Today, we are pleased to bring you “Thrush,” an excerpt from Michael Kazepis’s novel Long Lost Dog Of It. Kazepis’s novel involves a JFK-obsessed hitman, 2011’s protests of governmental policies of austerity in Greece, punk rock, and murder. Author Gabino Iglesias has said that this novel “does for Athens what Woodrell did for the Ozarks.” Long Lost Dog Of It is out now on Broken River Books.
The first day he tried, the ferries in Rafina did not come because the weather had stalled them. On the second day he caught the first boat out.
Aris Maniotis found a pension to ride out the week and picked up a package at the post office that was waiting for an alias. He leased a scooter, and though he felt ridiculous on one, it was inconspicuous enough. The last time he came to Andros, he was in his early twenties and had gotten leave to visit a friend’s family home up in the mountains. That trip had been something of a release, just what he needed then. He and his friend Kyriakos (since dead) drank themselves stupid and met women at the clubs and raced ATVs over the sand. He knew this trip would sour those memories; he had lost much of the country this way.
Maniotis sat at a café overlooking the port. He lit a cigarette, but didn’t smoke it—left it lit on the metal table next to his mobile. He opened the package and found a burner phone inside. The default language was English and he spent a while figuring out how to change it. Soon the info came in via SMS, a scramble of symbols and numbers over several messages. He ordered a tonic water and asked the server for a sheet of paper and a pen. The girl, who couldn’t be more than seventeen, brought it all out together on a tray. He quickly broke down the message and the code revealed the address of a Croatian diplomat’s residence (by his guess the diplomat had a family home here, but the message didn’t say that) as well as other relevance.
He memorized everything on the paper and burned it in the ashtray, under the cigarette.
The pension was a small room of white stucco and cinderblock with a fan in the upper north corner. The bed was wall to wall and almost as wide, and he had to sleep diagonally to fit. He had slept in worse places. He shut the door and walked down the hall to the shared lavatory and took a hot shower, but he couldn’t feel the temperature, like the water was coming out cold. Maniotis turned up the heat and sat. Steam filled the room and he meditated until the shiver went. Later, he had a nap, not because he was tired, but because he was bored. While he slept, smoke rolled off his skin, as if from out of his pores, filling the room.
Over a few days he scoped the house and routine, parked far and surveyed the surrounding hills on foot with a pair of binoculars. Details he noticed: the diplomat smoked Gauloises, had a hot blonde wife and a pale kid with dark hair, hired the same taxi every day. Dusty plastic covering was draped over the exposed parts of the house, which indicated to him a process of endless restoration. On two of the evenings, the diplomat read paperbacks outside beneath a mosquito trap. The days following those, Maniotis paid a local teenager he eyed for a burnout to follow the family into town. In the evenings the family dined well, but cheap and close to the home, the kind of people who knew the local restaurant owners by name, shook hands and showed off the kid and got the best table each time. Maniotis nor the youth ever saw the couple fight. He wondered why, if the diplomat had it this good, was his number up? Most probable: the diplomat was a fucking idiot.
The sixth day was spent at the beach most of the hours and Maniotis let them have that as a courtesy because he liked their life. Maniotis began to arrange action in his head. He would do it that night and catch the early morning ferry back to the mainland. The kid took the money, and the same evening on his way through town, Maniotis saw him drinking it away at a tavern.
He parked in the bushes and stepped off the bike. His phone rang and he answered, having forgotten he’d brought it. His mother’s voice calm and hoarse. Immediately he knew she’d been crying. He said very little and let the call bring its weight and he soon hung up and sat there a while, contemplating, leaned against the scooter.
Once the will returned, he approached the house on foot, prepared to deliver the family to their god. But he wouldn’t have to. The front door opened and the diplomat went for a walk along the concrete road out front of the property, puffing through several cigarettes like they were all the same one. He seemed stressed about something, throwing his arms around in frustration and cursing at the night. Hard island wind moved dry brush, masking most other sounds. He shadowed the diplomat and waited for him finish the moment. Maniotis came up behind him and there was barely enough time for any meeting of eyes, his hand over the diplomat’s mouth, the knife cracking a rib on its way to his heart. Above them the stars looked like the sun’s glare across waves of a darker ocean.
He let the diplomat down and held his hand and patiently prayed for him and his family.
The next morning he got on a different ferry, to Mykonos. He pitched the knife and the burner phone over the side and stayed on deck. He watched the dolphins.
He spent the night on the sand and the next day too. Maniotis left the beach only to get water. He walked and had dreams. In one of them, he was with his friend Kyriakos and they were fishing. They caught a baby shark from the water and dragged it to shore and killed it with stones. In another, the diplomat and his own father were playing at a roulette wheel and the ball spun and spun but never quite stopped on anything, and his father and the diplomat found themselves betting at first on where it would end and then, after some time, on when. The only dream he remembered clearly was one in which he had found an honest job at a factory, living with a woman, far from any water, maybe even in a different country. They had a son who was very young and whose face he couldn’t see.
Halfway through the following week he returned to the port and waited for the winds to die down, and for the next boat to arrive.