|"Look into my eyes"|
Undercover with FBI Counterintelligence
The 35 seat prop plane. an EMB-80 Brasilia, lifted from Nice on the French Riviera into a flawless blue sky.
It circled the azure Mediterranean to gain altitude for clearing snow-capped French alps, then lurched northwest toward a region of France Ira Einhorn would soon describe to me as "the back-end of nowhere."
(I'd left Clair George on the French Riviera with our client, Countess Bossi, with a plan to reconnect with him two days hence in London.)
I fast determined that if the Angoulois was the rear-end of France (as popularly suggested), the dismal village of Champagne-Mouton, where Einhorn resided with his wife, was its butt-hole.
And as the noisy plane fought clouds, I plugged my ears with a Walkman:
The High Llamas' Cold and Bouncy, which aptly described this flight.
The date: January 20th, 1999.
Most of this plane's passengers disembarked at Clermont-Ferrand; only a handful remained on board for the short hop to Limoges, famous for its porcelain.
A tall, skinny, bearded man greeted me at the small airport.
"Mister Eringer?" This was Jean-Pierre Yot, an Einhorn friend and neighbor who had been tasked with fetching me.
(Einhorn never did a lot; one thing he never did was drive, and certainly not fetch.)
Yot was chatty during the hour-long ride to Champagne-Mouton.
His questioning was gentle; his nonchalance, pronounced. A police informant?
When Yot eventually got round to my business with Einhorn, I responded only with affable vagueness, never missing an opportunity to keep my mouth shut and I posed a few questions of my own.
Yot told me he'd known Einhorn about three years.
"I knew him when he called himself Eugene Mallon," said Yot. "Nothing much happens in the Charente and people like it that way," he added. "People keep to themselves. If you live 20 miles away, you're considered foreign."
It had become fashionable among the Dutch and English to settle here, he said, for those who desired a simple, cheap existence in France.
We entered one end of Champagne-Mouton and quickly exited out the other.
A sign on the right side of the road said Moulin de Guitry.
On the left side sat the Einhorn’s old mill house.
I checked my wristwatch: 1:15 p.m.
I climbed out and "found what I found": Ira Einhorn, emerging from his front door.
"Welcome!" he called.
Mercifully, Einhorn was not naked, but dressed in a yellow-button down shirt, tails hanging over his hefty paunch and dirty blue jeans.
I crossed the street, shook Einhorn's hand and looked deeply into his eyes.
I expected to be met with hypnotic powers.
After all, wasn't this the highly intelligent Unicorn who could supposedly brainwash people?
All I could detect was a possible thyroid condition.
That's because Einhorn's eyes, bloodshot from age (then 58) or stress, protruded from their sockets.
Sincere, yes (the fake kind); truthful, no.
I expected Einhorn to be a lot cleverer than the man with whom I locked eyes; with whom I would then spend many hours in conversation.
My ears were destined to encounter an intense bluster of carefully articulated but flatulent psycho-babble.
Annika, behind him, studied me with unsure eyes.
We entered the Einhorn residence, into a dark, cold foyer. This led to a kitchen warmed by an old wood stove, the only source of heat in their abode.
Einhorn grabbed a bottle of wine.
"A neighbor of ours made this."
He poured four glasses.
We sipped. Silence ensued.
Jean-Pierre Yot commented politely that perhaps it needed time.
I ventured the opinion that time would not help.
"It tastes like Welch's Grape Juice without sugar," I said.
Einhorn laughed. "You're right. This neighbor of ours doesn't know what she's doing."
He uncorked another bottle of barely drinkable plonk.
It was immediately apparent that the Einhorns were in wretched financial shape, living on whatever pennies would buy.
Einhorn dismissed Yot, reminding him to collect me the following morning from Hotel Plaisance and stop by for croissants and coffee.
"You bring the croissants," he instructed Yot.
While Annika prepared lunch, Einhorn gave me a tour.
Adjacent to the kitchen was a multi-purpose living and dining room/home-office.
At one end, a rustic dining table; at the other, Einhorn's computer station and Compaq equipment with 20-inch monitor.
All these high-tech toys were gifts, Einhorn told me, from ABC News, a pay-off for the Connie Chung interview.
"She also gave me a color TV set, but I sold it for cash," said a gleeful Einhorn. "I think they broke every law possible by giving me this stuff."
(In my report to the FBI I suggested they arrest Connie Chung for aiding and abetting a wanted fugitive.)
The bathroom, basic and sparse, was very cold, un-kissed by the wood stove.
Next, the barn, which contained two large piles of chopped wood.
Einhorn crowed about what a find this had been; that he'd paid $75,000 for it. (Annika's savings, of course.)
We returned to the dining area, reared our rumps and Annika served lunch: potato and leek soup, country pate, hard cheese, a tossed salad, baguette.
We ate and talked and talked and talked, for hours.
Annika served, cleaned up, hauled firewood from the barn to the kitchen, stoked the oven and knitted, as Einhorn talked, occasionally listened, and bounced back and forth to his computer station for document retrieval.
Annika was there to serve the ponophobic Einhorn.
His role in this household: to read, study, pontificate, philosophize and write, though, Einhorn confided, he’d been suffering writer's block ever since French gendarmes arrived at his door.
"I was in the middle of my fifth novel," Einhorn sighed. "I could never get back into it after what happened."
Annika seemed in awe of her husband, though I discerned some tension between the two, perhaps because she did everything and he nothing.
Einhorn professed eagerness to know my whole background, although he constantly interrupted my spiel to eruct related tangents personal to him.
Each time, I allowed Einhorn to fully indulge his logomania.
I had no doubt that, within 24 hours, he would regard me as his new best friend.
Einhorn whined about having been deceived by Connie Chung and ABC News; that they were not supposed to lead-in their interview by describing him as "a fugitive who got away with murder" (edited out of the videotape they sent him).
"Maybe I did it and maybe I didn't," said Einhorn, referring to his murder of Holly Maddux in reference to the U.S. extradition request. "That has nothing to do with it." (!)
Einhorn tried to convince me that Holly was murdered to frame him and thus end his social activism.
I asked who would do this.
Einhorn jumped up, waddled to his computer, printed out a document, returned.
"Ron Pandolphi," he said. "He's head of the Weird Desk at the CIA."
"The Weird Desk?"
"Yeah, uh-huh," said Einhorn. "That's the most interesting department. Mind control, Stanley Gottlieb. Pandolphi's also involved in the Chinese satellite stuff." He winked. "And Kit Green. He used to be chief of the CIA's Weird Desk. He investigated seven suspicious deaths. One was Holly. Another was William Franklin, a metallurgy professor at Kent State. Now Green is head of medical research at General Motors. You need a Q clearance to get into this stuff. But the main reason they framed me," Einhorn added. "UFOs."
Einhorn nodded. "I know they exist. Monsanto and other companies have been developing technology retrieved from crashed alien spaceships: fiber optics, lasers... they all derive from Roswell, New Mexico."
Einhorn zipped off somewhere.
Annika, knitting at the table, leaned forward and said, "It's so good you are here. Ira has not been able to talk like this to anyone for 18 years. The villagers don't understand him."
His English or his psycho-babble?
Einhorn, famously referred to as "a bum who photocopies things," returned with new photocopies.
"So what do you want to do with me, with my books?" he asked.
Put you behind bars, asshole, who gives a crap about the books.
More to the point, Einhorn added, "How much money could I get?"
I asked which of his novels most excited him.
"Cantor Dust," Einhorn replied without hesitation. "It's my fourth novel. My best."
"Okay," I said. "That's the one I want to read."
"I haven't decided yet whether to give it to you," said Einhorn. "The important question is, how much could I get?"
"Obviously, I have to read it first."
"But let's suppose you read it and you like it. How much?"
"Maybe twenty or thirty thousand dollars."
"Good," replied Einhorn. "I really need $25,000."
We finally adjourned at 5:45.
I gifted Annika with a box of soap, assorted fragrances from Provence.
For Einhorn, a biography of Nabakov he'd requested.
And I gave him a copy of Edward Howard's book, Safe House, mentioning that I had edited it.
"That must have been tough," said Einhorn.
"Just a rehearsal for you," I said. "Your book, that is."
Annika drove me to the nearby Hotel Plaisance.
I checked into room 17, with two hours downtime before dinner.
Champagne-Mouton is not Monte Carlo.
And Hotel Plaisance, one can be certain, will never make the Michelin Guide. It was family run and, like everything else in this piss-ant village, drab and bare.
Chambre 17 was musty, dusty, and rusty and the size of a walk-in closet, illuminated by a naked light bulb that dangled from the ceiling.
The room featured an infirm bed with hard pillow roll and stained bed-cover.
Forget about a TV.
I dumped my bag and boogied, a tour of the village, damp and cold, possessing not an ounce of charm.
The Cafe de la Paix (no relation to the famed establishment in Paris) beckoned me.
I ordered a pastis and watched a group of men, who watched me.
One called au revoir when I left.
At 7:30 the Einhorns appeared outside Hotel Plaisance.
Although it was cold, Einhorn did not wear a sweater or a jacket.
"I've always been that way," he explained.
Annika drove, of course. I sat up front with her.
She thanked me again for her gift. "It's my favorite soap," she said.
En route to Chateau de Nieuil, which they'd booked for dinner, I asked Einhorn where he hoped his life would lead; what, ideally, he would do if he could do anything.
"My dream is to start a foundation," replied Einhorn. "The Unicorn Foundation."
"Right here in Champagne-Mouton."
"To preserve the simple life we have in this region," said Einhorn. "There're people who want to change it, make it faster-paced. I want to stop them."
"Ira should lecture," said Annika. "He has so much to say, so much energy and ability to offer the world. It is not fair that he can't contribute."
I asked Einhorn about his willingness to travel for putting a foundation together."
"I suppose travel in France will be okay in a year or two." (The French had ordered Einhorn not to leave the Charente for now). "Then Europe."
The Chateau de Nieul had one of the finest restaurants in the region, according our threesome with an elaborate four-course meal, starting with an aperitif called Pineau, a local specialty of cognac with grape juice.
For full affect, I sprang for a fabulous bottle of red Bordeaux.
The Einhorns oohed and ahhed over this liquid gold. They did not usually drink so well.
"Gee, if I lived in this area, I'd come here every week," I said.
"If I had the money to do that," Einhorn countered, "I'd fix my roof."
Einhorn said he needed $6,371 to repair the leaks. He needed money so bad, he asked if I could sell his story to a magazine or newspaper.
"You have authority to speak on my behalf," said Einhorn, giddy from good Bordeaux.
Annika told me that her parents had not been aware of Einhorn's true identity until he’d been busted by the French police.
"They were very upset," she said, mentioning that her mother is an alcoholic.
(Sweden was one country to which we thought Einhorn might flee, so it was significant for us to learn that no warm and fuzzy family welcome awaited them there.)
Annika got up to use the powder room.
In her absence, Einhorn said, "She's a good woman, and I've had quite a few."
He told me he'd commit suicide rather than be extradited and expressed concern that Annika be taken care of financially.
They'd been together 11 years, he said, adding that their relationship was strained sometimes because they were both always at home, in close quarters.
Annika returned and quizzed me for a timeline regarding my interest in her husband.
I remembered some dates, forgot others, threw up my hands (like Clair George).
"It's not the only thing I do," I laughed.
"But why were you so interested in Ira?" she pressed.
I leaned forward to draw her in, as Clair would.
"I'm addicted to intrigue and lunacy," I said. "Can't help myself. Your husband qualifies."
Einhorn waved her off and deblaterated about how he'd never had a boss, never worked a day in his life as most people think of work. He said his ideal job would be to advise rich people on how to enjoy life.
After dessert, to enhance such enjoyment, I ordered a round of very smooth, very aged cognac.
Then I settled the bill and I did this in such a way that finally relieved Annika of whatever suspicion she still had about me. Because I paid with a credit card that required the waiter to bring a portable machine into which I punched a four-digit pass-code.
"Your card is issued in Europe?" said the watchful Annika.
"Of course." I shrugged.
On the drive back, Einhorn asked what books I'd been reading.
"Books about Cuba and Fidel Castro," I told him. "But one of my favorite writers is John Fante."
"Fante!" Einhorn whooped with delight. "He's the biggest thing in France right now."
We reached Hotel Plaisance just past midnight. The Einhorns got out, saw me inside.
Thus followed an eerie night in the discomfort of Chamber 17, without sound sleep, punctuated by hypnogogic dreams related to the mission.
At one point, I felt the presence of Holly Maddox hovering over the bed, coaxing me onward:
Right on, Holly seemed to say to me. Please get this bastard.
Made me feel like shedding a tear in her memory.
And provided incentive to get this done.
I welcomed sunrise, to get up and get cracking, settled my tab: 201 French francs (about $35).
Jean-Pierre Yot arrived to collect me, having dutifully picked up croissants and we carried on to Moulin de Guitry.
The Einhorns were up and about.
Lying upon the kitchen table: Ira's manuscript, Cantor Dust.
Annika poured coffee.
Einhorn handed me the manuscript, as proud for me for being worthy to receive it as he was of himself for having written what he considered to be a literary masterpiece.
Then he descended into another bout of logorrhea, this time on digitalization and its catastrophic effect on the future of mankind.
I told Einhorn he should pen a Blueprint for the Future.
He beamed. "Yeah, I can do that."
You could call this cretinous conman a guru or a messiah, to get on his good side, but the moniker Einhorn liked best for himself was futurist.
"You can really communicate," he told me.
My visit, less than 24-hours in town, was short and sweet, as I'd strategized it: Short enough so that Einhorn was sorry to see me go.
Five hours later, my connection delayed at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport awaiting fog to lift, I could not shake the peculiar odor of Champagne-Mouton and its inhabitants.
Much later that afternoon, strolling into the bar of the Lowndes Hotel in London, Clair George took one look at the sight of me (bone-weary... burnt-out... Einhorn'd...), stopped in his tracks and burst into howls of laughter.
Over drinks, I provided Clair an hour-by-hour account of all that had transpired during my visit with Ira Einhorn, emphasizing my belief that I had come face-to-face with pure evil, perhaps with the devil itself.
He listened intently and, when I was spent, he sighed with a sniff of air in that way of his, shook his thick mane of gray hair and said softly, "You make it sound easy. But this is complex stuff and very few people have the skills to pull it off."
I miss Clair.
Including Jack Platt...
Legendary CIA officer, friend, associate, all-round good guy.
When in late 2001 the movie Spy Game came out, Jack remarked, "It should have been about you and Clair. But Brad Pitt and Robert Redford are better looking..."
Hard to argue with that.