The Castro Conspiracy (Excerpt)

THE CASTRO CONSPIRACY

Cover of The Castro Conspiracy

By Bruce T. Clark

FORT LAUDERDALE
JUNE 11, 1963

The insistent ring of her front doorbell awakened Dolores del Negro. In that first moment, she thought something might be wrong with Tranquilena. Her sister was due to go into labor at any moment. But Dolores quickly discarded that idea. Tranquilena and her husband had gone through the rigors of childbirth before—they wouldn’t need help—and even if they did they would telephone, not ring the bell. Her bedroom was nearly pitch black. The only speck of illumination was the soft glow from a tiny nightlight in the hallway next to the bathroom.

Reluctantly, she switched on a bedside lamp, and glared at her alarm clock. “I don’t believe this,” she blurted. “Why would some fool be leaning on my doorbell at five in the morning?”

She picked up the expensive Japanese dressing gown Rod had given her from the littered floor where she had carelessly dropped it the night before, slipped it on, and padded toward the front door. Her bare feet, made hard by growing up in a family too poor to buy shoes for eleven children, made a sharply different sound when she left the soft surface of her bedroom’s thick loop rug and slapped against the hallway’s solid parquet floor.

She released the lock, but kept the heavy security chain in place. Through the narrow opening she saw two strange men in dark business suits.

“What do you want at this hour?” she demanded.

One of her visitors held up a folding wallet. In the dim light it looked like it contained a badge and an identification card.

“We’re from the State Department, Miss del Negro.”

“I can’t see your ID. Hold it closer to me.”

The agent moved the ID toward the opening and shined the beam from a flashlight on it.

“Okay, so you’re from the State Department. What are you doing in my hallway at 5 A.M.?”

“We have information for you! Rest assured that if it weren’t extremely important, we wouldn’t be here at this hour. May we come in?”

Dolores’ Cuban control agent had warned her that if and when the US government discovered she was a foreign agent, the Feds would show up and roust her on general principles. He had also mentioned that one of the federal agents’ favorite tricks was to arrive between 4 and 5 A.M., while the “subject alien agent” was still asleep. Their arrival times were carefully calculated to catch the “subjects” off guard. In almost every case, uneasy feelings of intimidation and insecurity resulted. Of course, this allowed the spooks to quickly gain the upper hand. Dolores was not surprised by her visitors’ early morning arrival.

She removed the safety chain, and then held the door open while the agents entered.

“All right, you’re in. Now tell me what all of this is about.”

“To begin with, I’m Charles Black. My companion is Randall Brown. I’m afraid we have some very bad news for you.” “Has something happened to Rod? Captain Reynolds?”

“No. Captain Reynolds knows nothing about our visit, or as yet, about our ultimate purpose. I wish there were a better way to tell you this,” Black said sadly, “but unfortunately there is not. Your brothers, Manolo and Miguel, are both dead.”

“What? When? How?”

“They were executed by a Cuban firing squad on Monday morning.”

“A firing squad? You’re crazy! Who are you people? What do you really want with me.”

The older of the two men, Randall Brown, spoke for the first time.

“I can assure you that we are not crazy. We really are federal agents; and Manolo and Miguel really have been executed. But that’s only half of the story. Apparently, several years ago, your father and two of your uncles made some very influential enemies while they were working for Batista.”

“My father and my uncles drove Batista around and ran errands for him. All three of them were little more than peons. They had no reason or opportunity to make enemies—influential or otherwise.”

“Part of what you say is true. They drove, and they ran errands, but every now and then they performed special jobs as well.”

“What kind of jobs?”

“They were enforcers. They assaulted people who refused to do Batista’s bidding. The three of them were part of a group known as the ‘Bone Breakers.’ They earned that name because they kept breaking bones until the people they were working on agreed to comply. Obviously some of their former victims, or perhaps the friends or relatives of people who did not survive their ordeal, have gained influence with members of Castro’s secret police. We’re convinced that the murder of your brothers was only the first step in a much larger campaign to get even.”

Charles Black picked up the narrative.

“They apparently have accused your parents and your older siblings of belonging to an underground organization that is conspiring to overthrow Castro’s government. In today’s Cuba, proof isn’t required. Mere suspicion, or accusations from highly placed insiders, have replaced justice,” Black concluded.

“I don’t believe any of this. I don’t believe these things you’re saying about my father and my uncles. I don’t even believe that my brothers are dead!”

Brown reluctantly removed two 8X10 photographs from his briefcase, and slid them across the coffee table toward Dolores.

“I don’t know of any other way to convince you. I’m sorry, but you’re forcing me to show you these.”

A man’s bloody upper torso and head were visible in each of the photos. Dolores examined them with mounting horror. There could be no doubt that the young men were dead or that they had been shot. Worst of all, there was no doubt that they were photographs of Manolo and Miguel.

Dolores shuddered and slumped in her chair. Her heart felt like a lump of ice being squeezed in a vise-like grip. She felt terribly hot bile raising at the back of her throat and fought to regain the breath that the photographs had driven out of her body as surely as a sudden and vicious blow to the solar plexus.

Charles Black rose and went to the liquor cabinet that stood against the wall. He poured a large measure of brandy into a goblet and handed it to Dolores.

Silence pervaded the room for the next two or three minutes as Dolores sipped the fiery liquid and fought to maintain her composure. There was no way she would let these two agents see how much their news had affected her, or betray the terrible sorrow that now consumed her. Grief was a very private thing; it was never shared with strangers. She would weep alone and recover alone. The world would never be allowed to intrude. She did not speak until the brandy was gone and she was sure that she had regained control.

“If these influential people are so intent on seeking revenge against my father and my uncles, why didn’t they simply have them executed? If what you say is true they have enough clout to do whatever they like. Why would they kill the kids?”

“In order to inflict maximum pain and suffering. Nothing hurts a parent or close relative more than a child’s death, particularly when he feels responsible for that death.”

“Won’t murdering my brothers satisfy their blood lust? Is it possible they’ll settle for the revenge they’ve already extracted?”

“No! That was only the first step. We’re convinced that they plan to systematically eliminate your whole family.”

Dolores rose, walked slowly to the liquor cabinet, and poured a healthy knock of apricot brandy into a heavy cut-glass snifter.

“I presume you two aren’t allowed to drink while you’re on duty. If I’m wrong, speak up.”

Both agents declined her offer, so she returned to her chair.

“Okay, it’s six in the morning. My brothers are dead and my family is in grave danger. I’m sitting here with a pair of G-men who are about to give me a chance to rescue them in return for some type of quid pro quo. Am I reading you correctly, so far?”

“Like an open book!” Brown admitted, impressed by her fluent English as well as her quick perception.

“Okay. Let me hear your pitch.”

“We’ve made several attempts to eliminate Castro; but all of them have failed for some reason.”

“I’ve heard about them. They were really stupid.”

“The United States government cannot afford to look stupid, Miss del Negro.”

“With all due respect, Mr. Brown, your government’s stupidity factor is not my problem.”

“With equal respect, Miss del Negro, it’s about to become your problem.”

“Run that one past me again.”

“We need to eliminate Castro, and you need to get your family out of danger. If you’ll agree to help us with our problem, we’ll help you with yours.”

“I’m all ears.”

“We’re willing to send a team of agents into Cuba, to extract your family from Havana, and bring them back here to Miami. Quickly and quietly, with very little danger or exposure. The entire rescue operation would be over in a few hours.”

“Go on.”

“We know you’ve been working as a Cuban agent for the past year and a half. We have identified your conduit. We also know that you were one of Castro’s very first recruits. Fidel has a special regard for his early converts, particularly his guerilla fighters.”

Now it was time for Dolores to be impressed.

“Each attempt on Castro’s life has been made by a stranger,” Brown continued, “so they all failed. This has to be done by a person he knows, a confederate he trusts, someone who can get close to him. In short, Miss Del Negro, someone like you. He trusts you, because until this morning, Fidel Castro was your icon. He has no reason not to trust you.”

“Now you want me to assassinate him! How?”

The agents could not suppress smiles.

“We have hundreds of ways of doing that,” Brown assured her. “We’ve developed a veritable arsenal of plain, everyday objects that appear to be harmless, yet can kill the user in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, or even over a span of several months, if that is our objective. To us, method is not the problem; means of delivery is the problem. We need someone who can get close to Castro without arousing undue suspicion. We’re convinced that you are that person! We’ll train you to eliminate him, quickly and quietly, with a minimum of peril to yourself or anyone else.”

“Just like that!”

“No, Miss del Negro! Nothing ever happens just like that. If you agree, our strategists will develop an operational plan. Perfect timing and the systematic completion of every single detail are always vital to the success of any covert operation.”

“Could you amplify that a bit for me?”

“Sure! For example, it seems logical for the Castro assassination and your family’s extraction to be done concurrently. If we fail to coordinate each aspect of those simultaneous operations perfectly, the whole thing might blow up, and a lot of people could wind up getting greased.”

“What about my family and me when it’s all over? When we come back here? We might still be targets! We might ’wind up getting greased!’”

“We are authorized to offer you and your family international asylum in addition to a $2,000,000 fee. You will receive completely foolproof new identities and relocation to any place in the world.”

“You really want Fidel dead, don’t you?”

“Yes, Miss del Negro! We really want him dead!” Then Brown added softly, gesturing at the photos, “Don’t you?”

“It’s hard to believe that I could suddenly feel such terrible loathing for a man I’ve idolized for so long. When misery and murder strike close to home, you get a real wakeup call. You’re right, he deserves to die—for my brothers and other innocent victims!”

“So, you’ll do it!”

“I didn’t say that! I only said Fidel deserves to die. I’m going to talk all of this over with Rod before I make a decision. He’ll be here for breakfast in a little while. You’ll have my answer by lunch time.”

“That’ll be fine,” Brown told her, picking up the photographs and returning them to his briefcase.

“Here’s a card with our secure telephone number. Please call us, or have Captain Reynolds call, if you have questions. Otherwise, we’ll expect to hear from you around noon.”

The agents rose and started toward the door, but Dolores stopped them.

“I guess you think I’m hardboiled. You tell me my kid brothers have been murdered, and I don’t bat an eye. You’re right, I am pretty tough, but I’ve lived a tough life. I feel terrible about the kids, and I’ll shed my share of tears; but right now I have no time to waste on grief. My brothers are already dead. They can’t be brought back. Now I must do whatever it takes to save the rest of my family.”

She opened the door and watched them walk down the long, dimly lit hallway.

Dolores thought about the government’s proposal for the next couple of hours, as she showered, tidied up her tiny apartment, and cooked Rodney’s favorite breakfast—Eggs Benedict and mimosas, made with freshly squeezed oranges and California champagne.

Brown had sized up her admiration for Fidel quite well. He had been an icon since the first day she and Tranquilena reported to his mountain encampment.

She ran the tragic event over and over in her mind. Was there any way she could exonerate Fidel? Any way she could convince herself that he had played no part in the murders of her brothers? If he had known about the kids, would he have intervened? Perhaps…but, perhaps not! What about the thousand people he had executed—many of them without a trial? If Castro had not participated directly, he had certainly created an atmosphere that was conducive to murder.

Brown had made her face some hard facts. In the two and a half years since Castro had seized power, Cuba had become a terrorist state. Her brothers were only two of the victims. It was too late to help them; but now the rest of her family was in mortal danger of being eliminated by the same band of cutthroats that had killed the kids. She would die trying, before she would permit another family member to perish.

She realized that her choices were clear. She could go to Fidel—swear to him that every single member of the del Negro family was a rabid supporter—then plead for his help and hope he believed her. Or she could accept the State Department’s alternative and become the family deliverer. But to succeed, she would have to assassinate her former idol.

As she thought and worked she sipped champagne. Just before Rodney was due, she drained the dregs from the bottle and brought a new one to the table from her wine cooler.

One very large knock of Jack Daniels, followed by two snifters of brandy, topped off by a magnum of mellow champagne would have thrown most people for a loop; but not Dolores. Alcohol had the opposite effect. Each drink seemed to crystallize her thinking, and harden her resolve.

By the time she heard Rodney knock on the door, all of her soul searching was over, and her decision all but made. She would weigh his input because of his experience and good common sense; and most of all because, unlike most other men she had known, Rodney really cared about her. But unless he came up with a better plan, she knew she had to go ahead.

As she walked toward the door, Dolores smiled, realizing that for the first time in many years her own comfort, welfare, and safety had not been key elements in her decision. Maybe, she thought, if I’m not careful, I might turn into a decent person.

Randall Brown and Charles Black began their telephone vigil at 11 A.M. They had no intention of missing the expected call from Dolores del Negro. She might decide to call them before noon.

For the next two hours they paced and fretted, but the phone failed to ring. At one o’clock they ordered hot Italian sausage subs, with double side orders of spaghetti from a local pizzaria. When the mountain of spicy food arrived, they devoured it like a pair of starving timber wolves. Between bites they glared at the telephone and sipped tepid iced tea. Then they sat in stony silence for two additional hours while their irritation, indignation, and indigestion all grew at alarming rates.

The hot line rang at 3:17. Brown answered it.

“Miss del Negro?”

“No. This is Rodney Reynolds.”

Brown’s anxiety took a giant leap upward.

“Thanks for calling, Captain Reynolds. I invited Miss del Negro to have you call us if either of you had questions. I assume quite a few have come up.”

“It’s much too early for questions; however, I do have several specific demands. Unless you’re willing to accede to those demands, we won’t even consider your offer. I assume we’re talking on a secure line. I also assume that you two don’t have the power to negotiate terms and conditions.”

He waited for a denial, heard none, and continued.

“I’m going to outline items we need to talk about, and name the location where all our meetings will be held. I’m going to dictate specific terms. Write them down and pass them up the chain of command until they finally reach a level where the reviewing agent is empowered to make a deal. I want to speak to someone who does not need to consult his superior every other minute to find out what his next step should be. Have that person call me. I’ll either be at home, at my office, or at Dolores’. Now here are the basic ground rules we’ll consider playing under.

“First. Your people will act only as consultants. This will be a CIA operation. The man in charge will be Tracy Barnes. All meetings will be held in his office at Quarters Eye.

“Second. The incursion team that takes Dolores in, and brings her and her family out, will be composed of Green Berets. No State Department personnel will be permitted to go along.

“Third. I’ll recruit, train, and command that team.

“Fourth. We won’t go to Cuba until I’m confident that the team and Dolores have at least a 75% chance of getting in, accomplishing both missions, and getting out without casualties.

“Fifth. Tracy Barnes will run the entire show. He’s the number one man. If he sees fit to call off the raid at any time, even at the last minute, it’s all over!

“Sixth. We will not deviate from this ultimatum.

“Those are the terms. There are two choices open to your people. They accept them or forget the whole thing. When you’ve lined up someone with enough clout to make that decision, have him call me, and I’ll arrange a meeting with Tracy Barnes at the CIA.

“Okay! That’s it! Any questions?”

“No, Captain. You’ve made everything very clear. You’ll get a call as soon as possible.”

“Before I hang up, I want to make sure you two understand something. I think this whole idea stinks. Unfortunately, Dolores is caught in a vice between you and Castro. Since her family is in peril, she feels compelled do everything possible to bring them out to safety. So we’ll go in, and we’ll do the job. But before this goes any further, I want to make one thing very clear. If you’ve lied to Dolores about any of this or if you or any of your agency’s people are ever less than completely honest with us, you two are dead men.”

After Rodney Reynolds hung up, Brown and Black wondered what had impelled his vehement outburst and the crystal clear warning he had delivered. If they had been more familiar with Rodney’s background, they would have known.

He had loved two women in his life. His wife, Amanda, had been the first. She and her unborn child had been killed by a foolish drunken driver who had walked away from the accident without a scratch. Local authorities had done nothing to punish him, and little to penalize him. He received a warning and a year’s probation. Like the cautious young man that he was, Rodney never did anything to punish him either. Since then, he had often regretted his lack of resolve.

Now, Dolores had come into his life. If someone’s stupidity cost him her love, he would not display any of his former timidity and restraint. He was going to hold Black and Brown personally responsible for their conduct and competence. His promise of death was designed to make them aware of the personal risks they were running. He hoped they would not misconstrue his words as a mere threat. He hadn’t meant them as a threat. He had been predicting the future, raising a red flag within the agency, and giving them a reason to back out if they had any doubts about their ability to succeed. If this telephone call turned out to be his final contact with Black and Brown, he would certainly understand why.

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The Castro Conspiracy opens in 1960. Fidel Castro has been in power for a year, and so far, has seized $700,000,000 of American businessmen’s assets. Every Mafia casino in the island has been closed, and over a billion dollars of mob money has been confiscated. Sam Giancana, Carlo Gambino, Joseph Bonanno, and every other Mafia bigwig are extremely unhappy with Fidel. They were looking for a way to get even. So were the many Americans who have been forced to escape from Cuba for their own safety.

Seven hundred Cuban citizens who dared to object to Castor’s murderous regime, rather than run, have been executed. There are no rights in Cuba other than those granted by Fidel Castro and his henchmen. Murder and mayhem are commonplace. The burning question. What can be done to stop Castro?

Then, on March 17th, President Eisenhower gives his permission for the CIA’s Allen Dulles and Richard Bissell to develop a small, covert, anti-Castro operation. A thousand Cuban refugees would be recruited and trained as guerrilla fighters and saboteurs. When they’re ready, they’ll be infiltrated back into Cuba, where they’ll begin a series of raids designed to upset, and eventually overthrow, the Castro regime.

In the pages of The Castro Conspiracy you’ll meet the U.S. Marine and Special Forces personnel who trained those men, and visit them in their Central American mountain and jungle training camps. You’ll watch as the 1960 Presidential Election elevates a reluctant commander-in-chief to the White House, and witness the entire, carefully orchestrated, covert operation as it falls apart.

You’ll attend dozens of secret meetings conducted by the CIA, FBI, and the CFR. At those meetings you’ll finally discover why Operation Trinidad, a small, easily controlled and plausible incursion—a plan that was almost certain to succeed—was turned into the overly ambitious and impossible-to-control fiasco that the Bay of Pigs Invasion eventually became.

You’ll meet the Kennedy family and the Castros, along with the deadly Mafia hitmen recruited to kill Castro. Washington insiders and Hollywood stars will be on display. Along the way you’ll watch men who willingly risk their lives to achieve success, and women who willingly use their wiles to keep them from gaining that success.

You’ll get to know Jack Kennedy, a man who desperately wants the Cuban Invasion to succeed, and John F. Kennedy, a president who desperately can’t afford to allow it to. And you’ll be present when he cancels American air support-the decision that spelled doom for the invasion and every Cuba Freedom Fighter.

You’ll spend three frightening days in the middle of the Bay of Pigs Invasion, and eighteen frustrating months in its aftermath—fighting and dying on the beaches; running and hiding in the swamps; sweating and suffering, and being humiliated in the prisons. And you’ll wonder, always wonder, why the “Americanos” deserted you.

You’ll see the Cuban Missile Crisis through the eyes of the men who lived it. Part of your time will be spent in America’s Oval Office—another part in Russia’s Kremlin—and the rest of your days at the UN. And you’ll discover how close America came to the brink of World War III during that historic October fortnight—and learn, perhaps for the first time, why the Cuban Missile Crisis was John F. Kennedy’s finest hour.

In the first half of 1963, you’ll sit in on meetings with war profiteers and Old Guard G-men—with double-crossed Mafia chieftains, and desperate Castro supporters—the four groups of men that cannot permit President Kennedy to live one day longer than necessary!

You’ll go backstage with Phyllis McGuire and other “show biz folks,” and meet the two dupes who had starring roles in the Kennedy Assassination—Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald.

You’ll be present at the final and deadly negotiations with one of the US government’s top professional assassins (the former director of a covert government agency in Chicago) when he agrees to ambush the American President. You’ll go on a walking tour of Dealey Plaza with “the shooting team,” led by Carlos the Jackal, on Sunday morning, five days before “the hit,” to be certain that there will be no slip-ups in Texas.

And finally, you’ll revisit America on that fatal Friday in November, and you’ll relive the unbelievable shock and sorrow of a grieving nation.