The Kiss of Virgins
"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 around to the leeward side of the island. Too rough to try for Rhodes or Naxos."
"It was a longshot," said Burcham. He meant her insistence that they check the leeward side of Biathos 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 Hazard 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 John 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 Hazard 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, while distracted by her nudity, 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 Hazard 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, his fear rising. "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 even halfway 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, Hazard's success in maneuvering the Cigarette into the shelter of the hidden grotto was a demonstration of seamanship par excellence. The natural arch was filled with spume, and the powerboat left some paint on the smooth stone flanks. Caitlin 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. Hazard 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 chiaroscuro of light and shadow in the tunnel. Hazard 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.
Hazard cut back on the throttle and the mighty stern-drives 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, Caitlin 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 Hood, 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 Nico 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."
"Why Miss Belleau," he said, smiling. "Are you afraid of things that go bump in the night?"
She made a face.
"What about me?" whined Saccomando.
"What about you?" asked Hazard.
"If you're gonna waste me, do it now," said the mobster, mustering up some bravado. "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 shit, Hazard. That chick was nothing. A nobody. An night'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 Caitlin. "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 Hazard. "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 Hazard. "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 Hazard 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 John Russell? Or maybe Burcham. Or perhaps even Roxanne Wilson. Would it be wise to leave Caitlin 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 Caitlin 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, cinnamon-brown hair. There was a very unpleasant snarl on Saccomando's countenance, and apology written all over Caitlin's.
"Make a wrong move, Hazard," warned Saccomando, "and the bitch dies."
"I'm sorry, Derek," said Caitlin. "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 Hazard, his voice like steel wrapped in velvet. "It's a waste of perfectly good air."
"You're gonna disappear, Wolf. 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 Hazard, keeping Caitlin 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?"
Hazard 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 -- Caitlin could take some action to save herself.
Two shots rang out, magnified by the walls of the smuggler's cave. Saccomando and Caitlin pitched forward. The Diamondback left the mobster's lifeless hand and bounced across the rubber sole. Hazard went for it in a diving roll as a bullet smacked into the Lexan of 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.
Hazard turned -- and felt a surge of relief as Caitlin 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 flatly. "I was supposed to keep him alive."
"And yet I feel like celebrating," said Hazard.
The next afternoon Hazard was sitting at his favorite table in front of Spyridon's taverna, enjoying a late lunch ofbaklava and moussaka washed down with Fix beer. 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. It was the kind of moment Hazard enjoyed immensely.
A hand touched his shoulder, and he looked up at Caitlin 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 soft 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, Derek. For everything." She smiled. "You're not nearly as bad as they make you out to be."
He put a forefinger to his lips. "Don't let that get around. I have a reputation to protect."
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?"
"I'll make sure of it."
She put on a brave smile and walked away down the cobblestone street. Hazard stood there, firing up a special blend and watching her until she was lost from sight -- and decided that he and Caitlin Belleau would meet again. The Fates were always kind to him in some respects.
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.