The wine was okay although I think I’ll save the other bottle for a warm summer evening that beckons the diner outside. Today I’m going to the New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham to see Arcadia by Tom Stoppard and that’s quite a schlep from here so, as I promised to post today the passage that followed from the one I posted yesterday, I’d better get on with it. To recap, these offcuts are passages that, when I wrote them, I expected to appear in the final, published, novel but which for one reason or another did not last the course. When we left it yesterday, Ted was being interrogated by a chat show host about the events in Ephesus that resulted in the death at his hands of two Turks. Now, as they say, read on…
They’re waiting for him when he comes back from viewing the mosaics, though how he was supposed to look at mosaics in the dark is beyond him. He doesn’t like what he sees.
Max is sitting on a fallen pillar, his head in his hands. One of the two men stands silently, a gun trained on Max; the other is shouting at him. The woman sits a little apart, looking away towards where the sea is, though she certainly can’t see it.
‘Ridiculous,’ the man is shouting. He’s shouting in French, though it’s clear from the taxi ride that Max speaks Turkish. Later, Ted will wish he’d noticed that. ‘For two of the finest artefacts ever found in this country, you want to pay me twenty thousand francs. Twenty thousand francs! You insult me, you insult my merchandise, you insult my country!’
He makes a show of noticing Ted’s approach. ‘And what about you, Monsieur? Do you have money? Or must we kill both of you? Eh? And keep the heads and the twenty thousand francs?’
The gunman has brought his pistol round to point squarely at Ted’s chest. A terrible mistake.
‘Yes,’ says Ted, opening his leather bag. ‘I have money. Calm down.’ And he reaches into the bag, slips the safety off his gun, brings it out and shoots the man holding the revolver. Straight through the heart. Dead.
Instant turmoil. The man demanding money is backing away, screaming in panic. Screaming in Turkish which, unfortunately, Ted does not understand. Ted’s shooting arm is held straight out. It swings in a graceful arc, coming to rest on the screaming man, who now holds out his arms in supplication. That he is begging for his life is clear.
Maxim is on his feet, holding out both hands towards Ted. ‘Ted. No. You don’t understand. It was just…’
But Ted has pulled the trigger and the screaming man is silenced. In the centre of his forehead is a neat hole. The one in the back of his head is somewhat less immaculate.
‘You’d done the wrong thing?’ says Dolan.
‘By their lights, maybe. Not by mine. You point a gun at me, you’d better know I’ll shoot you if I get the chance.’
‘Which is what you told Max.’
‘Sure is. And Ibrahim, when he identified himself.’
‘How did you get back to the boat?’
‘Same way as we’d come. In the taxi.’
‘Wasn’t the driver scared?’
‘Shaking like a leaf.’
Ted sits in front this time, his gun pressed into the driver’s ribs. It is now completely dark outside and the headlights on the dusty white road pick out no more people than on the way in. Max and the woman are in the back.
‘Why are we taking her?’ asks Ted.
Max is trembling almost as badly as the driver. Feeling good as he is, Ted still doesn’t fail to notice that the woman’s manner suggests anger and contempt more than fear.
‘Because I’m what you came for,’ she says.
Max is trying to shut her up but she’s in no mood to listen to him. ‘You thought it was the heads, maybe? Worthless bits of stone? You thought they brought you all this way for that? It was for me. Imbecile.’
Ted says, ‘And who are they?’
To the woman, the question isn’t worth bothering with. Max simply shakes his head.
‘Suppose,’ says Ted, ‘I leave the pair of you here and sail off without you. How would you deal with that? How would you explain the two bodies back there when the sun comes up tomorrow?’
Max shakes his head. ‘Ibrahim would not let you.’
‘Ibrahim? Ibrahim is with you?’
Max looks very tired. ‘We put him into your boat. You had hired someone else.’
Ted remembers. ‘That’s right. I had.’
‘And he was suddenly unavailable. And Ibrahim came to see you.’
‘You sent him? For what? For this?’
‘Don’t get angry, please, Ted.’
‘Angry? I’m fucking furious. You…’
‘Ted. When you are angry you are even more dangerous than when you are calm. Listen to me, please. The DGSE identified you as a prospect. We saw you as someone we could work with.’
The woman snorts. Ted looks at her. She says, ‘We, the man says. We.’
‘Isabelle,’ Max starts, but she’s in no mood for interruptions.
‘Maxim is not “We,” Monsieur Bailey,’ she says. I am “We.” Ibrahim is “We.” Maxim is a dilettante, an amateur. A jolly war with the Free French and he thinks himself a master spy. Maxim is someone we use to arrange things.’
The taxi is approaching the harbour. ‘So,’ Ted says. ‘Since you are the real thing, tell me what I need to know.’
‘You need to know nothing,’ she spits. ‘You are a bigger fool than Max.’ She speaks in quick Turkish to the driver, who stops the car with a jerk. ‘We will walk from here,’ she says.
As they walk away, Ted turns to look back at the driver. He is mopping his brow, his shoulders heaving. Ted could swear there are tears on his cheeks. Ted points his gun at the front near-side tyre and blows a hole in it. The woman curses him beneath her breath.
Ibrahim’s eyes rest unblinking on Ted as Isabelle speaks to him in rapid Arabic. How old is Ibrahim? Ted has never asked himself the question before. Could be twenty, could be forty. The friendly, slightly obsequious smile Ted is used to is no longer in place, but nor is there any unfriendliness. In the tales of cowboys and Indians Ted read as a child, the braves’ faces were often described as impassive, but impassive would be the wrong word here. Ibrahim isn’t hostile and he isn’t sympathetic. He is merely absorbing information, juggling plans, improvising.
In his melodically accented French, he says to Ted, ‘We had better go now, Monsieur. They will be looking for us in the morning and we should be far from here.’
There is a light in the immigration and customs men’s cabin, but no-one comes out to watch the boat slip quietly out of the bay.
‘They are concerned with people coming into the country,’ Ibrahim says. ‘Not with those who leave. They may pay a heavy price tomorrow.’
In open water, Ted gives the boat more power. He does not need to be told that Istanbul is off the itinerary. The boat moves south, a strong wake trailing behind as they leave Turkish for Greek waters and head for the open Mediterranean. Max is silent. He will not speak another word to Ted during the voyage.
Through the long night, Ted keeps the strap of the leather bag with the gun in it wrapped around his wrist. Ibrahim offers to take over at the helm, but Ted has no interest in sleep. He does not want to be left to swim home. The Arab brews coffee and the two men drink it companionably side by side as the boat cuts through the warm, dark water. Ted offers Ibrahim a cigarette, lights one for himself.
‘You feel betrayed?’ Ibrahim asks.
‘Betrayal is what I do,’ says Ibrahim. ‘I am an Arab, and I work for the country that oppresses my people.’
‘You are a spy?’
‘I do not like that word.’
‘The woman. Isabelle. Why is she so important?’
‘You have heard her story, I think.’
‘Oh, yes, I have heard her story.’
‘It will serve. Our stories become the truth. Until we need new ones.’
‘How can you live like that?’
Ibrahim looks at him and smiles.
‘You think I am the same?’ asks Ted.
‘Do you say you are not?’
It is a few hours later, with the sun rising towards its zenith and the day hot on their faces. Ted asks Ibrahim, ‘Why did they do it like this? Why all the nonsense with the heads? Why not just sail in, pick her up and get out?’
Ibrahim smiles. ‘To complicate. They must complicate. What you suggest is simple and these people do not like simple. They make problems where no problem exists. So they ask, how will you react if they say you come to Turkey to pick up a passenger? You will want to know who she is, and why they want her. No, no, they think. Monsieur Bailey is a criminal, so we give him something a criminal will understand. Theft. The stealing of things that can be sold.’
‘Why did they need me at all? They must have boats of their own.’
‘Something might go wrong. Turkey is a friendly country. You must not be seen to kidnap people from a friendly country. Maxim is a freelance and disposable.’
‘But you’re here.’
‘I am an Arab and therefore also disposable. Also the Turks are proud people. Proud as only a country that has had a great empire and now is nothing can be proud. You are an English. You will understand that, I think.’
‘What will happen to these two now?’
‘Monsieur Maxim, he will be in trouble. This was his plan. Now two Turkish men are dead, and they were ours. They will never use him again. The money they pay him they will cease to pay him. He will be unhappy. He will blame you. You should watch out for him.’
‘What did she do? Nothing.’
Ibrahim smiles. ‘You will be all right, Monsieur. I will see to it.’