The Mesmerist

Short Stories Dec 1, 2021

Despite being self-basted in the juices and oils of prosperity gospel teachings, Zoltan Dogan was devoid of any spiritual stuffing. Clinging to the belief that it was a sin to be poor, in a perverse way he reasoned that his activity as a renowned jewel thief was a physical response to a divine entitlement. Unsurprisingly, this was disputed by the authorities. Red flags appeared against his multiple aliases at most international borders, yet little was known about him due to the inability of police to apprehend him. It wasn’t clear if Zoltan Dogan was his real name or merely a soubriquet. Interpol merely knew of him as The Mesmerist.

It was suspected The Mesmerist was American rather than a Turk. After heists, he would often leave biblical hints to taunt would-be pursuers. His belief in a prosperity fundamentalism appeared rooted in US televangelism, although his major activity in the past decade was traced to central European countries. Recent burglaries from wealthy homes and businesses along the Bosphorus and in Central Istanbul suggested his probable current location was immersed amongst the 15 million citizens of Istanbul. They were wrong.

“Merhaba, Jimi,” Zoltan intoned in greeting at the small coffee bar inside the harbour at Kalkan, 800km south of Istanbul. His body still tingled from the crispness of his early morning ocean swim adjacent to the bar.

“Selaam,” replied Jimi. “Coffee, eggs, toast, roasted aubergine, Mr Zoltan?”

The Mesmerist nodded, drawing hard on acrid Turkish tobacco clutched in nicotine stained fingers. He relished routine mornings beside the harbour, the anonymity of small-town life on the edge of the Mediterranean, stark contrasts of glassy turquoise water against white rock, the pleasant exchanges with “Jimi Hendrix,” the Turkish waiter with his halo of afro-style hair.

Zoltan breakfasted to the sounds of water slapping against small fishing boats and the chatter of humble Turkish fishermen cleaning catches in the harbour. He paid and tipped Jimi, rising to leave as the nearby minarets began their noisy calls to prayer across the town. An hour later in Dalaman, he boarded a Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul, arriving before noon. This was to be a big payday and had been meticulously planned.

In Taksim Square, he avoided the gay pride protesters who were on the receiving end of some brutal police justice and water cannons. Taking the cable train down to the waterfront, he was whisked by water taxi across the Bosphorus to the Asian side of Istanbul. The wealthy owners of today’s heist were business people conveniently holidaying in Thessaloniki in Greece. On the darknet, Zoltan had sourced a bent travel agent and paid for information with bitcoin. He’d selected his target then scouted the waterside suburb two weeks ago prior to returning to Kalkan.  The darknet had also connected him with a crooked locksmith who provided a duplicate entry key and codes for the huge residence, cameras and security vault. Zoltan now had unhindered access to the mansion without personally meeting anyone who could identify him. Just another day at the office. Another rung in the ladder of his prosperity doctrine.

At the completion of the day’s “business,” he recrossed from Asia to Europe on the Martyrs’ Bridge as the sun was beginning to slide behind the Dolmabahçe Palace. Street vendors lined roadsides hawking their mint teas, black coffees, cobs of roasted corn, bunches of flowers. The air was ripe with heady scents of Turkey’s spices and foods. From the rear seat, The Mesmerist basked in the glow of his own cleverness. Smugly, he recalled the gold bullion, cash and jewellery stowed in his suitcase within the taxi’s trunk. Other than name his hotel on Taksim Square, he hadn’t spoken with the driver. The return flight southwards to the simplicity of his anonymous life in sleepy Kalkan, on the Mediterranean, would depart mid-morning tomorrow.

After breakfast, he trundled his maroon suitcase from the hotel via a side exit. It was a cloudless day, and again the gay pride protestors had gathered in the city square, placards held aloft, loudly demanding the attention of Turkish politicians and its President through megaphones. Wishing to be clear of the hotel and prying cameras, The Mesmerist cunningly stayed inconspicuous by weaving his way through the protesting mob towards a row of nearby taxis. Emerging near the taxis, the water cannons began again. The crowd was blasted into disarray as drenched bodies were flung across concrete pavers accompanied by shouts and screams. Zoltan, drenched to the bone, struggled to his feet swearing loudly, and darted from the mayhem towards the taxis trailing his equally drenched maroon suitcase. With a deft swerve, he avoided the flailing baton of a Turkish cop. This proved to be a pivotal error as his neat sidestep around the cop caused him to sprint headlong into the path of a bicycle travelling at full pelt.

The cyclist was a baker’s boy who delivers baskets of fresh breads throughout the city. His ilk are famed for high-speed traffic manoeuvres, bearing baskets of bread rolls and loaves on their heads and backs in cities from Cairo to Rome to Istanbul. The crash was sickening and fresh bakery products were liberally strewn across Taksim Square. Believing that this dripping wet “gay protester” with the maroon suitcase had deliberately felled the baker’s boy, the homophobic cop rained truncheon blows onto The Mesmerist. Curled into foetal position, Zoltan screamed of mistaken identity while the cop snorted “Faggot! Faggot!” as he repeatedly lashed out. The beating ceased only when he was crudely hurled into the back of a police van with his suitcase and ten other protesters then driven away for interrogation and further roughing up.

For unmasking and apprehending The Mesmerist, Interpol publicly thanked the Türk Polis. Turkish authorities duly accepted the accolades, suggesting that the arrest had occurred after years of careful sleuthing, not a quirk of luck suggested by sections of the press. Meanwhile, Zoltan Dogan, The Mesmerist, watched in despair as the rungs of his ladder of prosperity disassembled and collapsed as firewood before his eyes. Staring at a probable half century of incarceration in a squalid Istanbul prison, Zoltan would have ample opportunity to reassess the central tenets of his prosperity faith.


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