‘Gone is the superpower ideological divide that once gave a strange sort of order to the world’s wars. In its place are entrepreneurs, selling arms… A nearly two-year investigation by the Center for Public Integrity’s International Consortium of Investigative Journalists into the business of war has found that these non-state actors – despite their appearance of being freelancers – have copious connections to intelligence services, multinational corporations, political figures and criminal syndicates in the United States, Western and Eastern Europe, Russia, Africa and the Middle East.’
PHILLIP VAN NIEKERK, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST
‘Making a killing: the business of war’
‘Let no one think that I’m a trivial woman,
a feeble one who sits there passively.
No, I’m a different sort – dangerous
to enemies, but well disposed to friends.’
EURIPIDES (TRANSLATION BY IAN JOHNSTON)
‘The Cassandra Syndrome: the condition of speaking the truth and having no one believe you.’
Devrim Rheinberger had learned through long experience that journalists were like the ocean: always to be respected but never to be trusted. And if you let your guard down for even a second, they could both overwhelm you, drag you under, expose your weaknesses and, after what seemed like an eternity of torment, ensure you were never seen or heard from ever again.
So he was more than a little wary as, through narrowed eyes, he watched the reporter sitting opposite him. He’d lost count of how many of them had traipsed in and out, asking politely, demanding pushily, even threatening overtly for his story. They’d all been turned away without what they came for because while it amused Devrim to play with them – respectfully, of course; he didn’t want a rude refusal to be the story they wrote – none of them could offer him what he needed. None of them had bothered to ask what he needed. None of them had asked what they could do for him. Until now.
‘I know how this works,’ the reporter stated plainly. ‘And I don’t expect something for nothing. I’m happy for this to be a two-way street. Within reason. I’ll deliver your messages. I’ll source information. I’ll put you in touch with lawyers. Anything legal. But I’m not prepared to end up in the cell next to yours.’
This reporter was smart. And had perhaps just the right amount of calculating ego and subservient manner. Devrim couldn’t remember the man’s name and he wished he’d paid more attention when the guard had brought him in.
But he’d stopped paying much attention six months ago. The wheels of the legal system seemed to move slowly, even in New York, and he’d been festering in prison with little else to do but dangle the threads of his story in front of salivating media scrums. Because he was this year’s human headline. Maybe even next year’s, too.
And finally someone was speaking his language. He had an offer to contemplate. But the offer needed testing.
‘How much do you know about me?’ Devrim asked.
‘I don’t know anything about you,’ the reporter responded immediately and almost too honestly. ‘I’m not sure anyone really knows anything about you. It all seems to be urban legends or out-and-out bullshit. Some say you were born in Russia. Others say you were born in the Ukraine.’
They were all wrong. He’d been born in Liechtenstein to a Turkish mother and a Liechtensteiner father, descended from a prestigious family line or so his father had said. Devrim had never delved too deeply for fear of discovering it wasn’t true. It was one thing to be lied to by your father. It was a completely different matter to know you were being lied to.
‘Some say you speak ten languages. Others say you can barely speak one. The uneducated barbarian theory.’
The truth was somewhere in between. He’d never been educated beyond the age of sixteen but he did happen to speak about a dozen languages. He’d travelled extensively during his career and many of his clients had been located in third world locations strewn across the world. So in addition to the Allemanic, German, Turkish and English he’d grown up speaking, he also knew enough Russian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and several African dialects to get by.
‘Some say you’re a warmonger. Others say you’re a pacifist.’
The ultimate paradox. Not even Devrim was sure he could adequately answer those allegations.
‘Why do you want this story?’ he asked, deflecting attention away from all the theories. ‘To make you famous?’
The reporter’s mouth turned up slightly and his eyes crinkled a little like Devrim had said something funny. ‘I’m just looking for a good story. Your story qualifies as a good story.’
And the reporter’s flattery qualified as good flattery. The reporter was younger than Devrim – maybe in his mid-thirties – and good looking but knew it. He was charming and confident but just a little bit slimy. The type women wouldn’t see through until it was too late. The type other men either applauded or envied or both.
Devrim, on the other hand, was sixty-one years old, average looking (which had its advantages in his line of business) and developing what was destined to be an impressive beer belly. He wore a thick but well-maintained moustache that was holding its natural colour a lot better than the hair on his head, but at least he wasn’t balding. His thick hair made him look younger even if at times he didn’t feel it much anymore.
Life inside a prison was not advantageous to his physical or mental health. Devrim spent most of his time inside his cell, away from the other prisoners, because the guards worried he would be targeted and how would it look when the trial process eventually began if all they had to deliver to the courthouse was a corpse? Unfortunately, that meant he exercised only a little and saw the sun even less. He was starting to worry he might be developing a vitamin D deficiency.
Devrim frowned at the thought until he realised the reporter was still patiently waiting.
‘You don’t know what you’d be getting yourself into. Until now you’ve been digging in a big lake with a small spoon. My story would be like excavating with sticks of dynamite.’
The reporter studied him and then leaned back in the hard plastic chair. ‘Are you worried about the legal aspects? Of having your words repeated back in evidence against you in court?’
Devrim laughed without humour. ‘Don’t be ridiculous. This will never get to court.’
‘Why not?’ the reporter asked and he laughed again, waggling his finger at him like he was a naughty school boy.
‘I haven’t agreed to the interview yet,’ he said, exposing a set of perfect white teeth in an imitation of the Cheshire Cat, although they were maybe one size too big for his mouth.
‘But you will,’ the reporter replied slowly with a Cheshire Cat grin of his own slowly appearing, as if the realisation was just occurring to him. Charming and confident, just as Devrim had assessed. He tried one last time to talk the reporter out of it, for both their sakes.
‘If I told you everything I know, I’d get a red hole right here.’ He pointed to the spot directly between his eyes and pressed his index finger hard into his skin to illustrate his point. ‘And then they’d put you on your knees and execute you.’
‘I’ve had people try to kill me before. It didn’t take.’ The reporter seemed unconcerned, dismissive even and Devrim didn’t realise how focused he was until he added, ‘Who are “they”?’
The ubiquitous ‘they’. The undefinable ‘they’. The ever present but silent ‘they’. Sometimes asking the question of who ‘they’ were was enough to get you killed. Sometimes even just thinking it was enough.
‘I’m not sure even they know who “they” are,’ Devrim admitted, a strange numbness settling over him.
‘They will by the time we’re done.’ The reporter wasn’t cocky, just matter of fact. He was American – Devrim could tell that much about him from his accent – and had probably lived a life of comfort in New York or Los Angeles or Seattle or a mid-Western little nothing of a town, thinking he had seen it all, thinking that nothing could faze him when he’d really seen nothing of the real world. So many Westerners were like that, cocooned in democratic freedoms and the luxury of gas and electricity that never ran out.
Devrim was about to teach him the lesson of a lifetime.
‘I’ll talk to you. On one condition.’
He leaned forward to whisper it to the reporter, as if the condition might get both of them killed should anyone else overhear what he was about to say.
‘Bring me Cassandra Broderick.’