Yankee Peddlerby Robert L. Hecker
Her first Foreign Service assignment - on a mission so secret her entire staff consists of one Air Force missile expert - and it has to be Litania, a backwater Mediterranean island-nation isolated so long the people haven't even heard of the USA. With grim determination, knowing the fate of the free world is in her hands, Ambassador Elizabeth Sullivan Wexford Adams… See more details below
Her first Foreign Service assignment - on a mission so secret her entire staff consists of one Air Force missile expert - and it has to be Litania, a backwater Mediterranean island-nation isolated so long the people haven't even heard of the USA. With grim determination, knowing the fate of the free world is in her hands, Ambassador Elizabeth Sullivan Wexford Adams sets out to sell the Litanians on "The American Way." But how does one convince a people to change their ways when they believe everything is perfect? She is succeeding until... Russians... bringing gifts and menace. Suddenly two lonely Americans find themselves engaged in a battle of wits and intrigue, a battle for licentious hearts and bewildered minds.
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THE FOREMOST DUTY of a U.S. ambassador is to capture the hearts and minds of the people, even if you must make them hate you to do so.
Ambassador Elizabeth Sullivan Wexford Adams, standing alone on the ancient Greek wharf, was determined to follow her father's sage advice. Her first task when she reached Litania would be—whatever the price—to win the hearts and minds of the natives. But first, she had to stay alive. She moved deeper into the shadows and stared back down the deserted wharf.
At the end of the dock, in the fading glow of a brilliant sunset, the ancient village of Pirgos appeared suspended between the red-gold of the sky and the rose colored waters of the Ionian Sea. Behind the Greek village, the last direct rays of the setting sun etched the barren hills with sharply defined light and shadow. In the shimmering waters of the small bay, a line of fishing caiques gently nuzzled the rotting planks of the long, low wharf. From the Horn of the Ram, the only taverna in the village, drifted the faint sound of laughter and the tinkle of a bouzouki.
This evening, as they had for so many generations that no one bothered to think about it any more, the wives of the fishermen gathered at the village end of the jetty and methodically sorted the day's catch of fish, octopus and squid. Their voices, softened by the evening, appeared to float in the calm July air.
As the afterglow slowly waned, a line of darkness marched up the hills and the false light of dusk flowed over the village like a tide of deep serenity.
Standing near the center of the pier, half concealed by racks of drying fishnets, Elizabeth had the disquieting feeling she was suspended in time, watching a tableau that repeated endlessly, generation after generation, like an endless loop in a movie projector. While she appreciated the surreal beauty as one would appreciate the work of an accomplished artist, she was far from being enchanted.
The scene, while restful to the eyes and ears, had a major flaw: the smell. Her nostrils were assailed by the odor of fish, both alive and long dead, and of rancid olive oil and a variety of other aromas that her sensitive New England-nurtured olfactory glands could not decipher. She was certain that her hair and clothing were soaking up the reek like a vacuum.
But more unsettling than the odor, was a subtle miasma of menace. Despite the soothing effect of distant music and the reassuring murmur of the women's voices, Elizabeth teetered on the edge of fear. It was a totally alien sensation to her. At one time or another she had lived in half the countries of the world and had developed an insouciance toward strange, even dangerous, surroundings.
But she had never been gripped by such apprehension. It was like standing on the lip of a rumbling, bubbling volcano with no avenue of retreat. Always before she had found courage in the knowledge that she was the daughter of the American ambassador, protected by her country's prestige, and military and economic might. But now, in this isolated village on the west coast of Greece, she was on her own. This time, if anything went wrong, she would have to deal with it personally. To her disgust, she could feel her heart pounding away as though it sensed something dreadful was going to happen.
She squared her shoulders and stared coldly toward the village, refusing to panic. Still, Captain Anastasios had been gone far too long! It has been at least a half-hour since he had entered the taverna in search of the owner of the largest caique, the only one of the fishing boats that appeared to have an operating engine. What's keeping him? Could he be drunk? He had told her he didn't drink. But he was a soldier and didn't all soldiers lie to women? Still, the sounds from the taverna were strangely quiet. Not at all like some drunken bacchanalia.
Where was Anastasios? Could he be keeping her waiting on purpose? Was this an attempt to exert some form of military dominance? But being a macho officer, it was more likely he was simply downing a few ouzos, ignoring the fact he was keeping a U.S. ambassador cooling her heels on a stupid dock.
Of course, there was also the possibility someone had discovered the real reason they were in Greece and the captain could now be lying unconscious in some dark Greek alley.
Impossible! The people here were not killers. And Captain Anastasios spoke the language like a native.
All the more reason he should not have any trouble convincing a Greek fisherman to rent them his boat. So what was taking so long?
Thinking of the taverna gave Elizabeth a welcome shot of rage. The stupid Greek custom that forbade women in their tavernas forced her to stand outside like a hired hand while her subordinate did the real negotiating.
She could, of course, ignore custom and go in anyway. She would not have to fear bodily harm. Greek men were too polite to throw her out or demand that she leave. They would assume she was an ignorant foreigner and ignore her. The fact she could speak Greek fluently would only make it worse. They would believe she should know better.
Actually, the only thing that kept her from entering the taverna was because she did know better. While she abhorred taboos she considered archaic and demeaning, she had learned it was prudent to obey them if one wanted the cooperation of the natives. Too often she had seen violence flare because some fool had ignored a local custom. And here in Greece—and especially at this critical time—it was essential that the two Americans do nothing to call undo attention to themselves.
Well, perhaps there was nothing she could do at the moment about stupid male-dominated customs, but when she got home she would insist her Uncle Durward attach a rider to any new foreign aid legislation coming out of the senate that would mandate equal rights to women, including access to tavernas!
She turned her back on the bar, concentrating on the sharp cackling of the fishermen's wives as they balanced their fish-laden baskets on their heads and moved slowly into the village. As their voices faded, the village dozed in the gloaming.
So why was she apprehensive? Fear of failure. That was it. There was so much riding on this mission. Her entire career, in fact. It was far more important than any post in her father's long career. There were those who said that, with the end of the cold war, the U.S. could relax its guard. There were no more substantive threats. It was not true, of course. Real intellectuals knew that the Middle East remained highly volatile, and the new Russia harbored a hard core of neo-Bolsheviks who could seize power and renew the cold war—or, worse, start a hot one.
If the Russian hard liners found out about her mission—
She shook her head. Better not to think about what they might do. Besides, she was operating in deep secrecy. And even if there had been a leak, the Russians could not possibly know her true purpose.
Copyright © 2004 Robert L. Hecker
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