Sleep wouldn’t come for Lydia despite exhaustion from her transatlantic trip to Athens, the long Metro ride from Athens airport to Syntagma, and trudging with her suitcase to the old-time Poseidon Hotel where she’d stayed in her college days. Lying in bed in her small room, she stared at the dingy ceiling and let the thoughts she’d been suppressing seep into her mind. She was there to see Gabriela. She could put it off, procrastinate for days, but that wouldn’t prepare her any better.
She reached for her watch on the night stand. Noon. Gabriela would be at the Aegean Center office. She flexed her hand which felt tense, reached for her notebook where she’d recorded the Center’s number and picked up the hotel phone.
A business-like female voice answered in Greek. Lydia understood the woman to say, “Aegean Center. Director’s Office.” She tightened her grasp on the receiver. “Is this Gabriela Symeonidou?”
“Yes,” she answered in English. “Who is calling, please?”
“Lydia Barnes.” She took a deep breath, pushed herself on. “I’m in Athens.”
After a delay of a few seconds, Gabriela said, “Oh, Professor Barnes. Yes, I’ve been wanting to be in touch but...it has been so hard. I know the office sent you condolences–”
“Naturally,” Lydia broke in curtly.
“Yes, well, I wanted to write something personal but...but I couldn’t find the right words. It was such a terrible shock to get back to Athens from Washington and learn that your husband...that Professor Goldstein had–”
Lydia grimaced. “I want to talk to you about that...and other things. I’d like you to have dinner with me. Perhaps this evening.”
“Oh.” Gabriela paused, sighed, then said, “Could we possibly meet tomorrow? Tonight I have a family obligation that I can’t–”
“Tomorrow, then,” Lydia interrupted. “Do you know the Platanos restaurant in Plaka?”
“Fine. Eight o’clock at the Platanos. I’m blond and I’ll be wearing a navy blue pantsuit.”
“Professor Barnes, I’ll be there.”
“It’s Lydia,” she said brusquely and hung up.
She bit her lip. She’d been abrupt. If she wasn’t more gracious, she’d never learn anything. If she came on strong, Gabriela would go right into denial. Lydia, diplomacy first. Afterward you can let out your rage.
Rage. That was the emotion that overcame her so often, yanking her out of grief. It had started with that sickening phone call a month ago. She grit her teeth at the memory. She’d been in the kitchen in her New York apartment fixing a cup of tea when the phone rang.
“Mrs. Goldstein,” a man had said.
“Yes. No. I am Lydia Barnes. I am Dr. Goldstein’s wife. Was his wife.”
“Excuse me. Yes, Miss Barnes. I’m Dave O’Neill from the Coroner’s Office in Washington.” The official cleared his throat. “We have completed our investigation of your husband’s death in Washington. The cause was sudden cardiac arrest.”
Lydia sank into a kitchen chair. “I know that.”
“Yes. Well, there are certain other findings I’m required by law to discuss with you. Do you have anyone there with you?”
“No. Could you wait a moment?” Lydia got up and retrieved a pad and pencil from the kitchen counter. “Okay. I’m ready.” She wondered if anyone was ever ready for a call from the coroner.
“Good. So I must tell you that in addition to the heart incident, we also learned your husband had prostate cancer.”
“Cancer?” She clutched the phone tightly. “He never said a word about that.”
“Well, the cancer was at an early stage. He may have been waiting to tell you. Some prostate cancer progresses very slowly.”
“I see. Well, thank you for calling.”
O’Neill rushed on. “Miss Barnes, I’m afraid there’s more to my report.” He coughed, cleared his throat again. “This part of my report is strictly confidential between my office and you. We believe your husband died during sexual activity.”
Lydia gasped. “He was masturbating?”
“Actually, in examining his corpse and the hotel room, we found evidence of a female presence – a wine glass with lipstick marks. And on his body were traces of semen and a long female hair.” O’Neill exhaled heavily. “In the bathroom we also found a tissue with lipstick traces and several long black hairs.”
Lydia felt a rush of anger. “Why are you telling me this? It doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t bring Josh back.”
“Miss Barnes, the law requires that the Coroner’s Office do a complete investigation and report all the results to the survivor.”
A chill ran through her. “Are you putting this in writing?”
“The antecedent to cardiac failure must appear on the final death certificate. What you do with it is entirely your decision.”
“I don’t want it,” she declared.
“At some point you may need a death certificate.” O’Neill hesitated as if he didn’t know what else to say. “So, we’ll mail the certificate to you today. Is there any other way I can be of help?”
Remembering, Lydia shivered, then lay back on her hotel bed. The coroner’s call had been horrible enough, but her own behavior afterward had been irrational and distressing. She’d become obsessed with finding the woman in Josh’s hotel room.
Out of the blue, she’d decided it was a call girl, someone Josh met at the hotel bar during the seminar. She’d called the Intercontinental’s manager and demanded he produce the woman. Crazy. The whole idea was completely off-base. Josh didn’t need casual pick-ups – all his life he’d found impressive women at the drop of a hat.
That hadn’t stopped her from obsessing. She’d next decided Josh had been involved with one of his graduate students at Princeton. She violated their unspoken agreement and searched through his emails for the student’s identity. She found nothing to suggest a personal relationship with any student.
Shaking her head, Lydia pushed up from her lumpy hotel bed and drew aside the heavy, olive green curtain covering the door to her tiny balcony. When she opened the door to the outside, she could see the Parthenon blazing in the morning sun, reflecting the light of golden Athena, the sacred symbol of the city. She had to escape this cramped room. While she’d been ready to return to the Poseidon, the shabby hotel with a fine Acropolis view, she needed air and light and the bustle of the streets.
She threw on a black tee shirt and pair of jeans, grabbed a sweater and rode the ancient elevator, a glass box enclosed by a wrought iron grill, to the ground floor. Backpacks cluttered the lobby. Young people, studying tourist brochures, lounged on the same old ugly orange armchairs. She asked Reception for a map of Plaka, studied it and decided to stroll through the back part of the ancient neighborhood, away from the tourist shops and in the direction of the northeast base of the Acropolis.