The Olympics, Greeks, and the Nick Temple Files

The Summer Olympics are drawing to a close in Tokyo. I’ll be honest, I haven’t paid that much attention to them this time around. As usual, it looks like some amazing athletes performed superhuman acts, and some distant favorites came out on top. All great stuff, and I am resolved to keep a closer eye on them the next time around. In the meantime, I offer my one nod to the Olympics in the first five Nick Temple Files. Naturally, the scene is set in Athens, which was likely the inspiration for its Olympic theme. Although it’s not a typical athletic contest, I hope it is nonetheless entertaining, particularly its surprise ending. In fact, it’s one of my favorite passages in all of the books I’ve written. Here it is, then, from chapter 5 of The Heraklion Gambit, Nick Temple File no. 2:

Today, Easter Sunday, 1954, she prepares dinner for herself and her on-again, off-again companion, Niko Lendaris, a hot-headed Leninist whose screeds she tolerates given his striking resemblance, from head to foot, to Michelangelo’s David. An open bottle of Ouzo and two shot glasses on the kitchen table should get the afternoon off to a fine start.

Niko bursts into the apartment in a dark mood. His mercurial nature appears deeply rooted in Peloponnesian politics. In fact, he’s a fraud who has discovered that a turbulent persona dressed in the trappings of exotic political dogma holds a strange attraction for young university co-eds willing to cozy up to a statuesque radical. But Mika is no average co-ed, and Niko is finding the results of his efforts less than satisfactory.

“You’re late,” Mika observes as she begins to carve the lamb on the spit. Her rich voice is full-throated; her tone is direct but not scolding.

Niko ignores her. He pours himself a shot of Ouzo, throws it back, and sits at the small linoleum table a few feet from where Mika works.

“First one today?”

“Out of this bottle,” he replies as he pours another shot. Before Mika can respond, he drains the glass again.

“Slow down. We can drink and make love after dinner, unless that’s too much bourgeois decadent happiness for you all in one day.”

Niko explodes.

“Can we drop the fucking politics for just one day? I’m sick of hearing about the decadent this, the oppressed that, the goddamn chained fucking masses. It’s all bullshit! Bullshit!”

Niko springs from his chair, knocking it over in the process, and storms straight for the apartment door he’d entered moments earlier.

Mika is unperturbed by this latest petulant outburst. She looks for a way to make it clear he is never to return. Her eyes settle on the sizable lamb still on the spit.

“Niko, darling. Don’t forget your dinner.”

Mika picks up the lamb and hurls what was supposed to be the prelude to an afternoon in the sack in a graceful arc towards the infuriated, pseudo-Marxist Niko. As the lamb catapults towards him something catches his ear and he turns to face her just in time to see the descending spit of lamb, sharpened-point first like an Olympic javelin, head straight for his heart. The spit impales him and would have gone far deeper but for the succulent lamb still skewered in place. It went deep enough. Niko stares for a moment in disbelief before falling backwards, dead before he hits the ground, the victim of an Easter dinner gone badly awry.

Mika’s first thought is to salvage the lamb from the spit. Instead, after satisfying herself that her dinner companion is quite dead, she sits down to a meal of tzatziki, stuffed grape leaves, pita, and Ouzo as she contemplates when she should call the Athenian police, and what she should tell them when they finally arrive.