memories of midnight-Page 12

Tony Rizzoli's problems were multiplying. Everything that could go wrong was going wrong. What had happened was certainly not his fault, but he knew that the Family would hold him responsible. They were not tolerant of excuses.

What made it particularly frustrating was that the first part of the drug operation had gone perfectly. He had smuggled the shipment into Athens with no problems and had it temporarily stored at a warehouse. He had bribed an airline steward to smuggle it out on a flight from Athens to New York. And then, just twenty-four hours before the flight, the idiot had been arrested for drunk driving and the airline had fired him.

Tony Rizzoli had turned to an alternate plan. He had arranged for a mule - in this case, a seventy-year-old tourist named Sara Murchison who was visiting her daughter in Athens - to take a suitcase back to New York for him. She had no idea what she would be carrying.

"It's some souvenirs I promised to send my mother," Tony Rizzoli explained, "and because you're nice enough to do this, I want to pay for your ticket."

"Oh, that's not necessary," Sara Murchison protested. "I'm happy to do it for you. I live not far from your mother's apartment. I look forward to meeting her."

"And I'm sure she'd like to meet you too," Tony Rizzoli said glibly. "The problem is, she's pretty sick. But there will be someone there to take the suitcase."

She was perfect for the job - a sweet, all-American grandmother. The only thing customs would be worrying about her smuggling would be knitting needles.

Sara Murchison was to leave for New York the following morning.

"I'll pick you up and drive you to the airport."

"Why, thank you. What a thoughtful young man you are. Your mother must be very proud of you."

"Yes. We're very close." His mother had been dead for ten years.

The following morning, as Rizzoli was about to leave his hotel for the warehouse to pick up the package, his telephone rang.

"Mr. Rizzoli?" It was a stranger's voice.

"Yes?"

"This is Dr. Patsaka at the Athens Hospital emergency ward. We have a Mrs. Sara Murchison here. She tripped and fell last night and broke her hip. She was very anxious for me to tell you how sorry..."

Tony Rizzoli slammed the phone down. "Merda!" That was two in a row. Where was he going to find another mule?

Rizzoli knew he had to be careful. There was a rumor that a hotshot American narcotics agent was in Athens working with the Greek authorities. They were watching all exits from Athens, and planes and ships were routinely being searched.

As if that weren't enough, there was another problem. One of his gowsters - a thief who was an addict - had informed him that the police were beginning to search warehouses, looking for stored drugs and other contraband. The pressure was mounting. It was time to explain the situation to the Family.

Tony Rizzoli left his hotel and walked down Patission Street toward the City Telephone Exchange. He was not sure whether his hotel phone was being bugged, but he did not want to risk the chance.

Number 85 Patission was a large brownstone building with a row of pillars in front and a plaque that read: O.T.E. Rizzoli walked into the entry and looked around. Two dozen telephone booths lined the walls, each one numbered. Shelves were filled with telephone directories from all over the world. In the center of the room was a desk where four clerks were taking orders for calls to be placed. People were lined up waiting to be put through.

Tony Rizzoli approached one of the women behind the desk. "Good morning," he said.

"Can I help you?"

"I'd like to place an overseas call."

"There will be a thirty-minute wait, I'm afraid."

"No problem."

"Would you give me the country and the number, please?"

Tony Rizzoli hesitated. "Sure." He handed a piece of paper to the woman. "I'd like to make the call collect."

"Your name?"

"Brown. Tom Brown."

"Very well, Mr. Brown. I will call you when it comes through."

"Thank you."

He went over to one of the benches across the room and sat down.

I could try to hide the package in an automobile, and pay someone to drive it across the border. But that's risky; cars are searched. Maybe if I could find another...

"Mr. Brown...Mr. Tom Brown..." The name was repeated twice before Rizzoli realized it was for him. He rose and hurried over to the desk.

"Your party is accepting the call. Booth seven, please."

"Thank you. By the way, could I have the piece of paper back that I gave you? I'll need the number again."

"Certainly." She handed him back the slip.

Tony Rizzoli walked into booth seven and closed the door.

"Hello."

"Tony? Is that you?"

"Yeah. How are you, Pete?"

"To tell you the truth, we're a little concerned, Tony. The boys expected the package to be on its way by now."

"I've had some problems."

"Has the package been sent?"

"No. It's still here."

There was a silence. "We wouldn't want anything to happen to it, Tony."

"Nothing's going to happen to it. I just have to find another way of getting it out of here. There are goddamned narcs all over the place."

"We're talking ten million dollars, Tony."

"I know. Don't worry, I'll figure out something."

"You do that, Tony. You figure out something."

The line went dead.

A man in a gray suit watched as Tony Rizzoli moved toward the exit. He approached the woman behind the desk.

"Signomi. Do you see that man who's just leaving?"

The woman looked up. "Ochi?"

"I want to know what number he called."

"I'm sorry. We're not allowed to give out that information."

The man reached into his back pocket and took out a wallet. There was a gold shield pinned to it. "Police. I'm Inspector Tinou."

Her expression changed. "Oh. He handed me a slip of paper with a number on it, and then he took it back."

"But you made a copy for your records?"

"Oh, yes, we always do that."

"Would you give me the number, please?"

"Of course."

She wrote a number on a piece of paper and handed it to the inspector. He studied it a moment. The country code was 39, and the exchange was 91. Italy. Palermo.

"Thank you. Do you happen to remember what name the man gave you?"

"Yes. It was Brown. Tom Brown."

The telephone conversation had made Tony Rizzoli nervous. He had to go to the bathroom. Damn Pete Lucca! Ahead, on the corner of Kolonaki Square, Rizzoli saw a sign: APOHORITIRION, w.c. Men and women alike were walking through the doorway to use the same facilities. And the Greeks call themselves civilized, Rizzoli thought. Disgusting.

There were four men seated around the conference table in the villa in the mountains above Palermo.

"The stuff should've been sent already, Pete," one of them complained. "What's the problem?"

"I'm not sure. The problem may be Tony Rizzoli."

"We've never had no trouble with Tony before."

"I know - but sometimes people get greedy. I think maybe we better send someone to Athens to check things out."

"Too bad. I always liked Tony."

At No. 10 Stadiou Street, police headquarters in downtown Athens, a conference was being held. In the room were chief of police Livreri Dmitri, Inspector Tinou, and an American, Lieutenant Walt Kelly, an agent with the Customs Division of the U.S. Treasury Department.

"We have word," Kelly was saying, "that a big drug deal is going to take place. The shipment is going out of Athens. Tony Rizzoli is involved."

Inspector Tinou sat silent. The Greek police department did not welcome interference from other countries in their affairs. Particularly Americans. They are always too-sou, so sure of themselves.

The chief of police spoke up. "We are already working on it, Lieutenant. Tony Rizzoli made a phone call to Palermo a little while ago. We're tracing the number now. When we have that, we'll have his source."

The telephone on his desk rang. Dmitri and Inspector Tinou looked at each other.

Inspector Tinou picked up the phone. "Did you get it?" He listened a moment, his face expressionless, then replaced the receiver.

"Well?"

"They traced the number."

"And?"

"The call was made to a public telephone booth in the town square."

"Gamoto!"

"Our Mr. Rizzoli is very inch eskipnos."

Walt Kelly said impatiently, "I don't speak Greek."

"Sorry, Lieutenant. It means he's cunning."

Kelly said, "I'd like you to increase the surveillance on him."

The arrogance of the man. Chief Dmitri turned to Inspector Tinou. "We really don't have enough evidence to do more, do we?"

"No, sir. Only strong suspicions."

Chief Dmitri turned to Walt Kelly. "I'm afraid I can't spare enough men to follow everyone we suspect of being involved in narcotics."

"But Rizzoli - "

"I assure you, we have our own sources, Mr. Kelly. If we get any further information, we know where to reach you."

Walt Kelly started at him, frustrated. "Don't wait too long," he said. "That shipment will be gone."

The villa at Rafina was ready. The realtor had said to Constantin Demiris, "I know you bought it furnished, but if I might suggest some new furniture..."

"No. I want everything exactly as it is."

Exactly as it was when his faithless Noelle and her lover, Larry, were there betraying him. He walked through the living room. Did they make love here in the middle of the floor? In the den? In the kitchen? Demiris walked into the bedroom. There was a large bed in the corner. Their bed. Where Douglas had caressed Noelle's naked body, where he had stolen what belonged to Demiris. Douglas had paid for his treachery and now he was going to pay again. Demiris looked at the bed. I'll make love to Catherine here first, Demiris thought. Then the other rooms. All of them. He telephoned Catherine from the villa.

"Hello."

"I've been thinking about you."

Tony Rizzoli had two unexpected visitors from Sicily. They walked into his hotel room unannounced, and Rizzoli instantly smelled trouble. Alfredo Mancuso was big. Gino Laveri was bigger.

Mancuso came straight to the point. "Pete Lucca sent us."

Rizzoli tried to sound casual. "That's great. Welcome to Athens. What can I do for you?"

"You can cut the bullshit, Rizzoli," Mancuso said. "Pete wants to know what kind of games you're playin'."

"Games? What are you talking about? I explained to him that I'm having a little problem."

"That's why we're here. To help you solve it."

"Wait a minute, fellows," Rizzoli protested. "I have the package stashed away, and it's safe. When..."

"Pete doesn't want it stashed away. He's got a lot of money invested in it." Laveri put his fist against Rizzoli's chest and pushed him into a chair. "Lemme explain it to you, Rizzoli. If this stuff was out on the streets in New York now like it was supposed to be, Pete could take the money, launder it, and put it to work on the street. See what I mean?"

I could probably take these two gorillas, Rizzoli thought. But he knew he wouldn't be fighting them; he'd be fighting Pete Lucca.

"Sure, I understand exactly what you're saying," Rizzoli said soothingly. "But it's not as easy as it used to be. The Greek police are all over the place, and they've got a narc in from Washington. I have a plan..."

"So has Pete," Laveri interrupted. "Do you know what his plan is? He says to tell you if the stuff isn't on its way by next week you're going to have to come up with the cash yourself."

"Hey!" Rizzoli protested. "I don't have that kind of money. I..."

"Pete thought maybe you didn't. So he told us to find other ways to make you pay."

Tony Rizzoli took a deep breath. "Okay. Just tell him everything's under control."

"Sure. Meanwhile we'll stick around. You've got one week."

Tony Rizzoli made it a point of honor never to drink before noon, but when the two men left, he opened a bottle of scotch and took two long gulps. He felt the warmth of the scotch course through him, but it didn't help. Nothing's going to help, he thought. How could the old man turn on me like this? I've been like a son to him and he gives me one week to find a way out of this. I need a mule, fast. The casino, he decided. I'll find a mule there.

At ten o'clock that evening, Rizzoli drove to Loutraki, the popular casino fifty miles west of Athens. He wandered around the huge, busy gaming room, watching the action. There were always plenty of losers, ready to do anything for more gambling money. The more desperate the person, the easier the prey. Rizzoli spotted his target almost immediately at a roulette table. He was a small, birdlike man, gray-haired, in his fifties, who was constantly stabbing at his forehead with a handkerchief. The more he lost, the more he perspired.

Rizzoli watched him with interest. He had seen the symptoms before. This was a classic case of a compulsive gambler losing more than he could afford.

When the chips in front of the man were gone, he said to the croupier, "I...I would like to sign for another pile of chips."

The croupier turned to look at the pit boss.

"Give it to him. That'll be the last."

Tony Rizzoli wondered how much the pigeon was already hooked for. He took a seat next to the man and bought into the game. Roulette was a sucker's game, but Rizzoli knew how to play the odds, and his pile of chips grew while that of the man next to him diminished. The loser was desperately spreading chips all over the table, playing the numbers, the colors, and taking odd-even bets. He has no idea what the hell he's doing, Rizzoli thought.

The last of the chips were swept away. The stranger sat there, rigid.

He looked up at the croupier hopefully. "Could I...?"

The croupier shook his head. "Sorry."

The man sighed and rose.

Rizzoli stood up at the same time. "Too bad," he said sympathetically. "I've had a little luck. Let me buy you a drink."

The man blinked. His voice quavered. "That's very kind of you, sir."

I've found my mule, Rizzoli thought. The man obviously needed money. He would probably jump at the chance to fly a harmless package to New York for a hundred dollars or so and a free trip to the United States.

"My name is Tony Rizzoli."

"Victor Korontzis."

Rizzoli led Korontzis to the bar. "What will you have?"

"I...I'm afraid I haven't any money left."

Tony Rizzoli waved an expansive hand. "Don't worry about it."

"Then I'll have a retsina, thank you."

Rizzoli turned to the waiter. "And a Chivas Regal on the rocks."

"Are you here as a tourist?" Korontzis asked politely.

"Yes," Rizzoli replied. "I'm on vacation. It's a beautiful country."

Korontzis shrugged. "I suppose so."

"You don't like it here?"

"Oh, it's beautiful, all right. It's just that it's gotten so expensive. I mean, everything's gone up. Unless you're a millionaire, it's hard to put food on the table, especially when you have a wife and four children." His tone was bitter.

Better and better. "What do you do, Victor?" Rizzoli asked casually.

"I'm a curator at the Athens State Museum."

"Yeah? What does a curator do?"

A note of pride crept into Korontzis's voice. "I'm in charge of all the antiquities that are dug up in Greece." He took a sip of his drink. "Well, not all of them, of course. We have other museums. The Acropolis, and the National Archaeological Museum. But our museum has the most valuable artifacts."

Tony Rizzoli found himself becoming interested. "How valuable?"

Victor Korontzis shrugged. "Most of them are priceless. There's a law against taking any antiquities out of the country, naturally. But we have a little shop in the museum that sells copies."

Rizzoli's brain was beginning to work furiously. "Is that so? How good are the copies?"

"Oh, they're excellent. Only an expert could distinguish between a facsimile and the real thing."

"Let me buy you another drink," Rizzoli said.

"Thank you. That's very kind of you. I'm afraid I'm not in a position to reciprocate."

Rizzoli smiled. "Don't worry about it. As a matter of fact, there's something you can do for me. I'd like to see your museum. It sounds fascinating."

"Oh, it is," Korontzis assured him enthusiastically. "It's one of the most interesting museums in the world. I'd be happy to show you around anytime. When would you be free?"

"How about tomorrow morning?"

Tony Rizzoli had a feeling that he was onto something more profitable than a mule.

The Athens State Museum is located off the Platia Syntagma, in the heart of Athens. The museum itself is a beautiful building built in the style of an ancient temple, with four Ionian columns in front, a Greek flag flying on top, and four carved figures on the high roof.

Inside, the large marble halls contain antiquities from various periods of Greek history, and the rooms are crowded with cases of relics and artifacts. There are gold cups and gold crowns, inlaid swords and libation vessels. One case holds four gold burial masks, and another, fragments of centuries-old statues.

Victor Korontzis was giving Tony Rizzoli a personally conducted tour. Korontzis stopped in front of a case holding a figurine of a goddess with a crown of opium poppies. "That's the poppy goddess," he explained in a hushed voice. "The crown is symbolic of her function as the bringer of sleep, dreams, revelation, and death."

"How much would that be worth?"

Korontzis laughed. "If it were for sale? Many millions."

"Really?"

The little curator was filled with obvious pride as he walked around, pointing out his priceless treasures. "This is a head of kouros, 530 B.C....this is the head of Athena with a Corinthian helmet, circa 1450 B.C...and here's a fabulous piece. A gold mask of an Achaean from the royal tomb of the Acropolis of Mycenae, from the sixteenth century B.C. It is believed to be Agamemnon."

"You don't say?"

He led Tony Rizzoli to another case. In it was an exquisite amphora.

"This is one of my favorites," Korontzis confessed, beaming. "I know a parent shouldn't have a favorite child, but I can't help it. This amphora..."

"It looks like a vase to me."

"Er - yes. This vase was discovered in the throne room during the excavation in Knossos. You can see the fragments showing the capture of a bull with a net. In ancient times, of course, they captured bulls with nets to avoid the premature spilling of their sacred blood, so that..."

"How much is it worth?" Rizzoli interrupted.

"I suppose about ten million dollars."

Tony Rizzoli frowned. "For that?"

"Indeed! You must remember, it came from the Late Minoan Period, just after 1500 B.C."

Tony was looking around at the dozens of glass cases crammed with artifacts. "Is all this stuff that valuable?"

"Oh, my, no. Only the real antiquities. They're irreplaceable, of course, and they give us a clue as to how ancient civilizations lived. Let me show you something over here."

Tony followed Korontzis to another chamber. They stopped in front of a case in the corner.

Victor Korontzis pointed to a vase. "This is one of our greatest treasures. It's one of the earliest examples of the symbolism of phonetic signs. The circle with the cross that you see is the figure of Ka. The crossed circle is one of the very earliest forms inscribed by human beings to express the cosmos. There are only..."

Who gives a shit! "How much is it worth?" Tony demanded.

Korontzis sighed. "A king's ransom."

When Tony Rizzoli left the museum that morning, he was counting riches beyond his wildest dreams. By a fantastic stroke of luck he had stumbled upon a gold mine. He had been looking for a mule, and instead he had found the key to a treasure house. The profits from the heroin deal would have to be split six ways. Nobody was stupid enough to double-cross the Family; but the antiques caper was something else again. If he smuggled artifacts out of Greece, it would be a side deal that belonged only to him; the mob would not expect anything from it. Rizzoli had every reason to be elated. Now all I have to do, Rizzoli thought, is to figure out how to hook the fish. I'll worry about the mule later.

That evening, Rizzoli took his newfound friend to the Mostrov Athena, a nightclub where the entertainment was lewd and amorous hostesses were available after the show.

"Let's pick up a couple of broads and have some fun," Rizzoli suggested.

"I should be getting home to my family," Korontzis protested. "Besides, I'm afraid I couldn't afford anything like that."

"Hey, you're my guest. I'm on an expense account. It doesn't cost me anything."

Rizzoli arranged for one of the girls to take Victor Korontzis back to her hotel.

"Aren't you coming?" Korontzis asked.

"I have a little business to handle," Tony told him. "You go on ahead. Everything's taken care of."

The following morning, Tony Rizzoli dropped in at the museum again. There was a large crowd of tourists walking through the various rooms, marveling at the ancient treasures.

Korontzis took Rizzoli into his office. He was actually blushing. "I...I don't know how to thank you for last night, Tony. She...it was wonderful."

Rizzoli smiled. "What are friends for, Victor?"

"But there's nothing I can do for you in return."

"I don't expect you to," Rizzoli said earnestly. "I like you. I like your company. By the way, there's a little poker game in one of the hotels tonight. I'm going to play. Are you interested?"

"Thanks. I'd love to, but..." He shrugged. "I don't think I'd better."

"Come on. If it's money that's bothering you, don't worry about it. I'll stake you."

Korontzis shook his head. "You have been too kind already. If I lost, I couldn't pay you back."

Tony Rizzoli grinned. "Who said you're going to lose? It's a setup."

"A setup? I...I don't understand."

Rizzoli said quietly, "A friend of mine named Otto Dalton is running the game. There are some big-money American tourists in town who love to gamble, and Otto and I are going to take them."

Korontzis was looking at him, wide-eyed. "Take them? You mean, you're...you're going to cheat?" Korontzis licked his lips. "I...I've never done anything like that."

Rizzoli nodded sympathetically. "I understand. If it bothers you, you shouldn't do it. I just thought it would be an easy way for you to pick up two or three thousand dollars."

Korontzis's eyes went wide. "Two or three thousand dollars?"

"Oh, yes. At least."

Korontzis licked his lips again. "I...I...Isn't it dangerous?"

Tony Rizzoli laughed. "If it were dangerous, I wouldn't be doing it, would I? It's a piece of cake. Otto's a mechanic...a dealer. He can deal a deck from the top, the bottom, or the middle. He's been doing it for years and he's never been caught."

Korontzis sat there, staring at Rizzoli.

"How...how much would I need, to get in the game?"

"About five hundred dollars. But I'll tell you what. This thing is such a cinch that I'll loan you the five hundred, and if you lose it you don't even have to pay it back."

"That's certainly very generous of you, Tony. Why...why are you doing this for me?"

"I'll tell you why." Tony's voice filled with indignation. "When I see a decent, hard-working man like you, with a responsible position like being curator of one of the greatest museums in the world, and the state doesn't appreciate you enough to give you a decent salary - and you're struggling to feed your family - well, to tell you the truth, Victor, it burns me up. How long since you've gotten a raise?"

"They...they don't give raises."

"Well, there you are. Listen. You have a choice, Victor. You can let me do you a little favor tonight, so you can pick up a few thousand dollars and start living like you should, or you go on living hand-to-mouth for the rest of your life."

"I...I don't know, Tony. I shouldn't..."

Tony Rizzoli rose. "I understand. I'll probably be coming back to Athens in a year or two, and maybe we can get together again. It was a pleasure knowing you, Victor." Rizzoli started for the door.

Korontzis made his decision. "Wait. I...I would like to go with you tonight."

He had taken the bait. "Hey, that's great," Tony Rizzoli said. "It really makes me feel good to be able to help you out."

Korontzis hesitated. "Forgive me, but I want to be sure I understood you correctly. You said that if I lose the five hundred dollars, I will not have to pay you back?"

"That's right," Rizzoli said. "Because you can't lose. The game is fixed."

"Where is the game going to be?"

"Room four-twenty at the Metropole Hotel. Ten o'clock. Tell your wife you're working late."