Sunday, October 4, 2020

102. OUR BEAT

 


Private-Sector Intelligence with Clair George

Autumn 1993


Following my meeting with Baron von Biggleswurm in St. Moritz I had faxed him requesting 50 written pages to qualify for an advance on royalties.   

About a month later, when next we spoke, the baron sounded somewhat upset.   

“Your proposal is not realistic, “ he whined.   “My material is in total disorder, not finished, out of context, in German and French, this is how I write.  You keep setting new conditions.  Either you’re ready to go or not.  I came all the way to America.  It cost me $2000."

I let him milk it for all it was worth—and it wasn’t worth much.

“It makes no sense anymore,” Biggleswurm grumbled.  “Any publisher will take this book.”

“I sense a tad of frustration here,” I said.

“I have contacts all around the world!  My name is good! I’m doing a lot of things in my life!”   

Biggleswurm worked himself into frenzy, trying to goad me.  

But I could not be goaded; I had no reason to argue with him. 

“If you go on like this," he ranted, "I lose my enthusiasm! I work on an intellectual level!”

“Of course you do,” I said.  “How have you been?”

“I hurt my hand this morning,” Biggleswurm whimpered.  “It’s swollen.  That’s why I’m in a bad mood.”

“You poor fellow,” I said.  “I had no idea you were unhappy until this moment.  I’ve been expecting to receive a signed contract any day, along with 50 pages of material.  And it didn’t arrive.  So it finally occurred to me, maybe something’s wrong.  I thought you would like my proposal that you provide 50 pages.”

“No, no—I can’t give you.”

             

I phoned the countess.   “If my relationship with Biggleswurm is to continue, I need to give him an advance.”

“How much money?” she asked.

“Five thousand dollars.  Then he’s married to me.  We’ll never have to pay him more because he’ll never write a book.”

“Okay, give him the advance.”  She paused.  “But isn’t he suspicious of you?”

“Don’t underestimate the power of illusion,” I said.  “If someone called Biggleswurm this minute and told him he was being rused he’d think they were nuts.  He wants to believe I am a publisher who will make him famous.”


Biggleswurm sent me a signed contract and I cut him a check.  

When I phoned him, he yakked about how busy he was doing this and that.

“When will you find time to write the book?” I chided.

“I’m getting into the whole thinking,” said Biggleswurm.

“What are you doing for Christmas?” I asked, mindful that his son would visit during the holidays.

“I stay home for Christmas.  Then I leave the first of January.  South somewhere.  Maybe Bali."      

“A vacation by yourself?”

“Yaa—I need a vacation.  Then I return January 20th to collect my wife.  If she wants to come.”

“Where to?”

“Rent a house somewhere in the Caribbean.”

In his mind, Biggleswurm had already spent my five grand.


Lara phoned and told me she had explained to her son my role in their lives.  “He wants to talk to you.”

“Sure.  Put him on.”

After 15 months of looking after his best interests, the time had come for me to speak with the boy, now aged ten.

“Hello?” said a boy’s voice, meek, unsure.  “I don’t want to visit my father over New Year.”

“Are you worried about anything in particular?”

”Yes, it’s horrible.  My father yells and argues with me.”

“Is there anything you especially fear?” I asked.

“That he will keep me there and not let me go.  He’s done it before.”

“Listen,” I said.  “I don’t want you to worry about that.  I want you to know that I will know where you are at all times.  If your father tries to keep you there, or if he takes you somewhere else, I’ll know—and I’ll come get you and take you home, okay?”

“Okay.”

“And you know not to tell your father that we’ve spoken or that I know your mother?”

“Of course.”

“Good.  I’ll probably call while you’re there.  You may even answer the phone, but you’ve got to pretend you don’t know me, right?”

“Right.”

“Okay, let me speak with your mother again.”

Lara got on.  “He’s really frightened.  Me, too.  He wants to meet you.  He has questions.”

 When I told Clair George about this development, he shook his head in dismay. 

“Never trust kids with secrets,” he said.

 

Again, Clair and I broke the sound barrier on Concorde to London, and onto Serene City.  

We set up operational headquarters in the Beau Rivage bar, cozy nooks with overstuffed chairs.

Lara arrived just past three; we strategized what to tell her son—and what to leave out.  Then we climbed into Lara’s Subaru and sped out of Geneva.

Standing outside his school near a lake, the boy wore a Chicago Bulls cap, a baseball jacket and braces on his teeth.  

As Clair later commented:  “I was expecting a buttoned-up nerdy European kid.  He’s about the most American kid I’ve ever seen.  This guy could flourish in Topeka.”

On the ride back, we talked about baseball and Euro-Disney.

Clair snuck off.   Lara, her son and I strolled to McDonald’s, munched cheeseburgers and fries in a corner.           

“All right,” I finally said.  “I guess we’re going to talk about your father.”

 The boy giggled nervously.

 Lara piped up.  “Yes, you had some questions.  Robert is here to answer them.”

“Let me explain what’s happening,” I said.  “And then you can ask whatever questions you like.  I’ve gotten to know your father.  He doesn’t know that I know your mother.  But because I know him, he tells me what he’s doing, and so I’m able to keep your mother informed.”  I paused.  “Your father sort of lives in another world.”

The boy laughed out loud.  “You can say that again!”  He rollicked in his seat.

“Your father marches to a different drummer,” I continued with discretion.  “He looks down on the world, thinks it is beneath him.  The word he uses is mediocrity.”

The boy laughed again, enjoying this.  “Yeah, I know!” 

“He lives in another age, a kind of dream world, and in this world he is very important.  But he’s your father, and you have to respect your father.  So now let’s move on to why I am involved.  Your family is always worried when you have to visit your father because of the time when he tried to keep you.”

The boy nodded.  “I get worried, too.”

“I know.  But now we have a solution.  You may have noticed that when you were with him last summer I telephoned a lot.”

“Yes.”

“It was because I wanted to know where you were all the time.  If your father had tried to take you somewhere, I would have known, because he would have told me.  I knew that you almost went to Nordeney, that you almost traveled to Salzburg with him, that you stopped in Bad Ragaz before catching your plane in Zurich.”

The boy was amazed.

“If your father would have taken you somewhere to keep you, I would have gone there to get you.”

“Come to my rescue!” the boy whooped.

“Exactly.  Now, I don’t think your father is going to do anything like that again.  But we’re going to make sure that if he ever does, it won’t work.  I will come get you, and take you home, and your mother will be nearby.  Understand?”

“Yes,” said the boy.  “Thank you.”

“You had some questions,” Lara prodded.  “You wanted to know about your father’s humanitarian organization?”

“Yeah, he told me about that,” said the boy.  “Does he have one?”

“Sure, he does,” I said, pointing to my head.  “In his mind.  Your father has a good imagination.  He would like to do these things.  But for your father, imagining them is enough.”

Daniel laughed.  “Is he writing a book?  He talks about Enigma Books.  Is that you?”

“Yes.  Your father has very grand ideas, and he’s trying to write them as a book.”  I paused.  “Are you happy about this situation?”

“Yes.”

           

Back at the Beau Rivage, Clair and I retreated to operational headquarters:  the bar.  

The spymaster ordered a scotch and soda.  

“I’m having a gall bladder attack,” he said calmly.

“What?”

“It’ll be okay,” he said.  “It happens once a year.  I’m supposed to have it out.”

“What do you do about it?”

“I sit and drink ten scotch and sodas.  That usually does it.  But if the pain continues, I wake up at three in the morning and go to the hospital for a shot of Demerol.”

“I’ll be right back,” I said, returning five minutes later.  “Take two of these.”

“What are they?”

“From England. The perfect combination of aspirin, paracetamol and codeine.  Take two now, and if you wake up at three in the morning take two more.”

Clair swallowed them with a gulp of scotch and soda.  He never needed the other  two.

Next morning we flew to London to catch Concorde.  It was nighttime when we launched out of Heathrow.  For the first fifteen minutes we played cat-and-mouse with the setting sun.  

Then I saw something I’d never seen before:  a 90-minute sunrise—from the east.


I found Biggleswurm in Jamaica.

“I’ve been through a terrible time!” he wailed.  “A ghastly influenza of root canal.  I was on the verge, but now I’m out of the soup.”

“Don’t you mean inflammation?”

“Yaa—inflammation, too!  My head was a red balloon.”

“What did you do?”

“I found a dentist.  He gave me a big injection to save me.  I’m writing!  But it doesn’t go fast.  And I have a new title.”

A new title was probably all he had written.

“The Renaissance Man.  But don’t pressure me with time. I need until next February.


Clair phoned me in a tizzy.  His old colleague, Jim Fees, had asked him to take delivery of a phone and bring it to Geneva with him.  

“Would you come over and take a look at this thing?” Clair asked me.

By this time, I’d bought a house on Earlston Drive, one block over from where Clair resided on Allan Road.  I walked over in 90 seconds.  

“That’s no normal telephone,” said I.

“No.”  Clair scratched his head.  “It’s supposed to be some kind of encryption phone.”

It was a heavy piece of hardware.

“Are you supposed to carry that with you?” I asked.

“No.  The instructions are, don’t carry it, pack it in checked luggage.”

“Hmm.  You don’t think you’re being set up for a grand send-off, do you?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time.”  He shook his head.  “I’ll mail it to him.”

“Damn right.  What does he take us for—a couple errand boys?”

“Yeah.”  Clair was relieved.  “We don’t do deliveries.”


We boarded an Air France Airbus and took our seats in their Premier cabin.  

A bottle of Pommery pink champagne chilled nearby in an ice bucket as flight attendants prepared Sevruga caviar, foie gras, crab claws, filet mignon with truffles and a selection of fine cheese.

“I hate to say it,” I said, sprawling horizontally, “but I’ve gone off Concorde.  This is more civilized.”

Clair smacked his lips in appreciation of vintage Bordeaux.  

A short nap later, we descended into Paris and swapped our aircraft for a smaller one destined for the French Riviera.

As our jet began its final descent into Nice, I noticed that Prince Albert of Monaco sat a few rows ahead of us, on the aisle, trying to get some shuteye.  

Once the plane reached the gate, and everyone stood, I caught his eye, stepped forward, “Hi, remember me.”  We shook hands.  “And this is Clair George.  We had lunch with you a couple of years ago about a lottery.”

The prince asked where we were headed.

Monaco.

He asked what we’d be doing there.

“The usual,” I said. “Steal in, stir up shit and get out before anyone notices.”

The prince chuckled.  “If you have time, drop by and see me.”

Next morning I phoned the prince’s secretary.  She said, His Serene Highness would like us to drop by the Palace after work, at six p.m.

“Yep, we’re going to see the prince,” I told the astonished spymaster.


Prince Albert’s sanctuary was the Palace’s clock tower, which had once been the office of Princess Grace, his late mother.  It was more a cozy den than a working office.  The prince welcomed us and we sat in soft leather sofas around a low coffee table.

Clair plucked a book from the coffee table and held it up.  “What’s this?”

It was a copy of my satirical book on the principality, Monaco Cool, published under the nom de plume Robert Westgate.

“But this is contraband,” declared Clair.

Some folks in Monaco even believed I’d been persona non grata’d following the book’s publication a year earlier.

The prince chuckled.  When he spoke, he stammered slightly. 

I knew the prince had a long-time interest in the circumstances surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy. 

So I deferred to the former deputy director of operations of the CIA to provide his perspective.

Clair voiced his belief that there was no conspiracy; he seemed to truly believe this.  

I chirped in that the perpetrators were Santo Trafficante and Carlos Marcello, the powerful mafia dons.

We spent half-an-hour shooting the breeze.  

Conversation with Albert was difficult due to his shy nature and stammer.  He didn’t know what to say, so he told us that he had recently toured Michael Jackson around the palace.  

“It was really weird,” said the Prince.  “His nose kept slipping off.”

When it was over, Clair and I descended The Rock by foot.  

The spymaster shook his head of thick gray hair.  “What was that all about?”

“Here’s the headline,” I said.  “Top CIA Spook Briefs Prince of Monaco on JFK Assassination.”

Clair shuddered at the thought.


The countess appeared at our fancy Beaulieu hotel with the Gray Fiduciary; greetings were exchanged, war council commenced.  

She wanted everyone in her daughter’s life investigated.

Clair and I attempted to talk her down.

A stout, suited Frenchman suddenly appeared 15 feet from us and bowed.  The countess acknowledged him and he bowed again.  And again, and again—lower and lower with each new bow.  After seven bows, he looked like he might grovel at her feet.  Finally he said “au revoir” and bowed twice before departing.

“The manager,” whispered the countess.  “I've known him 30 years.”

Next subject:  Baron von Biggleswurm.

I told the countess that I wanted to strangle him.

“Please do,” she said.  “I should have killed him myself.  I would have served my time and been free by now.”

The countess called lunch and we settled into the well-laid dining room to be served oysters poached in champagne and grilled sea bass.  The countess insisted we all order soufflé for dessert.

“We’re thinking that maybe Robert, here, should move to Europe,” said Clair.  “He’s doing so much for you now, it may be better that he lives in Monaco, where he can be nearer Lara and her son, and Biggleswurm.”

I shot Clair a look.

The countess glowed.  “That would be marvelous.”  She leaned forward.  “Too bad you’re married,” she said to me.  “If you were single it would solve everything.


Next day, same routine:  War Council Part II.

The countess coyly posed a question about her grandson.  Didn’t I think, she asked, it would be a good idea for the boy to be placed in a strict boarding school—away from daffy Biggleswurm and also his cuckoo mother?

I did not, and said so. 

Clair agreed with me.

The countess reluctantly—very reluctantly—retreated.


Clair and I hopped over Mont Blanc to Serene City, my tenth visit in 18 months.  

I didn’t have any Swiss money for the doorman at the Noga Hilton.  Clair reached into his pocket and pulled out a roll of bills.  He peeled a couple and duked the doorman.

“I always carry a wad of one dollar bills wherever I am in the world,” Clair explained.  Everyone loves U.S. dollars.”

Jim Fees awaited us in the bar.  

Clair threw his arms around Fees in a bear hug, most uncharacteristic of the spymaster, and then apologized to him about “forgetting” the crypto-phone.  

With such an effusive greeting, Fees could not protest.

“Nice touch, the hug,” I later said to Clair.

“Yeah," he grinned. "Wasn’t it?”