Beneath the Gulf of Salonika

29 May

Marko Moskos had to deliver a convincing argument to the committee of European bankers who held the future of his project in their hands. They had come to Salonika to confer with the businessman who personified the super-active, speculative character of the entrepreneurial leaders of the northern Greek port and metropolis. What he planned to propose to them was a daring, adventurous enterprise underneath the waters of the wide Gulf of Salonika. It would be the first industrial city constructed underwater on the entire planet.

The athletic-looking capitalist gazed around the long pine table at the curious investors and creditors who had come to Salonika to hear him and look around the harbor and the bay. He began to speak in his rich, sonorous deep bass voice.

“I need not tell you that Salonika, the second largest city in this country, is the Balkan hub of industry, trade, and shipping. Nowhere else on this great peninsula is there as advanced a center of technological invention and innovation. No other city has such a position in terms of applying contemporary science.

“That is why I have been able to convince the industrial leadership of Salonika to support and invest in my blueprint for an underwater settlement able to utilize the Aegean Sea as a source of valuable metals. New sources of titanium, magnesium, calcium, and manganese are out there for the taking. Just imagine the existence of a community under our Gulf that operates as a production and research center, taking the riches of the seas and oceans and refining these materials in underwater factory facilities.

“You shall, in future times, be glad to have backed and invested in the pioneer sea community that I intend to create near our beloved city of Salonika.”

Marko opened his briefcase and took out a number of drawings and diagrams illustrating the nature of the Gulf City that he was mobilizing the people of Salonika to construct.

The office building in central Salonika housing Saros Media was located on historic Egnatia Avenue, a major highway of the ancient Roman Empire.

Kosta Saros, owner and publisher of the Salonika dailies Makedonia and the financial Ikonomiki, as well as head of television, cable, and radio stations in the metropolis, had summoned his main editorial chieftains from all his mass outlets to his office on the top floor. He had an important topic to deal with and inform them about. When the half dozen directing individuals were present, Kosta described for them the problem that bothered and concerned him.

“The future prosperity of Salonika, in fact of all Greece, is in danger. I refer to the mad scheme of the notorious gambler, the wealthy industrialist Marko Moskos. If he should succeed in building his underwater industrial facility under our Gulf, it would provoke an economic catastrophe. All of our mining and metal industries on dry land would face the certainty of bankruptcy from the competition from the Aegean Sea. There would be no way for them to maintain their economic position, should this madman succeed in fulfilling his fanciful dream.

“But we at Saros Media have the power to stop Mr. Moskos in his tracks. Our task will now be to expose him to the population as the swindler and faker that he is. There must be an all-out campaign in the press and on electronic broadcasts to expose his program for the monstrous lie it is. We have to convince the majority of Salonikians that his scheme will bring only negative results for our city. Every means we have available must be employed in turning public opinion against the plan of Moskos.

“I want to ruin him and his idea of an underwater extension of Salonika.”

The short, obese man seemed in a transport of hateful emotion. His face had reddened and his dark brown eyes were clouded over. He came to the conclusion that he had mobilized these employees of his for a crusade against Moskos and his industrial designs.

In a surprisingly short length of time, Marko won loans from a variety of sources for financing the Gulf city.

Not only did the major banks in Salonika and Athens contribute capital, but trips to Berlin, Paris, Vienna, and London brought in international money as well.

A spectacular public ceremony celebrated the inauguration of the laying of the first section of the titanium ceramic foundation of the future structure. The President of Greece and the Mayor of Salonika officiated at the event attended by scores of navy and private ships, yachts, and boats of all kinds. The press and electronic media were full of news of how the grand project was moving forward.

One person whose instincts were drawn to what Marko was doing operated from the slum area of the northeast area of the metropolis. Solon Lagion never sought public notice or media publicity, for he was the effective chieftain of gambling and prostitution in all of Salonika. The short, thin man with prematurely silvery white hair kept his gray eyes on all news about the city that might affect his illegal business activities. He asked his cohorts many questions about the Gulf city project and its implications for the area’s organized crime networks. The need for and use of intelligence and information had long been a part of his methods.

Solon grew ever more curious about the underwater construction now under way. How can our syndicate profit from this major program out there in the Aegean Sea? he wished to know. Finally, he conceived of a means of squeezing financial gain from what was going on.

“It is so simple, an idiot could have figured out how to do it,” he told his half dozen closest associates in the privacy of his casino office. “It will be as easy as taking candy away from a child. Either they make big payments to us, or else we blow up this underwater city with dynamite. That will move those behind the construction to do as we tell them.”

Floating construction platforms containing inflated air bags set up underwater scaffolding that provided the first vertical skeleton for the Gulf city. The teams of subsurface workers assembled component walls consisting of graphene sheets and nanotubes. Structures combined up and down and into all directions. Gyroscopes were installed to maintain the moving equilibrium of all the many sections.

The first facilities meant to go into operation were to be devoted to seabed aquaculture. Underwater plots specialized in producing valuable marine algae and mussels. The profits from this submarine farming was to help pay construction expenses and engineering costs. Special bioengineered surfaces that combined titanium with glass were to be produced in the first industrial workshops set up on the expanding group of interconnected modules meant to give form to the sunken community.

The Gulf city took on the ovoid, symmetrical shape designed for it by the engineers working for Marko Moskos. It was meant to become a multifaceted industrial community, mining the waters of the Aegean for materials such as titanium, raising sea crops, and fabricating metal and graphene nanotubes for additional underwater cities expected to arise in many other parts of the world.

Marko was encouraged by the rapid pace of the work going on, but he felt the personal hurt from the media campaign waged against him and his creation by the organs controlled by Kosta Saros. Increasingly abusive lies appeared, day after day. Yet despite this merciless opposition, the dream that inspired the endeavor was being realized in fact.

He looked forward to the date only months away when the first permanent inhabitants could move into the finished undersea city and the production facilities and factories might start operating at a money-making speed.

But a terrifying interruption, a terrible threat, came to him from out of the blue, suddenly appearing in his personal pocket communicator. It was a starkly clear warning expressed in absolute terms.

“If you wish to avoid the complete, irreparable destruction of what you have constructed under the Bay of Salonika, then you have to make a safety payment into our special insurance fund. You shall soon receive the account number and the name of the bank where you must deposit an amount of ten million euro-drachmas. This must be done within the next seven days, or else your new city will die and never be revived.”

Marko read what his monitor reported over and over, till he memorized every one of the words.

How was he to avoid losing everything? the developer asked himself.

At the daily newspaper Makedonia, the investigative reported Pante Mollis had a reputation for uncovering political and business corruption. His special field was the area where office-holders and semi-legal operators met and worked in concert. He had in his years as a correspondent brought many Salonika conspiracies into the light of day.

Pante had for over a decade kept a special watch on the business and underworld connections of Solon Lagion, the wealthy casino-owner. The sharp operator with the silvery white hair was a genius at getting away with what few others in the city would even dare to attempt. It had become a habit of the journalist to know and associate with individuals who were in positions to observe the tricks and maneuvers of slippery Solon.

It was almost a routine habit for the newspaperman to have drinks during the evening with characters who worked for and close to their boss, Mr. Lagion.

Large and chubby, Pente could spend hours sipping his ouzo at a slow, deliberate pace. He was used to saying little, only when he felt that he had to steer or guide the conversation in which he was usually the listener rather than the talker.

This particular time the man with him was a casino guard who many times was present when the chieftain had secret exchanges with his most trusted longtime subordinates.

All at once, Pante realized that his old acquaintance was narrating an almost incredible conspiracy set up by his fabled boss.

“This is hard to believe, and I would never have thought it possible. But I overheard it with my own ears. He is pulling off a deal under which the builder of the new water city, Mr. Moskos, will have to pay him a fortune in money if he wants the thing to be safe and let alone. Isn’t that fabulous? Solon will soon be all the richer because he has the nerve to threaten the underwater building project. I never heard of anything so fearless in all my life. You’ve got to admire him for his daring and his ingenuity…”

As the informant went on to other matters, Pante made a mental note to look into what might be the basis of a prize-winning media exposure.

Marko Moskos realized that there were difficult decisions that he had to make, that delay was not a viable alternative. How was he going to handle the threats from the unidentified extortionist who threatened him with the death of his brainchild?

It was plain to him that going to the police promised no way out of his dilemma. The authorities were powerless to avert the catastrophe promised if he stubbornly refused to pay what was demanded.

He had no alternative to allowing the deadline to pass and waiting for events to take their own course, however ruinous the end turned out to be.

Although Marko doubled the guard force along the Gulf coast and at the underwater construction site, he had little hope that any such measures could insure the safety of the project.

Kosta Saros was used to keeping a close watch and tight rein on the news items produced within his broad empire of information and entertainment. All the editors of his many media and publications recognized that their employer wanted to remain the one with the best intelligence and information in Salonika.

As soon as Pante Mollis sent a general outline of the nature of the conspiracy to threaten the underwater city in the Gulf, word rapidly rose to the man at the summit of the news system. This had to be something that would be of interest to the press and media lord. It directly touched his vision of himself as a behind-the-scenes operator and leader. Kosta Saros at once started to consider what options now presented themselves for calculation.

Hours of strenuous thought brought him to the conclusion that he had to deal personally with the man who stood behind the Gulf city complex. He called in his secretary and ordered her to make an appointment for him to see Marko Moskos, the one he had opposed so vehemently over the construction project in the Gulf of Salonika.

The time of their meeting was set for the following afternoon at the downtown headquarters of Saros Media.

Why does the fat little man wish to see me? wondered Marko until the moment he faced him across his magnesium office desk.

“We have been in heated opposition over what you are engaged with out on the Gulf,” began the press magnate. “But a certain matter has become known to me that compels me to speak directly with you, Marko.”

The latter waited expectantly to learn what had caused his opponent to summon his presence. He was unable to guess what was behind the sudden change in direction.

“This is what makes it necessary that we consult with each other: I have learned through my corporate sources of the threats sent to you about the destruction of what you are building out there in the Aegean. Despite all my opposition to your program, I belief it would be a disaster for all economic life in Salonika if the thing should be ruined by explosive means. It would be a black eye that for years would harm all business connected with our city. It must be avoided and prevented by every one of us.”

The two looked at each other, trying to discern some sign of what the other was honestly thinking.

“I must thank you for what you have said here today,” said Marko at last, his words slow and cautious. “Of course, my answer to the warnings sent to me have been negative. I cannot reverse my refusal to pay under threat. That is the principle guiding all that I do.”

“But you do not have any insurance when damages occur,” countered Saros. “What would you do if the extortionist is able to blow up what has been constructed already? The project will be financially ruined, that is for certain.”

Marko looked into the dark brown eyes of the obese man. “I have a feeling, perhaps an intuition, that you know the identity of who it is that is doing this to me. Tell me the name of the criminal, I beg you.”

Kosta Saros looked down at his magnesium desk top. “My investigative course has named Solon Lagion, the casino owner that runs most organized vice in Salonika.”

“Thank you,” mumbled Marko. “I am in your debt for that important information.”

“What do you intend to do now?”

“I must go and confront this crime boss. There may be no benefit from it, but I have to try, at least.”

Kosta suddenly rose out of his chair. “You should not see that man alone. Let me go along and see if I can be of some help.”

The casino in Laradika was full of revolving lights, rolling sounds, and overstimulated gamblers.

The media mogul, when telephoning for the appointment with Mr. Lagion, had not mentioned that he would be accompanied by a companion named Marko Moskos.

It was the security chief who met the visitors on the open main floor and took the two up to the mezzanine office suite of his employer. He took the second man to be some sort of bodyguard of the media chief.

The two had to wait in the enormous private chamber once deposited there. They eyed each other in silence until Lagion suddenly appeared through a side door that was nearly imperceptible unless one knew it was there.

The casino-owner stopped and gaped, seeing and recognizing the developer who often appeared in electronic news.

“I did not know that you were bringing Mr. Moskos along with you, Mr. Saros,” mumbled Lagion as if he did not care whether he was heard or not.

No reply came from either of the pair as the owner took a sofa chair facing them.

“What can I do for you gentlemen?” he inquired, his gray eyes aflame with emotion.

It was Kosta Saros who took the initiative. “I was able to draw a link between a threat to destroy our friend’s Gulf city and yourself. Don’t ask how I came to uncover the evil connection. I therefore decided that together with Marko I would make an appeal to you that this attempt to squeeze money from him be stopped and never renewed.

“Do you understand me, Mr. Lagion.”

The latter looked confused and stymied for several moments. “And what happens if I refuse?” he asked.

“Everything my people know or can find out about you becomes public. All your political and underworld connections. How you control most of what is illegal in Salonika.”

The big office turned soundless, as if it were all of a sudden emptied out.

“Very well,” said Solon Lagion, pinning his eyes on Marko. “No one will harm your crazy sea city or its factories. You have my word on it.”

The two visitors turned to each other and Kosta gave a nod of his head. That was the signal for both of them to stand up and leave.

Neither said anything more to Lagion, nor did he to them.

The casino owner watched them walk out as if he were in a deep trance of some kind.

Marko and Kosta found the security chief waiting outside for them. He was their escort out of the gambling hall, to the limousine of the press baron.

“I guess you shall get your Gulf city,” grinned Saros once the vehicle was moving. “We shall see how it turns out for Salonika.”

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