Istanbul — The Bar

When the telephone rang, Emily thought seriously about being asleep.  It wasn’t actually late, but two hours of Turkish TV had made her grouchy.  Dreyfus was probably just trying to make it up to her, but she wasn’t sure she was in the mood to be seduced.  On the other hand, Dreyfus didn’t really call unless he had something to say.  Now she was curious.  She picked up the receiver.

“Who’s calling, please?”

There was a small laugh. “Are you decent?”

“Barely.”  Emily was wearing the hotel bathrobe.

“I’m in the bar.  Come for a nightcap.”

“We drink too much,” she said, but the line was hollow.

Emily looked around.  Last night’s dress was too complicated and tomorrow’s skirt was for tomorrow and she’d already taken off her makeup, and she really didn’t want to put on a bra.  And … ah, the hell with it!  The bar was probably closed anyway, and Sinclair had just scammed a bottle of something and was sitting in a corner.  She found a pair of jeans from the suitcase and pulled them on (careful with the zipper) and when she couldn’t find a top, just grabbed one of Sinclair’s sweatshirts.  It was too big everywhere, but she pushed up the sleeves, picked up the room key card and went down to find him.

The bar was closed, but it wasn’t empty.  There were three tables that still had people and thick candles burning, two at the entry and one towards the back, along the water.  She picked her way through the dark tables and sat down.  It was surprisingly chilly on the banks of the Bosporus. 

“Is that my shirt?”

“It’s the closest you’re going to get to touching me tonight.”  Emily reached for the glass, “You know, we drink too much.”

Dreyfus shrugged. “Probably, but I’ve got a great story that’s worth a glass of wine.”

Emily lifted her glass.  Even in the candlelight, she could see Dreyfus was having fun.  Now she was curious.  Emily slipped her sandals off and tucked her feet up underneath her in the big upholstered chair.  It was a perfect night for one of Sinclair’s stories.  She tasted the wine and kept the glass in her hand.  ‘Alright, Sinclair, what have you got?”

Dreyfus sat back in his chair, just on the edge of the candlelight.  He was a shadow and a voice. “The guy I talked to tonight?”

“Karga?” Emily volunteered.

“Yeah.  He’s a big deal.  He’s been calling the shots around here since Methuselah was in diapers.  Before you and I were even born.  The man’s an institution.  But way back in the day, when he was still getting his hands dirty, he ran with a woman.  A real badass bandit queen.  They call her Sahin, the Falcon.  She made her bones smuggling whisky and cigarettes, from here across the Black Sea into the old Soviet Union.  But get this — in a sailing ship.”

“What?  When was this?” 

“I don’t know.  60s?  70s?  Something like that.  Real old school Cold War stuff.  Moonless nights, secret coves, sneaking under the radar.”  Dreyfus moved his shoulders back and forth, “Dodging patrol boats.  Right out of the movies.  This goes on for years, and the Russians can’t catch her.”

“Sinclair, are you falling in love?”

Dreyfus put his hands wide and smiled.  He took a sip of his wine. “Finally, the Russians have had enough, and they send in a Spetsnaz team and blow up her boat.”

Emily didn’t know what a Spetsnaz team was, but Sinclair was clearly impressed.

“But she doesn’t care.  It just makes her mad.  She starts running the stuff in trucks up the coast through Bulgaria.  But by now, she’s the people’s hero.  Romanian kids are spray painting her name on buildings.  The Ukrainians are printing cartoons of Brezhnev with bird shit on his shoulder.  The Soviets are looking like idiots and it’s embarrassing.  They call in the military.  They’ve got soldiers, patrols, road blocks, helicopters, you name it, everything out there looking for her, but she just keeps rolling.  They know she’s coming, but they can’t do anything about it.  Our girl’s playing dodgeball with the Red Army — and winning.”

“You are in love.”

“Of course.  Aren’t you?”

Emily took a drink and thought about it.

“Last resort, they put a bounty on her, 250 thousand American dollars.  Back then, that’s Bill Gates money, and eventually somebody rats her out and she gets caught.

“Shit!”  Emily had been cheering for Sahin ever since the Russians blew up her boat.

“The Soviets put her on trial.  It’s a show trial.”  Dreyfus made a throw away gesture, “She in a glass cage, handcuffs, manacles.  And they televise it.  See what happens when you piss off the glorious people’s revolution or some such.  Anyway, she’s convicted — obviously — and gets 20 years.”

Emily straightened up in her chair.  “This isn’t a very good story.”

“No, no wait!”  Dreyfus put his hand up, “That’s not the end of it.  They put her on a train. Off to the Gulag.  But somewhere along the way, she grabs a guard and jumps.

“Oh, my God!”

“Yeah, jumps from a moving train!  This woman is not going to Siberia, regardless.  They stop the train.  Big palaver.  Run back and all they find is a prison uniform and the guard in her underwear, lying there with a broken neck.  The falcon has flown.  Completely disappeared and nobody has seen or heard of her since.” 

“Where did she go?”

Dreyfus shrugged.  “Nobody knows.  But, talk about a legend.  She’s the real deal.  They’ve written songs about this woman.”

Emily thought about it.  “Okay, but that evil-looking fellow didn’t interrupt our evening just so his father could tell you a cool adventure story.”

“No, he didn’t.” Dreyfus poured more wine and offered the bottle.  Emily nodded.  “The thing is, a couple of days ago, Sahin, the bandit queen, came back.  She showed up, out of nowhere, here, in Istanbul.  Phoned her old buddy Karga and said, ‘Hi, did you miss me?’  Apparently, some friend of hers daughter got abducted in Rome, and she’s come out of retirement to get her back.”

“Wait a minute.  She must be an old lady by now.” 

“I think that’s why she got in touch with her partner in crime.  He’s the local muscle.”

After years in the company of Dreyfus Sinclair, Emily knew exactly what that meant.

 “Anyway, Karga knows where the girl is, and he knows the people who have her.  And even though he wants to do a favour for an old friend – and not just any old friend — he really doesn’t want to get into a barney with these nasties.  He’s got to live here.  So, he’s asked me to help him out for – uh — plausible deniability.  He doesn’t want his fingerprints anywhere.” 

“Who took the girl?”

“Albanians.”

Dreyfus could feel Emily’s eyes through the darkness.

“Okay, Russians,” he admitted.

“And?”

“And – uh — she’s on her way to China for a short movie career.  So, I said yes, I’d do it.”

“Are we going to get shot at?”  Emily had had some experience with Russians — and Albanians.

“No, no, nothing like that.  Karga’s boys are going to do the heavy lifting.  I just wait until they’re gone, drive in, pick up the girl and deliver her back to her rightful owner.”

Dreyfus took a drink.

“I’m going to meet Sahin — her real name is Sylvia Harrow, by the way — and her granddaughter, tomorrow in the Grand Bazaar to arrange it.  Probably for tomorrow night.  We need to do this quickly.”

“I’m coming too.  I want to see you fluttering around like the biggest fanboy.”

Dreyfus leaned forward, “Fanboy?” 

Emily dipped her head, tipped her glass and looked at Dreyfus from the top of her eyes.  She was about to say … but out of the shadows there was a slight change in Dreyfus’ face, subtle, elusive but Emily recognized it.  Storytime was over.

Emily put her feet back on the floor, tucked them into her sandals and stood up.  “I’m going to go to bed.”  She stepped around the table, leaned down and kissed Dreyfus on the cheek.

“Can you fix it?”  Emily said softly.

“Yeah.” Dreyfus nodded.

“Alright.  Don’t stay up all night,” she said, turned and walked away. 

——-

You can read the original draft of “Madison’s Grandma” here

Or find the whole adventure Songs of Sylvia here

You can read “Christmas at Pyaridge Hall” here

Or find Dreyfus and the Duchess here

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