Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Strange Journey - Chapter 23


In conclusion

Chris followed Barbara and Lotte out into the street and they started running down the road to Mystras.

"Wait!" said Barbara suddenly. "We can't escape down the road. They'll just come after us in their car and catch us."

"You didn’t disable their car?" said Chris.

"Uh, no, I didn’t think of it until now."

"She is very professional," said Lotte.

"Oh shut it," said Barbara. "We've got your boyfriend back, haven't we?"

"I am not sure he can be described as my boyfriend."

"Ladies, please," said Chris. "These are questions we can settle at some other time. Right now we have to escape from those people. Do you reckon they have guns?"

"Almost certainly," said Barbara.

"OK, we can't run away on the road. We'll have to run through the woods. We should be able to lose them and sneak back to - to where are we anyway?"

"Explanations later," said Barbara. "Come on, into the woods."

They ran into the forest, but it was hard to make good progress through the undergrowth. And they kept hearing the frantic barks of the corgis behind them, telling them that their pursuers were still on their trail. There was no point trying to hide, the dogs would just sniff them out. They had to keep going and hope that somehow they would outpace the others or that they would give up and return home. It was not really much to hope for, but it was all they had.

The ground levelled out, but was still wooded. There was less undergrowth now, so they could run more quickly. Maybe this would give them the chance to throw off their pursuers. Chris hoped they came across some kind of easily fordable stream, as he had some recollection that such things were ideal for masking their scent from dogs. But there was no such stream to be found.

What they did find was a forest grove in which a load of women in faux classical garb were lying around in states of inebriation, all looking somewhat dishevelled. They came upon them so suddenly that Chris nearly tripped over one of them. It was all rather odd, especially to Chris who had not previously met the Maenads.

"Jesus Chris, what the fuck is this?" he said as he came to a halt.

"Please," a voice said, "do not invoke the Nazarene in this sacred place."

A slim man in a white suit came towards them from behind a tree. His hair was long, golden and delicate. Despite his slim frame he was effortlessly carrying a gallon bottle of wine in one hand, several glasses in another.

"Welcome, friends. You look like you are in need of some refreshment. Can I offer you a glass of wine?"

"Well we really would love to stay and have a drink," said Chris, "but we are kind of running for our lives from some guys who are planning to brutally kill us if they catch up with us, so I think we should be going."

"Oh I don't think so. Stay and join us for a drink, I'm sure your troubles will seem far less troublesome when you sampled the fruit of my vine."

"I really don't think so…" said Chris, but the man sounded so convincing, and he was already pouring out a glass and handing it to Barbara. She took it, drank from it and smiled.

"I suppose one quick drink can't do any harm," said Chris, not really convinced of the logic but feeling that he could not refuse a glass from this man.

He took a glass and Lotte did the same. They drank together and Chris was struck by how he had never tasted wine of such exquisite quality, with different flavours appearing and disappearing in his mouth like rays of the sun reflected in a fast flowing stream.

"Oh my God," he exclaimed. "This is incredible."

The stranger smiled again. "Blessed is the fruit of my vine."

"And what a charming scene this is," another less than welcome voice called out. It was Costas. He and Marcel came bounding into the grove, the corgis beside them.

"Welcome, friends," said the stranger. "You too look like you are in need of refreshment. Would you care to try my wine?"

"Not now, faggot," said Costas, punching the wine bearer full in the face and knocking him to the ground.

"Now I got you, you shitbag," said Costas to Chris. He leaped at him and seized him in a vice-like grip. Marcel grabbed Lotte and Barbara, one in each arm, each of them effortlessly held by his brute strength. They struggled but they could not escape. Their faces were ones of hopeless despair.

"Here comes the old man," said Costas. "I reckon you're going to give him the memory stick now, eh?"

"Let me go, Costas, we've never done you any harm."

"Apart from breaking that chair over my fucking back."

"OK, apart from that, but you were strangling Lotte."

"I'll make you watch me slit her throat. Then I'll skin you alive."

"That really would be a bit uncalled for."

"Uncalled for, you say," said Marchand, who had now joined them, together with Marie. He held a pistol in his hand. "But I think entirely deserved. We do not tolerate traitors. We had an arrangement and you let the side down. So yes, now we will take the memory stick from you and then you will die. Slowly and in great - what?"

The dogs were barking frantically. The stranger in the white suit had risen up again. His face showed no sign of having been struck by Costas. His expression was enigmatic. The corgis barked at him but then he threw a look at them that somehow disconcerted them. They ran off into the woods howling.

"What have you done to them?" said Marchand.

"This man who struck me, he is yours?" said the stranger.

"He works for me, yes."

"He should not have struck me."

"Oh really? Well you should not have angered him. Costas has a short temper."

"He should not have struck me."

Chris found himself abruptly released by Costas. Costas was screaming, clutching his right hand, from which vegetable matter seemed to be sprouting. He started trying to brush it off with his other hand, taking clumps of skin and flesh off while doing so, but the plant kept erupting from his hand.

"I don't understand," said Marchand hesitantly. But then resolve returned and he pointed his pistol at the stranger. "I think Costas did not hit you hard enough. I think I should kill you now."

"I don't think so," said the stranger.

The gun quivered in Marchand's hand.

"Women! Awake!" called out the stranger. Around them the drunken women roused themselves into something approximating to wakefulness, but they still seemed like they had not completely escaped dream's clutches. To Chris they looked like people in a trance.

"Look what has come among us," continued the stranger. "A lion, a monstrous beast intent on despoiling our revels and feasting upon us. Fall upon this monster! Kill him before he can kill us."

With a sudden fierce glint appearing in their eyes the women moved towards Marchand. He looked baffled and terrified at the same time. Throwing the gun to the ground he tried to run, but the women were upon him. They pulled him to the ground and savagely pulled at him, pummelling and striking him with their fists and with any stone or lump of wood at hand. There was a terrible fury to their work that left Chris mesmerised.

Marcel released Lotte and Barbara. He shrieked and ran off into the woods.

"Make it stop, make it stop!" screamed Lotte.

The stranger looked at her as though she was a terrible spoilsport and then sighed. "Very well." He addressed the women. "Leave him, the brute has suffered enough." The women retreated from Marchand, who lay whimpering on the ground. The stranger looked at Costas, whose hand was no longer sprouting vegetation, though it was now not much more than a bloody stump. "Take your master away."

Costas helped battered Marchand to his feet and then supported him as they limped away into the wood. Marie watched them go.

"You're not going with them?" said Chris.

"No. I'm free now," she replied.

"It's nice to be free," said the stranger. They laughed. "So now let us celebrate our freedom. And what better way to celebrate with wine! Who's for another drink!"

It turned out that everyone was for another drink. They crowded round the stranger, who poured a glass first for Marie and then refilled everyone else's glasses. They drank deep and then he filled their glasses again. There seemed no end to what his bottle had to offer. The Maenads became inebriated once more, which made them decide that it would be a great idea to sing one of their polyphonic songs. Unfortunately, in their drunken state they were quite unable to manage the harmonies, but no one seemed to mind, least of all the stranger. The music was well-intentioned and that was enough. The party went on into the evening until they all passed out from the potency of the stranger's delicious wine. Chris fell asleep snuggled up against Lotte, her scent now merged with that of the divine nectar. When he woke in the morning the stranger was gone. Only Lotte's head on his shoulder and the sight of the unconscious Maenads all around testified to the reality of what had gone before. That and the cold metal of the memory stick in his pocket.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Strange Journey - Chapter 22


It is time

Lotte and Barbara walked up the steep road, climbing up out of Mystras.

"So," said Lotte. "How do we do this?"

"It's simple. We just barge in there and you say Chris's name repeatedly until he recognises you, and then we all run for it like our very lives depend on it, which basically they will do."

"There are so many things that could go wrong with this."

"Oh don't worry, try not to be so pessimistic. That's the problem with you Germans, you're always assuming that the worst will happen."

"I did not know this was a common stereotype of people in my country."

"It's not a stereotype, it's the truth."

"The truth."

"Yes, it's well known."

"I see. But there are a few elements of this plan of yours I am still unclear on. This house where they have Chris…"

"Yes, yes, nearly there now."

"You say we are just going to barge in?"

"Yes of course."

"But is that not a bit dangerous? Will they not have the doors locked and perhaps guarded?"

"Oh no, nothing to worry about there. They're very slapdash about security."

"But will we - "

She was interrupted before she could finish.

"Shhh! Too late to back out now. The house! This is it. Come on, let's go. We're here just in time."

Lotte followed Barbara up to the front door, her heart beating like it was about to burst.

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

"The memory stick, Julian," said Marchand. "Can I have it, please?"

"The memory stick," said Julian, reaching into his back pocket. "Yes, I have it here."

"Better give it to the old man," said Costas.

"Yes, of course."

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

Barbara tried the door. It was indeed unlocked. She quietly opened it and beckoned to Lotte to follow her. They went into the hall. Barbara pointed at a door ahead of them, from behind which they could hear voices. Lotte nodded. Barbara strode on and opened the door, leading Lotte into a room in which a middle aged Greek couple were sitting down to their lunch. They all stared in mute astonishment at each other for a second and then the man started shouting a stream of Hellenic curses at them while the woman held her hands to heaven and said words that were perhaps some kind of religious invocation.

"Oh Christ, sorry, wrong house, we're going, we're going!" said Barbara.

Lotte had already gone. She pegged out to the street the moment she registered they were in the wrong house. Barbara came quickly after her and they ran up the road with the man shouting something that probably meant "And don't come back!" after them.

"I do not think that was the right house," said Lotte.

"No, sorry. I got mixed up. It's this one here."

"Are you sure?"

"Oh yes, quite sure."

"Let's go then!"

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

Julian took the memory stick out of his pocket and looked at it like it was some kind of jewel.

"The memory stick," he said quietly to himself, as though he was contemplating it for the first time. "It's been a while."

"Yes, yes, of course. Give it to me," said Marchand, holding out his hand impatiently.

"Give him the stick, Julian," said Costas. "Don't make me take it from you."

The corgis barked.

"No, no, of course not, couldn't have that," said Julian. "Here you are."

The stick bearing hand moved towards Marchand but then abruptly pulled back as an unexpected woman's voice called out.

"Don't give him that!"

It was Barbara. She and Lotte had burst into the room. Marchand, Costas, Marie and Marcel looked at the new arrivals with astonishment. Julian's facial expression was more one of deep confusion.

"Who the fuck are you?" said Costas. He glanced at Marchand, waiting for a cue to unleash violence on these two impertinent women.

"What is the meaning of this? How dare you burst in here!" said Marchand with a cold fury.

"Chris!" said Barbara to Julian. "Come over here. We are here to help you."

"Chris?" said Julian. "I'm not Chris."

"Don't listen to them, Julian. Give me the memory stick," said Marchand.

"The memory stick." Julian looked at it again, holding it close to himself, not sure what to do.

"Don't give it to him, Chris," said Lotte. Her voice was calm but emphatic.

"Chris? I'm not Chris. I'm Julian."

"No you are not. You are Chris. I am Lotte. We were in Athens."

"Lotte… I don't know anyone called Lotte."

"Yes you do, you know me. You met me on the train to Bari? Remember, Chris?"

"Don't listen to her, Julian." Marchand's voice was commanding, but there was a hint of desperation to it. "Give me the stick."

"You want the stick?" said Julian. "Why?"

"Don't question the boss," said Costas, a clear tone of threat in his voice.

"Give me the stick, Julian. Do not make me angry."

"Chris! They are not your friends," said Lotte. "I am your friend, Lotte. Come away with us. Please."

"I'm not Chris, I'm… I don't know who I am." His voice was anguished now.

"You are Chris! You need to leave these people. Come on Chris!"

One of the corgis growled. The other barked. Costas nodded his head.

"Right, right, you don't have to tell me twice. Shut it, bitch!"

He leaped across the room like an animal, throwing Lotte back and grabbing her in a headlock. She gasped for breath, arms flailing, unable to appeal to Chris/Julian now.

"He's fucking Julian, got it? Julian. You little slut," snarled Costas, as Lotte struggled for life.

Marcel smiled a mirthless smile and moved slowly towards Barbara, his powerful arms reaching out to crush her. She backed towards the door, aghast that things had gone so horribly wrong.

Marchand laughed, but his laughter died when he saw Julian suddenly spring to life, his confusion gone. He grabbed a small wooden chair and broke it over Costas's back. Costas collapsed to the ground.

"Leave her alone you fucking thug. And don't call me Julian again. I'm Chris! Chris McCarthy!"

"Julian, what is this?" said Marchand. "After all we've done for you?"

"Julian doesn't live here anymore," said Chris. "I don't know what you did to me, but it's over now."

The two corgis started barking manically. Chris turned to look at them, but then he heard Lotte's weak scream.

"Watch out Chris!"

He turned, just as Marcel's hulking form was bearing down on him at terrifying speed. But he managed to sidestep, tripping the brute and sending him flying across the room. He careered into the wall, hitting it with a loud thump and falling to the ground.

"Either of you want some?" said Chris, raising his clenched fists at Marchand and Marie. His lucky strikes against Costas and Marcel had convinced him that he was some kind of superman.

"No, no, no more violence," said Marchand levelly, now sounding rather conciliatory. No, Julian, or Chris, whatever, there is no need for violence as a way of solving our disputes. Let us settle this in a friendly manner. We have our differences, but they are over now. Give me the memory stick and leave here with my blessing upon you."

"The memory stick," said Chris, taking it once more out of his pocket. "What's the big deal with the memory stick?

"It is just a trifle," said Marchand. "Some little items of sentimental value are encoded upon it. Give it to me Chris, please. It was not yours to start with, why not return it to me."

"Chris, he is just playing for time," said Lotte.

"Oh Jesus, look," said Barbara.

Costas and Marcel were starting to haul themselves back to their feet. Bruised and bloody as they were, they still looked like they would be capable of ripping the limbs from the bodies of Chris, Lotte and Barbara. The cold anger of their facial expressions suggested that they would not be caught napping this time.

"We must go," said Lotte.

"Yes, come on," said Chris. He, Lotte and Barbara ran out of the room, slamming the door behind them in the faces of the snapping corgis.

"Come on!" said Marchand. "After them. We must get that memory stick. And then they must die."

The corgis growled and barked in agreement.

The story continues

Monday, April 7, 2014

Strange Journey - Chapter 21


Not long left

As the bus was leaving central Sparta, the Maenads started to sing. They were obviously rehearsed and practiced, as they were singing some kind of song featuring three-part harmonies. As they were not all seated together in the bus or arranged according to which part they were singing, the result was somewhat less than perfect, but still impressive. It was also rather weird. Lotte did not know what to make of it sensed a certain confusion in the reaction of those other passengers who were not of the Cult of Dionysos. Some of these were other tourists, no doubt heading out to the ruins of Olde Mystras, but others looked like locals on their way to visit friends or retuning home after doing their shopping in Sparta. They looked impassive, as though they were used to the strange ways of the foreigner. The smattering of tourists had a less uniform reaction. Some were captivated while others struck Lotte as being embarrassed.

Lotte knew very little ancient Greek, but she was able to make out a couple of words that suggested that this song had religious significance to the Maenads. Those words were "Dionysos", "Zeus", "Semele," and "Oinos". The song had an ambiguous quality that allowed it to be both solemn and upbeat at the same time - suggesting the ritualistic aspects of religion while making clear that the worship of Dionysos was one of the world's more fun cults. Lotte found herself almost wishing that she was heading up into the sacred groves with the Maenads, there to drink herself insensible and commune with the ancient spirits of the woods… and then she chased those thoughts away as the foolish New Age nonsense they were.

The bus reached Mystras village and Barbara and Lotte descended. As did the Maenads, which caused Martha to further congratulate Lotte on deciding to join the cult. But luckily the Maenads were leaving the village by another route, though Martha insisted on giving complicated directions so that Barbara and Lotte would be able to catch up later.

"Which way?" said Lotte.

Barbara looked around and consulted a map she had brought with her.

"This way. No, this way. Definitely this way. Come on, no time to waste."

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

"Power up the computer, Marie, if you would be so kind," said Marchand. Marie sat down at a desktop computer. It began to boot up. A login prompt eventually appeared. Marie looked at Marchand. He nodded. The dogs barked excitedly. She turned back to the computer and keyed in a password. It began to load Windows.

"Do you want the memory stick?" said Julian.

"Not yet," said Marchand. "You are like Costas with his carnal desires. Wait! Wait! When the time is right I will call for the memory stick."

"And then he'll give it to you," said Costas.

The computer had finished logging in. Marie turned to face Marchand. He nodded again.

"Yes, Marie. Yes. The next step. Go on."

She opened a web browser. It was set with Facebook as the homepage. Marcel laughed.

"Sorry!" she said, quickly closing the tab.

"Are you sure you don't want to post a status update?" said Costas. There was a nasty tone to his voice.

The two corgis barked.

"Enough Costas!" said Marchand. "Continue, Marie. Don't let this oaf distract you."

Marie typed in a URL. A page loaded. She clicked on a link, entered something into a box on the screen and clicked on a button. Another page loaded. She followed a link from this and typed in something else. Julian watched. This kind of thing seemed to go on and on. The point of what she was doing was not immediately obvious. But Marchand seemed happy with her progress. If the old man was happy, everyone was happy. So long as he kept paying the bills.

Now a swirling pattern was on the screen. "I think we're in," said Marie.

"Are you sure?" said Marchand.

"Not yet. But I am almost sure. Let's see if it resolves."

Julian stole a glance at Costas and Marcel. They were staring at the computer screen with the kind of idiot fascination a cat displays when looking at a washing machine. Like them he had no idea what the screen was meant to be showing. He hoped he was not displaying his ignorance quite so obviously.

"There we are," said Marie. The screen now showed a website with a number of links and buttons and text boxes. She started keying in more things and pressing buttons. Another screen loaded, this one showing the face of a beaming corgi. The two corgis in the room barked in recognition.

"Here we are. Here we are indeed," said Marchand. He patted Marie on the shoulder. "I'm very proud of you."

"Thank you, Monsieur Marchand."

Marchand turned to face Julian.

"So Julian, I think you know what this means. The memory stick, if you please."

The story continues

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Strange Journey - Chapter 20


New Dawn

Marchand, Marcel, Costas and Julian were sitting at a big table while Marie served breakfast.

"Are you ready for the big day, gentlemen?" asked Marchand.

"Ready as I'll ever be," said Costas.

"And you, Julian?"

"I'm so ready I'm the anti-Ethelred," said Julian, making a joke so erudite that no one understood what he was saying. One of the corgis barked angrily. "I mean I'm very ready. When are we going to do this thing? After breakfast?"

"Patience, gentlemen. It's too early in the day now. In the afternoon - that is when it will be time for the upload."

"That leaves us with a lot of time to kill," said Costas.

"Yes, I was thinking that," Marchand smiled. "So perhaps another game of Wallenstein? Marcel thinks you were lucky yesterday."

Marcel nodded.

"I've no fear of a rematch. You want to play, I'll play."

"Julian, you are going to join us?"

"I've no other plans."

"I can play too," said Marie.

"Yes, Marie, of course you can," said Marchand. "So it is decided. We will set up the board after breakfast and start the game once Marie has finished the washing up."

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

Lotte rose early and breakfasted alone in the hotel's dingy dining room. The unappealing buffet selection contrasted badly with the delicious breakfasts she had had in Nafplio. The guidebooks all said that Greek hotel breakfasts were generally on the poor side. This was certainly true here; she realised now that her last hotel had spoiled her.

After breakfast she had quite some time to kill before meeting Barbara at the bus station. She strolled up to have a look at the Temple of Artemis, another of the town's few desultory relics of its classical past. Reaching this took her down a laneway that made it feel like she had left the small town and was now heading into the countryside. The temple itself was the usual collection of piled up rubble, with a pillar or two standing precariously upright to give the vaguest of indications where the temple had once stood. Unlike pretty much every other classical site she had seen in Greece, the ruins of the Temple of Artemis were surrounded by a high metal fence that prevented close approach to them. Walking around the perimeter she could see no sign that they ever opened. Nor was there any kind of signage that would tell a casual visitor anything about the temple - like when it was built, by whom, or what went on there. Lotte only had her guidebook to assist her here, but it was a bit vague on the details.

She was looking in through the fence with such rapt attention when she realised that some people had appeared behind her. Turning around she saw an older man in a pinstripe suit and shifty facial expression. He was accompanied by two young lads, who both sported flamboyant hairstyles of a kind popular with the young people.

"Hello, hello, welcome to Greece! English?" said the man in a strangely mid-Atlantic accent. The young lads pouted.

"I speak English, yes," said Lotte.

"I love the English! My wife is English. An Anglican. You are an Anglican? I hear there are many Anglicans in England."

"I am not religious."

"My wife is not religious either, she was just born an Anglican. Are you enjoying your time in Greece?"


"You know, this town of Sparta was the most important city in ancient Greece. The people were famous as fighters for freedom and justice. And you know, they were so powerful that they didn't have any walls round the city! When the Egyptians came here they said, 'Hey, you got no walls!', but the ancient Spartans assembled their army and said 'These are our walls!'. And no one ever beat them in battle."

"I have heard this."

"And this here, you know what that was, it was the Temple of Artemis. Oh yeah, they used to have a big festival here where they would worship Artemis. She was the Goddess of War. You know what they called the festival? The Festival of the Naked Youth."

"Yes, it says that here," she held up her guidebook.

"And they called it that because they used to get the teenage boys of Sparta and strip them naked and whip them as a sacrifice to Artemis."

"Yes, I know."

"And it was famous throughout the ancient world, people came from all over to see it. Even the Romans used to come all the way to Sparta to watch the naked boys being whipped."

"I suppose they did not have television back then."

"And now, Miss, for a small price, that festival can be recreated for you." He clicked his fingers. "Castor! Pollux! Hop to it." The two young lads started unbuttoning their shirts, trying to look as sultry as possible while they did so. The older man took a nasty looking riding crop out of a bag. Lotte began to back away quickly.

"Wait, Miss, wait! The price is very reasonable and you will feel like you are part of the timeless legacy of this great city. As you watch the whip caress the rears of these handsome boys you will be transported back to the time of the ancient Spartans. You will be seeing things as they were seen by Herodotus and Homer."

"No thank you, I have no wish for this."

"But Miss, it is only fifty Euro for a full five minutes. This is a bargain the like of which you will not experience elsewhere." He paused and then continued in a conspiratorial tone. "It is their first time."

"I must go," said Lotte, turning and walking determinedly up the drive away from them, ready to break into a run if she heard them coming after her.

"Alright Miss, forty Euro. Just forty Euro!"

Then another voice, one of the young lads: "What'll I have to eat tonight if you don't pay him to whip me? There is a recession on here!"

A second young lad's voice followed. "We actually like being whipped, it shows we are in touch with our Spartan heritage."

Lotte found them all so pathetic that she thought of throwing a banknote back at them, but she knew that was the kind of reaction they were hoping for. She strode on. Their wheedling voices receded behind her.

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

They were now well into their game of Wallenstein. Marcel and Costas began with an unwise fixation on each other, responding aggressively to each move the other made. This allowed the others to greatly improve their positions. Julian had started off well, but now he was suffering. Marchand and Marie were ganging up on him, with Marie clearly deploying her forces in a way that served Marchand's interests and not her own. This was a form of gaming behaviour that he found deeply unacceptable. He resolved to husband his resources and appear weaker than he was. If he looked like a threat no longer then Marchand might direct his and Marie's efforts elsewhere.

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

Lotte went back to her hotel and picked up a few things she thought might come in handy when she went with Barbara on this foolhardy mission. She ambled up to the bus station, arriving just before midday. After buying a ticket for Mystras, she looked around for Barbara but did not see her. What she did see, of course, was Martha the Maenad and all her Maenad friends. They were all women, as is usually the case with Maenads. Their hair was tied up behind them and they were wearing sandals and little white dresses that looked like they were meant to be some kind of approximation to what people imagine ancient Greek women as wearing. As the Maenads were of all ages, shapes and sizes, the costume looked better on some than others. Martha's friend Kalliope carried it well, but then she was Greek. They had several bags of cheap supermarket wine with them.

Lotte tried to hide from them behind a pillar but to no avail. Eagle-eyed Martha saw her and came bounding over.

"Oh my God, you're here! I knew you'd come along. Come on over, I'll introduce you to the girls."

"I am not going along with you. I am going to Mystras with my friend."

"But we're going there too! Oh you are such kidder. It's great having you aboard."

"I tell you, I am not aboard anything." Then with some relief she spied Barbara, who was running into bus station. "I must go," continued Lotte, rudely pushing past Martha to join Barbara.

"Sorry I'm late," said Barbara. "I slept in."

"This lack of professionalism does not inspire confidence."

"Well I'm here now."

Barbara ran into the ticket office. They boarded the bus and it pulled out of the station and trundled through Sparta on its way to Mystras.

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

Julian was feeling pleased with himself. The game was progressing as he had hoped. Marchand and Marie were leaving him alone now and had instead turned their attention to Costas and Marcel. Their duel had left them vulnerable to outside attack, a vulnerability Marchand and Marie were now exploiting to the maximum degree possible. Marie had committed heavily against Costas, virtually eliminating him from the game. She then joined Marchand in an attack on Marcel, deliberately overcommitting so that Marchand would minimise his losses. Marcel's forces were crippled, but Marie had effectively eliminated herself from the game. And Marchand had weakened himself too in the struggle, perhaps thinking that it was all to play for and that one last push would leave him assured of victory.

Now it was Julian's turn to strike. He had let himself look weaker than he was and had largely sat out the previous rounds. But now he committed all his forces and launched a devastating attack on Marchand. If the others had not destroyed each other he would be leaving himself in a state of terrible weakness. But as it was, he destroyed Marchand's empire and was able to limp on till the game ended in victory. It was a victory that left 17th century Germany in an even more ruined game than that of the night before, but he had won.

"Well played, Julian," said Marchand. "You are learning well." The corgis barked. "And now let us have a small snack before the main event of the day, for it would not do to make history on an empty stomach. Marie, fetch the bread and cheese. And bring the champagne."

She left wordlessly and then ferried in the requested items. She also brought in two bowls of food for the corgis. Marchand nodded at Marcel and the great brute uncorked the champagne and filled their glasses.

"I think a toast would now be appropriate," said Marchand. "So I shall make one. Let us drink to ourselves, for are we not five great people! And let us drink to the great work we are doing today. And most of all, to our dear friend Julian who is making this all possible."

"Amen brother," said Costas. The corgis barked. The humans raised and emptied their glasses.


The story continues

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Strange Journey - Chapter 19


The eve of destruction

Lotte met Barbara for dinner.

"How is your hotel?" asked Lotte, after they had ordered.

"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?"


"Try me."

"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."

"OK, good."

"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?"


"I see."

"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."

"Sensible precaution."

"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?"

"Doesn't he?"

"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

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

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Strange Journey - Chapter 17


On the road

Lotte found Barbara much easier to talk to when the latter was wearing something approximating to normal clothes and make-up that did not make her look like a member of Hot Gossip. The absence of the wig helped too. The ate dinner together and chatted a bit, though Barbara still basically said nothing about herself, the organisation she worked for, or what exactly had happened to Chris and how exactly Lotte would be able to help. Lotte gave up trying to elicit information. The chatted about less consequential things. They had a shared interest in German expressionist cinema from the 1920s and early 1930s, which projected into a further appreciation of the strange films of Carl Dreyer, the Dane. They parted early and Lotte returned to her hotel. She reflected on how she seemed to be sinking into a strange world of bizarre mystery, albeit one in which it was still possible to have surprisingly banal conversations.

The following morning she checked out of her hotel (after a delicious breakfast) and made her way to the bus station. Barbara was already there. The bus arrived and they boarded it. As they had bought tickets separately they had to sit separately, which was not a problem for Lotte as she was not relishing having to find more items to talk about with her strange new associate. She settled in for the journey to Sparta, which would involve having to change bus in a town called Tripoli. She wondered if people ever ended up there by mistake when they had intended to travel to either of the towns of that name in Lebanon or Libya and if so would they consider they had done better or worse. As she had not been to the others (or to Greek Tripoli, yet) the question was a hard one to answer. According to the guidebook, Greek Tripoli was a pretty dull place. The Tripoli in Libya however was developing a certain reputation for lawlessness, while the one in Lebanon was increasingly suffering from a spilling over of the conflict in neighbouring Syria. So Greek Tripoli might be boring, but maybe the others were a bit too interesting?

Alas, the dullness of Peloponnesian Tripoli was not something that Lotte was able to quantify, as the bus station was well out of the city centre, in one of those areas that appear to be all dual carriage-ways. Or maybe this was the centre of Tripoli? If so then yes it was a dull and unappealing place. Lotte and Barbara had to wait for an hour for the bus to Sparta, which was coming from Athens. When it arrived it was very full but Lotte was able to find a seat. She was beside a younger American woman who seemed very excited.

"Oh my God, this is so awesome!" she exclaimed in a clichéd manner as the bus climbed over the mountains from Arcadia to Laconia. Lotte was not sure if this remark was addressed to her or whether it was the verbal equivalent of a post on Twitter, thrown out for the delectation of the world whether the world was interested or not. So she did not offer a reply. But the woman continued, now unmistakably addressing her. "You're going to Sparta?"

This was not quite the stupid question that it sounded, for although this was indeed the bus to Sparta, passengers were able to get off at other stops along the way.

"Yes, I am going to Sparta. And you?"

"Oh yeah, Sparta! It's gonna be amazing. This is Sparta!"

Lotte did not quite know how to reply to this last statement, as they were still on the road to Sparta rather than in Sparta itself, so she tried to just look like she was somewhat interested in what the woman had to say.

"Are you coming to the festival?"

"I did not know there was a festival."

"Oh sorry, I thought you might be. We're not meant to talk about it to the uninitiated, but it's going to be so awesome."


"It's meant to be a secret, but I'll tell you about - just don't tell anyone else about it." She was talking in a voice of sufficient volume that everyone on the bus would have been able to listen in if they wanted to. "It's kind of a religious thing. We're bringing back the worship of the Greek Gods. You know what a Maenad is?"

"Yes, of course - the female worshippers of Dionysos."

"Well that's what I am! I'm meeting the others down there and we're going up to the hills to worship Him. It's gonna be amazing!"

"What will you do up there?"

"I think we just drink lots of wine and party. There'll be music and dancing and we'll just go totally crazy."

"But why are you going to Sparta? I thought Dionysos was most closely associated with Thebes."

"Well we can't go there," said the American, with a patronising edge to her voice, "because Alexander the Great demolished it. And anyway, people only think of it as the famous centre of the worship of Dionysos because Euripides wrote a play about the arrival of the cult there, but more advanced scholarship now reveals that actually the Peloponnese was where worship of the Lord of the Vine was strongest."

"I see," said Lotte. Religious maniacs were always the same, whether Lutheran, Catholic, Muslim or Dionysian.

"You should come up and join us."

"No thank you, I am atheist."

"Oh that's just crazy. No way, you've just got to come to the festival with us."

"No, I will not be at your festival."

"Well if you change your mind, we're meeting at the Sparta bus station at mid day tomorrow."

"I will not change my mind."

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

Costas and Julian sped along the main road. Then traffic slowed and backed up, leaving them able to move forward only at a crawl. Costas became increasingly irritated.

"Leave it, there's nothing you can do," said Julian.

"Goddamnit, I know it, but when I find out who's responsible for this I'll make the fuckers pay."

Julian said nothing, knowing that when Costas was in one of his black moods there was nothing really to do but let it ebb away of its own accord.

The reason for the delay eventually became apparent. Greek police officers had set up a check point on the road and were stopping each car as it came along.

One of the corgis had climbed up to look out ahead and was growling.

"Fuck," said Costas. "They're onto us."

"We don't know that. Even if they are, they don't know who they're looking for. Play it cool, Costas."

"We might have to bust out of this one, buddy."

"Don't be a fool, see how many there are? We can't take on this many. Play it cool. They've nothing on us."

"OK, I'll play it cool. Cool. Yeah, I'm cool."

When they reached the checkpoint a policeman barked something at them in Greek. Costas handed over his driver's licence and identity card. The policemen looked at them both carefully and then said something in Greek to Julian.

"He wants ID," said Costas.

"Here you go," said Julian, handing over his passport. The cop gave it an equally close inspection, leafing through and looking on each page.

"So," he said in English, "you are from Ireland."

"Yes, that I am."

"How did you enjoy your visit to Egypt?"

"I liked it a lot," said Julian evenly.

"And yet you do not have an entry stamp for Egypt on your passport. This is your passport?"

"I was there a while ago. Longer than I thought if the visa isn't there."

The cop handed back the passport. "Please be careful, sirs. There are escaped criminals on the loose. Very dangerous. Do not approach them. Report anything suspicious to the police."

"Sure officer," said Julian.

The policeman said something else in Greek and waved them on.

"I thought he had me there," said Julian.

"You played it cool, I respect that. If he'd tried that shit with me, he'd be a dead cop now."

"And we'd be dead too. Or in custody. Would that be any good to anyone?"

The two corgis barked.

"No, I suppose not," said Costas.


The story continues