The man kept pressing on the doorbell. He’d come this far and was not about to leave without speaking to his friend. Maybe he’d been wrong to call Christos an “old fool,” but that was no reason for ending a fifty-year friendship. For two days in a row Christos had been missing from morning coffee in the harbor. That wasn’t like him.
They’d been friends since practically the day Christos got off the boat to open his nightclub here. And what a club it was. They all came: Brigitte Bardot, Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren, Jackie Onassis, Yul Brynner, Paul Newman, Gregory Peck. Christos’ place had changed Mykonos forever. The times and crowds were different now, but the club still prospered from its perch above the old port following Christos’ indefatigable philosophy: “I try to spend every day doing what others dream of doing just once in their lives.”
Trouble was, Christos’ approach to life had him falling for a twenty year-old Ukrainian pole dancer.
The man started pounding on the door with his fist. “Come on, Christos, it’s Ted. Open up.”
Ted had never actually called Christos an “old fool.” His exact words were, “The trouble with Viagra is it fucks up an old man’s mind a hell of a lot more than it ever gets up his prick.”
Ted turned right and followed a narrow, blue-gray flagstone path toward a white gate just beyond the edge of the house. The gate was of solid steel, a foot taller than Ted, and the only interruption in an eight-foot high natural stone wall surrounding Christos’ property.
He tried the gate handle, but it was locked. He looked down a row of weather-beaten, terra-cotta pots neatly spaced along the base of the wall, walked over to an amphora filled with bright red geraniums, stooped down, dug his fingers into the soil, and came out with a key.
“At least you’re not so pissed off at me that you changed the hiding place.”
On the other side of the gate the flagstone path tripled in size, its left border lined the side of the house and its right sat perpendicular to a dozen parallel rows of grapevine plantings running up to the stone wall on the property line sixty feet away. As Ted reached the back of the house, he yelled, “Christos, it’s Ted. Ready or not here I come.” No answer.
He carefully peered around the corner. Behind the house, flagstone covered all open ground except for a ten-foot soil perimeter abutting the rear wall and bursting with pink and white oleander, pomegranate, lemon, olive, and fig trees. It was Mykonos’ blue and white version of the Playboy Mansion, complete with outdoor kitchen, bamboo-covered beach bar, marble dining table for thirty, sixty-foot-long heated pool, hot tub for ten, and linen-draped outdoor beds.
“Hello, anybody home?” Still no answer.
He wondered whether he should leave and come back later. Christos had a quick temper, and showing up unexpectedly could set him off big time. And when Christos took offense, his stubborn side kept the anger boiling well beyond his recollection of what had set it off in the first place.
Ted stared west at the sea beyond the treetops. He had to give his friend credit: Christos knew how to pick locations. This place was unlike any other on the island. It sat a little more than a half mile from the old harbor, yet despite all the development pressing upon his property, when you looked west all you saw were rolling hills, the blue Aegean, and magnificent sunsets.
He turned his head and glanced around the backyard. Everything looked normal. “Probably out with the dog,” a yellow Labrador Christos had saved from starvation a dozen winters before, one of the many pets tragically abandoned at the end of each summer by self-indulgent, uncaring seasonal residents.
Yes, it’s Sunday, they must be out. Otherwise, the mutt would be barking up a storm at me.
He thought to take a peek in the windows but decided it wiser to leave. If Christos was inside and ignoring his shouts, he was in no mood to be disturbed.
# # #
The next morning the maid found Christos Vasilakis bludgeoned to death in his living room. Next to him lay his dog, killed the same way. She called the police and when they arrived she was sitting calmly next to the bloodied bodies, her eyes fixed on a sliding glass door opening to the backyard. Flies were everywhere.
One young cop almost lost his lunch at the sight. Another at the smell. A third cop, a sergeant, asked her, “Why are you sitting here? It’s a mess. His head is cracked wide open.”
She didn’t move her eyes. “I am from Kosovo. I have seen many dead bodies. Mister Christos was very good to me. I am honoring him by remaining with him.”
The sergeant bit his lip. “Sorry, but you’ll have to wait outside with us until the homicide unit gets here from Syros.”
Syros, home to the Cycladic islands’ central police headquarters, was the capital island of the Cyclades and forty-five minutes away by fast boat in good weather. That’s where the homicide cops were based and those were the rules.
The sergeant stared at the body as the maid walked past him toward the door.
What happened from this point on was someone else’s problem.
She wished it had ended differently. It was all her fault. She was certain of that. If only she hadn’t worn the fancy clothes and jewelry to surprise Sergey on his release from prison. He never said so, but he had to know she couldn’t afford those things on what she made as a dancer. It was obvious she was fucking someone special.
She gazed out the train compartment window at the farmland. It seemed to be passing by so quickly. Just like the weeks since their first visit. She yawned. If she’d stuck to turning tricks during the two years Sergey was away, none of this would have happened. He would have expected that. After all, it’s what she was doing when he caught her hustling johns without his per- mission in that strip club he managed in Bialystok.
She was seventeen then, a runaway from the poverty of the Ukrainian countryside. He was an educated Russian almost twice her age. He didn’t hurt her, just made her screw him in his office for free. They kept up that arrangement for about a week until one night her pimp showed up at the club and threatened Sergey to burn it down to the ground if he kept “messing” with his “property.” She never found out what happened to her pimp, but within a week she was living with Sergey and working his side of the nightlife business as the go-to person for whatever drugs the customers wanted.
For about a year her life was steady and predictable, more so than she could ever remember. Then a rival club owner arranged for Sergey to get arrested in a major drug bust. With Sergey no longer around to protect her, the only thing she could be certain of was that staying in Poland wouldn’t be good for her.
So she took off for Greece and ended up on Mykonos. At five-feet-ten, with busty Grace Kelly looks, getting a job was easy, and the most difficult part of finding someone to take care of her was weeding out the competing offers.
Christos Vasilakis was the obvious choice. He was her boss, he knew everyone, he was rich, he didn’t mind if she screwed around as long as she slept at home, and his sexual appetites were far less demanding than a younger man’s. That arrangement also made it easier for her to still think of herself as Sergey’s girl.
But why did she feel that way? She shut her eyes and tried to think of an answer.
They hadn’t written or spoken since she fled to Greece, and his last message to her was that he never expected to see her again. So, why did she return to Bialystok to see him? She’d felt no guilt over leaving him there to face prison alone. If she’d stayed in Poland, the prosecutors would have made her testify against him and his sentence would have been much longer. No, they both knew it was best that she left.
The obvious answer was love. But that would be insanity. Moth-to-the-flame insanity. She opened her eyes and turned her head to look at the two men sitting across from her in the train compartment. Yes, insanity.
And it has cost me dearly.
# # #
By the time the homicide unit arrived from Syros it was nearly noon, giving the sun a chance to re-bake the bloody contents of the house to a deep, gag-inducing stench. Even the coroner retched until he could dab some menthol gel above his upper lip.
“It’s a nasty one, Tassos,” he said.
The man he’d called Tassos held a white handkerchief doused in menthol up to his nose. The two uniformed cops with him did the same. Looking his full sixty years, five foot eight, and unlikely to have missed a meal in many years, Tassos nodded. “Horrible way for Christos to go. Horrible way for anyone.”
The coroner pointed at a white marble statuette of the Greek god Adonis that lay toppled on the floor between Christos and the dog. It was covered in dried blood. “If that’s the weapon, the first blow to his head probably ended it. The rest was rage. I can’t even recognize his face.”
“What about the dog?”
“There’s a fireplace poker close by the poor thing. Looks like that’s what did it in.”
“Do you think one blow took it out, too?” “Does that matter?” Said the coroner. “Costas, just answer the question.”
The coroner knelt next to the dog. “The dog was struck more than once.”
“So, either the killer was also pissed off at the dog or had trouble taking it out.”
The coroner nodded. “And if he had trouble, the dog might have gotten a piece of him.”
“Or her. Make sure the boys are careful, there might be more than one human DNA sample in this…” Tassos waved his hand at the floor but didn’t finish his sentence.
“Chief Investigator Stamatos?”
It was a Mykonos police sergeant standing inside the front door.
“Sorry to interrupt you, sir, but the maid wants to know if she can leave. She has another job to get to and is afraid she’ll be fired if she’s not there on time.”
“Tell her to stay.” Tassos looked at the coroner. “Do you need me?”
“How could I possibly do my job without you staring over my shoulder?”
“That’s what I thought. If you find anything interesting, just yell. I’ll be outside.”
Tassos turned to the two uniformed cops. “The same goes for you. And be careful where you step. We’ve got a hell of a lot of house and outside property to cover, and our glorious ministry’s cutbacks leave it all to us, so take your time. Hurrying won’t get you back to Syros for whatever you’ve planned for tonight. It will only piss me off if you miss something.”
What he didn’t say was how many bad guys were literally getting away with murder because of the country’s financial crisis. There simply weren’t enough cops, equipment, or time to do a proper investigation. “Not on my watch,” Tassos muttered as he walked out of the house.
The maid was sitting out of the sun on a cafe-style, white-wrought iron chair next to the front of the house. The sergeant and two officers leaned against the stone wall about thirty feet away.
Tassos walked over to the woman. The sergeant started toward them but Tassos waved him off.
“Keria.” Tassos used the respectful form of address for a mar- ried woman. “I’m sorry to have kept you waiting, but I’m sure you understand that we have much to do to catch the people responsible for this.”
The woman’s expression was flat. “With Mister Christos gone, my other job is all that I have.”
Tassos nodded. “I understand. Times are very tough. What hours did you work for him?”
“From eight in the morning until two in the afternoon, Monday through Friday.”
“He was an early riser?”
“Every day as soon as I got here he’d walk to town for coffee in the harbor with his friends.”
“What time do you have to be at your other job?” “Two thirty.”
Tassos looked at his watch. “We have an hour. You’ll make it with no problem. What can you tell me that might be helpful?” “I know nothing. I just found his body and called the police.”
“Did you check to see if anything was missing?”
“I called the police from the living room and sat there with Mister Christos until they arrived. I never went anywhere else in the house.”
“Did he have a safe?” “I wouldn’t know that.”
Tassos walked over to another chair and dragged it into the shade next to the woman. “Looks like I’ll need this, keria, because if that’s the kind of answers you’re going to be giving me, we’ll be talking for quite a while.” He sat down facing her.
“I don’t understand. I answered your question.” “How long have you been cleaning Christos’ house?” “Almost three years.”
“Like I said, did he have a safe?” “I don’t––”
Tassos raised his hand. “We both know you knew every inch of his house better than he did. So, if you keep playing dumb, you might just convince me you had something to do with his murder. Now, did he have a safe?”
She blinked twice. “Yes.” “Where is it?”
“There were two. One in his bedroom closet, in the wall behind an icon, and another in the living room.”
“Where in the living room?”
“In a wall covered with large white marble tiles next to the fireplace.”
“How did you know about them?”
“Mister Christos never tried to hide the one in the bedroom. Many times he went to it while I was cleaning the bedroom.”
“And the one in the living room?”
“A few months after I started working for Mister Christos he asked me to clean out the fireplace in the living room. I noticed some of the marble tiles had separated from the wall. I touched them, and they swung open like a door. The safe was inside.”
“Did you say anything to him?”
“No, I left the tiles just as I found them. I didn’t want him to know I knew about the second safe.”
“He’d never done anything to suggest he wanted me to know about it. I thought he might be testing me to see if I touched things that I shouldn’t.”
“Did you ever see the marble tiles open again?” “No.”
Tassos nodded. “Did anyone else know about the safes?” “I don’t know.”
Tassos looked at his watch. “Keria, you’re running out of time.”
“Many people knew about his safe in the bedroom.” “What about the one in the living room?”
She shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
“Did his girlfriend know?” Tassos had spent his time on the boat trip over from Syros calling several of Christos’ well-known friends. They’d told him about the girlfriend.
The woman’s face came alive at the question. “She’s a whore.”
The “putana from Ukraine,” was the phrase most often used by Christos’ friends. “Why do you say that?”
“I made the beds.” Tassos shrugged. “So?”
“I could tell when it wasn’t Mister Christos who’d been with her.” She lowered her eyes. “His hair was silver. Not black or brown or…”
Tassos nodded. “I get it. Do you know the names of any of her visitors?”
“No, I never saw any of them. She’d have them over in a guest room after I left and before Mister Christos came home for his nap in the late afternoon.”
“Did he know about the other men?”
She shrugged. “If he did, he never said anything to her. At least not when I was around.”
“What else can you tell me about her?” “She had a boyfriend.”
“Who is he?”
“I don’t know, but he’s not from Mykonos.”
“How do you know?”
“From the way she talked to him on the telephone.” “She talked to her boyfriend in front of you?” “Once, in Polish.”
“You understand Polish?”
“Enough to know she was talking to a boyfriend.” “Do you have a name for the boyfriend?”
“Sergey. He’s in Bialystok. She was talking about visiting him.”
“Going to visit him, or having already visited him?” “Both.”
“When did she visit him?”
“She left the island five or six weeks ago, so it was probably then.”
“Did she travel a lot?”
“Not without Mister Christos. That was the first time I could remember her traveling without him. They argued about him paying for her trip. Mister Christos said he wouldn’t pay for her to go somewhere without him. Even if it was to see her family.”
“Is that where she went?”
She shrugged. “That’s what she said.”
“Any mention of Christos in her conversation with the boyfriend?”
“She said ‘the old man suspects nothing.’ I guess that was about Mister Christos.”
“‘Suspects nothing’ about what?” “No idea.”
“You never told Christos any of what you’d overheard?”
She looked at Tassos’ eyes. “Do you think Mister Christos didn’t know what she was? If I told him what I’d heard, it would be nothing different from what he’d already imagined and had accepted as the price of being with her. If I told him, he wouldn’t get rid of her, he’d get rid of me, the one who told him what he did not want to hear.”
Tassos smiled. “I see you knew your employer well. Any idea where the girlfriend is now?”
“Mister Christos told me she’d left a week ago Sunday for Poland.” The maid spit at the ground. “On another visit to her family.”
“You think she went to see the boyfriend?” “That’s what she was talking about on the phone.”
“Did Christos say when she’d be back on Mykonos?” “This weekend.”
“Any idea of who might have done this to him?”
She gave a quick upward jerk of her head in the Greek gesture for “no.”
“No enemies, no arguments, no strangers coming around the house?” said Tassos.
“The putana would know about those sorts of things. She’s the one who brought strangers into Mister Christos’ home.”
Tassos said nothing for a moment, smacked his hands on his thighs, stood up, and waved for the sergeant to come over. “Thank you, keria.”
“Yes, sir?” said the sergeant.
“Please have one of your men give the lady a ride to wherever she has to be.”
The maid stood and started to follow the sergeant but Tassos touched her arm to stop her. He handed her his card and whispered, “If you think of anything else that might be helpful, anything at all, please call me. And I’d appreciate it if you’d keep that second safe just between us.”
Tassos dropped his hand from her arm and walked back into the house.
We have no signs of forced entry. We have no signs of the girlfriend. We have a suspect.
# # #
Anna had been away from Bialystok for less than a week but it felt like a lifetime. When they reached the building, she told the two men to wait outside. She wanted to be alone in Sergey’s one room apartment.
The fresh flowers she’d left in a vase on the small table next to his bed were gray and shriveled, surrounded by withered petals that had fluttered onto the tabletop.
All it would have taken was a little water.
She looked at the bed. It hadn’t been made. Dirty clothes lay scattered on the one upholstered chair in the room. There were dishes piled up haphazardly in the sink and God only knew what sort of a mess was in the bathroom.
Sergey was the same slob he’d been when they’d lived together, always waiting for someone to pick up after him. But now that someone was used to maids.
How can I ever go back to this?
Anna sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the icon on the wall between the room’s two dirty windows. She didn’t pray, only stared, waiting to hear him at the door.
There were a lot of things she had to tell him.