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The Green Lady

Extract

Mavros walked up the path through the pine trees on the slopes of Philopappos. He had strolled there before and knew its history. One of the disputed sites of the prison where Socrates had been held before his state-sponsored poisoning by hemlock was nearby and the hill was also known as the Mouseion because of a temple to the Muses on its flanks. There had been ancient fortifications, part of the great strategist Themistocles’s walls, as well as less edifying later military uses. The Venetian general Morosini had bombarded the Turkish-held Acropolis from the hill in 1687, resulting in the explosion that wrecked the Parthenon. Philopappos had also been the apple in the eye of numerous conspirators as an artillery location, the last being the Colonels during their coup in 1967. In the past when he had such thoughts, Mavros’s brother Andonis would have flashed before him. Now there was nothing. After years of pleading by his mother and sister, Mavros had finally let Andonis fall into the abyss.

Mavros felt the sweat build up all over his body and cursed the Fat Man’s pastries. He needed to get on his exercise bike, but the heat hardly encouraged that. He came out of the trees and looked up at the Tomb of Philopappos himself, a marble tower over ten metres high with friezes and statues commemorating the eponymous grandee from the second century AD. There was a small group of young people in identical T-shirts around the base, and he made out the tones of an American classicist in full lecture mode. As for the mystery woman, not a sign. He skirted the tomb, slipping on the smooth stones, and took in the view. Although there was a heat haze, over the glinting blue sea he could see the triangular peak of the mountain on the island of Aegina and, beyond, the distant mountains of the Peloponnese stepping southwards.

‘Mr Mavros.’

He turned and took in a statuesque woman in her mid-forties. She was wearing a loose-fitting grey dress that displayed well-turned ankles, but it was the face beneath the straw hat that seized his attention. It was finely constructed, with almond-shaped pale blue eyes, a narrow nose and unpainted lips, the cheekbones high enough to suggest Slavic or Russian roots. She could have been beautiful, but her expression was infinitely sad and there were dark rings beneath her eyes. Brown hair with blonde highlights hung untended on her shoulders. 

‘Alex,’ he said, extending a hand. She clasped it briefly and then pulled away like a frightened animal. ‘You have the advantage of me.’

‘What?’

‘You haven’t told me your name.’

The woman stepped away to the path that led southwards, forcing him to follow.

‘How did you know who I was?’ Mavros asked, catching up.

‘I did an Internet search. You really should consider setting up a web-site.’ She glanced at him. ‘Though the number of times you feature in the newspapers probably makes that unnecessary.’

She was definitely English, Mavros thought, the flattened vowels and dropped consonants suggesting her origins were humble. As she walked, he realised that her full breasts were unrestrained by a bra, a serious no-no in the Greek capital. There was a rock at the side of the path and she sat down in the shade from it.

Joining her, he said, ‘Great view. Wish I could be in the water rather than looking at it.’

‘You don’t recognise me,’ the woman said, ignoring his attempt at small talk.

‘Should I?’

‘Well, I have been on the television rather often recently.’

Mavros studied her profile. There was something familiar about her. He suspected she usually wore make up and had her hair under control.

‘Never mind. Before I tell you what I want from you, I need your assurance
that you will tell no one about this meeting or anything said during it.’ Her voice was
almost a monotone and speaking seemed to require an enormous effort.

‘I always observe client confidentiality,’ he replied, ‘though I reserve the right
to share information with trusted associates when necessary.’ He didn’t have any official associates, but he’d once been burned when a plastic surgeon found out he’d used his sister Anna, a gossip columnist, to dig the dirt.

‘Very well,’ the woman said, ‘but you’ll be hearing from my very expensive lawyers if you cross me.’

Mavros smiled tightly. ‘This isn’t exactly a promising start. You can’t force me to take the job.’

‘No, I don’t suppose I can.’ The woman looked towards the sea, her hands with only a simple gold wedding ring on one of the long fingers clasped around her calves. ‘My name is Angie – Angela – Poulou and I have lost my…

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