We walked down a long dark alley that fed into a dimly lit atrium. Women and children tried to sell us candy, old stereo equipment and brittle camera film. Four men were sitting at a table drinking apple tea and smoking from a hookah. Three of them were meek and wiry, with long veiny arms that reached across the table like the legs of a spider. The fourth man had a cup of apple tea resting precariously atop his colossal stomach. He held the mouthpiece of the hookah to his lips with hairy sausage-like fingers. Iseri walked over and said something to him in Turkish. The man gulped down the last of his tea and stood up from his chair. He gestured for us to follow him.
He took us behind the kitchen, past the dried lambs tongue and pickled eyeballs and led us to the end of another atrium filled with rolled up Persian rugs stacked floor to ceiling on both sides. We walked through a beaded curtain into his store.
There was a young boy sitting behind the counter reading a Russian comic book loaded with pictures of naked women. When he saw us come in, he threw the comic to the floor and pretended to be cleaning.
The store smelled like on old closet. On one side was an encyclopedia of military weaponry from Argentina, sitting neatly on a display case full of knives and jewelry, in front of a poster for “Gone with the Wind.” On the opposite wall hung three shiny metal hands with a sign above them reading “the Silver Hands of Nuada Airgetlam.” Next to that was a human skull on top of a pedestal with the name ‘Amelia Earhart’ inscribed below it.
There were stacks of books about the Great Barrier Reef and the Fall of Rome, Jewish Mysticism of the Ukraine and Life Magazine: The Year in Weddings 1888. The Captain picked up an enormous book entitled “The Federalist Papers” and began to flip through it. He dropped it down on the glass counter with a thud.
“Speak English?” he asked the storekeeper.
“I do,” replied the man.
“Good,” said Gram. “I’m looking for a decorative bronze carp, with smooth black stones for eyes. Ever hear of such a thing?”
“Certainly,” said the storekeeper. “I have the most exquisite collection of jewelry in all of Istanbul.”
“It’s not really jewelry I’m looking for. It’s more of an antique. It’s very old, came from China. Does that make sense?”
“This is made from real gold. It comes from Arabia.”
The storekeeper held up an ugly pendant shaped like a horse.
“No, I need something specific. It’s a fish…a Koi, it’s Asian, you know?”
The storekeeper put down the horse pendant and picked up a handful of pearl necklaces.
“Your wife would love these pearls. I will make for you a good price.”
“Look Jack, I’m not looking for a damn necklace,” said the Captain. “Lewis, hand me your journal.”
I handed him my journal and he flipped to my notes from the British Museum. He showed it to the storekeeper; pointing at the lines he wanted him to read.
“It’s called the Koi of Hungwa. It was built in Beijing in 1419. It ‘s a bronze carp with smooth dark stones for eyes.”
The Captain scrolled down the page.
“See here? It was brought to Istanbul in 1424. After that, we don’t know what happened to it. Is this something you can help us with?”
The man’s eyes moved feverishly as he read my notes.
“What is this part here where it says ‘any command the Emperor whispered to the Koi came to be’?” he asked. “Or here where it says ‘enemy ships were destroyed by waves the size of mountains’?”
“That’s nothing. Just folklore. It doesn’t mean anything,” said the Captain.
The storekeeper looked at Gram with dark, suspicious eyes.
“I can help you. My brother-in-law is a book dealer and has a great knowledge of history. Allow me to borrow this journal and I will see what information I can find for you. In the mean time, feel free to look around my store.”
“Certainly,” said the Captain, “but the kid goes too.”
He turned to me and smiled.
“Alright Bud, don’t let that journal out of your sight.”
“Sure Captain,” I said trying to smile.