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Saturday, September 20, 2014

55. OPERATION BEEZLEBUB





Undercover with the FBI

January 2001



Ira Einhorn had gained weight.  It was almost exactly two years (and hundreds and hundreds of e-mails) since I had first met this fugitive killer.  His face was now ravaged with stress, cheeks swollen with malevolence, teeth rotting, and gums rotted. 

And a short, barrel-shaped body that left a trail of pig-snot. 

The only way to fool beezlebub is on his own terms, with a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a Cuban cigar in the other.  So it was that I came head to head with Ira Einhorn on January 16th. 

We met at Le Claud Gourmand, a Restaurant-Hotel de Charme, halfway between Saint-Claud and Champagne-Mouton. 

I extended my right hand, but Einhorn wanted to hug, ensuring that I catch a whiff of his putrid breath. 

I checked Einhorn and his wife Annika into Chambre 2 (my tab) and myself into Chambre 3.  This place wasn't The Ritz, but it sure beat Hotel Plaisance in Einhorn's grim village. 

We settled in the parlor for tea and anchovy-filled croissants, and re-acquainted ourselves.  We had the hotel and restaurant to ourselves.  Indeed, we were its only guests this day and night. 

Einhorn, ever the enthusiastic blabbermouth, desired an update on all my book activities since last we met.  Had I been to Cuba? he asked.  How did that go? I told him about my Cuban escapades:  Vesco, Chesimard, Castro, a spy-ring… 

Einhorn listened with attentiveness.  Then he said quietly:  "That's where my lawyer has advised me to go.  Cuba.  He says he can make the introductions and arrangements.  All my friends have been urging me to flee." 

So here it was.  This stinkard was planning an exit-stage-left.  Surprise, surprise. 

"But aren't you watched by the French police?" I asked.   

Einhorn nodded.  "I have three sets of surveillants," he boasted.  "The local gendarmes, who take turns coming down from Lille, the anti-terrorist squad in Paris, and the federal intelligence agency." 

"So how can you flee to Cuba?" 

"Very easy," Einhorn replied.  "I'd only have to walk across my garden." 

"But don't you have to check in with the cops every few days?" 

"I'd have five days before they knew I was gone," Einhorn whispered.  "Annika will stay and pretend all is well.  She can't live underground again."  He paused.  "And in a worst case scenario, I have a plan to kill myself.  But lets not talk about that in front of Annika.  It upsets her." 

The last thing we wanted was for Einhorn to end up in Cuba, where scores of American fugitives freely roam, courtesy of Fidel Castro, who grants political asylum to American criminals.  And Einhorn was driving distance of Madrid, where he could catch a nonstop flight to Havana. 

"Cuba sucks," I said.  "I have another idea, and it sure beats dying." 

"Yeah?  What?" 

"A plan that will generate massive publicity for your novel." 

"Let's not talk about it here," Einhorn whispered.  "Later." 

Einhorn suggested a stroll in the grounds.  He pointed out his watchers, one unmarked car with two policemen, and told me most of them had been friendly and sympathetic to his plight; that several had helped him stack firewood and had come into his home for New Year's drinks.  He added, contemptuously, that one had even given Annika a kiss. 

Einhorn's smirk and body language implied that the liberty-loving French were helping him get away with murder. 

"Annika and I are now separate," said Einhorn. 

Annika stopped, upset.  "Are you saying we're not married?" she asked him. 

"Of course we are," Einhorn patronized her stupidity.  "I mean we're separate financially.  The house is in her name.  I have nothing."  Einhorn dug into his blue-jeans pocket and plucked a 200-franc note.  "Except this," he chuckled. 

We soon cut indoors from the cold for a round of Pineau.  Einhorn seemed anxious to hear my publishing plan for his novel Cantor Dust.   

I laid out this fantasy:  We would print 500 deluxe copies, bound exquisitely with slipcovers.  They would be numbered.  The first 100 would bear his signature.  Signed books would sell for $250; unsigned, $100.  We would also print 250 bound galleys for reviewers.

Einhorn grew excited.  "I need fifty bound galleys," he said.  "I need to demonstrate to the French that I am a man of letters.  This will help my case." 

Through our special deluxe edition, I continued, we would hope to attract a large publisher to publish a mass-market trade-paper version.  Interest would depend, I added, on the amount of publicity Einhorn could generate. 

Einhorn nodded.  It all made such sense. 

"I need an advance," said Einhorn.  "We're broke." 

The roof had still not been repaired, said he, and leaking like a sieve. 

"I almost mentioned it to you before you came, so maybe you could bring some money."  Einhorn shrugged, polyester sheepishness.  "Is twenty thousand dollars possible?" 

"Maybe," I said.  "I'd have to calculate the total cost of publishing and see what I can afford.  Maybe I should have your bank details?"  

"Give it to him, Annika," Einhorn instructed. 

Annika dipped into her handbag and produced a hand-written note:

Annika's Bank Account, Annika Flodin, Moulin de Guitry, 16350 Champagne Mouton, France 31-127 246-43 Compte bleu, Banque Generale de Luxembourg, Agence B6L "Royal Monterey" 27, Avenue Monterey, L - 2163 Luxembourg SWIFT B6LL LU LL TEL.  352-4799-2556, FAX.  352-4799-2112. 

Annika's concern was timing:  How soon could I publish the novel? 

"How fast can you correct and return the galleys?" I asked. 

"You can have them tomorrow morning," said Einhorn.

We would be the only dinner guests this evening, he added, so whenever we wanted to eat, they'd serve us. I suggested we get on with it.  

Dining room lights switched on and we took our seats at a round table in the corner.  

Proprietor-chef Jean Marc Rougier appeared before us and suggested a five-course truffle dinner. Who could say no?   

Chef Rougier scooted to the kitchen then reappeared, big grin, with a jar of fresh truffles. 

I asked him to recommend a fine red wine to accompany our meal. 

How about, he suggested, a selection of wine to compliment each course?  

You kidding?  Do it. 

Chef Rougier descended to his wine cellar and returned with three half-bottles of red.  The first, a Domane Sant Vincent Saumur-Champgny 1999, he un-corked and poured, then served the first course:  warm sliced truffle over a piece of garlic toast on a bed of mixed greens.  It was heavenly. 

"What are you reading?" Einhorn asked me.  This is his favorite question, as he considers himself the world's most voracious reader. 

"On Writing by Stephen King," I replied.  "I don't read books about writing any more, but I flipped it open at a bookstore and it looked good.  I learned a few important things." 

"Like what?" said Einhorn. 

"The road to hell is paved with adverbs." 

Needless to say, Einhorn's novel was paved to hell with adverbs. 

The second course, even better:  Sliced warm truffle with pan-sautéed foie gras in a rich butter sauce, accompanied by Ampelida 1998. 

With the doors closed, Einhorn proclaimed it safe to speak as we got into our third course, truffle potpie and a Clos les Cotes Pecharmant 1997. 

"Poland," I whispered.  "I've kept up a relationship with the former underground activists from Solidarity.  Using a network of old safe houses, these guys could hide you, settle you in a city like Krakow.  It's full of intellectuals like yourself." 

Einhorn absorbed everything.  He liked the plan, the best he'd heard, said he.  "And very do-able," he declared. 

Traveling by car, Einhorn could cross the border into Germany without identification, then drive across Germany to the Polish border. 

"That's where you would need papers," I said.  "My Polish friends would be able to organize that." 

Einhorn said it would mean separating from Annika.  "She can't live underground again."   

Annika confirmed that an underground existence could no longer work for her; she’d be happier with the stress of litigation than living on the lam.  However, she added, life for Ira in Poland would be better than his plan to commit suicide. 

"If the court goes against me," said Einhorn, "I will kill myself in a very public demonstration." 

"How?" I asked. 

"Self-immolation," replied Einhorn.  "I plan to set myself on fire in a public place." 

(When he later heard this, Mike from Philly quipped, "Can I bring the marshmallows?") 

As much as Einhorn liked my Poland plan, he was in no hurry to leave France and separate from Annika.  He believed he had many, many months, perhaps years, before his pro bono lawyers would exhaust their appeals, ultimately (they hoped) in the Court of Human Rights at The Hague. 

Course four:  Sliced truffle with a fried egg. 

And finally dessert:  Truffle inside warm peaches, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with cocoa powder.  A chilled bottle of Sauternes. 

This being cognac territory, Chef Rougier poured snifters of the best of the best:  Vielle Grande Champagne Cognac Hors D'age Paul Beau.

I suggested a Cuban cigar.  Einhorn concurred.  I returned to my room and retrieved two Monte Cristos.  We lit, drew, puffed, and drank fine armagnac as we conspired into the night.  

Next morning, Einhorn joined me for breakfast and produced his corrected galleys.  Einhorn told me he and Annika had labored intensely; that he was finally satisfied with the novel's ending: 

She once again glanced at him with the eyes of the 19 year-old and calmly walked to the hook on the wall that held the strap they had used to beat each other and shyly smiled at him as she reached for it.  Daddy's little girl was home again. 

Again, we agreed to use fax for all sensitive communications.  I devised a code for the escape plan.  We would refer to this as a documentary.  Hence, if I could get him false Polish ID, I would fax:  The documentary producer has offered a contract

As I settled the hotel-restaurant tab, a tough-looking character, shaven head, black leather jacket, commando boots, strode by to get a fix on things.  I went outside, returned to the lobby.  Baldy and another cop were chatting with Chef Rougier. 

The plan had called for Annika to drive me to the airport, but when we got in, her Fiat wouldn't start.  A dead battery.  By sheer luck, a taxi meant for Einhorn (to take him home) rounded into the forecourt.

"I'll take the taxi," I said, not planning to miss my flight, nor wishing to stick around with Baldy. 

The French Napoleonic code allows them to hold anyone they want for weeks just for the hell of it.  And who knew what they thought of my presence. 

"I must check with Ira," said Annika, who wouldn't so much as belch without Einhorn's permission.   

To hell with Ira.  I stowed my bag in the trunk, seated myself in the cab.  

Annika returned.  "Ira says it's okay." 

As if it really mattered at this point. 

Many hours later, beneath a long hot shower, I endeavored to scrub away every last trace of beezlebub's breath and persona.  



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