The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep Page 22

I poured myself a fresh glass of wine. It was beginning to look as though there would be quite a delegation waiting for me in Balikesir. The British, the Irish, the Russians, the Turks, the Americans-and, of course, the nameless band that had stolen those plans in the first place.

Why, I was finally beginning to wonder, hadn’t I stayed home where I belonged?

“Perhaps I am overly fond of those two programs,” Father Gregor commented. “Each, as you can see, is a source of great amusement to me. You noticed, for example, the two rather divergent views of last night’s trouble in Macedonia? I wonder which came closest to the truth.”

We were drinking thick, bitter coffee in small cups. The radio was silent now. I had trouble paying attention to Father Gregor. My mind was grimly occupied with two problems-the impossibility of entering Turkey and the equal impossibility of leaving Turkey.

“I noticed, too, that one man was mentioned on both programs, though in different contexts. A Mr. Tanner. Did you notice that?”


“Do you find this amusing?”


He smiled gently. “May we halt this masquerade? Unless I am very much mistaken, which, I admit, is of course a possibility, I believe that you are the Evan Michael Tanner of whom they speak. Is that correct?”

I didn’t say anything.

His eyes glinted brightly. “The infinite variety of life, Mr. Tanner. Once, shortly after the war, I had two alternative courses of action. I could continue to lead a very fast-paced absorbing life. Or I could, so to speak, retire to Sofia. I selected the latter course. As I’ve mentioned, many persons questioned this decision. That American song-how does it go? About the difficulty of keeping boys on the farm after they’ve been to France. Do I have it right?”

“More or less.”

“Good. At any rate, I made my decision. The precise reasons for it are unimportant. A combination, perhaps, of self-preservation and the conservatism that comes with years. I have noticed, though, that life does not pass one by. When one lives in Sofia, excitement comes to Sofia.”

He picked up his coffee, studied it, then set the cup down untasted. “I suspected your identity from the first, if you are interested. You were referred by a member of IMRO, and of course that made me think of Macedonia, and I had heard of you in connection with the uprising. And we spoke in English. That was a test of mine, you see. Your Bulgar is better than my own English, actually. Quite unaccented. But your English has an American accent. This led me to the rather obvious conclusion that you were an American. And during the program I observed your reactions to the various reports upon your activities. But you do not really want to hear me boast of my prowess as a detective, do you? Hardly. At any rate, I know that you are you. Are you really going to Ankara? Or was the report correct?”

“I’m going to a small town. As they said.”

“Ah. You have friends there?”


“None at all?”


He stroked his chin. “I trust you have a very important reason for going there?”


“May I ask you a delicate question?”

“Of course.”

“You need not answer it, and I need not add that you have the option to answer it untruthfully. Is there, perhaps, the opportunity for you of financial profit in Turkey?”

I hesitated for some time. He waited in respectful silence. Finally I said that there was an opportunity for financial profit.

“Substantial profit?”


“So I suspected. I presume you would prefer not to tell me your precise destination in Turkey?”

Did it matter? The rest of the world already seemed to know. I said, “Balikesir.”

“I do not know it. In the northwest?”


He took an atlas from a shelf, thumbed through it, located a map of Turkey, studied it, then looked up at me and nodded. “Balikesir,” he said.


Father Gregor got to his feet and walked to the window. While looking out it he said, “In your position, Mr. Tanner, I would have a great advantage. I am, as you no doubt know, of the Left Hand. I would be able to enlist the aid of other members of the Left Hand. If I were attempting to bring something into Turkey, they might help me. If, on the other hand, I were bringing something out of Turkey, they again might be of assistance.”

I said nothing. I sipped my coffee. It was cold.

“Of course, there is a custom in the Society. I would be expected to give to the Left Hand a tithe of the proceeds of the venture. A tenth part of whatever gain I realized.”

“I see.”

“What sort of profit do you anticipate?”

“Perhaps a great deal if my information is correct. Perhaps none at all.”

“How large a sum if your information is right?”

I named a figure.

“A tenth part of that,” said Father Gregor, “would be a substantial sum. Sufficient, I am sure, to interest the Left Hand.”

I said nothing.

“But perhaps you would not care to part with a tithe?”

“That would depend.”

“On whether you need assistance? And on whether it can be supplied?”

“More or less.”

“Ah.” He put his hands together. “It would be possible to assemble a dozen very skillful men in Balikesir at whatever time you might designate. It would be possible to supply the materials you might need for a proper escape. It would be possible-”

“A plane?”

“Not without extreme difficulty. Would a boat do?”


“A boat is easily arranged. How powerful a boat would you require?”

“One that could reach Lebanon.”

“Ah. It is gold, then?”

“How did-”

“What else does one sell in Lebanon? For many items Lebanon is where one buys. But if one has gold to sell, one sells it in Lebanon. One does not get the four hundred Swiss francs per ounce one might realize in Macao, but neither does one get the one hundred thirty francs one would obtain at the official rate. I suspect you might realize two hundred fifty Swiss francs an ounce for your gold. Is that what you had anticipated?”

“For a priest,” I said, “you’re rather worldly.”

He laughed happily. “There is only one thing.”


“It would be necessary for you to join the Society of the Left Hand.”

“I would have to become a member?”

“Yes. You are willing?”

“I know nothing about the Society.”

He considered this for a few moments. “What must you know?”

“Its political aims.”

“The Left Hand is above politics.”

“Its general aims, then?”

“The good of its members.”

“Its nature?”


“Its numerical strength?”


“The nature of its membership?”

“Diverse and scattered throughout the earth. Largely in the Balkans, but everywhere. Listen,” he said, “you wish to know what you are joining. This is understandable. But you have no…what is the expression? Ah. You have no need to know. Perhaps I can tell you simply that my membership in the Left Hand enables me, a simple priest, to live quite nicely in a city where priests rarely live too well. Enough? And I might add that I have only been a priest for a handful of years at that. And that I have few priestly duties. You would be astonished to learn how long it has been since I have seen the inside of a church.”

We sat looking at each other.

“You wish to join?”


“That is good.” He went to another bookshelf, brought down a Bible, a ceremonial knife, and a piece of plain white cloth. I covered my head with the white cloth, gripped the knife in my right hand, and rested that hand atop the Bible.

“Now,” said Father Gregor, “raise your left hand…”

Chapter 15

I entered Balikesir three days later on the back of a toothless donkey. From the time I had left Father Gregor, my journey had been an unceasing span of perilous monotony. The trip from Sofia to the Turkish border was uneventful. The crossing of the border, the most singularly dangerous border I had passed, was managed with harrowing ease. With the British air and coastal defense plans between my skin and my shirt, with the leather satchel abandoned in Bulgaria, with my face unshaven and my hair uncombed and my body unwashed, and with Mustafa Ibn Ali’s passport clenched in my sweaty hand, I passed through Bulgarian exit inspection, Turkish entrance inspection, and on into Turkey. As I took my first steps onto Turkish soil a whistle sounded to my rear, and someone began shouting. I very nearly broke into a run. It was well that I did not. The whistle and shouting were not for me, after all, but for some fool who had walked away without his suitcase.

After I had bought the donkey, I had just a handful of change left for food. The donkey and I worked our way south and west past Gallipoli and crossed the Dardanelles on the ferry Kilitbahir to Canakkale. Then we proceeded southeast to Balikesir. I had to stop from time to time to feed the poor animal and let him get some sleep. As we moved closer to our destination I had to stop even more often because one can ride a donkey only so long before one begins to yearn for a less punishing mode of transportation.

But such details are unimportant, even less exciting in the retelling than in the actual occurrence. I reached Balikesir in the early afternoon, hungry and nearly penniless. I sold the donkey for about a third of what I had paid for him and parted from him with the sincere wish that his next owner would use him more kindly and appreciate him more fully. I walked slowly but surely into the center of the city and knew at last how it felt to be at the eye of a hurricane.

For the remainder of the afternoon I wandered slowly through the downtown section. There could not possibly have been as many agents of various powers as I fancied I saw, but it certainly seemed as though the city was swarming with spies and secret agents of one sort or another. I heard men speaking Turkish in a wide variety of accents and tentatively identified three British operatives, two Irish, a batch of Americans, at least three Russians, and a slew of others whom I included in a broad category headed Spies-Allegiance Unknown.

I had to dodge them all. No one had taken the slightest notice of me yet, and I felt I could remain undetected indefinitely as long as I didn’t do anything. But I also had to slip in and out of the streets of the city until I found that house high on a hill at the edge of town, the big house with the huge porch that Kitty Bazerian’s grandmother may or may not have recalled correctly. Then I had to break into the porch, remove the gold, accept help from the Society of the Left Hand, and, hardest of all, manage to avoid having the Left Hand walk off with every last cent of the proceeds.

Because I did not trust them an inch.

We had many grand plans, Father Gregor and I. A group of men were already finding their separate ways to Balikesir. We would meet there, according to his plans, and they would help me get the gold from Balikesir to a nearby port, probably Burhaniye. There a boat would lie at anchor, ready to take us on to Lebanon.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies