Friday, May 17, 2024

Chapter Nine: When Will it End?





It’s been nearly a week since all hell breaks loose for us. The oppressive hotel walls close in, suffocating me with an unnerving sense of dread. Every creak of the floor, every whisper in the corridor, echoes the lurking danger outside. The once inviting Athenian streets now seem fraught with hidden threats, their beauty marred by a chilling unease.

Brock, though physically mending, carries a burden of guilt in his eyes. He blames himself for the attack, for putting us in harm's way. It's a battle I wage daily, trying to convince him that he isn't at fault, he saved my life, and that this web of violence was spun long before our arrival.

Emmanuel remains our unwavering rock, his determination a stark contrast to the growing unease within the embassy. Sarah's calls become more frequent, her tone a mix of concern and thinly veiled frustration. "Ms. Summers," she begins one day, her voice clipped, "the embassy is strongly advising immediate repatriation. The longer you remain in Greece, the greater the risk. We cannot guarantee your safety indefinitely."

I look at Brock, his eyes reflecting the turmoil within me. We're trapped between the embassy's cold pragmatism and the unknown threat looming over us. Returning home feels like abandoning our quest for answers but staying means exposing ourselves to further danger.

It's Brock who breaks the silence. "We need to find out who's behind this, Sarah. We can't just run and pretend it never happened."

Sarah sighs, the sound of weary resignation. "I understand, Mr. Summers. But please consider the risks. The local authorities are at a dead end, and our resources are limited. We're simply not equipped to handle this kind of situation."

The conversation ends with promises of further updates and reassurances that ring hollow. We're left with a stark choice: surrender to fear or fight for the truth, even if it means facing the darkness alone.

Emmanuel, sensing our unease, offers a glimmer of hope. "There's a lead," he announces one evening, his voice laced with cautious optimism. "A contact of mine in the underworld heard whispers about a group of individuals targeting foreigners. It's vague, but it's something."

A spark of determination ignites within me. "We have to follow this lead, Emmanuel. It's our only chance."

Brock nods in agreement, a newfound resolve in his eyes. We look at each other, a silent understanding passing between us. We're in this together, bound by a shared trauma and a thirst for justice. The embassy's warnings fade into the background as we embark on a new path, one that promises danger but also the possibility of uncovering the truth behind the shadows that haunt us.

Emmanuel's lead takes us deep into the heart of Athens, a world away from the tourist-filled Plaka and the ancient ruins. It's a maze of dimly lit alleyways, graffiti-covered walls, and faces that seem to hold a lifetime of secrets. We move under the cover of night, a trio of shadows in a world that thrives in darkness.

Our destination is a nondescript bar, a place where whispers are traded like currency and secrets flow as freely as the cheap liquor. Emmanuel leads the way, his confident stride a stark contrast to our nervous anticipation. He exchanges a few words with the burly bouncer, a silent nod granting us passage into the dimly lit interior. I feel like I’m in some 007 movie, not my reality.

The air is thick with the scent of stale smoke and sweat, a cacophony of voices rising and falling in a language we barely understand. We find a secluded corner table, our eyes scanning the room, searching for any sign of Emmanuel's contact.

Minutes feel like hours as we wait, the tension mounting with each passing moment. Just when I'm about to lose hope, a figure emerges from the shadows. He's a wiry man with a weathered face and eyes that seem to pierce through our facade. He’s tall, thin, and too mysterious, but I don’t care at this point. He slides into the seat opposite Emmanuel, a silent nod acknowledging our presence.

Their conversation is brief, a hushed exchange of words and subtle gestures. Emmanuel listens intently, his brow furrowed in concentration. When they're done, he turns to us, a grim expression on his face.

"They call themselves the Shadows," he reveals, his voice barely a whisper. "They're a group of mercenaries, specializing in covert operations. They're ruthless, efficient, and they leave no trace."

Goosebumps form on my arms and I hug myself as a sick feeling permeates my gut. "They're the ones who attacked us?"

Emmanuel nods. "It seems so." 

"But why us? What do they want?" Brock's frustration shows in his furrowed brow.

The questions hang heavy in the air, unanswered and ominous. We leave the bar with more questions than answers, a sense of foreboding settling over us. We're no closer to uncovering the truth, but we now have a name, a face to the darkness that's been haunting us.

I keep recalling the past – Troy’s secret and murder and the love triangle between him, Jeff and Melanie, and Officer Holder, the dirty cop doing Grant’s bidding. Goldie’s murder, and on and on. Was this all connected somehow? It sounds ludicrous the more I think about it, but stranger things have happened.

I flip back to the present. The Shadows. The very word evokes a sense of dread, a chilling reminder that we're caught in a dangerous game with unseen players. But fear is a luxury we can't afford. We have to fight back, to expose their secrets and bring them to justice. Brock and I exchange a worried glance, the weight of this discovery heavy in the air. We can't just sit idly by while this clandestine organization manipulates world events from the shadows.

A sense of responsibility, mixed with a thirst for justice, fuels our determination. We spend countless hours poring over encrypted documents, deciphering cryptic codes, and tracing digital footprints. It's a rabbit hole of interconnected conspiracies, shadowy figures, and hidden agendas.

The deeper we delve, the more we realize the extent of The Shadows' influence. They've infiltrated governments, corporations, and media outlets, subtly shaping narratives and manipulating public opinion. They've even orchestrated major historical events, leaving a trail of chaos and destruction in their wake.

They could have been responsible for the airport bomb threat and the bellhop's murder.

“This goes deep,” I say, taking off my reading glasses and rubbing my eyes.

Our virtual investigation takes us to various corners of the globe, from bustling cities to remote villages. We encounter enigmatic informants, double agents, and whistle-blowers who risk their lives to expose the truth.

It's past midnight when Brock and I fall into bed. This goes deeper than I ever imagined.

                                                                 ***

The next day, Emmanuel stops by our room and informs us about an alliance we should follow up on. After throwing on a sundress and grabbing some lunch, he takes us to a hidden tavern nestled in the winding streets of Athens. The air is thick with the scent of ouzo and grilled octopus. The smell is pungent. We make our way to a secluded corner. Three figures emerge from the dimness, their faces illuminated by the glow of their smartphones.

“This is the Oracle Collective, a shadowy group of Greek hackers we've been tracking for weeks,” Emmanuel says. This seems like a joke, and I want to laugh, as it’s straight out of some conspiracy novel; however, I bite my tongue. Their leader, a woman with piercing blue eyes and a mane of raven-black hair, introduces herself as "Athena." Her companions, a young man with a mop of curly hair and bulging muscles, known as "Hermes," and a tall, quiet woman with a piercing gaze named "Hestia," nod in greeting. Her bobbed black hair is a stark contrast with her white skin and reminds me of the EMO kids back in the 90s.

The Oracle Collective, despite their reputation for anonymity, are intrigued by our mission. After all, they've dedicated themselves to uncovering the truth and exposing injustice within their own country. The idea of taking on The Shadows, an international organization with tentacles reaching deep into Greece, is a challenge they can't ignore. I can tell it in their eyes. They want this challenge.

Over glasses of retsina and plates of meze, we share our findings and strategize. The Oracle Collective, with their deep knowledge of Greek politics and their extensive network of informants, are invaluable allies. They propose a focused approach.

“We'll investigate The Shadows' operations within Greece, focusing on their connections to corrupt politicians, influential businessmen, and extremist groups,” Athena says.

“We've known about them for quite some time. They have a damn good security system, so it won't be easy,” Hermes says.

“While we work on the ground in Greece, the Oracle Collective will utilize their cyber skills to infiltrate The Shadows' digital infrastructure, gather intelligence, and disrupt their communications. The plan is ambitious, but with the combined expertise and resources of our alliance, we believe it can be done,” Emmanuel says, folding his arms.

With each step closer to uncovering the inner workings of The Shadows, a growing sense of urgency consumes me. We know we have to expose their nefarious activities before it's too late.

But the same question I have asked myself for the past year keeps haunting me.

What does this ultimately have to do with us?

Friday, May 10, 2024

Chapter Eight: I Have to Suck it Up

 


The lobby is a whirlwind of activity. Veronica, her usual composure shattered, barks orders at the shaken staff. Hotel guests, a mixture of frightened and curious, cluster at the periphery of the scene. Paramedics burst through the entrance, their professional demeanor at odds with the chaos.

I'm shoved aside, my own needs forgotten in the rush to reach Brock. They lay him down on a makeshift gurney in the manager's office, cutting away at his bloodied shirt with urgent motions. I try to push forward, to be by his side, but the gruff security chief holds me back.

"Ma'am," he says, not unkindly, "you need to let them work. We'll let you in as soon as possible."

Tears blur my vision as I watch them tending to Brock, the bloody bandages and medical jargon twisting a painful knot in my stomach. A thousand questions swirl in my head: How bad is it? Will he be okay? And who keeps doing this to us?

Just when I feel the desperation completely overwhelm me, a hand rests gently on my shoulder. I turn to see Veronica, her face softened by genuine concern. "Mrs. Summers," she starts, "is there anyone you can call? Family? A friend back home?"

Numbly, I nod. "A friend. He's... he's Chief of Police."

Hope flickers in Veronica's eyes. "Good. Call him. And tell him to contact the Embassy. They can help… provide protection."

The phone feels heavy in my hand as I dial Gray's number. My voice, raw with emotion, stumbles over the explanation of what's happened. Gray is silent for a moment, the gravity of the situation sinking in. Then, his voice takes on its familiar tone of calm resolve.

"Trice, listen to me. I'm sending someone. He's…discreet…can handle things without drawing too much attention. Be ready to give him all the details."

I barely manage a choked "Thank you" before the call ends. A strange mix of relief and trepidation fills me. Help is on the way, but what form might that help take?

It wasn’t but fifteen minutes later, when in the midst of this turmoil, a new figure enters the lobby. He's unassuming, medium-height, brown eyes scanning the room with a practiced efficiency. He moves through the throng of people with a quiet purpose that draws my attention. Then, his gaze locks on me.

"Patrice Summers?" the man asks, his voice low and steady.

I nod, unable to speak.

"My name is Emmanuel. Gray sent me."

That was fast.

The next few hours bleed together in a surreal blur. Brock is rushed to the hospital, the sirens a mournful wail fading into the bustling Athenian streets. I accompany him in the back of the ambulance, his hand weakly gripping mine. The doctors speak a mix of Greek and heavily accented English, their words more focused on medical jargon than reassurance.

Emmanuel arrives at the hospital, a quiet shadow of efficiency. He speaks with the doctors, translates their updates, navigates the labyrinthine hallways with unnerving familiarity. In him, I find an uncanny sense of stability amidst the storm.

"I live in Athens," he explains later with a slight accent, his voice a steady hum in the sterile hospital waiting room. "Gray trusts me. And I trust him. His judgment is sound."

The Embassy, alerted by Veronica and Gray, sends a representative. Her name is Sarah, crisp professionalism barely masking the unease beneath the surface. She's sympathetic but clearly overwhelmed by the situation. Forms are filled out, statements are given, and promises of protection ring hollow in the face of the very real danger that has followed us across the world.

Brock's surgery is long, the waiting an excruciating exercise in helplessness and fear. When the surgeon finally emerges, her expression is drawn but there's a flicker of relief behind her weariness. "He will recover," she assures us, "the wound wasn't as deep as we feared, but it was dangerously close to his heart."

"Thank you," I manage to say.

Exhaustion washes over me in a wave, pushing back the panic for a moment. Brock will be okay. That is our small victory amidst this swirling nightmare.

***

A few days later Brock is released from the hospital. The embassy arranges for temporary accommodations at a secure hotel, but the atmosphere hangs heavy with a sense of being trapped. Emmanuel, however, becomes a lifeline. He procures groceries, provides updates, and most importantly, begins his investigation.

"It's not random," he declares one evening, having spread various maps and notes over a small table in our cramped quarters. "your hotel room, the botanical gardens, Parthenon…they targeted places where you were vulnerable, less likely to have immediate help." His finger traces a route on the map, circling back to our original hotel.

I feel a chill run down my spine. "So…they've been watching us this whole time?"

Emmanuel nods grimly. "That's how they knew where to find you. Someone's been tailing you, feeding information."

We spend the rest of the evening poring over details, my mind reeling. The idyllic Greek getaway has transformed into a chessboard where we are the hunted pawns. Emmanuel's quiet presence and methodical approach offer a semblance of control within a situation spiraling further from our grasp.

As the days turn into an agonizing week, Brock slowly recovers his strength. We were supposed to be leaving Greece the next day but now we are embroiled in a murder, attempted murder, and who knows what else. Emmanuel's investigation, however, yields frustratingly little. The attackers leave no clear trace, disappearing like ghosts into the labyrinthine city. He seems to be everywhere and nowhere simultaneously, questioning locals, blending into the shadows.

The embassy, initially supportive, grows increasingly impatient. Sarah pushes for us to return home, citing limited resources and escalating risk. Gray, through phone updates, remains steadfast that we stay put until we can identify the threat. It's a standoff between bureaucracy and desperate determination.

And so, we wait. Brock heals, Emmanuel investigates, and I try to cling to the fragments of normalcy in a world that suddenly feels hostile and foreign. Athens, once a beacon of history and beauty, has transformed into a menacing trap.

When will it end?

Friday, May 3, 2024

Chapter Seven: Hopefully, We’ll Get Some Answers

 

The begonias' beauty and the laurel tree's myth seem almost cruel in contrast to the dark cloud hanging over us. As Brock suggests, we resolve to talk to the embassy in the morning, but part of me fears even they won't be able to protect us.

Suddenly, a flicker of movement catches my eye. Amid the crowd, a shadow slips away behind a column. Instinctively, I grab Brock's arm, my words choked with a mixture of dread and determination. "Did you see that?"

He follows my gaze, brow furrowed. "See what? I just see tourists...lots of them."

"Someone was watching us," I insist. "There!" I point to where the shadow disappeared. With a shared look of apprehension, we weave through the crowd, eyes scanning frantically.

We reach the column, but no one is there. Only the cold, aged stone remains, silent witness to whatever just vanished. My heart thunders in my chest. "Am I imagining things?" I ask, my voice barely above a whisper. But then I remember last year when I saw someone in my backyard - Holder - and my instincts are rarely wrong.

Brock grips my hand, his answer as firm as the weathered rock beside us. "Maybe, but it's a risk we can't afford. Something's not right." He glances around, his movements swift and deliberate. "Let's get out of the open. They could be anywhere."

We make our way out of the temple complex, blending in with the departing tourists. Each rustle of leaves and every passerby has me jumping. The sense of being hunted gnaws at what's left of my vacation spirit.

As we finally reach the street below, I feel an oppressive weight descend upon me. The sunlight that was once warm now feels harsh. There is a sense that this isn't some isolated incident but the start of something much darker.

Brock pauses, pulling something from his pocket. It's his phone. He hesitates, finger hovering over the screen, then says, "I need to make a call."

Intuition tightens in my chest. "Who are you calling?"

He meets my gaze, a new kind of seriousness in his eyes. "Gray."

Brock holds the phone to his ear, his expression a mix of determination and grim resignation. He paces nervously, his voice lowered. "Gray...it's Brock. Listen, I need a favor. Something's happening here in Athens...it's not good."

I watch him, my heart pounding a frantic rhythm against my ribs. Gray, always cool and collected, was the anchor that steadied us during the chaos surrounding Troy and Melanie. But would he listen this time, with the threat seemingly less concrete?

Brock's voice takes on an edge of desperation as he describes the bellhop, the threats, the lingering sense of danger. He pauses, listening intently to Gray's reply. With a sigh, he nods. "Yeah, I get it. We'll head to the embassy first thing – "

His words are cut short by a sudden commotion across the street. My stomach lurches as a dark sedan screeches to a halt, its tires squealing in protest. Two men, faces obscured by mirrored sunglasses, burst from the car and sprints in our direction.

"Brock, move!" I scream, just as the first shots crackle through the air.

We scatter, tourists erupting into a frenzy of shouts and running feet. I stumble, fear and adrenaline scrambling my thoughts. Brock yanks me behind a street vendor's cart, the flimsy wood providing scant protection from the renewed gunfire.

Through the chaos, a primal terror takes hold. This is no random act – they're intent on silencing us, and they aren't afraid to do it in broad daylight.

Amidst the pandemonium, Brock's voice breaks through the haze. "Run!" He shouts. "Circle around the backside of the market; meet me near the hotel!"

Without hesitation, I take off, weaving through panicked bodies and dodging fallen displays of souvenirs. The smell of cordite hangs heavy in the air, stinging my nostrils with a stark reminder that these bullets are no figment of our paranoia.

My lungs burn, and my legs threaten to give out, but I force myself onward. I need to reach the hotel and pray Brock makes it, too. I have so many questions and a creeping dread that the answers could be far worse than anything we could have imagined. If this all ties back to Troy, then how deep does it run? Who else might be involved?

Finally, I break through to the bustling street, catching a glimpse of the hotel in the distance. A wave of desperate relief washes over me. If I can just get there, maybe there's a chance...

But that hope is cruelly ripped away as a figure materializes directly in my path—a man I hadn't seen before but whose mirrored glasses mark him as part of this terrifying chase. His dark, slicked-back hair and deep blue eyes look dead as the veins in his neck jut out. He blocks my way, a sinister grin stretching across his face. He's at least 6 inches taller than me; there's no way I could outrun him.

And now, trapped and utterly alone, I know the game is truly over.

However, Brock emerges and charges the man before I can act or react. With all the commotion, I can’t tell what’s happening. Time distorts as the attacker stumbles back from Brock's unexpected charge. I seize the second of hesitation and dart past, my heart a frantic drumbeat in my ears. Adrenaline courses through me, fueling a desperate scramble toward the hotel.

Behind me, I hear the sickening thud of bodies colliding, followed by a grunt of pain. Brock's cry hangs in the air, chilling me to the bone. They're fighting, but for how long?

I push myself harder, my vision blurring with tears of fear and strain. The hotel looms closer, its familiar fa├žade a beacon of hope in this terrifying chaos. I burst through the revolving doors, colliding with a surprised guest.

"Help!" I gasp, voice raw with desperation, "My husband's been attacked!"

Confusion swirls behind the front desk. Veronica, eyes wide with shock, fumbles for the phone. Security guards, usually more focused on checking luggage tags, spring into action, their expressions mirroring my terror.

"Where?" A gruff voice booms over my ragged breathing. A man with a thick neck and buzzcut emerges from a back office, taking charge. "Where he is?"

"Outside! I think he's hurt, please..." I trail off, unable to fight the sob building in my throat. They were so close - too close.

The security team doesn't wait for more. Two guards rush with me back outside, guns drawn and shouts filling the air, scattering the remnants of the panicked crowd. I strain to see through the chaos, searching desperately for any sign of Brock amidst the melee.

Then, I see him. He staggers back, clutching his shoulder. Blood stains his shirt, a shocking crimson against the pale fabric. The attacker, having recovered his knife, lunges again. My stomach twists with dread.

Just then, a gunshot rings out. The attacker crumples to the ground, a dark stain spreading across his back. One of the guards lowers his weapon, the other rushes to Brock's side.

I'm frozen in a strange limbo, caught between overwhelming relief and a growing sense of horror. The idyllic vacation spot has shattered, replaced by this brutal reality of blood and violence.

Brock collapses to his knees; the guards lift him as he grimaces, supporting him as they hurry back within the hotel's safety. They sweep past me, headed for the manager's office, likely to make a makeshift medical station.

My legs fail me. I sink to the polished marble floor, the coolness a sharp contrast to the wildfire raging within. The attack, the fear, the shockwave of witnessing Brock’s injury - it all crashes over me.

My sobs echo through the grand lobby, a stark contrast to the cheerful bustle of earlier that morning. This was never just a vacation; it was an escape. An escape from the trauma back home, an attempt to find some semblance of normalcy.

Now, even halfway across the world, that normality lies in bloody tatters at my feet.

I’d give anything to leave this place – now – but Brock is injured and needs medical attention.

I have to suck it up.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Chapter Six: What’s Really Going On?

 




The next morning, the previous night's events weigh heavily on me as we sit down to breakfast in the hotel's dining room. The chatter of other guests provides a stark contrast to the tension that hangs between Brock and me.

The hotel dining hall buzzes with activity as guests worldwide gather for breakfast. Sunlight filters through large windows, casting a warm glow over the space and illuminating the elegant decor. Ornate chandeliers hang from the ceiling, their crystals sparkling in the morning light, while intricate patterns adorn the walls, hinting at the hotel's rich history.

Tables are arranged neatly across the room, each adorned with crisp white tablecloths and polished silverware. Guests sit huddled together, their voices mingling in a symphony of languages as they chat and laugh over steaming cups of coffee and plates piled high with breakfast delicacies.

The air is alive with the tantalizing aroma of freshly brewed coffee, buttery pastries, and sizzling bacon, enticing guests to indulge in the culinary delights laid out before them. A buffet table stands at the center of the room, laden with an array of dishes from around the world – fluffy pancakes, golden waffles, platters of fresh fruit, and bowls of creamy yogurt topped with honey and nuts.

When we’ve had our fill and then some, we sit, each lost in our thoughts. Amidst the hustle and bustle, I see the hotel manager, Veronica, who checked us in just three days ago, standing behind the front desk, her demeanor professional but guarded. Her eyes dart nervously around the room, her gaze lingering on Brock and me as we approach, a hint of apprehension flickering in her gaze. I can't help but notice the tension that hangs in the air, a palpable undercurrent beneath the surface of polite conversation. It's as if the hotel itself is holding its breath, waiting for something to happen.

"We need to figure out our next move." His voice is low as he scans the room for any sign of potential danger.

I nod in agreement, my mind already spinning with possibilities. "We can't just sit around and wait for them to come after us again," I reply, my tone resolute. "We need to take control of the situation."

Brock's eyes light up with fierce determination. "Agreed. But how do we do that?"

I pause, considering our options. "We need to gather more information," I say finally. Then, my gaze falls on the hotel manager. "We start with her, Veronica," I say. "She may know more than she's letting on."

Brock follows my gaze, his expression thoughtful. "It's worth a shot," he says, determination flickering in his eyes.

With a shared sense of purpose, we rise and make our way over to the reception desk. The manager looks up as we approach, her smile faltering slightly as she recognizes us.

"Good morning," I say, sounding as casual as possible. "We were wondering if we could ask you a few more questions about the previous guests in our room."

She hesitates, her eyes darting nervously around the room. Finally, in her strained voice, she says, "I'm sorry. I can't help you with that."

Brock leans in closer, his gaze intense. "Please," he says, his tone soft but urgent. "We need to know what's going on. Our lives may be in danger."

Veronica’s eyes widen in surprise, and for a moment, I see a flicker of fear in her gaze. Then, just as quickly, it's gone, replaced by a steely resolve.

"I'm sorry," she repeats, her voice firm. "I can't help you."

With a sinking feeling in my stomach, I realize we've hit a dead end. Veronica clearly knows more than she's letting on, but she's not willing to talk.

As we leave the hotel, frustration and fear gnawing at our insides, I can't help but wonder what other secrets are lurking beneath the surface of this seemingly idyllic city. But one thing is clear: if we're going to survive this, we'll need to stay one step ahead of our enemies and trust no one but ourselves.

That thought weighs heavily on my mind, so I steel myself for the challenges that lie ahead and prepare to face whatever dangers may come our way.

The warm Mediterranean sun beats down on us as we traverse the streets of Athens, casting long shadows across the cobblestone pavement. The city pulses with life, its streets alive with the sights and sounds of a bustling metropolis.

We navigate our way through narrow alleyways and crowded squares, the thrum of activity around us starkly contrasting with the heavy silence between us.

As we make our way towards our next destination, the awe-inspiring Parthenon, perched on a hill overlooking the city, has stood the test of time it’s been thrown. I can't help but feel a sense of awe and wonder wash over me. The temple stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of this ancient civilization.

As we approach, mingled with other tourists, the air grows heavy with anticipation. As we step through its ancient columns, a sense of reverence fills the air. The temple's grandeur is breathtaking, its towering columns reaching towards the sky like ancient sentinels guarding the secrets of the past. It's undergone a restoration and transformation, making it look like we have entered ancient Greece.

We wander through the temple grounds, marveling at the intricate carvings and ornate architecture that surround us. Each step feels like a journey through time, a glimpse into the lives of those who came before us and the mysteries that still lie hidden beneath the surface.

But as we explore the temple grounds, I can't shake the feeling that we're not alone. The same sense of unease that has plagued us since arriving in Athens lingers in the air, a silent warning that danger may lurk just out of sight.

As we reach the heart of the Parthenon, a feeling of foreboding washes over me, a sense of impending doom I can’t shake. I glance around, searching for any sign of danger, but all I see are people taking pictures, some laughing and smiling, but most are awed at the site. I take some photos with my phone and even do some videos for my YouTube channel as I notice the delicate dark green petals of the Begonia plants surrounding the Parthenon, pink and yellow, alternating.

A row of Bay Laurel with delicate pastel yellow flowers is the official Greek flower, and they stand at attention behind as if to guard the foundation. It was said there was a myth surrounding the plant: Apollo, the sun god, known for his arrogance, mocked Eros, the mischievous god of love, for his tiny bow and arrow. Eros, stung by the insult, vowed revenge. He dipped two arrows – one tipped with golden desire, the other with icy repulsion – and aimed them at the unsuspecting Apollo and a beautiful nymph named Daphne.

Apollo, struck by the golden arrow, felt an overwhelming infatuation for Daphne. He pursued her relentlessly, his affections smothering. But Daphne, pierced by the aversion arrow, felt only dread towards his advances. The more Apollo pressed his love, the deeper her loathing grew. Driven by his relentless pursuit, Apollo chased Daphne through the woods. Exhausted and desperate, she cried out to her father, the mighty river god Peneus. In a final act of protection, Peneus transformed Daphne, not into stone, but into a magnificent laurel tree.

Apollo, his heart heavy with longing, reached for the laurel. Though he could no longer hold Daphne close, he cherished the tree as a symbol of his love. He fashioned a crown of laurel leaves, forever binding him to her memory. The myth whispers that Apollo imbued the laurel with everlasting life, ensuring Daphne's beauty would forever grace the world.

It was forever known as the Greek flower.

Staring at the begonias, my mind flashes back to the bellhop and the one red begonia stuffed inside his mouth, almost signaling a signature or calling card.

I snap back to reality when Brocks puts his arm around the small of my back, startling me. “You OK?” He says, turning to me.

“Yes, just thinking about the bellhop. Remember a begonia was stuffed inside his mouth? I wonder what the significance of that is; why would the killer do that?”

“Who knows? Some killers are just odd like that.”

“Yeah, but it seems he was sending some message. And now I see all of these begonias,” I say, displaying my arms outward. It seems like we’re getting nowhere, yet we are again caught in the crossfire.”

He turns my head up to his. “I know this is frustrating and even scary. But we’re together and I won’t let anything happen to you or me. Tomorrow let’s talk to the authorities about the threats. Maybe we can get some protection if we go to the American Embassy. I refuse to let this enemy destroy my vacation.”

“I just don’t understand why we’re being targeted yet again. What is it about us that draws enemies? We’re just fifty-somethings with grandkids, and I’ve never hurt anyone, have you?”

“Of course not. This could just trace back to Troy and Melanie. Who knows, maybe she’s out for revenge of some sort. She never did like us and even wanted to kill us. And maybe it’s not Melanie at all, but someone tied to the thugs who dumped Troy in his front yard.”

“But how did they know we would be in Greece, of all places, and now? Someone must have been spying on us. Maybe there’s another hidden camera in the house.”

“No, Gray scoured it with his officers. They found nothing.”

“Well then how and where?”

“Well, think back. Did you tell anyone where and when we were coming here?”

“No –“ I hesitate, remembering I mentioned it to the Gardening Club and tell Brock this.

“Okay, well, maybe word got around then.”

“So, there were only eight people at the club two days before we left: Leah, Damian, Bradford, Alissa, Cassie, Amanda, Cruz, and me. And I guess the new lady who just started coming a few weeks ago. I think she said her name was Linda or Lisa. She was new in the area and heard about our club, so she decided to attend. She seemed very nice and was around the same age as me. Anyway, I doubt anyone cared that we were leaving.” But as the words left my lips, I wondered if I shouldn’t have said anything about our trip except to Leah. It’s not like we would have passed the next Gardening Club meeting. And, clearly, someone still thinks we’re a threat if they’re willing to travel or have their spies travel around the world to watch us.

Now that we’ve hit a dead end with Veronica, I contemplate whether to call Gray and tell him what’s going on. Maybe he’ll have some advice or can contact the embassy for us. Or maybe that has to be higher up. I have no clue as this is the first time I’ve dealt with a crime in a foreign country, and the local authorities have already had their suspicions of us with the dead bellhop in our hotel room closet. No, maybe we shouldn’t involve anyone else. Brock and I will have to do some investigating on our own.

Hopefully, we’ll get some answers.

Chapter Nine: When Will it End?

It’s been nearly a week since all hell breaks loose for us. The oppressive hotel walls close in, suffocating me with an unnerving sense of d...