleeps you may say what you came to say.”
   Hasib stepped through the doorway and trailed Eva into the living room where she bade him sit in a floral covered wing chair across the room from the sofa. “Let me put him down then I will make tea. Will you have some?”
   “Yes, please,” Hasib said in a voice he did not recognize as his own.
   In Eva’s absence, Hasib surveyed the room. A series of wood framed pictures of Angela crowded the mantle above the fireplace on either side of a polished Seth Thomas clock with Roman numerals. In one picture she was an infant holding hands with Eva and a man Hasib assumed was her father, in another she wore a blue gown and mortarboard, another was the headshot that had been in the paper, her hair cropped close to her face, and in another she was holding a fishing rod in one hand, a small fish in the other. On the far wall above the sofa and next to the door to the kitchen the heart of Jesus bled next to an oil painting of the house in winter.
   When Eva returned, she carried a tray with a teapot, cups, a sugar bowl with a small silver spoon, a cell phone, and what looked like a walkie-talkie. When Hasib stared at the tiny radio she said, “That is a baby monitor. If he wakes or cries, I will hear him.”
   “He is a beautiful boy,” Hasib said.
   Eva set the tray on the coffee table between them, and sat back into the sofa. “My parents are dead, I have no brothers or sisters, my husband died before Angela could truly know him, and my only child has been murdered. Mario is all that is left to me in this world to love,” Eva said. “Now tell me Mr.…?”
   “Begovic” Hasib said, “But please call me Hasib, Mrs. Benedetto.”
   “Okay, Hasib,” she said. “And I’d like you to call me Eva and to tell me why you believe you are Mario’s father.”
   Hasib unwound a gentle tale. And though each omission and artful gloss abraded his heart, and the baleful sorrow hatching Eva’s eyes scorched his soul, he revealed nothing to dishonor her daughter. When he had told her all that he found the courage to say he added, “We were both very lonely.”
   Eva knitted her hands in her lap and stared at the ceiling. After a moment she poured each them a cup of tea, handed Hasib his, and went to the mantle and pointed to the picture of Eva with the fish. “I took this by the river at the end of the road the day before Angela’s father, Tony, died,” she said, taking the frame in her hand. “He loved me, he adored Angela, and he lived to fish. He drowned when he slipped in the river. He wasn’t wearing a wading belt and his waders filled with water. It was a Saturday in September, and when he didn’t come home for lunch, Angela and I walked down to the river to bring him a sandwich. When I saw his fly rod snagged on a deadfall and his felt hat floating in an eddy, I knew he was gone. They found him two days later pinned under a piece of ledge.”
   Eva replaced the picture in its place and sat back down on the couch smoothing her dress beneath her. “After that,” she said, “Angela was often alone with my mother while I worked in Winsted as a nurse. I didn’t need to work, we had good insurance, but I couldn’t stay home where I could still feel Tony, until my mother died and I had no choice. Like many lonely kids, Angela developed fantasies and imaginary friends. She was nice to anyone who was nice to her. But I don’t think she was ever discriminating enough.”
   Hasib felt a grimace streak his face and he sat forward in the chair.
   “I didn’t mean that to be cruel,” Eva said. When he did not speak, she asked, “How old are you Hasib?”
   Hasib settled his teacup on the table beside the chair and answered, “Thirty-seven last week.”
   Eva leaned forward. “Only seven years younger than me,” she said, her voice catching.
   When she had composed herself, Eva, as if she were being interviewed, explained to Hasib how she had met Tony when she was student nurse and he was newly mustered out of the army, how he had worked days as an insurance adjuster and gone to school at night to become an accountant, how Angela had been born breech without a Caesarian section, and how she had never been able to conceive again. When she paused and Hasib found no words to speak, Eva invited him to sit beside her on the couch and showed him three leather-covered photo albums with pictures of Angela and Tony pressed onto each page, as she remembered the circumstances and year in which each one was taken.
   When the last of the tea had turned tepid in the pot and morning shadows had given way to the full sun of noon, Eva drew a leg beneath her and asked Hasib to tell her about his life. As he told her about leaving Bosnia and coming to Hartford and losing his wife to Rampelli, and about the grief at being separated from his daughters, he realized that it was tale he had never told anyone before, except in truncated bursts, or in moments of rage, and he saw for himself for the first time how brutal his odyssey had been.
   In the silence that followed the end of Hasib’s story, Mario mumbled in his sleep, his voice thin and cracked in the tiny speaker. Eva glanced at the Seth Thomas and said, “He’ll be awake soon.”
   Hasib said, “Perhaps you would prefer that I go now?”
   “Yes,” Eva said, “But I would like you to come back. I will speak to my lawyer, and if he advises me to do so, I will allow a paternity test. You understand what that is and what it could mean for you?”
   “Yes,” Hasib said.

   Klebos explained the forms to Hasib and when he had placed his signature on the last required line of the final piece of paper, Klebos bade him sit. As the lawyer scribbled some notes, Hasib noticed for the first time that he was left handed, and as his watchband clicked against the pad he was reminded of the rhythmic tick of the clock on Eva’s mantle. When Klebos finished writing, he took off his glasses and stared a moment at Hasib who shifted in his chair anticipating a lecture. “Hasib,” he said, “I advised you not to do this because you were already drowning, but if most men are honest they’ll tell you that they want to have a son. You have that and you’ve gotten lucky in another way. No more alimony.”
   “How did you do that?” Hasib said.
   “I didn’t, your-ex got Rampelli to marry her. His lawyer called this morning.”
   “This is good,” Hasib said nodding his head and staring into his lap.
   “Good?” Klebos said, “I thought you’d be doing handstands and cartwheels.”
   “It is good, “Hasib said, “But now my girls will call him Daddy.”
   “That may be, but you’re their legal father, and I’m still pushing to reduce child support and to compel him to bring the children to you every other week, or to meet you halfway.”
   Hasib shook his head and laughed.
   “What?” Klebos said, placing his palms flat on his desk.
   “Milka complained that I never met her halfway, it’s funny.”
   When Hasib left Klebo’s office he drove to Eva’s house.

   Without the responsibility of monthly alimony, Hasib quit washing dishes at the restaurant and visited Mario and Eva most afternoons, often staying for dinner and tucking his son, who called him Pop-Pop, into his bed at night. Some nights he lingered, talking with Eva until it made no sense for him to sleep when he got home.
   After six months, Eva, said to Hasib, “Mario misses you when you leave. He asks for you when he wakes up. Why not live here in Angela’s old room?”
   “But what can I do for work?” he said.
   “You found your way here,” Eva said, “You can find something.”
   Now Hasib watches the sunrise arc over the Berkshire foothills as he delivers papers in New Hartford, sharing the dawn with deer, wild turkeys, foxes, and bears, and, twice he has stopped to watch a moose grazing in a bog near the river. When he drives past Ski Sundown, he imagines taking Mario for rides in the groomer at night as the village lights glimmer and the moon’s brilliance reflects on the lambent, icy reservoir.
   When his son is older, Hasib will see that he learns to ski, and, when he will remember them, Hasib will tell him stories of Johorina and Jure Franko while they eat an early winter breakfast in Eva’s sunny kitchen, perhaps, sometimes, beside his groggy stepsisters.
   When he moved into Eva’s room, Hasib knew that if she still loved him in forty years that he might become her nursemaid, and that Mario might be the sole child to take care of two old people, and each Sunday when he drives his new family to mass in Winsted, Hasib marvels that both he and Milka have ended up living with Italian Catholics older than themselves, and wonders if they both live well into old age if he will be unfaithful to Eva, but he knows that he will never disappear, never again be a missing person.