Just when she thought life couldn't get any better a shedload of shit hit the fan for
Georgina. She had just closed the door on Alex and blown him a kiss as he disappeared into the lift. She pulled the shirt tightly around her, slid the bolt and turned around ... and then she saw the pulsing glow from her computer - and that meant bad news. At this time in the morning it had to be crap .. it couldn't be other. __________________________________________________________________ Gilbert was awake, There was a full moon outside although he couldn't see it from where he was ,,, he would though, soon enough. There was an owl hunting outside he had heard it in the few minutes he had been lying there. His prickly heat was driving him crazy and his bladder was full. He was trying to put off the inevitable. Beccy was fast asleep beside him - peacefully for once. She must be between hot ﬂushes. The owl screeched again and his ears pricked. Behind the owl there was another noise ... one he couldn't place. One that didn't belong. An engine? And close by, too. __________________________________________________________________ Georgina had checked it all through and had acted within minutes. A snatch team was surely on its way by now. She just hoped that they were close by and would act discreetly. This was a powder keg ready to blow and she wanted no sparks igniting it. Souda had been the nearest. At least it was on the right island though she had no idea how far away. It was a US facility but needs must when the devil drives and satan himself was behind this shit ﬁght. And if it was a yank operation then there was some slim chance that Alex wouldn't ﬁnd out. If Alex found out it would be more than her professional career that would be fucked ... her private life would be burned too. __________________________________________________________________ Gilbert was standing and pissing. The owl was perched on the power line just outside the bathroom window. He could see the tanks on the roof cast into shadow on the white walls of the house next door. He could see the owl in silhouette. There was a hunter in the valley too though what he was hunting was beyond Gilbert. Locals followed no obvious logic when it came to ﬁrearms. Suddenly Gilbert became aware that the engine noise had stopped. He craned his neck and strained his ears. He was looking through the bathroom window his piss over and he thought he saw something moving ... not the owl ... something else ... and he thought he perceived a black form gliding down the track toward him. __________________________________________________________________ Georgina opened the secure tunnel again and checked progress. The snatch team had been despatched ... ETA ... about now ... it had been designated a "silent running" op and so she knew that there would be no further updates until it was all over. She
closed the tunnel and closed her laptop. Moving to the kitchen she steeled herself for the wait. She ﬁlled the kettle, switched it on and put coffee into the press - Guatemalan. Three spoonsful. She closed the coffee jar and put it back beside the bread bin. This was a very seriously shitty situation and having to rely on yanks made her uneasy. She pulled the coffee jar out again, ﬂipped it open, and put an extra spoonful in the press - a little more caffeine would do no harm and as she had no prospect of sleep tonight a small lift could only help. George had never been good at patience. Tonight would test her. __________________________________________________________________ Rubbing his eyes and shaking his dick Gilbert did the classic double take ... a hummer? ... here? ... what the fuck? Black? No lights - that was surely so! It stopped outside the house next door but though he stood there for another 5 minutes he saw nothing else. He stumbled back to bed not quite believing his own senses. Two minutes later he was asleep again. Three minutes later he was snoring. Beccy nudged him to turn over and he did. __________________________________________________________________ Georgina was drinking the last of the second pot of coffee. Her ashtray was overﬂowing and she had completed all of her considerable stash of sudokus. She waited on ... not patiently... but still she waited. __________________________________________________________________ "Wake him, Wayne - I'll cover her mouth". Wayne shook the sleeping form on his side of the bed roughly and raised a ﬁnger to his lips. "Do not say a word Mr B" he growled, "do not even think of it. My colleague is shutting your wife's mouth and it would take only a slight adjustment of his hand to break her neck. If I nod my head your wife is dead." Wayne smiled crookedly at his own wittcism. "You and she are leaving here immediately. Your cover is compromised. You have been very naughty and we have been sent by your people to get you out. Now get dressed and calm down. You can't take anything .... before you ask. Slowly and carefully now. It's just as easy for us to leave your bodies here as it is to take you with us. Easier maybe. Now move it. Put some strides on and get shifting. And trust me, it makes no difference to us whether we leave with or without you." __________________________________________________________________ Gilbert stirred. It was hot and he was sweating. His hair was wet. HIs mouth was dry from snoring. He opened his eyes and stared through the mosquito net but could not see the clock. It was dark, very dark. He was stuck to the sheets. He strained his ears. Was there noise coming from next door? He turned to face the wall but noted three dull distant sounds for future reference.
__________________________________________________________________ "Now I'm going to let you both get up but I demand total silence, Wayne will take care of your husband but if you open your mouth or make a sound you WILL regret it. Wayne is a pussycat but I love this job. Now get up and get some clothes on. And do NOT make sound. Wayne - now." The man rose in total silence but the woman, as soon as he released her mouth, went to speak - or scream. There was a blur of his hand and a loud click. Blood trickled from her nose and mouth and she fell silent once more. "I've broken your nose lady - think yourself very, VERY, lucky that it wasn't your neck. Next time it will be. I don't make idle threats." His voice was strangely monotonous - almost completely lacking in modulation. He sounded more machine than man and the woman thought that the speed of his hands and the total absence of emotion scared her. She was right to be scared. She cuffed the blood and held her tongue. "Now shift your slack ass lady and put some clothes on - you disgust me you pasty whore." The man had dressed by now - a tee shirt and a pair of jeans. He stood meekly by the doorway. Wayne towered above him. Menace ﬁlled the room. __________________________________________________________________ Alex rapped his knuckles on the door. He hates doorbells. Spending his working life with electronics he takes pains to avoid them in his real life. Stepping back from the door half a pace he listens intently for the tiny latch to slide across the spyhole. "Hi George, I think I left my thumb drive with you. Sorry to wake you. I won't stay long unless you'd like me to stay longer". His oddly crooked mouth curled into a smile. __________________________________________________________________ "Cover that fucking mess lady - you got more winkles than my Shar Pei - I swear it now get a hustle on and stop making me nauseous - we need to be out of here toot sweet. Wayne, take the guy downstairs and wait." He poked the woman with his foot and nodded his head toward the door. Wayne pushed the man gently but ﬁrmly. She pulled on a ﬂimsy, faded, shapeless, dress. He stepped across the room swiftly and she cowered. "For Jesus' sake put some fucking underwear on - I don't want to have to look at that moth eaten beaver all the way back to base. Now move it. You do NOT want to piss me off." __________________________________________________________________ Georgina heard his voice as she peered through the spyhole and slid back the safety bolt. "Hold on Alex ... your thumbdrive? It's on the desk. Hold on." She returned to the desk and picked up the offending item. Opening the door she stood in the jamb. "So you aren't infallible then? That could have been embarrassing - "Computer Wizard leaves top secret data for anyone to read". "No chance of that darling - a, the device is a modiﬁed one, it's biometrically protected, needs to match my skin chemistry and my ﬁngerprint - b, the only thing on it is the iPhoto undergrade that I installed on your
machine." "Undergrade? What the hell is an undergrade Alex? I've heard of upgrades and sidegrades but ... an undergrade?" "It's when we put extra or alternative functionality into a totally bog standard app under disguise ... make me a coffee and I'll tell you all about it ... come on babes ... my bed will be cold by now ..." "Sorry Alex but no dice ... much as I'd like to I'm waiting on some ofﬁcial business. So, take your undergrade and sod off for now huh? His face was a picture. She closed the door on his gobsmacked face and slid the safety bolt back on. Her iBook was ﬂashing. __________________________________________________________________ Wayne waited at the foot of the stairs as they came down. The woman was still leaking blood from her nose and now and then she would dab at it with a wad of toilet paper. The man completely subdued made no protestations as he was harried. The ground ﬂoor was single space roughly subdivided into TV room, dining area and kitchen. It was, Wayne could see even in the low light afforded by the moon, cluttered and messy - reminded him of the trailer his granma used to have outside of Portland - he supposed that this was just the the way that old people lived. The huge TV set was mounted on the wall in a corner as it would be in a bar and 3 canine corpses were stacked beneath it, among the CDs and the DVDs. The man cast a glance toward this heap brieﬂy before he was ushered through the door and into the night. The woman did not. Nobody noticed the 5 cat corpses under the dining table. As Wayne pulled the door to silently behind him and the captives were hooded and packed into the back of the Hummer he thought just in passing that the house would start to stink quickly in this climate. Two days max. The dogs next door were barking to raise the dead. An owl's white underside slid silently above him and over the Hummer. __________________________________________________________________ Pulling his gown around him and tucking the belt in tightly Gilbert opened the front shutters to quiet the dogs. Something glinted in his peripheral vision and he looked left. The owl was on the wing. Hunting, he thought - but no. The moon shone brightly down on what was unmistakably a Hummer reversing up the lane. The lights were off and the windows were tinted. He could discern nothing more and then it disappeared behind olive trees though he could hear still the heavy engine turning slowly and the distinctive whine of a reversing vehicle. A dust cloud marked its passing. The dogs now quietened, he closed the shutters and stumbled back under the mosquito net looking for more sleep. __________________________________________________________________ Georgina ﬂipped open the lid on the iBook and stood watching the newly "undergraded" iPhoto start up. Everything looked normal. She racked her mid term memory to recall the tutorial Alex had given her on the application just a few hours ago. "Secure iPhoto opening ..." "Opening secure tunnel ..."
"Securing a secured tunnel within ..." "Please attach ﬁrewire camera ..." What the hell does that mean? Firewire camera? A camera? She plundered her near recollections, she had almost total recall, but only from long term memory. Got it! The gizmo ... She pulled the device from her pocket and jammed it swiftly into the ﬁrewire port. "That little baby has three ASIC processors inside" Alex had lectured her "and that, my little lady, provides your voice communications with 107 times the depth of protection that the German Enigma machine could ... I designed one of those little babies myself" He had been uber smug about that, but his smugness was kind of endearing she thought. He was, after all, a very clever guy - and ﬁt to boot. One hundred and seven though? 107 - what about that? What's the signiﬁcance of 107? And then, oh so predictably, it percolated its way up out of the mists of mnemosyne: 107 is a twin prime with 109 - 107 is therefore a Chen prime - 2 to the power 107 minus 1 produces a Mersenne prime ( there are only 48 known Mersenne primes) and 107 is thus itself also a Safe prime. A Safe and a Chen prime - that would make sense - primes were key in Alex's cryptographic approach. Key - huh a pun. Georgina's reverie was broken by a hoarse, smoke damaged, voice barking from the iBook's internal speaker "Gina, we have pulled the Brodies. As we speak a couple of septic tanks have them in custody and they will be arriving at camp G within the next 6 hours. My job's done. It's all yours now." "G? Why G? That's way out of range." "Sorry dear... the rest are full of bloody rag heads. G had spaces - that's where they're going ... at least they'll be used to the heat - and they do speak a kind of English there" "Photos safely dowloaded ... quitting" Georgina closed the lid and lit a cigarette. Thanks Ma ... thanks a bunch. __________________________________________________________________ Alex ﬂipped down the glove box in his classic DS and plugged a set of Bose headphones into the line out socket. Bluetooth still doesn't cut it for audio. He lit a Gitane and cracked the window a little to let the heavy blue tinged smoke waft away into the drizzle ﬁlled night air. The street was ﬁlthy and as he waited a MacDonald's carton drifted lazily in the opposite gutter. He watched it jostle a sodden KFC bucket to one side in its inexorable drift to the drain. He drew heavily and the cigarette collapsed between his ﬁngers. He wound the window down and ﬂicked the butt out into the wet night. He unplugged the headphones and stowed them away. The Brodies? Again? Over my dead fuckng body. Camp G? OK. The drizzle had turned to rain now and a single fork of lightning rent the sky in front of him. __________________________________________________________________
"Κακή; Τι στο διάολο σου συμβαίνει Αντώνη; Η κατάσταση δεν είναι απλά κακή, ούτε καν σκατά – είναι μία πλήρης γαμημένη καταστροφή. Είμαστε τόσο βαθιά μέσα στα σκατά που θα χρειαστούμε μία από αυτές τις σκατορουφήχτρες, τα βοθρατζίδικα που χρησιμοποιούν στα ξενοδοχεία για να βγούμε από δω μέσα – και πάλι θα βρωμάμε κι οι δυό μας σκατά μέχρι να πάρουμε σύνταξη." "Τόσο άσχημα είναι τα πράγματα Γαβρίλε; Νομίζεις ότι μπλέξαμε; Δεν μπορεί να μας βοηθήσει ο Θείος Τεό;" Ο Γαβρίλος αναστέναξε και έπιασε το κεφάλι του. "Ναι Αντώνη, νομίζω πως είναι αρκετά άσχημα – μπορείς να το πεις κι έτσι. Ακόμη κι ο Θείος Τεό δεν μπορεί να μας γλιτώσει απ’ αυτό το μπλέξιμο. Οπως και να ‘χει, πρέπει να σταματήσεις να μιλάς ελληνικά και να συνεχίσεις στα αγγλικά – και οι δυό μας πρέπει να μιλάμε αγγλικά. "Μα γιατί Γαβρίλε; Ξέρεις πως τα αγγλικά μου είναι χάλια. Και όταν μιλάω αγγλικά δεν μπορώ να σκέφτομαι σωστά." "Αφησε εμένα να σκέφτομαι Αντώνη – εσύ δεν είσαι και τόσο καλός σ’ αυτό. Πρέπει να μιλάμε αγγλικά γιατί αυτό είναι αγγλικό κείμενο. Ο συγγραφέας είναι Άγγλος και οι αναγνώστες θα είναι μάλλον Άγγλοι. Πόσοι δίγλωσσοι αναγνώστες, που μιλάνε αγγλικά και ελληνικά και ενδιαφέρονται για το μεταμοντέρνο ειρωνικό αστυνομικό διήγημα νομίζεις πως υπάρχουν στον κόσμο; Δεν χρειάζεται να απαντήσεις ... Απλά κάν’ το." _________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________ Yesterday we had two missing kids ... that was bad. They are English kids ... that makes it very bad ... do you know what happened with the McCann kid? ... the press cruciﬁed the Portugese police ... made them out as complete idiots ... village idiots ... that's what happened ... can you imagine what they'll do to us ... then Georgos turns up this bloody email from 2 weeks ago warning us ... an email that nobody has even logged ... so now we have a disaster ... and that's not enough ... oh no ... nowhere near enough .... now we have a fax telling us that that bastard Kolla is coming over to "help" us ... do you know Kolla? ... do you? .... that makes the whole thing add up to a fucking catastrophe. _________________________________________________________________ "You're not wrong there my friend, fucking catastrophe sums it up quite succinctly in my opinion" A short man of perhaps 40 summers stood in the open doorway. Rumpled and shabby he held a cigarette in his left hand - most of the ash seemed to be spread about the front of his jacket. He was unnaturally white for a Greek - grey almost, like the ash of the cigarette that he let fall from his ﬁngers as he moved fully into the room. His left hand produced a pack of Assos from his pocket and he hardly broke stride as he lit one from a cheap disposable lighter that disappeared, along with the cigarette packet with a speed of hand that deﬁed the show of his shambling gait. "That bastard Kolla. And you are?". He patted Antonis on the head "Go and make some fresh coffee monkey boy and bring us some whiskey". _________________________________________________________________ Gilbert sipped his coffee, letting the steam rise. Lighting another cigarette he looked up and out of the kitchen window. The sky was so clear that the reﬂection from the white of the outside walls hurt his eyes. The terracotta walls inside seemed to be alight. He sniffed. The dogs began to bark and despite his best efforts the volume and intensity of their barking spiraled with their excitement. The dogs next door were silent but Gilbert heard a gruff voice shouting from the road. He slipped his feet into the ﬂip ﬂops, ground out his cigarette and paused to top up his coffee. He paused half way up the stairs to try and quieten the dogs and as he did so he caught a glimpse of 2 uniformed ﬁgures by the gate. A third, much shorter man, stood behind them surveying the house next door. "Do they bite?" asked the taller, younger of the two uniformed police ofﬁcers. The small man shufﬂed forward "They are locked up you dolt - who cares if they bite?"
Gilbert invited them in and ushered them down to the ground ﬂoor. "I don't think they bite ... well they don't bite me ... but why take the chance? What is it I can do for you gentlemen? Come on in." He opened the stable door and gestured them to sit. "Coffee?" The uniforms looked brieﬂy at each other and shook their heads but the small man, who had drifted over to the bookshelves and was inspecting spines with celerity and a deep attentiveness turned his head brieﬂy and indicated a bottle on the top of the gun cupboard. "Is that a local tsikourdia? I've heard good things of it. I'll take one of those if you'll join me." Gilbert examined this strange squat man who looked like nothing more than a suit of clothes that somebody had recently slept in and nodded "Sure, never too early for raki". Like the clothes he wore the man himself was crumpled and threadbare, grubby and faded. Oddly faded, Gilbert thought, for a living being. He reached down the raki bottle and since he couldn't be arsed to look out the proper raki glasses he poured a couple of ﬁngers into two mugs. "... and you gents?" The uniforms looked to the short man and declined politely. Gilbert was getting a vibe here - the uniforms were terriﬁed of the little man ... no, he was anything but a little man Gilbert decided, short but not small nor little ... a powerhouse if anything. He handed the small man the mug and before he could speak the other had downed it in one and handed the mug back "Very good. Another?". Gilbert watched this fascinating man light a cigarette. HIs nose was prominent and his eyes were deeply set beneath huge hoods and the left one was clearly glass. HIs eyebrows were bushy and wayward. Tufts of black hair sprouted from his ears and his tobacco stained nostrils. "I notice you gravitated naturally to the crime section". "Yes. yes my friend a professional interest and of course the Mask Noir spines are so distinctive. I see you have Dora Suarez - a minor masterpiece in my view ..." his index ﬁnger stroked the spine of one particular book "... and Colin Wilson's The Killer. I approve your taste friend". He took the proffered reﬁll and sniffed it. "This is very ﬁne stuff. Oh and you have Manchette too excellent. He looked across to the uniforms and caught their attention "You two would do well to read some of this stuff. Especially this one by Blake Morrison. Very topical" Gilbert had returned to his seat and was supping at his now near cold coffee. "This is all very civilized but can we get to your business now please? I have things to do today. There are as you are probably very well aware two children missing and I have been helping with the search. I intend to do the same this morning so if you could get to the point ...". _________________________________________________________________ By the time Alex got back to his ﬂat it was well past daybreak and the queries that he had submitted from the DS had all terminated and a new ﬁle marked "public crap" was sitting safely in his trash can. The real trash cans, two of them, one either side of the huge desk were themselves overﬂowing with trashy comics, learned journals, electronics magazines, bits ripped out of papers and ofﬁcial ministry of homeland documents. And all around the desk more ripped and scrunched paper from sources both esoteric and catholic. _________________________________________________________________
"Now my friend, you are overstepping the line. If, as you say in England, you want to get sniffy about it we can ﬁnish this little chat at the police station. We are aware of the missing children ... and if you are half an hour late resuming this search it will make no real difference I assure you ... this is my investigation now ... " The small man's voice had an edge of menace and authority to it now. He sat himself at the desk and ﬁnished his drink. Gilbert bridled and stood up sharply. "I am not, as yet, your friend mister whoever you are and at this rate I am unlikely ever to be. If you want to throw your weight around then by all means let's go to the police station since you do not seem to appreciate my hospitality. Let me just phone the British consulate and tell them where I am going and I will gladly come with you......... or would you rather have another raki and do this here in the comfort of my home?" The uniforms, Gilbert noted, were staring at him, mouths agape. The short man leant forward in his seat and proffered the mug, smiling. "An excellent idea ... another drink ... yes let's ... and perhaps we can be friends ...Do you think? ...." _________________________________________________________________ Alex kicked a pile of post from behind the front door and strode across to the desk. He tipped the contents of both bins into a matt black machine that resembled nothing more than a post modern compost bin that one might ﬁnd in Damien Hirst's allotment. He kicked off his shoes in the general direction of the door that he had just come through and bent to scoop up the detritus from the ﬂoor. He emptied this too into the maw of the compost bin. He ﬂicked a switch and a sound, a low, painful sound, a cross between a chainsaw and a kitchen waste disposal unit, ﬁlled the small cramped room. He ﬂopped into the battered Eames chair and stared deeply into the huge screen. Everything he had wanted to know and most of what he needed to know was laid out in front of him in detail - graphic detail in some parts and those parts made him gag physically - psychologically, morally, the whole thing turned his stomach. He formulated 3 more queries and dispatched them into the ether. _________________________________________________________________ "Tell me Wayne, what the fuck are we doing here? We're supposed to be in Turkey ... no, scratch that ... we're supposed to be on our way our way back from Turkey ... we're supposed to have dumped these losers ... and what are we doing? .... sitting in some fucking dump in the middle of a half-arsed little island in a half-arsed little harbour on a .... forget it ... you don't even care .... do you ....who the fuck is puling the strings here? ... does anyone even know were here? ... no ... do they care? ... how could they ... I'll tell you something for nothing, those two next door creep me out ... nobody's gonna tell us who they are or what they did but ... but they are so fucking cold ... no feelings at all ... he looks like a geriatric lizard and she ... well, she's ... how do you describe it? ... just makes me wanna chuck ... and so full of herself ... scary shit ... "" "Wouldja just shut up for a while? ... who cares who they are? ... OK she's real creepy but he seems OK ... cold but OK .... we'll hear soon what to do ... chill, compadre ... lets
go get us a coupla beers huh? ... whatja say Al? ... Al looked through the peephole as they left and shrugged. _________________________________________________________________ "It is possible," said Gilbert, as he put the bottle on the desk. "Maybe we could start with introductions?". He locked deeply set eyes with deeply set eyes. Green with dark, chocolate brown. And he waited. Patiently he waited. Silently he waited. Holding his gaze he poured himself another raki. "My name is Kolla, Alexis Kolla, son of Nikos. I am a detective, detective inspector if you will, attached to the Athens Department of Police, homicide division, or murder division as I prefer to call it. I have been put in charge of this case of the missing children. I started this morning and I would like to be back in Athens for my daughter's wedding next weekend". Kolla took another drink. Gilbert released his lock. "Kolla? That would be Glue in English, yes? Or Kleber in German?" Gilbert smiled. "I suppose so". Kolla smiled too. An odd and secretive truth or knowledge or insight perhaps, passed between them and they both glanced brieﬂy, surreptitiously, to where Kolla had stood while ﬁngering books. "So, my friend ..." and he paused momentarily, challenging Gilbert to disagree, "let us address the missing children. You knew them well I understand, they came to your house, and a very nice house it is may I say, many times, they were, we might say, regular visitors ... " his ﬂow was stopped dead as Gilbert dissolved into laughter. He sprayed raki across the desk and gasped for breath. Kolla was visibly shocked, disgusted almost. As Gilbert recovered he attempted to speak but could not. Eventually he pulled himself upright and gathered his senses. "Either you have been misinformed mister Kolla or you have been misdirected - literally ..." _________________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________________ Alex tapped the send button on the mobile (footnote) and ﬂipped it shut. His trousers and boxers straggling around his trainers he sat in trap three in the gents in the departures lounge. A vague smell of bleach and disinfectant suffused the air. Someone outside his trap was using the hot air hand dryer. He slid the back of the mobile and removed the battery, he removed the sim and he broke it in half or roughly in halves, and the he removed the memory card. The battery he put into his shirt pocket. The sim and the memory cards he dropped between his legs into the toilet bowl. He pulled out a torx driver from his leatherman and dismembered the handset further. Prying off the processing unit from the motherboard he dropped this into the bowl too. He concentrated, held his breath and squeezed a big hot turd on top of them. Wadding some toilet paper he cleaned up his arse and dropped the wad into the mix and ﬂushed. Without pulling up his trousers he watched until the watery vortex stilled. Both cards were gone. Into the blue. He pulled up his boxers, adjusted his balls and pulled up his trousers. He listened intently - no movement, no ﬂushing, no taps, no footsteps. Carefully he lifted the lid of the cistern and dropped the wreckage of the
mobile phone into the still ﬁlling waters. _________________________________________________________________ Gilbert and the short policeman stood by the front gate. Gilbert on his side and the short policeman on the track side. Gilbert gestured at the next house. "The wife should be in. The husband will be at work - it's Monday - he works 3 days a week on the black - there is no car - he takes it to work with him - but she never goes out without him " Gilbert examined the shadow. "She'll be doing laundry - she does laundry every day although what she ﬁnds to wash is beyond me" "I'm sorry - what does 'on the black' mean? I do not know this expression." "My fault not yours - he works without tax and IKA" "Ah thank you - like many of your countrymen I think " Kollas smiled and went on as he lit yet another cigarette, " just like my countrymen - some people do not like to pay their taxes - it happens " "What was I saying? oh yes laundry - she'll be washing watch out for the dogs though - they bark a lot but I think they are mostly harmless - just make sure not to let them out - the shepherds in the valley would love an excuse to shoot them - they bark at the sheep every time they pass" Kollas waved at the uniforms - "Go and introduce us to the washer lady - and beware of the dogs" he turned back to Gilbert and smiled again - "washer lady yes?" "Yes, or washerwoman - same difference" _________________________________________________________________ Georgina stared at the new email. In all capitals it was shouting unequivocally - "WE ARE THRU - 4 EVER - SO ARE THEY!!! - Alex". Identical to the SMS she picked up 2 minutes ago it is no less shocking for repetition, no less shocking than when she ﬁrst saw it. . Some things, she reﬂected, become more painful when repeated like digging at an already open wound. She had, of course, feared he might ﬁnd out but not this quickly - how had he done it? Everything was encrypted, scrambled and re-encrypted. She tasted the salt now. Her eyes blurred over, Her heart seemed physically to ache but despite all this her mind refused to wallow on the emotional racing to ﬁnd answers to key questions: how had he uncovered it all so quickly and; what did he mean by "SO ARE THEY"? Come on girl - concentrate - think - work it out. It was important that she work out what exactly he knew and, maybe more importantly what he intended by that rejoinder and to do that she needed to know how he had done it. Without knowing how he had done it she had no way of knowing how much he knew and not knowing how much he knew she was in big trouble. _________________________________________________________________ Footnote: This was not, strictly speaking, Alex's mobile. It was his only inasmuch as he had had it in his pocket for an hour or two. He'd bought the phone in a club in Wapping for 50 euros. It had been stolen to order and while he waited - it had been important to Alex that the phone had not been reported lost - at least not before he was through with it. A couple of the calls he made in that time would have the goons at Menwith, the Harrogate spooks as he knew them, running around like headless chickens and he really needed for them not to know who he was or where he was. Using an unencrypted line would have delayed things, they were, he knew, actively monitoring all encrypted trafﬁc, had been for years, but the clear trafﬁc was monitored primarily by machines and until a pre-set threshold, and Alex knew exactly where that threshold
was currently set and how many calls he had made before the alarms started ﬂashing, was met no human would be involved. He had separated the Menwith critical calls by sufﬁciently long gaps to maximise his clean time. _________________________________________________________________ Alex scrubbed his hands clean and jammed them deep into his pockets without drying them. They had started to call his ﬂight for boarding. The toilets were empty save for a small man who Alex judged to be a Somali and who dragged a huge trolley, almost as big as himself, packed to the gunnels with janitorial supplies as he moved slowly from stall to stall. Alex nodded to him as he left, the door swinging silently closed behind him. He turned left and headed on up to the boarding gate. A lonely travelator paced him step by step and a musty smell rose from the carpets. A small woman, possibly a Sri Lankan Alex thought, was emptying bins. Alex took the battery from his pocket and tossed it quietly into the bin on wheels that she trailed behind her. "This is the ﬁnal call for ﬂight ....". Alex doubled his pace. Unbidden, some of the details of the Brodie case percolated up from his mid term memory. He stopped dead next to one of the bins that the sweet little Sri Lankan lady had recently emptied and emptied his stomach into the pristine, fresh, artiﬁcially scented plastic liner. "This is the ﬁnal call for ﬂight ...." the announcement droned in that strangely asexual voice of all public announcements. _________________________________________________________________ Gilbert's big black desk was in its usual state of chaos - books lay open - sheets of paper covered in scrawl spread in all directions - a keyboard was barely visible - the huge aluminium ashtray was full to overﬂow - the coffee pot stood empty, drained to the last - packets of Assos punctuated the mess, some empty, some not. Gilbert wrote in an A3 leather binder - he had once used A2 but as the anarchy of his work method had increased over the years so the space left in the tumultuous environment had shrunk. From a distance it looked as though a volcano had scattered ash across a plateau of farm land but in truth Gilbert's appalling lack of discipline and his manic smoking habit had wrought this scene. The kerfufﬂe on display, however, was as nothing to the pandemonium inside Gilbert's head. Inside that sainted space it really did resemble a volcano, and an active one at that: ideas bubbled like magma and cooled into pumice as they were blown outward from the furnace. Gilbert searched carefully, assiduously, looking for the basalt amongst the pumice and pulling the still molten ideas like toffee into pieces for his construction. His head was down and his left hand scrawled away in the leather binder. The white heat of creation was upon him and he shouted a mighty "Fuck off" when the phone rang. _________________________________________________________________ Gavrillos drove slowly with his left arm out of the window, a roll up dangled from his ﬁngers. "That Kollas," he spat, "arrogant, angry and rude. Kollos more like! And did you see that woman? Is she his wife or what? What's a looker like that doing with that ugly dwarf? She's a real koukla. And now that we've chauffeured him home to his lovely bit of ﬂuff we've got to go back and talk to the neighbours. No harm stopping for a coffee
though. Nobody will ever know. There's a little taverna just around the corner, by the little church I think. They might be back by the time we ﬁnish." Antonis grunted and lit another cigarette, "Why not? My uncle goes there sometimes - to drink raki and to play tavli - to get away from my aunt and al those daughters". They passed the little church and Gavrilos was looking out for the taverna but was not slowing down. "Beyond the junction Gavrilos - just 50 meters or so ... on the left I think ..." He would have continued about the owner of the taverna and what a wicked card player he was but suddenly they both spotted a knot of people milling around in the open space by the junction - perhaps 50 of them - men and women - locals and foreigners alike. Some people had spilt into the road and Gavrilos stopped beside them "What's going on?" he demanded using his best policeman's voice, "quickly, what is it?". He recognised the man he has just growled at - the leader of the search parties. "Quickly what is it?" "You had best come and see for yourself" said the leader, and with that he opened the door of the police car and beckoned them both out. "It's not good, it's very bad in fact". The open space was mostly used as a dump even though it was designated in the village plan as a public square, possibly with another marble monument to Papadogiannis but for now it was an ad hoc dump and several men with mattocks were gathered around a smouldering heap of rubbish. One side of the heap had been raked aside, embers glowed darkly and smoked sporadically. The men of the village were keeping the women and the foreigners back but a small bent woman in black began to scream as she peered through the crook of the arm of one of the self appointed guardians of the heap. A blood curdling, horriﬁed, wailing, unrelenting and keening. "Sort that woman out Antonis and then clear these people away ... take them to the taverna and keep them there ... I'll call you" "But Gav-..." But nothing - just do it and do it now - leave this to me" _________________________________________________________________ Alex was stripped to the waist and sweating - he'd had to disconnect the air conditioning unit to tap into the inverter and the air was thick with heat and moisture. Alex's boxers were soaked and sweat dribbled down his chest to add to the reservoir building up in his waistband. What a shithole this place is, he thought. He wiped away at his forehead and shook his hand away from the connexions he was hooking up. A set of torx drivers and a roll of insulating tape lay at his feet on the dirty marble ﬂoor. Amazing ... they can't clean the fucking ﬂoors properly but they've got a pre-n 802.11 network running throughout the hotel ... 20mbps was totally acceptable but ... but if he could get this kludge hooked up he'd be straight onto the metropolitan backbone with no snoopers. His sweat streaked hand slipped on the strippers as he prepared the ﬁnal wire but it stripped cleanly back to the copper and he hastily tough carefully attached it. He disconnected and closed down the laptop before ﬂipping the switch back to on. The big A/C unit buzzed up to speed and a cool ﬂow began to ﬁll the room. He thought brieﬂy of the big A/C unit in the room he had rented in Havana once: how it had sounded as though there were an Ilyushin engine trapped in the tiny tinny case but how it had been all but ineffective. He laughed out loud at the memory and grabbed a towel to dry himself. Glancing, as he dried, at the meter he conﬁrmed his connection to the backbone - and it was a very fat pipe he had tapped into. Bingo -
dark ﬁbre! He ﬂopped back onto the bed and closed his dry eyes, savouring the growing coolness. He was smiling when he fell into a deep and dreamless sleep. _________________________________________________________________ Georgina was metaphorically pulling her hair out. All roads leading to Alex and what he was up to were closed. To all intents and purposes Alex was not only not there, he never had been. There was an Alex shaped hole in the world. There was an Alex shaped hole in the whole world - not just hers. Why had she not seen it coming? And if she had? Could she have done anything about it? Anything to stop it? Probably not! She had known the risk and had taken it. She had had to - it was her job. Maybe he had wiped the record ... no data ... no communications lines but she still had her own record ... her memories ... her recall ... she knew better than to keep trying the electronic realm ... all that was left to her was the neuronal realm ... Alex was inscribed in her head and that was where she must ﬁnd him. She wandered over to the bureau and opened the roll front - she pressed a small leaf in the decoration and opened a secret drawer that she then pulled free of its runners. he poured herself some more cold coffee and slumped into the Eames chair. Choices choices, decisions, decisions Ritalin or Adderall ? Maybe the Modaﬁnil? Or the new one, the Aricept? She popped a Modaﬁnil and followed it up with a Ritalin swigging back the coffee to chase them down. She closed her eyes and put the drawer to one side still reassuringly laden with prescription drugs. She lent forward, steepled her ﬁngers and began to exercise her recall. It was in there somewhere and she only needed to ﬁnd it. Only! She began with the Mersenne primes - from the beginning to the most recently conjectured ones. Recall, like any strenuous exercise needs a warm up routine and the various primes were hers. After the Mersennes she would do the Wagstaff primes and then she would be limbered nicely. _________________________________________________________________ As his stomach hit his throat and punched its acid way on past, Gavrilos realised, in a rare moment of clarity and enlightenment, that he had lived a very sheltered life. He wanted to turn away. He wanted not to have to look at what he was seeing. He wanted, desperately wanted, it not to register ... but it was too late ... at the same time as the acid in his vomit was etching his teeth and corroding his tongue he knew with an absolute certainty that he would never forget this .. that this vision was etched immemorially, unforgettably, into his memory. And the very knowledge made him retch again ... his coffee went, his kolouri followed it, the doughnut, the ﬁrst coffee, and then it was just bile and the stomach acids. He wondered would it ever stop. And then it did - it subsided - it stopped - his gag reﬂex was all that was left - dry and empty. When he was sick of looking at his feet and tired out he looked up again and as he did his blood ran cold. His hands on his vomit covered knees he was staring at the torso of a child buried and half uncovered - a child though, without a head. And beside it, very close by, a small pair of feet protruded from the soft earth - still encased in soft red leather sandals. The buckles glinted - the sun was directly overhead. He turned from the waist and threw up again - vomited nothing but air. He turned and walked away. Looking
into the sky he pulled his mobile phone from his pocket and rang Antonis - "listen Antonis, keep those people there and ring our friend Kollas and tell him to get his arse down here pronto - don't ask - just do it." He was controlling his breathing well now. He lit another cigarette and turned back to the grisly scene. _________________________________________________________________ Kollas sat on the balcony of the half closed hotel stripped to his undervest and trousers in a warm watery sunshine and dozed ﬁtfully. The police force had booked them into this ﬁne Venetian building presumably because it was cheap - it felt cheap - shabby genteel the Brits would call it. Mouldings were worn bare in places while thick accretions of paint had bulged the mitres over the many years, stair treads dipped in the centre and all that had once been whitened now sported a thin and uneven wash of weak tobacco. A small square painted wooden table at his side contained: an ofﬁcial police ﬁle, thin and unthumbed; an ashtray advertising Amstel beers that spilled its contents onto the surrounding surface; a pencil - 2B; a dry fountain pen - ﬁt only to scratch poor paper: 3 red cigarette boxes - brand Sante - two empty - one half empty; one unopened pack of 25 Assos cigarettes - not long to remain virgin; a pristine brass Zippo lighter - on its side and smelling of a fresh ﬁlling - the lid is ﬂipped carelessly open - the wick is blackened: a number 2 scalpel - for sharpening the pencil perhaps?; a paperback book bent open and laid face down - the spine is sepia toned - it is wrinkled but shows the title as "I Was Dora Suarez"; beneath this, and half obscured by it, is another book - likewise face down and open, all that is visible of the spine shows the author as "Burn" and the title, or perhaps the last word of the title, as " Murderers"; a book of matches from a club called Venus - most of the matches are gone - the cover is black and shows the proﬁle, in pink, of what one assumes is a naked female torso; a small shot glass - empty; a large frappe glass - half drained and stained a dirty brown down one side; a discarded straw - black and showing a scum of coffee. Kollas dreams.
... his eyes sting ... there's thick smoke everywhere ... he rubs them with the heels of his hands ... a girl rubs her bare breasts against his neck ... two cards ... 2 cards, dealer takes 1 ... right hand to left elbow, lift the vodka bottle by the neck and ... new girl on the stage, bottle blonde, big tits, stretch marks and a caesar scar ... slug ... lifts the corner of the two new cards ... raise ... see ... 1 card ... dealer stays with what he's got ... please get your tits out of my neck, nice though they are, I need to concentrate here ... looks at his last card ... feigns indifference ... raise ... see ... the massive hairy hand hovers over
the pot ... and raise you ... the music swells ... he checks his stash ... raise ... see that ... and raise ... his head is swimming and his eyes run ... his heart slows ... raise ... he is watching Kosta's stash shrink almost to nothing ... he checks the pot ... his cards are ﬂat before him and he avoids even looking at them ... he locks eyes with Kosta ... don't do it Kosta - see me ... Kosta stares him down ... worried, monsieur le ﬂic? ... Kosta pushes his whole pile into the pot ... raise 2 thousand I think ... don't Kosta, don't do it ... running cop? ... shitting your little pantalons? ... OK, see that and raise you 4 thousand, my car ... pulls the papers from his jacket pocket and throws them into the pot ... they are not looking anywhere but at each other ...
... his eyes sting ... there's thick smoke everywhere ... he rubs them with the heels of his hands ... a girl rubs her bare breasts against his neck in the purple fug ... he lifts his ouzo and drains the glass at a single draught ... and nods the queer barman to bring another ... the music is loud ... the place is sadly near empty ... his left hand holds the perennial cigarette a few millimeters above an almost empty ashtray... a new girl on the stage, bottle blonde, big tits, stretch marks and a caesar scar ... a man in black has entered the club ... Kollas watches him intently ... the beat drives up through his seat ... the air is moving from the cold air let in by the newcomer ... the girl on stage gyrates around the pole ... Kollas has placed the newcomer ... his gaze is cold now, colder than the fresh air ... and there is Eleni ... to the left of the stage ... but his eyes cannot linger - he has to watch Mark whom the stranger is approaching ... no menacing ... his mouth dries ... his heart freezes ... he is off the stool and moving ... his shout ﬁlls the air and drowns the music ... the world is frozen ... all save the stranger's hand which is moving frame by frame toward his pocket ... Kollas's cigarette spirals down to the ﬂoor and is behind him ... his hand reaches into his inside breast pocket ... the stranger has a gun in his hand ... Mark's back is still toward them both ... Kollas howls Mark's name ... and leaps forward ... the stiletto drives up under the stranger's scapula and stops at the hilt ... the world stops ... completely ... nothing moves ... a total deafening silence reigns ... they are both on the ﬂoor ... warm and sticky blood trickles on his hand and the stink of metal ﬁlls his nose as the world spins back up to speed ... Eleni woke him gently. "Your colleague is on the phone - he says it is urgent ...". Kollas shook off the dreamscape and took the cellphone from her, wrapping his arm around her waist. "Kollas here ... what is it? What has happened". _________________________________________________________________ Georgina was now metaphorically bald. So far she had come up blank. Whatever Alex knew remained Alex's knowledge and his alone. She had managed to drag back nothing of any import whatsoever. She had successfully recalled: their ﬁrst meeting (a work thing); their ﬁrst date(Carmen at the ENO followed by an Italian meal. followed by ...); their ﬁrst fuck (the night of their ﬁrst date and very satisfactory all round);
their ﬁrst holiday together (north west Crete - just along from a US special interrogation centre); their ﬁrst argument (big one, in a restaurant in Soho - subject: the granting of witness protection to unsavoury characters) and then the penny dropped for her .... the argument - the Brodies - he had known the case _________________________________________________________________ Gilbert slammed the phone down. He vowed to get the telephone number changed. He was long sick of taking calls from women who wanted their hair cutting and colouring. There was but a single digit difference. Three calls a week was average. But three calls a week was three too many. Maybe he should take up hairdressing - has to pay better than writing. _________________________________________________________________ "Wayne is in the bar Mr B, your wife is in the laundry. It's time we had a little talk, I think. I'll be honest - I'm getting some very nasty intelligence coming through. If we'd a made it through to Turkey maybe I wouldn't but I am and I'll tell you ... It's kinda pissing me off ... more than that in fact ... I need to know what kinda fucking monsters I'm babysitting here. Strike need - insert want. Dja know? In all the time we've had you guys in tow I've not seen either of you show a single human fucking emotion ... not even when you saw we'd killed all your pets. Not when I put my gun in your wife's big, slack, ugly mouth. Nada. Nothing. Sweet fuck all. And it creeps me out. So ... tell me about you two ..." Nothing. Not a word. Not a glance. Mr B sat passively and untroubled. Al let the silence grow until he could stand it no more. He cast into his mind for something to move this man. "Your dog and cats will be crawling with maggots now - your pets". Nothing. Not a muscle moved. "Stinking in the heat ... rotting away .... doesn't that bother you? ................ clearly not. So tell me ... how did you get witness protection? Who did you turn over? " Mr B scratched his stubble - "A whole IRA cell, if you must know, all 10 of them, but that was a while ago - what;s it got to do with anything?" Al scratched his own stubble - it was hot in here. "But you didn't do it out of the goodness of your heart did you? You did it to save your own skins ... isn't that right? ... you rolled over in prison yeah? what were you in for? my friends tell me it was bad shit ..." He waited, only the sound of aircon punctuated the heavy silence - noisy but ineffective - sweat drenched both of them. "Not prison - we were in custody - we hadn't been tried, or even charged - I made sure of that. I had to save her from that. That's why I gave them up. To get us out of it. I knew it would work. I made it work. They couldn't have said no." He took a drink of water and brought out a pack of cigarettes. He lit one and blew the smoke vaguely about. The aircon began to suck it in. "So - is it true you were in for messing with kids? Maybe even killing a couple? That's what I heard ...." Al had locked onto Mr
B's face as he spat this out - he watched carefully - not a muscle moved. "No comment - where did you get that from? Anyway what business is it of yours? You're just supposed to move us - pick us up and put us down in a new life. You're just helping out our boys as far as I know. Where are our people anyway? I'm sick of this place". The door slammed as Al left in disgust - the last question left hanging. _________________________________________________________________ Gavrilos and Kolla sat opposite each other in the back room of the taverna, the door to the cold room was open and two sad, small bodies were laid out on the butcher's table within beneath a harsh bare bulb. Just the bodies - they had still not found the heads. A man from the scene of crimes department in Iraklio was in there with the two mud covered, mutilated corpses. The rest of the SOC crew were still down at the discovery site sifting earth and ashes - the entire valley was now closed - the road to Kournas included. A leaden, laconic conversation, or reporting session had been running between the two incompatible policemen for some time now. The ashtray was full and the whisky bottle was empty - it had been hard going. And it wasn't getting any easier. Kolla had contemplated the bodies for a long time, had studied the photographs for a long time, had questioned the scene of crimes team leader for a long time. And now he was making Gavrilos regurgitate the ﬁnd - that too was taking a long time. It was as though by slowing everything down he felt he could understand it better - and that was indeed the case. It had always been his habit to prolong such proceedings - his attention to detail was renowned throughout the entire Greek police force as was his funereal pace but he waned to miss nothing. And so he drew things out into a slow motion that was excruciatingly painful to all concerned - himself not excluded. "So - let me get this clear - the council crew spent the Monday and Tuesday clearing the hedgerows and piling the waste at the end of the road? Where the bodies were found? And the shepherd - Dimitri is it - set ﬁre to the whole thing on the following Monday? Is that it? Is that right?" Gavrillos nodded - beyond speech now. "Well I think we can probably assume that the bodies were buried there on the Monday - the road crew ﬁnished at what? 2? Probably more like 1. And it got dark when? 8:30? - the pile would have been too big by the Tuesday evening." Another nod. "Two separate holes though? Why 2? Were they buried at different times? I'd guess so. Buried vertically one head up - one feet up - what the fuck is that all about? We shall ﬁnd out - trust me. We have a bad one here Gavrilos - trust me - I've seen a lot of murders - I've known a lot of murderers - this one is sick in the head. Very sick." He craned his neck and shouted to the scene of crimes man "How was the head cut off? Knife? Axe? A single stroke or was it sawn off?" The man came out, he was pale, almost pallid, his eyes were dark rimmed, "Some kind of serrated blade, the edges are torn and ragged, it must have taken some time, lots of blood, and then a chopper or somesuch for the spine, a single blow that, a clean, chopping, cut that went through the rest of the neck as it exited, a well sharpened blade, probably a hand axe, but it would not have taken much strength, the necks were so thin, just children. the boy perhaps 9, the girl .... 11 or 12, before menopause anyway, but small for that age and there's something else ..." he gestured toward Gavrilos. Kolla picked up on the signal and turned to Gavrilos who sat silently with his head in his hands, "Gavrilos, go home now, we are done here, and
don't come in tomorrow - collect Antonis and tell him to take tomorrow as leave too you could both do with a rest - don't argue - just go - do as I say" He need not have told him twice - Gavrilos rose slowly and was at the door already though he moved like a man 3 times his age. This mess had drained him to empty. He did not even look back but just slouched out in a trance not lifting his feet. Kolla turned back to the scene of crimes man - "What else? tell me ... now" _________________________________________________________________ Georgina had been running over the whole episode in her head - she had run the tape forwards and then backwards - the tape was nearly blank now - she had dragged all vestiges of the incident/accident/argument into near term memory ... Alex had lost a friend at primary school ... he had himself had an abusive uncle ... he had torched a Sunday school teacher's house and spent a year under psychiatric counseling ... and he had been incandescent at the treatment of the Brodies ... beyond reason she had thought. And. And. And he had said at the time, she recalled it perfectly now, the icy look, the set of his jaw, the narrowing of the eyes, she recalled perfectly "I would - no, I will, given the opportunity, track down people like that, those people and their ilk, and I will kill them with my own bare hands." She had laughed at him at the time. Had laughed to try and defuse him. Had laughed to no effect. She had now, that moment frame by frame, and as she examined it it became clear to her that she had underestimated the venom, the purposiveness, of that short segment, that short, ﬂeeting view into the portal of his disturbed soul. She knew for sure now that he would do it given the chance. Had she given him that chance? _________________________________________________________________ Alex had moved on, leaving no trace. Now that he knew where and how they were being held he had assumed full invisibility. Tyche's Rota Fortuna had favoured him. This was going to be easier than he had imagined. He was gone and he had left no trace. He had dumped all of his kit after destroying the hard drives and the memories. He had expunged all traces of his passage. The bus rolled onto the ferry. He closed his eyes and elected to sleep. _________________________________________________________________ Gilbert ushered the short policeman into the middle ﬂoor. "Beccy is working downstairs" he explained "and from what you said on the phone I'd rather she didn't hear this -" he motioned toward a small light oak captains chair with an upholstered seat "please sit". He sat opposite the policeman on a an oversized sofa and poured two rakis "You'll join me?" Kolla nodded gravely and took the glass proffered with his left hand. He emptied it at a single swallow and took a packet of cigarettes from his
shirt pocket. "For you?" Gilbert took one and they lit them from a single match. Kolla threw the extinguished match into a large empty ashtray and lent back. Gilbert reﬁlled their glasses. Kolla was looking out of the window, "You have very ﬁne views here" he offered absently. "We do indeed although it sometimes seems that only Greeks appreciate them in quite the way we do - too wild and unkempt for most Brits - too anarchic". "You have almost as many books up here as you do downstairs but I suspect that these ones are the really valuable ones ... I think you have more books than anybody I know ,,, and not all of my friends are policemen ... some are really quite intelligent, and even literate, but ..." he studied the glass fronted bookcase "... de Sade? ... Foucault? ... Kafka ... so much Joyce ... mmm ... ah. and my own favourite , Samuel Beckett ... you have interesting tastes ... does it reﬂect on you, your choice of subject matter?" Gilbert shifted slightly and traced the trajectory that Kolla's gaze had taken. "You skipped the Proust and the Eco - did they not suit your analytic purpose? Never mind, can we please get to the point here? I could talk all day about writers and writing but I'm fairly sure that that is not why you are here today". "Well," said Kolla smiling "in a way it is. It's about some writing you did recently ... an email to be precise ... I think you know the one I refer to?" "Ah ... that one .... yes, I thought that might be it ..." They both lit fresh cigarettes and Gilbert once more ﬁlled the raki glasses. "I have a friend in the University of Athens information technology department ... the forensic computer department of the police force is completely useless ... my friend tells me that you covered your tracks pretty well ... anonymous mailer ... 3 remailers ... she says she would not have been able to trace you but ... but somebody intervened and fed information into her data streams ... some kind of IT genius she says ... somebody wanted us to ﬁnd you ... Dimitra tells me ... Dimitra is my ... well you know ... anyway she says that GCHQ in the UK got a copy of your email too ... although it's unlikely they know where it came from ... so - do you want to tell me about it?" Gilbert lit yet another cigarette and poured two more glasses of raki ... "You want to know the how or the why?" Silence, long and heavy. "Tell me what you want to tell me". "If GCHQ got hold of it then that means that Menwith Hills are intercepting Greek internal trafﬁc now ... I was afraid of that ... but it does explain some odd things .. or rather one odd thing ... have your boys managed to speak to them yet?" Kolla shook his head "No, some other things got in the way ..." Gilbert nodded "I don't think they'll be able to" He lit another cigarette and offered the pack to Kolla. Kolla took one and lit it. And then he leant across and poured them both some more raki. "Why not? ... or rather - why do you think that?"" _________________________________________________________________ Alex sat in a dark and dingy bar. A few locals sat around despondently. Almost nobody spoke. Outside it was hot and bright but in the bar it was dark, slightly damp, and strangely cool. Cigarette smoke had turned the air an odd lilac colour that was visible only when someone entered the bar. As soon as the door closed behind them the lilac tinge was gone. Alex drained his coffee and called for another. These small and intense coffees left grounds on his teeth which he washed off with the chemical tasting
water. Three tiny cup sat before him now. All the men in the bar were drinking coffee save for the man at the next table who was drinking ouzo and eating pistachio nuts, spitting the shells straight onto the ﬂoor. The waitress, a short, busty girl with a gap of ﬂabby pale ﬂesh between a pair of jeans 2 sizes too small and a cropped T shirt that showed every line of the ill-ﬁtting bra that forced her breasts into a series of rolls and bulges brought his coffee 5 minutes later. He scrutinized her chest and wondered whether she actually understood the slogan blazoned there - "Press here to open". "Your coffee ". Looking up and into her face he thought that perhaps she did. There was a knowing almost wanton cast to it. Her nipples were huge, he noticed. Alex had left his watch behind in his room so that he wouldn't keep checking it - the guy would be here some time - he came every day - at least that was the intelligence. Alex waited on ... _________________________________________________________________ "Well mister detective, if GCHQ picked up my email to your local plod then they will have snatched the people next door ... I think I saw it happen in fact ... few nights back ... the night before I saw you last ... I haven't seen them, or heard their yappy fucking dogs since ... most unlike them ... hold on ..." He poured them another raki and headed out of the door. He returned a few minutes later. Kolla was smoking. Gilbert had another bottle of raki under his arm and a notebook in his left hand. He was smoking. A cigarette dangled from his lip. Having put the raki down on the table he opened the notebook and placed it in front of Kolla. "Here are my entries for that night ..." Kolla picked up the notebok and held it at almost arm's length away from him. And read ... (read what he read). "Excuse me for a moment please ... ". Kolla ﬁshed a mobile phone from his shirt pocket, along with two unopened packs of cigarettes, ﬂipped it open and punched a speed dial number. He waited. Impatiently he waited ... :for fuck's sake pick up the phone you lazy little shit ...". He waited. "Come fucking on ... pick it up cunt ...". He waited ... drumming his ﬁngers and slugging back the raki." He lit another cigarette, crumpled the pack, and only just managed to stop himself from throwing it to the ﬂoor. "Pick it up ...". He opened another pack of cigarettes and put it on the table in front of Gilbert "Please ..." Gilbert took one and lit it from the one that he then ground out into the ashtray. Ash scattered hither and thither. "Who is that? Where the fuck have you been? Don't bother you tosser just get a crew around here to the Brodie's place. Kolla you fool ... Kolla! And tell them to rouse the Brodies at any cost ... bust the door in if necessary and then get them to call me. You get that? Good. And by the way don't go looking for promotion for another ten years ... no matter who's fucking nephew or cousin or other inbred relative you are ... your card is well and truly marked ... now get the fuck on with it ...". He looked across at Gilbert who was leaning back and enjoying his cigarette. "Sorry about the language but this god forsaken hole and the ways of its public servants, and I use that phrase in a strictly ironic way, makes me very cross." Gilbert smiled and nodded. "Tipota". _________________________________________________________________
Gavrillos arrived at the house next door. He had Antonis in tow and Antonis was hanging back. Gavrillos guessed he was checking out the vegetable patch. He could imagine nothing more interesting that would have captivated Antonis so readily. There was an ugly mock bronze, mock minoan, knocker at about chest height and Gavrillos rapped it heavily. The ﬂimsy door shook noticeably in its frame but nobody came. He rapped it again - hard enough to shake not just the door but also the strange faded pale green perspex panel set to one side of the door. Gavrillos turned. Antonis was behind him now, bored by the ordinariness of the vegetable plot. "No reply," said Gavrillos, "Did you see those huge tyre tracks beside the gate? Tyre tracks but no car. And didn't that other guy say that they had dogs? No barking and I've very nearly demolished this door with my knocking." Antonis took a step back and looked vaguely around "What's that noise Gavvy? Can you hear it?" Gavrillos looked blankly at him "You mean the cicadas? So what?" "No ... not that Gavvy, the other noise." "I cannot hear anything else. What sort of noise?" Antonis looked around again, his ear cocked. "No, it's gone ... but I did hear something ... " Gavrillos rapped the knocker again, even harder this time. Antonis laughed "You'll have that door down at this rate - without using the sledgehammer." "Speaking of which Antonis - go get it - looks like there's nobody answering." Antonis trudged disconsolately back to the police car - he was at heart a very lazy man - and eventually reappeared dragging the sledgehammer. "Close the gate behind you and for god's sake pick that thing up will you?" Antonis did as he was told - like a sheep thought Gavrillos - and plonked the hammer down by the door. "Can you smell something Gavvy? ... something bad? ... like a dead pig? ... one that's been dead a while ... my uncle once forgot a pig that he had slaughtered, left it in the shed, and the ﬂies got it ... it smelled like this." Gavrillos wrinkled his nose. "Mmmm yeah that's not right. OK knock it down ... we're going in. I'll cover you." Antonis showed a remarkable agility, almost like a discus thrower, as he lifted the sledghammer to shoulder height, pivoted and struck the door with stunning speed right beside the mortise lock. Gavrillos was frankly shocked ... he caught an image of Antonis mid-strike ... such poise and agility ought, he thought, be entirely alien to Antonis ... but then people were always surprising him .. who would have expected Kolla to have such a gorgeous and attentive wife ... he recalled a Scottish friend he had made once who would often use the expression 'there's nowt so queer as folk' when so surprised ... or was he a northerner ... ? The door splintered and collapsed inward, the lock still in tact. A swarm of ﬂies rushed past his head. "So that was the smell ... and maybe that was what Antonis had heard. "Sweet Jesus, Mary, and God that's fucking disgusting." Both of them stepped away and then Gavrillos gulped a deep breath and lunged in. Antonis loitered on the path. "Antonis ... Antonis? ... get your arse in here ..." _________________________________________________________________ Alex had started drinking ouzo to counter an incipient caffeine rush. He waited still. The waitress with the big nipples was becoming more interesting to him by the moment. He kept his own counsel. Most of the other customers had left. There were no more than 3 of them in the cafe. And then the door opened and a shaft of fast fading
light streamed in around a large, athletic man with a massive pair of shoulders, no discernible neck, and a haircut that could only have been supplied by a military barber unafraid of customer dissatisfaction. His shadow faded as the door closed behind him. He was only half way to the bar when he shouted tot he waitress, in an obviously American accent (obviously American but Alex could not place it) "The usual beautiful! And make it a large one. No ice." "So this is the one" though Alex. He scutinised the newcomer surreptitiously. The waitress produced a bottle of Jim Beam from under the counter, she slopped a half handful of ice into a tumbler and topped it off from the bottle which she left on the counter - top off. The American toasted the whole bar, all 3 of them, and shouted "Aspro pato". He slammed the empty glass onto the bar and nodded to the waitress "Akoma". Alex's greek was good enough to translate 'bottoms up' and 'again/another'. His accent was execrable but at least he was trying - made a change for a septic tank. He caught the waitress's eye as she ﬁnished the newcomer's reﬁll and indicated that he would take another ouzo. She brought the bottle and as she poured the loud American shouted "have that one with me!" "Did this man have no volume control? _________________________________________________________________ "So" asked Kolla, "what is it that you are writing?" Gilbert gestured vaguely at the notebook and lit a cigarette, passing the packet across to the detective, "I've been working for some years now on a book about sociopaths ... they've been an interest of mine since the Hindley Brady case when I was a boy ... and no novelist has actually captured a sociopath convincingly ... I guess Dostoevsky ... Hamsun ... even Kennedy Toole came closes but ... they don't really pull it off ... at least not to my satisfaction ... I've tried and tried but it's so hard to get into the headspace ... imagining having something novel is much easier than imagining the complete absence of something as intrinsic to ones being ... that you have always known ... that has been a part of you on a moment by moment basis ... and Dora Suarez of course ... think about it ... thinking happens almost constantly ... anything connected with thinking you experience and hone day in day out ... constructing a character who has no conscience ... no empathy ... is totally self centred ... without even the vaguest concern ... knowledge of ... how their actions affect others ... now I know why nobody has pulled it off so far ... thinking it .... voicing that thinking ... one's own immanent qualities intervene at every turn ... at each junction of mind and reality ... mind to language ... thought language to written language .. the construction of a text has so many of these interstices and at every turn empathy sympathy and conscience obtrude ... they weave themselves into ... well into everything really ... that's how we work ... that's the problem ... I can imagine myself blinded but not blind from birth ... I can imagine becoming deaf but not having never heard ... I can imagine things otherwise than they are but ... but always in the shadow of having once been otherwise ... not a permanent absence ..." "Well anyway," Gilbert continued, " I put the thing aside a few years back ... just after Fred West topped himself". "Topped himself? I'm not familiar with the construction." "Killed himself, committed suicide. I had hoped ... I was scheduled in, fact ... to interview him ... 3 days after he died ... and Rose refuses to talk meaningfully to
anyone ... like most true sociopaths ... I had believed ... still believe ... that Rose was the real sociopath while Fred was mainly a simple sexual sadist ...I was hoping he'd have some insight into the regular ... the commonplace of the sociopath .... and when that fell through I was so dejected I archived the notes and the text and got on with another novella ... that one turned out to be Irish Stew ... I reused a lot of the narrative but reset it as a spy thriller pastiche ..." Kolla, Gilbert had noticed, had leant forward in his chair. Gilbert paused ... "It is a peculiarly British phenomenon this, how do you call it, couple serial killer thing, we have never had anything like it ... we actually have only one known or famous serial killer on our books. Twin sociopaths or psychopaths are not unknown ... unusual but not unknown ... but this couple thing is unique to England I think." Gilbert poured two rakis and pushed on across to Kolla. "No", he said. "It's a widely held belief, even among criminologists, but the facts are there for all who care to look. We have had the most celebrated cases ... the grisliest too ... maybe ... but trust me, we do not have a monopoly. The Americans have their share ... and the French too ... no, it is not peculiar to the British." He paused and blew a smoke ring. "And as to your suggestion that these couple serial killers are sociopathic my own view is contrary. It is my own opinion, and there is a Finnish criminal psychopathologist who seems to agree with me. I spoke with him a year or two back and he, it appears, is working on a research project that takes as its thesis that these strange case of mixed sex or couple serial killer cases involve a hybrid couple where the woman is the sociopath and the man is a sexual sadist. Look at the facts ... Brady ... almost classic sexual sadist ... the SS obsession ... the nazi memorabilia ... Hindley ... look how she hooked Lord Longford ... typical manipulative behaviour of a sociopath ... look at the deals she tried to cut with the authorities .. all for her beneﬁt ... classic sociopathy ... and never any true remorse ... just the posturings that she knew were expected of her ... Rose West? ... again a manipulator ... no empathy ... no remorse ... doesn't even admit it ... and she went over the edge and actually killed one on her own ... when Fred was in prison for theft ... he tried to protect her ... to the end ... he had no choice ... she was in charge ... she was always pulling the strings ... the guy is always the tool ... the sociopath's weapon ... Gerald Galego? ... sexual sadist ... Charlene? ... sociopath ... Michel Fourniret? ... sexual sadist ... Monique Olivier? ... sociopath ... the Copelands though? ... I'm not so sure ... my Finnish friend says he thinks so but ... well I don't know ... their victims were all men ... but ... I'll wait and see" "An interesting theory but how is it connected to my investigation? ... you think the people next door were ? ..." "Exactly! ... exactly, yes ... are ... not were ... are ..." but a knock came at the door that interrupted his ﬂow. Gilbert rose and opened the door. Gavrillos stood there, his face ashen, his hair awry, and a trickle of drying vomint on the lapel of his polyester shirt. Kolla was already behind Gilbert and he pushed past him with an almost silent "signomi". He put his hand on Gavrilos's shoulder and steered him toward the woodpile in the shade. _________________________________________________________________
"First, were they there, are they there?""No ... no people" "OK, so tell me what you found .... don't leave anything out ... everything .. tell me everything ... in detail ... here sit down ..." Kolla crouched by a huge tree stump used for chopping and splitting logs and waved Gavrilos to sit beside him. Gavrilos sat. He breathed out, a long sigh of a breath, and wiped his brow dry with the back of his hand, a broad, workman's hand, a farmer's hand, a noble hand covered in a thick black fur. "The layout is like this house ... but not ... the shape and size are the same but it's different. No cellar. An upstairs - where the bedrooms are and the ground ﬂoor .. where the living is done. And the smell ... you'd hardly believe the smell ... like roadkill in a heatwave ... the air is thick and smells green ... green and oily like the slime on dead meat when it's been left too long ... sort of sweet and rotten at the same time ... and the ﬂies ... ﬂies everywhere ... and maggots ..." he shuddered at the recall and rubbed his eyes but not before checking his hand as if looking for maggots "white, wriggling maggots everywhere ... especially on the bodies ... and the litter trays " Kolla laid his hand on Gavrilos's arm avuncularly "Calm down ... take a breath ... you're getting ahead of yourself ... you'll miss things ... remember your training ... put yourself mentally in the doorway ... close your eyes and tell me what you see ..." "Just behind the doorway ... on my left ... under the stairs ... a toilet ... hand basin, toilet .... seat up ... cleaning materials ... a broom, mop, vacuum cleaner ... a litter tray ... full of cat shit ... and maggots ... cream tiles, ﬂoors and walls. sloping ceiling where the stair rises above ... barely room to stand ... for me ... without bending your head ... and ﬂies ... in front of me doors ... ﬂoor to ceiling almost ... glass ... look out across the valley ... a tiny balcony beyond ... facing east ... before the doors a sofa ... a ﬁlthy rag of a throw on it ... orange ... covered in dog hair ... angled at 45º ... facing a massive plasma TV screen suspended in the corner ... left corner ... diagonally hung ... maybe a metre and a half from the ﬂoor ... like in a sport cafe ... beside it, on the ﬂank wall an aircon unit ... beside that a pine staircase winding up ... under the aircon unit another sofa ... another throw ... cream, the walls are all cream too ... dog hair again ... and an easy chair ... green ... greasy handmarks on the arms ... the same green as the woodwork around the door ..." They both lit cigarettes. "Come on, you're doing well" Gavrilos drew deeply and held the smoke for a long while before closing his eyes and starting up again, robot-like, performing the procedure "a black metal trunk between the sofas ... a glass sheet on top of it ... a coffee table? ... no it's not a trunk it's a PA system on its back ... speaker side up ... and old PA system ... underneath it a rug ... ﬁlthy .. coffee stained ... two coffee mugs, half empty, on the glass top ... no ashtray ... two shot glasses and a gin bottle ... empty ... ﬂy shit clouds the glass top ... " He grinds his cigarette out against the tree stump and gathers himself, this is onerous, work and the memories clearly affect him deeply, his skin glistens with a light clammy sweat. "What's to the right? " "The doorway is set back ... from the inside ... to my right a wall ... a metre deep? ...
beyond an eating area ... long rectangular table ... oak? ... reproduction style ... four chairs ... french windows to the front of the house ... the long side of the table parallel to the french windows ... a lamp, blue glass, above the table ... underneath the table ... at the narrow end of the table farthest from me a matching chair with arms and above it ... hanging on the wall ... a wine rack ... full of empty bottles ... four bottles wide and ﬁve deep ... 18 empty bottles .. 2 empty slots ... underneath the table ..." his voice cracked and trailed away .... He gulped a few lungsful of hot dusty air and pulled a ﬂask from his hip pocket, He drank deeply and wiped the top cursorily before handing it over to the short detective who was still crouching in the same position, Arab-style, "Metaxa ... ﬁve ..." Kolla nodded and took a swallow. "That's good ... are you OK to carry on? We're in the eating area ... under the table ..." Gavrilos took the ﬂask back and drained it. He took out his cigarettes, lit one and handed the pack over " give me a moment ..." Three buzzards circled separately above them, their calls like sickly infants, the two men looked up, shading their eyes from the blinding white sun. " ... oh shit ..." excliamed Gavrilos suddenly " I forgot ... in the living area ... under the aircon unit ... a guitar ... hanging on the wall ... electric ... a nasty copy of a Fender ... a Jazzmaster ... like the one Elvis Costello plays ... I know about guitars ... you wouldn't think it to look at these ..." he held out his spade like hands and turned them over and back. Kolla noticed for the ﬁrst time that the nails were impeccably shaped, and clean - spotless in fact. Not a farmer's hands at all - he had misjudged. He berated himself silently but harshly for not having paid sufﬁcient attention, for presuming, for his slackness. In his business nothing but permanent and assiduous, diligent, detailed observation would do. "Now come on Gavrilos, let's get back to it ... the sooner it's done the better ... underneath the table ... underneath the table ..." Gavrillos lit another cigarette and gulped ... " underneath the table ... tiles ... yellow tiles ... ochre maybe ... a black grout ... and blood ... two pools of blood ... maybe three ... joined into a single shape ... like an insect crushed ... a beetle ... the blood has dried ... there is a dark red crust ... scum like edges ... almost foamy ... .... and three dead dogs ... shot ..." he turned his head and dry heaved "... in the head ... close range ... large calibre hand gun ... the heads are mainly gone ... what's left is writhing with maggots ... it's disgusting ... and the stench ... overwhelming ... Antonis lost it ... completely ... the vomit is his ... three dogs ... two smooth haired and one shaggy ... all pale in colour ... all lying there in the dried blood ... ... beyond the cooking area ... ﬁtted kitchen ... sink under the east facing window ... cooker almost beside the wine rack on the wall ... extractor hood over ... just ... a litter tray ... overﬂowing ... food bowls on the ﬂoor ... empty ... a solitary dead cat ... ginger coloured ... no bullet wound ... starved to death I think ... there was no way out ... no cat ﬂap ... no windows open ... the windows are sealed from outside with sheets of plexiglass ............" "Is that it? The whole thing downstairs? And upstairs?" "That's it downstairs. Upstairs one long thin bedroom ... to the right ... unmade bed ... clothes on rails ... a computer in the corner ... bathroom to the left at the top of the stairs ... shower tray, basin, washing machine, dirty clothes bin ... empty ... toilet ... seat up ... mirror area and lights ... makeup area? ... tiled ﬂoor to ceiling ... a structure like a huge cooker hood over the mirror area ... glass shelves in the corner ... covered in cosmetics, shampoo, face creams, hair dye, razors, hair clippers, haemorrhoid cream ... the toilet
bin overﬂowing ... a dark mean corridor between the bedroom and the bathroom ... fake wooden ﬂooring everywhere ...laminate? ... at the eastern end a tiny room ... single bed ... no wardrobe ... french windows to a cramped balcony. That's it. That's all I can remember." Kolla noded to him, unfolded himself, and put his arm around his shoulder, "That's very good Gavrillos ... very good ... seal it off ... the whole site and go back to the station ... write it up and go home ... don't come back until I call you ... you've done very well." _________________________________________________________________ Alex sat quietly, listening to the american with the loud voice. The table in front of them was covered with empty beer bottles and dirty shot glasses, cigarette ash dusted everything Vesuvius fashion. Still he had not lowered his voice, it must, thought Alex, be something anatomical. It was not, as he had ﬁrst thought, that the man had no volume control it was more that his normal speaking volume was set somewhere that a Brit would recognise as an embarrassing shout. So, not only did Alex know Al's life story but so did anybody else who had been in the bar for the last two hours and who understood american english - which probably meant just the waitress. Al had been very keen to include her in some of his reminiscences - especially the sexual ones. Alex fancied that the american believed he was seducing the waitress with his openness. Alex knew better. Alex was watching the girl very carefully. He wondered whether she had seen him diluting his drinks but thought not. Al was over the hump of happiness now and was fast approaching the rapid descent into maudlin - well into the last few furlongs of the drunkenness stakes. Alex's judgement would need to be more vigilant now. It was important to keep the american from total physical collapse and insensibility. Drunk but not incapable was the plan. He signalled the waitress to bring more. She was waiting to close and harrumphed her way over, drinks in hand. Locking eyes with him she stated her intention and dismissed the american's objections "I close when I want to - I have a family - I am going home - you are leaving after these drinks - and if you make any trouble about it you will," she turned and addressed him directly "my yankees friend, regret it - I can call the redcaps - the shore patrol from the base - they owe me a favour or two - they are very good people but they will hurt you." She turned again to Alex "they will hurt both of you - now take your drunken yankee friend and keep him safe - please go." Alex dragged Al upright and they wove their way to the door. Two locals were gathering themselves and their possessions together, they waved goodnight as the foreigners stumbled out into the early morning. A few streetlights were still on but most of the light was seeping orange over the horizon from a rising sun. "Where to now Al old pal?". "I need to sleep friend so I'm heading on back to my room. Where are you staying?" "I don't have a room, I hit the bar as soon as I got in yesterday. Thought I'd have time to ﬁnd one but ...". The american pulled himself upright and straightened his clothing "Aw shit, man. Come back to my place then. I've got two beds. Two beds and a bottle of sourmash - near full", he winked at Alex and cradled him into the crook of his arm. They staggered off wobbling into the sunrise.
_________________________________________________________________ "We've lost them? We? Which we would that be? We her Majesty's Service? We the forces of good? We the department? Or we the tracking department? You know - the one that is supposed to keep track of the people we are supposed to be protecting? Which we are we talking about? No, Adam, they were rhetorical questions. Rhetorical they doesn't require answers. It an old discipline - never mind - leave it. Now when exactly did we lose them? And I mean precisely when - to the nearest minute. And when did we notice that we had lost them? No Adam they are not the same thing at all! Hold on Adam....... Are you OK holding there Gerald or do you want me to get back to you? All right. Adam, do you have those times?" Georgina picked up a pencil and unrolled a printout of a timeline. She secured the ends with a pair of "ruggedized" external hard disks ( what exactly did that mean these days? "ruggedized"? that they would survive a terrorist blast?) "OK Adam which one is that? " she marked the timeline carefully with the pencil, a 4B (soft pencils were a fetish of hers, those and a scalpel that she always sharpened them with), "and when did we notice?", another mark, she took a swig of cold coffee and tweaked the lobe of her right ear with the thumb and foreﬁnger of her right hand, the pencil was in the left. It was an old habit and the reason she only ever wore one earring ... " that can't be right Adam, the overlap is wrong. And what is the exit time on the manifest? Oh for god's sake Adam, what do you mean you don't have the manifest? Well have you asked the americans for a copy of it? The americans only issue electronic manifests nowadays, so how can they not have a copy? Whoa, hold on Adam, No, shut up Adam. At this precise moment I don't particularly want to hear your theory. Just shut up and hold." She bent forward and traced a line from the marks she had made on the tracking ofﬁce time line down onto the sketchy timeline she had put together for Alex. She sighed and breathed out slowly. To herself, silently, sadly "Shit!". Her right hand moved to her ear again. "Gerald, I'm afraid it's bad news. Very bad news... I was right, Alex is involved. That;s not the worst part. No, the worst part is that we don't have a fucking clue where they are now. No, the americans don't know either. It's complicated ... Listen, I think Alex does though and I'm very much afraid that he's going to do something very uncharacteristic: something ﬁnal if you take my drift. Yes. Yes I will. As soon as I do. Yes. No, don't even joke about it. Adam? Adam, ﬁnd out from the americans exactly when the manifest went AWOL and get right back to me, Do you understand? And if they can trace the deleter, just to a rough location, that will help us know which particular haystack to start searching for our sharp little needle. No Adam. I know you don't understand but it doesn't matter. Get me that information and get it as quickly as you are able. Your job depends on it, and mine might too." _________________________________________________________________ Gilbert opened the door and beckoned Kolla inside. "Come in out of the heat. Sit down. Have a drink. He poured two rakis." Kolla looked up, Gilbert was still standing "Well mister writer, you were right. They are gone. Our birds, as you might say, have ﬂown the coop. It is, according to Gavrillos, a charnel house in there, dead animal carcasses everywhere. Quite turned his stomach. But no sign of our suspects." "For
your information I'd never use such a hackneyed phrase as birds ﬂying the coop... I'm a writer not a a hack ... and although your grasp of arcane english idiom is amusing I am not pleased to have been proven right ... were the dogs shot? ..." Kolla nodded absently " that must be what I heard ... any idea when ... or who took them ... no of course not ...are the bodies stinking?" Kolla nodded absently again, resignedly "... yes, yes ... did you ﬁnd the heads .. the children's heads?" "You expected us to?" "Well it has to be possible that they are in the house somewhere.. They have to be somewhere and I doubt they had time to pack much at all. And certainly not their grisly mementoes." "Do you think that they shot their own dogs?" "No, I don't. I don't think they had a weapon in the house. She would have shot me by now if they had." Gilbert sniggered, "Oh yes she'd have shot me sure enough. No, it's much more likely that the snatch team did that particular killing - sorry, those particular killings ... sorry assassinations. They would have wanted to keep things quiet. I suspect it was the ﬁrst thing they did." Kolla cleared his throat pointedly in a phlegmy cough. "Can we get back to why you reported them in the ﬁrst place? Your suspicions? Your observations, if you prefer. Perhaps later we can discuss these other things. Perhaps." "OK ... yes OK, but remind me to tell you about Mary Bell later ... suspicions ... why the email ... yes yes ... so many things really ... the sociopathy ... the rumours ... the stories ... and then the kids started coming round ... no, before that the research ... no, no the lack of a backstory ... no photos ... no family ... no history that made sense ... the faux humanity ... when you know what to look for ... well when you stop trying to think well of ... it stares you down ... cold eyes ... no emotion ... just self ... the kids alone with them ... it worried me ... then the research ... the witness protection program ... it all made sense ... sense of a sort ... it all ﬁtted and I couldn't let it happen again ... but it did didn't it? ... it has hasn't it? ... so you haven't found the heads? ... and before the email it started to come out in my text ... unwrapping the mystery ... sorry. sorry, let me backtrack, and slow down". Gilbert downed his raki and lit a cigarette. Where he had been perching on the edge of the seat gabbling at twenty to the dozen he now leant back in his chair and drew smoke deeply into his lungs, keeping it there for a long long time before slowly releasing it. And he likewise released the full story. Filled in the details of his rant ... _________________________________________________________________ Gilbert explained that they had been introduced to the strange couple, the suspects, a few years earlier by a Greek friend. They had seemed lonely and a little lost. He worked occasionally for a metal worker in a mountain village where they rented a part of a house. She was a simple traditional working class housewife with middle class aspirations (footnote1). He spoke some Greek while she spoke none. She came across as needy while he was a bouncy jack the lad kind. Gilbert and his wife had befriended them despite some intimations from the Greek friend that they were a little odd - they convinced themselves that it was a language thing or a culture thing. They had, after that initial meeting, met up for coffee now and then and after a few weeks they shared the odd drunken evening together. The odd couple would, when drunk, moan constantly about their neighbour an older English woman (footnote2),
also English, or their landlord, an youngish entrepreneurial Greek (footnote3), or the house, which covered itself in a greeny black mould in the winter (footnote4). Gilbert and Beccy had thought little of any of this, dismissing it as typical Brit ex-pat moaning but with hindsight and a little less generosity of spirit the signs were there to read. And so it had continued for more than a year. There were other signs Gilbert realised now - an incident with the cat (footnote5) and the snow incidents (footnote6) to name but three but an excess of generosity had blinded him he had now decided. He rationalised that because they themselves had been new to exile that they had overempathised, had been overly open - had in fact been prefect prey and perfectly obvious prey for a pair of sociopaths. They had, in some ways, been "asking for it". And they had got it. In a ﬁt of unprecedented bountifulness when the strange couple had been asked to leave their apartment Gilbert, well Beccy if truth be told, had convinced the Greek who owned the house next door and who was a long time friend (not the Greek who had introduced them, nor the Greek landlord) to sell them 2 ﬂoors of the empty house that he had originally built for his estranged wife and children. However, within a month of them moving in next door compassion fatigue had begun to set in for Gilbert and Beccy: the consistently selﬁsh behaviour ; the constant monopolising of emotional bandwidth as Gilbert dubbed it (footnote7) eroded understanding (or maybe misunderstanding) and shrank the leeway that they were prepared to offer. The concomitant, the consequence of this compassion fatigue was ﬁrstly to expose a deep and incredible selﬁshness and, amazingly, to redouble it, and, before very long. to expose a massive resentment building in response to the withdrawal of unconditional acceptance. A snide sniping began that Gilbert shrugged off but which hurt Beccy deeply. Soon they discovered that the strange couple had begun to badmouth them behind their backs: accusing them of all sorts of hostile behaviour. And it was at that point that they began to revisit the history of the relationship. Gilbert's criminal research informed his thinking and it took him only a short while to realise that they were dealing with sociopaths. Beccy took some convincing - like so many people she wanted to think well of everyone or at least not to think the worst but with seed planted she analysed every action and reported action in light of Gilbert's suppositions. With sorrow, she eventually admitted that he was right, her faith in humanity badly dented. At that point the relationship began to crumble: Gilbert and Beccy became circumspect; the strange couple became hostile. A rift became inevitable and when they turned Beccy's best Greek friends against her with malicious and false accusations it ﬁnally exploded. Meanwhile, Gilbert continued his research and he regularly re-examined what he knew. These people had no photographs around their house and when asked about it they calmly announced that they had burnt all photographs of themselves when they left the UK. They had no contact with anyone from their past. They had no family - they said. Their only visitor from the UK was a woman who turned up now and then and
who, Gilbert had said on ﬁrst meeting her, behaved more like a social worker than a friend. "Social worker or probation ofﬁcer?" he later wondered? Oh yes, and they had once been introduced to a woman prison ofﬁcer. From fragments of stories they had told when drunk (stories that did not quite jibe with the history they told when sober) - the odd place name, an approximate date, a person's name or nationality, he started to piece a story together. The story shocked him as it came together. It was a story of numerous swift removals. A story of shady dealings and shadier alliances - some criminal, some merely suspicious. And then there was the sudden and ﬁnal uprooting that had preceded their arrival here in Greece. That was when they seemed to have destroyed their pasts - burnt their boats. They had made it clear that they could not go back rather than that they would not. And this was the ﬁnal piece of the puzzle for Gilbert. The sober history was invented, it had always chimed as rehearsed and crafted, it was too readily substantiated (footnote8), it was just too pat. It was, Gilbert came to believe, probably invented for them and that meant only one thing - witness protection. And once he had this piece in place it was relatively easy for him to follow up. HIs contacts in the darker crannies of life told him where to look and his contacts in the IT industry opened databases for him. In the end it was a journalist friend of his from way back who pulled the whole thing together: who they were, where they were from, what they had done and who they had grassed up. It was simple: a pair of child murderers who had informed on an active real IRA cell in Liverpool to gain immunity and a new identity. Simple and sickening. His journalist friend sent grisly tabloid press cuttings about the murders. Gilbert had read them with genuine revulsion. There were also cuttings about the special forces raids that had broken up the IRA cell on the eve of a major bombing. Gilbert had nodded as he recalled the incident. The horriﬁc tapestry was complete. Gilbert had known that there could be, would have been, no press coverage of the cloak of invisibility that then fell over the key witnesses - D notices were assiduously observed in those terrifying times. But Gilbert knew - knew for certain.
Alex sat looking at Al who was now completely collapsed in the chair opposite, his head lolled to the left, his mouth half open, and a roar of a snore escaping him every few minutes. A thin trail of spittle escaped him slowly. Alex thought how peaceful he looked and enjoyed the quiet - "This man ran a snatch team - how was that possible given how loud he was in his daily life? Perhaps his professional persona was less obtrusive?" Alex hoped so - knew so. So many people were different characters in different scenarios - even sociopaths learned eventually how to pass for normal in public. Witness the Brodies. He ﬁngered the turn-up on his trouser and let his focus slip to the knife concealed beneath - a ceramic knife carried in his long sock like a skean dhu . A black ceramic knife, triple sintred and undetectable by airport scanners. Alex had checked all of the airports that he might have to visit before deciding on this blade and had found not one of them equipped with the necessary millimeter wave scanners. He had wondered as they stumbled back from the bar whether the barracks would have one but this was hardly a barracks qua barracks. To any outside gaze it was a small select development for ex-pats. There were sixteen, he had counted them carefully when Al had taken his ﬁnal tumble, apartments arranged into a quadrangle. It was cunning, Alex conceded, to use a quadrangle to conceal the communal area and what happened there - people would assume a swimming pool. And nobody could tell from outside that it was covered. Total audiovisual seclusion guaranteed. And each of the units was both sound proofed and electronically shielded he was sure - a practiced eye like his could spot the difference between the internal and external dimensions and it was hardly rocket science to work out why. A pang of guilt - no, not guilt, regret might be better - a pang of anticipated regret rode over him in a wave. Al's awakening was going to be rude indeed but it could not be avoided. And Al would doubtless take the bulk of the wrath of the agencies, but again, it could not be avoided. He had come to like Al as he watched him descend into stupor - Al was a good guy doing a dirty job. There's a lot of it about and by and large Al had maintained operational secrecy - if Alex had not known most of the details already he would have got nothing of signiﬁcance from their long drunken chat. Conﬁrmation really, was all that Al had given him - had leaked. Alex had checked for surveillance - no mikes, no cameras, nothing at all. What happened here stayed here. Perfect. Interrogations, torture, murder even - if that's what the place was for then why would you record it? These guys were learning - at long last. There was no mobile phone signal available either. Clever. A perfect kill zone. Alex slipped off his shoes and pulled on a thin surgical apron. He took the knife from his sock and walked to the door. He turned his head slightly and whispered, "Sleep tight, Al. Sorry to drop this on you but ..." He closed the door softly and turned left. _________________________________________________________________ Gilbert shrugged. "Of course you don't have to believe me. I could be wrong - it's unlikely but possible. But ... I know what I know. You'll never catch them. You were too late ... or I was too late ... who cares? Yeah, maybe I was too late. Oh you'll build the case. You'll get enough forensics evidence but you'll never know who they were ... or
where they are now. They'll turn up somewhere else, probably some other near paradise, courtesy of witness protection and ... and they'll do it again ... they cannot but ... it's what they are ... what they do, too! They'll create their own tiny version of hell wherever they go ... for some poor sods ... maybe next time they'll get caught ... I doubt it ... Not enough of us are on the lookout for their ilk ... it's not politically correct to think the worst of people ... and they know it ... they use it." Kolla shrugged. "You may well be correct. I am inclined to believe you as a human being but not as a policeman - too much circumstantial evidence - too much speculation - too much theorising .. but, as a human being, I am sad to say I think you probably are right ... especially about us not catching them ... and that sickens me to my stomach ... don't write me off though, I'll not let this rest ... not ever." He lit a cigarette and sighed "We don't have crime like this ... we have family killings, we have blood feuds, we have shepherds killing farmers over land and fences ... we don't have this kind of stuff ... I'll never forget what I've seen ... what I've heard ... these people have scarred my soul ... if I could ﬁnd the heads at least. They looked each at the other, resignation and sadness in their eyes. _________________________________________________________________ Alex wiped the blade clean on the bed linen. He moved silently out of the room and down the corridor peering in to make sure that Al slept on. He picked up his shoes and put them on. He ripped off the bloody apron and threw it rustling onto the empty chair, He blinked into the sunlight and smiled a smile of satisfaction. Job jobbed. _________________________________________________________________ Georgina blinked as she snapped the computer closed. Alex had done it. She shook her head and wondered brieﬂy whether her mixed feelings were acceptable. Normal even. She decided they were. _________________________________________________________________