Authors: Maria Hudgins
Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Botanist - Turkey
|Maria Hudgins - Lacy Glass 02 - The Man on the Istanbul Train|
|Lacy Glass |
|Maria Hudgins (2012)|
|Tags:||Mystery: Cozy - Botanist - Turkey|
Mystery: Cozy - Botanist - Turkeyttt
The Man on the Istanbul Train
By Maria Hudgins
Stretched out flat on his stomach at the edge of a newly excavated trench, sweat dripping off the end of his nose, Paul Hannah wondered why, of the three worst things to have on an archaeological dig, he was cursed with two of them. The three worst things, according to a former college professor, were a soldier of fortune on an ego trip, a man with an old map he’d bought in a bazaar, and a backer. Bob Mueller, the dig’s senior director, was the soldier of fortune hot on the trail, so Bob thought, of King Croesus’s treasure. Max Sebring was the backer, the money man, but for the first time in anyone’s memory he was actually on site and nosing into everything. Surrounded as Paul was by the rugged hills of southern Turkey, when he heard a shout from the distance he didn’t look up. He feared it might be a man with a map.
His trowel flicked a pottery sherd out of virgin soil and it fell to the bottom of the five foot deep trench. Paul rose to a crouch and jumped into the hole after it. The triangular sherd, about two centimeters on each side, was Neolithic, he could tell from the heft and the feel of it, but a crimson streak ran across the middle.
What the hell?
It wasn’t red ochre because he’d found enough of that common iron ore to recognize it in all its many brown, yellow, and red hues. With the hand lens he wore on a string around his neck, he looked more closely. At one of the points, a distinct green, not much larger than a pin head but definitely embedded in the clay itself, gleamed as if it were laughing at him. Daring him to figure this one out.
Verdigris? No way. Has this been buried next to some copper, turning green as it oxidized? If so, where’s the copper?
He needed to call Lacy Glass. He couldn’t ask Max to foot the bill for her to fly the six thousand miles here from her college in Virginia, but someone had mentioned she was working in Istanbul this summer. He could call a mutual friend to learn her phone number. Worth a try.
Lacy—lovely, willowy, accident-prone Lacy—was an expert on pigments and how they were used in ancient times. She and Paul had worked together on a tomb in Egypt a couple of years ago.
“Need some help?”
Max. One of the wealthiest men in America, Max bankrolled a number of projects like this one, always handing over the finds required by the host country and keeping the rest for the Sebring Museum. This dig was the first time Max had been known to muddy his shoes and actually work on site. His unpretentious tent sat among those of the other workers, and he showered behind a flimsy curtain with water heated by the sun, just like everyone else. Paul found him a damned nuisance.
Tall and gangling but agile for his age, Max lowered himself into the trench with Paul and took the sherd from him.
Paul clenched his jaws. “Careful, Max. Don’t touch that green spot on the edge.”
“Interesting. Very interesting. Neolithic?”
A shout rang out. A female voice. “Phone call for you, Max. From home.”
“From my office?” Max’s head jerked toward the sound, his head and shoulders clearing the top of the trench.
“From your house.” The voice approached from a hill some two hundred yards west of the excavated area. “Woman says she’s your wife’s nurse. She called Bob’s phone because she couldn’t get an answer on yours. Says it’s urgent.”
“Tell Henry to call them back.”
Henry was Max’s secretary/man Friday. After watching the pair for the past two weeks Paul decided that Henry couldn’t possibly have a life of his own. He kept up with all the details of his boss’s life, from paying his bills to keeping his social calendar. If Max decided to fly to Bangkok in the middle of the night, Henry bought two tickets, packed two bags, and went with him.
Paul turned his focus back to the packed soil near his right foot. A golden glint made his heart flip. Placing his boot lightly over the glow, he called to the young woman messenger who was now peering into the trench, preparing to jump.
“Sierra, take Max to my tent and show him the sherds I showed you last night.” He lifted his most recent discovery from his benefactor’s hand and nudged him away with firm pressure applied to his shoulder.
Sierra gave Paul one of her sexy looks, and he feared she was about to make an inappropriate, suggestive comment about what she’d been shown last night. Instead, she obediently led Max away toward Paul’s tent.
Paul shifted his boot, dropped to his knees, and examined the shiny yellow metal. A gold earring. Pure gold from the look of it. The style told him it wasn’t Neolithic and not Hittite, either. Although the site was Hittite, from about 1500
Paul had been invited to join Bob Mueller, after the specialist in the Hittite period had found Neolithic artifacts underneath the Hittite. This earring was ancient, it was gold, it was finely worked by a skilled artisan, and it most certainly didn’t belong here.
Looking around to see who might be watching, Paul slipped it into his pocket.
Lacy Glass’s left arm was stuck in the narrow opening of her hotel room window, the type of window that tilts inward at the top no more than twenty degrees, insuring that guests would neither jump nor accidently fall out. It had allowed her arm to slip through to place her wet samples of newly dyed silk on the narrow Juliette balcony to dry. But the bulb of her elbow was stuck on the outside and pulling didn’t help. If she pulled any harder she’d break her arm. She couldn’t call for help because neither her cell phone nor the hotel phone lay within reach, and because her attire at the moment consisted of only a pink bra, blue panties, and a black comb, dangling like a plastic monkey from her dripping wet hair.
Her cell phone chattered, vibrating against the TV atop the dresser, but Lacy couldn’t reach it. The day’s fourth Muslim call to prayer blasted through the traffic noises below her window. Ordinarily, Lacy loved this time of day when she allowed herself to quit work and enjoy the sunset, throwing the curtains open to marvel at the colors of the dying sun bouncing off the domes and minarets of old Istanbul. Under her current circumstances, however, she longed to close the curtains. The plastic wands that guided the curtain hooks on their track hung inches out of reach, leaving her body in full view of four lanes of traffic, one tram line, and two busy sidewalks six floors below.
“Damn. I’m a scientist. I should be able to figure this out.”
The cell phone tried again. Lacy took a deep breath and considered her options. The cord to her bedside lamp was plugged into an outlet she could just about reach with her toes. She could pull the lamp off the nightstand and use its metal base to break the window glass. But the window frame, not its glass, was the real problem. Still, she could use the broken glass to saw off her own arm. No, too drastic. A minute later, her room phone rang.
Lacy looked more intently at the window frame and found a do-hicky that restricted the angle of tilt. But she needed a screwdriver to loosen it. Her arm from the elbow down was turning dark. If she could step up higher, she could raise her arm to a wider part of the V-shaped opening. She looked around for something to step on. Her suitcase lay open on the floor. That might work if she could close its lid. She stretched her body toward it as far as her trapped arm would allow, but her right foot was still a good six inches shy of its corner.
Lacy was both blessed and cursed with double-jointed arms
and she could rotate her elbow farther than most people
when she tried to do so, the iron railing, only inches outside
the window, allowed
no room to turn.
Taking a deep breath, she decided to combine two methods. Placing her feet directly under her, she bent her knees, then jumped and turned while in mid-air. It hurt but it worked. She’d have an ugly bruise above her elbow tomorrow, but she was free.
The phone on the bedside table jingled again and she answered it. Front desk. “Doctor Glass? We have a message for you. Someone wants you to pick up your cell phone and listen to your voice mail.”
Why couldn’t the desk clerk simply tell me the message?
Lacy was sure it was from Carl, a carpet buyer from Dallas, who was taking her to dinner that night. Carl had clammy hands and an invasive way of staring at her that gave her the creeps. Only the promise of a few extra bucks working as a consultant to his stores made her endure his company. Twisting her bruised arm, she checked to make sure it still worked.
Maybe he wants to cancel the date. Could I be that lucky?
She considered the dyed silk samples drying on the balcony beyond the glass. Retrieving them would require chewing gum and a wire hanger. She closed her curtains, turbaned her wet hair in a towel, and punched her phone’s icon for voice mail.
“Lacy? It’s Paul Hannah.”
Lacy’s pounding heart drowned out the rest of the message. She hadn’t seen or heard from Paul since the winter before last, in Egypt. What did he want? She listened to the message twice more, carefully writing down the number he gave her to call. He told her not to give up if her first attempt to call him back went awry, as his current location had “a few holes in its cell phone coverage.”
Lacy reached him on the second try.
Paul’s broad California accent washed over her like a warm wave and brought back memories both sweet and painful. “I’m in central Turkey, on the southern part of the Anatolian Plateau. I’ve got my own dig now.”
“Awesome! Your own dig!”
“Well, not totally my own. I’m sharing the site with Bob Mueller. You know him?” Paul didn’t wait for an answer. “He’s been working this Hittite dig for the last few years and they’ve hit some Neolithic pottery and stone tools. That’s my field.”
“I know. I remember.”
Paul’s voice had a new lilt. He sounded happy, as if he was in his element at last. “So Bob asked me if I wanted to join him for this season and it took me about a micro-second to make up my mind and say ‘yes.’ His backer agreed to increase the site’s budget enough to allow me and a few extra workers to come and see what else we can find.”
“This is so exciting.” Lacy wished she’d said something more original than the banality that came from her mouth.
“I heard you were in Istanbul, and I said, ‘I wonder if I could talk Lacy into popping out here for a week or so?’ We can’t afford to pay you anything, but we’ll cover your travel expenses, and while you’re here room and board are free.”
Lacy took a deep breath. “What do you want me for? I’m the pigment girl, remember? I know nothing about digging.”
“I know, but listen up. I’m finding painted pottery from before the time of painted pottery in Anatolia. I don’t understand it and I need to know what paint they used and where they got it. Bob has some artifacts he wants you to look at as well.”
Lacy knew a dozen good reasons why she should tell Paul thanks but no thanks. She had to finish gathering information for the book she was writing—the book she’d planned to submit to her publisher before August. Her funds were running low. The fall term at Wythe University was only weeks away and she was scheduled to teach a new course, for which she’d so far written only the scantiest synopsis. Letting her memory of Paul Hannah’s caramel candy eyes and sensuous mouth push these practical considerations to a dusty corner of her mind, she said, “How do I get there?”
* * *
“We can store your luggage until you return, Dr. Glass. No problem. If your plans change, call us and let us know where to ship it.” As the desk clerk scribbled something in Turkish on a luggage tag, he spoke to her in heavily accented English. All morning Lacy had been arranging for Byzantine icons and Iznik tiles to be returned to the institutions that had loaned them to her. She’d stuffed the rest of her specimens, mostly yarns and newly made ceramics, into a couple of suitcases.
To travel to Paul’s dig site, Lacy had to take a train that left from
Station on the Asian side of Istanbul. To get to the Asian side she had to hop a ferry across the Sea of Marmara. And to reach the ferry dock, she would take the tram that ran past the front of her hotel. Watching through the glass alongside the revolving door, Lacy saw a northbound tram, stopping to exchange passengers. At this time in the afternoon the trams would be packed. Jam-packed, as in face smashed against the window and stiflingly hot. She stepped out into the cacophony of Old Istanbul and dragged her rolling duffel across the street to the tram stop located on an island between north and southbound automotive traffic. She plopped a token into the turnstile and waited for the next southbound tram. As expected, its doors opened onto solid walls of humanity but Lacy pushed herself on anyway, crammed her duffel between her feet, and counted the stops. Sweating buckets, she had to endure an old man breathing his stale breath down her neck. As the tram careened around the steep bend at Sirkeci, the old train station that used to be the last stop on the Orient Express, she thought,
At least I’m not falling down.
To fall down would require a bit of floor room.
When the tram’s doors slid open at the ferry stop, she tumbled out, the smell of day-old fish from street vendors’ carts invading her nose. She ignored the jaw-dropping sight of the Mosque of Süleyman soaring above the Egyptian Spice Market. Ahead, she spotted her ferry, already churning the waters of the Golden Horn and threatening to pull away from the dock. She bought a ticket from the machine, wobbled her duffle bag through the turnstile, and jumped aboard just as dock lines flew off their cleats.
Thirty minutes later she disembarked at
train station, a grand nineteenth-century Teutonic castle that fronted on the harbor where the choppy waters of the Bosporus met the Sea of Marmara. Earlier in the summer Lacy had spent a long, hot day snapping photos of the station’s famous interior, with its stained glass windows and tiled ceiling, but now the daylight was gone and the glitzy waiting room resembled a gloomy cavern, its polished floors reflecting lights from the tracks outside.
When the ticket office attendant told her the price of a private compartment in a sleeping car was only seventy-eight Turkish lira, she calculated that was about fifty U.S. dollars and decided to take it. After all, Paul was paying. Even if he wasn’t, she thought, how could you beat the price? In the U.S. the cost would be—well, she had no idea what it would be.
As she headed for the turnstile to the train, a scruffy man elbowed her aside, mumbling something as he shoved his way past, and plowed through the line ahead of her. His foot knocked her duffel bag onto one wheel, twisting Lacy’s injured arm as it rolled over, and causing her to stumble over a small boy holding the hand of his black-shrouded mother. Lacy got the fleeting impression of a dark green trench coat and dirty brown hair that stuck up at angles as if full of knots. And he smelled of fish.
What a relief to reach her private cabin in the sleeping car, so clean and compact. It looked almost new. A small shelf and a washbasin with soap and towel on the side opposite the seat that converted into a single bed. She knew the toilets were located at either end of the car. She’d barely hefted her duffle onto the luggage rack when she heard a knock at her door. A uniformed conductor bowed politely and asked, in accented English, for her ticket. Lacy wondered how they knew when to speak English and when to speak Turkish. Something about Americans must peg them as surely as a red dot on the forehead said South Asian. Formalities completed, Lacy decided to explore the rest of the car and check out the toilet. She stashed her extra jacket beneath the window and ventured out into the corridor that ran the length of the car. In eerie silence, the train began moving. Through the row of windows along one side of the hall, Lacy watched the yellow lights of
Station recede, faster and faster, then give way to the multi-colored lights of the city.
“You are not to be in this car,” came a man’s voice. “This is a sleeping car, sir!”
Two men stood at the end of the corridor. One, the conductor who had just punched her ticket, the other, a middle-aged man in a green trench coat.
“Sorry. I am confused.”
“Where is your ticket?”
“Can you help me find …” The rest was drowned out by the clatter of accelerating wheels on track. The words of the man who had pushed ahead of her tumbled over one another as if he were deliberately being obtuse. He shifted his weight, ran his hands over his greasy hair, jerked his head this way and that.
The couplings between this car and the next squealed as the train rounded a bend, and the man toppled forward into the conductor. Quickly righting himself while spilling apologies all over the conductor’s uniformed chest, he turned toward Lacy.
Quivering mouth, eyes the color of mud and streaked with red veins, he looked at her with a face as grey as cold ashes, as if fatigue or terror or both had claimed his last ounce of courage. In that moment Lacy knew she’d never forget his haunted face. Ever. This man was in big trouble.
“May I see your ticket, sir?” the conductor insisted.
he man mumbled something while he fumbled through various pockets for a ticket he obviously didn’t have.
“You have no ticket!”
“I do. I just can’t—“
“In Turkey, we do not tolerate people like you!”
“I have a ticket somewhere. Give me chance—“
“Bir hırsız, bir serseri, bir suç—“
The conductor had him by the sleeve now, spitting Turkish insults that Lacy felt were best left untranslated.
What would happen next? The man would be unceremoniously dropped off at the first stop and handed over to the authorities.
Lacy had a brief vision of the poor man flying out the door of the speeding train propelled by the shoe of the heartless conductor. They wouldn’t actually do that, she realized, but the look on the man’s face cut straight into her heart. It took her back to a painful incident in eighth grade. A kid named Shannon.
If her private sleeping compartment was only seventy-eight lira, how much could a plain old seat be? Not much.
“I’ll pay for his ticket.”
Both men’s heads jerked toward her.
“He may have dropped his ticket outside,” Lacy said. “He probably did. I saw him running to catch the train. It doesn’t matter anyway. I’ll pay for his ticket now. How much?”