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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

35. WATER





1996

At my urging, Clair George finally contacted Herbert Bloomfield, two years after we encountered him in Paris before boarding a New York-bound Concorde.

Clair pulled out his “mortuary stationery,” as he called it, and handwrote a letter requesting an audience.

One week later, Herbert’s office called to schedule it.


On the appointed morning, Clair and I manifested ourselves at a landmark skyscraper in New York City and, having arrived early (always Clair’s style), perused a number of automobiles on display in the lobby, including a red 1954 Corvette.  It was a ritual we would follow, for luck, in many meetings to come with Herbert Bloomfield.

Herbert occupied a whole floor, to which we ascended.  Floor-to-ceiling windows in the lobby displayed precious views of Central Park.  About forty minutes later, a secretary appeared and beckoned us to follow her down a long corridor lined with unusual art, which led to Herbert’s corner office.

“Mister Ambassador,” said Clair.  “You remember this guy [from Concorde],” he gestured at me.

“Of course.”

Herbert dressed like an undertaker in a plain dark suit, white shirt and black Gucci loafers.  He was six-foot-three and balding with doughy face.  He motioned us to sit on saddle leather club chairs around a coffee table.  

A phone rang.  Herbert picked it up.  “The President of Hungary?  I’ll call him back in twenty minutes.”  Herbert disconnected and asked Clair about a two-headed quarter the spymaster had shown him a decade before.  CIA had split a coin open, hollowed it and inserted a miniature listening device.

“You want one of those?” asked Clair.

“Sure,” said Herbert, almost childlike in his enthusiasm.

“I’ll see what I can do.”  Clair paused, and launched into an arm-flailing rundown of what he and I were doing as creative problem solvers.  When he finished, Clair plucked from his pocket a glossy proposal on biodiversity that a former CIA colleague had convinced him to pitch.  “I want to show you an environmental project that may interest you.”

Herbert glanced through it.  “It’ll never work,” he said, tossing the report back at Clair.  "I’ll tell you what we should do.”  He nodded knowingly.  “Water.”

“Water?” said Clair.

“Water,” said Herbert.  “We should do water.   Together.  
What do you know about water?”

Clair and I exchanged glances.  Our depth of knowledge about water was, at best, fundamental.  We drank it.  And showered beneath it.

“Ah-ha!” said Herbert.  “If smart guys like you don’t realize the importance of water, or about the water shortage that’s coming, what about the rest of the world?  Now is the time to act, not ten years from now when it’s too late.  Can you, in Washington, find the experts we need to do something?”

“What do you want us to do?” asked Clair.

I shot Clair a look.  “Herbert wants to be partners with us in the water business.”

Herbert nodded at Clair.  “You get it now?” 

“I get it.”  Clair smiled.

“I didn’t know there was a George fortune,” said Herbert.

Clair shrugged.  “There isn’t.”

“I know.”  Herbert smiled, looking at me.

“Herbert wants to help you create one,” I said playfully.

Herbert pointed at me.  “He’s pretty smart—where did you find him?  Now…” Herbert didn’t wait for an answer.  “What can we do to get a water project started?”

“We can identify the best experts,” I replied, and I wasn’t kidding.  A name flashed in my mind:  Joy Goldberg (not her real name)—a Washington think-tanker who had written a book on water.

“Fine,” said Herbert.  “Come back to me with the experts.”



Downstairs, and somewhat dazed by our encounter, there was only one thing to do:  walk a few blocks to Petrossian Boutique, eat Beluga caviar, and wash it down with Charles Heidseck champagne.

And toast Herbert Bloomfield, billionaire.   Our new partner.



When I got home, I visited a magic shop in Wheaton, Maryland, and bought a two-headed quarter for five bucks.




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