During World War II, OSS commando, Lt. John Pantheras, stumbles onto a horrific plot in war torn Greece. The Nazis are collecting a ransom from every Jewish Greek but they plan a double cross. They are going to deport the Jewish community despite their promises. Lt. Pantheras, a Greek resistance leader, and a rabbi turn the Nazi plot on its head when they steal the accumulated ransom. Things go well until the Nazis counterattack and John disappears with the bulk of the loot.
Nearly seventy years after WWII, while investigating his father’s murder, AJ Pantheras meets Ceres Savas. The elderly Greek shares a story reaching back to WWII Greece involving AJ’s grandfather, an immense stolen fortune, and the key to AJ’s father’s death. AJ’s grandfather, Lt John Pantheras helped Greek Jews escape the Nazis but disappeared with an immense fortune. Ceres and AJ seek this missing fortune for vastly different reasons. While AJ confronts his fears and greed, he is pulled into a decades old mystery and a duel with a pair of hired killers. With the help of the old Greek and a smart, shapely Italian PI, he tries to stay one-step ahead of death and the shadowy former Nazi officer who may be behind it all.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I was researching my father’s WWII experiences when I discovered he served behind German lines in Greece in 1944. My father passed away when I was little and the family had no idea what he had done in the war. Energized, I dove into the research. Parallel to my research I kept finding references to the Greek Holocaust, a German plan to let the Jewish community pay a tax or ransom to avoid deportation and how after this ransom was collected, the German officer n charge apparently stole the fortune. This huge fortune, estimated today in the billions of dollars, is still missing.
The idea for the book came from combining a fictionalized version of what my father’s experience could have been in 1944 Greece with a modern day treasure hunt. There had to be plot twists and turns of course, a solid villain, lots of action and real people struggling to find their way and to discern what to do.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
My characters are a little bit of real world people I’ve met and entirely fictional. In doing character sketches when I would hit a roadblock on how the character would react, I would try to recall someone who reacted in the way I wanted or said something a certain way. I would then incorporate that mannerism into the character. Eventually I cam to know how my characters would react and what they would do.
Andreas glanced at his Rolex for the fourth time in as many minutes as he paced under the orange yellow glow of the streetlights outside Boston’s Union Oyster House. 11:30. His contact was late. He wasn’t used to being kept waiting. He ran a hand through his shock of bushy white hair as he fumed. The sticky night air pressed in on him as July’s heat seeped out of the sidewalk, despite the hour. Sweat trickled down his back, tweaking his raw nerves. A heavily accented man had called his Miami office two days ago offering to sell critical information, but demanded a face-to-face meeting. Now he was in Boston, literally sweating it out, and waiting for the meeting. The door behind him creaked open. Turning, he watched a young couple emerge arm in arm from the noisy restaurant. They were looking at each other, not where they were going, and walked right in to him. The young woman turned to him in surprise.
“I’m so sorry, sir. Excuse us. We just got engaged,” she giggled.
“Congratulations,” Andreas replied with a broad smile, “I hope you have many happy years together.” He recalled his own thirty- two years of marriage. How he missed her!
Andreas watched wistfully as the couple walked away. A sharp sound pulled his attention toward the restaurant. A scowling bartender was rapping on the window and holding up the phone. Andreas quickly went inside.
“This is Pantheras,” Andreas said curtly.
“Are you alone?” It was the same man who’d called before.
“No, I’m not alone. I’m in the middle of a crowded bar. How am I going to be alone? Why are you calling? We were supposed to meet here.” Andreas replied over the buzz of the busy pub.
“That is none of your concern. You will walk to Christopher Columbus Park.”
“You want me to do what? Look, I’m not going to hoof it all over the city. We were to meet here. Where are you?”
“Mr. Pantheras, if you want what I have, you will do as you are told.”
“Tell me what you want and let’s get done with it.”
“Go to the Commercial Street entrance of Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park. You will see me.”
“OK, got it, Commercial Street entrance.”
“You know it?”
“Yes, I know it. It will take about fifteen minutes,” Andreas said.
“You better hurry then.” The contact abruptly clicked off.
Andreas slammed down the receiver. He was annoyed, but sometimes when you can do the right thing, you have a responsibility to see it finished. This was the right thing to do for his client. He put a five under the phone with a nod to the surly bartender and stepped back into the humid night. He walked quickly, passing the young couple he had spoken to earlier. He was used to a regular jog, so the quick pace wasn’t a challenge, despite his nearly sixty-nine years, his Armani suit, and the heat.
The brisk walk helped clear away Andreas’ impatience. He thought back to the depositions he’d conducted this afternoon.
He’d caught each of three key defense witnesses in outright lies. The men, overconfident in their hometown, were relaxed and careless.
Their mistakes, coupled with whatever he got at this next meeting would seal the deal. He could almost taste a big settlement. It would secure his retirement and give him the time to pursue his other project.
His first meeting of the day had revealed totally unexpected information. Complicated and far-reaching, this new project would take time and money. He would have to go to Greece, certainly. He had to know, but first he would have to come up with a plan. His friend had ended their meeting with a warning to be careful. The man was a worrier, but it had helped him grow to be an old man.
Then he thought of his son, AJ, and how disappointed, even angry he would be. Andreas knew he couldn’t support his son for partner at the vote tomorrow. The people he represented accounted for a huge part of the firm’s income, but they were dishonorable men. He couldn’t support his son or the firm in representing such people, nor condone the things he’d seen AJ do to get his clients off. AJ’s greed, impatience, and shortcuts had gotten him booted from JAG. The Army didn’t like cowboys. One day, those faults would be his son’s downfall. Yes, his son would be disappointed tomorrow, but not nearly as much as Andreas would.
At midnight, Andreas entered the park. He immediately saw a man down by the waterfront and went right to him.
“You have something for me?’ he said extending his hand.
The water’s reflections colored the man’s craggy face, stern with hard, unreadable eyes. Dressed in a dark suit and a black fedora, the enigmatic figure melded into the water behind him. A shudder of doubt ran through Andreas’ when the stranger ignored his outstretched hand.
“You’re asking too many questions, Pantheras,” he said.
In his voice, Andreas recognized the man who’d called two days earlier and his doubt turned to cold fear.
“I’m a lawyer, I get paid to ask questions,” he snapped back. “Are you going to help me or not?”
The perplexing figure let out a labored sigh. “No, Mr. Pantheras, not help you… silence you.”
A slender blade appeared out of the darkness. The stiletto sliced into Andreas just below the sternum, stealing his final breath in a ragged gasp as his assailant’s hand smothered any last whimper for help.
The killer rammed the blade upward, piercing the bottom of his victim’s heart. Wrapped in the thick smell of his killer’s breath, gaping into the man’s cold eyes he fell to his knees then face first to the concrete, all sensation gone.
The man spit on the lifeless form at his feet. “Quick. Search him,” he hissed. The assassin carefully removed his blade and smiled. He’d done well.
The wound was small without a hint of blood. It was easy to miss. He frisked the fresh corpse.
Quickly, efficiently he checked his victim, removing a wallet, watch, cell phone, and a ring as he methodically patted the body down. He turned off the cell phone to avoid tracking and placed the items in a plastic bag that went in his front pocket.
Looking up at the older man the killer sighed,
“It’s not here.”
“Damn. He must have left it in his room. Dispose of those things quickly. Let’s get over to the hotel.” Soundlessly, the two men walked away.
AJ was running through the surf in Aruba with Natalie. She embraced him, leaned over to kiss him, and whispered in his ear. He felt her hot breath, heard the magic in her voice as she said
his name. The smell of the ocean, the firmness of her body against his left him breathless. He reached for her, but his hands found nothing but air. He felt as though he was falling, awoke, and found himself on the very edge of the bed. AJ forced open his eyes and sat up only to become immediately aware of his pounding head.
“What was I thinking?” he said aloud as he remembered last night’s tequila shots.
AJ looked at the clock, 1:30 p.m., then at the empty spot in the bed. He sighed and knew who should be there. He lay down again, trying to recall the dream. It had been so real. Now that his goal was within his grasp, he thought of her. He wanted her with him, but that was all over. Maybe a new Beemer – yes a new 5 Series – would surely make up for the loss, and after today, he would be able to afford it.
Their argument had been loud and bitter, the last of many. Her objection had been his long hours, but she traveled the world for weeks at a time. No matter how much they talked, it was his fault, and then she was gone.
The next day she called to say she was off to Brazil on yet another photo shoot. That had been nearly two months ago. His private investigator reported in after only two days in Rio that she was with another man. He should have known.
AJ got out of bed holding his head and shuffled barefoot toward the bathroom. The aroma of coffee brewing wafted in from the kitchen. Thank God for the coffee maker’s auto start. Turning on the light he scrunched his eyes against the sudden glare, and fumbled in the cabinet for some aspirin. AJ watched as the image in the mirror came into focus.
He looked into the face of a man he hardly knew and didn’t much like. The face was angular but delicate, a complement to his muscular frame. Dark, deep-set eyes peered inquisitively from beneath heavy brows a half shade darker than his curly hair.
At thirty-two, that hair was showing a touch of grey at the temples. He was tall, lean, and fit. Even to an untrained eye, his physique shouted athlete. He had broad shoulders, a trim midsection, and muscular legs. He had no trouble keeping up with the younger guys on the squash court or attracting attention from the ladies but they didn’t hang around.
Today, the firm would vote AJ Pantheras a full partner of Gold, Pantheras, and Echeverria at the ripe old age of thirty-two. He had worked for this his entire career. As one of only three criminal attorneys in a firm known for civil and contract law, AJ had made a splash landing a long list of wealthy criminal clients. Granted, they were drug dealers, embezzlers, tax cheats, and smugglers, but they paid well. AJ had tripled the income on the criminal side of the firm in just two years. They would make him a full partner as a reward.
Picking up the phone, AJ dialed his office. Carol Bailey answered on the second ring.
“Law offices. May I help you?”
“Good morning, Ms. Bailey, any messages?” AJ said with some effort. His hangover was really starting to get to him.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Pantheras. Yes, sir, you’ve had a few calls. Mr. Clarke called about Friday’s depositions. He arranged for the court reporter you requested. The other calls were routine. I took care of them. It’s a quiet Wednesday here, sir. Will you be in later?”
Ignoring the question, AJ asked, “Is the partners’ meeting still going on?”
Used to her abrupt and overly formal boss, Carol Bailey replied, “Yes, sir. They’ve been in there since early this morning. One of the girls told me they sent out for sandwiches.”
Carol kept up with the office’s goings on and gossip but didn’t share her knowledge. Better to know and keep quiet. She knew her boss was up for partner, which would mean a big raise and maybe even an assistant for her.
“It’s gone longer than scheduled,” the young secretary added.
“OK. Thank you. Ah, can you find out if my father’s called in to the meeting?” AJ asked, unsure if he should trust his secretary.
“Yes, sir. I can find that out. Will you hold for a moment,
please?” Carol put AJ on hold, so he took the opportunity to sip his coffee. The coffee was hot, but bitter. Maybe they were Brazilian beans.
A moment later, Carol was back on the line.
“Mr. Pantheras, your father has not called. Mr. Echeverria has tried his cell phone and his hotel but hasn’t reached him.”
“Hummm, Ms. Bailey, I am going to work from home for the rest of the day.”
Looking at his watch, AJ guessed Carol had figured out that startling fact on her own. “I want to do some preparation for that deposition. Fax me the Perez notes, please. They’re in a labeled folder in my top right drawer. Call me on my cell if anything comes up,” AJ said with some effort. Why do I keep drinking tequila? “Yes, sir. I’ll have those notes to you shortly. Please call if you need anything else.” “Thank you, Ms. Bailey. See you tomorrow,” AJ said. “Good-bye, sir.” AJ threw back the heavy drapes and opened the sliding glass door. The brilliant Miami sun jolted him, and he wished he’d stayed in bed. Still barefoot and wearing his long pajama pants, AJ padded out to a chaise lounge next to the pool and curled up, his coffee on the deck beside him. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been asleep when the cell phone rang. He got up, stiff from sleep. He kicked over the coffee mug and dashed to catch the ringing phone.
“Hello,” AJ said. He looked at his watch, 4:30 p.m.
“Hello, AJ Luis Echeverria here.”
“Hi Luis, I’ve been waiting for your call,” AJ said. He tried to clear the fog from his head, blinking his eyes several times and stretching his neck from side to side.
“AJ, I have news for you. The partners have voted to make you head of a new Criminal Division. Congratulations.”
“Ah, thank you. That’s … an unexpected honor. I’ll do my best to justify your confidence in me,” a clearly disappointed AJ said.
“We had a long discussion, but your father’s opinion carries a lot of weight. He didn’t call in for the meeting as planned, but he told me that he would be voting NO regarding a partnership before he left. So, in his absence before he left.
So, in his absence the partners decided to postpone your appointment until there could be a fuller discussion.”
“I see,” AJ said, gritting his teeth.
“Yes, that’s what he told me. However, he didn’t call as planned, which is very unusual. Have you heard from your father?”
“No sir, I haven’t,” he said. And I hope I don’t.
“Well, I am sure he just got busy with his depositions in Boston. I had an email from him last evening. We’ll hear from him in time, I’m sure. If he calls you, please ask him to get in touch with me.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you for your call,” AJ said. His father had scuttled his partnership nomination. That bastard.
AJ breezed past his secretary, and closed his office door behind him. He slipped off his custom Savile Row suit coat, carefully putting it on a hanger on the back of his office door then flopped down in his desk chair.
He sighed as he took in the sun reflecting off Biscayne Bay. The view from the twentieth floor was breathtaking, but AJ hardly noticed. He had worked for years for THE corner office and the full partnership it represented, but his father had derailed all that.
Dear old dad had voted against him without even calling, without telling him. The other managing partners appreciated the cash flow he’d established but didn’t want to go against his father’s wishes.
AJ was a disappointment to his father. The hint of his involvement in a cheating scandal had meant more to his father than when he graduated in the top 5 percent at Yale Law School. Joining the U. S. Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps hadn’t impressed his father either because he was passed over for promotion twice. Dear old dad and the Army disapproved of his methods. Those methods got him bounced from JAG, but he’d never lost a case. Those methods won cases for his high-dollar clients, but Andreas Pantheras didn’t like their “tainted money.”
“Well, my money is as good as yours!” AJ said aloud as he scowled and turned from the window. With his father out of town, AJ would just have to wait to confront the old man and confront him he would. The ringing cell phone brought him back to reality. “Hello.” He said.
“AJ … AJ, is that you? Thank God, I found you. I tried your home,” a relieved Luis sighed.
“Luis! What a surprise. I was just preparing for a deposition.
What may I do for you?” AJ said, attempting to be subtle with his kowtowing to his boss.
“Listen, my boy, I’m sorry, but this is urgent. Are you sitting down?” Luis said.
“Luis, what’s wrong?” AJ was getting worried. Were they going to take back the promotion?
“My boy, I’m so upset. I will … I will just say it. The
Boston police called. It looks like it was a mugging. It happened the evening of his depos, that’s why he didn’t call yesterday. AJ, I’m sorry, but Andreas, your father has died.”
Now maybe they’ll make me a partner AJ thought. Without a word, AJ ended the call and dropped the phone on the on the desk.
I’ve always loved to read especially a good mystery, PI story or thriller. I now find writing one is even more exciting. After a thirty-year law enforcement career where I served as an investigator, crime scene analyst and crime prevention officer, I retired as a Captain. I spent several years pitching cutting edge Intelligence analysis software to law enforcement agencies nationwide and overseas. I was born in Pittsburgh, PA and raised in South Florida, Fl. I married my college sweetheart. As a twice retired cop and salesman I spend time with my family in Florida and burn the midnight oil writing mysteries, thrillers and detective stories.
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