Operation Gladio - Chapters 7 & 8 - A Novel by Philip Cooper
Central Greece October 24th 2012
Alex watched as his mother stopped and sat down on a small rock by the cobbled road. She looked up and saw that she had a hundred more yards to the summit, thankfully she didn’t see him. The summit was a rock that stood like a sentinel, one hundred and seventy metres above the village. She was tired and even though it was late in the evening and approaching late September, the temperature was still up in the mid-twenties centigrade. There was no need to hurry she thought; the dead are not going anywhere. The cemetery that overlooked the village of Achinos had been part of the village for thousands of years.
She was still as lithe, slim and beautiful as she had been many years ago, but since her husband had died of cancer when she was still only thirty-six years old; she had led a life of mourning and solitude. She was alone because of two events. One was that she had given birth to Alex and the other was that on her husband’s death bed she had made a foolish promise.
“Ariadne?” Vassili whispered, as he lay pale and gaunt on his hospital bed in the armed forces hospital in Athens.
“Yes Vassili,” answered Ariadne, squeezing his hand to let him know she was close by. “What is it?”
“When we get home I'll fix the wooden bench so that we can sit out in the garden and watch the sun set over the sea.”
Tears filled Ariadne's eyes for she knew that Vassili was never going home. Vassili was going to God's home. “When you are strong enough we will go home together,” she answered, a tear dropping onto Vassili's hand.
“Ariadne, don't cry, I know I'm never going home. I just wanted to cheer you up. You look so beautiful today. Promise me one thing Ariadne.”
“I wouldn't like it if another man touched you Ariadne. You know how jealous I get. Please promise me you won't marry again.”
Ariadne didn’t know what to say. She kept smiling down at her husband as images from the past cleaved through her brain. She had met him for the first time when she was 23 years old, at a dinner party held on her behalf by her uncle in Conakry, New Guinea. Her first real vivid memory was standing on a dock at the port of Piraeus in 1948 when she was 21 years old. The woman she was with said she was her aunt and had taken her to the port to catch a ship to Marseille in France to be with her father.
The ship was not a proper passenger liner, it was a cargo ship that had a few cabins for passengers and friends but it was clean and the crew were friendly, particularly as Ariadne was the only young female passenger on the ship. The trip was uneventful however and the highlight of the five-day trip was dinner at the Captains table on the last night of the voyage.
It was raining hard when the ship docked in Marseille. Her father had met her at the port holding a large golfing umbrella over a woman who turned out to be his live-in girlfriend. She recalled that she thought the girlfriend, who was French, was very beautiful and sexy. She wore clothes that showed off her slim body and long shapely legs. He greeted her just like a father would, but underneath his excitement at seeing her she detected a falseness that puzzled her. It was as if he was acting a part and what’s more she failed to see a likeness to him at all, although after a few days she began to realise that perhaps the likeness was not physical but that they had similar personalities. He was stubborn just like her and hated to admit that he was wrong, also he was outgoing and liked to regale others with stories of his life.
Her father lived in a small but pretty cottage in Nice not far from the promenade. He owned a small Greek bakery business which provided bread to the community of Greeks who lived in Nice and the surrounding areas. The girlfriend said she was a model but never elaborated on what type of model she was, although later Ariadne discovered that the girlfriend worked in a bar as a stripper.
Ariadne became bored with her life in Nice very quickly. Her father was very strict and did not allow her to go out on her own. Whenever she ventured out she had to be accompanied either by her father, his girlfriend or on occasions one of his not too kosher friends. The only places she went to were the beach if the weather was nice, or to some sort of men’s club where her father played poker for money, or very occasionally a cinema or restaurant. The truth of the matter was that in 1948 in the aftermath of the Second World War southern France was full of suspicious and unsavoury characters, so for a beautiful young girl venturing out at night on her own there were inherent dangers.
She dared not tell her father about her boredom. She was smart enough to know how she could get round him. Her father had a brother who had a bakery in the small Greek community in Conakry in New Guinea, so she had persuaded him to let her visit his brother in Africa. Actually, he seemed almost relieved that she was getting out of the house, but pleased she wanted to visit his brother. Within a month she was on a ship steaming towards Conakry and it was in Conakry that she met Vassili. Was she in love with him? No she wasn’t, but she was in love with the prospect of being away from her father and on an adventure.
Although she was warned against getting too friendly with him, the moment she met Vassili at a dinner party given in her honour by her uncle, she vowed to marry him and help him with his Festika nut business in the hinterlands of New Guinea. To this day everyone had said that she had done it to spite her father and her uncle. She knew differently however as she knew that she had done it to be independent and have her own business. Vassili was 20 years older than her and had never been married. He could never have rejected the attentions of a beautiful Greek girl. On the night they met she had coaxed him to accompany her to the warehouse at the back of her uncle’s house. There his life was changed forever as she made love to him with an expertise that belied her innocent demeanour. They were to meet nightly and after six days he was putty in her hands, proposing marriage on the seventh day.
She accepted his proposal without hesitation, even though it had been alleged that he had been in involved in one or two sex scandals with under age black girls, but nothing had ever been proven and he had never been charged. Some years after she had married Vassili she found him having sex with a 13-year-old black girl in the store room of their shop. She had forgiven him because they were about to return to Greece with the money they had made and she thought that in a more familiar environment Vassili would not repeat his actions. She was to be proved wrong.
In Greece Vassili got a job as a French interpreter in the offices of the military police, acquired through his brother Dimitris who was an officer in the Greek army. It was an easy job that paid well, so with the money they had accumulated in Africa and with his salary, Ariadne and Vassili had bought a villa by the sea in the district of Vouliagmeni, just 25 kilometres along the coast from Athens. He was then transferred to the Greek Embassy in Rumania as the assistant to the military attaché. The Rumanian secret police used young girls to seduce Vassili in the hope that he would talk about his job and unwittingly give away important information. He never gave anything away, and despite Ariadne and the Greek Ambassador warning him to stop seeing Rumanian girls, he continued to see them and finally, while driving one of his girl’s home one night the Rumanian secret police rammed his car in an attempt to kill him. They failed, but the injuries he sustained led to him protracting cancer and being in the hospital he now occupied. These thoughts raced around Ariadne’s head in a flash and then she answered.
“Yes, Vassili I promise not to marry again,” Ariadne whispered. Then she bit her lip and regretted saying those words the moment she had said them. But she kept to her promise and after Vassili had died she lived alone and never considered marriage despite numerous introductions to eligible men.
Only once did she stray, this was into a secret affair with an American naval officer but she broke it off when she realized that she was pregnant. She dropped out of sight until she had given birth because in Greece at that time and unmarried mother was likely to be ostracised by family and friends. She then gave the baby up to be fostered by a couple who were close friends of the naval officer. They brought up her son whom she had named Alex after his father and sent him to America to live with his father in Washington DC. While he was there she had been sent a plane ticket, with a letter requesting her to attend a meeting which had something to do with her son. What she had been told had frightened her, but she had agreed to do as they had requested. Now twenty-six years on, as of yesterday, Alex was Greece’s minister of finance and she was proud of him and loved him dearly.
Now she was sitting on the small rock by the road resting her tired legs before she attempted the final one hundred steep yards to the summit to sit at the graveside of her Vassili.
She looked down on the village that had been there for thousands of years. The present village was built upon the ruins of ancient Echinos, and is still guarded over by its impressive castle, which dates back to the fourth century BC and sits on the side of a rocky mound one hundred and fifty meters tall. On the summit of the rock sits a cemetery and a small church. The church dates back to 786AD and was the place of worship for the villagers before the modern church of Saint Ekaterina was built in the village square.
Today the small cemetery church is used to store the bones of the dead after they have been extracted from rotting coffins to make room for the new dead. The cemetery was small and the average age of the villagers was up in the mid-fifties, so the church of Saint Ekaterina had more than its fair share of funerals and the small church in the cemetery has more than its fair share of bones. Before the cemetery was built the rocky mound was part of the fortifications of the ancient village. In those days the sea was much higher than it is now and almost lapped at the doors of the ancient village. Just over twelve kilometers south of the village across the Bay of Maliakos is the pass of Thermopylae where in 500BC, three hundred Spartans died delaying the Persian armies from their march south into Athens by defending the only pass that allowed passage from the north between the sea and the mountains.
Nowadays the sea has receded so that today it is two kilometers from the village and the relinquished land supports thousands of olive trees. The fortified homes of more recent periods suggest that the history of Achinos remained impressive throughout the ages. Because as it was in direct line of raiding hordes from Salonika and northern Greece passing through on their way to Athens, they needed a means of repelling pirate raids. Over hundreds of years Achinos suffered victories and defeats, but was never entirely vanquished. Today, beneath the houses and gardens of the village lie coffins buried in haste. Villagers excavating to build their homes often had to repatriate coffins and skeletons to the cemetery at the top of the rocky mound.
Most of the archaeological treasures they found in between the coffins didn’t end up in the cemetery or the local museum; after initially being hidden they were later smuggled out of Greece to Europe and America. Some families in the village were extremely well off, although they did not work or own olive groves. Also, it was not unusual for German tourists to spend time near the village digging up the treasures they had left buried there during their occupation of Stylida, a small port twelve kilometers south of Achinos.
As the old woman gazed out over the village towards the sea, the sun slipped over the horizon, and dusk started to cast its dark shadow over the countryside. Some lights had already been switched on in the village below, the most prominent being the blue cross that sits atop the dome of Saint Ekaterina, the village church. Further down from the church the lights of the café’s and the souvlakia eating places were just coming on and a group of Albanian workers were sitting in the only caffenion and souvlakia place. They had finished harvesting in the olive groves for the day and were now taking a break before the job of grading the days’ olives began.
Ariadne could see people walking along the village’s main street, some carrying plastic bags holding the shopping they had just purchased from the supermarket owned by Maria Antonopoulos. It was the only supermarket in the village and had been there in one form or another since 1947. It was in that year that Maria’s husband was handed the keys of a small dairy by his father. Over the years the small dairy became a mini market and then a small supermarket and except for one son Christos, who yesterday had been cut down in the streets of Athens, the whole family worked in the business. She wondered how the supermarket could survive in the economic climate of present day Greece. Achinos was a village that had a population of nine hundred and almost a third of those were pensioners. Over the last two years they had seen their purchasing power reduced by fifty percent as had every other pensioner in Greece.
Alex watched as his mother slowly got to her feet and started to climb the last one hundred yards of road that led to the cemetery. Just inside the cemetery Ariadne walked to the small church and disappeared inside. Alex followed. He entered the church and in the gloom saw his mother standing looking at one of the many icons that adorned the walls of the old church. Alex walked over to her and pulled her to him giving her a long hug.
“We must hurry,” urged Ariadne, “anyone could walk in here and see us together. Take this,” she continued, as she handed Alex a folded piece of paper. “Memorize it and then burn it.”
Alex took the paper, unfolded it and read what it said.
“How are you?” asked Alex, as he started to memorize the numbers written on the paper. “What are these numbers?”
“They are the access code to the Balkans section of the CIA. Although I work for British intelligence I am also a liaison with the CIA. The British and Americans are supposed to work close together, although there are times when political pressures or national interests get in the way. You Alex have just been woken up. Actually the moment you accepted Themis’ job offer you became a CIA operative. You will get help from a Stazi double agent so don’t worry. You will be protected,” finished Ariadne.
“How do you feel about Christos?” asked Alex.
“Better than I should,” volunteered Ariadne. “When I heard about the assassination yesterday I knew that the final stages of the dismantlement of ‘Gladio’ had begun, and I was afraid for you. But, I was also proud because I know that you will succeed, you have to be successful and bring the corrupt Greek elite to their knees once and for all. You must finish Operation Gladio as it was originally envisaged!”
Before Alex could respond, the door of the church opened and a family from the village walked in. Alex turned his back on the door and wondered deeper into the gloom of the church. His mother nodded a greeting to the family and walked out into the twilight. Alex followed at a discreet distance and once outside the church walked to the grave of his mother’s husband. Around the grave were several candles burning within glass holders. He took one last look at the paper he had been given, then folded it up into a cigar shape and set it alight with one of the candles. He watched it burn and when he was quite sure it was completely burnt he blew the ashes to scatter them. He then strolled towards the cemetery entrance fearful about the immense responsibility that had been thrust upon him.
Ariadne walked through the cemetery and stopped to tend Vassili’s grave. She then slipped through a break in the low wall surrounding the cemetery and walked to the north facing edge of the rock mound. She stopped and sat on a small rock and gazed out over the landscape. She loved this view of the central Pindus mountain chain that separated Greece vertically east to west. Her eyes settled on Mount Othrys rising a majestic eighteen hundred metres which still had a little snow from last winter. These days the view was spoilt by the ugly scar of a new highway being built between Athens and Salonika which ran through the olive groves dressing the valleys and hills between the rock and the mountain.
Suddenly Ariadne heard a noise. She turned around and saw a man smiling down at her.
“What are you doing in Greece?” she asked.
“We were concerned,” said the man. He was a good lair. “So I was sent to see you. Do you think Gladio has been compromised?”
“If it had been there would have been arrests and an armed forces cull. I would have been arrested for starters,” She replied as she stood up and faced the man.
“Dramatic view,” suggested the man. Ariadne turned around and looked out in the same direction as the man. She felt his hand on her back but before she could turn around the pressure increased and she felt herself being forcefully pushed towards the edge of the rock mound. She stepped forward to ease the pressure but she was already off balance and forced to take another step to get her balance back. It was one step too many. The slope was now too steep and she simply stepped out into a void. Silently she fell the one hundred and fifty metres to the olive grove slopes below. Her last thoughts were a prayer that her son would be victorious and snuff out the threat to democracy in Europe.
October 25th 2012 – Berlin
Vogel shuffled the papers he had been reading and slid them back into the blue folder that had ‘Hellas’ stamped on the front, opened a drawer, put the folder into it and then closed it with a flourish. He looked up at Alex, but Alex was deep in his own thoughts and didn’t notice that Vogel had finished reading.
“Alex,” said Vogel, a smile playing around his lips. “Are you still with us?”
Alex jumped at the sudden interruption of his thoughts and looked up to see that Vogel was looking at him with a strange smile on his face. He felt that Vogel thought of him as a plaything and that he would be putty in the hands of the plans stakeholders which he knew Vogel would start to present to him in the next few seconds.
“Sorry Dominik,” replied Alex. “I hope using your Christian name isn’t out of order? If it is, then please tell me.”
“No my dear Alex, I don’t mind at all. Now, let’s get down to the business at hand shall we. By the way I’m sorry about the unfortunate death of Antonopoulos as he was a fine man, a good diplomat and a good friend of the German people. Do the police have any idea who murdered him?”
“No, not yet,” replied Alex thinking that Vogel was as sad as a man who had just won the lottery. “I don’t consider it a murder, it was an assassination, a brutal unnecessary violent act,” he continued vehemently.
“Perhaps,” murmured Vogel, “let’s see who claims responsibility for the act. We might be surprised at the outcome.”
“You sound as if you already know which group will claim the killing,” said Alex, looking hard across the desk at Vogel. He was surprised to see that Vogel was wheeling himself around his desk towards him with what seemed to be a smirk on his face, that is, if his bird-like features could actually produce a smirk. If Alex needed prompting that he should not trust Vogel he need look no further, his sarcastic comment and smirk confirmed it all.
“You have a lot to learn Alex,” said Vogel as he stopped in front of Alex, “and we don’t have much time. We have decided that you will conduct a press conference here in Berlin in three days’ time. At this press conference you will announce that your country is bankrupt and that you have asked the International Monetary Fund, the Eurozone countries, and the European Central Bank for financial help in return for a very hard financial austerity program. Tomorrow you will travel to attend the Bilderberg meeting at the Fairmont Hotel in Barcelona Spain. My private jet will fly you there in the morning. It’s only an hour and forty-five-minute flight and Gitta will travel with you.”
“Who will be at the meeting?” asked Alex, “and why is Gitta coming with me?” Even as he said it Alex knew what the answer would be. Gitta would be keeping an eye on him.
“My dear Alex, we imagined you would enjoy the company of a beautiful woman as otherwise we thought you might get bored,” he chuckled and then he carried on. “Seriously though, Gitta is not just a pretty face, she is an excellent economist and has a sharp business mind, she is my number two as well as my assistant and she has been invited to the meeting in my place. Gitta will be invaluable to you as she knows most of the attendees at the meeting. She will pick you up from your hotel tomorrow morning and take you to the airport. Now is there anything else we need to talk about?”
“Who will vet my press conference speech?” asked Alex.
“The speech will be constructed by a committee of people outside the official meeting who will form a working group to include you. Gitta will organise this so you will have no need to worry.”
“Who will be at the meeting? Do you have a guest list?”
“Gitta will fill you in on those details later. Why don’t you go to your hotel and freshen up and Gitta can come over and keep you company and answer all your questions about the meeting over dinner.”
Alex actually didn’t think it was a good idea at all. He wanted to be alone for a few hours as he had things to do and he was also feeling rather tired after the events of the last few days. Normally he would have welcomed the company of such a beautiful woman as Gitta, but he didn’t want to be distracted by her tonight. However, he could not think of a decent excuse so he acquiesced.
“Yes, I could do with some company,” lied Alex, “and Gitta’s knowledge and input will be invaluable to me. Shall we say the lobby at 20.00? Oh, by the way, which hotel am I staying in?”
“Good, I’ll inform Gitta of the arrangements,” replied Vogel. “She doesn’t live far from your hotel anyway. The hotel is the Adlon Kempinski on Unter den Linden near where the old Berlin Wall used to be. It’s a luxurious hotel, you will enjoy your stay I’m sure, the floor manager has been instructed to cater for whatever you might need, including female company if you so desire it,” said Vogel, a smug smile forming on his thin lips.
Later that Saturday afternoon Alex was being shown into his suite at the Adlon. No single doors with a card key here, thought Alex. The floor manager unlocked the door using two golden keys. The plaque on the door read Brandenburg Gate Suite and as the doors were opened Alex saw the Gate itself through the huge windows that flanked one side of the big living room. The room itself had a lush thick pile beige carpet which set off the four huge armchairs which were positioned around a glass topped coffee table set on silver legs. In the corner of the room was a gold lamp standard dressed with a black shade and next to that was a small teak table. The only acknowledgement of the contemporary was a huge flat screen television, standing on what looked like a drinks cabinet but which Alex found out later was a safe encased in light teak. Alex walked through the living room and slid open the oak doors that led into the bedroom. This was decorated in the same luxurious style as the living room and duplicated much of the furniture except of course the king size bed which was book ended by two oak bedside tables. Off the bedroom was a shower room which could literally hold five or six people and through the shower room a bathroom with a Jacuzzi, bidet and toilet. Both rooms were decked in black floor tiles that continued half way up the walls, the upper half being mirrored.
“Thank you, I don’t want to be disturbed except by the porter when he brings up my bags,” Alex said to the floor manager before dismissing him with a wave of his hand.
“Yes sir,” replied the floor manager, “if you need anything just press the blue button on any of the phones in the room, it’s a direct line to me. My name is Kurt and am at your disposal twenty-four hours a day,” continued Kurt, as he backed out of the room with a slight bow.
After Kurt had left Alex walked over to the window and looked out at the Brandenburg Gate. He recalled from history that it was once the gateway to Berlin and now formed the entry to the famous Linden tree lined avenue of Unter den Linden, which used to lead to the city palace of the Prussian monarchs. It was only since the fall of the Berlin Wall that the Brandenburg Gate has once more come into prominence as one of the most well-known landmarks of Germany. It was here in 1989 that the Berlin Wall was breached and the Brandenburg Gate became accessible again. He looked at his watch and saw that it was almost five o’clock. Gitta would be here at eight, so he had only three hours alone and he had a lot to do. He needed his laptop in a hurry but it was with the rest of his bags and the porter still had not arrived. Alex needed a drink and walked over to the cabinet on which stood the television. He pulled open the door and saw that it was a safe and not a drinks cabinet. He looked around loosening his tie as he did so. Not spotting a drink cabinet in the living area he went into the bedroom and immediately noticed it in the corner. Alex poured himself a whisky and topped up the glass with water, dropped in two cubes of ice and sipped it a few times enjoying the slight burning sensation in his throat and the warm feeling filling his mid region.
He toyed with his glass while he waited for the porter and his mind tried to sort out what lay in store for him in the coming days. He would have to communicate with Langley of course, once his laptop was delivered with the rest of his bags. Then there was Gitta. Alex had never laid eyes on such a beautiful woman before, however he knew that she would never let him anywhere near her, he had seen it in her eyes that afternoon. Alex was no fool and he had seen the way she looked at him. Her eyes did not smile at him at all. She probably wasn’t looking forward to spending her evening chaperoning a stranger, answering his questions and discussing boring details about the Bilderberg meeting instead of being out on a hot date. It crossed Alex’s mind that she might be married although he hadn’t noticed a ring, but modern women seem to shun such symbols of belonging and are far more independently minded. Alex had a feeling that Gitta was a career women and marriage was not one of her ambitions. For her men were no problem, it was keeping them at bay that was a headache for her.
Alex’s thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the double doors leading to the suite.
“Who is it?” shouted Alex.
“Your bags sir,” replied the porter.
“Come on in,” said Alex. The porter stepped into the room and asked Alex. “Shall I put them in the bedroom sir?”
Alex nodded and the porter shuffled into the bedroom and placed Alex’s bags at the foot of the bed. On the way out the Porter took the five euro note that Alex proffered, made a one fingered salute and shuffled out of the suite closing the door behind him. Alex decided to shower and shave before he used his laptop; after all it was still only midday in Langley.
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