Frank Guidry had always been the right guy for the right job, the fixer who wiped away all evidence. But even a clean crime scene couldn't clear Guidry this time around.
President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated, prompting Guidry to realize he has unknowingly contributed to a cover-up.
He knows too much, and Carlos Marcello sees him as a loose thread that needs to be cut.
In Lou Berney's new novel, "November Road," Guidry hits the road, his only destination being somewhere far away from New Orleans, preferably alone.
But then he picks up Charlotte Roy, a rebellious housewife whose car has broken down on an Oklahoma highway. Funny how love can bloom at the most unlikely time, putting everyone involved in harm's way.
This is the way Berney imagined a marked mob lieutenant on the lam. It's also the way he imagined his own mother's life had she been given options.
Berney talked about how he wove his mom's real life into his novel at the Louisiana Book Festival.
"The inspiration for Charlotte was my mother," Berney said. "My mother grew up poor and never had a chance to go to college, but she was ferociously intelligent and resilient and curious about the world."
Berney was reminded of his mother's life situation a few years ago while rifling through old family photos taken at his Oklahoma boyhood home before he was born. They triggered the story that eventually would become "November Road."
His mom had always told him he'd been conceived on the day Kennedy was assassinated. Was it true? It didn't matter. Her Kennedy story have him a point of reference.
"Something just started stirring," he said. "I started thinking, like every writer does, 'What if? What if, at a certain point, my mother had made a different choice? Would it have been the best choice of her life or the worst?'"
Berney's mother juggled a job, children and an alcoholic husband with no job at a time when most women didn't work outside the home.
"This was before I was born," Berney said. "While she was taking care of my two sisters, the family dog was epileptic, and she was giving him his medicine."
Charlotte Roy's circumstances are that of Berney's mom's. She even has an epileptic dog.
But that's where there stories diverge. Berney's dad stopped drinking when the author was 3 years old, and life was stable for the family after that.
Charlotte's fortunes also change. She craves something bigger with someone who respects her intelligence. And she finds that with Guidry, who starts out using Charlotte, her two daughters and their dog as a cover.
Guidry's initial mission is to stay one step ahead of Marcello's hitman, but his budding relationship with Charlotte gives him hope for a new life.
Hovering over it all is Berney's thorough research into the dark cloud of Marcello's underworld reach.
"I graduated from Loyola in New Orleans 1985," Berney said. "Marcello was still alive, and I wish I could go back and meet him. I'm not saying that he was a good person, but if I'd have known that I would be writing this, I would have tried to meet him."
Berney learned a lot about both Marcello and the Kennedys in his research. The mobster had an ongoing battle with the Kennedys, who once had Marcello deported and dumped in an Ecuadorian jungle with no survival supplies.
Marcello somehow made it back to New Orleans carrying a fiery hate for the Kennedys.
"There wasn't anyone who hated the Kennedys more," Berney said. "And what's even more interesting about Marcello is the power he wielded. No crime boss could enter his territory without first asking his permission. And he had a way of staying under the radar, which could account for his long life."
Marcello died in his Metairie home at age 83 after a series of strokes. He was associated with New York crime bosses Meyer Lansky and Frank Costello, and conspiracy theorists have speculated that Marcello and fellow mobsters Santo Trafficante and Sam Giancana masterminded the Kennedy assassination.
Though Marcello is the culprit behind the assassination in "November Road," Berney reminded his readers that the story is fiction.
Berney moved back to Oklahoma after earning his bachelor's degree in communications and journalism from Loyola and his master's degree in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He now teaches in the master of fine arts program at Oklahoma City University.