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Istanbul survived the Second World War as a magnet for refugees and spies. Even expatriate American Leon Bauer was drawn into this shadow world, doing undercover odd jobs in support of the Allied war effort. Now as the espionage community begins to pack up and an apprehensive city prepares for the grim realities of postwar life, Leon is given one last routine assignment. But when the job goes fatally wrong—an exchange of gunfire, a body left in the street, and a potential war criminal on his hands— Leon is ...
Istanbul survived the Second World War as a magnet for refugees and spies. Even expatriate American Leon Bauer was drawn into this shadow world, doing undercover odd jobs in support of the Allied war effort. Now as the espionage community begins to pack up and an apprehensive city prepares for the grim realities of postwar life, Leon is given one last routine assignment. But when the job goes fatally wrong—an exchange of gunfire, a body left in the street, and a potential war criminal on his hands— Leon is trapped in a tangle of shifting loyalties and moral uncertainty.
Played out against the bazaars and mosques and faded mansions of this knowing, ancient Ottoman city, Istanbul Passage is the unforgettable story of a man swept up in the dawn of the Cold War, of an unexpected love affair, and of a city as deceptive as the calm surface waters of the Bosphorus that divides it.
—Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
THE FIRST ATTEMPT HAD to be called off. It had taken days to arrange the boat and the safe house and then, just a few hours before the pickup, the wind started, a poyraz, howling down from the northeast, scooping up water as it swept across the Black Sea. The Bosphorus waves, usually no higher than boat wakes by the time they reached the shuttered yalis along the shore, now churned and smashed against the landing docks. From the quay, Leon could barely make out the Asian side, strings of faint lights hidden behind a scrim of driving rain. Who would risk it? Even the workhorse ferries would be thrown off schedule, never mind a bribed fishing boat. He imagined the fisherman calculating his chances: a violent sea, sightless, hoping the sudden shape forty meters away wasn’t a lumbering freighter, impossible to dodge. Or another day safe in port, securing ropes and drinking plum brandy by the cast-iron stove. Who could blame him? Only a fool went to sea in a storm. The passenger could wait. Days of planning. Called by the weather.
“How much longer?” Mihai said, pulling his coat tighter.
They were parked just below Rumeli Hisari, watching the moored boats tossing, pulling against their ties.
“Give it another half hour. If he’s late and I’m not here—”
“He’s not late,” Mihai said, dismissive. He glanced over. “He’s that important?”
“I don’t know. I’m just the delivery boy.”
“It’s freezing,” Mihai said, turning on the motor. “This time of year.”
Leon smiled. In Istanbul’s dream of itself it was always summer, ladies eating sherbets in garden pavilions, caïques floating by. The city shivered through winters with braziers and sweaters, somehow surprised that it had turned cold at all.
Mihai ran the heater for a few minutes then switched it off, burrowing, turtlelike, into his coat. “So come with me but no questions.”
Leon rubbed his hand across the window condensation, clearing it. “There’s no risk to you.”
“Wonderful. Something new. You couldn’t do this yourself?”
“He’s coming out of Constancia. For all I know, he only speaks Romanian. Then what? Sign language? But you—”
Mihai waved this off. “He’ll be German. One of your new friends.”
“You don’t have to do this.”
“It’s a small favor. I’ll get it back.”
He lit a cigarette, so that for a second Leon could see his grizzled face and the wiry salt-and-pepper hair on his head. Now more salt than pepper. When they had met, it had been dark and wavy, styled like the Bucharest dandy he’d once been, known in all the cafés on the Calea Victoriei.
“Besides, to see the rats leaving—” he said, brooding. “They wouldn’t let us out. Now look at them.”
“You did what you could.” A Palestinian passport, free to come and go in Bucharest, to beg for funds, leasing creaky boats, a last lifeline, until that was taken away too.
Mihai drew on the cigarette, staring at the water running down the windshield. “So how is it with you?” he said finally. “You look tired.”
Leon shrugged, not answering.
“Why are you doing this?” Mihai turned to face him. “The war’s over.”
“Yes? Nobody told me.”
“No, they want to start another one.”
“Nobody I know.”
“Be careful you don’t get to like it. You start enjoying it—” His voice trailed off, rough with smoke, the accent still Balkan, even now. “Then it’s not about anything anymore. A habit. Like these,” he said, holding out his cigarette. “You get a taste for it.”
Leon looked at him. “And you?”
“Nothing changes for us. We’re still saving Jews.” He made a wry face. “Now from our friends. No visas for Palestine. Where should they go, Poland? And I’m helping you talk to a Nazi. A wonderful world.”
“Why a Nazi?”
“Why all this? Some poor refugee? No, someone who knows the Russians, I think. And who knows better?”
“It doesn’t matter to you? What you deliver?”
Leon looked away, then down at his watch. “Well, he’s not coming tonight. Whoever he is. I’d better call. Make sure. There’s a café.”
Mihai leaned forward to start the car again. “I’ll pull around.”
“No, stay here. I don’t want the car—”
“I see. You run across the road in the rain. Get wet. Then you run back. Again, wet. To a waiting car. That will be less suspicious. If anyone is watching.” He put the car in gear.
“It’s your car,” Leon said. “That’s all.”
“You think they haven’t seen it by now?”
“Have they? You’d know,” he said, a question.
“Always assume yes.” He made a turn across the road, pulling up in front of the café. “So do the expected thing. Stay dry. Tell me something. If he had come, your package, was I going to drive him to—wherever he’s staying?”
Mihai nodded. “Better.” He motioned his head to the side window. “Make the call. Before they wonder.”
There were four men playing dominoes and sipping tea from tulip glasses. When they looked up, Leon became what he wanted them to see—a ferengi caught in the rain, shaking water from his hat, needing a phone—and he flushed, a little pulse of excitement. A taste for it. Had Mihai seen it somehow, the way it felt, getting away with something. The planning, the slipping away. Tonight he’d taken the tram to the last stop in Bebek and walked up to the clinic. A trip he’d made over and over. If he’d been followed, they’d stay parked a block away from the clinic gates and wait, relieved to be snug, out of the rain, knowing where he was. But just past the big oleander bushes, he’d headed for the garden side gate, doubling back to the Bosphorus road where Mihai was waiting, feeling suddenly free, almost exhilarated. No one would have seen him in the dark. If they were there, they’d be smoking, bored, thinking he was inside. This other life, just walking to the car, was all his own.
The phone was on the wall near the WC. No sounds in the room but the click of tiles and the hiss of boiling water, so the token seemed to clang going in. A ferengi speaking English, the men would say. If anyone asked.
“Tommy?” At home, luckily, not out to dinner.
“Ah, I was hoping you’d call,” he said, a genial club voice with the clink of ice at the back of it. “You’re after that report—I know, I know—and my steno never showed. Trouble with the boats. Typical, isn’t it? First hint of weather and the ferries—” Leon imagined his round face at the other end, the jawline filling in, fleshy. “I can have it for you tomorrow, all right? I mean, the contract’s all right. We’re just waiting for the quotas. I’ve had American Tobacco on the phone half the day, so you’re all in the same boat on this one. All we need now are the signatures.” At Commercial Corp., the wartime agency that was Tommy’s cover at the consulate.
“That’s all right. I’m stuck here at the clinic anyway. Just wanted to check. If it was on its way.”
“No. Tomorrow now. Sorry about this. Let me make it up to you. Buy you a drink at the Park.” An off note. This late?
“I’m in Bebek.”
“I’ll get a head start.” An order, then. “Don’t worry, I’ll roll you home.” Their standard joke, Leon’s apartment building just down the hill from the Park Hotel, before Aya Pasa made its wide curve.
“Give me an hour.”
“From Bebek?” Surprised, an edge now.
“Take a look outside. It’ll be a crawl in this. Just save me a stool.”
The domino players were looking down, pretending not to listen. But what would they have made of it anyway? Leon ordered a tea, a way of thanking the barman for the phone. The glass was warm in his hand, and he realized he was cold everywhere else, the wet beginning to seep through his shoes. And now the Park, everyone looking and not looking, Tommy’s old-boy voice getting louder with each drink.
“Rain check,” he said to Mihai, getting into the car. “You free tomorrow?”
“Something’s up. We’re having a drink at the Park.”
“Very exciting, the tobacco business.”
Leon smiled. “It used to be.”
In fact, it had been sleepy, as routine and predictable as a Book of Hours. Agents bought the cured Latakia leaf, and he arranged the shipments, then took the train to Ankara to get the export permits. Leave Haydarpasa at six, arrive the next morning at ten. That’s how it had started, carrying things on the train for Tommy, papers they couldn’t put in the diplomatic pouch, something for the war effort. No money involved then. An American helping out, not just standing around at the club getting drunk with Socony and Liggett & Myers and Western Electric, the men interchangeable, lucky businessmen sitting out the war. Tommy asked him to help Commercial Corp. buy up chromium, so the Germans wouldn’t get it, and suddenly he was in the war after all, the peculiar one that played out over dinner at Abdullah’s or those consulate receptions where the sides lined up on either end of the room, cocktail wars. What surprised him later, when he knew more, was how many others were in it too. Tracking shipping through the straits. Collecting gossip. Turning a commercial attaché who needed the money. Everyone spinning webs, watching one another, the Turkish Emniyet watching them. Nothing sleepy anymore.
“I’ll drop you home. You’ll want to change.”
“No, just back to the village. I want to go to the clinic. Look in.”
Mihai waited until they were almost there. “How is she?”
“The same,” Leon said, his voice neutral.
And then there was nothing to say. Still, he’d asked. Anna was still alive to him, a presence, not just someone in Obstbaum’s clinic who had retreated into herself, gone somewhere behind her own eyes. People used to ask all the time—painful questions at the club, an awkward concern at the office—but gradually they began to forget she was still there. Out of sight, out of mind. Except Leon’s, a wound that wouldn’t close. Any day she might come back, just as quickly as she had gone away. Someone had to be there waiting.
“You know what I think?” Mihai said.
“Sometimes I think you do this for her. To prove something. I don’t know what.”
Leon was quiet, not answering.
“Do you still talk to her?” Mihai said finally.
“Tell her we got a boat out. She’ll like that.”
“Past the British patrols?”
“So far. Otherwise we’d be in Cyprus. Tell her three hundred. We saved three hundred.”
He took the same side street back, the same garden entrance. He’d expected to have to ring, but the door was unlocked and he frowned, annoyed the staff had been so careless. But no one was trying to get out and who would want to get in? The clinic was really a kind of nursing home, a place to be out of the way. Dr. Obstbaum had been one of the German refugees welcomed by Atatürk in the thirties to help the new republic get up on its feet. The ones who could afford it had moved to Bebek or, closer in, Ortaköy, where hillsides covered in fir trees and lindens may have reminded them of home. Or maybe, lemminglike, they had simply followed the first settler. Most of the clinic’s medical staff was still German, which Leon had thought might help, her own language something she would understand, if she was still listening. But of course the nurses, the people who bathed her and fed her and chattered around her, were Turkish, so in the end he realized it didn’t matter and now he worried that she was more isolated than ever. Dr. Obstbaum himself encouraged Leon to talk.
“We have no idea what she hears. This form of melancholia—it may be a matter of responding, not awareness. Her brain hasn’t shut down. Otherwise she wouldn’t be breathing, or have any motor functions. The idea is to keep up the level of activity. Over time maybe it grows. So, music. Does she hear it? I don’t know. But the brain does, somewhere. Something functions.”
Not disturbing music, but things she knew, had played at home. Lovely notes to fill the silence in her. If she heard them.
“Most of the time I think I’m talking to myself,” Leon had said.
“Everyone here talks to himself,” Obstbaum had said, a puckish joke. “One of life’s great pleasures, evidently. You at least are being asked.”
“It’s late,” the nurse said in Turkish, a hushed whisper, her eyes glancing down to the water dripping from his coat.
“Is she asleep? I’ll just say good-night. I’m sorry about—”
But the nurse was already opening the door, brusque, the client’s whims no business of hers. He’d sit and talk, the way he always did, and she’d have to check back again, another round, but it was a private clinic and he was paying.
Anna was lying in bed, the room shadowy, only a dim night-light on. When he touched her hand, she opened her eyes, but looked at him without recognition. It was the disconcerting thing, the way she took in what was happening around her without responding. Having her hair brushed, people moving across the room—things happened far away, just little blurs of movement.
“How are you feeling?” he said. “Warm enough? There’s a terrible storm.” He nodded toward the French windows, the sound of rain on the glass.
She didn’t say anything, but he no longer expected her to. Even her hand didn’t touch back. When he talked, he answered for her, silent responses to keep things going. Sometimes, sitting next to her, he’d actually hear her voice in his head, a ghost conversation, even worse than talking to himself.
“But this is nice, isn’t it?” he said, indicating the room. “Cozy. Gemütlich.” As if a change of language would matter.
He let her hand go and sat down in the chair.
When they first met, she’d never seemed to stop talking, bubbling over, switching from German to English as if one language couldn’t contain it, everything she had to say. And her eyes had been everywhere, ahead of the words sometimes, waiting for them to catch up, lighting her face. The odd thing was that the face was still her own, stopped in time, the wonderful skin, the soft line of her cheek, everything just the way it always had been, aging itself put off while she was away. Only the eyes were different, vacant.
“I saw Mihai tonight. He sends his love. He said they got a boat through. People are getting out again.” Something that might register, what she cared about. Don’t try to startle her, Obstbaum had said, just ordinary things, domestic matters. But how did Obstbaum know? Had he been to where she lived now? Did it matter to her that Fatma had been ill, sent her sister to do the cleaning? “Three hundred,” he said. “So they must be operating again. Mossad. Who else could it be? A boat that big.”
He stopped. The last thing he should have said, a reminder. Obstbaum thought it had happened then, when the Bratianu sank. Corpses bobbing in the water. Children. Her brain turning away from it, drawing a curtain. Obstbaum had even suggested she be put in a garden room, not a front one facing the Bosphorus, where ships passed all day, each one a possible reminder. Leon had gone along with him. Everyone in Istanbul wanted to see the water—in Ottoman times there had been laws about builders blocking the view—so a garden room was cheaper. And it was pleasant, looking toward the hillside, cypresses and umbrella pines and a Judas tree that dropped pink blossoms in the spring. A fortune back home but something he could manage here. And not a boat in sight.
“I thought I might need Romanian. They bring someone out but they don’t tell you who. They want me to babysit. I got Georg’s old landlord to find me a room. Out near Aksaray. They’ll never think to look in a Muslim neighborhood. And then the weather started up—”
He caught himself, hearing the sound of his voice saying names out loud, telling her what he didn’t want anyone to know, all the slipping away and double-backing for nothing. It occurred to him, one more irony, that since she had gone away they could finally talk to each other. All the things they couldn’t say before, other people’s secrets, now safe to talk about. Some things, anyway. Now there were other drawers you didn’t open, things you didn’t say. Your parents are dead. We haven’t heard, but they must be. They’re not on any lists. You can’t imagine what it was like, how many. The pictures. I see a woman. Just for the sex. It used to feel—wrong—and now I wait for it. Not like us. Something different. I don’t think you’re ever coming back. I can’t say it—can’t say it to you—but I think it’s true. I don’t know why this happened to us. What I did. What you did. Better to keep those drawers closed.
“I ran into Gus Hoover. Socony’s sending him home. You still can’t get a boat, though, so what do you think? They’re putting him on the clipper. Hell of a lot of money, but I guess they’ve got it to spend. Can you see Reynolds doing it for me? Not that I want to go. But you always wanted to, didn’t you? See New York.” He paused, leaving time for an answer. “Maybe when you’re better. We can’t really move you now. Like this. And I can take care of you here.” He motioned his hand to the room. “You could get better here.” He paused again. “Maybe if you’d try. Obstbaum says it isn’t a question of that. But what if it is? You could try. Everything could be the way it was. Better. The war’s over. All the terrible things.” Knowing as he said it that they weren’t over—people still in camps, boats still being turned around, everything she had gone away to escape still happening. What was there to come back for? Him? The drawer he shouldn’t open. Was it my fault? Another casualty of the war, Obstbaum had said, but what if she had left the world to leave him? Something only she knew and wasn’t coming back to answer. Not ever. Gus would fly home, all the others, and he would still be here, talking to himself while she stared at the garden. “You have to be patient,” Obstbaum had said. “The mind is like an eggshell. It can withstand tremendous pressure. But if it cracks it’s not so easy to put it back together.” A Humpty Dumpty explanation, as good as any other, but it was Leon who was sitting here, his world that had been cracked open.
“I have to go soon. Tommy wants to have a drink at the Park. On a night like this. Not that rain ever kept Tommy from a drink. Still. You know what occurred to me? He wants to bring me inside. Run my own operation. I mean, a job like this tonight, it’s not messenger work anymore. There’d be money in it. It’s about time he—” Babbling, filling time. “Do you have everything you need?”
He got up and went over to the bed, putting his hand on the dark hair fanning out beneath her. Lightly, just grazing it, because there was something unreal about physical contact now, touching someone who wasn’t there. And there was always a moment when he flinched, apprehensive, expecting her to reach up and snatch at his hand, finally mad. He passed the back of his hand over her forehead, a soothing motion, and she closed her eyes to it, looking for a second the way she used to after they made love, drifting.
“Get some sleep,” he said quietly. “I’ll be back.”
But not tomorrow. In the beginning he’d come every night, a kind of vigil, but then days slid by, filled with other things. Because the worst part was that, without even wanting to, he’d begun to leave her too.
Outside, he walked through the village to the shore road, glancing at parked cars. But he wouldn’t see them, would he? Not if they were any good. After a while you developed an instinct. The Turkish police had been clumsy when Anna worked with Mihai. They’d park someone in the lobby of the Continental, where Mossad had its office, a bored policeman in a business suit who must have thought himself invisible behind the cigarette smoke. The work had been open—arranging visas for the weekly train to Baghdad, the overland route to Palestine. Just a trickle of refugees, but legal. The police watched Anna go to the Red Crescent offices, watched her check the manifest lists at Sirkeci, watched the transfer to Haydarpasa, a pattern so familiar they never thought to look anywhere else. When the illegal work began, Mihai’s boats, they were still following Anna to Sirkeci, still smoking in the lobby.
Later, her work became a cover for Leon too. It was the Jewish wife working for Mossad who needed watching, not her American husband. Once he’d been playing tennis at the Sümer Palas in Tarabya when a man he assumed to be police wanted a quiet word. His wife. No doubt well meaning, but her activities were attracting attention. Turkey was a neutral country. They were its guests. It was a husband’s duty to watch over his household. Nobody wanted to be embarrassed. Not the R.J. Reynolds Company. Not the Turkish government. Leon remembered standing speechless in front of the old hotel, staring at the famous hydrangea bushes, trying not to smile, to savor the unexpected gift. Anna suspect, not him.
But that had been the locals. The Emniyet, the security police, were something else, never obvious, part of the air everyone breathed. Playing the home advantage. When Macfarland had been station head he was convinced they’d planted somebody inside, which would mean they might know about Leon too. Even unofficial, off the books. Tommy didn’t just pull the money out of his pocket. Where would they find him? Miscellaneous expenses? Jobs Tommy wanted to freelance out, like tonight.
The square was empty, no tram in sight, just two women huddled under umbrellas waiting for a dolmus. And then, improbably, there was a single taxi, maybe out here on a run from Taksim. Leon stopped it, glancing over his shoulder as he got in, half expecting to see headlights turning on, a car starting up. But no one followed. He looked out back. Only a thin line of traffic, everyone chased inside by the rain. In Arnavutköy a car pulled in behind, then went off again, leaving them alone. No one. Unless the taxi was Emniyet. But then the driver started to complain about something, the details lost in the swoosh of the windshield wipers, and Leon gave that up too. So much for instinct. Maybe he hadn’t had to do any of it—sneak out of the clinic, meet Mihai in the road. Maybe no one watched anymore. Maybe Mihai was right. It had become a habit.
Tommy had already had a few by the time Leon got to the Park, his face red, cheeks shining with it. His broad shoulders still had the strong lines of someone who’d once played for Penn, but the rest of him had gone slack, pudgy from years of sitting and extra helpings.
“Christ, you’re soaking. What’d you do, walk? Here, take the chill off. Mehmet, how about two more of the same? We’ll have them over there,” he said, lifting himself off the stool with a little grunt and heading for a small table against the wood-paneled wall.
There were more people than Leon had expected, probably hotel guests who didn’t want to go out, but still plenty of empty tables. The long outside terrace, with its view of the Stamboul headland, had been closed for weeks. Leon remembered it full, waiters with trays darting in and out like birds, people talking over each other, looking around to see who was there. What the Stork must be like.
“Sorry about tonight,” Tommy said. “Didn’t know myself till I got the message. There won’t be any problem about the place, will there?”
“No, I’ve got it for the month. I didn’t know how long he’d—”
“The month? How much is that going to run us?”
“It’s in Laleli. Cheap. You can afford it.”
“Laleli. Where the fuck’s that? On the Asian side?”
Leon smiled. “How long have you been here?”
Tommy shrugged this off. “And what do we do with it after we move him?”
“You could take your women there. Nice and private.”
“Yeah, just us and the fleas. Ah, here we are,” he said as the drinks arrived. “Thank you, Mehmet.” He raised his glass. “Blue skies and clear sailing.”
Leon raised his glass and took a sip. Cold and crisp, a whiff of juniper. Mehmet put down a silver bowl of pistachios and backed away.
“Christ, imagine what he’s heard,” Tommy said, watching him go. “All these years.”
“Maybe he doesn’t listen.”
“They all listen. The question is, who for?”
Tommy ignored this. “They used to say every waiter in this room got paid twice. And sometimes more. At the same time. Remember the one used to send little love notes to von Papen, then turn around and feed the same thing to the Brits?” He shook his head, amused. “Six months he pulls this off. You have to hand it to him.”
“What good did it do? Anybody ever say anything at the Park that you wanted to know?”
Tommy smiled. “You live in hope. You live in hope. Anyway, that wasn’t the point, was it? Point was to know. What they were saying, what they weren’t saying. Might be useful to somebody. Who could put the pieces together.”
“You think there was somebody like that?”
“Christ, I hope so. Otherwise—” He let it go. “I’ll tell you something, though. It was fun too, this place. Goddam three-ring circus. Everybody. Same room. Packy Macfarland over there and that Kraut who kept pretending he was in the navy right next to him. Navy. And the Jap, Tashima, remember him, with the glasses, a spit of fucking Tojo. At first I thought it was him. And Mehmet’s listening to all of them.”
“The good old days.”
Tommy looked up, caught by his tone.
“Come on, Tommy. It’s a little early for last rites at the Park. Mehmet’s still listening. God knows who else. For what it’s worth.”
Tommy shook his head. “It’s finished, this place.”
Leon looked around, feeling the drink a little. “Well, the Germans are gone. And Tojo. That’s what we wanted to happen, right?”
“I mean the whole place. Neutral city in a war—everybody’s got an interest. Turks coming in? Staying out? What’s everybody up to? Now what? Now it’s just going to be Turks.”
“You’ve still got me meeting boats,” Leon said, finishing his glass. “We’re still here.”
“Not for long.”
“What do you mean?”
Tommy looked away, then raised his hand to signal for another round.
“You’re going home?” Leon guessed.
“We need to talk.”
“That’s why we’re having the drink?” Not a new job.
Tommy nodded. “They’re rolling up the operation.”
Don’t react. “Which operation?”
“Here. All of us. Well, most.”
“Washington. You know, September they handed us over to the War Department. Couldn’t get rid of Bill fast enough, I guess. What G-2 wanted all along. R&A went to State. Whole unit. Now they’re Research Intelligence. Office of. But the field? What’s the War Department going to do with field officers? War’s over.”
“Tell that to the Russians,” Leon said.
“That’s Europe. Not here. Christ, Leon, you didn’t think we’d just keep going here forever, did you? After the war?” he said, his tone slightly defensive. “Ah, Mehmet.” Making room for the new drinks, some banter Leon didn’t hear as he watched Tommy’s face, the red cheeks moving as he talked. Knowing it was coming, arranging his own transfer, taking care of business. A desk at the War Department? Or something closer to the Mayflower bar? He looked down at the fresh drink, his stomach queasy. Now what? Back to the desk at Reynolds, days without edge.
“When does this happen?”
“End of the month.”
Just like that.
“What about me?”
“You? I thought you’d be glad it’s over. You never wanted— I had to talk you into it, remember? Though I have to say you took right to it. Best I had. You know that, don’t you? That I always thought that.” He moved his hand, as if he were about to put it on Leon’s, but stopped. “I could put in a word for you—I mean, knowing Turkish, that’s something. But they’re closing the shop here. Everything back to G-2 and you don’t want to join the army, do you?” He looked over the brim of his glass. “It’s time to go home, Leon. OWI’s already packed up. Everybody’s going home.”
“I haven’t been back to the States in—what? Ten years now.”
“You don’t want to stay here. What’s here?”
“Get Reynolds to transfer you back. Be a big shot in the tobacco business.”
Would they? An office in a long corridor of offices, sharing a secretary, not his own corner overlooking Taksim. A house in Raleigh with a small yard, not the flat on Aya Pasa looking all the way to the Sea of Marmara. Anna where?
He shook his head. “I don’t want to move Anna. She’s doing so well now. Real progress. A move now—” The lie effortless, one of the reasons he’d been the best.
“She’d do even better in the States, if you ask me. They could do something for her there. Hospitals here—” He stopped. “You look all funny. What is it? The money?”
“The money?” Leon snorted. “What you pay? That’s not enough to notice.” Just enough to make a difference. “It’s the drink, I guess,” he said, pushing it away. “I’m beat. All the waiting around.” He looked up, feeling Tommy staring at him, alert behind the glassy eyes. “I never did it for money, you know.”
“I know. I appreciate that.”
“I’m surprised we’re pulling out, that’s all. Be a little dull. Pushing paper at the office.”
“Want to push some more? They’re going to need somebody at Western Electric. Middle East account—the whole territory. Guy in charge now is leaving.”
“So I hear.”
“You had someone at Western too?”
“Like to keep your bets all over the table, don’t you?” Separate drawers, separate secrets.
“Safer that way.”
“You’ll be running out of covers soon. No more Lend-Lease. No more OWI. Western Electric. Even the guy in the tobacco business.”
Leon smiled. “I’m going to miss you. I guess. When do you go?”
“As soon as we can arrange air transport. For our friend. The one who got seasick tonight.”
“You’re going with him?”
“We don’t want him to travel alone. He might get lost. We just need to park him here for a day or so. Then all your troubles are over. But while you’ve got him—well, I don’t have to tell you. It’s not as if you’ve never done this before. Just be careful.”
“With this one, I mean. Lots of people want to talk to him. So all the old rules. He doesn’t go out. He doesn’t—”
“I know the rules, Tommy. If you’re that nervous, why don’t you pick him up yourself?”
“Spread the bets, Leon. This time, I’m not even at the table. Nothing to see, nothing to connect me. I just pack up my bags and leave. You run into people on the plane, that’s all. But I can’t put him there. The board would light up. I’m not invisible here.”
“And I am.”
“You’re freelance. They won’t be expecting that. Not for him.”
“What’s he got, that you have to take him to Washington yourself?”
“You owe me that much.”
Tommy looked at him for a minute, then downed the rest of his drink. “Lots,” he said finally, nodding. “Up here.” He touched his temple. “Also a very nice photo album.”
“Mother Russia. Aerial recon. The Germans photographed everything, when they still could. Valuable snaps now.”
“And he got these how?”
“That I couldn’t say. Fell off a truck, maybe. Things do. Want another?”
Leon shook his head. “I’d better go. Start being invisible. Here, finish this.”
“Well, since I’m paying—”
Leon stood up. “Some evening.”
“Tomorrow then. One more and you’re a free man.”
Leon looked at him, disconcerted by the phrase. “Who is he, Tommy?”
“He’ll answer to John.”
“As in Johann? German?”
“As in John Doe.” He glanced up. “No funny business, okay? Let Washington ask the questions. Just do your piece. There’ll be a bonus in it, if I can talk them into it.”
“I don’t care about that.”
“That’s right. Good of the country. Still. Think of it as—I don’t know, for old times’ sake.” He turned his head to the room.
“I’ll just finish this. Give the place one last look. Goddam three-ring circus, wasn’t it?” he said, his voice drooping, like his eyes, maudlin.
Leon picked up his damp coat.
“By the way,” Tommy said, sharp again. “Separate pieces, but where the hell’s Laleli?”
“Past the university. Before you get to Aksaray.”
“Christ, who goes out there?”
“That’s the idea.”
It was still raining hard enough to get wet again and he was shivering when he got home. The Cihangir Apartments, just down Aya Pasa from the Park, had been put up in the twenties and still had a few moderne touches in the lobby, but the plaster had begun to chip, a sign of larger decay to come. Reynolds had bought a company flat here because it had central heating, a luxury, but fuel shortages had kept the radiators tepid all during the war, and now Leon relied on space heaters, a few rows of toaster coils barely strong enough to warm your hands. The elevator was sporadic. Hot water came through the geyser in a trickle, so that it was cool by the time the tub had filled.
None of it mattered. The first time he and Anna had come to the flat, a ritual handing over of keys, all they saw was the window with its view across the rooftops of Cihangir, past the mosques at Kabatas and Findikli to the open mouth of the Bosphorus, alive with boats. On a clear day you could see Leander’s Tower, the green park at Topkapi. That first year they’d sit with a drink after work and watch the ferries crossing to Asia, the freighters passing up the strait. There was no balcony, just the window, a private movie screen.
“You’ll like it here,” Perkins had said, a little wistful. “Of course, it helps if you’re handy yourself. Mr. Cicek, that’s the building—well, manager, I suppose. Not much with a wrench. With anything, really. So if you need something—”
“Oh, it’s wonderful. Just the way it is,” Anna had said, eyes fixed on the view. “How can you bear to leave it?”
But that was when everything was new, Istanbul something almost magical after Germany, somewhere you could breathe. Leon remembered the very first day, stepping out of Sirkeci station into a swarm of motorbikes, the smell of frying fish, trays piled with simits balanced on vendors’ heads, boats crowding the Eminönü piers, everything noisy and sunlit. In the taxi crossing Galata Bridge he had turned back to look at Sinan’s graceful minarets pricking the sky, and at that moment a flock of birds rose up, swooping around the dome of the Yeni Mosque, then diving back to the water, rippling with light, and Leon thought it was the most wonderful place he had ever seen.
During those first weeks they didn’t see the old wooden houses, listing and creaking from neglect, the backstreets with clumps of garbage and mud, cracked fountains seeping moss. They saw color, heaps of spices, everything that wasn’t Germany, and water everywhere, a city where you took ferries just to be out on it, looking at domes and spires, not the crooked dirty streets. Anna wanted to see everything, the famous sights, then things she found in books, the Camondo Stairs, twisting down Galata Hill, the cast-iron Bulgarian church, the Byzantine mosaics out near the old city walls where they could eat picnics on the yellow grass, looking up at giant stork nests in the ruins. Their building had been fronted with sunny lemon plaster then, a confection, the plane trees in the median shading Aya Pasa. That was before the grime had settled in the edges, the white trim faded, before anything had happened to them.
There was a small pile of mail on the floor just inside the door, pushed through the slot by Cicek. Did he glance at them first, report anything interesting? But these days not much came. No air letters from home, no thick envelopes with consular seals. When he and Anna had been a new couple in town, invitations fell in clumps through the door—tennis parties, drinks parties, receptions, the endless social life of the European community. Then, after she got sick, he noticed the thinning out, events one could attend alone, sometimes just bills or nothing at all. He picked up the mail—at least one invitation, a thick envelope—then shivered again, a chill that didn’t stop at the door. He went over and switched on the space heater, stood next to it, and opened the envelope. A party at Lily’s, something to look forward to. Piles of food and the yali warm even this time of year, fuel never a problem for the rich. A woman who had actually been in the sultan’s harem, something out of the last century, now serving cocktails to modern Turks who still left their wives home, one more Istanbul paradox.
He looked down. As usual, the coils were glowing without producing any heat. At least get out of the wet clothes. He went to the bathroom, stripping on the way, the clothes sticking to him. When he reached for his bathrobe, he shuddered with cold, almost a spasm. Chilled to the bone, not just an expression. He threw the clothes over the shower rod to dry, then wrapped the robe tighter and went back out to the drinks table to pour a brandy. You don’t want to get sick, not before a job. Which Tommy could easily have done himself, putting John Doe up at the consulate, safe, out of sight, until the plane was ready. Why involve Leon at all? A bonus in it for you, if you do your piece. The brandy burned as it went down, the only heat in the room. But why do it in pieces anyway? Unless he didn’t want anybody at the consulate to know, didn’t even want his own office to know. I’m not invisible. No connection until they were on the plane together. A German with photographs. Important enough, maybe, to get Tommy a bigger desk in Washington. Planning it. You were the best I had. A cheap compliment, while he looked out for himself and Leon went back to buying tobacco.
He went through the rest of the mail. A utility bill, a circular for made-to-order suits, and a card from Georg Ritter, a namesake knight on the front. On the back, a pen drawing of a chessboard. “A game this week? Thursday?” Tomorrow. Well, not Thursday. He’d have to call. Which Georg could have done. Why send a card when you could just pick up the phone? But a call was an intrusion. You could ignore a card, just not respond if you’d rather not, the formal manners part of Georg’s way of dealing with the world, as if the past fifty years had never happened. Calling cards, notes, a pneumatique if they still existed, even his flat with its heavy furniture and Meissen figurines a relic of old Europe. He’d been fond of Anna, a kind of substitute father, and now like an aging parent was becoming easy to neglect. He shouldn’t have to be sending cards, gentle reminders. A game once a week, some gossip, just being company—it wasn’t a lot to ask. Call tomorrow and set a date.
He put the invitation on the piano, the upright Georg had found for them. Keys dusted, in tune, ready for her to play again. During the war it had been Mendelssohn because you couldn’t play him in Germany, jüdische Musik, Anna thumbing her nose at the Nazis with lieder. Along the piano top was the row of framed photographs Leon had come to think of as his war memorial. Anna’s parents, dressed for a walk in the Tiergarten, the last picture they’d sent before they were taken away. Anna herself, mouth open in laughter, when she still had words. Phil kneeling with the ground crew on an airstrip somewhere in the Pacific, the propellers just behind their heads. His unexpected baby brother, so many years between them that they had never been friends and then suddenly were the only family each of them had. The telegram had come to him, the only one left. Missing in action over New Guinea. Then, months later, a letter from an officer who’d survived the Japanese camp, who wanted Leon to know that Phil had been brave to the end. Whatever that meant. Maybe a samurai sword to the back of the neck, maybe dysentery, anyway gone, Leon’s last tie to America. And yet, oddly, losing Phil had pulled him closer to it, wanting to be part of it, even carrying papers for Tommy, as if that would help somehow, like a ground mechanic who checked the oil and waited for the others to come back.
He draped an afghan over his shoulders and sat next to the electric fire. One of your new friends, Mihai had guessed. Now on a VIP ticket to Washington. What would Anna have said? Who else would have reconnaissance pictures? A Nazi or a thief. Your new friends. Not what he imagined doing when it had started. An innocent train to Ankara, then dinner at Karpic’s to leave the papers. No need to go to the Embassy, just in town on business. And then Tommy had other things for him.
“You have a gift for languages,” he’d said. “Who picks up Turkish? And Kraut.” Leon’s grandfather’s legacy—English at school, German at home. “You should be proud—the language of Schiller.” But of course he wasn’t, hiding it from his friends, an embarrassment, until one day it got him a job, not Paris, where he wanted to go, but still overseas and paid in dollars. One job to another, Hamburg then Berlin, where he met Anna.
After that the trips home became less frequent and then, when his mother died, there was no reason to go. They stayed in Berlin until Kristallnacht when Anna’s parents, in a panic, pleaded with him to take her to New York. They would follow, as soon as things could be arranged. But when would that be? An ocean between them, something final. And then, almost a fluke, the Reynolds job came up, somewhere safe but still close enough to help get them out. You could take a train there, Vienna-Sofia-Istanbul, twice a week.
But they never did, delaying until no one got out unless they were rescued, unless Anna and Mihai somehow got them on one of their boats. Anna never stopped trying, even after they couldn’t be found, two more who had disappeared. And Leon had started working for Tommy, his own way of helping. Fighting Nazis. And now he was hiding them.
He looked at the window, still blurry with water. What if it hadn’t rained tonight? What if John Doe had made it through? Would Tommy have told him about the pictures? Any of it? Just do your piece. While I make plans. It wasn’t the money, there were always ways to get more money, but the end of things. Just like that. He shivered again, now a chill that wouldn’t go away, but something else too, an uneasiness. About what? Maybe just the quiet. With the windows closed, there were no sounds—no foghorns on the water or even cars grinding up the steep streets below. When he struck a match he could hear it, a loud rasp. He pulled the afghan tighter, an old man huddling in front of the fire. But not exactly a fire, and not really old yet, either. Too old to be asked back to Washington? Tommy was going. Nagging at him. Take a pill and get into bed, under Anna’s old duvet, always warm.
He went into the bathroom, about to open the medicine chest, and stopped. The same mirror he used every morning, but someone else in it. When had that happened? It wasn’t the gray hair or the tired eyes. He looked the same, more or less. Something worse, a sense of time running out. Why hadn’t Tommy ordered a backup? That was one of the rules. Not even ask for the safe house address? Careless, his mind already on the plane, leaving Leon behind to mop up. I’m not invisible here. Then why have a drink in the most visible place in Istanbul? To tell Leon he was leaving? But he could have done that after. Why even make contact before the job was finished? To be in Mehmet’s report. Somebody’s. Tommy King spent the evening getting soused with a business colleague at the Park, not waiting for a boat in the rain. Covering himself, the way he did. One step ahead.
He was restless all morning, moving papers and fidgeting with pens, sending Osman out twice for coffee. He glanced at the telephone. Tommy wouldn’t call today, he’d keep his distance until after the pickup. Outside, Taksim Square, scrubbed almost clean by the storm, was sunny. Perfect sailing weather. There was nothing to do now but wait out the day. But the clock barely moved.
He was always anxious before a job. Simple, but you never knew. And today was Thursday, his afternoon with Marina, and that anticipation had already begun, a prickling all over his skin, his mind filled with how it would be—the afternoon sun through the curtains, catching the dust, the thin silk wrapper she called a kimono, loosely belted so that it came apart at a touch, his breath getting shorter on the stairs, almost there, not wanting her to see how eager he was, but already hard when she opened the door. The way it always was. And then, afterward, the sudden deflation, embarrassed at wanting it so much, something he shouldn’t be doing. Only once a week, so that it wouldn’t feel like cheating, more like a medical appointment, just a time you set aside. An affair would have meant one of the European wives, unpredictable emotions, a betrayal. This was a simpler transaction—if you paid, it didn’t mean anything.
He had never bought sex before, but what other choices were there in Istanbul? The houses in the alleys on the water side of Galata Hill, waiting downstairs with sailors and stevedores for ten minutes upstairs and months of disease? The apartments over the clubs near Taksim, fading red wallpaper and businessmen, the risk of meeting someone you knew? Then he had overheard a man talking about her in the bar at the Pera Palas, a girl with her own place, and he had gone once, nervous, almost drugged with the thought, his first woman in a year, and then it was every week.
What he hadn’t expected was that sex itself would be different, not what he had known with Anna, but something furtive and heady, the way it had been in adolescence. He knew that if he saw her more often everything would change, that strings would begin to attach themselves, guilt, the afternoons no longer just physical, just pleasure. He thought she felt it too, a kind of relief that he only wanted her body, leaving the rest of her to herself. They had sex, that was all. They didn’t want to touch anything else.
Once he offered to keep her, pay for the room.
“No, I don’t want that. Just pay me like always.”
“Why not? It would make things easier for you.”
“Oh, for me. And why would you do that? So I wouldn’t see anybody else. That’s what it means. Just you. But I would, and then I’d lie to you. Let’s just stay as we are.”
“How many do you see?”
“You’re jealous? If you want a virgin, go somewhere else.”
“I don’t want to go anywhere else.”
“You know when I was a virgin? When I was twelve. So it’s too late to be jealous.”
“You like them, the others?”
“Everyone wants to know that. Now you. Some yes, some no. I like it with you—that’s what you want to know, yes? Nobody really cares about the others, just ‘how is it with me?’ But they ask anyway. What are they like, the men who see you? They want to hear stories.”
“Do you tell them stories about me?”
She shook her head. “What could I tell them? Thursday afternoon—that’s all I know about you. Somebody who doesn’t ask me questions. Until today. And now what? Pay for the room. I pay for it. I told myself, if you ever get out of that place, you’ll have your own room, just yours, not in some house with people walking around. It’s mine,” she said, looking at the room. “I pay for it.”
“But this is how you pay for it,” he said, nodding at the bed, the tangled sheets.
“Then I’m paying anyway.”
“Not for the room.”
Which is when he realized someone else was keeping her, their Thursday afternoons just extra cash, something to tuck away under the mattress. All the others just pin money too. Did the man know about him? The afternoons, the most private thing he had, seemed suddenly invaded, no longer safe. It became important to know. He even watched the building for a while, curious to see the others. Europeans, always in the afternoon, like him. Only one at night, a Turk who showed up at odd times, as if he never knew when he could manage to get away. Someone she kept her evenings free for, just in case.
“Why do you want to know?” she said when he pressed her.
“Does he know about me?”
“No. I told you that.”
“Or the others?”
“You think there are so many?”
He waited. “Does he know?”
She belted her robe tightly, reaching for a cigarette. “No. Why? Do you want to tell him?”
“You said you didn’t want to lie to me. But you lie to him.”
“Maybe I have feelings for you.”
“Now you are lying to me.”
She glanced over at him, then smiled wryly, and drew on the cigarette. “I’m a whore. That’s what we do. You’re surprised?”
“Oh, tell what? Leave me alone. He’s rescuing me. That’s how he sees things, a fairy story. He gives me this room. So I’m like a princess, somebody in a window. In a drawing.”
“And he’s the prince?”
She smiled again. “The pasha. He stole the building. An Armenian owned it. Remember the Varlik Vergisi, how they taxed the Jews and the Armenians and when they couldn’t pay they sent them to camps and took what was left? He got the building. So he gives me this room. No rent. But I pay for it with him. Is that what you want to know?”
“And he thinks you’ve given it up? The others?”
“He thinks I’m grateful. I am grateful. But I have to think of the future too. He gets tired of me. Anything can happen. He’s a simple man. A business in Sishane. He never thought he could have anything like this, a girl in a room, waiting for him. But now he’s a big landlord. Rents. So it was the tax, maybe, that got me out of that place. Strange how things work.”
“I’m Armenian. He steals from an Armenian and he gives the room to another. I don’t think he knows. A woman—it’s all the same to him. So I lie to him. I don’t lie to you.”
“I know who he is. A man who steals. You—I’m not so sure. You never tell me anything.”
He touched her wrist. “I don’t come here to talk.”
“Everyone else—I think that’s why they come, to tell me their troubles.”
“Maybe I don’t have any troubles.”
She raised her eyes, meeting his, and held them for a second, a sudden connection, not saying anything, not having to.
He met Ed Burke for lunch in one of the restaurants in the Flower Passage, a table out in the arcade, under the belle époque globes. Ed had ordered wine and drank most of it himself, Leon sipping a little for show, barely touching the stuffed mussels, his mind somewhere else.
“So when are you going home?” Ed said.
“What’s the hurry?”
“You don’t want to wait too long. The import business is finished. Where are they going to get the hard currency? Another year, it’ll be strictly domestic here. You should get out now.”
“I’m buying, not selling. They’re still open for business.”
“Until the fucking Russians get their hands on the place. What they always wanted.” He looked down the arcade to the Istiklal Caddesi, busy with trams and old cars. “Be a hell of a thing, won’t it, to see all this go.” He looked again to the street. “You know when I first got here, they still had the women in veils.”
Had Marina worn one, as a girl? But she was Armenian, so a Christian, something he hadn’t known before, another piece, like filling in an outline. What did she look like when she went out? He had never seen her in anything but her silk kimono, a swishing sound as she moved, smooth to the touch, like the soft flesh of her inner thigh. He looked up, aware again that Ed was talking.
“You hear about Tommy? It’s all over the consulate. Back to Washington.”
“Really?” Leon said, noncommittal.
“I thought you two were thick as thieves.”
Leon shook his head. “I helped him out with a deal once, that’s all.”
“What kind of deal?” Ed said, suddenly curious.
“Chromium. I knew some people in Ankara.”
“Well, that always helps, doesn’t it?”
“Always,” Leon said, looking more closely for something behind the words. But Ed’s face was the same, long and droopy, like Fred Allen’s, pouches now under the eyes.
“Board of Economic Warfare. That’s where he’s going. Except there’s no more warfare,” Ed said.
“So they change the name. It’s the government. You’re in the government.”
“Not where he’s going.”
“What do you mean?”
“Come on, you never thought Tommy might be doing something extra on the q.t.?”
“Hush-hush stuff. You never suspected?”
“Tommy? Who’d trust him with a secret? Just hand him a drink.”
“You worked with him. Who knows, maybe you—”
“Worked. I put him in touch with some people in Ankara. That’s it. What’s this all about?”
“War’s over. What does it matter now? I’d just like to know. Was I right?”
“Ask him. How the hell would I know?”
“Of course, that’s what you’d have to say, isn’t it?”
Leon looked at him, then forced a laugh. “I guess it is. If I didn’t have a foreign wife. German, for Christ’s sake. I’m the last person they’d ask.” The Anna cover, still useful. “And I’ll bet they didn’t ask Tommy, either. With his big mouth. What you’re talking about—I thought all that was over at OWI. And I hear they packed up. So maybe we’ll never know.”
“OWI,” Ed said, nodding, not letting it go. “And the college. Remember early ’forty-two, all of a sudden Robert College gets a whole new group of teachers? You’d meet them at parties, they’d never talk about their classes.”
Leon smiled. “Maybe they came for the view.” A hilltop looking down at Bebek and the Bosphorus. Cocktail parties on the terrace in the evening light. Not what the founding missionaries had had in mind. “Come on, Ed. You see those guys doing parachute drops? Four-eyes? With Tommy? I never saw him open a book. I’ll bet he doesn’t even know where the college is.”
Ed smiled, a cat licking cream. “He’s giving a party there.”
“He didn’t ask you?”
Leon shrugged. “I told you, we’re not that close. What kind of party?”
“Just some drinks. Say good-bye to his friends there.” He looked over. “Those guys he doesn’t know.”
“Well, Tommy. Any excuse. When’s this?”
“Tonight. Why don’t you come? The more the merrier. That’s what he said to me. Wants to fill the place.”
With witnesses. Distancing himself.
“I can’t tonight.”
“I’m going to see my wife.”
“Sorry,” Ed said, genuinely embarrassed. “Well, try to drop in late. You’re right there. She’s in Bebek, right?”
Leon nodded. Near the college. But not as far up the coast road as the boat landing. Tommy making a diversion. If anyone followed him, they’d never go farther than Bebek, waiting for him to come down the hill. Hosting a party, not meeting boats.
“I’ll see what I can do,” he said, signaling for the bill. “You find out who’s who first so I don’t say anything I shouldn’t.”
“You think I’m kidding.”
“I think the place is getting to you. Here, let me get that.”
“Tell me one thing then.”
“What’s that?” Leon said, dropping some lira notes on the bill.
“Remember that secretary of von Papen’s? Switched sides?”
“The one asked for asylum. Sure.”
“I was at the consulate that day. And where do they send him? To Tommy. Now why would they do that?”
A flustered attaché, an instinctive reaction, forgetting the rules.
“I don’t know, Ed.”
“Think about it,” Ed said, taking another sip of the wine and leaning back, settling in. Leon imagined another hour of this, Ed probing, a meaningless cat-and-mouse game. To learn what, exactly?
“I have to run,” Leon said, glancing at his watch. “End-of-the-month figures.” He got up. “Watch yourself tonight. With the professors. Loose lips.”
“Very funny. But I’ll bet you I’m right.”
“I’ll try to make it later,” Leon said, a lie they both accepted.
He left by the side exit to the fish market, the narrow street slippery with melted ice and old frying grease, then turned through the covered vegetable stalls and out to Mesrutiyet, a long street of apartment buildings looking west to the Golden Horn. What did Ed want, anyway? Imagining Tommy lurking in alleys, missing the real sleight of hand. Follow me to a party while my freelancer does the work up the road.
The street curved, hugging the steep hill, opening up to the water view below. Once there would have been hundreds of sails. A dip in the road, past the Pera Palas and then up, threading through the narrow streets to the Tünel station. Marina’s building was just behind, a gray apartment block grimy with neglect. Some of the windows looked toward the square where commuters poured off the funicular, but Marina’s faced down to the Sishane shipyards, the flat waters of the Horn beyond.
“I can see my whole life from here,” she said once, smoking by the window, her body wrapped again in her kimono. “That’s my childhood.” She nodded toward the streets squeezed behind the docks. “Then, if you lean out this way—well, maybe it’s better, you can’t see that house. But the same hill. A few streets, what a difference. Another life.”
“And now what,” Leon said idly.
“Now here. I like it here. I like looking down on it.”
He checked his watch. A little early, driven away by Ed’s prying, but Marina wouldn’t mind. Thursdays were his. “You couldn’t wait?” she’d say, teasing, opening the robe to her breasts, waiting for him to take them in his hands, lean down.
He had just left the square when he saw the man coming out of the building. Stopping for a minute to adjust to the sunlight, then straightening his hat. A western suit, not the workers’ overalls or jellabas you usually saw in the building. Leon turned, almost a pivot, and stepped toward the station newsstand, looking at a newspaper, waiting for a presence behind him, then turning again. The man was heading to the Istiklal tram. High cheekbones, thin nose, dark but not necessarily a Turk, anybody. Who went to her building in the middle of the afternoon. Now walking past the tram into the crowd. He felt suddenly warm. Of course she saw others, he’d always known that. But not on his day. That was the point. Not to be somebody waiting in line, like a sailor in a Galata house. The illusion of something more, the whole day paid for. Unless the man had been somewhere else, visiting one of the other flats. Except he hadn’t. Sometimes you knew, just by instinct.
“You’re early,” she said, opening the door, the air golden, blinds half shut against the light.
“I know. I just missed your friend.”
She hesitated for a second. “What friend?” she said, not sure, trying to find a tone.
“I saw him coming out.”
“Oh, and I’m the only one who lives here,” she said quickly.
“Who was he?”
“No one. What a little boy you are. Pretending to be jealous.” She tugged a little at his belt. “Close the door. Did you see the pail? On the landing? Another leak.”
“You should complain.”
“Oh, to the kapici. In a building like this.”
“To the owner. Was that him?”
She moved closer to him. “Look at me. My eyes. So you know it’s true. I haven’t been with anyone today. You know you can smell that, when there’s somebody. On the skin. Do you smell anyone?”
“That’s right. The one you like.” She stared at him again. “I haven’t been with anyone today. All right?” She put her hand on his crotch, rubbing him. “I always save today for you. You know that.” Stroking him, the lie like another hand on him, so that he was hard instantly, excited by both, unable to separate them.
He took a dolmus taxi to Bebek this time, making conversation with the other passengers so that he’d be remembered, a foreigner who spoke some Turkish. Anna had already been fed and changed for bed, a soft nightgown she seemed not to notice. “I’ll just sit with her until she falls asleep,” he told the nurse, holding up the magazine he’d brought to read. An open-ended visit, no need to check back. Fifteen minutes later he was through the garden entrance, back on the road where Mihai was waiting.
“Busy night. Egyptians are giving a party,” Mihai said, looking out the windshield toward the old khedive’s summer palace.
“Hard to see. No moon.”
Outside the village the night was black, only a few yellow windows visible through the cypresses and umbrella pines. On the Bosphorus a passing freighter’s lights reflected on the water, then were swallowed up again by the dark.
“Let’s see if we have company,” Leon said, turning to look out back as Mihai started the car.
But no one else pulled into the line of cars, moving quickly tonight, winter traffic, not the usual jam.
“We’ll be early,” Leon said.
“It’s not exact, the time. Like a train.”
“No rain tonight anyway. I checked the reports. It’s clear all up along the coast.”
He looked again at the black water. Where Jason had once sailed the Argo.
“Did you see Anna? Tell her about the boat?”
Leon nodded. “If she heard.”
“They say hearing is the last sense to go. When you have a stroke.”
“She didn’t have a stroke.”
Mihai said nothing. It had been his boat, the one he and Anna had organized, also out of Constancia, as it happened. Overcrowded and listing, stuck in Istanbul for repairs, then waiting for sailing permits, two hundred people taking turns on deck. They’d run tenders out with food and water, medicine that Anna had somehow rounded up out of nonexistent supplies. Black market drugs. And still no permits, then panic, everyone seeing a repeat of the Struma, the ship sent back, then torpedoed in the Black Sea, everyone down with it. One survivor, they’d heard.
So the decision was made, a desperate run through the Marmara, a moonless night like this one that made them hope they could slip through. Mihai’s decision. No, both; Anna’s too. Worth the risk. What could the Turks do? Tow them back to Istanbul, where they were anyway, rotting? Better to make a run for it.
Later it was said the engines would never have made it, not at that speed, that weight. They were bound to overheat. But no one really knew how the fire had started. Some sort of explosion, probably, flames suddenly leaping up into the night. The ship had been just off Yedikule, close enough for the fire to be seen, but even so the rescue boats were late. The Bratianu had begun to break up by then, people screaming in the water, going under, later washing up, the shore littered with them, like driftwood. Anna had managed to save a few, swimmers strong enough to stay afloat, grab onto paddles, but the children were gone. It must have been then, watching the debris and corpses float toward her in the ship’s lights that something had broken in her too, another overheated engine.
“There’s the chance of another one,” Mihai said. “A boat. The British are watching Brindisi now, so we’re trying to get one here.”
“Should I know this?”
“Why not? We have no secrets from each other. Except the ones you don’t tell me.”
Leon looked over at him. “I don’t know who he is.”
“So you said. Well, a surprise for both of us. Eine kleine Überraschung.”
“You’re so sure he’s German.”
“Who else comes out this way? The Americans. First they put them on trial. Now they take them home. A change of heart, very useful.”
“You can’t put everyone on trial.”
“Why not? They wanted all of us dead. No exceptions.”
“A Jew. It’s different.”
“That’s what they wanted everyone to think.”
“In that they succeeded. Now we know who we are.”
“Where are you getting the ship?” Leon said, changing the subject.
“Trabzon. Of course a wreck. But if it can make it this far, why not Palestine?”
“Maybe for your tobacco. From Trabzon. Tobacco and hazelnuts.”
Leon pointed out the windshield. “Pull up here.”
“I don’t see anyone.”
“They’ll see us.”
They parked in the drop-off area by the quay. A few boats bobbed against their mooring posts, launches you could hire, their owners probably keeping warm in the café on the other side of the road. No one else around.
Mihai put on a knitted sailor’s hat, pulling it over his ears. “Let’s hope they’re not late. It’s freezing.”
They walked over to the edge of the pavement, looking out at the black water. Any minute now, unless the boat had had to dodge a patrol around Garipçe.
“The money’s already arranged?” Mihai said. “You don’t want to hang around bargaining.”
Leon tapped his breast pocket. “On delivery.” He looked over at Mihai, clamping his ears for warmth. Two men standing in the cold, outlined by the café lights behind them. Up to what? They’d have to move soon.
“Hear that?” A boat being put in gear, the noise moving toward them, their shadowy figures spotted from the water.
“Right,” Mihai said, “one, two, three. Let’s go. You pay, I’ll get Johnny in the car.”
The fishing boat, still without lights, now swung toward the quay, throwing out a rope.
“John?” Leon said, feeling foolish, as if it were a password.
The passenger nodded. Thin, smaller than Leon had expected, about Mihai’s height. A heavy woolen jacket. He shoved a step box against the gunwale.
Mihai pulled him up out of the boat, gripping his hand. “Come on. Car’s over there. Get in the back,” Mihai said in a rush, then stopped, his eyes on the passenger’s face, reading it.
Below them the fisherman started talking in Turkish, Leon answering before he got louder.
“My bag,” John said, nodding to a duffel bag in the boat. “I have a bag.”
For a second Mihai didn’t move, still staring, until John looked back at him, a question mark. “I’ll get it,” Mihai said finally, breaking his own trance. “The car. Over there. Hurry.”
“It’s all right?” John said to Leon, suddenly anxious, a what’s-wrong expression.
Leon made a shooing motion. “Fine. Get in the car.”
“And my money? What about my money?”
Leon took an envelope out of his pocket and handed it down. The fisherman started to count the bills.
“It’s all there. Throw us the bag and get out of here.” Behind him, he heard the car door slam. “Before anyone sees.”
“Ha. Before anyone sees you.”
“Just throw up the goddam bag,” Mihai said, edgy, putting one foot on the boat, reaching out.
“First I count,” the fisherman said. “Who are you anyway? Nobody said two. One man.”
“Count it, then,” Leon said, impatient now, watching him thumb through the notes. Unshaven, face surly.
“Nothing extra for the extra day?”
Leon could feel Mihai tense up next to him, coiled. “Not here,” he said quickly, improvising. “After you’re back. And we know no one’s seen you.” Something Tommy could easily arrange. Pocket change.
“The bag,” Mihai said, his voice low, almost threatening, so that the fisherman picked it up without question, heaving it across the gap. Mihai swung it onto his shoulder.
“No lights till you’re past the landing,” Leon said, reminded by a sweep of headlights from the road.
Mihai tossed back the rope.
“Did he say anything? You had two days.”
The fisherman shook his head. “No Turkish. We play dominoes.”
“The money will be there when you get back,” Leon said. “The extra.”
The fisherman smiled, an uneven row of teeth with gaps. “Inshallah,” he said, a hand on his chest. He went over to the controls, pushing the handle forward. The boat choked, then started moving, the engine grinding, swinging out again toward the dark, the sputtering still audible even after it was out of sight.
“They’re lucky they made it. In that,” Mihai said.
“Come on, let’s get out of here.”
Mihai turned to him. “You know what you’re doing?”
“What do you mean?”
A crunch of tires, a car door slamming. Mihai turned to it, then suddenly swiveled, the air near him exploding, his body jerking back, as if he’d been punched. He let out a sharp cry, hit somewhere. Leon saw the duffel bag falling, then Mihai pitching forward, rocking.
“Get down!” A hoarse grunt as he dropped onto the duffel, scraping the pavement to get behind it.
Another shot, hitting the concrete near the edge of the bag, Mihai rolling away from it. Leon ducked, then threw himself down, flattening his body on the concrete. Out of the light but still exposed, his mind a minute behind what was happening, trying to catch up. What soldiers must feel, everything around them moving too fast. Getting killed. Afraid they’d pee.
He lifted his head a little, looking across the quay. The shots had been so loud that everyone must have heard. He expected people rushing out of the café. But nobody appeared, even the café lights now hidden behind the dark bulk of the car where the shots had come from.
“Mihai,” he said, a hiss.
“Keep down.” He was reaching into his pocket, pulling out a gun, crouching farther behind the duffel for cover. “Roll away!” Mihai said, still hoarse. “Keep moving.”
But the next bullet went to the duffel again, a locator shot for Mihai, who now aimed at the point in the dark where it had been fired. Leon watched him steady the gun. Nothing but dim reflected light on the road. But he found the spot. Another explosion, louder than the others, almost in his ear, and then a grunt from the other car, a surprised scream, a shadow forming, trying to stand then falling down again. For a second, silence, so quiet he could hear the boats creak against their ropes.
“Mihai?” he whispered, crawling over on his belly, still trying to keep his head down.
“I hit him.”
Now close enough to see Mihai’s hand, covered in blood. “Jesus.”
“We have to get to the car. We don’t know how many—”
Mihai pushed himself up, knees, then a low crouch, moving, his eyes fixed on the other car. Leon scrambled up, following, then saw the shadow take shape, on its knees, hand extended.
“Watch out!” he shouted, flattening himself again.
“My hand. It’s stiff,” Mihai said, sliding the gun to Leon. “Get him.”
For a second, less, Leon stared at the gun, reaching for it as if it might snap at him, a gray lizard flecked with blood, alive.
Then, a pure reflex, he was aiming the gun, firing, hearing another grunt, this time the crack of bone as a head hit the pavement. Mihai was up and running, bent over, dragging the duffel.
“Get in the car,” Leon said, taking the bag from him, risking a half-standing sprint, an easy target now. But moving, racing.
He slammed back against the car when he reached it, hearing his own breath, then yanked the door handle to get in. He reached across the seat to open the other door for Mihai, who slid in, a writhing movement, still low.
“Here,” he said, handing over the keys.
Leon jammed them into the ignition, turning them at the same time.
Leon put the car in gear and felt it jump beneath him, wheels squealing as he pressed the accelerator, shooting out of the parking area and left onto the road, past the café. No one outside. Hadn’t anybody heard? Gunshots were startling, always recognizable, not cars backfiring. Or maybe they were huddled inside, cowering behind windows. Or maybe it had all never happened, a fever dream. But there was Mihai’s hand, bleeding. And his own, shaking, his whole body trembling, adrenaline still surging, shocked. Someone shooting at him.
“They said there wouldn’t be any trouble,” John said from the backseat, his voice apprehensive.
Leon looked in the rearview mirror, somehow surprised that he was there, an afterthought.
“You’re safe,” Mihai said.
“Did you see them?” Leon said over his shoulder. “How many?”
John shook his head. “They thought you were me,” he said to Mihai. “You had the bag.”
Leon looked in the mirror again, taking him in for the first time. Short gray hair, receding at the temples so that he seemed almost bald, a thin face pulled tight over high cheekbones, sharp eyes peering back at him in the mirror.
“How’s your hand?” he said to Mihai.
“I can move it.”
“There’s a shirt in the bag,” John said. “You can wrap it in that. Stop the bleeding.”
“I don’t need your shirt,” Mihai said to the mirror, pulling a handkerchief out of his back pocket.
“Anyone behind?” Leon said.
“There will be. Would they send just one?”
“Whoever they are, who’d want to put a bullet in your head,” Mihai said to the mirror. “Who is that, do you think?”
John looked back, saying nothing.
“You brought a gun,” Leon said, glancing down at the seat.
“In case. There was no reason to think—” Leon said, his voice still ragged, back at the quay.
“There’s always a reason,” Mihai said evenly. He looked up at the mirror. “Don’t you think so?”
“Where are we going?” John said, not answering him.
“A safe place,” Leon said. “Don’t worry.”
“Not the consulate?”
“How?” Mihai said. “In a diplomatic pouch? So the Turks don’t see?”
Leon glanced over at him, surprised at his tone, still shooting back. “Don’t worry,” he said again to the mirror. He made a sharp right turn, into the village.
“What are you doing?” Mihai said.
“You can’t lose anyone on the coast road. We’ll take the back way,” Leon said.
“What back way?”
“Just watch behind,” Leon said, gesturing to the rear window.
They shot up the steep grade toward Nispetiye, Leon leaning forward to concentrate on the twisting road, dark with pines.
“It’s hard to follow here.” Suburbs with shady local roads circling the hills, easy to get lost in even during the day.
“So you’re called John?” Mihai said, making conversation, holding the bloody hand. “So many Johns. Ivan. Johann. Ion in Romania.”
John looked into the mirror. “Alexei,” he said. “John was for the fisherman.”
Mihai continued to look back for a second, then turned to Leon. “Who knew about the pickup?”
“Here? Nobody. That’s why they used me. Someone outside.”
“So then, your end,” Mihai said to Alexei, turning in his seat to face him. “Someone at your end.”
Alexei just stared back at him.
“Of course, there’s always the fisherman. If someone pays more. But who? Who wants to kill you?”
Alexei looked at him, deliberate, moving a chess piece into place. “Everybody,” he said. “Why do you think I’m coming to you? Do you have a cigarette?”
Leon reached into his pocket and handed back a pack.
“So thank you for that,” Alexei said, lighting one. “Saving my life.”
Mihai nodded. “That’s right, isn’t it? I did. And the bag saved mine. How things work.”
“What if he isn’t dead?” Leon said, taking a left at the intersection down toward Yildiz.
“Who? Our friend? Then he’s as good as dead. He can’t go to a hospital. What would he say?”
Leon looked over, his stomach suddenly light. Someone was dead, had to be. And he hadn’t felt anything, just the blind panic of firing back, saving himself. It must be different for snipers, taking aim, knowing you’re about to kill. Detached, not shaking later, gripping the wheel tighter, head filled with it.
“It was supposed to be a simple pickup,” he said.
They drove for a while in silence, then skirted the dark border of Yildiz Park where Sultan Abdul Hamid had walled himself away, frightened of shadows. Leon glanced at the rearview mirror. Nobody behind.
“You know the pharmacy in Taksim? The late-night one? I should get some iodine for this.”
Leon spotted the green pharmacy sign and double-parked in front of a borek stall, looking both ways as he stepped into the street. Maybe he would always do this now, listening for bullets. Inside he got the iodine and bandages and then, an afterthought, some aspirin so it would look like a general supplies run. When he got back to the car, he had a sense that something had happened, a change in the air, but neither Mihai nor Alexei said anything. Maybe the change was in him, a new churning uneasiness, as suspicious now as Abdul Hamid.
“Shit!” Mihai gasped as he applied the iodine.
Leon was heading downhill again toward Galata Bridge. “Can you drive home? With that?” he said, indicating the bandage.
“I’ll be all right. Just worry about him.” A hard look, Mihai somehow blaming Leon.
They crossed the Horn and went up into the old city, past the tourist monuments, then Beyazit. Laleli Caddesi turned downhill toward Yenikapi station in a stretch of small hotels and cheap textile dealers.
“We’ll get out here,” Leon said, stopping. “So they don’t see the car.”
Leon pointed to a light three doors down. “Hotel.”
“It’s safe?” Alexei said, looking out, suddenly vulnerable.
“Let’s hope so.” Leon turned to Mihai. “You sure you’ll be all right?”
Another look, his eyes meeting Leon’s, then letting it go, pushing the bag back to Alexei. “Here, keep it close. It might come in handy again.” He slid over to the driver’s seat, waiting for them to leave, then handed Leon the gun. “Better have this. Watch your back.”
Leon touched it, feeling it alive again, then nodded.
“Keep the car off the street. In case anybody spotted it.” He hesitated. “I’m sorry.”
Mihai shrugged. “Don’t be sorry. Just get him out of Istanbul.”
“You were never there. You can trust me on that.”
They moved to the curb, watching the car pull away. Down the hill three men appeared out of the shadows, probably on their way to a mihanye. The night belonged to men here, roaming the streets in bored groups, the women safely shuttered away. Except for the ones loitering near the station, hoping for a few hours in one of the hotels. Salesmen from Izmir, with suitcases of samples. Workers up from the country to see about a job. A neighborhood used to new faces, passing through.
Leon took out a folded paper and handed it to Alexei. “In case they ask. They might not.”
“Your tezkere. Internal passport. Foreigners have to carry them.”
“Foreigners. What am I?”
“Bulgar. I didn’t know what you could pass for. If you knew Turkish.”
“No.” He glanced at the passport. “It’s real?”
Leon nodded. “A refugee I knew. He moved on.”
“Your friend,” Alexei said, motioning to where the car had been. “He’s Romanian.”
“He spoke to me. In the car. To see if I knew Romanian.”
“It’s like that with us. Romanians recognize each other. Something in the voice, maybe.” He looked in the passport. “Now Bulgar. Jakab?”
“A Bulgar Jew. That’s why you left.”
“A Jew,” he said to himself, trying it on, like a hat.
But the night clerk didn’t ask for a tezkere. A pale man with a beak nose and small eyes who might have been Bulgar himself, he took the money and handed Leon a key attached to a weight with a tassel. When Leon asked for glasses, he scowled but got up and went to the room behind and brought out two raki glasses, muttering in Turkish, a weary put-upon monotone.
“What did he say?” Alexei asked on the stairs.
“Not to make too much noise,” Leon said, holding up the glasses.
The hall light was on a timed switch, just long enough to get the key in the door before it snapped off again. The room was small, stained Liberty wallpaper and a curtain on a rod for a closet, not intended for long stays. A Turkish toilet and a shower, no tub. Alexei looked around.
“How long do I stay here?”
“About half an hour,” Leon said, going over to the window, parting the curtain to take in the street. “Don’t unpack.”
“Ah. Then where?”
“Somewhere nicer.” He looked at the lumpy bed. A chenille spread, pink, something a young girl would have. “Private.”
“And the man downstairs?”
“There’s a back way.” He put the glasses on the table.
“So. You brought some raki?”
“Anybody checks with him, he says we’re up here having a party. Tomorrow we’re sleeping it off. Buys us time to move.”
“A game,” Alexei said. “Hide-and-seek.”
Leon didn’t answer, lighting a cigarette and leaning back against the wall, giving Alexei the bed, the only seat.
“Two places. You expected trouble?” Alexei said.
Leon shook his head. “Just wanted to keep ahead of the Emniyet. If they’re watching. You’re not in the States yet. And illegal here. If they pick you up, there’s nothing we could do.”
“It was them? At the boat?”
“No. The Emniyet don’t like people coming in, but they can send them back. They don’t have to shoot them.”
Alexei leaned back against the rickety headboard. “Who then? The Russians. Old friends, maybe. Not Turks. Not my new friends, either,” he said, looking at Leon. “Not before we have our talks.”
“The photographs are in the bag?” Leon said.
“German aerials. I thought you were bringing out—”
“Do you think I’m a messenger? I brought myself out. The photographs—that was arranged in Bucharest. Your embassy has them. Maybe already in the pouch. In Washington. Who knows? How efficient are you?”
“You’re here, aren’t you?”
Alexei smiled. “A lucky man. Nice hotel rooms. A trip to America. Everybody wants to go to America.” He looked down. “Before the Russians get them. And now they know I’m here. In Istanbul.”
“But not where.”
Alexei looked at him. “That’s right. Not where.”
Leon turned, glancing down at the street.
“Anything?” Alexei said.
“No, it’s quiet. We’ll give it a few more minutes.” When he turned back to face the bed, he saw that Alexei had closed his eyes. “Don’t get too comfortable.”
“Only resting. I get tired all the time now. Before I could go for days—now, always tired.” He smiled to himself. “Age, maybe.”
Leon looked at his face, softer with his eyes closed, but drained and spent, like someone winded after a race. He went to the window again, touching the gun in his coat pocket, still not real. The seedy hotel room, the empty raki glasses, the man lying dead on the quay—all part of someone else’s life. He just took the Ankara train and passed along papers. And now there was a gun in his pocket.
“Okay,” he said, eager to move, “better leave the light. Too early for bed.”
“But no one’s watching, you said.”
“I didn’t think there was anyone at the quay, either.”
Alexei nodded. “You know, it’s interesting. What saved me? We were early. A little later and I wouldn’t have been in the car. I’d have been—”
“Where they thought you were. Getting off the boat with your bag.”
“Who shot him? You or your friend?”
“We both did.”
He held the door open, a sliver of light, until Alexei reached the back stairs, then followed, feeling his way, back against the wall. The stairs themselves were easier, shadowy but catching light from the ground floor. He could hear a radio in the desk clerk’s office, loud enough to muffle any creaking steps. Alexei barely touched the banister, the duffel on his shoulder, not making a sound, someone used to going out the back. No one at the desk when they reached the ground floor. Audience laughter on the radio. Just the hallway now, past a utility room, then the back door, not even locked. In the street behind, no wider than an alley, Alexei stumbled into a trash bin but caught the lid before it could fall off, holding his breath for a second. Leon nodded toward the streetlight at the end. No one was out, all the mihanye customers farther down the hill.
“Which way?” Alexei said when they reached Ordu Caddesi, turning away as a half-empty tram passed.
“Just across. A few blocks.”
Small, quiet streets, then a larger one looking down toward the sehzade Mosque. A modern building with a buzzer entry system, not a courtyard with a nosy kapici. Leon opened the front door with a key. More timer switches on the stairs, but at least everything working, the lobby clean, smelling faintly of disinfectant.
“One more floor,” Leon said when they reached the landing.
“Who lives here?”
“University people. It’s nearby.”
“No, they couldn’t afford it.”
“So I’m a professor?”
“You’re not anything. You don’t go out. You’re not here.”
The flat was no more than functional, but a pleasant step up from the hotel.
“I stocked the fridge,” Leon said. “You should have everything you need. At least for the next few days.”
“Or sooner. Depending on the plane.”
Alexei threw the duffel on the bed, then walked over to the bottle on a side chest. “So now the raki.”
“Not for me. I have to go.”
“We don’t talk tonight?” Alexei said, surprised, thinking Leon was Tommy, not just the babysitter. “No questions?”
“Well, join me anyway. A welcome toast.” Alexei poured the drinks, then raised his. “To safe journeys.”
“Safe journeys,” Leon said, feeling the heat as it slipped down, finally something real.
“You don’t stay here?” Alexei said. “The watchdog?”
“Safe,” Alexei said, his voice neutral.
“No one followed us here.”
“I know. I worked in the field too. So, now the only risk is you.”
“When you come back. Or is someone else coming tomorrow? Either way, a visitor leaves a trail. Like Hansel and the pebbles. So perhaps it’s better to stay.” Again trying to be light. He poured more raki in his glass. “I haven’t talked to anybody in two days. Dominoes, it’s not the same thing. A game for simpletons. You see them in the mountains. Every village. Sitting in the cafés, click, clack. Two days of that.”
Leon smiled a little. “You’ll be all right now. Just stay put.”
“Where would I go?” He walked over to the window. “Where are we? What part?”
“The old city.”
“Constantinople,” Alexei said, playing with it for effect, a student reciting homework. “And that?” He pointed to a hulking shadow beyond the mosque.
“Aqueduct? From Romans?”
“Byzantine. Fourth century.” A fact he’d picked up from Anna on one of their walks.
“Fourth?” Alexei said, genuinely impressed, a tourist. “They still use it?”
“Not anymore. Not for fifty years or so.”
“So nothing is forever.” He turned to Leon, a half smile. “But of course that’s why we’re here. The new order. Another one. Yours, this time.”
Leon drained his glass. “I have to go.”
“Let’s hope this one lasts for a while,” Alexei said, turning to glance again at the aqueduct. “I can’t change sides again. You’re the last.”
Leon looked at him for a moment. Not what he expected, not a rescue, one of ours, someone buying his life with betrayal.
“I’ll be back tomorrow. Do you need anything?”
“Something to read maybe,” Alexei said, nodding to the empty shelf. “Not even dominoes now. What should I do? Think about my sins? That’s what the priests used to recommend.”
“When was this?”
“When I was young.” He smiled. “Before I had any.”
“Lock up behind me,” Leon said, turning.
“One more thing? The gun?” He held out his hand.
“You’re safe here.”
“Then I’ll be safer. A precaution,” Alexei said, staring him down until Leon reached into his pocket and handed it over. “Thank you.” He looked at the gun, then around the room. “Very trusting, Americans. No guard.”
“You’re not a prisoner. You came to us, remember?” Leon said, improvising, a guess.
“What if I changed my mind?”
“Changed it to what?”
Alexei made a wry smile. “Not so many choices left, you mean. No,” he said to himself, then shrugged.
“I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
Alexei raised his head. “I’ll look forward to that.”
Outside, Leon crossed the street heading toward Süleyman’s Mosque, then ducked suddenly into a doorway catty-corner from the building. A few minutes, just to be sure. No one in the streets. He felt the same tingling, the caffeine alertness he’d felt on the quay. He should have arranged for someone to watch the building. But there hadn’t been any reason for that. Not a few hours ago. A simple pickup, just slipping someone in and out of the country, a kind of card trick. Not shoot-outs, someone lying in a pool of blood. Or carried away by now, tossed into the Bosphorus, another secret in the water.
Leon looked up at the lighted window, remembering Alexei’s face, wary and then tired, gone to ground. But there must have been other times, eyes confident, standing tall in his uniform. Romanian, it turned out, not Wehrmacht, whatever that looked like. Probably the same peaked hat, padded shoulders. Fighting alongside the Germans, all the way to Stalingrad. And now in the Russians’ crosshairs, Mihai taking the bullet instead. Luck just a matter of turning a few inches, a hand on the duffel where his head should have been. He thought of himself, flat on the damp concrete of the quay, waiting, afraid to breathe.
He moved away from the doorway, through the dark streets around the mosque, then the even darker ones below the Grand Bazaar, just an occasional light through shutters or a radio playing, streets as dark as they must have been when Valens was building his aqueduct. The timeless city, houses with bay overhangs, cobbles slick with peels and rinds. Leon had never been afraid on the streets in Istanbul, not even in the back alleys of neighborhoods like Fatih, full of headscarves and long stares, but tonight every movement, every faint rustling, put him on edge. In one street, two dogs raised their heads to watch him pass, some of Istanbul’s roaming wild dogs, fed on scraps.
He kept going east, through Cagaloglu, where all the newspaper offices were. Had they heard about the shooting yet? Pages being made up, lines of type. Murder in Bebek. Mysterious shooting on the Bosphorus. No witnesses. Never suspecting the witness was outside their windows right now. Not just a witness, the killer. And looking at the swirl of lights down at Sirkeci, he knew the sudden shortness of breath, doubling over, was about this, not about Alexei or Mihai, how the job had gone wrong, but about this, killing a man, a line he’d never expected to cross. The sound of the shot was still in his head, an echo. Life gone in a minute, that easy.
He caught a taxi at the station and took it to the Park. A few minutes just to establish his presence, pretending to look for someone in the big art deco dining room, waving at Mehmet in the bar, then using the men’s room off the lobby, spotted by regulars who would say, vaguely, that they’d seen him there that evening.
A few minutes later he was back out on Aya Pasa, past the now dark German Consulate, down to his building, sliding the key in the door, then freezing, the door already unlocked. He pushed at it gently, listening for sounds. No light, but the smell of tobacco, a cigarette burning, still here. He felt for the gun in his pocket, then remembered it wasn’t there. He took another step, a faint creaking. Not a burglar, something he knew without knowing why. Someone waiting for him.
“Turn on the light, for god’s sake.” Mihai’s voice in the living room. “It’s only me.”
Leon flicked on the hallway switch, then walked into the room. Mihai was sitting by the window smoking, the only light the glow of his cigarette tip.
“How did you get in?” Leon said.
“A child could get in.”
“What are you doing here?”
“About what?” Leon said, turning on a table lamp.
Mihai winced at the sudden light. “What you know. What you don’t know. Whether you’re a fool. Or something else.”
Leon nodded to his bandaged hand. “You think I knew? I wouldn’t have asked you—”
“Not that,” Mihai said, waving his hand toward the drinks tray. “Make yourself a drink.”
“I just had one.”
“Oh yes? With Alexei?” he said, his voice curling around the name. “A celebration?”
“And how did you find him? Good company?”
“Ah. Pour me one, will you?”
Leon poured two, handing one over.
“A natural reaction,” Mihai said. “To being shot at. I don’t feel so wonderful, either.”
“Not just that. Worn out.”
“A sympathetic figure. And now such a helpful friend.” He took a drink. “Who sent you? Tonight?”
“You know I can’t tell you that.”
“Scruples, at such a moment. If the bullet had got me, would you have told me then?”
“Does it make any difference, who? What’s this all about?”
“Trading with the enemy. A drink with the devil,” he said, holding up his glass.
“He’s not the enemy anymore.”
Mihai looked at him, then down at his glass. “So I wondered, is he a fool? Now I know. Sit down.”
“You’ve got something on your mind?” Leon said, taking a chair.
“My mind, yes. Not on my conscience. Yet. I thought, he doesn’t know. He should know.”
“Who he is. Your Alexei. Shall I guess what you think? The Romanians. Well, they sided with the Germans. How could they not? The expedient thing. Our friend too. What choice? Then Stalingrad, the Russians push back. And push. Into Romania. Now Germany’s losing and who’s coming? So why not make a deal with them? Throw out the fascists. Fight with the Russians instead. The new expedient thing. But meanwhile some people get caught in between. Our friend, for example. The Russians don’t forgive him. They’re going to put him on trial. Like Antonescu. So he runs. And he has something to sell. Things he knows. I’m right so far, yes?”
“Only one bidder in this deal. And better not to ask too many questions. The whole Romanian army was fascist, so, yes, he was a fascist, but now the Communists are after him, a recommendation in itself. In such a situation you take what you can. All right. An opportunist. But our opportunist. That’s what you think, isn’t it?”
“I haven’t thought. I don’t know.”
“But I do. I recognized him. Before I took a bullet for him. You think he’s someone—not so good, maybe, but Romanian politics were like that. Who can blame him for wanting to save himself?”
“You, it seems.”
“Yes, me. I know what he is, Jianu. That’s his name. A butcher. But you don’t know, I think. So what do I do? Keep my mouth shut? Somebody this close to me? Anna I used to trust with my life. We killed a man tonight—you, me. And you don’t even know.”
“Tell me, then,” Leon said quietly.
Mihai nodded to his hand. “Get me another. It hurts.”
“It’s not infected, is it?”
“Such concern. So where to start? King Carol with his hand in everybody’s pockets? The wolf at the door. But still, thank God, the Jews to hate. So, the Legion of Archangel Michael. You know it? The Iron Guard.”
“A wonderful group. Pouches with Romanian earth around their necks. Little ceremonies where they drink each other’s blood. Like savages. My countrymen. Well, not by then. I’m in Palestine. My family said, how can you be a Zionist? Jassy is a Jewish city. Well, it was. So I’m in Palestine and things get worse for the Jews. Mossad sends me to Bucharest, to get them out. The Athénée Palace, everyone in the same place. You go to dinner at Capsa and bribe someone, then back to the Palace and bribe someone else. You could still do that then. But how many Jews listen? Then Carol runs away with Lupescu, the mistress—and the treasury. For them, at least, the happy ending. No one else. Now Michael is king, but really General Antonescu, the army. And meanwhile the Iron Guard are running wild. Killing people. Government people even. Pogroms naturally, what else? Terrible excesses. Finally, it’s too much even for Antonescu. He sends the tanks out—the army fighting the Iron Guard, fascist against fascist. But Hitler prefers Antonescu. Not so crazy. He sides with him. And so does our friend Jianu. Your Alexei.”
“He was in the Iron Guard?”
“But now he helps Antonescu break them. So Antonescu joins the Axis and the army goes off to invade Russia. A reign of terror in Odessa—that you know from the trials this summer. Deportations from Bessarabia. All the Jews. The Romanians set up extermination camps—the only ones the Germans didn’t run themselves. They killed almost two hundred thousand, we think. Quite a record. My countrymen.”
“Now a right hand to Antonescu. Antonescu liked him. Someone who would betray the Guard? Who better for intelligence work? He knew how to get Russians to come over. The Romanians had good intelligence, right up to Stalingrad. But he had to know about the Jews too. The army carried out the deportations. It was the Guard all over again. Jassy they emptied out in ’forty-one.”
“Everyone. Then bigger things. Until they started to lose. After Stalingrad, they knew. Antonescu was so desperate he put out feelers—this time to save the Jews, help them get to Palestine. Sell them. I was here then. We bought some out. The Americans more. They had the money. Already Antonescu must have been thinking about the end, making some friends for after. He should have looked closer to home. When he was deposed, ’forty-four, where was loyal Alexei? Nowhere to be found.” He paused. “Until you found him.”
“So he knew. That’s not the same as—”
“Who pulls the trigger? Is that what you mean?”
Leon looked away, flustered.
“Maybe I’ve been going too fast for you.”
“I get the picture. He’d sell his mother. What am I supposed to do?”
“Not let him sell her again. Antonescu goes on trial soon. But not Alexei. Why not?”
“Because he made a deal.” Leon looked up. “He didn’t make it with me.”
“So it’s not your responsibility. Nobody’s.” He took a drink, letting the air settle a little. “Let the Communists have him. Put him on trial. With Antonescu.”
“A show trial. They don’t try people. They shoot them.”
“In this case, well deserved.”
“Maybe he’s more valuable this way. I don’t know. I don’t know what he knows.”
“I know what he is. I said before a butcher. I didn’t tell you why.”
Leon held up his hand. “It doesn’t matter. It’s not up to me—”
“One more thing. Then you decide. The Guard. You remember I said there were excesses. But what’s in a word? Excesses. You know Bucharest?”
“Dudesti was the main Jewish district. Three days they went crazy there. First Strada Lipscani, a killing spree, looting. Then out in the Baneasa forest, making them dig pits before they shot them. The reason for this, by the way? No one said. Enough they were Jews. But the second day, before Antonescu decided to send the tanks, the Guard went even crazier. Maybe they drank each other’s blood again, who knows. For courage. What courage? Who was fighting them? Terrified Jews, begging for their lives? That was the day they got two hundred of them—men, women—and took them to Straulesti.” He stopped, then tossed back the rest of the drink. “The slaughterhouse. South of town. An abattoir.”
Leon waited, not moving.
“They put the Jews on the conveyor belts. Stripped, on all fours. They made them bleat, like the animals. Crying, I suppose, maybe screaming, but also bleating like they were ordered. Then through the assembly line, the same treatment the animals got. Heads sliced off, then limbs, then hung up on hooks. Carcasses. And then they stamped them, the carcasses.” He said something in Romanian, then translated. “Fit for human consumption. The inspector’s stamp.” He paused. “You decide.”
Leon said nothing, staring, as if the belt were moving through the room before them, blood spurting, running into gutters.
“And Alexei was there?” Leon said, marking time, his stomach queasy.
“There were no witnesses. Among the Jews. Just the Guard. But he’s still with the Guard then. He was seen. Ask him.”
“He sold the Guard out, you said.”
“When it was convenient. A fine point.” He paused again. “You decide.”
Leon was quiet. “I can’t,” he said finally. “It’s not my decision.”
“Not yours, either.”
“No, I just speak Romanian and drive the car. And keep my mouth shut. That was before. Help a man like this escape? I won’t be part of that. Whoever sent you—maybe he doesn’t know, either. He needs to know. So somebody can decide.”
“You’re not part of it. They don’t even know you were there.”
“That’s not so easy now. Maybe you didn’t think about this, either, what it means for me, what this is now.”
Leon looked at him, waiting.
“So more thinking. I had this time,” he said, waving to the room, “while you were having your drink. Who were they tonight? Russians? All right. Who else would have such an interest? Stop him before— So they send a unit, three, four men. In which case they’ve already cleaned up the mess, got rid of the body. But no one followed us. It’s more important to get Jianu than worry about the fallen comrade. But no one follows. So he must have been alone. Think what that means.”
“I know what it means.”
“Yes? You have thought about this too? No one moves the body. It lies there to be found. And it will be found. Now something for the police, even Emniyet. And what are they looking for? My gun. My car. Who protects me now? The boss you can’t tell me about? Who wants me to help the butcher? I’m working for him now too. I have a right to know.”
“I never meant—”
“It’s too late for that. Do we want to tell the police it was self-defense? Then we have to tell them what we were doing there.”
Leon stared at his drink for a minute. “Can they trace the car to you?”
“This is your response?”
“They can’t, can they? Where is it?”
“Where it’s been all night, as far as anyone knows. There’s nothing special about the car, if they saw it from the café. Unless they got the plate number. It could be anybody’s.”
“So I have nothing to worry about.”
“There’s nothing to connect you to this.”
Mihai looked over. “Except you.”
“If it comes to that, we’ll protect you. I promise you that. I’ll talk to—”
“Protect me. A Palestinian helping the Americans, killing Russians. I’d be out of the country in a day.”
“At least you wouldn’t be in jail.”
“Those are my choices. And my work here? Who does that?”
“You were never there,” Leon said, his voice level. “Nobody knows except Alexei and he’ll be gone.”
“The butcher goes free. And we protect ourselves. So we protect him. That’s what I’m doing now, protecting someone like that. A knot,” he said, twisting his fingers, “not so easy to pull apart.”
“I didn’t know.”
“That’s what the Germans say,” Mihai said wryly. “Every one.” He put down the glass, ready to go. “So, a good night’s work. He’s safe and so are we. Only the Turks have this problem. This body. One thing, though, still to think about. How did they know, the Russians? The arrangements? Where he’d be? Just you. No guns. So easy they could send one man. If they knew all that, what else do they know? So maybe we’re not so safe. And neither is he,” he said, getting up.
The phone rang, twice as loud this late, startling them, like an unexpected hand on the shoulder. Leon glanced at his watch, then looked at Mihai, who shook his head, a tic response. Another clang filling the room, waves of sound. He picked up the receiver, snatching it.
“Leon? I’ve been trying to reach you.” Ed Burke. At this hour.
“I was at the Park.” Accounting for himself to Ed Burke, already making alibis. “Do you know what time—”
“It’s about Tommy,” Ed said quickly. “I thought maybe you’d know something.”
“Since you were in Bebek. With your wife. We couldn’t get past the police.”
“Police?” Just an echo.
“You haven’t heard? He’s dead. Killed.”
“What?” A first wave of heat rushing through him. Tommy hit too, the one who was supposed to meet the boat, not a freelance. They’d known where he was. He looked over at Mihai, who was watching him.
“Leon, you there?”
Say something. “Killed? In a crash?” he said, trying to keep his voice steady.
“No, that’s the thing. Shot. In Bebek. That’s why I called. I thought you might have heard something before they blocked the whole place off. By the water, just down from that fort.”
“Rumeli Hisari,” Leon said, an automatic response, not hearing himself. “Shot?” His mind racing now, his blood seeming to travel in two directions. “By the water?”
“The boat landing. That’s what I wondered too. Hell of a place to be, that hour. Tommy leaves his own party, I figure he must have something going on. But, Christ, you never know, do you. Maybe somebody saw the car and said, there’s money there. So if he hadn’t left then. But maybe something else.”
“God,” Leon said blankly. “Shot?”
“You don’t expect that here.”
“No,” Leon said. “You don’t.” Fire into the dark and wait for a thud, the crack of a head on the pavement.
“Well, I didn’t mean to bother you.”
“No, no, I’m glad you called. Thanks.” Police cars and lights, questioning people in the café. His head filling with blood, face hot.
“I’ll let you know if I hear anything about the arrangements.”
“Well, Barbara will want to bury him here, don’t you think? I mean, shipping a body home—”
“Barbara,” Leon said vaguely. The widow, a bottle blonde who flirted after the second drink.
“She had to identify the body,” Ed said, in the know. Who else had he called? “It’s a hell of a thing. One minute you’re at a party, the next you’re—”
“I can’t believe it,” Leon said. What you were supposed to say.
“You never saw anything? They must have had half the force out.”
“Not while I was there.” He waited a second. “When did it happen?”
“Right after he left the party, I guess.”
“I must have already gone. Jesus, shot.”
“Well, I’ll let you go,” Ed said, slightly disappointed, hoping for details. “I still say, it’s a funny place to be, that hour.” Fishing.
“Thanks again, Ed,” Leon said, not responding.
He put down the receiver, moving slowly, and turned to Mihai.
“What?” Mihai said, looking at his face.
“You have to think some more. It wasn’t a Russian.”
Posted June 17, 2012
I liked this novel, and enjoyed the places it took me, and the people I met, well, for the most part. It has a quality of intellect to me that raises it above many standard novels, and I appreciated that. But, speaking of intellect, is our main character, Leon, to be considered just a fool for his innocence? And he is a fool, or so I think. Once he saw that his colleague Tommy had betrayed him in a dastardly way, why continue with the mission? It just didn't hold water for me. Yet, he trusted so many others as well. Kay, for one. It was never really clear to me why his wife, Anna, was unable to communicate, although no doubt a wiser reader will point out what I missed. But, it is his trust of the Turkish intelligence agent, Altan, that baffled me the most. Not once did he try to check what he was being told by this man with his own people. He blindly followed to that fateful crossing on the Galata bridge. I thought perhaps the author would try to wrap that up with some explanation. Of course, Leon could not know whom he could trust, but he did trust anyway. I just don't know why.
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Posted August 7, 2012
This is a tale of post World War II espionage that packs a punch. Even though I wanted to stop reading because of the staccato writing style, the bursts of confusing thought, as if someone was talking, thinking, then speaking again, never quite finishing or expressing the original thought, I kept being drawn back, neglecting all else, to finish it in one day. I began to think that it must be the author’s intention to keep the reader as confused as the characters caught up in the mystery, to give the reader the charged feeling of tension the characters experienced. Perhaps the disjointed style was deliberate to make us understand how disjointed this whole spying process really is and was. It was very clearly cut throat. Everyone was used. People were commodities and considered very expendable. Whatever device the author was using, it certainly worked for me. I could not put it down until the end.
The novel is composed of seven separate sections, each named for a different Turkish location and the action that occurred there. It begins with a scene in which two men are waiting for a boat to arrive with a secret passenger. Soon it becomes apparent that they are both engaged in work of a clandestine nature. During World War II they were involved in espionage work. It seems that post-war, they are still somewhat engaged in those activities. They, and their families, have both been permanently scarred by the effects of the war, and they are motivated by that pain to continue their efforts.
Leon, who works for a tobacco company in his public life, works for the Americans, on the side, in his secret life. He is awaiting the arrival of a Romanian, a victim of the war, but he knows nothing else about the objective of his mission or about the man. Who was this person? Was he a friend or an enemy? Was he a criminal, a killer, a Jew? Who was he rescuing and why? Leon just blindly followed his orders. Mihai, who works for the Mossad, rescuing Jews, before and after the Holocaust, is doing Leon a favor because he speaks Romanian, and there is a possibility that an interpreter will be necessary. Leon’s wife used to work with Mihai and is now in a sanitarium. Her mind has shut down from all that she has witnessed. When Leon visits, she neither reacts nor responds. She has retreated into a world no one else can enter. It is from his visits and monologues with her that we learn more about Leon and his past.
When, suddenly, men attached to the American Consulate are murdered, Leon becomes involved and is thrust into a larger plot. He is drawn into the maze of the investigative machinery of the Turks and the deeper undercover work of the Americans. There are bad apples everywhere, and at first he is shocked and ill equipped to deal with the work on so sophisticated a level. However, we soon learn that he is a quick study, and the reader is also suddenly more aware. The previous opacity becomes clearer for them too, and the story really takes off in several exciting directions.
The story emphasizes the fact that spies are everywhere and they are all watching each other. It is an unending game of chess using people instead of inanimate pieces. The Turks are watching, the Russians are watching, the Israelis are watching and the Americans are watching; they each have their own agenda and brand of tactics, some much more brutal than others. Can anyone be trusted? Can anyone be bought for services if the stakes are high enough? Is survival the ultimate motive?
Once in the game, is there any exit from it? In the end, who can Leon trust, his friends or his enemies, or perhaps both? Was everyone compromised? Does each serve their own purpose? Is everyone simply using each other? Is the enemy the only one he could truly trust, because they both were the ticket for each other's survival?
The relationships between the characters seemed too incestuous at times. Coincidence sometimes played an unrealistic role. The writing style was confusing with the short staccato sentences. Still, I couldn’t put it down so the writer accomplished his purpose. He wrote a really good, action-packed book, and the ending was not obvious at all, so it held me until the final page.
Finally, I was left with some compelling questions. There was so much betrayal. Was it all worth it? Is there ever a good purpose to spying or a good conclusion? Is the spy a willing conspirator or a captive audience with no choice once he gets in because he gets in too deep? Is there always an innocent victim? Do the means really justify the end? Perhaps the road to Hell is truly paved with good intentions.
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Posted July 16, 2012
Just finished the book and enjoyed it immensely. If you've spent time in Europe and enjoy traveling, you will find yourself imagining places you've visited that might be similar to what the author describes in the book. The book is also written in a way that carries you into the various situations and decisions that Leon faces and I found myself wondering if i would have made the same or different decisions. Not too bad for a book that i purchased because i like the picture on the cover and thought the story might be intriguing!
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Posted June 27, 2012
I am not usually one for thriller/espionage stories, but I took a chance on this book. Istanbul is one of my favorite cities in the world. It is a perfect backdrop for a novel. I enjoyed the story of Leon (a very well-developed character) and all the others who surround him. I did, however, have some difficulty following all of the characters and how they fit in. I did re-read a number of pages. i felt that I arrived at a party an hour late. During that hour, the host started telling a fascinating story. But by the time I arrived at the party, I had to get caught up - guess who was who and from where, good or bad, etc. It was a bit frustrating at times. However, I still thoroughly enjoyed it. I could see this book as a movie. Leon would be played by Ryan Gosling, no question.
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Posted March 10, 2013
I read Joseph Kanon’s fantastic book Los Alamos soon after it came out in 1998 and that book blew me out of the water. I had not forgotten it. When I saw his new one Istanbul Passage I was very excited to read it based on my love of his first book.
I probably should have researched it a little more, Kanons writing was compared to Le Care’ who I am not a huge fan of (shocking I know!) The writing is slow, detailed and the main character is an everyman kind of sad sack guy.
In this book It took me a long time to get into it, almost halfway through and, had it not been a book to review I would have given up sooner. I was confused most of the time, there are a lot of people and information to keep up with, many countries and towns, it seemed like a very sad book about a man who was hoodwinked by people he was supposedly friends with. His wife was in an institution from the horrors of war and it ended as it began… on a sad note.
My mother loved this book however, she is a spy book junkie and I don’t want to turn anyone off who would love this book too.
Posted September 13, 2012
Posted July 22, 2012
I thought it was about istanbul but everything was totally confused.I will not read another book nor recommend it to anyone.
I might ad that I had thkought it was something that would be very interesting.
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Posted July 10, 2012
Joseph Kanon crafted this story beautiful, and I enjoyed it immensely. I like stories with broad-based stories, especially ones with international intrigues, politics, espionage, culture and cuisine. Istanbul in the late 1940s captured the essence of that flavor with Western Europe and Eastern Europe gearing towards cold war, Arabism on the rise with as Israel appears on the map. Joseph Kanon did a great coming up with a story from this amazing setting, using a fascinating plot and masterful characters. The colorfulness of this story reminds me of Triple Agent Double Cross. Overall, this is a well written story full of surprises right up to the last page, with enough suspense to keep the reader wondering what the next page would hold.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 1, 2012
Every one of Kanon's books is excellent reading. It's all there: beautiful use of the language, compellingly plotted story, suspenseful plot,and character development that makes the reader care what happens.
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Posted June 30, 2012
Posted May 30, 2012
Everything this author has written has been swell and this book is no exception. Wonderful and would highly recommend to all fans of the genre.
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