Captain Kyriakos Hatzidakis deftly sliced the dorsal fin from the freshly caught fish and tossed it over his shoulder into the cargo hold. Glancing up, he noticed his first mate, Lucas Popoulias, running down the narrow gunwale with a practiced ease that only came with years of seafaring experience.
“What is it?” the captain shouted, sensing something was wrong.
“Radar has a contact coming in fast.”
“How far out?”
“Twenty-one nautical miles moving at sixteen knots,” Lucas said. “I’m guessing it’s a Turk.” He didn’t need to say warship. Very few fishing vessels were capable of sixteen knots. The captain estimated forty-five minutes before the Turks would be in practical gun range. Technically, they were already in gun range, but the Turks wouldn’t fire until they confirmed it was a Greek fishing ship. And to do that they needed to get within visual range.
“Alright, let’s —” the captain started. The ship lurched, throwing everyone to the deck. A crewman screamed in pain as a dorsal fin sliced open his forearm. Lucas’s legs flew out from underneath him, and he would have been tossed out to sea if not for the railing.
As the ship’s engine screamed, Kyriakos tried to pull himself up but was thrown back to the deck when the ship started to skip back and forth like a dog refusing to give up the chase even though it had reached the limits of its chain.
“Cut the engines,” Kyriakos screamed as he tried to regain his feet. “Cut the engines!”
Lucas dashed back to the pilot house and threw the ship into idle.
“What happened?” Lucas shouted from the bridge as the ship came to a rest.
Kyriakos tugged on a cable. “The net’s caught on something. Back her down,” he yelled back.
As Lucas put the ship in reverse, the captain motioned for one of the crew to begin hand-cranking in the cable as it slackened. As the crewman cranked, Kyriakos checked on the injured man. Continuing with today’s streak of bad luck, he discovered to his culinary displeasure the wounded crewman was the cook, who just happened to be on deck picking out tonight’s dinner.
“Stop the engines,” Kyriakos yelled when the ship reached the area of the snag. Leaning over the stern, he pushed against the cable so it wouldn’t hang up in the propeller.
“Captain,” Lucas yelled pointing over the bow toward the Turkish warship now visible on the horizon. It was getting uncomfortably close.
“Swing the ship around,” Kyriakos ordered.
Turning the rudder hard to port, Lucas eased the throttle forward. As he did, the ship pivoted around the cable until the warship was astern.
“Give me three knots,” Kyriakos yelled. Straightening the rudder, Lucas throttled up. When nothing happened, he increased the speed to five knots and then six. The ship’s engines started to whine again, and the bow began slowly snaking back and forth.
The captain figured it was an even tossup as to what would happen first; either the cable would snap, the engines would burn out or the ship would pull free. There was also the chance the Turks would blow them into splinters for fishing in their waters. Just as Kyriakos was thinking of shifting the odds by cutting the cable, the ship lurched free nearly knocking everyone off their feet again.
“Winch, winch, winch,” he yelled to the crew while swinging his arms in a furious circle as if it would help get the net up faster. Not satisfied with the progress, the captain jumped to the wench and helped reel. When the net finally broached the surface, Kyriakos saw the usual array of squid and fish, but there was something else inside.
Before he could stop them, the crew grabbed the net and pulled the quick release, spilling the contents on the deck. Squid, fish and about two dozen egg-shaped objects dropped out. Three of containers shattered, spilling an oily sludge over the catch and into the cargo hold.
Lucas thrust the throttle forward maxing out the engines. Checking the radar, he could see that the Turkish ship was still gaining, but now it would be all but impossible for the warship to catch up to them before they reached the safety of Greek waters.
The Turkish navy, realizing the futility of the chase, used the bridge-to-bridge radio to order the ship to cut its engines or be fired upon. When Kyriakos ignored their warnings, the warship fired a shot, which landed twenty-five yards off their starboard quarter. Captain Kyriakos, standing at the stern, raised both his arms and returned fire with what one of his American friends once told him was called the bird. The Turks, in turn, radioed an insult but, nonetheless, broke off the chase. They would not risk an international incident over one small fishing vessel. As the warship turned away, Lucas cut the engine to six knots, tied off the steering wheel, and joined the captain on the stern. There was a fresh bandage on the captain’s leg.
“What happened?” Lucas asked.
“When you gunned the engine, one of those broken pieces hit me in the leg,” the captain said.
“Is it bad?” Lucas asked. “Should we head in?
“No, no,” Kyriakos said waving his hand in dismissal. “I’ll be fine. It’s just a scratch. If we went in every time someone hurt themselves, we’d never untie from the dock. He picked up an egg. Throw these overboard. They’re dangerous.”
“Wait a minute,” Lucas said taking the container from the captain before he tossed it. Lucas examined the object, picked up a handful of the grayish oatmeal-like substance that had leaked out from it and smiled. “This may be our lucky day.”
“Did you hit your head?” Kyriakos said. He motioned at the chaos on the deck. “This was anything but a lucky day.”
“I think this is a Pithos,” Lucas said.
“What the hell is a Pithos?” the captain asked, sounding annoyed.
“You should know your Greek history old man,” Lucas said.
“I’ll learn history when I retire,” the captain said.
“A Pithos is a container the ancient Greeks used to carry cargo,” Lucas said.
“And . . . and this is one of those?” the captain said looking incredulous. “How do you know this?”
“I read,” Lucas said, chuckling. “You should try it. Last year, there was a newspaper article about an Italian fisherman finding a bunch of Roman cargo containers in the Gulf of Toronto. They called them Amphora.”
“How do you know this isn’t one of those?” the captain asked.
“The Amphora is longer and thinner,” Lucas said. “The pictures I found on the Internet of the Greek equivalent looked a lot like these.”
“So, they are valuable?” the captain asked leaning in closer, his interest suddenly piqued.
“I think I can sell them, yes,” Lucas said.
“Enough to repair the winch?” the captain said.
“There is a real market for historical artifacts,” Lucas said. “I think if we sell it to the right people, we might be able to get enough to buy a new boat.” He suddenly grew serious. “We can’t tell the government. If we do, they’ll confiscate them, and we’ll get nothing.”
“Screw the government,” the captain said. “They’re always looking for ways to take our money. Do you know who to sell them to?”
“No, but I know some people that do,” Lucas said.
“You and your nefarious contacts,” the captain said standing up straighter. “You should not know those people. They are trouble.”
“So you’ve told me, but those people are going to make us wealthy, or at least comfortable,” Lucas said.
“If they don’t kill us and take it all,” the captain said.
“They’re not that type of people,” Lucas said.
“You telling me they’re honest criminals?” the captain said.
“It would be bad for business to kill their customers . . . and I have family connections that will keep them honest.” The captain looked doubtful but said nothing. Lucas took the silence as acceptance. “We should go in.”
“No,” Kyriakos said sternly. “We’ll stay out until the end of the week. It will raise questions if we return early.”
“We can just tell them the ship broke; they’ll believe that,” Lucas said.
“Will it take you time to see those people?” the captain asked.
“A few days, yes. Maybe a week,” Lucas replied.
“In the meantime, I still have to pay the crew,” the captain said. “We’ll stay out.”
Five days later Kyriakos, feeling slightly under the weather, was met at the dock by the head chef at one of the more prestigious tourist hotels on the bay. On his heels were the chefs of the other finer establishments in the area.
“Captain Hatzidakis, you’re back early,” the chef said. Kyriakos limped forward favoring his leg. His leg had been sore for days, but that was to be expected. The cut was long, but it didn’t seem serious. As long as no red streaks appeared, he should be fine. Still, he was feeling weak, and it seemed every muscle in his body ached. Even his hair, what little was left, hurt. He thought he was coming down with the flu, but to be safe, he would go see the doctor about his injury. If what Lucas said was right, he could afford it now. As Kyriakos pulled a rag from his pocket, he noticed a small pimple on his hand. It wasn’t the first discovered today. Popping it, he wiped the pus away with the greasy rag and set the cloth on a crate. One of the crew grabbed it up and wiped sweat from his face.
“Had a bit of good luck,” Kyriakos said to the chefs gathering near his boat. “I decided to come in and enjoy the weekend.
“Our supplier is late, so it seems your luck is our luck,” the head chef said.
“What fish do you have?” another asked.
“A bit of everything,” he answered, and then began haggling over the price.