Excerpt from TIHKAL (1997) by Alexander and Ann Shulgin (pgs. 64-67)
Chapter 4: The Brazil Caper
In the mid 1980s, somewhere around the month of April, Shura received a phone call from a gentleman who introduced himself as Senhor Giorgio Paros, a businessman from Brazil. He said, “I am here in the Bay Area to consult with an American company, and also to see you, Doctor Shura, on a very important matter.”
Shura replied, “Well, Senhor — excuse me, could you repeat your name?”
The man gave his last name again and added, “Please call me Senhor Giorgio, Sir. In Brazil, we do not use surname very much. I would like also to bring with me a very good friend, Doctor Hector, the former Assistant Secretary of Housing and Transportation of Brazil, if that would be acceptable?”
Shura told me later, “He obviously didn’t want to go into details on the phone, so I thought, what the heck, maybe you wouldn’t mind making a few sandwiches for lunch tomorrow, and I invited them over. Is that okay with you?”
I laughed, “Sure. It sounds pretty intriguing, with a former — what was it? — assistant minister of something for Brazil, right?”
“Yeah”, said Shura, “Transportation, I think he said. Sounds as if it might be interesting. And if it turns out to be a total dud, it’ll only have cost us a couple of hours and a bit of lunch.”
Well, it’s hard not to be impressed by a minister of anything of any country, when you get down to it. Of course, this one’s a Former, which isn’t as good as a Presently, and he was only an Assistant, not the Main Man, but so what! Former Assistant Minister of anything coming to lunch is still pretty good, if you’re an ordinary run-of-the-mill social climber. Besides, it should make a good dining-out story, if nothing else.
The next day, shortly after noon, the Boys from Brazil arrived with a bunch of flowers for the hostess, both of them carrying serious briefcases.
The businessman, Giorgio, was a big, burly character who looked like an aging stormtrooper, with thinning hair and pale blue, penetrating eyes.
We sat down on the patio and talked, exchanging the necessary pieces of basic information. Sr. Giorgio, it turned out, had long been a major player in Brazil radio as the owner of several stations, and was now moving into television. Despite the faintly threatening first impression, particularly when he scowled over some remembered annoyance, Giorgio gradually emerged as something of a pussycat, a bit sentimental and rather romantic in a way peculiar to Brazilians (as we were to discover later).
Giorgio’s friend, Dr. Hector, was a small-boned man in his late sixties who seemed, at first, rather quiet for a politician; a bit self-effacing, in fact. But as the afternoon wore on, as we all became increasingly familiar with each other’s faces and voices, Dr. Hector relaxed and smiled more often, and we began to understand his peculiar charm, the mixture of sincerity — sometimes approaching intensity — and humor which must have served him well in his government post.
But that’s getting ahead of my tale. Back to the first few minutes of the meeting.
As I carried out plates of sandwiches to the patio, Giorgio was saying “Even in the banks, they list customers under their first names! Yes, believe it, this is so!”
I didn’t have to look at Shura to know what the expression on his face was: polite skepticism, mixed with frank amusement.
I can’t believe that, either. Must be a bit of exaggeration somewhere. But it does make a great Third World anecdote!
I brought out a large pitcher of iced tea and some bottles of Calistoga water, then sat down and prepared to listen.
As background to their not-yet specified proposition, Giorgio told us a story. It seems that, several years earlier, an American gentleman we will call Borch, who had relocated to Rio de Janeiro, and who could not fully explain to anyone’s satisfaction why he was unable to return to the United States, married a wealthy Brazilian lady, and produced a couple of children. Then he moved his entire family to an island in the Caribbean whose authorities were notoriously friendly and accommodating towards foreigners with money, and within a few months, all his upper class acquaintances in Rio had received invitations to a new health spa. The brochure emphasized a kind of therapy not usually offered by spas: psychological, with emphasis on the resolving of marital discord and problems like alcoholism.
The Brazilians poured into the new spa. Every Wednesday, the owner, Mr. Borch, would bring out two vials from his private refrigerator. The fluid in the first vial was red; that in the second, yellow. Each client was given a carefully measured amount from one or the other of the vials, served in a beautifully designed miniature goblet, a small crystal bowl cradled in a network of pewter. Borch referred to the medicine as The Essence, and refused to further identify it.
The effect of the Essence medicine was astonishing, Giorgio told us. “You had a feeling that God had entered your soul, and all was peace inside you,” he said, “If you looked at somebody, you felt love for him, compassion, you understand? For married couples, it was miraculous. All the emotions — yes? — the feelings they had in the past for each other; all these returned, just like the day of their marriage.”
Shura and I listened to the account in fascinated silence, but both of us were beginning to feel the pressure of questions needing to be asked, and I actually had my mouth open to say something, when Dr. Hector spoke up for the first time since the story began, and stunned us back into listening.
“Once, when I had expressed myself to Mr. Borch again,” the greysuited little gentleman said, “about wishing to know what was in the Essence, he told me that I could have faith in its value and its purity, because it had been created by one of the world’s most respected scientists, a chemist called Alexander Borodin, and that it was not necessary for me to know anything else.”
“Oh, my God!” I breathed, then laughed.
Shura protested, “I’ve never heard of anyone named Borch, and I certainly never supplied him with any drug!”
Giorgio gestured impatiently, “Yes, yes, Hector and I decided this ourselves — that you had nothing to do with it — when we investigated and found out who you were.”
I wonder if he uses the word, “investigated,” in the same way we would use it. Sort of implies private detectives and all that sort of thing. Maybe better not to know.
One burning question had arisen in my mind, and I decided now was the time to get an answer, before the conversation got any more complicated. I leaned forward in my chair and asked, looking from one to the other, “How much did these clients pay for the miraculous spa treatment, if you don’t mind my curiosity?”
“Most of us paid twenty-five thousand dollars per week,” said Giorgio.
Shura and I looked at each other, eyes wide.
“Oog,” I said, brilliantly.
“Sounds like a pretty good scam,” said Shura, nodding his appreciation.
“In the last week at the spa,” said Hector, “Giorgio and I managed to divert some of our Essence medicine, and we took the sample with us when we left. We had it analyzed in the United States. It was a drug called MDMA.”
“Oh, boy,” I said.
Shura just grunted.