The Kiss of Virgins
The next morning, early, Kelly Robinson and Alexander Scott took a stroll down to the paralia. Robinson wanted to get some fresh air before his next day-long session with the two debriefers from The Department. Robinson kidded his partner good-naturedly for having returned to their hotel room so early the night before.
The cool, crisp morning air was tinged with salt and carried the faint fragrance of the spices for which the Aegean is famous -- rhyme, sage, basil and rosemary. As they neared the waterfront a stronger odor pervaded: fish. As usual, it was noisy dawn at the fish market. Scott knew that in Greece fishing was done at night. When dusk arrived the mother ships would tow their dories to the fishing grounds. The larger vessel and a longboat would set a purse net around fish attracted by big lamps on the dories. It was a backbreaking, age-old way of harvesting the sea. When dawn came the women of town descended to the waterfront to make their selections for the day's meals.
They paused at Spyridon's tavern. All the outside tables were filled with fishermen, relaxing after a long night of work. But before Robinson and Scott could move on, the tavern keeper emerged, his expression so distraught that Scott felt an immediate jolt of apprehension.
"Kyrie Kelly! Kyrie Alexander. It is terrible, what has happened!"
"Get hold of yourself," said Robinson. "Tell us what's wrong."
Spyridon gestured mournfully in the direction of the paralia. "The fishermen caught more than they bargained for last night. A body was snagged in the nets. The astinomie are down there now."
"I don't think I want to hear the punchline," muttered Robinson.
"Who was it?" asked Scott.
"Your friend," said Spyridon. "The one who sat with you yesterday...."
Robinson and Scott were already walking away.
They skirted the market, and the small cluster of spectators, and Scott felt a chill run down his spine when he saw the corpse, soaked and tangled in netting, laying in the sand beside a beached caique. It was as though the deep cold of the sea's dark depths had quit Jack Christian's body and invaded his own. Two constables stood over the body -- that was the sum total of the Mykonos police force. A pair of Greek fishermen stood nearby, being questioned by a lean American wearing a dark blue suit and a Panama hat. One of the constables looked up and ordered him and Robinson back, but the blond man intervened.
"No, wait," he said. "I have a few questions for the two of you." He was curt, business-like. "I was told the deceased was seen with two Americans who fit your descriptions. Were you friends of his?"
"We're still his friends," corrected Scott. "How did this happen?"
The man in the Panama hat nodded curtly and stepped away from the body. Robinson and Scott exchanged glances, then followed. The man kept walking until he was sure he was out of earshot of the bystanders -- and the astinomie.
"Not sure," said the man. "The body will be transferred to Athens, and an autopsy performed. But I didn't see any signs of deadly force. He probably just drowned."
"You know all about deadly force, do you, sir?" asked Robinson, lighting a cigarette, his narrowed eyes fixed on the blond man.
"I know enough. So do you. The name's Ed Russell. I'm attached to the U.S. embassy in Athens."
"That sounds cumbersome," said Robinson.
"Skip it. So then you know who we are."
Russell nodded. "Nils Larsen told me you two were here. The body was brought in several hours ago. His identification was still on him, so they knew right away that he was American. I flew in by helicopter. Come on, let's find some shade. There's nothing you can do for your friend now."
"That's where you're wrong," said Scott quietly.
Russell frowned. "You're Scott, right? You have the look of a man with revenge on his mind. If you suspect foul play you'd be well-advised to let me handle things. Just stay out of it."
"Why, Mr. Russell," drawled Robinson, "you said yourself, no sign of deadly force. Jack had a boating accident. He drowned."
"I'm not convinced Mr. Scott believes that. What was Christian doing on Mykonos?"
"A travel piece -- and probably as many local girls as possible," replied Robinson. "Jack was a journalist, you see, but he was also your average red-blooded American boy."
"I know what he did for a living. We haven't found his boat, yet. There are some dangerous shoals along the coast."
"It's a dangerous world all the way around," said Robinson.
Russell looked at both of them, suspicion written all over his face. "Just remember what I said. This is my business, not yours. And if you muddy up the water I'll call Nils and he'll put a leash on you."
"Thanks for the free advice," said Scott. "It's worth every penny we paid for it."
Russell grimaced, shook his head, and left them. Robinson watched him go, then turned to Scott -- and sighed.
"You're not going to let it go, are you, Duke?" It was a rhetorical question. He glanced across the paralia at Jack Christian's body. "It could have been an accident."
"It could have been."
Robinson checked his wristwatch. "Well, Twiddledee and Twiddledum are going to be looking for me if I don't get back to the hotel. Give a holler if you need help."
Scott just nodded.
A few hours later Alexander Scott was leaning against a venerable BSAM-20 motorbike, hidden in a copse of wind-scoured oaks on a steep hill above the coast -- more precisely, above a large private estate surrounded by a high wall. From this secluded spot he had a clear view of the main gate and the road to town. He could catch only maddening glimpses of the big white villa through a screen of silver poplars. Above him rose stair-step terraces of vinyards, and nearer the crest, a cluster of white structures -- a farm. This was a perfect surveillance point; it was well-hidden, just off a narrow and, by the looks of it, an all-but-forgotten foot-trail that twisted up the slope. The oaks were thick and gnarled among heaps of gray rock. Wild lupkins bloomed in the midst of scrubby maquis.
Draping the old binoculars by their strap on the behemoth bike's handlebars, Scott dipped into the leather panniers for lunch. The sun was high and hot in a brilliant blue sky. The sea breeze was an ever-present caress. Hoopoes and serins sang in the brush. It was a perfect place for a picnic. All that was lacking was female companionship. He thought about Katrina Belleau. Then he forced himself to stop thinking about her. Lunch consisted of manouri cheese, peasant bread and Hymettus honey, washed down with water from a canteen. As he ate, Scott tirelessly resumed his vigil, scanning road, wall and grounds with the fieldglasses. He knew this could take time. But he could be very patient when he had to be.
The BSAM and the binoculars had been loaners from Spyridon. During the German occupation of Greece, Nico Spyridon had been a resistance fighter. One dark and bloody night he'd knifed a Nazi officer, an oberstormfuhrer, to death, stripping the corpse of Luger, ammunition, money and binoculars. The BSAM had once belonged to a young and dashing smuggler who was presently languishing, no longer young or dashing, in a prison near Izmir, Turkey. Big and heavy, the bike could easily negotiate the serpentine roads of the island, and it had an engine that possessed more power than many car motors these days.
Scott had no doubt that he could get into the estate. It was just a matter of finding the way -- a lucky break, or a flash of inspiration. The traditional over-the-wall technique seemed doomed to failure, based on what he knew, without sophisticated equipment that he could only have gotten from Nils Larsen in Athens -- and Lars would not have given it to him. Scott had a hunch that Christian had tried the sea approach, with tragic results.
The day slipped lazily by. Here in Greece, as in Mexico, the afternoon "siesta" was a common practice. There was no traffic on the road. Ordinarily, not much happened on a warm Aegean afternoon. Scott was prepared to accept the fact that neither break nor inspiration might occur today. If not, he'd just have to come back tomorrow.
He had a definite purpose in mind -- to find out if Christian's death had any connection with this mystery estate -- but, as yet, no definite plan. In such matters he often relied on inspiration and improvisation. He knew from experience that best-laid plans usually went awry. So he waited, and watched, fully prepared to accept the likelihood that he might have to return tomorrow, and the day after.
This gave him time to confront his regret at not having taken Jack Christian more seriously -- and not trying harder to dissuade the journalist from poking his nose into other people's business. He told himself that Christian had been a grown-up who should have known better than to get into something over his head. But it didn't really help. Scott felt partially responsible for his untimely death. And that was the reason he was here on the high hillside.
He also had time to ponder the Katrina Belleau dilemma. She wanted him, that was clear, and he desired her -- so why had he run up the white flag last night? Because she was a virgin? Conventional wisdom was that a woman tended to develop strong attachments to the first man she slept with. And Scott knew his limitations -- he was not good material for long-term relationships. He didn't want to break her heart. And sometimes he hated that he had so many scruples.
A black Volvo emerged through the remotely-opened gates, turning towards the distant town.
Scott wasted no time in strapping on a black helmet with darkly tinted visor. Kicking the BSAM into life, he made a U-turn on the narrow path, spewing gravel. The pell mell ride down the path was a sometimes precarious and relentlessly jarring experience, considering the speed with which he was obliged to go. At the base of the hill the path inersected with the coastal road. As Scott fishtailed onto the pavement he saw that the Volvo was just rounding a bend out of sight a hundred yards ahead. He goosed the throttle; the BSAM responded with an explosive roar, rocketing forward.
It didn't take long to reach town. Scott could see that there were two men in the Volvo but he couldn't get a close look until the Volvo pulled to a stop and the pair got out to patronize a cafezintio. It was the same two men Scott had seen on the terrace the evening before. The Greek had been driving, the American had been the passenger. They sat at a sidewalk table and drank Mamos retsina -- that uniquely Greek potation of wine mixed with resin and sometimes diluted with clear lemonade. They had no inkling that Scott watched them from the deep shade of an alleyway across the narrow street. When the pair proceeded to the hotel, Scott daringly meandered into the lobby after them, still wearing the helmet -- just in time to hear the American question the concierge as to the whereabouts of Roxanne Wilson, only to be informed that she was out, possibly sightseeing, as that was what tourists tended to do on Mykonos.
The American and his Greek colleague set out to find her. Engrossed in the search, they paid little attention to their backtrail. Still, Scott employed the classic shadow technique of "altering the image." Given enough time, the most obtuse subject could be expected to realize that a particular person was continually drifting in and out of his purview. At times Scott would remove the helmet and carry it under an arm. At others he would remove both the helmet and his white denim jacket. He bought some white irises from a vendor, carried them for a while, then presented them to an elderly Greek woman. He purchased a week-old copy of the Athens Daily News -- a small tabloid with the top news in English -- and carried it rolled up under his arm. All the while, on foot for the most part, occasionally by bike, he kept the two searchers in sight.
They carried their hunt first to the beach -- and to no avail. Scott could have told them that Roxanne Wilson was not the type to bare her almost-all in public. Then followed the fortress ruins, a tourist favorite, where smiling guides relived the days of yore, when brave knights of the Crusades fought overwhelming odds in their centuries-long conflict against occasionally invading Saracens, etc. No luck. Then they tried the various shots along the waterfront.
They found her, with daylight waning, on the old cobbled street of an ancient bazaar where electric bulbs dangled from rickety awnings, shedding light on handwoven, handcarved and otherwise handmade souvenirs. The American spotted her first, her mousy brown hair in a severe bun now, her cotton tank dress, turqouise with white stripes, sufficiently modest. The American motioned for his Greek companion to hang back and proceeded alone, leaving the latter idly smoking a Xanthi, his gaze sweeping the street.
As the American cornered Roxanne Wilson in a stand where Cycladic figurines were sold almost as fast as they could be manufactured, Scott made his move. The white denim jacket and black visored helmet were on again. He sauntered towards the Greek, who looked at him and then away; there was nothing interesting about Scott's indolent stroll, or his apparent interest in a pair of local ladies coming the other way. As they passed him he murmured "Yassou", adding a lazy salute to the colloquial "your health." Carelessly, he swiveled to admire their departure; taking a few backward steps he collided with the Greek. The collision was a brief tangle, an impromptu, almost comic dance, with Scott mumbling apologies in the other's native tongue and the Greek barking at him to watch where he was going. Scott gave another insouciant salute and went his merry way.
Around the first available corner, Scott removed the helmet and scrutinized the set of keys he had filched so smoothly from the Greek's jacket. The Department had taught him a lot of things that would have shocked his mother, had she known -- how to pick a lock or a pocket, crack a safe, break a code, interrogate a prisoner, hotwire a car, not to mention how to kill with his bare hands.
Returning to the Volvo, parked in a small, quiet alley several blocks away, Scott unlocked the boot. He made sure there was a tire tool contained within, and was pleasantly surprised to find a small metal case containing emergency tools. Then he unlocked the driver side door, cracked the window, put the keys in the ignition, and closed the door, locking it. When he was sure no one was paying any attention, he slid into the trunk and securely closed the lid.
Scott spent almost an hour in the Volvo's trunk -- one of the longest hours of his life. He didn't like small spaces. But all he had to think about was Jack Christian laid out in a coffin and he stopped feeling sorry for himself.
Fifteen minutes after closing himself in the boot, Scott heard the American and the Greek return to the car, and he could hear some of the heated debate between them, a discussion that punctuated their efforts to get the car open. The American chided his companion for being so careless as to leave the keys in the ignition, while the Greek, flying in the face of the evidence, adamantly denied having done so. They eventually managed, with the application of brute force, to open a vent window and gain entrance. The ride that followed was not the most comfortable Scott had ever taken. He occupied himself with speculation centering around the girl named Roxanne. He was pretty certain she had not accompanied the two men back to the Volvo. So why had the American gone to so much trouble to find her? Scott had assumed all along that the American's intentions were strictly dishonorable. had he simply taken no for an answer? He struck Scott as a man who would not give up that easily.
Could there be some other connection between the American and Roxanne Wilson? In the twenty minutes it took them to reach the private estate, Scott failed to conjure up one that made much sense.
Eventually the Volvo stopped, the engine was cut off, the doors were opened and then slammed shut -- and Scott waited a few minutes, hearing nothing, before getting to work with two screwdrivers removed from the tool case. The only other thing Scott needed was light -- and this was provided by a small, narrow beam, high intensity flashlight that bore an uncanny resemblance to a pen. Holding the penlight in his teeth, he manipulated the powerful springs and popping the lid on his metal tomb.
Climbing out of the Volvo, Scott stretched anguished muscles and saw that he stood in a four-car garage. All the portals, heavy timbered carriage doors, were closed, but a couple of overhead lights were on. Besides the Volvo there was one other car, a black Fiat two-seater. Scott left his helmet in the Volvo's trunk and lowered the lid, but did not shut it, on the off chance that he might want to go out the same way he had come in.
Leaving the garage by a side door, he found himself on a flagstone walk covered by latticework heavy with jasmine. This arbor connected the garage to the villa. Catfooted, he made for the door at the other end of the walkway. On his left, beyond a row of manicured shrubs and a low retaining wall, curled a well-lighted gravel drive. To his right, steep stone terracing led down to the deep blue sea. Breakers roared incessantly down below. He kept an eye peeled for attack dogs, though he suspected they were too dangerous to be allowed to run loose, and would only be released if an intruder breached a perimeter security system.
The villa door was unlocked, and opened to a dark, tiled hallway. Straight ahead was a columned arch, guarded by white marble statues of classical motif, well-endowed nudes of the feminine persuasion. Voices issued from the direction of the arch, and Scott pressed on, silent as a wraith. Concealed behind one of the nudes, he could peer into a cathedral-sized room beyond the arch -- and saw three men, all of whom he recognized.
There was the American with his Greek sidekick. And there also was Ed Russell.
Russell sat on the edge of an armchair, leaning forward and glaring at the American. He was clearly agitated, and when he spoke his words dripped acid.
"Burcham, the fact remains, you killed that journalist. And that was a stupid thing to do."
Burcham lounged on a sofa, cigarette in one hand and drink in the other, gazing out through a wall of glass at what, had it been daytime, would have been a spectacular view of the Aegean. He made a gesture of supreme indifference.
"What was I supposed to do? We'd already caught the guy on the grounds once before. He got fair warning. How was I supposed to know he was really a newshound? What, do I take his word for it? There's a million dollar contract out on Delphi, in case you've forgotten, Russell. And my job is to make sure nobody collects. I'm not paid to take chances."
Russell took off his Panama hat and ran his fingers through thin, straw-colored hair. "Is that what I put in my report?"
"I could care less what you put in your report. Innocent bystanders sometimes get caught in the crossfire. It's all for the greater good, right?"
"You're just a bonafide son of a bitch, Burcham," decided Russell.
Burcham laughed, an ugly sound. "Which is why I'm so good at what I do. Look, why cry over spilled milk? Even if the man really was a journalist, we couldn't let him find out about Delphi, could we?"
"Well," said Russell. "We've decided to move Delphi. The determination has been made that this is no longer a secure safehouse. This afternoon we'll take him out, by helicopter."
"You'll find out tomorrow, enroute."
Burcham shrugged. "Okay by me. But Delphi won't like it."
"Frankly, I don't particularly care if he does."
"You should," said a fourth man, emerging from an adjacent room across from Scott's hiding place. "You wanna know what I know you gotta keep me happy."
He was a short, stocky individual, with a meticulously even tan, coiffed silver hair, and an accent straight out of the Bronx. Diamonds in gold glittered on fingers, wrists and around a bull neck. He wore Gucci loafers, soft chambray slacks, and a gaudy floral-print shirt.
Russell eyed the newcomer with stony hostility. "You're enjoying yourself, aren't you, Saccomando?"
"Hey, wouldn't you, in my shoes? Condotti gave me the kiss of death himself. Now I've got the Five Families shitting bricks. On top of that, I've got G-men waiting on me hand and foot. Yeah, I'm enjoying the hell out of this." Nick Saccomando plopped into a plush armchair and snapped his fingers. "Time for my afternoon dirty martini, Russell. Be a good boy and fetch it for me."
Scott was close enough to see the back of Russell's neck turn a livid shade of scarlet. "Get it yourself."
Saccomando's eyes, set deep in their fleshy sockets, looked like slimy black slugs. "I can hand you La Commissione on a platter, so you better be nice to me."
Burcham got up. "Mr. Russell has a steel rod stuck up his butt, Nick. He won't bend. I'll get your martini for you."
"I don't like the way you make martinis," snapped Saccomando. "Too much damned vermouth. Mr. Russell looks like a martini man to me."
This potentially explosive standoff was interrupted by the urgent arrival of a fifth man, a Greek, whom Scott took to be one of the sentries. Smelling trouble, Burcham brandished a .38 Colt Diamondback from beneath his eyesore plaid jacket. The sentry whispered in Burcham's ear and Burcham turned grimly to Russell.
"We've got an intruder, and he's in the house."