He kept on fighting for a life once known.
March 27, 2014
Excerpt 2 of The Kennedy Momentum, Book Two of The Kennedy Trilogy. In deep-shrouded secrecy and in the midst of The Cold War, the Soviet Union has begun bringing missiles to Fidel Castro and Cuba.
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.”
“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.
Please click the book cover image to read more about The Kennedy Momentum. Book One of The Kennedy Trilogy, The Kennedy Imperative, and Book Three, The Kennedy Revelation, are also available.