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August 14, 1962
If you were to look at a map of Greater Cleveland, Ohio, you’d maybe notice a large grey patch about halfway between Cleveland and Youngstown, right on Route 14, with no information whatsoever—no roads, no topography, nothing but an empty spot, about the size of a thumb.
That bare spot on the map is the Ravenna Arsenal, 21,000-plus acres of government property that, during World War II, was an ordnance factory and depot. In many ways it was the perfect spot for a government installation—a sprawling, private facility with several outbuildings, no coastline, no significant population centers for 25 miles around, and plenty of flat ground. Although now almost twenty years after the war the government stationed neither personnel or equipment there any longer, in a rare moment of wisdom the Government kept the Arsenal in its possession, and kept it private.
Peppered about the compound were several outbuildings, mostly squat one-story buildings, quickly but sturdily built. Some were long, such as would accommodate sprawling assembly lines, and others looked more or less like smallish cape cod style houses.
In one of these smaller outbuildings now, Capt. Andrew Cobble – aka Dennis Mason, laboratory assistant, government agent, murderer – stood, at ease, in uniform before an oak desk with the Stars and Stripes crossed on the wall behind. The room smelled of sweet, dry wood. It was stifling and hot, despite a metal fan oscillating in a corner. The late afternoon sun shone in the west-facing window and shot streaks of sun down through the window and onto the floor, highlighting innumerable specks of dust playing in its spotlight. The room was otherwise empty, except for a small desk and chair in which from time to time a stenographer sat.
She was not there this day.
At the desk sat an older man, a bird Colonel, listening intently to Cobble’s report. Colonel Francis X. Waterman was a lifer; a career soldier who very early on in his service to the country was recruited to perform certain patriotic yet completely unheralded duties.
He found nothing whatsoever distasteful about his job; he saw his job as a natural extension of the United States military. Soldiers on foot carried weapons with which, in hot blood or cold, men were killed. They had a mission; others stood in the way of that mission; it was that simple. His job was, though non-combat yet not quite administrative, like all other military jobs: to assist, in whatever way his direct superiors ordered him to do, in the continuing military and geopolitical might of the United States of America.
“Everything according to plan,” Cobble said, his tone indicating the conclusion of his report. “Clark has been sanctioned, his data is safe and is currently being copied and archived, the lab assistants are back at our facility in Pittsburgh, and you could eat off the floor at the lab now.”
“Excellent. Well done again, Cobble.”
“Thank you, Colonel. If you have some time, I’ve done some preliminary research on who ought to carry on.”
“Not just yet, lad,” said the Colonel. “I need to clear up a couple of things in the report.” He patted the manila folder on his desk. “I understand he made a phone call right around the time he was sanctioned.”
“Yes, sir,” said Cobble evenly.
“Have any idea as to whom that call was made?”
“No, sir,” said the younger man, maintaining eye contact. “I must have been preparing the coffee.”
“Mmm.” Colonel Waterman muttered, then took off his glasses and placed the left earpiece in his mouth. “Here’s the thing, though, son,” he continued thoughtfully. “We placed a call, using that phone, after your crew left. We used it to determine to what extent the phone company’s clocks are off from ours. Know what it told us?”
“No, sir,” said Captain Cobble.
“It told us,” continued Waterman, “that that phone call was initiated precisely four minutes and thirteen seconds before you gave the signal. Four minutes and a quarter, Cobble. That’s not a lot of time. It almost makes one think that you allowed him to call his wife a last time.” He placed his spectacles down on the manila folder in which sat Cobble’s report. “That didn’t happen in this case, did it, son?”
“No, sir, it did not,” replied the Captain, face betraying no sign whatsoever of his racing heartbeat.
Colonel Waterman looked at him for a long moment and held his gaze. He picked up his glasses and fitted them over the bridge of his nose and his ears. Finally he spoke.
“OK,” he said finally, his face relaxing. “Good. I guess that’s settled then. Now, you have candidates for the next phase of the operation?”
“Yes, Colonel. Since this is largely a mechanical phase, I thought it best to consider our assets in Technical and Engineering facilities. I’ve narrowed it down to six potential candidates.”
“Splendid. Listen, I need to visit the head. You may sit, if you wish.”
“Thank you, sir,” replied the Captain.
Colonel Waterman got up from behind his desk, muttering something on the way out about how age shrinks the bladder. He opened the door and walked into his outer office. He nodded almost imperceptibly at two lieutenants who were seated in two canvasback chairs set up in a rough waiting room layout. Wordlessly they walked in, holding standard-issue Colt .45cal ACP’s with Maxim Silencers, as Waterman stepped outside and lit a cigarette. He listened for, and heard, the muffled sound of the shots, sighed heavily and walked straight ahead to the latrines in the last light of day, his shadow pacing long directly in front of him.