Smyrna 1911 Maisie`s Progress part 2
Posted: 06 November 2018
Word Count: 3705
Summary: The following is as far as Maisie has progressed. Maisie and Behzat is two of about ten central characters.
This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.
This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.
Maisie read the note again. it read, ‘There is a matter I would like to discuss with you. Would it be convenient for you to attend the Police House at 3.00 pm on Saturday?’ It was signed Commiser Behzat. Maisie knew who Behzat was but could only guess at what he might want. Had her exit from Paris caught up with her already? She hardly thought so. The Conte had a great deal of influence, of course, and could easily have informed the Smyrna Police of her arrival. But why? The last thing he would have wanted was to have Maisie back in Paris.
Some days later
“Please make yourself comfortable, Miss Mansfield.” Behzat indicated a divan by the window. He did not sit at his desk but took the chair where guests would normally sit. “Can I bring you some tea? Or limonada?”
“No thank you, sir.” What do I call this copper?
“Or if you prefer, kadaifi. Do you have sweet tooth, I love lochum, but my favourite is honeyed orange peel.” Maisie smiled and shook her head.
“I trust I have not inconvenience you too much.”
“Not at all, it’s a pleasure” said Maisie, “I have heard so much about you. it's nice to meet you in person.”
“I hope I have not disappointed you”
“I haven't known you long enough to be appointed or disappointed.” Behzat laughed.
“Let us hope that does not arise. I endeavour to show our foreign visitors the breadth of our Turkish hospitality. I consider it my duty to deliver complete satisfaction.”
“Lovely.” Maisie beamed.
“Well now. Let me come to the point. It seems that your employment at the Huck was arranged by a letter of recommendation from Paris.”
“That’s right. M. Avedissian is an old friend of the Conte de Tourballe. The Conte stays at the Huck when he is in Smyrne.” Name-dropping is fine so long as you don’t don't overdo it. One more time, just for luck. “The Conte is an old friend of mine so when I told him I wanted to visit the Ottoman world he was kind enough to give me a letter of introduction to M. Avedissian.”
“Evet, Mademoiselle,yes, I am aware of these matters. However, it appears that the Ministry of the Interior is not. They know nothing of your engagement at the Grand Huck, consequently, not aware of your existence, unaware that you are even in the country. Anything could happen to you.”
“But I had my passport stamped on arrival. All my papers were in order”
“Just so, but that stamp permits you only to visit the country. It does not, usually” he examined his fingernails, “allow you to practice your profession.”
“My profession. You mean as a stage artiste”
“As you say. As a stage artiste”
“But all I do is sing and dance a little.”
“Oh, you dance too. I did not know that. Have you informed to Ottoman Folk Dance Society of your work?” He looked at her, “No, I thought so. There appears to be a number of violations that need some attention. Also, there is the question of tax payable on your earnings. Here in Smyrna, our Greek cousins have an beneficial arrangement with the Ministry of Finance and Excise,” his voice dropped by ten decibels, “they pay whatever they care to.” He got up a moved to the window beside the divan. However, I do not think that particular flexibility would be open to an American citizen.” He looked away from the window and down at Maisie, “Do you?” Maisie paused,
“Well, what about that? A home run and I bet you’ve never even heard of baseball.”
“Home run?. I don’t understand.”
“I bet you don’t, Captain.” Behzat considered this epithet: Captain, a rank which did not exist in the Ottoman Police but he did enjoy the sound of it, Captain Behzat. Meanwhile Maisie was thinking ‘This guy wants to eat me and bury the bones for later. Aw well, here we go.’ “Yes sir, I’m so sorry. I didn’t realise all those things. I just thought the letter would take care of all that. I’m so sorry.” Behzat was looking out of the window again. He did not respond. Outside, the packet from Constantinople was disgorging its passengers at Konak Quay. A melee of horses, camels, carts and all their attendants were performing a dance that took place every day at this hour. He could see Ugur, whistle in hand, trying to organise the throng. Behzat smiled. The young policeman had little chance of success, like asking worms to stand to attention.
“What’s so funny, Captain?
“I was just observing my young colleague. In years to come I am sure he will make a fine police officer.”
“I still don’t see the joke.”
“There is no joke, Mademoiselle Mansfield, you are here in Turkey with no papers, no work permit, no tax accreditation. You are little more than a refugee.” She had a chilly feeling she knew where this was going. “Why, if you permit me to say” he was looking straight at her, “you are not not even under the care of a guardian. Life can be difficult here in Turkey for a woman on her own, no-one to watch out for her, no-one to help her.” Behzat sat down on the divan. “As things stand, it is my duty to send you back to Paris. It may be on a train. It may be on a boat.”
“It seems. Captain, I’ve got myself into a pickle.” In for a penny. “Is there any way out of this?
“Well, Maisie. I may call you Maisie, may I not?” His voice was softer now. “The situation is serious, but not critical. Here in Turkey, Allah smiles all. But our success is not due to Allah alone. We Turks are a pragmatic people. We learned long ago there are many roads to the same destination. Sometimes, like the Romans, the direct route is desirable while at other times, very much like your very own countrymen, a more relaxed journey is preferred.”
“I’m not quite following you.” She said, though she had not paid so much attention since she had arrived. “What Romans?”
“Here in Turkey we like to trade. You know the word barter? It means we exchange something you want for something I want. No money changes hands, that is the beauty of the arrangement. It is an arrangement between friends. What is of little value to each party before the transaction, is bartered for something of greater value after the transaction. In Turkish we call it serendipity.” ‘In America we call it hogwash, thought Maisie. Behzat got up and moved to his desk. He sat down and appeared to think deeply. Finally, he said,
“Mademoiselle Mansfield, Maisie. Like you, I am alone. I too sometimes need the comfort of another human being, someone who can help overcome the stresses of the day’s toil. I think it would be possible for me to work on the necessary papers for you, if you might share an evening or two helping me overcome the burdens of my authority.”
“And how exactly could I help you overcome the burdens of your authority?” He paused as if considering the options.
“My bed is large and it seems irreverent to sleep in it alone” He was up again, ants in his pants. He moved to the divan sat down and placed a hand on Maisie’s knee.
“Now, just wait a second. Are you saying that if I sleep with you, you will sort things out for me? Is that what you’re saying?”
“You will find me a generous benefactor.”
“Well, let me tell you, you can bennie your own factor. I thought you Turks were gentlemen. You’re no different to those Frenchies, you toad.”
“Mademoiselle, you are a desirable woman. You are like Turkish Delight to a man. Frenchies or Turks. You are very beautiful.”
“Yes, you’re right there. What you think is beautiful, you Frenchies and Turks should keep in your pants.”
“You are making a big mistake” he moved closer to her.” I could make things very difficult for you. I, and I alone, know the reasons why you were forced to leave Paris. If this were to become common knowledge do you think you would last a minute here in Smyrna?” She was surprised, rocked would be a better description, but either way, she was astounded.
“You wouldn’t” the words escaped like a captive bird from a cage. It had thrown her brain sideways. ‘Think, woman’.’ Again, involuntarily, she turned away.
“Things don’t have to be like that” He, gentle, almost pleading.
“I’m so glad you see it that way”
“There’s no need to worry, pashas” From behind he put his hands on her shoulders.
“Well, I am worried. There.”
“There is nothing to be worried about. We will be good friends and I will see to it that our mutual secrets stay secret.” His hand moved from her shoulder to her hip. “There’s no reason for you to get upset. I’ll look after you.” His hand slid under her arm, across her body and found her breast. Maisie took a slow breath and said,
“If you don’t get your hand off of me, I’m going to kill you.”
“Kill me?” He laughed lightly. “Hardly Kismet?”
“More Hamlet, if you ask me.” she said.
“Before I’ve even got to know you. Here, at the beginning of our adventure.” Hand still on her breast, he leant in to kiss her neck. ‘That’s it’ she thought, “BAM!” Maisie rocketed to her feet and glared at the Captain. Slowly he rose to face her.
“You would kill me? For what? For suggesting that two lonely people might bring a little happiness to each other. For allowing myself to show you the feelings I have for you.”
“I’ve already felt your feelings. Let me tell you once and for all time, you keep your filthy hands to yourself, do you understand? You can push me into the bay and tell me to swim home but you ain’t getting your hands on me before then, or even after.” Behzat marveled at this woman. He had never come up against resistance like this in any of his posts around the Empire. Here was a woman who said she would kill him, the Commiser of Police, what grit. He would have her, this American she-devil. And before she could react, he had thrown his hand across her throat and dragged her backwards on to the divan. With his other hand he lifted her skirts and plunged it between her thighs. Great writers in the past have juxtaposed scenes of pain with scenes of mirth, for what it very neatly does, is show each of us the vicissitudes of life. One minute you’re up the next you’re down. Well this is what happened to Behzat. There he was contemplating the commencement on a new adventure when, CRUNCH! his groin erupted. A bolt of pain exploded through his body, burned its way from his arse to his throat like a poker. Maisie had rammed her knee into his genitals. It sent him sprawling across the floor. With his face on the carpet, he lay for a few seconds until the pain subsided and then hauled himself to his knees and looked up to find Maisie holding a single-shot Derringer one inch from his forehead.
“Don’t move. Don’t even breath. Now listen to me you slimy reptile. You can do whatever you want to me, go ahead, but if you ever lay another finger on me I’m going to leave a little ball of lead in that disgusting brain of yours, d’you understand.” He blinked. “Now, I’m going to put this pistol back in my bag and walk out of her. And you can fry in hell, for all I care.” She put the pistol in her bag and headed for the door.
Her hand was on the door handle when from behind her, almost conversationally, Behzat said, “We have not finished our talk.” Still with her back to him, she said,
“I’ve said all I want to say.” She turned the handle and opened the door.
“If you walk out that door I will have you under arrest before you reach the quay and within seven days you will be sent sent to a ‘correction center’ near the Russian Border.” Maisie turned around and put her hand into her purse.
“If you want to talk, talk, but if you come near me again, I’ll kill you, sure as eggs.“
“That will not be necessary” he rounded his desk and sat in his chair. “Take a seat.”
“I can listen and stand at the same time. I’m cute like that.”
“Very well. Let us review the situation. One, you are working in our country without a permit of any sort. Two, you pay no tax to the ministry. Three, there is a prima facae case to consult the Surete for corroboration of your story. Four, I have a duty to consult with the Ottoman Folk Dance Society who will need to ascertain your dance credentials. Five…”
“I told you already, Captain, go fuck yourself.” He sat back in his chair, crossed his arms and studied at the ceiling.
“You have a lot to learn about the Turkish man.”
“American, French, Turkish. What’s to learn?” By now, Maisie was mentally packing her valise.
“Let me come to the point” he said, “As I said before there is more than one way to arrive at a conclusion. It would be a pity to have to deport such a spirited woman from our city. You have made quite an impression already, but,” he paused, “it is a fact that you do not have the correct papers and, as such, it is my duty to act on that information.” Her eyes seemed to shout but her mouth stayed silent. He moved to the window again and observed that the melee on the quayside was beginning to abate. The packet gave a long blast on its fog-horn. “You are a regular visitor to the Huck, are you not?” He glanced at her over his shoulder, “Are you not?” he repeated with emphasis.
“Yes” She hissed.
“Here is my proposition. In recent years the Huck has become the most prestigious hotel in Smyrna. As such, it attracts many important men. It also attracts many not-so-desirable men. Men with dark pasts. Men whose motives are not sympatico with the growth of our city. Men who need watching. Criminals, con men.” He looked at her again for a few seconds and this time it was his eyes that were hot and sharp. She hadn’t seen this look before, it was hard and heartless, like a cobra focused on its prey.
“I’m listening,” she said, with more bravado than she felt.
“I want you to observe the comings and goings of the hotel. Who is there with who. Who is talking to who. You will be my eyes and ears.”
“You sure that’s the only bits of me you want?” He smiled at this, the hard look in his eyes gone now, replaced with a good-humoured twinkle.
“Can you blame me?”
“What’s in it for me?”
“As my observer, I can truthfully state that you are a friend of Turkey and authorise the relevant papers for you to practice your art here in Smyrna.”
“You just want me to look and listen? You don’t want me to get involved in any of your shenanigans?”
“You understand me completely.”
“And you’ll keep your hands to yourself?” Behzat’s chin tilted almost imperceptibly to the side which was the gesture in these parts of indicating agreement
“And I’ll keep my pistol, thank you”
Many days later
The banquet started at eight but Behzat was there an hour early. He had work to do. He went to the bar, ordered raki and water, and sat observing the built-up to the evening. He was looking for Maisie. Staff hurried around attending to last minute details but he didn’t want to ask for her as that would set the birds chattering. From the kitchen her heard M. Anton berating his staff. The night porter hurried into the dining room with an armful of knives and forks as Mr Avedissian was exiting. On seeing Behzat, Mr Avedissian approached, ‘How was the Commiser? Would he like to go to his table now? Another drink, maybe?’. ‘No,’ he was informed, the Commiser was enjoying his night off, thank you.’ The archaeologist passed by. He looked very different to their first meeting when he had met him on a routine visit to the excavations. Now he wore a pale, linen suit and matching hat. He felt someone touch his elbow and then there she was.
“Looking for anyone special?” she said, shocking him out of his ruminations.
“We meet again, Miss Mansfield.” He said, rising from his stool and raising his hat, a perfect gentleman.
“Looks like it, don’t it?” Her tone was flat and laconic.
Behzat smiled. He was intrigued by this chimera.
“How are you enjoying Smyrna? Have you been swimming?”
“I can take it or leave it.”
“The water is cool at this time of year. Later it gets much warmer.”
“Is that so?, I’ve been too busy rehearsing”
“Yes, I heard you were creating a flutter around town And you’ve moved out of the hotel?” How did he know that? Well. He is a copper, I suppose.
“That’s right. I palled up with a girl I know and we’ve taken a couple of rooms above one of the shops in the market.”
“Above the fishmonger.” he said. She was surprised
“Yeah. How d’you know that?”
“I am like the captain of a ship. I my case, the city.. In calm weather, life is easy, very relaxed, but when the ship is heading for stormy water that is when a captain has to know where everyone is and what they are doing. Sure, its a team effort, but there can only be one leader, don;t you think?”
“I try not to think too much. It gives me a headache. How about you?”
“I agree, too much thinking can get in the way. Sometimes its best not to think at all, just follow the captain’s orders.”
“I get terrible sea-sick.”He waited a moment for her quip to evaporate.
“You are a woman of action,” he said. She scrutinised him. There was something in the way he said this that made her look again. ‘A woman of action?. What was all that about, eh?” Maybe she’d got him wrong. Maybe he wasn’t just one of those men whose power had gone to his pants.
“Did you come here for a social call or was there something you wanted?”
“Very perceptive, Miss Mansfield. As a dancer you will know that you can lead, or you can follow.”
“I can step a tread.” she said.
“You are a dancer, Miss Mansfield, and I am a policeman.” He did not finish the thought. “It has been two weeks since we last spoke. What have you observed here at the hotel?”
“I ain’t seen nothing. People come and people go. That’s all,” she said. He looked at her, waiting. “I don’t know who they are or what they’re doing, do I?”
“I do not expect you to know such things. I simply want to know who is talking to who?”
“I’ve seen the Mayor a lot. He talks to anyone who’ll listen. Mainly the business crowd. And Mr Avedissian talks to..”
“Apart from Mr Avedissian.”
Maisie looked about her and in low tones she said,
“I’ve seen girls from the Crescent Moon, right here in the lobby, talking to guests.”
“Miss Maisie, do not underestimate me and I will not underestimate you. Do we understand each other?”
“Listen mister. I don;t know what you want from me. I don’t know how I can help you. What do I know about anything?”
“I agree. You know nothing. I would just like you to tell me who is talking to who? Comprendez?”
“I don’t know anyone. I can’t I help you?”
“Miss Mansfield, the banquet is about to start. Would you prefer me to come back tomorrow and in front of all your new friends, ask for you, call you Maisie, like old friends. Would you prefer that?” She preferred not.
“OK, you silver-tongued devil.” She gathered her thoughts, “ As I said, the Mayor;s been around a lot and Mr Avedissian was talking to a couple of bankers, German, I think. She looked at him for approval. He said,
“And I saw the girls from the Crescent Moon, keeping company with Mr Rockefeller’s party.”
“ Forget the whores, what else have you seen?”
“One man’s whore is another man’s sweetheart.” she observed. He gave her a look. “I don’t know what to tell you. Everything is normal. As it should be. In a hotel.” Behzat was getting tired of this.
“Miss Mansfield, if you do not stop thinking of me as an imbecile, you will be on the next camel-train to Mus.
“There’s nothing to tell. I wish there was. A couple of lovers, is that your style? The only thing I saw that I remember was the archaeologist feller cosying up to the classy doll.”
“You mean Alan Jones, the archaeologist working in Ephesus?”
“Suppose so. I don’t know his name.”
“ And who was the woman?
“How should I know. I’ve just got here.”
“What was she like? How old was she?”
“She was a good-looking womanl, like. Nice clothes an’ all. Had a lot of jewelry, rings, earrings and stuff.”
“How old would you say?”
“About 35, maybe younger, maybe older. I couldn’t say”
Behzat considered this,
“And what were they talking about?”
“I don’t know. I was miles away.”
“Miles away?”, said Behzat with a tone in his voice.
“Talking about a funeral, they were. That’s all.”
“How do you know?
“ When I went back stage, I heard her say, ‘We’ll have to get a coffin for him then.’ That’s all.”
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