- Amphorae Catalog
- About BSP
- VINCENT CZYZ
- Cynthia A. Graham
- Kevin Killeen
- Scott L. Miller
- Jean Ellen Whatley
- JOE MOHR
- LYNNE HUGO
- ANDREW ATHERTON
- DEBORAH LINCOLN
- RICK SKWIOT
- Marie Savage
- Rebecca Kelley
- Bruce Macbain
- BRAD R. COOK
- LELAND SHANLE
- John Joseph Ryan
- JACK S. MARTIN
- JACK AMBRAW
- David W. Frank
- TAYLOR ZAJONC
- Fred Venturini
- Anene Tressler
- Steve Wiegenstein
- Buy Our Books
“The Christos Mosaic is part Orhan Pamuk, part Elaine Pagels, and part Dan Brown. But it is mostly Vincent Czyz, an irrepressible fiction writer who has the good sense to realize that scholarship is the friend of great stories–and the talent to put that friendship to good use. I must confess that I turned to the novel for fun, and it is fun from first page to last. What surprised me was how very much I learned about the past. A wonderful novel. ”
– James Goodman, Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of But Where is the Lamb?
“The Christos Mosaic is the most fun I’ve had with an encyclopedic novel since Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum—and a lot more headlong, colorful, and seat-of-the pants exciting. It careens through Istanbul, Cairo, and Alexandria in pursuit of answers to a historical mystery that turns on the unraveling of a theological conspiracy that is deeply meaningful for us today.”
– Samuel R. Delany, author of Dhalgren
“I can’t come up with enough superlatives … a masterful synthesis of solid scholarship and adventure.”
– Paul Palmer, former assistant editor, American Atheist Magazine
A suspicious death in Istanbul leaves one ancient scroll and clues to finding another in the hands of Drew Korchula, a 32-year-old American expat, and a Turkish dwarf named Kadir. Drew is desperate to turn everything over to the academic community, and in the process redeem himself in the eyes of his estranged wife, but Kadir is only interested in what they can get for their scroll on the black market. Not everyone wants to see the scrolls go public, however, and some will stop at nothing to protect the Catholic Church from the revelations embodied in the priceless manuscripts. An intellectual and theological thriller unraveling a cold case more than 2,000 years old, The Christos Mosaic takes the reader through the backstreets of Istanbul and Cairo to clandestine negotiations with antiquities smugglers and soldiers of fortune, on a nautical skirmish off the coast of Alexandria, and finally to the ruins of Constantine’s palace buried beneath the streets of present-day Istanbul.
Fans of The Fifth Gospel by Ian Caldwell and The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown will love The Christos Mosaic. Vincent Czyz has crafted a rare story that combines the best of the fast-paced thriller embodied by Brown’s work, with the deeper exploration of faith, forgiveness, and personal motivation exemplified by Caldwell.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
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, and is the recipient of the 1994 Faulkner-Wisdom Prize for Short Fiction and two fellowships from the NJ Council on the Arts. The 2011 Truman Capote Fellow at Rutgers University, his short stories and essays have appeared in Shenandoah, AGNI, TheMassachusetts Review, Tampa Review, Quiddity, Louisiana Literature, Logos Journal, New England Review, Boston Review, Sports Illustrated, Poets & Writers, and many other publications. Although he has traveled the world and spent some ten years in Istanbul, Turkey, he lives and works in New Jersey, where he was born.
READ AN EXCERPT:
BOOK 1: 1 – 2
CONFEDERATES OF THE DEVIL
“Though he was mortal, yet he was of great antiquity, and most fully gifted with every kind of knowledge, so that the mastery of a great many subjects and arts acquired for him the name Trismegistus [Thrice-Great]. He authored books and these in large number, relating to the nature of divine things, in which he avows the majesty of the supreme and only God and mentions Him by those titles which we Christians use—God and the Father.”
1: 1 | TWO WISE MEN
Saints lie. At least, as far as Drew was concerned, Saint Augustine had. The question was whether or not his paper presented a convincing argument. Uncharacteristically early for class, he was sitting at one of those minimalist desks that looked more like a chair with a paddle for an arm. His hands were as cold as the steel tubing the plywood seat was screwed into. It was the same chill that deadened them before a wrestling match. Today they were getting back their term papers—a hefty fifty percent of their final grades.
December light streamed through a row of tall windows. Drew could see the slate walks of the mall and the wilted lawns flecked with dead leaves. Laaksonen Hall was a 19th century brownstone renovated to accommodate classrooms, and from out there, he knew, the windows looked like bronze panels in the late-afternoon sun.
It probably hadn’t been a good idea taking on a saint, especially the author of City of God, an epic tome written to explain why pagan Rome had stood for nearly a thousand years but, shortly after making Christianity its official religion, had been sacked by the Visigoths, presaging the disintegration of the empire. And then there was Augustine’s Confessions, a sort of eternally bestselling memoir recounting the saint’s spiritual conflicts. Professor de la Croix, as it happened, was particularly fond of Augustine, once remarking that he’d had more influence on Christianity than any writer since the apostle Paul.
Drew used to picture the saint, robed in black, habitually sequestering himself in a stone tower overlooking a shore of North Africa. There, as Drew imagined it, he peered down a corridor of time as if through a telescope, in search of the moment when God’s infinite design had first been set in motion. Or, quill in hand, scratched out his meditations by oil lamp in such profound early-morning stillness he could hear the continents drift.
Drew’s research, however, had revealed a very different Augustine: a cantankerous old man more interested in spin than truth. One chapter of Confessions was titled: “Whatever has been correctly said by the heathen is to be appropriated by Christians.” In other words, if philosophers—particularly the Platonists—had said anything that agreed with Christianity, Augustine insisted it was up to Christians to claim it as their own since the pagans had “unlawful possession of it.”
While church officials presided over book-burnings, enthusiastically consigning to flames works now considered classics of antiquity, Augustine wrote a polemic declaring that “good men undertake wars,” particularly when it is necessary “to punish” or to enforce “obedience to God.” So much for Christ’s call for love and compassion.
Drew’s head turned when the door opened, but it was Jesse Fenton. Her skin pale and her dark hair brutally short, she had a disarming smile and a sky-high IQ. At the fetish level what Drew found irresistible was an abundance of freckles—forehead to chin and even the top of her chest. She nodded to him without quite smiling. They never saw each other outside of class, but there was a tacit understanding between them that they were the two best students.
Drew glanced down at his notes. As disappointed as he was in Augustine, he wasn’t interested in exposing his faults. An English major with a minor in religion, he’d been caffeinated to the point of insomnia by the idea of welding the two disciplines together. While tracing the influence of the occult in Romantic poetry, he’d come across Augustine’s critique of the Corpus Hermeticum, which, by the Middle Ages, had become a compendium for alchemists. There, in Augustine’s argument, was a fabricated accusation; to put it bluntly, he’d lied.
Drew couldn’t use Augustine’s critique for his English course, but he’d found a place for it in de la Croix’s New Testament class. He knew he’d written an A paper—he had a 4.0 within his major—but he was hoping for something extra, some kind of acknowledgement from Professor de la Croix that he’d done first-rate work.
The problem was she couldn’t stand him. She made snide remarks when he walked in late. She called on him when she thought he wasn’t paying attention, and was delighted when she was right. While he got good grades, there was always a grudging comment on his test or at the end of a paper.
The door opened again—Lisa. A girl so quiet Drew sometimes wondered if she wasn’t some kind of nun keeping a vow of silence.
Professor de la Croix came in right behind her, an overstuffed briefcase and a stack of books under her arm. A short woman, she nonetheless did a pretty good job of blocking a doorway. Her gray hair, pulled back in a bun, had a metallic sheen, but a few wiry strays sprang out at random as if to spite her sense of order. And though she had put on a smear of orange lipstick, aside from not quite hitting the mark—something like a child’s crayon job—it just didn’t look right.
She let the books thump to her desk and appraised the class from behind a pair of glasses that were almost modern. Everything else she wore looked as if it had been rescued from an attic. She pulled their papers out of her briefcase and began handing them out as students trickled in.
“Miss Dent …”
“Miss Fenton …”
“Mr. Demko …”
She called out names and returned papers until she had only one left. “Mr. Korchula …”
Professor de la Croix fixed her gaze on Drew, but the white glare of the fluorescent lights on her glasses erased her eyes.
Drew’s fingertips tingled.
Professor de la Croix slapped the paper on his desk, face-down. “A particularly poor piece of scholarship,” she muttered.
Drew’s stomach lurched, as if he were on an elevator that had suddenly dipped.
Bending down, she whispered hoarsely, “A C minus is a gift,” and headed up the aisle between desks.
“C minus?” Drew was surprised by the force of his own voice.
Professor de la Croix turned to glare at him. “If you’re going to call Saint Augustine a liar, you’d better back it up.”
Faces swiveled toward him.
Drew cleared his throat. “Well, he … made a false accusation.”
Even Jesse looked skeptical. “How do you know?”
“Good question, Miss Fenton.” With a twist of a smile, Professor de la Croix answered it: “He doesn’t.”
Ignoring the professor, Drew looked at Jesse. “Scholars who lived during the Renaissance assumed that the author of the Corpus Hermeticum was an Egyptian priest.”
Professor de la Croix rolled her eyes. “Hermes Trismegistus—the supposed author—never existed. He was a fiction created by the Gnostics.”
Drew conceded with a nod. “Yes, but Hermes was thought to have lived at about the same time as Moses—”
“In point of fact,” Professor de la Croix interjected, “the Corpus Hermeticum was compiled in 100 AD at the earliest and probably closer to 300 AD, well after Christianity had been firmly established.”
Drew pushed a wing of dark hair from his eyes. “But Augustine didn’t know that. Augustine, like everyone else writing around the fifth century, believed that the Corpus Hermeticum was as old as the pyramids. And because Hermes refers to God the Father and uses the expression Son of God, and because he says God created the world through a luminous word, there were a lot of theologians who thought Hermes must have been a prophet who foresaw the coming of Christianity. Augustine denied this of course.”
Professor de la Croix waved a hand dismissively. “Augustine saw through the absurdity of this Gnostic heresy.”
“Yes, maybe, but according to Augustine, everything Hermes knew about Christianity came from the Devil.” Drew flipped through the pages of his paper. “Hermes presages these things as the Devil’s confederate, suppressing evidence of the Christian name …” Drew looked up for a response.
“And who is to say he wasn’t, Mr. Korchula? Who is to say that is not a valid explanation?”
Drew was too surprised to answer. It had never occurred to him that a college professor might consider the Devil as valid an explanation as an algebra equation or a logical proof. “Umm … well, there was no one named Hermes Trismegistus, and the Corpus Hermeticum came after Christianity so … so there was nothing to explain. But when Augustine thought Hermes knew about the future, and Augustine couldn’t explain how a pagan could be a prophet, he just made something up about conferring with the Devil. He—”
“Oh enough of this rubbish! The Gnostics were plagiarists who between them never had an original idea. Nor do you, Mr. Korchula.”
Drew was furious. His gaze slid over to Jesse, but she was looking down at her notebook. His best paper, probably in all four years of college, and the professor had just announced to the class it was crap.
“You think you have something original there? That shoddy little paper of yours? Just who are you to call Saint Augustine a liar? Have you ever written anything worth publishing? Let alone texts that have been studied for a millennium and a half.”
“No, but I haven’t written any lies lately either.” His voice cracked on lies.
“This from a student who can’t seem to make it to class on time—when he bothers to come.”
Drew had missed only three classes. “Christianity,” he shot back, “was a little late too, don’t you think?”
Professor de la Croix put the back of a hand on a hip and took off her glasses. “What is that supposed to mean?”
Drew’s paper was no longer the issue. Neither was his grade. PhD or not, De la Croix was wrong. “Religion is what? About 30,000 years old? If we call those paintings in Lascaux and Alta Mira religious? Assuming a Christian God has been up there all this time, why did He wait 28,000 years to put in an appearance? Isn’t it kind of a cruel joke to leave human beings in the dark with all those pagan gods the saints insist were really demons? I mean, those guys painting in caves? Why not give them a little light to work by? Why not give them a … a god damn clue?”
Her eyes narrowed. “How dare you use profanity in my classroom.”
Drew had to hold onto the arm of his desk to keep his hand from shaking. “Yeah, okay, sorry, but you haven’t answered my question.”
“You are lucky, Mr. Korchula, extremely lucky that I tolerate your presence at all. As to your question, which involves thousands of years that are utterly dark to those of us in modern times, who can possibly know? Who are we, after all, to question the ways of God?”
Drew looked to the other students, but he could tell from their faces he wasn’t going to get any support. “I thought this was a university, not Sunday school.”
Professor de la Croix slammed a desk with the heel of her hand. “Get out! Out of my class!”
Gathering up his books, Drew glanced at Jesse, hoping she would say something to defend him. All he got was a sympathetic look.
“I will not tolerate that kind of disrespectful back-talk from a student.”
As he left the classroom, the professor’s words pelting his back, he wasn’t sure if the backs of his ears were burning from anger or humiliation.
Let’s see what the head of the religion department has to say about your C minus.
1: 2 | BYZANTIUM
Whenever he came across the word, he instinctively imagined the letters embossed on gold foil. It reminded him of Yeats’s gold-enameled bird singing to keep drowsy emperors awake. Of Constantine the Great’s bronze lions that—powered by steam—actually roared. Sitting in Professor Wittier’s office, it was hard not to think of Byzantium; along with the antique desk, a fountain pen in a gleaming holder weighted by a marble base, and bookshelves fitted with glass doors and brass hinges, there were several Byzantine icons—Jesus among them. The Savior’s robes, a rich red, looked as though they had been stained by smoke. They contrasted with a gilded background that had lost much of its shimmer. Although gold doesn’t tarnish, this was paint, which exhibited a web of fine cracks. All of the icons looked as though they had been rescued from a fire—the colors sooty and the parched wood beginning to split along the grain—but the fire was just time, time consuming everything at an imperceptible smolder.
A short man with a receding hairline, Professor Wittier had dressed up the informality of his jeans with a herringbone jacket. He had puffy eyelids that made him seem permanently sleepy and, like his mahogany desk, fit in perfectly with the old world look of his office.
“Look, Drew, you’re a bright kid, but some of your comments, you have to admit, were a little inflammatory.” He sighed heavily. “Couldn’t you have just said darn?”
“I know I shouldn’t have said that, but it’s one … little … word.”
“The universe began with a word.”
“Yeah, I guess. But my paper has about 5,000 of them.” Drew’s hair was pulled back in a pony tail, and he’d tucked a button-up shirt into a pair of black jeans. “Couldn’t we give that a little more attention? I mean, do you think it’s C-minus work? Can’t she be brought up in front of a board for being unprofessional …?”
Professor Wittier leaned forward. “Look, Professor de la Croix was angry, she stepped a little over the line. And, no, your paper isn’t C-minus work. You’ll get a B plus. I’ll see to that.”
“You would have gotten your A if you had just been a little more … diplomatic in the classroom. I hope, at least, that you’ve learned something from this incident.”
Drew smiled bitterly. “I learned that if Professor de la Croix can’t attack my work, she’ll attack me.”
Professor Wittier laced his fingers together and lowered his eyebrows. “Drew, let me ask you something. You’re an English major … are you planning to teach?”
“I really don’t know. I just … I enjoy reading.” He shrugged.
“Well, chances are with an English major that’s exactly what you’re going to do at some point or another—teach. Now I’m not saying Professor de la Croix is right, but in a few years, if you’re running a classroom, you might have a little more sympathy for her position. Don’t forget that, like the rest of our staff, she has put decades of research into her subject. Sometimes, I’ll admit …” He waffled a hand. “Sometimes we’re a little too sure of ourselves, that’s all.”
Drew nodded. This office with its rustle of paper, its air faintly musty with the dust-covered wisdom that lined the shelves, its corners and niches where shadow was a reminder that so much more had been lost beneath the crush of history than could ever be imagined—let alone retrieved—yes, he could spend any number of hours in an office like this. But a classroom …?
“Can I ask you something a little off-topic here, Drew? Your last name is Korchula. Where does that come from?”
“My father’s Croatian,” Drew answered. “We’re named after a town. And my mother’s Gypsy.” He purposely left out the indefinite article to indicate his mother’s ethnicity rather than comment on her personality.
“Quite a mix. I suppose I can see it now.”
Drew was dark-skinned enough to make people wonder about his ethnic background. Prominent cheekbones and eyebrows that slashed down at a sharp angle gave his eyes something of the Asian although his nose and the rest of his face had the straight lines and right angles most people associated with Westerners. He lifted his chin. “Are those icons … authentic?”
Professor Wittier glanced back at them. “Ah … they’re beautiful, aren’t they?”
He smiled. “Yes, they’re genuine. I picked them up at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Even after bargaining to get the price down, I paid quite a bit for them.”
Rain tapped against the glass of the office’s windows.
“You’re a senior, aren’t you, Drew?” Professor Wittier lifted his graying eyebrows. “One more semester and it’s out into the world, right?”
Drew nodded. Yeah. Out. Then what? Grad school? Peace Corps? He had no idea.
Professor Wittier stood and skirted the edge of his desk. “So let’s just put this whole thing behind us, shall we?”
Drew pushed out of his chair. “Sure.”
Wittier gave him a friendly pat on the back as he opened the door and shook his hand. “Keep up the good work, but keep it clean, okay?”
So that’s it, Drew thought as he walked down the hall. One of the best papers he’d ever written gets a B +. Pulling on an old pea coat, he slid his hands into the worn pockets and walked out into a cold drizzle. The mall was lined with venerable brownstones half-covered with ivy.
It was only December, but he had begun to worry about May: what was he going to do after graduation? His father kept asking him the same question.
“You don’t wanna teach so what the hell kinda work you gonna find? You wanna drive a truck like me with your fancy diploma?” His father was up at four every morning to deliver cold-cuts. “You know what BS stands for, right? Bullshit. MS? More shit. And PhD is just piled higher and deeper.” His father would drag on a cigarette. “What you really need, is a jay oh bee, so you can pay back those loans.”
Drew’s father was a practical Slav. He didn’t understand the point of an expensive education that couldn’t be converted into a job paying a lot more than his.
“And what did you study? Stories that never happened. They call it lidderacher like it’s important. What the hell is the point if it never happened?”
Drew had never been able to answer his father. He couldn’t even appeal to the storytelling tradition of the Gypsies—Drew’s mother was the only Gypsy his father liked.
The one rule Drew set for himself when he’d started college was that he enjoy the next four years. And he had. While some students were doing indifference-curve analysis in microeconomics or working out integrals in calculus, he was reading a Greek play or buzzing through a chapter in a Dickens novel. But now that the trees had lost their leaves and the weather had turned cold, the feeling he found himself facing wasn’t anxiety; it was dread.
Her voice startled him.
“Deep in thought?” Freckles, disarming smile, and short, dark hair safe under a paisley umbrella, Jesse was looking up at him.
His own hair was beginning to soak through. “Yeah, I guess I was.”
“You have your pow-wow with Wittier?”
I got a B+.”
He pulled his head back, a contrived grimace expressing a mixture of disbelief and disgust.
“All right.” Raising her eyebrows and pressing her lips together, Jesse nodded. “For us a B+ is an unmitigated disaster. But you’ll still ace the course.”
“That’s not the point.”
“I think you made your point. And I owe you an apology. I shouldn’t have just sat there.”
Drew shook his head. “Nah …” The apology made something in his chest that had been uncomfortably tight go slack.
“I’m not saying I totally agree with you, but Professor de la Croix was wrong to turn it into a personal attack.”
“Well, it’s done with.”
“Yeah, I guess. Just remember, there are more things under heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” She smiled again, and shallow dimples deepened among the freckles. “Horatio.”
He nodded appreciatively. “Hamlet is Shakespeare’s best if you ask me.”
This was the first time they’d ever spoken outside of class. It was also the first time their conversation had gone beyond theology, and he was suddenly desperate to spend the drizzly December afternoon with her.
“I don’t know about the play, but the line definitely suits you … you’re just a little too enamored of logic.”
He nodded. “Maybe.” For a long second he listened to rain drum lightly on her paisley umbrella. “How about hitting Café Insomnia for a coffee or something?”
The rain came down harder, and the drumming intensified.
“I’d love to, but I’m meeting my boyfriend in about fifteen minutes.”
Maybe because it was unexpected, the word boyfriend stung almost as much as what Professor de la Croix had said about his paper. A little too quickly he asked, “Another time, maybe?” He knew there wouldn’t be.
“I’ll see you at the final.” She snickered. “Horatio.”
He watched her cross the mall wondering what her boyfriend was like.
Long hair hanging down his back like drenched seaweed, he started toward the dorm. Nothing, he decided, is as gray as rain on a sidewalk. Under his breath he said, “Byzantium.” And the gray was backgrounded by gold.
BOOK 2: 1 – 7
MARKET OF SECONDHAND BOOKSELLERS
Yale University has announced the discovery of the oldest extant manuscript of the Book of Isaiah. The manuscript was brought to light in the Syrian monastery of St. Mark in Jerusalem. Written on a scroll of parchment dating to the first century BC, it was identified by American scholars conducting research in Jerusalem.
- The Times, April 11, 1948
2: 1 | ISTANBUL
Ex Oriente lux. Out of the East, light. Late afternoon cast a glow on Beyazit Square. That was one of the things Drew loved about Istanbul—the light. Sometimes it seemed almost solid as it slanted down. Other times, like today, it gave the weathered stone of Beyazit Mosque and the other Ottoman buildings a kind of halo. Paved with cobblestones and shaded by ancient trees, the square was dominated by the mosque on its eastern side and, to the west, the massive stone gateway of Istanbul University. An arch rising to a height of fifty or sixty feet, the gate was flanked by a pair of dwarf towers, crenellated but unimposing.
Pigeons rose in a confusion of flapping wings at his approach.
He had ended up, as Professor Wittier had predicted more than a decade ago, teaching. Nothing that required a PhD, though—just English as a foreign language. He’d scored high enough on the GRE to get in just about anywhere, but he’d never applied to graduate school. He still turned the idea around in his head, like a curio, examining it from different angles, but then he’d gaze out his apartment window at the spectacular view of the Sea of Marmara and the Golden Horn—a finger of the Bosporus Strait that pointed west—and put off the decision. Grad school would be books of critical theory and novels that had to be read in a week, all-nighters and thirty-page term papers. He didn’t know if he could bring himself to do it, not when he’d gotten used to a teaching load of only twenty hours a week, to long summers traipsing around the Mediterranean and Europe, to lazy weekends raiding secondhand bookstores and antique shops. One other thing held him in Istanbul: it was easier to be a failure abroad. He didn’t run into old friends, and even when he flew back home for a visit, he had the air of an adventurer.
He glanced up at Istanbul University’s arch, at the permanently stopped clock in the form of Roman numerals engraved near the top: MCDLIII—1453, the year Constantinople fell to Mehmet the Conqueror. The year Constantinople ceased to be Byzantine, ceased to be Christian, ceased to be the guardian of Rome’s legacy. It was also the year the university had been founded. The mosque and the square had been named after Sultan Beyazit II, Mehmet’s grandson, who lay entombed in a courtyard garden beside the mosque.
A backpack slung over his shoulder, Drew passed under the far less impressive archway of Sahaflar Charsisi—the Market of Secondhand Booksellers. Canopied by trees and vines that broke sunlight into jigsaw pieces, the secluded courtyard was home to an enclave of chain-smoking dealers whose stalls and shops carried the odd, the obsolete, the sordid, the antique, the counterfeit, the pirated. Generally in English, French, German, Arabic, and of course Turkish. Booksellers had been congregating here since in the 17th century, when they had vacated their stalls in the Grand Bazaar.
The shops were like family mausoleums that had been in use too long; only the more recent arrivals and the most prized editions rated indoor shelving. The rest were heaped up in front, obscuring display windows and clogging doorways. These tended to be out-of-print paperbacks with lurid titles. Those on the bottom—the pages water-stained, the garish covers faded and gritty with soot—would likely turn to compost before they were ever bought. But the sellers, smoking in front of their shops, held onto them. Drew regularly sorted through the teetering stacks and occasionally came upon a hard-to-find gem or a ridiculously underpriced first edition.
The market narrowed to a broad alley as he walked.
One of the shopkeepers, a dwarf, slid off a long-legged stool and grinned. In spite of the balmy weather, Kadir wore jeans cuffed at the hems, sneakers too dirty to be called white, and a black leather vest that sagged with age and with whatever had been stuffed into its half dozen pockets.
“Look who comes! The only donkey I’ve never seen before with two legs.”
“Ever seen,” Drew corrected.
Kadir’s shop sheltered under a lush tangle of vines. Although Drew’s Turkish was fluent, Kadir always spoke to him in English—he enjoyed the free lessons.
“So you admit it?” Kadir smirked.
“I admit it’s painful listening to your English. And your stall smells like you keep a goat in it.”
“At your borning time, you came out from a wrong hole, I think.”
Drew shook his head. “When you were born …”
Kadir’s abrasiveness was a callus the dwarf had grown while making his way through a city in which he faced humiliations foreign to someone of normal stature—he needed a ladder to reach books in his shop that were eye-level for Drew; packs of kids sometimes followed behind him, imitating his side-to-side tilt as he walked; he couldn’t see over the dashboard of a car, and because his legs were so short, phonebooks wouldn’t help if he wanted to drive. Kadir’s features, however, were well-proportioned—no bulbous forehead, no blob of a nose. His nose actually had a certain nobility to it, as if it had been taken from a Greek bust. Admittedly though, his head belonged on a larger body.
“Anything worth my while come in?”
Kadir shrugged. “Are you sure you are capable to read?”
Drew rolled his eyes. “In English, Turkish, and Greek. If I couldn’t, you’d’ve gone out of business a long time ago. I mean, who would buy pulp like this?” From one of the leaning stacks outside the shop, Drew picked up a disintegrating paperback. “Warlords of Mars? The pages are falling out.” He reached for another. “She Walks by Night?” Drew read from the cover: “She climbed a ladder of lovers into the lap of luxury.”
The dwarf shrugged.
Stepping inside the shop, Drew was surprised to find someone sitting at Kadir’s tiny desk.
“Good day.” The man nodded to him and smiled. Swarthy, his black hair tightly curled, he looked North African. He wore a skullcap of white wool and a sort of white gown—a galibya.
“He is Tariq, a friend of me from Cairo. He looks for bargains in Istanbul.”
“And I have found these!” Tariq held up stack of thoroughly dilapidated books from the 18th or 19th century. “The one on top is a prayer book once owned by Sultan Selim III. I know a collector in Cairo who will give a very good price for it. Once it has been restored, of course.”
“You see, American infidel?” Kadir said. “This makes more worth than all the books outside added together.”
“Is worth more …”
Finishing the tea in his tiny tulip glass, Tariq stood up. “I will be going now, Kadir. We will see each other soon, inshallah.”
Tariq nodded affably to Drew.
Half-heartedly, Drew scanned the dusty paperbacks and aging hardcovers with torn dust jackets, but they were all familiar.
“I’m heading out, Kadir.” Drew hiked the straps of his knapsack over a shoulder.
“One moment, please ….” Kadir waddled to the register and came back with a flat box wrapped in brown paper.
“An old book. Please, for one night, let it stay next to you.”
“Why? Don’t you lock the place up when you go home?”
“Tariq is my friend, but sometimes competitor men are following him. Such men can be know the way to open locks … without keys.”
“Black market competition, huh?” Drew thought of the massive iron doors at the arched entrances to the market, which were swung closed and locked every night. “It’s not for me, Kadir. Don’t you have other friends? A sister somewhere …?”
“But in a hundred years they cannot think of you! One night, dostum, that’s all.”
Drew hefted the box, which was flat, wide, and not very heavy. “All right.” He slid his knapsack off his shoulder and dropped it between zipper teeth.
“Keep it in a safety place.”
Drew put his knapsack back on, wondering what Kadir had given him. Arabic calligraphy Tariq had brought from Egypt? No, it was too heavy for that. An old book written in Coptic? And why had Tariq brought it to Istanbul? Unless he knew a seller here and Kadir was the middleman. The more Drew thought about it, the more he wanted to open the box.
Sign up for our Newsletter!
"Writing is a struggle against silence."
“There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be.”
“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is … the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”