The Cold War reaches its zenith with the installation of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba. While JFK and his brother face deep divisions in trying to diffuse the apocalyptic crisis, young CIA agent Philip Marsden is sent on a mission across to the island where he’s betrayed by a CIA-Mafia joint operation.

"Very skilful job of blending the fictional with the factual. Captures the personas of the historical figures. Really enjoyed it."

Tod Hoffman, ex-officer CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, also author of "The Spy Within", a non-fiction account of US domestic espionage. 

REVIEWS

"Leon Berger has clearly shown how fragile political and international relationships were. This backdrop to the spy element of the story adds all the necessary tension and drama required to make a very good novel."

John Johnstone, book blogger, Goodreads

"Berger is immensely engaging."

Donald Brown, Time magazine 

TRILOGY BOOK 2 THE KENNEDY MOMENTUM

"A brilliantly conceived trilogy. Even though the novels are political thrillers, they shed light on history, the Cold War, and an American tragedy as accurately and dramatically as any scholarly history book. These are stories we all know but the facts uncovered are a first-time revelation for most of us. The Kennedy Trilogy is a joy to read. I have a much better understanding of what went on in my country during a very troubling time.”

Caleb Pirtle, bestselling author of “Secrets of the Dead”.

READERS

"All of the real people in this story are brilliantly drawn and clearly based on serious research on the part of the author. The fictional characters are equally alive and fully human."

Amazon / Goodreads:

"Best books ever written on JFK!”

"The conversations between Jack and Bobby are always absolutely convincing, and the historical context - always complex - is made clear without ever stopping the story.”

"Leon Berger has done a very good job with a very difficult topic. He made it interesting from beginning to end.”

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1



The Soviet directive was so classified that the missile specialists themselves were subject to a program of disinformation. Under the official protocol for secrecy and denial known as maskirovka, they were deliberately misdirected into believing that, instead of Cuba, they were being transferred from their base in Kazakhstan to the frigid shores of the eastern Arctic.


Having been first flown to Sevastopol in Crimea, the disoriented technicians and engineers were then shipped through the Black Sea, the Mediterranean and across the storm-tossed Atlantic, traveling the entire journey below deck to avoid any possibility of detection by air. Many suffered severe bouts of seasickness and diarrhea before arriving on the island and had to endure days of recovery. Finally, several grueling weeks after embarkation, they found themselves heading east out of Havana on the recently opened Via Blanca coastal highway, traveling in darkness under the stifling humidity of a tropical summer.


Behind the personnel transports on a column of flatbed trucks were the R-12 Dvina booster stage rockets, their sixty-seven foot length camouflaged by heavy canvas tarpaulins. The convoy stretched for a quarter of a mile but only the KGB liaison officer and his local SDE counterpart up front were aware that their final destination was the still unfinished MRBM complex at Sagua La Grande.


Yet this wasn't the only such site. Also underway was a similar construction to the west of the capital at San Cristóbal, plus the newer IRBM installation at Guanajay with double the range; and all were protected by an extensive series of S-75 surface-to-air batteries all along the coast from San Julian to the Sierra Maestra, as well as by substantial air and ground support. Once these megaton-class missiles were fully installed and armed, most of the United States would fall within targeting range, with a maximum warning period of just five minutes in Miami and less than thirty minutes in Washington DC. The arsenal wasn't vast but it didn't need to be. Once launched, the guided projectiles were unstoppable, which meant that under any first strike scenario, an immediate death toll of up to eighty million US citizens could be envisaged.


To keep unwanted attention to a minimum, the sites and their accompanying barracks were located within heavily forested areas, with transportation carried out entirely at night. Unfortunately, with such a massive operation, not every detail can be so efficiently controlled. Wherever humans are engaged, accidents tend to occur and it was near the end of the highway that the recently arrived detachment was held up for several hours due to a spilled container vehicle. The delay was unavoidable but it meant that the drivers were obliged to detour in early daylight through the heritage city of Matanzas, where the heavily laden vehicles shook the foundations of colonial landmarks and shanty barrios alike before finally emerging on the southern outskirts of town.


It was here that a silver-haired, aristocratic figure by the name of Luis Gilberto Rafael was taking a tranquil Saturday breakfast in the shade of his veranda when the vibrations rattled the coffee cup on the table next to him. Lowering his newspaper, the man known respectfully as Don Plata gazed across the cactus shrubs to where the unmarked trucks, with their ominously long shapes and conspicuously pale-skinned occupants, were rumbling slowly past. As he watched, he lit up a Partagás cigar, his first of the day, and puffed at it until it glowed.


Now retired, this son of a modest electrician had risen to become a major player under the former regime of Fulgencio Batista by providing American casino operators with access to his sizeable network of local resources, including utility supply, building maintenance and security services. With the revolution, however, his fortunes had changed, so he'd chosen to settle out here in Matanzas, far removed from the ideological fervors of Fidel Castro and his compadres. These days, with his wife long since passed away, he lived alone with just a small personal staff plus, every so often, a nubile young mistress to keep him from feeling that he wasn't completely dead. With little else to do, he kept himself busy by reading, watching and waiting for signs of change.


Of course, like everyone else, he understood Castro's motivations well enough. The populist idea of liberating the nation from corruption was romantic, even seductive, but in his own venerable opinion, the only thing the bearded guerilleros had accomplished was to position his quiet island as just another piece on the superpower checkerboard. It was a game for only two players and according to Don Plata, the result was a foregone conclusion for a small country like his own. If they weren't on one side, they'd be very quickly overwhelmed by the other. At first, he thought the Americans would soon be back but when their under-manned, under-supported incursion failed so abysmally at Playa Girón near the Bahia de Cochinos – known in the US as the Bay of Pigs – he knew it would be only a matter of time before the vacuum was filled by the Russians and their weaponry.


Finally this morning, here they were right in front of his house and he knew that everything he'd predicted was in the process of being realized. He'd heard reports of the installations, knew where they were located; but now, at last, he'd seen the missiles with his own eyes, unmistakable even under the camouflage.


Slowly, he got up from his chair, paced his way back inside and made a call to one of the few men on the island he still trusted.


* * *


The man who took Don Plata's call was Raul Fuentes, proprietor of a well-known local tavern down near the bay called El Pescadito. He was a lanky, raw-boned forty-year-old who, like the old man, had also worked in the island's casino industry and looked forward to the day when he could once more get back to the more lucrative entertainment business. In the meantime, he ran this place, listened carefully to the random chatter and accepted a stipend from Don Plata to help maintain the old network, thereby keeping at least some of the hope alive.


On this day, his assignment was to climb aboard his prized Harley and ferry Don Plata's message to the elevation behind the town known as Pan de Matanzas, negotiating the steep trail all the way to an isolated shack near the summit with a clear view across the Yumari Valley to the distant ocean. This rundown wooden structure had become home to a shaggy bear of a man known as Fico who'd once been a navy signals officer but who'd chosen in recent years to subsist as a recluse, his only company being a flea-plagued dog, a resident flock of humming birds and the ham radio operation which was his only source of income.


With the island's international telephone service severely compromised, this was how the network kept in touch with family, friends and former associates across the Straits of Florida, the short wave signal arriving via a relay boost from an equivalent operator in Key West. The system they employed was an advanced single-sideband modulation, or SSB, using a speech-scrambling technique which could be easily encrypted; but while this methodology appeared to be secure, there was no way to know that with the arrival of the covert missile installations, Soviet SIGINT on the island had been significantly upgraded at their new facility near Lourdes, just south of Havana, which now had the capacity to monitor such stray broadcasts. Without realizing the consequences, Fico allowed the message to repeat on a two minute cycle while he made coffee for his visitor. As a result, a unit of local militia had been alerted and dispatched even as the transmissions were still underway.


Raul Fuentes was on his return descent, twisting his way around the hairpin curves, when he spotted the telltale dust cloud below; but the men in the vehicle had seen him, too, so he had no time to return to the shack and give warning. Instead, he escaped by swerving off the dirt track and skidding his way into the mountain forest, eventually concealing himself and his bike behind a rocky outcrop, unable to do anything except wait it out.


Half a mile back up the hill, Fico was still busily engaged, his earphones blocking out the sound of both the oncoming engine and the dog's snarling growls. He'd only just completed the transmission when the door was broken open and the khaki-clad platoon burst in, beating back his resistance with their rifle stocks until he was a lifeless heap, then smashing the American-built equipment array with a focused intensity. Finally, they doused the walls in gasoline and set both the shack and the corpse ablaze, a funeral pyre which sent a mass of dense black smoke curling above the forest canopy.


* * *


That same afternoon, Don Plata was again on his veranda when an open-topped GAZ 67, the Soviet equivalent of the American Jeep, bounced its way through his gates and on to his property. From its antenna flew a red and black pennant inscribed with M-26-7, symbolic code for the revolutionary Movimiento 26 de Julio, and in the front passenger seat sat the familiar, squat figure of Joaquin Famosa, locally-born comandante of the Seguridad del Estado, the Cuban internal security agency commonly known by its abbreviation, SDE, or more formally by its divisional appellation, G2.


It was to Famosa's credit, as well as a certain native cunning, that he was one of the few senior officers within the organization to have survived the regime change and Don Plata had known him for a long time. They weren't exactly friends but they did manage to maintain a certain mutual understanding. Once Famosa had been shown up to the veranda by Don Plata's aging bodyguard, Esteban, the officer was invited to sit for coffee.


"Luis, I've got some news for you," said the comandante when they were settled. "But I'm afraid it's not good."


Don Plata put his cup down and looked across at the table. "Tell me."


"The Russians located your radio on the hill. We had to go take it out. I'm sorry, we had no choice."


"What radio?"


"Listen to me. That crazy fool up there was sending one of your messages at the time."


"How do you know it was mine? Was it signed? Did it have a return address?"


"Sure, funny... but this is no joke, Luis. They're trying to decrypt it right now."


This was more serious and Don Plata breathed out a long sigh. In theory, there was no way they could tie him to either the radio, the recluse or the message itself but in the new reality, nobody needed proof of anything. A suspicion was enough for an accusation and that, in turn, was sufficient for a tribunal followed all too rapidly by a firing squad.


"What's your point, Joaquin?"


"My point is that, but for me, you'd already be wearing a blindfold."


"I'm most appreciative."


"Good, because that, too, is my point."


Don Plata knew what that meant: an increase in the monthly bribe, as paid into the numbered account at the Banco Nacional. It was little more than a protection racket but, in that sense, nothing had really changed since the revolution. That's how it used to be and that's how it still was, with Joaquin Famosa as the living proof.


The old man nodded and offered his guest a corona. "Fifty per cent," he offered.


The comandante accepted the cigar but declined the offer. "I'm finding it increasingly difficult to shield good friends like you from the Russian inquisition. You know, our brave leader thinks he's top dog but between you and me, he's nothing more than a chihuahua for the Kremlin, a pet to play with. 'Fetch, Fidel... beg, Fidel... heel, Fidel.'"


Don Plata managed a laugh. "At least we agree on something."


The face of Famosa, however, remained serious. "But you must understand what that means. The KGB is all over us and they're no fools, Luis, trust me. They don't play nice like our old friends at the CIA."


"I believe you." There was a pause. "So if not fifty, how much?"


"Double."


"Double? You think I'm made of money?"


"Maybe not... but you're the closest thing to Fort Knox around here."


Don Plata nodded reluctantly. "Do I have a choice?"


The comandante drained his coffee. "No," he said simply.


Then he shook hands with his host and found his own way downstairs, past the wary Esteban, then outside to his waiting vehicle. With another wave of his hand, he was gone, leaving Luis Gilberto Rafael to contemplate his ever depleting circumstances.


It was true he was still known in these parts as a man of means but the revolution had dried up his once substantial income and he was now living off the proceeds. It meant that if he died soon, he'd be fine but if he lived to be a hundred, he might be hard-pressed to afford a tombstone. Since he didn't really care for either option, he felt he had no choice but to keep on fighting for the life he'd once known, despite Fidel Castro and even despite his dubious friend, Joaquin Famosa. Ultimately, if he had to choose, he preferred the Americans to the Russians and it was both as simple and as complex as that.



2



Just a couple of hundred miles to the north of Matanzas, Philip Thomas Marsden was trying to make the most of the Labor Day long weekend.


He'd taken the opportunity to extend his fitness regimen with a five-mile run around his Miami neighborhood of Coral Way but by the time he returned home, he was dizzy, dehydrated and drenched in his own sweat. Somehow, he'd hoped that determination would make up for lack of athletic proficiency but his personal resolution to achieve peak condition was turning out to be a more difficult process than he could have imagined. As a CIA operative, he had many advantages – a fine intellect, an exceptional ability in languages and an eminently forgettable face – but physicality wasn't his strong suit. He was quick enough and could defend himself if absolutely necessary but muscular strength and tireless stamina were qualities that would better describe others in the agency.


He was just stepping into the shower, when he heard the phone. Since his wife, Caridad, had just entered her second trimester of pregnancy, he kind of felt the onus was on him to go take the call but then he heard her pick up. If it was someone in her family, either her dad, her sister, or one of her cousins, she'd no doubt be on the line for a while, so he turned the water on cold and just stood there, radiating heat as well as a mild glow of self-satisfaction that at least he'd made the effort.


Carrie, as she'd called herself in New York – or Cachita as she was called by her family – was of Cuban-American heritage and the fact that she'd be close to her relatives in this area was one of the key reasons they'd moved down here. Another was that her father had been willing to pass on this Coral Way house to the couple when he moved into his new condominium farther up the Beach. For Philip himself, however, the main advantage to being here was that the location allowed him something of a personal life as well as a career and it was to this end that they'd made a mutual pledge: in return for her leaving a promising position on Madison Avenue, he would switch back from CIA field operations to his original specialization of political analysis. The opening which presented itself was at the newly upgraded Miami station and it was not long after they'd transferred down here that she told him they were about to become parents.


As he came out of the bathroom, hair still wet, he looked in at the half-finished baby's room. The walls needed a final coat and there were still shelves and doorknobs to install before the new furniture could be unboxed, all of which represented maybe a week's more work if only he could find the time. There were always so many reports to peruse, so many documents to digest, that he sometimes wondered how the forests of the world could ever survive the agency's endless demand for paper. Many times he came home so weighed down he could hardly carry his weekend reading matter into the house; and that was merely the unclassified stuff. At the office, there was an even larger pile of confidential material, all of it deemed essential. As an analyst, he had to be prepared at a moment's notice to draft a five thousand word report on any given topic. Very little of what he produced was ever used and some, he suspected, was never even read but this was the job and he had no real choice in the assignments he was given.


Here in Miami, the station's mandate included all of Latin America but by far the most important file at the current time, as it had been for two years, was the endlessly dissected subject of Cuba. He was therefore more than interested when he arrived downstairs in their modest kitchen to discover that the recent call had been from Carrie's cousin, Ernesto, over in Riverside, now part of the area known as Little Havana. Apparently, there was some important news from Don Plata, one of the last members of the family still on the island. Philip had heard the nickname before: "Don" was a deferential honorific and "Plata" was Spanish for silver because of his hair.


"That's Uncle Luis, right?" he asked, just to confirm. He poured juice for both of them, then came over to sit with her at the small table by the wall. "He's the rich one in Matanzas."


"Well, I'm not sure how rich he is now."


"He was into the casino business, wasn't he? Must have stashed away a fair amount, back in the day."


"I guess so. I only met the man once. Came up one time when I was still in high school but it was like they all worshipped him, the whole family. He just had a way about him, you know? The nice clothes, the big cigars... It was like he owned the world."


Philip chugged back his juice and felt the sweetness resuscitate his blood sugar level. "What could be so important, d'you think?"


"No idea. Ernesto just asked me to make sure you come to the barbecue tonight. He said he knows you sometimes have to work late but he really wants you to be there."


It was an open secret that Philip was employed by the Central Intelligence Agency, an organization generally admired within the Cuban community of Florida for having trained and equipped the twenty-six hundred exiles at the failed Bay of Pigs incursion. The general attitude seemed to be that while the agency had at least made the attempt, the real villains were in the White House for refusing military backup for the fighters in their hour of need. While candidate Kennedy had promised to do everything possible to free their homeland from Communist rule, when the crucial moment arrived, the president had shown what they considered to be weakness and cowardice. The expected carrier force with air strikes and a Marine landing just never materialized, leaving the exposed beachhead to be crushed by Castro's numerical superiority. Not only was the Cuban community in Havana angry at the defeat but so was the CIA itself which felt betrayed, firm in the belief that JFK's overly cautious approach had just cost them their best chance to vanquish the revolution once and for all.


While that was perhaps a valid contention, it was only one side of the issue and as a political analyst, Philip Marsden was one of the few within the agency who remained detached enough to be objective. Even if a full-fledged US military intervention had managed to unseat Castro, what would have been the cost? Thousands of Soviet troops were already on the ground, which would have meant direct conflict with US forces and then what? Escalation? Retaliation in other parts of the world? And if so, how far would it go? Was one small, mostly rural island producing sugarcane, tobacco and a meager supply of nickel worth the risk of global conflict? Like the Kennedys, Philip was less convinced but since he now lived within the Cuban expatriate community, he thought it best to keep his more even-handed opinions to himself.


He understood well enough that nobody really wanted to let go the hope of returning some day. Ever since the failed invasion, there'd been all kinds of groups coalescing in order to make counter-revolutionary plans, to collect money and purchase arms in preparation for yet another attempt. Carrie's cousins, too, were involved but none of these efforts had ever really amounted to much and so far, all rumors of a growing resistance movement on the island just waiting for a chance to overthrow the regime had proven to be illusory.


Yet, ideology aside, Philip couldn't help but like the Rafael family and he was always prepared to listen to whatever they wished to tell him. Even if there were nothing to it, as usual, the barbecues were always fun.


* * *


It was Elvis Presley who greeted them as they approached – not the man but his music, with "Jailhouse Rock" blasting out enough decibels to reverberate around the narrow street.


Philip and Carrie parked the car, then followed the source of the sound, around the side of the modest brick bungalow to the backyard where a crowd of relatives, friends, neighbors and all their kids had already gathered. Multicolored light bulbs had been strung up across the cramped area and in one corner, the charcoal was just being lit. It was Ernesto who came over from the grill to welcome them, hugging each in turn. He was about the same age as Philip, same height and weight, too, but his frame was tight with sinew and the grip of his handshake was powerful.


"Good to see you, man," he said, offering a final slap on the shoulder. "Glad you could make it."


"Glad to be here. Who's the Elvis fan?"


"Yeah, sorry about that. Some of us wanted Jerry Lee but we got outvoted."


'That's democracy," replied Philip, which got a big laugh from Ernesto.


"So what can I get you guys? Rum or beer?" He ran a liquor store in South Beach with his two younger brothers: Gregorio, nicknamed Goyo; and Francisco, who they called Pancho. It was Carrie's married sister, Concepcion, known by all as Concha, who still did their books.


"Just a soda for me," Carrie replied, dutifully tapping her belly.


"Sure, I'll take a beer from you," said Philip, but also felt some guilt knowing it would do nothing at all for his efforts to get back into shape.


"Coming right up." Then, just as he was leaving, Ernesto leaned in with a semi-whisper. "Listen, man, we gotta talk, okay?"


"Sure, whenever you like."


While they waited, the newly arrived couple wandered over to Carrie's well-to-do father, Jorge, who was always nostalgic whenever he returned here to the old neighborhood. It reminded him of his younger, struggling days, when he lived here with Carrie's mother before moving to Coral Way, where she finally lost her long fight with cancer. Still a licensed criminal lawyer, he was now semi-retired but still very active within his own community, on the boards of various civil groups and charities.


"Hello Felipe," he said, greeting Philip as he always did with the Hispanic pronunciation of the name. It was a compliment to his new son-in-law, a way to claim him for the family.


"Don Jorge... how's it going?"


"Fine, fine, thank you. And you? How's life at the agency?"


Philip put his finger to his lips in comic fashion. "That's supposed to be a secret."


Don Jorge smiled along. "I must try to remember that. Tell me, have you heard the news?"


"You mean from the island? No, I just got here. Ernesto said he wants to talk to me later."


"I think you'll find it interesting."


"Sounds intriguing."


"It comes from my cousin, you know... Luis Gilberto."


"Yes, so I understand."


"Used to be a big shot down there but now, not so much." Don Jorge shook his head at the tragedy of it all. "Time passes, things change."


"Way of the world," replied Philip, who often found himself sinking all too easily into these kind of philosophical platitudes just because they were so expected with an occupation such as his. 


"I suppose you're right," replied Don Jorge. "But we must remain optimistic, am I right?"


"Absolutely."


Thankfully, that was when Ernesto arrived with the drinks and Philip turned to him, using the interruption as an excuse to escape the conversation. "Ernesto, your uncle here thinks I should be told what's going on. What say we do it now?"


"Okay, why not? Lemme just tell Goyo to take care of the grill. I'll meet you inside, okay?"


"Mind if I join you boys?" asked Don Jorge.


In fact, Philip would have preferred that he didn't but could hardly say it out loud. "Sure, no problem," he answered. It wasn't that he disliked his father-in-law, it was just that the man tended to exaggerate Philip's importance at the agency, no doubt in order to boost his own status. It didn't help matters.


Five minutes later, while Carrie went off to chat with her sister, Philip was sitting with the two men around the dining room table. He and Ernesto were chugging Budweiser straight from the bottle, with Don Jorge clutching a glass of his preferred dark rum on the rocks. It happened to be Jamaican, not Cuban, but only because that particular brand was the liquor store's discount promotion this month.


"So... what's the big news?" Philip said to Ernesto.


"Yeah, well, I don't know how much Cachita told you about Uncle Luis..."


"Just that he was in the casino business."


"Okay, so what you should also know, he's a pretty smart guy. Knows a thing or two about what's really going on, you get what I'm saying?"


"Which means the information is probably reliable."


"Yeah, yeah, right. That's it, man, exactly. If he says it, you can count on it."


"Okay, so tell me."


Ernesto took another swig of his beer. Then he leaned forward, elbows on the table. "Missiles," he said simply, allowing the force of the word to play itself out.


This wasn't exactly news to Philip. It was common knowledge that the Soviets had been increasing their air-defense capability on the island for some time. "What kind of missiles?" he asked casually, for the sake of conversation.


"Yeah, see, that's the thing. These were long ones, much longer than the other type, you know? He says he saw trucks going through the town."


"Where? In Matanzas?"


"Yeah."


"By day or night?"


"He said early morning."


Philip hesitated. He didn't want to doubt the report but that sounded very unlikely to him. "Interesting," he replied, for want of something better to say.


"You see?" said Don Jorge to his nephew. "I told you he'd want to know."


Philip didn't want them to get too excited. "Well, now, let's just back it up a little, shall we? First, it's kind of unusual that they'd transport missiles through a town like Matanzas. Second, it's even stranger that they'd do it in broad daylight."


"What you saying, man?" asked Ernesto. "That's it's not true?"


"No... No, not at all," said Philip, obliged to retreat. "If it's from Uncle Luis, I believe it. All I'm saying is that it's unusual... which is what makes it interesting, right?"


"Yeah, that makes sense."


"But here's the thing... and this is what's really important. What I really need to know is how long they were, those missiles."


"How long?"


"Sure. Now listen, what I'm going to tell you doesn't leave this room, okay?" He looked at both of them and saw them nod only too willingly. He knew they'd never keep anything to themselves but felt it was useful to keep reminding them that this was, after all, CIA business, not just street gossip. "All right, so we know they've already got what we call SAM's. Know what they are?"


It was Don Jorge who answered, eager to display his knowledge. "Of course... They're surface-to-air missiles for air defense." Then he felt the need to explain it to Ernesto. "See that's the initials... S.A.M.... stands for surface-to-air missiles, see?"


"I'm not an idiot."


"Okay, keep your shirt on, just trying to help."


Philip thought he'd better step in. "What I need to know," he said, "is whether these are just more SAM's, or whether they're something else."


"Like what?" said Ernesto.


"That's what I need to find out. That's why I need to know how long they were. Did he say?"


"He said fifty or sixty feet."


"Fifty or sixty feet? He's certain?"


"Well, yeah, they were under wraps but he's pretty certain."


"And which way were they heading, these trucks?"


"What he said, they went past his house heading east on the CC, figures they were heading down to Sagua La Grande."


The CC, as Philip knew, was one of the island's main arteries, the Carretera Central. "He figures that how exactly?"


"Everybody knows about that place, man, big construction site there in the bush. You can't keep stuff like that secret."


"So he just assumed that's where they were heading?"


"Sure... but you ask me, that's a safe bet. Where else they gonna go?"


"Anything else?" 


"Nah, that's pretty much it," said Ernesto. "So whaddya think? You think it's a big deal, or what?"


"I couldn't say."


"Okay, but what's your gut feeling, man? That's all I'm asking."


"Ernesto," said Don Jorge, "if the man can't say, he can't say."


"Sure, I know that. I just wanna hear it from him."


Philip thought about how to respond. "All I can tell you is that if it's more SAM's, it's interesting like I said... but we already know about those. If it's something else, though..." He left the sentence unfinished but that only served to increase the effect.


"Like what, man?" This was Ernesto, pressing one more time for the bragging rights. "Something big?"


It was Don Jorge who replied. "Leave him alone, it's classified. Felipe, am I right? Tell him it's classified."


"That's right," Philip agreed, relieved at the exit which had just been presented to him. "You can't repeat this to anyone." Then he felt the need to add: "And if you do, you didn't hear from me."


From outside now came the sounds of Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" together with the faint aroma of sizzling pork, so Philip used the food as an excuse to get up, joking that he couldn't afford to give away any more state secrets. In fact, it wasn't far from the truth. He knew very well that the topic of Cuba was an ongoing obsession with people like the Rafaels and even if he revealed nothing at all, they would seize on any hint, any slight body language, as confirmation of a rumor and then spread it all over the neighborhood, boasting shamelessly that the information came directly from an inside source.  


* * *


After the long weekend, Philip headed out early for the seventeen mile drive. As usual on a workday, his destination was the CIA station, code name JM/Wave, located on the south campus of the University of Miami. Since Castro's accession, it had become the largest facility outside the agency's headquarters at Langley, Virginia, the speed of its growth a direct result of both the effect of the revolution on the national psyche and the trauma inflicted on the agency by the Bay of Pigs humiliation.


The station's operational headquarters had been installed in Building 25 but there were no outward signs, not even a flag, because the entire organization was camouflaged behind a dummy corporation called Zenith Technical Enterprises. From this central location, the "Company," as the agency was ubiquitously known, maintained some four hundred personnel in various parts of southern Florida, plus a small army of Cuban irregulars down in Key West who were being trained in multiple functions, from commando tactics to communication skills. There was also a sizeable fleet of cars, vans, boats and even aircraft, all used at the station's discretion. However, with an undertaking of this size and scope, the fake corporate front fooled very few in the area and, just as with Carrie's own family, it often seemed like most of the population hereabouts was in on the secret. Many supply businesses and spin-off incomes were derived from the congressional funding and the Company had, de facto, become one of the largest local employers.


Immediately on arrival, Philip poured himself a coffee and sat down in his cramped cubicle behind the scratched and battered typewriter; but before he could pull out any of the files that had been locked away for the weekend, his middle-aged department head, Anton Villiers, appeared with an eerie half-smile on his face. Normally a taciturn individual, this was the first emotion of any sort that Philip could ever recall seeing and he wasn't sure what to make of it. Yet if the expression was cryptic, the accompanying gesture of a crooked finger was clear. He wanted Philip to follow him.


They walked in silence, all the way to the corner suite where the station chief's officious secretary, Mrs. Jenner, was expecting them. Immediately, she rose from her desk and knocked politely on her boss's door but even before it was open, Villiers had disappeared as if it had all been pre-arranged, leaving Philip alone to face the two most senior officers at the base.


"Come in, Agent Marsden, come in. Grab a seat."


This was Theodore Shackley who spoke, recently arrived to take charge of Miami station. An experienced counterintelligence officer, Ted Shackley was a pale-haired man of Polish heritage, so reserved and camera-shy that he'd once been labeled "the blond ghost."


On the other side of the desk sat Shackley's longtime associate, William King Harvey, known universally as Wild Bill. The nickname was a compliment of sorts, an homage not just to Wild Bill Hickock, the legendary frontier gambler, but also to Wild Bill Donovan who ran the wartime OSS, forerunner of the CIA, in swashbuckling style. Unlike his predecessors, however, Harvey didn't exactly look the part. He was a paunchy, ungainly man with bulging eyes and a questionable reputation even by the agency's own dark standards. Originally an FBI agent, he was allegedly fired by J. Edgar Hoover for drunkenness before being taken on by the fledgling CIA in Berlin and it was there that he first teamed up with Shackley, the two of them leading an ambitious but vain effort to construct a tunnel under the KGB's infamous Karlshorst headquarters.


By coincidence, that was where Philip himself had been held for five days on his very first operational assignment across the Wall and it was this common history in Berlin that helped him feel relatively at ease in their presence, despite the differences in age and status. He nodded to each of them as he entered but soon  realized there was an uncomfortable chill in the atmosphere, an extended silence during which they seemed to be examining him for visible defects. Normally under such circumstances, when he wasn't sure what to expect, Philip's default option was to retreat into himself, to observe and to evaluate, so instead of betraying any anxiety, he simply sat down, held his nerve and waited.


Finally, it was Shackley who spoke. "Villiers says you heard a rumor from Cuba."


Philip had taken the liberty of calling Villiers with the information soon after he got home from the barbecue because nobody at the agency wanted to be accused of holding on to potentially useful information; at least nobody at Philip's level. "That's right," he replied.


"It came from your wife's family, I believe."


"An uncle in Matanzas."


"City or province?" asked Bill Harvey.


"City... It's about a hundred miles east of..."


"Thanks, we know where it is."


"Of course... sorry."


"Agent Marsden," said Shackley, "we'd like the details of the rumor, if you don't mind."


"Sure, not that there's much to tell."


"Do your best."


Philip was perplexed by the subtle yet unmistakably hard edge to the tone but the request was straightforward enough. "Well, it came through my wife's cousin, Ernesto."


"And this Cousin Ernesto, he relayed the message from your uncle directly?"


"Not exactly. There's a whole system in place... radio across the straits, relay from the Keys, then telephone, word of mouth and so on."


"So it can all get fairly garbled."


"It has that potential, yes."


"I see. And was there a specific reason you were called?"


"I don't follow."


This was when Harvey interrupted again, cutting through the phraseology to translate the question into plain-speak. "Does the family know you're on the Company payroll?"


"Yes, I'm afraid they do."


"Why?" said Harvey. "Did you broadcast it?"


"Broadcast it?"


"Is that how you impress them, Agent Marsden? Does it give your ego a boost?"


Philip looked at them, from one to the other. "Excuse me, have I done something wrong here?"


It was Shackley, as station chief, who took it upon himself to respond. "No, no, nothing wrong. We're just trying to get a full picture. Please continue what you were saying. So your cousin called your wife with a message for you, would that be right?"


"Basically."


"And does the family trust him, this uncle in Matanzas?"


"Apparently, he's well respected. I never met him personally but my wife has, some years ago when he came up to Miami."


"What does he do?"


"Well, he's retired now but he claims he was a businessman."


"Claims?"


"I get the impression he was into casino operations."


At this, Bill Harvey appeared to pay a little more attention. The gambling industry during the former Batista regime was mostly under the control of the American-based Mafia, with which Harvey himself was known to maintain certain covert connections. "What's his name, this uncle?" he asked.


"Luis Gilberto Rafael... but they all call him Don Plata... you know, because of his hair."


"His hair?"


"Plata... it means 'silver' in Spanish."


Harvey acknowledged the explanation with just a blink of those frog-like eyes but there was no way to read what was going on behind them. Whether or not he'd ever heard the name remained hidden by an expressionless mask.


"Okay," said Shackley, "go on."


"Like I said, it might not be much but he wants to tell the world that he saw a Soviet missile convoy passing through town."


"Old news," said Harvey. "They've been installing those batteries up and down the coast for some time."


"My first thought, too," replied Philip. "But from the sound of it, the ones he saw might be something else. Longer than usual."


"How much longer?"


"He estimates fifty or sixty feet."


"How far away was he?"


"I'm not sure. But it was daylight, which was unusual. Normally they move that stuff at night."


"Yeah, we know."


Philip Marsden didn't respond; and he still didn't know why he was being treated with such condescension.


"Okay," said Shackley, "so just another rumor, add it to the list. Anything else?"


"They all believe the convoy was heading for Sagua La Grande... I assume you know where that is, too?"


It was an insubordinate comment but neither of them replied nor even bothered to acknowledge it. Then all at once, Shackley seemed to change gear and become more purposeful.


"All right, so listen up, Agent Marsden. We want to move you out of analysis and back to operations. How do you feel about that?"


"Operations? To do what?"


"All in due course. Just want to know your first reaction."


For Philip, this was an unlikely turn of events and hard to believe that it was all based on the mere shred of evidence he'd given them. He wasn't even sure what to say. "I'm flattered, of course... but you understand I applied for this position as an analyst so I could be with my wife. We're... Well, we're expecting our first child."


Either Shackley was already aware of the fact, or he simply didn't care. "So you're turning it down? Is that what you're saying?"


"No, I'm not saying that at all. I just wanted you to know why..."


"Why you opted out of operations in the first place. Okay, fine, you burned out last year in Berlin. It happens. But this is a big opportunity. You should at least give it some thought. What do you say, Bill?"


"I say, when your country needs you, your only duty is to salute and go."


Philip wasn't certain how to cope with this kind of pressure. "All right, well, thanks. I'll definitely think about it."


It was Shackley who responded. "I need you to do more than that. Ever hear of a guy called Ed Lansdale?"


"Sure, he runs Mongoose."


"He's flying in today, wants to meet you this evening."


"He does?"


"Unless you refuse outright."


"No, no... of course not. I'd be honored."


"Good. Get the details from Mrs. Jenner. Anything you want to add, Bill?"


"Nope."


"Okay, so we're done."


Philip Marsden got up from his chair but neither of the men reached out to shake his hand. They just sat there without saying another word until he left. However, he didn't go directly back to his cubicle but went for a stroll outside the building, wandering aimlessly around the car park as he tried to figure out what just happened in there.


Operation Mongoose was the overall nomenclature for a multi-pronged series of actions against Cuba, a fairly random assortment of hit-and-run missions for sabotage and assassination. It was unique only in that it was essentially orphaned from both the CIA and the military, a kind of sideshow organized by the White House directly through Robert McNamara's Department of Defense to prove that the administration was at least doing something positive about the Cuba situation. The man selected to run it was former Major General Edward Geary Lansdale – ex army, air force and OSS – who built a name for himself in the postwar CIA by running counter strikes against the Hukbalahap insurgency out of Manila.


All this Philip knew. What he didn't yet know was the role he was being asked to play, or why he should even agree to get involved. Back to operations, he thought? This was the last thing he and Carrie wanted right now and he wasn't even sure how to tell her about it.


* * *


After the meeting, Bill Harvey went back to his office and locked the door but that, in itself, was not an unusual occurrence. There were many extracurricular activities he preferred not to divulge and many private actions he simply didn't report.


As for the rest, he was sloppy, with assorted knick-knacks and memorabilia from Berlin and elsewhere scattered all over the room, along with photographs in cheap frames of him at various points of his career. There he was, for example, with J. Edgar Hoover at FBI headquarters in DC, just a few months before his own dismissal; next to it was another with CIA Director of Operations Dick Helms and Director of Counterintelligence James Angleton at Langley; also one with his current boss, a prized possession because it was rare that the blond ghost allowed any likeness at all to be snapped, much less hung on a wall. These displays, however, were just showy propaganda for Bill Harvey, the side he spoke about to anyone who'd listen; but then there was that other world of his, an interlocking web of contacts filed only in his mind, not by legitimacy or legality, but simply by whether there were favors owing or owed.


It was one of these contacts he was dialing now, a confidential number he knew by heart.


"Yeah, what?" said the voice.


"Me," replied Harvey, knowing the man would recognize him by the single syllable.


"I'm busy. Is it important?"


"Not to me but it might be to you."


The man hesitated. "Gimme a minute."


This was Johnny Roselli he was calling, known as Handsome Johnny, the flamboyant Miami associate of Santo Trafficante Jr. in Tampa who, in turn, was connected to the Lucchese and Bonanno crime families in New York, as well as to the notorious Chicago Outfit built by Capone and Nitti but now run by Sam Giancana. Ever since the Cuban revolution, Wild Bill Harvey had worked with Handsome Johnny under the secret auspices of Operation Mongoose, supplying both resources and logistics as necessary. Both the CIA and the Mafia had a shared interest in promoting counter-revolutionary activity in Cuba – and the agency, in the person of Ted Shackley, had quietly appointed Bill Harvey as point man on the project.


It wasn't the first time the organizations had worked together. There was the noted alignment of interests during the war when the Mob worked to safeguard the vital New York harbor front against sabotage. Another example was the local aid provided to the US Seventh Army in advance of the landings in Sicily. So rather than considering such liaisons to be an anomaly, Bill Harvey's opinion was that he was simply carrying on a patriotic tradition, a way for diverse agendas to come together for the general good of the country; and if dealing with criminal syndicates wasn't entirely a noble enterprise, he had no doubt that such activities had been – and would continue to be – mutually beneficial to the national cause.


In the meantime, the man he'd called had spent a full minute talking to someone else before getting back to him.


"All right, make it quick," said Roselli. "What's up?" 


"I think I got a line on a friend of yours," replied Harvey.


"And what friend would that be?"


"The one you been complaining about for three years."


From that seemingly vague clue, Harvey knew it would be a simple matter to deduce that the so-called friend in question was the man whom both Roselli and Trafficante had been trying to track down: Luis Gilberto Rafael, otherwise known as Don Plata. 


"Is it for real?" came the reply.


"Just tell me... you interested or not?"


"Sure I'm interested."


"All right, I'll be in touch."


Harvey waited a moment but there was no further response so he put down the phone and sat back in his chair. He was thinking that some gratitude would have been nice.


He'd only made the call as a peace offering in the first place, presenting this relatively trivial morsel of information to Roselli as a gesture of goodwill, a message to say that their historic partnership was still alive despite the Kennedy brothers' tendency towards schizophrenia, seeming to alternate almost on a daily basis between high-handed morality one day and down-and-dirty pragmatism the next.


It certainly wasn't like that in the old days of bootlegging and election rigging. Back then, the Boston Irish and the immigrant Italians had a clear mutual understanding but ever since patriarch Joseph Kennedy's stroke last December, the two boys seemed to have lost their bearings: especially young Bobby as attorney general, who'd taken it into his head to accelerate his crusade against the Mob, while at the same time enlisting their help to go after Castro under the auspices of Mongoose. As policy, it was frustratingly inconsistent and tended to cause havoc at ground level for people like Bill Harvey, who had these covertly authorized connections to maintain.


* * *


At sundown, Philip Marsden called Carrie to say he'd be a little late without mentioning why, then drove all the way to Dinner Key in Coconut Grove, where the Clipper flying boats had once taken off like giant swans for destinations across Latin America. There was still a Coast Guard base on site but the romance had all but vanished with the development of a private marina; and it was here, on a docked, forty-foot cruiser called the Aurora, that he was due to meet the renowned Ed Lansdale, whose somewhat grandiose title was now Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations but whose only real function was to head up the disparate projects which fell into the Mongoose file.


As Philip stepped from the slip on to the deck, he heard a voice boom out from the stern.


"Here in the back!"


When he got there, a large hand was thrust out. "Agent Marsden, I presume."


"Reporting as ordered."


"Glad to make your acquaintance."


Unlike Philip, who came directly from his office in dark suit and tie, the tall but slightly stooped Lansdale was dressed this evening in Miami casual, which meant a yellow sports shirt, checkered pants and loafers. With his leathery skin, graying temples and neatly trimmed moustache, he looked like a weather-beaten version of Clark Gable.


"What can I get you, son?"


"Whatever you're having."


"Bourbon okay?"


"Bourbon's fine. Is this your boat?"


"Nah, more's the pity. Just use it as a hotel while I'm down here."


There seemed to be no one else aboard, so it was Lansdale himself who got busy with the drinks and a bowl of mixed nuts. "Cheers," he said, after they'd made themselves comfortable.


They were sitting on opposite sides of a blue banquette which curved its way in a large semi-circle around a gleaming white table. Beyond the rail was Biscayne Bay and the city that Philip called home. Both the welcoming attitude and friendly demeanor made a pleasant change from the half hour he spent that same morning in the station chief's office and he was glad to clink glasses – but all this bonhomie seemed to him a little premature. He hadn't yet accepted any assignment, nor did he even know why a lowly analyst should be called for cocktails on a yacht with a man like Lansdale, who was widely regarded as a living legend amongst those in the clandestine services.


As if reading his mind, Lansdale dove straight in. "So, my boy, we got a few things to talk about, you and me. How much they tell you back at base?"


"Not much. Actually, nothing at all."


The man nodded knowingly. "Typical." Then, he added: "They're not too happy about it, you know."


"Yeah... I did sense something in the air."


"I'll bet you did."


"May I ask why?"


"You didn't figure it out yet? And here's me thinking you were an analyst."


"Well, I could hazard a guess... but, then again, that wouldn't be too analytical, would it?"


Lansdale laughed, enjoying his own jovial mood. "All right, let me spell this thing out for you, nice and simple. Whether you realize it or not, you just crossed over to the other side."


"What other side?"


"Why, the president's of course."


"They dislike him that much?"


"Hard to overstate the case in my opinion."


"And that affects me how exactly?"


"How? I'll tell you how... because somebody high on the White House totem pole paid you the compliment of giving me your name, that's how."


"Am I allowed to ask who that was?"


"Sure, why not? Was my ol' buddy, Luke Clay. Remember him?"


"How could I forget?"


"Well, he must be fairly impressed with you, that's all I can say. He's not always so lavish with his praise."


Philip knew the man well enough: Lucius Dubignon Clay, another former general working on special assignment for the Oval Office. There seemed to be no end of these military advisers, brought in as a kind of counterweight to the unforgivingly hard-line stance of the joint chiefs. It was Clay, the all-American hero of West Berlin, who'd been instrumental in fomenting the Checkpoint Charlie standoff the previous year and it was Clay, too, who'd authorized Philip's own first assignment across the Wall into the Soviet sector of the occupied city. It had been an arduous experience, both professionally and personally, but he was nevertheless pleased to acknowledge Clay's glowing referral.


"May I ask you something, General?"


"Fire away."


"Just what am I being recommended for?"


Ed Lansdale acknowledged the question with a brief nod but didn't answer directly because he wasn't yet finished with his own inquisition. "Tell me about yourself," he said.


Philip was prepared to be patient up to a point. "What do you want to know?"


"Your file says you were born in the UK, a war baby... isn't that the expression over there? Your father was a Canadian airman, your mother a Russian exile. She was once an intelligence agent herself, wasn't she? Worked for the Brits, I believe, MI5 or some such. Tell me about that."


Philip was immediately on the defensive. His mother had died the previous year and it was still a painful subject for him. "Let's leave her out of this, shall we?"


"Sensitive?"


"I just don't see how it's relevant."


"Or any of my business, right?" Lansdale laughed. "Okay, fair enough... but she did teach you to speak Russian like a native, am I right? At least, that's what Luke tells me."


"I can hold my own."


"Is that a yes or a no?"


"Excuse me?"


"I'm asking about your Russian. I want to know how good it is."


"Good enough that I almost talked my way out of Karlshorst."


"Almost?"


"Okay, I didn't make it. But not because of the language."


Lansdale seemed to accept that on face value. "All right, good. So after the war, she took you over to live with your dad's side of the family... in Montreal, was it? Does that mean you speak French, too?"


"I can get by in both French and German."


"But not yet in Spanish."


"I'm working on it."


"That Cuban wife of yours, no doubt."


"She's not Cuban, she's Cuban-American," replied Philip, emphasizing the difference. There'd been enough suspicion over the years about his Russian mother and he certainly didn't want all that transferred to his wife. "She was born right here in Florida."


"Of course she was," said Lansdale, brushing aside the distinction as if it were not worth mentioning. "Then from high school, you won a scholarship to Harvard at age seventeen. That's gotta be impressive. Majored in political science under Kissinger, I understand, who then passed your name along to the agency. Is that about it?"


"More or less."


"What am I missing?"


"What else do you need?"


"Well... what I'd like to know is who I'm actually dealing with here. Who are you? What do you like, dislike? What do you do for fun? What do you care about?"


Philip thought about that but wasn't really sure how to respond because he had no clue what the man expected. "All right," he said eventually. "I guess I like to read when I can find the time... newspapers, magazines, books..."


"What kinda books?"


"Anything that gives me a background on what I'm doing. History, biography... But I kinda go for science fiction, too. Bradbury, Asimov, people like that."


"Did you read Foundation?"


"First week it came out."


"Well, that's something we got in common. How about sports?"


"Nah, not so much. I like to run, some martial arts... but I'm not really what anyone might call a jock. Useless at ball games, I'm afraid."


"How about dreams, ambitions? What you would do if you weren't doing this?"


"I don't know..." Philip shrugged self-consciously. "Well, I do, but it always seems a bit silly when I say it out loud."


"Hey, me, I wanted to race cars around a track. How silly is that?"


"For me, it would be acting."


"Is that right? See yourself as a movie star?"


"No, not like that. Perish the thought. No, I'm talking real acting, you know, on stage. Shakespeare, Shaw... classical stuff."


"My wife likes Tennessee Williams."


"There you go."


"Is that why you're with the agency? Some say it's nothing but acting."


"To be honest, I'm not even sure why I signed on. I guess at the time, it seemed as good a way to spend my life as any."


This brought another chuckle from Lansdale. "Yeah, kinda happened to me, too, in a way. Nobody really sets out to be a spook, y'know, we all just seem to fall into it. But I don't mind telling you I had a real ball during my time, specially out there in the jungle. When I think back to some of the things we got up to... would make your hair stand on end. And you, just starting out, a whole world to conquer. You're a lucky man, Agent Marsden, don't let anyone tell you otherwise."


Philip sat back and watched the general's own acting performance right here – this whole larger-than-life, soldier-of-fortune persona – but he was far from certain he wanted to be ensnared by it. In the meantime, night was approaching and he really wanted to get home, so with as much grace as he could muster, he said: "General, the job? If you don't mind... just what is it you'd like me to do?"


"Do?" said Lansdale, as if astonished by the question. "Why, go across to Cuba, of course, check out those missiles for us."


"Go to Cuba?"


"Soon as possible. Luke says you're the man for the job and I'm inclined to agree."


"Thank you, sir. I appreciate that, I really do, but..."


"But?"


"With all due respect, why me? You've got hundreds of agents at your disposal."


"Sure do... but most of 'em are Hispanics and how close do you think they can get to Soviet installations?"


"You have Russian speakers, too."


"Not like you, we don't. What we need is an American who can actually pass for a Russian, someone we can trust implicitly but who's had experience on the other side, who knows how they think... and that's you, my boy, that's you. You're a rare commodity."


"Well, I'm honored, of course..."


"So you should be. But I can tell you're still not sure. Am I reading this right?"


Philip hesitated before replying. He didn't want to be accused of shirking his responsibility, like Bill Harvey was hinting back at the station. "I'll be honest with you, General. I only took this analyst job so I could be with my wife, you know, to raise a family. She's expecting now and..."


"Expecting? Really? Why, that's outstanding! I had no idea. That's not even in your file. Congratulations, my boy, well done!" The big hand reached across once again and they shook firmly. "How many weeks?"


Philip was a little surprised at the reaction, not entirely sure how genuine it might be. "Sixteen."


"No problems?"


"So far, so good."


"Outstanding," Lansdale said again. "But if you don't mind my saying so, that's even more reason you should accept the mission."


"Really? I was thinking the opposite."


Ed Lansdale gazed at him with a new intensity. "You still don't get it, do you?"


"Get what?"


"Where do you live?"


"Excuse me?"


"It's a simple question. Where do you live? Your house, your apartment, your abode... Where is it?"


"Coral Way."


"Ah, yes, very nice. And the SS-4 travels at what speed?"


Philip knew perfectly well what the general was suggesting. The SS-4 was NATO nomenclature for the Soviet R-12 Dvina, the kind of missile that had been on display in Red Square during the most recent May Day parade; and if this proved to be the type they were now installing in Cuba, the type Don Plata observed, then it could reach these shores in very short order.


"Look, sir, I understand..."


"Do you or don't you know the speed?"


"I'd say about Mach 7."


"Correct," replied Lansdale. "Now do the math. If they were to push the button right now, this instant, it would mean that this entire region of south Florida would be incinerated before you could finish your drink... with your wife and your unborn child along with it. Tell me, Agent Marsden, is that how you want to live your life? Under the permanent threat of a mushroom cloud? Did you ever see the images of Hiroshima? This would be literally a thousand times worse."


"I take your point."


"No, I don't think you do. Young man, this may well be the most important mission that anyone has ever taken for his country. And I'm not just talking about any American. I'm talking about anyone, in any country, throughout the entire course of human history. Think about that before you give me your answer."


Philip was unimpressed with the melodrama and took another sip of his bourbon – until he realized the relevance to the comment the general had just made about finishing his drink and self-consciously put down the glass.


Since he wasn't sure how to respond, Lansdale did it for him.


"All right, tell you what," said the general in a more relaxed tone. "I think you need to go home and talk to that expectant wife of yours about all this, see what she says. You might well be the right man for the mission but I can tell you this much. I'm not about to send you anywhere, you go off half-cocked, always fretting about what's going on back home. That won't do any of us any good."


Philip nodded. "That's very decent of you, General."


"Not really. I'm doing this more for me than for you. Now, why don't you get yourself home and report back to me by the end of the week? Friday, I'll be in Washington, you can reach me at Defense. Saturday, I'll be talking to the attorney general, so I'll need an answer by then one way or another, understood?"


"Understood. One favor though..."


"Spit it out."


"Do I have to go back to the station this week? I mean, after what you said about their attitude..."


"Anything urgent on your plate?"


"Everything I do is urgent."


"Wanted yesterday, then they sit on it for a month, right? I know the routine. Okay, sure, a few days leave might be a good idea. I'll fix it with Shackley. All I need you to do is get your head around this thing, okay?"


To Philip, that seemed more than fair and as he stepped off the boat, he was thinking that this extra time off might even give him a chance to finish the baby's room; but by the time he reached his car, he was already beginning to consider the consequences of the offer. If he accepted the assignment, he'd be right back where he promised Carrie he wouldn't be: risking life and limb, just like in Berlin, because yet another retired general on yet another vicarious adventure was asking him to do so. On the other hand, he was realistic enough to know that if he refused, whatever remained of his career in the service would probably be over. It wasn't much of a choice.




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