“This isn’t the LA I remember,” mused Special Agent Coburn Vaughn as he leaned over the balcony of his room at the Ambassador Hotel and gazed at the pool below. The vast orange groves and seemingly endless oceans of promise he had encountered when first visiting the city after the war seemed a distant memory, clouded by pollution, violence and moral ambiguity.
“Did you say something darling?” said a woman’s voice from within the bedroom.
“Nothing at all,” replied Vaughn as he kicked back the last of his gin and tonic and thrust the ice from his glass into the water below. The cubes made a satisfying “plop” into the pool as Vaughn returned to the room. Lying on the bed was a beautiful brunette whose name had already escaped him, but whose lips he’d not soon forget. She was sprawled across the bed, a single breast and thigh exposed by her thin satin robe. A small color television with the volume turned down glowed in front of her, displaying election results for that night’s California Presidential Primary Election.
Vaughn slid a gunmetal cigarette case from out of his breast pocket and retrieved two Benson and Hedges. With a flick of his lighter, the two cigarettes were lit. He began puffing one and handed the other to the girl.
“Thanks,” she purred while gingerly placing the cigarette between her lips and taking a sensual drag. She leaned back against the headboard and frowned thoughtfully. “Do you think he’ll win?” she asked as though Vaughn knew the answer.
“Bobby?” Vaughn responded. “Probably. His family isn’t too good at losing.”
“Until they die,” the girl said glibly, pointing her cigarette at Vaughn.
Vaughn ignored the comment. “It’s almost dinner, why don’t you get dressed and head downstairs? I need to make some phone calls.”
“I hope we get to see him tonight,” the girl said. “I can’t believe we’re in the same hotel. I’ve never seen a Senator before. One of my girlfriends had a date with his brother before he was President.”
Vaughn let out an “Uh huh” and began flipping through the address book he had left on the bedside table.
“You know, Rosemary Clooney is staying here tonight too,” she continued.
“Right,” he replied absentmindedly as he zeroed in on the entry he was looking for. Coburn Vaughn had spent considerable time in the company of both singers and Senators over the years. Their personality types were roughly congruent—driven types of individuals with a penchant for self-obsession. Singers on the whole were more effective in their chosen craft than Senators.
By the time Vaughn found the name he was looking for, the girl had slipped into her dinner dress and was putting on her earrings.
“If you’re not down in time should I order you the fish or the steak?”
“Steak,” said Vaughn without hesitation as he stubbed out his cigarette and folded the address book back against the binding.
“Okay darling.” The girl grabbed her handbag and kissed Vaughn softly on the head before walking towards the door. Vaughn looked up for a moment and noticed the bright polka dots printed on the fabric of her dress. Vaughn chuckled at the gaudy print as she slipped into the hallway of the hotel.
Vaughn picked up the phone from the bedside table and dialed from the address book. After a few moments, the switchboard connected him.
“Hello?” said a grave voice from the other side of the line.
“The fix is in,” began Vaughn, “Tonight is a go.”
The young man at the bar of the Ambassador Hotel was not what you would call a drinker. He didn’t find liquor morally repugnant, merely repugnant to his taste buds. But tonight, the cheers of his Jewish neighbors celebrating the one-year anniversary of the Six-Day War was enough to drive the young Palestinian to drink. The lemon and sugar of the four Tom Collins made the bitter pill easier to swallow, but he could still feel his blood boiling over. What did these rich Jews know about the suffering his people had seen?
Even worse was the fact that Bobby, his favorite Senator, was so supportive of Israeli occupation. Bobby had always been the champion of the little guy, the forgotten people. People like the young man. Why then was he siding with the rich, Jewish bankers and their indecent Sabra daughters?
Weighted down by his own belly of booze, the young man struggled to pull himself away from the bar. His vision was hazy, as though someone had smeared vaseline across his eyes. Once he finally pulled himself to his feet, he couldn’t trust the ground below him. It was rocking back and forth as if on a gimbal, tilting dramatically with every step. After a few stumbles, he moored himself onto a nearby counter which held a pot of hot coffee.
“Coffee,” the young man thought, “that’s exactly what I need right now.” He reached for the coffee and immediately realized he was too woozy to handle the weight or heat of the steaming pot.
“You look like you need a hand,” said a woman’s voice.
The young man looked up to see a beautiful girl with dark hair and fair complexion. She wore a bright polka dot dress that hung on her svelte body like a warm embrace. He immediately felt at home in her gaze, as though he was supposed to know her. But as beautiful as the woman was, it was the polka dots on her dressed that transfixed him. The rest of the world blurred around him, and the only thing in his sight was a sea of polka dots.
“You remember me don’t you?” he could hear her voice say.
“Yes,” he replied docilely, “but where?”
“Remember the stable? You worked there, didn’t you?”
“Do you remember the day you fell off the horse?”
“Yes, of course.”
The sea of polka dots washed away and he was back in the stable. Everything was there, the sights, the sounds, even the smell of the horses. He could feel the body of the horse between his legs as he trotted into the bright California sun. The grass smelled sweet and the wind was like a warm breath on his neck. Suddenly, violently, the horse reeled back and the young man felt himself thrown from the saddle. He floated for a moment in the air, and it seemed as though he might never return to the ground. When he finally fell, he hit the grass with such force that any delusions that this return to the stable was a mere revery shattered. He was there.
His eyes closed for a moment, and when they reopened she was there, standing above him in the field of sweet grass. She was wearing the polka dot dress, basked in the yellow glow of the sun. “Are you alright?” she said to him, and again his vision blurred into a sea of polka dots.
When he regained his focus, he was back in the Hotel bar, standing at the counter with a cup of coffee in his hand.
“I said, are you alright?” inquired one of the waitresses.
“Yes, I’m quite alright,” he responded groggily. He felt a bulge in his pocket and instinctively reached for it. He felt a cold, metal object and wrapped his fingers around it. He realized in horror that it was his Ivor Johnson Cadet 55 revolver in his hands. He looked around the room frantically for the girl in the polka dot dress. She was nowhere to be seen.
When Special Agent Coburn Vaughn arrived in the restaurant of the Ambassador Hotel, his steak and the girl in the polka dot dress were awaiting him. He unbuttoned his suit coat and eased himself into the chair.
“I was beginning to think you weren’t coming,” she said with a wry smile.
“I always come for a beautiful girl,” he replied, looking down at his plate. The steak was rare, as he liked it, and a shallow puddle of watery blood formed a halo around the edges of the meat.
“You still haven’t told me what brings you here. Business? Pleasure? Both?”
“I take no pleasure in my business,” Vaughn said humorlessly.
“And what is your business?” she inquired, affecting disinterest.
“I’m something of a courier.”
“Yes. I send messages.”
“And what kind of message are you sending tonight?”
“A strong one,” said Special Agent Coburn Vaughn as he cut deeply into his steak, watching the blood ooze onto his plate.
After dinner, Vaughn excused himself and the girl in the polka dot dress returned to her room. As expected, her handlers “George” and “David” were awaiting her arrival.
“Hello boys,” she began with a sizzle.
“Has the prop been delivered?” asked George.
“Yes,” she replied.
“And the script has been memorized?” said David.
“His clock is set like an alarm.”
“Excellent,” applauded George and he walked over to the bar and poured himself a stiff whiskey.
“Help yourself,” she remarked wryly.
“There is one complication,” David began with caution, “Vaughn.”
“Double Deuce?” responded the girl, “you needn’t worry yourself about him. I have Agent Vaughn well in hand.”
George dropped a few cubes of ice into his whiskey. “Never underestimate Coburn Vaughn.” He took a swig before continuing with his admonishment, “Those who do rarely live to tell the tale.”
“Vaughn has no idea who I am,” she countered.
“Don’t flatter yourself,” said David, “as wily as your charms may be, he’s encountered wilier and retained the upper hand. You have no idea what he’s thinking.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” she responded, “he told me at dinner that he is here to ‘send a message.’ We all know what kind of message Agent Double Deuce likes to send assassins like us, and if he wouldn’t have hinted at it if he knew who I was.”
“Unless he was trying to throw you off,” mused George, “he is adept at cross and double cross.”
“And we aren’t?” she replied curtly.
“Right you are,” admitted George with a smile.
David appeared agitated, “Whether he knows who you are is not the point. That he is trying to kill our assassin is the concern at hand.”
“Don’t worry about Vaughn, after all he didn’t stop us from killing Bobby’s brother.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” David challenged.
“It’s not really up for discussion Dave,” George chucked, “for Chrissakes that Zapruder guy filmed the whole thing.”
Dave shook his head. “Don’t you know better than to believe everything in the movies?”
For the past 5 years, Coburn Vaughn had tried his hardest not to think about his old friend Jack. To the world he was dead, but to Vaughn he was merely gone. The nation had mourned the loss of their young President, but for those who knew him best, it was as though a piece of themselves died that day as well. The person most affected by the loss was his brother Bobby.
Vaughn and Bobby had never been on the best of terms. Bobby was Jack’s attack dog, a shrewd operator who could make the tough calls that a man in the President’s position couldn’t afford to. He was therefore fiercely protective of Jack whenever people like Vaughn were around. Perhaps Bobby resented the relaxed and carefree nature of Vaughn’s relationship with the President. Most of the people in the President’s inner circle were almost sickeningly sycophantic towards him. In stark contrast, Vaughn always seemed the President’s equal, a feat even Bobby could never accomplish.
The week preceding Jack’s visit to Dallas, Bobby had warned him not to go. The Secret Service had already called off two motorcades in the past few weeks, one in Chicago and the other in Miami. A week before the President’s planned visit, the Chicago office of the Secret Service was tipped off by an anonymous source that a man named “Vallee” was gunning for the President. Vallee was a disaffected former Marine and right-wing extremist gun nut who worked in warehouse along the President’s motorcade route. The Service picked up Vallee, found a small cache of weapons and ammunition but eventually released him. The President’s trip was subsequently cancelled and the person who tipped off the Service was never found. The informant had identified himself only as “Lee.”
An FBI snitch in Florida named Somerset warned the Secret Service that a loudmouthed local Miami businessman named Milteer was bragging about taking down the President. Milteer was a prominent member of the John Birch Society who was suspected of bankrolling KKK terror campaigns during the summer of ‘62. Since the operation had gone across state lines, the Bureau had taken over the investigation. Somerset was a local bagman for some of Milteer’s business partners and was looking to get out of 10-15 by cooperating with the FBI. He bugged his own motel room and invited the braggart Milteer over, knowing he was always more than happy to spill the beans on whatever his newest hijinks were.
Much to Somerset’s surprise, Milteer opened up about much more than dirty money and gun-running. Milteer told Somerset that the President would be coming into Miami later that month and that plans were already in place to whack him. He was forthcoming with details, pieces of information that in retrospect were eerily similar to Jack’s eventual fate. Milteer said that the shooter would be “in an office building with a high-powered rifle” and that the local authorities would arrest someone within an hour of the shooting “just to throw the public off.” Most eerily, Milteer seemed to know that the President had been using a body double for some time.
The fact that Jack used a double was a secret that ostensibly only Vaughn knew about it. One can only say “ostensibly” because the First Lady was much more canny than most of the men around the President took her to be. The double was used mostly for social reasons, when the President would rather be off having a liaison with an anonymous call girl than attending state functions. It would break the heart of hundreds of foreign dignitaries to know that their treasured picture of themselves shaking hands with the President was actually taken with a B-movie actor wearing prosthetics. Jet Cooper, for his part, took eagerly to the role, considering it the “gig of a lifetime!” If only he had known how poorly it would have ended for him that day in Dallas. Vaughn almost felt bad for poor Jet Cooper. But better to lose an actor than the President of the United States, even if he would have to live the rest of his life in hiding.
The world could never know about “The Island of Lost Kennedys,” Jack’s eventually home off the shores of Puerto Rico in the infamous “Bermuda Triangle.” In order to protect its secrecy, only a small handful of men and women knew about it—those who operated the establishment, and those who required its services.
Jack and Bobby’s father Joe had purchased the island shortly after the beginning of World War Two. If the war went south, old Joe wanted to know that he and his family would have a place to escape to. In case Hitler conquered the world, they would at least have a small protectorate where Joe could rule supreme, unhindered by the unyielding yoke of world fascism. To this end, Joe built a sprawling compound on the island that was a hybrid of a fortress and a resort, replete with all of the luxuries of the Ritz Carlton and the safety of Fort Bragg. Nestled between the palm trees were tennis courts, swimming pools, golf courses, bungalows, ramparts, airstrips and helipads. It was a perfect paradise for the paranoid.
In the 1950s, Joe repurposed the island. He know there was a growing contingent of celebrities in the newfound age of television who wanted desperately to find their way out of the limelight to live something approaching a normal life. To service this need, Joe created a business with a sole purpose: facilitating the happy retirement of those who had staged their own deaths. It was a surprisingly lucrative enterprise, and by the beginning of the 1960s, the island was already teeming with movie stars, athletes and rock and rollers who had met an untimely “death” now enjoying a carefree existence far away from their former life spent drowning in a stream of cloying adulation.
Jack had taken easily to life on the island, as there was a never-ending flow of fresh debutantes who were delighted to see him. He took great joy in seeing the look in their eyes when they realized the man whose passing they had mourned so dearly was alive and well. He took even greater joy in the passion they found with their legs intertwined atop the Bermuda warm sand with no photographers in sight.
When Vaughn approached Bobby about the prospect of spending the rest of his life on the island, he was less enthusiastic. There was so much he still wanted to accomplish in his life. Unlike his brother, he truly believed in what he had set out to do with the power of the Presidency. He wanted to end wars and solve hunger. He wanted to stop the hatred between the races and find peace between nations. But all that seemed to fade from importance when Vaughn related one key fact to him, “Marilyn will be there.”
“Marilyn?” was all Bobby said. There was no answer from Vaughn but a smirk and no further objections from Bobby.
The young man held the cold metal revolver in his hands, hiding from sight behind the safe protection of a bathroom stall. The night was warm and humid, but he couldn’t stop shivering. He was not afraid of the police or getting caught. He was afraid of himself and what he might do. Unlike many of his Palestinian countrymen, he was not usually a hot-headed or violent man. The Israeli victory one year before had disturbed him to his core, but he never felt the need to strap bombs to his chest or wrap himself in bandoliers and keffiyeh. Why tonight was he so afraid of what he would do with this gun?
The hotel was becoming more and more crowded as the polls creaked towards their close and it became increasingly apparent that Bobby would win the California primary. Everyone knew that if Bobby took California, the White House was an inevitability. One year ago, this thought would have filled the young man with visions of white doves and prosperity but now all he could see was rows and rows of American planes laid out across endless miles of Israeli Airstrips.
The building was brimming with body heat and excited energy, and the more joyous everyone became, the more isolated the young man felt. He realized he was not shivering. He was shaking, vibrating with hatred. He was suddenly behind enemy lines, undercover and alone. The gun in his hands had become his only ally, his only friend. He shifted its weight from one hand to the other. The metal no longer felt cold and foreign. It was warm and ready.
The last few months had been filled with seas of humanity for the young candidate for President. He had traveled the country and explored the darkest corners of poverty he had ever seen. He met children without shoes, walked into homes without floorboards and spoke with men and women without hope or dreams. At times, he was shocked that the places he visited were in his own country. They seemed so far away from any part of his own life, any place he had ever called home. But wading through the warm waves of humanity, he found himself more at home than he ever had in his life. Politicians had always shook hands with voters, but it was different with young Bobby. They wanted to touch him, to hold him, to remind themselves that his family’s dream was still alive. It was the dream of a world without war, whether it was the war against communism or the war against poverty. As he surfed through the sea of humanity, he finally felt it was a war that could be won.
He thought back to his first campaign, the Senate run in New York. His own mother had announced his candidacy on the first day and that set the tone for the entire exercise. It was a class project, a merit badge, a family outing. He remembered the tea party fundraisers with old ladies, the backslapping cigar-smoking sessions with old men and the friendly speeches in the sun. He had sleepwalked through the whole affair, skimming through the skies on autopilot. This time it was different. This time it was a quest of urgency and purpose.
His hair had grown long throughout the journey and it seemed as though he spent half of his time pulling it away from his face. The tea-toting old women and the cigar-smoking old men laughed and told him to “get a haircut.” But Bobby quickly realized that these people wouldn’t matter in this campaign. The young people would make or break this election. They were the generation who were sick of seeing their fathers march off to war and their black brothers sweeping the floor. And the young people were transfixed by his goofy mop of sandy hair. It was what proved he was one of us. As the journey continued, he had tugged off his tie, cast aside his sport coat and rolled up his sleeves. The country was tired of uniforms, and the suit and tie that every politician had ever worn before him had become another uniform. So Bobby had stripped the uniform down in protest, like the veterans who returned home and graffitied their fatigues with peace slogans, doves and flowers. Even Bobby’s “bodyguards” didn’t wear the suit and tie uniforms. Gone were the men in black who had failed to protect his brother and in their stead were two former athletes in polo shirts.
So when Bobby walked into his room the night before the California primary, he was not happy to see Special Agent Coburn Vaughn sitting on his couch, clad in a black and white suit and tie, the uniform of the secret agent. Vaughn was giving Bobby his best Mona Lisa, the knowing smile that was not a smile. Vaughn’s face had not creased into this expression when Bobby opened the door. The knowing smirk was already awaiting him, as though Vaughn had set a trap for him. Vaughn was a man of traps. He laid them as well as he sprung them. Guns, girls, car crashes, explosion or poison couldn’t get the best of Special Agent Double Deuce. He always found his way to the other end of the mouse trap, smiling with cheese in hand.
“What the hell do you want?”
“To find out why you’ve been acting so damned stupid.”
Bobby laughed and walked towards Vaughn, putting his hands in his pockets and leaning over the spy—doing his best impression of being imposing. “And what’s that supposed to mean?” Bobby asked earnestly.
The attempt at imposing Vaughn didn’t work. He stood up and placed himself within a nose length of the young Senator, “You’ve been stumbling around this country with a goddamn target on your back, singing Kumbaya with every negro you can get your hands on. Your brother was killed for far less in a far saner time.”
“Listen to you Vaughn. You sound like a damned fool. Don’t you understand that black and white doesn’t matter any more?”
“Tell that to your friend the Reverend Doctor,” Vaughn slipped a cigarette into his mouth and lit it, “I’m sorry, the late Reverend Doctor.”
“What are you trying to say Vaughn?” Bobby intoned definitely.
“That you’re next Senator. That you’re a dead man.”
“Then I’m a dead man. We’re at war Vaughn. Men die in war.”
“You don’t have to die Senator.”
“My brother did.”
“No he didn’t.”
“Well he did.”
“No,” Vaughn said more slowly this time, “he didn’t.”
Bobby’s face grew quizzical. Double Deuce turned towards the window and blew smoke against the glass. “Sit down Senator,” said the spy to the young candidate for President.
Earlier that afternoon, Coburn Vaughn had driven out to the Valley to visit his old friend Ron Whittaker at the Sunshine Studios backlot. Sunshine Studios was the oldest movie backlot still in use in Hollywood and in the Golden Age, some of the greatest tinseltown classics were filmed there. These days, it was mostly home to B-movies and TV series. Nestled squarely in the San Fernando Valley, the lot is a 160-acre wonderland encompassing virtually every locale one could imagine, from forests and jungles to rocky crags and barren deserts where directors had played out their fantasies for the last 50 years. The varied terrain was filled with detailed facades of false worlds: blocks of city streets, towering castle ramparts, pirate fortresses, and wild west towns. Through the middle of the lot ran an impressive man-made river that ebbed and flowed in and out of the various microcosms of lost times and faraway places. The river collected into a huge concrete lake near the center of the lot where an imposing mockup of a pirate ship was permanently anchored, a huge backdrop of the caribbean sea behind it. Towards the back fence stood a classic American town square built around the facade of an old clock tower courthouse with a sloping roof held up by tall columns. And towering over the whole vast expanse of fantastic worlds was an old California Gothic house on top of a hill, accompanied by the motel from that movie where the blond gets stabbed to death in the shower.
Whittaker was the studio’s practical effects man, an expert in explosives and pyrotechnics — Vaughn’s kind of man. He had learned his trade island-hopping in the Pacific during the war, planting dynamite on Japanese bunkers in Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal. After the war, he found work in the movie business, blowing up tanks and trucks for battle scenes. Since Whittaker was a combat vet, he had an eye for accuracy and soon became the go-to man for all the biggest war pictures in town. If you ever see an old black and white movie on TV with John Wayne running away from an exploding building, odds are Ron Whittaker blew it up. Most former GIs did everything they could to put the war behind them. Whittaker couldn’t be happier returning to battle every day, chewing tobacco with his arms crossed and a smile on his face, watching Nazi tanks go up in flames under the hot San Fernando Valley sun. Whittaker also had a reputation as the best “squib man” in Hollywood, meaning he planted the tiny explosives around the set that went off during a gunfight to give the effect of bullet hits. It was this bit of expertise that Vaughn was in need of for his current mission.
Vaughn had met Whittaker in January of ‘62 on the set of a low-budget spy thriller that was filming in Jamaica. The movie was based on a series of books by Vaughn’s old war buddy Ian, which in turn were loosely inspired by Vaughn’s own career as a secret agent. Ian’s thinly-veiled adaptations of Vaughn’s exploits had become something of a sensation in the states when Jack had listed them as among his favorites in an interview with LIFE magazine. The public was surprised that President would sing the praises of a series of potboilers, never knowing that it was really just a subtle jab at his old friend Coburn Vaughn, and how ridiculous it was that state secrets were now the stuff of pulp fiction.
Vaughn was routinely unimpressed with the whole business, and even went so far as to refuse Ian’s offer to share a portion of the royalties with him. Vaughn hadn’t read a novel since grade school, and certainly didn’t care to be the subject of one. To Vaughn’s chagrin, the books become so successful that several producers approached Ian to option the movie rights. Eventually someone came up with the magic number and Ian agreed to let them option the whole series. The producers managed to put together a million dollars and went off to film in Jamaica, not far from Ian’s estate. Still, Vaughn wasn’t the sort of man to refuse a free trip to Jamaica and he hopped on the first flight to Kingston when old Ian invited him to come down and watch the filming.
The whole operation was rather impressive and the production crew had damned near taken over an entire beach for the affair. Vaughn had no inkling that filming a movie required so many poor sods standing around doing what looked like very little. There half a dozen or so men standing around the camera, another dozen odd blokes milling around with microphones, headsets, light reflectors and other such equipment. In addition, there were two men minding an old gas generator that Vaughn recognized from the war, a few girls with makeup kits and another girl lugging around a huge binder with must have been the script.
The actors were milling about, waiting for the next shot to begin. The man playing Vaughn was a tall, handsome, rugged type which he approved of, but he could immediately tell he was wearing an obvious toupee. The girl was gorgeous of course, wearing a striking white bikini with some sort of dagger strapped to it.
But it was Ron Whittaker that caught Coburn Vaughn’s attention. Whittaker was clad in a red polo and white shorts, rolling around the sand rigging up wires and cursing like a sailor, spitting tobacco into the water every time a wave rolled in. Since everyone else seemed to be doing a lot of nothing, Vaughn quickly realized that the entire production was waiting on whatever this man was doing with the wires. Whittaker grunted, strained to pull himself to his feet, gave one last spit into the ocean, and raised his thumb to the rest of the crew with a tobacco-stained shit-eating grin on his face. Immediately, the entire crew sprung back into action and the whole beach was abuzz with excitement. A tall man in slacks with a loose cravat around his neck and horn-rimmed sunglasses started barking orders through a megaphone and Vaughn assumed he was the director. The actors positioned themselves in front of the cameras and the crew thronged around them. The man in the megaphone shouted “action!” and the actors complied.
The handsome man in the toupee grabbed the girl in the bikini by the arm and started bolting down the stretch of the beach. As the two passed the area of sand where Whittaker had been working, a barrage of gunfire exploded onto the scene and sand started flying everywhere. Vaughn instinctively reached for the Walther in his shoulder holster but before he pulled it out, realized that he had been fooled. No one seemed to be paying attention to Vaughn’s odd tick as he sheepishly retrieved his hand from out of his suit coat. No one except Whittaker, who Vaughn noticed was staring at him, his arms crossed, chomping on his tobacco with that shit-eating grin.
“Pretty good huh?” said Whittaker.
“Damned good,” said Vaughn with sincere admiration.
“Normandy?” asked Whittaker.
“Guadalcanal,” replied Whittaker with an outstretched hand. Vaughn took it and the two became fast friends. Vaughn stayed on set for another three weeks and served as something of a creative consultant, helping the stunt coordinator with his Judo and even appearing as a stunt double in a couple of scenes. As much as Vaughn hated to admit, it was all damned good fun.
When Special Agent Coburn Vaughn pulled his ‘53 Sunbeam Alpine convertible up to the wrought iron gates of the old Sunshine Studio lot, he wished it was a social call to reminisce about good times, but unfortunately this trip was all business. The watchman in the Keystone Cop get-up gave a furrowed brow when Vaughn stated he was there to visit Whittaker but his eyebrows rose back up when Vaughn flashed his impressive credentials. The guard sheepishly waved Vaughn past the gate and the secret agent parked his car in front of a nearby soundstage.
There were a number of young women in showgirl costumes milling around the huge loading doors of the stage and one of them asked Vaughn for a cigarette. He obliged with a smirk and lit another for himself. The girls were all talking loudly, each trying to outdo the other with stories of past gigs and dates with rich men in fast cars. Vaughn got the sense that no one around him was truly who they pretended to be. It was a rather comforting thought to him, a man who spent most of his days convincing others he wasn’t what he was.
Vaughn hijacked a rickety old golf cart with fading white fringes and holes in the canvas top. The guard had told him that Whittaker was down the road at the “Ghostown Corral,” the studio’s sly nickname for their little wild west town. Vaughn flicked the butt of his cigarette in front of the cart and stepped on the gas, running over the burning butt with the thin rubber wheels.
Vaughn passed the row of soundstages and came to the area of the lot that was made up like a generic city street. The set could be redressed to represent almost any city in the world. The walls were angled in a way so that with the use of forced perspective, it could appear that the street went on for miles. Today they seemed to be filming one of those superhero television programs. There was a masked man in grey tights and a blue cape performing some clumsy martial arts with a white-faced clown in a purple tuxedo. Vaughn gave a bemused chuckle and shook his head at the sight.
The golf cart ambled past the city block and struggled to pull its way up a dusty hill hidden behind the fake skyscraper facades. At the top was an alcove of jagged and slanted rocks jutting out into the skies. Another crew was setting up the camera on top of some of the rocks and beneath them were two actors. One of the performers was a slightly chubby blond man in black knee-high boots and a torn yellow tunic with some sort of futuristic badge stitched to the fabric. Next to him was a tall man in a rubbery green monster suit holding his “head” in his left hand and a cigarette in his right. For a moment Vaughn almost wished he watched TV so he could know what the hell this was all about. In the next moment however, he realized he couldn’t care less.
The path rounded the man-made lake at the center of the lot and Vaughn looked to his right to admire the full-scale pirate ship moored in the water. As a boy he had loved films like the “Count of Monte Cristo” and “Prisoner of Zenda” and they had been among some of the main reasons he had enlisted in the service. Vaughn quickly realized that the childish notions of heroism and villainy that those films instilled in him had been rather misplaced indeed and they all but faded away the first time he faced another man in battle. Still, Vaughn wished he had time to swim out to the ship and spend a few hours climbing about. Instead, he passed the impressive clipper and continued on towards his destination.
On the other side of the great backdrop of the caribbean lay the “Ghostown Corral,” one of the most commonly filmed backlot locations in the entire history of motion pictures. To this date it was the location of almost two hundred films and television series. Vaughn didn’t particularly understand the American obsession with the Old West but he was rather impressed by the detail and accuracy of the little town. Granted, his understanding of what a Wild West town should look like was shaped by what he saw in the movies but this town seemed to have everything one would expect from such a place. At the front of town was a large wooden sign with a bull skull mounted in the center of it that appeared to have been painted over hundreds of times. To the left of the sign was train station with a real locomotive engine that had been salvaged by the studio from the Transcontinental railroad junkyard. To the left of the sign was a tin windmill spinning lazily atop a 30-foot wooden tripod. Inside the gates of the town was a blacksmith’s shop, Sheriff’s office, stable, general store and of course a huge two-story saloon. At the end of the street was the titular corral, and Vaughn instantly spotted his old friend Ron Whittaker rigging up the place like a Christmas tree.
“Ron!” Vaughn called out down the dusty path as he pulled himself out of the golf cart.
Whittaker’s face lit up instantly. “Vaughn you old bastard, what are you doing here?” The two men quickly walked towards each other and met in the center of town. They shook hands and grabbed each other by the arm. “Vaughn, I’d tell you you’re looking good, but goddamn do you look like hell.”
“Ron, I am happy to see you’re as fat and gray as I expected,” responded Vaughn.
Whittaker put his arm around Vaughn’s shoulders and led him towards the saloon. “C’mon old buddy, let’s have ourselves a nip, shall we?”
“You don’t have to twist my arm to pour me a drink Whittaker,” the secret agent replied with a grin.
Vaughn and Whittaker ambled towards the bar and pushed past the swinging saloon doors that had become the signature of the Western picture.The bar was dusty but welcoming, the creaky floorboards reminding the visitor that this was a well-worn and well-loved place. As Vaughn looked around, his mind’s eye filled the room with all the character actors he had seen drinking, swearing and playing cards in this old gin joint over the years. Gas lamps lined the walls and fading maroon curtains flanked the candy glass windows. Against the wall was an old player piano with a round three-legged stool facing it and a sign above it that warned “Please don’t shoot the piano player. He’s the only one in Texas with 10 fingers.” In the middle of the bar was a wide staircase that led up to the “bedrooms” above, where audiences had to fill in the gaps as to what happened to the characters up there. Whittaker rounded the bar and ran his fingers across the bottles.
“Most of these are filled with water, vinegar or apple juice,” Whittaker explained, “but I always keep a secret stash of whiskey around.” His finger stopped on a brown bottle and he tapped it with his forefinger. “Ah!” he exclaimed, “that’s the ticket!” Whittaker pulled the bottle off the shelf and retrieved two shot glasses from under the bar.
Vaughn had already lit a cigarette and was absentmindedly flicking ash into the nearby spittoon. As Whittaker poured them each a finger of a Kentucky Rye, Vaughn unbuttoned his suit coat and planted himself on a stool. Whittaker slid a glass over to Vaughn. “Thanks Ron,” he said.
The two men threw back their glasses without bothering to toast anything and Whittaker immediately poured another round. “So what brings you out to old Sunshine Studios?” Whittaker inquired as he retrieved a tin of tobacco from his breast pocket and unscrewed the top.
Vaughn sighed, knowing he was about to kill the mood, “I actually need something from you.”
Whittaker smiled and tossed a glob of chew into his mouth. “Something other than whiskey I assume?”
“Yes. I need you to help me save a man,” Vaughn intoned dryly.
“How’s that Vaughn?”
“By killing him,” Vaughn stated coldly while flicking his cigarette into the spittoon.
Whittaker harrumphed and swished the tobacco spit in his mouth. “I think I catch your drift.” He launched some tobacco from his mouth into the spittoon to put out Vaughn’s cigarette. The two men threw back their second shot of whiskey. Whittaker grimaced and said “C’mon,” motioning to the swinging doors of the saloon.
Whittaker led Vaughn to a small shed on the outskirts of “town.” There was a padlock on the door and Whittaker retrieved a large ring of keys to open it. Inside was a spectacular cache of munitions: sticks of dynamite, piles of stunt rifles and boxes filled with bullet squibs.
“Are we talking a shot to the chest or what?” asked Whittaker as he rifled through the boxes.
“The head,” replied Vaughn.
“The head?” said Whittaker incredulously, “do you know how dangerous that is?”
“Less dangerous than a real bullet to the brain.”
Whittaker forced a laugh, “I suppose.” He thought for a moment, “Okay I think I’ve got something for you.” Whittaker opened a cupboard on the wall and retrieved what looked like a pocket sized blood IV from a hospital.
“What the hell is that?” asked Vaughn.
“My newest invention,” Whittaker said with a smile. “It’s not actually an explosive, just a plastic pouch filled with lamb’s blood, rigged to burst from compressed air.”
“Okay, show me,” said Vaughn, crossing his arms.
Whittaker give his signature shit-eating, tobacco-stained grin. He slapped the pouch onto the back of his head. A three-foot tube ran from the pouch down Whittaker’s body, leading to a small remote control in his hands. “Watch.” Whittaker pushed the button on the remove and with a loud “poof,” the lamb’s blood splattered against the wall behind him. Vaughn raised an eyebrow and Whittaker gave a raspy cackle.
“Whattaya think Vaughn?”
“It’s perfect Ron.”
“Good!” Ron Whittaker collected a couple of the pouches from the cupboard and placed them in a canvas gas-mask bag that was sitting near one of the squib boxes. He handed the bag to Vaughn. “Happy birthday Double Deuce.”
“Thanks Ron,” Vaughn said as he slung the battered bag around his shoulders. “Can I trouble your for one more thing?”
“You wouldn’t happen to have a stunt pistol I could use with this?”
“Of course! What do you want?”
“An Ivor Johnson Cadet Revolver.”
“Well, that’s rather specific, ain’t it?” Whittaker said as he rustled through his prop guns. He pulled out an Ivor Johnson and a box of blanks. “Here you go Vaughn.”
Vaughn slipped the revolver and the stunt slugs into the bag. “You’re a good man Ron Whittaker.”
“Am I?” aked Agent Coburn Vaughn’s old friend.
“More than you’ll ever know.”
Whittaker swished some tobacco spit around his mouth. “See y’around Vaughn.”
“I’ll see you around Ron,” Vaughn said, giving Whittaker a lazy two-fingered salute before walking out the door.
Outside of the shed, someone called out “Action!” through a megaphone and the squibs that Whittaker had planted around the corral started shooting off at an ear shattering volume. Amidst the barrage of gunfire, no one noticed that one of the shots was from a real pistol. No one except the trained ear of Ron Whittaker. He turned around in surprise, only to see a fresh bullet hole in the wall of the shed. Whittaker looked down to see his shirt turn red with blood. Ron Whittaker clutched his chest and fell onto a nearby pile of dynamite. Resting on his deathbed of explosives, Ron Whittaker gave a final spit of tobacco to the floor before muttering “Ah shit” as the life slipped out of him.
George squinted through the lens of the telescopic scope mounted on his Dragunov sniper rifle as he scanned the “Town Square” of the Sunshine Studios backlot. Perched atop the roof of the clocktower, he had the perfect vantage point to eliminate any target that crossed his path before they could even noticed he was there. He was one of the best marksman on the Farm, with dozens of confirmed kills in as many countries. He had taken out 10 men in southeast Asia alone before most Americans even knew where the hell Vietnam was. He preferred “Executive Actions” over combat missions though, and he had taken out more Presidents in other countries than he had voted for in his own. But his favorite marks above all were fellow secret agents. There were so few of his chosen profession in the world, and yet still too many for it to be a safe game to play. It was therefore always a great pleasure to further thin the flock by his own hands. And it was a unique honor indeed that he had been assigned to assassinate the world’s most infamous spy: Special Agent Coburn Vaughn, codenamed “Double Deuce.”
His radio crackled and he pulled the black device to his face, his left eye still staring intently through the scope. “Raven 2 here,” George identified himself to person on the other end of the signal.
“Raven 2, this is Raven 1,” a staticy voice replied through the radio, “Target 1 has been eliminated. Target 2 is a half a klick from your position, over.”
“Roger that Raven 1,” replied George, “over and out.” The assassin replaced the radio on the ground next to him and continued to monitor the square for his prey. In the distance, he spotted a studio golfcart making its way towards the clock tower. George smiled and wrapped his finger around the trigger.
The path back to the front of the lot had been blocked off for the filming of the television show with the space captain and the green monster, so Coburn Vaughn was forced to take the long way through the town square, past the house on the hill with the creepy motel. From the outside looking in, the town square was just a rectangle of flat facades propped up by diagonal metal bars shrouded in scaffolding. On the inside however, it was a perfect facsimile of the classic American town. Each of the facades represented a different storefront: a flower shop, a barber, the bank, a dress shop, the post office and even a little stationery store. At one corner of the square was a charming little diner, at another was a Texaco station. On one side of the town hall stood a movie theater with a grand sloping marquee. At the center of town was the beautiful clock tower courthouse. A set of stone stairs flanked by two bronzed cannons let up to the imposing columns which appeared to support the roof of the structure. The walls to either side of the columns had half a dozen windows each and while at first glance they looked to be made of brick, they were in fact simply wooden flats painted red. The triangular center of the roof housed the legendary clock, which was situated between two bronze lion statues. All in all, it was a perfect monument to Americana and its quaint ideals of justice. To Vaughn, the whole place was about as foreign as the moon.
As Vaughn pulled the golf cart into the square, he scanned the premises. To his surprise, no one seemed to be shooting there that day. A few years before, the set had been used to film an episode of that creepy program where every story is introduced by the stern host in a black suit smoking a cigarette. The “Nightmare Zone” or something of the sort. Vaughn only ever saw television when it was playing in a bar and he never bothered to remember the name of the programs. In the episode, a man awoke to find the whole world was abandoned. The Sunshine Studios town square was used to great effect in the program and it was one of the most legendary appearances of the set. Vaughn felt a bit like that man in the abandoned square, not even a gust of wind blowing through the quiet, empty streets. And yet he sensed he was not alone.
From the corner of his eye, Vaughn saw the slight glint of light reflecting off of something from the clocktower. Instinctively, Vaughn threw himself from the golf cart as a high velocity bullet whizzed just past his head. Double Deuce landed into a soft roll on the grass in the center of the square. Pulling himself from the ground, Vaughn retrieved the Walther from his shoulder holster and bolted towards the stone steps of the courthouse, the canvas gas mask bag banging at his right hip. As he ran towards the asphalt in front of the steps, he felt another bullet graze his shoulder and slam into the grass behind him. When he was off the grass and about 2 yards from the courthouse steps, he jumped with his right leg forward and left leg tucked under him and let himself slide across the asphalt until his feet slammed into the stairs. A third bullet nicked the stone next to him and detecting the source of the shot, Vaughn thrust his pistol in front of his face and fired a few shots towards the clock tower. The sniper again returned fire and Vaughn realized that even this position was undefendable.
Agent Double Deuce ducked behind one of the bronzed cannons near the stairs and let off a few more shots in the direction of the clock tower, clipping a toe off one of the lion statues. There was no immediate return fire and he determined that the gunman was reloading. Vaughn pulled himself over the cannon and hurled himself through one of the courthouse windows. The candy glass shattered behind him and Vaughn took a hard tumble onto the ground behind the courthouse facade. There was of course no interior behind the impressive set-piece—no roof or walls or floorboards—only rickety scaffolding that led up to the clock tower. Vaughn pulled himself to his feet, wiped the candy glass off of his suit and ran a few yards away from the wall he had just leapt through. He rotated around and aimed his pistol up to the top of the facade, spotting a man in black perched with a rifle. The man pivoted towards Vaughn and aimed his rifle. Vaughn put a supporting hand under his gun arm and zeroed in as best as he could on his opponent, who was some 30 or 40 feet above him. Vaughn fired two shots at the man, one of which missed him completely, the other hitting the barrel of the rifle, knocking the weapon out of the gunman’s hands.
Before he had a chance to congratulate himself, Vaughn sensed movement behind him. He spun around to face another man in black, who threw a punch in Vaughn’s direction. Vaughn ducked, grabbed the man by the arm and threw him over his shoulder using an old Akido move. The man pulled a pistol out of his breast pocket, but Vaughn swiftly kicked it out his hands. The man rolled backwards and pulled himself to his feet. Vaughn wasted no time with his next attack, balling his two fists together and slamming them into the man’s skull, sending him crashing against the solitary wall of the courthouse. Vaughn gave him a right hook to the gut, kicked him in the shins and planted a final uppercut on his jaw. Agent Vaughn scanned the area for the man’s pistol and spotting it, went to reach for the gun. As he was about to grab the weapon, Vaughn remembered the sniper and ascertained he would have had enough time to recover by now. Vaughn course corrected and shifted his body weight away from the gun, just as another bullet flew past him.
Vaughn quickly surveyed his surroundings and noticed that there was a wooded area about 100 yards from his position. Without looking, Vaughn fired the final two shots in his pistol clip towards the clock tower and made a run for the trees. Four more bullets knicked at Vaughn’s feet as he made the aching dash for the woods. Somehow he managed to make it unscathed and slumped behind a tree, desperately trying to find his breath. Gasping heavily from his efforts, Vaughn cautiously peered out of the trees and saw that the man in the courthouse was making his way down the scaffolding as the the second man stumbled back to his feet. Vaughn discharged the empty clip from his Walther and pulled one of the two spares from his shoulder holster, easing it into the butt of his weapon. He looked out again, and noted that the sniper had returned to the ground and the other man was reassuring him that he was alright. After a few nods, the two men started running towards the woods. Vaughn wiped his brow and summoned the strength to continue his flight.
Vaughn ripped off his tie, threw his sport coat to the ground and began to move swiftly through the trees. He attempted to walk as quietly as possible and when he heard leaves crunching behind him, he knew his pursuers had entered the woods. His heart beating out of his chest, Vaughn plunged deeper into the woods, blindly thrashing his way through the branches. After what seemed like an eternity, he emerged from the trees and found himself at the bottom of the hill that led up to the old California Gothic and the creepy motel.
Summoning another reserve of strength he had not called upon in years, Vaughn sprinted up the path towards the house. When he was about halfway up the hill he looked behind him and saw that his opponents had emerged from the woods. The man with the rifle peered through the scope and after a few minutes of scanning the hillside, spotted Vaughn. He fired another shot just as Vaughn jerked himself out of the bullet’s path. Raven 2 may have been the best sniper on the Farm but he was still no match for the greatest secret agent in the world, Coburn Vaughn.
When Vaughn finally made it to the top of the hill and arrived at the motel with the old California Gothic looming above it, he was almost surprised to still be alive. He realized that there was no way he could continue to outrun his pursuers and decided instead to lie in wait and find the right moment to strike. The old house was eerily foreboding as it towered above him and Vaughn decided he would have better luck hiding in the motel. Vaughn caught his breath for a few seconds and then trudged towards the first cabin. He eased open the door, closed it behind him and proceeded into the bathroom. He pulled aside the shower curtain and positioned himself in the bathtub as he heard footsteps up the hill.
One of the men called out, “Check the motel, I’ll search the house. He has to be somewhere around here.” Vaughn heard two sets of footsteps, one fading and the other coming towards him. He retrieved his combat knife from his ankle sheath and steadied himself in the tub. A gunshot would alert the other man and he wanted to dispatch his pursuers one by one. He waited patiently as he heard one of the men kick the door of every cabin, searching for a moment and then proceeding to the next door, methodically checking each room. Vaughn counted 11 door kicks, each increasingly loud as he remembered the line from the movie, “12 cabins, 12 vacancies.” The 12th kick final came and Vaughn readied himself to strike. He heard the man stomp around the room and then walk towards the bathroom. Vaughn could make out the silhouette of his opponent behind the curtain. The man pulled the curtain aside and Vaughn sprung into action, jabbing his knife deeply into the man’s gut as his eyes widened in shock. Vaughn pulled the knife out and slashed across the man’s jugular. The man put his hands to his throat and desperately tried to hold the blood in as his body slammed into the bathtub. While the dying man gurgled, Vaughn watched the blood flow down the drain. He raised the knife high in the air and gave a final thrust of the blade into the man’s back. Vaughn’s opponent slumped into the tub, lifeless. The spy, satisfied with his brutal handiwork, wiped his bloodied weapon on the dead man’s shirt and slipped it back into its sheath.
Coburn Vaughn slipped out of the motel bathroom and jumped through the glassless back window of the cabin. He peered up the hill to the old California Gothic and began his ascent. The battered stone stairs to the house were surrounded on either side by weeds and dying grass. Dashing up the staircase, Vaughn retrieved his Walther from his shoulder holster. As he moved up the steps, he saw a figure in the second-story window pointing the sniper rifle squarely at him. Vaughn hit the deck, his body awkwardly impacting the concrete. Vaughn aimed and fired but the assassin ducked out of view. Vaughn pulled himself to his feet trudged ever harder up the stairs.
Upon reaching the top of the steps, he found the door to the old house was left open. Leading with his pistol, Vaughn cautiously entered the house and aimed at each potential strike point: the hallway, the rooms to his left and right and eventually the top of the stairs. Confident the room was clear, he bolted up the wooden staircase that led to the second floor, not noticing his opponent slip out of the fruit cellar door beneath the stairs. The man silently stalked Vaughn as moved up the stairs, until the spy reached the top steps.
On the second story landing was an ornate grandfather clock with a glass face. In the reflection, Vaughn could see his pursuer standing right behind him. The spy spun around to fire, but the sniper was ready and knocked Vaughn’s pistol out of his hand with the barrel of the rifle, sending it bouncing down the stairs. Vaughn attempted to jab the shooter with his right hand, but his opponent blocked the blow with the butt of his weapon. The gunman pointed the rifle towards Vaughn, but the two men were too close and the barrel too long for him to aim properly. Vaughn dropped to one knee, once again pulled the knife out of his ankle sheath and struck upwards. The assassin leaned back, narrowly avoiding the strike, but losing his balance. Vaughn took advantage of this momentary unsteadiness and stood up for another attack. He slashed the man across his face as he looked at Vaughn in horror and then kicked the assassin in the gut, sending him flying down the staircase and landing with a thud.
Vaughn gave out a battle cry of sorts and barrelled down the stairs, positioning himself above his stunned enemy who was lying on the floor. Vaughn was about to make his final blow but when the man raised his hands above his head in desperation, Agent Double Deuce’s bloodlust subsided and he lowered the blade. Vaughn instead opened the canvas bag and pulled out the Ivor Johnson, pointed the pistol at the man and fired. Vaughn walked away from his defeated opponent with a grin. The man clutched his chest, expecting to feel a wound but felt nothing. He realized that Vaughn had fired a blank. The radio crackled and he could hear David’s voice coming through.
“George! What the hell is going on in there?”
The gunman grunted and grabbed for the radio. “Raven 1 is down. I’m injured but alright.”
“What happened to Vaughn?”
“He sent us a message.”
“A strong one.”
The results were in. Bobby had won the California Primary for President of the United States. The country knew in their hearts that he would soon follow in his brother Jack’s steps and ascend to the White House. The excitement at the Ambassador Hotel had reached a fever pitch and the whole building was swelling with absolute glee. The sea of supporters that Bobby had been wading through the entire campaign crashed like a wave into the foyer of the hotel. There were people from every walk of life wearing the same silly boater hats and holding the same cardboard signs, smiling and cheering hand in hand. Amidst the crowd were dozens of reporters, photographers, film cameramen and radio interviewers with microphones in hand, ready to capture the moment when Bobby greeted his loving army of supporters. Everyone wanted to bottle up a piece of this glorious night and save it forever.
The young man with the revolver was standing in the corner of the grand entryway watching his peers dance giddily through through the door. Seeing all of those people his own age so excited, he suddenly felt an enormous surge of jealousy. Why was he their candidate and not his? Why had Bobby, the man with no tie always pulling his long hair out of his eyes, turned his back on people like the young man? We wasn’t he allowed to join in the revelry. Why couldn’t he just be an American, a Californian? Why couldn’t he be happy and proud? He then spotted a beautiful girl about his age holding hands with handsome young black man. Hanging from her smooth neck and landing between the cleavage of her soft breasts, was a tiny golden “Star of David,” the symbol of the people of Israel. Seeing a piece of gold that could feed an entire village of his countrymen dangling carelessly from a girl without a care in the world, his boiling blood turned cold. He thought of all the Jewish gold that must have gone into his campaign and his jealousy and sadness turned to hatred as he spat out “He MUST die.”
One of the campaign organizers was explaining over the noise of the crowd that the Senator would be arriving any minute and that they should make their way to the grand ballroom where he would make a speech. The hotel employees for their part were desperately trying to control the flow of traffic throughout the hotel but couldn’t quite seem to wrap their arms around the huge mass of humanity. Some people in the crowd were following the instructions to proceed to the ballroom while others drifted elsewhere, trying to find some sort of back way into their destination.
On any other night, Rosemary Clooney’s performance in the cabaret room would have been the story of the night but the event was more than overshadowed by the historic results of the election. Only a few conservatively-looking types were seated in front of the stage watching Clooney sing. One of those patrons was Special Agent Coburn Vaughn, Codenamed Double Deuce, a gin and tonic at his table and cigarette between his fingers. Beside him was the girl in the polka dot dress.
Since dinner, the two hadn’t had much to say. She had gone up to her room to “freshen” up after the meal but Vaughn knew better. Earlier that morning they had enjoyed breakfast on the balcony of her room and while the girl was in the bathroom, Vaughn had placed a bug on the light fixture hanging in the center of the room. He listened into her conversation with the two strange men in her room and when one of them grunted, he recognized his voice as the sniper from the Sunshine Studios lot. Vaughn had been relatively certain that the girl had been playing him, which is why he hadn’t bothered to remember her name. Whatever name she had given him was no more real than the buildings on the Sunshine Studios backlot. To Vaughn, she would always simply be the girl in the polka dot dress. And now their mutual silence as they watched Rosemary Clooney croon while every hippie across California chanted “we shall overcome Dick Nixon” to the rafters assured him that she knew he was playing her too. But neither spy could break the charade until the crucial moment of conflict when they would be forced to fight for their lives. Such was the tangled web of spycraft.
In between a song break, Vaughn stood from his table, swigging the last of his drink and crushing his cigarette butt into the ashtray. The spy slipped out of the room as the audience applauded. The girl in the polka dot dress pulled out her compact and pretending to power her face, watched in the mirror as Vaughn disappeared into the crowd.
As Vaughn surfed into the wave of humanity thronging through the hotel, he spotted the young man walking towards him, beads of sweat dripping down his worried face. As the two men passed each other, Vaughn jerked his body and they collided. Vaughn put his hands on the man’s side and apologized profusely.
“I am so sorry young man!” Vaughn said, feigning embarrassment.
The young man grunted an acceptance of his apology and walked off. After a few steps, he realized that the strange man had touched him in the exact spot that he placed his revolver. He stopped dead in his tracks and his heart beating, reached for his pocket. When he felt the cold steel meet his hands, the young man let out a huge sigh of relief. The young man collected his emotions and proceeded to walk down the hallway towards the ballroom where the Senator’s supporters were beginning to throng in anticipation of their hero’s arrival.
Vaughn watched as the young man walked away from him and smiled. Any pickpocket from here to Shanghai could pull something out of a man’s jacket but it took great skill to swap it for something else without them noticing. Vaughn was a man who possessed such skill.
The night before, Vaughn had instructed Bobby about the use of the bullet squib that Ron Whittaker had given him earlier in the day. He showed the young Senator how to strap the lamb’s blood pouch under his hair on the back of his head, run the cord down the length of his sleeve and press the small remote control in his hand. They tested the whole exercise with the spare pouch from Whittaker and both men were confident that it would work. Vaughn explained to Bobby how he would swap the young man’s pistol with a prop gun armed with blanks. His plan was now laid and all that was left was to watch it play out and be confident in its success.
After Vaughn swapped the two Ivor Johnsons, he returned to the cabaret room to watch the rest of the show. He was not surprised to find that the girl with the polka dot dress was gone. He eased himself back into his seat and motioned to the waitress to bring him another gin and tonic. As the woman fetched his drink, he pulled a cigarette from the gun metal cigarette case in his suit coat pocket and waited for the world to fall apart.
When the young Senator finally arrived at the Ambassador Hotel, the building almost rocketed itself off its own foundation. Again, Bobby found himself surfing through the sea of adoring humanity, not knowing that one among them was not among them at all— the young man with the Ivor Johnson pistol and the heart filled with rage. Bobby moved to brush the hair from over his eyes and was careful not to disturb the small squib pouch that he had placed on the back of his head. Bobby’s “bodyguards,” the two former athletes in jeans and t-shirts tried their best to lead the Senator through the crowd, but it was clear that the crowd was moving them. The ocean of humanity ushered Bobby through the hallway and into the ballroom.
To thunderous cheers, Bobby made his way to the stage. The room was filled with posters, balloons, confetti and pure, unadulterated joy. This was it. The moment that the youth of America would regain control over their own country with the help of the man with the hair in his eyes who loved them all. “Except me,” thought the young man with the pistol in his pocket, “he loves everyone except me.”
Bobby’s spoke to the issues of his campaign. He spoke of the divisions between the races and assured his flock that these divisions could be healed. He spoke of those who suffered and how they could be rescued. He spoke of the wars we were fighting and how they could be ended. He assured them that “we can work together in the last analysis.” He spoke of his dog “Freckles” and Don Drysdale’s sixth straight shutout for the Dodgers. And then he gave a final rallying cry to his troops. “My thanks to you all and on to Chicago and let’s win there!” He brushed the hair out of his eyes once more and flashed a “peace sign” with his two fingers. The ocean of humanity responded to his gesture and lifted their fingers to mirror the sign. And so the sea parted and little Bobby disappeared from the stage into the kitchen behind him. It was the last the world would ever see of Jack’s little brother Bobby.
When Bobby entered the kitchen, the young man with the Ivor Johnson was waiting for him. He had seen so many pictures of the Senator over the years but this was the first time he had seen him so close. This was the first time he saw him as a man, not an idea or a newsreel or a photograph or even a politician. Just a man, frail and real and without the immortality that those around him mistakenly imbued him with. He knew there and then that he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t kill a man like this. He was a good man. A good man who sided with the wrong people. But even good men make mistakes. And no good man should have to die for his mistakes. No, he couldn’t kill him. He couldn’t kill Bobby.
The young man turned to walk out the kitchen when he spotted the girl in the polka dot dress standing before him. Again he was entranced by the pattern and the world around him faded out of focus. When his vision became clear again, he was in a desert. The desert of his home. The desert of Palestine. Before him he saw a soldier in the uniform of the Israeli military holding an American rifle standing over a young Palestinian girl on her knees. The girl’s breast was exposed and she was crying. Her hands were locked together in a desperate, pleading prayer to the soldier to spare her life. He laughed and spit on her.
Filled with purpose and rage, the young man pulled the Ivor Johnson from his pocket and fired. He watched the slug hit the soldier in the chest and fired again and again, hitting his target in the arms and legs. He fired again and again, this time hitting the soldier in the head as the girl cried out in horror. He looked at the wounds of his adversary and watched them form into round pools of blood. Almost like polka dots.
The young man’s vision blurred again and when it returned to focus he was standing in the kitchen, his pistol pointing in front of him, watching Bobby plunge to the floor. The sea of humanity attacked the young man and wrestled him to the ground. All around him was mayhem. As he struggled to free himself away from the brutal waves of the ocean of humanity, he looked to find the girl in the polka dot dress. She was gone.
Some time later Special Agent Coburn Vaughn would find the girl with the polka dress on the floor of her room, the pattern of her dress stained with blood, her eyes gaping wide. He would not be sad. He would be happy that he didn’t have to kill her himself.
The flight to the Island of Lost Kennedys is a long journey but it is filled with purpose and the arrival is a satisfying one. When the helicopter landed on the beautiful tropical island the morning after the California Primary, the whole world was mourning except for one man. A man named Jack. The door to the camouflage-painted Bell helicopter opened and young Bobby emerged to see his brother Jack for the first time in 5 years. Jack was clad in a white linen suit smiling ear to hear. He leaned on a cane and the hair around his temples had grayed but he was still the man that Bobby remembered.
The two men outstretched their arms and embraced.
“I’m not happy about this,” said Bobby.
“I wasn’t either,” his brother replied.
“If I was supposed to die for those people I should have died for them.”
“You wouldn’t have died for anything Bobby. And neither would I.”
The young Senator nodded, knowing his older brother was right as always.
“C’mon Bobby,” Jack said putting an arm around his brother’s shoulder, “Marilyn’s waiting for you.”
As Jack led his brother towards the resort where they would spend the rest of their days, he looked over his shoulder to see his old friend Coburn Vaughn in the cockpit of the chopper. Vaughn grinned and gave the President his signature two-fingered salute.
“That cocky bastard,” thought Jack, “can’t even muster a real salute for the goddamned President of the United States.” The realization made the 35th President smile and he returned the half-hearted gesture.
“See y’around Vaughn,” the President called out over the sound of the propellers.
“See y’around Jack,” replied Special Agent Coburn Vaughn as he jerked the joystick towards him. The chopper lifted itself away from the island, turned in the air and disappeared into the mist.