Return with us now to that strange land known as the past as Larry Winchester gracefully affords us a glimpse into the backstory of that charming adventurer Dick Ridpath, in this, our exclusive serialization of the “director’s cut” of the sprawling epic Harold Bloom called “perhaps the most important novel written by an American since Richard Stark’sThe Hunter”.
(Click here to read our previous episode. Go here to return to the far-off misty beginning.)
This feeling of being watched.
To survive at his former trade Dick had done his best to nurture and develop a capacity for this feeling. But back then he had at least usually had a good idea of who might be watching him, and why. At least up until around the time of the Bay of Pigs, anyway.
By that time Dick considered it his misfortune that he just happened to be good at blowing up things and killing people. This business of the CIA occasionally “borrowing” Dick from the navy for “black” missions began back in ‘54, when he was still with the Underwater Demolition Teams, and it had continued after Dick transferred to field operations in Naval Intelligence and then to Q Section (or, as it was officially known, the Naval Office of Comparative Statistics). These missions often involved some sort of mayhem, and he had done his job each time with the same proficiency he tried to bring to every job he did. Some people were just good at things, and Dick just happened to be good at swimming or paddling into places undetected, at blowing things up and killing people and whatnot and then getting away scot free. But he was never crazy about the killing. Bumping off a local Communist Party Commissar in some Third World hellhole was not his idea of good kicks.
So Dick was not happy when he was posted down to Guatemala in March of 1961, to help train the Cuban expeditionary force. He just wasn’t interested in this sort of thing any more. Besides, he was a Q Section man now, and Q Section had gone way beyond the crudities of C-4 and the revolver and the knife.
Of course the CIA was not even aware of Q Section’s existence and had no idea that over the past few years Dick’s duties had concentrated on drug experimentation, ESP, telekinesis, Oriental methods of mind and body control, out-of-the-body travel, and investigations into the possibilities of extraterrestrial intelligence.
But still he had never quite been able to shake this reputation as a good “wet boy” -- that is, a killer -- and so the CIA continually requested his services for some sort of nastiness or other.
Usually he managed to get out of it, but if Admiral Quigley -- the founding chief of Q Section -- personally asked him to oblige, well, then Dick felt he had to.
But sometimes the Admiral would allow the mission, and then instruct Dick to disrupt or alter the mission in some way. Like the time in Ankara when he put a bullet through the brain of a top CIA asset who unbeknownst to the CIA was a mole employed by the Russians. Dick arranged it so that the CIA thought the man had died honorably, probably assassinated by Hans Grupler (who in fact had been the man’s Soviet Bloc contact). This affair had been just another of Dick’s and the Admiral’s little secrets.
The month before he went down to Nicaragua the CIA had wanted Dick to swim into Havana Harbor underwater and fix a Hagenson pack full of gelignite and cyanide-soaked needles to a fishing boat that Castro was supposed to visit. Dick had managed to get out of that assignment; but now they just had to have him for this new Cuban thing. The Admiral reluctantly assented, and, well, orders were orders, and the Guatemalan mission was supposed to be merely a training one. After only two days however he had requested -- no, demanded -- to be relieved. It was an incredibly shoddy operation, even by the CIA’s notorious “gentleman adventurer” standards; he could smell a bloody fiasco and he wanted no part of it.
He got the transfer back home, but looking back on it Dick could see that this had been the beginning of his fall from grace. It was right around this time that he first got the feeling that the atmosphere around him had changed, and that he was being watched and investigated by members of his own government, his own service.
And then one night he saw with his own eyes that at least one of his colleagues was nosing quite improperly into his affairs.
It was shortly after his return from Guatemala, and Dick had come into the Q Section warren after hours to grab his bag of Ben Hogans for a round the next morning. As he turned down the dimly lit corridor to his office he noticed light spilling from his doorway. He slipped off his shoes and took his Smith & Wesson Airweight out of his jacket pocket. Hugging the wall, he went slowly down the corridor and stopped at the doorway. He peeked in through the crack between the hinged side of the door and the jamb.
What he saw was disquieting to say the least.
It was that weasel Pym, his supposed brother officer and “friend”, sitting behind Dick’s desk, rummaging through the drawers with his left hand. Pym was breathing very heavily and Dick could not be sure because the desk was in the way, but it looked horribly as if Pym were masturbating with his right hand. Dick put his gun away, walked softly back down the hall, picked up his shoes and left, without his golf clubs.
Now on the one hand Pym could just be a nosy pervert; actually Dick was pretty sure Pym was a nosy pervert. But besides being a weasel and a pervert Pym was also Vice Admiral Hackington’s private jackal.
Dick got along famously with Admiral Quigley, but he had never liked his second-in-command, Vice Admiral Hackington, and Dick knew the feeling was mutual. Hackington was one of those guys who was born with a poker up his ass and was proud of it, and he had only gotten worse after that weekend he and and Admiral Quigley and Dick had spent with Professor Leary in Cambridge.
In fact Hackington had pushed to send Dick down to Guatemala. He hadn’t liked Dick’s resistance to the assignment, and he liked it even less when Dick requested to be relieved. When the Bay of Pigs action turned out so disastrously he almost stopped speaking to Dick entirely. And Dick continued to find evidence of rummagings in his office. One time he even noticed what looked alarmingly like semen stains on the linoleum under his desk.
Dick was glad when the Admiral approved his request to study in Nepal for a year. It was good to get away from navy and CIA politics, and from creeps like Hackington and Pym.
While he was away Admiral Quigley died -- a boating accident -- and Hackington took over Q Section. The little jackal Pym was made Operations XO, and when Dick returned he found that Q Section had sadly changed.
In January of ‘65 came Dick’s alleged “disappearance” in New Mexico, followed closely by his strange kidnapping (and even stranger release) by “foreign elements”; things got to the point where he felt he really had no choice but to resign his commission.
He would explore life and the world on his own now, no one looking over his shoulder, no one giving him orders. And that’s the way it had been, for four chaotic but rich years, the Daphne years.
But now he was being watched again, there was no doubt of that.
But by whom? And why?
He was damn well going to find out.
Should he simply confront this clean-cut nice young couple, these “Baxters”, as he had Philips and Adams?