Whatever it was that prompted Lambert to strike up a conversation with a priest that evening, could only be described as fortuitous. A dull evening with clouds on the horizon and a non-functioning campsite restaurant, he was forced to explore the nearby village where he discovered a small and unexceptional café bar. It was hidden away, next to the village square.
It was also the village bakery and there were various cakes and pastries on display inside a glass-fronted cabinet, which also functioned as the shop counter. A few little tables were squeezed inside the shop for the colder winter months, and a number were outside under an awning waiting for the summer visitors to arrive. With no other choice in view, Lambert went inside and inspected the cakes and pastries on sale.
Pointing at some baklava and kataïfi in syrup, he ordered a cappuccino together with a glass ofTsipouro. The sleepy waitress nodded, yawned and then pointed to one of the nearby tin tables. As he waited he could hear her talking to someone on the phone. A car pulled up outside and the driver came into the shop. There then followed an animated conversation and a detailed discussion about the contents of the glass cabinet. After a while, the waitress removed various items from the cabinet which she put into a cardboard box and, finally, consigned it to a printed carrier bag. The till rang, some change was given, the customer left and the waitress immediately returned to her phone call.
After a further ten minutes had elapsed, the bored-looking waitress finally brought a tray over to Lambert’s table together with his bill; she then placed a plate of pastries on the table, coffee, the Tsipouro and a glass of water. Nothing was said. She then sat at one of the unoccupied tables, lit up a cigarette and turned up the volume of the TV set which was attached to the wall, high over the entrance door. It was eight o’clock at night and getting colder. In the distance it began to rumble with thunder.
The rain began to pitter-patter on the road outside and the cars made splashing noises as they went on past the café. The lights flickered in the shop and the TV set switched itself off. The air-conditioning unit, which was the only means of heating for the shop, also switched off. Finally, the electricity came back on and with the aid of various remote devices, the sleepy waitress managed to reactivate the air-conditioning and sat once more staring at the TV, smoking.
The shop door opened and in walked an orthodox priest. He was not a typical village priest with a black stovepipe hat, but was wearing a black bonnet. Dressed in a long, black cassock with an enormous gold cross dangling from his neck, he sported a long straggly beard. Relatively young in years, he appeared to be rather medieval in appearance, despite his holy orders.
‘Yassas,’ he said to the waitress and looking round the café, he finally noticed Lambert. ‘Kalispera,’ he said and then sat at a corner table next to the street, looking at the rain.
The waitress jumped to her feet, taking the priest’s order within seconds of his arrival and treating him with such deference that it was hardly credible to the English policeman. It made him marvel at the power of the Orthodox Church in Greece and to wonder if he had chosen the wrong vocation. Finally, the priest said something to Lambert in Greek, who replied in the only way he knew how.
‘I am sorry. I am English,’ he said, palms up with a sheepish grin. ‘That’s all right,’ said the priest. ‘I’m an Australian!’
The priest was a typically friendly Aussie and belying his austere religious appearance and uninvited, he came and sat opposite Lambert. Lambert casually offered him a Marlboro cigarette. ‘Thanks mate. I don’t mind if I do,’ he smiled.
The Reading policeman looked quizzically at his bearded companion. ‘What are you doing in these parts if you don’t mind my asking?’ The Australian priest was tall and well-built unlike other weedy priests Lambert had seen so far on his travels through Greece. ‘Are you the priest here in Xanthi?’
The priest looked at Lambert and smiled. ‘No thanks, I don’t think even I could find a good reason for staying in such a dead and alive hole. You can keep it!’
He took a long drag on his cigarette. ‘No. I am on my way to visit Mount Athos. I am due to stay there with the monks at the St Panteleimonos Monastery. In July they celebrate the life of Abbot Sophrony Sakharov, who was one of the more notable members of their Russian order. I only stopped off to visit a Greek friend of my old dad, who has not been very well. But me, I’m a full blooded Aussie, I’m afraid.’ He smiled in an easy-going way. ‘How about you; what are you doing in these parts?’
‘Actually, I’m an English policeman,’ he addressed the priest with a look of resignation. ‘Well, someone’s got to do it.’ He smiled and sipped his Tsipouro. ‘I work for Europol in The Hague. I’m here in Greece trying to track down a little girl who was abducted from Italy. By the way, my name is Mike.’ He shook the priest’s hand and the priest gave his name as Father Jacobus.
‘Streuth, not another bloody kidnapping?’ The Aussie priest shook his head in disbelief. ‘That makes me really sick, Mike. I really don’t know what the world is coming to at times. Who are these dreadful people?’
‘It all happened two years ago in Italy, Father. The Italians were a little careless with their investigations and let the true culprit slip through their fingers and escape to Greece. They accused the parents of unintentional manslaughter – which was ridiculous – and consequently found they couldn’t make a case of it, due to lack of evidence. That’s why Europol was engaged to help and why I’m here now chasing up some rather compelling clues.’
‘Where are you staying, Mike?’
‘I’ve got a mobile home down by the sea.’
“Too right. You sound like an Aussie! Smart move.’
Father Jacobus described how he was a Greek Orthodox deacon working for the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in Istanbul. Being a first generationAustralian of Greek origin he was able to fit in with the rigorous church standards expected of any Greek Orthodox priest.
‘So you see, Mike, Mount Athos is not too far for me to come, to go into retreat and get a bit of peace and quiet for a change. They are a noisy lot at the best of times in the Greek Orthodox Church and there are plenty of arguments and even fights.’ The thought of a bunch of priests knocking each other’s stovepipe hats off made Lambert laugh.
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