A Thousand Places of Misrule
An excerpt from The Christos Mosaic By Vincent Czyz
Galata Tower, illuminated for the tourists, loomed on Drew’s right. Straight as a minaret but stout, almost squat, it had a conical roof that reminded Drew of a witch’s hat. He was fond of this quarter with its eroding tenements and cobblestone streets winding up- and downhill.
Whenever a cross street broke the wall of buildings on his left, he could see the dark mirror of the Bosphorus and the Asian shore dotted with lights.
End of Empire. That’s what they should call these neighborhoods of neoclassical buildings that had lost their grandeur and been converted into apartment buildings. He passed cracked marble steps, fluted pilasters stained by coal smoke, huge double doors that creaked on rusty hinges and opened onto dank stairwells.
In Ottoman times Galata had been teeming with sailors from all over the Mediterranean. Like any port town, it had had more than its share of taverns. One 17th century Ottoman, writing with the disdain of a Muslim who abstains from alcohol, claimed that Constantinople had “a thousand places of misrule.”
Drew been a little unruly himself that evening. He’d met a few friends at Timur the Lame’s, where he’d downed one pint too many. There had been a chorus of protest when he got up to leave, and although he smiled when somebody tugged at him to keep him in his chair, he missed Yasemin in a way that being around other people only made worse.
Pain was supposed to be like glass in the sea: after a few years it should be worn smooth, hard but no longer sharp. That hadn’t happened. After two years, the divorce hurt as much as it had after two weeks.
A little unsteady on his feet, he walked down the hill in the warm night air.
From somewhere within the labyrinth of dark streets, he heard the cry of a boza seller, who sounded not as though he was hawking fermented slush out of a vat-sized bucket, but as though he were calling to a lost child. Or wife.
Christ it was hard sometimes, living in the city where he and Yasemin had met.
Drew turned down his street, hardly more than an alley just below Galata Tower.
Standing in the recess of the doorway across from his building was one of those Turks who probably conducted business by the light of a streetlamp—part of the shadow population of the city. A couple of inches shorter than Drew, he was broader and a lot thicker. Shoulders, head, and neck of a bull, all he needed were the horns.
They exchanged glances, and Drew wondered if the guy had decided to roll him. Trying not to look drunk, he kept the Turk in his peripheral vision while he stuck a key in the lock. He yanked hard on the steel door—the goddamn thing was as heavy as the stone lid of a crypt.
The man crossed the street. “Bey Efendi, one moment—”
Drew ignored him and let the door swing closed under its own weight. He heard the lock click and went up the staircase. His apartment was at the top, the fourth floor.
Another shout of “Bey Efendi!” was muted by the stone walls of the old building. “One moment please!”
Not tonight, Drew thought. There was a reason, after all, that the first- and second-floor windows in this neighborhood were barred.
Drew let himself into his apartment, closed the door, and turned on a light.
Books were strewn all over the hallway that ran the length of the flat. Had he been . . . robbed?
One of the floorboards creaked loudly under Drew’s foot. He stopped and listened.
All he heard was his own suppressed breathing. What the hell am I doing? He hit the switch to the bedroom light, but nothing happened. A fried bulb?
There was a silent explosion of light, and the floor buckled underneath him—no, his knees had caved in.
Somehow he managed to keep his feet, but a shoulder to his chest knocked him against a wall, and a man shoved past him. He caught a fist in the gut, sank to the floor, and had to fight for his next breath.
The front door opened, and he heard another set of footsteps in the hall.
Damn. He had to suck hard to get air. He’d felt something like this during wrestling matches when he was so tired he just wanted to quit.
Someone was coming up the stairs.
With a grunt and a wince, Drew got to his feet.
Before he was able to close the door—flung wide open—the Turk he’d seen on the street stepped inside.
“Iyi misiniz?” Are you all right?
“Who the hell are you?”
“Zafer. Kadir sent me to keep an eye on you.”
“I guess he picked the wrong guy.”
“Did they get anything?”
“I got something—I got my ass kicked.”
“Sorry about that. But I only came a few minutes before you. I rang the bell . . .” He shrugged. “Why didn’t you wait when I called you?”
“Because I’m a little drunk, and you don’t look like the kind of guy I should be letting in the building at night.”
Zafer smiled. “You prefer men in suits?”
“I prefer not to get cold cocked when I walk into my own home.”
“Clocked when I’m not looking.”
“Ah, you mean sucker punched.”
It wasn’t until Zafer’s face had eased into a smile again that Drew realized he had a certain crude charm and a square jaw that belonged on a steam shovel; you could probably break a knuckle on it. His curly black hair was short and his forehead tapered a little towards his hairline. No gray, a few creases in the corners of eyes more Asian than Western, he looked to be in his late twenties.
“Your slang’s pretty good.”
“American movies. Did they find the package?”
Drew glared at him. “What exactly did Kadir give me?”
“You don’t know? Well, I doubt they got what they were looking for because it’s not in my flat.” Drew pointed at the ceiling. “It’s on the roof.”
They went out the door again, up another flight of stairs.
Istanbul was all shadow and glitter below them. Ships, like floating lanterns, moved slowly through the Golden Horn.
Sections of rectangular duct had been stacked against a parapet. Drew reached into one and pulled out the flat package. It looked about the right size for copy paper, maybe a couple hundred sheets. What the fuck was in here?
Zafer held out a large hand. “You can give it to me.”
“I don’t think so.”
“It belongs to Kadir.”
“Kadir almost got me killed.”
Zafer stepped toward Drew. “You shouldn’t—”
“Back off or I’ll toss this thing as far as I can. Onto some other roof.”
“Okay . . .” Zafer pulled his hand back and held it up as a gesture of submission. “Open it.”
Drew tore away the brown paper. The box underneath had no markings. He lifted the top flap and squeezed his hand inside.
Zafer stepped forward to get a closer look.
“I don’t believe this.”
Zafer shook his head. “Me neither.”
Vincent Czyz received an MA in comparative literature from Columbia University and an MFA in creative writing from Rutgers University. He is the author of the collection Adrift in a Vanishing City, which won the 2016 Eric Hoffer Award for Best in Small Press, and the recipient of the 1994 W. Faulkner-W. Wisdom Prize for Short Fiction as well as two fiction fellowships from the NJ Council on the Arts. The 2011 Truman Capote Fellow at Rutgers University, he has placed stories and essays in New England Review, Shenandoah, AGNI, The Massachusetts Review, Tampa Review, Tin House, Quiddity, Georgetown Review, Louisiana Literature, Boston Review, Sports Illustrated, Poets & Writers, and many other publications. A resident of Istanbul, Turkey for some eight years, he now teaches creative writing at The College of New Jersey and lives with his wife, Neslihan, and son, Rainier, in Jersey City, NJ.
The full book can be found here.