One of the advantages of living is that, as some of those around you pass on, you get to tell funny stories about them – stories they wouldn’t necessarily have wanted told when still alive, vain, and touchy.
The down side is that telling such stories rebounds on the storyteller. For instance, when, a couple of months ago, an acquaintance with whom I had once stayed in London, Alexander Mineev, went to Russia and got 27 bullets pumped into him at a street crossing, instead of saying “How horrible” or “God rest his soul,” I said, “Thank goodness I remembered to retrieve that pair of Ferragamo shoes my wife had left at his apartment.” Now, what kind of monster am I?
Some ten years ago, when I was living in London, a sweet Russian girl of 18, whom I shall call Anya, had moved into a house down the road and struck up a friendship with me. A model, of course. I hasten to add that the friendship was wholly platonic, for a number of reasons of which I shall cite but two: I was then in the throes of a doomed love affair, while Anya was being kept by an elderly tycoon of some considerable notoriety.
Part of the notoriety had to do with his taste in women, regarded as criminally actionable in many of the civilized world’s jurisdictions, and Anya was living proof that the rumors were true, because when the tycoon had brought her to England, she had not yet reached the age of consent. After a few years, when his concubine had turned 18, he reflected that she was now too old for a personage as historically imposing as himself. Accordingly, some months into our friendship, poor Anya was told to pack her bags and return to Russia.
The girl had no savings, no connections, no friends. She had been living in London as though it were her master’s private fiefdom, with modeling assignments, to which she was taken by his driver, as the sole respite from her main occupation – waiting. And so, one evening, she knocked on my door, imploring me, a jobbing journalist, to concoct an article about her desperate plight which, given her seducer’s social position, could be sold to a tabloid newspaper. With the money from the article, at least she would be able to make a fresh start back home.
This was wicked stuff, but I said I would try. Next morning I sat in the Mayfair office of Britain’s leading publicist, a man by the name of Max Clifford, stirring cane sugar into a cup of watery coffee brought round by a stern receptionist. Two men eventually materialized, introduced themselves as assistants to Mr. Clifford, and escorted me to a splendiferous conference room, where, in the broadest possible terms, I discussed Anya’s story with them. They said they would need to confer with the boss, and that I would be hearing from him in due course.
The call never came. Anya went back to Russia. The tycoon has now passed on. And, just a few days ago, I opened a newspaper to see the headline, MAX CLIFFORD SENTENCED TO EIGHT YEARS. “Publicist found guilty,” ran the lead, “of eight charges of indecent assault against women and girls as young as 15 between 1977 and 1985.”
Andrei Navrozov, born in Moscow, lives in Palermo and is European editor for Chronicles. The former publisher of the Yale Lit, he is a widely published author and translator. His Italian Carousel: Scenes of Internal Exile was published by Peter Owen Publishers.