Being The Beginning Sunday, January 23, 2011
1 The Exchange Sunday, January 30, 2011
2 bildende Kraft Saturday, February 5, 2011
3 Gossamer Wings Friday, February 11, 2011
4 Nemesis Saturday, February 19, 2011
5 Odd Shoes Friday, February 25, 2011
6 al-Rûh Friday, March 4, 2011
7 A Love Supreme Thursday, March 10, 2011
8 The Three-Cornered Light Thursday, March 24, 2011
9 Serendipity Tuesday, April 5, 2011
10 The Watchman Friday, April 15, 2011
11 The Upright Way Sunday, April 25, 2011
12 Angels Wednesday, May 4, 2011
13 The Cave of Montesinos Tuesday, May 10, 2011
14 Idols Tuesday, May 10, 2011
15 Nightingale Sunday, May 15, 2011
16 The Perfect Square Sunday, May 22, 2011
18 The Uncontainable
19 The Ear of Malchus
20 Mauvais Pas
21 Sinan Qua Non
27 The Vanishing Point
28 The Cat Walks
29 The Approximate Likeness of Being
Becalming Unscientific Postscript
The Perfect Square
“. . . for the purposes of the calculation one must measure time using
imaginary numbers, rather than real ones. This has an interesting effect on
space-time: the distinction between time and space disappears completely.”
A Brief History of Time
Approaching from the Ayasofya Meydani direction, Jerome Flanagan turns left opposite the Haseki Hamani, the baths built by Sinan for Suleyman’s Roxelana, into Tevikhane Sok. The place of custody, he translates the name silently while walking alongside the high, grim walls before entering the doorway of the Four Seasons hotel and crossing the narrow lobby of the old, refurbished prison. A large, thick-necked concierge stares at him, then moves out, flashing his golden-keyed badge of expertise, and authority. Times have changed but not the jailers, Flanagan thinks, shaking his head, before stepping around the hulk to approach an auburn-haired receptionist. He has been walking all morning and knows he needs a shower.
‘Affedersiniz. You have a Dr. Rio Dawson staying with you,’ he says, looking around. ‘I apologise but I don’t know the room number.’
‘One moment please.’
The receptionist smiles back at him, dials with her right hand, while the left pushes back a single strand of loose hair behind her ear. This causes her name badge to move up and over a firm breast: Fusun. He notes her name, and also its declaration that she speaks English, Russian and French. Istanbul; always a city of many languages, and many secrets, he thinks. Fusun is a very attractive girl with long fingers, manicured nails and a bloody big ruby on her finger. Way out of his league, he thinks.
‘It is connecting, sir, please pick up the courtesy phone. Line 2.’
‘Tesekkur ederim,’ he says before picking up the phone.
‘Rio, it’s Jaffa.’
There is a silence then, ‘You . . . How dare . . . How did you know where I was?’
‘Mac told me.’
‘Did he tell you I came to Istanbul to find you. To have you arrested.’
‘Where are you? Hiding out somewhere like the sewer rat you are.’
‘Downstairs. In the lobby.’
‘You’ve a bloody nerve Jerome,’ she shouts. ‘I am calling the pol . . .’
Flanagan holds the phone away from his ear. Fusun, the ruby toting receptionist, notices. Her name badge rides up again. Shouting sounds much the same in English, French or Russian, Flanagan thinks: Dante’s vulgaris locutio; Eco’s 'simultaneous translation by angels'. He tries to calm the situation. ‘Rio. Come down stairs and talk to me. Give me a chance to explain. If you still want to inform the police, I’ll surrender myself.’ To you, he wants to add but doesn’t. Fusun the receptionist’s eyes widen. She looks at him and then at the concierge. He hears Rio’s breathing, and then her whispering with someone else. ‘Rio?’ he interrupts.
‘I’ll be down in five minutes. Jack’s with me.’
‘Right.’ Flanagan puts down the phone. ‘Tesekkur ederim,’ he says again.
The pretty receptionist nods and looks away.
A few minutes later he sees them. Rio and a man he assumes is Jack Dawson. The man looks angry, Flanagan thinks, watching him running point for Rio, whose head he sees bobbing above and behind. He is surprised. The man is as tall as Rio and has her skin colouring. For some reason he had expected him to be white. He doesn’t know why he had thought this. He holds out his hand as the man approaches. ‘Jerome Flanagan. You must be Jack, Rio's uncle. I’ve heard a lot about you.’
Jack Dawson ignores it and looks like he wants to hit him. ‘Son of a bitch! What the hell are you playing at, Flanagan.’
The concierge is watching closely, waiting for a signal, an invitation to get involved. Flanagan notices.
‘Nice hotel, Jack. Never could afford it myself but have eaten here once or twice. Great restaurant. Irish chef.’ He tries to lighten the mood.
‘Enough of your bullshit, Jerome! What did you want to say?’ Rio presses herself between them.
Flanagan knows he looks less cocky, less sure of himself. ‘Do you mind if we go somewhere private?’ he asks.
‘Why bother?’ Rio is dismissive; her tone screaming, screw the bastard.
‘Its probably a good idea,’ Jack agrees, noticing the concierge’s interest.
Rio relents and they walk by the restaurant and outside to what was once the inner courtyard of the old prison. What horrors would have taken place here in the past, Jerome wonders as he leads them to the stone staircase that leads to the hotel bedrooms – once the old cells – and sits on its lower rung. He touches a pillar that prisoners had carved their initials in – a matter of strange pride for the promoters of the hotel.
‘You had better start explaining, and fast,’ Rio demands. ‘By the way, what happened to Mac? He was non-contactable before I left.’
‘He was hauled in by the police for further questioning. I thought you knew?’
‘I did,’ Jack says quietly.
‘What?’ Rio is surprised and turns to glare at him.
‘That time… back in the apartment Rosalind. Gerry Flatley rang to fill me in. I didn’t want you becoming upset so I decided not to tell you.’
‘How dare you, Jack,’ she barks.
‘I’m sorry,’ he mumbles.
The belligerence melts away from Jack Dawson; like a snake shedding skin, Flanagan thinks, intrigued by the scene playing out before him: Jack wanting Rio’s approval, afraid of her disapproval. For a moment she hesitates, as if wishing to pursue the issue, but then stretches out a hand and touches Jack’s face, tenderly, indulgently. Something weird about this, he thinks, only half-suppressing a smile. Rio sees the smile, senses what he is thinking and turns on him. Her bitter annoyance spills out, ‘Don’t you dare make fun of this!’
Flanagan hesitates for a moment, calculates. ‘Fuck off, Rio. And grow up.’
She feels it like a slap, reels back.
‘Watch your mouth, you shit! You are in no position to . . .’ Jack barks, but then appears to regret exposing himself, his inner self, so easily. A red mist descends. He lashes out.
Flanagan sees it coming, more of a slap than a fist, and the blow glances off the side of his head, but with enough force to push him back against the pillar. The impact is sharp, his nose making first contact. He thinks he hears a crack. For a moment there is no pain, just a sense of inner rebound. Then it comes. Furious. Blood flows, spurts.
‘Fuck you, Dawson. You’ve broken my nose,’ Flanagan cries, but bends to his knees, hands over his face, in case other blows follow. His hand is twitching. He feels groggy, needs to collect himself, if he has to defend himself. They don’t come.
‘I doubt it,’ Jack says, looking at the blood.
‘Shit, Jack,’ Rio says, and, to Flanagan’s ears sounding pleased.
Jack is looking down at him. He exhibits no remorse and looks like he wants to hit him again and finish the job but then decides against it. ‘I’ll go and get a towel. It’s a long time since I hit anyone, and I’m little disturbed at the pleasure it brings. And pain,’ he says, rubbing his knuckles. ‘By the way Flanagan. What blood group are you?’
‘Why? Are you thinking of hitting me again?’
‘Given half a chance! What blood group are you . . . in case you’re unconscious or dead even?’
‘Get lost you moron!’
‘I’m serious Flanagan. Your blood group has a bearing on whether we help you or not. Either tell me, or I’ll beat it out of you!’ Jack Dawson said in an ice-cold tone.
Flanagan cannot be sure whether Jack is serious or not but answers anyway, ‘B Pos.’ He reaches into his pocket for his wallet. Pulls out a laminated card. Shows it. ‘They can have everything except my nose,’ he snorts through a mouthful of blood.
‘Right,’ Jack says, ignoring the sarcasm and sounding somewhat disappointed.
Flanagan watches him climb the stairs and disappear inside the building. He looks at Rio. ‘For some reason I did not expect him to be black . . . like you. He is very like you.’
Rio looks at him for a second, caught off-guard. ‘Grandpa Dawson was from Montserrat. He fought with the British army as an expert radio-operator and was assigned to a unit working with the Norwegian resistance during the war. That’s where he met my Grandmother.’
‘Romantic stuff,’ Flanagan remarks.
‘Hardly. My grandmother’s family had been ostracised, her father was a quisling, a collaborator with the Nazis. My grandfather understood the nature of prejudice, and its effects, given his experiences as a black man in a white army. He protected her from the retribution and, shortly after he was demobbed, they emigrated to Canada. He got a job as a park ranger, first in British Columbia and then later, after moving south, in Colorado. Jack is very like him whereas my mother was almost white, like my grandmother.’
‘I see,’ he says holding his nose nightly to stem the flow.
Rio sits down on the step beside him, tilts his head back, puts pressure on his nose. ‘Tell me about Mac.’
‘Why should I tell you anything?’ he grimmaces through the pain.
‘Listen, Jerome, I don’t give a shit about your nose. You had it coming. You lied to me.’
No sympathy here, he realises, just a broken nose, and pain. ‘Is it displaced?’ He takes his hand away. Tears and blood are mingling to flow down onto his shirt.
‘Do you think I had anything to do with the robbery?’
She hesitates for a second, thinking about her answer. ‘No! What about Mac?’
‘He was hauled in by an Inspector called Flatley. I think you know him.’
Two other guests, a man and a woman come down the steps and have to step around them. The man is in his 60s – white shirt, red tie, tailored dark-blue suit, slicked back black-grey hair, and flashing a gold Rolex watch. The woman, 30 or so – bottle-blonde, tanned, pouting lips, black dress, impossibly perfect breasts, a diamond necklace disappearing between those breasts and clutching a gold-coloured, clam-shaped bag. They stop, look back, see the blood, and shake their heads.
‘Earthquake,’ Flanagan says, watching the couple suddenly fret.
‘Come on. You better come up to my room,’ Rio says.
He gets up, unsteady on his feet, holding his nose. They climb the stairs and take the left-hand corridor leading to her room where they meet Jack leaving his. He has a wet towel in his hand. He steps aside and insists they use his room. Flanagan holds the towel to his nose. He feels it swelling, but the bleeding stops. Rio brings him a glass of water and two painkillers from her supply.
‘Whiskey would be better,’ he says tasting the dilute blood in his mouth.
‘Here,’ Jack obliges, having poured it for himself.
‘Go on about Mac,’ Rio insists, accepting a glass as well.
‘He was detained, and questioned. Not so much about Joe Reilly, because as you probably know the post-mortem has shown Joe had a heart attack, but in relation to the robbery and the disappearance of Phyllis Andrew.’
‘Mac had an alibi for the night of the robbery.’
‘What?’ Rio asks. Mac had said nothing about this to her.
‘Angie Townsend, a daughter of one of the Friends of the Library! Works in the bookshop occasionally. Attractive.’
‘What about her?’ Rio demands, already guessing the answer.
Not in quite the way she thinks, Flanagan cautions himself, before deciding to continue. ‘She has put herself through college, Philosophy and Economics. Now doing a Masters. Works as an escort to pay the –’
‘A fucking hooker?’ Rio instantly regrets her brutality.
‘Mac has been availing of her services for a year or so . . . whenever he could afford it.’ He remembers that Mac referred to Angie as his ‘being counter’ but does not say this. ‘Nice kid, it seems. Had a conscience and came forward.’
‘That’s great.’ Rio says lamely. And then her eyes narrow. ‘And I was going to gift him . . . All men are the same. Bastards!’ she says looking at him: looking right through him.
‘Why did you run off, Flanagan? And why did you lie to Rosalind?’ Jack asks, seeing the flicker of pain cross his niece’s face and wanting her to know that men are not all the same. He catches her eye, lifts his hand slightly, spreads the fingers back, and apologizes for them all.
She ignores him, Flanagan notices and for the moment men as a malignant species are all lumped together. ‘I keep warning you Rio, that the kitab al-Ruh, the Book of the Messenger, and what it represents, is very dangerous ground. Word will have got out very quickly. There would only be the narrowest timeframe of opportunity to try and track it down. I had to take that opportunity, to keep you out of it . . .’ He looks at her, sees she does not believe him, ‘ . . . to keep you out of danger.’
‘Bullshit,’ she flares. ‘Why did you tell me the idol was nesr and not hekim and that –’
‘Rio!’ Jack wants to stop her.
‘– you had access to a letter that would point you to a dealer who probably had the Book at one stage,’ she continues.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Melek Hekim, the dealer’s agent who wrote to Beatty in Egypt.’
‘How did –’ Flanagan was stunned again, more so than from the blow.
‘James Somerville showed it to us. It was easy to work out its significance.’ Jack added, enjoying the second hit.
‘Who else knows?’ Flanagan says, alarmed.
‘Just us. Why . . . and please go way beyond your pathetic excuse that you want to protect us.’ Rio is determined.
‘You . . . you are right. Mac and I–’
‘Let me explain Rio,' Flanagan implores, wanting Rio and Jack to listen. 'I first heard about the Book of the Messenger along time ago, while sourcing manuscripts for the Library. In my time at the museum, Mac and I always worked as a team, trawled through every bit of information we could lay our hands on, looking for clues. Recently, a dealer friend, here in Istanbul, showed me two letters, one from the 17th century and one from the twentieth. Both gave credence to the existence of the Book and then, out of the blue, along comes your discovery of the parchment letter and a further clue to the Book’s possible resting place . . . at least back in the 17th century. I wondered . . . and then was afraid.’
‘Wondered what?’ Jack Dawson asks, wanting to keep him on the defence.
Flanagan spends the next 30 minutes further explaining the contents of the two letters that Ismâil the bookseller had shown him and how the bookseller had told him that they had probably been recovered from the wreck of Symmonds’ car and also about Ismâil’s warning that the car crash not being an accident. He then concluded, ‘Mac and I always thought that old Prof Symmonds, was after the same thing as us. It is likely he was cataloguing the old Silander box from the Curragh Military museum, the one that Rio worked on, and came across the letters but somehow missed the etching, and the letter that Rio found, in his excitement. He must have dashed off to Turkey in hot pursuit, almost certainly called attention to himself, and the Book, and then paid the ultimate price. Because the car and his belongings, including the letters, were stolen before those responsible for the accident could get to them a ‘sleeper’, Ahmed al-Akrash, was positioned in the Chester Beatty in case they resurfaced there, if for example the robbers tried to enter into a negotiation with the museum.’
‘How do we know you’re not bullshitting us?’ Jack was trying desperately not to believe him.
Flanagan could see Rio relaxing, letting down her guard . . . again. ‘Come with me tomorrow. I have spent all day today on the Ok Meydani searching for clues, reaching a dead end. The Book existed in 1931, and it still exists, that I am certain of. It cannot be lost under concrete. I feel is presence all around me. There is something out there that I am missing which will point us to its present whereabouts. Leon Arslan and the mysterious Melek Hekim are the keys. I am meeting my friend Ismâil tomorrow. He has some further news. Come with me to meet him. Search with me.’
‘Ok,’ Rio said, flatly.
‘What? He’s fooling with you, Rosalind... with us.’ Jack Dawson blustered protectively. ‘I don’t trust him.’
Flanagan watches as she turns to Jack, calming him with her eyes, her smile. ‘I believe him, Jack . . . at least I believe he had nothing to do with the break in. He’s obsessed with the Book and now that were here surely it will do no harm to help. I still want to try and recover the parchment. We might hear something to help point us in the right direction.’
It wasn’t this logic that made Jack Dawson back down, Jerome Flanagan sensed, as Jack gave him one of his own shirts to wear. As he and Rio left the room Jack warned him with his eyes. She walked him as far as the courtyard steps where he paused on the lowest rung, to smile at her. ‘I am always having uncomfortable meetings in this place.’
‘Alanna?’ she asked.
He nodded and turned to walk away. The concierge was standing, waiting on the far side of the courtyard. Flanagan looked at the pillar, and its tortured names, and then around him, at the Square of Justice. He turned back to call to her when he was half way across. ‘Did you know that the Pythagorean’s equated justice, and its virtue of fairness, with the number 4. A perfect square: the product of two equal forces, good and evil, right and wrong, subjugation and being subjugated . . . reciprocity.’
‘Where shall we meet?’ she asked, quietly.
‘The Church of St Saviour in Chora, the Kariye mosque. 11.45. Ok?’
She nodded and was gone.
The hulk of a porter, on the other hand, and his perfect square jaw, followed Flanagan out through the lobby of the hotel. He pulled up short at the door as Flanagan had stopped to light a cigarette before walking up the street. A short distance later, Flanagan felt nervous, sensing that other eyes were on him, tracking him. He turned around quickly, but could see nothing untoward: no shadows moving other than the porter retreating from the doorway of the hotel, a mobile phone to his ear. He shook the unease off, putting it down to tiredness, and headed for the Hotel Nomade and sleep.