NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED…
When Jonah and Leyla Borden embark on their honeymoon to Greece, the last thing they expect is to find themselves running for their lives from Albanian mobsters. Even worse, Jonah can’t seem to find a good cup of coffee anywhere, and the language barrier makes his wisecracks fall even flatter than usual.
It all starts innocently enough, with a big tip to an undeserving waitress. Their kindness inadvertently draws them into a tragic situation involving a missing girl, and they are not aware of how they have been deceived, until it is too late.
Stranded without their passports, Jonah and Leyla don’t know who to trust. Borden must rely on his wits, his martial arts skills and a new friend of dubious reputation.
Featuring a cast of unique, memorable characters, including Jonah Borden, Superior Getaway is part of the Lake Superior Mystery series. This is the fourth, though none of the books have to be read in order.
I got into a fight with the priest on the first day of my honeymoon. Apparently, he worked at the convent that was up on top of the cliff near our hotel on the island of Corfu, Greece. Maybe, the fight was a sign of things to come, and we should have gone home right afterwards, but it was only the first day, and we both put it behind us pretty quickly. Except for that, and almost being killed by a Mafia Kingpin, it was the perfect honeymoon.
Corfu is a fabulous place for a vacation. The weather in spring is warm and mild, and each new vista seems filled with bright, blue water and scenic mountainsides. Around every corner is some quaint, Mediterranean-style alleyway with a cafe and a palm tree.
On that first morning, I woke up before Leyla, and lay looking at the bright light dancing on the white walls of our hotel room. It looked like the reflection of water. Leyla stirred beside me, and then sat up, giving me a long, sweet kiss. She leaned back.
“Good morning, Mr. Borden,” she said.
“Good morning, Mrs. Borden,” I replied. The wedding was only two weeks ago, and Leyla still liked me to call her that. I didn’t tell her it made me think of my mother. I looked at the reflections on the clean bare wall some more, while Leyla snuggled up against me. After a while I wasn’t thinking of my mother anymore.
“What are you thinking about?” she asked.
“I’ll give you three guesses.”
She thought for a moment, and then her face became carefully expressionless. “Oh.” She sat up a little bit, and her big dark eyes met mine.
“Only one guess,” I said. “You’re good.”
Afterwards, we showered and dressed and went out to our balcony. It was a small hotel, with maybe around forty rooms, and we were on the top floor, the fourth. We had arrived the night before after dark, and I was eager to see the view.
“Oh my,” said Leyla.
Directly in front of us, maybe fifty yards away across a road, was a tiny, picturesque half-moon bay, or cove. On both the left and right, hills soared up about two-hundred feet high, and enclosed the water between small cliffs. There were palm trees scattered in front of us, and a big pine just to our left. The right-hand hill was also covered in pine and cypress trees. Directly in front of us the land was flat, and there was a lovely looking beach. There was a narrow opening in the cliffs a few hundred yards out. The water was clear and clean and of a brilliant, bright blue hue. The land farther to the right was also flat, and a second beach lay just a few hundred yards farther in that direction.
“It’s just like Lake Superior,” I said.
Leyla turned to look at me.
“Except for the palm trees.”
Her gaze did not waver.
“And the Mediterranean architecture.”
I wasn’t free yet. “And the warmth.” I added. For some reason, I felt the need to elaborate. “It’s just like Lake Superior, except for everything but the water.”
If Leyla had not been so elegant, I might have described the sound she made as a snort.
“But do you really think it’s better than the Wild Turkey?” I asked.
“Better than a Reservation casino and hotel?”
“Don’t you think it might have been a little hard for the congregation to know that we were honeymooning at a casino just fifteen miles from Grand Lake?”
“True,” I said. “It would have put a cramp in the gambling habits of a number of people in our church. They would have been embarrassed to show up, if we had been there.”
“I am many things, my darling, but naïve about my congregation is not one of them. The Wild Turkey gets a lot of business from members of Harbor Lutheran.”
“Well, I guess it’s a good thing we came to Greece, then,” she said.
“I agree. It’s very beautiful. But the Wild Turkey Casino would have been a lot cheaper,” I said.
For some reason, she hit me.
Breakfast was on the ground floor in an airy room with a tiled floor, with doors that opened up onto a lovely patio. With the doors open, it felt like indoors and outdoors at the same time. You could help yourself to fresh-baked bread with various jams and jellies, boiled eggs, cold cuts, and olives.
“Olives for breakfast?” asked Leyla, wrinkling her nose.
“When in Greece,” I said, “we should do as the Greeks.”
“I don’t see any on your plate.”
I looked around. “More importantly, I don’t see any coffee.”
“Maybe they serve you the drinks.”
We sat down at a table on the patio that looked across the little road to the bay. It was about seventy degrees, and the sunny air was moist, salty, and fresh. It was already late in the morning, and there were large numbers of people on the beach, walking up and down the road, and visiting the stalls and shops and restaurants that were scattered all along the street.
A young woman came to our table. She had long, dark, straight hair with just a hint of red in it, pulled back in a ponytail, and startling blue eyes. She looked to be in her early twenties.
“Hello, my name is Talia,” she said with a bright smile. “May I get you something to drink?” Her English was accented, but very understandable.
“Coffee please,” said Leyla, and I nodded vigorously.
“How do you say ‘thank you,’ in Greek?” I asked.
“I am not from Greece,” said Talia. “I am El Bunion.”
I looked at her, and then at Leyla. “I’m sorry, did you just say you were – ”
“Albanian?” cut in Leyla. “How lovely.” She gave me a severe look.
“Yes. Albania is very close,” said Talia, waving her hand. “Just a few kilometers across the water.”
There was a kind of sweetness about her. It was like a sort of innocence, not naïveté, but a sense that she could see the good in life and strive for it in herself. I smiled back at her.
“So, how do you say thank you in Albanian?”
“Falamendjerit,” said both Leyla and I, and Talia smiled again.
“Ska jyuh,” she said. “It means, ‘it is nothing.’ It is like how you Americans say ‘you are welcome.’”
After we had been eating for a moment, she returned with two tiny cups. They looked about the right size for a child’s play tea-set, holding maybe four ounces of liquid at the most. The substance in the cups was light brown and looked sudsy. I took a cautious taste, and found that at least half of it was foamed milk. I drank the rest with one medium sized sip and put the cup back on the table.
Leyla looked from me to the cup and then back at me.
“I think we may have a serious problem,” she said.
I looked around to locate Talia. She was standing at the edge of the patio, serving another table. While I watched, she glanced across the road, where a big bus was disgorging passengers who were being directed toward the beach by some sort of tour guide. Giving a sudden exclamation, she rushed toward the back of the hotel. About five minutes later she returned, half-running right past our table, then down the steps, across the road, and toward the beach. She never even saw my raised hand.
“Falamendjerit,” I said to her retreating back.
Leyla shrugged. “Ska jyuh,” she said to me. “Almost literally. It was nothing.”
I didn’t think it was as funny as she did. Coffee is no matter to joke about.
We weren’t bored while we waited. The place looked like Grand Lake in the middle of the tourist season. People were everywhere. To the right, about a hundred yards away, was a low wooden building sporting a sign that said “Aquarium.”
“What do you suppose that means in English?” asked Leyla, pointing.
“Aquarium is Latin, not Greek,” I said. “In the present context, it means, ‘place to view fish and other sea creatures.’ Look, you can tell which signs are in Greek because they are in Greek.”
For some reason she hit me. “Mr. Smarty Pants,” she said.
“Mrs. Smarty Pants,” I replied. She didn’t seem to think it was as funny as I did.
“I’m more concerned about that sign,” I said, pointing to our left, across the cove. Large letters proclaimed: “Restaurant Smurfs Fresh Fish & Lobsters.”
“Do you suppose they fry up little, blue forest creatures?”
“Do you suppose they serve real coffee?”
“That one is closer,” said Leyla, pointing to our right. About a hundred and fifty yards away was another long, low, eating establishment.
“It’s been ten minutes since we’ve seen Talia,” I said. “Let’s go.” I pulled out a fifty euro note and dropped it on the table.
“Why so much?” said Leyla.
“Kill them with kindness,” I said. “If we leave her a small tip, maybe she’ll feel like we’re even. This way, she’ll feel much worse for leaving us than if we stiffed her altogether.”
Leyla frowned. “That’s not very nice.”
“I’m leaving her fifty Euros. She may feel bad, but she certainly won’t have reason to be upset with us. If she is distressed, she’ll realize it’s due to her own poor behavior.”
“Trust a pastor to find a way to make a large gratuity into a scheme for moral improvement.”
“Okay, maybe I also feel a little generous. I kind of liked her, in spite of the coffee, and it is our honeymoon, after all.”
“Yes, she was sort of sweet, wasn’t she? Can we go now?”
I’ve often speculated about whether or not that tip was what started everything that followed. Leyla tells me that’s ridiculous, but I still wonder if we would have been spared a lot of suffering and fear, had I just dropped ten cents on the table instead.
The restaurant where we were headed was at the western end of the crescent bay, snuggled between the water and the cliffs. Like our hotel, this establishment combined indoor and outdoor space in such a way that it was hard to tell where the one began and the other ended. A host led us along a low wall that dropped down five feet or so to the rocks of the bay, and we were seated against the rock of the cliff itself, looking back toward the beach and our hotel. As he turned to leave, I said, “Coffee, please. Just coffee.” He nodded, and left.
A new person arrived with the beverages, a medium sized young man with dark, curly hair. My heart fell as he set two tiny, foam-filled cups in front of us. I tossed the entire contents of mine into my throat with one normal-sized sip, set it firmly on the table, and gestured. “Keep ‘em coming.”
He looked startled, but all he said was “Of course, sir.”
I was beginning to understand why so many Europeans appeared to do nothing more than sit around in cafes all day. They had to, just to get a reasonable amount of coffee.
After several cups, we asked for the bill. Leyla looked at it, and her brow furrowed as she converted from Euros to US dollars.
“I don’t know if we can afford to stay in Greece as long as we planned,” she said, handing the bill to me.
I shrugged. “Coffee is not optional. Surely you knew that when you married me.”
“Yes, dear,” she said, stroking my cheek. “And I’m very glad I did.”
We wandered along the sea wall to the front of the restaurant, and eventually, I guess, we left the establishment. The beach was immediately to our right, and we stepped down onto it. There were two long temporary docks sticking out into the bay, and several boats tied up at them. A small, thin man with a bald head stepped in front of us.
“You are here to see the caves, yes? This way, please, to the boats.”
He launched into an extensive, thickly accented monologue, and we gathered that the cliffs all up and down the coast were honeycombed with caves that were accessible only by water. When one went into such caves, the water, already a beautiful blue that was more beautiful than any other water in the world, seemed to glow. The man made sure we understood that only his captains knew the very best cave, which was a closely guarded secret, and people often became seasick in the vessels of the other companies, but never in those he represented. Besides this, if we went right now, he would give five Euros off the best price on the west coast of Corfu.
With a certain amount of difficulty, we extricated ourselves and turned back, walking past the place we’d had coffee, and along to some clothing stalls that Leyla wanted to visit. After browsing for a while, we found ourselves at the foot of the hill that enclosed the right hand side of the bay. It was actually a peninsula, a finger of rock and trees that formed the west side of our little cove, and also the southeast side of another small bay. A road climbed steeply into the trees ahead of us. It looked like it might take us to the top of the cliffs, with potential for a terrific view. There were no signs, not even in Greek, and so we began to walk up the road. Soon we were skirting the top of the cliffs that overlooked our little bay. The mountainside was covered with pine and cypress and also some deciduous trees. After a bit, the road switched back twice, and then we found ourselves at the entrance to a quiet, entrancing convent.
The gate was open, and we walked along a smooth flagstone pathway surrounded by flowers and, we realized after a moment, cats. Everything was quiet and peaceful. Two kittens slept in a basket set on a balustrade that overlooked an incredible view out to the open sea. An orange tabby rubbed up against Leyla, while a calico meowed at me placidly. We wandered along a sunken path that felt almost like a tunnel because of the flowering vines that grew overhead. Everywhere we looked, there were cats. The whole complex appeared to be set on top of the cliff that looked north and west into the Ionian Sea. As we wandered, we came upon a few doorways that were barred shut, and some archways that were roped off. Beyond one of these we saw ten or twelve nuns. Some were chattering nervously, while a few were silent and tense. They all looked very young to me; perhaps they were novices. One of them looked directly at us, and said something to another of her companions, and they both smiled and gave a little wave.
A man in dark priest-robes appeared, and strode rapidly out to confront us with an angry torrent of Greek. He was in his thirties and good looking, with thick, dark-brown hair cut like a movie star, and a neatly trimmed brown beard. His eyes were almost black in an olive skinned face. They were not kind. Something about him rubbed me the wrong way.
I put my hands up in front of me, palms out. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I don’t understand you.”
“Of course you do not,” he replied in thickly accented English. “You Americans are all the same. English, English – you only speak English.”
There wasn’t much to say to that, so I let it pass.
“You must stop looking at those girls,” said the priest, with plenty of steam still in his face and voice. “You should be ashamed! Here you are with your beautiful, sexy wife, and you can only think about those young girls who belong to God.”
The verbal attack was a little bit shocking. To my mind, there were about seventeen things wrong with what he said. It was hard to know where to start taking offence. I put my hands down and stepped closer to the man. Something about him just didn’t feel right. I supposed the exchange felt so wrong because he was a foreigner, and it was cultural misunderstanding. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a bad man.
“First, you leave my wife out of it,” I said. “Second, you don’t assume that I have a dirty mind, just because you seem to.” I could barely feel Leyla touching my arm.
“What is the problem?” sneered the priest. “Is your pretty lady refusing to sleep with you? Or perhaps she is no good in bed?”
I swear I had no control over my reaction. My right fist drove forward from the hip while I pulled back my left hand, torqueing my whole torso into the punch that slammed straight into his solar plexus. The man doubled over, struggling to breathe, and then fell to his knees, still gasping for air.
“Jonah,” exclaimed Leyla.
At last the man caught some of his breath back. He looked up at me. “You dare to hit a priest?”
“You dare to be a priest?” I asked, and turned on my heel and walked out of there.
We took it slowly as we went back down the hill. I was trying to regain my composure.
“Jonah, you didn’t have to hit him.”
“I know,” I said, looking through the pines at the cliffs and the water.
“So why did you?”
“It really wasn’t a conscious decision. I know it wasn’t self-defense, but somehow, it still felt like it was.”
“I’m concerned about you,” said Leyla. “I thought you had it under control.”
“I thought so too,” I said. “I’ll call Brad Michaels when I get back. Maybe even set up some more counseling.”
We continued on, soaking in the quiet beauty of our surroundings. By the time we got back to the hotel, I had calmed down.
Our waitress, Talia, was there on the patio. She glanced at us as we climbed the steps, and then came over to meet us.
“I am so sorry I did not serve you well before,” she said. “This was not good. I would like to show you I am sorry. May I guide you around Corfu town this afternoon?”
I hesitated and looked at Leyla. Talia saw it, and said quickly, “I do not ask for money for this. I think you are very nice, and I am very sorry I left you before.”
I knew that Leyla was thinking about the tip. It was an awkward situation.
“You are American, yes?” asked Talia.
“Yes,” I said.
“In Albania,” she said, still pronouncing it El-bunia, “we are very thankful to America, because it was America who helped us to become a country. I am thankful to you for you were nice to me when I was not good. Please let me do this thing for you.”
“You do not have to pay us back,” said Leyla. I nodded.
“No, but I would like to do something for you,” said Talia. “Please, it is important for me to help you somehow.”
She seemed so earnest and concerned, I thought maybe it would be almost cruel to turn her down. Maybe there was some aspect of Albanian culture that made it very important for her to show us kindness. Leyla shrugged and looked at me.
“How about this?” I said. “You show us around Corfu town whenever you are going there anyway, and then you agree that you don’t owe us anything at all.”
Talia looked relieved. “Oh, but I must go there this afternoon anyway. So you will come?”
We had decided on a vacation with no set schedule. We had heard of the old section of Corfu town and planned to get there at some point. Today seemed as good a time as any. “Sure,” I said.
After arranging the time with Talia, we went up the stairs, which were on the outside of the hotel, but covered from above by a roof. On the wall alongside the stairway was a large painting. It was on a flat piece of wood shaped like a set of stair steps, depicting a beautiful desert scene. The stair step design gave it a sense of extra, three dimensional space, and I felt I could almost see the scene continuing on. It was strangely captivating. A small signature on the corner read “Gmac.” I found that after that, almost every time we went up the stairs, I stopped and stared at that big stair-step shaped painting. It became almost a habit.
Eventually, we continued on to our room, where we sat on the balcony, reading. The air was warm and salty. After a while we heard the sound of soft tinkling bells, and then a few muted bleats. I looked up. Down on the road was a herd of about thirty goats being driven along by a young boy and a disreputable-looking dog. Leyla took a deep breath, looking at the sea and the mountains and then back at the goats.
“Could it get any better than this?” she asked.
I breathed in also. “I don’t see how,” I said.
Maybe, what we should have considered, is how it might have gotten any worse.