Madison’s Grandma — XI

Mrs Ferguson

(For Part X click here)

“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.”

Madison’s Grandma — X

Mrs Ferguson

(For Part IX click here)

The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul 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.”

Madison’s Grandma — IX

Mrs Ferguson

(For Part VIII click here)

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.  The men 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.”