Clair and I shuttled to Herbertville to assess the end of our water partnership.
“I need to look in his eyes,” said Clair, who could figure out what someone was really thinking through a good eye gaze.
“Ah, it’s the one-two punch,” Herbert greeted the spymaster and me. “Just the guys I want to see.”
Clair and I exchanged puzzled glances; a whim-whim situation.
Herbert sat us down and explained that he had ventured into a partnership with a Ukrainian and that The New York Times had just exposed the Ukrainian's links to organized crime.
Herbert wanted to know, just how bad is he?
Herbert wanted to know, just how bad is he?
Clair and I were put on retainer to investigate.
Water was never mentioned once.
“What was he thinking?” I asked Clair over hamburgers at Soup Burg, corner of Madison and 69th, assuming Clair had penetrated his brain.
Clair shook his head and cupped a hand conspiratorially around his mouth. “It’s very simple,” he whispered. “Herbert is insane.”
Clair chose the right source to get the goods on the Ukrainian and two weeks later we had such findings in our possession.
The Ukrainian was worse than anyone could ever have imagined. Many years earlier, he had sold his soul to the KGB; his finger-pointing had led to the arrest, imprisonment, and execution of others.
We delivered our file to Herbert. Though mortified, he was at a loss over what to do about it. They were, after all, already partners.
“President Kuchma personally recommended him,” said Herbert. “I’m supposed to go to the president and say that guy you recommended is a spy and a crook? Anyway, he isn’t my partner anymore.” He pointed at Dick. “He’s his partner.”
The courtiers of Herbertville tittered.
They had another investigation for us: a Pole that had opposed a project Herbert wanted to tackle in Poland.
We dug up dirt.
Next, due diligence on an individual Herbert was considering for a top position. We gave him a clean bill of health and he got the job.
Next, an investigation of an American businessman in Kiev who had filed a lawsuit in New York against Herbert in which he alleged unfair competition, improper payoffs, and corrupt methods. Our investigation showed that it was the businessman who had taken illegal cash bribes and then laundered his booty.
So impressed was Herbert by our capability to acquire sensitive information, he had a new investigation in mind when next we met. Herbert wanted us to dig into the prime minister of a Central European country.
Truth was, the prime minister had been recruited by the KGB when he was 18 years old while attending university at Rostov-on-Don, and had secretly collaborated with the KGB for fifty years. He helped the KGB quash a rebellion in his country and the KGB returned the favor by nurturing his political career.
Herbert was pleasantly amazed by our findings. “We could bring him down with this,” he grinned. “How would you do this?” he asked Clair.
“Well,” said Clair, “it’s one thing obtaining highly sensitive information for ourselves and quite another going public with it. It will be obvious where the information is coming from and would therefore put our operatives at risk.”
“Okay, okay.” Herbert paced around the conference table. “I’m prepared to spend several hundred thousand dollars on an operation that would topple him. Come back to me with a plan.”
We returned to Herbertville three weeks later: With the consent of our sources (who would be paid handsomely for their risk), Clair would take the story to a major U.S. newspaper, whose key editors he knew socially and who respected his credibility. To make it seem like the prime minister was not being personally targeted, Clair would throw in the Ukrainian and the Pole. If the newspaper ran this story and exposed the prime minister as a long- term Russian agent, it would scuttle his chance for reelection six months down the road.
Herbert loved the plan, and refined it with a twist of his own: add two additional persons to the mix for further muddying.
Clair’s source came up with two new dossiers.
The first, on Vladimir Zhirinovsky, confirmed that the KGB had recruited this ultra-nationalist politician to create a political party and dilute election voting.
The second was the nephew of Boris Berezovsky, a Russian oligarch.
Herbert was thrilled. “Can we keep it secret?” he asked.
“As I said to President Reagan,” said Clair, “when he asked if we would be able to keep our arms-for-hostages operation secret: Of course.”
Clair went to see several senior editors. He laid it out for them, in general terms, without identifying the prime minister or any of the others.
They apparently salivated.
All we needed was the project fee, which included paying sources for their risk.
Herbert balked, busy with other matters.
Three months passed.
Come mid-May, the Central European country held its election. Although the incumbent prime minister was favored to win, he lost, rendering the operation redundant.
Herbert finally got bored with his new toy (the spymaster and me) and turned elsewhere to satisfy his bouts of whimsy.