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ANDREW ELIOT’S DIARY. I’m scared that something’s terribly wrong with George Keller
September 30, 1973
I’m scared that something’s terribly wrong with George Keller. He called me this afternoon and asked me, since I’m active in alumni affairs, whether I knew any good doctors in the Washington area.
I was puzzled for several reasons. Why did he ask me, a layman? And why didn’t he ask some friends of his who live in his area?
He explained that it was something really serious and had to be kept confidential. Of course, I said that I would try to help him but I’d need some details, like exactly what kind of doctor he was looking for.
At first he gave a very strange answer. He needed someone “very trustworthy.”
This made me think that George might be having some kind of nervous breakdown. I mean, I know those high-security guys are under tremendous pressure.
But, no. What he wanted was the name of the best oncologist within driving distance of Washington.
This really upset me. Why did he need a cancer specialist? I didn’t feel I had the right to ask.
I just told him I’d make some discreet inquiries among my medical friends and call him back. Then he quickly insisted that he ’d call me .
At this point the operator interrupted to say that his three minutes were up. He shoved in some more coins just to say he’d call the next day at exactly the same time.
Naturally, I immediately contacted the alumni office and asked one of my old buddies who works there to have the computer try to find what George needed (without using any names, of course). I soon found out that a classmate, Peter Ryder, was now a professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins, in nearby Baltimore.
Though I was worried about his health, something else also disturbed me.
Why did he call from a pay phone?
Peter Ryder, Professor of Oncology at Johns Hopkins Medical School, startled George by his greeting.
“Kak pozhivias ?” he said.
“I don’t understand. Why are you speaking Russian to me?”
“Gosh,” said the tall, balding physician, unable to conceal his disappointment, “don’t you remember me? I sat right next to you in Slavic 168. But I guess in those days you were too busy listening to the lecture to notice anything else, huh?”
“Uh, I suppose so,” George said distractedly. “Do you think we could go somewhere private and talk?”
“Yes, of course. You said you had some X-rays. We can look at them in my office.”
George clutched the manila envelope as he followed the white-coated specialist down the corridor. Even when the door to Ryder’s office was closed, he would not relinquish the photographs.
“Doctor,” he said in confidential tones, “there’s something I must explain to you first.”
“Please call me Pete,” he insisted.
“Well, Pete, you know that I work for the State Department. These X-rays are of a security nature.”
“I don’t follow you, George.”
“They are of a high-ranking Communist leader and were smuggled out under great secrecy. I need to be sure that there will be no written report of this conversation. And I won’t be able to explain why I need the information.”
“That’s okay,” Ryder replied. “I’m savvy enough to guess it’s important for you guys to know how healthy the big shots on the other side are. Anyway, you can count on my discretion.”
He pinned the X-rays to his lighted cabinet. And immediately said, “I don’t understand why you had to come to an oncologist.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean any med student could see what’s wrong. See that black mark on the apex — that’s the upper lobe — on the left lung? That’s a very large malignancy. This patient has very little time to live — several months at most.” He then turned to George and asked, “Isn’t that what you wanted to know?”
George hesitated and then asked, “Is it possible for you to tell me if the patient is in any… distress?”
“I can make a pretty accurate conjecture,” Ryder answered and turned back to the photograph. “The carcinoma seems to be impinging on the brachial plexus of nerves. This would cause severe pain in the upper chest at that point and radiate down the arm as well.”
George was momentarily at a loss for further questions.
“Is there anything else I can tell you?” the physician asked.
“Uh — yes. Just some theoretical information, if you would, please — uh — Pete. If this person were your patient, how would you go about treating him?”
“Well, there’s zero chance of actually reversing the disease, but we could perhaps prolong life with X-ray treatment and some of the new drugs like Adriamycine, cisplatin, and Cytoxan. These could be used singly or in combination.”
“Would they ease the pain?” George asked.
“In many cases. If not, we have a whole pharmacopoeia of narcotics and sedatives.”
“So it’s possible that even a person as sick as this could… die in peace?” George asked.
“I’d like to think that’s a very important part of my job,” Ryder said gently.
“Thank you very much, Pete,” George mumbled, and tried to keep his wits about him to make a nonchalant exit.
“Not at all,” his classmate replied. “But could I ask you a question? I mean, you can count on my complete discretion.”
“Is it Brezhnev?”
“I’m sorry,” George replied softly. “I can’t tell you.”
George asked his secretary to get Stephen Webster of the Commerce Department on the phone. He was a technology expert fresh out of MIT who had recently introduced himself to George at a party. And who, like all ambitious young men arriving in Washington, was eager to curry favor with his superiors.
“Gee, Dr. Keller,” he said cheerfully. “It’s a pleasant surprise hearing your voice. How can I help you?”
“Steve,” he began casually, “this is really a very small matter. Are you familiar with this RX-80 business?”
“You mean the Taylor photographic filter?” the scientist inquired, anxious to show he was on top of things.
“Yes. Could you explain to a layman like me just what the thing does?”
“Sure. We’re using it on weather satellites to sharpen our pictures and prevent guys like you from getting caught in the rain without an umbrella.”
“Sounds pretty innocuous to me,” George replied. “That’s the reason some of us at State were wondering why you guys are sitting on it. Could it possibly serve any military purpose?”
“Well,” Webster replied, “almost anything could. It depends how you use it. I mean, theoretically, a clearer satellite image might help you aim a missile better.”
“So which way are you guys going to go on this?”
“Listen, Dr. Keller, I’m practically one step above the office boy. If you want my opinion, it probably depends on what State decides.”
“Do you mean Kissinger?”
“Could I possibly mean anyone else?”
“Thanks, Steve. By the way, do you play tennis?”
“A little,” he replied eagerly.
“Then I’ll call you sometime next week and maybe we could hit a few balls.”
This time it was George’s turn to invite Yakushkin to dinner. He chose Cantina d’Italia, another elegant Washington restaurant favored by the Russians for détente dinners. As soon as they ordered, he got right to the point.
“Dmitri, I’ve done some preliminary explorations with Commerce and it does appear we could possibly speed along your government’s request for that little filter.”
“That’s wonderful news,” said the young diplomat, smiling broadly. “I’m extremely grateful to you. And if there’s any way I can ever reciprocate.…”
George tried to glance around in a nonfurtive way to see if they were within earshot of the other guests.
But Yakushkin knew what was on his mind and immediately remarked, “You know, you wouldn’t recognize your native city, George. Budapest has modern skyscrapers now, modern hospitals with the best facilities and advanced medications.…”
“The very best?”
“I’ll wager they’ve got any drug you have in the West. Try and stump me if you can.”
He had made it easy for George, who had, of course, memorized the relevant pharmacology.
“How about Adriamycine, cisplatin, and Cytoxan, for example?”
“Certainly obtainable when the circumstances call for them.”
“I’m very impressed,” said George.
And both gamesmen knew it was time to switch to other topics.
In his capacity as Assistant Secretary of State for East European Affairs, George would prepare a series of policy memos, consistent with his boss’s political philosophy, but written by himself and given to Kissinger in a pile at the end of each week.
By now he was so adept at doing this that he could even reproduce Henry’s distinctive turns of phrase. That Friday the heap of correspondence to various departments and bureaus included a brief memo to a middle-ranking office at the Department of Commerce:
There seems no point in holding up the sale of the Taylor RX-80. Its military value is tenuous at best. Besides, we might as well sell to them and get the money before they steal it.
George briefed the Secretary of State on the contents of what he had placed before him.
They were mostly policy directives, notes to various think-tanks to be sure their area studies were on target. And one or two miscellaneous notes, like a memo to DOD about security precautions at an upcoming arms-trade show. Also a note to DOC about an innocuous camera device the Soviets want to buy.
“Who did you check it out with to be sure it was ‘innocuous’?” Kissinger asked.
“Oh, an MIT whiz kid at Commerce named Webster,” George replied casually.
“I don’t think I know him. Is he new?”
George nodded. “But I looked into him. Apparently, nobody knows more than he does about this filter.”
“Do you think I ought to have a word with him myself?”
George’s mind raced frantically. “Uh — I don’t think you need to in this case.”
“I suppose you’re right. You always do a thorough job, George. Okay, you go home while I sign these.”
His boss looked up. “Have a good weekend, George. Don’t work too hard.”
Henry Kissinger remained at his desk for another two and a half hours. During which time he executed sixty-five different directives, including all the documents given him by George Keller.
Jason Gilbert’s parents did not go to Israel as planned in early October 1973. Because, as the country was at a standstill for Yom Kippur — the sacred day of atonement — the Egyptian and Syrian armies attacked in force.
Israel was caught completely off guard and, for several days, hovered on the brink of annihilation.
By the time news of the simultaneous attacks on the frontiers reached central command, Egyptian tanks had crossed the Suez Canal and were slaughtering the forces manning the southernmost lookout points. It seemed as if they would reach Tel Aviv without resistance.
The north was even worse. There hundreds of Syrian tanks had smashed across and were only a few hours from the population centers.
The handful of Israeli troops on duty dug in to slow the onslaught, knowing that the cost would be great, but equally aware that they had no alternative.
As the radio broke the silence of the holy day with frantic code messages to mobilize the nation’s reserves, Jason received a call at the kibbutz.
“What the hell’s going on?” he demanded anxiously.
“Listen, saba , don’t ask questions. It’s chaos in central HQ. We’re mobilizing like mad, but meanwhile we’ve got to slow the Syrians down. Get as many men as you can up to the Heights and reinforce them until we can get more armor through. Hurry the hell up to Nafa and report to General Eytan. He’ll give you a command.”
“Of whom?” Jason snapped.
“Of whoever’s still living, dammit! Now get going.”
Jason and five other kibbutzniks took one of their trucks and started north up the bumpy road, stopping every few miles to pick up other soldiers headed for the front. Some of them were still in jeans and sweatshirts, carrying only their weapons and ammunition. They said almost nothing during the ride.
But the Syrians had gotten to Nafa before them, and forced General Eytan to retreat.
The kibbutzniks found him in an improvised camp right by the roadside. Jason was stunned by the number of soldiers dead and wounded. The live and the quick were in short supply. Only a handful of reservists had been able to muster.
Among the half-dozen officers being briefed by Eytan, Jason recognized another member of the elite Sayaret Matkal , Yoni Netanyahu. The two nodded at each other as they listened to the commander’s litany of disaster.
“The Barak Armored Brigade is almost completely demolished. We’re outnumbered and outmatched. They’ve got the latest Russian T-62s. But we’ve still got to hold them till our own armor gets here. Try and organize your men and drill them with the antitank rocket launchers. And don’t waste ammunition!”
“How long till we get reinforcements?” Jason asked.
“God knows,” Eytan replied. “But all we have now is what you see here.”
“So, we’ll do it,” said Yoni Netanyahu with almost mystical conviction. “We’ll be like Gideon’s army.”
“I think even Gideon had more men than we do,” Jason quipped with what could only be called gallows humor.
As the meeting dispersed, the two young officers walked off together toward the small group of reservists waiting nervously for their orders.
“I know you’re a pretty good man with motors, Jason,” Yoni remarked. “Do you think you could oversee the repair of some of our less-battered tanks?”
“I guess so. But what the hell good is it? Even if I get them to work, we’ll still be outnumbered fifty to one.”
“Well,” Yoni said confidently, “that reduces our tactical options to only one. If they’ve got the armor, all we have is the timing. Have your tanks ready to attack by 0600 hours tomorrow.”
“Attack?” Jason retorted incredulously. “You must really believe in God, Yoni.”
“Ask me when all this is over. Meanwhile, I’ll be praying that you get those tanks operational.”
“You know, Yoni, where I come from we’d say that you play guts ball. It means —”
“I know what it means,” the young commander replied. “I’m going to college in America when this damn thing is over. Your alma mater, in fact.”
“No shit,” replied Jason. “Do you mean I’m up here in the valley of the shadow of death with another Harvard man?”
“Future Harvard man,” Yoni replied. “Now shake ass and get me some tanks.”
It was early evening in Washington when the first news of the Arab assault reached the White House.
Nixon asked Kissinger to brief him on the situation. He in turn called George and ordered him to gather as much intelligence as he could from the Pentagon and the Israeli ambassador.
“Awright, guys, give me the numbers,” the President demanded before the two men even sat down.
Kissinger pointed to George, who had a sheaf of documents. “The scope of it all is pretty staggering, Mr. President,” he began.
“Cut out the Harvard commentary, George,” Nixon snapped, “and just give me the damn numbers.”
“Well,” he continued, “the Egyptian Army is one of the largest in the world. They’ve got at least eight hundred thousand troops. We’re not sure how many have already crossed the Canal.”
“What do the Israelis have to hold them off?”
“I think we can safely assume the Egyptians have already destroyed any resistance,” Kissinger said solemnly.
“And in the north?” the President asked.
“Well, the Syrians have some fourteen hundred tanks —” George began.
“I’ve heard enough,” Nixon interrupted with a wave of his hand. “We’re talking about a massacre, aren’t we? I mean, this is the Alamo, right?”
Kissinger answered analytically, “George hasn’t gotten to the most important aspect. The Russians have armed Egypt and Syria to the teeth. Besides the old SAM missile systems, they’ve got hundreds of new portable SAM-7s.”
“They’re antiaircraft launchers that can be used by ground forces,” George offered.
“I won’t sit and watch the Soviets turn the Middle East into their own country club!” Nixon pounded his fist on the desk. “We’ve got to upgrade the Israeli armory. I want you guys to tell Defense to get the supply line going.”
“Mr. President,” Kissinger cautioned, “a massive rearming of Israel is not going to please certain members of Congress.”
“Neither would the sight of Brezhnev drinking vodka in Tel Aviv. Now start the ball rolling and we can debate later.”
As they left the Oval Office, George could not help whispering to Kissinger, “I didn’t think Nixon liked Jews that much.”
“He doesn’t. But he hates the Russians more.”
“Well, Henry, I’d better get on the phone. I’ve got a lot of generals to convince this morning.”
“Let me deal with the Secretary of Defense, George. Schlesinger needs special handling.”
“Okay. But if things get rough you can always sing a few Harvard songs in his ear.”
Henry smiled and patted his protégé on the back. “Let’s meet in the Situation Room at five o’clock. By then we’ll have a better picture of where Israel stands,”
“You mean if it’s still standing,” George replied.
After haranguing the mechanics mercilessly, Jason had provided Yoni with a dozen tanks that could at least move. The young paratroop officer had immediately set off to counterattack the Syrian tanks.
Meanwhile, Jason led a small group of young and panicky soldiers in trying to recapture the Nafa camp. As they were nearing their objective, three huge Russian-made Ilyushin helicopters packed with enemy troops appeared on the horizon.
“Listen, guys,” Jason shouted urgently, “the key element is surprise. Catch them before they get their bearings. As soon as they touch down, start firing and scare the shit out of them.”
His men nodded wordlessly.
The minute the first chopper hit the ground, Jason called out, “Follow me!” and led the charge, firing as he ran.
The first Syrians to land returned their fire, killing several Israelis. But Jason continued to rush forward. Still in motion, he pulled a grenade from his belt and hurled it toward the disembarking commandos. It exploded near the helicopter and created a panic. The enemy began to scatter in every direction.
Yet these were elite Syrian troops, and some stood their ground, poised for hand-to-hand combat.
Though Jason had long trained for this kind of fighting, this was the first time he had done it with his life at stake. The first time he could see the faces of the men who would be his victims — or his killers.
At last the Israelis prevailed. The other two helicopters were frightened off. The ground was strewn with the dead and dying of both sides.
Seeing his shirt drenched in scarlet, Jason thought he had been wounded. He then realized it was the blood of the men he had fought — and dispatched.
One of his soldiers came up and said, “We nailed thirty of them, saba . I don’t think they’ll try to take Nafa again.”
“How many did we lose?”
“Four,” the soldier replied. “And two or three are pretty badly cut up. I’ve radioed for the medics.”
Jason nodded numbly and looked off into the horizon.
Slowly the tide of battle turned.
At long-last, their ranks were swelled with mobilized troops and they began to advance into Syria, ultimately regrouping within artillery range of Damascus.
By Saturday, October 13 — one week after Yom Kippur — the Syrian front was quiet enough to allow some of the Israeli troops to be transferred to the Sinai, where the battle was still fierce.
Jason boarded a helicopter, saw Yoni, and sat down next to him.
“Hey,” he joked wearily, “I’ll bet you a beer I’ve slept less than you in the past week.”
“I haven’t slept at all,” replied the younger officer. “Sorry I asked,” Jason said. “I got a magnificent two hours last night. I owe you a brew.”
“I won’t forget it,” Yoni smiled.
And they flew off to join the fighting in the Sinai. They had courage to spare.
The only thing they were running out of was ammunition.
Richard Nixon had ordered George Keller to appear immediately in his office. “Goddammit,” he fumed, “the Russians are pouring arms into Egypt and Syria. What’s happened to our airlift?”
“Apparently the Pentagon is arguing about whether we should use private or government planes. Some protocol thing, sir.”
The President rose and leaned on his desk angrily. “Listen, Keller, you get right on the phone and tell them to use every damn plane we have. I want that equipment in the air. And I want it now!”
On the eleven-o’clock news that evening, State Department spokesman Dr. George Keller appeared at a brief press conference announcing that the first transport planes with weapons for the Israelis were now en route to Tel Aviv.
Fifteen days after the war bad begun, Henry Kissinger and George Keller boarded a plane to Moscow to work out a cease-fire between Israel and Egypt, which went into effect on the following day. President Sadat of Egypt showed his gratitude for these efforts by establishing a new and direct relationship with Washington.
Historians will long argue over which side won the Yom Kippur War. But without question, the victor in the battle for world prestige was Henry Kissinger.
George Keller’s conscience ached. What was originally a small subterfuge had been magnified in his mind into an act of high treason. He was too frightened to discuss it with anyone — including Cathy.
Though he scoured every science magazine for mentions of the RX-80, nothing he read gave the slightest suggestion that it could be of strategic advantage.
Nevertheless, George lived in constant fear that his actions would be discovered. And he knew it would do him no good to plead humanitarianism. When you are a government official, you must let your father die if he’s on the other side.
He had received no word of Istvan Kolozsdi’s fate. He had been afraid to contact Yakushkin at the Russian Embassy, lest observers begin to think they were getting a little too chummy.
George tried to assuage his guilt pangs by convincing himself that he had done nothing legally wrong. And that with the amount of paperwork flowing between State, the Pentagon, Commerce, and the Oval Office, the chances of detection were nil. Only then was he able to get a night’s sleep.
But world events constantly rekindled the spark of fear in him. No less a figure than Willy Brandt, Chancellor of West Germany, had to resign in May 1974, when his close aide was exposed as a Communist spy.
George sometimes imagined he was being followed — and he had long suspected that his home phone was tapped. Even while accompanying Kissinger on his Middle East shuttle jaunts he did not feel secure. He could not trust the phones at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem or at the Nile Hilton in Cairo.
Late one afternoon, after a long and fruitless day of negotiation with the Syrian authorities, the Secretary of State was flying back to Israel.
Kissinger signalled to George to come and sit by him. “Listen, my boy,” he said confidentially, “I’m under a lot of pressure from back home. Certain factions in Washington think I’m spending too much time out here and neglecting other business. They don’t seem to understand that I can’t be in twenty places at once. So I’m going to have to put more responsibility on those young shoulders of yours.”
“What did you have in mind?”
“As you know, the President plans to tour the Middle East and then go on to Russia. I could do with a trustworthy advance man to lay the groundwork in Moscow. And, George, there’s no one I trust more than you.”
“You flatter me, Henry.”
“I have to,” the Secretary joked, “otherwise you wouldn’t work for me. The pay’s too low. Anyway, I want you to fly to Paris tomorrow morning. Brent Scowcroft and Al Haig will meet you there in three days and you can go on together to Moscow.”
“Fine,” George replied, genuinely pleased to have such prestigious responsibility. “But, Henry, what am I supposed to do while I’m waiting for them?”
Kissinger’s reply shook George as if turbulence had struck the plane.
“Go to Budapest.”
He did not know how to react.
“Listen,” the Secretary of State continued in a soft voice, “your father hasn’t got very long to live. I think you should make peace with him.”
“How did you know?” he asked (And how much? he wondered).
“It’s my job to know. You can pull the same trick I used when I first went to Peking. Check into the Crillon, fake a cold, then quietly slip out to the airport. It’s only a two-hour flight. You can go and come back and no one will be the wiser.”
George was still searching for words. All he could manage was to stammer, “I — don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t say anything,” Kissinger replied, patting him on the arm. “It’s the least I owe you for the years you’ve helped me.
As the air-force plane began its final approach to Ben Gurion Airport, George thought, How can I tell him I don’t want to go? How can I tell him that I have nothing to say to my father before he dies?
I can’t. Because it’s not true. I do want to see him one last time. I have to.
Customs in Budapest was perfunctory. Except that the officer questioning George took a long look at his red diplomatic passport before saying, “Welcome home, Dr. Keller.”
It was a strange feeling being back in his native city. Though it was brighter — and the stores fuller — than during those dark days when he had fled, it seemed relatively unchanged. Rakoczi Street was like it always was. Here and there an ultramodern structure stood comfortably beside the old.
The terrace of the Hilton — a Hilton Hotel in Budapest! — looked out toward the ancient spires of St. Stephen’s Church. The huge Duma Intercontinental, where George was staying, was a concrete imitation of any new American hotel.
He checked in quickly, washed, and changed his shirt. And braced himself for the meeting that had brought him here.
Before George left Jerusalem, Kissinger had given him complete details on where his father was receiving treatment — even the phone number.
Now, he asked himself, should I call the hospital and say I’m here? Or should I just show up? My God, the shock of it might kill him then and there. No, it would make better sense to phone one of the doctors, announce his presence, and solicit advice.
In a matter of minutes he was speaking to Dr. Tamas Rozsa, chief of medical services at the People’s Municipal Hospital.
After the physician had repeated for the third time what an honor it would be to receive a visit from him, George finally exacted precise details of Istvan Kolozsdi’s condition.
“Ah, what is there to say,” Rozsa answered philosophically. “There’s so little one can do in cases such as his —”
“Did you give him medication?” George interrupted forcefully.
“Yes. Yes, of course. The very newest — right out of Switzerland.”
“Is he in pain?” George asked.
“He is and he isn’t.”
“Can you explain that?”
“It’s quite simple, Dr. Keller. If we drug him so strongly that he feels nothing at all, then he is comatose and cannot communicate. Of course, at night we help him to sleep comfortably.”
“So, in other words, in order to speak he’ll have to forgo some of the painkillers?”
“I’m sure your father will want it that way,” said Dr. Rozsa. “When he awakes I’ll inform him that you’re here, and ring you back. That should be about five this afternoon.”
“Is anybody with him now?” George asked.
“Of course. Mrs. Donath practically sleeps in the hospital.”
“Comrade Kolozsdi’s daughter. Your sister, Dr. Keller.”
“Oh,” said George, as he slowly let down the receiver. And thought, I’ve got a second confrontation here in Budapest.
He now had several hours to kill and summoned the courage to go out and look at the city of his birth. To revisit all the places he had known when he was Gyorgy Kolozsdi.
His first entry into Budapest was like that of a swimmer into ice-cold water. But once he was actually in it and in motion, he began to feel warm and good and exhilarated. He reveled in the sound of his mother tongue being spoken everywhere.
Oh God, he thought, it must be fifty thousand English words ago that I felt so at home.
But his euphoria ended when it neared five o’clock. He returned to the hotel to wait for Dr. Rozsa’s phone call.
It came at about quarter to six.
He’s awake now and I told him you were here,” the doctor said.
“He wants to see you. Grab a taxi and come over right away.”
George snatched his raincoat and hurried down to find a cab.
It was the evening rush hour and even the modern traffic underpass on Kossuth Lajos Street could not ease the traffic jam sufficiently. The ride seemed endless.
George walked slowly up the hospital stairs trying to calm his beating heart.
The building was someone’s idea of modern — amorphous glass and drab stone. It did not appear to be bustling like an American hospital.
He walked up to an old, fat lady perched behind a desk and softly stated his purpose. She responded quickly, lifted the receiver, and an instant later Dr. Tamas Rozsa, a jowly little man, appeared and greeted George obsequiously.
As they marched briskly down the halls toward his father’s private room (“Very rare in Socialist states, I assure you”), Dr. Rozsa gave a tedious account of how the hospital was only partially completed. And how much he envied all the medical technology the Western powers had developed.
What the hell does this guy want, thought George, a handout? Maybe he thinks I can just tell Congress to send him a few million bucks’ worth of equipment.
As they turned down a narrow, dimly lighted corridor, George spotted the far-off silhouette of a woman sitting by herself.
His instinct told him that this should be his sister, Marika. But she was three years younger than he. The person sitting there looked positively middle-aged.
As they drew nearer, she glanced up at George.
The eyes, he thought. Those are my sister’s eyes in an old woman’s face.
“Marika?” he said tentatively. “It’s me. Gyuri.”
The woman kept staring at him, her eyes like lasers.
“Marika, aren’t you going to speak to me?”
They both remained silent for a moment. At last, she responded with quiet anger. “You should not have come. You don’t belong here anymore. I told the doctors not to let you in.”
George looked at Dr. Rozsa, who nodded. “Yes,” he affirmed, “Mrs. Donath was very much against it. It was your father who insisted.”
Marika turned her face away.
“Shall we go in now?” Dr. Rozsa asked.
George nodded. For his vocal cords were paralyzed. He stood for a moment after they entered the room, looking at the frail, white-clad form on a pile of pillows.
The old man sensed his presence and rasped out, Is that you, Gyuri?” The question was punctuated with a racking cough.
“It’s me,” said George, still motionless.
“Come closer to the bed. Don’t be afraid. Death is not catching.”
George started forward nervously.
“I’ll leave you two alone,” said Dr. Rozsa, making his retreat.
“Sit down,” the patriarch commanded, motioning his bony finger at a wooden chair placed near the bed.
George silently obeyed.
He had not yet dared to look his father in the face. He had somehow managed to avoid making visual contact. But now their gazes met and locked.
Istvan Kolozsdi still had the same stern visage, albeit emaciated and extremely pale. George stared at him and thought, This is the demon I’ve been afraid of all my life. Look at him. So small and frail.
He listened as his father breathed with difficulty.
“Gyuri, do you have children?” he asked.
“Then who will come and comfort you when you’re lying as I am?”
“I guess I’ll get married one of these days,” George replied. And wondered, Is that why he wants to see me — to make sure I find a wife?
There was an uneasy silence.
“How are you feeling, Father?”
“Not as good as I will when it’s all over,” answered the old man, and gave a laugh that made him wince with pain. “Listen, Gyuri,” he continued, “I’m glad to have this chance to talk. Because there is something I want to tell you.…”
He paused to draw strength and breath.
“On second thought,” he contradicted, “I don’t have to tell you. Just open that drawer.” He pointed to the gray bedside table. “Open it, Gyuri.”
George leaned over to obey his father’s order.
Inside he found a tangled mass of newspaper clippings in several languages. Some were yellowing, some torn.
“Look. Look at them,” the old man prompted. There were articles from the world press about him. About George. There was even — God knows how it had gotten there — a profile published last year in the International Herald Tribune . He was dumbfounded.
“What do you see?” asked the patriarch.
“I see a lot of old rubbish, Father,” George answered, trying to make light of it. “What do you see?”
Making a supreme effort, the old man lifted himself onto his elbows and leaned toward George. “I see you , Gyuri. I see your face in every paper in the world. Do you know what you have done to me?”
George had painfully anticipated this question.
“Father, I — I —”
“No,” the old man interrupted. “You don’t understand at all. You’re a big shot in the world.”
“On the wrong side,” George said deprecatingly.
“My boy, in politics there’s no wrong side. There is only the winning side. You have the makings of a master politician, Gynri. Kissinger will eventually stumble and — you’ll become the Secretary of State!”
“That’s wishful thinking.” George smiled, trying to retain his composure. He could hardly believe that for the first time in his life Istvan Kolozsdi had praised him.
“You’re twice as smart as Kissinger,” the old man insisted. “And what’s more, you aren’t a Jew. I’m sorry I won’t be around to see the rest.”
George felt tears welling in his eyes. He tried to fight them back by attempting lighthearted banter.
“I thought you were a dedicated Socialist,” he said with a smile.
The old man emitted a sandpaper laugh.
“Ah, Gyuri, there’s only one philosophy that rules the world — success.”
He took a long lingering look at George and said, beaming, “Welcome home, my son.”
Twenty minutes later, George Keller left his father’s room, gently closing the door. Marika was still seated there, impassive. He sat down next to her.
“Look, you have every right to be angry with me,” he said nervously. “There’s so much to explain. All this time I should have written —”
“You should have done a lot of things,” she said mechanically.
“I know. I know.”
“Do you, Gyuri? Did you ever think what you were doing when you abandoned us? Did you ever even try to find out how father was? Or me? Or even Aniko?”
He suddenly grew cold. As frozen as he had been that wintry day so many years ago. All this time, whenever he had thought about those moments — or whenever dreams compelled him to remember — he’d felt a piercing shame. The only consolation had been that it was his private secret. But now he realized that other people knew. How?
“I tried to find her,” George protested helplessly.
“You left her! You left her bleeding there to die.”
“Where — where is she buried?”
“In a shabby municipal flat.”
George was stunned and incredulous. “Are you saying she’s alive?”
“Barely, Gyuri. Just barely.”
“What does she do?”
“She sits,” Marika answered. “That is all she is able to do.”
“How can I find her?”
“No, Gyuri, you’ve caused her enough pain. And I won’t let you hurt her anymore.”
“Please, Marika, I have to see her. I have to. I want to help her.”
She shook her head and quietly concluded the conversation. “You should have done that eighteen years ago.”
She turned her back and would not speak to him again.
The next morning when he arrived at the hospital, George Keller was informed that his father had died peacefully in his sleep during the night.
He took the first flight back to Paris. He had never felt more lonely in his life.
The moment he cleared customs at Washington’s Dulles Airport, George picked up the phone and called Catherine Fitzgerald at the Nader office.
“Hi, how was the trip? The papers said you did well in Moscow.”
“It’s a long story,” he replied. “Right now I need an urgent favor from you.”
“The sound of that worries me, Dr. Keller. You never do anything without an ulterior motive. What exactly is it you’re after?”
“A wife,” George replied.
There was sudden silence at the other end of the wire.
“Is this some kind of joke?”
“You know I have no sense of humor. Now, will you marry me?”
“I won’t say yes unless you name a specific time and place.”
“How’s Friday noon at the clerk’s office at the Municipal Center on E Street?”
“If you’re even one minute late,” she warned playfully, “I promise you I’ll walk.”
“And if you’re late,” he retorted, “I promise you I’ll wait. Now do we have a deal?”
“Let’s say we’ve had a successful negotiation,” she replied. And before hanging up, added with sudden tenderness, “George, I do love you.”
After the wedding, Cathy permitted her parents to give them a small reception at the family home in McLean, Virginia. There were several of Cathy’s old friends from school, a few Nader’s Raiders, some of her father’s law partners and their wives. George invited only one couple — Henry and Nancy Kissinger.
The Secretary of State proposed a witty toast that utterly disarmed and enchanted the bride, who had spent the preceding night dreading the thought of seeing her old nemesis.
“I hope we can be friends now,” Henry smiled as he kissed Cathy.
“Dammit,” she replied happily, “it’s true what they say about you, Henry. Your charm is irresistible.”
“I hope you hear that, Nancy,” quipped the Secretary to his new bride.
For a Republican working in Washington, D.C., late July 1974 was hardly a time for honeymoons. Though Cathy moved into George’s townhouse right after the wedding, she barely saw him. And then only very late at night.
For now it became increasingly deaf that because of the Watergate scandal, Nixon was going to have to resign from office.
While Henry Kissinger metaphorically — and sometimes literally — held the tormented President’s hand, George helped Al Haig set the White House in order.
If his wedding had lacked confetti, it was more than made up for by the mass of shredded paper emanating from the Executive Mansion late those evenings as George “deepsixed” documents that various members of the “Palace Guard” brought in to him.
George destroyed the material so quickly that he didn’t have a second to determine what he was being given. He simply stuffed it into burn bags to be carted off.
Cathy was awake when he arrived home one morning at three o’clock.
“I don’t know whether to offer you a nightcap or breakfast,” she joked. “If it were anyone else, I’d think there was another woman.”
“Hell, it’s like a deathwatch over there, Cath. Al Haig feels it’s only a question of time.”
“Why doesn’t Nixon just quit and put everybody — especially the country — out of its misery?”
George looked at her.
“It’s a helluva decision,” he said softly.
“Yes, but he’s got a helluva lot to answer for.”
“So does every politician,” George responded. “We’ve all got some kind of skeleton in our closet.”
“Not you, Georgie,” she said, embracing him. “You’re still a high-minded public servant, aren’t you?”
“Of course,” he answered, trying to seem jocular.
“Then why not quit while you’re ahead? When Nixon goes, let’s go too.”
“Don’t be silly, Cathy. Now’s the time the Administration needs me most.”
He didn’t add that it was a rare opportunity to make a quantum leap ahead in his career.
“Ah,” she said, kissing him on the cheek, “my patriotic husband.”
At eleven-thirty on the morning of August 9, Henry Kissinger buzzed George to come into his office. The White House Chief of Staff was also present.
“Morning, Al,” said George, cheerily doing his best to imitate a military salute.
Haig merely nodded somberly in the direction of the Secretary of State, who was seated at his desk holding a small piece of white paper.
“Oh,” George said solemnly, “is that it?”
Kissinger nodded and handed George the document, which read simply:
Dear Mr. Secretary,
I hereby resign the office of President of the United States.
Richard M. Nixon
George scanned it several times and looked at Haig.
“Where’s the President now?” he asked.
“Strictly speaking,” Kissinger replied, “at this moment there is no President.”
Haig concurred. “Yeah. Just think, George. Right now the three most powerful guys in the United States — and by consequence the world — are standing together in the same room. Does it feel good?”
“I’m not sure,” he replied noncommittally. But it did, in fact, feel very good.
“Anyway,” said Kissinger, rising from his chair, “unless we want to rule as a triumvirate, we’d better head for Gerry’s swearing in.”
Gerald Ford had spent the majority of his adult life as a contented congressman from Michigan. He had never aspired to the White House. And yet now he had become the most powerful leader in the Western world, in a tension-filled atmosphere he did not really relish.
The responsibility of office did not weigh too heavily on Ford. He could meet that challenge. But he couldn’t bear the cutthroat competition among his aides for access to his ear.
Old football player that he was, he could recognize a tackle trying to break through to reach the quarterback. And he knew he had to clear the field to give himself some running room.
Obviously, Kissinger had to remain for continuity — and for the nation’s image in the world.
Yet, despite the fact that Haig insisted that the new President badly “needed him,” Ford wanted to get at least this Nixon courtier away from Washington. Happily he found a glittering pretext.
He got Al Haig appointed Supreme Commander of the NATO Forces — thereby transferring him to Brussels. He would remain in the White House just long enough to help in the negotiations for the Nixon pardon.
Then, to establish his own global stature, Ford set off with Kissinger to meet Brezhnev at a summit meeting. Naturally, George Keller was in tow. And he was so conspicuously effective that during the long flight home on Air Force One , the President invited him to his quarters.
“What did you talk about?” Kissinger asked with a scintilla of jealousy as he returned to his seat.
“You won’t believe this, Henry,” he replied. “It was about football.”
“But, George, you don’t know the first thing about the game.
“Listen, Henry, if there’s one thing I learned at Harvard, it was how to pretend that I always know what I’m talking about.”
George and Cathy Keller quickly became the most popular young couple on the Washington social scene.
And George soon discovered that his wife had a remarkable gift for “party politics.” She could initiate a dialogue for him with anyone, and was especially adept at dealing with the Fourth Estate. The press “discovered” the up-and-coming Dr. Keller and wrote admiringly.
There was only one difficulty. George could not adapt to marriage.
There weren’t parties every night, and sometimes he would come home from the office and have no one to talk to but Cathy. He would discourse knowledgeably about the issues of the day. But he was really talking at her.
Marriage vows did not make him less guarded with his emotions. He could give, but he couldn’t share . He could make love, but he couldn’t make her feel loved.
Still she was undaunted, patiently waiting. Surely he would ultimately master the art of intimacy, the way he had every other challenge in his life.
But in the meanwhile she had her own life to live. George had his career, but Cathy had a cause.
Three years earlier, Congress had approved the 27th Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting sex discrimination against women. If it could be ratified by two-thirds of the states, the equality of male and female would become the law of the land.
Cathy wanted to pack her bags and join the pro-ERA bandwagon to barnstorm the uncommitted states.
“Catherine, this is ridiculous,” George complained. “You’re the last person in the world who needs an equal-rights amendment. You’re strong, you’re independent, you’re a gifted lawyer. My God, if you’d apply yourself, you could become a Supreme Court judge.”
“But, George, isn’t ‘altruism’ in that vast vocabulary of yours? I’m not doing this for me. I want to stand up for the millions of people who are doing a man’s job and getting a woman’s pay.”
“Cathy, you’re starting to talk like a pamphlet.”
“Well, it’s only fair, George. Most of your dinner conversation is like an interdepartmental memo. Do you think it’s fascinating just because it’s about someplace like Afghanistan?”
“Are you accusing me of being boring?”
“No. I’m just accusing you of thinking that all that matters in the world is what goes on in your office.” She sighed in exasperation. “Can’t you appreciate anybody else’s commitment?”
George switched to a more personal plea. “Look, what really bothers me most is that we’ll be separated.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” she said, and added sarcastically, “So why don’t you take a vacation and come on the road with me?”
His best arguments could not dissuade her. In the end, she even convinced him to drive her to the airport.
Cathy lost count of the number of speeches she made. Paradoxically, she often found the women harder to convince than the men. Most of them were actually frightened of losing their “second class” status. But she could empathize with their feelings; they had been so inculcated to be subordinate that they were afraid of being unable to stand on their own. Her job was to give them the courage of their own worthiness. And it was damn tiring.
In the space of three months, she and her fellow crusaders harangued, debated, and cajoled their way across Illinois, Oklahoma, and Florida in a heroic — if losing — effort.
Although they regularly spoke by telephone, she and George did not see each other till Memorial Day weekend, when they were Andrew’s guests at the Eliot summer house in Maine.
As they were flying back to Washington, Cathy remarked, “Your old roommate is lovely. Why isn’t a guy like that married again?”
“I’m afraid he lacks confidence,” George replied.
“I noticed. But I don’t see why. I mean, he’s so kind and considerate. And he’s got a great sense of humor. I think what he needs is a good woman to straighten him out.”
“That would take a lot of doing, Cathy. Do you know anybody up to the job?”
“There must be dozens of women,” she replied. “I mean, I could do it.” She smiled at him. “But of course I’m spoken for.”
“Lucky me.” He smiled back, taking her hand.
“You’re right, darling. I’m glad you finally noticed.”
Late one afternoon in November 1975, George was alone in his office, dictating comments on an area report, when Kissinger opened the door.
“What’s the matter, Henry? You look a little upset.”
“Well,” said the Secretary, as he sat down in an easy chair, “to tell the truth, I am a bit depressed.”
“It’s the view of Mr. Ford that one man should not be both Secretary of State and National Security Adviser.”
“But you’ve done both jobs brilliantly.”
“Yes, I thought so, too. But he wants me to resign the NSC. Frankly, I think it will undermine the perception of my position.”
“I’m sorry, Henry,” George said with genuine sympathy. But it’s not as if you ye fallen from power completely.”
“No, you’re right. In fact, it may make it easier for me to operate, since I have such a good relationship with my successor.”
“Who’s the new Security Adviser?”
Kissinger looked poker-faced at his one-time Harvard tutee and answered, “You.”
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