Authors: Howard Engel
His sheet wasn’t completely clean, however. There was the notorious Russian incident that, to hear some talk, nearly killed a Canadian-Soviet wheat deal. Pambos was giving a visiting Russian cultural attaché a mediumwell-done steak at the old steakhouse, when a cartoonist from the
walked in. When Pambos introduced the attaché to the cartoonist, Hugo Macduff, Hugo thought Pambos was having him on. To demonstrate his disbelief, Hugo treated them both to a trick he was working on. He thumped the table, then briskly whipped the tablecloth out from under the knives, forks, spoons and plates. He almost had the trick down pat, but, unfortunately, the board with the Russian’s steak on it went sailing across the room and became lost among the rubbers and galoshes near the door. The Russian was not amused, nor was Pambos.
“By the way,” Bill said, leaning in my direction, while Pambos was talking in an animated way to somebody on long distance, “my name is Palmer. Bill Palmer. I’ve heard Pambos mention you. He gets a kick out of knowing a private eye.” He grinned. It was a beat-up, lined face, with drink written in every quarter. He wasn’t even tipsy, but I was getting good at reading the signs. I thought of that Ben Hecht play they put on at the Collegiate a year or so ago,
The Front Page
. He looked like he could have stepped right out of a newsroom. There was a hunch to his shoulders and a lack of precision with his razor that reinforced my picture of the crusading reporter with his cry of “Stop the press! Hello, sweetheart, get me rewrite and make it snappy!”
“Have you known Pambos long?” I asked.
“I met him in Skylloura. It’s a village north-west of Nicosia.”
“That’s in Cyprus, right?”
“Yeah. I was with a paper over there and I met him when his brother was killed.” He automatically lowered his voice and cast a glance at Pambos, who was laughing into the phone and leaning back in his chair at a dangerous angle.
“They had a. lot of trouble over there once, didn’t they?” I guess it was a dumb question, but Palmer was generous.
“Yeah, they’ve been having a bad time since the days of the Argonauts and I don’t mean the Toronto football club. I was over there when the Greeks and the British were fighting about independence. During the 1950s. The Turks came into it, too, near the end. Pambos’s brother, Michael, was killed outside a Turkish village called Guenyeli in 1957. He was one of nine in what I called a massacre at the time. And since I still wake up at night when I have bad dreams about it, I guess I’d still call it that.” This time Palmer didn’t put his drink into his coffee; he took his snort direct, then offered me a pull at the flask after wiping the top with his hand. I shook my head.
“How did a Canadian reporter get to be covering a Greek war?” I asked.
“I was working on one of Beaverbrook’s papers, the
, when I was recruited by a guy named Charles Foley, who was starting up an English language newspaper in Nicosia. That was
The Times of Cyprus.”
Palmer shrugged, not wanting to be taken for a hero. “The fighting hadn’t started yet and it looked like a warm place to spend the winter.”
From the telephone, Pambos shot us all a helpless look. “All I can tell you,” he said, “is that he sometimes drops by here in the evenings, but I never can be sure when. I’ll give him your message if I see him. That’s the best I can do.” When he had hung up Pambos explained that the caller was a book collector from Boulder, Colorado, who was trying to find Martin Lyster, a book-tracer and dealer in rare books, whose name I’d heard around town before. Pambos described Martin as a slippery customer, always turning up like a bad penny when you least expected him. Bill suggested that the sound of a cork popping near an open window would attract his attention if he was within a hundred miles of it.
“Martin’s a decent fellow,” Pambos said, “but he’s impossible to keep up with. He never tells you where he’s staying. That’s why I haven’t been able to pay him for the last job he did for me.” Here Pambos held up a calfbound volume with gilt edging. Bill allowed that Martin was a living legend and took another swig from his flask, which was quickly nearing the empty mark. Bill took the book from Pambos and held it up to the light, examined the binding, sniffed at the open pages and nodded deeply like it was a rare wine in his hands and not a dusty tome with liver spots. Palmer handed it to me and I frowned at it and bobbed my head sagely.
“Mr. Something Lambert in Boulder wants him to call,” Pambos said as he took the book back into his possession and smiled slightly, no doubt because during my examination I hadn’t cracked the spine. “So, if you see him,” he said, looking at each of us in turn, “tell him it’s important.”
I was beginning to look at Pambos in a new light. For years I’d known about the brother who’d been executed by the mob south of town and left headless in a ditch. Pambos never tried to hide the fact. He was as up-front about such personal information as I was about my Uncle Morris’s gold stocks. But he’d never mentioned this second brother, the first of two to die violently. I tried to imagine a brace of brothers standing beside the man lovingly replacing the calf-bound book on its shelf. It was hard to add the necessary violence to the picture. But Michael had been active in the movement to free Cyprus from the British and the other brother had been an unsuccessful hoodlum. Brother Costas had a record of minor violations long enough at the time of his death to alert the cops to what the younger brother, Pambos, was trying to do legally and by the sweat of his brow.
“When did you come out to Canada, Pambos?” Pambos didn’t look at me, he looked over at Bill.
“You were talking Cyprus politics while I was trying to get Mr. Lambert to cool off?” Then to me:
“Yeah, I came out here with my parents and brother in 1960. As soon as Cyprus was an okay place to come from again. Just after your paper went out of business, Bill.” He said that with a leer, as though Bill Palmer had personally put
The Times of Cyprus
out of business.
“Now, wait a minute! When the Brits pulled back into those sovereign base areas, the whole island suffered a recession. All sorts of businesses went under. And where were we going to get headlines once
dwindled into good old Ledra Street again?”
There was a brief lull in the conversation, and then they went back to Napoleon again. I excused myself. The bathroom had a print of the Mona Lisa hanging above the tub. Nice touch. When I got back, fresh coffee had arrived, and Bill Palmer had started filling a pipe from a yellow oilskin pouch.
“He couldn’t have invaded the coast of Kent,” Pambos was saying. I had a good idea who “he” might be. “You forget the Goodwin Sands. Sandwich and Dover are the only close harbours. And you have the other Cinque Ports. There’s pebble beaches around Deal and Walmer. Then you get the famous white cliffs.” I wondered if I could retreat to the bathroom again until conversation came around to famous criminal cases or the movies of the sixties. I decided against it and tried to follow what was going on. I can now name the Cinque Ports, but I can’t explain how there came to be seven of them.
About a quarter of an hour later, Pambos got up and told me to follow him. He took me into his “secret room” behind the bookcase. It was a crowded room that reminded me of the stacks behind the check-out counter at the public library. Who would have thought that the thing to hide behind a bookcase was more books? He had walls of them, some in mint condition, some in torn or faded jackets or without jackets at all. He told me about this being his treasure-trove of rare editions between parries and thrusts at Bill’s theories about the last years of the late emperor of the French. I had just started to quiz him about some of the missing pieces in the puzzle he’d handed me when the man wanted in Boulder, Colorado made his appearance. Pambos and Bill warmly greeted Martin Lyster and introduced him to me. His face rivalled Bill Palmer’s for the wear and tear of good times. “He’s a decent old skin,” said Palmer in a broad theatrical brogue, while Pambos found him a cup of hot coffee. Before he could tuck his long legs under his chair or get half a dozen sips of coffee into him, Lyster was arguing the case for the journal of the Irish Dr. O’Meara, who attended Napoleon on St. Helena. When I finally left, I’d had my fill of history all the way from the battle of Marengo to the massacre at Guenyeli. I took my weary bones home and put them into my new bath. How had I managed with only a shower all these years, I wondered, as I climbed into the bed we’d set up in the morning. I was asleep before I even noticed the clock ticking.
I’d forgotten to set the clock-radio. The telephone let me know that when it started ringing. The useless time on the dial of the clock told a tale of being unplugged at the City House and then slipped into a box full of dirty shirts and paperbacks. It was a clear accusation of negligence. The phone rang again.
“Is Phil there?”
“No. This is a brand new number as of yesterday.” There was a pause as the woman at the other end took in the news. Did she know the woman with the north of England accent, I wondered. I added “I’m sorry” and waited for a “thank you,” but all I got was a click as the connection was broken.
It was hard to orient myself in the new place. The light hit the walls differently. The morning noises were different. Gone were the sounds of heavy traffic moving steadily west along King Street. I could scarcely hear any traffic at all, but from the schoolyard, a din arose that would have rattled a VU meter at the TV station. It was all high notes, treble, no bass. I looked at my watch. It must be recess. I’d slept in on my first morning in the new apartment. A good sign, I thought, as I hoisted myself in the direction of my toothbrush.
An hour later I was sitting at the marble counter of the United Cigar Store. I hadn’t tried making coffee in my place because it needed more thinking about than I had thinking time. Besides, I liked the company of the regulars. I looked through the Toronto paper and ate most of a piece of toast before walking past the magazine rack to the street. I could feel the heat the moment I stepped out the door. St. Andrew Street was warming its old stones and bricks, flushing the winter out of its joints under a sun that was almost visibly teasing and encouraging the weeds to grow up around the telephone poles and between the cracks in the sidewalk. I headed to the library.
The Grantham Library is a nerve-racking place. I find it difficult to read for a long time at a stretch with the sound of running water in my ears. Somehow, architects find libraries call out for fountains and waterfalls. Maybe it’s an over-compensation for all of the faceless commercial blocks they put up, without a statue, or a column or a classical detail of any kind. They have to save up these frustrations and get rid of them on public buildings. Now, I don’t mind the fountain at the new court house. On my way to get a writ or a copy of a judgment, the sound of water goes very well, but when I’m just sitting and reading, the water soaks into my brain and sends me off to the “Men’s” before I really need to go. The sound of water and the mysteries of the Dewey decimal system are equally distracting. Maybe that’s why I have for many years gone directly to Ella Beames in her office in the Special Collections Department with my problems. From her second-floor room, the world looks different, more organized, with past and present coming together in one of Ella’s hundreds of files.
I told her what I wanted and she went away sighing. Was our relationship beginning to show signs of stress? Was it time I learned how to do my own research? I was over-reacting. I guess she doesn’t get asked to bring out files on the troubles in Cyprus and the local art scene by the same customer all that often.
“Here they are, Benny.” Ella said as she plunked down a load of books and files of clippings in two separate places on the heavy table in front of me. “There’ll be things on microfilm too, of course. But this is a start. You can read yourself silly trying to follow a war in the papers. Best to find out the dates you need and then go to the
. On a big international story like Cyprus, the
got everything through the wire services. But they’ll be your best bet on running down the stuff on the Contemporary Gallery and Arthur Tallon.” Ella tried to catch her breath and brushed a loose strand of hair out of her eyes. I think it was greyer than when I saw it last. I liked to look at her velvety cheeks and her small, perfect nose. Her face wasn’t beautiful—in fact you might say she’d been plain as a girl—but there was the beauty of tidiness about it There was wit and humour in the way her features related to one another And she still liked helping me! What was I going to do?
My sudden interest in Cyprus was pure indulgence and curiosity. I guess I was sharpening my research instincts for the real work that lay ahead in the art clippings. The curiosity was genuine enough; I resented being left behind last night, being unable to contribute anything. Cyprus, I thought, I could bone up on so I wouldn’t look a dummy. Napoleon would take longer, a summer holiday or a long cold winter. Even I could see that.
As I opened the books and began to get a measure of the troubles in Cyprus, Ella disappeared only to return with more information. The first book was
Island in Revolt
by Charles Foley. I guess he couldn’t very well call it
. Foley. I remembered hearing the name last night. It was good to feel I was this close to the inside track so soon in my research. I read on. In the 1950s, after the loss of India and Palestine, at the time of Suez, the Domino Theory of foreign policy was very big. The Brits couldn’t see how they could keep their military bases in Cyprus without running the whole island. Cyprus wasn’t exactly the jewel in the crown of the British Empire, but it was the only thing giving off a fading semi-precious glitter. From the Foley book it appeared that most of the leaders of the movement to get the British out of the island were British-trained and -educated Greeks, who loved British institutions and traditions. They were shocked that the Brits thought that as far as more selfgovernment was concerned, it was just “not on.” There were other books and key clippings to go through. I could see myself becoming an overnight expert on the subject. I checked Guenyeli in the index of Foley’s book. Yes, the massacre had occurred. A group of about fifty Greeks, hearing of trouble in Skylloura, a village north-west of Nicosia, started out to help. I checked where I was on the map. They were intercepted by a patrol of Security Police and taken first to the police station in Skylloura and then to one in Nicosia. When Security couldn’t find any grounds for holding them, they were driven by truck and let go near the Turkish village of Guenyeli, on the way to the resort town of Kyrenia on the north coast. Somehow the Turks were expecting them. As the Greeks crossed the fields on their way back towards Skylloura, a gang of Turks armed with clubs and axes came to meet them. Some were riding motorcycles. They attacked and nine Greeks were killed, one was beheaded, others were injured. There was no mention by name of any of the victims, including Pambos Kiriakis’s brother Michael. When the story of the massacre began to spread, it was at first denied and then different official versions were circulated. The Greeks, in one version, were the aggressors. In another, only two bodies had been found.