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Shaky Ground

Premiered 1 May 2004 (Beltane)

 

Chapter 9

Heir Apparent

by

Dan Sewell Ward

(July 12th)

 

There is an unfortunate tendency on the part of private pilots to automatically assume that their smaller planes (most corporate jets being smaller than 727s, 747s, and the like) can land anywhere -- even on small, short runways on obscure Greek Islands .

It is rather like the people with four wheel drive vehicles who assume that they can and should climb every mountain, ford every stream, and search every possible byway, proving beyond a shadow of doubt their infinite prowess and manliness behind the wheel. The phenomena seems to derive from that certain hubris of people with small, maneuverable vehicles who inexplicably manage to look down upon larger craft and at the same time pretend that they can easily "go, where no man has gone before."

The particular Greek Island for which Herman was now approaching and for which his thrill-seeking, hubris-laden Captain Griff had been lusting for years, had often witnessed smaller airplanes -- smaller yet than Herman's jet -- land on its solitary stretch of straight, level, sun-baked, hardened ground. Admittedly, many of the hazards normally associated with aircraft landings had been eliminated. There was, for example, minimal trees, no power lines, non-existent air traffic, and for that matter little evidence of civilization. Thus any plane would have a clear approach to the runway, unencumbered with obstacles which must first be flown over, under, and/or around. This was a great advantage.

The difficulties, however, arose when one realized it would be necessary to come to a complete stop prior to running off the other end of the runway, crashing through several wooden-fence obstacles, and ending up in the ocean. Such minor concerns, however, were not on the minds of the people driving the plane. Instead, Captain Griff and his copilot had been enamored with the challenge of setting a new short distance record in the landing of their specific model of aircraft.

The approach itself was, in fact, textbook and uneventful. The skies were clear, visibility was unlimited, and the Aegean Sea was tousled just enough to make it sparkle with occasional whitecaps along the rocky shore. Captain Griff brought the plane in slightly lower than normal, the plan being to apply the wheels to the extreme end of the runway, use the wheel brakes and all available counter-thrust to reduce the speed to zero just prior to arriving at the other, abrupt end of the landing strip, and then, hopefully, walk away from the landing -- walking way being every pilot's basic criteria for a successful landing.

The plan went smoothly enough. Except perhaps for the heavy thud of the touchdown -- in order to get the wheels in contact with the ground and braking -- the screaming roar of the engines as they announced their disinclination to provide the amount of reverse thrust being urgently requested, the billowing smoke and dust as the wheels left their mark along the entire length of the runway, and the fact that the jet wound up with its nose "up close and personal" with an unwavering wooden fence situated at the edge of a cliff. As the dust settled and the engine noise reduced itself to a whisper, there was a momentary pause while Captain Griff and his copilot looked at each other. Then they began to smile followed by casual gestures which were with as much subtlety as possible designed to wipe the perspiration from their faces.

The copilot had begun congratulating Captain Griff on once again dodging that bullet with his initials written upon it when both men noticed the arrival of two jeep loads of well-armed guards. The jeeps, and to a lesser extent their occupants, seemed highly suspicious of any fool attempting to land a corporate jet with a required landing distance a full fifty yards longer than the length of the Greek island's runway.

The previous conversations between Captain Griff and the tower personnel had seemingly reached complete agreement on the landing, including a thorough and complete discussion of landing distances and runway lengths. However, inasmuch as the tower personnel were only marginally familiar with air traffic procedures, aircraft, and the concept of required landing distances, they had not provided a great deal of useful information. In addition, no one in the tower had thought to inform the ground crew -- also known as the island security force -- as to what was happening. Or even what the tower suspected might be happening. Or to tell the airplane's pilot what could happen if the plane overshot the airstrip, however slightly.

Herman, spared much of the knowledge about what might constitute his imminent departure from the physical plane, gingerly popped out of the plane as soon as the door was opened, the stairway lowered, and just prior to the first security guard attempting to dash up the stairs to enter the aircraft. Herman's gingerly attitude -- suddenly arrested by the appearance of four poorly paid, moderately aggressive thugs with automatic weapons -- caused Herman to pause on the lowermost step and consider the desirability of having the pilots simply gun the engines and make a break for it. Unfortunately, the plane was currently severely limited in its ability to taxi anywhere much less take off. For one thing, it was pointed in the wrong direction and secondly had two jeeps blocking every other avenue of escape.

Herman had always enjoyed visiting Uncle Paul -- often as much as once a decade. A seeker of all manner of things, Herman was primarily interested in new beginnings where enterprising events would be in a constant state of motion, of fluidity, and where inevitably, one would find confusion and chaos. As one mentor had once confided to Herman, there is both opportunity and money to be made in times of confusion. Particularly for those who were flexible, knew their way around, and who could rely on cleverness and good luck to make all the difference.

Unfortunately, dropping by on Uncle Paul where the topic of conversation inevitably worked its way around to such standards as what's wrong with everyone else in the family, nostalgia trips to when Herman was young and a real pain in the ass, and what in the hell was everyone else doing -- did not constitute a new beginning. They were old business, items dropped from the agenda decades ago -- except, of course, by most members of the family.

Uncle Paul, however, might have changed. Herman had no earthly idea why he was entertaining such a discontinuity except perhaps that this visit was starting out in such a novel way, i.e. with four terrorist-rejects armed to the teeth and highly suspicious of anyone with a light colored skin. Herman quickly guessed that Uncle Paul had somehow failed to mention to his security forces the imminent arrival of a guest -- a family member, in fact, who was highly unlikely to be an assassin, terrorist, or worse yet, a political fund-raiser.

Fortunately, the head guard had the presence of mind to inquire verbally as to Herman's plans just prior to allowing his troops target practice on the corporate jet and its occupants. Then with a simple explanation, a quick radio call to home base, and a screaming host informing his security guards of their lack of morals, regrettable ancestry, and probable destination, everything was taken care of. Herman quickly found himself the recipient of world-famous Greek hospitality -- or the lack thereof.

The first alleged act of hospitality was another '62 Chevy, differing from its Nepalese cousin only by its color, an oppressive black. Nevertheless, it was deja vu time for Herman and once safely installed in another sixties' relic he had a few moments to recall his trek down the mountain with Iris, a delightful pastime with only the ending lacking.

Unfortunately, the driver of the black '62 Chevy turned out to be a distant relative of Lodude's (at least in spirit), thus encouraging Herman to remain in the moment. Obliquely he wondered if the proliferation of '62 Chevys coincided with the last year that the United States had a positive foreign trade balance or if the vehicles simply made ideal training vehicles for demolition derby initiates.

As the dust rose from the car's headlong dash toward the residence and obliterating the previously clear visibility, Herman wondered how any automobile could withstand thirty or more years of such driving. The only possibility seemed to be that a large supply of '62 Chevys had been purchased at a tremendous volume discount (following their fall from favor with upper middle class college students) and then carefully warehoused in order to provide a long line of replacements, as well as parts.

The theory waned slightly as Herman recalled that he was on an obscure Greek island, under a bright hot sun, surrounded by white, baked rock, and with no sign of warehouses, replacement vehicles, other vehicles, and come to think of it, water -- save for the sparkling Aegean Sea. The only apparent building of any size was his uncle's unobtrusive mansion, all in white, low on the hill, subtly fortified, with all of its 105 mm howitzer's out-of-sight. (Paul, like most Greek tycoons, had a thing about privacy -- not to mention security!) Even the guards were now unobtrusive, probably avoiding the early afternoon sun like any normal Greek islander. Obviously, this was Paul's castle and home, the place where he could reign supreme, with little or no question as to his omnipotence. It was also where others could be kept out -- or at least at a considerable distance.

Once inside, however, Herman could feel the coolness of the heavy masonry walls, and found himself instinctively sensing a genuine comfort. Inexplicably, he was again in his element, at home, and in his right place. But in a very strange way. It was true that Herman had had the good sense to wear white to ward off the sun. This seemed to make him less obtrusive. But there was something else, as if part of him belonged to this place, a place he hardly knew or even recognized -- at least consciously. It was a pleasant sense, but not quite familiar. All of which was a little eerie. Herman shuddered slightly and then, dismissing the feelings, took a deep breath and entered, unannounced, into Paul's main room.

Paul was seated behind his ornate desk, looking somber and obviously displeased. Another man was talking, apparently trying to justify something. When Paul saw Herman, his attitude immediately shifted to boisterous laughter. He fairly shouted, "Herm! Helluva trip to see you!!" With that he bounded up and came around his desk. Herman, accustomed to the drill, subtly braced himself and attempted to throw himself toward Paul with the same gusto his Uncle inevitably displayed. But Paul, the consummate leader in the field, was able to easily overwhelm Herman, wrapping his arms around his nephew in an uncontrolled bear hug. Paul kept laughing and giving Herman a good shaking. "Helluva trip, right!?"

Herman fought to gather enough wind (and breath) to respond but managed only, "Helluva trip!"

"Great!!" Paul released the hug and turned to lead Herm to his desk. "Come in and sit!" Passing by the chair the other man was still sitting in, Paul slapped the man in the back of the head, fairly propelling him out of the chair. "Get up, and let your cousin have a seat!! Where are your manners!?"

As the man stumbled to his feet, still reeling from the hit, Herman recognized him as Paul's son, Cyrus. Cyrus tried to smile but basically failed. Herman filled in the slack. "Hello, Cyrus. It's been a while!" Herman and Cyrus, despite their half-cousin status, had never been close. In fact, Herman could generally only recognize his cousin because of the patch he wore on one eye, apparently the result of an unfortunate accident in Cyrus' youth. The fact that every time Herman had seen Cyrus, the man seemed to be wearing the patch on the other eye did not detract from Herman's ability to recognize his cousin -- Herman just looked for the patch somewhere on Cyrus' face.

Cyrus mumbled something in reply, but it hardly seemed worth recording -- Cyrus had already been eliminated by his father as an integral part of the forthcoming conversation.

As Paul and Herman each took their respective chairs, Cyrus continued to stand, very unsure of himself as to what to do. Paul quickly dispersed his son's uncertainty with, "What the hell you standing around for? Taking a census?"

Cyrus was even more confused. His original purpose in meeting with his father had been to obtain marching orders, which Paul had not yet given him. Cyrus meekly replied, "What about the union and their leader, Dysus?"

"Kick some butt!! Tell Dysus to take a flyer!" When Cyrus clearly found his father's instructions to be less than adequately detailed, Paul added, "You ought to be eating their lunch!! Those union scum aren't going to tell us what to do!! They're not the only people who know how to build an oil tanker!!"

Cyrus was less convinced and for a moment forgot where he was, "I'm not even sure they know how to build one. Maybe we should buy from the Japanese, like everyone else."

"Screw the Japs! They charge too much."

"But what if this one breaks up like the last one and dumps all that oil?"

"Who cares? We've got insurance! Besides, coating the shore of the Red Sea with oil might be a blessing. Cut down on all those sand storms!" With that, Paul laughed in his favorite manner, uncontrolled and slightly malicious.

Cyrus, meanwhile, was no match for his father's intellectual argument, and meekly (for him) stumbled away, acknowledging Herman with a winsome smile. Paul was more magnanimous!

"Herm! Helluva surprise!"

"Me, too," was all Herman could muster.

"How about a drink?" Paul asked, bounding up again and going directly to his small bar. "I make one helluva frozen daiquiri!"

"Great!" Herman responded. What else could he say?

"Started drinking frozen daiquiris about six years ago. I've really developed a taste for these little jiggers. Them and grasshoppers!"

As Paul turned on his old blender the entire house began to shake. Paul seemed oblivious to this fact, or else assumed the blender's variable vibrational rate and excessive noise was due to power surges in the local generator. Herman, on the other hand, was very much aware of the fact that the house was shaking. Shutters rattled, bar glasses clinked, a few knickknacks on Paul's massive desk fell over, and Herman felt his stomach turn nauseous. It suddenly occurred to Herman that they were experiencing an earthquake.

As it turned out, the earthquake with its epicenter twelve miles offshore of Paul's enclave, registered a respectable 5.3 on the Richter scale, sufficient to gather the attention of Greeks on other outlying islands, but not quite enough to cause any notable damage. In fact, surfers plying their skills off the coast of Thera took advantage of the opportunity to catch a mini-tidal wave as it radiated outward from its epicenter. The surfers and their fellow islanders had long since become accustomed to living on the edge of life, inasmuch as Thera represented the remnants of an extinct volcano obtruding from the Aegean Sea . They were also getting used to mini-earthquakes occurring in Paul's locality and had learned to take advantage of the opportunities occasioned thereby. There was even talk of both Marriott and Hilton Hotels building on Thera as it became notorious for the most exciting surfing in the world. Finally, the lack of apparent rhyme or reason as to when the earthquakes occurred tended to eliminate any possible religious or offended-god reasons, and thus was easier to tolerate.

When Paul turned off his blender, the quaking subsided to the point where it was not apparent that anything out of the ordinary had occurred. In fact, Paul had missed all of the excitement, thinking any movement that he felt was a product of an erratic blender. Paul was like that. He always had been. Ever so slightly insensitive.

While Herman was still looking around bewildered and Paul was carefully pouring the frozen daiquiris, Paul's wife Ammaretti entered, obviously upset, to check on the household. Herman smiled upon seeing her, recognizing her immediately. He always remembered Ammaretti, thinking that her name sounded like multiple liqueurs. For a moment he wondered if she was still the hell-on-wheels wife he had always remembered.

She was. Before even seeing Herman, she asked, "Any breakage?"

Paul was bewildered by the question, stopping in midstream of pouring. "Any what?"

Ammaretti's concern immediately shifted to acute frustration, as she glared at her husband for his total lack of understanding. Only Paul could be in an earthquake and miss it. Then she simply snorted like a horse after a run, thoroughly disgusted.

Paul kept the conversation alive by noting, "How could I break anything? I just used the blender. Making some daiquiris for Herm and me."

His wife turned to Herman. "Most insensitive man I've ever known!"

"What the hell does that mean!?" Paul was, in fact, quite sensitive to criticism -- even if he was grossly insensitive to most everything else in the world. When Ammaretti only looked heavenward for guidance, her husband dismissed the momentary quest into his own psyche, and handed a world class daiquiri to Herman. The nephew accepted the drink with all due reverence, sensing the potential for destruction occasioned by its preparation.

Ammaretti was ready to give up (once again) and leave, when another thought came to her. "Don't forget the dinner tomorrow evening, Paul." When he only looked blank, she added, "It's formal, and you must look to be the epitome of the successful Greek Tycoon! This is a time to show off. I want everyone blown away with our presence!" She failed to add that Herman's presence was an insufficient excuse to avoid the commitment, although both men fully understood this to be an unstated directive.

Paul continued to look blank, until Ammaretti's face began to flush. Whereupon Paul, with absolutely no enthusiasm, shook his head as if he understood. Then he took a savoring sip of his frozen daiquiri, effectively ignoring his wife. Ammaretti simmered for just a moment, before stalking off.

"Nice to see you again," Herman called to her departing figure.

Ammaretti made no response. But once out of earshot, her husband made his own simple comment. "Bitch!" With that he leaned against his desk, took another swig of his alcoholic master creation and began to talk man-to-man. "You were the smart one, Herm. You never married."

"Maybe," Herman replied, not totally convinced himself.

"Always specialize in bastard kids. That's the ticket. Like you did."

When Herman only smiled, as if appreciating the possible compliment, Paul continued, "How many bastards did you father anyway?"

"Five," Herman replied, self-consciously. "Five that I know of."

"Not sure they're yours?"

"Oh, I'm pretty sure they're mine. They have so many of my traits."

"All delinquents, huh?"

Herman tried to smile. "Something like that."

"You supporting 'em?"

"Yeah."

"Why?" Paul was genuinely curious. The idea seemed so implausible.

Herman shrugged his shoulders. "I suppose I figured their mothers would have a helluva time without a little help."

"You like women, don't you?" Paul recognized the condition in Herman, even if he didn't understand the reasoning behind his nephew's preferences.

"Yeah." Herman hesitated for just a moment, reflecting. "Problem is I like all women, all their intriguing characteristics. But I haven't yet run across one woman that covers all the bases for me."

Paul smiled. He had always liked Herman. No particular reason, other than perhaps the fact that Herman had never incurred his anger. Paul could carry a grudge to the ends of the earth and often did. But if you avoided contending with him, if you never put him down, however unintentionally, and if you acknowledged his status, one could get along quite well with him. Of course, you also had to be a man; Paul never actually considered women's feelings or motivations. From his viewpoint, it was simply not worth the trouble.

Paul took one last gulp of his drink, smiled contentedly and then returned to the bar. The surfers of Thera sighed a heavy sigh as Paul passed by the blender, set his glass down, and then returned to his chair. Herman finished his daiquiri -- as apparently required by local etiquette -- and waited for his uncle to initiate the next step.

The older man sat down and leaned back in his chair, keeping his eye on Herman. "What brings you around, Herm?" The tone was serious, with a hint of being threatening.

"Just a side trip," Herman offered, innocently. When Paul said nothing, he added, "Running one of Zak's errands. I figured I might drop by and say hello."

Paul was unconvinced. "You and Aaron up to something?"

Herman's surprise was enough to answer Paul. "Aaron!?"

"Received an e-mail from him, yesterday. A long e-mail!"

"What did he say?" Herman was obviously intrigued.

"Nothing. The guy is a master of profound pronouncements signifying absolutely nothing. On the other hand, it was clear that he wanted information. The problem is I haven't any idea what he's looking for." As an afterthought, he added, "And if I knew, I wouldn't tell him. I can't stand the little bastard!"

Herman smiled, thinking of Aaron's bumbling attempt to spy by long distance. At the same time, he calculated that the best strategy in one-on-one spying, at least in this case, might consist of being straight with Paul. If his uncle said anything, you could count on it being true -- even if there was a fair chance that he might say nothing. On this basis Herman decided to open up. "Tina and I think Zak is up to something. Maybe a major corporate restructuring. We thought you might have some ideas."

Paul sat for a moment, appreciating Herman's direct approach. Then he began to think aloud. "I'm not entirely sure. It might be. But we've pretty well completed the business between us. I'm not exactly on his inside information mailing list anymore."

Herman couldn't let that one go by. "What about Delbert Pine? I understand he's been making tracks between here and New York ."

"That's how Zak and I completed our business," Paul answered nonchalantly. But then his eyes squinted slightly. "How did you know Pine's been carrying messages for us?"

"He's been using Worldwide's corporate jet."

"Really! I didn't know that." Paul seemed genuinely surprised.

The answer perplexed Herman. "Didn't you notice when he landed here?"

Paul waved the idea off. "You can't land one of those big corporate jets on this island. The runway's way too short." When Herman seemed to gag slightly, Paul added, "Pine probably switched to an island-hopper in Athens ."

Herman managed to voice his dominating question, "Too short?"

"Way too short." Paul saw Herman's concern. "You didn't try it, did you?"

"Oh yeah," Herman replied as if it was nothing, suddenly realizing why the jet had ended up parked so close to the end of the runway.

Paul, meanwhile, roared with laughter. With a few expletives interspersed between wiping his eyes of the tears of laughter, he said, "Taking off should be quite a trick. I'll have to come out and watch that one!"

Herman groaned and decided that a diversion was better than relishing his next great adventure. "What about the Brotherhood? Would they know if anything was afoot?"

Paul's laughter slowly gave way to serious thought as he considered Herman's question. "Hard to say," he finally said.

"Is it possible that Zak might not have kept them informed?"

"That's always a possibility. Your father does tend to use people and then trash them once they're of no use. But then he does have some moral debts..."

"Why's that? I thought it was all business."

Paul stopped for a moment, thinking of the past. "There must have been fifty or more involved," Paul replied. Then he added with a smirk, "Some I might add, with severely limited depth perception, if you know what I mean. All of them helped your father at one point..."

"Helped him how?"

Paul looked at Herman for a moment. Then he smiled slightly. "You don't know much about the family history, do you?"

Herman looked perplexed, thinking he did. "I suppose..."

Paul laughed. "If you knew, you'd know what I'm talking about!" Then he leaned back again, remembering it all, collecting it in his mind. Herman instantly knew that he only had to wait in order to learn something. And he was right. Paul smiled slightly, everything more or less becoming organized in his mind. Or enough to get him started. "It all started with Androse Gilanos, your great, great, grandfather. He married some Greek babe, named Mehr. I can't remember her last name. Maybe, Gavrion. It was something like that."

Herman leaned back to take it all in. Paul was obviously of a mood to let it all hang out, dirty laundry and all. Herman had tapped the source, just right. He smiled as he watched his uncle intently.

"Androse was born here in the Cyclades , supposedly on the island of Melos , although I've never been sure of just where." For a moment, Paul waited to see if some form of divine intuition would give him the exact information. But it didn't. Instead, his mind kept wandering off to wonder why the Kikladhes -- the Greek version, which worse yet was written in Greek letters -- was called the Cyclades . Or why the Greeks allowed English speaking tourists to mispronounce the name. That wasn't like the Greeks he knew! Then divine intuition reared its head to tell him the reason for the Greeks' unusual hospitality was so that the rich American and English tourists would think the "Cyclades" sounded like "Cyclops", and this in turn would significantly increase the tourist trade by the simple expedient of suggesting (albeit not promising) the possibility of sighting a very unique creature of nature. Ah, these Greeks are such clever devils! Homer had gotten their nature down to a tee!

But then Paul decided that divine intuition was not what it was cracked up to be and dismissed the line of thought.

Herman, meanwhile, had remained quiet during the lull in conversation. Interrupting his uncle was not recommended and Herman knew that patience would always be rewarded.

"Then, after the Civil War, the American one, Androse took his bride to America to live and set up shop. Together..." Paul laughed suddenly, "Which I suppose is the only way you can do it -- they had three sons, Nikos, Paros , and Mikonus. God only knows where they came up with those names." Paul shook his head in stark wonderment.

"Apparently, my great granddaddy prospered. Of course, he carefully maintained close relationships with the family and friends back here in Greece . In fact, it was that connection that made him -- and them -- prosper. They developed an import-export business that wouldn't quit!" Then Paul smiled -- the kind of smile you don't want to see on a big man in a dark alley. "About that time, Androse died unexpectedly. I was never real sure just why."

Paul shrugged his shoulders and continued after a moment's thought -- and another vein attempt to obtain divine intuition on a question of his choosing. "So Nikos took over the business. Just a kid in his late twenties, but he had the moxy to pull it off."

"What about the other two brothers?" Herman immediately regretted his question, as Paul gave him a long, ambiguous look, conveying anything from the early stages of drug addiction to the intent to have an intruder boiled in Greek extra virgin olive oil.

Then Paul thought back. "The way I heard it, it was Nikos who was the only one interested in the business. Paros had already been staked by his father and had returned to Greece to get involved in the seafaring business. As a matter of fact, some of my holdings now derive from Paros '. He had a fair number of kids himself, but they were all a trifle short on brains. Ultimately, they eventually sold out everything and pretty much faded away.

"Mikonus, on the other hand, supposedly headed west, toward California . I can't imagine why he'd want to do that. But that's what they say he did."

[NOTE: Unbeknownst to Paul, Mikonus, the third son -- all third sons being somewhat radical -- had the poor taste to become an ecologist decades before such an avocation came into respectable or even recognizable prominence. He had migrated to the Rocky Mountain west and thereafter to a fate never clearly known by his family. He may have died in a tree spiking accident -- obviously, still way ahead of his time -- or may simply have been run out of town, state, and country by an extremely rare but effective joint venture between cattlemen and sheepherders. In any case, Mikonus never wrote home and told his family in detail what it was that had happened to him, ecologists not being known for maintaining traditional family ties. There is also the possibility that he had not known what was happening to him until it was too late to write. Maybe to even write a will.)]

Abruptly, Paul rose again and walked toward the bar. "And I don't know that I really care. It was Nikos that kept everything going. He's the only one who counts!" Paul then recalled his original train of thought and promptly forged ahead, leaning back against the bar. "Nikos had gotten married, just prior to his daddy's death, to a Galina Ayrion, another Greek girl. I suspect it was another political marriage and a means to keep the American Greeks thinking of themselves as Greek. The guys in the old country are always touchy about that sort of thing. I'd have to believe that's why he did it. Marriages ain't real important otherwise.

"It was about that time that the Brotherhood began to take shape. Nikos had the good sense to make influential friends. He was a ruthless bastard I hear but he knew which families to stay thick with. By the time his son, Kranius, the next heir apparent, had grown up, Nikos had six of the most important families tied to him. He married Kranius off to Ruth Tinos; fairly well consolidating that connection. The other families, he effectively controlled through their sons, all of whom worked directly for Nikos."

Herman sighed an appreciative sigh. "I never knew any of this."

Paul smiled, "Of yeah! It was quite a set up. Besides Kranius, there was Kar Spiros, Alfred Travers... your granddaddy. Creon Delos, Oscar Kneza... he's the one who married that heiress named Tersia and thereafter became a real force. And, of course, there was Aphros Ikaria." Paul laughed. "It was Aphros who brought Nikos down. Indirectly, anyway."

Herman smiled broadly, showing all manner of interest. For the moment he said nothing, in order to avoid interrupting the flow.

Paul was still laughing and feeling nostalgic, when he turned to the bar and began mixing another daiquiri. Even as his hands moved, he continued. "It seems Nikos had a tendency to stray from the marital fold." Paul smiled even broader, turning back to Herman for a quick, knowing wink. "Obviously, it was a family trait." Laughing to himself, he turned back toward the bar. "Well, this sort of thing might have been tolerated by most people, but some of the Americans took it as an insult for the head man to shack up with their wives. Hell, hereabouts it's a family honor for the head man to get your daughter pregnant. But not in the states. They're a strange lot!"

Paul was a bit strange himself but he seemed to easily add this characteristic to his list of insensibilities. When it came to women, the world was more like a soap opera to him. You get real involved with what's happening at the time, but it's easy enough to walk away when you've got better things to do. Only this soap opera was getting better all the time.

"Nikos was a pretty shrewd fellow, from what I've heard. But he really lost it when he started lusting after Diane, Aphros Ikaria's young wife. She was supposedly a gorgeous broad, but it wasn't the smartest thing Nikos ever did."

Herman suddenly felt a very strange feeling, as if privy to some information that he really didn't want to hear about. But he couldn't quite put his finger on it. Paul, of course, was totally insensitive to the developing possibility of Herman shitting small bricks. Instead, Paul turned on his blender and Herman instantly felt a major disturbance in the Force.

Coincidentally, a minor quake was felt in Southwestern Sulawesi Tenggara, just inland of the city of Kendari . The quake would have measured 4.7 on the Richter scale had anyone in Sulawesi cared anything about Richter or his scale. Instead, they noticed shaking ground, abruptly traumatized seas, and a great deal of animal activity in the mountains and forests. All in all they considered it a bad sign -- even if they didn't measure it.

Paul shut off his blender, just in time to prevent the development of a major tidal wave off the Sulawesian Coast , and forged ahead with other matters. "The next thing you know, Aphros gets involved in an accident which pretty well puts him out of commission. This leaves his poor, horny, young wife, without a man. Meanwhile, Aphros hangs on for nearly six months, unable to make love to his wife, and then eventually dies of his injuries. Nikos, of course, can't resist this opportunity, and preying on Diane's youth and inexperience, manages to bed her! Not surprisingly, he gets her pregnant!" Paul's insensitivity was quickly extended to failing to notice Herman shitting bricks. Even in the process of handing Herman another frozen daiquiri.

"The result was Diane ultimately had a baby girl named April, who was thought to be the daughter of Aphros, but who, in reality, was the child of Nikos!"

"You're kidding!" Herman pleaded, in something akin to shock -- or stunned cardiac arrest. When Paul looked at him, suddenly brought up short by the younger man's facial expression, Herman asked, "April Ikaria is my great grandfather's daughter!?"

"Yeah! Of course, he was a bit of an old fart when he got Diane pregnant -- he already had half-grown grandkids when April came along!" Then Paul noticed that Herman was really beginning to crash, and perhaps spill his frozen daiquiri -- an obvious sign of acute mental distress. "What's wrong with that? You know April?"

Herman stumbled with the words. "Yes... well... a bit more than that."

Paul laughed, guessing at the obvious. "Don't tell me you've laid her!"

Herman grinned sheepishly but determined to laugh it off. "Actually, I sort of got her pregnant." When Paul could only stare in bemused amazement, Herman added, "I've got a son by her."

Abruptly, Paul roared with laughter. The possibilities were hilarious. Then he verbalized the madness in full flower. "You got your great aunt pregnant!?"

Herman grimaced at the thought. "At the time I didn't know she was my great aunt! She doesn't exactly look like any kind of aunt."

Paul laughed, almost spilling his frozen daiquiri and thus indicating a serious possibility of his losing control. Then he asked, tears in his eyes, "Isn't she too old for you?"

"Are you kidding? That woman's never too old! Besides, she's only about fifteen years older than I am. Nikos must have done his deed when he was pretty well along."

"Oh, he did," Paul replied, still chuckling. Then he turned more serious, but still grinning. "And it was his downfall. It seemed that his son, Kranius, got wind of what was happening, fanned the flames by making it sound like Nikos was screwing all the wives as well as the daughters -- and the granddaughters -- and maybe a grandson or two; and then brought all the sons into an alliance against Nikos. They plotted against him by rigging the books and then completely sabotaging the old bastard! He even had Nikos' wife against him!"

Herman was glad to have switched the conversation away from his own embarrassment and the subject of April Ikaria. "And Kranius took over?"

"Naturally. Sons are always cutting their father's balls off and then taking over." Paul took the moment of profundity and used it for a careful sip of his frozen daiquiri. There was an aftershock in Sulawesi . Then Paul continued, "Kranius' mistake was that he didn't count on the Brotherhood not being too damn happy about all this. Worse yet, Kranius changed his bloody name to Gary Gilan. That really pissed off the Greeks. It was like serving notice that he was no longer Greek -- or bound by Greek rules."

Herman was amazed. "Because he changed his name?" It's not clear why he was amazed, inasmuch as an Americanization was always considered -- especially by Greeks and Europeans -- to be in bad taste. Of course, this rather crass act -- most everything American being considered crass by Europeans -- was extended even further by Kranius' changing the names of his four children to their Americanized versions: Ester, Harold (or Hal), Paul, and Zachary. Surely, this was the height of ugliness!

Paul, on the other hand, didn't agree. "Idiotic, ain't it!?" Paul shook his head, finding it hard to comprehend. "Of course, laying somebody else's wife had something to do with it as well. But then again, Kranius, or "Gary" as he started calling himself, was no saint. He ended up having an affair with some gal from Texas , who was all head up about Greece and Greeks, and now I've got a half-brother named Charles. Or rather Chirles. I guess that's what he calls himself now."

Herman was suddenly attentive. The name, "Chirles", had been mentioned in Nepal ; a relative of which Herman was only vaguely aware. "Who is this Chirles? I know he's an uncle, or a quarter uncle or whatever; but I really don't know much about him."

Paul almost ignored Herman as he took another sip of his frozen daiquiri before answering, "I only know Kranius fathered him." Musing, he continued, "Some guys are always fathering kids who end up screwing things up later.

Herman, however, was still intrigued by who the hell Chirles was. "But why did this Charles change his name?"

Paul hated questions for which he didn't know the answer. Chirles' name change came under that category. From Paul's viewpoint, there were several reasons why Chirles might had changed the spelling of his name. The most obvious was Chirles' status as an occasional fugitive. This particular answer failed, however, to account for two facts: The "incident" upon which the label of "fugitive" might have been based occurred on New Year's Eve of 1965, and Chirles had begun spelling his name with an "i" in July 1941 -- long before Chirles embarked upon his career of non-traditional activities.

An alternative reason for Chirles' affront to English grammar could have been that his family had a tradition of changing names and spelling such that Chirles was simply following a well worn path. However, this reason failed inasmuch as Chirles' attachment to his "family" was in itself questionable -- Chirles was a bastard, i.e., an illegitimate son.

The more likely reason -- one to which Chirles would be obviously loath to ever admit -- was that he wanted to create a sense of mystery about his person. With a unique name, Chirles could gather one's attention immediately and thereby control most encounters. Among his many talents, he was an advisor and teacher. Inasmuch as students and people needing advice are notoriously lacking in attention span, Chirles may very well have used his name to intrigue the unschooled and thereby command their attention.

The final answer, of course, was none of the above. Chirles had other reasons for his name, none of which he had been willing to share with anyone. It was this fact which nagged at Paul who had long sense considered the alternatives and quite rationally dismissed them. Accordingly, Paul returned to the subject of which he knew something.

"Who cares? Ask your Uncle Hal about Chirles," Paul said. Then he laughed. "Hal knows all about the guy. And then some." For a moment Herman was merely disappointed, but he knew better than to try to divert Paul again. With the momentary silence establishing his authority, Paul continued, gleefully, "Old Kranius didn't last too long, though. Your father, Zak, was already working on his demise. I think he was born, planning on doing in his father." Paul suddenly laughed out loud, thinking of how his brother had worked it. With that, he finished off his daiquiri with gusto, and smiled. The world awaited his next decision. Paul kept the world waiting in suspense. He kept talking.

"Zak pulled Hal and me into his planning early on. But then we had to bide our time. World War II had begun, and Kranius' fortunes were soaring while he sold armaments. His great success, moreover, intimidated the former Greeks from taking any action against him. It wouldn't be until 48 that we would take on the old man with the help of the Greeks and the Brotherhood.

"The intriguing part was the way Zak went about establishing himself with the Greeks. He spent a couple of years here right after the war, where he must have planted his seed in every available virgin, screwing the daughters of at least four different influential families and getting each of them thinking that he'd soon be marrying into their family. I mean, he was fathering kids right and left. He must have a dozen kids in these islands alone.

"Then he came back to the states and laid Kar Spiros' daughter, Denise. Spiros, of course, had helped Kranius in the first place, but had quickly decided later on that that had been a mistake. When Zak started showing some interest in Denise -- with her loving it -- old Spiros figured he was about to consummate a very advantageous, political marriage."

"Incredible!" Herman was truly amazed.

Suddenly Paul's demeanor turned sour. "Only Zak wasn't all that hot on Denise. She was a good looking woman, gorgeous hair! But Zak had other, bigger ideas. So the bastard convinced me that Denise was the best thing since sliced bread." When Herman only looked puzzled, Paul added, "He set it up so that I ended up in bed with Denise as well." Suddenly, Paul felt the need to defend himself. "But her kid, Perses, is Zak's; not mine! Make damn sure you understand that part. She was already pregnant when I got there! Still, it kept Kar Spiros on the team, thinking that his kid was going to marry one of us." Suddenly Paul laughed. "Boy was he wrong!"

Herman suddenly found the connection between Zak and Denise Spiros to be more than entertaining family history. It suggested another heir of Zak's, of which Herman had only previously been vaguely aware. This he would have to check on. "Whatever happened to Denise's daughter, Perses?" Quickly, Herman added, "Zak's daughter!"

Paul looked bored with the interruption, but replied anyway. "I think she ended up in some private, very exclusive mental institution, one of those nut houses specializing in mental diseases of the rich."

Herman gagged slightly. "A nut house!?"

"Probably a little child abuse there. It seems that your Uncle Hal took quite a fancy to Perses. I think it rather pushed her over the edge." Paul laughed slightly.

Herman stared for several moments. The Gilanos/Gilan family might be very wealthy and influential, but the skeletons in the closet were becoming a Chorus of misdeeds. There was not, apparently, a great deal of restraint among the male members. Herman wondered if this sort of thing was in his genes, decided that on the basis of his five illegitimate offspring that it probably was, and decided to let sleeping dogs lie -- if only to keep the secrets.

Paul continued to laugh to himself, until Herman's expression of amazement and stunned silence suggested a continuance of the story. "The problem was that Zak had other plans -- other than Denise that is. The real power in the alliances was with Oscar and Tersia Neese, and their daughter, Metese. Now that gal, we were all after. I mean, she was one powerful lady.

The problem was that she chose Zak -- instead of his choosing her -- and that pretty well clinched the deal." Paul smiled slightly, thinking intently. "Of course, Zak couldn't just lay her and be done with it. He had to legitimately marry her. Which he did. This gave him one powerful ally, who with the Greeks, effectively forced Kranius to couch up control. I think Zak also cut some deals with Creon Delos and Alfred Travers, your granddaddy, which eliminated any loose ends." Paul smiled again, pondering, "The incredible thing is that Zak had made all the inroads on Kranius by screwing every available daughter. It had been Nikos' downfall to go after one woman, albeit a wife, but Zak was using the same sort of thing to work to his advantage. Absolutely incredible! A whole new way of doing business, if you know what I mean."

Herman wasn't sure he did, but tried to shake his head as if in agreement.

His uncle smiled grimly. "Zak brought everything to bear on old Kranius, and threw the guy out on the neatest palace coup you've ever seen. September 1, 1948 ! I still remember the day. Kranius was totally blindsided. Zak had every legal, every politic, every avenue covered. The Gilanos Legacy passed on to the three sons, with Kranius just sitting there with his mouth open.

"Then we just split things up!" Suddenly Paul's demeanor turned sour again. Old memories and the remnants of current frustrations regained the upper hand and flooded over Paul in a succession of waves. He said nothing, but Herman could feel the cold surges of rage from his uncle. Herman was well aware of Paul's feeling of losing out on the sharing of the Gilanos Empire. Paul had done quite well -- only not well enough to satisfy him. And even if he and Zak had, in fact, "completed their business", it was unlikely that Paul's psyche had been fully appeased.

Abruptly, Herman realized the history lesson was over. Paul would have little else to say before Herman departed the next morning. In many respects, Herman could pick up the threads from there. He was already well aware that Zak had subsequently divorced Metese Neese, taking their daughter, Tina, with him, and then marrying Lisa Delos, the daughter of Creon Delos, obviously as part of the deal Zak had made years earlier. It had been Lisa who had given birth to the twins, Tess and Aaron. Later, Zak had backtracked and made good with Kar Spiros by marrying his second daughter, Helen. That had been the longest lasting marriage but it too had floundered -- due in part to Zak having two other notable affairs and subsequent offspring, one of which was with Herman's mother, Myra Travers. It was the latter that gave Herman any claim to fame.

The visit over, Herman gingerly made his way out of Paul's study and eventually found the bedroom set aside for his use. Herman was willing to spend the night on the island, figuring he needed a good night's sleep. Traveling could be tiring.

*********

Perhaps it was spending the night under the same roof as a brooding Uncle Paul. Or the fact that the earth seemed a great deal less stable in the local environs. In any case, Herman found himself again in the midst of another vivid dream -- one sufficient to wake him in the middle of the night.

Sitting up in bed he rethought the dream, recalling himself walking with another man, someone with whom he felt a profound kinship but who was in some way less than Herman. They were wandering in what was laughingly called a "clear cut" -- a forest stripped of trees by logging companies, but often at a height of ten to twenty feet -- where the best part of the wood is located. In the dream the two of them struggled through dense undergrowth surrounding tall stumps, both sensing a devastated landscape -- a landscape which was dark and brooding.

Abruptly, they stumbled upon a trail and breathed a deep sigh of relief. The going would be easier now -- except, of course, for the fact that a few feet down the trail a hulking, loathing giant of a man was abusing a woman. Herman felt an immediate surge of chivalry, despite the fact the woman was really rather ugly -- thus eliminating any possibility of Herman's being adequately rewarded by the favors of a beautiful maiden. Nevertheless, in the dream he was ready to leap into the fray.

It was not clear why. Perhaps it was the remembrance of another dream when he had seen another, more beautiful maiden raped by his father; a time when Herman had done nothing but watch! Or it was simply a sense in him that it was time to stop the raping. In any case, his knee-jerk reaction had already cast the die -- he would have to defend the woman from the giant and for some unknown reason, without the aid of his friend.

Picturing himself as a knight in shining armor, he was able to provide a good account of himself, fighting the giant with a great sword which he unaccountably found in his grasp. But the giant refused to play fair and by some sort of magical trickery was able to disarm Herman and bring him down. With minimal fanfare, Herman found himself on his back with the giant's foot on his chest and a huge rusty ax about to fall on his head.

This would have been a good time for Herman to wake up in a sweat, but the woman cried out, "Hold, Gromar!" Which, inexplicably, the giant did. Then she turned to Herman, looking down upon him with a stern, no-nonsense approach. With great authority she said, "We are the servants of a great witch to whom your life is forfeit. You have failed before and escaped your fate. This you can no longer do. You can redeem your life now only if you agree to answer one great question. Otherwise, you will lose your head. Literally."

In true knightly fashion Herman's companion started to intervene, but somehow seemed himself constrained to be only an observer. Herman could only wonder why the man had not even bothered to show signs of life until his friend was on his back. Now it was obviously too late. Accordingly, seeing no other alternative and with destiny seeming to have a substantial hand in the proceedings, Herman agreed to the bargain.

As he regained his feet, the woman said, "You are to travel from this place and throughout the world, asking the question until you have found the answer. Then in one year and a day you are to return. If your answer is correct, your life will be spared. If the answer is inadequate, Gromar will remove your head from your body."

Herman swallowed slightly. "What is the question?"

"What is the thing that women most desire in this world?"

Which is what woke Herman up. Sitting in the bed, he decided that the dream had all the earmarks of a nightmare if only because the question was probably unanswerable. Herman had already spent over forty years trying to find the answer to that question and had long ago concluded it was not a question for which he would ever find an answer. He wasn't even sure the women knew.

Obviously it was time to escape Paul's environment. His brooding seemed to be affecting Herman's dreams.

The next morning, Paul was still in a lousy mood, even though the mood was slowly easing in its wrath. He was vaguely cordial to Herman and Herman wasted no time in leaving for his airplane and Act II of the Adventures of the Large Corporate Jet Landing and Taking Off from a Small Greek Island .

With Paul mulling about in his office/den, Herman took the black '62 Chevy back to his waiting jet. This might have been exciting in itself but was quickly enhanced by the cheering and wagering section of the security force. It seems the alleged guards, tower personnel, and house servants had all taken the opportunity to enjoy themselves in an impromptu lottery, betting on whether or not the jet would fall off into the rocks at the end of the runway, crash into the sea just beyond the rocks, or actually manage to get airborne. The longest odds were on getting airborne, but one could hope that the reason for this sorry state of affairs was that everyone really wanted to see the spectacle of a major crash.

The pilots, meanwhile -- not being part of the wagering -- had determined on a solitary goal of actually getting airborne. To accomplish this feat, they positioned the corporate jet, with its required excessively long takeoff distance, facing into the wind with its wheels a scant foot from one end of the runway, its tail and the portion of the cabin with Herman in it, hanging over the end of the runway and the rocks and crashing sea below. There they revved up the jet's engines to maximum before releasing the brakes. They used the entire runway, the tires literally leaving the ground at the very last moment. The jet dropped slightly in altitude as the last wheel left terra firma. Then with the pilot quickly retracting the landing gear, the jet disturbed the moss on the rocks below, scared a few flying fish to death, and slowly gained altitude.

And just in time. As Herman's jet became airborne, Paul decided to ease his pain with a frozen daiquiri and the local surfers of Thera were able to take advantage of a mini- tidal wave caused by the earth moving nearby in a quake rated at 5.1 on the Richter scale.

 

Chapter Eight A Woman Scorned

Forward to:

Chapter Ten Forging Ahead

 

 

               

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