An open-topped sports car sped out of Athens. The driver was bearded, with long dark hair that blew out behind him. He wore a leather jacket and looked like he would have been equally at home riding a Harley-Davidson or some other heavily branded motorbike. This was Costas. Like the driver, the passenger wore aviator shades and otherwise looked a lot like Chris.
"Thanks," said Julian. "It's good to be back. It's been too long."
"That's the way of things. But you're back with us now."
"Like I've never been away. Oh yes."
"You don't need to rest? You're ready for this?"
"Oh I'm ready. I've never been more ready in my life."
Costas smiled and put the foot down.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
In the castle above Nafplio Lotte looked aghast at the oddly dressed and made-up woman.
"Chris needs my help?"
"Chris needs my help?"
"Why? From what?"
"It is hard to explain. He is in a lot of trouble. And he has gone over to the other side."
"I do not understand. English is not my first language, I find figures of speech difficult. You say he has gone over to the other side. Do you mean that he has gone from one place to another, crossing over something, or do you mean this as a metaphor?"
"Well, both, in a way. He's not himself anymore. We need someone he knows well to bring him back."
"We? Who are you?"
"I cannot reveal that information at this time."
"And yet you want me to help you?"
"Yes. Only someone he knows well can bring him back."
"Well I don't know him that well… I only met him a couple of days ago."
"We believe that your sexual tryst was not without significance to him. Thus he has a reasonably strong association with you."
Lotte was struck by the odd direction in which this conversation was progressing.
"Wouldn't you be better off with someone he has a much stronger link to? His wife is in Athens."
"Yes," said the woman, a note of slight awkwardness in her voice. "My colleague is approaching her. But we suspect that she will prove uncooperative."
"Oh so basically I am your back up?"
"Well, it is a bit like that, but you will want to help Chris, won't you?"
"I suppose, but this is very unbelievable. If you have evidence that he is in trouble, why do you not contact the police?"
"We cannot do that. They have been compromised."
"Yes of course. So if I were to help you, what would I have to do?"
"First you would have to come with me. Then at the appropriate time we would tell you what is necessary."
"But not until then."
"This is very unusual."
"Yes, I can see why you would think that. Look, I'm just doing my job, give me a break. If I can help rescue Chris it will look really good on my end of year appraisal. You will have the satisfaction of having rescued your friend, and I might get a raise."
"Where would I have to go with you?"
"To Sparta. Or Sparti as they call it now."
"That is a coincidence, I am going there tomorrow."
"Really? How are you getting there?"
"By bus. I have bought a ticket already."
"Oh that's handy, it will bring down my expenses. We're on a very tight budget."
"Oh, your organisation does not have helicopters or fast cars that can bring us to Sparta?"
"No, not anymore. We've been hit quite bad by the recession. It's all run on a shoestring now. Say, do you have somewhere to stay in Sparta?"
"Yes, I am booked into a hotel."
"Do you think I could stay with you?"
"No! I don't think so."
"Well it might be safer - you could need some protection."
Lotte looked at the jump-suited woman. She was short and of slight build and did not look like she would be particularly useful in combat situations.
"I think I will be able to look after myself."
"Oh fine then, I'll stay on my own, don't mind me. I'll get in the fucking neck from the accounts department, but you'll be all nice and happy in your hotel room on your own."
"I am sorry, I simply do not wish to share my room with a stranger."
"But I am not a stranger, I am someone who is helping you - "
"I only met you five minutes ago."
"Oh yes, OK, I see how it is with you. I'm sorry. OK, I will find my own place. When my colleague comes down from Athens I can share with her."
"I have not yet agreed to help your enterprise."
"But you will though? You will help us? You do want to rescue Chris?"
"I suppose that I do. Yes, I will help you."
"Great." She held out her hand. Lotte clasped and released it.
"What is your name?"
"My name? Oh, it's… Barbara."
"Is that your real name?"
"Eh, no. We use codenames. But you can call me Barbara."
"I will do that."
"OK, let's climb down from this fort. My budget will stretch far enough to take you out for dinner."
"Your organisation is very generous. But I must insist on one thing."
"That you do not wear the wig and that stupid outfit when we are eating. The make-up also should go away. I do not want people to stare at us."
Barbara looked uncomfortable.
"I don't know about that. We have policies. I don't make the rules but I would get in a lot of trouble if I don't stick to them."
"These policies are very strange."
"Well there is a certain logic to them. A uniform look is good for building esprit de corp."
"Yet if you are wearing such distinctive clothing it is not easy to be inconspicuous when working undercover."
"I've said this on any number of occasions, but no one ever listens to me."
"Well I am not eating with you tonight if you are dressed like this. Nor am I going to assist you in Sparta unless you look more normal."
"You're putting me in a very awkward situation."
"I am not prepared to compromise."
"It's just I don't have any other clothes."
"What, you just have a bag full of jumpsuits?"
"Yes, that's all we're allowed in the field."
"Well there are clothes shops in Nafplio. Come on, we will buy you something."
"I will really have problems justifying this on to the accounts department."
"That's not my problem. Come on."
They made their roundabout way to the castle's entrance and began the long descent to the town.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
"Damn!" said Costas. "Look at the fuel gauge."
"Near empty! Didn’t you fill up before we left Athens?"
"I forgot. Oh Christ. I don't know how I didn't see it till now."
"OK, bring her off the main road, we can get petrol in the next village."
Down the narrow twisty roads they went till they reached a small village. A general store had a couple of pumps outside it.
"That'll do," said Julian.
A growling noise came from behind them. Julian looked over into the back seat at the two corgis there. One was still asleep but the other was awake, standing up on its back legs and looking out over the side of the car. Julian looked back up front and spoke to Costas.
"Best be careful."
"No waiting around. I got it."
They parked in front of the stores and beeped the horn to attract attention. These places were not self service. After what seemed like an interminable delay an old man came out from the shop. The two corgis were awake now and they both eyed him suspiciously.
"You speak English?" said Costas. "Fill the tank with petrol."
The old man chuckled. "Oh I speak English alright, fellers. I speak it real good. So you want a tank full of petrol."
"That's what I said, old man, and I don't have all day to wait here, so get pumping."
"Oh yes sirree, that's what I'll do." He shuffled at an excruciatingly slow pace over to the pumps. "Now let's see, which one's the diesel and which one's the petrol - wouldn't do to mix them up, would it now? That's the kind of thing that can really mess up an engine. So, let me see, this is the one, yes it is. Now, where's that old fuel tank cap on your car."
"Back there where they are on every fucking car," barked Costas. "Come on you old prune, hop to it."
"I tell you mister, there's no need for the cussin'. And there's no need to be rude neither. Round here folks got a saying, if you want something done quick you'd best be polite about the asking."
"You speak very good English," said Julian.
The old man chuckled again. "Well that I do, mister. The truth is, I lived quite a mess of time over in the United States. You see, it was back in the old nineteen sixties. I was already past my young days then, but I still wasn't set in my ways, so when I met this lady who was on holidays over from America I - "
The corgis growled.
"Yeah, yeah, that's enough of that," said Costas. "Fill the tank and give your life story to the next poor fuck who comes up the road."
Muttering "well dearie me" and the like to himself, the old man set to work on pumping the fuel, still at a speed that was highly annoying to the time conscious. And then he was done. He reattached the fuel cap and put back the pump, before looking confusedly at the guage.
"Let's see, that'll be -"
"This should cover it," said Costas, shoving a couple of notes at the old man. "Keep the change."
He turned on the engine and powered out of the village.
"I'm surprised you paid him," said Julian.
"I wasn't going to, but we could do without trouble from the law."
They drove on, rejoining the main road. The corgis went back to sleep.
The story continues