CCopyright: Mel and Jan are owned by whomever owns Xena: Warrior Princess. Most of the other characters are mine, as is the story.
Warnings: Some violence, some sensuality, some profanity, one A-bomb, a few F-bombs, two dispossessed Greek gods, a windbag senator, a couple of spies, and an orgasm. Yawn. Nothing to freak out over. ALT.
Comments: I'm at email@example.com. Feel free to write!
This story comes in the series after A Conversation With Gabrielle. It's set in the year 1952, as the insanity of the Cold War ramps up, McCarthyism runs rampant, and the specter of nuclear annihilation hangs over the world. Mel and Jan meet their old nemesis, Stavros Palo (aka Ares) in the Greek islands, in a contest which could have dire consequences for the entire world.
So polish your reading glasses, get a glass of whatever, and enjoy!
“I made one great mistake in my life – when I
signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending
that atom bombs be made.” – Albert Einstein
Tinian Island, Pacific Ocean, August, 1945.
A dusty military jeep coasted to a halt near a bunker. Jeff slid from the seat, pulled the sunglasses from his face, and squinted in the bright Pacific sunlight. Against the passing roar and wind of a B-29 Superfortress bomber accelerating down a runway, he inserted a key into a thick padlock. He was joined by a young lieutenant with a baseball cap pushed back on his head and a clipboard in his hand. The lieutenant said something, but it was lost in the noise of the passing aircraft.
Jeff yelled, “What did you say?”
“I said, are we gonna drop the last one anytime soon?”
“I don't know. I just arm the things. I almost wish we would. Then, I could get my butt off this rock and go back stateside.” He grinned. “Before my wife stops missing me and gets herself a boyfriend.”
The lieutenant laughed. “Too late, Doc. She's probably already got one.”
“That explains why I haven't gotten a letter in a while,” Jeff said. He opened the padlock and lifted the handle. As he prepared to pull the thick metal door open, the lieutenant motioned toward the bunker.
“Which bomb is this? Curly?” the lieutenant asked.
“Naw. We've already dropped Moe and Curly. This one is Larry.”
“Oh. So, how big a bang to these things actually make, anyway?”
Jeff thought about it, then said, “Well, imagine a small city.”
“Okay,” the lieutenant said.
“Now imagine it gone.”
The lieutenant blinked. “Whoa. Man, if that thing accidentally went off, it could level this whole island, couldn't it?”
“Nothing would be left. Not one tree, not one building, not one plane, not one person. Nothing. Even the sand would turn to glass.”
“Ah, Doc? You're pretty good at arming these things, aren't you?”
Jeff laughed. “I'm a physicist. I helped build these things. That's why they call me ‘Doc' around here.” He slapped the lieutenant on the shoulder. “Hey, don't sweat it. I haven't blown us up yet, have I?”
“There's always a first time, y'know.”
“Relax. I'll be careful. I've got things to live for.”
“Do you think the Japanese will surrender?” the lieutenant asked. “That's the latest rumor going around here.”
Jeff shrugged. “If they don't, Larry's going to pay them a visit.” He pulled the heavy door open, walked into the bunker, and clicked on the electric light. Then, he froze in his tracks.
The lieutenant joined him. For a long, uncomfortable moment, they stood shoulder-to-shoulder, staring into the bunker. Then, the lieutenant looked at Jeff.
“Doc? Where's Larry?”
“I don't know. He was here yesterday.”
“Well, he ain't here now.”
“No kidding.” Jeff mopped his forehead with a handkerchief. “This can't be happening.”
“Where the hell did Larry go?”
“I don't know!” Jeff yelled. “He's supposed to be right here!”
“You didn't stick it on an airplane, did you?”
“No,” Jeff said.
“I mean, you would have known if they'd taken it, right?”
Jeff held up the key. “I've got the only access. Besides, I'd have to arm it. And I haven't.”
The lieutenant dropped the clipboard. “What the hell can happen to a bomb that size? I mean, the damned thing weighs like, ten thousand pounds. It's ten feet long. You can't just waltz off with something like that.”
Jeff said, “We are so screwed.”
“Ah, Doc? Have we got any more of these things?”
“Nope. Larry was the last one.”
The lieutenant popped his gum as he thought. Then, he said, “Let me get this straight. One atom bomb left, and it just went AWOL on our watch, right?”
“It looks that way.”
“Oh, man. We are so screwed,” the lieutenant said.
Jeff and the lieutenant looked at each other. “Yup. We are so screwed.”
Seven years later: Washington, D.C. The United States Senate.
“All rise. The Senate Internal Security Subcommittee hearings will come to order. June Seventh, Nineteen Fifty-Two. The Honorable Senator Joseph McCarthy presiding.”
The Capitol policeman stood aside as the rustle of people seating themselves and a buzz of voices echoed in the cavernous chambers. Photographers' flashbulbs popped as Senator McCarthy seated himself, then looked down at the table at which subpoenaed witnesses would sit. Today, there was only one: a woman of athletic build and blonde hair, looking younger than her age of late thirties. She chafed in her dark suit and skirt as she waited for the proceedings to begin.
The senator smiled at the sight. She didn't even bring a lawyer. It appeared that he had easy prey today. The press was going to love this one. He'd tear her to shreds, reduce her to confessing her inmost secrets, expose her as a communist, a degenerate, and anything else that he could. That's what kept his name in the papers, and that's how he would keep getting re-elected. He poured a glass of water, popped two aspirins, and mentally derided himself for drinking so much the night before. Then, he banged his gavel to silence the buzz of voices in the room and said, “The witness will please rise and be sworn.”
The woman stood. When a Capitol policeman approached her and held out a Bible, she placed her left hand on it and raised her right hand into the air. The policeman intoned, “Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”
“I do,” she said.
The policeman backed away, and she seated herself. The senator looked down at her over the tops of his glasses. “The witness will please state her name and title for the record,” he said.
She slid the microphone toward her and said, “Janice Covington, Ph.D. Professor of Archeology.”
The senator shuffled some papers, then asked, “Is that Miss, or Missus?”
“That's ‘Doctor', the last time I checked,” Jan answered.
“I see,” he replied. He banged his gavel to silence the laughter that echoed in the chambers. “Well, Doctor Covington. Do you have any idea why you've been subpoenaed to testify here today?”
“I haven't got a clue.”
He shot her a glare. “Do you have any idea who I am, and what this subcommittee does?”
“I read the papers.”
“Then you know why you're here.”
“I'm here because I got a subpoena. Other than that, I have no idea. Why don't you enlighten me, Senator?”
“Well, I'll explain. This subcommittee is interested in doing the peoples' business: that of rooting out communists, communist sympathizers, anarchists, moral degenerates, and other undesirables from positions of influence and power in our country. You're on the faculty of an American college, teaching our young people; therefore, we believe that you're of interest to us.”
“Do you feel that I fall into one of those ‘undesirable' categories, Senator?”
He shot her that over-the-top-of-his-glasses glare. “Do you?”
“Probably not the same one that you belong to.”
He banged his gavel again to silence the laughter, and said, “This subcommittee requires a certain decorum during business, Miss.”
“That's Doctor , Senator.”
“Hm. Doctor. Yes.” He waved a piece of paper in the air. “Based upon our sources, we believe that you have knowledge of, and are participant in, un-American activities.”
Jan's jaw dropped. She leaned toward the microphone and said, “Oh? Just what sources would that be, Senator?”
“How nice,” Jan said. “Well, your sources are wrong, and that's the biggest load of horse-manure that I've ever heard. Can I go now?”
Again, the senator's gavel banged down to silence the laughter. “I warn you, Doctor. You can be cited for contempt of Congress.”
Jan shot him a deadly glare. “Exactly what do you want to know, Senator?”
He looked over his papers, then said, “Let's start here. Your father was one Harry Covington, am I correct? Also an archeologist?”
“Also known as Harry ‘Grave-Robber' Covington?”
“Also known as Doctor Covington, Senator. And yes, that's him.”
“During his career, he frequented such places as southern Europe, North Africa, and Palestine, all hotbeds of socialist and communist activity, is that correct?”
“That's where his expeditions took him. Ancient civilizations don't come to us; we have to go to them.”
“And he was known to associate with rather undesirable types while there, isn't that true?”
“I have no idea who he associated with, Senator.”
“But you went with him on these ‘expeditions', did you not?”
“Yes, in the summers. I was just a kid then.”
“Did he ever talk to you about politics?”
“Sure, when I was older. He was my dad. We talked about all sorts of stuff.”
“And did he attempt to indoctrinate you in socialist and communist philosophy?”
“My father was about the most unpolitical guy that ever lived. He had no use for politicians of any stripe – a lesson I take to heart, Senator.”
Laughter echoed through the chambers, silenced by McCarthy's glare. He returned his attention to Jan. “Now, he passed away when you were in your teens, is that correct?”
“He disappeared on an expedition and was presumed dead. Look, Senator. If you're investigating my father, you're a little late.”
“It's you, Doctor, that we're interested in today. May I proceed?”
Jan sighed. “Knock yourself out.”
“Thank you. I'm delighted that we have your permission to continue. Now, it was in college that you became infatuated with socialism and communism, is that correct?”
“But you were seen in college attending meetings of radical leftist campus organizations!” He waved a paper in the air.
“If you're talking about attending a few lectures on socialism, sure I was there. Lots of students were. It was common back then.”
“Names. I want names, Doctor. Who else was there?”
“I don't remember. That was back in the Thirties.”
“Your lapse of memory is very convenient for your radical friends. Then you admit belonging to one of these leftist organizations?”
“But you just said – !”
“No, I did not, Senator. I never joined. I merely attended some lectures. As I said, it was a common thing to do.”
“Perhaps you can at least enlighten us as to why so many students attended these subversive meetings.”
“Senator, college is traditionally a time for the exploration of diverse ideas and philosophies. Besides,” she continued, “it was a great place to get a date.”
Again, the senator's gavel banged down to silence laughter. “Your flippancy is not appreciated here, Doctor. Perhaps by the audience, but not by me.”
Jan looked around the room. “Audience? That's what this spectacle really is, isn't it, Senator? Political theater. You've got your audience, you've got your cameras and news people, and you're grandstanding by ruining the reputations and lives of innocent people. You want to talk un-American? That's about as un-American as it gets.”
The gavel slammed down several times to silence the buzz of conversation in the chambers. “This is your last warning, Doctor Covington. Any more outbursts like that, and you'll end up behind bars. I promise you that.”
“Whatever,” Jan said. “Let's get this over with. Ask your questions.”
“Thank you. Now, you've been arrested at least twice, in foreign countries. True?”
“Let's see...the first time was a crooked cop and a business deal gone bad. That was in Algeria, before the war. And the second time, I was falsely accused of the theft of ancient documents. That was in France, after the war.”
“And what happened? Were you convicted of any crime?”
“No. In both cases, the American Embassy staff helped me out of those jams.”
“The embassy staff? You seem quite friendly with the various embassy staffs. You do realize that the State Department is rife with communists? Do you find something funny, Doctor?”
Jan struggled to contain her laughter. “Don't you guys up here in Congress pay their salaries? Maybe you'd better start investigating yourselves. It seems that you've got a lot of commies on the payroll.”
Senator McCarthy's gavel pounded on the podium repeatedly until the laughter in the chambers died away. “I warn you, Doctor. This is not a Vaudeville show.”
“The hell it ain't,” Jan shot back.
“What did you say, Doctor?” the senator snapped.
“Look, I never asked about their political sympathies, Senator. They did a great job, and I was appreciative of their help.”
“Hm.” He glowered at her for a moment, then studied his notes. “Now, you attended a Catholic boarding school in high school, is that correct?”
“And are you a practicing member of the Catholic Church today?”
“If it's any of your business, Senator, I don't buy into organized religion.”
“Then you're an atheist?”
“But you just stated that you are not a member of any religion.”
“That doesn't mean that I'm an atheist.” Jan huffed in frustration. “What does it matter to you, anyway?”
“It matters, Doctor. Communists are notorious for not having a religious affiliation. In my estimation, anyone not belonging to a religion is immediately suspect of communist sympathies.”
“In that case, you'd better dig up and arrest about half the guys who signed the Declaration of Independence.”
The senator's gavel slammed down to quiet the laughter in the chambers. “Doctor, you're very close to being declared in contempt of Congress and thrown in jail.”
Jan leaned forward. “Look, Senator. What's your bottom line here? Surely I didn't ride the train all the way to Washington just to have you ask intrusive personal questions of me. Surely you've got more than hearsay and speculation about me. Surely you've got something better than this to do all day. I know I do.”
“All right, Doctor. Since you insist, we'll cut right to the chase. Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”
“Are you now or have you ever been a member of any socialist or other left-leaning political organization dedicated to the overthrow of the United States?”
“But you just said that you attended subversive rallies in college!”
“No, I did not. I attended lectures, not rallies, and I never joined the organization. Get your facts straight, Senator.”
“I believe this next line of questioning does have the facts straight, Doctor. Now, you've never been married, is that correct?”
“Yeah. That's correct. Does that make me a commie, too?”
The senator ignored the barb. “Do you ever intend to get married?”
“Gee, I don't know. Maybe if I find somebody who's rich and has one foot in the grave. Where is this line of questioning going, Senator?” Jan felt a trickle of sweat run down her back. She could guess where this line of questioning was going, and she didn't like it one bit.
“Just answer the questions. Now, you currently share a house with another woman, is that correct?”
“Yes. I'm an unmarried woman. That's what unmarried women do in our culture.”
“And you've been associated with this woman for at least a decade now, is that correct?”
“Yes. Both personally and professionally. It's called ‘having friends'.”
“Is she here, in this chambers, today?”
“She hasn't been subpoenaed. You can leave her out of this.”
“Doctor, why is it that you, an obviously attractive woman, have never been married?”
“Maybe it's because I'm a pain in the ass to live with, Senator. Maybe it's because I just don't want to be married. What are you now, my shrink?”
He shot a glance at her over his glasses, and allowed himself a dramatic pause. “Doctor Covington, you're homosexual, aren't you?” He pointed at her and raised his voice. “You're under oath here, Doctor. I repeat the question. Are you or are you not – ?”
Jan was on her feet. Her chair flew backward, and her fists hammered down on the table. “That's none of your business, Senator! How dare you! You arrogant, pretentious, horse's ass! Who the hell are you to sit up there and ask me that? Fuck you! Now, if you've got questions about commies under my bed or anywhere else, you'd better ask ‘em. But my private life is none of your God-damned business.”
The cell door clanged shut, and the Capitol guard was laughing as he twisted the key in the lock. “Man, Doc,” he said. “You sure told him off.” He looked at his colleague. “Hey, Sam. You should have heard the Doc, here. Gave ol' McCarthy a real earful.”
“‘Bout time somebody did,” the other guard said. “Hey, Doc. You need anything?”
“How's about a double scotch and a smoke?” she said.
“Coming right up. Do you want cream and sugar in that double scotch?”
Jan laughed. “Please. That would be great.”
She flopped down on the hard bench inside the cell and kicked off her shoes. Man, she thought. This has to be a Covington first: Contempt of Congress. I wonder how long I'm going to sit in here? She looked down at her legs, protruding from beneath the hem of her dark skirt, and thought, stockings? Man, when was the last time I wore those? How come they don't itch like hell? Probably because Mel bought me some nice silk ones. Now that the war's over, you can get silk again. Yeah, Mel's always lookin' out for me.
She pulled off her suit-coat and threw it aside, then rolled up the sleeves on her white blouse. Mel, she thought. She's probably having a massive shit-fit right about now, banging on doors all over the place to try to get me out of here. That poor girl. And the worst part is when she calls her mother, and her mother says, ‘I told you not to get hooked up with that Covington trash. Your tawdry affair with her has been an embarrassment to this entire family. Let me find you a nice southern man. ' She could hear Mel's mother's voice, ringing in her head in that icy, cultured southern accent of hers, dripping with disapproval. Nah, Jan decided, Mel won't call her mother because she doesn't want to hear her say, ‘I told you so.'
The guard stopped at her cell and passed her a cup of coffee through the bars. A cigarette followed, and Jan lit it off the guard's Zippo lighter. “Thanks,” she said. “I appreciate it.”
“Hey. No problem, Doc. We love ya.”
“Yeah,” the other guard said. “I'm in there every day, listening to that fat-cat blowhard, and wanting to tell him to go jump himself. You actually got to do it.”
“And look where it got me.” She sipped her coffee. “So, how long do you think I'll be in here?”
One guard looked at the other, and they both shrugged.
“Nice,” Jan said.
She thought as she indulged herself in her coffee and cigarette. Contempt of Congress. Gee, Dad. You'd be proud. What's this make? Three jails now? Three jails on three different continents. Let's hear it for the ol' Covington charm.
She finished her smoke and her coffee, and lay back on the rack. Home, sweet home, she thought. And I miss the heck out of Mel already. And it's only gonna get worse.
Her thoughts were interrupted by footsteps. A guard stopped in front of her cell, accompanied by a guy in a wrinkled summer suit with his necktie loose and his fedora hat shoved back on his head. He had a very familiar face, a lean, wily look about him, and the handle of a pistol peeking out from beneath his suit-coat. When he saw Jan, he beamed.
“Well, well. Jan Covington! Back in the slammer, I see. Just like old times.” He looked at the guard. “Whenever I need the doc, here, I just check the local jails. It doesn't matter which country I'm in; she's there somewhere.”
Jan laughed. “Don't believe a word this guy says.” She rose and walked to the bars. “Smitty! I haven't seen you since Algiers. How are ya, you old camel-lover?”
“Hey, I'm not old.” Smitty greeted her warmly, and they shook hands through the bars. “You look good.”
“You, too. What brings you around here, Smitty?”
“I'm here to bust you out of jail.” He grinned. “Again.”
“Yeah?” Jan eyed him. “What's the catch this time?”
Smitty laughed. “The catch is, you come with me.” He stood back as the guard opened the cell door. “Doctor Covington, your country needs you.”
“Oh, Jeez,” Jan said. “The last time you said that to me, I almost got killed in Algiers.”
“Yeah, but you won that one.” He looked at the guard. “She's one tough little dame. Her face looked like she'd kissed a truck bumper, but she won.”
Jan slipped her feet into her flat shoes and draped her suit-coat over her arm. “I need my stuff, and I need to call Mel. She's probably going nuts right about now.”
“Your stuff is at the desk, and Mel's waiting for us. I already collected her.”
“You think of everything.” Jan picked up her purse and briefcase from the counter, and she noticed Smitty's expression. “What's so funny?”
“You, with a purse? That's a first.”
“Yeah, and it's gonna be the last time for a good, long while. Go ahead and laugh it up. I'm wearing a skirt and stockings, too.”
“What?” Smitty asked. “No red lipstick?”
Jan grinned. “Hell, if I was on the street in a skirt and wearing red lipstick, some palooka would probably offer me twenty bucks.”
“Jan, I'm surprised at you. A classy dame like you? Perish the thought.”
“Well, thanks, Smitty. I appreciate that.”
“It'd be at least two hundred bucks, easy.”
Jan looked at the guard. “Is it too late to go back to jail?”
“Yup,” he said. “This guy already signed for you.” He squinted at the document. “Central Intelligence Agency? What's that?”
“That,” Smitty said, “used to be the OSS. Now, we're CIA. Same bunch of bums, different title and better offices.”
Jan shook both guards' hands. “Thanks, guys, for the smoke and the coffee.”
“Drop in next time you're in town, Doc,” one guard said.
“Knowing me, I probably will,” Jan replied, as Smitty pulled her by her arm toward the door.
Jan and Smitty chatted pleasantly as he drove them through the streets of the nation's capitol. The talk subsided, though, when he pulled up to a gate, and a guard examined Smitty's credentials. He waved them through; a few minutes later, they'd entered a building, strode down a long hallway, and entered a room. Immediately, Mel collided with Jan and enveloped her in an eye-popping bear hug.
“Oh, Jan! Thank goodness you're here! I was so worried about you. I thought that they were going to keep you until the cows came home.” She sniffed Jan's hair and said, “Phew! You've been smoking, haven't you?”
“That's what I do in jail.” She looked up at Mel. “I know you were worried. I'm sorry about all that. I should have kept my mouth shut and my temper in check.”
“If you had, you wouldn't have been the Jan Covington that I know.”
“Did you tell your mom about this?” Jan asked.
“What, and listen to her say, ‘I told you so'?”
“Bingo.” Jan turned toward Smitty. “So, what's up, buddy? Do you guys want me to save the world or something?”
Smitty smiled at that. “You might be closer than you think.” He pointed to a conference table. “We can talk here. The room's sound-proof. Have a seat. I've got a story to tell you that will knock your socks off, Jan.” He looked down. “Well, stockings, anyway.”
When they were seated, Smitty produced a folder marked ‘Top Secret'. He said, “You two understand that what we're about to discuss can't leave this room, right? If the press found out, there would be hell to pay. Heads would roll in very high places.”
“I'm intrigued,” Jan said. “Tell me more.”
“Well, let me ask you this: What do you know about the atom bombings of Japan?”
“Just what I read in the papers,” Jan said. Mel agreed with a nod.
“The official line is that we exploded the first bomb in the New Mexico desert, just to test it. Then, we built two more and gave them to the Army Air Force, on Tinian Island, to use against the Japanese. But that's not quite accurate.”
“We actually gave them three bombs. One was dropped on Hiroshima. One was dropped on Nagasaki.”
“And the third?” Mel asked.
“It, ah...got stolen. It disappeared before we could use it.”
“What the hell?” Jan said.
“Right.” He opened his folder and placed some large, glossy black-and-white photographs in front of Mel and Jan. “Here's Tinian Island. It's surrounded by a thousand miles of ocean. It was crawling with soldiers and a huge air wing of bombers. Here's the bunker. And here's the bomb. It weighs ten thousand pounds. It's almost ten feet long. It's humanly impossible to steal something like that. But somebody did.”
“No way,” Jan said. “Misplaced? A paperwork glitch? It's still on the ship that delivered it?”
“Who knows?” Smitty said. “That ship was sunk by a Japanese submarine after it left Tinian Island. But it was there. The Manhattan Project, who built the bombs, had a man stationed there to arm them before they were dropped. He had the only key to the bunker. He checked on them every single day. It was there one day, then gone the next. No one knows where it went.”
“Holy crap,” Jan said. “Who could have pulled off a heist like that?”
“I think you know who. Remember this guy?” Smitty slid one more picture across the table, and Mel picked it up. They instantly recognized the face; the massive, muscular presence, the handsome, cruel features, the intelligent eyes, the ‘bad-boy' aura – they knew him. Oh, yes. They knew him only too well.
“Oh, my God,” Mel said. “Stavros Palo.”
“Yeah,” Jan agreed. “He could have done this. He's the only one.”
“Right. We think he's got it. We want it back. We think you're the best one to go after this thing.”
Jan looked up at Smitty. “It's been seven years since it went missing. What's the hurry now?”
“The guy that was on Tinian, the expert at arming the bombs, was this person.” Smitty pushed another photograph at them.
Mel picked it up. “A very nice-looking guy,” she noted.
“Yup. He's your typical all-American boy. He's a bright young fellow, a Princeton-trained physicist who helped build the bombs. His name is Jeffery Gottfried. Three weeks ago, he went missing.”
Jan shrugged. “Maybe he's just on vacation somewhere.”
“Yeah. Permanent vacation. He went missing from the Federal prison at Alcatraz Island. Just like the bomb; one minute, he was under lock and key, and the next, he was gone.”
“What on Earth was he in prison for?” Mel asked.
“He was responsible for the missing bomb. He had the only key. Somebody's head had to roll, and it wasn't gonna be the general's head. Besides, he knew too much. They had to put him away, or he might talk to the press.”
Mel asked, “And you think that Palo kidnapped Jeffery to arm the bomb?”
“I know it sounds crazy, but – ”
“No,” Jan said. “It sounds perfectly logical. Look, if I was Palo, that's what I'd do. He's a businessman, through and through. What's he going to do with an atom bomb? He's going to sell it. And he's going to sell the bomb and the guy who can arm it, as a package deal.”
“That's our thinking exactly.” Smitty offered them another photograph. “Now, this is where we believe that he's keeping the bomb. It's an island scored with underground tunnels and located north of Crete, called – ”
“Santorini,” Jan said. “Or Thera, if you prefer.”
“Yeah. How'd you know?”
Jan smiled. “ It's got a distinctive appearance. Part of the island was submerged by a volcanic eruption, thousands of years ago. Some theorize that it was the location of the legendary city of Atlantis, and that the eruption that sank Atlantis caused a tidal wave that devastated the Minoan civilization on Crete. We archeologists have hardly begun to scratch the surface of that island. So, why there, Smitty?”
“We have an ‘asset' close to Palo. Our asset says that he's got it there, and that's where he's currently living, too. It makes sense. Thera's capital city, Fira, has port facilities. He can ship it to any buyer from there, and it's centrally located. He's probably got it squirreled away in an underground tunnel. They're all over the place. Jeffery is probably there, too.”
“Who would want to buy such a thing?” Mel asked. “The Soviets?”
“Nah,” Smitty said. “They're building their own bombs. Our asset says that he's received offers from several parties, including one in Argentina.”
“What would they want with a bomb?” Jan asked.
“That place is rife with rich expatriate Nazis.” He looked at her. “Including, if my sources are correct, one middle-aged Austrian with a touch of Parkinson's Disease and a young, pretty wife named Eva.”
“Nope. But our immediate problem is getting the bomb – and the physicist – back. We think you would be perfect for this thing. Hey, you know Palo. You've dealt with him before. You're a pro in tunnels, you're one tough customer, you're smart, and you think unconventionally.”
“So what's the plan?” Jan asked.
“Our asset gave Palo a bid from us, as an unidentified party. He's interested, and wants to meet. You'll be our broker and see if we can buy it back, nice and tidy. If we can't, then we'll have to steal it back from him, and things could get much messier that way. We'll go prepared to steal it, but we'll hope for the best, and that he'll sell it to us, nice and quiet.”
“When do we leave?”
“Right away. We'll give you all you need, pay your expenses, and give you a team to back you up.”
“I'll need Harry and Alais Covington with me.”
“Your dad and step-mom?”
“Yeah. He's an adventurer of the first rank, Smitty. A good guy to have by me in a fight. And Alais knows Palo better than anybody else. She's his half-sister.”
“Wow. I didn't know that. I need to talk to her. Okay, then. Anything else?” He watched Jan and Mel shake their heads, and said, “Okay. We'll pick you up at your house on Wednesday morning.”
At the hotel, Mel flopped down in an overstuffed chair as Jan kicked off her shoes and threw her suit-coat on the bed. “Oh, my Lord, Jan,” she said. “Please don't get thrown into jail again. I was worried to death over you.”
“Sorry, Mel.” Jan unbuttoned her blouse and pulled it off. “It just keeps happening to me.” She unfastened her skirt and stepped out of it. “But, hey! At least we're getting back to the Greek islands, huh? And at Smitty's expense, too.” She looked at Mel. “What's so funny?”
“Oh, Jan. I just haven't seen you in stockings and a garter belt in ages! You look — ”
“Yeah, I know. Not my thing, huh?” When she unsnapped her bra and threw it on the bed, she heard a sharp intake of breath from Mel's general direction.
“Oh, my. Do me a favor, Jan?”
“Let your hair loose?”
“Ah...okay.” She pulled the clip from her pony-tail and let her hair fall loosely about her neck. Then, she put her hands on her hips and studied Mel. “Melinda Pappas! What's on your mind?”
“You. Oh, my word.”
Jan snickered. “Mel, are you gettin' all – ? You are, aren't you?” She looked down at herself. “Well, well. So stockings and a garter belt do that to you, huh? Who'd have thunk it?” She walked across the room – slowly – and sat in Mel's lap. “Twelve years, and I still learn new things about you.”
Mel lifted the wire-rimmed glasses from her face. “Quit talkin' and start kissin'.”
After several minutes of steamy silence in the room, Jan whispered, “Mel?”
“We're going to miss dinner.”
“We'll find an all-night diner. Now shut up, cutie, and take me to bed.”
Jan never got the opportunity to reply.
One week later, a lumbering C-119 “Flying Boxcar” aircraft set down on the runway at Thera's airport, taxied to the far end of the tarmac, and parked. To any casual observer, it appeared to be a war-surplus aircraft repainted in sun-faded civilian colors. Its engines died, and two men emerged and threw wooden chocks beneath the wheels. As they did, a lone figure emerged from the tower building and walked toward the aircraft.
Inside the massive cargo bay, Jan waited next to a beat-up truck strapped down in the center of the bay. It, like the aircraft, appeared much the worse for wear, with faded paint, a patched canvas, and spots of rust. Hidden beneath a patched tarp, it sported a massive, heavy winch. Jan extended her hand in greeting as Smitty emerged from the pilot's compartment.
“Glad to see you. Been waiting for us long?” Jan asked.
“Three days of sun, fun, and ouzo,” Smitty replied. “It's nicer here than Algiers.”
“No kidding. Smitty, meet the team. You already know Mel.” She led him to a couple standing near the truck. “This is my dad, Harry.”
Smitty shook hands with a fit, tanned man in middle age, showing a week's worth of salt-and-pepper beard and a devil-may-care look in his eye. “Harry Covington,” Smitty said. “I thought you were dead.”
“Just flying under the radar,” he said as he pushed the brown fedora back on his head. “Life's easier that way.” He grinned. “And yes, the fedora is a family tradition.”
Jan said, “And this is Alais.”
“Honored.” Smitty immediately found Jan's step-mother an enigma, a riot of competing impressions. She was a lovely woman, but he couldn't peg her age. She could have been anywhere between twenty-five and forty. She had a classic, flawless beauty about her, and seemed quite fit. And her face, offset by thick, blonde hair, possessed a haunting loveliness, but also possessed eyes which seemed to know the ages and harbor old pain and deep wisdom. As he shook her hand, he noticed a line of numbers tattooed in faded blue ink on her forearm. Could it be? he wondered. Can she be a survivor of the concentration camps? He connected with the eyes again, recalled the look of some camp survivors he'd met, and decided, yes. It's possible. He filed the information away for future reference.
“Delighted to meet you,” Alais said. Her accent was impossible for him to pin down, but he guessed that she was Greek.
“Glad to have you all aboard.” He turned and waved a hand. Five men gathered around him, and Smitty said, “I presume you're the recovery team?”
“We are.” The team's leader introduced the others, then explained their presence. “We're to recover the bomb. It's on a rolling trailer, I hear; this truck's got plenty of guts to pull ten thousand pounds, and a winch on the back with a quarter-mile of steel cable to get the trailer out of whatever tunnel it's in. We'll bring it back here, winch it onto the aircraft, then disburse. The aircraft's payload is ten thousand pounds; it'll have to come back to pick us up. That's okay.” He smiled. “I hear that there's a resort town just down the road.” He laughed. “We'll tough it out somehow.” At the joke, his men laughed.
“Right,” Smitty said. “Here's the drill.” He opened a map and spread it out. “This is the island of Thera. We're at the airport, on the eastern side. Just south of us is the resort town of Kamari. We'll be staying there. Now, the main town on this island is Fira, on the western side, just a few miles away. The port facilities are there, and that's where Jan, here – ” he gestured toward her. “Will meet Palo and see if she can't negotiate buying the bomb. If he doesn't bite, then – and only then – will we steal it.”
The leader of the recovery team nodded, then busied his men checking their truck and equipment. Smitty, Jan, Mel, and Harry and Alais stepped outside of the cargo bay and stood in the sunlight.
“Jan, you meet Palo at the Athenos Hotel in Fira. His assistant is expecting us. Do your best.”
Mel placed a hand on Smitty's arm. “Is she going alone?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Is that a problem?”
“He's dangerous. He's tried to kill her at least twice now. Let me go, too.”
“Sorry, doll,” Jan said. “You know how distracted he gets around you.” She looked at Smitty. “Palo's had the hots for Mel since he's known us. When she's around, he can't keep his mind on business.”
“Hm. Nevertheless, I don't like you going alone.” He looked at Alais. “Palo's your brother. Would you go with Jan?”
“Of course,” Alais said. She said to Mel, “I will see to her safety. My brother will not harm her.”
“Thank you, Alais.” Mel hugged Jan. “Take care and hurry back.” Then, she swatted Jan on the butt. “Now go.”
One of the team's members rolled a motorcycle down the ramp. Jan started it, sat astride it, and allowed it to idle. “Coming?” she said to Alais.
“I'm with you.” She hugged Harry, then climbed on behind Jan, who took off her fedora and handed it to her passenger. “Hold this, and hold on.”
“Jan's like a maniac on those things,” Mel said.
“Then she will love the roads here,” Alais shouted with a laugh. The motorcycle sped off, leaving a little patch of black on the concrete behind her.
Stavros Palo sat at his usual table in the back of the restaurant at the Athenos Hotel. As he sipped his coffee, he contemplated his upcoming business meeting. His assistant had brought him a very intriguing offer for the atom bomb from a private, unnamed party – an offer to be brokered by none other than Jan Covington. He smiled at that. Now there, he thought, was a name that he'd not heard in a while. He and Jan had tangled before, and every time they did, things got very interesting. He had to admit that he liked the idea of her being involved in this little business deal. And wherever she was, Mel Pappas was sure to be there, too. Now there was a woman! The spitting image of her ancestor Xena – for him, the one that got away.
His thoughts traveled back two thousand years, to when he still reigned as Ares, Greek God of War. Xena: the only mortal who could ever best him. Xena: the only mortal he couldn't possess. Then, he frowned. Wherever Mel went, Xena's spirit watched over her. And the only thing that could best a dispossessed Greek God in this century was the spirit of a Greek antihero who'd been dead for two thousand years. Now that's irony, he thought. Zeus would have been proud.
He furrowed his eyebrows together in puzzlement. He had a sudden, vague, uneasy feeling – a feeling that there was another immortal nearby, a dispossessed god like him. But who? Most of them were dead. Zeus, Athena, Hephastus, Artemis, Hades, all were dead. Just a few were left. It must be Aphrodite, or as she calls herself now, Alais. How nice. What a treat. He thought back, twenty-five hundred years ago, and remembered her in her Olympian prime. Yes, she was his half-sister, but that didn't stop them from having a sizzling affair in those heady days of glory. He pictured her in her splendid nakedness, and he recalled what it was like to feel her, taste her, love her. It really is good to be a god, he decided. Maybe – nah, he thought. She's grown a conscience, too. Married a mortal, for Zeus' sake. Jan's father, even. Now that was a cosmic irony. How far the mighty fall, that she – once the wife and mistress of gods, and a god herself – is now the wife of a mere mortal.
His mind returned to the business at hand. He'd been in touch with several parties who wanted the bomb, but this offer fascinated him. Who, he wondered, had gotten Jan Covington to broker a deal like this for them? Since she'd grown a conscience, she'd become very particular about who she did business with. Who was her secret client? He smiled. It couldn't be anyone else but –
A young woman sat at his table. “Stavros,” she said, “that archeologist is here. She's got some totty with her, too. Who, I don't know. It's not that Pappas woman.”
“Blonde?” he asked. “A real looker?”
“That's my half-sister. Bring ‘em back.”
She rose and left. He waved the waiter to him, ordered three more coffees, and waited to hear what Covington had to say.
Jan had just finished her drink at the bar of the Athenos Hotel when a sultry voice edged with a British accent teased her ear. “Doctor Covington?”
“That's me, doll,” she said. She turned to her left and found a young woman in a summer dress standing behind her and Alais. Jan noted that beneath her short, dark hair, she had a self-assured stance, a hardness behind the twinkle in her eyes, and, she guessed, probably a lady's pistol somewhere on her person. “And you are?”
“Candace Kelly,” she said. “I'm Stavros Palo's assistant.”
Jan gestured toward Alais. “Alais Covington,” she said.
“Also a Covington?” Candace raised an eyebrow. “Sister?” she inquired.
“Nope. Step-mother, actually.”
“And Stavros' half-sister. I suppose that makes this a family affair. Shall we go, Doctor Covington?”
Jan and Alais slid from their bar stools and walked with her. “Call me Jan,” she said.
“And most people call me ‘Candy'.”
Candy shot Jan a laughing, flirtatious glance. “You'll never know.”
“Yeah,” Jan cracked. “The story of my life.”
“Oh? That's not what I heard about you.”
They entered the restaurant and followed Candy toward the back. Jan felt her senses tingle with warning; she could feel Palo's near presence. A few moments later, she saw him. He was six feet away from her, and she was being guided to his table. She pushed the fedora back on her head, put her hands on her hips, and gave him a slow nod. He returned the gesture.
Yes, he was exactly as she remembered him. He hadn't changed, not one whit. Same massive, muscular presence beneath an open-collared white shirt, same cruel, handsome features, same jet-black lion's mane of hair; it was Ares. Only now, he was Stavros Palo, dealer of antiquities – and, it seemed, purloined atom bombs.
He stood as the three women were seated, then resumed his seat and offered coffee all around. “Well,” he said as he leaned back, “Jan Covington, the irritating little blonde in my life. In this century, anyway. It's good to see you again, squirt.” He waved a hand. “No, really. I mean it. I've been bored lately, and every time you show up, things get interesting. So how's that girlfriend of yours these days?”
Jan smiled. “Mel – and Xena – send their love.”
Palo laughed. “Right,” he said. “And you, dear sister – how's marriage treating you? Better than your last ten marriages, I'm guessing?”
Alais shot him an amused glance. “Yes, brother. I love my husband and growing grapes and making good wine. It's a humble, simple life, but a satisfying one.” She studied him. “You seem well and fit.”
“Never better,” Palo said. “But what brings you two around today? Covington, how come you're not out grubbing in the dirt for ancient trash? And sis, how come you're not home stomping grapes with the other peasant girls?”
“Because we have come to see you, brother. Is that not enough?”
Palo nodded in reply. “Thank you, but somehow I suspect that your visit isn't merely a social one.”
“It's not,” Jan said. “My client thinks that you might have something he wants.”
“Oh? I just might,” Palo said. “But it's going to cost you.”
“What sort of offers are you getting for both the bomb and the scientist that arms it?”
“Wow. You guys are brighter than I thought.” He thought, then said, “How much are you willing to offer?”
“My client wants both of ‘em, bad. He's willing to offer three million dollars American.”
Palo nodded. “That's a good offer. I'll need a little time to contact the other interested parties. If no one wants to match you, you got it.”
“When will we know?”
Jan smiled. “Fair enough. One more thing. I need to see both the bomb and Gottfried. My client wants to make sure we're not getting conned.”
“Covington, would I con you?” He held up a hand. “Don't answer that. Look, this isn't a con.”
“Then prove it. I need to see the bomb and Gottfried.” She saw Palo's hesitation, and she said, “Three mil, if this is on the level.”
“It's on the level.” He studied Jan, then Alais, then looked at Candy. “Bring my car around, will you?”
“Stavros, you're not going to – ?”
“It'll be okay. You go collect that scientist, and sober him up if you have to. Then, meet us at the bomb.”
She nodded. “Very well,” she said. She looked around the table. With an “Excuse me,” she rose and left, as Palo's eyes watched her.
Jan said, “So, how long will this take?”
“Why?” Palo asked. “Got a hot date?”
“My client's representative is on the island. He's antsy for news. If this will take a while, I need to call him and let him know what's going on.”
Palo waved a hand and spoke a few words in Greek to the waiter, who returned with a candlestick telephone trailing a long wire. Jan dialed a number, then put the receiver to her ear and spoke into the mouthpiece. “Smitty? Jan. We're going to see it now. We'll know by tonight. Yeah. Later.” She hung up the telephone, then nodded at Palo. “It's good.”
“Shall we go?” Palo said, as he rose. “And don't forget your hat, Covington.”
Jan clapped the worn green fedora on the back of her head as she stood. “I never do.”
Jeffery Gottfried rose from the bed and walked to the open French doors of his suite at the Athenos Hotel. Beyond the doors was a balcony, and beyond that, the Mediterranean Sea. He breathed deeply of the air; its salty, invigorating scent infused him with contentment. He pulled on a pair of shorts to cover his nudity, then lit a cigarette and watched the distant breakers roll onto the beach. Paradise, he thought. I've died and landed in Paradise. This sure is better than where I was a month ago: Alcatraz Island, ‘The Rock'. What a hell-hole. Seven years, I rotted in there. Seven long, lost years. My career is ruined. My wife left me. My family disowned me. My country pissed all over me. And then Palo appears in my cell one night, makes me an offer, and poof! Here I am. Paradise.
He looked at the bed behind him, and he smiled. Tangled in the sheets were the curves of a sleeping woman. Tanned, black-haired, and Greek, she had taken to him immediately. She was gentle, kindly, and spoke lovely English, and he took to her, too. Natassa. He thought about the name. What's that mean in Greek? Something about resurrection? How appropriate. I feel like I've been raised from the dead, he thought. One minute, I'm in Alcatraz; then, Palo comes along, rolls the ol' stone away from the tomb, and I'm here, alive again. I mean, really alive, feeling the sun and sand, enjoying the booze and great food, and rolling in the hay with Natassa. God, I'd forgotten how good a woman could feel, how good they taste and smell and look and sound. I hadn't even spoken to one in almost seven years. Now, she's here with me. He thought about that. It's almost as if she was meant to be with me. I wonder if Palo arranged her for me when he arranged everything else.
He thought about that some more, then decided that it didn't really matter. Palo is my buddy, he thought. He came through for me when everybody else had written me off. Arm the bomb for him? Sure. I don't give a crap who he blows up with it. I almost hope that it's Washington, D.C. Those bastards ruined me so's some fat-cat general didn't have to retire in disgrace, and because they were afraid that I'd spill their dirty little secret about a missing atom bomb to the press. I have no idea how Palo pulled it all off, but he did. And he pulled this off for me. He sells the bomb, I arm it, he pays me, and Natassa and I run off into the sunset. He considered the afternoon sun and decided, yeah. I could do this island for the rest of my life. He cast another glance back at the bed and decided, yeah. I could do Natassa for the rest of my life, too.
A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts. He crushed out his smoke, walked across the room, and opened the door. Candy was outside, and she entered. “Get dressed,” she said. “Somebody wants to meet you and the bomb.”
“A potential buyer.” She studied Jeff. “Have you been drinking?”
“Not lately,” he said. He stood aside, and she entered the room.
“Good.” Candy shot a lingering glance at the sleeping Natassa, then at her wrist-watch. “Come on, lover. Get dressed. We have an appointment.” She watched him as he walked to the closet and chose some clothes, then cast his shorts aside before dressing. She said, “You kept yourself in lovely shape in prison. You're quite fit.”
“Nothing else to do,” he said, “but read, exercise, and try to keep from going insane.”
“I take it you were successful?” Candy asked.
“On the first two, yeah. On the third, no. The prison shrink said that I was nuts. Of course I'm nuts, I told him. I'm in a big cage surrounded by murderers, gangsters, and psychopaths.” As Jeff fastened his pants and tucked in his shirt-tail, he looked at Candy. “Do you know what he said back to me?”
“He said, ‘I am, too.' How's that for you? Even the prison psychiatrist is nuts.”
“So how do you deal with it?” Candy asked. “Being ‘nuts', I mean.”
Jeff tied his shoes and stood. “I don't sleep very well. I drink a lot. I worry. But this island helps more than you can ever imagine.” He gestured toward the bed. “She does, too. She's the best therapy any guy could ever want.”
Candy nodded. “I would imagine so.”
Natassa stirred, then sat up in bed and stretched luxuriously. When she saw Candy, she pulled the sheet up to cover her chest. “Jeff? Are you going out?”
“Yeah. Business. Palo needs me. I'll be back soon.” He strode to the bedside, kissed her, and waved Candy to the door. “Let's go.”
They stepped into the hall and closed the door behind them. Candy grasped his arm and said, “I'm sure that we can count on you to do your part in this?”
“Hey,” Jeff said. “As long as you and Palo keep me supplied with Natassa, booze, and sunshine, I'm yours to command.”
She smiled as they walked down the hall. “You men are so simple,” she observed.
“Damned right,” Jeff agreed. “And we love it. Life is a lot less complicated that way.”
Palo's car stopped. He stepped out and said, “You two can take off the blindfolds now.”
Jan yanked the blindfold from her eyes and looked around. The car had stopped inside the entrance to a tunnel. Ahead of them, the tunnel stretched into darkness. Its ceiling almost scraped Palo's head, and it appeared maybe eight feet wide. Alais joined Jan, and a moment later, Candy approached. She was accompanied by a man who appeared no older than his early thirties.
Jan sized him up and said, “Jeff Gottfried, I presume?”
“I used to be,” he said. “Now, I'm just a guy without a country and with a special skill for sale.”
“My client might have need of your special skill. Can you still do your job? After all, you haven't done it for seven years.”
Jeff nodded. “Yeah, sure. It's like riding a bicycle.”
“Okay, then.” Jan looked at Palo. “Lead on,” she said.
Palo passed out flashlights, then began walking into the darkness. Candy called, “Stavros? I'll stay here.”
He looked over his shoulder. “Sure. Suit yourself,” he said, then walked into the tunnel with Jan, Alais, and Jeff gathered around him. As they walked, they lit the tunnel with flashlights. Palo did not seem to need one.
Jan caught up with him. “Hey, Palo,” she said. “These walls are too smooth to have been made naturally. They were carved out by people, right?”
“Yeah, squirt. Slave labor, a few thousand years ago. Man, you should have seen this place back then. It was something else.”
“So, ‘fess up. Was this part of Atlantis?”
Palo looked at her. “Man, Covington. Next, you'll be wondering about flying saucers.”
“Oh, come on. Throw me some good stuff, here. You were here back then, weren't you?”
“Okay,” Palo replied. “Just because – for some crazy reason – I like you. Yes, I was. Yes, it was. And yes, this was all once part of it.”
Jan slugged Palo's massive arm as she whooped with glee. “I knew it! Damn, Palo. Look, if you were me, where would you start digging?”
Palo grinned. “Nah. I've already said too much.”
“Aw, come on, man. Spill it.”
“Nope. Sometimes, squirt, it's just better to let the past alone.”
“Palo!” Jan huffed.
A hand touched Jan's shoulder. It was Alais. She said, “Sometimes, my brother is right.” Then, she leaned close to Jan's ear. “Ask me later.”
Jan sighed, then nodded. “Okay, Palo. We'll play it your way.”
“You, giving up? Yeah, right. Don't you at least want to know about flying saucers?”
“Yeah. I do,” Jan said. “Tell me.”
“Nah. You wouldn't believe me,” Palo said. He halted and felt in the darkness for something on the tunnel's wall. A metallic snap sounded, and lights flickered on in the tunnel. Ahead of them, on its low, squat trailer, rested the massive gray bulk of an atomic bomb.
Jan stepped forward and looked it over. It was long, almost ten feet, capped with fins on its back. At the nose, over the gray paint, was painted a name. The trailer had American military markings on it. She looked at Jeff.
“Larry?” she said. “This thing's name is Larry? The other two weren't ‘Moe' and ‘Curly' by any chance, were they?”
Jeff smiled. “They were, as a matter of fact.”
“Somehow, that's really funny. So, does this thing still work?”
Jeff said, “Sure, theoretically.”
“What do you mean, ‘theoretically'?”
“It's a pretty rudimentary device. All the components are here. With this generation of bomb, though, one doesn't know until it actually goes off whether it's gonna work or not.”
“Could you – theoretically – arm this thing right now?”
“Yeah. Absolutely. I have everything I need in that big box on the trailer. I don't arm it until Palo tells me to, though.”
“So, if my client buys this thing, you'll arm it for us?”
“Yup. That's the deal I've got with Palo. I arm it, then you go your merry way, and I go mine.”
Jan looked at Palo. “I'll talk with my client's rep, then let you know tonight. How's that?”
Jan and Alais cruised back toward Kamari on her motorcycle. Jan reveled in the narrow, winding roads, and Alais delighted in the scenery, in the rocky, grassy hills, the olive orchards, and the flocks of goats urged along by children who often laughed and waved as they passed. Too soon, they reached Kamari, wound slowly through the narrow streets, and found the resort. Jan turned off the motorcycle, dropped the kick-stand, and looked up at the sign.
“Hotel Aphrodite?” she said.
Alais laughed at the name. “Then it must be glorious!”
“If Smitty chose it, it's got to have a great bar, at least. Let's go find out.”
They walked through the bar and exited, a few minutes later, onto a wide patio decked with beach chairs and tourists. They found Smitty, Harry, and Mel lounging near the beach. “Honey, I'm home,” Jan said.
“Hey,” Smitty said, as he sat up. “How'd it go?”
Jan sat down among them. “It's there. So is Jeff. He says it'll work. We got us a b-o-m-b if we want one, and if nobody else bids more.”
“How did Jeff look? Do you think he'll cooperate with Palo?”
“Heck, those two guys are getting along like old school chums. He'll do anything Palo says.”
“I'll make a phone call. We'll know shortly.” With that, Smitty rose and left the patio.
Palo rested the telephone receiver back down on its cradle, then leaned back in his overstuffed chair and scowled as he thought. He was in that state when Candy entered the room. She perched on the arm of the chair next to his shoulder, leaned over him, and combed her fingers through his hair. “So,” she said. “You look to be all in a quandary. Am I right?”
He shot her a glance and a grin. “You're right. Damn. How do you do that?”
“I'm not giving up my secrets, Stavros. Let me guess. You're not quite sure who you really want to sell the bomb to.”
“Right again. Hell, the Arab League wants it, the Chinese want it, the French want it, the Nazis in South America want it, but nobody can match the three mil that Covington's offered.”
“You don't want to sell it to her, do you? Why not?”
“Do you know who she's representing?”
“No. Do you?”
“Sure. She's representing the Americans. Has to be. She's particular who she works with, and they've got the deepest pockets on the planet right now.”
“And you don't want to sell it to them.”
“Nope.” He thought, then said, “I might sell it to the Nazis. I like those guys. Always have.”
“I don't, Stavros. They bombed my country into rubble.” She trailed a finger through his mane of hair. “Why not the Americans?”
“The truth is, I just don't like ‘em. They're arrogant rubes with too much new money and power. And besides, they can always build more bombs. It's the little guy I want to sell it to. It helps even the playing field for them against the superpowers.” He looked up at her, and saw her expression of surprise. “Hey, I used to make a living at war, y'know. I still get off on that stuff. If one side has all the cards, the war is over too quickly. Naw, I'll sell it to a little guy.” He smiled. “And I think I know just the people.” He looked up at her. “Why don't you go check on Jeff and his gal and make sure they're tucked into bed all nice and tidy, and then come back here?” His gaze turned smoky. “I'm finding that I need you.”
She smiled. “The feeling is mutual. I'll be back in a little bit.”
With that, she rose and walked toward the door. Palo watched the skirt of her summer dress swish about her knees as she walked away, and he smiled. Yeah, he thought. It's good to be a god.
Candy tapped on the door of Jeff's and Natassa's suite. A moment later, Natassa opened the door. “Is Jeff here?” she asked.
“No,” Natassa said. “He's swimming.” She pointed toward the open French doors and the hotel's swimming pool. “Out there.” She stepped back, allowed Candy into the room, and shut the door.
“It's just as well,” Candy said, as she trailed her fingers across Natassa's cheek. “It's you I wanted to speak with.”
Natassa did not seem to mind the attention. “Oh? And what did you wish to talk about?”
“I just wanted to make sure that we can trust you to fulfill your part of this... arrangement.”
“Oh, yes. I know my place,” she said, as she walked to the French doors. She leaned against the door-jamb and gazed out toward the sea. “Watch Jeff. Keep him out of trouble.” She cast a glance at Candy. “Keep him happy.”
“You'll be well-rewarded by Palo.”
Natassa returned her gaze to the distant sea. “It's not such an unpleasant job, you know, to keep Jeff happy.”
Candy approached her. “Do you fancy him?”
“Yes, I do,” Natassa said. Her voice assumed a dreamy quality. “He is kindly and gentle. He's like a child, in a way; lost and fragile, broken by life.” She smiled. “And he loves me. I can feel it.”
“Love?” Candy asked.
“Yes. He needs me. He adores me. It's a nice feeling, to be adored like that.”
Candy stepped closer to Natassa. “I adored you.” When she did not seem to object at her nearness, Candy leaned against her and kissed her.
“Do you still?” Natassa asked.
“I'm otherwise occupied at the moment, and you are, too,” Candy said. “Perhaps, when this is all over...”
Natassa returned her gaze to the distant sea. “We shall see. I make no promises.”
“Fair enough.” Candy turned to leave, and Natassa stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. She turned to face Natassa. Their eyes met, held one another's gaze. “Yes,” Candy said. “I still adore you.”
“And Palo, too?”
“He's just business.”
Natassa hesitated, then said, “Jeff, he will swim until dusk. Can you... can you stay until then?”
Candy smiled. “It's tempting, but I have to be somewhere.” She leaned forward and kissed her again, then turned and walked toward the door. Just before she opened it, she stopped and looked back at Natassa. “Don't get too attached to Jeff,” she warned. “I've got a feeling that he's not going to be around after the bomb is sold.” Her manner softened, and she smiled a painful smile. “I'm sorry, darling, but that's just the way it is. You know men.” With that, she left.
Natassa watched the door close, then returned her gaze to the sea. “Yes,” she said. “I know them well enough.” She spied Jeff in the distance, swimming in the pool, and felt a sudden urge to join him. A swim with him would be nice, she decided. She turned from the door and began searching for her bathing suit.
“Hey, Palo. It's Covington. I just heard from my client. We're set. Three million dollars, US currency. Is it a deal?”
Stavros Palo smiled as he listened to the familiar voice on the telephone. “Sorry, squirt. I've decided to sell it to somebody else.”
“That's confidential. I don't want you guys trying to buy it from them.”
“Somebody beat our price?”
“No. I've just decided that I like somebody else better.”
“What the hell is this, Palo? I thought it was all about the money for you.”
“I've got money. Gobs of it. I don't need more. Naw, I've decided to sell it to one of the little guys on the playing field. Besides, I just don't like your client, blondie.”
“You don't know who it is.”
“Sure, I do. It's your rich Uncle Sam. Who else could come up with three million dollars and you for a broker?”
“Come on, Palo. Who's getting their paws on this thing? Tell me.”
Jan huffed. “People don't buy something like that unless they've got a use for it. At least tell me who the target is.”
“I guess you'll find out when you hear a big bang. Hey, this has been fun. Let's do it again sometime. See you later, squirt.”
“Damn it, Palo. Lots of people could die when that thing gets used. Where's your sense of decency, man?”
Palo roared in laughter. “Me, a sense of decency? That's rich, Covington. Remember me? I'm the god of freakin' war! I get off on this stuff. And don't point a finger at me. Your client invented those damned things. Your client used ‘em on two cities full of people. Tens of thousands of dead mortals, and your rich uncle did it. Decency, my ass. You Americans like to pretend you're the good guys, but you're just as bloodthirsty and brutal as the rest of humanity. Admit it and learn to love it, why don't you?”
“Come on, Palo. Maybe we can evacuate cities or something – ”
“Are you kidding? I am so looking forward to watching your rich, arrogant Uncle Sam lose some of his swagger when some pissant little country shoves his own atom bomb up his collective ass and sets it off. That'll be a sight to see, all right.”
There was a pause on the line, and then Jan said, “So we're the target? America? What city?”
“Nope. I've said too much already. Hey, it's been fun. I know how you and your good-lookin' honey like the Greek islands. Why don't you hang around for a couple more weeks – at least until the dust settles back home? In fact, I highly recommend that you do.”
“Damn it, Palo!”
He laughed. “So long, blondie. Been great seein' you again. No, really. It has been. And quit arguing with me. It's a done deal. ‘Bye.” He hung up the receiver and grinned. He was still smiling when Candy entered the room, saw Palo seated in his big, overstuffed chair, and noted his manner.
She slipped off her sandals, straddled his lap, and put her arms around his neck. “You look immensely pleased with yourself, Stavros.”
“Oh, I am. I am.”
“I take it you've decided on a buyer?”
“And it's not the Americans?”
“And you've just gotten off the phone with Covington?”
His grin became wider. “Right again.”
“And she went ballistic when you refused her, didn't she?”
“Damn, you're good.”
“So, who are you going to sell the bomb to?”
“You'll find out. I think I've got just the perfect buyer. It's poetic justice.”
She rested her forehead against his. “You do realize that if you don't sell it to the Americans, they'll probably try to steal it?”
“Yes. And I'm so looking forward to them trying. That should be fun.”
“You're such a naughty boy, Stavros,” she said.
“One of my finer qualities.”
Her hand slipped down between his thighs. “Not the only one. So, they're not going to steal it in the next hour, are they?”
“Not in the next two.”
“Promises, promises. You won't last thirty minutes,” she said.
“Oh, yeah? We'll see about that.” He rose, draped Candy over a massive shoulder, and carried her toward the bedroom as her legs flailed and as she laughed in delight.
Jan slammed down the telephone receiver. “Damn it!” she said. “It's a no-go.” She quickly relayed the essence of the conversation to the others in the room, and Smitty frowned.
“Then we'll have to steal it back,” he said. “Tonight.” He rose. “I'll inform the team. Do you remember where it is?”
Jan shook her head. “We were blindfolded. I remember twists and turns, going uphill, but I didn't see the way.”
“I recall how to get there,” Alais said. “My senses are very acute.”
“That ‘immortal' stuff at work?” Smitty asked.
Alais blinked in surprise. “Do you know of such things, Smitty?”
He nodded. “Jan explained it to me in Algiers. We were up against your brother then. I saw enough weird stuff to make me a believer. You're his sister; therefore, you're an immortal, too.”
“Very few humans know that we exist,” Alais warned. “It is better if it is not common knowledge.”
“Nobody will hear it from me. Look, Alais. You'll accompany the team and lead them to the bomb. You three – ” He indicated Jan, Mel, and Harry – “will go after Jeff Gottfried. We'll meet at the aircraft and get them on their way tonight.” He opened a valise and dumped the contents onto the bed. Three military-issue .45 pistols dropped out, with some extra magazines. “Good luck. Keep in touch. I'll let you know when to nab Jeff.” With that, he left the room.
Candy slipped on her sandals, ran a brush through her hair, then lifted her skirt and fastened the holster containing her lady's pistol to the front of her thigh. She said, “Are you ready, Stavros?”
He walked into the room. “Sure, doll. Let's get to work, so we can get paid.” He extended his arm, and she grasped it. “Hang on.”
“One day, you're going to have to explain how you do this,” Candy said.
“It's a gift,” Palo said. “A family thing.”
They disappeared in a flash of light. A moment later, Candy opened her eyes. They were in Fira's port, standing on the deck of a medium-sized freighter that had seen better days. Palo looked around, then said, “This way.”
They walked toward the superstructure and stepped into a door. In the crew's galley, Palo leaned in and looked around. Several crew, all males of Japanese appearance, were seated at a long table, their chopsticks clacking the rice bowls held just beneath their chins. Cups of hot tea and saki were scattered about. One crewman looked up and stopped eating.
“ Hirokuchi-san ?” Palo said. The man nodded, stood, and left the room. Palo and Candy waited in the hall for a few minutes; finally, a voice addressed them in precise English.
“ Palo-san . Welcome.”
They turned and looked; a man of modest height but impeccable grooming and a military bearing faced them. He bowed, a polite bow, and Palo reciprocated with his own bow.
“General Hirokuchi, this is my assistant, Candace Kelly.” The general and Candy exchanged polite nods, and Palo continued, “Are you ready for delivery? Where do you want it?”
“The center hold,” he said. “And I have radioed my superiors. The money will be transferred to your Swiss accounts in the morning. We hope to be at sea by then.” He cast Palo a puzzled glance. “The scientist is not here?” he asked.
“I'll bring him around. The arming is part of the deal. First, the bomb, though. I'll be back with it in a few minutes.”
“We wait expectantly,” the general said.
With that, they bowed again, and Palo and Candy walked out onto the deck. He looked up at the night sky and said, “Gorgeous night to make a million bucks, huh?” Then, he held out his arm. She grasped it with both hands, and they disappeared in a flash of light.
A moment later, they appeared in black darkness. Candy gasped and gripped Palo's arm with a death grip. “Oh, God. Stavros, where the hell are we?”
“Relax, will you? We're in the tunnel.”
“Get me out of here or turn on some light.”
“What? Since when are you afraid of the dark?”
“Since the London Blitz. I was crammed into that bomb shelter night after night with all that humanity, expecting to die at any moment. I can't stand darkness or small spaces. Please, Stavros. I've got to get out of here.”
“Hang on. I'll turn on the light.” He felt along the wall, then snapped on the circuit-box switch. The lights came on, and Candy gasped in relief. “Are you okay now?” he asked.
“I'll be better in a moment,” she said. “Just give me some time.”
“We don't have time. I've got to deliver the bomb.”
“Then let's get it and get out of here.”
“Ah, yeah. That's the problem.” Palo gave her an apologetic glance. “Listen, this bomb is really heavy. I can move it, but I can't move it and you, too. Hey, no problem. I won't be gone more than a few minutes.”
“Oh, God. You're not going to leave me in here alone, are you?”
“It can't be helped. Look, the lights are on, and you've got your pistol, right? You'll be fine.”
“You bastard!” She leaned against the tunnel's wall. “Don't leave me alone in here, Stavros.”
“It can't be helped. Now untwist your knickers and deal with it. I'll be back for you in a minute.”
She sank to the floor and leaned against the wall. Palo placed both hands on the bomb, closed his eyes, and concentrated. A moment later, in a flash of light, both he and the bomb disappeared. Candy watched him go, looked at the empty tunnel, and dropped her head into her hands.
A moment later, in a flash of light, Palo and the bomb appeared in the freighter's hold. He fell to his knees. “Damn,” he said. “That thing gets heavier every time I do that.” He rested for a few minutes, then rose and left the hold through a side door. A moment later, he was up on the main deck. General Hirokuchi was standing on the deck, enjoying a cigarette.
“ Palo-san ,” he said. “The bomb is arriving?”
“It's in the hold,” Palo said. “I just put it there.”
The general barked an order to one of his men, and the man left. “How did you do that?” he asked.
“Professional secret,” Palo replied. “We'll wait here until your man returns with confirmation.”
A few minutes later, the man returned. He and the general conferred, and the general smiled. “Everything appears in order, Palo-san. You will deliver the scientist to me tonight?”
“Yeah, sure. One scientist, coming up.”
With that, he disappeared in a flash. The general puzzled over Palo's unorthodox departure. “It must be divine,” he reasoned, then turned away to finish his cigarette before he descended to the hold to inspect the bomb for himself.
At the airport, the ramp on the back of the C-119 lowered. A beat-up truck emerged and several men climbed into it. Alais sat in the cab and offered directions as the driver ground the truck into gear and pointed it toward the hills above the airport, toward the west side of the island and the ancient caves which riddled the cliffs there.
The terrain looked beautiful in the night, with just enough moon to color the hills silver. The occasional bark of a dog sounded above the rumble of the truck's motor as they wound across the island. When they neared Fira, Alais directed the truck's driver off the main road. Slowly, they crawled along narrow, winding roads until they reached a wide, flat plateau. She pointed.
“Here. It is that cave, the middle of these three.”
The driver looked through the window behind him and said, “This is it, guys.”
The men dropped from the truck, and Alais joined them. The driver backed the truck into the cave's entrance and stopped it. From a large winch welded to the truck's bed, two men pulled a steel cable with a hook on the end. The team's leader looked around, nodded, and said, “Let's find this thing.”
Alais noted the weapons among the team; they were all armed. In addition, each carried a light, and the lead man, the one walking in front of Alais, waved a Geiger counter which occasionally crackled with warnings of radioactivity. When she perceived that the crackling had increased, she caught up with him.
“Does that indicate the bomb?” she asked, as she pointed to the Geiger counter.
“No,” he said. “The radioactivity is probably coming from the walls of this cave. It's just normal background stuff. Nothing to worry about.”
“That's a relief.” She slowed, and walked with the team leader. “There is an electrical switch-box on the wall ahead of us,” she said. “It will illuminate the bomb.”
After a few minutes of walking, a flashlight's beam illuminated the switch-box. The team's leader threw the switch, and the hum and light of a string of electric bulbs brightened the tunnel. For a few seconds, no one moved; they all stared – at nothing. The tunnel was empty.
“But I'm certain,” Alais said. “It was this tunnel. It was here this afternoon. I saw it.”
“Something heavy was here,” the team's leader said. “There's tracks here. And these lights aren't here for nothing.” He studied the situation, then said, “We're too late. Wrap it up, you guys. I'll go outside and radio Smitty.”
Jan, Mel, and Harry parked their beat-up rental car in a dark part of the parking lot outside Hotel Athenos and walked toward the front door. Harry pointed toward the back of the hotel. “I'll hang out there, and head him off at the pass if he tries to run for it.”
“We'll check the room,” Jan said. She felt at the small of her back to reassure herself that her pistol was there, beneath her shirt, then opened the door for Mel. They entered and headed through the lobby.
Mel tapped Jan on the arm. “Is that him, in the bar?” she asked. “Sitting with that girl?”
“Yeah.” Jan motioned to a couch. “Let's sit here and watch for a minute.”
Not long after they sat down, they saw Jeff rise from his stool, say something to the girl sitting with him, and leave the bar. As he passed Jan, he did not notice her. He walked – a little unsteadily, as it seemed to them – through the lobby and toward a back hall.
Jan leaned toward Mel. “You keep an eye on that girl,” Jan said. “I'll see if I can collar him in the back hall.”
Mel nodded, then whispered, “Be careful. Please don't hurt him.”
“That's not my intention,” she said, then rose and followed Jeff into the back hall. Mel watched the girl sit patiently at the bar, awaiting Jeff's return, and decided to intervene to keep her from following Jeff. She rose, walked into the bar, and sat on the girl's left side. She'd heard the girl speak Greek to the bartender; she'd approach her in the same language.
“You are Greek?” she asked.
“Oh. Yes. You aren't, though, are you?”
“No. American. Mel.”
“Natassa.” She smiled. “My boyfriend just left. He'll be back shortly. He's American, too.”
“May I buy you a drink?” Mel asked.
“Always,” she said. “He may not be back for a while.”
In the back hall, Jeff stopped at his door. He fished in his pocket for a key, then inserted it in the lock and turned it. When the door creaked open, he felt something hard in his ribs, and heard a vaguely familiar voice behind his back.
“Let's go inside, Jeff. We've got some business together.”
“Who the hell – ?”
“I'll explain it all. Inside, man. Now.”
“Yeah, sure.” He opened the door, and they entered the darkened room. He clicked on the light, and heard the door close. Then, whoever was behind him stepped away a few paces. “Have a seat, Jeff. Let's talk. Sit over there.”
“Yeah.” He walked to a chair, sat down, and gave a nod of recognition. “Well, well. The Americans have landed, I take it?”
Jan sat down on the bed, but kept the gun visible in her hand. “Yup.”
“What do you want from me?”
Jan sized him up and decided to be blunt. “We're here to do two things, Jeff: get the bomb back, and get you back. This can either be easy or tough. Your choice.”
“I don't want to go back.”
“That's not a choice.”
“It is for me. It's the only one. I'm not going back to prison, so I guess you'll just have to shoot me right here and now.”
They locked gazes. Jeff was serious. “I'm not going to shoot you,” Jan said. “You know that.”
“And I'm not going anyplace with you,” Jeff said. “So, it looks like we've got a Mexican standoff here, doesn't it?”
The French door to the patio opened. Smitty stepped inside with his gun drawn. “Nope. You're going with us, Jeff.” Smitty grabbed him by the collar, yanked him from his chair, and put the barrel of his pistol beneath Jeff's chin. “And I will shoot you. Let's go.” He shoved Jeff against the wall face-first, yanked a set of handcuffs from his pocket, and tightened one around Jeff's wrist. Then, he grasped the other arm, twisted it behind Jeff's back, and clacked the cuff on that one. He grabbed Jeff's collar, shoved him toward the door, and looked at Jan.
“You and Mel, get loose of the girlfriend and get out of here. Lock this door behind me. The motorcycle's out in the parking lot.” Then, he hustled Jeff onto the patio. They disappeared in the darkness. Jan rose, locked the French doors, turned off the lights, and stepped into the hallway. As she walked down the hall, she felt the bile rise in her throat. She had just been a participant in something that she felt in her gut was very, very wrong, but she couldn't put her finger on why, just yet. Perhaps a conversation with the girlfriend would tell her more.
In the night, Candy walked toward the hotel from the pool, toweling herself semi-dry after her night swim. As she tied the towel about her waist, she stopped. Jeff was walking with two men toward a car, and he did not look happy. He also appeared to be protesting. She watched the men enter the car, then turned and walked to Palo's suite. When she entered, he looked up.
“Good swim?” he asked.
“Stavros, Jeff just got kidnapped,” she said. “Two men, gray car, leaving now.”
“What the hell?” he said. “I've got to deliver him to Hirokuchi tonight.” He huffed, then rose. “Which way did they go?”
“It appears as if they went north.”
“North?” Palo said. “What the hell's that way?”
“The airport,” she said.
“Now I'm pissed,” Palo said. “Really pissed. I'll handle them; you check on Natassa.” He disappeared in a flash of light.
In her own suite, Candy pulled off her swimsuit, toweled dry, and donned a summer dress. She strapped her thigh holster beneath her skirt, stepped into sandals, and left. A minute late, she was at the bar. Sure enough, Natassa was there, and she was speaking with – with, of all people, Jan Covington and a black-haired, unknown companion. That must be Pappas. She had pegged Covington as the most dangerous; after all, there was something in her manner that radiated that warning. In a stroke of luck, the dark-haired companion rose, walked past her, and headed to the lobby bathroom. They had separated. Now was the time to get them out of the way, one at a time.
She followed the woman to the rest rooms, waited for a moment, then entered. As she did, she reached beneath her skirt and found her pistol. She slowly, quietly paced the length of the rest room, noting who was in it. There was no one but her and the black-haired woman. What a stroke of luck. She waited; Mel exited the stall, nodded a friendly nod to Candy, and washed her hands at a sink. A moment later, Candy covered the width of the rest room in two strides, put her pistol to the side of the woman's head, and said, “We need to talk.”
Mel froze. She saw their images in the mirror, and she saw the pistol at her temple. “About what?” she asked.
“You're with Covington, aren't you?”
“What's your name?”
“Mel, walk ahead of me. In the hall, turn right. I'll tell you which way to go.”
“What's this about?” Mel asked.
“We'll talk in a minute,” Candy said. “Now go.” She shoved the pistol into Mel's ribs and kept a hand on her arm from behind her. They left the rest room, headed down the hall. Candy pulled her to a stop. “Here,” she said. She opened the door, pushed Mel inside, and stepped in after her. At Candy's prodding, Mel walked through a sitting room and into a bedroom.
“Sit on the floor,” Candy said. “At the foot of the bed.” When Mel did, Candy motioned toward the post on the bed's foot-board. “Put your hands on either side of the post,” she said, and pointed the pistol at Mel's face. Mel placed her hands, palm-down, on the bed, and Candy knelt on her wrists as Mel grimaced in pain.
“That hurts,” she protested.
“Not half as much as getting shot does,” Candy answered. She slapped a pair of handcuffs on Mel's wrists, then stepped back, pulled up the skirt of her dress, and holstered her pistol. “I'm just trying to keep you alive,” she said. “You're into something here that's deeper and more dangerous than you know. Just sit tight while we sort it all out.” With that, she left the room, leaving Mel to huff and struggle with being handcuffed to the foot of a bed. After a moment, Mel sat still.
“Oh, my God,” she said. “She'll be after Jan next.”
Harry steered the car toward the airport as Smitty sat with Jeff in the back seat. “Where's the bomb, Jeff?” Smitty asked.
“It's in the tunnel,” he said, “if Palo hasn't delivered it already.” He looked at Smitty, then said, “It's not in the tunnel, is it?”
“No. Where is it?”
“I have no earthly idea.”
“But you've got to arm it.”
“Palo will take me there when he's ready.”
Smitty held the gun to Jeff's leg and clicked off the safety. “Where's the God-damned bomb, Jeff?”
Jeff's voice betrayed a frantic note. “Man, I don't know. That's the truth. Ask Palo. He knows.”
The car stopped. Harry said, “Something's not right, Smitty. Look at the airplane.”
Smitty squinted through the dirty windscreen. The plane sat quietly, and the truck sat near it. There was no activity. At the foot of the open cargo ramp, a lump of something smouldered. The light emanating from the cargo bay was too dim to see clearly what it was. “Park here and we'll check it out,” he said. Smitty opened the door, then looked at Jeff. “Sit tight.” Together, Harry and Smitty walked toward the plane, as Jeff watched from the back seat.
There seemed to be no sign of life at the plane. When they got closer, they saw why. The lump of smouldering stuff at the foot of the ramp used to be a human. Now, it was just smoking, carbonized – whatever. Another lump smouldered near the truck. They walked up the ramp, and several more carbonized remains littered the floor of the cavernous cargo space. They looked into the cockpit; there were no bodies. The pilot was not around when this happened, Smitty guessed.
“What the hell could have done this?” Smitty asked.
“Palo,” Harry answered.
“Jesus! With what? A flame-thrower?”
“No. With his bare hands.” Harry saw Smitty's disbelief and said, “He's an immortal. They're possessed of incredible powers. Do you remember the old tales of Zeus hurling thunderbolts?”
“There you go. It wasn't bullshit.”
“Holy crap. What else do I need to know about him?”
“You can't shoot him. I mean, you can, but it will just piss him off.”
“He looks plenty pissed off now.”
“I don't think we've seen the half of it yet.”
Smitty eyed a pile of carbonized body. “Harry? Where's Alais?”
“I don't know,” Harry said. “But she's an immortal. He can't hurt her. God only knows where she is right now. We'll just have to wait for her to get in touch with us.”
In the back seat of the car, Jeff watched them enter the aircraft, then wiggled his cuffed hands beneath his knees. He scrunched himself into a ball, huffed and cursed, and pulled his knees up to his head. He managed to slip the cuffs beneath his feet, and his hands were in front of him. He looked at the aircraft again; they were inside. He slid into the front seat, turned the key, and the car sputtered into life. Then, he shoved it into gear, turned the wheel, and let out the clutch. As the car headed away from the runway, he clicked on the headlights, then shifted into second, then third gear. It was an awkward, difficult maneuver to drive a car handcuffed, but he managed it. In the rear-view mirror, he saw two figures emerge from the aircraft and watch him leave. He laughed as he found the main road, and drove toward the western side of the island.
At the aircraft, Harry looked at Smitty. “Well,” he said. “This is a royal screw-up, ain't it?”
Smitty sighed. “This whole operation is a royal screw-up. After this, I'll be lucky to spend the rest of my career in Alaska, shoveling cartloads of moose poop.”
“Hey,” Harry said. “That's careers for you. Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn't.”
Candy walked into the bar. There, she bumped into Jan. “Well,” she said. “Doctor Covington. Small world, isn't it?”
Jan nodded. “Small island, is more like it.”
“Sure. Why not?”
They joined Natassa at her table. She asked, “Have you seen Jeff?” When both Candy and Jan shook their heads, she said, “He may have gone to sleep. He was a little drunk.”
Candy smiled. “Well,” she said. “That gives us girls some time to talk.” She looked at Jan. “So, where's that leggy friend of yours, Doctor Covington?”
“Call me Jan. She went to ah, powder her nose, if you get my drift.”
Natassa volunteered, “She has not come back. Is everything well with her?”
“I'll check on her.” Jan rose and left the bar.
Candy leaned across the table and lowered her voice. “Listen to me,” she said to Natassa. “The Americans are trying to steal the bomb and Jeff. I believe that they already have Jeff; Palo's out now, trying to get him back.” She stopped Natassa's alarmed remarks with a hand on her wrist. “Go to your room now. Lock the door, and don't open it for anyone that you don't recognize.” She squeezed Natassa's arm. “Go now. Hurry. I'll take care of the bill.”
Natassa rose and hurried from the bar. Candy hailed the waiter, paid the bill, and then walked through the lobby and down the hall. She saw Natassa enter her room, and she gave a sigh of relief. Then, she headed to the bathroom. She almost collided with Jan coming out of the rest room door.
“Oh!” Candy said. “You gave me a fright. Did you find Mel?”
“No. I found something, though. Come inside.”
Candy followed Jan into the bathroom, and Jan pointed to the floor. On the tiles, at their feet, lay a hair beret. “That's Mel's,” Jan said. “What the hell's going on around here?”
“I beg your pardon?” Candy said.
“Don't give me that song-and-dance,” Jan said. She locked the bathroom door, then faced Candy. “Start talkin'.”
“Honestly, Jan. I have no idea what you mean.”
“Bullshit. You're Palo's assistant. Mel's missing. Jeff's missing. What's up?”
“How did you know that Jeff was missing?” Candy asked. “Unless you were party to taking him?” She stepped back, ran her hand up her leg beneath her skirt, and pulled out her pistol. When she straightened up and pointed it at Jan's face, she got a surprise. Jan had produced her own pistol, a black military .45, and had it pointed at her. They smiled in unison.
“Mine's bigger than yours,” Jan said.
“That remains to be seen, doesn't it?” Candy shot back.
“Damn, you're a tease.”
“And you're into something bigger than you know.” The guns hovered in mid-air. Candy said, “Is this what you Yanks call a ‘Mexican standoff'?”
“Yeah. That's happening a lot tonight. I want Mel.”
“I can't tell you everything, but you're putting my position in jeopardy. Leave. Let me assure you that Mel is all right.”
“Where is she?”
Candy said, “Jan, trust me. Mel is all right. I'm keeping her out of the way for now, so that she doesn't get hurt. I'll release her when this is resolved. Just please trust me and let me do my job.”
Jan studied Candy's face with a hard, analytical glare. Then, she lowered her pistol, stuffed it into the back of her shorts, and pulled her shirt-tail over it. “You're the ‘asset' that Smitty said he had close to Palo, aren't you?”
“Yes.” She lowered her own pistol, lifted her skirt, and holstered it. “And I have to walk a very fine, careful, and dangerous line to keep Palo's trust and yet do my job for MI-6 and your CIA.”
“How can I help?”
“Go contact Smitty and do what he says.” She walked to the door and unlocked it. “And please don't worry about Mel. I'm keeping her stashed away for the time being.”
Jan's hand slammed against the door, at the level of Candy's face. “No. I want Mel. Now.”
Candy turned and leaned against the bathroom door. Jan's face was just inches from hers, and the brim of Jan's hat touched Candy's hair. Their eyes locked; they stood, motionless. A click echoed in the bathroom; Candy had locked the door again. The trace of a mischievous little smile touched the corners of Candy's mouth. “Is that all you want?” Her breathing became huskier; she allowed her eyes to roam Jan's face. “Or is there... something else?” She placed her hands on Jan's hips.
Jan felt Candy's hand reach around her side, toward her pistol. In a moment, she'd grabbed both Candy's wrists and pinned them against the door, above Candy's head. “I want Mel,” she said again. Their faces were now so close that Jan could feel Candy's breath on her cheek. Their bodies touched. Candy laughed. She tilted her head forward, so close to Jan that their lips brushed.
She whispered, “No. You can't have her...yet.”
“Yes,” Jan whispered in reply. “Give me Mel.”
“No!” Candy began to struggle, and Jan pinned her wrists harder against the door. She leaned hard against Candy's body, and felt her cease her struggle. Again, those cold, teasing eyes appraised Jan's face, and those lips, tinged with the lightest shade of red, brushed Jan's face. A scent of perfume that smelled of roses and lust made Jan's mind swim. She touched Jan's lips with the tip of her tongue and whispered, “Force me. You know you want to.”
Jan kissed her, hard and long. She released Candy's wrists, and felt Candy's hands trail down her back to her butt and pull her against her as her thigh separated Jan's legs. Candy held her there, kissing her deeply, grinding her thigh against Jan's pelvis. Their collective breathing deepened; Jan's primal nature screamed for more. She felt no longer in control of her body, but merely a frantic passenger on a wild, uncontrolled ride. Her hand slid beneath Candy's skirt, up her thigh, across smooth skin, over the strap that held her thigh holster tight, up to her waist, beneath her skirt. And Jan felt no underwear. Her head swam; she could no longer do anything but take the journey that was being offered to her.
As Candy's thigh wormed against Jan's pelvis, her hands came to rest on Jan's chest. A second later, Jan was slammed against the tiled rest room wall. Candy whipped the pistol from beneath her skirt and pointed it at Jan.
“You're just going to have to trust me, old girl.” She kept her eyes and her pistol trained on Jan as she unlocked the bathroom door with her free hand, then opened it. She took a deep breath to calm herself, then released it. “Trust me. And don't follow me.” With that warning, she left.
Jan leaned against the wall and closed her eyes. How had she so lost control of the situation? More important, how had she so lost control of herself? She went to the sinks and splashed cold water on her face. As she looked into the mirror, she saw Candy's lipstick on her mouth, her face, and she chided herself. Then, she worked on scrubbing it away.
Ten minutes later, she returned to the bar, but saw no one that she recognized. Natassa was gone.
Palo materialized in the sitting room of his apartment. He looked at his shirt and noticed several holes in it. He poked his finger through one and said, “Damn it. Another good shirt ruined. It happens every time mortals take a shot at me.” He pulled off the shirt and threw it in the trash can, then opened his closet. “What?” he said. “No clean shirts?” He snapped his fingers. “Oh, yeah. Candy has one of mine.”
He looked up and down the hallway to assure himself that he was alone, then stepped next door to Candy's suite. When he knocked, she didn't answer, so he opened the door and stepped inside. “Shirt, shirt,” he said. “Where would she keep my shirt?” He walked into the bedroom and clicked on the light. A moment later, he roared in laughter.
“Well, I'll be damned. What's this? Mel Pappas? Oh, this is just too good to be true. I must be in the Elysian Fields.” He approached her and knelt next to her. “Hello, toots. It's great to see you again. You're looking very well.”
“And you're looking very underdressed,” she replied. “Go put on a shirt.”
“Just what in the hell are you doing handcuffed to my assistant's bed? Does she have some appetites that I'm unaware of?” He raised an eyebrow in question. “Or do you, perhaps?”
“Unlock me, Ares!” Mel huffed.
“Not so fast, doll. What's going on here? Where's that irritating little blonde girlfriend of yours?” He placed a finger on the tip of Mel's nose. “Aha, she doesn't know where you are, does she? Otherwise, she'd be here busting down the door to rescue you.” He laughed. “Oh, this is too delicious. I'll have to give Candy a raise for this one.”
“Ares, take these things off me!”
“No.” He leaned close to her. “Start talkin'. Tell me everything.”
“Go suck eggs, Ares.”
He laughed. “It's not nice to say no to a god, doll.” He grasped Mel's throat, pulled her toward him, and pressed his hand against her forehead. Her eyes rolled back in her head. He closed his eyes and concentrated, felt her thoughts, listened as a flood of images and voices swirled past him. After a moment, he released her. Mel fell back against the bed's foot-board, exhausted, as Ares studied her. Then, he said, “Damn, girl. Your thought processes are like a tornado in there. How do you stay sane?”
“What?” Mel said. Her manner, her voice, seemed weak and distracted.
Palo smiled. “I said, ‘Thanks, doll. You told me what I needed to know.'”
“Oh. Y'welcome,” Mel mumbled. She attempted to focus her vision on Ares, and she whispered something unintelligible.
He leaned closer to her and put his ear to her mouth. “What did you say?”
“I said, ‘You have a gorgeous body,'” Mel managed to reply.
He smiled. “Mortals,” he said. “They're a laugh riot.” He placed a finger beneath her chin and lifted her face to his. Her eyelids were half-open, and she seemed disoriented. “We'll get back to that subject later, toots.” He kissed her on her mouth, then stood and looked around. “Okay,” he said. “Now where's my damned shirt?” He dug into her closet and found it. Then, he disappeared in a flash of light, leaving Mel blinking and disoriented as her handcuffs clinked against the footboard railing.
“What I want to know is, where the hell is Alais?” Harry said.
Smitty geared the truck down as they pulled into Fira. “I have no idea. Where the hell is Jan and Mel? And where's the bomb?” He let fly with a string of colorful phrases, then said, “This whole operation is in the toilet. FUBAR'ed.” He thought for a moment. “Look, Jan and Mel are probably at the hotel. I told ‘em to see to Jeff's girlfriend, keep her out of the way. Let's go there.”
“That's where Jeff's heading, to the hotel. Look, that's probably him, ‘way up there.”
“How do you know?” Smitty asked.
“That piece of shit rental car had a tail-light out. Yeah, he's pulling into the hotel.”
They parked the truck on the outermost part of the hotel's parking area, then walked into the hotel lobby. Smitty tapped Harry on the arm and pointed toward the bar. A moment later, they joined Jan in the bar.
Jan said, “What's going on?”
“That was going to be our question to you,” Smitty said.
Jan pointed to a table. She lifted her coffee cup from the bar, and they sat at the table and huddled together. “Jeff got away,” Harry said. “The bomb team is totally fried. Everybody's dead.”
“Mel's missing,” Jan replied. “Palo's assistant, Candy, got her.”
“We have no idea where Alais is, either.” Smitty slammed a fist down on the table. “What the hell else could go wrong tonight?” he fumed. “It couldn't get worse than this.”
Jan looked up. “It just got worse.”
Harry and Smitty followed Jan's pointed finger. Behind them, staring down at them, were four unsmiling Greek policemen.
Inside the building that served as the Fira Police Station and Jail, Smitty, Harry, and Jan were shoved into a large stone cell. The iron-barred cell door slammed shut behind them, and a policeman turned the key in the lock. In Greek, he said, “I will check on you in the morning.”
Jan leaned against the wall, slid down to a sitting position, and said, “What a mess. What the hell are we charged with, anyway?”
“They never did say,” Harry said.
Jan looked at her father. “I'll lay a bet that Palo's behind this.”
Smitty said, “They sure put us on ice, didn't they?”
Harry stood, walked to the cell door, and inspected the lock. “These things are old. I'll bet we can pick this thing.” He looked back at Jan and Smitty. “Hey. Got anything long and skinny?”
Smitty said, “Yeah, but it won't pick a lock.”
Jan cracked up. “Smitty, you're a dog,” she said. She rose and joined her father, who was studying the lock. A minute later, she tapped him on the shoulder. “Hey, Dad.”
“Um?” Harry looked up from the lock, and saw Jan standing next to him. In her fingers, she held a long, thin, round item that looked like a blunt nail. “Nah,” he said. “Too thick.”
“No, Dad. It's the hinge pin out of the bottom door hinge.” She pointed. “They put the hinges on this door on the inside of the cell. Duh! Right?”
“Right,” Harry echoed. He laughed. “Can we get the other two hinge pins out?”
“Let's get to work. Hey, Smitty. Boost me up to that middle hinge, will ya?”
Sitting on Smitty's shoulders, Jan began working a hinge pin loose. Harry watched. “Hey, Tiger,” he finally said.
“How many different jails does this make for you now?”
“Damn. I must not have raised you right.”
Jan looked down at him. “What do you mean?”
“By this time in your career, it should have been at least six or seven.”
Jan snickered as she worked at the hinge pin. “Don't let Mel hear you say that,” she warned.
Palo handed a wad of money to the chief of the Fira police, then shook his hand. “Keep ‘em in jail until I let you know otherwise,” he said.
“How long do you think that will be?” he asked.
“It might be as much as two weeks,” he answered. “I'll see, and I'll keep you posted.”
“It will cost me to keep them fed,” he said.
Palo smiled. “In that case, feed ‘em cheap.” He shook the police chief's hand, then left the bar. “Okay,” he said. “Now to find Jeff.” He paused in the night and breathed deeply of the clean, salty air. He'd been all over the world, but in his estimation, there really was no place to compare to the Greek islands.
“Stavros, there you are!” Candy said. She stopped by his side and looked out at the sea with him. “So, what's on your mind?”
He studied her with a mischievous glance, then said, “Candy, you're craftier than I gave you credit for being. Or kinkier, one.”
She blinked at that. “Thank you, I think. What brought that on?”
“I don't know,” she said. “When I last saw him, he was being kidnapped.”
“He got loose. Most of the Americans are fried. All of ‘em at the plane. I've got Covington, her father, and that Smitty guy in the jail in Fira. I can't locate my sister, though.”
“You've been a busy little boy.”
“Yeah, but I need to deliver Jeff. We need to find him. The general wants to put to sea at dawn. Any suggestions?”
Candy said, “If you were Jeff and got loose, where would you go?”
“I'd head right for that little Greek tart of his.”
Candy slugged him on a massive arm. “Her name's Natassa. She's a nice girl, Stavros. Honestly, sometimes you can be such a pig.”
He smiled. “One of my better qualities. Go check at their room. I've got to talk to the general. I'll be back shortly.” With that, he looked around, then flashed and disappeared.
Candy shook her head. “One day,” she said, “I'll figure out how you do that.” Then, she turned and walked into the hotel.
A few minutes later, she walked into her bedroom. “Mel,” she said. “How are you holding up?” When she clicked on the overhead light, she approached Mel and stared at her. “What's wrong with you?”
Mel blinked up at her. Her voice was soft and hesitant. “I – I don't feel quite well,” she said. “Like I'm in a foggy dream or something.”
Candy knelt by her side and looked into her face. Her eyes were dilated and her glance radiated a confused, questioning look. “What happened, Mel? Who was here?”
“I can't really remember who,” Mel said. “It was all so fuzzy. All I remember is – ”
Mel smiled. “A gorgeous chest.”
“A chest? Mel? Mel!” She lifted Mel's chin and looked into her face. “A man's chest?”
“Oh, my. Yes.”
Candy stood up. “Palo. He was here.” She looked down at Mel. “Do you need anything?”
“I need to pee,” Mel said.
Candy searched her jewelry box, found her handcuff key, and loosed the cuffs. “Here, stand up. Be careful. I'll take you there.” She helped Mel stand. “Do you hear me? Can you understand me?”
“Yes. Yes, I understand.”
“Good. There's the toilet. Now, when you come out, lay down on the bed and rest. Don't go anywhere. Do you hear me? Don't leave my room. Got it?”
“Yes. Yes, I believe so. Oh, my. I feel awfully drunk, or something.”
Candy helped her to the bathroom, then left her suite and locked the door behind her. Then, she walked down the hall to the suite where Natassa and Jeff were staying. When she knocked on the door, Natassa spoke in Greek. “Who's there?”
“It's Candy. Open up.” When the lock clicked and the door opened, she strode into the room. “Is Jeff here?”
“Yes. He's there.” Natassa pointed to him, and Candy walked to him and unlocked his handcuffs.
Jeff threw the cuffs onto the bed. “Thank God I'm rid of those things,” he said.
“But you're not rid of us yet,” Candy said. She studied Jeff, then asked, “Have you been drinking?”
“No. I've been too busy getting kidnapped.”
“Well, stay sober. You'll be needing to do your job tonight. Palo will be back shortly with the details.”
“What about the Americans?”
“Most of them are dead. Three are in the Fira jail, one is in my room, and one is missing, as nearly as I can count. The bomb is safely aboard a ship in the harbor.” She attempted a smile. “It's almost over. Just a little more. Now you two stay put, do you hear me? Don't go anywhere.”
When she got nods of affirmation from both Jeff and Natassa, she left and went to Palo's suite to await his return.
Alais appeared in a flash of light at the door of the Fira jail. She paused outside the doors, looked down at herself, and said, “This will never do.”
She unbuttoned several buttons on the front of her shirt, displaying her cleavage to a positively dangerous degree. “That's better. No, wait. One more thing.” She placed her hands beneath her breasts and gave them a firm upward shove. The dark, semicircular hints of two areolae peeked above the lace of her bra. “Yes. Now,” she said, “I'm ready.”
She opened the door and strolled into the police station. The two policemen sitting behind beat-up desks looked up at her. Stunned silence enveloped the room. They froze at their desks, and their jaws dropped open. A second later, from a policeman's hand, a half-eaten sandwich landed with a splat upon an open newspaper.
The nearest policeman managed to stand. “Yes? May we help you, ma'am?”
“Most certainly,” Alais replied. “Are you the only two here?”
The other policeman rose from his desk and peered over his companion's shoulder. “Yes, ma'am. We are.” He brushed the ends of his ample moustache with a finger and smiled.
“Good.” She waved a hand in front of them and said, “Dream.” Instantly, the two men froze in place. Their faces assumed dull, faraway looks. She snapped her fingers in front of their eyes, and neither one responded. That made her smile. “Aphrodite still comes in handy sometimes,” she said. She picked up a ring of keys from the desk and walked toward the back of the building, where the jail was housed. As she did, she hummed a merry little tune and smiled.
She skidded to a halt as she turned a corner. There, three feet in front of her, Harry stood. His fist hovered in the air, poised to strike. She blinked at him, then at the fist. “Is that the welcome I get?” she asked.
He lowered the fist. “Sorry, Alais. I thought you were – ”
“You don't know my footsteps by now?” she asked with a little pout.
His eyes trailed down to her chest. “Hey, I'd recognize those – I mean, you – anywhere!”
“I wouldn't,” Jan said. “Damn, girl. Here's lookin' at you too, kid.”
Smitty coughed. “Now,” he said, “I've seen proof that there's a God.”
Harry said, “So, Alais dear. What's with the two boobs, sunny side up?”
Alais smiled as she buttoned her shirt. “It got me past the police.”
“Those things would have gotten you past The Pearly Gates,” Jan corrected. “Let's get out of here.”
“We need the truck,” Smitty said. “It's at the Athenos Hotel.”
“I will get it. You wait.” With that, she disappeared in a flash of light.
Smitty shot his best ‘what-the-heck?' look at Jan, who simply said, “She used to be Aphrodite.”
“Jan,” he finally said, “you attract weird stuff around you like a dog attracts fleas.”
Jan smiled. “Thanks!” she said. “Now let's find our guns. And those jerks took my brass knuckles, too. Start lookin' for ‘em, will you? I've had those things for years.”
Smitty walked through the station and considered the two policemen, frozen in place. “What's up with them?” he asked.
“Oh. Alais did that,” Harry said.
He recalled the eyeful to which he had just been treated and said, “Okay. I think I understand. That's kind of how I felt, too.” He looked at Harry. “You seem right at home with all this weird immortal stuff.”
“Yeah. I'm married to an immortal.”
“Oh.” Smitty snapped his fingers. “Yeah. Right.”
They rifled the station until they found their guns. Jan shoved a pistol into the back of the waistband of her shorts and pocketed her brass knuckles. Then, she kept a lookout at the window. Sure enough, in a few minutes, the truck pulled up to the front of the station, and they piled into it. Alais put it in gear and drove to the outskirts of town. There, she stopped the truck and turned to Smitty. “We must talk,” she said.
“Okay. What's up?”
“Something horrible happened at the airport.”
“Yeah, we know. Harry and I saw it.”
Alais cast him a pained glance. “I fear that it was my fault.”
“What do you mean? Palo did that, didn't he?”
“Yes, but – You see, we immortals can feel each other's presence within a certain distance. He found your men by tracking me. I was with them. I am the cause of their deaths.”
“No, you're not. Look, he fried those guys, not you.”
“He found them because of me. I am a danger to all of you.”
Jan leaned through the window. “If he'd wanted to kill us, he'd have done it by now.”
Harry said, “Alais, honey – can you feel your brother's presence right now?”
She closed her eyes and concentrated. Then, she said, “Yes, but it is very faint.”
“Can you give us a direction, at least?”
She sat still for a moment, then pointed toward the port, at the base of the cliff below the city. “There,” she said. “The docks.”
“He's on one of the ships,” Jan said. She slapped Smitty on the arm. “That's probably the one that has the bomb aboard.”
“Well, let's go!” Smitty said. “Alais can pinpoint which ship he's on. We need to find that bomb.”
With that, they drove toward the road to the port and began descending the slow, tight, back-and-forth turns which took them down the face of the cliffs to the sea.
General Hirokuchi was insistent. “I wish to leave at dawn, Palo-san. We have far to go.”
“Don't sweat it. I'll get him delivered to you. He can arm the bomb and disappear with his girlfriend and his paycheck.” Palo smiled at the general. “As soon as you guys pay me, that is.”
“I have been in contact with my superiors in Tokyo. First thing in the morning, the money will be deposited in your Swiss bank accounts.”
“Good. I've got employees who are antsy to get paid.”
“Ah, yes. About the scientist...” The general thought for a moment. “I wish for him to sail with us. I do not wish to arm the bomb until we are at the target city.”
“Oh, boy. He's not gonna like that.”
“I do not care.”
“He will. He thinks he's going to live here on Thera with his little Greek honey.”
“Then he has been mislead. Bring him to me. I do not care what you tell him. He will sail with us.”
“And when you guys get to America?”
The general shrugged. “This is a mission from which we will not return. He will die with us. What is one more American?”
“Look, you guys are refueling at Tangier before you cross the Atlantic, right?”
“Then let him arm the bomb there, and drop him off. I'll get him back here. Then, you guys die for the Emperor, my scientist and his little Greek floozy live happily ever after, and everybody gets what they want.”
The general studied Palo. “I do not understand your concern for this man,” he said.
“I'm a businessman,” Palo explained. “If people don't trust my word, then my reputation is crap. No one will do business with me. And I gave my word to him. Look, General. I sold you his services, not his life. This ain't slavery; it's the subcontracting of skilled labor. He is to arm the bomb for you, not die for you. The labor is not expendable.”
The general lit a cigarette and thought. Labor, not expendable? Things were so much simpler during the war. He did what he willed. People died. So what? And for that, he was arrested by the Americans and put on trial as a war criminal. So what if the prisoners of war under his command died by the hundreds of starvation, dysentery, and malaria, laboring for him? That was their destiny. And for that, he spent five years in an American army prison? It made no sense.
Palo-san wishes the scientist to live? All right. I will allow him to exit the ship at Tangier. Unless, of course, I change my mind once we put to sea.
He smiled. “Agreed, Palo-san, ” the general said. “I will do what you suggest. And for the trip, he may bring his woman, if he wishes, to keep him company.”
“He'll be glad to hear that,” Palo said. “I'll be back in a bit.” With that, he disappeared in a flash of light.
On the dock, the truck stopped. “There,” Alais said. “He's there, on that ship.” She backed up the truck, and they squinted into the darkness at the ship's fantail. In the glow of dock lights, they could see the ship's name: Kyoto Maru, out of Yokohama.
Smitty said, “What the hell? Japanese? Is that who he sold the bomb to?”
“It makes sense,” Jan said. “He said something about selling it to a weaker nation. And he hinted that it was aimed at us.”
“Oh, sweet Jesus,” Harry said. “It's a kamikaze mission. The ultimate one. It's all about revenge.”
“No,” Smitty said. “It's not about revenge. It's about honor. Bushido : The code of the warrior.”
“Whatever,” Jan said. “We need to get that bomb.”
Smitty turned to his companions. “Not yet. We need to get our hands on Jeff. No Jeff, no arming of the bomb.”
“Let's do it, then,” Harry said. “Alais, honey; the next stop is the hotel in Fira.”
Palo materialized in the sitting room of his suite at the hotel. He heard the water running in the shower, said, “Hot damn,” and walked into the steamy bathroom. Candy was in the shower, and she was singing. She stopped abruptly when Palo leaned against the edge of the shower stall and said, “You sound pretty good.”
“God, Stavros. Don't do that to me. You scared the living hell out of me!”
“I need Jeff. Where is he?”
“Their rooms. I'll be right along.”
“Take your time. I'll watch you dress.”
She stepped out of the shower and lifted a bath towel from a hook. “You're such a pervert.”
“Another of my finer qualities.” He smacked her on the bottom. “Let's go.”
“Get out of here!”
He snickered as he stepped into the hall. “Okay, I'll wait outside.” As she toweled herself dry, he walked to his bar, poured himself two fingers of whiskey, and stepped onto the balcony. He sipped his liquor, and his mind traveled back in time to the heyday of Atlantis. He imagined the expansive city-state before him where now only the Mediterranean Sea lapped Thera's shores. It was a magnificent era, all right. Maybe he should take Covington's advice and dig this place. He smiled at the next thought. Maybe he should finance Covington's next dig. Right here, a dig to re-discover the mythical, fantastic, lost city of Atlantis...with the best artifacts going to him, of course. Hey, he'd donate some choice pieces to the leading museums. London, Athens, Paris, Berlin, New York City...yeah. It would give him an aura of respectability while he quietly sold other relics on the black market.
He laughed out loud at that thought. Jan Covington, digging for him? Would she do it? Yeah, he decided. He could appeal to that larcenous little heart of hers, and by damn, she'd do it. What an ironic scenario: Covington, working for him. How delicious.
Candy joined him on the balcony. She was once again in a summer dress and sandals, and her short, dark hair was moderately dry and brushed. “I'm ready, Stavros.”
“Then let's go get Jeff.”
A few minutes later, Natassa answered a knock on the door and stepped back when she saw Palo with Candy. They entered and shut the door behind them. “Jeff?” Palo said.
“Yeah.” He stepped from the bathroom.
“Are you ready to go to work?”
He shrugged. “I guess.”
“Okay, then. Natassa, come here.”
She stepped closer, and Palo laid a hand on her shoulder, then on Jeff's. A second later, a flash announced their disappearance. Candy threw up her hands. “Jesus, Stavros!” she said. “You took Natassa, too? What the hell!” She huffed as she left the room. “He'll be the death of me.”
A flash of light lit the deck of the Kyoto Maru . Palo released Jeff and Natassa and said, “Follow me.” He led them into a corridor and stuck his head into the galley. “ Hirokuchi-san ,” he said. “Your scientist is here.”
The general stood and faced them. “Ah. Good.” He considered Natassa's presence. “And this is your woman, Doctor Gottfried?”
“What? Yeah.” He looked at Palo. “Why is Natassa here?”
“I thought you'd want a little company for your sea cruise,” Palo said.
“Cruise?” Jeff backed away from Palo. “Oh, no. That wasn't our deal. I arm this thing here. That's our deal.”
“Deals change, Jeff. You're going with this tub as far as Tangier. Four, maybe five days. They refuel for the Atlantic trip, you arm the bomb, and then you two get off and call me. I'll bring you back here.”
Jeff looked at Palo, then at the general. “No.” He waved Palo aside. “We need to talk.”
“Privately,” Jeff insisted.
Palo looked at the general. “Excuse us, General. Why don't I speak with them in their stateroom?”
The general grunted an affirmative reply, then waved a sailor to him. He spoke to the sailor, then said, “He will take you there.” As Palo, Jeff, and Natassa followed the sailor, the general allowed a trace of an amused smile to cross his face. In his experience managing prisoner-of-war camps, labor-management disputes were always more quickly and satisfactorily settled with the blade of his sword than words. A few beheadings worked wonders on recalcitrant forced-laborers.
Inside the stateroom, Palo crossed his arms across his chest and looked at Jeff. “What's the problem?” he said.
“I'm not riding this tub all the way to Tangier with that damn bomb,” Jeff insisted. “Especially not with Natassa aboard.”
Palo eyed Natassa, then Jeff. Finally, he said, “There's something you're not telling me, isn't there?”
“Yeah. I'm scared of that bomb.”
“Why? You know it better than anyone.”
“That's why I'm scared of it.” Jeff took a deep breath and exhaled, then attempted to calm himself. “Look, if we hit heavy seas with that thing aboard, it could go off, armed or not!”
“Now you tell me this? Now, after I've moved it twice?”
“If we hit heavy seas, if this rust-bucket ship bounces that bomb hard enough in a nose-down position – ”
“Then we'll just have to hope that it doesn't.”
“There's another thing,” Jeff said. “I don't want to leave Thera because I don't have a passport.”
“It's North Africa,” Palo said. “You don't need a passport. All you need is money to bribe the customs official. Hell, I'll give it to you. You get off there, call me, and I'll come bring you back to Thera.”
Jeff shook his head. “I don't like this one bit,” he said.
“Can't be helped. We need to please the customer,” Palo said.
Jeff paced for a minute or so and thought, then said, “Okay. I'll ride this tub to Tangier, but you take Natassa back with you. She doesn't go.”
“No, Jeff!” Natassa said. “I go with you!”
“No, honey,” Jeff said. “It's not safe. You stay here. I'll be back in – what?” He looked at Palo.
“Oh, five, six days.”
“Yeah, that,” Jeff said. “Five or six days, tops. I get paid, and we settle down here. It'll be okay, honest.” He looked at her. “Please, Natassa. This way, I won't worry about you. And you won't be the only woman stuck aboard a ship full of men.”
Natassa looked at Palo and spoke in Greek. “You will bring him back to me as soon as you can?”
“Sure, doll. I promise. Five or six days.”
She glared at him, deciding whether to trust him or not. Then, she nodded and spoke in English. “Okay, Jeff. For you, I stay in Thera.”
Jeff nodded. “That's the spirit. Let's go tell the general.”
A minute later, they stepped onto the deck where the general waited. “It's settled,” Palo said. “Jeff will ride with you to Tangier. He arms the bomb there and gets off.”
“So it will be,” the general said.
“Ah, you're not expecting any bad weather between here and Tangier, are you, General?” Palo asked.
Palo smiled. “Jeff tells me that, ah – he gets seasick. Sayonara, Hirokuchi-san. ” He grasped Natassa's arm, and they disappeared in a flash of light.
For a moment, no one said anything. Then, Jeff attempted a smile. “So, do you play chess?”
The general studied him for a second. Then, he said, “No.”
“Does anybody on this ship speak English besides you, General?”
“Okay, then.” He looked at the unsmiling faces on the deck surrounding him and said, “Boy. I can tell right now that we're gonna have a really fun time.”
On the dock, the truck sat with engine and lights off. Alais whispered, “Oh, no. It's my brother. He'll feel my presence.” With that, she disappeared in a flash.
“Okay,” Harry said, as he slid over behind the wheel. “There's no telling where she went.”
Jan pointed to the deck. “Look. It's Jeff. He's staying behind. Palo and the girl just disappeared.”
“Damn,” Smitty said. “He's already aboard. Well, at least we know which ship they're on. Let's get to the hotel and meet with the asset. We need to contact home and get orders, anyway.”
The pilot handed some money to the cab driver and walked toward the aircraft. “Yes, sir. Works in every country I've been to. Just ask the cab driver where the action is, tip him good, and he'll fix you up, every time.” He stopped at the foot of the ramp and tapped a black, charred lump of – of something, with the toe of his boot. “What the hell is that thing?” he wondered aloud, then walked up the ramp. In the cargo bay, there were several more lumps of carbonized things lying around. He walked to the front of the bay, clicked on the dome lights, and almost threw up. They were people, and the full odor of burnt flesh hit him squarely in his liquor-soaked gut. He stumbled into the cockpit, clicked the radio on, and jammed the headphones onto his head. He called repeatedly, frantically, and finally got a reply.
He held a frantic, profanity-laced conversation with the disbelieving agent manning the transmitter at the Crete station, who told him to wait. A minute later, he returned and said, “Six-oh-two, your orders are to sit tight. A backup C-47 will be there in an hour to help clean up the mess. Report any contact with any surviving team members. Do you copy?”
“Yeah, yeah. I copy. Tell ‘em to hurry up.”
“Are you armed?”
“What? Yeah, we got a couple guns here.”
“Good. Stand guard until we arrive. Crete station out.”
“Hey!” He keyed the radio again. “Hey! Six-oh-two to Crete base station. Answer me, you – !” He threw down the microphone and the headset and rummaged behind his seat. Eventually, he found his pistol and loaded it. Then, he felt a tap on his shoulder and nearly jumped out of his skin.
Alais stood behind him. “Have you spoken to your superiors yet?”
“Damn, lady. You scared the stew outta me. Yeah, I just got back here. Everybody's dead. Char-broiled, it looks like.” He fanned a hand in front of his face. “Smells like, too.”
“We must call. I know which ship the bomb and Jeffery are on. Please, call.”
“I just talked to ‘em. They'll be here in an hour or so from Crete.” He shrugged apologetically. “They won't respond on the radio. I tried to call ‘em back already.”
“Very well, then. We will wait.”
The truck pulled into the hotel's parking lot and found a place in the dark, at the far edge. Jan, Smitty, and Harry entered at the main door, walked through the lobby, and headed to Jeff's and Natassa's room. When Jan knocked, Natassa opened the door and stood aside. Candy was inside the room.
“Well, Candy. Just the person I was lookin' for,” Jan said.
Smitty closed the door. “Are we alone?” At Candy's nod, he said, “I know where the bomb and Jeff are. We can't get to ‘em, though. We don't have the firepower.”
Candy said, “Where are they?”
“The Kyoto Maru, docked down at the port.”
Natassa stood. “Palo said that it is to sail to Tangier tonight. Jeff will arm the bomb there, and they will let him off the ship.”
Smitty shook his head. “I doubt that. A secret kamikaze mission on America that he knows about, and they'll just let him waltz off the ship? No way.”
Candy looked at Natassa. “Oh, my God. He's right, honey. They're going to take him down with them.” She looked at Smitty. “We've got to get him off that ship before he arms the bomb.”
“Can you contact your base from here?” Smitty said to Candy.
She nodded as she sat on the side of the bed. She lifted the telephone receiver and spoke in Greek, seeking the long distance operator and a connection to Athens. Finally, she got one. In English, she said, “Reginald? Candy here. The objects we are seeking are on the Kyoto Maru , in Fira harbor. It'll sail tonight, I'm guessing.” She listened, and her expression fell. “I see. Understood. Yes, I understand.” She hung up the phone and looked at Smitty. “We're to stand by.”
Jan huffed. “Great. Do nothing.”
“Welcome to government service, Jan,” Smitty cracked.
“It's very possible that your navy will handle it.” When they looked at Candy, she explained, “They have a warship off the Thera coast right now.”
“Plan ‘C',” Smitty said. “Plan ‘A' was us buying the bomb. Plan ‘B' was us stealing the bomb. Plan ‘C'...”
Jan looked at Smitty. “Do we want to know what Plan ‘C' entails?”
“They're probably either going to board the ship or sink it.”
“With the bomb aboard?”
“If the bomb is at the bottom of the sea, it can't hurt anyone.”
“Smitty's right,” Candy said. “If we can't get the bomb off the ship, at least we must get Jeff off of it. If we don't, he's dead.”
Natassa sank to a chair and wept. Candy sat next to her, whispered a few words, and looked up, helplessly. “This is a bloody fine mess, isn't it?” she said.
“Where's Mel?” Jan asked. “Candy, where's Mel? Bring her here. Natassa doesn't need to be alone tonight, and I've got a feeling that we four are going to be busy sneaking Jeff off that ship.”
Candy stood. “I agree. I'll bring her here. She's just down the hall in my room.”
A flash of light blinded them, and Palo's voice was icy. “Not anymore, doll. Pappas, join the party, why don't you?” Palo stood in the room, holding Mel's arm in a hard grip. He shoved her toward Jan. “Here's your honey, Covington.” He looked at Smitty and Harry. “And we don't need any heroics from the peanut gallery. So, as for you two – ” His hands flashed out, and fireballs shot across the room and hit them both squarely in the chest. They fell against the wall and collapsed, unmoving, on the floor. The fronts of their shirts smouldered from the impact of the fireballs.
“Palo, you God-damned son-of-a- !”
“Can it, Covington.” He grabbed her by the front of her shirt and threw her against the wall. She bounced off the wall, then hurled herself at him, fists flying. She tagged him hard with her right hand, and he responded with a fist to her face. She was knocked to the floor. Mel ran to her side and turned her over. She patted Jan's cheek and called her name repeatedly until Jan stirred.
“Jan?” Mel said. “Jan? Can you hear me? Are you all right?” As she helped Jan sit up, she glowered up at Palo. “Damn you, Ares. That was unnecessary.”
“No, it wasn't. That was to remind everybody who's in charge around here.”
“Jeez,” Jan said. “Did ya get the number of that truck?” Mel could see that her eyes were glassy, and she was disoriented. She was also bleeding from a cut over her eye.
“Come on, blondie,” Palo said. “I've got a little job for you.” He clapped her fedora on her head, lifted her by the front of her shirt, and held her close to his face. “And you can't beat me, squirt. Give up trying.” He looked around the room. “The general's going to need a hostage for the trip,” he said, “somebody he can threaten to shoot if the Americans try to board the ship at sea. Yeah, I heard the conversation.” At their shocked expressions, he said, “Hey, I'm an immortal. I've got great hearing. I can hear a whisper through a wall. I can hear an angel fart.” He smiled, a cold smile. “And don't try to leave this room. The doors are locked from the outside.” With that, he – and Jan – disappeared in a flash.
Mel gasped. “Oh, God. He's taken Jan. What can we do?”
“Nothing, at the moment,” Candy said. “But maybe there's something we can do for these fellows.”
Candy waved Mel and Natassa to the opposite side of the room, and they rolled Smitty and Harry onto their backs. Candy quickly assessed each one and said, “They've got strong pulses and respirations. They're just unconscious. Hm. Superficial burns on their chests, as well. They'll probably be all right. If Palo had wanted to kill them, they'd be piles of ash. He was being nice.”
“How long will they stay unconscious?” Mel asked.
“I have no idea.”
Mel sat on the floor. She looked at Candy. “What are we going to do about Jeff and Jan?”
“I have no idea.”
“And where on Earth is Alais?”
In a flash of light, Palo appeared in the galley of the freighter, still holding Jan in a death grip. His hand was around her neck, and she struggled to get free. She wheezed, “Let me go, damn it. I can't breathe.”
“Sure, squirt.” He opened his hand, and her butt hit the deck with a thud.
“Ow! Ares, you jackass!”
He laughed. “I love you too, sweetheart, but we're not alone.”
Jan looked up. Sitting around them, Japanese sailors were frozen in place, watching them with expressions of total shock and disbelief. Palo looked at one of them and said, “ Hirokuchi-san ?”
The man nodded, rose, and left the galley. Palo lifted Jan by her shirt, plopped her down on a bench seat, and said, “Relax. Have some tea, blondie. It's good for you.”
“I rather shove my boot up your – ”
“Yeah, yeah. Can it, half-pint.”
“Horse's ass!” Jan shot back.
“That does it!” He leaned down into Jan's face. “Listen to me, you puny little mortal. I like you, I really do. But that doesn't mean that I can't do without you, know what I mean?”
“Kiss my ass.”
Palo's expression clouded. He pointed a finger in Jan's face. “Let me explain something to you. Me god; you not. Me, immortal. You? Puny, irritating-little-blonde mortal. That's the facts. Learn to love ‘em. Get used to it.”
“Go fuck yourself, Ares!”
Palo roared in laughter. “By Zeus, I love your fire, squirt. You're still in a world of hurt, though.” He gestured toward the blood on the side of Jan's face. “How's your head?”
“Still attached, I guess.”
“You're quite welcome.” He straightened up and turned as he heard voices and footsteps. “Ah, General Hirokuchi.” He gave a slight bow.
The general acknowledged the bow. “Is this my hostage?”
“Who is she?” he asked.
“Doctor Jan Covington, professor of archeology, Nobel laureate, and minor celebrity. She's well-known by their government; she even has an admirer in the Senate, I hear.” He shot a glance at Jan and gave her a wide grin. “I follow your career, shorty.” He looked back at the general. “She'll be an effective hostage to keep the Americans at arm's length.”
“Thank you, Palo-san . You have my gratitude.”
“And in the morning, your money. Right?”
“It is arranged.” The general barked some orders in Japanese, and several sailors with rifles surrounded Jan and hustled her from the galley.
“Watch her,” Palo said. “She's a clever one.”
“I will lock her where she will do no harm.” He extended a hand to Palo. “Thank you. We will be under way shortly.”
“Thank Zeus for that. Oh, by the way, try to avoid any really rough weather, will you?”
“That may not be possible.”
Palo smiled. “In that case, it's been nice knowing you. Sayonara, Hirokuchi-san .” With that, he disappeared in a flash of light.
The sailors prodded Jan down a corridor with the barrels of their rifles, then halted at a door. They unlocked it, shoved her inside, and slammed the door. She heard the lock click behind her. She tried the handle, but it did not move. “This is a damned fine how-do-you-do,” she muttered.
“Hooray,” Jeff said. “Looks like I get to make this trip with somebody who speaks English, anyway. D'you play chess?”
Jan's head snapped around. When she saw Jeff on the top bunk, she relaxed. “Yeah, I do.”
Jeff lit a cigarette. “Do you smoke?”
“I do now,” Jan said.
He threw her the pack and his lighter. “You look like shit,” he said. “Who worked you over?”
“Yeah. That bastard double-crossed me, too.” Jeff watched Jan light a smoke, and he said, “They're not gonna let us get off the ship at Tangier, are they?”
“Would you?” Jan said. “You do know what they're up to, right?”
“Yeah. They're gonna set this thing off somewhere in America, I'm guessing.”
“And we know about it. So no, we don't get to just waltz off this tub in Tangier.”
“I know what I'm doing here,” Jeff said. “What are you doing here?”
“I'm a hostage. If the navy tries to board us, they'll drag my butt out on deck and threaten to blow my head off or something.” She walked to the open porthole and gazed out, across the docks. “We need to get off this ship now. The sooner, the better. Once it puts to sea, we're screwed.”
“Got any ideas?” Jeff asked. “I'm fresh out.”
“Naw,” she said. She reached behind her back and pulled out a black semi-automatic .45 pistol. “But I got one of these.” She managed a smile. “They never searched me.”
Jeff lowered himself down from the bunk. “Damn. Okay, what's the plan?”
“The plan is, we get out of here now.”
“Oh, sure. Like we're just going to walk off this ship?”
“No. We run like hell, and I shoot anybody who gets between us and the docks.”
She looked at Jeff's face. It was a mask of disbelief. After a moment, he finished his cigarette and threw it out of the porthole. “Okay,” he said. “What the hell. Let's do it.”
“That's my boy, Jeff. Are you ready?”
They walked to the door, and Jeff attempted to turn the handle. It didn't move. “We're locked in.”
“Where's this other door go?” Jan asked.
Jan threw open the door. A tiny room held a toilet and a sink. At the opposite side of the bathroom, another door beckoned. She opened it, and they stepped into the next cabin. It was empty. Jan slowly, quietly turned the handle on the stateroom door. It was unlocked. She opened it and stepped into the hallway, just as a voice shouted something in Japanese. When she looked up, she was face-to-face with an armed guard.
She raised the pistol and shot him in the chest. He fell backward, and Jan said, “Get that rifle, Jeff.”
“Damn, Covington,” Jeff said. “D'you kill people much?”
“Not me. I'm a Girl Scout. Come on, pick up that rifle. We're about to have a lot of really pissed-off company.”
Jeff shook himself into action and picked up the rifle. They ran down a corridor, turned a corner, ascended a ladder, and passed by the galley door. A chorus of voices raised an alarm as they passed, and a cluster of Japanese sailors stirred themselves into a frenzy. Rice bowls and saki cups flew everywhere, and they dove for their rifles or rose to give chase. Jan warned them off by waving her pistol at them, then backed through the door to the main deck. They slammed the hatch and dogged the latches shut, then ran for the gangway, twenty feet away.
Three sailors on the deck began shouting, and one of them leapt in front of the gangway, blocking their progress. He struck a martial arts pose and shouted something, and Jan skidded to a halt. He leapt toward her with his arms and legs extended, and she ducked. A second later, the butt of Jeff's rifle smacked him squarely in the face. Jan looked up, and saw Jeff standing over the man, holding his rifle as if it were a Louisville Slugger baseball bat. She stood, looked down at the man, and said, “Damn. You played ball?”
“College varsity,” he replied.
The door to the galley burst open, and sailors poured forth. Jeff and Jan looked at the door, then at each other. Then, they ran down the gangway to the dock as fast as they could run.
“What the hell do we do now?” Jeff yelled.
“Head for the darkest part of the dock,” Jan yelled back.
A bullet pinged past them, and a moment later, the bark of a rifle sounded behind them. “Then what?”
“We'll do like I always do!”
“Yeah? What's that?”
Jan yelled, “We'll make it up as we go along.”
“Jesus Christ, Covington! I thought you had a plan.”
“I do! That's my plan.”
Another bullet pinged past them. “Oh, hell!” Jeff huffed. “We're gonna freakin' die.”
“No, we're not.” Jan snagged Jeff's shirt sleeve and pulled him behind a stack of crates. “Be quiet. Hide here for a minute.”
“Are they coming?”
“I'll see.” Ever so carefully, Jan peeked around the corner of a crate. A second later, a rifle shot sounded, and her hat flew off her head. She pulled her head back and leaned against the crates. “Those bastards shot my hat! They shot my hat!”
“That could have been your head, dumb-ass.”
“They shot my hat. Nobody shoots my hat, Jeff. No-freakin'-body!” She snatched the rifle from his hands. “Find my hat. I'll handle them.” With that, she clicked the safety off, shouldered the rifle, and whipped it around the side of the crate. A second later, she cracked off a shot.
“That's one,” she said, as she yanked the bolt back and rammed it forward.
Another shot sounded. “That's two,” she said. She pulled the bolt back, and tried to ram it forward. It did not move. Jan looked into the open guts of the rifle and said, “Well, hell. Outta ammo already?”
Bullets pinged against the wooden crates, or zipped past them in the air. Jeff clapped Jan's hat onto her head and said, “Now what?”
“Now? We run like hell!” Jan cast the rifle aside, and they ran toward the farthest edge of the docks as shouts and occasional shots echoed after them.
The door to Jeff's and Natassa's suite opened. Palo stuck his head inside. “Everybody comfy?” he asked.
“Ares, what have you done with Jan?” Mel shouted. She rose from her seat and walked toward him. Her fists were clenched, and she pointed a finger at him. “She'd better be all right,” Mel warned.
Natassa joined her. “Yes, Palo. You give me my Jeff! I want Jeff. If he's hurt, I cut off your – ”
“Holy gods,” Palo said. “What the hell is this? The Three Furies?” He raised his voice and shouted, “They're both okay!” He took advantage of the moment of silence to point at Candy. “I need you.”
Candy rose and stepped into the hall. Palo closed and locked the door, then considered Candy cooly for a moment. In return, she crossed her arms and shot him a questioning, expectant glance.
“You play innocent so well,” Palo said.
“I am innocent,” she replied. “As pure as fresh snow.”
“Yeah, right. Let's go to my suite.”
They walked down the hall, and he unlocked the door and held it open for her. After she entered, he closed it. When she heard the click of the lock, her blood ran cold. A second later, she was thrown against a wall. Palo's hand was around her throat, and his face was close to hers.
“Who are you, exactly?” he asked.
“Why? What have you heard?”
“I want to hear it from you.”
“I'm nobody, Stavros. Just a girl who needed a job when you needed an assistant.”
“Gee. How lucky for me. Are you sure you don't have another boss somewhere?” He lifted her up until her feet barely brushed the floor. Her eyes widened, and she grasped his wrist with both hands.
“Who?” She croaked.
“That's what I'm asking.” He pressed her against the wall with his body. “Like the Americans?”
“I don't work for the Americans.” Candy's voice was a whisper.
“You. I work for you.” She wrapped her legs around his waist and squeezed. “Didn't I give you a chance to make three million dollars? Damn, three million dollars makes me... hot.” She pulled his pelvis into her groin with her legs, and she smiled. “Gee. It makes you hot, too.”
“No. Three mil makes me rich. You make me hot.”
“Yeah? So, what are you going to do with me, Stavros? Are you going to love me or kill me?”
“I was thinking about killing you.” He watched her eyes widen at that, and he smiled. “But that would be like defacing a Rembrandt. No, I don't think I'll kill you... yet.”
He kissed her, hard and cruelly, then threw her halfway across the room. She shrieked as she skidded across a coffee table and collided with the sofa. She sprawled out on the floor. Slowly, she looked up at him. Then, she laughed. “Is that all you've got?” she asked.
“Doll, I haven't even started yet,” he said, as he watched a trickle of blood from her nose work its way across her lips and her chin.
Candy smiled as she rose to her hands and knees. “Damn, Stavros. You know what I want, don't you?”
“That's why we get along so well,” he said. As he took a step toward her, the telephone rang. He cursed, then picked up the receiver and held it to his ear. When he heard the general's voice, he grimaced.
“ Palo-san ,” the general said, “we are having a little issue with the scientist and the hostage. I must ask your assistance.”
“Yeah?” he said. “What's the problem?” Palo listened. “I'll take care of it. I'll see you aboard your ship in a little while.” He hung up the telephone.
She huffed and sat on the couch. “Let me guess. You have to go to work.”
“Yeah. We'll take this up later.”
She dabbed some blood from her nose with a handkerchief. “I might not be in the mood later. What's the problem?”
“Jeff and Covington got loose, and they're off the ship.”
“They could be anywhere on the island.”
He smiled. “It's not a big island.” With that, he disappeared in a flash of light.
Candy watched him disappear. Then, she looked at her hands. They were shaking. She leaned forward and rested her head in her hands. “God!” she said. “I don't know how much longer I can do this.”
“Jan, you've got to be the craziest damned woman I've ever met,” Jeff huffed.
“Gee, thanks. I'll take that as a compliment. Hey, you're slowing down.”
“I haven't been mountain climbing lately.”
“Just a couple hundred feet more, Jeff. You can do this in your sleep.”
Jeff sat down. He looked up at the imposing steepness of the cliff before him. “Man, that's more than a couple hundred feet.”
“No, it ain't. Keep climbing.”
Jeff looked into the darkness. Above him, he could see the lights of Fira, on top of the cliffs. Below, he could see the harbor docks. The Kyoto Maru was still there, although now, it looked like a child's toy. “What the hell,” he said. “I'm not accomplishing anything sitting here on my ass.”
“That's the spirit, buddy.” Jan grasped rocks and hands full of grass as she groped her way up the slope. Jeff labored behind her. For a long time, neither one said anything. Finally, Jeff spoke.
“Jan, remind me why we're doing this.”
“So we don't end up on that ship. That's not a nice place to be, Jeff.”
“I can't climb another foot. I'm done.” Jeff flopped down on his face.
Jan collapsed next to him and punched him on the arm. “Come on, fella. Don't crap out on me now.”
“Can't we just stay here until dawn?”
Jan thought about that. “Nope. They need us. They're looking for us. By dawn, we'd better be under cover somewhere.”
“I can't move.”
“Sure you can. It's just a matter of being properly motivated.”
“So motivate me. Please, motivate me.”
Jan smiled. “Okay.” She pointed down the hill. “That way, ship. Bad.” She pointed up the slope. “That way, Natassa. Good.”
Jeff's eyes popped open. “Now you're talking,” he said. “Motivation. I love it.” He rose to his hands and knees and began pulling himself up the slope. Jan kept by his side.
“We're close now. Almost there,” she wheezed. “I can see the street-lamps.” She grasped two handfuls of grass and pulled herself up. Her head thumped into something, and she looked up. Above her, Palo looked down, hands on hips. “Aw, shit!” she said.
“The feeling's mutual, blondie.” Palo picked her up by the back of her shirt and held her in the air. “You two are getting to be a real pain in my ass, do you know that?”
Jan managed a grin. “So we're doing our jobs?”
“Yeah. Too damned well.” He reached down and grabbed Jeff by the neck. With one fugitive in either hand, Palo disappeared in a flash of light.
A moment later, they appeared on the deck of the freighter. Palo dropped them on the deck, and the general shouted an order. Jan and Jeff were surrounded by unsmiling sailors armed with rifles. They looked up from where they were kneeling. Jan said, “Aw, come on, Ares. This is getting old.”
“These guys don't look too happy with you,” Palo said. “I think you're in for a long night.” With that, he disappeared.
A second later, at the general's nod, the beating began.
Alais watched as the C-47 taxied to the end of the runway and stopped. The door opened, and immediately, men emerged and approached her and the pilot. The lead man asked, “What happened here?”
“I came back from dinner, and everybody was fried,” the pilot said.
The man eyed Alais. “Dinner, huh? And just who are you, sweetheart?”
“I'm part of the team that was dropped here.”
“How come you didn't get fried?”
Alais said, “I was not here.”
The man sniffed the air and wrinkled his nose at the smell of burned flesh. “We'll get it cleaned up and throw the body bags into the back of your aircraft.”
“Why mine? I don't want to smell that stuff all the way to Crete,” the pilot said.
“Neither do we. They're not going in my plane. Hey, you're the guys – ” He looked Alais over. “And girl – who totally screwed the pooch here. You should have posted some guards. Where's that Smitty guy, anyway?”
“He's after the – our objective,” Alais said.
“Yeah? Well, my orders are that you're to follow me to Crete. Your team's been written off.”
“What?” Alais said. “No! We're still very much here.”
“All I know is, I got my orders. Now you do too, sweet-cakes. So shut up and get ready to bug out of here like the nice little girl you are.” He studied a body. “What the hell did this, anyway?”
“I'll show you,” Alais said. “Do you see that truck?” She indicated the team's truck parked on the tarmac.
Alais thrust her arm out, hand open, toward the truck. A ball of fire left the palm of her hand, shot across the tarmac, and hit the truck. With a bang and a roar, it went up in flames. She watched it burn, then turned toward the man. “Do you have any further questions?”
He stared, open-mouthed, at the truck, then at Alais. She grabbed him by the front of his shirt, hauled him close to her, and looked into his eyes. “And my name is not ‘sweet-cakes'.”
“Uh, yeah. Sure. No problem.”
“If you care to dispute me, I'm sure that we can come to an understanding right here and now, in front of your men.”
“Naw. No problem.” He watched her eyes burn into him, and he added, “Ma'am.”
“What your government seeks is on the ship Kyoto Maru , docked in Fira harbor. It is due to sail before dawn. Can I trust you to relay that message?”
She released him. “Thank you.” She looked at the pilot. “Leave without me. I have to be elsewhere.”
“But I gotta take you with me, lady.”
She grasped his shirt and yanked him close. “No, you don't, unless you wish me to explain to your superiors how I found you absent from your post and smelling of sex and cheap liquor. Do you always eat dinner in a brothel?”
“I should be so lucky,” he said.
“Are you sober enough to fly your airplane?”
“Good. Then do so. Good-night, gentlemen.” In a flash of light, she disappeared.
The leader of the clean-up detail looked at the pilot. “Man,” he said. “I've got to find out what the CIA is feeding their field agents and get me some of that.”
Alais walked into the lobby of the Athenos Hotel and felt about her with her immortal senses. She could not feel her brother nearby, so she walked into the hall and listened. After a moment, she tried a door. It was locked. She listened at the door, and she smiled. She had found Mel. She disappeared, and a moment later, appeared inside the suite. Three very surprised faces were staring at her.
Mel rose and rushed to her. “Oh, Alais! I'm so glad to see you. Can you help us?” Breathlessly, Mel poured out the story. Alais listened as she knelt by Smitty's and Harry's inert forms. She placed a hand on each one's forehead.
“My brother merely stunned them,” she said. “They will awaken on their own. For me to awaken them now may shock them severely.” She glanced up. “Oh! My brother is near. I must go.” With that, she disappeared in a flash of light.
A minute later, the door opened. Palo stuck his head into the room. “My sister was just here, wasn't she?” When he did not get an answer, he shrugged. “Women. Talk, talk, talk all the time. Then, when you ask ‘em something, they shut up.” With that, he closed the door and locked it.
The door to the ship's center cargo hold opened. Jeff skidded across the greasy deck and came to a halt. A moment later, Jan was thrown in. She hit the deck with a thud, and lay still. As an afterthought, her fedora was thrown into the hold, and the door slammed. The wheel turned, and it was dogged shut.
Jan turned on her side. “Damn,” she said. “I haven't taken a beating like that in a while. Every bone in my body hurts.” She touched her scalp and noticed the blood on her fingertips. “I think one of my back teeth is loose.” She stuck a finger in her mouth. “Yup.” Then, she crawled to Jeff and prodded him. “Hey, buddy. You with me?”
Jeff groaned, then rolled onto his back. “What's left of me. Man, those guys would be right at home as Alcatraz guards.” He winced as he touched his ribs. “I think I got some cracked ribs.”
“Cracked ribs aren't all that bad,” Jan said. “They only hurt when you breathe or move.”
“Thanks,” Jeff said. “Those guys are meaner than they look, huh?”
“No shit.” Jan sat up. “Hey, listen. The engines are on. We're getting ready to go to sea.”
“We're getting ready to go to our deaths, you mean.”
“With a hundred thousand other people. We've got to get off this tub,” Jan said.
“Don't start that stuff again. You know what happened last time we tried that? Besides, they took your gun this time.”
“Well, I didn't come all this way just to lay down and die.”
“Me, neither,” Jeff said. “I finally got things to live for again.” He looked at her. “You got any ideas?”
“I'm fresh out just now.” She crawled to a bulkhead and collapsed against it. Jeff managed his way across the deck and joined her, and they sat, shoulder-to-shoulder, nursing their wounds in silence. After a while, he looked at Jan.
“You really look like shit,” he said.
She managed a grin. “What are you talking about? I get better-lookin' after each ass-whipping.”
“Yeah. Hey, this is just what I always wanted to do: take a sea cruise with a cute blonde.”
“You and me both. D'ya think we can find a couple of those around here?” She pointed toward the atom bomb sitting forlornly in the hold. It was huge, gray, and deceptively docile, strapped securely in the hold. “So, it's just you, me, and Larry now, huh?”
“Yeah. Larry, my butt. We should have put a fuzzy wig on it and a whistle on the fins that makes it go ‘Nyuk! Nyuk! Nyuk!' all the way to the ground.”
Jan cracked up as she held her ribs. “Ow! Stop it. Don't make me laugh.”
He glared at the bomb. “I wish I'd never seen the God-damned thing.”
“You and two cities full of people,” Jan said.
“Don't remind me.”
There was something hollow, spooky in the way Jeff whispered that last comment. Jan looked at him and raised an eyebrow in question. “That's why I drink so much, I guess,” he continued. “All those people. At the time, it was an abstraction. I arm the bombs, the air force drops ‘em, and none of us sees the carnage. Hey, it was just a job to me. And then Larry, here, goes AWOL, and I get sent to prison for it so's some general doesn't lose his retirement. Locked in a cage, twenty hours a day for seven years. Reading was one of the few luxuries I had in there. I read the survivors' accounts, but the photographs I saw were the worst. Old men, women, little kids, all horribly mutilated and burned and scarred and twisted. I saw ‘em in my sleep at night – when I did sleep. And I was responsible for that.” He laughed, a harsh little laugh. “Yeah, that's me. Princeton University. My momma was so proud. I was gonna change the world. Discover a new element or something. Build a better engine, or mousetrap, or whatever. Then the war starts, and I go to enlist. Nope, sorry, they said. You got the heart murmur. You're classified 4-F. No war for you. So I keep with my studies and get my doctorate. Then, the army comes to me. Me, little 4-F Jeff. ‘Hey,' they say. ‘How'd you like to shorten the war?' Well, I'm up for that. I say yes, and the next thing I know, I'm out in the desert, working on these things. It's a fun way to waste time, I'm thinking, but the damned thing will never work. I mean, theoretically, maybe. But then, we tested one. And damn, did it work! I mean, when that sucker went off, even Oppenheimer crapped his drawers. So, real quick, we threw three more of ‘em together and gave ‘em to the army air force. I got to go to Tinian Island with them, to arm them before they were dropped. Me, little 4-F Jeff, a real important guy in the war effort. How's that for irony?”
Jan patted Jeff's leg. “Hey. You did change the war.”
“Nope,” Jeff said. “I changed all war, forever.” He looked at Jan. “Can you even imagine what the next war is gonna be like, when everybody has a few of these things?”
“No,” she said. “I really can't.” They fell into silence, and Jan studied the bomb. Then, she tapped Jeff on the arm. “How does this thing work, anyway?”
Jeff thought for a moment. “Well,” he finally said, “it works on the principle of atomic nuclear fission. That's all an atom bomb explosion is, you know – an uncontrolled fission reaction.”
“In English,” she said.
“Oh. Sorry. Well, it's like this. You need a certain amount of a highly radioactive element – in this case, sixty-four kilograms of uranium-235. If you've got less, it don't work. Critical mass, it's called.” He pointed at the bomb. “It's in there, right now.”
“So how come it's not going boom right now?” Jan asked.
“Ah. Because we have the uranium in two separate globs. See, inside the bomb is a long tube. One half of the critical mass is at one end; the other half is at the other end. When we want it to go boom, we slam the two halves together, and the chain reaction starts. A matter of milliseconds later, the reaction goes insane. Incredible amounts of radiation, heat, and light energy are released.”
“How much energy?”
“Oh, in this case, the destructive power of maybe fifteen to twenty thousand tons of TNT.”
Jan gawked at him. “Tons? Not pounds?”
“Holy Mother of God,” Jan said. “I'd hate to be under that thing when it went off.”
“Right under it is probably the best place to be,” he said. “Trust me, in an atomic war, the lucky ones die in the first blast. The sorry bastards are the ones who survive.” He looked at Jan, and saw her expression of disbelief. “Let me tell you what it's like to be in a city that gets atom-bombed. The first thing people notice is the light. It's brilliant, blinding. If you look at it, you go blind. If you shield your eyes with your hand, you can see the bones of your hand through the skin. That bright. Then, you get whacked with an onslaught of various types of radiation. But that doesn't kill you right away. That kills you days or weeks later...if you survive the blast. Then, the fireball hits. Thousands of degrees Fahrenheit. If you're close enough, it carbonizes you instantly, or vaporizes you. The only trace left of you is the shadow burned into the stone wall or building you're next to, or a human-shaped lump of carbon lying in the street. If you're a little farther away, you get your clothes melted into your skin, and the meat cooked right off your bones. The book in your hands bursts into flames from the heat. If you're unlucky enough to survive that, then the shock wave hits. Stone buildings knocked down. Trees torn from the ground. Not one stone is left on top of another. Wood buildings ripped to shreds instantly. A firestorm erupts in the city, flames hundreds of feet high. Everything is burning. The river is clogged with the bodies of horribly maimed people who drowned seeking a refuge from the heat by jumping in the water. But hey! Humans are a tough breed. After all that, people still lived. And they stagger in shock, horribly burned, naked, wandering through the streets with their arms held out and the skin hanging from their bodies, like a herd of grotesque Frankenstein monsters or something. Total hell on Earth. And above them, this huge cloud of dirt and dust and debris and pieces of buildings and people and shit, all intensely radioactive, spirals up in a huge mushroom-shaped cloud, miles up in the air, and drops all that radioactive shit all over the countryside. Leukemia, cancers, miscarriages, horrible birth defects – they're just starting to figure out how many people are dying from that. I mean, the two hundred and fifty thousand or so that died in the blast aren't enough, I guess. We gotta kill thousands more over the next few generations, before the stuff finally decays down to safe levels.” He shot Jan a glance. “And that's what it's like to be atom-bombed.”
Jan thought about that. Then, she looked at him. “That's really fucked up, Jeff. I mean, that's fucked up on a level that I can't even comprehend.”
“Tell me about it. And I did that. Me. Jeff Gottfried, mass murderer. Yes, sir. Momma would be proud.”
“It's not your fault.”
“The hell it ain't.”
They fell into silence. After some time, the wheel on the door spun, and several armed men entered. They watched in wary silence as a man placed a tray holding a teapot and two cups on the floor near Jan. Then they withdrew, and the hatch was dogged shut. Jan pulled the tray close and lifted the lid. “Oh. Tea. Want some?”
“Sure. Why not?”
She poured two cups and handed Jeff one. As they drank their tea, Jan contemplated the bomb. Then, she said, “You said that you slam the two globs of uranium together. How do you do that?”
“The tube that the two halves of the critical mass are in is actually a naval gun barrel. The breech is at the tail fins. I stick in four bags of cordite, prime it, close the breech, and wire it to a battery and a switch. The bomb has an altitude detonator, but it's no good at sea level. So, I got a timer. And a hand switch, in case the general wants to die a hero.” He pointed. “In that box, there, with the cordite.”
“Yeah. You know, the stuff that the navy uses to shoot shells the size of cows twenty miles.”
“A high explosive?”
“Naw,” Jeff said. “More like gunpowder. Lots of expanding gases and heat, but low shock wave. Very little smoke.”
“So, what happens if you set it off outside the gun breech?”
Jeff laughed. “An archeologist, interested in physics? What happens is a huge, bright, hot flash. No explosion. Sorry to disappoint.”
“So, we couldn't use it to blow a hole in the side of this ship?”
“No.” Jeff looked at Jan. “Do you want to sink this ship?”
“Yeah. Look, the most important thing we can do is keep the general and his buddies from reaching their target. If we sink this ship, the bomb is at the bottom of the sea. Nobody uses it.”
“It may not matter anyway, if we hit bad enough weather.”
It was Jan's turn to study Jeff's expression. “What?”
“If the bomb gets jarred hard enough in a nose-down position, the back half of the critical mass could slide down the tube and connect with the front half. Like if this tub repeatedly crashed bow-first into heavy waves during a bad storm.” He shrugged. “I told Palo that. He didn't give a damn.”
“Of course not. Once he gets his money, he doesn't care what happens to the bomb, as long as it doesn't go off in his back yard.”
“Hence, me arming the bomb in Tangier?”
“Bingo.” She refilled Jeff's tea cup. “Look, man. We've got to keep this thing from going off. Can we remove half the critical mass?”
“Nope. It's highly radioactive. We'd be dead in thirty minutes. Got any other bright ideas?”
Jan huffed, “Damn it, Jeff. You're the physicist. Think of something, will you?”
He pointed across the hold. “What's in all those boxes and bags over there?”
Jan put down her teacup. “Let's go see.”
Five minutes later, they were tearing into stacks of bags and wooden crates. Jeff said, “Looks like fifty-pound bags of rice and flour. A couple hundred of ‘em.”
Jan studied the writing on the side of a crate. “Look at this. Cyrillic alphabet. Russian, I'm guessing. And this is Arabic. This stuff is going to the Middle East.”
“What's in it?”
“Let's find out. I need some kind of...” She went to a large locker and opened it. From it, she dug some life jackets, a flashlight, some rope, and a few other items. Then, she said, “Oh, yeah. Come to momma.” In triumph, she held up a crowbar.
“Damn. Try this one, here.” Jeff pointed at a crate. In a moment, Jan had the top pried loose, and she looked inside.
“Military stuff,” she said. She dug down into the crate. “Looks like uniforms.” She pried open the next crate and peered inside. Her jaw dropped. “Holy cow. We may have just hit the jackpot.”
“What?” Jeff asked.
“Call it a feeling.” Jan lifted a large suitcase-sized wooden box from the crate and rested it on the floor. She ran a hand over the printing on the front of the box. It was in German. Prominent on the lid was the Eagle and swastika emblem of the recently-defunct Third Reich. “Oh, yeah. Thank you, Gabrielle.”
Jan looked up. “Dead relative. She's always lookin' out for me.” She threw open the lid and beamed in satisfaction at the contents. Four ungainly items rested within, each perhaps four feet long, each with a bulbous head and a long, thin body. “Bingo. Panzerfausts, Jeff. I've seen ‘em before, in Greece, during the war.”
“What the hell are they?”
“Antitank weapons. German war surplus, headed to the Middle East.” She saw his non-comprehending expression. “Armor-piercing. These things will go right through the side of this tub.”
“We can sink this ship.” He looked inside the crate. “There's one more box of ‘em.”
“That gives us eight.” Jan stood. “Can you rig that cordite to go off when somebody comes through that door?” She pointed at the hatch.
“Do it. I'll work on this.”
“If this ship goes down, we go down with it.”
“And so does the bomb. We got some life jackets. When this ship starts sinking, it'll be bedlam. They'll be trying to save the ship. We can get to a lifeboat in the chaos.”
“You're an incurable optimist, ain't ya?” Jeff asked.
Jan's eyes were alive, on fire. She slapped Jeff on the arm. “Let's get to work.”
He felt himself smile for the first time that day. “Okay,” he said. “Let's do this.”
Candy downed a whiskey as she sat at one end of the sofa in Palo's suite. That was a close one, she decided. Too close. Palo's suspicious. He's also dangerous. So far, she had been able to cloud his vision of her with raw sex, but there's no telling how much longer that will suffice. She'd better play him very carefully, or she could wake up dead one morning soon. It was about time to extract herself from this situation, anyway... as soon as she saw the operation safely concluded.
The sound of the shower ceased. A few minutes later, Palo entered the room, naked except for the bath towel wrapped around his waist. “Do you want a drink?” she asked.
“Nope. I want to chat.”
“About what?” Candy asked, as she regarded his physique with an appreciative eye.
He sat down on the opposite end of the sofa from Candy. “Why are you here, working for me?”
“I needed a job.”
“No. I mean, why are you here? What is it that you want out of all this?”
“I want to make a pile of money. You pay very, very well.”
“And you and me?”
“Why?” she said. “Are you afraid I'll demand some commitment? A ring? Promises of wedded bliss and children and a dog and a quaint little cottage in the country?”
“I don't see you as that kind of girl,” Palo said. “So let's have the truth. What do you expect from all this shagging, if it's not something permanent?”
“I enjoy shagging you. That's all.” Candy allowed a slow smile to cross her face. “You're very handsome, and you're the best male lover that I've ever had.” She sipped her drink. “And that's saying something.” She snickered. “How come you men always puff up like that when I say that?”
“That's why I like you, Candy,” Palo said. “You're a lot like me.”
“Oh? In what way?”
“You have a lot of hidden secrets.”
“It makes a girl more interesting, don't you agree?”
“Oh, yeah.” He eyed her in that way, in the way she'd come to recognize. “Stay here tonight.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Why?” she teased.
“I need you.”
Her eyes trailed down to the towel covering his waist. “I can see that.” She delayed her answer for a few moments, teasing him, flirting with him, dangling her presence in front of him. Then, she began unbuttoning the front of her summer dress, one slow button at a time. “You're not going to throw me halfway across the room again, are you?”
“Only if you want it.”
She stood in front of him as she opened the buttons on her clothing. “I'll let you know.”
General Hirokuchi stood on the bridge of the Kyoto Maru as the harbor tugboats pulled it away from the dock. Slowly, its bow swung west until it pointed at the channel to the sea. Tugs' whistles blew, and the tow lines dropped away. At his side, his ship's captain gave the orders to make turns on the ship's screws, and the thrum of the engines vibrated through the deck and the soles of his shoes. The ship gained momentum and headed toward the sea.
He said to his captain, “Notify me when we are well out to sea,” and left the bridge. In his cabin, he opened his suitcase, withdrew two pictures in frames, and set them on the table. Then, he poured a cup of saki and drank in silence as he contemplated the pictures: one of his parents, and one of the Emperor. He was beginning the final journey of his life, a mission of glorious import for his family's honor, his country, and his Emperor. All his life, he had given himself to the uniform he wore, from the time he began military training at the age of fourteen, to the very unsatisfactory conclusion of the recent war. Bushido, the code of the samurai warrior. One wins or dies. One does not lose and live to speak of it, or surrender. He watched in anguish as his Emperor was forced to humiliate himself in surrender to the Americans. Now, he would regain his Emperor's honor and the honor of his family. And the Americans would get a taste of the anguish his country had been subjected to seven years ago. He smiled; we'll blow them up with their own bomb, a bomb that they meant to use on Japan. It was a fitting, poetic justice.
The Japanese people would not understand or approve this mission, he knew. They were not samurai, like he was. They did not live by the same warrior's code. They were exhausted of war, tired, hurting from the multitude of deaths that the late war had brought upon them. They just wanted peace; a peace in which to raise their children, to work their jobs, to live their lives, to rebuild their country and attain a little prosperity. That is why this mission fell to the military elite, like him. To those who still believed. The restoration of honor – it was a concept beyond the pale of most of his countrymen.
With that thought still in his mind, he lay down on his bunk to get some rest.
On the deck of the bridge, the young ship's captain watched closely as his ship nosed out to sea. When the channel was cleared, they would turn west and head into the Mediterranean Sea. He looked around at his aging, rusting surroundings, and he wondered if this ship would even weather the trip across the Mediterranean, then across the Atlantic Ocean. It was a sad ship, fit only for hops between the Aegean islands, or between Turkey and Egypt, or along the coast of Syria or Israel, but it would have to do. The Americans had sunk the considerable Japanese merchant fleet almost to the last ship in the recent war. This one, they had bought from a shady Turkish owner in Istanbul. He'd even provided the false papers necessary for them to sail, and there was still some cargo in the hold. He didn't know what it was; it really didn't matter. All that did matter was...the bomb.
The gods work in puzzling ways, the captain decided. Here he was, a decorated former officer of the Imperial Japanese Navy, and his final, glorious battle would be waged not from the bridge of a sleek destroyer, but in a ragged tramp freighter. He watched the end of the channel approach, and issued orders to turn west when they could. Then, he gave a thought about the two American prisoners they had locked in the hold with the bomb. He should send them some more tea and render to them what medical comfort he could. The general had them beaten, after all.
The captain snorted in contempt. Beating prisoners! It was dishonorable. He was a naval officer; they did not do such things. But the general was army. They were savages, the army. What else should one expect of them? He rang the galley on the telephone and requested that the cook deliver another pot of tea to the prisoners.
Jan leaned against a crate as she surveyed her work. Oh, yeah. This would do it. She had piled up a semicircle of rice bags to shoulder-high as protection against the coming fireworks in the hold. Behind the rice bags, she'd laid out eight panzerfausts, ready to be used. “Hey, Jeff! You done yet?” she called.
“Yeah.” He was unrolling a spool of wire across the hold, and ducked behind the rice bags. “It's set. When they open the door, we touch this wire to the battery. It'll flame anybody coming through the door.”
“Great. Get ready. When I start pounding the side of this hull with these things, they're all gonna be coming down here.” She handed him a life jacket. “Put this on. As this hold fills with water, we'll shin up the ladder to the main deck.”
Jeff looked up. A thin metal ladder led to the top of the hold, to the closed cover over it. Above the ladder was a hatch. “Okay, then. Are you ready for this?”
“I was born ready,” Jan said.
Jan was alive with anticipation; she almost vibrated, she was so wired. What a gal, Jeff thought. She has no fear. He held out a hand. “Just in case... it's been an honor knowing you.”
She grasped the hand. “Same here, Jeff Gottfried. But we're going to get out of this. You'll see.” She lifted a panzerfaust to her shoulder and flipped up the sight. “Don't stand behind me when I shoot these things. You'll get fried.”
“Don't worry. I'll be watching the door.”
“Okay. Heads down.” With that, she pressed the trigger on the panzerfaust, and it roared in reply.
The general's eyes flashed open. What was that? It almost sounded like an explosion. Very muffled, but an explosion. He rose. He heard it again, and again after that. He left his cabin and headed for the bridge. On the way, he'd counted at least six separate instances of the noise.
On the bridge, the captain was on the telephone. “What is that noise?” the general asked.
“I don't know, sir,” the captain replied. “I'm on the phone to the engine room. They say that all's well there. No problem.”
“Have you checked on the prisoners lately?”
“No, sir. The galley is making them some tea now, though.”
“I will see to the safety of the bomb. Keep me informed.” With that, the general left the bridge and sought out the galley. There, he stepped into the room and cast a glance around. At least eight of his men were there, relaxing and eating. “Arm yourselves and come with me,” he barked.
Down the corridor he strode, down the ladder to the lower decks, as his men ran to catch up with him. He stopped outside the door to the hold and pointed to the dogging wheel. As he stepped aside, one of his men beat on the handle with his rifle butt to loosen it, then spun it open. He pushed the door back, and his men began crowding through the door. A second later, a tremendous flash and roar of flame engulfed the door and the men. Several began screaming and beating the flames on their clothing.
From her place inside the hold, Jan saw that. She had shouldered one of the last two panzerfausts. Instead of aiming it toward the hull, she aimed it at the door and pressed the trigger. A second later, a tremendous bang enveloped the door in smoke. She discarded the spent pipe and lifted the last one. That one went through the open door and exploded in the hallway.
The general slowly regained consciousness. He sat up in the hallway; his clothing was smouldering, and his ears rang from the concussion of near explosions. He sniffed the air; it was a very familiar smell. Then, he recognized it: cordite. He looked around him, and he was shocked. His men were scattered about him, and many were mangled and burning. In the wall next to the door, a jagged hole had appeared, big enough to accommodate his arm. Another one was in the bulkhead, several feet away. What had happened? He crawled toward the door, and only then realized that he was in a foot of seawater. It was pouring through the door. He peered into the hold and was horrified at what he saw. From at least half a dozen holes in the hull plating, jets of seawater shot into the hold. The water was filling the hold and lapping around the base of the bomb. What could have done this?
Inside the hold, Jan threw down the last spent panzerfaust tube. “Let's get the hell out of here,” she yelled. She and Jeff waded to the ladder, climbed it, and pushed on the hatch. It cracked open, and she peeked through it.
Around her, on the main deck, she saw activity. “We're going to have to make a run for it when it's clear,” she said. “Let's head for the lifeboats, aft.”
She waited a minute, then lifted the hatch again and peered out. Immediately, a crewman began shouting and pointing toward her. She slammed the hatch and locked it. “Damn,” she said. “They saw us.”
“Let's go out by the front door,” Jeff said.
They descended the ladder and waded through the hold. The water was now knee-high and getting higher. When they stepped through the door, blackened by the cordite and the panzerfaust explosions, Jan was shocked by the number of casualties littering the water around her legs. Some were burned; some were riddled with shrapnel holes. She turned to her right, and she stopped.
In front of her, the general was kneeling in the water. He looked up at her, and she could see that he was still dazed from the explosions. His shirt was smouldering, and his hair and moustache were singed. He attempted to stand and face her.
Jan waited until he was halfway up, then slugged him hard. He spun, fell against the wall, and slid down into the water, up to his chest. She watched him wilt. “Asshole,” she said. Then, she waded through the water toward the ladder leading to the main deck.
Jeff followed. “Man,” he said. “I should have majored in archeology. It looks to be a lot more fun than physics.”
“It's okay for outdoor work,” Jan replied. She halted and felt her head. “Hell, I lost my hat. I've got to go back for it.”
Jeff held it out to her. “I picked it up on the way out.”
She lifted it from his hand. “Gee thanks, pal!” she said. She wrung it out and slapped it on her head. “Okay. Now let's get off this tub.”
They passed the crew's galley, but there was no one there. A moment later, they emerged onto the main deck and hid behind a large fire-hose locker. “What now?” Jeff asked.
“Now, we wait until the Spam hits the fan, and we make a run for a lifeboat.”
On the bridge, the captain picked up the telephone and listened. A moment later, he said, “Sound the fire alarm. There's smoke coming from the lower decks. I will check.” He left the bridge and headed down ladders to the lower deck. When he descended the last ladder, he saw smoke, floating bodies, and waist-deep water. The sight horrified him.
He waded into the water and approached the hold. The bomb was there, with water lapping around its sides. Geysers of seawater shot into the air through the hull. His two prisoners were nowhere to be seen. He was speechless. He waded back to the hall outside the hold's door, and looked at the bodies floating in the water. Among them, he saw the general, and the general appeared either dead or unconscious. This was his mission now; he would assume command.
He climbed the ladders, found the bridge, and hurried inside. “We're taking seawater,” he said. “We're returning to Fira. Close all the watertight doors.”
He looked at his junior officer. “What?”
“There's a warship off the starboard beam. We're being hailed on the radio.”
The captain blinked in shock. “What?” He snatched the binoculars from his subordinate's hand and looked. Slowly, he lowered them. The sight had transported him back in time ten years. He almost felt as if he were in the war again.
“Do you recognize it, sir?”
“Yes,” the captain said. “It's American. A Fletcher-class destroyer. What do they want with us?”
“I don't know, sir. I don't speak English.”
The captain walked the few steps to the cramped little radio room and listened to the speaker. He lifted the microphone from the radioman's hand and said in English, “This is Kyoto Maru. Who is hailing us?”
“This is the United States destroyer Nicholas , off your starboard beam. Heave to and prepare to be boarded. If you do not comply, we will sink you.”
The captain keyed his microphone and said, “This is piracy. An act of war. We are on the high seas. You have no right. We will not comply. I will lodge a most severe protest.”
“Protest all you wish,” the voice replied. “The order stands. Be boarded or be sunk.”
The captain heard the dull boom of a naval gun, and a moment later, a shriek. A geyser of water sprayed into the air just ahead of them.
He gazed down from the bridge of the freighter. On the main deck, it was bedlam. Crewmen were running all over the ship, shouting, slamming watertight doors, and unreeling fire hoses. In the distance, a warship hovered with the intention of boarding him or sinking him. He could not allow the boarding; the bomb would be discovered. He could not threaten to kill the hostage; the hostage was missing. He could either return to Fira – if he could make it – or...
He opened a drawer and lifted a pistol from it. He looked at the pistol for a moment, then tucked it into his belt.
“Captain? What are your orders?” his subordinate asked.
“Tell the engine room to give me all the power they have,” he said. “Then, I will personally take the helm. You and the crew may abandon ship.”
“Yes, sir.” The junior officer picked up the telephone and rang the engine room. When the captain felt the rumble of engines beneath the deck increase, he nudged the helmsman aside, took the ship's wheel, and turned his bow toward the warship.
“Now's the time. That lifeboat, there.” Jan ran toward the boat, hanging from its davits, and Jeff followed. “Crank that crank,” she said. “We'll lower this thing.”
“Where? How?” Jeff shouted.
“Watch me.” Jan began cranking, and the bow of the lifeboat lowered. Jeff caught on quickly, and with some frantic grinding of winches, they soon had the lifeboat almost to the water. Waves from the side of the ship lapped at the boat, and bounced it against the side of the ship.
Jan opened a locker and hefted a rope ladder over the side. It fell and unfurled, and it dangled above the lifeboat. Jeff pushed her toward the ladder. “Go on,” he said. “Ladies first.”
“What the hell?” Jan said. She was looking toward the bow of the ship. Ahead of them, in the distance, was the outline of a warship. A puff of smoke issued from its bow gun turret, and a second later, a shriek cut the air. A plume of water rose near them.
“Holy cow!” Jeff said. “It looks like we're in a war.”
“And this tub is heading right for them, at full speed. That's suicide!”
“That's what this is all about, right?”
The gun puffed smoke again, and a distant bang sounded. The shriek was louder this time, and Jan and Jeff were knocked to the deck when the shell tore into the bow of the freighter. The ship lurched, smoke and flames rose, and voices screamed. Jan rose and grasped the ladder, and Jeff yanked her away from the railing. A second later, the blade of a samurai sword tore a chunk of wood from the railing. They backed up and stared.
The general stood before them. In one hand, he held the scabbard of his sword. In the other, he held the sword with the deadly blade bared. He was wet, singed, bloody, and his face was puffed where Jan had struck him. He mumbled something, but words were not necessary; his eyes glared hatred. He would not accomplish his mission for the Emperor, but he would kill his enemy. He dropped the scabbard, held the handle of the sword with both hands, and stepped forward – very unsteadily, as it seemed to Jan. As she backed away from him, she reached into her pocket and slid her fingers through the holes in her brass knuckles. Covington, she thought, you're an idiot to bring knucks to a sword fight. What you need is a gun.
The general swung the sword, and the tip of its blade hissed past Jan's chest. Bits of cork flew out of her life jacket. She retreated to a metal upright beam and tried to keep it between herself and the general. She dodged back and forth behind it, and he attempted to match her moves. Fear filled her, as she knew that this deadly dance would not last long. Eventually, he would get his opportunity and take his swipe at her. And, dazed as he was, he very possibly would score a hit. One was all he needed. “Jeff!” she shouted. “Do something.”
Over the general's shoulder, she saw the warship. The deck gun puffed smoke again, and an ear-splitting shriek sounded. A second later, the bridge exploded. Jan was knocked to the deck hard, and she scrambled to her feet. She stopped when she saw the general in front of her, on his hands and knees. He seemed disoriented, and searched about the deck for his samurai sword. He reached across the deck, first this way, then that, seeking his weapon. He stopped when the blade of the sword touched his shoulder and brushed his cheek, and Jeff spoke.
“Are you looking for this?”
Jan saw Jeff standing behind the general, holding the man's sword. The general stopped, contemplated the blade, then sat back on his haunches, as if he was in a tea house. For a moment, he just sat so; then, he looked at Jan.
“I should have executed you,” he said. He turned his head toward Jeff. “And I should have befriended you.” His hand flashed from his pocket, and he pressed a pistol against his temple. He pulled the trigger, and a bang sounded. A moment later, the general lay dead on the deck, as a trickle of blood wound its way down the side of his face.
Jeff looked down at him. “Damn,” was all he was able to say.
Jan looked up. “Get down!” she shouted. As she and Jeff pressed themselves against the deck, a shriek sounded, and the forward deck ripped apart. Bits of wood and metal rained down around them, and when the rain stopped, Jan sprinted to the rope ladder. She was halfway down before she saw Jeff follow her. He had the sword, safely in its scabbard, in one hand as he climbed down the ladder.
They dropped to the lifeboat and clung to its canvas cover as it bounced against the ship's hull and splashed in the water. Jan gripped handfuls of canvas and crawled toward the boat's bow, intent on releasing it from its block and tackle. She fought the metal shackle, but it was rusted shut. “We've got to get this boat free, Jeff. Help me out here.”
“Yeah. Hang on.” The sword sliced through the ropes above her head, and she gripped the canvas as the boat fell into the water and floated away from the side of the freighter. The rusty hull of the ship ground past them and finally left them behind, as it propellers churned the sea and pushed the freighter ever onward toward its final destiny.
They worked fast; in a moment, they had pulled the canvas cover from the lifeboat and dropped it into the sea. Beneath them, they discovered several sets of oars, a mast and sail, and a box of emergency supplies. At Jan's urging, they raised the mast and sail, oriented it to the wind, and swung the tiller. The lifeboat pointed toward the distant smudges of land to their east as the freighter made its suicide run against a warship.
Jan glanced behind them; both ships were in the distance now, and the freighter was low in the water and belching black smoke from its funnel and its decks. It had lost most of its speed. Some figures were abandoning ship, jumping into the water, and attempting to lower life-boats. And all the while, the warship leisurely pounded the freighter into a mass of twisted metal.
It was some time before the Kyoto Maru finally slipped beneath the water. It did not go down bow first, a sight which caused Jeff a deep sigh of relief. As the last of it disappeared beneath the water, all that remained was a litter of floating objects. Occasionally, Jan could barely make out a head bobbing, or a body clinging to a large piece of wreckage.
She discarded her life jacket and sat back with an arm on the tiller. She looked up, tugged on a rope to adjust the sail, and pointed at the box of emergency supplies. “What's to eat?” she asked. “I'm so hungry my belly button's rubbing my backbone.”
“Man, you can think of food at a time like this?” Jeff said.
“No better time.”
Jeff thought it over, shrugged in agreement, and opened the box. “Let's see,” he said. He held up a can. “You read Arabic?”
He opened the can, poured a little into the palm of his hand, and said, “Water.” He handed it to Jan, opened another one for himself, and kept digging. “Okay. Flare gun and flares, crackers, water, and what's this? A map and a compass.”
Jan smiled at that. “Look at it,” she said, “and tell me where we are.”
Jeff seemed happy to have something to engage his mind. He unfolded the chart and studied it, looking south, then north, then east and west. He studied the compass. Finally, he said, “Okay. I think I got it. Big-ass islands to the north, little island to the south, and those islands to our east – where we're headed now – that one there is Thera.”
He squinted at the map. “Oh, maybe twenty miles, give or take.”
Jan looked over the gunwale, at the water sluicing by the hull. “We're going maybe three or four knots. At that rate – ”
“Five, six hours,” Jeff said. “Another hour to the harbor.”
“Damn, you figured that one quickly.”
“Math is the language of physics,” Jeff said. He sat back and sipped his water. “So,” he said, “why did you choose archeology?”
Jan smiled at the memories that the question stirred in her mind. “My dad was an archeologist. I spent my happiest childhood moments digging in the dirt right beside him. Dirty hands and dirty knees, that was me. I was probably seven, eight when I discovered this amphora – a big jug decorated with artwork. I dug that right out of the dirt where it had laid for twenty-five hundred years. I was hooked from that moment on. Doin' anything else for a life's work was never a question for me.”
“So what did you win the Nobel Prize for?”
“Mel and I shared it. We found and excavated Sappho's home on Lesbos Island. Found a whole shit-load of her poetry. Mel translated it – she's a master at classical Greek – and scholars all over the western world were shittin' themselves over it. Y'see, people had been looking for her works for a couple of centuries. Everybody figured they were all lost. I dug ‘em up, and Mel translated them.” Jan tugged on the rope controlling the sail, then added, “I really think that it was Mel's translations that got us that prize. She's a genius with that stuff. Her work is poetry of the first order.”
Jeff said, “May I ask you a personal question?”
“Yeah, sure. What?”
“You and Mel – well, you two are an item, right?”
Jan smiled. “Yeah. We are. Twelve years now.”
“You're a lucky girl.”
“Tell me about it. I spend every day just tryin' to be worthy of her.”
Jeff laughed. At Jan's raised eyebrow, he said, “It's just my luck. Here I am, stuck on a lifeboat in the middle of the Mediterranean with a cute blonde, and she's a lesbian.”
Jan cracked up. “Well,”she said, “look on the bright side. When we get home and you swear to Natassa that nothing happened between us on this boat, she just might believe you.”
Jeff seemed puzzled. “Do you think she'll ask?”
“Oh, yeah.” Jan nodded. “She'll ask. Trust me.”
“Why would she ask?”
Jan smiled at that. “Because she's crazy about you.”
“She is? How do you know?”
“Trust me. I know women.” She shot him a twinkling glance. “I am one.”
Jeff puffed up. “Wow. She's really crazy about me, huh?”
“Yeah. Nice kid, too. Sweet gal. I'd hang onto that one, if I were you.”
A flash of light brightened the bow of the life-boat, and Alais appeared. She perched demurely on the front seat and smiled at Jeff. “I agree with Jan,” she said. “And I like to think that I know a thing or two about romance.”
Jeff managed to close his mouth, and recovered his voice. “What the hell? Where'd you come from? Wait a minute. I met you – you're...”
“Yes. I am Alais, Jan's step-mother and Palo's half-sister.”
“That explains the flashy appearing-and-disappearing stuff, huh? And you're married to Jan's dad? Man, I should have had a step-mother like you.”
Alais smiled at the compliment. Then, she eyed the two passengers with a narrowed eye. “You both are injured. What happened?”
“We got our butts whipped,” Jan said.
“Coming from you, that's quite an admission,” Alais said. To Jeff, she added, “Jan rarely admits to losing a fight, you know.”
“In her defense – and mine – there were about six of ‘em. With rifles.”
“I see. Allow me to help.” She scooted toward the center of the boat, pulled a small, ornate pill box from her pocket, and offered Jan a piece of jelly-like substance. Jan swallowed it. Immediately, she was enveloped in a bright light. When it dissipated, she sat up.
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “I'm right with the world.”
“What's that?” Jeff asked, as Alais offered him a piece. He looked at it, sniffed it, examined it.
“I call it – ambrosia,” Alais said. “It's good for you.”
“What the hell. Down the hatch,” Jeff said. A moment later, he was enveloped in a glow. When it dissipated, he sat up and felt his ribs. “Man, I don't hurt anymore. I feel like a million bucks. What the heck was that?”
“Ambrosia, Jeff. Food of the gods. Do you remember your Greek mythology?”
“You're kidding.” He looked at Jan. “You're not kidding. Holy crap.”
“In a manner of speaking,” Alais teased. She pocketed the pill box. “Now, is there anything else you need?”
“How's about a rescue?” Jan said.
“Now that I know where you are, I will arrange a boat. Or, I should say, Smitty will arrange a boat. He is very generous with expense money.”
“He'd better be,” Jan said.
“I will tell Mel that you're well. She was beside herself with worry.” Alais leaned forward and adopted a conspiratorial air. “She almost called her mother.”
Jan rolled her eyes. “Damn,” she said. “She must have been worried.”
Alais turned to Jeff. “And I will tell Natassa that you are well. She will be most relieved.” She waved, a demure little wave, and disappeared in a flash of light.
Jeff pointed to the empty space where Alais had sat. “How does she...?”
He sat back, and they fell into silence. After a while, Jeff rummaged in his shirt pocket and produced a crumpled cigarette pack. He found two intact cigarettes, held them up, and raised an eyebrow in question. Jan nodded. He lit them and handed one to Jan.
“Thanks,” she said, as she accepted it. “Don't tell Mel. She'll kill me.”
“Gee, Jan. You're afraid of Mel? I thought nothing scared you.”
Jan laughed. “Are you kidding? That's the only thing that does scare me.”
Jeff smiled at that one. He said, “Smitty works for the government, doesn't he?”
“Yeah. CIA. He's a spy type.”
“I can't to back to America, Jan. They'll throw me back in the slammer, and I'll die in there.”
“Y'know, if I was looking for a place to get permanently lost with a pretty Greek gal, Thera would be a really nice place to do that.” Jan looked out over the sea, then at the sky. Then, she said, “As far as I'm concerned, Jeff Gottfried went down with the ship and the bomb.” She cracked a grin. “And let me handle Smitty. We go back a ways. He'll listen to me.”
“Thanks, Jan. You're a pal.”
In reply, she winked at him. “Hey,” she said. “What can I say? I'm just a sucker for a love story.”
Jan sat in the sun on the patio outside her suite at Hotel Aphrodite, reading a magazine, her bare feet propped up on a chair, her aviator sunglasses shading her eyes. When she heard a tapping at the door, she rose and answered it. Candy and Smitty walked in. “Where's Mel?” Candy asked.
“She's taking a nap. Can I buy you guys a drink at the outside bar?”
“Always,” Smitty said. Candy nodded. Jan pocketed her wallet, slipped her feet into sandals, and walked with them through the outside patios to the bar. They found a shaded table near the beach, and they ordered drinks. Then, Jan pulled her sunglasses from her face and studied Smitty.
“You look recovered from your run-in with Palo,” Jan said.
“Yeah. That Alais, she's a miracle-worker. Your dad's a lucky bum.”
“Always has been.”
Jan paid for the drinks and sipped her ouzo. “So,” she said, “what's the official verdict on the mission?”
Smitty grinned. “The bomb is at the bottom of the Mediterranean. It's safe there. That wasn't our first choice, though. And it's a real shame about Jeff, going down with the ship. He's presumed dead. I was supposed to return him to prison. I guess I can't do that now.”
Candy nodded. “That's what my report to MI-6 will read, as well.”
“Yeah,” Smitty said. “I really blew this mission. No bomb, no Jeff, a dead recovery team, a burned-up truck. My superiors are really pissed.”
“Are you in trouble?” Jan asked. “Going to Alaska to shovel moose poop, I think you said?”
“Worse. Some hellish little backwater in Asia, to help set up a CIA station there. You've probably never heard of it. French Indochina?”
Candy said, “They call it ‘Vietnam' there.” She waved a hand in dismissal. “Don't worry. Nothing of any importance to you Yanks will ever happen there.” She saw his long face and said, “Oh, Smitty. You'll do fine. The women are beautiful and the upper classes speak French.”
“Yeah, and they've got monsoons, malaria, and mosquitos the size of bats, too.”
Jan laughed. “Sorry, Smitty. You're a survivor, though. What about you, Candy?”
“Since I speak Greek, MI-6 will keep me around Athens, I suppose.”
“What about Palo?” Jan asked.
Candy smiled. “Stavros? Oh, I'll wait until he's off gallivanting somewhere, pack my suitcase, leave him a ‘dear John' letter, and fade into the sunset. He won't miss me. To him, I'm just another girl. And with his looks and persuasiveness, it won't be a minute before he has another ‘assistant'.”
“Yeah, that's him, all right.”
“Heard from your father and Alais?” Smitty asked.
“They're on their way home.” Jan eyed Smitty. “With a fat paycheck from the CIA, I understand.”
“Jeff and Natassa, too,” Candy echoed. “Between Palo and Smitty, they got paid enough to steal away together for good. I must say, you Yanks at CIA throw money around like a politician in a brothel. You must have a much more generous budget than we poor MI-6 lackeys do.”
Smitty laughed. “That's the nice thing about being a spy. The CIA budget is secret. Outside the agency, nobody knows how much money we throw around. Inside the agency, nobody cares.” He raised his glass. “To the American taxpayer. God love ‘em, they make it all possible.”
Candy and Jan raised their glasses. “Hear, hear!” they said in unison, as the rims clinked together.
Smitty said, “Jan? What's next for you?”
In reply, Jan dug into the pocket of her shorts and dropped a coin on the table. “Recognize that?” she asked.
Smitty and Candy examined it. “No,” they both said.
“I don't, either. I think the profile is Poseidon's face. The lettering is old Greek. I found it in the tunnels. Yeah, Atlantis was here. I can feel it in my bones.” She smiled. “I smell an archeological dig on Thera sometime in the next couple of years. Sooner, if I get fired from my professorship.”
“Do you think you will?” Smitty asked.
Jan merely shrugged in reply. “After that McCarthy hearing? Who knows? The world's gone crazy, if you ask me.”
Once more, Candy and Smitty held up their glasses. “I'll drink to that one,” Candy said, as their glasses clinked together.
The night breeze stirred the curtains and cooled the room, in counterpoint to Mel's soft snore. Jan smiled as she studied Mel's face in the dim light; she always seemed angelic when sleeping, and she was sleeping so well now.
She rose from the bed and tiptoed to the bathroom, where she closed the door, clicked on the light, and washed her face in the sink. She was having trouble sleeping, and she did not know why. As she looked into the mirror and watched the water drip from her face, she saw a flash of light behind her. She turned, snatched a bath towel from a hook, and held it to her body. “Damn it, Ares!” she said. “Can't you knock on the door like everybody else?”
“I'm not everybody else,” he said.
“And what are you doing in my bathroom in the middle of the night? In case you hadn't noticed, I'm naked.”
Palo smiled. “Yeah. I had noticed. Wow, you really are a blonde, aren't you?”
Jan huffed and rearranged the towel to cover her torso more completely. “What do you want, Ares? And quit eyeballing my tits, damn it.”
“Then cover ‘em up.”
Jan moved the bath towel higher. “I repeat the question.”
“What I want,” Palo said, “is to thank you. You and Jeff did me a big favor, squirt.”
“What are you talkin' about?”
“Look, you two put that bomb at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. It's deep enough that you mortals can't get to it, but I can. It's got maybe a hundred and forty pounds of high-grade uranium that I can salvage and sell. The Russians have already made me a good offer for it.”
“The Russians? They'll put it in a bomb and point it at us. Besides, I thought you wanted to sell to the little guys,” Jan said. “An even playing field, and all that?”
Palo stroked his chin as he thought. “Yeah,” he said. “Let's see...the Brits already have an atom bomb. Hey, I know. The Israelis are looking for some bomb-grade uranium.” He smiled. “Thanks, squirt.”
“Don't mention it.” She cocked an eyebrow at him. “So, is there anything else...?”
“Yeah. I wanted to show my appreciation. Here's a little token of it.” He pointed to the sink behind Jan, and a stack of American money appeared by her hip. Jan looked down; the bills were hundred-dollar bills. “Five thousand bucks American. Split it with Jeff.” He shrugged. “Or don't. I won't tell him if you don't.”
“Thanks, Palo. Y'know, sometimes you can be a really decent guy.”
“Not a problem. I'm a businessman, blondie. I keep my word.”
They stood in the bathroom for a long, silent moment, facing each other. Finally, Jan said, “Is there something else you want?”
“Um...” Palo suddenly seemed shy, uncertain, almost adolescent in his manner. “I was wondering...can I have another peek...?”
“Get out of my bathroom, you pervert.”
“Hey! I just dropped five thousand bucks in your lap, Covington. One little peek. You'll make my day.”
Jan studied the money, then shot a hard glance at Palo's face. He was displaying his most innocent, hopeful look. She said, “If I do, will you get out of my bathroom?”
“I promise, half-pint. Scout's honor. I'll go quietly.”
She rolled her eyes in exasperation. “Okay. Just for a few seconds.” She lifted the towel away from her body, and Palo's expression was beaming. After several seconds, she covered herself again. “Happy now?”
“Blondie, you're a good sport and a work of art.”
“Now get lost, will ya?”
“Okay, okay. Jeez.” Palo disappeared, and left Jan alone in the bathroom.
She shook her head. Boys will be boys, whether they're fifteen years old or several thousand years old. She picked up the stack of bills with one hand as she hung up the towel with her other hand. Just before she clicked off the lights, she stopped. “Palo, you're still here, aren't you? I know you are.”
“Damn, Covington. How did you figure that one out?”
“I know you! And I didn't see a flash of light when you disappeared. Now beat it, you perv!”
“Okay, okay. Hey, I was just reminiscing. Y'know, you look exactly like your ancestor, right down to the dimples on your – ”
“What? You saw Gabrielle like this? Man, wait until I tell her. She's gonna be so pissed off at you.”
“What, me? Naw, man. I didn't... Nope. Uh-uh. Not me. I never... Oh, crap. Hey, ol' buddy. She doesn't have to know, right? I mean, you know how she and Xena get with those tempers of theirs. Heh, heh...this is just between you and me, right? Oh, man. Come on, Covington. Be a sport and don't tattle on your ol' buddy.”
“If you get the hell out of my bathroom right now, Ares!”
“Oh, all right.”
“And you better not be peeping when Mel and I are – !”
“Hey! Give me a little credit, Covington. Even I wouldn't stoop that low. I do have a few principles left, y'know. Hmm. Although that's not a bad idea...”
“Oh, Gabrielle? Are you there, Gabrielle? Boy, have I got some news for you!”
“Okay, okay. I'm gone. Sheesh!” A flash of light lit the bathroom. Jan smiled as she clicked off the light and headed to bed.
She sat on the side of the bed, placed the stack of bills on the bedside table, and contemplated it for a moment. Behind her, she heard the rustle of sheets, and Mel spoke to her in that soft, dreamy, half-awake voice.
“Jan? Are you up? Can't you sleep?”
Jan turned toward her. “I just went to the can. Hey, Mel. Guess what?”
“We're twenty-five hundred dollars richer than we were a few minutes ago.”
Mel's eyes flashed open. “How did that happen? Did I mess up the checkbook again?”
Jan laughed. “No. I just talked to Ares. He was very appreciative that Jeff and I sent the bomb to the bottom of the sea. He coughed up five big ones for us to split.”
Mel studied Jan. “You just – ? Where was this?”
“In the bathroom, just now.”
“Jan, you're naked.” Mel sat bolt upright in bed. “He saw you naked in there, didn't he?”
“Well, yeah. Just for a minute. Hey, I covered up.” She pointed at the stack of money on the table. “Five big ones, Mel. It's half ours.”
“Well...” Mel studied the money, then looked at Jan.
“See? No big thing.”
“Oh, no! You most certainly are not off the hook that easily! Janice Covington, I can't believe that you let Ares, of all people, see you naked. Ares! I'm shocked at you, flaunting your goodies in front of him for money like some two-bit floozie! You should be ashamed.”
“Aw, Mel. It wasn't that big a deal.”
“Not that big a deal? Ares, of all people! Ares? My word, Jan! You shameless little hussy! I am really angry with you. And don't give me those big puppy-dog eyes of yours. You know that I can't... stay mad... at you when you...give me those big, sad... puppy-dog eyes... Oh, forget it.” She fell backward, into her pillows. “Come to bed, you shameless little hussy.”
Jan leaned down and kissed Mel's forehead. “Yeah, but I'm your hussy.”
“You'd better be. Now come here and sleep with me.”
Jan wormed into her favorite place next to Mel, beneath the covers. “G'night, gorgeous. Love you.”
“Good night...you brazen, shameless little hussy. Love you, too... I suppose.”
“So,” Jan asked. “Do you forgive me?”
“I most certainly do not,” Mel said.
“Aw, come on, Mel.”
Jan sighed. “Okay. What do I need to do?”
“Well... you might start by kissing me good-night.”
“You got it, gorgeous. Pucker up.”
After a long period of silence, Mel gasped, “Jan! Oh, my goodness. That wasn't a good-night kiss, that was – that was foreplay!”
“You didn't like it?”
“I know.” Mel snickered. “I can never fool you, can I?”
“Nope. Hey, Mel. Did we make love tonight?”
“You don't remember? We most certainly did, little Miss Forgetful!”
“Want to do it again?”
“What? Why not?”
“I'm still very angry with you.”
Jan snuggled closer to Mel and ran her hand down Mel's abdomen, toward her pelvis. “How about now? Still mad?”
“Yes. Um, Jan? What are you doing?”
“That's a rhetorical question, right?”
“Oh, my. Ahem. Jan? My word, you certainly have a magic touch, don't you?”
“Yes...but I'm becoming a little less so.”
“How about now?”
“Oh, my. Umm. A little less.”
“Now... even less... and less...”
“Oh. Um. Huh?”
Jan snickered. “Right.”
“Yes...I'm...still...mad...oh! Oh! Oh!” Mel sighed. “My goodness, that one certainly snuck up on me. And you have not lost your touch, have you?”
“I aim to please.”
“Mm. You do please, and your aim is very good.”
“So, Mel. Are you still mad at me?”
Jan laughed. “That's what I like to hear. Good-night, gorgeous.”
“Good night... you shameless little hussy. Flaunting your goodies in front of Ares. Huh!”
“I'm never going to live that one down, am I?”
“Nope,” Mel said. “Hussy.”
Jan snickered. “Yes, I am, and you're stuck with me. For-ev-er!”
“Mm. And that, Jan, is a very nice thing to know.”
–djb, August, 2013.
Author's notes: Okay, I had to bend the truth a lot for this one. Just to set the record straight: there were two bombs shipped to Tinian Island, not three, and their names were ‘Fat Man' and ‘Little Boy'. (Supposedly, ‘Fat Man' was named after the bad guy in the 1941 movie The Maltese Falcon .) There were a whole team of scientists on Tinian Island, not just one, and the bombs were armed in flight to the target (seems that those heavily-loaded bombers sometimes crashed on take-off). The fictional bomb ‘Larry' was identical in design to ‘Little Boy', and the description of the workings was right from historical accounts, as was the description of the carnage and horror it wreaked.
Santorini, or Thera, got fudged a little in description, too, to make the story go better. I don't know what it was like in 1952 before the modern tourism industry blossomed there, but today, it seems a beautiful place. It's sure on my list of ‘Neat!'
The McCarthy hearings were a shameful chapter in American history. Many people were ruined professionally or personally by allegations of communist sympathies, or by being publicly outed for being gay. Hollywood and university faculties were particularly hard-hit by this manifestation of the ‘Red Scare' and homophobia. Eventually, McCarthy fell into disgrace and censure for his methods and died of the effects of alcoholism, but not before he did a tremendous amount of damage to honorable people.
This story does build upon the previous ones in the series. Jan and Smitty are first together in the story A Bad Day in Algiers. Jan's dad, Harry Covington, and Alais (aka Aphrodite) met and fell in love during the story The Legend of Ambrosia . Alais' presence is first revealed in The Tears of a Goddess. And, of course, our two favorite gals meet and fall in love in the story The Slow Dance of Love.
I hope you enjoyed!
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