The Green Lady (Alex Mavros Series #5)by Paul Johnston
Hired by the wife of one of Greece’s richest men to find her missing fourteen-year-old daughter, Mavros faces an uphill battle. But he’s not the only one looking for Lia . . . When a man’s charred corpse is/b>/i>
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Set against a glorious Greek backdrop, the intriguing new mystery featuring half Greek, half Scots PI, Alex Mavros
Hired by the wife of one of Greece’s richest men to find her missing fourteen-year-old daughter, Mavros faces an uphill battle. But he’s not the only one looking for Lia . . . When a man’s charred corpse is discovered in a remote farmhouse, and the headless body of another is found in the ancient stadium at Delphi, Mavros confronts the possibility that one of his deadliest foes has returned to Greece, and that there may be a connection with the Lia Poulou case.
"Set in Greece during the 2004 Athens Olympics, this engaging mystery effectively incorporates Greek Mythology into its multiple plotlines."
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The Green Lady
An Alex Mavros Mystery
By Paul Johnston
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2012 Paul Johnston
All rights reserved.
'Those money-grabbing sons and daughters of whores, they've sold the country down Excrement River in a trireme with holes in its hull, the —'
Mavros grabbed the remote control and reduced the volume. Yiorgos Pandazopoulos, sixty-one and built like a sumo wrestler, glared at the TV and went on cursing as the opening ceremony of the 2004 Athens Olympics unfolded in all its kitschy glory.
'Give it a rest, Fat Man. Think of the tourist income the Games have brought.'
'What tourist income?' Yiorgos emptied a bottle of Amstel beer, the folds of flesh around his neck wobbling. 'The fools who've come for the Olympics are staying in hotels owned by multinational groups, drinking foreign fizzy drinks and eating American pizza. The ones who come to Greece for sun, sea and shagging are waiting till the fiasco's over. If anything, there'll be less tourist income this year than last.'
Mavros pointed to the flat boxes on the coffee table in front of them. One contained half of his four seasons pizza, but the Fat Man's peperoni deluxe was represented only by an oily red slick.
'What about those, Yiorgo? They came from a foreign franchise too. Plus the beer's brewed under licence from Holland.'
'Pshaw! We've got to keep body and soul together somehow, Alex.'
In the interests of peace-keeping, Mavros refrained from pointing out that they could easily have eaten local food at the taverna down the road from his friend's flat. On the other hand, the opening ceremony would have been blasting out even louder there, and the idea of the Fat Man spouting bile at other diners wasn't palatable.
'Look at those self-satisfied tossers,' Yiorgos said, as the camera panned along the rows of VIPs – numerous presidents and prime ministers, Greek government representatives, the female mayor of Athens, and other figures less well known to the average viewer. The Fat Man, guardian of the ordinary citizen, as befitted a long -standing member of the Communist Party, knew them all, reeling off the names of members of the organizing committee and of the business leaders who had been involved in the construction of the stadia, access roads, new metro system and other facilities, a.k.a. white elephants. 'Look at them!' he repeated. 'Savoy Road suits for the kleptomaniacs and ot kewtoor for their poxy wives.'
'That would be Savile Row,' Mavros put in. He decided against correcting his host's French pronunciation.
The Fat Man glowered, his default facial mode. In the past Mavros would have pressed the point, but now that he was spending most of his time in the two-level flat Yiorgos had inherited, he kept a brake on his tongue. That didn't save him.
'Piss off back to your mother's if you don't like how I talk, Mr Hoity-Toity.'
'Maybe I will.'
'Go on then,' the Fat Man said, seeing the open goal. 'It worked really well last time.'
Mavros sighed and took a swig of beer. He'd been living in his mother's spacious flat in up-market Kolonaki till early spring. Then she decided that she'd recovered sufficiently from her stroke and moved back from his sister Anna's place in the suburbs. He managed two weeks with her, but it didn't work – not least because she had a nurse in every day, who regarded him as the spawn of the devil because of his shoulder-length hair and decidedly non-designer stubble. She was also highly suspicious of his left eye, which was dark blue flecked with brown, and crossed herself frequently. Strange. The combination of his dark blue right eye with its non-identical twin usually captivated members of the other sex. Still, he couldn't have the frail Dorothy being disturbed by the often disturbing people who came asking for his services as a missing persons specialist.
'Or you could grovel to your ex-girlfriend and set yourself up in her place,' Yiorgos said, grinning.
Mavros grabbed a slice of pizza and bit into it. Andhroniki Glezou, known as Niki, hadn't just been his girlfriend. They'd loved each other for over five years and had been through some dangerous escapades together. But things had begun to change after a case in Crete the previous year. Niki had been in danger there, though she stood up to it well. As the months went by she became more needy, never having been hugely self-confident in the first place. She was an orphan and her adoptive parents were dead, leaving her the flat near the sea in Palaio Faliro. Inevitably, the ticking of her biological clock had got louder after she became thirty-five. They'd had several discussions about children. Mavros wasn't opposed to the idea, but he wasn't enthusiastic enough for Niki. One evening, her frustration hit Chernobyl levels and he found himself on the street with his clothes flapping down on to him from the balcony. He'd tried to speak to her on the phone often, but she hung up before he could say more than a couple of words. That had been two months ago and he'd heard from a mutual friend that Niki was dating like there was no tomorrow. That worried Mavros, but he didn't know what to do about it when she wouldn't take his calls.
The Fat Man stopped shouting at the parade of athletes in their curious uniforms and slapped Mavros on the thigh. 'I didn't mean it, Alex. Go and make things up with her if that's what you want. I can't stand the woman, but I know you loved her. Maybe you still do.'
Mavros let that go unanswered. The truth was, he didn't know what his feelings for Niki were. He had loved her even more after they came back from Crete, but months of arguing had taken their toll. Anyway, it didn't really matter what he felt. She'd told him she hated his lack of commitment and that she never wanted to see him again.
'Want some galaktoboureko?' There was more than a hint of white-flag waving in Yiorgos's voice. That was the good thing about living with him – no matter how much they yelled abuse at each other, they never held bad feelings for long.
'OK,' Mavros said, well aware that following pizza with the custard-filled fylo pastry would do his burgeoning belly no good. The Fat Man was a skilled cook and thought small portions were for capitalists.
Later Mavros went up to his bedroom, his friend's shouts audible until he put on a Nikos Papazoglou CD. He sat in the sagging armchair and looked at the walls. This had been Yiorgos's room for his whole life, but when Kyra Fedhra died a couple of years back, he'd moved into hers. The tattered Party posters were still there, some of them from the time when the Communists had been banned. Mavros had thought about replacing them with art work of his own – he owned some good framed prints by Moralis, Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas and Tsarouchis – but he didn't want to turn the place into home. Both he and the Fat Man knew this was a stopgap.
Though finding somewhere else would be difficult. Greece had been going through years of unparalleled growth and property prices, both to buy and to rent, were ridiculously high. His mother and sister had both offered to lend him money, but he knew he would never be able to pay them back from his irregular private eye earnings. That adversely affected his philotimo, the often exaggerated sense of self-respect that every Greek possessed. The fact that he was half Scots complicated the matter. Dorothy had inculcated in him a Calvinist attitude towards the handling of money, despite the fact that she had been an atheist since she met his father.
Mavros looked at the framed black-and-white photos on the bedside table. On the left was his father Spyros with the hooked nose he himself had inherited, the moustache and the intense stare. He had been a senior member of the Communist Party and had died in 1967, before the military coup that would have seen him sent to a prison island again. On the right was Andonis, Mavros's brother eleven years his senior, who had disappeared at the age of twenty-one when he was already a leading light in the student opposition to the Colonels. He was Mavros's only professional failure. Wherever he delved, there was no substantive trace of his handsome, smiling brother. He didn't know how his mother had managed to bear the double loss. He had been too young at the time and only become obsessed with finding Andonis when he grew up. He would find him, he said to himself, even if it took all his life.
His phone vibrated in his pocket.
'Alexander Mavros?' The voice was female, low and speaking English.
'Alex,' he replied. 'Who's this?'
'Never mind. I have a job for you, it may be the biggest in your career.' The woman paused but he kept quiet, unimpressed by hyperbole. 'Tomorrow morning, nine o'clock. Meet me at the top of Mount Philopappos. Come alone.'
'How will I identify —' The connection was cut.
Mystery woman, Mavros thought, tossing his phone on to the bed. Just what he needed. Nine o'clock? He was very much not a morning person. Then again, he hadn't had a decent job in a month and wasn't in a position to ignore opportunities. The Fat Man didn't want any rent, but Mavros wanted at least to pay his share of the household expenses.
Besides, he couldn't sit inside all the time, especially with the Olympics going on. Not that he wanted to attend the overpriced, often fatuous events, but there was a buzz in the city he enjoyed. Unlike Yiorgos, he hadn't wept when it was announced that the Athens bid had been successful. 'It'll be the ruin of the country,' his friend had said. 'We'll be stripped naked by the jackals of international capitalism, as well as by our own.' He might be right, but why not wait and see? Maybe there would be uses found for the specially built hockey and baseball facilities, even though Greeks knew as much about those sports as Americans knew about cricket.
Mavros set his alarm for seven-thirty, stripped off his sweat-soaked T-shirt and shorts, and had a cold shower. The windows were open, but the temperature was still almost unbearable. The Fat Man didn't have air conditioning, regarding it as a con instituted by big business, so Mavros had to suffer.
That ought to have made his residual Calvinist soul feel good.
'Where is she?'
The man in the mask of burlap struggled for breath.
'What?' the Son shouted. 'I can't hear you!' He poured another bucket of water over the prisoner's head and watched as the heavy material soaked it up. Breathing was almost impossible now and the man struggled against the wire securing his wrists and ankles to the metal chair bolted to the hard earth floor.
'Where is she?' the Son repeated.
The prisoner's heavy head was bent forward, wrapped chin on his throat. He was trying hard to blow the burlap away from his lips.
His captor selected a dental probe from the row lined up on the table nearby. 'Can you feel this?' he asked, applying the point to the naked chest.
A squeal came through the burlap.
'I thought you might. So answering my question isn't so hard. Where is she?' The Son pulled back the man's head and put an ear close to where the mouth would be.
'I ... I don't ... I don't know. They ... they don't ... tell us things ... like that.'
'Really? I thought you were a senior celebrant.' The probe did its work in another spot.
After the squealing stopped, the prisoner managed a few more words. 'Yes ... but I ... I don't make ... the decisions.'
The Son, tall and muscular, with his thick hair cut short and dyed blonde, walked away. Apart from latex gloves and thick socks, he was naked, as he always was when he extracted information. Sometimes, even with male subjects, he got excited and there was no point in constricting himself. He went to the sink and ran water over his head. It was hot, even for August, even in the hills above Thiva. The ramshackle farmhouse had been deserted for years and no one came up the rough track. The fields were untended and there were no livestock on the surrounding slopes. It was the usual story. When the older generation died out, their kids, already big shots in Athens with beach houses and luxury cars, ignored the rural property that had kept the family going for centuries. It had no value now that farmers, buoyed by EU grants, lived the good life in the valleys. Like all Greeks and half the world, they would be watching the idiocy taking place in the Olympic Stadium.
He opened the door and went outside. To the south the glow from Athens was visible over the hilltops, but westwards were only steep mountainsides and, far above them, the sparkle of long dead stars. How many years would it be before Greece was a similar burned out ruin? Unlike the Father, the Son was a realist about his country. He'd never been taken in by the rubbish the old man spouted about the virtues of army, church and family. The Father, a security policeman and torturer during the dictatorship, had been a rancid hypocrite. He'd made big money freelancing for the Athens crime bosses, who were connected to the dictators and their henchmen. So much for army, church and family, especially since the old bastard had pushed his wife down the stairs to her death. The Son had taken steps to make sure nothing like that would happen to him.
The man in the mask was making a curious noise, but the Son paid little attention. He was thinking about his success over the last two years. After being forced to leave Greece – and there would be a reckoning for that – he had plied the trade the Father had taught him throughout the Balkans. There was no shortage of customers. He had also added to his talents, as gang bosses were often more interested in killing their opponents than extracting information from them. He'd become a fully functioning hit man, able to take out people by rifle, bomb, pistol and knife – as well as a few specialities he'd come up with himself. It had cost him a large proportion of the old man's gold to take lessons from a retired Committee for State Security man in Bulgaria, but it had been worth it. Petrov had been a good teacher and he knew his craft, but he had a serious weakness – he drank vodka by the litre. That meant the Son couldn't trust him even with the little he had said about his background. The Father had been a perfectionist, suspending his victims from the ceiling with fish hooks and lines. The Son was more practical. Whatever did the job – such as the piece of burlap he'd found in an outhouse, stinking of goat's cheese.
He closed the door and went over to his prisoner.
'For the last time, where is she?'
The man was silent and motionless, his head still forward.
The Son bent over him, his nose twitching. He could smell death better than a master of wine could identify a vintage. He unwrapped the mask and let it drop to the compacted earth floor. The prisoner's eyes were wide open and crimson veined, his lips lacerated where he had bitten through them. He'd succumbed to shock or suffocation, or perhaps had choked on his own blood.
Gathering up the tools of his trade, the Son smiled. No matter. It was obvious the fool didn't know anything. He'd have killed him anyway, though in a more imaginative way. Now he would move on to the next name on the list of worshippers he'd been given. He took the pictures with his camera phone that he'd been ordered to pass on to his employer.
The Son went out to the pickup truck – a battered, five-year -old Nissan that didn't stick out from the crowd, but packed a hefty punch under the bonnet – and took a plastic petrol can from the cargo space. He doused the dead man with enough fuel to mess up the crime scene investigator's job, even if he was found quickly. Then he laid a trail of petrol to the door, lit a match and dropped it. There was a noise like an ox belching and then the corpse combusted.
'His soul flew past the barrier of his teeth and departed, lamenting bitterly, for the halls of Hades,' the Son said, leaving the door open until the fire was well established and taking a few more photos. He knew he had mangled the lines from Homer's Iliad, but he didn't care. The fact that the Father would have broken a stick over him for doing so made him laugh out loud.CHAPTER 2
The alarm woke Mavros from a troubled dream, in which Niki was pursuing him with a large pair of scissors in her hand. He showered and put on a loose white linen shirt and cream trousers. He considered shaving, but dismissed the idea. His stubble wasn't too long and the woman had cut him off.
'Morning,' the Fat Man said, coming out of the kitchen with a tray of baklava, sweat streaming down his face. 'How about this for a change?'
'Just coffee,' Mavros mumbled.
'You know that isn't how it works in the holy mother's halls. The deal is coffee and pastry, no negotiation.' Yiorgos went back into the furnace to make the brew. He had leased a run-down café next to the ancient market for decades and Mavros had used it as a makeshift office, mainly because the coffee was the best he'd ever found in the city. The fact that the Fat Man had known both his father and brother also played a part.
'One sketo for the half-breed, one varyglyko for the chef.'
'That's what you're calling yourself now, is it?' Mavros said, after gulping down a glass of water. 'You should cut down on sugar. Your heart must be thundering like an elephant's.'
Excerpted from The Green Lady by Paul Johnston. Copyright © 2012 Paul Johnston. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Born and brought up in Edinburgh, Paul Johnston studied ancient and modern Greek at Oxford and now divides his time between Scotland and Greece. As well as four previous Alex Mavros novels, he is the author of the award-winning Quint and Matt Wells crime series.
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