My name’s Jack, and I live in Athens moving cargo under the radar. I work for boat sellers and deliver yachts to purchasers around the Mediterranean. That’s how Zatakis and I got connected. Zatakis was a silver haired pudge who was never without his komboloi string of beads. I transported cannabis for him, but then he approached me with a special assignment. He’d kidnapped a blonde tourist from Stockholm, and had a contract to deliver the woman to Beirut. I agreed to take the job, and then tipped the police where she was kept. I don’t think he knew it was me, or I’d be souvlaki. But he hadn’t given me a job for weeks.
When I wasn’t sailing, I played at piano bars near Syntagma Square or Piraeus. That’s where I first saw Dimitra. Zatakis walked in with her on his arm. Dimitra had an exotic face, curvy figure and dark hair down to her waist. She wore a plunging black dress that stopped at her thighs. Zatakis ignored me, but I locked eyes with Dimitra as she walked to the table. A wide-shouldered Albanian trailed the couple. Zatakis ordered a bottle of top-shelf scotch, and the Albanian threw some euro at a brown gypsy girl for a bunch of white flowers, which Zatakis gave Dimitra. She smelled the flowers, and brought her eyes up to meet mine.
I played “Sophisticated Lady” in Dimitra’s direction, and Zatakis poked the bodyguard. The guy was over six-foot with fingers like sausages, and a scar around his neck like someone had garroted him. The Albanian came to the piano.
He said, “Malakas, stop flirting with Mr. Zatakis’s girl. He doesn’t like fuck-ups hitting on Dimitra.”
The Albanian’s insults indicated he thought I had piano-soft hands and wasn’t a threat. I responded by directing another love song toward Dimitra. She smiled, and Zatakis exploded like the Santorini volcano, and walked out of the club pulling Dimitra along. The bodyguard stayed and smirked at me while he finished the bottle of scotch.
I left the club when my gig was finished and saw the Albanian leaning on a car outside the entrance. He came at me, and I surprised him with two sharp stabs in the gut with a sawed-off boat hook I’d hid under the crook of my arm. He went down, and I took off. I didn’t go back to my pension, but checked into a cheap hotel. I’d avoided a beating that would’ve put me in the hospital, but I ensured the Albanian would bury me somewhere in the Peloponnese at his next opportunity. I liked Athens, and I wasn’t going to run. Later that week, Dimitra found me through the piano bar manager and came to my hotel.
She said, “I need your help.” Dimitra sat in the room’s gray armchair. She leaned forward like she was about to reveal a passage in her diary and said, “I want Zatakis dead, and I have no money to pay you.”
I was sitting on the edge of the bed, close enough to smell jasmine, and my pulse started to race.
Dimitra tired of my silence, stood and went to the window and looked out. She wore a white skirt, and the streaming Athens sunlight revealed the silhouette outline of her inner thighs. My mouth got dry.
I said, “We need a plan. Korydallos prison doesn’t interest me.”
Dimitra smiled. “Me either.”
She came to the bed and ran her fingers through my brown hair. I slid my hand up the back of her thigh; she wasn’t wearing underwear.
I was on my back in bed. Dimitra had her head on my chest and her leg crossed over mine.
I said, “We need to make it look like a terrorist assassination. The newspapers will blame the usual groups, and the police won’t look very hard because they don’t want to be targets. How well do you know Zatakis’s schedule?”
Dimitra twirled the hair on my chest. “I can find out.”
“Does the Albanian drive him around?”
She looked at my face. “Yes. What do you have in mind?”
“We pick one of Zatakis’s destinations with a lot of escape routes. When they get out of the car, I come up to them on a motorcycle, clip them both, and take off.”
Plotting murder had an aphrodisiac effect, and Dimitra left the hotel after midnight. We agreed she’d let me know Zatakis’s agenda for the next week, so I could scout out the options. I snuck into my pension and retrieved my baby Glock 9-mm that I’d bought on the black market for protection against pirates on the Mediterranean.
Back in the hotel, I cleaned the pistol. The task gave me time to think. What was I doing? Sure Zatakis pissed me off. Sure I didn’t want to face that Albanian again. But murder? And Dimitra, why should I trust her? How did I know she wouldn’t turn me into the police? As a foreigner in Korydallos prison, I’d be the target of every sexual deviant, and the guards would enjoy the show. I shook my head.
But I’d sealed the deal with Dimitra. If I told her I wasn’t going ahead, she could tell Zatakis I planned to kill him. He could get to me anywhere in the Mediterranean. I’d need to hide for the rest of my life. But every time I thought of Dimitra my heart quickened.
I needed a few days to work though my problem. I decided to tell Dimitra that none of Zatakis’s appointments set up for the hit.
Dimitra’s voice on the phone was calm. She said, “You’re stalling.”
“No, Dimitra. Hey, I’m the one taking the risk. The location has to be right.”
“You’ve decided not to go through with it.”
“Come to the hotel. Let’s talk.”
“You, talk? Okay, I’ll come after ten.”
Dimitra breezed past me into the room. The scent of jasmine triggered memories of her last visit. She sat in the gray armchair with a red purse on her lap. She reached into the bag and came out with a six-inch knife.
She said, “I came to talk, that’s all. This is to convince you I’m not kidding.”
I sat on the bed and said, “Dimitra, I should’ve asked why you want Zatakis dead.”
“He’s a drug dealer. Drugs kill people. Isn’t that reason enough?”
I said, “Someone you loved died from his drugs?”
She looked out the window. “My older sister. She took up with Zatakis and he gave her cocaine. When he tired of her, he pimped her as a ten-euro whore. She serviced twenty men a night on a street in Piraeus and died diseased and alone in the hall of a hospital emergency room.” Her eyes turned back to me. There were tears. She said, “Help me get revenge.”
I said, “What a sad story. Is it true?”
Dimitra pursed her lips. She let out a breath and said, “No.”
“Okay,” I said, “Try it again. Why do you want Zatakis dead?”
Her cheeks flushed. “He stinks. He smells of tzatziki garlic and he farts when he makes love.” Her voice calmed. “He’s small, not like you.”
That comment kicked up my heart rate.
After a bit, she sat back in the chair and said, “He won’t let me go. He says he’ll kill me first, and that Albanian will do it.”
I didn’t respond.
She said, “I grew up in a family of eight, and our parents put us kids to work doing piece work at home. At first, Zatakis was exciting, an escape from drudgery and poverty. But he’s abusive; he’s a cruel man who wants me at his beck and call.”
“Yeah, okay,” I said, “but without Zatakis, you give up a nice life style. You haven’t managed to wrangle your way into his will, have you?”
Dimitra laughed. “Zatakis keeps cash and gold in safe deposit boxes, and buried on his estate in Ekali. I’ve earned a pay-off, and I can get my hands on enough of it for both of us.”
“I thought you didn’t have money to pay me?”
Dimitra tilted her head and said, “You didn’t want money. She raised her eyebrows, and her lips looked like she would blow me a kiss. She said, “So, are you going to do it?”
I said, “Put that knife away, and I’ll tell you the new plan later.”
Zatakis took my call. “You have balls contacting me. You put Tiko in the hospital and didn’t even pay him a sympathy call. He probably won’t forgive you.” Zatakis’s laugh was high-pitched.
I said, “I want to buy my way out of trouble. I’m making a significant cocaine pick-up in Albania in a week and transporting it for another client. Suppose I’m confronted by law enforcement on the Adriatic and need to dump my cargo, but by good fortune it floats to Athens and lands in your lap. What sort of forgiveness would that buy me?”
“What’s the value of this good fortune?”
“About a half-million euro.”
“Tiko is very angry. I’m not sure I can keep him from ripping out your heart.”
“Look, I can probably come up with a second shipment, but I’ll need a couple of months. If I lose two cargoes in a short period of time, I’ll have some dangerous people after me.”
Zatakis said, “I understand. Look, give me the first delivery. I’ll keep Tiko leashed for a while, and if you give me a second gesture of respect, you can safely walk the streets of Athens again. When do I get the goods?”
“A week from Friday. But I deliver to you personally. I don’t want to hear anything was lost before you received it.”
“No problem. Call Tiko for instructions.” He hung up.
I went to the embassy to see the US Ambassador, a rail-thin guy from Texas with a down home drawl. I told him I was willing to set up a local drug trafficker, but only if he knew someone in the Hellenic Police who wouldn’t sell me out. It turned out that the US DEA was cooperating with a Greek special task force trying to disrupt the “Balkan Route” of drugs from the east into Western Europe. The Ambassador put me in touch with the head cop, Makis Christodoulou, barrel chest, thin legs; he looked like a bearded Granny Smith Apple on stilts. He knew Zatakis, and he wanted his ass.
When I called, Tiko told me to meet him on a side street near Omonia Square with the drugs in my car. Buses and cars rumbled and belched fumes amid the gray low-rise buildings that surrounded me. Tiko squeezed into my Fiat.
I said, “Where’s Zatakis?”
Tiko’s face soured. He said, “Hands up, I’m going to check you for a wire.”
I’d left my Glock under the hotel bed with the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door. A bulge told me Tiko had a pistol under his jacket.
Tiko threw my mobile out of the car window. When he put his hand between my legs, I said, “Easy, poustos.”
Tiko’s face turned scarlet, and he drew his fist back but stopped himself and smirked at me. I guessed, Zatakis had told Tiko he could kill me, after the drugs were delivered. I said a short prayer that Makis could follow us on the GPS we planted under the hood. Makis was worried a tail on my car would be spotted, so our plan was that a team of his men would rotate eyes on me. I didn’t see anyone when I looked around.
Tiko ordered me to drive. We got on the National Road, north, and about fifteen kilometers later he ordered me off the Kifissia exit. We drove to the metro station parking lot, and Tiko had me stop and turn off the engine. A few commuters trudged to their cars, and I wondered where Makis’s team could be hiding.
After a while I said, “When is Zatakis coming?”
Tiko looked bored. “You’ll see him soon enough. Get back on the National Road, south.”
We exited near Piraeus, weaved our way toward the water, and headed toward the Flivnos docks.
There were no other cars on the road near the port. I hoped Makis’s surveillance could keep me in sight. We parked near the water, and it was pitch black. Stress sweat stuck the shirt to my back. Tiko told me to get the cocaine out of the trunk. I thought, he could just shoot me and take the drugs now. He pointed the pistol at me, and my gut sickened. I thought maybe I could make a run and dive under the water. Just then, a wooden-beamed, motor-sailer at the dock turned on its lights and lowered its gangplank. I thought, how the hell is Makis going to track me on the water? We should have put the GPS in the drugs. My plan to sting Zatakis turned my sweat to vinegar.
Tiko waved his gun at me to get on the boat. It was a twenty-five-footer and at the end of the gangplank, I saw a beardless captain with wild eyes, and a handlebar-mustachioed mate in a striped shirt. Zatakis was not on board. The mate untied the ropes and jumped on the ship as the captain motored away. The air was cool; the city lights looked close as we moved into the Saronic Gulf in the direction of Aegina Island. I smelled diesel fumes and the dank odor of my soaked shirt. Tiko’s gun pointed at my belly, and I hoped Makis was close.
We’d sailed half an hour when another boat started to approach us. It was a much larger motor-sailer, about thirty meters. As they neared, lights revealed that both Zatakis and Dimitra sat aft. They looked like a wealthy couple enjoying an evening sail and a Greek meze. We maneuvered along side, and the mate put the drugs in a net and swung them to the other boat. Zatakis grabbed the net with a boat hook and untied the line so the cocaine packets tumbled onto the deck. The sea was calm. Tiko and I scrambled over a plank to the larger boat, and the first ship motored away.
Zatakis said, “Welcome aboard. What do you think of my ship? I call her the ‘White Lady.’ Appropriate don’t you think? Let’s move to the stern.”
The crew wasn’t visible. Probably they’d been told not to be witnesses. Dimitra sat with her red purse at a teak table with a cloudy glass of ouzo in front of her. The table had an array of small meze dishes and a basket of bread. Zatakis sat across from Dimitra. Tiko had put his pistol away when we transferred ships. Now he pulled it out and leaned against the bulkhead to steady himself. His smirk was not comforting. My mind said, “Makis, where are you?”
Zatakis said, “Now that you’re here, I’ve decided to change plans, unfortunately for you. I took you for a smart guy; I’m surprised you thought me so forgiving. When you betrayed my Beirut contract, you cost me money and embarrassment.” I started to speak, but Zatakis put up his hand. “You tipped the police; I know it was you.” Zatakis’s face twisted like he had indigestion. “And then you decided to fuck my girlfriend.” Zatakis pointed his finger at Dimitra. “Don’t deny it, I can see it on her face. That was a fatal mistake.”
Throughout Zatakis’s soliloquy I strained my ears hoping to hear the engine of another boat, but there was nothing. Tiko was ready; he wouldn’t miss at this range. My options had run out.
Zatakis picked up a tall glass of ouzo and ice and drained it. He said, “Tonight you will understand what I do to people who cross me. Zatakis gestured toward Tiko and said, “Do it.”
I looked at Tiko’s face, his eyes were very wide, and I saw fear.
Dimitra’s shot from my Glock ripped through Tiko’s chest. The soft-nosed bullet tore into flesh and shattered bone, and Tiko went down like a sack of shit. I turned my head. Zatakis stood, and backed toward the rail of the ship, his hands raised in defense. Dimitra took her time before she fired. I suppose she relished the tragic-mask look on his face. The bullet exploded his skull. Zatakis’s back slammed against the rail of the ship, and his ass slid to the deck. His silver head was replaced by a sopping red hole, and the glint of a gold tooth from his lower jaw.
I slipped the gun from Dimitra’s hand. She trembled and hugged herself. I found the ship’s captain below deck and had him contact the police on the radio. Makis had chased the first boat and was looking for us. Eventually he arrived. Tiko’s gun proved self-defense, and there were no charges brought against Dimitra.
I had a contract to deliver a boat, and later that week Dimitra and I sailed for Positano with a duffle bag full of what we found at Zatakis’s compound. I kept the Glock locked in the ship’s safe.