WD Fyfe

A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society

Madison’s Grandma

Mrs Ferguson

Mrs. Ferguson kept a tidy house.  She liked to garden and preferred cleaning to cooking.  She was a member of the YWCA and the local church, exercised religiously three times a week and did a five mile run every Saturday morning.  She had three grown children (two girls and a boy) five grandchildren, and a Mr. Ferguson, who was on the verge of retirement.  She wore glasses to read and sew and had a touch of arthritis in her right wrist, which had been broken when she was young and never properly set.  Unlike most women of her generation, she had never worked outside her married home and didn’t have a driver’s license.  And that’s where our story begins.

One year (maybe it was last year) Mr. Ferguson’s company decided to send him to Mexico City to set up their first international office.  It was a 6 to 8 week job (which probably meant 3 months) and Mrs. Ferguson didn’t want to be away from home that long.  There were a few arguments about it, some swearing and a rather nasty night of silence.  However, Mrs. Ferguson was cunning and convinced #1 daughter to loan her #1 granddaughter for the summer to provide company, drive (Mr. Ferguson’s major concern) and get over a somewhat older, seriously-tattooed boyfriend.  Outnumbered and out-manoeuvered, Mr. Ferguson packed his bags, had a wine and lingerie Bon Voyage evening and flew off — threatening to come home in a couple of weeks to see how things were going.  Granddaughter Madison arrived the next day.

Madison loved her grandma dearly, but, at 17, she saw her summer (and possibly her entire life) ruined by parental petulance.  She knew Graydon was not the love of her life, and she wasn’t going to do anything stupid, but at least he was fun, and they had fun, and all her friends were hundreds of miles away and there was nothing – nothing to do at Grandma’s house.  Plus, she was totally pissed with the parents for this overkill exile.  However, she was determined not to let her burning anger and terminal boredom show.  After all, Grandma was just a sweet old lady, and this bullshit wasn’t her fault.

On the other hand, Mrs. Ferguson had no idea what to do with a young woman permanently attached to her earbuds and telephone.  She had been an over-attentive mother and had pushed her children to achievement.  And even though she recognized this as a fault, it still bothered her that Madison seemed to spend most of her life lounging around or binge-watching TV.  Yet she was determined to keep her mouth shut and let her grandchild find her own way.

So for the first several days, both women spent their time walking on eggs, overly polite, overly considerate and both privately thinking, “God, this is going to be a long summer!”

But sometimes life rides on coincidence, and things that seem permanent change.

And that’s what happened halfway around the world from Mrs. Ferguson’s tidy little house.  On a warm midnight street in Rome, a very drunk girl (not much older than Madison) left the Qube Disco.  She took a wrong turn and stumbled around in circles for a while until two men who had been carefully watching came up behind her and pushed her into a dark gray panel van.  There was no more drama to it than that.  Two days later, Jennifer Copeland was on a boat in the Adriatic, locked in a room with four other girls.  Her father, Theodore Copeland, was on the telephone to his friend Frederick Hughes, owner of Hughes Security.

“The last GPS ping from her phone was in the Mediterranean.  She’s on a ship.”

“It won’t be Albania.  It’s too far, and the mountains are impossible.  Probably Turkey or Lebanon.  But I think Turkey these days.  There’s too much traffic in Lebanon, Syria.  Your best bet is Turkey.”

“I’ll need your help, Fred.”

“Of course, but I’ve got to tell you Karga is still running the show in that part of the world, and he’s not going to be too happy to see you … or me.”

“I’ve got to try.”

“Okay, no worries.  I’m just saying Karga is likely to shoot first, and without him, nothing moves where we need to go.”  There was a pause.  “Hey, why don’t you try Sylvia?  If anybody can work Karga, she can.  They were a serious thing back then … like, really serious.”

“It’s been 30 years, Fred … more.  I have no idea where she is.  Christ, she could be dead by now.”

“No, no she’s around.  I think she’s living in Denver or something.  She married some banker named Ferguson.  Give me a couple of hours.  I’ll find her.”

On Thursday evening, it threatened a summer rain, so Mrs. Ferguson made tea and she and Madison sat on the back patio to wait for the storm.  They didn’t see the taxi or hear the doorbell and were wildly startled when Freddy Hughes walked cautiously around the side of the house.

“Hey!” Madison said from her chair and stood up.

Freddy leaned around the young woman.

“Hey, Syl!  How you doing?”

Madison glanced back at her Grandma, saw the shock and quickly turned her eyes back to the man — but now there were two men.

“Hey, Syl,” the other man said.

Madison reached back to the table for her telephone, and in the quick glimpse to locate it, saw her grandmother standing up.

“What in the world?  What are you two doing here?  You scared the life out of me!”

“Hey, Syl,” Freddy said again.

Madison had her phone in her hand and looked around expectantly.

“It’s alright Maddy.  These are – uh – old friends.  What in the …?  My God!  Come here you two.”

Sylvia stepped forward and opened her arms.

“I can’t get over this.  How did you find me?”

Both men dropped their bags, and there were hugs and heys until Sylvia stood back and touched her finger to a couple of tears under her eye.

“My God!  What are you doing here?  How did you find me?”

“Great detective work.  Do you know how many Sylvia Fergusons there are in the world?”

“I can imagine.  But … come.  Sit.  Madison, these are two of my oldest and dearest friends: Freddy,” Sylvia pointed, “and Teddy.  I’ve known them since – well – forever.  This is my granddaughter, Madison.”

There were hellos and a tentative pleased to meet you, but Madison was not sure about this.  Her grandmother didn’t have friends … not real ones … maybe the other old ladies from church … but certainly not men friends … men friends who showed up unannounced when Poppa wasn’t home.  She sat down but kept her phone in her hand.

“I don’t believe this.  After all these years.  I don’t know what to say.”

“It’s been a while Syl.”  Freddy looked around, “You’ve done alright.”

“We like it.”

“You’re lookin’ good, Syl.”  Teddy added.

Madison didn’t like that and sharply cut across the conversation.

“Just how do you all know each other?”

Freddy laughed, “Your grandma was …”

“We worked together.” Sylvia interrupted, “At a transportation company.”

It was a pointed statement.

“A long time ago.”

“Yeah, it’s been what?  Thirty years?  More.  You were …”

“I was very young.” Sylvia interrupted again, “But enough ancient history.  What are you boys doing?  And what are you doing here?”

There was a tight, wary silence.  It hung in the air.

“Oh, what am I thinking?”  Sylvia reached over and shook the teapot.  “Maddy, could you go make the boys some tea?  Would you like some tea?  Are you hungry?  Can we fix you something?”

“No, we’re good, but tea would be nice.  Airport coffee,” Freddy said, shaking his head.

“Maddy?”  Sylvia handed her the pot.

For a minor second, Madison thought of saying, “I know what you’re doing,” but she didn’t.  Instead, she said, “Sure, Grandma,” took the teapot and went into the house, casually leaving the patio door open.  She filled the kettle, put it on the stove and then stood just out of sight at the sliding glass door.  She couldn’t actually hear the male voices.  They were low and confidential, but the tone was serious, and she could catch a few of her Grandmother’s words.

“Oh, my!  That’s terrible …”

“When … Are you sure?”

“Call him … fly out … fixed …”

Then louder and clearer.

“You ripped him off.  What the hell were you thinking?”

Grandma didn’t swear.

“No, I can’t …”

“Don’t ask, please …”

The male voices were getting louder, too, and not so friendly.

“You have to…”

“Really, I just can’t …”

“I wouldn’t ask if …”

“Come on, Ted …”

And then suddenly it was louder, clear and angry.

“You owe me, Syl.”

“Don’t you pull that shit on me, Teddy Copeland.  We all know who owes who here — and now I find out you two took the money?  That certainly explains why you didn’t waste any time coming back for moi.”

“Hey, Syl.” It was the other man’s voice. “Let’s be fair.  We looked.  You know we did.”

“Not hard enough.”

Madison was frightened.  The kind of fear that stuns you — like a deer in the headlights.  She could feel the sweat under her arms and a sick churn in the bottom of her belly.  Her hand shook, and she held it to her stomach.  But she couldn’t move.  She didn’t know what to do.  She wanted it to just go away.  Stop.  She thought she was going to throw up.  She swallowed, but her mouth was too dry.  Who were these people?  They had no right … no right to … and without thinking, Madison came around the corner, shaking with adrenaline and stepped hard onto the patio.  Her grandmother was half standing, with her hands spread out in front of her on the table.  The other man, Teddy, was leaning forward, nearly out of his chair.

“Hey, assholes!  You better get out of here, now — or I’m calling the cops.”

Without taking his eyes off Sylvia’s face, Teddy stretched his arm back and pointed directly at Madison.

“What would you do if it was her, Syl?  What would you do then?”

He stood up, threw his hands in the air and stomped out into the yard.

Sylvia straightened up from the table, the thought in her head.

“Anything I could,” she said, half to herself, her anger gone.

“We did look, Syl.  We did.”

“I know you did, Freddy.” Sylvia said quietly.  She puffed up her cheeks and gave a long exhale.  She drew a bigger breath and turned to her granddaughter.

“It’s alright Maddy.  Just calm down.  It’s fine.  Everybody just got a little stressed.  It’ll be fine, really.  Okay.”

Fred stood up and Sylvia reached out and touched his shoulder.

“No, give him a minute to cool off.  I’ll talk to him,” she said, tenderly.

“Maddy, can you go take the kettle off the burner?  It’s going to boil dry.”

“Grandma!”

“And go to the liquor cabinet. Poppa’s got a bottle of whiskey.  I think we’re all going to need something stronger than tea.  And Maddy – bring four glasses.”

In the early night sky, the storm had settled in, and it had started to rain.

The rain was soft and cool, and the whole world had the clean smell of wet dirt.  Madison was careful with the whiskey; she had had a couple of experiences with alcohol, and it was not to be trusted.  Besides, this was serious, and she didn’t want to look like a child.  So she kept her mouth shut and listened.  It wasn’t very long before she pieced together most of the story, but it felt like she was watching a movie.  People didn’t get kidnapped in real life.  Well, they did — but not anybody, anybody knew and certainly not old people.  But they were all talking as if this was normal.  Some guy called Kargoyle was Grandma’s friend, but he didn’t like Teddy, and he knew where to find that poor girl.  But Freddy, or maybe it was Teddy, didn’t want Grandma to talk to him alone.  Then Syl said Kargoyle would bite off Teddy’s head, and Freddy said “and pee down the hole,” and Grandma said, “Not that head,” and everybody laughed, so Madison laughed too.  Then there was more talk and some more, and Syl and Freddy were speaking low and serious, and Grandma was pointing — except her face was different and that Teddy guy looked like he was sleeping, and why didn’t somebody just call the police?  It would be so terrible to be kidnapped.  Kidnapped was such a funny word — “kid” “napped.”  Why did people say that?  And she couldn’t really hear what Syl and her Grandma were talking about, anymore.  It was kinda blurry.  But, these guys weren’t really like bad guys – just old — and you could tell Grandma liked them.  Maybe they were …

Then there was Grandma’s voice.

“Teddy, you’re falling asleep.  You must be jetlagged out of your mind.  Come on!  Let’s find you a bed.  Maddy?  Freddy?  We’ve got a big day tomorrow.”

That was a good idea.  Madison was tired, and there was Grandma standing over her.

“See you in the morning, dear.” And she leaned down and kissed her on the cheek.  So Madison stood up and hugged her grandma.

“Are you going to help that poor girl?  It’s so bad.”

“I’ll see what I can do.  Don’t worry about it right now.  Just go get some sleep.”

Madison didn’t notice Sylvia casually sliding her phone off the table and slipping it into the back of her jeans.

“Come on, Teddy.  Maddy, point him at the sofa.  Okay, goodnight.”

After they left the patio, Sylvia pulled Madison’s telephone out of her jeans and put it on the table.

“There’s the problem,” she said. “I’m going to have to take her with me.  She lives on that phone, and if I leave her here ….  She won’t do it deliberately, but one text and all hell’ll break loose.  I can’t take that chance.  I know my daughter.  If she thinks something’s going on, she’ll call out the National Guard.

“That’s crazy, Syl.”

“Crazy or not, we’re going to do this my way.”

Freddy shrugged in surrender.

“You have to take Teddy and go back to Chicago.  We’re going to need passports, driver’s licences, and assorted various.  Use my old name, Harrow.  Make Madison a student, 20, 21 and make me – uh – use your imagination.  I’ll send you pictures and …”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!  That’s going to cost.  I don’t have that kind of money, and Teddy sure as hell doesn’t.”

Sylvia looked out into the rain.

“You stole over three million.  What did you do with it?”

“Syl, that was 40 years ago.  I was going to spring for the airline tickets cuz Teddy’s broke, but you’re talking …” Freddy shook his head.

“That was your plan?”  Sylvia turned back to Freddy’s face, “Show up here and – what?  We’d all fly off to Istanbul?  What if Jim had’ve been home?”

“Jim?”

“My husband.”

“We didn’t think that far.”

“God, you guys haven’t changed!  It’s a wonder we didn’t all end up dead in a Romanian ditch, somewhere.”

“You were the brains, Syl.  We were just the muscle.”

“Don’t flatter me, Freddy: I’m tired.  Can you do this or not?”

“Sure, but …”

“Alright, then.  Do it, and don’t worry about the money.  I’ll cover it and deal with Teddy later.  I’ll make you a list, and you and Teddy get out of here first thing in the morning.  We’ll meet you in Atlanta.  And Freddy . . . if we don’t hurry, we’re going to lose this girl.”

“I know, Syl.”

The next morning the storm had blown through and left the day warm and humid.  Madison came out of the bedroom and there was Grandma sitting at the kitchen table with her coffee and newspaper, just like she did every morning.  For a second, Madison wasn’t sure … maybe?

“They had to leave early, Maddy.  They’re back in Chicago, getting us passports.”

Maddy didn’t notice the “us.”  She poured herself some juice and sat across from her grandmother.  Sylvia folded her newspaper and took off her glasses.

“I’m going to go and try and get Teddy’s daughter back,” she said, matter-of-factly.

“You’re going to talk to Kargoyle?”

“Karga,” she corrected. “Yeah, and when he tells us where she is, we’re going to have to go get her.”

“Why don’t you just call the police?”

“In that part of the world, sometimes the police aren’t the best option, honey.  It’s a lot different from here.”

“This is serious, isn’t it, Grandma?”

“Yes, it is — very serious.”  And Grandma smiled and crinkled her eyes.  It was a sparkle Madison had never seen before.  “So, do you want to go and be a badass for a couple of days?”

“Me?”

“Um hum.  I’m going to need all the help I can get, but it’ll mean we have to lie to your mother.  I don’t think she’ll approve.”

Madison didn’t hesitate, “I thought you were going to send me home.  Of course, I’ll go.  We have to help.  That’s a terrible thing that happened to that girl.”

“Okay, but we have to be very careful from now on.  You understand?”

Madison nodded her head.

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Certainly.”

“I heard you guys talking last night and I didn’t understand a lot of it but … I mean … it sounded like … uh …” Madison drew in a breath, “From the way you spoke about this guy Karga and the old days – uh — were you guys spies?”

Grandma laughed, “No, dear.  Nothing so romantic.  We were smugglers.”

In the Aegean Sea, 18 hours out of Istanbul, the dilapidated engine of the S.S. Delfini sputtered and died.  To the five girls locked in the hold, the sudden silence sounded dangerous.

On a sultry Sunday afternoon, Madison Yardley and Sylvia Ferguson got off a plane at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport and disappeared.  They had told their friends and family they were driving south to Arizona with Mrs. Ferguson’s church choir, but in actual fact, they vanished.  Several hours later, two Canadian tourists, Sylvia and Madison Harrow, boarded a non-stop Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul.  Among their various guide books, paper itineraries, pens, markers and printouts, was a third passport.  It wasn’t conspicuous, but it wasn’t hidden.  It might have been an honest mistake (scooped up in a rush by an excited woman) but it wasn’t.  It was in the name of Jennifer Harrow.

“Pack two bags, Maddy, one light enough to carry — just toothbrush, change of underwear, birth control … “

“Grandma?”

“What?  Grandma doesn’t know where babies come from?” Sylvia laughed, “Anyway, just the essentials.  Put the rest of your clothes in the other bag but nothing you don’t want to lose.  Once we find Jennifer, we’re going to have to move quickly, and we might not be dragging suitcases.”

“Why even take them?”

“Tourists have luggage.  No luggage and alarm bells go off.  Border guards get suspicious.”

Madison set the large suitcase on the bed and stopped.

“What did you smuggle, Grandma?” she asked, not sure she wanted an answer.

“Cigarettes, mostly — perfume, pantyhose, records – um – Levis.  Levis were good — anything people would pay for.

“In Turkey?”

“From Turkey.  To Russia.  In those days, even rich Russians couldn’t get those things.  It wasn’t allowed, so they were willing to pay for them – quite a lot, actually.  We made good money.”

“Why did you stop?”

“We got caught.  Well — I got caught.  Freddy and Teddy could run faster than me.”

“Oh!  That was what you were talking about.  Those assholes!”

“No, honey, it wasn’t like that.  Uh … if the Russians had’ve got the boys, they would have shot them.  And I would have slowed them down.  So Freddy and Teddy took off, and I stayed with the car.  They weren’t going to shoot a woman.”

“Oh, my God!  What happened then?”

“That’s a long story, dear.  For some other time.  Right now, we’ve got things to do.  Come on.”

Like every major city in the world, Istanbul has a distinct smell that burrows into your subconscious and leaves a misty cloud of memory.  Sylvia remembered it.  No one event, no one party, one lover, or broken heart — just a feeling of young and powerful and immortal and happy – God, she was happy in those days.  She still was — seriously happy actually — certainly a lot happier than her aches-and-pains friends, but it was different.  The old days were clear and restless and full of possibilities — like the open water of the Black Sea, sparkling in the light of a silver crescent Muslim moon.  “Was I ever that young?”  Not that Sylvia wanted to be young again.  Oh, God no!  But it was good to remember she was still that girl – inside — a little too romantic for her own good and, when she wasn’t careful, a little reckless.  But today she had to be careful.  There was work to do.

Sylvia had telephoned Karga’s office from the airport.

Merhaba, yes – uh – my Turkish is not very good.  Do you speak English?

“Yes, madam.”

“I’d like to make an appointment with Mr. Karay, please, for tomorrow.”

“Ertan Bey is a very busy man, madam.  Tomorrow is impossible.  What is this concerning?”

“Just tell him Sylvia Harrow is desperate to see him.  I’m staying at the Crowne Plaza Old City and he can contact me there.  Sylvia Harrow.”

“Yes, madam, I will give him that message.  Thank you.

“Thank you.  Good bye.”

“Let’s hope the old boy remembers me,” Sylvia thought as she hung up the phone.

It took the taxi nearly an hour to get to the hotel, but by the time the two women got there, it was obvious that Karga remembered her.

“Hell-o, my name is Sylvia Harrow.  I have a reservation for two.”

“Yes, one moment please.”

The man behind the counter picked up the phone and spoke rapidly.  Sylvia didn’t understand any of it (her Turkish was old, unused and faded) but she did recognize Ertan Bey.  The man put down the phone and smiled at them and suddenly there were people everywhere.

“Madam Harrow, I am the hotel manager.  My name is Kemal.  It’s a pleasure to meet you.  My card.”

Sylvia took the card with both hands.

“Allow me to escort you to your rooms.  We’ve taken the liberty of upgrading you to a suite.  It will be much more comfortable.  Do you require another room for your – uh – daughter?”

“Granddaughter.  No, we’re fine.”

At a gesture, two younger men hurried over and took the suitcases.

“This is Zehra, my personal assistant.  She will be happy to answer any questions or take care of anything else you might need.  Feel free to call on her anytime.”

Zehra presented her card and Sylvia took it with both hands.  Zehra smiled but didn’t speak.

“Your passports, please.”

Kemal handed them to the man behind the counter.

“Ertan Bey has called to apologize that unfortunately, he won’t be able to see you tonight.  However, if you would allow us, please be our guests for dinner.  Ertan Bey says that tomorrow night would be very good, and he will send a car at eight, if that is acceptable.  But come.  You must be tired after your long journey.”

Kemal directed the entire entourage towards the elevators.

Later, when everyone left.

“Holy crap, grandma!”

Holy crap, indeed.  So much for inconspicuous tourists.

As the two women sat down to catch their breath, the S.S. Delfini sailed quietly through the Dardanelles.

Istanbul is hot in the summer, and Madison’s Grandma was not as young as she used to be, and Kemal’s personal assistant, Zehra, had clearly started life as an Olympic sprinter.  She’d shown up early (right after the room service breakfast) business cards in hand — with a grim resolve that Ertan Bey’s women were going to enjoy the hell out of the ancient Ottoman capital.  Oddly enough, Sylvia, who’d lived in Istanbul for nearly 10 years, had never been inside many of the places their impromptu guide was dragging them to, and it was kinda fun – at first.  But when there was no end in sight, and then there was shopping … Sylvia called a halt.  To Zehra’s stricken surprise, she found an outdoor table at a café and sat down.

“I can’t go another step without coffee.  You two go buy us something to wear tonight.”  Sylvia looked directly at Zehra, “Ertan Bey is a dear friend.  I’m certain you’ll find something that won’t make me look like a beggar.  I’ll meet you in a couple of hours.”

Daunted but determined, Zehra wrote down an address on the back of yet another business card, navigated Madison through the crowded street and disappeared.

“Oh, thank God.”  Sylvia needed time to think.

Plan A had been simple.  Fly in as tourists.  Quietly go see Karga.  Play Remember When for a while, and then ask him who was selling Western girls these days.  Get the wherefores and buy the girl back.  Then casually fly off to Rome with an extra granddaughter.  But Plan A was over.  Karga was obviously very well known in the city, and her sudden association with him had poked Canadian tourist Sylvia Harrow’s head above the radar.  She had no idea who was watching Karga — certainly local police and probably security services — but whoever was, might very well be watching her now, too.  Plus, and maybe it was just paranoia, but, given recent events, there was no guarantee Karga wasn’t already part of the plot.  After all, Teddy had stolen a lot of his money, and Turks have a long memory.

Kahve as sekerli.” She said unconsciously when the waiter came by.  He twigged at the yabancilar’s flawless accent.

Sylvia needed a Plan B, but more than that, she needed a way out.  A bolthole.  She felt terrible about Teddy’s daughter and she’d do the best she could, but if things went bad – well – then, it was every girl for herself.  Besides, she still didn’t have any hard evidence that Jennifer Copeland was even in Istanbul and the cold reality was, if she wasn’t, she was already gone.

But Jennifer Copeland was there.  She and the other girls were locked in the hold of the S.S. Delfini, docked at a warehouse pier in the old harbour.  Ironically, Sylvia’s Plan A wouldn’t have worked anyway because these girls were not for sale.

Fortunately, Sylvia didn’t know that, or she might have just cut her loses, grabbed Madison and got on a plane.  Instead, she sat with her coffee and let the relentless energy of the moving street wash over her.  It had a busy rock beat rhythm, and the air was heavy and spicy and warm to the touch, and it carried you with it and folded you into its arms.  And the more Sylvia tried to plan, the more she realized she liked this place and she wanted it — not just Istanbul, but this place.  This place that dissolved away the Mrs. Ferguson years and left her with the woman she recognized at the airport.  The confident woman with all the possibilities.  And maybe it was the excitement, or the stress or just a lethal dose of caffeine, but she decided that Jennifer Copeland was going to go home and Sylvia Harrow was going to make it happen.  She reached into her purse for the telephone she’d bought at the airport and touched Freddy’s number in Rome.

“Hell-o?”

“Hi, how’s it going?”

“Fine … and you?”

“Fine.  Fine.  I don’t have much time to talk.  I just wanted to let you know it’s very beautiful here and everybody is really friendly.  In fact, we’re having such a wonderful time we’ve decided to change the itinerary.  We’re going to go to Bulgaria.  Apparently, there’s a place on the Black Sea where everybody used to go in the old days.  Our tour guide hopes we’ll meet some old friends there who have a vehicle, so we can drive around for a bit.  Maybe even get to Romania.  It’s going to be quite an adventure.  We’re not sure which day, but it should be soon.  How are things with you?”

“Same old.  But we were thinking of taking a trip ourselves.  It sounds like you’re having fun and staying out of trouble.”

“Yeah, our tour guide is keeping a pretty close eye on us, so you don’t need to worry.  Anyway, I’ve got to go.  See you soon.”

“Okay, thanks for calling.  See you soon.  Bye.”

Sylvia put the phone back in her purse, dropped some money on the table and looked for a taxi.

“Grandma, you’ve got to see these clothes.  They’re totally gorgeous.  Let me put this on and show you.”

Madison took the box and practically ran to the fitting room.

“I selected Arzu Kaprol for Miss Madison.  She’s an established designer who uses a lot of colour.  Very vibrant for a young woman.”  Zehra phrased her words as if they were a question.  “And for you, Fatos Yalin, a little more mature but still very youthful.  I guessed at the size but if you will try it on … there are women here who can alter it.”

“I’m sure it will be fine.” Sylvia said and took the box.

Ten minutes later, both women stood in front of a tri-fold mirror.  Madison’s dress was a multi-coloured abstract hourglass design with cap sleeves and a hemline just below the knee, and Sylvia had a gauzy dancing voile in blue and silver.  Zehra had made a good guess: it fit perfectly.

“Fantastic, Zehra!  These are excellent.  Could you hand me my purse and I’ll give them my credit card.”

“No,” Zehra shook her head, “Ertan Bey left strict instructions: all charges must come to him.”

Sylvia stopped and looked at Zehra.  Then she laughed, did a half pirouette and bent her leg at the knee.

“Well, Ertan Bey is certainly going to get what he paid for,” Sylvia said. And then she smiled and crinkled her eyes.  It was a sparkle Madison had seen once before.

The car came exactly at eight.  Two square men got out: one stayed with the car, the other went into the hotel lobby.  Sylvia and Madison were ready when the desk telephoned.  Zehra had provided makeup, a hair stylist and jewelry (on loan from somewhere thoroughly expensive.)

“You could be maybe sisters?” Zehra said going for the home run compliment.  Both women were too nervous to notice.  She escorted them to the lobby.

In the car, Madison turned to say something to her grandmother, but Sylvia subtly shook her head.  She wasn’t sure if the men spoke English.

At the restaurant, both men got out of the car, escorted them up the narrow stairs and opened the wide double doors.  Sylvia and Madison stepped through and the doors closed behind them.

The room was molten with the setting sun, thick with honey-yellow light.  There were people noises from the deep shadows and golden auras that fluttered through them like butterflies.  And the air was heavy, sweet with spice that floated on the aroma of music, strummed baglamas, zithers and patted davul drums.  The two women paused to adjust their eyes to the light, but suddenly the music stopped and the people stopped, and there was a deep quiet — as if the whole room had paused to take a breath.  And three long seconds later, a single electric guitar sounded through the speakers — six plucked notes.  And Sylvia instantly remembered.  And there they were again.  And Sylvia understood.  And nothing moved in the room except the voice …

“I’ve got to run to keep from hidin’
And I’m bound to keep on ridin’
And I’ve got one more silver dollar
“But I’m not gonna let ‘em catch me, no
Not gonna let ‘em catch the midnight rider.”

It was a song from long ago, from a time before time, a time before Mrs. Ferguson — when young girls had wind in their hair and laughed and flirted and danced in the rain.  Someone at the long table stood up and began to dance hip to hip towards the door, and Sylvia couldn’t see his face but she knew.

“I don’t own the clothes I’m wearin’
And the road goes on forever
And I’ve got one more silver dollar
“But I’m not gonna let ‘em catch me, no
Not gonna let ‘em catch the midnight rider.”

It was the song they cranked loud, racing for the border in the Romanian backroad darkness, their headlights parting the night like an infinite curtain.  It was the song they sang, drunk with success, back safe in their Bosporus apartment.  And it was the song they sang quietly to each other when it was time to do it again.  The shadow had his arms wide, snapping his fingers and bumping with the rhythm.  And the whole world began to clap to the drums.  Sylvia Harrow put her hand to her mouth.

“And I’ve gone by the point of carin’
Some old bed I’ll soon be sharin’
And I’ve got one more silver dollar
“But I’m not gonna let ‘em catch me, no
Not gonna let ‘em catch the midnight rider.”

And the music boomed and the light slightly darkened, and there was Karga, big in front of her, his arms wide.

“But, I’m not gonna let ‘em catch me, no
Not gonna let ‘em catch the midnight rider.”
*

And she reached forward for Karga like a desperate child “But they caught me, Kargam!” she gasped, “They caught me!” and burst into tears.

And as Sylvia clung to Karga’s shoulder, sobbing, she remembered the black night and a million stars and the blinding searchlights that wiped them out of the sky — and she saw herself standing alone in the savage glare, with her hands in the air as Teddy and Freddy made a run for the trees.  And for the first time in her life, she regretted it.  For the first time, she wondered what would have happened if she had run with the boys.

It seemed like forever, but it only took a couple of seconds for Sylvia to realize her mistake and straighten up to apologise.  But before she could speak, Madison stepped protectively between them.

“We don’t have to stay here, grandma.  We can go.”

“No, no, it’s fine.  It’s just the excitement, the music, I …” Sylvia touched her little finger to her eyes, “Do I look like a raccoon?”

“No, it’s good.  But seriously, we don’t have to do this.”  Madison studied her grandmother’s face.

“No.  I’m fine.” Sylvia turned Madison’s shoulders forward to face Karga.

“This is my granddaughter, Madison.  Madison, this is my dear, dear friend, Ertan Bey.”

Karga dipped his right shoulder gallantly, paused and reached out to stiffly hug the young woman.  Then he turned to the room, threw his arms in the air and said, “Sahinim eve geldi.”

There were cheers and clapping and then utter chaos.

Names and faces, and everyone talking at once.  And the music started again.  And more faces and some names Sylvia remembered and some she didn’t know.  Some of people came forward and some sat waiting.  Smiles and gestures from the older men and shy deference from the younger men and women.  And Madison trailed behind, watching everybody closely until they finally sat down.

“Do you know all these people, Grandma?”

“Most of them.  The older ones.  I can’t place a few of the faces, but …”

“Why do they all call you Sahin Hamin?”

Sylvia laughed.

“There is no Sylvia in Turkish, but they have a name Selva which is kind of a bird, and over the years it just got changed to Sahin.  Hamin is – uh — like Mrs.”

“It means something, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, dear.  It means falcon.  Okay, now, listen: this is important, this is raki,” Sylvia said, changing the subject, “Be very careful with it.  It sneaks up on you and it’s got a big bite.”

“Alcohol?  Muslims don’t drink!”

“These ones do.  You have to pour the first toast, Madison.  It’s the custom.  I’ll help you.  Water first, there.  Not too much, three fingers … good.  Now the raki, slowly.  Wait for the smoke.  Yeah, a little more, a little more, okay.  Now water, again.  Not too much, or they’ll laugh”

Madison was careful and nobody laughed.

“Okay, now give it to Ertan Bey.”

Karga took the drink and held it while everyone across the two tables found and filled their glasses.  Then he stood up.  Karga was not a big man, but he occupied space.  And he spoke with the even tones of someone who was accustomed to being listened to.  Madison didn’t understand the words, but she could see the authority they carried.  She picked out “sahinim” several times, her own name once and a long laugh from the crowd after an obscene hand gesture.  Whatever Karga was talking about it clearly involved her grandmother and Madison couldn’t wait to find out what it was all about.  Then Karga turned to Sylvia and said, in English, “Welcome home, my little falcon.  May all of our sons marry women as brave and as beautiful as you.”  And he touched his glass to the very bottom of Sylvia’s, drank and banged the glass on the table.  And everyone else drank and did the same.

Suddenly, the room was full of waiters and food on long trays and pitchers of water and bottles and bottles of raki.  And it seemed as if everyone was talking at once, and the music flowed across the noise like a gossamer blanket.

“What did he say?”

“I’m not sure, Maddy.  My Turkish was never really that good.  But I bet there was …”

“I told them how your grandmother used to fly to the Crimea and swoop down and bite the Russian bear on his bottom.”

“Or something like that,” Sylvia added, laughing.

“Yes, quite so.  Now, I must talk to Sahin.  So, Mad-e-son, I give you the table.  No empty glasses.”

Sylvia stood up, and she and Karga walked through the big glass doors out onto the balcony.

“So, Sahinim has come home.  But not to stay, I think.”

“No, I have my life, a world away from here.”

Karga nodded his head.

“Too many years,” he said. “Is he good to you?  Do you have sons?’

“Yes, we’re good together.  And I have one son, two daughters and …” Sylvia opened her hand, “five grandchildren.”

Karga turned his head back towards the restaurant.

“The eldest,” Sylvia said.

“I have four sons.”

“Yes, I met them.  Mustafa and Taavi” Sylvia put her hand out, palm down, “were little boys the last time I saw them.”

“Now they have sons of their own — and soon, grandsons.”

“Too many years, Kargam.”

They leaned on the balcony, looking out at the city lights reflected in the water – old friends with too much to say, both wondering where to begin.  Finally …

“I went to Kiev,” Karga spoke out into the night.  “And when they wouldn’t give you back, I went to war.  We stopped their blue jeans and cigarettes and flooded the dachas with drugs.  No Russian was safe east of the Bosporus.  There were many widows.”

“Oh, Kargam, no.  I’m so sorry.”

“We were young.  It was foolish, but … Turks have always fought the Russians.  Since the time of the Cossacks.  It was no different.”

“I wasn’t in Kiev very long.  They put me on a train right after the trial.”

“And you jumped.” It was a statement.

“Yes, I jumped,” Sylvia unconsciously rubbed her wrist.  “And ran … and ran and ran and ran.”

“But you didn’t come back?”

“No, I didn’t come back.”

They watched the reflected lights, rippling in the water behind a boat that chugged its way towards them.

“At first, I thought I was going to, but then I just couldn’t.  It took me months to get out of Russia.  I was so scared for so long.  I lost my courage.  And when I got across the border to Finland, I wasn’t brave anymore.  And I knew I never wanted to be frightened again.  So, I just walked away.”

“Are you frightened now, Sahinim?  Is that why you came back?”

“No, I’m trying to help someone else who’s probably just as scared as I was.  I’m looking for an American girl, abducted in Rome two weeks ago.  I think she’s here.  I think she’s going to be sold locally or passed on down to the Gulf.  I need to find her and buy her back — before she disappears.”

Karga thought for a couple of seconds.

“No,” he said finally. “No one wants American girls here.  The brothels are full of Europeans, Poles, Estonians, even Russians.  American girls cause too much trouble.  They have too many friends, too many noisy men from Washington.  They’re not worth the investment — even in the Gulf where they bathe in gold.  There’s only one place for stolen American girls: they go to China.”

Karga turned to face Sylvia.

“And they don’t come back, Sahinim.”

It took a moment for Sylvia to realize what Karga was saying.  But when she did, it did frighten her.

“I need to find her quickly, then.”

“No, you don’t understand.  I know these men: Albanian dogs who bark for their Russian masters.  They won’t give her up.”

“I have money.”

“They won’t give her up.  Not even to me.”

“I have to try.”

When Sylvia and Karga came back to the party, Madison had already discovered the beauty of raki – talk and food and more talk and more food and … until everyone was either eating or speaking.  Plates of melon and feta, fava beans with garlic, Kofte meatballs laced with pistachios, chestnuts, tangerines, Pide bread with olive oil, and paper-thin pastry filled with meat and onions.  These were the tastes of the exotic Ottoman east since the days of the caravans.  The sights and smells and touch of sun-bright courtyards, mosaic-blue corridors, canopied pavilions and the beaded, curtained harem.  And the music wove through the air like erotic threads, searching for a tapestry that was just beyond hearing.  Sylvia remembered this – all of this — as if she’d fallen asleep for a few minutes and dreamed a whole different lifetime.  As if she were an amnesiac coming out of a coma.  As if … and she saw Madison, bright-eyed and oh-so-young, listening to an attentive young man explaining it all to her.  And she smiled, remembering her own young men – persistent and gallant.  She tucked her arm into Karga’s.

“Come dance with me.” She said.

At first, nobody noticed.  The music was low and slow, and Sylvia and Karga were alone by the windows.  Then a couple of people saw them and caught the attention of a few others, and there was a drum beat rhythm, and soon conversations began to fade.  And then there was a singer, a single female voice that swayed into the music like a thread of silver.  Sylvia moved her hips as if she was born to be there, her palms low and open and inviting, and Karga matched her movement, following her with his shoulders, his arms out so she could not escape.  And the lights of the city night behind them were shivering neon stars that surrounded them until they became lost celestial beings, alone in the heavens – dancing their eternities – but unable to touch.

It was the most sexual, sensual thing Madison had ever seen.  She could feel the deep, desperate ache of love.  The need of it, the want of it, the satin tightness in her stomach, the whisper hairs on the back of her neck and the humid velvet ….

“Oh.  My.  God!  That’s grandma!” Madison said out loud.

“Sahin,” replied Madison’s attentive young man, helpfully.

“It’s the song.”

Madison looked blank.

“The song,” he gestured to the music.

“They wrote it for her.  I’ll tell you.  It’s the story of a great Sultan who had a beautiful falcon, and they would hunt together in the summer mountains.  And he would feed her from his fist, and no other bird was as fearless as she was.  But one day, the falcon was taken from him, and his anger flared so fiercely it burned the clouds and scorched the sky.  But nothing he could do would bring her back to him.  So, over the years, his sadness grew, his tears filled the sea and no one ever saw him smile again.  Finally, he went back to the summer mountains to sit in the evening sun and wait for his falcon to return — because he knew, if she could, she would come back to him.”

And as Cenk (the attentive young man) told Madison the story, the music stopped and there were cheers and clapping, and then someone said “Tarkan!” and before Madison knew it, Cenk had pulled her out on the dance floor.  And she looked across and saw Sylvia, holding her dress up with one hand, her knees bent, her hips moving and her other hand waving in the air.

And they danced, and they drank, and they ate, and they talked.  Madison heard the story of the time Mehmet fell off the East Wall, running from the police …

“Two broken legs, and six months on crutches, but I can still dance.”

And he jumped up to prove it.

And the one about Sahin’s sailing ship that the Russians blew up in the harbour because they couldn’t catch it on the high seas.

And they ate some more and …

“Don’t eat that one, Maddy: it’s liver.”

… drank.

“No.  More water, or I won’t be able to walk out of here.”

And then there was the night they dressed up in stolen uniforms and raided the American airbase.  Three truckloads of Johnny Walker whiskey, sold to the Soviet’s 14th Guards Army of the Ukraine – for American dollars – and they all laughed and laughed.

At some point, Karga took his son Taavi aside and talked to him earnestly for several minutes.  Taavi left the party, and Karga came back to the table.  He leaned close to Sylvia’s ear and whispered.

“Sahinim, we can do this thing.”

Sylvia smiled and crinkled her eyes.  It was a sparkle that Madison was getting used to.

Somewhere around one in the morning, Karga decided that Madison’s attentive young man was getting a little too attentive and sent him home.  After that, people began switching from raki to coffee and, with it, bowls of Turkish Dondurma ice cream, made from wild orchids.  The party was winding down.  There was no more dancing and the music was slower, sadder — like the stories, tinged with politics and tragedy.  A little later, Taavi came back and Karga and several of the older men went out onto the balcony.  Too shy to approach Sahin in person, most of the young people stayed at their own table, and Madison and Sylvia were pretty much left alone.

“I’ve never seen you dance before,” Madison said. “That was like totally hot.”

It was clear that Madison had been drinking.

“Not bad for an old lady, huh?”

“Did you really have a boat?”

“Umhum, it was a beautiful old sailing ship.  I lived on it for a while.”

“Until the Russians blew it up.”

“Yeah, until the Russians blew it up,” Sylvia laughed.

“Weren’t you scared?  Like, I’d be totally petrified if somebody tried to blow me up.”

“I don’t really remember.  I guess I didn’t think about it at the time.  There were just too many things happening for us to worry about being scared.”

“How come nobody knows about all this, like, in the family?”

“Well, dear, it’s not something you bring up around the dinner table.  ‘Pass the pepper and, oh, by the way, I used to smuggle cigarettes and whiskey into the Soviet Union.’  Come on, Maddy!  Can you imagine your mother?”

Madison laughed loud enough to ripple the conversation at the other table.

“That’s too good.  She’s always going on about how me and Sara should experience life and get out there and do things and not get saddled with a husband and a bunch of kids.”

“Like she did?”

“Like you did.”

“Oh.”

“No, no! I didn’t mean it like that.  She loves you, like, lots.  It’s just that’s she’s always talkin’ about how you never do anything without Poppa, and if it wasn’t for him, you might as well be in a convent.  I’d love to see the look on her face if she knew what we were doing right now.”

“You can’t breathe a word about this, Maddy.  This has got to be our secret.”

“Yeah, yeah, totally.  But it would be funny.”  Madison stopped laughing, “Does Poppa know?”

Sylvia exhaled and reached for her glass.  She took a small sip.

“No-o-ot really.  I always meant to tell him, but it never seemed to be the right time.  And then, over the years, it just got to be embarrassing.  Your Poppa’s a wonderful man, but how many men want to hear that their wives used to run with Turkish gangsters?”

Madison thought about that for a few seconds.   She looked around the room, smelled the hot coffee flavour in the air and heard the music in the background, sweet and melancholy.

“Were you and Karga in a relationship?” she asked.

“You mean were we sleeping together?  No, dear, we never did.  He was married, and I was young and foolish.  And, before you ask, I never slept with Teddy or Freddy either.”

“Oh, I thought they were gay.”

“Hmm, I never thought about it, but from what I remember, they probably had their innings.  But let’s not talk about them right now. Teddy and Freddy aren’t a topic of conversation around here.”

“They stole Karga’s money, didn’t they?  What would he do to them?”

“He’d kill them, dear.”

Madison saw the serious cloud cross Sylvia’s face, and she looked out at the men talking on the balcony.  They might dance and laugh and tell funny stories, but these were dangerous men, and Sylvia had been part of that world.  She looked across the table for some sort of reassurance, and Sylvia seem to read her mind and said, “They’ll be back in a minute.  Let’s get some coffee.  I know you don’t drink it, but try it.  It’ll be a new experience for you.”

Madison relaxed a little bit.

“Tell me about your boat,” Madison said.

And Sylvia told her the story of the Sahin, silently slipping under the Soviet radar, quiet as a deer, her hold full of capitalist plunder.  Then, waiting nervously off the beach, watching the dark horizons for patrol boat silhouettes, while Ukrainian fishermen unloaded their loot.  And then, the last hatch closed, turning into the morning wind and full sail running for home.

“Then the bastard Spetsnaz turned her into firewood,” Sylvia said, her words harsh and bitter.

The big glass door opened, and Karga and the men came back into the room.  They started gathering up their various people and Karga walked over to Sylvia and Madison.

“We have to go Sahinim.  There are many things we have to do.  Do you remember Havuzlu in the Bazaar?

“Yes, I remember it.”

“You need to go there tomorrow, for lunch, at one o’clock.”

Sylvia didn’t speak, but her face was full of questions.

“Someone will meet you there.  You can do this thing.”

The Grand Bazaar is the one of the few tourist destinations in the world that attracts more locals than foreigners.  Close your eyes and it’s a time warp back to the days of Ali Baba — and behind her sunglasses, Madison had her eyes closed.  She was seriously hungover, and culture shock had finally caught up with her.  Overwhelmed, she just wanted to go back to the hotel and sleep.  Unfortunately, they had played hide-and-seek with Kemal’s personal assistant, Zehra (who had another marathon tourist day planned) all morning, and they’d barely escaped.  So now Madison sat with a plate of food that was making her sick and a vicious headache.  Plus, Sylvia had been particularly distant and insistent all morning.   Everything sucked, and Madison just wanted to go home.

“Well, hi!  Imagine running into you guys here.” The voice was North American loud but mostly lost in the noise of the market.

“Look, Emily.  It’s Sylvia and Madison.  What are you two doing in Istanbul?”

Before anyone could answer, the man sat down and in a much quieter voice said, “Emily, why don’t you take Madison shopping and … stay where I can see you.”

Emily practically pulled Madison out of her chair and was moving her through the crowd when Madison reacted.

“What the hell are you doing?”

Emily stopped.

“Sinclair has some business to discuss with your grandmother, and from what I understand, we don’t want to hear it.  Okay.  So let’s just …”

“You know Sylvia?”

“Only by reputation.  She’s a bit of a legend around here.”

“Yeah, so everybody keeps telling me,” Madison said sarcastically.

Emily laughed.

“Whatever!  But where I come from, anyone who jumps from a moving train — with a Soviet guard in a headlock to break her fall — is legendary.  That’s serious stuff, little girl.  Believe me, I know a little bit about dealing with the Russians.”  Emily fluttered her left hand.  It was missing the ring finger.

Madison wondered what but didn’t ask.

“It was a business deal.  Sinclair got what he wanted, and I lost a finger.”

“God, is anybody normal around here?” Madison thought.

“Ms. Harrow, my name is Dreyfus Sinclair.”

Dreyfus Sinclair looked like a college professor who needed some sleep and a haircut.

“Sylvia, please.”

“We need to make this brief.  Right now, we’re just a couple of expats who ran into each other by chance.  Let’s keep it quick and simple.  I have the person you’re looking for, or at least I will very soon.  How are you getting out of the country?”

“You talked to Karga?”

“For our purposes, Ms. Harrow, I’ve never heard of him.  What’s your plan to get out of the country?”

Suddenly, this was business.

“I’ve got passports and a car waiting just inside the Bulgarian border.  We drive across and either …”

Sinclair put his hand in the air.

“Since the refugees, the border is a lot tighter than it used to be, and there’s no way of knowing who those guys are working for.”

“I know the roads.  There are a lot of ways for silly women to get into Bulgaria without having their passports stamped.”

“Do you know them in the dark?”

Sylvia nodded.

“And when can you be ready to go?”

“Right now.  All I need is time to rent a car.”

“Don’t.  I’ve rented one for you.”  Dreyfus reached into to his pocket and handed her a key.

“Walk straight that way until you get to the street and press the fob.  It’s exactly the same as mine, so when we make the switch, you’ll know what to look for.  Do you know the Mall of Istanbul?”

“The big one right on the highway?  I can find it.”

“Okay, I’ll meet you there tonight at the main entrance, front and centre, just after dark.  Nine o’clock.  They’ll be lots of tourists, so nobody’s going to notice a couple more.  And I doubt if anybody’s going to think of checking the CCTV at a shopping mall.  We make the switch, and you head for the border.  And don’t stop.  Once the Albanians figure out what’s going on, they’re going to make life very unpleasant around here.  You need to be as far away as possible.  I’m going to use my car as the decoy.  I’ll leave it someplace conspicuous — that should slow them down for a while but not forever.  They’re going to start checking, and unfortunately you’re already on everybody’s radar.  So, if you can, don’t go back to the hotel, and stay away from your Turkish friends.  That’s the first place they’ll look.”

Sylvia did a quick mental inventory of anything they may have left at the hotel.  There was nothing they couldn’t lose.

“Okay.  I need a place to stay out of sight today.  Maddy needs some sleep, and I have to make sure my people are in place.”

“Do you know Salema’s?”

“No.”

“Uh – it used to be – uh — Ev Nabil?”

“Yeah, I know it.  Yeah, that’ll work.”

“Okay, I’ll see you at nine – Mall of Istanbul — and if I’m not there by nine thirty, clear out and run for the border because everything’s gone sideways.”

Dreyfus started to get up.

“Thank you,” Sylvia said sincerely, “I – uh – I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do this.”

Dreyfus laughed, “No worries.  From what I hear, you used to do this stuff in your sleep.  I’ll send Madison back in a minute,” and then louder, “No problem.  Your hotel tomorrow night for dinner.  ‘Til then.”

When Madison came back, they paid the bill and found the car, a black Toyota Rav4 with tinted windows.  Madison had more than a little trouble with the wild Istanbul traffic, and they got lost once, but they finally found Salema’s and got a room – by the hour, no questions asked.

“This place smells!”

“Try and get some sleep, Maddy.  It’s going to be a long night.”

Just before nine, Sylvia and Madison drove up to the main entrance of the Mall of Istanbul.  They eventually found a parking spot that gave them a good view and sat back to wait.  At nine ten, a black Toyota Rav4 with tinted windows pulled into the passenger pickup area.  Dreyfus Sinclair got out.  Sylvia saw him, got out of the car and walked towards him.  Dreyfus stayed with his vehicle and didn’t move– even after he saw Sylvia walking.  She dodged across the traffic and held her hands out as a question.

“We’ve got problems.  The Albanians are right behind me, maybe 20 minutes, half an hour.  And you wanted one girl,” Dreyfus exhaled, “I’ve got five.”

“Shit!” Sylvia said to no one in particular and the universe in general.

“I didn’t know which one was yours, but I wasn’t going to leave the rest, anyway.  They’re in bad shape – filthy, dehydrated, scared – they’re right on the edge.  I brought water and chocolate, but there wasn’t enough.”

Sylvia looked out into the night and back towards Sinclair’s car, trying to focus.  There were two neat bullet holes, just above the rear tire.

“Did anybody get killed?” she asked matter-of-factly.

“No idea.  Karga had his boys lay down some serious punishment when I was driving away, but I didn’t stop for a body count.  I imagine this place is going to explode tomorrow.”

“This is the second war I’ve caused.”

“Well, I gotta say you’re pretty good at it.”

They both gave a short, breathy laugh, trying to quiet the adrenaline rush.  Then they just stood there for a few vacant seconds.

“Okay, you know the roads.  Take your girl and I’ll follow you with the rest.  When we get to the border, we’ll improvise.”

“No,” Sylvia said, her mind clear and working. “We’ll stick to the original plan.  I wasn’t going to use the passports anyway, so one girl/ five girls, what’s the difference?  Your car’s the one they’re looking for.  You need to go back into town and dump it.”

“Plan A was the port.  They’ll be searching ships for hours.  I’m sure I can still make it.

Sylvia held up her index finger.  She reached into her bag, found her telephone and tapped it.  A couple of seconds later, her voice was suddenly frantic.

“Help!  I need help!  Zehra, you have to help me.  Madison’s gone.  She’s gone.  We were in the bazaar, and a man grabbed her.  You have to help me.  Call the police.  You have to send somebody.  You were supposed to take care of us.  Oh, my God!  What am I going to do?  Send somebody, please.  Hurry, I’m at the …”

Sylvia hung up, switched the phone to vibrate and handed it to Dreyfus.

“They’re probably listening to the police band.  That should add to the confusion.  Drop this on the street somewhere.”

Dreyfus smiled and took the phone.  He reached under his arm and pulled out a Beretta nine millimeter Tomcat and an extra magazine.

“You might need this,” he said, handing her the gun.  Sylvia took it and automatically tucked it into the back of her jeans. Then she pushed the second clip down her neckline and into the side of her bra.

“Are you going to be okay?”  Sylvia gestured with an open hand.

“Yeah, the Albanians and I know each other.  They’re not stupid enough to involve me in this – unless I force them to.  As long as I’m gone before they show up, we can still be friends.  It’s you and Karga they’re going to go after.”

“Can he win?”

“The Albanians are tough, but Karga’s a nasty piece of work – he’ll win.  Besides, the Russians don’t like publicity, so they might just chalk it up and walk away.”  Dreyfus shrugged: he didn’t believe it, either.

“Yeah, my money’s on Karga, too.  Okay, Maddy’s in the second row, closer to this end.”  Sylvia half pointed. “Give her the girls, and get the hell out of here.  I’m going to find some water.”

Dreyfus opened the door to the car.

“Good doing business with you.  Good luck.”

“Same to you, and if you could hit some traffic cameras on the way through, I’d really appreciate it.”

Dreyfus laughed and drove away.

Less than ten minutes later, Sylvia was back in the car with several bottles of water and they were pulling onto the highway.

“Okay, girls.  You’re safe now, but we have to get you out of here.  No, don’t drink the water so fast: it’ll make you sick.  Just stay down and do exactly what we tell you, okay?  It’s a couple of hours to the border, so try and get comfortable.”

Madison had put the seats down, so the girls lay in a tangled heap.  They looked like frightened little animals, huddled without their mothers, fear in their eyes and shivering.

“Stay with the traffic, Maddy, and stay in the right lane so we can use the shoulder if we have to.”

Madison laughed.

“Last winter, Mom wouldn’t let me go to the mall by myself.  Now I’m driving the getaway car.”

Sylvia laughed with her, and they rolled down the windows against the warm night and the nauseating smell from the back seat.  With the wind in their hair, they headed northwest to the Bulgarian border.

Two hours later, Dreyfus had abandoned his car — ironically, close to where the S.S. Delfini was still tied up to the dock.  As he walked away, he had to duck into a doorway as several sirens wailed past him.  He waited and then kept walking, wondering whether Emily would still be awake when he got back to the hotel.

Sylvia and Madison had turned off the highway some time before and were driving very slowly on a dirt and gravel road that ran parallel to the Rezovo River.  They had missed a grey stone marker in the dark, and it was several minutes before Sylvia realized they’d gone too far and they turned around.  Now they were inching their way forward with Sylvia’s head out the window.

“That’s it.  There.  Stop.  Turn the lights off, Maddy.” Sylvia turned her head towards the backseat.

“Okay, girls.  Nobody knows we’re here, so you’re safe now.  But you need to stay in the car until we get across the river.  Maddy and I are going to get out and find the crossing.  It might seem like a long time, but don’t worry.  Just stay here: I promise we’ll be back.”

Sylvia and Madison got out of the car.  Sylvia came around the front and found Madison’s hand in the pitch black.

“Wait for your eyes to adjust,” she said.

After a minute or two, Madison could make out shapes, but she couldn’t really see anything.  Sylvia led her away from the car towards the noise of the water, and after a couple of dozen tentative steps, she could see thousands of silver sparkles reflected from the million brilliant stars overhead.  They were at the border.

“This is where we’re going to cross.  It could take a while, so you might as well sit down.” Sylvia said.

“We’re going to cross here?  There’s no bridge.”

“There will be.  All we have to do is wait for the moon.”

“Is this some kind of a hobbit bridge to like Middle Earth?” Madison asked.  “After this week, I wouldn’t be surprized.”

“Just say the magic words, Maddy,” Sylvia laughed. “No, there really is a bridge here.  Trust me: I’ve been on it a thousand times.  It’s just under the waterline.  That’s why you can’t see it.  The story I was told is that the Germans built several of these secretly in World War II for their tanks.  They camouflaged them, but ….  See the sparkly bits from the stars?  They’re moving around all over the place, but when the moon comes out, the bridge deck doesn’t reflect the stronger light, and they disappear.  The bridge looks black — no sparkly bits — but in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere … unless you know it’s here, you’ll never see it.  We just wait for the moon.  Slick, huh?”

“I trust you, but World War II was like 100 years ago.  It’s probably fallen apart by now.”

“N-o-o.  Smuggling didn’t stop just because I did.  The locals use these bridges all the time.  Over there,” Madison couldn’t see the gesture, “just on the other side, there’s a village.  Their bread and butter depends on this bridge.”

“Oh, boy!  Driving into a river in the middle of the night … Jeez, when you said badass, you weren’t kidding.”

“Relax, Maddy.  I’ve done this lots of times.  Come on!  Let’s talk about something else.  Tell me about your young man.  Grader?  Gator? What’s his name?”

“Graydon.  And he’s not my young man.  Actually, I don’t think he’s even a friend anymore.”

“Oh?”

“I’ve been thinking about it.  What’s a twenty-one-year-old college guy doing, hangin’ with a kid like me?”

“You’ve a very attractive young woman, Maddy.”

“Yeah, I know,” she said ruefully.  “But I’m in high school.  I’m not even a senior yet.  I’ve looked around these last few days, and man, I don’t know anything about anything … And I think he knows that.”

“God, I hope I haven’t made you cynical.”

“No, it’s just … things are a lot more complicated than I … How did you do it?  How did you figure things out?  You came here when you were my age.”

There was a serious pause.

“I talked to Cenk, and did the math.  You were like sixteen.”

“That’s just it.  I was young.  I didn’t figure anything out.  I thought I wanted to see the world.”

“And you did.”

“No, I didn’t.  All I saw was a whole lot of this.” Sylvia waved an invisible arm.  “I always meant to leave.  Get on a plane.  Find another cruise ship.  I always said to myself, ‘One more score, and then I’ll have enough money to do what I want.’  But I never did.  I always thought I needed just a little more.  Then when I was in Russia, just me, alone, I realized I didn’t want to see the world.  I wanted to be safe.  It finally dawned on me that I was addicted to the adrenaline because that’s what made me feel safe.  You can’t imagine how you feel when it’s over and you’ve got clean sheets and four walls between you and the nasty bastards of the world.  It’s such a high.  I – uh — can’t describe it.  But when I was trying to get out of Russia, the adrenaline never quit.  I overdosed … and … uh … I don’t know … uh …   Anyway, what I’m trying to say is nobody has it figured out, Maddy.  Nobody.  We all just do stuff because stuff keeps happening.”

“So what happens now?  Now that you’ve had a taste of it, again?”

Sylvia laughed.

“You’re a pretty smart girl for someone who isn’t even a senior yet.”

“You’ve been different ever since Freddy and Teddy.”

“Yeah, I suppose.  I don’t know.  I’m just like you, trying to figure things out.”

“I’ll tell you one thing: Senior Prom at Nathan Hale High is going to look pretty lame after this.”

“Try sitting through a company dinner with a bunch of sugary bankers’ wives, sucking up to you because of your husband.”

“Graydon’s taking financial planning,” Madison said laughing.

The two women laughed together.

“Holy shit, Sylvia!  Look!  There it is.”

And right in front of them, there was a faint black path across the river.

“Okay, Maddy.  Let’s go.  Are you sure you can do this?  I’ve driven it before.”

“Yeah, like fifty years ago.  Don’t worry.  Just guide me along.  I can handle it.”

They crept across the river with the headlights out.  Both women with their heads out the window, watching where the blackness ended.  On the other side, Madison switched the headlights on again and found the road.  They turned onto it and drove east, parallel to the river again.  What they didn’t see was the blacked-out pickup truck that pulled in behind them.  It kept its distance but kept their taillights in sight.

“Okay, there’s a village just ahead.  We need to be careful.  Try and keep an even pressure on the gas so the engine doesn’t race.  We want to be gone before they realize we’re not local.

But they didn’t get the chance.  Just before the first house, the pickup truck behind them raced forward and turned on its headlights.  In front of them, two men stepped into the road.  They both had assault rifles.

“Dammit!  Okay.  Okay.  It’s alright: they just want money.  Maddy, stop right in front of them, but don’t take the car out of gear.  Just keep your foot on the brake.  Roll down your window, and lean against the door– so they can’t see in the back seat.”

Sylvia turned her head slightly into the glare of the pickup lights.

“Girls, be very quiet, and don’t move.  There’s no problem: all they want is money.  We’ll pay them and get out of here, but don’t make a sound.”

One of the men raised his gun and walked around to Madison’s open window, while the other one idly pointed his at their windshield.

Tovarishch.  Tovarishch.” Sylvia said, leaning towards the open window.

The man spoke rapidly, gesturing with his gun.

Ne ponimayu?” Sylvia said, “Den’gi?  Money?  We have money.”

The man took his hand off the trigger guard and raised three fingers.

“Tree sousan.”

Nyet!  No.  One thousand!  One thousand.  American dollars.  Tysyacha!”  Sylvia made a flat line with her hand.

“Why are you negotiating?”  Madison thought, the fear crawling through her stomach.

“Tree sousan!” The man shouted, pushing his fingers into Madison’s face. “Tree sousan, Euro!”

Sylvia pulled a stack of bills out of her bag.

Nyet.  Two thousand.  Dve tysyachi.  Dva.  Finished.” She shook the bills in the air.

“Tree!”  The man pointed his finger, and Madison instinctively moved away.  Sylvia caught the movement in the man’s eyes and the flicker of recognition as he saw what was in the back seat.

“Okay.  Okay,” she said frantically.

Sylvia reached back as if to get more money, and in one fluid motion, she pulled Sinclair’s gun out of the back of her jeans. She pointed it directly at the man, her elbow slightly bent, and then, almost casually, she flicked the safety off with her thumb.

“Madison, get ready to hit the gas.” Sylvia’s voice was low and even and cold, and her eyes never wavered from the man in the window.

“If this guy doesn’t want our money, I’m going to shoot him in the face.  When I do, drive straight ahead, as fast as you can and don’t stop until I tell you.”

Sylvia shook the money again.  Out of the corner of her eye, Madison saw Sylvia smile ever so slightly and crinkle her eyes.  But this time, there was no sparkle.

In the clenched silence, the man in the window didn’t flinch, and Sylvia let the tension out of her gun arm.  She kept her eyes on his eyes — and her finger a slight squeeze away from killing him.  From the back seat, there were whimpering sounds of fear and the retching gag of someone throwing up.  Madison sat rigid, trying to control the tremble in her leg as she tightened her calf muscle to hold the brake and be ready to move.

“Madison, keep your arm low and take the money.  Stay back in the seat.  Don’t get in the line of fire,” Sylvia said in the same dead tone.  Then, in flawless Turkish …

“These are Karga’s women.  Karga.  He has made you a generous offer.  Take his money and let us pass.”

Sylvia was giving the man a way out, and he knew it.  For less than a second, he considered his options, then nodded without moving either of his hands.

“Madison, don’t give him the money yet.”  Sylvia said, and with her left hand pointed forward and back without moving her eyes.

The man spoke harshly and carefully waved his right hand.  The other man in front of the car lowered his gun and stepped back off the road, and the lights of the pickup truck brightened and began to recede.

Arkadas?” Sylvia said, her eyes steady and her finger still on the trigger.

Da.  Arkadas.” The man said grudgingly, moving his body slightly back.

“Give him the money, Maddy and drive away – slowly.  Just like it’s Mayfield Avenue.”

Madison handed the money through the window and took her foot off the brake.  The car crept forward and pulled away.  Sylvia watched the man on the road until they were past and turned in the seat to make sure the headlights weren’t following them.  They drove slowly, in hard silence — as if any sound would reconjure the demons.  When they were through the village, Sylvia flipped the safety on the gun and let her hand go limp into her lap.  She dropped the back of her head onto the seat and stared up with her eyes closed, breathing heavily through her mouth.

“Okay, girls!  It’s over.  Just a little further and we can all go home.  Go ahead, Maddy.  There’s nothing between us and the Black Sea — but careful, this isn’t a very good road.”

“Oh, my God!” Madison gasped. “Oh, my God!  Aaah!  What did you say to that guy?”

Sylvia exhaled and took her head off the seat.

“I told him,” Sylvia swallowed, “I told him … if he didn’t let us go, you weren’t going to take him to the Senior Prom.” And then she laughed.  And Madison laughed.  And the two women laughed like lunatics, uncontrollably, on and on, tears gathering in their eyes, hysterical with tension and relief.

“Oh, God, Maddy!” Sylvia said laughing, choking and fighting with the words, “Stop!  Stop!  Stop!  I’m gonna pee.”

Madison touched the brake and Sylvia jumped out, digging at the front of her jeans before she realized she still had the gun in her hand.  She tossed it back into the car, pulled her jeans down and leaned on the side of the car.

“Well, that’s not something you see every day,” Madison said, still laughing.

A little over an hour later, Sylvia directed Madison past a couple of travel trailers to a field of short grass, gravel and weeds.  They parked.  It was nearly dawn, with enough light to imagine the water from the salt smell in the air.  Sylvia opened her door and got out.  Then she opened the back door.

“That’s it.  We’re here.  Come on, girls.  It’s okay.  Everybody out.”

Madison turned the key off, opened her door and just sat there, without enough energy to move.  She could hear water over the scuffling in the back seat.  The girls stumbled out of the car like toys poured from a box.  A couple of them stood up, flexing their legs, but the others sat on the ground, barely conscious.  Sylvia reached into the back seat and retrieved a couple of empty water bottles.

“See that rock?” she said, pointing. “Right beside it, there’s a faucet out of the ground.  It’s good water.  Go drink and fill these for the other girls.  It’s okay: I’ll watch you.  Go ahead.”

Madison finally got out of the car and came around to Sylvia.  The light was brighter and she could see Sylvia, a vast expanse of water and the girls.

“What do we do now?”

“This place hasn’t changed in forty years,” Sylvia said. “We used to stop here and swim.  A half a million dollars worth of antibiotics in the trucks, and we went skinny dipping?  God!” Sylvia shook her head.

On the far horizon, a pencil-thin red line crawled toward them.  Ever so slowly, it widened and deepened as the two women, too empty to move, stood watching without really seeing – dumb to the beauty of it.  And then suddenly the sun full blossomed in front of them, and they had to turn away.  Sylvia squinted the light out of her eyes.

“Let the girls go down to the water and clean up, Maddy.  There’s a phone at that café.  I’m going to call Freddy to come and get us.”

Everything else was a blur.  Freddy and Teddy, one girl/five girls, Jennifer crying on her father’s shoulder, more tears, a few locals, some talk, useless talk. “Food?” “No, just sleep.” And finally a bed.

Both women slept most of the day, and after showers and a quick trip for a couple of shapeless dresses, they sat in the gathering darkness of a patio restaurant, alone with a bottle of wine.

“What do we do now?” Madison asked again.

“Nothing,” Sylvia said. “I’m done.  Freddy and Teddy can deal with it.  As far as I’m concerned, tomorrow we drive up to Varna and get a flight out of here.”

“If we can stand the smell.  It really stinks in that car.”

“We’ll keep the windows open.”

“What then?”

“I don’t know, Maddy.  Home?  Back to real life?”

“Are you really going to be able to do that?”

Sylvia lifted her glass and took a drink.

“That’s a question I’ve been trying not to answer.  What about you?  Senior Prom?”

“Probably not,” Madison chuckled.

It was her turn to drink.

“I was thinking – uh — maybe, I could just stay with you.”

“Hmmm.  Well … after your mother kills me and your father burns the corpse for a witch … it might work out.”

“I’m serious.  I’d go to school and everything, but — I just — I just can’t go back to being a kid.  You know exactly what I mean.  You’re the only one who does.”

“Yes, I know what you mean, Maddy, but ….” Sylvia hesitated.

Madison saw the opening and pushed it.

“That’s it.  You know.  You’ve been Mrs. Ferguson for a long time.  I’m just new at it, and I could use some help.  We could figure things out together.  And you’d have somebody to talk to.  Somebody who knows you’re a bad bitch with a gun.”

Madison leaned forward. “Were you really going to shoot that guy?”

“He thought so,” Sylvia drank again.

“See what I mean?  We can’t tell that story anywhere else.  I don’t think the girls at Mayfield Church Choir would appreciate the situation.”

“No, probably not,” Sylvia laughed. “Okay, I’ll tell you what.  We’ve got the rest of the summer, and if you still feel this way in August, I’ll see what I can do.  Now, let’s eat.  Stay away from the shkembe.”

Madison opened the menu.  She knew she’d won – this round.  She smiled to herself, and there was just the tiniest sparkle in her eyes.

The End

*Midnight Rider © Warner Chappell Music

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This entry was posted on September 6, 2019 by in Fiction, Writing & Books and tagged , , , .
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