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Nicholas Urfe leaves London to accept a teaching position at a boys' school on the Greek island of Phraxos. He recalls breaking with his mistress, Anne, a stewardess, after which he discarded her talisman, a crystal paperweight in which a flower is embedded. Upon arrival he is greeted by a fellow faculty member, who shows him to his room and informs him that his predecessor committed suicide. In the desk he finds a sheet of paper on which is inscribed the phrase "waiting room." He later finds a villa, the gate of which is similarly emblazoned. Its mysterious owner, 70-year-old Maurice Conchis, invites him to visit the next weekend. In the intervening time, Nicholas learns that the estate belongs to a Dr. Lambros and is shown the tombstone of a man named Conchis who died in 1944. While a guest of Conchis, Nicholas stakes his life on a throw of dice but refuses to pay, thereby winning, according to Conchis' arcane logic. The host then relates the tragic story of his youthful romance with Lily, who, disappointed by Conchis' refusal to enlist at the start of World War I, died shortly thereafter. Nicholas, therefore, is puzzled to see her, apparently alive and impossibly young. By way of explanation, Conchis asserts that he is the psychiatrist, Dr. Lambros, and Lily, his patient. Lily, however, insists that she is an actress, Conchis a filmmaker, and Nicholas an ignorant participant. After an idyllic weekend with Anne in Athens, Nicholas returns to Phraxos, where he receives news of the stewardess' suicide. He is then drawn into a drama representing Conchis' dilemma during World War II, when, as mayor of his village, he was given the choice of beating three partisans to death or sacrificing 80 hostages. Thereafter, Nicholas finds himself on trial, accused by Conchis of egotism. After seeing Lily in a pornographic film, Nicholas is ordered to whip her but cannot bring himself to mete out punishment. Awakening, he is told by Conchis that he has attempted suicide, and that the game is over. Rushing to the villa, Nicholas finds it abandoned, save for the archaic statue of a goddess. Beside the sculpture is Anne's talisman; in the distance, Nicholas espies Anne herself.