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At lastlittle by slowlymy inside world began to merge with the outside one. I was Jacob Epping, I was a teacher, and I had somehow traveled back in time to stop the assassination of President Kennedy. I tried to reject the idea at first, but I knew too much about the intervening years, and those things werent visions. They were memories. The Rolling Stones, the Clinton impeachment hearings, the World Trade Center in flames. Christy, my troubled and troublesome ex-wife.

One night while Sadie and I were watching Combat, I remembered what I had done to Frank Dunning.

Sadie, I killed a man before I came to Texas. It was in a graveyard. I had to. He was going to murder his whole family.

She looked at me, eyes wide and mouth open.

Turn off the TV, I said. The guy who plays Sergeant Saunderscant remember his nameis going to be decapitated by a helicopter blade. Please, Sadie, turn it off.

She did, then knelt before me.

Whos going to kill Kennedy? Where is he going to be when he does it?

I tried my hardest, and I didnt fall asleep, but I couldnt remember. I had gone from Maine to Florida, I remembered that. In the Ford Sunliner, a great car. I had gone from Florida to New Orleans, and when I left New Orleans, Id come to Texas. I remembered listening to Earth Angel on the radio as I crossed the state line, doing seventy miles per hour on Highway 20. I remembered a sign: TEXAS WELCOMES YOU. And a billboard advertising SONNYS B-B-Q, 27 MI. After that, a hole in the film. On the other side were emerging memories of teaching and living in Jodie. Brighter memories of swing-dancing with Sadie and lying in bed with her at the Candlewood Bungalows. Sadie told me Id also lived in Fort Worth and Dallas, but she didnt know where; all she had were two phone numbers that no longer worked. I didnt know where, either, although I thought one of the places might have been on Cadillac Street. She checked roadmaps and said there was no Cadillac Street in either city.

I could remember a lot of things now, but not the assassins name, or where he was going to be when he made his try. And why not? Because the past was keeping it from me. The obdurate past.

The assassin has a child, I said. I think her name is April.

Jake, Im going to ask you something. It might make you mad, but since a lot depends on thisthe fate of the world, according to youI need to.

Go ahead. I couldnt think of anything she might ask that would make me angry.

Are you lying to me?

No, I said. It was true. Then.

I told Deke we needed to call the police. He showed me a piece in the Morning News that said there have already been two hundred death threats and tips about potential assassins. He says both the right-wingers from DallasFort Worth and the left-wingers from San Antonio are trying to scare Kennedy out of Texas. He says the Dallas police are turning all the threats and tips over to the FBI and theyre doing nothing. He says the only person J. Edgar Hoover hates more than JFK is his brother Bobby.

I didnt much care who J. Edgar Hoover hated. Do you believe me?

Yes, she said, and sighed. Is Vic Morrow really going to die?

That was his name, sure. He is.

Making Combat?

No, a movie.

She burst into tears. Dont you die, Jakeplease. I only want you to get better.

I had a lot of bad dreams. The locations variedsometimes it was an empty street that looked like Main Street in Lisbon Falls, sometimes it was the graveyard where Id shot Frank Dunning, sometimes it was the kitchen of Andy Cullum, the cribbage acebut usually it was Al Templetons diner. We sat in a booth with the photos on his Town Wall of Celebrity looking down at us. Al was sickdyingbut his eyes were full of bright intensity.

The Yellow Card Mans the personification of the obdurate past, Al said. You know that, dont you?

Yes, I knew that.

He thought youd die from the beating, but you didnt. He thought youd die of the infections, but you didnt. Now hes walling off those memoriesthe vital onesbecause he knows its his last hope of stopping you.

How can he? Hes dead.

Al shook his head. No, thats me.

Who is he? What is he? And how can he come back to life? He cut his own throat and the card turned black! I saw it!

Dunno, buddy. All I know is that he cant stop you if you refuse to stop. You have to get at those memories.

Help me, then! I shouted, and grabbed the hard claw of his hand. Tell me the guys name! Is it Chapman? Manson? Both of those ring a bell, but neither one seems right. You got me into this, so help me!

At that point in the dream Al opens his mouth to do just that, but the Yellow Card Man intervenes. If were on Main Street, he comes out of the greenfront or the Kennebec Fruit. If its the cemetery, he rises from an open grave like a George Romero zombie. If in the diner, the door bursts open. The card he wears in the hatband of his fedora is so black it looks like a rectangular hole in the world. Hes dead and decomposing. His ancient overcoat is splotched with mold. His eye-sockets are writhing balls of worms.

He cant tell you nothing because its double-money day! the Yellow Card Man who is now the Black Card Man screams.

I turn back to Al, only Al has become a skeleton with a cigarette clamped in its teeth, and I wake up, sweating. I reach for the memories but the memories arent there.

Deke brought me the newspaper stories about the impending Kennedy visit, hoping they would jog something loose. They didnt. Once, while I was lying on the couch (I was just coming out of one of my sudden sleeps), I heard the two of them arguing yet again about calling the police. Deke said an anonymous tip would be disregarded and one that came with a name attached would get all of us in trouble.

I dont care! Sadie shouted. I know you think hes nuts, but what if hes right? How are you going to feel if Kennedy goes back to Washington from Dallas in a box?

If you bring the police in, theyll focus on Jake, sweetie. And according to you, he killed a man up in New England before he came here.

Sadie, Sadie, I wish you hadnt told him that.

She stopped arguing, but she didnt give up. Sometimes she tried to surprise it out of me, the way you can supposedly surprise someone out of the hiccups. It didnt work.

What am I going to do with you? she asked sadly.

I dont know.

Try to come at it some other way. Try to sneak up on it.

I have. I think the guy was in the Army or the Marines. I rubbed at the back of my head, where the ache was starting again. But it might have been the Navy. Shit, Christy, I dont know.

Sadie, Jake. Im Sadie.

Isnt that what I said?

She shook her head and tried to smile.

On the twelfth, the Tuesday after Veterans Day, the Morning News ran a long editorial about the impending Kennedy visit and what it meant for the city. Most residents seem ready to welcome the young and inexperienced president with open arms, the piece said. Excitement is running high. Of course it doesnt hurt that his pretty and charismatic wife will be along for the ride.

More dreams about the Yellow Card Man last night? Sadie asked when she came in. Shed spent the holiday in Jodie, mostly to water her houseplants and to show the flag, as she put it.

I shook my head. Honey, youve been here a lot more than youve been in Jodie. Whats the status of your job?

Miz Ellie put me on part-time. Im getting by, and when I go with you if we go I guess Ill just have to see what happens.

Her gaze shifted away from me and she busied herself lighting a cigarette. Watching her take too long tamping it on the coffee table and then fiddling with her matches, I realized a dispiriting thing: Sadie was also having her doubts. Id predicted a peaceful end to the Missile Crisis, I had known Dick Tiger was going down in the fifth but she still had her doubts. And I didnt blame her. If our positions had been reversed, I would have been having mine.

Then she brightened. But Ive got a heck of a good stand-in, and I bet you can guess who.

I smiled. Is it I couldnt get the name. I could see himthe weathered, suntanned face, the cowboy hat, the string tiebut that Tuesday morning I couldnt even get close. My head started to ache in the back, where it had hit the baseboardbut what baseboard, in what house? It was so abysmally fucked up not to know.

Kennedys coming in ten days and I cant even remember that old guys fucking name.

Try, Jake.

I am, I said. I am, Sadie!

Wait a sec. Ive got an idea.

She laid her smoldering cigarette in one of the ashtray grooves, got up, went out the front door, closed it behind her. Then she opened it and spoke in a voice that was comically gruff and deep, saying what the old guy said each time he came to visit: How you doin today, son? Takin any nourishment?

Deke, I said. Deke Simmons. He was married to Miz Mimi, but she died in Mexico. We had a memorial assembly for her.

The headache was gone. Just like that.

Sadie clapped her hands and ran to me. I got a long and lovely kiss.

See? she said when she drew back. You can do this. Its still not too late. Whats his name, Jake? Whats the crazy buggers name?

But I couldnt remember.

On November sixteenth, the Times Herald published the Kennedy motorcade route. It would start at Love Field and end at the Trade Mart, where he would speak to the Dallas Citizens Council and their invited guests. The nominal purpose of his speech was to salute the Graduate Research Center and congratulate Dallas on its economic progress over the last decade, but the Times Herald was happy to inform those who didnt already know that the real reason was pure politics. Texas had gone for Kennedy in 1960, but 64 was looking shaky in spite of having a good old Johnson City boy on the ticket. Cynics still called the vice president Landslide Lyndon, a reference to his 1948 Senate bid, a decidedly hinky affair he won by eighty-seven votes. That was ancient history, but the nicknames longevity said a lot about the mixed feelings Texans had about him. Kennedys joband Jackies, of coursewas to help Landslide Lyndon and Texas governor John Connally fire up the faithful.

Look at this, Sadie said, tracing a fingertip along the route. Blocks and blocks of Main Street. Then Houston Street. There are high buildings all along that part. Is the man going to be on Main Street? He just about has to be, dont you think?

I hardly listened, because Id seen something else. Look, Sadie, the motorcades going to go along Turtle Creek Boulevard!

Her eyes blazed. Is that where its going to happen?

I shook my head doubtfully. Probably not, but I knew something about Turtle Creek Boulevard, and it had to do with the man Id come to stop. As I considered this, something floated to the surface.

He was going to hide the rifle and come back for it later.

Hide it where?

It doesnt matter, because that part already happened. That parts the past. I put my hands over my face because the light in the room was suddenly too bright.

Stop thinking about it now, she said, and snatched the newspaper story away. Relax, or youll get one of your headaches and need one of those pills. They make you all sloppy.

Yes, I said. I know.

You need coffee. Strong coffee.

She went into the kitchen to make it. When she came back, I was snoring. I slept for almost three hours, and might have remained in the Land of Nod even longer, but she shook me awake. Whats the last thing you remember about coming to Dallas?

I dont remember it.

Where did you stay? A hotel? A motor court? A rented room?

For a moment I had a hazy memory of a courtyard and many windows. A doorman? Maybe. Then it was gone. The headache was cranking up again.

I dont know. All I remember is crossing the state line on Highway 20 and seeing a sign for barbecue. And that was miles from Dallas.

I know, but we dont have to go that far, because if you were on 20, you stayed on 20. She glanced at her watch. Its too late today, but tomorrow were going for a Sunday drive.

It probably wont work. But I felt a flicker of hope, just the same.

She stayed the night, and the next morning we left Dallas on what residents called the Honeybee Highway, headed east toward Louisiana. Sadie was at the wheel of my Chevy, which was fine once the jimmied ignition switch had been replaced. Deke had taken care of that. She drove as far as Terrell, then pulled off 20 and turned around in the potholed dirt parking lot of a side-o-the-road church. Blood of the Redeemer, according to the message board on the fading lawn. Below the name, there was message in white stick-on letters. It was supposed to say HAVE YOU READ THE WORD OF ALMIGHTY GOD TODAY, but some of the letters had fallen off, leaving AVE YOU REA THE WORD OF AL IGHTY GOD TOD Y.

She looked at me with some trepidation. Can you drive back, honey?

I was pretty sure I could. It was a straight shot, and the Chevy was an automatic. I wouldnt need to use my stiff left leg at all. The only thing was

Sadie? I asked her as I settled behind the wheel for the first time since August and ran the seat as far back as it would go.


If I fall asleep, grab the wheel and turn off the key.

She smiled nervously. Oh, believe me.

I checked for traffic and pulled out. At first I didnt dare go much above forty-five, but it was a Sunday noon, and we had the road pretty much to ourselves. I began to relax.

Clear your mind, Jake. Dont try to remember anything, just let it happen.

I wish I had my Sunliner, I said.

Make believe it is your Sunliner, then, and just let it go where it wants to go.

Okay, but

No buts. Its a beautiful day. Youre coming into a new place, and you dont have to worry about Kennedy being assassinated, because thats a long time from now. Years.

Yes, it was a nice day. And no, I didnt fall asleep, although I was plenty tiredI hadnt been out for this long since the beating. My mind kept returning to the little side-o-the-road church. Very likely a black church. They probably swung the hymns in a way the white folks never would, and read THE WORD OF AL IGHTY GOD with lots of hallelujah and praise Jesus.

We were coming into Dallas now. I made lefts and rightsprobably more rights, because my left arm was still weak and turning that way hurt, even with the power steering. Soon I was lost in the side streets.

Im lost, all right, I thought. I need someone to give me directions the way that kid did in New Orleans. To the Hotel Moonstone.

Only it hadnt been the Moonstone; it had been the Monteleone. And the hotel where Id stayed when I came to Dallas was it was

For a moment I thought it was going to waft away, as even Sadies name sometimes still did. But then I saw the doorman, and all those glittering windows looking down on Commerce Street, and it clicked home.

I had stayed at the Adolphus Hotel. Yes. Because it was close to

It wouldnt come. That part was still blocked off.

Honey? All right?

Yes, I said. Why?

You kind of jumped.

Its my leg. Cramping up a little.

None of this looks familiar?

No, I said. None of it.

She sighed. Another idea bites the dust. I guess we better go back. Want me to drive?

Maybe you better. I limped around to the passenger seat, thinking Adolphus Hotel. Write that down when you get back to Eden Fallows. So you wont forget.

When we were back in the little three-room efficiency with the ramps, the hospital bed, and the grab-handles on either side of the toilet, Sadie told me I ought to lie down for a little while. And take one of your pills.

I went into the bedroom, took off my shoesa slow processand lay down. I didnt take a pill, though. I wanted to keep my mind clear. I had to keep it clear from now on. Kennedy and Dallas were just five days apart.

You stayed in the Adolphus Hotel because it was close to something. What?

Well, it was close to the motorcade route that had been published in the paper, which narrowed things down to gee, no more than two thousand buildings. Not to mention all the statues, monuments, and walls a putative sniper could hide behind. How many alleys along the route? Dozens. How many overpasses with clear fire lines down to passby-points on West Mockingbird Lane, Lemmon Avenue, Turtle Creek Boulevard? The motorcade was going to travel all of those. How many more on Main Street and Houston Street?

You need to remember either who he is or where hes going to shoot from.

If I got one of those things, Id get the other. I knew this. But what my mind kept returning to was that church on Route 20 where wed turned around. Blood of the Redeemer on the Honeybee Highway. Many people saw Kennedy as a redeemer. Certainly Al Templeton had. He

My eyes widened and I stopped breathing.

In the other room the telephone rang and I heard Sadie answer, keeping her voice pitched low because she thought I was asleep.


I remembered the day I had seen Sadies full name with part of it blocked out, so all I could read was Doris Dun. This was a harmonic of that magnitude. I closed my eyes and visualized the church signboard. Then I visualized putting my hand over IGHTY GOD.

What I was left with was THE WORD OF AL.

Als notes. I had his notebook!

But where? Where was it?

The bedroom door opened. Sadie looked in. Jake? Are you asleep?

No, I said. Just lying quiet.

Did you remember anything?

No, I said. Sorry.

Theres still time.

Yes. New things are coming back to me every day.

Honey, that was Deke. Theres a bug going around school and hes caught a good case of it. He asked if I could come in tomorrow and Tuesday. Maybe Wednesday, too.

Go in, I said. If you dont, hell try to do it himself. And hes not a young guy anymore. In my mind, four words flashed on and off like bar neon: THE WORD OF AL, THE WORD OF AL, THE WORD OF AL.

She sat down next to me on the bed. Are you sure?

Ill be fine. Plenty of company, too. DAVIN comes in tomorrow, remember. DAVIN was Dallas Area Visiting Nurses. Their main job in my case was to make sure I wasnt raving, which might indicate that my brain was bleeding after all.

Right. Nine oclock. Its on the calendar, in case you forget. And Dr. Ellerton

Coming for lunch. I remember.

Good, Jake. Thats good.

He said hed bring sandwiches. And milkshakes. Wants to fatten me up.

You need fattening up.

Plus therapy on Wednesday. Leg-torture in the morning, arm-torture in the afternoon.

I dont like leaving you so close to you know.

If something occurs to me, Ill call you, Sadie.

She took my hand and bent close enough so I could smell her perfume and the faint aroma of tobacco on her breath. Do you promise?

Yes. Of course.

Ill be back on Wednesday night at the latest. If Deke cant come in on Thursday, the library will just have to stay closed.

Ill be fine.

She kissed me lightly, started out of the room, then turned back. I almost hope Dekes right and this whole thing is a delusion. I cant bear the idea that we know and still might not be able to stop it. That we might just be sitting in the living room and watching on television when somebody

Ill remember, I said.

Will you, Jake?

I have to.

She nodded, but even with the shades drawn, I could read the doubt on her face. We can still have supper before I go. You close your eyes and let that pill do its work. Get some sleep.

I closed my eyes, sure I wouldnt sleep. And that was okay, because I needed to think about the Word of Al. After a little while I could smell something cooking. It smelled good. When Id first come out of the hospital, still puking or shitting every ten minutes, all smells had revolted me. Now things were better.

I began to drift. I could see Al sitting across from me in one of the diner booths, his paper cap tilted over his left eyebrow. Photos of smalltown bigwigs looked down at us, but Harry Dunning was no longer on the wall. I had saved him. Perhaps the second time Id saved him from Vietnam, as well. There was no way to be sure.

Still holding you back, isnt he, buddy? Al asked.

Yes. He still is.

But youre close now.

Not close enough. I have no idea where I put that goddam notebook of yours.

You put it someplace safe. Does that narrow it down any?

I started to say no, then thought: The Word of Al is safe. Safe. Because

I opened my eyes, and for the first time in what felt like weeks, a big smile creased my face.

It was in a safe deposit box.

The door opened. Are you hungry? I kept it warm.


Jake, youve been asleep for over two hours.

I sat up and swung my legs onto the floor. Then lets eat.




11/17/63 (Sunday)

Sadie wanted to do the dishes after the meal she called supper and I called dinner, but I told her to go on and pack her overnight case instead. It was small and blue, with rounded corners.

Your knee

My knee can stand up to a few dishes. You need to hit the road now if you want a full nights sleep.

Ten minutes later the dishes were done, my fingertips were pruney, and Sadie stood at the door. With her little bag in her hands and her hair curling around her face, she had never looked prettier to me.

Jake? Tell me one good thing about the future.

Surprisingly few things came. Cell phones? No. Suicide bombers? Probably not. Melting ice caps? Perhaps another time.

Then I grinned. Ill give you two for the price of one. The cold war is over and the president is a black man.

She started to smile, then saw I wasnt joking. Her mouth dropped open. Are you telling me theres a Negro in the White House?

Yes indeed. Although in my day, such folks prefer to be called African-Americans.

Youre serious?

Yes. I am.

Oh my God!

A great many people said that exact thing the day after the election.

Is he doing a good job?

Opinions vary. If you want mine, hes doing as well as anyone could expect, given the complexities.

On that note, I think Ill drive back to Jodie. She laughed distractedly. In a daze.

She walked down the ramp, put her case in the cubby that served as her Beetles trunk, then blew me a kiss. She started to get in, but I couldnt let her go like that. I couldnt runDr. Perry said that was still eight months away, maybe even a yearbut I limped down the ramp as fast as I could.

Wait, Sadie, wait a minute!

Mr. Kenopensky was sitting next door in his wheelchair, bundled up in a jacket and holding his battery-powered Motorola in his lap. On the sidewalk, Norma Whitten was making her slow way down toward the mailbox on the corner, using a pair of wooden sticks more like ski poles than crutches. She turned and waved to us, trying to lift the frozen side of her face into a smile.

Sadie looked at me questioningly in the twilight.

I just wanted to tell you something, I said. I wanted to tell you youre the best damned thing that ever happened to me.

She laughed and hugged me. Ditto, kind sir.

We kissed a long time, and might have kissed longer but for the dry clapping sound on our right. Mr. Kenopensky was applauding.

Sadie pulled away, but took me by the wrists. Youll call me, wont you? Keep me whats that thing you say? In the loop?

Thats it, and I will. I had no intention of keeping her in the loop. Deke or the police, either.

Because you cant do this on your own, Jake. Youre too weak.

I know that, I said. Thinking: I better not be. Call me so I know you got back safe.

When her Bug turned the corner and disappeared, Mr. Kenopensky said, Better mind your ps and qs, Amberson. That ones a keeper.

I know. I stayed at the foot of the driveway long enough to make sure Miz Whitten got back from the mailbox without falling down.

She made it.

I went back inside.


The first thing I did was to get my key ring off the top of the dresser and pick through the keys, surprised that Sadie had never shown them to me to see if theyd jog my memory but of course she couldnt think of everything. There were an even dozen. I had no idea what most of them went to, although I was pretty sure the Schlage opened the front door of my house in was it Sabattus? I thought that was right, but I wasnt sure.

There was one small key on the ring. Stamped on it was FC and 775. It was a safe deposit box key, all right, but what was the bank? First Commercial? That sounded bankish, but it wasnt right.

I closed my eyes and looked into darkness. I waited, almost sure what I wanted would come and it did. I saw a checkbook in a faux alligator cover. I saw myself flipping it open. This was surprisingly easy. Printed on the top check was not only my Land of Ago name but my last official Land of Ago address.

W. Neely St. Apartment 1

Dallas, TX

I thought: Thats where my car got stolen from.

And I thought: Oswald. The assassins name is Oswald Rabbit.

No, of course not. He was a man, not a cartoon character. But it was close.

Im coming for you, Mr. Rabbit, I said. Still coming.


The phone rang shortly before nine-thirty. Sadie was home safe. Dont suppose anything came to you, did it? Im a pest, I know.

Nothing. And youre the farthest thing in the world from a pest. She was also going to be the farthest thing in the world from Oswald Rabbit, if I had anything to do about it. Not to mention his wife, whose name might or might not be Mary, and his little girl, who I felt sure was named April.

You were pulling my leg about a Negro being in the White House, werent you?

I smiled. Wait awhile. You can see for yourself.


11/18/63 (Monday)

The DAVIN nurses, one old and formidable, the other young and pretty, arrived at 9:00 A.M. sharp. They did their thing. When the older one felt that I had grimaced, twitched, and moaned enough, she handed me a paper envelope with two pills in it. Pain.

I dont really think

Take em, she saida woman of few words. Freebies.

I popped them in my mouth, cheeked them, swallowed water, then excused myself to use the bathroom. There I spat them out.

When I returned to the kitchen, the older nurse said: Good progress. Dont overdo.

Absolutely not.

Catch them?

Beg pardon?

The assholes who beat you up.

Uh not yet.

Doing something you shouldnt have been doing?

I gave her my widest smile, the one Christy used to say made me look like a game-show host on crack. I dont remember.


Dr. Ellerton came for lunch, bringing huge roast beef sandwiches, crispy french fries dripping in grease, and the promised milkshakes. I ate as much as I could manage, which was really quite a lot. My appetite was returning.

Mike talked up the idea of doing yet another variety show, he said. This time to benefit you. In the end, wiser heads prevailed. A small town can only give so much. He lit a cigarette, dropped the match into the ashtray on the table, and inhaled with gusto. Any chance the police will catch the mugs who tuned up on you? What do you hear?

Nothing, but I doubt it. They cleaned out my wallet, stole my car, and split.

What were you doing on that side of Dallas, anyway? Its not exactly the high-society part of town.

Well, apparently I lived there.

I dont remember. Visiting someone, maybe.

Are you getting plenty of rest? Not straining the knee too much?

No. Although I suspected Id be straining it plenty before much longer.

Still falling asleep suddenly?

Thats quite a bit better.

Terrific. I guess

The phone rang. Thatll be Sadie, I said. She calls on her lunch break.

I have to be shoving off, anyway. Its great to see you putting on weight, George. Say hello to the pretty lady for me.

I did so. She asked me if any pertinent memories were coming back. I knew by her delicate phrasing that she was calling from the schools main officeand would have to pay Mrs. Coleridge for the long-distance when she was done. Besides keeping the DCHS exchequer, Mrs. Coleridge had long ears.

: 2016-10-06; : 377 |




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