Beer and grenadine

Angyra Publications, 2002 (120 pages)


What is the connection between an insurance agent from the provinces passing through Athens and witnessing a savage crime from his hotel window with an Imbrian kiosk owner, who feels compelled to kill a crook? What is the connection between Suan Yu, a pretty stripper from Thailand, with Adam Kosewski, who arrives in Athens to look for his wife in the Polish hangouts of Acharnon Street? In addition, what is there inside the oblong parcel wrapped in rabbit fur? Why does Amalia, a Brazilian woman married to a factory owner living in Pangrati, push her seventeen-year-old daughter into the arms of a middle-aged man? And finally, who is the mysterious ‘hare,’ who flirts with the girls working in the bars of Koukaki?

    Thousands of dead-end microcosms endlessly cross back and forth over the blurred boundary between simple, everyday life and crime. Untold wishes and passionate sex, illegal betting and suspect dealings on the Internet, arms dealing, drugs and the merciless rivalry among the godfathers of the underworld are all there. After a long and successful career as a poet, prose writer and essayist, the author makes his own ‘cinematic’ contribution to the prose of the modern city.
The narration consists of many stories against a backdrop of known and unknown parts of Athens, and other Greek and foreign cities.

Beer and Grenadine

The man sitting at the table next to the electronic games at Kafe 29 on Alkiviadou street was called Adam Kosewsky and he was Polish. He had just arrived in Athens a week ago on one of the greyhound buses that crossed through five countries and brought tourists to Athens for a short vacation. Many of them returned on one of the next buses. Others not. They were seeking their fortune here.

Adam had come for another reason. A letter from Athens twenty days ago – from his friend Marek Sova – had arrived in Krosno and disturbed Adam’s peace of mind that had taken him a long time to find. Marek wrote that he had seen Bozena in Athens. By accident, in the central square of the city, Omonia. She saw him too, but didn’t speak to him. She seemed upset. She got in a taxi and left.

Bozena was Adam’s wife, in a manner of speaking. They had been together for five years. Since they were kids in technical college in Krosno. How had they got along? They had had their ups and downs.

This time last year she disappeared. Adam looked for her in her hometown but her folks told him not to wait for her. They assured him she had left for America.

A difficult year went by. But wounds heal. As long as they aren’t re-opened.

Adam made up his mind. He asked his boss at the factory for leave, he packed an overnight bag and went to Cracow. Twice a week there were bus departures for Athens from there.

THE FIRST THREE DAYS nothing happened. Adam stayed at the El Greco Hotel on Athinas Street. From there he would set out every morning to scour the Polish hangouts that Marek had pointed out to him on the very first day. Stores, cafes, a few bars and two discos. Some near the Catholic Church. Michael Voda Street, Smirnis Street, Harissis and Alkiviadou street. Others were near the train station, Vathis Square, Omonia Square and Koumoundourou Square.

Did Bozena by any chance frequent any of these places? You may be looking for someone for his own good, Adam thought. But then again, maybe not. He had to avoid raising suspicions.




ELEVEN IN the morning. He turned off Aharnon Street onto the narrow street called Smirnis. He walked on the asphalt. A little further down there was an old three-story house. DOM POLSKI. Something like a shelter for homeless Poles. He walked past Alkiviadou Street. On his left stretched the courtyard of Christ Our Savior Church. Opposite the church steps there was a semi-basement store. Polish newspapers, records and gifts. He glanced through the store window. He went on.

Smirnis Street came to an end at Michael Voda Street. Opposite the entrance to the Catholic student dorm there was another big shop. He had been here with Marek. SKLEP POLSKI. GAZETY-KSIAZKI-MUZYKA-FILM.

The ground floor was crammed with magazines, newspapers and books. He went down the steps. Thousands of video cassettes in Polish, one next to the other in continuous rows forming five narrow aisles. A young woman sat in front of a computer with a database of the clients.

He went to the end of the store. On his left in an empty space, dozens of ads were tacked to a bulletin board: “Christov Stezni, who lived in Kypseli on Kerkyras Street, please call 8232616.” “Psemek, call me. Krista Z. 0932-606718.” Adam fished a scrap of paper out of his pocket. “Bozena, I’m in Athens. If you see this note, leave me a message at this store. Adam K.” He tacked it on the board.

Suddenly his gaze fell on an ad. “…7 maza w Atenach “wieczor Polski” w lokalu Axium… Tadeusz Drozda.” Drozda was Bozena’s last name. The ad was about a Polish evening on May 7. A well-known artist, Drozda would be giving out diplomas to members of the Polish community.

Adam said goodbye to the woman at the computer. He went up the steps. He bought a Kaurier Atenski . He left.

He started walking along Smirnis Street again. On Alkiviadou he turned left. He proceeded 50 meters. Kafe 29. He went in. He greeted the waitress. “A beer and grenadine,” he said.

In Krosno you could still have a good root beer for two zloti. Here, at this exchange rate, there was only one solution. Grenadine. Pomegranate liqueur. Mixed with beer. Cranberry red. Sweet and sour.





He took a photo out of his pocket. Any time he asked about Bozena, this was the photo he showed. She was beautiful. And the years they had spent together? They were beautiful too.

He looked at the oblong, marble tables in the cafe. The walls filled with posters of rock groups. A piano. How long had it been since someone played it?

The waitress came over and sat next to him. Her name was Yolanda. “This is on me,” she said and she set another beer on the table. “Pretty!” she added, seeing the photo. “Why don’t you go to Vathis Square?” she suggested. “It’s five blocks from here. There’s a club. Some friends. They do a little bit of everything. They find people, settle differences. If they see Poles in trouble, they help out. To keep the Greek police out of things. Ask for Wieslav. Or Roman. Say you’re from me. They’ll help you out.

He wrote down the address.

Wieslav and Roman, Yolanda’s friends, asked Adam if Bozena had a hobby. Of course she did. She was a movie buff. When they were together in Krozno, she never missed a movie. Then why didn’t he go ask at the Sklep Polski, Roman said, to see if there was a Bozena Drozna who rented videos from there.

Why didn’t he think of that? But would they tell him? “Fib a little,” Wieslav said. “Tell them Bozena is related to Drozda, who’s coming for the Friday event. They’ll be flattered. They’ll tell you.”

Adam went back to Michael Voda Street. He went down into the basement store. He did as Roman told him. The clerk looked the name up on the computer. Yes, Bozena was a customer. She came by every Sunday. After evening mass. At six.

On Saturday, Adam moved to Marek’s house in the district of Neos Kosmos. On Sunday, at 4:30 he went on his own again to the Catholic Church. He went into the small shop opposite. He pretended to be browsing the magazines.

At 4:40 he saw her. Her face was a little different. She was still beautiful. She was accompanied by a young man. They were arm in arm. He had short blond hair. They had their backs turned to him. They reached the top of the church steps. They made the sign of the cross. They proceeded.

He went up too. First up the steps of the store. Then up the church steps. He went through the front door, turned the corner and walked along the narrow aisle, next





to the wall. There were four small windows. One every five meters. Some were attending mass.

HE PROCEEDED. Up to the third window. Then he saw her. She was kneeling. So was the blond man. Next to her.

“Blessed be the lambs of God.” Candelabras, plastic flowers, vases, plaster statues of saints, chandeliers, a painting, the statue of Christ.

“Lord, I am not worthy of you, but your words will soothe me.”

They move forward to take communion. Where did the time go? There are others. Many others. In line. Singing hymns. They reach the altar. They pass in front of the priest. They take communion. They exit through the door on the right.

He only just had enough time to make his exit through the front door.

Five minutes later. In the basement of Sklep Polski. In the back, the last aisle. Frozen still. His mind empty. Or maybe not. Thinking of everything at the same time.

In front of him and behind him, among the video cassettes, people everywhere. He pulls out a cassette. A crack!

She descends the steps. Alone. She approaches. She browses the cassettes. What will she do when she sees him?

She arrives at the crack. She looks.



Now someone else is next to her. He has short blond hair. “Bozena!” She starts to leave. “… where I was going that day, what I was doing, I don’t know. If a crime took place near there, I wouldn’t have an alibi. It was easier to imagine I had died for a little rather than realize I don’t remember anything, even though I was living without interruption.” *

Did Adam kill Bozena? No. Wieslav and Roman, hiding nearby, managed to take the loaded Tokarev that had somehow – who knows how – made its way into his pocket. The next day, they put him on the bus, asking the driver not to let him out of his sight until they got to Cracow.

Verses by V. Simborska, Nobel Prize for Literature, 1996.




Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil


Lakis the lyricist was sitting at a corner in the Stockyard Bar and removed the folded slips from the inside pocket of his jacket. The odds in the Liverpool – Rangers game were 2:1 and 5:1 for a tie. He went for the tie as he did in the United – Celtics game. He’d play five games with all the odds against them and maybe he’d make a haul that would make up for all the money he’d lost this month. Nikos the accountant walked in. He greeted him. He sat down. The conversation turned straight to betting. We have to put the pressure on the Cypriot,” he said. “One day he’s going to fly the coop, just like Jimmy, and we’ll be looking for needles in haystacks. Try finding him in London or anywhere else. He’ll be just another missing person.”

“And then try finding another bookie,” Lakis said, who thought he was onto a good thing. “Just let me win all five games for once,” he went on, “And then we’ll see. Anyway, why shouldn’t he pay up? He’s got his connections with the London bookie. It’ll be bad business to ruin the deal now that he’s got the business running so smooth.”

They were talking about Neokosmos the Cypriot, who had studied in Moscow and used to own a big travel agency, steady paycheck and all, but when Socialist party fell, things changed and the agency closed down. Neokosmos disappeared in London for two years – story goes he opened a restaurant in Soho – and he made connections there and then he returned to Athens and opened a good football pools agency in the Pangrati district. But he had also set up an illegal betting business in a flat, because that’s where the cash was. And it was with this Cypriot that Lakis the lyricist and Nikos the accountant placed their bets – and they sometimes gave the betting slips to the other guys in the gang, who mainly played the horses but also tried their luck once in a while on the football and basketball now that Athens was jam packed with bookies that the police arrested every so often. But they popped up again and again because, as Lakis said, betting is a social need and the State goes after unofficial betting because – just like anyone else – it wants all the money for itself.

In the past the gang used to get together at the Amore pizza parlor on Vryaxidos Street on the Pangrati main square, next to the cafe. They still hung around there but they always ended up at the Stockyard.




It was a new hangout. The owner and the waiters were friends. Apart from a few lovebirds and the odd group of youngsters, the rest of the clientele was bachelors. Lakis and Nikos were regulars. So was Yiannis the reporter and Dimitris the actor. Once or twice a month Roula the teacher would drop by – so Lakis could give her a tip on the horses – and Leonidas the butcher, who worked at the main meat market, would also put in an appearance. The others who frequented there were part of the group too. There was Captain Haris, a 70-year-old retired navy man, who got married five years ago and managed to slip away from his wife once in a blue moon; there was Mitsos, a swarthy 50-year-old divorce with a thick moustache, from a village near Xylokastro, who professed to be a farmer. On the fringe of the group was Takis, a police lieutenant, a nice enough guy, who came along to have his glass of wine with the boys and when they talked about betting, he pretended not to hear.

NINE O’CLOCK Saturday night. The results from the games in England had just come in. Lakis had played all five games against the odds – all surprises – and he got all five right. He took out his calculator and added up his winnings. Eight and a half million drachmas plus change. That’s how much the Cypriot had to cough up.

He stepped outside and called Nikos on his cell. “Come to the bar on Imittou street. Now.”

Nikos was there in ten minutes. They sat at a little table in the back, past the staircase, next to some old electronic games that had been taped up for some time. Lakis hands were trembling. Nikos caught on right away. “How much?” he asked. Lakis pulled the betting slip out of his pocket.

“Eight and a half,” he said. Nikos let out a low whistle.

“Are you going to look for him tonight?”

“I’m going to go find Minas. He’ll tell me.”

“I’m coming with you,” Nikos said.


They got up and paid. Lakis left the brunette a huge tip. They left the Hobby – that was the name of the bar – and started walking down towards Plastira Square.

THEY FOUND Minas at the coffee shop. He seemed pleased with the news. “He’ll pay up. Why shouldn’t he?”

“When are you going to see him?”






“I’ll give him till Monday morning,” Lakis said.


Monday. Minas finally called in the late afternoon. “He’s disappeared,” was the first thing he said.


“Just tell me where his office is,” Lakis said. “Just that.”


“The corner of Doridos and Astydamandos street,” Minas said, “on the fourth floor. The doorbell says Neokosmos Neofytou. He’ll be there tomorrow night. It’s betting night. He faxes London.”


Eleven o’clock Tuesday night. Amongst the shadows cast by the mulberry trees in Mesolongi Square, there were two more shadows. On the fourth floor of 17 Astydamandos street the shutters were closed. The cafe on the square was closed. The owner of the corner store was locking up for the night. “We’ll wait one more hour,” Lakis whispered.


Just before midnight. The door to the apartment building opened. Someone came out and looked up and down the street. Then he started walking down Douridos Street.


They caught up with him at the corner store. He slowed down.


“Why out and about so late?”




“When can I count on getting the money?” Lakis asked.


“Tomorrow afternoon.”


“No. Now.”


“Where am I going to come up with that kinda money now?” They were on Eftihidou Street now. They turned and headed up towards the fountain in the middle of the square.


“Where are you parked?” they asked him.


“Up there on the left,” the Cypriot answered. Two other men were following them. He spotted them.


“Friends,” Lakis said. “One just got of prison the other day. A friend introduced them to me. Go on. To the right.” They walked along Imittou Street. The cafes and bars were still open. They passed the Hobby. Then a bank. Another bank. They got to Ekfantidou Street.

“Tomorrow, for sure. Midday.”





“Now. Whatever you got on you in cash. Write me a check for the rest.” A few yards down, a dark alley. A video store on the corner. “MORE THAN 20,000 MOVIES. ALL ORIGINALS. NO PIRATE COPIES.”

Great Expectations Usual Suspects Crush Depth 

They looked up at the street sign. Anaximandrou Street.

Lakis and Nikos walked on. The Cypriot stayed behind. He was in good hands.

… Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil 

“Turn,” the new guys told him. He didn’t turn. He took the first one in the gut. A young man carrying a pizza box turned down the alley and then ducked into the first apartment building entrance.

They turned too. They walked on. They passed a basement apartment. The street-level window was illuminated. The curtains drawn. Right after that an old two-storey house. Another one, dilapidated. Graffiti on the walls. You could hardly make it out.

… Raw. Nightstalker.

A parking lot. Closed. The back walls of buildings.

Someone looked out a bright, third-floor window and then closed the shutters. Halfway down the alley an old red Peugeot. A piece of paper stuck to the rear windshield: ATHENS MUNICIPALITY. NOTIFICATION. ABANDONED. THIS VEHICLE WILL BE TOWED.

They went a few yards more. Dead-end.

He tried to make a dash for it. “Tomorrow…” They hit him. First the one guy. Then the other. With their fists. With their feet. Someone came out of the building on 1 Anaximandrou Street and turned towards Imittou.

They hit him again.

He wasn’t moving. They searched his pockets. They found three million drachmas. “The rest tomorrow,” said Lakis who had turned into the alley and walked up to them.

They left him behind the Peugeot and turned towards Imittou.

Two bundles for Lakis. One for them.

They scattered.




The Albatross

Port Louis is my favorite port. Twice a year at least, I am fortunate enough that the ship I’m working on – at the moment it’s the Flora P. – docks in Mauritius. So I find the opportunity to walk for a while in the narrow, basalt-paved streets lined with acacia trees to gaze at the temples of every religion and creed and stroll through the city’s public parks that the suburbs, where the white people, live encircle like a pearl necklace.

In bygone times, it took days to load the cargo from the train onto a freighter ship. Now it happens in a flash. And for that matter who takes the time to sit and write a letter to his folks in this day and age of satellite phones? But I do. Practically every day, as if I’m keeping a journal.

We left Port Louis on January 11, 1998. On the 14 th we swung round Madagascar. Once again I put pen to paper. It’s a thousand times better to sit in your cabin and write a letter – talk to yourself, that is – than watch TV in the crew’s smoking area.

January 20, 1998. Today we went round Cape Hope. There’s a full moon and it’s magical. I feel like I’m Sinbad the Sailor sailing the seven seas.

January 21, 1998. At midday a shark swam under the ship and then disappeared. It was a huge monster; you’d think it was a small whale or a submarine, its black, shiny fin slicing through the waves like a periscope. We crossed ourselves when it was finally out of sight. The others had never seen such a beast.

My name is Christos Kastanias. I am a sailor. I’m from the village of Rahes on the Greek island of Icaria. I’m not an old salt. I envy the lives of the old sea dogs, or what I read of it in the stories of Greek writers like Karkavitsas, Kondoglou, and Kavvadias. Back then they had time to savor both the seas and the ports. Nowadays, with the automated loading and unloading, all we see is the sea.

If I decide to stay on the ships – where I found myself out of necessity and nostalgia for a way of life that no longer exists or only half-exists – I would like to take exams and become a third captain.

JUNE 1998. Half a year has gone by. Yesterday we sailed past Sumatra. All around us, swarms of natives fished in canoes. The route now has turned round. First the




Indian Ocean and then the Pacific. Our ship is a bulkcarrier. It takes on cargo and when it unloads, the shipping company finds it another cargo to pick up from there. Sometimes it has already arranged the next cargo.

The region is seething with pirates. On the way to Indonesia, whether you pass through the Malaysia straits towards Australia or you’re going North, like us, towards Borneo first and the Philippines and southern China, there is the fear of a pirate attack. There were 300 attacks last year alone.

How can you be on the lookout for pirates in thirteen thousand islands? If this is what fate holds in store, there’s no way out, no matter what kind of ship you’re on, be it a tanker, a freighter or a passenger ship. And how can a rusty 15,000-ton tin can like ours stand up to a pirate attack? So be it. At least pirates take us back to the olden days, which I like. And even further than that.

July 21, 1998. We’ve gone far north. Yesterday we turned and left the Aleutian Islands. Behind them lie the Bering Strait and the Chukchi Sea. It’s freezing cold, the clouds hang low over the sea – and the sea is gray, cold and dark. Suddenly out of the blurred crust of sea a dark albatross appeared. It flew next to the ship without flapping its huge wings and then faded into the fog on the other side. We throw leftovers but the albatrosses won’t come near us. These are the true albatrosses, either pure white or grayish white, enormous and majestic. They don’t even acknowledge our existence. They just follow us, pass us or rest on the thick sea only to fade away in the gray chaos that envelops us.

We travel around the world like the albatrosses. They say they are stupid birds, but I don’t believe it.

As a matter of fact, once in Cape Town a huge albatross had fallen on the ship’s deck, as big as I am tall. It rested all day long and then we tried to help it fly. It had a wingspan of twelve feet.

So is the soul of sailors, the soul of all people. It wanders. At times in the light and times in the dark. With its wings spread. Like the albatross.

We are crossing the Pacific down to the Panama Canal. That’s where we’re unloading the cargo.

July 31, 1998. A leaden sea, gray sky and all around a blurry gray crust. At night, the sky is brighter and the rolling fog is airy gauze or blurred glowing tulips, off-white ghosts coming to cover you.




August 7, 1998. This afternoon a telegram arrived. REMAIN IN PANAMA UNTIL SHIP IS CHARTERED. I wonder if we will stay on the side of the Pacific or go through the canal to Colon in the Caribbean. There seems to be a big crisis.


NOVEMBER. From China we sail to Mauritius to load a cargo of sugar.

The captain gathered us on the bridge. He is afraid of a pirate attack. They use speedboats. Many of them – they say – wear uniforms of the Indonesian army. They have radar, VHF and use rocket missiles and piercing bombshells. They work in small groups, ten people tops. They throw ropes with hooks and climb on. All young. They carry yataghans. Or pistols. And machine guns. If you’re on watch and you happen to see them coming, sound the alarm. Everyone on deck to take orders! Throw empty barrels overboard, slash the hooks from the ship’s edge, set off flares, even open fire to stop them.

But if they manage to climb on, the captain continues, and if, of course, we get wise to them, stay away. Let them take everything. Money, jewelry, foodstuffs, cigarettes, anything. What else can they take? The engines? The cargo? The ship itself? Let them do whatever they want. Let them tie us up. When they go, we’ll get out of the bonds. Anything as long as we don’t start up battles on the seven seas like in the past, with the pirates of old. Like we said! The pumps working full blast, emptying water into the sea and at night the ship is to be fully illuminated!

November17, 1998. Singapore. The sea, the ships and the journeys are magnets and I am iron. I must go back one day though.

November 18, 1998. The sea wants souls like its own soul.

November 25, 1998. Whether or not you feel homesick for a place, the sea is much more supreme than any land.


GIBRALTER, Porto Marghera, Haboa, Sifuencos, Alaska, Panama, Port Louis, Liverpool, Kouorasao, Vancouver, Yokosuka, Djibouti, Cape Town. How many times am I going to go round your small star, oh God, gazing in the night at the thousands of your other stars?

July 8, 1999. On course to the Malay Straits. This night is magnificent. A true night, awash with the moonlight of the south seas. The sky is filled with cirrus clouds, the moon pure white and the stars fireflies that can either be clearly seen on the




fringes of the clouds or can be made out faintly through their light tulle. Every so often a flying fish breaks the monotony, or rather the magic and scrapes under the bulwark of the freighter to fade to a slivery slip in the also silver whirl of the water. Our ship is dark, almost dull. Just looking at sights like these, you feel close to God .

A few more lines. Tonight I’m standing watch on the bridge. I must be rested. The waters here conceal many riddles.

We sailors live at the mercy of God, without time or place. We move between the spaces of land. Our homes are the ships, all countries are our homeland and our mistress is the sea. Is there a sweeter death than to be thrown one day into its watery vastness?


INTUITION? Premonition? Coincidence?

Two o’ clock in the morning and sailor Christos Kastanias, from Rahes, Icaria was standing watch on the bridge of the ship Flora P. . All the lights of the ship were on.

The sailor keeps a careful watch. He looks all around. Through the binoculars. He sets them down and shades his eyes from the lights with his hand and squints in the direction of something that caught his eye. No. It’s his imagination.

If he sees something, he’ll alert the officer on duty to increase speed. The pirates’ speedboats often follow a ship for a long time, on the same course.

A shadow climbs up the ladder. So does the shadow of the shadow. The sailor hasn’t spotted it. Is it the boatswain? Is it the cook, Nikos, who’s come to keep him company? Has to captain come to check up on him?

The shadow moves along. It becomes a person. Black t-shirt, red bandana. Moustache. Dark hair and skin. Leather talisman.

A pirate! Without an earring.

Khaki army pants. Belt, bullets, army gear. He wields a knife.

The sailor sees him out of the corner of his eye. “This sly Malay fox is going to pay for this assault with his own scalp!” he thinks. “What?! Let him tie me up? If I don’t get him, my name isn’t Christos Kastanias!”

Lying before him a knife. Unsheathed, Ready.

A second shadow behind him. On the other side. In a hood and cap. He’s holding a yataghan.




The sailor turns like a flash. The first pirate, the quickest one, stabs him with the knife. The other scores his back. With the sword.

They leave him. He’s done for.

His comrades will find him there later.

The pirates? They’ll have left.

Not having thrown him, like he wanted, into the watery vastness of the sea.





Rabbit Furs

It was in an old building at the beginning of Keramikou Street. On the second floor. You could see the sign, in Russian, all the way from Zinonos Street. American Furs. Athens – Thessaloniki – Tiflida. Coats, jackets, vests for children. Best clients were the nouveau riche Russian women who came to Greece with their wealthy husbands on business or for pleasure and a few Greek women from the Black Sea or the mainland.

Kostas had learnt the craft, handed down over the generations from father to son. The fur trade had flourished in the small Greek town of Siatista ever since the Turkish Occupation. His father sewed together leftover pelts in America. In the 60s he returned to Greece and opened his own little factory. In Siatista. Kostas made the next step. He opened a production and distribution outlet in Thessaloniki. The pelts were imported from Russia, Finland and Denmark and were then exported back as garments. When the Russian mafia started spreading in northern Greece, Kostas decided to move shop to Athens. It was around then that he met Olia.

The fur trade and above-board dealings were not the best bedfellows. Take the pay-offs for instance. You are either on the take or you’re the one shelling out. Kostas was paying between 15 and 20 percent of his profits for ‘hustlers’. Russians, Kazakhs, Georgians. They brought him customers in package groups. Some of them bought merchandise just to resell it back home. On the return journey they were easy prey. Just like that bus last year on the way back to Moscow that was held up on the highway between Thessaloniki and Kilkis.

When Kostas met Olia, she was part of the racket too. She had a shop in Batoum. She had been traveling round the world for three years looking for cheap furs. On her journeys she had run into all sorts of types. Smugglers, pimps, executives from the communist regime and mafia men.

She went on another two-three trips. Then she left the store to her sister and settled in Greece. She went into business with Kostas.

THEY HAD HARDLY set up shop on Keramikou Street when they had visitors. There were four of them. Caucasian. From Trans-Caucasia that is. They wanted ten percent. They had a steady clientele. They pick them up from the hotels downtown




and the posh Glyfada district on the seafront. In two months they were asking for another five percent.

Saturday afternoon. Olia left the store at about four. She went up Vilara Street, to the left of the church, where clusters of Georgian immigrants gathered in groups to exchange gossip on weekends.

When she finished her little chats with two girlfriends, she headed for Agiou Konstantinou Street. In front of the kiosk, opposite the National Theater, to the right of the church steps on the sidewalk crammed with Ukrainians, there were three phone booths. She spotted his face in the little mirror the kiosk owner had hanging on the tree to catch shoplifters. White suit jacket, black shirt, cream-colored tie. Short. She recognized him by his thin mustache. He told her to follow him.

THEY HAD MET in Moscow, at the Cosmos Hotel disco, the Solaris, five years ago. His name was Sasha. He was a Chechen. A member of a Moscovian ‘brigade’ and an Afghanzi , veteran of the Afghan-Soviet War. He had shown her – free of charge – how to find good cheap merchandise and had asked her to carry some top-grade Afghan hashish for him. She refused.

Two years went by. She bumped into him on one of her last trips to Greece. Sasha was in the fur racket operating in the Litohoro-Platamonas region, near Mt Olympus. Russians and Georgians were traipsing all over northern Greece, Athens and Crete. They worked with the Italians who had slowly pulled out of the town of Preveza. They were into laundering money from big business in the USA, Europe, Israel and Cyprus. Arms, drugs, diamonds. In Greece, things were simpler. Gambling, oil, furs, drugs – but no pushing – prostitution and theft. And krisa . Protection.

Pity such a looker like her didn’t take advantage of Greece’s preference for northern Europeans, Sasha had told her then. Olia proposed a collaboration in the fur trade. They made an appointment the next day in the main square in Thessaloniki. She went with Kostas. They worked out a deal. He started bringing them customers. And raising, however, his demands. It was then that the couple decided to relocate in Athens.

Now what?

HE ASKED HER to meet somewhere quiet. They took Vilara Street. Fur shops here too. Smashed shop windows. On the corner of Koumoundourou Street, an open coffee




shop. The crowd was thinning. They went in. Hardly a word of Greek to be heard. They sat down. Sasha had his say. Olia was trying to buy time.

Her mind was spinning. It’s not right – he was telling her – that they upped and left for Athens in the middle of their collaboration, leaving behind so many unpaid bills. Is that what people do? But friends know how to forgive. Enough. From here on in they would keep in touch. He knew about the store on Keramikou Street. But he didn’t want to bother them right off the bat. He was a civilized man. But there’s only so much a man can take. He reminded her about the fur trader C. S., who had been found murdered in his factory in Thessaloniki. Two years ago. And about K. S. and his son in Kastoria, who were found smothered to death by the furs in their own shop this year.

The signs on the other side of the street twinkled. Old People’s Home The Kaiser. Oasis Cafe. Web Cafe. Men, standing, were playing electronic games. “Let’s play and have some fun.” A blonde woman at the window was peering in.

He’d drop by the store, he said, on Monday afternoon, after closing time.

He paid. They got up.

FOUR O’CLOCK Monday afternoon. He arrived at the store. He asked for four million drachmas. He would accept a check. He’d protect them for a year. He’d take care of the Caucasians.

“How are we going to come up with four million?” Olia piped.

“We don’t want any trouble,” Kostas added.

The man smiled. “What kind of trouble?” Did they think he was some kind of atmarozni ? That he worked alone, that he didn’t belong somewhere, that he was just a hustler like all the other losers who tried to hang on with petty shakedowns? He belonged somewhere. See? He showed them the tattoo behind his left ear. Post. That means he was a professional extortionist. A raketii . When the customers didn’t pay, others took over. Friday, he said on his way out, they would speak again.

Should they come up with the money and fork it over? He’d ask for more. Should they disappear once again without a trace? And go where? Should they tell the police? No point. Or should they take care of him themselves when he showed up again?




FRIDAY, 2:00 am. Kostas and Olia heaved a carton out of the elevator. Five feet long, weighing about 140 pounds. If you opened the top flap, you’d find rabbit furs. Old stock, out of fashion. Nobody bought rabbit fur any more.

They loaded the carton onto Kostas’ station wagon and headed North. Avlona. Tanagra, Lake Yliki. They made a stop.

SUNDAY night a fire broke out on the corner of Zinonos and Keramikou Streets. The fur store and three adjacent stores were burnt down. Millions worth of damage.

Someone said he saw, just before the fire, three dark figures slipping out the door and running towards Deliyiorgi Street.

Sasha’s friends?

The Caucasians?

The fire brigade was putting out the fire until three in the morning.




The ‘Hare’

See that guy over there?” my friend Aris asked me. He was an easy-going, quiet guy, who spent his free time in the lounge of the Gargaretta Hotel and in some nearby cafes and lottery shops, reading betting magazines and fishing for information about a ‘sure’ bet. “He’s a ‘hare’,” he added.

“Meaning?” I asked.

“A hare,” Aris repeated. “Some make deposits at the bank. He makes deposits here, every night. Until the small hours of the morning.”

The ‘hare’ was fortyish, seemingly well-off, no moustache or anything distinctive, with a kind look about him. He sat on a stool at the bar, sipping his whiskey, talking to two young women. A brunette sitting outside the bar, next to him, and a thin brunette sitting inside the bar.

“Appearances can be deceiving,” Aris went on. “The broad sitting next to him hardly knows him. They met yesterday. She comes here for the broad inside the bar, the waitress. The hare doesn’t have a clue.”

Second whiskey. Aris went on. “Nicky, the waitress, lives with another woman who works at a bank. They’re a couple. But she digs me too. Last night she gave me her phone number.

“And what happened?”

“I didn’t call her. She’s furious. Can’t you tell by the way she won’t look in our direction?’

Aris and I had met in the army. He was an OK guy. An accountant. But for his own personal reasons he was reserved with women. And touchy. Very touchy.

He was an expert in matters of the night. So, a ‘hare’. You learn something new every day. The man who spends his money buying drinks for the girls at the bar.

WE WERE HAVING drinks at the Metro. On Drakou Street, on the pedestrian road. Comfortable place, blaring music. I asked Aris about the other girl. He told me.

Her name was Marina. She was an actress. A good one. She had done Moliere in a little theater in Kypseli. She played a man’s role. Purely coincidental?

It’s not that she didn’t go with men. She once dated a friend of Aris’. Nikos, the journalist. He was the one who had introduced her to the hangouts in Koukaki.




Up until then Marina had been a cult-style chick. She only frequented bars in Psyrri where all the actors and artists hung out. But after finding out about the dives – she had broken up with Nikos by then – she was torn. Every night it was as if she had been set on fire. She went from bars to discos and from live clubs to shady bouzouki joints.

She had confided in Nikos – and he in Aris – that once upon a time she really liked men. Once she even had a threesome with her boyfriend and another guy. Then she started fooling around with women too. First with a girlfriend of hers. Just for the hell of it. Then with another one. For real.

“Hey Marina!” Aris called out with a smile from his stool and raised his glass in her direction.

“Hey there!” she answered. The ‘hare’ also turned and smiled.

ARIS AND I spoke on the phone again five months later. I went and picked him up from the Gargaretta. We had dinner at an ouzo place, on a side street of Veikou Street and a little after midnight we ended up at Oasis, a women’s bar on Dimitrakopoulou Street. Dimmed lights, music, the usual. There was an O-shaped bar. Three girls on the inside. Two Bulgarians and one Greek. On the outside sitting on stools there were seven-eight women. And the owner, nine. Deep voice and an opinion about everything.

And sitting in the best place, who else but the ‘hare’? I recognized him immediately. He hardly even glanced at us. He was ogling one of the two Bulgarian women. He was buying. Naturally.

“How’s Marina?” I asked Aris.

“She’s disappeared,” he said. “It didn’t work out with Nicky. She vanished a few days after that.

I HAD A GOOD old friend. Pete Tsimas. We had met in New York in 1985. He wanted to be a film director. He didn’t make it. He came back to Greece and opened a couple fast food joints. We saw each other from time to time. Then we lost touch. A week ago I saw an ad. About a new live music club. In Petralona. One of the good old singers from the ‘60s was singing and a new group called “I Got an Opinion”. The owner was someone named Tsimas.

That night I set out for Petralona.




Dimofontos Street. A small sign outside. “Selana”. I went in. I asked. The owner wasn’t there. He’d be in later.

The club was half full. Mostly college students. And women. Young. On their own. They’d sit, one by one, near the bar or in this spot where there were about fifteen high stools, next to the bar, separating the tables from the standing room.

I sat at an empty table. At the back. The girl that was singing, tall with a fresh voice, lots of cleavage and nice measurements, finished her song and after going past the bar, she headed for the stools. She kissed two other women. She sat down and lit a cigarette.

The rock group was singing Magic de Spell’s latest hit. In the middle of the song I saw a tall brunette coming from the direction of the door. She looked like Marina. But thinner. Totally spaced out. She kissed the singer. They started chatting, real close. Sometimes the singer would lean over and I got a perfect view of her full white tits. But the other woman was getting a good look too. She was practically drooling. I looked closer. It was Marina.

Pete came in. He went over to the two girls. He put his arms around them. I motioned to him. He looked at me for a second. He recognized me. He trotted up the couple steps next to the bar with a happy grin. He sat down next to me. He ordered two drinks. “What’s up?” he asked.

NOW THIS WAS a nice hangout. The music was good, the girls were beautiful – and kinky – and the speakers didn’t blast music in your ears. If you knew someone – like I knew Pete – you could mingle, talk a little, get to know people.

I went back. And not just once. Marina? She didn’t seem to recognize me. She had troubles of her own. Pete told me. Katie – the singer – was dating a musician who played at another club. Marina was hitting on her. She gave her presents. She flattered her.

Katie said it bothered her. But that, well, she felt sorry for Marina. But it seemed that she liked to flirt. And she had needs. What kind of needs, Pete? Coke.

That was true. The first couple times I was there, I had spied her disappearing into a dark corner, near the bar, and sniffing through a straw. And not just her. Other people too. Mimis, the singer. One night I saw him holding a little bottle. He went straight to the dark corner and sniffed.




That’s what I found out from Pete. And that’s what was happening. And then after about a week, who shows up? The ‘hare’! Damn! How’d he get here? A coincidence? Or had he tracked Marina down? Anyway, after greeting him politely, she turned her back to him.

So what did the ‘hare’ do? He settled in at the bar. He struck up a little tete-a-tete with the waitress. Stella. The same thing all over again.

The days went by. Things got worse. Katie’s nose was red. Marina’s pink. “Don’t feel sorry for them,” Pete would tell me. “They’re not having such a rough time. When they leave, they take some company with them and go to Marina’s. In Kypseli. Till dawn. They must’ve got Katie’s boyfriend in on it. Don’t forget that coke…” and he winked at me knowingly.

People like to make mountains out of molehills. The only thing I could see was that Marina had a thing for Katie. I didn’t know anything about orgies.

SUDDENLY ONE NIGHT the bombshell dropped.

It was around midnight. Katie hadn’t shown up. Marina either. Neither had the ‘hare’. At one Pete arrived. He ordered two doubles on the rocks. The waitress brought them. “You ready for this?” he said. “They arrested Marina with a K of cocaine. Worth 20,000 Euros. They got Katie too. Marina and the others were using her as a pusher. They’re all down at the police station. Interrogating them.”

Who caught them?

“Guess!” said Pete.

The ‘hare’! Who was, in fact, the hound! A Narc.

Nice catch, hare!