Monday, December 1, 2014


I found Baron Biggleswurm in Jamaica.

“I’ve been through a terrible time!” he wailed.  “A ghastly influenza of root canal.  I was on the verge, but now I’m out of the soup.”

“Don’t you mean inflammation?”

“Yaa—inflammation, too!  My head was a red balloon.”

“What did you do?”

“I found a dentist.  He gave me a big injection to save me.  I’m writing!  But it doesn’t go fast.  And I have a new title.”

A new title was probably all he had written.

The Renaissance Man.  But don’t pressure me with time. I need until next February.”

Clair phoned me in a tizzy.  His old colleague, Jim Bonde, had asked him to take delivery of a phone and bring it to Geneva with him.  “Would you come over and take a look at this thing?” he said.

By this time, I’d bought a house on Earlston Drive, one block over from where Clair resided on Allan Road.  I walked over, took me ninety seconds.  “That’s no normal telephone,” said I.

“No.”  Clair scratched his head. “It’s supposed to be some kind of encryption phone." 

It was a heavy piece of hardware.

“Are you supposed to carry that with you?” I asked.

“No.  The instructions are, don’t carry it, pack it in checked luggage.”

“Hmm.  You don’t think you’re being set up for a grand send-off, do you?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time.”  He shook his head.  “I’ll mail it to him.”

“Damn right.  What does he take us for—a couple of errand boys?”

“Yeah.”  Clair was relieved.  “We don’t do deliveries.”

We boarded an Air France Airbus and took our seats in their Premier cabin.  A bottle of Pommery pink champagne chilled nearby in an ice bucket as flight attendants prepared Sevruga caviar, foie gras, crab claws, filet mignon with truffles, and a selection of fine cheese.

“I hate to say it,” I said, sprawling horizontally, “but I’ve gone off Concorde.  This is more civilized.”

Clair smacked his lips in appreciation of vintage Bordeaux.

A short nap later, we descended into Paris and swapped our aircraft for a smaller one destined for the French Riviera.

As our jet began its final descent into Nice, I noticed that Prince Albert of Monaco sat a few rows ahead of us, on the aisle, trying to get some shuteye.  

Once the plane reached the gate, and everyone stood, I caught his eye, stepped forward, “Hi, remember me.”  We shook hands.  “And this is Clair George.  We had lunch with you a couple of years ago about a lottery.”

The prince asked where we were headed.


He asked what we’d be doing there.

“The usual,” I said. “Steal in, stir up s---, and get out before anyone notices.”

The prince chuckled.  “If you have time, drop by and see me.”

Next morning I phoned the prince’s secretary.  She said, His Serene Highness would like us to drop by the Palace after work, at six p.m.

“Yep, we’re going to see the prince,” I told the astonished spymaster.

Prince Albert’s sanctuary was the Palace’s clock tower, which had once been the office of Princess Grace, his late mother.  It was more a cozy den than a working office.  The prince welcomed us and we sat in soft leather sofas around a low coffee table.

Clair plucked a book from the coffee table and held it up.  “What’s this?”

It was a copy of my satirical book on the principality, Monaco Cool, published under the nom de plume Robert Westgate.

“This is contraband,” declared Clair.

Some folks in Monaco believed I’d been persona non grata’d following the book’s publication a year earlier.

The prince chuckled.  When he spoke, he stammered slightly.  

I knew the prince had a long-time interest in the circumstances surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy.  So I deferred to the former Deputy Director of Operations of the CIA to provide his perspective.

Clair voiced his belief that there was no conspiracy; he truly believed this.  

I chirped in that the perpetrators were Santo Trafficante and Carlos Marcello, the powerful mafia dons.

We spent half-an-hour shooting the breeze.  

Conversation was difficult with Albert due to his shy nature.  He didn’t know what to say, so he told us that he had recently toured Michael Jackson around the palace.  

“It was really weird,” said the Prince.  “His nose kept slipping off.”

When it was over, Clair and I descended The Rock by foot.  

The spymaster shook his head of thick gray hair.  “What was that all about?”

“Here’s the headline,” I said.  “Top CIA Spook Briefs Prince of Monaco on Kennedy Assassination.”

Clair shuddered.

The countess appeared with the Gray Fiduciary; greetings were exchanged, war council commenced.  

She wanted everyone in her daughter’s life investigated. 

Clair and I attempted to talk her down.

A stout, suited Frenchman suddenly appeared fifteen feet from us and bowed.  The countess acknowledged him and he bowed again.  And again, and again—lower and lower with each new bow.  After seven bows, he looked like he might grovel at her feet.  Finally he said “au revoir,” and bowed twice more before departing. 

“The manager,” whispered the countess.  “We’ve known him thirty years.”

Next subject:  Baron von Biggleswurm.

I told the countess that I wanted to strangle him.

“Please do,” she said.  “I should have killed him myself.  
I would have served my time and been free by now.”

The countess called lunch and we settled into the well-laid dining room to be served oysters poached in champagne and grilled sea bass.  The countess insisted we all order soufflé for dessert.

“We’re thinking that maybe Robert, here, should move to Europe,” said Clair.  “He’s doing so much for you now, it may be better that he lives in Monaco, where he can be nearer Lara and her son, and Biggleswurm.”

I shot Clair a look.

The countess glowed.  “That would be marvelous.”  She leaned forward.  “Too bad you’re married,” she said to me.  “If you were single it would solve everything.”

Next day, same routine:  War Council Part II.

The countess coyly posed a question about her grandson.  Didn’t I think, she asked, it would be a good idea for the boy to be placed in a strict boarding school—away from daffy Biggleswurm and also his cuckoo mother?

I did not, and said so.  

Clair concurred with me.

The countess reluctantly—very reluctantly—retreated.

Next day we hopped over Mont Blanc to Serene City, my tenth visit in eighteen months.  I didn’t have any Swiss money for the doorman at the Noga Hilton.  Clair reached into his pocket and pulled out a roll of bills.  He peeled a couple and duked the doorman.

“I always carry a wad of one dollar bills wherever I am in the world,” Clair explained.  “Everyone loves dollars.”

Jim Bonde waited in the bar.  Clair threw his arms around Bonde in a bear hug, most uncharacteristic of the spymaster, and then apologized to him about “forgetting” the crypto-phone.  

With such an effusive welcome, Bonde could not protest.

“Nice touch, the hug,” I said to Clair later.

“Yeah, wasn’t it?” he grinned. 

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