The Russian saw them. Two men sitting on the bench by the reflecting pool. The Book Depository was well lit at night from the front, so the two were bold and clear in the refracted glow. On top of that, the Russian’s eyesight was absurdly superior, so the details leaped at him. No problem telling target from bait. Target was tall, angular. He looked like he’d been around some, been hammered here and there, even if his posture was relaxed. The Russian suspected he’d do better than the last one, that dish of pudding in the alley.
The Russian was parked out of the lights on Houston, across from the Book Depository near the tracks on Pacific. He had a good angle, and he was invisible to them. He hunted for signs of wariness but picked up nothing. The older man never looked around, his body language was not tense, he never swallowed or licked his lips, all tells of high anxiety. He wore a khaki coat, a red baseball hat, jeans, and a pair of boots. He was talking earnestly and listening earnestly.
Soon the chat would be over. Target would get up, and in whatever direction he went, the Russian would follow at a decent interval. The trick of the hit was the timing. No traffic downtown this late, and the police scanning radio indicated no presence of official vehicles in the vicinity. The plan was: wait for him to cross a street and head down a block. Then circle that block at speed with good angle control at the corners to beat him to the next intersection, get there before him, park with lights out. When he approached the intersection, he’d look both ways, probably wait until he had the green even though it was an empty weeknight, then start across the street. Find the angle of interception, accelerate through him (the Dodge did zero to sixty in 3.7 seconds) and smash him hard. Speed should be up to sixty-five by then. At the last second, as he turned to the noise, hit him with the lights, which would visually disorient him and freeze him in place. The kill was certain. There would be no time to react.
He waited, he waited, he waited. Occasionally, a cab pulled by, headed to the passenger-rich zone of the West End, not far away. Music and light issued from that neighborhood, but it meant nothing to the Russian. He sat in the dark corridor on the dark pavement in the dark car. On either side of him, two square brick buildings, dark as well, loomed. He had no idea what they were.
– – – –
“Donahue seems to come the closest,” Richard said. They sat as if stage-lit on the bench, near the reflecting pool filled with Scope, under the shagginess of the overhanging oaks. A cool breeze stirred the leaves above to low whispers in the night, perfect for talking conspiracy.
“He goes nutty at the end,” Richard continued, “but it’s a logical nuttiness. He’s tried to answer your question: why did the third bullet explode? His answer is that a Secret Service man in the follow car with something called an AR-15, brand-new in ’63, I don’t know what it is, rose and accidentally fired after the second shot. That was the bullet that hit Kennedy.”
“And being a thin-jacketed, high-velocity 5.56-millimeter round impacting at close range, it behaved differently than the much heavier Carcano 6.5 from six times farther out, and that it was indeed engineered to explode? Is that it?”
“You don’t like?”
“It’s hard to believe that A) the agent could fire a bullet from an unusual-looking space-age rifle in front of, what, two thousand people, and that nobody would see it or hear it. Or B) on top of that, by the randomness of the universe, his muzzle would line up pointed directly at Kennedy’s head.”
“It’s a theory with many difficulties, yes. As I say, discredited.”
“You’re telling me. I guess the point is, he has good analysis of the Carcano, and he was stuck as to a way to explain the behavior of the third bullet. That AR-15, what would later be called an M-16, seemed to answer all the questions, and it sure as hell was there, but he didn’t realize it raised more than it answered.”
“There is testimony that some people smelled burnt powder in Dealey. And it would explain the government ‘cover-up’ and why they would never admit that friendly fire killed JFK.”
“I can’t buy it. I acknowledge that gun accidents frequently turn on great anomalies, like a .45 that’s never before doubled suddenly doubling, or a ricochet pattern that you couldn’t duplicate in a million years. That does happen. But here you’ve got two, one at either end of the shot, appearing in front of two thousand witnesses, and no one saw it?”
“As I say, many problems. Still, you should read the book and see what you make of the first hundred pages. I think it accords with your idea, to the degree that I understand it and am capable of making such a judgment.”
“Great, Richard. Richard comes through again.”
“You wanted to see me. What was it? You didn’t just want my report. I had the idea it was an emergency.”
“I get these ideas and get excited. Here’s my new one. It has to do with the angles.”
“What about the angles?”
“It’s very odd. Everybody who knows nothing thinks it’s all about distance. Close shot easy, far shot hard. Well, that ain’t true, and it especially ain’t true when you’re shooting on the deflection.”
“Deflection? No comprendo.”
“Deflection. Shooting at a moving target. You’ve got to solve the angle, that is, find a way to produce not a hit but an interception. You have to put the bullet where the thing is going to be. It’s like nobody who wrote about the Kennedy assassination ever shot a duck on the wing. So it’s all made up, assumptions, guesses, hunches.”
“Hmmm,” said Richard. “Interesting. All right, I’ll bite. Tell me what you’re getting at.”
Bob explained it to Richard. “So, does it hold water? Does it make sense to you? I think this is the best one yet. How would I check it? Does it connect with anything else? Has anyone else thought of this approach?”
“Jack, I love the way you get all into this, and how it becomes so important to you that you have to discuss it at” – he looked at his watch – “ten after midnight. Offhand, it seems new to me.”
“I thought you had a photographic memory.”
“I thought I did too. You are testing the limits of it, however, so let me think about it overnight. Maybe do some checking. I do have a business to run, you know. Anyhow, it’s late, and I’m no longer a monomaniac like you; I’m just a human, so I need sleep. I’ll check, you call in the next few days, and we’ll get together soon. Right?”
“Sorry, Richard. Okay, swell.”
“Drop you somewhere?”
“No, I’ll get a cab. I appreciate the way you humor me without really seeming to humor me. Your mother raised an honorable man.”
“Thank you, Jack. Okay, I know well enough to know that I can’t persuade you to accept a ride. I’ll await your call.”
They rose, shook hands, and separated, each heading off in his own darkness.
– – – –
The Russian watched. The tall one crossed Houston and headed up Elm into the high buildings of downtown. It seemed he had a limp, as if someone had taken a hard shot at his hip. There had to be a story behind that! It slowed the old man considerably, and the Russian winced at the clear discomfort the man felt while on the go. The Russian waited for him to drag his wretched, bent old body along until it disappeared behind the corner of the building to his left, waited twenty seconds, then turned on his lights, drove slowly and under control to Elm, and turned left. He could see the tall man half a block ahead, sending out vibrations of painful imprecision but at the same time holding not a care for security in his mind, lost in whatever internal drama consumed him, limping along.
The Russian timed it perfectly, made certain not to look at the man, since some people have a weird gift for feeling the presence of another’s eyes upon them, reached him just as he was at the corner, and turned left. He drove at under thirty to the next block, turned right at the corner, and hammered it, aware only marginally that he was on the railroad tracks of Pacific Avenue, shooting up to sixty-five in three seconds to reach the next corner, found the ideal angle, and hardly lost a mile an hour on his controlled right-hand burn around the corner, then pulled up in the block with the intersection a hundred feet or so ahead of him, and halted, downshifting to neutral, putting his lights out. All was fine. It was no problem at all.
He waited, he waited, he waited. Time sometimes goes slow on the hunt. But at last his quarry arrived, ambling into view at the same distracted old man’s pace, disfigured by the limp so that he had an odd comic bearing. The Russian cracked a rare smile at the old man’s funny walk.
The Russian also had a gift for instantly computing interception angles. He knew not to go to the pedal at the man’s first step into the street or even the second. He had time to check for beams from oncoming traffic out of sight, and he noted there wasn’t any traffic. At the target’s third step, he got the go-code from his deep brain and rammed the car into first, controlling the clutch with a virtuoso’s touch, and a split second later, a really fast throw into second as the car’s 370 horses roared into high gallop and got there as fast as anything on earth except a straight custom drag. The sound of the engine eating gas with a basso profundo growl and alchemizing it instantly into speed filled the air. The car lurched ahead so powerfully, it turned the hard edges of reality into a blur.
– – – –
Swagger had the gun in his hand along his right leg, hidden behind his comically exaggerated limp, and at the roar, losing no time on surprise, none on regret, nada on indecision, and in his pure-killer move, beautiful and stoic and all-American gunman, he pivoted and, because smooth is fast, slid the gun up so smooth it moved at a rate that has no place in time, and his subconscious acquired the front sight exactly as it came to center, driver’s-side windshield, and the pistol’s double tap lasted but a tenth of a second, recoil not fast enough to catch up to fully firing fast-twitch muscles of the trigger pull, even as one muzzle flash became another and two pieces of hot brass spewed from the ramjet breech eight inches apart. The windshield yielded instantly into a haze of micro-fracture, the car careened right, ate up the curb, hit a building with the sound of metal crunching, flipped, and roared on its beautiful, glossy black flank along the sidewalk, chewing up pavement, spraying sparks and stone debris, ripping sheets of window out of storefronts, its hood bending and twisting like a burning piece of paper, at last halting in a heap of twisted steel, with the stench of gasoline, tendrils of steam and smoke arising from several wounds in the body and engine well.
In the quiet that followed, Swagger slipped the gun into his holster and grabbed his cell.
“Memphis,” came the quick answer.
“I’m at Elm and North Market. He’s piled up to the right, on the sidewalk, no citizen collateral, all of it clean. Get your team here fast, and get me the fuck out of town.”
“What happened to him?” Nick said.
“Bring a body bag,” said Swagger. “And a mop.”