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Gate Of Hades
About the Author: Robert Lopresti's 100+ stories have won the Derringer and Black Orchid Novella Awards and been reprinted in Best American Mystery Stories.

“You’ve all heard of the twelve labors of Hercules,” Gavin said. Our guide stood poised and posed on the hillside. I’m sure he was aware of what a picture he made with the blue Grecian sky and sea behind him. English, thirty-something, he had a movie star’s looks and a ham’s personality.

“Can anyone identify his last labor for us?”

Nine of the tourists didn’t bother to respond. We knew Suzume would beat us and she would be right, as usual.

“Cerberus.” She was tall for a person of Japanese ancestry, and her usual expression and delivery were so deadpan it made me wonder if she was on the spectrum. Neurodiverse, as they call it these days.

“Got it in one!” Gavin said. “Our lad Hercules dragged the three-headed pooch all the way up from Hades.”

He began to pace back and forth. “Brought him to Tiryns where King Eurystheus was so terrified he hid in a big oil jar.”

Some of us laughed.

“And since the king was the one who assigned the job to Hercules, the moral of the story is be careful what you wish for.”

I wondered if that was Gavin’s way of telling the group that some of us had been making too many special demands. It seemed like each hotel we stayed at had at least one room with a terrible view, and every restaurant served someone the wrong kind of wine.

Surely he must be used to American tourists by now.

“I suppose you’re wondering why I bring up Hades’s pooch in this lonely place.”

Melissa, my wife, shivered and I put an arm around her shoulders. It wasn’t loneliness that affected her, nor tales of a hell hound. The wind off the bay had turned chilly.

The next day, after one of our group died, I remembered that breeze as if it had been an omen. My life has never been the same.

We were near Cape Matapan, which Gavin had explained was the southernmost point of mainland Greece. We weren’t going all the way to the cape because it was a long walk with, he said, nothing but sea when you reached it.

To be honest, this wild field called Tainaron didn’t appear all that fascinating either, but he had promised it was worth the walk from our tour bus. Lately some of the group had been complaining about all the hiking, although it had been clearly spelled out in the itinerary.

But as long as Gavin was talking he was happy. He continued to pace back and forth, dramatically. “Let’s test your memory. Where are we?”

“Greece,” said Buzz, the oldest of the bunch. He was a real card, in his own opinion.

His wife, Lily, sighed.

“The Peloponnese,” said Suzume, then drilled down. “Laconia. The Mani.”

“It can’t be all those places,” said Helen. Except for Buzz and Lily she was the only member of the group past retirement age. She was overweight, clumsy, and often seemed lost in her own world, which might explain why she had failed  to absorb the orientation lecture on the bus trip that morning.

“Dangling from the southern end of the Peloponnese,” Gavin had told us, “are three skinny peninsulas, like fingers. We are in the Mani, which is the middle finger.”

He had smirked. “In more ways than one, some would say.”

There was laughter from the group, and a sniff of disapproval from Lily, who didn’t care for off-color jokes, or much of anything else. She had announced on the first day that she had only agreed to tour the Peloponnese because the trip sponsored by her church, following Saint Paul’s missions through Greece, had sold out before she and Buzz could sign up for it.

Melissa had whispered to me then: “Do you think her pastor lied about that to keep her away?”

The more I knew Lily, the less that would have surprised me.

But getting back to Gavin’s lecture at Cape Matapan. “I told you on the bus that the Mani Peninsula has a nasty reputation. Family rows. Blood feuds. Vendettas.”

“We will try to behave ourselves,” said Alex, Helen’s husband. He was perhaps a dozen years her junior, and in far better shape. His eyes were hidden behind tinted glasses and he usually wore a sardonic smile. He had wavy blond hair and a faint German accent.

Gavin ignored the interruptions and continued to pace. “Some people claim the reason for all the bad blood is this very spot on which we stand. Anyone care to guess why?”

Suzume took a shot. “Economic resources? Oil?”

This story appears in our JUN 2024 Issue
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