“Is it really him?” asks Donald Trump.
“It certainly sounds like the man I’ve often spoken to,” says an unnamed advisor.
“Hand me the phone. This is President Trump. Is this really Jamal Khashoggi?”
“It is,” says the caller.
“Are you all right?”
“No, President Trump, I am not.”
“There’ve been some pretty bad stories going around, and I don’t like hearing them. Where are you? Still in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul?”
“They tortured and dismembered me there, sealed my remains in boxes, and in a darkened van rushed me to the airport. I’m back in the nation I wouldn’t otherwise have returned to.”
“You shouldn’t have gone to the consulate,” says Trump.
“They lured me there as the only way I could get immigration papers for my fiancé. U.S. citizens can go to their embassies around the world without being set upon by hit squads. Three of those guys in Istanbul were bodyguards of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”
“I’m not happy about what happened.”
“What are you going to do? At least punish them economically.”
Trump rises behind his Oval Office desk. “I don’t like stopping massive amounts of money that’s been pouring into our country. The Saudis are spending a hundred ten billion dollars on military equipment. If I don’t sell to them, they’ll just buy from the Russians and Chinese. What do you expect me to do?”
“Don’t you understand what kind of men the prince and his henchmen are?”
“I hear things,” says Trump.
“Now hear this. They’ve killed ten thousand civilians in Yemen.”
“They’re protecting the Yemenis from the Iranians.”
“The Saudis are the problem in Yemen. And in Saudi Arabia – did you hear my BBC interview in England several weeks ago?”
“Here are the key points. Those in power arrest people who do nothing more than say something critical at a dinner party. This has happened to some of my friends. They aren’t even dissidents. I’m a writer who just wants to express his opinion in the Washington Post. Saudi Arabia would be a better country if we had freedom of expression. Every couple of months the prince surprises us with a multi-billion-dollar project that wasn’t discussed in a parliament or newspapers. People just clap and say, ‘Let’s have more of those.’ They’re making other critics like me disappear, and they’re still publicly beheading people.”
Trump squeezes his left hand and drums the desk. “Don’t forget, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is finally giving Saudi women the right to drive cars… Hello, Jamal… Mr. Khashoggi, hello.”
Looking at his advisors, Trump says, “I think we got disconnected.”