The Kiss of Virgins
Scott wasn't too surprised by this development. No sooner had he discovered the identities of the men who occupied this estate than he had begun to wonder about the security arrangements. He had seen no surveillance cameras, and no access control panels that would have indicated the presence of intruder alarms. From force of habit he had kept an eye open for sensors, but had not seen any. That didn't mean they didn't exist; Scott kept himself up-to-speed on the latest advancements in security equipment, and he knew that infrared sensors could be very small and inconspicuous these days. In addition, remote control devices could be used in lieu of wall-mounted access panels. He could only assume that he had tripped a sensor-produced infrared beam upon entering the house. So the crew in charge of protecting Nick Saccomando knew they had an uninvited guest. They just didn't know his exact location.
"Christos, you and Giorgio check every inch of this house," snapped Burcham. "Start on this level."
Christos, the bearer of bad tidings, headed for the archway, while Giorgio, the Greek who had accompanied Burcham into town that afternoon, went out through the door Nick Saccomando had come through only a moment earlier. Burcham, it seemed, was sticking close to Saccomando himself.
As Christos passed through the archway, pulling a 9mm automatic from the waistband of his jeans, Scott struck. Reaching around the marble nude, he grabbed the Greek's arm with one hand and the automatic with the other, slipping a finger behind the trigger to prevent firing. He yanked Christos off balance, and the Greek's skull was violently introduced to the statue's perfect but unyielding breast. Christos slumped to the floor. Scott wrenched the gun out of his grasp as he went down. Groggy, the Greek lurched to his feet and Scott wrapped an arm around his neck and entered the room with the half-conscious man serving as a human shield.
The men in the room reacted in different ways. Nick Saccomando cringed in his chair, the color bleeding from his face. Russell didn't move, or change expression. Burcham raised his big Colt revolver. And Giorgio -- who had just reached the door across the room -- whirled and aimed his weapon, a Czech-made Scorpion machine pistol. Scott was familiar with it -- a .32 caliber model with blowback bolt and a firing rate of 840 rounds per minute. Giorgio had his Scorpion loaded with a 20-round magazine.
"Shoot 'em both," growled Burcham.
Christos started to struggle, and Scott tightened his hold, until the Greek began to make gargling sounds as the pressure on his windpipe approached the breakpoint.
"No!" snapped Russell. "Don't do it, Giorgio."
"Better listen to him, Giorgio," said Scott. "Pull that trigger and you're out of a job -- because Mr. Saccomando will be dead."
Burcham looked at the 9mm in Scott's hand -- and realized it was pointed quite steadily at Nick Saccomando's head.
"How did you get in here?" said Russell.
"Burcham gave me a lift."
"What the hell . . . ." Burcham was bewildered. "That's a damn lie."
"It's hard to get good help these days, isn't it, Russell?" said Scott.
"Why are you here?" asked Russell.
"You know why. A friend of mine is dead. Now tell your colleagues to drop the hardware."
"Do it," said Russell, without hesitation.
"The hell you say," growled Burcham. "He'll kill Mr. Saccomando if we do."
"I'll kill him if you don't," promised Scott.
"Drop the guns," snapped Russell. "That's an order."
Scott was pleasantly surprised when Burcham complied, tossing his Colt on the sofa. Giorgio put the Scorpion on the floor, then stepped away, his hands raised.
"You're in over your head," Russell told Scott, angrily. "You've bought into more trouble than you can pay for in a lifetime."
"Didn't your mother ever tell you not to make a man with a gun nervous? This is a disgusting sight. U.S. officials catering to a crime boss, who's trying to save his hide by turning on his own. That's what's going on here, isn't it, Russell?"
Russell nodded. "Mr. Saccomando is the most important organized crime witness we've ever had. So important that we faked his death. But the Mafia found out he was still alive. We don't know how, yet. But we had to get him out of the States. We're still vetting him. We've already gotten over a thousand pages of deposition. We can do serious damage to the Five Families with the information he's given us."
"The only serious damage I've seen was done to Jack Christian."
Russell glared at Burcham. "That was a mistake. But Christian brought it on himself. He came in by boat last night, trespassed this estate, was shot to death. I regret that it happened, but technically we were within our rights. And there's nothing we can do about it now."
"Speak for yourself," said Scott. He looked at Burcham, his gaze as steady and unequivocal as the 9mm in his hand.
"An eye for an eye, is that it, then?" asked Russell. "You can't do it. You're not a murderer."
"You'd call it murder. I'd call it justice."
"Burcham's actions will be fully investigated."
"Well that makes me feel a whole lot better," said Scott drily.
He immediately felt a whole lot worse -- as from the archway behind him came the unmistakable snicker of an automatic weapon's slide action.
"I think it's your turn to drop the gun," Russell told him.
They put him in a small upstairs room. The window had bars bolted to the outside wall -- a very ornate grill, and very solid, too. One guard was posted on the ground below the window, another outside the door. The furnishings consisted of a plain wooden table, a chair and a narrow bunk.
An hour into his incarceration, Scott got a visit from Ed Russell.
"So what's the verdict?" asked Scott, stretched out on the bunk. He didn't bother getting up when Russell came in.
"Burcham wants to 'off' you, as he puts it," replied Russell. "I nixed that idea. I hope you'll be comfortable here. I'll be taking Delphi -- Saccomando -- out late this afternoon. After that you'll be free to go."
Scott, being well-versed in Greek mythology, recalled that Delphi had been a temple of Apollo containing the Omphalos, a sacred stone marking the center of the earth. It had been the oracle of Homer and Herodotus where, supposedly, one could ask for and sometimes get insights into the future. It was said that Zeus had started two eagles from opposite ends of the earth and they had met at Delphi.
"That's a cute codename for Saccomando," he said. "But I can think of a few that are more appropriate, if less flattering."
"Look," said Russell, exasperated. "I don't like his kind any better than you do. But I've got a job to do. With Saccomando's help we can cripple the Mafia."
"You lay down with dogs, et cetera."
"I mean it when I say I'm sorry about Christian. But, to a degree, he brought it on himself."
Scott nodded. "You keep saying that, and maybe it's true, to an extent. But Burcham didn't have to kill him."
"Burcham isn't on my Christmas card list, but he is a government agent, so I'd advise you to forget it. What's your stake in this anyway? A vendetta isn't your style. There's no profit in it. Unless you're interested in that million dollar contract on Saccomando. And I don't think you've gone rogue."
Scott shook his head. "I have a hard enough time spending my per diem. Wouldn't know what to do with a million dollars."
He had opened the window earlier, and now he heard a car coming up the drive. Swinging his legs off the bed, he crossed the room to have a look. Russell joined him. The black Volvo Scott had followed that afternoon pulled to a stop in front of the villa. Burcham and the girl named Roxanne Wilson got out.
"'How men blame the gods,'" murmured Scott. "'But, through their own perversity, and more than is their due, they meet with sorrow.'"
"Homer. The Odyssey. So you pimp for the Saccomando, too."
"Our orders are to get him what he wants, within reason," said Russell, on the defensive. "As long as he cooperates. The man happens to have a thing for blondes, the younger the better. Getting them is Burcham's territory. He finds them, checks them out, brings them in. But only if they're willing. And they are. . . recompensed."
"I'm sure the taxpayers would love to know they paid so that Nick Saccomando could get his jollies."
"What do you care?"
"Hey, Man, I pay my taxes just like everybody else."
Russell went to the door. "I'm not going to lock this. A lock probably wouldn't stop you. But a bullet would. And Christos -- the man you almost strangled -- is the guard in the hall. He has orders to shoot to kill if you stick your head out of this room. Believe me, he hopes you will. So don't try anything stupid."
Katrina Belleau emerged from the frothy surf of Homer's "wine-dark sea" clad in a black wetsuit, cinnamon strands of wet hair plastered to her neck and rubber-encased shoulders.
Clouds scudded across the moonlit sky, creating a diorama of constantly moving silver light and indigo night-shadow. The villa stood high above her, with terraced steps leading up from the narrow beach. She moved swiftly to the base of a stone wall, unzipping her wetsuit so that she could reach inside and extract the air pistol. The tide was high, and as she crouched there the surf washed around her feet.
Waiting with nerveless patience, she listened for the sentry she knew would come past this point as he patrolled the villa's perimeter. He arrived a few minutes later, right on schedule, pausing directly above her and looking out to sea. Katrina wasn't worried that he would spot the Cigarette speedboat she had used to get here -- it was anchored beyond the point of land a few hundred yards along the coast.
The sentry cupped his hands in front of his face to light a Xanthi. That put enough distance between his trigger finger and the H&K MP5KA4 dangling from a shoulder strap at his side to suit Katrina. She stepped away from the wall and just as the sentry spotted her drew a quick bead and fired the air pistol. The trank dart hit him in the throat. The sentry swayed back on his heels -- then pitched headfirst over the stone balustrade to land in the sand at her feet.
Katrina knew he'd be out for three hours, and she put him in a sitting position against the wall, so that anyone looking down from above would be less likely to see him. She confiscated the H&K, a hand radio and a remote access device for the alarm system. Then she took a slim brass cylinder dangling from a chain around her neck and blew on it sharply, several times. She knew that the sentry's fall over the balustrade had set off a perimeter intruder alarm that automatically released the caged attack dogs. The sound produced by the dog whistle, inaudible to human ears, brought the canines running. Using the air pistol, she brought both of them down with a fine display of marksmanship, considering the unreliable moonlight and the accuracy of the air pistol at anything but short range. This done, she headed up the steps.
The upper terrace on this side of the villa contained a swimming pool, and she waited until clouds obscured the moon before crossing this open space. Trellises laden with star jasmine covered the stone arches supporting a sundeck which adjoined the villa's second story, and she climbed with the agility of a mountaineer. No sentry here, and she moved swiftly to a door leading to an upstairs hall. She had studied the villa's layout, knew it by heart. The door was locked, and the sentry she'd tranked hadn't been carrying a set of keys. Taking a small black leather case from a waterproof belt pouch, she crouched to attack the lock with a set of burglar's tools. She knew she didn't have much time -- though all seemed quiet the perimeter alarm had alerted the occupants of the villa.
Nonetheless, she didn't hear Burcham stealing up behind her.
"Move an inch," he hissed, planting the business end of his .38 Colt Diamondback against the base of her skull, "and I'll blow your head off."
Katrina froze. Her voice was steady as she said, "Oh dear, I must have the wrong house. Isn't this the Moustafa residence?"
Burcham grinned crookedly. "You're a cool customer."
"Would hysteria make a difference? If so, I'll scream."
"Nothing can help you now. I'm going to . . . ."
And he went down, falling like fresh-cut timber. Katrina whirled, put her back to the wall -- and stared at Alexander Scott.
"Hello," he said, smiling. "What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?"
Katrina made a move for the Colt .38 that lay beside the unconscious Burcham -- but Scott moved faster.
"After all we've meant to each other," he said, pretending to be mortally wounded in the general vicinity of the heart as he tucked the Diamondback under his belt.
"I'm too late," she said, with resignation. "You've killed him, haven't you?"
"Delphi. Nick Saccomando."
"No. If he's ratting on the Mafia I guess it's okay if he keeps breathing."
Brows knit, she peered at him. "You mean . . . ."
"I'm not a contract killer, Katrina."
"Okay," she said, making a snap decision -- deciding that she would trust this man, even though everything she had read about him dictated that he shouldn't be trusted. "I'm with the Justice Department, Derek. Organized Crime Task Force. And I'm here to make sure Delphi keeps breathing. To be perfectly honest, that's why I . . . why I came on to you. When I found out you and your partner were here on Biathos I wanted to find out why. I don't believe in coincidence."
"And here I thought it was my good looks and irresistible charm," sighed Scott. "What do you know about Kelly and me?"
"You work for The Department, out of the Pentagon."
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't that mean we're on the same side?"
A smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. "An assassin is on the island. And someone on the inside has been bought off by the Mob to help. We learned that much from a routine wiretap on a Chicago restaurant where the head of one of the Five Families conducts his business. But that's all we knew for sure.That's why I can't trust anyone. Not even Russell. I've got to get Delphi out. So, that's why I'm here. Why are you?"
"A coicidence. Jack Christian was murdered for snooping around this place and I wanted to know why. I'm a little ashamed to admit that they caught me snooping around, too."
"At least they didn't do to you what they did to Christian."
"Burcham was inclined that way but Russell stopped him. They put me in a room under armed guard, instead."
"How did you get away?'
Scott smiled. "The guard was looking for any excuse to hurt me. So I gave him one."
Katrina shook her head, amused. "You can tell me all about it later."
Scott nodded. It would take a few minutes to describe how he'd noticed that the guard below the window of his room was not stationed in that one place, but rather patrolled the perimeter of the house. And how once the guard down below was gone he'd taken the sheet from the narrow bunk and then, breaking the window glass, secured an end of the sheet to one of the heavy iron bars. How he had opened the door and ducked behind it, hoping that Christos would not be able to resist investigating what appeared from the hallway to be an empty room, and knowing that the window was located in relation to the door so that the guard had to enter the room to see it. Christos would see that the iron bars were still in place, but by then it would be too late.. And as he took one cautious step across the threshold Scott had slammed the door into him, wrestled the 9mm automatic away from him (again) and knocked him cold by clubbing him with the pistol. This hardly seemed like an appropriate time for a recitation of that chain of events.
"How many of the enemy have you accounted for?" he asked.
"One. And the dogs. My understanding is that the security squad, counting Burcham, who runs it, numbers four."
"Then we've got one more to look out for."
"Don't forget the assassin. I wonder who . . . ."
A thought struck him, and he laughed softly at the irony of it. "I have a candidate. Remember the girl at the hotel, the one I thought I was rescuing from Burcham?'
"I remember. You mean . . .?"
"She's here. Saccomando has a thing for young ladies. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that the Mob knows this. Let's say Burcham is your inside man. Let's say the girl is the mechanic. I'm sure you get the picture."
"But she made a scene at the hotel," said Katrina.
"An act. Cover -- probably more for Burcham's sake than her own -- when the time came for an investigation into Saccomando's murder."
"I've got to get to Delphi. It may already be too late. Will you help me?"
"Sure," said Scott. "I've got nothing else planned for the evening."