Ever since the botched invasion at the Bay of Pigs, Fidel Castro has run amok. He has executed thousands of his enemies, driven his countrymen to emigrate, and done everything possible to run Cuba into the ground—all in a deliberate attempt to humiliate the White House. At least, that’s how the situation looks from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where hatred of Castro has grown into an obsession. Under orders from John and Bobby Kennedy, the CIA will do anything necessary to kill Castro—no matter how ridiculous.
Even-tempered CIA agent Blackford Oakes is dismayed at the agency’s wild schemes, which include everything from poisoned wet suits to mafia hit men. But the evil of Castro’s regime is not a joke, and Oakes won’t be laughing when he tries to knock the dictator off his throne.
Mongoose, R.I.P. is the 8th book in the Blackford Oakes Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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A Blackford Oakes Mystery
By William F. Buckley Jr.
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1987 William F. Buckley, Jr.
All rights reserved.
Rufus was always formally hospitable, but even the few who had experienced his extra-professional hospitality — Blackford Oakes, for all his youth, was conspicuous in that small and irregular company — could never quite be sure which Rufus it was they were now going to be exposed to. Today — a wintry January Sunday early in 1963 — being simply another occasion in which two confederates had been summoned by Rufus to his country cottage in Maryland, they had no presentiment of the purpose of their visit.
There, at unpretentious "Lockton," many meetings had taken place over the years since Rufus came back from London after VE-Day. But if he had had to guess, Blackford would suppose that Rufus — in his sixties now and resisting the retirement he had sought so resolutely since his wife's sudden death — was wrestling with a special problem. Not unusual: Rufus was generally wrestling with problems, not excluding the dogged inclinations of his industriously cultivated roses, dormant now, in the chill, in the little greenhouse. But Blackford caught an intimation of gravity in Rufus's face when, after lunch, he distributed the material, telling Anthony Trust and Blackford Oakes to read it ("Read it thoroughly," were his actual words), that he would rejoin them later in the afternoon.
Slouched about in the sitting room in their sweaters and corduroy pants, they weren't in an entirely reflective frame of mind. The evening before, in Washington, they had disported in postcollegiate exuberance after a long and eventful professional separation, attending a college basketball game and celebrating their bachelorhood, Sally Partridge being so many miles away in Mexico and Anthony's lady in London. Besides, the documents they were given to read were in many respects lurid, melodramatic — preposterous even, so their exchanges were not always in the diapasonal mode when, every ten or fifteen minutes, one of the young CIA agents would interrupt his reading to make a comment or ask a question. Though the root matter at hand was unquestionably grim.
"Oh no, no!" Anthony Trust said at one point, laying down his sheaf of papers. "A big cheese in the Mafia, the President of the United States, and the identical girlfriend!"
Blackford Oakes, seated in the armchair opposite, looked up from his own reading.
"What are you talking about?"
Trust read on a moment before replying. He then laughed — a touch of harshness, but mellowing into humor. Rufus had said he would be gone for two hours. When Rufus said he would be gone for two hours that did not mean that he would be gone for two hours and five minutes, or one hour and fifty-five minutes. He would be back at 7:15, a half hour away — Blackford glanced down to look at his wristwatch. He had a good half hour's reading yet to do, but he was enjoying Anthony's amusement.
"Do you remember Ashpriss at Greyburn? Or had he left by the time you got there? Yeah, I guess he had — you came as a third-former, and he had graduated. Well, when I was thirteen, I was ... buggered ... by Ashpriss."
"You — what?" Blackford looked up, genuinely arrested, curious, inquisitive. "I never even knew anyone it happened to."
"Yeah, well, at Greyburn by the time you got there you were almost sixteen. Too old. It didn't happen all the time, in every dormitory, the way the novels make you believe, or for that matter C. S. Lewis and Orwell; but it did happen to me, the bastard."
Blackford found it hard to link Anthony's current amusement with such an episode — was it twenty-one? Yes — twenty-one years ago when they had both left Greyburn "College," in the damp Leicestershire countryside, to return to America after Pearl Harbor.
"What makes you bring it up?"
Anthony leaned forward, got up to stir the log fire, and sat down again, his face radiant in what, under entirely different circumstances, Blackford had once referred to as "your lewd, voluptuarian smile."
"Well," Anthony said, "years later — I mean, hell, it was only year before last, in London — I went to one of those huge dinner parties at Rambley's. You've been there, must have been: he collects beautiful and preferably titled people. And what do you know, at that long, narrow table, sitting directly opposite me was — Ashpriss. Only now he is Lord Ashpriss, and sitting on my left was — Lady Ashpriss. Ever met her?"
"Well, she is a beauty all right, but also the most fearful left-wing bore. If she had known who my employer really is, I doubt she'd have talked to me. I should have told her. That would have been worth sacrificing early retirement. But she went on and on about how we misunderstand Khrushchev, and what wonderful things Castro is doing for Cuba, and why don't we take a more aggressive stand on disarmament? By now we had reached the dessert course, so I finally let her have it."
"What did you say?"
"Oh, something on the order of how much we missed Joe McCarthy back home, and what a pity we hadn't followed Bertie Russell's advice and marched into Moscow in 1945 — that kind of thing. Well," Anthony said, "she looked at me as if I had poured my champagne down her bosom — an excellent vintage —"
"You talking about the champagne?"
"I was not talking about the champagne. Anyway, at this point Ashpriss, sitting opposite, was staring at both of us. She then said with below-zero frost, 'Mr. Trust, I don't believe you and I have anything in common!' It was too good to be true — I mean, my polemical life might have ended just then —"
"What did you say?" Blackford asked, impatient.
"I said to her, staring at Ashpriss, 'Oh yes we do, Lady Ashpriss.'"
Trust laughed. "I mean, you should have seen the expression on his face. La Pasionaria didn't know exactly what it was I had got off with, but she knew I was saying two things — one to her, harmless stuff, something quite different to milord ...
"And now, and now ..." Anthony Trust's lips suddenly strained. "And now a mobster called Sam Giancana can wink at his pals in Cosa Nostra and say that he has something in common with the President of the United States. They're plugging the same broad." Trust's lips formed distaste as he used the language of the streets.
Blackford made no comment. He resisted, whatever the circumstances, making light of JFK. He picked up his pile of papers. "Better get on with the reading. Rufus will be here soon."
A moment later Anthony interrupted again. "Ah," he said. "It's okay now, I see, according to file 203C. Apparently Hoover had a heart-to-heart last March with the Prez. Broke it up. But even so, it lasted" — he turned back two or three sheets in his folder — "over two years."
Again Blackford said nothing.
He got through the material shortly after seven, and fifteen minutes later Rufus, dressed in his country clothes, came back into the room.
Rufus had only two outfits, his country outfit and his city outfit. In the city he wore a three-piece suit: navy blue (light wool), and, ever since the death of his Muriel two years earlier, a black tie. In the country he wore brown corduroy pants, a V-necked sleeveless sweater, and rubber-soled heavy garden shoes. Trust, anticipating Rufus's arrival, had removed himself from the rocking chair, sitting down in a straight-backed wooden chair directly opposite the fireplace. His folder was on the coffee table adjacent.
Rufus turned to Blackford. "The material you've now read brings you up to date on what we know — I had better correct that: brings you up to date on what I know about what has been going on involving the White House, the Agency, and Fidel Castro. What isn't in those files is what's scheduled to happen in the next week or two: a formal termination of the Agency's relationship with Rosselli and the Mafia people. But let's forget that for the moment and talk about the surrounding mess. Blackford, you're the youngest man in the room" — Rufus had never got much closer than this to informality, Blackford reflected — "Anthony is one year older, according to the records —"
"Rufus," said Blackford, rising, "you mean I should attend to the bar."
Blackford knew the simple (and spartan) routine. He had spent four weeks with Rufus only a few weeks back, after Blackford had returned, physically damaged, from Fidel Castro's prison. One whiskey before dinner.
Blackford had engaged in seven covert operations under Rufus's guidance and in four of these Anthony had also been involved. Since the death of his wife Rufus had become even more reclusive, but between the two men — Blackford had been twenty-six when, on his first assignment, in England, he met the legendary spymaster — a special loyalty had developed. The basic social protocols established by the senior partner were almost never violated. No profanity, no obscenity, no gossip, with the important exception that professionally fruitful gossip was always welcome, digested as carefully as data on the inventory of nuclear missiles in Kazakhstan; and, although they were colleagues in the service of the CIA, Rufus was indisputably in charge. Blackford had been discreetly in Rufus's company at critical sessions with the head of British Intelligence, and three times with the President of the United States. There was no figure on earth who dealt flippantly with Rufus, on whose judgment and skills General Eisenhower had historically relied, beginning on the day when, after consulting with Rufus, General Eisenhower gave orders to launch the invasion of Normandy on June 6, while cautiously protecting his resourceful counterintelligence mentor by vague references to auspicious weather ahead. It was different with Trust — Rufus liked him, though there wasn't the personal attachment. Rufus admired the tall, brainy, bookish, fast-living, devoted enemy of the Communist effort to control the world, the special, longtime friend of Blackford Oakes. Anthony Trust had recruited Blackford in his senior year at Yale.
"We need political perspective," Rufus lectured while Blackford, behind him at the bar, poured the three scotches and soda, no ice for Rufus. "The principal political datum that affects us — affects the Agency — is the preoccupation of the President and the Attorney General with Fidel Castro."
"Can't hardly blame them," Trust interjected.
"I am not evaluating the Administration's position" — there was a touch of the reprimand in Rufus's voice. "I am seeking perspective for the sake of understanding — I won't say mission, not now; not yet; maybe not ever ..." Rufus lapsed into one of his characteristic silences. They were generally brief, and always respected by all who knew him: one would as soon express surprise or impatience at an epileptic seizure. In a minute he resumed talking.
"Today, the newspapers published an interview with the Attorney General, you must have seen it. Robert Kennedy flatly denied that the White House had ever planned to provide air cover for the Bay of Pigs operation. That was a flat lie."
Rufus would never divulge the grounds he had for making such an assertion — except when he had to do so to retain analytical integrity. His job now was to press the offensive of the Kennedys against Castro. He could not do so by fabricating the history of their relationship. And Blackford and Trust, knowing him well, would have bet their lives, if necessary, on Rufus's word: The Attorney General had lied.
Rufus reached into his pocket and pulled out a clipping. He adjusted his glasses and read from it. "The Attorney General explained that despite the commitment of U.S. prestige in the Cuban invasion, the Administration could not get further involved. 'If'— I am quoting directly now, the Attorney General —'If it was just the Cuban problem alone ... we would have ended it right there. But the Berlin issue was in a critical stage at the time. And there were difficulties in Vietnam and Laos, among other places. We just could not commit our forces in Cuba. Even in retrospect, I think this was the wisest decision.'
"But of course," Rufus put down the clipping, "neither he nor the President at this point thinks it was a wise decision. And then last October, a year and a half later, we discovered — thanks largely to you, Blackford — that the Soviet Union had deployed forty-two nuclear missiles in Cuba, and if two more weeks had gone by without our acting, the United States would have been hostage to the Soviet Union via Fidel Castro. Neither the President nor the Attorney General has been trained to endure that kind of thing.
"And every day there are new provocations. You saw last week — Castro's speech to the conference of Latin American women? Urging revolution everywhere in Latin America? And then, only two days ago, Castro murdered a defector right on the grounds of the Brazilian Embassy in Havana, and a second defector was beaten and died two days later in the hospital. The list is endless. Two thousand public executions, the largest political prisoner population, per capita, in the world. Ten percent of his own countrymen gone, mostly to America, the land he hates." He paused. "I am advised — I know it — that the Attorney General and the President are" — he hesitated, looking for the word, the right word — "they are ferocious on the subject of Fidel Castro. They view him not only as having been a frighteningly audacious threat to the United States — he had in place the nuclear armory to destroy us — they see him as a young Hitler, a young Stalin — fanatical, cruel, sadistic, mean, unreliable; a threat to any prospect of civilization in this part of the world."
Blackford, this time, interrupted. "Sounds to me like exactly the right way to think about Fidel Castro."
Again a rebuke was anticipated. But Rufus, feeling the need to make his point more explicit than he had done a moment earlier when reproaching Trust, was now the schoolmaster. "The point, Blackford, isn't whether Fidel Castro has outraged heaven and earth. He has. The point we need to evaluate is whether this loss of perspective by the White House is a critical professional disqualification. My ruptured appendix, Blackford, may be the first object of my concern, but there are certain things I would not do to my ruptured appendix. For instance, I would not hire a doctor who probed my stomach and, addressing my appendix, said, 'I'm going to get you, you sonofabitch.'" Blackford was astonished. He could not recall Rufus ever using that expletive, not ever. But when Rufus wished to explain something, he became above all things the teacher. Evidently he felt he needed now exactly to explain the distinctions he had summoned his two young colleagues to ponder.
"This morning I was asked to superintend an operation. Operation Mongoose has been operating since November of 1961. Mongoose has changed its name but not its purpose, so I still think of it as Operation Mongoose, and will continue to refer to it as such. I have been asked to effect the assassination of Fidel Castro."
There was silence. Rufus had not touched his glass. Now he did. He raised it to his lips and, eyelids lowered, touched his lips to it. He let the glass hover in front of his nose before putting it down again.
After a moment Blackford said in a whisper, "Asked by whom? The DCI?"
"No. Nobody in the Agency. Asked by the Attorney General." He paused. "The DCI does not even know — is not to know — the details of what has been designated as 'Executive Action.'"
There was nothing for Blackford or Trust to say at this point. Only Rufus could speak. He stood, as they waited without looking up at him to hear what he would say. He did not keep them waiting long. As if directly answering their question: "I said I would think about it. That I would need to deliberate the ... assignment. That I would do so beginning today with two trusted associates, whose relative youth might give me a fresher perspective. And that" — Rufus turned and stared at the ebbing log fire — "I would need to devote time to consulting with someone else." Rufus used the word "someone" as though it were a proper name. Blackford knew that his old friend would consult his conscience, and pray for divine guidance.
Excerpted from Mongoose, R.I.P. by William F. Buckley Jr.. Copyright © 1987 William F. Buckley, Jr.. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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