memories of midnight-Page 3

Athens, Greece

The empire of Constantin Demiris could not be located on any map, yet he was the ruler of a fiefdom larger and more powerful than many countries. He was one of the two or three wealthiest men in the world and his influence was incalculable. He had no title or official position, but he regularly bought and sold prime ministers, cardinals, ambassadors, and kings. Demiris's tentacles were everywhere, woven through the woof and warp of dozens of countries. He was a charismatic man, with a brilliantly incisive mind, physically striking, well above medium height, with a barrel chest and broad shoulders. His complexion was swarthy and he had a strong Greek nose and olive-black eyes. He had the face of a hawk, a predator. When he chose to take the trouble, Demiris could be extremely charming. He spoke eight languages and was a noted raconteur. He had one of the most important art collections in the world, a fleet of private planes, and a dozen apartments, chateaus, and villas scattered around the globe. He was a connoisseur of beauty, and he found beautiful women irresistible. He had the reputation of being a powerful lover, and his romantic escapades were as colorful as his financial adventures.

Constantin Demiris prided himself on being a patriot - the blue-and-white Greek flag was always on display at his villa in Kolonaki and on Psara, his private island - but he paid no taxes. He did not feel obliged to conform to the rules that applied to ordinary men. In his veins ran ichor - the blood of the gods.

Nearly every person Demiris met wanted something from him: financing for a business project; a donation to a charity; or simply the power that his friendship could bestow. Demiris enjoyed the challenge of figuring out what it was that people were really after, for it was rarely what it appeared to be. His analytical mind was skeptical of surface truth, and as a consequence he believed nothing he was told and trusted no one. His motto was "Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer." The reporters who chronicled his life were permitted to see only his geniality and charm, the sophisticated, urbane man of the world. They had no reason to suspect that beneath the amiable façade was a killer, a gutter fighter whose instinct was to go for the jugular vein.

He was an unforgiving man who never forgot a slight. To the ancient Greeks the word dikaiosini, justice, was often synonymous with ekdikisis, vengeance, and Demiris was obsessed with both. He remembered every affront he had ever suffered, and those who were unlucky enough to incur his enmity were paid back a hundredfold. They were never aware of it, for Demiris's mathematical mind made a game of exacting retribution, patiently working out elaborate traps and spinning complex webs that finally caught and destroyed his enemies.

He enjoyed the hours he spent devising pitfalls for his adversaries. He would study his victims carefully, analyzing their personalities, assessing their strengths and their weaknesses.

At a dinner party one evening, Demiris had overheard a motion-picture producer refer to him as "that oily Greek." Demiris bided his time. Two years later, the producer signed a glamorous internationally known actress to star in his new big-budget production in which he put in his own money. Demiris waited until the picture was half finished, and then charmed the leading lady into walking out on it and joining him on his yacht.

"It will be a honeymoon," Demiris told her.

She got the honeymoon but not the wedding. The movie finally had to shut down and the producer went bankrupt.

There were a few players in Demiris's game with whom he had not yet evened the score, but he was in no hurry. He enjoyed the anticipation, the planning, and the execution. These days he made no enemies, for no man could afford to be his enemy, so his quarry was limited to those who had crossed his path in the past.

But Constantin Demiris's sense of dikaiosini was double-edged. Just as he never forgave an injury, neither did he forget a favor. A poor fisherman who had given the young boy shelter found himself the owner of a fishing fleet. A prostitute who had fed and clothed the young man when he was too poor to pay her mysteriously inherited an apartment building, without any idea of who her benefactor was.

Demiris had started life as the son of a stevedore in Piraeus. He had fourteen brothers and sisters and there was never enough food on the table.

From the very beginning, Constantin Demiris showed an uncanny gift for business. He earned extra money doing odd jobs after school, and at sixteen he had saved enough money to open a food stand on the docks with an older partner. The business flourished and the partner cheated Demiris out of his half. It took Demiris ten years to destroy the man. The young boy was burning with a fierce ambition. He would lie awake at night, his eyes bright in the darkness. I'm going to be rich. I'm going to be famous. Someday everyone will know my name. It was the only lullaby that could put him to sleep. He had no idea how it was going to happen. He knew only that it would.

On Demiris's seventeenth birthday, he came across an article about the oil fields in Saudi Arabia, and it was as though a magic door to the future had suddenly opened for him.

He went to his father. "I'm going to Saudi Arabia. I'm going to work in the oil fields."

"Too-sou! What do you know about oil fields?"

"Nothing, father. I'm going to learn."

One month later, Constantin Demiris was on his way.

It was company policy for the overseas employees of the Trans-Continental Oil Corporation to sign a two-year employment contract, but Demiris felt no qualms about it. He planned to stay in Saudi Arabia for as long as it took him to make his fortune. He had envisioned a wonderful Arabian nights adventure, a glamorous, mysterious land with exotic-looking women, and black gold gushing up out of the ground. The reality was a shock.

On an early morning in summer, Demiris arrived at Fadili, a dreary camp in the middle of the desert consisting of an ugly stone building surrounded by barastis, small brushwood huts. There were a thousand lower-bracket workers there, mostly Saudis. The women who trudged through the dusty, unpaved streets were heavily veiled.

Demiris entered the building where J. J. Mclntyre, the personnel manager, had his office.

Mclntyre looked up as the young man came in. "So. The home office hired you, eh?"

"Yes, sir."

"Ever work the oil fields before, son?"

For an instant, Demiris was tempted to lie. "No, sir."

Mclntyre grinned. "You're going to love it here. You're a million miles from nowhere, bad food, no women that you can touch without getting your balls chopped off, and not a goddamned thing to do at night. But the pay is good, right?"

"I'm here to learn," Demiris said earnestly.

"Yeah? Then I'll tell you what you better learn fast.

You're in Moslem country now. That means no alcohol. Anyone caught stealing gets his right hand cut off. Second time, left hand. The third time, you lose a foot. If you kill anyone you're beheaded."

"I'm not planning to kill anyone."

"Wait," McIntyre grunted. "You just got here."

The compound was a Tower of Babel, people from a dozen different countries all speaking their native languages. Demiris had a good ear and picked up languages quickly. The men were there to make roads in the middle of an inhospitable desert, construct housing, install electrical equipment, put in telephone communications, build workshops, arrange food and water supplies, design a drainage system, administer medical attention, and, it seemed to young Demiris, do a hundred other tasks. They were working in temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, suffering from flies, mosquitoes, dust, fever, and dysentery. Even in the desert there was a social hierarchy. At the top were the men engaged in locating oil, and below, the construction workers, called "stiffs," and the clerks, known as "shiny pants."

Nearly all the men involved in the actual drilling - the geologists, surveyors, engineers, and oil chemists - were Americans, for the new rotary drill had been invented in the United States and the Americans were more familiar with its operation. The young man went out of his way to make friends with them.

Constantin Demiris spent as much time as he could around the drillers and he never stopped asking questions. He stored away the information, absorbing it the way the hot sands soaked up water. He noticed that two different methods of drilling were being used.

He approached one of the drillers working near a giant 130-foot derrick. "I was wondering why there are two different kinds of drilling going on."

The driller explained. "Well, son, one's cable tool and one's rotary. We're going more to rotary now. They start out exactly the same."

"They do?"

"Yeah. For either one you have to erect a derrick like this one to hoist up the pieces of equipment that have to be lowered into the well." He looked at the eager face of the young man. "I'll bet you have no idea why they call it a derrick."

"No, sir."

"That was the name of a famous hangman in the seventeenth century." 1 see.

"Cable-tool drilling goes way back. Hundreds of years ago, the Chinese used to dig water wells that way. They punched a hole into the earth by lifting and dropping a heavy cutting tool hung from a cable. But today about eighty-five percent of all wells are drilled by the rotary method." He turned to go back to his drilling.

"Excuse me. How does the rotary method work?"

The man stopped. "Well, instead of slammin' a hole in the earth, you just bore one. You see here? In the middle of the derrick floor is a steel turntable that's rotated by machinery. This rotary table grips and turns a pipe that extends downward through it. There's a bit fastened to the lower end of the pipe."

"It seems simple, doesn't it?"

"It's more complicated than it looks. You have to have a way to excavate the loosened material as you drill. You have to prevent the walls from caving in and you have to seal off the water and gas from the well."

"With all that drilling, doesn't the rotary drill ever get dull?"

"Sure. Then we have to pull out the whole damned drill string, screw a new bit to the bottom of the drill pipe, and lower the pipe back into the hole. Are you planning to be a driller?"

"No, sir. I'm planning to own oil wells."

"Congratulations. Can I get back to work now?"

One morning, Demiris watched as a tool was lowered into the well, but instead of boring downward, he noticed that it cut small circular areas from the sides of the hole and brought up rocks.

"Excuse me. What's the point of doing that?" Demiris asked.

The driller paused to mop his brow. "This is side-wall coring. We use these rocks for analysis, to see whether they're oil-bearing."

"I see."

When things were going smoothly, Demiris would hear drillers cry out, "I'm turning to the right," which meant they were making a hole. Demiris noticed that there were dozens of tiny holes drilled all over the field, with diameters as small as two or three inches.

"Excuse me. What are those for?" the young man asked.

"Those are prospect wells. They tell us what's underneath. Saves the company a lot of time and money."

"I see."

It was all utterly fascinating to the young man and his questions were endless.

"Excuse me. How do you know where to drill?"

"We got a lot of geologists - pebble pups - who take measurements of the strata and study the cuttings from wells. Then the rope chokers..."

"Excuse me, what's a rope choker?"

"A driller. When they..."

Constantin Demiris worked from early morning until sundown, hauling rigs through the burning desert, cleaning equipment, and driving trucks past the streamers of flame rising from the rocky peaks. The flames burned day and night, carrying off the poisonous gases.

J. J. McIntyre had told Demiris the truth. The food was bad, living conditions were horrible, and at night there was nothing to do. Worse, Demiris felt as though every pore in his body were filled with grains of sand. The desert was alive and there was no way to escape it. The sand filtered into the hut and through his clothes and into his body until he thought he would go crazy. And then it got worse.

The shamal struck. The sandstorms blew every day for a month, driven by a howling wind with an intensity strong enough to drive men mad.

Demiris stared out the door of his hut at the swirling sand. "Are we going out to work in that?"

"You're fucking right, Charlie. This ain't a health spa."

Oil discoveries were being made all around them. There was a new find at Abu Hadriya and another at Qatif and at Harad, and the workers were kept busier than ever.

There were two new arrivals, an English geologist and his wife. Henry Potter was in his late sixties and his wife, Sybil, was in her early thirties. In any other setting, Sybil Potter would have been described as a plain-looking obese woman with a high, unpleasant voice. In Fadili, she was a raving beauty. Since Henry Potter was constantly away prospecting for new oil fields, his wife was left alone a great deal.

Young Demiris was assigned to help her move into their quarters and to assist her in getting settled.

"This is the most miserable place I've ever seen in my life," Sybil Potter complained in her whining voice. "Henry's always dragging me off to terrible places like this. I don't know why I put up with it."

"Your husband is doing a very important job," Demiris assured her.

She eyed the attractive young man speculatively. "My husband isn't doing all the jobs he should be doing. Do you know what I mean?"

Demiris knew exactly what she meant. "No, ma'am."

"What's your name?"

"Demiris, ma'am. Constantin Demiris."

"What do your friends call you?"

"Costa."

"Well, Costa, I think you and I are going to become very good friends. We certainly have nothing in common with these wogs, have we?"

"Wogs?"

"You know. These foreign people."

"I have to go back to work," Demiris said.

Over the next few weeks, Sybil Potter constantly found excuses to send for the young man.

"Henry left again this morning," she told him. "He's off to do his silly drilling." She added archly, "He should do more drilling at home."

Demiris had no answer. The geologist was a very important man in the company hierarchy and Demiris had no intention of getting involved with Potter's wife and jeopardizing his own job. He was not sure exactly how, but he knew without question that one way or another this job was going to be his passport to everything he dreamed of. Oil was the future and he was determined to be a part of it.

One midnight, Sybil Potter sent for Demiris. He walked into the compound where she lived and knocked at the door.

"Come in." Sybil was wearing a thin nightgown that unfortunately concealed nothing.

"I - did you want to see me, ma'am?"

"Yes, come in Costa. This bedside lamp doesn't seem to be working."

Demiris averted his eyes and walked over to the lamp. He picked it up to examine it. "There's no bulb in..." And he felt her body pressing against his back and her hands groping him. "Mrs. Potter..."

Her lips were on his and she was pushing him onto the bed. And he had no control over what happened next.

His clothes were off and he was plunging into her and she was screaming with joy. "That's it! Oh, yes, that's it. My God, it's been so long!"

She gave a final gasp and shuddered. "Oh, darling, I love you."

Demiris lay there panicky. What have I done? If Potter ever finds out I'm finished.

As though reading his mind, Sybil Potter giggled, "This will be our little secret, won't it, darling?"

Their little secret went on for the next several months. There was no way Demiris could avoid her and, since her husband was away for days at a time on his explorations, Demiris could think of no excuse to keep from going to bed with her. What made it worse was that Sybil Potter had fallen madly in love with him.

"You're much too good to be working in a place like this, darling," she told him. "You and I are going back to England."

"My home is Greece."

"Not anymore." She stroked his long, lean body. "You're going to come back home with me. I'll divorce Henry and we'll get married."

Demiris felt a sudden sense of panic. "Sybil, I...I have no money. I..."

She ran her lips down his chest. "That's no problem. I know how you can make some money, sweetheart."

"You do?"

She sat up in bed. "Last night, Henry told me he's just discovered some big new oil field. He's very clever at that, you know. Anyway, he seemed terribly excited about it. He wrote out his report before he left and he asked me to send it out in the morning pouch. I have it here. Would you like to see it?"

Demiris's heart began to beat faster. "Yes. I...I would." He watched her get out of bed and lumber over to a small battered table in the corner. She picked up a large manila envelope and returned to the bed with it.

"Open it."

Demiris hesitated for only an instant. He opened the envelope and took out the papers inside. There were five pages. He scanned through them quickly, then went back to the beginning and read every word.

"Is that information worth anything?"

Is that information worth anything? It was a report on a new field that could possibly turn out to be one of the richest oil fields in history.

Demiris swallowed. "Yes. It...it could be."

"Well, there you are," Sybil said happily. "Now we have money."

He sighed. "It's not that simple."

"Why not?"

Demiris explained. "This is valuable to someone who can afford to buy up options on the land around this area. But that takes money." He had three hundred dollars in his bank account.

"Oh, don't worry about that. Henry has money. I'll write a check. Will five thousand dollars be enough?"

Constantin Demiris could not believe what he was hearing. "Yes. I...I don't know what to say."

"It's for us, darling. For our future."

He sat up in bed thinking hard. "Sybil, do you think you could hold on to that report for the next day or two?"

"Of course. I'll keep it till Friday. Will that give you enough time, darling?"

He nodded slowly. "That will give me enough time."

With the five thousand dollars that Sybil gave him - no, it's not a gift, it's a loan, he told himself - Constantin Demiris bought up options on acres of land around the new potential strike. Some months later, when the gushers began to come in in the main field, Constantin Demiris was an instant millionaire.

He repaid Sybil Potter the five thousand dollars, sent her a new nightgown, and returned to Greece. She never saw him again.