There was an unnatural cadence to the man’s walk. Maybe it was the uneven stone lane. But he’d walked this path ten thousand times, though not so soon before first light. Still, he knew it well enough. He paused, as if to listen, then moved five paces and paused again. In the shadows outside the monastery’s wall, his black monk’s rasso was long enough to conceal his body and the short, flat-topped kalimafki his hair, but neither hid his snow- white beard. Perhaps he should have been looking as carefully as he listened, but it wouldn’t have mattered. The men stood quietly at the bottom of the path, just beyond where it opened into the town square. He could not see them.
# # #
Andreas had told Lila he’d be home early. Forget about it. Here he was yelling over the noise of a military helicopter commandeered by his boss, the minister of public order, to get Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis, head of the Greek Police’s Special Crimes Division, and his assistant, detective Yianni Kouros, out of Athens and over to a northern Dodecanese island close to Turkey “before all hell breaks loose.”
“There’s no reason for him tossing this mess in our laps. No damn reason at all.”
Kouros shrugged. “I don’t know, Chief, maybe the minister thought a monk turning up murdered the Sunday before Easter in the middle of the town square on the Holy Island of Patmos qualified as a special crime?”
Andreas ignored him. They’d worked together long enough for him to let the younger man tease him, at least when they were alone. Besides, Kouros was right. Throat cut, everything but the monk’s crosses taken. Hard to imagine anyone who’d kill a monk being considerate enough to leave them behind.
The two-hundred-mile flight east from Athens took a little more than forty minutes. They landed at a heliport next to a hilltop military installation. There was no airport on Patmos, and lacking permission to land a helicopter, the only way to reach the island was by boat.
Patmos was a nine-mile-long, thirteen-square-mile, dark beige and green ribbon of fertile valleys, rocky hills, eclectic beaches, and crystal blue bays. Slightly more than half the size of New York City’s Manhattan, with three thousand permanent residents, it was far less developed for tourism than the better known western Aegean Greek islands of Mykonos and Santorini. Visitors came here for serenity and a slower-paced, spiritual holiday, seeking enrichment for the soul rather than excitement for the body—or so the church liked to think.
The road from the heliport snaked south, down toward the port area known as skala, with its ubiquitous one-, two-, and occasional three-story buildings filled with tourist shops, restaurants, hotels, bars, and clubs facing east across the harborside road. The police car made its way through the port, turned right at the first road past the post office, and headed toward the mountain road leading to Patmos’ ancient chora, perhaps the most desired and beautiful village in all of Greece. During the summer, its quiet lanes and simple but elegant stone houses were home to members of Greece’s former royal family, current and past government leaders, and understated wealth and power from around the world. Andreas sat behind the driver as the police car wound its way up to Chora along a two-mile band of road lined with eucalyptus. It was Andreas’ first time on the island, and like every other tourist, he couldn’t help but stare down toward the port.
It was an extraordinary view: green fields and olive trees against a sapphire sea laced with muted brown-green islands running off to the horizon, a scene from antiquity.
The driver said, “Locals say this is the same view as he had when he wrote The Book.” He paused. “And right over there is where he did it.”
Andreas didn’t have to ask who he was. On Patmos there was only one he. They were almost halfway up the mountain and tourist buses were parked everywhere.
“The entrance to The Cave is over there.” The driver gestured with his head to the left. “You should see it if you have the chance.”
Andreas thought to remind the young cop that this was a murder investigation, not a sightseeing tour. But he let it pass. After all, this spot was hallowed ground to much of the world: the cave where Saint John wrote the Book of Revelation, the apocalyptic tale of the end of the world—or its beginning, depending on your point of view.
“Take a look at that.” It was Kouros pointing up the hill toward a monastery. It dominated the hilltop.
“That’s the Monastery of Saint John the Divine. It controls the island. What the monastery wants, it gets. What it doesn’t want, doesn’t happen,” said the driver.
Andreas looked up, wondering not for the first time, why me? Yes, theoretically his unit had jurisdiction over any crime in Greece considered serious enough to warrant special attention, a unique and feared position in a politically sensitive department, but for practical purposes there was no way he could keep up with all the serious, big-time crime threatening Athens, let alone the rest of Greece. Sometimes he wondered if that might have been the plan: give him too much to do to accomplish a single thing. If so, he’d sure as hell surprised more than a few high-profile bad guys now serving time.
I’ve never been here, Andreas thought. I have no connections here. Why did the minister say I’m “the only one in Greece” qualified to conduct this investigation? The Byzantine thinking of his superiors never ceased to amaze him. If this was just a mugging turned cutthroat, as the Patmos cops had reported to the ministry in Athens, they were far more qualified than he to find the locals responsible. On the other hand, if there were something more, the ministry knew better than to expect political correctness or a coverup from Andreas. Threats and tenders of bribes only pissed him off more. Perhaps this was one of those rare cases where politicians didn’t care about scandal as long as the guilty were caught. Yeah, and maybe he should go back to believing in the tooth fairy.
At the crest of the hill, just before the road began twisting down the other side of the mountain, the driver made a sharp right turn. A bus stood a hundred-fifty yards ahead, waiting its turn to discharge a load of tourists and pilgrims to the monastery. There was nothing to do but wait. A man in a black baseball cap marked GO STEELERS in gold lettering stood slowly spinning a rack of postcards outside a souvenir kiosk. From the hat and the camera around his neck, Andreas assumed he was a tourist. On any other island, he’d also assume the man was in the midst of one of those epiphanies overwhelming to so many first-time visitors as they gazed at a host of “Hi from Greece” postcards adorned with nudes and body parts arranged in mind-boggling positions. But here, so close to the monastery, he doubted such commerce was allowed. Then again, this was Greece, and business was business.
Once the bus moved, the car passed through a barrier prohibiting all but authorized vehicles up into a tiny town square overlooking Skala and the sea. They parked beside Patmos’ neoclassical town hall of white plaster, beige stone, and pale blue wood trim. Andreas looked across the square. He felt as if he’d stepped back in time, to the eleventh century to be exact. But, today, this was the scene of a twenty-first century murder. Time to get to work.
“Yianni, find who’s in charge.”
Kouros walked toward three cops on the other side of the square steering the curious and a TV crew away from a lightweight, black plastic tarp surrounded by blaze orange cones of the sort commonly seen guarding potholes.
Andreas was always amazed at how quickly the media got to a crime scene. This crew must be local, or maybe from a neighboring island, probably Kos. No way a crew from Athens could have beaten him here. They’d never get permission to land a helicopter to cover this story. But they’d arrive soon enough. This was too lurid for the press to miss.
The tarp covered an area roughly three times the size of a man and ten feet or so from the entrance to a narrow lane running off between two white buildings. Four more lanes led off the square, all paved in stones of different shapes and sizes.
Kouros waved to Andreas and pointed at one of the cops.
Andreas walked to where they were standing.
“Hello, Chief Inspector, my name is Mavros,” said the man with Kouros.
From his stripes Andreas could tell he was a sergeant. Andreas nodded. “Where’s your captain?”
“He’s in a meeting with the mayor and said not to be disturbed. But I can answer your questions.”
“How about, ‘Where’s the body?’”
The sergeant looked surprised. “Back in the monastery. Being prepared for the funeral.” In the Greek Orthodox Church, burial occurred as soon as possible after death, absent complicating circumstances such as murder.
The captain in charge of the island’s police was too busy making political nice-nice to meet with the chief inspector of special crimes at the murder site. He’d let the body be moved and tampered with before Andreas had the chance to examine it. If someone wanted Andreas to conduct a real investigation, he sure as hell didn’t bother to tell the Patmos police.
Andreas drew in and let out a breath. “Any idea of the time of death?”
“Between two-thirty and three in the morning.” Andreas nodded. “Take off the tarp.”
The sergeant paused.
Andreas smiled and patted the sergeant on the arm. “I’m sorry, I meant to say, ‘Take off the tarp, please.’”
“Chief, there’s blood everywhere. We can’t let the tourists see that.”
So that’s why the corpse was gone, thought Andreas. “Who told you to move the body?”
The sergeant hesitated. “It’s Easter Week. We couldn’t leave a holy man lying dead in the middle of the town square.”
That’s what Easter Week is all about, thought Andreas. A holy man’s death in public view. He hoped that wasn’t a clue. Some twisted psycho murdering monks was more than he wanted to think about.
Andreas turned to Kouros. “Yianni, do you think he’s having trouble with my accent?”
Andreas turned back to the sergeant. “Please, just tell me, ‘Who told you to move the body?’” Andreas still was smiling, but not in a way meant to calm a sergeant heading toward a pension. “The abbot thought it disrespectful to the church.” The sergeant paused. “But we videotaped and photographed everything.” Great, thought Andreas. Now I’ve got the police chief, the mayor, and the head of the monastery working together at screwing up this investigation. He shook his head. “Just move everybody back and lift the tarp.”
“The captain said not to touch it without his okay.” Now he sounded as if he were giving an order.
At six feet two inches tall, Andreas was about a head taller than the sergeant, and Kouros, though an inch or so shorter and at least a foot broader than the sergeant, was built like a bull. Andreas ignored him, looked at Kouros, and nodded toward the tarp.
As much as police sergeants on tourist islands were used to being obeyed, this one must have realized he couldn’t win this confrontation on any level. He stepped back to allow Kouros to pass and remove the cones, then helped Andreas and Kouros lift the tarp.
Though only mid-April, it was a bright, sunny day. Perfect for baking blood onto black plastic sheeting. Whatever clues the tarp may once have protected were now part of an ugly, impenetrable mess. They set the tarp off to one side and Andreas studied the ground. There wasn’t much left to see except shoe prints. Lots of shoe prints.
“What the hell was going on here, a track meet?”
The sergeant shrugged. “A baker on the way to work found the body, panicked, and ran through the streets screaming, ‘Kalogeros Vassilis was murdered in the square.’ People came running from everywhere to see if they could help, and when they saw it was too late, they stayed to pray by his body. He was a much loved man, and by the time we got here the square was packed with mourners. We had to pull two hysterical old women off his body.”
As if on cue, an old woman dressed head-to-foot in black hobbled into the square from a nearby lane. Chanting loudly, she walked to where Andreas was standing, crossed herself three times, and threw flowers smack-dab into the heart of the blood soaked crime scene. Those gathered at the edge of the square responded in a chorus of amens.
Andreas stared at the woman, then looked at Kouros. “Let’s get out of here.”