W hen an arsonist threatens an important Coast Guard station on a Greek island, the FBI agent stationed in Athens arrives to investigate, finds himself immersed in a community rife with conflict, falls in love with his chief suspect, and has only seconds to spare to save the village after miscalculating the arsonist’s plan of attack.
Nothing had prepared Nick for the sheer beauty of the village perched above the purpling sea. The last rays of sunset licked Vourvoulos’ lofty castle walls. A necklace of red-tiled roofs clung to the cliffs below. He pulled the small car off the road and grabbed his binoculars.
His socks collected burrs as he trudged through the dried weeds to stand as close to the cliff ’s edge as he dared in the gusting wind. On the sea below, a fishing boat chugged toward the village’s small port. Through the binoculars, Nick slowly panned the houses that spilled down to the water’s edge. Exhausted from too many hours in economy class, he was glad to know that somewhere in that tangle of stone buildings was a bed with his name on it.
He shifted the binoculars to search past Vourvoulos’ headland for the black speck of an approaching raft. Nick didn’t expect to see one. The refugees usually arrived at dawn not sunset, and with winter approaching, the number coming had started to drop; though the traffickers, operating across the narrow channel in Turkey, would ensure that they didn’t stop altogether. Misery drove their business, and a few drowned refugees wouldn’t change that.
Nick was still looking for rafts when he smelled the smoke. The wind carried it to him. He panned the village again, looking for its source and saw nothing. Then he started along the cove-dotted shoreline. At first he mistook the flames for the sunset’s reflection off a pile of limestone rocks, but with a second look, he saw the wind pushing the fire quickly uphill in the dry brush. Thistles, bursting open, sent sparks into the tops of the tall trees overhanging a lone house.
In its yard, a dog, barking frantically, strained at its leash.
Nick sprinted back to his car.
Shirley tootled along the coastal road with her backseat filled with nine dead cats. They weren’t exactly dead, only dead-to-the-world under anesthesia from being fixed, as if removing sensitive body parts could be considered a fix. Shirley didn’t think so. A cat meowed weakly and she sped up, wanting her daughter, who came up with the idea of fixing them, to have the pleasure of uncaging the maligned animals when they came to. A second cat meowed, and Shirley accelerated more, her tires complaining as she took a curve too fast.
In the same instant, Nick shot back onto the road. In a squeal of brakes, they barely managed to avoid a collision.
“Oh heavens!” Shirley exclaimed when she saw in her rearview mirror that he’d come to a stop with his front tires perched on the cliff.
Moments later, he was on her tail, trying to pass on curves with no shoulders and a long drop to the sea. When they reached a short stretch of straight road, Shirley edged over. It was also where she habitually caught the first glimpse of her house, and that evening, she couldn’t see it for the billowing smoke. Forgetting Nick, who was already alongside her, she stomped on the accelerator, leaving him in the wrong lane approaching another curve. He hit the brakes hard, and burning rubber, swerved back behind her.
He was still swearing at the stupid woman when she bounced off the road to park alongside a pickup truck with a swirling blue light fixed to its roof. Nick skidded to a stop behind her.
Shirley scrambled from her small car as fast as her generous body would allow. “Apostolis!” she cried. “Dingo is up there!”
The fire chief was busy directing villagers who had shown up to fight the fire, some scrambling from cars with shovels, others carrying water tanks and barrels in the back of pickups. “Are you sure only Dingo is there?” Apostolis shouted back.
Nick sprinted past them, unbuttoning his shirt while clutching a water bottle. “Is Ringo the dog?”
“Dingo!” Shirley shouted after him. “His name is Dingo!”
Nick disappeared in the smoke. He stopped running only long enough to stand on his shirt and rip off a sleeve, and doused it with water before tying it over his nose and mouth. Again he charged uphill. Airborne sparks had set the tops of the tall trees ablaze, but the weedy fire on the ground wasn’t especially hot. He moved too quickly for the flames to do more than singe his cuffs. “Dingo!” he shouted. “Dingo! Dingo!”
The dog stirred.
He struggled to stand, shaking feebly.
He barked once and collapsed.
Nick found the unconscious dog, unfastened his leash and slung him around his neck. His legs were long and bony, and Nick grasped his ankles while using his foot to slide open the patio door. “Hello! Hello! Is anyone here?” he shouted, moving quickly through the house, checking all the rooms. He kicked in a locked door. “Einai kanena etho?” The house was remarkably smoke-free, and the dog, bouncing on Nick’s shoulders, soon recovered, but he didn’t want to let him loose for fear he would bolt back into danger.
When certain no one was trapped inside, he ran back out. Dingo, unhappy to be in the smoke again, bucked hard as Nick jogged downhill through the burning brush. A glowing ember landed on his forehead, but he couldn’t risk letting go of the dog to brush it off. Once back on the road, he gladly rolled the unhappy animal off his shoulders.
“Dingo!” Shirley cried as he leapt up to kiss her.
Nick, between coughs, told the fire chief, “Kopsete ta megala dendra na pesoun pros to meros mas.” Cut the big trees to fall toward us.
“Not Lukas’s beauties!” Shirley cried.
“If they fall this way,” he continued, “they will suffocate the fire on the ground. Then your men can get above the house and shoot water down on the flames. But you can’t wait.”
Apostolis did a split-second assessment of the situation and agreed. He shouted an order, and trucks hauling water took the scrubby hill on both sides of the endangered house.
Two cars pulled up.
Lydia jumped out of the first one. “Mum! Are you all right?”
“Of course I’m all right,” Shirley replied. “It’s your father I’m worried about.”
That was Lukas, who got out of the second car. The flames played on the old fisherman’s face still bronzed by years at sea.
“Lukas, you won’t believe what has to be done,” Shirley said. “You just won’t believe it!”
He asked the fire chief, “Can you save the house?”
“Only if we cut the trees.”
Lukas’s beauties. The four red eucalyptus trees he had planted, one for each of their daughters, cutting notches in them as the girls inched up, until they stopped growing taller though the trees never did. Eventually even their tallest notches towered over the house. Lukas clenched his jaw, tears welling in his eyes; and that was all the time he had to grieve for his beauties, or he’d be grieving for his home, too. “Do you have a spare chainsaw?”
“In the back of my truck,” Apostolis told him.
Lukas grabbed it and trudged up the hill.