On a long overdue vacation, Maj. Andreas Vassos takes his family from Athens to a resort village on the Grecian coast, hoping for sun, surf, and a few days without worry. It’s just the holiday he needs—until the family goes to get a treat and the crowded café is raked with gunfire. Acting on instinct, Vassos grabs a pistol from a murdered cop and chases after the killers. He’s able to take one down, but the other escapes. The hunt is on.
The deaths are tied to the search for a priceless Greek artifact. And finding the killers and saving the relic takes Vassos to New York City, where he forms a partnership with the NYPD’s Teddy Lucas, a Greek immigrant once known as Theodorous Loucopolous. They may not speak the same language, but cops are cops, and either of these men would lay down his life to save his brother in blue.
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By William J. Caunitz
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1989 William J. Caunitz
All rights reserved.
Voúla, Greece, May, 1987
Takis Milaraki sat on his fourth-floor terrace, gazing at the islands, recalling those boyhood days when he and his friends used to row out to the two specks of land and spend hours pretending they were valiant members of Alexander's Shield Bearers, defending Greece against Darius's hordes.
A long time ago, he sighed, patting the roll of fat hanging over his belt. He missed those carefree days almost as much as he missed his friends, most of whom had left Greece to seek their fortunes in the United States or in other parts of Europe.
But not Takis. He had remained in Voúla. He could never bring himself to leave his village, or his two islands. They were the places that gave meaning and energy to his life; those places, and his family, were world enough. A lighthearted wind brushed across the terrace. Takis reached out and picked up the cup from the glass table. Sipping the syrupy liquid, he returned his gaze to the wine-dark sea.
After staring at the sea for several minutes, he reluctantly finished his coffee, returned the cup to its saucer, and got up. Moving into his apartment, he paused to identify the different smells coming from the kitchen. Lamb. Okra. Mary, his wife of twenty-three years, was already busy preparing for the midday meal. After doing that, she would clean her house, do the laundry, go shopping, have tea with her girlfriends, and then return home to her kitchen.
Walking up behind her, Takis realized that today was Tuesday, the twelfth of May. His name day was two days away; he wondered what surprises his wife had planned. Watching over her shoulder as she chopped fresh basil on a cutting board and brushed it into a pot, he slid his arms around her waist, pressing her close. "I'll try and come home after the midday rush."
"Make sure that our sons are not here."
"Our boys are already at the beach trying to screw tourists. Both of them will rush home at one, gulp down their food, and rush back to the beach." He kissed her neck. "Remember how we met?"
She smiled. "Go to work."
At exactly eight A.M., Takis Milaraki unlocked the doors of the Elite Café in the center of Voúla's main square and began to put out the tables and chairs. After he did that, he would make the espresso, arrange fresh pastries in the display cases, and await his first customer of the day.
In an apartment on Voúla's seafront, a couple lay entwined, each aware of their racing hearts. The bed was soaked with the tallowy smell of lovemaking; the sounds of the sea rushed into their second-floor bedroom.
"Eighteen years of marriage," Andreas said, gasping, "and I still can't get enough of you."
Breathing hard, Soula Vassos stroked her husband's damp hair. "I love you so."
"I wish that I were ten years younger so I could start right up again."
She bit his chin. "I'm patient."
Andreas Vassos pushed himself up so he might look down into her saffron eyes, drink in her beautiful face. She tightened her legs around her husband and rubbed her body against his. In a gesture of marital intimacy, she turned her head, showing him what she wanted him to do. Obligingly, he caressed her ear with his tongue, gliding it around the rim, sucking on the lobe. At the same time his hand roamed her body, causing her to moan with delight.
She relaxed her grip on his body and whispered, "Taste me."
He kissed her and slid down on her body until his face was between her legs. His finger went into her slowly and softly. She groaned and gently pressed his face to her. Suddenly the bedroom door burst open. Five-year-old Stephanos plunged into the room. "Mommy. Daddy. Let's hurry to the beach. All the tendas will be taken."
Andreas Vassos jackknifed into a sitting position.
Soula Vassos grabbed the sheet and covered her nakedness.
Stephanos hurled his little body on the bed, his all-seeing eyes fixed on his father. "Daddy, what were you doing to Mommy?"
"Well, I ... I ... was ... looking for my ring. See?" He held up his hand so that his son might see the golden ring. "It came off during the night ... and I was searching for it. See, I found it."
Soula Vassos yanked a pillow across her face and laughed.
A long line of buses stretched along the south side of Athens' National Gardens. People queued at the waiting stations. Fumes from the corn vendors' charcoal blended with the clean, sharp smell of wisteria. The sun rose higher in the sky. George Sanida walked from the dispatcher's shack and, shielding his eyes with his hand, looked up at the sky. It was going to be a perfect beach day. Carefully examining the line of female tourists waiting to board, Sanida thought: maybe I'll get lucky today.
He opened the door, climbed into the driver's seat, and turned to watch the boarding passengers file past him, making sure that each one deposited the ten-drachma fare. He studied each of the foreign women as they passed, sneaking a look at their bouncing tits and cute asses.
A blond woman in her early twenties stopped in front of the box and opened the drawstring of her beach bag, searching for her fare. She was dressed in bikini bottoms and an oversized, lightweight white cotton shirt. A blue nylon rucksack was strapped to her back, pulling her shirt taut in front, accentuating her large, unhaltered breasts. Her nipples stuck out: big brown rings.
Sanida unbuttoned two more buttons on his shirt so that she might better see the hair on his manly chest. He smiled at her. She smiled back, dropping in her fare and moving to the back of the bus. He watched as she shrugged off her rucksack and set it down on the floor between her legs. She saw him watching her and smiled at him. Yes, today might be his lucky day, Sanida thought, closing the door and turning to check the side mirror for traffic.
Takis Milaraki was engaged in a heated political argument with his communist friend, Dinos, when the police car drove headlong into the space in front of the Elite Café. Two policemen got out and ambled over to the newsstand a few meters to the right of the café. Takis realized that it was time to roll down the awning. While he was unfurling the canopy, Takis noticed that the policemen were loafing around the newsstand. One was sucking on an ice cup while the other talked on the telephone, probably to his girlfriend, Takis thought as he secured the awning clamps.
Looking across the street, Takis saw a group of boys straddling their Japanese motorbikes. The Greek Rambos were trying hard to impress the admiring girls gathered around them. Takis smiled. He had seen them all grow up from babies; he enjoyed watching them play out their adolescent mating games under the stern eyes of Voúla's black-mantled gossips who spent their days cooking, praying, and leaning out windows. No matter how many tourists came, village life would never change completely.
Golden sand swept up from the rolling sea, melting into a lush savanna where people reclined on sun chairs. Boys played soccer; girls talked while lolling on the grass. Fifteen meters from shore swimmers dove off anchored platforms while several men cut through the blue-green sea on jet sleds.
Major Andreas Vassos, Security Division, Athens Station, lay on his back under the tender's cloth roof. The past five months had been difficult ones for Vassos. His section had been conducting several major investigations into terrorist activities and narcotics networks operating in the Athens area. He had put in long hours and had not had a day off in six weeks. He loved his career and the excitement that went with being a policeman; he even enjoyed the meticulous attention to detail that his work demanded. But he did not enjoy being able to spend so little time with his family. He had seen too many of his colleagues give up their family life for the department. It was not going to happen to him; he was going to be there to watch his son grow into manhood.
Several days ago Vassos had slapped leave papers down on his boss's desk and announced, "I've rented an apartment in Voúla, near the beach. I am taking my family there on a ten-day holiday. I won't have a telephone – and you won't have my address."
Colonel Dimitri Pappas spread his hands in a pleading gesture. "Andreas? So many of our important cases are just coming together. Put off your holiday a little while. Till June. As a favor to your colonel."
"I'll see you in ten days, Colonel," Vassos said, backing out the door with a slight bow.
Vassos stretched his lean body under the dark green cloth of the sun shelter. It was wonderful to be doing nothing.
At forty years of age Andreas Vassos was a handsome man whose receding hairline complemented his olive complexion and majestic nose. He had a cleft chin and unusually dark blue eyes. Soula was fond of calling his eyes her Mediterranean pools because by day they appeared to be a deep blue, and by night, inky black.
I'm a lucky man, he reflected, watching his son build a mud fort at the water's edge. His gaze slid to Soula, who was sunning herself on a straw mat next to the tenda. She was wearing the brown-and-white bikini that he liked so much. Her arms were outstretched, her legs slightly apart as she lay on her back. He pushed himself out from under the shelter, resting his head on his wife's flat stomach.
"My other child is here to pester me," she said, opening her eyes.
"I didn't seem to be pestering you this morning," he said, tilting his head so that he could see down the front of her bikini bottom.
She playfully hit him. "Don't be fresh. And next time make sure the bedroom door is locked. Our son rushes into our room and discovers his father doing that to his mother."
"He has to learn sometime."
"Don't be disgusting."
Stephanos ran over to his parents, spraying sand over them. "Mommy, I'm hungry."
Soula sprang up off the mat. "Can't I ever relax?"
Stephanos jumped up and down. "Mommy, please, can't we go into Voúla. I want ice cream. And I want to ride in the spacecraft. Oh, please, Mommy, please."
"We can have ice cream here at the beach, it's less money," she said.
Andreas took his wife's arm. "Let's go into Voúla. It's a short walk – and the Elite Café has wonderful pastries."
She smiled sternly at her husband and his sneaking passion for sweets. "You're a big baby, you know that?"
Ten minutes later the Vassos family strolled into Voúla. Soula had wrapped her slender body in a beach sarong and her husband had slipped into an oversized brown T-shirt.
"Mommy. Daddy. The spacecraft," Stephanos shouted, breaking away and dashing for the mechanical ride in front of the Elite Café.
Andreas swung his son up into the cockpit. He dug a five-drachma piece out of his handbag, inserted it in the slot, and stepped back to watch as the toy sprang to life.
"Major Vassos," a voice called out.
Andreas Vassos looked up and groaned inwardly when he saw the policeman approaching them, a glow of recognition lighting up the officer's face. He immediately regretted the decision to come into town. Now the local cops would know he was in Voúla and would feel that a visiting dignitary had to be entertained. Just once, Vassos thought in desperation, I'd like to be a private citizen on vacation with his family.
It was a little after eleven o'clock when the No. 122 bus lumbered out of the winding streets onto Voúla's main plaza. About a dozen passengers remained aboard; the rest had gotten off at the beaches along the route. George Sanida drew the bus to a stop at the light. Glancing up into the mirror, he saw the blond tourist sitting in the back. She was studying a map spread open across her lap. A black Ford Escort pulled alongside and stopped. Sanida looked down into the car and saw two men. The driver was sitting alone while another man sat in the back. They're not Greeks, Sanida thought. Greek men sit up front with the driver; to do otherwise is rude.
He could not see the driver clearly. The passenger was a fat man with bulging cheeks; he wore a watch with a heavy gold band. Americans or Germans, he thought, looking back at the traffic signal.
The light turned green.
The Ford bounded ahead.
Sanida maneuvered the motor coach around the maze of parking medians and into the bus terminal, which was on the edge of a vacant lot bordered by walnut and cypress trees. The last stop.
Passengers began to file from the bus. The blond tourist remained in her seat, studying her map.
Sanida slid out of his seat and, moving to the back of the bus, sat down beside her. "Parlez-vous Français?" he asked.
"No, I'm Canadian. From Vancouver."
Shit, he thought, knowing his English was bad. "I help you?" he said, pointing to the map.
"Would you, please? My girlfriend told me there was a wonderful pay beach here in Voúla that only costs fifteen drachmas to get in."
Shit, the only damn words he understood were beach and drachmas. He smiled, nodding understanding, moving in close to study the map, admiring the fine blond hair on her legs. She was blond all over, he thought, and felt his blood stir.
"Beach," he said, stabbing the map with his finger.
"Pay beach? Drachmas?" she said, brushing two fingers against her thumb to indicate money.
"Yes, yes, pay money."
"How ... me ... get ... there?" she asked, walking two fingers in front of her.
He struggled to give directions in English. She shook her head, not understanding. Realizing he was not making himself understood, he took her hand and led her up to the front of the empty bus. He began to point the way to the pay beach. While he was doing this he saw the Ford Escort was double-parked alongside the police car in front of the Elite Café, just a block away from the terminal. The passenger in the back of the car picked something up from the floor and passed it over the top of the seat to the driver. George Sanida stopped talking, wide-eyed with disbelief. The driver of the Ford got out and stood by the open door looking around. The fat man rolled down the window and pointed the barrel of a machine gun at the outdoor café.
The driver stuck his head into the car and said something to the man in the backseat. The fat man lowered the weapon and sat back.
George Sanida shouted at the tourist.
"I don't speak Greek," she said, unnerved by his sudden change of tone.
"Look! Look! They have guns," he shouted, jabbing his finger against the windshield.
She shrugged her shoulders, smiled nervously.
Frustrated at not being understood, the bus driver grabbed the back of her head and forced her to look in the direction of the Ford Escort.
"I don't know what you want me to see," she said, noticing the man one block away who was standing by the open car door.
"Look!" he shouted in Greek.
Her face showed utter confusion. She saw the man standing by the open door reach inside and slide something off the front seat. A fat man got out of the backseat of the car. When she saw what both men were holding in their hands, she clutched her chest and gasped.
"Nai! Nai!" Yes, yes, he shouted, using both hands to mime the firing of a machine gun.
Takis Milaraki was wiping off a table when the sound of a blaring horn caused him to look up from his work. His eyes drifted to the bus depot. A blond woman was leaning out the front door, shouting, gesticulating. Someone had his hand pressed down on the bus's horn. Takis looked around. People were taking their late-morning coffee, eating pistachios. A waiter made his way among the tables, carrying a tray laden with desserts. Everything seemed normal. He looked back to the bus. What the hell was that crazy woman doing? The bus was backing out of the depot, but she was still leaning out the front door. She appeared to be stabbing her finger in the direction of the police car. His gaze darted to the police car and then he saw the two strangers moving up onto the sidewalk. "My God!"
He had heard him lecture on methods of interrogation at the Police College, the policeman told Vassos. The major smiled, thinking of how he was going to get rid of the pest. Then frightened screams startled Vassos; distracted, he stopped watching the policeman. Suddenly a curiously muffled sound of gunfire echoed across the square.
Andreas Vassos hurled himself at his wife, throwing her down on top of the toy spacecraft and protecting her and his son with his own body. The policeman to whom he had been talking had his revolver out when a chunk of lead plowed into his face, causing him to topple backward.
The officer by the newsstand dropped the phone and made a grab for his weapon as a spray of bullets stitched its way across his chest, hurling him back into the stand where he slumped awkwardly to the ground.
Excerpted from Black Sand by William J. Caunitz. Copyright © 1989 William J. Caunitz. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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