excerpt two from my novel World of Shadows: Chapter Six


The Greek woke to an empty house. Irina was not there, nor was there a note from her explaining where she had gone. Her absence wasn’t unusual but the lack of a note was. Though this caused him minor distraction, he managed to consider it a momentary lapse in their normal routines and made himself a cup of coffee. While he was stirring the grounds, he thought that Irina was much better at this than he was. Even though this coffee was part of his culture, she, for a Russian, was more skilled in its preparation. As a matter of fact, she was better at so many things that were Turkish in origin than he was: her cooking, her brewing of cay and coffee, her baklava, her mezes, everything she touched was made as if she were a Turk, not a Russian. He often wondered how he was so fortunate to have her in his life and then remembered what brought them together and quickly put it aside. She was his now, regardless of the past, and he only hoped she would stay his as long as there was still breath in his body.
He drank his coffee while trying to decide what to do next. If Irina were here, she would turn his cup upside down and read his fortune in the grinds. Of course, neither of them would believe in it and The Greek suspected she didn’t read his fortune so much as offer her advice, but it was their way of sometimes exploring options. And he smiled remembering it was her gift of reading fortunes back then that precipitated their first real conversation which lead to all that followed, so they both had a special fondness for fortune telling.
It didn’t take a fortune teller, though, to tell him someone was lying. The Chinese were either coming in from Georgia with the Russians or from the East with the Kurds. To find out which he would now have to go talk with the Turkish underworld. Hopefully some old associate there could point him in the right direction.
So he finished his coffee, emptied the grinds in the trash, rinsed his cup in the sink, put on his jacket and shoes, and left without waiting for Irina’s return.

Irina had learned many things during her years with The Greek and one was never to lose connections to people and places in the past because you could never know when someone or something might be of value to you in the future. So Irina stayed in contact with some of the Natashas still working in Turkey and even some of the people who brought them here back in St. Petersburg. And it was to visit some of the working girls that caused her to leave early that day in order to catch them coming back from a long night of work.
“It’s a long time since we’ve seen you, sister,” said the tall blonde in the spiked heels and miniskirt named Valerie. “You coming back to work?”
“I don’t have the clothes for it anymore,” Irina said and smiled. “Unless you want to lend me that dress.”
“Turn around and let me see if you still have the shape.” Irina did a little twirl for her and Valerie nodded approvingly. “It looks like it will still fit.”
Irina laughed. “Are you ready for the competition?”
“Ahhh,” and Valerie sighed dramatically, “I see a loss of revenue in my future.”
“Don’t worry,” Irina said. “I’m getting a little too old and lazy to compete with you.”
Both women laughed then, hooked arms, and walked off to a nearby café. “You paying, sister?” Valerie asked. “Time is money, as the Americans say, you know.”
“Of course I’m paying. I wouldn’t want Erdal to think I was dipping into his profits.”
“Oh Erdal doesn’t know everything I do,” Valerie said. “Or at least he’s smart enough to pretend not to notice.”
“He treats you well still?”
“As well as can be expected. After all, I’m an investment, and he knows a good investment when he sees one.”
“You’re lucky,” Irina said. “Not every girl working these streets can say the same thing.”
Valerie looked at her then and rubbed her arm. “You’re not thinking of the past, are you, sister? There’s no profit in that.”
“No,” Irina shook her head. “I am past the past.”
“And The Greek?” Valerie asked. “You are still with him?”
“I have no reason to leave.”
“No reason to leave is not a reason to stay.”
“It is reason enough for me.”
Valerie looked at her carefully and asked, “Do you love him, sister?”
Irina didn’t answer right away but stared off somewhere, beyond the moment, to somewhere between the past and the present where no future existed. Then she looked at Valerie and smiled. “I don’t know how to answer that. It isn’t love the way you mean and yet it is more than love. It is so complicated and yet it is so simple. I am with him because I cannot think of anywhere I’d rather be. The last time I felt like this I was a child and my parents were alive and the world was a simple place and I didn’t have to think about anything because everything I could imagine was there in my hands. Do you understand?” she asked and looked at her closely. “It is like that with him.”
Valerie nodded, looked off somewhere herself, and then sighed. “I envy you, sister.” They both sat in silence for a moment, then Valerie opened her purse and took out a cigarette and offered Irina one. Irina took one and Valerie lit her cigarette first, then her own. They both inhaled deeply before Valerie spoke again. “There is talk on the street about your Greek.”
“There is?” Irina asked, but her voice did not seem concerned. ‘And what kind of talk is that?”
“He is asking questions and some people do not like those questions.”
“Anyone I know?”
“You know them all even if you have never seen them. The people never change, just their faces and their names. But the people are always the same.”
“I see.”
“I am only telling you this because you helped me once with my daughter and I will never forget that. But we have been told on the street to mind our own business.” She looked deeply into Irina’s eyes and put her hand on her forearm. “You understand, don’t you, sister?”
“Yes,” Irina nodded, her thoughts turning inward. “I understand all too well.”

The Greek sat at a café in Taksim listening to Baris, an old business associate, explain why it would be worth his while to go back to smuggling again. “I know you aren’t interested in drugs but there’s a lot of money to be made in auto parts. We bring them in pieces, reassemble them here, and sell the cars. Very high profit margin.”
“I’ve retired from that line of work,” The Greek said. “I’m enjoying my old age.”
“We’re only as old as we think,” Baris said and tapped his head with a finger. “In here, I’m 35.” Then he tapped his chest. “In here, I’m 25.”
“That makes you 60,” The Greek said and smiled.
“Still a little younger than my passport says.”
They both laughed and drank some more cay. Baris signaled to the waiter. “Bring us some mezes and some raki,” he said. Then to The Greek, “You ready for some real drinking or do you want to stay with cay?”
The Greek nodded. “But it won’t change my mind about going into business.”
“Fuck business,” Baris said. “I just want to drink with you like in the old days.”
And they nibbled on the mezes, cracked open pistachio nuts, and drank raki as the afternoon drifted by.
“You know,” The Greek said, “I have come to see you about some business but not business I want to be in.”
“What other kind of business is there?” Baris said. “If it’s business you don’t want to be in than it isn’t worth talking about. What’s the profit in that?”
“I’m helping a friend,” The Greek said.
“I hope it’s a close friend.”
“It is as close as you and me,” The Greek said.
“Ah, well,” and Baris shrugged, “in that case there is no need of profit. At least not the monetary kind.”
“But it is about business you are familiar with,” The Greek said. “Business, I believe, you might still dabble in yourself.”
“I dabble in everything,” Baris said and smiled. “It’s good business sense to diversify.”
“It’s the business of flesh peddling.”
Baris shook his head. “I still have a few fingers in most things but never that. It is just not something I wanted to be personally involved in. I know some who are, though.”
“As you talk to those you know, do you hear anything about Asian flesh?” The Greek asked. “Especially Chinese.”
Baris shook his head. “The only Asians I deal with are mostly Thai and it’s dealing with drugs, not women. The women I hear about are strictly natashas.”
“No Chinese?”
“No,” Baris said. “Though if there were a market for that, it would probably be in Arab countries. If you’re looking for a connection there, try the Kurds.”
“I did,” The Greek said, “and they point fingers at the Russians who also point fingers at them.” The Greek sighed. “No one seems to know anything about Chinese trade.”
“Hmmm,” Baris took another sip of his raki and thought for a minute. “Maybe someone from one of the families is going into business for themselves in town,” he said finally. “But I don’t think that could happen without anyone else knowing. Especially in women. Those markets are pretty well defined.”
“So someone is lying?” The Greek asked.
“That would be my guess. Maybe they want to corner the market but it must be strictly for transport somewhere else.” Baris finished his raki and poured another both for himself and The Greek. “I still think it’s for the Arabs,” he said. “And if so, I would look east to the Kurds. They control that area. But be careful. You know you can’t trust them.” He shook his head while adding water to both their glasses. “Never could.”
“East,” The Greek said and stared at the cloudy glass of raki in front of him. “You think I should go east.”
“I would,” Baris said, “if you’re serious about this. You still know people there?”
The Greek nodded. “But I do not think they would be so happy to see me.”
“You want me to come with you?” Baris asked. “I don’t like dealing with human traffickers even here in Istanbul, but there,” and he whistled through his teeth, “you would be crazy to go alone.”
The Greek nodded. “I would appreciate the company.”
Baris stroked his cheek for a second, then said, “Give me a day or two to settle some things and then we’ll go.”
“Thanks,” The Greek said.
“Don’t mention it,” Baris said. “You saved my ass a few times so it’s the least I can do.”
And the two old friends touched glasses and drank.

“East?” Irina asked. “You are going east?”
“Yes,” The Greek said. “Tomorrow, or the next day.”
“For how long?”
“I’m not sure,” he said, “but hopefully not for long.”
“You are going alone?”
“No. Baris is going with me.”
“Baris?” and she looked at him suspiciously. “He is still alive?”
“Yes,” he said. “Why? Have you heard different?”
“No,” and she watched him as he slowly sat in the chair as if he were unsure of whether or not there was a chair beneath him. “I just haven’t heard his name in a long time.”
“Well,” and The Greek shrugged, “I’m retired.”
“You’re also a bit drunk,” she said. “Aren’t you?”
“Can’t a man drink if he wants when he is retired?” he asked as if scoring a point in a debate and waiting a bit aggressively for a retort.
“Yes,” she said, smiling slightly. “A man can do whatever he likes when he is retired. But can’t a woman make an observation without causing the man who is retired to get upset?”
“I am not upset,” he said, and then realizing he sounded upset, became apologetic. “It is the raki talking. You know it always talks like this when I have too much.”
“Yes,” she said and then came over to the chair and sat on the arm stroking his hair. “I know you and raki too well.”
He looked at her tenderly, his eyes a bit misty from the alcohol but also from the love he felt swelling in his heart. “You know me too well.”
“Yes, and that is why I am worried that you are going east,” and she continued combing her fingers through his hair. “You have enemies in the East.”
“I have enemies many places,” he said and sighed. “The value of a man can be judged by the number of friends he has and the number of enemies as well.”
“And you have many of both.”
“I have not always lived a good life.” He sighed again. “I am lucky to have made it this far in one piece.”
“Very lucky,” she said and smiled warmly at him. Her fingers brushed his cheek. “And not only are you drunk,” she said, “but you did not shave today.”
“I forgot,” he said. “You were not here and so I forgot.”
“I must be here for you to remember to shave?”
“Yes,” he nodded. “If you are not here, I don’t care how I look. But if you are here, I try to look as young as I can.”
“And why is that?” she teased.
“To keep you here.”
“Are you afraid I will leave if you do not look young?”
“I am always afraid,” he said, suddenly very serious, “that you will leave.”
“You are a foolish man sometimes,” she said, then slipped off the arm of the chair into his lap. “Do you know that? So very, very foolish sometimes.”
“Yes,” and he closed his eyes as he leaned his head against her chest. “That is another reason why I am afraid. I can’t help but wonder why a lovely woman like yourself would stay with a foolish, unshaven old man.”
“You’re not so old,” she said, and brushed her lips against his forehead. “Now if you will shave every day, I will only have to put up with your foolishness.”
“Can you do that?” he asked, his eyes still closed, his breath stuck somewhere in his chest.
“Haven’t I always?” she said. And her tongue licked his ear, her mouth found his, her fingers in his hair, her chest tight against him, and the chair, being a recliner, slid back as she hiked up her skirt and mounted him and once again all doubts, all worries, all thoughts of the outside world disappeared as the two of them made love as if for the first time, as if there were no years separating them, as the day ended and a long night began.

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