Maria, the only person who has been kind to Phoebe since her mysterious abduction, is visited on the island of Milos by strangers after Phoebe is taken away. They are Phoebe’s husband, her brother, and a malcontent who has been assigned to help find Phoebe.
Maria was so frightened by the men who seemed to come from nowhere while she was unloading groceries from her bicycle baskets that she dropped a bottle of milk on the rocky path. She opened her mouth wide and made a strangulating sound at the same time as the tall blonde one grabbed her from behind and put a large hand over her mouth. He and the one with sandy/silver hair hustled her into the cottage and pushed her into a chair. What could she have done wrong this time? These men spoke one language she barely knew and one she’d never heard before. But they had guns and they wanted something. As soon as he saw it, the blonde one went to Mr. Vili’s radio and began to make it squawk. A third man, darker, and angry—like a dog whose dinner had been eaten by another—came through the door last.
“Clear,” he said. But she didn’t know what that meant.
“Did a couple of men with a woman prisoner stay with you in the last few weeks?” The sandy haired man, who seemed to be in charge repeated this several times in different ways in both foreign languages, but she couldn’t make out the meanings of all the words. She finally got the gist when he made hand gestures to go along with them, and she shook her head yes. The dark one was looking at the walls, the ceiling and the floor; he pulled open the cupboards and the oven door. The blonde man had tuned the radio to the language she could make out a little. The sandy one spoke again in that same language.
She couldn’t speak.
“When? I asked you when.” The boss shouted as if there were something wrong with her ears. He leaned over her in the chair.
The dark one had moved into the small room where they’d kept the recent prisoner. He made lots of noise yanking out the drawers of the clothes chest and ripping the cloth she’d carefully strung across the place where they hung things. He came out waving the pair of women’s shorts with permanent bloodstains that Maria had begun to use as a dust rag. The boss seemed to choke when he saw the shorts, seized her shoulders fiercely, and shook her.
“Tell me where they went,” he shouted close to her face.
She cried out, wide with terror. He saw into her open mouth, and released her as suddenly as he’d grabbed her.
“Christ. Her tongue’s cut out.”
After a silent minute, the three invaders spoke together at the radio. They finally produced a pen and paper, thrust them into her hands and asked more questions in several languages she couldn’t read or write.
“Duncan, try different language frequencies,” the boss said, gesturing toward that loud, square box.
When she heard Slovenian, Maria grunted and pointed.
“Great. One I’ve heard only once in my life at a football match in Italy,” he said. “Anybody else know it?” The other men shrugged.
“Okay, see what you can find on the radio about activity in Slovenia while I make a few calls.” He pulled a small telephone from his pocket and stepped outside.
The men avoided her now—as if she had some bad disease they might catch. It was a familiar reaction. Since Mr. Vili’s men had cut out her tongue for talking too much while showing off in the village, other people backed away, too. Teenagers crossed the road in silence when she came along, and children stopped taunting or throwing stones, and bolted. Sometimes Mr. Vili said it was because he protected her; sometimes he said the villagers were afraid of him. But he was seldom there, and they seldom saw him. She thought it was something different, something animal. No matter what the situation, once people found out about her, they backed away and stayed away as if she were a ghost.
The boss called in at the door with the phone still in his hand.“We pulled an operation near the Italian border—blew up a large arms depot—probably meant for Hamas—and burned a wine estate to the ground.” He stood, thinking for a few seconds. “Duncan, get verification from CIA or SIS. Come on. Hurry.” Maria didn’t understand any of this but the word “Italian.”
“Sounds like Kidon,” said the dark one. “What would Phoebe have to do with it? She’s not even an agent.”
The other two men raised their voices to argue about whatever the dark one had just said, but Maria wasn’t interested in that. She’d recognized a name. “Phoebe” was what they had called the blonde girl who had stayed here with Mr. Vili. If she helped these men, maybe they wouldn’t hurt her. She snorted and raised her arms and gestured desperately toward the door. The blonde one shut off the radio, and they rumbled outside behind her where she showed them the path to the cave. How could the pretty, pliant girl she’d once been have come to this? She stood as still as a trapped cat, hoping the dangerous boys would be distracted and run off. The angry, dark man pulled a gun from his shoulder holster. One shot to the head dropped her. She couldn’t see the boss say angry words, and jog, limping, in the direction of the cliffs and the cave.