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Thomas Hoover.

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He beckoned them through the _kafeneion's_ doorway, leading the way
with a limp. The interior was dark, redolent of Greek cigarettes and
_retsina_ wine. Overwhelming it all were the smells of the kitchen -
pungent olive oil and onions and garlic and herbs, black pepper and
oregano. Although lighting was minimal, around the rickety wooden
tables could be seen clusters of aging Greeks drinking coffee and
_raki_ and gossiping. The white clay walls resounded with the clacks of
_komboloi_ worry beads and _tavli_, Greek backgammon.

"But then," Zeno continued, "that last trip, your birthday present to
him. On his retirement. Do you remember? When we three were sitting at
that very table, there in the corner. He called for a bottle of my
_raki_ and shared a glass with me. We both knew it was our good-bye."
His eyes grew misty with emotion. "Yes, coming here finally with his
famous son was a kind of benediction, Michael. He was passing the torch
to you, to continue his work."

This last was uttered with a slightly censorious tone. But it quickly
evaporated as he turned and bowed to Eva, then took her hand in a
courtly gesture. The old Greeks in the room would have preferred no
women save an obedient mate in their male sanctuary, but traditional
hospitality conquered all. "It is so good to see you two back
together." He smiled warmly as he glanced up. "Welcome once again to
our humble home."

She bowed back, then complimented him in turn, in flawless Greek.

"So beautiful, and so accomplished." He beamed. "You still are the
treasure I remember. You are a goddess." He kissed her hand. "As I've
told Michael before, you could well be from this island. No, even more.
You could be Minoan. You bear a fine resemblance to the '_parisiennes'_
of the palace. Did he ever tell you?"

"Not often enough." She flashed him her sexiest smile. "But then he
never had your eye for women."

"Ah," the old man blushed, "I have more than an eye. If I were thirty
years younger, you and I - "

"Zeno, before you drown Eva in that legendary charm, let me bring her
up to date," Vance laughed. "She is now in

the presence of the man who has probably become the richest tavern
owner in all of Crete."

It was true. Zeno Stantopoulos had indeed become a wealthy man, in many
ways. His father had once farmed the land on which now stood the
unearthed palace at Knossos. The handsome sum Sir Arthur Evans paid for
the site was invested in bonds, which he then passed on to Zeno just
before the war. Zeno had the foresight to convert them to gold and hide
it in Switzerland during the German occupation of Crete. After the war,
he used it to purchase miles and miles of impoverished olive groves in
the south, which he nursed back to full production. These days oil went
up, oil went down, but Zeno always made a profit.

His real wealth, however, was of a different kind. Zeno Stantopoulos
knew everything of importance that happened on Crete. His _kafeneion_
was the island's clearinghouse for gossip and information.

"Don't listen to him, madam." He winked and gestured them toward the
wide table in back, near the kitchen. It was known far and wide as the
place of honor, the location where Zeno Stantopoulos held court. It had
also been the nerve center of the Greek resistance during the Nazi
occupation, when Zeno had done his share of killing and dynamiting. The
limp, however, came from the fifties, when he was imprisoned and
tortured by the right-wing colonels for organizing popular resistance
against them.

"Come, let us celebrate with a glass of my _raki_." He turned again to
Eva. "I should remind you. You once called it liquid fire."

He clapped for Adriana, who squinted through the kitchen door, her
black shawl wrapped tightly about her shoulders. When she finally
recognized them, she hobbled forward, her stern Greek eyes softening
into a smile.

"Neither of you has changed." Eva gave her a hug. "You both look
marvelous."

"Time, my friends, time. That has changed," Zeno went on. "I use a cane
now, for long walks. The way Michael's father did his last time here.
When I saw him I thought, old age must be God's vengeance on us
sinners. And now it has happened to me." He smiled, with a light wink.
"But I will tell you a secret. Ask Adriana. I do not yet need a cane
for all my exercise." He nodded affectionately in her direction. "I can
still make this beauty wake up in the mornings singing a song."

It was true, Vance suspected. Adriana had hinted more than once that
every night with him was still a honeymoon.

"Ah, Michael," he sighed, "I still miss seeing your beloved father on
his summer trips here. Together you two inspired our soul. The ancient
soul of Crete."

At that point Adriana bowed and announced she must return to the
kitchen, where she was putting the final touches to her proprietary
version of _kalamarakia_, fried squid.

Her peasant face hid well her peasant thoughts. Almost. Vance had known
her long enough to read her dark eyes. She didn't quite know what to
make of Eva's reappearance yet. Speaking passable Greek, it was true,
which counted for much, but she still wore no wedding band. _Adinato_!

"Michael, don't let Adriana stuff you." Zeno watched her disappear,
then turned. "To your health." He clicked their small glasses together.
"_Eis hygeian_."

"_Eis hygeian_." Vance took a sip, savoring the moment. Seeing old
friends again, real friends, was one of life's most exquisite
pleasures.

"And tell me, how long will you two be visiting with us this time?"
Zeno's Cretan hospitality flowed unabated. "Perhaps longer than the
last? Have you finally decided to come back to stay, maybe make us
famous all over again?"

"Can't speak for Eva, but I've been asked to look in on the new German
excavation down at Phaistos. A project to try and restore the palace
there, the way Evans reconstructed Knossos." He glanced over. She was
now sipping the tepid _raki_ with the gusto she normally reserved for
ice-cold Stolichnaya. "Tonight, though, we're just tourists. Here to
see you two again."

At that moment, Adriana reappeared from the kitchen bearing an enormous
oak tray. With a flourish she laid before them fried squid and goat
cheese and stuffed grape leaves and octopus and wooden bowls of
_melidzanosalata_, her baked eggplant puree flavored with garlic,
onions and herbs, not forgetting her speciality, pink _taramasalata_
made of mullet roe and olive oil.

"Incidentally, we were just out at Knossos, the palace, this
afternoon." Vance took a bite of _kalamarakia_ while she looked on
approvingly.

"Ah, of course, the palace," Zeno smiled. "I love it still. I probably
should go more myself, if only to remember the days of my childhood,
during the restoration. But with all the tour buses. ..." He chewed on
a sliver of octopus as he glanced out toward the music in the street.
"Perhaps it should be better cared for these days. But, alas, we are
not as rich now as King Minos was." He shrugged and reached for a roll
of _dolmadakia_. "Still, we are not forgotten. Today, perhaps, we count
for little in the eyes of the world, but your book brought us fleeting
fame once again. Scholars from everywhere came - "

"Hoping to prove me wrong." Vance laughed and took another sip of
_raki_.

"What does it matter, my friend. They came." He brightened. "Even
today. Just to show you. Today, there was a man here, right here, who
was carrying your famous work on the palace. He even - "

"Today?" Vance glanced up. Had he been right?

"Yes, this very day. Outside in the arbor. He even sampled some of
Adriana's _meze_." He nodded at her. "I did not like him, and only our
friends are welcome inside, book or no book."

"Was he going out to Knossos?" Eva interjected suddenly, staring. "To
the palace?"

"He asked about it. Why else have the book?" He shrugged again, then
examined the octopus bowl, searching for a plump piece. "You know,
Michael, I could never finish that volume of yours entirely. But your
pictures of the frescoes - " He paused to chew his octopus, then smoothed
his gray mustache and turned again to Eva, "the frescoes of the women.
I love them best of all. And every now and then I see a woman here in
life who looks like them. Not often, but I do. And you are one of those
rare

creatures, my Eva. I swear you are Minoan." He turned back. "Look at
her, Michael. Is it not true?"

"Zeno," Eva reached for his gnarled hand. "It's not like you to forget.
My people are Russian, remember. From the Steppes."

"Ah, of course. Forgive me. But you see, that only goes to prove it."
He nodded conclusively. "The Minoans, we are told, came from central
Asia thousands of years ago. The 'brown-haired daughter of Minos' was
an oriental beauty, just as you are. I'm sure of it. Look at the
frescoes."

"Zeno, tell me." Vance reached to pour more _raki_ into their glasses.
"The man you mentioned just now. Was he Greek?"

"No, he was a foreigner." He chewed thoughtfully. "I've never seen
anyone quite like him. He had a strange way of speaking. In truth,
Michael, I did not like him at all. Not a bit."

"What exactly did he say?"

"It wasn't that. It was something else. I don't know."

"And he went? To the palace?"

"I saw him hire a taxi, that was all. But whether he went there or
somewhere in the south, only God could know." He looked away. "Perhaps
tomorrow I could find out."

"Did this man have a beard?" He pressed.

"No, the thing I remember most was that part of one finger was missing.
Curious. I focused on that. But his features, his features were almost
Asian I would say." He paused, then turned and asked Adriana to fetch
another bottle of _raki_. "Perhaps his accent was from that part of the
world." He looked back at Eva. "I suppose you would have known, my
marvelous Eva, my Minoan queen."

His eyes lingered on her a moment longer, then he rose. "Enough. Now we
must all have something for dinner. I'm sure you do not want to spend
the rest of the night trapped here with a crippled old Greek."

He disappeared into the kitchen to select the pick of the day's catch.
And that smoky evening they dined on the island's best - _barbounia_, red
mullet, which Adriana grilled with the head and served with wedges of
Cretan lemon. Afterward came a dessert of grapes and soft, fresh
_myzithra_ cheese blended with dark honey from the mountains near
Sfakii. Then at the end she brought forth her own _soumada_, a rich
nectar made of pressed almonds.

After more _raki_, Zeno was persuaded to get out his ancient
_bouzouki_, tune it, and play and sing some traditional songs. The
music grew faster and more heated, and then - with only the slightest
urging - Eva cleared away the tables and began to dance. Her Russian
gypsy movements seemed almost Greek.

When they finally broke away the time was nearly midnight; the _volta_
had long-since disbanded; the sky above had changed from a canopy of
island stars to a spring torrent. And Michael Vance and Eva Borodin
were very, very drunk.



Wednesday 11:34 P.M.



"You know, there was something special about us in the old days," Vance
said as they weaved down the rain-washed street toward the hotel. "How
we used to be. All we did was eat, drink, and talk. And make love.
Tonight it's three down and one to go."

"You're pretty smashed, darling." Eva laughed and looked him over. "A
girl learns to watch out for deceptive advertising."

He slipped his arm around her. Eleven years, and in a way, this was
like it was all happening over again.

"I never shirk from a challenge."

"I'll drink to that." Her voice indicated the challenge would not be
overly daunting. "Do we have any - ?"

"There's still that bottle of _ouzo_ in the car."

She stopped dead still, her hair plastered against her upturned face,
and ran her hands down her body. "Minoan, that's what Zeno said. What
if it's true?" She turned back. "What if I have the same hot blood as
the queen who vamped a bull? Imagine what that would be like."

"As best I remember, you could probably handle it."

She performed another Russian gypsy whirl in the glistening street. "I
want to be Minoan, Michael. I want to soar through time and space. Leap
over bulls, maybe even . . ." She twirled again, drunkenly.

"Then why not do it? The queen's bedroom." He stopped and stared at the
Galaxy Hotel, ultramodern and garish, now towering upward in the rain.
The pool was closed, but the disco still blared. "The hell with every-
thing. I'm taking you back there. Tonight."

Parked next to the lobby entrance was their rented Saab. He paused and
looked in at the half bottle of ouzo lying on the seat, then reached
and pulled her into his arms. "Come on. And get ready."

"Is that a promise?" She curled around and met his lips.

"Time's a wastin ." He kissed her again and began searching for his
keys.

She was unsteadily examining the darkened interior of her purse. "I
think I've got an emergency candle in here. We'll use it for light.
Just enough."

"I just hope I'm not too wrecked to drive in the rain."

"You'd better not be. I know I am."

"Who cares? Let's just go for it." He was unlocking the car and helping
her in, loving the feel of her body, her scent. He'd decided he was
ready for anything and anybody, including some mysterious stranger
carrying his book.

The night was brisk, with flares of spring lightning over the
mountains. As the Saab weaved through the narrow streets leading out of
town, Eva climbed up and drunkenly unlatched its sunroof to let in the
rain. By the time they reached the winding country road, headlights
piercing the downpour, the wind was rushing around them, wild and free.

When they pulled into the parking lot of Knossos it was deserted, and
they easily discovered an opening in the guard fence. The palace lay
before them.

"Piece of cake." He took her hand and helped her through the wire. "I
propose a toast right here. To the past and to the future."

"If I drink much more of this, I may not be around to see the future,
but I'll die happy." She reached for the slippery bottle.

As they moved through the abandoned central court, eerie in the rain,
he could almost hear the roars of the crowd four thousand years past,
see the spotted bulls charging the nubile athletes. A heavy gust
flickered her candle, adding mystery to the shadows dancing across the
enigmatic women of the frescoes.

"Now I really do feel Minoan." She headed down the grand staircase,
brandishing the light. Then she called out, her voice resounding down
the maze of windy hallways, "I am the queen. I am Pasiphae. Where's my
white bull?"

"Eva, you're drunk," he yelled after.

"I'm intoxicated. It's different." She laughed, low in her throat. "I'm
intoxicated by the palace. The thought of my bull, the eternal male."
Her voice echoed more. "Know about eternal males, darling? They're like
eternal females, only harder." She grinned at him, then proceeded,
tracing the wide marble steps.

As she floated down, carrying the candle, the moist air was scented
with jasmine, alive with the music of crickets. They rounded the last
curving steps, and the ornate vista of the queen's bedroom spread
before them, its blue dolphins cavorting in their pastel sea.

He walked over and patted the alabaster portico. "Hard as this, your
eternal male? This is a real test for the eternal female bottom."

She threw herself down, then reached and ran a drunken readiness check
across his wet thigh. "I'm ready for something hard inside me." Her
voice was strange, detached and ethereal.

"When did you start talking like that?" He loved it. "Not even in the
old days - "

"When I became Minoan, darling. When I became the blood relation of
Queen Pasiphae."

She wiggled out of her soaked brown dress and tossed it onto the floor.
As he watched her begin to sway before the fresco of the dolphins, he
had the definite feeling time was in a warp, that the flow of centuries
was in reverse. Maybe Eva was none other than Pasiphae reborn. The room
was perfumed and serene, perfect for a queen.

Then she bent down and carefully stationed her candle on the stone.
Looking up she said, "Let me have some more of that _ouzo_. I love
being here. It's shocking and wonderful."

No, this was most assuredly the modern Eva. As she moved against him,
her body felt the way he remembered it. Riper now perhaps, with a
voluptuousness slightly more toward Rubens than Botticelli, but the
skin of her breasts, her thighs, was soft as ever. And the dark
triangle was still luxuriant, redolent with her scent.

"Do it. Hard. Like a bull. I want to know what she felt." She drew back
across the stone as he drove inside her. "Yes"

While rain slammed against the courtyard above, the ancient, foreboding
room began to engulf and rule their senses; the feel of her perfumed
nipples against him was hard and urgent. It was an erotic moment
outside of time.

Now her head thrashed from side to side as quivering orgasms rippled
through her, starting in her groin and welling upward as she arched and
flung back her hair. Then she drew up, clinging, as though trying to
consume him, herself, in a rite of pure bacchanalian frenzy. Her breath
had become labored, not gasps of pleasure, but the need of one seeking
air.

Eva, Eva, he suddenly caught himself thinking, you're here for release,
escape. I know you too well. You're not really in this room anymore.
You want to be but you're not. You're somewhere in a realm of beasts
and magic and the bloodthirsty Minotaur.

But yet, yet . . . somehow he'd never felt closer . . .

A final convulsion brought them together and then she fell back, dazed.
The candlelight flickered across the alabaster, sending ghostly
apparitions against the fresco of the dolphins. Still trying to catch
her breath, she reached out and seized the bottle of ouzo, drank from
it thirstily, then flung herself once more against the stone. After
another long moment, she pulled him to her.

"Michael, hold me." She snuggled into his arms. "Oh, darling, just hold
me."

He drew her against him, and the touch of her skin was erotic beyond
anything he remembered. . . .

But the palace . . . it was intruding darkly, insinuating its presence.
Now it surrounded them like a tomb, ominous as death. Finally he turned
her face up and examined her dark eyes. They were flooded with fear.

"Look, you've got to tell me what's going on. I want to know the real
reason you're here, and I want to know it now. I'd somehow begun to
hope it was for us, but - "

"That's part of it, darling. Truly." She kissed him deeply on the
mouth, then reached and began fishing in her purse for the battered
pack of Dunhills, trying to regain her bravado. "God, that was hot. I
do love being here with you."

"You're stalling. Whenever you don't - "

"You're right." She took out a cigarette, flicked her lighter, and drew
a lungful of smoke. "Now I see why Pasiphae was such a number. This
room does something to you."

"Not bad for starters."

She looked down, then smiled. "No, darling, you're just bluffing. I
remember that well enough. Plenty of time for a cigarette."

"Some things improve with age." He studied her beautifully disheveled
form. Now more than ever he realized she was scared. "Goddammit,
enough. Talk to me."

"All right." She sighed, then leaned back on the ledge of the portico.
"Well, to begin at the beginning, I've been seeing somebody lately."

"Make you a deal," he interrupted. "You spare me your stories and I'll
spare you mine. This doesn't really seem the moment to start swapping
indiscretions."

"I'll bet you've got plenty to swap yourself." She looked him over.

"Hold on a minute." Sure, there'd been women in and out of his life. He
wasn't a priest. Besides, he liked women.

"Darling, relax." She patted his thigh. "We're both adults. You said
you wanted to hear this, so for godsake listen. His name was Jerry
Ackerman and . . . it started back about nine months ago. Since he was
new, he'd drop by my office now and then. You know, to learn the
ropes."

"What kind of ropes, exactly?"

"Really, Michael. Anyway, he wasn't exactly world class in the boudoir,
if that makes you feel any better. Though needless to say I never told
him that. Our little scene tonight would have blown his Brooklyn mind.
Now does that preserve your precious male ego? He was just nice, and
interesting."

"Was?"

"I'll get to that." She was tracing small circles on the alabaster.
"Week before last he dropped off a computer disk at my office. Said he
couldn't figure it out. And it was old, maybe two weeks. Which was
unusual, especially for satellite intercepts, which this was. Normally
we get them the same day. So I ran it through my desk station, figuring
it couldn't be that big a deal." She paused nervously, then went on.
"Well, the first part was encoded using one of the standard Soviet
encryption systems we've had cracked for years, and it had a lot of
proper names. But the rest of it was just a string of numbers. No
matter what I tried, I got nothing but garbage."

"Really? I thought Fort Meade's football field of Cray supercomputers
could crack anything."

"I thought so too. But this encryption was either so clever, or so
simple, nothing seemed to click. I couldn't do it. I even began to
wonder, maybe it's not a cipher at all. Maybe it's just some obscure
foreign language. So I matrixed it against some we have in the data
base. And, love, we've got them. A zillion megabytes of memory. Serbo-
Croatian, Urdu, Basque . . ." She drew on her cigarette, sending a glow
into the dark. Above them the rain continued to pound. "But I still
couldn't find anything that would crack it."

"Doesn't sound like you." He drew her around and kissed her. "Half the
time you're too smart for your own good."

"Apparently not smart enough." She hugged him back automatically, then
continued. "When I told Jerry I couldn't break the encryption, he
suddenly got very nervous. Said okay, then he'd just take it and try
again himself. So I asked him to sign it out on my log. Just routine.
And that's when he started acting strange. At first he refused, but
finally he did it when I said, 'It's like this, sweet buns. No tickee,
no washee.' By then he'd stopped coming over to my place and things had
gotten a little strained at the edges, to put it mildly. So I didn't
think too much about it at the time."

"Don't start telling me more about - "

"Michael, that was the last time anybody saw him. He just vanished.
That night. There was even something in the paper. 'Mysterious
disappearance.' The apartment where he lived had been dismantled. Top
to bottom. Somebody must have thought he was holding out."

"And?"

"Well, it just so happened I still had it in computer memory, though
that's a blatant violation of security procedures. Anyway, the next day
I called Control and said what's with a certain file? Gave them the
NSCID number. And they said, 'We have no record of that number.' Quote.
They'd never heard of it. So it must have been a free-lance job for
somebody outside. Whoever it was must have paid Jerry, or maybe
blackmailed him, into getting me to take a crack at it. Which is why it
was two weeks old. It wasn't NSA material at all. Somebody else wanted
it, and I'm known far and wide as Ms. Give-Her-the-Tough-Ones."

"You always were the best."

"Right." She laughed, then reached into her purse and retrieved a three
and a half inch gray computer disk. "And here it is. A complete copy.
I've also got it stored on the eighty-meg hard drive of my Zenith Turbo
486 laptop back at the hotel." She tossed it to him. "Jerry's file.
That's the good news. The bad news is, it's still encrypted."

He turned it in his fingers. Welcome to the new age, he thought, when
thousands of pages can be packed onto a high-density disk the size of a
casette tape.

She took out a compact from her purse and powdered her nose in the
light of the candle, then turned and searched the stone for her
crumpled dress. He thought he heard a sound from the hallway outside,
but then decided it was just more thunder.

"So now what?" She finally found the dress and drew it loosely on,
managing not to secure the bustline. "I've tried and tried to crack it,
but nothing seems to click. After the preamble, there's nothing on
there but a long string of numbers. Whatever it is, it's not any of the
standard encryption systems." She reached to take it back. "Why am I
telling you all this?"

"Because we've agreed, no more games."

"Darling, there're actually two reasons why I shouldn't. One is I hate



Online LibraryThomas HooverProject Daedalus → online text (page 5 of 30)