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  • Story Owner: walter  winch
  • Story Title: Back in the day with Walter
  • Story Created: Monday, August 04, 2014, 6:05:00 PM
  • Chapter Author: walter winch
  • Chapter Created: Sunday, November 09, 2014, 12:16:00 PM
  • updated: Monday, December 01, 2014 1:14:00 PM


Not since the world was made was there ever seen or won so great a treasure, or so noble or so rich, nor in the time of Alexander, nor in the time of Charlemagne, nor before, nor after, nor do I think myself that in the forty richest cities of the world had thebeen so much wealth as was found in Constantinople. For the Greeks say that two-thirds of the wealth of this world is in Constantinople and the other third scattered throughout the world.

{Robert of Clari, a French crusader, who was in Constantinople in 1204 when it was pillaged}


The spider weaves the curtains in the palace of the Caesars; The owl calls the watches in the towers of Afrasiab.

{Sultan Mehmet II reportedly murmured the lines of an unknown Persian poet as he wandered through the ruined palace of the Byzantine emperors in Constantinople in 1453}


In 1198 Pope Innocent III proclaimed the Fourth Crusade. It ended up, however, not as a struggle against the Muslim "infidels" in the holy land, but resulted in the sacking and the looting of Constantinople, the heart of the Byzantine Empire. Greed and mendacity were probably two of the most obvious reasons why the Christian West attacked the Christian East.

Constantinople in the twelfth century was the wealthiest capital in the world. It was also the principal intellectual and artistic repository of the Greek and Roman heritage. The Byzantine Empire never completely recovered from the ravages of the crusaders in 1204. It was a shattered state that the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II brought to an end on May 29, 1453, an empire that had lasted 1,123 years.

On the sixth of April the Sultan's cannons opened fire on the walls of Constantinople. This bombardment continued for some forty-eight days. On the twenty-second of May there was a lunar eclipse. Two days later the holiest icon of the Virgin slipped from her platform and fell to the ground while being carried through the streets of Constantinople. Within minutes a horrendous thunderstorm flooded the streets and ended the procession. The next day a dense fog covered the city, something that no one could remember occurring in May. In the evening a strange red glow appeared at the top of St. Sophia church. St. Sophia, built by the Emperor Justinian I in the sixth century, was considered the spiritual center of the Byzantine Empire. Within minutes the light vanished.

The Turks saw the unique phenomenon as well. The young Sultan had to be reassured by his astrologers that it was a sign that Allah would soon occupy the building. For the residents of the city it was a sign that the spirit of God had left Constantinople.

On the twenty-ninth the attack began in the early morning, accompanied by banging drums, trumpet blasts, and Turkish war cries. The battle lasted several hours but in the end Constantinople belonged to the Turks. For the Christians, the real horror now started. Sultan Mehmet II allowed his men, by Islamic tradition, three days of looting.

It was terror beyond imagination. On some streets blood rose up to the ankles of the soldiers. Monasteries and convents were broken into. Nuns and priests were raped, mutilated, and cut in half by Turkish swords. Those who had taken refuge inside the numerous churches were slaughtered on the spot when the soldiers smashed their way in.

Icons were destroyed and priceless manuscripts lost forever. In one church the Virgin Hodegetria, the Empire's most sacred icon, supposedly painted by St. Luke, was slashed to pieces. Soldiers fought over young boys and girls, smashed infants against walls or tossed them onto bonfires. And throughout the city thousands of residents were impaled on stakes

But because the violence was beyond anything anyone had seen before, Mehmet brought the carnage to an end the same day it began. The fact was there was little left to destroy or plunder by the end of the day. There was, however, another reason Mehmet wanted to bring the destruction to a close. This reason was known to only a handful of his closest advisers.

In the late afternoon Mehmet entered St. Sophia, which he planned to turn into the chief mosque of the city. Pulling his most trusted commander aside, he asked him if he had the infidel's icon. The commander of the Janissaries, the elite soldiers of the Sultan's army, shook his head and pointed to a wall where a hidden door was partially opened. Clearly one of the Christian priests had managed to escape with the gold cross, an icon slightly larger than a man's hand. This most sacred cross, safely kept in St. Sophia for more than 800 years, was missing.

Mehmet had a sudden sense of foreboding, which he kept from his commander. The cross had been made in Constantinople sometime in the seventh century during the reign of Constans II, the Byzantine Emperor who had halted the advance of the Arabs and their new Islamic faith. It was a profound, deeply held belief that as long as the cross remained out of the hands of the Muslims, the Empire would never be destroyed, no matter how many times it might be defeated in battle. Mehmet was well aware of this conviction; he'd wanted that cross badly.

He debated with himself for a moment and then told his commander to continue searching for the cross throughout the city. Then he nodded to the senior imam. The elderly spiritual leader mounted the pulpit and proclaimed the name of Allah, the All-Merciful and Compassionate.



Chapter 1

Letting the cool January breeze brush across his face, Yance Adams leaned over the ship's railing and stared off in the distance at the port city of Alexandria. Once the intellectual center of the ancient world, it was little more than a destitute fishing village by the time the English arrived in force in the 1880s.

Under the "enlightened" guidance of the British government, Alexandria had once more become a rich and prosperous city with a population of over three hundred thousand. This was a fact Yance learned in a lecture he attended, given by a retired professor from Cambridge, on the ship's third day out from England.

Other than that, the nine day trip from England had been uneventful. First class was full with English passengers and a number of Americans, as well as other Europeans, all escaping the winter cold. Egypt or at least the final destination Cairo was a winter mecca for the rich during the months of December through February.

Whenever making a trip to obtain artifacts for Richard Leyland, Yance spent one or two days going over the details with his employer. As he had gradually gained the confidence of Leyland over the four years he'd been working for him, he assumed more and more responsibility.

Although Yance had never been to Egypt, he did not expect any real difficulties, because Assad Bishara had arranged the delivery and would himself be turning over the artifacts to Yance. He would spend five days in Cairo and return to England the following week

He was to obtain a fourth century silver plate from the Sassanian dynasty in Persia, depicting the royal hunt of the king. There were only two of its kind supposedly in existence, the other one being in the possession of Czar Nicholas II of Russia.

As was typical for Yance, in addition to learning as much as he could about the particular work of art, he made sure he knew about the country he was going to. Two years before he had gone to Korea for a painting, which had turned out to be a forgery. His research before leaving as well as his own instincts told him he was not getting a fourteenth century Korean Buddhist painting.

This was confirmed when he—against strenuous objection from the Korean dealer—spoke to a Buddhist monk knowledgeable in art, who confirmed Yance's doubts. Threats were made and suggestions he might not leave Korea alive hinted at, but in the end he did leave without the painting, but with a valuable thirteenth century water pitcher for considerably less money than what he would have paid for the painting. Richard Leyland was genuinely pleased and told Yance he had an "innate" eye for art.

This instinct, which he never knew he had, unfolded gradually as he continued to work for Richard Leyland. At first, he wondered where the "eye" came from, until he decided that just possibly he might have inherited it from his grandmother, a Kiowa Indian, who died when he was nine years old.

But the day before he was to leave for Egypt, something quite out of the ordinary occurred. Leyland informed Yance he would be bringing back a second artifact, a small seventh century gold Byzantine cross. He told Yance that he'd just learned of its availability. Assad would have this object as well. In all the time he had been working for Richard Leyland, never before had he been told he would be obtaining another piece almost on the day of his departure.

Within thirty minutes Yance was making his way down the ship's gangplank, into what looked like a. sea of chaos. A fellow passenger, a diplomat from the British Foreign Office who made frequent trips to Egypt, had told him that Alexandria in the height of the tourist season was like being in a "shipwreck." Yance observed hoards of people milling about and piles of luggage were scattered everywhere. Arab porters in red fez and red sweaters rushed around attempting to drape as much luggage as they could over their bodies, determined to make as many piasters as possible in the two or three month the European tourists descended on Egypt. Shouts of "Coooa-k!" were heard everywhere, referring to the well-known Cook Tours, seemingly in a belief that was the one thing the benighted infidels from Europe responded to.

It was more than an hour later before Yance along with many of his fellow passengers were seated on the train for the one hundred and thirty mile trip to Cairo. They were soon out of the city and the train gradually picked up speed. His mind began to mesh with the monotonous sound of the wheels clacking over the tracks. From the windows of the train, the timelessness of Egypt was apparent, as they first passed the banks of the canal and then moved into the fertile delta land.

Periodically they went by a mud village, and in the distance Yance saw the familiar sakiyeh, a wheel with a chain of pots attached to it and turned by a donkey or a camel. This device, which had not changed in thousands of years, lifted the water from the Nile and poured over the high banks to keep the fields nourished.

His thoughts drifted slowly back to his parents' farm in .Missouri. The small farm had provided his family with a good life for two generations. His grandfather had fought with the Union Army, as he had decided that he did not see how having slaves was good for the country. It somehow did not seem American he told his grandson years later. This did not set well with many of the people in the area because Missouri was a slave state at the time, unlike the neighboring state of Kansas.

Also the fact that his grandfather was married to a full-blooded Indian, proved to be a convenient excuse for many in the area to think poorly of a man who, by all accounts, was highly opinionated as well as stubborn, and was known to have a clear contempt for the pastor and the parishioners of the local Lutheran church. His grandfather died when Yance was twelve years old, but he had left his grandson, among other things, with a love of history and more than a touch of his grandfather's stubbornness.

Yance had no doubt he would inherit the farm one day, get married and have his own family. But first he planned to go to college. No one in the family had ever finished high school. All these plans, however, ended abruptly with the depression of 1893, which devastated the farming communities in the Midwest, causing violence and unrest throughout the region..

Yance sat up with a start; he had been dreaming he'd accidentally set the farm on fire. He must have been asleep for nearly an hour because the sun was noticeably lower in the sky. As the train rounded a slight curve, he saw in the distance a steel bridge which spanned one of the major branches of the Nile. The bridge had been built by the British, the real masters of present-day Egypt.

While the country was ostensibly run by his highness Khedive Abbas II Hilmi Pasha, who on paper owed his allegiance to the Sublime Porte of Turkey, he in fact paid not the slightest attention to the Sultan in Constantinople. Who his highness obeyed was the British plenipotentiary. In the distance Yance could just make out one of the towers of a Cairo mosque. Shortly, the train slowed down, passed through a run down suburb and rolled into the Cairo railway station.

Yance got off the train and waited for a minute in the middle of the platform holding the two suitcase he had brought with him. As at the port of Alexandria, the porters raced back and forth weaving in and out among the passengers. He shook his head when one of them tried to pull the suitcases from his hand. He started walking toward the end of the platform. Nearing the gate Yance thought he saw the person who might be Assad Bishara. Richard had given him a general description, but one based on the last time he'd seen him, almost five years before.

At that moment their eyes met. Yance approached a distinguished-looking Egyptian with a bronze complexion, white hair and a thin mustache. "Mr. Adams?"

"Yes " Yance was met by a warm smile.

"I am Assad Bishara," he said touching the brim of his gray homburg and holding out his hand. Assad Bishara had on a dark jacket and tie, with a gold watch chain attached to his vest pocket.

"An honor, sir." He followed the Egyptian out to the main lobby and from there they exited the building. Outside, horse drawn carriages lined the street around the central station, with drivers dressed in colorful uniforms standing beside them.

A man hurried up to Assad. "Are you tired from your trip, Mr. Adams?"

"Not at all. But if you could tell me where my hotel is."

"It will be my pleasure for you to stay at my home while you are here." Yance started to say something but Assad raised his hand. "It is decided. Let him have your suitcases." Assad said something in Arabic, and the man disappeared with Yance's suitcases around the comer of the train station. "Would you care for some refreshment?" They got into a waiting carriage. "Did Richard ever mention Shepheard's to you?''

"I don't believe so."

"Very well then, that will be our first stop." He glanced at his watch. "Do you enjoy tea, Mr. Adams? It is nearly that time."

' "I'm afraid I've never developed the habit, sir. Coffee is more to my taste."

"Spoken 1ike a true American." Within minutes the carriage pulled up in front of Shepheard's. "This hotel is the heart of all foreign life in Cairo, and a required stopover for the various wanderers in the world."

Yance did not say anything as they walked through the hotel's elegant entranceway, but it was obvious this was where the Europeans congregated. Except for the employees there were few non-European faces in the crowded hotel. They went outside to a tiled terrace and sat down among large ferns in gigantic clay pots and colorful umbrellas, which shielded the patrons from the sun. Fashionably dressed women in their large hats, who made up the majority of patrons on the terrace, drank tea and chatted Assad ordered coffee for both of them. "I have not seen Richard Leyland in five years." "You've known him a long time I understand."

"Yes. Almost from the time he started collecting. I think it was 1897 that I first met him in my father's shop." The Egyptian shook his head. "Seventeen years."

"He has high regard for your father," Yance said.

"We of course have corresponded over the years, but I have been so busy. But tell me. Richard is well?"

"He is well, and certainly active."

"'Hm." Assad sipped his coffee. "In his last letter—which he said quite a 1ot about you—I had the impression he was, er, mulling over some changes."


Assad shrugged. "It's that I know him so well" Yance recalled the conversation with Richard about his plans to dispose of his collection. He'd been sitting in Leyland's upstairs den near the end of December, when the American millionaire and art collector announced his New Year "resolution" for 1914. He had asked Yance to keep it to himself for the time being. "Nothing he said of course," the Egyptian continued. "Only a sense." Assad glanced around the terrace. "Sitting here you might think you're not in Egypt at all."

Yance watched the Egyptian, wondering if his remark was more than a casual observation. "I prefer seeing a country as it is."

"You do? Of course the English have brought many needed improvements to Egypt. And a lot of Egyptians—including my family—have benefited."

"Mr. Leyland said that you kept the family business only a short time after the death of your father."

Yance noticed a momentary flinch in his eyes. "I considered the position at the National Museum an opportunity of a lifetime. To be able to preserve and exhibit Egypt's antiquities was something that meant a great deal to me." But the tone of Assad's voice, Yance thought, suggested that the Egyptian was not revealing everything. He had also detected the same hesitation in Richard's voice when he mentioned the death of Assad's father.

Assad ordered more coffee and they continued to talk for another thirty minutes or so. Yance felt comfortable with Assad Bishara. Underneath the old-world reserve, he believed the Egyptian was a sincere man, but bothered about something. He thought he understood why Richard Leyland spoke well of both him and his father, even though Yance could not shake off his growing curiosity about what might not have been said.

Finally, Assad took out his pocket watch. "We probably ought to be going. And there is something I need to discuss with you about Richard's acquisitions."

"Is there a problem?"

"Temporary, I believe."

Yance was glad when they left Shepheard's, got into a carriage and headed for Assad's home. He was not interested in Cairo's "social season."

Expecting to enter a Muslim house and curious about what he would encounter, Yance was surprised to see a Christian cross on the wall as he walked into a large open foyer. Assad noticed his surprise and smiled. "Richard neglected to mention—but not surprising—we are Coptic Christians, not Muslims."

He met Assad's wife, an attractive woman who wore a long traditional dress, but was certainly not what he expected, as she was not at all shy about speaking with a European, and spoke English with a soft Egyptian accent. They had two children, a son who was twenty-five, who had attended school in England and was now practicing law in Cairo. He was to be married in the spring. Their daughter, who was twenty and extremely pretty, was studying to be a nurse.

After a pleasant dinner, he and his host went into a small study. From a cabinet Assad took out the silver plate and handed it to Yance for inspection.. It was exactly like the sketch he had seen but even more impressive now that he was holding it. The details were remarkable, showing the king shooting a wild boar. It was almost possible Yance decided to see the expression of exultation on the monarch's face. "I can easily understand why the Russian emperor would want it," Assad said. "As well as Richard." Yance handed it back. "I'll have it wrapped before you leave."

"Any other expenses?"

The Egyptian said no. He shifted in his chair. "Now the other item."

"The Byzantine cross?"

"Yes." Assad paused as though he were considering his question. "What do you know about this cross?"

"Practically nothing. I learned about it the day before I was to leave. And was told you would have it along with the plate. Other than that."

"The cable I received from Richard said the item had only recently become available."

"Which he told me as well "

"Mr. Adams, I do not yet have it in my possession."

"Where is it?"

` "In Turkey."


Assad nodded. "All the arrangements were supposedly made, according to Richard. The cross was to be delivered to me three days ago. But Ajing, who took your suitcases at the train station this afternoon, went to Alexandria to meet someone who was to give him the cross. He wore a green scarf around his neck, which was to indicate that he was the person to take possession of the item."

"But no one was there?"

"Ajing waited nearly two hours and was about to leave, when a porter came up to him and handed him an envelope. Ajing's ability to read Arabic is limited, he's from southern Sudan. But he understood enough to know that someone wanted more money." From his inside coat pocket, Assad took out a folded sheet of paper and showed it to Yance.

"What does it say?"

"In brief ... because of''unexpected problems,' more money is needed."

"How much more?"

"A thousand American dollars. Which the letter says would be acceptable currency, as well as English pounds."

"I don't have anywhere near a thousand dollars with me. Or a thousand pounds," Yance said. "And I am supposed to be sailing back to England next Monday."

"I could cable Richard."

"He is in Paris this week, and I believe Berlin for two days next week. I have no idea where." None of this made any sense Yance thought. Most of Richard Leyland's purchases were done with meticulous care. Of course things sometimes went wrong—rendezvous' delayed, paperwork incomplete-but something about this had not seemed right from the very beginning. Especially since he had not been told a thing about any gold cross. For the past two years he had been completely involved in all of Richard Leyland's acquisitions. When he looked up, Assad was watching him.

"You usually know about his purchases don't you."

"But not this time. I have never seen a picture or drawing of this cross. The delivery will be made if we get the money to this someone?"

"I am afraid it is somewhat more difficult." Assad quickly scanned the one page letter. "A person must go with the money to Turkey by this Monday at the latest. After that the letter states the cross will not be available."

"No one could get to Constantinople by Monday."

"The only positive news is that it is not Constantinople. It is a small town called Antalya on the Mediterranean coast. Almost directly across from Alexandria."

"Are there ships?" Yance asked.

"There are freighters which could get there in three days, perhaps two days-and-a half. I have made some inquiries and will know by tomorrow. There may be a ship leaving Alexandria on Friday. But I must be honest, Mr. Adams, I am uncomfortable about this. My heart as well as my head says ... forget this cross. Something's not right. Richard will have to understand."

Nothing about this trip was routine anymore, Yance thought. His own plans would have to be delayed. He had no way to contact Richard Leyland immediately. "The problem is I don't have the money. Even if I could get there by Monday."

"But you would go there if you could?"

Yance hesitated. "Yes. I came to Egypt to collect two items."

Assad glanced down at his hands and then up at Yance. "I will give you the money."

"That is a lot of money. I couldn't accept it.

"You do not know what you might be involving yourself in. Yes?'' Yance said that was certainly a possibility. "Then it's settled. Rest assured, I will get it back from Richard. The only problem remaining is whether or not you can get on a ship in time."

"I need to change my plans for returning to England."

"Fortunately during the tourist season, ships from England arrive and leave often. I believe there is a vessel departing a week from this Friday or Saturday. Let me handle that problem."

"If steerage is all I can get, I'll take it"

Assad smiled. "I think you would, Mr. Adams."

"If you don't mind, sir, I prefer Yance."

"Then I would prefer Assad."

"I'm not—"

"Ah. I insist Fair enough as you Americans say?"

"Fair enough."

"My father, Yance, was one of the foremost dealers in this part of the world, and only a handful of people—like Richard Leyland—knew of him. He had no more than five or six real clients. He was extremely cautious, with a number of intermediaries, always between him and the particular artifact. It is no secret, as I am sure you know by this time, that a collector comes by these items through various means. Some are unsavory, and occasiona1ly dangerous."


"The looting of Egyptian antiquities has been going on for more than two thousand years. I like to think that I may play a small part in—if not stopping it—at least slowing it down. But of course there is a rationalization for the theft. If wealthy countries, and individuals, do not acquire these artifacts, then in many cases these treasures would be lost forever, perhaps through ignorance as well as the natural destruction of time itself"

"Is that the main reason you did not continue your father's business?"

"We still have the antique shop, which my wife takes care of. But, perhaps I never truly had my father's temperament for the other." For a moment, the only sound in the room was a ticking wall clock

"Your father died, seven years ago?" Yance said finally.

For an instant it seemed that the question stirred something in Assad, but then he said, "A painful loss for a son to lose his father."

"Yes," Yance heard himself say.

"I would very much like to show you some of my city tomorrow."


THE BALKAN CROSS is a novel of suspense and mystery. It is set in 1913 shortly before World War One. To read the entire novel go to . It is also available on Amazon Kindle at



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