THE FIRST ATTEMPT HAD to be called off. It had taken days to arrange the boat and the safe house and then, just a few hours before the pickup, the wind started, a poyraz, howling down from the northeast, scooping up water as it swept across the Black Sea. The Bosphorus waves, usually no higher than boat wakes by the time they reached the shuttered yalis along the shore, now churned and smashed against the landing docks. From the quay, Leon could barely make out the Asian side, strings of faint lights hidden behind a scrim of driving rain. Who would risk it? Even the workhorse ferries would be thrown off schedule, never mind a bribed fishing boat. He imagined the fisherman calculating his chances: a violent sea, sightless, hoping the sudden shape forty meters away wasn’t a lumbering freighter, impossible to dodge. Or another day safe in port, securing ropes and drinking plum brandy by the cast-iron stove. Who could blame him? Only a fool went to sea in a storm. The passenger could wait. Days of planning. Called by the weather.
“How much longer?” Mihai said, pulling his coat tighter.
They were parked just below Rumeli Hisari, watching the moored boats tossing, pulling against their ties.
“Give it another half hour. If he’s late and I’m not here—”
“He’s not late,” Mihai said, dismissive. He glanced over. “He’s that important?”
“I don’t know. I’m just the delivery boy.”
“It’s freezing,” Mihai said, turning on the motor. “This time of year.”
Leon smiled. In Istanbul’s dream of itself it was always summer, ladies eating sherbets in garden pavilions, caïques floating by. The city shivered through winters with braziers and sweaters, somehow surprised that it had turned cold at all.
Mihai ran the heater for a few minutes then switched it off, burrowing, turtlelike, into his coat. “So come with me but no questions.”
Leon rubbed his hand across the window condensation, clearing it. “There’s no risk to you.”
“Wonderful. Something new. You couldn’t do this yourself?”
“He’s coming out of Constancia. For all I know, he only speaks Romanian. Then what? Sign language? But you—”
Mihai waved this off. “He’ll be German. One of your new friends.”
“You don’t have to do this.”
“It’s a small favor. I’ll get it back.”
He lit a cigarette, so that for a second Leon could see his grizzled face and the wiry salt-and-pepper hair on his head. Now more salt than pepper. When they had met, it had been dark and wavy, styled like the Bucharest dandy he’d once been, known in all the cafés on the Calea Victoriei.
“Besides, to see the rats leaving—” he said, brooding. “They wouldn’t let us out. Now look at them.”
“You did what you could.” A Palestinian passport, free to come and go in Bucharest, to beg for funds, leasing creaky boats, a last lifeline, until that was taken away too.
Mihai drew on the cigarette, staring at the water running down the windshield. “So how is it with you?” he said finally. “You look tired.”
Leon shrugged, not answering.
“Why are you doing this?” Mihai turned to face him. “The war’s over.”
“Yes? Nobody told me.”
“No, they want to start another one.”
“Nobody I know.”
“Be careful you don’t get to like it. You start enjoying it—” His voice trailed off, rough with smoke, the accent still Balkan, even now. “Then it’s not about anything anymore. A habit. Like these,” he said, holding out his cigarette. “You get a taste for it.”
Leon looked at him. “And you?”
“Nothing changes for us. We’re still saving Jews.” He made a wry face. “Now from our friends. No visas for Palestine. Where should they go, Poland? And I’m helping you talk to a Nazi. A wonderful world.”
“Why a Nazi?”
“Why all this? Some poor refugee? No, someone who knows the Russians, I think. And who knows better?”
“It doesn’t matter to you? What you deliver?”
Leon looked away, then down at his watch. “Well, he’s not coming tonight. Whoever he is. I’d better call. Make sure. There’s a café.”
Mihai leaned forward to start the car again. “I’ll pull around.”
“No, stay here. I don’t want the car—”
“I see. You run across the road in the rain. Get wet. Then you run back. Again, wet. To a waiting car. That will be less suspicious. If anyone is watching.” He put the car in gear.
“It’s your car,” Leon said. “That’s all.”
“You think they haven’t seen it by now?”
“Have they? You’d know,” he said, a question.
“Always assume yes.” He made a turn across the road, pulling up in front of the café. “So do the expected thing. Stay dry. Tell me something. If he had come, your package, was I going to drive him to—wherever he’s staying?”
Mihai nodded. “Better.” He motioned his head to the side window. “Make the call. Before they wonder.”
There were four men playing dominoes and sipping tea from tulip glasses. When they looked up, Leon became what he wanted them to see—a ferengi caught in the rain, shaking water from his hat, needing a phone—and he flushed, a little pulse of excitement. A taste for it. Had Mihai seen it somehow, the way it felt, getting away with something. The planning, the slipping away. Tonight he’d taken the tram to the last stop in Bebek and walked up to the clinic. A trip he’d made over and over. If he’d been followed, they’d stay parked a block away from the clinic gates and wait, relieved to be snug, out of the rain, knowing where he was. But just past the big oleander bushes, he’d headed for the garden side gate, doubling back to the Bosphorus road where Mihai was waiting, feeling suddenly free, almost exhilarated. No one would have seen him in the dark. If they were there, they’d be smoking, bored, thinking he was inside. This other life, just walking to the car, was all his own.
The phone was on the wall near the WC. No sounds in the room but the click of tiles and the hiss of boiling water, so the token seemed to clang going in. A ferengi speaking English, the men would say. If anyone asked.
“Tommy?” At home, luckily, not out to dinner.
“Ah, I was hoping you’d call,” he said, a genial club voice with the clink of ice at the back of it. “You’re after that report—I know, I know—and my steno never showed. Trouble with the boats. Typical, isn’t it? First hint of weather and the ferries—” Leon imagined his round face at the other end, the jawline filling in, fleshy. “I can have it for you tomorrow, all right? I mean, the contract’s all right. We’re just waiting for the quotas. I’ve had American Tobacco on the phone half the day, so you’re all in the same boat on this one. All we need now are the signatures.” At Commercial Corp., the wartime agency that was Tommy’s cover at the consulate.
“That’s all right. I’m stuck here at the clinic anyway. Just wanted to check. If it was on its way.”
“No. Tomorrow now. Sorry about this. Let me make it up to you. Buy you a drink at the Park.” An off note. This late?
“I’m in Bebek.”
“I’ll get a head start.” An order, then. “Don’t worry, I’ll roll you home.” Their standard joke, Leon’s apartment building just down the hill from the Park Hotel, before Aya Paşa made its wide curve.
“Give me an hour.”
“From Bebek?” Surprised, an edge now.
“Take a look outside. It’ll be a crawl in this. Just save me a stool.”
The domino players were looking down, pretending not to listen. But what would they have made of it anyway? Leon ordered a tea, a way of thanking the barman for the phone. The glass was warm in his hand, and he realized he was cold everywhere else, the wet beginning to seep through his shoes. And now the Park, everyone looking and not looking, Tommy’s old-boy voice getting louder with each drink.
“Rain check,” he said to Mihai, getting into the car. “You free tomorrow?”
“Something’s up. We’re having a drink at the Park.”
“Very exciting, the tobacco business.”
Leon smiled. “It used to be.”
In fact, it had been sleepy, as routine and predictable as a Book of Hours. Agents bought the cured Latakia leaf, and he arranged the shipments, then took the train to Ankara to get the export permits. Leave Haydarpaşa at six, arrive the next morning at ten. That’s how it had started, carrying things on the train for Tommy, papers they couldn’t put in the diplomatic pouch, something for the war effort. No money involved then. An American helping out, not just standing around at the club getting drunk with Socony and Liggett & Myers and Western Electric, the men interchangeable, lucky businessmen sitting out the war. Tommy asked him to help Commercial Corp. buy up chromium, so the Germans wouldn’t get it, and suddenly he was in the war after all, the peculiar one that played out over dinner at Abdullah’s or those consulate receptions where the sides lined up on either end of the room, cocktail wars. What surprised him later, when he knew more, was how many others were in it too. Tracking shipping through the straits. Collecting gossip. Turning a commercial attaché who needed the money. Everyone spinning webs, watching one another, the Turkish Emniyet watching them. Nothing sleepy anymore.
“I’ll drop you home. You’ll want to change.”
“No, just back to the village. I want to go to the clinic. Look in.”
Mihai waited until they were almost there. “How is she?”
“The same,” Leon said, his voice neutral.
And then there was nothing to say. Still, he’d asked. Anna was still alive to him, a presence, not just someone in Obstbaum’s clinic who had retreated into herself, gone somewhere behind her own eyes. People used to ask all the time—painful questions at the club, an awkward concern at the office—but gradually they began to forget she was still there. Out of sight, out of mind. Except Leon’s, a wound that wouldn’t close. Any day she might come back, just as quickly as she had gone away. Someone had to be there waiting.
“You know what I think?” Mihai said.
“Sometimes I think you do this for her. To prove something. I don’t know what.”
Leon was quiet, not answering.
“Do you still talk to her?” Mihai said finally.
“Tell her we got a boat out. She’ll like that.”
“Past the British patrols?”
“So far. Otherwise we’d be in Cyprus. Tell her three hundred. We saved three hundred.”
He took the same side street back, the same garden entrance. He’d expected to have to ring, but the door was unlocked and he frowned, annoyed the staff had been so careless. But no one was trying to get out and who would want to get in? The clinic was really a kind of nursing home, a place to be out of the way. Dr. Obstbaum had been one of the German refugees welcomed by Atatürk in the thirties to help the new republic get up on its feet. The ones who could afford it had moved to Bebek or, closer in, Ortaköy, where hillsides covered in fir trees and lindens may have reminded them of home. Or maybe, lemminglike, they had simply followed the first settler. Most of the clinic’s medical staff was still German, which Leon had thought might help, her own language something she would understand, if she was still listening. But of course the nurses, the people who bathed her and fed her and chattered around her, were Turkish, so in the end he realized it didn’t matter and now he worried that she was more isolated than ever. Dr. Obstbaum himself encouraged Leon to talk.
“We have no idea what she hears. This form of melancholia—it may be a matter of responding, not awareness. Her brain hasn’t shut down. Otherwise she wouldn’t be breathing, or have any motor functions. The idea is to keep up the level of activity. Over time maybe it grows. So, music. Does she hear it? I don’t know. But the brain does, somewhere. Something functions.”
Not disturbing music, but things she knew, had played at home. Lovely notes to fill the silence in her. If she heard them.
“Most of the time I think I’m talking to myself,” Leon had said.
“Everyone here talks to himself,” Obstbaum had said, a puckish joke. “One of life’s great pleasures, evidently. You at least are being asked.”
“It’s late,” the nurse said in Turkish, a hushed whisper, her eyes glancing down to the water dripping from his coat.
“Is she asleep? I’ll just say good-night. I’m sorry about—”
But the nurse was already opening the door, brusque, the client’s whims no business of hers. He’d sit and talk, the way he always did, and she’d have to check back again, another round, but it was a private clinic and he was paying.
Anna was lying in bed, the room shadowy, only a dim night-light on. When he touched her hand, she opened her eyes, but looked at him without recognition. It was the disconcerting thing, the way she took in what was happening around her without responding. Having her hair brushed, people moving across the room—things happened far away, just little blurs of movement.
“How are you feeling?” he said. “Warm enough? There’s a terrible storm.” He nodded toward the French windows, the sound of rain on the glass.
She didn’t say anything, but he no longer expected her to. Even her hand didn’t touch back. When he talked, he answered for her, silent responses to keep things going. Sometimes, sitting next to her, he’d actually hear her voice in his head, a ghost conversation, even worse than talking to himself.
“But this is nice, isn’t it?” he said, indicating the room. “Cozy. Gemütlich.” As if a change of language would matter.
He let her hand go and sat down in the chair.
When they first met, she’d never seemed to stop talking, bubbling over, switching from German to English as if one language couldn’t contain it, everything she had to say. And her eyes had been everywhere, ahead of the words sometimes, waiting for them to catch up, lighting her face. The odd thing was that the face was still her own, stopped in time, the wonderful skin, the soft line of her cheek, everything just the way it always had been, aging itself put off while she was away. Only the eyes were different, vacant.
“I saw Mihai tonight. He sends his love. He said they got a boat through. People are getting out again.” Something that might register, what she cared about. Don’t try to startle her, Obstbaum had said, just ordinary things, domestic matters. But how did Obstbaum know? Had he been to where she lived now? Did it matter to her that Fatma had been ill, sent her sister to do the cleaning? “Three hundred,” he said. “So they must be operating again. Mossad. Who else could it be? A boat that big.”
He stopped. The last thing he should have said, a reminder. Obstbaum thought it had happened then, when the Bratianu sank. Corpses bobbing in the water. Children. Her brain turning away from it, drawing a curtain. Obstbaum had even suggested she be put in a garden room, not a front one facing the Bosphorus, where ships passed all day, each one a possible reminder. Leon had gone along with him. Everyone in Istanbul wanted to see the water—in Ottoman times there had been laws about builders blocking the view—so a garden room was cheaper. And it was pleasant, looking toward the hillside, cypresses and umbrella pines and a Judas tree that dropped pink blossoms in the spring. A fortune back home but something he could manage here. And not a boat in sight.
“I thought I might need Romanian. They bring someone out but they don’t tell you who. They want me to babysit. I got Georg’s old landlord to find me a room. Out near Aksaray. They’ll never think to look in a Muslim neighborhood. And then the weather started up—”
He caught himself, hearing the sound of his voice saying names out loud, telling her what he didn’t want anyone to know, all the slipping away and double-backing for nothing. It occurred to him, one more irony, that since she had gone away they could finally talk to each other. All the things they couldn’t say before, other people’s secrets, now safe to talk about. Some things, anyway. Now there were other drawers you didn’t open, things you didn’t say. Your parents are dead. We haven’t heard, but they must be. They’re not on any lists. You can’t imagine what it was like, how many. The pictures. I see a woman. Just for the sex. It used to feel—wrong—and now I wait for it. Not like us. Something different. I don’t think you’re ever coming back. I can’t say it—can’t say it to you—but I think it’s true. I don’t know why this happened to us. What I did. What you did. Better to keep those drawers closed.
“I ran into Gus Hoover. Socony’s sending him home. You still can’t get a boat, though, so what do you think? They’re putting him on the clipper. Hell of a lot of money, but I guess they’ve got it to spend. Can you see Reynolds doing it for me? Not that I want to go. But you always wanted to, didn’t you? See New York.” He paused, leaving time for an answer. “Maybe when you’re better. We can’t really move you now. Like this. And I can take care of you here.” He motioned his hand to the room. “You could get better here.” He paused again. “Maybe if you’d try. Obstbaum says it isn’t a question of that. But what if it is? You could try. Everything could be the way it was. Better. The war’s over. All the terrible things.” Knowing as he said it that they weren’t over—people still in camps, boats still being turned around, everything she had gone away to escape still happening. What was there to come back for? Him? The drawer he shouldn’t open. Was it my fault? Another casualty of the war, Obstbaum had said, but what if she had left the world to leave him? Something only she knew and wasn’t coming back to answer. Not ever. Gus would fly home, all the others, and he would still be here, talking to himself while she stared at the garden. “You have to be patient,” Obstbaum had said. “The mind is like an eggshell. It can withstand tremendous pressure. But if it cracks it’s not so easy to put it back together.” A Humpty Dumpty explanation, as good as any other, but it was Leon who was sitting here, his world that had been cracked open.
“I have to go soon. Tommy wants to have a drink at the Park. On a night like this. Not that rain ever kept Tommy from a drink. Still. You know what occurred to me? He wants to bring me inside. Run my own operation. I mean, a job like this tonight, it’s not messenger work anymore. There’d be money in it. It’s about time he—” Babbling, filling time. “Do you have everything you need?”
He got up and went over to the bed, putting his hand on the dark hair fanning out beneath her. Lightly, just grazing it, because there was something unreal about physical contact now, touching someone who wasn’t there. And there was always a moment when he flinched, apprehensive, expecting her to reach up and snatch at his hand, finally mad. He passed the back of his hand over her forehead, a soothing motion, and she closed her eyes to it, looking for a second the way she used to after they made love, drifting.
“Get some sleep,” he said quietly. “I’ll be back.”
But not tomorrow. In the beginning he’d come every night, a kind of vigil, but then days slid by, filled with other things. Because the worst part was that, without even wanting to, he’d begun to leave her too.
Outside, he walked through the village to the shore road, glancing at parked cars. But he wouldn’t see them, would he? Not if they were any good. After a while you developed an instinct. The Turkish police had been clumsy when Anna worked with Mihai. They’d park someone in the lobby of the Continental, where Mossad had its office, a bored policeman in a business suit who must have thought himself invisible behind the cigarette smoke. The work had been open—arranging visas for the weekly train to Baghdad, the overland route to Palestine. Just a trickle of refugees, but legal. The police watched Anna go to the Red Crescent offices, watched her check the manifest lists at Sirkeci, watched the transfer to Haydarpaşa, a pattern so familiar they never thought to look anywhere else. When the illegal work began, Mihai’s boats, they were still following Anna to Sirkeci, still smoking in the lobby.
Later, her work became a cover for Leon too. It was the Jewish wife working for Mossad who needed watching, not her American husband. Once he’d been playing tennis at the Sümer Palas in Tarabya when a man he assumed to be police wanted a quiet word. His wife. No doubt well meaning, but her activities were attracting attention. Turkey was a neutral country. They were its guests. It was a husband’s duty to watch over his household. Nobody wanted to be embarrassed. Not the R.J. Reynolds Company. Not the Turkish government. Leon remembered standing speechless in front of the old hotel, staring at the famous hydrangea bushes, trying not to smile, to savor the unexpected gift. Anna suspect, not him.
But that had been the locals. The Emniyet, the security police, were something else, never obvious, part of the air everyone breathed. Playing the home advantage. When Macfarland had been station head he was convinced they’d planted somebody inside, which would mean they might know about Leon too. Even unofficial, off the books. Tommy didn’t just pull the money out of his pocket. Where would they find him? Miscellaneous expenses? Jobs Tommy wanted to freelance out, like tonight.
The square was empty, no tram in sight, just two women huddled under umbrellas waiting for a dolmus. And then, improbably, there was a single taxi, maybe out here on a run from Taksim. Leon stopped it, glancing over his shoulder as he got in, half expecting to see headlights turning on, a car starting up. But no one followed. He looked out back. Only a thin line of traffic, everyone chased inside by the rain. In Arnavutköy a car pulled in behind, then went off again, leaving them alone. No one. Unless the taxi was Emniyet. But then the driver started to complain about something, the details lost in the swoosh of the windshield wipers, and Leon gave that up too. So much for instinct. Maybe he hadn’t had to do any of it—sneak out of the clinic, meet Mihai in the road. Maybe no one watched anymore. Maybe Mihai was right. It had become a habit.
Tommy had already had a few by the time Leon got to the Park, his face red, cheeks shining with it. His broad shoulders still had the strong lines of someone who’d once played for Penn, but the rest of him had gone slack, pudgy from years of sitting and extra helpings.
“Christ, you’re soaking. What’d you do, walk? Here, take the chill off. Mehmet, how about two more of the same? We’ll have them over there,” he said, lifting himself off the stool with a little grunt and heading for a small table against the wood-paneled wall.
There were more people than Leon had expected, probably hotel guests who didn’t want to go out, but still plenty of empty tables. The long outside terrace, with its view of the Stamboul headland, had been closed for weeks. Leon remembered it full, waiters with trays darting in and out like birds, people talking over each other, looking around to see who was there. What the Stork must be like.
“Sorry about tonight,” Tommy said. “Didn’t know myself till I got the message. There won’t be any problem about the place, will there?”
“No, I’ve got it for the month. I didn’t know how long he’d—”
“The month? How much is that going to run us?”
“It’s in Laleli. Cheap. You can afford it.”
“Laleli. Where the fuck’s that? On the Asian side?”
Leon smiled. “How long have you been here?”
Tommy shrugged this off. “And what do we do with it after we move him?”
“You could take your women there. Nice and private.”
“Yeah, just us and the fleas. Ah, here we are,” he said as the drinks arrived. “Thank you, Mehmet.” He raised his glass. “Blue skies and clear sailing.”
Leon raised his glass and took a sip. Cold and crisp, a whiff of juniper. Mehmet put down a silver bowl of pistachios and backed away.
“Christ, imagine what he’s heard,” Tommy said, watching him go. “All these years.”
“Maybe he doesn’t listen.”
“They all listen. The question is, who for?”
Tommy ignored this. “They used to say every waiter in this room got paid twice. And sometimes more. At the same time. Remember the one used to send little love notes to von Papen, then turn around and feed the same thing to the Brits?” He shook his head, amused. “Six months he pulls this off. You have to hand it to him.”
“What good did it do? Anybody ever say anything at the Park that you wanted to know?”
Tommy smiled. “You live in hope. You live in hope. Anyway, that wasn’t the point, was it? Point was to know. What they were saying, what they weren’t saying. Might be useful to somebody. Who could put the pieces together.”
“You think there was somebody like that?”
“Christ, I hope so. Otherwise—” He let it go. “I’ll tell you something, though. It was fun too, this place. Goddam three-ring circus. Everybody. Same room. Packy Macfarland over there and that Kraut who kept pretending he was in the navy right next to him. Navy. And the Jap, Tashima, remember him, with the glasses, a spit of fucking Tojo. At first I thought it was him. And Mehmet’s listening to all of them.”
“The good old days.”
Tommy looked up, caught by his tone.
“Come on, Tommy. It’s a little early for last rites at the Park. Mehmet’s still listening. God knows who else. For what it’s worth.”
Tommy shook his head. “It’s finished, this place.”
Leon looked around, feeling the drink a little. “Well, the Germans are gone. And Tojo. That’s what we wanted to happen, right?”
“I mean the whole place. Neutral city in a war—everybody’s got an interest. Turks coming in? Staying out? What’s everybody up to? Now what? Now it’s just going to be Turks.”
“You’ve still got me meeting boats,” Leon said, finishing his glass. “We’re still here.”
“Not for long.”
“What do you mean?”
Tommy looked away, then raised his hand to signal for another round.
“You’re going home?” Leon guessed.
“We need to talk.”
“That’s why we’re having the drink?” Not a new job.
Tommy nodded. “They’re rolling up the operation.”
Don’t react. “Which operation?”
“Here. All of us. Well, most.”
“Washington. You know, September they handed us over to the War Department. Couldn’t get rid of Bill fast enough, I guess. What G-2 wanted all along. R&A went to State. Whole unit. Now they’re Research Intelligence. Office of. But the field? What’s the War Department going to do with field officers? War’s over.”
“Tell that to the Russians,” Leon said.
“That’s Europe. Not here. Christ, Leon, you didn’t think we’d just keep going here forever, did you? After the war?” he said, his tone slightly defensive. “Ah, Mehmet.” Making room for the new drinks, some banter Leon didn’t hear as he watched Tommy’s face, the red cheeks moving as he talked. Knowing it was coming, arranging his own transfer, taking care of business. A desk at the War Department? Or something closer to the Mayflower bar? He looked down at the fresh drink, his stomach queasy. Now what? Back to the desk at Reynolds, days without edge.
“When does this happen?”
“End of the month.”
Just like that.
“What about me?”
“You? I thought you’d be glad it’s over. You never wanted— I had to talk you into it, remember? Though I have to say you took right to it. Best I had. You know that, don’t you? That I always thought that.” He moved his hand, as if he were about to put it on Leon’s, but stopped. “I could put in a word for you—I mean, knowing Turkish, that’s something. But they’re closing the shop here. Everything back to G-2 and you don’t want to join the army, do you?” He looked over the brim of his glass. “It’s time to go home, Leon. OWI’s already packed up. Everybody’s going home.”
“I haven’t been back to the States in—what? Ten years now.”
“You don’t want to stay here. What’s here?”
“Get Reynolds to transfer you back. Be a big shot in the tobacco business.”
Would they? An office in a long corridor of offices, sharing a secretary, not his own corner overlooking Taksim. A house in Raleigh with a small yard, not the flat on Aya Paşa looking all the way to the Sea of Marmara. Anna where?
He shook his head. “I don’t want to move Anna. She’s doing so well now. Real progress. A move now—” The lie effortless, one of the reasons he’d been the best.
“She’d do even better in the States, if you ask me. They could do something for her there. Hospitals here—” He stopped. “You look all funny. What is it? The money?”
“The money?” Leon snorted. “What you pay? That’s not enough to notice.” Just enough to make a difference. “It’s the drink, I guess,” he said, pushing it away. “I’m beat. All the waiting around.” He looked up, feeling Tommy staring at him, alert behind the glassy eyes. “I never did it for money, you know.”
“I know. I appreciate that.”
“I’m surprised we’re pulling out, that’s all. Be a little dull. Pushing paper at the office.”
“Want to push some more? They’re going to need somebody at Western Electric. Middle East account—the whole territory. Guy in charge now is leaving.”
“So I hear.”
“You had someone at Western too?”
“Like to keep your bets all over the table, don’t you?” Separate drawers, separate secrets.
“Safer that way.”
“You’ll be running out of covers soon. No more Lend-Lease. No more OWI. Western Electric. Even the guy in the tobacco business.”
Leon smiled. “I’m going to miss you. I guess. When do you go?”
“As soon as we can arrange air transport. For our friend. The one who got seasick tonight.”
“You’re going with him?”
“We don’t want him to travel alone. He might get lost. We just need to park him here for a day or so. Then all your troubles are over. But while you’ve got him—well, I don’t have to tell you. It’s not as if you’ve never done this before. Just be careful.”
“With this one, I mean. Lots of people want to talk to him. So all the old rules. He doesn’t go out. He doesn’t—”
“I know the rules, Tommy. If you’re that nervous, why don’t you pick him up yourself?”
“Spread the bets, Leon. This time, I’m not even at the table. Nothing to see, nothing to connect me. I just pack up my bags and leave. You run into people on the plane, that’s all. But I can’t put him there. The board would light up. I’m not invisible here.”
“And I am.”
“You’re freelance. They won’t be expecting that. Not for him.”
“What’s he got, that you have to take him to Washington yourself?”
“You owe me that much.”
Tommy looked at him for a minute, then downed the rest of his drink. “Lots,” he said finally, nodding. “Up here.” He touched his temple. “Also a very nice photo album.”
“Mother Russia. Aerial recon. The Germans photographed everything, when they still could. Valuable snaps now.”
“And he got these how?”
“That I couldn’t say. Fell off a truck, maybe. Things do. Want another?”
Leon shook his head. “I’d better go. Start being invisible. Here, finish this.”
“Well, since I’m paying—”
Leon stood up. “Some evening.”
“Tomorrow then. One more and you’re a free man.”
Leon looked at him, disconcerted by the phrase. “Who is he, Tommy?”
“He’ll answer to John.”
“As in Johann? German?”
“As in John Doe.” He glanced up. “No funny business, okay? Let Washington ask the questions. Just do your piece. There’ll be a bonus in it, if I can talk them into it.”
“I don’t care about that.”
“That’s right. Good of the country. Still. Think of it as—I don’t know, for old times’ sake.” He turned his head to the room.
“I’ll just finish this. Give the place one last look. Goddam three-ring circus, wasn’t it?” he said, his voice drooping, like his eyes, maudlin.
Leon picked up his damp coat.
“By the way,” Tommy said, sharp again. “Separate pieces, but where the hell’s Laleli?”
“Past the university. Before you get to Aksaray.”
“Christ, who goes out there?”
“That’s the idea.”
It was still raining hard enough to get wet again and he was shivering when he got home. The Cihangir Apartments, just down Aya Paşa from the Park, had been put up in the twenties and still had a few moderne touches in the lobby, but the plaster had begun to chip, a sign of larger decay to come. Reynolds had bought a company flat here because it had central heating, a luxury, but fuel shortages had kept the radiators tepid all during the war, and now Leon relied on space heaters, a few rows of toaster coils barely strong enough to warm your hands. The elevator was sporadic. Hot water came through the geyser in a trickle, so that it was cool by the time the tub had filled.
None of it mattered. The first time he and Anna had come to the flat, a ritual handing over of keys, all they saw was the window with its view across the rooftops of Cihangir, past the mosques at Kabataş and Findikli to the open mouth of the Bosphorus, alive with boats. On a clear day you could see Leander’s Tower, the green park at Topkapi. That first year they’d sit with a drink after work and watch the ferries crossing to Asia, the freighters passing up the strait. There was no balcony, just the window, a private movie screen.
“You’ll like it here,” Perkins had said, a little wistful. “Of course, it helps if you’re handy yourself. Mr. Cicek, that’s the building—well, manager, I suppose. Not much with a wrench. With anything, really. So if you need something—”
“Oh, it’s wonderful. Just the way it is,” Anna had said, eyes fixed on the view. “How can you bear to leave it?”
But that was when everything was new, Istanbul something almost magical after Germany, somewhere you could breathe. Leon remembered the very first day, stepping out of Sirkeci station into a swarm of motorbikes, the smell of frying fish, trays piled with simits balanced on vendors’ heads, boats crowding the Eminönü piers, everything noisy and sunlit. In the taxi crossing Galata Bridge he had turned back to look at Sinan’s graceful minarets pricking the sky, and at that moment a flock of birds rose up, swooping around the dome of the Yeni Mosque, then diving back to the water, rippling with light, and Leon thought it was the most wonderful place he had ever seen.
During those first weeks they didn’t see the old wooden houses, listing and creaking from neglect, the backstreets with clumps of garbage and mud, cracked fountains seeping moss. They saw color, heaps of spices, everything that wasn’t Germany, and water everywhere, a city where you took ferries just to be out on it, looking at domes and spires, not the crooked dirty streets. Anna wanted to see everything, the famous sights, then things she found in books, the Camondo Stairs, twisting down Galata Hill, the cast-iron Bulgarian church, the Byzantine mosaics out near the old city walls where they could eat picnics on the yellow grass, looking up at giant stork nests in the ruins. Their building had been fronted with sunny lemon plaster then, a confection, the plane trees in the median shading Aya Paşa. That was before the grime had settled in the edges, the white trim faded, before anything had happened to them.
There was a small pile of mail on the floor just inside the door, pushed through the slot by Cicek. Did he glance at them first, report anything interesting? But these days not much came. No air letters from home, no thick envelopes with consular seals. When he and Anna had been a new couple in town, invitations fell in clumps through the door—tennis parties, drinks parties, receptions, the endless social life of the European community. Then, after she got sick, he noticed the thinning out, events one could attend alone, sometimes just bills or nothing at all. He picked up the mail—at least one invitation, a thick envelope—then shivered again, a chill that didn’t stop at the door. He went over and switched on the space heater, stood next to it, and opened the envelope. A party at Lily’s, something to look forward to. Piles of food and the yali warm even this time of year, fuel never a problem for the rich. A woman who had actually been in the sultan’s harem, something out of the last century, now serving cocktails to modern Turks who still left their wives home, one more Istanbul paradox.
He looked down. As usual, the coils were glowing without producing any heat. At least get out of the wet clothes. He went to the bathroom, stripping on the way, the clothes sticking to him. When he reached for his bathrobe, he shuddered with cold, almost a spasm. Chilled to the bone, not just an expression. He threw the clothes over the shower rod to dry, then wrapped the robe tighter and went back out to the drinks table to pour a brandy. You don’t want to get sick, not before a job. Which Tommy could easily have done himself, putting John Doe up at the consulate, safe, out of sight, until the plane was ready. Why involve Leon at all? A bonus in it for you, if you do your piece. The brandy burned as it went down, the only heat in the room. But why do it in pieces anyway? Unless he didn’t want anybody at the consulate to know, didn’t even want his own office to know. I’m not invisible. No connection until they were on the plane together. A German with photographs. Important enough, maybe, to get Tommy a bigger desk in Washington. Planning it. You were the best I had. A cheap compliment, while he looked out for himself and Leon went back to buying tobacco.
He went through the rest of the mail. A utility bill, a circular for made-to-order suits, and a card from Georg Ritter, a namesake knight on the front. On the back, a pen drawing of a chessboard. “A game this week? Thursday?” Tomorrow. Well, not Thursday. He’d have to call. Which Georg could have done. Why send a card when you could just pick up the phone? But a call was an intrusion. You could ignore a card, just not respond if you’d rather not, the formal manners part of Georg’s way of dealing with the world, as if the past fifty years had never happened. Calling cards, notes, a pneumatique if they still existed, even his flat with its heavy furniture and Meissen figurines a relic of old Europe. He’d been fond of Anna, a kind of substitute father, and now like an aging parent was becoming easy to neglect. He shouldn’t have to be sending cards, gentle reminders. A game once a week, some gossip, just being company—it wasn’t a lot to ask. Call tomorrow and set a date.
He put the invitation on the piano, the upright Georg had found for them. Keys dusted, in tune, ready for her to play again. During the war it had been Mendelssohn because you couldn’t play him in Germany, jüdische Musik, Anna thumbing her nose at the Nazis with lieder. Along the piano top was the row of framed photographs Leon had come to think of as his war memorial. Anna’s parents, dressed for a walk in the Tiergarten, the last picture they’d sent before they were taken away. Anna herself, mouth open in laughter, when she still had words. Phil kneeling with the ground crew on an airstrip somewhere in the Pacific, the propellers just behind their heads. His unexpected baby brother, so many years between them that they had never been friends and then suddenly were the only family each of them had. The telegram had come to him, the only one left. Missing in action over New Guinea. Then, months later, a letter from an officer who’d survived the Japanese camp, who wanted Leon to know that Phil had been brave to the end. Whatever that meant. Maybe a samurai sword to the back of the neck, maybe dysentery, anyway gone, Leon’s last tie to America. And yet, oddly, losing Phil had pulled him closer to it, wanting to be part of it, even carrying papers for Tommy, as if that would help somehow, like a ground mechanic who checked the oil and waited for the others to come back.
He draped an afghan over his shoulders and sat next to the electric fire. One of your new friends, Mihai had guessed. Now on a VIP ticket to Washington. What would Anna have said? Who else would have reconnaissance pictures? A Nazi or a thief. Your new friends. Not what he imagined doing when it had started. An innocent train to Ankara, then dinner at Karpić’s to leave the papers. No need to go to the Embassy, just in town on business. And then Tommy had other things for him.
“You have a gift for languages,” he’d said. “Who picks up Turkish? And Kraut.” Leon’s grandfather’s legacy—English at school, German at home. “You should be proud—the language of Schiller.” But of course he wasn’t, hiding it from his friends, an embarrassment, until one day it got him a job, not Paris, where he wanted to go, but still overseas and paid in dollars. One job to another, Hamburg then Berlin, where he met Anna.
After that the trips home became less frequent and then, when his mother died, there was no reason to go. They stayed in Berlin until Kristallnacht when Anna’s parents, in a panic, pleaded with him to take her to New York. They would follow, as soon as things could be arranged. But when would that be? An ocean between them, something final. And then, almost a fluke, the Reynolds job came up, somewhere safe but still close enough to help get them out. You could take a train there, Vienna-Sofia-Istanbul, twice a week.
But they never did, delaying until no one got out unless they were rescued, unless Anna and Mihai somehow got them on one of their boats. Anna never stopped trying, even after they couldn’t be found, two more who had disappeared. And Leon had started working for Tommy, his own way of helping. Fighting Nazis. And now he was hiding them.
He looked at the window, still blurry with water. What if it hadn’t rained tonight? What if John Doe had made it through? Would Tommy have told him about the pictures? Any of it? Just do your piece. While I make plans. It wasn’t the money, there were always ways to get more money, but the end of things. Just like that. He shivered again, now a chill that wouldn’t go away, but something else too, an uneasiness. About what? Maybe just the quiet. With the windows closed, there were no sounds—no foghorns on the water or even cars grinding up the steep streets below. When he struck a match he could hear it, a loud rasp. He pulled the afghan tighter, an old man huddling in front of the fire. But not exactly a fire, and not really old yet, either. Too old to be asked back to Washington? Tommy was going. Nagging at him. Take a pill and get into bed, under Anna’s old duvet, always warm.
He went into the bathroom, about to open the medicine chest, and stopped. The same mirror he used every morning, but someone else in it. When had that happened? It wasn’t the gray hair or the tired eyes. He looked the same, more or less. Something worse, a sense of time running out. Why hadn’t Tommy ordered a backup? That was one of the rules. Not even ask for the safe house address? Careless, his mind already on the plane, leaving Leon behind to mop up. I’m not invisible here. Then why have a drink in the most visible place in Istanbul? To tell Leon he was leaving? But he could have done that after. Why even make contact before the job was finished? To be in Mehmet’s report. Somebody’s. Tommy King spent the evening getting soused with a business colleague at the Park, not waiting for a boat in the rain. Covering himself, the way he did. One step ahead.
He was restless all morning, moving papers and fidgeting with pens, sending Osman out twice for coffee. He glanced at the telephone. Tommy wouldn’t call today, he’d keep his distance until after the pickup. Outside, Taksim Square, scrubbed almost clean by the storm, was sunny. Perfect sailing weather. There was nothing to do now but wait out the day. But the clock barely moved.
He was always anxious before a job. Simple, but you never knew. And today was Thursday, his afternoon with Marina, and that anticipation had already begun, a prickling all over his skin, his mind filled with how it would be—the afternoon sun through the curtains, catching the dust, the thin silk wrapper she called a kimono, loosely belted so that it came apart at a touch, his breath getting shorter on the stairs, almost there, not wanting her to see how eager he was, but already hard when she opened the door. The way it always was. And then, afterward, the sudden deflation, embarrassed at wanting it so much, something he shouldn’t be doing. Only once a week, so that it wouldn’t feel like cheating, more like a medical appointment, just a time you set aside. An affair would have meant one of the European wives, unpredictable emotions, a betrayal. This was a simpler transaction—if you paid, it didn’t mean anything.
He had never bought sex before, but what other choices were there in Istanbul? The houses in the alleys on the water side of Galata Hill, waiting downstairs with sailors and stevedores for ten minutes upstairs and months of disease? The apartments over the clubs near Taksim, fading red wallpaper and businessmen, the risk of meeting someone you knew? Then he had overheard a man talking about her in the bar at the Pera Palas, a girl with her own place, and he had gone once, nervous, almost drugged with the thought, his first woman in a year, and then it was every week.
What he hadn’t expected was that sex itself would be different, not what he had known with Anna, but something furtive and heady, the way it had been in adolescence. He knew that if he saw her more often everything would change, that strings would begin to attach themselves, guilt, the afternoons no longer just physical, just pleasure. He thought she felt it too, a kind of relief that he only wanted her body, leaving the rest of her to herself. They had sex, that was all. They didn’t want to touch anything else.
Once he offered to keep her, pay for the room.
“No, I don’t want that. Just pay me like always.”
“Why not? It would make things easier for you.”
“Oh, for me. And why would you do that? So I wouldn’t see anybody else. That’s what it means. Just you. But I would, and then I’d lie to you. Let’s just stay as we are.”
“How many do you see?”
“You’re jealous? If you want a virgin, go somewhere else.”
“I don’t want to go anywhere else.”
“You know when I was a virgin? When I was twelve. So it’s too late to be jealous.”
“You like them, the others?”
“Everyone wants to know that. Now you. Some yes, some no. I like it with you—that’s what you want to know, yes? Nobody really cares about the others, just ‘how is it with me?’ But they ask anyway. What are they like, the men who see you? They want to hear stories.”
“Do you tell them stories about me?”
She shook her head. “What could I tell them? Thursday afternoon—that’s all I know about you. Somebody who doesn’t ask me questions. Until today. And now what? Pay for the room. I pay for it. I told myself, if you ever get out of that place, you’ll have your own room, just yours, not in some house with people walking around. It’s mine,” she said, looking at the room. “I pay for it.”
“But this is how you pay for it,” he said, nodding at the bed, the tangled sheets.
“Then I’m paying anyway.”
“Not for the room.”
Which is when he realized someone else was keeping her, their Thursday afternoons just extra cash, something to tuck away under the mattress. All the others just pin money too. Did the man know about him? The afternoons, the most private thing he had, seemed suddenly invaded, no longer safe. It became important to know. He even watched the building for a while, curious to see the others. Europeans, always in the afternoon, like him. Only one at night, a Turk who showed up at odd times, as if he never knew when he could manage to get away. Someone she kept her evenings free for, just in case.
“Why do you want to know?” she said when he pressed her.
“Does he know about me?”
“No. I told you that.”
“Or the others?”
“You think there are so many?”
He waited. “Does he know?”
She belted her robe tightly, reaching for a cigarette. “No. Why? Do you want to tell him?”
“You said you didn’t want to lie to me. But you lie to him.”
“Maybe I have feelings for you.”
“Now you are lying to me.”
She glanced over at him, then smiled wryly, and drew on the cigarette. “I’m a whore. That’s what we do. You’re surprised?”
“Oh, tell what? Leave me alone. He’s rescuing me. That’s how he sees things, a fairy story. He gives me this room. So I’m like a princess, somebody in a window. In a drawing.”
“And he’s the prince?”
She smiled again. “The pasha. He stole the building. An Armenian owned it. Remember the Varlik Vergisi, how they taxed the Jews and the Armenians and when they couldn’t pay they sent them to camps and took what was left? He got the building. So he gives me this room. No rent. But I pay for it with him. Is that what you want to know?”
“And he thinks you’ve given it up? The others?”
“He thinks I’m grateful. I am grateful. But I have to think of the future too. He gets tired of me. Anything can happen. He’s a simple man. A business in Şişhane. He never thought he could have anything like this, a girl in a room, waiting for him. But now he’s a big landlord. Rents. So it was the tax, maybe, that got me out of that place. Strange how things work.”
“I’m Armenian. He steals from an Armenian and he gives the room to another. I don’t think he knows. A woman—it’s all the same to him. So I lie to him. I don’t lie to you.”
“I know who he is. A man who steals. You—I’m not so sure. You never tell me anything.”
He touched her wrist. “I don’t come here to talk.”
“Everyone else—I think that’s why they come, to tell me their troubles.”
“Maybe I don’t have any troubles.”
She raised her eyes, meeting his, and held them for a second, a sudden connection, not saying anything, not having to.
He met Ed Burke for lunch in one of the restaurants in the Flower Passage, a table out in the arcade, under the belle époque globes. Ed had ordered wine and drank most of it himself, Leon sipping a little for show, barely touching the stuffed mussels, his mind somewhere else.
“So when are you going home?” Ed said.
“What’s the hurry?”
“You don’t want to wait too long. The import business is finished. Where are they going to get the hard currency? Another year, it’ll be strictly domestic here. You should get out now.”
“I’m buying, not selling. They’re still open for business.”
“Until the fucking Russians get their hands on the place. What they always wanted.” He looked down the arcade to the Istiklal Caddesi, busy with trams and old cars. “Be a hell of a thing, won’t it, to see all this go.” He looked again to the street. “You know when I first got here, they still had the women in veils.”
Had Marina worn one, as a girl? But she was Armenian, so a Christian, something he hadn’t known before, another piece, like filling in an outline. What did she look like when she went out? He had never seen her in anything but her silk kimono, a swishing sound as she moved, smooth to the touch, like the soft flesh of her inner thigh. He looked up, aware again that Ed was talking.
“You hear about Tommy? It’s all over the consulate. Back to Washington.”
“Really?” Leon said, noncommittal.
“I thought you two were thick as thieves.”
Leon shook his head. “I helped him out with a deal once, that’s all.”
“What kind of deal?” Ed said, suddenly curious.
“Chromium. I knew some people in Ankara.”
“Well, that always helps, doesn’t it?”
“Always,” Leon said, looking more closely for something behind the words. But Ed’s face was the same, long and droopy, like Fred Allen’s, pouches now under the eyes.
“Board of Economic Warfare. That’s where he’s going. Except there’s no more warfare,” Ed said.
“So they change the name. It’s the government. You’re in the government.”
“Not where he’s going.”
“What do you mean?”
“Come on, you never thought Tommy might be doing something extra on the q.t.?”
“Hush-hush stuff. You never suspected?”
“Tommy? Who’d trust him with a secret? Just hand him a drink.”
“You worked with him. Who knows, maybe you—”
“Worked. I put him in touch with some people in Ankara. That’s it. What’s this all about?”
“War’s over. What does it matter now? I’d just like to know. Was I right?”
“Ask him. How the hell would I know?”
“Of course, that’s what you’d have to say, isn’t it?”
Leon looked at him, then forced a laugh. “I guess it is. If I didn’t have a foreign wife. German, for Christ’s sake. I’m the last person they’d ask.” The Anna cover, still useful. “And I’ll bet they didn’t ask Tommy, either. With his big mouth. What you’re talking about—I thought all that was over at OWI. And I hear they packed up. So maybe we’ll never know.”
“OWI,” Ed said, nodding, not letting it go. “And the college. Remember early ’forty-two, all of a sudden Robert College gets a whole new group of teachers? You’d meet them at parties, they’d never talk about their classes.”
Leon smiled. “Maybe they came for the view.” A hilltop looking down at Bebek and the Bosphorus. Cocktail parties on the terrace in the evening light. Not what the founding missionaries had had in mind. “Come on, Ed. You see those guys doing parachute drops? Four-eyes? With Tommy? I never saw him open a book. I’ll bet he doesn’t even know where the college is.”
Ed smiled, a cat licking cream. “He’s giving a party there.”
“He didn’t ask you?”
Leon shrugged. “I told you, we’re not that close. What kind of party?”
“Just some drinks. Say good-bye to his friends there.” He looked over. “Those guys he doesn’t know.”
“Well, Tommy. Any excuse. When’s this?”
“Tonight. Why don’t you come? The more the merrier. That’s what he said to me. Wants to fill the place.”
With witnesses. Distancing himself.
“I can’t tonight.”
“I’m going to see my wife.”
“Sorry,” Ed said, genuinely embarrassed. “Well, try to drop in late. You’re right there. She’s in Bebek, right?”
Leon nodded. Near the college. But not as far up the coast road as the boat landing. Tommy making a diversion. If anyone followed him, they’d never go farther than Bebek, waiting for him to come down the hill. Hosting a party, not meeting boats.
“I’ll see what I can do,” he said, signaling for the bill. “You find out who’s who first so I don’t say anything I shouldn’t.”
“You think I’m kidding.”
“I think the place is getting to you. Here, let me get that.”
“Tell me one thing then.”
“What’s that?” Leon said, dropping some lira notes on the bill.
“Remember that secretary of von Papen’s? Switched sides?”
“The one asked for asylum. Sure.”
“I was at the consulate that day. And where do they send him? To Tommy. Now why would they do that?”
A flustered attaché, an instinctive reaction, forgetting the rules.
“I don’t know, Ed.”
“Think about it,” Ed said, taking another sip of the wine and leaning back, settling in. Leon imagined another hour of this, Ed probing, a meaningless cat-and-mouse game. To learn what, exactly?
“I have to run,” Leon said, glancing at his watch. “End-of-the-month figures.” He got up. “Watch yourself tonight. With the professors. Loose lips.”
“Very funny. But I’ll bet you I’m right.”
“I’ll try to make it later,” Leon said, a lie they both accepted.
He left by the side exit to the fish market, the narrow street slippery with melted ice and old frying grease, then turned through the covered vegetable stalls and out to Mesrutiyet, a long street of apartment buildings looking west to the Golden Horn. What did Ed want, anyway? Imagining Tommy lurking in alleys, missing the real sleight of hand. Follow me to a party while my freelancer does the work up the road.
The street curved, hugging the steep hill, opening up to the water view below. Once there would have been hundreds of sails. A dip in the road, past the Pera Palas and then up, threading through the narrow streets to the Tünel station. Marina’s building was just behind, a gray apartment block grimy with neglect. Some of the windows looked toward the square where commuters poured off the funicular, but Marina’s faced down to the Şiş
Istanbul survived the Second World War as a magnet for refugees and spies. Even expatriate American Leon Bauer was drawn into this shadow world, doing undercover odd jobs in support of the Allied war effort. Now as the espionage community begins to pack up and an apprehensive city prepares for the grim realities of postwar life, Leon is given one last routine assignment. But when the job goes fatally wrong—an exchange of gunfire, a body left in the street, and a potential war criminal on his hands—Leon is trapped in a tangle of shifting loyalties and moral uncertainty.
Played out against the bazaars and mosques and faded mansions of this knowing, ancient Ottoman city, Istanbul Passage is the unforgettable story of a man swept up in the dawn of the Cold War, of an unexpected love affair, and of a city as deceptive as the calm surface waters of the Bosphorus that divides it.
A Tour of Istanbul with Joseph Kanon
Read an Excerpt
Reading Group Guide
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. What do you think the book’s title, Istanbul Passage, means? Could it represent more than one thing? What different kinds of passages take place throughout the book?
2. There is a strong sense of place in the novel–Istanbul, the Bosphorus, Galata Bridge, Bebek. How does the author describe these places in order to create a mood of deception and intrigue?
3. What is your initial impression of Leon Bauer upon first meeting him? Does your opinion of him change by the end of the book? If so, what accounted for this change?
4. Leon Bauer’s wife, Anna, is in a semi-comatose state when the book opens, yet to Leon she remains “alive, a presence, not just someone in Obstbaum’s clinic who had retreated into herself.…” To what extent does Anna haunt this book? How much do we learn about who she was and what she did as the story unfolds?
5. Both Alexei and Georg play chess with themselves, “playing both sides.” The name “Bauer” means “pawn” in German. What does the game of chess come to symbolize in the novel?