Standing at the base of a sheer cliff and craning his neck to study what he could see of Agios Stefanos, a collection of ancient structures perched at the very brink of the rocky promontory, Kelly Robinson took off his sunglasses, squeezed the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger, and then shook his head.
"I knew I forgot something," he said. "You didn't happen to bring your superspy rocket backpack, did you?"
"Y' know," drawled Scott, "Meteora means 'hovering in the air'."
"Don't start. So how do we get up there?"
"We hike. There's a trail...."
"I have an idea. You hike up there and just toss Triakin down to me."
"You wouldn't catch him, though. See, I know how you operate."
"Ye of little faith." Robinson looked longingly behind him, at the hazy valley which contained the town of Kastraki, from whence they had just come. It was at that point that he saw the shepherd. "Now what have we here?" he murmured.
Scott looked at his partner, then followed his gaze to the man who stood about a hundred yards away, tending a small flock of sheep. The man was clearly more interested in the two Americans standing at the base of the cliff than in his flock, however.
"Think he knows something we don't?" asked Scott.
"I certainly hope so," replied Robinson, and led the way.
The shepherd stood his ground as they approached. Long before they reached him they were sure it wasn't Triakin. He was a tall Greek man, his age indeterminate, his features as craggy as the cliffs of Meteora. He wore the usual garb of a Greek shepherd -- the baggy pants and white shirt, a black vest and cap. Scott spoke to him affably in his native tongue, and the man responded readily. While he waited for the translation, Robinson warily watched the sheep grazing on the sparse but nutritious grass that grew in this rocky soil.
"He says the man we've come to see is up there," Scott told his partner, and pointed at a jumble of boulders and stone spires just to the east of the Agios Stefanos promontory.
"Is that right?" Robinson sighed. "And to think I let you talk me into this."
This time Scott took the lead. A moment later he began hopping on one foot, then on the other. Robinson watched him for a moment.
"What's with the happy dance, Zorba?"
"I've got sheep doodoo on my shoes."
Robinson laughed. Then he thought to check the soles of his own shoes -- and abruptly stopped laughing.
They climbed for thirty minutes, ever higher into the rocks, and it didn't take Robinson long to start lamenting the fact that he'd spent most of the last two months sitting on his duff quaffing Boutari and smoking Turkish cigarettes. They proceeded with caution, aware of the possibility that they could be walking into a trap. In spite of the care they took, though, Triakin surprised them.
He stepped out from behind a jumble of boulders that stood so precariously on the treacherous slope that they seemed to be defying the laws of gravity. The Russian scientist was wearing the same sort of garb as the shepherd below, but Robinson knew him instantly. Still, he didn't lower the pistol that had appeared, as though by some sleight-of-hand, from beneath his windbreaker.
Triakin held his arms out away from his sides. "Once upon a time," he said drily, "your orders were to keep me alive, Kelly Robinson. Have you new orders, then?"
Robinson put the gun away.
Triakin nodded curtly, threw a quick look around. "Come. We are too much in the open."
They followed him another hundred yards up the slope and arrived at a cave. The entrance was small, hidden from view from the valley below by giant slabs of stone jutting up from the ground. Crouching, Triakin entered, Robinson and Scott close behind. They were surprised by the roominess of the cavern. It stretched deeper into the heart of the mountain than the yellow light from a couple of kerosene lanterns could penetrate. There was a field cot there, a stack of crates over here, and a roughhewn table yonder. Several books and a half-full bottle of wine stood on the table. A two-burner kerosene stove was balanced on a cube of rock beside it.
"Welcome to my home," said Triakin. "It is spartan, but sufficient. The first inhabitants of this area were monks who lived in caves like this -- perhaps even this one -- in the 11th century. During the Turkish occupation they moved higher to escape the Turks and the brigands who populated the valley below. Eventually they built their monasteries on the most inaccessible peaks."
"Nice digs," said Scott. Triakin had changed considerably in two months. He had a beard now, and he'd lost some weight. He was no longer the rather portly, rumpled scientist whose brain Scott had picked for three days in Salonika. He was darker, leaner, with haunted eyes.
"No one could find me here -- unless I wanted to be found. The people watch out for me. They bring me food and drink. Newspapers and an occasional book. They think I am on the run from the government. They do not like the government here. They believe I am an important man."
"I can't imagine where they got that idea," said Robinson drily. He'd moved closer to the table, and then the photo caught his eye, a snapshot whose edge protruded from beneath a book. He slid it out and his features turned bleak as he saw that it was a picture of Triakin and Yasmin, standing by a car. It had been taken in Salonika; Triakin had insisted that Robinson snap the picture.
"Put that down," snapped Triakin.
Robinson glanced coldly at him, then let the snapshot slip from his fingers.
"It's all I have left," said the scientist, his voice ragged. "I gave up everything to be with her, you understand? I left my wife, my family, my country. She loved me. She said we would be together in Israel."
"She was doing her job," said Robinson.
"And when you stole her away from me," rasped Triakin, "were you doing your job?"
"Hey," said Scott, "can we save the recriminations for later?" He stepped up, toe to toe, with Triakin which, not incidentally, placed him between the scientist and his partner. "You sent for us. Okay, we're here. What do you want?"
Triakin sighed, looked without pleasure at his surroundings. "I am ready to go to Israel. I cannot go home. They would not kill me -- what I know up here--" he tapped his temple "--is too valuable. But I do not want to face my family, my friends. So I will go to Israel. That is what Yasmin wanted. I will help the Israelis build their bomb. The question remains, can you get me there? That was your job before, and you failed."
"We can try," said Scott gravely. "But it's even more problematic now. You see, the bad guys were watching Kelly, and now they know, generally speaking, where you are. So they'll be waiting for you to break cover."
"And your people send just the two of you?" asked Triakin. He sounded more amused than anxious.
"That's right," said Robinson. "We're it. The whole team. But not to worry. Scotty was All-Eastern in his college days."
"You see," explained Scott, "we've got what we want from you. They're not going to risk an entire network on you now. Not even for the Israelis. And the Mossad won't buy in, either. You're too hot. Positively radioactive, even."
"We're here," added Robinson, "to tie up some loose ends, that's all."
Triakin nodded. "That's what I want. When do we go?"
Scott shrugged, looked around the cave. "How long d'you think it will take you to pack? Five minutes?"
"We've got a car down in Kastraki," said Robinson briskly. "We drive the few miles to Kalambaka and get on the train to Athens. We get you into our embassy there and they'll make arrangements for your transfer to the Israelis."
"You go back to Kastraki. Be in front of the Rex Hotel in two hours. I will meet you there."
Scott glanced at Robinson, who shrugged his indifference.
"Fine," said Scott. "Just don't be late."
"Don't worry," said Triakin. "As you Americans say, I wouldn't miss this for the world."