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Now, in MEMORIES OF MIDNIGHT, the survivors meet to play one last time…
Shadowed by tragedy and burdened by amnesia, a beautiful woman desperately tries to return to reality. She is Catherine Douglas, destined to once again challenge the cruel, charismatic power of Constantin Demiris, the Greek shipping tycoon who murdered Catherine’s husband. Now, in the glittering capitals and carefree playgrounds of post-war Europe, Demiris sets his deadly sights on Catherine — and the single, treacherous secret whose shattering truth is known to her alone…
Sing me no songs of daylight, For the sun is the enemy of lovers Sing instead of shadows and darkness, And memories of midnight
“It must look like an accident. Can you arrange that?”
It was an insult. He could feel the anger rising in him. That was a question you asked some amateur you picked up from the streets. He was tempted to reply with sarcasm: Oh, yes, I think I can manage that. Would you prefer an accident indoors? I can arrange for her to break her neck falling down a flight of stairs. The dancer in Marseilles. Or she could get drunk and drown in her bath. The heiress in Gstaad. She could take an overdose of heroin. He had disposed of three that way. Or, she could fall asleep in bed with a lighted cigarette. The Swedish detective at L’Hôtel on the Left Bank in Paris. Or perhaps you would prefer something outdoors? I can arrange a traffic accident, a plane crash, or a disappearance at sea.
But he said none of those things, for in truth he was afraid of the man seated across from him. He had heard too many chilling stories about him, and he had reason to believe them.
So all he said was, “Yes, sir, I can arrange an accident. No one will ever know.” Even as he said the words, the thought struck him: He knows that I’ll know. He waited.
They were on the second floor of a building in the walled city of Kowloon that had been built in 1840 by a group of Chinese to protect themselves from the British barbarians. The walls had been torn down in the Second World War, but there were other walls that kept outsiders away: Gangs of cutthroats and drug addicts and rapists roaming through the rabbit warren of crooked, narrow streets and dark stairways leading into gloom. Tourists were warned to stay away, and not even the police would venture inside past Tung Tau Tsuen Street, on the outskirts. He could hear the street noises outside the window, and the shrill and raucous polyglot of languages that belonged to the residents of the walled city.
The man was studying him with cold, obsidian eyes. Finally, he spoke. “Very well. I will leave the method to you.”
“Yes, sir. Is the target here in Kowloon?”
“London. Her name is Catherine. Catherine Alexander.”
A limousine, followed by a second car with two armed bodyguards, drove the man to the Blue House on Lascar Row, in the Tsim Sha Tsui area. The Blue House was open to special patrons only. Heads of state visited there, and movie stars, and presidents of corporations. The management prided itself on discretion. Half a dozen years earlier, one of the young girls who worked there had discussed her customers with a newspaperman, and she was found the next morning in Aberdeen Harbor with her tongue cut out. Everything was for sale in the Blue House: virgins, boys, lesbians who satisfied themselves without the “jade stalks” of men, and animals. It was the only place he knew of where the tenth-century art of Ishinpo was still practiced. The Blue House was a cornucopia of forbidden pleasures.
The man had ordered the twins this time. They were an exquisitely matched pair with beautiful features, incredible bodies, and no inhibitions. He remembered the last time he had been there…the metal stool with no bottom and their soft caressing tongues and fingers, and the tub filled with fragrant warm water that overflowed onto the tiled floor and their hot mouths plundering his body. He felt the beginning of an erection.
“We’re here, sir.”
Three hours later, when he had finished with them, sated and content, the man ordered the limousine to head for Mody Road. He looked out the window of the limousine at the sparkling lights of the city that never slept. The Chinese had named it Gau-lung—nine dragons—and he imagined them lurking in the mountains above the city, ready to come down and destroy the weak and the unwary. He was neither.
They reached Mody Road.
The Taoist priest waiting for him looked like a figure from an ancient parchment, with a classic faded Oriental robe and a long, wispy white beard.
“Gei do chin?”
The priest closed his eyes in a silent prayer and began to shake the chim, the wooden cup filled with numbered prayer sticks. A stick fell out and the shaking ceased. In the silence, the Taoist priest consulted his chart and turned to his visitor. He spoke in halting English. “The gods say you will soon be rid of dangerous enemy.”
The man felt a pleasant jolt of surprise. He was too intelligent not to realize that the ancient art of chim was merely a superstition. And he was too intelligent to ignore it. Besides, there was another good-luck omen. Today was Agios Constantinous Day, his birthday.
“The gods have blessed you with good fung shui.”
Five minutes later, he was in the limousine, on his way to Kai Tak, the Hong Kong airport, where his private plane was waiting to take him back to Athens.
loannina, Greece—July 1948
She woke up screaming every night and it was always the same dream. She was in the middle of a lake in a fierce storm and a man and a woman were forcing her head under the icy waters, drowning her. She awakened each time panicky, gasping for breath, soaked with perspiration.
She had no idea who she was and she had no memory of the past. She spoke English—but she did not know what country she was from or how she had come to be in Greece, in the small Carmelite convent that sheltered her.
As time went by, there were tantalizing flashes of memory, glimpses of vague, ephemeral images that came and went too quickly for her to grasp them, to hold them and examine them. They came at unexpected moments, catching her off guard and filling her with confusion.
In the beginning, she had asked questions. The Carmelite nuns were kind and understanding, but theirs was an order of silence, and the only one permitted to speak was Sister Theresa, the elderly and frail Mother Superior.
“Do you know who I am?”
“No, my child,” Sister Theresa said.
“How did I get to this place?”
“At the foot of these mountains is a village called Ioannina. You were in a small boat in the lake during a storm last year. The boat sank, but by the grace of God, two of our sisters saw you and rescued you. They brought you here.”
“But…where did I come from before that?”
“I’m sorry, child. I do not know.”
She could not be satisfied with that. “Hasn’t anyone inquired about me? Hasn’t anyone tried to find me?”
Sister Theresa shook her head. “No one.”
She wanted to scream with frustration. She tried again. “The newspapers…they must have had a story about my being missing.”
“As you know, we are permitted no communication with the outside world. We must accept God’s will, child. We must thank Him for all His mercies. You are alive.”
And that was as far as she was able to get. In the beginning, she had been too ill to be concerned about herself, but slowly, as the months went by, she had regained her strength and her health.
When she was strong enough to move about, she spent her days tending the colorful gardens in the grounds of the convent, in the incandescent light that bathed Greece in a celestial glow, with the soft winds carrying the pungent aroma of lemons and vines.
The atmosphere was serene and calm, and yet she could find no peace. I’m lost, she thought, and no one cares. Why? Have I done something evil? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?
The images continued to come, unbidden. One morning she awakened suddenly with a vision of herself in a room with a naked man undressing her. Was it a dream? Or was it something that had happened in her past? Who was the man? Was it someone she had married? Did she have a husband? She wore no wedding ring. In fact, she had no possessions other than the black Order of the Carmelite habit that Sister Theresa had given her and a pin, a small golden bird with ruby eyes and outstretched wings.
She was anonymous, a stranger living among strangers. There was no one to help her, no psychiatrist to tell her that her mind had been so traumatized, it could stay sane only by shutting out the terrible past.
And the images kept coming, faster and faster. It was as though her mind had suddenly turned into a giant jigsaw puzzle, with odd pieces tumbling into place. But the pieces made no sense. She had a vision of a huge studio filled with men in army uniform. They seemed to be making a motion picture. Was I an actress? No, she seemed to be in charge. But in charge of what?
A soldier handed her a bouquet of flowers. You’ll have to pay for these yourself, he laughed.
Two nights later, she had a dream about the same man. She was saying good-bye to him at the airport, and she woke up sobbing because she was losing him.
There was no more peace for her after that. These were not mere dreams. They were pieces of her life, her past. I must find out who I was. Who I am.
And unexpectedly, in the middle of the night, without warning, a name was dredged up out of her subconscious. Catherine. My name is Catherine Alexander.
The empire of Constantin Demiris could not be located on any map, yet he was the ruler of a fiefdom larger and more powerful than many countries. He was one of the two or three wealthiest men in the world and his influence was incalculable. He had no title or official position, but he regularly bought and sold prime ministers, cardinals, ambassadors, and kings. Demiris’s tentacles were everywhere, woven through the woof and warp of dozens of countries. He was a charismatic man, with a brilliantly incisive mind, physically striking, well above medium height, with a barrel chest and broad shoulders. His complexion was swarthy and he had a strong Greek nose and olive-black eyes. He had the face of a hawk, a predator. When he chose to take the trouble, Demiris could be extremely charming. He spoke eight languages and was a noted raconteur. He had one of the most important art collections in the world, a fleet of private planes, and a dozen apartments, châteaus, and villas scattered around the globe. He was a connoisseur of beauty, and he found beautiful women irresistible. He had the reputation of being a powerful lover, and his romantic escapades were as colorful as his financial adventures.
Constantin Demiris prided himself on being a patriot—the blue-and-white Greek flag was always on display at his villa in Kolonaki and on Psara, his private island—but he paid no taxes. He did not feel obliged to conform to the rules that applied to ordinary men. In his veins ran ichor—the blood of the gods.
Nearly every person Demiris met wanted something from him: financing for a business project; a donation to a charity; or simply the power that his friendship could bestow. Demiris enjoyed the challenge of figuring out what it was that people were really after, for it was rarely what it appeared to be. His analytical mind was skeptical of surface truth, and as a consequence he believed nothing he was told and trusted no one. His motto was “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” The reporters who chronicled his life were permitted to see only his geniality and charm, the sophisticated, urbane man of the world. They had no reason to suspect that beneath the amiable façade was a killer, a gutter fighter whose instinct was to go for the jugular vein.
He was an unforgiving man who never forgot a slight. To the ancient Greeks the word dikaiosini, justice, was often synonymous with ekdikisis, vengeance, and Demiris was obsessed with both. He remembered every affront he had ever suffered, and those who were unlucky enough to incur his enmity were paid back a hundredfold. They were never aware of it, for Demiris’s mathematical mind made a game of exacting retribution, patiently working out elaborate traps and spinning complex webs that finally caught and destroyed his enemies.
He enjoyed the hours he spent devising pitfalls for his adversaries. He would study his victims carefully, analyzing their personalities, assessing their strengths and their weaknesses.
At a dinner party one evening, Demiris had overheard a motion-picture producer refer to him as “that oily Greek.” Demiris bided his time. Two years later, the producer signed a glamorous internationally known actress to star in his new big-budget production in which he put in his own money. Demiris waited until the picture was half finished, and then charmed the leading lady into walking out on it and joining him on his yacht.
“It will be a honeymoon,” Demiris told her.
She got the honeymoon but not the wedding. The movie finally had to shut down and the producer went bankrupt.
There were a few players in Demiris’s game with whom he had not yet evened the score, but he was in no hurry. He enjoyed the anticipation, the planning, and the execution. These days he made no enemies, for no man could afford to be his enemy, so his quarry was limited to those who had crossed his path in the past.
But Constantin Demiris’s sense of dikaiosini was double-edged. Just as he never forgave an injury, neither did he forget a favor. A poor fisherman who had given the young boy shelter found himself the owner of a fishing fleet. A prostitute who had fed and clothed the young man when he was too poor to pay her mysteriously inherited an apartment building, without any idea of who her benefactor was.
Demiris had started life as the son of a stevedore in Piraeus. He had fourteen brothers and sisters and there was never enough food on the table.
From the very beginning, Constantin Demiris showed an uncanny gift for business. He earned extra money doing odd jobs after school, and at sixteen he had saved enough money to open a food stand on the docks with an older partner. The business flourished and the partner cheated Demiris out of his half. It took Demiris ten years to destroy the man. The young boy was burning with a fierce ambition. He would lie awake at night, his eyes bright in the darkness. I’m going to be rich. I’m going to be famous. Someday everyone will know my name. It was the only lullaby that could put him to sleep. He had no idea how it was going to happen. He knew only that it would.
On Demiris’s seventeenth birthday, he came across an article about the oil fields in Saudi Arabia, and it was as though a magic door to the future had suddenly opened for him.
He went to his father. “I’m going to Saudi Arabia. I’m going to work in the oil fields.”
“Too-sou! What do you know about oil fields?”
“Nothing, father. I’m going to learn.”
One month later, Constantin Demiris was on his way.
It was company policy for the overseas employees of the Trans-Continental Oil Corporation to sign a two-year employment contract, but Demiris felt no qualms about it. He planned to stay in Saudi Arabia for as long as it took him to make his fortune. He had envisioned a wonderful Arabian nights adventure, a glamorous, mysterious land with exotic-looking women, and black gold gushing up out of the ground. The reality was a shock.
On an early morning in summer, Demiris arrived at Fadili, a dreary camp in the middle of the desert consisting of an ugly stone building surrounded by barastis, small brushwood huts. There were a thousand lower-bracket workers there, mostly Saudis. The women who trudged through the dusty, unpaved streets were heavily veiled.
Demiris entered the building where J. J. Mclntyre, the personnel manager, had his office.
Mclntyre looked up as the young man came in. “So. The home office hired you, eh?”
“Ever work the oil fields before, son?”
For an instant, Demiris was tempted to lie. “No, sir.”
Mclntyre grinned. “You’re going to love it here. You’re a million miles from nowhere, bad food, no women that you can touch without getting your balls chopped off, and not a goddamned thing to do at night. But the pay is good, right?”
“I’m here to learn,” Demiris said earnestly.
“Yeah? Then I’ll tell you what you better learn fast.
You’re in Moslem country now. That means no alcohol. Anyone caught stealing gets his right hand cut off. Second time, left hand. The third time, you lose a foot. If you kill anyone you’re beheaded.”
“I’m not planning to kill anyone.”
“Wait,” McIntyre grunted. “You just got here.”
The compound was a Tower of Babel, people from a dozen different countries all speaking their native languages. Demiris had a good ear and picked up languages quickly. The men were there to make roads in the middle of an inhospitable desert, construct housing, install electrical equipment, put in telephone communications, build workshops, arrange food and water supplies, design a drainage system, administer medical attention, and, it seemed to young Demiris, do a hundred other tasks. They were working in temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, suffering from flies, mosquitoes, dust, fever, and dysentery. Even in the desert there was a social hierarchy. At the top were the men engaged in locating oil, and below, the construction workers, called “stiffs,” and the clerks, known as “shiny pants.”
Nearly all the men involved in the actual drilling—the geologists, surveyors, engineers, and oil chemists—were Americans, for the new rotary drill had been invented in the United States and the Americans were more familiar with its operation. The young man went out of his way to make friends with them.
Constantin Demiris spent as much time as he could around the drillers and he never stopped asking questions. He stored away the information, absorbing it the way the hot sands soaked up water. He noticed that two different methods of drilling were being used.
He approached one of the drillers working near a giant 130-foot derrick. “I was wondering why there are two different kinds of drilling going on.”
The driller explained. “Well, son, one’s cable tool and one’s rotary. We’re going more to rotary now. They start out exactly the same.”
“Yeah. For either one you have to erect a derrick like this one to hoist up the pieces of equipment that have to be lowered into the well.” He looked at the eager face of the young man. “I’ll bet you have no idea why they call it a derrick.”
“That was the name of a famous hangman in the seventeenth century.” 1 see.
“Cable-tool drilling goes way back. Hundreds of years ago, the Chinese used to dig water wells that way. They punched a hole into the earth by lifting and dropping a heavy cutting tool hung from a cable. But today about eighty-five percent of all wells are drilled by the rotary method.” He turned to go back to his drilling.
“Excuse me. How does the rotary method work?”
The man stopped. “Well, instead of slammin’ a hole in the earth, you just bore one. You see here? In the middle of the derrick floor is a steel turntable that’s rotated by machinery. This rotary table grips and turns a pipe that extends downward through it. There’s a bit fastened to the lower end of the pipe.”
“It seems simple, doesn’t it?”
“It’s more complicated than it looks. You have to have a way to excavate the loosened material as you drill. You have to prevent the walls from caving in and you have to seal off the water and gas from the well.”
“With all that drilling, doesn’t the rotary drill ever get dull?”
“Sure. Then we have to pull out the whole damned drill string, screw a new bit to the bottom of the drill pipe, and lower the pipe back into the hole. Are you planning to be a driller?”
“No, sir. I’m planning to own oil wells.”
“Congratulations. Can I get back to work now?”
One morning, Demiris watched as a tool was lowered into the well, but instead of boring downward, he noticed that it cut small circular areas from the sides of the hole and brought up rocks.
“Excuse me. What’s the point of doing that?” Demiris asked.
The driller paused to mop his brow. “This is side-wall coring. We use these rocks for analysis, to see whether they’re oil-bearing.”
When things were going smoothly, Demiris would hear drillers cry out, “I’m turning to the right,” which meant they were making a hole. Demiris noticed that there were dozens of tiny holes drilled all over the field, with diameters as small as two or three inches.
“Excuse me. What are those for?” the young man asked.
“Those are prospect wells. They tell us what’s underneath. Saves the company a lot of time and money.”
It was all utterly fascinating to the young man and his questions were endless.
“Excuse me. How do you know where to drill?”
“We got a lot of geologists—pebble pups—who take measurements of the strata and study the cuttings from wells. Then the rope chokers…”
“Excuse me, what’s a rope choker?”
“A driller. When they…”
Constantin Demiris worked from early morning until sundown, hauling rigs through the burning desert, cleaning equipment, and driving trucks past the streamers of flame rising from the rocky peaks. The flames burned day and night, carrying off the poisonous gases.
J. J. McIntyre had told Demiris the truth. The food was bad, living conditions were horrible, and at night there was nothing to do. Worse, Demiris felt as though every pore in his body were filled with grains of sand. The desert was alive and there was no way to escape it. The sand filtered into the hut and through his clothes and into his body until he thought he would go crazy. And then it got worse.
The shamal struck. The sandstorms blew every day for a month, driven by a howling wind with an intensity strong enough to drive men mad.
Demiris stared out the door of his hut at the swirling sand. “Are we going out to work in that?”
“You’re fucking right, Charlie. This ain’t a health spa.”
Oil discoveries were being made all around them. There was a new find at Abu Hadriya and another at Qatif and at Harad, and the workers were kept busier than ever.
There were two new arrivals, an English geologist and his wife. Henry Potter was in his late sixties and his wife, Sybil, was in her early thirties. In any other setting, Sybil Potter would have been described as a plain-looking obese woman with a high, unpleasant voice. In Fadili, she was a raving beauty. Since Henry Potter was constantly away prospecting for new oil fields, his wife was left alone a great deal.
Young Demiris was assigned to help her move into their quarters and to assist her in getting settled.
“This is the most miserable place I’ve ever seen in my life,” Sybil Potter complained in her whining voice. “Henry’s always dragging me off to terrible places like this. I don’t know why I put up with it.”
“Your husband is doing a very important job,” Demiris assured her.
She eyed the attractive young man speculatively. “My husband isn’t doing all the jobs he should be doing. Do you know what I mean?”
Demiris knew exactly what she meant. “No, ma’am.”
“What’s your name?”
“Demiris, ma’am. Constantin Demiris.”
“What do your friends call you?”
“Well, Costa, I think you and I are going to become very good friends. We certainly have nothing in common with these wogs, have we?”
“You know. These foreign people.”
“I have to go back to work,” Demiris said.
Over the next few weeks, Sybil Potter constantly found excuses to send for the young man.
“Henry left again this morning,” she told him. “He’s off to do his silly drilling.” She added archly, “He should do more drilling at home.”
Demiris had no answer. The geologist was a very important man in the company hierarchy and Demiris had no intention of getting involved with Potter’s wife and jeopardizing his own job. He was not sure exactly how, but he knew without question that one way or another this job was going to be his passport to everything he dreamed of. Oil was the future and he was determined to be a part of it.
- On Sale
- Oct 1, 1991
- Page Count
- 416 pages
- Grand Central Publishing