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THE ISTANBUL STORY

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John Granby wakes up at 05:00 with the worst hangover he's ever had. He's sitting upright and has developed a crick in his neck. He's on a plane.

Tenzing Tharkay smirks at him from across the aisle.

“What the fuck,” says John, reasonably.

“I see that you are awake,” says Tenzing, still looking aggravatingly pleased with himself. And sober, the bastard. “Last night did not give me the best impression of your alcohol tolerance, I must admit. So I was unsure if you would wake before landing.”

And, look. John is very short! He has a slow metabolism! He can't be blamed if the room starts spinning after just two beers, that's biology.

Or something.

And it's entirely beside the point, because -

“That does not look like England,” John says, peering out the window. As he speaks the tiny plane rattles ominously. John realizes that he and Tenzing are the only passengers; the other seats are empty.

No, really. What the fuck.

“I am going to Istanbul for a business trip,” says Tenzing. “You may recall that you volunteered to join me.”

“I did?”

“'Volunteered' might be a strong word,” Tenzing admits. “But you can work just as well from the city here, can you not?”

That's true – John mostly works online, anyway. He should still be able to access his files, as long as – yup, that's his laptop in the next seat.

So it's not horrible that he's apparently made a bizarre drunken trip across the earth, but he has no idea why he's done it with Tenzing Tharkay, of all people.

John met Tenzing about two months ago. He'd been reading a book in the park, minding his own business, when the text was abruptly yanked from his hands.

“I am going to buy you a drink,” the book-thief commanded. “Come along and pretend like we are friends.”

“What,” John asked.

“I will pay,” the man emphasized, John thought about this for a moment and shrugged.

He meant to get an explanation, later, but somehow that never really happened. John always figured the guy was trying to avoid a friend or maybe an angry ex, who might be more reluctant to approach him with company. Tenzing kept looking around kind of watchfully during the drinking, so it seemed a safe bet.

John ran into him again about two weeks later, after a man stood him up on a blind-date. Tenzing joined him in the restaurant instead, appearing casually and out of nowhere, and John was feeling maudlin enough to spill the whole story.

“I daresay you are better off without him, anyway,” Tenzing advised. “Especially if he is the type to abandon his dates. Do not take it to heart, John. For all that you are aware, this man is missing due to an emergency. Perhaps he died. Perhaps he was secretly a traitor to the government and was just arrested by secret agents, right outside this very restaurant, before I incidentally saw you inside.”

Tenzing says a lot of weird stuff, sometimes.

And today seems perfectly in line with all their other meetings. “We are landing in a few minutes. Though I am afraid I am not going to be exciting company for most of the trip,” Tenzing says. “Actually, it would make matters much easier if we could perhaps spend the next day or two together. It would also help if we pretended to be a couple.”

“You have an ex you want to make jealous?” John asks, still a little groggy.

“...Something like that.”

And somehow John agrees, because what the heck. He's already in Istanbul. Why not.

As far as unexpected cross-country vacations go, this isn't a bad one. Tenzing is paying for everything with his mysterious fortune – John doesn't quite understand the details – which means that their hotel is ridiculously opulent. There are tiny swans carved from soap in the bathrooms. Amazing.

And Tenzing, true to his word, hangs onto John's arm the next day as they wander the city. It's a little eerie – Tenzing is smiling and laughing way too much, and John feels kind of like he's going to get murdered or something, as the price for witnessing him like this. There's no way he can be allowed to live with the knowledge of what Tenzing Tharkay looks like with a wide, un-mocking smile. That's simple logic.

But Tenzing doesn't kill him. For two days they examine a set of carefully-selected tourist spots. Tenzing is very particular about which ones they hit, and when, although John doesn't really understand why it matters if they stand in a particular plaza at 14:00 instead of 14:05.

On the third day Tenzing says that he needs to begin his 'business', and might not be back until late. A Turkish man comes to their room, introduces himself as Asim Macar, and speaks quietly with Tenzing for a few minutes. At one point he hands over several packets of suspiciously-familiar material before exiting.

“Did you just buy drugs in Istanbul,” asks John. “ - Did we flee the country so you could run drugs.”

“No,” Tenzing blatantly lies, putting the packet in an inside fold of his jacket. Then he concedes, “They might be useful. As bribes, and a cover-story.”

John decides not to ask.

Anyway. Tenzing is busy, is the point here. So John leaves the hotel and wanders a bit, listening to the rise and fall of people speaking around him in Turkish. John's not quite sure where to go without Tenzing's fluent presence, and decides to walk around until he sees something interesting.

He promptly gets lost.

This is fine, John keeps telling himself, although it is Not Fine. He somehow ends up wandering down an increasingly quiet part of the city. It doesn't look terribly run-down, but with his luck...

He hears a cry.

It sounds like a baby?

John is never sure, later, what spurs him to follow the sound. But he does, and when he gets close to the source of the cry he hears other voices and slows himself, abashed. Of course the baby is with someone! People don't actually abandon babies in the road, right?

Probably.

He peers around the corner.

Two men are speaking, one of them holding the crying baby. The second man hands the first man money. Takes the baby. They shake hands, then walk away in opposite directions.

...Did. Did John just witness someone buy a baby?



I regret everything that has led me to this point in my life, John tweets. Same, responds one of his followers, immediately.

John is not good at subtlety at the best of times. Here, in a place where 94% of people have darker skin than him, and speak a different language, he stands out like... well, like an English tourist in Istanbul.

It might explain the weird looks John gets as he stalks the baby-buyer. Or maybe that's because he keeps accidentally humming music from the latest James Bond.

It's atmospheric and it helps, okay.

He eventually follows the guy back to a rather impressive-looking house. A house with a gate and guards at the front.

John frets for a long while about his next move. He's not sure what he expected to do about the situation, but he definitely didn't anticipate guards. It's getting late – maybe Tenzing would have some idea of how to help? Tenzing seems like the kind of shady guy who would have mercenary connections. John wrestles with different plans for a few, agonizing minutes.

Then, inexplicably, a fire breaks out in the back garden and the guards rush away to help.

Weird.

John gets inside, anyway. He can hear crying above, so he rushes up the stairs, distantly marveling at the wide, empty spaces of the house. Fucking rich people, seriously. There's even a mounted sword on the wall.

He gets to the top of the stairs. A man in a guard's uniform stares at him, taken aback. After a moment of mutual surprise he whips out a baton, and John panics. He grabs a small potted plant by the stairwell – metal pot, good – and bashes the guard over the head.

The guard staggers, but he doesn't fall. Action movies have lied.

John takes the opportunity to run past the guard anyway, figuring there's no point in giving up now. He ends up bursting through a set of double-doors at the end of the hall, and belatedly wonders why he didn't just call the police to deal with this mess.

That might have been a good idea.

The room he's in now is plainly a nursery. There are two cribs set up – one finely furnished, with a dragon-headed mobile spinning overhead, and the other very plain wood with a simple set of sheets. John immediately heads to the latter and looks down.

The baby inside has a head of fuzzy red hair and wide eyes. She blinks up at him, yawning.

Behind John the door slams open again.

“Durmak!”

“I don't know what that means!” John yells back, and in a panic throws the pot. Dirt goes flying as it the guard. Who has evidently taken the mounted sword from downstairs for a more practical purpose. That would explain why he took so long, then.

The crib is on fire. Why is the crib on fire? John scoops up the baby, which only makes the guard yell louder.

The guard advances, swings. John belatedly spins to keep the infant away from this uncoordinated slash – clearly not a fencer, this guy – and stumbles when pain erupts in his shoulder. Wetness, like a cold spray of water. Red stains the floor.

John falls against the room's wide window, bracing the girl with one arm and holding himself against the wall, with the other. This is how he dies, apparently. In Turkey, after a drunk flight, trying uselessly to save a random baby from child-slavery because he was too stupid to call the police.

And he still doesn't know what this guy is yelling about.

Before John can get up the courage to jump out the window and fall to his useless but dramatic death, the door opens again.

The new man takes one look at the scene – the dirt-covered guard wielding a sword, John holding a sleepy baby in front of him like some awful shield, and an inexplicable fire surging on the ugly crib– and yells something in Turkish.

“I should never have come to this country,” John says. “I've been here three days and I'm getting murdered by child-trafficking mobsters. Why am I even here.”

The stranger scowls at him and snaps at the guard. Then, to John's surprise, the man speaks in thickly-accented English:

“Why do you think we are selling children?”

“I saw you outside! You paid someone for her, didn't you?”

The man looks unimpressed, blinking slowly and waving the guard to step back. “Did it occur to you that I might have been paying for... what is the word, a. baby-sitter?”

As John pauses to consider this – maybe he's been watching too much Hallmark channel lately, shit – the man admits: “Though, you are not entirely wrong. I bribed an orphanage caretaker to let us take her away. But not for anything nefarious. My own daughter is ill, and needed a bone-marrow transfusion. The girl, Iskierka - she is a match but cannot legally give. I hired a private doctor for the task.”

The man gestures, and John looks down at Iskierka. Sure enough, there's a wrap around her arm. They must have done the procedure immediately.

“We don't have any plans for her,” the man continues. “She will return to the orphanage immediately, I assure you. This is all a terrible misunderstanding. Now, if you can set down the child - “

“You're just... giving her back to the orphanage?” asks John, horrified. “After she saved your daughter's life?”

She adorable. How could they.

“Yes,” says the man irritably. “Why do you care?”

And then John blurts: “Let me take her.”

“What?”

“Let me take her!” And, oh, is this what temporary insanity feels like? “Sign over custody, and I won't - “ Inspiration strikes. “ - I won't tell the press that you bought a baby just to use her.”

John doesn't know much about the polical situation here, but that would look pretty bad for any politician, he figures, regardless of the country.

The guard makes a wordless sound of rage. “Minister, you can't let yourself be blackmailed like this!”

“...Fine,” says Apparently The Minister of Istanbul. He doesn't look very pleased with John either, whoops, but he keeps looking between John and the blood on the floor, queasily. Maimed Brit in his living room wouldn't be a good news-story, either, John thinks. “It doesn't matter, I suppose. I will arrange the papers. Now get out of my house.

John grabs Iskierka and does.
And twenty minutes later he limps back inside his hotel, situates Iskierka comfortably on the spare bed, and promptly falls asleep.

His arm really, really hurts.



“I see you are awake,” says Tenzing. And then adds: “You moron.”

John blinks up at the white hospital ceiling.

There's a small wail, and John turns his head to see Tenzing bouncing Iskierka against his leg. It's a weird, disorienting sight. And then John looks down and feels even more bewildered.

“They had to cut it off,” Tenzing says, noting his gaze. “How the devil did you get your arm so badly infected in the time I was gone? You were completely feverish when I returned to the room, and wouldn't wake even with this one crying in your ear. Who is she, anyway?”

“Um,” says John, and numbly explains that he adopted a child? Apparently? He can't look away from his arm.

When the story finishes Tenzing runs a hand over his face, exasperated. “I have contacts with the government here,” he says. “I'll see that you really do get the paperwork for her. Although this does explain things – I returned to the hotel early after being notified that you were banned from the city. You have two more days to get out before they have you arrested.”

...Well. John definitely can't say this vacation was boring, he decides.

He tries to wriggle the fingers on his missing arm. He doesn't have fingers there, obviously, but he can feel them move anyway?

John is probably an inch from screaming when Tenzing dumps Iskierka into his free hand.

“Take your new daughter while I make some calls,” Tenzing says, and abruptly leaves him.

John stares down at the sleeping baby for a minute. And abruptly, everything seems okay. He's missing a hand but he has a daughter, and if he can still hold her, he's pretty sure everything's going to be fine.

Then the monitor next to his bed bursts into flames.

Seriously, why does that keep happening?