In the immediate aftermath of the JFK assassination, the shock is multiplied for young CIA agent Philip Marsden when he learns of the death of his own Cuban-American wife. As evidence builds and the threats begin to mount, he discovers that the two tragedies might not be unrelated.

REVIEWS

TRILOGY BOOK 3 THE KENNEDY REVELATION

"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. 

"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 

"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.”

FREE CHAPTERS: SCROLL DOWN

 

1


When that final projectile buried itself in the 35th president's brain, his skull exploded like a volcanic eruption, splattering blood and bone and tissue all over the open-topped automobile.


Next to him in the rear seat, his wife was traumatized. She twisted awkwardly in her tight pink suit with the matching pillbox hat and climbed out over the back to retrieve the missing piece of his cerebral cortex. At the same time, a dark-clad Secret Service agent mounted the rear fender of the presidential Lincoln and leveraged his way onto the trunk in order to shield the occupants with his body.


Even as echoes of the fusillade still seemed to be reverberating around the plaza, the driver was instructed by radio to accelerate rapidly towards the nearest hospital, Parkland Memorial, about seven minutes away. On arrival, the first lady followed the gurney as it was hurried along the corridors, refusing to let it out of her sight. She was daubed with gore, on her face, on her hair, on her pink suit, and was still clutching the large fragment of scalp in her gloved hands.


"Look what they've done to him," she kept saying to anyone who would listen. "Look what they've done to my husband."


* * *


There had always been some hesitation about this visit to Texas.


Even within the friendly confines of the White House, it was acknowledged that the president and his brother, the attorney general, had managed to generate an array of powerful enemies in their three year tenure, including senior elements of the military, the security agencies and the unions, as well as key figures within organized crime. In the context of this particular trip, they'd also angered oil interests in the state with a proposal to cut industry subsidies, as well as generating reaction all across the south with their crusade to enforce federal desegregation laws in schools and colleges.


In effect, the primary accusation against the Kennedy's was that they'd dared disturb the status quo but perhaps just as serious was the establishment's perception that they were arrogant, just a couple of rich boys whose daddy had rigged the election and who never really understood reality, neither the limits of office nor the acolytes to whom they owed favors.


Yet despite such institutional misgivings, JFK, with his boyish charm and infectious grin, remained a charismatic figure for much of the mainstream population. He refused on principle to be discouraged from visiting any American city, so when his staff warned him about Dallas, he simply referred them to his national poll numbers which remained steadfastly high. Then, when Air Force One touched down at Love Field that Friday morning and he was greeted by a larger than expected turnout, it appeared as if he'd once again been proven accurate in his assessment.


At the foot of the aircraft stairs, the six-vehicle convoy was already lined up for a stately drive through the downtown core on their way to the Trade Mart for a steak lunch with local dignitaries. The smiling president, however, chose to spend some extra time shaking hands along the cordon line, so the journey began later than scheduled. Although the ground was still damp in places, the morning weather was ideal for the parade and the Secret Service had already agreed to remove the bullet-proof bubble top of the presidential limousine. Only with hindsight did this initiative come into question.


Following the assigned route, the cars cruised towards the office canyons, where sidewalk spectators waited ten to twelve deep, just hoping to catch a glimpse. Sitting directly in front of the president and the first lady was Governor John Connally with his wife, Nellie, and it was she who turned and said: "You can't say that Dallas doesn't love you, Mr. President".


They were supposed to continue along Main Street but a last minute change at Dealey Plaza saw them turn right on Houston, sunlight bouncing from the chrome of the motorcade, before reducing to a crawl for the sharply angled left on to Elm Street, past the Dal-Tex building and the Texas schoolbook depository.  It was just as the lead car was close to the half way point between the intersection and the Union Pacific overpass that the high-powered rifle reports pierced the air in quick succession, the shots striking the governor as well as the 46 year-old president.


Onlookers were stunned, appalled, overwhelmed by disbelief, yet there were many who still managed to retain sufficient presence of mind to perceive critical moments.


From the running board of the vehicle directly following the president, Agent Paul Landis initially believed that the fatal shot had come from the side, not the rear as he eventually testified.


Nearby, on a four-foot pedestal above the grassy knoll, local businessman Abraham Zapruder kept filming with his 8 mm Zoomatic home-movie camera alongside his assistant, Marilyn Sitzman. His immediate impression, too, was that the president was hit from the side – although his employee's subsequent report contradicted his first account and endless examination of his shaky footage failed to provide conclusive proof either way.


Also taking souvenir pictures from across the way was Mary Ann Moorman, who snapped off a photo at almost the exact moment the last bullet struck. It was her blurry image across the parade towards the knoll which appeared to capture a shadowy figure amongst the trees wearing what looked to be a badge and holding something which might have been a long-barreled weapon.


Not far away from her were Jean Hill and Malcolm Summers, who both remained focused enough to observe what they, too, believed were gunmen amongst the greenery. From atop the same knoll, Gordon Arnold, an army private on his way to a posting in Alaska, claimed to have heard a bullet whistle past his ear. Beyond him, in the train yards beyond the trees, railway worker Lee Bowers thought he saw armed men running from that same vicinity. A few moments later, Ed Hoffman, deaf and mute, who had a direct view down from the overpass ramp on to the limousine, was convinced that he saw the large exit wound in the left rear of the president's head, which seemed to confirm, too, that the fatal bullet came from the knoll. Then, just after the automobiles had sped away, several dozen people followed a policeman up that same grassy bank in the belief that they were giving chase to the escaping assassins.


All these first-hand impressions, given to security personnel within minutes of the attack, appeared to conflict with authorized reports which stated from the very start that all the shots came from behind the car, giving rise to debate and speculation with the conclusions obvious. If they all came from one direction, it was theoretically possible for one gunman to have acted alone. If they came from two, it meant a conspiracy.


The confusion continued at Parkland hospital, where Doctors Perry, Crenshaw, Carrico and others attempted to resuscitate their patient by a tracheostomy procedure. With an injury of that magnitude, however, it was a meaningless gesture and the only result was that visual reference of the throat wound was obliterated, thereby compromising crucial evidence. Finally at 1.00 p.m. local time, exactly thirty minutes after the shots were fired, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, second son of Joseph Patrick and Rose Elizabeth Kennedy, was officially pronounced dead. Yet far from concluding the controversy, the arguments continued to mount.


Among the accusations were claims that surgical photographs had been falsified in order to concur with official reports. This led to serious concerns about where and when the official autopsy should be conducted, an issue ultimately decided by an altercation along the hospital corridors when Secret Service agents physically seized the president's body from medical staff in order to take it back to Washington. Although hospital officials insisted that such transport was contrary to Texas state law, the blatant use of federal force won the day and the remains were flown to Bethesda Naval Hospital. There the formal procedure was carried out by relatively inexperienced pathologists under the strict authority of several ranking military figures who remained in close attendance throughout. Who provided that authority was never discovered.


Another major contention involved the day's media updates. After the initial disarray, bulletins were issued to journalists throughout the afternoon but it was during these critical hours that some of the key facts mysteriously began to change. Perhaps it was new evidence coming to light, or perhaps, even as some felt at the time, it was because the truth was being manipulated.


Connie Kritzberg of the Dallas Times-Herald, for example, found her reported details of the throat wound altered without her consent, from front to rear entry. Then there was Mary Woodward of the Dallas Morning News, who was personally on the scene at the critical moment and hurried dutifully back to her office to write that the third bullet had been almost simultaneous with the second and that it had come from the grassy knoll, only to have her story excluded from the edition. Nobody ever told her why. Others claiming to have seen a bullet hole in the limousine's front windshield, including Parkland doctor Evalea Glanges, were being contradicted on air by various spokesmen, who were already declaring that three shots, and only three, had come from the schoolbook depository building. Later, on national television, even Walter Cronkite, the CBS news anchor dubbed "the most trusted man in America", changed his report about the assassin's rifle found on the sixth floor of that same building, switching the model and caliber without explanation from a 7.65 Mauser to a 6.5 Carcano. This meant that either the first detectives on the scene had misidentified the weapon, or the description had been substituted in order to coincide with a firearm owned by the 24-year old who was about to accused. 


In the meantime, a description of this primary suspect was being widely disseminated amongst law enforcement authorities, including the Dallas Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They were seeking an average-looking white male with brown hair, between 5ft.6 and 5ft.8 tall, and slightly built at around 165 lbs. He was an employee of that same schoolbook depository at the corner of Houston and Elm where the rifle was found and he'd been observed in that building's cafeteria soon after the shooting. His full name was Lee Harvey Oswald, an American citizen born in New Orleans but something of an enigma even to those who knew him. Despite his record as a Marine, he was listed on FBI files as a Marxist agitator who had not only distributed pro-Castro pamphlets on the streets of his home town but had also resided for a period of time in the Soviet Union, eventually returning to the US with his Russian wife, Marina.


While the area around the depository was still being sealed off, another murder occurred in which a man fitting Oswald's profile was reported to have shot and killed a uniformed patrolman by the name of J.D. Tippit over in the quiet residential district of Oak Cliff. However, before the authorities could fully adapt their dragnet to that area, they received information from local cinema employee Butch Burroughs to say that the man they were hunting was right there in his Texas Theater on West Jefferson, where they were currently showing a movie called "War Is Hell". That was the tip which seemed to spur the Dallas P.D. into concerted action and at 1.50 p.m. local time, no more than eighty minutes after the attack on the president, a large detachment of officers swarmed the building, raised the house lights and after a brief struggle, Detective Gerald Hill took the alleged assassin into custody.


Law enforcement officials congratulated themselves on such a remarkable capture in so short a time. Yet from the very first, Oswald insisted that he was being set-up and on numerous occasions he loudly reiterated the same words both to the police and to the press corps: "I'm just a patsy."


* * *


At approximately the same time as Oswald was being arrested, federal officials and administration staff were assembling in the main cabin of Air Force One, which was still on the ground at Love Field, Dallas. The purpose was to inaugurate the state's favorite son, Lyndon Baines Johnson, as 36th president of the United States.


A high-school teacher by profession, LBJ as he was known to all, followed his father into politics and spent eleven years as a senator in Washington, including several years as majority leader, until he was persuaded to join the Kennedy presidential ticket which needed his southern prestige and influence. Many who knew him in Texas described him as possessing extraordinary ambition – some even called it lust – yet his career seemed to alternate between noble ideals and dubious practices. During the war, for example, he earned a silver star for bravery but under questionable premises. On his postwar re-entry into federal politics, he was recognized as a forceful and competent candidate, yet he was accused of stealing the primary nomination. Even his detractors admitted he had the ability to get the job done but never without securing full credit for himself – and in one instance, arm-twisting valuable federal broadcast licenses for his savvy wife, Claudia Alta, or Lady Bird as she came to be known.


It was this kind of checkered background that the Kennedy clan had always disparaged and the two men, JFK and LBJ, had shared a deep mutual antagonism as well as an ideological mistrust. This was now magnified by Jacqueline's vague suspicions of Johnson's implication in her husband's death, which was why she continued wearing her blood-stained outfit even as she took a prominent position next to Johnson in the crowded central aisle of the aircraft. It was a deliberately provocative way to demonstrate both her sorrow and her outrage and she even regretted having washed her face.


In front of them stood the federal judge, a diminutive, bespectacled woman called Sarah Tilghman Hughes, who was an old family friend of the Johnsons. Although sixty-five years of age, Hughes was new to her role in the judiciary and when telephoned unexpectedly at home by the United States attorney for the northern district of Texas, she was unfamiliar with the required procedure.  


"Is there an oath I should deliver?" she asked.


"We believe so," came the reply. "But we haven't found it yet."


"Don't worry," she said, "I'll make one up."


What neither realized was that the precise form of words had actually been enshrined in the Constitution and it was only at the last moment that this was called through to the judge. Then yet another minor panic occurred when nobody could find a Bible on which to swear, so a Missal was used in its place, a book of liturgy for the Catholic celebration of Mass as found by an aide in the presidential bedroom at the back of the aircraft.


Altogether, twenty-seven people were crammed into a space just sixteen feet square for the brief ceremony, including two Congressmen, the Dallas police chief, a couple of Secret Service agents and several White House staffers, with the makeshift event recorded for posterity by the assistant press secretary, Mac Kiduff, on a handheld Dictaphone. When it was concluded, the incoming president leaned over to kiss his wife, the new first lady, and it was she, in turn, who reached out to her predecessor.


"The whole nation mourns your husband," she said quietly.


The Kennedy era was over – and nine minutes later, the packed aircraft took off for D.C. with the former president's remains locked away securely in the cargo hold.



2



While news coverage continued that entire Friday, the normally well-informed Philip Thomas Marsden had fallen asleep on the beach and was aware of nothing at all.


He'd stolen a rare long weekend from his office at CIA Miami but since his wife was out, attending some charity function with her father, he'd driven across town, spread himself lazily on a towel and dozed off while flipping his way through Asimov's brick of a novel, Foundation and Empire. It was only when he returned to his bungalow in Coral Way, his pale skin already turning the color of a Florida sunset, that the next-door neighbor, an elderly widow by the name of Renée Alvarez, came to peer over the hedgerow.


She had a pink-colored rinse on her hair and her face was fully made up. A native of New Jersey, she always claimed the cosmetics were good protection against the sun. "So what do you make of it all?" she asked him.


"Hey there, Mrs. Alvarez," Philip replied cheerfully. He was in relaxed mood after his carefree afternoon. "What do I make of what?"


"Well, what happened, of course."


Philip considered her to be a nice enough lady but something of a busybody. Around here, most knew that he worked for the agency in some capacity, so they kind of expected him to know pretty much everything that was going on. Nevertheless, he was on leave, if only for the day, and he tried to be pleasant. "Why? What did happen?" he asked politely.


She looked at him puzzled, unable to comprehend his ignorance. "You mean you don't know?"


Philip was still not paying much attention. He was too busy searching his pockets for the house key. "Don't know what?"


"Mr. Marsden, are you making fun of me?"


"No, of course not. I just got back from the beach. What is it I don't know?"


"Well, it's the president."


"What about the president?"


"He's dead."


"Excuse me?"


"Happened hours ago. I'm surprised you don't know, you of all people. You should be on top of things. What's the country coming to, that's what I want to know? Hell in a handcart as my Arnie used to say..."


When it finally broke through his consciousness, he interrupted her: "Did you say the president's dead?"


"That's what they said. Walter Cronkite was on. You should call somebody, feller in your position."


By this time, Philip was anxious to leave her and find out for himself. "Yes, yes, absolutely, I'll be sure to do that," he replied, trying to be as polite as possible as he backed away from her towards his own front door.


Inside the house, it was cool and dark. Normally, he liked to open up all the curtains and windows when he came in but today, he just hurried through to the television in the living room. After an annoying few moments waiting for the set to warm up, he found the somber-faced Cronkite summarizing the events of the day. Philip had been kind of hoping that Mrs. Alvarez was mistaken but now that the news was confirmed, he felt the immense shock to his system and all he could do was watch, nauseated, as the story was recapped for those arriving home late.


Later, at about 6 p.m. the network made the switch away from the studio to Andrews military base near Washington, where the cameras focused in on Bobby Kennedy, head down, hair blowing in the breeze, as he slowly climbed the stairs to board the recently arrived Air Force One. A few minutes later when the casket finally emerged, Jacqueline could be seen alongside him, still wearing that same pink suit. Soon afterwards, Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson descended from the same aircraft and were escorted to a podium where the new chief executive made his first official statement.


"We have suffered a loss that cannot be weighed," he said in his low rumble of a voice. "I ask for your help and God's."


Like the rest of the nation, Philip was transfixed by the images and he sat there for a long time without eating or drinking as the latest updates flashed on to the screen. At some time after seven, the network announced that the suspect in custody, Lee Harvey Oswald, had been charged with the malicious murder of Officer Tippit and was still being questioned about the assassination.


Philip had voted for Kennedy and despite harsh criticism within the agency, continued to believe in him. However, he'd felt a special empathy when the first couple lost their unborn baby that same summer, a repeat of what had happened in his own life a year earlier. For Philip and Carrie, it had been such a heartbreak that neither of them had felt any urgency in trying again and gradually, she'd taken on more responsibilities with her father, Jorge Rafael, a semi-retired lawyer who chaired a foundation to help Cuban refugees. Vaguely, Philip wondered if they'd heard the news, too, but he wasn't entirely sure where they were at this time. It was a fundraising affair, he'd been told, but he didn't know the details so had no idea where to call. Besides, he was riveted to the ongoing broadcast, trying to snatch up every last bit of information as it came through.


Already, the pundits were debating what might have occurred – how a lone gunman could have squatted for so long undetected at that sixth floor window and what might have made him imagine he could get away with it. He might be an ideologue, they said, a dedicated Communist seeking to undermine the American way of life. Alternatively, he might just be a depressed nobody who needed to blame others for his own problems. The theories were already multiplying and it was difficult even for a trained political analyst like Philip to make sense of the conflicted opinions, except for one thing. All the experts seemed to assume that Oswald was, in fact, the perpetrator and all they were really discussing was why he did it.


After a while, there was little more real news coming in and Philip found himself watching just for the sake of it, a way of paying tribute to the fallen president. It was almost as if by turning off the TV in order to make dinner, he'd be committing some sort of traitorous act. Eventually famished, he turned up the sound while he went to the kitchen to heat up some leftovers, then returned to the same place in order to fork the contents right out of the casserole dish.


He was still sitting there on the sofa, eyes half-closed, when the front doorbell rang, shaking him out of his lethargy. Must be Carrie, he thought, forgotten her key again. Before getting up to answer it, he rubbed his face and glanced at his watch. It was already 11.45 and the network was interrupting their late night programing in order to bring the news that Oswald was being officially indicted for murder of the president, in addition to the police officer, and would therefore be arraigned on both counts.


Philip opened the door, glad that his wife was finally home – except it wasn't his wife. It was a middle-aged man in a crumpled suit, a creased shirt and a loosened tie, with his hat on the back of his head.


"Mr. Philip Marsden?"


"That's me."


"Sergeant Nieman, M.P.D," said the officer, opening his jacket to reveal the badge hooked to his belt. "Sir, mind if I step inside?"


Philip moved back to allow the man entry. "What's this about?"


Nieman removed his hat to reveal a head of black wavy hair. "Perhaps you should sit down..."


"I'm fine. What's going on?"


"Sir, I'm sorry to have to inform you that your wife and her father were found deceased this evening. Please accept my condolences. I know this must be a shock, especially… you know, on a day like today."


Philip couldn't comprehend what the man was saying. "Deceased? No, she's out at a fundraiser or something..."


"Your wife's name is Caridad?"


"Yes..."


"And her father's name is..." Nieman reached for his notebook and flipped a couple of pages. "Jorge Rafael?"


"That's right. But I don't... What I mean is..." Philip was finding it hard to think straight, or even think at all. He might well have buckled if the wall of the narrow hallway hadn't been there to prop him up.  


"A vehicular incident, I'm afraid," Nieman was saying. "Sir, I won't try to hide it from you. Dallas P.D. is still investigating, of course, but our initial examination leads us to believe that your wife and father-in-law might have been victims of a criminal act."


"Dallas? No, no, they weren't in Dallas."


"Yes sir, apparently they were, at least according to my information. Not much doubt, I'm afraid. Identification was made according to the belongings... purse, wallets and such... and their faces matched DMV records. We hope to be receiving some photographs tomorrow so you can confirm these findings."


Philip couldn't speak, couldn't even think. None of it made any sense and he just shook his head, convinced it had to be a misunderstanding. What was she doing in Dallas? When did she leave? Why hadn't she told him? He couldn't seem to work it out. "Should I go?" he asked. "I mean now?"


"Sir, that's up to you... but there'll have to be an autopsy, so I'm not sure there's any point you traveling at this time. If you can just wait till tomorrow, I'll try to bring over the photographs. That might be the best way to proceed, if that's all right with you."


Philip had almost stopped listening. He'd lived some harrowing moments in his brief career but he'd always found a way to survive. He had a sound mind, one of the best at the agency, or so his evaluations always proclaimed – cool under pressure with a rare ability to adapt and improvise, as he'd proven in missions to both Berlin and Cuba – but he was finding it hard to cope with this kind of double blow. First the president murdered and now… this? Carrie? He couldn't seem to grasp it. Just this afternoon, he'd been dozing on the sand with only the whisper of the breakers to keep him company but now, within just a few hours, it seemed as if every aspect of his existence was in doubt.  


He lay awake for much of the night, not wanting to do anything or call anybody because deep inside him, he still believed it was all in error, that she was simply delayed for some reason. She couldn't have possibly been in Dallas, he told himself. It was just a case of stolen identity, nothing more, and she'd walk through the door at any minute with a tale to tell. Yet she didn't appear and by four in the morning, he'd developed a headache so acute that he swallowed a fistful of aspirins which completely knocked him out.


* * *


The sun was already high when he shook himself awake. It was another beautiful winter's day in Miami, not a cloud to be seen, with the usual Saturday noise of birds and kids and lawn mowers filtering in, as if nothing at all had changed.


Despite the national tragedy, life was continuing but not within these walls. In here was a confused hermit, a living ghost. As he dragged himself around, he still expected to see her at any moment, emerging from the bathroom with wet hair wrapped in a towel, or just sighing as she sometimes did in what had once been intended as the baby's room.

At various times throughout the morning, the telephone rang, with friends, acquaintances, members of the Rafael family, all anxious to share their thoughts and offer sympathies. He figured the police must have called them, too. Then, at one point, Carrie's sister, Concha, showed up, but she was far too engulfed in her own grief to be of any comfort and all she could do was sit herself in the kitchen with the tears streaming down her face as he looked on, his expression blank.


After she left, Philip found himself wishing his mother was still alive so he'd have someone to be here with him. He never got the chance to know his father, a Canadian airman who died in the war, so it was his mother who raised him alone, the gentle refugee from Stalin's purges who spoke to him only in her native Russian. He needed her now more than ever, needed the unconditional love which only mothers can provide – but she, too, was gone, buried somewhere in East Berlin, trapped over there just as he once was himself, on the other side of the Cold War. He'd never visited her grave, didn't even know its location, and that was yet another regret to add to the list.


Eventually, Sergeant Nieman showed up in the early afternoon with a brown envelope. Once again, he removed his hat before stepping inside but just like the previous evening, they remained standing in the hallway.


"Sir, I have with me some photographs of the deceased. I know this must be troubling but if you wouldn't mind...?"


Philip looked at him, then down at the envelope and tried to prepare himself but it didn't work. When the first glossy image revealed Carrie's serene face, battered and bruised, he could hardly catch his breath.


"Sir, is this your wife?"


Philip just turned away. He couldn't answer, couldn't bear to look at it. Then Nieman pulled out a second photo.


"And is this your father-in-law?"


Philip glanced briefly, then nodded, but it was all too much for him and he just sank to the floor.


Nieman, however, wasn't finished and he continued to stand there, shifting his stance as if something were bothering him. "Sir, about what happened..." he said awkwardly. "You may recall I mentioned the Dallas P.D. was investigating. Well, I'm sorry to say I may have misled you. I've now been informed that the coroner's office has judged the occurrence to have been of an accidental nature and... and I just thought I should let you know. At any rate, we're very sorry to have caused you any undue concern. There will be no need for an autopsy and the remains will be released to you at your own convenience. All you have to do is have your designated representative call the Dallas county morgue."


Philip just stared at him blankly, so the officer turned and found his own way out into the harsh sunlight before closing the door silently after him.


* * *


There were things to do, arrangements to make, but Philip still hadn't come to terms with it all. Back in the kitchen, he made himself yet more coffee, possibly his eighth or ninth cup of the day, but it didn't do him much good and soon afterwards, he lay himself down on the sofa and passed into an exhausted sleep, only to be woken a few minutes later by the phone.


This time it was Ernesto, Carrie's cousin and eldest of three brothers who together ran a liquor store over in South Beach. "Hey man, how you doing with everything?"


"Doing my best. How about you?"


"Yeah... If there's anything, you know, we can do…"


"Thanks."


"Listen, man, did the police talk to you?"


"The guy was just here."


"Did he change his story?"


"How do you mean?"


"Well, first, they think it's murder, next they're saying no, was just an accident. I mean what the hell, man? What's going on?"


"Wish I knew."


"I tried asking some questions but I got shut down."


"I didn't even know they'd gone to Dallas."


"Me either. What're you gonna do?"


"Me?"


"You're CIA, man."


"Ernesto... not on the goddam phone."


"Yeah, yeah, sorry. But they got me kinda riled. I just thought you could, you know, with all your contacts and stuff..."


"I could what?"


"I dunno."


"Okay, so when you think of something, you let me know."


"Listen, man, I'm sorry if... I just thought maybe we could find out more, you know?"


"Just take care of the family, Ernesto, that's all you have to do."


"What about you?"


"Don't worry about me."


"How about the funeral? You want us to organize it?"


"Nah, I'll get on to it."


"You sure?"


"Sure I'm sure. Look, Ernesto... I really don't know what happened, okay? I heard the same thing you did."


"Yeah, I know. It's just... I dunno, it's just weird. All right, talk to you later, man."


Philip put the receiver down and lay his head back. All he wanted was to put everything on hold and drift back into his cocoon of oblivion. The last thing he needed was a bunch of hotheads like Ernesto and his brothers making trouble.


* * *


On Sunday, November 24th, the sequel to the national tragedy took place in the basement of Dallas police headquarters. This time it wasn't recorded on an amateur home movie, it was shown live on network TV.


It was just after 11.20 a.m. when Captain Will Fritz and Detective James Leavelle were escorting the handcuffed Lee Oswald through a thick crowd en route for the county jail, with many pushing and shoving to get a closer look at the accused. The scene was one of barely controlled chaos. Journalists were calling out questions, officials were cursing in response. Then, without warning, a small-time operator called Jack Ruby – once a Mafia-linked gun-runner to Cuba and known to police as owner of the local Carousel nightclub – somehow managed to slip through seventy lawmen with a snub-nosed .38 Colt Cobra in his hand and before anyone could react, shot the prisoner in the abdomen at almost point blank range.


Like the rest of the country, Philip Marsden watched the incident as it happened from his home in Coral Way, hardly able to believe it was real. It looked more like a scene from The Untouchables


He'd been up since nine making calls to various funeral homes, trying to find someone who would even pick up the phone on a weekend. Eventually, after a frustrating hour of searching, then another to arrange all the harrowing details, he'd sat himself down in front of the set with a late breakfast of toast and peanut butter, plus yet another mug of the addictive coffee. The reason he'd switched on was because he simply couldn't take the desolate silence of the house any longer but instead of the expected talking heads, he was presented with this new episode of violence, yet another affront to the country's self-perception.


* * *


The following day, the nation tried to repair its shattered ideals by paying grand tribute to its fallen young president with a hastily arranged but nevertheless magnificent state funeral under glorious DC skies.


From the White House, the flag-covered casket was transported by a horse-drawn gun carriage, followed by the evocative symbol of a riderless mount. Along the route, a crowd of some eight hundred thousand lined the capital's boulevards, many openly weeping as the long cortège passed en route to St. Matthew's Catholic Church for eulogies and a requiem mass, then across the Potomac for the burial ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.


Pacing along beside the black-veiled Jacqueline and her children, Caroline, 6, and John-John, 3, were brothers Bobby and Teddy and their mother, Rose, this immediate family followed by myriad other members of that large Massachusetts clan. As they walked together in silence, all were very conscious that this was now the second son to die, that it had been Joseph Patrick Junior, a navy lieutenant known to all as Joe, who'd originally carried the burden of expectation before he was killed in action.


Behind the family came representatives from every branch of government led by the newly installed President Johnson, while from abroad were dignitaries from many nations, including French President de Gaulle, British Prime Minister Douglas-Home, German Chancellor Erhard, Irish Prime Minister de Valera and Canadian Prime Minister Pearson. Also present, as a mark of respect from JFK's Moscow nemesis, Nikita Khrushchev, was Soviet First Deputy Prime Minister Mikoyan. At the gravesite, the deceased president was honored by a twenty-one gun salute, followed by a triple musket volley and the sounding of Taps from a haunting solitary bugle.


Meanwhile, at the same time as the Kennedy funeral, an equally moving but far more intimate farewell was being held thirteen hundred miles away in Dallas for the slain patrolman, J. D. Tippit, with a funeral service at the Beckley Hills Baptist Church and a hero's burial at Laurel Land Memorial Park. A decorated ex-paratrooper with eleven years experience in the police department, he'd already been cited for bravery in disarming a fugitive but on this occasion he'd stood no chance at all, gunned down without apparent reason as he exited his squad car, taking three quick .38 caliber rounds to the body and another to the head. Just 39 years old, he left a wife, Marie Frances, and their three school-age children.


Finally and ironically, on that same Monday of November 25th, there was a small and somewhat begrudging ceremony for the young man accused of killing them both, Lee Harvey Oswald, at Rose Hill Cemetery in Fort Worth. In mourning were his estranged Russian wife Marina, their daughters June and Marinka, his half-brother Robert and his mother Marguerite. Missing for obvious reasons was his married mistress, the young biologist Judyth Vary Baker, whom Oswald met in New Orleans. As for the rest – mostly FBI officers, reporters and several dozen gawkers – they were only in attendance for some morbid sense of closure, because by this time most of the world was prepared to believe, despite the lack of any trial verdict, that this enigmatic young man with the murky history had committed both murderous acts in a fit of lone opportunism. 


* * *


For Philip Marsden, the public funerals of Monday merely set the tone for his own private affair the following Wednesday. He'd had his wife and father-in-law flown back from Dallas at great personal expense and they were now lying in open caskets at the Van Orsdel chapel in Coral Gables.


It was a pleasant enough place, modest but with a long-established reputation. Concha's husband, Manolo, seemed a little put out that it wasn't specifically Cuban, or even Catholic for that matter, but Philip wasn't concerned with such ritualistic details, not with Carrie lying there in an open casket adjacent to her father's. She looked serene, almost saintly, yet he somehow felt it was out of character. She'd always been the most vibrant and optimistic of people and her greatest charm was her enthusiasm for life. Her sheer vivacity had pushed him to step outside his naturally introverted nature and he believed that he'd become a better man because of it.


As he stood there gazing at her peaceful face, he sensed rather than saw the various people who came over to pay their respects. All had a hard time holding back their emotions and Jorge's elder sister, a frail lady in her seventies, had to put her knuckles in her mouth to prevent herself from wailing out loud. After a few minutes, Philip's eyes were also blurred and he had to turn away from the casket – only to find Ernesto lying in wait for him.


"So what you think, man?" he whispered to Philip.


"Think?"


"About this whole thing. You think it was an accident, or what?" It was neither the time nor the place but Ernesto wouldn't be dissuaded. "You know," he said, "I went back to see them, the police. I ask to speak to the top man, the captain, but they gimme some flunky and you know what he tells me? Go home. That's what he says to me, nothing else, just go home, like I'm a nothing, like I shouldn't even be asking. Well, me, I say it's because they got something to hide. It's a conspiracy, man, I can smell it."


Philip wasn't sure how much of this he could take. He liked Ernesto, liked his two brothers. They were fun for an evening, good company for a barbecue and a beer, but when they got something into their heads, they were like alley dogs, defending their point-of-view to the death. Fortunately, he didn't have to respond to any more of this paranoia because it was time for the brief service. With the encouragement of the staff, they all found seats and quietened down, surprised that Philip had arranged for it to be in Spanish. It was a mark of respect for the family which even Manolo found worthy and he gave Philip a nod of approval.


The priest was almost finished when there was a disturbance at the back of the room. When Philip turned, he saw Ernesto standing in the doorway, talking to some people outside as if he were trying to prevent them from entering. Before long, Goyo and Pancho had joined him, ever ready to protect the Rafael honor, and even Manolo was on his feet. The priest tried to continue but by this time, everyone was straining to look, so his voice just trailed off.


Since Philip had organized the whole ceremony, it was technically under his authority, so it was with a sigh that he, too, went to the back to see what was going on. "Hey, Ernesto, what gives?"


"Nothing, man. I just don't think this scum has any right to be in here, that's all."


Philip stepped past him through the open doors to find a jowly man, middle-aged with thinning hair dressed in a dark suit. He wasn't alone. Hovering just behind was a taller, bulkier man with a thick neck and giant hands, the type who might be capable of some serious damage if so ordered.


"Can I help you?" Philip asked the first man, trying to smooth out the situation with a calm voice.


"I'm looking for a Mr. Philip Marsden."


"Okay, you found him."


"I apologize for the interruption. I was hoping to come in and pay my respects."


That was when Ernesto felt the need to interject: "You ain't going nowhere."


Philip waited a moment before resuming. "If we might just know who you are? This is a private service, you understand."


"My name is Frank Ragano. I'm a former colleague of Don Jorge."


Ernesto, however, still couldn't restrain himself. "You ain't no colleague of my uncle," he said aggressively.


The man simply ignored him. He just stood his ground and kept speaking to Philip: "As I was saying, Don Jorge and I worked together, on a special case."


"Yeah," said Ernesto, interjecting again, this time even more aggressively, "and we all know what case that was. Helping your damn boss escape jail."


At this, the heavyset man stepped forward but Ernesto just glared at him, holding fast with his brothers right behind him. As quickly and as smoothly as he could, Philip stepped in between the factions before they could start any kind of rumpus. He didn't know these strangers but he couldn't allow this to develop.


"Ernesto..." he said, as if cautioning a child, "this is my wife's funeral." Then he turned to Ragano. "Excuse me but like I said, this is a private affair. You've paid your respects and I appreciate that... but now if you don't mind, I'll have to ask you to leave."


The man was too smart to take it any further, so he chose to comply. However, before leaving, he took out his wallet. "I would like to give you my card, if I may."


"Any particular reason why?"


"I'd like you to call me. There's someone who'd like to meet you."


"Yeah, we know," said Ernesto. "Your boss. He likes to poke his nose into everything."


"Just to be clear," said Ragano, "he's not my boss, he's my client. I'm his legal counsel."


"Am I supposed to know who he is?" asked Philip.


"That's no state secret. His name is Mr. Santo Trafficante Jr."


Like everyone else in Florida, Philip had heard the name before. This was the boss of bosses in this area of the country, the capo di tutti capi. Before Castro's revolution, he'd also owned a major piece of the action in Havana, not just casino interests but also drugs, smuggling cocaine from South America and heroin from Europe into the US by way of Cuba, using the island as a staging post. More recently he'd been obliged to make other arrangements, organize other routes, but that was a mere inconvenience. Nothing could actually stop him.


"And why would a man like that want to see me?" asked Philip.


"I really can't say... but please call me to arrange a meeting at your earliest convenience." He handed over the card. "Might I suggest tomorrow would be a good time."


With that, Ragano gave another hard glare at Ernesto before turning to leave with his muscle man in tow. For his part, Ernesto pretended to spit after him.


"You gonna do it?" he said to Philip once they'd gone.


"Do what?"


"Go see him."


"I don't know."


"Want us to go with you? You go see him, you need some help, man, some back-up. You don't mess with that hombre."


Philip looked at him. "Can we just get back to the service?"


"Sure, sure. You just let me know, we'll be right there."


Philip could just imagine Ernesto and his brothers going in to see Trafficante, packing weapons and an attitude. He knew they meant well. Nobody could accuse them of being short on courage but he felt the only help they'd provide would be to the mortician's profit margin, with three more funerals to arrange.


"Thanks," he replied, "I'll think about it."


In truth, all he wanted to do was get back to his seat and put the whole thing out of his mind. He had no clue what a man like Trafficante would need to see him about. All he knew was that he didn't want anything to do with it.




BUY NOW


Amazon / Kindle US

Amazon / Kindle Canada

Amazon / Kindle UK


Barnes & Noble / Nook


Indigo         Kobo


iTunes US

iTunes Canada


< HOME PAGE Leon_Berger_Home_Page.html
                                                                                    
 

READ 2 FREE CHAPTERS...