“Sen turk` konusur musun?”
A tall police officer with remarkable green eyes and immaculate uniform asked the question as he placed a bottle of tepid water on the table. I speak only English. Why am I here?
He gave an imperceptible negative gesture and left the room. The double clicking of the lock sounded to Josie like the hammer of a gun.
Josephine Anatolia Western was an archaeologist or would be when she finished her work experience and completed her final year examinations. Was it her second name that swung the pendulum? Anatolia – empire of the ancient Hittites. She didn’t know and had not until the present moment given it much consideration. It had seemed so much more than mere coincidence when she applied and was accepted by Professor Attilio Rossi to be apprentice at that very site – Kerenes, the northern edge of the Cappadocian plain in Yozgat,central Anatolia – now modern day Turkey. At the time she imagined destiny playing a quizzical hand. Or maybe her mother Bunny was right. Had she an unconscious wish to dig up the remains of her dead father?
The interrogation room she had been escorted to by two armed guards was a marginal improvement on the cell she had occupied the previous night. There the atmosphere was oppressive and claustrophobic. The amenities – a bucket for a lavatory and a coarse blanket which prickled and itched her fair skin. Her blonde hair had become lank, dank and lifeless.
This room had a small barred window which let in sunlight, but was set too high to see anything of the world outside. An overhead fan made ffft fft sounds as its rusty blades failed to sweep the room of cloying hot air.
She sniffed her armpits. Ugh. She needed a shower. Josie uncapped the water bottle, took a swig then unwound her neck scarf, sprinkled it with water and wiped her brow and armpits.
Footsteps sounded outside, the door opened to admit the original officer and a younger man with dark bushy eyebrows that seemed to Josie like two baby hedgehogs.
They seated themselves opposite her, placing notebooks, pens, papers and a tape recorder onto the table.
“I am Bilik Yilmaz, your interpretor. Chief Inspector Kaplan has some questions for you. The interview will be taped.
“To what extent is your involvement with Professor Rossi?”
Josie’s cheeks flushed red.
I have done nothing…wrong. My…involvement with Professor Rossi is nobody’s concern. Why have I been arrested? I have a right to know!
Interpretor Yilmaz glanced at the inspector, who nodded.
“The Turkish Antiquities Trust take a dim view of foreigners stealing ancient artefacts. It is a most serious offence.”
But…I have stolen nothing! What are you accusing me of taking?
She felt her face suffuse with a thousand needle picks and passed a trembling hand to her brow.
“Is this your signature?”
Yilmaz slid a postal registry form across the table.
Inspector Kaplan shook out brown packing paper from the box which he pushed across towards Josie.
“And this is your handwriting? Addressed to…Avvocato Legale Moretti, Italy,” Interpreter Yilmaz continued.
Yes. Of course it is. There is no crime in posting a simple domestic package to Italy! Professor Rossi is a busy man. A famous archaeologist of international standing. I was happy to be of service to him.
“What was in this package, Miss Western?”
The professor’s wedding rings and directions to his lawyer concerning his divorce.
Her face felt on fire. This was so shame-making. Attilio had assured her his marriage was over long ago. This was a formality and what his wife wanted also. She wasn’t to blame.
Kaplan murmured “Ben onun toplari yiyece`gim.” I will eat his balls – a Turkish saying causing Yilmaz’s eyebrows to dance a tango.
“Professor Rossi denies asking this favour. My colleague, Inspector Kaplan would like you to describe the Burhis found recently at Kerenes.”
Josie closed her eyes as she pictured the image of the ancient royal seal thought – though as yet unauthenticated – to be a male fertility symbol of King Hattusilis; around 1266 BC.
It is of white stone – possibly limestone with a chiselled etching of a passion-flower. Pigments of blue lapis lazuli are still residual in the petal crevices. It was tagged and labelled Passion-flower.
She opened her eyes wide.
The inspector’s green eyes were alert as Bilik Yilmaz asked questions.
“Where had she seen it?”
In Dottore Professor Rossi’s rooms.
In his bedroom.
“Repeat aloud please, Miss Western. For the tape. Are you romantically involved with this Rossi? Is he your lover?”
Yes. Could I see and talk to him please? He will clear up this misunderstanding. I respect your culture and would never do anything disrespectful towards your country.
“Eventually. You had opportunity. We have your fingerprints taken and compared to those found on this… Passion-flower. But we don’t as yet understand your motive. Not that that is really important to the case.”
No! I haven’t taken it. Yes I touched it. Can I please see Professor Rossi? He will vouch for my honesty. He can clear my name. This is all such a total mistake!
He turned slightly to Kaplan and spoke rapidly in Turkish. The inspector gestured to Josie, spread his hands and shrugged. Interpreter Yilmaz faced Josie.
“The Inspector asks have you a father fixation? Professor Rossi is what…in his late fifties and you…” He picked up her passport and flipped it open, “You are twenty nine.”
I don’t have to answer that, do I?
She started scratching her arms until they bled. She hadn’t done that since her father had died in a hunting accident, and she’d been seven. Even now she could see her mother, Bunny – cocktail glass in hand – amusing her set with her wit and what they mistook as stoicism. – Daaarlings. Too too frightful! Really. He fell at the first hurdle. Literally! He’d been in the lead – showing off – and the entire hunting party galloped over him. You should have been there! Embedded not embalmed! – Mumsie’s affections were wholly and strictly for the prized ferrets she bred.
Kaplan leant over and handed her a clean handkerchief. She thought she saw commiseration in his green eyes. But she didn’t trust her instincts. She never had. Even she could sense she was like an undeveloped photograph – half negative – half overexposed.
Once again the inspector and interpretor conferred. Yilmaz carelessly covered the recorder with papers and pushed them to the end of the table.
“Interview over. You may have time with Professor Rossi. However the inspector will remain in the room with you. I have another appointment.”
He opened the door to admit her mentor and departed. Inspector Kaplan remained, positioning himself by the door examining his nails.
Attilio! Tell them I did not steal Passion-flower! I didn’t even know it was missing! Is it missing? What is going on?
Attilio Rossi lifted her right hand and brushed her knuckles lightly with his lips. For the first time Josie saw a resemblance in his sleekness to one of Bunnie’s least productive hob ferrets – The Duke of Windsor. No balls. Mumsie said. But then Wallis certainly had them. Enamelled and made into earrings, I believe!
Rossi was short and stocky, his hair, an impossible jet black was brushed straight back from a broad forehead. His dark eyes crinkled at the corners and his cream linen suit smelled strongly of a lemon scented cologne, making Josie even more aware of her own body odour. Her personal disarray. She felt unlovely.
Rossi looked with suspicion at Inspector Kaplan who was now straining his neck to peer nonchalantly at the window.
We can talk candidly, Attilio. He doesn’t understand a word of English. I had to have an interpretor. And he departed as you came in the door.
“Caro. Mi dispiace – I am sorry. You have been caught like a butterfly.
I wish it were otherwise, but I cannot help you.”
But why? What are you saying?
“I owe my position to the Minister of Revenue. In Italy nothing is for nothing. You have to buy your position – money or favours. My minister has to keep Signore Berlusconi happy – he is a collector.”
I thought he collected women? Girls. Belly dancers.
“He needs also the talisman, the magic potions and totems to restore his vigour. The Passion-flower is a male fertility symbol. This would appeal to his manhood. His macho image.”
You are telling me? Why would I not tell the authorities? Do you think I owe you my life because I loved you?
Josie recalled a piece she had read when researching Anatolia. Those ancients had been enchanted also by ferrets. She’d been used by an Italian one. Anger surfaces as grief withdraws. She remembers reading this somewhere, sometime. She now felt wholly unloved.
“Who would believe you, caro? Me? I am a great man, renowned in my sphere of expertise. You are nobody of distinction. Collateral damage. No. I tell you everything because it cannot hurt me. And confession is good for the soul. I owe you that and more, caro mia.”
He shrugged. She had been malleable and useful and he would be miserable for a time without her. But she was not irreplaceable. There would be others willing to share his bed, idolise him. Massage his ego.
“My usual courier is an attaché within the Italian Embassy. He was most unfortunately recalled at an inopportune time. No one gets to check diplomatic bags. Time was short and Berlusconi had been made aware of the Passion-flower find; it had been promised. And one does not disappoint such an omnipotent man.
“Here. I have brought you your vitamin capsules. Why not take some now? You are looking pale.”
Rossi shook out two capsules from a container that usually lived on Josie’s bedside table.
Kaplan covered the distance in three strides snatching the container and the pills from his hands.
“Confession is indeed good for the soul, Professor Rossi. I am arresting you for the theft of a priceless burhis. And there is an Inspector Indres Madre from Interpol also waiting to interview you on your past crimes of misappropriation of plundered treasures. The penalties are severe and you have no diplomatic immunity.
These..” Kaplan indicated the capsules, “I’ll have analysed. Maybe you thought Miss Western’s imminent demise could be put down to suicide by self poisoning?”
He cuffed Rossi and led him to the door.
“Lock him in a cell.” He ordered the guards.
But…You speak perfect English.
“Mmm. Yes. Of course. My mother is English. She will be charmed to meet you, she enjoys the company of her countrywomen. I resemble her.”
I look like my father. He was fair with blue eyes. Bunny, my mother was the beauty.
She knew she was babbling inanities. She should be cross at being played. Instead, she felt relief and somehow safe. She hadn’t felt that since her father died.
“Miss Western, my sincere heartfelt apologies. It was necessary to keep you from harm. Professor Rossi has been under scrutiny for a long time. We could do nothing without a confession. He is as wily as a..a..”
Ferret? Suggested Josie.
By Kate Williams.