The Scarlet Witch of Cihangir

7 Apr

Zyra inherited the coffee house that she ran from her late father. But she was too ambitious to remain the manager of a small business in the Cihangir sector of modern Istanbul. Her secret dream was to leave the neighborhood where she found herself and rise to elevated rank and position. And she believed that she had the inborn intuition and instincts to accomplish that, since she was gifted with the special capabilities of a traditional Turkish cadi.

Although her mother died when Zyra was only fourteen, she had succeeded in teaching her daughter all the skills and arts of witchcraft passed on for centuries in a line of females. The grieving girl had absorbed the tricks and capacities she would need in order to become a practicing cadi. She began to exercise the arcane craft from her teenage years. By the time of her father’s death when she was only nineteen, Zyra was prepared to take over the coffee shop and face the surrounding world of men. Her defenses were adequate to protect her.

Tall, slim, and attractive to both old and young males, the sparkling personality of this cadi drew a flood of permanent customers to her small neighborhood establishment. But it was she who fell in love with a handsome poet with athletic good looks named Cemil.

Zyra decided to apply what she had learned from her mother to throwing a spell over him and gaining domination over his mind and heart. That would lead her to escape from the coffee shop, she believed.

The tall, muscular writer of poems did not know that Zyra had looked at him through her special blue crystal amulet as he sat by himself in the back of the shop, reading a book and taking sips from the cup of espresso coffee that he had ordered from her. No one else happened to be around to see what the proprietress was up to.

When, after a time, he rose to leave, she asked him a question with a pleasant smile. “How was your coffee, Cemil? You appeared to be entirely concentrating on your book. What were you reading that was so interesting that it engulfed all your thought?”

The confused way that he looked at her revealed that he had no ready answer available to him.

“It is just a small volume of contemporary Turkish verse by beginning authors, people like me. I want to find out how much of their work is parallel to my own.”

“How is your writing coming along?” she inquired with spirit. “I imagine your creation is a demanding need that tires you out.”

“It drains me of all my energy, but I wouldn’t trade it for all the money in Turkey. It is the main reason I stay here in Cihangir.”

He gave Zyka a hand wave and departed.

What a paradox! she realized. He wishes to stay in this neighborhood
because of the poetic inspiration he finds here, while I yearn to escape as soon as it becomes possible.

Following the spell-casting formula learned from her mother, Zyka burned the amulet that night after closing the shop. Taking the ashes outside to the back alleyway, she looked up into the midnight sky and spoke the words of the spell her mother had taught her.

“Tell me, stars, if the one whom I love shall soon be in love with me.”

Zyka repeated the sentence nine times, then poured out the ashes of the amulet onto the cobblestone surface of the narrow, tiny alley.

She returned to the shop, went upstairs to her bedroom, and fell sound asleep instantly.

Cemil became like a different person.

He stayed after closing time and held long, frank, and open conversations with Zyka, treating her as if she were a lifetime intimate. Looking directly into her ebony eyes.

“Few people understand the true essence of poetry,” he told her one evening when the coffee shop was empty and closed. “It is not an invention, but a truth-revealing mirror. That is all.”

She smiled in reply, perceiving the birth of his yen for her.

Cemil flattered her, saying that “You are easy to talk with, Zyra, because you draw out the true, inner being of those who take the time to come to know the deepest dimensions of your spirit.”

The young woman continued grinning and inviting him to move on.

He has become my suitor, and wishes to evolve into lover and beyond…

In a couple of weeks, Cemil found no obstacle to spending the night together with Zyka above the shop in her personal quarters. It was she who asked him “Do you think it is time that the two of us could…copulate?”

The surprised young poet answered “Now would be perfect, my love.”

Cemil began work on a series of poems dedicated to Zyka. “I have never before experienced this degree of inspiration,” he said to her. “You are the Muse of my soul’s creativity.”

She became the first person to hear him read aloud verses that he aspired to submit for publication in literary journals in Istanbul and throughout Europe.

I have ignited a previously unknown flame within him, she told herself with joy.

But then came a shocking emotional crash. Something completely unexpected occurred. The first inkling was a conversation that Zyka overheard by chance between two of her male patrons.

“Have you heard about the actress named Ahri? She is running around on the sly with the poet, Cemil. The two have to hide what they are up to from her husband, the drama director, or it would mark the end of her chances on the stage here in Istanbul.”

“I think that adultery is quite common in those high culture circles they belong to,” said the other voice across the table from the first.

Zyka felt a deadening bolt of something dark pulse through her body.

Could the rising poet have betrayed her? Was he going to continue such treason?

Zyra knew from her mother a method of exacting a justified revenge. She had a way of making Cemil pay the ultimate price of perfidy, and she believed that he had earned death by what he had done to the pure love that they had shared. The poet had become a liar and falsifier to her. His words now made her cringe deep inside.

Once again, she wore a golden necklace with a blue crystal amulet. As he sat by himself in the shop drinking coffee, his face and eyes facing the narrow tree-lines street, she managed to view him through the lens of witchcraft.

This accomplished, Zyra went forward to greet and converse with him on mundane, everyday topics. How are you? What are your plans for tonight? It is too bad that you will be unable to stay upstairs with me.

She returned all his smiles. Her blue crystal had captured his image.

Late that night, when Cihangir had closed down and was asleep, Zyra went outside with the ashes of the blue crystal she had smashed into ashes and then burned, and spoke the words of a curse to the blanketing cover of stars.

“May he who has dishonored and betrayed me lose his life. May his heart stop beating and his lungs breathing anymore. He must pay that price for the evil deeds he is guilty of.”

Zyra repeated the curse nine times, then went back to her coffee shop and a sleep of peaceful satisfaction.

Late the following morning, a familiar customer entered with the news that she had been waiting to hear.

“I am saddened to have to report to you something very tragic, Zyra. Our friend Cemil suffered a stroke late last night, and it turned out to be a fatal one. He died before any medical help could reach his apartment. His relatives in Izmir have been notified, and they wish to have his remains transported there for funeral and burial.

“It is a profound tragedy, is it not?”

“Yes,” answered the cadi. “That it truly is.”

The owner of the building that Tyra’s father had leased for his coffee shop and living quarters was the property of a wealthy man named Ilgun Tansel. He was a short, obese diabetic with a bloated face and enormous blue eyes. His personal insecurity drove him to nurse a paranoic fear of losing his fortune and holdings in Cihangir. At every opportunity, the money-hungry miser raised the rent that Zyra owed him.

Every contact with her landlord brought misery and pain to the young woman. He delayed or refused her requests for repairs to the structure, already suffering from years of neglect.

One afternoon, Ilgun waddled into the shop with an explicit threat to her continuing operation in business. He sat down in a back booth where he could talk with her in private and present a proposition.

“Miss Guven, I know from many friends that this establishment of yours is not very profitable, and that you can barely scrape together enough to pay your bills and support yourself. Consider all the hours you must spend making many varieties of coffee for your clientele, and how heavy your operating expenses turn out to be at the end of every month.
I have great sympathy for your plight, and that is why I have dropped by today. I have a plan that promises to rescue you.”

He stared at her with concentrated attention and forcefulness.

“What I mean to suggest is that you voluntarily surrender your lease and close down your business here, once and for all. There is no future for you at this inconvenient location. Who is it that comes in to you for coffee? Artists, actors, painters, and writers. These are the worst dregs of Istanbul society. No one wants to associate with them or frequent their hang-outs. In other words, places like this coffee house have bad reputations and face very bad luck once they become categorized by the public.

“But I can save you. I will tear up your lease and forgive you the penalties that you owe me under its provisions. You will be free to go where you wish and do something new, whatever that might be.” His diabetic eyes grew larger. “What do you say to what I propose?”

Zyra felt her head spinning around. How should she answer this snake? she asked herself.

“I need to think about what you have just said,” she shuddered. “It is too important to decide too quickly. Can you give me some time to consider all that you have told me?”

The two gazed directly at each other for several moments.

Ilgun suddenly began to rise up. “A few days should be enough, Miss Guven. I will then return to take up the matter again. Good day to you.”

Once a cadi begins to use her skills in order to kill foes and traitors, there is no stopping. So realized Zyra in desperation.

How was she going to maneuver her landlord so as to capture his arcane image in a blue crystal amulet? she wondered, until an idea surfaced out of her unconscious.

She had to get him to come upstairs into the small parlor of her apartment, and convince him to eat delicacies that she herself prepared for the two of them.

That would provide her the opportunity to focus her vision on him through the blue crystal she wore hanging from around her neck.

Zyra decided to send her landlord a handwritten note inviting him to a late supper that she planned to prepare. Her answer to his proposal that she break her lease was ready to be presented to him.

Ilgun arrived as she was closing the coffee business earlier than usual. The two of them climbed the back stairs leading to her rooms.

“We can eat right in the kitchen, if that is alright with you,” she sweetly said. Ilgun grunted his agreement and followed her there, taking the chair at the head of a table in the small kitchen area.

“I made some lamb sarma with the finest vine leaves I could find, and later there will be kadayif and rice sutlac for desert. I hope that you like it,” she smiled.

He said nothing, waiting to be fed.

The guest gulped down his food with speed, obviously enjoying the labored cooking that Zyra had put together for him. She herself ate little, keeping her eyes on him and his condition.

Her strategy worked, for Ilgun ate enough to put him to sleep for a period of time after the rich dessert.

The young cadi seized that opportunity to raise up the amulet about her neck and view the fat man’s face through the blue crystal.

By the time that Ilgun awakened, she had what she wanted.

The landlord now looked at her and asked what had she decided concerning her lease on his building.

“I will accept your terms,” she lied with a smile. “You can have the legal document drawn up as soon as you wish, Mr. Tansel.”

But Zyra had a very different scenario in the back of her mind.

Late that evening, hours past midnight, the cadi of Cihangir carried out all portions of the curse ritual that led to death.

All the following morning she waited to find out the outcome of her program to rid herself of the obstacle to her business. It was too early for anything, she kept reminding herself again and again.

At last, a customer entered with what she had expected impatiently.

“Do you know what happened this morning? That awful man, your landlord, the scourge of so many businesses in Cihangir, has passed away. His gut must have exploded and killed the glutton.”

Without saying anything or displaying any emotion, Zyra proceeded with the brewing of fresh, strong coffee.

Dedektif Bener Keskin had a long, unblemished record in the Istanbul Police Department. But he was stymied in his investigation of the death of Ilgun Tanser. Had some poisoner used an unknown zehir to do away with this grossly fat character, or had his demise been a direct result of years of overindulgence with rich foods?

The first task of the diligent examiner was to learn what the man had ingested on his final day, and where he had eaten. Interviewing the neighbors of the dead man, he discovered one who had talked with Ilgun earlier on his last day.

“Yes, he did mention to me where he was going that evening. One of his tenants, the woman with the coffee house, had invited him for dinner. He thought that was comical, because he was attempting to remove her from the building he owned. That’s what the fellow said to me.”

The investigator thanked him, then headed for the location in Cihangir.

Zyga noticed a tall, well-built man of middle years enter and take a chair at a front table. She stepped over to serve this customer she had never seen before.

“How can I help you, sir?”

He turned his head and smiled. His suit was a clean, well-pressed green serge. There was a bright sparkle in his dark brown eyes.

“Let me introduce myself. I am Dedektif Bener Keskin of the Istanbul Police. My reason for being here has to do with the recent death of Mr. Ilgun Tansel. You have been identified as his tenant. I take it that you are the proprietor, Zyra Guven. Am I correct?”

“Yes, I am that individual.”

“Do you have the time to it down and answer some of the questions that as yet do not have answers. I am only trying to clear up certain facts.”

Zyra sat down opposite the man whom she recognized as a danger to her.

“What would you like to know, Dedektif?”

“I understand from a neighbor of his that he planned to visit here in order to have dinner with you.”

“That is right. He came and shared a meal with me. His condition seemed well at that time. He ate with a good appetite, I thought.”

Bener leaned his head forward a little. “Did he mention anything that was disturbing him in any way?”

“No. Not at all. He and I were celebrating in a way. You see, we had reached complete agreement on the terms of my new lease. What has happened now leaves everything up in the air.”

“Do you remember what he ate last night?”

She hesitated as if remembering the details. “Let me see. I made some vine leaf sarma, and I baked my favorite borek. And we had some kadayif, along with rice sutlac. He seemed to enjoy everything that I put on the table. As his size shows, my landlord was a good eater. Indeed, he certainly was.”

Bener began to rise. “Thank you very much, Miss Guven. You have been a big help to me. If there are any further questions, I will return and see you again. Again, I thank you for your assistance in this matter.”

He was gone from the coffee house before Zyra realized it.

What was there about this young woman that raised warning signals in his nerves of intuitive detection? Bener could not put a name on it. But long years of dealing with unusual personalities in Istanbul had taught him that certain obscure signs in the features could be indicators of invisible forces deep inside people, far beneath the outer surface shown to the world.

Her eyes, that was what held some unintended meaning. So dark and black. What was there about the way they looked out at him? Why were they so different from hundreds, even thousands, of others he examined in his daily work? What was there in them that had raised his suspicions about this innocent-looking business woman?

Most importantly, how might she be implicated in the sudden demise of her landlord, a glutton with an unlimited appetite for food?

Had Zyra Guven intentionally overfed his unlimited lust for food?

The dedektif decided that he had to find a possible motive for her consciously killing him through his stomach.

Bener Keskin could not understand why this one woman who managed a coffee house should become so much of an obsession. an object of fascinating interest for him. He was unable to ignore her central role in how Ilgun Tansel’s life came to a sudden, abrupt end.

He began to probe about in the vicinity of her business, among other proprietors and active persons.

It was a man who ran a book store a little distance away who revealed to the dedektif the tale of her connection to the late poet known as Cemil. This phase of her life grabbed hold of his mind.

“The writer died suddenly?” he inquired for confirmation of what he had just been told.

“Yes. It happened overnight, I believe. But I heard the story that there was some sort of trouble brewing between the two of them. That they would not have continued as before, should he have survived. But I do not know for certain. Perhaps it is all nothing but rumor.”

Why is this police investigator continually making visits here? wondered the suspicious Zyra. The man named Bener was coming in more and more often, and he seemed to want to know everything he could about her and her previous life. The dedektif was always asking questions.

The day arrived when he finally brought up the subject of the dead poet.

“I myself have read a small book of his verses,” revealed Bener, who had found it down the street in the book store only two days before. “He is an interesting author. His poems speak directly from the heart, and how it experiences the emotion of love. It is too sad that his life was cut short the way it was. He could have achieved greater creativity than what was published.

“I have heard that he frequently visited here and that the two of you knew each other.”

The dedektif watched her ebony eyes to catch what her reaction would turn out to be. Would she have an unguarded moment or two?

Indeed, he discovered more than he had foreseen or bargained for.

In a second’s flash, his deep intuition told him that there was a quality to Zyra that she was adept at concealing from everyone who encountered her.

Not only was she a unique woman, she was also a born cadi.

The dedektif asked her no more questions, for at that point a pair of customers entered for their afternoon coffee.

How does one report a genuine practitioner of witchcraft to one’s police superiors without being stamped as a crank needing psychiatric treatment?

For days on end, Bener Reskin wrestled in his mind with the strange quandary that he faced.

He returned as before to the coffee house, but asked Zyra no more questions about her relationships with either the poet or her landlord.

She revealed to him, on her own, that the distant cousins who had inherited the estate of Ilgun Tanser had notified her that she could continue under the old lease, as before his death.

“I am relieved, because it means I can keep this business going as I have.” She appeared to be smiling in some sort of twisted triumph.

The investigator, at that moment, made an irreversible decision.

He had to act in order to prevent her from continuing her career as an evil cadi, as what popular folk tradition labeled a scarlet witch who took the lives of foes who stood in her way.

But how was he going to accomplish that?

Bener, having convinced himself that he had to ignore the rules of his profession as well as the criminal law, armed himself for the task ahead. He had used his service tabanca only rarely in his years of investigation, but now it had become the final answer to the danger posed by Zyra Cuven.

He headed for the Cihangir and the coffee house to perform an act of ambiguous nature, both justified and unjustified.

It was late in the morning, and the wave of early patrons had left the place. Zyra was alone, sweeping the floor with a small broom.

After exchanging greetings, Bener sat down near where she had been working. “Can I get you a cup of the brew that you like?” she asked him.

He nodded yes, not taking any notice of the blue crystal amulet that she wore on a golden necklace about her neck.

“That would be very nice,” said the dedektif in his ordinary voice.

Zyka went about that task in a manner that he was unable to see, for she had planned and prepared all the previous night for how she was going to hide the moves that had to be made.

Long before Bener had come into the coffee house, she had set aside a special cup for him, one in which she had poured a tiny amount of strong soporific sedative. The objective was to put him to sleep long enough for her to visualize him through her blue crystal amulet. With that done, she would be ready to apply the cadi’s curse of death.

She poured coffee into the cup with the powder in it and brought it over to the table where her new acquaintance sat.

“Thank you, Zyra,” said Bener with a forced grin.

She turned around and went back to her previous post behind the service counter. One look back at him was enough to tell her that this coffee drinker had already fallen into a temporary coma.

This was the opportunity to lift up her amulet and have a stable, solid view of the foe she had to get rid of. That night, the scarlet cadi was to plant a death curse under the stars.

Zyra smiled in victory.

In a few minutes, new customers entered the place. Their loud talk was sufficient to awaken the dedektif. He looked about and saw that Zyra was busy serving them.

What should he do?

His revolver would have to wait for another circumstance to be of use.

Bener rose to his feet, waved a hand good-bye to Zyra, and made a swift exit.

He had not used his weapon, but she had used hers.

A third death curse by this scarlet witch was in the offing.

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