He never wondered about the purpose of life or how he turned out as he had. It all just sort of happened. He became a cop because he saw it as the surest way for a kid born into Greece's working class in the tumultuous early 1960s to make a living. He got lucky when, after the fall of the Military Junta in 1974, he joined the youth movement of a left-wing political party that came to power in 1981 and remembered to reward its loyal friends.
As he rose in rank, the more friends and money he made, the more power he amassed. He kept careful track of where the bodies were buried and possessed an uncanny instinct for digging up the ones he needed to achieve his purposes. An effort by the opposition party to paint him as corrupt failed when the prosecution's main witness died in a boating accident. An investigation into the witness's death faded away soon after he announced his decision to retire from the Hellenic Police force with the rank of colonel.
That's when he began to make truly big money, capitalizing on his contacts and former position as head of police for the South Aegean Region, home to Greece's most popular tourist islands for the rich and hard-partying globetrotting crowd.
Tonight, the Colonel was far away from all that glitz and glamour. He sat in a restaurant in a nondescript, middle-class eastern suburb of Athens, virtually equidistant from downtown Athens, its port town of Rafina, and Venizelos International airport.
"A convenient place for a meeting," said the one who'd arranged it.
The Colonel leaned back in his chair and yawned. The conversation had been as boring as the meal. Everything about the place was mediocre, from its tired, thirty-year-old decor to the hookers at the bar, and the ruddy-faced, pudgy man sitting across the table from him who had yet to say why their mutual business acquaintance thought they should meet.
"Am I keeping you awake, Colonel?"
Ruddy-face smiled. "How do you like my place?"
The Colonel leaned forward. It was long past time to get down to business. "If this is your joint, why don't you just tell me why you wanted to meet? You sure as hell don't need my services to run this operation."
"You're right, it's a dump." Ruddy-face paused. "But I have plans."
"What sort of plans?"
"I'm buying a club on the islands. It's going to be first-class in every way." He nodded toward the bar. "Including the girls."
"One you control."
"Control is a mighty big word."
Ruddy-face smiled. "Let's just say, I don't like the idea of getting involved in a business where my investment isn't secure."
"That's prudent of you."
"Can you help me?"
"If you're asking for security, the answer is yes."
"I'm talking about protection for all aspects of my business."
The Colonel shrugged. "It's all a matter of price. You tell me what you want, and I'll tell you what it will cost you."
"I hear you're pricey."
"You heard right. But I make sure things run smoothly."
"How do you do that?"
"I don't have competitors stirring things up, jockeying for business. I maintain order among the chaos."
"They might see things differently."
"If by they you mean competitors, there are no they on my island. I'm the only game in town."
"I get your point," said the man. "I'm sure we'll come to terms."
"If you want to open a club where I'm in business, I'm sure we will."
The Colonel declined an offer of coffee, and the two men agreed to talk again once ruddy-face had a better idea of what he might need from the Colonel.
He walked the Colonel to the front door, shook his hand, thanked him for coming, and wished him safe travels. "Kalo taxidhi."
But the Colonel only made it as far as the front door of his Mercedes.
© Jeffrey Siger