The Cats of Istanbul: Chapter Twenty-Six

Elvan the Double Agent

'This has been a most glorious week for the news' cried Elvan to the crowd of gutter cats assembled before him. In response the crowd, who knew two of the three pieces of news, roared with delight.

'Perhaps indeed this has been the best week for the news we have ever had. For so long now have we suffered, and never have we had the slightest chance of achieving justice. For even longer we have tried to build a better world, and always we have been forced to accept disappointment. Finally I am glad to tell you that the tide is turning.'

'Three days ago we received the first piece of news that suggests our time is now at paw. Izabel we learnt, heir to the throne of cats, has fled the rooftops, escaping the scene intended for her engagement, rejecting the order of her uncle Longshanks to marry Mr Respectable. Even Longshanks' own family resists his authority! It is clear that his position is weak and that soon he must fall!'

The crowd roared. Hurrah! Hurrah!

'Just yesterday the gods delivered us the most encouraging of gifts, the second piece of news, the news that the prophecy of Izmir, the prophecy that foretells the saviour of the gutter cats, is coming true! We learnt that Ahmet and Fatma, by fortune left alone to continue on their quest, have found the prophecy. Not only that, they have also found Izmir himself! Izmir, the one true Izmir, we hope will soon be with us! His arrival in Istanbul will make doubly certain our victory in the coming war.'

Elvan held one paw aloft and the crowd erupted again. Hurrah! Hurrah! 

At the centre of Elvan's flock stood the Araps, who since recounting their meeting with Longshanks had become icons of the resistance. The jolliest of the tribe interlinked arms and danced around them in circles. Other cats pushed their way through the crowds to make their acquaintance and congratulate them. Some cats had even written songs or poems in anticipation of Ahmet and Fatma's success, and looked to get a moment with one or the other Arap so that they might be endorsed ahead of the official celebrations. 

Elvan noted that the attention of the crowd was now fixed on them.

'The Araps' he said when the cheering had quitened, 'are just one fine example of cats who have made a stand against evil.'

The crowd cheered again. Hurrah! Hurrah! 

'The final straw,' shouted Elvan above the noise of his whooping audience, 'today I received the most shocking piece of news I have ever seen.'

The crowd fell silent.

'Finally, we know who killed King Richard! Of course you remember King Richard. We all remember how happy we were under his rule, and how sad we have been since then. Some of you may have wondered why we should have suffered so much. Why should the change from one leader to another make such a difference? Well now I can tell you why.'

'On this piece of paper' he said, pulling out a small square slip from behind his back, 'there is clear proof of who killed our king. On this piece of paper there is a clear explanation for who and what has caused all our troubles. I can tell you that the answer is the same. Longshanks killed King Richard! He poisoned him before they went out hunting that day. King Richard did not just fall from the rooftops, as we have long suspected. He was murdered! Longshanks is the reason that we have suffered so much over the last few years! Longshanks must fall!'

This the crowd had not expected. The gutter cats of Istanbul gasped in unison.

'Now' said Elvan, 'we can have no doubt that our cause is righteous. Longshanks should never have taken the throne of the cats. Izabel is our rightful ruler. I have called you here tonight so that you should know the implications of this terrible crime. We must restore order to this world and I expect all of you to help. Tomorrow we will begin again our resistance in earnest. I summon you all to our training ground to undergo your medicals. All of those able to contribute are required to do so. Tomorrow the fight begins!'

Elvan cried into the night, 'Glory to the gutters! Glory to the revolution!'

The crowd erupted one final time. Hurrah! Hurrah! Glory! Glory! 

Elvan looked again at the reverse side of the photo he had received that morning. On it was written, 'We must talk. Please call for us at the Grand Bazaar this afternoon. Yours, Mr Ordinary.'

Elvan turned around and left, and after him the crowd began to disperse slowly. He made his way straight to Jezabel's, for indeed now he spent most of his spare moments with her. He had almost come to assume that she had no other clients, and had largely forgotten that she was typically paid for her company, for after the first time Elvan had not paid at all. As he walked there, feeling utterly pleased with himself, he thought that perhaps once it was all over, after they had won the war, he might even be allowed to marry her.

Soon enough he was wrapped within her embraces, murmuring his news into her receptive ear. Elvan had started drinking wine, and although he had started to slur a little, Jezabel could not have been more attentive to his update.

'We are almost ready' he told her. 'Soon we will go to war and all of Istanbul will be ours. You will be my queen Jezabel.' 

She giggled, genuinely amused by the idea.

'You don't believe me' he sighed, 'but you will see. Cats have come to make the pledge in their thousands. Cats from all over Turkey and even further afield. You should see some of them, they are real warriors and have fought in wars held far away. Even I am a little scared of them to be honest. I have put one in charge of our special operations squad and my the difference it has made. They look mean! Best of all, later I will go to see the cats of the moment from the alleys. I am sure that we will make an alliance that is strong enough to build a new world, a world without the rooftops, a world without injustice and suffering. Can you believe that Jezabel?'

'I am already there' she whispered to him appreciatively, 'but what about Serkan, what is Serkan doing at the moment? You said that he was a thorn in your paw. Have you dealt with him yet?'

'Oh Serkan' replied Elvan, 'I'm really not worried about him. You should have seen the attendance at the rally. I could barely see an end to the crowds. Serkan never had half as many for his speeches. He won't dare to interfere, and what does it matter if he does, all the cats are on my side. Besides, I will never forget that Serkan is a good cat, too good for this world, but that is not his fault.'

'I heard that he is planning to leave Istanbul' replied Jezabel.

'Yes I told him to' replied Elvan. 'But why does that matter? To be honest I am glad of it. If he's not here he can't interfere can he?'

'I heard that he is planning to lead a party of cats into safety. You might lose some of your numbers, that's all.' 

Elvan paused for a moment and considered what she was saying. It was true that could be a problem, but still, after the rally earlier, what would it really matter? Now that the gutters knew Longshanks had killed King Richard he was sure that most of the tribe would come out fighting.

'Jezabel dearest' he said, suddenly annoyed, 'let me worry about Serkan. Now, while we have time, let us make love. Soon we will be at war.'

Jezabel thought best to leave it at that and so returned to her work.

After lunch Elvan went to check the training ground. The queue before the entrance was long, the longest it had ever been, but not as long as he had hoped for. After receiving briefings from Kadir and his new head of special operations, Elvan went for a walk along the Bosphorus so that he might think. How to play it with the alleys? That the gutters would rise up against the rooftops now seemed certain, and he supposed that some sort of alliance with the alleys was now too likely. It was not inconceivable that the two tribes might cooperate in the long-term, but this implied that the alleys would change, and if he was honest with himself, he had never considered for a moment that they could be anything but entirely evil. In that case then really he was still in the same position, he was obliged to defeat both of the other tribes. The critical question remained, in which order would the battles occur? 

It was one of the most basic and obvious points in warfare, and something that any semi-educated general would consider, so Elvan knew that he was not alone in hoping for things in this respect to fall his way, but ideally his enemies would fight each other first, extinguishing their own force and so leaving the gutters to choose their moment to enter the fray, at full strength, facing weakened opponents. No doubt both the alleys and the rooftops wanted the same thing, but it was just too valuable an opportunity to miss. There had to be a way of out-manouevring them. Perhaps he could use the photo against the alleys, perhaps he could go to see Longshanks and gain his trust, or persuade him that he had no choice but to attack the alleys immediately. But then no… the thought struck him that in this case he would risk losing what he already had, an opportunity for an alliance with the alleys. He shuddered as he remembered his last meeting with the rooftops. No, he could not go through that again. Was it possible, on the other paw, that he might persuade the alleys to attack the rooftops first? It seemed unlikely. Why on earth would they? And if they would not, was the alliance worth having at all? If their only value was just to add more bodies to a revolution already underway, did he really need them? Still, he concluded, better for the time being at least to let them think that he was interested in cooperating. At the very least, it reduced the possibility of him being attacked on two fronts at once.

He resolved to wait and see what the alleys had to say. Besides, it was so difficult to predict what might happen with a cat like Mr Ordinary. Elvan didn't know what to think about him, and indeed this was because of Mr Ordinary's special talent. He was just so normal, so nothing in particular, that it was difficult to form any conclusion about him at all. Even if you knew him and talked to him, there was often very little to go on, and no real way to understand his opinions or objectives. Because most cats are gutter cats, and gutter cats are very nice, and generally unwitting at that, this is an extremely effective alley cat strategy. It is as if Mr Ordinary is a blank canvas, and as the gutter cats have no real reason to form an opinion about him, they assume things are okay, and thus paint their own virtues onto Mr Ordinary's personality. Of course, the reality of the situation is very different, but it is just difficult to say exactly what it is. Some of the more judgemental gutter cats contend that he is the worst of all alley cats, and that his camouflage of ordinariness masks a shrunken soul of terror and hatred. Others say that he is the best of the alley cats, and is really perfectly decent, even if his colleagues are rather nasty.

As Elvan approached the Grand Bazaar he began to feel a little nervous. He hoped this wasn't a trick. What if he was captured? It occurred to him that he was the only one, other than Jezabel, who even knew that he was here. It had been decades since his last visit, and now he was close he could not help worrying about what might happen to him inside.

The Grand Bazaar is the headquarters of the alley cats and is widely considered to be a very dangerous place indeed. The streets around the bazaar are ever so narrow, and full of secret passages and hidden turnings, so it is perfect for cats that want to live in the dark. Inside the bazaar is even more secretive. The building itself is designed like a labyrinth, and all manner of shops and stalls lie scattered around the rambling collection of halls and corridors comprised within. Most humans get lost in there, and often go wandering around and around for hours in a state of utter confusion, and some never come out again, either disappearing forever or just deciding to stay, finding themselves a nice corner in which to live and watch the world go by. The humans however don't get to see half of it. For the alley cats it is absolute heaven. They live in little nooks and crannies all over the place, in their millions, and, because of this, in general, if you are a gutter cat from Istanbul, you simply do not go to the Grand Bazaar. You might be abducted for slavery, or taken hostage for a ransom, or corrupted and persuaded to join their evil ranks.

All of these risks now poured down over Elvan's head. It seemed as if the air had become thick with a black fog that he could not see but anyway felt within his mind. He looked about him at the succession of stalls and shops. Everything looked more or less normal, but there was something about the shadows that caught his eye, they seemed to possess some degree of physicality that normally they would not, they were voluminous, deep, wide and tall to a degree beyond the absence of light. How strange it was… He could not help looking a bit more closely. He felt his mind begin to close. He felt like going to sleep.

A black paw shot out at him from the shadows. He jumped. He looked around but there was nothing there. In the distance he heard laughing, and then a voice booming at him from the darkness, 'Elvan, you will submit'.

He was tired it was true… Perhaps it was the wine.

'Elvan, Elvan' a voice called at him through the procession of humans traipsing up and down the road. It was Mr Ordinary.

'Elvan how good of you to come at such short notice. Come, come, let us go in together.'

Elvan nodded and walked alongside Mr Ordinary.

'Shall I give you a tour as we go? I don't remember the last time we saw you here, it must be some time. Well anyway yes…'

Mr Ordinary began pointing out highlights from the stalls that lined the ways into the Grand Bazaar.

'Have you seen these jewels? Entirely artificial you know, not really gems at all, but quite as beautiful don't you think, and at less than half the price. What about these? Surely you would like them. Usama's Chocolate Company? Do you know them? They have the human world swooning. Ah now let's stop a second here…'

Elvan turned to see a display of dazzling gold.

'I could probably get you a discount on one of these? A golden collar for your certain special someone? No? Well perhaps later… Now where are we? Yes, that was it, our little problem with Longshanks. Well we should probably wait until we get to the meeting room before discussing it much, but I don't mind saying here that we are all counting on your help Elvan.'

'I see' said Elvan. It was the best reply he could muster and even that was difficult to get out. His brain had never felt so confused. There had to be something wrong with this place, he couldn't remember ever feeling so ill.

'Here we are' continued Mr Ordinary, 'please come in. The others should be here waiting. Yes, yes, Mr Respectable, you must have met Elvan before, and here, Mr Security and Mr Caring.'

Elvan nodded again and looked in horror at the scene before his eyes. Mr Respectable, Security and Caring were staring down at him from what appeared to be some sort of altar. Elvan had never seen anything like it before. It was made of the strangest black substance, inlaid with streaks of white, that seemed to throb energy into the air around it. He could barely stand to look at it. Just being before it made him feel as if he had committed an act of treason against life itself. 

'Elvan, welcome' said Mr Respectable.

Mr Ordinary leapt up and sat down on a black velvet cushion, four of which had been positioned on top of the altar for the cats of the moment.

Elvan nodded again.

'So of course you have the photo,' said Mr Respectable, 'you now know that Longshanks killed King Richard. We have invited you here because we feel the need to align our forces before going any further. Do you agree that Izabel is the rightful heir to the throne?'

Elvan needed no time to think about that one.

'Of course, it is beyond question' he replied.

'Good' replied Mr Respectable. 'Well then, that settles everything. As you know I am betrothed to marry Izabel. We need to understand now that you accept Izabel and I as king and queen of Istanbul.'

Of course Elvan should have thought about that.

'But Izabel does not want to marry you,' he replied, 'she fled Istanbul rather than do so.'

Mr Security interjected, 'That is none of your business' he said, waving a claw at Elvan.

'It's okay my dear Security, he's right, it is all rather theoretical at the moment. Do you agree that if she does marry me then I will be the ruler of Istanbul?'

Elvan paused for a moment before saying, 'Yes, that is clearly the case.'

'Good, well then, the only thing left to discuss is how best to overthrow Longshanks. We have given this much thought Elvan. You must understand how long we have been waiting to come out in the open as good cats. What a burden it has been to pretend to be evil. You wouldn't understand what it's like, day after day, playing a character that is not your true self. Well, as I say, now we are so close to the end, we are determined not to fail. The plan we have is the right one, it is we feel the only one that will work. You must rise up Elvan. You must lead the gutters into war. You must start the revolution. Longshanks trusts us. When he is occupied with fighting you, we will attack him from the rear. That will be the end. The civilisation of cats will be refounded. Do you accept our proposal?'

Despite all of the pressure to make him feel otherwise, Elvan was indignant.

'It sounds like you have most to gain from this. If you get to be king and not I, why should the gutters take most of the risk? I have a better idea, how about you attack Longshanks first. When he is almost beaten, I will appear at the last moment and take all the glory for myself. After that, I will marry Izabel instead of you.'

How the atmosphere in the room changed. Mr Security stood up and hissed. Mr Caring covered his eyes. Mr Respectable displayed no reaction at all. After a moment of still silence he turned to Mr Ordinary.

'Yes of course I will explain' said Mr Ordinary. 'Personally Elvan I think what you say makes sense, except that you assume both you and Izabel have a choice, whereas Mr Respectable assumes you do not. Do you see the point?'

'We will wait then' said Elvan, 'until you realise that you cannot force us into doing anything. I had hoped to come here to agree an alliance, but as it turns out you want exactly the same thing as the rooftops. You want to control this world that we both share, and that we cannot allow to happen.'

Mr Respectable sneered.

'But Elvan, Mr Ordinary did not say that we would force you into accepting our proposition, only that I assume you have no choice. Now, we have said everything we needed to. Just remember, when you rise up, we will be waiting for you.'

Elvan glared a look of the purest hatred at the four cats of the moment. He turned around and left the meeting room, seething at the way they had just treated him. The way out of the Grand Bazaar he barely noticed. He was conscious again of the sound of laughter in the distance, and a voice saying 'submit, Elvan submit'. Some time later he found he was stood on the banks of the Bosphorus, staring out into the waters, shaking with anger.