Sarah Stewart Taylor, friend of the Tarts and author of the critically acclaimed mystery series featuring art history professor Sweeney St. George, returns with the harrowing conclusion to her story of youthful misadventure.
Out on the street, I stood for a minute and tried not to freak out. I didn't have enough money left for a hotel. A group of young men standing outside the train station had started watching me.
So I did what anyone would do (right?) -- I walked into the nearest bar and ordered a bottle of wine, paying for it with my last couple of coins. I was sitting down with my bottle, preparing to polish it off, when a young guy wearing a black turtleneck came over and said, "Are you American?" He spoke almost perfect English, but with a little bit of a slavic roll to his words. I nodded. "I am very sorry to bother you, but I must ask, do you know the work of the director Martin Scorsese and also of the director Francis Ford Coppola? I like very much these directors and always want to tallk to an American about them." As it happened, I also liked very much Scorsese and Coppola. And, I was lonely and scared.
His name was Milan. He was cute and he was with two huge guys wearing leather jackets and sporting severe crew cuts. I joined them at their table. Milan told me they were all students at the University of Belgrade and they were going on a vacation together because, he said in a nonchalant way, "Soon we go to fight in army." This was the winter of 1992. The war in Croatia had already started and Bosnia was just about to declare independence. He was Serbian, from Belgrade. He said one of his friends was from Bosnia. I never sorted out who was fighting for what army against whom. As the bar prepared to close, I told them I was going to wait outside the train station all night and hope I didn't get mugged.
That was when they said they could drive me, right now, right to the bus station where I was meeting our Belgian exchange student. They had a car outside. I think I hesitated, but eventually the four days without sleep and the bottle of wine conspired to make me reckless and it didn't take me long to wave off the voices in my head telling me that you never, ever get in a car with a man you don't know, not to mention three men you don't know, in a strange country, knowing you're going into remote mountains.
I still can't believe I did it, but we piled into the car and we had a great time, talking about film and drinking champagne out of big bottles they pulled out of a cardboard box in the trunk. As the sun rose, we stopped for coffee and I took a picture of them standing in front of their car. When they dropped me at the bus station, they told me to have fun skiing and Milan gave me a chaste kiss.
Everyone I've told that story to says the same thing: "Were you crazy? They could have killed you. No one knew where you were."
They're right. It was really, really stupid. As a mystery writer, I've thought about the "what if?" over and over, pictured my body lying on the side of the road. And if a young woman I care about ever told me she'd done the same thing, I would be horrified. Over the next few years, reading the headlines out of Bosnia, I often looked at the picture I'd taken of them and wondered whether they were alive and what they'd been through. I wondered about the horrible things that may have happened to them, that they may have done, may have been asked or forced to do, or may have done of their own accord.
But it's one of my absolute favorite memories -- watching the sun rise as we drove up into the Alps, all of us young and reckless and in our own way, scared of what was ahead.
Thanks to the Book Tarts for hosting me. What about you? What dangerous things have you done? And given the choice, would you do them again?
Please rate this article