A Turkish friend in Hamburg, Fenari Narman, when he discovered that I was writing a crime novel set in Budapest, recommended I use Rudas Baths as a backdrop for murder. This he did via a Facebook message with an alluring photo of the ancient Turkish bath. It made sense for my story, with a Turkish hero, to climax in a Turkish bath, with a bloodbath.
Some time later, when I visited Budapest on a research tour, Rudas was a top priority. It happened in a cold, rainy Sunday afternoon, my final day in Budapest. I went there by myself.
Rudas was not a simple old Turkish bath. It was a giant complex of five buildings built successively over centuries, each new addition more modern than its predecessors. That day, it was overflowing with locals and tourists. I had to wait over an hour to get in.
Rules within the complex were strict, admission to all the buildings impossible. I bought a ticket that allowed access to most. As it turned out, I would not get to visit the original ancient Turkish section, the prettiest one. I wrote scene in which Mark discovered a body there with its throat slit, via internet research.
I had a yet larger problem at Rudas. I had not brought a swimming suit with me. They offered rentals but these proved to be too small. Instead I accepted a wrap-around towel which, as it turned out, was also too small. The bath house was hot and humid. I could not tour it in my street clothes. So, I decided to strip from the waist up, keep my long pants on, and explore the bath house barefoot, with a camera and a writing pad as accessories for my research.
I soon discovered that most of the guests, a co-ed crowd, were in swimming suits, enjoying a variety of saunas, Jacuzzis and a giant swimming pool. As I meandered among them with my peculiar topless, barefoot attire, a camera protruding from my prominent gut, I looked suspicious. I looked like a pervert, there to photograph others for God knows what purpose.
Within minutes a female attendant, a manager, came by and attempted to evict me. She had a stern, authoritative attitude. Alarmed, I tried to explain to her that I was there to conduct research for a novel. It sounded implausible, even to me.
I then chose another approach. Responding to her aggressive attitude with my own, I outyelled her, acted indignant and demanded to have my money’s worth. I gave her a concession. I would stop taking photos. This was no loss. Over the years I had discovered that photos were no good for writing research. What I had to do was jot down my impressions into a notepad.
It worked. And so began a very awkward tour of Rudas. The manager assigned a non-English speaking, middle aged female attendant to tail me and make sure I took no photos. The two of us communicated via body language, she eyeing me with lifted eyebrows. Every time I entered a different section of the building she whispered the attendant on duty there. It provoked suspicious glares everywhere I went, especially when I wrote down my impressions.
It occurred to me that they might think I was worse than a pervert, a terrorist maybe, casing the place. I decided to see as much of Rudas as I could with in a hurry before they succeeded in evicting me, possibly via the police.
I spent an hour at Rudas. It was the one of the most frustrating, humiliating, infuriating hours of my life. I did visit most of the complex, including the all important rooftop Jacuzzi. It afforded an amazing view of the Danube and the city. They wouldn’t let me photograph the view. I decided that Iancu would die here, his severed hand on the steps that led up to the giant whirlpool.
I departed Rudas with a sigh of relief. So did, I am sure, the staff.
The next morning, on the eve of my flight back to the U.S., I arrived at Ferihegy Airport super early. I found a secluded spot and, over several cups of coffee, I sketched and choreographed the action I intended for Rudas.
I did not get around to writing the scene until about four months later. In the meanwhile my Rudas escapade turned into a funny anecdote at home. It was not funny to me.
Nevertheless I am thankful for the opportunity, because the notes I sketched at the airport proved to be perfect as a framework for the action scenes of the finale. The ordeal was worth it after all.