Lions And Tigers And Bears, Oh My!

 

 



"Rauf!" I said into the phone. "How lovely to hear from you again."

I had been put through to the leader of the "Turkish Federated State of Cyprus", a polite name for the occupation of a third of the island by the Turkish military. I grinned at my girlfriend, giving her a thumbs-up. The call had taken quite an effort to arrange. Aþkðn - her name was Aþkðn Tanrica - blew me a red kiss.

"Jacqueline!" came back Rauf Denktas's rather fruity voice. The man sounded suggestive even when he was talking business. "How are the beautiful United States of America?"

"Same old same old. A nuclear reactor in Pennsylvania nearly blew us all to kingdom come and the Government is in a froth about the overthrow of the Shah. Our ambassador to Afghanistan has been shot."

Rauf laughed. "And you?"

"Strength to strength. The company is doing well. We're what they call a multinational."

"We are still very grateful for all that the Natla Mining Company has done for Zonguldak."

"Coal isn't usually our thing," I admitted, "but I have a personal interest in the Black Sea region."

"Even doing business with the damn Russians I hear."

"We're strictly a-political Rauf, as you know."

"Thanks be to God."

I had to break off and put my hand over the phone. I hissed at Aþkðn, who had mischievously started kissing my toes in an attempt to distract me.

"Rauf - I have a proposal for you."

I put it to him that in exchange for exerting my influence in getting my old friend Spyros Kyprianou (whom I didn't remind him was the UN-recognised leader of Cyprus, unlike Rauf, who was black-listed) to the negotiating table that my company be allowed to carry out some test drilling in the Kyrenia Mountains.

"Where exactly? It is still a militarised zone and we are on the constant guard against terrorists."

"The hills around the Castle and the St. Francis Monastery."

"That is very near a large Army camp, highly sensitive. Plus there are a number of heavily defended enclaves."

I laughed. "That's why I thought I'd better ring you, Rauf," I said. "Besides, think what a good find could do for the economy of the North."

There was a pause and then he chuckled. "I shall put it to my political and army colleagues and reply as soon as I can."

"Thank you very much Mr. President."

Afterwards;

"Yippee!" I cried, jumping about in glee. Aþkðn giggled, looking at me through her white curls, and fiddling with her lower lip in a coquettish way. So I pushed her down on the floor to celebrate.

* * * * *

The first yacht that I owned named Secret Life was about 150 feet long and had 5 staterooms. She was white, had a rakish prow like a minesweeper and could manage a top speed of about 15 knots. I adored her. My companies paid for a home berth for her at St. Tropez and the feeling that I got when living aboard her was the closest experience that I could recreate to that of living in an open-air palace next to the Inner Circular Sea of the City. I could stand alone on the sun deck at dawn and say my prayers to Poseidon and the Lord of the Sky.

I was checking over some of the new patents from Natla Technologies and composing marketing handouts, for things like ...

"Natcillin, the first antibiotic that can kill penicillin-resistant staphylococcus."

"The Na-Tl-As device, new technology for cooling fast-breeder nuclear reactors."

"nat-La proton bombardment, a novel process for making radioactive cerium from lanthanum."

"The discovery of the Nat-LA N-acetyltransferase enzyme derivative, a cure for jet-lag."

... when there was a polite knock on my stateroom door and Crichton, my cabin steward, appeared.

"Doctor DuPont would like a word," he said.

"Fine," I said putting the cap back on my fountain pen. "It's time to do the kefir anyway. He can watch."

"Very good."

Pierre was at that time in his late twenties and a lecturer at the Musee des Beaux-Arts at Nantes, France. He was only just beginning to go bald.

"Mademoiselle," he said, interrupting me putting on my rubber gloves by kissing my hand. "Enchant
é."

"Gee, Pierre," I said. "Why is it that all you French guys come over as creeps?"

"It is simply old world etiquette."

"Well I guess you know more about the old world than me."

I held out the leather bag to him.

"Give the kefir a tap for good luck," I said.

"This is the fermented milk, n'est ce pas?" he said, fastidiously poking the bag with a fingertip.

"Wanna try some?" I sieved some into a glass, stirred in some Greek honey, a drop of Mexican lime juice and some crushed ice. "It's the very drink of the gods."

Pierre sipped at my modern version of ambrosia and stifled a wince. "She is very ... tart," he said.

I inoculated tomorrow's bag of milk and placed it in my cold box.

"Cheers," I said, knocking back two large glasses.

"Bon sante."

"One day cooled fermented milk containing live bacteria and yeast will be a health craze sweeping the planet. I'll have to think of a name. Maybe Nat-Biotic. What do you think?"

"If it is all the same I shall stick to my morning diet of café and croissants, Mademoiselle."

"Oh and please remind me to get more kefir grains when we get to Kyrenia. They bring live colonies over from Izmir on a boat I've been told."

"But of course."

We went out onto the sun deck where Aþkðn, naked, was applying her first coat of suntan lotion.

"Darling," I said, kissing her. "Pierre and I will just be having a small chat and then we can take the lighter out for some skiing."

Pierre and I moved to the aft rail and watched the sparkling wake of the Secret Life. The lighter bobbed behind us on a long tether like a breathless baby duck.

"So, Pierre. What are your immediate plans when we arrive?"

"My team have rooms at the Dome Hotel. There we will meet Monsieur Mutlu and Brigadier-General Suleymanolu to arrange our itinerary. And tonight if there is any time I will visit the Dome Casino and try my luck at le chemin de fer."

"I may join you. Could you arrange for me to meet this Brigadier-General of yours? Is he U.N?"

"Turkish Army. Pourquoi?"

"No matter. I wish to arrange a visit to Famagusta. The closed part."

"For what possible purpose, Madame? It is ... degoutant. Comme une ... dirty, dusty building site."

I smiled. "It's a long story," I said, sipping my kefir. I turned and waved my fingers. "Crichton? Do we have any gambas? The large brown ones."

"Yes, Madam."

"With garlic butter and basil." Pronouced "baysil". Most un-Greek. "Tell chef no wine or Anatolian spices. Perhaps some black olives."

"Yes, Madam."

I returned to the sparkling sea. "My interest in Famagusta is a hotel room, in the Oceanic Hotel to be precise," I said. "Back home in New York City there is a Greek archaeologist who - in 1974 - fled from the advance of the Turkish army, leaving his notes and photographs on top of a wardrobe. Since he cannot return to Northern Cyprus, I am his agent. In return for his findings."

"Fascinating," said Pierre, his eyes all avidity. "If Mademoiselle will permit me to ask, what are these ... findings?"

I smiled. "He claims to have found astonishing information about ..." and here I made a ghostly "whoo" sound and waggled my long fingers, "... the lost city of Atlantis."

Pierre snorted but then saw my expression. "But surely it is just a silly legend?" he protested.

"Who knows?" I said, blithely. "Time will tell."

* * * * *

The Kyrenia that I had known was probably full fathom five or more below the keel of the Secret Life; modern Kyrenia looked like the pretty picture on the lid of a lokum box, and its harbour was too small for us. Hard to believe, remarked Pierre, that only five years earlier this area had been like Juno Beach, with the Turkish Army motoring ashore in antiquated landing craft. My crew anchored the yacht offshore from the harbour breakwater, and got the lighter alongside the rail. I ordered a couple of Zodiac inflatables unshipped.

Pierre, the captain and all set off for the harbour master's office and their various appointments, whilst Aþkðn and I soaked up a few more rays and dined on strawberries and champagne.

When we got bored of that we put "our" song on the stereo - "Make Me Smile" - and danced the quickstep as we sang.

I sang; "You've done it all, you've broken every code and pulled the rebel to the floor You spoilt the game, no matter what you say for only metal - what a bore! Blue eyes, blue eyes, how come you tell so many lies?"

Aþkðn sang "Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba" and "Oo-oo la lala" in her bizarre accent.

Two naked goddesses glad to be alive under a Mediterranean sun.

Then, as the recording died away, we heard something strange carried on the breeze.

"Did you hear that?" I said.

Aþkðn nodded and, holding back her hair, gazed at the horizon.

"Let's take the binoculars up on the bridge roof. And better put some clothes on baby, or you'll have all the sailors throwing themselves overboard for frustrated love of you."

She giggled and went to get our bikinis and wraps.

At the top of the ship I scanned the sea and the shore. I looked up into the steep hills behind the town.

Then - again ... a noise.

"That sounded a bit like ... a roar?"

Aþkðn pointed along the coast and I focused the glasses. There was what looked like a small freighter due west of us. The strange noises were drifting over the wave tops, infrequent but clear. There was another roar and what sounded like some sort of ape.

"Fancy an adventure?" I said. "Get our shore clothes and meet me at the motorboat."

We sped along the coast in the inflatable, skipping over the waves like dragonflies. The wind in my face and the salt air made me indescribably happy. I kissed Aþkðn and told her of my bliss and how much I loved her.

We drew alongside the freighter - she was called the Vera X and she was flying a Lebanese flag - and I shouted up.

"Permission to come aboard," I shouted in English.

A head wearing a scruffy peaked cap appeared.

"Who are you?"

"I am Jacqueline Natla, Managing Director of Natla Technologies," I improvised. "I may have a business proposal for you."

There were some shout and a rope ladder was let down. I tied off the Zodiac and we climbed up the rusty side.

"Captain Maron," said the peaked cap, shaking my hand. His accent was French Arabic and he looked exhausted. His crew stood about like stunned cattle.

I, however, was gawping over his shoulder at the deck. Lined up were a row of giant animal cages.

"Good Lord," I said, walking forward.

Looking back at me was a mournful gorilla, starved and mangy. I could see the dull despair in her eyes. Behind her on the floor was her dead baby.

"Hello sister," I said, reaching out to her.

The gorilla leant her forehead into the palm of my hand. She sighed and I could see a tear leaking from her closed eyelids.

"Don't cry," I whispered. "I'm here to save you."

* * * * *

It was another day. Pierre was about to give us a talk on his preliminary research in the stateroom of the Secret Life. Aþkðn was fidgety - she genuinely wasn't interested in archaeology - but I persuaded her to stay by sitting her on my lap.

"Better make it brief," I said.

"Mais naturellement," said Pierre, with a smile.

The first slide showed a building on the top of a cliff on the edge of the grounds of what had once been a mansion, a mansion built by a retired British ambassador to Cyprus. It had the appearance of a Greek Orthodox Church.

"This is the so-called St. Francis Folly," said Pierre, pointing at the screen. "Built on the ruins of a Franciscan monastery by an eccentric English nobleman. It is at present being used by the locals as winter quarters for farm animals. Inside are the remains of formal gardens, fruit orchards, ornamental ponds."

"Who owns it now?"

"It's unclear. We have a lawyer on to it. The original owners have left long ago and the British have no jurisdiction under the present occupation."

"Buy it. I have a use for it," I said.

"Yes, Mademoiselle. To continue." Pierre clicked forward through his slides. "At the base of the same cliff we have an ancient ruin, known locally as the Colosseum."

"Wow," I said. "Is it an amphitheatre?"

"No, Mademoiselle. An amphitheatre would have circular seating. This seating is rectilinear."

"So what is it? Another folly?"

"Mais non. It is most interesting. Originally built, we think, in the pre-Christian era as a running track and field for Olympead sporting events. The original shape would have been long and straight with round ends."

"Ah." I smiled. "I always loved competing with the bow and arrow and the javelin. At college in New Mexico," I added, at their quizzical looks.

"Then, during one of the frequent local earthquakes, the hill came down and buried one half of it, leaving only this roughly rectangular area. You can see that the fourth century Romans built the covered balcony seating up on the one side for the judges or for the local magistrates."

"What was it used for in Roman times?"

"Ah - this is the most interesting thing, Mademoiselle," said Pierre with a twinkle of excitement. "The whole of the floor had been dug out to a depth of approximately three metres and covered with water-proof clay. It is what we archaeologists call a 'Kolymbetra', although there is some debate as to whether such a thing ever existed in history."

"A swimming pool?"

"A floodable arena for naval spectacle or swimming events."

Aþkðn and I exchanged indifferent glances.

"This is a rather arid area, Pierre," I observed. ""Where did they get all of the water?"

Pierre clapped his hands like a magician finishing a trick.

"You are as acute as always," he exclaimed, "and I have the solution!" He brought up a new slide showing what looked like an underground, pillared vault, half filled with water. "C'est un cistern byzantine! Not unlike the Giant Cistern underneath the streets of Constantinople. This cistern, plus a branch from the local aqueduct, would have provided all the water they needed. The whole area, the castle, the monasteries, all needed to withstand sieges. This was the solution. The Kolymbetra was a fun ... how you say ... spin off?"

I applauded. "Very good, Pierre," I said. "You must write it up at once. And begin the thorough survey and dig some of your trenches and whatever else."

"At once."

"Just put up the Colosseum again. The name has given me an idea."

I gazed at the giant pit with its sheer sides.

I nibbled Aþkðn's ear. "Just the place to keep some lions," I whispered.

* * * * *

Aþkðn and I had our first expedition up into the hills, under the watchful eye of our Turkish Army friends, a few days later. I wanted to see for myself the area that I planned to acquire. Normally one cannot "buy" the land that an ancient monument is on, but the lack of International Law plus the indifference of the Turks to non-Islamic monuments meant that my money spoke louder than any protests from the Greek government at the U.N. Both Pierre and I reckoned that if we didn't step in, nobody would, and how was that a win situation? Besides Pierre was busy loading up the Secret Life with all the coins and artefacts and statues and jewellery and icons that his men could find. His theory that such precious objects should not be left in the hands of "savages" - all very French colonial - and besides I could tell that he hoped to rake in the francs in private antiquity auctions.

In the meantime the animals that had been rescued from Beirut Zoo - they had literally been wheeled out under a rain of falling shells - had been brought ashore form the Vera X and were being attended to by vets and keepers in an old warehouse in the Kyrenia industrial dock area.

Aþkðn and I dressed in our best flowery dresses and flowery hats drove up to the landward side of the bizarre building that was the St. Francis Folly. The guard guarding the building saluted us - I could see them secretly checking us both out - and handed me the keys.

Now I was here, I could see that the Folly was only one of a number of buildings (or ruins of buildings) scattered over the rocky hilltop. Up a sloping lawn made of imported soil planted with now withered grasses and bushes, there was the remains of the "British Mansion", its roof fallen in.

"Une folly de grandeur indeed," I remarked.

We walked around to the cliffside of the Folly and I unlocked a coupe of giant brass bound doors, the lock recently oiled and freed by Pierre's men.

Inside was dark and damp and empty. Much of the interior was a ruin, although to my untrained eye some of the stumps of stone columns looked as if they'd been built "broken", making the whole place a sort of whimsical Disneyland of antiquity.

Aþkðn was running around like an excited greyhound, peering up through the holes in the roof to the sky, poking her nose into alcoves and dead-end tunnels and doorways with no other function than decoration. I was surprised, given her apathy towards history, but I guess she saw it as a kind of adventure playground.

As we explored, we came across a large pool with a mosaic floor, still filled with reasonably clean emerald water and further back, a series of totally enclosed gardens with fake stone porticos and fake proscenium colonnades. There were bushes with brown apples and trees with tiny oranges, all kept alive by some invisible water source and roofed over with greenhouse glass where the temple roof should have been.

Looking around I could see no obvious escape routes to the island outside. It seemed we had a potential ape house all ready made.

One room, however, was different to all of the rest. Its floor was made of uneven earth, and it looked like only the top fraction of a room. I thought that I could see bats nestling in the eves. It was as if someone had filled in an enormous lift shaft, leaving only the upper part empty. Squinting through gaps next to the various carved stones and rocks I could see down into what looked like crevasses and fissures, their bottom hidden in the darkness.

"Better get out of here, baby," I said to Aþkðn. "It all looks quite unstable ... we'll get Pierre to block off the entrance whilst they structurally assess it." It looked as if there was more to this place than a mere architectural affectation, built on the ruins of a medieval monastery. All would become clear, no doubt.

We were taking one last turn around the site - it was time to return to the ship - when Aþkðn squeaked with excitement. She had found a deep, thin, horizontal gap in the wall and thought she could see a large space beyond. She began to drag me by the hand.

"We're hardly equipped," I half-protested. "We have neither caving helmets nor torches. Besides there could be a rock fall." She started to pout like an adorable child. "I suppose we could have a quick look and come back again another day."

We scrambled through - I scuffed my knees and my elbows - but it was all very exciting. It was just like being a spelunker, a caver crawling through the entrance to a cave, but an entrance formed from carved rock blocks. I wondered briefly if we should be worried about snakes and scorpions in the darkness.

On the other side, it opened right up. There was no light coming in from the roof, and the mysterious emptiness smelt strongly of ozone.

I took a cigarette lighter from my bag and flicked it, and we both shouted in shock.

Positioned on a plinth directly ahead of us were the legs and feet of what had been once a giant seated statue. I stumbled forward, looking for dangerous holes in the ground and trying not to burn my fingers on the lighter flame.

The front of the plinth was embossed with large Latinate lettering.

"M I D A S - Midas!" I read out, scanning the flame from side to side. "Midas?"

I realised that we were in another antiquarian fancy, another part of the Folly long since abandoned. The statue didn't even look as if it had ever been a whole statue, and a severed stone hand, out of proportion to the rest of the body, lay theatrically on the ground in front of the plinth.

Despite my remonstration, Aþkðn insisted on clambering up onto the statue base, and tickling the giant stone toes. I could see the flash of her teeth as she grinned in the gloom, and I smiled too, despite my unease.

Arms stretched out like those of a tightrope walker, Aþkðn clownishly teetered along the edge of the plinth, and then, after taking a step back, jumped onto the palm of the giant stone hand.

"Oh," she said, looking at her feet.

I thought she had stepped into some mud or dung, but the skin of her feet within her sandals had begun to glitter. "Electricity," was all I could think, but I was as frozen as she. The golden lights spread up her legs and disappeared under the hem of her dress. She put down a hand to touch her lower belly , but that too froze. She didn't cry out or seem to be in any discomfort. Her other hand hardened as it covered her hardening breast, and then with a rush her face became golden. I could see the glint from the featureless eyeballs in her wide shocked eyes. There was a wave of heat and her clothing and footwear flamed and dissolved into a white ash.

She had become a naked, golden statue.

* * * * *

If this tale didn't have a happy ending I probably wouldn't be dictating it. Needless to say the next few hours and days were hell.

They got the statue - I couldn't bring myself it call it Aþkðn - out of the cave and the building and into a crate before the soldiers saw it. Needless to say a lot of bribe money changed hands. We got her down to the harbour, out to the ship and into my cabins with nobody being any the wiser.

There seemed little point in calling a coroner. Death by gold, like Jill Masterton in "Goldfinger"? I didn't think so. It seemed more likely that we'd be detained for stealing priceless relics. I was damned if I was going to leave the remains of my darling behind.

I seem to have forgotten a lot of that bad time. I remember standing up the statue in my room, and draping it with Aþkðn's silk paisley dressing down. The metal was warm and, if not malleable, soft to the touch like a hard muscle.

I got out the encyclopedia and looked up Midas. His curse, the touch that turned everything to gold, had - according to myth - been inflicted upon him by an Olympean, Dionysus. That made sense to me, or the fact that the transmutation was beyond my powers of explanation, made sense. I was a mere child when it came to understanding Olympean science; most of what they had been capable of was like a magic trick. We had as much chance of grasping their conceptions as a dog had of recognising photograph of itself.

Why Aþkðn and why now, I wondered? Was it possible that the Olympeans were sill in existence after all these centuries, and still paying attention to humans? Or had poor Aþkðn simply stumbled into an old mechanism that someone had forgotten to decommission long ago, like the ruins of a nuclear reactor abandoned and forgotten during a war?

If the Olympeans still existed, there was hope for her. I prayed more in faith than belief. I resolved to conclude my business in Cyprus as soon as possible and take Aþkðn home.

* * * * *

When I visited Varosha, the deserted tourist part of Famagusta now trapped and abandoned in no-mans-land between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot areas, I didn't realise that I was suffering from what some people have termed post-traumatic stress disorder. I had all the symptoms - the thousand yard stare, the gas tank running on air, heart empty except for an aching, mind empty except for Aþkðn, all perceptions of the external distorted, speech toneless and uninflected, smile like a flowerbed neglected, lights on but everyone defected.

My mind drew parallels between the sunny ruins of the mountains and these dull remains. Varosha had been deserted for five years, and I gazed at the empty swimming pools and empty vistas of concrete through my protective sunglasses, at the deserted and damaged skyscraper hotels leaning towards each other above my head and almost hiding the leaden sky. The magic of the Folly contrasted with the prosaic nature of this emptiness. Construction cranes sat waiting forever in their negligees of rust, whilst shop windows and petrol forecourts lay coated with sandy dust like out-dated textbooks forgotten on a top shelf.

Everything was grey - the grey soldiers driving between the grey buildings in their grey vehicles grasping their grey machine-guns, the grey feral dogs and grey juvenile sea-gulls, the grey shrouded cars in the abandoned showroom, their tyres disintegrating to grey bread-crumbs.

So much energy putting the place up and now so much energy to keep it empty. It was a monument to stupidity, waste and hate. I reflected on the Golden Record that had been included on the Voyager spacecraft a couple of years earlier, purporting to show aliens what we humans were all about. Send them a cine film of Varosha instead, I thought gloomily. It speaks so much clearly.

"Modern life is crap," I said under my breath, "and history is bunk."

I wondered if I should kill myself.

"We are here, Ms. Natla," said Brigadier-General Suleymanolu with a cheerful smile. "The Olympic Hotel. I have been assured that the stairs are safe."

"I shan't be a minute," I said. "I'll find my brother's old hotel room and take a quick look to see if he left a diary or a letter. I shan't be long."

"My men can escort you."

"Could I possibly be alone? I feel my brother's death very strongly today, and I ... ."

I found myself halting in mid-sentence. The lie was close enough to the truth to make me choke on the words.

The Brigadier-General looked suitably concerned and placed a sympathetic hand on my arm. "But of course, Madam. Just call if you need any help."

"Thank you."

I went up to the room - it looked as if it had never been locked - and fished around on the top of the wardrobe. The notebook was there, bound with a decayed rubber-band. I sat on the window ledge and opened it.

I smiled at some of the entries, all written with a fountain pen in spidery Greek.

Not to bore you, but there was some notes on the "Antikythera Device", an old piece of junk found on the sea bed in about 1900. Theorists described it as some sort of ancient Greek astrolabe, whilst ignoring the fact that the sponge divers who were supposed to have found the Device couldn't dived that deep, that something made of copper would not have survived for two millennia at the bottom of the sea, and that the word "sterigmos" inscribed inside instead of meaning "steadfast" in reference to a planetary body was the name of a ship engineer in Rhodes. Someone had made a clockwork replica of this "ancient wonder" not realising that it probably a pressure gauge that had fallen off a steamship engine. Then there were the so-called "Baghdad Batteries", supposed to be ancient batteries made up of a copper tube separated from an iron core by grape juice or urine or some damn thing, but which were, in fact simply storage containers for delicate papyrus rolls. May as well find an old teddy bear skin and deduce the existence of a new race of mini-bears.

However it wasn't all dross. The man had found remains of the City on the lip of the Santorini volcano - obvious to you and I, but a novelty for 20th century mankind. He had noted the underwater remains of a dam across the Straits of Gibraltar. He recorded the evidence for advanced civilisation in Sudan.

I skipped through, looking for comments about Cyprus, and found his notes on the St. Francis complex. He agreed with some of Pierre's conclusions but he seemed to be hinting at the presence of deeper structures.

As far as I can remember, and from the notes that I made soon afterwards, it read;

"Galen the Roman visited the mines of Soli (Skouriotissa) in 162 AD and noted "vast spaces under the mountain". Below Kyrenia (we were told by an ex-miner) there used to be two shafts, one of which "bottomless" according to local legend. Following an earthquake, there were fears that the shafts would collapse so they were capped and operations changed to open pit working. This miner (Demetrios Saknussemm) lives in Kinousa and is willing to show people around the minehead. Thought to be alternate entrance from as yet unidentified sea cave on North Coast associated with ancient cave church of Maronite sect; no evidence for this as yet. More than two billions tons of what is described as "ancient copper slag" have been found in the Skouriotissa area. Speed of sound waves through mass from dynamite suggests wide range of densities."

Was it possible that something survived, I wondered?

I covered my face with my hands and wept.

After a while I came down and handed my find to the Brigadier-General.

"You can keep the original and give me a microfiche if you, prefer," I said to the Brigadier, somewhat sadly.

A crowd of dogs stood a little way off in the ruined forecourt of a cafИ, and I waved at them. I noticed a huddle of mangy cats and kittens watching us from the shadows, and I clucked my teeth in a friendly fashion.

"Of course not," he said, flipping through the notebook. "There is nothing of military or political significance here."

I smiled and tucked the diary into my bag. I wasn't about to disagree with him. I wish I'd looked at that diary a bit more - the next time I looked, it had been replaced by a handful of flesh-coloured Triton seashells - but with hindsight, I now know that in the long run this "theft" didn't make that much difference. I'd been told what I wanted to know, and the reward for its loss was beyond pearls.

I took a deep breath, and was about to get into the car, when I caught a faint sound on the wind.

"What's that noise?" I said. "It sounds like seabirds mewling."

"It is children, Madam," he said. "The soldiers bring their families to the closed off beach. Would you like to see?"

I looked at the gulls coasting on the updrafts at the end of the street, and got out my sunglasses.

"Yes, please. Watching some happy kids next to the sea are just what I need. Before we return"

The soldiers were kids themselves, conscripts from villages in Anatolia and Kars, doing their compulsory National Service. Their wives looked like teenagers, seeming barely able to have had time to mother the infants and toddlers pottering around the sandcastles that littered the bizarrely isolated seafront. The beach was separated from the rest of the island by fences, a beach out-of-bounds to ordinary life and stuck in a time warp, with no fast food or ice-cream sellers, a beach that may as well have been on the moon. Good place for an unearthly visitation, if one wanted to stay out of the news.

I was seated on the stone steps leading to the sand, sipping a bottle of water and feeling calmer, when I noticed the dolphins. There was a group of them just off the beach, leaping and calling, and the children pointed and shouted. I could hear Instamatic and Polaroid camera shutters all around.

Then to each side of me the various dogs and cats of the deserted streets began to file own onto the beach, ignoring the humans. One of my guard laughed and made a comment to his comrades, aiming a futile kick at a bed-draggled mutt.

"What is going on?" I asked the Brigadier-General.

""I have no idea," he replied, but these animals had better stay away from the children or they will be shot at."

"They say that animals behave oddly before an earthquake."

"Not one of those, Allah willing."

Then there was a small scream from the water's edge and one of the tiny children ran crying to her mother.

I shielded my eyes. To my astonishment, a crowd of tiny crabs were coming ashore, and even more surprising, the seagulls were ignoring the free meal. Similarly the dogs were ignoring the cats and the cats were ignoring the birds. Was it my imagination, I thought, or were all of the animals forming patterns and ranks, with the dolphins performing geometric arabesques in the surf?

"Maybe you should clear the beach ...?" I began, but the Brigadier-General was interrupted by a soldier running up with a field radio pack.

"It's is for you," he said, handing me the receiver and indicating the controls.

"Madame!" came Pierre's voice, faintly.

"Pierre? What is it?"

"The Secret Life, she is damaged. The captain had to run her aground to prevent her from sinking."

"My Lord. What happened?"

"We are not sure. Maybe an old sea-mine. There is a hole in the hull reaching to your cabin."

"Is everybody safe?"

"Yes, thank God. And we are using boats to offload the cargo. However we have lost the statue, if you know to what I refer."

"She's gone?"

"I have a diver searching the seabed."

I rubbed my eyes. "I shall see you later," I said, and handed back the field telephone.

In the meantime, the beach had cleared itself. The families had run up onto the concrete water front and were embarking on various military vehicles, despite the protests of their children, who obviously wanted to stay.

I looked at the sea, to a point that seemed to be the epicentre of the arrangement of animals, the vague centre of a circle. The water was foaming and bubbling as if some vast underwater beast was exhaling.

Then, as if a miniature sun was rising from the water, a golden sphere appeared. My eyes resolved it into a head, the head of the gold statue. It was Aþkðn, still naked, and still holding one hand before her loins and the other before her breasts. She was standing on a giant half shell. The animals cried out a hymn of welcome.

The Brigadier-General choked, putting his hand over his mouth. "Aphrodite," he gurgled, his eyes showing white. "She has come to reclaim her island."

He draw his revolver but then dropped it in terror. All of my escort began to flee, screeching off in their jeeps or running into the city, leaving me standing alone.

The golden statue spoke, in a voice so beautiful and clear that I shuddered with pleasure. My nipples hardened from fear and arousal.

"Natla of Atlantis!" it crooned like a siren. "Natla of Atlantis!"

I recognised the voice, and the language was High Atlantean.

"Astarte?" I whispered, collapsing to my knees.

"Come forward!" called the statue and smiled, opening its incandescent arms.

I scrabbled for the pistol and levelled it at the head. I tried to fire, but a pain pierced my chest. Tears flowed from my eyes - I found that I could not shoot the One whom I loved so deeply. My love for Aþkðn, plus an abstract but irresistible Love, had fused together into one imperial impulse. I was enthralled by the Goddess and under the command of Olympean Dionysus.

I found myself walking forward, throwing off my clothing. The animals as I passed seemed to be surrounded by shadows of their primitive selves, a veritable horoscope; the cats became regal lions and tigers, the dogs seemed as bears and wolves. The seagulls were enshrouded by extinct crocodiles and terror birds, whilst the crabs resembled giant prehistoric scorpions and ammonites. Offshore, the dolphins gambolled as mermaids and mermen, sea horses and sea serpents, or so it seemed to my Goddess-dazzled eyes.

As I approached I could feel the heat from her body and could see the deep colour of the celestial spheres in her eyes. Her expression was that of a pleasant tyrant, a kindly dominatrix, totally in control, but intending only pleasure and kindliness.

I walked into her arms and nearly expired with a divine ecstasy.

"Who are you?" I murmured, burying my face in her stiffened hair. "Are you Astarte?"

"I am merely a messenger from the gods, fair sister."

I found my hot tears falling onto her glowing flesh. "Much as I would delay hearing it, for I could stand like this in your arms forever, what is your message?"

"It is this," whispered the golden statue, caressing my back with her hard, warm hands. "I am instructed to tell you that you are forbidden to set foot in three places. You may not enter the Tomb under the Copper Hills of the Island of Aphrodite. You may not enter the Tomb under the City of the Sacred Valley. You may not enter the Sanctuary Tomb of the City of the Living Sun God. So it is decreed."

I absorbed this information for a moment, a million thoughts racing by, despite my love-addled state. "And if I should disobey?" I asked, carefully.

"You will suffer," said the statue, kissing me on the lips, "and Fate will send a harbinger to destroy you."

I shuddered. "I will accede to your wish if you will grant me but one request, a boon that I know in advance that you will approve."

The eyes of the statue glowed and her smile became fierce. "You attempt to bargain with the gods?"

"But I am kin to a god, a grand-daughter of the Lord of the Sea. The gods and I are family."

The statue stared at me, with an archaic expression playing about her lips. "And what precisely would this price be, oh impertinent and wily one?"

"I beg that you give me back my love, my innocent Aþkðn, who has offended none and deserves mercy."

The statue laughed, perhaps with a hint of relief. "How could I refuse such a request, the plea of a lover?" she said, and her smile made me faint clean away.

* * * * *

When I awoke, all other living beings, all of the animals had gone, and the sun was setting over the sea.

I looked up at the golden statue, now immobile; it was holding in its hand a small glass vial of liquid on which was written in Atlantean script "Oil me".

I placed a drop on my finger tip and rubbed it on the metal eyelids. They flicked open and human eyes started out. I oiled the hinge of the jaw, and the lips and the tongue.

"Oh!" said the statue in the voice of Aþkðn, letting out a long sighing breath

I freed her shoulders, her elbows, her knees and her fingers, lingering over the exquisite curves of her hips, spreading the perfume liquid over her breasts and thighs and back.

We fell together into the warm sea-foam, washing the last gold colour from her brown skin and soft hair.

"Never leave me," I whispered.

"Never forget," she answered.












Angels Come To Kill Your Sons