The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep Page 3

“I don’t speak English,” Mustafa lied.

“What the hell does that mean?” I demanded. “Oh, the devil with you.”

We stopped at the clerk’s desk. I was given back my belt, my necktie, my shoelaces, my pocket comb, my wallet, and my watch. Mustafa took my passport and tucked it away in a pocket. I asked him for it, and he grinned and told me he didn’t speak English.

We left the building. The sun was absolutely blinding. My eyes were unequal to it. I wondered if Mustafa would consider dropping his pose of not speaking English. We would have a long flight together. Would he want to pass the whole trip in stony silence?

I decided that I could probably get him to talk, but that it might be better if I didn’t. A silent Mustafa could well be more bearable than a talkative one, especially since I would be able to pick up some paperbacks to read on the plane. And I did seem to have an advantage. He spoke English and didn’t know I knew it. I spoke Turkish, and he didn’t know that, either. Why give up that sort of edge?

We walked along toward a 1953 Chevrolet, its fenders crippled, its body riddled with rust. We sat in back, and Mustafa told the driver to take us to the airport. He leaned forward, and I heard him tell the driver that I was a very deceptive spy from the United States of America and that I was emphatically not to be trusted.

They all see too many James Bond movies. They expect spies everywhere and overlook the profit motive entirely. A spy? It was the last thing on earth I would ever become. I had no intentions of spying for or against Turkey or anyone else.

I had come, quite simply, so that I could steal approximately three million dollars in gold.

Chapter 2

It had begun some months before in Manhattan at the junction of three streams-a job, a girl, and a most noble lost cause. The job involved preparation of a thesis that would win Brian Cudahy a master’s degree in history from Columbia University. The girl was Kitty Bazerian, who rolls her belly in Chelsea nightclubs as Alexandra the Great. The noble lost cause, one of the noblest, one of the most utterly lost, was the League for the Restoration of Cilician Armenia.

I first saw Brian Cudahy on a Saturday morning. My mail had just arrived, and I was sitting in my living room sorting it. I receive a tremendous amount of mail. I’m on hundreds of mailing lists and I subscribe to a great many periodicals, and my mail carrier detests me. I live on 107th Street a few doors west of Broadway. My neighbors are transients and addicts and students and Orientals and actors and harlots, six classes of people who get little in the way of mail. Bills from Con Ed and the telephone company, slingers from the supermarkets, quarterly messages from their congressman, little else. I, on the other hand, burden my mailman with a sack of paper garbage every day.

My bell rang. I pressed a buzzer to admit my caller into the building. He climbed four flights of stairs and hesitated in the hallway. I waited, and he knocked, and I opened the door.



“I’m Brian Cudahy. I called you last night-”

“Oh, yes,” I said. “Come in.” He seated himself in the rocking chair. “Coffee?”

“If it’s no trouble.”

I made instant coffee in the kitchen and brought back two cups. He was looking all over the apartment. I suppose it’s a little unusual. People have said that it looks more like a library than an apartment. There are four rooms besides the kitchen and the bath, and in each room the walls are done in floor-to-ceiling bookcases, almost all of which are full. Beyond that, there’s rather little in the way of furniture. I’ve a large bed in one room, a very large writing desk in another, a few chairs scattered here and there, and a small dresser in still another room, and that’s about all. I don’t find the place unusual at all, myself. When one is a compulsive reader and researcher and when one has a full twenty-four hours a day at his disposal, not having to allot eight for sleep and eight for work, one certainly ought to have plenty of books on hand.

“Is the coffee all right?”

“Oh!” He looked up, startled. “Yes, of course. I…uh…I’m going to need your help. Mr. Tanner.”

He was about twenty-four, I guessed. Clean-cut, bright-faced, short-haired, with an air of incipient success about him. He looked like a student but not at all like a scholar. An increasing number of such persons pursue graduate degrees these days. Industry considers a bachelor’s degree indispensable and, by a curious extension, regards master’s degrees and doctorates as a way of separating the men from the boys. I don’t understand this. Why should a Ph.D. awarded for an extended essay on color symbolism in the poetry of Pushkin have anything to do with a man’s competence to develop a sales promotion campaign for a manufacturer of ladies’ underwear?

“My thesis is due the middle of next month,” Cudahy was saying. “I can’t seem to get anywhere on it. And I heard that you…you were recommended as-”

“As one who writes theses?”

He nodded.

“What’s your field?” I asked.


“You’ve a topic already assigned, of course.”


“What is it?”

He swallowed. “Sort of offbeat, I’m afraid.”


“Excuse me?”

“Offbeat topics are the best. What’s yours?”

“The Turkish persecutions of Armenians during the late nineteenth century and immediately before and after the First World War.” He grinned. “Don’t ask me how I got saddled with that one. I can’t figure it out, myself. Do you know anything about the subject, Mr. Tanner?”


“You do?” He was incredulous. “Honestly?”

“I know a great deal about it,” I said.

“Then can you…uh…write the thesis?”

“Probably. Have you done anything on it to date?”

“I have notes here-”

“Notes that you’ve shown an instructor or just your own work?”

“No one’s seen anything yet. I’ve had some oral conferences with my instructor but nothing very important.”

I waved his briefcase aside. “Then I’d rather not see your notes,” I told him. “I find it easier to start fresh if you don’t mind.”

“You’ll do it?”

“For seven hundred fifty dollars.”

His face clouded. “That seems high. I don’t-”

“A master’s degree is worth an extra fifteen hundred to industry the first year. That’s minimal. I’m charging you half your first year’s differential. If you try to haggle, the price goes up, not down.”

“It’s a deal.”

“This is for Columbia, you said?”


“And your grades have been-”

“B average.”

“All right. About a hundred-page thesis? And you want it the middle of next month?”


“You’ll have it. Call me in three weeks, and I’ll let you know how it’s coming along.”

“Three weeks.”

“Don’t call before then. And I’ll want half the money now, if it’s all the same to you.”

“I don’t have it on me. Can I bring it this afternoon?”

“You do that,” I said.

He was back at two that afternoon with $375 in cash. He was just a little reluctant to part with it-I don’t think because he would miss the money so much but because this made the deal firm, committed him to a plan that he knew very well was morally reprehensible. He was purchasing his master’s degree. It would be a big status thing for him, that master’s, and he’d have gotten it unfairly, and it would always bother him a little, and he knew as much already. But he handed me the money, and I took it, and we both sealed our pact with the devil.

“I suppose you’ve done lots of theses,” he said.

“Quite a number.”

“Many in history?”

“Yes. And a good number in English, and a few in sociology and economics. And some other things.”

“What did you do your own on?”

“My own?”

“Your master’s and doctorate.”

“I don’t even have a bachelor’s,” I told him truthfully. “I joined the Army the day I left high school. Korea. I never did go to college.”

He found this extraordinary. He talked about how easy it would be for me to go through college and walk off with highest honors. “It would be a snap for you. Why, you could write your thesis with no sweat. The exams, the whole routine. It would be nothing for you.”

“Exactly,” I said.

Cudahy’s thesis was a very simple matter. I already knew quite a good deal about the Terrible Turk and the Starving Armenians. My library contained all the basic texts on the subject and more than a few lesser-known works, including several in Armenian. I speak Armenian, but reading it is a chore. The alphabet is unfamiliar and the construction tedious. I also had an almost complete file of the publications in English of the League for the Restoration of Cilician Armenia. Biased though they were, the League’s pamphlets could not fail to impress in a bibliography.

It was pleasant work. Research is a joy, especially when one is not burdened with an excessive reverence for the truth. By inventing an occasional source and injecting an occasional spurious footnote, one softens the harsh curves in the royal road of scholarship. I studied, I ate, I worked out at the 110th Street Gym, I read, I kept up my correspondence, and I developed Cudahy’s thesis with little difficulty.

I narrowed his topic somewhat, focusing on the Armenian Nationalist movements that had in large part provoked the Turkish massacres. Hunchak and Daschnak, organized in 1885 and 1890 respectively, had worked to develop a national consciousness and pressed for liberation from the Ottoman Empire. The minor Kurdish massacre of 1894 led to an absorbing parade of Big Power manipulations and was followed a year later by Abdu-l-Hamid’s mammoth slaughter of eighty thousand Armenians.

But it was during World War I, when Turkey fought on the Axis side and feared her Armenian subjects as a potential fifth column, that the Armenian massacres reached their height and the phrase “Starving Armenians” found its way into our language. In mid-1915 the Turks went berserk. In one community after another the Armenian population was uprooted, men and women and children were massacred indiscriminately, and those who were not put to the sword either fled the country or quietly starved.

After the war the Soviets took Armenia proper, establishing an Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. The areas that remained Turkish had largely lost their Armenian population. The last large concentration of Armenians to suffer en masse were those in the city of Smyrna, now Izmir. The Greeks seized the town in the Greco-Turkish War that followed close upon the signing of the armistice. When Ataturk recaptured Smyrna, the city was burned, and the Greeks and Armenians were systematically destroyed. An earthquake further reduced the city in 1928, but by that time there were few Armenians left in it.

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