Udkommet medio august 2015


Calouste Gulbenkian portrayed by an unknown artist, whom we certainly would be pleased to credit

CRUDE, an illustrated novel by Edward Jay Epstein

Chapter 7 - on Calouste Gulbenkian


Calouste Gulbenkian leaned slightly forward on the Louis Quatorze settee in his suite in the Aviz. His octogenarian face remained as immobile as that on the bronze bust behind him. His bald head glistened in the setting sun that streamed through the hotel window. He had lived in hotel suites most of his life. After the first world war ended, he moved out of his house on Rue de Grenelle in Paris, the only house he had ever really lived in, and gifted it to the Finance Minister of France who had arranged for him to keep his oil concession in Iraq. For the next two decades he had lived in the Ritz. He moved on to Lisbon when the second world war made Paris inconvenient, and made the Aviz his home.

Raven sat across from him. He had come to Lisbon to thank him for a gifted painting. He knew that this Armenian billionaire required that appreciation be demonstrated. With him it was not merely a formality, it was a way of life.

Korkik, his hunched servant for as long as anyone could remember, poured two demitasses of thick coffee. Raven knew the ritual. He waited until Gulbenkian sipped his coffee, before broaching his request. When Gulbenkian picked up the cup a second time, the subject was closed.

"I am moved that you came all the way to Lisbon to see an old man," Gulbenkian said, with feigned humility. He picked up and sipped his coffee. "Is there any service I can be to you?"

"It is important you know what progress the coordinating committee is making in the Iranian matter. We could use your wisdom, your experience," Raven said.

"You overestimate my experience. What do I know about oil. I've never even seen an oil field, not once. I have an art foundation, a
dance foundation, some investments in oil. I wish I could be of help but I am too old. You are someone who understands the modern world better than I. There are much more experienced hands on the coordinating committee, like yours"

"No one with experience would ever make the mistake of underestimating your power."

"Power? Fifty years ago, I thought I had power. I thought I could draw a red line on a map and change the world."

Raven knew he was talking about the red line he had drawn in Saudi Arabia, the Red Line Agreement which stopped anyone drilling there for two decades, and kept of unwanted crude off the market.

"Then, I saw my hair fall out. Every day, until there was not a hair on my head." Gulbenkian continued. " To get it back, I would have gladly exchanged my oil concession indeed, all the oil in Arabia. I tried. I brought in the greatest hair specialists from every part of the world. I consulted doctors surgeons, nutritionists, faith healers, phrenologists, herbologists, you name it. A shaman from Siberia suggested young girls would revive my hair cells, so I had Madame Claude provide me that kind of therapy for years.

Nothing worked." He pointed to his bald head. "Count the hairs on my head, that is how much power I have."

"Mossadeq will destroy everything we built. You must be concerned," Raven said, getting to the point.

"Mossadeq is a fool. And we stand to lose a great deal, but he is in power there, and we are not. That is the sad reality."

"You once told me your golden rule," Raven said. "He who has the gold..."

"Makes the rules," he completed Raven's sentence. "I'm flattered you remember my old foolishness. Yes, there was a time when gold made the rules. We gave the desert sheiks bags of gold sovereigns, and they gave us deeds to their oil. Has Nubar told you how he delivered a Rolls Royce full of gold sovereigns to a sheik hunting gazelles, and we got the oil field?"

"Nubar loves telling stories," Raven said, recalling he had told only part of the story at the shoot at Loch Eddy.

"That one was true, But those days are now gone. So are the sheiks hunting gazelle with falcons. You know have Mullahs, Russian troops, the Tudah party, an atom bomb, Israel. It is too complex to be settled with the golden rule. Alas, its no longer a matter of gold sovereigns, or even diamond Korans."

Gulbenkian shrugged. His hand began reaching in the direction of his coffee cup. Raven now spoke quickly, "We also have other means. A silent partner."

Gulbenkian hand stopped in mid air. His eyes focused. He had a one word question. "Who?"

"The American. The CIA."

"Ah, but can you trust the Americans. Didn't they, with their romantic ideas about democracy, let Mossadeq get out of hand?"

"Everything is about to change in Washington," Raven explained. "Eisenhower will be President in just five weeks. John Foster Dulles will be Secretary of State and Allan Dulles will be head of the CIA. The Dulles Brothers fully realise the importance of our arrangement."

"Will they get rid of Mossadeq?"

"Let's say they will do what we cannot do," Raven measured his words carefully. "As I'm sure you will understand, we don't want them doing everything."

"What further service could you need that the Americans can't provide?"

"A meeting with the Shah. A very discrete one."

"I understand he will be spending his Christmas in St. Moritz this year. Do you ski, Antony?"

"The golden rule may need to be applied." Raven said. He no longer needed to mince words with this wily Armenian.

"I unfortunately cannot help you with that," Gulbenkian now brought his cup towards his lips. "But there is a man who has helped me in the past in similar matters. His name is Ali Darius. I suggest he deserves your respect." He took his second sip.

Raven politely excused himself. Rituals have to be followed. He knew that Gulbenkian would put Darius at his disposal.

The heavily-carpeted lobby of the Aviz reminded him of a mortuary. He went to the phone room and asked the operator to dial

Christie's, wondering whether he could entice Chris into a ski weekend in St. Moritz. An officious voice told him "I'm very sorry. Christina Winchester is in America curating an exhibition. Is there anyone else who can be of assistance..."

Raven hung up.

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