Authors: Paul Johnston
Dorothy struggled to her feet, waving away their offers of assistance. ‘I’m going to make us some lunch,’ she said, limping towards the kitchen.
‘No, no,’ Anna declined hurriedly. ‘I really must go.’ She bustled away after kissing them both. She knew that the meal would take time to prepare and consume.
Mavros remained, allowing his mother to limp around, fussing over him and feeding him the smoked salmon she’d started ordering on the Internet from a supplier in the Highlands of her homeland. He’d never felt comfortable in the flat. He didn’t like the heaps of books and papers relating to the publishing business Dorothy had run single-handedly for years. He felt that the clutter had given her a way to block out those she had lost, though he knew she remembered Spyros and Andonis in her own way. Over the years she’d filled a niche in the book trade for philhellenic publications, the scribblings of the numerous British visitors over the centuries who’d succumbed to Greece’s charms. Mavros was with the majority of Greeks on that issue. He couldn’t stand the pseudo-lyrical bullshit, twisted history and shallow, updated mythology that professional Greece-lovers spewed out. A famously crude critic had once called them ‘Greek landscape fuckers’ and he could see what the guy was getting at—sexually repressed Northerners were often inspired by the mute terrain rather than by its human occupants who might answer back. Dorothy took an opposing view and, as the numbers of British tourists had increased, so had the profits of her company, Persephone and Hecate Publications.
Despite those feelings Mavros stayed in the flat all afternoon. He was tired. The week he’d spent asking low-life dope dealers if they’d seen the boutique owners’ spotty kid had taken it out of him. It was easier to let time roll by rather than bother about Deniz Ozal and his missing sister. There would be time enough for the Turkish-Americans later.
Before he knew it, the private eye had nodded off in his mother’s chair, worry beads entwined in his fingers.
Trigono, 1845 hours
The sun was in the far west now, casting an orange light tinged with purple through a low layer of cotton-wool clouds over Sifnos and Milos. The southern cliffs of Trigono were in the shade, but the teardrop form of Eschati was still lit up. The wind from the south had stiffened, the waves running in harder from Ios and the faint mass of Santorini’s shattered volcano.
The fishing boat
was no longer riding off the sandy beach. Its anchor had been pulled up and its bow was now pointed towards Mavronisi and the narrow entrance to Vathy inlet. As it rocked in the swell, a metre-long scrape on the waterline amidships showed beneath the second of the three old tyres that acted as fenders. Seagulls hovered above the boat, their barking call ringing out in the clear evening air. They took it in turns to swoop down and inspect the nets that were trailing from the stern, soaring back up on the air currents to begin their cry again.
Two metres below the surface, Nafsika and Yiangos were in a tight embrace, their naked limbs wrapped around each other. Strands of the girl’s hair were being washed through the dark red skein of the net. Their eyes were wide open, their lips drawn back, but no bubbles were being expelled into the chill salt water from the couple’s lungs.
drifted towards the teeth of the rocks another sound, high pitched and playful, could be heard. The notes of a herdsman’s pipe were fluting out over the ridge that ran between the flanks of Mount Vigla and the whitewashed chapel marking the peak of Profitis Ilias. Almost immediately they were scattered and lost on the breeze.
finally tracked the journalist Bitsos down to an ouzeri in a backstreet near Omonia Square. Although it was evening —the garish lights of the shops around the city’s hub of commerce burning the eyes and dubious deals of all kinds coming into their own—there was no reduction in the crush of humanity. Athenians worked late, shopped late, ate late and played late. The air was heavy with nostril-stinging exhaust gases, the odour of grilled meat from the
joints and the smoke from thousands of cut-price cigarettes. The district was sleazy and encrusted with decades of filth, but Mavros harboured an abiding affection for it. He smiled as he crossed the narrow street towards
The Cauldron, then jerked back as a long-haired young woman without a helmet roared past on a powerful motorbike and almost took his toes off.
‘Idiot!’ he yelled after her.
‘Wanker!’ came the shrill response.
Inside the ouzo-house every table was taken, the surfaces covered with glasses, small carafes and plates of
. Mavros spotted his contact in a corner, the chair next to him piled with papers and folders.
‘Still hungry, Lambi?’ he asked.
The crime reporter was cramming octopus salad into his mouth, soaking up the olive oil and vinegar dressing with chunks of bread. He was in his late forties, bald and surprisingly slim considering how much time he spent eating. A pair of gold-framed glasses hung round his neck on a cord, and his short-sleeved shirt was spotted with traces of the day’s meals.
‘What are you after, Alex?’ he asked suspiciously. ‘I don’t suppose you want to buy me a drink out of friendship.’
Mavros smiled as he transferred Bitsos’s papers to the floor and sat down.
‘Eh, careful with those,’ the journalist complained.
‘Leave off, Lambi. Got your dirty magazines in there?’
Bitsos gave him a long-suffering look. ‘My dirty magazines are under here.’ He lifted his backside to reveal a cushion of glossy editions, the cover of the top one showing a pair of half-naked, bottle-blonde women in a clinch.
Mavros shook his head. Lambis Bitsos was divorced, his three daughters grown up, and he visited the hard-core kiosks in Omonia at least once a week. ‘Give it a rest, Lambi,’ he said. ‘It’ll come off in your hand.’
Bitsos took a sip of ouzo and replenished his glass. ‘What do you mean? I’m doing a story on the porn industry.’
‘I believe you,’ Mavros said ironically. ‘How many years’ research have you put in now? Thirty? And still no results.’
The journalist laughed. ‘I wouldn’t say that, Alex.’
A waiter appeared, his head inclined. Mavros ordered more ouzo and a prawn
. He wasn’t hungry after his mother’s lunch and—unlike many Greeks—he could drink without eating, but he knew the melted cheese delicacy was one of Bitsos’s favourites.
After a run-through of the latest crime stories—the government minister who’d had his son’s dangerous driving charge pulled, the ship-owner whose illegal weekend villa had suddenly become legal after the investigating official took an all-expenses-paid trip to Bangkok—Mavros asked Bitsos about Tryfon Roufos, the antiquities dealer in the red shirt he’d seen Deniz Ozal visit.
‘Roufos?’ the reporter said in a low voice. ‘That greedy, fuck-anything-that-moves vulture? Every night you can find him in the shittiest bouzouki clubs groping creatures plastered in make-up, most of them Greek-Russian immigrants whose papers are as fake as the mayor’s hair colour.’ Bitsos’s expression was suddenly avid. ‘Shall we go?’
‘No thanks,’ Mavros replied. ‘I don’t go to those dumps. That music’s an insult to animals, never mind human beings. Anyway, I know where to find Tryfon Roufos. He isn’t going to tell me what I want to know.’
The journalist dribbled water into his ouzo glass and took a sip of the cloudy mixture. ‘And what exactly is it that you want to know, Alex?’
‘What’s he up to these days?’ Mavros leaned closer, breathing in the savoury aroma of the
. ‘In particular, is he up to something with a Turkish-American by the name of Deniz Ozal?’
Bitsos looked at him thoughtfully. ‘Deniz Ozal?’ he repeated. ‘Can’t say the name means anything to me.’ He dipped another piece of bread into the metal dish. ‘No, definitely not.’
Mavros sat back. ‘Oh well,’ he said. ‘That’s good. Probably.’ He swallowed ouzo and glanced away, taking in the hubbub in the
. In the far corner a shapely middle-aged woman with long black hair was fiddling with a guitar and an amplifier.
The reporter was looking disappointed. ‘Don’t you want to hear the word on Roufos, then?’
‘Why not?’ Mavros raised a hand to the waiter and pointed to the empty carafe.
‘Right,’ Bitsos said, licking his lips. ‘The Antiquities Squad are about to nail him, or at least try to nail him, for trafficking in fifth-century Corinthian coins. Apparently a private collection was stolen six months ago from a house in Vouliagmeni. There’s also talk that he sold one of those Cycladic figurines—you know, the ones with their arms under their tits and the vacant expressions on their faces—to a German collector for a mound of money. And at the weekend one of his people was caught on the ferry to Italy with an icon that went walkabout from Mount Athos last…’
Mavros let the journalist rattle on, not paying much attention. The singer had started off on one of his favourite songs—Chatzidhakis’s ‘
’, ‘Street of Dreams’—and he felt himself float away on a wave of melancholy. For a moment he saw Andonis’s face again then, to his surprise, it was replaced by the soft features of Rosa Ozal from the photos her brother Deniz had given him. He came back to himself when the crowd started clapping and looked at his watch. ‘I’ve got to go,’ he said, getting to his feet and throwing down a couple of five-thousand notes. ‘Have something else, Lambi,’ he said. ‘To eat, not to play with yourself over.’
Bitsos laughed. ‘Thanks, Alex. Anyway, I don’t need any more magazines. Not today. We’ll talk, my friend.’
‘Yes, we’ll talk,’ Mavros said, raising his hand.
On the street he headed towards the nearest kiosk to call Nikos Kriaras. The police commander had left a message on Mavros’s mobile with a number and time to call after Mavros had tried to reach him earlier. Kriaras was paranoid about being bugged, with good reason—the most muck-raking of the newspapers had invested in surveillance equipment which they often pointed in the direction of senior establishment figures.
‘Yes?’ The voice was sharp, no identification given.
Mavros leaned up against the yellow wooden side of the
, the day’s newspapers fastened to a string with clothes pegs above him, his hand over his free ear. ‘This is Mavros.’
‘Are you on a land line?’ The tone was still brusque.
‘Yes. On the street. Happy?’
‘Not very. What do you want? Be quick about it.’ Nikos Kriaras tolerated Mavros because the police needed someone to do the jobs they either couldn’t or wouldn’t take on, often to do with foreigners who didn’t appreciate the Greek way of handling things. The fact that Mavros wasn’t interested in playing politics had helped to keep the unofficial conduit open.
‘Ah. He came to you?’ There was a hint of apology in the commander’s voice. ‘I should have warned—’
‘Doesn’t matter, Niko,’ Mavros interrupted. He’d deliberately used Kriaras’s first name to put him even more on the back foot.
‘No names, wanker,’ came the angry response.
Mavros smiled, remembering the girl on the motorbike. He’d been characterised that way twice in an hour now. One more time and maybe it would come true. ‘What kind of language is that for a—?’
This time it was Kriaras who cut in. ‘Stop it. This is foolish. What do you want from me?’
‘The individual in question,’ Mavros said, going along with the policeman’s demand to avoid names for the time being. ‘Is he on the level?’
‘As far as I know.’
Mavros gave a hollow laugh. ‘Are
on the level?’
There was a pause. ‘As far as I know he’s clean. You can go ahead with him. That’s why you’re asking, isn’t it?’
‘Of course. I hope you’re right.’
‘Oh, I do.’ Mavros pressed his head closer against the
. A man in a leather jacket was perusing the papers behind him. ‘Did you know he’s an acquaintance of Tryfon Roufos?’ he asked as quietly as he could above the noise of the cars.
There was another pause, this one longer. ‘Is he really?’ Nikos Kriaras was trying to sound unconcerned, but Mavros thought he’d caught a bum note.
‘Yes, really. Are you sure you didn’t know?’
‘Certainly. Why would I?’
Mavros glanced over his shoulder. The guy in leather had gone. ‘You know plenty about our friend TR, though. What about the Corinthian coins? What about the icon from—’
‘All right, all right.’ The policeman was animated enough now. ‘How do you know about those?’
‘No comment,’ Mavros said with a laugh.
‘Stupid question. You have evidence linking the Turk to “our friend”, as you call him?’
‘Turkish-American,’ Mavros corrected. ‘And no, I haven’t. Not yet, at least. But do you still think he’s on the level?’
There was silence on the line. Mavros peered through the small side window of the kiosk, taking in the stacks of chewing gum, cigarettes, condoms, batteries and biscuits. The elderly man inside caught the look and raised an eyebrow. Mavros opened his eyes wide in a gesture of indifference.
‘If what you say is the case,’ said Kriaras, ‘if he has dealings with our Greek friend, then I’d be reluctant to put any faith in him.’
‘I don’t want to start a religious cult,’ Mavros said in irritation. ‘I just want to do a quick job.’
The commander laughed, a dry, grating sound. ‘Come on,’ he said sardonically. ‘Surely you don’t need me to vet your clients for you.’
‘No, I don’t. But I also don’t need you to set me up with an international criminal.’
‘Very well,’ Kriaras said, businesslike now. ‘I’ll check and let you know if I find anything you should be aware of.’
‘Thanks a lot,’ Mavros said sharply. ‘Be sure you do.’
The policeman laughed again. ‘Calm down. You look after our foreign visitor and I’ll look after you. If you don’t hear from me, assume there’s nothing on him.’ There was a click and the phone went dead.
‘Fuck it,’ Mavros cursed, moving round to pay.
A wizened old woman in a crumpled housecoat and slippers glared at him. ‘What are you saying, sir?’ she asked in a scandalised voice.
Mavros watched as she wandered off towards the rear entrance of one of Omonia’s filthiest pay-by-the-hour hotels. What was her problem? He turned up Stadhiou towards the more upmarket square of Syndagma, heading for home.
The wailing started just after dark.
At first the villagers thought it was kids chasing each other through the narrow streets. Then the noise moved closer to the square and the words became clearer. The words and the names.
‘Nafsika! Nafsika!’ The final syllable was a long scream of agony.
‘Yiango! My son, my sweet son, oh Yiango…’
There was a cascade of feet on the paving stones, questioning voices in between the screeches.
‘Who is it?’
Another desolate wail. ‘My girl, my beautiful girl, what happened to you? What happened to you?’ The woman’s words trailed away in a bitter groan. ‘What evil fate…’
‘It’s Nafsika, Christos’s and Marigoula’s daughter…’
‘Nafsika? What’s happened to her?’
Another scream. ‘Drowned! The sea has taken them from us…’
‘Taken them? Nafsika and Yiangos? Oh my God! How?’
Ear to the door of her house in the wall of the Venetian castle, old Maro listened, trying to make sense of what was going on. Nafsika? Yiangos? Drowned? No, it couldn’t be. Not Nafsika and Yiangos. She was related to both of them, not closely to Nafsika but Yiangos was her great-nephew, her brother Manolis’s grandson. My God, how could You do this to us? Her hands were trembling, her eyes filled with salty tears. Haven’t we suffered enough?
She felt pressure on the door and stepped unsteadily back.
‘Are you there, Kyra Maro? It’s me, Rena.’ The woman, in her late thirties and wearing black blouse, skirt and knee- length stockings, bustled in and took the old woman’s arm. ‘Come, sit down and I’ll tell you what’s happened.’
Maro allowed herself to be led to the table, her eyes blurred. In the bright glow of the gaslight she could make out that Rena’s expression was kindly but excited. Death always roused passions on Trigono.
‘Is it true?’ Maro asked. ‘Is Yiangos really—?’ She broke off and tried to visualise the boy, tried to remember his face. Since her eyes began to darken a few years back, she hadn’t been able to see people unless they were as close to her as Rena was now. It had been a long time since any of her family had been that close. The dead boy had never even been in her house. She recalled a handsome face, a cheeky grin and a sturdy frame that had seemed to grow in great spurts. But then she’d only seen him occasionally; across the square at Easter, or down at the harbour for the Epiphany celebration when he and the other village boys would dive into the freezing January waters to retrieve the cross.
‘Kyra Maro? Are you hearing me?’ Rena’s hand was on hers. She always addressed the older woman respectfully as Mrs Maro. ‘Don’t cry.’ Then the younger woman let out a sob herself. ‘Oh, why shouldn’t you cry? Everyone on Trigono is crying tonight.’ Outside, the screams were louder than ever as all the island women joined in the grieving.
Maro pulled her hand away and tried to cover her ears. That sound, the sound of desperate keening, was killing her. She’d done it herself when loved ones died and she couldn’t bear to hear it again. Until her eyes betrayed her, she’d gone to her fields on the slopes above the Kambos whenever there was a death in the village. Stayed out there with her donkey tethered to the ridge wall till the funeral had taken place and the
, the ritual lamentations, were over.