Details from the audio – according to the Sabah newspaper and a Turkish official — have the consul general, Mohammed al-Otaibi, saying to the killers, “Do this outside. You will put me in trouble.”

To which one of the agents replied, “If you want to live when you come back to Arabia, shut up.”

Turkish officials, reporting on the audio, focus on what they say is the voice of a Saudi doctor, who had come along to help with the dismemberment and disposal of the body, which Turkish officials cite as evidence of pre-meditated murder. As agents cut off Khashoggi’s head and limbs, the doctor provided advice that they listen to music, as he would then do himself, to ease the tension.

If this were a novel, this would be grist for a page-turner. As reality, it couldn’t be more disturbing. There appears to be only one reason the tapes haven’t yet been released for international inspection yet – that President Erdogan is holding them for even greater leverage. For all the damning evidence, he also hasn’t pointed his own finger or that of other Turkish officials at Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

No one can predict where this story ends for Saudi leadership, U.S.-Saudi and Turkish relations and President Erdogan’s regional role. What’s safe to predict is that Erdogan is likely to provide a few more plot twists before this is all over. He’s retained the most powerful leverage of all, if it exists: the actual video, or possibly audio, that could still undermine the latest Saudi narrative.

The final chapter of this drama has yet to be written.

Frederick Kempe is a best-selling author, prize-winning journalist and president & CEO of the Atlantic Council, one of the United States’ most influential think tanks on global affairs. He worked at The Wall Street Journal for more than 25 years as a foreign correspondent, assistant managing editor and as the longest-serving editor of the paper’s European edition. His latest book – “Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth” – was a New York Times best-seller and has been published in more than a dozen languages. Follow him on Twitter
@FredKempe
and subscribe here to Inflection Points, his look each Saturday at the past week’s top stories and trends.

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