Wednesday, December 3, 2014


Clair George flew to the French Riviera for a week with Greek friends on Cap Farrat then joined me for a jaunt to St. Moritz for a double-header:  I planned to meet both the countess and the baron, albeit separately.

“Are you sure you want to do that?” asked Clair, concerned about cover.

“Yup.  You just want to weasel out of having to meet that lunatic baron again.”

We flew to Zurich, made our way to the train station and ninety minutes later glided into Chur for connection to the Glacial Express onto St. Moritz.  

As we crossed the platform, a hot dog vendor sold me a frankfurter, roll, dollop of mustard and a bottle of beer.  I relished this snack as much as anything ever served aboard Concorde as the train careened through scores of tunnels, up, up, up into the mountains.  

We slid into St. Moritz at two on the dot.  Our client’s driver met us at the station. 

We followed the countess into her splendid chalet of wooden beams and Engadine charm, its living room built around a large painting—a Dutch skating scene three-centuries old.  A balcony view at this altitude took our breath.

The countess pointed out a hot tub the size of a swimming pool.  “We heat it to eighty degrees in winter,” she explained.  “The steam rises and the water is framed by snow banks.”

A servant appeared to say pasta would be served.  

Fresh linen, bone china, silver cutlery and crystal glasses had been laid and we soon filled our faces with the best ravioli ever made, followed by coffee in the Grand Salon.

The countess beamed.  “I have news.”

Clair and I hunched forward.

“Madam Goddam and her husband, the chauffeur, will leave at the end of the year.”  She shrugged, all innocence.  “It may have been over money.  Come, I’ll show you around.”

We toured the chalet and all its memories.  The countess and her count were the original jetsetters—and all their jet-setting souvenirs rested here, collecting dust.

The chalet’s lower floor had been Party Central, where Niarchos and Agnelli and Pamela Harriman whooped it up and danced until dawn. On the wall, a portrait of the count, the countess, and nine year-old Lara.  Now the count was dead and the daughter estranged—leaving the countess with servants, memories, and mementos.

I contemplated our client’s nostalgia as we rolled down the mountain to Suvretta House, our lodging.

Clair said she and her chalet reminded him of the movie Sunset Boulevard.

In my room, I connected by phone to Biggleswurm at The Kulm.  “Is this the famed baron?” 

“Yaa.  You are here?” 

“Remember my investor?  He’s here, too. May we buy you a drink?”

Clair and I ordered drinks in the Palace bar.  

“Here he comes,” Clair said out the side of his mouth.

Did Biggleswurm have fifty pages of book material?

He did not. 

“I have a meeting with Kohl,” the baron bottom-snorted, seating himself.

Helmut Kohl?” said Clair

“Yaa, Helmut.  I have an idea he wants to hear. Did Robert tell you about my ideas?”

“No,” replied Clair.  “But he told me he had the most wonderful time at your castle.”

The baron beamed.  “Yaa—you must come.”

“Yes, you must,” I said.

“I will,” said Clair.  “Robert and I will visit together.”

“Yaa, you must see my library.”

“Yeah,” I said to Clair.  “You must.”  I turned to Biggleswurm.  “How’s the writing going?” 

“Yaa!  It goes well.  You know, Nietzsche lived in the next town.  You must come to Nietzsche’s house with me.”

“I already did,” I said.  “Maybe you’ll take Clair.”

The spymaster shot me a look.

“What are you doing tonight?” Biggleswurm asked.

“We have to get back to the hotel for an important dinner,” Clair fibbed.

“I see.”  Biggleswurm brightened.  “Tomorrow!  I take you to Nietzsche’s house tomorrow!”

“We’re catching a ten a.m. train,” I said.

Next morning, a hotel omnibus wheeled us to the train station.

“You know,” I said to Clair.  “We’re living a Ralph Lauren Polo ad.” 

“Not quite,” said Clair.  “I don’t think that crackpot baron belongs in Ralph Lauren.  I suggest St. Elizabeth’s [a Washington DC mental hospital].” 

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