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Arkady Renko marched into the Oval with the somber ceremony usually reserved for duty at a memorial service. And while one might assume that his demeanor was out of respect for the victims in the murder case that he had been assigned, it was actually more for the death of something else. Four political idealists had been murdered in this, the city of his nation’s capital. Their identities ripped away by a savage smear campaign. Their names obliterated, hidden as if covered by a blanket of thick snow. And Renko, Renko had been summoned to the Oval to report on the progress of his investigation.
But what was there really to say when it is always best never to say too much? Speaking and acting carefully were survival habits for the politically aware. Many citizens knew enough to speak only clandestinely and to log into social media only under a pseudonym. The smarter ones knew to use a VPN as well. The really smart ones took the batteries out of their phones until such time that they actually needed to make a call. Still, all of them, including Renko, knew that the knock at the door could come at anytime.
Now, staring at the enfeebled commander of the Oval, Renko knew that any report he might make was not for the ears of the old man. Long past the point of cogent discourse, the best that the commander could muster were ineffective insults meant to assure himself of his thoroughly lost dominance, obvious confidence patter that he obviously believed was slick and effective, and pitiable rambles of word salad.
No, Renko’s report was for the other man in the room, the man who clearly held sway over each of the commander’s “decisions.” And this man was far more dangerous: charming, wily, and likely with an agenda separate from both the office in which he presently stood and the officer next to whom he presently stood – separate despite the considered and measured rhetoric that this man also had at his command.
Renko did not want this case. The question of why it was assigned to him only added to his sense of unease. It should have been assigned to the national intelligence and investigative services. But, in all likelihood, agents of those same services were somehow involved. Renko had seen similar things involving inconvenient citizens before. And the suspicion of such similar things was both widely held and clandestinely discussed. However, the commander of those services would, of course, just deny everything.
Then there was the wealthy foreign businessman whom each clue implicated. A man seemingly intent on selling this nation’s most precious asset – the Liberty of its citizens – to a hostile, foreign power. Dooming those citizens to a life in fifteen-minute prisons, to breed, and to produce, and to die “own[ing] nothing but be[ing] happy” – lives and dreams, once feral, now broken, and sold like pelts of caged sables. A man who was very well connected to, and held in high esteem by, the man who controlled this very room in which Renko was to make his report.
Renko stood at attention and knew that his every word now must be as measured as the rhetoric of the man in control of the Oval, and that his every suspicion must be held back for clandestine conversation elsewhere. And just as he was about to speak, Renko thought to himself, “Someone really ought to make a movie.”Published in