|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||1 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
STELIAN MUNTEANU HAS A BAD FEELING THAT HE CAN'T QUITE kick, let alone put into words. He shouldn't complain. It's the third day of his vacation, and he's finally out of Bucharest. He's gone to the sea, in Greece, and thankfully far away from his co-workers, boss and neighbours, not to mention Bucharest's crazy drivers. So what's the problem then? Loneliness? ohhhh ...
The sun has set, but the sky is still painted in pastel hues of blue and red. The air is hot and still. Faint white clouds wander over the horizon like a scene pulled from an old watercolour. Only a high flying jet cutting a straight pink line breaks the otherwise splendid scene. Peace and serenity.
The room has air conditioning, but he hasn't switched it on. He might have to tonight, if this heat doesn't die down. After a long relaxing shower, he steps out onto the balcony with a fluffy white towel draped around his waist. The main street two floors below has only just come alive. Billboards and shop signs slowly light up one by one. Up above, the resort town feels welcoming and refined. The place is clean; no screaming, no rowdy drunks. A symphony of languages echoes from the hotels and tavernas. There seems to be a lot of Romanian these days.
Yet this depression is overwhelming.
"Too many years without a decent vacation. Then there's the stress, the exhaustion, the divorce ..."
As he leans against the railing of Paralia's Elektra Beach Hotel, he feels a little ridiculous complaining to the wind on such a beautiful September evening. Just as he starts scolding himself everything suddenly fades to black. The power is out.
Shit, just what I need! It's not enough that I'm here dateless, now I'm going to starve to death. Some vacation.
He steps back into the room to look for a flashlight or matches. What's the point? It's not like I'm going to light candles ... celebrate loneliness and a forced fasting. He remembers the flashlight in his suitcase. You never know when you might need one ... the flashlight, a penknife, some string. A silly habit from when I was young ...
Suddenly, he looks into the darkness outside to a building across the street. There's a hotel painted in traditional white and blue, that was probably chic at one time but is now locked up and empty for some reason. He can see streaks of light darting from window to window on the first floor. He tries to get a better look.
Always on the job!
It takes him a while to find the flashlight in his suitcase, and by the time he does the lights start flickering and the power comes back to life. Adjusting his eyes, the powerful street lights outside blind him, and the chaos strips away the previous calm.
He looks at his watch and decides it's time to go out. He gets dressed in a pair of beige pants and a brown shirt. Brown shoes as well. He leaves his papers in the suitcase, removes a fifty from his wallet and sticks his room key in his pocket. He takes a last critical look at himself in the mirror.
Just before leaving his room he remembers the strange lights in the windows. He can't see anything suspicious anymore. Let the games begin. Maybe I'll be lucky tonight.
Galia Kalughina is too bored to wait for her roommate anymore. It's late and the tourists are already out for the evening stroll. And she's still mad about the blackout — she was stuck in the darkness of the shower with shampoo in her hair. She hit her head on the shower head, soap fell in the bathtub and she slipped. When she got out to look for a lighter, she tripped across the floor, only stopping when her nose hit a mirror. There were plenty of obstacles invisible in the darkness: an armchair, a suitcase ... What a catastrophe!
When the lights turned back on, she was close to tears.
The room is a disaster. On both beds, hers and Tania's, there are huge piles of brightly coloured clothes: tank-tops, skirts, trousers, sexy lingerie and shawls. A make-up case spilled all over the small desk. Body creams, shampoos, bottles with nail paint and perfumes. It's enough for an army of cheerleaders let alone two girls. But they're on vacation and here to have fun.
That's it, I've waited long enough. I'll leave her the key at the reception and she'll have to manage from there. At least she could have told me where she was going so I could make my own plans.
She's had her eyes on a Polish guy, or maybe he was a Czech, she wasn't too sure, who was a regular at the Poseidon, a Greek taverna that specialized in seafood.
She's certain that Tania has met up with that dreamy Romanian guy again, that one she has kept a secret. Her business, her life! She sighs and slips on a burgundy skirt and a pink tank-top showing a generous amount of cleavage, over a Triumph bra, for which she paid almost as the cost of the whole vacation. But it's worth every penny; the effect is devastating. For the finishing touches, she puts on a silver Greek necklace, matching earrings and a thick ring with a beautiful amethyst stone. High heels with white straps. A last touch-up of her make-up, a little hair spray and a touch of Lancôme Magie Noir, and she's ready. To the dance floor!
Galia wants to enjoy her vacation to its fullest. She knows she's irresistible.
She descends the stairs from the third floor and heads towards the Poseidon. She bumps into a man dressed in dreary colours with a lost look on his face. Galia mumbles something in Russian and the man apologizes in an unknown language. He's out of her head in seconds, as she's already turned her thoughts to the Polish guy — or Czech or ... whatever — he's her target tonight.
Iannis Theodopoulos has just finished a long report and feels like his eyes will jump out of their sockets. There's no paperwork in the movies. Cops don't do anything except arrest bad guys armed with machine- guns and seduce beautiful blondes accused of murder.
He stands, his body almost numb, and looks out the window of his first floor office. Hordes of tourists are taking in the city. They look happy, maybe a bit too happy, except for a forty-something guy dressed in brown clothes, who looks totally out of place as he walks aimlessly. He's surrounded by balloons, souvlaki-to-go, tiny tank-tops and sun hats ...
Looks like he's too tired, or too drunk ... Or both ... He erases the weird guy from his head.
Theodopoulos's office is just an ordinary provincial police station, the only one in Paralia. The furniture is plastic and far from new. There are faded white computers with old monitors covered in yellow and green post-it notes. The place fits all the cop stereotypes — files everywhere, scattered stationary, a dog-eared diary left open to yesterday's date and several mugs caked in remnants of old coffee. A massive desk lamp with a blue lampshade is adorned with an enormous chain filled with keys hanging in plain view. Everything looks normal, but somehow foggy.
I should go and get my eyes checked. It's a sign I'm getting old.
The busy day is over and he's the only one left in the office. It's the night shift. He knows he won't get a vacation, not until the fall; the whole coast is packed with tourists and something terrible could happen at any moment. God forbid ...
Iannis Theodopoulos stuffs his files inside a bag he collects from the floor, thinking ahead to the hot meal waiting for him at home. There's another sign I'm getting old ... Here's me thinking about food instead of thinking about my wife.
With a bored sigh he stands, just as the phone starts to ring. He looks at it perplexed and pretends he doesn't hear it. Is it a dream? A nightmare? What the hell do they want at this time of night? But it keeps ringing, and somehow it sounds like it's getting louder. He sighs again, sits back down and drops the bag on the floor, then snatches the receiver.
Mircea Popescu has just finished his first glass of Metaxa Seven Stars. The caramel coloured liquid fills washes over his tongue and senses with its velvety aroma. He's trying to lose weight by replacing his two daily beers with two daily glasses of cognac. It's an expensive choice, but Mircea Popescu can afford it.
The terrace he's on belongs to an expensive restaurant, a very expensive restaurant with stylish waiters dressed to impress. The white tablecloths aren't made of cheap paper. There's rattan furniture, soft lights and lots of candles. Precious patrons. Expensive suits and ties. Golden watches, bracelets sprinkled with diamonds. Lots of money. Snobs. Idle chit-chat in low tones. Discreet background music of the café-concert type, not Greek.
"Don't you think it's a bit much every night?!"
His wife, Nora Popescu, tactfully tries to maintain the internal balance of this impassive man. Now, most of her diplomacy has been abandoned. She's waiting for her brother and he's late for dinner. And it's not for the first time. She also knows that Mircea is hungry and going to erupt soon. She's almost fifteen years younger than he is and sometimes the difference shows.
"Leave me alone!"
She'd decided to accept his marriage proposal more for financial reasons than because of any real affection. Ten years had passed since then and she's wondering more and more if she didn't make a big mistake. Still, I used to love him ... What happened? His business? All those months when he's away? The mystery man that the press spun? Politics? Other women? When she gets to this question she prefers to stop her train of thought. She sighs.
"Dan never told you what time he was coming did he, Mircea?"
"Since when does Dan tell me anything?! If he doesn't show up in half an hour, I'll go look for him."
It's not such a great night for the Popescu family. Nora glances around, trying not to lose her patience. At the entrance, a lonely guy of middle age studies the prices on the menu. He's dressed in plain brownie clothes. His eyes are glassy ... Poor and lost in space.
The guy turns around and leaves. Nora is still looking for a handsome and happy man. Someone more upbeat and not as repugnant as all the men I meet. Where have all the courteous and good humoured men disappeared to?
Misha Pushkin is smoking on the street while he walks. He's trying to keep his cigarette as close to his body as he can so as not accidentally burn someone. He's an ordinary guy, nothing about him attracts any kind of attention. His hair is almost completely white, his face not too wrinkled and he's freshly shaved. His deep blue eyes are sharp and alive. He wears white pants and a shirt striped in two shades of blue, and blue sport shoes. He looks like a retired naval officer.
A man crosses his path, almost bumping into him, staring straight ahead. Misha steps aside and looks over his shoulder, keeping the man in his line of sight. He memorizes his face and silhouette. Almost looked like a potential victim. You never know ...
He's just arrived and intuition tells him that things will start to happen soon. Someone has to make the first move. All the players are already set. Who will act first? How and when? He misses the fight. His muscles are tense, as if waiting for something. But in the meantime, the evening stroll does him a lot of good, just like a fine cigarette, or coffee.
Misha Pushkin doesn't talk much, he doesn't act much, but he always shows up at the right time. Just like the old saying: right place, right time!
I should plan for a little trip to Salonica tomorrow. To visit the White Tower and look for an old contact.
Eleni Papastergiu feels tired. The movie she has just finished watching on TV was nothing special, some Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts romantic comedy set in leafy bohemian London. He's a librarian, she's a famous actress, and of course there's the mandatory happy-ending. The air is cool in her little apartment and it's dark. She's had a difficult day at the University, teaching courses for preparatory classes before attending a teachers' briefing in the evening. All very tedious on a hot mid-summer's day. Financially speaking, summer school was a good idea, but it certainly didn't make her happy.
We don't even get any extra money for it.
She can see a corner of the illuminated harbour and part of the White Tower from her living room window. It's past midnight and the night life is in full swing. She considers going out to Maxi's to catch up with some friends over drinks, but sleep sounds like a better option right now.
Eleni's days flow with an almost precise routine. Alone in a big university city, she's surrounded by her books and stones.
Another movie starts on the TV. Instead of London, this cheesy romance is set in Paris and sprinkled with images of the Eiffel Tower and the Place de la Concorde. She turns off the TV and tries to sleep. Ohhh, too many stereotypes ... Love stories and famous European capitals. Where do I find a man like that? Paris, London? Are there no more available men in Salonica?
Jacques Sardi is savouring his wine. Red, evidently. And dry. French.
From the last floor of the Arch on La Defense, he can see all the way to the Arch de Triumph on Place Charles de Gaulle. With a stretch of his imagination, he can even glimpse the Obelisque from Place de la Concorde. The view is gorgeous and he delights in it every time he sees it, thankful that he had been born in this wonderful city. It's like a gift from God to make up for his unhappy childhood. I nearly forgot those years ...
The little soirée is winding down. The guests are a mixed crowd, but he's managed to find a few interesting people to speak to, all of them women. They're respectable ladies wearing enormous necklaces adorned with diamonds and sapphires. All young and shy, but throwing inviting glances his way while shaking their long, white-gold and diamond earrings. Everywhere he looks he can see wealth and expensive jewelry.
He sighs and glances at his image in the mirror. Not too bad at all. Black suit, white shirt with the last button left undone, straight posture, no belly, fair skin. Black hair and green eyes. Maybe he should start to consider a serious relationship. Well ... isn't it too early? There's still time ...
He tries to figure out a way home; should he cut through the center all the way to the Rue Ranelagh, or take a road around the city's outskirts? Paris is filled with tourists, and it's hot this time of year. Like usual, he has a lot of work to do. It's a long time since he's been to his little countryside villa; maybe next weekend.
He approaches the elevator that will take him to the parking lot, where he parked his old black Peugeot 307. Too bad he's not on duty. He could switch on the siren and flashing lights and would it would get him home a lot faster. Before stepping into the elevator, he places his glass on an empty tray and switches his cell phone from mute to normal.
Maybe someone will call, it's still too early to go to bed ...CHAPTER 2
A LOUD BUZZING NOISE, STRANGELY METALLIC, FILLS THE room. He hides his throbbing head under the pillow. He probably had too much Imiglikos and cheap cognac last night. It's the best way to drink when you're on such low pay.
The sunlight blinds him despite the heavy curtains. He closes his eyes.
"What the hell! Who's calling at this hour?"
He knows it's not an alarm clock, since he forgot his back in Bucharest. A phone call? The reception? Don't they have anything else to do?
He glances dumbfounded at the nightstand and sees that it's his cell phone. He grabs it and narrows his eyes. He reads the number on the screen, but doesn't recognize it. He wonders if he should answer it. What if it's something urgent?
"Did I wake you?"
Everything falls apart like a house of cards. Stupid cliché. Like when I used to work for the newspaper. He recognizes the voice knowing that this is not going to be good.
"Yes. Honestly, yes ..."
"I'm sorry. I'm not calling to chat."
"I can imagine. What number are you calling me from? I don't recognize it."
"Well, some numbers have changed. Doesn't matter. We have a problem."
"I can only be happy about it, boss. I've just started my vacation."
"We're not calling you back. There's a problem in Paralia."
"Yes, a murder."
"A murder in Paralia?! You have to be kidding."
"Pay attention and try to concentrate!"
"Okay, okay, I'm listening."
"There's a Romanian citizen involved. They've asked for a representative of Romania to assist them with the investigation. It might just be a mistake. I didn't really get everything they were saying. You'll have to check it out."
"But I'm not a detective, boss!"
"Look, a journalist is better than nothing. You're expected at the police station in Paralia. Do you know where that is?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Greek Connection"
Copyright © 2015 Bogdan Hrib.
Excerpted by permission of Mosaic Press.
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.