Now that I’m in the mood after Offcuts and Offcuts (2), here is another passage that was once part of When the Darkness Comes but is so no longer. I didn’t have a problem with it; it was simply that the book had become so damn long, bits of it had to go and I chose those that could be considered self-contained.
Ted loves sailing, if being driven by a powerful motor can be called sailing. Maxim makes omelettes for lunch; they drink mineral water with them, because Ted has a no alcohol while at sea rule. They spend the evening in Mgarr Harbour on Gozo, where Ibrahim stays on the boat while Ted and Maxim dine ashore on Spagetti ai Frutta di Mare. The Gozo wine is good, though Maxim the Frenchman refuses to say so, the night is peaceful and they breakfast next morning on bread, coffee and sweet cakes.
The second day they dock at Crete; and after a late breakfast and an early lunch on shore they turn north and start picking their way between the islands that dot the whole waterway. As the afternoon sun begins to descend towards the sea, Maxim suggests stopping for the night in Kusadasi.
‘You want to reach Istanbul tomorrow?’ asks Ted.
‘We do not have time to arrive there today. And it is a busy harbour. Not the best place to navigate in the dark. And you have never seen Ephesus, I think.’
‘I won’t now. Ephesus Harbour is dry. The town is miles from the sea.’
Maxim glances at him. ‘I thought you did not know this area.’
‘I can read a chart.’
‘There are taxis.’
Ted shrugs. As far as he’s concerned, they’re here for the pleasure of the trip.
Customs come aboard and make a perfunctory examination. A polite man in an Immigration Officer’s shirt and an old pair of yellow trousers, gathered at the ankles, checks their passports. Then, once again, Ted and Maxim go ashore while Ibrahim stays with the boat.
Ted suspects that Maxim thinks him a fool, but he is not a complete idiot. Before leaving the boat, he takes the gun from its hiding place and slips it into the little leather handbag in which he carries his passport and some of his money. He wraps the strap negligently around his left wrist, carrying it as though it had no importance at all.
The Frenchman, too, carries a bag — in his case, a crocodile document case.
As Maxim said, there are taxis. This one is clearly waiting for them.
They go through some polite business about seating arrangements, but Ted makes sure Max sits up front with the driver, where he can see them both. He slips his hand into his leather bag and sees the driver’s eyes on him in the rear view mirror. Ted makes a show of taking out his passport and examining the sticker the Immigration man has put there. The driver looks away. He says something briefly to Maxim. Maxim, as briefly, replies. The conversation is not in French, and Ted does not understand it.
It isn’t far to Ephesus, but the road is poor and the journey takes half an hour. They see almost no-one on the way.
They park just outside the town and walk in. Ted, manoeuvring to keep himself on the right hand of the other two, sees Maxim smile.
‘Once,’ says Maxim, ‘there were three hundred and fifty thousand people here. How many people in your home town, Ted?’
‘About the same.’
‘And now look at it.’
‘Ephesus. This is what you get from living at a crossroads. You are lucky, you English, to be stuck out on a bunch of islands no-one wants. Did you know Paul wrote to the Corinthians from here?’
Ted is looking at the Odeon, a ruin of burnt clay with steep terraces and surrounded by clapped out buildings. ‘Looks like Roker Park to me.’
‘They have earthquakes here,’ says Max. ‘Many earthquakes. The Temple of Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. You know what is there now? One pillar. Two, maybe. A few stones scattered. Grass. Scrub. Nothing.’
‘So why are we here?’
‘The Hittites were here. The Greeks were here. The Romans were here. This was the second most important city in the Byzantine Empire. Paul lived here, John lived here. They claim the Virgin Mary lived here, after her Son was put to death.’
‘But why are we here?’
‘Do you know they have camel wrestling in Ephesus? Still, today?’
‘Have we come to watch?’
‘No, no. The wrestling is in winter.’
‘Men wrestle camels?’
‘They would be killed, Ted. No, no, the camels wrestle. Male camels. They make a big show of it. Dress the camels up. Music. A march through the streets. They find a female in heat and parade her in front of two males. Then the males wrestle for the right to mount her.’
‘Ah. It’s more like Newcastle than I thought.’
‘And they spit, and piss backwards. So getting close is not a good idea.’
‘Even more like home. Why are we here, Maxim?’
‘I thought I might take a look at some antiquities while we are in Turkey.’
‘You can pick up a head, or a carving, for a good price. Sell it in Paris for three, four times what we pay the locals.’
‘Is that legal?’
‘Do you care?’
‘I’d like to know.’
‘It is completely legal, so long as one has a certificate issued by a museum.’
‘Which, of course, we will.’
Max smiled. ‘This is the State Agora.’
‘Not very impressive.’
‘Two thousand years ago, it would have been a bustling courtyard. There were porticoes down two sides like cloisters, with columns supporting terra cotta roofs.’
‘The columns seem to have collapsed.’ Ted waits for Max to mention the three people, two men and a woman, sitting in the gathering dark on broken stone shafts. They give every appearance of waiting for someone.
Max points away from the three. ‘That is the Street of Curetes. It leads to the Fountain of Trajan, which you can still see though it’s dry, and the Temple of Hadrian. Nice friezes. And the street has some lovely mosaics. Why don’t you take a walk down there while I talk to my friends?’
‘You don’t want me with you?’
Max smiles. ‘Don’t miss the mosaics. They’re worth the detour.’
That passage is followed by the one I reproduced in Offcuts (2) but we return to Turkkey here:
‘What do you want to do?’ asks Dolan when my glass has been refilled. ‘Do you want to finish the story? In whatever time you’ve got left? Or are you ready to go? Let that poor girl up? Face the music?’
I steady myself with a swig of champagne. The poor girl can fend for herself. Facing the music is the last thing on my mind.
‘It was all about the woman,’ I say.
‘When we reached Ephesus, remember? There were two men and a woman waiting for Max. It was all about the woman. The antiquities were a smokescreen. The idea was that we’d bring back a couple of stone heads. They had the museum certificates all ready for us. I was to believe that the certificates were fakes and the heads were hugely valuable. And they’d persuade me to bring the woman along for the ride home. But, actually, the heads were just heads, bits of stone. It was the woman they wanted to get out.’
‘The DGSE. Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure. The General Directorate for External Security.’
‘If intelligence is the word we’re looking for. Never overestimate these guys, Barry. If you want to know how bright a country’s intelligence services are, form a view on the average IQ of their ordinary police force. Chances are, the IQ of the secret guys won’t be more than eighty per cent of that. What you do get, even more than with the police, is every kind of psychosis, every shade of mental infirmity, every possible form of delusion. And all the sociopathic and just plain barmy behaviour that goes with those things. And, above all else, a conviction that only they are in the know, only they have the big picture, and everyone else must help make their loony plans come true.’
‘So who was this woman?’
‘An employee of the DGSE.’
‘A French spy.’
‘If you want to give her that much glamour. She was no Mata Hari, believe me. The rather plump, rather plain French mistress of a Turkish diplomat who must have needed his eyes testing. And his sense of smell. She’d been happily sending back information about Turkey’s plans for whatever it is Turkey makes plans about, and they’d cottoned on to her. The Frogs needed to get her out before she disappeared.’
‘How do you know all this?’
Dolan sighs. ‘As I said before, it’s your time you’re wasting.’
‘Did you ever think of becoming a teacher, Barry?’
‘Why are you doing this? You’re dying, as you keep telling us, and still you fence with me as though you had all the time in the world.’
‘Yes, all right. I know all this because this is what Maxim and Ibrahim told me after I’d shot the two Turks.’
‘You shot the two Turks.’
‘So when I say I don’t know it, what I mean is it was told to me by people whose word was hardly reliable. Intelligence people.’
‘Ibrahim and Max were with French intelligence.’
‘Are you going to repeat everything I say? See, I’ve spent a large part of my life among criminals. And, by and large, criminals didn’t lie to me. They shot at me, they tried to rob me, but they rarely lied to me. They knew what they wanted, they said what it was and they went after it. But then I got involved with people whose job was keeping the world safe for democracy and they never said a true word if they could say a false one.’
‘Tell me why you shot the two Turks.’
‘Well, that’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about.’
There’s more, but it’s dinner time and I am about to open a bottle of rosé vinho verde (how can a wine be pink and green at the same time?) which is something I’ve never tried before — it came in a bin ends surprise case from Vineyards Direct — so I’ll leave this here and post the rest — probably tomorrow — as Offcuts (4).