The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep Page 4

Smyrna, then, was an afterthought, a sort of footnote to the whole business. My main focus was on the Nationalist movements, their organization, their development, their aims, and their ultimate effects. I expected to finish the thesis well ahead of schedule and I expected to go no further with the study of the destruction of Smyrna. But I had not then met Kitty or her grandmother.

Kitty and I met at a wedding in the Village. My friend Owen Morgan was being married to a Jewish girl from White Plains. Owen is a Welsh poet with no discernible talent who had discovered that one could make a fair living by drinking an impressive amount, spouting occasional poetry, seducing every comely female within reach, and generally behaving like the shade of Dylan Thomas. He startled me by asking me to be his best man, an office I had never before performed. So I stood up for him in a drab loft on Sullivan Street at the ceremony performed by a priest friendly to the Catholic Workers. Neither of them was Catholic, but Owen had lived at the CW settlement on Christie Street for a few months before he discovered the potential of the Dylan Thomas bit. (I’m a member of the Catholic Workers myself, although I don’t give them as much of my time as I probably should. They’re a wonderful organization.) I stood up for Owen and passed him the ring at the appropriate time, and afterward Kitty Bazerian danced at his wedding.

She was small and slender and dark, with fine black hair and huge brown eyes. She stood demurely, garbed in a wisp of diaphanous fluff, and someone said, “Now Kitty Bazerian will dance for us,” and the house band from the New Life Restaurant began to play, and her body sang in the center of the improvised stage, music in motion, silk, velvet, perfection, adding a wholly new dimension to sensuality.

Afterward I found her at the bar, dressed now in skirt and sweater and black tights, which was about right for Owen’s wedding.

“Alexandra the Great,” I said.

“Who told you? They promised not to say.”

“I recognized you myself.”


“I’ve watched you dance at the New Life. And at the Port Said before that.”

“And you recognized me right away?”

“Of course. I never knew that Alexandra the Great was an Armenian.”

“A starving Armenian right about now. Aren’t they having anything to eat?”

“It would spoil Owen’s image.”

“I suppose we have to respect his image. But I already had too much to drink and I’m starving.”

“May it never be said that Evan Tanner let an Armenian starve. Why don’t we get out of here?”

We did. I suggested the Sayat Nova at Bleecker and Charles. She asked me why I was so very hipped on Armenians. I told her I was writing a thesis on Armenia.

“You’re a student?”

“No, I’m just writing a thesis.”

“I don’t…wait a minute, you’re Evan Tanner! Sure, Owen told me about you. He says you’re crazier than he is.”

“He may be right.”

“And you’re writing about Armenians now? You ought to meet my grandmother. She could tell you all about how we lost the family fortunes. She makes a good story out of it. According to her, we were the richest Armenians in Turkey. Gold coins, she says; more gold coins than you could count. And now the Turks have it all.” She laughed. “Isn’t that always the way? Owen insists he’s a direct descendant of Owen Glendower and the rightful King of all of Wales. The Sayat Nova sounds fine, Evan. But I warn you, I’m going to be expensive. I’ll eat everything they’ve got.”

“I don’t remember what we had or how it tasted. There was a good red wine with the meal, but we got drunker on each other than on anything else. It does not happen often for me, the special magic, the perfect harmony. It happened this time.

She talked some about her dancing. I was delighted to discover that she had no higher ambitions. She did not want to become a ballerina, or get a guest shot on the Sullivan show, or found a new school of modern dance. She just wanted to go on dancing at the New Life for as long as they wanted her.

I, on the other hand, have many ambitions and I told her of them. “Someday,” I confided, “we’ll restore the House of Stuart to the English throne. The Jacobite movement has never entirely died out, you know. There are men in the Scottish Highlands who would rise at any moment to throw out those Hanoverian interlopers.”

“You’re putting me on-”

“Oh, no,” I said, wagging a finger at her. “The last reigning Stuart was Anne. She died in 1714 and they brought over a Hanoverian, a German. George I. And ever since that day the Germans have sat upon the English throne. If you think about it, it’s an outrage.”

“But the House of Stuart-”

“There have been attempts,” I said. “Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745. All of Scotland rose to support him, but the French didn’t do all they were supposed to do, and nothing came of it. The English won the Battle of Culloden Moor and thought that was the end of it.” I paused significantly. “But they were wrong.”

“They were?”

“The House of Stuart has not died out, Kitty. There has always been a Stuart Pretender to the English throne, although some of them have worked harder at it than others. The current Pretender is Rupert. Someday he’ll reign as Rupert I, after Betty Saxe-Coburg and her German court have been routed.”

“Betty Saxe-Coburg…oh, Elizabeth, of course. And who is Rupert?”

“He’s a Bavarian crown prince.”

She looked at me for a long moment and then began to laugh. “Oh, that’s beautiful! That’s priceless, Evan. I love it!”

“Do you?”

“Replacing the…the German usurpers with…oh, it’s great…with the crown prince of Bavaria-”

“The true English claimant.”

“I love it. Oh, sign me up, Evan. It’s better than a Barbara Stanwyck movie. Oh, it’s grand. I love it!”

And outside, a breeze playing with her marvelous black hair, she said, “I live with my mother and my grandmother, so that’s out. Do you have a place we can go to?”


“But Owen said something about you not sleeping. I mean-”

“I don’t, but I have a bed.”

“How sweet of you,” she said, taking my arm, “to have a bed.”

Chapter 3

It was about a week after that when I finally did meet Kitty’s grandmother. Kitty had told me several times that I would enjoy the old woman’s story, and she became especially enthusiastic when I showed her my membership card in the League for the Restoration of Cilician Armenia. She had never heard of the group-rather few people have, actually-but she was certain her grandmother would be delighted.

“She has some pretty grim memories,” Kitty said. “She was the only one of the family to get away. The Turks killed everybody else. I have a feeling she got raped in the bargain, but she never said anything about it exactly, and it’s not the kind of subject you discuss with your grandmother. If you’re really interested in all this Armenian jazz, you’ll enjoy her. And she’s getting older, you know, and I think she may be getting a little flaky, so not many people listen to her very much any more.”

“I’d love to meet her.”

“Would you? She’ll be all excited. She’s like a kid sometimes.”

Kitty lived in Brooklyn, just across the bridge, in a neighborhood that was largely Syrian and Lebanese with a scattering of Armenians. We walked from the subway. It was early afternoon. Her mother was out waiting on tables in a neighborhood diner. Her grandmother sat in front of the television set watching one of those afternoon game shows where everyone laughs and smiles all the time.

Kitty said, “Grandma, this is-”

“Wait,” Grandma said. “See that lady, she just won a Pontiac convertible, can you imagine? Now she has to decide to keep it or trade it for what’s behind the curtain. See, she don’t know what’s behind the curtain. She has to decide without looking. See!”

The woman traded. The curtain opened, and Grandma sucked in her breath, then exploded with strident laughter. Behind the curtain was a set of Teflon-coated aluminum frying pans.

“For this she trades the Pontiac convertible,” Grandma said. “With four-speed transmission and power seats, can you believe it?” The woman who had made this mistake was crying bravely, and the emcee was smiling and saying something about it all being part of the game. “Ha!” said Grandma, and pressed a remote-control button to extinguish the program. “Now,” she said, whirling around to face us. “Who is this? You’re married, Katin?”

“No,” Kitty-Katin said. “Grandma, this is Evan Tanner. He wanted to see you.”

“To see me?”

She was a gnomish little woman, her still-black hair parted absurdly in the middle, a strange light dancing merrily in her brown eyes. She was smoking a Helmar cigarette and had a tall glass of a dangerous orange liquid beside her. This was her life-a chair in front of a television set in her daughter’s house. It was extraordinary, her eyes said, that a young man would come to see her.

“He’s a writer,” Kitty explained. “He is very interested in the story of how you left Turkey. Of the riches and the massacres and…uh…all of that.”

“His name?”

“Evan Tanner.”

“Tanner? He is Armenian?”

In Armenian I said, “I am not Armenian myself, Mrs. Bazerian, but I have long been a great friend of the Armenian people and their supporter in their heroic fight for freedom.”

Her eyes caught fire. “He speaks Armenian!” she cried. “Katin, he speaks Armenian!”

“I knew she would love you,” Kitty told me.

“Katin, make coffee. Mr. Tanner and I must talk. When did you learn to speak Armenian, Mr. Tanner? My own Katin cannot speak it. Her own mother can speak it only poorly. Katin, make coffee the right way, not this powder with water spilled in it. Mr. Tanner, do you like coffee the Armenian way? If you cannot stand the spoon upright in the cup, then the coffee is too weak. We have a saying, you know, that coffee must be ‘hot as hell, black as sin, and sweet as love.’ But why am I speaking English with you? English I can hear on the television set. Katin, do not stand there foolishly. Make the coffee. Sit down, Mr. Tanner. Now, what shall I tell you? Eh?”

I stayed for hours. She spoke a Turkish strain of Armenian, and I had learned the language as it was spoken in the area that was now the Armenian S.S.R. So she was a bit hard to understand at first, but I caught the flavor of the dialect before long and followed her with little difficulty. She kept sending Kitty to fetch more coffee and once she chased her around the block to a bakery for baklava. She apologized for the baklava; it was Syrian, she said, and not as light and subtle as Armenian baklava. But that could not be helped, for there was no longer an Armenian baker in the neighborhood. The little rolled honey cakes were delicious, nevertheless, and Kitty made excellent coffee.

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