The Aegean Mystery
D. J. Belt
Copyright: The characters of Janice Covington, Melinda Pappas, Xena and Gabrielle belong to MCA/Universal or whomever owns them now. I don’t intend any profit from this story, so please don’t sue me. I haven’t got squat, anyway. The other characters are mine, as is the story itself.
Sex, violence, and other good stuff: Definitely ALT, as Mel and Jan are deeply in love. No graphic depictions of sex, though. Some violence, but not enough to freak you out.
Comments: As always, I thank all who have so graciously written over the years. Your kind words of support have kept me at it. If you feel moved to write, I’d love to hear from you! I can be reached at email@example.com . Many thanks to Mary A., who provided invaluable editorial help and moral support. Thank you, Mary!
Misc. bardic nonsense: You asked for it, you got it. Another episode in the saga of Mel and Jan. Our two favorite girls are at it again! This, I think, is the tenth story in the series. The other nine are, in chronological order:
1. A Valentine’s Day Story
2. The Tomb
3. The Tears of a Goddess
4. The Legacy of Britannia
5. A Bad Day in Algiers
6. The Riddle of Sappho’s End
7. The Legend of Ambrosia
8. A ‘Mel and Jan’ Halloween Story
9. Curse of the Rhinegold
This follows our girls from the years 1945 to 1950. As everyone knows, they met (and fell madly in love) on Jan’s dig in Macedonia in 1940. Subsequently, they spent the war years living together in America and began the adventures chronicled here when they were allowed to travel outside North America again, soon after the Second World War ended in 1945. Okay, enough mindless blathering on my part.
So without further ado, set your watch to the year 1950, grab your hot drink and your reading glasses and snuggle down for another adventure laced with humor and lots of loving affection. Mel and Jan are back! Hope you like it.
Melinda Pappas stirred in the dawn’s light, stretched luxuriously beneath the covers, then turned and looked to her right. She lifted her head from her pillow and considered Janice Covington’s face, a foot from her own. The woman was in slumber, the head of shoulder-length blonde hair disheveled, the eyes closed in restful repose, the breathing regular. The face seemed innocent and angelic, a contrast to the feisty, intelligent sparkle which was normally there. Melinda smiled as she watched her lover sleeping; it was one of her favorite things to do. She chuckled as she considered the sight, then wondered how someone who appeared so beautiful when she slept could look so rough when awakening. Eventually she sighed, rose from the bed and tiptoed into the bathroom.
When she returned, she lifted her robe from a chair, slipped it over her six-foot frame and pulled her hair, arranged in a long black pony-tail, aside to hang down in front of her shoulder. As she padded into the kitchen to start the day, she tied the robe’s sash loosely about her waist. The smell of percolating coffee soon filled the cottage, a delightful smell that Mel knew always brought Jan out of her hibernation. She was seated at the kitchen table, thumbing through a section of the morning newspaper when Jan predictably shuffled into the kitchen, bare feet slapping softly across the hardwood floor. Without looking up, Mel greeted her companion of ten years in a soft voice edged with a knowing familiarity.
“Coffee’s almost ready, darlin’. Come and sit.”
An unintelligible grunt was Janice’s only reply. Mel looked up from the paper and watched over the tops of her wire-rimmed glasses as Jan plopped down into a chair at the table, a bleary expression about her face, her normally wide hazel eyes squinted into slits and her hair hanging loosely about her face and shoulders. She was staring into space, her robe haphazardly pulled about her, seemingly oblivious to her careless state of undress.
Mel giggled, then noted in her cultured southern drawl, “Jan dear, you’re half naked.” After a second, she added, “Not that I mind particularly, you understand.”
Another unintelligible grunt was Jan’s only reply. Slowly, she looked down at herself, contemplated the disorder of her robe, then shrugged and sat silently. Mel smiled at the response, then placed the newspaper down on the table.
“Whatever shall I do with you? I know, you’re useless until your coffee. Well, you just sit. I’ll have it for you in a minute.” Another grunt answered her and Mel smiled indulgently at the response as she rose from the table. She poured two cups of coffee, added cream and sugar, then set one down in front of Jan. As she settled back into her chair, she watched her sleepy lover reach toward the steaming mug with shaky hands and raise it to her mouth. After a few sips, Jan’s eyes opened and she sat up in her chair, pulling her robe more tightly about her as she spoke her first words.
“Thanks, Mel. You’re a life saver.”
“You bet, cutie. Want some of the newspaper?”
“Huh?” Jan blinked a couple of times, slowly comprehending the question, then nodded. “Yeah, sure.”
Melinda pushed a section across the table. “Here’s the international news. It always depresses me.”
Jan attempted a joke. “What, so you want me to read it?”
Mel’s pleasant retort was teasing. “You always get antsy if you don’t.”
“I get grouchy if I do.” She lifted the section of newspaper from the table, opened it and glanced down at the headlines. As she rustled through the pages of the paper, she stopped and began studying an article in earnest. Mel knew from the stillness that Jan had found something of interest. After a moment, Jan spoke from behind the paper.
“Damn, Mel. Here’s an article about missing artifacts taken from European museums during the war.”
Mel rested her paper on her lap and looked across the table. All she could see were Jan’s two hands and the back of the paper. “Oh? Have they found some?”
“Yeah, but there’s a bunch still missing. Hey, I know this person.”
“What person, Jan?”
“The one they’re interviewing for this article. She’s an old classmate of mine.”
Mel couldn’t resist the urge to tease. She cooed, “She? An old lover, too? Mack told me about you in college.”
There was a momentary silence from behind the newspaper. Jan cleared her throat as she deftly dodged the question. “It says here that she’s part of a team searching for stolen artifacts. The Nazis pilfered some of the museums and hauled the stuff off during the war. They’re still looking for the relics.” After a moment’s more reading, she added, “They’re looking for the Nazis, too. It seems that some of the most notorious ones disappeared during the last days of the war.”
Mel sipped her coffee, then thought aloud, “They were probably afraid of getting put to death.”
Jan rested the newspaper in her lap. “I wonder if the artifacts and the Nazis went to the same place? Man, I’d love to solve that little mystery.”
Mel considered the bright twinkle in Jan’s formerly sleepy eyes and thought, how a mystery still excites you. You’ll be that way when you’re eighty, I rather imagine. Aloud, she said, “Jan, you’ve solved a lot of mysteries in your career. You should leave something for your colleagues.”
Jan leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table as she lifted her coffee mug. “Naw, Mel. That’s yesterday’s news. There’s always a good mystery out there just waiting to be solved. That’s what I love about archaeology.”
“And you so love to do it, don’t you?”
Jan replied with a question of her own. “Don’t you?”
Mel nodded, a broad smile creasing her exquisite features. “With you, I surely do.” She glanced up at the clock on the wall and urged, “Now, Jan, you’d better get going or your next mystery to solve will be how you’ll make your ten o’clock class on time.”
“Huh?” Janice glanced up at the wall clock, then rose from the table, taking her coffee mug with her. “Back to reality,” she grumbled. “Time to earn a living. I won’t be long in the shower, Mel.”
As Melinda raised her newspaper and adjusted the glasses perched on her nose, she said, “No hurry. I’ll shower after you leave.”
Jan’s face reappeared around the kitchen door. She wiggled her eyebrows lecherously, then asked, “Want to shower with me?”
Mel gave her a false glance of disapproval over the tops of her glasses, but her eyes were alight with laughter as she replied, “If I do, you’ll never make your ten o’clock class.”
Jan’s face disappeared around the door jamb, but her voice echoed in the hallway. “Oh, well. You can’t blame a girl for trying.”
Mel sipped her coffee, listening to the shower begin to run in the bathroom. When it did, she reached across the table and retrieved the section of newspaper that Jan was reading, opened it and scanned it until she found the article. She glanced down the column of newsprint, stopping at a name. Rachel Weingarten. So that’s Jan’s old college buddy. Mel considered the name for a moment, then chuckled as she thought, Jan certainly dodged my question, didn’t she? I wonder if they do have a history together. I’ll just bet that they do. After a moment’s contemplation, she decided, It doesn’t matter, I suppose. We really don’t discuss old lovers with each other. It’s best that way. She tossed the paper back on the table and returned her attention to her mug of coffee, humming a tune as she watched the arrival of summer from the window of the sunlit little kitchen.
After lecturing her ten o’clock class, Jan wound her way down the hall toward the Department of History and Archaeology. She stopped at the department secretary’s desk, sniffed the air at the pantry door nearby and asked, “Oh, boy. Is that fresh coffee that I smell?”
The secretary, a pert young woman with a perpetual grin of mischief on her face, looked up from her typewriter and grinned as she snapped the wad of chewing gum in her jaw. “Morning, Doc. Yeah, it’s ready.” After a pause, she added, “I knew that you were almost done with your class, so I made a fresh pot.”
Jan teased, “Virginia, you’ll spoil me. Whatever they’re paying you around here, it’s not enough.”
Virginia giggled, then threw Janice a flirtatious wink. “Tell me about it. I wish you’d put in a good word for me to the dean. I could use a raise.” She rose from her desk and sauntered into the little pantry, pulling a worn ceramic mug from the cabinet and pouring coffee into it.
Jan watched the hips sway beneath the almost-too-tight skirt as Virginia’s back was turned to her and thought, Man, if I could walk like that, my hips would be registered as a deadly weapon. Aloud, though, she just wondered, “Virginia, how come somebody rich hasn’t swept you off your feet yet?”
The secretary’s eyes twinkled in laughter as she returned to her desk and handed Jan the mug of coffee. “Because I’m holding out for a cute little archaeologist. Besides, I haven’t been propositioned yet.”
“Thanks for the coffee.” Jan raised an eyebrow in question. “Ah, don’t you mean, ‘proposed to’?”
Virginia laughed as she snapped her chewing gum. “You say ‘potato’, I say ‘po-tah-to’.” She waved a hand as she added, “Yeah, yeah. I know. You’re already very taken.” She sighed melodramatically, rolled her eyes, then continued her teasing. “Guess I’m just destined to be an old spinster, lonely and unloved.”
Jan laughed as she tucked her textbook and lecture notes under her arm. “Virginia, one thing you’ll never be is that.”
After watching Virginia respond with a sly grin, Jan turned, carefully balancing her coffee mug in her hand, and wandered down the hallway until she came to a scarred office door adorned with a placard which read, “J. Covington, Ph.D., Professor of Archaeology”. She noted the paper taped at eye level which listed her office hours, checked her wrist-watch to assure herself that she was on time, then unlocked the door and entered. She clicked the light on and settled back behind the worn wooden desk, contemplating the stack of mail staring back at her from her in-box. With a sigh, she lifted the envelopes out of the tray and flipped through them, a bored countenance across her features. She was actually a little relieved when there was a knock on the door, forcing her to interrupt her perusal of the mail. She looked up to see her old friend Mack MacKenzie leaning in her door and wearing his usual nonchalant grin. His necktie was loose, his suit-coat was missing, and his sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. Before she could greet him, he teased, “Hey, Jan. Got a minute, or is the Nobel Prize-winner too busy for an old buddy?”
Jan grinned in response to the teasing, then noted, “My, we’re casual today, aren’t we? You’d better not let the dean see you like that.”
Mack snickered. “He already caught me in the hallway and asked me where my coat was. Man, I feel like I’m in the army again.” He entered, his hands shoved into his trouser pockets, and noted Jan’s casual dress. She was leaning back in her office chair and was dressed in wide-legged slacks and a sweater, her shoes off, her sock-covered feet propped up on the corner of her desk. “How do you get away with dressing so casually around here?” he asked.
“I’ve got tenure now.” Jan pointed to the wall of her office. “Besides, that little gold coin up there lets me get away with murder, I’ve found.”
Mack glanced up at the wall of the cramped office. There, next to a deep wooden frame displaying one of Gabrielle’s scrolls, was a new frame. It proudly exhibited her Nobel Prize diploma, the actual medal displayed just above it. He observed, “You framed it. Nice, too.”
Jan explained, “Mel did that. She absolutely insisted that I hang it on my office wall.”
“That’s what office walls are for, Jan.”
“Yeah, yeah. That and a dime will get me a cup of coffee.” She pointed to a chair. “Sit down and take a load off. What’s up, ol’ buddy?”
Mack sat in one of the chairs, stretched his legs out in front of him, then explained, “Got a letter from Sallie today. You know, from that dig she’s on in Greece.”
“Yeah? How’s that going?” Jan thought of Sallie and smiled. The young woman was a former graduate student of Jan’s. Now, having attained her own degree in archaeology, she was hustling for work, her fiery energy and no-baloney Brooklyn accent endearing to all who met her. It had been especially endearing to Mack, for they had met on a dig which Jan had led four years previously and had eventually gotten married in Paris. Jan and Mel had been their witnesses at the civil ceremony.
“The dig’s not going well,” Mack said. “There’s politics involved. I think that the university that’s sponsoring it is pulling the funding. They’re folding up in about a month.”
Jan groaned, “Oh, man. Sorry to hear that. You were going out there after finals to help, weren’t you?”
“Yeah. Since I’m just a contract lecturer, I have the summer off. I was going to join her and earn a little money.” He shrugged in resignation. “Hey, it’s not a total loss. I’m still going out there.” He eyed Jan with an impish twinkle in his eye and asked, “You and Mel up for a little vacation?”
Jan perked up at the question and Mack’s expression. She knew Mack well, and that expression always preceded a very interesting proposition. “Hell, we sure could use one. What do you have in mind?” Mack pulled a folded paper from his pocket and tossed it onto Jan’s desk. She picked it up, unfolded it, and saw that it was a travel brochure for a resort located on one of the many Greek isles which dotted the Aegean Sea. “Looks nice,” she remarked.
Mack nodded. “Sallie’s seen it. She says it’s beautiful. It’s maybe a day’s sail away from Athens. You two up for it, do you think?”
“Looks expensive. Not real touristy, is it?”
“Naw. She says that you can only get there by boat. Movie stars and such love the place because it’s remote. Sallie says that the resort’s business is down lately, so they’ll give us a good rate.” Mack’s eyes twinkled as he added, “I figure the four of us can sail out there from Piraeus, if you’re game.”
A wide smile slowly creased Jan’s face as she perused the picture on the advertisement. “A sailing vacation in the Aegean? Hell, yes. Let me talk with Mel, though, and see how she feels about it. Can I borrow this?”
“Sure. Holler at me tomorrow. Sallie can make the reservations for us if you two are game.”
“I’ll sure work on Mel. She’s been antsy lately. I think she’s bored. I bet she’ll love this.”
Mack urged, “Should be fun. We haven’t sailed together, you and I, since college.”
Jan laughed. “You don’t have to sell me. I sure could use a vacation where I’m not digging in the dirt for two thousand year old trash.”
Mack nodded. “Spoken like an archaeologist. Talk to you tomorrow, ol’ buddy.” He rose and headed for the door, but stopped when Jan’s voice followed him.
“Hey, Mack. What are you doing tonight?”
He turned and shrugged. “Nothing. I figured that I’d catch a little bite at the diner down the street and turn in early.”
“Why don’t you join us for dinner? I’ll take Mel out to her favorite Italian restaurant. You can meet us there. Say, six o’clock?”
Mack brightened. “Great, I’m game. Thanks. See you two then.” At Jan’s pleasant nod, he walked through the door, stopped and looked back into the office. “Oh, Jan?”
She raised an eyebrow in anticipation. “Yeah?”
“Thanks for getting me this lecturing job this last year. Sallie and I were about broke.”
Jan smiled. “You guys would have done the same for Mel and me. Stick around. I’ll bet they’ll offer you Smythe’s place when he retires, maybe next year.”
Mack looked up and down the hall, laughing, then stuck his head back in the door and whispered, “Old Smythe? Hell, he’s going to die at his desk. He’ll never retire.”
At that, Jan grinned. “That’s not what he told me yesterday. See you at six.”
Mack blinked in surprise, then muttered, “Really? Neat.” With that and an expression of puzzlement, he left.
Jan watched him go, then lifted the receiver of the heavy black telephone sitting by her elbow and dialed a number. After listening for a moment, she said, “Hey gorgeous, it’s Jan. Don’t fix anything for dinner. I’m taking you out tonight to your favorite place. Boy, have I got a surprise for you.”
Two months later.
Jan stood on the stone wharves of Piraeus, her hands thrust into the pockets of her shorts, and peered over the rims of her sunglasses as the taxi pulled away behind her and disappeared in a cloud of greasy smoke.
“Damn, nice boat. How’d you swing this one, Mack?”
He looked up from his place on the deck, grinned, then pushed the baseball cap back on his head. “It belongs to the resort. An American movie star, no names mentioned, left it here last week. They need it back at the resort.”
Jan nodded approvingly as she scanned the lines of the sailing vessel. “Sweet. Thank Bogie for me, will ya?”
Mack’s face registered surprise. “How did you know who it was?”
Jan grinned. “Lucky guess. Are we stocked?”
Mack nodded. “Yeah, a day’s provisions and a full tank of gasoline. Come aboard, you two.”
Mel handed their two suitcases and a bag across the lifelines to Mack as Jan strolled along the wharf, studying the boat. It appeared to be about thirty-five feet in length and was rigged as a sloop, sporting a single, tall mast. A boom jutted horizontally toward the stern of the vessel, the mainsail neatly arranged along its top and tied at regular intervals. Another sail lay folded on the foredeck. The boat seemed well-kept, the countless yards of rope was in good repair and neatly coiled about the deck and it was clean. She noted the name displayed on the bow, the letters brightly painted. “J">4*4fJ0H”, it read in Greek. She said aloud, “‘Traveler’. I like it.” Her eyes trailed down to the large black-and-white eyes painted just below it, peering with seeming dispassion from the lines of the bow. It was a nice touch, she thought, one which heralded from the times of the ancient Greek mariners and symbolized a talisman which brought them safely home after their perilous travels through Poseidon’s realm. She wandered back to where Mel was carefully boarding, then asked, “Is Sallie here yet?”
At that, Sallie appeared from the companionway of the cabin, a pair of excitable dark eyes beneath a head of unruly brown curls, the slender, almost boyish figure clothed in a pair of shorts and a bathing suit top. She squealed in delight, then said, “Hey Jan! Hey, Mel! Gosh, it’s great to see you two again. Come on, get your butts aboard. We’re losin’ daylight here.”
Mack grinned. “That’s my Sallie.”
Jan snickered pleasantly, then boarded and was rewarded with an energetic hug from Sallie. In short order, their things were stowed and the four friends were bent over a chart spread out on the deck. Mack indicated a pencil line drawn on the chart as he thought aloud, “Here is our course, guys. I figure we can make this by dark, if the wind is good. If not, then we’ll arrive first thing tomorrow. We’ll leave Piraeus on a course south-west, following the coast of the island of Salamis, then strike out west-south-west across the open water of the Saronic Gulf toward this cluster of four smaller islands. The resort is on the northernmost of these last two here.”
Jan stood and gazed at the sky. “What is the weather forecast?”
Mack replied, “Couldn’t be better. High pressure just came in. The barometer has been rising. We expect moderate winds and pleasant seas all the way.”
Jan studied the sky. The heavens above her were a delightful shade of bright blue. Fluffy, widely scattered clouds dotted the sky and the breeze was warm and gentle. She took a deep breath, then looked down at the others. “Well,” she asked, “What are we waiting for?”
Forty-five minutes later, they were easing past the protective breakwater walls of the harbor at Piraeus, the boat’s gasoline motor humming smoothly. Mack had taken the first turn at the wheel. Jan had gathered Mel and Sallie at the base of the mainmast, awaiting Mack’s decision to turn the vessel into the wind and raise the mainsail. The boat encountered the open gulf and began to creak and rock as it rode the gentle swells. After a final look around, Mack nodded toward the mast, then eased the wheel into the wind. The boat’s bow, the long bowsprit jutting forward over the water, began its response and Jan loosed the coiled rope halyard at the mast, dropping the end on the deck at her feet. She waited until the bow was into the wind, then wrapped the rope around the winch at the mast’s base and shouted, “Mainsail’s coming up.”
Three sets of hands worked quickly. In no time, the sail was stretched to the top of the mast and was flapping and booming in the breeze. Mel tightened the sail’s tension with a few quick turns on the winch, then watched as Jan tied the halyard off to a polished brass cleat. The engine’s sound ceased and Mack eased the bow away from the wind. The sail billowed, then settled into a smooth curve as the deck tilted and the boat responded to the wind. Their speed began increasing and in the absence of the engine’s rumble, a quiet, soothing rush and splash of water sounded along the length of the hull.
Jan looked back toward the wheel and shouted, “Want the jib?” At Mack’s nod, she waved Mel and Sallie to the foredeck. In good time, the triangular white bow sail was hoisted, tightened snugly to the effect of the breeze and gave a considerable boost to the boat’s speed. The vessel took to the frothy blue and white sea like a thing alive and settled into a smooth, rocking rhythm as a low swell occasionally broke against the windward side of the hull and sent a spray of salty water into the air to pepper the deck and its crew.
The three women gathered on the windward side of the deck near the helm as Mack settled the boat onto its course paralleling the coast of the large island of Salamis. The air was warm and the weather could not have proven more accommodating for the trip. In short order, shoes were discarded in favor of bare feet, hats were either snugged down onto heads or abandoned and sunglasses became the order of the day. Conversation was intermittent as the four travelers basked in the warm Greek sun and seemed content to allow their senses to drink in the beauty of the day’s cruise.
As they were approaching the island of Salamis, Jan pointed and exclaimed, “There it is, Mel. See that narrow strait of water between the mainland and the island of Salamis? Right here is where it all happened. It must have been- ” She thought, then said, “Almost twenty-five hundred years ago.”
Both Mel and Sallie looked at Jan. “What’s that, dear?” Mel asked.
“The Battle of Salamis, you two. It’s only one of the most important events in the history of western civilization.” Jan began speaking with excitement, conjuring an impromptu lecture in Greek history for Sallie and Mel. “It was four-eighty BC. The Greeks met and defeated the Persians right there, in the narrows between the island and the mainland.”
Sallie nodded. “I remember studying it. The Persian fleet vastly outnumbered the Greeks, didn’t they?”
Jan continued, “Yeah. The Greeks knew that they couldn’t defeat them here in the open gulf. The Persian fleet was enormous. It would have simply engulfed them. So, the Greeks pretended to flee into the narrows over there, teasing the Persians into following them. Then, when the huge Persian fleet was jammed into the narrow strait, the Greeks attacked and annihilated them.” Her hand swung to her right, pointing toward the foothills of the mainland. “The Persian king sat right up there and watched the whole thing.”
Mel considered the scene, looking out over the blue water and the distant hills. She could almost feel the presence of the fleets about her, the hundreds of wooden ships laboring under rows of oars, their brutal bronze rams jutting forward from the waterlines of their bows, drums pounding and flutes playing to lend courage to their crews and keep the rowers in time. She asked, “Why was it so important, Jan?”
“Well, if the Persians had won that day, the Greece that we know may never have come about. They would have languished as vassals to the Persian king and never risen to achieve their Golden Age. Democracy, Greek drama, art, architecture, the records of great philosophers, even our alphabet and the basis of our language, all may have never happened in the way that it did. Greece and then Rome wouldn’t have been the basis of western culture; Persia probably would have been.” At that, Jan lapsed into silence, resting her chin on her hands as she gazed out toward the graveyard of history. Quietly, she thought aloud, “Man, what I wouldn’t give to be able to dig up the bottom of that strait. I’ll bet there’s tons of stuff still buried under all that muck.”
Mel smiled at that statement, then wrapped an arm around Jan’s waist and hugged her. “Maybe one day they’ll be able to do that, Jan.” The blonde head next to Mel just nodded thoughtfully, then lapsed back into silence.
After a time, a shout from Mack brought their attention to the helm. He pointed toward the bow. Their eyes traveled to the foredeck, and they saw the reason for his enthusiastic cry. Gray shapes were darting through the water and keeping time with the pace of the vessel, one or another of them occasionally breaking the surface with a muffled hiss. Mel gasped, “Oh, my. Dolphins! Why, they’re beautiful creatures, Jan. Have you ever seen anything so delightful in all your life?”
Jan glanced to her left. Mel was leaning against the lifelines, her attention directed toward the sea mammals, wisps of her hair blowing in the breeze about her head. Her olive skin glowed with the touch of the summer’s warmth and her smile seemed to Jan to rival the radiance of the Greek sun. She felt a tug of emotion swell her chest as she replied sincerely, “Just you, Mel.”
At that, Mel darted a quick glance at Jan over the tops of her sunglasses. The blue eyes which twinkled out from the sunny face regarded Jan impishly, an expression which revealed an unspoken thanks. Sallie giggled, then leaned close to Jan’s ear and whispered, “You smooth talker, you. I wish you’d teach that to Mack.”
Jan grinned at the remark, then teased, “Ah, Mack’s a guy. What do they know? They haven’t got a romantic bone in their bodies.”
Sallie giggled again as she corrected, “Well, maybe just one.”
Jan snorted in laughter, then rose and announced, “On that note, I’m gettin’ a beer. You guys want one?” Two heads bobbed enthusiastically in reply. Jan looked toward the helm. “Hey, Mack. Want something to drink?”
He said, “Naw, but spell me on the helm, Jan. I’ve got to hit the head.”
Jan looked up at her old friend and joked, “What? Three gals on this cruise and the guy has to pee first? What’s wrong with this picture?”
At the titter of laughter which rose from the deck, Mack merely shrugged and excused himself with, “I knew I was forgetting something before we shoved off.” As Jan took her place next to Mack, he indicated the course. “Keep her on this heading, will you? Take her slightly away from Salamis. Course two-three-five ought to do it.”
She grasped the wheel, her hands between Mack’s, and nodded. “Got you covered. Bring some beer back, will you?”
Mack left the deck as Jan assumed the wheel and turned it slightly toward the wind, then away again as she became used to the feel of the helm. She quickly decided that it was a fine boat, responding quickly and efficiently to her direction. No wonder Bogie likes this thing, she thought. She’s a dream to sail.
As Jan held the course steady, she glanced again toward the cabin’s entrance and a wicked grin crossed her face. She looked over at Mel and Sallie and called, “Hey, you two. Hang on tight for a minute.”
When she saw their hands grasp the lifelines, she spun the wheel expertly and the bow turned into the wind. The boat’s speed slacked and the deck leveled as the sails began to snap and boom lifelessly. Then she spun the wheel in the opposite direction. The sails billowed again, the boat shot forward and the deck tilted noticeably as the vessel creaked in protest. A thump, then a crash sounded in the cabin and Mack’s muffled voice protested, “Damn it, Jan!”
A few minutes later, Mack appeared on the deck, some cans in his hand, and shot a disgusted look toward the helm. He shook his head, then began grinning boyishly. “Funny, funny,” he cracked.
Jan was still snickering as she returned her attention to her course and the wind. Mack walked across the deck and handed two cans of beer to Sallie and Mel. As Sallie received them, she looked up and said, “Thanks, doll.” Her eyes trailed down to his shorts and she asked, “What did you do, spill something on yourself?”
Mack looked down at his shorts. There was a wet spot on one leg. He muttered, “Yeah. Something like that,” then joined Jan at the helm. There were two cans left in his hand.
“Oh great,” Jan said. “A beer. You read my mind, pal.” She reached out for the beer, but Mack stuck a can of cola in it. Jan’s protest was immediate, but Mack’s reply was casual.
“You’re on the helm, wiseacre.”
“No.” He lowered his voice and teased, “That’ll teach you to shake up the skipper while he’s in the can.”
Jan gave him her best puppy-dog eyes over the tops of her sunglasses. “Buddies?” she asked apologetically.
Mack grinned widely, clapped her on the back and hugged her to his side. “Forever, you bum. I should have expected something from you. Feel like keeping the helm a while longer?”
The day progressed splendidly, the seas strengthening a little with the mid-day sun and the wind maintaining a good direction for their course. Jan coached Mel on the art of keeping the helm, then stood behind her as she assumed the wheel and kept the boat properly oriented to the wind and the distant coastline of the Island of Salamis. Jan’s hands rested on Mel’s hips and she leaned into the taller woman’s back as she offered encouragement and occasional advice. Mel seemed to grasp the skill with rapid efficiency, and Jan soon felt comfortable leaving her for short periods of time to help with the regular sail adjustments which the boat required.
In due time, the southern tip of the Island of Salamis appeared, the wide gulf water stretching beyond it. Sallie spelled Mel at the helm and settled the boat on its new course, the one which would take them across the Saronic Gulf toward their final destination. Relieved at the helm, Mel and Janice descended into the cabin to change into their swimsuits, then reclined on the foredeck to sun themselves for a while. Mack joined them, his shirt off, his baseball cap pulled low over his eyes, and settled back for a few minutes before checking on Sallie’s progress at the helm.
As Mack returned, Jan rose and announced, “I’ll be right back.”
Mel merely nodded in reply, but Mack lifted the bill of his cap and studied Jan’s retreating form. When she disappeared below, he quickly climbed onto the cabin’s low, flat roof, opening a small hatch. He reached into his pocket, fished something out and lowered it on a string into the hatch, then closed the cover. Mel watched the act with curiosity, and when Mack returned to the deck, she asked, “What was that?”
Mack grinned. “That,” he said, “Was the you-know-what about to hit the fan. You’d better go below and check on your honey.”
Mel registered concern. “Why? Is she not well?”
“Let’s just say that things may get very interesting in about thirty seconds.”
She studied Mack’s expression, then intoned, “Oh, oh.” She had seen Mack and Jan in action against each other before and knew that a prank was afoot. A lopsided grin easing across her face, she rose, paced the deck around to the cabin’s entrance and descended below just in time to see the door to the toilet fly open and a horrified Jan burst into the cabin sputtering colorful profanities, her bathing suit around her knees. Mel asked innocently, “Why, whatever is the matter, Jan?”
Jan looked at her, her eyes wide. “There’s a big friggin’ spider in there. You should see the size of that thing. Man, it’s a monster.” As Mel approached, Jan stopped her with a hand on her chest. “Don’t go in there, Mel.”
“Now Jan, I’m sure it’s quite harmless.”
Jan backed up against a bulkhead as she attempted to worm her bathing suit up over her nudity. “It’s one of the biggest bastards I’ve ever seen,” she hissed. “I hate spiders. Hate ‘em.”
Mel blinked a couple of times, attempting to keep her expression even. “I’ll just take a look, darlin’.” She swung the toilet door aside and peered into the cramped little space. Sure enough, hanging from the closed hatch just above the toilet, a large spider dangled on a string, swinging with the boat’s motion. She stifled a laugh, cracked the hatch and freed the string. When she emerged from the toilet, she held the string up and jiggled it. The spider bounced, its legs quivering, and Jan’s eyes widened even more as she backed into a corner.
“Christ, Mel. Get that thing away from me. What’s the matter with you?”
“Jan, darlin’, it’s rubber.”
Jan blinked in surprise. “It’s- what?”
Mel jiggled the string a few more times. “It’s rubber, Jan. See?”
For a long, terrible moment, Jan stared, speechless, as the rubber toy dangled at the end of the string. Then she huffed, blowing a hank of blonde hair out of her eyes as a look of knowing chagrin colored her face. She turned, opened a hatch above her head and looked out. From the foredeck, Mack’s screams of laughter could be heard quite clearly now, just eclipsed by Jan’s voice as she shouted, “Mack, you son of a- ”
That caused Mack’s laughter to rise a notch in intensity. Mel clapped a hand over her mouth, turned and quickly ascended the ladder to the deck, the rubber beast still dangling from her free hand. Once on deck, she doubled over and wheezed in laughter until her eyes began to water from the effort.
Sallie, at the helm, watched the proceedings with a puzzled expression, then asked, “What the hell’s going on up there, Mel?”
Mel waved a hand, unable to answer for a moment, then approached Sallie and dangled the spider at arm’s length. Sallie watched it wiggle, then shook her head and muttered, “Oi vey! Mack and Jan are at it again, aren’t they?” At Mel’s nod of affirmation, she said, “Take the helm, Mel. I’ll handle ‘em.”
By the time Sallie reached the foredeck, Mack was lying on the deck, curled into a ball and still screaming with laughter as Jan slapped him repeatedly with a rolled-up towel, her voice echoing across the deck. “I almost- ” slap! “- peed on my feet, you-” slap! “frickin’ frackin’-”
Sallie stood, her hand over her mouth to hide a grin as she watched the scene, then loudly announced, “Am I going to have to separate you two kids?”
At the words, Jan ceased beating Mack and cleared her throat. Weakly, she offered, “I hate spiders.” After a second, she added, “Especially rubber ones.”
Sallie looked down at Mack, lying on the deck, then shook her head and grinned. She said, “Well, Mack, I think you finally got Jan back for that snake in the crapper during the Lesbos dig.”
Mack, still chuckling, rolled onto his back and extended a hand up toward Jan. “Truce?”
Jan considered the hand, then reached down and took it, a grin easing across her face. “Truce,” she echoed.
As she helped Mack stand, Sallie jabbed a finger at them and decreed, “Just for that shit, you two get to cook dinner tonight.” That decided, she turned and marched back toward the helm, turning to deliver the parting shot with a devilish giggle. “Get crackin’, you two. We’re getting hungry.”
Jan looked at Mack and observed, “I thought you were the captain on this cruise.”
Mack shrugged. “Yeah, but I think our gals are the admirals.”
Jan considered the statement, then agreed, “That’s for sure. Shall we?”
As Sallie rejoined Mel at the wheel, they watched Mack and Jan descend into the cabin, laughing and cracking jokes. Sallie relieved Mel at the helm, corrected the course slightly, then asked incredulously, “So Jan’s afraid of spiders, of all things?”
Mel replied, “Deathly. Sallie, I’ve seen her face down tomb robbers, angry immortals and all manner of other dangers, but seldom have I seen her as frightened as she was of that rubber toy.”
Sallie pondered that, then shrugged as she said, “Who’d ever have thought it? Oh, I exiled them both to the galley for that little prank. Jan and Mack are cooking us dinner this afternoon.”
Mel teased, “You’re letting Jan cook? Oh, dear. The only thing that Jan can make for dinner is reservations.” At Sallie’s thoughtful expression, she reconsidered, “Let them. Maybe it’ll keep them out of trouble for an hour.”
Sallie giggled. “Yeah, right. That’ll be the day.”
As usual, the distance took longer to trek than Mack had originally estimated. As the sun rested just above the western horizon, however, the northernmost of the last two islands that they sought loomed very near. White, sparkling buildings dotted the green and brown hillsides, reflecting the pink and crimson hues of the setting sun.
The sailing vessel Traveler slid into the protected harbor of the resort under motor, sails down and folded expertly, all rope coiled and neatly stowed, green, red and white running lights aglow. In the dusk, she was a thrilling sight. Mack turned on the radio and hailed the resort by name, alerting them of their arrival, and when the boat approached the dock, a couple of the resort’s marina workers were waiting to receive their mooring lines.
It was completely dark by the time they had secured the boat and were shuffling into the lobby of the resort, exhausted, sun-browned and happy. The resort owner was there to greet them. Andros, a pudgy, outgoing Greek, welcomed them warmly and thanked them for returning his boat to the resort, then clapped his hands and summoned a couple of teen-age boys to carry the bags to their rooms.
The four travelers elected not to dine, having eaten aboard, but did share a drink in the spacious bar before retiring to the two rooms reserved for them, adjacent to each other on the same floor. When Mel and Janice entered their room and clicked on a light, they gasped in pleased surprise.
The room was spacious and airy, the windows and the French doors to an accompanying balcony open. A gentle breeze ruffled the sheer curtains at the windows and the sound of the gulf waves caressing the shore could be heard nearby, offering a delightful lullaby by which to fall asleep. It did not take them long to decide on their priorities; after warm showers, they emerged from the marbled bathroom and buried themselves beneath clean white sheets. The light clicked off and the room went dark, lit only by the light of a rising moon.
Jan quickly found Mel’s body under the covers and settled into her arms, molding herself to the taller woman’s form and wiggling into the embrace of familiar arms. She sighed in contentment; this part of the day was her favorite. Nowhere was there a time and place in which she felt more accepted and loved than at the day’s end, when she could lay enveloped in Mel’s warmth and companionship. It meant more than life to her and she silently wondered if Mel knew how much she treasured these moments. After a silence, she whispered, “Mel?”
“Yes, darlin’?” the reply came, a softly whispered purr in the night.
Jan found that she did not have the words to do justice to the moment. She hesitated, then simply said, “I just wanted to say- I love you, Mel.”
“I love you too, Jan.”
Mel sighed contentedly, then begin speaking in a soft voice. “Have I ever told you how I love these moments most of all? How, when we lie together in the night and you snuggle up to me the way that you do, I feel myself the richest person in all the world?”
Jan blinked in the darkness. “Really?”
“That’s the nicest thing I’ve ever heard, Mel. I feel the same way, but I was just trying to figure out how to say it. I didn’t have the words.”
“You don’t need words. You show me in your touch, Jan, every night.”
Jan turned and brought her face close to Mel’s, running a hand through the dark hair which played down her neck and chest. “Let me show you now.”
Mel’s response was another low, delightful purr. She pulled Jan closer and whispered, “I was hoping you’d say that.” As their lips met, sweet and familiar, Mel’s hand trailed down Jan’s back and cupped a firm thigh. In between kisses, she breathed, “I’m so glad that we sleep without pajamas, aren’t you?”
No more words were spoken that night. As love consumed them, a Greek moon’s light, the low rumble of the gulf water in the background and the whisper of a gentle breeze permeated the room. It was the same gentle Aegean breeze, the same moon’s light, the same water’s rumble that had touched their ancestors so many generations before and somehow, in their souls, they knew this and felt strangely at home in its embrace.
The next afternoon, the four old friends straggled back into the lobby of the resort, dusty, sweat-stained and satisfied from their day’s hike among the hills of the island. They had been out since morning. Their exploration of an old monastery had taken them to the highest part of the island, rocky hills and olive trees dotting the landscape. They returned invigorated, eagerly anticipating showers and a leisurely dinner at the outside terrace of the restaurant.
As they passed through the lobby, Andros met them and greeted them warmly, speaking with them in English for a few minutes. As they were about to head up to their rooms, he said, “Doctor Covington, I am an avid collector of antiquities. I have recently made a couple of additions to my collection which I would very much like to show you, if you have the time.”
Jan pushed her worn fedora hat back on her head and nodded. “Sure, I’d love to. Thanks. Oh,” she quickly added, “Call me Jan.” She looked over at her three companions and asked, “You guys up for it?”
Andros assured them, “It will not take long. I would so love your assessment of them, as your reputation is impeccable in such things.”
Sallie perked up at the suggestion. “Let’s go, Jan. I’m all for it.” At nods of assent from Mel and Mack, Andros ushered them all past the spacious bar, leading them to his office and chattering excitedly about antiquities.
A man, perhaps in his late forties in appearance, sat at the bar and watched them pass by as he sipped his cold drink, then waved a hand at the bartender. When the young Greek approached, the man placed a currency bill on the counter and spoke to him in Greek laced with a thick north European accent, asking, “Do you know that woman?”
He eyed the bill, shrugged and said, “Which one? There are three women.”
The man noted, “The small one with the light-colored hair and the wide hat.”
The bartender nodded. “I think that is Doctor Covington.”
The man replied, “I know that much. Your boss spoke her name. Do you know anything about her?”
The bartender shook his head. “Not much. She is a very nice lady and a generous tipper. The four of them arrived yesterday. They are all Americans. My cousin, who tends the marina, said that they handled our sailing ship well and seemed to be old friends.” After thinking, he added, “She speaks Greek fairly well for an American. Her friend, the tall one, speaks it fluently but with an old style.”
“Hm.” The man considered what he had been told, then pushed the bill toward the bartender. “Thank you,” he said, and rose to leave the bar.
When he reached the lobby, he sought out a telephone, dialed a number and spoke in German.
“Gottfried here,” he said. “I need something from you. Find out everything you can about a Doctor Jan Covington, an American who seems to know a lot about Greek antiquities, then call me back.” He listened for a minute, then continued, “She was accompanied by three other Americans. One of them has a distinctly Jewish appearance. Their presence here may mean nothing for us, but we cannot be too careful these days.” After listening for a moment more, he hung up the telephone and then strolled outside to smoke.
In Andros’ office, Jan watched as the resort owner unlocked a case and brought forth a squat, two-handled cup. “I recently acquired this piece from a dealer in Athens. With apologies for the nature of the artwork, what do you think of it, Jan?”
Jan considered the cup, then gestured toward it. “May I?” she asked. When he nodded, she carefully picked it up and turned it over in her hands, studying the detail of it. “It’s an Attic wine cup, about fifth century BC, I’m guessing. It’s in magnificent condition, a really great piece. Look, here’s the mark of the artist on the bottom.” She looked up at Andros. “We seldom find them in such excellent condition. Where did you acquire this?”
“In Athens, as I said. I have a cousin there who is a dealer in fine antiquities. He introduced me to the man who sold me this.”
Jan nodded approvingly. “It’s a good one, that’s for sure. Whatever you paid for it, it’s probably not too much. There’s a lot of collectors who’d give their teeth for a cup this perfect.” As Jan held the cup up for all to see, she smiled inwardly as she noted several eyebrows rise in exclamation. As was common with many wine cups of this period, the scenes recorded on the exterior and interior of the bowl were quite graphic and sexual in nature, displaying scenes from an orgiastic symposia, or drinking party. Sallie squinted at the exquisite artwork on the cup, then chuckled as she observed, “Man, those Athenians really knew how to party, didn’t they?”
Andros laughed heartily at the remark, then received the cup from Jan and replaced it in his cabinet. He lifted another piece from a shelf and handed it to Jan. It was an ornamental vase, slightly worn and chipped. “This piece, I acquired locally. I think that you will find it most interesting,” he announced.
Jan held the vase in her hands and gazed down at it. The artwork was excellent, but not quite as finely-crafted as the drinking cup. The scene on the side of the vase depicted a partially nude woman clothed in a short, flowing tunic, spear and shield in her hands, a warrior’s helmet pushed back on her head. She was in combat with a centaur. Mack peered over her shoulder at the piece and asked, “Jan, is that Athena?”
“I don’t think so, Mack.” She cast a glance at the faces around her as she spoke, holding the vase out from her body so that all could see. “Do you see her clothing? In my experience, Athena was never depicted as unclothed or in personal combat. This, I’d say, represents an Amazon warrior.”
She turned the vase to reveal another figure. It was a man, bearded and wearing a lion’s skin across his back. Mel guessed, “Herakles, right?” She elbowed Sallie in good humor, then joked, “Or ‘Hercules’, for you Latin majors.”
Jan nodded. She spun the vase a little more, then gasped. Her mouth opened, but she said nothing for a moment, then whispered in awe, “Oh, my God. Look at that, will you?”
Four other pairs of eyes fixed themselves on the vase. Two more female figures were painted on the reverse side of the vase. One was tall and warlike, dressed in dark armor and shown with long, dark braids of hair flying loosely about her shoulders. The figure next to her was shorter, painted in light colors and bore a staff. Her hair was light-colored, flowing down her back. For a moment, the silence from the group was thick and pregnant with unspoken awe. Andros knew that he had gotten their attention with his most recent acquisition and smiled broadly as he clasped his hands together. “Well, Jan,” he asked, pride tinging his voice. “What do you think of this piece?”
Jan looked up at Andros, then spoke quietly, almost with reverence. “This is incredible. I mean that in all my research, I never personally encountered a vase with Xena or Gabrielle depicted on it. In fact, I know of only one other in the world, in the Berlin museum, and it was said to have been destroyed in a bombing raid. That alone makes this priceless to collectors and museums alike.” She smiled as she informed him, “You have a real treasure here, Andros.”
The man beamed at the news. Jan turned the vase over and stared at the underside of it, looking for the artist’s mark. Instead, she noted the number “17” written on the base in black ink. The numbers were written in the European fashion, with the one written as an inverted “V” and a cross-hatch through the leg of the seven. She said nothing about this, however, and gently handed the vase back to Andros with a smile of thanks.
As he turned to replace it in his cabinet, Jan asked, “Andros, would you allow me to photograph that for my next article on Xena? I’ll give credit for the picture to you, of course, and ask your permission before publishing it.”
He turned, eminently pleased at the attention his treasures were receiving. “Of course, Jan. I would be honored.”
Jan cast a final look at his cabinet, the numerous artifacts displayed proudly on shelves within it and said, “You have a fine collection there, Andros. Thanks for allowing us to see it.”
He nodded pleasantly. “You have told me much, Jan. I know now that I was not deceived by the dealers when I bought them.”
Jan grinned. “Yeah, you have to watch some of them.” As they left his office, Jan paused in the door, the last one out. She turned around and asked, “Say, Andros?”
He looked up as he withdrew the key from his cabinet. “Yes, Jan?”
“I’ll understand if you’d rather not tell me, but just who did you buy that piece from?”
“The vase? I acquired it from a dealer who lives on this island, a Mister Paul Gottfried.”
“Not a Greek?”
Andros shook his head. “No, no. He is a foreigner. He tells me that he is from Switzerland.”
Jan puzzled over that. “Hm. I’ve never heard of him. How long has he lived here?”
“Oh, perhaps five years or so. He comes in here often to dine at our restaurant. Would you like to meet him?”
Jan thought about it, then nodded. “Yeah, I’d love to.”
“If he shows himself while you are here, I will arrange it.”
Jan smiled. “Thanks. He sold you the cup, too?”
Andros shook his head. “No, I bought the cup from a fellow I have never dealt with before, but who my cousin in Athens recommended as having some good pieces.”
“I’ve probably heard of him, if he’s a major dealer.”
Andros thought, then said, “A fellow named Pellos, I think. An odd fellow, he was.”
Jan puzzled over the name. “Greek?”
“Yes, I think so. He had a funny little accent, though, and his eyes were very cold. At first, I was not sure that I could trust him.”
She repeated, “Pellos, Pellos,” as she thought. Then she froze at the door. Her eyes wide, she asked, “Palo? Stavros Palo?”
“Yes, yes. That’s it, I think.”
Jan turned and called out the door, “You guys go on. I’ll be up in a second.” Then she closed the door and approached Andros, placing a hand on his arm. “Andros, my friend, a piece of advice: stay away from that guy. He’s bad news. I’ve dealt with him before and came close to getting killed because of it.”
Andros’ face registered shock. He agreed, “That man, I did not trust him when I met him, but he seemed to deal honestly with me.”
Jan agreed, “Yeah, he’s a businessman all right, in it for the money. Watch your ass around him, though. I mean it.”
Andros nodded understanding, then said, “Thank you, my friend. I appreciate the advice.”
“You bet, Andros.” With that, Jan left his office and found her way upstairs.
When she entered her room, she could hear the shower running. Jan called, “Mel, I’m here.”
Mel’s voice sounded from the open bathroom door. “I’ll be through in a minute.”
“Take your time, gorgeous.” Humming, Jan unlaced her worn hiking shoes and kicked them into a corner, then proceeded to disrobe. Pulling the clasp from her hair, she shook it free, then padded into the marbled bathroom. The air was steamy with the shower, and Mel’s outline could just barely be seen behind the frosted glass of the shower door. Jan opened the door, stuck her head in and asked, “Any hot water left?”
“Of course, darlin’.” Mel wiped the water from her face, then gestured with a hand. “Come on in, the water’s fine.”
Jan snickered as she stepped into the shower and closed the door. “The last time you said that, I damned near froze to death.”
“It was a mountain lake,” Mel teased, then held out a bar of soap. “Scrub my back for me, cutie?”
Mack looked across the restaurant table as he poured the last of a bottle of wine. “You’re quiet tonight, Jan.”
Mel cast a glance at Jan’s profile but said nothing, knowing that she would speak about whatever was bothering her when she had considered it sufficiently. Jan, however, just grunted, then looked up from her meal and smiled self-consciously. “Sorry,” she said. “Just preoccupied.”
Sallie was more blunt in her observation. “Jan’s probably still salivating over that vase with Xena and Gabrielle on it.” Her eyes twinkled and she asked, “Am I right, Mel?”
Mel patted Jan’s arm and joked, “I still get jealous when she salivates over anything but me.”
She looked at her mate and asked, “Jan, do you want to talk about it?”
Mack hedged, “It might be personal.”
Sallie leaned forward. “Oh, goodie. Girl talk. Cover your ears, Mack.”
Jan smiled at that, then looked around the table. “It’s probably nothing, but I can’t shake it.” She hesitated for a second, then said, “Okay, let me ask all of you a question. Give me your honest answer.”
Mel nodded. “Always, Jan.”
Mack shrugged as he lifted his wine glass. “You got it.”
Sallie leaned forward, resting her forearms on the table. “Oh, boy. Truth or dare? You know me, Jan. I’m honest to a fault.”
Jan pointed with her fork as she looked around the table. “You all saw that vase today. Did you see what was written on the bottom of it?”
Sallie answered immediately, “The number seventeen.”
“Right,” Jan said. “What does that mean to you, Sallie? Where have you seen numbering like that before?”
“Well,” she thought aloud, “I’ve seen artifacts in museums numbered on the bottom like that.”
Jan said, “Bingo. That piece was once catalogued in a museum.”
Mack asked, “Then how did it end up in Andros’ private collection?”
Mel conjectured, “Perhaps the museum sold it to raise money.”
Jan smiled as she squeezed Mel’s hand affectionately. “That’s my Mel. She gives everybody the benefit of the doubt.”
Mack listened, his interest growing. “Are you suggesting that it was stolen?”
Jan replied, “My theory is even more bizarre than that. That’s why I want your honest opinion on this. I want you to tell me if you think I’ve lost my marbles.”
Mack said, “We’re all ears. Hit us with it.”
Sallie agreed, “Jan, If you’re anything, you’re logical. We’re listening.”
Jan looked over at Mel. She said nothing, only nodding in agreement. At that, Jan took a deep breath, then began, “Mel, do you remember that article in the paper a couple of months ago? You know, the one about pilfered Nazi artifacts?”
“In it, an old classmate of mine was quoted as saying that these artifacts disappeared at the end of the war, the same time that a lot of prominent Nazis did.”
Sallie asked, “And this vase was involved?”
Jan continued, “I’m not sure yet. Did you notice how the numbers on the vase were formed?” At the blank expressions, she explained, “The one and the seven were written by a European hand.”
Mel puzzled, “So?”
“So it was catalogued in a museum in Europe at one time.”
Mack grew more interested. He asked, “Which one, though? It could be any of a hundred.”
Jan placed her fork down. “In my Xena research, I found only one instance of a piece of pottery art which depicted Xena and Gabrielle.”
“Yes, dear,” Mel interjected. “You told Andros that.”
“It was in a museum in Paris, France before the war.”
Sallie shook her head, her unruly mop of curls bobbing. “But you said that it was destroyed in a bombing raid on Berlin.”
“Right,” Jan insisted. “My point exactly. It was supposedly destroyed in a bombing raid on Berlin. Nobody knows for sure because the museum’s records were destroyed, too.”
Mel asked, “So how did it get from Paris to Berlin?”
Mack spoke now. “I think I see where you’re going with this, Jan. You’re suggesting that it was pilfered from the Paris museum by the Nazis and sent to Berlin, aren’t you?”
Sallie asked, “So how did it get from Berlin to here?”
Jan huffed, then spoke pointedly. “Andros said that he bought it from a guy who lives on this island.” After a moment, she added, “An expatriate Swiss.”
“Not a German?” Mack pressed.
“Can you tell the difference? I can’t. Claiming to be Swiss is a good cover for a fugitive Nazi. Andros said that the guy has been living here for about five years now.” She noted, “Exactly the amount of time it’s been since the war ended.”
“And your point?” Mack asked bluntly.
Jan replied, “I think that we’ve just seen a pilfered artifact, and the guy who sold it to Andros is very possibly a fugitive Nazi.”
There was silence at the table for a moment as Mack, Sallie and Mel all stared at Jan. Slowly, Mack broke the silence. “I don’t know, Jan. It all seems rather weak.”
Mel was equally skeptical. “Perhaps, dear, you’re just seeing intrigue where there isn’t any. It’s probably all perfectly legitimate.”
Jan seemed unconvinced. She looked at Sallie. “What about you?”
Sallie said, “Sorry, Jan, but I have to go with Mack on this one. It’s all circumstantial.”
Jan considered their arguments, then relented. “Yeah, you guys are probably right. I’m just seeing goblins where there aren’t any, I guess.” Her crestfallen expression changed to one of hope as she added, “Andros said that he’d introduce me to that guy when he comes around here next.”
At that, Mel placed a hand on Jan’s arm, a gesture of caution. “Be careful, Jan. If he is a fugitive Nazi- ”
Sallie interrupted, speaking with unaccustomed vehemence. “If he is, then I’ll rat him out to the Nazi-hunters myself. I lost family in their concentration camps.”
Jan nodded, then demurred, “Like you said, it’s all probably nothing. Sorry I brought it up.” She looked around at the silence at the table, then joked, “Besides, we’re on vacation, so let’s have a good time.” Quickly changing the subject, she asked, “what’s on the agenda for tomorrow?”
Mack answered, “Snorkeling on the south side of the island. I’m told it’s beautiful there.”
Sallie perked up at that. “Great. Do we get to sail Traveler again?”
“Nah,” Mack said. “They have a motorboat for us.”
“It’ll seem a little tame after that wonderful sailing trip out here,” Mel said.
Jan conjectured, “I’ll bet Andros will let us take Traveler out for another cruise before we leave.” At the pleased expressions which answered her from around the table, she offered, “I’ll talk to him about it tomorrow.”
Jan surfaced, blew hard into her snorkel and then lifted her mask from her face. The protected water of the cove in which they were snorkeling was smooth, warm and fairly clear, perfect for their endeavors that day. She looked about her; their motorboat was resting easily at anchor, the cry of sea-birds was loud in the distance and the late afternoon’s sun was warm and inviting.
She swam to the boat, pulled herself up on the ladder and tossed her mask and fins on the deck. Mel surfaced near the boat, grasped the ladder with a hand and looked up as Jan said, “It’s about time we get back, Mel. It’ll take us an hour or more to return to the resort.”
Mel pulled the snorkel and mask from her face, climbed the ladder and sighed, “I suppose you’re right.” She stood erect, looked around the cove and asked, “Where’s Mack and Sallie?”
“Over there. See them?” Jan pointed to the edge of the cove, then cupped her hands to her mouth and shouted, “Hey, guys! Time to go.”
The two distant figures waved, then began swimming toward the boat. Soon, all four were aboard, the anchor was raised and the boat’s motor was drumming smoothly as the eighteen-foot vessel left the cove and turned to follow the coastline north. Mel was at the wheel with Sallie at her elbow and chatting heartily, allowing Mack and Jan the opportunity to lounge in the open cockpit and talk as they made their way home.
Much of the coastline was rocky and steep, although beaches showed themselves occasionally. As they rounded a small spit of land and turned more northward, Mack pointed at a large cave at the base of a bluff. “Look at the size of that cave, Jan.”
Jan joked, “Yeah, I’ll bet we could fit this boat in there with room to spare.” When she looked up, her eyes met Mack’s and she said, “Oh, no. I was just joking.”
Mack grinned. “Why not? Where’s your spirit of adventure? The water’s plenty deep here. We won’t ground.”
He leaned forward and spoke to Mel and Sallie. They both considered the cavern in the distance, then looked at each other and shrugged. Mel eased their course to the left, heading directly toward the cavern’s entrance, and slowed to a crawl as they neared it. Jan, worried about grounding, sat on the boat’s bow, her toes trailing through the water. She periodically dipped a long boat-hook into the water in front of them, encouraging them with a wave after each test of the water’s depth.
The boat entered the mouth of the cave, the atmosphere immediately changing from warm and sunny to cooler as the sun’s bright light dimmed. They looked up as they entered and estimated the entrance to be perhaps thirty feet high and a hundred feet or more across. Once they passed into the cave, the boat’s motor seemed louder, its deep growl echoing around the rock walls. Sallie lifted the boat’s spotlight from its cradle and shone it ahead of them, the beam illuminating rocks along the water’s edge and some of the wide, spacious interior of the cave. Jan’s voice echoed as she said, “Man, it’s huge in here. Look at this place.”
Mel held her nose. “Phew, something stinks.”
Sallie agreed, “Yeah, I smell it too, now that you mention it. What is that, Mack?”
He sniffed the air a few times, then said, “It almost smell like- ” After another moment’s thought, he finished, “Diesel oil.”
Jan lifted her feet from the water, wiggling her toes. “Man, there’s something greasy on my feet. Hey, Sallie, shine that light on the water up here, will you?” In answer, the light’s beam flicked along the side of the boat’s hull, coming to rest on the water near Jan. Patches of an oily film covered the surface of the smooth water. Jan wiped a finger along her toes, then held it to her nose. “You’re right, Mack. It’s diesel oil. Where’s it coming from?”
Sallie crawled up on the boat’s foredeck, sitting next to Jan. She pointed the light around the boat, noting the sheen of oil trailing away from them and disappearing into the darkness ahead. Jan nudged her and said, “There, ahead. Shine your light there.”
As the boat crept forward, barely making progress, the light’s beam flickered ahead, illuminating the dim cavern. Under its illumination, the rough texture of the rock walls changed into something more smooth and metallic in appearance, a dull black streaked with brown, rows of rivets appearing along its surface. When the light’s beam rose from the water to follow the vertical brown streaks, it stopped. There, illuminated in the circle of white light, was the large number “173".
Sallie gasped, “What in the hell is that?”
Jan looked over at her and asked, “Can you widen the beam on that thing?”
“Yeah, I think so.” She fiddled with the light and the beam spread out. In its illumination, they saw the conning tower of a submarine at rest, an anti-aircraft gun bristling on its after-deck.
Jan whistled softly, then said, “Holy crap. Will you look at that?”
Sallie asked, “Whose is it?”
Mack answered, “It’s a German U-boat, guys. From the deteriorated look of it, it’s been here since the war.”
Mel wondered aloud, “What’s it doing here?”
Jan puzzled over it, then answered, “You’ve got me.”
Mack continued, “I wonder if anybody knows it’s here.”
Jan flashed a cautious look back toward Mack. “The guys who hid it here know.”
Mel silenced the boat’s motor. The cavern suddenly fell silent as they contemplated the sight of the warship rising from the water before them. She said, “Do you think that the local authorities know it’s here?”
Jan puzzled over the sight. “I don’t know, Mel. I’ll talk with Andros about it tonight. Maybe he knows something about it.” She paused, then said, “God, I’d love to go inside that thing.”
Mack nodded. “We could learn a lot. Maybe their logbook is still in there.”
Jan looked over her shoulder at Sallie. “Yeah, you read German, right?”
Mel cautioned, “Jan, this isn’t a good idea. You don’t know what’s inside that thing.”
Jan grinned in the dim light. “There’s only one way to find out. Have we got a flashlight in this tub?”
Sallie rose and lifted a locker’s door, rummaging about. When she stood, she had two flashlights in her hand. She tested each one and found that they both worked. Jan sat cross-legged on the boat’s bow and said, “Throw me a towel and my shoes and shorts, will ya, Mel? Hey, Sallie. Bring those flashlights and come with me. Since you read German, you and I can check it out.”
Mel objected, “Jan, you’re really not going inside, are you? That thing looks to be in awful condition. It could be terribly unsafe in there.”
Jan, slipping her canvas shoes onto her feet, said, “Sure, Mel. Don’t worry, it’ll be okay. Bring us up alongside of it.” She pointed. “There. There’s some camouflage netting across the foredeck. We can climb up that.”
“Jan...” Mel’s voice trailed off, her thought unspoken. Then she nodded and sighed, “I know that look in your eyes, darlin’. You’re going to do this and there’s nothing I can say to change your mind, is there?”
In answer, Jan grinned, then reassured her, “Have you ever known me to pass up an adventure, Mel? It’ll be okay. Come on, Sallie. Are you with me?”
Sallie had just finished slipping her shorts on over her bathing suit and was worming her feet into her sandals. “You bet, Jan.”
Mel shook her head, then touched the ignition switch. The boat’s motor growled, then settled into a purr as she carefully swung the boat’s bow toward the derelict submarine. In a few minutes, it bumped gently into the thick, woven camouflage netting hanging down into the water. Mack and Mel held the net as Jan and Sallie began their crawl up the vessel’s side, and the two explorers were soon standing on the rusted deck above them. Jan called, “It won’t take us long, guys. We’ll do a quick once-through and see if we can find the logbook.”
Mack and Mel nodded up at them, then proceeded to tie the boat to the webbing of the nets.
On the deck of the submarine, Jan looked around, her eyes following the beam of her flashlight. It fell upon a closed hatch in the middle of the afterdeck. “There,” she said.
The hatch would not open despite their repeated tugs on it. Jan stood, considered it in the light of her flashlight, then surmised, “It’s probably rusted shut.” She flashed her light around the deck, then up toward the conning tower. “There,” she said. “Let’s try up there.” Sallie followed her as they climbed a ladder onto the raised deck holding the anti-aircraft gun, then wormed past it.
Sallie noted, “There’s still ammunition in this thing.”
Jan glanced at it, joked, “Don’t you dare,” then led them to the conning tower. In the center of the cramped deck, just in front of the periscope, was another hatch. It was open. “Oh, yeah. This is it.” She looked at Sallie and asked, “You ready for this?”
“I was born ready,” she replied. With that assurance, Jan shone the light into the hatch as she leaned down and peered into the boat. Below her was a mass of pipes, instruments and controls. She began her descent into the derelict boat, Sallie right behind her, and soon was standing on the main deck in the control room.
“Phew, it reeks in here,” Jan noted.
Sallie wrinkled her nose in agreement as she shone her light around the cramped space. “How anybody could go to sea in one of these things, I’ll never know.”
“Yeah, those guys had to be insane.” Jan studied the compartment, then wondered aloud, “Now where would I be if I were a logbook?”
“With the charts?” Sallie guessed.
Jan thought about it, then countered, “Naw. In the captain’s cabin. Come on. It’s got to be close to here.” With that, she chose a direction and pointed her light into a tight passageway. “Let’s try that way.” They entered it and began searching slowly, carefully. The first door they came to was curtained, and Jan examined it.
Sallie spoke in a whisper, “This is it.” Jan looked up and saw a small plaque, discolored with mold, which read Kapitan.
“Right.” She moved the curtain aside, then peered into the tiny space. In it was a bunk, a small sink and a desk built into a bulkhead. An upright locker stood open, a faded dark uniform still hanging in it. Jan returned her attention to the desk and pulled the drawers open one at a time. They were empty. After searching them all, she muttered, “Nothing.”
Sallie was staring over Jan’s head. “There, Jan.”
She looked up. “Huh?” Above her head, on a shelf, several books were lined. Sallie shone her light on the books, then began reading the titles on the spines. “Hey, there’s a Faulkner novel in German. This one is technical, I think, and- ” She paused, then pointed. “Try that big one there.”
Jan lifted the book from the rack, placed it on the desk and illuminated its cover as Sallie examined the Gothic script beneath the eagle and swastika emblem. After a second, Sallie exclaimed, “I think this is it!”
Jan flipped it open, then leafed through the pages slowly as Sallie squinted in concentration at the small, neatly-cribbed handwriting. After a minute, she said, “It’s a journal or something. There’s a lot of technical crap in here, but somebody has been keeping a record of daily activities.”
“That’s it, then.”
Jan flipped another page over. The entries suddenly stopped. Sallie studied the page, then announced, “The last entry is on twenty-one April, nineteen-forty five.”
Jan was exuberant. “This has got to be it. Come on, let’s take it and keep looking.” She tucked the book under her arm and stepped out into the corridor. Continuing forward, they negotiated the narrow hallway past rows of bunks, then came to a watertight door. It was closed. Jan handed her light to Sallie, then huffed and tugged on the latch. It spun around, opening easily, and the door creaked open. Sallie shone both lights into the inky blackness, the beams revealing stacks of wooden crates inside the compartment. Some had been opened and some remained tightly sealed. They slipped into the compartment and approached the nearest ones. In the beams of their lights, they could see packing material inside the crate. “What the hell?” Jan wondered, then lifted a handful of the shredded material out and examined it. She dropped it on the deck and reached inside the crate again. When she did, her hand found something solid. She lifted it, and it came free of the shredded packing.
Both their light’s beams illuminated the item in Jan’s hand. It was an Egyptian cartouche, finely crafted in the form of a large beetle. On it were stylized hieroglyphics. Sallie and Jan stared at each other for a moment, then back down at the cartouche. Finally, Jan whispered, “Do you know what this is?”
Sallie replied, “Yeah, I know what this is, and I’m sorry I doubted you. I think we’d better get the hell out of here. Whoever left this stuff here can’t be that far away. Look at all these crates. This has got to be priceless.”
Jan nodded. “You don’t have to tell me twice, kiddo. Let’s hit the road.” She stuffed the cartouche back into the shreds of packing inside the crate as they turned to head toward the control room.
In a few minutes, they emerged onto the conning tower and sought their way down to the afterdeck, much to Mel’s visible relief. On the way, Jan said, “Hang on. I want that.” At Sallie’s questioning look, she gestured toward the back of the gun deck. Still fixed to a short flagstaff, a red, tattered flag hung limply. Sallie nodded, then untied the halyard and removed the flag, folding it up. Without another word, they descended to the afterdeck and climbed down the thick camouflage netting to the waiting boat. When they were both aboard, Jan said, “Let’s get the hell out of here. Step on it, Mel.”
Mel swallowed her questions and ground the boat’s motor into life, steering them toward the entrance to the cave. When they emerged into the late afternoon’s sun, Jan leaned toward Mel and suggested, “Put some distance between us and that thing.”
Mel looked at Jan’s expression, then asked, “What’s wrong? What was in there?”
“I’ll tell you on the way back. Right now, let’s hit the road.”
Andros was visibly shaken when he listened to Jan’s story. He stood in his office, nervously wiping at his brow with a handkerchief. Finally, he said, “Jan, this is incredible. A German submarine, here?”
Jan nodded. Mack, Mel and Sallie echoed the nods as Jan asked, “You had no idea that it was hidden here?”
He shook his head emphatically. “No. Never before have I heard such a thing, and I have lived on this island for most of my adult life.”
Mack was more pragmatic. He asked, “Who should we report this thing to? I’m sure that the Greek government would be interested in it.”
Andros shrugged. “It is hard to say. I do not even know where to start.” He thought for a moment, then asked, “You have some kind of proof? You know how the authorities tend to be.”
“Oh, yeah. I know. Will this do?” She dropped a package on Andros’ desk. It was wrapped in a towel. Jan flipped the towel open to reveal a folded, tattered flag, the swastika showing, and moved it aside. Beneath it was a book. “The flag and the logbook from the U-173,” she announced.
Andros stared at it for a moment, then held a finger in the air. “The local chief of the constabulary, he will know what to do.” He picked up his telephone, dialed a number, and after a few seconds, held a conversation in rapid Greek. When he hung up, he said, “The chief constable sounded extremely excited about this. He said that he would be here this evening to speak with us about it.”
Jan seemed satisfied with the answer. “Great,” she said. “In the meantime, can we keep this in your office safe?”
“Yes, of course.” Andros walked around the desk, spun the dial on his wall safe and opened it. He accepted the salvage items from Jan, placed them inside the safe, then locked it. With that done, he suggested, “Why don’t you all have your evening meal now? The chief constable did not say exactly when he would arrive.”
Mack agreed, “Good idea, guys. I’m as hungry as a bear.”
Paul Gottfried was sitting on the open balcony of his cozy whitewashed house overlooking the gulf, contemplating the sunset. In the background, a phonograph crackled with a recording of Mozart, and a neglected book lay open on the table near his elbow. He raised his wine glass, sniffing the wine with anticipation when the telephone jangled in the living room. At the unwelcome distraction, he grimaced disapprovingly, then rose and entered the house. When he lifted the receiver, he said, “Ja?”
An excited voice chattered in his ear in Greek. After a few minutes, he replied, “This is not good, not good at all. What did you tell them?” He listened again, then instructed, “Do just as I say. Go see them, listen to their story and assure them that the authorities in Athens will be notified. Insist to them that they stay away from it. Threaten them with arrest if you have to, but be firm. Do you understand? Afterward, call me and tell me what transpired.” He listened further as the voice chattered, then replied, “No. Do nothing else. Under no conditions should you talk to anyone in Athens about this.” Before he hung up, he added, “You did the right thing to tell me of this. I will take care of it.”
He replaced the receiver on the telephone, then lifted his wine glass and strolled back out onto the balcony, contemplating the sunset. After a while, he returned to the telephone and dialed a number, listened, then spoke in German.
“Gottfried here. We have a situation. Come to my house this evening and we’ll discuss our options.”
Jan seated herself at the table on the veranda of the restaurant, sighed, then spread her napkin in her lap. As Mack reached across the table and poured some wine into her glass, he asked, “What did the chief constable say?”
“He said that the authorities in Athens knew about the boat. He insisted that we stay away from it.” She looked around the table, then added, “He said something about unexploded ordinance in it. He threatened us with arrest if we went near it again. He also confiscated the logbook and the boat’s flag.”
“Damn,” Mack hissed, then shrugged in resignation. “Okay, so we stay away from it. Did you tell him about the crates?”
Jan hedged, then confessed, “No.”
Mel asked, “Why not?”
Jan answered, “Because I don’t trust him, Mel. I can’t put my finger on it, but there was something fishy about the way he was acting.”
Sallie raised an eyebrow at that. “Oh?”
“Yeah. He was nervous about the whole thing, like he was lying about it. I can usually tell when somebody’s lying to me.”
Mel wondered, “So what do we do, Jan?”
Jan thought as she sipped her wine, then shrugged and said, “Stay away from it, like he said. After all, he’s in authority around here, and we’re in Greece. Let’s put it aside and enjoy our vacation. When we get back to America, I’ll talk to some people about it.”
Mack agreed, “Sounds like the prudent thing to do, pal. Did you ask Andros about sailing tomorrow?”
Jan perked up. “Yeah. He said Traveler is booked tomorrow. We can have it on the day after tomorrow.”
Mel asked, “Then what shall we do tomorrow? Anyone have ideas?”
Sallie suggested, “I looked into that. There’s some temple ruins on the far side of the island that we haven’t checked out yet. We can borrow a jeep from the resort and spend the day there. There’s even a village nearby where we can eat lunch.”
Heads nodded around the table. Jan noted the agreement, then said, “Sounds like a plan.”
Paul Gottfried walked out onto his balcony and said, “That was the chief constable on the telephone. He’s just returned from speaking with Covington at the resort.”
A blonde-haired, tanned man in his late thirties looked up from the table. “Oh? And what did he report?”
Gottfried lit a cigarette, then answered, “He said that they had retrieved the logbook and ensign from U-173. Thank God that moron of a policeman had the presence of mind to confiscate the book and the flag from them.”
The man sat up at the table, a mask of alarm about his face. “They went aboard? Do you think that they read the logbook? Do you think that they found- ?”
“I don’t know. I doubt that they are able to read German. Most Americans are notoriously ignorant.” He turned and considered the man sitting at his table. “What were you able to discover about our American visitors?”
“Not much,” the man said. “They are evidently on a legitimate holiday here. Covington is a rather distinguished academic. She recently received the Nobel Prize for something or other.” He pulled a small notebook from his pocket and read aloud, “Melinda Pappas received the prize with her, evidently for her translations of ancient Greek works. The others are a Mack MacKenzie and his wife, Sallie. There is nothing known of them.”
“Hm,” Gottfried grunted. “They sound innocent enough. They constitute no threat to us, Karl.”
“I haven’t finished,” Karl said. When Gottfried looked at him, he continued, “Covington is an archaeologist.” He paused to allow the implications of that statement to hit Gottfried, then added, “If she did discover the crates, she would realize the value of the boat’s cargo.”
Gottfried replied, “The chief constable said that she did not mention the cargo. Perhaps she did not find it. Is there anything else?”
“This is probably not of importance, but the one named ‘Sallie’ signed her middle name in the resort’s register as ‘Rosen’, and the two women Covington and Pappas share a room together.” He added, “A room with only one bed in it.”
Gottfried considered that information as he smoked, then scoffed, “A Jew and two Umfrau? They are degenerates, nothing to worry about. They have not the intelligence to threaten our place here.” He crushed out his cigarette as he added, “We tried to purify Germany of those types. We almost succeeded, too. Had the Reich lasted longer than it did, we would have.”
“There is one more thing,” Karl said. “I called Algiers. I spoke on the telephone with Stavros Palo about our next sale of artifacts to him. During the conversation, I mentioned Covington’s name. He reacted vehemently upon hearing it.”
Gottfried blinked at him. “He did?”
“They have met, it seems. Palo entertains a vicious distaste for Covington as well as a profound, grudging respect for her abilities.” Karl closed the notebook and said, “He seems to think that she could be quite dangerous to our arrangement here.”
“I see,” Gottfried muttered. He lit another cigarette and paced the balcony for a few moments, lost in thought, as Karl poured a glass of wine. After a prolonged silence, Gottfried sighed and asked, “Our options? What are your thoughts, Karl?”
Karl shrugged, then thought aloud, “We can move the artifacts to some safe place on the island. If the authorities are alerted to the existence of the U-boat and find it, it will be of no consequence to us. We can continue our rather pleasant exile here indefinitely, financed by the sale of the artifacts in our possession.”
Gottfried said, “You are forgetting one very important thing, Karl. If this Covington woman is half as clever as Palo says, she will undoubtedly mention her discovery of the U-boat when she returns to America.”
“So they will find the boat. If the cargo is not there, who cares?”
“We are SS officers,” Gottfried reminded him. “There is now a price on our heads. The Allies and the Jews are hunting us down and finding us, one by one.” He snorted derisively, then continued, “Years ago, we were hunting them. Now, they hunt us. Such is the price of defeat in war.”
“So? We have Swiss passports and new identities.”
“So if it becomes known that there is an abandoned U-boat here, it will attract unwanted eyes to this island. As foreigners in this land, we will come under scrutiny. The Allies and the Jews have SS records in their possession. They will very possibly identify us.”
Karl shrugged. “What do you suggest?”
He sighed, then replied, “I think it prudent that Covington and her friends never leave this island.”
“If they are found murdered or come up missing, it will attract the authorities to this island.”
“Their deaths must appear accidental, Karl. The Chief Constable will report it as such, as he is amenable to our bribes. After all,” he added, “We are the remnants of the master race. Surely we can be clever about this.”
Karl asked, “Then you are suggesting that we kill them?”
“Why not?” Gottfried asked. “A Jew, a Jew’s husband and two Umfrau. We used to kill people like that by the truckload in Germany, if you’ll recall. At any rate, we cannot afford to allow word of our presence here to get out.”
Karl furrowed his brow in thought for a while, then said, “Reluctantly, I must agree. Let me see what their plans are for the rest of their holiday. Perhaps we can arrange a suitable accident.”
After dinner, Jan, Mel, Mack and Sallie adjourned from the restaurant and headed to the adjacent bar for after-dinner drinks, intent on some quiet companionship and on watching the brilliant sunset over the gulf. As the others sought out a table, Jan headed toward the bartender and placed an order for a bottle of wine and four glasses. As she waited, a voice at her shoulder spoke to her in English, a voice laced with a European accent. “It will be a beautiful sunset. You and your friends have a marvelous table to watch it.”
Jan looked to her left. Next to her stood a tanned, blonde-haired man dressed casually, his white shirt open at the collar and his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, his expression pleasant and friendly. “Yeah,” she said. “Good friends, a gorgeous sunset and a bottle of red. I’m looking forward to it.”
He asked, “You are American?” At her nod, he introduced himself. “My name is Karl Tripp. I live on the island.”
She grasped the extended hand. “Jan Covington. Pleased to meet you. We’re just here for a week on vacation.”
“Ah. Your name seems familiar to me. Have we met before?”
Jan squinted in thought, then shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
He thought briefly, then asked, “Covington? Are you related to the Covington who recently received a Nobel Prize, by any chance?”
Jan shrugged self-consciously, then nodded. “Yeah. That’s me, as a matter of fact.”
He beamed. “Well, please allow me to offer my congratulations. It is an honor to meet you, ah- is it ‘Missus’, ‘Miss’, or “Doctor’?”
She replied, “It’s ‘Doctor’, but only in academic circles. Call me Jan.”
“Then ‘Jan’ it is. You are having a pleasant time?”
“Yeah, we’re having a great time.” The bartender placed an open bottle of Greek wine before her and four glasses.” She dropped some money on the bar, then looked at Karl. “Say, would you care to join us?”
He hedged, “I do not wish to impose.”
Jan laughed at that. “No imposition.” She looked at the bartender and said, “One more glass.” He nodded, then placed a fifth glass on the counter. Jan pocketed her change, left a bill on the counter as a tip, then nodded toward a table. “Grab some glasses and join us.”
She led him to the table, speaking as she approached it. “Guys, this is Karl Tripp. He lives here on the island. Karl, this is Melinda Pappas, Mack MacKenzie and Sallie MacKenzie.” They looked up, nodding greetings to the man as Mack stood and shook his hand.
When they were seated and the wine was poured, Mel asked, “So, Karl, what brings you to these lovely islands?”
He smiled. “An escape from the snow and ice of Switzerland, I fear. It is cheap and lovely here. I’ve quite fallen in love with the climate.”
Jan raised an eyebrow at the mention of Switzerland. “Say,” she asked. “Do you know a guy by the name of Gottfried who lives around here?”
He nodded. “Yes, yes. There are quite a few Europeans living among the islands here. I am acquainted with Mister Gottfried. You have met him?”
“No. Andros mentioned his name when he showed me his collection of Greek antiquities.”
Karl nodded in understanding. “The collection is impressive, is it not? Andros is quite proud of it.”
Sallie said, “He has reason to be. Some of the pieces are priceless.”
“Ah,” Karl said. “You have familiarity with such things?”
She nodded. “Jan and I are both archaeologists. Mel translates ancient Greek and Mack is a historian.”
Karl’s expression brightened. “A love of old Greece is in all of you, then. Tell me, have you seen the temple ruins here?”
Sallie explained, “We’re going to visit the ones on the far side of the island tomorrow.”
Karl smiled at the news. “Of course. They are quite impressive. Are you familiar with their history?”
Mack joined the conversation. “Not too familiar.”
“Then perhaps you would allow me to tell you something of them? The study of such things is a hobby of mine, you know.”
As they listened, he began speaking pleasantly, unfolding a history of the ruins at the far side of the little Greek isle as the four friends listened and sipped their wine. After a while, he rose and bid them farewell, bowing courteously as he did so.
After he left, Mel observed, “He certainly was pleasant, wasn’t he, Jan?” When she did not answer, Mel looked at her mate. The little blonde was in deep thought about something. She repeated, “Jan?”
Jan’s head jerked up. “Huh? Oh yeah, Mel. Sure was.”
The next day dawned bright and sunny, allowing them an early departure after breakfast. They acquired a dented old Land Rover convertible jeep from the resort and headed down the road which circled the periphery of the island. The drive was pleasant, the scenery magnificent and the company agreeable, so the trip went quickly and pleasantly.
They set a leisurely place, stopping occasionally to admire the magnificent view from the cliffs overlooking the gulf water. Once, they halted to allow a shepherd to cajole his flock of sheep across the wide road. Eventually, they crested a hill to see the ruins gleaming in the distance. As they neared the tumbled-down stones, Jan parked the jeep in the grassy field not far from the ruins. Their hike to the site took them just a few minutes of effort, and soon they were among the half-razed walls and tall columns, speculating about the period of origin of the weathered statues which dotted the ruins or of the purpose of the various buildings.
Sallie discovered a door jamb’s arch, overgrown with weeds, in the back of the temple’s structure and noted, “That’s odd. I could swear this temple wall backs up to the hill. What’s a door doing here?”
Jan’s eyes widened as she studied it. “Damn, you’re right. It seems to go back a way.” She considered it, then looked over at her friends. “You all up for this?”
Mack’s expression turned to one of amusement as he studied Jan’s face. “Why not? Do we have some light?”
Jan said, “There’s probably one in the jeep. I’ll get it.” With that, Jan trotted out of the temple’s ruins. In a few minutes, she was leaning over the side of the jeep, standing on tiptoes and attempting to dig around in a cargo bin. “Flashlight,” she muttered. “Shit, there’s everything but that in here. Tire iron, tools...” She froze as the hair bristled on the nape of her neck. Slowly, she looked up. Standing near her, two men were watching her dig into the bin. She considered them with caution, then asked in Greek, “What can I do for you fellows?”
One raised a pistol and pointed it at her face. In reply, he spoke in German. “Standen Sie auf, bitte.” To emphasize the point, he gestured with the pistol.
Jan looked at their faces. They were both roughly her age, but with a cold, dispassionate air about them. She felt a chill of alarm radiate down her spine and slowly straightened up, her hand still in the bin, her eyes fixed on the barrel of the pistol aimed at her face. “What the hell is this?” she asked in English as her hand gripped the shaft of the tire iron.
They did not answer except to approach her, the man with the pistol taking a place next to her. He gestured again, muttering something which Jan did not understand. The second man grasped her shirt, attempting to pull her away from the jeep, and Jan reacted.
She lifted the tire iron from the jeep’s bin and brought it down squarely on his forehead. He released her and collapsed to his knees, his hands grasping his head, and she lashed out with the tire iron again, this time to her left. It caught the arm holding the gun and knocked it aside, the firearm discharging harmlessly into the air. The shot echoed across the hill as Jan pounced on him with a growl and knocked him against the side of the jeep, then dropped the tire iron and pulled him to the ground, rolling in the grass on top of him. She gripped the hand containing the pistol with both her own and desperately attempted to wrestle it away from him. He balled a fist and struck her in the ribs as they wrestled. She winced and grunted, but did not let go of the wrist. In reply, she brought her knee up and wormed it across his chest, then across his throat. She could feel the grip begin to loosen on the pistol as she bore her weight down on his neck. His eyes wide, he flailed at her in desperation with his free hand as she pulled the pistol from him, then turned it on him and pointed it into his face. His expression froze in fear, then actually relaxed and smiled a little.
Jan hissed, “Think it’s funny, asshole?” A movement at the edge of her vision caught her attention, and she glanced to one side. Her head exploded in light and pain and she felt herself become disoriented, then sink into darkness.
Sallie, seated on a rock in the ruins, looked up at the near gunshot and asked, “What was that?”
“Sounded like- a gun,” Mack answered. “Close, too.”
“Oh, my God,” Mel said, her face suddenly paling. “Jan. She’s out there.” Mel ran toward the entrance to the ruins, Sallie and Mack trailing behind her and attempting to keep up with her long stride.
When they emerged from the ruins into the field, they saw the jeep sitting in the distance, unattended. Jan was not to be seen. When they reached the jeep, panting from their run, they saw the cargo bin open on the jeep and Jan’s worn green fedora hat lying on the ground. Mel picked up the hat, then darted desperate glances around the hillside, shouting Jan’s name. There was no answer except the echo of her own voice. Almost in tears, Mel turned and pleaded, “Something’s wrong, I can feel it.”
Sallie suggested, “She’s got to be somewhere close. Mack, you go that way, I’ll go this way. We’ll find her.”
Mack nodded, then headed toward the road at the top of the hill to gain a vantage point from where he could view the area. As he approached the crest of the hill, he heard the distant sound of an engine. A rusty truck, a canvas tied loosely over the frame above its bed, rounded the hill and approached him. It creaked to a halt and its driver leaned out of the window.
“Hello,” he said. “Mack, if I remember correctly. Are you enjoying the ruins?”
Mack approached the truck’s door. “Karl, I’m glad to see you. We’ve got a problem. Jan disappeared and we can’t find her.”
He smiled at that. “Yes, she is in the back of the truck. She said something about your car not working. We were giving her a ride to the next village. Why don’t you join her?” He jerked a thumb backward to indicate the bed of the truck, and Mack nodded. He walked back to the truck, speaking toward the bed. “Jan, you bum, you gave us a scare. Next time you run off-”
When he turned the corner to face the truck’s tailgate, he found a man standing by the ladder. He pointed a gun at Mack’s face, then indicated with a motion of it that he should board the truck. Mack backed away a pace, then turned to run, but was stopped by Karl’s presence a few steps behind him. Karl also brandished a pistol, held at waist level and pointed at Mack, and cautioned, “Be sensible and get into the truck.”
Mack glared at Karl for a moment, then asked, “What the hell are you doing?”
“It is not for you to ask questions. Get into the truck, Mack.”
A sick thrill of dread knotted Mack’s stomach. He asked, “This is about the U-boat, isn’t it?” When Karl did not answer, Mack insisted, “Where’s Jan?”
He motioned toward the back of the truck. “She is not well. She could use your company.” He motioned again, then said, “Please. We have not much time.”
Mack peered into the truck’s bed and saw Jan curled into a ball in the far corner behind the truck’s cab, her head held in both hands. Seated next to her was another man, one hand holding a pistol and his other hand pressing a cloth against his forehead. When Mack hesitated, the man next to him shoved him toward the back of the truck. Grimly, he climbed into the truck’s bed and settled onto the floor next to Jan. The man boarded after Mack, sat near the open tailgate and held on as Karl muttered something in German to the two men, then left their vision. In a moment, the truck lurched into motion.
Mack studied Jan for a moment, then said, “You okay, ol’ buddy?”
Jan looked up. Her eyes were squinted in pain. “I got a mother of a headache.” She cast a glance up at the guard over her, then snickered and said, “He does, too.”
The guard, still pressing the cloth to his forehead, shoved her with his foot. She fell against the side of the truck, then replied with a hiss of crude profanities as she glared back at him. He said nothing to that, but leveled his pistol at her. Mack placed his hand on her leg and said, “Patience, Jan. It’s going to get worse before it gets better, I think.”
A barked command from the guard silenced them, and they huddled together as the truck bounced over the dirt road.
After a few minutes, the truck stopped. They could hear Karl’s voice quite plainly as he spoke in English, his tone deceptively pleasant. “Ah, Miss Pappas, Mrs. MacKenzie. What brings you out here?”
“Jan disappeared,” Mel’s voice answered. “We’re searching for her. Have you seen her?”
“Yes,” he answered. “She’s in the truck. Trouble with the car, she told me. Go and join her there. We’ll give you a lift.” Jan opened her mouth to shout an alarm, but a pistol’s barrel held in her face silenced her. In a matter of moments, Mel and Sallie were herded into the back of the truck and were sitting next to Mack and Jan as the truck resumed its trip, two men with pistols hovering over them and silencing their attempts at conversation whenever they tried to speak.
The truck did not travel more than about fifteen minutes before it pulled off the road and bounced across a pasture, then entered a shady barn. As the motor died, the building’s doors swung closed behind them. Karl appeared at the back of the truck, his pistol in hand, and said, “Get out and come with me.”
Jan lifted her head from her hands and asked, “That depends. Are you going to start explaining all this?”
Karl cast her an impatient frown. “For the moment, just do as I say. After all, we have the guns, I believe.”
When they climbed down from the truck bed, they noted two more men standing about them with weapons. One had a pistol stuck into the waistband of his trousers, and the other one displayed a submachine gun, the strap slung over his shoulder. The weapon bounced against his hip as he walked across the barn, then leveled it at them. Karl issued a command in German, then waved the group toward the back of the barn. They filed through a stone archway, its thick wooden door ajar, and began descending a flight of rough-hewn stone stairs, the route appearing to take them down into the ground below the barn.
The tunnel into which they descended was dimly lighted with lanterns at regular intervals, emitting just enough light to assure their footing. The stairs descended into the earth for some distance, then leveled out. As they reached the bottom of the stairs, Mel sniffed, then whispered, “It stinks like the cavern down here.”
Karl’s voice barked, “Silence!” Under the watchful stares of the five armed men, they made their way around the next turn of the corridor and emerged into the cavern. They could see the rusted hull and conning tower of the U-boat loom out of the darkness just ahead of them. The hatch in the middle of the forward deck was open and crates were stacked on the deck.
At their arrival, Karl called out to a man standing on the deck. He turned, replied in German, then clasped his hands behind his back as he perused the captives. After the inspection, he waved them aboard and watched as they trooped across the wooden catwalk to the boat’s deck, armed men in front of them and behind them, and halted in front of the large, rust-streaked naval gun which was mounted to the deck.
The man standing on the deck, Jan noted, was a little older than the others surrounding her and carried himself with an air of authority. She watched him as he considered her, then Mel, Sallie and Mack in turn, as if he were deciding what his next course of action should be. Jan stared back at him without blinking as he studied her, then said, “Let me guess. Gottfried, right?”
He registered surprise, then nodded. “Yes, and you are?” Karl whispered something to him and he acknowledged, “Covington, the archaeologist. Somehow, you do not seem as dangerous as your friend Palo believes that you are.”
At Palo’s name, Jan flared. She tensed and her eyes widened. Gottfried noted the reaction, then snickered, observing, “Yes, he had the same reaction when Karl mentioned your name to him.” He pointed to each of the other captives. “You are MacKenzie.” He turned his attention to Mel and said, “You, though, have a little of the Greek about you. You must be Pappas.” He paused, studying Sallie, then finished, “How odd. MacKenzie is not a Jewish name.” He paused, then asked, “But Rosen is. You are Jewish, aren’t you?”
Sallie retorted, “What’s it to ya?”
He sighed, then began speaking to the group. “Karl has done well to bring you here. He tells me that you injured one of our comrades, Covington. Perhaps you are more dangerous that you first appear.”
Jan narrowed her eyes into slits as she replied, “Want a demonstration?”
Gottfried ignored the taunt. Instead, approached Jan and stood in front of her. Gazing down at her, he asked, “Have you told anyone else about the existence of this boat?”
“Yeah. I called the American Embassy in Athens last evening. I told ‘em everything I know. They were very interested. The American navy is headed this way right now.”
He considered her statement for a moment, then said, “You are lying.”
Jan allowed a slow, taunting grin to spread across her face. “Suit yourself.”
He considered the answer, then said, “It does not matter. You have caused us considerable trouble, Covington.”
“Gee, that’s too bad.”
His hand flashed out and struck her across the mouth. Her head turned at the blow, but she did not back away from him. He said, “You will regret it.” As he stepped away from her, he pointed toward the stack of wooden crates on the foredeck. “Do you know what is in those crates?”
Jan spat on the deck, then lied, “No.”
“I think that you do. Because of your interference, we must move them to safety. You and your comrades will load them into the truck for us.”
“Like hell we will.”
Gottfried said, “I think that you will. I have some considerable experience at making prisoners work, you know.” He approached them again and pulled a pistol from his pocket, placing the muzzle just under Mel’s chin. “You will load the crates for us or I will make an example of your girlfriend here and now.”
Jan heard Mel’s gasp as he thrust the cold pistol up under her chin. Her heart began to pound as if her chest would burst and she quickly stammered, “Okay, okay. You got it.”
He lowered the pistol and stepped back, a look of satisfaction on his features. “I thought that you would understand me. You will begin now. We haven’t much time.” He spoke briefly with Karl, then retreated to the bow of the submarine to watch his orders carried out.
Karl stepped forward and said, “You will please begin working. Carry the crates up one at a time and place them into the truck. I know that you will be most careful with them, as you are all lovers of antiquities. If one does break, I will shoot one of you.”
Jan felt her friends’ eyes flicker toward her. She glanced at the group of armed men standing about them, sighed in frustration and said, “We’ve got no options right now, guys. Let’s do it.”
Under guard, each of them took a crate, lifted it onto their shoulders and began walking across the catwalk toward the tunnel to the surface. Two men led them, weapons out, and two followed them. Karl watched from the rear. They huffed slowly up the long stairwell, the awkward wooden crates on their shoulders, and finally emerged into the barn. As they placed the boxes on the tailgate of the truck, one of the armed men climbed inside and arranged the cargo carefully in the truck bed. The man with the submachine gun pointed it at them and motioned them back to the tunnel. They descended the stairs under the watchful eyes of their guards, found their way down the long stairway and emerged into the cavern again.
As they were herded onto the deck of the submarine to repeat the task, Gottfried smirked at them. Jan glanced over at Sallie’s face, just a foot away from hers. Sallie’s eyes were darker than usual, a fierce glare about them as she considered the man standing at the bow. She slowly turned her face toward Jan as she hefted another crate, and Jan was shocked at the eye’s countenance. A fire burned deeply in them, a fire that she knew all too well as a primal, barely-contained hatred. She had never seen Sallie’s normally pleasant expression reflect such emotion before. and it made her pause. Jan whispered, “You okay?”
Sallie shook her head, then adjusted the crate on her slender shoulders. As she did, she replied softly, “Now I know how my relatives felt.”
A man stepped between them and barked, “Silence!” then stepped back. Without further speech, they began their trek again, burdens upon their shoulders, walking across the catwalk and up the winding stairs of the tunnel.
In the barn, as Jan set her crate on the truck’s tailgate, she rubbed her shoulder, then looked around. The guards were present and very alert, and that made her even more angry with frustration. When they were herded back toward the tunnel, she passed Karl. Frantically, she attempted conversation, anything to interrupt the labor and give them just a glimmer of a chance to perhaps turn the tables on their captors and make their escape.
“Karl, this is beneath you. You’re a better man than Gottfried; why do you take orders from that jackass?”
He smiled at that, then replied, “It is the credo of the SS: loyalty, courage, obedience.” He emphasized the last word.
“Obedience to maniacs like that is why you’re in this pickle in the first place,” Jan said.
“No,” he corrected. “We are in this ‘pickle’, as you say, because we lost the war. You are in this ‘pickle’ because of your intractable curiosity.” He motioned with his pistol and ordered, “Now continue, please.” When Jan hesitated, he said, “Obey. Don’t force me to kill Miss Pappas in front of you. Believe me, I’ll do it.”
Jan sighed, then turned and headed toward the tunnel. She kept acutely alert, however, for any lapse of attention on the part of the armed men around them, hoping for the moment that would allow her to take the initiative and strike back at them. There was none. They were very efficient at their duties.
She tried to talk to Mel, but was hushed by a guard every time she attempted to speak. After about the fourth warning, she was struck across the back by the man with the submachine gun. She stumbled and fell to her knees, but struggled to stand again, finally succeeding when Mel’s hands lifted her to a standing position.
The final trip up the stairs was the most taxing. Their legs and shoulders burned with the effort of carrying the crates up the stairs and they were sweating profusely when they reached the barn. When they deposited the final crates on the truck’s bed, Karl approached them and instructed, “Go back down the stairs to the boat.”
“What the hell for?” Jan asked incredulously. “There’s no more crates. This is it.”
“We are not quite finished with you,” he replied.
Mel’s voice echoed in the barn, “What more can you want with us?”
Mack’s reply was chilling. “He wants to shut us up for good, Mel. We know too much.”
Karl looked at Mack, but did not reply. He didn’t need to. They could see the truth of Mack’s words in the former SS officer’s eyes. The man waved his pistol and said, “Go.”
The trip back down the stairs seemed to all of them a slow, painful walk to a death sentence. As they negotiated the stairs back down into the hill, Jan’s mind whirled as she frantically cast about for some idea, any idea which would secure them their freedom and cancel the next act which they all knew lay, dreadfully, just ahead for them. She saw none. As they emerged from the tunnel and entered the cavern, Jan noted a new wrinkle in the situation. A large, deep-sea fishing boat was moored alongside the rusting submarine.
They filed across the catwalk to the deck of the submarine, then were herded into a group near the open hatch on the foredeck. A couple of the men descended into the hatch as Gottfried took charge of the prisoners and approached them, issuing instructions. “You will follow those men into the hatch, one at a time. You, Pappas, are first.”
Mel hesitated, casting a glance at Jan, who replied with a look of fear deep in her eyes, but whispered, “It’ll be okay, Mel. Don’t forget your ancestor.”
Gottfried shot Jan a puzzled look at the comment, but ignored it. As Mel lowered herself through the hatch, Gottfried pointed at Jan, then at the hatch. Slowly, Jan passed him on the deck, then stood over the open hatch and watched Mel disappear into the dimly-lit recesses of the boat. Urged on by a shove from a guard, she descended through the hatch to join Mel.
When the blonde head disappeared inside the hatch, Gottfried motioned with his pistol and said, “You next, Rosen.”
“The name’s MacKenzie, asshole,” Sallie replied.
He struck her across the face with an open hand. Sallie collapsed to the deck, her hand over her mouth. Mack stepped forward, but was halted by the man with the submachine gun, who pointed it at him and shook his head.
Gottfried looked down at her as she sat on the deck, then said, “I will not be spoken to that way by a Jew.” He glanced over at one of the men and whispered something, pointing at Sallie. The man approached her, lifted her by the back of her shirt and pushed her toward the hatch. After she disappeared into the depths of the boat, Gottfried motioned toward Mack, then to the hatch. He stepped forward, but Gottfried stopped him. For a moment, they stared at each other, then Gottfried asked, “You, MacKenzie. Were you in the war?”
“Yeah,” he replied.
“In what capacity?”
“I was a captain of artillery,” Mack said.
Gottfried nodded, then said, “It is regrettable that a soldier must die as you will die.”
Mack kept his eyes on the man’s face as he replied, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.”
Gottfried raised an eyebrow at that, considered the statement, then observed, “You Americans, eternal optimists.”
“We kicked your butts, didn’t we?”
Gottfried’s expression went sour at that. He gestured with his pistol and said, “Into the hatch.”
“Yeah, right,” Mack answered, then began climbing down the ladder, descending into the submarine. As he lowered himself into the boat, he looked around. Sallie, Jan and Mel were seated on one of the lower bunks, their backs against a bulkhead, their hands bound behind their backs. He breathed a sigh of grateful relief at seeing them, then looked around as his feet touched the deck. They were in what appeared to be the forward torpedo room. The round hatches of four torpedo tubes protruded from the bulkhead to his left, and pipes, wiring, bunks and machinery crowded the compartment all around him. He reckoned that it was the most forward compartment in the boat, then looked for a door to the center of the boat. There was one in the distance, and it was open. A pair of hands grasped him, pushed him against the ladder and pulled his hands behind his back as a guard kept a pistol leveled at his face. He felt his wrists bound tightly, then he was pushed toward his friends. At a barked order and a gesture, he seated himself on the bunk next to Jan. One of the men climbed the ladder, pulled the hatch shut and spun the wheel, locking it down. Then, the guards exited the compartment by the door to the central control room and slammed the hatch behind them. They watched the locking lever spin and the room descend into silence, only the dim red light of an emergency lantern glowing in the darkness.
No one spoke for a minute, then Jan said, “Everybody okay?”
Three voices answered in the affirmative. Mel said, “Jan, what’s next for us?”
“Did you see that big boat moored next to us?”
“There was a line attached from the stern of that boat to the bow of this one, a thick, heavy line.”
Mel considered the possibilities, then asked, “Do you think that they’re going to tow us somewhere?”
“I think they’re going to hide this boat in the safest place possible, Mel.”
Jan said, “I’m guessing in the middle of the gulf. They’re going to tow it out and sink it. That’s what I’d do if I were them.”
Sallie asked, “With us in it, right?” At Jan’s nod, she leaned forward and looked at her companions. “Anybody got any ideas? What do you think, Mack?”
He said, “I think that they just screwed up. They’ve left us alone for the first time. Can anybody get loose?”
Sallie added, “Damned right they screwed up. They didn’t search us.”
“So?” Mack asked.
Sallie huffed, then said, “Do you remember that big-ass jack-knife that you gave me on the England dig, Mack?”
He looked over at her, noted her expression, and asked, “You’ve got that thing on you?”
She nodded emphatically. “Yeah. I always keep it on me when I’m in the field.”
Jan leaned forward, looked at her and said, “Damn, you had a knife the whole time and you didn’t say anything?”
Sallie joked, “I’m not dumb enough to pull out a knife at a gunfight, Jan.”
“Well, pull the sucker out now.”
There was a silence for a second, then Sallie said, “I can’t get to it. It’s in my pocket.” She shifted, then said, “Mel, can you reach it? It’s in the right-hand pocket of my shorts.”
“I’ll try, Sallie.” Mel shifted, worming her hands around toward Sallie. They wiggled together, grunting and panting, for a few moments. Mel whispered, “Is that your pocket?”
Sallie giggled, then said, “Ah, nope.”
“Oh, my. It certainly wasn’t. I’m so terribly sorry, Sallie.”
“Buy me a drink later, sweetie?” Sallie joked.
The silly joke broke the tension in the compartment. Jan wheezed in laughter, her mirth proving infectious to Mack, who began chuckling aloud. In a moment, laughter swept through all of them, releasing the pent-up tension of the dangerous situation. Mel was still snickering as she pressed her back against Sallie in a desperate attempt to worm her bound hands into Sallie’s pocket and recover the knife. In between bouts of giggling, Sallie twisted and turned, pressing her body against Mel in an effort to present her pocket to Mel’s hands. Their wheezes and grunts and the squeak of the bunk filled the compartment as they struggled to retrieve the knife from Sallie’s pocket.
Jan cracked, “Man, they sound a lot like some neighbors I had in college.”
Mack whispered, “Your neighbors said the same thing about you.”
Mel and Sallie were worming around next to each other, grunting and whispering as they attempted to retrieve Sallie’s knife. Sallie whispered, “No, Mel. Up a little. Now to your left. Yeah, that’s it. You’ve almost got it. Can you feel it? Yeah, you’ve got it, I think. Oh yeah, you’re right on it. Damn, good thing you’ve got long fingers.”
“Am I in?”
Sallie giggled, “Oh yeah, baby, you’re in.”
At that, both Jan and Mack lost control and screamed in laughter, leaning back against the bulkhead and howling. Over the noise of the laughter, Mel said, “I’ve got it.”
“Put it in my hands, Mel,” Sallie said. They wriggled together a little more, then Sallie scooted forward on the bunk and stood, her back to them. In the dim red light, they could see the folded jack-knife in her bound hands. She fiddled with it, then clicked it open, revealing a long, nasty-looking blade glinting in the red light.
Mel noted, “My, it certainly is a big one, isn’t it?”
At that, Jan and Mack screamed in laughter again. Mel glanced over at them, gave Jan a look of chagrin, then allowed a lop-sided smile to spread across her face. She watched as Sallie deftly sawed through the rope binding her wrists, then parted her hands. Sallie leaned behind Mel and cut her bonds, then waved the knife blade at Jan and Mack. “Are you two juveniles gonna behave yourselves?”
Mack snorted, then said, “Yeah, yeah. Come on, cut us loose.”
Jan added, “Quick, before we lose the mood.” At that, Mack and Jan leaned back and howled in mirth again.
Mack wheezed, “Stop it, ol’ buddy. You’re killin’ me.”
Sallie shook her head, then said, “Lean over, you two delinquents.” She pulled Jan forward and cut the rope binding her wrists, then did the same for Mack.
Jan pulled herself to her feet, still laughing. As she rubbed her wrists, she said, “Thanks for the laugh. I needed that.”
Mel giggled, then added, “I think we all needed that.”
Mack joked, “Do you two want to go smoke a cigarette or something?”
Sallie snickered at the comment, then hugged Mel’s tall body about the waist and batted her eyes up at her melodramatically as she purred, “Call me the next time you’re in town, honey?”
Even in the dim red light of the emergency lantern, they could see Mel blush, a self-conscious grin spread across her face as she pushed the glasses up on her nose.
“I declare,” she joked in her rich southern drawl. “I just don’t know what came over me. I usually don’t make a habit of this, you know.”
Jan grinned, then said, “Well, if we’re all finished groping each other, let’s figure out how to get out of here with our skins intact.”
Mack nodded in agreement. “We need to get a gun. Let’s see if we can get one of those guys in here.”
“Yeah, good idea. Look around. Find something that we can use against them. There’s got to be a hammer or a big wrench or something in this can.”
At that suggestion, they all began searching the compartment, digging through abandoned gear. After a minute, Mack stood up, brandishing a large wrench about two feet long. “How’s this?”
Jan nodded. “That’s the ticket. Stand behind the door. I’ll bang on it with something. When the guy comes in, you clock him and clock him hard.”
Mack assumed a station to the left of the sealed door. Jan looked around for something with which to bang on the metal door, finally finding a hammer among a box of rags and oil cans. She pointed to a top bunk just to the right of the door and said, “Mel, you and Sallie get up there. I don’t want you two getting hurt in the tangle.”
As Mel climbed up onto the upper bunk, Sallie placed a hand on Jan’s shoulder. Jan looked at her and was taken aback at the intense burn in Sallie’s eyes as she insisted, “I want Gottfried.”
“We’ll get him,” Jan said.
“No, Jan. I want him. He’s mine. Do you hear me?”
Jan hesitated, then asked, “Sallie, have you ever killed anyone before?”
She hissed, “I’ve never hated anyone this much before.”
Jan said, “Ugly, isn’t it?” The comment gave Sallie pause. She slowly nodded in agreement and Jan finished, “It ain’t half as ugly as your first kill. Remember that.”
Sallie silently considered the remark, then climbed up onto the bunk and knelt next to Mel. Jan took a deep breath, then said, “Let’s do it.” She lifted the hammer and brought it down on the metal door with a resounding bang, then struck the door again. After several hits, she saw the latch on the compartment door begin to turn and stepped back. “This is it, guys. Make it good.”
The door swung open, accompanied by a harsh voice. The man with the submachine gun stepped into the compartment, the gun leveled at Jan. His voice was commanding as he yelled something, then gestured with the gun. He noted the other prisoners missing, and his eyes widened. At that moment, Mel dropped a blanket over him as Mack stepped around the door, bringing the wrench down on his head. A dull, hollow crack echoed in the compartment and the man dropped like a felled ox, crumpling on the floor and lying still. Mack swung the door shut as Jan pulled the blanket away. There was a vicious laceration on the back of the man’s head which glistened in the red light. A dark puddle began forming around his head. Jan rolled him over and looked at his face, then lifted the submachine gun from his body and searched him. He had no other weapons.
She looked up at Mack and asked, “Do you know how to work this thing?” He nodded. “Where’s the safety?” she asked.
“There,” he said, pointing to a lever just above the trigger. “Flip it forward with your thumb.”
She worked it a couple of times, eliciting a soft click from it. When she was satisfied, she waved Mel and Sallie down from the bunk, then said, “Stay behind me.”
Mack cracked the door open and peeked around it, then opened it all the way. “I don’t see anyone else,” he said. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
“How?” Mel asked. “They’re probably up on the deck.”
Jan thought, then suggested, “The conning tower hatch. We can look down on them from there.”
Mack nodded agreement. “The high ground,” he said. “I like it.”
Jan stepped through the door, then paced slowly along the corridor, her weapon at the ready. Mack, then Mel and Sallie followed. They squeezed through the narrow passageway, then entered a compartment with rows of bunks lining the bulkheads from top to deck. It was empty of life. They filed through it, then came to another door. It was open.
Jan peered around the edge of the passage, then stepped through it. As did, she cast a glance around. The galley was on either side of them. She perused it, then whispered, “The control room is just ahead, I think.” Slowly, scarcely daring to breathe, they approached the next door. When they reached it, Jan peered around it. She lifted a foot to step through, then heard a voice in the control room say something. She froze, then backed away, pressing herself against the galley stove. The voice spoke again. After a moment, footsteps echoed across the metal deck, coming toward them, the voice muttering. Jan turned, her face a mask of desperation, and frantically waved her friends back. They pressed against the walls and the galley equipment as the footsteps approached. A head and some shoulders appeared through the door, the eyes widening when they beheld the escaped captives. Jan squeezed the trigger on the submachine gun and it erupted in a deafening chatter, knocking the man out of the door. He bounced against a wall, then hit the deck with a loud thump. She looked down at the weapon, smoke rising from its barrel and ejection port, and mused, “Man, this thing kicks ass.”
Mack slapped her on the back and shouted, “Let’s get going, Jan. They must have heard that topside.”
She nodded, then stepped into the control room and sought out the ladder to the conning tower hatch. As they followed, Mack halted momentarily to lift the pistol from the waistband of the man who was sprawled on the deck, limp and bleeding.
Jan slung her weapon behind her back and began climbing the ladder. When she neared the open hatch, she peered over the rim just as shouts resounded and a gunshot rang out. A bullet ricocheted off the inside of the open hatch, not a foot from Jan’s head. She cursed, then grasped at a rope lanyard hanging down from the open hatch and pulled. The hatch slammed shut above her head. She gripped the locking wheel with both hands and attempted to twist it. Someone began tugging on the other side of the hatch, and it opened an inch or two. Jan allowed her feet to swing free of the ladder, her hands still gripped to the locking wheel, and shouted, “Pull on the rope!”
Mel and Mack reached above their heads and gripped the rope, pulling down on it with all their combined might. The hatch lifted an inch once again, then slammed shut. Jan placed one foot on the ladder, gripped a rung with one hand and spun the hatch wheel with the other hand. It turned freely, and she spun it again. It turned another revolution, then stopped, then started slowly turning back in the other direction. She cursed quite profanely, then spun the wheel hard and snugged it down.
Something tapped her leg, and she looked down. Mack was holding the large wrench up to her and said, “Beat the hell out of it. Tighten it down so they can’t get it open.”
She lifted the wrench and pounded repeatedly on the handle protruding from one edge of the wheel, wedging it so tightly shut that hands alone could not open it. When she tested it and found it satisfactory, she dropped to the deck and looked up. Above her, they could hear voices shouting and something banging on the hatch from without. She looked around, snorted in disgust, then said, “Now what?”
Sallie hissed, “Shit, they’ll come in through the deck hatches.”
Mack asked, “How many other hatches are there?”
She replied, “We saw two, but the one near the stern was rusted shut.”
Jan decided, “Then it’s got to be the forward one. Come on, guys.”
All caution gone, they raced through the narrow corridor, heading back in the direction from which they had originally come in a desperate attempt to reach the forward torpedo room before their captors did. When they neared it, Jan saw a flash of light ahead of her. The resounding crack of a pistol shot sounded in boat and the metal bulkhead just in front of her head dented. She waved everyone back, then shouted, “Damn it, they’re already in there.”
Another gunshot sounded and a second dent formed in the bulkhead. Jan stuck the barrel of her weapon around the edge of the doorway and pulled the trigger. The submachine gun kicked in her hands and rattled for a second, deafening all of them. When it stopped, smoke curled up in the corridor in front of Jan. The boat was eerily quiet except for the tinkle of brass casings rolling on the deck.
Jan leaned forward, attempting to peer around the edge of the door. Another gunshot cracked, the bullet zipping past her ear. She jerked her head back and wheezed, “Shit, that was close. You guys get down. Don’t show anything to them. Mack, keep a watch behind us, in case they come from that direction.”
He nodded, then turned and faced the corridor through which they had come, his pistol raised. A thick silence descended upon them, a silence in which nothing happened for the next minute or so. Their breathing, the only sound audible, seemed incredibly loud in the cramped corridor.
Finally, Mel whispered, “Jan, what happens now?”
“You got me,” Jan answered honestly. “Looks like we have a Mexican standoff here.”
Karl’s voice broke the silence. It echoed from a couple of compartments ahead of them. “Covington, you and your friends have no escape. We have the topside hatches guarded. If you attempt to leave the boat, we will shoot you.”
Jan replied, “And your point is?”
“Give up, Covington. You have fought a good battle against superior odds, but you have lost.”
Jan sniffed, then answered, “Not yet, we haven’t.”
After a pause, Karl replied with a hint of resignation in his voice, “As you wish, then.”
They heard footsteps ahead of them, footsteps which got fainter with time, followed by the slamming of a hatch. Jan peeked around the corner of the door. When no gunshots rang through the boat, she stepped out into the corridor and walked slowly toward the next door, her weapon leveled and her heart pounding. Sure enough, no shadows moved in the dim light ahead of her and no one took a shot at her. Eventually, she reached the door to the forward torpedo room. It was open. Carefully, she peered around the edge. The compartment was empty, the hatch shut. She walked back to where the others waited and said, “They’re gone. They’ve sealed us in.”
Mel said, “We can open the hatches from inside, can’t we?”
Sallie muttered, “Yeah, but as soon as we stick our heads up, they’ll shoot.”
Mel looked at Jan and asked, “What shall we do?”
Jan thought aloud. “We’ve got to get out of here somehow. Any ideas, guys?”
Mel raised a hopeful eyebrow and suggested, “Maybe they’ll just slink off and leave us here. After all, they have all the artifacts now. We don’t matter any more.”
“Fat chance, Mel,” Jan said. “We know who they are and what they have. We’re a danger to them. They won’t rest until they make sure we never live to tell about it.” She glanced over at Mel’s crestfallen expression and said, “Sorry, honey, but it’s a matter of survival for them now.”
Sallie protested, “It’s a matter of survival for us, too. We’ve got to do something. I hate the thought of just sitting around here until they tow us out to sea and sink us.”
“I agree,” Mack added. “Maybe we can check on what they’re doing up there.”
“How?” Sallie asked. “They’ve probably got a guard on every hatch.”
Mack smiled. “The periscope,” he suggested.
Jan blinked in surprise. “Damn, Mack. Good idea.” She took off toward the central control room, Mel, Mack and Sallie on her heels. When they entered the central area, they gathered around the shaft of the periscope which rose from the deck and projected up through the ceiling. The eyepiece and the handles were about a foot above the deck, as the instrument was in the parked position. Jan asked, “So, how do you work this thing?”
“There’s no power to raise it. We’ll just have to try using it like it is,” Mack said.
“What the hell,” Jan agreed. She lay down on the deck and attempted to peer through the viewing optics, placing an eye against the eyepiece. “Yeah,” she said. “I can see a little, but only the inside of the cavern.”
Sallie leaned down next to her, studying the writing on the knobs protruding from the periscope’s case. After a minute, she said, “Keep looking, Jan. Let’s see what this does.” She twisted a knob and asked, “Anything better?”
“Yeah. Damn, that lets me look up and down. Hey, twist it all the way down.” Sallie turned the knob and Jan continued, “I can see the deck and the forward hatch now. There’s some guys standing by it. It looks like Gottfried, Karl and one other guy.”
Mel counted on her fingers, “Let’s see, originally there was Gottfried, Karl and four other men. We’ve dealt with two of them. That means that, out of the four left, three of them are at the forward hatch.”
Sallie looked up. “That means that there’s only one guy to guard both the hatch here and the one at the rear of the boat.”
Jan tugged on the periscope handles. It moved only slightly. She muttered, “Damn thing’s stuck.”
Mack said, “It hasn’t been used in years, probably. Here, let me see if I can help.” He grasped the outside of the periscope case and twisted it. Jan pulled on the handle, and it moved a couple of inches, squeaked in protest, then began turning freely. As Jan rose and moved to the other side of the periscope, Mack twisted it around. He asked, “Can you see the afterdeck, Jan?”
Jan said, “Yeah. There’s nobody at that hatch. It’s unguarded. That just might be our ticket out of here.”
Sallie said, “That hatch is rusted shut, Jan. Remember, we couldn’t get it open?”
Jan looked up at her. “From the outside, yeah. How about from the inside?”
“We’ll still be seen when we open the hatch and try to run,” Mel protested. “The catwalk is near the front where those men are.”
Mack said, “If I remember, there was a boat moored along the port side of this thing. Can you see it?”
Jan swung the periscope, scooting along the deck as it turned. She peered into it, fiddled with the knobs, then said, “Nah. It’s too close to us, I guess.” She swung the periscope around to study the forward deck one more time, then said, “They’re still there, three of them.”
“The fourth one is probably above us right now,” Sallie guessed.
Jan grinned. “Let’s see if I can see him.” She swung the periscope slowly to her right, scooting across the deck as she did and keeping her eye to the eyepiece. After a minute, she stopped. “Yeah, there he is. Jesus, he’s all blurry. He must be three feet from the periscope.”
Sallie pointed at another knob near Jan’s hand. “Try turning this one. It’s labeled ‘focus’.”
“Thanks,” Jan said. “Sure glad you can read that stuff.” She twisted the knob, then said, “Oh, yeah. It’s a little clearer now. He’s standing there and smoking a cigarette.”
Mel gasped, “Smoking a cigarette? Jan, there’s diesel oil all over the water in this cavern. We could go up like a roman candle.”
Jan looked up at Mel and blinked a few times, an incredulous expression on her face. Slowly, a grin spread from ear to ear and she said, “Mel, you’re a damned genius.”
Mel cocked her head in question. “What do you mean, Jan?”
“A roman candle,” Jan repeated, then added, “Or a flare?” She looked at Sallie. “There’s got to be a flare gun on this tub. Look around and see if you can find it, will you?”
Sallie nodded, then scurried off to begin reading labels on lockers and cabinets. Mack said, “What’s the plan, Jan? You look like you’ve got one.”
Jan rose from her place on the deck and leaned against the periscope. “Yeah. Let’s see if we can’t get the stern hatch open, then pop a flare into the oil slick and light this cavern up like the Fourth of July. In the confusion, we’ll run for the catwalk.”
“I haven’t got a better plan,” he said. “Why not?”
Sallie’s voice echoed through the control area. “I found it.” She appeared, a large metal box in her hands, and opened it. From it, she pulled a heavy pistol with a stubby, three-inch barrel. “There’s a whole bunch of flares in here, too.”
“Let’s get going,” Jan said. With that, they filed down a cramped passage toward the stern of the U-boat, eventually finding the hatch in the last compartment on the boat, the aft torpedo room. In the dim gleam of a red emergency light, they looked around. It was cramped, lined with empty torpedo racks and revealed the round doors of two torpedo tubes in the bulkhead behind them. Mack climbed up the ladder, grasped the wheel which locked the hatch, and huffed. It did not move. He tried again, then cursed under his breath.
“It’s stuck. Got something to bang on the handle with?” He pointed and indicated a handle projecting out from the wheel.
Sallie held up the large wrench. “Will this do?” she asked.
“Yeah, hand it up.”
As she climbed up the ladder to join Mack, Jan said, “If you start banging on that thing, they’ll hear it.”
Mel pulled a smelly blanket from a nearby bunk and said, “Wrap this around the handle. It will muffle the noise.”
Sallie reached down, lifted it from her hands and handed it up to Mack. He wrapped it around the handle protruding from the locking wheel, then studied the mechanism and wondered aloud, “Now let’s see. Which way does this thing open?”
Sallie suggested, “Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey, remember?”
Jan looked at Mel and whispered, “I thought that referred to a cheap bra.”
Mel rolled her eyes at the joke, then snickered. She looked up and said, “Try counter-clockwise, Mack.”
In a moment, they could hear the muffled thumps of the wrench against the handle. He pounded for several minutes, then said, “It’s moving a little, but it’s still stuck. I’m getting exhausted. Sallie, you try.”
She climbed farther up the ladder and wedged herself into the small space next to Mack, then began pounding on the handle. Below her, Jan opened the flare gun and inserted a flare, handed the other flares to Mel and looked up at Mack and Sallie.
“You guys having any luck?”
“Yeah,” Mack answered. “It’s coming, but slowly.” They resumed pounding and in a few minutes, they could hear Sallie’s voice echo down to them.
“We got it. It’s turning by hand now.”
“Will it crack open?”
Mack pushed up on it, and a sliver of light entered the hatch. “Yeah. Toss me up the flare gun.”
Jan handed the loaded gun up to Mack, who hefted it and prepared to open the hatch. Sallie stopped him with a hand on his arm and said, “Mack?”
“If that oil catches on fire, will this boat explode?”
Mack looked down at Jan, who shrugged. He sighed, then said, “I guess we’ll find out in a minute, right?”
Jan called up, “Listen, if you don’t want to do this- ”
Sallie replied, “We were born ready. Let ‘em have it, Mack.”
He nodded, then pushed up on the hatch until it was about two feet open. His arm extended out of the hatch and the gun popped. After a few seconds, he looked down. “Damn, it went out when it hit the water. Give me another flare.”
Mel handed one up and he reloaded the pistol, then popped it again. In a moment, he cursed very profanely, then said, “It landed right in the middle of the slick, but it didn’t light the oil.”
“This is getting us nowhere,” Jan complained. “Can you see anything from up there?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I can see the boat moored next to us. It’s a big one, a deep-sea fishing boat from the looks of it. There’s nobody on it, but the engines are running.” He grinned, then said, “Hand up some more flares. I think I can put a couple right inside the wheel-house of that thing. It’s open in the back. That ought to stir up a ruckus.”
Mel handed several up to Sallie. Mack reloaded the pistol, then pointed and fired it. “Another one, quick,” he ordered. Frantically, he reloaded it and fired it again. “Bulls-eye again,” he gloated. “One more.” Again, he reloaded and fired the gun. As he opened it and shook the empty shell out of it, he peered through the cracked hatch. “Man, smoke’s starting to pour out of the wheel-house. Another one.” He reloaded the pistol, then pointed it. It thumped again, and as he handed the gun to Sallie, he said, “Oh, yeah. That sucker’s smoking like an old Chevy now. Hey, there go the bad guys. They’re trying to climb down the nets and save their boat.”
Jan asked, “All of ‘em?”
Mack counted, “I see three.”
“Is the fourth one still up on the conning tower?”
“I can’t see him. Wait a minute, there he goes now. He’s heading that way, too.”
“This is our chance,” Jan said. “Let’s hit the road.”
Mack nodded, then raised the hatch and said, “Run like hell for the catwalk.” He scrambled out of the hatch, followed by Sallie. Mel clambered up the ladder, Jan on her heels. They emerged from the hatch and ran across the deck toward the conning tower, Mack in the lead and Jan in the rear, the submachine gun bouncing against her side as she ran. When they neared the back of the conning tower, they heard a shout from the boat. Karl was looking up at them. As they ran, they saw him pull his pistol from the waistband of his trousers and fire it. A bullet zipped past Mel’s head. Jan paused near the anti-aircraft gun deck at the rear of the conning tower, swung her submachine gun around her body, pointed it at the boat and squeezed the trigger. It chattered, and wood began splintering along the railing of the boat. Karl dropped from sight. One of the men screamed and fell backward. Jan pulled the trigger again, and only a soft click sounded. She looked down at the smoking weapon in disgust, then slung it over her shoulder and ran around the far side of the conning tower toward the catwalk.
She saw Mack, Sallie and Mel standing in a group, not moving. Jan yelled, “What are you guys doing? Get the hell out of here.” They did not move, but looked back at Jan. When she reached them, she saw Gottfried standing on the deck about ten feet in front of them, his arm extended, his pistol pointed at them. Clouds of smoke from the boat fire drifted past him.
Gottfried ordered, “All of you, stay where you are.”
Sallie, standing just behind Mack, whispered, “Mel, give me a flare.” Mel looked at her, then edged closer to her. Jan watched Mel pass her last flare to Sallie, who inserted it into the pistol and then stuffed it into the front of her shirt at her waist.
Mack asked, “What now, Gottfried?”
He smiled, but his eyes remained cold. “You have caused me enough trouble for one day. Come out here, one at a time, and stand on the deck.” He waved the pistol, then commanded, “Come out. Do it now.”
Slowly, Mack stepped forward, followed by Sallie. Mel joined them, Jan just behind her. Gottfried nodded, then said, “I see that you have finally decided to cooperate for once. Face the catwalk, all of you, and get down on your knees.” None of them obeyed. After a moment, Gottfried stepped forward, placed the gun to Mel’s head and said, “Do it, or I shoot her now.”
Jan threatened, “You do that, and I’ll rip your throat out with my bare hands.”
“I think not.” He aimed the gun at Jan’s head and ordered, “Drop your weapon.”
Jan allowed the submachine gun strap to slip from her shoulder. The weapon clattered onto the deck at her feet. She shrugged and said, “It was empty, anyway.”
“I suspected as much,” he replied. “Step forward, Covington.” Jan did as he said, her eyes fixed on his face, her body tensed, waiting for a moment’s distraction in his eyes. He slowly circled her, walking around to her side. Her eyes followed him. “The rest of you, stay back,” he warned, then grabbed Jan by the hair and yanked hard, forcing her down to her knees on the deck. “You,” he said, “have been too much trouble. For that, you will be first.”
He pressed the barrel of the pistol against the back of her head. She closed her eyes, swallowed hard, and felt her heart pounding in her chest. She dared not look at Mel; she did not wish to see the expression on her face. She heard Gottfried click the pistol’s safety into the off position and thought desperately, It can’t end this way. I can’t let it. Gabrielle, help me.
In her desperation, a sudden, strange calm descended upon her. She felt oddly at peace, as if a cool, refreshing breeze had suddenly wafted over her on a hot day. A voice whispered in her, about her, within the very essence of her being and it reassured her.
Have courage, my distant daughter. Evil will not triumph this day.
Gottfried’s voice taunted Jan. “You are about to die, Covington. What, no jokes from you? I am disappointed.”
Jan replied, “It ain’t over yet.”
“I think that it is.” With that, the barrel of the pistol pressed harder against the back of her head and Gottfried’s finger closed about the trigger. He pulled it, and the only sound from the pistol was a loud, impotent click.
Jan began laughing derisively, then asked, “What’s the matter, Gottfried? Got a little trouble there?”
He lifted the pistol from the back of her head and glanced down at it. “What?” he muttered. “Damned thing.” He placed it against her head and pulled the trigger again, but it would not respond.
“You know,” Jan said, “That thing’s an automatic. You have to pull the slide back to re-cock it, and you’ll need both hands for that. As soon as you let go of my hair, I’m gonna be all over you like a cheap suit.”
“He won’t get the chance, Jan.” At that, they both looked up. Sallie was standing very close, the flare pistol pointed at Gottfried’s face. “Drop it and let her go.”
He sneered, “I will not take orders from a Jew.”
“Wrong answer,” she replied. As her finger closed around the trigger of the flare gun, a shout echoed from near the conning tower. Sallie looked behind Gottfried, then aimed a little to her left and pulled the trigger. The flare gun popped, and the shout turned into a scream.
Karl was leaning against the conning tower’s rusted metal skin, his arms folded. Casually, he watched the man next to him stagger, his hands over his chest, then fall to the deck and roll in agony. The flare was impaled in his chest , burning brightly. His shirt flamed and smouldered. After a moment, he rolled off the deck, bounced off the side of the submarine’s bulbous ballast tank and splashed into the water.
Gottfried, still grasping Jan by her hair, turned and looked at Karl, then shouted hysterically in German, gesturing as he did so. Karl’s reply was a mere shake of his head. Gottfried stared at him incredulously, then felt a hand tap him on the shoulder. As he looked around, Mack flattened his nose with a well-placed fist. Gottfried released Jan and staggered back against the conning tower. Karl watched the display of violence with an air of amusement, then placed a hand on Gottfried’s shoulder and pushed him back toward Mack, who doubled him over with a resounding blow to the abdomen. He fell to his knees on the deck, gasping and clutching his stomach.
Jan rose from the deck, faced Gottfried and drove the toe of her boot into the side of his head. He fell over, incapacitated. His jammed pistol clattered across the deck. She considered him with disgust as he lay at her feet, then looked up at Karl.
“What’s this, Karl? Are you changing sides?”
He shrugged as he replied, “It appears that the battle has shifted to your favor, Covington. I thought that you might be open to a deal.”
“Oh?” Jan said dryly. “What kind of a deal?”
“You have won the artifacts. I only wish to maintain my freedom, free of harassment by the Allies and the Nazi-hunters. You keep the artifacts and your lives, I keep my anonymity.”
“What about the U-boat crew? There’s fifty guys that know this stuff is here. All it takes is one to talk and blow this for you.”
“They will not reveal it. German sailors are extremely well-disciplined. Besides, most of them did not know what we carried. They surrendered to the British, soon after we landed here. They are all now safely back in Germany, living their lives.”
Jan pointed down at the man on the deck. “And Gottfried, here?”
Karl shrugged again. “I care not. He’s yours, if you want him.”
Jan grinned, then said, “Mercenary bastard, aren’t you?”
“Merely a survivor, a pragmatist. Do we have a deal?”
Jan asked, “What if I say ‘no’?”
He unfolded his arms, revealing a pistol, and pointed it at Jan. “I certainly hope that you won’t. It would be bad for your health.”
“Hm.” Jan and Karl faced each other in silence for a long, awkward moment, neither moving. Finally, Jan said, “Just one question before I give you my answer.”
“Exactly what did you do during the war, Karl?”
He smiled at the question, then explained, “I was the SS officer responsible for collecting and keeping safe the treasures of European history. I took the best ones from museums in the occupied countries and brought them to Berlin. To the victor goes the spoils, as they say.” He indicated Gottfried with a nod of his head, then continued, “In the last months of the war, when it became apparent that Germany would be overrun, he approached me with a plan to escape the hangman’s noose and grow rich in the Greek isles. My antiquities were the key to that, you see. It seemed a prudent idea at the time.”
“So you didn’t work with him during the war?” Jan pointed at Gottfried.
“No,” he said, a tinge of distaste in his voice as he looked down at Gottfried. “I did not work with him. He was responsible for a very different kind of cargo than I was. I transported antiquities, you see. He transported- ”
“People,” Sallie finished. “Boxcars crammed full of people like me.” She fixed Karl with a stare as she asked, “Didn’t he?”
“Yes,” was Karl’s reply. “He did.”
Gottfried groaned and sat up on the deck, holding his head. Sallie looked down at him, then turned to Mack and pulled the pistol from his belt. She stood over Gottfried, the pistol in her hand, and raised it until the barrel hovered a few inches above his forehead. He looked up and stared at the weapon, then saw the expression in Sallie’s dark eyes. His complexion turned an ashen color and droplets of sweat beaded on his forehead as Sallie’s finger slowly closed around the trigger.
Gottfried stammered a little as he gazed into the pistol’s barrel, then raised his hands in supplication, palms up, and whispered, “Bitte- ”
“Bitte?” Sallie repeated incredulously. “Please? Please what?” Sallie spat the words at him. “Please don’t kill me? I’ll bet that’s what my uncle, my aunt and my cousins said to you when you stuffed ‘em into a boxcar and shipped them to their deaths.”
“It was war. I was following orders,” he pleaded. “I did not know what was happening in those places.”
Sallie considered his words, then said, “Bullshit. You knew.”
For a long, painful moment, no one spoke. Finally, Jan said, “If you’re gonna do it, Sallie, nobody here will blame you. Just remember what I told you. The first one’s the ugliest.”
Mel was aghast. “Sallie, don’t. Mack, stop her, can’t you?”
Mack said, “This is personal, between her and Gottfried.”
Mel’s expression reflected horror. She gasped, “Sallie, for God’s sake, don’t do this.”
Sallie kept her eyes fixed on Gottfried’s face, the pistol steady and the barrel inches from his forehead. Her voice became a low growl as she said, “Give me one reason not to pull this trigger right now.”
Mel pleaded, “Because Jan is right. The first kill is the ugliest. It takes a piece of something very vital from deep within you that you will never recover.” Sallie listened, then cocked the pistol’s hammer. Mel’s pleas grew in intensity as she confessed, “It did for me.” When Sallie did not relent, she said, “If you do this, it will haunt you for the rest of your life. This is murder.”
“He’s not getting away with what he did,” Sallie insisted. “It’s not murder, it’s justice. It’s an eye for an eye.”
Jan placed a hand over the pistol, gently pulling it away from Gottfried’s forehead. She said, “He’ll answer for what he did, I promise you that.”
“I want to kill him.”
Jan nodded in understanding. “I know you do. Ugly feeling, isn’t it? You’re above murder, Sallie.”
Sallie whispered, “You’ve killed people.”
Jan said, “Yeah, but I never murdered anybody.”
Sallie growled in frustration, then released the pistol. As Jan held it by her side, she watched Sallie stare down at Gottfried. Her hands were clenched into fists and a dark expression burned in her face. Her body shivered with a barely-contained energy. In frustration, she kicked the man in the chest, then pounced on him and began beating him with her fists. He crumpled under her attack, crying out as she struck him repeatedly, frantically, her fury bursting forth in tears and screams as she thrashed him. No one else on the deck moved. They all stood in quiet shock as they watched the assault, transfixed by the display of primal fury which flooded from Sallie. Even after Gottfried’s arms fell to the deck and he lay limp under her unremitting assault, she continued pounding at his face and chest. When she finally began to show exhaustion, Mack leaned down and grasped her by the shoulders, pulling her away from Gottfried. She kept flailing at him with her fists as she was lifted away, then turned and buried her face into Mack’s chest, sobbing. He held her tightly, allowing her to weep in the exorcism of her anger and hatred until she quieted, sniffing occasionally as she clung to him.
Jan turned to Karl, who had watched the scene with an air of detached curiosity. She asked, “So, Karl, you were saying something?”
He raised the pistol again, pointed it at her and replied, “Ah, yes. Do we have a deal, Covington? My anonymity for the artifacts?” He gestured toward Gottfried, who was lying on the deck near his feet. “I’ll throw him in for free.”
Jan considered it, then looked at Karl. His expression was one of anticipation, an eyebrow arched in question. Her eyes trailed over the deck of the U-boat, then came to rest on the large cabin-cruiser moored next to the submarine’s side. She pointed at it and asked, “Does that thing still work?”
He glanced over his shoulder. “Yes. You did not manage to sink it.”
A tight smile crossed Jan’s face as she said, “Then get in it and get out of here before I change my mind.”
He nodded, smiled agreeably and began descending the net to the boat. A few seconds after he entered the open wheel-house, the engines thundered into life, then settled into a steady purr. Karl loosed the mooring lines and the tow line, then walked back to the wheel. Before he set the boat in motion, he called, “By the way, Covington, your friend Palo is expecting to pick up some of those artifacts next week.”
Jan cocked her head at that, perceiving the message of threat behind the laughing expression on his face. She replied, “I’ll just let you explain to him what happened to his stuff. After all, it’s you he has a deal with, not me. I hope for your sake that he hasn’t paid you for ‘em yet.” At that, Karl’s face fell. Jan grinned in evil delight as she added, “Don’t worry, he’s a very understanding soul.”
Karl flashed a look of chagrin toward Jan, then touched the throttles. The boat moved forward, then turned in a tight circle and headed toward the cavern’s mouth and the open gulf beyond. As Jan watched it depart, she felt Mel’s arms wrap around her from behind and hold her tightly. She leaned against Mel’s warmth and softness, relaxing for the first time that day. Mel answered by resting her chin on Jan’s head. “Jan?” she purred.
“What happens now?”
“Now we take the truck full of artifacts and go back to the resort. Andros will lock ‘em up for us. I’ll call our ol’ buddy Doc Pangalos at the Athens Museum tomorrow. He’s very highly placed in the Greek Bureau of Antiquities. He’ll know what to do with that stuff.”
“What about Gottfried?”
Jan said, “Him? There’s got to be a jail on this island. We’ll throw him in it. That constable will probably cooperate if we threaten to rat him out for taking bribes. Then, we’ll call an old acquaintance of mine to come collect him.”
Mel teased, “An ‘old acquaintance’? That’s putting it rather quaintly. Rachel Weingarten, by any chance?”
Jan snickered, then asked, “Is there anything at all about me that you don’t know, Mel?”
“After ten years?” She paused, then joked, “There’s a lot that I don’t know. That’s one thing about being with you, Jan. There’s never a dull moment.”
“Yeah, but you love it.” Janice glanced down at her watch, then exclaimed, “Hey, guys. If we hurry back, we can get cleaned up and get a good table for dinner just in time to watch the sun set.”
Mack quipped, “Damn, ol’ buddy. You always were a chow hound.”
Jan laughed, then took charge with the statement, “Back to work.” She looked down at Gottfried and said, “Let’s scrape this guy up off the deck and scram.”
Sallie stood on the open balcony of their room that night, contemplating the moon which shone down and lit the gulf in its silvery light. She leaned on the railing, lost in deep thought, and did not hear Mack take his place next to her until he spoke.
“A penny for your thoughts, Sallie.”
She blinked, then mumbled, “They’re not worth that much.”
“You’re thinking about today, aren’t you?”
She nodded. “Yeah. I still can’t believe what I almost did. I’ve never hated anyone so much, never wanted to kill anyone so much in my life, Mack.” He remained silent, allowing her room to think aloud. After a pause, she added, “Jan was right. It was ugly.” She looked over at him and asked, “Are you disappointed that I didn’t have the guts to kill him?”
“Are you?” he asked.
“In a way, yeah. In another way, I’m really glad that I didn’t do it.” She shrugged. “I don’t know what to think.”
Mack confessed, “I’m glad that you didn’t do it.”
She looked at him with surprise. “You are? Really?”
“Yeah, really.” He sighed, then continued, “Sallie, one of the things I love so much about you is that you really are a gentle soul. To kill someone up close and personal like that, regardless of the reason, is a brutal, primal thing. It sticks with you for the rest of your life, revisits you in your dreams and wakes you up in a cold sweat. You’ve seen me like that, haven’t you?”
She nodded in agreement and whispered, “Yeah.”
“You would have been tortured beyond words by your own conscience. It happened to me. It happened to Jan. It happened to Mel, too.” He hugged her to his side and said, “I hope that it never happens to you.”
She leaned into his side and wrapped an arm around his waist, allowing his arms to comfort her as she gazed up at the moon. After a long silence, she said, “Me, too.”
Mel lay in bed, her long legs wrapped around the compact body resting on top of her. She stroked the head which lay on her chest, running her fingers through the tangled blonde hair as she lay quietly, not speaking. Jan noticed the silence and whispered, “What’s up, gorgeous?”
“Hm? Oh, I was just thinking.”
“Oh, oh. Here comes trouble.”
Mel giggled, then fell silent once again. After a pause, she asked, “Jan?”
Mel’s voice cracked a little, a hushed whisper in the dim light, the words coming with some difficulty. “I almost lost you today, didn’t I?”
Jan’s arms tightened around Mel’s waist. “Nah. Not even close.”
“Stop it, Jan. I almost did lose you. I was so scared for you, I nearly passed out. He had that gun at your head and he actually pulled the trigger. I could have died when he did that. If it had fired- ”
“But it didn’t, did it?”
Mel whispered, “No. It didn’t.” She looked down at Jan’s head and watched her fingers play through the locks of hair. “I saw your face. You knew that gun wouldn’t work.” She stroked the head a few more times, then asked, “How did you know that?”
Jan lifted her head and looked up at Mel’s face. “How do you think I knew?”
Mel smiled at the answer. She pulled Jan’s head back down onto her chest and whispered, “The next time you talk to Gabrielle, thank her for me, will you?”
“I always do.”
Mel smiled in satisfaction. “That’s my girl.”
Jan raised her head again. “So is there anything special that you want to do while we’re still here, Mel? We’ve got a couple of days left.”
“As a matter of fact, Jan, there is something. Can we do it?”
“Yeah, sure. What’s that?”
“I want to go spend a day at the beach.”
“Is that all? You bet.”
“The nudist beach, Jan.”
Jan’s head shot up. She blinked, then exclaimed, “The what? There’s a nudist beach around here? You want us to get naked in public, in front of a bunch of strangers? Are you crazy?”
Mel giggled, then hugged Jan to her chest. “It’s better than getting naked in front of people you know, isn’t it? It’ll be a wonderful feeling of freedom, swimming and sunning without a suit. I’ve always wanted to do it.” At Jan’s aghast expression, Mel asked, “What’s the matter? Is my cutie too shy?”
Jan studied Mel’s face, then asked, “You’re not teasing about this, are you?”
“No I’m not, and you’re chicken. Cluck, cluck, cluck. Chicken.”
“I am not chicken, Mel.” Jan buried her face into Mel’s chest, then mumbled, “I am not chicken.”
“Well then, prove it and let’s go to the nudist beach.” When no mumbled answer was forthcoming from Jan, Mel looked down at her. Her head was buried in Mel’s chest and her hands gripped Mel’s sides. Jan was not moving. She whispered, “Jan?”
“What?” came the muffled reply.
“The idea really frightens you, doesn’t it?”
Mel giggled again. “Yes, it does. Admit it.”
“I think that it does.”
There was a long, pregnant pause, then Jan said, “Okay, I admit it. I’m chicken.”
Mel shrieked in laughter, clutching Jan tightly. After her hysterics settled into giggles, she said, “Well, I must say that I’ve finally found something that you’re frightened of.” She giggled again, then said, “Besides rubber spiders, of course.”
Jan lifted her head and said, “If you tell anyone about that- ”
Mel grasped Jan under the arms, pulled her up to her chin and kissed her forehead tenderly. “Your secret is safe with me. I’ll never tell anyone that the famous Jan Covington, archaeologist and adventuress extraordinare, the girl who’s faced down tomb robbers, angry immortals, harpies, two-headed beasties and armed Nazis is afraid of- ” Mel giggled again, then finished, “Rubber spiders and nudists.”
Jan shrugged, a tinge of embarrassment about her, and said, “Nobody’s perfect, Mel. Least of all, me.”
Mel placed an index finger on Jan’s nose and said, “That’s where you’re wrong, cutie. You’re the closest thing to perfect that there is.”
Jan allowed herself a skeptical little smile at that. “I’m sure glad you think so.”
“I know so. Now come here and snuggle with me, cutie.”
Jan shifted her weight from Mel’s body and settled down next to her, her head on her lover’s shoulder. After wriggling around together and finding a place for each arm and leg, they sighed in unison and settled in to enjoy their favorite time of the day. The breeze blew gently through the room, the moonlight bathed everything in a silvery hue and the roar and crash of the surf on the near beach completed the symphony of senses and sound which made the night perfect. For a long time they lay silent, words unnecessary between them, the touch of each other’s closeness in the night sufficient to express their shared affection.
After a long silence, Jan whispered, “I love you, Mel.”
“And I love you too, Jan. ‘Night, cutie.”
A comfortable, intimate silence descended upon the room. After several minutes, a whisper sounded, barely audible above the roar of the gulf’s waves.
“Is there really a nudist beach around here?”
Mel snorted in amusement, then said, “I don’t know, doll.”
The room returned to silence for a couple of minutes. Then, Jan whispered in the darkness, “Mel?”
“If there is one here, we’ll go. I’ll take you before we leave.”
“We don’t have to go, honey. I appreciate the gesture, but you’re much too shy.”
Jan confessed, “It’s not that I’m shy, it’s just that I’d feel really self-conscious next to you.”
Mel turned her head on the pillow so that she could look at Jan’s face. Her curiosity aroused, she asked, “Why?”
“Well, look at you, Mel. I mean, you’re a Venus. You’re gorgeous. Next to you, I’m about as attractive as a can of Spam.”
“That is not true, Jan. I think you’re just the cutest thing on two legs, and I mean it. I adore how you look. I always have and I always will. When we first met, I was so taken with you that I went rather weak in the knees.” After a second, she added, “And I still get that way from looking at you.”
Jan asked, “Really?”
Mel insisted, “Really. Now quit worrying and sleep with me, you cute thing.”
“Thanks, Mel. You always know just what to say to make me feel better, don’t you?”
“I only tell you the truth. Good night, cutie.”
Jan smiled in the night’s dim light, then glanced up at Mel’s face. Her eyes were already closed and her expression was serene. It would not be long before Mel found sleep. Jan admired the face so close to hers, considered how much she loved that face and wondered at her own good fortune that, of all the people in the world, it was Mel who lay in her arms. She lay her head against Mel’s shoulder, draped an arm across her ribs, squeezed her gently and said, “G’night, gorgeous.”
As the night breeze wafted gently through the room and across Jan’s skin, she listened to the crash of the gulf waves outside and thanked whoever was listening that she was alive and so gloriously in love with Melinda Pappas. Yes, she decided, life was good. It was a commodity which was precious beyond words. With Mel by her side and her ancestor Gabrielle at her back, she would live it to the fullest.
-djb, January, 2006
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