“It was so hard to imagine I might be smoking a cigar and relaxing with my thoughts?”
“We didn’t see you,” Jada said, obviously irritated with his truculence. “Not until we smelled your stinky cigar.”
Sully actually looked wounded. He brandished the smoldering cigar. “This is a Cuban. They’re harder to smuggle into the States than guns, drugs, or antiquities.”
“Oh, well, in that case, good job, Uncle Vic,” Jada said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
“We were worried about you, dumbass,” Drake said. “Or did you miss that part?”
Sully gave him a devious smile. “No, I got that. I just like to rile you guys up. You deserve it after interrupting what could’ve been a beautiful—Wait. Why were you so worried? Did something happen?”
Drake opened his mouth, then closed it again. He glanced at Jada.
“We’re not sure.”
“What do you mean, ‘not sure.’ Either something happened or it didn’t.”
“It might’ve,” Jada said. “We might’ve seen one of the hooded men from the labyrinth up in the village, on a roof.”
“I guess it’s pointless to ask if you noticed anything weird or saw anyone skulking around,” Drake said. “Your attention being otherwise occupied by the lovely Gwen.”
Sully grinned. “Smokin’ hot, right?”
Drake gave a nod of appreciation. “No argument.”
“Okay,” Sully said, turning to Jada. “So you maybe saw something and you maybe didn’t. We’ll stay vigilant—”
Jada shot him a dubious look.
“We’ll work on our vigilance. Get better with that,” Sully corrected. “But since none of us has had their throat cut tonight, can we talk about something that’s actually important?”
“Like?” Drake asked.
Sully stabbed his cigar out in an empty hotel water glass, then made a beeline for Drake’s duffel. He dug through it and pulled out the maps and journal Luka had squirreled away for Jada to discover in Egypt. He set the maps aside and started flipping through the pages again.
“Before I went out for a smoke, I had a little wine and took a closer look at the journal.”
“We’ve been through the whole thing,” Jada said.
Sully found his page, stroked the paper with a finger, holding it open, and nodded to her. “I know. But sometimes things like this don’t make sense until you’ve gotten new information. When you look back through it, it’s like you’ve got new glasses on, and you can see things you didn’t see before.”
“How much wine did you have?” Drake teased.
“Two glasses,” Sully said. “I opened a beer, but it tastes like crap.”
“Focus?” Jada prodded, hands on her hips. Drake would have thought it difficult to look stern with magenta bangs, but somehow she managed.
“Right.” Sully nodded. “So I found a book about Akrotiri in the little library in the hotel—it’s out in the living room—and I was reading about the excavation there. If there ever was an Atlantis, I understand why so many people believe this was it. Atlantis was supposed to be advanced, right? Well, Akrotiri was so far ahead of the rest of the world for its time, it’s amazing. They only unearthed one tiny tip of the town. More of it is there, and some is underwater. But what they found—we’re talking multistory buildings, neighborhoods, looms to weave textiles that they exported. They had hot and cold running water. Think about that. Four thousand years ago, before anyone else, hot and cold running water. Then the volcano erupted, and it was bye-bye Akrotiri.”
“This is all fascinating,” Drake said, “but—”
“Yeah, yeah,” Sully said, frowning. “I’m getting to it. The volcano wasn’t the only thing. They had a lot of earthquakes on Thera in those days, leading up to the big blow. But the earthquakes didn’t stop then. They’re not as frequent, but they still happen. There was a major one here in 1956—did a lot of damage to the modern village of Akrotiri, which is near the excavation but not right next door. The modern village had been built around a medieval fortress that stood at the top of a hill, but the earthquake in ’56 did a ton of damage, destroyed a lot of houses, and turned the fortress into unsafe ruins. They rebuilt the houses at the bottom of the hill, but the fortress has essentially been abandoned and off-limits for more than half a century.”
Sully smiled. “All interesting, right. But a hell of a lot more interesting when you consider this.”
He opened the journal to the page he’d marked with his finger. There were labyrinth designs and notes scribbled all over the two-page spread, so it took a moment before Drake noticed the sideways scrawl in the margins of the left-hand page.
“Quake of ’56,” Luka had written. “Under Goulas?”
“What the hell is ‘Goulas’?” Drake asked.
“I’m guessing the Greek name for this fortress you’re talking about,” Jada said.
Sully grinned. “Smart kid.” He beamed, almost as proud of her as he seemed of himself.
“Wow, look at that,” Drake said. “I didn’t think Victor Sullivan had ever done homework in his life.”
Sully flopped onto the bed, set the journal on his chest, and put his hands behind his head—the picture of relaxation.
“I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks,” he said.
“So we’re not going to Therasia tomorrow, I take it?” Jada asked. “Ian seemed so sure that the reference to Therasia on that jar meant that’s where the labyrinth must be. And you’ve gotta admit, there was logic to that.”
Drake went to the French doors and looked out at the moonlit water of the caldera. “There still is. But it’s been awhile. What’s called Therasia now is not the same as what was called Therasia then. We can’t know until we look, but if you think about Knossos and Crocodilopolis, the labyrinths there were not in the city or next to the temple; they were a short distance away. That fits with the location of the fortress.”
“Which would mean the labyrinth was underground,” Sully said. “Built right into the hill. That would’ve taken a hell of a long time.”
Drake ruminated on that a minute, then glanced at Jada.
“Your father thought it was under Goulas.”
Jada came up beside him, and together they stared out at the water for a moment. Then she smiled and turned to Sully.
“That’s good enough for me.”
The sun had started its leisurely crawl across the sky shortly after Drake hauled himself out of bed. Now the clock on the dashboard of their taxi ticked toward nine a.m. as the Greek cabbie steered around the potholes on the road to Akrotiri village.
The first sight of the village made Drake wonder if they somehow had ended up in the wrong place, but the taxi driver explained that the tourists who made the trip out to see the ruins didn’t bother to stop in the village and that that was just how the villagers liked it. The place reminded Drake of little American towns that had dried up and blown away when highways were built that took most of the traffic off the byways of earlier days.
Other than the single blue dome at the center, the rest of the village that sprawled around the base of the hill looked like a scattering of child’s blocks, painted white and left to fade in the sun. Rising in the middle of that ordinariness was the hill Sully had read about, and atop it the Goulas—the tower—and the fortress around it.
As the taxi wound its way through the narrow streets of the village, people paused to watch them pass, eyes narrowed with curiosity, some of their expressions not at all welcoming. People worked here, going about their lives with no interest in the more commercial concerns of the rest of the island. Driving through Akrotiri village, Drake felt as if they were slipping back in time.
The driver took them up the hill as far as he could manage, past the single blue-domed building, and then in toward the crumbled wall of the fortress, but there he had to leave them off. Drake paid him double his asking price and promised twice as much if he would retrieve them at five o’clock. He took the cab company’s phone number along with the driver’s promise and then watched the man drive off, raising a cloud of dust with his departure. He spotted several other, smaller clouds in the distance—vehicles on the road, either to the village or, more likely, to the dig site.
“You think he’ll come back?” Jada asked, standing beside him and watching the shrinking dust devil that indicated the retreating cab.
“We can hope.”
They had eight hours before the taxi driver returned—if he returned. Drake figured that gave them plenty of time to explore the ruins. If the labyrinth was there and there was a way in, they would find it. And if they came up empty-handed, he could always call and try to get the taxi driver to return sooner, though he worried that they could end up with a lot of walking ahead of them.
Drake unzipped his pack and took inventory, making sure he hadn’t forgotten anything vital: water, fruit, and cheese from the hotel, rope, flashlight, gun. They all carried the same essential supplies, but Drake hoped they wouldn’t be down there long enough to require the use of anything but the flashlights.
“Nice place,” Sully muttered, looking up at the fortress. “We should convert it into a bed-and-breakfast.”
“I feel like I’m in some Greek version of Dracula,” Jada said, gazing up at the fortress. “We’ve got the remains of a castle and the little village of people who stare at you as you go by. All we’re missing is a Greek Dracula.”
“That’d be just our luck,” Sully sighed, and started walking.
“Good thing there’s no such thing as vampires,” Jada replied, setting off after him.
Drake said nothing. He slipped his backpack on and started walking.
“Wait, there aren’t, right?” he heard Jada ask.
“Not that we’ve ever run across,” Sully admitted. “And we’ve seen some wild stuff. Sometimes stories are just stories. Vampires are absurd, anyway. They’re always better dressed than everyone else, right? But they’re up all night killing people and drinking blood, and half the time they live in graves and crypts or whatever. Yeah, these are not creatures well versed in the laundry arts. Stupid. Who believes that crap?”
Drake smiled. Laundry. He could always trust Sully to find the practical angle.
Jada and Sully caught up with him. Sully patted his pockets in search of a cigar but apparently had left his last one behind in the hotel. He’d managed to remember his gun but not a cigar. Drake almost suggested it might be his subconscious trying to make a statement about smoking but decided not to antagonize his friend. Don’t poke the bear, Sully had often said when Drake was younger. As rules went, it was a smart one.
They began by making a complete circuit of the fortress, following the perimeter and examining the places where the walls had crumbled. The medieval stone structure had begun to collapse like a sand castle in some places, eroded by entropy, but in others the walls remained standing strong. They found only a handful of places where crevices had formed in the exterior of the ruin, and none of them yielded evidence of anything beneath the structure.
In the most dangerous places, haphazard attempts had been made to block off entry. There were signs and in one place a piece of railing that looked new enough to be a recent effort, but if so the village or the island had run out of money before it could be completed. A twelve-foot stretch of metal railing with nothing on either side of it would do little to keep inquisitive visitors away. It slowed Drake and his friends not at all.
At the rear of the fortress they encountered a partially collapsed doorway. Wooden supports had been put in place to prevent more of the stone above the door from falling, and makeshift wooden doors had been put in place to block the entrance. Once upon a time, the wood might have been strong and new, but the arid weather and sea air had dried and weakened it. A chain looped through the door handles, but it took Drake three kicks to smash the doors open, one of the handles tearing right out of the wood.
And they were in.
“Now let’s see what we can find before the police show up,” Jada suggested.
Sully pushed the doors closed, then dragged a couple of heavy blocks of broken masonry over to keep them from swinging inward.
“Do they even have cops here?” he asked.
“Maybe not in the village, but on the island?” Jada said. “Yeah.”
“This is as remote as you can find on Santorini,” Drake said. “I’m guessing there aren’t a ton of cell phones. And no matter what weird looks we got on the way up here, they must see the occasional tourist checking this place out. They’re more likely to think we’re idiots than thieves or vandals or something.”
“So we’re relying on them thinking we’re just American fools?” Sully asked.
Drake shrugged. “Pretty much.”
“It’s probably a safe bet,” Sully agreed after thinking about it for a second. “But if we’re out here long enough, someone will get the police to check on us or come looking themselves.”
“Then stop talking and get to work,” Jada said, smiling.
Sully snapped off a salute. “Yes, ma’am.”
For more than an hour, they explored the courtyard and the rooms of the fortress. Some were completely shattered and full of debris, and Drake tried not to wonder what was beneath the rubble. If what they sought had been closed off by the earthquake, it would take a lot more than bare hands to uncover it.
Other rooms were well preserved but empty, dust on the floor a reminder of the unsteadiness of the whole structure. The wind off the Mediterranean gusted powerfully from time to time. When it whistled over the hill and through the cracks in the walls, it seemed to make the very foundations shiver.