Friday, 23 December 2011

CHAPTER TWELVE (Thrilling isn`t?)


My own day of reckoning was soon to arrive. In the Fall of ’67 Robert Kennedy appointed Chief Justice Earl Warren to head a commission on Teamsters activities. Bobby was determined that Mr. Hoffa be exposed for his supposed excesses and links to organized crime.
Bobby knew the quandary I was in, or at least he thought he knew. He invited me into his office and explained that his attack on my previous and future employer was justified. He had ordered the BGI to tap Mr. Hoffa’s phone, and he played me the recordings.

I was shocked. The man whom Golda loved, and who was holding a gun to my parents’ heads was consorting with criminals, taking Union funds, and making loans for drug deals, for financing casinos in Cuba, for blackmailing Senators. There was no doubt, the Attorney General had the stronger case of the two. And there was no doubt Hoffa was capable of and probably would kill my parents if I disappointed him. I stared at Bobby as if through a gun sight and urged him to pursue the investigation.

If Vietnam had taught me anything, it was a repugnance of violence. Sure, there were good times. There was the beer at the PX, the card games into the night, the bars of Saigon, but all that paled in my mind when I considered napalmed children I had seen, the ooze of brain matter dripping onto the shirt of a surviving companion, the intestines held in the hands of the orderly as the soldier was admitted to my hospital. I despised murder and was asked to perform one. Yet if I didn’t do it, two more murders would result.
I began planning how I would do it, then I found some excuse to put it off.

At a Bobby Kennedy party I offered to bring him a drink. He accepted, and this was my opportunity. I put the powder in his glass and gave him the drink. As he was about to sip it I grabbed it from his lips and threw it into the swimming pool. Bobby looked astonished. But he relaxed when I said, “It’s a Jewish custom. If a guest throws his host’s drink into a pool as he is drinking it, the host will live to a hundred and twenty.”

Bobby said it was a beautiful tradition, and when Arthur Goldberg’s son was Bar Mitzvahed, Bobby took the wine cup from Arthur’s mouth as he was about to drink, threw it in the punchbowl and said, “May you live to a hundred and twenty.” Mr. Goldberg took several moments before deciding to thank the Attorney General. When Bobby took a sip of his drink, Mr. Goldberg assuming he had witnessed an Irish custom, thrust the cup from his lips and threw it in the punchbowl. When Mr. Goldberg did the same thing at the Kennedy’s anniversary party, the President was unamused until Bobby defused the situation explaining that it was an act of respect among the Jewish people.

Yet it was the President’s own courage that convinced me I could not give in to Hoffa. What I am about to relate has never been revealed before. In l967, four-year-old John Kennedy, Jr., “John John” as we called him, was snatched from his nanny and two Secret Service men brutally murdered by men claiming to represent the Teamsters but claiming also that Mr. Hoffa was unaware of the plot they hatched in his behalf.

A President’s son kidnapped. The ransom? The Justice Department would drop all charges against Jimmy Hoffa. The President did not let the kidnapping leak to the press and attempted to conduct the affairs of state as usual lest he endanger his son’s life.
Jackie, Bobby, Teddy and Rose all pressed him to drop the charges. But he would not. He was no longer John Kennedy, citizen, he was the Government of the United States, and the nation could not be blackmailed by crooks.

The President called me into his office. He had not slept in days and he slurred his words. Unfortunately the press were writing of the President’s weariness or drinking habits, depending on maliciousness, and I understood why. He was not himself. He looked very much older.
“Norman,” he said, “I have an assignment for you. You are going to save my son.”
“You are Teamster on my staff, and they want you to conduct negotiations in Dallas.”
“What will you give them for your son?”
“Lower interstate highway tolls which were planned anyway. And that’s it.”
“But if I fail, you’ll blame me for your son’s loss.”
“I would never be so petty, Norman. Just do your best. I trust you.”
I knew then that I would never, ever kill Bobby.

I arrived in Dallas and went to my old office. The message awaiting me was to meet at the Carousel Club at midnight. So what else is new, I thought?
I had time to spare and a great desire to see Marina, so I arranged to see her while Lee worked. I would see Lee later.

Her home had changed. The picture of Czar Nicholas the Second came down, and it its place was a picture of Jane Fonda in black boots and skimpy garb taken from the classic Roger Vadim film, “Barbarella”. But there was more. Jane had been typecast as a sex queen and wasn’t getting the serious roles she wanted. She campaigned strongly for the role in “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” Rumor was that Liz Taylor would get the part, so Lee formed a “Fair Play for Jane” committee. Jane Fonda fans throughout the country united behind their favorite star.

“He’s obsessed,” said Marina. “What went on between them in Vietnam?”
“Nothing,” I answered. “Honest. Absolutely nothing.”
“I’m losing him, Norm. I can feel it.”
And I was losing her. I could feel it. Jealousy was about to make Marina love Lee despite the circumstances of their marriage. I promised her I’d help work things out. She showed me a letter from Peter Fonda. No one would let him make a motorcycle movie about America’s natural beauty, and he wondered if Lee would form a “Fair Play for Peter” Committee. This had gone too far I could see.

When I saw Marilyn at the Carousel Club that evening it was as if I were seeing her for the first time again. She was lovely, Marina was drifting from me, and Marilyn was thrilled to see me. Overwhelmed even. Maybe I had missed her in Vietnam though I didn’t feel it then.

But more important business was at hand. Mr. Hoffa awaited my presence. “You let me down, Norm” he said.
“I couldn’t do it. I told you that, and you didn’t believe me. Well, I can’t do it.”
“We know. Jack convinced me to leave your parents be. He’s an old softie about them. So we had to take a different strategy. Thus you being here tonight.”
“You know, if you don’t return the child I’ll be forced to hand in my resignation to the Teamsters.
“Norman, sometimes I wonder if you’re real. We’ll kill him, Norm if those charges aren’t dropped.”

“The President told me to inform you that you also have family, and he also has armed men in his employ. He finds the whole affair revolting, but if his child dies you and your loved ones are in danger. Want the full text of his message?”
“I was afraid he’d think like that. I should have guessed it after Nam and Cuba. Now for the last time, Mandel, will you kill Bobby?”
“Alright, the side of justice and truth will be victorious. Inform your President that he may pick up his child tomorrow in Dallas.”

The President flew to Dallas. We were told to have a normal social evening that would attract little suspicion. The child would be waiting for him at the Carousel Club.
I called Jack Ruby and asked him to close the club. The President could not be seen at a strip joint. He refused saying the child would be there, and the President would autograph a picture for his now famous wall.

Having no choice, the President, Marilyn, Lee, Marina and I planned an evening together. As we approached the club Jack Ruby was waiting outside for us. He had a blank, cold stare on his face and did not react as I approached and said, “Hi, Jack.” He lifted a pistol from his pocket, and I jumped on the President. The shot hit me in the back of my thigh. Lee lunged at Ruby, fought for the pistol and a shot was heard. We saw Jack Ruby slump to the ground killed by Lee Harvey Oswald. A voice cried, “Daddy, daddy,” as John John ran from the club into his father’s waiting arms.

12 And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.

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