The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep Page 2

But, however futile my explanation, I knew that a slew of words of any sort would be better in this Turk’s eyes than my silence. I talked, and he listened and stared at me, and when I finished he sat silent for a moment and then shook his head.

“You astound me,” he said.

There seemed no need for a reply.

“It seemed quite obvious to us that you were an agent provocateur. We contacted your American Central Intelligence Agency, and they denied any knowledge of you, which made us all the more certain you were one of their agents. We’re still not certain that you’re not. But you don’t fit any of the standard molds. You don’t make any sense.”

“That’s true,” I said.

“You don’t sleep. You’re thirty-four years old and lost the power to sleep when you were eighteen. Is that correct?”


“In the war?”


“Turkey sent troops to Korea,” he said.

This was indisputably true, but it seemed a conversational dead end. This time I decided to wait him out. He put out his cigarette and shook his head sadly at me.

“You were shot through the head? Is that what happened?”

“More or less. A piece of shrapnel. Nothing seemed damaged-it was just a fleck of shrapnel, actually-so they patched me up and gave me my gun and sent me back into battle. Then I just wasn’t sleeping, not at all. I didn’t know why. They thought it was mental-something like that. The trauma of being wounded. It was nothing like that because the wound hadn’t shaken me up much at all. I never knew I was hit at the time, not until someone noticed I was bleeding a little from the forehead, so there wasn’t any trauma involved. Then they-”

“What is trauma?”


“I see. Continue.”

“Well, they kept knocking me out with shots, and I would stay out until the shot wore off and then wake up again. They couldn’t even induce normal sleep. They decided finally that the sleep center of my brain was destroyed. They’re not sure just what the sleep center is or just how it works, but evidently I don’t have one any more. So I don’t sleep.”

“Not at all?”

“Not at all.”

“Don’t you become tired?”

“Of course. I rest when I’m tired. Or switch from a mental activity to a physical one, or vice versa.”

“But you can just go on and on without sleep?”


“That is incredible.”

It isn’t, of course. Science still doesn’t know what makes men sleep, or how, or why. Men will die without it. If you keep a man forcibly awake, he will die sooner than if you starve him. And yet, no one knows what sleep does for the body or how it comes on a person.

“You are in good health, Mr. Tanner?”


“Is it not a strain on your heart, this endless wakefulness?”

“It doesn’t seem to be.”

“And you’ll live as long as anyone else?”

“Not quite as long, according to the doctors. Their statistics indicate that I’ll live three-fourths of my natural life span, barring accidents, of course. But I don’t trust their figures. The condition just doesn’t occur often enough to afford any conclusions.”

“But they say you won’t live as long.”

“Yes. Though my insomnia probably won’t cut off as many years from my life as would smoking, for example.”

He frowned. He’d just lit a fresh cigarette and didn’t enjoy being reminded of its ill effects. So he changed the subject.

“How do you live?” he asked.

“From day to day.”

“You misunderstand me. How do you earn your living?”

“I receive a disability pension from the Army. For my loss of sleep.”

“They pay you one hundred twelve dollars per month. Is that correct?”

It was. I’ve no idea how the Defense Department had arrived at that sum. I’m certain there’s no precedent.

“You do not live on one hundred twelve dollars per month. What else do you do? You are not employed, are you?”



“I write doctoral dissertations and master’s theses.”

“I do not understand.”

“I write theses and term papers for students. They turn them in as their own work. Occasionally I take examinations for them as well-at Columbia or New York University.”

“Is this allowed?”


“I see. You help them cheat?”

“I help them compensate for their personal inadequacies.”

“There is a name for this profession? It is a recognized profession?”

The hell with him, I decided. The hell with him and his questions and his rotten jail. “I’m called a stentaphator,” I explained. He had me spell it and he wrote it down very carefully. “Stentaphators are subsidiary scholars concerned with suasion and ambidexterity.”

He didn’t know trauma; I was fairly sure suasion and ambidexterity would ring no bells, and I guessed he wouldn’t ask for definitions. His English was excellent, his accent only slight. The only weapon in my arsenal was double-talk.

He lit still another cigarette-the man was going to smoke himself sick-and narrowed his eyes at me. “Why are you in Turkey, Mr. Tanner?”

“I’m a tourist.”

“Don’t be absurd. You’ve never left the United States since Korea, according to Washington. You applied for a passport less than three months ago. You came at once to Istanbul. Why?”

I hesitated.

“For whom are you spying, Mr. Tanner? The CIA? One of your little organizations? Tell me.”

“I’m not spying at all.”

“Then why are you here?”

I hesitated. Then I said, “There is a man in Antakya who makes counterfeit gold coins. He’s noted for his counterfeit Armenian pieces, but he does other work as well. Marvelous work. According to Turkish law, he’s able to do this with impunity. He never counterfeits Turkish coins, so it’s all perfectly legal.”


“I plan to see him, buy an assortment of coins, smuggle them back into the United States, and sell them as genuine.”

“It is a violation of Turkish law to remove antiquities from the country.”

“These are not antiquities. The man makes them himself. I intended to have him give me an affidavit testifying that the coins were forgeries. It’s a violation of U.S. law to bring gold into the country in any form, and it’s a case of fraud to sell a counterfeit coin as genuine, but I was prepared to take that chance.” I smiled. “I had no intention, though, of violating Turkish law. You may believe me.”

The man looked at me for a long time. Finally he said, “That is an extraordinary explanation.”

“It happens to be true.”

“You sat for nine days in jail with an explanation in your pocket that would have gotten you released at once. That argues for its truth, does it not? Otherwise you might have told your cover story right away, accompanied it with a bribe, and attempted to get out of our hands the very first day; before we began to learn so many interesting things about you. A counterfeiter in Antakya. Armenian gold coins, for the love of God. When did Armenians make gold coins?”

“In the Middle Ages.”

“One moment, please.” He used a phone on his desk and called someone. I looked up at Ataturk’s portrait and listened to his conversation. He was asking some bureaucrat somewhere if there was in fact a counterfeiter in Antakya and what sort of things the man produced. He was not overly surprised to find out that my story checked out.

To me he said, “If you are lying, you have built your lie on true foundations. I find it frankly inconceivable that you would travel to Istanbul for such a purpose. There is a profit in it?”

“I could buy a thousand dollars worth of rare forgeries and sell them for thirty thousand dollars by passing them as genuine.”

“Is that true?”


He was silent for a moment. “I still do not believe you,” he said at length. “You are a spy or a saboteur of one sort or another. I am convinced of it. But it makes no matter. Whatever you are, whatever your intentions, you must leave Turkey. You are unwelcome in our country, and there are men in your own country who are very much interested in speaking with you.

“Mustafa will see that you get a bath and a chance to change your clothes. At three-fifteen this afternoon you will board a Pan American flight for Shannon Airport. Mustafa will be with you. You will have two hours between planes and you will then board another Pan American flight for Washington, where Mustafa will turn you over to agents of your own government.” Mustafa, who was to do all this, was the grubby little man who had brought my pilaff twice a day and my toast each morning. If he was important enough to accompany me to Washington, then he was a rather high-level type to use as a prison guard, which meant that I was probably thought to be the greatest threat on earth to the peace and security of the Republic of Turkey.

“We will not see you again,” he went on. “I do not doubt that the United States Government will revoke your passport. Unless you are, in fact, their agent, which is still quite possible. I am beyond caring. Nothing you tell me makes any sense, and everything is probably a lie. I believe nothing that anyone tells me in this day and age.”

“It’s the safest course,” I assured him.

“In any case, you will never return to Turkey. You are persona non grata here. You will leave, taking with you all of the personal belongings you brought in with you. You will leave and you will not return for any reason.”

“That suits me.”

“I hoped it would.” He stood up, dismissing me, and Mustafa led me toward the door.

“A moment-”

I turned.

“Tell me one thing,” he said. “Precisely what is the Flat Earth Society of England?”

“It’s worldwide, really. Not limited to England, although it was organized there and has most of its members there.”

“But what is it?”

“A group of people who believe the earth is flat, rather than round. The society is devoted to propagating this belief and winning converts to this way of thinking.”

He stared at me. I stared back.

“Flat,” he said. “Are these people crazy?”

“No more than you or I.”

I left him with that to contemplate. Mustafa led me to a rudimentary bathroom and stood outside while I washed an impressive amount of filth from my body. When I got out of the shower he handed me my suitcase. I put on clean clothes and closed my suitcase. I tied my dirty clothing into a fetid bundle-shoes and socks and all-and passed the reeking mess to Mustafa. He was not an overly clean man himself, but he took a step backward at once.

“In the name of peace and friendship and the International Brotherhood of Stentaphators, I present this clothing as a gift and tribute unto the great Republic of Turkey.”

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