Today's Reading

'Then why pick our unit? It's going to cut in big time on our corruption investigations.'

'I'll pass along to you what I was told when I raised the same point. Those wildfires brought two dozen countries rushing to our aid. At the very least we owe it to them to show that Greece takes the possibility of arson seriously and will punish those criminally responsible for the fires.'

'Sounds more to me that we're being set up to take the blame in the media for the next round of fires.'

'That's always a possibility when politicians are involved, but those are the cards we've been dealt.' Andreas leaned back in his chair and smiled. 'How we choose to play them is something else.'

'What's that supposed to mean?'

'I've an idea that might give us an edge on locating who's behind the fires, and if it works, turn the tables on any politics at play to set us up.'

'What do you have in mind?'

'Don't worry about any of that for now. I'll deal with the fires,' Andreas smiled, 'while you check out my niece's new flame.'

Tassos Stamatos loved when bright afternoon sunlight passed into dusk, taking with it the heat, wind, and hordes of Aegean sun worshippers who'd long ago discovered the charms of the once-sleepy Cycladic island fishing village of Kini, which he called home. These days, tourists, locals, and their families spread out along the cove's sandy shoreline, on sun beds and under umbrellas, separated by a row of salt pines from a narrow road lined with tavernas and the occasional hotel or kiosk catering to the many who flocked there during tourist season.
He'd grown up in Kini, four miles due west of Ermoupoli, the capital city of the island of Syros and administrative center of the Cyclades. He still lived in the same house in which he was born, atop a cliff at the westernmost point of the northern side of the cove, far up and away from the frolickers below.

West of his home, across the open Aegean, loomed the island of Gyaros, where he'd once served as a prison guard for Greece's military dictatorship. To the east stood a semi-circular wave of bronzed glacial hills, dotted in green and embracing the landward side of the cove.

Tassos's house differed from the traditional, white sugar-cube Cycladic construction favored by most islanders. When asked about his home's unusual appearance, he'd say it was in keeping with his own make-up: compact, sturdy, and uniquely built to withstand whatever the elements threw at him. Its pale pistachio color he attributed to an occasional bout of sea sickness during particularly stormy times.

He never tired of watching sunsets from his porch. There he'd ponder over what might have been the thoughts of those who'd looked out upon this same sea so many centuries before. Archaeological excavations placed an Early Bronze Age civilization on Syros (3200-2200 BCE), but according to Homer (8th-century BCE), Phoenicians (1500-300 BCE) were the first known inhabitants of Syros, naming the island from their words for 'wealth' and 'happy.' Later occupiers (including Ionians, Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Venetians, Turks, and Russians) and immigrant refugees, each seeking precisely that same prize, brought the island boom-and-bust times in the millennia that followed.

There were also pirates back then, roaming the Mediterranean and instilling terror in all who sailed or stood in their path. They weren't the romanticized Hollywood versions of the breed, but callous slaughterers, rapists, and slavers.

Innocents who lived by the sea placed their faith in castle walls and mountain fortresses for protection against their tormentors. At times defenses held. At times they did not.

Pirates today were different. Rarely physically violent, they prowled the world in secrecy and disguise, probing digitally for hidden treasures weakly defended and easily seized without risk, then hiding their plunder behind layers of misdirection within entities far more impenetrable than any fortified wall.

Yet, there remained one trait the new breed shared with their forebears: they gave not a passing thought to the havoc they wreaked upon the lives of those caught up in their wake.

Tassos sighed. As the long-time chief homicide investigator for Greece's Cycladic islands, he'd spent nearly a lifetime in 24/7 hand-to-hand combat with evil's minions, wading through the detritus of unbridled human passions and cold-blooded malevolence. Yet, despite his many triumphs, little had changed. The ruthless were still out there, displaying renewed confidence and vigor as they searched an ever more vulnerable globe for new victims. Only their names and weapons had changed.

Perhaps the time had come for him to withdraw from the battle and leave this endless war to younger champions of civilized society.

He wondered what his girlfriend, Maggie, would think of that. She loved working as administrative assistant to Tassos's long-time protégé, Andreas Kaldis, but perhaps her unofficial role as mother superior and chief confessor for the administrative staff of GADA had tired her of pushing the same water uphill every day.

Long ago, they'd each earned the right to retire and sit together watching sunsets from the porch, holding hands while reminiscing over past adventures.

Yeah, right.

This excerpt is from the eBook edition.

Monday we begin the book Murder at a Scottish Castle by Traci Hall.

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