The Kiss of Virgins
Later that day, Derek Hazard ventured along the coastal road on an old but reliable BSAM-20. seeking the private estate which had so piqued Jack Christian's interest -- fatally, it seemed. The big, heavy motorbike was a classic, maintained in perfect condition, the property of one of Spyridon's many pals. Hazard had been told it had once belonged to a young and dashing smuggler who'd spent the last twenty years languishing in a prison at Izmir, Turkey. Undoubtedly he was no longer young and dashing.
Hazard came to the wall that, as Jack had said, appeared to stretch into infinity. This was an illusion -- the wall did have an ending, and Hazard zoomed past the main gate and kept going until he found it. The estate boasted of a half-kilometer of road frontage. He turned the bike in a tight 180-degree spin with the dexterity of a Hell's Angel and headed back. Now the estate was on his left. To the right of the road was a steep slope, the lower half of which was scrubby maquis, above which rose the stair-step terraces of a vineyard. A narrow rocky path twisted like a dusty serpent up the slope, past a copse of wind-sculpted oaks about fifty meters above the road.
The grove of oaks proved to be a perfect spot for long-range reconnaissance. He had an unobstructed view of the main gate, and could even catch glimpses of a rambling white villa through silver poplars and green plane trees dancing in the seawind.
For quite some time Hazard sat on a block of gray granite, wild lupkin blooming at his feet, and scanned the estate with a pair of Negretti binoculars. These were a Spyridon family heirloom. Nico's father, a Greek Resistance fighter during World War Deuce, had taken them off the corpse of a Nazi officer -- after knifing the oberstormfuhrer to death one dark and bloody night.
Hazard watched diligently for a couple of hours, then broke for lunch. He always tried to mix business with pleasure. Even while entertaining the notion of a probably dangerous interlope, he could not allow an opportunity for a picnic to pass him by. The sun was high and hot in a brilliantly blue sky. Hoopoes and serins sang in the brush. The only thing missing was female companionship, but he'd thought it best not to invite Caitlin Belleau along on this little jaunt.
Lunch consisted of manouri cheese, peasant bread and Hymettus honey, washed down with Votris brandy. He indulged in a cigarette, one of the special blends made for him by Fribourg and Theyer, London's supreme tobacconists. Eventually he resumed his vigil, scanning road, walls and grounds with the fieldglasses. He knew this could take time, and that was fine. Hazard's patience bordered on the diabolical -- when it had to.
He had a definite purpose in mind -- to find out if Christian's death had any connection with this mystery estate -- but, as yet, no definite plan. In such matters he often relied on inspiration and improvisation. He knew from experience that best-laid plans usually went awry. So he waited, and watched, fully prepared to accept the likelihood that he might have to return tomorrow, and even the day after.
This gave him time to confront his regret at not having taken Jack Christian more seriously -- and not trying harder to dissuade the journalist from poking his nose into other people's business. He told himself that Christian had been a grown-up who should have known better than to get into something over his head. But it didn't really help. Hazard felt partially responsible for his untimely death. And that was the reason he was here on the high hillside.
He also had time to ponder the Caitlin Belleau dilemma. It surprised Hazard to learn that he had previously undiscovered scruples. Conventional wisdom was that a woman tended to develop strong attachments to the first man she slept with. And Hazard knew his limitations -- he was not good material for long-term relationships. He didn't want to break her heart.
The gate swung open and a black Volvo emerged, turned towards the town of Biathos.
Hazard quickly packed the binoculars in one of the BSAM's panniers, donned a short black leather jacket and helmet with dark-tinted visor. Kicking the bike into life, he descended the serpentine path at breakneck speed. As he fishtailed onto the paved road, the Volvo was just rounding a bend a hundred meters away. Hazard goosed the throttle and the BSAM responded with a loud detonation and rocketed forward.
He caught up with the Volvo in no time, passed it. He recognized the driver -- it was the American who had perpetrated his unwholesome presence on the teenage girl last night at the Delfinia. The American had company, a second man with the dusky features of a Greek.
The American glanced at Hazard as the BSAM roared by, but the dark-tinted visor of the helmet prevented him from making an identification. Hazard pulled well ahead, then maintained his lead, keeping an eye on the Volvo via the sideview mirrors. One of the best ways to shadow someone was to stay in front of him, if circumstances permitted.
Reaching town, the American and his Greek companion stopped off at a cafezintio for a spot of Mamos retsina -- wine flavored with resin, and sometimes diluted with clear lemonade. They had no inkling that Hazard was watching them from the blue shade of an alley across the narrow street.
The pair proceeded next to the Delfinia. Hazard meandered daringly into the lobby, his helmet still on, in time to hear the American quiz the concierge as to the whereabouts of one Roxanne Wilson, whom Hazard was fairly sure would turn out to be the American teenage girl from last night. No such person was registered. The American muttered a few choice imprecations; he was, mused Hazard, one of those people who saw in every little setback a fiendish conspiracy to make his life difficult.
The American and his associate prowled Biathos for the rest of the afternoon, and Hazard wondered if they were still looking for the girl named Roxanne. They carried their hunt first to the beach, but to no avail. Then followed the old ruins, a tourist favorite, where guides with weary smiles relived days of yore, when brave Crusaders fought against overwhelming odds, etc. etc. No luck. They returned to town, cruised the streets, sometimes in the Volvo, sometimes on foot.
Hazard followed them with the tenacity of a bloodhound and the skill of an Apache. He used the classic shadowing technique of "altering the image." Sometimes he wore the helmet, sometimes he carried it under his arm. Sometimes, when he set out on foot, he left it with the BSAM. He wore the leather jacket for a while, shed it for a spell, then put it back on. He bought a copy of the Athens Daily News, carried it for an hour, then trashed it. He bought white irises from a flower vendor and carried them around for a while, then gallantly presented them to a pretty Italian girl.
As the day waned the search moved to the bazaar, an old cobbled street lined with shops. Naked electric bulbs hung from wiring under rickety awnings, shedding light on handwoven, handcarved and otherwise handmade souvenirs. It was here they finally found her.
Hazard spotted her before the American and his sidekick did. She was dressed just as before, and stood looking at a table loaded with Cycladic figurines.
The American motioned for the Greek to stay back, and proceeded alone, leaving the latter idly smoking a Xanthi and watching the current of humanity, largely of the tourist variety, that swept past him.
As the American zeroed in on Roxanne Wilson, Hazard made his move. The leather jacket and black-visored helmet were on again. He sauntered right by the Greek, who watched his the way watchdogs do. For his part, Hazard seemed to focus all his attention on a pair of young ladies coming the other way. As they sashayed past he turned and walked backwards, admiring the rear view. His collision with the American, who was still some distance from his own target, seemed to be completely accidental. The collision became a brief, chaotic, almost comical dance performed by two men trying hard not to land flat on their faces. The American cursed. Hazard mumbled an apology in flawless Italian. The dance was so quickly concluded that the American's colleague had hardly taken a step towards them before Hazard had vanished into the throng of sightseers.
Around the first convenient corner, Hazard removed his helmet and checked the set of keys he had filched so effortlessly from the American's pocket.
Going directly to the Volvo, parked a couple of blocks away, Hazard unlocked the boot. Then he unlocked the driver's door, inserted the key into the ignition, closed and locked the door. Certain that no one was paying him any attention, he climbed into the trunk of the car and shut himself in.
Fifteen minutes later the American and his cohort returned to the car. As they tried to break into the Volvo, the Greek chided the American for being so careless, while the American, flying in the face of the evidence, adamantly denied having left the key in the ignition.
They eventually managed, with the application of brute force, to open a vent window and gain entrance. The ride that followed was not the most comfortable Hazard had ever taken. He occupied himself with speculation centering around the girl named Roxanne. He was pretty certain she had not accompanied the two men back to the Volvo. So why had the American gone to so much trouble to find her? Hazard had assumed all along that the American's intentions were strictly dishonorable. Had he simply taken no for an answer? He struck Hazard as a man who would not give up that easily.
Could there be some other connection between the American and Roxanne Wilson? In the twenty minutes it took them to reach the private estate, Hazard failed to conjure up one that made much sense.
When the Volvo was stilled, and the two men five minutes gone, Hazard extricated himself from the boot. He had all the tools he needed at hand -- a high intensity penlight that bore an uncanny resemblance to a 14-karat gold ballpoint pen, and a small assortment of B&E instruments, fashioned of high-tensile Sheffield steel and concealed in his cigarette case He rarely left home without them. Holding the penlight in his teeth, he manipulated the latch tumblers from within, releasing the powerful springs and popping the lid on his metal tomb, an accomplishment which would have drawn kudos from Houdini himself.
It was a job of work that could have been done with a tire tool, but this way made much less racket. And while he could have used these same tools to break into the boot, Hazard had chosen the more audacious tactic of picking the American's pocket because it was much more fun that way.
Stretching cramped muscles, Hazard saw that he stood alone in a four-car garage. The heavy-timbered carriage doors were closed. A couple of lights burned overhead. Besides the Volvo, two other cars were housed here -- a blue Fiat two-seater and a four-door Mercedes sedan.
Hazard left his helmet in the Volvo's trunk and lowered the lid, but did not shut it, on the off chance that he might want to go out the same way he had come in. Leaving the garage by a side door, he found himself on a flagstone walk covered by latticework heavy with jasmine. This arbor connected the garage to the villa. Catfooted, he made for the door at the other end of the walkway. On his left, beyond a row of manicured shrubs and a low retaining wall, curled a gravel drive. To his right, steep stone terracing led down to the deep blue sea where a yacht was anchored in a cove. He kept an eye peeled for attack dogs, though he suspected they were too dangerous to be allowed to run loose, and would only be released if an intruder breached a perimeter security system.
The villa door was unlocked, and opened to a dark, cool, tiled hallway. Straight ahead was a columned arch, guarded by white marble statues of classical motif, well-endowed nudes of the feminine persuasion. Voices issued from the direction of the arch, and Hazard pressed on, silent as a wraith. Concealed behind one of the nudes, he could peer into a cathedral-sized room beyond the arch -- and saw three men, all of whom he recognized.
There was the American with his Greek sidekick. And there also was John Russell.
Russell sat on the edge of an armchair, leaning forward and glaring at the American. He was clearly agitated, and when he spoke his words dripped acid.
"Burcham, the fact remains, you killed that journalist. And that was a damned stupid thing to do."
Hazard had come to expect this kind of impeccable timing.
Burcham lounged on a sofa, cigarette in one hand and drink in the other, gazing out through a wall of glass at a spectacular view of the Aegean. He made a gesture of supreme indifference.
"What was I supposed to do? We'd already caught the guy on the grounds once before. He got fair warning. How was I supposed to know he was really a newshound? What, do I take his word for it? There's a million dollar contract out on Delphi, in case you've forgotten, Russell. And my job is to make sure nobody collects. I'm not paid to take chances."
Russell took off his Panama hat and ran his fingers through thin, straw-colored hair. "Is that what I put in my report?"
"I couldn't care less what you put in your damned report. Innocent bystanders sometimes get caught in the crossfire. It's all for the greater good, right?"
"You're a bonafide son of a bitch, Burcham," decided Russell.
Burcham laughed, an ugly sound. "Which is why I'm so good at what I do. Look, why cry over spilled milk? Even if the man really was a journalist, we couldn't let him find out about Delphi, could we?"
"Well," said Russell. "We've decided to move Delphi. The determination has been made that this is no longer a secure safehouse. This afternoon we'll take him out, by helicopter."
"You'll find out tomorrow, enroute."
Burcham shrugged. "Okay by me. But Delphi won't like it."
"Frankly, I don't particularly care if he does."
"You should," said a fourth man, emerging from an adjacent room across from Hazard's hiding place. "You wanna know what I know you gotta keep me happy."
He was a short, stocky individual, with a meticulously even tan, coiffed silver hair, and an accent straight out of the Bronx. Diamonds in gold glittered on fingers, wrists and around a bull neck. He wore Gucci loafers, soft chambray slacks, and a gaudy floral-print shirt.
Hazard recognized this man, too. The Mafia was one of his favorite targets, and he knew all the bigshots.
Russell eyed the newcomer with stony hostility. "You're enjoying yourself, aren't you, Saccomando?"
"Hey, wouldn't you, in my shoes? Condotti gave me the kiss of death himself. Now I've got the Five Families shitti'g bricks. On top of that, I've got G-men waitin' on me hand and foot. Yeah, I'm enjoyin' the hell out of this." Nick Saccomando plopped into a plush armchair and snapped his fingers. "Time for my afternoon dirty martini, Russell. Be a good boy and fetch it for me."
Hazard was close enough to see the back of Russell's neck turn a livid shade of scarlet. "Get it yourself."
Saccomando's eyes, set deep in their fleshy sockets, looked like slimy black slugs. "I can hand you La Commissione on a platter, so you better be nice to me."
Burcham got up. "Mr. Russell has a steel rod stuck up his ass, Nick. He won't bend. I'll get your martini for you."
"I don't like the way you make martinis," snapped Saccomando. "Too much damned vermouth. Mr. Russell looks like a martini man to me."
This potentially explosive standoff was interrupted by the urgent arrival of a fifth man, a Greek, whom Hazard took to be one of the sentries. Smelling trouble, Burcham brandished a .38 Colt Diamondback from beneath his eyesore plaid jacket. The sentry whispered in Burcham's ear and Burcham turned grimly to Russell.
"We've got an intruder, and he's in the goddamn house."
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.