The Kiss of Virgins
They charged into Saccomando's room like gangbusters, Katrina moving left, Scott right, in a flawless synergism requiring no advanced planning. It was all instinct.
The slender girl with the flaxen hair and cornflower-blue eyes -- the phony damsel-in-distress Scott thought he'd been rescuing from a fate worse than death the day before yesterday -- stood by the bed, clad in a tie-dyed shirt and panties, her bluejeans folded neatly on a nearby chair. She whirled, and Katrina fired the air pistol the instant she saw the pistol in the girl's hand. Roxanne Wilson fell, and the little .25 automatic slipped from fingers already gone numb by the time she hit the Kelim rug.
Nick Saccomando came out of the marbled bathroom swathed in a purple, velvet-lapeled satin robe, and Scott was on him in a flash. A carefully measured blow to the side of the neck dispatched the mobster to slumber land, and he fell so neatly into Scott's arms that the whole thing looked choreographed. Scott tangoed his burden across to the bed and dropped it there.
"Well," he said, relieved. "That was easy."
"I've got a boat," said Katrina.
"What about her?"
"I'm not a cold-blooded killer. Are you?"
Scott looked at Roxanne, then at the 9mm in his hand, and shook his head. He tossed the automatic to Katrina. "I'll be the swagman, you ride shotgun." He slung Saccomando effortlessly across a shoulder.
They got down the hall and out onto the sundeck, where Burcham still lay, out cold. Down the stone steps, from terrace to terrace, they went. When they reached the beach Katrina noted admiringly that Scott wasn't even breathing hard in spite of all the excess baggage he was carrying. She partially unzipped her wetsuit and extracted a small, tightly packed square of flourestcent yellow rubber. This she unfolded and pulled a ripcord. With a whoosh! the lifejacket inflated itself.
"Sorry I didn't bring two," she said wryly. "I thought it was just going to be Nick and me."
As they worked to get the lifejacket secured around the unconscious Saccomando, Scott caught a disconcerting glimpse of her perfect breasts.
"Don't forget to zip up," he remarked. "You'll get waterlogged if you don't."
She smirked. He stripped off shoes and shirt and they waded into the sea, floating Delphi behind them.
When dawn probed the sky with saffron fingers of soft light, the meltemi struck. Its wild winds tossed the 38-foot Cigarette Top Gun, driving sheets of sea spray across the deck. The scarlet powerboat lurched up and down the angry gray waves in a rollercoaster ride that had Nick Saccomando leaning over the side emptying his stomach, his complexion that unhealthy shade of green common to all those unfortunates prone to mal de mer.
Scott had bound Saccomando to the rail with a length of nylon rope, and the mobster complained about this when he wasn't busy retching. He was worried that the boat might sink with him so attached, but Scott was more concerned about losing him overboard, the fetch of the sea being so rough and unpredictable.
The Cigarette was a seaworthy craft, narrow-beamed with a deep V-hull, powered by twin 420-hp 502 MPI Merc sterndrives and with a top speed of 90 mph. Scott wasn't too worried about sinking. But he didn't think there was much chance of their making Katrina's intended destination of Mandraki Harbor at the island of Rhodes. Mandraki was almost 200 miles away, just about the top range of the Cigarette on calm seas under the best of circumstances. And he knew that the meltemi would quiet only when evening came -- and sundown was still several hours away. Winds in excess of Beaufort-3 were not unusual in these summer gales. So it was that an hour away from Mykonos he put to Katrina the proposition that they should turn back.
"My people are waiting for us at Rhodes," she said.
"We won't make it. There's a bunch of old smuggler's caves on the this side of Naxos . We can lay low until I can get word to Kelly. And he can get word to your people. Seeing as how you refuse to use the long-range SSB."
"We can't risk it. The wrong people might be listening." She hunched under another deluge of cold, salt water, nodded reluctantly. "Okay, we'll go back."
Wrestling with the wheel, Scott flashed a dauntless grin at her, and she thought how splendid he looked, his broad, brown shoulders glistening and corded with taut muscles. Even in the wetsuit she was cold, and yet he seemed impervious to the elements.
"Thanks for helping, Scotty."
"I wouldn't have missed it for the world. But I have a question. You lied about your vocation. Were you, um, lying about being a virgin, too?'
Startled, she had to laugh. Then the Cigarette pitched and rolled, throwing her against him. Deciding she liked it there, Katrina stayed put.
"We'll get into that later, okay?" she asked.
Behind them, a drenched Saccomando moaned and leaned precariously over the side again.
"That must be them!" crowed Burcham, peering down through the plexiglass of the helicopter's bubble at the powerboat thrashing through the choppy seas.
The girl with the flaxen hair had the Alouette's controls. Burcham figured the name Roxanne Wilson was just an alias. But whoever she really was, she knew how to fly a chopper. It was no easy task, keeping this bird aloft in the treacherous winds of the meltemi. She looked so thin and fragile, he thought -- like am undernourished schoolgirl. No one would look at her and think she was a professional killer.
"Yes, it must be," she said. "Who else would be out in this? It figures they would come to Naxos. Mykonos is too small to hide on."
"It was a longshot," said Burcham. He meant her insistence that they check the leeward side of Naxos even though he'd been convinced they would make a run for the open sea. His head ached, and the rough ride was making him queasy. "So what do we do now?"
"I have a contract to fulfill. If Saccomando doesn't die, I do. And you're in this with me, Burcham. All the way. Don't forget that."
Burcham nodded, his countenance bleak. How could he forget, after watching her work just a couple of hours before? She had killed all four of the Greeks Russell had hired for security at the villa. Three of them had been unconscious, thanks to Scott and the woman in the wetsuit, but this hadn't mattered to Roxanne -- she'd put two bullets, one in the head, one in the heart, into them too. And she'd done it as dispassionately as if she were dispensing with cockroaches. And then, when Russell arrived in the helicopter she'd killed him and the pilot, too.
It wasn't supposed to have been a bloodbath. She was supposed to have killed Saccomando and then slipped away from the villa, avoiding a confrontation with security, which she'd assured Burcham she could do. But for the intervention of Scott and the woman, that's how it would have gone down. According to Roxanne, she'd been mere seconds away from killing Delphi -- waiting for him to emerge from the bathroom, gleefully anticipating a romp in the bed and getting a bullet between the eyes at point-blank range instead. A bullet from a small pistol hidden in a removable latex pouch attached to her skin just above the mons veneris, carried that way to avoid detection just in case someone besides Burcham frisked her for weapons. Though he tried not to show it, Burcham was afraid of her, and he didn't doubt she would kill him, too, without blinking an eye, unless he did exactly what she wanted him to do. Even then, he wasn't sure that she wouldn't kill him.
Now, revealing cool skill in extremely difficult flying conditions, the hit lady brought the Alouette down in a banking descent and buzzed the Cigarette. Then she ascended so sharply that Burcham's stomach did a quick, nauseating roll.
"That's them," she said flatly. No gloating over the fact that she had guessed right about where to find them, and no excitement over what was soon to come. It was just a plain statement of fact.
"You'll have to off Scott and the woman, too," he said. "With Saccomando and the ones back at the villa, that'll make nine. Nine deaths for a million dollars."
"Who's counting," she said, with a quick glance in his direction that made Burcham wonder if she wasn't going to try to make it an even ten.
"So what now?" he asked.
"In these seas that Cigarette has a short range. They'll have to put in to shore before long."
Ten minutes later they saw the powerboat disappear beneath a natural arch of water-sculpted stone along the flank of a craggy promontory. Roxanne circled the point a few times, but the Cigarette failed to reappear. She took the Alouette in, setting down on the beach a few hundred yards along the coast. They sat in the cockpit for a moment, waiting for the helicopter's rotors to gradually slow. Burcham's relief at being once more on solid ground was short-lived. The hit lady's scrutiny was making him nervous.
"What are you looking at?" he asked gruffly.
"A man short on guts and long on greed. You were quick to take the hundred thousand, but now that there's a little wet work to do you can't stop shaking."
"I'm not shaking. But this wasn't part of the deal. I did what I was paid to do. I got you within range of Delphi. You were alone with him. You should have finished it when you had the chance."
"I would have, if you'd been any good at your job. They didn't have to pay you to get me into that villa. I could have done it myself, with my eyes closed."
"I know about you," he rasped. "You prefer killing your mark during sex. You get your kicks putting that little .25 to his head and squeezing the trigger just as the poor bastard . . . ."
She shot him, right between the eyes -- before he could tug the 9mm automatic out of his waistband.
"I don't think you can be of any more use to me," she said. Reaching over the corpse, she opened the cockpit door and shoved the body out onto the beach.
Climbing out of the Alouette, she stood on the sandy fringe for a moment, buffeted by the meltemi's powerful winds, and surveying the choppy seas and stone arch near the end of the rocky promontory a few hundred yards away. There had to be a sea grotto beneath the promontory, accessible through the arch. It would be a tough swim, but she was an expert swimmer. She stripped down to her panties, wrapped the .25 in her tie-dyed shirt and tied the shirt around her neck with the gun nestled at the nape of her neck.
Then she waded into the foaming surf.
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.