The Kiss of Virgins
by Jason Manning
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.
They ate dinner together on the hotel terrace, bathed in the sultry summer twilight, a gentle breeze off the sea capering through the higher reaches of the cephalonian firs and eucalyptus clustered around the hillside hostelry. From their table they could look down over the Cycladic jumble of the town sloping to a harbor speckled with the lights of various pleasure craft. The terrace itself was illumined by globes of muted golden light, electrical cords strung discreetly through the trellis of wisteria overhead. They dined on barbounia -- Aegean red mullet -- and tyropitta -- triangular puffs of pastry filled with hardened goat's cheese, washed down with coffee metro for Scott and Votris brandy for Katrina. Bouzouki music, that odd and uniquely Greek blend of western pop and traditional Indo-Arabian strains -- drifted tinnily from speakers high on the gyp-whitened wall of the hotel.
Katrina did most of the talking. She told him about the island she called home, about her parent's tumultous but incredibly romantic relationship, about her education in France, her job in an import-export business. When pressed, he reciprocated, telling her about growing up on the wrong side of Philadelphia, attending Temple University, playing football, furthering his education at Oxford -- he left out the part about being a Rhodes Scholar. But Scott was a little preoccupied. Any man would be -- with a woman as fetching as Katrina right across the intimately miniscule table. The flattering golden light gleamed in her brushed-out hair. She wore a cream-colored sheath dress that clung seductively to her lithe figure.
"I only wish I had time to see more of the islands," she said pensively. They're so beautiful. And there's so much history. This is, after all, the birthplace of Western culture, isn't it? But I'm afraid I'll have to return to Martinique in a few days. You haven't told me what you do you do for a living, Scotty?"
"Kelly's a tennis player on the international circuit. I'm his trainer. I took the job because I thought it would be a good way to see the world and get paid, too." To steer the conversation away from himself, Scott proceeded to give her a brief but colorful and informed verbal tour of the necklace of sundrenched islands that stretched across the Aegean. Fascinated, she listened as he told her of Mikonos, once a pirate stronghold; of Tinos, where Orthodox Greeks made their pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Annunciation; of the colossal, 1,000-foot cliffs of Folegandros and the highly-prized marble that for centuries had been quarried on Paros, and still was; of Samos, famous for wine celebrated by Lord Byron, no less, and wooded Lesbos, home of Sappho, and long ruled by Turkish overlords; of Rhodes, where the crusading Knights of St. John had held sway for two centuries, and Ikaria, associated with Icarus of Greek mythology, whose wax-fastened wings fell apart when he flew too near the sun.
"It's too bad," he concluded, "that you don't have more time. We could see all of those things together."
"I'm sure you could show me a lot of things I've never seen before," she said and, reaching for her brandy, brushed her fingers across the top of his hand. Then she blushed.
Scott smiled, taking the comment exactly as she had meant it. He'd known, somehow, from the moment they'd first met that they would be lovers. A sexual current had passed between them. And he was beguiled by the fact that she was bold enough to make such a comment, and yet shy enough to blush for having made it.
"Well, since you have to go home soon, we probably shouldn't waste any time," he said.
"Actually," she said, her eyes downcast, "I have a confession to make."
"I can keep a confidence."
"I know you can." She raised her sea-green eyes and met his squarely. "I've . . . I've never been with a man before."
Scott was stunned -- and, for once in his life, rendered speechless.
"Let go of me! Please, just leave me alone!"
It was a woman's voice from across the terrace, and it was shot through with anxiety, the words spoken fiercely, but in a whisper. Curious, Scott turned to look. A young woman sat alone at a table. Her blonde hair was long and straight, her eyes a cornflower-blue, her skin sunburned. She wore a white halter top and faded blue jeans. Scott guessed that she was in her late teens. An American college student, perhaps, in an overseas study program. Or perhaps just another one of those young drifters so common these days.
She was in a predicament, and as she cast about desperately in search of rescue she caught his gaze and her eyes begged him for help. Scott turned his attention to the man looming over her. Stocky, in his forties, with a five o' clock shadow making his craggy features look rougher still. Leering at her, he sat down at her table and reached across to tightly clutch the girl's slender arm as she started to rise, and his white-knuckled grip was causing her pain.
Scott smiled apologetically at Katrina. "Excuse me for a moment."
The girl looked more surprised than relieved as Scott approached. The man read something in her expression, and jerked his head around to find Scott leaning insolently on the back of his chair.
"What do you want?" asked the creep, bellicose.
"It's really a question of what you want," said Scott softly. "Do you want to stand up and leave on your own accord, or would you rather give us all an impromptu display of your high-dive technique off this terrace?"
"Look, buddy. I'm with the foreign service. This lady happens to be an American citizen and I'm just making sure everything's okay with her. Okay?"
"I'm an American citizen. Does that mean I can expect you to ooze over to my table later and hold my hand?"
The man's craggy face was twisted with anger as he stood up, trying to intimidate Scott with his size. "Look, wiseguy...."
Scott looked at the girl. "Is this guy bothering you?"
She seemed to be in a trance, and slowly came out of it. "Um, no...."
"See there?" boomed the creep. "Now get lost."
"She meant yes," said Scott. "So why don't you go away?"
The creep looked beyond Scott -- and for the first time noticed that all the diners on the terrace were now a rapt audience to their confrontation. Fists clenched, he struggled mightily for a moment to refrain from causing an even bigger scene. Then he stepped back and nodded.
"Okay, buddy. You win this round. But there'll be others."
Scott let him have the last word. The man left the terrace, followed by his grim-faced partner, who was as obviously Greek as the creep was American. Scott smiled solicitously at the woman.
"Are you alright, Miss . . . ?"
"Wilson. Roxanne Wilson. And yes, I'm . . . I'm fine."
"Alexander Scott." He extended a hand, and she took it, timidly. He shook once, then let her go. "If that guy bothers you again, just let me know. I'm staying here at the hotel."
She was regaining her composure, and looked away with a peculiar quirk to her expression, something Scott couldn't quite fathom. "No, thank you. You've done quite enough already."
Scott shrugged and returned to his table, gathering up Katrina Belleau, whose eyes were bright with admiration. "You're staring," he said. "Not nice."
"Everyone else is staring, too. It's just that we haven't seen a knight in shining armor in so very long."
He looked at her askance, not sure if she was making fun of him. "Shining? Hardly. Slightly tarnished, maybe."
He escorted her to her room. At the door, Katrina wrapped langorous arms around his neck and leaned her splendid body against his, just so. "You know the local lingo, don't you, Scotty?"
"You bet. Want lessons?" He grinned.
"Yes. Can we start right now?"
"Sure. What do you want to know?"
"Well . . . ." She pursed her lips in a very innocent but provocative way. "Let's say I wanted to thank you for something . . . ."
"Sounds good. And how would you say 'kiss me'?"
She smiled salaciously. "Khrisi mou."
He obliged. It was a long, passionate kiss, heavy with promise.
She smiled, that blend of shyness and boldness that with anyone else would have been coquettry, but was totally unaffected in her case. "When might you show me what else you can do?"
"Soon," he replied, and kissed her again. "I must be crazy," he added.
"No, you're just the perfect gentleman."
She laughed softly. "I had a wonderful evening, Scotty. Will I see you tomorrow?"
"If I were a gambling man, I'd bet on it."