AUTUMN, 1952


It was an unusually cold September morning, even for Scotland. The mist so darkened the moor that the heather seemed pitch black. The mounds of freshly dug earth, which rose up at intervals of thirty feet, were hardly visible. Just before noon, the sun poked a burning finger through the haze revealing, concealed behind each mound, a man with a highly polished gun. Behind each man stood a woman with a card in her hand, ready to mark for the hunter the location of his kill. And behind them both, dogs, alert in every muscle, pawed the muddy ground. The ragged line of beaters, carrying white flags, which fluttered in the wind, waited on the moor.

Lord Crumonde, in the first butte, peered in the direction of the yelping dogs. He realized that the light would not get much better. Anyhow, it was his moor, his grouse and his guests. He would start this shoot when he liked. With a shrill blast of a whistle, he signaled for the first drive of the day to begin.

Lou-Anne Bell stood only a few feet behind Crumonde, much too close for comfort. Even with her sable coat and hood, she shivered. She couldn't help staring at her host's gnarled legs. His tweed plus fours exposed them precisely at the point where they were most bony. She wondered how such spindly underpinnings could support such a burly body. Lord Crude, Lou-Anne thought to herself. That was what her husband, Frank, called Crumonde, and that's what he was. Crude. She hadn't wanted to come on this ridiculous expedition to Scotland, but Frank had insisted. "It's business, important business," he had explained the night before, reminding her, as if she hadn't heard it a hundred times before, "Lord Crude runs Anglo-Iranian Oil, and that means we gotta be very charming to him." Frank always used "we" when he meant her.

"I do declare..." she drawled in her Texas accent. "I never met anyone like Nubar. Is he really one of the richest men in the world?"

Crumonde did not answer. He didn't like her, or her husband, and was sorry he had had to invite them or tolerated another of her annoying questions. The beaters were emerging on the moor, poking the bushes with sticks to flush out concealed birds. The grouse ran in short spurts, trying to hide in the purple heather, only to be driven out again by the beaters. They had nowhere to go but forward, where they would be blocked by the mounds of earth and have to fly right into his ambush. He raised his Purdy gun to the ready position, trying not to think of the silly Texan’s chatter.

In the next butte was Nubar Gulbenkian. Even though he could hear the dogs yelping, he did not raise his Purdy. Instead, he carefully adjusted his monocle under his right eyebrow. He imagined it completed his image by magnifying his otherwise mild brown pupil into the demonic eye of a predator hawk. It also broke the bland symmetry of his face. He never wanted to think of himself as the moon-faced Armenian he had been as a child. So, every morning, he tweezed his eyebrows into wild, wooly arches, and shaped his waxed beard into a dagger like “V” to hide his weak chin. In his lapel was a blue orchid

He had not much interest in the grouse coming towards his butte. All his life, he had detested shooting birds, and certainly he had no particular love for Scotland; it was too uncomfortable for his taste. He had not come to this grouse shoot for pleasure. He had come solely because Lord Crumonde had insisted, in his imperious way, that he be there and had even sent a private plane to fetch him from London. Crumonde had said only that there was some new "crisis"-and Raven and Bell would also attend. "Be there," Lord Crude said.

Gulbenkian had no illusions why he had been summoned. He was a means to an end. The end was his father, Calouste Gulbenkian. His father owned five percent of all the oil in Iraq which had made him the richest man in the world. More to the point, he controlled, through two decades of secret baksheesh, the people Lord Crude and Raven needed to solve their problem in Iran.

Behind him was Tony Raven’s wife, Diane. Gulbenkian had known her since she was eighteen. Her father had built Royal Dutch Shell into the largest oil company in the world. She had gone through three husbands before she was was forty, all of whom had married her for her money. Then Raven married her for power, her father’s power.

“Your friend is darling,” Diana was saying in her hesitant voice.” She wanted to know why Gulbenkian had brought this twenty-one-year-old gamine to Crumonde's for the weekend. She was, after all, standing dangerously close to her husband in the next butte. Was he showing off? Was she his latest acquisition? Nubar always liked to describe himself as a collector of old masters and young mistresses “Is she an artist?”

“Chrissy is an art consultant,” Gulbenkian replied, parting his lips just enough to affect his most satyric smile. “I asked her to come this weekend to look at some of the old oils in the castle.”

Raven, in the third butte, stood poised to kill. His head, with its chiseled features, dominated his entire body. His tweeds, though expensive, looked disheveled.

Chris Winchester, in her tightly stretched jeans, shaggy sweater, and rainbow-colored socks, stood behind Raven, feeling foolishly out of place. What was she doing here on some forsaken moor, watching the back of a man’s giant head and clothes that it looked like he had slept in. A man, moreover, who had not said more than one word to her in two hours It seemed totally mad when she thought back over the events that had led to her being behind this heap of mud.

Only a few weeks earlier, she had been sitting by herself at a table in a peaceful fishing village in the south of France, nibbling at a croissant and enjoying the Mediterranean sun. A handsome sailor with the eyes of a schoolboy had sat down beside her, and pointing out the largest yacht in the harbor, invited her aboard. Why not? she shrugged. She was too intrigued to do anything but accept; she had always believed in seeing what life had to offer.

She had followed the sailor up the mahogany gangplank. He had led her to a table for two set with crystal, under a red-and-white striped canopy, and left her sitting there alone. A waiter filled her glass with champagne. A moment later, Gulbenkian appeared and introduced himself. When he heard she was an art consultant, he took her to see his collection on the yacht. A dazzling dozen Degas ballerinas. He then offered her an equally dazzling fee— 2,000 pounds— to evaluate some paintings belonging to an oil baron he called Lord Crude. He had not told her that it was a ghastly bird shooting weekend.

Men usually drooled compliments on her, but Tony Raven had ignored her very existence. Since Nubar had mentioned Raven had just returned from abroad, she initially tried to break the ice, asking him where he had been. “Hell,” he answered, without even turning towards her. “The hell with him,” she now thought.

Frank Bell was in the last butte. He was a tall, muscular man, with closely cropped gray hair and baby-blue eyes. Like his wife, he made no secret of his Texan roots. Holding his shotgun in both hands, he seemed supremely confident. Lady Crumonde, standing behind him, found him very handsome, though without much charm. She knew her husband had a reason for inviting him. He always had a reason for his shoot that went beyond killing birds.

Just as she was about to speak, a grouse flew overhead. Bell blasted away, killing it.

Almost simultaneously Crumonde was firing, winging one bird as it took flight and, with a second quick shot, bringing down another one.

As a pair of grouse flew over his butte, Raven slowly turned around until he was directly facing Chris. His eyes widened as the birds gained altitude. Then he methodically squeezed off two blasts, and both birds tumbled from the sky.

Gulbenkian didn’t shoot. The waving flags and booming guns brought back for him memories another massacre. When he was two years old, the Turks had slaughtered thirty thousand of his fellow Armenians in Istanbul, first herding them with shotguns against the rough , stone walls of the city and then shooting and clubbing them to death. His family was one of the few that escaped.

"Got you," Bell whispered to himself as he hit his third bird. Thirty years of shooting birds in Texas had sharpened his aim and confidence,

It was over in less than five minutes. Except for the birds that escaped over Gulbenkian's butte, the guns had brought down nine grouse. The dogs quickly retrieved the kill.

Crumonde approached Gulbenkian's butte with angry strides. He had ruined a near perfect drive. "Why the hell didn't you shoot?" he shouted.

Thinking that the tiny arc of jagged teeth in Crumonde's enormous mouth resembled the spikes of an exotic flower, Gulbenkian answered distractedly, "Shoot? Sorry, I was waiting for a more sporting shot."

Crumonde walked off shaking his head. As the son of a Scottish bookkeeper, he could not tolerate waste, not even a few grouse.

"Oh, dear, it's starting to drizzle," Lady Crumonde said to Bell. "Pity you won't get in another drive in this afternoon. You've come all the way from Texas for this ..."

"New York," Bell corrected. Though born in Houston, he had been working in the New York offices of Standard Oil for nine years now, as head of International Marketing.

The group walked together toward a jeep-drawn wagon as the moor began to turn muddy. A flash of lightning cut across the dark sky. The gamekeepers had already hung the dead grouse by their necks on the wagon's sideboards.

"Let's go," Crumonde barked, as he clumsily hoisted himself up on the back of the wagon. Then he lowered the tailgate, which served as a ladder. The shotguns were neatly stacked in a hand-hewn rack in the front of the wagon, and everyone scrambled aboard and huddled on the narrow wooden benches. Two smelly dogs also jumped in.

The jeep, which the gamekeepers piled into, lurched forward, dragging the wagon behind it. The beaters waved enthusiastically as the shooters left. Their day was over.

Before they had proceeded a mile, the drizzle turned into a drenching rain. Lady Crumonde handed out blankets to the women, but they did little good.

While Lou-Anne sat shivering, faintly resembling a seal in her soaked sable, Frank Bell was telling Diana Raven about quail shooting in Texas. "You'll never get wet there. We just sit inside our little streamlined lots with trailer whiskey and women and use cowboys to get the birds right up to the front door."

Ridiculous Americans, Crumonde thought, turning his head away. Looking at Gulbenkian, his eyes focused with displeasure on the blue orchid in his lapel. "Don't you think it's a bit strange to wear an orchid to a grouse shoot?"

"Not for an oriental like me," Gulbenkian replied. He enjoyed rubbing in his oriental heritage. After all, the oil Combine that Crumonde was part of owed its success in no small measure to the fact that the Gulbenkians were oriental and could deal with other orientals.

"Aren't blue orchids very rare, Mr. Gulbenkian?" Lady Crumonde intervened, trying to divert the conversation. The last thing she knew her husband wanted to hear about was orientals. "I don't think I've ever seen a blue orchid before."

"This single flower cost me ten thousand pounds, Lady Crumonde."

"Impossible," Crumonde grumbled.

"You see, blue orchids can be raised only in one area of Tibet, where the altitude and oxygen level are conducive to their growth. I have to organize a private yak caravan to get him to an airport in India."

Crumonde looked at him goggle-eyed with dismay, then turned back to Bell, who was still talking about quail.

Raven stared out the moors, detached from this banter.

“Do you approve of blue orchids,” Chris asked, turning to Raven.

“There are no blue orchids, Miss” he answered dismissively. “Quite right, Tony” Gulbenkian chirped in. “Its a 10 shilling orchid from Charlesworth and Company dyed blue.” He had invented the story, he whispered to Chriss, just to annoy the frugal Crumonde.

Everyone was soaked by the time they reached Lord Crumonde's lodge. A half-dozen servants scurried out, holding umbrellas for them.

The immense lodge was built on the side of a steep hill, overlooking Loch Eddy. A fireplace, large enough for logs to burn vertically, dominated the living room. Above the stone mantelpiece were the heads of stags that Crumonde had shot.

A weathered old servant then passed around hot bullhots, which had been prepared in anticipation of the arrival of the hunters. The women, meanwhile, then were shown to their rooms upstairs.

Chris had insisted on her own room. She shook her head in disbelief when she saw that her suitcase had been unpacked, her clothing ironed and neatly hung in the closet. It's all magic, she thought. Taking out another pair of freshly laundered jeans, she prepared for lunch.

An hour later, they were all sitting around a massive oak table in the dining room, eating gulls' eggs, game pie, and a crumbling Stilton, and drinking a rich Petrus. Crumonde, having already rehashed every shot of the morning, raised his goblet high and roared a toast. "To all the brave guns that shot this morning!"

"Ah, tradition," Gulbenkian drained his goblet. “But of course there are other traditions.”

"In Kuwait...” Gulbenkiann waited until he had the attention of the table, “My father wanted me to personally deliver the present of a Silver Ghost Rolls-Royce to Sheik Abdullah. No sooner did I show him how to start the car, than he drove me out to the desert to shoot gazelle. He used a falcon to peck out the eyes of the gazelle, and then, when it was running in blind circles, he shot it from the open back seat of the Rolls. I told him it could do thirty miles an hour right across the desert, and he turned to me and said, as if it were the solution to all his country's problems. Now the shieks could get close enough to shoot the gazelles without first blinding them. Much more humane."

"How bizarre desert arabs are, hunting from a Rolls," Diana Raven injected. “Tony’s just back from oasis-hopping in the Iranian desert.”

Raven looked up at his wife disapprovingly. He thought how ill-informed her whole noblesse oblige class was in reality. After all these years, she still made no distintion between the different countries of the Middle East.

"Visiting the ruins of Persipolis, no doubt,” Chris filled in the gap. She smiles to herself at the idea of this strange man, with a Roman bust of a head, visiting the ruined capital of ancient Iran

"I saw a country that is a ruin and may soon be dead," he answered coldly, looking squarely at her until her eyes avoided his gaze.

The uneasy silence was broken by Crumonde, “Brandy, gentlemen!" It was a signal the mixed conversation was over. Raven, Bell, and, finally, Gulbenkian followed him into the library.

As they entered, Chris could see over the fireplace the oil that Gulbenkian had wanted her to assess for him. It looked very prosaic: two men, each holding in his hands a gun. The doors then closed . The women had tea. After ten minutes, Chris could not stand their chatter. “Do you mind if I look at some of your magnificent oils?” she asked Lady Crumonde.

In fact, she wanted to explore the castle. Most of the paintings turned out to be ghastly. The principal subjects were Crumonde's bearded ancestors, all of whom had the same craggy nose with splayed nostrils. None looked anything like Raven, who interested her, even though, by her precise count, had spoken no more than eleven words the entire day. When she asked the ordinarilly loquacious Nubar about Raven, he had fallen strangely silent.

Who was that arrogant person, she wondered, as she continued through the corridor, testing doors as she proceeded, to see what surprises lay behind them.

In the library, After the cigars were lit, the brandy snifters filled and the waiters left the room, the men got to the subject that brought them to Loch Eddy. Iran. Mossadeq, the elected prime minister, was threatening to nationalize the crude that belonged to the cartel. Raven reported that Mossedeq had made a secret offer to sell twenty million tons of Iranian oil to independent American oil companies.

"We wont allow it out. We own the ships, the pipelines, the refineries. Let them try to eat the bloody oil they can't sell, Crumonde roared. He had insisted on rule-or-ruin. After Mossadeq nationalized the Anglo-Iranian's oil concession earlier that year, he had ordered all 1,800 British technicians out of Iran and the giant refinery at Abadan closed. "Our embargo is certainly effective. Abadan is locked up tighter than a drum."

Raven now spoke. “That not true, Crumonde. No embargo had ever worked with oil. And yours won’t work. The reality is, bullshit aside, we will lose everything"

Bell, deferring to Raven’s assessment “ What can we do?”

“You are seeing the Prime Minister on Monday, Crumonde. Tell him this."

Crumonde took out his pen.

"Mossedeq must be taken out. Dead or alive. Full stop. Six months."

The side door to the pantry creaked open. Chris again saw the painting Gulbenkian wanted. Then she saw Crumonde writing, word for word, what Raven dictated. Only Raven fierce eyes spied her before she discretely re-closed the door.

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