Murder in Mykonos: A Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis Mystery #1

Murder in Mykonos: A Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis Mystery #1

Politically incorrect detective Andreas Kaldis, promoted out of Athens to serve as police chief for Mykonos, is certain his homicide days are over. Murders don't happen in tourist heaven. At ...

About The Author

Jeffrey Siger

Jeffrey Siger was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, practiced law at a major Wall Street law firm, and later ...

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Prologue

Just past midnight the massive Rodanthi ferry silently made its grand entrance into Mykonos’ narrow, crescent-shaped harbor. Though it was still a bit early in the season for the partying crowds that swelled this Greek island’s population from ten thousand to fifty thousand in July and August, the harbor was wildly alive with lights and people.

It was exactly as the young woman had imagined—a blaze of white buildings under a diamond-studded sky.

She’d been standing inside with other backpackers on the third-level passenger deck watching the island’s lights slowly envelop the horizon. Now she stepped outside and walked to the bow railing. Feeling the Aegean breeze in her face, she re-doubled the elastic band holding her blond ponytail in place. It was all so beautiful. She regretted only one thing: being here alone.

She felt as much as heard the thrusting power of the reversing engines as the ship began its graceful one-quarter pirouette toward the dock. Drawing in a deep breath from the wind coming off the sea, she picked up her backpack, headed for the stairs nearest the bow, and made her way down to the exit deck. The ferry had docked at its stern, and when she reached the bottom level she had to squeeze her way past a collection of beat-up island-hopping cars, trucks, and motorcycles waiting to disembark. She knew that at six feet tall her well-toned figure was attracting a lot of attention, especially in hiking shorts and a tank top. Several drivers along the way yelled out to her in various languages, offering her a ride anywhere she wanted to go. She acted as if she didn’t understand but smiled to herself.

Most of the passengers were off the boat by the time she was at the gangway. Now she had to find a place to stay. That was not a problem. There were dozens of people offering accommodations, literally tugging at her for attention. She was inundated with photographs, brochures, letters of recommendation, all designed to funnel weary tourists into empty rooms.

The young woman spoke with the hawkers in English and picked what looked like a charming small hotel just above the town. The man, who claimed to be the owner, promised her a room with a private bath and a view of the town—at a “special price.” He seemed very nice and with his gray hair was at least wise enough to mask any other interest he might have in her. Already, two couples from the ferry waited in his little van, so she wouldn’t be going off alone with a stranger.

At the hotel she showed the owner her passport. He welcomed her in Dutch and told her he’d had many guests from the Netherlands, things that assured her she’d made the right choice. The room was as promised. She showered, put on her one sexy dress, and went out to wander the maze of winding, narrow paths lined by whitewashed buildings, adorned with brightly colored doors, shutters, and railings.

The town was awash in jewelry shops and bars. Vacationing families and pilgrims seeking early-morning connections to the nearby ancient and holy island of Delos were in their beds by now. Summer nights in Mykonos belonged to all-night partiers seeking their own sorts of connections. Bedtime could wait until a much later hour. No pretty woman ever needed to pay for a drink or dinner here.

At one of the bars she met a local Greek about her age. He introduced her to the owner who said the young man was his son. Then he introduced her to an “old family friend”—an American painter who told her he’d been coming to Mykonos every summer for more than thirty years. They all spoke in English although the young man seemed to know enough Dutch words to use at the right time to be charming. By the time she left the bar it was nearly light and the young man convinced her to ride on the back of his motorcycle to a place where they could watch the sun come up.

She mounted his bike and put her arms around him; the engine vibrated between her legs. For twenty minutes she pressed her body against his as he raced toward the rising sun. At the beach—deserted, he said, except for a single small house owned by a priest from England—they touched and kissed through the sunrise; then took off their clothes and swam naked. He tried to make love to her, but he had no condom and she refused. He pressed her; she resisted. He pushed her down, yanked away his clothes, and stormed off shouting at her in Greek.

She heard the sound of his motorcycle as he drove away, leaving her alone to find her way back. She was thankful she hadn’t been raped. Tipsy, tired, and angry at herself, she dressed and started up the steep dirt road toward what she hoped would be town. She had to take off her heels to walk, and the stones hurt her feet. She wasn’t used to this. She wanted to cry but kept on walking. It was a dry and rocky road, like the island itself. After fifteen minutes or so she heard a motor on the other side of a hill. For an instant she thought it might be him returning. It wasn’t. It was a car, a taxi bearing down toward her in a cloud of dust. She was surprised to see one out here so early in the morning but frantically waved for him to stop.

She spoke to the driver in English and he responded in English. She started to cry. He told her to get in and asked what happened. She told him the story as if replaying a video of her ordeal. He listened quietly, not saying a word. When they reached her hotel he said he knew the young man and she really hadn’t been in any danger; but on an island filled with so many strangers she must be very careful who she trusts—especially when it comes to young men with motorcycles. That made her feel a little better, though she still was mad at herself for thinking she was the first one he’d taken on a romantic sunrise motorcycle ride.

She slept until about two that afternoon, then took a bus to Paradise Beach. She refused to talk to anyone there, but the young Greek men persisted. Eventually, she moved to the nude, gay part of the beach where macho Greek Romeos were afraid to be seen. She stripped naked and read a book, undisturbed. That night she went back into town and spent her time talking with jewelers and souvenir sellers. Enough bar boys. One of the jewelers invited her to dinner at a fashionable restaurant. She had a great time and he was a perfect gentleman.

He walked her to a taxi and invited her to attend a Greek festival to be held in three days to honor a saint. She thanked him but said she was leaving the island in two days and promised to stop by his shop before she left.

Then, like so many other backpackers, she simply disappeared. No one paid the balance of her hotel bill—also not unusual in Mykonos. The hotel owner simply threw out whatever she’d left behind, reported nothing to the police, and rented the room to a new pretty woman from another midnight ferry.

 

Chapter One

Andreas Kaldis knew why his six-foot-two-inch body was crammed into a midget-sized window seat on a plane to Mykonos, and he didn’t like it one bit. He’d been “promoted” from the Greek police force’s number one ass-kicker in central Athens to its chief dog-and-cat protector for Athenian weekenders. At least that’s how he saw it. Thirty-four-year-old hotshot homicide detectives like one thing: catching killers. For them, the worst punishment imaginable was being taken away from the action. His promotion to chief of police for one of the smallest of the Cyclades islands meant just that: being as far away from what he was born to do as Andreas could imagine.

Ninety miles and less than thirty minutes from Athens by plane, or three hours by high-speed ferry, Mykonos was approximately one and a half times the size of the island of Manhattan and had become to Athens what Andreas understood “the Hamptons” were to New Yorkers. Rich and superrich Athenians—together with thousands of wannabe celebrities from all over Europe—flocked to Mykonos on holiday. Many built mega-million-euro summer homes on the island or paid London hotel prices for far less than English five-star service.

What the locals wanted didn’t matter anymore—even though most didn’t know it yet. The moneyed visitors now had a say in how Mykonos would be run, and they had their complaints. For one thing, they were tired of putting up with the old ways. They also groused about too many break-ins, too many  crazy, drunken drivers, and too much local political influence over police enforcement practices. The wealthy were demanding better policing, and they had the political influence to get it.

Enter Andreas Kaldis. His move to Mykonos—or rather, his departure from Athens—was exceptionally good news to certain powerful people. His aggressive investigation into a series of murders over control of the Athenian drug trade had worried them. Promoting him out of Athens—and out of the investigation—was a political masterstroke that even Andreas could appreciate. It hurt no one and made everyone happy. Everyone but Andreas.

Officially, he arrived under a mandate involving the European Union’s insistence that Mykonos show more evenhanded law enforcement toward non-Greeks. Andreas took that as a political cover story for Greece’s Public Order Ministry, which oversaw the police, to guard against the inevitable griping by Mykonian locals that Athens was trying to control their affairs—a perennial complaint among islanders.

Also mentioned in the official announcement of his appointment was the fact that Andreas lacked family ties to any Greek island. That made him a particularly desirable choice for police chief because no one could accuse him of favoritism toward islanders—a perennial complaint on the part of mainland Greeks. The fact that Andreas had served his obligatory service in the military at an air force installation on Mykonos was not mentioned.

Off the record, Andreas had orders to tread lightly with the locals. As a young, single man wielding considerable power on a small island, he knew that word of his every move would get around fast. As far as he was concerned, Athens wasn’t a much bigger place when it came to gossip—and he liked it that way. That was how he got some of his best leads. If the warning meant to avoid fooling around with the local women, he already knew better. Any self-respecting cop would. Besides, Andreas had no intention of incurring some local family’s vendetta—or of tying his future to a Mykonos clan for the rest of his days.

His morning flight was packed with early-June tourists. He fit right in, except he already had his tan—it came, along with his dark hair and gray eyes, from his parents. So did his square jaw and decent good looks. The counterbalancing bump and slightly crooked tilt to his nose —the collective work of several folks who’d ended up looking a lot worse—let you know Andreas wasn’t someone to mess with.

“Looks like it’s going to be a busy season,” said the guy in the aisle seat next to him. He was about Andreas’ size but looked twenty years older.

Andreas hated talking to people on airplanes. Something about planes made people want to tell you things they’d never dream of talking about with strangers on the ground. Maybe it was something about being up in the air, above the earth and closer to God. Or maybe it was just nerves.

“You’re Greek, aren’t you?” The man was speaking Greek with what sounded like a South African accent.

Andreas had to respond in order to avoid seeming rude. He nodded.

“Sure hope it’s busy. Business was slow last year.”

This guy isn’t going to stop, thought Andreas, nodding again.

He turned his head and stared out the window. “I’m a jeweler.”

Andreas knew the man was just trying to be friendly and he didn’t have anything against jewelers—someday he might even need one if he found the right girl. But this cheery nosiness was just the sort of thing he dreaded about being posted to Mykonos. Everyone wanted to know everyone else’s business. Andreas turned back to the fellow and, with his most practiced, tired-cop look, said, “That’s nice,” and returned to the window.

The man took the hint and remained silent for the rest of the flight. After they landed and were walking from the plane to the terminal, he offered Andreas his hand, which Andreas shook graciously. “Enjoy your time here among the gods,” the man said with a smile. “After all, they were our first tourists.”

And, no doubt, those same gods knew that they wouldn’t be the last.

As Andreas waited for his bags he looked around and saw  a room full of excited, good-time-ready responsibilities. How would he possibly protect and police fifty thousand locals and visitors with only sixty cops—including the additional twenty-five assigned to him for the tourist season? He shook his head and chuckled aloud. Maybe he could summon a few of those gods from Delos in a pinch.

Outside the terminal he waited for whomever had been assigned to pick him up. The breeze felt good, but after five minutes of pushing his slightly too-long hair out of his eyes and over his forehead, he picked up his briefcase and walked the hundred yards to the police station abutting the airport. It had been relocated there from the center of town a few years before—perhaps to shorten the walk for stranded chiefs. Andreas didn’t mind the walk¾he ran regularly to keep fit—but he did mind the lack of respect.

The two-story, thick-walled building had the traditional whitewash with blue trim found in Mykonian architecture. Police and civilian cars, SUVs, and motorcycles as well as an assortment of vehicles mangled in road accidents were parked haphazardly along the front and left side of the building. Andreas wasn’t in uniform, and the first things he noticed as he walked in were the ages and abrupt attitudes of the cops who got right in his face and asked what he wanted. All but a handful of the officers under his command were fresh out of the police academy, or still in it and assigned to Mykonos for the summer as part of their training. As green as green could be.

And their community-relations skills would need serious work. What would be even trickier was that, according to their personnel files, not one of these kids was from Mykonos. Mykonians were fiercely independent; they had no desire to be cops and little respect for those who were. Tourism had made Mykonians, on a per capita basis, the richest people in Greece. The financial benefits of police work—both lawful and otherwise—held no attraction for them. Besides, many boasted ancestors who had been unrepentant pirates.

One cop asked Andreas a second time—and more aggressively—what he wanted. Andreas couldn’t help himself. “Would you be kind enough to pick up my bags at the airport? I left them with the Olympic ticket agent.”

The young man, who was built like a bull, looked to his friends, then back at Andreas. “Listen, wiseass, this is a police station. So get the hell out before you find out what happens when you fuck with cops.” He gave an “I showed him” smirk to his buddies.

Andreas fixed his steel-gray eyes on the young cop and let a “do I have your ass now” smile spread across his face. “So nice to meet you, Officer—what does that say on your uniform?— Kouros. I’m Andreas Kaldis, your new chief of police.”

Someone should have checked Kouros’ shorts at that moment, but there wasn’t time. He proved himself smart enough to be out the door and in a car headed to the airport before Andreas could speak another word. Kouros’ friends also jumped to attention, Andreas’ point clearly made.

Chalk one up for the new chief. But there was no time to enjoy his little victory. He’d deal with Kouros and the man responsible for meeting him at the airport later, in private. For the moment. there was a lot of work to do. He just hoped to get half-accustomed to the job before all hell broke loose.

# # #

By the middle of his first week Andreas knew his job was impossible. Everyone on the island did what they wanted. It was as if the police didn’t exist. For now, he could only manage triage, prioritizing what could be done. The impossible situations would be left alone. The insignificant would too. He’d focus attention on what he’d been told was the most politically sensitive concern: danger to tourists. Mykonos thrived because of its tourists, and he had to protect them—if only from themselves.

By the beginning of his second week he’d set up a series of floating checkpoints for catching drunk drivers, reckless drivers, and helmetless motorcyclists. It was the sort of high-visibility, aggressive police activity that, by word of mouth, would change the behavior of far more drivers than they could ever arrest.

He also set up a special unit to back up the cops who worked undercover at the island’s most notorious, late-night tourist spots keeping an eye out for pickpockets and drug dealers. If a tourist at any of those places was robbed or assaulted that unit would appear in force—and in uniform. It was a not so subtle way of sending word to the owners that they’d better take care of their patrons if they wanted their places to remain free of more intrusive police activity.

Thefts from unlocked hotel rooms and unattended bags were grudgingly accepted as an unpreventable fact of modern life. But unprovoked violence and robbery against innocent tourists enjoying the island’s freewheeling party life threatened the eco- nomic heart of Mykonos. Andreas’ message was clear: no such threat to its reputation would be tolerated—from anyone.

In less than two weeks, Andreas felt that he was having a positive impact on the community. The island’s longtime mayor—a sturdy combination of political-machine boss and preening cock of the walk—even stopped by to compliment him. Things seemed to be working out. He thought if he made it through the summer without ruffling any feathers or stepping on any toes he just might be able to work his way back into the good graces of the folks in Athens—and get transferred the hell out of here.

He thought it might help him to stay cool if he tried a little harder to relax. Go to the beach and blow off some steam. Maybe even one of those beaches where the tourist women like to show off their lack of tan lines. He wondered if they were still as hot for Greeks in uniform as they had been when he’d served here in the air force. It was early afternoon and he was getting into the fantasy when Kouros hurried into his office—after knocking, of course.

The news was not good: an Albanian moving stone on some property way over on the other side of the island called to say he’d found a dead body.

Andreas didn’t want to believe what he was hearing and his voice showed it. “A dead body, on Mykonos?”

“Yes, sir,” said Kouros. He’d learned to treat his chief with respect. “He didn’t say much more than that. Just the location. He was pretty frightened. I was surprised he even called. Most of them doing that sort of work are illegal and afraid of us.”

Andreas paused for a moment and stared off into the middle distance, contemplating a decision. “Do you know how to get there?”

“Yes.”

Andreas got up from his desk. “Well, let’s take a ride over and see what he found.”

“Uh, sir?” Kouros’ voice was tentative. “Yes.”

In an even more uncertain tone: “Aren’t we supposed to call Syros whenever there’s a homicide?”

Central Police Headquarters for the Cyclades was on Syros, the political capital for the circle of islands spanning one hundred miles from Andros on the north to Santorini on the south. All homicide investigators and criminal forensic facilities were based there—less than an hour from Mykonos by police boat.

Andreas knew Kouros was right, but he’d be damned if he’d let Syros trample over a murder scene in his jurisdiction before he had a chance to look at it. So much for playing it cool. “Yeah, but let’s just make sure it wasn’t a dead goat he found before bothering Syros.”

Kouros said nothing, simply walked with Andreas to the car, got into the driver’s seat, and began driving east. Andreas liked the way the big kid knew when to keep his mouth shut.

“Sir, I understand you were with Special Homicide Investigations in Athens?”

Word got around. “Yes.”

“How many murders have you seen?”

“Of goats? Or sheep?” “Nice day, sir.”

“Sure is.”

The rest of their conversation was about Kouros’ family back in Athens and his roots on the Ionian island of Zákynthos. It was a pleasant chat, but one that let Kouros know there would be no personal information coming from the chief for him to share with his buddies over coffee.

The twenty-minute drive took them along the road past  the air force’s mountaintop “secret” radar installation—the one everyone on the island knew about. Andreas had been stationed there twelve years ago. He couldn’t believe how much that part of the island had changed. Back then there was virtually noth- ing to see from up here but dirt roads and endless rocky, barren hillsides crisscrossed with centuries-old stone walls. Now the road was paved and elegant homes sprouted everywhere on seemingly unbuildable sites. It was amazing what people with money could do when they wanted something.

The road turned to dirt, then drifted back down the mountain to the east before heading north and up again toward the most desolate part of the island. These steep, gray-brown hillsides once were home to goat herders who could afford no better land, but even they long ago abandoned their little stone-fenced fields in favor of other places. For almost a century no one had wanted to be here. Too far out of town, too much wind, too little—if any—water.

Now, a recent island-wide ban on new construction on land without an existing foundation made an even long-abandoned, goat herder’s shed valuable. Using an appropriately connected contractor to obtain—for a price—the necessary permits, you could “finish” construction and truck in all the fresh water you wanted along the new road. All you needed was the money.

Andreas remembered old mines around here down by the sea. Some sort of mineral used in oil drilling—barite, maybe. He wondered if they still operated. Abandoned mines were great for hiding bodies. On an island like this, though, there had to be hundreds of places to get rid of one—if you had time to plan— but he knew murders rarely took place where the murderer would like them to. That meant moving the body or leaving it where the killer hadn’t planned. Either way left clues. Most murders were poorly thought out beyond the decision to kill—unless, of course, professionals or terrorists were involved.

Then again, this was an island, and the best place to get rid of a body was the sea. No one would ever find one tossed in the sea if you knew how to keep it from popping up. Thankfully, most killers didn’t have that skill—though Andreas was pretty sure that on an island of fishermen most Mykonians would know how or have a relative who did.

Just past a steep switchback, the road tied in to an older, badly beat-up dirt road coming around from the other side of the mountain. Andreas could see that it wound down to the mines and wondered if the body actually might be in one. This road was much worse than the other, and their car looked to be losing its battle with some deep ruts from winter-rain runoff. He was about to tell Kouros to call for an SUV when he saw a beat-up old motorcycle leaning against a boulder by the hillside. The bike was so dusty he couldn’t tell its color. A slightly built man, more like a boy, was sitting in the dirt next to it. His dark hair, white T-shirt, and brown, coarse pants were as dusty as the bike. He jumped up as soon as he saw them. He must be their man.

Though he looked a good foot shorter and eighty pounds lighter than Andreas, the chief knew there was a good chance the man, like many of the Albanian laborers who worked like ants at tough, nasty jobs no Mykonian would ever do again, was stronger than he was. Building stone walls all day in relentless heat could do that, if it doesn’t kill you. Andreas reached for   a bottle of water from the backseat and got out of the car. He walked over and handed the water to the man without saying a word. The man thanked him and Andreas nodded but said nothing. Kouros kept his mouth shut.

From behind his sunglasses Andreas studied him. The Albanian was probably in his early twenties, but his hands and arms bore the bruises and calluses of a far longer lifetime of manual labor. A seriously distressed wedding ring faintly glistened on his finger as he held the bottle to his lips. His hand was shaking and he was frightened. He should be; that was normal. Now to see if there was anything about his story or behavior that wasn’t.

He let the man finish drinking and stared at him for a minute longer without saying a word. Probably Kouros was right about the man being illegal. He must be scared to death he’ll be asked to show his papers. Andreas decided to let that fear fester while he went after what he really wanted to know. Kouros could deal with his papers later.

“Did you call?” Andreas kept his voice firm but pleasant. He didn’t have to say about what; either he’d know or he wasn’t the right guy.

“Yes, sir.”

“What’s your name?” “Alex.”

He didn’t need his last name for now. “Where are you from?”

“Ano Mera.”

That was the other town on Mykonos, located in the middle of the island. But that wasn’t what Andreas meant by his question. He let it pass. The man had to know Andreas knew he was from Albania, if only from his heavily accented Greek.

“So, Alex, why don’t you tell us what you’re doing up here.” “I was working here today.”

“Doing what?” “Fixing stone walls.” “Where?”

He turned and pointed two hundred yards up the steep hillside. “By the church.”

Andreas looked where the man was pointing. All he saw were many muted shades of brown dirt, brown bushes, and  brown rocks—though when he looked closer he saw the rocks were more gray and reddish than brown. The only church he saw was on a different hillside far off to the left. “Do you mean there?” He pointed to the distant traditional, whitewashed, blue-doored, Mykonian family church with its distinctive terra-cotta-colored, horizontal half-cylinder shaped roof. They were all over the island, some no bigger than a hundred square feet.

“No, there.” The man pointed to where he’d pointed before.

Andreas walked over and sighted down the man’s arm as if it were a rifle. Out of the brown he could just make out rocks forming a wall, and behind the wall a structure of some sort— also made out of rocks—part way up the hill. He’d never seen an unpainted stone church on Mykonos.

“Who do you work for?”

The man gave the name of a well-known contractor on the island and said he was told to come here today to start rebuilding the walls around the church. As far as he knew, he was the first one to work here. Someone was supposed to help him but hadn’t shown up. In fact, he hadn’t seen anyone else around all day, except for an SUV or two that drove by while he was waiting for the police.

When Andreas asked why he called, the man got very nervous. Andreas pressed him. “I know you don’t want trouble, so just answer my questions. Why’d you call?”

He was literally shaking. “If I not tell what I find, someone else come here and tell police, then you blame me when find I was here.”

A rational reason, Andreas thought, possibly too rational. He’d better keep a close eye on the guy until he saw the body. A fresh one would make this guy suspect numero uno.

“Okay, then. Where’d you find the body?” “In the church.”

“What were you doing in the church? I thought you were working on the walls.” Alex looked like he might run. Andreas moved to block off an escape down the hill. Kouros must have sensed the same thing because he moved to cut off a run the other way. Andreas wondered whether he should unholster his gun. Not quite yet.

The man dropped to his knees and began shaking his head. “I know I did wrong, I know I did wrong.”

Andreas’ hand was now on his pistol. Kouros’ already was out of the holster.

“I want to see what inside church. It so old and different from others.” As if to redeem himself, he added, “but door not locked.”

“What was inside?” Andreas’ tone was chillingly serious. The man seemed afraid to look up from the ground. “Icons, candles…” He trailed off.

Just what you’d expect to find in a church, thought Andreas. “What else?”

No answer.

In a voice of unmistakable, ultimate authority Andreas said, “What else?”

The man was breathing quickly. “There a stone on the floor.” He paused. “I want to see what under it.”

Andreas and Kouros looked at each other. He saw Kouros immediately relax, smile at him, and holster his weapon. Even Andreas had to fight back a laugh. This poor bastard obviously didn’t know much about island churches. Cremation was forbidden in the Greek Orthodox faith, and there wasn’t enough cemetery space on most islands—even the mainland—for permanent burial underground. So, the dead were buried in a cemetery only for three or four years. Then their bones were dug up and cleaned as part of a ritual before finally being interred in either the wall or under a floor slab in a family church—assuming the family had a church. Otherwise, they were stored in a building at the cemetery.

Alex probably was expecting to find some secret buried treasure and instead got the scare of his life when he opened a burial crypt.

Andreas wished he’d been there to see his face. Ah, what the hell, he thought; we’ve come this far and the guy did call us.

Let’s just play it out. “Okay. Why don’t you just show us what you found.”

The climb took about ten minutes for Andreas and Kouros, about six for Alex. No question who was in better shape for scrambling up hillsides, though Andreas tried to convince himself he was taking a bit longer to enjoy the view. And what a view it was. Each shade-of-brown hill faded into the next slightly darker rise until only a haze of retreating, graceful curves remained to vanish into a sapphire sea and slightly lighter sky. Salt-wind driven fragrances of wild rosemary, savory, and thyme seasoned the air. Whoever chose this site for looking out upon eternity knew what he was doing, thought Andreas.

From up here, he could see that the church was a testament to ancient craftsmanship in natural stone. But this was not an antiquities tour, and Andreas had a lot of work to do back in the office—boring things, but still things. He told Alex to lead the way inside.

Alex pushed open the unpainted wooden door. As usual for a church, the door faced west, toward the setting sun, and the altar at the other end faced east, and the rising sun. That meant there’d be no direct sunlight through the front door until late afternoon, but there was enough light to see. They followed him inside.

The church was smaller than it seemed from outside, probably only about eight feet wide by fifteen feet long, including the small separated space in the rear reserved for the priest. Each side wall had a tiny, tightly shuttered window opening. Looming above them was the cylindrical dome. At its highest point this one looked no more than fifteen feet from the floor. The floor was made of some sort of hard-packed, dirtlike material, but not dirt. Probably ground seashells. A delicately engraved slab of white marble about four and a half feet long by two and a half feet wide sat flush with the floor, centered lengthwise in the middle of the main chamber. Obviously, Alex had taken the time to put it back in place.

As Alex had said, the interior of the church was neat and clean, with icons and candles in all the appropriate places.

Andreas thought some family friend or neighbor must be looking after the place—unless the spirits were taking care of it themselves. There was no way the church could be in this condition without someone regularly caring for it. It was time to end Alex’s ordeal and get back to planning the next traffic stop.

Andreas pointed to the crypt. “Would you please open it up for us.”

Alex started to shake again. “No, please, I can’t. Please.”

Andreas was reluctant to force the man, but then again, cops don’t bend over in the presence of suspects—however unsuspected they may be. “Sit over there in the corner.” He gestured to the far left. “Yianni, move the slab so we can get the hell out of here.”

Kouros walked over and put his fingers on a corner edge of the slab. It was a lot heavier than it looked, and when it didn’t budge at his initial tug Kouros gave a quick look over at Alex—which Andreas took for a sign of respect—then gripped and pulled hard enough to send the lid across the floor and crashing into the wall. Neither man bothered to check for damage. They were too busy gagging at the stench from the decomposing body beneath the slab.

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