The Kiss of Virgins
Bathed in a sultry, purple twilight, Derek Hazard and Caitlin Belleau dined on the terrace of the Delfinia. A gentle breeze capered through the eucalyptus trees and cephalonian firs around the hillside hotel. The terrace afforded a fetching panorama of the town sloping down to a harbor bedecked with the lights of pleasure craft. Bouzouki music -- that odd and uniquely Greek blend of Western pop and traditional Mediterranean elements -- flowed muted from speakers high on the hotel's gyp-whitened walls. The terrace itself was romantically illuminated by soft lights buried in wisteria that profusely embraced an overhead trellis.
They dined on barbounia, Aegean red mullet, and tyropitta -- triangular puffs of pastry filled with hardened goat's cheese -- washed down with Vortris brandy, culminating the meal with moustalevria and strong, sweet Greek coffee.
It was a meal that deserved full attention. Nonetheless, Hazard found himself distracted. This was perfectly understandable, with a woman as winsome as Caitlin Belleau on the other side of an intimate table. She wore a slipdress of black nylon mesh over flesh-colored poly/spandex that drew plenty of double-takes, and black patent leather slides with three-inch heels. A Rolex Oyster Perpetual graced her slender wrist. He wondered if the expensive timepiece had been a gift from one of the host of male admirers to which she could, no doubt, lay claim.
She was, she told him, a broker for a Wall Street firm, and for a while the conversation centered on junk bonds and insider trading scandals. On vacation in Athens, she'd decided on a whim to sample the islands, and picked Biathos at random.
"You made a very good choice," he said.
"I only wish I had time to see more of the islands. They're so beautiful. And there's so much history. This is, after all, the birthplace of Western culture, isn't it? But I'm afraid I'll have to return to New York in a few days. What do you do for a living, Derek?"
"I devote all my time and effort to spending an obscenely large inheritance."
It was his stock mendacity. Hazard was a self-made man, who'd inherited nothing but an adventurous soul, quick wits and light fingers from a long line of warriors and highwaymen. It wasn't that he didn't trust Caitlin, or that he was afraid she might be an undercover cop here to inveigle him into a confession regarding his many misdeeds. He'd simply found it made a relationship go more smoothly if he kept the sometimes-sordid details of his notorious career to himself. The falsehood also explained the fullness of his private coffers.
"Then one of those yachts down there must belong to you," she surmised.
"I borrowed a friend's. Sailed over from Piraeus about a week ago."
"She's a small ship, a 34-foot Pearson. It's the best way to see the Cyclades, I think." To steer the conversation away from himself, Hazard proceeded to give her a brief but colorful and informed verbal tour of the necklace of sundrenched islands that stretched across the Aegean. Fascinated, she listened as he told her of Mikonos, once a pirate stronghold; of Tinos, where Orthodox Greeks made their pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Annunciation; of the colossal, 1,000-foot cliffs of Folegandros and the highly-prized marble that for centuries had been quarried on Paros, and still was; of Samos, famous for wine celebrated by Lord Byron, no less, and wooded Lesbos, home of Sappho, and long ruled by Turkish overlords; of Rhodes, where the crusading Knights of St. John had held sway for two centuries, and Ikaria, associated with Icarus of Greek mythology, whose wax-fastened wings fell apart when he flew too near the sun.
"It's too bad," he concluded, "that you don't have more time. We could see all of those things together."
"I'm sure you could show me a lot of things I've never seen before," she said and, reaching for her brandy, brushed her fingers across the top of his hand. Then she blushed.
Hazard smiled, taking the comment exactly as she had meant it. He'd known, somehow, from the moment they'd first met that they would be lovers. A sexual current had passed between them. And he was beguiled by the fact that she was bold enough to make such a comment, and yet shy enough to blush for having made it.
"Well, since you have to go home soon, we probably shouldn't waste any time," he said.
"Actually," she said, her eyes downcast, "I have a confession to make."
"I can keep a confidence."
"I know you can." She raised her sea-green eyes and met his squarely. "I've . . . I've never been with a man before."
Hazard was stunned -- and, for once in his life, rendered speechless.
"Let go of me! Please, just leave me alone!"
It was woman's voice from across the terrace, and it was shot through with anxiety, the words spoken fiercely, but in a whisper. Curious, Hazard turned to look. A young woman sat alone at a table. Her blonde hair was long and straight, her eyes a cornflower-blue, her skin sunburned. She wore a white halter top and faded blue jeans. Hazard guessed that she was in her late teens. An American college student, perhaps, in an overseas study program. Or maybe just another one of those young drifters so common these days, and who sometimes drifted into trouble.
This one was in trouble, and as she cast about desperately in search of rescue she caught his gaze and her eyes begged him for help. Hazard turned his attention to the man looming over her. Stocky, in his forties, with a five o' clock shadow making his craggy features look rougher still. Leering at her, he sat down at her table and reached across to tightly clutch the girl's slender arm as she started to rise, and his white-knuckled grip was causing her pain.
Hazard smiled apologetically at Caitlin. "Excuse me for a moment."
The girl looked both surprised and relieved as Hazard approached. The man read something in her expression, and jerked his head around to find Hazard leaning insolently on the back of his chair.
"What do you want?" snapped the man, bellicose.
"I was about to ask you the same question. What do you want? Here are your options. You can leave of your own accord. Or you can give us an impromptu demonstration of your high-dive technique over the edge of this terrace"
"Get lost," sneered the man. "You don't want to cross me. I work for the American government."
"That explains your charming disposition."
"Look, buddy. I'm with the foreign service, you could say. This chick is an American citizen, and I'm just making sure she's okay. Okay?"
"I'm an American citizen, too, sometimes. I guess I can look forward to you oozing over to my table and molesting me?"
The man's demeanor turned uglier still as he stood up. He was several inches taller than Hazard's six feet, and outweighed Hazard by at least fifty pounds. He tried to stare Hazard down, but this had no discernible effect. When he saw that Hazard wasn't even going to flinch, he made the mistake of jabbing a blunt forefinger into Hazard's chest.
"You better get your ass . . . ."
He never finished the sentence.
Everyone on the terrace was watching, but no one could later say, with any degree of certainty, exactly what Hazard did next. All anyone knew for certain was that a heartbeat later the big man was writhing on the flagstones, clutching at his shoulder, and uttering rapid grunting noises. It felt as though his lungs had been wrenched out of his body and his arm had been yanked completely out of the socket. The man couldn't believe Hazard had done to this him -- he hadn't even seen it coming. Whatever it was.
"Are you allright?" Hazard asked the girl.
She was standing now -- had risen so quickly that she'd overturned her chair. Behind a veil of flaxen hair, her eyes were wide, a cornflower blue in hue.
"Are you hurt?" he asked, because she was rubbing her arm, and she looked fragile, the kind that bruised easily.
"No. No, I'm fine. Really."
"If there's anything I can do for you, I'm staying here at the hotel."
She looked away, with a peculiar quirk to her expression, one that Hazard couldn't quite fathom.
"No, you've done enough already." Then, almost as an afterthought, she thanked him.
Hazard returned to his table -- and Caitlin.
"Lining up a replacement for me already?" she asked, and laughed softly.
"I practice dragon-slaying for no other reward that the thrill of battle."
"It really is a relief to know that chivalry isn't dead. These days, one has cause to wonder."
"So where were we?"
"We were on the subject of my, um, inexperience in certain matters."
"And how old are you?" he asked.
"Twenty-three. And, in answer to your next question, I was planning to wait until I'd gotten married. Call me old-fashioned."
"There's nothing wrong with that," said Hazard earnestly.
"Have you ever been married?"
"Think you might someday?"
Hazard's smile was evasive. "Someday. When I'm old and gray." He didn't bother adding that he didn't expect to live long enough to get old and gray. He motioned for the waiter, who promptly accepted Hazard's generous gratuity, and a request to charge the meal on his room. As they left the terrace, Caitlin laced her arm through his. And at the door to her room she put both arms around his neck and leaned her splendid body into his, just so.
"How do you say 'kiss me' in Greek?" she asked.
"Well done," said Hazard, and obliged her. It turned into a long, passionate kiss, full of promise. Before it was finished, he had filched the room key out of her little shoulder bag, made of the same mesh fabric as her dress, and unlocked the door, pushing it open with his foot.
"How did you do that?" she asked. "Without my knowing it?"
"We all have our gifts."
She smiled, that blend of shyness and boldness that with anyone else would have been coquettry, but was totally unaffected in her case. "When might you show me what else you can do?"
"You might be amazed at what we can do together," he replied, and kissed her again.
"I have all night," she whispered, breathless with excitement, molding her slender eager body against him before backing up, her arms locked round his neck, pulling him inside.
Early the next morning Hazard awoke, leaving Caitlin sprawled across the rumpled sheets sleeping soundly. Going to his own room, he showered, shaved, and dressed casually in sandals, white cotton duck trousers and a dark blue Land's End shirt. Then he strolled down the winding streets to the paralia. The morning air was redolent with the fragrance of wisteria and oleander, mixed with the aromas of spices for which the Aegean was famous -- thyme, basil and rosemary. As he neared the waterfront a stronger odor prevailed. Fish. The market was teeming.
In the Cyclades, most fishing was done at night. Mother ships towed their dories to the fishing grounds in the last light of day. The larger vessel and a longboat would set the purse nets around schools of fish attracted to the ship lights. The technique was age-old, the labor back-breaking.
Hazard noticed a commotion at the water's edge, a knot of people down where the caiques were beached. At that moment, Nico Spyridon emerged from the crowd and began rapidly walking away, head down. Hazard intercepted him. There was something in his old friend's expression that pushed the pleasant thoughts of Caitlin Belleau from his mind.
"What's going on, Nico?"
Spyridon wrung his hands, distraught. "The fishermen caught more than they bargained for, Kyrie Derek. A body, snagged in the nets. The astinomia are here now. It is . . . it is the American you were talking with yesterday."
Hazard walked on. The early sun was warm on his face, but he didn't feel that warmth. He plowed through the throng and felt a chill as he saw the corpse, soggy and entangled in netting, laid out on the wet sand at the feet of two constables -- the entire compliment of the Biathos police, the astinomia. It was as though the damp cold of the sea's dark depths had quit Jack Christian's mortal remains and invaded Hazard's body. One of the constables turned to push him back, but a nondescript man in a gray suit and a Panama hat pulled low over a blue-chinned face intervened.
"I'll handle this, if you don't mind," said the man. He spoke Greek with an American accent. His manner was polite but firm, demanding obedience. The constable shrugged and turned away.
The man in the suit faced Hazard. His muddy brown eyes were heavily lidded. "You were a friend of the deceased." He'd switched to English -- and it wasn't a question.
"I still am."
"You must be Derek Hazard."
"Must I be?"
The constables were questioning several fishermen. The man in the suit cocked his head and listened to the interrogation for a moment before turning his attention back to Hood.
"My name is John Russell," he said. "I'm . . . attached to the American embassy in Athens."
"That sounds very cumbersome."
This summoned the ghost of a smile to Russell's plain features. "I happened to be in Naxos. Picked up the police radio report to the mainland. They'd found Mr. Christian's identification. As he was a U.S. citizen, I came over by helicopter. What say we take a walk, Mr. Hazard? Nothing you can do for your friend now."
"I think you're wrong about that."
Russell slipped through the crowd. With a last grim look at Christian, Hazard followed. Russell took twenty paces, stopped to light a cigarette, and offered the pack.
"No, thanks. How did he die?"
Russell seemed surprised by the question. "He drowned."
"Well." Russell shrugged. "We'll transport the remains back to Athens. Have a coroner render an official determination. But I saw no evidence of foul play, if that's what you're thinking."
"You're an expert on foul play, Mr. Russell?"
The man smiled thinly. "Of course I know about you, Hazard. You have a tendency to take the law into your own hands. But if you suspect foul play, and entertain the notion of wreaking some kind of personal vengeance on those you believe to be responsible, you'd be better off confiding in me and letting the authorities handle it."
"Didn't you forget the 'or else'?"
Russell took a drag off the cigarette, let the smoke trickle from his nostrils as he gazed across the harbor.
"We knew you were here. The embassy keeps track of people like you."
That didn't surprise Hazard. He'd come to expect this kind of official scrutiny.
"You aren't going to be predictable and threaten me?"
"I know you have dual citizenship, American and British. Your father was American, isn't that right? And you were born on the open seas. At any rate, I can't make things difficult for you by yanking your passport. But there are other ways to skin a Wolf."
Hazard nodded. "I knew it was coming."
Russell looked amused. "You'd call that a threat? And here I thought it qualified as friendly advice. Interesting moniker, the Wolf. Your file says you got it in London, when you were first starting out, and when no one knew the real identity of the man who was hunting the biggest prey in the criminal underworld."
"I had no idea official reports were so fictionalized."
Russell laughed, a dry, brittle sound, like dead leaves scudding across pavement. "Sorry about your friend."
Hazard acknowledged this courtesy with a nod and walked away, leaving the paralia, ascending the narrow street that took him to Spyridon's taverna.
"Nico, I need a favor."
"Just ask, Kyrie Derek." Spyridon felt sorry for somebody. He didn't know exactly who, yet, but he heard the hard edge in Derek Hazard's voice, recognized the glint in his friend's steelcast eyes -- and knew these signs bode ill for anyone who might have been responsible in any way for the death of Jack Christian.
Copyright 1992, 2015 by Jason Manning. All Rights Reserved. No unauthorized reproduction for any purpose whatsoever is allowed without permission of copyright holder. This copyright notice to cover all text found in this post except that attributed to others. Copyright is not claimed on any images included in this post.