With the sea so rough, Scott's success in maneuvering the Cigarette into the shelter of the hidden grotto was a demonstration of seamanship par excellence. But that was to be expected, as both he and Kelly Robinson had served in the U.S. Navy before being recruited into the cloak-and-dagger game by Commander Riddle. They had also undergone training at the Navy's frogman school at Little Creek, Virginia. He could handle small craft.
The natural arch was filled with spume, and the powerboat left some paint on the smooth stone flanks. Katrina was reminded of an amusement park ride she had enjoyed as a child. Not that this particular ride was all that amusing.
She did not see the entrance to the grotto at first, but she wasn't unduly alarmed by that. Scott didn't strike her as the type to make an error like forgetting where the grotto was located. The entrance proved to be right where he remembered it to be, partially concealed by a peculiar spire of stone and the tricky chiaruscuro of light and shadow in the tunnel. Scott gunned the battered Cigarette past the spire and into the claustrophobic tunnel, losing a bit more chrome and marine paint. A capricious current propelled them into the eerie calm of the grotto, a cavern the size of a rugby field.
Scott cut back on the throttle and the mighty sterndrives gurgled as the Cigarette slid across a surface almost as smooth as glass -- greenish-black glass reflecting emerald light that filtered down through natural chimneys where the wind moaned like lost souls. When he cut the Mercs, Katrina listened to that wind, and the slap of their wake against the grotto walls and the muted thump and hammer of the angry sea beyond the tunnel. She was reluctant to speak, afraid to interrupt this weird symphony.
"The locals say this grotto is inhabited by the kallikantzari," remarked Scott, sensing her unease. "What we call demons. Most of the islanders won't come near here, for fear that if they disturb those demons they'll be cursed by the kako mati, the Evil Eye, until the day they die."
"How pleasant," she said.
"We'll wait here until dark. By then it should be calm enough for me to swim out. I'll get word to Kelly and come right back. He can bring us fuel, and we can make the run to Rhodes under cover of darkness. Or he can get word to your people there and we can wait for them."
"I'd rather not stay here any longer than necessary."
"Are you afraid of things that go bump in the night?" he asked, smiling.
She made a face.
"What about me?" whined Saccomando.
"What about you?" asked Scott.
"If you're gonna waste me, do it now. What are you waiting for?"
"You've got it all wrong. That girl Burcham brought for you, she was the hitter."
"You're full of it. That chick was nothing. A nobody. An evening's entertainment."
"You're a class act, Saccomando. It was a set up. They knew you like them young and blonde. You know what they say about men who like them young, don't you, Nick? That they're afraid of comparisons."
"Now boys," reprimanded Katrina. "If you keep quarreling you'll disturb the demons." She proceeded to detach Saccomando from the rail. "I'll take him down below," she told Scott. "I don't want you tempted to collect on that million-dollar contract." She was only half joking.
"He's not worth a million," said Scott. "I'd do it for a lot less." And he was only half joking, too.
She followed Saccomando down the companionway, massaging his spine with the Colt .38 Diamondback, leaving Scott to ruminate on the helicopter they had seen just prior to passing under the natural arch. He hadn't been able to identify the occupants. Was it Russell? Or maybe Burcham. Or perhaps even Roxanne Wilson. Would it be wise to leave Katrina alone here with Nick Saccomando while he went for help? Would the person or persons in the helicopter wait for them to emerge from the grotto, or come in to finish the job?
He was wrestling with this dilemma when Katrina and Saccomando came up the companionway -- and this time their roles were reversed; the mobster had an arm around her throat and the Colt .38 against her head, nestled in a wet tangle of long, blackhair. There was a very unpleasant snarl on Saccomando's countenance, and apology written all over Katrina.
"Make one wrong move, Scott," warned Saccomando, "and the bitch dies."
"I'm sorry, Scotty," said Katrina. "I thought he was sick again, but he was just . . . ." She gasped as Saccomando tightened the stranglehold.
"You shouldn't still be breathing, Nick," said Scott, his voice like steel wrapped in velvet. "It's a waste of perfectly good air."
"You're gonna disappear, boy. You and her both. And so will I. Difference being, you two will be shark meat, and I'll be alive. No one will know what happened to any of us. If the feds can't protect me, to hell with them."
He slid past Scott, keeping Katrina between them, until he was standing in the aft section of the Cigarette.
"I'll give you a choice," he leered. "You want to die first? Or do you want to watch her get it?"
Scott tensed, preparing to make the suicidal lunge that seemed to be his only course of action. If he could take the first bullet or two maybe -- just maybe -- Katrina could take some action to save herself.
Two shots rang out, magnified by the walls of the smuggler's cave. Saccomando and Katrina pitched forward. The Diamondback left the mobster's lifeless hand and bounced across the rubber sole. Scott went for it in a diving roll as a bullet smacked into the cockpit right behind him. In a crouch he fired at the nearly-nude woman clinging to the grotto wall sixty feet away -- and kept firing until the hammer fell on an empty chamber. Roxanne Wilson returned fire, and for an instant the cave was filled with the thunder of echoing gunshots -- and then she fell into the cold greenish-black water. The corpse bobbed to the surface and floated face down.
Scott turned -- and felt a surge of relief as Katrina sat up, rubbing her throat and looking ruefully at Saccomando, who was sprawled on the deck beside her with two bullets in the back of his head.
"I didn't do my job," she said. "I was supposed to keep him alive."
"And yet I feel like celebrating," confessed Scott.
The next afternoon Alexander Scott and Kelly Robinson were sitting at their favorite table in front of Spyridon's taverna, enjoying a late lunch of baklava and moussaka washed down with Fix beer (in Robinson's case) and goat's milk (in Scott's). It was a beautiful day, exuding from every angle the wondrous tapestry of life on the Greek Isles. A flight of bee-eaters across the cobblestone street, the picturesque passage of a papas in his long black robe and tall black hat. Nico was at the next table, complaining to a sympathetic visitor from the mainland about the deplorable condition of the played-out Aegean sponge beds, and how these days divers had to travel to the beds off the North African coast to make a decent living. At the foot of the street, beyond the bustling paralia, the harbor was a piece of angel-eye art.
"Man, am I glad that's over," said Robinson, fervently. "Those two guys from The Department grilled me six ways to Sunday. Even asked me how many cavities I'd had as a child."
"At least they gave you a clean bill of heath," remarked Scott.
"Yep. Now we can continue to wing around the world, righting wrongs, slaying dragons, and mulling over exchange rates."
"I especially enjoy the mulling," said Scott.
"And you do it so well, sir."
A hand touched Scott's shoulder, and he looked up at Katrina Belleau, and decided that there couldn't be a prettier face in the northern hemisphere to look up into. Her oyster-colored sundress was a nice contrast to the cupric hue of her flawless skin. Her smile was as warm as the sun.
"I came to say goodbye," she said, with a hint of regret.
"They're going to have a festival tonight. Celebrating what I don't know, but the Greeks never need an excuse to dance the snake dance and sing kantades."
"I've been called back to Washington. There's a lot of explaining to do. Heads are going to roll."
"Not yours, I hope."
"I don't think so. Though it should be interesting trying to make my bosses understand your role in all this. Anyway, I want to thank you, Scotty. For everything." She smiled.
"Don't mention it. Please," said Scott, with a glance at Robinson -- who cleared his throat and looked away with a grin spreading across his face.
She laughed. "How do you say 'goodbye" in Greek?"
"I think I like khrisi mou better."
"So do I." He stood up, took her in his arms and kissed her the way lovers kiss.
After a while she broke away, reluctantly, and let her guard down just long enough for him to see the sadness in her eyes. "No, I really must be going. Maybe -- hopefully -- we'll meet again?"
"If the Fates are kind."
She put on a brave smile. "At least next time you won't have to wonder if I really am a virgin."
She walked away, down the street of stone. Scott stood there, watching her until she was lost from his sight -- and decided that he and Katrina Belleau would meet again. The Fates were always kind to him in certain respects.