Translate

Sunday, August 10, 2014

14. SPOOK WRITER 4


False U.S. Passport
Manufactured by the KGB
Used by Edward Lee Howard to covertly enter the United States in 1986


UNDERCOVER WITH FBI COUNTERINTELLIGENCE

APRIL 1994


New writing arrived from Howard addressing my points, answering many of John H’s questions.  

Also, photocopies of his passports:  one, Russian; the other, a phony U.S. passport fabricated by the KGB under the alias Steve Roth, which Howard used when he secretly visited the United States in 1986. 

The package also included photographs of Howard's dacha, which detailed the security apparatus around him. 

Joseph and Sultan invited me to a meeting at their offices and intended to ambush me about producing a finished Howard manuscript (it was now April 1994) for autumn publication. 

I took the offensive.  "You need a ghostwriter," I said.  "Though I guess in this case, we should call it spook-writer." 

"Why a writer?" 

"Because Howard's manuscript sucks.  It needs to be completely rewritten." 

I explained that Howard's manuscript lacked cohesion.  Some of it was penned in 1988, part of it in 1990, and so on. 

"We need a publishable manuscript no later than June 15th," said Sultan.  "Do you think we'll get it?"

"Honestly?" I said.  "No.  Howard thinks he's done his job.  The only way to do this right is hire a ghost to work with Howard and re-write the whole thing.  You don't believe me?"  I plunked part of Howard's slap-dash manuscript on the table.  "Read for yourself." 

Later that afternoon, Joseph phoned me in a state of near panic.  "We can't show this material to our sales reps!  It's awful!  Do you have other chapters that are any better?" 

"Nope," I said.  "It's all like that.  That's what I've been trying to tell you guys for three months.  Howard can't write.  We need a ghost." 

Joseph responded by redefining my role as editor, arguing that the manuscript needed heavy editing. 

I differed, pointing out that my accepting the role of editor had been based on Howard's proposal, which included a section of clean, crisp, professional sample writing, very unlike what Howard had delivered.

"Howard and his literary agent misled you," I said.  "You need to hire a ghost." 

"We have no budget for a writer," said Sultan, who had joined the conference call.  "You know what our cash flow is like.  We just don't have the money." 

I suggested that they confront Howard and his literary agent and point out that the manuscript was deficient, not what they promised; that it was unacceptable and would be rejected unless they found a ghost at their own expense to rewrite the book. 

"It's too late for that," said Joseph. 

"And we don't want a confrontation," said Sultan. 

"In that case, there's only one solution."  I paused.  "The Dickster." 

"The who?" they asked in unison. 

"A book doctor I know.  The Dickster works fast and, more important, for you guys, he works cheap." 

"Could you talk to him?" asked Joseph.  

One minute later, I connected to Richard Cote at his home in South Carolina.  I outlined our project and its pitfalls. 

"Can you do it?" I asked. 

"Sure!"  

The Dickster calculated about ten grand's worth of work.  I negotiated him down to two grand plus two royalty points, a phenomenally low price for the job ahead. 

I phoned National Press.  "It's a great deal," I said.

But they had no cash flow, nothing.  Could I cough up the two grand? 

Yeah, right.  I'd already coughed up more than five hundred dollars in Fed Ex, phone and fax expenses, not to mention my time.  If I weren’t working secretly for FBI foreign-counterintelligence, I'd be a world-class moron.

"Maybe I could pitch in 500 bucks," I said. 

I didn't think the Bureau would go for this, nor was it worth collecting twenty-two sets of initials for the necessary approvals, but this operation was evolving fast and needed greasing. 

Joseph and Sultan began questioning The Dickster's credits.  He had authored a handbook about how to score with women through personal ads. 

That's why I called him The Dickster. 

"Look," I said.  "How many ghost-writers do you know who would be ready to start immediately, who will travel to Moscow, conduct extensive interviews, transcribe them, and rewrite a whole manuscript in six weeks for two grand and pie-in-the-sky royalties?" 

Next I phoned John H.  "All hell has broken loose on my end." 

"Really?" he said.  "What now?" 

"National Press has seen Howard's material and finally realize they don't have a book.  They're going nuts." 

I ran John H through the new scenario:  Richard Cote enters the picture, travels to Moscow in May to work with Howard for ten days.  I give Dickster the right questions to ask, the book gets saved.  I travel to Moscow in July to meet Howard for an editing session, get him busy on my own book idea, our lure, then we're off and running in a new direction.  Literally.  Someplace we can nail Howard.  

National Press signed an agreement with Richard Cote, and I wrote a fax to Howard explaining this new development. 

Three days later, on May 19th, The Dickster arrived in Bethesda for a working editorial luncheon at Montgomery's Grille. 

Cote was all business in a navy blazer, gray flannel trousers, blue button-down shirt, chili-pepper-patterned tie and black penny loafers, with pennies tucked into their bands. 

The Dickster is big and round and comes equipped with a twitchy neck and a set of rules that keep him regimented and organized. 

Over lunch, crab cakes for me, kebabs for Cote and Sultan, a chicken sandwich for Joseph, the Dickster took notes. 

"Are there a bunch of defectors who hang together, play poker on Wednesday night?" I posed.  "Find out.  Howard has written that he's good friends with George Blake, the British spy.  Are their others?  Also," I added, "do a week in the life of Ed Howard.  How does he live?  We need this kind of color to bring his manuscript alive." 

"I'm a lawyer," said Joseph to Cote.  "Ask Ed if he wants to make a deal to come back here." 

Cote noted our concerns and summed it up:  "I'm going to tell Ed that this is his one shot to tell his story, he won't get another, and that he'd better make use of it and hold nothing back." 

Two hours later, Alan Sultan dropped The Dickster at Dulles International Airport for a six p.m. flight to Paris and a connection to Moscow.  


No comments:

Post a Comment