The eve of destruction
Lotte met Barbara for dinner.
"The Sparta Philikos? I don't think it's as nice as yours. But I am within budget."
Their meal was rather tasty. This was a pleasant surprise, as Lotte's guidebook had dismissed the restaurant as merely the least bad of Sparta's dining options. They lingered afterwards over some ouzo and discussed what was to come.
"Tomorrow is the big day," said Barbara.
"Yes, you have said this before. What does this amount to?"
"It's when they will try to exercise their plan. But it provides us with the opportunity to baulk them, because they will be distracted. So we will have to seize the opportunity to stop them. That's when we should be able to rescue Chris from them. Or at least it is when we can try to do so. It's our only chance, really."
"What is their big plan? And who are they?"
"I can't tell you these things. You wouldn't understand."
"I would not understand?"
"I can't. I'm not allowed to."
"Do you know what is going on yourself?"
"Yes, I definitely know all of this stuff.""Do you? Do you really?"
"Well, most of it. Quite a lot anyway. All I need to know, at least. I mean, I don't need to know everything to do my job, I just know where I fit into the big picture."
"This is not very convincing."
"Look, you don't have to be convinced, you just have to play your part. Don't you want to rescue Chris?"
"I suppose I do. But I think I would be better able to help if there was less of this pointless mystery."
"Maybe the mystery has a point? Knowledge can be dangerous. The less people know about some things the better."
"I remain unconvinced."
"Well that doesn't matter, as long as you are willing to do your part. Are you?"
"I have already said that I am willing to do my part."
"What is my part?"
"Oh yeah right. It's simple enough. We will go to where they have Chris. When they are getting ready to do their big thing, we will be able to sneak in. Then you will call out to Chris and he will recognise you and the conditioning they have made on him will break down and we will all escape and they will not be able to do their big thing."
"This does not sound like a very well thought through plan."
"Look, I'm doing my best here. Just play your part, I'll look after the big picture."
"I am concerned that your plan features unrealistic expectations and so will expose us to unnecessary dangers."
"Don't worry, I've thought everything through. I've got all the angles covered. It's all under control. I'm a professional, you can rely on me."
"Very well, I will accept this, but please note my concerns. I will be very angry if anything bad happens."
"I get you. But don't worry, everything is under control."
"So this is happening tomorrow. But where?"
"They have a house outside Mystras."
"Mystras, yes. You've heard of it?"
"The lost city of the Byzantines? Of course, to see it is one of the reasons I was coming to Sparta."
"Oh right. Well I don't mean the Byzantine city, I mean the modern village beside it."
"I see. Perhaps there will be time to visit the Byzantine city afterwards."
"I don't think so, we will be fleeing for our lives."
"This is very annoying. I am very interested in seeing ancient Mystras. Perhaps before we rescue Chris I could go there."
"No, look, no, just drop it. I can't have you wandering around old Mystras and tiring yourself out when you need to be fresh as a daisy for what's coming up. Plus it's a big site, you might get lost in it and then we'd miss our window."
"I am very annoyed. This is making me rethink the whole business."
"Seriously, you are going to not bother rescuing Chris just because you want to go and have a look at another load of Greek ruins?"
"They are meant to be very impressive. And I only knew Chris for a short time. I think I have known you for longer. And I would not rescue you."
"Oh thanks, that is so charming."
"I do not mean any offence by it, simply that I do not have a close bond with you and would not take excessive risks to save you. And besides, you would have your colleagues in your organisation to come and help you."
"I suppose. But surely you feel more of a connection to Chris? You were… intimate with him, after all. And he has no one else to help him."
"You are trying to help him."
"Yes, but only someone he knows can do it. You're the only one."
Lotte considered the matter. Mystras was one of the things she most wanted to see on her trip. But she would feel bad if she did not help Chris. She did have a certain fondness for him and she would feel sad if he came to harm because of her inaction. And in any case, Mystras would still be there - she could return to visit it again at some future point.
"You are right. I must help him. I will do this. Mystras can wait. So, how will we go to the village? Is it near enough to walk?"
"No, it is too far."
"Well we will have to take a taxi then."
"Ah, no, we can't really do that. It's against procedures."
"This account department of yours?"
"Yes, they will not pay out for taxis."
"Very well, I will pay for the taxi fare then."
"Oh no!" said Barbara, very emphatically. "I can't allow that. It would be completely unethical. And besides, our objection to taxis goes beyond expense. They are dangerous and not to be trusted."
"All taxis everywhere?"
"It's not a problem, we can get the bus to Mystras. The journey is short and they go there quite quickly."
"So what time is the bus?" She asked the question, but Lotte had a sinking feeling that she already knew the answer.
"It's at a quarter past twelve. So we'll need to be at the bus station at midday."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Marchand passed cigars to Costas, Julian and Marcel while Marie cleared away the dishes.
"I tell you, gentlemen," he said, "smoking a cigar after a good meal is truly the greatest form of relaxation known to man."
"I'm not so sure of that," said Costas. "Don't get me wrong, I love a good cigar, but for me the best way to relax involves a couple of teenage blondes and a Jacuzzi." He chuckled sleazily.
"Oh Costas, you really are a terrible man," said Marchand. "And you are entitled to your vices. But I must warn you - there will be none of that kind of thing tonight. You must be on top of your game tomorrow, and so you must conserve all your primal energy."
"Ah come on! I was going to head into the village to look for some action."
"Not tonight, Costas. This is non-negotiable."
One of the corgis barked.
"OK, you win," said Costas. He took a draw from the cigar and exhaled. "And this cigar isn't too bad. Almost as good as the real thing."
Marie returned with a tray of steaming hot chocolates.
"Excellent," said Marchand. "I think these will help us all sleep."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Lotte parted from Barbara and walked back to her hotel. But she was not ready to go to bed yet, so she strolled on. It was getting late, but the town was still lively, with people sitting on the outside tables of bars and cafés. At many of these, people were watching televisions showing a basketball game. This sport appeared to be very popular here, which surprised Lotte, as she had always thought of it as being most popular in countries with a large population of overly tall mutants.
She was also surprised to see so many people out on a weekday evening. Greece was meant to be in the midst of a recession, after all. There were a lot of people out enjoying themselves in Athens and Nafplio, of course, but a great many of those were tourists. Here there were very few visitors and yet the bars and cafés were full tonight, as they had been the night before. This did not look like a town battling an economic crisis. And yet, appearances can be very deceptive. For all Lotte knew, the people in these bars and cafés were just nursing one or two drinks over the course of the entire evening.
After looping through the main square she returned to her hotel, ascended to her room and then sat on the balcony watching the people in the cafés opposite. One of the bars catered primarily for hip young people (or what passes for hip young people in a provincial town), while another had a clientele that was entirely made up of old men sitting on their own. She began to feel bored of her godlike view and came back into the room, lying on the bed and reading while listening to the murmur of the crowd outside. But it was hard to concentrate on her book. Her mind would not stop thinking of what was to happen tomorrow and how little she knew about it. She felt almost like a fool for letting herself be caught up in Barbara's strange schemes, particularly when Barbara was not telling her anything of any consequence about what was really going on. Barbara had not even told Lotte her real name. Yet Lotte had spent enough time with Barbara now to feel that she could trust her, that Barbara was being as honest as she could be and that she was not making up this bizarre story about needing Lotte rescue Chris. But she did wonder whether Barbara was really trustworthy or whether she was simply someone trained to present themselves as a person of integrity.
Lotte thought more about Chris, feeling guilty now that she had considered abandoning him so that she could explore Mystras. It was the sheer outlandishness of the situation that made this seem like a morally defensive position. In reality her moral duty was clear - even she did not know Chris at all she would have obliged to assist a person in danger. And she did know Chris. As Barbara had said, they had achieved a certain intimacy in the short time of their acquaintance. She no more wanted him to be in this slightly non-specific danger mentioned by Barbara than she wanted him to be sad about his wife. She would do her best to help him.
With that thought in mind she closed the window, put away her book, changed into her night clothes and climbed into bed to go to sleep.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Costas and Julian had been assigned a room to share, but with separate beds. They went to bed. Julian was starting to drift off when he heard Costas's whispering voice.
"That bullshit about not getting any action tonight, man that really pisses me off."
"Yeah," said Julian non-committally.
"I sleep way better after I've had a woman, you know what I mean?"
"I mean, if I'm too be on top of my game tomorrow I should be dipping my wick tonight."
"You heard what the old man said."
"Yeah, I heard him. I'm not gonna cross him. The dogs are in the corridor, did you see that? Keeping an eye on us."
"Oh yeah, real sensible. But you know what gets me? The hypocrisy of it. No action for me, but the old man - do you think he sleeps alone?"
"No. He shares a bed with Marie." His voice dropped to the lowest whisper he could make and still be heard as he continued. "And Marcel."
"Are you sure? They could just be in the same room, guarding him or something."
"Oh yeah, sure. You're very trusting, Julian. No, there's just one bed in there. The old man's snuggling up with the two of them right now. Don't get me wrong, I've nothing against people who swing both ways. It's just - I don't bloody well see why he's getting any and I'm not."
"He's the old man. He can have what he wants."
"I really can't take this bullshit. I don't like being told what to do."
"Well get another job. But where are you going to get money as good as the old man pays?"
"You got me there, pal."
"Get some sleep Costas. You need it."
They stopped talking and soon were asleep. Out in the corridor, the two corgis in their respective baskets also lay down on their backs and started snoring. And in Marchand's room, who knows?
The story continues