To compensate for our luxurious ocean hop aboard Concorde, the elements conspired against the spymaster and me: we got plunked on a DC9 to London, where we had a day to “goof off” before flying home.
I looked around for Alpha 26, my faithful minicab driver.
“Maybe he’s lost in the crowd,” offered Clair.
I looked at Clair with an amused expression. He hadn’t yet met Alpha 26 and did not understand that he could not be lost in a crowd. And then I saw him, this Rasputin doppelganger. I slunk up from behind and tapped him on the shoulder.
Alpha 26 turned, conducted a hand-to-mouth-and-down-his-long-beard ritual that allowed him to speak, and greeted me: “Hi, bum-brain.”
“Where’ve you been?”
Alpha 26 had been briefly detained her by Her Majesty’s Customs. (“What do you want with me?” I told them. “I’ve never left England in my life!”)
Clair had met some characters in his line of work, but none like this fellow.
Alpha 26 handed the spymaster his business card:
We followed Alpha 26 to a very old bright red Mercedes and climbed in.
Alpha 26 studied Clair in his rearview mirror as he wound his way out of Heathrow. “Is it okay to talk?” he finally asked.
“The goons have been to my flat.”
“You know, MI5. The goons.”
“How do you know?”
“I walked in and I could feel it—something wasn’t right. The space had been disturbed. They’d been searching.”
“Why would they search your flat?”
“I attended the Global Deception Convention. And then I did a stupid thing. I called the convention organizer. I didn’t give her my name or address, but I called from my home phone. They had her phone tapped and they traced her number, then my address.” Alpha 26 studied Clair in his rearview mirror. “Before I continue, may I ask you a couple of questions?”
“Shoot,” I said.
“And you’ll tell me the truth?”
Alpha 26 stroked his long beard three times. “What were you doing in Paris?”
“Cultivating an author.”
“Really?” He peered at me through his rearview mirror. “All right then, I’ll ask you something else. Have you ever been interviewed by the CIA?”
“Are you sure?”
“Why are you so interested in the CIA?”
“Because they’re all in it together, mate! And they’re related to the goons who visited my apartment!”
There seemed little point telling Alpha 26 that the man sitting to my right used to run the whole covert side of CIA.
“Have you ever been to Clapham Woods?” Alpha 26 asked.
“No, what’s that?”
“A haven to witchcraft. I went there a few weeks ago. I felt something, an eerie sensation. I picked up a souvenir and put it by my phone.” He paused. “My phone hasn’t worked since. My customers can’t get through to me.”
“So why don’t you move it?”
“You know I can’t do that. It would be giving in.”
“Okay,” I said. “Just tell us what the weather’s going to be like.”
“Same as always. Rain or threatening rain. Forget the weather. It’s the truth I’m after.”
“What is today’s truth?”
“See! See!” Alpha 26 bounced up and down in his seat and pounded his steering wheel. “You want it on a plate! You want half-a-pound of it! You want to buy it! You want the truth the easy way!”
“Can’t you just tell us?” I pressed.
“You have to do it on your own, without any help, without any pointers. It’s only because I’ve stuck to my silly rituals for twenty years that I’m able to distinguish between these spaces and other spaces.”
“What other spaces?”
“Negativity! Evil! Unlike truth, evil doesn’t exist as an entity—it feeds off energy. They create doubt through autosuggestion, which gives rise to the illusion of fear, which gives off energy, which they feed on. They want attention without comprehension. They demand credit without justification. They want acquiescence, not consent…”
“Who are they?”
“The Freemasons! They took out the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, and the Pope. The deeper you get into Freemasonry, the nearer you get to black magic. At the top they reveal that Lucifer is God. That’s their ultimate secret: the all-seeing eye at the top of the pyramid is Lucifer’s eye.”
Alpha 26 carried on and on as he drove through the backstreets of Acton, Willesden, and Harlsden, to reach our destination: the Regent’s Park Hilton.
We alighted and joined the queue to check in.
Clair shook his head. “I expected somebody eccentric,” he muttered. “Not someone out of his f------ mind.”
After dumping our bags, we returned to Alpha 26.
“Housman’s,” I instructed.
The spymaster liked books, loved to read, so I thought I’d take him to London’s main anarchist/radical bookstore, behind King’s Cross train station.
The car smelled of perspiration.
“Don’t you ever change?” I asked Alpha 26.
“I only wear man-made fibers—polyester, nylon, acetate. I don’t believe in massacring plants or scalping sheep just so I can keep warm. Simply because something doesn’t communicate with us on our level of understanding we immediately assume it’s there for our expediency. That’s the American mentality. If you don’t understand it, kill it.”
“That’s only partly true,” said Clair. “If you understand it, and don’t like it, kill it.”
Alpha 26 giggled maniacally and stroked his beard.
The bookshelves inside Housman’s were stacked high with militant feminist and gay literature. I strode to the back for their anarchist magazines while Clair perused anti-CIA material.
Alpha 26 had an idea upon our return. “You say you’re in the book business, cultivating authors? You’ve got to meet Mary Mouli. She organized the Global Deception Convention. I bet she could write a book, all she knows.”
“Why not,” I said, sticking to cover.
Clair wanted no part of this lunacy; he bailed to meet a CIA colleague.
Alpha 26 made a call, and I met Mary Mouli and her boyfriend, Keith, for tea at my hotel. Keith’s eyes were widely set, about one tenth of a millimeter away from mongolism; his thin hair swept back, unveiling a pair of scars on his forehead. I could not rule out lobotomy, though it was more likely the result of a forceps birth and resulting brain damage.
Both were humorless. Conspiracy exposing is a serious undertaking, a lone crusade, battling ridicule as well as whatever the conspirators hurl at them.
Mary explained how six months earlier she had used Keith’s life savings to stage the Global Deception Convention at Wembley Arena.
Said Mary, sipping earl gray tea, “Now that we’re out in the open they can’t harm us. It would be too obvious if anything happened to me.” She quickly added that her phones and walls were bugged and men in dark suits followed her everywhere.
“Who?” I asked. “CIA? MI6?”
Mary chuckled contemptuously and exchanged knowing glances with Keith. “They’re nothing,” she said. “Just a decoy.”
“Swan,” said Mary.
“And Box," added Keith.
“Swan and Box?” I said.
“Shhh!” they admonished in unison.
“Swan looks after the Royal Family,” whispered Mary. “And Box is the secret apparatus of the Pope.”
“Do you have any proof about the existence of these groups?”
Mary bristled. “I know they exist. I have people very high up who tell me things.”
“Maybe just a letterhead?” I pressed.
Mary shook her head. “These people have been conspiring for a long time, for hundreds of years. They know how to keep things hidden.”
“Who are their leaders?” I asked.
Mary and Keith exchanged another glance.
“The Queen of England,” said Mary.
“And the Pope,” added Keith.
“I see.” What I saw was that this dickory-docked duo had probably got their start with Lyndon LaRouche, an American whack-job.
“The Scottish clans,” added Mary. “Tell him,” she prodded Keith. “Tell him what happened in Scotland.”
Keith remained mum.
“All right, I’ll tell you.” Mary collected her thoughts. “I was recently invited to Scotland by someone involved with the clans, to a large manor. They made it clear they could kill me right then if they wanted to. They said I was getting too close and that they would be watching. They know I know what’s happening with the sun.”
“What’s happening with the sun?”
“The world is in trouble because of a problem with the sun. It has gone wrong and won’t last. That’s why there are so many problems in the world today. So they’re secretly engineering a new sun—one that will aid them in their ultimate goal.”
I swallowed the bait. “What is their ultimate goal?”
“Aryanism,” said Mary. “It’s all based on ancient hatreds. They want to do away with 400 million people—mass genocide.”
I dared not ask if Hitler, approaching the centennial of his birth, was behind this.
“Let’s talk business,” said Keith.
I could read his tormented mind: here they were, giving away the store, and nobody had even broached money yet, even though he had already invested his life savings on a convention.
“What do you think this book is worth?” he asked.
“What do you think this book is worth?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe five hundred bucks up front.”
Keith smirked. Maybe he thought he was Donald Trump before his lobotomy. “How many copies do you think you could sell?”
“Maybe five thousand,” I lied. “Ten thousand if we’re lucky.”
Keith smirked again. “I think you are greatly underestimating the power of this book. We should be able to sell a hundred times that.”
Keith needed more than a lobotomy.
“Keith, every author believes their book should be a bestseller…”
“This is different,” he interjected.
“Keith, every author thinks their book is different. What kind of money are you looking for?”
“This is big,” said Keith. “We need to see a hundred thousand dollars.”
“Keith, even the biggest houses would have trouble…”
“Oh, no,” Mary interjected. “We can’t go to an establishment publisher. They’d never publish my book in the end. They’d kill it. They’d be stopped by the people who don’t want the truth out.”
“In that case, you’re back to a small press,” I said. “And a token advance.”
“I don’t really care about money,” Mary opined. “I just want the truth to come out.”
And out it came. As we parted, they generously confided in me the answer to the universe: 9 + 2.
From Swan and Box to the CIA station chief’s house for dinner.
Alpha 26 drove us, unaware, of course, that the handsome terrace house opposite a lovely square was home to whomever happened to be the agency’s station chief in London. This particular chief, a New Englander named Jim, heard Clair was in town and threw a dinner party in his honor.
And Clair took me along.
As we circled the square, I picked out the house before seeing the number. It was the one with bars on every window.
Jim answered the door himself, dressed in full Yankee regalia: khaki trousers, colorful canvas belt, and cordovan penny loafers, as if he were in Nantucket. He greeted Clair with warmth; about me, he was less sure, even indifferent, if polite.
This was Jim’s swan song, Clair briefed me beforehand; Jim’s reward and final posting before retirement, having excelled as chief at half-a-dozen stations around the globe.
“But why wouldn’t they put him back to use in Washington,” I said. “He has so many years of expertise.”
“You’ve got to make room for young people—to move them up,” replied Clair. “They’re the ones with the ideas.”
In an earlier conversation with Clair, I questioned the wisdom of moving a station chief after a tour of several years, just when he/she is settling into the job.
“That’s why you move them,” said Clair. “You don’t want them settling too long. You need to see a place with fresh eyes.”
Clair had obviously been inside this London station chief’s house many times.
When we sat for dinner, Clair waved his arms and explained, “Robert has never worked for the government, so we’re not going to talk about secrets.”
But as the evening wore on, that’s all they talked about, from William Casey’s secret trips to China to relations with Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service.
Clair’s former secretary, Margery, and her husband, a CIA contract psychiatrist, were also present. This was also Margery’s swan song, as Jim’s secretary. Margery had faithfully served several spymasters and, Clair told me, “She knows more secrets than anyone.”
The Filipino cook prepared an excellent asparagus soup, followed by roast beef, potatoes, and vegetables, capped by an amazing strawberry soufflé.
“I really shouldn’t say this in front of Robert,” said Clair, before recounting how the British Security Service requested a meeting with him soon after he became Deputy Director for Operations, for which he made a special trip to London. “They were nervous,” said Clair, “and said they had a message for Casey. Okay,” I said. 'What is it?' I expected to be informed of some international calamity. And their message was, ‘Thirty years ago we a had a C [chief of service, or M in James Bond lore] who was gay.’”
The Casey stories rolled fast and furious. Margery told of the time she was still working at her desk during a staff Christmas party. Casey snuck up from behind, startled her, and mumbled, “Feeling guilty about something?”
On a secret visit to China, Casey, a voracious reader, asked to be taken to a bookstore. His Chinese hosts obliged and took him to one. Every book was in Chinese. And Casey, who didn’t know one word of Chinese, spent an hour and a half sifting through books. “He was looking for the micro-dot,” cracked Clair.
What struck me most about this small group was their perception of how they were misunderstood and maligned by the Washington establishment. Government, they felt, no longer appreciated the value of HUMINT (human intelligence). Nor did this group see light at tunnel’s end, believing, sadly, their beloved agency would not survive.
I felt then, and still do, that Clair gifted me with an extra-special glimpse into something no one outside the CIA would ever experience. I was amazed that he permitted me that far into his secret world.
The least I could do in return was show Clair my London.
So, next morning I arranged for my reflexologist to give Clair a session. “After one hour with your feet,” I told him, “she will recite your whole medical history, your current trouble spots, and areas to watch out for in future.”
“Oh, c’mon,” said Clair, a favorite expression of his.
Near the end of his session, I knocked the door. “How’s it going?”
“We’re taking her back with us,” Clair called to me. “She’s wonderful.”
(“Holy catfish,” he said later. “She knew my whole medical history.”)
Clair had been instructed by his wife to buy silver frames, so I took him to the antique emporium in Hampstead.
“Do you have any English money?” asked Clair.
“English, French, Swiss, Italian… what do you need?”
“I tried to change money in the hotel, but the computers were down. And then I called housekeeping because I couldn’t close a window. Someone came up and said, ‘You’re right—I can’t close it either.’ What kind of country is this?”
Clair caught another glimpse of my London when we ran into Bronco, a local tramp I’d known since running a late night coffee house two decades earlier. I introduced the two.
“Bronco hasn’t changed in twenty years,” I said.
Quipped Clair, “He hasn’t changed his raincoat either.”
Next, the Spaniard’s Inn.
Clair held his Glenfiddich whisky high in the air and studied it. “They wouldn’t dare serve a drink this small in the United States.”
“Look at he bright side,” I said. “You can drink a hundred of these and still walk home.”
Henry Kelly, the Irish wit, facilitated the repartee among his gang of assorted nuts and bolts, including a brain surgeon named Bradford. “Been operating today, doctor?” said Kelly. “What is it, God one, Bradford nil?"
Clair fit right in, sticking to cover as a retired “State Department” official.
We had to arise at 4:30 next morning for connection to Paris and Concorde.
Standing in line at a security checkpoint at Charles de Gaulle, some Frenchman tried to cut in front of Clair. The spymaster smiled but with cold eyes snarled, “You just stay right where you are.” The Frenchman did as he was told. I couldn’t tell if Clair was being funny or scary.
The Concorde lounge was a welcome sight—and very welcoming. They took our coats and served us espresso and warm croissants. Inside the lounge, Clair ran into an old acquaintance, Herbert Bloomfield (not his real name), a New York billionaire who had been a U.S. ambassador in Europe. He seemed awkward and clumsy, carrying a lush leather Hermes holdall.
“You should make contact with him when we get home,” I said to Clair. “We like billionaires as clients.”
Clair did not contact him. Anything that smacked of self-promotion was anathema to the spymaster.
Contact with Bloomfield would come much later, after I inadvertently met him again, traveling solo, on the same Concorde route.