Alexander Scott was sitting in the shade of the blue and yellow awning in front of Spyridon's taverna, drinking goat's milk and feeling positively sybaritic, dedicated as he was to the wanton waste of an entire day, when he saw Kelly Robinson trudging up the street in the hot Aegean sun. Robinson sank into a chair across the table from Scott and sighed.
"Man, don't be looking like that," said Scott crossly. "I'll start feeling guilty."
Robinson just shook his head. "Wearisome, sir. This debriefing business is positively wearisome. To the nth degree."
"Yeah, well, that's what happens when you go truant on us for a couple of months. They figure you've been telling tales out of school to some Mata Hari somewhere."
"Ah, and the tales I could tell." Robinson caught the eye of the old Greek who ran the taverna, and nodded. Spyridon nodded right back, ducked inside, and emerged a few seconds later with a glass and a bottle of Boutari ouzo. Robinson peered sourly at Scott as Spyridon, who knew the routine, poured him a glass and then departed, leaving the bottle. "Look at you," said Robinson, with mock disgust. "Kicked back, enjoying yourself and drinking, um, what is that you're drinking?"
"Goat's milk. Good for you."
"Reason enough to stay away from it." Robinson sipped the ouzo, gasped as the liquid fire seared his throat and exploded in his stomach. "Anyway, here you are, looking all, I dunno, R & R'd, and I'm being grilled by a couple of stuffed shirts straight out of the J. Edgar Hoover school of interrogation."
Scott shrugged. "Next time, don't disappear on us like that."
"Yeah, I know. It's all my fault." Robinson looked around idly. "The shoe is definitely on the other foot, my Man. You're sitting where I used to sit, not all that long ago, drinking ouzo, reading the newspaper, and feeling sorry for myself. Then you came along and ruined it all."
Scott smiled. "I'm not feeling sorry for myself." He pulled his sunglasses down about an inch below the bridge of his nose, and Robinson realized that his partner was looking beyond him, down the street. "But if it makes you feel any better, I think somebody is going to ruin it all for me next."
Robinson turned and looked. A red-headed man in a tan safari jacket and faded jeans was coming up past the church, heading straight for them, and waving enthusiastically when he realized that he'd been spotted.
"Oh no," groaned Robinson. "A straight line is a wonderful thing."
"Indeed. It will never go around in circles."
"But it can sometimes be real square."
Mind your manners, Harold." Scott got up and extended a hand, grinning, as the red-headed man arrived at their table. "Jack Christian! How the heck are you?"
"Hello, Scotty. Kelly. How's the tennis ball bouncing these days?"
"Still right on the line, Jack. Fancy meeting you here. What brings you to Mykonos?"
Christian glanced at Scott's drink, frowned, then looked at Kelly's bottle of Boutari -- and smiled. "It sure is hot," he said. He glanced at Robinson, then added, "I sure am parched."
"Then set a spell, pard," drawled Scott. "Pull up a chair and have a shot of nerve medicine."
"Thanks. Don't mind if I do." Christian sat down.
Robinson gave Scott a grimace, then turned to find Spyridon. The tavern keeper was way ahead of him -- he arrived a heartbeat later with another glass for Christian.
Scott waited until Christian had poured himself a drink and tasted it, then asked, "How's the journalism business these days, Jack? Written any more articles about tennis bums and their trainers?"
"I've had to resort lately to writing travel pieces. Times have been pretty slim. But not for much longer." He leaned closer in a conspiratorial way. "I've finally got it."
"Is it contagious?" asked Robinson innocently.
"Come on, Kelly. I'm talking about the Big Scoop. The story that will break things wide open for me. After this one I'll be able to write my own ticket."
Robinson nodded, trying to look interested as he fired up a cigarette. He knew Jack Christian as an adequate and sometimes interesting freelance writer, a roamer of the world who knew his job and occasionally risked life and limb in that all-consuming quest for the Big Scoop, the exclusive story of earth-shaking importance, the pot of gold at the end of every newshound's ink-stained rainbow. Jack's problem had been that he'd always been in the wrong place at the wrong time. And Mykonos certainly didn't seem to be even remotely like the right place. Nothing earth-shaking ever happened on this little Greek isle.
"Tell us about it," said Scott -- studiously ignoring the dirty look Robinson fired at him.
"It's a sad fact of the human condition, gentlemen," said Christian somberly, "that everyone must occasionally fall upon hard times. Or, to be exact, hard times fall upon them. Sometimes like the proverbial ton of bricks. Trust me, freelance journalists are not immune. So, like the rest of my fellow men, I have to keep food on the table, right? Roof over the old noggin and all that. So I've been hopping the isles of Greece researching a few articles for some travel magazines. I've never understood why vacationers want to know every little detail about potential holiday sites. That takes all the fun out of it."
"They don't like surprises," murmured Robinson. "They don't want anything left to chance."
"They don't really want to leave home at all," said Scott. "But it's the thing to do. Anyway, you were saying? The thrills and chills of being advance man for the tourist horde?"
"Yeah, well, Mykonos is an up and coming little rock, God help it, and I was driving along the coastal road yesterday getting the lay of the land when my rental car threw a shoe. Blowout, really. Scared the you-know-what out of me. I was up to my eyeballs in a ditch, and on the other side of it was this wall. It seemed to go on forever in either direction, like the Great Wall of China or something. I knew it had to be an estate of some kind. The only thing I'd seen for a couple of miles were ancient ruins, so, being the intuitive fellow that I am, I figured that the estate was the best place to look for a phone and call for help to get me out of the ditch."
Christian paused and wet his whistle again with the Boutari, polishing off the contents of the glass. He looked longingly at the bottle, like a man dying of thirst after a jaunt across the Rub el Khani. Robinson slid the bottle in his direction. Christian gratefully poured himself another glassful.
"So then what happened?" asked Scott.
"Well, there being no gate in sight, I went over the wall. At first all I saw were the grounds. It was pretty thickly wooded, and it was getting pretty late in the day. Figuring the house would be along the shore I made for the sound of breakers. But I only got about twenty or thirty yards. Then I saw the dogs."
His voice trembled slightly. Obviously it had been a frightening experience for him. Robinson could envision it clearly -- dark, lethal streaks in the shrouding gloom of dusk.
"Needless to say," continued Christian, "I jumped into the nearest tree like a lumberjack at a pole-climbing contest. A few minutes later three men arrived. Two of them carried machine pistols. They wore sweaters and jeans and heavy boots. Two looked like Greeks. But the one who spoke to me was American. He told me to climb down. By then one of the others had the dogs under control, just a sharp command and a snap of the fingers. The American asked me who I was and what I was doing there. I told him, and I think he believed me. He could tell I was pretty shaken up. He asked me for identification and I gave it to him. Then he turned away and spoke into a walkie talkie, too softly for me to hear what he was saying. When he was done he turned back to me and said they would take me back to my car -- that I was to stay with it and they would make sure help was dispatched from town. Also, that under no circumstances was I to set foot on the grounds again. They marched me back the way I had come and hoisted me over the wall."
He sat back, drank his ouzo, and looked expectantly at Scott.
"You guys," said Scott, shaking his head. "Always trodding on the wrong toes and then getting all uppity and suspicious when a private citizen exercises his natural right to preserve his privacy. You know perfectly well that they've got as many millionaires on these islands as they do olive trees, Jack. This is the playground of the rich and powerful, Man. They come here from all over the world. And they tend to be very jealous of their possessions -- and their privacy. Paparazzi is a four-letter word where they come from."
"So you think that estate belongs to some shipping magnate, or oil tycoon."
"Sure. But you don't. I can tell by the tone of your voice."
"Guns and killer dogs? A little extreme, don't you think?"
"You've never been to Skorpios," said Robinson. "We have, once. That's Aristotle Onassis' private island. It's security makes Fort Knox look like a pawnshop. Some folks just don't want to be bothered, Jack. It's simple as that."
"Then tell me this. How come everybody I ask about that estate suddenly clams up and stares at me like I'm Typhoid Mary's kid brother, huh?" Christian grinned tautly.
Robinson beckoned Spyridon back over.
"What can be done for you, Kyrie Kelly?"
"Nico, there's a private estate up the coast a few miles from here. Know who lives there?"
Something unusual moved across Spyridon's gaunt, weathered features, and it startled Robinson. Spyridon was a brave man -- he had once been the island's foremost sponge diver until deformity from the bends had forced him to give up that dangerous vocation and turn to tavern-keeping. But at this moment Spyridon was afraid.
"Kalispera. Very sorry. I have not the idea."
"And here I thought you knew everything that went on around these parts," said Robinson, in a mock-scolding tone.
"Some things one does not wish to know."
A fisherman at another table looked up from his game of xeri and ordered another Fix beer. Spyridon hurried off to fill the order. Christian looked positively triumphant.
"Now do you believe me? This whole island is afraid of that place. Or rather, of the men who live in it. I want to know why. Admit it -- I've got your interest piqued, too."
Robinson smiled. "I'm afraid guns and guard dogs are way out of our league, Jack. I think all you've got is some rich eccentric who is allergic to snoopy newshounds."
"I don't believe it. My instinct tells me there's a story behind that wall and I intend to get it. I just wanted you to know -- in case something happens."
Scott sighed. "You're going to go do something silly now, aren't you, Jack?"
Jack Christian flashed a boyish grin. "Just remember this conversation, Scotty -- when I lay an 'I told you so' on you."
Scott opened his mouth to lay a few more caveats on the journalist when a commotion from the street in the direction of the paralia grabbed his attention.
There was good cause for all the hurly-burly, too. Katrina Belleau was making her way up the street, and she was gorgeous. Scott knew there was no other way to describe her. She had taken a leisurely dip in the crystal clear water on the far side of the seawall and, rising like Aphrodite from the foam, was returning to the hotel, up the street past Spyridon's establishment. Her white Danskin was a sharp contrast to her cafe au lait skin. A thick mane of black hair with cinnamon-colored highlights was a little wet. Her beach towel, adorned with brightly polychromatic images of jungle birds perched among leafy limbs, was wrapped around her -- but the young men in the vicinity knew a good thing even when they only partially saw it. Several openly admiring Greeks trailed in her wake, uttering an unending flow of passionate declarations of undying love. As she neared the tavern the men at the other tables took up, or rather joined in, this admiring chorus with great gusto. Katrina Belleau seemed more surprised than embarrassed by this uninhibited display of appreciation.
Spotting Scott, she angled over, her sandals slapping the ancient flagstones. When she smiled a blinding warmth seemed to flood the table. Jake Christian was spellbound.
"I'm so glad to find you here, Scotty," she said. "I never expected this...." She gestured at her entourage, now poised, more quietly, in the sun-bright street, watching intently.
"Harmless flattery," said Scott. "The Greeks are generous in all things. No need to worry."
"Oh I'm not worried -- now. Were you planning to go back to the hotel soon, for dinner? What I mean is, well, I'd like to walk with you, if you are. I appreciate the harmless flattery, but I wouldn't want these guys to follow me all the way to my room. It wouldn't look right, would it?"
Robinson suppressed his grin. Katrina had launched her campaign to capture Alexander Scott's attention the day before yesterday, when she arrived on Mykonos and checked into the hotel. Almost immediately she'd assumed the privilege of calling him by his nickname, and the stage had been set. At that point Robinson had discreetly made himself scarce. Now, with one look at his partner, he could tell that Katrina's campaign was meeting with some success.
"As a matter of fact," drawled Scott, "I was getting ready to go. Oh, by the way, this is Jack Christian. He's a journalist. Jack, this is Katrina Belleau."
Christian shot to his feet and took Katrina's hand. "My pleasure!"
"Down boy," said Scott, removing Christian's hand from hers. "Well, we'll be off," he said cheerily, lacing the woman's arm through his, a possessive act which initiated the reluctant dispersal of her crowd of admirers.
"Wow," murmured Jack, watching them go. "Where did she come from?"
"Martinique," replied Robinson. "She's on vacation. Her father was French. She says her mother is a descendant of slaves."
"That explains the exotic looks."
"Yes indeed." Robinson gestured for Spyridon, and when the tavernkeeper arrived, pressed a large quantity of drachmas into the Greek's palm, enough to pay for all the refreshments and a new wing for the taverna. Spyridon did not protest. He was Greek, thus a pragmatist, and argument was doomed to dismal failure.
"I gotta get back myself, Jack," said Robinson, rising. "Hey, don't do anything I wouldn't do, okay?"
"Come on, Kelly -- where's your sense of adventure?"
Robinson smiled. "I keep it tucked away in a safe place."
He waved and headed up the street towards the hotel. Halfway there he had a premonition of disaster, and came close to turning around and making a more earnest attempt to dissuade the journalist from his potentially dangerous preoccupation. But he didn't.
And it was the last time he saw Jack Christian alive.