Whether out of hacker pride, frustration over loose ends, or simple curiosity, Ottovio had suggested they meet at the Greek bistro where the Facebook photo of Laskaris, Servopoulos and Eugenides had been taken. It was a bit out of the way, he conceded, but it would give them a chance to check out the office building where Meteor Import-Export Ltd. supposedly was headquartered. No reservations were necessary, he had said, which did not prevent Anna or Andreas from having their own about the utility of the expedition.
At 12:30 P.M. the trio emerged from the Monastiraki Square Metro station and strolled to the commodious Taverna Kalógeros, occupying the entire ground floor of a pediment-laden brownstone building that hosted another two restaurants on its second and third floors. Double doors spanned the facade behind forlorn tables huddled under a portico that sheltered few diners. They opted to sit inside, easily securing a table in the dining room appointed with white-and-blue floor tiles and simple white tables and chairs exuding an Ikea esthetic. Plopping down his black canvas shoulder bag and pulling his chair up over it, Ottovio scanned the menu and collapsed it.
The menu was superfluous for him; he was already fixated on a pita-kalamaki lamb souvlaki. Andreas dithered through it only to order his staple, a felafel gyro. Anna—currently shunning red meat and missing it, she said—settled on a chicken caesar salad plus pita and tzatziki for the table.
Showing them the Facebook photo of their foul-weather friends on his mobil, Ottovio pointed to a table opposite a neon sign gracing one of the double doors, saying, “See? That’s where they sat.”
“You say that almost as if you had expected them to be here,” said Andreas.
“You never know,” the hacker advised. “People pattern their lives more than they realize.”
“People like me,” Anna interjected. “People with kids and people with obsessions.”
Looking up from his phone, Andreas informed them that he’s heard from Evangeline that the owner of the little house in Egaleo was indeed Mr. Katopodis, who had purchased it three years ago for 139,000 euros from someone named Samaras. “She said the price was close to market value, so it didn’t look like he and the seller were related.”
“Whatever. Confirms that police record is accurate and I put spy cam in right place,” Ottovio boasted as their unctuous server warily deposited a plateful of kebabs before him. “Still waiting for some action,” he said, scooping yogurt sauce into a folded pita. “Mister K hasn’t shown up once.”
“Your nonstop photo stream is going to cripple my phone,” Andreas complained to the server’s bemusement. “What am I supposed to do with them all?”
“View them,” Anna declared after waving away the waiter and plucking red onions from her salad. “View them as often as you can, and dump any that don’t show someone entering or leaving the house. Then call me. We need your eyeballs.”
Still chewing some lettuce and a strip of grilled chicken, she continued. “So here’s what I want to do: find that white van and put a tracker on it.”
“Right. Yet more data to sift through,” Andreas replied, adding “Where’s my gyro?” just as the waiter scraped over to present it. “Anyway,” he inquired as the server attentively backed away, “is it legal to track a vehicle you don’t own?”
“Probably not, but so what,” Anna insisted. “Is it legal to kidnap children in a vehicle whether you own it or not?”
“ I could modify my code to return GPS coordinates instead of pictures,” Ottovio said, “but making nice maps of them is whole other thing.”
“Thought as much,” Anna said. “So let’s buy a tracker and let the vendor handle that. If you guys pay for lunch, I’ll take care of that. All I need is for Ottovio to find one that does what we want.”
“You find van; I’ll find tracker,” said Ottovio. “Pay me later. Shouldn’t be on your credit card.”
The Monk’s Tavern was brimming with conversation and clatter when they exited having spotted none of their perps. A brisk ten-minute stroll brought them to a nondescript five-story commercial building on Athinaidos Street with a defunct café on one side and a parking lot on the other. A locked glass door facing shuttered storefronts plastered with posters and graffiti greeted them. To the left of the doorway was a corroded metal plate with a column of buttons and names. The one on the bottom read Μετέωρο Εισαγωγή-Εξαγωγή.
“LinkedIn didn’t lie,” Ottavio said after catching his breath. “This is Eugenides’ company.”
“Or the company he claimed to be with,” retorted Andreas. “Do you want to take his word for it?”
“For now. Assume office is on ground floor.”
Anna had been peering into the gloom of the lobby, face pressed to glass. “There’s a door straight ahead and one to the left that’s probably a stairway. They’re both closed. Anyway, I’m more interested in seeing if there’s a rear door.” Back entrances were for her where the action was.
Presumably in the name of progress, the adjacent building had been demolished to make way for a dusty parking lot that was half-full. “Let’s go around back,” Anna said, not waiting for a reply. They padded along a craggy brick wall scarred with faded graffiti, past a shanty where the attendant dozed in a swivel chair. In the back corner a solid steel fire door featuring a tarnished round lock forbade entry. In front of it an orange road cone squatted, staking out a parking spot.
“I can pick lock,” the hacker boasted, extracting a leather case from his shoulder bag with a sly grin. He unzipped it and took out a pointy device looking like a cross between a staple gun and a handgun. Lockpicking and safecracking, he mansplained as Anna’s eyes rolled, had been his first stop on the road to geekdom, and this handy item was an elite tool of the locksmith’s trade called a snap gun.
“Opens tumbler lock like this one without key,” he said as he fondled it, “but takes good technique.”
Noticing a man in a T-shirt and a backwards baseball cap had emerged from the attendant’s hut to eyeball the trio, Anna advised, “Maybe not now. Seems we have company.”
“Okay,” said Ottovio, holstering his instrument. “Tool is kind of noisy.”
As they casually ambled toward the street, the attendant intercepted them. “You have car here? Which one?”
“No car,” Anna snapped. She pointed back at the fire door. “Where’s the white van that usually parks in that corner?”
The man shrugged. “Poiós xérei? Must be on delivery somewhere. What’s it to you?”
“My shipment is two days late. Came to find out why,” Anna told him in overbearing tones. “They aren’t returning calls. When did you last see it?”
“It’s usually here when I show up. Sometimes all day, some days it’s out for hours.”
“Was it here this morning?”
“Ochi. Not today,” he rumbled, eyeing each of them in turn as a car turned into the lot. “I’m busy. Now buzz off.”
They heeded his directive and stalked away, skirting a silver Mercedes-Benz station wagon with smokey windows that the attendant was waving in. As they approached the decrepit brick building at the far side of the lot, Anna shrieked, “Omigod! That was Katopodis!” She spun around and flattened herself behind the corner, watching the Mercedes nose into a parking spot near the road cone. Soon the door opened and his bulky frame emerged from the driver’s seat. The Benz emitted an obedient chirp as he approached the fire door inspecting his key ring.
After Katopodis had shut the door behind him, Anna grabbed Andreas’s arm, shivering. “Let’s get out of here’” she urged. “I feel chill coming on.”
They were half way to the next corner when she stopped to exclaim, “Hey! Where’s Ottovio?”
They turned to see him standing across the street, opposite the parking lot, staring at it with his hand shielding his eyes. When his arm came down, they waved at him, motioning him to come. Ignoring them, he raised his phone to photograph the lot and the three buildings hemming it in. Then he crossed the street and took another picture with his phone held high before galumphing toward them.
“I hope you know that the parking lot guy saw you doing that,” she hissed, though there was only Andreas to overhear.
“Tourist pictures,” came his retort. “I was studying the scenery for later appreciation. Wanted the Benz to be in the scene.”
“Suppose he tells Katopodis you were shooting. He probably saw us all standing there.”
“Unlikely,” Ottovio said. “They hardly spoke, and the pot smoke wafting from that shanty tells me he may have forgotten all about it already.”
Still arm in arm, Andreas patted Anna’s hand and said, “That was brilliant of you to ask about the van. Now we know where to find it. Bravo!”
“Thanks,” she said, smiling, searching his eyes. “Well, maybe. There are a whole lot of white vans in this town. I don’t want to jump to conclusions.”
“No problem,” said Ottovio, repeating himself. “Just come back when it’s here and check license plate.”
“I’m supposed to keep coming back here until I find the van?” Anna told him over her shoulder. “I don’t think so,”
“Fine,” he replied. “I have nice device clinging to pole in Egaleo that hasn’t been very useful. I can set it up back there to watch for van. Needs new power pack anyway.”
“Now you’re talking,” she said. “You’re right. No one of interest has ever showed up there. Be my guest. And you know what, Ottovio?”
They turned onto a busy shopping street on their way to Monastiraki Square and the Metro. Anna disengaged from Andreas and after maneuvering through a cloud of pedestrians, finished her thought.
“I think it’s time we get that GPS tracker.”
Gyro’s carpentry shop on wheels pulled up 20 meters down Athinaidos Street from Meteor Import-Export Ltd in the light of a sodium streetlight and a low-hanging crescent moon. At twenty minutes past one, two men emerged from its rear door. Silhouetted in orange light, Gyro led as they trundled an aluminum ladder toward the corner of the building where Anna had eyeballed Katopodis just twelve hours previously. Cursing under his breath, Gyro almost dropped his end when Ottovio lurched to a halt.
“Sorry,” Ottovio said, nodding toward the fire door. “You see what I see?”
A panel van, front facing the street, was parked by the fire door where a road cone had sat the previous afternoon. It was white, as best they could tell in harsh orangy light.
“Let’s keep going,” puffed Ottovio. They continued on to the opposite wall and righted the ladder against it.
“Stay here,” he told Gyro. “I check this out.”
As Gyro froze in place, Ottovio stole—as best his wide body could—around the lot’s perimeter, hugging the walls. Upon reaching the opposite corner, he ducked behind the van. A flash of light silhouetted the vehicle, and then he was by the fire door, glancing toward the street. Another flash dilated Gyro’s pupils. When his vision cleared, he found Ottovio stooped in front of the van, phone raised. One more burst and Ottovio turned and walked the wall past the empty attendant’s hut to the sidewalk and back to where Gyro nervously loitered.
“Is van we spotted in alley in Nikaia,” Ottovio hissed, displaying his last shot. “See? Same license plate. Let’s finish here. Up you go.”
Gyro ascended the ladder with Ottovio’s bag slung over his shoulder. “What am I looking for?” he whispered down at Ottovio.
“Between ground and first floor,” Ottovio hissed back, “is black square steel plate with big bolt on it. Secures floor beam to wall.” Gyro fumbled in the bag and withdrew a black box, the spy cam recently retrieved from Egaleo and hurriedly lacquered to match its new nesting place.
“I see it,” Gyro breathed, followed by a slight clang. “Very nice. New magnet makes camera much easier to orient.”
His face pale in the ghostly glow of his phone, Ottovio typed a text with pursed lips and sent it to the phone on the wall. Half a minute later he said, “Point a little to left. Can see door but not back wall.” He tapped again. A half-minute later, he scanned the new images in his inbox and proclaimed the view acceptable.
He motioned Gyro down. They hauled down the ladder and trotted it back to Gyro’s truck, where they gingerly shoved it in, closed the door behind them, and settled into the cab’s tattered seats. After checking his mirrors Gyro fumbled under the dashboard and came away with a cigar tube that he twisted open to shake out a bulky cigaret. He lit it and took a deep toke before passing it over. Ottovio waved it away, saying, “Too late to do that stuff. Still need to find a black box to lodestone that van.”
Gyro exhaled, took another drag, and flicked the flame off the joint. He dropped it into its tube, stashed it under the dash, and removed his watch cap. His long black hair, gathered by a filigreed silver hair-clip, tumbled down to his shoulders. Turning to Ottovio, he asked, “You have more work to do tonight?”
Staring out the windshield, Ottovio shrugged. “Need to move this project along so I can get back to mine.” His life thus far had been a succession of projects, almost all driven by his antipathy to the established order and its machinery of exploitation and domination.
“Don’t you mind her being in your hair? As you said, you have things to do.”
“In my beard sometimes, but not in my hair. For now, her project takes priority.”
“Why? Is she paying you to put up these cameras?”
“She chips in. What she’s doing means something. Not just to her because she’s afraid for her kid—nice boy, BTW—but because abductions and trafficking are out of hand and cops are letting it happen. She could make a difference.”
“Does Beatrice mind you hanging out with her?”
Ottovio turned toward his driver. In the shadowed cab, cleanly shaven with hair pulled back, Gyro looked a bit like Andreas. “Beatrice isn’t like that,” he explained. “She’s a free spirit. We tend to parallel-play. Tonight she’s off with some guy who wants her to help code his bitcoin mine, or so she says. I dunno what they do and don’t really care.”
“Well, I’m happy to help you help your friend. I’m still grateful that you brought my phone back to life.”
“Likewise. Appreciate your wheels and knocking together that birdhouse for the spy cam. My skill set doesn’t include woodworking. Or driving, for that matter.”
“No problem,” Gyro replied, turning the key. The old Iveco van shivered and rattled as its engine sputtered to life. At the end of the block its lights came on as it turned left to rumble toward Keratsini under a waning moon.
On Dimokritias Avenue, Ottovio bade Gyro and the Iveco farewell to head to the flat he shared with his paramour. Their lovers’ nest was above a Chinese laundry whose Wi-Fi unsuspectingly hosted their unauthorized private virtual network. Their computers, internet, and phones were all encrypted. They never received visitors, preferring to keep their location undisclosed. It was better that way, he told friends by way of apology; given their marginally legitimate lines of work, privacy and anonymity trumped conviviality.
It was almost 3 A.M. Beatrice was still out, presumably excavating Bitcoin with her undisclosed client or otherwise engaged with him. He brewed a pot of black tea and lowered himself into a swivel chair at his console with wraparound screens. Before getting down to business, he reviewed his email from the parking lot. Five batches of from one to three photos had streamed in since they’d set up the camera, one every fifteen minutes. Nothing in the scene but for the occasional glimmering of passing headlights had changed. The van still slept comfortably, its front license plate indistinct. In daylight it should be legible, he figured, but it clearly was the one he’d provisionally identified—EKB-2I63, it turned out. Even if that policewoman failed to turn over the owner’s identity to Anna, having the van’s tag, tracing its movements, and capturing it on candid camera taking on illicit cargo should be all they needed to make their case, even without eyewitnesses.
For the next hour he reviewed specs for GPS trackers, zooming in on a couple of vendors who offered the best terms, maps, and promises of data security. Privacy guarantees, he well knew, were moot in the face of a determined intruder, one reason why he bought one under an assumed identity before slumping back in his chair in uneasy sleep until Beatrice returned around five to lead him to bed.