Brow Beat

The Consulate

An old engraving of surgical instruments, including a bone saw.
The tools of diplomacy.
Wellcome Images

With apologies to Donald Barthelme.

Well, we had all these operatives out interrogating dissidents, see, because we figured that … that was part of their education, to see how, you know, the legal system … and also the sense of responsibility, taking care of things, being individually responsible. You know what I mean. And the dissidents all died. They were healthy dissidents. I don’t know why they died, they just died. Something wrong with the water possibly or maybe the sodium pentothal we got from the Americans wasn’t the best. We complained about it. So we’ve got thirty operatives here, each operative had his or her own little dissident to interrogate and we’ve got these thirty dead dissidents. All these operatives looking at these little drowned outside agitators, it was depressing.

It wouldn’t have been so bad except that just a couple of weeks before the thing with the dissidents, the clerics all died. But I think the clerics—well the reason that the clerics kicked off was that … you remember, the holding cells were shut down for two weeks because of the riot, and that was explicable. It was something you could explain to the operatives because of the riot. I mean, none of their commanding officers would let them enter a prison riot and they knew there was no running water and what it meant. So when things got started up again and we found the clerics they weren’t too disturbed.

With the women’s rights activists it was probably a case of overwaterboarding, and at least now they know not to overwaterboard. The operatives were very conscientious with the women’s rights activists and some of them probably … you know, slipped them a little extra water when we weren’t looking. Or maybe … well, I don’t like to think about rogue killers, although it did occur to us. I mean, it was something that crossed our minds. We were thinking that way probably because before that the poets had died, and the Twelvers had died, and the Seveners had died, and the General … well, now they know not to rendition them in plastic bags.

Of course we expected the filmmakers to die, that was no surprise. Those numbers, you look at them crooked and they’re in cardiac arrest. But the political exigencies called for a filmmaker roundup at that point, there was nothing we could do, it happens every year, you just have to hurry past it.

We weren’t even supposed to have a blogger.

We weren’t even supposed to have one, he was just a student the al-Tubaigy kid found on Twitter one day and he was afraid the Crown Prince wouldn’t like what he was saying, so he stuck him in a windowless van and brought him to the consulate with him. So we had this blogger. As soon as I saw the blogger I thought, Oh Christ, I bet he will live for about two weeks and then … And that’s what he did. He wasn’t supposed to be in the consulate at all, there’s some kind of regulation about it, but you can’t tell them they can’t have a blogger when the blogger is already there, right in front of them, curled up in the fetal position in a puddle of vomit and blood. They named him Edgar—that is, they named him after me. They had a lot of fun running after him and yelling, “Here, Edgar! Nice Edgar!” Then they’d laugh like hell. They enjoyed the ambiguity. I enjoyed it myself. I don’t mind being kidded. They made a little confinement box for him and all that. I don’t know what he died of. Asphyxiation, I guess. He probably wasn’t very flexible. I got him out of there before the operatives got to the consulate. I checked the confinement box each morning, routinely, because I knew what was going to happen. I gave him to the bone saw guy.

And then there was this migrant worker that the operatives adopted through the Saudi Vision 2030 program, all the operatives sent her a quarter a month, that was the idea. It was an unfortunate thing, the kid’s name was Nafeek. The cause of death was not stated in the letter we got, they suggested we adopt another migrant worker instead and sent us some interesting case histories, but we didn’t have the heart. The operatives took it pretty hard, they began (I think, nobody ever said anything to me directly) to feel that maybe there was something wrong with the consulate. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the consulate, particularly, I’ve seen better and I’ve seen worse. It was just a run of bad luck. We’ve had an extraordinary number of beheadings, for instance. There were I think four witches and 24 non-violent drug offenders, two maids, and 47 terrorists killed together in a mass execution. One crucifixion. And we had the usual heavy mortality rate at the Ritz Carlton, or maybe it was heavier this year, it seemed so. And finally the tragedy.

The tragedy occurred when two operatives were rehearsing a speech with the Prime Minister of Lebanon down where they’re excavating for the new sub-basement of the consulate. It turned out there were all these cameras and microphones hidden, you know, inside the walls. There’s a court case coming out of that, the officials are claiming that an Apple Watch did the recording. I don’t know what’s true and what’s not. It’s been a strange year.

I forgot to mention all the Yemeni children who were fatally shrapneled when they grappled with a U.S.-made Lockheed Martin MK 82 laser-guided bomb in their school bus.

One day, we had a discussion in the consulate. They asked me, where did they go? The dissidents, the General, the filmmakers, Edgar, the Twelvers and the Seveners, the schoolchildren and the maids, where did they go? And I said, I don’t know, I don’t know. And they said, who knows? and I said nobody knows. And they said, is death that which gives meaning to life? And I said no, oil is that which gives meaning to life.
Then they said, but isn’t death, considered as a fundamental datum, the means by which our stranglehold over the global economy may be tightened in the direction of—
I said, yes, maybe.
They said, we love it.
I said, that’s sound.
They said, it’s our favorite thing.
I said, mine too.
They said, will you behead Helen (our receptionist) so that we can see how it is done? We know you disapprove of her driving.
I do disapprove of Helen’s driving but I said that I would not.
We’ve heard so much about it, they said, but we’ve never seen it in person.
I said I would be fired and it was never, or almost never, done as a demonstration.
Helen looked out the window.
They said please, please behead Helen, we require an assertion of value, we are frightened.

I said that they shouldn’t be frightened (although I am often frightened) and that there was a private jet waiting to take them back home. Helen resigned. I told her I would not accept her resignation. The operatives were excited. Then there was a knock on the door, I opened the door, and the journalist walked in. The operatives cheered wildly.