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The End of Camelot

The End of Camelot

Book Three of the New York Saga

PROLOGUE

Washington, D.C., September, 1959

Vikki McGlory aimed her Smith & Wesson .38 and fired at the metal target.

“Bull’s eye.” She kissed the gun’s warm barrel. A smudged red lip print bloomed against the steel gray metal.

The gun now empty, she didn’t bother to reload. That was enough target practice for one day. She slipped the weapon into its customary place, the leather holster hidden in the center pocket of her crocodile tote.

She headed back to work. But, God, she hated her job.

Trying to follow her grandmother’s footsteps into politics had been a huge mistake. Vikki longed to get back to her painting and costume designing, to the sunny studio waiting for her on Fire Island. Only one thing kept her here: NBS’s star reporter, the free-spirited, captivating, and eligible Jack Ward. She never missed his newscasts and had devoured his autobiography in one sitting. He didn’t know she existed, but she  planned to fix that. She’d already decided he was the man she was going to marry.

****

Christmas Eve, 1960

Larchmont, New York

Vikki trembled as her two heroes met in front of the twinkling tree. “Dad, this is Jack Ward. Jack, this is my father.”

“How do you do, Mr. McGlory.” Jack offered his hand.

“Billy to you,” he insisted with a wink, as he returned the firm handshake. “It’s great to have you join us for the holidays.”

The evening raced by in a swirl of introductions, delicious food, fine wine, and a live orchestra. Billy threw fabulous parties, and this one was no exception. Late that night, Jack walked Vikki to her room in the family wing of the mansion. Through her champagne-heightened haze of happiness, she heard him promise to love her always. He kissed her goodnight, and as his kiss deepened, she responded willingly. Her dreams were coming true. But they weren’t married yet, and if there was one thing her dad had taught her, it was that she was a prize worth waiting for.

The next morning, Jack drew her into the library, dropped to one knee, and slid a diamond solitaire on her finger.

They exchanged vows the day after John F. Kennedy took the Oath of Office. So began the fairy-tale life she’d always dreamed of. And she called it Camelot.

Chapter One

April 2, 1963

In one day, Benzo Battolini became the world’s most sought-after hit man for one simple reason: he’d just been hired to assassinate the president of the United States.

But that wasn’t till November. Now, he crouched behind a clump of trees at the water’s edge, stalking his latest hit. His witness, a CIA operative, squatted next to him, nibbling on a chicken wing. Battolini wished they didn’t have to work in pairs like this. He was a loner, on and off the job.

But it was a chance to show off, although this hit was gravy: the subject spent more time on his fishing boat than on dry land, so the getaway would be even easier. Conditions were perfect: no crowds, no obstructions, no wind. The hardest part was the waiting around.

So they waited. And waited.

He drained the last drop of Kool-Aid from his flask and sang every Jimmy Roselli song ever written. He was dying for a puff of a Camel and a shot of Jim Beam, but smoking or boozing on the job was out—an old Army rule that stuck.

Another hour dragged by.

The CIA operative didn’t say much. Battolini wasn’t the chatty type either, so after a brief exchange about Cuba, sniper rifles, and the best cathouses in their native New Orleans, they clammed up and waited some more.

Finally, the boat glided into view. The target proudly held up his catch of the day while a crony snapped pictures with a Brownie.

Battolini peered through the 10x scope of “Scarlett”, his Winchester 70, and steadied her barrel on a log. He took a deep breath, exhaled, and during the lull, counted to three. He squeezed Scarlett’s trigger. The man’s head exploded like a hand grenade.

A primal surge shot through Battolini, and he let out a satisfied grunt, as if sexually sated.

“Bull’s-eye!” The CIA operative clapped him on the back. “I wish I was as good a shot as you.”

“Keep practicin’, Lee, and you just might be.”

With Scarlett wrapped in a blanket tucked under his arm, Battolini strolled back to his car, Lee Harvey Oswald at his heels. A smirk spread Battolini’s lips. “After November, I’ll be cruisin’ around in my own yacht,” he muttered. Too bad about having to take out JFK, though. He had nothing against the guy personally—but business was business.

****

November 1, 1963

“This job might be a challenge,” Battolini commented to his fellow assassin Vero as they cleaned their rifles. “They been beefing up security at JFK’s latest appearances. I never seen so many Secret Service agents around a president.”

“Yeah, they went whole hog at the Four Seasons fundraiser last night.” Vero spoke with a cigarette dangling from his lips. “The limo ducked into a garage, so he didn’t even step outside, and three Secret Service  men stayed at the front entrance the whole time. You know who else was there? Jack Ward.”

“That nosy bastard reporter from NBS?” Battolini ran a hand over his chin stubble. “Come to think of it, I seen him at every JFK rally and news conference since we got our orders. He either got demoted to the White House Press Corps or he’s onto us.”

“Maybe he oughta get taken out.” Vero sucked on his cigarette.

“I ain’t no boss, but I wouldn’t mind gettin’ him outta my hair.” Battolini attached his telescopic sight to Scarlett and peered through her with one eye closed. “He’s such an arrogant son of a bitch, I reckon a lotta people want him six feet under.”

“Then wait till one of them calls you, so you’ll get paid fer it.” Vero tossed his cigarette butt on the ground and crushed it with his heel.

They snickered.

“Ward actually thinks we don’t notice him lurkin’ around?” Battolini shook his head. “He’s on TV more than Gleason, fer Chrissakes.”

“Hey, I’m goin’ to Miami a few days early, to rest up before the hit.” Vero lit another cigarette. “Wanna join me?”

“Yeah, why not? It’s the twenty-first, sneakin’ up on us fast.” Battolini glanced at the calendar. “The boys are making arrangements with the Miami cops. Then we can scout the motorcade route and figger out all the picayune details. Ya know, this is the first presidential assassination that won’t be done at close range with a handgun.”

“Shur ain’t easy to get near the president, not like in the old days. Times they are a-changin’,” Vero commented.

The phone rang and Battolini went to answer it. “Marc Antony here. Yep. Oh, yeah?…Is that right?” he drawled smoothly. “That sonofabitch…yes, sir, Cassius is right here.”

Vero gave Battolini a “What’s up?” gesture. Battolini exchanged a few more words with the caller and hung up.

Vero held his rifle up like a coveted award. “So who’s the son of whose bitch?”

“They just changed the date and place on us. Now it’s Dallas on the twenty-second,” Battolini replied in his usual unruffled manner. “I was aimin’ to take a speedboat to Cuba on Thursday from Miami, right after the hit. Fidel’s throwin’ a shindig that night. Now we have to hightail it to Dallas on Friday. Screws up all my plans.”

“Well, sometimes life just throws ya a curve, don’t it?” Vero said. “How’s the saying go, ‘I was plannin’ the future when the present hit me in the face’ or some such?”

“Yep, sometimes it just hits you in the face. Or, in our business, in the back of the head, heh, heh.” Battolini stretched and grabbed his car keys. “Hey, let’s go for ice cream.”

“Ice cream?” Vero laughed. “You’re like a little kid sometimes, you know that?”

“So?” Battolini headed for the door. “Come on, let’s go. I’m dyin’ for a vanilla cone with them colored bugs all over it.” His mouth started to water.

They got into Battolini’s car. He drove down the strip and past the city limits sign.

“Hey, slow down, willya?” Vero warned. “What’cha doin’, seventy? I don’t wanna die in a car accident tonight.”

“Trust me. You won’t.”

Battolini smirked as Vero peered around as their surroundings grew darker and less familiar. “Hey, uh—where we goin’, Ben? There ain’t no ice cream places around here.”

Battolini slowed down, turned onto a dirt road, and stopped. He whipped out his Colt Cobra and aimed it at Vero’s head. “Get out. Now.”

“What?”

“Get out,” Battolini repeated patiently, like a suggestion.

“Ben, what—what’d I do?” Vero threw the car door open, scrambled out, and broke into a run.

Battolini shook his head. Who did this sorry idjit think he was messing with anyways? He got out, squeezed the trigger, and watched Vero’s skull shatter. The body keeled over with that satisfying thump Battolini always enjoyed hearing.

“Nice shot. Hope I do that good on ‘The Big D’ day. Ask what you can do for your country, heh, heh.” He blew on the end of the smoking Colt’s barrel.

Battolini didn’t kill for fun. He’d learned over the phone from his handler that Vero had blabbed to some French Quarter hooker about being hired to assassinate the president. Now, just as JFK was heading south for more politickin’, rumor had it that the media was onto the plot. That must be why that nosy reporter Jack Ward was scouting all the JFK events with his eagle eye. Now that Vero got his, that bigmouthed hooker was next—and if Jack Ward knew too much, he’d have to go, too, before all hell broke loose.

Battolini drove back into town and raced up his street, blowing his horn. He shouted out the open window, “Hey, wait! Hold your horses!”

The Good Humor truck pulled over.

****

November 21, 1963

The Dallas Hilton

He pulled the curtain aside and glanced down at the pool area. It was warm for November, and he could see Ward down there doing his expert breast stroke.

“You love water so much, I’ll give you water, Jack, old boy,” he muttered, turning away from the window.

At midnight, he snapped on a pair of surgical gloves and rapped on Ward’s door. It opened and the popular reporter, draped in a satin robe, flashed his trademark Pepsodent smile, like he was on the air. “Oh—hello,” Ward chirped.

“It’s goodbye, you vulture.” He slammed Ward’s head against the wall and smothered him with a chloroform-soaked rag.

Ward struggled for all of three seconds before sliding to the floor in a crumpled heap.

After turning on the water full force, he stripped Ward’s body, hauled it into the filling tub, and held the head under until the breathing stopped.

He felt for a pulse. None.

A feeling of raw power surged through him. Watching this bastard die was better than hot sweaty sex.

He drained the tub, washed the chloroform off Ward’s face, and filled the tub again. For good measure he tossed in a cake of soap.

A half-empty bottle of Scotch stood on the bar. He took his time polishing it off while he did some snooping. He didn’t want Jack Ward’s credit cards or fancy jewelry. But the stacked blonde in the wallet photo, her hair draped over her bare knockers, sent another raw surge to his loins. He flipped it over and read, To my loving husband, yours forever, Vikki, in neat script. “I could screw you into the floor right now, bitch,” he growled, sliding the photo out of the wallet and leering at it. “Now that you’re a widow, maybe I will.” He slid the photo into his own wallet.

He finished off the Scotch and placed the empty bottle on the edge of the tub without giving the submerged corpse another glance.

Did Ward actually believe he could thwart a presidential assassination? Who the hell did that two-bit reporter think he was anyway? The Man From U.N.C.L.E.?   

Glancing around, he noticed the portable tape recorder still running. Ward must’ve been dictating into it before he answered the door. Holy smokes! The entire murder was on that tape!

He yanked the reel off the machine, looking forward to playing it over and over, reliving his triumph again and again.

On his way out, he saw something else he could use, lying on the floor next to Ward’s robe. He slid it into his shirt pocket, closed the door, and strolled down the hallway, whistling Dixie.