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In 1938, a corpse is washed up on an Istanbul beach. An identity card found on the body identifies the man as Dimitrios Makopoulus, a notorious international criminal. Later, at a musicale, Colonel Haki of the Turkish police starts to tell Dimitrios' story to Dutch mystery writer Cornelius Leyden. Intrigued, Leyden asks to see the corpse. Haki complies and then continues his story in Leyden's hotel room: Haki first became aware of the criminal in 1922, when Dimitrios, a Smyrnan fig picker, killed a man after a robbery and let another man be executed for the crime. Most recently, Haki adds, Dimitrios worked in Paris as part of an international smuggling ring. Leyden decides that Dimitrios would be a wonderful character for a novel and leaves for Athens, where Dimitrios began his career. Meanwhile, the mysterious Mr. Peters also hears of Dimitrios' death. When he learns the body has already been destroyed, he also travels to Athens. Leyden, meanwhile, moves on to Sofia, where he is introduced to Irana Preveza, a former lover of Dimitrios. She tells him that years earlier, Dimitrios was involved in an assassination attempt and left the country using money borrowed from Irana. Despite his promises, Dimitrios never returned the money. Leyden returns to his hotel room and finds that Peters has searched it. Peters admits that he has followed Leyden from Athens and demands to know why he is interested in Dimitrios. Peters then proposes that Leyden continue his investigation and promises that there will be a financial reward. Leyden then visits with Wladislaw Grodek, a former spymaster, who hired Dimitrios to steal the charts of certain mine fields. Grodek recalls the following story about Dimitrios: In order to get the charts, Dimitrios callously plays on the insecurities of Karel Bulic, a homely clerk married to a beautiful woman. When Bulic is hopelessly indebted to a professional gambler, Dimitrios asks him to steal the charts in return for clearing his debt. Once he is in possession, Dimitrios double-crosses his employers and sells the charts to another government. Bulic later commits suicide. A curious Leyden now returns to Paris and meets with Peters, who is revealed to be Erik Peterson, a former member of Dimitrios' smuggling gang. Peters informs Leyden that the body he saw was not that of Dimitrios, who is alive and living in Paris. As the only person who saw the corpse and can confirm that it was not Dimitrios, Leyden is in a position to blackmail Dimitrios. Against his better judgment, Leyden agrees to Peters' blackmail plan. Dimitrios pays the men at a pre-arranged location, but later discovers where they are staying and shoots Peters. While Leyden struggles with Dimitrios, the wounded Peters grabs a gun and kills Dimitrios. Later, the police arrest Peters for Dimitrios' murder, and Leyden is left alone to write the story.