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Before I left Neely Street, I walked around the fenced-in side yard, where, just three months before, Marina had taken photographs of Lee holding his rifle. There was nothing to see but beaten earth and a few hardy weeds. Then, as I turned to go, I did see something: a flash of red under the outside stairs. It was a babys rattle. I took it and put it in the glove compartment of my Chevy along with the bug, but unlike the bug, I held onto it. I dont know why.

15

My next stop was the sprawling ranch on Simpson Stuart Road where George de Mohrenschildt lived with his wife, Jeanne. As soon as I saw it I rejected it for the meeting I had planned. For one thing, I couldnt be sure when Jeanne would be in the house and when shed be away, and this particular conversation had to be strictly Two Guys. For another, it wasnt quite isolated enough. Paul Quinn College, an all-black school, was close by, and summer classes must have been in. There werent droves of kids, but I saw plenty, some walking and some on bikes. Not good for my purposes. It was possible that our discussion might be noisy. It was possible it might not be a discussionat least in the Merriam-Webster senseat all.

Something caught my eye. It was on the de Mohrenschildts wide front lawn, where sprinklers flung graceful sprays in the air and created rainbows that looked small enough to put in your pocket. 1963 wasnt an election year, but in early Aprilright around the time somebody had taken a shot at General Edwin Walkerthe representative from the Fifth District had dropped dead of a heart attack. There was going to be a run-off election for his seat on August sixth.

The sign read ELECT JENKINS TO THE 5TH DISTRICT! ROBERT ROBBIE JENKINS, DALLASS WHITE KNIGHT!

According to the papers, Jenkins was that for sure, a right-winger who saw eye-to-eye with Walker and Walkers spiritual advisor, Billy James Hargis. Robbie Jenkins stood for states rights, separate-but-equal schools, and reinstituting the Missile Crisis blockade around Cuba. The same Cuba de Mohrenschildt had called that beautiful island. The sign supported a strong feeling that Id already developed about de Mohrenschildt. He was a dilettante who, at bottom, held no political beliefs at all. He would support whoever amused him or put money in his pocket. Lee Oswald couldnt do the latterhe was so poor he made churchmice look loadedbut his humorless dedication to socialism combined with his grandiose personal ambitions had provided de Mohrenschildt with plenty of the former.

One deduction seemed obvious: Lee had never trod the lawn or soiled the carpets of this house with his poorboy feet. This was de Mohrenschildts other life or one of them. I had a feeling he might have several, keeping them all in various watertight compartments. But that didnt answer the central question: was he so bored he would have accompanied Lee on his mission to assassinate the fascist monster Edwin Walker? I didnt know him well enough to make even an educated guess.

But I would. My heart was set on it.

16

The sign in the window of Frank Fratis pawnshop read WELCOME TO GUITAR CENTRAL, and there were plenty of them on display: acoustics, electrics, twelve-strings, and one with a double fretboard that reminded me of something Id seen in a Mötley Crüe video. Of course there was all the other detritus of busted livesrings, brooches, necklaces, radios, small appliances. The woman who confronted me was skinny instead of fat, she wore slacks and a Ship N Shore blouse instead of a purple dress and mocs, but the stone face was the same as that of a woman Id met in Derry, and I heard the same words coming out of my mouth. Close enough for government work, anyway.

Id like to discuss a rather large sports-oriented business proposition with Mr. Frati.

Yeah? Is that a bet when its at home with its feet up?

Are you a cop?

Yeah, Im Chief Curry of the Dallas Police. Cant you tell from the glasses and the jowls?

I dont see any glasses or jowls, maam.

Thats because Im in disguise. What you want to bet on in the middle of the summer, chum? Theres nothing to bet on.

Case-Tiger.

Which pug?

Case.

She rolled her eyes, then shouted back over her shoulder. Better get out here, Dad, you got a live one.

Frank Frati was at least twice Chaz Fratis age, but the resemblance was still there. They were related, of course they were. If I mentioned I had once laid a bet with a Mr. Frati of Derry, Maine, I had no doubt we could have a pleasant little discussion about what a small world it was.

Instead of doing that, I proceeded directly to negotiations. Could I put five hundred dollars on Tom Case to win his bout against Dick Tiger in Madison Square Garden?

Yes indeedy, Frati said. You could also stick a red-hot branding iron up your rootie-patootie, but why would you want to?

His daughter yapped brief, bright laughter.

What kind of odds would I get?

He looked at the daughter. She put up her hands. Two fingers raised on the left, one finger on the right.

Two-to-one? Thats ridiculous.

Its a ridiculous life, my friend. Go see an Ionesco play if you dont believe me. I recommend Victims of Duty.

Well, at least he didnt call me cuz, as his Derry cuz had done.

Work with me a little on this, Mr. Frati.

He picked up an Epiphone Hummingbird acoustic and began to tune it. He was eerily quick. Give me something to work with, then, or blow on over to Dallas. Theres a place called

I know the place in Dallas. I prefer Fort Worth. I used to live here.

The fact that you moved shows more sense than wanting to bet on Tom Case.

What about Case by a knockout somewhere in the first seven rounds? What would that get me?

He looked at the daughter. This time she raised three fingers on her left hand.

And Case by a knockout in the first five?

She deliberated, then raised a fourth finger. I decided not to push it any farther. I wrote my name in his book and showed him my drivers license, holding my thumb over the Jodie address just as I had when Id bet on the Pirates at Faith Financial almost three years ago. Then I passed over my cash, which was about a quarter of all my remaining liquidity, and tucked the receipt into my wallet. Two thousand would be enough to pay down some more of Sadies expenses and carry me for my remaining time in Texas. Plus, I wanted to gouge this Frati no more than Id wanted to gouge Chaz Frati, even though he had set Bill Turcotte on me.

Ill be back the day after the dance, I said. Have my money ready.

The daughter laughed and lit a cigarette. Aint that what the chorus girl said to the archbishop?

Is your name Marjorie, by any chance? I asked.

She froze with the cigarette in front of her and smoke trickling from between her lips. Howdja know? She saw my expression and laughed. Actually, its Wanda, sport. I hope you bet better than you guess names.

Heading back to my car, I hoped the same thing.

 

CHAPTER 25

1

I stayed with Sadie on the morning of August fifth until they put her on a gurney and rolled her down to the operating room. There Dr. Ellerton was waiting for her, along with enough other docs to field a basketball team. Her eyes were shiny with preop dope.

Wish me luck.

I bent and kissed her. All the luck in the world.

It was three hours before she was wheeled back to her roomsame room, same picture on the wall, same horrible squatting commodefast asleep and snoring, the left side of her face covered in a fresh bandage. Rhonda McGinley, the nurse with the fullback shoulders, let me stay with her until she came around a little, which was a big infraction of the rules. Visiting hours are more stringent in the Land of Ago. Unless the head nurse has taken a shine to you, that is.

How are you? I asked, taking Sadies hand.

Sore. And sleepy.

Go back to sleep then, honey.

Maybe next time Her words trailed off in a furry hzzzzz sound. Her eyes closed, but she forced them open with an effort. will be better. In your place.

Then she was gone, and I had something to think about.

When I went back to the nurses station, Rhonda told me that Dr. Ellerton was waiting for me downstairs in the cafeteria.

Well keep her tonight and probably tomorrow, too, he said. The last thing we want is for any sort of infection to develop. (I thought of this later, of courseone of those things thats funny, but not very.)

How did it go?

As well as can be expected, but the damage Clayton inflicted was very serious. Pending her recovery, Im going to schedule her second go-round for November or December. He lit a cigarette, chuffed out smoke, and said: This is a helluva surgical team, and were going to do everything we can but there are limits.

Yes. I know. I was pretty sure I knew something else, as well: there were going to be no more surgeries. Here, at least. The next time Sadie went under the knife, it wouldnt be a knife at all. It would be a laser.

In my place.

2

Small economies always come back and bite you in the ass. Id had the phone taken out of my Neely Street apartment in order to save eight or ten dollars a month, and now I wanted it. But there was a U-Tote-M four blocks away with a phone booth next to the Coke cooler. I had de Mohrenschildts number on a scrap of paper. I dropped a dime and dialed.

De Mohrenschildt residence, how may I help you? Not Jeannes voice. A maid, probablywhere did the de Mohrenschildt bucks come from?

Id like to speak to George, please.

Im afraid hes at the office, sir.

I grabbed a pen from my breast pocket. Can you give me that number?

Yes, sir. CHapel 5-6323.

Thanks. I wrote it on the back of my hand.

May I say who called, if you dont reach him, sir?

I hung up. That chill was enveloping me again. I welcomed it. If Id ever needed cold clarity, it was now.

I dropped another dime and this time got a secretary who told me Id reached the Centrex Corporation. I told her I wanted to speak to Mr. de Mohrenschildt. She, of course, wanted to know why.

Tell him its about Jean-Claude Duvalier and Lee Oswald. Tell him its to his advantage.

Your name, sir?

Puddentane wouldnt do here. John Lennon.

Please hold, Mr. Lennon, Ill see if hes available.

There was no canned music, which on the whole seemed an improvement. I leaned against the wall of the hot booth and stared at the sign reading IF YOU SMOKE, PLEASE TURN ON FAN. I didnt smoke, but turned the fan on, anyway. It didnt help much.

There was a click in my ear loud enough to make me wince, and the secretary said, Youre connected, Mr. D.

Hello? That jovial booming actors voice. Hello? Mr. Lennon?

Hello. Is this line secure?

What do you? Of course it is. Just a minute. Let me shut the door.

There was a pause, then he was back. Whats this about?

Haiti, my friend. And oil leases.

Whats this about Monsieur Duvalier and that guy Oswald? There was no worry in his voice, just cheerful curiosity.

Oh, you know them both much better than that, I said. Go ahead and call them Baby Doc and Lee, why dont you?

Im awfully busy today, Mr. Lennon. If you dont tell me what this is about, Im afraid Ill have to

Baby Doc can approve the oil leases in Haiti youve been wanting for the last five years. You know this; hes his fathers righthand man, he runs the tonton macoute, and hes next in line for the big chair. He likes you, and we like you

De Mohrenschildt began to sound less like an actor and more like a real guy. When you say we, do you mean

We all like you, de Mohrenschildt, but were worried about your association with Oswald.

Jesus, I hardly know the guy! I havent seen him in six or eight months!

You saw him on Easter Sunday. You brought his little girl a stuffed rabbit.

A very long pause. Then: All right, I guess I did. I forgot about that.

Did you forget about someone taking a shot at Edwin Walker?

What has that got to do with me? Or my business? His puzzled outrage was almost impossible to disbelieve. Key word: almost.

Come on, now, I said. You accused Oswald of doing it.

I was joking, goddammit!

I gave him two beats, then said, Do you know what company I work for, de Mohrenschildt? Ill give you a hintits not Standard Oil.

There was silence on the line while de Mohrenschildt ran through the bullshit Id spouted so far. Except it wasnt bullshit, not entirely. Id known about the stuffed rabbit, and Id known about the how-did-you-miss crack hed made after his wife spotted the rifle. The conclusion was pretty clear. My company was The Company, and the only question in de Mohrenschildts mind right nowI hopedwas how much more of his no doubt interesting life wed bugged.

This is a misunderstanding, Mr. Lennon.

I hope for your sake that it is, because it looks to us like you might have primed him to take the shot. Going on and on about what a racist Walker is, and how hes going to be the next American Hitler.

Thats totally untrue!

I ignored this. But its not our chief worry. Our chief worry is that you may have accompanied Mr. Oswald on his errand last April tenth.

Ach, mein Gott! Thats insane!

If you can prove thatand if you promise to stay away from the unstable Mr. Oswald in the future

Hes in New Orleans, for Gods sake!

Shut up, I said. We know where he is and what hes doing. Handing out Fair Play for Cuba leaflets. If he doesnt stop soon, hell wind up in jail. Indeed he would, and in less than a week. His uncle Dutzthe one associated with Carlos Marcellowould go his bail. Hell be back in Dallas soon enough, but you wont see him. Your little game is over.

I tell you I never

Those leases can still be yours, but not unless you can prove you werent with Oswald on April tenth. Can you do that?

I let me think. There was a long pause. Yes. Yes, I think I can.

Then lets meet.

When?

Tonight. Nine oclock. I have people to answer to, and theyd be very unhappy with me if I gave you time to build an alibi.

Come to the house. Ill send Jeanne out to a movie with her girlfriends.

I have another place in mind. And you wont need directions to find it. I told him what I had in mind.

Why there? He sounded honestly puzzled.

Just come. And if you dont want the Duvaliers père and fils very angry at you, my friend, come alone.

I hung up.

3

I was back at the hospital at six on the dot, and visited with Sadie for half an hour. Her head was clear again, and she claimed her pain wasnt too bad. At six-thirty I kissed her good cheek and told her I had to go.

Your business? she asked. Your real business?

Yes.

No one gets hurt unless its absolutely necessary. Right?

I nodded. And never by mistake.

Be careful.

Like walking on eggs.

She tried to smile. It turned into a wince as the freshly flayed left side of her face pulled against itself. Her eyes looked over my shoulder. I turned to see Deke and Ellie in the doorway. They had dressed in their best, Deke in a summer-weight suit, string tie, and town cowboy hat, Ellie in a pink silk dress.

We can wait, if you want us to, Ellie said.

No, come on in. I was just leaving. But dont stay long, shes tired.

I kissed Sadie twicedry lips and moist forehead. Then I drove back to West Neely Street, where I spread out the items Id bought at the costume and novelty shop. I worked slowly and carefully in front of the bathroom mirror, referring often to the directions and wishing Sadie were here to help me.

I wasnt worried that de Mohrenschildt would take a look at me and say havent I seen you before; what I wanted to make sure of was that he wouldnt recognize John Lennon later on. Depending on how believable he was, I might have to come back on him. If so, Id want to take him by surprise.

I glued on the mustache first. It was a bushy one, making me look like an outlaw in a John Ford western. Next came the makeup, which I used on my face and hands to give myself a ranchers tan. There were horn-rimmed specs with plain glass lenses. I had briefly considered dying my hair, but that would have created a parallel with John Clayton that I couldnt have faced. Instead I yanked on a San Antonio Bullets baseball cap. When I was finished, I hardly recognized myself in the mirror.

Nobody gets hurt unless it absolutely has to happen, I told the stranger in the mirror. And never by mistake. Have we got that straight?

The stranger nodded, but the eyes behind the fake glasses were cool.

The last thing I did before leaving was to take my revolver from the closet shelf and shove it in my pocket.

4

I got to the deserted parking lot at the end of Mercedes Street twenty minutes early, but de Mohrenschildt was already there, his gaudy Cadillac butted up against the brick backside of the Montgomery Ward warehouse. That meant he was anxious. Excellent.

I looked around, almost expecting to see the jump-rope girls, but of course they were in for the nightpossibly sleeping and dreaming of Charlie Chaplin touring France, just to watch the ladies dance.

I parked near de Mohrenschildts yacht, rolled down my window, stuck out my left hand, and curled the index finger in a beckoning gesture. For a moment de Mohrenschildt sat where he was, as if unsure. Then he got out. The bigtime strut wasnt in evidence. He looked frightened and furtive. That was also excellent. In one hand he held a file folder. From the flat look of it, there wasnt much inside. I hoped it wasnt just a prop. If it was, we were going to dance, and it wouldnt be the Lindy Hop.

He opened the door, leaned in, and said, Look, youre not going to shoot me or anything, are you?

Nope, I said, hoping I sounded bored. If I was from the FBI you might have to worry about that, but Im not and you know Im not. Youve done business with us before. I hoped to God Als notes were right about that.

Is this car bugged? Are you?

If youre careful about what you say, you wont have anything to worry about, will you? Now get in.

He got in and shut the door. About those leases

You can discuss those another time, with other people. Oil isnt my specialty. My specialty is dealing with people who behave indiscreetly, and your relationship with Oswald has been very indiscreet.

I was curious, thats all. Heres a man who manages to defect to Russia, then re-defect to the United States. Hes a semi-educated hillbilly, but hes surprisingly crafty. Also He cleared his throat. I have a friend who wants to fuck his wife.

We know about that, I said, thinking of Bouhejust another George in a seemingly endless parade of them. How happy I would be to escape the echo chamber of the past. My sole interest is making sure you had nothing to do with that botched Walker hit.

Look at this. I took it from my wifes scrapbook.

He opened the folder, removed the single page of newsprint it contained, and passed it over. I turned on the Chevys domelight, hoping my tan wouldnt look like the makeup it was. On the other hand, who cared? It would strike de Mohrenschildt as just one more bit of cloak-and-dagger spookery.

The sheet was from the April 12 Morning News. I knew the feature; AROUND TOWN was probably read a lot more closely by most Dallas-ites than the world and national news. There were lots of names in boldface type and lots of pix showing men and women in evening dress. De Mohrenschildt had used red ink to circle a squib halfway down. In the accompanying photo, George and Jeanne were unmistakable. He was in a tux and flashing a grin that seemed to show as many teeth as there are keys on a piano. Jeanne was displaying an amazing amount of cleavage, which the third person at the table appeared to be inspecting closely. All three held up champagne glasses.

This is Fridays paper, I said. The Walker shooting was on Wednesday.

These Around Town items are always two days old. Because theyre about nightlife, dig? Besides dont just look at the picture, read it, man. Its right there in black and white!

I checked, but I knew he was telling the truth as soon as I saw the other mans name in the newspapers hotcha-hotcha boldface type. The harmonic echo was as loud as a guitar amp set on reverb.

Local oil rajah George de Mohrenschildt and wife Jeanne lifted a glass (or maybe it was a dozen!) at the Carousel Club on Wednesday night, celebrating the scrump-tiddly-uptious ladys birthday. How old? The lovebirds werent telling, but to us she doesnt look a day over twenty-three (skidoo!). They were hosted by the Carousels jovial panjandrum Jack Ruby, who sent over a bottle o bubbly and then joined them for a toast. Happy birthday, Jeanne, and long may you wave!

The champagne was rotgut and I had a hangover until three the next afternoon, but it was worth it if youre satisfied.

I was. I was also fascinated. How well do you know this guy Ruby?

De Mohrenschildt sniffedall his baronial snobbery expressed in a single quick inhale through flared nostrils. Not well, and dont want to. Hes a crazy little Jew who buys the police free drinks so theyll look the other way when he uses his fists. Which he likes to do. One day his temper will get him in trouble. Jeanne likes the strippers. They get her hot. He shrugged, as if to say who could understand women. Now are you He looked down, saw the gun in my fist, and stopped talking. His eyes widened. His tongue came out and licked his lips. It made a peculiar wet slupping sound as he drew it back into his mouth.

Am I satisfied? Was that what you were going to ask? I prodded him with the gun barrel and took considerable pleasure in his gasp. Killing changes a man, I tell you, it coarsens him, but in my defense, if there was ever a man who deserved a salutary scare, it was this one. Marguerite was partially responsible for what her youngest son had become, and there was plenty of responsibility for Lee himselfall those half-formed dreams of glorybut de Mohrenschildt had played a part. And was it some complicated plot hatched deep in the bowels of the CIA? No. Slumming simply amused him. So did the rage and disappointment baking up from the plugged oven of Lees disturbed personality.

Please, de Mohrenschildt whispered.

Im satisfied. But listen to me, you windbag: youre never going to meet with Lee Oswald again. Youre never going to talk to him on the phone. Youre never going to mention a word of this conversation to his wife, to his mother, to George Bouhe, to any of the other émigrés. Do you understand that?

Yes. Absolutely. I was growing bored with him, anyway.

Not half as bored as I am with you. If I find out youve talked to Lee, Ill kill you. Capisce?

Yes. And the leases?

Someone will be in touch. Now get the fuck out of my car.

He did so, posthaste. When he was behind the wheel of the Caddy, I reached out again with my left hand. Instead of beckoning, this time I used my index finger to point at Mercedes Street. He went.

I sat where I was a little while longer, looking at the clipping, which he in his haste had forgotten to take with him. The de Mohrenschildts and Jack Ruby, glasses raised. Was it a signpost pointing toward a conspiracy, after all? The tin-hat crew who believed in things like shooters popping up from sewers and Oswald doppelgängers probably would have thought so, but I knew better. It was just another harmonic. This was the Land of Ago, where everything echoed.

I felt I had closed Al Templetons window of uncertainty to the merest draft. Oswald was going to return to Dallas on the third of October. According to Als notes, he would get hired as a common laborer at the Texas School Book Depository in the middle of October. Except that wasnt going to happen, because sometime between the third and the sixteenth, I was going to end his miserable, dangerous life.

5

I was allowed to spring Sadie from the hospital on the morning of August seventh. She was quiet on the ride back to Jodie. I could tell she was still in considerable pain, but she rested a companionable hand on my thigh for most of the drive. When we turned off Highway 77 at the big Denholm Lions billboard, she said: Im going back to school in September.

Sure?

Yes. If I could stand up in front of the whole town at the Grange, I guess I can manage it in front of a bunch of kids in the school library. Besides, I have a feeling were going to need the money. Unless you have some source of income I dont know about, youve got to be almost broke. Thanks to me.

I should have some money coming in at the end of the month.

The fight?

I nodded.

Good. And Ill only have to listen to the whispers and the giggles for a little while, anyway. Because when you go, Im going with you. She paused. If its still what you want.

Sadie, its all I want.

We turned onto Main Street. Jem Needham was just finishing his rounds in his milk truck. Bill Gavery was putting out fresh loaves of bread under cheesecloth in front of the bakery. From a passing car Jan and Dean were singing that in Surf City there were two girls for every boy.

Will I like it, Jake? In your place?

I hope so, hon.

Is it very different?

I smiled. People pay more for gasoline and have more buttons to push. Otherwise, its about the same.

6

That hot August was as close to a honeymoon as we ever managed, and it was sweet. Any pretense that I was rooming with Deke Simmons pretty well went out the window, although I still kept my car in his driveway at night.

Sadie recovered quickly from the latest insult to her flesh, and although her eye sagged and her cheek was still scarred and deeply hollowed where Clayton had cut through to the inside of her mouth, there was visible improvement. Ellerton and his crew had done a good job with what they had.

We read books sitting side by side on her couch, with her fan blowing back our hairThe Group for her, Jude the Obscure for me. We had backyard picnics in the shade of her prized Chinese Pistache tree and drank gallons of iced coffee. Sadie began to cut back on the smokes again. We watched Rawhide and Ben Casey and Route 66. One night she tuned in The New Adventures of Ellery Queen, but I asked her to change the channel. I didnt like mysteries, I said.

Before bed, I carefully smoothed ointment on her wounded face, and once we were in bed it was good. Leave it at that.

One day outside the grocery store, I ran into that upstanding schoolboard member Jessica Caltrop. She said she would like to speak to me for a moment on what she called a delicate subject.

What might that be, Miz Caltrop? I asked. Because Ive got ice cream in here, and Id like to get home with it before it melts.

She gave me a chilly smile that could have kept my French vanilla firm for hours. Would home be on Bee Tree Lane, Mr. Amberson? With the unfortunate Miss Dunhill?

And that would be your business how?

The smile froze a little more deeply. As a member of the schoolboard, I have to make sure that the morality of our faculty is spotless. If you and Miss Dunhill are living together, that is a matter of grave concern to me. Teenagers are impressionable. They imitate what they see in their elders.

You think? After fifteen years or so in the classroom, I would have said they observe adult behavior and then run the other way as fast as they can.

Im sure we could have an illuminating discussion on how you view teenage psychology, Mr. Amberson, but thats not why I asked to speak to you, uncomfortable as I find it. She didnt look a bit uncomfortable. If you are living in sin with Miss Dunhill

Sin, I said. Now theres an interesting word. Jesus said that he without it was free to cast the first stone. Or she, I suppose. Are you without it, Miz Caltrop?

This discussion is not about me.

But we could make it about you. I could make it about you. I could, for instance, start asking around about the woods colt you dropped once upon a time.

She recoiled as if slapped and took two steps back toward the brick wall of the market. I took two steps forward, my grocery bags curled in my arms.

I find that repulsive and offensive. If you were still teaching, Id





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