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A Swiss Family Idyll

where, shocked into performing a postmortem, we observe that a furious woman can overreach the C.I.A., and that the Swiss police are not above paying your kith and kin cash Francs and other compliments for informing on your naughtiness.

I THOUGHT that I had it solved. No way. We sat together after the trial, the friends of Marx, at a large table across the street from the Courthouse, and there was a new one among us, Clara, whom I had not seen in years, Marx's daughter, beautiful, lithe, and what's more she laughed all the time at my jokes and I became full of wit and what-all.

I had a friend, Renzo Sereno, the one who said that propagandists propagandize each other and forget their true targets, the masses and classes of people, yes he's the one, and he killed himself by wine and weltschmerz, leaving yet unpublished works on Haitian voodoo and a wife who had said to him scornfully about a woman he loved, "Oh, you only love her because she thinks you're so great!"

Then Master Bollag invited us all to his house for a drink and off we went, and as we talked of this and that, and of Clara's hoping to visit the Island of Naxos, and I said, sure, come on, anytime, and then she said to me "I must speak to you. I have more to tell you." Said in the matter-of-fact voice that the Swiss typically employ, so you cannot tell whether they are saying "we will now show you the gates of hell," or "there seems to be a fly in the soup." Unlike the English, say, who get very excited over a fly in their soup.

At the Bollags I was too busy admiring the beautiful Madame Bollag and an intriguing grey-blue composition by Marc Chagall to seek out and speak more to Clara. (If you are wondering, yes, I do regularly encounter beautiful women, without foresight or plotting, and I am certainly not the type of "questa, quella, per me pari sono..tra, tra, la.")

I remembered, however, and asked Marx once, then again, and thrice over the next month what his daughter had in mind and would he tell her to call me about her hopes of a Provencal or Greek trip. No word. I wondered, slightly suspicious, why he had not told her.

Before leaving for Greece, I called her and that was the beginning of this story, briefly told now, for I am past my bedtime.

Chris and his beautiful (here we go again!) wife Aglae were divorcing, you remember. She was furious with him, a slow burn that became ever more intense. She knew that he had been seeing Piotr Potiondy for some time -- he had come to dinner, a cheerful type -- and had been doing business with him and other Soviet representatives. Yet he was always broke. She had married a brilliant businessman; what had happened to his money, his enterprises, her money? --all gone. Women -- there were women. Fanciful voyages -- many of these. But somewhere he was stashing it away. And she was damned well fed up with it.

She put in hard days, selling ad-space, pushing businesses to advertise in a small newsmagazine. And here was this irresponsible devil of a husband, this Don Quixote tilting with windmills of catastrophism, shadowy figures across the seas and far to the North, who rarely stopped by her apartment, her home, to meet her. She reached the end of her tether.

See here, she said to the Swiss police inspector (it was not so difficult, after all, to move from the civil side of the law in a divorce issue to the criminal side, and need I remind you of how much counter-espionage is done by wives and lovers and disgruntled employees, the latest shocker being a young suicide named Souther or Orlov (depending upon whether you believe that he was a true American or a true Russian) who was betrayed by his wife whose words were dismissed, who served over to the Russki secrets of the U.S. Navy for years until finally fleeing) -- See here, said Aglae to the hulking handsome Commissar, none other than our old friend from Bern who led the investigation and the final attack at the Old Rhine Bridge on April 1, my husband has been in cahoots for a long time with these Russians, they must be paying him to do business of some kind, he is not giving his family any money, why don't you do something about it? (Was she nastily fantasizing, with her errant husband behind bars, and the cavalier Swiss police sharing his swag with her?)

He would say, "Yes, Madame Marx, we know, we know, tell us more, we will take down a few notes, we will see what we can do. Let me introduce my partner, Herr Abel, Madame Marx. Now, how long did you say this has been going on?" ... and so on.

She would be all puffed up from telling the police what they mostly knew already.

It also invigorates the police. Years of mounting investigation, of piling Ossa upon Pelion, until now the peak of Mt. Olympus was visible. A big break in the case! Lots of details, new names, visitors from England, Germany, America. And motive. Women, travel, family troubles. Troubles, that's what it takes to stir up a good criminal case!

It can do more than invigorate. There's sex, even love, in the offing, too. You cannot expect a gallant Commissar to encounter and share secrets with a beautiful woman in distress without a few shivers and tremolos. Divulging secrets, clandestine rendezvous, a miasma of pity, praise, exciting intrigue, mutual support, exchanges of admiration -- the dank, dark, mossy, tangled forest bed from which mushrooms amour from the ordinary Swiss world of clean-cut geometry. I know: it's a very bad thing when police officers become entangled emotionally with their charges! Still, would you be able to resist under the circumstances; would I? It all depends.. yes .. it all depends.

After the wife, what next, the children! They must have troubles, too. Here is one, sure enough, the one with the Palestinian husband, of all things. And no money. And separated from him now, too. And no money. The way these damned Arabs come to Switzerland and marry Swiss women -- pretty women at that --and get to stay forever! And children. And no money.

Here is the way things are, Madam Clara Marx. Your father is engaged in espionage for the Soviet Union. That is very much against the interests of our country. You are duty-bound as a loyal Swiss to help us, no matter that he is your father. Anyway he is divorcing your mother. He is not giving her any money. He is making a lot of money from the Russians. Is that the way to behave?... You say that he is not a spy. We know better... Alright, you can believe what you want. But you still have to help us. This is not child's play. This is very serious and you do not want to get mixed up in it more than you have to be. But you must tell us what you know. If you are right and we are wrong, then you have nothing to worry about. And we can help you too. We appreciate that you have problems. We have funds to help out in cases like this. Call us up whenever he meets with the Russians or anything unusual happens.

Above all, do not speak to anybody about this. Not even your Mother. And certainly not your father. And not your lawyer. Nobody. Else you will be committing a criminal act, also. We appreciate your cooperation. I am sure that we can help you, even if your father cannot. We will talk to our chief. He has funds for when people get into trouble. Don't come to us. It is better if you go to the postoffice room at the Courthouse when you come in about your divorce matter, and ask for the envelope with your name on it that is being held for you."

Or words to that effect.

So she did. And Clara called up the police whenever her father planned a rendezvous with the Russian spies, so that the police could be on hand with their telescopic camera and shadows. Marx told me that their list of his meetings was based on his testimony. Actually, they did not need his list, voluntarily offered up by him under interrogation, at least not in most instances. His daughter acted as their social secretary. It let them realize, however, that he was giving them straight and complete information.

Clara received in all 2500 Swiss Francs. It was not very much, but it came in handy to feed the kids and buy them shoes.

How did she feel about being a police informer? Not good. Still..there was much to be said for the arguments of the police. In addition there was the threat of harassment for refusing to cooperate with the authorities. Furthermore, had not Aglae, her Mother, already let the cat out of the bag? And the Father -- a big help was he! And this cash is useful, and no tax on it -- or is there ? -- no, of course not; I am forbidden to say a word to anybody about this affair.

So the story goes. These Swiss! So candid! I tell you, they'll give you any information you might ask for and more that you don't think of asking -- anything except maybe their bank account number. They make wonderful wives -- not especially faithful in a sexual sense, you have to understand -- it's hard to figure out why they are so often marrying foreigners; I guess the Swiss men just don't show an appreciation of them. I met a girl in Basle when I was eighteen, kissed her, bid her adieu the next day, and received pressed Edelweiss by post for several years running.

As a matter of fact, were not the police naive in failing to imagine that Clara would run straight to her father after thinking over the situation? That would blow their investigation sky high. They relied on the daughter's protecting the mother; for she would have to explain to her father that it was Aglae who had spilled the beans.

But, now, do you recall the mystery of why the police swooped down upon Marx and Piotr II on April 1? The best that I could come up with was that they were really looking for a way to get rid of Piotr who was part of a more important espionage plot without revealing that they knew about that plot; they were using the arrest of Marx and the accusations against him as the pretext.

A skillfully contrived theory, but at least in part incorrect. The truth may be more banal, that the police were becoming ever more nervous about Aglae, and, as the moment of the Marxes' divorce approached, they feared she would confess to Christoph or instruct her daughter to tell him of her duplicity (patriotic act, excuse me!). For there would no longer be money to be sought for and, if found, seized. And there was the post-divorce tristesse, when she might feel she should tell him. Or a last scornful act, now that he could no longer make demands upon her. Therefore, as soon as the couple's divorce became final, the police piled into their cars and roared off to snare hapless Chris and Piotr II.

But Aglae was too engrossed by her own love to strike up such feelings. No..or, wait a moment, hold the boat! Was it that no married woman could under Swiss law bear witness against her husband? So the police could take no chances on an arrest before the divorce was secure? But she had no heavy evidence to provide, as was indicated by the court proceedings.

Then we can only ask whether a clever Commissar would let himself be accused of bedding the wife of a man whom he had arrested. He would look evil indeed! However, as soon as the divorce would take effect, the Commissar would be arresting mere Citizen Marx. Which happened on March 29. And so Chris Marx became the April Fool on that first day of the month of April.

Clara would probably have acted to terminate her role as a counter-espionage agent of the Swiss police, if they had not done so by their own actions. (I do not brush her testimony with the cynical acid I bestow upon that of Marx.) Then she was left in a dilemma: she wanted to confess to her father, but she was still under the menace of the police.

She held off doing anything. She almost went to the Chief Judge but was intimidated at involving herself with what is, after all, in Switzerland, a much more unified, much less effective separation of powers between police and justice than exists in America. Clara did not, of course, have a full awareness of this condition. She somehow sensed it, as do most Swiss.

(If you want to appreciate operationally, effectively, the meaning of the separation of the branches of government of which Americans are so proud, here is an instance, subtle, nonetheless significant. If you want a new illustration, too, of how espionage turns to despionage and then into dyspionage -- the permeation of the society by undesirable espionage effects -- this tale of Clara and Aglae will serve again.)

Clara then approached Maitre Georges Bollag, in the hope that her story would assist his defense of her father. He told her that he did not want to hear about it, whatever it was. It would be inconsequential and, as material for the case in court, late.

So guilt remained squatting, however lightly, upon her firm shoulders, and then she fixed on me, the chronicler, a logical choice for confessor. It was the lovely girl Clara whose dreams of dancing ballet in Moscow brought Chris Marx into the ambit of Great Mother Russia. It is fitting, therefore, that our same amiable Clara write an end to the Soviet idyll of the Marx family.

I had then to inform Chris Marx of this state of affairs, smoothening the ground for her absolution, but also giving me some circumstantial corroboration. Furthermore, I might as well be the one to put it to him -- hurling the stone from a certain distance would be less likely to cause him hurt.

I broached the subject on his latest visit to Saint-Martian, after we returned from Greece. I reminded him of the pages in my book where I had digressed upon the conduct of my children. He laughed. "This book will not let itself be finished, you know," I said, and recounted the final story to be added. He seemed unsurprised, but that is typical of him. He said he had known it from someone, murmuring obscurely about his ex-sister-in-law Veronica and her "C.I.A. Roger". (But I think that he was protecting a son.) Anyhow, he said, his family hardly told the police more than the police knew from the C.I.A. and their own snooping, and furthermore his family were threatened by the police and forced to talk about the Russians. They might as well be paid for it, since he, Marx, certainly hadn't been paid for his troubles.

He did not appear downcast, but it will stay with him for a while. We can be sure. His main concern was not as victim, but that the "children" (long since adults except in the eye of a parent) might feel too guilty about playing into the hands of the secret police against their father.

I remarked to him: they were lucky you were not heavily punished; else they would feel forever ashamed, and even now they must be reading with a certain embarrassment the news accounts about Chinese sisters driven to expose their brothers to the secret police, who were persecuting democratic student activists, and about fathers handing over their daughters.

How alike the excrescences of Homo Schizo around the world!

Humanity must once upon a time have undergone identical indelible learning experiences, both bad and good.

The Venus Spy-Trap has caught just about everyone worth mentioning in this book, and the possibility that such a wide net was flung out by pre-historic cosmic causes is awful. I wonder whether the person who first named the Venus'-Flytrap had any idea of the scope and effects of the name of Venus.


Dionaea muscipula nepenthales, a red plant one foot tall, a singular species of a singular order, called popularly, "Venus'-flytrap." Like the Goddess Hathor-Venus, it has a fatal attraction, giving out from its pronged cupped hinged leaves a perfume that attracts an insect, then snaps shut upon it in the blink of an eyelash. Its digestion is sluggish, taking a week or more. It has an indiscriminate appetite for all species of insects. If one insect is chasing another, both insects may be caught.


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