Thursday, September 18, 2014


Undercover with the FBI

January 1999

Champagne-Mouton is not Monte Carlo.  And Hotel Plaisance, one can be certain, will never make the Michelin Guide.  It is family run and, like everything else in this piss-ant village, is drab and bare. 

Chambre 17 was musty, dusty, and rusty, 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." 

Its purpose? 

"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.  Our threesome enjoyed 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." 

Money, again.  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.) 

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 eleven 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.  "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.  "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 old 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.  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 hypnologic dreams related to the mission.  

At one moment, I thought I felt the presence of Holly Maddox urging me forth:  Right on, get this bastard

I welcomed the sunrise, and settled my tab:  201 French francs, about thirty-five bucks. 

Jean-Pierre Yot arrived, 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 of me for being worthy to receive it as he was of himself for having written what he considered a 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 thirty-page Blueprint for the Future. 

He beamed.  "Yeah, I can do that."   

You could call him a guru or a messiah, but Einhorn liked futurist best.   

"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, sitting in Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport awaiting fog to lift, I could not shake the peculiar odor of Champagne-Mouton and its characters. 

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