memories of midnight-Page 11

Athens

Father Konstantinou was perturbed. From the moment he had seen the newspaper report of Frederick Stavros's hit-and-run death, he had been haunted by it. The priest had heard thousands of confessions since he had been ordained, but the dramatic confession of Frederick Stavros, followed by his death, had left an indelible impression.

"Hey, what's bothering you?"

Father Konstantinou turned to look at the beautiful young man lying naked in bed beside him. "Nothing, love."

"Don't I make you happy?"

"You know you do, Georgios."

"Then what's the problem? You're acting like I'm not here, for Christ's sake."

"Don't use profanity."

"I don't like being ignored."

"I'm sorry, darling. It's just that...one of my parishioners was killed in an automobile accident."

"We all have to go sometime, right?"

"Yes, of course. But this was a very troubled man."

"You mean he was sick in the head?"

"No. He had a terrible secret, and it was too large a burden for him to carry."

"What kind of secret?"

The priest stroked the young man's thigh. "You know I can't discuss that. It was told to me in the confessional."

"I thought we didn't have no secrets from each other."

"We don't, Georgios, but..."

"Gamoto! We either do, or we don't. Anyway, you said the guy's dead. What difference can it make now?"

"None, I suppose, but..."

Georgios Lato wrapped his arms around his bed partner, and whispered in his ear, "I'm curious."

"You're tickling my ear."

Lato began to stroke Father Konstantinou's body.

"Oh...don't stop..."

"Then tell me."

"Very well. I suppose it can't really do any harm now..."

Georgios Lato had come up in the world. He was born in the slums of Athens, and when he was twelve years old he became a male prostitute. In the beginning Lato had walked the streets, picking up a few dollars for servicing drunks in alleys and tourists in their hotel rooms. He was gifted with dark good looks and a strong, firm body.

When he was sixteen, a pimp said to him: "You're a poulaki, Georgios. You're giving it away. I can set you up to make a lot of money."

And he kept his promise. From that moment on Georgios Lato serviced only important, wealthy men, and he was handsomely rewarded for it.

When Lato met Nikos Veritos, the personal assistant to the great tycoon Spyros Lambrou, Lato's life changed.

"I'm in love with you," Nikos Veritos told the young boy. "I want you to stop whoring around. You belong to me now."

"Sure, Niki. I love you too."

Veritos was constantly pampering the boy with gifts. He bought his clothes, paid for a small apartment for him, and gave him spending money. But he fretted about what Lato was doing when he was away from him.

Veritos solved the problem one day by announcing, "I've gotten you a job with Spyros Lambrou's company, where I work."

"So you can keep a fucking eye on me? I won't..."

"Of course that's not it, sweetheart. I just like to have you near me."

Georgios Lato had protested at first, but he finally gave in. He found that he actually enjoyed working for the company. He worked in the mail room and as a delivery boy, and that gave him the freedom to pick up extra money outside, from appreciative clients like Father Konstantinou.

When Georgios Lato left Father Konstantinou's bed that afternoon, his mind was in a turmoil. The secret that the priest had confided to him was a stunning piece of news, and Georgios Lato's mind immediately turned to how he could make money out of it. He could have confided it to Nikos Veritos, but he had bigger plans. I'm going right to the big boss with this, Lato told himself. That's where the real payoff will be.

The following morning, Lato walked into Spyros Lambrou's reception office.

The secretary behind the desk looked up. "Oh. The mail's early today, Georgios."

Georgios Lato shook his head. "No, ma'am. I have to see Mr. Lambrou."

She smiled. "Really? What do you want to see him about? Do you have a business proposition for him?" she teased.

Lato said seriously, "No, it's nothing like that. I just got word that my mother is dying, and I...I have to go back home. I just wanted to thank Mr. Lambrou for giving me a job here. It would only take a minute, but if he's too busy..." He started to turn away.

"Wait. I'm sure he won't mind."

Ten minutes later, Georgios Lato was standing in Spyros Lambrou's office. He had never been inside before, and the opulence overwhelmed him.

"Well, young man. I'm sorry to hear your mother is dying. Perhaps a small bonus would..."

"Thank you, sir. But that's not really why I'm here."

Lambrou frowned at him. "I don't understand."

"Mr. Lambrou, I have some important information that I think might be valuable to you."

He could see the skepticism on Lambrou's face. "Oh, really? I'm afraid I'm rather busy, so if you'll..."

"It's about Constantin Demiris." The words tumbled out. "I have a good friend who's a priest. He heard a confession from a man who was killed right afterward in a car accident, and what the man told him is about Constantin Demiris. Mr. Demiris did an awful thing. Really awful. He could go to prison for it. But if you're not interested..."

Spyros Lambrou suddenly found himself very interested. "Sit down...what's your name?"

"Lato, sir. Georgios Lato."

"All right, Lato. Suppose you start at the beginning..."

The marriage of Constantin Demiris and Melina had been disintegrating for years, but there had never been any physical violence until recently.

It had started in the middle of a heated argument over an affair Constantin Demiris was having with Melina's closest friend.

"You turn every woman into a whore," she screamed. "Everything you touch turns to dirt."

"Skaseh! Shut your fucking mouth."

"You can't make me," Melina said defiantly. "I'm going to tell the whole world what a pousti you are. My brother was right. You're a monster."

Demiris raised his arm and slapped Melina hard across the face. She ran from the room.

The following week they had another argument, and Constantin struck her again. Melina packed her bags and took a plane to Atticos, the private island owned by her brother. She stayed there for a week, miserable and lonely. She missed her husband, and she began to make excuses for what he had done.

It was my fault, Melina thought. I shouldn't have antagonized Costa. And: He didn't mean to hit me. He just lost his temper and didn't know what he was doing. And: If Costa didn't care so much about me, he wouldn't have hit me, would he?

But in the end, Melina knew they were simply excuses because she could not bear to dissolve her marriage. The following Sunday she returned home.

Demiris was in the library.

He looked up as Melina entered. "So you decided to come back."

"This is my home, Costa. You're my husband, and I love you. But I want to tell you something. If you ever touch me again, I will kill you."

And he looked into her eyes and knew that she meant it.

In an odd way, their marriage seemed to improve after that episode. For a long time after that, Constantin was careful never to lose his temper with Melina. He continued to have his affairs, and Melina was too proud to plead with him to stop. One day he'll get tired of all his whores, Melina thought, and he'll realize that he needs only me.

On a Saturday evening, Constantin Demiris was putting on a dinner jacket, preparing to go out. Melina came into the room.

"Where are you going?"

"I have an engagement."

"Have you forgotten? We're having dinner at Spyros's tonight."

"I haven't forgotten. Something more important has come up."

Melina stood there watching him, furious. "And I know what it is - your poulaki! And you're going to one of your whores to satisfy it."

"You should watch your tongue. You're becoming a fishwife, Melina." Demiris examined himself in the mirror.

"I won't let you do this!" What he was doing to her was bad enough, but to insult her brother deliberately on top of everything that had gone before was too much. She had to find a way to hurt him, and there was only one way she knew. "We both really should stay home tonight," Melina said.

"Oh, really?" he asked indifferently. "And why is that?"

"Don't you know what today is?" she taunted him.

"No."

"It's the anniversary of the day I killed your son, Costa. I had an abortion."

He stood stock-still, and she could see the pupils of his eyes darken.

"I told the doctors to fix it so I could never have another one of your children," she lied.

He completely lost control. "Skaseh!" And he punched her in the face and kept hitting.

Melina screamed and turned and ran down the hall, Constantin right behind her.

He caught her at the head of the stairs.

"I'll kill you for that," he roared. As he hit her again, Melina lost her balance and fell, crashing down the long staircase.

She lay at the bottom, whimpering in pain. "Oh, God. Help me. I've broken something."

Demiris stood there, staring down at her, his eyes cold.

"I'll have one of the maids call a doctor. I don't want to be late for my engagement."

The telephone call came shortly before dinnertime.

"Mr. Lambrou? This is Dr. Metaxis. Your sister asked me to call you. She's here in my private hospital. I'm afraid she's been in an accident..."

When Spyros Lambrou walked into Melina's hospital room, he walked over to her bed and stared down at her, appalled. Melina had a broken arm, a concussion, and her face was badly swollen.

Spyros Lambrou said one word, "Constantin." His voice was trembling with rage.

Melina's eyes filled with tears. "He didn't mean it," she whispered.

"I'm going to destroy him. I swear it on my life." Spyros Lambrou had never felt such rage.

He could not bear the thought of what Constantin Demiris was doing to Melina. There had to be a way to stop him, but how? There had to be some way. He was at a loss. He needed advice. As he had so often in the past, Spyros Lambrou decided to consult Madame Piris. Perhaps there was some way in which she would be able to help him.

On the way to see her, Lambrou thought wryly, My friends would laugh at me if they thought I was consulting a psychic. But the fact was that in the past, Madame Piris had told him some extraordinary things that had come to pass. She's got to help me now.

They were seated at a table in a dark corner of the dimly lit cafe. She seemed older than when he had last seen her. She sat there, her eyes fastened on him.

"I need some help, Madame Piris," Lambrou said.

She nodded.

Where to start? "There was a murder trial about a year and a half ago. A woman named Catherine Douglas was..."

The expression on Madame Piris's face changed. "No," she moaned.

Spyros Lambrou stared at her, puzzled. "She was murdered by..."

Madame Piris rose. "No! The spirits told me she would die!"

Spyros Lambrou was confused. "She did die," he said. "She was killed by..."

"She's alive!"

He was completely bewildered. "She can't be."

"She was here. She came to see me three months ago. They kept her at the convent."

He stared at her stock-still. And suddenly all the pieces fell into place. They kept her at the convent. One of Demiris's favorite charitable acts was to give money to the convent at Ioannina, the town where Catherine Douglas was supposed to have been murdered. The information Spyros had received from Georgios Lato fitted in perfectly. Demiris had sent two innocent people to their deaths for Catherine's murder while she had been very much alive, hidden away by the nuns.

And Lambrou knew how he was going to destroy Constantin Demiris.

Tony Rizzoli.