“A Murder in Ankara” – Episode 6
By Lee Sherman
The Pera Palas Hotel had marble walls flecked with red and the floors were covered in threadbare Persian carpets thick with swirls of muted colors. The lobby’s ceiling was high, and overhead a cut-glass chandelier sparkled briefly in the splash of sun when the heavy doors were opened to let Kaufman through.
But at second glance the marble walls could have used a washing, the overstuffed red velvet couches at either end of the lobby were worn, and the woman at the reception desk had bright pink nails and was chewing gum and smoking simultaneously.
“Here on business?” she asked in a bored voice, handing him a key and a map to the city.
“Yes, and I’ll be here two nights.”
She glanced down at a thick book and yawned. “That’s what we have you down for. The porter will show you your room. Breakfast is served from 6 a.m. until 9,” she said, ringing a small bell while unwrapping another piece of gum. “The porter will be here in a minute.”
Kaufman wandered over to a glass-fronted oak cabinet next to the reception desk. It was filled with gleaming silver pieces and a small typewritten card explaining that the silver dated from the hotel’s early days, when it was the final stop for those traveling on the Orient Express.
A slightly less elegant glass cabinet held bathrobes, towels, pillowcases and pens emblazoned with the name of the hotel and, George squinted at the small type, available for prices to be discussed at reception.
There was a tap on his shoulder and he turned around to see a young man in an old-fashioned bellboy suit with a boxy red hat on his head. Kaufman did a double-take and then dutifully followed the porter into the elevator, a brass-cage that lurched its way up to the third floor. The hotel, he thought, certainly worked hard to maintain its turn-of-the-century feel.
“Very old, very famous hotel,” the porter said in stilted English. “Ataturk once stayed here. So did Agatha Christie. Want to see her room? Very important person. I take you.”
“No, just my room please,” Kaufman said.
The porter’s brow furrowed. “All tourists love Agatha Christie. You don’t love?” He paused. “Maybe Ataturk’s room? Very big man. Very good to Turkey. My hero.”
Kaufman nodded tiredly. “Mine too, I’m sure. Please, just my room.”
The porter shrugged his shoulders—the look on his face made it clear he felt that the ways of foreigners were very foreign—and led Kaufman out of the elevator cage. The hallway was lined with dusty prints of Istanbul. The room doors each bore a tarnished plaque on which was engraved a name.
The porter tried one more time. “Very important people,” he said insistently. “You see?” he stopped in front of one door. “Mr. Playpen stay here. You want to see?”
“Mr. Playpen?” George squinted at the plaque. “Oh, you mean von Papen.”
The porter looked proud. “Yes, a big German, Mr. Playpen. And there,” he waved to a door they had just passed, “Iran king. And you,” he motioned George to follow him to the next door, “get famous singer. I love him.”
George glanced at the plaque. Julio Iglesias. He blinked twice. Just his luck. Other guests got heads of state, famous diplomats and glitzy movie stars. He got a crooning pop singer.
The room he entered was not very big and it seemed even smaller because of the abundance of furniture. There was a double bed, a large wooden armoire, a small chest of drawers, an even smaller one topped by a television and a slightly tilted coffee table next to an uncomfortable looking couch. Two large doors that led to a balcony were half-hidden by red velvet curtains with slightly frayed tassels.
Kaufman looked around. The bathtub, at least, was oversized and the bed—he leaned down and poked the mattress—actually felt very comfortable. It might not be as, well, modern, as the Hilton or Sheraton, but for two nights it would be fine.
He tossed his bag into the armoire and put his briefcase on the couch. He did not expect to be spending much time in the hotel anyway.
The porter, finished with flicking the lights and checking for soap, was pulling at the velvet curtains.
“You want that I open the doors?” The porter was struggling to tie back the curtains with a piece of black braided silk.
Kaufman shook his head and motioned to the porter to leave it for now. He gave him a few dollars, locked the door behind him and stretched out on the bed, ready to sleep. But the room was stuffy, he quickly realized, and he went to open the balcony doors.
The doors opened with a bang and when Kaufman raised his head from the brass railing to the view above and below, it took his breath away.
The city that stretched out was both dingy and beautiful, a hodge-podge of decrepit buildings fronted by baroque-styled carvings and elaborate entrances, cars honking on the wide road that passed just below his window, lines of colorful laundry flapping across alleys.
There, in the distance, was a mass of blue water that was the Golden Horn. Small boats bobbed in the light swells and further, on the hills that gently rose into the horizon, minarets sparkled in the afternoon light.
For a moment Kaufman forgot everything: the musty odor of the room, the frayed curtains, the fact that he had not wanted to make the trip.
When he finally dragged himself back to the bed, Kaufman smiled for the first time since he had arrived in Turkey. The room might be cramped, the mattress was definitely a little short for his 5’10’’ frame, but there was something about Turkey that was very intriguing and maybe even just a touch mysterious.
It was dark when Kaufman awoke. He looked at his watch and was surprised to see it said 3 p.m., until he remembered where he was and that Istanbul was seven hours ahead of New York. From beyond the open balcony doors lights sparkled in the black sky.
Kaufman reluctantly got out of bed. He had a morning meeting at Jelutz, the Dutch company selling the oil rigs, and he wanted to reread some of the papers he had looked over during the flight.
“A Murder in Ankara” by Lee Sherman is available exclusively on NewsPlink. To read all the episodes, click on the “Fiction” category at the upper right.