In The Time Of The Junta

By J.S. Kierland


Will & Mavis

The Promises

Halfway up the hill Manolo stopped to look out at the raging sea and its flurry of whitecaps. The ferry to Italy was just edging from its berth, trying to swing northward through the Bay of Patras and into the Ionian Sea. Some of the fishing boats on the north side had tried to fight the windswept waves, but had either capsized or turned back.

Manolo looked down over the rise to where the Junta’s tanks were rolling into Georgiou Square. The rough rumble of their motors rose and faded in the brisk wind. A commander’s half-track had run into a t-shirt store on the corner, and a gaggle of young soldiers were trying to redirect the wayward vehicle back off the sidewalk.

The old fisherman shook his head at the morning’s confusion and continued his climb to the top of the hill. He hadn’t been up there in a long time and had to search for the narrow path that led to the Church’s back entrance. He found the path behind a hedge that had grown much thicker since he’d been there, opened the white door, and stepped into the old Church’s peaceful little courtyard where nothing seemed to have changed at all. An island woman, carrying a large basket of laundry on her head, stopped to ask if she could help him.

“Father Nikos,” he said.

“Do you have an appointment?”

“No, no, nothing like that,” he mumbled.

“I’ll show you,” she said, and began walking ahead of him so fast that he had trouble keeping up with her wide swaying hips and barefooted stride. She dropped the basket on a nearby bench and waved for him to follow her into the Church’s coolness. “I saw him a few minutes ago in the chancel,” she whispered, pointing in the direction of a dark wall. “Around that corner.”

“Thank you,” Manolo said, and waited until she left before he peeked into the flickering candlelight on the other side.

“Are you looking for someone?” a gruff voice shot out.

“I’m looking for Father Nikos,” he said.

“Of course you are,” came back through the darkness and than something grabbed him around the shoulders. “You even smell like the sea,” the priest laughed. “I hardly recognized you, Manolo. Where do you keep yourself?”

“In the sea,” the old man said, with a laugh.

“It must be ten years.”

“More,” he said. “Much more.”

“The last time I saw you was at Rhea’s funeral.”

“Twelve and a half years ago.”

“I can’t believe it. Nothing has changed...and yet everything is different.”

It had always bothered Manolo that his wife and Father Nikos looked so much alike. Nikos was her older brother and the similarities had always made Manolo uncomfortable. They looked like twins with their dark penetrating eyes, straight small nose, and that same electric smile and ability to make quick conversation. Even now, the priest reminded Manolo of his wife and how much he missed her. Many of the other fishermen had remarried, moved on with their lives, but Manolo never could. Nothing much changed for him, and unlike Father Nikos nothing seemed different at all.

“What does the best fisherman in Greece want with an old village priest anyway?” Father Nikos asked, and before Manolo could answer the smiling priest said, “Come, I’ll have the woman cook us some eggs. We’ll eat together. It’s been a long time. We’ll be like family again.”

“No, no,” Manolo said in a rush. “I have to go and look after my boat...this strong wind-“

“It’s always the boats with you fishermen, eh?”

“I know you’re busy,” Manolo said, “but-“

“Anything for my only brother-in-law,” the priest interrupted, and pulled Manolo into the thin strip of low sunlight that shot across the room where the door had been left partially opened by the island woman. “I’m so glad to see you, Manolo. Do you want to make confession?” he whispered, rubbing his flecked beard in an impatient way.

“No, no,” Manolo said in another rush. “I came about Alexander. My son. Your nephew.”

“You mean, Alex? I baptized him. Remember?”

“They’re taking him into the Army,” Manolo answered. “He’s supposed to leave today...this morning.”

“He’s been drafted,” Father Nikos shrugged. “Like all the rest.”

“I was hoping you could put in a word to the board. Make them reconsider, maybe even-“

“Be careful,” the priest said quickly, closing the door and pulling Manolo back into the candlelight. “You know what’s going on? They’ve moved the tanks into the square again. You could be arrested for even mentioning the board at a time like this. We could both be arrested.

Some crazy navy captain has refused to bring his battleship back from Italy. He’s asking sanctuary for himself, and his men. The Junta is in a panic, waiting to see what Italy will do. The whole world has suddenly taken notice of little Greece again. It’s a bad time to ask the Colonels and Generals for anything. Especially if the favor is getting my only nephew out of the Army.”

“But I need Alex to help me on the boat. I can’t-”

“Don’t you understand? They think everything is a plot against them, or that someone’s playing a trick on them. They torture you for things like that.” Manolo stared back at him. “You don’t believe me, eh? I’ve seen it. Right here in Patras. Who do you think they call when their torture victims need the last rites?” Manolo nodded his understanding. “Sometimes it takes me days to recover from what they do to people,” the priest said. “If you need someone on the boat than hire one of those young boys that hang around the port. I can even recommend a few.” He bent over to look into Manolo’s eyes. “Believe me, Alex will be a lot safer in the Army than here in Patras. If he’s in uniform he’s protected. Besides, we’re not going to war. Thank God we can’t afford luxuries like that anymore. Alex will just go into the army and grow up a little faster like the rest of them. It might even be a good thing. Go home, Manolo,” he said, with a wave of his hand.

The old fisherman didn’t move. “I have a bad feeling about this,” he said.

“That’s exactly what you should have. If the Junta’s tanks start rolling again we’ll all have bad feelings,” the priest went on, and began leading Manolo through the dim candlelight toward the door. “I want you to pray for Greece, Manolo. Pray harder than you’ve ever prayed before. I’m having my parishioners-”

“I don’t pray anymore,” Manolo said.

Father Nikos stopped halfway to the door. “You don’t pray? But you must pray. You need prayer for the soul.”

“I prayed night and day for my Rhea but she died.”

“You can’t blame Rhea’s death on-“

“She was all I had. So young...I don’t pray anymore,” he said, staring straight ahead.

“Do you know what you’re saying?”

“Why should I pray if I don’t believe?”

Father Nikos circled Manolo, trying to look into his eyes. “I’ve seen this before. A loved one dies and-“

“No, no,” the old man interrupted. “It’s not like that. Poseidon has come into my boat. He sails with me, protects me, and shows me the way home every night. I don’t have to pray. He’s right there with me!”

The priest stopped circling and leaned forward. “You’re in a Saint’s Church. Don’t blaspheme!” he hissed, grabbing Manolo’s arm. “You can’t turn your back on our one true God, or expect favors from the Junta. You’re asking for too much!” He stared down at the old man in his grasp and knew that in these cases he must be tolerant and bring the fallen back into the fold. He remembered this happening among the fishermen a few years before, just after the Junta’s coup, and he had handled it.

“Let me ask you something, Manolo,” he said quickly. “You say you actually talk to this pagan god of yours?” Manolo nodded. “And yet, you’re telling me that with all Poseidon’s powers, he could only tell you to come here and seek out a poor parish priest to help you?” Father Nikos was careful to ask the questions in a restrained, quiet voice. “Isn’t that why you’ve come?”

“Yes,” Manolo answered.

“Did you explain to your great god of the sea that the Junta does whatever it wants, whenever it wants? Maybe he doesn’t understand that the Junta runs things in Greece. Not the Church, not Zeus or Poseidon, or even our elected officials. After 2500 years, our great Greek democracy has once again disappeared. This time it’s 1973. Who knows when it’ll happen again? Colonels and Generals tell us what to do now. And they’re not Persians, Romans, Venetians, Franks, Turks, or even Germans. No, this time they’re Greeks just like us.”

“Poseidon knows all that,” Manolo muttered.

“Remember, our Lord said, “Rend unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, rend unto God that which is God’s.” Do you understand what that means?”

“I know what Jesus said. But what you’re saying is that the Junta is like Caesar and that they’ve taken my Alex because he belongs to them. I don’t think he belongs to them or anybody else. Alex is still a boy...and I’m his father. I’m the one that should take care of him until he’s a man...not the Junta.”

They stared at each other in the candle-lit shadows, and Father Nikos could see how stubborn his brother-in-law had become in the twelve years since his sister’s death. Manolo was a simple man that had fought fiercely against the Nazi occupation as a boy and now had to suffer through it all again. Only this time the oppressors were Greek, and spoke the same language he did. They had taken away the freedoms he had fought so hard to keep and were about to do something even worse, take his son from him.

Father Nikos also knew that the growing amount of empty pews he faced each Sunday at St. Andrew’s had turned into what he called, “a creeping plague of absence,” as if the Church were to blame for Greece’s situation. Their great democracy had been lost to a cluster of Colonels and Generals that had systematically turned the country into a dictatorship that put their young men into uniforms that didn’t quite fit. Anger was everywhere. He heard it in the streets, and in the confessionals. And if that wasn’t bad enough, there was this sudden paganism in their midst. If paganism was allowed to rear its serpent’s head it could devour them. He had to confront it immediately, and crush it in its shell.

“You’re talking nonsense,” he hissed at Manolo, in an angry whisper.

“No, Father. Poseidon has saved my life many times and my boat along with it.”

“That’s ridiculous. You’re the best fisherman in Patras. Everyone knows that. You don’t need pagan gods to save you from the sea.”

“Being the best just depends on what day it is.”

“Well, one of these days the Colonels and Generals will be gone and Greece will be ours again. Then you’ll see how prayers to the true God have been heard and answered,” he hissed, and pulled on his dark beard.

“All that doesn’t make any difference to me anymore,” Manolo told him. “I promised Poseidon I’d build him a monument if he kept his promise to get Alex out of the army. He told me to come see you about the matter first, and if you refused to do anything, than he’d “take care of it himself.” At first I didn’t know what that meant, but now I see that Alex has become a contest between you and if he willed and wanted it that way.”

The priest stepped back like he’d been slapped. “You’re praying to pagan gods, Manolo, setting them against the true God and his priests, and promising to build them monuments. It’s idolatry! You should be ashamed of yourself saying things like that at the tomb of our great St. Andrew!” Father Nikos yelled, and began waving his arms at the old man. “How dare you insult me like God’s sanctuary!”

“I didn’t mean to insult you.”

“You’re disrespectful and blasphemous! Get out!”

“It’s just the way it is,” Manolo told him.

The priest threw open the door and the morning light poured in and bounced off the silver cross that hung on his dark robe. Manolo stepped away from his swinging arms and curses, and stumbled back out into the little courtyard. The heavy Church door slammed behind him and he stumbled across the narrow path, away from the terrible sounds of Father Nikos yelling about the “blasphemy in his Church.”

The island woman, kneeling on the other side of the courtyard doing the wash, glanced at Manolo and started to say something, but stopped when he closed the white glossed door behind him and started down the hill in the gusting wind that rushed in off the sea.

The Friends

Alex packed his toothbrush, underwear, socks, comb, a razor, a half-empty can of shaving cream, and other basics listed on the short, concise instructions he’d been handed at graduation with his high school diploma. He noticed there was still some room left in the small Army bag they’d issued him so he forced in an extra white t-shirt. He heard Leonides footsteps on the stairs, left the small bag’s zipper undone, and opened the door for his friend who balanced a large draped package in his arms.

“Why did you bring that with you?” Alex asked.

“I didn’t want to leave it at my house,” he said. “It’ll be safer here.”

Alex sighed, took the package and set it on the table. “You’re early,” he said.

“I wanted to get out of the house before my mother came back from church. She’s been crying and praying ever since we got our notices.”

“That’s been over two weeks.”

“I know...but that’s all she does.”

“I thought maybe you couldn’t wait to get started.”

“Yeah, that to...but most of it was just getting away from her crying and my Father’s anti-government speeches. That’s why I thought the model would be safer over here.”

“Where’s your Army bag?”

“I left it downstairs at the front door.”

“My father told me to wait for him.”

“I hope he didn’t go fishing today. Lots of boats capsized just trying to get out of the bay.”

“He’s too smart for that,” Alex smiled.

“I thought you might have gone with him.”

“And miss the bus? No thanks. I don’t want any trouble with General Papadopoulus or the army.”

“They’ve rolled their tanks into the square again. Some navy Captain is refusing to come back with his ship and the unions in Athens are getting ready to go on strike. I heard it’s one of our best battleships, and it happened during the NATO maneuvers. When the war games were over, the Greek officers decided to stay in Italy.”

“They prefer linguine and clam sauce to spanakopita.”

“That’d be funny if it wasn’t so pathetic.”

“There might be trouble at the bus terminal. Maybe we should get going,” Alex said.

“Aren’t you sorry you didn’t join the Alkimos like some of those other clowns in our class. We’d be wearing black Junta uniforms and be welcomed at the terminal with open arms.”

“You would’ve made a good dog for the Alkimos,” Alex remarked with a laugh.

“All I know is the faster I get to wherever they’re sending me the faster I get back to Patras again,” Leonides said, and when he opened the front door Manolo was standing on the other side.

“Where are you running?” Manolo asked. “It’s early.”

“Papa,” Alex piped. “I’ve been worried about you. I just hoped you didn’t make a run for the traps today.”

“Only fools fight a god’s wind.”

“I told you he was smart,” Alex piped, and Leonides laughed in agreement.

“What’s this?” Manolo asked.

“It’s our school project. Lee wants to leave it here...if you don’t mind?”

“There are a lot of papers and drawings that go with it. I’ll bring those when they give me a furlough.”

Manolo smiled and lifted the loose wrapping. A precise model of the original Parthenon gleamed in the dim light from the window. Miniature doric columns, made to exact proportions, lined each side of the structure in optical precision. The boys had worked on it through their last year of school, and their report showed how the Parthenon could be reconstructed to its original glory after centuries of theft, war, destruction, and bad air had taken its crushing toll on the ancient structure. The old man beamed at the model’s perfection, and carefully lifted it to a safe place on a shelf near the table. “I’ll get a special light for it,” he said.

“That’s nice, Papa, but where have you been? It’s late and we have to go,” Alex insisted. The old man waved the back of his hand at him. “You didn’t go up to St. Andrew’s and bother Uncle Nikos, did you?” Manolo shook his head, but Alex could always tell when his father lied. “You’ll get Uncle Nikos in trouble with the Bishop and the Junta,” Alex said.

Manolo walked past him to the stove and poured what was left of the cold morning coffee. “Come, I’ll drive both of you in my truck,” he said.

“They’ve blocked off all the streets going into the square,” Leonides said. “That’s why we’re going early.”

Manolo smiled and sipped his cold coffee. “That’s all right,” he said. “We’ll walk.”

The Fear

The closer they got to Georgiou Square the more crowded the streets became. The morning trains from Athens had arrived and tourists were everywhere, carrying luggage, and rushing to catch the next ferry to Italy. A rumor had spread that the Junta would cut off ferry service because of the naval officers asking for asylum in Italy, and it had turned Patras into a confused chaos.

Alex led them down a street blocked by one of the Junta’s tanks. He waved his army bag at the soldier sitting at the top of the tank in hopes he’d recognize it. “What about the old man?” the soldier asked.

“He’s my father,” Alex shouted.

The young man laughed and waved them around the tank to the narrow alleyway on the other side.

“Huns,” Manolo muttered, and Alex pulled him closer.

“You’ll get us into trouble, Papa,” he said.

“And you’ll redo the Parthenon before I die, eh?”

“That’s a promise,” Leonides said. “We’ll get the money from the Germans and rename it the Manolo Parthenon.”

“Don’t joke with the gods,” Manolo said. “Make Athena angry and you’ll be in even deeper trouble.”

“Do you think she really cares whether we fix up her Parthenon or not?”

Manolo shook his head at the sarcastic young man. “She cares a lot more than you think,” he said, as they headed for an opening at the end of the alley where still another tank blocked their way.

The top of the tank was open but there was no one in sight. They crouched as low as they could to get through the opening between the tank and the building and heard a frightening, “Halt!” from above. A little girl in a floppy tank hat and goggles hung out of a second floor window and stared down at them. “Where do you think you’re going?” she squeaked.

“Where are the guards?” Alex asked.

“In the coffee shop,” the little girl shrugged.

“Don’t come down,” Leonides said. “We’ll find them.”

They moved past the tank and out into the square where several young soldiers sat on benches drinking coffee and arguing about the latest soccer game. Most of the crowd seemed to be at the other end of the square where entire families waited along the line of army busses that would take their sons to camps in various parts of the country.

A priest moved between the families, blessing the camouflaged busses with holy water, and Alex noticed his father’s hesitation. “What’s the matter, Papa,” he asked, but his father didn’t answer. Then he realized that the priest giving the blessings was his Uncle Nikos. His father had already stepped into the crowd to try and help the priest by motioning them to move back and make room for the blessings. Some of the boys waiting to leave came over to help him, and Father Nikos turned to see what the commotion was about. When he saw Manolo, he began yelling again, calling him “a pagan idolater,” “a danger to society and St. Andrew” and demanded his “immediate arrest.”

The crowd began to back away from the priest just as a sudden gust of wind whipped through the dusty square. The young boys seemed confused by the priest’s sudden anger and hesitated boarding the army busses. Other fishermen in the crowd, that had come to see their sons and grandsons leave, quickly surrounded Manolo and led him away from the railing priest who followed them halfway across the square, yelling at them like a madman in the howling wind.

Alex started after his father but Leonides grabbed his arm, and said, “We’ll miss the bus if you leave. Besides, the fishermen will get your father away before the soldiers can get it together and arrest him.” Alex watched as his Uncle ran after the men, his dark robes blowing around him, yelling at his father and the net of fishermen that had rushed him away. “Let’s get out of here,” Leonides said, and pulled Alex past the line of parked busses. The sudden gusting wind had sent the crowd scurrying toward the thick glass doors that led to the terminal. “An assignment desk has to be here somewhere,” Leonides shouted over the wind.

The Junta had loaded the streets with soldiers and tanks, and crowds of tourists were arriving and leaving at the same time. Alex pointed at a sign that came into view when a large commercial bus pulled away in a cloud of black fumes. They walked through its dark haze to a makeshift line of desks near the terminal’s entrance. A young Corporal at an end desk waved them forward and held his hand out for their papers. Alex handed him his ID but Leonides had to search for his. The Corporal matched Alex’s ID with his name on the list, and said, “Bus Nine.” He handed him a piece of plastic with a large number 9 scrawled on it and said, “Make sure you give this to the driver.” Then he looked over at Leonides, who had finally pulled out his ID.

“We’re together,” Leonides said.

The Corporal nodded, took his papers, and went back to the list. “Bus seven. Report immediately,” he said, handing him a plastic piece with the number 7 on it.

“Does bus nine go to the same place as seven?”

The Corporal gave him a bored stare. “Don’t ask questions. Just do as your told,” he ordered.

“But we’re together,” Leonides said. The Corporal stared back at him in silence and Alex edged his friend away from the desk. “All I wanted to know was whether our busses were going to the same place,” Leonides whined.

“He doesn’t know,” Alex said.

“Or care. Maybe we can find out from the drivers.”

“They don’t like it when you ask questions.”

“But I just asked if—“

“Alex,” a familiar voice called, and when they looked up Father Nikos was standing in front of them. “I’m glad I found you in all this confusion,” he said.

“I’ll see you later,” Leonides said, nodding at the priest, and heading for the line of busses.

“Your friend seems to be in a hurry to go nowhere.”

“He’s looking forward to the Army,” Alex said.

“But your not,” the priest smiled.

“I’d rather be doing something else.”

“I know. Your father came to see me this morning.”

“I told him not to bother you.”

“I’m glad you didn’t see what happened in the square a few minutes ago. I lost my head.” Alex smiled but didn’t mention that he’d seen everything. “Your father is driving me crazy,” Father Nikos said, “saying dumb things and building monuments to pagan gods. I was wondering if everything was all right between you two at home.”

“We get along fine,” Alex told him. “It’s just that now I have to go into the Army and he’ll be alone. It worries him. But someone has to protect Greece, eh?”

“You’re a funny boy,” the priest laughed. “Like your mother.” Than he leaned in closer, and said, “I arranged for you to be on bus nine. It’ll take you to the base near Salonika where things are not quite so hectic as they are in Athens or out on the islands. It’s further away but a lot safer, and the work is easier.”

Alex held up the piece of plastic with the number 9 scrawled on it. “Did my father ask you to do this?”

“No, no, he wanted much more,” the priest said, blessing himself. “I did the best I could. When you get your furlough I want you to come up to the Church and tell me if they’re treating you with respect.”

“I will, Uncle Nikos. I promise. And thanks for the favor,” he said, waving the plastic with number 9 on it.

“You’re all I have left,” the priest said with a smile, than muttered, “and you remind me so much of my sister and our family.” They hugged, and Father Nikos quickly turned to go before he started to cry.

Alex watched the flowing robe disappear into the crowd, than hurried out the other way. Bus seven had already left and he ran to bus nine further up the line. The driver smiled when he handed him the piece of plastic, and Alex took an empty seat near the front. The door closed in a sudden hiss and the bus began to roll.

The Storm

A swelling wave rushed into the marina, edged under Manolo’s boat, and smashed against the dock’s heavy wooden supports. Manolo pulled the boat’s bow ropes tighter, made a quick sailor’s knot between his fingers, looked up at the heavyset man on the pier, and yelled, “Tie it off on the pilings, Jason!” He watched the man loop the rope into position and jump back on board. “You do good work, Jason...good work,” he said.

The large man looked up into the darkening sky and shook his head. “This storm came out of nowhere and now it looks like it’s going back to the same place.”

“I know,” Manolo said, and quickly added, “Make sure you tell the others I’ll stay with their boats tonight.”

“Nobody’s asking you to do that,” Jason said.

“You have families to take care of...wives, daughters, and children.”

“We’ll set up a two man rotation like we always do.”

”I owe all of you for what happened this morning.”

“You don’t owe us anything. We have to stick together. Especially these days.”

“When the Junta took my Alex this morning they took everything I had. They left me nothing.”

“Your son will be fine, Manolo-“

“I’ll stay with the boats anyway.”

Jason held on to the grips along the cabin wall, moved in closer, and said, “We know about your promise to Poseidon.” Manolo looked up in surprise. “News like that travels fast in Patras. Especially when a priest tries to throw you in jail, and he just happens to be your brother-in-law,” he added with a laugh. “We know you’re crazy, Manolo, but do you really think Poseidon has set this storm on us just to punish some parish priest?”

“I never said that,” Manolo answered quickly.

“Maybe you did and maybe you didn’t, but that’s what everybody thinks you said, including Father Nikos. That’s why you’ve got him so damned frightened. I think he’s a bit crazy too, eh?”

“It runs in the family,” Manolo said, with a shrug.

“No, no, your son Alex isn’t crazy. He’s a bright boy and we love him,” Jason said. “You should be proud...not bitter like this. Alex will do great things one day.”

The whole town seemed to know what had happened at the Church that morning. The fishermen certainly knew and it was why they had rushed him away. But no matter what the Priest said and believed, Manolo knew it was Poseidon that stood next to him in the boat every time he went out to sea. He also knew that every fish he caught was a gift from the God of the one else. All the fishermen knew that. The priests knew it too, and that’s what really frightened them.

“This kind of thing should be left to the fishermen, Manolo, no one else,” Jason said. “The Junta and the priests will never understand what we do. We’re the ones that go out to sea everyday, not them. I know they run things, but we’re the ones that catch the fish. We’ll be here long after they’re gone,” Jason said, stepping back up on the dock. “Go home, Manolo. Poseidon’s storm is ending and the boats will be fine.”

The last edge of the day’s light began to break through the fast moving clouds, calming the sea like a mother whispering to a frightened child. When Manolo looked back Jason had gone and he was alone again.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” he said to himself, and remembered saying those same words to Father Nikos earlier that morning.

The Junta

Manolo had to keep relighting his old wooden pipe all night. In between puffs he sipped ozou from a half empty bottle that he had hidden under the bow. The heavy mist got thicker and turned the air cold and wet, and when dawn finally arrived its dim light barely filtered through a heavy fog. Manolo had gone still another night without sleep and he felt a little drunk from the ozou. His son had been right; he never should have gone to see Father Nikos. Now he was in trouble, and the fishermen wouldn’t be able to help him this time. The Junta was sure to send someone to arrest him, and hopefully they’d leave the rest of the fishermen alone.

Greek men weren’t supposed to be frightened, but he was. Even more frightened than when he was young and went on suicide missions to kill Nazi officers. He hadn’t slept on those nights either but felt even more frightened now.

At the end of the dock a lone car appeared in the fog. A tall figure got out and moved toward him in the dim glow of the car’s headlights that he had left on. The figure stopped to read the names on the boats, and Manolo sensed that the man was looking for him. He reached for the flare gun on the bench, and waited for the mysterious figure to come closer. “The Junta’s policeman,” he mumbled, waiting for him come up the dock through the mist.

Behind the figure, shadows and silhouettes began to move with him. Their long shadows flickered across the water as the lone figure got closer and closer until he was just above him, checking the name on his boat.

“It’s called, THE AEGEAN,” Manolo said, and his voice echoed in the fog.

“Are you Manolo Katselas?” the surprised young man asked, pulling a piece of paper from his inside pocket.

“There’s no one else out here,” Manolo said, hiding the flare gun behind his back.

The young man was wrapped in an oversized plastic raincoat, and the bright buttons on his army uniform glowed beneath it. He stared down at the piece of paper in his shaking hand, and announced, “I’ve been authorized by the general committee to notify you that your son, Alexander Katselas, was killed in a heavy wind and rainstorm just outside the city of Thebes on the 23rd of May, 1973. The army bus he was traveling in skidded on the wet pavement and crashed, killing him instantly. He will be accorded all military honors, and a full military service and burial.” The young soldier saluted Manolo and mechanically slipped the piece of paper back into his pocket.

The only thing Manolo heard out of the young man’s high-pitched voice was, “Alex,” and “killed.” The rest just fell around him in a confusion of broken sentences. He was certain this stranger had come to the wrong dock, the wrong boat, and to the wrong person. But deep down he knew that Poseidon had fulfilled his promise, and expected Manolo to do the same.

A sudden weakness came to his legs, and he had the feeling he was being dragged to the fishing chair at the back of the boat. The smell of after-shave stung his eyes and a gentle rain covered his face.

“Are you all right, sir?” repeated in his head, as the young man who had recited the fatal words took his pulse.

“Who are you?” Manolo mumbled

“Lieutenant Poulos,” the young man said.

“Are you sure you have the right boat?” Manolo asked.

“You are Manolo Katselas, aren’t you?” All he could do was nod and the lieutenant said, “You’re son was the only casualty in a terrible accident. He was a true Greek hero and we respect his death.”

“Who sent you to tell me this?” Manolo muttered.

“I’m just a messenger,” the young man said. “I went to your house and the fishermen told me you’d be out here. They seemed concerned and followed me. They’re waiting at the end of the dock.” Manolo nodded. “The army will pay for everything, sir,” the high-pitched voice went on. “And your son will receive full military honors and be buried wherever you long as his body remains in Greece.”

Everything seemed to blur. He wanted to get up but he couldn’t move. The messenger’s wet plastic raincoat had wrapped around him and he sensed a gentle rocking rhythm, and heard the plaintive sound of his own sobbing.