Sunday, March 30, 2014

Strange Journey - Chapter 13


Into Danger

Chris did not want to go directly to the Bar Apollo. He thought of returning to his hotel and changing into clean clothes. He had the time to do that but decided not to bother. If he was going to his doom then clean clothes would not make any difference to his fate. So instead he wandered through the streets of the city, zig-zagging to try and throw off anyone who might be tailing him. He was particularly worried that Lotte might follow through on her half-serious threat to follow him, as he did not want to lead her into danger. He threw the odd glance over his shoulder and saw no sign of her. Good. But he also was concerned that other people might be after him - Greek equivalents of Beppe and Beppe's associate, or more of those jump-suited weirdoes he had encountered the other night. He did not think there was anyone tailing him now, but he had no way of knowing for certain. He was an amateur at this game, most likely up against professionals, if he was up against anyone. They would be adept at blending into crowds and hiding themselves from their targets. So he moved quickly through the streets, trying to duck through and around crowds of people and to dart swiftly down side streets, in the hope that this would allow him to elude any followers.

If anyone was following him, they were getting an erratic tour of central Athens, one that went from the cafés near the Agora north into the somewhat less salubrious flea markets and then back down to the hill across from the Acropolis. Chris left the paths here and used the trees and greenery to mask his movements. He crossed over into the residential area beyond, realising that he was now not too far from his hotel. He took care not to go to near that, as it was one location he could imagine they (whoever they were) would have staked out. He curled back towards the centre and scurried through the streets some more.

Afternoon gave way to evening. The city grew darker, the streets became busier as partying Greeks joined the throngs of tourists. Chris grew more confident that no one would be able to follow him through this. He decided to rest and steady his nerves by ducking into a café for a swift coffee glass of tsiporou (the terrifying Greek spirit, until now something he had known only by reputation). He sat in a tucked away corner inside rather than one of busier tables outside, confident that no one would chance upon him there. The coffee perked him up. The spirit burned his mouth but gave him a renewed sense of confidence and invincibility. He did not know what would be thrown at him when he went to meet Costas in the Bar Apollo, but he was ready for it.

And now it was time to make his appointment. He left the café and strode purposefully the short distance to Virones Street. He saw the Bar Apollo, a busy looking spot with people sitting at tables outside, while inside there was a mix of patrons standing at the bar or sitting at more tables. The clientele seemed to consist of both locals and tourists, though it was not always easy to tell which was which. Chris strode purposefully in and ordered a Mythos beer at the bar, basically because he admired the tentacle-based artwork on the poster for it behind the bar. When the barman was giving him his change he cut to the real purpose of his visit.

"I'm looking someone. Name of Costas. Is he here?"

The barman looked at him suspiciously, as though trying to work out whether he was on the level or not.

"Costas? It's a common name."

"I was told to ask for him here. At the bar."

The barman stared at him some more and then twisted his head to indicate a dark recess of the bar in which some of the more disreputable looking patrons were drinking.

"That's him there in the corner. Reading the paper."

Chris saw a big man sitting on his own in the corner with a newspaper of a character not readily discernible from this distance. The man wore long hair and was bearded. He was quite dark-skinned, but no more so than most Greek people. He was wearing a leather jacket and looked like he would have been quite at home in the biker bar below the hotel in Milan. There was a look about his face that suggested a certain suspiciousness to his character. Chris also thought that his demeanour was one of a man used to acts of violence. He was like a tensed coil that was ready to spring forth. And for all the newspaper he held in front of him, he was clearly scanning the room around him as though looking for someone. The man glanced over at Chris and the barman, his face impassive.

Chris thanked the barman and started over towards Costas but then felt himself suddenly halted by a strong hand's descent on his shoulder. He found himself pulled around to face the towering figure of Gyorgy, more or less the very last person he wanted to meet right now.

"You little cock muncher," said Gyorgy. He had clearly been drinking heavily for some time.

"Uh, hi Gyorgy, I can't really talk right now," said Chris.

"Oh you can't talk? You little piece of shit. Thanks to you, Deirdre's told me to fuck off and says she never wants to speak to me again. Which is a bit fucking awkward as we work together. She says that if I ever talk to her about anything that is not work-related again she will have me reported for sexual harassment. And it's all your fault, you little limp-dick shit bagger."

"I'm sorry it didn't work out between you and my wife," said Chris. He was not actually sorry, but he was trying to make it sound like he was. "But I really can't talk right now. I'm meeting a friend - "

He was interrupted by Gyorgy grabbing him and pulling him close and shouting in his face.

"Meeting a fucking friend? You'll meet my fucking fists first, you bag of goat excrement. Come on, outside!"

Gyorgy started manhandling Chris towards the door. Chris noticed that other customers were backing away in alarm. He had a somewhat surreal sense of regret at the realisation that he had spilt his beer over a chubby American tourist. He thought of using the glass as a weapon to strike Gyorgy with, but his grip was too tight for him to be able to move his arm.

Chris found himself being flung out on the street with such abrupt force that he dropped the glass. Time seemed to slow as he watched it fall to the glass and shatter, its disintegration bringing an end to any chance he had of besting Gyorgy in combat. Then a sudden burst of pain engulfed him. He realised that Gyorgy had hit him, hard, on the chin. He was dazed and felt almost as though he was about to lose consciousness. Gyorgy was shouting at him. People around were backing away.

"You gonna fight back, pissbag? Or are you gonna roll over and die like the little sack of shit you are? Either way, I'm gonna fuck you up! You'll be sorry you busted up me and your - "

There was a loud sound of an impact of wood on bone and cry from Gyorgy. Chris registered that Gyorgy was no longer shouting at him, because he was now lying on the ground in a semi-conscious state. Costas was standing over Gyorgy, with the remains of a chair, a chair he presumably brought down with force on the back and head of Chris's assailant. Costas was looking down at the man he had felled with a slightly maniacal gaze, as though he was checking to see if he was showing any signs of getting back up. He was not. Costas looked over at Chris.

"Julian," he said. "Good to see you again. Was this guy bothering you?"

"He was. Not anymore. Thanks."

"No problem." He threw the remnants of the chair to the ground. "Come on, we need to go. Are you OK?"

"Yeah, just about." And he was. If Gyorgy had hit him again he would not be OK, but as it was he could just about still walk unaided, though his jaw throbbed with pain.

"This way," said Costas, leading him off up the street at some speed. Chris followed as fast he could. "Come on Julian, we need to get away before the cops show up."

They ran on for a bit and then Costas slowed to a walking pace, gesturing to Chris to do the same.

"Slow down, Julian. We're out of the danger zone. No need to draw attention to ourselves."

"Sure," said Chris. "By the way, my name's not Julian, it's -"

But Costas interrupted him.

"Shut it. Didn't they tell you anything? I don't care what your real name is, to me you're Julian. And I'm Costas. Got it?"

There was a barely controlled aggression to him that that frightened Chris. The propensity for sudden controlled violence that had laid down Gyorgy could so easily be turned on him.

"I got it. Sure."

They walked on. Costas was striding with purpose now, as though they were heading somewhere in particular and not just walking to get away from the Bar Apollo.

"Eh, where are we going?"

"To meet someone."

"Don't you want the memory stick?"


"But I thought -"

"You think too much. Did they tell you I wanted it? No. They told you to come and meet me and do what I say. And what I say is come with me."

Chris followed meekly along, albeit with the sinking feeling that he maybe should have paid more attention to the two women in the white jump suits. His sense of direction was not great but he sensed they were walking north. The streets were still busy but the people were looking less like tourists and the local beautiful people. Instead it was like they were moving into the part of town that the recession had not passed by. Or maybe it had not needed to pass them by because these were the people that had never known anything other than hardship. Chris felt there was an increasingly edgy quality to the streets as they walked further, with the glances of passers-by becoming suspicious and hostile. But the presence of Costas was a considerable protection. If people regarded Chris in a hostile manner, their faces showed only fear when they saw his companion. His presence parted the crowd ahead, with people skulking on either side and casting their eyes away from Chris once they saw who he was with.

"How far are we going?"

"Not too far. Far enough."

Chris found himself wondering whether he would not be better off ducking down a side street and making a break for it. But he did not fancy the idea of being pursued by Costas. And he suspected that the people on the streets where would not aid his escape - they would be only too eager to hand him over to his pursuer. So he followed on, racking his brain desperately for something that would get him out of this pickle.

Costas stopped suddenly at the entrance to an apartment block. A look said to Chris that he should do the same. Costas rang a doorbell, Chris noticing that he seemed almost to be tapping out a code on the bell. No voice came over the intercom, but the door buzzed and Costas pushed it open. "Come on," he said to Chris.

Chris followed him into the dingy entrance hall. There was a smell of something whose source Chris did not want to find. They passed the lift and instead made for the stairwell, which seemed to have seen some use a men's toilet. Costas climbed, Chris followed close behind. They came out on a landing, a bit less repulsive than the entrance hall, though there was still a sense of decay in the air. And those stains on the wall? Chris tried not to wonder.

Costas stopped at the door into an apartment.

"Here we are," he said.

"Here we are," said Chris.

Costas gestured at the door.

"It's not locked. In you go."

"In I go," said Chris, reaching forward to open the door and let himself in."

The story continues

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