The Washington Post
The Taint of Midas (Seven Deadly Sins Mystery Series #2)by Anne Zouroudi
Gabrilis Kaloyeros is a bee-keeper on the beautiful Greek island of Arcadia. The ruined Temple of Apollo has been in his care for decades, and he has worked to protect it. But when crooked developers take over the island and the value of the land soars, he is persuaded through unscrupulous means to sign away his interest. Hours later he meets a violent, lonely… See more details below
Gabrilis Kaloyeros is a bee-keeper on the beautiful Greek island of Arcadia. The ruined Temple of Apollo has been in his care for decades, and he has worked to protect it. But when crooked developers take over the island and the value of the land soars, he is persuaded through unscrupulous means to sign away his interest. Hours later he meets a violent, lonely death.
When detective Hermes Diaktoros finds his friend's battered body by a dusty roadside, the police quickly name him the prime suspect. But with rapacious developers threatening Arcadia's most ancient sites, many stand to gain from Gabrilis's death. Hermes resolves to avenge his old friend and find the true culprit, but his methods are, as ever, unorthodox.
As in The Messenger of Athens, Anne Zouroudi tells a spellbinding mystery set in an enchanted place, where the myths of the ancient past intersect with the realities of contemporary life, with deadly results.
The Washington Post
PRAISE FOR THE TAINT OF MIDAS:"
Hermes Diaktoros is a delight. Half Poirot, half deus ex machina, but far more earth-bound than his first name suggests, the portly detective has an other-worldly, Marlowesque incorruptibility as he waddles through the mean olive groves. There is also a cracking plot, colourful local characters and descriptions of the hot, dry countryside so strong that you can almost see the heat haze and hear the cicadas - the perfect read to curl up with as the nights draw in."The Guardian"
While Zouroudi has a lightness of touch, she is unflinching in her condemnation of corruption, and a sticky end is meted out to those, and there are many of them, who are in thrall to Mammon. There is realistic horror in The Taint of Midas but Hermes, operating as a kind of deus ex machine, dispenses his own particular brand of justice."Times Literary Supplement
PRAISE FOR THE MESSENGER OF ATHENS:"
This powerfully atmospheric mystery embraces Mediterranean passion, mythic meddling and patriarchal persecution."The Independent"
The Messenger of Athens is a cautionary tale about the deadly sin of lust - a riveting story told with the help of flashbacks and in a mix of first- and third-person voices. It proves as surprising as a classic detective story, and as sad and inevitable as an ancient Greek drama."Tom Nolan, Wall Street Journal"
Absorbing and beautifully written . . . reveals the savage, superstitious reality behind the pretty facade that is all most of us know of any Greek island."Literary Review"
Set on an isolated Greek island, this elegant mystery has the hallmarks of a classic Greek tragedy...The irony, of course, is how a place of such beauty could be filled with such ugliness."Carole E. Barrowman, Minneapolis Star-Tribune"
A fantastic tale of passion, corruption and murder on a remote Greek island . . . wonderfully written."Woman's Own"
Atmospheric...Zouroudi has a deft way with words and an uncanny ability to create a sense of place."Library Journal, Starred Review"
This literary mystery has all the breeziness of a Greek isle, and its charming, eccentric chief detective deserves a sequel."Carmela Ciuraru, More magazine
Wall Street Journal
"This powerfully atmospheric mystery embraces Mediterranean passion, mythic meddling and patriarchal persecution."
"Hermes Diaktoros is a delight. Half Poirot, half deus ex machina, but far more earth-bound than his first name suggests, the portly detective has an other-worldly, Marlowesque incorruptibility as he waddles through the mean olive groves. There is also a cracking plot, colourful local characters and descriptions of the hot, dry countryside so strong that you can almost see the heat haze and hear the cicadas - the perfect read to curl up with as the nights draw in."
A starchy police chief and a bearlike everyman both investigate a violent murder.
On the idyllic Greek island of Arcadia, melon seller Gabrilis Kaloyeros tries to go about his usual business calmly, while noisy earth movers all around him foretell the imminent destruction of his bucolic life. Not long after his sad decision to sell his property, his corpse is found on a rural road. Police Sergeant Thanos Gazis, a take-charge type from the mainland, comes to investigate, paired with sleazy young local cop Petridis. The body was discovered by Hermes Diaktoros, identified hereafter by the author as "the fat man," large and loud and claiming to be Gabrilis' best friend. Superficial evidence points to a hit-and-run, but the fat man's outsized personality and persistence in protesting his innocence cause Gazis to peg him as the prime suspect. Now that the police are involved, customers at Delfini's restaurant, along with owner Aris Paliakis, speculate freely on motives and suspects. The story follows various villagers, the mismatched police duo, who proceed methodically enough, and primarily the fat man in his seemingly aimless rambles about the island. He checks Gabrilis' colony of bees, talks to local fishermen and follows a trail of gossip in what appears to be a random and slightly hedonistic way. But in actuality...
Zouroudi's 21st-century Zorba anchors her second mystery (The Messenger of Athens, 2010), whose chief pleasures lie in the author's affection for Greece and her sleuth's Columbo-like detours with the locals.
Read an Excerpt
The Taint of MidasA Novel
By Zouroudi, Anne
Reagan Arthur BooksCopyright © 2011 Zouroudi, Anne
All right reserved.
Blind eyes bear no witness.
At the hilltop, a breeze stirred the branches of the pine trees, and twenty hives were cool beneath their shade. All were painted yellow, their legs and edges picked out in red, and each bore a number on its side. And on each hive roof, a painted eye stared up toward the sky—a woman’s eye, exotic like the kohl-rimmed eyes of yashmaked faces, the whites very bright, the irises brash blue. They were the eyes of hieroglyphs in Egyptian tombs—but these eyes watched the living, not the dead. They kept a vigil, warding off the Evil Eye: one for each hive, deflecting the badness of ill-wishers from the bees.
The breeze carried the scent of the summer sea—salt, wet rock, the soft decay of marine debris—and on the water far below the swell peaked in light foam. Close inshore, a speedboat left a wake of white; far out by the distant islands, a small yacht raised its sail.
At the hill summit, among the stones that marked the outline of the ruin, even the turquoise-tailed lizards took shelter from the sun. The depleted spring was just a trickle, though the trough where the waters collected was always full; damp from splashing there, Manyiatis (an aging, ugly dog) bent his head round to his flank, tugging at the burs stuck in his coat.
Ants ran among the breadcrumbs on the tabletop; wasps settled on the fish bones on the plate. Gabrilis Kaloyeros had sat too long at lunch, time slipping by while he indulged in memories. Still, all must be in place by five, and nothing was ready; each day he found it harder to keep moving. An ant tickled the liver-spotted skin of his hand, traversing the ridged veins and arthritic knuckles to where, above his wrist, the bruises colored like eggplants (the bruises came from nothing, from the lightest knocks and bumps) had still not healed.
He rose unwillingly from his chair, and leaned a moment on its back until the breathlessness passed. Above his head, the vine shading the verandah was full of grapes, but with no Maria to hold the ladder steady, climbing up to cut them would be madness. So, like the fox in Aesop’s fable, he told himself the grapes were sour, and made his way inside.
The house was small—a single room—but Maria was gone, and without her care nothing was as it used to be. Dead flies floated in the chamber pot he used at night, and in the heat the stale urine stank. His clothes lay rank and dirty in the corners until he put them on again unwashed. Though he’d lit no fire since spring, the fireplace was filled with wood-ash and soot-falls, and mice were nesting among the winter blankets stored beneath the bed.
His baseball cap lay on the tangled sheets. The cap had been a gift when the professor last visited, and when it was new, the Post Office insignia—the letters ELTA, and a stylized head of Hermes in his winged helmet—were bright on its blue cotton. The blue was faded now, and without Maria’s washing, salt-marks from his forehead’s sweat lined its inner rim. When the professor gave Gabrilis the gift, they’d had a drink from the bottles the professor had brought up from his vineyards. Laughing, he’d waved his hands over the hat: installing charms, he said, protection from the idiots on the roads. And then he became serious, and made Gabrilis promise he would wear it every time he went out on the highway. I’m a superstitious man, he said, so humor me, old friend. The promise was an easy one to keep; the cap was easy-wearing as old slippers. But the memory of that evening was from years ago—seven summers at least had come and gone—and the cap’s peak had lost its stiffness, the stitching in the seams was loose and ragged. The professor had been gone too long, this time; sadly, he’d find—if he returned—that the news here in Arcadia wasn’t good. Everything was changing for the worse; the olive groves they used to walk were being felled, so the land could be turned over to a new, more profitable crop: foreigners. This small place, though, remained untouched; the professor, with his interest in the ruins, would be glad, at least, of that. And the bees were doing well, the honey yield improving year by year, so if he came this summer he could judge between the orange flower and the thyme. But there’d be no Maria to serve him her yiouvetsi; that she’d passed on was more bad news to break.
He pulled on the cap, and hitched up his drooping trousers from hips to skinny waist. He’d lost his belt again, not noticing it slip from the chair-back under the table, and without his glasses (they, too, had disappeared, and, like so many things he lost, seemed unlikely to be found) he couldn’t pick his belt out from the shadows.
Outside, he made his slow way down the path through the trees. The day’s heat was at its height, filled with the shrilling of cicadas. Close to the hives, the roar of bees was loud, and he listened as he passed to check the swarms were well. The bees in turn showed their interest in him; they crawled across his back and on his chest, flew gently buzzing round his head and face, and he, untroubled, wafted them away.
Below the last of the pines—where the path met the steep track up from the road—was level ground. Here, Gabrilis kept his tricycle, a heavy, antique contraption acquired for a handful of coins at the war’s end. The wicker basket on its handlebars was stacked with tins of honey, the hand-built two-wheeled trailer at its rear was emptied and ready. He wheeled the tricycle to the high wire fence put up to keep out goats, but at the gate his hands would not be steady, his eyes would not hold focus, and he struggled to fit the small key to the padlock. The lock clicked open at last, and he stepped into his garden, on to the terraces where the watermelons and cantaloupes grew.
The professor claimed the terraces were ancient, used centuries ago for vines and wheat, and when he spoke of how it was, his words were eloquent. As if he’d seen with his own eyes, he painted pictures of the temple in its glory, the hillsides cultivated and fertile, and a prosperous town where there was nothing now but scrub. Under Gabrilis’s care, the level, orderly rows were flourishing again, the plants’ great leaves providing shade for healthy, heavy fruit. At the terrace ends were piled the stones cleared from the soil; most were the rough rocks of the hillside, but among them, smooth as eggshells, fragments of marble showed the stripes of mighty pillars or the remnants of skilled carving: leaves, fruit, petals, and on one a woman’s face, without a nose but still beautiful, set high up on a fence-post to watch the passing boats. Sometimes his digging turned up artifacts: terracotta beads with flakes of pretty glaze, a tiny statuette without its base, a beckoning marble finger, finely made and long as a man’s hand. Everything Gabrilis found he’d shown to the professor, but at the question of museums, the professor laughed. They are relics of this place, he said, and here’s where they should stay, so they wrapped the pieces carefully in straw and oilcloth, and buried them in a hole behind the spring.
The sun was blazing, and its heat was intense; the stains of sweat spread at Gabrilis’s armpits, and on his bony back his shirt was damp. The watermelons lay fat among their foliage, their green, cream-mottled skins fresh on the powdery dirt. He bent, and rolled one side to side to gauge its weight; judging it ready, he reached down among the prickling leaves and, with a kitchen knife, sliced through the stem. He wrapped his arms around the melon, and heaved it to his chest, laboring with it to the tricycle and laying it carefully in the trailer.
But as he went to cut a second melon, Manyiatis struggled barking to his feet.
Listening, Gabrilis heard what had disturbed Manyiatis: the pop and snap of stones beneath a vehicle’s tires. As the sound grew louder, Manyiatis’s bark grew bolder, and he limped a few arthritic steps toward the track; but Gabrilis whistled, and ordered silence, and Manyiatis, wearied by barking, was glad to sit.
Around the bend in the track, navigating with care around the pits and potholes, a sleek new car appeared, its silver gloss dull with chalky dust. To maintain its air-conditioned coolness, the car’s gray-tinted windows were tightly closed; an orchestra playing Skalkatos on the sound system was muted behind the windows’ seal. The car stopped; the engine and the music were switched off. With the noise gone, the cicadas’ rhythmic shrilling seemed intense.
A young man stepped from the car. He smiled, but his eyes were hidden behind dark glasses, and Gabrilis thought of flies’ eyes, which seemed sightless but saw everything, from every angle. The young man’s shirtsleeves were rolled above his wrists, his collar was open at the neck, his buff-colored trousers held a knife-pleat even in the heat. He seemed a handsome man, but as he drew close to Gabrilis his flaws became clear. With not a touch of tan, his skin was pale as an invalid’s, and where a man his age should be muscled there was flaccidity and fat, so his chin—which could have been noble—appeared weak, and an older man’s soft stomach spilled over his trouser-belt.
Attempting another challenge, Manyiatis gave a single bark and trotted growling after the young man. But the young man’s stride was quick, and Manyiatis, noticing the coolness of the tricycle’s shadow, gave up and lay down there instead.
The young man reached the fence, and shouted a greeting through the wire.
“Kali spera, kyrie! How are you, Mr. Kaloyeros?”
Gabrilis squinted, and focusing his cloudy, red-rimmed eyes, recognized his visitor. He bent to a watermelon, searching among its drying leaves for the umbilical length of stalk and slicing it through. As he lifted the melon, heavy as a small child, into his arms, a bee resting on an opening flower took flight. Gabrilis made his struggling way toward the gate, where Pandelis Paliakis waited.
Pandelis spoke through the fence, as though the old man was imprisoned.
“That’s hot work,” he said. Sweat was beginning to glaze his forehead. “Perhaps you’d like to talk in my car. It’s cooler there.” As he spoke, on the breeze he caught the old man’s smell, intense and musky sweat strong as a billy goat’s, and his smile faded.
But Gabrilis shook his head. “I don’t have time, sir,” he said with regret. “Unfortunately. Hot or not, I’ve work to do.”
He passed through the gate, and dropped the melon into the trailer with the first.
“Then I’ll be brief,” said Pandelis. “There’s bad news, and there’s good. The bad news is, as we expected, a compulsory purchase order is to be issued on your land. The good news is my father’s agreed that, as our family’s affected by a similar proposal, we should file a joint action to fight the town council. I’ll be handling the case, as I explained the other day. So I’ll just need your signature to say I have the power to act for you—I have the papers in the car—and I’ll get on to it straight away.”
“It’s a bad business,” said Gabrilis, “when land you’ve lived on a lifetime can’t be called your own. I built that house my self, over fifty years ago. I built it with these hands, every last brick and every plank of wood.” He offered his palms to Pandelis; their lines were dark with dirt, the nails were black and broken. “I haven’t a daughter to leave it to, that’s the pity. A daughter would take care of me, now I’m old. You’ll have daughters, I’m sure.”
“I’m not married.”
“You should be. You’re old enough. Your mother should arrange it. I’m not so old I don’t remember how it goes. There’ll be some young lady you’ve got your eye on, isn’t there?”
But Pandelis seemed not to hear the question.
“I’m confident the council’s case is flawed,” he said. “Please don’t worry. I have every confidence we’ll win.”
Gabrilis looked up at him with tearful eyes.
“What I don’t understand is why they want my land. It’s only good for farmland—you can see that—and it’s hard work, even then. What do they want it for? It’s not much use to anyone but me.”
A bee landed on Pandelis’s forearm. His face creased with worry, and he swiped it away.
“I believe,” he said evasively, “they want to build a phone mast. It’s the elevation.”
“But I don’t have a phone,” said Gabrilis. “Never thought I needed one. Maria always wanted a phone. I don’t know who she thought she was going to be ringing up.”
In Pandelis’s trouser pocket a mobile phone trilled. He took it out and glanced at its tiny screen, then flipped it open.
“Yes?… Not now… Tomorrow. I said tomorrow… No… No, I haven’t forgotten… I’ll call you later, OK?” He slipped the phone back into his pocket. “Lawyers,” he said. “They drive you crazy. Look, my father says you’re not to worry about the money. There’ll be nothing for you to pay. He tells me we have a family connection. Your sister’s husband was my father’s second cousin, I believe.”
In puzzlement, Gabrilis frowned.
“Which sister does he mean, sir? I had three sisters. They were all younger than me, and I’ve outlived them all. Now is that a blessing or a curse? Diana was the last of them alive. What was her husband called?” He couldn’t remember, but Pandelis was in any case walking away. At his car, he took a sheet of paper from the glove box, and a silver fountain pen from his calfskin briefcase.
Gabrilis leaned on the handlebars of his tricycle. His breathing was labored, his color was high. Pandelis came to his side, uncapping the pen and pointing to the line where Gabrilis should sign.
“I’ll be all right in a minute,” said Gabrilis. “It’s the heat that takes it out of you.”
“Just there,” said Pandelis. “I’ll date it for you later.”
Gabrilis didn’t read the document, because he couldn’t; his eyes were bad, and anyway, he wasn’t a reading man. He held the paper on his palm and made his mark: not quite a signature, but a scribble he had perfected for such times as these.
Pandelis took the paper, blew on the ink to dry it and recapped the pen.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “Everything will turn out in our favor. If nothing else, we’ll stretch it in the courts. Four years, my record is so far. Let’s see if we can beat it.”
“Four years,” echoed Gabrilis. “That’s a long time, at my age. God may not grant me another four years.”
“I’ll let you know when there’s news.”
Pandelis turned away, but Gabrilis touched his arm.
“A moment before you go. Would you mind just helping me with one small thing? Will you cut me a few grapes off that vine? Just a few. They’re lovely fruits, and the wasps are getting the best of them. You’re welcome to cut some for yourself, of course. Take some for your father, with my compliments. It’ll only take a minute of your time.”
Pandelis looked up toward the house, where the vine spread wide over the verandah, and glanced anxiously at his watch. He hesitated. Then, removing his sunglasses, he smiled.
“I’m late already, and my father will in any case be angry,” he said, “so I suppose five minutes more will make no difference. And—who knows?—a few grapes might sweeten his temper.” He laid a hand on the old man’s shoulder. “We must be quick, but show me the way, and I’ll cut them for you. But I warn you, I’m not much of a climber, so promise me you’ll hold the ladder steady.”
Gabrilis watched until Pandelis’s car was out of sight. Picking out a third melon, he wondered if he should have said that there were papers. Whether they’d help the case or not, he wasn’t sure; he could produce them if it seemed that they were needed.
In the meantime, he’d keep them safe, in their hiding place with its formidable guardians.
Down on the coast road, the horizon was unstable as a mirage, rippling in the super-heated air. At the edges of the softening blacktop, the surplus tar was sticky liquid; here and there along the carriageway, the hot tarmac swelled in domes like buboes. Before the road improvements, this journey smelled of thyme and sage-brush. Now the stink was chemical, of melting pitch, burned diesel and the fumes of car exhausts. When the road was poor, the traffic traveled slowly. There was no need for caution now; the way was smooth, and from airport to resort took only half the time.
Gabrilis’s journey-time had not decreased. He cycled carefully, straining to keep the gearless tricycle moving on the uphill gradients, squeezing on the brakes to prevent his heavy cargo from carrying him away on the downhill stretches. He kept close to the road’s edge, though on the town-bound journey the drop down to the sea was treacherously close. And, siren-like, the sea drew him; the lure of cool, blue water was strong, and if his eyes strayed there, he found his wheels directed to the steep, rocky slopes down to the bay.
The landmarks of his route had changed. These days, he measured his progress by the building sites, counting off the barely begun, never-to-be-finished ruins: gray-rendered prison-block walls, empty window openings and the iron spikes ready for the upper stories bent and rusty. The builders were long gone, but their rubble and their rubbish was still here, in roadside mounds of beer bottles and empty cans, of hardened cement and cigarette packets, of hamburger cartons and the paper wraps of sandwiches.
At the two-mile mark, opposite a Vespa with deflated, perished tires, the wires from its electrics dangling loose, its saddle ripped with yellow foam exposed, there was a chapel. Gabrilis made the triple cross over his heart, and cycled on. A car swerved round him, its driver showing a hand out of the window, maybe a greeting, maybe a curse. Another car passed, and another. A motorbike roared by. He wiped away the sweat that stung his eyes and pedaled on.
A navy-blue liveried taxi was traveling toward him, airport-bound, and as the taxi drew close, the blast of a horn came from behind, and a coach pulled out wide to overtake the tricycle, encroaching on the taxi’s share of the carriageway. The taxi driver hit his horn; the coach moved back toward Gabrilis, so close its great flank blocked out the light as it slid by him, and as it pulled away its slipstream carried off his precious cap, dropping it in the caper bushes at the roadside.
Gabrilis cycled slowly to where his hat lay, and stopped. The road was, for the moment, quiet; as he climbed off his tricycle, there was just a single vehicle coming over the hill’s brow. He took his cap from the caper bush, and with the backs of his fingers knocked the dust from it. Far below, the heat had laid its calming hand on the sea, so the limpid water seemed still and soothing, and he thought of home, of his bed and sleep.
The approaching vehicle was growing close. There was dust on his shoes too, and he bent to wipe it off. When the vehicle changed course, he was busy with his shoes, and didn’t see it.
It hit him hard, and took the tricycle and trailer with him. The melons bounced down the hillside until they burst, spattering their red flesh on the sharp stones. The tricycle rolled twice, and then was caught and held among the largest rocks.
Gabrilis himself didn’t go far: just far enough to be unseen by passing traffic. He was on his back, his broken arm bent painfully beneath him. A little blood trickled from his nose.
Time passed; the pain diminished. Above him on the road, a refuse truck was followed by a moped, while, down among the thorny capers and thyme bushes, Gabrilis lay unmoving, his eyes staring blindly at the brilliant sun.
The evening was slipping into twilight, the day’s heat was mellowing into the humidity of a breezeless summer night. As they sped down the coast road, Sergeant Thanos Gazis watched the sunset’s red fanfare in sideways glances; scarlet and orange lit the black of the still-warm asphalt, its chemical miasma obscuring the scent of herbs he remembered on this road as a boy.
Traffic was light, but PC Petridis switched on the blue lights and the siren anyway; he claimed it was a good way to impress the girls. Gazis rested his arm on the sill of his open window, but there was no coolness in the through-draft, and inevitably the starched crispness of his pale-blue uniform shirt was softening into creases.
“For God’s sake, Petridis,” he said. “Put the air con on.”
“I’d rather not, sir, if you don’t mind,” said Petridis. His accent was from the islands: dropped syllables, incorrect vowels. “My grandmother says air-conditioning gives you dry spots on your lungs. That’s what causes TB. And pneumonia.”
Gazis slowed for a light that was against them. Petridis reached for the sound box and switched the siren to double time, halting the traffic. Gazis maneuvered them through the junction, and Petridis switched the siren back to its normal wail.
“Does your grandmother have a medical qualification, then?” asked Gazis.
“In what way, sir?”
“If she’s such an expert on lung disease, presumably she’s a qualified medical practitioner?”
“Not an official one, sir. She delivers a lot of babies, though. We should be getting close now, shouldn’t we? That was the turn for Loutro we just passed.”
On the seaward edge of the road, a car was angled toward the water. Gazis signaled and crossed over the carriageway to pull up in front of a red Namco Pony, nosing up close so there’d be no easy getaway.
“Namco,” said Petridis. There was respect and admiration in his voice. “Did you know these are the only Greek cars still in production, sir? Good cars, they are. Real workhorses, go through anything. My uncle’s got one he’s had twenty years; never had a thing wrong with it.”
“Poor man’s Jeep,” said Gazis, “good for nothing except export to our country cousins. Only Romanians and Bulgarians’ll buy them. Look at it. It’s a crossbreed, can’t even decide whether it’s a saloon or a pickup.”
Gazis switched off the siren, killed the engine and turned the rearview mirror to check his close-cut hair. Petridis, already out of the car, approached the Pony. Of its owner, there was no sign. Executing a slow circle of the car, he peered inside and bent to inspect the tires. By the time he reached the driver’s door, Gazis, straightening his collar, was waiting for him.
“Save your pennies, one day you could have a runabout like that,” said Gazis sarcastically. “Personally, I’d rather take a bus. It’s in good nick, though. Clean. Usually these things are all goat shit and muck. Where’s it registered?”
A slight pinkness traveled up Petridis’s cheeks.
“I didn’t notice, sir,” he said.
Without glancing at the plates, Gazis recited the Athens license number.
“Basic rule of policing, to make a mental note of the registration. If he’d taken off when he saw us and we didn’t have the number, we might have looked pretty incompetent, don’t you think? Though God help us if we couldn’t run down this heap of junk.”
“He might have shot out our tires,” said Petridis.
“You watch too much TV, son,” said Gazis. “And it’d be a poor criminal who’d use a Namco Pony to make a getaway.”
“Looks like he’s made his getaway without it,” said Petridis. “No sign of any driver.”
“He won’t be far away,” said Gazis. “We passed no pedestrians on the road. As you’ll no doubt have observed.”
Petridis looked up and down the highway. Despite the fading light, the carriageway both toward the airport and back toward town was still visible to the horizon. As far as they could see, there was no one.
Gazis moved to where the rubble left by the road-builders joined the rough hillside terrain. Over the water, a single seabird was silhouetted against the flaming-red sky. Below his feet, he saw what they had come to find.
An old man lay on his back among the mountain shrubs. The crookedness of his limbs, the trickle of dried blood under his nose, his wide and vacant eyes left Gazis in no doubt he was looking at a corpse.
On a rock by the old man’s head sat a second man, head bowed, hand covering his eyes. His curly hair was graying and in need of a cut; he wore a well-tailored suit in cream linen which did much to conceal his corpulence, but the effect of the elegant suit was ruined, in Gazis’s eyes, by the old-fashioned white-canvas tennis shoes on the fat man’s feet. On one broad thigh, tortoiseshell-framed glasses were straddled, reflecting the sunset in their lenses. And here and there, on the slope down to the sea, were the splattered green and pink remains of several watermelons, and the wreckage of what Gazis assumed to be a bicycle.
From behind Gazis, Petridis moved forward for a better view.
“What’s happened here?” he asked. There was excitement in his voice; here was a story for his family when he got off shift. But Gazis sighed with the weariness of experience; it was clear there was going to be an awful lot of paperwork before the night was through.
“I have no idea,” he said, “but it doesn’t look good. Go and check what the status is on the ambulance.”
Petridis left Gazis at a run, while Gazis himself scrambled down to where the fat man sat, disturbing as he did so a rattling shower of stones and earth. The fat man lifted his head showing cheeks wet with tears. Seeing Gazis, he wiped his eyes on the back of his hand and put on his glasses; they gave him an owlish look, an academic innocence which in no way fit the sophistication of his clothes.
Gazis crouched beside the old man’s body and put two fingers on his neck. There was no pulse; he had expected none. He ran his eyes over the corpse, looking for obvious injuries. The old man’s clothes were worn and dirty; there were buttons missing on the cheap cotton shirt, stains on his trousers. There was, too, a stink about him which wasn’t the first whiff of decay; though that was present, it was only slight, and Gazis guessed the old man hadn’t been dead too long: hours rather than days. But the presence of any decay at all surprised him. He had taken this to be straightforward, a traffic collision and a remorseful culprit. Now, it seemed, if that were the case, the fat man had sat with the body for hours—two or three at least—before calling the police. And given the day’s heat, that seemed unlikely.
Gazis addressed the fat man.
“Move away from the body, please, sir,” he said. “Without touching it, just step away.”
The fat man stood. He was tall, and his height seemed to diminish his weight, so he seemed not fat, but big.
“How did this happen?” asked Gazis. “Are you injured at all?”
“You’re making the wrong assumption,” said the fat man. His speech was beautifully enunciated, clear and perfect as the Greek of TV newscasters. “I was not involved in this accident. It was I who found the body. I stopped someone on the road and asked him to call 100 on his mobile phone. I do not own a mobile phone myself. But I am in no way responsible for Gabrilis’s death.”
“Gabrilis? You know this man, then?”
“He is Gabrilis Kaloyeros, one of my oldest friends. He has a small holding at the site of the ancient Temple of Apollo at Mavrovouni. He has—had—a stall selling watermelons on the harbor promenade in town.”
Gazis looked closely at the corpse’s face. The fat man’s identification was correct. Gazis knew the old man well, by sight: on off-duty summer evenings, he had often bought his boys melon from Gabrilis’s stall, as his father had for him, in years gone by.
“And you’re saying this death has nothing to do with you?” he asked.
“I found the body. That is the whole extent of my involvement,” said the fat man.
Petridis appeared at the hilltop.
“Five minutes,” he called, and Gazis nodded his acknowledgement.
“Wait here,” he said to the fat man. He made his way up to where Petridis was standing and spoke quietly in his ear.
“Go over every inch of that car,” he said. “I want to know about every scratch, every dent. If there’s an impact point, find it.”
“What’s his story?” asked Petridis.
“Nothing whatsoever to do with him.”
“Do you believe him?”
“In my considerable experience, son,” said Gazis, “the obvious solution is usually the right one. He’s saying what anyone would say in his position. He knows the victim; that’s as much as he’s prepared to say at the moment. But he might soften up, with a bit of careful handling. Give him some mitigating circumstances—poor light, no lights on the bike—and there’s a good possibility he’ll admit to it. Now, go and check on the car.”
Gazis scrambled back down to where the fat man stood patiently a few feet from Gabrilis’s body.
“If you look back up toward the road, sir,” said Gazis, “you’ll notice you can’t see your car from here. Which means that, conversely, you couldn’t have seen the body from the road.”
The fat man’s expression changed from melancholic to an unmistakable astuteness.
“Was that a question, Sergeant?” he asked.
“Indeed it was, sir. I’m asking how, if this accident was nothing to do with you, you came to find the body.”
The fat man’s hand went to his pocket, and he took out an old baseball cap, faded blue with the remnants of a yellow logo, stained with sweat and pale with dust.
“This,” he said. “I saw this at the roadside.”
“And you stop, do you, for every piece of rubbish that you pass?”
“I gave Gabrilis this hat,” said the fat man. “He wore it always. I saw it on the ground here, so I stopped.”
“There’s more than one blue cap in town. What made you think it was his?”
“I was looking for him. I know his routine. I wanted to surprise him. I expected to find him on the road.”
“And the Pony up there, is it registered to you?”
“Let’s go up, then, and I’ll take some details from you.”
Gazis allowed the fat man to go ahead, expecting a man of his bulk to struggle on the incline; but the fat man moved swiftly, reaching the road much faster than Gazis himself. From the direction of town, the ambulance siren’s wail was coming into earshot; Petridis had forgotten to tell them it was a morgue job only, no need for the blue lights after all.
Petridis waited by the Pony, feet apart and hands behind his back in the “at ease” stance they’d taught him at police college. When he saw Gazis, he gave a small shrug, signaling he’d found no damage on the car.
Gazis took out his notebook and, ignoring the fat man, clicked on his pen and began, slowly, to write. He wrote down the date, time and location; he noted the nature of the incident as “road-traffic fatality,” and the deceased’s name the fat man had given. He wrote down the details of the fat man’s car—make, model, color, registration—and the weather and road conditions.
Patiently, the fat man waited.
When he could think of nothing more to write, Gazis looked the fat man in the eye.
“OK,” he said. “Name.”
“Diaktoros. Hermes Diaktoros.”
The ambulance siren was very close. Gazis took down the addresses the fat man gave—one local, one in Athens—and a date of birth.
“Right,” he said. “I want to see your license and insurance papers. Find them, please, and wait for me in your car.”
The fat man left them, and Gazis turned to Petridis.
“What did you find?” he asked.
“There’s not a scratch on the car. Clean as a whistle.”
“Maybe he didn’t actually hit the old man,” said Petridis. “Maybe he just ran him off the road. Has he said any more?”
Gazis told Petridis about the cap. Petridis looked skeptical.
“Doesn’t sound very likely to me,” he said.
“It sounds so unlikely it might even be true,” said Gazis. “We’ll let him go for now, tell him to come in and make a statement tomorrow, after they’ve done the autopsy. Put a call in for CID, tell them we need them to take a look. Then we’ll have facts to throw at him. And tell the ambulance crew not to touch anything until CID have had a good look round. There’ll be something to nail someone with, for sure.”
“Won’t CID want to look at his car?”
“You’ve already looked, haven’t you?”
“And if he absconds tonight?”
“If he absconds, we’ll know he’s guilty, and we’ll fetch him back.”
Petridis seemed uncertain. The ambulance pulled up behind the police car, lights flashing, the siren slowly dying. Petridis asked the crew to wait, and they, indifferent, climbed down from their cab, opened up the back doors and sat on the wheelchair ramp, lighting cigarettes.
Over Gazis’s shoulder, Petridis watched a small, white car approaching fast; on its roof a long antenna flailed. A short distance from the ambulance, it braked hard and crossed the carriageway without signaling, cutting across a moped carrying two Scandinavian tourists in visored helmets. The moped swerved and wobbled; the blond girl riding pillion clutched the driver tighter around the waist.
The white car pulled up behind the ambulance, skidding on loose stones, parking at an angle to the road to show off the pink logo painted on its side: FM107. When the driver cut the engine, it silenced the thudding beat of American rock music.
A young man in cutoffs and a white T-shirt stepped from the car. His long hair was gathered in a ponytail down his back, the leather sandals on his feet were stained with seawater, and Gazis, noticing the young man’s unshaved stubble, rubbed at his own smooth jaw with satisfaction.
Approaching the policemen, the young man held out his hand; drawing close, he caught his foot in a hole in the tarmac, and stumbled. As he looked back to see what had tripped him, Gazis gave a small, slow smile.
“Watch your step there, Dinos,” he said.
“Hey, Sergeant Gazis.” Gazis didn’t take the proffered hand, but the young man, unperturbed, slipped it casually into his shorts pocket.
“Ambulance-chasing again, Dinos?”
“Picked it up on the airwaves, Sergeant. Sounds like there might be a story here for me.”
“You bet.” Gazis’s smile broadened. “Call the press office tomorrow morning; they’ll let you have the details.”
“But since I’m here, now, in person,” said the young man, “how about you giving them to me? Who died?”
“What makes you think anyone’s died?”
“An ambulance going nowhere and you guys? It’s like two and two. Anything to see?” He took a step toward the sea, but Gazis gripped his upper arm.
“You ever heard of next of kin, Dinos? They get to know before you do. It’s just how it works. Like I said, press office, tomorrow morning.”
Gazis turned and walked away; the young man made a mock salute to his back. Then, as if seeing him for the first time, he turned to Petridis.
“How’s it going?” he said. He held out his hand. “Don’t think we’ve met. Dinos Karayannis, FM107 news. You’ll be Sergeant…?”
“Constable,” said Petridis, shaking his hand. “George Petridis.”
“New recruit? You’ll be seeing a lot of me. We have a lot in common. Wherever there’s bad news, we’re always there—that’s right, isn’t it?”
“I suppose it is.”
“And if I’m not there, I always appreciate a call. I look after my sources, you know what I’m saying? Anything you give me, no names are ever mentioned. That’s the key to good journalism, see—respect your sources. Never name your sources. Here.” From his pocket he took a business card and pressed it into Petridis’s hand, closing Petridis’s fingers firmly over it. “You got anything for me, any time, day or night, you call me, I’ll see you right away. Any time.”
He jumped back into his car, and with a casual wave was gone, heading back toward town.
Petridis opened his hand. The neon-pink business card bore Dinos’s details in sixties script—an office address, fax and phone, a mobile number. Beneath the card was something else, a piece of paper folded small.
Petridis knew what he was looking at. He spread the banknote, and held it out between the thumb and forefingers of both hands. Gazis stood by the Pony, bending to speak to the fat man. Petridis shrugged, and slipped the money into his trouser pocket.
“We’ll need you to come into the Central Police Station tomorrow,” Gazis was saying as Petridis reached him. “We’ll be wanting a statement.”
“You’re welcome to a statement,” said the fat man. “In the meantime, I trust you’ll be taking all possible steps to find the person responsible for my friend’s death. Perhaps tomorrow you’ll be good enough to update me on your progress. Kali spera sas.”
The policemen watched the fat man drive away.
“What do you think?” asked Petridis.
Gazis bent to brush dust from the hems of his trousers.
“Prime suspect, circumstantially,” he said. “He’s at the scene, he finds the body. There’s no one else here. Seems cut and dried.”
“We could have arrested him.”
“Indeed we could,” said Gazis thoughtfully, “but when you’ve got as many years as I have under your belt, you’ll find you know in your gut when they’ll run and when they’ll stick around. We’ll be seeing him tomorrow. And he could be our man, quite easily; but you and I are going to take our time, so when we make an arrest—and I fully intend we will make an arrest—we’ll be absolutely sure we’ve got it right.”
Mid-August, high season, and nights at the Delfini restaurant were far too quiet. Beneath the sign of the smiling blue dolphin, the foreigners, sun-scorched and underdressed, might pause to read through the menu; but not tempted by over-bright amateur photographs of meatballs and kebabs, most moved on down the flagstoned street to the shops selling T-shirts and sandals, where they admired reproductions of ancient ceramics and fingered handwoven rugs, spinning the postcard stands—Four cards a euro, stamps on sale inside—and sniffing like dogs at the dusty bags of herbs. Few were buying. Times were lean, and Aris Paliakis’s sales strategy—a sharp decrease in prices, clawing back what was lost in drinks and cover charges—was delivering poor results.
There was a time—when Despina was still cook, when the tablecloths were plastic and the wine in the jugs came from local barrels, when the old men drank ouzo in the kitchen, raising their glasses to everyone who walked in the door—that Germans and Italians would wait half an hour for a table. The street was quiet then. There was no club with pounding music, no cheering, jeering, chanting English football fans in the sports bar. The Taverna Delfini stood between Janis’s kafenion and the little grocery store where Fortini sold rice from burlap sacks and incense and charcoal for cemetery shrines. On Saturday nights, Short Tolis the electrician played accordion for the diners, singing travelers’ songs in his cigarette-damaged baritone. Short Tolis was dead now; Fortini’s shop became the sports bar. In the neighborhood, a transformation; in time, less than a decade.
Aris Paliakis saw no faults in his business. He laid the blame for reduced takings on the foreigners’ palates, on their choice of pizza over moussaka, of hot dogs and hamburgers over vine leaves and stuffed peppers. He laid blame, too, on his countrymen; like crows settling on fresh carrion, they’d left the villages and the mountains to join him in his killing on the coast. In this square mile, the battle for the cash from foreign wallets was fought with many weapons: silver rings and gold necklaces, pistachio nuts and cruet sets, oil-painted views and plastic donkeys, books of traditional recipes and icons made in China.
Competition was fierce.
The English family—mother, father and children, grandfather and grandmother—were good-natured and compliant, believing the words of welcome and the genuine-seeming smiles.
Sotiris the waiter took leather-backed menus from the stack and led the family through the empty restaurant to a terrace table clearly visible from the street. (Paliakis had taught Sotiris the trade’s tricks. Every night needs its Judas goats, he said, so stake them out. Foreigners are like sheep. Where one goes, the others always follow.) Fawning, Sotiris made a show of pulling out the ladies’ chairs, leaning in close as he lit the candle-lamps, holding their eyes a moment too long as he handed out the menus. He fetched a basket of bread butter the English always required, then left the floor to Paliakis.
Paliakis did not dress for the seasons, but for business; he rarely made concessions to the heat. His navy-blue suit and black dress shoes (hidden in the heel were lifts, which gave him the extra inch he’d always craved) were the same he would wear in winter; but tonight the heat was bad, and his white shirt was unbuttoned at the neck.
He stood behind the children’s chairs and smiled, hands on their shoulders like an affectionate uncle, his bald, damp head shining, his cologne not quite masking the smell of his sweat. So short he barely had to bend, he spoke into the children’s ears of the delights he planned to serve them.
“Best spaghetti Bolognese in all Greece,” he said. His English was heavily accented; catching garlic on Paliakis’s breath, the boy grimaced at his father. “My wife make specially for you.”
To the kitchen staff, the speech was familiar, the once amusing lies now tedious with repetition. Mrs. Paliakis had never worked in this kitchen. This season’s chef was Grigor—a hirsute Albanian with little skill whom Paliakis hired only for his cheapness.
Paliakis turned his charm on the adults. His smile grew wider, his gold canine glinted in the candlelight.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “I hope you will allow (just half a loaf, sliced thinly) and a dish of the cow’s-milk me to present you this evening with the very best Greece has to offer.”
Sotiris raised his eyebrows at the chef. Both knew what would come next. In the fridge, three kilos of expensive fish was going stale. Every time the fridge was opened, the stink was nauseating.
“I have some sea bream my cousin caught today,” said Paliakis. “Freshest on this coast. Grilled on the barbecue…” He kissed his thumb and forefinger in the Italian gesture of perfection. Grigor looked doubtfully at Sotiris: the fish was good for nothing but the cats. But the English dupes were smiling in anticipation of a feast. “Some Greek salad, perhaps, with feta cheese from my own goats”—Paliakis owned no goats—“and to drink, may I suggest a local wine, one of the best wines in all Greece.”
“Lovely,” said the father.
Sotiris took the liter bottle of sour, factory-made white wine from the fridge, unscrewed the cap and filled a terracotta jug. The olives sunk in the moldy brine of a gallon can were small and hard with little flesh, fit only for pressing. With the ladle, he fished for an even dozen and tipped them on to a dish.
Paliakis was closing his speech.
“And something a little special,” he was saying. “A gift from me, to my most special customers. I bring you a plate of olives from my own orchard, special for you.”
In the kitchen, his smile was gone.
“Two spaghetti, four bream,” he shouted. “Half a liter of white and a salad. Two Coca-Colas. And make it fast.”
Grigor was not a particular man, but even he balked at the fish.
“Is too old,” he said in his hesitant Greek. “Make them sick.”
“Crap,” said Paliakis. “Put plenty of oregano on it and give it an extra five minutes on the grill. The English know nothing about fish.” Bothered by runnels of sweat, he ran a cotton handkerchief over his forehead and his upper lip. “Get that wine out there,” he said to Sotiris. “By the time they’ve drunk that, they won’t know what they’re eating anyway.”
Sotiris carried out the olives and the wine, filling the glasses with a smile and a flourish, pouring a little extra for the ladies.
Back in the kitchen, Paliakis was on the phone. “Those bricks should have been delivered five days ago,” he shouted. “You’re holding up my builders! Time’s money, for Christ’s sake.” His face was red; on his neck, dark veins were taut beneath the skin. He shook his forefinger in admonishment, as if the merchant on the other end of the line stood before him. “Tomorrow,” he yelled, “tomorrow, or you’ll hear from Pandelis.”
As he said his son’s name, Pandelis himself came into the kitchen from the street.
Behind his hand, Sotiris whispered to Grigor. “Here’s the devil’s servant,” he said. Pandelis Paliakis wished Grigor and Sotiris kali spera. Sonya, the Russian girl, was scrubbing pans; when she raised her eyes to his, he looked away, though a blush rose from his neck up to his cheeks. Sonya smiled to herself. Pandelis approached his father, who ended his call, and scowled at his son.
“What do you want?” he asked.
Pandelis’s brow, like his father’s, was beaded with sweat. He took a paper napkin from a holder and dabbed it on his face.
“We need to talk,” he said.
Sensing something of interest, Sotiris replaced the English family’s salad on the counter, and taking up the bread-knife and a loaf of yesterday’s bread, began to slice.
“So talk,” said Paliakis. “I’m busy.”
“Why not here?”
Pandelis looked doubtfully around the kitchen. Grigor was chopping onions, Sonya was rinsing glasses. For a moment, he watched Sotiris, but Sotiris seemed absorbed in cutting bread.
Pandelis kept his voice low. “The old man’s dead,” he said. “What old man?” Paliakis’s phone rang. He glanced at the number display and switched it off.
“Kaloyeros. The melon man.” Grigor stopped chopping onions, Sonya turned off the running tap. Sotiris laid down the bread-knife and turned, arms folded, to listen to Pandelis. “It was on the radio news.”
“Poor old thing,” said Sonya. She made the Orthodox triple cross over her breast. Paliakis glared at her; Sonya bent back over the sink.
“He was old,” said Sotiris. “Eighty-five if he was a day.” Now Paliakis glared at Sotiris, but Sotiris just stood waiting for the details. Paliakis grabbed Pandelis by his elbow, and, like a naughty child, marched him outside.
In the street, Paliakis and Pandelis talked below an open window half obscured by the fridge that held cold drinks. Leaving the bread table, Sotiris moved across to the fridge, and began to shift around the water and the beers, from the third shelf to the second, from the second to the third. Above the chatter of foreign voices and the beat of music from the bars, he could hear the two men clearly.
“How can he be dead?” asked Paliakis. “You told me you saw him this afternoon.”
“Hit-and-run. The police are involved.”
Paliakis swore. For a moment, both were silent. Then Paliakis said, “This isn’t anything to do with Kylis, is it? Because I said no short cuts, didn’t I?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Pandelis. “Even Kylis wouldn’t be that stupid. The old guy had signed, for God’s sake. I told him what you told me to say, all that crap about compulsory purchases and phone masts. He believed me, of course. I could see his heart breaking. I won’t keep lying to people like that, Papa. It isn’t right. It isn’t necessary. And as it turns out, it was all for nothing, anyway.”
“Is there a will?”
“How the hell should I know?” Now Paliakis spoke angrily. “You don’t know if there’s a will, and you’re standing here talking to me? Go, for Christ’s sake, go!”
Sotiris left the window. When Paliakis came back through the door, Grigor was chopping onions, Sonya was drying cutlery on the chef ’s discarded apron. Sotiris was slicing more unwanted bread.
Paliakis kicked at a cat under a chair, and reached to his breast pocket for his cigarettes. There were none there. In silence, he went through the kitchen door into the street. From the doorway, Sotiris watched until Paliakis reached the periptero by the ceramics shop, then folded his arms and leaned back on the bread table to be comfortable.
“That’s bad news,” he said. “I remember the melon man from being a boy. Hot nights like this, my grandpa used to take me to that stall he had on the promenade. He bought me watermelon, then left me on a bench to eat it while he and his cronies chewed the fat. And I’d get in a mess, red juice and seeds all over my Sunday best. Pappou never noticed. Never noticed and never cared. My mother used to give him hell, when we got home.”
“A hit-and-run,” said Sonya, drying her hands. “An old man like that. Who would have thought it?”
“The English wait their salad, Sotiris,” said Grigor. “If he was old man, what difference how die?”
“But who would do that terrible thing?” asked Sonya. Putting the clean knives in the drawer, she began to dry the glasses.
“That’s not the mystery, though, is it?” asked Sotiris. Across the street, Paliakis was walking back toward the restaurant, peeling the cellophane from a pack of Marlboros. “The big mystery is, what have the devil and his children to do with the melon man? And why on earth should they be interested in the old man’s will?”
Excerpted from The Taint of Midas by Zouroudi, Anne Copyright © 2011 by Zouroudi, Anne. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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