Rizzo doesn’t really like going to Istanbul anymore. There was a time, back in the 1980s, when he actually enjoyed the city, or at least parts of it, his friends here, the club scene, the parties, or at least what he remembers of the parties since there is an alcoholic haze to most of his recollections from those decades, or actually all past decades, whether in New York, Istanbul, or sunny California. He was covering mostly music back then, before he shifted entirely over to social issues and stayed almost exclusively in New York, and LA was important, which is where he met Burcu for the first time, at an industry party with some guy posing as a manager who was just trying to get in her pants, she being this new young singer from Turkey who still didn’t know her way around but knew enough to know she was in over her head with that so-called manager, and Rizzo was being the White Knight back then, saving her from those lecherous hands and taking her back to New York with him, still chaise, but as things would have it, not for very long.
They fell in love somewhere between the LA party and landing at Kennedy, maybe it was on the plane, or at baggage claim, but somewhere, somehow, this young, beautiful woman with the dark, sensuous eyes captivated him, and he was lucky enough to captivate her, and sparks flew, they had dinner at the hotel he booked for her, went to a club that night where she met Peter and Cemal, with whom she bonded with instantly, two Turks in NYC, and though she and Rizzo didn’t sleep together that night, they did the next and soon Rizzo found himself transcontinental as he made constant trips back and forth across the ocean to see her in Istanbul where her career was just taking off. And Cemal spent half his time here, too, having family here and connections, his father having been, before his untimely death, a well-known journalist, and he helped introduce Rizzo around so he wasn’t some oddball American chasing this beautiful rising Turkish star, and before he knew it, after a few years of racking up frequent flyer miles on Turkish Airlines, both Peter and Cemal were the witnesses at his wedding to Burcu and though she lived with him in New York, she spent half the year traveling in Turkey and Europe where her popularity grew. And Cemal was here as often as he was in America, chronicling the music scene here as well as there.
Cemal is the best photographer at the magazine today. Today, yesterday, is, was. How everyone is ever going to reconcile Cemal and the past tense is a mystery to Rizzo. He just doesn’t know how he personally is going to do this. Cemal and Peter are his two closest friends. He practically grew up with Peter but Cemal came into both of their lives over forty years ago at the magazine when Harvey, desperate for reporters and a photographer, hired the three of them on the very same day when they were all still in college: Peter and Rizzo at Queens College, Cemal at City College. So everything Rizzo worked on, everything he is, Cemal is a part of. They were all so young when they started that they grew up together and grew old together, but now, now he’s gone and the void in Rizzo’s life is still unbelievably fresh.
Of course what makes the flight out here bearable is Peter in the next seat and plenty of alcohol. Not that they talk much, certainly not about Cemal, but they do make a significant dent in the supply of tiny scotch and bourbon bottles they keep on those carts they push around and knowing they’ll be met at the airport and driven to the hotel allows them a certain amount of abandon to the drinking.
They check into their rooms at the hotel in Suadiye near where Cemal has his studio, and after unpacking, Rizzo has a few quick shots from the bottle of Black Bush he packed along with his suit and underwear while staring out the window in his room at the series of islands called Prince’s Islands in the Marmara Sea. He almost feels peaceful remembering picnicking there in the old days with Burcu, but then remembers why he is here, and so looks at the number Harvey gave him for Cemal’s cousin Meral, who, he is told, will explain many things, including how exactly Cemal died. But first things first, and that is the memorial service being held this afternoon and then whatever light she can shed on Cemal’s sudden death.
Rizzo always feels funny wearing a black suit, looking somber, his black dress shoes shined, cuff links in his grey shirt, a patterned black and grey tie, shaved, and sober. Of course doing it to attend funeral services for one of his two best friends doesn’t make him feel any better, and then adding that to the fact that he gets to the mosque just as everyone is leaving for the cemetery only increases his unease. There are so many people pouring out into the street as Peter and he get out of their taxi that they almost get back in, but then they spot a few familiar faces from the music scene here in Istanbul and one, Zelal Gur, a singer of some renown and a friend of Burcu’s, comes over to help.
“I should know you two will be here,” she says, smiling, though a bit tight around the corners. “We are going now to bury him. You can go in one of the mini buses they have just for that.” And she points out two mini buses double parked on the street. “Just get in,” she says. “They will take you.”
She gives Rizzo a seductive smile which he finds slightly inappropriate considering why they’re here, but then again what can you expect from a redhead with five sets of earrings and a butterfly tattoo on the inside of her right thigh which Rizzo inadvertently discovered one drunk, lonely night when Burcu was not sleeping with him anymore during their first of three periods of estrangement. But that was a long time ago and he’s so much wiser now, or at least not as foolish. But as Peter and he climb into the mini bus, he notices her pointing them out to a thin, dark haired young woman in a black dress who looks over at them before she is ushered off to a waiting car and the door to their bus shuts to follow them.
The ride to the cemetery takes a half hour since it is located in an outlying area of the city. Everyone leaves their cars or files out of the mini buses and congregates around a freshly dug grave. It is then Rizzo sees Cemal’s body, draped in a white burial shroud, lying on the ground beside the grave. An Imam with a prayer shawl covering his shoulders and a beard so bushy Rizzo cannot see his mouth move begins reading from the Koran and everyone stands, their hands upraised to heaven, the women covering their heads for this ceremony, and the men and women alike, with moist eyes or openly sobbing, stand motionless in the sun. Images of Cemal flood his mind as he stands there trying to think of a prayer he can say that Cemal would not only hear but that Rizzo could honestly recite without feeling a hypocrite, but it is more than he can bear. A prayer, he thinks, a prayer. But nothing comes to mind, just 45 years of images floating through his brain.
Then the body is lowered into the grave and family and friends begin throwing dirt in. A shovelful here, a shovelful there, the thin young woman in the black dress is one of the first, and soon he finds himself standing there with a shovelful of dirt looking down at Cemal’s body wrapped in that shroud lying on the bottom of that grave with clumps of dirt partially covering him, and he lets it fall, watches it tumble down to Cemal’s legs and thinks this is not happening, Cemal will rise soon, laugh at the joke, take pictures of them all mourning him, chronicle his own funeral, but, of course, that doesn’t happen and Rizzo shoves the shovel into the mound of dirt and moves aside as Peter takes his place, then someone else, and they move to the back of the crowd, out of the way.
Rizzo is numb, standing there in his black suit, the sun does not warm him, and he shivers slightly, feeling weak somehow, as if the exertion of throwing dirt was more than he could handle. He wants to sit down all of sudden but there is nowhere to sit, and as people move off, he finds himself walking, too, toward the mini bus, toward a seat, thinking he needs a drink, needs to sit, in Jake’s, with a glass of Bushmill’s in front of him and Miles Davis’ trumpet kissing ballads in the background, when suddenly the thin young woman in black is beside him and takes hold of his arm to stop him.
“Please,” she says, “come back to the house, my parents’ house. There is food.” And she looks at him with large, sorrowful eyes and adds, “We need to talk.”
“We do?” Rizzo asks.
“I’m Meral,” she says. “Cemal’s cousin.” She smiles weakly. “You probably don’t remember me.”
“We met before?” he asks, a little stunned that he should not remember someone he would most definitely not forget. It’s the eyes, really, that are her most compelling feature. They are clear, open, inquisitive. They look at the world as if it is the strangest, most wondrous place they have ever seen and they are now considering taking up residence. These are not critical eyes, though, but they are appraising. A jeweler might have these eyes or an archaeologist. They study without judgment, but there is, at times, a look of bemused indulgence. And so the eyes are definitely most intriguing, but the face, too, is also exotic, with traces of Eastern Turkey about it, an almost Persian face, staring at him now across the centuries.
“Many years ago,” she says. “I was with my cousin in his studio here in the city and you came by to see him.”
“When was that?”
“Over twenty years ago,” and she smiles again, “so it’s understandable that you don’t remember. You had long hair then and a Fu Manchu mustache and I was about twelve and in pigtails.”
“You’d think I’d remember the pigtails at least,” and Rizzo smiles back. “You, of course, have grown since then.”
“And you cut your hair and shaved.”
“We both seemed to have changed our styles.”
“Was I there?” Peter asks. “Or absent, as usual?”
“Absent,” Meral says, “but much discussed.”
“Ah,” he goes. “Good things, I hope.”
“Always,” she says. Then she leads both of them to a car, and they all get in the back, Meral between Peter and Rizzo, and she holds their hands as the car moves forward, carrying the three of them silently to her parents’ house back in Suadiye.
“Cemal had his studio near our house,” she says. “I could walk to it, and he often came to eat lunch with my mother and my father if he happened to be home. He also used to like to walk Bagdat Street at night looking for a place to eat, or sitting at one of the Starbucks watching the people walk by, the faces mostly. He was always most interested in the faces.”
She grows silent then, biting her lower lip to stop it from quivering, and staring intently at the back of the seat in front of her, staying focused, to stop from crying. She knows she needs to speak to them, to Rizzo especially, about what happened to Cemal, but she is unable to at this moment without breaking down. So she remains silent, pulled into herself until she has complete control. And once at her parents’ house, she thinks, she will have that control.
There are many people there, filtering in and out of the rooms, chairs set up everywhere, women in the kitchen cooking as food is being brought out on plates and given to the guests, many of them relatives but also a large gathering of music industry people, but only Rizzo and Peter from The States, this having been so sudden that even Harvey could not get away in time, and then Rizzo gets a surprise when he sees his daughter in a corner, in a black dress and heels, looking so much like her mother that he thinks for a second he is back in time, at some industry party 25 years ago, and Burcu is sitting, waiting for him. But then Cansu is up, coming across the floor toward him, saying “Dad” and hugging him tightly, her tears wetting his shoulder, his arms enfolding her slender shape as it shivers against him, trying with little success to protect her from the reality of death.
“I can’t believe it,” she says. “I just can’t believe it.”
Of course none of them can believe it, which only makes it more difficult to handle, to soothe away, to explain. And Rizzo stands holding his daughter wondering just what to say. Finally all that comes to mind is, “How did you get here?”
“Mom called,” she says, still holding on tight though not trembling any longer. “She’ll be here tomorrow. She just couldn’t get here today.”
He nods, thinking, yes, of course, and then wonders why he didn’t call her, why she didn’t call him, all the whys and why nots running through his mind and adding to the surreal feeling in his brain.
“Why don’t you have a cell phone, Dad?” Cansu asks, and he realizes he’s heard that question before, will probably hear it again, and thinks maybe things would be different if he was more available than he is, has always been.
“Is this Cansu?” Peter asks, moving over to Rizzo’s side while holding two glasses of cay.
“Uncle Peter,” she says and quickly embraces him, almost causing him to spill the tea.
“Careful,” he says. “This is the only thing I could get to drink around here.”
“Oh, you haven’t changed at all,” she says.
“But you have,” he says. “When did you stop being ten and grow up into a woman?”
“Oh I’m not a woman yet,” Cansu says and laughs. “I’m a college student.”
“Oh,” Peter nods. “That explains it.” Then he hands Rizzo a tea. “Here,” he says. “Drink this and pretend.”
Rizzo then introduces Cansu to Meral. “This is my daughter Cansu,” he says. “And this is Cemal’s cousin Meral.”
“I’ve heard a lot about you,” Meral says.
“Me, too,” Cansu says. “Cemal is always saying Meral this and Meral that.” And then she realizes she is still talking about Cemal in the present tense and looks almost frightened.
Meral, sensing what is wrong, hugs her. “I know,” she says. “I do it, too.”
They stand there then, the four of them: Meral holding Cansu, Rizzo and Peter holding glasses of cay, and all feel immense sorrow settling in. It becomes difficult for them to breathe. Finally Meral leads them all to meet her parents.
Her father Serkan is a big man: broad shoulders, broad forehead, broad, welcoming smile, though today, tingled with sadness. He hesitates slightly, unsure just how to greet them, then opts for the Western style handshake. Her mother is a short, thin, dark eyed woman who bears a striking resemblance to Meral. Her eyes are ringed with red and later both Rizzo and Peter find out she is the sister of Cemal’s mother. They do not speak English and so Meral translates, “I’m sorry”, “So sorry”, “this loss”, “Cemal”. And everyone looks off, their eyes lost in the room of so many people, so much tears. There are people tugging at Meral’s attention and she apologizes as she leaves them alone for a little while.
“She was Cemal’s favorite cousin,” Cansu says as they watch her moving from group to group, playing the hostess in her parents’ home. “Didn’t he mention her to you?”
Rizzo shrugs, lost in thought, thinking how little he knew of Cemal’s life here, how little he knows of his daughter’s life here, of Burcu’s. It is as if he cut himself off from Istanbul and the people in it, the music scene that is the center of Burcu’s world, was so much a part of Cemal’s, severed his interest in it as he and Burcu grew farther apart, and had even relinquished his daughter to this life, to Burcu’s world and to the world of her grandparents and aunts, uncles, cousins here. Had willingly become just a voice on the phone, an email address, instead of a father, a friend.
“Do you know any of the people here?” Peter asks her.
“Some, because of Mom,” she says.
“Did you see a lot of Cemal while he was here?”
“Always,” and she smiles remembering the impromptu lunches, the times he would drop in on her at school to take pictures of her and her friends, to meet them at a club, to teach her the horon, to guide her through an art exhibit at a museum. He was her favorite uncle because she saw him more than all the others combined, because he took a real interest in her world, her life. And because he was the one link to her absent father she could always count on.
Rizzo looks at her for a long moment, realizing that he knows so little about her, his own daughter, and that Cemal knew more than he, and yet he never spoke of it, never told him about his life here, these people, his daughter, his cousin, the people he was close to, probably even Burcu who he saw, too.
“What?’ Cansu says, looking at him quizzically.
Rizzo shakes his head as if to clear it but that doesn’t really work, it still being a fog, a mystery to him. “Nothing,” he says. “I’m just taking you in. I rarely see you anymore and, like Peter, I’m still not adjusted to seeing you as a young woman.”
“That’s because you don’t have Facebook,” she says. “If you had Facebook, you could see lots of me. Cemal is always taking pictures…” and then she stops, remembering again where they are, and why, and she suddenly loses her power of speech.
Peter clears his throat and says, “I don’t know about you, but I can sure use a drink about now. And I’m not talking tea.”
Rizzo nods, looks at his daughter, says, “Maybe we can go somewhere. You know somewhere we can go?”
And Meral is back then, and looks not at all surprised by the question. “You want to go somewhere?”
Both Rizzo and Peter nod.
“Maybe it’s best,” she says. “We need to talk anyway.” She looks back toward her parents, the crowd of family and friends, all milling about. “Let me tell my parents.”
And while she is extricating herself from her responsibilities, both Rizzo and Peter stare at each other without saying a word. Cansu looks from one to the other and then asks her father, “Can I come, too?”
“Sure,” Rizzo says. “But you don’t drink, do you?”
“Dad,” she says, sighing, “I am twenty years old.”
Rizzo looks perplexed for a second, then says, “So what does that mean?”
“I think that means the concept is not foreign to her,” Peter says. “We were twenty once, too, remember?”
“No,” Rizzo says. “But I’ll take your word for it.”
Meral joins them then and leads the way outside. “We’ll take my car,” she says.
“Are we going to Taksim?” Cansu asks. “Because if we are, I’ll follow in mine.”
“I thought we’d go to Kadikoy,” Meral says. “It’s closer.”
“Then I’ll come with you,” Cansu says. She hooks her arms with Rizzo’s and Peter’s and says, “C’mon, Dad, Uncle Peter. It’s not what you’re used to, but I know you’ll both adapt.”
The bar is named after a German city and is dimly lit with American rock music on the sound system and though there’s no Irish whiskey, they do have several varieties of scotch so Peter is happy and Rizzo does as his daughter suggests: he adapts. He has a single malt neat with a glass of ice water as a back. Meral has an Efes on tap and Cansu has a glass of white wine.
“You drink?” Rizzo asks in spite of himself.
“Yes,” Cansu says. “But not to excess.” And she smiles. “I take after Mom that way.”
Rizzo nods and then looks at Meral. “I drink, too,” she says. “Is that okay?”
“Hey,” Peter chimes in. “Whatever floats your canoe.” Then he looks at Rizzo and says, “To the boys upstate.”
“To all the boys,” Rizzo adds. “Old and new.” And they touch glasses, then drink.
“Shouldn’t we be drinking to Cemal?” Cansu asks.
“We are,” Peter says. “More or less, anyway.”
“It’s an old toast,” Rizzo explains, “from our high school days. It’s a toast for all those not with us, for whatever reason. And now…” and he stops, looks off somewhere and almost sees Cemal there, standing off by the bar, smiling his way.
“He was murdered, you know,” Meral says. They all look at her. She stares off toward the bar, too, and Rizzo wonders if she sees Cemal, also. But she sees nothing. And that is what she wishes to see. “They found his body beaten, with three bullets in him: one in the forehead, the other two in his chest. A professional hit, they tell me.” She takes a sip from her beer, then replaces the glass on the table and stares at it.
“Any idea why?” Rizzo asks after a long second.
She shakes her head. “What reason could there be?” she asks. “Everyone loved him.”
No one knows what to say then, so they all sit staring at their drinks. Rizzo feels especially bitter and swallows the scotch, then signals to the waiter to bring another. “And there are no clues?”
“None,” she says, and though Rizzo expects her eyes to water, they do not. Instead there is a hardness that surfaces, coating them as they stare straight ahead. Then she looks at him and says, “I cannot accept that.”
Rizzo stares at her for a long moment. He is unsure just what to say, or even how to say it. He wishes he knew her better, then almost laughs when he realizes he doesn’t know her at all, so how can he understand just what she means by that. He looks at Peter who widens his eyes a bit, then looks at his drink. Finally he says to her, “We all have a hard time accepting his death.”
“Not his death,” Meral says, her eyes like points of a knife. “It’s how he died. I cannot accept that.”
“You can’t accept it?”
“No,” she says. “I must find out why and who?”
“That,” Rizzo says, “is something for the police to do.”
“They can try,” she says, “but so will I.” Then she looks at him and adds, “And I was hoping you’d help me.”
“Help you do what?”
“Find his killers.”
Rizzo looks at her very carefully, at the way her jaw is set, at the fierceness in her eyes, the way her shoulders pull back and her head sits firmly on those shoulders. He admires her strength but also suspects it comes partly from her youth and her naiveté.
“And how could I do that?”
“You’re an investigative reporter. We could investigate.”
He almost laughs, but doesn’t think the occasion warrants that, his heart still too heavy with Cemal’s death on it, so he looks off again, toward the bar, toward where Cemal should be standing watching him if he were still alive, laughing with him at the absurdity of it, but no one is there besides the bartender wiping glasses and the waiter sitting on a stool swaying slightly to the music, Steely Dan from the Aja album, on the bar’s sound system. He longs for Jake’s, for New York, for a return to normalcy, but knows he is denied that now, there being no normalcy left.
Peter stirring in the booth opposite him pulls him back to the here and now in Istanbul and he looks at his old friend who looks back, his eyes unable to hide the sadness he feels. Then he turns to his daughter sitting next to him and sees that she, too, is looking at him as if she expects something, and so it all gets a bit complicated in his heart.
“How can I help here?” he says. “This is Turkey, not New York. I can’t even pronounce the street names.”
“I can help,” Meral says. “I’ll be your guide, your translator. We’ll work together.”
“Do you even know what a journalist does?” he asks.
“Of course,” she says, defiance in her voice, her posture. “I’m one, too.”
“You’re a journalist?”
“Yes,” she says. “I even studied it at Berkley.”
“Yes,” she smiles. “Surprised?”
“Uh, well, a little. But I guess that explains your English.”
“I had a 647 on my TOEFL.”
Rizzo smiles and says, “That means absolutely nothing to me.”
“It does to me,” Cansu says. “And that’s great.”
“That’s right,” Meral says. “You’re at Bosphorus University.”
And suddenly they are talking in academic riddles to both Rizzo and Peter who interrupts by saying, “Anyone hungry here?”
“You want to eat?” Meral asks.
“He always wants to eat,” Rizzo says.
“I have what is known as a bottomless pit,” Peter says. “For food, for alcohol, and anything else that falls in between.”
“I don’t think we need to go there,” Rizzo says.
“But we do need to go somewhere to eat,” Peter says. “I’m beginning to feel weak.”
And so they pay their tab and move off to a narrow street made even narrower by the tables lining what should be a sidewalk leaving a roadway wide enough for only two people to walk abreast of each other while waiters try to lure passing people into their restaurant by calling out the specials of the day. The street seems to specialize in fish restaurants with hamsi being prominent in most names. “It’s an anchovy from The Black Sea and very popular here,” Meral explains.
“I’ll eat anything once,” Peter says, “even twice, if need be.”
They sit at an outdoor table since the cool night air feels so good and none of them want to be inside. A lot of food is ordered, mostly mezes, but Peter manages to order two entrees, and, of course, wine and beer. “No whiskey, I suppose,” Peter says.
“They’ll get it for you if you want,” Meral says.
“I want,” Peter says, “and so does he,” and he indicates Rizzo who seems preoccupied watching Cansu pop oysters into her mouth and then wash them down with beer.
“What?” Cansu asks her father.
“Nothing,” he says, and then shakes his head slightly, as if to clear it, and adds, “Everything, really. I just can’t believe I’m sitting opposite you, watching you eat. It seems like such a long time ago that I’ve done that.”
She stops eating and just looks at him, her eyes growing tender. “It was a long time ago, Dad,” she says. “I haven’t lived in New York since grade school. And I only came to visit once a year, and you were rarely at home even then, so I spent most of my time with grandma Rizzo when she was alive.”
And they stare at each other, both regretting the past, a past filled with missed opportunities and long absences. It is then, or at least several seconds before when Rizzo was watching her eat, that they both realize they hardly know each other, even though they are biologically connected, and speak on the phone occasionally, write emails, or at least Cansu does and Rizzo sometimes cryptically answers, but the real details, the way one dresses, holds their fork, laughs at jokes, studies a menu, these things are foreign to them both. Rizzo is just a shadow to her, a father known more for what he writes in his weekly column than what he talks about among friends, and she is an idea to him of what it means to have offspring to carry on the family line. And a sadness descends, peppered by the loss of what was connective tissue for them both: Cemal.
“I hate to bring this up again,” Meral says, “but I must. Will you help me?”
Rizzo looks at her for a long moment and tries to concentrate on the basic question: will he help find whoever killed Cemal? That is what he really needs to answer. The how to do it will present its own difficulties: a foreign city, another language, and strange adversaries to face without his usual sources/connections. All of that, of course, can be dealt with if he really wants to find the person or persons responsible for the death of one of his two closest friends. Finally he asks, “What makes you think I can help?”
“Because you are who you are,” Meral says. “You’ve done this thing before. I’ve even read about you in my journalism classes.”
“You’ve read about me?”
“Yes,” she says. “And what I read inspired me and my fellow classmates to be journalists that could also change the world we live in.” And then she begins to recite the list, the casebook studies of his work exposing mob control in the music industry, the NYC parking ticket scandal, the real estate scam in the Bronx, immigration fraud, the sweat shops in Queens, the sex industry in Chinatown, the graveyard scandal in Brooklyn, and on and on, his eyes, his ears growing weary just listening to her, and remembering all the times he was the White Knight, Crusader Rabbit, running to the rescue of some helpless victim and shining the spotlight through his columns on the wicked and the depraved. And then weighing the gains, just what he got from all that work: over 40 years of sticking his nose where it wasn’t wanted and immersing himself first in the music, then in the social and political problems of New York, wanting to change the world, riding out on his charger once, very long ago, and doing battle with all that he thought needed beating, and after four decades of strife he found nothing had changed except him, finding himself older, with more grey hair on a thinner head of hair, blurred vision, shaking hands, and memories that won’t leave him alone. He lost friends to drink and drugs, a woman to the confusion of the times, and his energy to lost illusions. Now he feels weighed down by sadness because he couldn’t save a thing, and must try to be content with numbing his rage with whiskey and routines. If he could, he would, but he can’t. He can only try not to lose any more than he’s already lost, and try not to break whatever’s not broken. But how does he tell that to someone who wants to change the world even though they haven’t even seen it? How does he talk to youth?
“I just don’t know what kind of help I can be,” he says finally. “Besides, I have a job back in New York I can’t just walk away from, a house to maintain, a dog, a wife…” and here he suddenly loses his momentum, and looks over at Cansu who says nothing, just stares at him with eyes that are impossible to read. “Responsibilities,” he says. “I have responsibilities there. A life. And this, this is a foreign country a long way from my home.”
“I thought Cemal was your friend,” Meral says, her tone almost accusatory.
“He was,” Rizzo says. “He was more than that. He was my brother.” And here he looks over at Peter who does not look him in the eye.
“Then how can you not want to help?”
“But how can I?”
“Dad,” Cansu says, her voice low, her eyes on him. “This is about Cemal.”
“It’s also about Istanbul,” he says, exasperated. “What do I know about Istanbul? What do I want to know?”
“You could learn,” Meral says. “I’ll help you.”
“Me, too, Dad,” Cansu says. “I’ll help, also.”
He looks over at Peter who just shrugs and says, “Don’t look at me. I’m a duck out of water anytime I step out of any of the four boroughs.”
“There are five boroughs,” Rizzo says.
“I never count Staten Island,” he says. “And you know I prefer not to go anywhere I can’t get to in a subway or cab in less than an hour.”
“Even for Cemal?”
“Riz,” he says, “you’re the crusader. I’m just into music.”
“Dad,” Cansu says, her eyes imploring him.
Rizzo looks from his daughter to Meral and then asks, “You’re a journalist?”
“What do you write about?”
“Well music mostly,” she says. “And sometimes film reviews.”
“Entertainment, “ he says. “You write about entertainment.”
“Well,” and she says a little defensively, “just part-time.”
“And what do you write about full-time?”
“Just that,” she says.
“You’re a part-time journalist?” he asks. She nods. “And you cover entertainment?” She nods again. Then he looks at his daughter. “And you’re a college student.” He looks heavenward and then says, “And you two, a part-time entertainment journalist and a full-time college student are going to help me investigate a murder in a city I know absolutely nothing about.” He sighs. “Tell me why I shouldn’t be overjoyed at that prospect.”
“It’s for Cemal, Dad,” Cansu says.
And Meral adds, “I don’t know how to tell you how important he was to me.
Cemal was more than a cousin, he was like the big brother I never had, especially during the last two decades when he was spending half his time here in Istanbul. I was young and ambitious and I always thought I knew what I wanted even though I didn’t know what I wanted except that I wanted to accomplish great things. And Cemal, well, he was always so patient with me. He would listen to my dreams as if they were the most important plans he ever heard. Not just some little girl’s fantasies but the notions of a star.”
Peter and Rizzo smile remembering Cemal’s ability to listen. It was like his photography: his eyes were lenses, taking in all he saw without judgment and yet in the recording, judging just the same. And he would listen in such a way so as to encourage speech. He always seemed to be saying as he listened that what you said was the most astute thing he ever heard.
“You know what I mean?” she asks them. They nod. “He helped me to dream.”
“And your dreams?” Rizzo asks.
“I wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to change the world by what I write about what I see.” Then she looks intently into his eyes. “I know you understand this,” she says. “Isn’t that what you felt, still feel, about your work?”
And here Rizzo sits, confronted by her youth, unable to speak. He looks over at Peter who is no help at all. He is playing with his drink as if mixing ingredients, which is pretty senseless since he’s drinking straight whiskey. He avoids Rizzo’s eyes, though, as he focuses on his drink, so Rizzo looks back at this young person again who is searching his face for clues to his thoughts and he begins to wonder just what his thoughts are.
“I think,” he says, “that changing the world is a job for people like you. I’m just trying to stay on my feet.”
“But that doesn’t sound like the Rizzo I’ve read,” she says. “The Rizzo I read had passion.”
He looks at her as if she were from somewhere else, which is exactly where she’s from: from Istanbul, from a few decades that followed his youth, from the other side of sorrow and loss. He looks at her and wishes she would go away because looking at her makes him realize just how much trouble she could be. “I don’t know what Rizzo you’re talking about,” he says finally. “All I know is the Rizzo sitting here.”
Peter clears his throat and shifts in his seat. Rizzo then sees Cemal and Burcu looking at him from across the street and can almost feel his old dog nudging his elbow. He wants to stand and walk out of there but where would he go, what would he do? He thinks life is trouble enough without a troublesome woman reminding him of his better qualities. He knew he didn’t want to get up this morning but rising is another one of those mindless routines he’s grown so accustomed to lately. The only response he has is to pour a shot of whiskey down his throat, into his stomach, to deaden his brain. But somehow, he knows even if he had a bottle in front of him, it wouldn’t be enough. It never is.
“Okay,” he says finally, resigned to the inevitable. “I’ll hang around a little longer and see if I can shed any light on Cemal’s death. But,” and he looks at Cansu first, then at Meral, “don’t expect any miracles. I’m a little out of my element here, and with all due respect to both of your good intentions, I don’t know how much I can actually do.”
“I have faith in you,” Meral says.
“Me, too, Dad.”
And Rizzo looks at both of them and sighs. “That’s because neither of you really knows me.” And it saddens him to think that that statement is true even of his own daughter.
“So you will help me then?” Meral asks.
Help, he thinks. My help. A walk down dark alleys, looking under rocks, sniffing the ground for clues. An investigation. Something he knows how to do, having dug up enough dirt in his time, exposed enough corruption, gotten his hands dirty, his face slapped, his energy drained. And now, when he’s trying so hard not to break anything that’s not already broken, he’s being asked again to enter the fray. But this time it’s a little different. This time it’s personal. It’s about his friend.
“You’ll help find the truth?” Meral asks. “Help to see that justice is served?”
He almost sneers thinking justice is rarely served but then sees the earnestness in her plea and thinks he really has no choice but to do all he can to let his friend rest in peace and so he nods assent.
“Where do you want to begin?” she asks.
“At the studio,” he says. “Do you have the keys to his studio here?”
“Yes,” she nods.
“Then we’ll start there tomorrow.” Then he looks to the street, the people walking by, the waiters trying to entice more customers to sit at their tables, the sound of the voices, the smell of fish in the air, the cloudy milky color of the raki and water at the table next to theirs, and he closes his eyes, sighs again, and wishes the night away.