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Memories of Midnight - Page 7

Everyone had always been amazed by the apparent close friendship of Constantin Demiris and his brother-in-law, Spyros Lambrou.

Sypros Lambrou was almost as rich and powerful as Demiris. Demiris owned the largest fleet of cargo ships in the world; Spyros Lambrou owned the second largest. Constantin Demiris controlled a chain of newspapers and airlines, oil fields, steel mills, and gold mines; Spyros Lambrou had insurance companies, banks, enormous amounts of real estate, and a chemical plant. They seemed friendly competitors; better than that, buddies.

"Isn't it wonderful," people said, "that two of the most powerful men in the world are such great friends?"

In reality, they were implacable rivals who despised each other. When Spyros Lambrou bought a 100-foot yacht, Constantin Demiris immediately commissioned a 150-foot yacht that had four G.M. diesels, a crew of thirteen, two speedboats, and a freshwater swimming pool.

When Spyros Lambrou's fleet reached a total of twelve tankers, with a tonnage of 200,000, Constantin Demiris increased his own fleet to twenty-three tankers, with a tonnage of 650,000. Spyros Lambrou acquired a string of race horses, and Demiris bought a larger stable to run against him, and consistently won.

The two men saw each other frequently, for they served together on charity committees, sat on the boards of various corporations, and occasionally attended family gatherings.

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They were exactly opposite in temperament. Where Constantin Demiris had come from the gutter and fought his way to the top, Spyros Lambrou was born an aristocrat. He was a lean and elegant man, always impeccably dressed, with courtly, old-world manners. He could trace his family tree back to Otto of Bavaria, who had once ruled as king of Greece. During the early political uprisings in Greece, a small minority, the oligarchy, amassed fortunes in trade, shipping, and land. Spyros Lambrou's father was one of them, and Spyros had inherited his empire.

Over the years, Spyros Lambrou and Constantin Demiris had carried on their charade of friendship. But each was determined that in the end he would destroy the other, Demiris because of his instinct for survival, Lambrou because of his brother-in-law's treatment of Melina.

Spyros Lambrou was a superstitious man. He appreciated his good fortune in life, and he was anxious not to antagonize the gods. From time to time he consulted psychics for guidance. He was intelligent enough to recognize the frauds, but there was one psychic whom he had found to be uncanny. She had predicted his sister Melina's miscarriage and what would happen to the marriage, and a dozen other things that had come to pass. She lived in Athens.

Her name was Madame Piris.

Constantin Demiris made it a habit to arrive at his offices in Aghiou Geronda Street every morning punctually at six o'clock. By the time his rivals went to work, Demiris had already conducted several hours of business with his agents in a dozen countries.

Demiris's private office was spectacular. The view was magnificent, with picture windows putting the city of Athens at his feet. The floor was black granite. The furniture was steel and leather. On the walls was a cubist art collection, with Legers, Braques, and half a dozen Picassos. There was an enormous glass-and-steel desk and a leather throne chair. On the desk was a death mask of Alexander the Great, set in crystal. The inscription under it read: "Alexandres. The defender of man."

On this particular morning, Constantin Demiris's private phone was ringing when he entered his office. There were only half a dozen people who had access to the telephone number.

Demiris picked up the telephone. "Kalimehra."

"Kalimehra." The voice at the other end belonged to Spyros Lambrou's private secretary, Nikos Veritos. He sounded nervous.

"Forgive me for disturbing you, Mr. Demiris. You told me to call when I had some information that you might..."

"Yes. What is it?"

"Mr. Lambrou is planning to acquire a company called Aurora International. It is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Mr. Lambrou has a friend on the board of directors who told him that a big government contract is going to be given to the company to build bombers. This is, of course, very confidential. The stock will have a big rise when the announcement..."

"I'm not interested in the stock market," Demiris snapped. "Don't bother me again unless you have something important to tell me."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Demiris. I thought..."

But Demiris had hung up.

At eight o'clock, when Demiris's assistant, Giannis Tcharos, walked in, Constantin Demiris looked up from his desk. "There's a company on the New York Stock Exchange, Aurora International. Notify all our newspapers that the company is being investigated for fraud. Use an anonymous source, but spread the word. I want them to keep hammering at the story until the stock drops. Then, start buying until I have control."

"Yes, sir. Is that all?"

"No. After I've acquired control, announce that the rumors were unfounded. Oh, yes. See that the New York Stock Exchange is notified that Spyros Lambrou bought his stock on insider information."

Giannis Tcharos said delicately, "Mr. Demiris, in the United States, that is a criminal offense."

Constantin Demiris smiled. "I know."

A mile away, at Syntagma Square, Spyros Lambrou was working in his office. His workplace reflected his eclectic taste. The furniture consisted of rare antiques, a mixture of French and Italian. Three of the walls were covered with the works of French Impressionists. The fourth wall was devoted to an array of Belgian artists, from Van Rysselberghe to De Smet. The sign on the outer-office door read: LAMBROU AND ASSOCIATES, but there had never been any associates. Spyros Lambrou had inherited a successful business from his father, and over the years he had built it into a worldwide conglomerate.

Spyros Lambrou should have been a happy man. He was rich and successful, and he enjoyed excellent health. But it was impossible for him to be truly happy as long as Constantin Demiris was alive. His brother-in-law was anathema to him. Lambrou despised him. Demiris was polymichanos, a man fertile in devices, a scoundrel without morals. Lambrou had always hated Demiris for his treatment of Melina, but the savage rivalry between them had its own terrible nexus.

It had begun ten years earlier, at a lunch Spyros Lambrou had with his sister. She had never seen him so excited.

"Melina, did you know that every single day the world consumes all the fossil fuel it took a thousand years to create?"

"No, Spyros."

"There's going to be a tremendous demand for oil in the future, and there aren't going to be enough oil tankers to handle it."

"You're going to build some?"

He nodded. "But not just ordinary tankers. I'm going to build the first fleet of large tankers. They'll be twice as large as the present ones." His voice was filled with enthusiasm. "I've spent months going over the figures. Listen to this. A gallon of crude petroleum hauled from the Persian Gulf to an eastern-coast port of the United States costs seven cents. But on a big tanker, the cost would come down to three cents a gallon. Do you have any idea what that could mean?"

"Spyros - where are you going to get the money to build a fleet like that?"

He smiled. "That's the beautiful part of my plan. It won't cost me a cent."

"What?"

He leaned forward. "I'm going to America next month to talk to the heads of the big oil companies. With these tankers, I can carry their oil for them for half the price they can carry it."

"But...you don't have any big tankers."

His smile turned into a grin. "No, but if I can get long-term charter contracts from the oil companies, the banks will loan me the money I need to build them. What do you think?"

"I think you're a genius. It's a brilliant plan."

Melina was so excited about her brother's idea that she mentioned it to Demiris that evening at dinner.

When she had finished explaining it, Melina said, "Isn't that a wonderful idea?"

Constantin Demiris was silent for a moment. "Your brother's a dreamer. It could never work."

Melina looked at him in surprise. "Why not, Costa?"

"Because it's a harebrained scheme. In the first place, there's not going to be that big a demand for oil, so those mythical tankers of his will run empty. Secondly, the oil companies aren't about to turn their precious oil over to a phantom fleet that doesn't even exist. And third, those bankers he's going to will laugh him out of their offices."

Melina's face clouded with disappointment. "Spyros was so enthusiastic. Would you mind discussing it with him?"

Demiris shook his head. "Let him have his dream, Melina. It would be better if he didn't even know about our conversation."

"All right, Costa. Whatever you say."

Early the following morning Constantin Demiris was on his way to the United States to discuss large tankers. He was aware that the world petroleum reserves outside the United States and the Soviet bloc territories were controlled by the seven sisters: Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, Standard Oil Company of California, Gulf Oil, the Texas Company, Socony-Vacuum, Royal Dutch-Shell, and Anglo-Iranian. He knew that if he could get just one of them, the others were sure to follow.

Constantin Demiris's first visit was to the executive offices of Standard Oil of New Jersey. He had an appointment with Owen Curtiss, a fourth vice-president.

"What can I do for you, Mr. Demiris?"

"I have a concept that I think could be of great financial benefit to your company."

"Yes, you mentioned that over the telephone." Curtiss glanced at his wristwatch. "I have a meeting in a few minutes. If you could be brief..."

"I'll be very brief. It costs you seven cents to haul a gallon of crude petroleum from the Persian Gulf to the eastern coast of the United States."

"That's correct."

"What would you say if I told you that I can guarantee to carry your oil for three cents a gallon?"

Curtiss smiled patronizingly. "And just how would you perform that miracle?"

Demiris said quietly, "With a fleet of tankers that will have twice the carrying capacity of the present ones. I can transport your oil as fast as you can pump it out of the ground."

Curtiss was studying him, his face thoughtful. "Where would you get a fleet of large tankers?"

"I'm going to build them."

"I'm sorry. We wouldn't be interested in investing in..."

Demiris interrupted. "It won't cost you a penny. All I'm asking from you is a long-term contract to carry your oil at half the price you're paying now. I'll get my financing from the banks."

There was a long, pregnant silence. Owen Curtiss cleared his throat. "I think I had better take you upstairs to meet our president."

That was the beginning. The other oil companies were just as eager to make deals for Constantin Demiris's new tankers. By the time Spyros Lambrou learned what was happening, it was too late. He flew to the United States and was able to make a few deals for large tankers with some independent companies, but Demiris had skimmed off the cream of the market.

"He's your husband," Lambrou stormed, "but I swear to you, Melina, someday I'm going to make him pay for what he's done."

Melina felt miserable about what had happened. She felt she had betrayed her brother.

But when she confronted her husband, he shrugged. "I didn't go to them, Melina. They came to me. How could I refuse them?"

And that was the end of the discussion.

But business considerations were unimportant compared to Lambrou's feelings about how Demiris treated Melina.

He could have shrugged off the fact that Constantin Demiris was a notorious philanderer - after all, a man had to have his pleasure. But Demiris's being so blatant about it was an insult not only to Melina but to the whole Lambrou family. Demiris's affair with the actress Noelle Page had been the most egregious example. It had made headlines all over the world. One day, Spyros Lambrou thought. One day...

Nikos Veritos, Lambrou's assistant, walked into the office. Veritos had been with Spyros Lambrou for fifteen years. He was competent but unimaginative, a man with no future, gray and faceless. The rivalry between the two brothers-in-law presented Veritos with what he considered a golden opportunity. He was betting on Constantin Demiris to win, and from time to time he passed on confidential information to him, hoping for a suitable reward.

Veritos approached Lambrou. "Excuse me. There's a Mr. Anthony Rizzoli here to see you."

Lambrou sighed. "Let's get it over with," Lambrou said. "Send him in."

Anthony Rizzoli was in his mid-forties. He had black hair, a thin aquiline nose, and deep-set brown eyes. He moved with the grace of a trained boxer. He wore an expensive beige tailored suit, a yellow silk shirt, and soft leather shoes. He was soft-spoken and polite, and yet there was something oddly menacing about him.

"Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Lambrou."

"Sit down, Mr. Rizzoli."

Rizzoli took a seat.

"What can I do for you?"

"Well, as I explained to Mr. Veritos here, I'd like to charter one of your cargo ships. You see, I have a factory in Marseilles and I want to ship some heavy machinery to the United States. If you and me can work out a deal, I can throw a lot of business your way in the future."

Spyros Lambrou leaned back in his chair and studied the man seated in front of him. Unsavory. "Is that all you're planning to ship, Mr. Rizzoli?" he asked.

Tony Rizzoli frowned. "What? I don't understand."

"I think you do," Lambrou said. "My ships are not available to you."

"Why not? What are you talkin' about?"

"Drugs, Mr. Rizzoli. You're a drug dealer."

Rizzoli's eyes narrowed. "You're crazy! You've been listenin' to a lot of rumors."

But they were more than rumors. Spyros Lambrou had carefully checked out the man. Tony Rizzoli was one of the top drug smugglers in Europe. He was Mafia, part of the Organization, and the word was out that Rizzoli's transportation sources had dried up. That was why he was so anxious to make a deal.

"I'm afraid you'll have to go elsewhere."

Tony Rizzoli sat there staring at him, his eyes cold. Finally he nodded. "Okay." He took a business card from his pocket and threw it on the desk. "If you change your mind, here's where you can reach me." He rose to his feet and a moment later he was gone.

Spyros Lambrou picked up the card. It read "Anthony Rizzoli - Import-Export." There was an Athens hotel address and a telephone number at the bottom of the card.

Nikos Veritos had sat there wide-eyed, listening to the conversation. When Tony Rizzoli walked out the door he said, "Is he really...?"

"Yes. Mr. Rizzoli deals in heroin. If we ever let him use one of our ships, the government could put our whole fleet out of business."

Tony Rizzoli walked out of Lambrou's office in a fury. That fucking Greek treating me like I'm some peasant off the street! And how had he known about the drugs'? The shipment was an unusually large one, with a street value of at least ten million dollars. But the problem was in getting it to New York. The goddamned narcs are swarming all over Athens. I'll have to make a phone call to Sicily and stall. Tony Rizzoli had never lost a shipment, and he did not intend to lose this one. He thought of himself as a born winner.

He had grown up in Hell's Kitchen in New York. Geographically, it was located in the middle of the West Side of Manhattan, between Eighth Avenue and the Hudson River, and its northern and southern boundaries ran from Twenty-third to Fifty-ninth streets. But psychologically and emotionally, Hell's Kitchen was a city within a city, an armed enclave. The streets were ruled by gangs. There were the Gophers, the Parlor Mob, the Gorillas, and the Rhodes gang. Murder contracts retailed at a hundred dollars, with mayhem a little less.

The occupants of Hell's Kitchen lived in dirty tenements overrun by lice, rats, and roaches. There were no bathtubs, and the youths solved the shortage in their own way; they plunged naked into the water off the Hudson River docks, where the sewers from the Kitchen's streets emptied into the river. The docks stank of the stagnant mass of dead, swollen cats and dogs.

The street scene provided an endless variety of action. A fire engine answering an alarm...a gang fight on one of the tenement roofs...a wedding procession...a stickball game on the sidewalk...a chase after a runaway horse...a shooting. The only playgrounds the children had were the streets, the tenement roofs, the rubbish-strewn vacant lots, and - in the summertime - the noisome waters of the river. And over everything, the acrid smell of poverty. That was the atmosphere in which Tony Rizzoli had grown up.

Tony Rizzoli's earliest memory was of being knocked down and having his milk money stolen. He was seven years old. Older and bigger boys were a constant threat. The route to school was a no-man's land, and the school itself was a battleground. By the time Rizzoli was fifteen years old he had developed a strong body and considerable skill as a fighter. He enjoyed fighting, and because he was good at it, it gave him a feeling of superiority. He and his friends put on boxing matches at Stillman's Gym.

From time to time, some of the mobsters dropped in to keep an eye on the fighters they owned. Frank Costello appeared once or twice a month, along with Joe Adonis and Lucky Luciano. They were amused by the boxing matches that the youngsters put on, and as a form of diversion they began to bet on their fights. Tony Rizzoli was always the winner, and he quickly became a favorite of the mobsters.

One day while Rizzoli was changing in the locker room, the young boy overheard a conversation between Frank Costello and Lucky Luciano. "The kid's a gold mine," Luciano was saying. "I won five grand on him last week."

"You going to put a bet on his fight with Lou Domenic?"

"Sure. I'm betting ten big ones."

"What odds do you have to lay?"

"Ten-to-one. But what the hell? Rizzoli's a shoo-in."

Tony Rizzoli was not certain what the conversation meant. He went to his older brother, Gino, and told him about it.

"Jesus!" his brother exclaimed. "Those guys are bet-tin' big money on you."

"But why? I'm not a professional."

Gino thought for a moment. "You've never lost a fight, have you, Tony?"

"No."

"What probably happened is that they made a few small bets for kicks, and then when they saw what you could do they began betting for real."

The younger boy shrugged. "It don't mean nothin' to me.

Gino took his arm and said earnestly, "It could mean a lot to you. To both of us. Listen to me, kid..."

The fight with Lou Domenic took place at Stillman's Gym on a Friday afternoon and all the big boys were there - Frank Costello, Joe Adonis, Albert Anastasia, Lucky Luciano, and Meyer Lansky. They enjoyed watching the young boys fight, but what they enjoyed even more was the fact that they had found a way to make money on the kids.

Lou Domenic was seventeen, a year older than Tony and five pounds heavier. But he was no match for Tony Rizzoli's boxing skills and killer instinct.

The fight was five rounds. The first round went easily to young Tony. The second round also went to him. And the third. The mobsters were already counting their money.

"The kid's going to grow up to be a world champion," Lucky Luciano crowed. "How much did you bet on him?"

"Ten grand," Frank Costello replied. "The best odds I could get was fifteen-to-one. The kid's already got a reputation."

And suddenly, the unexpected happened. In the middle of the fifth round, Lou Domenic knocked out Tony Rizzoli with an upper cut. The referee began to count...very slowly, looking apprehensively out at the stony-faced audience.

"Get to your feet, you little bastard," Joe Adonis screamed. "Get up and fight!"

The counting went on, and even at that slow pace, it finally reached ten. Tony Rizzoli was still on the mat, out cold.

"Son of a bitch. One lucky punch!"

The men began to add up their losses. They were substantial. Tony Rizzoli was carried to one of the dressing rooms by Gino. Tony kept his eyes tightly closed, afraid that they would find out he was conscious and do something terrible to him.

It was not until Tony was safely home that he began to relax.

"We did it!" his brother yelled excitedly. "Do you know how much fucking money we made? Almost one thousand dollars."

"I don't understand. I..."

"I borrowed money from their own shylocks to bet on Domenic, and got fifteen-to-one odds. We're rich."

"Won't they be mad?" Tony asked.

Gino smiled. "They'll never know."

The following day when Tony Rizzoli got out of school there was a long black limousine waiting at the curb. Lucky Luciano was in the backseat. He waved the boy over to the car. "Get in."

Tony Rizzoli's heart began to pound. "I can't, Mr. Luciano, I'm late for..."

"Get in."

Tony Rizzoli got into the limousine. Lucky Luciano said to the driver, "Go around the block."

Thank God he wasn't being taken for a ride!

Luciano turned to the boy. "You took a dive," he said flatly.

Rizzoli flushed. "No, sir. I..."

"Don't shit me. How much did you make on the fight?"

"Nothing, Mr. Luciano. I..."

"I'll ask you once more. How much did you make by taking that dive?"

The boy hesitated. "A thousand dollars."

Lucky Luciano laughed. "That's chicken feed. But I guess for a...how old are you?"

"Almost sixteen."

"I guess for a sixteen-year-old kid, that ain't bad. You know you cost me and my friends a lot of money."

"I'm sorry. I - "

"Forget it. You're a bright boy. You've got a future."

"Thank you."

"I'm going to keep quiet about this, Tony, or my friends will cut your nuts off and feed them to you. But I want you to come and see me Monday. You and me are going to work together."

A week later, Tony Rizzoli was working for Lucky Luciano. Rizzoli started as a numbers runner, and then became an enforcer. He was bright and quick and in time he worked himself up to being Luciano's lieutenant.

When Lucky Luciano was arrested, convicted, and sent to prison, Tony Rizzoli stayed on with Luciano's organization.

The Families were into gambling, shylocking, prostitution, and anything else in which there was an illegal profit to be made. Dealing drugs was generally frowned on, but some of the members insisted on being involved, and the Families reluctantly gave them permission to set up drug trafficking on their own.

The idea became an obsession with Tony Rizzoli. From what he had seen, the people who were in drug trafficking were completely disorganized. They're all spinning their wheels. With the right brains and muscle behind it...

He made his decision.

Tony Rizzoli was not a man to go into anything haphazardly. He began by reading everything he could find out about heroin.

Heroin was fast becoming the king of narcotics. Marijuana and cocaine provided a "high," but heroin created a state of complete euphoria, with no pain, no problems, no cares. Those enslaved by heroin were willing to sell anything they possessed, steal anything within their reach, commit any crime. Heroin became their religion, their reason for being.

Turkey was one of the leading growers of the poppy from which heroin was derived.

The Family had contacts in Turkey, so Rizzoli had a talk with Pete Lucca, one of the capos.

"I'm going to get involved," Rizzoli said. "But anything I do will be for the Family. I want you to know that."

"You're a good boy, Tony."

"I'd like to go to Turkey to look things over. Can you set it up?"

The old man hesitated. "I'll send word. But they're not like us, Tony. They have no morals. They're animals. If they don't trust you, they'll kill you."

"I'll be careful."

"You do that."

Two weeks later, Tony Rizzoli was on his way to Turkey.

He traveled to Izmir, Afyon, and Eskisehir, the regions where the poppies were grown, and in the beginning, Rizzoli was greeted with deep suspicion. He was a stranger, and strangers were not welcome.

"We're going to do a lot of business together," Rizzoli said. "I'd like to take a look at the poppy fields."

A shrug. "I don't know nothin' about no poppy fields. You're wastin' your time. Go home."

But Rizzoli was determined. Half a dozen phone calls were made and coded cables were exchanged. Finally, in Kilis, on the Turkish-Syrian border, he was allowed to watch the opium being harvested at the farm of Carella, one of the large landowners.

"I don't understand it," Tony said. "How can you get heroin from a fuckin' flower?"

A white-coated scientist explained it to him. "There are several steps, Mr. Rizzoli. Heroin is synthesized from opium, which is made by treating morphine with acetic acid. Heroin is derived from a particular strain of poppy plant called Papaver somniferum, the flower of sleep. Opium gets its name from the Greek word opos, meaning juice."

"Got you."

At harvesting time, Tony was invited to visit Carella's main estate. Each member of Carella's family was equipped with a çizgi biçak, a scalpel-shaped cutting knife, to make a precise incision into the plant. Carella explained, "The poppies have to be harvested within a twenty-four-hour period or the crop is ruined."

There were nine members in the family and each one worked frantically to make sure the crop was in on time. The air was filled with fumes that induced drowsiness.

Rizzoli felt groggy. "Be careful," Carella warned. "Stay awake. If you lie down in the field, you will never get up again."

The farmhouse windows and doors were kept tightly closed during the twenty-four-hour period of harvest.

When the poppies had been picked, Rizzoli watched the sticky white gum transformed from a morphine base into heroin at a "laboratory" in the hills.

"So, that's it, huh?"

Carella shook his head. "No, my friend. That's only the beginning. Making the heroin is the easiest part. The trick is to transport it without getting caught."

Tony Rizzoli felt an excitement building in him. This is where his expertise was going to take over. Up until now, the business had been run by bunglers. Now he was going to show them how a professional operated.

"How do you move this stuff?"

"There are many ways. Truck, bus, train, car, mule, camel..."

"Camel?"

"We used to smuggle heroin in cans in the camel's belly - until the guards started using metal detectors. So we switched to rubber bags. At the end of the trip we kill the camels. The problem is that sometimes the bags burst inside the camels, and the animals stagger up to the border like drunks. So the guards caught on."

"What route do you use?"

"Sometimes the heroin is routed from Aleppo, Beirut, and Istanbul, and on to Marseilles. Sometimes the drugs go from Istanbul to Greece, then on to Sicily through Corsica and Morocco and across the Atlantic."

"I appreciate your cooperation," Rizzoli said. "I'll tell the boys. I have another favor to ask of you."

"Yes?"

"I'd like to go along with the next shipment."

There was a long pause. "That could be dangerous."

"I'll take my chances."

The following afternoon, Tony Rizzoli was introduced to a large, hulking bandit of a man, with a grandiose, flowing mustache and the body of a tank. "This is Mustafa from Afyon. In Turkish, afyon means opium. Mustafa is one of our most skilled smugglers."

"One has to be skilled," Mustafa said modestly. "There are many dangers."

Tony Rizzoli grinned. "But it's worth the risk, eh?"

Mustafa said with dignity, "You are speaking of money. To us, opium is more than a money crop. There is a mystique about it. It is the one crop that is more than food alone. The white sap of the plant is a God-given elixir which is a natural medicine if taken in small quantities. It can be eaten, or applied directly to the skin, and it will cure most of the common ailments - upset stomachs, colds, fever, aches, pains, sprains. But you must be careful. If you take it in large amounts, not only will it cloud the senses, it will rob you of your sexual prowess, and nothing in Turkey could more destroy a man's dignity than impotence."

"Sure. Anything you say."

The journey from Afyon began at midnight. A group of farmers, walking single file through the black night, rendezvoused with Mustafa. The mules were loaded with opium, 350 kilos, more than 700 pounds, strapped to the backs of seven stout mules. The sweet, pungent odor of the opium, like wet hay, hovered in the air about the men. There were a dozen farmers who had come to guard the opium in the transaction with Mustafa. Each farmer was armed with a rifle.

"We have to be careful these days," Mustafa told Rizzoli. "We have Interpol and many police looking for us. In the old days, it was more fun. We used to transport opium through a village or the city in a casket draped in black. It was a heartwarming sight to see the people and the police on the street, lifting their hats and saluting in respect as a coffin of opium went by."

The province of Afyon lies in the center of the western third of Turkey at the foot of the Sultan Mountains on a high plateau, remote and virtually isolated from the nation's leading cities.

"This terrain is very good for our work," Mustafa said. "We are not easy to find."

The mules moved slowly through the desolate mountains, and at midnight three days later they reached the Turkish-Syrian border. There they were met by a woman dressed in black. She was leading a horse carrying an innocent sack of flour, and there was a hemp rope knotted loosely on its saddle horn. The rope trailed behind the horse, but it never touched the ground. It was a long rope, two hundred feet in length. The other end was held up by Mustafa and his fifteen hired runners behind him. They walked in a crouch, each bent over close to the ground, one hand holding the rope line and the other clutching a gunny sack of opium. Each sack weighed thirty-five pounds. The woman and her horse walked through a stretch booby-trapped with antipersonnel mines, but there was a path that had been cleared by a small herd of sheep driven through the area earlier. If the rope fell to the earth, the slack was a signal to Mustafa and the others that there were gendarmes up ahead. If the woman was taken in for questioning, then the smugglers would safely move on ahead across the border.

They crossed at Kilis, the border point, which was heavily mined. Once past the area controlled by the gendarme patrols, the smugglers moved into the buffer zone three miles wide, until they reached their rendezvous, where they were greeted by Syrian smugglers. They put their sacks of opium on the ground and were presented with a bottle of raki, which the men passed from one to the other. Rizzoli watched as the opium was weighed, stacked, tied, and secured upon the swaybacks of a dozen dirty Syrian donkeys. The job was done.

All right, Rizzoli thought. Now let's see how the boys in Thailand do it.

Rizzoli's next stop was Bangkok. When his bona fides had been established he was allowed on a Thai fishing vessel that carried drugs wrapped in polyethylene sheeting packed into empty kerosene drums, with rings attached to the top. As the shipping boats approached Hong Kong they jettisoned the drums in a neat row in shallow water around Lima and the Ladrone Islands, where it was simple for a Hong Kong fishing boat to pick them up with a grappling hook.

"Not bad," Rizzoli said. But there has to be a better way.

The growers referred to heroin as "H" and "horse," but to Tony Rizzoli, heroin was gold. The profits were staggering. The peasants who grew the raw opium were paid $350 for ten kilos, but by the time the opium was processed and sold on the streets of New York, its value had increased to $250,000.

It's so easy, Rizzoli thought. Carella was right. The trick is not to get caught.

That had been in the beginning, ten years earlier. But now it was more difficult. Interpol, the international police force, had recently put drug smuggling at the top of its list. All vessels leaving the key smuggling ports that looked even slightly suspicious were boarded and searched. That was why Rizzoli had gone to Spyros Lambrou. His fleet was above suspicion. It was unlikely that the police would search one of his cargo ships. But the bastard had turned him down. I'll find another way, Tony Rizzoli thought. But I'd better find it fast.

"Catherine - am I disturbing you?"

It was midnight. "No, Costa. It's nice to hear your voice."

"Is everything going well?"

"Yes - thanks to you. I'm really enjoying my job."

"Good. I'll be coming to London in a few weeks. I'll look forward to seeing you." Careful. Don't push too fast. "I want to discuss some of the company's personnel."

"Fine."

"Good night, then."

"Good night."

This time she was calling him. "Costa - I don't know what to say. The locket is beautiful. You shouldn't have..."

"It's a small token, Catherine. Evelyn told me what a big help you are to her. I just wanted to express my appreciation."

It's so easy, Demiris thought. Little gifts and flattery.

Later: My wife and I are separating.

Then the "I'm so lonely" stage.

A vague talk of marriage and an invitation on his yacht to his island. The routine never failed. This is going to be particularly exciting, Demiris thought, because it's going to have a different ending. She's going to die.

He telephoned Napoleon Chotas. The lawyer was delighted to hear from him. "It's been a while, Costa. Everything goes well?"

"Yes, thank you. I need a favor."

"Of course."

"Noelle Page owned a little villa in Rafina. I want you to buy it for me, under someone else's name."

"Certainly. I'll have one of the lawyers in my office..."

"I want you to handle it personally."

There was a pause. "Very well. I'll take care of it."

"Thank you."

Napoleon Chotas sat there, staring at the phone. The villa was the love nest where Noelle Page and Larry Douglas had carried on their affair. What could Constantin Demiris possibly want with it?


Source: www.NovelCorner.com
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