The Oswalds became my upstairs neighbors on March 2, 1963. They hand-carried their possessions, mostly in liquor store cartons, from the crumbling brick box on Elsbeth Street. Soon the wheels of the little Japanese tape recorder were turning on a regular basis, but mostly I listened in with the earphones. That way the conversations upstairs were normal instead of slowed down, but of course I couldn’t understand much of it, anyway.
The week after the Oswalds moved into their new digs, I visited one of the pawnshops on Greenville Avenue to buy a gun. The first revolver the pawnbroker showed me was the same Colt.38 model I’d bought in Derry.
“This is excellent pertection against muggers n home-breakers,” the pawnbroker said. “Dead accurate up to twenty yards.”
“Fifteen,” I said. “I heard fifteen.”
The pawnie raised his eyebrows. “Okay, say fifteen. Anyone stupid enough—”
— to try mugging me out of my cash is going to be a lot closer than that, that’s how the pitch goes.
“—to brace you is gonna be in at close quarters, so what do you say?”
My first impulse, just to break that sense of chiming but slightly discordant harmony was to tell him I wanted something else, maybe a.45, but breaking the harmony might be a bad idea. Who knew? What I did know was that the.38 I’d bought in Derry had done the job.
“Let you have it for twelve.”
That was two dollars more than I’d paid in Derry, but of course that had been four and a half years ago. Adjusting for inflation, twelve seemed about right. I told him to add a box of bullets and he had a deal.
When the broker saw me putting the gun and the ammo in the briefcase I’d brought along for that purpose, he said, “Why don’t you let me sell you a holster, son? You don’t sound like you’re from around here and you probably don’t know, but you c’n carry legal in Texas, no permit needed if you don’t have a felony record. You got a felony record?”
“No, but I don’t expect to be mugged in broad daylight.”
The broker offered a dark smile. “On Greenville Avenue you can never tell what’s gonna happen. Man blew his own head off just a block and a half from here a few years ago.”
“Yessir, outside a bar called the Desert Rose. Over a woman, accourse. Don’t that figure?”
“I guess,” I said. “Although sometimes it’s politics.”
“Nah, nah, at the bottom it’s always a woman, son.”
I’d found a parking space four blocks west of the pawnshop, and in order to get back to my new (new to me, anyway) car, I had to pass Faith Financial, where I’d laid my bet on the Miracle Pirates in the fall of 1960. The sharpie who’d paid off my twelve hundred was standing out front, having a smoke. He was wearing his green eyeshade. His eyes passed over me, but seemingly without interest or recognition.
That was on a Friday afternoon, and I drove straight from Greenville Avenue to Kileen, where Sadie met me at the Candlewood Bungalows. We spent the night, as was our habit that winter. The next day she drove back to Jodie, where I joined her on Sunday for church. After the benediction, during the part where we shook hands with the people all around us, saying “Peace be with you,” my thoughts turned — not comfortably — to the gun now stowed in the trunk of my car.
Over the Sunday noon meal, Sadie asked: “How much longer? Until you do what you have to do?”
“If everything goes the way I hope, not much more than a month.”
“And if it doesn’t?”
I scrubbed my hands through my hair and went to the window. “Then I don’t know. Anything else on your mind?”
“Yes,” she said calmly. “There’s cherry cobbler for afters. Would you like whipped cream on yours?”
“Very much,” I said. “I love you, honey.”
“You better,” she said, getting up to fetch dessert. “Because I’m kind of out on a limb here.”
I stayed at the window. A car came rolling slowly down the street — an oldie but a goodie, as the jocks on K-Life said — and I felt that harmonic chime again. But I was always feeling it now, and sometimes it meant nothing. One of Christy’s AA slogans came to my mind: FEAR, standing for false evidence appearing real.
This time a click of association came, though. The car was a white-over-red Plymouth Fury, like the one I’d seen in the parking lot of the Worumbo mill, not far from the drying shed where the rabbit-hole into 1958 came out. I remembered touching the trunk to make sure it was real. This one had an Arkansas plate instead of a Maine one, but still. . that chime. That harmonic chime. Sometimes I felt that if I knew what that chime meant, I’d know everything. Probably stupid, but true.
The Yellow Card Man knew, I thought. He knew and it killed him.
My latest harmonic signaled left, turned at the stop sign, and disappeared toward Main Street.
“Come eat dessert, you,” Sadie said from behind me, and I jumped.
The AAs say FEAR stands for something else, as well: Fuck everything and run.
When I got back to Neely Street that night, I put on the earphones and listened to the latest recording. I expected nothing but Russian, but this time I got English as well. And splashing sounds.
Marina: (Speaks Russian.)
Lee: “I can’t, Mama, I’m in the tub with Junie!”
(More splashing, and laughter — Lee’s and the baby’s high chortle.)
Lee: “Mama, we got water on the floor! Junie splash! Bad girl!”
Marina: “Mop it up! I beezy! Beezy! ” (But she is also laughing.)
Lee: “I can’t, you want the baby to. .” (Russian.)
Marina: (Speaks Russian — scolding and laughing at the same time.)
(More splashing. Marina is humming some pop song from KLIF. It sounds sweet.)
Lee: “Mama, bring us our toys!”
Marina: “Da, da, always you must have the toys.”
(Splashing, loud. The door to the bathroom must be all the way open now.)
Marina: (Speaks Russian.)
Lee (pouty little boy’s voice): “Mama, you forgot our rubber ball.”
(Big splash — the baby screams with delight.)
Marina: “There, all toys for preence and preencessa.”
(Laughter from all three — their joy turns me cold.)
Lee: “Mama, bring us a (Russian word). We have water on our ear.”
Marina (laughing): “Oh my God, what next?”
I lay awake a long time that night, thinking of the three of them. Happy for once, and why not? 214 West Neely wasn’t much, but it was still a step up. Maybe they were even sleeping in the same bed, June for once happy instead of scared to death.
And now a fourth in the bed, as well. The one growing in Marina’s belly.
Things began to move faster, as they had in Derry, only now time’s arrow was flying toward April 10 instead of Halloween. Al’s notes, which I had depended on to get me this far, became less helpful. Leading up to the attempt on Walker’s life, they concentrated almost solely on Lee’s actions and movements, and that winter there was a lot more to their lives, Marina’s in particular.
For one thing, she had finally made a friend — not a sugar daddy wannabe like George Bouhe, but a woman friend. Her name was Ruth Paine, and she was a Quaker lady. Russian speaker, Al had noted in a laconic style not much like his earlier notes. Met at party, 2(??)/63. Marina separated from Lee and living with the Paine woman at the time of the Kennedy assassination. And then, as if it were no more than an afterthought: Lee stored M-C in Paine garage. Wrapped in blanket.
By M-C, he meant the mail-order Mannlicher-Carcano rifle with which Lee planned to kill General Walker.
I don’t know who threw the party where Lee and Marina met the Paines. I don’t know who introduced them. De Mohrenschildt? Bouhe? Probably one or the other, because by then the rest of the émigrés were giving the Oswalds a wide berth. Hubby was a sneering know-it-all, wifey a punching bag who’d passed up God knew how many chances to leave him for good.
What I do know is Marina Oswald’s potential escape-hatch arrived behind the wheel of a Chevrolet station wagon — white over red — on a rainy day in the middle of March. She parked at the curb and looked around dubiously, as if not sure she had come to the right address. Ruth Paine was tall (although not as tall as Sadie) and painfully thin. Her brownish hair was banged over a huge expanse of forehead in front and flipped in back, a style that did not flatter her. She wore rimless glasses on a nose splashed with freckles. To me, peering through a crack in the curtains, she looked like the kind of woman who steered clear of meat and marched in Ban the Bomb demonstrations. . and that was pretty much who Ruth Paine was, I think, a woman who was New Age before New Age was cool.
Marina must have been watching for her, because she came clattering down the outside stairs with the baby in her arms, a blanket flipped up over June’s head to protect her from the drifting drizzle. Ruth Paine smiled tentatively and spoke carefully, putting a space between each word. “Hello, Mrs. Oswald, I’m Ruth Paine. Do you remember me?”
“Da,” Marina said. “Yes.” Then she added something in Russian. Ruth replied in the same language. . although haltingly.
Marina invited her in. I waited until I heard the creak of their footsteps above me, then donned the earphones connected to the lamp bug. What I heard was a conversation in mixed English and Russian. Marina corrected Ruth several times, sometimes with laughter. I understood enough to figure out why Ruth Paine had come. Like Paul Gregory, she wanted Russian lessons. I understood something else from their frequent laughter and increasingly easy conversation: they liked each other.
I was glad for Marina. If I killed Oswald after his attempt on General Walker, the New Agey Ruth Paine might take her in. I could hope.
Ruth only came twice to Neely Street for her lessons. After that, Marina and June got in the station wagon and Ruth drove them away. Probably to her home in the posh (at least by Oak Cliff standards) suburb of Irving. That address wasn’t in Al’s notes — he seemed to care little about Marina’s relationship with Ruth, probably because he expected to finish Lee long before that rifle ended up in the Paines’ garage — but I found it in the phone directory: 2515 West Fifth Street.
One overcast March afternoon, about two hours after Marina and Ruth had departed, Lee and George de Mohrenschildt showed up in de Mohrenschildt’s car. Lee got out carrying a brown paper sack with a sombrero and PEPINO’S BEST MEXICAN printed on the side. De Mohrenschildt had a six-pack of Dos Equis. They went up the outside staircase, talking and laughing. I grabbed the earphones, heart pumping. At first there was nothing, but then one of them turned on the lamp. After that I might have been in the room with them, an unseen third.
Please don’t conspire to kill Walker, I thought. Please don’t make my job harder than it already is.
“Pardon the mess,” Lee said. “She doesn’t do anything much these days but sleep, watch TV, and talk about that woman she’s giving lessons to.”
De Mohrenschildt spoke for awhile about some oil leases he was trying to get hold of in Haiti, and spoke harshly of the repressive Duvalier regime. “At the end of the day, trucks drive through the marketplace and pick up the dead. Many of them are children who’ve starved to death.”
“Castro and the Front will put an end to that,” Lee said grimly.
“May providence hasten the day.” There was the clink of bottles, probably to toast the idea of providence hastening the day. “How is work, Comrade? And how is it you’re not there this afternoon?”
He wasn’t there, Lee said, because he wanted to be here. Simple as that. He’d just punched out and walked away. “What can they do about it? I’m the best damn photoprint technician ole Bobby Stovall’s got, and he knows it. The foreman, his name is (I couldn’t make it out — Graff? Grafe?) says ‘Quit trying to play labor organizer, Lee.’ You know what I do? I laugh and say ‘Okay, svinoyeb, ’ and walk away. He’s a pig’s dick, and ever’one knows it.”
Still, it was clear Lee liked his job, although he complained about the paternalistic attitude, and how seniority counted for more than talent. At one point he said, “You know, in Minsk, on a level playing field, I’d be running the place in a year.”
“I know you would, my son — it’s completely evident.”
Playing him up. Winding him up. I was sure of it. I didn’t like it.
“Did you see the paper this morning?” Lee asked.
“I saw nothing but telegrams and memos this morning. Why do you think I’m here, if not to get away from my desk?”
“Walker did it,” Lee said. “He joined up with Hargis’s crusade — or maybe it’s Walker’s crusade and Hargis joined up. I cain’t tell. That fucking Midnight Ride thing, anyway. Those two ninnies are going to tour the whole South, telling people that the N-double-A-C-P’s a communist front. They’ll set integration and voting rights back twenty years.”
“Sure! And fomenting hate. How long before the massacres start?”
“Or until someone shoots Ralph Abernathy and Dr. King!”
“Of course King will be shot,” de Mohrenschildt said, almost laughing. I was standing up, my hands pressing the earphones tight to the sides of my head, sweat trickling down my face. This was dangerous ground, indeed — the very edge of conspiracy. “It’s only a matter of time.”
One of them used the church key on another bottle of Mexican beer, and Lee said, “Someone should stop those two bastards.”
“You’re wrong to call our General Walker a ninny,” de Mohrenschildt said in a lecturely tone. “Hargis, yes, okay. Hargis is a joke. What I hear is that he is — like so many of his ilk — a man of twisted sexual appetites, willing to diddle a little girl’s cunt in the morning and a little boy’s asshole in the afternoon.”
“Man, that’s sick !” Lee’s voice broke like an adolescent’s on the last word. Then he laughed.
“But Walker, ah, there’s a very different kettle of shrimp. He’s high in the John Birch Society—”
“Those Jew-hating fascists!”
“—and I can see a day, not long hence, when he may run it. Once he has the confidence and approval of the other right-wing nut groups, he may even run for office again. . but this time not for governor of Texas. I suspect he has his sights aimed higher. The Senate? Perhaps. Even the White House?”
“That could never happen.” But Lee sounded unsure.
“It’s unlikely to happen,” de Mohrenschildt corrected. “But never underestimate the American bourgeoisie’s capacity to embrace fascism under the name of populism. Or the power of television. Without TV, Kennedy would never have beaten Nixon.”
“Kennedy and his iron fist,” Lee said. His approval of the current president seemed to have gone the way of blue suede shoes. “He won’t never rest as long as Fidel’s shitting in Batista’s commode.”
“And never underestimate the terror white America feels at the idea of a society in which racial equality has become the law of the land.”
“Nigger, nigger, nigger, beaner, beaner, beaner!” Lee burst out, with a rage so great it was nearly anguish. “That’s all I hear at work!”
“I’m sure. When the Morning News says ‘the great state of Texas,’ what they mean is ‘the hate state of Texas.’ And people listen! For a man like Walker — a war hero like Walker — a buffoon like Hargis is nothing but a stepping-stone. The way von Hindenberg was a stepping-stone for Hitler. With the right public relations people to smooth him out, Walker could go far. Do you know what I think? That the man who knocked off General Edwin Racist America Walker would be doing society a favor.”
I dropped heavily into a chair beside the table where the little tape recorder sat, its reels spinning.
“If you really believe—” Lee began, and then there was a loud buzz that made me snatch the headphones off. There were no cries of alarm or outrage from upstairs, no swift movement of feet, so — unless they were very good at covering up on the spur of the moment — I thought I could assume the lamp bug hadn’t been discovered. I put the headphones back on. Nothing. I tried the distance mike, standing on a chair and holding the Tupperware bowl almost against the ceiling. With it I could hear Lee talking and de Mohrenschildt’s occasional replies, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying.
My ear in the Oswald apartment had gone deaf.
The past is obdurate.
After another ten minutes of conversation — maybe about politics, maybe about the annoying nature of wives, maybe about newly hatching plans to kill General Edwin Walker — de Mohrenschildt bounded down the outside stairs and drove away.
Lee’s footfalls crossed above my head—clump, clud, clump. I followed them into my bedroom and trained the distance mike on the place where they stopped. Nothing. . nothing. . then the faint but unmistakable sound of snoring. When Ruth Paine dropped off Marina and June two hours later, he was still sleeping the sleep of Dos Equis. Marina didn’t wake him. I wouldn’t have woken the bad-tempered little sonofabitch, either.
Oswald began to miss a lot more work after that day. If Marina knew, she didn’t care. Maybe she didn’t even notice. She was absorbed with her new friend Ruth. The beatings had abated a little, not because morale had improved, but because Lee was out almost as frequently as she was. He often took his camera. Thanks to Al’s notes, I knew where he was going and what he was doing.
One day after he’d left for the bus stop, I jumped into my car and drove to Oak Lawn Avenue. I wanted to beat Lee’s crosstown bus, and I did. Handily. There was plenty of slant-style parking on both sides of Oak Lawn, but my red gull-wing Chevy was distinctive, and I didn’t want to risk Lee seeing it. I put it around the corner on Wycliff Avenue, in the parking lot of an Alpha Beta grocery. Then I strolled down to Turtle Creek Boulevard. The houses there were neo-haciendas with arches and stucco siding. There were palm-lined drives, big lawns, even a fountain or two.
In front of 4011, a trim man (who bore a striking resemblance to the cowboy actor Randolph Scott) was at work with a push mower. Edwin Walker saw me looking at him and struck a curt half-salute from the side of his brow. I returned the gesture. Lee Oswald’s target resumed mowing and I moved on.
The streets making up the Dallas block I was interested in were Turtle Creek Boulevard (where the general lived), Wycliff Avenue (where I’d parked), Avondale Avenue (which was where I went after returning Walker’s wave), and Oak Lawn, a street of small businesses that ran directly behind the general’s house. Oak Lawn was the one I was most interested in, because it was going to be Lee’s line of approach and route of escape on the night of April 10.
I stood in front of Texas Shoes & Boots, the collar of my denim jacket raised and my hands stuffed in my pockets. About three minutes after I took up this position, the bus stopped at the corner of Oak Lawn and Wycliff. Two women with cloth shopping bags got off immediately when the doors flopped open. Then Lee descended to the sidewalk. He carried a brown paper bag, like a workman’s lunchsack.
There was a big stone church on the corner. Lee sauntered over to the iron railing running in front of it, read the noticeboard, took a small notepad out of his hip pocket, and jotted something down. After that he headed in my direction, tucking the notebook into his pocket as he walked. I hadn’t expected that. Al had believed Lee was going to stash his rifle near the railroad tracks on the other side of Oak Lawn Avenue, a good half a mile away. But maybe the notes were wrong, because Lee didn’t even glance in that direction. He was seventy or eighty yards away, and closing in fast on my position.
He’s going to notice me and he’s going to speak to me, I thought. He’s going to say, “Aren’t you the guy who lives downstairs? What are you doing here?” If he did, the future would skew off in a new direction. Not good.
I stared at the shoes and boots in the show window with sweat dampening the nape of my neck and rolling down my back. When I finally took a chance and shifted my eyes to the left, Lee was gone. It was like a magic trick.
I sauntered up the street. I wished I’d put on a cap, maybe even some sunglasses — why hadn’t I? What kind of half-assed secret agent was I, anyway?
I came to a coffee shop about halfway along the block, the sign in the window advertising BREAKFAST ALL DAY. Lee wasn’t inside. Beyond the coffee shop was the mouth of an alley. I walked slowly across it, glanced to my right, and saw him. His back was to me. He had taken his camera out of the paper sack but wasn’t shooting with it, at least not yet. He was examining trash cans. He pulled off the lids, looked inside, then replaced them.
Every bone in my body — by which I mean every instinct in my brain, I suppose — was urging me to move on before he turned and saw me, but a powerful fascination held me in place a little longer. I think it would have held most people. How many opportunities do we have, after all, to watch a guy as he goes about the business of planning a cold-blooded murder?
He moved a little deeper into the alley, then stopped at a circular iron plate set in a plug of concrete. He tried to lift it. No go.
The alley was unpaved, badly potholed, and about two hundred yards long. Halfway down its length, the chain link guarding weedy backyards and vacant lots gave way to high board fences draped in ivy that looked less than vibrant after a cold and dismal winter. Lee pushed a mat of it aside, and tried a board. It swung out and he peered into the hole behind it.
Axioms about how you have to break eggs to make an omelet were all very fine, but I felt I had pressed my luck enough. I walked on. At the end of the block I stopped at the church that had caught Lee’s interest. It was the Oak Lawn Church of Latter-day Saints. The noticeboard said there were regular services every Sunday morning and special newcomers’ services every Wednesday night at 7 PM, with a social hour to follow. Refreshments would be served.
April 10 was a Wednesday and Lee’s plan (assuming it wasn’t de Mohrenschildt’s) now seemed clear enough: hide the gun in the alley ahead of time, then wait until the newcomers’ service — and the social hour, of course — was over. He’d be able to hear the worshippers when they came out, laughing and talking as they headed for the bus stop. The buses ran on the quarter hour; there was always one coming along. Lee would take his shot, hide the gun behind the loose board again (not near the train tracks), then mingle with the church folk. When the next bus came, he’d be gone.
I glanced to my right just in time to see him emerging from the alley. The camera was back in the paper sack. He went to the bus stop and leaned against the post. A man came along and asked him something. Soon they were in conversation. Batting the breeze with a stranger, or was this perhaps another friend of de Mohrenschildt’s? Just some guy on the street, or a co-conspirator? Maybe even the famous Unknown Shooter who — according to the conspiracy theorists — had been lurking on the grassy knoll near Dealey Plaza when Kennedy’s motorcade approached? I told myself that was crazy, but it was impossible to know for sure. That was the hell of it.
There was no way of knowing anything for sure, and wouldn’t be until I saw with my own eyes that Oswald was alone on April 10. Even that wouldn’t be enough to put all my doubts to rest, but it would be enough to proceed on.
Enough to kill Junie’s father.
The bus came growling up to the stop. Secret Agent X-19—also known as Lee Harvey Oswald, the renowned Marxist and wife-beater — got on. When the bus was out of sight, I went back to the alley and walked its length. At the end, it widened out into a big unfenced backyard. There was a ’57 or ’58 Chevy Biscayne parked beside a natural gas pumping station. There was a barbecue pot standing on a tripod. Beyond the barbie was the backside of a big dark brown house. The general’s house.
I looked down and saw a fresh drag-mark in the dirt. A garbage can stood at one end of it. I hadn’t seen Lee move the can, but I knew he had. On the night of the tenth, he meant to rest the rifle barrel on it.
On Monday, March 25, Lee came walking up Neely Street carrying a long package wrapped in brown paper. Peering through a tiny crack in the curtains, I could see the words REGISTERED and INSURED stamped on it in big red letters. For the first time I thought he seemed furtive and nervous, actually looking around at his exterior surroundings instead of at the spooky furniture deep in his head. I knew what was in the package: a 6.5mm Carcano rifle — also known as a Mannlicher-Carcano — complete with scope, purchased from Klein’s Sporting Goods in Chicago. Five minutes after he climbed the outside stairs to the second floor, the gun Lee would use to change history was in a closet above my head. Marina took the famous pictures of him holding it just outside my living room window six days later, but I didn’t see it. That was a Sunday, and I was in Jodie. As the tenth grew closer, those weekends with Sadie had become the most important, the dearest, things in my life.
I came awake with a jerk, hearing someone mutter “Still not too late” under his breath. I realized it was me and shut up.
Sadie murmured some thick protest and turned over in bed. The familiar squeak of the springs locked me in place and time: the Candlewood Bungalows, April 5, 1963. I fumbled my watch from the nightstand and peered at the luminous numbers. It was quarter past two in the morning, which meant it was actually the sixth of April.
Still not too late.
Not too late for what? To back off, to let well enough alone? Or bad enough, come to that? The idea of backing off was attractive, God knew. If I went ahead and things went wrong, this could be my last night with Sadie. Ever.
Even if you do have to kill him, you don’t have to do it right away.
True enough. Oswald was going to relocate to New Orleans for awhile after the attempt on the general’s life — another shitty apartment, one I’d already visited — but not for two weeks. That would give me plenty of time to stop his clock. But I sensed it would be a mistake to wait very long. I might find reasons to keep on waiting. The best one was beside me in this bed: long, lovely, and smoothly naked. Maybe she was just another trap laid by the obdurate past, but that didn’t matter, because I loved her. And I could envision a scenario — all too clearly — where I’d have to run after killing Oswald. Run where? Back to Maine, of course. Hoping I could stay ahead of the cops just long enough to get to the rabbit-hole and escape into a future where Sadie Dunhill would be. . well. . about eighty years old. If she were alive at all. Given her cigarette habit, that would be like rolling six the hard way.
I got up and went to the window. Only a few of the bungalows were occupied on this early-spring weekend. There was a mud-or manure-splattered pickup truck with a trailer full of what looked like farm implements behind it. An Indian motorcycle with a sidecar. A couple of station wagons. And a two-tone Plymouth Fury. The moon was sliding in and out of thin clouds and it wasn’t possible to make out the color of the car’s lower half by that stuttery light, but I was pretty sure I knew what it was, anyway.
I pulled on my pants, undershirt, and shoes. Then I slipped out of the cabin and walked across the courtyard. The chilly air bit at my bed-warm skin, but I barely felt it. Yes, the car was a Fury, and yes, it was white over red, but this one wasn’t from Maine or Arkansas; the plate was Oklahoma, and the decal in the rear window read GO, SOONERS. I peeked in and saw a scatter of textbooks. Some student, maybe headed south to visit his folks on spring break. Or a couple of horny teachers taking advantage of the Candlewood’s liberal guest policy.
Just another not-quite-on-key chime as the past harmonized with itself. I touched the trunk, as I had back in Lisbon Falls, then returned to the bungalow. Sadie had pushed the sheet down to her waist, and when I came in, the draft of cool air woke her up. She sat, holding the sheet over her breasts, then let it drop when she saw it was me.
“Can’t sleep, honey?”
“I had a bad dream and went out for some air.”
“What was it?”
I unbuttoned my jeans, kicked off my loafers. “Can’t remember.”
“Try. My mother always used to say if you tell your dreams, they won’t come true.”
I got into bed with her wearing nothing but my undershirt. “My mother used to say if you kiss your honey, they won’t come true.”
“Did she actually say that?”
“Well,” she said thoughtfully, “it sounds possible. Let’s try it.”
We tried it.
One thing led to another.
Afterward, she lit a cigarette. I lay watching the smoke drift up and turn blue in the occasional moonlight coming through the half-drawn curtains. I’d never leave the curtains that way at Neely Street, I thought. At Neely Street, in my other life, I’m always alone but still careful to close them all the way. Except when I’m peeking, that is. Lurking.
Just then I didn’t like myself very much.
I sighed. “That’s not my name.”
I looked at her. She inhaled deeply, enjoying her cigarette guiltlessly, as people do in the Land of Ago. “I don’t have any inside information, if that’s what you’re thinking. But it stands to reason. The rest of your past is made up, after all. And I’m glad. I don’t like George all that much. It’s kind of. . what’s that word you use sometimes?. . kind of dorky.”
“How does Jake suit you?”
“As in Jacob?”
“I like it.” She turned to me. “In the Bible, Jacob wrestled an angel. And you’re wrestling, too. Aren’t you?”
“I suppose I am, but not with an angel.” Although Lee Oswald didn’t make much of a devil, either. I liked George de Mohrenschildt better for the devil role. In the Bible, Satan’s a tempter who makes the offer and then stands aside. I hoped de Mohrenschildt was like that.
Sadie snubbed her cigarette. Her voice was calm, but her eyes were dark. “Are you going to be hurt?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you going away? Because if you have to go away, I’m not sure I can stand it. I would have died before I said it when I was there, but Reno was a nightmare. Losing you for good. .” She shook her head slowly. “No, I’m not sure I could stand that.”
“I want to marry you,” I said.
“My God,” she said softly. “Just when I’m ready to say it’ll never happen, Jake-alias-George says right now.”
“Not right now, but if the next week goes the way I hope it does. . will you?”
“Of course. But I do have to ask one teensy question.”
“Am I single? Legally single? Is that what you want to know?”
“I am,” I said.
She let out a comic sigh and grinned like a kid. Then she sobered. “Can I help you? Let me help you.”
The thought turned me cold, and she must have seen it. Her lower lip crept into her mouth. She bit down on it with her teeth. “That bad, then,” she said musingly.
“Let’s put it this way: I’m currently close to a big machine full of sharp teeth, and it’s running full speed. I won’t allow you next to me while I’m monkeying with it.”
“When is it?” she asked. “Your. . I don’t know. . your date with destiny?”
“Still to be determined.” I had a feeling that I’d said too much already, but since I’d come this far, I decided to go a little farther. “Something’s going to happen this Wednesday night. Something I have to witness. Then I’ll decide.”
“Is there no way I can help you?”
“I don’t think so, honey.”
“If it turns out I can—”
“Thanks,” I said. “I appreciate that. And you really will marry me?”
“Now that I know your name is Jake? Of course.”
On Monday morning, around ten o’clock, the station wagon pulled up at the curb and Marina went off to Irving with Ruth Paine. I had an errand of my own to run, and was just about to leave the apartment when I heard the thump of footsteps descending the outside stairs. It was Lee, looking pale and grim. His hair was mussy and his face was stippled with a bad breakout of post-adolescent acne. He was wearing jeans and an absurd trenchcoat that flapped around his shins. He walked with one arm across his chest, as if his ribs hurt.
Or as if he had something under his coat. Before the attempt, Lee sighted in his new rifle somewhere out by Love Field, Al had written. I didn’t care where he sighted it in. What I cared about was how close I’d just come to meeting him face-to-face. I’d made the careless assumption that I’d missed him going off to work, and—
Why wasn’t he at work on a Monday morning, come to that?
I dismissed the question and went out, carrying my school briefcase. Inside were the never-to-be-finished novel, Al’s notes, and the work-in-progress describing my adventures in the Land of Ago.
If Lee wasn’t alone on the night of April 10, I might be spotted and killed by one of his co-conspirators, maybe even de Mohrenschildt himself. I still thought the odds of that were unlikely, but the odds of having to run away after killing Oswald were better. So were the odds of being captured and arrested for murder. I didn’t want anyone — the police, for instance — finding Al’s notes or my memoir if either of those things happened.
The important thing to me on that eighth of April was to get my paperwork out of the apartment and far away from the confused and aggressive young man who lived upstairs. I drove to the First Corn Bank of Dallas, and was not surprised to see that the bank official who helped me bore a striking resemblance to the Hometown Trust banker who had helped me in Lisbon Falls. This guy’s name was Link instead of Dusen, but he still looked like the oldtime Cuban bandleader, Xavier Cugat.
I enquired about safe deposit boxes. Soon enough, the manuscripts were in Box 775. I drove back to Neely Street and had a moment of severe panic when I couldn’t find the goddam key to the box.
Relax, I told myself. It’s in your pocket somewhere, and even if it isn’t, your new pal Richard Link will be happy to give you a duplicate. Might cost you all of a buck.
As if the thought had summoned it, I found the key hiding way down in the corner of my pocket, under my change. I put it on my key ring, where it would be safe. If I did have to run back to the rabbit-hole, and stepped into the past again after a return to the present, I’d still have it. . although everything that had happened in the last four and a half years would reset. The manuscripts now in the safe deposit box would be lost in time. That was probably good news.
The bad news was that Sadie would be, too.