The following is an account from an intrepid MR. KOYA correspondent, who ventured through Istanbul last year. Not all crimes are fashion crimes.
This story is in no way fun or heart warming. No, it is not a joke.
Read time: 11 minutes
I arrive in Istanbul with a couple of guys I met elsewhere in Turkey. We have three nights before I head home, and they head to Greece. We are looking to light up this great metropolis that ripples before us. It's Friday night. Confidence is high.
The month of enlightenment
Unfortunately it's also Ramadan, the month where Muslims abstain from fun stuff for the purpose of...fuck it, I don't know, it's religion, what do you want from me?
...anyway the populace is not particularly ready to oblige us. People are out for a quick drink and a stroll, but the bars are tepid. We wander with little success. Then we meet a couple of cool Turkish Cypriot guys in town for the weekend too and we hang with them for a while. They say they know a decent place where there's at least some action so we all grab a cab and head there. You know, Kadikoy side.
The place is swanky.
There's only a smattering of people but it's still early so maybe it'll pick up with the non-Ramadan crowd. We take a booth, drinks come and we chat. Then a group of Russian girls, who have been dancing nearby, come over and sit with us. It's abrupt. I figure them for obvious hookers and say as much to one of the Cypriots and he says no, that kind of stuff doesn't fly at this bar. I figure him as naive (oh, the coming irony, sweet Jesus). Anyway, we all chat with the girls for a while. It's a chat, who cares. Some drinks come for them but I don't care, let them have a drink.
I don't notice my friends have wandered off.
Then one of them taps me on the shoulder.
"Dude, this place is a brothel, these guys are doing us over. We need to get out of here.
And in that terrible second, the whole thing clicks. Even more so than how you may initially think. It clicks so succinctly, so completely it's almost like I had its blueprint imprinted in me...because I did.
I'd already read it as a specific Wikitravel scam warning for Istanbul: A local befriends a lone western traveller, earns his trust by shouting him a few drinks, then takes him to a bar where they drink some more. Then the bill comes and each drink is like fifty bucks. The bouncers stand over the poor sucker until he pays.
I remember pausing over this warning, recalling with satisfaction the instances while traveling where I'd been approached and something smelt fishy and I'd just walked. Snap, I was gone. You know, because I'm a player, an operator, a clued-in dude.
No, actually I'm a dumb shit whoâ€™s about to get rinsed in a scam I already knew about and STILL fell for.
Somehow, the mere difference of the group scenario had impaired my antenna. I am positively stupefied with my stupidity.
I am also still inside this basement club, two levels down. All three of us are. Us and all the employees/set-pieces/ bouncers. It's a big operation, see?
It's organised crime.
We demand the bill and it comes. It's five thousand Turkish lire. Now, of course the lire has been weakening against the dollar for some time, so that amount isn't as bad as it sounds. It's only about two thousand, three hundred Australian dollars. Phew. Fuck.
The manager and bouncers crowd around.
Stand and deliver the cash from your pockets and the difference from the ATM. Or we'll turn your head into Turkish delight. I can't believe this is happening. The three of us just stare at each other.
Our Cypriot 'friends' are escorted to the ATM by the bouncers who they've, like, totes never met before and return to 'pay' their portion of the bill. Fair's fair, you know?
Then it's my turn. By myself with a bouncer. My friends are held as ransom.
Outside, cars are cruising the busy street and the only thought burning through my mind is the next part of the wikitravel warning "if they take you to an ATM, try to attract the attention of the police who know the scam and will intervene".
My eyes razor the streetscape for a police uniform, a car, but there's none. I'm desperate. The ATM is a mere ten metres from the club. I have to stall. I claim I can't use this bank's ATM...because it charges a fee. I mean you wouldn't want to get ripped off while you are getting ripped off, would you?
The bouncer's English is not good enough to understand how ridiculous my position is. Another guy with better English appears. I amend my claim to be that my card does not work at this bank's ATMs. They point across the street to the alternate ATM there.
That's when I see the flashing lights. On the roof of one of the cars coming towards me. It's...!
...a tow truck.
It's a fucking tow truck. I'm minorly short-sighted and majorly colourblind. So for a moment the green (or maybe they're yellow, how the hell would I know) lights atop the truck had tricked me into thinking it was a proper emergency vehicle.
But then, behind it, it's more flashing lights, it's...
...A REAL POLICE CAR
The moment squeezes, teetering on that unforgiving pivot. am I really doing this? Am I...?
I'm doing this. I take off, but because of my hesitation the police car is passed me before I can intercept its path. But I'm doing this, I'm already committed. I sprint after it. I'm flying. I'm gaining. I can almost touch it, but the traffic ahead of it clears and it starts to pull away. I scream, I wave my arms like a lunatic.
And just as I think car is going to lose me, it decelerates. They've seen me. I stagger alongside. Speech comes in gasps, but one of them speaks ok English so understands me as I gush, finishing with:
"My friends...my friends are down there....we have to go and get them."
"I know this club," the cop says.
Hallelujah, he knows the scam. He gets what's happened and what needs to be done. He tells me to jump in and he turns the car around and we speed back to the club.
We pull up to where the bouncer and the club manager are loitering. The cop calls the club manager over to the car. And then...they shake hands...right in front of me...and not so much a wink as a kind of ease passes between them. They're pals.
I look at the other cop in disbelief and he just gazes back.
This is insane.
"Ok, the cop says, "let's go down and look for your friends."
"NO." I say. "You go down there. I'm not going down there."
"You have to come with me."
"I'm NOT going down there."
There's jabbering in Turkish and the cop says something to the bouncer. The bouncer slides open the door of the police van. He moves to get in.
"Get the fuck back!!!" I howl. "Get the fuck out!!!"
He actually complies. I don't know why. Maybe they're wary of attention from passers-by.
But anyway I'm out the other side of the police car and I'm running again.
Flying down a side alley and then another and another, until my lungs are bursting and I know I haven't been followed.
But my friends aren't.
They're still there...
So I do the only thing I can think of. I grab a cab and tell him to take me to the police station.
Maybe the beat cop is on the take for this little scam, but they can't all be. There'll be a watch commander or somebody. Me marching in and declaring what happened will be too much of scene for any of this to be ignored.
Of course the cabbie doesn't know where the fuck the police station is so we screw around for a while asking people until we find it. I've got nothing to pay the cabbie with.
I just say I'm sorry.
I charge in and a couple of dumb-looking cops are standing around. There's no watch commander and none of these clowns speaks English.
They call somebody on the phone. I don't know who this guy on the end of the line is but I tell him my story and he tells it to the cops.
The cops seem to think it's funny.
Two of them wander off because me and my alarm that my friends are trapped in a dungeon nearby isn't interesting enough for them.
The dumbest-looking one calls on a radio and says "car will come".
Then he turns around to do something else, leaving his sub-machine gun on the desk next to me. I could have picked it up and sprayed the place. Idiot.
A cop car comes and he ushers me outside to it, telling the two cops inside...something in Turkish.
These guys seem to think what he says is actually worth something and motion for me to get in. We drive off down the deserted street.
"Where you from?" one asks.
"Hey, you want action?"
And this fucking maniac starts wrenching the steering wheel from side-to-to-side. I panic, obviously, but the car is traveling too fast for me to get out. These two monkeys keep doing their thing until the car has to slow to take a corner. I slide the door open, but before I can scamper the passenger cop grabs me. Both hands. He's strong.
"No! No! Calm."
That incredible precipice of action again. I have a free arm so I can easily smash this guy's nose out the back of his head and move straight into a choke on the other. But they're cops. What happens then?
"We take you hotel reception for English. Calm. Calm."
So...I calm. Not calm, but i don't move. I don't have any other options. I figure if I see trouble ahead, a trap, I'll have to attack them. My life is pretty much flashing before my eyes.
However, sure enough we pull up in front of a hotel and the cops usher me in to see the concierge who, yes, speaks English. Relatively.
What he doesn't do is care. I tell him what's happened, why I'm suspicious because of the first cop I flagged down and that these two dickheads need to go to the club and search for my friends.
He keeps interrupting me and glancing at the cops like I'm some stupid puppy they've dragged in that he doesn't want to play with.
I jump on the wifi and message one of my friends to see if they are ok, but there's no response.
Eventually the concierge bothers to convey my wishes to the cops. They agree. They ask for photos of my friends so I show them from Facebook. They take photos of those photos. One of them takes a photo of me with his partner. From travel habit, I actually strike a smile pose.
Christ my head is all over the place. There's a scene in the novel Gone Girl where a similar thing happens - a smile in a completely inappropriate photo situation. As I read it I remember not being able to believe any character would be that stupid.
Truth is stranger than fiction.
Apparently it's dumber too.
"Hey." I tell the concierge.
"Tell them I'm not going inside the club. They go down. I stay outside. Tell them."
The concierge tells them. Maybe. Then he laughs at me.
Now they understand, we get back in the police car.
I'm shitting myself, but if the dickheads were corrupt too, it doesn't make sense to take me to the concierge to try and communicate. We set off down the main road. I don't know what the address of the club is, just what it looks like from the street. I'm craning my head like crazy out the window, terrified I'll miss it. In the end I recognise it easily.
Because it's where the cops stop the car.
Without me having to tell them.
A bouncer, and a couple of the other club guys are outside. I jump out of the car before the cop can grab me. There's no fucking way anyone's getting anywhere near me here. The club guys, though, don't approach me. The cops get out of the car and start jabbering at the club guys.
The same relationship as with the first cop isn't evident. I don't know what to think, I just keep my distance.
I'm YELLING at cops
Screaming for them to go check downstairs.
One of the club guys keeps telling me my friends are gone. I tell him to fuck off. The cops tell me to go down with them.
"No. No way am I going down there. You go down and and check for my friends. I'm not going."
And you know what the lead cop does?
HE PULLS HIS FUCKING HANDGUN OUT OF ITS HOLSTER, GRABS THE CLUB GUY BY THE SCRUFF OF THE NECK AND POINTS THE GUN AT HIM.
"What you want me do, huh?!?!?!" He yells at me, coming unchained with the same craziness he'd displayed when wrenching the car wheel. "You want me take him like this?!?!?!"
I raise my hands and pump them up and down a few times in that placating motion you do for when somebody is annoyed you can't make it to their birthday or gets upset about your views on immigration...or when a maniac cop pulls a gun on you and wants to educate you with it.
I back away.
Then I turn and run. For third time I run away from the club.
I'm good at it now.
I'm also good at going to the police, but as they seem good only at operating on a spectrum somewhere between venal and deranged I decline to do it a third time.
I grab a cab. I tell the driver to take me to an expensive hotel. I don't know what else to do. I want a competent, westernised concierge who speaks good English and has resources and is a professional at helping foreigners in distress.
The cabbie doesn't speak English. I type "very expensive hotel" into google translate. He sees it and, given its combination with my obvious consternation, laughs.
Yeah. I'm just here for your entertainment. All of you.
He takes me to the main square in Istanbul. I look around at the expensive hotel buildings but there is no western brand name I recognise. I go into the grandest. The concierge speaks little English. He brings in the restaurant manager who speaks a little more than he does.
I tell my sad, desperate little tale again.
I ask for help.
Asking for help....they give me...a shrug.
They say this is a police matter. I point out that the police matter is half the problem. One of them looks to the other and says something in Turkish and before it even happens I know what's coming.
I grab another cab and tell him to take me to the most expensive hotel in Istanbul.
He takes me to the four seasons.
Despite being in the middle of this metropolitan monster the four seasons has gardens. It's serene when I get out of the cab. The three-man security detail that adds to its feeling of it as a safe haven.
It's 4am now, hours since I first ran from the club.
I approach the concierge girl in the climate-cooled lobby and she gives me a welcoming smile.
I give the smile a death row inmate gives when he learns his execution has been delayed because the forecast weather for that date wasn't nice enough for the guards to have a barbecue in the yard after.
I unveil my sad tale one last, hopeless time.
She actually listens to it. You can see her concern and desire to help.
I don't know why but it unlocks something in me and I realise that I actually do have a phone number for one of the guys.
I ask if I can use the phone and she says fine. I call and he picks up straight away.
He tells me they are ok.
The relief is incredible
After I ran they were forced to empty their bank accounts, though the amount was about half of that demanded in the bullshit bill. But then they were released unharmed.
Eventually I hang the phone up. The girl says she is glad my friends are ok. She says she wishes there was something more she could do for me, but there really is nothing.
"Yeah," I said. "I know. I don't even know why I came here. I suppose I just wanted to tell this to somebody who cared."
And I suppose that's why I wrote all this down now too. It's noon, I'm in my room, I haven't actually slept and you know what? I don't really feel like doing any fucking sightseeing.
The only other thing I can say is that you'll never know what kind of trouble you'll get into on a given night.
Oh yeah, and fuck the Istanbul police.
These views on Turkish law enforcement system are not those of MR. KOYA. We are not liable for any loss of Istanbul tourism income.
Bütün dünya, bu şehrin, dünyanın en güzel yeri olduğunu düşünüyor.