From his 1st day in office, President Kennedy has been bedeviled by Cuba. The CIA forced the Bay of Pigs invasion down his throat, resulting in lost lives, international embarrassment, and a new low in America’s relationship with the Caribbean. More than anything, Kennedy wants Cuba contained. Brute force didn’t work; it’s time to try a subtler approach—and there is no spy more tactful than Blackford Oakes.
The CIA calls it Operation Alligator: a top secret back-channel negotiation to put Cuba and the United States on better footing. Oakes goes south to meet with Castro’s right-hand man, the notorious Che Guevara, in hopes of finding common ground between their countries. Instead, he discovers a sinister Communist plot that could destabilize the hemisphere, and lead the US president to his doom.
See You Later, Alligator is the 6th book in the Blackford Oakes Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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See You Later, Alligator
A Blackford Oakes Mystery
By William F. Buckley Jr.
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1985 William F. Buckley, Jr.
All rights reserved.
He'd call Rusk.
No, he wouldn't call Rusk. Yes, he'd better call Rusk. No, dammit, he wouldn't call Rusk.
Yes, he'd better call Rusk, even if the State Department couldn't do anything right. But he'd better call Dillon. After all, Douglas Dillon was the chief of the U.S. delegation. Hell, he's Secretary of the Treasury. It was an economic meeting, down there at Punta del Este, just now, with the economic heads of all the countries of Latin America.
Huh. Bet they could have had a quorum and voted the majority stock of the Swiss banking industry, those buggers, the way they salt it away, or anyhow, that's what the CIA reports, and Dad's always said it's true, and you certainly don't read about a lot of former economic ministers — "Ministros del Económica," not bad, Jack; it wasn't you who had trouble with Spanish at Harvard — of places like Argentina and Mexico going exactly broke after they leave office.
CIA? I wonder. Dick did stress stress stress the secrecy. Fat chance his meeting will be secret for very long. "Castro's No. 2 Man Meets/With Presidential Special Assistant. Che Guevara, Cuban Economic Czar, Spends Late Evening/With Richard Goodwin, JFK Speechwriter. They Meet Privately in Montevideo/Reportedly Got On 'Famously.'"
Let's see, did I miss anything? Yeah. "House Committee on Un-American Activities/Issues Subpoena of Goodwin/Aide Pleads Executive Immunity." Dick said the journalist in on the rendezvous promised he'd keep quiet, and — not bad — the news isn't out yet, and I figure the meeting ended — let me see — oh, it's ... 11 P.M. When was it 6 A.M. in Montevideo, when their meeting broke up? I suppose I could call the Library of Congress and ask. Probably would take them two days to come up with the answer. Call it sixteen hours ago. I think Buenos Aires and Washington are on the same time zone. So nobody has come out with it yet. But they will, they will.
He reached over his desk and depressed a button. "Bring me a Coca-Cola, please." Coca-Cola. Cocacolonization, nice. I wonder who first came up with that? Dick would probably know. He knows a lot. In fact he knows more than Arthur wishes he knew. He smiled. In acknowledgment of the Coca-Cola, the butler thought; actually, at what he was thinking about professional and academic rivalries, Schlesinger, Goodwin — et al.
"No disguising the totality of that man's absorption in his cause." Were those the words Dick Goodwin had used? Something like that. And true, of course. The executions going on in Cuba right now are executions of anyone who gets in the way not only of Castro, but of Che. Funny name, Che. He adopted it when he was backing the Commies in Guatemala, ten years ago, and now that he's Minister of Industry instead of Bank Minister — let me see, Ministro del Banco, sounds good — he can't sign all the bank notes just plain "Che" the way he did last year. Who says he has no affectations? Would they say I had affectations if I signed congressional bills "Jack "? Right. And they would be right in saying so. Anyway, I don't like that kind of informality. It took me two years before I figured out that Harry Truman was Harry Truman's real name. I thought he was being informal and was really Harold Truman. And no middle name. S stands for S. And who says it shouldn't? It isn't even easy anymore to remember that Bobby was baptized "Robert."
I just don't believe it that the Brazilian diplomat who invited Dick to that apartment for a "party" for his "friend" just "happened" to invite Che Guevara. Heap big coincidence, that one. And anyway, everybody knew that the whole Latin-American gang was trying to get Che and Dillon to exchange a few words, maybe chip away a little at the ice of the Bay of Pigs. God, was that nightmare only four months ago?
Still. They did meet. No journalists present, just the translators and the bodyguards, Dick said. Why any Cuban would think he needed a bodyguard to protect him from any American beats me after the Bay of Pigs. That was a nice wisecrack Guevara opened with: "I want to thank you for invading our country. It has made a great power out of us and eliminated all resistance to Castro." Well, we had it coming. I like Dick's answer too: "You're welcome. And you can repay the favor by invading Guantánamo." Nice. Smart, Dick, and tough, though maybe just a little too open-minded about certain subjects.
Still. That was a hell of an interesting offer Che Guevara made.
The President yanked a sheet of paper from the stationery drawer, pulled a ballpoint pen from his inside coat pocket, and scratched "1," which he followed by a dash, then "2," through the number "4."
"1. We lift the trade embargo on Cuba."
"2. Cuba agrees from the proceeds of trade with the U.S. to compensate us for the U.S. property confiscated by Castro."
"3. We promise not to make any attempt to invade Cuba or to replace Castro. And,"
"4. Castro promises to make no attempt to export his revolution outside the borders of Cuba."
He leaned back in his chair and reflected.
This one is for the CIA. I'll be rid of Dulles in the next couple of months — he damn well should have resigned after the Bay of Pigs, instead of waiting until a few weeks ago to announce his retirement. Bay of Pigs. Bad forecasting. CIA's fault, I say. Don't like the alternative! But then maybe I should have resigned. But why would I want to go and do that? Being President is a lot of fun. Yes, I'll see Dulles. This is a lead we've got to follow up. But not publicly.
"Get me Allen Dulles," he spoke into his telephone, pausing only then to look at his watch.
Oh well, being called at midnight goes with the job. My guess is they really like it. I don't. I'd rather be doing something else at midnight. On the other hand, I'd rather be doing that any time.
"Allen? Come on over, will you — want to talk to you about something."CHAPTER 2
It had gone well with Sally Partridge. More properly, Sally M. Partridge, Visiting Professor, Facultad de Filosofia y Artes, University of Mexico, known to most of the students as the Summer School. Not all the students were Americans, but most of them were. And serious students, mostly. There was the usual ration of young people there only because they got twitchy when asked, "How did you spend the summer?" and now they could say they had attended the summer school at the University of Mexico, never mind what they did there, or got out of it, or even whether they had learned any Spanish. Half the classes were given in Spanish, and Sally was making a vigorous effort to learn enough about the Spanish language to use it in the formal semesters during the fall and spring, though in her correspondence with the dean it had been specified that she was free to lecture in English, "inasmuch as most of our students who wish to learn about Jane Austen and other early nineteenth-century authors are presumed to be able to follow a lecture delivered in English."
Sally had begun in June, speaking only in English but hoped that by October she would be able to manage the switch. It both pleased her that Blackford had also been studying Spanish, because she could practice with him, and annoyed her, because his German was fluent and hers was not and she liked to think that in academic matters she outpaced him in every discipline, except of course engineering, which was his thing.
"Si, tu puedes venir a visitarme," she wrote now to him in Berlin, acknowledging his letter, written after a mutual, ninety-day freeze, asking reconciliation. "But enough of the lingo. I have the wing of a house off Insurgentes (that's the big north-south street in Mexico City), three quarters of the way from the center of town to the university. It is owned by a charming couple, both a little daffy — I mean, she is a writer, a mother, a den mother, a best friend, an aunt, uncle, grandmother, godmother. She isn't happy unless she is doing something for me. She knows everybody in Mexico, is utterly impoverished, couldn't care less, and runs a boardinghouse of sorts. You eat with the other guests. On the other hand if you don't want to, they will bring you your food to your own little dining room. A rambling place. Every now and then Mrs. Littlejohn (that's her name) calls a carpenter, who mostly drinks pulque (that is the Mexican drink-for-all-seasons, half gruel, half alcohol) but when he isn't doing that, he is building new rooms for Mrs. Littlejohn. He charges one dollar per day, and completes a room in about two weeks, then Mrs. Littlejohn goes to the Thieves' Market which thrives on Sunday. (Do you like that, Blacky, 'thieves thrive on Sunday'? Or shouldn't thieves thrive at all? Spies thrive, on the other hand. Or at least you used to thrive on spying.) Do you realize I have not seen you for six months? The longest period without seeing you since Yale. Notice, I didn't say 'the longest six months in my life.' That would make things entirely too easy for you, and you don't deserve things being easy for you. Or do you, my precious, beautiful, brainy, arrogant, reckless, bloody Cold Warrior? Yes, you can come here for your vacation, provided you do not go communist-hunting at night, though to tell you the absolute truth, Blackford (notice, I called you 'Blackford' just then, which means that I am being very serious), if you promise not to quote me, we could use a little communist depopulation over at the university. I mean, the place is crawling with them. It would be a lot easier for me if I were British, anything but an American. On the other hand, it's American students who keep the Summer School going.
"Where was I? Yes. Come to Mrs. Littlejohn's and stay in my little wing. I think ... yes. Mrs. Littlejohn is, about certain matters, very formal, so I think you will come as 'Blackford Partridge,' my brother in the foreign service, just completed a tour in Berlin, waiting for reassignment. Oh dear, Blacky, how I long to see you. Cable me and tell me the flight you will be on, and I will meet it in my 1959 bug — same one, the red convertible. Yes, I will. Your Spanish would never get through to the taxi driver, and Calle Calero is not easy to find. Though you could begin by telling the taxi driver to take you to the house of Diego Rivera, they all know where that is, and from there you can find Calle Calero, can't miss Calle Calero. Besides, come to think of it, with your training you could find Calle Calero anywhere, darling, couldn't you? Even if it were painted in invisible ink? Do bring me some invisible ink, dear. I've never handled any, and I am tempted sometimes to write on some student papers my true judgment of them, but this would need to be a deep dark s-e-c-r-e-t, shh!! Am I being silly? I feel silly, even though I am thirty-two years old, a Ph.D. from Yale, and a Visiting Professor of English Literature at the University of Mexico. And what are you? Do they give you invisible promotions? Are you a colonel or something? Or maybe even a general? Have you been secretly decorated by Adenauer? De Gaulle? The Queen? You will find me as bright and beautiful as ever. 'The lenient hand of time did much for her by insensible gradations in the course of every day.' Recognize? Of course not. Northanger Abbey, J. Austen, and if per impossibile, as you liked to say at Yale, you do, then you can write me back and tell me which word I altered. Good night, Blacky, until the 21st, 22nd, or 23rd. Cable me which day, what airline, what flight number."
Blackford had sat an hour in the Tiergarten, staring at the wall the East Germans had begun to build only six days before. For the first two days it had been merely barbed wire, with here and there concrete stanchions. But the work was progressing — it was pursued doggedly, twenty-four hours a day — and already it was shaping up as a proper wall, unfinished of course, but one could see that its architects envisioned nothing transitory. Blackford wondered briefly whether the Great Wall in China was sturdier than what he was looking at. Longer, yes. But how long would this wall be before the communists were done with it? The logic of a wall separating East from West Berlin presupposed complementary walls, did it not, around the western perimeter of Berlin, to prevent East Germans from seeking freedom from that direction? And another wall, right up the national frontier of East Germany. He read the letter again, a third time, and wondered, and was gladdened that such a spirit as Sally's had not been dampened by his eyewitness account of what had happened in Berlin during the past week. He walked first to the travel bureau at the Hotel Westfalenhof, then to the concierge from whom he took a cable blank. He wrote out: "PARTRIDGE CARE LITTLEJOHN CALERO 32 VILLA OBREGON MEXICO D.F. YOUR BROTHER WHO PINES TO SEE YOU WILL ARRIVE ON AUG 21 EAL 1520. WILL BRING WHAT YOU REQUEST PLUS INVISIBLE PIECE BERLIN WALL. MUCHOS BESOS PARA MI BONITA SALLY COMO AM I DOING?"CHAPTER 3
The Director came right out with it and said to the President that inasmuch as he was scheduled to retire within a month or two, perhaps it would be better to turn the new project over to his deputy, or perhaps even wait until his successor at the CIA was named. The President declined the opportunity to become sentimental about the impending personnel change, indeed coming as close as he ever did to snapping shut an exchange. "I want you to go with it," was all he said, rising from his rocking chair.
And so they had gathered at the little inn in Leesburg — old, picturesque (though the Director had never noticed this about it), and eminently usable, as six discrete cottages came with it, sprawled about on the six-acre lawn, handy for romantic, subversive, or patriotic assignations. Rufus came in at exactly six minutes past ten, and Cecilio Velasco exactly five minutes after that.
The two men knew of each other, but had not met. As usual when the CIA Director's mind was absorbed with business, his manners were perfunctory. "Er, Rufus, this is Velasco, Velasco, Rufus." Rufus stared at the diminutive Spaniard briefly, though unobtrusively. If he had had to do so, he could later in the day, or month, have sketched a faithful likeness of Cecilio Velasco, given a pad of paper, a soft pencil, and instructions or an inclination to do so. Rufus lived resolutely by his own rules, and one of these was that no acquaintance should slide by unphotographed by his mind's eye. "How do you manage to remember the faces of thirty people if you are introduced to thirty people?" Blackford Oakes had once asked him, to which Rufus gave the simple reply, "I am never introduced to thirty people."
Oakes had felt convivial that day, and a little combative, so he pressed on. "Were you never initiated into a club, or fraternity?"
Again Rufus had had an easy time of it. "No," he answered.
"Well," Blackford persevered, "have you never briefed a room with twenty or thirty people in it?"
"Yes," said Rufus.
"Ah-ha then, you old charlatan!" (Blackford was the only man, young or old, who could so address Rufus, and then of course only in private.)
"I have briefed thirty men at one time," Rufus continued, his voice unchanged. "But I did not lay eyes on them, nor they on me. I was in the next room, and I used a microphone."
Blackford gave up.
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