Friday, April 4, 2014

Strange Journey - Chapter 18



When the bus they were on was stopped by a police checkpoint, Lotte did not know whether this was normal procedure for Greece or something out of the ordinary. The check was somewhat cursory - a policeman got on the bus and walked up and down the aisle, looking at everyone's faces but not bothering to check ID. Lotte had no sense that they might be looking for her (why would they be?) but it was still an intimidating experience. She was glad when the policeman went back up the line, grunted something to the driver and got off. The bus pulled out and accelerated away after its lumbering fashion.

"Wow, that was intense," said the Maenad. "This country is like a total fascist dictatorship. They are totally going to come down heavy on our worship of Dionysos, once they realise how subversive our wild bacchanalian rites will be."

Lotte did not reply. She was struck by something else - the sudden glimpse through the window of a sports car overtaking them, a sports car with two men in the front seat and two dogs in the back seat. The man in the passenger seat looked suspiciously like Chris.

The bus arrived in Sparta. Ancient Sparta had a reputation as plain and unadorned city, lacking the showiness and architectural splendour of Athens. Judging by the environs of the bus station this was a tradition that modern Sparta was keeping alive. The buildings were plain and uninteresting, exhibiting a bare functionalism that Lotte found dispiriting. There was also a disappointing lack of muscley men wandering around in the nude. This is Sparta?

She gave the American the slip and walked into the centre with Barbara.

"I have news," said Barbara. "My colleague sent me a text message. She will not be able to join us here."

"Oh. Is there a problem?"

"No, no problem, just other things she must do. So we are on our own."

"Is that a problem for us?"

"I hope not. It does at least mean I am less likely to get in trouble for not dressing like a freak."

"This is good."

They walked on some more. Then Lotte spoke.

"I may have news too. While we were on the bus, I think I saw Chris in a car that passed us."

"You saw Chris?"

"I think it was him. But I am not sure."

"Was he with people or alone?"

"He was in a car with another man."

"What did the other man look like?"

"I don't know, I only saw them for a second. Long black hair, maybe."

"And that was it, just the two of them?"

"No one else."

"No one else? No one at all?"

"No, just them and the two dogs in the back seat."

"Dogs?" said Barbara, a note of urgency in her voice. "What kind of dogs?"

"I did not really see. Small dogs."

"Do you think they might have been corgis?"


"You know, a little stocky dog with short legs."

"They looked like that, yes."

Barbara was clearly concerned.

"Oh Christ, this is not good. They're moving faster than I thought. The programming should not have been finished by now. I thought we would have more time to get ready."

"I do not understand you."

"I can't explain now. But it does mean we will have to move more quickly."

"What will we have to do?"

"I'm not sure yet. I will need to think. But tomorrow, tomorrow we will need to act."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Costas led Julian into a living room in which Marchand was sitting on an armchair. Marie and Marcel were leaning against the armrests on either side. They were not wearing uniforms now but tailored business suits.

"Costas. Julian," said Marchand. "Please, take a seat."

They sat in the two empty armchairs in front of him. The corgis sat alertly, one in front of Julian, the other Costas.

"It's good to see you again, Julian," said Marchand.


Marchand smiled. "I'm sorry, I forget myself. Did Costas tell you who I am?"


"Good. And you have the memory stick?"

"Yes. Do you want it?"

"Oh I want it. But not now. All things in good time."

The corgis barked their approval.

"I think we should relax now," continued Marchand. "Would anyone care for a drink?"

"I never say No to alcohol," said Costas. "Unless it's Heineken."

"Don't worry, I would not insult you. I have a bottle of fine Yamazaki whisky that I would like to try. Would you perhaps care to try some with me?"

"Like I said, I never say No to alcohol."

"I'll give it a go," said Julian.

Marchand clicked his fingers. Marie went over to a drinks cabinet and started pouring the drinks.

"Ice?" she said.

"Marie, please, what do you take us for?" said Marchand.


She brought the generously proportioned drinks over, including ones for herself and Marcel.

"Now what?" said Julian.

"Well," said Marchand. We have some time on our hands. And I have received a new game that I think might be of some interest to you. Are you familiar with the historical episode known as the Thirty Years War?"

"Never heard of it," said Costas. History was not his strong point.

"I have," said Julian. "Huge conflict in the Seventeenth Century, mainly in Germany. Massively destructive."

"Indeed. Now I have a game set during that period. It is called Wallenstein, after the celebrated military commander. Would you be interested in giving it a go?"

"I'll try anything once," said Costas.

"You're the boss," said Julian.

"Thank you, this is greatly appreciated. It is a much better game with five players."

Marchand rose from his chair and led them over to a table where the game had been set up. There were chairs for each of them and nearby baskets for the corgis. He explained the rules, a somewhat drawn out process, and then they began to play. They all found the game entertaining, with the mechanic of the "battle tower" being a particular source of amusement.

"It certainly recreates the random bloodbath nature of the period," said Julian, when an attempt to take a province led to the complete annihilation of attacking and defending armies and the laying waste of the territory.

"Yes," said Marchand. "The game is instructive. We must take steps to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again."

"Not my problem," said Costas. "Keep paying my wages and I don't give a shit what happens."

"Oh Costas," said Marchand. "Can you not be better than that?"

"No. I'm not into any of that big picture shit."

Marcel grunted something in French.

"Yes of course," said Marchand. "Back to the game. I think it is your turn Marie?"

They played on.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Lotte checked into her hotel and left Barbara to try and find a room herself somewhere cheaper. Then she went for a stroll. Central Sparta was a bit more appealing than the area around the bus station had suggested. It was still not something that could be called a grand city, but it had a certain charm. She was struck by how lacking in tourists it was - while there was a buzz about the two main streets and the nearby main square, it came not from visitors but from the good folk of Sparta themselves. She felt almost like an interloper, someone illicitly visiting a town that was not really for the likes of her. It was not as though the natives were hostile, but it was clearly their town, not one based on prostituting itself for tourist dollar.

She quickly visited the archaeological museum, in which the most interesting thing were masks that had apparently been left as offerings at a Temple of Artemis. They were made of fired clay and were very basic, but they had an almost uncanny quality. Lotte went on to the town's small art gallery, which had a temporary exhibit of Greek art from the 1980s. Lotte noted with interest that these were the first pieces of contemporary Greek art she had seen in the country.

From there it was a short walk past the statue of King Leonidas to the ruins of ancient Sparta. There was some rubble on a hill, which may once have been a temple or something like that, plus something that was once a theatre. Lotte reckoned that it must have been built after the glory days of ancient Sparta, as it was hard to imagine true Spartans engaging in such decadent activities as enjoying a nice drama.

Lotte sat down on a rock in the shade of an olive tree, intending to take in the atmosphere, but she was soon disturbed by a familiar voice.

"Oh my god, it's the woman from the bus - the one who's going to join our festival!"

Lotte opened her eyes to see the American Maenad, with another woman, this one having dark hair and olive-skinned features that suggested her being Greek.

"You are joining us?" said this woman, in accented English.

"No," said Lotte. "I am not joining you."

"She's such a kidder," said the American. "What's your name, by the way? I'm Martha."

"And my name is Kalliope," said the other woman, revealing that the names of pre-Christian antiquity had not completely died out.

"I'm Lotte," she said reluctantly.

"Lotte, that's an awesome name. Are you German?"


"That's awesome, isn't it Kalliope?"

Kalliope shrugged in a manner that suggested she did not think it quite so awesome.

"Well it's great to meet you again Lotte! It's gonna be real great at the festival tomorrow, you will love it."

"Come, let us explore the ruins," said Kalliope.

"See you tomorrow! Bus station at noon!" said Martha, as they left Lotte to her tree.

"Goodbye," she answered. It was pointless trying to tell these people that she would not be taking part in their festival.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The game of Wallenstein turned into a war of attrition between Costas and Marcel, both aggressive players with a dogged determination and an unwillingness to quit. The rest of them were reduced effectively to the status of spectators. But the game was so fascinating that they were happy to watch how the great struggle would unfold. The corgis too were taking an interest, now that they had been lifted up onto the table from where they could follow proceedings. Eventually Costas trumphed, but it was a victory of the graveyard, leaving the boardgame's imaginary Germany a depopulated ruin.

"That's the way to do it!" said Costas, slapping the table so hard all the remaining counters came tumbling out of the Battle Tower. The corgis barked.

"Well done, Costas, you have played well," said Marchand.

"I had a worthy opponent," said Costas. He held out his hand to Marcel. "Bon jeux, mon ami."

Costas' attempt at French was quite heavily accented, which might be why it took Marcel a couple of seconds to work out what was being said to him. But once he did, he took the offered hand and grunted something that probably translated into congratulations.

"Now gentlemen," said Marchand, "let us relax over some more of this fine whisky while Marie prepares our dinner. And then I think we should all go to bed early. Tomorrow is the big day and we should be ready for it."


The story continues

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