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.
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.”
in the third butte, stood poised to kill. His head,
with its chiseled features, dominated his entire body.
His tweeds, though expensive, looked disheveled.
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,
Crumonde was firing, winging one bird as it took flight
and, with a second quick shot, bringing down another
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."
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
"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
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."
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
"This single flower cost me ten thousand
pounds, Lady Crumonde."
"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
at him goggle-eyed with dismay, then turned back to
Bell, who was still talking about quail.
out the moors, detached from this banter.
“Do you approve
of blue orchids,” Chris asked, turning to Raven.
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.
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."
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
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
"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
“You are seeing the
Prime Minister on Monday, Crumonde. Tell him this."
Crumonde took out his
"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.