PROLOGUE

Hellenic Police Headquarters

GLYFADA, SOUTH ATHENS, GREECE, April, 2012

 

GENERAL ANIKETOS “Nicos” Sotíras cursed as he slammed the phone receiver down and buttoned his uniform jacket quickly. He’d been brigadier general of the Directorate of Special Crimes of Violence for the Hellenic Police for the past sixteen years. He’d been shortlisted for a promotion to major general, and the arrests he was about to make were going to seal that promotion and his hard-earned second star.

“Apostolos!” he shouted as he exited his office. “Get the helicopter ready!”

His colonel shot out of his chair and saluted with a crisp “Yes, sir!” and ran off.

General Sotíras shouted commands as he crossed the department and headed for the stairs that led to the helipad on the roof of the building. “Send FCFC, HRT, and SAR to the south side of Aegina Island! Tell Hippokration Hospital to be prepared to accept at least ten victims of multiple violent crimes! And tell the Coast Guard to get a plane in the air!” He pointed. “You three come with me!” He stormed up the stairs with his three department heads on his heels.

General Sotíras climbed into the EC135 helicopter, donned his headset, and motioned to his department heads to do the same. As the helicopter lifted off, he spoke into the headset microphone. “Apostolos, do you have the order?”

“Yes, sir.” Apostolos reached back from the copilot’s seat that he occupied and handed it to General Sotíras.

Sotíras read the president’s order one last time and looked at the seal affixed beneath the signature. Today he carried the express authority of the president of Greece in his hands. He’d need it. He was about to arrest some of the most powerful people in the country. One of whom was his boss, the head of the Hellenic Police, Lieutenant General Takis Colonomos. He carefully folded and pocketed the order.

“It’s about time they located the yacht,” General Pavlos Kokkinos said.

Sotíras studied the wiry silver-haired man who had made the comment. General Kokkinos was the head of Internal Affairs. Sotíras didn’t much like the man, but they were about to take one of their own into custody and needed him present during the arrest. “We have been watching it for two weeks.”

Kokkinos was immediately irritated. “Why didn’t we move on it sooner?”

“They only now threw someone overboard.”

Kokkinos’s face soured and took on a greenish tinge.

“How many are aboard the boat, not counting crew?”

This question came from General Gavril Megalos, the head of FCFC, Greece’s equivalent to the American SWAT team. He was a big barrel of a man and someone Sotíras respected. “From surveillance we estimate twenty-five guests, another fifteen in personal staff, and three brought along as handlers for the boys, including one woman. We haven’t been able to estimate the number of boys aboard because we’ve seen few on deck,” Sotíras answered flatly.

Megalos withdrew his cell phone from the breast pocket of his uniform and sent a text message. The response was immediate. “Three Coast Guard gunners, a Cessna F406, and seven life-flight helicopters,” he announced.

Sotíras nodded his approval of the equipment, all while he prayed they wouldn’t need that many helicopters. He sat back in his seat and reflected on how this case began over fourteen years ago…. The case that began the suspicion—the suspicion that had slowly burned into a gnawing hatred in his gut over the years.

Though he’d never been able to prove it, he was certain Vasilis Spyros Kakios Castlios, real estate magnate and the richest man in Greece, had his wife and son murdered in a staged car accident. Then rumors began about a daughter who died. When allegations of abuse and murder made their way to his desk from the waifs who prostituted themselves on the streets, Sotíras slowly and carefully compiled a profile. Vasilis Castlios had become Athens’s worst nightmare, second only to Antonis Daglis, the “Athens Ripper.” Over the years, three boys fitting Vasilis’s victim profile washed ashore dead, and seventeen young men and boys had disappeared. Complaints from the street urchins continued, but the violent pedophile had more than half the police force and judges on the dole. Vasilis’s repeated crimes had always drifted off the radar of his superiors, and Sotíras was left to clean up the mess. Sick was a pathetic word for men like Vasilis.

Then Sotíras received a telephone call a year ago that all but changed his life. To everyone’s stunned disbelief, Vasilis’s son, Christophoros, had survived the car accident fourteen years ago. Vasilis had literally stolen him from the hospital and paid people to falsify his death records and certificate. It had only been a year since Sotíras had saved the boy from Vasilis’s evil clutches. Based upon the boy’s near-death condition, the High Court ordered Vasilis held without bail until trial. Then the bastard had the temerity to die of a heart attack while in custody, leaving Christophoros the richest eighteen-year-old in Greece.

Following Vasilis’s death, the news reports of Christophoros’s unspeakable abuse and torture at the hands of his notorious father were unforgivably lurid and vile, and proved nothing was sacred to the press. Hospitals, reporters, and even some of his own police force had leaked pictures and information. Some of the articles had been downright sickening. It hadn’t helped that Christophoros’s mother had been a fashion model, and he bore her fair hair and beauty. Christy, as he now liked to be called, was terribly photogenic, and the press wouldn’t leave him alone. The only agreeable fact the media reported was that Vasilis Spyros Kakios Castlios’s name fit him because it meant king of evil spirits. Indeed.

Christy spent three months in the hospital last year, then fled to the United States in search of privacy and care at a facility specializing in the treatment of abused boys. He’d changed his surname to Castle and made remarkable progress over the past year. His crushed larynx had healed, he’d found love, and even attended high school now. To all intents and purposes, Christy had fashioned a life for himself out of a whole lot of nothing and a mountain of horror. His resiliency and determination to live life to the fullest still amazed Sotíras, and he admired and cared for Christy more than he should. And all of it, every damn bit of what Christy built for himself over the past year, had nearly been destroyed two weeks ago when he was kidnapped by a past abuser. Yosef Sanna had intended to fly him back to Greece and return him to a life of sexual slavery. With the help of the New York City Police, the FBI, and Christy’s boyfriend, Michael, they’d rescued Christy, but not before he suffered horribly at the hands of the abuser.

The coup de grâce came when Christy told Sotíras that Vasilis had not only abused and tortured him, but also pandered him and others to his business partners. Some of Vasilis’s partners dared to speak publicly about it, as if the abuse had been commonplace and no big deal. The arrogant and outspoken Greek shipping magnate Petros Sanna, the father of Christy’s kidnapper and the man whose yacht he was about to raid, was particularly vocal.

Information obtained from Christy led them to surveil the Sanna yacht. Christened the Ékstasi, it sailed the Aegean Sea and was nothing short of a floating hell for boys and young men. With the aid of several government officials—or at the very least their blind eyes—Yosef continued Vasilis’s heinous crimes and often murdered victims by throwing them overboard at sea. Sotíras’s gut churned at the thought of what he knew he would find aboard the yacht.

A nudge to his shoulder brought him from his ugly reverie. Lieutenant Colonel Katina “Kiki” Katsaros worked for their forensics department, and he knew she’d be diligent with the crime scene they were about to see. She smiled, her emerald green eyes studying him thoughtfully before she spoke. “Excuse me, General, if I may?”

Sotíras gestured for her to continue.

“Not that I don’t appreciate the recognition, but why did you choose me for this raid? As opposed to my general, sir?”

It was a valid question, though he didn’t particularly want to answer it. “You’re an excellent forensic technician, Colonel, and we need a woman on the team in the event there are female victims aboard.”

Her bright eyes lost their luster, and her fiery red hair appeared ever brighter in the early morning sunlight filtering through the cabin. She swallowed hard and visibly fought not to look away from his even gaze. “The reports speak of past victims ranging in age from five to sixteen.”

Her voice hardly quavered, and he admired her for maintaining her composure as he nodded somberly. Her flinch was nearly indiscernible.

“How many life-flight helicopters did you say there were, General?” she asked Megalos without turning from Sotíras.

“Seven,” Megalos answered.

Now she did turn away.

The pilot made a rotating motion with his hand, pointed downward, and held his hand up, five fingers splayed, signaling they would land in five minutes. Sotíras listened to the chatter between helicopter pilots and the Coast Guard airplane circling overhead. Their helicopter would land first, then lift off to allow the helicopter carrying a full complement of officers and the forensic team to land.

Sotíras needed nothing other than the Diefthynsi Antimetópisis Eidikón Eglimáton Vías insignia loudly and proudly emblazoned on the helicopter as authorization to land on the yacht. The DAEEB carried the authority of the military, and they could land anywhere they damn well pleased—ever more so today because he carried the power of the president.

Megalos unfastened a small convenience tray from the hull of the helicopter, withdrew the yacht’s architectural plans from a valise, and spread them out. “Built by Blohm & Voss, seven decks, approximately five hundred thirty feet long and seventy-three feet wide, twin diesel screw propulsion, an eighty-five hundred nautical mile range with a top speed of twenty-six knots.”

Sotíras peered out the window at the massive yacht and whistled softly under his breath. It was longer than a soccer field. A small luxury helicopter occupied the second helipad on the foredeck. He and Megalos had decided to keep the helipad open for the life-flight birds. “The fore helipad is occupied.”

“Won’t be for long. One of my men will fly it off as soon as we land.” He continued his dissertation without inflection. “Two twenty-foot tenders, two helipads, seven Jacuzzis, two swimming pools, accommodations for seventy-two guests in forty-four cabins, with a total crew of eighty-eight. She also has her own minisubmarine.”

Sotíras was immediately alarmed, but before he could speak, Megalos held a hand up to silence him.

“I had the dive team disable and tether the sub as soon as I received your go order.”

Sotíras relaxed. He should have known better than to worry about Megalos. The man always thought ahead.

“We’ll pilot the yacht to shore after your arrests, and everyone who remains aboard will be kept aboard until we receive word from you that they’re free to disembark.” Megalos grinned a lopsided grin, clearly pleased with his plan. “A floating jail.”

A prison from hell for the victims, Sotíras thought bitterly. “The cargo holds?”

Megalos unfolded the plans. “Here, here, and here.” He pointed to three areas outlined in red. “They’re the only secure compartments aboard. They’re on the lower deck near the engine room and ballasts.”

“Jesus, it must be hotter than hell down there.”

Megalos nodded and glanced at Kiki. “If any of the victims are held down there, they’ll be severely dehydrated.”

She nodded in understanding.

Kokkinos, who had been silent through their exchange, spoke. “What do you need from me once you take General Colonomos into custody?”

“Return to Athens with him and place him in custodial holding,” Sotíras ordered curtly. They had a select group of white-collar lockups that amounted to sparsely furnished hotel rooms, and it grated on Sotíras’s nerves that, boss or no, a pedophile would be afforded such accommodations.

As they were about to land, a small boat sped away from the yacht. Sotíras wasn’t worried. The runner’s freedom was short-lived.

Megalos barked commands into his headset, and the Cessna that had been flying incessant circles above the yacht descended on the speeding boat, chasing it toward the Athens shoreline. A Coast Guard gunner circled it, cutting it off, and it slowed.

Sotíras turned his attention back to the yacht. They’d been forced to circle it again in order to make way for the Cessna’s descent.

“Looks like a damn floating palace,” he muttered to himself as the helicopter’s skids touched down, and he led his team onto the yacht.