Ephesus, Turkey, August 6, 1990
“I saw it all,” the American woman was saying.
She was one of the tourists off the cruise ship. The American woman wore a Greek fisherman’s hat, a T-shirt emblazoned with gilt and dark blue anchors, sandals bedecked with plastic flowers, and she was trembling.
She had come to see Ephesus, banking and trading center of the east Mediterranean in Roman times; capital and principal port of the province of Asia; the richest city in the Roman Empire; city of Artemis, the famous Diana of Ephesus, who was barnacled with mammaries from her neck to her waist.
Instead, the American stood next to the body of a man who lay on the mosaic walkway on the Street of the Curetes, where once priests of the beautiful Artemis paraded to the sounds of flutes, drums and cymbals, clashing their swords against their shields, banging their tambourines, flagellating themselves with whips until they bled, whirling and dancing, castrating and mutilating themselves to celebrate the birth of Artemis.
“What did you see?” the detective asked the American woman, his pencil poised over a notebook.
Police cars with flashing lights stood nose to nose in the parking lot amid tour buses.
Policemen herded them all—the Frenchmen with red berets and bandanas behind a guide flourishing a red banner, the Germans with yellow golf caps and shoulder bags and their guide with her yellow pennant—past empty columns over marble streets. They passed the Library of Celsus, designed by the great architect Vitruvius, they passed Trajan’s fountain, they passed the Temple of Hadrian, and jostled for space on their way to the buses to take them back to Izmir, to Kusadasi, to Selçuk, to the cruise ships that lay offshore.
“What did you see?” the policeman asked the American woman again.
“He came out of nowhere,” the American woman said. “He had something shiny in his hand, a knife. It glinted in the sun.” A few stragglers, camcorders on their shoulders, broke from the crowd and started toward them. A gaggle of Americans emerged, laughing, from the Roman latrine where they had been sitting on the concrete toilets, just as the pilgrims who came for the festival of Artemis had done long ago, just as Ephesians who paused in their morning ablutions to sit for a while and catch up on the latest gossip.
The policemen drove them all back into the throng and it milled past the theater where bulls and manhood were sacrificed for the glory of Artemis, where terrible myths were acted out, where the bulls were slaughtered in sacrifice and the goddess festooned with their testes and dripped with blood, where the Ephesians attacked St. Paul, where they stoned him shouting, “Great is the Artemis of the Ephesians.”
The American woman remembered for a moment that they weren’t mammaries; they were bull’s testicles.
She sighed and rubbed her arms as if she were cold. “He lunged. He had a knife.”
“Go on,” the detective said, his pen still hovering over the pad.
Policemen steered the swarms of tourists into the parking lot next to the road from the ancient harbor that was once lined with shops and grand public buildings, where visitors would stroll in the shade of a columned portico anticipating the spectacle they came so far to see, stopping at food and wine merchants, stopping at shops where they bought silver statuettes of the beautiful Diana of Ephesus, anticipating the delicious tingle of horror as the attendants of the goddess and her neophytes mutilated themselves in her honor.
“Please,” the detective said.
She pointed to the body on the ground. “He dropped silent as a stone.”
The American woman closed her eyes and saw him fall again, his blood seeping into the ground where the curetes bled. She began to shudder. Her husband put his arm over her shoulder and she leaned on him.
“What did he look like?” the detective asked.
“The man with the knife?” her husband said. “Thickset, with curly gray hair. He looked like he was sneering.”
“Which way did he go?” the detective asked.
“That way,” the American woman said and pointed vaguely in the direction of the parking lot.
The detective wrote that in his notebook.
“That way,” her husband said and pointed toward Selçuk, toward the Basilica of Saint John on the hill.
The detective wrote that, too, in his notebook. He dispatched two policemen, one to the parking lot, the other to the Basilica of Saint John, and waited to hear from the man who was hurrying down from the Roman houses on the slope.
“Dr. Kosay?” the detective called.
Dr. Kosay was bald, with earnest hazel eyes and a Turkish moustache. He nodded as he ran down the hill. “Atalay Kosay,” the man said between puffs of breath. “I could see some of what happened from up above.”
The detective turned to a new page in his notebook. “What did you see?”
Kosay looked at the body on the pavement and his face went pale.
“You know him?”
“He was my student. His name is Binali Gul.” “He was working with you here at Ephesus?”
Kosay shook his head. “Not here. He’s from the University at Izmir. He was digging at Tepe Hazarken.”
“What was he doing here?”
“He came to tell me something. He said it was important.” “What was it?”
“I don’t know.”
“What did you see?” the detective asked again.
“A thickset man with curly gray hair stabbed Binali. Then he ran off toward the Kusadasi road.”
The detective wrote in his notebook that a thickset man with curly gray hair stabbed Binali Gul and ran off in three directions, then signaled for a third policeman.
“We will have to close down Ephesus for a few hours,” the policeman told Kosay as sirens began to wail in the museum half a kilometer away.
“Certainly,” Kosay said.
The detective spread his hands as if to ask a question and looked at Kosay, but Kosay was watching the woman running toward them from the museum.
“They broke into a case,” she told Kosay between gasps of breath. “They stole the golden Kybele.”
“The Kybele?” Kosay said. “They stole the Kybele?”
The policeman turned to a new page in his notebook. “Did you see who did it?” he asked the woman.
She shook her head. “Just heard the alarm. By the time I reached the case, the room was empty, the Kybele was gone.”
“She wasn’t from Ephesus,” Kosay said. “The Kybele was on loan, entrusted to me.”
“What is a Kybele?” the American woman asked.
“The Goddess,” Kosay said. “The Mother Goddess, the oldest, the greatest goddess. She is Anatolia.”