An Old Torch
Chapter 2 – Part 1 – Shiva’s Messenger
An Old Torch and a Young Flame
From his vantage point inside the small grove of paper birch trees, John Fitzgerald watched his quarry enter the tiny sunlit glade. This hunter is not the Dallas assassin but his appearance is quite similar to the way Jeff looked on that day many years ago.
Having found this game trail and seen that the spoors along the way were recurrent, he has waited patiently for almost five hours waiting for it to return. The bull elk was maybe too young to be legal to take but the meat would be tender and tasty. What was the point of adhering to strict regulation, when John didn’t possess a license anyway? Besides, his location was so remote that the odds of a game officer within even 200 kilometers were long to the point of non-existence. This wasn’t sport but survival in the hinterland. The meat was to restock the larder after the long winter.
John took several slow breaths and a scent of leaves decaying after the retreated snow filled his nostrils. He attuned his senses to all of the forces of nature that surrounded him, including the buck that was his brother. Leveling the rifle at his head, the hunter tucked his cheek behind the back sight. His practiced blue eyes calculated the range and read the whispers of wind in the dandelion bespeckled grass.
He knew how to kill in ways that would cause no suffering. The deaths he provided were never lingering. His finger firmly squeezed the trigger and with scalpel-edged clarity, polished on many such kills, the rifleman took the one shot. ‘It’s one for a rifle and two for a gun’. Past the ball of the foresight and the wisp of cordite smoke, John saw the animal drop without a stagger. Once again, the young man felt the euphoria of performing at the peak of excellence.
The hunter emerged from his concealment and ran to the still twitching young elk. In a windswept tangle behind, his hair was the color of a baked loaf streaked with sun-bleached butter. He was six foot three and naked except for a home-stitched leather pouch with knife scabbard around his narrow waist. His tanned skin glowing in the bright morning, the young human looked natural to the forest except for a Weatherby bolt-action in his hand.
Before gutting and dressing the carcass, the young huntsman opened the rifle’s breech and extracted the spent brass. Digging out a divot of forest duff beside a dandelion, he carefully buried the spent round. Another round from his pouch refilled the magazine. ‘Never be caught with an empty weapon’. His dad had sermonized many rules and John could recite them by rote.
It was late spring and John, in the early cusp of manhood, was probably 19. Whenever he asked that particular question, his father told him. ‘You have never been born. The incident of your birth has never been recorded. In the ledgers of the bureaucracy, you don’t exist—and that’s to your benefit’. John’s father refused to tell him about his family history. He didn’t know his ethnicity or even his true family name. ‘I’ll tell you what my name was when it’s time. Now I have none, just as you don’t either. Names are only chains. Under the guise of recording a birth, the lords assign a number and a collar to the newborn serf’.
With seemingly unlimited funds, John’s father had spent his life continuously home-educating his son. Learning textbook subjects and the specialized skills that were his father’s specialty, John spent part of each year in the wilderness where he was born. When not at the remote cabin living on wholesome natural foods supplemented with extra nutrition, they lived months at a stretch in other countries, studying languages and cultures. The pupil got to the point where he and his father could converse in six different tongues, switching back and forth between.
With his canoe loaded with meat, the young man heaved it into the brisk current and headed for home. As he rounded the last bend after a long upstream paddle, his arms found renewed vigor. Their other boat was pulled up onto the bank and his father’s mysterious six-weeks errand was finished. John whooped and the older man emerged from the log cabin to watch the canoe’s prow touch the mud. Overjoyed to see him again, the hunter couldn’t fail to notice how markedly gaunt the old man looked after his absence.
Following supper that night, John’s father selected a favored cognac brand and poured two drinks. Seated opposite in identical plush chairs, the two seemed almost as one man looking at himself across a low coffee table that spanned a half-century. After handing a glass to his son, the father swirled the amber drink in his snifter.
“One part of my trip was consulting a doctor.” The father took a sip and sighed. He had taken appropriate precautions against his being identified. “Even if it were my manner, I know of no way to soften this blow. I underwent numerous tests and the results are as conclusive as I felt they would be. I have cancer. It is malignant, it is virulent and it is terminal. The tumor is inoperable even if I would submit to a procedure, which you know I wouldn’t. Under the most optimistic prognosis, I’ll be dead within a year at the outside.”
“Surely they can—.” The young man’s words were faltering. The permanence offered by his father’s guidance and love was the central supporting column of John’s existence.
“I accept my death’s onset.” The father interrupted and held a hand up for silence. “It’s better than others that could’ve befallen as I still have sufficient time carry out my plans.” The man paused for a shallow cough. “You need to know why I’ve raised you as I have.”
“You’ve taught me to be like you.” For the devoted son, that had always been more than enough.
“With however our chat turns out today,” the father felt a rush of pride, “I’ve given you skills that should serve you well.”
John shoved the ill news to his mind’s back burner. His breath checked in eager anticipation akin to the feeling of Christmas Eve. He felt some new information of his father’s life was wrapped under this tree.
“A turning point in American history occurred on November 22, 1963.” The father leaned forward on his chair, hands clasped in front. “President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated. I was in Dallas when it happened.”
“Hey, am I named after Kennedy?” John joined the dots of his familiar but unofficial name and the air of importance his father had just placed on the event. “I never thought of that before.”
“As a matter of fact, that’s exactly who you’re named after.” His father continued with a twinkle of amusement in his eyes that his normally quick-witted son had never made that connection. “Many people still don’t believe the government’s version of what happened in Texas. They suspect that Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t act alone. The other assassin is rumored to have fired the shot that counted, from the grassy knoll.”
“Was that your position,” the predominant subject matter of the young man’s training fit this conversation like a knife in a sheath, “or were you in the curbside drain?”
“I’ve taught you too well and can’t lead you around the pasture anymore.” The older man smiled at his son’s quick deduction of a right answer. As he spoke, the father dug an empty brass casing from his shirt pocket and casually flipped it to his son. “I’ve kept that memento from the headshot that killed JFK.”
John had handled innumerable similar spent ammunition but the gravity of what his father had just said made this one feel almost too heavy to lift. His fingers tumbled it over as if mentally weighing it against the described history.
“If Lee Harvey Oswald had been in the street gutter location, he might have struck only his target.” The older man kept speaking, as his son was absorbed in studying the spent cartridge. “Jacqueline was lucky she wasn’t hit as Governor Connally was.”
“I have many questions I could ask you right now.” John’s eyes were still busy on the brass but his mind had queries stacked up higher than the split cordwood he had piled in the shed out back. “My first would be if Connally was involved your conspiracy.”
“My conspiracy.” The man mused as if chewing those words. “Whether I conspired is a tough call. My preferred description is that my mission was betrayed by the conspiracy. Oswald and I were set up to do the job and then to take the fall. I dodged that bullet, but Lee didn’t. I’ve continued to evade the ricochets ever since.”
“Who sent Jack Ruby?” John pulled one from the top tier.
“I’ll tell more about what I know later. The critical questions just now are why was Kennedy killed, who ordered it, and, who profited by it.” Sitting back in the chair, he folded his thin hands into his lap. “First of all, you have to know who I was and to a lesser degree of Oswald. Technically, I was part of the KGB with the rank of Colonel. More specifically, my services were at the exclusive disposal of a very highly placed individual in the Soviet government.”
John watched his father swirl his cognac in the snifter.
“In October 1962, Russia placed nuclear warheads into Cuba, and Kennedy took that as an excuse to flex his military muscles.” The man savored the aroma before wetting his lips with a sip.
“The Cuban Missile Crisis.” John volunteered. “For days, the world hung under the imminent threat of radioactive annihilation.”
“The Russian government was finally able to defuse the situation by proposing a sane conclusion.” The man took over. “My superior feared the firebrand president’s posturing would build to a nuclear exchange over another issue. Next time a Soviet leadership might not be able to avert it.”
“The Americans brought the resolution.” John jumped in again, spurred by the deviation from history texts. “JFK had his brother Bobby initiate the back channel discussions to avert escalation.”
“Did they really?” His father responded with a wry cock of his eyebrow. “That wasn’t the way it was portrayed in my country. I did have access to top echelon information in the USSR.”
John made a quiet decision to refrain from interruptions. The words from his father’s lips were more reliable than mere books.
“There are at least two ends of a negotiation avenue and two sides of a strife. Each historic account has been seasoned to flavor one opinion. If Kennedy was the one that desired peace, then why did he break international law to blockade the sovereign nation of Cuba? He also let the Bay of Pigs invasion proceed. I’ve come to regret pulling the trigger in Dallas but I’ve never doubted the validity of my motivation at the time.”
“May I ask just one?” John couldn’t resist and on receiving a nod he queried. “Were you assigned to Nikita Khrushchev?”
“Yes but as often there is much I won’t tell you on that subject.” The father wished it didn’t have to be so but it was. “Nikita wished the American president dead. I possessed the skills to accomplish it for him—and for myself. I worried though, that if a KGB agent was caught, tensions between the two superpowers couldn’t help but escalate—perhaps even to war. I agreed on the condition that they destroy all records of my existence and sever my connections to the Soviet Union. Khrushchev agreed, the Kremlin didn’t want possible repercussions, either. I left the USSR in the spring of 1963 and I ceased to exist.”
“You’ve always told me you had no name,” John noted, “and I’ve often wondered how that could be.”
“Despite my not being able to disclose everything, I pride myself in never having lied to you. My name is to me, as yours is to you. It’s just something my parents called me.”
“How did Oswald enter in?”
“You defended Bobby Kennedy’s back channel a moment ago but few know exactly who that really was.” The father smiled but without mirth. “There was a back channel and I knew it was highly linked in with the American government, as it had participated in the international stand-off. That flow’s western end was planning a cure for their JFK flue with a similar remedy and the disgruntled marine was their physician’s prescription. The opposed ends of that back channel decided to double up on the dosage.”
“Lee Harvey Oswald doesn’t really seem like he had the talent for the commission.” The opinion was based on his knowledge and his father’s earlier description of the shots.
“Lee wasn’t my equal but whether he could’ve done it alone is moot. He was an idealist undertaking a cause—just as I was. He was certainly maligned more than his due. I’ve often wondered if his portrayal with a smattering of incompetence wasn’t in posthumous reprisal for his death’s ultimate failure to finish the intended task.” The father’s face took a set of grim determination. “The results the back channel wanted were never fully realized because I wasn’t in front of Ruby’s gun along with Oswald.” The man paused and his somberness softened slightly. “The Kennedy assassination has remained with an unfinished air, like a prayer without the amen.”
To young John, the depiction of the partner as not being equal seemed a very generous understatement. The meticulously trained son didn’t feel up to his father’s talent and couldn’t even imagine achieving it—without substantive practice of the real variety.
“Retrospective lenses give a crisp focus on should’ve. Here’s a toast to might’ve but didn’t.” The man lifted his snifter in salute and took a drink. “With Oswald’s inclusion, so came the unwanted input from the Americans. My naivety was no longer damp behind my ears but humility wasn’t applied liberally on sensitive skin either. I pushed aside my reservations but I did install some safeguards. My demand for leadership in the operation was met and Lee’s handler now dealt directly with me. The Americans provided the information I wanted but I only used Russian contacts for my logistics. I assumed this would be separate enough for safety.”
“What went wrong?” John wondered. Soviets and Americans didn’t share much information back then. It should’ve been fine.
“Our CIA contact was a personable man and a rapport grew between us.” The father nodded to acknowledge his son’s question but the answer would soon emerge of it’s own. “He supplied schedules of the president’s moves and there were indicators of full approval assigned to each possible location. I had a number to choose from and it didn’t have to be in Dallas either. At Dealey, the one block vehicle jog was that signal.”
“Who was he?” John tried another and hoped the pending pile for answers didn’t come to rival his ever-growing tower of queries.
“It doesn’t matter.” The father then relented slightly to ease his son’s curiosity. “I terminated that friendship long ago and no amount of no amount of antioxidant health supplements will change that fact.”
“On November 22, the Soviets had stomach butterflies.” The Dallas gunman suddenly had lung moths and retelling had to await the end of a coughing jag. “An event of extraordinary proportions was set to occur and the Russians were in a panic over any possible connections. I quelled the concerns by agreeing to several minor seeming details. The weapons were to be collected and forwarded to Moscow by diplomatic bag for utter assurance of destruction. The other was for Oswald and I to rendezvous.”
“Was there a reason given for that one?”
“No but there were numerous possible ones. The Soviets were our source of logistics and documents.” He took a sip of his liquor as he recalled the lead-up events. “In truth, I had a greater concern over the handing off the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, as it was potential evidence. Again with the crystal clarity of the past reexamined, in the last days, the assassination had unstoppable momentum.”
John could imagine how foreshadowing might’ve been palpable to the point of surrealism.
“On the morning of November 22, I had one more meet with my now late, unlamented American friend. Something he said slipped past my cognizance during the conversation but my subconscious mind heard it and reminded me in time. He said, ‘I’m off to Pic-a-Dealey circus’. He wasn’t privy to which location I had selected. Even Oswald wasn’t certain until later that day.
“How could you possibly miss a blatantly bizarre quip like that?” John chuckled. That was so unlike his father’s keen observation.
“Of course it looks that way standing alone on a bald hill.” The father chortled as well. “He had a quirky manner of saying goodbye. He always gave his next location as somewhere highly unlikely as, ‘I’m late for my meeting at the Taj Mahal’ or ‘Once more up the Nile.’ A mispronunciation of Piccadilly Circus was only an odd phrasing. When I later confronted him, he didn’t even recall it himself. It was a tiny slip of his tongue and the resulting fall proved mortal.”
John nodded knowingly. His reverence was still intact.
“Shiva the destroyer is one of three main Hindu deities. John Kennedy had an annihilation button positioned to close to his eager hand.” The assassin beheld his son’s eyes. “At the appointed time, Operation Shiva broke off the finger to launch a thousand nukes.”
“I believe it was 12:30 Post Meridian in the Central Standard Time zone.” John glanced at their wall clock to note the time he even heard this, as it being significant of remembering.
“The passage of time was measured in tire rotations bringing my assignment into position.” The Dallas assassin smiled. Time is seemingly more crucial to the young. At his current age, he could be comfortable wearing a watch with hands sweeping twelve months.
“As ordered, I dropped off the rifle but acting on a premonition likely spurred by the Pic-a-Dealy quip, I didn’t go directly to the rendezvous. Instead, I crept up to it for a reconnaissance and that prudence paid a dividend. I found agents, including my friend, were waiting with the Dallas Police. The Americans couldn’t know where we would be without complicity from the KGB.”
“So Oswald shot the Dallas policeman and then escaped to the Texas Theater, where he was later captured.” The boy commented quickly but then realized the other point raised was far more critical. “The overriding plan was for you and Lee Harvey to be captured.”
“The plotline wasn’t to my pleasure so I didn’t remain seated to watch the final act. Oswald’s fate was beyond my assistance.” The man paused in silent apology for his abandoning a comrade. “The duplicity initially seemed unfathomable. A Russian KGB Colonel combined with defector to the Soviets conjoined the USSR with the murder of the American President. Catching both of us or even just me completely nullified my reason for the assassination. The killing was to prevent World War Three but this exposure would evoke an escalation of hostilities even up to a possible nuclear exchange.”
“It held no logic for either government.” John thought out loud on the befuddling twist. “The treachery was senseless.”
“That’s right. It made no sense to them but it made dollars and cents to another group that I hadn’t known was involved until then.” The father looked appraisingly at his son like professor about to give his pupils a pop quiz. “Have I given you enough clues to now solve the riddle of who or what the back channel really was?”
“The military industrial complex in the United States stood to make trillions of pennies from an intensification of hostilities.” The exam query really wasn’t that difficult.
“The power elite had reared one of its ugly hydra heads.” The instructor confirmed the pass mark but wasn’t pleased by the test.
“I understand.” John reached to rest his hand on his father’s arm at the realization of how badly he had been deceived.
“I grasped it also.” The older man faced the thought with grim determination. “Instead of double, I was an unwitting triple agent. I was working for both sides, which were in fact controlled by the real third one. The exemplary service I performed was so appreciated, it was to be recompensed with infamy and death.” He looked at his son and spoke very seriously. “Son, I vowed my life and even yours to ensure that my error was corrected.”
“I’ll do anything for you.” To an outsider it might seem odd that a young man could take his father’s confession of a crime heinous to most, as calmly as he did. The young student had long since known that his training regimen was far out-of-the-norm. John reconciled this with his father’s high sense of morality and his code. ‘When you choose to live outside of the laws then it is necessary for you to have your own rules of what is right and wrong. Legal in the eyes of the government is not necessarily upright and illegal is not always wrongfulness’. The son knew his father had done things contrary to the law but he could never picture his dad doing anything unjust.
“I won’t hold you to that until I’ve explained exactly what I want you to do.” The man recalled his spoken vow in the Houston motel room. “I was rash to commit you to my selfish pledge. You have the responsibility for your own life and the right to make your own decisions. I’ll finish my full elucidation and then ask—but I won’t think ill if you choose not to accept.”
John nodded but remained silent with his lips poised eagerly.
“I disappeared.” His wry smile hinted at ingenious methods. “I used my skills to find ways of operating and funding myself. As time progressed, I followed the subsequent events. Dallas left a power vacuum and certain people had pre-positioned themselves to be the optimum beneficiaries. They must’ve had prior knowledge. My act proved to the rotten underbelly of power that they could do anything. I watched as they flouted their newfound impunity and that wracked me. I had done the U.S. and in fact the world a grave harm, all the while believing I was doing good.”
“Did you put a pesticide flavoring on some of those ripe new plums?” John asked but already really knew the answer.
“Some spraying was so lavishly applied that crops were wiped out.” He chuckled and blessed the lighthearted analogy that broke his melancholy. “Always though, I was hampered by one impairing burden. My escape put the one big crimp in their success. Without me to prove the USSR connection, Lee wasn’t enough. He was icing but he wasn’t a sufficient ingredient to bake a cake. There was no absolute proof, so the reason has remained nebulous. The industrialists got L.B. Johnson and the conflict in Vietnam but they didn’t get the big kewpie doll.”
“If you had been discovered any time between when Kennedy died and when the Berlin Wall fell,” the young man could easily picture a dark menacing cloud over the man’s head. This also helped explain the need for the shrouded mystery of his past, “the Cold War might not have remained chilly.”
“Even today, delivered up in handcuffs or more likely in a body bag, my identification would have detrimental effects. A previously misplaced file might suddenly be found along with a rifle matching Oswald’s. The Soviet government destroyed my records but did the Russian back channel retain a copy? All they need is my corpse to link me absolutely to the grassy knoll. The whole incident could be put to rest without anyone ever knowing the truth. I couldn’t risk it. I’d already done enough harm.”
“Your revealing would invalidate enough history texts, to fill a certain schoolbook depository building.” Despite the gravity, the son couldn’t resist a grin. “I still can’t picture you as simply watching.”
“I did what I could and they know that I still exist.” The father’s tone, spoke tomes. “I attempted one concerted recompense. It met with failure but I’ve never rued that near catastrophe, because it blessed me with you. You’ve been my greatest joy but I realized my Houston vow was prophetic beyond my intent when I spoke it. You existed outside of both the structures and strictures of society. I could infuse you with the tools to hazard anything without the peril that I’ve carried.”
“What would correct your error?” John harkened back to the point implied earlier in the conversation.
“A solution has to fit the problem.” The father quoted a phrase already ensconced in the litany book. “The death of a president was a trouble so immense, that only the slaying of another can fix it”
“You’re asking me to assassinate the president?” John asked incredulously. “The one that’s in office now?”
“It really doesn’t matter which. It could be him or another ten years from now if that’s how long it takes. They are all corrupt. The same corporate elite owns them all. The people and families who were pre-positioned to fill the power void left by JFK are still there, so the next batch of leaders will still be as depraved.”
“So how will killing another one correct your mistake, if the one following will still be as bad?” John asked.
“It’s a stern reminder that governance is by the consent of the people. It won’t solve all of the ills but then problems existed before Kennedy also. However, the President of the United States is still a focal point between the ordinary citizens and the powers that really run the country. Kill another president for the right reasons and in such a manner that it hurts the evil on the other side. It would, at the very least, even my score and balance off my harm. I can tell you this: There is nothing in life that will set you as free as killing the man who holds the most powerful office on earth.” He drained the remains in his snifter and set it down.
“Yes I’ll—” John solemnly began.
“Wait,” the man held up a hand for silence, “I still haven’t asked you yet.” He took a long slow breath then began on a new train of discussion. “I’m aware of your boundless devotion but I’ve only yet presented one side. I didn’t raise you up to be a puppet, even my own. I’ll give you a compelling reason to refuse, so the choice will be truly yours.”
John looked quizzically but held his voice. He moistened his lips on the cognac and prepared to answer the inevitable ‘yes’.
“If you decide not to undertake my task, I’ll spend the rest of my days giving you the one thing you’ve wanted the most. I’ll tell you every minute detail about my history and how you came to be. Each query I’ve refused before, I will answer fully.”
“I want both!” The impact of his father’s offer had resounded as a misaimed spiking hammer on a steel rail.
“Of course you do, you’re my son.” The man chuckled slightly, and then his expression went earnest. KGB Colonel Antenenko sat back into his chair and viewed his heir. The goal he had worked towards most of his life and to which he had dedicated everything, came down to this one question. “John, now I’ll frame my request. Will you mend my harm by assassinating a president?”
John was intent on instant acquiescence to his father’s wishes only a moment ago. Now a tomato, the produce more likely than an apple on Eden’s forbidden tree, hung ripe for his starving grasp. He stared at his father’s face. You would love me just as much with either selection. John knew intrinsically that he would.
The son gazed into his father’s eyes. In those blue depths, his life was reflected from his earliest memory. John had his father’s eyes. He knew better than anyone what was behind them.
“Yes.” John finished his drink. “This is what you trained me for and I’ll do it.” He lowered his voice by a few decibels. “But I would still love to have both.”
The son watched the relief and joy sweep over his father’s face and was glad he had agreed. Then with a chill, he realized he had just freely accepted a thorny rose-handled torch that had wicked his father’s life to feed the flame.
“If you can accomplish the one, you’ll obtain the other as well. I spent the years of your early childhood writing an autobiography of my turbulent life. It’s too much to absorb and yet retain your focus. I’ve made provisions towards that eventuality and you’ll receive it when it’s due.” The father saw a wide-eyed look of concentration on his son’s handsome young face. “As I worked towards this day I expected to offer help and advice but my cancer will prevent that. We’ll have to go forward on the assumption that you’ll be working alone. On this last trip out I prepared for that contingency.”
“I can do it.” John pressed a hand to his forehead in an attempt at cementing his resolve. “At least I’ll try my best.”
“If you do employ your toughest means then you will definitely succeed.” The father felt his earlier pride now redoubled. “I know this one thing exquisitely well—your best is extremely good.”
Where John’s grasp on his decision had faintly wavered, the spoken confidence bolstered it to chiseled granite. One cavernous breath entrenched his new reality into the reaches of his being.
“I’ve more things to teach you but right now it’s nap time for the decrepit.” The old man’s difficulty rising from his chair proved just how far his illness had already affected him. “Tomorrow we’ll begin anew but only with the specifics, as you already have the basics.”