By Eric Anderson
Margaret and I snapped our gaze
to the right. A sentry had jerked a machine gun up to his
shoulder and was leaning forward to fire
The 1958 Plymouth wheezed its way up the cobbled
night time streets of Istanbul as our guide told us about his
He was a tall, suave, old-world gentleman who
spoke almost perfect English. With his blazer and flannels and
cravat at the neck, he reminded me somewhat of Reginald Gardiner,
the movie actor still caught sometimes on late night television
portraying the perfect butler or the debonair man about town.
In contrast, the driver, a short little fellow
hunched up over the wheel with only the top of his head showing,
seemed more like Peter Lorre. Not speaking any English he contributed
nothing to the conversation. Our guide, in the front seat, leaning
awkwardly against the dash to face us in the rear for his running
commentary, would every so often break off from his English to
make a comment to the driver in Turkish, usually when Peter Lorre
missed a gear change-and that was often.
We drove on towards the Topkapi Palace.
After our tiring flight from Izmir, I should have
contented myself with the ride to our airport hotel, especially
since Margaret, my late wife, had barely recovered from our bout
of turista but the guide's offer to show us the city by night
was too enticing for an obsessional photographer who had both
a tripod and unused film in his bag.
"I'm not sure if the Palace is floodlit,"
said Reginald Gardiner, "I've not been this way at night
for some months, but we'll be there soon."
As if he'd understood, the driver suddenly stood
on the brakes hard and hanging an awkward right tore into a one-way
street-the wrong way. We flew up the cobbles, gears crunching,
springs groaning and tires squealing protest. In the back, we
looked dubiously at each other but Reginald reassured us with
the cryptic remark, "True, yes, one way, but at night it
He continued to chat amiably as if to practice
his English while I peered out into the night. Clearly it had
been a mistake to ask for this. I didn't need photographs. I'd
shot the Palace by day on a previous visit. This was crazy. The
city was in pitch darkness as was the Palace now ahead of us.
Not even the sentry box was illuminated. Time to go home.
Peter Lorre will turn in the car park, I thought,
and we'll soon back to our hotel.
As if to prove his independence, the driver floored
the accelerator and we shot through the iron gates like buddies
in the Cannonball Run: Lorre over the wheel, Margaret clutching
her stomach, me tapping my tripod and Gardiner, still facing backwards
as he urbanely practiced his English.
He glanced nonchalantly over his left shoulder
then abruptly stiffened, turned his petrified ashen face to us
and shouted, "My God! He's going to shoot."
Margaret and I snapped our gaze to the right.
A sentry had jerked a machine gun up to his shoulder and was leaning
forward to fire.
"My God. Stop!" shouted our guide-in
Peter Lorre drove on.
"God. Stop!" shouted the guide striking
the driver across his shoulders. He suddenly understood, stood
on the brakes and the car skidded to a stop.
We were twenty feet beyond the sentry but even
at that distance and in the dark I could see his hands were trembling
on the weapon. He crouched forward more and swung the gun up and
down the length of our car. The soldier shouted at our driver
and gestured to him to turn around. Instead of reversing right
there, Peter Lorre, unbelievably, started to drive farther into
the palace grounds to find a convenient turning point. Our guide
uttered an oath and struck the driver again, this time on the
head. Finally our Plymouth reversed and returned slowly to the
The next few minutes remain a blur of groveling
explanations and babbling apologies from a now-perspiring Reginald
Gardiner punctuated by stern motions with the gun through our
now-open windows, my wife who was sitting on the right side at
the back, and still clutching her stomach, ducking every time
the barrel came her way. Finally the sentry kicked the vehicle.
He snarled something at our completely overwhelmed guide and gestured
curtly that we could leave.
We drove slowly and cautiously away and didn't
stop until we reached a lighted cafe area. The flickering blue
light of the cafe's neon sign illuminated the strained face of
our Reginald Gardiner, no longer debonair. He plucked the scarlet
handkerchief from his blazer breast pocket and wiped his sweating
"I, I was going to, to take you back to your
hotel," he stammered, "but I'm going to get an omnibus
here that will take me, take me past my, my home. The driver will
take you to, to your hotel. It has indeed, indeed been a, a pleasure
meeting you. Good night."
He bowed and immediately disappeared.
We drove back in silence still shaking.
"At the airport he originally intended just
to take us to the hotel, didn't he? Right?" Margaret hissed
I nodded weakly.
"And you, damn you, had the priceless idea
of driving around Istanbul in the dark at a time when the country
is under martial law? And when you knew I was desperate for a
I shrugged foolishly.
"And I was on the side that the bullets would
have come from?" she continued. I gave her a silly grin.
"You know what I was thinking when we thought
he was going to fire?" my wife of 25 years said, punching
I rubbed my shoulder and shook my head.
"I was thinking that I'd get the bullets
but you'd survive," she said. "And our kids would fix
you, Buster. They'd give you Hell for the rest of your life."
She leaned back in her seat and started to laugh
"You know," she said, "It would
almost have been worth it."