Thursday, November 13, 2014

11. SUMMER 1991

I was in London, early summer, when news broke that Clair had been indicted for obstruction of justice with regard to the Iran-Contra Scandal. He had allegedly lied to Congress when asked about an operation to sell arms secretly to Iran and divert part of the profits to fund the Contras (anti-Communist rebels) in Nicaragua, which Congress had forbidden.

Iran-Contra was a project pushed on Clair by another senior CIA official, Duane “Dewey” Clarridge.  Clair opposed the Iran-Contra operation, but perceived it as his job to protect it.  When exposed, he never fingered anyone else.

The New York Times and The Washington Post published Clair’s photograph—no silhouette, the real him—outside his modest house.  (He did not allow the media presence from interfering with his chores.)

Reporters camped out on Allan Road, holding vigil even though Clair refused comment on the case. 

It seemed like a good time for Clair to scram.  And I had a good reason for him to join me in Monaco, where I was summering with my family:  a letter on crested stationery had arrived from Monaco’s finance minister, Jean Pastorelli, requesting I phone him to schedule a meeting.  He wanted to talk lottery.

I got Clair on the horn (his wife, Mary, had been answering the phone, politely but firmly deflecting reporters).  

“We have a meeting with the finance minister,” I announced.  “You want to come out here?”

Replied Clair: “I’d love to be anywhere but here.”

Next evening, four days after news broke of Clair’s indictment, he boarded Pan Am’s flight to Nice, joined by Phil, the former chief U.S. Senate investigator who had harnessed our lottery client.

Phil had dark Sicilian features and wore tight three-piece suits over a weightlifter’s physique, always chewing on a toothpick, with a macho lingo to match.  

I collected the unlikely pair at Nice-Cote d’Azur Airport in my white Wrangler Jeep and whisked them to The Hermitage hotel in Monte Carlo.

At Le Texan for dinner, our Monaco contact decided Phil looked like a mobster and urged him to abstain from meeting the finance minister.

No matter, because the client himself—the president of the automatic wagering division—would fly in the following day to join us.

For months I had been referred to as Clair’s secret partner, depicted as the Monaco mystery man.  So Hugh the Boss did not quite know what to make of me.  Who was this bearded man in blue denim?

Clair always believed that any professional situation in our business required an element of mystique.  In this case, I was the mystique.

The big meeting was scheduled for three p.m.  Our Monaco contact decreed that only Hugh the Boss and I would attend, as Clair had just been the victim of bad press.

The finance minister received us promptly and Hugh the Boss made his pitch, full of corn-fed Mid-western sincerity.

Pastorelli seemed intrigued.  Running a lottery is like mining gold without all the digging.  Monaco, hit by recession, was looking for ways to create new revenue.  He said would have to consult with France and Italy, find out what role Monaco would play in their joint plan for a Europe-wide lottery.

Hugh the Boss walked away happy.  That night, Clair, Phil, Hugh the Boss and I dined in the open air at a seafood restaurant along the port in Fontvieille.

A pesky mosquito crawled playfully upon the tablecloth near my setting.  I captured it in the hollow of my wine glass, and let it go.  Not wishing to be held captive a second time, the mosquito wandered over to Clair, who merely monitored it.  (Like my father, Clair would never intentionally kill anything.)  Next, it meandered over to Phil.  True to Sicilian heritage, Phil stabbed at the mosquito with his fork, but, softhearted, missed with every stab.  Finally, the hapless mosquito wandered over to Hugh the Boss, all of this going on incidental to our discussion.  Gentle Hugh, without a second’s hesitation, lashed out and flattened the mosquito with his fist.

And that’s why he was CEO.

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