Ian, Dima, a Beach Hike, and Madonna
Piney Wine and a Poodle — Moon over Berlin, B3C6
Ian shook off his ominous thoughts and tossed a heavy coin on the table, watching it spin. “Let’s order some decent wine!” he said. “I can’t deal with this smelly pine stuff.”
Mark dug into his pocket and threw out another coin to join Ian’s, still dancing around in tiny circles. “With ya, brah. I don’t mind Retsina, but I’ll drink whatever you’re drinking.”
Ian threw an arm around Dima, then threw Mark a conspiratorial grin. “That’s the spirit. Wanna get drunk?”
Dima laughed and so did Juliette, but her next sentence didn’t surprise Ian at all. “Here? With all our bags and stuff still to carry? Let’s find a hotel first. I bet we have time for drinks on the beach if we hurry!”
Dima leaned into Ian. “See? She’s the smart one.” He pushed his chair back, ducked out from under Ian’s arm, and starting scooping up backpacks and shopping bags.
“Don’t encourage her,” growled Mark. “She’s already too practical.”
Ian took a good look around as they picked up their bags. “I don’t see any hotels.” Tourists dominated the scene with their blond hair, straw hats, bright clothes, spaghetti straps, tans, and expensive jewelry. Out on the docks, shirtless Greek teenagers in faded denim or running shorts coiled ropes, scrubbed boats, and dipped brushes into pots of paint.
Squinting up the hill through the village, one blinding white structure after another reflected sunlight into Ian’s eyes. Little houses and shops melted into the ground and faded into the sky, generations of plaster and whitewash rounding away corners and softening straight lines.
“Melted vanilla birthday cakes,” he said, speaking his thoughts.
“The hotels are all up the hill,” Juliette answered with a lifted eyebrow. “Come on, we have to walk up the little alleys and staircases.”
Ian started to sweat the moment they stepped into the sun from under the shelter of the umbrella. He peeled his shirt away from sticky skin. “Maybe you’re right about the beach. This is ridiculous!”
Dima called out just as Mark started to blaze a trail into the heart of the village. “Hey, look. A dog!”
Ian followed his friend’s finger. Sure enough, about fifty feet up the hill, he spotted a large white dog. But some dog! It was picking its way expertly and confidently down a set of of whitewashed steps, enormous pointed nose high in the air, commanding the center of the walk.
He could have been a white wolf, except for his elaborately curled and styled coat. “A poodle?” Ian said. “That’d be the biggest poodle I’ve ever seen.”
As it strolled regally in their direction, not bothering to so much as glance at them, Ian noticed the collar. “Please tell me those aren’t real diamonds,” he said to the dog in Russian.
“But he’s a french poodle, un caniche!” laughed Dima. “Fort probable qu’il ne parle que français.”
“Is that true, Monsieur?” asked Ian. “Do you only speak french? S’agit-il de vrais diamants sur votre collier?”
The imposing animal passed them, neither straying from the center of the path nor deigning to notice their questions. He padded carefully along, as if his errand, whatever it was, was far too important to allow for casual conversation with grubby young men.
Ian looked over his shoulder, wondering, as the four of them picked their way up toward the rim of the hill where a semicircle of modern hotels stood watch over the ancient little village.
“Sit down, Comrade,” said Borin with a quick nod, cigarette case extended politely across the desk. “So, your men saw them in Athens? Tell me everything!”
“No, Comrade General,” Makharov answered, waving away the cigarettes. “I didn’t mean to imply that.” He sat carefully, looking wary, voice tinny and tight to Borin’s ears. “My agents found their hotel, but only shortly after they checked out. They missed them by less than an hour, we think.”
Borin looked Makharov up and down, assessing his body language, working to pull threads of truth from the fiction he would be weaving. “Do you have any hard evidence my boy is with them?”
Makharov hesitated for a moment, then spoke quickly, clipped words carrying a message of reluctant truthfulness. “We have an agent on Tempelhof, a German cleaning woman. She found the file at the base travel agency, but only after they disappeared. Four of them were booked from Frankfurt to Athens with a two-night hotel stay.”
“I see. And?”
“It’s certainly the three lieutenants from that apartment, Comrade General, plus a 19-year-old enlisted airman. It’s probable, in my opinion, that this Airman Andrews is actually your son in disguise.”
Borin leaned forward, intent. He drummed his fingers on the desk. “What makes you think that? I haven’t seen or heard from my son in a month. I’m going crazy with worry. Tell me what you know!”
Makharov drew a deep breath, his face softening for half a second in what might have been genuine emotion. “First,” he explained, “no American officer, not even a new lieutenant, would ever go on holiday with an enlisted soldier. It’s unheard of. Trust me.”
Borin sighed to himself, keeping his expression neutral, wondering if he were up to this game of lies and half truths. He was a military man, damn it, used to plain facts and figures. He needed Makharov to believe he was worried sick about Dima, but he also needed to know whatever the KGB might have figured out. If this “evidence” was all they had, then good, no need to …
“Second, the real Andrews is still on Tempelhof. Our cleaning woman ‘accidentally’ unlocked his room to tidy it. She found him passed out drunk and made good use of her camera. So I have proof on file that Andrews isn’t really in Greece. But somebody is!”
Borin coughed and fumbled to light a cigarette. He was pleased to see the flame hold completely steady between his fingers. When he spoke, his voice was an iron bar. “And Peltsin? Where is that man? My aide has been trying to summon him for days. He doesn’t pick up his phone, and he didn’t show up to lecture at his Komsomol meeting last night.”
Makharov’s lips pursed tightly. They turned grey before he finally spoke. “I haven’t the faintest idea, Comrade.”
Borin blinked. He’d guessed that the KGB man was playing a double game, but he hadn’t expected him to give himself away so easily. “Find him,” he said flatly.
“But, Comrade Air Army Commander, how could I possibly do that?” Makharov’s voice climbed in pitch. “How would you expect me to locate him? I wouldn’t even know where to begin. I’m sure he’s off on Party business somewhere, but he doesn’t owe either of us an account, and the Party is certainly not going to tell us about it.”
“Spare me the theatrics, Major,” snorted Borin as he watched Makharov’s exaggerated shrug. “If you can track down some drunken snot-nose on an American air base, you can locate my mysteriously missing commissar. Or is it a mystery? He and Dimitry both vanished from Berlin at the same time? Coincidence? Really?”
“Comrade General, please, remember that …”
“No, Major. You remember. Remember you pledged to work for me and only me, in return for which I forget how you and Peltsin were behaving like corrupt hooligans in West Berlin. You forget our little agreement?”
“Of course not, Comrade,” said Makharov. His face tensed with sincerity. “You don’t even need to bring it up!”
Borin smelled the lie as clearly as he saw the bead of sweat pop up on the red brow across from him. “No excuses. I expect a detailed report ASAP. Everything you you can dig up about Peltsin’s movements. Which had better be a lot.”
Silence settled in the office for a few moments. Borin listened to his own heart beating. “But for now,” he went on, “how do you propose to continue the Greek portion of the investigation?”
“We know they left from Piraeus,” Makharov said immediately, sounding relieved and confident. “The Athens port. Or at least we know they asked how to get there and didn’t ask about anything else. We know the African lieutenant inquired about Aegean islands at the travel agency. So, I’m sending my men to the most popular ones. They can cover two to three every day. With any luck, we’ll find them.”
“Are you crazy, man? That won’t work!”
“What else would you have me do? If they stay in Greece, they don’t have to present at Immigration Control, they don’t have to show passports, don’t have to do anything I can use to find them from here. Shoe leather is all we have, Comrade.”
Borin suppressed a smile of triumph and did his best to sound despondent. “You’ll never find him!”
“Oh?” said the KGB man. “Think again. There are only a handful of truly popular Cyclades islands, and our little group is unique. People are going to remember three young American men traveling a ridiculously tall African woman, especially when they speak Russian among themselves all the time. Hope is not lost!”
“I see,” said Borin, deflating a little inside.
“I’m wiring my men money for generous bribes, General. I mean to win this game. I mean to find your son, and I will find him. I promise you that. And I promise to dig down to the very bottom of this rotten mess.”
He stared through Borin, eyes fire, voice steel. “Wherever that bottom happens to be.”
Ten minutes later, alone in his office, Borin picked up his telephone. “International operator, please. Hurry.”
“Explain to me again why we didn’t take the bus”? Ian panted. “Short walk, my ass!”
“It can’t be much further,” Juliette soothed.
Inwardly, she seethed. They’d found rooms easily, just like the agency people told her. They’d walked up through the funny little town, zigzagging up flights of melted white stone steps and crooked alleys until they reached the top of the hill.
The second hotel they checked had just what she wanted — two large, airy rooms; spotlessly clean and cheap. So much nicer than Athens!
While the village down below had no automobiles or streets wide enough for them, a road ran from the hotel row all around the perimeter of the desert island to the large beach on the far side.
“But the bus only runs every hour or two,” the desk clerk had warned. “If you take the path over the top of the island, you can walk straight down to the beach. No waiting. It’s not far at all.”
“Guys,” apologized Juliette, wiping stinging sweat out of her eyes. “I am SO sorry. ‘Not far’ in the blazing sun is still pretty far! Next time, we remember to bring water.”
“Next time, we take the bus,” Dima grumbled.
Mark was up ahead, setting a brisk pace, seemingly unaffected by their desert surroundings. “And miss all this?” he asked, sounding like he really meant it. “This is awesome!”
He pointed out rocky outcroppings, scraggy brush, clumps of gnarled olive trees with limey, waxy leaves. “Goats! See em jumping around way over there? And see that kid up on the hill? A real shepherd!”
Juliette cocked an ear, listening to the famous Mykonos wind, which really did seem to whistle. Something else blew in on it, though. “Listen,” she said. “That shepherd boy’s playing an instrument. A recorder or a flute or something. Damn! Just like 2,000 years ago. Nothing’s changed in all that time.”
She felt a little awestruck.
“Um, listen more carefully,” Ian suggested dryly. Something’s changed, all right.”
“The tune? I don’t think shepherd boys piped Madonna’s Like a Virgin back then.
When Juliette finally stopped laughing, she almost stopped feeling thirsty.
“There!” Mark shouted. Way down that hill. “The beach!”
Ian and Dima ran on ahead down the path, over hot stone and pebbles toward blue water sparkling with white diamond flecks.
This has been chapter 6 of the third act of a Cold War geopolitical thriller, gay coming-of-age romance. Settings and characters are pulled directly from my own life, but the story is fictional.