Andreas Kaldis once read or heard somewhere that the chatter never stopped in Athens. Not even at sunrise, when the earth itself seemed to pause to draw a breath. Like its people, the city always had something to say, whether you were in the mood to listen or not. Sun-up simply shifted the style of conversation from high-pitched shouts of an Athens at play to the anonymous din of a city at work.
That’s what Andreas was doing now, working. “Turn off the damn siren, no one’s listening.” He was in a foul mood. “The body’s going nowhere. Just like us in this goddamn coming-home-from-partying morning traffic.”
Police officer Yianni Kouros said nothing, just did what his boss told him to do. That’s why Andreas liked him: he listened.
Andreas stared out the passenger-side window at a hodge-podge of neglected private and graffiti-covered government buildings. This section of Pireos Street, a formerly elegant avenue, began west of the Acropolis, ran northeast through the trendy, late-night bar and club area of Gazi, and ended with a name change amidst the around-the-clock drug and hooker trade by Omonia Square. What remained of its once-treasured three-and four-story buildings were now warrens of ground-level check cashers, bars, small-time retail shops, and cheap, foreign restaurants. It seemed every immigrant group in Greece had set up shop in this part of town. Truth was, they were everywhere; well, almost.
“I remember when I was a kid my dad used to bring me down here for sweets on Sundays. Especially this time of year. He loved late spring.”
“Bet he wouldn’t bring you here today, Chief.”
Andreas nodded. “God bless him, he’d sit by the edge of the park at Omonia—” gesturing up ahead with his left hand, “having coffee with friends while I’d play. Everyone liked him. I thought that came with being a cop. I should have known better.”
They were locked in traffic packed solid up to an intersection about one hundred yards ahead. The traffic light at the corner was red and, when a gap opened in oncoming traffic all the way back to the light, Kouros pulled the unmarked car into the empty lane and raced toward the intersection.
“Christ, Yianni, at least turn on the lights.”
“Never turned them off, only the siren.” Another reason Andreas liked Kouros: he listened but was no fool.
Kouros reached the intersection just as the light turned green. He swerved across the front of their lane and shot up the street to the right, narrowly missing the rear wheel of a motorcyclist who’d jumped the light.
Andreas turned his head and stared at Kouros. He knew there must be a grin breaking out somewhere on the other side of that face. Andreas was a dozen years older than Kouros but, except for the few tinges of gray streaking Andreas’ slightly too long dark hair, you’d think they were the same age, perhaps because Kouros’ boot-camp style haircut and compact, bull-like build made him look older than he was, or because Andreas’ hard work at keeping his six-foot two-inch athletic frame in shape paid off.
Kouros weaved through a series of far-from-fancy back streets running roughly parallel to Pireos. Just before Omonia he turned left and cut back across the road. “It’s only a couple blocks from here.”
Andreas watched a hooker lean out from a doorway marked by a single white light above it, the local signal for “hookers here.”
“Yeah, probably another drug deal gone bad.”
“Don’t know yet, but something tied to drugs would be my guess. Dawn on a Sunday morning, this neighborhood, a foreign-looking young male in a dumpster, no money, no ID, no witnesses, no one with him, and no one looking for him. At least not so far.” Andreas shrugged. “We’ll see.”
Two minutes later Kouros pulled up to a uniformed officer leaning against the hood of a marked blue and white Athens police car. It blocked anyone from going down a narrow, alley-size street just south of where Saint Constantino Avenue ran into Karaiskaki Square. “It’s Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis, Special Crimes Division, Athens Headquarters,” said Kouros.
Even a year and a half after his promotion, Andreas still marveled that he was the guy with that fancy title. It posed no such problem for Kouros; he’d only known Andreas as “chief.” First, as newly appointed chief of police for the Aegean island of Mykonos and, six months later, by his current title dating from when Andreas returned to Athens—bringing Kouros with him—to assume command of the same unit he’d been forced to leave for doing too good a job at catching politically connected bad guys. But Andreas’ political allies proved to be a hell of a lot tougher than theirs, something Andreas reminded them of every chance he got.
They drove the hundred yards or so to where the cop said to go. There were no yards or open spaces along the way, only the back doors of buildings lining both sides. The buildings to the right fronted on a main street running back into Karaiskaki Square and were commercial; the ones to the left were a mix of smaller businesses and apartment buildings facing onto a side street. Everything was rundown, typical for this neighborhood. Kouros stopped at a thirty-foot-wide break on the left, an open lot that went through to the side street, or would have but for a row of weather-beaten plywood fencing it off at the edge of the street. Some of it had been kicked in, probably by junkies and street-hooker trade looking for a place to do their business.
An ambulance from the coroner’s office and two marked cars from the Saint Constantino police precinct were parked ahead of them on the other side of the break. This part of town fell under their jurisdiction, until now.
Andreas’ unit was in charge of all murder investigations and any other crimes he considered serious enough to warrant special attention. It was a unique position in a politically sensitive department, one that many envied, but far more feared. He was not someone to fuck with.
“So, what do we have, Manos?” he said to the man in plainclothes hurrying toward him.
“Morning, sir. A white male, late teens, early twenties, about six feet, 160 pounds. Dead about five hours. Appears to be strangled.”
“Did anyone touch the body?”
A man from the coroner’s office standing next to a forensic technician gestured “no” with his head. “We were waiting for you, Chief.”
“Did anyone touch the body?” Andreas said in a slightly sharper tone looking straight at Manos.
“Yes, sir. The officer who responded to the call was a rookie and—”
“Is he here?”
“Call him over.” Andreas knew from the initial report of “no wallet or ID” that someone must have touched the body, but there was a point to be made to the rookie and his supervisor.
The young cop looked almost as white as the corpse. No doubt he was wondering to what worse precinct he possibly could be banished for this screw-up.
Andreas leveled his steel-gray eyes on him. “You were the first one on the scene?”
“Yes, sir,” he answered nervously.
“What did you see?”
“A body in that dumpster over there.” He pointed to a partially green, partially rusted, commercial-size bin against the wall across the lot from where they stood. It was close to the street.
“And what was the first fucking thing you did, strip-search him?” Andreas’ voice was rising, driving home his point.
“I thought it important to know who he was. I only touched pockets I could reach without moving the body.” His voice was about to crack.
Andreas was not pleased with the answer, and his tone showed it. “It’s a damn lot more important to know who killed him. That’s why you’re trained and—” turning his eyes on Manos, “supposedly reminded by your shift commanders never to touch a body unless told otherwise by someone from homicide. Understand?” He said the last word softly, his eyes moving between the two men.
“Yes, sir.” The words came from both men in two-part harmony.
Andreas walked over to the dumpster and peered inside. Without looking back he said, “Was the lid up when you got here?”
“No, sir,” said the rookie.
“How did you open it?”
“With my baton.” Again his voice was shaky.
“Good.” Andreas believed in praising the good along with damning the bad.
The container was nearly full, packed with commercial-size black garbage bags. The body was on top: face up, eyes closed. Andreas always dreaded these first moments staring at the face of a once-living, unique being now reduced to the ubiquitous status of victim. Andreas felt a shiver. This was not the face of a man. It was a boy.
“You didn’t close his eyes by chance did you?”
“No, sir, I never touched the body, only his clothes.” He almost barked his answer.
Andreas looked at the man from the coroner’s office. “Can you tell me if he died like that, or someone closed his eyes for him?”
“I’d guess someone did it for him.”
“I can guess on my own, Spiros. I want to know if you can tell me for sure.”
“So, whose garbage is this?”
“Belongs to that bar over there.” Manos pointed to the back door of a building directly across from the lot. “It’s a notorious late-hours gay bar, lot of drugs in there. Our guess is that the victim was in the wrong place at the wrong time, looking for the wrong thing.”
“And just how did he happen to end up in the dumpster?”
Manos seemed surprised at the question. “Whoever killed him hid the body there to make time to get away before someone found it. This part of the street gets pretty busy late at night, especially just before sunrise when the bar closes.” He finished the last part with a smirk.
“I bet it does.” Andreas again looked in the dumpster. “So, where’s last night’s garbage?”
Manos again looked puzzled. “What do you mean? It’s in the dumpster.”
“I see, so when the bar closed last night, probably around sunrise from what you said, whoever dumped the garbage carefully placed it around the body or pulled him out, put the bags in, and then tossed him back on top?”
Manos’ face was beet-red. Andreas didn’t wait for an answer. “Have you spoken with anyone from the bar?”
“No one’s there yet.”
“When you talk to the guy who dumped the garbage, I’m sure he’ll swear there was no body in the dumpster when he did. But that corpse has been dead a lot longer than since sunrise.” Andreas shook his head. “I don’t think this is the murder scene. Somebody picked this place to dump the body.”
He gestured for Kouros to get a camera from the car. “We’ve got a lot more going on here than just some kid in the wrong place at the wrong time. And who said he’s foreign?”
The rookie raised his hand. “He looks a lot like the Eastern Europeans living around here.”
“With all the intermarriages, so do a lot of Greeks. This kid could be Greek, and if I get a better look at the ring on his finger I might know for sure.” The coroner started toward the body.
Andreas put out his hand to stop him. “No, Spiros, don’t. I want everything videotaped exactly as it is before anyone touches the body. I’ll get what I need from this.” He took the camera from Kouros, leaned back in and took a few pictures.
“So, let’s see what we have.”
He brought one of the photos up onto the screen on the back of the camera and zoomed in on what he wanted to see. “Damn handy, these things.” He stared for a moment; everyone was quiet. “Gotcha!” He practically shouted the word.
Manos and Kouros moved in for a closer look at the screen. It was a blurry image of a crest from a ring, but distinct enough to make out the emblem of Athens Academy, the most prestigious private school in all of Greece: the place where the richest and most powerful sent their children to study and, more important, to network a life for themselves and, on occasion, for their parents. Next to the crest was the year of graduation: one year from now.
“He’s just a boy, and I bet he’s no foreigner,” said Andreas. He’d also bet, but didn’t say aloud, that a media circus was about to begin. He looked up from the image of the ring and over to the dumpster, then to the backdoor of perhaps the seediest gay bar in the seediest section of Athens. What more could the press ask for? It was a story they could run with forever.
Whoever set this up knew that, too. Anyway you looked at it, Andreas sensed this was going to get real messy, real fast. He looked at Manos. “What did the guy who called your precinct say? That he’d found the body while rummaging through dumpsters?”
“Something like that. Sounded like a bum, wouldn’t leave a name.”
Andreas shook his head. “Whoever set this up wanted the body to be found here. He wouldn’t leave that to chance. Find your caller and we find our killer. Trace that call ASAP.”
Manos almost seemed to snicker. “We’re way ahead of you, Chief. Already did the trace. It gave us nothing. We even called the number and no one answered. It’s for one of those disposable cell phones you can buy anywhere. This one was activated last night.”
Andreas shook his head. “Gave you nothing, huh? Like a fucking destitute bum rummaging through garbage bins would buy a cell phone to call in a dead body. Yianni, let’s get out of here. We’ve got some catching up to do. Someone definitely is way ahead of us.” He stared at Manos long enough to get the point across without saying the words, but it’s not you.