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Friday, November 28, 2014

23. MADAM GODDAM





Summer 1992


Clair George and I took our seats aboard British Airways Concorde.

I started scribbling.

“What are you taking notes on?” he asked.

“Everything.”

Clair put his hands over his eyes, real or mock angst.

He knew I was going to write all this eventually.  He said, more than once, “Wait till after I’ve gone and then write a great spy book.”

The food and drink wasn’t as good as with Air France Concorde, but flight time just as fast and we arrived to a balmy seventy degrees in London.

Alpha 26 faithfully awaited our arrival, but the gas lamp on his dashboard was lit, indicating a near empty tank.  He perceived this a challenge thrown up by the devil.  

“It’s terrible what’s going on,” he moaned.  “Ritual child abuse at the highest levels, and anyone who finds out is hushed up.  Freemasonry.  Your President Clinton is a Freemason, you know.”

“Doesn’t surprise me,” said Clair.  “Clinton is a member of everything.  The Lions.  The Rotarians.  There’s nothing he’s not a member of.”

“Oh,” said Alpha 26.


Next morning Clair and I floated around Jermyn Street, perusing the shop fronts of fine shirt-makers.  I tried to talk Clair into buying a purple velvet smoking jacket at Turnbull & Asser, but he had none of it.  

“I hate English shirts,” he said.  “I don’t know why I bother looking at them.”

Onto a restaurant called Caprice to meet Piers, a private eye.
I had found Piers, a Brit, through an old friend who’d been extremely satisfied by his work.  Clair always said, “If you’re investigating someone in Switzerland, don’t hire a Swiss for the job.  Use Germans against the English, English against the French…”

So I’d met Piers a month earlier in Paris to explain the problem:

“I’m handling a highly complicated child custody dispute.  I’m on the mother’s side, but unknown to the mother, my client is her mother, the grandmother.”

“Huh?” 

“That’s right.  The mother thinks I’m a gift from God who is paid by a trust fund created by her late father.  I’ve managed to become best friends with the child’s father, a wacky baron, who believes our friendship is based on his destiny to become a bestselling author.

“But that’s just part of it,” I continued.  “Our client believes her daughter is influenced, perhaps manipulated, by a woman, a Buddhist, who may view my client’s daughter as a lifetime meal ticket.  We call her Madam Goddam.

“That’s where you come in.  We need to know everything you can find out about Madam Goddam.”

Piers had conducted an investigation, and now he briefed the spymaster and me.

“We tracked down Goddam’s parents in Belgium, They’re a couple of old hippies, mid-seventies.  Nice people—from the Land of Nod.  Goddam doesn’t visit often.  But they receive her mail—voting cards and such—and forward it to Switzerland.  They’re Buddhist.  They told our investigator Goddam is a good Buddhist and very honest.  They say their daughter moved to Switzerland because, and I quote, ‘There is a better atmosphere for Buddhism in Switzerland than in Belgium.’

“She has a reputation for sexual promiscuity from way back,” added Piers.  “She ran off with an American colonel once—yes, he was married—and they lived together in the U.S. for seven years.

“Her husband [Lara’s chauffeur] worked for a security company as a guard. I spoke with his ex-boss.  He’s clean.  No criminal record.  This probably isn’t what you wanted to hear.”

I shook my head.  “We want to hear the truth.”

Piers turned to Clair.  “Just out of curiosity, how does it feel to do what you’re doing now?”

Replied Clair, “I’m not doing anything now.”

The spymaster never missed an opportunity to keep his mouth shut.

Somehow, Alpha 26 had discovered that Clair had been CIA’s spymaster. 

“How long till you lot f--- up the Middle East?” he asked.

“Not long,” replied Clair.  “Maybe a week.”

This startled Alpha 26.  “How?”

“We’ll take out Arafat.”

“You mean kill him?”

“Of course.”

“Why?”

“Because he’s an ugly piece of s---.  And fat, too.  And because we just don’t like Arabs.”

For once, Alpha 26 was speechless.  Which, I guess, was Clair’s objective. 


So impressed was I by Piers, and what could be achieved by private detectives compared to investigative reporters, I went to see Stuart Kuttner, Investigations Editor at News of the World, the UK’s largest circulation Sunday tabloid.

I had first met Kuttner in the late 1970s when I sold investigative stories to Fleet Street newspapers, and we had stayed in sporadic contact through the next decade. 

I made my pitch:  Why not use private investigators to acquire sensitive information?

Kuttner apparently ran with my idea—albeit without Piers’ or my involvement (which was a good thing).

Fifteen years later, the News of the World's use of private eyes to hack into the telephone messaging accounts of celebrities and other journalistic targets would result in multiple arrests—including his own—and the termination of News of the World.


We glided into Serene City.  I couldn’t get us into Hotel Des Bergues this trip, so I’d booked the Beau Rivage.   

My room was a grand salon with two sets of French windows and frescoed angels on the ceiling, a king bed beneath a crystal chandelier, a coffee table and chair, a writing table and a bowl of strawberries compliments of the manager.

I showed it to Clair.  “You could run a war from this room,” I said.

“We once did,” he replied.
Next morning, the countess welcomed us with a kiss on each cheek in the Gray Fiduciary’s office.  “So,” said the countess.  “Tell me.”

“This is a very complicated situation,” Clair began.  He reminded the countess that our objective, all along, was to protect her grandson.   Another Clairism:  Stick to brief.   “We have two problems,” he continued. “One is the baron, who we know is crazy and will only get crazier with time.  He’s a big phony, and his new wife is beginning to realize this.  That marriage won’t last, and, as time goes by, the baron will need money, and he’s going to believe his son should be his meal ticket.  So he’s going to cause a lot more trouble.”

The countess nodded.  She adored Clair.

“The other problem is this Madam Goddam,” Clair flailed his arms around.  “She’s a flower child from the sixties.  She has slept her way around Europe.  But she’s not a bad person from what we know.  She’s Buddhist…”

The countess interrupted.  “So she is Buddhist.  I see now.”

“Countess, let me be honest with you,” said Clair.  “Buddhism isn’t bad.  Different, yes, but there are many religions that are a lot worse.”

“Lara is a Catholic,” said the countess.  “That’s how I brought her up.  A Catholic.  Not Buddhist.  This is terrible.” 

“These seem like nice people,” said Clair, referring to Goddam and her husband.  “The problem is, Lara relies on them for everything and cuts you and everyone else off. The good news is that Robert, here, has gotten close to Lara.  She listens to him, trusts him.  And what I’d like to see here is Robert get into her circle, to become more influential in Lara’s life.”

The countess seized on this “ingenious” idea, which I had no idea was coming until Clair said it.  Neither had he.

“And now Robert has some reports to show you,” Clair finished, bowing out.

I had thought this might be our final meeting, and was actually hoping it would be, so I could wash my hands of Baron von Biggleswurm.

But the countess seemed more determined than ever to renew the soap opera she produced, directed, and in which she enjoyed a starring role.  I realized, sitting there, that this was her entertainment in old age.

“You mean I have to keep dealing with that crackpot baron?” I said.  “Countess, no one deserves this kind of torture.”  

The countess chuckled and said she would see us in New York in a month.



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