“YIA SAS!” PETER RAISED his beer.
“‘Sas.” Josef clinked his ouzo shot against Peter’s bottle. His contorted fingers painstakingly spilled the traditional good luck drop onto the taverna’s packed earth floor. He tossed off the shot and smacked his glass on the plank table, lamplight and shadow etching the creases of his leathery face.
Peter twisted in his chair, looking for another round. An arm in a sling pushed through the curtained back doorway and the owner followed with a tray, casting a gloomy eye over the empty blue-painted tables in the whitewashed concrete cube of a room.
“Kyrie Mavroyenni.” Peter gestured at Josef’s glass. “Parakalo.”
The man moved heavily, setting the tray on the table and mopping up around Josef’s glass with the end of the apron straining across his belly. He grunted, awkwardly refilling the shot glass with his left hand.
The old man cackled and nudged the owner’s paunch with his elbow. “Wound of war, eh?” He winked at Peter. “They say Mavroyennis leapt like a goat as the roof came crashing down on him last night.” He jerked his chin toward the verandah, almost repaired. “They all moved quick enough to run from the Turks! And where do they hide tonight, eh? Home, with the women? Cowards.” He slapped his thigh, stirring a gust of body stink and dust, then tossed off another jibe, the local patter too fast for Peter—something about David somebody and his big wife, obscene gesture for a punchline.
“You love the sound of your own voice.” The owner sniffed, collecting glasses from an emptied table, oil lamps throwing his doubled shadow over the wall. He pulled wooden shutters closed over the two glassless rectangles in the quayside wall, shutting out a rising evening wind, shutting them in with a fitful Athens radio station crackling snippets of the international news hour.
“. . . unprecedented step of cancelling their legislative session . . . the quarantine . . . World Health Organization declaring states of emergency in. . . .”
Peter massaged the tense knots in his neck as Josef’s arthritic fingers fumbled the shot glass. The old sponge was at least a distraction. Peter could have gone for a stiff belt himself, but he was nursing his beer. Work tonight.
Maybe Her Holiness was right—there was a storm taste in the wind. The mercenary hydrofoil out there would have to head for cover, and the Demodakis boats were already snugged down. His trawler was built for rough seas, as long as it didn’t get too dicey. Weather patterns gone as crazy as everything else.
“‘Sas!” Josef was holding up the glass.
Peter dribbled his beer dregs over the floor in his own libation, and ordered himself an ouzo along with Josef’s refill. He tossed it back in a jolt of licorice fire. What the hell, maybe it really hadn’t happened that afternoon:
Blazing sun easing lower, wind rising, swirling dust up the trail. Peter’s talking to the boys at Supplies—maybe laying in some extra diesel isn’t a bad idea, after all.
Behind the corrugated-metal warehouse, the chopper’s perched on its landing pad, mechanics busy. The stretcher with the wounded soldier is still waiting for his trip to a mainland hospital.
Peter wanders over to see how he’s doing. The medic’s worried, scowling at the lowering sun and the rising wind pushing puffs of cloud. The Despoinis is off on a mercy mission to one of the villages, and she’ll be royally pissed the soldier’s not already on his way. They’ll have to swing wide to avoid the cindercone ash, more delay. Could Kyrie Mitchell help him check the bandages, the gel-pack? The Despoinis told him Mitchell had seen these cases before.
Peter blinks in surprise, then crouches by the stretcher. “Hey, Yanni. Doing okay?”
Drugged, he mumbles vaguely.
Peter remembers you have to keep the bandages moist, eye bathed with the gel pack. Yannis still has a chance, the ones that got corneal implants right away got their sight back. The others. . . . He can still see those blind, milky eyes, the tissues shriveling. Corneas won’t heal and regrow after the Dragon’s Breath.
Peter helps the medic move Yannis into the building out of the wind, and rigs a light. They lift the first bandage to squirt in more of the moistening gel. “Holy Christ!”
The center of the eye is still cloudy white. But around the rim of the iris, it’s come clear again, bright red new vessels growing, glowing against the brown iris. The goddamn cornea is spontaneously regenerating.
The medic just crosses himself and measures out the next dose of Saint Ariadne’s holy water. . . .
Peter ordered another shot from the taverna owner.
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