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“No, please, stay and enjoy the conversation. I will be fine. The hotel is such a short walk away!”
“No, Miss Helen, I must insist.” He was by her side before she could protest any further.
Not wishing to cause a scene, she acquiesced and found herself being gently propelled with his hand on her back down the street. She was grateful when they neared the hotel and she could escape from this hanger-on.
“Good night, then.” She started toward the hotel doors.
“We have to talk, Mrs. Lawson. It’s urgent!”
“How do you know my last name?” Helen asked, astonished.
“We will sit down, I will explain.” Then he added, louder, as if for anyone nearby to overhear, “I know much about Troy, I’m certain you will enjoy hearing.”
Helen accompanied Aslan to the lounge, which was sparsely occupied at this time of evening. Still, Aslan scanned the room carefully to be certain, this time, that no one would overhear this particular conversation. He drew an ID from his pocket and showed it to Helen. He was Aslan Nadir of the PÖH, the Special Action Branch of the anti-terrorism department of the Turkish Police.
“But you said you were Bosnian?”
“I speak several languages,” he said. He let it go at that.
“How can I help you, Mr Nadir?” Surely this had to do with the theft of her beach bag.
“My director has received some intelligence in connection with this excursion organized by Eastern Tours. He asked me to join your group to keep an eye on things.”
“That’s interesting,” said Helen, because she didn’t know what else to say.
“Our worry,” said Aslan, “is that there is a plot to destroy one of our country’s most honored sites.
“We don’t have this information yet. That is why we need your help, Mrs. Lawson. I need backup on this trip — to find out the plan and who is behind it ultimately.”
It took Helen a minute to absorb that. “I’m not a spy, Mr Nadir,” she said finally. “In fact, I really don’t think I want to get involved in this. Maybe I should just cancel the tour.”
“Please do not do that Mrs. Lawson.”
“You can’t make me help you!”
“No, of course not. Of course not." He gazed at her. "You know, there is one thing. Perhaps you could explain to us about the key card?”
“The key card?”
At that moment, a woman completely covered in black garb with only a slit opening for her eyes, gently pushing a baby carriage, entered the lounge. She took a seat ten metres away and appeared to be humming to her baby, or to herself. But once or twice her eye slit turned in the direction of Helen and Aslan.
“You see,” said Aslan, leaning forward and lowering his voice, “from time to time, without leaving traces, we inspect the premises of certain individuals of interest, and in this case, a former worker at this hotel. Yesterday we found that he possesses photographs of your passport and other documentation.”
“But my papers are in my room.”
Aslan sipped his coffee, then looked at her again. “Perhaps you allowed someone to borrow the key to your room?”
Helen was indignant. “My key was stolen yesterday. I reported it stolen.”
“You reported it to the police?”
“No, to the front desk.”
“This is crazy. Why would I help someone make copies of my passport? You’re trying to frighten me.”
Aslan softened. “No need to worry,” he said. “I don’t believe you are helping the criminals. On the contrary, I hope that together we will find all the facts about them on the trip. You will help? You would be doing an invaluable service to my country and helping to protect the safety of the tour group.”
Helen, closed her eyes and thought seriously. And what occurred to her was that she was needed here, finally needed somewhere. She told herself that she never had been one to shy away from challenges.
“I’ll help you,” she told Aslan. “What exactly is it that you want me to do?”
A few seats away, the woman in black bent down as if to console her baby in the carriage. “There, there”, she whispered to the plastic doll. “Mummy is going to avenge you!”