C.F. Ebbington

Returning to the Hotel Mersin wasn’t exactly a bitter affair although it should have been. Soon the news of my failures would reach the ears of my colleagues back in Edinburgh and then subsequently it will be widely publicized that Dempsey beat me to the artifact… again. They will begin to talk and whisper about me in the library rooms and tobacco parlors of the stuffy old Ferrochie Society of Archeology and Exploration (FSAE) at 1044 Victoria Street. However, it didn’t escape my notice that Dempsey or one of his goons was always nearby at every setback. A remarkable series of coincidence in my view. Nevertheless, the artifact is gone, I am empty handed, and my creditors who financed this exploration will be less than pleased with the return on investment.

The Hotel I mentioned earlier was my base of operations this past three months. I chose it because it was conveniently situated near the edge of town and in an area less frequented by travelers. They also had plenty of rooms available to accommodate our team as well as storage for our equipment. Perhaps it was empty because in many ways it was its own archaeological site. The Hotel was far from kept and could be considered a minor ruin in its own right with it’s crumbling facade and ornate wooden doors that stick hard and have to be forced when you try to open them. Stepping into the vestibule was like stepping into a newly discovered Egyptian tomb without the sarcophagus inside. If you were there, you’d find a shabby and dusty reception area with cracked walls, flaking paint, and a few tattered tapestries hung at off angles. It was sparsely furnished too. There were a few guest chairs on the right that you wouldn’t let your mother sit in. The first is for fear it may not be structurally sound and second because of the liberal amount of cat hair usually present on the upholstery. I should also mention that often times the cat responsible for the hair is actually there too, curled up and not given to offering hospitality to guests. I may as well note, there is always a cat at the Hotel Mersin. To your left, you would see a small wooden podium that is too small for an average sized person and therefore looks quite odd. If you had time to study it you would notice the once beautiful veneer peeling and warping on one side while the other has long deep scratches randomly from top to bottom. I suspect it’s the cat but I admit I’ve never observed it. However, the first time visitor to the Hotel would undoubtedly have their attention fully focused on what stands behind the podium. A mummy, to complete the effect! The last and most striking similarity to the tomb of the Pharaoh’s can actually greet you when you arrive. Not a mummy in truth but the aged proprietor of the Hotel Mersin who insists on being called “Abi” which, in Turkish, means Brother.

At this point in my account, you might ask yourself why I wouldn’t turn from this deplorable wreck of an establishment and find someplace more modern and comfortable. After all, C.F. Ebbington has a reputation to uphold doesn’t he? I wouldn’t want the FSAE to think me not upholding the standards of its esteemed membership either. Alas, the answer is a very simple truth. The air around the Hotel Mersin is the most heavenly medley of all things a man of my tastes could desire. You can get a lung full of its delicious air at a hundred paces from the entrance. The aroma of cooked lamb and spices fills the street and alleyways surrounding the Hotel and when you enter those tired old doors the last thing you are thinking about is the condition of the place. Once inside the sweet smell of lemon cologne mingles with pots of Cay and fragrant tobaccos. It’s just magical and frankly makes me think of simpler times. It’s been about twenty years since my expedition to the southern Turkish Province of Adana to find the lost Armenian scrolls at Yilankale Castle or, as it’s known in English, Snake Castle. While there I became quite taken with the culture as well as the food and I can tell you that finding good Turkish cuisine out of the country or in this case, off of the continent, is rare indeed.

On this day, however, when I entered I couldn’t enjoy it or even appreciate it. Being all too familiar with the hotel I walked straight past Abi and descended two small steps to the main dining area. Abi gave his normal greeting with a boisterous, “Merhaba, Charles!” as I passed but I said nothing in return. I weaved quickly through the tables in the lobby to a small corner table for two, pulled out the chair with overly dramatic vigor, and sat down promptly with a thud. I’m not generally a creature of habit by nature but I wanted to be at the same table I started my journey so that I could wallow in reflection now that I was at the end of it. “Damn…” I mumbled just audible to myself. “How will I ever recover from this one?” I said again low voiced but looking upwards now. I stared a few moments at the fixture on the ceiling. It was old and dusty like everything in the Hotel but it had what looked like Viking warriors on each of its arms. Very odd I hadn’t noticed that before. Looking back down to the table I brushed his hands across the white stained linens. I felt small crumbs beneath my palms as I brushed back and forth and back and forth. With my mind reeling I was in a trance of processing what had happened. I kept going over and over it in my mind trying to understand how Dempsey had beat me and in the thinking, digging a hole of self-pity and anger. I’d wandered into the Mercin like a wounded animal preparing to journey home to face shame, bankruptcy, or possibly worse. “Probably all three?” I said aloud only this time in earshot of an older man sitting at a nearby table. The sound brought him up from a newspaper to meet my gaze but his eyes quickly averted back to his reading. I whispered an apology which was returned with a half-hearted and very dismissive wave. Just beyond the now annoyed older man was a young couple who sat talking and enjoying their tea. They looked happy and it made me think about my daughter. We had never been apart until this expedition. Her studies at University in Edinburgh wouldn’t allow for an extended trip. I tried to listen to their conversation and struggled to hear but what did suddenly register is that I needed a drink too.

“So you’re back again?” said a voice from over my shoulder. As if right on cue a familiar waitress was standing over me. “What can I get for you Mr. Ebbington? Do you want some tea?”

The waitress was named Shabnam. She was the proprietor’s daughter and she was lovely. We had gotten to know each other quite closely over the few months I was here. I’m sad to say that for the last several weeks we have been engaged in some form of flirtation that only persists because I haven’t made my feelings obvious. “You remember my name, Madame!” I replied with feigned unfamiliarity, a look of surprise, and a half smile. “I mean no offense but I have forgotten yours. Can you forgive me?”. I leaned back and straightened up as a gentleman should. Shabnam stood uncomfortably close forcing me to lean slightly to one side to create space. I was made nervous by the close proximity and swallowed hard. She noticed.

“Am I that easy to forget Mr. Ebbington?” she said making a show of balling her fists and putting them to her hips.

“No, not at all it’s just…” but before I could say more she interrupted.

“My name is Shabnam. It’s a hard name to remember.” She paused. “I know this.” She paused again and with a wink and a subtle smile she said, “I’ll get you some tea.”

Before I could respond Shabnam moved over to the old man to see to his service. I watched for a moment as she cleared the tables and headed back to the kitchen. She was definitely memorable and quite attractive but I do have to agree the name was hard to remember. I took me a week before I could remember it on command. The pleasant diversion from the darkness was short lived. Back to the hard questions of how years of research and preparation could end in complete and utter failure. Questions began circling again in my mind. How did this go so wrong? How did he beat me? Was there a spy? How did I not see this coming?

Before I could sink completely back into my depressions Shabnam arrived like an angel with tea. There were no words exchanged and she wore a tight-lipped smile as she set the tea down gently. The traditional style glass teacup on a glass saucer with a small silver spoon made the slightest clatter as it was laid on the table. The cup had a familiar hourglass shape with gold trim lining the top. Shebnam rested two cubes of sugar on the dish opposite the spoon. I promptly deposited both cubes of sugar into the piping hot tea with a splash. Stirring slowly, I became mesmerized watching the sugar cube dissolve and break away into smaller and smaller pieces with each turn of the spoon. When there was no sugar left to be dissolved I set the spoon aside, gripped the small of the glass and then, “Ouch!” I shouted. Once again this drew the attention of the older man who promptly decided it was now time to leave. I knew better than to grab the middle of the glass. With my preoccupations, I wasn’t thinking clearly. The proper thing to do was to hold the glass by the rim at the top where it’s not as hot.

“Are you okay, Charles?” said Shebnam who was watching with concern.

“Yes, I just forgot myself for a moment.” I replied with an embarrassed smirk. “You know for a civilization that has contributed so much to humanity how did you ever forget to develop handles for your cups?”

Shabnam shifted her stance from helpful to offended. “We did make handles.” She said. “They are for children. I will bring you one.”

This an unedited draft excerpt from the upcoming illustrated book: The Machinist’s Island | Copyright 2019

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