HEAR NO EVIL
The Saudi-Soviet Situation
Within six months of the ‘Bureaucratic’ bargain, the Middle East went up for grabs. International attention focused on Baghdad and Riyadh. During the summer of 1990 Saddam Hussein was feeling his oats. His earlier war with Iran had been blurred then transmuted into an illusionary Iraqi victory.
Citing trumped up twaddle; the Tikrit Tyrant decided to annex his next door neighbor, Kuwait. On August 2nd, Iraqi troops overran the country. Kuwaiti resistance quickly collapsed. Within 48 hours the Emirate became Province No. 19 of an engorged Iraq.
The Islamic world was electrified; the Peninsula petrified. Arab had attacked Arab; and, for no apparent reason, at least not the usual ones. This invasion was not even an outshoot of the time-honoured Sunni – Shi’a squabble nor was it the outcome of shifting tribal allegiances or altered political policies.
This was the result of pure, unadulterated ego and gross unmitigated greed. In the world of oil, Iraq and Kuwait equaled the Boardwalk and Park Place in Monopoly. Owning both allowed higher prices. Petroleum was power; and Saddam wanted all he could get.
The Arabs reeled in reaction. A stupefied Saudi Arabia shuddered awake as they watched their worst nightmare unfold. The Iraqi war machine worked its way to the Saudi border and then paused. Was the Land of the Two Holy Mosques next on the list? When would the Iraqis strike? Only time would tell.
As Hussein’s troops had marched on Kuwait City, bin Laden had marched to the royal palace and requested the right to defend the Kingdom. Osama offered to round up his 10,000 – 30,000 ‘Arab Afghans’ and head off the invaders at the border. They would repulse the Iraqi invaders; throw them back to Baghdad and save Medina and Mecca.
The Royals refused his request and called in the ‘cavalry’. The first American soldiers arrived 5 days later. Saudi attention fixated on Saddam. His every action, past or present was remembered and reviewed, dissected and bisected.
Hussein had a long history of playing with chemicals. In the past, he had gassed his Iranian enemies during the 8-year First Persian Gulf War as well as his own dissident Kurdish countrymen when they had gotten out of hand. Saddam was not too picky on whom or where he let his chemicals fall. Since history had the habit of repeating itself; the monarchy determined to prepare for the worst.
The civilized world had sworn off chemical and biological weapons after the horrors of mustard gas in World War I. Even the Nazis had avoided using them in warfare during World War II.
The Cold War had not changed anything. Neither the Soviets nor the Americans had allowed their usage, though both had stockpiles in their arsenals, just in case the other guy got any wrong ideas. As a possible superpower-in-waiting, China maintained their semi-secret stash.
Chemical weapons required deterrents. Deterring chemical weapons usually meant wearing gas masks. Saudi Arabia didn’t have any. Since their citizenry were suddenly subject to possible gassing; the Kingdom became fixated on finding the headwear.
The new political slogan was ‘a gas mask in every pot.’ The Royals wanted to remain on the throne.
The gas mask requirements ran rampant through the international business community. Overnight, most everyone, most everywhere was in the market for gas masks. Offers and counteroffers flooded fax machines from Mongolia to Mexico.
Excluding the English, French and German vintage versions left over from World War I, there were actually relatively few gas masks available. Most everyone had gotten out of the business when the world had voted in the ban on the use of chemical and biological weapons.
As a result, the Soviet Union, the United States and the People’s Republic of China ended up as the only three possible major sources which had sufficient product already produced on hand. There was no question of ordering new product. The Kingdom couldn’t afford the wait.
China was not about to part with any of its inventory. Apparently, they did not know when their stash would come in handy.
Uncle Sam had the needs of his military to consider. Since it was his troopers that were going to be leading the Coalition against the Iraqis, he was not about to let any of his stash go anywhere.
At the end of the day, that left the Kremlin. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had declined to join in the ‘liberation’ of Kuwait. Iraq owed them too much money.
Their extended stay in Afghanistan had put them off their game. Besides, they had their own oil and Marxism did not mix well with monarchies. The Russkies were keeping their bystander status. Their troops would not be playing on either side of the fray, though some of the ‘technicians’ remained on call to make certain their Scuds worked.
Only the Soviet Union could produce a couple of million units out of thin air. They were the only players who had the capability of providing the requested quantity in the required timeframe.
Since the Red Army was not participating, their troops would not be exposed to possible gassing. Their inventories would only collect more dust.
Besides all of that, the Soviet Union was broke. Their decade long war in Afghanistan had overextended their military and overtaxed their feeble manufacturing abilities. The Star Wars rivalry with America had thrown their overheated economy into overdrive. The Russkies needed all the hard currency they could lay their hands on and the Saudis had gobs of greenbacks.
The Muslim monarchy did not know or trust the Marxist oligarchy and vice versa. The Soviets and the Saudis couldn’t understand one other; they had no shared history, culture and little to no interaction. Each was everything that the other wasn’t.
One of the few things they did have in common was a mildly similar viewpoint of the Americans. While neither was inordinately fond of Uncle Sam, both Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union knew that they needed him, albeit for different reasons. Both begrudgingly respected him.
As one of the few ‘Amerikanskis’ currently cooperating with the communists who happened to have associates with reportedly royal connections to the Kingdom, it appeared that I had inadvertently acquired the necessary requisites to assist in the sale of Soviet gas masks to the Saudis.
Through the early and late fall the Coalition continued its massive buildup as it prepared for the retaking of Kuwait. My associates and I worked to find acceptable product and supply samples to the Saudis for testing and evaluation. Since no single model of gas masks was going to fill the bill, several models would have to be used to meet the necessary quantity requirements. The Kingdom had finally made their selection.
To further complicate matters, ‘Glasnost’ and ‘Perestroika’ had coerced the Kremlin to ease up on the reins of control. The Muscovite Mafias and the brighter bureaucrats of the member republics had taken full advantage of the situation.
During ‘glasnost’ and ‘perestroika’ some of the power, previously centralized in the Capital, had been allowed to shift to the regions. Russia resembled Oklahoma at the time of the land rush. Depending on whom one asked, everybody and nobody were in control.
As it turned out, the gas masks had been strategically strewn across most of the Union. Soviet offers began to come in from all over the country. It seemed as if everyone in the Soviet Union had gas masks for sale.
Somebody had to be jerking my chain. It looked like the leftover letters from a scrabble game.
It actually turned out to be a real place. It also had over 50,000 gas masks in inventory in Frunze, wherever that was. As it turned out Kyrgyzia was just one of a gaggle of gas mask stashes spanning 9,000 miles and two continents.
Nothing was going to be easy. Everyone smelled the sweet scent of hard currency. The Muscovite authorities asserted that all gas masks found within its boundaries were the sole property of the U.S.S.R. and belonged exclusively to them.
The local regions and republics vehemently disagreed. They said that the gas masks were theirs, since possession constituted 90% of the law. The gas masks were in their possession, sitting in their military supply depots, not in Moscow’s.
Naturally, there was no court of appeals to settle the matter. That would have made things too simple.
There was no alternative; each stash would have to be individually negociated and handled. To make matters worse, the Soviets wanted cash in fist before any gas masks moved anywhere.
Conversely, the Saudis wanted all the masks delivered on their doorstep before any hard currency hit the bricks. Something or someone was going to have to give, somehow, somewhere. Being stuck in the middle stank.
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was a dying dinosaur; well on its way to extinction. Its few remaining days were named and numbered. Everyone within the shrinking Soviet bloc knew it, especially the Russians. The Capital was no longer in control. Siberians summed it up best: “Heaven is high and the Tsar is far away.”
Like everything else in the Soviet Union their transportation system was screeching to a halt. Some flights flew; some didn’t. Some trains ran; some didn’t. No one Ministry controlled either all the planes or all the trains.
Most every major Ministry had their own bunch of planes and trains. To make matters worse, one Ministry controlled some trains; another controlled the tracks. Yet another Ministry controlled some planes while a different one controlled the airports.
Different Ministries owned different bits and none of them played well in the sandbox with their counterparts. Railway cars were is short supply.
Different Ministries ran differently. Russia had a Ministry for everything and everything had its Ministry. There was even a Ministry for vodka; the Ministry for beer had been recently discontinued.
Roads didn’t really exist much outside the metropolitan Moscow area. Spacious four-lane, divided highways deteriorated into dirt paths within 60 miles of the Kremlin. Not surprizingly, there was no good equivalent in Russian language for the concept of ‘distribution’. The closest equivalent applied to the local delivery of dairy products within a village.
Against this backdrop, we continued to corral our gas masks. The Russians were accustomed to these obstacles; they just persevered. Hard currency was hard to come by and a helluva motivator.
Preparations for the counter-invasion were coming to a crescendo. Mounds of materiel multiplied as thousands of troops awaited the signal from their commanders. A modernized, mechanized D-Day was in the works.
The Kingdom was housing the massive buildup of military materiel while hosting the invasion forces. At the same time, they were attempting to clear their decks for the upcoming combat. Saudi seaports were sinking under the onslaught of incoming traffic. Their airports fared no better.
The Soviets had finally assembled sufficient product in suitable sites to begin shipment to Saudi Arabia. It could not come too soon for either me or the Saudis. Due to the size and volume of the gas masks both planes and ships would be utilized. Time was of the essence.
In typically obtuse Soviet style, the Ministry of Mackerel Fishing Fleet and the Ministry of Timber Industries bellied up to the bar. They would be responsible for delivering the gas masks to the K.S.A. Naturally, they would charge hard currency for their assistance.
The Ministry of Mackerel Fishing Fleets was the first off the mark. They stowed a boatload of gas masks on board one of their floating factory ships, based in the Black Sea. They weighed anchor and sailed south past Istanbul then on to Egypt and the Suez Canal. There, they would clear the Canal and enter the Red Sea, sailing down the Saudi coast to Jidda.
Size was a big issue for the desired aircraft. There were still mountains of masks awaiting shipment. Fortunately, the Soviets had built an aircraft for the occasion.
It was the Antonov AN-225, ‘Mriya,’ codenamed “Cossack”. It was also the largest plane the world had ever seen. It took half of Texas to take off and had the maneuverability of a steamroller. Be that as it may, the Antonov 225 had one outstanding attribute. While it couldn’t haul ass it could haul most everything else, up to 250 short tonnes of payload. That made for a lot of gas masks. Time was running short. The plane was loaded and made it off the runway. It was en route, joined by its smaller sisters.
Saudi Arabia resembled a recently squashed anthill. The last minute pre-battle preparations were being completed while the decks were being cleared for action.
The office was cold, hollow and solemnly silent with only the telex bell and telephone ring to break the spell. The central heating control had long since been dialed down for the duration, soon after the sane people went home. For the second night in a row, I was alone with only the Bunn automatic coffee maker to keep me company. Short of a quick cat nap on the sofa I had been up for over 48 hours.
Coordination between the highly religious, conservative kingdom and the atheistic communist cadre had not been easy. Since they did not talk to one another, I had been cast as the conduit. The Saudis called, the Soviets telexed. I commuted between the two.
One of the last parts of battening down the hatches before hostilities commenced was the closing of the Kingdom’s air space. The commands were given and the Saudi skies were officially sealed off.
I received the frantic phone call from Riyadh looking for the gas masks and then made a mad dash for the telex. The gas masks had to make it in-country before the festivities broke out. The Saudi citizens would need them if Saddam decided to chemically alter the area. The Arab ladies would not have time to bedeck and bead the canvas carrying bags as had the Israelis but they would have them in case of catastrophe.
Fortunately, I got through on the second try. The Russkies acknowledged receipt and promised to pass on the news to their in-transit flight crews. After an eternity the bell rang out on my telex. Like Pavlov’s dog I raced to the machine. Word had been sent and received; the flight crews had been duly warned.
It didn’t seem to bother the Soviets much at all. They just kept on flying. The Russians had a long history of violating other people’s air space; Saudi Arabia would be just another on their list.
It did bother me. I lit up the phone lines to Riyadh like the 4th of July and finally got through. I had just been in time. Notice of friendlies in the area had barely been broadcast and duly noted when the first of the Soviet planes penetrated Saudi airspace.
It was a photo finish. Finally, like an unwanted guest, the prodigal planes surfaced above the Saudi capital and waited for clearance to land.
After a noteworthy delay, the landing instructions were finally issued. The Antonov AN-225 touched down, taxied off the tarmac, and began unloading its belly. The first batch of gas masks had been duly delivered. Others circled awaiting their turn.
While the Russian aircraft was aloft, another batch of gas masks was on board a vessel of the Mackerel Fishing Fleet, which was currently circling in the Red Sea, just off the coastline of Jidda. The ship was awaiting the harbourmaster’s authorization to enter Saudi waters. They had been waiting for several days.
Things had to be getting pretty ripe and pretty nasty onboard. The ambient temperature on the Red Sea was a 100 degrees Fahrenheit where the metal ship, rotted fish residue and rubber masks all slow-baked together at a nice even temperature. It had to be one hellacious toxic combo.
I sure was glad that I wouldn’t be wearing one of those masks. The stench would probably have killed me before the poison gases could have.
The harbourmaster finally blessed the boat and the last batch of masks made it onto Saudi soil. The Kingdom was finally prepared for Saddam’s visit. The masks got squirreled away.
The Iraqi march on Mecca never happened; the Allied buildup blew that option. The Coalition crossed into Kuwait a couple of days later. All roads now led to Baghdad.
The Boys at the Bureau had watched as the Saudi-Soviet saga unfolded. The Russkies were coming and I was going. There was a great deal of back and forth going on. As communist controls crapped out, Russia’s embryonic capitalistic instincts kicked in.
Thirty seemed to be a magic number. Russians under that age easily grasped the concept of capitalism and took to it like ducks to water.
Soviets over that age didn’t get it. It was probably the result of too much time in the Marxist system. They had been trained to live for and by the State.
The Soviet Union was on its way out. Their fate had been signed, sealed and delivered when Gorbachev instituted his reforms in the mid-1980s. The game was in play and there would be no time outs.
The more clever communists had read the writing on the wall. Berlin had already lost their wall, an early casualty in the capitalist counter-revolution. The smart ones went angling; either for American individuals or group partners to establish Joint Ventures. Some wanted Americans to help them settle in the Heartland.
After the Izvestia article, I had become relatively well known in Russia. Everybody began contacting me regarding most everything and anything possible from rather bizarre methods of female contraception to setting up a Siberian airline somewhere in the southern Artic.
While the Soviet Union had no convertible currency, they did have tons of stuff. Almost all of it was up for sale; nuclear weapons being the only exception. Russia became the ultimate garage sale. If it wasn’t nailed down, it was for sale.
On Christmas Day, 1991, Gorbachev resigned. A day later the Supreme Soviet voted itself out of existence. It was a Boxing Day for the record books. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had died of economic implosion with no attending physician and little attentive audience.
A few weeks after the fall of the Soviet Union I found myself en route to West Africa. I had promised an associate that I would assist him in settling a Bonny Light oil contract he was pursuing in Nigeria.
We headed off to New York City and to connect with the Nigeria Airlines flight to Lagos. The new capital, Abuja, had not yet been finished so Lagos still served as largest city and home of government.
We checked in at the Nigeria Airlines counters only to learn that there was a mechanical problem with the plane and that we would not leave until the following day. The news did not inspire confidence in the flight.
As advertised, the following day we headed back to the airport, boarded the plane and departed. The length of the flight and the number of hours of time difference between New York and Lagos combined to ensure a late evening arrival.
Not surprizingly, the airline windows had totally steamed up on touchdown. We deplaned and crossed the tarmac to await our luggage.
It took over three hours to retrieve our baggage. The plane had been packed to its portholes with most everything under the sun. Huge pieces of prefab housing emerged from the belly, sandwiched in-between massive spools of telephone cable and crates of machinery. The stuff just kept coming and coming. It was God’s own Grace which had put this plane in the air and kept it there. Aerodynamics couldn’t have done it alone.
We finally found our bags and headed for the hotel. It was still dark and dank when we got there. We stayed at an American hotel. The Hotel and compound, though well landscaped, resembled a medium security prison for naughty corporate felon-types.
Guards, guns and razor wire abounded. Crossing Checkpoint Charlie in East Berlin had been a lot easier than entering this hotel after midnight.
Trying to buy Bonny Light oil from Nigeria was always an experience. It was usually an exercise in frustration as well. This time had been no different.
A Nigerian Prince was making the offer, which appeared less than aboveboard. He brought along his bodyguards for the meetings, probably for image and intimidation.
The image didn’t work but the intimidation did. One guard, the favoured one, chilled my blood. He was tall, lean and ritually scarred with the marks of a warrior. He didn’t say much; he didn’t need to.
His eyes said it all. Actually, they said nothing; they were dead; blank - opaque.
Supposedly a person’s eyes are the windows to their soul. If that was true, either this man’s windows were completely closed or he had no soul. I decided on both.
I had seen eyes like those once before during Nam. They had not improved with age.
Red alerts rang in my brain. Nigeria was notorious for scamming. This smelled similar. I decided to head off to the embassy and talk with the resident “Spook.” I figured that he would know if anyone did.
I had not been to an American Embassy voluntarily since I had been warned away in Colombia three decades earlier. I didn’t even attend social functions at them if I could avoid it. It had to be serious for me to darken their doorstep.
I talked with my colleague and then arranged for a taxi. My cabbie and I cleared the various checkpoints and headed into town. It was a dreary and depressing trip. Lagos was noisy, noxious and nasty.
Travel in over a hundred countries had taught me that every nation had some special place or unique custom to be shared with the world. Not so in Nigeria. Apparently every rule had its exception.
To the best of my limited knowledge, their sole contribution to the world was the imaginative “Nigerian necklace.” This was a time-honoured remedy for repairing recalcitrant business deals.
The “necklace” consisted of a car tire inner tube which had been filled with gasoline. The “necklace” was then placed over the head and fitted around the body of the offending party. If negociations continued to go poorly, the necklace was lit. Nigeria truly was the Newark of Africa.
At the American Embassy, I tracked down the Political Officer and we had our chat. The outcome came as no surprize. The deal was not doable and most likely illegal. It was strongly recommended that my associate and I get out of Dodge as quickly as possible before things turned ugly. I completely concurred.
Departing was actually worse than arriving. Even with confirmed tickets, we had to wait over 16 hours in line to check in and receive our seat assignments.
During Nam, the American military had done me in on waiting in line. Upon repatriation, I had gladly given up movie theatres and amusement parks as a result.
This was different. I would cheerfully have stood in line for 16 days to get out of this country.
We finally reached the counters, checked our luggage and headed towards the concourse. A military checkpoint awaited us, while others clogged the corridor every few hundred feet. Apparently, the Nigerian military blessed luggage and took bribes.
My temper kicked in as my brain kicked out. I was not paying a damned penny for the privilege of departing, necklace or not. I leveled my sunglasses, adjusted my suit, grabbed my briefcase and charged down the concourse. I didn’t stop until I had reached the gate. I then realized that I had shot through six checkpoints without slowing.
Soon thereafter, my associate surfaced; $50 lighter than when he started down the concourse. We boarded and after burning up most of the runway, finally flew off into the sunset. Nigeria had made even Moscow look pretty and that is not an easy thing to do.
No one in America, least of all the Feds, had expected the Soviet Union to fall so quickly or with so little fanfare. Everyone had expected a big bang, an ultimate crescendo. Instead it was a minor thud, baffled by current events.
The Communist beehive had been bashed, big time. All the Red drones were flying everywhere, especially to and through America. The new Russia issued passports at a record rate, while America reciprocated with the appropriate visas.
The Bureau was rather eager for me to maintain my Muscovite military contacts developed from the gas mask deal. Most of their Soviet arsenal had gone on the open market. It was readily available to the highest bidder, regardless of race, creed, colour or political persuasion. It was a Buyer’s market and supply was high.
Fortunately, Moscow was pretty happy with me. They should have been; after all, I had helped them unload a massive amount of marginal gas masks for real live coin of the realm. They were more than ready to help me move more of their merchandise.
The crash of the Kremlin had changed the complexion of the world. It had also affected the FBI and CIA. It was well known that the two Agencies had never enjoyed warm and fuzzy feelings for one another, not even during the love fests of the 1970s. It was equally noted that their competitive rivalry had not died with the U.S.S.R.
The Bureau had finally been able to grab a bit of revenge from the Agency. It had taken them long enough to do it.
During the Cold War the CIA had not only enjoyed star billing, but had also enjoyed rubbing it in at every possible opportunity. Their adage; ‘if it wasn’t for us, everyone would be speaking Russian,’ had gotten real old and real tiresome.
When Moscow melted down, so did the Firm’s formal raison d’etre. There had even been talk on Capitol Hill of doing away with the CIA.
Conversely, it was a given that there would always be bank robberies and kidnappings. The Bureau’s raison d’etre was never in question. They were going to be around for the duration. The ‘Spooks’ and ‘Suits’ were now playing on a level playing field. The Agency no longer held the upper hand.
Probably with the hope that I would find their merchandise more desirable and move more product, Moscow’s military boasted about their other sales. One in particular caught my attention.
Mainland China was alive and well and still practicing its own form of corporate communism. Tiananmen Square had clarified any outstanding questions and confirmed exactly who was driving the Chinese bus. Whatever Russia did or didn’t do had no impact on China. It was full steam ahead.
Part of steaming at full speed was having a suitable pack of submarines. As China further expanded her influence southerly and easterly, she also enlarged her ‘territorial’ waters. That meant more area had to be covertly covered. Uncle Sam still had eyes in the sky.
Prior to the collapse, the Soviet Union had some Kilo Class diesel/electric torpedo submarines in various stages of production. The subs had been engineered in Leningrad, but the components and assembly took place at various facilities throughout the country. The engines were made in the Urals, the hulls somewhere in western Siberia and the electronics out of some secret city not too far from the capital. Assembly took place on the Baltic, Black or Okhotsk seas depending on the point of destination. The sub’s diesel/electric engines were very quiet which made detection more difficult hence more desirable.
The Muscovite military were justifiably proud of their successful sale; the first ever Kilo Class subs to China. They waxed eloquent about their endeavours. I was more than happy to play the attentive audience.
At the end of the day, I got all the goods. I knew it all:
1. I knew who had handled the sale with whom on the other end.
2. I knew who and where the engines were built and the same
for the hulls, electronics and other major components.
About the only thing I didn’t know was how payment was being made. Since I didn’t really care whether the Soviets got paid or not, it was no skin off my nose.
Having carefully compiled and categorized all my info, I called my main man at the Bureau. I had purposefully not told him anything previously. I wanted to first make certain that I had all my ducks aligned in a row. I told him to get pen and paper and began to dictate. He was more than happy to oblige. From my tone, he had sensed that I had something up my sleeve.
I caught him right between the eyes; like a deer in headlights. The data was detailed, down and dirty, and dead on. His excited expletives echoed in my ears.
After the downloading of my data we did not dawdle on the phone. I confirmed that he had everything he needed and signed off. He still had to write it all up, add the requisite headers and trailers and send it by secure, scrambled fax to D.C., after he had received the appropriate papal dispensation from his ASAC (Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge).
I did not hear from my guy, at least about the Soviet subs. This came as no big surprize for me. I hadn’t really expected to hear from him at all. I had done my bit. I had supplied the Intel. I sure hoped that it was as correct as it sounded. It would have been nice to know if it was real.
Unfortunately, in the American Intel community, intelligence only flowed in one direction – uphill to headquarters. No one from HQ was going to tell my guy, an average, on-the-street, Special Agent, anything.
Well, if they weren’t going to tell their own Agent anything; they sure as hell weren’t going to tell the snitch. Standard Operating Procedure was to keep their ‘assets’ in dark and say nothing. Even then, it still struck me as rather stupid. How could you know if you got it right or wrong if you got no feedback?
I was somewhat surprized when my guy rang through. Apparently, we had been doing something right, somewhere. He was actually excited. This did not happen often. He reminded me a bit of Father/Senor in that respect.
My agent had actually been contacted by his headquarters – directly even. They wanted to let him know that his Soviet sub intelligence had been dead on target and bang on time. In this particular round, the Bureau had beaten the Agency by 10 days in supplying the intel.
The “Suits” had successfully stolen the march on the “Spooks.” Apparently this did not happen too often. The “Suits” were not above taking full advantage of the situation. It had been a long time coming for them. Fair was fair.
I was pleased for my man and I was pleased for me. It was damned nice to actually get something right. Besides, my fellow had gone out on a bit of a limb with me; it was the least I could do.
It was probably about this time that “intelligent” was added to my official designation. According to the Feds, it was, most likely, the one and only time that I had really done something intelligent.
Oh well, my days with the Russkies were numbered anyway. I had done better with the Soviet Union; the Commonwealth of Independent States/ Russian Federation left me baffled. Everyone else was doing most everything. It was getting too damned difficult to do anything anyway. The Byzantine byplay, all night vigils and phone and fax bills were killing me. The Feds only wanted my information; they didn’t want my bills. I had been stoically eating the costs. I didn’t mind helping, but I was getting damn tired of paying for the privilege.
Everything went south about the same time; the Russians, my business partnership and my life. Too many years of high flying had taken its toll. I had been wiped out financially and worn out personally. The incessant vodka-saturated Soviet celebrations had not helped.
The last decade had been hurried and hellacious. Soon after I came off the road fulltime, Madame-Mere had been terminally diagnosed. Father had had the big “C” – cancer. Madame-Mere had had the big “A” – Alzheimer’s. That devastating disease had taken an elegant, exquisite extrovert and transformed her into an immobile, incontinent imbecile. Only her crackling smile had evaded the erosion.
Determined not to be cut out once again, I had rashly promised that I would take care of her and make certain that she never went into a nursing home. Ignorance had been my ally. After all, how bad could it be? The doctors had only given her three months. I brought Nanny back, set up an in-house system, then staffed and ran it.
Seven years later, I went back to the same doctors and asked them which three months they had had in mind? Obviously, not the same ones which I had. My system was wearing out before Madame-Mere.
It ended up a photo finish. I had been guiltily interviewing nursing homes when she finally succumbed. I had little regret and a whole lot of relief. After eight years in the bin, on call 24/7 regardless of my locale, I was finally free. I felt like a kid who just been released for summer break. The Soviet Union had surfaced soon thereafter and I had jumped in with both feet.
Not surprizingly, I had not seen God throughout the entire period. Early on, we had had harsh words. Rather, I had, when Madame-Mere had been first diagnosed. It hadn’t been right, fair or just. She hadn’t deserved it and I let God know it.