Authors: Marjorie Thelen
THE FORTY COLUMN CASTLE
To my writer and reader friends everywhere, thank you.
For John, always.
This is a work of fiction. All characters in this book have no existence outside the
imagination of the author. However, the ruins of the Forty Column Castle, Pafos, Cyprus
and all its history and beauty are very real, and the author recommends a visit.
Copyright 2011 by Marjorie Thelen. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be
reproduced in any form, save for inclusion of brief quotations in a review, without
the written permission of the author.
Table of Contents
So long as he has a tooth left a fox won’t be pious.”
Greek Cypriot Proverb
The phone rang in the middle of the night.
I banged around my bedside stand in the dark, trying to kill the unnerving noise until
I figured out it was the phone and not the alarm. I fumbled the receiver to my ear
and croaked, “Hello.”
“Marie-Claude,” Aunt Elizabeth said in the faraway voice of a long distance call,
“you’ll never believe this. They say I’m an antiquities smuggler, and they’ve put
me in jail. Not only that, they think I’m the head of a multimillion dollar smuggling
I managed a laugh. “You’re kidding, of course.” Even in my groggy state, I had a pretty
good sense of humor.
Aunt Elizabeth sputtered incoherent noises. “Marie-Claude, stop laughing this instant.
I’m in jail, and it smells, and it’s cold, and the bed is hard. You must come immediately
The line crackled and went dead.
“Maybe you’re not kidding,” I said into the phone.
I dropped the receiver on the hook and groaned back onto the pillow. I wanted to snuggle
into my fat, fluffy down comforter and go back to sleep. The night had turned cold,
even though it was May in Boston, and I had the bedroom windows wide open. A breeze
played in the lacey curtains.
“Deep breaths,” I said to myself and took a few, trying to clear my mind and still
my racing heart. Dead of night calls did that to me.
Was this someone’s idea of a joke? Where was my aunt anyway? Then I remembered. She
had gone to Cyprus on vacation. Maybe she was in trouble. She had sounded almost hysterical.
I stumbled to the bathroom to see what a hot shower would do to wake me up. The steamy
water cranked out positive ions, and I started coming to life. I decided a few phone
calls to Cyprus would be in order to find out what I could from this end. Aunt Elizabeth
was eccentric but not criminal. This was an obvious case of misunderstanding.
I shrugged into a soft, terry cloth robe and hustled to the kitchen, which wasn’t
far from the bedroom since I lived in a loft, fluffing my hair as I went to let it
air dry across my shoulders. After I had made a ten cup pot of coffee and filled my
favorite ceramic mug, I placed some calls.
It didn’t help. The Cypriot authorities acted suspicious.
“Yes, miss,” said a whispery voice in Greek, like Marlon Brando in
, “your aunt tried to leave the country with Cypriot artifacts in her carryon. We
have her in custody, but you cannot speak with her. She is not in this building, you
No, I didn’t see, but since my Greek wasn’t great, I didn’t know if I understood him
“You may visit her,” he said. “It is possible.”
That I understood.
My aunt had to be innocent of any wrongdoing, my mind kept repeating. She was a retired
librarian, for heaven’s sake. When I finally got through to the American Embassy in
Nicosia, I was informed that my friend, the political attaché, was out of the country
for two weeks. No special favors there.
A call to my dear friend, Yannis Vasilis, my one Cypriot friend on the island who
might be able to pull some strings, was futile. His work phone rang and rang and rang.
No one in the office.
I was on the next Olympus jet to Cyprus, a fourteen hour trip from Boston and a country
whose laws on smuggling were foreign to me. Not that I was familiar with any laws
on smuggling, U.S. or otherwise. I was a mutual fund manager, not a lawyer.
Unfortunately, my aunt had a history of getting herself into untenable positions that
she expected me to retrieve her from, like the time she called and wanted me to help
her stop a man from jumping off the Prudential Tower. I was in Singapore. Fortunately,
the police soon had everything under control. She was a little crazy like that. But
jail was carrying crazy to the extreme.
I stowed my trusty laptop in the overhead bin. My cell phone was in my purse. I was
armed and ready. My Swiss Army knife used to be ever by my side, but not these days.
I wore my favorite pair of black Capri pants, bright yellow strappy sandals, and scoop
neck silk blouse to match.
The Olympus flight attendant with the airline smile asked my drink preference, and
I ordered red wine. I hoped it would mix with all the Tums I’d been chewing. Ever
since the phone call, my nervous stomach had kicked into overdrive.
The passengers were settling down, even the Greek family across the aisle that had
tugged and pulled, pushed and squeezed a myriad of packages and baggage in, over and
around them before take off.
“Thanks,” I said to the man sprawled in the end seat, who had helped the attendant
hand the wine across the empty seat between us. I had noticed him standing in line
to board the plane and admired his sun streaked hair and bronzy tan. Marlboro Man.
Wonder if he rode a horse and rounded up cattle. Or maybe he was part of the sailing
crowd. He was a nice diversion to take my mind off my aunt sitting in jail.
You’ve sworn off men, a little inner voice said.
Did I ever listen to my inner voice?
“My pleasure,” he said.
I couldn’t help a flirty smile. If I had to spend nine hours on an overnight flight
to Athens on a mission of mercy, at least the big angel in the sky had given me a
sexy seat mate.
Will you never learn, the little voice squeaked?
Geez it was only a plane flight, not a life commitment.
The attendant handed him two small bottles of bourbon, glass with ice, and a snack.
I busied myself pouring wine and took a sip of good old Gallo.
“You think we’re the only English speakers on this trip?” he asked.
“Probably,” I said. “Most of the passengers are no doubt Greeks with relatives in
the States, and they’re returning home.”
“You’ve taken this flight before?”
I nodded. “Many times. I like the Mediterranean area for vacationing.”
“Where are you going this trip?”
“Cyprus.” I didn’t elaborate why I was going. I mean, a relative in jail can be a
real show stopper, and I needed nice, pleasant conversation to keep my mind off my
aunt and what she might have gotten herself into. “How about you?”
“Cyprus, too, on business. I’ve been several times to the island.”
His faded jeans and black pullover didn’t look like standard business attire, but
it was a night flight. Maybe he was a geek, although he didn’t act socially challenged.
“My friends call me Zach,” he said. “Short for Zachariah. My mother had four sons
and was fond of the Old Testament. She named all her sons for prophets -- Zachariah,
Zephaniah, Ezekiel, and Micah.”
I smiled at the thought of a mother going for four prophetic sons. Delusions of grandeur.
“Mine is Marie-Claude. Everyone calls me Claudie.”
Since he had moved recently to Boston, we talked about the Red Socks, Quincy Market,
where to get the best lobster dinner, historical sites not to be missed, the best
clubs, the best bars.
Zach’s hands were calloused, and he liked to talk with them. I have this thing about
a man’s hands, so I liked watching his, which were generous with squared tip fingers.
I picked up on a soft drawl and when I commented on it, he regaled me with tales of
growing up in West Texas.
“What do you do for a living?” he asked.
“I manage an emerging markets mutual fund with my partner, Lena.” He seemed extraordinarily
interested in the business which led to more pointed questions.
“You live alone?”
I wondered where this was going.
“Yes, in a loft.”
“With a harbor view?”
“As a matter of fact, yes.” I was in the trendy address stage. “You?”
He shrugged. “I travel all the time. No time for room mates. I don’t keep a permanent
address. It’s wherever I’m working at the time.”
“What kind of work do you do?” I asked, intrigued with what kind of job didn’t permit
a permanent address.
“That covers a multitude of sins. Intelligence, computers, security, home improvements?”
He smiled and changed the subject.
“Where are you staying on Cyprus?” he asked.
I hadn’t made plans past the first night until I saw what would happen with my aunt,
and she was being detained in Larnaca where we would land. I hedged. “I’m booked at
the Golden Bay Hotel in Larnaca for the first night and after that I haven’t decided.
I usually stay with friends. I only have a week. Just wanted a little change of scenery.”
So I lied. I was spinning a nice little web for myself, but something made me hold
back telling him the real reason for my trip. It was probably that sneaky little inner
The flight attendant pushed the refreshment cart to our aisle, demanding our attention.
“Excuse me, miss,” said the attendant with the Mediterranean dark eyes lined in black
pencil and highlighted with bright blue eye shadow, lots of it. “Would you care for
“Yes, please. I’ll have another glass of red wine.” I needed more than these little
one glass servings.
The attendant passed my wine, and Zach got another round of bourbon.
“Where will you be staying?” I asked.
“I booked at the Golden Bay for the first night, too. I’m going on to the Coral Beach
Resort north of Pafos after that.”
What a coincidence that we’d be in the same hotel for the first night.
“Nice five star hotel, the Coral Beach,” I said. “I’ve stayed there. Pafos is great.
I love the west side of the island.”
“Maybe we can get together,” he said. The suggestion I thought I saw in his eyes for
an instant obliterated my aunt’s dilemma, and my resolve to swear off men forever.
* * * * *
Turbulence delayed the flight from Athens to Cyprus for two hours, so by the time
I got through customs at Larnaca International Airport Saturday night, it was nearly
midnight on Cyprus, too late to visit Aunt Elizabeth in jail or locate anyone official
who might know something.
Zach and I shared an old black Mercedes taxi to the Golden Bay with a driver who drove
like a madman, the normal way to drive on Cyprus. At the entrance to the hotel Zach
paid the driver who promptly took off, and the porter trundled our luggage inside.
I fumbled in my purse for money to help pay the fare, but Zach shook his head and
steered me toward the reception desk, his hand at my back.
The hotel foyer sparkled in white marble. Polished brass railings framed an open stairway
that rose from the main floor to the second. A tall vase of bird-of-paradise graced
a brass table at the base of the stairs. Off to the left was the reception area, trimmed
in trailing plants and imitation Greek statues. A solitary clerk in maroon uniform
with gold braid stood at attention to receive us. We checked in, the clerk smiling
politely and speaking in Greek-accented English.
At the elevator Zach said, “How about breakfast together in the morning?”
His invitation I found flattering. This looked like more than a one night stand. After
all we had spent the night together -- me, trying to sleep wrapped up in a navy airplane
blanket with my child sized pillow uncomfortably propped against the window, and him,
watching movies. But the breakfast proposition posed a quandary. I had planned to
try to see my aunt first thing, even though it was Sunday, and I didn’t know if the
jail would be open to visitors.