|Primary Characters:||Leo, Mehmet|
|Warning:||m/m, non-con, adult themes|
|Description:||Mehmet is attacked and once again he and Leo have to run away. The new circumstances bring back unpleasant memories for Leo.|
The young man’s lips moved silently, forcing his mouth to form the strange sounds. He was going over his German definite articles. Turkish was significantly different and though the young man couldn’t have been more than twenty-two at the most, he didn’t seem to have a head for book learning.
Grammar and spelling was the hardest for him. Pronunciation came a close second. Leo doubted the kid would ever be able to read anything more complex than warning signs and turn signals and similar simple German.
Still, if he could get his student to learn the most common phrases and understand somewhat more, he’d consider it a job well done. These hopeful would-be immigrants usually didn’t aspire to anything higher than manual labor.
At the other table, Mehmet was trying to drill two other men in basic German.
Leo grinned when he saw Mehmet frowning over the unfamiliar situation. Neither of them was cut out to be a teacher, but even so, this was a simple enough job and it paid slightly better than his old bartending job. Occasionally, he’d get to guide a group of German or Austrian tourists around parts of the town.
Again it was nothing he’d ever anticipated doing, but it wasn’t difficult and he considered himself lucky to be able to do it.
Mehmet had managed to find them a better place to stay. It was no bigger than their last lodgings but far more pleasant, even if the rent was higher.
Leo was getting more used to life in a Mediterranean resort. In a way, it was just as he’d imagined it when he’d first heard of where they were going, a vacation. The trouble was, he was getting fed up with it. He’d loved his job and he missed doing something really worthwhile.
Sure, he realized how much their teaching meant to the men lining up for the perilous trip north, but he’d been good at his job. Being a cop was his vocation, for want of a better word. Now he felt as if he was merely marking time.
On the other hand, it was no use crying over spilt milk. What was done was done. He couldn’t get hung up on the past, when there could be no turning back. If Mehmet hadn’t shown up when he had, he’d have been dead by now or so seriously injured he never would have been able to do his job anyway.
He knew he’d be better off just accepting that his life had changed irrevocably the day his partner had decided to mete out his brand of stale old justice. Still, there were times when he missed his home so much. He wondered if he’d ever see it again or if this strange, exotic place would be his home for the rest of his life.
Reluctantly, he tore himself away from the past and managed to put in a little more time correcting his student’s mistakes and saying the words out loud as clearly and slowly as he could. Finally, it became obvious that the kid had had enough and it was time to call it a night.
Mehmet hurriedly finished his lesson and sent his students on their way, with a bit of homework he guessed they wouldn’t do.
Leo did the same and finally the evening was over. He considered going to the beach and have a late night swim, but decided against it. The currents could be tricky and besides he still didn’t feel comfortable undressing in front of Mehmet. But if Mehmet wanted to cool off a bit, he could at least come along and wade along the shore while his friend was taking a swim.
“So – straight back home or do you have anything else in mind?”
He surprised himself really. Not that he expected Mehmet would choose to interpret his innocent question as something other than it was.
“Home, I think. It’s late. I’m tired. These guys really aren’t cut out for higher learning, that’s for sure.”
“Or maybe it’s our fault. I know I’m no teacher and -”
“Neither am I. I know. Well, it can’t be helped. All I want is a snack and maybe I’ll read something before bed, that’s all.”
“Me too. German seems like such a tough language for them to learn, but who am I to judge them? Turkish is hellishly difficult for me.”
“Don’t be too hard on yourself. For someone learning at your age, you’re doing great.”
“So you say. You’re fluent in German and you still know your Turkish. And some English too, right?”
“Sure. I took it in school for nearly ten years. So did you, right?”
“Mm. And French for a couple of years.”
“You went to some posh school, then?”
“I guess you could say so, yeah.”
“German – well, I got there so young, I just picked it up, playing with other kids.”
“I know. You almost don’t have any accent at all.”
“Thanks. It’s almost like a first language, but not quite. Sometimes I find myself searching for the oddest words.”
“Not often, I’m betting.”
Mehmet shrugged and continued on his way. All that praise was embarrassing him, but he knew Leo was just making conversation.
A half-buried memory resurfaced. German. Fluent.
“You know, my wife – I don’t think I told you. One day I realized that she was fluent in German too. She’d just pretended not to know any. I was upset with her. She told me she thought I wanted her that way. Docile. Innocent. Ignorant. Like – barefoot and pregnant. I – felt like a fool and snapped at her. Well, not just for that, but for the whole thing.”
“Oh. No, I never knew that. What were you angry about?”
“I don’t know. Her parents probably told her that’s what a man would want from her. But I didn’t. If she’d told me she knew German I would have been glad. I felt so guilty for leaving her alone all the time. I’m betting she’s relieved to be rid of me. She would never have told me so, of course, but I think she -”
Mehmet broke off, embarrassed. He hadn’t meant to tell Leo about his doubts about his relations with his wife. It might be interpreted as a confession of being gay, and that definitely wasn’t true. His feelings for Leo were confusing, and there were times when Mehmet shamefacedly acknowledged that at least part of it was just the need for sex. That and the memories of the times he and Leo had –
But Leo didn’t seem to be able to follow his train of thought.
“No offense, but it is kind of bizarre – all that – I don’t know – buying and selling of women, like property.”
Mehmet drew himself up.
“That’s not how it is. It’s just a matter for the entire family. Your parents -”
“Both of them?”
“Ok, your dads make up plans that will benefit the whole family and – Well, I suppose it might look like trafficking to an outsider, but – ok, in a way I guess it is, but – I assure you I didn’t – I mean – all that crap about looking for the traditional stain of blood on the sheet after the wedding night -”
“You know. To make sure the wife is a virgin.”
“Oh, right. Yeah, I had heard of that.”
Again, Mehmet felt self-conscious about discussing anything so private. He hadn’t meant to be so open about his personal life, but living like this, so close together had made him feel – closer to Leo – in a way that had nothing to do with sexual attraction. In a way, it felt good to be able to open up with someone.
“So she hadn’t gone to a doctor to have surgery?”
“Surgery? Oh, right. No, of course not. Anyway, I’m sure she really was a virgin.”
Leo nodded, a little puzzled about the way the conversation was going.
“It’s nothing I – I mean – some guys might like that kind of thing, but I just felt – well, it’s no fun really. Worrying about – you know – hurting her and so on. Not really sexy, if you know what I mean.”
“Oh. Right. No, I guess not. I don’t even know if I’ve been with a virgin. It’s not the kind of thing I’d wonder about. But now that you mention it – yeah – no fun at all. Someone more experienced is always -”
“Of course, for all I know I might have been with a lot more women than I remember. If that weird amnesia ever kicked in when I was with a woman.”
Mehmet studied Leo, with a great deal of interest. Poor Leo. If he’d been with some really hot girl, wouldn’t it have been the final insult in a way, to have no memory of it?
“Even so, it sounded as if you’ve had nothing to complain of, when it comes to that kind of thing.”
Now Leo looked embarrassed.
“Yeah, well, you know – I certainly had no trouble getting dates as far back as in high school and even earlier.”
“Really? Good for you. From high school and on I can’t say I’ve had reason to complain either. You’d be surprised how many German girls like the exotic.”
“Oh. I see.”
“I mean, I knew what it was, but it’s not as if I’d be stupid enough to turn them down, for something like that.”
“No, I can see that. But you didn’t have someone – that you’d rather have married, if you could have chosen for yourself?”
“No. I guess I’m still looking. What about you?”
“No, but then – I never really forgot about that thing with my dad – it just felt too hard to open up with anyone. If – this hadn’t happened, I definitely wouldn’t have told you. No offense. I wouldn’t have told anyone. Except if I’d met her. You know, my dream girl.”
“Oh, right. Of course. None taken. And – uh – I’m really sorry. I can’t even imagine how that would -”
The easy, light tone of their conversation changed and Leo looked away.
“Yeah, well, I couldn’t tell you. It’s just something I wish I could have forgotten completely, but I suppose that might not have been good either. I don’t know. It just stays with you. For all I know, I’ll never get over it completely. Don’t get me wrong. I had no trouble having sex with girls. It was just – opening up, properly. For a more serious relationship that – sort of – I just couldn’t do it.”
“Never mind. Let’s change the subject. Do you remember what we have in the larder?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Sardines. Some cheese and tomatoes, maybe some eggs. And a little bread.”
“Good. There’s not going to be anything open this time of night.”
“Unless you’d like to go to one of the hotels. It’s not that late.”
“Nah. I’m not that hungry.”
The rest of the walk home, a mere matter of minutes, they spent in silence.
The following day, Leo would be guiding a group of American tourists and for once it was an all day job. He’d ride on the bus with the tourists out to a Grecian temple – his classical studies from high school came in handy for once – then have lunch with them in a restaurant out by the sea a bit further east. After lunch they’d be viewing some fortifications from the Ottoman era. Leo hadn’t known anything about that, but the guy from the bus company had just tossed him a pamphlet.
To begin with he’d worried a little about these tour guide jobs, but especially the Americans were easy to guide. Others could be a little more tricky, but at least the Scandinavians seemed to be polite enough not to criticize and most of the English ones too. Germans on the other hand, sometimes turned out to know far more than he did, which on one occasion had left him feeling a little foolish, but the woman in question had mellowed out a little after he’d got her a drink ‘on the house’.
She was attractive enough, but Leo hardly felt tempted to be one of her holiday memories. It was too soon. He didn’t feel up to being that close to anyone else yet. In any case, she was very proper. She taught high school in Bremen and didn’t seem to be looking for a fling.
Since it was an all day thing, Leo was expected to have dinner with them as well, or at least with the driver. The food turned out to be excellent. It was the first time since he’d ended up in Turkey that he’d had much of an appetite. Even the mineral water – he had decided against drinking on the job – was delicious.
All that would almost have been worth doing for free, but as it happened, it paid relatively well. When he got off the bus outside the tour group’s hotel, he had a sum of money worth the equivalent of fifty euros. Not exactly what he would have made back home, but considering what he usually made it was plenty.
Despite the better place they rented they had even been able to save up a little money. They didn’t dare put it in the bank and Leo had suggested that Mehmet, who spoke the language and knew local conditions, hang on to it, but Mehmet had declined, and now the money was hidden away behind the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. There was a small space there that wasn’t visible unless you looked really closely.
The guns wouldn’t fit in there, but instead they kept them on the floor of the larder, packed in plastic and stashed under a couple of empty wooden crates that had once held oranges or some other citrus fruit. No reason to take any unnecessary risks with them. Not counting the bullet Mehmet had had to fire off to scare off Leo’s attackers, a few months earlier, both guns were full.
It wasn’t as if they were expecting to have to fire them again anyway, so their main concern was keeping the weapons out of the wrong hands.
It was already close to ten in the evening when Leo walked back to their apartment. For someone who had grown up in northern Germany, the nights seemed to fall so quickly. After he’d been the victim of the brutal attack some months earlier, Leo still felt wary of walking alone after dark, but his training helped him ignore his own feelings and push on anyway.
He was just being silly. That attack had been a fluke. No one had it in for him or Mehmet here.
Leo found the key to their door and unlocked the door. According to Mehmet, they could probably leave the door unlocked if they were in. Their neighborhood was safe enough. But it was hard to unlearn a lifetime of experiences just like that. Where Leo came from you always locked your door. Of course, here they had far less to lose than his family had when he was growing up.
The lights were on and there was a faint smell of cooking in the air.
“Hey. Guess what I -”
Leo broke off, struck by the silence. Usually, when he walked in, Mehmet would call a greeting. His roommate and former colleague hadn’t mentioned working late today. At the moment he just worked on teaching would-be immigrants German and the last lesson should have been over by seven, seven thirty at the latest. Of course it was always possible that Mehmet had stayed on to play cards or just sit and chat with his students who seemed to be nice guys, if a little simple.
But the smell of cooking spoke against it. Suddenly wary again, Leo quietly walked around the tiny apartment and noticed that Mehmet had started laying the table and there was evidence of simple cooking, but everything had been turned off and left standing on the sink or the top of the stove.
Leo put his hand against the side of the frying pan where two eggs were congealing unappetizingly. Almost cold.
He searched the kitchen then the hallway and even the bedroom for a note from Mehmet but he found nothing.
The sound of the doorbell ringing made Leo start. Mehmet had a key. He wouldn’t have to ring the doorbell, unless he’d gone out and forgotten his own key. Maybe that was the explanation.
Just in case, he waited a while, then called out.
“Who is it?”
Kemal was one of their students, a young man who was struggling with basic German, hoping to find work in Germany or Austria. Leo could think of no reason for him to show up like this. Unless – Unless something had happened to Mehmet.
Hastily, he opened the door and let Kemal in. The guy didn’t look particularly alarmed so maybe he’d jumped to conclusions.
“Hello. What brings you here?”
Well, if he remembered correctly it was more like ‘why are you here’. A lot less polite, but pretty much all Leo could manage in Turkish.
“Your friend – Mehmet -”
Leo’s stomach made a lurch. No matter how uncomfortable Mehmet made him feel, he was also a friend. A good friend. If anything had happened to him –
A stream of Turkish followed, then when the expression on Leo’s face told Kemal that his teacher didn’t follow, the kid’s face showed some strain. He broke off, appeared to be thinking carefully, then started haltingly in German.
“He go to park.”
Again, Kemal appeared to be thinking slowly and painstakingly, then seemed to give up and turned to slightly less halting English.
“He gets message from – relative. Go to park to meet.”
“A family member?”
“His wife’s family. Yes.”
For some reason this made Leo feel more, not less concerned. Even if Mehmet hadn’t told him anything about it, he’d read about the so called honor killings and abandoning a wife, wasn’t that something that could be considered a serious breach of honor, if you were traditional?
It was now a little more than half past ten.
“Nine thirty. Fifteen minutes to ten.”
Not that long ago. Maybe if he hurried, he would make it in time. Just in case. If Mehmet didn’t need any backup, he’d leave again without calling attention to himself.
He was about to turn away from Kemal to go and get his gun, when it occurred to him that Mehmet might not simply have wanted him to know where he’d gone. There might be more information. Just in case, he didn’t even bother using what little Turkish he knew. He wasn’t any better at that, than Kemal was at German.
“Did he have a message for me?”
“Message. Yes. Mehmet say – if he not back before midnight, tomorrow go to German embassy. Or – you will know what to do.”
Leo swallowed. Suddenly, his throat felt dry. If I’m not back before midnight – It sounded as if Mehmet expected trouble.
“Where is that park?”
“I – will show you.”
“Thanks. Wait outside and I’ll be right down.”
Kemal nodded, seemingly relieved to have delivered the message he had been charged with.
As soon as the door closed behind Kemal, Leo went to check on the guns in the larder. His suspicions were realized. Mehmet’s gun was missing. Hastily, he stuffed his own into the waistband of his jeans, then after a moment’s consideration went to pick up their savings, adding them to the roll of banknotes from the day’s job.
Downstairs, he stopped and looked around, wondering if the wife’s family had staked out the place or if they’d simply shown up and requested Mehmet’s presence in the park. Meeting late at night in a park – did that sound like a friendly meeting between people related by marriage? Not to a cop and definitely not to a man who had had to flee his home and seek refuge in a foreign country, like Leo had.
He nodded amiably at Kemal, hoping that the young man wasn’t leading him into a trap.
The park turned out to be in a part of town where Leo rarely went. As far as he recalled, he’d only passed it once and hadn’t really paid much attention.
“Do you know where in the park they were meeting?”
Kemal frowned in concentration, presumably not to recall the location, but to find the correct words in English.
“Over there. By – water.”
Leo couldn’t see anything in the almost total darkness under the trees, but Kemal had pointed towards the right, so he set out in that direction, calling out a thank you over his shoulder.
The sound of a shot fired, echoed in the relative silence. Even the intense Turkish traffic had slowed down a bit by now.
Leo broke into a run, in the direction from which the sound had come.
As he got deeper into the park, his eyes began to adjust and he made out an oblong shape, which had to be the water Kemal had mentioned. A pond. Where was Mehmet? If he was the one who had fired first there might still be a chance, but if not –
Breathlessly, Leo hurried on, not worrying about the noises he made. With any luck, the shooter – if it wasn’t Mehmet – would take him for a local cop and run off.
At first he didn’t see anyone. He stayed under the relative cover of some thick bushes overlooking the pond. Then he heard what sounded like a shoe grating on gravel. Someone was running off. The question was, would it be the shooter or the intended victim and more importantly, which was which?
A muffled noise came from somewhere much closer.
Leo strained his eyes and caught sight of a dark shape huddled under a tree to his left. He began to inch closer, hoping that he’d find a stranger there.
But as he got closer, something about the shape seemed familiar, and he recognized Mehmet’s profile. His friend was pressing his left hand to his shoulder.
Mehmet’s head shot round, gazing sharply in Leo’s direction.
“It’s me. Leo.”
“Stay low. There were two of them. I heard one of them run off. It’s probably the younger guy.”
“I heard him too.”
Leo kneeled besides Mehmet eyeing the injury appraisingly.
“You’re hit? How bad is it?”
“I think it went through but it’s bleeding a lot. Must have hit a -”
Mehmet broke off, listening hard into the darkness. Leo too, fell silent.
Someone was walking on the grass, under the trees. He was coming from the other side of the pond. Since his eyes had adjusted, Leo had no trouble making out the outline of the man moving stealthily closer.
He could see Mehmet trying to raise his right arm, but the pain made him give up the attempt. Leo thought he saw beads of sweat on his friend’s face. He’d have to worry about that wound later. Time to put their adversary out of commission.
He released the safety and took aim. All his experience told him to warn the other guy first, but he knew that here he wasn’t protected by German law and couldn’t be expected to follow the rules. Not if it might get him and his wounded friend killed.
He decided to go for the guy’s gun arm. That seemed to be what he’d done to Mehmet. Wing him, then finish him off later. Except he and Mehmet couldn’t do the latter. Once the guy had dropped his gun, they’d have to get going, before the younger one returned. Just because he’d lost his nerve and run the first time around, didn’t mean he’d do it again, if he came back.
Knowing what depended on this shot, Leo hesitated. His hand felt unsteady. It had been so long since he’d fired a gun. If he missed, the other guy might get close enough to pick them off, one by one. He couldn’t miss.
Taking a deep breath, he focused on the guy’s shoulder. He was close enough. It should be enough. As long as he got it right the first time.
Remembering his friend, huddled on the ground beside him, he pulled the trigger. He heard the bullet enter the other guy’s flesh, then a muffled curse. For a while, that was all that happened, then at last, the gun dropped from the guy’s hand and he began to sag.
Still keeping his target in sight, Leo closed the distance between him and his victim and before the other guy had time to collect himself, kicked the gun out of his reach. That should do it, unless the guy called for his backup. But by the time he returned, he and Mehmet would be long gone.
When he returned to Mehmet, he’d put the gun away, but seemed to be fading in and out of consciousness. In any case, it took him precious seconds to rouse his friend. He tried to determine how much blood Mehmet had lost.
“Hey. Do you think you could walk?”
In reply Mehmet began to fumble for Leo’s arm. Steadying himself, he managed to get to his feet. He was swaying alarmingly, but Leo didn’t see that he had any choice. All the while, Leo kept an eye on the dark stain on Mehmet’s shoulder.
“How much blood have you lost?”
“It’s ok. Let’s get out of here. Not back to our – He knows -”
Walking seemed to put even more of a strain on the wounded shoulder and Mehmet clenched his teeth, clearly trying to preserve his strength.
Leo hadn’t really expected Kemal to still be waiting where he’d left him and he didn’t spare any time to look for the young man, but as he was crossing the street, trying to get to the harbor, with a vague idea of trying to get out of town that way, someone made a strange noise. He looked around, and caught sight of Kemal standing in an alley a couple of yards away.
They didn’t have that many options left, so Leo decided to take a chance.
Kemal’s dark eyes took in Mehmet’s injuries, then said something in Turkish. To Leo’s relief, Mehmet was conscious and replied with a string of unintelligible words in the same language. Leo didn’t even bother trying to understand.
The exchange went on for a minute or so more, then Mehmet lapsed into silence. He seemed to be tiring fast now and Leo wanted to find somewhere his friend could lie down so he could examine the wound in more detail.
Kemal urged them on, taking them through a maze of streets that more closely resembled Leo’s expectations for the fabled exotic ‘East’.
By the time Mehmet was hanging limply in Leo’s arms, Kemal knocked on an insignificant-looking door. For a while nothing else happened, then they all heard the sounds of footsteps coming down the stairs. It sounded as if someone was unlocking the door from inside, then pulling aside a bolt.
Kemal spoke rapidly to the man inside, who then stepped aside and let Kemal and the others in. He locked and bolted the door behind them. Kemal waved them on up the stairs all the way to the top floor. Again, they waited until the door was unlocked and were shown inside.
The air in there felt stuffy and smelled of onions and spices Leo couldn’t identify. There was also a whiff of something Leo was familiar with, professionally at least. Someone had been smoking cannabis in there. At the moment, that didn’t interest him.
Their host showed them into a crowded room. All the walls were lined with beds and at one end, another row of mattresses covered the floor.
Invitingly, their host gestured towards one of the beds. Gratefully, Leo let Mehmet down onto it, kneeling beside it to take a good look at the shoulder. Mehmet had said the bullet had passed through. His own observations confirmed that. Apart from anything else, they’d need a doctor. Leo was hoping their savings would cover that, but if he used all the money to pay for medical expenses, how could they get out of town? Preferably, he’d like to leave the country too, but he had no idea where to go, or how to find the money to pay for it.
He heard Kemal discussing something with their host. Another voice broke in. None of it sounded alarming, but the truth was, he wouldn’t know if they were talking about turning them over to Mehmet’s wife’s family.
The older man who had let them in said something as if he was waiting for a reply. No one answered and eventually it dawned on Leo that he was the one being addressed. The man repeated his words, or at least Leo assumed he did, this time in German. It was grammatically correct but spoken with a noticeable accent.
“Does your friend need a doctor?”
“I think so, yes. He’s been shot. The bullet went through his shoulder.”
The man nodded. Leo was acutely aware of his disadvantage, so he hastily got up, facing the man once again.
“I will ask a neighbor to come in and clean the wound.”
“In the meantime, please, sit down.”
“Thank you, sir. You speak good German.”
“I was in Germany for fifteen years as a young man, then returned home.”
Their host returned five minutes later with an elderly woman wearing a headscarf. She was carrying a bowl under one arm, and some folded up pieces of cloth under the other. When she got closer, Leo saw that she held a big bar of soap clutched in her hand.
She bent over Mehmet and began to remove the shirt. The pain made him come awake, gazing wide-eyed up at the newcomer. She said something in Turkish and Mehmet relaxed again. He let her clean the wound, then bandage it.
She spoke briefly with their host, then left. The old man turned to Leo.
“My neighbor says the bullet went through. It is a clean wound. She has cleaned it and bandaged it as you can see. I will send someone to a pharmacy for antibiotics. That should be enough. But I can send for a doctor if you prefer it.”
Leo hesitated. He was no expert. There was no denying that the money might be put to better use if they were to be able to escape, but he didn’t want to risk Mehmet’s life just to save some money.
It was as if the old man had read his mind.
“My neighbor is from the north east. She has tended many wounded in her life. I think you can trust her judgment. And if the fever does not break, we will get a doctor here. I know someone.”
“Thank you. Sir – we need to get out of town. Some people are after my friend and we should get away as soon as possible.”
“I see. Your friend won’t be able to travel for at least a week. You are both welcome to stay here while he recovers.”
Again Leo hesitated. He didn’t know this man and had no reason to trust him. The old man studied him closely, then smiled disarmingly.
“You are thinking you don’t know if you can trust me. Well, you can’t know that. However, you have been kind enough to try to teach my nephews German. Much better German than I could teach them. You must be a German native, am I right? They are learning to speak with a good accent. I am grateful to you.”
So Kemal had taken them to his uncle. No wonder the kid wanted to get to Germany.
“Thank you. I appreciate your kindness.”
He still didn’t know the old man and couldn’t be sure if he was to be trusted, but if not, they were already in deep trouble. Kemal had always struck him as a decent young man. In the end, he decided that he didn’t have any choice but to trust his host.
Over the following days, Mehmet didn’t get any worse, but he also didn’t recover as fast as Leo had been hoping. Gradually, he began to spend more time awake, and during those hours of lucidity, he spoke at length with their host.
He briefly explained to Leo that he was trying to find a way for them to leave the country.
“It’s not safe anymore.”
“Your wife’s family -”
“That’s right. It was her cousins who brought me to the park. I was hoping I would be able to talk to them. Explain – But – there’s no reasoning with them. My abandoning her has been taken as an insult against their entire family.”
“It’s not your fault. I never should have agreed to that whole travesty of a marriage. Besides – how could I leave you to those Nazis?”
“I know. But I should have been here that night. I should have backed you up. Then you wouldn’t be in -”
“How could you have known they would show up? I had no idea they knew where we were. Anyway, Leo – thanks for -.”
“Are you kidding? You’ve saved my skin too many times already. Did you think I was going to leave you to face them alone?”
Mehmet’s tense features seemed to relax a little. He was at a loss as to what to say.
Leo eagerly tried to change the topic to avoid any embarrassment.
“So where are we going this time?”
“I was thinking Bosnia. It’s not a part of the EU so they probably won’t be as likely to be on the lookout for me. If anyone’s looking, that is. What do you think?”
“I don’t know. You’re probably right. So, how do we get there? Those trafickers charge a bundle to take people into the EU. Is it any cheaper to go to Bosnia?”
“Maybe. In any case, Kemal’s uncle is trying to get someone to take us to Greece. From there we’ll have to try to get on another ship up north. To Dubrovnik. There we might be able to get into Bosnia. Hopefully all the way to Sarajevo, but Mostar might do.”
“You seem to have it all worked out.”
“I discussed it with Kemal’s uncle. He’s been very understanding.”
“You didn’t tell him why those guys are after you?”
“Of course not. But I doubt if he’d be surprised.”
“Well, I did bring the money. I had a hunch you were in trouble, especially after that message.”
“So did I. That’s why I asked Kemal to pass on my message to you. But I never expected you to get there in time.”
“Almost in time.”
Mehmet gingerly moved his shoulder. His face lost what little color it still had and Leo almost put a hand on his friend’s arm to stop him.
“Take it easy.”
“This is nothing. It will heal.”
“Yeah, I know. Right. So we’ll get to see Bosnia.”
“Apparently. I hear it’s quite beautiful.”
“So have I. Never been there myself though. I’ve been to Trieste on vacation once, but not to Croatia or anywhere in former Yugoslavia.”
“Me neither. I guess we’ll find out what it’s like.”
Leo made a face.
“A new language.”
“I know. But there will be people who speak English at least, if not German.”
About a week after the shooting, their host told them he’d managed to set up a deal with the trafickers. Kemal and one of his brothers or cousins – Leo never really figured out the exact relations between their students – took them to the rendezvous.
Leo only had vague memories of the time Mehmet had brought him into Turkey. This time it was Mehmet who was a bit hazy, but mainly he managed to stay focused. After a long wait, during which Leo and Mehmet kept looking over their shoulders, feeling exposed and at risk, a man showed up and took them to a van.
There they said goodbye to Kemal and their other student.
The van took them to a warehouse in the dock area. Behind stacks of wooden crates, a sort of room had been set up. The walls of the narrow space were made up of more wooden crates and some dirty blankets suspended from the ceiling as draperies.
There were some more blankets and two chairs, placed around an upturned wooden crate. On the latter, playing cards were laid out. It looked as if someone had been disturbed in mid-game and left their deck of cards behind.
Leo helped Mehmet lie down in the corner behind the makeshift furniture. The driver and two other men who had been in the van had disappeared. There was no actual door, but once they were inside, someone had shoved the stacks of crates so they now covered the entrance. It was a flimsy structure and Leo estimated that he would be able to push some of the crates aside easily enough if the need arose.
He guessed they might be kept waiting for quite a while. No one had said anything to them since they’d been shown inside the warehouse. He was hoping they hadn’t been set up.
Eventually, he too began to feel drowsy and lay down on the other pallet.
He came awake with a start. Someone was shaking his shoulder.
A man in his forties was standing over him. When he saw that Leo was awake, he pointed the way he’d come. Leo studied him intently, then got up and followed him outside.
The guy gestured for him to follow. Leo glanced over his shoulder, reluctant to leave Mehmet behind.
When the guy noticed Leo wasn’t following, he stopped and nodded towards what looked like an office or at least what seemed to be used as an office. The walls didn’t go all the way up to the ceiling, but there was a proper door and Leo could see a desk through the open door.
Once inside, the guy pointed towards the chair facing the desk. Leo sat down, wondering what was going on. They’d had to give most of their money to Kemal’s uncle, to have the trip set up. If this guy wanted more, they were screwed.
Now the guy spoke for the first time. He said something in Turkish of which Leo only caught ‘pay’. So he’d been right.
The guy tried again. This time Leo got ‘money’ or ‘payment’.
“We’ve already paid you. I don’t have anything else.”
He repeated it in English, just in case.
The guy seemed to get it.
He began to study Leo in an unnerving way, making Leo feel uneasy. There was nothing he could do. He’d never been much into expensive watches and he didn’t like to wear any jewelry. It just reminded him too much of the pimps and drug dealers he’d encountered on the job. If this guy decided to keep their money and turn them out, there was nothing he could do.
The guy seemed to have finished his contemplation and got up abruptly. Leo started, wondering if they would now be thrown out. He got up too, backing off a little, studying the guy warily.
A smile began to spread across the other guy’s face.
To Leo’s horror, the guy began to fumble with his belt. He opened the pants in front and nodded at Leo to approach. There was no room for misunderstanding. Leo felt chilled. He thought of Mehmet, lying on that dirty pallet only a couple of yards away, then about how Mehmet had saved him twice over.
He’d sworn to himself that he’d never do this again, that he’d never have to be close to another man again, but he knew he didn’t have a choice. For Mehmet’s sake he’d have to do it and for his own.
The man before him began to display signs of impatience.
He swallowed and nodded. Unsteadily, he kneeled before the other man.
Ten minutes later he staggered outside, vomiting until his stomach was empty. Even then the retching didn’t stop. Filled with revulsion, he wiped his mouth, then rubbed his hand against the warehouse wall. It was close to an hour before he had collected himself enough to return to Mehmet.
To his dismay, Mehmet was awake.
“Where have you been?”
He lay down, facing away from Mehmet. To his relief, Mehmet didn’t ask anything else.
It wasn’t until late the following day that they were loaded onto the ship.
Somewhere in Greece they were moved to another ship, then taken the rest of the way to Dubrovnik. It seemed that was as far as their shippers were taking them.
To Leo’s relief, Mehmet slept most of the time. They weren’t fed more than a few times in the time it took to get to Dubrovnik. Leo tried to sleep too.
They were driven into the city proper in another van, then dropped off in an area of cheap hotels and bars, and the odd strip joint. This type of neighborhood was familiar from their work, and until they got some kind of job or were able to make contact with anyone who might help them, it seemed to be a suitable place for them. In a better area, hotel rooms would be more expensive and more attention would be paid to things like passports and visas.
Fortunately, Leo still held on to the remains of their savings. He guessed it was about a hundred euros. Certainly no more. Back home that might have bought them a night in a hostel, but nothing more luxurious. Here – he had no idea.
By now, Mehmet was walking more easily, but still had trouble using his arm. They began to move along the street. It was very early in the morning. Most hotels wouldn’t be open yet, but they couldn’t even afford to sit down at a café, should one be open at this hour.
They were looking for a park or anywhere with benches where you could sit down. Eventually, they found a place. It was in a small square. Traffic only seemed to go one way. It was hard to tell, because at this hour there wasn’t much of it. Just a few delivery trucks.
A little later, more people began to pass by and Mehmet asked a couple of young men where they could find affordable lodgings. The young men glanced indifferently at them, but one of them pointed up another street. It was narrow and quite dark, but still a proper street, not a back alley.
Eventually, they found a place that let rooms to students and temporary workers passing through. Just as Leo had feared, even one night here would use up the last of their savings and they still didn’t have anything left to buy a meal. Maybe they should consider sleeping rough for a while and hold on to their money.
He took another look at Mehmet who was holding his arm at an awkward angle, trying to avoid bumping it on anything. No, sleeping outside would be out of the question.
The sleepy young man behind the reception desk explained that breakfast was included in the price. That made Leo decide. He exchanged a glance with Mehmet who nodded.
Five minutes later they were up in their new room. It gave on the interior courtyard and smelled of smoke and cheap soap, but seemed to be relatively clean.
Leo had an uneasy feeling Mehmet was watching him again, as if he was trying to puzzle something out. Determined to ignore it, Leo stretched out on the bed for a while, facing away from his friend. He heard Mehmet do the same. Leo had slept badly during the passage from Turkey and it didn’t take him long to doze off. It was a relief to fade out.
He woke up to a feeling of disorientation. The room didn’t seem familiar, but after a while, he became aware of another person’s slow, steady breathing somewhere close by. Mehmet. Leo shut his eyes again, trying to erase the memories as they came flooding back.
He lay like that for an indeterminate time, watching the neon lights flicker through the windows, wondering what time it was. Had he slept through the day? Not that it mattered. At the moment, they had no plans and nowhere to go.
A while later he became aware of signs that Mehmet was beginning to wake up. Forestalling any awkward conversation, Leo got up and hastily performed a perfunctory toilet, then made for the door.
By now, Mehmet was sitting on the side of the bed, scratching his hair, looking dazed and sleepy still.
Leo was about to leave without a word, then thought better of it and turned in the doorway, facing his friend.
“Are you hungry?”
“What? Oh, I guess so, but we missed that breakfast, didn’t we? How much was the room? Anything left?”
“No. I’d better go out and see if I can find something to do. Or somewhere cheaper to stay.”
“Tonight? Hold on, Leo. What -”
“I’ll be back later.”
He didn’t stop to listen to Mehmet’s objections.
Mehmet got up and hurried to the door, but Leo was already gone. Had Leo taken the gun? What was he going to do?
Ever since they’d been waiting for passage in the warehouse, Mehmet had had a bad feeling about Leo’s state of mind. Something had occurred while he was out. He’d woken up to find Leo gone. At the time, his shoulder had still hurt badly enough for it to be a real chore to get up and walk around for extended periods of time.
Besides, he wasn’t sure what was keeping Leo. If he’d just gone outside to take a leak, he could hardly barge in on him. That would only convince him he was still lusting for his body. And that – might be true, but he definitely wasn’t going to tell him that. So he’d waited and by the time he’d become convinced something was wrong, Leo was back and it definitely seemed as if something was wrong.
Mehmet had been about to ask, when Leo had stretched out on the pallet next to him, turning his back, making it clear he didn’t want to talk. But Mehmet had an idea of what the problem was. It almost made him choke. Had Leo paid the price for them both? Or was he just imagining things because he knew what Leo had been through in the past?
And now Leo was gone again, and in a strange mood. Mehmet didn’t know what to make of it. Somehow, he felt he had good reason to worry. Again, he considered getting up to try and find Leo and convince him to come back with him. They could go looking for work or cheaper lodgings in the morning. But he knew he’d never find his friend in a strange city where he didn’t know the language. Despite his misgivings, he forced himself to keep calm. Maybe Leo was just restless after the enforced immobility during their passage.
Leo just realized he still had the gun. Its solid weight pressed against his belly, reminding him of all kinds of things he’d rather forget. In his job, he’d seen too many easy ways to make money quickly. He was afraid he’d soon lose his ability to resist.
And after what had happened in that warehouse – shattering his uneasy calm, bringing back memories that had already been stirred up by what had happened in Turkey and before that back home – he felt raw and alien. Not like the Leo he had grown used to in the years since breaking contact with his father. At the moment, he didn’t quite know who he was.
He was torn between too many impulses. Part of him wanted to cut himself, like a teenager. Another part, less rash and more grownup, kept returning to the gun. Another easy way out. But he couldn’t do that to Mehmet. He couldn’t leave him alone in this city where he found himself on the run, just because he’d wanted to help a colleague. That wasn’t the whole truth, as Leo well knew, but his mind shied away from the underlying reason for Mehmet’s loyalty to him. Besides, he argued, that didn’t matter. Mehmet would have helped him anyway.
With an effort that took more strength than he thought he had, he tore his mind away from the gun and began to think rationally. So his resolution never to have sex with men again had fallen through. Fine. It was already a fact, nothing he could go back and change. Couldn’t he use that to his advantage? Clearly he was still as attractive to other men as he’d been in the past, at least one man. Wasn’t there a way he could turn that attraction into cash? Cash he could use to pay for a room, maybe the one they were already in, and a proper meal?
Maybe, but his experience as a cop told him that he was much older than the usual clientele in those streets. Even so – he could try.
Though he tried to ignore it, there were times he’d fallen back on his talents as a grown man, even while he was still denying the past to himself. He knew how to charm people. Women, sure, but men too. A disarming smile, a certain way of angling his head. Posing. Watching them under half closed lids – And it worked too. Worked like a charm.
He was betting at least half of them never knew what was going on. They merely saw him as a sympathetic guy. Shamefacedly, he realized that he’d used his tactics on Jan. Played the admiring son. And if Haroska had fallen for it, no wonder he’d been furious when he found what was behind the successful partnership.
Or was it jealousy and envy, pure and simple? An ageing man’s instinctive dislike of someone younger and more attractive? Was he worried Hernandez would begin to eye a younger model?
In any case, it was all still there, if he could bring himself to use it. And this seemed to be the time to do it. What else could they do, in a strange city, with no one to help them? Mehmet was wounded. Even if there was some job they could get, Mehmet was in no fit condition to take it. No, it would be up to him, Leo had known that all along. And since he had a unique experience – why not use it? If he could do it once – in the warehouse – he could do it again.
While he was arguing the matter out in his mind, he’d instinctively gone in search of the neighborhood where he might find someone willing to pay for his – expertise. He didn’t have far to go. The hostel was in a street where scantily dressed girls lined the sidewalks and not far from there, another street crossed it. Leo turned on to that, after observing a couple of flamboyantly dressed men of his own age turning on to it.
He followed and found a couple of gay clubs. Further down the street, and around a corner, he found the kids with the glazed over eyes, standing by streetlights or leaning on walls, baring their bellies, turning to pose for any passing male. As he’d expected, they were all half his age, but – as he walked further away from the bright lights, the silently waiting guys seemed to grow older.
This was the place. Leo looked around and found a stretch that seemed empty. After glancing around, to make sure no obvious threats existed, he went to stand there. He wasn’t wearing one of those short tops, but he did as he’d seen others do, back home and pulled his t-shirt up, baring a couple of inches of skin.
There he waited for so long, he was beginning to think he’d made a mistake. Maybe no one would be interested. He considered returning to the hostel and go out again in the morning, just as Mehmet had suggested.
Then a car began to slow down just before passing him. When the driver’s seat was alongside the spot where he was standing, the man stopped, with the engine still running. A man in his mid- to late fifties leaned over and said something in what Leo imagined was Serbo-Croatian. He looked blank. The man took a closer look, a smile spreading across his face. His hair was thinning and turning white, but something about the face reminded Leo of his father and had to use all his willpower not to back away and run.
Instead, he fell back on old habits. He forced himself to smile and lean closer.
The older man said something in Russian. Leo’s knowledge of Russian could be summed up in two words – da and nyet.
Trying again, the man seemed to be regarding Leo with even more rapt interest.
Leo hesitated then refrained from replying directly.
“Yeah, I speak English.”
He spoke with a slight accent that Leo couldn’t place, not after hearing only three words. The man seemed to take his compliance for granted. He pushed the door open and waited.
Leo took a deep breath and got in. The man’s smile deepened. He put the car into gear and drove off. Leo anxiously glanced out through the window, wondering where the man was taking him.
As if reading his mind, the man hastily reassured him.
“Not far. Just around the corner.”
To Leo’s relief that turned out to be true. They were in a parking lot that was empty apart from the car they’d arrived in. Behind them was a naked wall, with no doors or windows, but it looked as if there had once been a door and several windows. All were now boarded over.
On the other side trees grew so low that the lowest branches scraped the hood of the car. Leo looked around, wondering if they’d be going somewhere or if his trick expected him to stay in the car. He had his answer sooner than he would have liked.
The man leaned over and pointed towards the backseat. Leo swallowed and nodded. The front seat could be pushed forward and it was done in a matter of seconds. Considering the size of the car, it wouldn’t have been necessary, but apparently his trick liked his comforts.
Leo regarded the older man doubtfully, trying to keep up an unruffled calm. Now his trick began to fumble in his pants and Leo froze. He waited, hoping the dryness of his throat wouldn’t cause him to cough. Eventually, the man brandished an expensive-looking leather wallet and pulled out four banknotes. Leo wasn’t exactly sure about the exchange rate between euros and dinars, but the denominations were high.
As if reading his unspoken question the man explained.
“About fifty euros. Enough?”
That was about what Leo guessed was the going rate back home so he imagined it was fair. He nodded and held out his hand for the bills, then stuffed them into his pocket.
Leo’s smile froze when the old man leaned closer until their lips met. Closing his eyes, Leo returned the kiss. He felt a cool, dry hand make its way under the hem of his t-shirt, then move up across his chest. The other hand followed.
Just as Leo felt he’d reached the limit of his endurance, the hands withdrew, only to reappear inside his jeans. Deftly, the old man unzipped his jeans and began to fondle him. Leo was torn between wanting to keep his eyes closed and being able to tell in advance what was about to happen. In the end, he couldn’t stand to see what was going on, so he closed his eyes again, this time keeping them shut.
The car gave a lurch when his trick moved from his seat and onto the floor. Gently, but insistently, he pushed Leo’s legs apart. Leo bit his lip to stop himself from whimpering. All he could do was stay still and let matters take their course.
At some point he must have faded out. Later, how much later, he didn’t know, he found himself standing on the street corner where the man had turned off onto the parking area. He was alone and there was no trace of the car.
Leaning back against the wall, he hugged himself, as if the night had been cold, instead of in the higher twenties. He didn’t know for how long he remained like that, but eventually, the sky took on a bluish tinge. Time to return to their room. He’d made enough to pay for another day and night at the hostel, but not enough for a proper meal during the day. Not that he was hungry, but he imagined Mehmet must be though there was nothing he could do about that.
When he got back, Mehmet was sitting on the side of his bed, staring at him in concern.
“Where have you been?”
“Out. I told you.”
“Right. Are you ok?”
“Sure. Why wouldn’t I be? Excuse me.”
Leo sailed past Mehmet and into the tiny bathroom, an unbelievable luxury in a place like this. There was a shower. If there hadn’t been, Leo didn’t know what he would have done. He tossed his clothes on the floor and stepped into the shower, pulling the curtain to.
To begin with, the water was lukewarm, but rapidly turned icy. He was wondering how that was possible, considering the high temperature outside.
Mehmet knew something was wrong. For a second he wondered if Leo had robbed someone and if things had gone out of hand and he’d ended up having to kill someone. The look on his friend’s face was chilling. There was no expression there, but the eyes – the eyes worried Mehmet. Something was wrong and he was going to find out what it was.
Patiently, he waited as he listened to the water running. After a while he began to feel a little uneasy. What was Leo up to in there?
He waited a while longer, then got up and pulled the door open.
“Leo? Come on. That has to be enough. Get out of there.”
He closed the distance between the door and the shower curtain, that was damp with excess water seeping down to the floor, where it had gathered in puddles. Pulling aside the curtain he steeled himself. Leo wasn’t going to like this but this had gone on long enough.
To his relief, Leo seemed to be ok, physically, but he was sitting on the floor hugging himself. His lips were turning blue with the cold and there was a vacant look in his eyes that chilled Mehmet. What was this? And more importantly, how could he fix it?
Forcing himself to ignore Leo’s feelings, he leaned over and after turning the water off, grabbed his friend’s arms, pulling him to his feet. For a second, he thought Leo would resist him, maybe put up a fight, but his friend felt like a ragdoll. Limp and pliant.
Mehmet glanced around for a towel and when he found one snatched it up on his way back into the room. He wrapped the towel around Leo and tried ineffectually to dry him, then gave up the attempt and made Leo lie down on the bed, pulling the covers up around him.
After some hesitation, he sat down on the side of the bed and pressed his hand to Leo’s forehead. He was cool to the touch, maybe too cool, but that would be the icy water from the shower, or the shock. The question was, what had caused it? He had taken a quick look at Leo before wrapping him up and there didn’t seem to be any visible injuries.
Remembering the gun, he got up and ran into the bathroom. Leo’s clothes lay in a heap in front of the wash basin and Mehmet kneeled there, rifling through them. His fingers made contact with the metal and he grabbed the gun. To his relief it hadn’t been discharged. At least his worst fears hadn’t been realized.
Calmer now, he returned into the room and put Leo’s gun with his own, then sat down on the side of the bed again.
“Hey. Leo. It’s alright. I promise everything’s going to be fine.”
Reluctantly, he stroked Leo’s cheek in a way he hoped would be reassuring. Encouraged by Leo’s acceptance of his touch, he continued, until finally, a look of awareness crept into Leo’s eyes. It was going to be ok. Leo wasn’t going to panic and pull away.
“What’s wrong? You gave me a scare.”
A series of emotions passed across Leo’s face, until at last he seemed to resign himself to whatever decision he’d come to.
When he spoke, his voice was so dull and lifeless, the warmth that Leo’s seeming trust had given rise to evaporated. Maybe Leo just didn’t care. It had happened before. Mehmet’s conscience still plagued him about that, but he forced his thoughts away from what had happened between them and tried to focus on the present.
“I thought I could – but it was just like before.”
“What? I don’t get it. Did anyone attack you?”
To Mehmet’s suprise, Leo began to laugh. Frowning, Mehmet tried to make sense of the reaction. His first impression had been right. Something was wrong, but he still didn’t have a clue what it was.
To his alarm, Leo didn’t stop laughing and his mirth now bordered on hysteria.
“Leo. Take it easy. Come on.”
It was a while until Mehmet realized that the laughter had turned into a desolate sobbing. Helplessy, Mehmet watched his friend fall apart, until in his desperation, he reached out and pulled Leo into his arms, knowing as he did so, that it was stupid of him. He prepared himself to let go before he caused Leo even more pain. Instead, he felt his friend slump down against his chest.
Holding Leo like this made Mehmet feel oddly protective. It was as if he wanted to hold on to Leo and never let him go, but strangely enough, he no longer felt any desire.
After what felt like a very long time, the sobs began to dry out and eventually, Leo calmed down. He pulled back and faced Mehmet.
“I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to -”
“It’s ok. But what happened?
“I told you. I went out to look for a job. And I found one.”
“I made fifty euros. They’re in my jeans pocket. In there.”
“You didn’t -”
“What else could I do? It was just that -”
Mehmet wanted to wipe away the look of self-loathing on his friend’s face.
“He reminded me of my dad.”
Mehmet’s eyes filled with tears. He didn’t care if Leo saw it. This was all wrong.
“No. You shouldn’t have.”
“You know we don’t have any money left. What were you going to do? Rob a bank?”
“We found work before. We could have done it again. I mean, we will find something to do.”
“This isn’t Turkey or back home. I don’t know any Serbo-Croatian, do you?”
“No, but – Leo, I’m serious. You can’t do this anymore. Look at how it made you feel. If that’s all that’s available, let me do it. Or don’t you think I’m attractive enough?”
“Don’t be stupid. You’re injured. You can’t work yet. It has to be me.”
“Ok. What did you do tonight?”
At least the look of puzzlement on Leo’s face was an improvement on the self-loathing.
“Exactly what did you do?”
“I told you. I went down to that street, you know which one I mean. Then I waited until that old guy came along, and got into his car. You get the drift.”
“No. I asked you exactly what you did.”
Leo stared. He wasn’t sure what to make of Mehmet’s vehemence. Part of him was wondering if this was just jealousy, pure and simple. Did Mehmet resent the fact that someone else had been offered what he was being denied?
“Why do you want to know?”
“Just tell me.”
Well, he’d asked for it. He could just take it. See how well he’d handle it.
“I sat in the car and he – touched me – then he got down on the floor and – Do I have to spell it out?”
“I see. Well, then I can do it too. My injury won’t stop me from – ”
Again Leo stared at Mehmet. He looked as if he’d never seen him before.
“Are you out of your mind?”
Leo opened his mouth, then closed it again. Then he just gave up the attempt. He slumped back down onto the pillows. Mehmet was simply exasperating. He was – a good friend. No, he was – probably the best friend he’d ever had. More like a brother, if they hadn’t – He smiled faintly and gave it up.
“Ok. You win. We’ll look for some other type of job.”
Mehmet began to relax a little, then remembered the warehouse. This was probably as good a time as any to bring that up. Things couldn’t get much worse now. The smile that had begun to form on his lips faded again.
“Leo – that guy in the warehouse -”
Immediately the words were out of his mouth, Mehmet regretted them. The look in Leo’s eyes, made him want to hold him again. Just hold him, nothing more. He wanted to – turn back time, make things right again – but he’d never believed in miracles and the past couple of months hadn’t taught him any different.
“Yeah. You’re right. He wanted additional payment. Money we didn’t have. Just as I was beginning to think we had wasted all our savings, I found out that he was willing to accept payment in kind. There. Happy? I had hoped you wouldn’t find out.”
Mehmet had to cough to clear his throat before he could go on.
“Leo – that’s exactly the sort of thing I wish -”
“You don’t want anyone else to have me?”
Mehmet flinched as if from a blow, but didn’t falter. Suddenly, Leo felt even worse. Why did he have to twist the knife in the wound? Wasn’t it enough that he didn’t return Mehmet’s feelings? Did he have to rub it in too?
“No. I simply don’t want you to have to do that kind of thing.”
“I know. I’m sorry I – But it was our only chance. And it was my fault we were in Turkey in the first place. You threw away everything. Your career, your family, your – life. Just to save me.”
“I told you, I wouldn’t do it any different if I could go back. Those two fascists would have killed you. I would have done the same for Stieglitz.”
For some reason the mention of the internal affairs guy made Leo giggle. Suddenly, Mehmet did too. For a while, they doubled over with laughter over something that really wasn’t funny. Mehmet was the first to recover.
“Ok. Enough drama for one night. We just established that we can’t go back. What’s done is done. But will you promise me you’ll never do anything like that again?”
Leo didn’t bother stalling by demanding that Mehmet specify what ‘that’ meant. He knew far too well what his friend was saying.
“If we don’t have to, naturally I won’t.”
“No, you have to promise. No matter what, you’re not going to do that again. Ever.”
Again, Leo bit back the sharp reply that was on his tongue. ‘You don’t own me.’ And words to that effect. He knew what Mehmet was doing and despite himself, he was beginning mellow a little. Mehmet’s feelings didn’t feel so intimidating anymore. Even if he couldn’t return those feelings, he trusted his friend. His brother.
“Ok. I promise. Thanks.”
“For caring. I – appreciate it. And – I care about you too, just not -”
“Yeah, ok. I understand.”
Satisfied that Leo was getting back to normal, Mehmet rose, then stretched out on his own bed.
“What sort of job did you have in mind this time?”
“The same. Teaching people German. Or just anything. Unskilled labor. There has to be something. Waiting on tables. Serving drinks in a bar. Sweeping floors. Anyway, it’s not too cold here. We could probably sleep rough if we have to. Maybe we could catch a ride to Bosnia, but I think this place will do.”
“Yeah, why not? I’m sorry. I guess I was stupid. I should have known I wouldn’t be able to handle it.”
Mehmet didn’t reply. He didn’t know what to say. Over the months they’d been living together, his feelings for Leo had changed. Sure, he still loved him, but the attraction had faded. He’d have to be a monster to still want sex with a guy with Leo’s background. At the moment, all he wanted was to make sure Leo was safe. Besides, everything else aside, he’d never had a better friend. It was as if they were family.
“No more secrets now, ok?”
“No more secrets. And that, I hope, includes avenging family members.”
“I swear. From now on, we tell each other everything. Partners.”
“Partners. And friends.”
And brothers, Leo wanted to add, but he knew it would sound too weird.
“Friends. Don’t worry, Leo. We’ll think of something.”
“Ok. I hear you.”
“Right. Go to sleep now.”
“Yes, sir. Lights out. Hands on the covers.”
“Yeah? Is that what they said at your posh school?”
“No. It wasn’t a boarding school. I’m just fooling around. But they did rap our fingers with the ruler if we answered back or got into fights and so on.”
“Sometimes we got a good whipping too.”
“In your koran school?”
“Koran school? What’s that? Never heard of it. Don’t be stupid. I never went to one of those. Just an ordinary school. Then here, I got into a couple of fights and got dentention.”
“I see. So what made you decide to become a cop?”
“I’ll tell you later, if you go to sleep now. Even if you’re not tired, I am.”
“Fine. I won’t say another word.”
It really seemed as if Leo dozed off after a while. Mehmet, despite his claim, stayed awake, agonizing over what Leo had put himself through tonight. That kind of thing must never happen again. If nothing else, he might end up infected with something and Mehmet knew he couldn’t bear that. He’d find a way to keep Leo and himself safe. And at least no one would look for them here. They would be safe.