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Colin Spencer

 

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The Downs Venice
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Excerpt from How the Greeks...


Some weeks before Mrs Nixon’s visit to Greece, the Commandant of the Dionysos Camp, Major Theonakos, received an order from Inspector Lambrou telling him that all cells should be pumped dry and kept in that state in the future. When the Major read this order, he giggled helplessly and immediately called in Captain Zagouras and Lieutenant Kapoglou; whereupon they all three pranced about the office hooting with merriment. The thought of Inspector Lambrou suffering from a spasm of concern for his prisoners was quite unheard of; they decided to ignore the order and happily waited for it to be countermanded. However, a few days after that the Major was told that in the near future some observers from Amnesty were going to be allowed to visit the Camp and his immediate presence in Athens was called for by the Inspector.

When the Major visited Lambrou’s office he saw that Lambrou’s nose twitched as if a colony of red ants had taken refuge in his sinuses. Theonakos felt it must be a sign of choleric bad temper.

‘You’ve pumped the cells dry, Major?’

‘Of course, Inspector.’

‘Better give them a coat of paint, put some furniture in them, make them look fairly comfortable.’

‘I’ll try,’ the Major said nervously, thinking of those black dank holes in the rock and wondering how on earth you could paint walls running with water. Oil paint might stick, he supposed?

‘Try?’ Lambrou echoed, looking up at the Major and lifting one eyebrow which shook in salute.

‘No, no, I mean… I will.’

‘Now it seems that Mr Pattakos has agreed that they can interview three prisoners.’ Lambrou stared at the Major, who had taken out his tie from its neat position and was chewing the end of it. ‘Are you in the habit of finding your uniform edible?’ Lambrou asked, mentally congratulating himself on another shaft of his driest wit.

The Major dropped the tie. ‘I do beg your pardon, Inspector. I was er … Look, have you seen those cells?’

‘What do you think I am? A welfare worker?’ Lambrou uttered acidly.

‘No, indeed, that thought never crossed my mind.’ He answered uneasily, thinking that the description of the cells was in all the reports. Half of the prisoners died of pneumonia or became crippled with rheumatism – Lambrou must be aware of that. ‘But you see, Inspector, well, the cells are nothing more than potholes in the rock.’

‘Why can’t you furnish potholes? Or is that too much to ask?’

‘What furniture had you in mind sir?’

‘A bed, chair, table. Nothing too luxurious. Basic stuff, you know.’

‘Should the bed have a mattress and a blanket?’

‘Well, Amnesty is sure to kick up a fuss if they don’t.’

The Major nodded wearily, wondering how long such things would last without disintegrating. ‘Er … the
cells, sir, aren’t big enough to get a bed in.’

Lambrou leant forward upon the desk and Major Theonakos was given the benefit of his Hades glare accompanied by his Cerberus growl. ‘I am not used to my orders being questioned, Major. You understand the point of this visit.’ He paused while the Major nodded his assent several times and made a huge effort to control his urge to chew his tie again. Then Lambrou thumped the desk with his first and shrieked, ‘Meddlesome bastards and fascist perverts. I’m surrounded by them.’

‘Oh dear, I am sorry to hear that, sir.’