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Mr. Ali's native village, Eskinuz, prospered with electrical power; however, cow pies, flattened to dry as tortillas, supplied the cooking fuel. Mr. Ali's father had toiled in postwar Luxembourg as a coalminer before returning home to retire and raise cucumbers, cantaloupes, and chinchillas. While we squatted in a semi-circle watching a soccer match on a TV wedged in the crotch of a tamarisk tree, his father tilted near to whisper something important to Mr. Ali.

Mr. Ali perked up, rolled an olive eye under an arched brow at me. "My father recommends that we skip Mount Hasan to take advantage of exploring Mazi Koyu."

Firing up the hand-rolled Turkish stogie, I took a therapeutic puff, coughed twice. "Do you know the way?" I asked.

Mr. Ali sighed. "I've mapped every square inch of it."

"Are the underground cities safe?" I remembered with alarm my dislike of subways.

"Most assuredly." Mr. Ali beamed. "We can walk there now, if you like. It's an hour's distance beyond that ridge." He gestured which direction to take.

I fell in step with Mr. Ali's brisk hike, and soon we'd arrived at our destination. "Mazi Koyu is one of our historical treasures," explained Mr. Ali. Upon closer inspection, we located the marked cleft along the granite ledge running east to west. "The original entrance is unknown; boulders have fallen during the centuries and buried it."

Stooping and sucking in our stomachs, we squeezed through and staggered into a cavernous chamber. "Whew, did the mole people live here?" I speculated.

"This is a mausoleum," Mr. Ali dryly commented. "Yes, an ancient boneyard. Never mind that. The Chapel of the Laughing Leopard lies below us. Come, I want you to see it."

"Lead on," I mumbled. Wiping my fingertips against the smooth, knobby arches, the texture felt astonishingly desiccated. An ominous feeling about where we were headed struck me while we duck-walked down a claustrophobic maze of passageways and burrows, pausing once or twice to catch our breaths that echoed off the walls. Here we were, Beanie and Cecil, zipping off on another neat caper.

"Tsk, tsk. Such a big man, such a little faith," Mr. Ali admonished. "Don't worry, okay? Someday you'll thank me for this."

The cherubs and saints populating the frescoes and mosaics dealt us stares blank as Little Orphan Annie's. We tiptoed through rock and rubble, scuttering over hundreds of tombs and sarcophagi, the light oddly lucid amid the crumbling embattlements. Without stopping to get our bearings, we cruised through bedchambers, food warehouses, ventilation chimneys, a lunatic asylum, wine depots, chalk gardens, and a chapel with twin crucifixes. I debated how long we'd been underground because I'd missed lunch. Then - there - for a moment, I half-expected to see a brass brazier glowing with red-hot coals broiling a kebab.

Down, down, down out of time we clambered, and I lost tally of the number of floors we'd descended. Undaunted, Mr. Ali forged ahead like an old pro, his raised lamp illuminating with the clarity of a sunny midsummer noon topside. Panting, I waded knee-deep in his swirl of golden dust.

"Can you slow down? And quit beaming that torch in my eyes."

"Stick close to me," he ordered. "Put some pep into it, sport -- we're almost there."

Around a bend and wriggling through a pentagon-shaped aperture, we popped into a toasty chamber displaying a "lived-in" look. No sophisticate at the five o'clock cocktail party acknowledged our presence. I recognized Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, Timur the Lame, and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. A pair of jade sphinxes supervised the charred oaken casks of Amontillado. A Borsch washing machine hummed inside an alcove. Reed baskets oozed with Turkey's celebrated spices - ambergris, dragon's blood, tortoise eggs, ginger, pepper, saffron, eucalyptus, jasmine, incense, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and even vials of rosewater. Ottoman jars brimmed over with honey. A peasant rug decorated with yellow-and-red leopards carpeted the schist floor and orchid wreathes hung by the mantle.

"Where are we?" I ventured to ask.

"Why, Cappadocia, of course," Mr. Ali responded.

A girl, old enough to be my grand-daughter, barely attired in shimmering cloaks, clacking wooden spoons and miniature ivory cymbals on her thumbs sashayed up, her midriff swaying like cattails. She sprinkled us with lemon-scented eau de cologne, ushered us to settle like pollen on finely woven kilim rugs.

"Yo. That's a belly-dancer," I laughed.

"Careful, my impulsive friend," Mr. Ali cautioned. "Your wife lurks within earshot."

I chewed on my thumbnail. "Nope. You're mistaken. She passed away one year ago yesterday." "Nora, right? She's due up right after the camel wrestling," Mr. Ali answered matter-of-factly.

Roasted almonds arrived on a block of ice beneath a blue flaming sconce. Mr. Ali poured me yet another raki, signaling bottoms up. In next to no time, a burro hauling a wooden-wheeled cart, loaded with rubber tire flip-flops, chicken netting, and a bevy of plastic buckets, creaked up in front of us. Candlestick holders, coffee grinders, and samovars were laced with bailing twine and granny knots to the tailgate.

"Do you need a coffee grinder?" Mr. Ali inspected the merchandise. "Or a samovar?"

"No. How about a phone booth?" I hissed.

I lacked any tokens and I doubted if they'd accept my Visa charge plate. All in all, I very much wanted to hole up in my apartment to figure out what the heck was going on. I shuddered to think I'd lost my marbles.

"Relax, but beware of the pickpockets in their sharkskin trousers," Mr. Ali called back.

"Are these pals of yours?"

Shivering, I pointed at a throng of pilgrims clad in aprons now milling around the cart. Long-handled stick brooms, chrome squeegees, wet vacs, firemen hoses, and drums of Amway detergent lay strewn about their gumboots. Their outstretched fists grasped fine china saucers.

"Pay them no heed," Mr. Ali advised. "Of all things -- the guano sanitation engineers begging for alms. What's next? The bats singing Gregorian chants?"

After a few minutes, I implored: "Will Nora dally much longer? I may have other plans." Mr. Ali, a raki in one hand and a Dunhill cigar in the other, was deep in conversation with the belly dancer. His vivid eyes were lifted over my left shoulder.

"Speak of the devil, why here's Nora now," Mr. Ali announced. "I'll leave you be."

My body quivered from a fever and chill to recognize Nora's face from that afternoon of our first good kiss so long ago when I proposed to her by the lighthouse off Chappell's Point.

She smiled outright. "Well, how are you holding up, Boz?"

Swallowing was difficult. "Oh, fine. You know, beating the pants off to meet deadlines."

"Are you residing in Ankara?" Her inflection soared wild and sweet.

"I sublet our old apartment. I may write my novel in Istanbul, instead. Or Singapore."

"Always with the traveling bone," commented Nora, no trace of scorn in her tone. "And with the Mount Blanc pen poised."

"Confidentially, I'm tied up in knots over my future," I was embarrassed to admit.

"Simply maintain what you're doing - scribbling those 'down-in-the-holler' stories that millions of readers will grow to love," she predicted.

"Nora?" I said, emotion welling up again.

"Yes, what?"

"Do you ever miss Val's Cosmic Chili Dogs? Or reading the Sunday paper in our chintz chairs out on the patio, the cats in our laps?" I stuttered, grappling for any snippet of common memory, a thread of old conversation to unravel.

"Shhh, Boz, dear." Nora's index finger, the sculpted nail a crisp spearmint green, crossed her pursed lips. "There's so little time. Think now. Are you in trouble?"

"Jeez, last time I checked I was okay. But since Mr. Ali hog-tied me down here, I almost believe that I can walk through walls. That's how dumbstruck I am."

"Typically, day-trippers don't wander off the beaten path at Cappadocia," she remarked. "But, in truth, you are here. And that won't do."

"Won't do?" I yearned to pamper and care for her.

"The world teems with God's beauty - embrace it. Celebrate life." Nora became the perfect and patient teacher. "This is Cappadocia; you don't belong here. Not just yet, leastwise. Don't worry about me. I'm okay. Chin up there, don't pout. I'll get you back safely."

We strode through the back recesses to the central chute, hopped on a pronged conveyance I surmised was a cosmic elevator, zoomed vertically straight up like the maiden launch of an Apollo rocket. Thankfully, Nora clutched my hand the entire ascent. My pulse was a jackhammer. Beneath the Bosphorus Bridge at rush hour, we disembarked. Or rather I did.

"Quick, kiss me, then on your way," Nora whispered.

My mouth agape to protest, she was whisked away from me, again.

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