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I told her no, no new memories, but I was going to take a nap and hope something would be there when I woke up. I added that I loved her (it was nice to say something that was the Gods honest), asked after Deke, wished her a good afternoon, and hung up. But I didnt take a nap. I took my car keys and my briefcase and drove downtown. I hoped to God Id have something in that briefcase when I came back.


I motored slowly and carefully, but my knee was still aching badly when I entered the First Corn Bank and presented my safe deposit box key.

My banker came out of his office to meet me, and his name clicked home immediately: Richard Link. His eyes widened with concern when I limped to meet him. What happened to you, Mr. Amberson?

Car accident. Hoping hed missed or forgotten the squib in the Morning Newss Police Beat page. I hadnt seen it myself, but there had been one: Mr. George Amberson of Jodie, beaten and mugged, found unconscious, taken to Parkland Hospital. Im mending nicely.

Thats good to hear.

The safe deposit boxes were in the basement. I negotiated the stairs in a series of hops. We used our keys, and Link carried the box into one of the cubicles for me. He set it on a tiny wedge of desk just big enough to hold it, then pointed to the button on the wall.

Just ring for Melvin when youve finished. Hell assist you.

I thanked him, and when he was gone, I pulled the curtain across the cubicles doorway. We had unlocked the box, but it was still closed. I stared at it, my heart beating hard. John Kennedys future was inside.

I opened it. On top was a bundle of cash and a litter of stuff from the Neely Street apartment, including my First Corn checkbook. Beneath this was a sheaf of manuscript bound by two rubber bands. THE MURDER PLACE was typed on the top sheet. No authors name, but it was my work. Below it was a blue notebook: the Word of Al. I held it in my hands, filled with a terrible certainty that when I opened it, all the pages would be blank. The Yellow Card Man would have erased them.

Please, no.

I flipped it open. On the first page, a photograph looked back at me. Narrow, not-quite-handsome face. Lips curved in a smile I knew wellhadnt I seen it with my own eyes? It was the kind of smile that says I know whats going on and you dont, you poor boob.

Lee Harvey Oswald. The wretched waif who was going to change the world.


Memories came rushing in as I sat there in the cubicle, gasping for breath.

Ivy and Rosette on Mercedes Street. Last name Templeton, like Als.

The jump-rope girls: My old man drives a sub-ma-rine.

Silent Mike (Holy Mike) at Satellite Electronics.

George de Mohrenschildt ripping open his shirt like Superman.

Billy James Hargis and General Edwin A. Walker.

Marina Oswald, the assassins beautiful hostage, standing on my doorstep at 214 West Neely: Please excuse, have you seen my hubka?

The Texas School Book Depository.

Sixth floor, southeast window. The one with the best view of Dealey Plaza and Elm Street, where it curved toward the Triple Underpass.

I began shivering. I clutched my upper arms in my fists with my arms tightly locked over my chest. It made the left onebroken by the felt-wrapped pipeache, but I didnt mind. I was glad. It tied me to the world.

When the shakes finally passed, I loaded the unfinished book manuscript, the precious blue notebook, and everything else into my briefcase. I reached for the button that would summon Melvin, then dummy-checked the very back of the box. There I found two more items. One was the cheap pawnshop wedding ring Id purchased to support my cover story at Satellite Electronics. The other was the red baby rattle that had belonged to the Oswalds little girl (June, not April). The rattle went into the briefcase, the ring into the watch pocket of my slacks. I would throw it away on my drive home. If and when the time came, Sadie would have a much nicer one.


Knocking on glass. Then a voice: all right? Mister, are you all right?

I opened my eyes, at first with no idea where I was. I looked to my left and saw a uniformed beat-cop knocking on the drivers side window of my Chevy. Then it came. Halfway back to Eden Fallows, tired and exalted and terrified all at the same time, that Im going to sleep feeling had drifted into my head. Id pulled into a handy parking space immediately. That had been around two oclock. Now, from the look of the lowering light, it had to be around four.

I cranked my window down and said, Sorry, Officer. All at once I started to feel very sleepy, and it seemed safer to pull over.

He nodded. Yup, yup, boozell do that. How many did you have before you jumped into your car?

None. I suffered a head injury a few months ago. I swiveled my neck so he could see the place where the hair hadnt grown back.

He was halfway convinced, but still asked me to exhale in his face. That got him the rest of the way.

Lemme see your ticket, he said.

I showed him my Texas drivers license.

Not thinking of motoring all the way back to Jodie, are you?

No, Officer, just to North Dallas. Im staying at a rehabilitation center called Eden Fallows.

I was sweating. I hoped that if he saw it, hed just put it down to a man whod been snoozing in a closed car on a warmish November day. I also hopedferventlythat he wouldnt ask to see what was in the briefcase on the bench seat beside me. In 2011, I could refuse such a request, saying that sleeping in my car wasnt probable cause. Hell, the parking space wasnt even metered. In 1963, however, a cop might just start rummaging. He wouldnt find drugs, but he would find loose cash, a manuscript with the word murder in its title, and a notebook full of delusional weirdness about Dallas and JFK. Would I be taken either to the nearest police station for questioning, or back to Parkland for psychiatric evaluation? Did the Waltons take way too long to say goodnight?

He stood there a moment, big and red-faced, a Norman Rockwell cop who belonged on a Saturday Evening Post cover. Then he handed back my license. Okay, Mr. Amberson. Go on back to this Fallows place, and I suggest you park your car for the night when you get there. Youre looking peaky, nap or no nap.

Thats exactly what I plan to do.

I could see him in my rearview as I drove away, watching. I felt certain I was going to fall asleep again before I got out of his sight. Thered be no warning this time; Id just veer off the street and onto the sidewalk, maybe mowing down a pedestrian or three before winding up in the show window of a furniture store.

When I finally parked in front of my little cottage with the ramp leading up to the front door, my head was aching, my eyes were watering, my knee was throbbing but my memories of Oswald remained firm and clear. I slung my briefcase on the kitchen table and called Sadie.

I tried you when I got home from school, but you werent there, she said. I was worried.

I was next door, playing cribbage with Mr. Kenopensky. These lies were necessary. I had to remember that. And I had to tell them smoothly, because she knew me.

Well, thats good. Then, without a pause or a change of inflection: Whats his name? Whats the mans name?

Lee Oswald. She almost surprised it out of me, after all.

I I still dont know.

You hesitated. I heard you.

I waited for the accusation, gripping the phone hard enough to hurt.

This time it almost popped into your head, didnt it?

There was something, I agreed cautiously.

We talked for fifteen minutes while I looked at the briefcase with Als notes inside it. She asked me to call her later that evening. I promised I would.


I decided to wait until after The Huntley-Brinkley Report to open the blue notebook again. I didnt think Id find much of practical value at this point. Als final notes were sketchy and hurried; he had never expected Mission Oswald to go on so long. Neither had I. Getting to the disaffected little twerp was like traveling on a road littered with fallen branches, and in the end the past might succeed in protecting itself, after all. But I had stopped Dunning. That gave me hope. I had the glimmerings of a plan that might allow me to stop Oswald without going to prison or the electric chair in Huntsville. I had excellent reasons to want to remain free. The best one of all was in Jodie this evening, probably feeding Deke Simmons chicken soup.

I worked my way methodically through my little invalid-friendly apartment, collecting stuff. Other than my old typewriter, I didnt want to leave a trace of George Amberson behind when I left. I hoped that wouldnt be until Wednesday, but if Sadie said that Deke was better and she was planning to come back on Tuesday night, Id have to speed things up. And where would I hide out until my job was done? A very good question.

A trumpet-blast announced the network news. Chet Huntley appeared. After spending the weekend in Florida, where he watched the test-firing of a Polaris missile and visited his ailing father, President Kennedy had a busy Monday, making five speeches in nine hours.

A helicopterMarine Onedescended while a waiting crowd cheered. The next shot featured Kennedy approaching the crowd behind a makeshift barrier, brushing at his shaggy hair with one hand and his tie with the other. He strode well ahead of the Secret Service contingent, which jogged to keep up. I watched, fascinated, as he actually slipped through a break in the barrier and plunged into the waiting mass of people, shaking hands left and right. The agents with him looked dismayed as they hurried after.

This was the scene in Tampa, Huntley continued, where Kennedy pressed the flesh for almost ten minutes. He worries the men whose job it is to keep him safe, but you can see that the crowd loves it. And so does he, Davidfor all his alleged aloofness, he enjoys the demands of politics.

Kennedy was moving toward his limo now, still shaking hands and accepting the occasional lady-hug. The car was a top-down convertible, exactly like the one hed ride in from Love Field to his appointment with Oswalds bullet. Maybe it was the same one. For a moment the blurry black-and-white film caught a familiar face in the crowd. I sat on my sofa and watched as the President of the United States shook the hand of my former Tampa bookie.

I had no way of knowing if Roth was correct about the syph or just repeating a rumor, but Eduardo Gutierrez had lost a lot of weight, his hair was thinning, and his eyes looked confused, as if he wasnt sure where he was or even who he was. Like Kennedys Secret Service contingent, the men flanking him wore bulky suit coats in spite of the Florida heat. It was only a glimpse, and then the footage switched to Kennedy pulling away in the open car that left him so vulnerable, still waving and flashing his grin.

Back to Huntley, his craggy face now wearing a bemused smile. The day did have its funny side, David. As the president was entering the International Inn ballroom, where the Tampa Chamber of Commerce was waiting to hear him speak well, listen for yourself.

Back to the footage. As Kennedy entered, waving to the standing audience, an elderly gentleman in an Alpine hat and lederhosen struck up Hail to the Chief on an accordion bigger than he was. The president did a double take, then lifted both hands in an amiable holy shit gesture. For the first time I saw him as I had come to see Oswaldas an actual man. In the double take and the gesture that followed it, I saw something even more beautiful than a sense of humor: an appreciation for lifes essential absurdity.

David Brinkley was also smiling. If Kennedys reelected, perhaps that gentleman will be invited to play at the Inaugural Ball. Probably The Beer Barrel Polka rather than Hail to the Chief. Meanwhile, in Geneva

I turned off the TV, returned to the sofa, and opened Als book. As I flipped to the back, I kept seeing that double take. And the grin. A sense of humor; a sense of the absurd. The man in the sixth-floor window of the Book Depository had neither. Oswald had proved it time and again, and such a man had no business changing history.


I was dismayed to find that five of the last six pages in Als notebook dealt with Lees movements in New Orleans and his fruitless efforts to get to Cuba via Mexico. Only the last page focused on the lead-up to the assassination, and those final notes were perfunctory. Al had no doubt had that part of the story by heart, and probably figured that if I hadnt gotten Oswald by the third week of November, it was going to be too late.

10/3/63: O back in Texas. He and Marina sort of separated. She at Ruth Paines house, O shows up mostly on weekends. Ruth gets O a job at Book Dep thru a neighbor (Buell Frazier). Ruth calls O a fine young man.

O living in Dallas during the work-week. Rooming house.

10/17/63: O starts work at Dep. Shifting books, unloading trucks, etc.

10/18/63: O turns 24. Ruth and Marina give him a surprise party. O thanks them. Cries.

10/20/63: 2nd daughter born: Audrey Rachel. Ruth takes Marina to hosp (Parkland) while O works. Rifle stored in Paine garage, wrapped in blanket.

O repeatedly visited by FBI agent James Hosty. Stokes his paranoia.

11/21/63: O comes to Paine house. Begs Marina to reunite. M refuses. Last straw for O.

11/22/63: O leaves all his money on dresser for Marina. Also wedding ring. Goes from Irving to Book Dep with Buell Frazier. Has package wrapped in brown paper. Buell asks about it. Curtain rods for my new apartment, O tells him. Mann-Carc rifle probably disassembled. Buell parks in public lot 2 blocks from Book Dep. 3-min walk.

11:50 AM: O constructs snipers nest on SE corner of 6th floor, using cartons to shield him from workers on other side, who are laying down plywood for new floor. Lunch. No one there but him. Everyone watching for Pres.

11:55 AM: O assembles & loads Mann-Carc.

12:29 PM: Motorcade arrives Dealey Plaza.

12:30 PM: O shoots 3 times. 3rd shot kills JFK.

The piece of information I most wantedthe location of Oswalds rooming housewasnt in Als notes. I restrained an urge to throw the notebook across the room. Instead I got up, put on my coat, and went outside. It was nearly full dark, but a three-quarter moon was rising in the sky. By its light I saw Mr. Kenopensky slumped in his wheelchair. His Motorola was in his lap.

I made my way down the ramp and limped over. Mr. K? All right?

For a moment he didnt answer or even move, and I was sure he was dead. Then he looked up and smiled. Just listenin to my music, son. They play swing at night on KMAT, and it really takes me back. I could lindy and bunny-hop like nobodys biz back in the old days, though youd never know to look at me now. Aint the moon purty?

It was bigtime purty. We looked at it awhile without speaking, and I thought about the job I had to do. Maybe I didnt know where Lee was staying tonight, but I knew where his rifle was: Ruth Paines garage, wrapped in a blanket. Suppose I went there and took it? I might not even have to break in. This was the Land of Ago, where folks in the hinterlands often didnt lock their houses, let alone their garages.

Only what if Al was wrong? Hed been wrong about the stash-point before the Walker attempt, after all. Even if it was there

Whatre you thinkin about, son? Mr. Kenopensky asked. You got a misery look. Not girl trouble, I hope.

No. At least not yet. Do you give advice?

Yessir, I do. Its the one thing old coots are good for when they cant swing a rope or ride a line no more.

Suppose you knew a man was going to do a bad thing. That his heart was absolutely set on it. If you stopped a man like that oncetalked him out of it, saydo you think hed try it again, or does that moment pass forever?

Hard to say. Are you maybe thinking whoever scarred your young ladys face is going to come back and try to finish the job?

Something like that.

Crazy fella. It wasnt a question.


Sane men will often take a hint, Mr. Kenopensky said. Crazy men rarely do. Saw it often back in the sagebrush days, before electric lights and phones. Warn em off, they come back. Beat em up, they hit from ambushfirst you, then the one theyre really after. Jug em up in county, they sit and wait to get out. Safest thing to do with crazy men is put em in the penitentiary for a long stretch. Or kill em.

Thats what I think, too.

Dont let him back to spoil the rest of her pretty, if thats what he aims to do. If you care for her as much as you seem to, youve got a responsibility.

I certainly did, although Clayton was no longer the problem. I went back to my little modular apartment, made strong black coffee, and sat down with a legal pad. My plan was a little clearer now, and I wanted to start fleshing in the details.

I doodled instead. Then fell asleep.

When I woke up it was almost midnight and my cheek ached where it had been pressed against the checked oilcloth covering the kitchen table. I looked at what was on my pad. I didnt know if Id drawn it before going to sleep or if I had wakened long enough to do it and just couldnt remember.

It was a gun. Not a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, but a pistol. My pistol. The one Id tossed beneath the porch steps at 214 West Neely. It was probably still there. I hoped it was still there.

I was going to need it.


11/19/63 (Tuesday)

Sadie called in the morning and said Deke was a little better, but she intended to make him stay home tomorrow, as well. Otherwise hell just try to come in, and have a setback. But Ill pack my bag before I leave for school tomorrow morning and head your way as soon as period six is over.

Period six ended at ten past one. That meant Id have to be gone from Eden Fallows by four oclock tomorrow afternoon at the latest. If only I knew where. I look forward to seeing you.

You sound all stiff and funny. Are you having one of your headaches?

A little one, I said. It was true.

Go lie down with a damp cloth over your eyes.

Ill do that. I had no intention of doing that.

Have you thought of anything?

I had, as a matter of fact. Id thought that taking Lees rifle wasnt enough. And shooting him at the Paine house was a bad option. Not just because Id probably be caught, either. Counting Ruths two, there were four kids in that house. I might still have tried it if Lee had been walking from a nearby bus stop, but hed be riding with Buell Frazier, the neighbor whod gotten him the job at Ruth Paines request.

No, I said. Not yet.

Well think of something. You wait and see.


I drove (still slowly, but with increasing confidence) across town to West Neely, wondering what Id do if the ground-floor apartment was occupied. Buy a new gun, I supposed but the .38 Police Special was the one I wanted, if only because Id had one just like it in Derry, and that mission had been a success.

According to newscaster Frank Blair on the Today show, Kennedy had moved on to Miami, where he was greeted by a large crowd of cubanos. Some held up signs reading VIVA JFK while others carried a banner reading KENNEDY IS A TRAITOR TO OUR CAUSE. If nothing changed, he had seventy-two hours left. Oswald, who had only slightly longer, would be in the Book Depository, perhaps loading cartons into one of the freight elevators, maybe in the break room drinking coffee.

I might be able to get him therejust walk up to him and plug himbut Id be collared and wrestled to the floor. After the killshot, if I was lucky. Before, if I wasnt. Either way, the next time I saw Sadie Dunhill it would be through glass reinforced with chickenwire. If I had to give myself up in order to stop Oswaldto sacrifice myself, in hero-speakI thought I could do that. But I didnt want it to play out that way. I wanted Sadie and my poundcake, too.

There was a pot barbecue on the lawn at 214 West Neely, and a new rocking chair on the porch, but the shades were drawn and there was no car in the driveway. I parked in front, told myself that bold is beautiful, and mounted the steps. I stood where Marina had stood on April tenth when she came to visit me and knocked as she had knocked. If someone answered the door, Id be Frank Anderson, canvassing the neighborhood on behalf of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (I was too old for Grit). If the lady of the house expressed an interest, Id promise to come back with my sample case tomorrow.

No one answered. Maybe the lady of the house also worked. Maybe she was down the block, visiting a neighbor. Maybe she was in the bedroom that had been mine not long ago, sleeping off a drunk. It was mix-nox to me, as we say in the Land of Ago. The place was quiet, that was the important thing, and the sidewalk was deserted. Even Mrs. Alberta Hitchinson, the walker-equipped neighborhood sentry, wasnt in evidence.

I descended from the porch in my limping sidesaddle fashion, started down the walk, turned as if Id forgotten something, and peered under the steps. The .38 was there, half-buried in leaves with the short barrel poking out. I got down on my good knee, snagged it, and dropped it into the side pocket of my sport coat. I looked around and saw no one watching. I limped to my car, put the gun in the glove compartment, and drove away.


Instead of going back to Eden Fallows, I drove into downtown Dallas, stopping at a sporting goods store on the way to buy a gun-cleaning kit and a box of fresh ammo. The last thing I wanted was to have the .38 misfire or blow up in my face.

My next stop was the Adolphus. There were no rooms available until next week, the doorman told meevery hotel in Dallas was full for the presidents visitbut for a dollar tip, he was more than happy to park my car in the hotel lot. Have to be gone by four, though. Thats when the heavy check-ins start.

By then it was noon. It was only three or four blocks to Dealey Plaza, but I took my sweet time getting there. I was tired, and my headache was worse in spite of a Goodys Powder. Texans drive with their horns, and every blast dug into my brain. I rested often, leaning against the sides of buildings and standing on my good leg like a heron. An off-duty taxi driver asked if I was okay; I assured him that I was. It was a lie. I was distraught and miserable. A man with a bum knee really shouldnt have to carry the future of the world on his back.

I dropped my grateful butt onto the same bench where Id sat in 1960, only days after arriving in Dallas. The elm that had shaded me then clattered bare branches today. I stretched out my aching knee, sighed with relief, then turned my attention to the ugly brick cube of the Book Depository. The windows overlooking Houston and Elm Streets glittered in the chilly afternoon sun. We know a secret, they said. Were going to be famous, especially the one on the southeast corner of the sixth floor. Were going to be famous, and you cant stop us. A sense of stupid menace surrounded the building. And was it just me who thought so? I watched several people cross Elm to pass the building on the other side and thought not. Lee was inside that cube right now, and I was sure he was thinking many of the things I was thinking. Can I do this? Will I do this? Is it my destiny?

Roberts not your brother anymore, I thought. Now Im your brother, Lee, your brother of the gun. You just dont know it.

Behind the Depository, in the trainyard, an engine hooted. A flock of band-tailed pigeons took wing. They momentarily whirled above the Hertz sign on the roof of the Depository, then wheeled away toward Fort Worth.

If I killed him before the twenty-second, Kennedy would be saved but Id almost certainly wind up in jail or a psychiatric hospital for twenty or thirty years. But if I killed him on the twenty-second? Perhaps as he assembled his rifle?

Waiting until so late in the game would be a terrible risk, and one Id tried with all my might to avoid, but I thought it could be done and was now probably my best chance. It would be safer with a partner to help me run my game, but there was only Sadie, and I wouldnt involve her. Not even, I realized bleakly, if it meant that Kennedy had to die or I had to go to prison. She had been hurt enough.

I began making my slow way back to the hotel to get my car. I took one final glance back at the Book Depository over my shoulder. It was looking at me. I had no doubt of it. And of course it was going to end there, Id been foolish to imagine anything else. I had been driven toward that brick hulk like a cow down a slaughterhouse chute.


11/20/63 (Wednesday)

I started awake at dawn from some unremembered dream, my heart beating hard.

She knows.

Knows what?

That youve been lying to her about all the things you claim not to remember.

No, I said. My voice was rusty with sleep.

Yes. She was careful to say she was leaving after period six, because she doesnt want you to know shes planning to leave much sooner. She doesnt want you to know until she shows up. In fact, she might be on the road already. Youll be halfway through your morning therapy session, and in shell breeze.

I didnt want to believe this, but it felt like a foregone conclusion.

So where was I going to go? As I sat there on the bed in that Wednesday mornings first light, that also seemed like a foregone conclusion. It was as if my subconscious mind had known all along. The past has resonance, it echoes.

But first I had one more chore to perform on my used typewriter. An unpleasant one.


November 20, 1963

Dear Sadie,

I have been lying to you. I think youve suspected that for quite some time now. I think youre planning to show up early today. That is why you wont see me again until after JFK visits Dallas the day after tomorrow.

If things go as I hope, well have a long and happy life together in a different place. It will be strange to you at first, but I think youll get used to it. Ill help you. I love you, and thats why I cant let you be a part of this.

Please believe in me, please be patient, and please dont be surprised if you read my name and see my picture in the papersif things go as I want them to, that will probably happen. Above all, do not try to find me.

All my love,


PS: You should burn this.


I packed my life as George Amberson into the trunk of my gull-wing Chevy, tacked a note for the therapist on the door, and drove away feeling heavy and homesick. Sadie left Jodie even earlier than Id thought she mightbefore dawn. I departed Eden Fallows at nine. She pulled her Beetle up to the curb at quarter past, read the note canceling the therapy session, and let herself in with the key Id given her. Propped against the typewriters roller-bar was an envelope with her name on it. She tore it open, read the letter, sat down on the sofa in front of the blank television, and cried. She was still crying when the therapist showed up but she had burned the note, as I requested.


Mercedes Street was mostly silent under an overcast sky. The jump-rope girls werent in evidencetheyd be in school, perhaps listening raptly as their teacher told them all about the upcoming presidential visitbut the FOR RENT sign was once more tacked to the rickety porch railing, as Id expected. There was a phone number. I drove down to the Montgomery Ward warehouse parking lot and called it from the booth near the loading dock. I had no doubt that the man who answered with a laconic Yowp, this is Merritt was the same guy who had rented 2703 to Lee and Marina. I could still see his Stetson hat and gaudy stitched boots.

I told him what I wanted, and he laughed in disbelief. I dont rent by the week. Thats a fine home there, podna.

Its a dump, I said. Ive been inside. I know.

Now wait just a doggone

Nosir, you wait. Ill give you fifty bucks to squat in that hole through the weekend. Thats almost a full months rent, and you can put your sign back in the window come Monday.

Why would you

Because Kennedys coming and every hotel in DallasFort Worth is full. I drove a long way to see him, and I dont intend to camp out in Fair Park or on Dealey Plaza.

I heard the click and flare of a cigarette lighter as Merritt thought this over.

Times wasting, I said. Tick-tock.

Whats your name, podna?

George Amberson. I sort of wished Id moved in without calling at all. I almost had, but a visit from the Fort Worth PD was the last thing I needed. I doubted if the residents of a street where chickens were sometimes blown up to celebrate holidays gave much of a shit about squatters, but better safe than sorry. I was no longer just walking around the house of cards; I was living in it.

: 2016-10-06; : 346 |




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