Istanbul. October 2009. 9pm
The restaurant bustled around him as Okan Yildiz forgot his troubles and smiled warmly at his daughter, who was cutting up kofte meatballs for her five-year-old son.
She glanced at him. Returned the grin. “That’s better, Father. I haven’t seen you look happy in months.”
Okan’s eyes flickered. “Jockey Club politics, my dear Sinem. It has got under my skin.”
“Then step down, Father. Please don’t get so stressed. It’s bad for your health. You should be enjoying life, family, and your horses.” Sinem put down her fork and gripped his meaty hand. “It’s what Mother would’ve wanted.”
With his other hand, Okan ruffled his grandson’s hair. Winked. Made the boy giggle.
“I know, my dear,” he said. “But I still have so much to do for racing in this country. If only they would let me.”
Sinem arched her brow. “Then just tell them what to do.”
Okan raised his palms. “Please. I am not a dictator, but I wish I could make people see the big picture. They only think about short-term gain.”
He sighed and pushed his plate of lamb away. Wiping his mouth and thin, greying moustache, he stared out the window at the Marmara Sea with the faint lights of Prince’s Island in the distance.
When he was elected President of the Turkish Jockey Club, he had vowed he would do better than his predecessor and invest wisely in the future of Turkish racing. But he knew, then and now, that the jealous in-fighting of the Club might undo him.
In the current dilemma, it was tempting to take the easy option, but he had never done that – even as a child in the harsh winters of Eastern Anatolia. No, he would have to do the right thing. By the Club and by Turkish owners and breeders.
A chiming in his pocket made him scowl. He pulled out the device and checked the name on the screen. Letting out a sharp breath, he silenced the call and tossed the device on the table. He stared at it. After a few minutes, he stood. His daughter looked surprised.
“I’m sorry, my dear, but I’ll have to cut our dinner short. I cannot eat until I settle the matter at hand.” He winked at his grandson again. “Grandpa has some work to do, my boy. We have to go.”
The boy nodded.
“But, Father!” Sinem protested.
He raised his palms again, a stern look bristling his moustache. “Finish your food, my dear. I’ll tell them to bring the car round.” He peeled several banknotes from the wad in his pocket, placed them on the table and made for the door, thanking the manager on his way. Outside, he gave the valet his ticket and paced beside the road, punching the numbers on his phone.
The Friday night traffic bustled by on the coast road. An endless river of cars: honking, screeching, roaring. Okan turned his back on them and put a hand over his free ear.
“It’s me,” he growled into the receiver. “I’m done thinking about it and there’s nothing you can do to change my mind… I’ll be telling the Board tomorrow… No, not a chance.”
He pocketed the device and lit a cigarette. Spinning on his heel, he saw his daughter coming out of the restaurant, hand-in-hand with her son. Okan’s face softened with pride, and he relaxed slightly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a car approaching. He turned, expecting to see his own black Mercedes pulling up. Instead, the car mounted the footpath and slammed into him, tossing him over its roof like a rag-doll. He was dead before he hit the tarmac and two other helpless drivers rolled over him.
Sinem’s screams cut into the night air.
Inside the restaurant, heads turned. People rubbernecked.
The security camera outside the popular restaurant revealed the car to be a black Renault, reported stolen hours earlier. The police found its smouldering chassis in a Western suburb the following morning.
Two days later, the investigating officer told a distraught Sinem that it was becoming standard practice for joy-riders to destroy all DNA evidence in stolen vehicles. A simple hit-and-run accident by unknown perpetrators. Sinem refused to believe it.
The cop rolled his eyes at her hysterics. He told her there was no evidence to suggest a conspiracy and declared the case closed, sparing himself months of tedious interviews, investigations and paperwork.