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The Phoenix

Sidney Sheldon


  Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd

  1 London Bridge Street

  London SE1 9GF

  First published in Great Britain by HarperCollinsPublishers 2019

  Copyright © Sheldon Family Limited Partnership 2019

  Cover photographs © and Mark Owen/Trevillion Images (running figure)

  Cover design © HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 2019

  Tilly Bagshawe asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

  A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library.

  This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.

  All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins.

  Source ISBN: 9780008229689

  Ebook Edition © June 2019 ISBN: 9780008229719

  Version: 2019-05-20


  For Zac



  Title Page




  Part One

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Part Two

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Part Three

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Chapter Thirty


  Keep Reading …

  About the Author

  Also by Sidney Sheldon

  About the Publisher


  Outside Athens, Greece

  From the terrace of his elegant, whitewashed villa, former president Dimitri Mantzaris gazed out across Vouliagmeni beach to the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. He was an old man now and vastly fat, gorging himself daily on cheese and wine and baklava, the sweet, honeyed treats he’d always loved but had resisted as a younger man, back when his greed was at war with his vanity. At eighty years old, that war was over. The last vestiges of his good looks were long gone now, along with his political career. All the urges that had once driven and defined him – his naked lust for power, his insatiable sexual drive, his legendary avarice – had crumbled to dust, like the walls of the Parthenon. Eating was Dimitri Mantzaris’s last remaining pleasure of the flesh, and he indulged it without restraint.

  But not today.

  Today, for the first time in decades, Dimitri Mantzaris had no appetite.

  Stavros Alexandris, his former Minister of the Interior and close friend, had brought him the picture this morning, on the third page of I Avgi, Greece’s top-selling daily newspaper.

  ‘I couldn’t believe it when I saw it.’ Stavros Alexandris’s hands were shaking. A sprightly sixty, and as wirily thin as his former boss was obscenely fat, Alexandris had a reputation for both ruthlessness and calm. At this moment, however, the latter quality had deserted him. ‘You don’t think …?

  ‘She’s still alive …?’ Mantzaris finished for him. God I hope so.

  Athena Petridis. His nemesis. His conspirator. His muse. His angel. His betrayer. Except Athena had never been ‘his’. Athena Petridis had never been anyone’s, not even her husband’s, the truly evil Spyros Petridis. Like her immortal namesake on Mount Olympus, Athena had condescended from time to time to meddle in the affairs of men. But only when it pleased her, and only ever for her own ends.

  Dimitri Mantzaris had been president, the most powerful man in Greece, at the time of their affair. And yet not for one day, not for one moment, had he held the upper hand in their relationship. Athena Petridis had owned him the way other, lesser women might own a dog. She still owned him. Even though she and her husband had been dead for twelve years.

  Mantzaris looked at the picture again. It showed a tragic but sadly all-too-familiar image of a drowned child, a little boy this time, washed up on the beach at Lesbos. With hopelessly overcrowded boats leaving Libya every day, Greeks were becoming indifferent to the relentless death toll of the migrants. In many places, in fact, attitudes had swung right through indifference, to anger and resentment. Why did these people keep coming? Why did they put their own children at such appalling risk? Didn’t they know that Greece could barely afford to feed her own people, let alone open her doors to thousands of foreigners?

  Dimitri Mantzaris did not share these views. The pictures still moved him. He was not, despite what many believed, a man without a heart. Yet it was not the dead boy that stirred such profound emotion within him now. It was the insignia tattooed on his heel, like a slave brand. The ancient Greek letter ‘L’. To scholars, this was the sign of the Spartan warrior, emblazoned on their shields in tribute to their home state of Laconia. But to Dimitri Mantzaris, along with many of the world leaders of his generation, the sign had a very different meaning. It was the secret, personal signature of Spyros Petridis, an illiterate peasant from Lagonissi who also happened to be both Athena’s husband and the most successful organized crime boss since Carlo Gambino.

  ‘It must be a hoax,’ Stavros Alexandris babbled nervously.

  Dimitri Mantzaris nodded.

  ‘Or a coincidence.’


  ‘It can’t be her.’


  ‘She’s dead. They’re both dead.’


  ‘Even so, I think Daphne and I might get away for a while. Out of the country. Perhaps to Chile? Just until things die down. We have friends there …’

  Alexandris left, and Dimitri Mantzaris lumbered out to the terrace and sank down into his favorite chair. He knew he would never see Stavros again. The mark on that child’s heel was no coincidence and they both knew it. It was a message. A message only one person would have dared to send.

  Closing his eyes, Dimitri Mantzaris let the memories wash over him. Athena’s soft skin, her musky scent, her deep laugh. With anguish he recalled the cloying desperation of her heavenly body, built for sex the way a Ferrari was built for speed.

  ‘Athena …’

  The word hung on his lips.

  Mantzaris had friends too, people who owed him, who could help him disappear before it was too late. But he was too old to run.

  He would stay here and wait for Athena to come for him.

  It would be wonderful to see her face again. Even if just for a moment, before she put a bullet in his brain.


  It wasn’t until two days later that Professor Noriko Adachi saw the picture. The tattoo on the dead child’s foot filled the screen on her office computer like cancer on an X-ray. Awful. Disgusting. Yet Japan’s most famous living literary scholar couldn’t stop herself from looking at it.

  No sooner had charity workers on the beach noticed the unusual ‘L’ sign than theories began abounding on the web as to what it meant. Most were laughably wide of the mark. One or two came closer to the truth, more by luck than judgment in Professor Adachi’s opinion, pointing the finger at ‘people-traffickers’. But no one had yet said the word ‘Petridis’.

  Most people still don’t know, Professor Adachi thought bitterly. And those who do are too cowardly to speak out.

  Lovingly, she picked up the gilt-framed photograph in pride of place on her desk and traced a finger over the glass. Her only son, Kiko, was standing outside his dorm room in America, beaming with pride in his UCLA T-shirt. Above him, the dazzling California sky shone cartoon-blue. Fifteen years ago next week. What a perfect day it had been, so full of hope and promise.

  A year after that picture was taken, Kiko Adachi was dead. The hardworking, diligent student and athlete, and love of his parents’ life, had fatally overdosed on a new, lethally strong brand of cocaine, recognizable by the ‘L’ insignia on the baggies, specially shipped onto US college campuses by Spyros Petridis.

  A year after that, Noriko and her husband Izumi, Kiko’s father, had divorced. Izumi complained that his wife had become obsessed with Petridis and his glamorous wife Athena, by that time a UN special ambassador and world-renowned philanthropist whose charisma and beauty had so dazzled the world’s most powerful men that her husband operated their empire with near impunity.

  Izumi was right. Noriko was obsessed. She wrote countless articles about the Petridises’ criminal activity, which no one had the balls to publish. She even penned a novel about her son’s death, with the names and identities thinly disguised, but no one would print that either, despite the professor’s fame. After two and a half years of fruitless effort, it was the happiest day of Professor Noriko Adachi’s life when she woke up to the news that Spyros Petridis’s helicopter had gone down in a remote part of Utah, killing him and his wife instantly in a white-hot ball of flames. All that was left of Spyros Petridis had been a few charred bones, just enough to confirm a DNA match. As for Athena – Lady Macbeth – the heat was such that she’d been completely incinerated. Burned to dust. Erased.

  In the twelve years since, Noriko Adachi had returned to the University of Osaka and rebuilt her career and what was left of her life. Spyros and Athena had robbed her of her family, but she still found some solace in books, in the literature of tragedy and loss and rebirth that had been her academic world since her own student days.

  Until now.

  Her gaze returned to the screen.

  One picture, one emblem, and it all came flooding back.

  Another dead boy.

  Somebody else’s son.

  Nobody could have survived that crash, Noriko told herself, forcing her rational brain to kick in, to override her emotions. No human could have lived through that fire.

  But perhaps Athena Petridis wasn’t human? Perhaps she was truly a monster, a devil, an evil spirit like the Japanese Kamaitachi, mythical sickle-wielding weasels who would slice off children’s legs. Perhaps she was a witch.

  Professor Noriko Adachi sat at her desk and let the hate take over, pumping like poison through her veins.

  If Athena Petridis is alive … I’ll kill her.

  Los Angeles, California

  Larry Gaster pulled over on Mulholland Drive, his silver Bugatti Veyron gleaming in the sun. On the passenger seat, the image of the drowned child’s branded heel filled the screen of Larry’s iPad.

  It was a struggle to breathe. Reaching forward, the legendary Hollywood producer opened the glove box, fumbled for the bottle of Xanax, and crammed three pills into his mouth, grinding them between his porcelain-veneered teeth with grim desperation.

  A profoundly vain man, Larry Gaster looked much younger than his sixty-five years, thanks to the efforts of LA’s most talented surgeons and their patient’s limitless funds. Larry’s skin was smooth, his brown eyes bright, and his luxurious chestnut hair still only lightly flecked with gray. Unlike most of Hollywood’s big hitters, Larry Gaster wasn’t satisfied with having young actresses line up to go to bed with him simply because he was powerful and rich. He wanted them to want him too. To desire him, physically. These days, despite his best efforts, that was becoming harder and harder to achieve. Some people might put that down to his age. But Larry Gaster knew different.

  It was Athena. Athena Petridis.

  If only he’d never laid eyes on her!

  Larry Gaster had been forty-seven and one of the most desired men in Hollywood when he had agreed to produce a biopic about the great Greek beauty’s life. Athena met him at the Beverly Hills Hotel for lunch in a white flowing dress that made her look like an angel. It was the beginning of the end for Larry. He fell in love with her immediately and although they never slept together, never even kissed, Larry’s obsession for Spyros Petridis’s wife became the driving force in his life.

  Athena was a victim. A good woman, a perfect woman, trapped in a violent marriage to a monster. That was the truth, and it was what Larry Gaster portrayed in his film. Larry wanted to rescue Athena from Spyros. He wanted to keep her in America, to build her a palace up in the Hollywood Hills where she could live, safe in his protection, eternally grateful for his gallantry like Queen Guinevere to Larry’s Sir Lancelot.

  But things hadn’t happened like that. The day after production wrapped on the movie, Larry Gaster was kidnapped outside his office on Sunset Boulevard in broad daylight. No one knew what had happened during the week the producer was missing, and no one ever would. Larry had said nothing – to the police, to his family, to anyone. He’d simply shown up at the gates to his Beverly Hills estate one morning in a state of shock. The fourth finger of his left hand had been severed and the letter ‘L’ had been branded on the base of his right heel.

  L for Larry. That was what he told people who noticed it in later life.

  The film was never released.

  And Larry Gaster never saw Athena Petridis again.

  After the helicopter crash, little by little, Larry resumed his career, picking up where he’d left off. In the last decade he’d produced four blockbuster hits and remarried. Twice. Life was good. Until this.

  Winding down the window, he picked up his iPad and hurled it out of the car, over the edge of the precipice that dropped down to the valley.

  Then, like a small child, Larry Gaster began to cry.

  London, England

  Peter Hambrecht closed his eyes and lost himself in the music, his baton moving through the air with a grace and fluidity that set him apart from all the other great conductors. Hambrecht was the maestro, the undisputed best in the world. Every musician in London’s Royal Albert Hall felt privileged to be there that night. Because to be swept up in Peter Hambrecht’s genius, even for a moment, was to play to one’s full potential. To shine like a star.

  ‘Thank you, Maestro!’

  ‘Wonderful performance, Maestro!’

  After the concert, Peter shook hands and signed autographs with his usual good grace. Then he put on his thick cashmere overcoat and walked the few short blocks back to his flat on Queensgate.

  The next morning, he saw the picture, the same day it was published. An old friend emailed a copy.

  ‘I thought you’d want to see this,’ the friend wrote.

  That struck Peter as odd. Who in their right mind would ‘want’ to see a picture of a drowned child? But of course, his friend was not referring to the child, only to the emblem burned into his flesh, as if he were an animal or a piece of meat. Peter winced, imagining the pain the poor little boy must have suffered.

  Later, the friend telephoned. �
�Do you think Athena …?’


  ‘But Peter …’

  ‘Athena is dead.’

  Peter Hambrecht had known Athena Demitris, as she was then, since they were children, and had loved her all his life. She was his best friend, his confidante, the sister he’d never had. In the tiny village of Organi where they grew up, blonde, blue-eyed Athena had been adored by everyone. Dark, shy, effeminate Peter, on the other hand, with his German father and his strange accent and the little piccolo he carried with him everywhere, was an outcast, a favorite target of the local bullies.

  ‘Hey, Sauerkraut!’ they would taunt him. ‘Why don’t you wear a tutu, so you can dance to that gay classical music you’re always playing? You want us to make you a tutu?’

  ‘He can borrow my sister’s.’

  ‘I don’t think he wants a tutu. I think he wants us to jam that flute up his ass. You’d like that, wouldn’t you, Sauerkraut?’

  Peter never rose to their jibes. But Athena always did, roaring to his defense time after time like a lioness, taking on his tormentors, alive with righteous fury on his behalf.

  ‘How can you let them talk to you like that? You have to fight back!’

  ‘Why?’ Peter would ask.

  ‘They’re calling you gay!’

  ‘I am gay,’ he shrugged.

  ‘No,’ Athena insisted, with tears in her eyes. ‘You aren’t gay, Peter. You love me.’

  ‘I do love you,’ he assured her.

  ‘More than anything?’

  ‘More than anything. Just not like that.’

  Athena covered her ears with her hands. ‘No, no, no. Stop saying that. You’re confused. You’ll change your mind, you’ll see. When we’re married.’

  Peter laughed. ‘It’s not my mind that needs to change, Athena!’

  But there was no stopping her. There was never any stopping Athena. They married the year they both turned twenty and moved to a minuscule apartment in London, where Peter had won a place at the Royal College of Music.

  ‘You’re happy, aren’t you?’ Athena would demand, every morning, as he pored over sheet music in their tiny kitchenette.