Cuba, 1962: The Cold War reaches its zenith with the installation of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba threatening the United States. While JFK and his brother face deep divisions in trying to defuse the apocalyptic crisis, young CIA agent Philip Marsden is sent on a mission to the island where he is betrayed by a joint CIA-Mafia operation.
About the Author
Leon Berger is an award-winning writer and photographer, with seven published books to his credit, including two previous docudrama thrillers. In his early years, it was the Kennedy era that sparked an avid interest in geopolitical affairs. Each morning over breakfast, Berger read everything he could about the tanks in Berlin, the missiles in Cuba, and that fateful day in Dallas. Eventually, this fascination with the world at large paved the way to an extensive international career spanning over fifty countries on five continents. At various times, he was based in London, New York, Singapore, and Beijing, before finally returning to Montreal, where he currently resides with his Québécois wife and French-speaking parrot. Today, half a century after JFK, it’s fair to say that this trilogy represents a return to Berger’s intellectual roots. Over the years, he claims to have read just about every book, seen every video, and heard every theory—yet he guarantees that these works are his own impartial take on this most iconic period in history.
Read an Excerpt
The Kennedy Momentum
Book 2 of a Trilogy: Cuba A Political Thriller
By Leon Berger
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2013 Leon Berger
All rights reserved.
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 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? 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.CHAPTER 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.
Excerpted from The Kennedy Momentum by Leon Berger. Copyright © 2013 Leon Berger. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Fascinating insight into a dangerous period. The scenes at the White House and the interplay between the Kennedy brothers seemed absolutely real.